The 104th Training Corps is spectacular in many ways. If Keith Shadis had been a man prone to bragging, he would have never shut up about “his” kids. As it is, he simply states that there is an above average number of students with potential that year.
Unfortunately, that spectacularness also manifests in some... less than desirable ways.
For example, the night of drinking that follows graduation is spectacular. The sheer amount of alcohol they imbue is spectacular. The scale of the drunken pranks they pull is spectacular.
The following hangover is spectacular.
It's so spectacular that it persists well into the afternoon, when the head of the Military Police arrives to retrieve the top ten recruits, to whom he considers his branch entitled.
Following an instinct of interservice rivalry (or perhaps out and out hatred) that has never quite faded, Shadis fails to tell Nile that he probably wouldn’t be getting his full ten.
It isn’t really any surprise that only eight newly graduated recruits show up to be sworn in by the Military Police Commander, the first and fifth spots conspicuously empty.
Seeing how hungover the other eight are -- swaying, squinting and barely able to mumble something that may be an attempt to sound off -- Nile at first assums that the last two have gotten lost or are passed out somewhere. Shadis takes perhaps a little too much pleasure in assuring him otherwise. Ackerman and Yeager have made their desire to join the Survey Corps clear.
“Suicidal idiot,” Jean manages to mutter even through his pounding headache. In a strange, passing moment of clarity, his eyes narrow. Something about that thought stirs his memory.
“What?” Nile all but barks, the sharp sound sending all the recruits cringing, and the stray memory is gone.
Thus, it isn’t until that evening, when the few lunatics out to join the Survey Corps are gathered, waiting for Commander Smith to arrive, that someone realizes that something is wrong.
“Um, sir?” Thomas Wagner approaches Shadis with great trepidation. Even in the flickering torchlight, it is clear that he still hasn’t recovered entirely, but at least now he can speak.
“If you’ve changed your mind, it’s not too late to leave,” Shadis tells him.
“That’s not it, sir!” Thomas insists, drawing himself up ramrod straight. He winces in the next moment. “It’s just that... Eren’s not here. Or Mikasa. Or Armin.”
“Maybe he wised up and went with the Military Police,” someone suggests, since the entire small gathering is blatantly listening in.
Everyone else snorts at the joke. Eren, wise up. Yeah, right.
Shadis frowns. Or rather, his perpetual frown deepens. If only one of the three had been missing, he would have asked the others. But for all three to be gone...
He never expected to be praying for a drunk prank gone wrong.
There are very few recruits interested in joining the Survey Corps, and they all know each other. They have a certain sense of solidarity, especially under the banner of “Voted Most Likely to Die First” “Quick to Rush in Reckless Idiot” “Kill All Titans” “Fight Fight Fight” Eren Yeager.
So when Erwin finally arrives to swear in his own new additions, a special discouraging speech already prepared, he is bemused to find that the entire would-be Survey Corps group has reorganized itself into an investigation taskforce.
He is honestly impressed by their efficiency, willingness to set to a task, dedication to their teammates and ability to work through a massive hangover. That last one will be invaluable the morning of an expedition.
The investigation reveals that all three sets of 3D Maneuver Gear are missing, as well as enough gas to fill them up and blades for each. Shadis mentally adds petty theft to the list of charges he will slam all three recruits with once they are found.
Witness -- or at least reliable witnesses -- prove hard to find.
Everyone sort of remembers when they started drinking, even if some are more reluctant to own up to it than others. (No one remembers where the booze came from.) Everyone also mostly remembers when Jean challenged Eren to a drinking contest and then proceeded to water down his share of the booze.
Pretty much everyone admits to getting Mikasa a drink or three, as congratulations or as a sign of sympathy for having to deal with Eren.
Armin didn’t seem to have had much, but apparently he didn’t need much either.
Before long, he was on a table, declaring to everyone that he had a plan. That plan included killing all the Titans -- yes, Eren, that’s definitely an important step -- climbing the ranks, gathering blackmail, exposing the Wall Cult’s secrets, taking over the government and going beyond the walls to see the ocean.
Eren had enthusiastically cheered at the last part, drowning out the questions of the few who were still sober enough to question the fact that Armin apparently had an entire revolution planned out. Or maybe a coup. Even those sober enough to realize something was weird there were pretty blitzed by that point and couldn’t really remember the order of the steps involved.
Erwin, who has been following the investigation with interest, strokes his chin thoughtfully.
And then... things get a bit fuzzy.
It definitely involved Jean taunting Eren and claiming they would never get to see the ocean. Armin had declared that they would, in fact, see the ocean. And Jean wouldn’t, because he was lame. And because he was lame, he’d never get to see Mikasa in a bikini either.
Or maybe Eren had said that. Or maybe they both had.
And then the Eremin hybrid had declared that they would go to see the ocean right now to prove that they could. And then they’d be back to kill all the Titans and overthrow the government.
And then they got their Gear and went over the Wall.
Apparently. No one had been left quite sober enough to be sure, but all evidence points to it.
“Saint Sina, Rose and Maria,” Shadis mutters.
“That’s very unfortunate,” Erwin comments diplomatically.
“I can’t believe they made it over while that drunk, especially Arlert,” Shadis says. Somehow, he can’t bring himself to disbelieve that they are, in fact, that stupid.
Erwin gingerly pats him on the shoulder. “The next expedition is departing tomorrow. We’ll try to find some sign of them,” he says consolingly.
Clearly, he hasn’t spent three years with these little monsters.
The expedition doesn’t find the three recruits. They do find a mysterious path of destruction heading away from Wall Rose, to Rose Maria and, as they confirm, beyond into the Titan lands.
If they had been a day and a half earlier, they would have found that path stewn with Titan carcasses. As it is, the Highway to the Ocean, as the Survey Corps begin to refer to it, remains a mysterious, unexplained phenomenon -- a line that no Titan would cross.
No, really. Titans approach it, stop suddenly and dither at the very edge of the path of destruction, as if some primal instinct tells them it is too dangerous to cross.
No human remembers what had occurred the night of the 104th graduation. But the Titans would always remember. And they would fear the day that They would return...