Being a member of the Survey Corps was a dangerous profession—arguably the most dangerous within the walls—but it did have its perks, such as your once-hazy fate being set in stone, without you needing to worry about the future (granted, you had a very low chance of ever living to the age of twenty, and, should you get past that point, you would likely be crushed underfoot by Sina nobles in a quest for political pursuit)(Hey, at least crippling student debts were no longer on the stress list)(Even if being eaten alive by naked giants was).
Either way, you were going to die. It was about the only thing set in stone within the Walls.
Something that was not, however, on the list of guaranteed fates for a Scout, was being plucked from your day-to-day routine by some mysterious force and dropped in a strange room with a bunch of other people.
“What the fu—ah, son of a bitch!” Eren winced as he sat up, rubbing his shoulder, where he’d landed particularly hard.
“Nice wording,” Reiner groaned, sitting up, forehead red from the impact with the floor. “Where the hell. . ?”
“Gah!” Petra sat up with a jolt, arms flailing, eliciting shouts of reproach as the flapping limbs smacked into several other people. “Where duh teetans?”
“Annie!” Bertolt yelped as the girl sat up straight, head popping up next to his elbow. “Where’d you come from?”
Levi and Mikasa are both already on their feet, muscles tense, eyes scanning the room for an dangers, though Mikasa quickly abandons this task with a small gasp of ‘Eren!’ as she spotted the brunette Shifter and took off running across the room towards him, only to be halted in her mission as Mike sat up, tripping her and throwing her through the air and crashing into Jean, sending both teens to the ground in a tangle of groaning limbs.
“‘S it breakfast?” the mountain of a man smacked his lips a few times before falling backwards, crushing Connie, who’d been about to stand up, beneath his back. “Oi, what’s squeaking?”
“Hange?” Moblit looked up, blinking. “Where’s your safety blankie? You’re not supposed to sleep without—”
Erwin stood up with a frown, straightening his jacket. “Strange,” he commented idly.
“You don’t say,” Ymir muttered, crossing her arms. Erwin shot her a small frown, and she shrugged.
The room was large, about the size of their meeting room, though it was decorated unlike any place Erwin had ever seen. The walls were painted—actually painted—a light blue, somewhere between the sky on a spring day and the shade mothers swaddled their babies with in Mitras. A large, plush rug, white as snow and softer than anything any of them had ever felt in their lives, was thrown over the tile floor, and rows upon rows of bookshelves lined the walls, packed to the brim with volumes, both thin and thick, and small, square-headed figurines, shoved into the shelves where there was room. Thick, heavy curtains in a shade of light brown were pulled over a massive window, and a round object hung from the ceiling, glowing with a sort of steady white light, illuminating the walls.
On the other side of the room, there was what seemed to be a kitchen, though it was unlike any that any of them had ever seen—or thought to exist at all. The surfaces seemed to be made of actual marble, and the wood of the counters was dark and shining, handles crafted out of real metal. The sink was curved, worlds more sophisticated than their crude water pump, and the stools for the counter island had plush, white leather cushions. A white dining table and simple, yet elegant, chairs were off to the side, with a bowl of fruits none of them had ever seen in the centre. But the strangest object was the. . . thing.
It was large, easily a hundred and ten inches, slightly curved, pitch-black, and reflective. It was resting on the far wall, attached halfway up, and, sitting below it, there was a coffee table, though unlike any that any of them had ever seen—rather than being made of wood, the surface seemed to be made of pure marble, and the legs were shining beneath the strange lights on the ceiling.
“What is that?” Armin spoke, voice low and reverent. “It’s—just—this entire place—wow.”
“I’ll second that,” Reiner muttered. “Jesus, it’s like. . . like. . . I don’t even know what it’s like.”
Sasha had her face buried in one of the couches. “You need to feel this!” she gasped. “It’s so soft! And the carpet!” She dropped from the couch, landing face-first in the plush material. “It’s like a cloud!”
“Clouds are wet, moron,” Ymir sneered.
“Not this one!”
Eld and Moblit hovered awkwardly next to the thing on the wall. “What the hell, man?” Eld muttered, poking it.
“This is so weird,” Moblit muttered, running his hands up and down the glossy edges. “Is it just decoration?”
“Maybe it’s a shield!” Connie suggested. “Like, a really big, group one!”
“Oh, yeah, probably. Hey, let’s take it off the wall and see—”
Everybody jumped as the door slammed open. The older soldiers whirled around, reaching for swords that weren’t there, while the cadets settled for letting out undignified squeaks.
“No, I don’t fucking care if all we’ve got are interns!” a girl snapped as she stormed into the room, marching towards the bookshelves, a hand held up to her ear, where a small black object was lodged. “Well, then grab someone from a different branch!” she continued as reached up, grabbing a book. “Listen, Tyler, I’ve had Septimus and Jenna on the waiting list for nearly a month, and the Death Note characters are supposed to be arriving in, like, half an hour—what?” She scowled as she shoved a figurine into the crook of her elbow, arms now piled with books. “What do you mean the Winterfell branch can’t take the Phantomhives? We’ve already got, what, more than three universes from them this month? Well, if the planes are grounded, get them on a train!” she added, all but screeching the last sentence. Armin winced, covering his ears. “Or, hell, throw all your useless paper-pushers into a new branch! Lord knows we’ve got enough desk workers!”
“Omni, please, calm down,” another person said, following the girl—Omni—into the room, hands held out in front of him in a vain attempt to placate the obviously raging woman. “Tyler’s got his own people to manage, and, besides, we still need to clear up the issues with Rift CM844A—”
“Not now, Marco,” the girl—Omni—snapped, before returning to her argument with the invisible man—Tyler. “Fine, if Winterfell can’t take their people, then have them send over some of their folks—what the hell do you mean, they don’t have any available people? Jesus Freckled Christ, fine! Then call Knowhere, Sha’nequa’s available, right? Yeah, I know she’s on leave right now, but it’s not like we have any other fucking choices! We’ll give her a pay raise, or someth—” She turned around, and her eyes widened as they fell on the group of soldiers clustered in the corner, staring at her in shock.
“Oh, balls,” her companion whispered.
“Tyler?” Omni said, voice shaky. “I’m gonna have to call you back.” She pressed the thing in her ear and collapsed onto a couch.
Few people paid her much attention, though with the majority of their gazes fixed on the person standing behind her.
Five (very loud, very tearful) minutes later found the soldiers standing in front of Omni, who sat on a couch, massaging her temples, with Marco hovering behind her shoulder (still smiling at his friends).
To say Omni was an interesting specimen would have been a gross understatement—she had pale skin, almost milky white, and small, white freckles that seemed to glow faintly were scattered over her cheekbones in a pattern that almost looked like constellations of stars. Her hair was short and choppy, some strands pulled into thin braids that were scattered throughout her head, with a few hanging around her face—but that was hardly the most surprising part. The thing that threw the soldiers off the most about her was that her hair was blue—a blue the same shade as the sky at twilight. But even that paled in comparison to her eyes.
Her eyes—if that’s what they really were, were blank, pupilless expanses of the night sky. Twinkling stars surrounded spinning galaxies as they moved around glowing novas, the endless black expanse lit up by the countless meteorites flashing through the darkness.
Simply put, she was a blue-haired weirdo with the universe in her eyes.
“Shit,” she said for the fifth time that minute. “Shit, shit, shit.” Eight time. “Marco, how the hell did they get here? I thought I told you we couldn’t pull them in until—”
“It wasn’t me!” Marco protested. “Bob sent me a text telling me to get to Room 13 as soon—”
“Bob!” Omni shouted. “Of course it was her—shit, we lend her the master key for one day, and she makes a million copies, hides them across eighty-seven universes, and starts messing around for fun—”
“Excuse me,” Levi interrupted. “But, while watching you two argue has truly been the highlight of my day so far, I think we’d all really appreciate it if you could tell us what the fuck is going on. Where—” he gestured at the room at large, “the fuck is this place, who,” he pointed at Omni, “the fuck are you, what,” he waved his arms at the soldiers, “the fuck are we doing here, and why,” he pointed at Marco, “is a fucking dead man walking around and dressed like a fucking Sina brat—no offense, Freckles.”
“None taken, sir.”
Omni sighed as she stood up and rubbed the back of her neck. What Levi had said was true: both Marco and Omni were dressed in simple clothes, but of quality none of them had ever seen—the stitching was so straight it might have been done by the Goddesses themselves, and the weave was so tight that it could probably catch water if you held it beneath a spring. There was a lot of it, too. Marco was dressed rather simply, but still extravagantly (to them, at least), with a dark green button-up, the Cadet Corps insignia stitched over the breast pocket, open and pulled over a white T-shirt, which, itself, was tucked into a pair of grey jeans, and he wore a pair of military boots over them. Leather bracelets were wrapped around his wrists, and his hair was slightly longer and mussed, as if he’d been running his fingers through it a lot.
Omni, meanwhile, was dressed like. . . well, actually, none of them knew how she was dressed, exactly. If they had to describe it, they probably would have compared it to a crossdressing Pastor Nick raiding every jewelry store in Sina. She had on a massive black hoodie, baggy from where it rested over her hips and hands, and a pair of tiny grey shorts, covered in metal studs, over ripped fishnet tights. On her feet, she had black ankle boots with a heel that would have made most noblewomen faint in horror, and, on her left foot, a silver anklet with a star pendant hanging from it. Her fingers were adorned with countless rings, to the point where it looked like she’d just shoved her fingers into pots of metal, and a thin, silver, chain choker was wrapped around her throat.
“Well, since you’re already here, I might as well,” she sighed, planting her hands on her hips as she stood in front of them, Marco hovering over her shoulder. “Welcome,” she said, lifting chin slightly, “to the Web. My name’s Omni, and I’m a god.”
It took quite a while for the soldiers to calm down, but, eventually, Erwin raised his hand, quieting the group.
“Miss Omni,” he said. “You have to understand, this is quite difficult for us to comprehend—I mean, claiming to be a deity—”
Omni smirked, eyes flashing, and crooked a blue-nailed finger, gesturing Erwin closer. He frowned, leaning forwards slightly, and she stood on her toes to whisper in her ear, just loud enough for the rest of the room to hear.
“810, history class. Do you still think it’s worth it?”
Erwin’s eyes widened, heart skipping a beat as Marco put his face in his palm with a groan. Mike shot him a glance, eyebrow raised.
“There,” she said, crossing her arms smugly. “Now will you listen to me?”
Nobody said anything. She sighed. “Good,” she said. “Like I said, I’m a god, but not in the traditional sense—I was once just like you, walking around, completely unaware that I had no free will—”
“Excuse me, what?”
“—but that all changed when my story ended.” She turned back to them. “You see,” she said. “You’re all just characters—characters in a story created by a man from another world.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Eren demanded, holding up a hand. “Did I hear you right? Another world?”
Omni smirked. “Marco? Curtains, please.”
Marco sighed, crossing the room in long strides and yanking open the curtains. Everybody’s jaws dropped.
The street outside was nothing like what they were used to—horse-drawn carriages still plodded down the streets, but the street itself was grey cobblestone, nothing like the flat roads at home. The buildings were just as grey, squarish, and fit tightly together as a mix of people dressed in thick finery and simpled garb walked up and down the street. As they watched, a dog bounded across the street towards a small boy, skirting around the ankles of a tall man in a coat and most peculiar hat, holding a pipe, walking side-by-side with a shorter man with a mustache.
“What the fuck?” Levi whispered.
“Like I said, different worlds,” Omni said. “You’ve all heard stories before, right?” They nodded. “Well, I’m about to say something very important—imagination has power. And that’s not just a cheesy, throwaway line. The human mind is literally the most dangerous weapon of all. You see,” she said, holding up a finger. “The Web is a connection of all the different universes created by storytellers in the one main, starting universe—we like to call it the Homepage. It wasn’t always like this,” she continued. “Starting off, things were simple. A parent would spin together some cock-and-bull to get their kids to sleep, some kids would tell a short tale to their friends, and all that jazz.” She waved her hand, bracelets jingling. “But then things got complicated—the stories started getting spread around, gaining meaning, gaining life. Suddenly, Peter Pan wasn’t just a character, he was a person, a role that little boys took on, a role model who wasn’t quite so fictional anymore.” She stood up dramatically, and a few people leaned back. “The more stories there were, the more characters there were, and, when the stories ended, where did they go?” She spread her hands. “Nowhere. It was chaos. Once their story was over, they didn’t have a meaning anymore. No more reason to live. No plotline to follow. Their universe would cave in on itself, destroying everyone and everything in it. This wouldn’t just affect the people in the story, no. People from the homepage would realize, too. It would be small for them, comparatively—the acting might suddenly seem a bit dry, the wording would become bland, or maybe the plot that had drawn so many people in suddenly started sounding boring. That’s where the Web comes in.
“A few characters managed to escape their universes before they collapsed,” she continued. “And where did they end up?”
“Empty space?” Sasha suggested.
“Nuh-uh!” Omni pointed at her, and she jumped. “Nope! They ended up in other universes. Discovered new worlds! Of course, some decided to just forget it and try to settle down, but there were a few that managed to meet with characters from other stories. They talked, realized what was happening, and came up with a solution.”
“The Web,” Erwin said.
“Correct-o, Commander!” Omni proclaimed. “The Web holds all the universes together, keeping them connected to the Homepage, and giving the characters a place to go when their stories end. Once they’ve reached the end of their plotline, we offer them a choice: stay in their world, or join the Web. I,” she said, placing a hand on her chest. “Was a background character, myself, in a webcomic—Always Human. I was never given a name, nor a backstory, but I still existed. I had my own story in my own universe. And when the plotline ended, I chose to come here.”
“And dead characters, well,” Marco gave a humourless laugh, and Annie looked away. “Well, this is where we end up, either way.”
Omni nodded. “In the beginning, it was fine,” she said. “We offered places for dead characters, or those who had served their purpose, to exist—live—again. But then, a few years ago, things started getting complicated. It started off small. But, eventually, we started realizing what was going on.”
“What was it?” Mike asked.
“A combination of a variety of things,” Marco said. “But one of the main factors was fanwork.”
“Fanwork?” Mikasa muttered.
“People on the Homepage began devolping closer bonds with the characters,” Omni said. “Husbandos, waifus, children, stans, et cetera. Picking and choosing their own favourites. For example, from your world, Marco and Levi are quite popular.” She gestured at the two.
“What?” Levi spluttered as Hange began laughing.
“Levi? Popular?” They snorted, taking off their glasses to wipe at tears. “Oh, it’s Winterfest!”
“Fans started making their own work,” Omni continued as Moblit and Gunther forcibly separated Levi from Hange. “Fanart, but, also, fanfictions. Adding to the stories after it was already over, or, even worse, while they were ongoing.”
“Their own plotlines began interfering with the original ones,” Armin guessed. “And that caused problems. . ?”
“Bingo.” Marco smiled. “You got it.”
“Well, naturally, this was a problem,” Omni said. “We needed to deal with it, but we couldn’t very well tell them to stop creating their work—it’s quite enjoyable, really. So, we came up with a solution.”
“What was it?” Krista asked.
Omni chuckled. “We decided that the best thing we could do for the characters was to show them their own futures. Show them their destined paths and fates, so that—”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Reiner jumped to his feet, slashing his hands through the air. “You’re showing them the future?” His eyes were wide, face pale.
Omni’s eyes locked on him, twinkling stars and spinning planets suddenly cold. “And the past.” He stiffened.
“We established branches in tons of different universes,” Marco said, oblivious to the three sinking lower and lower in the back of the group. “That way, we could always get characters in a universe that wasn’t their own, so we wouldn’t affect their plotlines. We’re currently in Victorian-era London, Universe SH87ACD—Sherlock Holmes,” he added, pointing at the tall man and his short friend as they bustled past their window again, this time, headed in the opposite direction. “Our original universe—with the Walls, and stuff—is Universe SK909HI, and was created by a man named Hajime Isayama.”
“Hajime Isayama,” Mikasa muttered. “Isayama. . .” She frowned.
“Sounds kinda like your name,” Jean said.
“The branches can be anywhere,” Omni said. “For example, right now, we’re in an old shoe store that’s been closed for decades. We actually used some TARDIS technology on the branches after Doctor Who came into play, so each branch can take up to twenty universes—there’s even an old shed on Winterfell’s grounds that can take twenty-five.”
“This is a television,” Marco said, pointing at the screen on the wall. “TV, for short. We’re going to be using it to show you the past, present, and future episodically. My memory from after the warehouse was wiped,” he admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head (Bertolt let out a small sigh of relief). “And I haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll be sitting in with you.” He glanced at Omni, who groaned and rolled her eyes.
“Fine,” she snapped, flopping down on a loveseat that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. “Come on, sit down,” she said, gesturing at the chairs and couches.
“Damn, this is nice,” Jean gasped as he sunk down onto a couch next to Marco. Marco beamed at him warmly.
“Ooh!” Hange flopped onto a beanbag chair. “Squishy!”
“Weirdo,” Levi grumbled, flopping down on the couch between Erwin and Petra. Mike chuckled, sitting down on the other side of the Commander.
“One more thing,” Omni said, and, with a wave of her hand and chorus of screams from Connie and Sasha, plates upon plates of food and drink appeared on the coffee table. Everybody’s jaws dropped, none of them having seen so much food in one place at the same time. Omni cackled as they all dove for the table, even the officers abandoning their professional exteriors to fight for the best sandwiches. “I fuckin’ love being a god.”
And, with that, the first episode of Attack on Titan began.