Rain flooded the fleet of feet falling vociferously upon the flowing ground, precipitation packed and pressed, precast into particles of nonpermissive punch, just strong enough to gain attention but not so heavy as to linger and leave any remaining after-effects henceforth. It hit the hard soil sharply. Even the grasses, which were so brave as to remain raised, poised as though a valiant warrior preceding a victorious battle, against the ghastly winds, began to bend beneath the obtrusive burden of the objectionable blasts of hail.
The temperature had frozen over, flickering and fluttering, as though fearful of further falls, just above unfathomable frigidness. As if sight amidst the storm wasn't difficult enough to determine, the detrimental chills sent down the earth's spine cooled its very core, numbing its burning base to a glacial ball of heat too inordinately invalidated to impose any improvements. It sat as a brittle, breaking boulder in the great, gelid chambers of the world's intricate innards, tugging at the tides of tension nestled deep within the hearts of its creatures.
So affected was the earth as to begin to shiver. A sudden striking of shakes seized its surface, trembling in trepidation, as the hearts and minds of the 104th Trainee Divisions' members did, reflected and equally exposed in wide eyes, set jaws, and taut bodies.
Had it not been for the clopping of hoofs and quivers from ice-crusted boots, the shaded figures would have rendered themselves indistinguishable against the morose night, melting so materially into the misty, merciless foliage composing their fated setting, mimicking even the most meticulous of details with each rustle of a cape and trail of a track and labored, labyrinthine breathing. The capricious crusade managed to cram itself into alignment with the even more capricious surroundings. Each amalgamated into and out of one another, until they were no longer two separate entities, but rather one fickle, ferocious force, no longer fragmented but fighting as a unification.
The sack slung across your shoulders was heavy. Its rough, razorlike fabric moved methodically back and forth with every footstep, an automated saw scratching, back and forth, into the raw flesh hidden beneath what were, luckily, layers of clothing; a mechanical device devoted solely to contribute to the training ritual of supposed 'stamina tests.' Within the first five minutes of the run, about half the participants had fallen behind, either prey to Shadis or an assisting leader, or, in worse circumstances, falling flat to the freezing floor. Not long had passed before you realized that most who fell did not return.
Slippery grounds, ankle-high with water, did not exactly propose the best arrangements for the trainees. After nearly half an hour of the exercise, only a handful of what were once clustered, cheerful recruits remained. Most had probably never endured something even remotely similar to the predetermined activity.
To you, however, it was a routine.
Flecks of frozen particulates caught on your eyelashes, resting for a few heartbeats in solitude before being bumped by your ever-moving body, only to land farther down your face and evaporate back into the same atmosphere they once so wretchedly came from. In all fairness, you weren't sure whether the sheen of liquid that had encoated you was fabricated from clouds or your own exhausted sweat.
Look forward, secure a straight path. Look downward, secure a safe route. Glance to the side, secure knowledge of any oncomers. Land lightly on your feet. Breathe in. Breathe out. No matter how labored each and every movement grew, you stuck strictly to your mantra. Keep going, and you would succeed. Stop, and - don't. You wouldn't stop. The conviction within your heart cut as crossly as the coldness held within the air. There would be no stopping. A finish line laid in solitary wait somewhere ahead. How much longer it would take, how much farther you would have to go - you were unsure. But nothing could drive the hope of the checkpoint from your broken record of a mind, caught on the same sentences, replaying the same thoughts, over and over, no matter how scratchy the quality of the voice or scraggly the sound of the breaths.
Your lungs felt too small for the pulsating pendulum placed, ever-processing, within your chest. The power reserved within it had been fully and completely circulated outwards. The tugging of tired muscles and begging of beaten bones added an immediate increase of weight to the bag around your back, but you kept pushing. Each yard was a mile and each step was a marathon. Water had begun to seep into your boots, and your feet, sore and bruised from the abrasive trek, were offered a bath of sheer ice and nothing but another source of discomfort.
By then, you'd already learnt how to properly block out the abrupt noises from around you, recognizing them as mere distractions and nothing else. Your mind was set solely upon the prospect of the path. And yet, as a pair of voices seemingly drew ever-closer, your filtering couldn't help but falter.
One was a head of hot air, somehow lit ablaze despite the dampening rain, brunette locks mingling wildly with the green of his cape. His voice was vaguely familiar to you. Upon arrival a night ago, he - Eren - had so diligently proclaimed his desire to eradicate the titans from the face of the world.
Considering his hunched posture and loud, gasping inhales, like a fish so desperately out of water, you couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy. "How the hell," he panted, between breaths, "is this going to help us...when we'll all be...on 3DMG?" Although positioned behind him, you could so easily picture the anger held within his teal eyes.
It was at this time that you first took into account the appearance of his companion. Yesterday, the only person you'd seen him surrounded by was a blonde boy with a bowl cut, whom you were rather certain you'd passed earlier on the trail. Thus, the long-haired ravenette girl was a new sight to your eyes. As the water in the central area of the path deepened, you swerved to the side, over to slightly less-slick grounds, inadvertently falling just behind her.
"The gear will only work with tall structures around." Her voice, soft but confident, was a calm within the storm, and the sound of it somehow compelled your composition further along. "We won't always have a forest around us." She seemed to have gained a better grip over her stamina - even breathing, even inhales, even exhales, steady forward movement. You couldn't help but notice that your heads aligned in the inspection of your surroundings, either. Apparently your ritual wasn't something only you knew of.
Eren's voice still somehow penetrated the thick fog of noises that sat like an impenetrable bubble around you. "This is still stupid."
The girl's voice paled in comparison. Now, it appeared even lower. "Just keep going. It'll end soon." And it was these words you found yourself repeating under your breath as you continued forth.
Her words seemingly struck a chord within her male companion, as he fell uncharacteristically silent. Nothing but the noises of the natural forest occurred for a few more moments. Once more your mind was focused upon the goal, the goal, and nothing but the goal; there was nothing but the road and its end. Make it there and you could rest. Heart kept on beating. Lungs kept inflating, deflating, inflating, deflating; an uncontrollable but comfortingly constant reminder. Footfalls. You and your body and your mind and -
" - Eren!" A panicked voice suddenly slit your silence, and with a quick turn of the head you found yourself in the loud rumble of tumultuous thunder, following some unforeseen lightning strike. Shade had suddenly fallen above your head, and, feeling the shaking reverberations of nature's cacophonic ire, you glanced up.
A mammoth morphology masquerading under the glaring misnomer of a tree towered above you, convulsing back and forth in the wind. But the shadow continued to consume you.
And you realized in a split second what the lightning had struck.
Why the girl had shouted the boy's name.
Why you would be crushed in two seconds flat.
Your eyes snagged on the girl, who had shoved the boy forwards and out of the danger zone, and waited for her to reach the small patch of undarkened, watery undergrowth herself. But as you leapt forwards, tucking your body under yourself in midair, holding your breath and bracing for impact with a freezing, half-flooded ground, hopefully managing to avoid the fall of the giant oak, you realized, with tantalizing terror, that she was doomed to the same path as the tree she had so desperately devised to avoid.
And just moments before your body hit the gravel you outstretched and arm. Your eyes were shut tightly against the wind and the chill and the hail and the rain and the dirt and the fear and oh the fear it was swallowing you up it was consuming your soul but please just let you have caught her let you have saved her don't let this be the end don't let this be the end don't let the tree fall not yet not yet no no no no.
For the second time that night, the ground shook. Not from the coldness. But from the impact of your spine, raw and worked, from an hour of arduous labor, followed by the rest of your jet-lagged, thorn-torn body, just moments before you gathered enough time to shield your head and duck down, make yourself small, and brace for impact.
The earth shrieked beneath your befallen body. Your legs and knees shivered and trembled and convulsed, a seizing, shaking horror that held your heart tight within its icy clutches and refused to let go until it had traveled up your green-and-purple-bruised backbone, squeezing your skull between its sharp nails and knocking your brain against the sides of your head until, in a moment just as quick as it had come, it left.
Icewater stained your cheeks and clung like skin to your chapped lips, and your mouth tasted like coldness and dirt, mud and polluted water, something raw and irony and meaty and something numb. Your fingertips were frozen beneath the flooded stream, as were your elbows, knees, and feet. You were utterly petrified.
With a watery cough you shakily managed to right yourself, barely remembering to pick up the sack that had tumbled ahead of you mid-fall, before casting a fear-stricken glance behind you.
There were only two sights that would be awaiting you.
There was the tree. Its sheer mass had caused a crater in the mudstream surrounding it, and rocks, once rightful, strong barriers against the erosion of the cold rainfall, now lay crushed, broken and battered into what could barely be classified as shattered pebbles, beneath the gargantuan branches and tremendous trunk.
Terror enraptured your soul once more. No no no. Where was the girl?
Frantically, you threw your things aside, racing back the few feet to where you had once stood, kneeling down despite the reeling pain throughout your aching body, breath quickened and desperate, eye wet with some precise mixture of hail and bitter rainwater and salty tears, the strength of the situation fully sinking into your weary body for the first time. Your nails gathered mud beneath them as you dug frantically, eyes darting deliriously about, searching for a sign of something, anything...the girl that you could've sworn you'd grabbed, but with the sinkingly shocking reality that you had missed beginning to settle in, seeping into every crack in your tense, terse, trembling form, furious at yourself and at the world, no longer caring about finishing and only caring, only hoping, only praying that she had somehow made it out, that your eyes were just too blurry to find her, and your head was just too muddled to think straight.
Your throat constricted as a splotch of red lingered in your peripheral vision.
Terror tore at your skin, at your eyes, at your lungs and heart and mind, and you ran to it - a moth towards a light, something that could so easily kill but so hardly could be resisted. Just let her be okay. Just let her be okay. Just let her be okay.
And suddenly there was a head, and then a body, and the red was not claret liquid but a scarf, and the branch was not a branch but a girl, and fear was not fear but relief, and death was not death but life. A cut had etched itself across her cheek, but that was all. At least, that was all that could be determined at present, as you rushed to her side. "You - you're not hurt, are you?"
And suddenly there was a pair of eyes on yours.
She was still pressed to the ground, sitting on her feet after her first failed attempt to recover her balance, swaying back and forth, suddenly as fragile as the wind would have her, but her eyes, so stormily gray, so alarmingly widened, so surprisingly settled upon you, so illuminated by the faint dots of light allotted by the clouds that brewed, the same color as her innocent eyes, only far more menacingly, up above. Sharp lashes encompassed with crystalline figures, surrounded by a dark halo of drenched obsidian hair, framing the fearful expression that had fallen across her soft face. They struck an unforgettable feeling into your very soul.
The same feeling that you had felt before, so many moons ago, in so similar a situation that it sent a shudder down your spine.
"Me..." The girl struggled to get up once more, and, with your sudden help, managed to successfully stand upon her steadied feet. She pressed a hand against the cut on her cheek before pulling it back, and inhaling sharply. "I'm alright. Were you...?" Those eyes begged an unspoken question.
"I'm alright," you repeated, reprieve alleviating your stolen soul from its captors of consternation, remission flooding your burning body harder and faster than the water pooled around your feet ever could. It was then that you noticed how thoroughly soaked her shirt had grown - and the absence of her protective cape. Simultaneously, you saw the trembling of her fingertips, compressed taut against the strings of her sack but nevertheless escaping her controlled composure.
Your eyes travelled back to the spot where the girl had once lain, trapped, undoubtedly fearing for her life just as disastrously deeply as you had, and saw the tattered remains of what had once been a shining badge of honor. Quickly enough, your own cape was removed in a shuffling of cloth, and you were holding it out to her. The rain freely struck you now, but you were beginning to grow used to it. "Here."
Her eyes, alluringly deep, returned to your face, and she murmured, after a moment of nothing but the sound of hail hitting the waterlogged undergrowth all around you, "Thank you."
You nodded. As she wrapped it around herself, hesitating momentarily to engage in another unspoken conversation with you - are you really sure I may have this? Yes, I'm sure, please take it - you reoriented your gaze onwards. Somehow, despite after what felt like minutes of being dragged behind, quite literally, no one had passed the two of you. No footsteps could even so much as be heard in the distance. According to all calculations, that was good - you still had enough time to make up for what you had lost. Then again, no good would come from standing around.
"Are you ready?" you inquired, before realizing your intention to speak it aloud.
"Yes." A pause, and then, "I need to find Eren."
A smile couldn't help but settle upon your dirt-smeared face. Even after everything, she was still loyal to the boy whom she had attempted to save. "We will. But we should get moving."
In moments the two of you had set off again, starting at a brisk jog, allowing the feel of movement to return to your bodies and the circulation of blood to resume as normal. The chill hung around you like a thousand eyeballs, but it was so easily combated by her glance. Every now and again you would catch it, just briefly, lingering upon your form before abashedly darting away.
Every now and again, you would return the gaze.
The pouring rain and squashing surface of the earth beneath your feet managed to fill the silence between the two of you, even if only temporarily. Your pace had increased a great deal by the time you forgot what should have been the most obvious consideration. "I'm [y/n]." Soft, sweet, and succinct - everything it felt as though it needed to be.
"Mikasa," she replied, softer, but cautiously. From what you'd determined so far, she was quiet, but sure in herself. "And - th-thank you. For that."
Some portion of your body - some uncouth, unintelligent, uninformed atrocity - burned to question what exactly it was that she'd meant, but the rational side, the side that had just recovered from the shock of near death and the sight of near death and those gray eyes, somehow managed to keep you warm regardless of the increasing amounts of freezing water falling from the infuriated clouds. You sensed the silence as something cherishable, and didn't dare to break it once more.
You were rather certain your small smile had been seen when you gazed over at her just seconds later and saw the same expression, mirrored so clearly in eyes so filled with storms.