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The Last Noble Breath

Chapter Text

Guided by the winds away from the royal city, Eren Jaeger found himself on the outskirts of Trost. A bustling city rich with culture and nightlife, Trost seemed to be every man’s dream. What lurked stealthily in the shadows of Trost, however, were not men but wolves; wolves of a company that opposed the country’s leadership. Knowing that he’d have to completely reinvent himself in the presence of thousands of eyes, Eren sat in the middle of his new studio and brought his katana to his silken cinnamon hair. Lopping off a good portion of his once lower back length hair, watching as it fluttered helplessly to the ground, scattering over the floor, Eren began the first step of a new life.

No one would know who he was there without any hint. They’d not look into his eyes and see a man to be feared simply for his bloodline. No, no longer would people grovel and bow to him simply because of his station; a station he was born into yet refused to accept. Respect should be earned, not given so freely. Eren sat there in his new home, bought with most of the gold he’d managed to bring with him as he snuck away from the palace. There wasn’t much left, but it was time he learnt how to save money and live like the people he used to speak for. It was time that he became Eren Hawkyns, the artist, and cast away Eren Jaeger, heir to the emperor’s throne.

War mongering sparked tensions all over the country, and perhaps he should have settled in a better spot, but this was now his home. He’d have to learn how to take care of himself, how to tend a garden by himself, how to cook, and how to clean. Being heir to a throne he’d willingly cast aside trying to live as a normal man would be nearly impossible, but he’d die trying if that was what it meant to escape his old life. Thanks to some of the teachings from his tutor, he understood the basics of making a life for himself but in no way was it going to be easy. Eren Jaeger was starting over and forgetting that stood to inherit the throne while civil war waged and threatened to shatter the already broken country into shards.

It hadn’t been his thought to run when things grew difficult; that was never his intention. Speaking out against his father’s tyranny began to set the rift between him and his succession for years. Everyone inside the palace knew the young heir to be proud and courageous, determined and bold, but what they didn’t know of their emperor was that he’d despised that when aimed back at him. Eren bickered his cause against his father for years, always saying they should have been doing what was best for their country’s people, not for them. What struggled and strife had they had? Being a figurehead was good enough for Eren, but his father disagreed and sought only to line his pockets. Grisha Jaeger sought to reclaim his birthright and take what was his by any necessary force. He was tired of sitting in the shadow of another he’d appointed in a ceremony purely for show. It wasn’t he who held power, not his family, and he’d envied that.

Who did disagree with the Emperor’s thoughts and actions? Over half of the appointed advisors….under the thick blanket of night. No one dared to speak publicly against the emperor, except two men. Being the first, Eren had always told his father what he thought, but the second was a man his father had appointed to run things. A militaristic leader who’d been placed in power thanks to his succession was meant to, at first, control the people and keep order. Until the Tagin had soon begun to see the emperor’s reign for the ruthless oppression it truly was, it had been exactly that while the emperor sat back and fumed. When he spoke out against the emperor tensions began to raise and people began to talk. Sides were taken, war was waged, and battles were forged in it’s fires. Tempered by the resolve of his beliefs, the backing of his underlings, the militant leader known as the Tagin had ensured the country’s divide with the same opinion Eren had once spoken; the same opinion that had gone unheeded.

Caught in the middle of a war, most average people tried to do their best and avoid further bloodshed. Unfortunately, both sides of the war were going about their positions the wrong way and the people were losing a war they never asked for. The Tagin had created his forces in order to declare themselves a government of the people while Grisha Jaeger wished, purely for his own purposes, to preserve their way of life and continue to oppress their people. Two different rules, with factions behind them based on loyalty, honor, and culture. Having witnessed it firsthand, Eren knew the men following the Tagin had wished to see the fairness in creating a government where people had the say, but others saw the decision as weakness in a ruler to ask for opinions of those beneath them.

It was difficult to be on either side. The emperor had planned for the people to stick to their ways of life they’d known. He bet on the fact change would scare them, and he’d been right. Trying to change their way of life by making their lives better was part of the Tagin’s plan, but giving power back to a war hungry, selfish figurehead wasn’t. People no longer knew who to trust as they’d all been obeying the Tagin, following the rules he’d set in place, but as war came to ravage the nation it allowed criminals to run rampant. As the criminal activity increased it was also shown as a fault to the Tagin, and things only continued to spiral downhill. Amidst the war crops were being burnt, villages were being razed, and innocent people were dying in droves. The people losing the war, weren’t even the ones fighting it.

Trying to break away from all the horrid politics, Eren wished to just live life as a painter. It had been the one thing he was always good at, though his father wished him to cease the activity and continue to take more swordsmanship lessons from his general. He’d been groomed to be a commander in the emperor’s forces, but it wasn’t something he accepted. There were many things about his life that his father refused to accept, and so he believed refusing one thing of his own was just as good as payback. His tutor allowed him to paint when he wished as it freed his mind of the horrors facing the people. In the end, it had been all thanks to his tutor that he’d made it out of the palace to start anew with basic skills.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of things that could link him back to his royal heritage. Attempting to hide it all was going to be difficult, but he began to manage by placing his katana and kodachi under the floor of his home. Wrapping them delicately in silk, he covered up the second largest symbol of his birth. Hilt embellished with a jade stone at the end, woven with the finest silks, and blade etched with beautiful artwork, the blades were a symbol of his bloodline. Only those of the highest classes were allowed to carry, or even own, swords. Ensuring they stayed hidden meant ensuring his survival. Carrying out too much when he’d snuck out of the palace had been impossible, thus he only took what he’d needed.

A couple of kosode, his blades, a bit of gold, an old bow and quiver, and some tools of his trade were all he could carry with him. He’d been lucky to purchase the home of someone who’d died in the war, helping the poor widow find a new start herself in the process. It had a hot spring near the back of the property along with a small plot of land prime for growing things. Being on the outskirts of the city assisted with keeping his head down, because if there was one city he’d be killed in? It was Trost. Trost was the epicenter of the Tagin’s forces. In Trost lay the headquarters of the special police force known as the Kensha, or the wolves of Trost. Clad in sky blue haori with white at the sleeves, daishō tied at their right hip, and aura’s swirling with authority, the force was unmistakable.

Kensha forces were known as ruthless, heartless, bloodthirsty killers by both civilians and opposing forces alike. Their reputation preceded them as their haori fluttered on the wind behind them with each step. Should they discover who he truly was, there was no doubt in his mind that he’d be captured as a prisoner of war and executed as a show of power to the emperor. He knew very well that the men in the unit were capable of, he’d heard the war stories from General Hawkyns. They were truly excellent swordsmen, but almost all of them weren’t all of noble class….something unheard of. Most were wary of their presence, treating them like devils, but if were to look at them objectively then he’d have to say they did exactly what they were formed for: slaughter.

The men of the Kensha were a police force at heart, however, and didn’t fight in the war until called upon.  As part of the still functioning government they worked closely with the Tagin to prosecute criminals. They’d been tasked to keep the city safe during the hardships of increased criminal activity, and they did exactly that. People were still frightened of them, as they too knew the war tales involving the sky blue coats stained crimson on the blood soaked ground. Carrying flags of the Tagin, the 13 units of the Kensha would always remain loyal to their Tagin and see anything related to the emperor as the number one enemy. Should his true identity be known in the heart of the Tagin’s city, then the quiet, peaceful life he wanted would be impossible to keep.

 

So much as bathing at the local bath house wasn’t something he was able to do. He’d been immensely thankful for the hot spring on his property. For if anyone saw the symbol of royal lineage tattooed into his skin, he’d be dead come the next sunrise. Sprawling down his back, left side, left upper thigh and left hip was a proud peacock. A bird known for its beauty and also its temper; a bird fitting to him. With tanned skin, eyes the color of the stone in the hilt of his swords, lean, muscled frame, warm smile, and friendly, near magnetic, disposition, Eren Jaeger was man who looked as royal as he was. Attempting to hide that was too hard, and thus he opted to remain a quiet man without much to do or say.

After a week of beginning his life, Eren was being helped out by the older women in the community. When they all asked about his mother which he’d answered truthfully as he could by stating she’d died when he was young. Taking pity on him, the women began to show him to wash his clothes or even to cook. In return he’d helped them carry things back from town or do whatever they asked of him. These were the people he’d wanted so hard to protect, their lives were worth keeping, worth saving. It was shame his father didn’t see that, but it wasn’t his problem anymore. His problem now was learning to survive as he began to create his paintings.

Before he’d realized it, two months had gone by. Crops had sprouted in the plot out back, he could manage to cook a few things, and he’d managed to survive off something he loved. Steeped in rich culture, Trost had been the perfect place to debut as an artist. People would wait to see what he’d created each week he went to the market stall. He’d slowly worked his way to becoming popular enough to ask women to model for him. Unfortunately, he’d soon after been mobbed by eager women to be his source of inspiration for a new painting. The more he could make, meant the more money he could have and save.

His first purchase when he’d finally saved up the money was to buy a new tea set. People hustled about the streets paying no one any mind, ignoring something if it wasn’t their business, and he had to say that was refreshing. No one ever looked twice at him unless it was because of his paintings. He no longer looked like the emperor’s son, not like many had even seen him outside Shiganshina, the royal city.  Thankfully, he could continue to have his popularity and not have a single thing to worry about. Surviving was the name of his game, and he’d finally found his place to strive.

For once in his life he was so happy that he oftentimes caught himself humming a melodic tune. Buying his tea set had even deserved a wide smile. Now if he could only remember how to make well it himself! Most of the time he made it there was too much of one ingredient; maybe one day he’d figure out the art behind it, but until then he was just happy his home was beginning to feel like a home. His studio was covered in messy blocks of wood, untouched canvases, and rows of finished paintings. It seemed that a life in the town was the life he was supposed to live. Inspiration came by the wave, and he could create anything at any point in time.

What he wanted to do instead of paint, however, was celebrate. Once he’d dropped off his tea set at home and painted a little, he decided to clean up and head out for a treat. There was a new little tea shop that had opened and he found himself in the mood for something sweet. Deciding it was best to go before it got too crowded, Eren made his way back into the city. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far away and the small business’s white and violet storefront made it easily recognizable. Violet wasn’t a cloth color many people were able to afford due to the high price of the plant that was used for the dye. Putting up something that vivid shouted to customers they had the best quality of goods to offer.

Much to his surprise, it seemed that everyone was attempting to beat the rush. He’d only managed to land a seat when someone had just finished. Quickly he sat and waited for the chestnut haired young woman to arrive and take his order. Her kind mahogany eyes regarded him with warmth and exuded elation. She was clearly happy to be doing something she loved. Cooking for people had to be a passion of her as it was tasted in the delectable dumplings she’d placed before him when she returned. It wasn’t just the food that had caught his attention though. Someone walked into the establishment that took his breath.

Standing a few inches shorter than himself was a man with the most striking hazy blue eyes and glossy midnight hair pulled back into a short ponytail to reveal a finely razored shave. His mere presence captivated most of the people in the tea shop as all eyes watched him stride inside without pause. His chin was held high and his pale, petal pink lips were poised in a natural state of stoicism. Blank as a stone, as beautiful as cut gem, the man commanded attention and Eren gave it, or did the man steal it? He couldn’t truly be sure. The man looked as if he’d worked theater with skin as flawless as his.

Good looking men only worked in theater as some of the most enrapturing women. Another option was simply that the man was a prostitute. It wasn’t uncommon for that practice, and it certainly wouldn’t have been so strange to see him in the shop as it was near the district. Whatever the man did for a living he could about bet it would have capitalized on his features. Eren suddenly found himself wishing that he could have kept a man like that company during his times at the palace.

Before he could notice the eyes on the man turned to icy glares and pointed daggers, a young woman approached him “Excuse me, you’re the new artist in town aren’t you?”

Smiling softly, he nodded towards the stormy eyed woman “Yes ma’am, I am.”

“Your paintings are just magnificent,” she exclaimed lively as her slate eyes lit up with a brilliant glimmer “my husband brought me one home and I’ve been hooked on having your work surround my home since. I simply wished to thank you for your hard work in creating such pieces. You’ve an immaculate talent.”

Eren’s smile only grew as he lowered his head in thanks “Thank you very much. I am honored to hear that. I hope that you’ll continue to enjoy them. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my tea before it cools.” She gave him a smile and returned to her seat just as someone took the empty seat at his side. Feeling the presence, Eren turned to be met with the raven haired man who’d enraptured him upon entrance. The very moment his hazy blue eyes met his he knew very well that the man was no prostitute or actor. Malice lurked beneath the surface of his gaze, blood pooled beneath the striking steely blue iris, he could almost smell the death and blood staining the man’s skin. Whoever he was, Eren wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know anymore.

Frightening him momentarily, the man asked flatly “You’re an artist?”

Clearing his throat and attempting to regain his composure, Eren confirmed “I am. You are?”

“Not important,” he responded curtly. “I wasn’t aware an artist, of some reverence, had come to Trost.”

Eren replied calmly “I’m simply an artist who’s found Trost all of some two months ago.”

“I see,” the man answered “do be on your guard here in Trost, Artist, it’s not like other cities, you know.”

“How’s that exactly?” Eren inquired curiously.

A scoff exited the man’s lips “They say wolves prowl these city streets at all manner of hours. You’d best be on your best behavior.” Raising the tea cup to his lips, a chilling smile spread his lips “Welcome to Trost.”