The glen was dotted with sheep the color of clouds. Ewes tended to their charges whilst nibbling the sweet grass at their hooves. Shaggy dogs trotted around the borders, keeping the sheep in a wide circle but allowing them to graze. Peasants with crooks stood on the outer edges but their duties were pithy in comparison to what was hiding in the trees.
Sheep didn't attract titans. This much was known. Humans however, could quickly attract a menace. Although they were in the wilds of Wall Maria, they were not far from the city, meaning any appearance of a titan here could quickly become a state of emergency. Therefore, these sheep and inevitably their shepherds were worth more than the coins in their pockets. After the loss of Wall Maria, pastures were scarce. Thus, the shepherds had military protection when grazing their flock in an attempt to keep the meat market from collapse.
Jean tapped his shoes against the tree branch he sat on, sighing. A tame job for a scout, he wasn't trying to complain. However, he had thought joining the Scout Corps would mean more titan sightings. Armin had been lucky enough to be sighted by Levi early on. The exceptionally awful part was that it had nothing to do with his innate fighting abilities but intelligence alone. All of the work Jean had put into the academy had been wasted, first by his snap judgment to join the scouts and now from Levi overlooking him.
“Jean!” Turning, he saw Sasha a stone's throw in another tree. “Look what I found!” She held two blushing apples. She tossed one to Jean.
“Thanks. Where'd you find these?”
She gestured to the other side of the field. “Over there.”
“You're... skipping around? Aren't you out of formation?”
Sasha shrugged. “I mean... yeah, but nothing ever happens anyway.”
An ewe lifted her head, bleating desperately. A few others picked up their heads, a wave of tension beginning to ripple through the herd. One of the shepherds began to approach the bleating ewe, its lamb slowly loping back to the call of its mother.
“Sahsa, look.” Jean pointed to the dog nearest them. It's yellow eyes were focused on the dark of the woods. Yellow teeth born, its hackles were raised.
Sasha pulled out the triggers of her ODM. “Is it a titan?”
“I don't know.” Jean looked to Sasha, her eyes intent on the forest. Sweat beaded on her forehead and he could see her hands shaking. He looked down at the dog. Or at least, where it had been.
A wolf burst from the forest, grabbing the bleating ewe in its jaws. Black as a sin and just as spiteful, it stood higher than any beast of burden. Even from across the field Jean could see the ripple of muscles beneath its thick coat. It's eyes were the color of envy, their calculating power boring into the farmer before him.
Jean attached blades to his triggers and took off towards the animal. Beneath him, the sheep were beginning to scatter. Frantic dogs barked at the sheep, trying to bring them into submission but the fear in their eyes had infected their judgement.
With a cry, Jean brought himself down towards the wolf. He bore both of his blades but they ricocheted at the last minute, sending him spiraling to the ground among the sheep. Quickly, Jean curled up and covered his head against their stampede.
“How?” he heard Sasha scream. “Who are you?”
Jean didn't have time to stand before a massive paw cleared the sheep from around him. Everything felt cold, until the breath of the wolf was on his sweaty neck.
“Eren, no!” A woman spoke. It's licked its teeth but with a final snort, the wolf turned away. Before Jean could relax, hands grabbed his wrists, pulling them tightly behind his waist. A small knee dug into his spine, forcing his face into the dirt. Whomever was on top of him was lithe, albeit strong.
“Sahsa!” Jean managed, spitting dirt. “Call for—Ah!” The knee wedged itself deeper into his back.
She leaned forward, her voice delicate yet strong enough to carry over the cries of the sheep. “Would you rather I feed you to my brother?”
“You bitch!” It was Sasha. Fully in the middle of the pasture, exposed, she was here to save him. The woman was off and Jean stumbled to his feet. Swinging without finesse, Sasha was parrying the woman's bone hewn blade that somehow stood up against Sasha's steel. Her midnight hair was pulled back in a weak ponytail and even through the shaggy clothes Jean could see she was as starved as the wolf.
Jean launched himself forward at her, but she leaped gracefully out of the way of his attack.
“Jean!” Sahsa said. “Are you alright?”
“Yes!” He said. “Where's the wolf?”
“Ah—“ Sasha looked to her left where the wolf wrestling an ODM pack from its mouth, a bleeding leg still tangled within the fastenings.
“Sasha, look out!” Jean dove forward, using his blade to counter the woman's attack.
With a yip, Sasha stumbled, falling on her bottom. The woman began to round again when the snap of a flare stopped everyone, its purple tail stretching miles up. For a long breath, the wolf stared at Sasha, still sitting on her rump whilst Jean stood between her and the wild-woman. Then the wolf lunged. Screaming, Sasha covered her face as though her arms would stop his fangs from lacerating her flesh.
A loud bang and the animal fell in a heap beside Sasha, it's jaws open, hot tongue lolling out. A man in a cloak the color of the forest was standing on the shoulder of the animal, its eyes closed but twitching. He pulled his hood down and looked to Sasha.
“Are you alright?”
“C-Captain Levi! I—I—“
A war cry and the woman veered from Jean and dove for Levi, who calmly raised one of his swords to block her wild swings. It was at that moment that the wolf found its feet, standing so abruptly as to knock Levi off. Grabbing a tuft of fur, the woman pulled herself onto the wolf's shoulders. The animal snapped at the captain, who dodged backwards, standing protectively in front of Sasha.
“Now this is interesting.” Levi muttered.
The woman raised her blade, silently gesturing to Levi and Sasha . But the wolf was still. He no longer bore his teeth, instead his nostrils flared. No one moved. When a cool wind blew past, the wolf's hackles began to prickle. Another flare popped off, this one green in color and close.
From the forest emerged a scout riding on a horse. “Captain, there's a—”
A titan shattered a tree as it dove to catch the rider. Fat fingers wormed across the dirt as it tried to find its feet. Ugly, protruding jaws opened and closed with anticipation.
The wolf charged past Jean, Levi and Sasha, ripping across the field in pursuit of the titan. The woman was huddled low to its back, holding on with both hands now as he flew through the dregs of the herd. Vaulting over the horse and rider, the wolf lept at the titan, who opened its arms to try and catch the its opponent. It landed against the titan's chest, fixing its teeth deep into the skin of its right shoulder. In turn, the titan gripped the wolf's upper legs and attempted to return the bite.
The woman catapulted herself off of the face of the wolf to to sink her blade into one of the titan's eyes. The titan recoiled, but still gripped the wolf. Using his bite as purchase, the wolf pulled sharply to the right, taking the titan to the ground as he did so. The woman was flung from the titan's face, landing in a heap near the base of a tree.
“Petra!” Levi shouted. “Catch her!”
The rider rounded, circling back to where the woman had fallen.
“Are you insane?” Jean asked, catching a look from Sasha.
Levi didn't even bother to look over his shoulder. “She's valuable.”
The titan was struggling against the wolf, trying to stand as the it used all of its strength to keep the monster on the ground. Its nubby fingers were digging into the wolf's stomach, but the animal kept its teeth in the titan's shoulder, using his claws to maw its chest. When the titan tried to bite the wolf's leg, it sprang back only to pounce again, this time capturing the titans entire face in its jaws.
The wolf was squeezing, a low moan now emanating from the titan. The wolf let go briefly, using his massive paw to turn the chewed head of the titan sideways so he could sink his teeth into the nape of his enemy. A snapping of bone and flesh and the wolf separated he head from its body.
Jean and Sasha stared, trying to see through the dust. The animal was breathing heavily over the steaming body of the titan. Its coal-black fur tainted with shades of red, some of which that evaporated and some that did not.. Opening its mouth, it let the head fall with a muted thump. Then the wolf turned, teeth born, eyes alight. They fixated on Jean
“Captain!” It was Petra. The woman was bundled in Petra's cloak and thrown over the back of the horse, her hands bound. The wolf howled, charging. Petra slapped her horse's rump, sending it off towards Levi and the others while Petra fired her grappling to escape.
“Take it alive.”
“What!?” Jean said. “Are you kidding?”
“It killed a titan.” Levi supplied. “I want it taken alive.”
Jean stared at the back of his captain's head, sweating.
Petra dove to another branch as the wolf descended on her tree of choice. From her belt, she pulled her flare gun and fired a round into the air. A purple flare spiraled into the sky.
“Grab the horse, Jean.” Levi instructed before vaulting off to join Petra. Jean did as he was told, catching Petra's horse as it neared.
The woman tshook off the hood, snarling at Jean. He grimaced but looked to her bound hands. She thrashed her wrists and snarled but the iron had tamed her for now.
“Look!” Sasha pointed. Levi and Petra were circling the massive wolf, it's eyes darting between the two of them as it tried to decide which one to take first. Levi landed on a branch, resting for a half a breath more than typical and the wolf saw his supposed weakness. It lunged, jaws open.
From the forest came another bang, and the wolf fell to the ground again.
“More cannons?” Sasha whispered.
Levi descended, falling onto the face of the wolf. Snarling, it tried to find its feet but began to slip on its own blood. Coughing, the wolf shifted its weight to the other side. Levi noted that the last cannon had impeccably struck it's hips, widening a wound from the titan and crushing bones. He couldn't have aimed it better if he had done it himself.
“Come on then.” Levi whispered. “I'm right here.”
The wolf propelled itself forward for one more attack. Easily, Levi danced to the side, letting the animal eat dirt. Another cannon fired, catching the wolf in the shoulder. Again, the beast fell. Levi said nothing, giving it time to round.
A loud silence.
“Eren!” The woman began rattling her cuffs on the back of Petra's horse who snorted in protest.
“Eren!” She screamed again. “Eren get up! Eren!” She was shouting so hard she spit. Tears were creating white streaks down her ruddy cheeks but still her eyes were on the wolf. “Get up! Change! Run! EREN!”
Levi returned his swords to their hilts. Raising one hand, he spoke. “Take it.”
“Hey,” Jean reached to touch her head. “It's okay, he's—“
Rounding, she grabbed Jean's finger her mouth and bit as hard she could. Crying out, Jean pulled his throbbing digit back.
Scouts descended from the trees, wrapping chains around the muzzle of the animal. Stakes were quickly hammered into its fore paws to keep it still. They had begun to bind its hind paws when the wolf's green eyes flashed open. When it found its mouth was tied like a dog, the wolf began thrashing its hind legs wildly, catching a scout and slamming him hard enough against a tree that he didn't get up. With his fore limbs clasped he couldn't stand but its rear legs thrashed wildly
“Load a harpoon in the cannon.” Levi instructed. “Hit its hip where the last round was fired.”
From the brush came a hooked grapple, shooting into the open wound on the wolf's hip. It cried in pain and tried to pull itself away.
“Tighten the line.” Levi said.
As the scouts reeled the line in, the animal lost purchase, slipping to its belly again as it sobbed.
“No!” The woman screamed, still thrashing on the back of the horse. Jean did nothing this time. “Eren!”
The wolf turned, his eyes catching the woman on the horse. It's muscle tensed
“Pull it in a little more.” said Levi.
“Anymore and it's going to start ripping its muscles out.” The scout said.
Levi just looked at the soldier who promptly began reeling the line in more.
It sounded like rough fabric being cut. Blood began to run down the wolf's hind leg. With a whimper, it relaxed into the ground and closed its eyes. When Jean looked at the woman again she was sobbing quietly.
Hanji's study was perhaps the creepiest place on the base. Stuffed birds, skeletal remains of titan spew, and oddly colored vials of ghastly things seemed to decorate any available space. There were seldom booklets of anything because she preferred to scribble and doodle on loose leaf sheets and leave them in piles. It wasn't clear if Levi never came because he trusted her entirely or he simply couldn't exist in such a chaotic space.
“Here!” She said, depositing a skinned lamb leg in the scout's unsuspecting arms. “Take that downstairs, would you? I'm sure he's awake by now.”
“Uhm, o-okay...” He gulped.
She wagged a finger. “Just be careful! He seems a bit snappy.”
Nodding, the scout left her study and headed for the stairs. As a new recruit, he hadn't been privy to the knowledge of where they took the feral woman but he doubted they would have released her into the custody of the king. Her bond with the wolf would undoubtedly valuable, especially to Levi.
As he descended into the dungeon, he expected to hear the rumble of the wolf, the scrape of talons on the cold stone. Yet, the only sound he heard was labored breathing. Then, a cough. It almost sounded like a child with a cold.
The scout relaxed a touch, approaching the massive iron bars at the back of the dungeon with slight confidence that the creature was indisposed. However, it proved hard to see in the bleak light of the dungeon. What was unmistakably missing was the massive hulk of wolf that the scout had been told would occupy this cell. In it's place was a boy lying face down on the stone.
No, not a boy. Curled against his leg was the black tail of a wolf. From his head were two pointed and furry ears. One twitched as the scout approached, but nothing else moved.
The boy on the floor opened one eye, green as a jealous lover. They moved from the young scout's face to the meat in his arms, then blinked.
“I brought this for you.” The scout said, sliding it between the bars. “I can't get it over to you, so you'll have to come over here, I think.” He gave it a little shove but it still didn't go very far.
The boy opened both eyes and stared at the meat for a long moment. He shifted, grimaced, then relaxed again. The scout expected him to stand, but instead the boy just closed his eyes again.
“Oh, here.” The young scout stuck his leg into the cage. The wolf-eared boy's eyes flickered to it, but the scout used his boot to kick the meat closer. Now, the boy was watching.
Raising one hand, he reached for the hock. Grabbing the bone end, he slowly pulled it to his chest where he began to lick it.
The scout smiled. “Better?”
The wolf-eared boy said nothing.
“Good. By the way,” the scout sat beside the cage, hugging his knees to his chest. “I'm Armin.”