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  • Looking for a little monster themed Valentine’s fun? Toho International has released Godzilla themed Valentine’s Day cards online. Five cards were made available in total, depicting Mechagodzilla (Showa), SpaceGodzilla, King Ghidorah (Heisei), Biollante Rose and Godzilla (Millennium). Each artwork depicts the monster along with a saying.

    The cards can be downloaded below, available in 1800×1800 in size once clicked so they can be printed off in good quality. …or alternatively, text or email the images to others as an e-Valentine. (more…)

    General // February 10, 2021
  • Author: Harley Jameson | Banner: Matthew Freese

    Earth’s outer atmosphere, 1991.

    The space shuttle Jiraiya glided soundlessly away from Earth on its way to the moon. The blue planet the astronauts called home nothing more than a picturesque landscape of pillow-like clouds and crystal clear blue ocean. If they squinted a little through the viewport, they could just make-out Japan, hundreds of miles below them.

    The leader of this brief tour of the globe, Arakaki Jiro smiled over at his comrade as he drifted away from the view port and smiled at him. “Quite a sight, huh Funai? To think we won’t be seeing it up close like this for a few months.” Arakaki was an old veteran of these space missions, and had a relaxed ease about him that spoke of years of experience being up in the dark emptiness of space. (more…)

    K.W.C. // February 9, 2021
  • February 9th, 2021 update

    The results are in so without further ado, here are the winners for 2020!

    The 5 Best Writers of 2020:

    1. Andrew Sudomerski
    2. Tyler Trieschock
    3. Matthew Freese
    4. Dao Zang Moua
    5. Michael Allen

    The 5 Best K.W.C. Matches of 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 300: Gamera (Heisei) vs. Everyone
    3. Match 281: Anguirus (Showa) vs. Anguirus (2001)
    4. Match 285: Godzilla (Legendary) vs. Zilla
    5. Match 318: Sanda & Gaira vs. Attack Titan & Armored Titan

    The 3 Most Original K.W.C. Matches of 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 281: Anguirus (Showa) vs. Anguirus (2001)
    3. Match 311: King Ghidorah (Heisei) vs. Zone Fighter vs. Ganimes, Gezora & Kamoebas (Showa)

    The 3 Best Banner Creators of 2020:

    1. Andrew Sudomerski
    2. Landon Soto
    3. Dao Zang Moua

    The Best Custom Banner Artist/Creation of 2020:

    1. Christian Gonzalez / Match 299: Godzilla vs. Gamera: Round 2

    The 3 Best K.W.C. Banners of 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 310: Bagorah vs. MUTO Prime
    3. Match 318: Sanda & Gaira vs. Attack Titan & Armored Titan

    The Best use of a New Monster/Form in 2020:

    1. Anguirus (2001) – Match 281

    The 3 Best uses of Kaiju in a K.W.C. Match in 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 281: Anguirus (Showa) vs. Anguirus (2001)
    3. Match 300: Gamera (Heisei) vs. Everyone

    The 3 Best use of Human or Alien Character/s in a K.W.C. Match in 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 318: Sanda & Gaira vs. Attack Titan & Armored Titan
    3. Match 311: King Ghidorah (Heisei) vs. Zone Fighter vs. Ganimes, Gezora & Kamoebas (Showa)

    The 3 Best Story/Narrative in a K.W.C. in 2020:

    1. Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)
    2. Match 318: Sanda & Gaira vs. Attack Titan & Armored Titan
    3. Match 300: Gamera (Heisei) vs. Everyone

    The Best New Writer of 2020:

    1. Joshua Strittmatter

    Best Writing Duo/Trio of 2020:

    • Dao Zang Moua & Matthew Freese – Match 313: Bagan vs. King Ghidorah (Legendary)

    So those are the winners of 2020! But I am also happy to announce the following:

    New K.W.C. Additions (The following have been approved to be added to the K.W.C. for the future. Feel free to submit a match with these fresh faces!):

    • Baragon (Millennium)
    • Godzilla (Showa)
    • Greater Rathalos
    • Kaishin Muba
    • King Cobra (GTS)
    • King Kong (Legendary)
    • Ts-Eh-Go

    New K.W.C. Retirees (These are monsters that will be soon be entering retirement. Please do not submit matches involving them):

    • Baragon (Showa)
    • C-Rex
    • Frankenstein

    K.W.C. Survey Match Request Winner:

    • Kiryu vs. Mechagodzilla (Heisei) vs. Mechagodzilla (Showa)
      • Release – Late 2020

    In any case, thank you to everyone who participated and gave us your feedback. There were a ton of great ideas submitted and the first I can announce to be added is a Continuity Page which should be up in Mid-February to help keep track of ongoing storylines! More is on the way, but until then, a massive thank you to the staff who do such a fantastic job, and the K.W.C. wouldn’t be where it is without them. So thank you again to every Writer, Banner Creator & Reader! See you all next year with the 2021 Awards! (more…)

    K.W.C. // February 9, 2021
  • Author: Matthew Williams  | Banner: Matthew Williams

    During the huge climate change of El Niño that warmed the waters of the western tropical Pacific Ocean, the city of San Francisco was in the middle of an invasion by the Xiliens. The people of the highly populated city ran in fear as the sphere-like mothership ascended above the damaged buildings while thousands of starships flew around, rapidly firing their laser turrets at the buildings and inhabitants. They were engulfed in explosions that incinerated the populace and caused the skyscrapers to topple to the ground, with countless civilians meeting their fates as they were crushed to death.

    The situation for the civilian’s survival from this invasion soon worsened as the Xilien Carrier Gamma detached from the mothership, hovering above the center of the burning city. The aircraft fired a beam straight down, bringing down a huge entity like a tractor beam before it ceased and returned to the mothership.

    The entity was a bipedal creature with features superficially identical to a human, though this thing was distant from any mere creature. Most of the monster’s exposed skin had the texture of muscle tissue, all of which was covered in thick bony armor from the chest, back, dorsal, arms, and legs. The creature had long, slender, black forked tail that swished around while the creature let out a sinister, draconic snarl. Two half skulls latched onto his shoulders, both glowed with sinister air. The head of this humanoid monster highly resembled a skull of a dragon with two long black horns latched on the head in a row, and like the two halved heads on the shoulders, the eyes of the main head were glowing a crimson red light.

    The entity let out another unsettling growl, instilling powerlessness and fear among the survivors; a cruel realization that they were unable to escape the wrath of the Xilien’s latest weapon, Monster X.

    Monster X gazed upon his surroundings, seeing the once populated city of San Francisco was now being terrorized by the starships that were invented by his masters. Given the order to demolish everything in this doomed city, Monster X was ready to satisfy his sadistic desires to give everyone, and everything, hell. Monster X levitated and spun in the air, whipping several burning skyscraper down to the ground with his forked tail. Every scream, every life taken brought unparalleled satisfaction to the fiend and with a world filled with such meager creatures, what was there to stop his pleasure?

    A grueling hour passed. The human fighter burst into an explosion of flame and with its destruction sealed, so too was the last means of defense to save the doomed city. The only thing that remained were the people of San Francisco, who could only hope that the Global Defense Force would deploy Kiryu, Mechagodzilla, Moguera, the Gotengo, or anything that could fight back these invaders and their draconic alien. With mobilization being troublesome, hectic, and spread thin across the globe, it would take awhile for even one of the GDF mechs to respond to the distress signal. The only thing that the survivors could do was to endure the hellhole they were stuck in.

    * * * * *

    Inside the Xilien mothership, the newfound leader of the Xilien race watched the chaos that ravaged California as he gave off a confident grin.

    “Excellent,” X spoke as he boasted to himself. “Once this city is reduced to rubble, I will be able to build a new base for my people. And if there are any survivors, they will become our slaves as well as our food source.”

    The Xilien cackled like a madman with the mind of an ignorant child as he enjoyed his plan falling into place, only to be interrupted when one of his communication officers alerted him. “My Leader! There is an unidentified lifeform detected!” they reported.

    “Could it be Godzilla? Mothra?” X questioned.

    “No. It’s nothing like the beasts we have on record! And worse, it has no traceable M-Base genes!” One bold officer within the group answered.

    Curious to know what this approaching unidentified organism was, X looked back at the screen and ordered the unidentified beast be brought onscreen Just as the monitor detected its location, the unidentified being sped past and left a trail of destruction behind it. “What the- What did I just see?!” X exclaimed.

    * * * * *

    The unknown kaiju was running on all fours at unbelievable speeds that outmatched hypersonic. Buildings exploded into rubble in front of its defiant charge, not even slowing down the creature as it continued to sprint toward Monster X. The alien warrior turned, only to feel the creature colliding with his chest at the force akin to a human being rammed by a Shanghai Maglev train. A concussive shockwave rippled across the city while the actual hit proved powerful enough to send the colossal fiend flying several kilometers away before crashing against a tall skyscraper. Before Monster X could even look up, the towering building collapsed on him, burying the skeletal alien underneath a huge pile of fresh rubble. The witnesses were speechless for what they just saw and looked back at Monster X’s attacker, hoping the GDF had finally arrived. Yet the terrified gaze of the populace discovered not any mech, but a being shrouded in a electrical shroud, growling to all in its presence of its arrival.

    Then the rays of the sun revealed its true form.

    Words could not describe of what this new, never before seen kaiju was supposed to be. It resembled a mammalian-like reptile creature that lived long before the dinosaurs ever walked foot on the planet, but its appearance also gave it an otherworldly, celestial visage. A heavenly appearance that merely looking at him made everyone feel like an angel of hope had arrived to put an end to this horrendous destruction.

    The mammoth creature was covered in white smooth plates and spikes, adorned with purple hues, and two large, wing-like protrusions on its back. The monster was quadruped, standing on all fours in a similar fashion of a speedy animal like the cheetah with the grace of a wolf. In fact, the draconic face of the monster carried honor and nobility. The graceful creature had several horn-like spikes arching on the back of his head, as well as two yellow tusks on the sides of its jaws. The monster had a long whip-like tail with yellow spikes and an orange diamond shaped pattern on the end of the tail.

    Raising its head high up, the mythical monster let loose a howling roar that echoed through all of San Francisco. It was unknown of what this noble, yet beautiful creature was or where it came from. There weren’t many myths of its existence unlike most ancient guardian monsters, like Mothra, Gamera, or King Caesar. Rumors had it that there was an ancient Japanese legend recounting a celestial deity that had been the creation of the mythical Kirin and the Thunder God Raijin. Speculation as to what happened alluded to the idea that it flew into the skies and lurked in thunderclouds and hurricanes. Up until now, select few meteorologists speculated that the El Niño phenomenon may not have been as natural as once thought…

    If all of this was true, then this would be the first time that the world managed to lay their eyes on the legendary mythical kaiju known as Balkzardan. But the only question was why did he only now decide to show up? For that, the world would never know. What was important now was what he would do next.

    * * * * *

    X watched Balkzardan howling into the air, infuriated of its seemingly effortless disposal of his people’s greatest creation. He tried in vain to control the new beast by the slim chance it inherited M-Base, yet to no avail. Therefore, this made Balkzardan a threat.

    “Give the starship pilots a new order: kill this monster,” X commanded.

    “Yes master!” the Xilien members of his crew in his presence replied.

    * * * * *

    The Xilien starships ceased their assaults on humanity and brought their attention on Balkzardan. The celestial being gave off a glare, but the starships began firing crimson lasers upon him. Balkzardan took a few blasts on his armored body before he leapt in the air and took flight, surprising everyone of how the beast was capable of flying without a noticeable pair of wings. The pursuing pilots  ignored their wild thoughts and gave chase, even as Balkzardan ascended high into the atmosphere.

    A maneuver which ensured their very doom.

    Enormous, dark thunderclouds spontaneously appeared out of thin air over the ruins of San Francisco, blotting out the sun and darkening the land in palpable rage. Lightning crackled from the dark gray clouds followed by the deafening bellows of enraged thunder. Pilots panicked within their cockpits merely for lighting to engulf their vessels, illuminating the air with fiery wreckage and molten debris. Satisfied with destruction, Balkzardan descended upon the charred earth and glared at the remaining, larger Xilien crafts, his tusks twitching in anticipation of thei annihilation. With a burst of light, the tusks generated immense energy which morphed into the celestial monster’s primary weapon, the Tornado Bolts. Loud thunder cracked through the air as the tusks discharged powerful electricity that swirled through the starships, leaving only the Mothership to defy the god’s will.

    * * * * *

    Whisper like gasps echoed within the Mothership’s control center at the destruction with even X partially shaken at the display of power.

    “So this… thing, can manipulate the weather.” X’s eyes narrowed with curiosity. “Interesting but ultimately, useless,” X nonchalantly quipped, as he grinned and raised his hands. “Monster X! Rise, and show this monster no mercy!”

    * * * * *

    Crimson pupils alit beneath a grave undeserved of what lay beneath. Effortlessly, the pile of rubble exploded upward as Monster X let loose a spine chilling growl. Cracking his neck side to side, the warrior gradually turned his soul piercing red eyes directly at Balkzardan. The warrior proved un-impressed with the appearance of his attacker and decided to demonstrate its own immense power. The four red eyes instantly lit up a bright yellow light as they unleashed powerful Destroyed Thunder Beams at the weather monster, giving him little time to react. They pelted against Balkzardan’s white armor and brought the quadruped to his heels, bringing a slight smirk of pleasure upon the fiend’s face. Now confident the battle would be handedly won, Monster X casually strolled toward the downed kaiju and grabbed the beasts tusks, using all of his might to break them merely to snap the god out of his trance.

    Balkzardan swung his head straight into Monster X’s abdomen and propelled the alien abomination skyward, yet as the fiend extended its arms, gravity amplified around the armored warrior. Within seconds, Monster X  rapidly descended and extended his left foot down upon Balkzardan, but Monster X proved too slow, striking only human pavement. An annoyed scowl peered to where the god evaded to and shockingly discovered extended claws. One swipe chipped precious armor across the fiend’s central head while another slammed Monster X on the ground. The beast brought his right claws down upon the warrior once more to cave its head in merely for Monster X to grab the ancient creature from underneath and throw Balkzardan at full force using his immense strength. Balkzardan’s wingless body ascended into the storm filled skies before he reappeared and dove down toward his foe. Wishing not to succumb to another earthshattering ram, the skeletal fiend’s four eyes fired their Destroyed Thunder Beams, but this time Balkzardan’s soaring body evaded the explosive attack. To the alien’s dismay, the weather monster slammed into Monster X, knocking the wind from its lungs, and immediately grabbed onto him like a panther latching onto its prey.

    Monster X caught the quadruped beast and tossed him aside into a nearby damaged building. Balkzardan let out a howl of pain and frustration, gritting his teeth to ignore the agony he felt when he collided against the building. With his foe distracted, Monster X grabbed his challenger’s long tail and lifted Balkzardan in the air to slam him down on the debris. Balkzardan’s back protrusions suddenly emitted energy and generated an electrical shield, the Thunder S. The protective barrier caused a huge explosion that engulfed Monster X’s arms and forced him to release his grip with a hellish scream. His skeletal carapace that protected the arms was burnt to the bone which drove the skeleton into the feeling of pain and anger; he would make his wrath known!

    As Balkzardan’s thunder shield faded away, Monster X unleashed a barrage of Destroyed Thunder Beams to stun the weather monster. The Xilien’s powerful pawn jumped in the air and delivered a roundhouse kick at Balkzardan’s face, followed by his fork tail whipping the monster. Monster X landed on the celestial being’s back to crush him, quickly jumping off of Balkzardan before he could activate the Thunder S again. The draconic alien’s eyes fired more Destroyed Thunder Beams at the mild monster, but Balkzardan’s tusks quickly fired the Tornado Bolt at the fired eye rays. Both electrical beams collided and triggered a massive explosion, launching each combatant away from one another. Balkzardan skidded into a pile of rubble while Monster X crashed into a familiar pile of debris. Upon realization it was the same mound of rubble he escaped from earlier, Monster X’s four eyes twitched in subtle irritation.

    Shaking off the annoying scraps of mankind’s structures, both monsters recovered their footing and turned to face the other without showcasing a hint of weakness. Neither one of them were willing to lose this fight and each would ensure their victory no matter the cost.

    Balkzardan re-ignited the clash with a thunderous bellow and sprinted toward the skeleton with tremendous speed. Monster X snorted in excitement and hunched over like a defensive lineman. The impact ushered a shockwave which rattled the nearby Xilien Mothership, but instead of the alien warrior sailing through the air like their initial encounter, Monster X remained standing, sliding backward with Balkzardan furiously continuing its charge. A plume of dust followed Balkzardan’s mad dash. Dirt sped by under Monster X’s clawed toes until he felt solid material beneath his footing, causing the fiend to smile in anticipation. Shifting the momentum of the raging beast, Monster X pivoted his body and swung the weather god over his head down upon the suburbs of San Francisco. A cataclysmic eruption of debris followed. Building exploded from the shockwave, dirt burst into the air and those hiding from the rampaging creatures soared into the air from the immense wind pressure. To any human fortunate enough to survive the impact, they were treated to no sight of rampaging titans, but the grisly sounds of boney fists striking Balkzardan’s body.

    Monster X unleashed a torrent of mighty blows so intense the dust of his recent maneuver vacated the space around him. He could feel the stress of his burnt hands reaching their limit from his pummeling, but he would need to make due. He was used to injuries like this, no matter how severe they were. Besides, the fight was surely at an-

    Balkzardan’s taloned paws grabbed Monster X’s arm, allowing him to clamp his maw down on the limb like an angry feral cat. The skeletal fiend’s hands grabbed the mythical beast’s neck in response, hoping to strangle him to death. Balkzardan tried to roar, but the crushing grip of Monster X’s strangulation made it hard to emit a sound or even breathe. Balkzardan made an attempt to break free by swiping his claws at Monster X’s exposed neck, carving a nasty gash.

    Monster X covered his claw-marked slash on his neck, black blood squirting from the wound as the alien tried to cover it. Balkzardan swiftly recovered and scourged Monster X with his whip-like tail. The alien was down on the ground, taking the brunt of the punishment. Monster X’s four glow red eyes grew even brighter, letting out a frightening snarl. The enraged alien’s black blood-soaked hands let go of the bleeding wound on his neck. Monster X quickly got onto his feet and grabbed Balkzardan’s tail. The skeleton lifted his surprised opponent in the air as he levitated in the air, all before slamming the weather monster down on the ground.

    By the time Balkzardan landed on the ground, he quickly turned around and swiped his claws deep into Monster X’s injured stomach. Monster X clenched his rows of sharp teeth, trying to ignore the pain as he clung onto the tail. Balkzardan used all his might to swish his tail, forcing the demon to trip and fall to the ground. Before the alien could recover, Balkzardan rammed his head against Monster X’s chest like a bull, burying the fiend’s head under the dirt.

    Monster X regained his footing in a second, letting out a furious growl as he looked around to see where Balkzardan had gone to, but to his surprise he found no trace of the creature. Taking the moment to catch its breath, Monster X moaned in confusion. Had his opponent retreated? Surely not. But if it wasn’t nearby, it gained ground for some type of move. But what would require such dist…

    Monster X’s eyes widened in epiphany as Balkzardan’s howling cry echoed through him. Four eyes spun in time to discover Balkzardan shrouded in a torrent of energy mere meters away from him and approaching at speeds seemingly hypersonic. Electricity crackled across every fiber of the quadraped’s body while its light shined off his armor with such radiance the beast could easily be misidentified as another sun. With no time to react, Balkzardan’s glowing body tackled Monster X, transmitting currents of electricity into the skeletal alien as it felt his figure being electrocuted congruent to explosive bursts setting off. Monster X screamed a banshee’s wail, unable to feel anything as he soared into the horizon and plummeted upon a pile of rubble he knew all too well.

    * * * * *

    X clenched his fist in anger, sighing in frustration that his most powerful tool was… losing. Enough was enough. If Monster X could not win then it was time for himself to enter the battle, even if it was not physically. “That is it!” he shouted to all those within earshot, “I have had just about enough with this foolish monster’s meddling and everyone’s incompetence!”

    The leader of all Xiliens snapped his hands into the air and focused his diving power. Golden energy cascaded across his body with its destination not the meddlesome beast which interfered with his invasion, but the monster which demonstrated its inability to kill it.

    “Monster X! Take my power. Finish your enemy off as Keizer Ghidorah!”

    * * * * *

    Monster X instantly got up to his knees, firing his eye rays at Balkzardan. They struck and stunned the massive dragon, giving the skeletal warrior the chance to quickly transform into his true form. Monster X fell onto his hands as his body begin to shift. Large draconic wings unfolded, followed by the alien’s two half skull heads starting to form actual heads. Monster X’s bony carapace morphed into dark, golden scales while the feet morphed to turn the bipedal creature into a quadruped dragon. Balkzardan got up and quickly fired a bolt of lightning from his tusks but the transforming Monster X looked up and spewed an arc of lightning from his central head’s mouth, preventing his enemy’s attack from disrupting his metamorphosis that was almost complete. The main head, along with the now fully formed shoulder heads began to extend their necks, transitioning into demonic dragons. The thunderclouds crackled lightning from behind as Monster X finished its transformation into his unrivaled and terrifying original form, Keizer Ghidorah!

    The thunderclouds crackled as the Keizer hydra’s three heads let loose horrifying shrieks before he lifted himself into the air and smashed the pile of rubble which consistently annoyed him. Gazing through the dust of his destroyed grave, Keizer Ghidorah’s three heads all fired Antigravity Destroyed Keizer Beams that now took the form of arced lightning. The electric beams made contact with Balkzardan, caressing the white beast in their harsh glow. Keizer Ghidorah’s three heads guided the spewing electrical beams as they dragged Balkzardan’s body like a ragdoll. The golden dragon stopped spewing the gravity rays and watched the immobile creature fall on a building, easily crushing it.

    Balkzardan shrieked painful cries as he felt Keizer Ghidorah scorch him with another barrage of his telekinetic beams, this time throwing him all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. A group of evacuees screamed as Balkzardan’s body was flung toward to the bridge and could only brace themselves for impact. But Balkzardan regained control and took off in the air, flying high into the skies. Keizer Ghidorah fired another round of their Antigravity Destroyed Keizer Beams again. One of the bolts caught the wingless creature during its flight, while the other two heads moved their telekinetic bolts at Balkzardan and brought him down on the Golden Gate Bridge. The sadistic dragon cackled as he watched the iconic bridge collapse when the mythical kaiju plummeted onto it, killing the fleeing people as they, along with the monster, fell into the ocean.

    Keizer Ghidorah stood and waited patiently, expecting for Balkzardan to emerge. Within a moment, Balkzardan burst out of the ocean, sprinting at mach speed. Keizer Ghidorah saw the charging creature firing its Tornado Bolt at him yet remained static, unimpressed by the tired tactic. The hydra’s two heads spewed their Antigravity Destroyed Keizer Beams to block the swirling lightning, while the middle head fired its gravitational bolt at the speeding Balkzardan and pulled the celestial creature to him. Keizer Ghidorah’s forelegs lifted his quadruped mass as he slammed his frontal feet down at Balkzardan, crushing his body down into the ground that pressed the holy beast due to sheer weight alone.

    Before Keizer Ghidorah could repeat stomping the electric dragon into the asphalt, Balkzardan unleashed his Thunder S barrier when Keizer Ghidorah was about to slam his feet down, which ignited a whirling blast upon contact. Keizer Ghidorah stepped back, cackling a chorus of frightening shrills of hatred and wrath instead of expressing emotion or reaction by the blast. The Keizer lowered his three necks, opening his many jaws. Balkzardan looked up as his tusks delivered more currents of swirling lightning at the hydra’s chest. Keizer Ghidorah’s three draconic heads all let loose horrifying shrieks before it kicked the celestial being’s neck, then proceeded to punish it with more Destroyed Thunder Beams. The Xilien’s Keizer dragged Balkzardan’s body against the ground before it stopped firing the telekinetic bolts. The sadistic fiend watched the screaming monster slide against the ground until it stopped between two ruined skyscrapers.

    Balkzardan groaned weakly as his injured body laid still on the cracked streets, covered in bruises. He spat some blood from his maw while the scraped wounds bled out. But before he could move a muscle from his tired legs, he heard a faint sound of screaming and crying.

    Balkzardan’s eyes rolled to see where the crying was coming from, until he noticed a small alleyway where he saw a woman holding a frightened little girl. The woman looked back at the staring monster, frightened by it being up close to her. The way how the human was bracing the crying child close to her and how old she was, it would have assumed that the child was hers. Looking at the scenario of the two frightened humans gave Balkzardan this odd, nostalgic feeling, something that he had never felt in a long time…

    Balkzardan’s low breathing turned to loud screams of pain when he felt another blast of lightning from the cruel hydra, frightening the woman and the child even more. Keizer Ghidorah’s spewing gravity rays pulled the shrieking mythical creature toward him until he was directly in front of the hydra. Ghidorah ceased fire, and the three heads clamped onto Balkzardan’s flesh with their serrated teeth. Balkzardan struggled to break free, but Keizer Ghidorah’s three draconic heads held on tightly as their vampiric teeth begin to drain the life force out of him, causing Balkzardan scream even louder.

    * * * * *

    X watched with a demented smile as Keizer Ghidorah drained the enemy monster’s life force away, with the back of the hydra’s three necks pulsating with blue light, circulating the life energy of the monster through Keizer Ghidorah’s veins.

    “It’s over now, how delightful,” X spoke with pleasure and satisfaction. “All it took was the power of a Keizer.”

    * * * * *

    Balkzardan let loose a dying groan, feeling his life force slowly dimming away the more Keizer Ghidorah sucked him dry. Finally, Balkzardan’s limbs went limp, unable to move and doomed to die. In his dying moments, the noble deity thought about what would become of this planet without him once these ungrateful aliens took over this planet. The thought was too grim for Balkzardan to think about as he tried to get it out of his mind. But then, he thought about the woman and the child. Balkzardan had no intentions on intermingling with humanity, but the moment he saw those two, he felt compassion for them. A feeling he had thought was long gone. In an odd way, he felt a sense of appreciation, even if it was during his last moments, one that invigorated his spirit.

    Balkzardan’s eyes flared up as he used the last of his energy to generate another Thunder S shield, giving the gnawing heads of Keizer Ghidorah a painful taste of a flaring detonation. Keizer Ghidorah’s three heads shrieked painfully as they let go, their mouths severely burnt from the explosive aftereffects, enraging it even more. Balkzardan let out a tiger-like growl, pouncing on the hydra’s necks to claw at them. He ignored his fatigue and focused on killing the three headed dragon.

    * * * * *

    X looked back as soon as he heard Keizer Ghidorah’s painful cries, annoyed that the white beast still had the diminished strength to fight back. “What is this? Come on, fight back Keizer Ghidorah! End him!”

    * * * * *

    Keizer Ghidorah’s middle head lunged for Balkzardan, but the weather monster quickly leapt backward from the alien, barely avoiding the rows of sharp teeth. The Keizer charged toward the mythical beast, attempting to bite down on him to sap the last bit of energy left. Balkzardan hunched his quadruped body down, giving the dragon a whip from his tail. Keizer Ghidorah flinched, but later responded by firing another ray of Antigravity Destroyed Keizer Beams, pulling Balkzardan toward him.

    In the midst of pain, the guardian beast yowled weakly to the skies above. The demon was eager to sap the last of his prey’s strength and put an end to this once and for all. Before Keizer Ghidorah could end its telekinetic stream, several bolts of lightning rained down from the thunderclouds, which reacted with the yellow casing that surrounded the white beast. A brilliant flash of light and electricity overcame Keizer Ghidorah, temporarily blinding the gargantuan hellspawn and ceased its gravity rays, which freed Balkzardan.

    With whatever strength he could muster, Balkzardan got himself to his feet and kept a hefty distance away from Keizer Ghidorah. He was tired from this fight, but he couldn’t let that get to him. With another call to the thunderstorm, lightning bolts struck the two protrusions on the mythical monster’s back, causing Balkzardan’s body to glow and crackled with electricity. The legendary kaiju let out a roar and burst into mach speeds, charging toward Keizer Ghidorah. The alien noticed and tried to fire his Antigravity Destroyed Keizer Beams, but Balkzardan quickly fired his Tornado Bolts at the dragon and cut off the attack, which yielded fine results as it detonated in the demon’s faces. Pressing his hind legs, Balkzardan leapt onto the middle head.

    Keizer Ghidorah felt his body electrocuted by Balkzardan’s touch and engulfed by miniature explosions. The heads tried to sink their teeth into the electrifying monster, but the pain was too great, even when he moved an inch. Keizer Ghidorah painfully charged into a damaged skyscraper, trying to get the electrocuting kaiju to let go. Balkzardan held on tightly, bracing the impact while frying the Keizer’s muddy, golden scales. Keizer Ghidorah’s screams grew louder as the electricity was burning him to crisp, causing him to collapse against the skyscraper. The towering building slowly toppled down upon Balkzardan and Keizer Ghidorah, burying the two titans underneath a giant pile of smashed concrete, steel, and rubble.

    The woman covered her child for protection as the the ground shook violently from the skyscraper’s impact, blotting everything in a cloud of ash and dust. With some fortunate luck, both the woman and the child were still in one piece. She turned around slowly, startled to see one of Keizer Ghidorah’s charred heads exposed from the rubble. It stared at them with its two crimson eyes that dimmed away. The woman, along with the frightened daughter, looked back at the head, noticing the draconic head wasn’t showing any signs of movements or breathing. The all-mighty Xilien trump card, an off-shoot of the infamous Ghidorah lineage, was now no more.

    The pile of debris shook as the injured Balkzardan slowly crawled out of the debris that buried most of Keizer Ghidorah’s body, which became the demon’s grave. Balkzardan let out a painful groan and stumbled onto the ground. He laid down and panted heavily. The whole fight had pushed him to his limits; Balkzardan couldn’t even lift his head. He noticed the woman and the girl, along with several other survivors coming out of the wreckage that they hid in. Balkzardan watched as the humans approached closer to him, not moving a single muscle so he wouldn’t frighten them. The little girl, along with the mother, got closer to the wounded savior of San Francisco. Balkzardan stared at the child, who walked up close to his face.

    Despite the massive damage on the city that Balkzardan had done, nigh equivalent to the Xilien invaders and Keizer Ghidorah, the child believed that it wasn’t Balkzardan’s fault. She believed that all it wanted to do was to end the invasion. The little girl hugged Balkzardan’s face and smiled a bit as she spoke to the mythical monster. “You saved us all.”

    Balkzardan heard those faint words spoken to him. He did not understand what she said, but felt the meaning to her words. Balkzardan let loose a low purr as the child let go of his face in a playful spark of static electricity that frizzled her hair. The mother walked to him.

    “Thank you, for saving my daughter,” said the woman as she warmly smiled at Balkzardan.

    The two backed away from the injured kaiju. Balkzardan’s reptilian nostrils blew as the celestial deity slowly got up on all four of his feet. The woman and her child, as well all of the survivors, cheered for the rising mammalian-like reptile that ended the invasion. Balkzardan looked around and saw all the damage that he, the Xiliens, and Keizer Ghidorah had brought upon San Francisco, as most of the buildings were crushed or ignited in flames. Wanting to repay humanity for most of the destruction that he had done, Balkzardan began to manipulate the weather once more.

    The thunderclouds were still lingering and from them birthed a soothing rain. The calm showering rain drops extinguished any traces of fire that burned. Balkzardan stood on the burnt carcass of Keizer Ghidorah. The ancient legendary kaiju, Balkzardan, let loose a loud howl of victory that could be heard throughout California. The survivors all watched their celestial savior leap in the air to take flight, disappearing in the clouds so he could recover his injuries. And like a cryptid of old, he vanished, nowhere to be seen.

    * * * * *

    X yelled in anger, slamming his fist on the wall in a fit of rage. Peeling his arm away, the Xilien leader discovered a massive dent, a physical representation of his failure.

    “That damn, uncontrollable monster managed to kill my best kaiju… How? How did it managed to kill Keizer Ghidorah?!”

    The leader tightened his shaking fist, wanting to send one of his controlled kaiju to torture Balkzardan in the most painful way that he could ever imagine. But with all of the starship fleets destroyed, the Xilien leader sighed in frustration as he had no other choice but to abort the mission, issuing the command to retreat. At least, for his vessel.

    “Send in Hedorah, I want him to find this weather controlling kaiju and give him hell!”

    * * * * *

    One of the special spacecrafts detached from the mothership, hovering a few miles away to release Hedorah from the tractor beam. The smog monster let out a gurgle cry when it materialized from the beam of light, quickly shifting into its flying form to pursue its newest target, the slayer of Keizer Ghidorah.

    Winner: Balkzardan

    K.W.C. // January 30, 2021
  • Legendary is continuing to expand the MonsterVerse. That franchise, first launching with Godzilla (2014), is now breaking on to TV. The series, titled Skull Island, will be animated and focus on the titular location of the movie Kong: Skull Island (2017). This article is a news roundup of details related to the upcoming series.

    (more…)

    News // January 27, 2021
  • Authors: Landon Soto  | Banner: Andrew Sudomerski

    Deep in the unknown reaches of space, a lone entity lazily flew through the seemingly endless black void. Unaffected by the frigid vacuum and lack of oxygen, the being was crimson in color, resembling an Earthling bat, but far larger than any flying mammal.

    Bagorah flapped his black wings as he soared through the cosmos, listening closely to the sounds of the universe. Gifted with hearing like no other, Bagorah could hear the sounds that came from other planets if he tried hard enough. The bat-like extraterrestrial was feeling hungry and used his advanced echolocation to try and find a meal.

    Many sounds filled the creature’s large ears, stars burning, spacecraft engines roaring. The closest sound however was a wail, followed by a bellowing roar. The crimson bat opened his beady emerald eyes as he began to flap his wings faster, heading toward the source of the commotion.

    Closer and closer the giant space bat got to the greyish blue planet, drool pooled inside his toothy maw, the predator’s facial structure gave the bat an almost twisted smile, elated in having found sustenance. Bagorah was indeed becoming more anxious, having not eaten for nearly a week, it was time to replenish his energy.

    Bagorah broke through the atmosphere with little trouble, the rocky terrain coming into full view, as the bat monster slowed his descent. The crimson bat perched himself atop a tall mountain, his eyes scanning the dark surroundings as his ears twitched. The giant space bat turned his head, hearing the bellowing roar from before. Bagorah could feel the mountain tremble even from this distance. The bat spread his terrible wings and took to the dark cobalt blue sky.

    Carefully eyeing the grayish blue mountainous terrain, Bagorah could see something in the distance faintly illuminated by the planet’s moon. Flying higher to avoid detection, the vampiric monster stopped in the air, flapping his wings to stay aloft. Bagorah watched in awe at the sight before him.

    Now fully illuminated by the moon, the figure roared into the night sky, pinning a colossal worm-like creature against the side of a mountain. Bagorah immediately noticed the bizarre features of the entity; four spider-like limbs made from bone, protruded from the spine were the most notable. The monster was humanoid with ridged lavender and teal skin. The torso appeared to be completely composed of bone as well, with sharp bone-like protrusions on its knees, giving the native an almost armored appearance. Its tail, tipped with a sharp spike, swayed along the ground.

    Cries of pain filled the air as the olive-green worm struggled to break from the hunter’s clutches, but to no avail. Bagorah watched as the humanoid stabbed the writhing worm with its four hooked appendages, purple blood oozing from each wound. Bagorah mustered as much restraint as possible, knowing it was unwise to dive in head first without thinking. The humanoid repeatedly stabbed into the worm until it was motionless, releasing its grip. The armored being let the worm fall to the ground, lightly nudging the carcass with its pointed foot.

    Bagorah watched as the predator turned to the side, finally able to see the beings face. Bagorah’s eyes widened at the truly bizarre sight, the armored alien’s teal face was elongated; no eyes, nose, or ears, just a massive maw filled with razor sharp teeth. A single row of bone-like protrusions ran along the creature’s head, down the spine and up its swaying tail.

    The bipedal alien squatted and grabbed the tail of the massive worm and wrapped its grey lips on the carcass, shaking its head violently, ripping a large chunk of meat off the creature. Bagorah, unable to control his hunger any longer, propelled himself upward with a powerful thrust of his wings, before soaring down toward the unsuspecting alien.

    The Visitor ripped off another chunk of meat and stuffed it into its giant maw, cutting up the treat effortlessly. Bagorah’s jaws dripped saliva as he got closer, stretching his legs outward, the giant space bat swooped down and sunk his yellow talons into the worm’s skull. The wind toppled over the Visitor as Bagorah sprang upward into the air and stole its meal, the teal alien roared in confusion as it watched the crimson bat glide off with its kill.

    Bagorah twisted in the air to face the armored alien, who sprinted toward the bat, furiously roaring at the winged beast. Bagorah cackled as he mocked the alien, flapping his wings harder, kicking up dirt and rock that pelted the thick skin of the Visitor, Bagorah watched as the teal and lavender extraterrestrial was knocked onto its back, violently flailing its limbs as it tumbled over the uneven terrain.

    The Visitor screeched as it used its four hooked appendages to dig into the ground and anchor itself, breathing a sigh of relief as the hurricane winds died down. Bagorah chirped gleefully as he flew up toward another mountain, laying the carcass down on the elevated surface and tore into the flesh with his yellow fangs, savoring the earthy taste of the worm.

    Meanwhile, the vampiric monster was oblivious to the Visitor, who was already on the move. The alien ran up the mountainside, stabbing into the vertical wall with his four crab like appendages for extra grip. The large mouthed alien snarled as it quickly climbed to where Bagorah was, anxious to make this intruder pay for stealing from it.

    Bagorah moaned as his cheeks were stuffed with worm meat, drool dripping onto the grayish blue ground. The sound of chewing blocked out any other noise, that was until a familiar roar echoed through the giant space bat’s skull.

    Bagorah twisted around to face the call, swallowing his food. He was greeted by two giant clawed limbs that stabbed into the top of the mountain, followed by two hands grasping the ledge. The unforgettable maw of the Visitor became more and more visible, snarling at the space bat as the alien hoisted his body onto the mountain. Bagorah spread his wings out, standing at full height in a display of dominance, hoping to intimidate the bizarre alien. The Visitor wasn’t backing down, however, rising to his full height, stretching his four crab like appendages open, and snarling at the thief.

    The crimson bat stared at the Visitor, wary of the massive claws and wide-open jaws ready to lash out at any second. Bagorah opened his maw and emitted red rings of sonic energy that washed over the Visitor, at first the alien seemed unharmed, but soon began to cry out in pain as it felt its skeleton quake, as pain radiated throughout the Visitor’s entire body.

    Bagorah ceased the assault and watched as the Visitor’s arms and giant claws slumped to the sides of his body. With a powerful flap of his wings, the giant space bat barreled toward the Visitor, slamming into the bone plated chest and knocking the alien off the mountain.

    The Visitor howled in shock before it slammed into the ground, leaving a large crater in the rocky terrain. The bizarre extraterrestrial groaned as it clutched its head, the alien slowly came to as its body recovered. Rising up, it awaited the vampiric monster’s next attack. Bagorah, believing the giant mouthed alien to be worn down, swooped from above and prepared to sink his claws into the lavender alien.

    Bagorah sped toward the Visitor, who flexed its claws in anticipation. Once in range, the Visitor lashed out with its two upper appendages. The bat scoffed, raising his feet up and grabbing the claws in his clutches. The Visitor tried to strike the bat with its humanoid claws, but the vampiric space monster swiftly wrapped his tail around the Visitor’s arms, binding them together.

    Rising into the sky, Bagorah dragged the Visitor off the ground. The crimson bat flung the predator into the air, watching as he once again hit the rocky terrain with a thud. The feral creature rolled along the ground, attempting to rise. Bagorah, however, was already on the offensive, slamming his bulk onto the Visitor. The space bat pinned the lavender humanoid with his claws feet and clamped his jaws around the elongated skull.

    The Visitor howled as it felt its blood flowing from his cranium, Bagorah pinned down the upper crab like claws with his wing talons, preventing them from lashing out. The Visitor roared in rage as its normal claws did little to deter the bat. Bagorah savored the blue blood that poured down his slimy throat, the metallic taste of victory at last.

    Bagorah kept sucking away at the predator, noticing a faint glow coming from the Visitor’s head. Growing in intensity as sparks of energy began to crackle, Bagorah felt a sharp pain in his teeth that forced him to release his bite. The Visitor began to thrash about, shaking off the giant space bat, who landed a few meters away.

    The Visitor turned around, angrily huffing and puffing, his head glowing bright, illuminating the night. Bagorah cocked his head in wonder, spreading open his wings. The Visitor roared as it leaned over, its cranium pulsating with azure energies. Bagorah’s eyes widened as he flew away from the humanoid, having encountered many creatures in the past that had ranged attacks.

    The Visitor fired a thin bluish-white ray of energy that sped toward Bagorah, the giant bat screeched as he tried to outmaneuver the attack. Flying higher and higher, Bagorah sought to hide behind a mountain, but then shrieked in pain as his body was struck by the beam. Bagorah felt waves of energy assault his body, his muscles spasmed as he fell from the sky.

    Landing on the ground with a loud thud, Bagorah groaned as he struggled to rise, feeling an unbearable headache throbbing in his skull. The Visitor roared as he sprinted toward the fallen bat. Bagorah saw the humanoid rapidly approach and opened his wings, flying toward the Visitor at full speed.

    Bagorah stuck his claws out as he closed the gap, the Visitor leapt into the air to smack down the giant bat, but was still overpowered. Feeling Bagorah’s claws sink into his shoulders, the Visitor roared in rage as Bagorah slammed it down to the ground and ripped into its exposed pink skin with his talons.

    The Visitor clawed at Bagorah’s chest, small drops of blood and sparks fell from his crimson hide. Bagorah was oblivious to the giant claw that bludgeoned the side of his face, knocking him to the ground, Bagorah yelped as his head throbbed. The Visitor pounced on the bat, fueled by his ever-rising anger.

    Landing devastating blows into Bagorah’s chest, the Visitor roared happily as each strike knocked the air of the vampiric entity. The boney humanoid began to stab his giant spider-like claws into Bagorah. After a few jabs, the Visitor finally broke through Bagorah’s tough hide, black blood flowed from the fresh puncture wounds on Bagorah’s body. The Visitor struck the bat’s mug again, but received a painful surprise as Bagorah clamped his jaws on the predator’s left hand.

    Yellow fangs dug into the Visitor’s hand, who flung his head back and screeched in agony. The lavender and teal alien stabbed its two upper clawed limbs into the sides of Bagorah’s head, drawing more blood. Bagorah released his bite as he yelped in shock, the Visitor decked the giant back in the nose as a loud crack echoed throughout the canyon.

    Oily black blood flowed from the vampiric monster’s nose like a river, whimpering as he felt the pain from his broken nose radiate across his face. Bagorah quickly opened his maw and fired a round of sound blasts that struck the Visitor’s face, forcing the humanoid off the bat.

    A crimson spear-like tail whipped the Visitor in the face, forcing it to stumble back. Bagorah flew upward and stayed aloft. The Visitor roared at the bat, demanding he come down and fight, but the space bat was starting to have second thoughts. His wounds weren’t severe, they would heal eventually, but the giant space bat knew when to call it a day.

    Bagorah opened his maw and released another wave of supersonic energy, red rings bombarded the Visitor, forcing the living weapon to cry out in agony once more. Bagorah swooped down and stuck his spear tipped tail outward, stabbing into the gut of the predator. The Visitor grunted as it felt its blue blood flow from the wound. Ignoring the pain, the Visitor clutched the tail in its claws, spinning quickly and dragging Bagorah through the air like a kite.

    The bizarre alien let go of the bat and watched as he landed on the ground with a thud. Bagorah screeched as he propped himself up, snarling at the Visitor that was approaching ever closer. Both aliens stared at each other, their breath heavy, having managed to tear each other down.

    Bagorah’s eyes locked onto something in the distance, the worm he previously stole. It seemed as though he had accidentally knocked it off the mountain. Bagorah opened his maw again; however, the Visitor was ready, directing its cranium in response. The alien fired a smaller version of the ‘Brainspasm’ beam right into Bagorah’s face.

    Although the beam was considerably weaker, the following explosion blindsided the giant bat, who screeched in pain as he took to the air. Flying past the Visitor, the lavender alien sprinted after the bat. Bagorah sunk his claws into the dead worm and began to fly away, before feeling a sudden shift in weight. Looking down, Bagorah saw the Visitor’s jaws clamped down on the end of the worm, digging his claws into the fresh meat.

    The two space predators were locked in a giant game of ‘Tug of War.’ Bagorah wrapped his tail around the worm’s neck for extra grip, as the Visitor planted his feet into the rocky ground, stabbing his four giant claws into the carcass. The two continued to pull and pull, unaware of the gaping holes the Visitor had previously inflicted on the carcass, ripping themselves apart.

    Suddenly, the two aliens heard a loud rip as Bagorah barreled through the air and the Visitor landed flat on his posterior. Both monsters roared in shock before regaining their wits. Bagorah flapped his large wings in the air as he stared down the Visitor, the armored alien doing the same. Both had nearly half of the worm to themselves, each piece larger than themselves.

    The Visitor grunted as it hoisted the worm over its shoulders, staring back at the vampiric beast, for minutes on end, before finally walking away to find a place to finally eat in peace. Bagorah grunted as he too turned his back on the alien, flying far away from it. Bagorah landed atop the tallest mountain he could find, dropping his portion of the worm and began to ravenously feast upon it.

    Eventually Bagorah finished his meal and took to the stars, leaving the nameless planet behind. Perhaps one day he would return if he ever had a craving for the olive-green worms. However, Bagorah made a mental note to not cross the more… Aggressive inhabitants.

    The Visitor grunted as it sat atop a cliff, gazing at the stars. If it ever saw the bat again, it wouldn’t hesitate to beat it to a bloody pulp. Admittedly… It was nice to have good company for once.

    Draw: Bagorah, The Visitor

    K.W.C. // January 20, 2021
  • Authors: Dan Rogers | Banner: Matthew Williams

    A tense wind blew across the icy wastes of the North Pole. Moments ago, a strange object appeared in the sky, silently observing the barren terrain. It was uncertain how it got here. There was a bright flash of light, and once it cleared, it was there, gently bobbing in the air. The entity appeared to be a ship of some kind, yet it lacked the shape of any vehicle known to mankind. The body of the ship looked organic, while unnatural metal domes and spikes bulged from it like tumors.

    Miles below the ice, a gray haired man stared at an image of this ship on a large computer monitor, scrutinizing every single detail of its appearance. It was his first inclination to simply destroy this object, as no being, whether from Earth or not, should be allowed to approach his domain. However, his wrath was tempered at the thought of what knowledge he could gain from this new technology. His plans had been foiled in the past by a simple primate, and he relished the thought of upgrading his mechanical behemoth and extracting his revenge. Besides, regardless of how long he waited, these creatures that dared to approach him would suffer eventually.

    The entire room was silent. Once the ship had appeared on the monitor, every worker and assistant had frozen in place, with their eyes locked on the screen. Despite being in the employ of brilliant Dr. Who, none of them had seen anything like this. The scientist could feel the fear grip the entire room. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw his workers tremble. He felt only disgust.

    A gasp filled the room, causing the doctor to whip his head back toward the screen. A pair of green, soulless eyes stared at him. This creature’s skin was rough, its maw hung open, with a complete vacant expression adorning its face. The man’s eyes drifted downward, as he continued to study the creature. Its body was covered by armor, but still appeared to be bloated, almost like a corpse. Its arms split, bifurcated at the elbow. Who’s eyes quickly shifted, as he noticed another one of these creatures moving through the background, revealing the four insect-like legs propping up this grotesque vision. The scientist thought they were disgusting. A sick grin formed across his face.

    “Gentlemen,” Who spoke as confidently as ever. “My name is Dr. Who, and you are in my airspace. Identify yourselves immediately.”

    There was a brief, yet unbearably tense, moment of silence. The creature slowly turned to its left, and pressed a button on its console. “Human, we are the Leviathan.” The alien’s mouth remained motionless, somehow speaking without vocal cords.

    A worker swallowed hard, while another shifted uncomfortably in place. Despite the voice being completely monotone, it shook the doctor’s crew to their core. Who, however, remained completed unwavered. “And what do you want?” Who demanded, his voice becoming far more serious.

    The Leviathan once again was silent, for a moment. Who began to understand that this being was taking time to process what had been said to it. “We require what you humans refer to as ‘Element X’.”

    The man felt his eye twitch, as he gripped tightly onto the arm of his chair. He forced a smile onto his face. “Unfortunately, all the ‘Element X’ belongs to me, and I simply cannot part with it.”

    Much to Who’s surprise, the alien’s reply came much faster this time. “It was not a request.”

    The doctor felt a flame begin to rise in him. How dare this insect speak to him like this? He had killed people for less. Despite this, he had decided that he would make one more attempt to remain civil. “Perhaps, we can work out a trade.”

    “Yes, a trade,” the Leviathan responded. “We will take the Element X…” It fell silent for a moment, seemingly pondering the situation. “…And you may keep your lives.”

    That was the final straw for Dr. Who. He refused to be spoken to with such impudence, especially from some overgrown insect. He lifted his hand to his mouth, considering his options. “Your terms are fair.” He spoke, his voice completely flat. “We will load the Element X onto the lift, and send it up to you at once.” His hand hit a switch, turning off the audio to his microphone. He kept his hand to his mouth, as he turned to his subordinates. “Prepare Mechani-Kong.”

    *****

    The Leviathan’s ship silently hovered in the air, waiting for the human scientist to fulfill his agreement. Wind began to blow again, kicking up snow and ice into the air, clouding the area. The sound of the lift filled the air, and though the Leviathans could not see the area clearly, they willed their ship toward their prospective cargo. However, as they approached, a dark silhouette became visible.

    Suddenly, a large metal canister pelted the side of the ship, exploding on impact. Though there was no physical damage on the outside, the inside of the ship began to shake, knocking several of the creatures off balance. The figure stepped out of the shadows, revealing its full visage to the invaders. Its long arm reached to its belt once more ripping off another canister. Mechani-Kong lobbed the explosive, once again, meeting its target. Smoke began to emit from the aircraft, as it began to lose altitude.

    The robotic ape took a few steps forward, and opened its mouth. “It seems you had no clue who you were dealing with!” Dr. Who’s voice boomed from the speaker. “I am the world’s greatest scientist and future ruler.” The mech grabbed another explosive. “I will be treated with respect!”

    *****

    Back under the ice, the mad scientist leaned back in his chair, extremely pleased with himself. It became evidently clear to him that not only would the people of Earth eventually bend their knee to him, but the entire galaxy would, as well. He turned back to the monitor on which he was communicating with the Leviathan. The alien struggled to lift itself back to its feet. Who took great pleasure in the creature’s pain.

    The scientist leaned into the microphone and spoke through his metallic beast again. “As you can see, I already have the upper hand. I could easily destroy you now.” He smiled. “However, since I am a fair man, if you admit defeat and leave behind some of your technology, I will spare your lives.”

    The creature finally gained its footing. “Foolish human,” its voice still monotone, “did you really think we did not expect this?”

    Who furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”

    “Your species is all alike,” it judged. “You will throw away guaranteed survival for even the chance of what you perceive as freedom, yet your actions trap you all the same.” The creature moved its bifurcated limb across the console. “Your predictability allowed us to plan for this contingency.”

    *****

    The ground below the Kong of Steel began to shake, the ice cracking beneath its feet. Who struggled at the controls to keep his only means of defense on its feet, as the Leviathan’s ship slowly began to back away. More and more fractures began to appear in the ice sheet, but the doctor did not dare attempt to move Mechani-Kong, lest his creation plummet into the water below. Suddenly, the ground in front of the robotic ape shattered, as a figure rose from the abyss. The mystery creature let loose a metallic version of an all-to-familiar roar.

    SKREEEE-ONK!

    Dr. Who’s mouth was left agap, as he studied this new adversary. One arm was completely cybernetic, while the other was flesh. Armor adorned its body, reenforcing an already impressive physical structure. It was a morbid marriage of biology and technology, and in all honesty, Who wished he had thought of it himself. However, the doctor could not allow himself to be too impressed with this monstrosity. He had already decided that this alien race was pathetic and far beneath him.

    The robot Kong reared its arm back, about to throw another canister. In response, the Leviathan’s cyborg lowered its body, as four lights began to emanate from cybernetics grafted to its spines. Before the mechanical duplicate could react, a missile rocketed through the air, and collided with the canister in its hand. The explosion was massive, causing Who’s creation to stumble to the side. Seeing this as an opening, Cyber Godzilla rushed its opponent.

    Thinking quickly, the mad scientist turned on the high beams installed in the robot’s eyes. If it worked on the Eighth Wonder, it certainly would work on a reptile on life support. The lights flipped on, directly shining in the cyborg’s eyes. Somehow, though, it was completely unaffected. It continued its rush, without even letting out a groan of complaint. Without warning, it jumped into the air, tackling the Kong of Steel to the ground.

    The doctor was furious. “I don’t understand! How did it-” He stopped as he looked closer on the monitor displaying his robot’s point of view. The cyborg’s eyes were the same sickly, soulless green as those disgusting insects. It dawned on him. The creature wasn’t using its eyes. It was being controlled by the Leviathan completely.

    Cyber Godzilla perched itself upon the chest of the mechanical behemoth, as it attempted to bite into its armored plating. A chorus of gnashing teeth filled Mechani-Kong’s vision. This was exactly what Who wanted. While the alien’s beast had superior technology, nothing could match his creation in terms of sheer strength. The mech reached forward, and gripped the cyborg by its neck, causing it to let out a strangled yelp. In a single swift motion, Cyber Godzilla was flipped onto its back by its prone opponent. Mechani-Kong sluggishly stood up, and began to pummel the cyborg.

    As the strikes continued and pieces of machinery broke off, the mechanized reptile let out a wail of pain. A grin spread across Who’s face, absolutely delighted as he came to realize this creature still could feel pain. A well placed punch slammed the cyborg’s face into the ice, creating a crater in the ice sheet. Mechani-Kong then began to attack its opponent’s chest. After several blows dented the armored exterior, the mechanical primate placed its hands to the center of the cyborg’s chest and began to attempt to rip it open. The metal creaked in protest, as the cyborg attempted to squirm out of the behemoth’s grip. With a loud clank, the chest cavity opened, as a satellite dish-like device began to extend from it. A high pitched squeal emanated from it. The doctor hit a button on his control panel, commanding the Kong of Steel to continue his attack.

    Yet, his creation remained unresponsive. Who hit every button he could on the console, as he attempted to regain control of Mechani-Kong. The cyborg, still pinned under the robotic ape, managed to flip to its stomach, as it attempted to claw its way out. The creature roared, as it became clearer that its efforts were futile. The Leviathan’s ship, which up until this moment sat as a silent observer of the conflict, approached the two metallic beasts. A panel on the ship lit up, and immediately began to rain laser fire down on the two. The inactive Mechani-Kong was struck first, collapsing on its side. Cyber Godzilla, now free, attempted to distance itself from the attack, yet was struck in the crossfire. It fell forward, sliding along the ice, moving just far enough as to not be damaged further by the Leviathan’s onslaught.

    Who slammed his fist down on the console, as he cursed at himself. At this point, he had to admit, he was simply outgunned by the alien’s technology. As long as they were involved, his creation had no chance of winning. The cyborg didn’t even need to see on its own while it was being controlled remotely. The only strategy became evident. Who would have to take care of the insects first.

    The doctor placed his hand on the console, attempting to revive Mechani-Kong. His creation roared to life, as it stood up. Who decided that he would no longer waste time on the loathsome reptile, and he would simply attack his threat directly. The robotic ape ripped a canister off of its belt and lobbed it at the ship. Like before, it exploded on impact. Cyber Godzilla whipped around at the sound of the impact, as it let out a roar, directly challenging its opponent. It was ignored, as the Kong of Steel simply pulled another canister off of its belt. It reared its arm back to throw the explosive at the ship, but was met with thirty-seven thousand tons of flesh and metal colliding with its back. While the counterfeit Kong undoubtedly weighed more, the unexpected force traveling at such fast speeds caused it to lose its balance once more, as it fell to its chest.

    Mechani-Kong quickly turned to its back. It swung its arm, colliding immediately into the face of its attacker. Cyber Godzilla’s body flew to the side, its body scraping against the ice. Its sliding came to a halt, as it dug its claw into the ground. The robot Kong sat up, as it pitched the explosive canister at its opponent. The explosion enveloped the cyborg, dazing it. Dr. Who’s creation managed to get to its feet once more, hurling explosives at the Leviathan’s warcraft. The ship, once more, began to lose altitude. The outside of it smoked.

    The Kong of Steel opened its mouth, allowing Who to speak through it again. “It seems we are reaching the end of this little game. Normally, I would be grateful for the chance to field test my creation…” His voice trailed off, the mechanical beast growing incredibly silent, as it reached for its belt. “Unfortunately, I would hardly call this a challenge.”

    *****

    The Leviathan on the screen was nearly enveloped in smoke. The area behind it, once lit with thousands of monitors and lights, had grown dim. A member of its species lay unconscious behind it. Its face had remained just as expressionless as when Who first laid eyes on it, yet it had stopped communicating with him once the battle swung in his favor. A sick grin formed on Who’s face. He now struck fear into this creature.

    “If you think this is the end…” the creature, though completely monotone, spoke somberly. “You are a fool.”

    *****

    Cyber Godzilla emerged from the fiery smoke in which it had been concealed. The devices grafted to its spines began to glow once more. A barrage of missiles came forth, unleashing the remainder of its artillery on the seemingly unsuspecting opponent. Who’s eyes widened, as it realized what the aliens were doing. He quickly commanded his mechanical ape to fall to the ground. The missiles rocketed past the prone counterfeit Kong. Now, there was only one thing in the missiles’ path.

    The Leviathan ship.

    One after another, the missiles exploded on impact. The ship became enveloped in flame, as it fell to the ground. Who could hear the aliens wail in anguish as their bodies were immolated. He felt no pity. He felt only ecstasy. The ship erupted into a huge fireball, even dwarfing the ninety meter titans on this battlefield. As the flames subsided, the only thing left of this once proud airship was a dark black husk.

    The eyes of the cyborg faded from the sickly green to bright orange. It stepped back, confused, whipping its head around. It did not know where it was. The last thing this creature truly remembered was being caught in the cabling of a suspension bridge, pelted on all sides by missiles. Now, it was surrounded on all sides by ice and snow, struggling to get its bearings.

    Who laughed to himself. Despite reducing the ship to ash, he could still harvest the technology from their pet. The doctor cracked his knuckles, cocked his head to one side, and input the command for his creation to attack. Mechani-Kong slugged the unsuspecting Cyber Godzilla right in the jaw, before unleashing a fury of blows on its chest. The robotic ape took a single step forward and delivered a savage headbutt directly into the creature’s skull, causing it to yelp in pain. The cyborg reared back to attempt to hit its opponent in retaliation, but the counterfeit Kong turned on its high beams. Cyber Godzilla moved its arms to shield its face from the bright light, giving Mechani-Kong the opportunity to deliver an additional punch. The mechanized reptile collapsed to the ground.

    The robot Kong stood above the limp body of its enemy. It reached down, placing its large hands into the mouth of Cyber Godzilla, and started attempting to pry the mouth apart. The cyborg tried to fight back, but found itself far too weak to fight against the much more powerful mech. As its mouth began to open to a far more unnatural size, a white foam bubbled up from the back of Cyber Godzilla’s throat. The monster would soon meet its end.

    Suddenly, the cyborg’s eyes turned a bright blue, as a bright light flashed across its spines. A burst of blue atomic fire shot from its gullet, directly impacting the face of the counterfeit Kong. Who’s creation fell backward, while the doctor himself sat in disbelief. He leaned forward, closely observing the movements of Cyber Godzilla as it returned to its feet.

    “Incredible…” he muttered under his breath.

    Cyber Godzilla’s spikes started glowing once more, before he unleashed his atomic breath on its opponent. Who tried everything to get his creation to return to an upright position, but the assault proved to be too much for it. Though Cyber Godzilla lost the ability to use its cybernetic enhancements, its own latent abilities proved to be more enough for the Kong of Steel. The cyborg reared its head back, as its eyes glowed bright blue. When it brought its head back down, it aimed directly at the ice below Mechani-Kong. As the atomic fire made impact with terrain, it shattered, sending all eighty-four thousand pounds of Who’s greatest invention down into a watery abyss.

    The cyborg approached the ice, and watched its opponent fade out of view. As the mechanical behemoth faded from view, Cyber Godzilla lifted its head back, and roared triumphantly. Lowering its head, it inhaled deeply. Though it won its battle, the victory was hollow. The creature could not remember how or why it was there. It turned away from the battlezone, following its instinct to whatever could resemble its home now. The monster required answers, but it would not find them here.

    *****

    Who’s control room sat in complete silence, all members of his staff in complete shock at what had just occurred. “Get out,” the doctor demanded, his voice stern, yet emotionless. Without a word of protest, everyone filed out of the room as quickly as possible, leaving Who alone with his thoughts. Rage consumed him as he took stock of the situation. While it would be quite the undertaking to rebuild Mechani-Kong, he knew it would be resolved in due time. No, what angered him was the fact that he had been humiliated once more. First, a primate and now, a reptile. Would these injustices know no end? Who slammed his fist down on the console, as he made a promise to himself.

    That creature would be his.

    Winner: Cyber Godzilla

    K.W.C. // January 10, 2021
  • Despite being a Godzilla fan for as long as I can remember, it was never apparent what my favorite Godzilla era was until a few months ago. I always thought the Heisei series was my favorite, and it could very well be someday; it is deserving of praise and recognition—not to mention it had a first impression on me. Then I thought it was the relatively new MonsterVerse. While Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (OK, not a Godzilla film, but it felt wrong not to include it, and it’s arguably the best installment in the MonsterVerse), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) are stellar films that have introduced a whole new generation to the kaiju genre. But aside from a few aesthetics in terms of cinematography, setting, and sound design, it hasn’t yet shaped me as a cinematic storyteller. Finally, the answer became crystal clear, and just so happens to be the one that started it all. (more…)

    General // January 1, 2021
  • Authors: Andrew Sudomerski & Alex Williams | Banner: Landon Soto

    In the darkness of the night, there was no mercy to be found; only hunger.

    A sickening rip pleasured his senses. He felt the lower torso of his humanoid prey being pulverized between his gnashing teeth. It burned the roof of his mouth and stung his missing fang, but his healing factor ensured that it wasn’t much of an issue. Rather than consume the rest of it, he waited. So many of these creatures had already digested in his gullet, but it was only recently he noticed something strange with these ghoulish humans. He wanted to see if his hunch proved right or not.

    The deathly pale blue wraith squirmed in his massive links, but nothing it did could deter the giant’s beastly grip. Even if it didn’t want to, the fifteen-meter Titan emitted steam, reforming from the waist down. In less than three minutes, the humanoid had restored its lost parts. The umibozu grinned with excitement and immediately tore the Titan’s lower half off again, savoring the consumption of human meat.

    For the savage, nothing mattered more than food. His taste buds yearned for human flesh, and it seemed his life-long dreams finally came to fruition. Yet he knew now wasn’t the time to be greedy. His face winced with each chew, still feeling the residual pain from an earlier bout. As he swallowed, he waited for the writhing humanoid to rejuvenate its lost half.

    Upon completion, the viridescent beast decided to be audacious rather than eat half of it, he deliberately shoved the whole creature into his maw, with only the head exposed. His fangs sliced through its flesh, cleaving the head from the rest of it. As the wild creature chewed on the lifeless body, he gently caught the falling head. Surely, it would take more time to regenerate, but it would be time well spent.

    Curious eyes demanded the palm to show the fruits of his ingenuity. Once he brought it to eye-level, confusion settled in. Rather than regenerate, the Titan deteriorated. The flesh that encased its head evaporated in billowing steam, leaving only the skull; that, too, dissolved into hot vapor. He gritted his teeth in frustration. He hadn’t meant to deliberately kill the thing, but it seemed fate punished him for his gluttony. Rising to his feet, the ravenous man continued to trek inland. He had cleared the premises of the Titans and the humans that had tried in vain to fight them, although he sought after one that had given him trouble.

    With a swift twist of the head, vicious eyes scanned for his brother. He had no doubt he was close by; no doubt he would try to corral him back on track. The beast’s greed sought to consume, and that was he had fully intended to do, even if it proved detrimental for their well-being. Even if they were here for a reason, all the savage needed was to devour to the last drop. Only then would he be satisfied.

    ***

    65th expedition – Wall Maria, Japan – 861 A.D.

    Hazy memories recalled the events that had transpired. His discovery of his Titan powers, the mission to reclaim the wall. It was hard for Eren to believe it had been over a year since they took back the land from the Titans… And even the corrupt government that overruled them. With Kubal MIA (or deceased), the squad under Hange’s supervision enacted a coup d’etat with the cooperation of the Garrison, Military Police insiders, and what little remained of the Survey Corps, putting everything on the line. Though even with all their might, fortune was in their favor, and were successfully able to overthrow the tyranny that dominated them for the last century.

    Yet all that felt like a dream. Only one memory remained punctually vivid in Eren’s imagination: trapped in the bowels of a Titan, surrounded by the filth and stench of Titan fluids and the dead. The way he clutched Hiana close to him, his right arm missing, regret swallowing his heart. At the time, he blamed himself for not being there for Mikasa; and likewise, not being there for Hiana when she was devoured. Those he held were taken from him, and his body coursed with rage and the endgame to destroy all Titans…

    ‘Why this?’

    His initial transformation passed by like a quiet haze. Anger pumped through his Titan body, swinging and crunching all that stood in his path.

    ‘I’m worrying too much, that’s why…’

    During his rampage, all he could recall was screaming from within the nape. Flesh-bound straps kept him tied down, his arms wrapped with a warmth that he kept close to his chest. Then, he had lost consciousness…

    Eren’s mind was lost in thought at the surreal dream that would come to life, but was brought back to reality by the transport vehicle’s guttural startup. If it wasn’t that, then the Survey Corps’ Commander Hange Zoe’s ecstatic chatter would have done the trick as well. Eren peered over to the source of the noise and noticed Izuru, the treasurer of homeland security from the Military Police (who had also been involved in the coup d’etat), sitting across from her. The man’s palms were pressed against his face.

    “Let me get this straight,” the financer muttered from under his hands, “you need more?” Hange replied with a beaming face. Izuru sighed, letting his hands down. “We’re not a pool of infinite wealth. Do you know how many stares I get every time we fund the Survey Corps expeditions?”

    “You worry too much about that,” Hange playfully retorted. “Besides, didn’t you say that the ‘new’ government would finance everything because we successfully retook the walls? Sounds like a fair trade to me.”

    “That’s a gross oversimplification,” Izuru groaned.

    “Well, disaster prevention and management is part of homeland security’s obligations. And what we’re doing fulfills those requirements!” Hange remarked with a cheerful glee. If it meant studying Titans, then that was a train she was all aboard on.

    “Fine,” Izuru relented, “I’ll do as you request. Just please, I beg of you, let this be the last ridiculous thing for the time being. We need funds for the other reconstruction projects.” The Survey Corps commander nodded assuredly. Both of them rose from their seats and saluted, with their left hand behind them and their right hand clenched and pressed against their hearts. It was a casual salute as the commander and the blue-clad man made their way out of the bulky vehicle’s back door.

    “Eren? You here with us?” The familiar voice diverted Eren’s attention to his friend who sat next to him. Blonde bangs covered his forehead, complimenting his pale complexion. Eren locked with his sharp blue eyes, which held a certain affability that he was accustomed to.

    “Yeah,” Eren replied, half-dazed. “Are we finally getting a move on?”

    Armin nodded. “The commander requested extra supplies and resources for the mission, in the event we find more than just Titans out there.”

    ‘More than just Titans…’ The thought pinched a nerve as Eren clutched his forehead. Memories flashed before his mind’s eye, but he pushed them back. Now was not the time to succumb to fear. Armin’s expression shifted to one of concern, noting the oddity of Eren’s behavior.

    “Hey… Are you okay?” Armin asked. Eren shuffled his fingers through his dark brown hair, trying to recollect his composure.

    “Eren.” Another distinct voice called out, this one more feminine. Eren turned to face Mikasa, who wore her stoic countenance professionally. Her short, black hair draped over her face, reflecting how she felt. Around her neck was the carmine scarf she had since childhood, which she subconsciously held.

    “Tsk, suffering from memory loss again?” Jean Kirstein, the young taupe haired man who sat across from them, remarked. “Even the captain has a better time recalling yesterday’s breakfast.”

    Eren didn’t react to his comment. “I’m fine. We’re about to depart,” Eren stated.

    “Ah! Here they are!” Hange announced, her ecstatic voice ringing through the ears of the five scouts. Jean and Sasha covered their ears from their commander’s high pitched voice while the others were barely able to keep their composure.

    The group nonetheless stood firm as their commanding officer approached them and to their surprise a man with a stern expression on his face accompanying her.

    “So, these are your top five you talked about so much?” The soldier surmised, inspecting the group standing before him.

    “They certainly are! The best I currently have to offer under my command!” Hange proudly proclaimed, eliciting a wide grin to the soldier accompanying her.

    He turned his attention away from the group and back to Hange only giving her a simple mutter, “I see.”

    “Well, I have to make the final preparations before we head out. I want everyone at their best, so why don’t you introduce yourself, Captain,” Hange ordered, as she turned to make her way back to Izuru.

    The Captain turned his attention back to the five, his stern expression lingering. His stare pierced everyone but Mikasa, worrying each of them about the possibility of making a mistake. They remained motionless, waiting for their newly appointed captain to make the first move.

    The Captain’s mouth moved, as his voice evoked a calm, but commanding demeanor, “The name’s Levi, but you’ll call me captain or sir.”

    The five scouts remained motionless, carefully observing the information Levi conveyed to them, as their captain then spoke up, “Do I make myself clear?”

    “Sir, yes, sir!” The five scouts shouted in unison without any hesitation in their voices whatsoever.

    “Good,” Levi replied bluntly, showing no emotion in his voice. “Considering how we are given the luxury of formalities before we head out, I wish to ask each of you a question.”

    The captain stepped forward, observing each of his new subordinates, as he then clarified his stance, “Your answer and the way you answer will help me assess your skills and the type of soldier you are.”

    Levi directed his eyes over to Jean, as he espied the confidence he draped over himself. He placed himself in front of the scout, looking him directly in the eye. Jean felt the urge to gulp in fear, feeling apprehensive about how the new captain would judge him, but he fought those urges and stood tall. Jean himself to answer any question Levi would throw at him.

    “You nearly perished during the retaking of Wall Maria, did you not?” inquired Levi, keeping a blank expression.

    “I did and it’s going to take a lot more than being smashed by a Titan to put me down!” Jean proudly proclaimed, hoping he would inspire his comrades with his glowing confidence.

    “Your impudence is commendable, but do not think it’ll keep you alive forever,” Levi stated bluntly, causing Jean’s eyes to widen, with his mouth starting to quiver. The answer he provided backfired on him, something he never would have expected. “Your survival was completely circumstantial. Had that section of the wall been in better shape, you would have coated it with a brand new spray of paint.”

    “I…. I….” Jean stammered, completely dumbfounded by Levi’s assertion of his self-proclaimed impressive stunt. Now, it was reduced to dumb luck.

    “As a follow-up question, would you even attempt to pull the same act knowing full well it would just fall to chance?” asked Levi, as he examined his subordinate’s every body movement from his mannerisms to his facial reactions, with his eyes still wide as sweat started to drop.

    Jean was completely frozen, knowing he would do everything he can to ensure a mission would go as planned or to save a friend, but deep down he knew what Levi said had some truth in it. His lips pulsated rapidly, as a series of murmurs escaped his maw, creating an imperfect response.

    “No, sir. I….” Jean paused, slightly tilting his head down. “It’s not something I should leave to chance.”

    “I see,” Levi simply acknowledged, quicking taking his attention away from Jean and onto Sasha.

    “Your dossier says that you have a penchant for arrows, is that so?”

    “Absolutely!” Sasha cheerfully answered, as she then began to drone on excitedly. “I’ve been trained to use them since I was a child! My dog, Shiro, and I would often travel into the woods to hunt and we always brought in some delicious food! That makes me really hungry! We should all go there together! You’d all love the food it offers!”

    Levi held his hand up, immediately causing Sasha to close her mouth as her eyes widened, awaiting her captain’s response. “You use arrows to support your fellow teammates, gaining the Titan’s attention so they can come in for the killing blow when they least expect it. Tell me, what are you planning to do if that fails?”

    Sasha nervously gulped, fearful at the thought of having to be even near one of those monsters. She wanted to do everything she can for her fellow man and to even get some nice, warm meals out of it, but she dreaded the day when she would come face to face with a Titan. Sasha had to think of a response fast.

    “I…. I..” Sasha stammered out, searching for an answer that would satisfy Levi’s inquiry. “I think…. I…..”

    The gluttonous scout let out a defeated sigh, “I don’t know.”

    Levi looked at the recruit whose face was plagued with shame, as he shifted his eyes over toward Armin, not even dignifying her answer with a response. Sasha sniffed as her eyes started to water. Jean looked over at his teammate and gave her a small pat on the back, trying his best to provide her some sense of comfort.

    “I’m informed a good portion of our success is owed to you,” Levi stated as Armin looked back at him, anticipating his next words. “Keep it up.”

    Armin breathed a sigh of relief. While he felt sympathy for Jean and Sasha, he did not envy them. Somehow he managed to do a good enough job to avoid criticism, however, he was concerned for his friends. The strategist hoped the two of them would receive similar praise as he did.

    “Mikasa Ackerman. You’re a one of a kind Titan slayer. Trained by some of the best,” Levi stated, taking a second to inspect her stance, how she remained still during his evaluation, before moving on with his question. “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to complete the mission? How much are you willing to sacrifice to ensure we have a future?”

    Everyone turned to Mikasa, awaiting her response. She remained still as she retained her usual blank expression and did not hesitate to provide an answer. With a neutral toned voice, Mikasa answered, “Everything.”

    “Then we are more alike than what I originally thought,” Levi deduced, turning his attention away from her and toward Eren.

    Armin and Eren felt troubled by Mikasa’s answer. They knew her worldview was changed since the breach, but never knew it was to the point of self-destruction. Both of them wanted to talk to her, to tell her it will be “alright” and to make the past three years go away, but neither of them knew how to do it. The thought lingered on in Armin’s mind, but Eren had to snap out of it for the more pressing matter ahead of him.

    “How much of a liability are you?”

    “Excuse me?!” Eren nearly erupted out, but managed to restrain himself with a more leveled response, however, his glare remained painted on his face.

    “You’re a Titan, are you not? I’m not opposed to any weapon we have at our disposal, but I want to know if you’re more of an asset or a liability.”

    “Being a Titan means we’re able to not only match them, but surpass them. Thanks to my abilities we’ve been able to quell any resistance with little difficulty,” Eren said with determination, standing his ground.

    “I’m not talking about your abilities. I’m talking about keeping your emotions in check. You failed to defeat both the Armored and Colossal Titans.”

    Eren gritted his teeth while he clutched his hands in anger, being reminded of his past failures. Levi didn’t have the right to criticize him when he was still discovering his newfound abilities and learning the awful truth behind the Titans and the walls. Eren felt himself beginning to shake, agitated by the captain’s interrogation.

    “Can we really rely on you to help defeat any future anomalies or will you hinder us?”

    “I can defeat anyone I set my mind to!” Eren angrily yelled out, taking one step closer to Levi feeling fully confident he can crush any opposition in his way.

    “You may believe that, but that remains to be seen for the rest,” Levi bluntly declared, maintaining his stoic attitude. He turned to take his leave, feeling he gathered all the information he needed with his investigation with Hange’s elite. The results were mixed for him, it was something he expected, but he knew it was part of the job to teach them more discipline. Other leaders have failed to do so and if he didn’t do it, then they would surely perish.

    The Captain of the Survey Corps briefly turned his head to the side, getting a glimpse of Eren. “You have yet to convince me if you’re the right person for the task.”

    Eren snarled, but restrained himself as screaming at his new captain would do him no favors. The Titan shifter felt humiliation illuminating over his whole body, but before he could ponder it further, a voice called out to everyone.

    “Okay, everyone! We’re heading out!” Hange’s voice, as if it were a siren, blared out.

    On cue, the First Wall’s large metallic gates painstakingly opened and revealed the path to the outside world. The engine revved and quickly departed, grinding the dirt road with thick rubber. Several other support vehicles followed soon after, carrying the temporary resources they needed until backup arrived. Suddenly, the metal panel that separated the passengers in the rear from the driver slid open, revealing the commander and her right hand man, Captain Levi from the Scout division of Wall Rose’s west gate, who occupied the front seats.

    “Do I need to remind anyone here about speaking? Or do we need a demonstration of what happens?” the Survey Corps captain demanded. Not a soul uttered a word. “Good. Carry on, then.” He immediately slammed the panel shut, its resounding echo reverberating through the rear compartment of the armored vehicle.

    Any subject matter that was on their conscience was dropped. It wasn’t that the captain’s words were hollow threats to get everyone to shut it, but a curt reminder of the cruel world they lived in.

    They were going to be in Titan territory.

    However, the dreaded silence was cut short by an obnoxious crunch. Everyone within the box glued their eyes toward the source. The nimble figure held a potato in her hands, part of it already chewed off. Her teeth grinded the spud into paste and proceeded to swallow it. Before she could take another bite, her vibrant, amber eyes darted around at everyone who stared at her.

    ‘What?’ she would’ve said, ‘Just because we can’t talk, doesn’t mean we can’t eat!’ Without shame, Sasha Braus plunged into her partially-eaten spud.

    ***

    Beyond Wall Maria

    The eight-wheeled Stryker came to a grinding halt. Those that followed stopped dead in their tracks as well, with their personnel departing from the armored vehicles. Of the nine Strykers present, most carried extra blades, gas canisters, and a mobile refueling station for the Omni-Directional Mobility gear (ODM), while the others carried the Scouts and medical officers for the mission. Even more had a set of all-terrain open jeeps carried within for out of base travel. As the stations were being set up, Hange and Levi hopped out of their vehicle, the former with documents and a rolled map in hand. Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Sasha, who were part of the Survey Corps’ elite squad, stepped out of the rear compartment and grouped with the figureheads.

    No one spoke. Rather, Hange related special hand signals and gestures to issue her orders. Without hesitation, the Scouts plunged their controller grips into the boxes attached to their thighs and pulled out their blades, the auxiliary switches kept them locked in the hilt. When they pulled the hammer switch and pressed the first trigger with their index finger, the sharp-tipped anchors and steel wires flew over everyone else’s heads as they embedded into the nearby trees. Their central fingers pressed on the second trigger, blasting compressed gas from the main housing located on their lower backs, which granted them flight. The acceleration from the gas and the reeling of the tense wires pulled in by the lever ensured the Scouts were lifted from the ground with relative grace. Pulled in by the lever, the cables were swiftly whipped back into their spools before being fired again to maintain airlift. The Scouts scanned the proximity for any hostiles. It was why they were here.

    Fifteen minutes passed without a word. Their silence was for their benefit. A resounding bang was heard from a distance as a green flare was shot high into the sky. More green flares followed suit around the outermost perimeter. Hange sighed in relief.

    “Whew, I don’t know how much longer I could have kept it in,” she joked as her body loosened up. The commander and the elites gathered around one of the stations under the veil of a tent. She slammed the documents and rolled up paper on the table as she unraveled her battle map.

    “Here’s what we have,” Hange pointed to the outer ring, indicating the predestined coordinates of the Scouts’ locations, “We have the Scouts keeping guard up for any potential Titans approaching.” Her finger traced beyond the perimeter to a red X marked on the map, westward from where they currently were. “A few days ago, a scouting team went missing around here during a survey mission. The last transmission we received indicated the presence of a Jaeger Titan.”

    “I thought the Jaeger Titans we had on record were the only ones developed before the war?” Armin questioned.

    “It would seem we were misinformed,” Hange stated. “But then again, what’s to be expected from the outside world?”

    ‘A human that can turn into a Titan…’ The thought terrified Armin. History showed that the world had been destroyed during the Great Titan War over 100 years ago. If there were more Jaeger Titans out there, then all the circumstantial evidence had to be thrown into question.

    “What’s wrong with being cattle?” Armin recalled Kubal’s last words before their fight against the man who became the Colossal Titan. For the longest time, the interior government had the power to disclose information that suited their needs. So who was to say that mankind perished beyond the Walls? Who was to say that the Titans were the only monsters they needed to worry about?

    “For the time being, we’re going to keep put until the extra resources arrive,” Hange ordered. “Until then, we keep eyes peeled out for this Jaeger Titan. That will be our top priority.”

    “If there’s any chance that any of the Scout teams are in danger,” Levi added, “rendezvous to that point and give them a hand. Split up if need be. Do I make myself clear?”

    The elite squad straightened up and saluted, ready to give their hearts to the cause. “Yes sir!” they proclaimed.

    “Good. At ease,” Levi issued. Eren and company relaxed. “Got anything else to add, four-eyes?” the captain solicited, wiping his hands from the filth of the vehicle.

    Hange shook her head. “Everyone’s dismissed until further notice.” The group departed. Armin and Mikasa tagged along with Eren, and the others went about their business.

    ***

    It had been over an hour since they fired their signal flare. Ormand Miller and Riku Adams waited patiently along the treetops for any incoming Titans. It wasn’t a particularly exhilarating station to be at, but one vital to ensure everyone’s well-being.

    “Do you think there’s really another human shifting Titan out there?” Riku asked his compatriot.

    “Part of me wants to doubt it, but this is the commander’s orders,” Ormand replied. “I think she knows what she’s talking about.”

    “And we’re still deep in Titan territory, and in broad daylight on top of that. But don’t you find it strange that we haven’t seen any Titans? Or why we’re not doing this at night?” Riku inquired. “If there’s supposed to be a shifter Titan nearby, then where are the others?”

    “I don’t know,” Ormand said bluntly, “but it makes it a lot easier for us, less to worry about. From what I’ve heard, the previous Scout teams were under assault during the night. Frankly, day or night, I’m not in the mood to be Titan chow, thanks.”

    “They can travel at night now? That’s lovely. And you just had to say chow,” Riku complained, with his hand over his grumbling stomach.

    “Ha, you can have some when we’re ordered to turn back, assuming Braus hasn’t eaten the entire stash,” Ormand chuckled to himself. Riku silently warned him by pointing to the transceiver on his chest, reminding Ormand of the one strapped to his own. “Shit.”

    “You should count yourself lucky that she’s not connected to our channel, otherwise we’d be in for it,” Riku snickered.

    “Right, right,” Ormand complied. “Well, let’s scan our surroundings first to make sure we’re not missing anything.” The Scouts observed their surroundings with their keen eyes. The two year torture in the Cadet Corps enhanced their physical fitness and spatial perception, which ensured the most efficient use of their ODM gear. For a solid minute, there was only silence. That was until Riku caught something in his line of sight.

    “Hey, look down there,” Riku quietly pointed out, “I think it’s one of the Scouts from the previous mission!”

    Ormand focused on the human figure below, embroidered with the Wings of Freedom insignia on their overcoat, pressed against the trunk along the dirt path surrounded by thickets. They were distinctly masculine and had their ODM gear strapped to their hips. Their face remained hidden under their cloak, unable to assess an identity. But it seemed that was all they had equipped; their signal gun and radio transceiver were missing and there were no blades in their holders or their control grip. More importantly, their body was billowing with steam, which could only suggest one of two things.

    A shifter, or a survivor.

    “Oy, Riku, go check out the guy down there. I’ll inform HQ and keep an eye out for Titans,” Ormand requested. Riku didn’t resist as he hopped off the sturdy branch and went down to meet with the survivor.

    Meanwhile, Ormand pulled out his pistol and loaded it with the ammo needed. He pointed the barrel directly above him and pressed the trigger. What followed was a loud bang as a purple smoke trail reached for the sky. He put the pistol back into its holster as he changed frequencies to contact HQ and made his way up to the top of the tree for clear communication.

    “This is Miller from the 16th division, do you copy?” Ormand spoke into the transceiver, awaiting a reply.

    “We read you loud and clear,” buzzed Commander Zoe, “what’s the problem?”

    “We found an unidentified person in the woods. In need of medical treatment from the looks of it. Requesting a medical team and one of the elite squad members to accompany them. No Titan activity to report as of now.”

    “Understood. The medics will be accompanied by Braus. ETA in 10 minutes. Keep on guard. Over and out.”

    “Over and out,” Ormand ceased the transmission. ‘Well, at least we don’t need to worry about the food running low,’ he joked to himself. His eyes returned to Riku and the survivor and noticed Riku trembling in his boots.

    “Wait, what in the world?” Ormand murmured. Steel wires were discharged into the nearby trees that allowed him to gently descend to ground level. He landed near the two as he saw Riku pull out his signal flare. He pointed the barrel to the sky and fired. Black smoke rose into the air from the tube as Ormand’s heart skipped a beat. This only meant one thing.

    An Abnormal Titan.

    ***

    “Have you even talked to him?” Armin asked Mikasa, as the two kept their eyes on Eren, who was leaning against the front of a Stryker. The two had observed him for nearly an hour and to their astonishment, he didn’t even move. He was entranced by the openness of the field that surrounded them.

    Mikasa exhaled, conflicted on her feelings toward Eren for the past year, “Just here and there. Not too much.”

    Armin groaned as he pinched between his eyes and shook his head slightly. “I mean, actually sitting down and talking. Not during briefings.”

    Mikasa readjusted her scarf as an attempt to make herself more comfortable, but in reality, it was just a guise to buy more time to think of an answer. She was always blunt and direct, but when it came to Eren this past year, she was dumbfounded. While her and Eren were able to operate in a professional manner, they never seemed to have made their peace.

    Neither of them wanted to admit it, but there was still enough bad blood between them, and Mikasa wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted that bridge to be rebuilt. Still, she had to give Armin an answer. She didn’t want to lose her only friend left, but knew it would happen.

    “Armin,” Mikasa stammered out, trying to find the words to convey her feelings toward her former friend, but sadly found herself defeated, giving him a straight answer. “No. Our wounds are still too fresh for us.”

    Mikasa paused, despite being distraught by the situation presented in front of her, found the strength to finish her answer, “And I doubt they’ll ever heal.”

    Armin was shattered by his friend’s reveal, he had expected something like this after they all reunited, but nothing as grim as this. He wanted her to be willing to talk to Eren, to have the two people he cared about the most make up, so the three of them could be together again. It was the one thing that would help him tolerate the war they were in, but alas, it seemed not to be.

    All the brilliant tactician could hope for was the two of them to make their peace. Not just for his sake, but for their own. Armin took a deep breath in, as he placed a hand on Mikasa’s shoulder, eliciting a small shiver from her. A reaction she normally didn’t give off, but Armin was the exception. He was someone she could be up front with.

    “I hate to admit it, and when I say this, I mean, I wish it never came to this,” Armin paused, composing himself for what he was about to convey. “The three of us are never going to be the same, but we still have the option of making peace with it.”

    “Armin…” stutered Mikasa, shocked beyond belief by what her closest friend articulated.

    “Look, I know,” Armin paused. “But we have to. I don’t like it and it’s going to be hard to live with it, but we can’t let this conflict between the two of you go on. We need to move on. You need to move on.”

    Armin’s words flooded Mikasa’s ears and drowned every other thought, replacing them with nothing but her coming talk with Eren. Eren, who was the most important person in her life. Now, as if he were replaced by a completely different person. She sighed, knowing that wasn’t fully true or fair of her to preemptively accuse him of changing, when she herself changed. Whether it was for the better was not the time to be discussed, but of making peace with the people they became.

    Mikasa tilted her head up to Armin, as she placed her hand on his shoulder and spoke up, “I know what I have to do.”

    She turned to Eren, still keeping a watchful eye on the plains, as she marched toward him. Mikasa did, however, shift her head back to her brilliant friend, and gave him a small smile. Both of them knew they didn’t need to convey another word, as the final pieces of the transition were set in motion.

    Mikasa swung her head back to the direction she was walking in, leaving Armin alone with his thoughts. Despite giving his dear friend, one of the two people he loved more than anything, the advice she needed to get past this, he felt himself broken. Eren and Mikasa were able to change and move on, but him? He was the same person as he was before the Titans took Wall Maria.

    The strategist’s eyes started to well, as he struggled to keep tears from dropping from his eyes. He knew he had to practice what he preached for not only his well-being, but for everyone’s. The mission was far more important than his own feelings.

    A single tear escaped from his right eye and collided on the hard earth. The tiny, wet spot cleared quickly, as he inhaled. The tears rolled back into his eyes, as he stood determined.

    “When the mission is over with, I promise….” Armin stutered, forcing himself to take a moment to recompose himself. “I promise to grieve properly and to move on. We were all we needed back then, but we have to evolve.”

    “Peace,” Eren muttered to himself, as he kept his gaze on the open field.

    “Is that what this is?”

    He felt entranced by the vista as if it were a gateway to a better life. A life he previously thought was attainable, but all that changed when he encountered the Titans. He lost everything. His home, his livelihood, and the woman who could have made that life possible.

    The Titans took away that reality from him. Peace was something he could never have. This view was something he couldn’t have. Not back then, not now, and not the future.

    All he could hope for was to ensure others could have it.

    He was a Titan.

    Nothing more.

    “Eren,” A voice called out, snapping his attention away from the landscape. Eren saw it was his old friend, Mikasa, standing a few feet away from him.

    ‘Mikasa? What…. What does she want?’ Eren questioned, perplexed as to why she would speak to him now of all times. The two kept their distance from each other this past year, and he didn’t know how to talk to her. He knew she didn’t want to forgive him, and he couldn’t fault her for that. He didn’t help her when she needed him the most.

    “Mikasa,” Eren mouthed, keeping himself pinned to the armored vehicle. “What’s going on? Did Hange send for me or are we moving out?”

    Mikasa tugged at her scarf as she struggled to keep her composure, answering the Titan shifter’s question, “No, I…. We really need to talk.”

    Eren’s body froze over, realizing the time had come when the two discussed how distant their relationship had become. He dreaded how the conversation would turn out, but knew it had to happen for the two, and for the better. He didn’t want either of them to purposely ignore each other, as it did nothing but harm them and the good of the team.

    “Right, it’s time we did talk,” Eren concurred, shifting himself upward from the Stryker, standing fully straight, mimicking his former friend’s posture.

    “We really can’t keep doing this. Avoiding each other as if nothing happened,” Mikasa said bluntly, keeping her usual stoic expression, but with a hint of sadness creeping through her voice.

    Eren rubbed his face, taking the lead, “I know, and I tried.” The Titan shifter paused, taking a moment to collect himself, as he felt himself starting to shake. His lips quivered while his voice stuttered as he finished his reply, “I tried to save you and the baby, but there were too many people between us. I fought with every fiber of my being to get past them, but they just wouldn’t move, and before I knew it, you were gone.”

    “I’m sorry. I’m…… so sorry!” Eren cracked as tears poured from his eyes, his voice huffing and puffing between each breath he took.

    In the back of her mind, Mikasa wanted to comfort Eren, to tell him it wasn’t his fault, but relented. Going back to her old behavior of being a safety net for him was no longer her. If the two were able to move on for the better, then she would have to approach it in a new, foreign way.

    Mikasa tightened her hands, feeling rage brewing in her, as she then shrieked, “You didn’t come back! You left me to die! How do you ever expect to start again when you failed to keep your promises!?”

    “Don’t you think I know that!?” Eren screeched, regaining his momentum as he glared at his former friend while tightening his hands.

    “I know, but it wasn’t enough, Eren!” Mikasa vocialized, her voice cracking, as she knew she was about to tear up.

    “I did everything I could, and yet, I failed. Nothing will ever change that,” surmised Eren, knowing no matter what he did, his actions would result in failure one way or another. Had he been able to get to her in time, there was no doubt one or all three of them would have been devoured by that Titan. Only now, was Eren starting to realize their friendship was doomed from the very beginning.

    His heart dropped.

    Nothing in the world could prepare him for what was about to be said.

    “You did, and in a way, both of us died because of it,” Mikasa candidly murmured, desperately keeping her emotions in check, as they were slowly but surely breaking through her.

    “What?!” Eren bluttered, completely dumbfounded by what his distant friend revealed.

    “Neither of us were ever the same that day. You became a Titan and a symbol while I became one of the most disciplined Titan slayers,” Mikasa pointed out, illustrating just how much the two have changed since that horrendous day.

    “I…. I… just wish things stayed the same,” Eren sobbed, mourning the collapse of their relationship and everything they held dear during their time together. Seeing it as the life they built together crumbling to dust before his very eyes.

    “So do I, but we’re not who we were three years ago. Both of us have to let go,” Mikasa mumbled, as she opened up her hands and let them drop. A single tear rolled down her face, her stomach flooding with butterflies, as she stuttered with her breathing. “Eren….. I release you.”

    “As….. as do I,” choked Eren, tilting his head down as his teeth were chattering rapidly while his eyes were flooded. He didn’t know how to go on, but knew he had no other choice. Eren reluctantly picked himself off the ground and stood up, facing himself against his former friend, as he proceeded to bottle up his emotions to match Mikasa’s expression.

    The two stood still for a moment after saying their peace until both of them simultaneously knew it would be best to keep their distance. They turned in separate directions and marched, neither saying another word to each other nor turning back. Their conflict was finished and they were free.

    BANG!

    The two stopped in their tracks and turned to the open plains, noticing a black flare erupting from the forest nearby. Eren and Mikasa pulled out their gear and ran to their respective commanders, to inform them and the rest of their company of the emerging flare.

    A battle like none other was about to begin, and none of them knew it.

    ***

    “Hey! What the hell is the meaning of this?” Ormand demanded.

    The stranger disregarded Ormand’s words and backed away until he was a good distance away. He glared at Ormand dead in the eye.

    “We don’t have much time. If you can’t give me what I need, you two need to get out of here.” The man was adamant about what he said. “The Titans will be here any moment now.”

    “Titans?” Ormand said in disbelief, “You’re pulling my leg. We haven’t seen nor heard any such commotion since we got here.”

    “You don’t understand, you have to—” A sudden, violent burst cut him off from what he was about to say. They all howled as the scorching dirt and heat washed over them. Riku’s fingers slipped as he lost grip of his signal gun. It wasn’t long until they collectively heard the distinct thumping noises closing in on them, almost as if they came from the earth.

    When the air died down, they glanced over and saw the last survivor—expecting a body broken and broiled from the sizzling heat. Had they been anywhere near the blast, they too would’ve been killed. Yet unlike any human they had seen before, they were collectively shocked to see the wounded man still alive, his body glowing with violet embers.

    “GET. AWAY.” His commanding roar shook the green soldiers to their cores, temporarily speechless at the sight.

    “Is that…?” Ormand’s thoughts trailed to what was only a guess, but one that made reasonable sense from the classes on Titan identities. Only three such were known; Eren, Kubal, and…

    “Not good, not good!” Riku cried out, interrupting his thoughts. “Ormand, we need to do what he says!”

    “With you there!” Ormand retorted. Launching the wires from their spools, Ormand and Riku propelled themselves through the air with the aid of their gas supply. As they flew, Ormand pulled out his signal gun again, intending to warn the others of incoming Titans.

    Yet he never got the chance.

    Riku couldn’t even mutter a word to what he saw next. A pale blue body, nearly three meters long, whooshed by and tackled the airborne Ormand to the ground. In the brief moment he saw it, he noticed that its legs were freakishly disproportionate. They were elongated and angled like that of a frog, built for long distance jumping.

    Riku gulped as he scurried to find his pistol in its holster. Dread overcame him when he realized he was no longer in possession of it. ‘Son of a bitch, I must’ve lost it when the Titans came out!’ What would he do now? Turn back and save Ormand? Or continue forward and warn the team? He turned his head to weigh his options, and what he saw terrified him beyond belief.

    There were other Titans in hot pursuit, all ranging in various sizes from four to fifteen meters. Some ran in long strides, others hobbled along with quick steps, and still more crawled on all-fours, evading the dense foliage that stood in their path. Even in the distance, there were still more swarming where the mysterious man once stood.

    Regret welled up within Riku. There was no saving Ormand or the survivor; he had to live. He tried to contact HQ, but the trees blocked transmissions. ‘I have to get to the top,’ Riku thought. But if he stopped, then the Titans would certainly swarm him before he even had the chance to make the call. But it was a risk that he was more willing to take. He scaled the large tree with acrobatic wire pulling and gas propulsion until he reached the top. It swayed with the breeze, but he also felt the vibrations coming from under him, which rocked him even more.

    The Titans were directly beneath him.

    “Come in, this is Adams from the 16th division! This is a Code Red, we need—” At a glance, his eyes caught sight of purple lightning blistering down from the sky. An eruptive explosion shook the tree by its foundation, taken aback by the sudden blast. Steam and heat warped the nearby trees into cinders, with the realizing drawing on him as to the true nature of the survivor.

    He returned to speak into the transceiver, but by the time Riku noticed out of his peripheral vision, it was too late. Nearby trees had already been swayed abnormally and deliberately. When he realized why, it was already aimed straight for him. The frog-legged Titan had traversed the forest by leaping off the trunks and gave it the perfect vantage point. Its long, rugged fingers, flat teeth, and lips were stained with Ormand’s blood. It tore its mouth wide open and with a powerful bound, the freakish Titan closed the gap.

    Riku was cut off as his whole world became pain and darkness. The vile stench permeated his nostrils as he felt his abdominal region crushed under immense pressure. Immediately after, he was lighter in an instant as he fell into the abysmal depths. His life flashed before his eyes and lamented being unable to fulfill his dreams and wishes.

    Riku’s lower half lost footing as it plummeted below, eventually falling into the hands of the starved Titans. They tore it apart and scraped whatever morsel they could. Afterward, they continued their trek, to consume the humans who laid ahead.

    ***

    Large feet rummaged through the thicket. Ghastly breath sought more to consume. Voracious eyes took heed of the strange smoke off in the distance. Purple embers and a cauldron of heaping steam rose into the sky. The trees were set ablaze, charred and stripped of their leaves. With a guttural growl, savage recalled a similar sight from not long ago, yet of a much larger scale. However, he noticed movement within the trees. It was similar to when he was hunting the pale humanoids, much to his satisfaction. His eyes followed their path ahead and saw a distinct clearing within the forest; tents and armored vehicles were stationed and miniscule figures moved around.

    He snorted and grinned with his jagged teeth and yellow tusks, which had now fully healed. He knew walking there would be easier on his enormous form, as gravity’s pull became increasingly more intense the larger he got. But sometimes, to achieve one’s desires, one must be willing to brunt the pain that would accompany it. If fighting against the forces of gravity meant more for him to eat, it was something the green beast was more than glad to do as he anchored his feet into the ground.

    Or perhaps in this instance, payback time.

    ***

    The change in plans had everyone in a hurry.

    Jean forced himself into his uniform and equipped his ODM gear as quickly as he could. Without missing a beat, he rushed out of the tent and saw the other Scouts frantically scurrying about. His gut feeling told him something happened. Last he had heard, Sasha was supposed to accompany a medical truck to a survivor from the previous expedition. He sprinted toward the indistinguishable trio he’d recognize from a mile away.

    “Hey!” Jean shouted, “What in the hell is going on?”

    They stopped. Armin was the one to respond. “Someone fired a black flare. We have an Abnormal sighting… Or multiple of them, we’re not sure.”

    “What about Sasha? Is she all right?” Jean demanded, concerned for the well-being of his allies.

    “They left no more than five minutes ago, so they shouldn’t be too far out. But the driver was also speeding to get over there, so who knows how much ground they’ve covered,” Armin recalled.

    “…It’s Pike, isn’t it?” Jean stated. “That nut job will speed along, emergency or not. I don’t care how proficient of a driver he is.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Mikasa abruptly cut in, “Lives are at risk. We don’t have time to stand around.”

    Eren nodded in agreement. “We have to get going. We’re going ahead to the site, while Captain Levi’s team will take a different path.”

    “Color me surprised,” Jean said rather blatantly, “With the captain, I think just us would do. Save on the manpower.”

    Eren didn’t disagree with him, but the chit-chat would have to be saved for when they got back. “Come on,” Eren said, “Let’s get moving.” Jean complied and tagged along with the formation. When they reached the open jeep, they saw Levi and their driver, Mark, standing close to their transport vehicle.

    “It’s about time you brats showed up,” the captain sarcastically remarked, “Could’ve had an entire buffet in the time I was waiting.” He coughed into his hand and issued his real orders. “You’re going to move ahead and my team will scout the perimeter for any other Titans. Avoid unneeded casualties. Understood?”

    “Yes sir,” Eren replied on behalf of his squad.

    The captain snapped his fingers. “Show them what for,” Levi ordered.

    They saluted, and then Eren and the elite squad hopped into the cart as Mark occupied the driver’s seat. The engine roared and its headlights beamed to life. Before they could even move, another discerning sign from the heavens took them aback.

    A searing purple bolt off in the distance.

    Eren’s face momentarily went pale, his memories flooding back to him back from Mozen. Armin likewise stood agape, just in as much disbelief as everyone else. Even Mikasa’s eyes widened at the sight.

    “Hey man,” Jean spoke up and addressed their driver, “No time to stand idle!” Mark gulped, not even given the chance to respond. Thick rubber grinded the dirt and tree roots beneath them as they sped into the dense forest that surrounded them.

    ‘Only five minutes,’ Jean thought, ‘God, I don’t know what to expect.’

    The bumpy ride was far from pleasant, but it was the least of their worries at the moment. Time slowed to a crawl the closer they approached their estimated arrival. They drew their blades when the ever so familiar thumping rang in their ears.

    Eren, Armin, Mikasa, and Jean launched themselves off the open jeep and latched onto the nearby trees. The elite Scouts flew past the towering trees and had more of a bird’s eye view. They saw the Titans fast approaching, their lips stained. Farther out were overturned vehicles, scattered medical equipment, wandering Titans, and severed limbs that painted the trunks with a splash of red. Two Titans were tugging at a screaming figure, being pulled by their large hands. There was also billowing steam of a dissolved 7-meter class Titan—but no Sasha in sight.

    Armin took it all in, bouncing ideas in his head.

    “Eren, Mikasa,” Armin called out, clearing any downcast from his voice, “You two go on ahead and deal with the Armored Titan. Jean and I will clear out the area.”

    Eren silently nodded and Mikasa simply complied. The pair angled down and prepared to meet the rushing Titans head-on. They zipped by the fifteen meter class Titans and prepared to anchor themselves. Eren shot a spear into the target’s nape and propelled with a burst of gas. Holding his blades parallel to each other, Eren dove in with a powerful swing. A hard and successful cut, the chunk flew from the nape as the Titan lost its motor functions.

    ‘Nineteenth one taken down by ODM gear.’ So few times Eren ever had the chance to use his equipment to kill Titans, it was frankly refreshing. But a quick glance to his side reminded him that, while he could wield the ODM gear efficiently, he was far outclassed by his squad mates. Masterfully and eloquently, Mikasa Ackerman had already slain the two zombies in immediate succession, marked with her stained swords as proof. Using the nearby tree and wire tension, Mikasa swung around and reeled her wires back. By use of the momentum and gas bursts, she caught up with Eren.

     

    The second team got into the open jeep, with Levi occupying the front passenger seat. Without a word, the Scout team took off into the forest. Their path would cover a wider range in the event of other Abnormals. The captain remained in his seat with a neutral face.

    “Sir, shouldn’t we assist them?” a squad member asked.

    “No need, I want them to have some fun of their own,” he curtly responded. “If that Jaeger Titan rears its ugly head, I can dismantle it with no problem. Besides, you all have nothing to worry about as long as I’m here.”

    They were slightly apprehensive, but none of them could disagree.

     

    Armin and Jean perched at a lofty height and kept a sharp eye on the disaster below them. Armin brainstormed many different possibilities and their potential outcomes… Some were grimmer than others. But he came to a conclusion with a plan of attack using just himself and Jean.

    “Jean, let’s aim at disarming those Titans over there,” Armin pointed to the two tugging Titans with his blade. “We need to sever their hands at the wrists. Then we can use the Titans for our anchors and follow up with a nape slice.”

    “You sure? I think both of us know you’re not the best with combat maneuverability,” Jean noted as he observed the aimless zombies.

    “I understand the risk, but saving lives, even if it’s one, should be our top priority. If it means we can get Pike out of his predicament, we follow through with it.”

    ‘And of all people, it had to be that damn idiot,’ Jean mentally cursed. “All right, Armin. You know I’m trusting you on this.” They nodded, blades in hand, and leapt off their safety branch. They fired their anchors into the trunk above the screaming Pike and prepped their utlrasteel swords. Propelled by the spooling wires and with a burst from the exhaust, the Scout elites zipped through the air and beelined for their respective targets.

    Pike’s screams grew louder the harder the grotesque humanoids tugged at the helpless soldier. Jean and Armin retracted their wires, letting the force of the gas do the rest. Jean twirled in the air with fluidity and grace and meticulously carved through both Titan hands effortlessly. Planting his boots firmly against the tree trunk, he saw the disfigured giant stumble back, its eyes beaming at the stumps that remained. Without wasting a beat, Jean’s eyes peered at how Armin was holding up… And frankly, wasn’t as well as he had hoped.

    Armin had swooped in with a standard slice, a novice maneuver that cleaved the hand, which only hung on by a thread. While it was enough for the hand to release its hold, slicing into the following arm wasn’t nearly as effective, only shredding off the outermost layer of its skin. This still left Pike in the fiend’s grip, to which the Titan raised to its filthy, gaping maw.

    “Damn it!” Jean swore aloud, acting on his fighting instinct as he leapt to finish the deed, swords ready in hand.

    “Jean! Look out!” The words of Armin reached his ears, whose eyes were transfixed to a figure in the distance. When Jean turned and saw, he was mortified. A three-meter class Titan with oblong, frog-like legs and bloodied teeth tracked him with bulbous, unflinching eyes. A powerful, single bound was all it needed to close the gap, mouth outstretched and ready to consume the vulnerable Jean.

    Suddenly, an anchor flew over the neck region of the airborne Titan, lodging itself into the nearby bark. The metal wire suspended the weight of its user as she flew by with lightning speed, lobbing off the chunk of Titan flesh along the nape. For a moment, Jean and Armin were in stunned disbelief, with the lifeless frog-legged Titan hitting the ground with a soft thud.

    Her face was bloody and steaming, splashed with evaporating Titan blood. Yet her brown hair, amber eyes, and distinct voice assured them that she was their ally. “Go! Do it now!” Sasha called out, prompting Jean to resume what he was about to do. With a hefty scream, Jean went in for the decisive strike and tore the arm off with ease. As Pike fell out of the clamping mouth’s reach, Armin followed up by anchoring to the safety branch and caught him mid-fall. Though even he wasn’t the strongest among them, it was enough to get the Scout to safety.

    Twisting around in the air, Jean thrust his anchors into the nape of the Titan and went in for the finishing blow. Blades in hand, Jean sliced off the nape as the Titan moaned its last cry, collapsing to the ground as he and Sasha retreated to the trees with Armin. Panting heavily, the three took a minute to recoup.

    “Sasha, you had me worried there for a moment,” Jean sighed, “I thought you were a goner.”

    Sasha chuckled to herself. “Don’t forget I was raised in the woods,” she reminded him, “And here I thought horse-face didn’t care!”

    “Shut up.”

    “You guys,” Armin interjected, “What…” his voice trailed off, mingling with the thousands of possibilities that entered his mind at once, trying to conjure the best course of action.

    Much to Armin’s surprise, Jean was the first to speak up. “We fall back.”

    “Shouldn’t we be helping Eren and Mikasa?” Sasha questioned, just as befuddled.

    “You guys are overthinking it, those two can take care of themselves. Hell, they even have Captain Levi with them,” Jean astutely continued, “Just because most of the Titans are over there doesn’t mean that there aren’t some that are heading to HQ as we speak. Besides,” his eyes fell upon Sasha and the unconscious Pike, “we have to bring everyone back.”

    Even for the briefest of moments, a heavy air drenched upon them.

    “Right,” Armin nodded, “I’ll carry Pike, you guys make sure to take care of any stragglers.” The others complied with the terms and helped Armin strap the unconscious Scout onto his back. Then they disappeared into the darkness of the trees, eyeing for Titans that threatened HQ or the operation as a whole.

     

    A swift and graceful cut brought an end to the horrific fiend. Propelled by the gas emission from her housing unit, Mikasa tracked the next Titan that felled her sight. Before she could, Eren’s hook barbed itself into the Titan’s neck, the young soldier following up with a decisive slice thereafter. As the Titan keeled over, their eyes were glued to what laid ahead, nearing their projected destination.

    Then, from deep within the forest, a booming, furious roar that rattled their nerves to the very core. A distinct bellow they, and perhaps everyone else, were all too familiar with.

    The cry of the Armored Titan.

    For only a brief moment, Eren and Mikasa glanced at each other; they knew what had to be done. Mikasa kept her distance by decelerating, ensuring her safety for what came next. Eren brought his hand up to his mouth, teeth ready to clamp down. Then, rather abruptly, an intrusive thought raced through his mind.

    ‘Can I really do it?’

    He shook his head, trying to remove it from his mind. Now wasn’t the time to hesitate; now was the time for action! Cutting his teeth through the layer of flesh, accompanied by a stinging pain and a spray of blood, his mind was resolved.

    ‘I must do this.’

    Eren’s body radiated in a golden light, surrounded by the swirls of electric torrents. Lightning crashed from the heavens above, encompassing the human figure in a brilliant illumination. Heat and wind erupted in its place, a whirlwind taking its place. From the light, a new body began to materialize; calcified bones forged as the foundation, muscles and organs sewn together on a subatomic level, all wrapped in a blanket of human flesh and hair.

    With a voracious howl, the Attack Titan made its presence known to all that could hear.

    Dropping from midair, the fifteen meter Attack Titan instantly sprinted into a mad dash upon crashing onto the ground. Each step fractured the broken, Titan-tilled earth, wavy hair flowing through the wind. Sharp, furious eyes were glued to what inevitably lied straight ahead.

    As Eren’s Titanized form burst through the thicket into a clearing, the image became immediately clear to him. Yet at the same time, it was the last thing he would have ever expected to see. Titans coalesced and crawled over each other to reach the center of the pile, where the bust of the sickly white Titan peered over the rest. The only resemblance to the fearsome form was the draping silver hair and bleach-white plating that encased its body; otherwise it lacked the strong musculature that defined the Armored Titan, instead replaced by a frail, anorexic frame. The only other defined trait retained in this weak body was the powerful bellow, one uncharacteristic to its newfound appearance.

    ‘Shikishima… What the hell happened? How are you alive?’

    The Attack Titan unleashed a blood curdling howl, which caught the many ears of the surrounding swarm. Those unable to reach the Armored Titan turned heel and darted for the muscular Titan. Precise, elegant maneuverability evaded the voracious jaws of the heathens, Eren countering with a decisive right hook square in a Titan’s face. Another blow from a heaving kick, launching another smaller Titan into a nearby tree trunk.

    A third one lunged for the imposing Jaeger Titan, only to fall quickly into the Attack Titan’s grasp. Boring his teeth into its nape, Eren tore the slab of human-like meat off its neck, leading to its untimely death. As he continued to mow through the lesser Titans, scattering their limbs or tearing at their vital weak point, Mikasa swerved through the skies like an angel of death. Lobbing napes off the frivolous Titans in quick succession, the renown Titan slayer cleared a path herself as she continued to vanguard the debilitated Titan.

    “Shikishima…” she whispered to herself, recalling the man that molded her into a killer of Titans. “You… Even if I assumed you lived, I thought you would be happier out there than here…” Mikasa continued her proficient onslaught, remorsing over past laments. “So what brings you back?”

    As if hearing her, the white Titan merely grunted in response. Its blank eyes tracked her movements, glinting an iota of pride within them. She landed atop his silvery dome, soles pressed against the Armored Titan’s skull.

    With a heavy exhale, Mikasa regained her cold, stoic demeanor. “I’m not doing this for you. There’s a lot you still have to answer for.” Replacing her dulled blades, Mikasa prepared herself for the slaughter that was seemingly inevitable. Before she could leap off, a sudden bang was heard from far off.

    Then more followed suit.

    Her eyes located the sources, and found a series of black flares arching the sky. They weren’t pointed straight up; rather, they all were aimed at one direction. Then as if immediately, the ground began to vibrate beneath them. Taking precaution, Mikasa shot her anchors into the cranium of the Armored Titan, keeping her footing as the gradually increasing quakes made themselves more apparent.

    Checking her surroundings, Mikasa saw the Attack Titan effortlessly man-handle the brutish humanoids. Yet she saw that his eyes, if ever so briefly, widened at the sight of what he saw from his vantage point. And she didn’t have to wait long for what that was, as a mighty shadow and hellish screech overwhelmed all that could hear it.

    Its rushing came to a gradual stop, dragging its massive feet into the landmass to halt its momentum. Drooling from its disgusting yellow fangs, this strange beast made itself known.

    And would consume all in its way.

     

    The ground rumbled.

    Everyone back at the camp struggled to retain their balance, as they all simultaneously tried to determine what could have caused the ground to quake.

    Commander Zoe pried the openings to her tent open, rushing out, with Izuru flanking her. The two barely stood their ground. She turned her attention to the nearest Survey Corp member and grabbed him, keeping him from falling.

    “What’s going on!?” Hange yelled, tightening her grip on the soldier.

    “I…. don’t know! One minute everything was okay and then the ground was shaking as if the world was about to burst!” The soldier answered, his voice quivering, but enough to keep it restrained to where he could reply clearly.

    “Could it be another Jaeger Titan?” Hange inquired, relinquishing her grip, as she then quickly shook her head. “No. It can’t be. The only one that can elicit such an effect would be the Colossal Titan, and he’s a year dead!”

    The ground stopped rumbling.

    Everyone took a minute to compose themselves. Izuru, with his hands on his knees, spoke between breaths, “I know….. this may sound like an….. outlandish idea, but….. could a Jaeger Titan survive a nuke?”

    “It’s never been seen, but I can’t say I fully doubt it!” Hange shot out, putting the pieces together on the theory of how the Colossal Titan can survive such a powerful weapon.

    “Section Commander, look!” A soldier from afar screeched out, prying Hange from her thought process and prompting her and her group to look at the woods.

    “What… what is that thing?’ A soldier asked, fear oozing from her voice, as she couldn’t believe what she saw.

    Everyone couldn’t take their eyes off of the creature walking around the woods. The beast observed every bit of the exterior as if it were hunting something. Its eyes shifted rapidly, sensing where every bit of noise was coming from.

    Every noise mattered to it. Every noise ensured a bite into something delicious.

    The beast licked its lips and let out an ear shrieking scream. One that could be heard for miles as everyone covered their ears, while Hange unleashed a huge grin.

    “What…. are you?” Hange asked with excitement in her voice, as she took a step forward, observing the new beast’s every detail. From its green colored hair, scaly body to its sharp teeth with fangs protruding from its mouth. Then, last but not least, its towering height. One that easily rivaled Jaeger Titans like the Attack and Armored.

    “You are a beauty,” Hange whispered, ensnared as if she were a kid inside a candy store.

    “Section commander!” Izuru shot out with disgust in his voice, shocked at how she could view that monstrosity lovingly.

    “Right, right,” Hange spoke up, collecting herself while patting herself. She continued to stare at the green giant until it hit her!

    “The Algae Titan!”

    “What?” Izuru asked, completely baffled at what his superior just blurted out.

    “That’ll be his designation!” The Section Commander answered gleefully, unleashing a new grin onto her face.

    “I suppose it needs a name to help everyone out, but please don’t tell me you’re going to do what I think you’re going to do,” Izuru complained, not wanting Hange to suggest one of her crazy schemes.

    “You betcha!” Hange cheered, as she glanced at Izuru, only to realize he had an angered look on his face. The smile on her face dropped, eliciting a more level response from the commander, “Right. Only if his capture is feasible.”

    “Thank you,” Izuru said plainly, breathing a sigh of relief.

    “Better make sure the others are up to speed! Can’t let them be devoured by our new friend, right?” Hange jokingly asked, nudging her second in command with her elbow, to which he sighed in annoyance.

    “That’s the second idea that made sense…. in a week!” Izuru screamed out, to which Hange let out a chuckle.

     

    The treacherous bumpy ride and the obtrusive Titans stalled their progress, even if ever so slightly. Though nothing more than a slight detour, the time consumed altered the nature of the target. Especially as the figure became more and more apparent with every step it took.

    “Algae Titan, huh?” Levi grumbled, arming himself for the inevitable heist ahead of him. Over the transceivers, he heard the branded name given to the beast. His sharp eyes scanned the 80-meter savage, which only became larger the closer it got. “Bastard’s a big one.”

    “Captain, what are your orders?” the driver inquired.

    “Keep driving, follow the original path to the Armored Titan and provide relief. I’m going to intercept this ugly son of a bitch and hopefully won’t smell its filthy breath while I’m up there.”

    A quick burst from his waist fired an anchor that latched near the treeline. A shift in gears pulled the nimble captain out of the open jeep effortlessly, tugging on the spooling wire until it retracted. Such repetition had long since become part of his routine, and in many ways he had mastered the ODM’s capabilities to maximum efficiency. Torrential winds aggressively pushed against him from the heightened acceleration, yet performed in such a seamless manner that the untrained eye would be none the wiser to his skill and technique.

    When Levi found the beast within range, he aimed his grapples at the shaggy fiend and fired. Anchors embedded into the creature’s skin, pulling forward until his soles were planted firmly against its green scales. Its towering height was a sight from a distance, but such scale could only be comprehended by those who were right on it. Yet that was the least of Levi’s concerns. For every move it made, every sudden and abrupt jerk, the overwhelming sensation ran through him.

    ‘If you’d sit still for a moment, you’ll make this a lot easier for yourself.’ Shifting gears, the appointed captain launched one of his hip-wires ahead and waited to see if it latched on. With a snug tug, he allowed his weight to be carried by the steel-enforced wire before firing the other one, alternating between the two while being propelled by the gas exhaust. Continuing this pattern, Levi was able to climb the brute’s massive frame in a matter of moments.

    Flinging himself to the open air, Captain Levi shot both anchors into the back of the neck of the alleged Algae Titan. Eyes razor focused on the target, a steamy burst signaled the strike. Twirling and rotating at rapid speeds, he went in for the kill.

    Upon impact, the echoing sound he heard–one that overpowered the wind that filled his ears–wasn’t what he had hoped for. Rather than the splurch of sliced flesh, it was the metallic ring of shattered blades, with only a measly scratch left in its path as a mark of his decisive strike.

    “Shit,” he cursed, grounding himself onto the Algae Titan’s nape and reorienting himself. He looked down and saw the drop. It was one thing to climb, but getting down was going to be a whole different issue altogether. Suddenly, he felt his whole body lurch as the giant ogre began to lean forward. Had it not for the anchors, he more than certainly would’ve flown off already.

    It didn’t take much to figure out the savage got a hold of something in its clutches. But when he heard the bellowing screams of two Titans he knew weren’t of the stupid variety, Levi winced and vented in frustration. “Goddamn it…”

     

    There was nothing she could do with what came after she saw it.

    Mikasa had already leapt off the Armored Titan to avoid the giant green hand that came swooping from the sky. Next thing she knew, the Armored Titan had been hoisted into the air. Yet that wasn’t even half of it. The seaweed covered brute gnashed its teeth in delight as the other hand got a hold of Eren’s Titan. The fifteen meter Attack Titan thrashed violently to set himself free, whilst the malformed Armored Titan did little to resist. This sea beast, the alleged Algae Titan, rose to its full and terrifying height, eyes burning with gluttonous desire.

    She couldn’t do anything. Words choked in the back of her throat, as for the first time she realized that she didn’t blurt out his name.

    “As… do I…”

    She fought back the surge of emotions, recalling Eren’s face at that moment. But now was not the time to succumb to such feelings. They all knew better, and in time the pain that accompanied that choice would disappear. Regaining her composure, Mikasa steeled her blades and began to dispatch the surviving Wraith Titans–with what few remained.

     

    Fleshy tendons kept him bound within the tight enclosure, his arms plunged into the thick tissue. Try as he might, Eren’s futility only urged the horrid savage’s greed, although the beast was indecisive who it would consume first. Eren commanded his beastial Titan to bark, hoping to turn its attention. Instead, Eren felt the Titan’s nerves shoot into the nape, feeling every ounce of pain that accompanied it. Bones cracked, flesh popped open with hazardous, burning steam, and boiling blood rushed out of the green giant’s tight grip.

    Eren grunted. “Damn. That could’ve gone better.” Looking through the translucent skin that permitted his Titanized state to see, he saw the gargantuan humanoid snort in satisfaction. Its eyes turned their hideous gaze at the malformed Armored Titan, who was barely putting up as much of a struggle.

    “I have to save Shikishima, or else…” he let his words trail off. Shikishima was the last man who held the keys to the nightmare that no doubt laid beyond the Walls. But he was far from a man he was ready to forgive for his transactions during the retake of Wall Maria. However, he had a mission to fulfill.

    “How much of a liability are you?” The stinging words of Captain Levi rang through his head like a migraine. If there was anyone he needed to prove, it was himself. Eren exhaled and let his body breathe, regaining his stamina for his next stunt. He felt the wall of flesh loosen around his right arm and lower body, allowing him to slip free easier.

    He took a glance at the situation. Rows of yellow, rotten fangs separated in eager anticipation as the fiend prepared to chow down on the frail white Titan. The once proud and powerful presence Shikishima had once carried was all gone, as his Titanized form slumped forward, the nape fully exposed.

    “All right, let’s do–” before he could finish, a flash zipped right out of his Titan’s peripheral, unable to register exactly what it was until he took a look at it.

    A glistening wire, with the anchor embedded in his Titan’s temple.

    When he traced the cable back to its source, Eren’s eyes widened in shock when he saw Captain Levi on the rugged neck of the Armored Titan. A swift, arguably beautifully executed, slash from his twin blades ovaled deep into the purple-pinkish flesh of the nape, which quickly extracted its host from the pathetic shell it had once resided in. A pop of sizzling steam and out came the body of the former Captain of the Survey Corps–whose arms and legs were sliced off in the process.

    ‘Is that a technique the Captain devised himself?’ Eren thought, admiring their new Captain’s advanced and refined skill. He saw Levi abandon his blades, and situated himself to ensure the limbless body of Shikishima was firm in his grasp. Firing the other anchor, Levi flew across the gap between them, leaving the empty vessel to be consumed by the ravenous sea beast. With Shikishima’s body in tow, Levi landed on Eren-Titan’s shoulder.

    “Got any plans on getting down from here?” the captain snarily remarked. A grunt escaped the Titan’s nostrils with a nod. “Good. Then do me a favor and kick the Algae Titan’s green hairy ass. That’s an order.”

    Eren relaxed, loosening his body and readied his next move. “Now!”

    Releasing his left arm from the fleshy socket, the back of the nape split open violently, jettisoning steam from the rupture point. No longer bound by his Titanized body, Eren was ejected out of the nape and was sent hurling into the air, steam dissipating from his frame as he entered freefall. Spreading his body out, Eren brought his right hand up to his mouth, his determination unbreakable.

    Without missing a beat, shredded flesh and gushing blood pumped out of the freshly made wound, engulfing him in a blinding light.

    ‘Hey you…’ Eren’s vicious eyes glared at the monstrosity that stood before him. ‘I’m going to show you the true power of humanity, and everything I have!’ Once again, his body became wrapped in muscle sinew and a coat of flesh, held together by gargantuan bones. Unlike his previous form, this new body constituted a far larger size, and therefore required greater mass and assembly. In a matter of moments, the first limb forged from the fiery sphere was his left fist, a blazing orange, as he swung it directly at the green fiend’s face!

    Before the Algae Titan even registered, a compact fist drove into his ugly mug. As the Titanization process commenced, Eren anchored his newly formed feet into the ground. He applied additional pressure, caving in the foul cretin’s disgusting visage. A loud, crepitate pop signaled the ruptured hand and fractured face as the green Titan was thrown back by Eren’s indomitable strength.

    Allowing his new body to complete its assembly, Eren waited it out to let his shattered fist recover. Eyes gleamed as he saw Levi scaling down his enormous Titan form with Shikishima in tow, vanishing amongst the trees. Inhaling through his nostrils, a booming roar flooded from the Titan’s maw. A resounding cry of determination that struck fear in the hearts of many. Even the Algae Titan shuddered, but not before striking an intimidation posture, raising both arms to the air. The wild savage burst into a sprint, eager to tear Eren asunder. However, he was ready for it.

     

    She had lost track of how many she killed. Their vast numbers dwindled down to no more than three–yet in spite of her skill, dull blades did her no good against a standard Wraith. All she could do now was keep her composure and evade their strikes.

    One lunged at her, but she slipped between its fingers with skillful maneuverability. Rather, she mentally ignored the Titan as her eyes transfixed to the far larger beasts that loomed over her. The savage closed the gap and the two met in a head-on collision. Fists and claws swung amidst their brawl, with the least Mikasa could do was make sure she wasn’t caught in the middle of it.

    Another tried to clasp her in their hands, only to avoid it. Carrying her weight by the momentum of her spooling wires, she circled around to the Titan’s backside and detached her dull blade with a swift and precise swing. The twirling sword found itself embedded in the Titan’s nape; while inefficient in killing them, it did induce a paralytic stun that rendered the foul zombie useless with the loss of its limited motor functions. Though she was only left with one worn blade at her side–she had to use it wisely.

    Too much of this was routine to her. She had spent the better of two years forged to be among the best Titan slayers, and one year on countless missions in clearing them out. Two sets of wide, greedy eyes sought to consume her, yet they were not on the forefront of her mind. Rather, her glances returned to the Attack Titan… Gleaming, powerful eyes she couldn’t register as him anymore.

    ‘This is the path you choose for yourself?’ She wasn’t sure if her question was meant for him or herself. She felt her heart harden even more than it usually did, her attention returning to those that were still demanding it from her.

    “Tch,” she audibly murmured, noticing the third one rising back to its feet. Their desperate fingers pounced at her…

    A sudden flash zipped by her, and instantly all of their fingers were lobbed off cleanly and effortlessly. The Titans shrieked at the karmic pain bestowed upon them, which drizzled with vaporous mist. Mikasa tracked where they had gone, only to find Captain Levi next to her; bloodied, steamy sword in one hand, and a body held in the other.

    “Here,” the captain said, pulling out a pair of spare blades, “don’t be wasteful.” Without a response, she took and armed herself, diving down to finish the job. Twirling and twisting around the malevolent humanoids, Mikasa quickly dispatched of the monstrous fiends with fluid elegance, sparing none in her path. As the Titans collapsed, hissing with evaporating steam, a pair of headlights beamed at them from a distance.

    “I thought I gave you all expressed orders to provide backup!” Levi shouted, ensuring that everyone in the open jeep heard him loud and clear. The driver was visibly anxious to see the captain ahead of them.

    “I-I’m sorry, Captain! We didn’t mean to, you just…” he stopped his train of thought right there, not wanting to dig himself into a verbal grave.

    “Nevermind that. Just get us back to camp. We have what we came here for.” Without missing a beat, Levi and Mikasa jumped into the back of the jeep, sprawling the limbless body of Shikishima onto the seats.

    “Now drive,” the captain issued. Stepping on the gas, the jeep rolled through the forest and swerved between the many trunks that surrounded them.

    Minutes passed without a word. That was until Mikasa spoke up. “What are you going to do to him?”

    “Get the information we need. Though it’s entirely up to him how willing he wants to cooperate,” Levi stated plainly. “Tell me something Chief, does he mean anything to you?”

    Mikasa’s eyes remained stoic, collecting her thoughts and choosing her words carefully. “At one time I considered him my savior. Though I don’t know if I can say that about a man I know barely anything about.”

    “I see.” For the remainder of their trip back, not another word was spoken.

     

    The scaly hominid swiped its claws at the enlarged Attack Titan, who evaded them with his greater dexterity. Even with the extra weight that dragged on his entire form, Eren chopped the flailing limbs and jabbed at pressure points across the Algae Titan’s body. The green gargantuan stumbled back, which gave Eren ample time to prepare a lethal uppercut.

    Swinging with all his might, the Attack Titan unleashed a destructive payload as his right fist collided with the savage’s chin. Another cacophonous burst and the fanged beast was hurled to the sky, promptly followed by carving the earth with its gigantic frame. Trees and foliage were grinded under its scaly body until it came to a gradual halt. Cracking its jaw back into place, the Algae Titan stirred from the brutal blow.

    Vicious eyes widened, the seaweed-covered giant glared at the well-built Titan that lumbered toward it. Scavenging for anything useful, a gargantuan hand gripped and uprooted a massive tree from the ground. Pushing itself up, the sea green ogre whipped its newfound weapon, prepared to fight.

    Striking a defensive stance, the Attack Titan kept his ground. All the while, the Algae Titan went in full charge once again.

    “You’re not the quick-to-learn type, are you?” Guarding his hands near his face, the Attack Titan braced himself for what came next. Thrusting the wooden, perennial spear, the beastly cretin lunged for the mighty Titan’s head. Swift and responsive reflexes batted the tree trunk aside, bark stripping miniscule flesh off the Titan’s hand. However, the algae fiend rushed its other hand and slashed the Attack Titan’s face open, pouring steam and boiling blood from the crevices marked on his face.

    Pulling his fist back, Eren prepared another slugger for the aquatic brute, ramming his clenched knuckles into the beast’s scaly chest. The Algae Titan lashed back with utmost ferocity and animalistic fury, carving tears with its nasty claws and beating the rebellious Titan with the tree in the other hand.

    The Attack Titan caught the tree-bearing hand and twisted it, the egregious crackle of bones and tendons popping out of place. The screeching banshee wail resounded from the hideous ogre, losing grip of its weapon as it fell to the ground with a thud. Feral eyes flashed with an astounding resolve, thrusting its claws to the Titan’s face before the opponent had the chance to throw another punch. Dagger-like nails pierced the frailer flesh that wrapped around the rogue Titan’s skull, the rest of the bulged fingers following suit. The Attack Titan tried to wrap his hands around the thick log of seaweed and scales, only to be hoisted and plunged into the earth without mercy or remorse.

    A billowing shockwave flattened the nearby foliage and swayed the resilient trees that stood their ground. Dirt plumage rose into the air, obscuring the vision of those in the heat of the battle. Even so, the Algae Titan grinned in self-assurance. This fight was for the taking! That was, until the fiend felt a vice grip like pythons wrap around its shoulder girdles, compressing until it felt its skin and bones crack. Dizziness and light-headed anxiety overcame the gargantuan brute as the beast struggled to catch its breath. Such a sudden assault took it aback, as the beast was certain its foes arms still gripped its own arm…

    …As the dust settled, the Algae Titan saw the truth of the matter right before its eyes. The defined and muscular humanoid indeed still kept a firm grip on its arm. What had constricted its body wasn’t the Titan’s arms, but the legs! Each limb bear-hugged the savage’s upper torso, all the while the ravenous humanoid was forced to watch as the chiseled man tore himself free. The beast felt the hand it had plunged being pulled out, suddenly staring into the blazing eyes of a bloodied demon.

    ‘I thought I told you,’ Eren winced, ‘this is the power of humans!’ The Attack Titan unleashed a tremendous bellow, followed by twisting the green giant’s arm. Before it knew what hit it, the Algae Titan felt the legs of the Titan tightened exponentially, then thrown to the ground in a similar manner to which it had employed not long ago. An eruption of dirt and shrubbery kicked up in its place, the Algae Titan having found itself under the whim of the ferocious Attack Titan.

    “Now let’s see who you really are,” Eren mouthed, his body high from the adrenaline rush. Spreading his legs out, his knees pinned the beast’s spastic arms. With one hand, he kept the head from struggling, the other firmly gripped on the shoulder for support.

    Leaning in, Eren opened his Titan’s maw wide and clamped along the Algae Titan’s nape. The tough skin only lasted for a moment before the incisors dug into the brute’s softer flesh. Then, with a feral tug, it was torn out.

     

    She did whatever it took to observe the big fight, much to Izuru’s dismay. One moment she was on the ground, the next she had climbed to the treetops with her ODM gear. Even the swaying trees from residual shockwaves did little to deter her obsessive passion for the study of Titans–be it in combat or otherwise. Izuru could tell she was getting a kick out of it. He brought his hand to his face, almost ashamed. “Commander…”

    Suddenly, her cheerful yowls came to a stop when she spotted something through her binoculars. In a split second, her jolly persona snapped into her professional attitude. “Call for a medic!”

    The switch caught him off guard, but Izuru was quick to relay her order to the others. Without a moment’s notice, medics came prepared with a stretcher as several soldiers flew out of the trees. Jean, Sasha, and Armin, the latter of whom carried the unconscious body of Pike, touched down onto the grassy ground. Laying Pike onto the gurney, he was hoisted off for emergency treatment. Armin collapsed in exhaustion, though an assured thumbs up made it clear he’d be all right.

    With the safety harness of her ODM, Hange landed on her feet and walked up to the worn out triad. “You three all right?”

    “Dispatched four Titans on the way back,” Jean answered, “Close calls, but no casualties.”

    “Good.” Hange simply nodded. The earth trembled beneath their feet, feeling the residual effects of the epic clash that took place beyond their proximity.

    “Damn, Eren!” Jean complained, regaining his equilibrium from the shock,“Settle down over there, will you?”

    No more than a minute later, a jeep pulled in from the dense forestry, with the Scout Captain and Chief hopping out the trunk of the vehicle. If only for a moment, Mikasa and Armin glanced at each other before she lowered her head. Armin likewise averted his attention, drowning out the adverse feelings from earlier in the day.

    “How’d it go, captain?” Hange asked.

    “Target secure, lounging in the back,” Levi stated, “Though I wasn’t able to stop the Algae Titan. Skin is too thick to cut through.”

    “Understood.” The ground once again shook violently, another crash from the warring giants. Armin and Sasha were knocked down while everyone else struggled to maintain balance. When the rumbling settled, Armin picked himself up, only to notice Sasha was still firmly planted on the ground.

    “Sasha, do you–” Armin’s words were cut off when she raised a finger, stopping him in his tracks. Her ear rubbed against the soil, discerning the sounds vibrated from the earth. Seconds passed until she rocketed from the ground to standing in the blink of an eye.

    “Commander!” Sasha cried aloud, “We have another target inbound! Due west!”

    “West?” Armin noted, “Isn’t that where the Algae Titan came from?” Before anyone could give a response, Hange once again darted for the trees for the high ground. Pulling out her binoculars, she scanned the distant horizon, keeping an eye out.

    “How are you sure there’s another one inbound, Braus?” Levi inquired.

    “With due respect, captain, whatever Eren’s doing right now has restrained the movements of that scary Titan,” Sasha openly explained, “It makes it easier for me to discern distant noises. I grew up hunting, so I’m familiar when something is amiss or unusual. Really useful when in Titan territory with no ODM gear, sir.”

    “I see. Let’s see if your hunch proves true,” the captain said plainly. They waited in anticipation, an aura of tension pervading the atmosphere.

    Pulling her signal flare from her holster, Hange loaded it with ammo and fired it westward. From the barrel, a column of black smoke erupted and trailed through the air. That action alone triggered a chain reaction, with the stationed Scouts similarly firing their black flares in the same direction. It wasn’t just a warning for those in the area–it was one for Eren as well.

    She scanned one last time before leaping down from the treetop. “Sasha’s assumption proved correct, there is another Titan heading our way.”

    “What?!” Izuru screamed, verbally coinciding with everyone else’s shocked reactions.

    “You have to be kidding me!” Jean yelled in frustration, “Not one, but two?!”

    “I got a good look at it,” Hange said, “Almost 85-meters tall. Brown, shaggy hair and bumpier skin.”

    “So, what are you calling this one, four-eyes?” Levi sardonically retorted, realizing the grim nature of the situation.

    For a moment, Hange fell into a pause, but was quick to give her answer. “We’re designating this one as the Bigfoot Titan, after the elusive cryptid from American folklore.”

    Armin’s eyes widened. “What can we do to save Eren? I’m not sure he can handle two of them at once…”

    “If the Bigfoot Titan’s skin is anything similar to what Levi reported about Algae’s, then I’m afraid we can’t do much but hope things don’t turn out for the worse.” Hange paused, giving herself a moment to breathe. “However,” she pointed to the trunk of the jeep, “we have what we came for. Keep him restrained under all circumstances and protect him with your lives. He’s a prisoner for the taking.”

    With valiant salutes, the Scouts hauled the limbless body of Shikishima into the centermost of the camp, taking him into the tent for further questioning.

    ‘Eren,’ Armin said to himself, ‘Don’t do anything reckless, please.’

     

    Vicious, dark eyes tracked the torn nape, surprised to find nothing of note. “Maybe it’s just an Abnormal…” Then, his eyes widened with what came to pass. Shredded, fibrous muscles pulsated with disturbing life, the fleshy mesh twirled and contorted as the bite wound began to mend together. The nape was restored in a matter of moments, as if nothing had ever happened.

    “That’s impossible…” Eren muttered, fear-stricken by the preposterous event he bore witness to. “A Titan that can regenerate when the nape is destroyed? Let alone without emitting steam? What the hell!”

    Before he could contemplate the matter any further, loud bursts caught his attention. From the dense foliage, black flares rocketed from the treetops. Eren trailed the signals to where they stopped, realizing the warning they conveyed.

    Suddenly, the hideous ogre squirmed under the Titan’s body, throwing him off with its upper body strength. The Attack Titan crashed into the forest, splintering trees under his massive frame. Using every ounce of its strength, the beastial barbarian lunged from its resting spot and on top of the Titan, trying to pin him down. However, Eren was quick to curl his Titan’s legs and unload a fierce double front kick upon the beast’s chest, hurling the green savage off of him. The Algae Titan rolled and flattened the forestry under its tremendous body.

    Eren forced his body to stand, anchoring his feet for what was coming next. Off in the distance, he saw one similar in nature to the Algae Titan; layered with brown fur and skin that appeared to be rock-like. The hefty man-beast plowed through the endless woodlands, eventually coming to a grinding halt. This new creature resembled the savage Eren had been fighting, but its characteristics were far more… Human.

    ‘Damn it,’ Eren cursed, ‘The last thing I need to deal with right now.’ He shifted his Titanized form into a sharp battle stance, his arms guarding his head and prepared for what this brown creature would do next.

    The shaggy giant surveyed the battlefield, alternating its attention between the Attack Titan and the barbaric beast. The green one rose to its feet, baring its claws and fangs at the Jaeger Titan. Seeing this, the brown one likewise postured itself reluctantly for battle.

    ‘Shit!’ Eren grimaced at the thought, coming to grips that the worst was coming to pass.

    Suddenly, the fiendish troll fell to the ground, only supporting itself by its knees and hands. It panted heavily, trying to catch its breath. Eren noticed that the brute’s wounds had long disappeared, though it became clear that the ensuing battle had expended its stamina to continue the fight.

    ‘Good, this might turn out favorably for me,’ Eren thought, feeling more assured. Certainly, the battle against the Algae Titan took the wind out of him, but he was far from finished. ‘Just need to recoup, and I can finish this.’ However, when the hairy man began to move, it wasn’t quite what Eren had anticipated. Rather than engage, the other giant broke its eye contact and instead ran toward the exhausted beast.

    “What the…” Eren was left in stunned disbelief yet again. These creatures were certainly full of surprises. He kept his guard up, unsure just what to expect.

    Wrapping the green one’s arm around its shoulder, the brown giant hobbled along, carrying its compeer with it. The gentler eyes of the hominid turned to face the Attack Titan; behind the lenses were a mixture of many complex emotions, which contrasted the wild man’s simplistic nature.

    ‘If I fight now, I might have a chance. But…’ Eren paused, letting the situation sink in. ‘What good would come from it? There’s too much uncertainty here. I can’t tell just how much power this ‘Titan’ possesses. That, and…’ Images of a certain other flashed in his mind. The hairy man’s mournful face reminded him of someone very important to him…

    In the end, Eren couldn’t force himself to push the attack.

    As the Algae Titan and its companion disappeared beyond the horizon, Eren turned around and returned to HQ. When he was in proximity, he allowed his Titanized body to drop on its front, finally relinquishing his Attack Titan of duty. The nape split open, allowing him to freely unchain his arms and legs of the fleshy shackles that kept him bound. As the Titan evaporated into pure steam, Eren caught his breath and gradually climbed down the massive body.

    He wouldn’t even have a minute to himself before being swarmed by his fellow comrades and ranking officers. Eren explained and described all he had witnessed, recounting the fight in detail.

    “And that’s all I know, Commander,” Eren said, “I’m sorry.”

    “Don’t apologize,” Levi rebuked harshly, “Everything you do comes down to a choice. In the end, you must be certain to hold no regret and live with the consequences that come with it.”

    “Yes, Captain…”

    “It may have been for the better,” Hange added, “We don’t know what we’re up against. They certainly qualify as the strangest Abnormals we’ve seen to date.”

    The leading commander pondered, left in her thoughts with the newfound information. “Yeager, you’re dismissed,” Hange issued plainly. With a salute, Eren left to his quarters. “Same for the rest of you.” Not missing a beat, the Scout elites left the commander and captain to themselves.

    “Levi, what do you think of this?” she queried, curious as to his response.

    “They’re unusual, that’s for certain,” Levi noted, “Though I think we know someone who would know for sure, don’t we?”

    ***

    “You’re going to do what!?” Izuru screeched out angrily, his head as red as tomato.

    Levi held his hand up, replying nonchalantly, “Relax, we have him restrained in every way possible. He doesn’t even have any arms or legs.”

    “I know you’re new to this regiment, but you seem to forget that he is a Jaeger Titan!” Izuru countered, turning his attention to Hange. “I know you’re obsessed with Titan study, but this is not your usual Wraith Titan. This is Shikishima! The man who led us to die!”

    Hange rubbed her face, she felt and even shared Izuru’s concerns, but this was an opportunity that could not be passed. Shikishima held viable data to these new abnormals and potentially Jaeger Titans. Data that could be used to save lives. She couldn’t pass it up.

    The section commander placed her hand on Izuru’s shoulders and breathed, “I understand your concerns. I do too, but we can’t kill him. He holds way too much knowledge we can use to better understand the Titans and to prepare for them.”

    Izuru’s bright red face started to fade as he let out a deep breath. Hange continued to stare at him, as she grew a slight look of apprehension and spoke softly, “If I am wrong and it does get a lot of people killed, then I will pay any price it takes to mend that wound.”

    Izuru nodded. “I don’t like it, but I trust you to believe you’re making the right decision.”

    “Thank you. I understand this was hard for you to agree with,” Hange expressed, giving her subordinate a smile.

    Her and Levi went to make their way toward the tent where Shikishima was held captive, but Hange felt a hand placed on her shoulder. She turned to see it was Izuru with a frown on his face.

    “However, I will have the whole regiment on standby should he get any ideas,” Izuru announced.

    “As you should,” Hange concurred with her subordinate, relinquishing his grip on her, allowing the two higherups to traverse to the holding cell.

    “He’s not wrong, you know?” Levi spoke up, turning his gaze toward Hange.

    “He isn’t, but we can’t throw our ticket away,” Hange replied sternly.

    “I don’t disagree with your decision, I just don’t like it.”

    “You don’t have to. I just need you at your best,” Hange ordered.

    “No need to worry about that. We’ll get what we need,” Levi replied.

    The two arrived at the holding cell as the guard immediately saluted them. “Just in time. He’s awake,” the guard spoke up.

    Hange and Levi nodded, proceeding to make their way into the tent when they heard a shout. An all too familiar one. “Wait!”

    The two turned around to find Eren bolting toward them, they knew what he wanted and neither of them liked it. The Titan shifter stopped himself right in front of them as he stood at attention, trying to present himself as best as possible.

    “Section Commander, I request to be a part of the interrogation,” Eren announced.

    “No,” Hange answered plainly.

    Eren’s mouthed quivered, as he was shocked to hear his superior’s answer to his request. He couldn’t believe it. Surely he could get some answers out of their captive, he could get them what they need.

    “I know him best! I know what he’s capable of! I can get what we need!” Eren yelled out, determined to be a part of a vital moment.

    “I’m sorry, but my answer is still no. Your anger gets the better of you and we can’t have that compromising our key to answers,” Hange explained.

    “But…” Eren tried to speak up but was abruptly cut off by Levi. “She’s right. You do not need to be a part of everything. You performed your role admirably by bringing him in. You are dismissed.”

    Eren felt the rage boiling in his stomach, as he wanted to defy their orders and perform the interrogation, but couldn’t. He wanted to win this war, but he couldn’t do it by disobeying orders all the time.

    “Understood,” Eren replied bitterly, turning his attention away from them and walked off, feeling the need to blow off some steam.

    Hange and Levi entered the tent to find Shikishima, even with his severed limbs steaming through the bandages and restraints, grinning at them as they matched it with frowns on their face.

    “Hange, I looked forward to seeing your face again. It’s certainly a ray of sunshine in this cold, dark, de….” Shikishima’s greeting was interrupted by a blade pointed right in front of his face.

    “Save the formalities. We’re only here for answers,” Hange replied bluntly, currently in no mood to deal with her former leader’s hijinks.

    “A shame. I did miss the old gang. I was hoping to regale our campfire tales, but perhaps another time,” Shikishima playfully mourned.

    Levi rolled his eyes as he spoke up, “Don’t make them regret sparing you, because this is already turning into a shitshow.”

    The prisoner turned his attention to the captain and smiled. “Not a fan of how this is turning out?”

    “Yeah, and unlike the commander here, I have no qualms with killing you. In fact, your death makes things less complicated,” Levi spoke, as he unleashed a tight grip around the Titan shifter’s neck. Shikishima began to gasp for air, as his vision started to go hazy, starting to realize just how serious the captain was.

    Levi relinquished his grasp on the captive, as he then mouthed, “Answer our questions or your life will be cut short. Do I make myself clear?”

    Shikishima nodded. “I like you. I can see why they assigned you to the Survey Corps. You don’t play around, but you have a certain uncanny resemblance to someone. I just don’t know who,” Shikishima spoke, trying to put the pieces together for his own question.

    “Oh! That’s right! Me! They must have really taken my betrayal hard. They got someone who looks almost like me!” The captive answered gleefully, with a laugh following suit.

    Levi delivered a punch onto Shikishima, who elicited blood from his mouth.

    “Now, are you going to answer our questions or not?” Hange inquired angrily. “Or are we going to have to repeat ourselves?”

    “All you had to do was ask, my dear,” Shikishima coughed, turning his attention back to them. “What is it you wish to know?”

    “Wait, really?” Hange asked, completely blindsided by Shikishima’s willingness to answer any question they desired to know.

    “Of course. To be honest, all of you did me a favor by overthrowing the government. You fulfilled my mission, so yes, I will answer any question you desire to know. However, I may not know the answer you seek or you may not like it. That’s entirely up to you,” Shikishima explained, hoping it’ll satisfy his interrogators.

    “I don’t buy it,” Levi plainfully replied, with a frown on his face.

    “And why’s that? He’s willing to tell us whatever we want,” Hange replied, baffled at how the captain could not accept his offer.

    “When you’re telling the truth, you don’t need to say ‘to be honest.’ Just from that alone, everything he said before that implies he was lying, and even then him telling the truth doesn’t guarantee it,” Levi illustrated, hoping it’ll get Hange back to be skeptical of their prisoner.

    “And yet another reason to like you! You pay attention! Such a rare trait nowadays!” Shikishima congratulated, with a huge smile painted on his face.

    The two shot him a glare, but it didn’t deter him from keeping his present attitude. “Well, what are you waiting for? Ask away.”

    “Okay,” Levi spoke, as he then went into his first question. “What do you know about the Algae and Bigfoot Titans? Why do they not perish like other Titans?”

    “That’s because they’re not Titans,” Shikishima answered, causing the eyes of the two interrogaters to widen.

    “What do you mean?” Hange quivered, as her eyes narrowed in excitement over the possibility of a new discovery.

    “They behave way differently than the Titans. They think and act on their own and even have a sibling-like relationship. And, their regeneration is nothing like I’ve ever seen. Far surpasses any Titan ever,” Shikishima explained, with astonishment in his voice.

    “Amazing…” Hange mouthed, barely keeping her excitement contained over the wealth of knowledge pouring into her mind.

    Levi, who was more focused, stepped forward and asked, “If they’re not Titans, then what do we designate them as?”

    “Ah! Your Algae Titan is Gaira, and as I’m sure you’re well aware, he’s the more vicious of the two. His behavior is very similar to the Titans, wanting to devour anything he can, but he is one not to be trifled with. Then, as for your Bigfoot, that’s Sanda. He’s more or less benevolent, but push him or his brother enough, he becomes a true monster. Far more fearsome than anything I can ever dream of facing,” Shikishima answered, with a shiver following, showing some distress on his face.

    “Speaking from experience?” Levi asked, intrigued by the small amount of fear Shikishima exhibited.

    “Yeah,” Shikishima breathed, taking a moment to collect himself from a memory that haunted him. “Sometime after delivering Kubal the payload, I don’t know how long, but I found myself near a lake. As I gathered my bearings, I found this large, dripping wet, green monstrosity emerging out of it. It spotted me immediately and went in with every intent on devouring me. And this is coming from me, who values life very much, took the fight to it.”

    Shikishima took a deep breath in as he continued one with his interrogators listening in closely.

    “I can’t even begin to tell you how long the fight was, as I was still far too frail. Long story short, I was able to outsmart Gaira, but that didn’t last. I immediately felt the wrath of Sanda, even lost an arm to that bastard. Thankfully, with a headlock still on Gaira, I managed to negotiate my release if I let go of his brother.”

    “You negotiated? Incredible,” Hange breathed out, sparkles glistened in her eyes, with a smile forming on her face. “Tell me more.”

    “In a sense, yeah. They didn’t speak or anything like that, but Sanda understood my proposition. Of course that didn’t stop me from trying to hunt them down later on.”

    “I see,” Levi muttered. “And what have you been up to this past year?”

    “Well, unless you want to spend hours listening to me explaining how I prepared my every meal in the woods, which I know neither of you want, then nothing of note.”

    “Really?” Levi asked, expressing disbelief at their captive’s refusal to go into detail.

    “It is what happened. It’s just up to you whether or not you believe me, but if you really want, I can start with day one in the woods,” Shikishima proposed, preparing himself to tell his year long story to the two of them.

    “That won’t be necessary,” Hange cut in, as Levi retained his frown.

    “As you wish,” Levi simply mouthed.

    “Since you say you’ve been tracking them, do you know what their next move is?” Hange interrogated, desperate to know more of their behavior.

    “Likely resting, but with each attack inflicted on them, they strike back harder,” Shikishima answered.

    “How so?” Levi asked.

    “Usually by venturing further than where they’re normally at, and by the damage we dealt to them today, their retaliation could be greater than previously thought,”

    “Do you think they’ll go after the walls?”

    “Highly likely, yes,” Shikishima answered.

    “If everything you say is true,” Hange reported, to which Shikishima simply nodded. “It is.”

    “Then, we need to mobilize back to Wall Maria!” Hange announced.

    “We’ll need everyone at their best. I’ll relay the order,” Levi spoke, turning to give the command to the Survey Corp.

    “Wait!” Hange yelled out, placing her hand on the captain’s shoulder. “There’s one last question I need to ask.”

    “Oh?” Shikishima asked, interest in his voice greatly rising. “This ought to be good.”

    “If we release you from your shackles, will you assist us?” Hange asked, as she felt the dread creeping her voice at the possible regret she was about to make.

    “Section Commander!” Levi blurted out in shock as he couldn’t believe what she was proposing.

    “Of course. I have every intention of repaying you for completing my mission,” Shikishima answered, smiling at the proposal.

    “I don’t like it, but what choice do we have against the two? With Shikishima we stand a better chance at keeping Wall Maria intact. We can’t lose it again,” Hange explained to Levi.

    The Captain grunted, his eyes rolling as he then spoke up “Right. I’ll trust your judgement and relay the information to everyone else.”

    Levi turned to take his leave out of the holding cell, as he muttered, “Izuru is going to lose his shit when he hears about this.”

    Shikishima turned his gaze back on Hange. “So, you mind unlocking these shackles?”

    Hange unleashed a punch, a punch harder than any she had thrown before at his face, drawing blood from his mouth. The prisoner coughed and nearly choked, taking a few moments to recompose himself. Had it not been for his regeneration, the punch would have taken him down for the count, but instead a headache he now had to deal with.

    Shikishima looked back up at the glaring Hange. “I suppose that’s a fair response.”

    ***

    “Can you please not do that right now?” Jean asked, visibility disgusted at the display before him.

    “Do…. do what?” Sasha barely managed to get out, with the amount of meat in her mouth.

    “The eating!” screamed a furious Jean, his glaring eyes piercing down at her.

    “Why?” Sasha asked, after gulping down her food with satisfaction. “What’s wrong with eating? It’s a perfectly normal thing to do.”

    “I don’t give a shit if you eat, but can you not eat like that?” Jean asked, looking back down at his gluttonous friend sitting on dirt, her mouth covered with remains of earlier bites, as she sank her teeth into the meat she held with her bare hands.

    “It’s the best way for me to eat out here,” Sasha justified, her voice still muffled from all of the chewing. “The plates they give us are total crap. They fall apart instantly!”

    “It’s just……” Jean stammered, trying to find the right words to convey his argument. He tightened his hands while gritting his teeth. He let out a sigh, “It just reminds me of them and the way they eat. It really makes me lose my appetite, okay? I don’t need any more reminders of those monsters during our off time.”

    Sasha listened to his words carefully while she chewed her food, she felt sympathy for her friend. The gluttonous woman swallowed her food, giving herself the opportunity to reply to her friend’s grief.

    “Right, I just get carried away with a meal. It’s just my way of escaping my problems, like…. them,” Sasha explained, sorrow painted over her face.

    “I know, I know. Next time, can you at least not eat that way next to me?” Jean inquired, phrasing his question as nicely as he can for her.

    “I guess I can give it a try, and sorry,” Sasha concurred, giving her friend a soft smile.

    Jean returned the expression, feeling some relief wash over his body over settling his grievance without any conflict. He was glad to have Sasha as a friend despite her addiction to overeating. She was always there for her friends and would be the first one to offer words of encouragement, something that was needed in this world.

    “Thank you,” spoke Jean.

    Sasha’s soft smile morphed into a grin, as a lightbulb went off in her head. “Say, now that I did something for you, you think you can do a favor for little ol’ me?”

    Jean’s face lit up, questioning what the request from Sasha could be. He felt anxious over the crazy schemes she could make up and he did not look forward to any of them. He shivered over the last favor she asked of him, still reeling over getting caught by Drill Sergeant Yunohira when they attempted to raid the food reserves for midnight snacks.

    Their food privileges were revoked for five days.

    That wasn’t the worst part for Jean, however, it was hearing Sasha’s cries that nearly killed him.

    How he managed to survive those ear piercing sounds was beyond him.

    Jean, with great hesitation in his voice, quivered, “What do you need?”

    “Can I have your rations for today?” Sasha inquired, her voice filled with excitement as her eyes widened like a puppy.

    “Uh……..” Jean stammered while her stomach let out a monstrous growl. “Yeah, go ahead.”

    Sasha jumped up to her feet, screeching from the top of her lungs, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” She lunged onto Jean, giving him a massive bear hug, sucking the air out of his body. Jean, using every ounce of strength he did his best to pry her off of him, but it was of no use. Her raw strength could not be trumped.

    “You’re the best!” The hungry woman excitedly shrieked out, relinquishing her grasp on her friend, as she then bolted over to the makeshift messhall to collect her second meal.

    Jean collapsed onto his knees, giving himself the much needed time to recover from the powerful grip that jailed him. His breaths were rapid, as he struggled to regain his strength.

    “Goddamn…..” the soldier struggled to breathe out. “We should just tell Sasha the Titans are laced with gravy. She’d get rid of them in seconds. Damn!”

    “If only,” Armin chuckled, his voice floating above the incapicitated Jean.

    The tired soldier looked up at Armin, his breathing still as rapid as before. The tactician offered Jean a hand, who immediately accepted the gesture and found himself standing back on his two feet; albeit with some stumbling.

    “Thanks,” Jean muttered.

    “It’s the least I can do,” replied Armin, rubbing his forehead. “How are you holding up?”

    “All things considered, I’m doing alright. Hell of a fight, though,” Jean breathed out, still recoiling from the intense battle.

    “It was far more than I can ever imagine,” replied an amazed Armin, removing his hand from his forehead. “Still, I’ve been thinking.”

    “Mhm, yet another observation?” Jean deduced, knowing his comrade all too well. He never minded Armin’s perceptions, but it wasn’t something he wanted to hear at the moment.

    “You can say that, it’s just something that….” Armin paused, finding himself recalling his discussion with Mikasa earlier today about moving on. He promised himself he’ll grieve when the time comes, as not was not the time. The strategist let out a large exhale, something Jean noticed all too quickly and realized his friend was troubled. “It just gets my mind off other things.”

    “Everything okay?” a concerned Jean asked.

    “No, but it’s not something I want to discuss at the moment,” Armin spoke up, his voice nearly cracking.

    Jean, despite not knowing exactly what was tugging on his comrade’s strings, felt he was going through great distress. As much as he didn’t want to hear any talk about Titans, he knew Armin needed to clear his mind off more than he did.

    “So, indulge me,” said Jean, opening himself to Armin’s observations about the previous battle.

    “The Algae Titan acts like a normal Titan, right? Eating whatever it can get is hands on,” Armin pointed out.

    Jean pinched his nose in annoyance at Armin stating the obvious, as he huffed, “Yeah, your point being?”

    “Well, whenever the Bigfoot Titan is in the vicinity, the Algae Titan tends to follow his lead and is willing to behave way differently than any other Titan,” Armin deduced.

    “Okay…. I fail to see where you’re going with this. They’re essentially Abnormals at this point,” Jean retorted, feeling his patience waning, even to the point of him rather wanting to deal with Sasha’s eating instead.

    “You guys talking about the hairy Titans?” Sasha asked, coming back with a full plate of food, shoving one-fourths of a potato in her mouth. “It’s like the brown one is some pacifist or something. You guys think he can get his little brother under control?”

    “First of all, Sasha, chew before you speak. You’re going to choke. Second, that’s what I was getting to,” Armin spoke, trying to convey his point to his two fellow soldiers. “I’ve been thinking what if we head straight toward the Bigfoot Titan? Maybe we can communicate with it, get it to ease up on the attacks.”

    “And be sitting ducks for the green one? Hell no!” Jean spat out, furious at what Armin is suggesting.

    “I have to agree with Jean,” Sasha spoke, swallowing her food. “We were barely able to fight off the green one, but having to do that while communicating with the brown one is suicide!”

    Armin’s hand shook, he gritted his teeth as he slowly started to shake. Rage unbridleding, a feeling he never felt before. He knew why he felt like this, why it was starting to get to him. The strategist struggled to combat it, he told himself he’ll do it when the time comes, but the urge was too much.

    “Goddamnit! Just let me speak for one fucking minute!” Armin roared out, taking Jean and Sasha by surprise, with the latter jumping a foot back and nearly dropping her plate. The two were frozen in place, their hearts racing as if they were hit by a jolt of lightning as Armin’s face was boiling red and shaking uncontrollably.

    Armin, after a minute, looked up at his friends, still with shock painted on their faces, only now realized what he just said. His mind nearly shattered, his knees turned to jelly as he collapsed onto them. His breathing stuttered while his eyes widened, feeling every urge to let it out.

    “Armin, you okay?” Sasha stuttered, slowly putting her plate down to the ground.

    “What’s wrong, buddy?” Jean asked lightly, approaching him, matching Sasha’s pace as they crouched down next to him, feeling remorse for getting carried away.

    “I…. I….” Armin stuttered, trying to find the right words to convey his answer. He wanted to tell them what was happening, or anyone for that matter, but his mind being a broken record told him not to. “It’s….. not important.”

    “What do you mean, not important? You haven’t been yourself in days!” Jean protested.

    “I know I haven’t, but I don’t have time to deal with it! What needs to be done is stopping the two Titans before they destroy everything in sight! If you’d just stop being pissed off at everyone or stuffing your face, you’d see that!” Armin shrieked out, letting another outburst get the best of him,

    “Armin….” Sasha choked, tears starting to well in her eyes. “We’re just worried about you.”

    “Look, I know I can be a hardass at times, but there’s something bothering you and we just want to help, bud,” Jean softly said, putting his hand on the tactician’s shoulder.

    Armin’s breathing halted in its stuttering as it was reverting back to normal, felt himself being able to feel more at ease, slowing his bodily movements. The strategist closed his eyes, giving himself a moment to think.

    He opened them back up and whispered to the two,“I know and I’m sorry for what I said. You’re right. Both of you are. I am going through some stuff. Stuff I thought would be with me forever, but it won’t.”

    “It’s okay. You can tell us,” Sasha murmured, putting her hand on his shoulder while tears started to pour, feeling a great sense of concern for her dear friend.

    Armin breathed. A sense of relief washed over him by hearing their words of comfort. He wanted to vent more than anything, but knew there were more pressing matters at stake.

    The strategist sniffed, looking up at his friends and spoke, “If we all make it through this, then I’ll tell you, but for now, just listen to what I have to say…” Armin paused, taking a deep breath followed by a slow exhale. “Please.”

    Sasha nodded her head. “Okay. Just don’t keep it bottled up for long. We care about you.”

    “Can’t have our best tactician falling apart now, can we?” Jean joked, trying his best to lighten up the situation.

    Armin smiled at their kind words and even let out a chuckle. “Okay, as I was saying. If we can find a way to parlay with the Bigfoot Titan, we can get him to halt their attacks. All the while a few of our scouts could intercept and distract the Algae Titan. Then, that’s where Eren can come in and restrain him. That way, if we pull this off, no one will be harmed. Even the two Titans.”

    “I suppose it’s worth a shot. I don’t see why we should spare the two, but it’s better than throwing more lives at them,” Jean spoke, not fully fond of the idea, but willing to hear him out, just in the off chance it can be reformed later on.

    “We can always ask Hange, see what she thinks,” Sasha suggested, not fully sure on where she personally stands on the plan. The gluttonous soldier never came up with the plans nor had any desire to, just enough to to keep her informed.

    “I guess we can get her thoughts on it,” Armin spoke quietly, he was getting himself up onto his feet, but felt two pair of hands on his shoulder. He then saw the culprits to be Sasha and Jean giving him reassuring smiles, letting him know that they’re for him. He felt comfort in that and a new sense of confidence.

    He didn’t know if it would last or for how long, but helt felt amenity in it. Armin wouldn’t let it go to waste.

    The three, without conveying another word to each other, marched toward the commander’s tent to communicate with her on their plan of attack. And, to their luck, they didn’t need to open it, as Hange burst right through the entrance.

    The three soldiers stood at attention, saluting her.

    “You really don’t need to do that, you know?” Hange stated, never liking the idea of everyone constantly saluting her, feeling her position to be informal at best.

    “Sorry, force of habit, mam,” Jean apologized, rubbing the back of his head.

    “We’ll be diverting our forces back to Wall Maria, so you better assist in loading up. We don’t have a lot of time,” Hange announced, taking the three by surprise.

    “We’re heading back, why? Aren’t we supposed to be pushing the attack?” Sasha inquired, not at all upset over by the change of plans, but was inquisitive over the sudden change of orders.

    “Our prisoner,” Hange said with venom in her voice over having to even speak of Shikishima. “Has informed me of the high possibility of Sanda and Gaira attacking the wall.”

    “Who are Sanda and Gaira?” Armin inquired, completely baffled by the foreign names.

    “Oh, right!” Hange blurted out, bopping herself on the forehead. “The Bigfoot and Algae Titans.”

    “I guess it’s easier to say it like that,” Sasha pointed out.

    “It’s their actual names, but that’s not important. What did you come to me for?” Hange inspected, knowing the three had something they wanted to discuss with her.

    “I think I have an idea on how to ensure their defeat,” Armin announced.

    “Really?” Hange asked, her eyes widening. “What did you have in mind?”

    “By placating their behavior. We go after Sanda by trying to negotiate with him to not attack us, and to even take his brother far away from here. All the while Eren and a garrison of scouts can restrain Gaira,” Armin explained.

    “Hmm…. it does give us the best chance to get a deeper look into them. We can discuss it with the others on the ride back,” Hange answered, as then followed her statement up with an order. “As for now, assist the others in packing everything up. I want us all to be at our best,”

    “Yes, ma’am!” The three scouts shouted in unison as Hange took her leave.

    “You did good, Armin!” Jean congratulated, patting him on the back.

    “Armin, just remember,” Sasha spoke, getting Armin to turn his attention to her. “You got this and we’ll be with you every step of the way.

    Armin gulped, feeling proud of getting the section commander interested in his plan and for having friends by his side. It wouldn’t be the solution to his problems, but it did put him on the path to finding it.

    And, he was truly thankful for it. For them.

    ***

    2 days after incident

    The proverbial winds whispered in the shadows of the ebbing twilight. Coarse sands drowned by the gentle caress of the ocean’s waters. Foliage that once stood tall and mighty crushed underfoot by the feet of giants. Fauna scattered from their monstrous footfalls, long before they even arrived.

    The Brown Gargantua heaved a deliberate sigh as he carried his slumped brother over his shoulder. No doubt they had escaped from the vicious grasp of the humans that lived in the walls. Even for beings as remarkably large as themselves, who could cross distances in short periods of time, it was a several hour long journey from the artificial constructs to the beauty of the evening ocean. As they breached the evergreen barrier onto the rough white sands, Sanda finally placed his barely conscious brother down, taking the opportunity to rest.

    Collapsing onto the soft beach, Sanda dropped back and molded a bodily imprint with his massive frame. His eyes gazed at the beauty of creation, leaving his troubled mind in dire complacency. He recalled their encounter with the white Titan, how Gaira became obsessed with hunting for the humanoid giants that pervaded Japan. None of this was going as it was meant to be, yet even so Sanda wasn’t sure which was more problematic.

    His left hand balled into a rocky fist, slamming it against the unstable terrain in a fit of frustration. Why did it have to be them? Why were they handpicked for this task? The humans had done nothing wrong since their disappearance a century ago. Humanity was capable of many things, including love and compassion. Sanda’s heart always remembered that, with a sudden rush of dopamine accompanying such thoughts. Yet the brief elation died as soon as it came. They couldn’t escape from the demons that chained them down. They would either die failing or return with their primary goal achieved. At least, that’s what it felt like.

    Guilt overcame him. Even if he was not responsible, he was still an associate by not turning against his orders. For bringing Gaira along, leading to untold deaths. Did he have a choice in the matter? Couldn’t there be some other way? The thought of killing humans always made him quesy. He despised the thought, but knew it was going to be a necessary evil to do what must be done.

    Shifting sands caught his attention, the Brown Gargantua observing his brother sitting up. Sanda rose up as well, keeping himself seated in the displaced grains of sand. Gaira meanwhile got back to his feet, and before Sanda could do anything, the Green Gargantua darted for the open water without a moment’s notice. The savage sea giant took decisive strides as the ocean openly embraced him into her depths. Soon enough, Gaira was out of view, leaving only churning foam bubbling on the surface.

    He was alone now, his mind burdened by the future that lied ahead. Nothing could be done to avoid it. He brought his knees in and curled up. Humans needed to die… It went against his very nature. But it was deemed a necessary evil to save the many lives that inhabited this planet; so said his captors.

    Which would perish? Humanity? Or the Earth?

    Whimpering and sobbing broke out, for he did not want this to happen. Certainly, the mistakes of humans had always been accounted for by history. But they could do so much more if given the chance to amend their wrongdoings. Then maybe there wouldn’t be a need to exterminate them…

    He didn’t know how long he had spent moping, nor realized the sun had long since dipped behind the oceanic horizon. When he peeped to determine his brother’s whereabouts, he was surprised to see Gaira’s shaggy hair and leering eyes poking above the watery surface, staring right at him. Displaced water rippled as the Green Gargantua returned to shore, cascading waterfalls rolling off his body as he did.

    Gaira snorted, venting hot air accumulated from his own frustration. His shadow draped over Sanda, then firmly grasped his rocky shoulders and shook him violent. Beastly screeches escaped Gaira’s nasty jaws, reinforcing his point. The world was cruel, for love and pacifism could never be eternally maintained. To be of the world, one must have the strength and the will to live. Even Gaira recalled his earliest memories, hunting in the merciless oceans for sustenance. No care, no guide, just pure survival to the fittest.

    Sanda’s dejected eyes veered away, but Gaira continued to scream and shake. There was no room for compassion here, lest they lose everything! Grisly steups expressed the savage’s seething rage perfectly; for his brother’s eschewed mentality prevented him from taking it all the way. How could they accomplish anything if all they did was sit and wait? Gaira would have none of it, and he’d prove to Sanda as to why.

    Releasing his grip, the scaly green giant shook the residual water off his body, spraying it within proximity and splattering against Sanda. Without a moment to waste, fully energized from the much needed rest, the sea green hominid gestured to his brother. The sooner they get this done, the sooner they could live their lives in peace.

    If there was nothing else Sanda wanted more than anything, it was peace of mind–and finally to be left alone…

    Shuffling from the sands, the great Gargantua rose to his feet and followed in his brother’s path. They’d charge into battle, almost knowing for certain what waited for them. But if they could accomplish their mission, then they would at last have what they sought for. Even so, Sanda was still of troubled mind, uncertain of what choices he would have to make…

    Was it for the humans? Was it for the planet? Was it for his brother?

    He would have to see for himself, and at last destroy his internal walls of what mattered most to him.

    ***

    5 days after incident

    The chipped stone rested on his palm as his thumb rubbed it, feeling some sense of comfort by the rough, jagged feel. However, Eren kept his eyes peeled on the horizon before him, as he remained seated at the edge of the wall, letting his feet dangle.

    ‘No matter how times I see it, I can never attain it.’

    The Titan shifter kept his focus on the horizon, the glowing orange light slowly rising up the pink faded sky. He admired the beauty of the prospect, something that helped keep him sane. If only it were that easy for him, as in reality, it only kept the looming thoughts of his many failures at bay.

    ‘Would anything I do ultimately matter? Or are my failures the only ones that live on?’

    Eren gripped the stone tighter in his hand, sealing his eyes closed. He gave himself an escape from the phenomenon before him. He felt disgust. He can look at the Titans without any sort of feeling of dread, but looking at something simple like the horizon gave him nothing by confliction.

    ‘Am I nothing more than a Titan? A weapon. One that may not even be reliable.’

    His mind shifted through every dream he shared with everyone he cared about. Their aspirations filled them with hope in this dreadful world, but now, those desires were gone. Only memories remained, and nothing could bring them back.

    ‘Where do I go from here?’

    “Hey kid,” A voice called to him, causing Eren to jump himself awake, as he started to find himself tilting toward the edge. His eyes widen in fear, feeling the inevitably of his fall, Eren grabbed the edges of the wall as an attempt to stabilize. However, it only impeded his loss of balance.

    From the corner of his eye, the stone fell out of his hand and down the wall. Eren, with the last of his fingers losing their grip on the surface, lost their grip. The Titan shifter lowered his mouth toward his thumb, preparing to transform to save his life, but as if a miracle washed over him, he was stopped.

    “Easy there,” The voice spoke again, as Eren turned his around to find the perpetrator to be Shikishima with a smile on his face. “We can’t have you doing that yet.”

    As bitter as he was with the former commander of his betrayal, he did not refuse his help, realizing he would only exhaust himself by transforming. Shikishima pulled Eren onto a more secure area of the wall.

    Shikishima allowed Eren a few seconds to collect himself, before pointing something out to him. “That’s three you owe me, junior.”

    Eren, between breaths, briefly looked up at the fellow shifter and huffed, “Piss off.”

    Shikishima chuckled at Eren’s stubbornness. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

    “And…. my reply….. is still….. piss off….” Eren breathed out, his breathing returning back to normal, as he was then standing back up to face Shikishima.

    “A shame, but…” Shikishima heaved, flicking his ear. “Understandable.”

    “What are you doing up here anyway? Shouldn’t you be in a cell?”

    “You’d think, but the Section Commander decided to be sweet on me by allowing me to walk freely on the top of the wall,” explained Shikishima, feeling proud of the situation he was in.

    “After the shit you pulled, I doubt that,” Eren called out, with a scowl growing on his face.

    “You called my bluff on the first half, but she’s just allowing me to stay here should the Gargantuas arrive sooner than expected,” clarified the former Section Commander.

    “The Gargantuas?” inquired Eren, confused by the foreign term he brought up.

    “Oh, just the name I coined for the two of them. No need to waste time by saying their individual names,” Shikishima explained.

    The two then went silent for a moment as if the horizon entranced them with its booming light and enchanting vista. It was something, without speaking a word to each other could agree on, to which it was a thing of beauty.

    Shikishima turned to Eren and asked, “What were you daydreaming about?”

    “Nothing,” Eren said dismissively, not wanting to talk to anyone about his recent views, much less the pestering nuisance standing before him.

    “Ah! The kind of nothing that gets you to fall off,” Shikishima mocked, resulting in Eren to turn around and greet him with a glare. “You may as well tell me. Neither of us have anything better to do.”

    Eren went to protest, but quickly withdrew as he realized he was right. The Titan shifter could have made the excuse of having to check up on Armin or Mikasa, but if he had to give credit to Shikishima, it was being good at reading people. He had no choice but to answer, and hoped his answer would be enough to get him to leave.

    “A life,” Eren answered plainfully, turning his gaze to the ascending horizon.

    “Yes, that’s something everyone dreams of, but what were you thinking of specifically?” Shikishima called out, hoping to delve deeper into Eren’s desires.

    “Why do you care?”

    “One of my ways of looking out for you, kiddo,” chuckled Shikishima, resisting the urge to pat him on the shoulder.

    “Did I ask for it?” barked Eren.

    “No, but it’s going to happen,” Shikishima declared, ignoring Eren’s protests.

    Eren huffed and puffed as his face turned red at the man’s dismissive and ruthless attitude. He hated him with every fiber of his being. To him, he was nothing more than a traitor and one he would gladly love to bludgeon, but unfortunately, yelling would have to do.

    “Like the time you killed Sannagi and almost everyone else!” roared Eren, reminding himself of their pointless deaths when they could have lived.

    “That was regrettable,” Shikishima murmured, lowering his head down as he looked down at the surface of the wall. “I did not lie about wanting all of you to join me. Once you all rejected my plan, I didn’t see any other way around it except to incapacitate you.”

    “There’s always another choice!” hollered Eren, taking a step toward him.

    “A lesson I tend to forget. Souda taught me that one, or at least tried to,” Shikishima mumbled, causing Eren to stop in place. His heart started to race over the mention of his old friend. He didn’t know the two knew each other, even a bit of disgust over him knowing someone as vile like the Titan shifter, but he had to know.

    “You knew Souda?”

    “I did,” Shikishima answered, with a small smile forming on his face. “He looked out for me in my days of youth and was even my source of inspiration to join the Regiments. Half-considered the Garrison at first.”

    “I wish he was still here,” Eren murmured sadly, with a deep sigh following.

    “I do too. I’m sorry for not saving him in time,” Shikishima apologized, turning his attention back to Eren. “Souda and Sannagi were dutiful soldiers, risking their lives for the people they cared about. The world is lesser with their losses. Even though I’m directly responsible for one of them dying.”

    “A life outside the walls,” Eren spoke, glancing back toward the nearly deceased horizon.

    “Hmm….” Shikishima murmured, confused by what his fellow Titan shifter just vocalized.

    “That’s the answer to your question. A life outside the walls where I can see the world from an air balloon, help build a settlement, one without walls to where everyone can see the beauty surrounding them, and……” Eren stammered, taking a minute to recompose how he wanted to say his final desire. “And to create a family of my own.”

    Shikishima studied Eren as he was talking, listening closely to every word that came out of his mouth. These were things that would give any person joy, but the way they came out of Yeager’s mouth were the opposite. Sorrow, despair and dread. He wanted Eren to have that kind of life, but knew with the way he was conveying it all, it would lead to an existence of nothing but misery.

    The former section commander opened his mouth, asking, “Is that what you truly value or is there something else?”

    “I don’t know.” Eren stammered, dumbfounded at the question before him. “I really don’t know.”

    “It might have been a while, but do you remember the song from the hidden bunker?” Shikishima inquired, hoping Eren would recall some semblance of the luxuries offered to him in the sanctuary.

    “No, I can’t say I can recall, and why ask that now of all times?” Eren asked, completely baffled by the random question about a song. A song that wasn’t important during his time there nor bore any significance now.

    “The End of the World, sung by Skeeter Davis. It’s about how the world keeps going, even as you’re suffering from losing someone important,” explained Shikishima, forming a smile over having a fondness of the song. It was one he played for the soldiers who joined his cause. Despite it being a depressing song, he felt it kept everyone at ease even with the looming threat of the Titans before them.

    “Mikasa mentioned you a couple of times when I trained her,” Shikishima announced, resulting in Eren to look at him with a hint of excitement, but was mostly masked by dejection hearing her name.

    “It doesn’t matter now,” Eren bluntly dismissed, his stomach turning to knots, with his mind playing back his last conversation with her.

    “She was that person to you, wasn’t she?” asked Shikishima.

    Eren kept his silence, as he didn’t want to continue this conversation. Unfortunately for him, life didn’t side with him, as Shikishima continued to push the conversation.

    “Was. That’s all there is to it,” inferred Eren. “Why does it matter to you anyway?”

    “I care for people and listen to what they say,” Shikishima answered, with Eren giving him an immediate glare. One in response because of the way he saw him dispatching certain people. The former commander raised his hands up defensively. “Right, right. To clarify. Despite being a glutton, Sasha is a very capable hunter. Your best friend Armin, is very timid, but a brilliant strategist. And, Hiana, not only did I know she alerted the Titans, but that you kept her secret.”

    Eren’s eyes widen at the mention of Hiana. His hands tightened as she was just another casualty of his failures. He nearly winced, as it was a memory more painful than most, as the two had gotten close in the short amount of time they knew each other. Like others, she was grabbed in an instant, but that didn’t free him from his guilt. He wished he could have done more for her.

    “So…. to reiterate,” Shikishima spoke, stirring Eren out of his pondering. “Is she that important of a person to you?

    “I believe…” stuttered Eren, not fully sure if he can answer that question truthfully or even at all. He just knew he couldn’t give Shikishima silence. “I can be happy with her.”

    “Because you spared her the chance to embrace the freedom from this cruel world?” examined Shikishima.

    “It’s not like that!” Eren roared out, taking a step toward Shikishima, his eyes piercing the Titan shifter as he took offence to the question. One that not only reminded him of Levi’s question about reliability, but of forming any meaningful connections. He let out a short breath before putting himself at ease. “I just… want peace for all mankind.”

    Shikishima snorted in amusement, but quickly pulled back, knowing humor was no longer an option to pacify Eren. “Depends on how far you’re willing to push to achieve those goals. If she brings you happiness, then that is your decision to make and I will support it. Just on one condition.”

    “And that is?” Eren asked, agitated at the audacity of Shikishima making demands of how he wants to live his life.

    “Treat her right. Not just for her sake, but for your own,” Shikishima noted before taking a sorrowed filled exhale. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

    The words went through Eren like a volley of arrows, as he started to find a newfound sense of sympathy for the man. He didn’t like it, but he had to understand it. Understand him and why the way he is.

    “What do you mean by that?” vocalized Eren.

    With a large exhale, Shikishima lowered his head, his entire demeanor changed in an instant. “Look, if we survive this, and if I’m able to, let’s grab a drink. It’s a lot better for both of us to be shitfaced.”

    His eyes rolled at the pathetic excuse he gave, but decided nonetheless to drop it. Arguing and possibly fighting over it wouldn’t help the situation. He decided to ask a different question. One that may produce more fruitful results.

    “Okay, what about you, Shikishima? What makes you happy?”

    Shikishima let out another exhale, “The thrill of death is my only salvation. But ever since I was endowed with these powers, I find I can never truly die.” He glanced up at Eren, looking him directly in the eye and continued, but pain seemed to have made its way in his voice. “And neither will you. What will happen then, when you outlive everyone you care about? Can you really live with that, Eren?”

    Eren remained silent, contemplating how to respond. He knew the information Shikishima dumped on him was true and it was something he wanted to reject. To close the door on, but it would just barge its way in and take everyone he held dear away. It was inevitable and it scared him more than any Titan could.

    “I don’t know. But we have to make do with what we got,” replied Eren, sorrow now filling his voice as if he were infected by Shikishima’s current mood.

    “I see…” Shikishima muttered, flicking his ear once more, as he turned his attention to the bright blue sky before them.

    “What about you? What do you think will happen to you after this coming battle?” Eren asked, curious to see if Shikishima will flee or is up to something far more sinister.

    “At best, probation. At worst, I get a face full of lead from the firing squad,” The Titan shifter answered bluntly, sounding as if he were resigned to his fate.

    “You’re not concerned over the possibility of being executed?” Eren inquired, blown away by Shikishima’s tone of voice.

    “Humans live and die, Eren. Some are better off and others get the worst of it,” Shikishima sighed, glancing at him. “But some things change depending how hard you fight.”

    “Then we both know what we must do,” Eren surmised, walking toward the edge of the wall.

    “Easier said than done, Eren,” Shikishima pointed out, as Eren simply nodded his head knowing the truth to that statement.

    “We got movement!” A soldier hollered out, snapping Eren and Shikishima away from their discussion and toward the noise.

    The ground rumbled.

    Wall Maria shook as several of the standing soldiers fumbled around.

    “Confirmation on Gaira exiting the forest!” Another soldier cried out.

    The Green Gargantua let loose an ear shrieking roar, stomping past the forest. Gaira snarled, moving his eyes at his surroundings. He noticed everyone standing on top of the wall, a sight that immediately made him lick his lips. His stomach growled. Gaira’s instincts told him to destroy the wall before him, but a couple of snacks wouldn’t hurt while he did it.

    “He’s just standing there,” A soldier pointed out.

    “What is it doing?” Another asked.

    “Any pointers you want to give out?” Eren asked, turning over to Shikishima, who kept his focus on the still Gargantua.

    “Don’t think of him as just a brute. He’s smarter than you think,” The Titan shifter spoke.

    Without even looking down, Gaira placed his right hand on a tree and yanked it from the ground. The green giant brandished the weapon, inspecting its narrow like form. He grunted while nodding, as he slammed the tree onto his left palm, testing the sturdiness of it. Gaira let out a small roar, approving of the newly acquired weapon.

    “Approach Gaira with caution. His aim is a lot better than anything we encountered,” A soldier called out.

    Gaira raised the tree above his shoulder, shifting his hand down toward the middle of the branch. The gruesome beast closed his left eye, as he covered the area with his right eye. He kept the tree sturdy as his method of attack was about to begin.

    With everyone else the two Titan shifters observed Gaira and what he was about to do, trying to put together what he was planning. Shikishima, on the other hand, knew the beast all too well. His eyes widened, realizing what was about to happen.

    “Everyone get down!” Shikishima screamed, his lungs shaking rapidly. Not even a second past, as his first instinct was to tackle Eren to ground, keeping him from getting back on his feet.

    As if Gaira synchronized with Shikishima’s command, he threw the tree like a spear at the top of the wall. Several of Survey Corp stationed on the top of the wall heeded their former commander’s order, dropping to the ground as the tree soared over them.

    Everyone stationed on the wall breathed a sigh of relief as they were in one piece, but others behind the wall weren’t so lucky. The large tree crashed into a block of homes, as screams immediately filled both members of the Survey Corp and the Garrison’s ears. They collectively winced at the cries of horror from the attack, all realizing this was the least of their worries.

    The attack had just begun, and before they knew it, Gaira let out a thunderous shriek.

    Gaira charged at speeds never seen by anyone, his goal standing before him and nothing could stop him from doing it. He was ambushed by those pestering beings once before, but it would not happen again. The green giant was ready.

    The Green Gargantua turned his head away from the direction of the wall while moving his left shoulder up, bracing himself for the inevitable collision. Before anyone could prepare or even get a grasp on what he was doing, Gaira slammed himself into the wall.

    The crash erupted a booming sound. One that could be heard for miles as everyone’s ears rang. Others on the other hand couldn’t hold their balance on the wall, falling to their doom while screaming at the top of their lungs. Some were fortunate to activate their ODM gear in time, propelling them to safety. The rest were about to meet a gruesome fate.

    Gaira reeled himself from the wall, inspecting the large gaping hole he made in the center of it. The Gargantua growled in satisfaction at the destruction he caused so far as pieces of it crumbled away. He eyed the civilians behind the border, their fear upon seeing him. The green giant loved seeing them scurry in fright. As appetizing as the Titans were to him and being an unlimited food source provided an incentive to devour them, he couldn’t deny humanity’s special ingredient.

    Fear.

    It was it that made them a delicacy to the flesh eating creature. Gaira drooled over the screaming populace, but knew it would have to wait. He heard screams above him, immediately forcing him to tilt his head up and see several scouts descending toward them.

    He shot his hands up, capturing several of the scouts. Their screams were music to his ears as he opened his jaws right open. He lifted his right hand up and bit down on the captive scouts, savoring every bite. Gaira then felt a slight sting on his left hand, snarling at the cause of this inconvenience. The beast turned his attention to the scouts in his left hand slashing away, desperately trying to free themselves. Without any bit of hesitation, he bit down on the captive scouts, tearing them to pieces with his teeth.

    “Goddamn monster!” Eren hissed, observing the monstrosity devouring several of his comrades.
    “I know, I know,” Shikishima calmly said, trying to keep Eren and himself focused on the fight ahead of them. “Just remember what we’re doing.”

    “Yeah,” Eren mumbed, getting himself up to his feet.

    “Are you ready for this?” Shikishima asked, starely deeping at Eren.

    “I’ll do whatever it takes!” Eren chanted, taking a step toward the edge of the wall.

    “Just don’t get yourself killed!” Shikishima called out, as Eren glanced back at him. “It’ll look bad on me!”

    Eren chuckled, turning back to look down at Gaira, readying himself to make another charge into the wall. Not even giving it a second thought, he lunged off the wall. He felt the wind blow through him as he descended faster and faster. Compared to others in his company, he relished the idea of finishing the green giant.

    ‘It’s time we finish this! You and I!’

    Eren raised his right hand up to his mouth, as he opened his mouth, letting out a battle cry, “I will show you what humanity is made of!”

    He bit down on his thumb, eliciting a fountain of blood to pour out. Lighting struck down Eren as he felt his body transform into the ferocious Attack Titan. The newly transformed Titan let loose a defiant roar filling the heavens with its presence.

    CRASH!

    The Attack Titan landed in front of the wall, looking directly at the charging Gaira. Eren shifted his arm back, his hand transforming into a fist, readying himself to strike. Gaira, however, anticipated the Jager Titan’s plan of attack and stopped in his tracks. The Green Gargantua fumbled, but regained his equilibrium, staring directly at his troublesome foe.

    When he emerges victorious over the Attack Titan, he will devour every bit of flesh from his very body. It was the least he deserved for being a thorn at his side for far too long. He needed to end this to please the voice that had been plaguing both his and his brother’s mind. Gaira and his brother haven’t always seen eye to eye, but he would always find a way to make sure his brother didn’t suffer. An idea, seemingly out of nowhere, popped in his head. The Green Gargantua observed the Titan holding his stance and knew how to drop him where he stood.

    Gaira let out a battle cry, charging at the Titan once more, showing every intent to tackle him to the ground. The Attack Titan launched his fist outward, expecting to hear a large series of crackles from breaking the Gargantua’s face, but it did not occur as Eren predicted.

    ‘What….. What is going on?’ Eren mumbled, muddled at how the beast was able to drop to the ground in a flash. Before the Titan shifter could ponder any further, he felt his right leg break apart. He looked down and noticed Gaira’s foot retracting from his leg. The green giant immediately launched his foot into the damaged leg again, eliciting a scream from the Titan.

    The Attack Titan dropped to the ground, his appendage nearly shattered. It would take a few minutes before he could stand once more, but it would not take him out of the fight for the time being.

    “Son of a bitch! You want to play dirty, huh? I can play that game, too!” Eren growled, turning his head toward the snorting Gaira, satisfied with his plan of crippling the Titan.

    The Attack Titan let out a ferocious roar and dove his head into the beast’s right shoulder. His sharp teeth shredded through the outer skin, extracting a high pitched cry from Gaira. The green giant slammed his fists repeatedly on the Titan’s upper body in an attempt to get humanoid to forgo the imprisoning bite. Each punch hit harder than the last, but it was not enough, the Attack Titan continued sinking his teeth into his shoulder.

    Despite it all, blood seeped through the Attack Titan’s back from Gaira’s powerful strikes. Eren knew he couldn’t take much more and as much as he wanted to hear his cries of pain, he had to tear it off before it was too late. With a final clamp with his powerful choppers, he reached the shoulder blade.

    SNAP!

    The Attack Titan tore through the shoulder, pulling his head back out with Gaira’s entire shoulder in his mouth. Gaira let out a piercing shriek from the intense pain of his shoulder being ripped from his body. Blood spurted out like a sprinkler as the green giant clutched his wound with his intact arm, a pain he never once felt before.

    Eren smirked in satisfaction of reducing his adversary into a crying mess. The Attack Titan dropped the removed flesh from his teeth, keeping an eye on the wounded Gargantua, feeling satisfied at delivering a decisive blow to the creature.

    “Let me give you another reason as to why you should never mess with humanity!” Eren screamed, wanting to make this vile creature suffer every bit he can before it meets its untimely demise.

    The Attack Titan launched its powerful hands at the wounded arm of Gaira. The Green Gargantua could do nothing to defend himself as the Jaeger Titan grabbed a hold of his arm and pulled. Gaira let out another ear piercing screech as he heard his very own bones explode from the tension being put on it while liquid erupted from the shoulder wound, covering the right side of his face with blood.

    Then, with a final tug, Gaira’s arm snapped off, eliciting a huge explosive crack. The Attack Titan inspected the newly severed limb before throwing it off to the distance as Eren glanced up at the bawling Gaira. Red liquid poured out of his stump, staining his green fur with his own blood. The Attack Titan smiled in delight at seeing his gruesome foe mutilated, but it soon faded when he heard a familiar roar.

    The Titan looked over to see Sanda heading over to their direction and growled. He knew what Sanda was capable of, especially when it concerned Gaira. Eren did not look forward to what could potentially happen next.

    ‘I just hope Armin can get Sanda to stand down. I don’t need him interfering with my score.’

     

    Armin observed the arrival of Sanda and nodded with determination. His part of the plan was now up. Despite coming up with the plan, he was nervous at how it would play out. A part of him knew Sanda was capable of communicating with them, but another knew his beastial side could come in at any moment.

    The strategist gulped, as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned his head slightly to see it was Sasha giving him a reassuring smile. Armin appreciated the gesture, even though he knew Sasha was in the same boat as him.

    “Are you ready for this?” Jean spoke, garnering his attention.

    “Yeah…. Yeah,” Armin replied, snapping himself back into reality. “We got this.”

    “You’re damn right we got this!” cheered Jean, doing his best to keep his team’s spirits high.

    Armin smiled softly at his friend’s efforts as he believed it helped relieve some of the tension. All the while, out of the four, Mikasa didn’t utter a word nor show any emotion. Only stoicism. The strategist knew Mikasa would be on top of things, but he needed to hear it or at least hear his distant friend’s voice. At least once for this battle, that was all he needed to get him through it.

    “Mikasa,” said Armin softly, gaining her attention. “You got us covered should this go south?”

    “Always,” Mikasa answered plainly, confident in her abilities to ensure the safety of her team on this daring parley.

    “Let’s go,” Armin announced, with the four unleashing the cables from their ODM gear, immediately yanking them toward Sanda’s direction.

    “Shouldn’t Shikishima be helping Eren with the green meanie?!” Sasha hollered through the high winds, as they traversed to their destination.

    “That’s what I thought!” Jean called out.

    “Like I said before, Eren needs to let Gaira think he’s the only one he’s fighting! That way Shikishima can come in for the killing blow!” Armin explained.

    “Are you sure that’s a wise thing to do? Eren’s always been one to get carried away,” spoke Sasha, still concerned for the Titan shifter’s well-being.

    “Eren will be fine!” Mikasa interjected, her voice seemingly blunt and stoic, as if she was completely robotic. Her fellow teammates glanced back at her, shocked at how fast her behavior had changed in the past couple of days. No longer the quiet, but approachable young woman. She acted more like a machine than a person, as she then continued, “He has his mission and we have ours.”

    The others turned back, troubled by her complete disregard for the safety of their friend. Armin’s mouth quivered, as he thought ending her tension with Eren would resolve her struggles, but it seemed it only sent her spiraling downward.

    ‘I thought Mikasa would heal, but she’s…… I don’t know what she is,’ thought a terrified Armin, at the newfound revelation.

    “What have I done?” Armin mumbled, horrified at his choice of words from before. He failed at saving his friendships and now failed her. A couple of tears flew from his eyes, becoming one with the wind, as they glided closer and closer to the approaching Gargantua. Armin eyed Sanda, admiring its towering size, but also its gentle nature from the behavior alone.

    Armin glanced at Mikasa changing direction and landing on the branch of an obscured tree. She pulled out her blades, readying to strike the beast should Armin’s plea fail. Mikasa expected herself to jump in at any time, as they were nothing more than beasts. Ones, just like the Titans should be exterminated. Still, she would give Armin the benefit of doubt, however, it wouldn’t be one she would stake her life on.

    “We’re closing in,” spoke the strategist, turning his head over to Jean. “You have the flare?”

    “I sure do!” Jean called back, the three making their descent on the roof of a building. Jean immediately pulled out the flare and approached Armin with it. “Your plan, you have the honors of using it.”

    “Thanks,” spoke Armin, taking the flare from his comrade. The three looked up at Sanda approaching his destination, knowing it was now or never to parlay with the brown giant. It was the only way to see if it will work or at the very least buy everyone some time.

    “The moment of truth,” the tactician surmised, raising his hand up and with a pull of the trigger, the flare shot up. An echoing sound erupted from the gun, immediately forcing Armin to drop the device and cover his ear from the excruciating pain followed by his two companions.

    Sanda stopped in his tracks, hearing the loud noise exploding next to him. The Gargantua let out a small snort, curious as to what the foreign sound was. He turned to the source of the eruption and saw to his surprise, three humans standing on a roof, staring up at him. The humanoid stood there perplexed at what this group would want to garner his attention for. Sanda knew he had a mission to complete, but it was as if his heart was compelling him to stay. The beast simply growled softly, lowering himself down onto one knee, curious as to know why they have alerted him.

    The three stared up at Sanda, noticing his inquisitive like expression on his face, Armin took a step forward and spoke, “I…. I don’t know if you can understand…. well, at least not fully.”

    Armin paused, trying to find the right words to convey his negotiation with Sanda. A huge part of this plan was on him and he didn’t know if he’ll be able to achieve it. All he knew was to at least try.

    “We don’t want to fight you or your brother. Like you, we just want to be left in peace,” Armin spoke, announcing his intentions to the Gargantua.

    Sanda, as if the words flew into his ears, understood what the human was relaying. The Brown Gargantua agreed to the Scout’s wants and even desired them, but it was something he couldn’t forgo so easily. Whatever had been plaguing him and his brother’s minds driven them to complete madness, massacring anything that stood in their path. He felt disgusted with himself by the actions he committed, and hearing this child’s plea to a ceasefire brought warmth to his heart.

    The Gargantua murmured, shaking his head at the conflict brewing inside his mind. Armin took another step forward, “Please…. Tell us how to end this! Show us! How can we end this without further bloodshed?”

    Sanda murmured, gritting teeth, feeling the urge to smash the trio to pieces, but restrained himself. It was hard for him to keep that vile urge at bay, but it was worth it to keep at least one piece of himself from fading away.

     

    ‘Come on, Armin, get the big brother to relent! I don’t know how long I can distract him without having to switch to more drastic measures!’ Eren glared, gritting his teeth as he observed the negotiation.

    Gaira growled silently from the agonizing pain he was going through from the battle thus far. He glanced over to his stump, noticing the tissue repairing itself. It would take some time, but Gaira knew he would have to rely on one arm for now and he was going to make it count. The Green Gargantua noticed his attacker distracted by his brother from a distance away. He wanted to alert his brother to his position to come to his aid, but knew wherever the other Titan was, it would lunge at his brother.

    The green beast snarled, his blood pumping as he felt his rage coming full force. Gaira let out a powerful shriek as he launched his remaining arm onto the Attack Titan’s neck.

    ‘What the hell!?’ Eren snarled, turning his face back to his fore, but it was too late. Gaira dug his sharp nails into his throat, blood erupting from his mouth. One of his nails dug into Eren’s leg, eliciting a pained scream from Eren, with the Attack Titan following suit.

    With his foe finally reeling from agony, Gaira stood back up, digging his fingers deeper into his esophagus. Another rage filled roar erupted from the green beast’s maw as he moved forward, his feet gaining traction as he charged straight toward the damaged wall.

    The Jaeger Titan struck Gaira’s head multiple times in an attempt for him to relinquish his death grip on him. The monstrous goliath felt the pain surging through his head, as if he felt pieces of his skull beginning to crack, but couldn’t let pain bring him down. He would rip this nuisance’s head off if it meant it being the last thing he did.

    Nearing the wall, Gaira pulled the Attack Titan momentarily back and in an instant slammed his rival into it. The wall rumbled, followed shortly with a whole section of the wall collapsing from the harsh impact of the Titan’s body.

    ‘Shikshima, you better get your ass down here!’ Eren glared, his Titan body struggling to get up to resume the fight.

    Shikishima looked down at the resulting change of the battle, shaking his head. He knew he would have to come in regardless, but expected it to be under better circumstances. The former commander just hoped Hange and Levi were doing everything they could to evacuate the civilians.

    He cracked his knuckles and smirked.

    “Show time.”

    The Titan shifter jumped off the wall, readying himself to fulfill his part of the plan. With a reach in his pocket, he pulled out a small knife. Nothing he preferred personally, but it was the only thing the higher ups were willing to give him. Nonetheless, he made do with it and slit the palm of his hand, grinning as he did so.

    Lighting flashed down upon him, feeling himself fusing with a much larger body. Within seconds, he felt himself in control with the power of “The Strongest Man,” a title he proudly coined himself.

    The Armored Titan unleashed a powerful roar as he descended further down, marking his target for something he would never expect. The Titan shifter put his hands together and stretched them behind his back. He spotted Gaira pinning his fellow Titan shifter down to the ruined wall. Shikishima murmured angrily at the action performing in front of him as he would take a great deal of satisfaction on the inflicting strike.

    ‘Have fun with the last moment you’re conscious for.’

    The Armored Titan launched his hands forward, striking Gaira’s damaged head. The Titan landed on his two feet, his hands still on the Gargantua’s head, feeling them sinking slightly downward. He soon pulled his hands back, noticing Gaira stunned by the attack. Saliva poured out of the green beast’s mouth while blood flooded from the top of his head along with his eyes and ears. From the bruising impact, Gaira felt the entire top of his skull shatter and his brain flattening. Had it not been for his amazing healing factor, he would have been dead, but the attack left him nearly docile. Gaira couldn’t move nor form a coherent thought. With no control over his body, he felt himself collapse on his back, but not before having the strength to let out a childlike cry.

    The Armored Titan feeling satisfied with his finishing move turned to the downed Attack Titan. Shikishima smirked at his fellow Titan shifter and offered a hand up. Eren shook his head and reluctantly accepted his offer.

    ‘Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s four you owe me,’ Eren mocked, knowing full well Shikishima would say it to him if he could. The two then turned their attention back to their down foe, surrounding him.

    ‘One down, one to go. Let’s just hope blondey can convince the other one to stand down,’ Shikishima noted, feeling apprehensive about Armin’s plan, but put faith in it for Eren’s sake.

     

    Armin and Sanda continued to stare back at each other, with the strategist hoping he reached some common ground with the Gargantua. Sanda leaned in closer, as Sasha and Jean took a few steps backward , not wanting to risk any strikes he may dish out.

    “Please. If you just believe you can end this for one minute, this whole war could be over with! You have a choice,” Armin pleaded, as his words once again embedded themselves in Sanda’s brain. The strategist would never know it, but Sanda did believe it. He wanted to break off from the commands he’d been receiving, but knew it was futile. All he could do was to delay the inevitable.

    A pained cry was heard from the whole area as the four of them turned around to see who could elicit such a scream. The four saw it belonging to Gaira, as they watched him collapse on his back with the two Titans standing above him.

    “Oh no,” Armin murmured, knowing full well all hell was about to break loose. He yanked his head over to face Sanda, who now tightened his fists. The Gargantua shook uncontrollably at his brother’s pain and any pleas the Scout conveyed to him were off the table.

    Sanda unleashed a rage filled cry from his maw, showing every intent to killing the two Titans. He took one last look at Armin, glaring at the trio as they felt the fear shrouding their whole body. They got ready to perform evasive measures, but Sanda simply snarled at them and bolted toward his brother.

    A sudden, destructive sprint broke the ground under Sanda’s feet, his humanity replaced by a fearsome fighting spirit. Hesitation wiped from his eyes. This feud, this mission, was going to meet its finality, all in the name of peace on Earth.

    ‘Looks like someone’s finally getting the memo,’ Shikishima noted. The Armored Titan leapt back out of the berserk Gargantua’s line of sight, grunting at Eren to do the same. The Attack Titan released his hold and likewise leapt away, just in time as Sanda barreled through with a hefty shoulder ram. Had Eren been a mere second slower, he would have felt the full fury of the Brown Gargantua. Sanda came to a stop, eyeing the individual Titans while guarding his dazed brother.

    The downed Gaira stirred from near-unconsciousness, rubbing his disheveled hair while he sat up. The barbarian’s feral eyes noticed his shaggy brother standing guard, and for an instant grinned in genuine pride. By his own power, the Green Gargantua rose to his feet and widened his arms in an intimidation display. Vicious eyes obsessed at the chance to handle a rematch with the Attack Titan, this time hoping to tear him to shreds. Respecting his brother’s wishes, Sanda locked eyes with the Armored Titan. It was time to settle the score, and Sanda no longer held doubts of his own capabilities.

    ‘You’re on your own, kid. Good luck.’ Shikishima grinned, eager at the chance to fight these brutes once again. His white Titan unleashed a bellowing roar, accepting Sanda’s offer.

    ‘Looks like it’s you and me again,’ Eren thought, bringing his Titan’s fists to his face. He could see the impatient beast drooling from his disgusting fangs. ‘You got away last time because of Sanda, but things won’t play the same twice!’

    Sanda and Gaira kept their eyes on their targets, prepared to end this… And with a unified hellacious battle cry, the Gargantuas and Jaeger Titans charged for the fate of their futures!

    Eren collided with Gaira head on, releasing all his restraints. His Titan form was illuminated by the erratic orange glow of his internal combustion, steam flowing out of his mouth and natural vents in greater excess than before. Clenching his fists, Eren went in for a decisive right hook to the Gargantua’s face. Gaira swerved his head aside, the burning fist just grazing his disgusting mug. The beast-man pressed his assault by hacking and slashing with his bare claws, snipping the flesh off the Attack Titan.

    Eren pulled the weight of his Titan’s arms as he countered them with a parry, deflecting the savage’s vicious swipes. Yet in doing so, he left himself open to the full brunt of Gaira’s next attack. Reaching his scaly arms out, the Green Gargantua dug his claws into the Titan’s shoulders and pressed his mass against the light-weight Titan. Carrying the humanoid fighter, Gaira slammed the Attack Titan against the reinforced barrier nearby, Wall Maria cracking under the tremendous force. The heinous ogre heaved and again rammed the Titan into the damaged wall, further fracturing the border.

    “Damn it!” Eren cursed, trying to force his Titan to act. Reaching his hands up from between Gaira’s arms, the Attack Titan wrapped his hands around the beast’s parietal and thrusted his head down. Focusing his next attack, Eren charged his kneecaps as he brought them to meet the Gargantua head on! A violent crack of contorted bone and imploded flesh indicated Eren had found his mark. Gaira clumsily stumbled back and released his grip without a second thought, tending to his facial wound by covering his face with his hands. As Eren prioritized regenerating the damaged kneecap, he kept his guard up and eyed for what the Gargantua was going to do next.

    Gaira uncupped his hands, revealing his stained face marked by his own blood. Yet at the same time, the barbarian’s own regeneration had already taken effect, the once broken nose breaking itself back into place. Gaira stretched his mouth open, popping his joints and scrunching his face, adjusting to the new sensation of a repaired nose. Baring his fangs and claws, Gaira found himself quick back on the offensive, prepared to slice the rebellious Titan to pieces.

    Eren, the Attack Titan, anchored his feet and threw out a mighty fist in response.

     

    Wall Maria swayed with movement thought impossible for a barrier as expansive as it was, rumbling a deep, inorganic growl uncanny to the ear.

    Mass panic flooded the compact streets, the denizens of Mozen fleeing en masse. Members of the Scout Regiment and the Military Police guided evacuation efforts, trying to quell the chaotic stampede. All the while, the Garrison’s efforts were kept to vehicular transportation and guarding the gate for potential trespassers.

    “You’re not very good at evacuations are you, four-eyes?” Levi snarked, pushing a civilian away from him, sending her on her way in the passing horde.

    “None of them are very interesting to study!” retorted Hange, annoyed she put herself in this position, despite it being where she was needed the most. The skin on the Gargantuas was too thick to cut and her observations wouldn’t be much help, so she decided to help with evacuations.

    “You only find things interesting if they blow your head off!” Izuru pointed out, loading people one by one in a Stryker.

    “There’s no reward without a little risk!” countered Hange with a bit of excitement in her voice. “And if my favorite test subject and the traitor succeed, we’ll be swimming with specimens!”

    “Evacuations first, then you can splurge on the spoils of war!” Levi reminded his commander, giving her a stern look.

    “You two aren’t any fun!” Hange called out, rolling her eyes as she helped a child up in a Stryker.

    Armin, Sasha and Jean zipped through the air, desperately trying to reconvene onto Wall Maria as fast as they could. They failed in their mission to end this peacefully, but they could at least assist in saving more lives. It was the least they could do.

    Sasha glanced over at Armin, seeing his pensive face, knowing how hard he is taking it with the plan going down the drain and everything else on top of it. “You did the best you could,” Sasha spoke softly, comforting her friend.

    “It wasn’t enough, but we can at least get the others out safely,” Armin countered, keeping his eyes peeled on the destination before them.

    “If we make it through this, drinks are on me!” Jean announced, attempting to mitigate the conversation.

    “Count me in!” exclaimed an excited Sasha, nearly drooling over the coming celebration.

    As if on cue, Mikasa came into formation with her fellow comrades, soaring with them. She kept her distance from them, not even uttering a word nor conveying any sort of worry for the situation they were in. Jean, on the other hand, was not fond of the recent demeanor she had been displaying.

    “We’re okay; thanks for asking!” Jean sarcastically remarked.

    Mikasa glanced over at him and simply replied emotionlessly, “Glad to hear it.”

    Sasha’s eyes widened, sweat started to pour down from her forehead as she was one who never liked conflict. She wanted to speak up, to tell Jean it wasn’t worth it, but couldn’t find the strength to do it.

    Instead, it was Armin who spoke.

    “All of us did what we could!” Armin barked, taking a moment for his words to take into effect before returning, “Getting into a fight amongst ourselves isn’t going to solve anything. Let’s just do what we can do and hope Eren and Shikishima will fulfil their part of the plan.”

    Jean simply nodded in his head, listening to his friend’s advice as Mikasa on the other hand provided her voice with a softer tone than before. “Acknowledged, Armin.”

    The slight change in her demeanor was enough to give Armin a tiny smile, knowing some part of the Mikasa he knew was in the hardened soldier. He’d just hope she would come back soon and at least find some sort of happiness.

    She at least deserved that much.

    All three of them did.

    Torrential hollars caught their attention, as the war-cries of Sanda and the Armored Titan reverberated from beyond the wall…

     

    Carved trenches tilled the ruined cityscape as rugged feet tore through the environment, each vying for supremacy. Clenched in a gridlock, Sanda and the Armored Titan pushed against each other, wrestling with their heavyweight frames. Shifting his weight, the Brown Gargantua overcame the white-plated Titan and plowed him into their makeshift burrows, trying to keep his weight atop the ruthless fighter.

    The Armored Titan rummaged one of his arms through the concrete, pressing his arm to keep himself anchored, while his other balled into a tight fist. Sanda’s mass kept the white Titan pinned, but it also left his torso vulnerable. Jabbing his closed hand into the Gargantua’s side, the Armored Titan forced repetitive blows into his ribcage. Almost as if responding in kind, Sanda boomed a mighty yell and brought a fortified nieve down on the downed Titan.

    Thick layered armor did withhold against the powerful strikes, though it became evident it wouldn’t hold out for much longer. To accommodate, Shikishima forced his Titan to shift its body and legs, throwing the brown hominid aside as the man-beast rolled over the dense foliage, flattening them in his wake. Pushing himself out the dirt, the Armored Titan rose to his feet and began to steam. He vented compressed condensation, spilling out of his mouth like fire, as the rest of his Titanized body released it through his natural pores. Bursting into a gigantic sprint, Shikishima knew he couldn’t waste this chance to gain the upper hand.

    ‘Come on, big fella,’ Shikishima grinned in oversaturated confidence, ‘Let’s see just how well you can handle me by yourself!’

    He had only gotten to his hands and knees when Sanda saw the charging Armored Titan. Knowing full well he wasn’t going to get up in time, Sanda resorted to tightening his muscles and braced for impact. The Armored Titan drove his right foot into the Gargantua’s core, the momentum of the force punting Sanda across the former metropolis. A painful shriek elicited from the Brown Gargantua as the timber-like snap of bones could be heard to all those within the perimeter.

    His large body crashed against the artificial jungle, erupting with a cloud of dust and scattered brick. Slumped over and reeling in agony, Sanda clutched his stomach and violently ejected bile. Even so, he tried to push himself. To fight, to stand strong in the face of utter destruction. But the world cruelly reminded him of the punishment it would take to achieve their mission, the Armored Titan buried his soles into the Gargantua’s rugged skin, stomping them repeatedly. Bruises warped his flesh, even as Sanda’s regenerative properties kicked in to repair the damages. Yet for each passing moment, the Armored Titan maintained the high ground, grunting in satisfaction.

    ‘Let’s finish this once and for all, shall we?’ Such thoughts elated Shikishima to no end. At long last, a conflict he would resolve by his own hand!

     

    Heavy panting crawled from their mouths, this struggle wearing on them with each second. The Attack Titan’s maimed and bloodied body steamed from the heat it took to restore the wounds sustained in battle. Gaira, likewise, mirrored the Titan’s ravaged state; cracked skin, torn hair, chipped fangs, the Green Gargantua was bruised and worse for wear. His equally mangled body patched itself together, though even he felt the residual pain after the wounds were sewn close.

    An eliciting shriek perked his ears, twitching in distress. Gaira’s twisted eyes shifted, locating the source of the anguished cries of his brother. His gluttonous eyes sought to consume the Titans for himself, yet his gut screamed at him with something he never thought twice about. Snarling at his foe, Gaira turned face and began to march to the Armored Titan.

    “Oh no you don’t!” Eren screamed, commanding his Titan to lunge at the fleeing foe. Before Gaira knew it, the Attack Titan wrapped his right arm around his side from behind, constricting it with tremendous pressure. The other gripped on Gaira’s left arm, leaving Eren to rely on his Titan’s raw strength to pull off the rest.

    United with monstrous bellows, the Attack Titan flung the Green Gargantua onto his shoulder, burdened by the weight it carried. His skin burst at the seams, spitting the steam and flames that churned within his Titanized form. Then, he performed a belly-to-back suplex and dropped their bodies onto the ground with an explosive boom.

    A cavalcade of macadam destruction rained from the sky, leaving a plumage of dust in its wake. The shockwave that ensued crumbled the rusted buildings that surrounded them. When the cloud settled, both the Green Gargantua and the rogue Titan laid in beaten tatters. Eren barely held out, his right arm eviscerated under the beast’s crushing weight. Gaira himself stirred, yet remained unmoving.

    “Ha…. Ha… Got.. Him…” Eren mumbled, content with having stopped one of these Gargantuas. Even if he was only unconscious, such a technique would certainly keep him down for the time being. Commanding his Titan to rise, the one-armed Titan pushed itself upright, curling its legs as to–

    Violent claws shot from behind, clutching his frail skull and crushing it instantly.

    “What the–!” Eren tried to dart his eyes to confirm what he just felt, only to feel the savagery of the wrathful beast shred his Titanized skull apart. Without his Titan’s vision, Eren couldn’t see, but he most certainly felt everything. “I can’t see!” he cried out, “Then that…” He cut himself off, ripping his arms out of the fleshy wall sockets.

    Rivers of blood, bone fragments, and brain matter rushed between the Gargantua’s fingertips, completely dismantling the head of the Attack Titan. Using the headless body as leverage, Gaira pulled himself up and rose to his knees. Exhaustion overwhelmed him, but his instincts still urged him to save his brother. Before he did, a curious memory sparked in his primitive consciousness. He glanced at the limp Titan and saw the nape.

    A devious scheme hatched in his mind, pulling the Titan to his fangs. Mouth agape, Gaira closed in on the back of the Titan’s neck, intending to shred it apart. Yet before he could, a hissing burst of steam popped from the nape, startling the brutish ogre. Yet that only affirmed his assumptions even moreso, driving his disgusting maw into the back of the neck. Slicing the clump of Titanized meat, Gaira tore the entire nape out of the Attack Titan’s neck, savoring each moment as he chewed it within his maw.

    His eyes saw as the Titan’s body dissolved at an accelerated rate, the skin vanishing under embers and dissipating steam. Content with the results, Gaira knew how to dismantle the armored one, and proceeded to charge into battle–ready to end this feud with the humans once and for all.

    Wild bare feet ploughed through the concrete forest, kicking up trees on the way. Gaira huffed and puffed, keeping a steady pace as he closed in on his brother’s attacker. Though the Armored Titan revelled in the suffering, it didn’t take long for him to notice the greenish brute’s fast approach. The white-plated Titan backpedaled out of the rampaging ogre’s path, prepared to deliver a decisive blow. Much to Shikishima’s surprise, however, Gaira instead changed course and beelined straight for Sanda. Leaning over, Gaira supported his trembling brother back to his feet, whose regeneration mended the vicious wounds he had sustained.

    “Hold on,” Shikishima murmured, taking a glance at the trail Gaira left behind. Off in the distance, he saw the charred remains of the Attack Titan’s evaporating body–just moments before it vanished entirely. He winced, realizing what this blatantly indicated. Uttering a curse under his breath, he turned to face the Gargantuas who stood before him.

    “Wait… What are they…?” Shikishima trailed off, noticing small oddities with their behavior. The two exchanged grunts and moans, conversing in a language Shikishima could only contextualize through their actions. He had fought them enough to know when something new developed, and it seemed now was no different. It wasn’t until he saw Gaira pinch Sanda by the nape did he realize the true nature of their discussion–their weakness.

    Sanda nodded in approval before both sets of eyes glared at the Armored Titan. Icy fear glazed over Shikishima, yet a part of him felt excited at the prospect. “So you finally figured it out, huh?” he said, casting aside his doubts with a sardonic tone. “Let’s see what good it’ll do you!”

    Charging into battle, the Armored Titan sought to deliver a lethal front kick to the first Gargantua in his reach. But the two were quick to split, rolling aside and evading the heavy strike. All the Armored Titan found was a rough crash into the paved terrain. Shikishima grimaced, observing the pair coming at him from both sides.

    The initial collision sandwiched the great Titan between their bodies, though the Armored Titan was quick to launch a counterattack. Moving his arms independent of one another, a swift and brutal elbow strike shoved the green brute off him; whilst the other swatted the Brown Gargantua away. Even so, for every time he repelled them, they would come back twice as fierce.

    Pinned against the terrible claws and fearsome fists of the Gargantuas, the Armored Titan cupped his nape under the safety of his plated hands, now using his bony protection to tank the abuse thrown at him. The Gargantuas desperately tried to smash his armor and claw away to the nape.

    “Shit, didn’t turn out well for me after all,” Shikishima remarked, even if he was his only audience. “Back up to the wall, then I might be able to take them.” Each hefty step crunched broken pavement as the Armored Titan stepped back to Wall Maria, all the while he continually took the brunt of the Gargantuas’ dual assault. Even so, the beastly hominids continued to pressure the armored giant, who could only retaliate with brutal kicks to keep them at bay.

    “Come on, you chumps,” he said, pressing his Titan’s back against the stern wall, “Bring it.”

     

    Eren hung from the treetop just outside the abandoned city, his mind lost in a world of his own anxieties. His body steamed from the residual effects of his little stunt; had he not launched out of there when he did, his demise would’ve been most certain.

    “Shi..ki…shi..ma…” Eren unconsciously muttered, his dazed eyes only capturing a blurry glimpse of the mayhem that happened in the distance. Yet he couldn’t find himself the urgency to move, to act, as he laid slumped in the caressing arms of the branches. “Hi…a…na…”

    ‘Why am I now thinking about her?’

    Memories flashed through his mind, if only for a split second. He recalled saving her life from the belly of the beast, only to become one himself.

    ‘Is that… you?’

    Again, he mumbled under his breath. He said her name repeatedly, as if trying to remember something.

    ‘Am I a failure, for not doing what’s needed of me? Am I really that much of a bastard for never stopping by?’

    Eren unwillingly leaned back, sliding out from the embrace of the thorny branches.

    ‘I lost Mikasa for your sake. I don’t know how to feel anymore.’

    Then, he began to fall.

    ‘Are you really the one I want to be with? Or is it the one I have stuck in my head that I want to be with?’

    Snapping spindly limbs, Eren’s descent was a quick one. In a matter of moments, he landed flat on his back, the shock from the impact heightening his senses exponentially. His head rang into a flurry of light-headed nausea, but his heart compressed with stress and anxiety.

    ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me.’

    Alone and with no one around, he broke into a sob. Emotional pressure flowed through his eyes, to which he was opened to the responsibility he had to bear.

    ‘I’ve been running away long enough. I need to make this decision on my own.’

    Wiping the tears from his eyes, they were replaced by a brimming resolve. His eyes lit up in a fiery might, a rekindled passion he had thought lost to him.

    ‘And when this is done… Just know I’m doing this…’

    There was uncertainty in the air, but deep down he had to find the answer for himself. If he had to lie to himself for the time being, then it had to be so.

    ‘For you.’

    Bringing his arm up, he tore his flesh–and was engulfed in a furious light.

     

    With Wall Maria hugging his back, Shikishima confidently uncupped his nape, bringing his arms back in front of him. With no feasible way for the Gargantuas to rush him from behind, the Armored Titan at least held the vantage point, perpetually keeping the two in front at all times. Gaira lunged for the white Titan, chipping at his plated armor with his claws. The Armored Titan responded in kind with a lethal kick to the belly, sending the Gargantua reeling back. Sanda closed the gap, clobbering the cornsilk Jaeger Titan with his powerful fists. Tough and resilient armor held out against the blows, giving the Armored Titan ample time to swat the Brown Gargantua off his side.

    In doing so, inadvertently, Gaira took the chance and blindsided the Armored Titan with a full body thrust. Slamming his scaly hide against white plates, Gaira successfully toppled the ruthless giant–scraping the Titan’s back against the wall before pinning him to the asphalt of the ghost city. With his posterior embedded in the cracked pavement and soft earth, the Armored Titan doubled-down and pressed his nape against the ground, ensuring they wouldn’t get to it.

    No matter how much Gaira hacked and slashed, he couldn’t brute force his way through the fortified armor that made up his body. However, Sanda had other plans. Looming over the two, the shaggy brother pressed his foot against the Titan’s throat, building pressure with each passing moment. While it wasn’t immediate at first, Sanda’s ploy bore fruit when the calcified structures on the Titan’s neck began to crack, hissing with steam. The Armored Titan screamed, feeling that in any moment, his life would finally come to a brutal end for a Jaeger Titan such as he.

    Then, there was rumbling.

    Everyone stopped, shifting their eyes to the source of the explosive blast. A massive plum of superheated cloud lingered in the distance, but the trail led to the fount of all this steam. Draped under the superheated blisters of misty fury, what lurked beneath the shroud was no man, but a demon of justice. Barreling through the evergreen landscape and into the deathly still city with ravenous intent, the Attack Titan exuded tremendous heat and vapor that split at the seams of his flesh. Each step destroyed and charred the once living earth and melted the dead stone that accompanied it, his eyes glowing in furious rage.

    A demonic hollar resounded across the battlefield, alerting all who could hear him.

    Long, enraged strides closed the distance in a matter of moments, his seething eyes locked onto the Gargantua that was standing on his feet. The berserk Titan stressed his right hand, glowing in an orange blaze, before delivering a fatal punch to the Brown Gargantua. The shaggy bigfoot’s skin cracked and blistered under the intense pressure and heat, the Titan’s arm exploding into a mess of superheated gore and vapor. Yet the centrifugal force of the attack was more than enough to hurl Sanda away, rolling over the ravaged buildings that once stood proudly near the wall.

    Witnessing the destructive fury of this demon, Gaira shuffled and tried to get up in order to take down the berserker. However, he found his arm clenched by a set of armored hands. With a sudden, forceful twist, the crunching snap elicited a pained cry from the Green Gargantua. Followed by a firm kick to the gut, Gaira was thrown off the Armored Titan and landed on his posterior. Using this time, the Armored Titan gradually rose to his feet, ready to finish the fight.

    “Hey Eren,” Shikishima spoke, “Thanks for not getting yourself eaten back there. Let’s put an end to this little play, shall we?” The Attack Titan didn’t respond to the gestures of his armored counterpart, his teeming red eyes fixated on Sanda through and through. “Fine, suit yourself.”

    Taking their first steps, the Attack and Armored Titans marched to their respective Gargantua, neither motioning nor vocalizing. They felt it, even their enemies did; the conclusion was nigh.

    Gaira jerked his arm back into place, sickening cracks indicative of his regenerating bones, flexing his claws to circulate the flow of nerves and blood. Charging in full sprint, Gaira clashed with the Titan’s resilient armor. The two goliaths grappled, thrusting their whole bodies against each other. Though it didn’t take much for the Armored Titan to figure out the gnashing ogre’s predictable techniques. Tossing the Green Gargantua aside, away from the towering wall, Shikishima posed cautiously and armed a kick, ready for whatever Gaira threw out next.

    The vicious hominid grunted with anxious fury, settling into a crouch. Propelled by a spring of his leg muscles, Gaira leapt to the air and sought to tackle the Armored Titan once more. However, Shikishima was quick to respond, hurling a heavyweight kick directly into the Gargantua’s face! Teeming with a pinkish glow, the intense force tossed Gaira aside like a ragdoll, careening into the landscape nearby.

    The Armored Titan took steady, careful steps, in no rush to end it. He saw Gaira pouting like a spoiled child, slamming his fists into the ground repeatedly. Shikishima smirked, as did his Titan correspondingly. “How amusing,” Shikishima scorned with a playful demeanor, “Did you think you could really stop me?”

    Ceasing his anger-induced tantrum, Gaira picked himself up back to his feet. Swinging around, Gaira swiped at the Armored Titan, only to result in the same futility as before. Swatting the Gargantua’s claws, the Armored Titan retaliated with a flurry of chops and punches that countered Gaira’s fruitless efforts. Then, with a sudden burst propelled by his legs, the Titan shoulder-rammed directly into the Green Gargantua, knocking the wind out of his lungs.

    “Pathetic.” Crunching the asphalt under his feet, Shikishima guided his Titan as he witnessed Gaira’s airborne figure colliding with the ground, a trail carved by his sliding body. Ruined buildings collapsed from the excessive force, partially burying the man-eater. The prone Gaira twitched as he tried to regain his constitution, but the shadow of the white Titan loomed over him.

    Shikishima promised himself he would have fun, and that he intended to keep.

    Things weren’t going to bode well for Sanda.

    He recalled when he encountered this unusual Titan that challenged his brother. While he was ready to fight to the bitter end, a part of him felt grateful that the Titan stood down and chose not to fight. Had things been any different, Sanda would have preferred another way out of this.

    But in the face of a demon, he realized there was no mercy to be spared here.

    Sanda rubbed his burning wound with a clump of dirt and asphalt, trying to subdue the pain. He saw the raging Titan approach him, heating the dead stone by his mere presence. The arm the Titan had lost began to regrow; flesh, bone, and muscle reconstituted in a matter of moments. Prolific steam jutted out of the vents of the Titan’s body, which was even more noticeable on the regenerating hand. The eyes of a hesitant man were washed over by an indomitable fury that struck terror into the hearts of those who lacked the vitality against such evil.

    And Sanda was going to see for himself where he lied on that spectrum.

    “For you, I will fight.” The Attack Titan snorted a puff of smoke, releasing heat from his nostrils. “And I will kill them all! Every last one!” A powerful roar boomed from the maw of the Titan, releasing heat through the airwaves. The mad Titan dashed for the shaggy bigfoot, if only to satiate his bloodlust.

    Pulling his left arm back, the Attack Titan lunged in an attempt to drive it into the Gargantua’s sternum. With maneuverability that belied his size, Sanda swerved and dodged the fiery fist, countering with a clenched fist of his own. Sanda’s punch collided with the Titan’s lower mandible, displacing the jaw in an eruption of steam and blood. Yet the savage Titan was not fazed, immediately throwing the regenerating fist at the brown giant.

    The sizzling arm splintered against Sanda’s chest, splattering bone fragments and iron-rich blood. Quick to seize at the opportunity, Sanda gripped the stubbed arm with his burly hands, hoisting the Attack Titan and whirling him around like a ragdoll. Fingers firmly tightened, Sanda threw the ravenous Titan against the concrete asphalt, the impact shattering the pavement. With another upheave, Sanda flung the Attack Titan over his shoulder, smashing his lightweight body into the ground once again. The tremendous force not only tore the stub from its socket, but imploded the Titan’s innards in the process.

    Sanda loomed over the fallen demon, unnerved by the disgusting sight of a mangled body. But it didn’t take much to convince the Gargantua that the vile human was still very much alive. Raising his right foot, he intended to smash the Titan’s neck in, crushing the nape in the process. But then, the Titan’s eyes lit up in crimson fury, swiftly swerving aside before the foot came down and crunched the concrete-paved road. In a burst of sudden speed, the Attack Titan unhinged his jaws and clamped onto Sanda’s shin, embedding his incisors into the Brown Gargantua’s thick skin. Sanda winced and moaned in agony, trying his damndest to pry the beastial Titan off his leg. But the more he tried, the more he found the mouth of the demon pressing harder and harder, digging into his flesh and bone.

    Rather than force its mouth open, Sanda pushed against the heathen’s face and dislodged it manually. Teeth tore out by the gums, still wedged within his leg, but at the very least Sanda was able to force the toothless Titan off of him. He limped back, keeping his distance from the rabid human. Inspecting the wounds, he found the teeth dissolving into steam, shrinking until they naturally fell out or his regenerating skin forced them out. The moment he redirected from his leg wound to the Titan, his eyes widened in utmost fear at what he saw.

    The Attack Titan, which was previously slumped on the ground, stood upright. His jaw hung loose, busted tongue hanging out of his toothless mouth, crimson eyes rolled to the back of his head. His missing arm showed no signs of regenerating, rather it seemed the body itself was prioritized. Torn skin was sewn back together; bones visibly shifted from beneath the fleshy wrap; heat and steam gushing from the wounds and vents. As the Titan’s inner mouth glowed a hellish blaze, a demonic scream erupted from the deepest recesses of its throat.

    Sanda braced himself as the Attack Titan charged, the vicious Titan throwing his right leg out to strike the man-beast’s left side. The Brown Gargantua reacted by deflecting the attack with a counter strike with his left leg, successfully parrying the blow. Going in for the next hit, Sanda opened with a barrage of pummeling fists, only a select few of which were countered by precise chops from the Titan’s remaining left hand.

    For each blow the Titan had to take, he lost more of his body in the process. To accommodate, the rebellious Titan took several steps back. Then, stiffening his spine, he lunged for the shaggy-haired giant and leaned over. Sanda crossed his hands over his torso, prepared to take whatever the Attack Titan threw at him. Carried by the momentum, the Attack Titan launched into the air with twirling feet, performing a decisive butterfly kick against the Gargantua. Slapping the titanic humanoid with both feet, Sanda stumbled back as Eren landed on his Titan’s feet without much complication.

    Without a moment’s notice, the Titan once again sprung into action. Closing the gap between them, Eren brought up his right foot and aimed for Sanda’s gut. Seeing this, Sanda swiftly brought his arms down and caught the burning foot in between his hands, mitigating the impact tenfold. Though it was far from pleasant, his palms in pain from having to cushion a blow built up from momentum, Sanda at least was able to neutralize and readied himself to counterattack.

    But before he did, he saw the Titan’s remaining hand clamp on his disheveled hair.

    Using the caught foot as support, the Attack Titan sprung the left leg up, focusing all his power into the knee. An orange blaze coated the kneecap as it lunged directly for the Gargantua’s face, with enough force to crack his skull and send him reeling back. Spurting blood, Sanda lost balance and tumbled clumsily until he crashed onto his posterior, temporarily losing his senses until he reoriented himself. Sanda’s eyes widened with fear, tears rolling down his face. Only for a moment did it seem the Titan hesitated, but alas it was only for that moment. When the Titan’s knee had healed, Sanda squirmed back in a panic. Because he knew the longer he fought, the closer death’s door would get him.

    Soaring wind caught Sanda’s attention, only for a second diverting his attention to see what it was, nor did it take long for him to identify who it was. Recognizing his brother’s green scaly hide, Gaira had been hurled from a distance, violently crashing onto the downed hominid with tremendous force. Seeing this, Eren tracked the source of it and found the Armored Titan nearby, having dominated Gaira in battle. The two glanced at each other before turning back to the fallen Gargantuas.

    The dust cleared, only one of them stirred from the crash. Scaly and savage, Gaira pulled himself together and eyed the fearsome Titans. He tried to shake his brother, only to find that Sanda had lost consciousness. The Green Gargantua grimaced, trying in vain to get his brother to continue the fight. Then, the Titans came to a stop and glared at the conscious Gargantua.

    Blistering with hellish light, the Attack Titan unleashed an unsettling cry of rage and fury, asserting his dominance. The Armored Titan likewise joined in the chorus of booming cacophony. Terror struck in Gaira’s heart, knowing that staying here guaranteed death. Not just for him, but for his brother as well. Gaira’s eyes looked down, disheartened at what this meant.

    They failed.

    But with the indomitable will to live, Gaira slumped his unconscious brother over his shoulder, turning around and began to limp in the other direction. There was nothing that could be done, lest they perish by their hands.

    Shikishima took a pause, surprised at the turn of events occurring before his very eyes. “That’s certainly a first,” he noted. In all his encounters with the Gargantua brothers, he had never once seen Gaira on the retreat. True, he had always beaten him to submission, but it was either his brother that bailed him out or circumstances where he had lost consciousness or was exhausted; but in every case, he never ran away from a fight, especially with the promise of food.

    ‘If they go back to where they came from, there’s a strong possibility there’s more out there than we thought,’ Shikishima thought, ‘But at the same time, if we let them go, there’s also the chance…’ His hypothetical thoughts trailed off when he saw Eren resume activity out of his peripheral.

    “I will… Kill them all…” Eren muttered, his mind lost in a berserk rage. His mangled Titan carried on, charging at the retreating Gargantuas, fully intending on finishing the fight. The Armored Titan also broke into a sprint, trying to catch up with Eren. Gaira turned his head, eyes widened with genuine fright with the two pursuing Titans behind him. For an instant, he had thought of dropping Sanda and resuming the fight, but his panicked mind didn’t know which instinct to act on.

    The Attack Titan rushed in for the eager kill, his left hand blazing in orange light. He’d tear them apart, into chunks and devour them! Yet before he could claw away at the fleeing Gargantuas, a large white body rammed him from the side. The damaged body splintered beyond compare, skin shredding by the seams while bones jutted out from the other side. Hurled by the tremendous force it packed, the Attack Titan was flung from the ruined city to the nearby port, crashing headfirst into the watery bay. Gaira stopped, though kept his brother on his back, now unsure what to make of what he just saw.

    The Armored Titan came to a skidding halt, pouring steam from his body. He stood completely upright and turned his attention to Gaira. The blank white eyes of the Armored Titan glared in frustration. With a swat of his hand and an accompanying bellow, he conveyed the message he needed to.

    Get. Away.

    Without missing a beat, Gaira hurried with his brother in tow, seeking an alternate path to the ocean and far away from the Titans. Shikishima kept an eye on them until they were out of sight, leaving only their large footprints in their wake.

    “You may be creatures out to harm, or even exterminate us,” Shikishima said, turning his head to where Eren’s Titan body laid, “At least you’re not the monsters we are.” He took a slow and steady stride to the bay, retrieving Eren’s unmoving Titanized form from the shallow waters and hauled him onto land. Opening his mouth wide, Shikishima tore the nape safely and collected Eren in his mouth, leaving his husk to dissipate.

    As he made his trek back to Wall Maria, Shikishima saw Garrison units outside the wall, trying to collect and retrieve the scattered pieces of the Gargantuas. Some of the smaller pieces were probably put into containers, while larger specimens–such as Gaira’s lost arm–were being cart-lifted onto the back of a larger vehicle for transportation. Undoubtedly all at Hange’s insistence, considering as he recalled that she used to be part of the Garrison before taking over for the Survey Corps.

    In a show of good intentions, Shikishima forced the Armored Titan to spit Eren out and placed him in his hand, carefully cradling the other Titan shifter. He smirked, knowing full well he had a lot of explaining to do.

    ***

    Several hours later…

    Darkness fell over, draping the land under the moonlight’s gaze. The sun had long since vanished beneath the horizon, viewing the world from a different perspective. On both sides of Wall Maria, floodlights illuminated nearby, giving clearance for the Garrison members still exploring the wilderness of the abandoned metropolis. From atop, Shikishima peeked over one side and saw the last remaining Garrison transport vehicles return to the safety of the wall. A goddess that guided them to a safe haven; that was always the superstition they believed.

    Keeping his attention to the carriers, Shikishima kept his eye on them until they stopped by the makeshift Scout HQ stationed in Mozen, gaining the approval of Commander Hange. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an ascending scaffold creeping up to the top, loaded with two Garrison agents and a stretcher.

    “Shikishima, you are to report to Commander Zoe at once,” one of them said.

    “Oh, now she finally wants us?” Shikishima playfully scoffed.

    “No, just you,” he clarified, “Yeager is to be sent elsewhere to recover. Has he shown any signs of consciousness?” Shikishima shook his head. Without a word, the Garrison soldiers placed the unconscious Eren onto the stretcher and loaded him onto the scaffold. Keeping silent, Shikishima followed suit and joined in the slow descent to the base.

    Upon touching down, Eren was carried off into an armored ambulance, taken elsewhere. In the meantime, Shikishima had to sit in an open jeep, taking in the night sky. He toyed with the idea of making small chat, but more than likely they were already ordered to keep silent and stonewall him.

    The jeep pulled up next to the tent, Shikishima hopping down. As they rode off, he parted the curtains and invited himself in. Under the lamp stood Captain Levi, Izuru of the Military Police, the commanding Garrison officer Kunugi, and the commander of the Survey Corps, Hange Zoe.

    “And just how long are we going to keep them in Omote City?” Kunugi asked, his sallow cheeks and sunken eyes heavy from sleep depravity.

    “They shouldn’t be there for anymore than two days,” Izuru noted, “It’ll give us enough time to inspect Mozen for any potential oddities. And we can probably start on the reconstruction efforts to the damages of Wall Maria, provided the bill is passed by all the regiments and the appointed higher-ups.”

    “To imagine how much worse it could have been,” Kunugi yawned, exhausted from the excitement that he only got a measly taste of, “Had your Titans or those, er, Gargantuas destroyed the wall, we would have had to evacuate everyone behind Wall Maria to Wall Rose again. Though I’m grateful this isn’t a repeat of what Kubal did three years ago.”

    “Consider yourself lucky that we didn’t,” Shikishima interrupted. All eyes turned to face him, while Kunugi abruptly sucked in air during his second yawn, hiccuping in the process. “Commander,” he smirked.

    “Shikishima,” Hange answered. “Kunugi, please, a moment.” The man nodded in mild fright, still hiccuping. “Izuru, fill me in when we get back.”

    The treasurer reluctantly nodded. “Never a fan of talking to him, so I’ll stay out of it.”

    “What’s wrong?” the Titan shifter gleefully scorned, “Am I too much for you?” Hange glared at him, her stern eyes conveying her authority.

    “Levi, you come with me,” Hange ordered.

    “Good, I was getting bored,” Levi retorted, following his commander and the traitor outside to the deserted town of Mozen. When they had him next to the stone wall that fortified a residential house, Shikishima turned around and faced them both.

    “So, who’s up first?” Shikishima spat sarcastically.

    Hange breathed in, collecting her thoughts. “Reports on the field say that you knocked Yeager unconscious and allowed the Gargantuas to flee.” She paused, keeping her composure behind an uncharacteristically stoic persona. “While a small part of me would be glad to encounter the Gargantuas again, I need to know why you did it.”

    Levi chimed in. “If you don’t, then I wouldn’t mind forcing the answer out of you.”

    Shikishima smirked. “No need for such hostility! I can tell you exactly what I was thinking when I did it.” He paused, and they waited for his answer. “I bet it all on a hunch.”

    “You’re betting the fate of humanity… Everyone who lives in these walls… On a hunch?” Upon saying this, Hange’s facade broke. “Do you realize what you’re doing?! Pinning the lives of innocents on something that isn’t guaranteed? What in the flying hell are you thinking, Shikishima?!” Hange shouted at the top of her lungs, trying to recollect what little of her composure she had left.

    Levi drew his blades out, earnestly unsure if he was going to have to restrain him or her. “Make yourself clear right now, or you won’t like where this goes next,” the captain threatened.

    “I’d like to see you try!” The shifter’s eyes lit up in excitement.

    “Then again, if all it took to take you down was Ackerman and four rookies, then you’re not really much of a threat, are you?” Levi scoffed. “For that matter, you would have been Gaira chow already had it not been for me or the rest of us. So your threats hold no meaning. Even if you did transform, regardless of size, you’d only be a giant target for me to swing around.” He brought his sword closer to Shikishima’s neck. “Go ahead. Try it. I won’t hesitate to kill you this time around.”

    Shikishima couldn’t help but break out into laughter, clapping his hands in amusement. “You really are a suiting replacement! Worthy of bearing the title of Captain of the Survey Corps! Bravo!”

    “Just shut up and tell us,” Hange commanded in a teething rage, “Or I might have you be a juicy experiment strapped to a table!”

    “Sounds like a fun time,” Shikishima riposted, grinning gleefully. “Fine then! Here’s my hunch!” He coughed, recalling the moment vividly. “Has it ever occurred that maybe, just maybe, the Gargantuas are serving under some greater authority? That they’re not here of their own volition?”

    “Sounds like bullshit to me,” Levi countered, “You said they’ve been here for the better part of a year.”

    “And they have!” Shikishima asserted, “But unlike you lot, I’ve been around them. I know them better than any of you ever could!”

    “What’s your evidence?” Hange demanded sharply. “How can you prove yourself that the Gargantuas are just following orders?”

    “The answer lies… With Gaira.” The answer caught the Scout officials off guard, but they listened intently to what Shikishima had to say. “For the first time ever since I encountered him, he’s never retreated by his own will. It was always exhaustion, negotiations with Sanda, or just Sanda straight up rescuing his green hairy ass. Nevertheless, Gaira is never one to back down,” Shikishima paused and briefly chortled to himself, “Especially with the promise of big game.”

    “So what you’re saying is him leaving is some sort of sign?” Levi noted. Shikishima nodded in agreement.

    “Provide your hypothesis proves true, Shikishima, then that means they’re likely going to return with reinforcements,” Hange poignantly stated, “Further adding to the threat we now face.”

    “I can’t say that you’re wrong, it’s a reasonable conclusion to come to,” Shikishima said.

    “Drop the act and get to the point already,” Levi commanded bluntly, inching his blade closer to the Titan shifter’s throat.

    “Fine,” Shikishima sighed, “Consider this. If Eren and I had killed the Gargantuas as intended, wouldn’t that have been an alert for them? To move in their forces and exterminate everyone living here? By allowing them to live, we send them a message.”

    “What kind of message?” The Scout commander queried.

    “‘We don’t want war, but we will fight when threatened. Leave us be.’”

    “You’re hinging all this on an assumption that already leaves a high probability of retaliation,” Levi scorned, “I fail to see how this serves as the best outcome.”

    “Well, as I say, luck plays a part of it,” Shikishima smirked, confident in his assessment.

    “You’re impossible,” Hange sighed, venting through her nostrils. “Levi.”

    The captain’s sharp eyes gleamed. “Yes?”

    “Accompany Shikishima to his cell in Iruma, behind Wall Rose in the West District. Kill on sight if he acts out of line.”

    For once, a small smirk danced on Levi’s countenance. “Understood. Come on, asshole, hope you like prison food.” Levi drew his blade back, and much to their delight, Shikishima held his arms out up front.

    “Take me home,” Shikishima sarcastically retorted. “Though I guess I can’t live up to my promise.”

    “And what’s that?” Hange questioned.

    “Taking Eren out for a drink.”

    Slapping the cuffs on the Titan shifter, Levi hauled their traitorous prisoner over to another of the available jeeps and drove off into the distance. When they were out of sight, Hange returned to the tent and found the two men under the table, hands over their heads.

    “You two all right? Everything’s fine now!” Hange switched to her cheery persona, especially at the thought of studying Gargantua parts. “See? We’re all still here.”

    “Seriously? Commander, you’re going to get all of us killed one day!” Izuru protested bluntly, pulling himself from under the table. The Garrison officer nodded in panicked agreement, still trembling at the thought of the situation turning for the worse.

    “Well, he didn’t transform, and no one was killed, so consider that a sign!” she beamed a radiant smile. Izuru sighed, at the very least relieved to have Shikishima out of sight.

    “In that case, let’s overview the bill again before we pass it along to the authorities,” Izuru calmly addressed. In a moment, Hange joined him in finalizing the proposal, and Kunugi finally pulled himself together and resumed their previous discussion.

    ***

    Eren began to awaken from a daze, reality slowly becoming more and more familiar to him. His eyes blurry, trying to recognize where he was, as all he could see were wooden walls before him. Eren’s eyes shifted downward noticing he was currently laying on a bed. From the looks of it, the room reminded him of the cabins he and his fellow trainees stayed in during their training in the winters. He didn’t have time to dwell on it, as he needed to know what happened during the fight, if they even won it.

    The Titan shifter rubbed his eyes and turned his upright, now sitting. His feet touched the floor, feeling himself stumbling like a zombie, still reeling from the intense beating he received from the course of the battle. Eren, feeling more awake, felt noise coming from outside the door, he couldn’t tell what it was, but prepared himself despite not being at his best. He placed his hand on the doorknob and turned it, expecting the worst.

    With a slow pull, the door opened to reveal several of his comrades celebrating in a recreational room. Eren breathed a sigh of relief, knowing he could let his guard down, but still, he needed to know what happened. The Titan shifter scanned the room, noticing several Scouts he normally didn’t talk to celebrating in their own ways. From drinking each other under the table to playing cards, he recognized a table containing his friends. Without any further delay, he wandered over to the table to greet them, feeling relieved they made it out alive from the mission.

    “Jesus Christ, Sasha! That’s four in a row! You’re going to drain my month’s stipend!” screamed Jean, his eyes scorching with fear at his friend pouring the drinks down her throat.

    Armin, for the first time in years, busted out laughing at Sasha’s behavior, raising his own glass up. “Shouldn’t have promised to buy us drinks.”

    “Hey Armin,” spoke Jean, turning to face him across the table, “Now’s not the time for your observations. My wallet is at stake here.”

    “Then you shouldn’t have put it at risk!” Armin pointed out, followed by another laugh.

    Sasha gulped, slamming her mug down, hollered out “Another one please!”

    “Kill me,” Jean groaned, dropping his head down on the table in frustration.

    “It’s good to hear you laugh for once, though,” Sasha pointed out, patting her friend on the back.

    “It is. Haven’t felt like this since….” Armin said, but was interrupted by the sight of his old friend approaching them. “Eren….”

    Sasha and Jean immediately turned their heads over to the approaching Titan shifter. Eren didn’t take a seat, as he remained standing beside the table. “It’s good to see you guys. You too, Armin.”

    “It’s good to see you Eren,” Armin spoke softly, smiling at him.

    “Are you going to join us?” inquired Sasha, feeling the rush of the booming party in the room and wanting more company for the excitement.

    “If you are, then I’m not paying for your drinks. I don’t need another person leaching from my wallet,” Jean vocalized, glaring back at Sasha, who grabbed the recently delivered drink.

    “Don’t worry about it,” spoke Eren, turning back to Armin, “I know this isn’t the best time, but what exactly happened? All I remember was chasing the Gargantuas and next thing I know I woke up in the other room.”

    “Long story short, Shikishima knocked you out and allowed the Gargantuas to get away,” explained Armin, feeling troubled by his decision and how Eren was going to react.

    “He what!?” Eren nearly shouted, but restrained himself just enough to where it would not cause a scene. He also didn’t want to ruin his friends’ celebration by losing his temper. They’ve been through a lot, particularly Armin, and stressing them out would only make things worse.

    “He thought it would send the message, and that’s as far as we know of for now,” breathed Armin.

    “Oh, and he’s being imprisoned!” Sasha blurted out, followed by a monstrous burp, with her three friends giving her disgusted looks. “Sorry.”

    The thought of Shikishima being carted off to the cell should have made Eren happy. To him, it was the least the bastard deserved, but the thought of it made him feel apathetic to it. He didn’t know what to think of that news, and in a flash, neither did the Gargantuas escaping. At first it made him angry, but was it because of the initial shock?

    ‘Why am I not feeling anything about all of this? I’m glad we saved the day, but am I really happy about any of this?’

    “So, we managed to get a few days to ourselves, what do you guys want to do?” inquired Sasha, interest in her eyes widening.

    Armin and Jean proceeded to give their answers, but their replies fell on deaf ears to Eren. They were just murmurs to him, as Sasha’s question rang deep with him. There was a plan for him, nothing important to anyone, but to him.

    ‘That plan…. I’ve put it off for far too long.’

    Eren was afraid of it. He put it off for nearly a year, not knowing how it would go if and when he went. A simple breath escaped his lips, tilting his head slightly down.

    “Hiana……” mouthed Eren.

    “Eren, you okay?” Armin asked concerned for the well-being of his old friend.

    The Titan shifter snapped out of his trance, shaking his head ever so slightly and looking at the three seated at the table. The group gave him looks of confusion on his dazed like state, realizing he was lost in thought for far too long.

    “Yeah…. I…” stammered Eren, with a deep breath following, only now finding his resolution. “There’s something I’ve been putting off for far too long.”

    “Right, right,” spoke Armin, feeling disappointed by his friend’s plan to leave.

    Eren took a few steps away from the table, taking his leave, but stopping himself for a moment, turning his head around, “You guys have fun and take care of each other, okay?”

    The Titan shifter turned back and marched out of the building, leaving Armin stunned by his old friend’s parting words as Sasha and Jean turned back to him. The gluttonous scout rubbed her friend on the shoulder, feeling her friend’s distress.

    Jean, on the other hand, rolled his eyes, muttering, “I’m going to regret this later, but I won’t know it right now.”

    With a snap from his fingers, he got the attention of a barkeep and yelled out “Three of your strongest drinks for my friends and I! We’re drinking our troubles away!”

    Eren stepped outside and found himself greeted by the brisk night air. He took a moment to admire the sky, feeling the peacefulness of it, but even then it wasn’t enough for him.

    “You’re finally awake,” a monotone voice spoke, one Eren knew all too well. He turned around to see Mikasa leaning against the outerwall of the building, with a frown still painted on her face.

    Eren wanted to smile at seeing his friend, the woman he once loved dearly, but he couldn’t. All he could do was give her a simple answer, “Yeah.”

    “I suppose that’s a relief,” replied Mikasa.

    “I suppose it is,” surmised Eren, briefly turning his attention back to the sky.

    “Not enjoying the celebration?” inquired Mikasa.

    “It’s not what I need right now,” sighed Eren, disappointed he couldn’t find the joy in celebrating over their victory. He decided to return the favor by asking her a question, “I take it you’re not into the festivities?”

    “No. They’re not my thing,” answered Mikasa, bringing her arms up to her chest.

    “I suppose that’s something we have in common,” pointed Eren, turning his attention back to Mikasa.

    Feeling how strange and foreign this conversation with Mikasa was, he decided it was time to cut it off before one or even both of them got hurt. “I should get to it. There’s something I have to take care of.”

    Eren went down the meager amount of stairs, stepping onto the stones below, ready to make his way toward his destination. Readying to be with his thoughts, he heard Mikasa call out to him.

    “Eren.”

    He turned his head around to Mikasa, surprised to see her face no longer of stoicism, but of concern. “Just do me one favor, okay.”

    “Sure,” Eren spoke softly, curious as to what the request was.

    “Just make sure you do better with her,” Mikasa quietly pleaded.

    “Okay,” Eren spoke, as he noticed the pain she was still in from the past three years, decided to bring some comfort to her. “Mikasa, just find someone that makes you happy. Even if it takes a while, just find that person. You deserve that much.”

    Mikasa’s breathing stuttered, every word that came from his mouth contributed to her no longer being stable. She wanted to follow his advice, but knew it was not possible. Not by the person she became.

    She let out a deep breath.

    “I can’t promise that, Eren,” Mikasa spoke before pausing, allowing herself to exhale once more. “Can you?”

    Eren shook his head slightly, dismayed at her words, but like hearing about what Shikishima did, reacting negatively wasn’t going to do anything. It would only cause more misery.

    “No, but I have to try,” answered Eren, feeling exhausted from the constant fighting he had to partake in whether it be physically or emotionally. The Titan shifter glanced back up at Mikasa and continued, “Even if it means I fail and I have to live with it.”

    Without uttering another word, Eren departed, leaving Mikasa all by her lonesome. She watched him until he disappeared into the darkness, as she then let out another breath. Mikasa considered the words spoken to her, knowing full well he was right. Unfortunately, she didn’t believe it for herself. Unlike Eren and Armin, to where they could still live relatively normal lives, she died and was replaced by a machine.

    All she could do was shed a single tear, as she looked on into the dark abyss.

    ***

    A year. One full year. That’s how much time she had lost. Most of that time was spent being in a coma while the rest was spent in physical therapy. Her scars, her deformities, and her injuries were treatable, but they would never fully heal. The monstrous teeth of the horrific Titan tore through her left leg, leaving it mangled beyond healing, forcing her to not only walk with a limp, but with the aid of a crutch. Even then, that was a journey in it of itself as she’d find herself nearly collapsing to the ground.

    The bedridden woman, plagued with depression, looked down at her arms, both of them badly burnt, due to the stomach acids of the Titan who devoured her. Her arms shook rapidly as she raised them slightly to each other, rubbing them gently.

    A small sigh escaped her lips, as her hope faded away once more. No matter how much time she gave it or what was treated to her, she was no longer able to feel what she touched. Soft, hard, nothing. She would never be able to feel anything or anyone she held dear.

    Not her daughter, nor the person she’d fallen in love with in the short amount of time she knew him. She was once a woman with a bright future ahead her, now an empty, broken shell of a person. One who would shortly be cast aside and be looked down on as a leech to what remained of humanity.

    She shifted her eyes from her arms and at the blank, white hospital walls. The walls, strangely enough, provided her a sense of solace as it took her away from everything. Nothing to enact harm onto her and to be alone with her thoughts. Her only wish was for someone to be there with her.

    She gazed deeper at the walls, withdrawing all of her attention away from the outside walls. Seemingly hypnotized by the blankness of the walls, as they were a window into any life she could think of. A therapeutic technique she relied on to heal her mind, as she jourined through several scenarios. One where she was still able to serve in the Scout Regiment, another being able to realize her true passion by running a clinic, and finally, being able to live beyond the walls with a family. There were others that swam around in her mind, but those three were the most important to her.

    A smile crept on the hypnotized patient, as she failed to register the voice calling out to her. The voices banged at her eardrums, but she refused to acknowledge them, digging deeper into the rabbit hole of fantasies. It wasn’t until she felt a light rub on her head to where she returned to the real world.

    She slowly turned to the right, noticing it was a nurse trying to gain her attention. The patient took a short breath before apologizing. “I’m… sorry. Is something wrong?”

    The nurse gave the patient a small smile, as she then answered, “You have a visitor.”

    The bed ridden woman eyes widened at the news. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t receive any visitors before. Her mind went ballistic, going through the line of suspects, searching through each one piece by piece.

    ‘Could it be?’

    The woman finally spoke up, “Who is it?”

    “A mister Eren Yeager,” The nurse answered.

    The patient’s eyes widened, as her heart started to beat heavily. A smile grew on her face, as she nearly blurted out, “Send…. Send him!”

    Noticing how her patient was smiling for the first time in months, she shared her sentiments by returning a smile to her. “I’ll fetch for him.”

    The nurse exited the room, as the woman sat up, wanting to present herself as best as she could for her guest. However, she grunted in pain, as she felt a burning sensation in her back, no thanks to the stomach acid melting the skin off her back. The resulting treatment at the moment was a very uncomfortable brace holstering her entire backside together. The pain nearly made her scream in pain, as she wanted to slump down to ease her suffering, but refused to back down.

    Being with him would make the pain worth it.

    Footsteps were heard beyond the walls, eliciting a response in the form of her head turning to the door. Within seconds, Eren made himself known under the doorway, staring at the patient sitting on the bed. The two stared at each other, neither knowing how much time had passed, both of them struggling to find the words to enact the conversation. Eren took another step forward, as his mouth trembled, slowly finding the strength to pry his lips open.

    “Hiana.”

    “Eren,” Hiana replied softly, watching her former comrade approach her.

    Eren immediately sat on the chair place next to Hiana’s bed, not once ever taking his eyes off her. The Titan shifter was at a loss for words and felt his jaw weighing several pounds. He felt guilty for not being able to save her, as she looked broken. Eren saw the right of the face still plagued with scars and burns. The flesh nearly popped out of what remained of her skin while her nose was permanently stuck in a crooked position. Her face once a bright beacon of hope that would command a smile from everyone, now nothing more than a casualty.

    He wanted to bolt out of the room, to get away as far away from her as possible, as seeing Hiana in her current state was just a reminder of one of his many failures. Eren’s hands began to shake, as he weighed down his options, desperately wanting this fight to end. It was the one he had no hope of winning.

    He had to run.

    Eren proceeded to stand up, but felt a hand placed on his lap. The Titan shifter gasped, looking down to see the hand belonging to Hiana, as she displayed a look of concern. Eren returned his gaze at Hiana, staring at each other worriedly, but at the same time, a sense of comfort. One neither felt since they’re time alone together in the ruins.

    The long period of silence was broken by Hiana as she rubbed her hand softly across his leg, whispering, “It’s okay.”

    Tears dropped down from his eyes, exploding upon impact on Hiana’s hand, as he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

    “How is it okay!?” Eren screamed out, nearly jumping out of his seat, making Hiana wince, as she moved her hand away from him. “I let you get eaten by that Titan! I destroyed any chance of you having a normal life! I didn’t save you!”

    Eren broke down as his face collided with his hands, letting out a wail of cries. Hiana stared at the grieving Titan shifter dumbfoundedly. She knew Eren felt guilty for her grave injuries, but would have never guessed it broke him like this.

    Hiana reached out once again, as she whispered, “Eren, you did everything you could for me.”

    He looked up at Hiana trying to provide him comfort, but it failed to reach him as he still felt truly responsible for her life going downhill. Eren, without even giving himself a moment to compose himself retaliated with a scream. “I ruined your life! You’ve been discharged! You lost your only chance to provide for your daughter!”

    Eren’s words stunned Hiana, as the harsh reality was setting in for her. Her daughter, Riko, would no longer be supported. It was the thing that terrified her the most. Her stomach turned into knots, as her mind raced, with her breathing starting to become more and more rapid. She feared the future her daughter would have as being nothing more than a street urchin. Constantly begging for food, wearing nothing but scraps and lying on the cold, diseased covered streets, wondering if she’ll make it to the next day.

    Hiana’s thoughts were interrupted as Eren’s voice came back to her. “Have you ever seen your daughter? Where is she? How would she be taken care of because of my failure?”

    Eren’s volley of questions brought up a feeling of rage brewing inside her. An emotion she rarely felt in her life, one she hated to have, as she wanted to look at the best of life as opposed to the harshness of it. However, the rage couldn’t be contained. Hiana began to shake as her right hand struggled to make a fist, as she was slowly finding the strength to raise her fist.

    The Titan shifter continued to voice his anger, but found Hiana’s fist colliding with his face, neary knocking him out of his chair. Eren was taken back by the punch, as he raised his hand against his cheek and turned his attention to Hiana, who brandished a scowl on her face.

    Hiana’s breathing became more rapid, as she spoke up. “I know! You say you think about it? While you’re busy killing Titans, I’ve been stuck here thinking about her every waking moment in here! You at least get to have something that’ll take your mind off of all of your worries! I…..” Hiana yelled out, as she went on to continue her argument, but found her lungs starting to collapse. Air struggled to make it down her throat as she choked.

    “Oh my god! Hiana!” Eren screeched, his eyes widened as he launched himself from his chair. He searched his surroundings, trying to find anything that could save her life. “What’s going on? Hiana, what do I do? Tell me! Please.”

    Hiana continued to gasp for air as she weakly pointed at the oxygen mask, strapped to the side of her bed. Eren, with his whole body shaking, nearly pried it off, but kept his composure just enough to keep it intact. He placed the mask onto Hiana’s face, allowing a wave of air to pour down her mouth, restoring her to a more stable state.

    She stopped shaking, as feelings of relief washed over her. The two remained quiet for several minutes as if the argument never took place. Soon, Hiana removed the mask from her face and turned to Eren.

    The two stared at each other until Hiana broke the silence. “I haven’t seen her, Eren. I don’t know where she is, who’s custody she’s in, or if I’ll even get… to..” Hiana found herself struggling to find the words to continue as her voice cracked, but managed to get out the last of the sentence. “…Even see her again.”

    Hiana broke down as her cries were the only noise in the room, with tears pouring out of her eyes as all Eren could do was watch. Eren still blamed himself for the state Hiana was in, but just then, as if a bolt of lightning flashed in front of him, he had an epiphany.

    ‘Why didn’t I see it before? Why do I always think I should be at the center of attention, when someone else is clearly suffering? Even though I was responsible, it doesn’t mean I deserve sympathy or a pity party. It’s not about me. It was never about me. It’s about her, and that’s all that matters. That’s all that truly mattered.’

    Without giving it a second thought, he wrapped his arms around Hiana, as she poured her tears onto his shoulder. She didn’t expect the sudden shift with Eren, but it was one she appreciated. Eren rubbed his hands across her back gently, as he made sure he didn’t deliver any physical pain to her mutilated back.

    Knowing she was not in the state to continue the conversation, Eren spoke softly, bringing words of comfort to Hiana. “You’re right. You’re completely right. I’ve been so focused on my own failings that I couldn’t even see the real problem in front of me.”

    Hiana halted her bawling as she slowly titled her head up, gazing at Eren. “Hiana,” Eren whispered, as he looked down at her. “I want to do everything I can to help you.”

    Tears were still discharged from her eyes, as she struggled to speak, “I…. I…”

    Eren placed his hand on her shoulder, as he felt his heart raced at what he was about to say. His mind drifted back to the intimate moment he shared with her a year ago. Eren felt the awkwardness of the situation thrusted upon him, but at the same time he felt the peace it brought him. It was the same as that moment. Neither of them were filled with rage and vengeance.

    He felt a sense of solace.

    A feeling he wished he could feel forever.

    And, it made him smile knowing it was possible.

    “Hiana,” Eren soliloquized, gaining her attention once again. “You asked me once if I was okay with you being a single mother?”

    Her eyes widened. Not in excitement, but in embarrassment as she looked back on the memory as one in the heat of the moment. She didn’t know what compelled her to say it to him, when they had only known each other for a few days. Hiana knew it felt right for some reason, a reason she couldn’t be able to explain to anyone. Not even to Eren.

    Riko was the most important person in her life, but her connection to Eren was something truly special to her. When her question came out of Eren’s voice, she felt a sense of dread, knowing full well he didn’t reciprocate her feelings. She wouldn’t blame him for rejecting her, as she brought the question out of nowhere.

    Her heart raced as she saw Eren’s mouth open up.

    “I’m okay with you being a mother,” Eren answered, as a smile crept up on his face.

    Hiana’s heart raced with excitement as she felt an overwhelming sense of joy flood her whole body. Her body shook with joy, as she felt a resurgence of strength coming back to life. Hiana tightened her grasp around Eren, creating a smile of her own.

    “I do want to say a few things, though,” Eren announced, as Hiana relinquished her hold on the scout. She looked up at him as he continued, “I want to take things a bit slower than last time.”

    Hiana chuckled at Eren’s first request. “You sure?”

    Eren laughed at her question, remembering how she moved his hand onto her body. “It was nice, very nice, but I think it’s best to move at a more steady pace.”

    “Harsh, but I can live with that,” Hiana snickered, agreeing with his request.

    “And, the other thing,” Eren paused, trying to find the right words to convey what he was about to say to her. “I want to do everything I can to help you find Riko.”

    Hiana smiled brightly at Eren’s intention, as she yanked him in for another hug. She felt a stabbing pain throughout her body from the intense movement, but the news was worth it. The whole day of suffering was worth it.

    “When you’re feeling up to it, I’ll take some time off from the Scouts,” Eren declared.

    “Can you even do that?” Hiana inquired, knowing humanity needed every able body to fend off the constant looming threat.

    “I did help save the world twice, so I think I’m owed a few days off,”

    Hiana chuckled at Eren’s smugness at his own achievements. “I look forward to it. Thank you.”

    “You don’t need to thank me. I’m the last person you should be thanking,” Eren replied, feeling unworthy of anyone’s appreciation regardless of his standing with each person he knew.

    “I know, but I want to,” Hiana answered, as she took another look at Eren, placing her hand onto his cheek. “You deserve a thank you, even if you don’t want one. Everyone does.”

    “Regardless of what comes, I think for once, we’ll be alright,” Eren breathed out, as the sense of peace he long yearned for remained.

    The two continued to hold each other, both of them finding a newfound sense of hope in their lives.

    They were truly alive.

    Winner: Attack Titan, Armored Titan

    K.W.C. // December 28, 2020
  • Author: Vincent Rodger | Banner: Matthew Freese

    [Continued from Match 301]

     -24 hours after the Battle of Osaka-

    “Is it one of our experiments?” A man in a business suit asked the group of military personal and fellow politicians that were sitting in the Prime Minister’s office. Each wearing either a military uniform or a business suit. In the back stood three individuals, two men and one woman. One man was older, American, and a bigger build than the other two. He carried a sword and a pistol on his sides. The second had a much smaller build, he was younger than his comrade, Japanese and wore a futuristic-looking uniform. The third stood silently before stepping forward.

    “No, sir,” a woman answered in the back. She wore a lieutenant’s uniform and had a sharp, yet very beautiful face. “It appears that none of the Titans have escaped.”

     “Then what is it? A Gargantua?” He queried, turning toward the large monitor that recycled footage of the Titan’s first appearance.

    “Perhaps Mr. Prime Minister, but we don’t know for sure.”

     The Prime Minister turned back to the young lieutenant. “Lieutenant Akane correct?” Akane straightened and saluted.

    “Yes, sir.”

    The Prime Minister smiled. “I knew I had recognized you. You’re the pilot of Kiryu, correct?”

     “Yes, sir.” The Prime Minister walked over to the young woman and placed his hand on her shoulder.

    “As of right now, you have a mission, you will either capture this… Rogue Titan, and bring the creature to Monster Island, or… Kill it. Is that clear?” Akane nodded, which made the Prime Minister smile. “It was last seen around Mount Fuji in the woods before disappearing. I would start there for your search.”

    “Yes, sir,” she answered before leaving the room. Finally, she could prove herself after her failure all those years ago. The two men stepped forward as the door closed, both growing annoyed at this development. “Sir…why her? Why not send one of us?”

    The Prime Minister turned around and placed his hand on the American’s shoulder. “Patience, Captain Gordon, you will have your chance to fight soon. She needs to prove herself as useful after her failure against Godzilla years ago.” Gordon began to relax, understanding what his superior meant. The Prime Minister’s smile disappeared as he turned toward away from the two captains, turning his attention towards the military personnel. “Now… Would someone like to explain to me how a Titan got to the public?”

      

    -Mount Fuji-

    The woods were peaceful. At least compared to the ones he was used to. He didn’t have to worry about Titans coming and eating him, for there were no Titans here… Wherever here was. Eren sat near a stream of water before putting water in his palm and drinking from it.

    “It’s… Clean?” Eren dunked his hands into the water, again and again, drinking more water. He never had any water that tasted this good, every time he had water, it tasted as if something died in it. But this… this was different.

    A bush behind the young man began to shake, making the adolescent soldier jump. Eren grabbed one of his blades before thrusting it into the bush, a squeal from an animal was heard. Eren pulled his sword up, revealing a dead rabbit at the end of the blade.

    “I can eat this while I wait for Emmy.” Eren grabbed shrubbery and placed it between stones, before grabbing two more stones and striking it, creating a spark, catching the shrubbery on fire. The young man had grabbed his kill before placing it above the fire.

    Hours had passed, the young man had eaten his meal and grew even more impatient as time passed. “Where the hell is she!? You would think that a time traveler would be on time…”

    Suddenly an ear-piercing sound echoed throughout the land… Something was coming. Eren quickly got to his feet, searching for the source of the strange noise, only to see something approach the forest from the sky.

    Akane followed Kiryu in her small aircraft while searching for her target, but unfortunately, all she saw were trees. Unbeknownst to her, someone saw her and Kiryu.

    From below the tree line, Eren watched the mechanical dragon and a small squadron of aircraft following it. His first instinct was to run, but then he had thought of the potential innocents that were in danger. For all, he knew this metal monster was an ally of the three-headed mechanical hydra that he fought. Seeing no other choice, he raised his hand and bit into it.

    A golden lightning bolt struck the young soldier as the sky turned into a dark green, which was followed by an ear-piercing thundercrack–

    Akane looked down, looking for the source of the sound when she saw steam rise from a large creature. A hideous roar erupted from the steam, pushing it away as it revealed the Attack Titan. Akane sensed an unsettling aura of pure rage from the beast… as if it was rage incarnate.

    Kiryu turned his head and saw the target beneath him. It was staring right at him as if they had encountered each other before. Had he encountered this beast in the distant past? Something about it looked familiar but he couldn’t remember why. No matter. All that mattered, in the end, was protecting Akane and her home. Kiryu unleashed a digital roar, while he lowered himself toward his opponent.

    As the Mechagodzilla landed, the ground beneath him exploded and Kiryu once again roared at his smaller opponent. The Attack Titan got into a fighting stance and taunted his opponent.

    The two locked eyes for a moment before they each roared and charged at one another. With each step, destroying the ground beneath them as they picked up speed. In mid-run, Eren jumped into the air and swung down toward the approaching cyborg. Kiryu dodged the attack and in mid-turn, grabbed ahold of the Titan’s leg and slammed him into the ground with an enormous shockwave. The ground beneath collapsed under the weight of the Attack Titan. Kiryu’s mouth began to glow yellow with electrical energy, when Eren kicked his opponent’s maw, grabbed his arm and wrapped his legs around the Mechagodzilla’s throat. The Maser blast shot into the sky and was followed by Kiryu’s roaring in anger. Parts of Kiryu’s arm began to crack, as Eren applied more pressure.

    “How is this possible?” Akane asked herself, “Kiryu can take a blast from Godzilla, but somehow this thing can hurt him?”

    Kiryu reached out and grabbed Eren with his free hand, and threw the fearsome Titan further into the forest. Electrical energy burst from Kiryu’s maw as he unleashed a Maser blast straight into Eren’s chest, pushing him further into the forest. The Attack Titan screeched in a mixture of anger and pain as his skin burned away. Kiryu unleashed a digital copy of Godzilla’s roar as missiles erupted from his sides.

    The Attack Titan made it back to his feet, covered in steam and blood as he healed the damage he received from Kiryu. Looking straight at his enemy, he watched the missiles come straight toward him. Knowing no other way to avoid the bombardment of blasts, the grisly beast charged toward the incoming missiles. One by one, he avoided the flying explosives, having them explode behind him. All but one, he reached out and caught the missile in mid-air and redirected it toward Kiryu.

    Kiryu only moments before the missile had a direct hit, jumped out of the way and shot another Maser blast. Thankfully, the Attack Titan dodged the attack and pushed onward toward his metal opponent. He raised his fist and swung at Kiryu’s jaw, scoring a direct hit and knocking the Mechagodzilla to the ground. Twin blades erupted from Kiryu’s sides as he rose to his feet and swung, cutting into the gigantic human-like beast across the chest. Eren screamed as blood poured from the wound and steam rose. But he pushed through the pain and once again, punched Kiryu across the jaw, knocking him to his knees. Followed up by a decisive front kick, Kiryu had fallen onto his back as Eren leapt atop the mechanical threat and repeatedly pummeled it into the ground.

    Over and over, Eren slammed his fists into Kiryu, denting and warping the resurrected Godzilla’s armor. Flesh and skin ripped away from the Titan’s fists as he pummeled his opponent further into the ground. Steam rose from the wounds as blood poured down his knuckles.

    “NOW!” Kiryu grabbed ahold of Eren’s fist in mid punch, twisted it, forcing the bone to exit the skin. Blood oozed from the wound and onto the land. Eren roared with pure rage before he was thrown onto the ground. Kiryu seized the opportunity and grabbed Eren by the throat and stabbed him in the chest, where a heart should be located. But alas, the abomination to nature pushed on and wrapped his hands around Kiryu’s neck as he roared and squeezed, trying to crush his neck.

    Akane was surprised to be sure. “This creature has no heart! Is it immortal?” she asked herself before turning her attention toward Mount Fuji. “Is that…” Magma poured from the top of the mountain. The ground below covered in flames as the magma made its way down the mountain. “How in the hell did I not hear…the missiles…”

    She thought back to early in the battle. The missiles that launched from Kiryu’s sides hit the ground behind his opponent but it seems that one of them hit the mountain, causing it to erupt. She didn’t hear the blast due to the sound of battle. Now not only would millions be killed be the aftermath, but many would lose their homes. “How could I not think of the possibility… You idiot.” Akane looked down in shame as the battle raged on.

    From the magma covered volcano, something had emerged. An ancient Titan covered in molten lava from head to toe. An ancient creature of a bygone era forgotten to time. The gigantic bird roared into the heavens and revealed itself to the world for the first time in eons. Rodan, the Fire Demon, had returned at last.

    As Rodan emerged from the molten liquid, Akane looked up. Her eyes widened, it was worse than she thought it would be. Now billions were in danger. She wiped away her sweat, grabbed the steering wheel and charged at the lord of the skies.

    “Kiryu, I don’t care how but you got to postpone your battle for right now. There is an even bigger threat on the horizon.” Without even a second thought, Kiryu grabbed the Attack Titan by the face and tossed him behind him, further down the forest. Kiryu’s thrusters started and he followed Akane.

    Eren quickly got back onto his feet and saw what was sitting at the top of the mountain. His enemy left to deal with this new opponent… Maybe this was a misunderstanding. Eren quickly chased after the Mechagodzilla, hopefully, he was right and his opponent wasn’t the monster he believed it to be.

    Akane locked onto Rodan and unleashed a series of blasts at the gigantic bird. Rodan screeched in anger. Raising his wings before taking to the skies toward his adversary. He looked behind the small aircraft and spotted Kiryu approaching. So this new Titan would dare challenge the lord of the skies? It would surely regret the challenge. Rodan picked up speed, destroying the ground beneath him due to the high winds produced by him. Kiryu let loose another set of missiles from his back at the Fire Demon. Rodan smiled and flew upward, destroying the missiles in what seemed like an instant. The lord of the skies, then charged forward, reaching out for Kiryu with his massive talons. However, the Mechagodzilla had different plans. As Rodan reached for him, he spun his thrusters to avoid the attack and unload a series of blasts from his mouth and wrist gauntlets, making the ancient Titan roar in pain.

    Rodan, however, pushed through the pain and grabbed Kiryu by the neck and face. Breaking the glass in Kiryu’s right eye. The Mechagodzilla reached up and grabbed the avian’s leg and pulled, forcing the pair to fall to the Earth. To ensure success, Kiryu activated his thrusters and forced himself toward the Earth. Rodan screeched in defiance before he spun around in a complete 360 degrees and threw his mechanical enemy at the ground. Kiryu crashed into the ground with an enormous thud.

     Rodan began to fly toward the fallen warrior when a series of bullets brushed his lava rock-like hide. He quickly turned his eye behind him and once again saw the small aircraft approaching him. He grinned and quickly spun behind the aircraft. Panic rushed through Akane’s head as Rodan grabbed onto her aircraft and threw her to the Earth.

     Akane’s life flashed before her as she approached the ground beneath her. She remembered when she graduated from her flight academy, she remembered her defeat at the hands of Godzilla, the kindness of a father and daughter… Some of the only friends she ever had… A tear ran down her face. “Is this it?” She thought to herself. She smiled. “Well… I’ve had a good run. Kiryu… avenge me, old friend.”

     The aircraft smashed into the ground, flames burst from the aircraft. Rodan landed next to the burning aircraft and let out a cackle. He had defeated one enemy but it was now time to finish off the other one. Kiryu laid in the ground, motionless. The prehistoric pterosaur chirped as he walked toward the fallen artificial titan. Rodan opened his beak….

     A hideous screech turned Rodan away from his kill. He saw another Titan approach him, it had no armor or fur. Only flesh.

     Rodan smiled. He opened his wings and began to himself up into the air

     The gigantic humanoid jumped while in mid charge, hoping to strike the magma Titan to the ground. As the fist came closer, Rodan quickly ducked and grabbed ahold of Eren’s wrist with his beak before spinning and sending the feral human flying. With a loud thud, the Attack Titan crashed into the ground.

     The Attack Titan quickly got to his feet but was just quickly knocked down by a charging Rodan. Eren rolled across the ground before managing to stop himself. The Titan locked onto the flying Titan. He stood waiting for his enemy to attack.

     Rodan smirked before turning around once again. He reached out with his talons, stabbing through Eren’s shoulders and lifting him into the air. Eren roared as flames burned his flesh revealing bone, his blood began to boil and muscle began to cook. Pushing through the pain, the ferocious avenger of the future wrapped his hands around Rodan’s legs and pulled with all his might. Rodan struggled to keep them both in the air.

     The lava Titan let go of Eren, but the wild Titan held on. Steam rose from his wounds as his healing factor made quick work of damage. Rodan roared with fury before spinning, once again sending Eren to the ground.

     Before Eren could return to his feet, Rodan clapped his wings together sending a sonic shockwave. The forest around them blew apart, trees were cutting into nothing but splinters, boulders were sent flying before crashing into the ground, breaking them apart. Eren screeched as he was sent flying into the air. He spun in circles before crashing into a gigantic boulder, forcing many bones from the skin. Blood fell from his body, steam rose from his wounds, bones were forced back in place. Rodan roared as he charged at the downed Titan.

     

    -Moments ago-

    Blood poured from the wound across her head. Her vision was blurry, a loud ring echoed in her ears, her breathing became heavy. Akane has survived the crash. She removed her helmet from her head, throwing it on the aircraft’s floor. She quickly unbuckled herself from her seat before lifting her leg and kicking what remained of the cockpit’s window. The glass broke apart as if it was nothing.

    “Okay, now comes the hard part…” Akane forced herself up. Her bones felt as if they were about to shatter, her organs felt as if they were to burst, but she had to push forward. Akane crawled out of the cockpit and onto the forest floor. She turned to see if there was a place to rest when she saw Kiryu laying face first in a crater.

     She slowly crawled to her friend before placing her bloody hand on Kiryu’s face. “Hey, big guy… I’m going to ask you a favor… I need you to get up. To fight in my place…” Kiryu’s silence made her uneasy. She gritted her teeth together and made her hand into a fist. “GET UP!”

     Kiryu’s eye lit up, turning into a crimson red, seething with rage.

    -Now-

    Kiryu roared at Rodan as he rose from the crater. The avian turned his head…making a grave mistake. Eren reached out, grabbing Rodan’s leg and with his free hand, he struck the leg, breaking it. Rodan screeched in agonizing pain before staring with fury at the Attack Titan. He reached out with his beak before being struck by Eren’s knee, forcing the beak shut. Eren let go of his enemy’s leg before kicking the beast on the chest, forcing the ancient titan back. Rodan struggled to keep in place before Kiryu rammed himself into Rodan, forcing him into the ground. The forest burned around the pair of kaiju.

     Rodan screeched as he quickly got back to the air before once again being knocked to the ground by a leaping Attack Titan. Molten lava coughed out from the ancient titan’s maw, as Rodan tried to catch his breath. Kiryu screeched before reaching over to the downed titan’s neck, wrapping his metallic hand around Rodan’s throat from the back.

    Rodan screeched and flailed, trying to free himself from Kiryu’s grasp. The blade on Kiryu’s free wrist was plunged into Rodan’s wing, having lava poured from the wound, Rodan screeched in pain, he had never felt something so agonizing in his entire existence.

    Eren charged at Rodan, slamming both fists into the monster’s chest, pushing him further into the blade, Kiryu staggered back from the force. Rodan screamed in pain as tears fell from the gigantic bird’s eyes from the pain. Eren raised his fist once again but Rodan caught it in mid-swing before twisting. Eren screeched in pain before raising his free elbow and striking Rodan’s other leg, breaking it.

    Rodan screeched as he began to lose consciousness, this pain was too much, he could no longer fight back…there is no hope for him to win.

    From inside the Attack Titan’s nape, Eren smiled. “Now you die bastard!” Eren grabbed both of Rodan’s legs, pulling him from Kiryu’s blade and onto the ground. Rodan’s body fell limp, the avian titan struggled to breathe. Both Kiryu and Eren raised their legs before bringing them down like anchors onto Rodan’s neck, breaking it and killing the Titan instantly.

    Eren stepped back from the corpse before meeting the eye of Kiryu. Would they resume their fight? Or had their combined might stopped their conflict?

    A moment of silence passed before Eren turned away and began to walk away. He wished for no more conflict today. Kiryu’s hands began to twitch, rage had consumed the resurrected Godzilla. Kiryu screeched before swinging his twin blades to the Attack Titan.

    Eren ducked under Kiryu’s blades before head butting Kiryu, staggering the titan back. Akane watched from under a tree as the two resumed their battle. She sat confused, pondering why the gigantic humanoid attempted to walk away from the conflict before passing out from the blood loss.

    Once again Kiryu swung his blades at Eren but to no avail. His enemy had caught his arms in mid-swing before placing both legs on Kiryu’s chest and pulled on Kiryu’s arms. Sparks flew as Kiryu’s arms began to break, Kiryu roared at Eren before unleashing a maser blast onto the titan’s chest, pushing his opponent to the ground. Eren roared in anger and pain as he fell onto the ground. Thinking quickly on his feet, the downed titan lunged at Kiryu’s leg, pulling and knocking the Mechagodzilla onto the ground. Eren stood above Kiryu before grabbing his tail and throwing him across the forest and onto the approaching lava.

    Armor melted away as Kiryu got back to his feet. Jet boosters lifted Kiryu out from the molten lava before charging at Eren. Eren dodged the attack and smacked Kiryu with the side of his hand, knocking him to the ground.

    He had completely forgotten about the lava… He had to escape and fast or be consumed by the heat.

    Kiryu lifted his head up, sending a Maser blast upward striking the Attack Titan across the face, ripping apart his flesh. Eren fell onto the ground.

    Akane struggled to stay awake, she took in a deep breath before yelling at the top of her lungs. “Kiryu! Finish it now!”

    The Mechagodzilla got onto his feet, making his way toward the fallen avenger of the future.  A firm foot was planted onto the Titan’s chest, pushing it in and breaking ribs and sternum. Eren roared in pain before being silenced by a Maser blast, his cranium erupting. His body fell limp, finally the conflict had been resolved. Wires wrapped around the Attack Titan, holding the downed warrior in place before making his way to Akane. Leaning in, the mechanical giant picked her up with his hand and allowed her to hide in his built-in compartments, then took off into the air.

     

    -Land of Light-

    It had been months since Dan had been home. He had been chasing the monster Kilazee from planet to planet before eventually meeting the creature in combat and defeating it.

    Ultraseven landed onto the glass-like planet before walking to a gigantic tower. “Seven!” The Ultra Warrior turned, seeing Ace, Zoffy and Jack standing behind him. “It has been too long, friends. Tell me, what has happened while I was away?” The three Ultra Warriors looked at each other before once again turning to Seven. Zoffy stepped forward.

    “Hayata is dead. He faced a cyborg duplicate of the Golden Demise on Earth, only to fall to the demon,” Seven clenched his hand into a fist. If he wasn’t away on a mission, he could have helped his friend battle the mechanical monster… “Another thing you should know… Hayata wasn’t alone. He faced Mecha-King Ghidorah with another gigantic humanoid. This one resembles a disfigured human.”

     “Thank you Zoffy for the information.” Ultraseven took to the stars, beginning his long search for this being that Zoffy spoke of.

     “Hayata, I will avenge your death. I promise.”

     

     -Planet X-

     Sirens blared in the halls of the Xiliens facility. Two men stood surrounded by a small squadron of Xilien soldiers. “So…how did two cattle make their way into my home.” A young Xilien male stepped forward, waiting for the pair to answer his question.

     “I am Chuck and this is my colleague, Glen. We have come with an offer…how would you like to finally have the Earth?”

    The Xilien leader smiled. “I’m listening.”

     Chuck smiled. “We have acquired monsters for you to send an assault onto the planet. All we ask is that you slay the one known as the Attack Titan.” As the Xilien leader stepped forward, he made a motion with his hand, ordering the squadron to lower their weapons, before offering his hand.

    “You have got yourself a deal.”

    Winner: Kiryu

    K.W.C. // December 21, 2020