On that day, humanity received a grim reminder…
The ground shook and screams filled the streets when it came. People stood in terror as a massive foot crashed through the once secure and stable walls. Mothers cried; fathers fell to the earth in defeat; children ran; all in fear of the giants living outside the walls. Their loud footsteps echoed throughout the whole city, while their grabbing hands took hold of any human they could find, only to devour them. Blood ran from their mouths as they slurped up the remains and grabbed for more. These disfigured, humanoid giants, these titans, were the end of humanity…
“Next!” called the foreman.
A young, blonde girl stepped forward, her green eyes wide with anticipation.
“Rapunzel Corona.” She squeaked.
The foreman put a mark by her name and handed her a uniform.
Quietly as she could, she made her way into the dressing room to find a place to change. There were a lot more girls than she expected. It was always the stereotype that men were the ones to train and fight titans, but times have changed and now here they all were: young, naïve girls, ready to devote their hearts and bodies to humanity.
Finding her way to a corner, Rapunzel unfolded her uniform to reveal its contents. Inside was a brown jacket, with embroidery swords on the sleeve, pocket, and back. There was also a pair of white, flexible pants, and military-grade boots.
Silent as the grave, she slipped into her pants, boots, and jacket, leaving her own soft pink shirt on.
“Hey.” said a voice behind her.
Rapunzel turned to face a blue-eyed girl, with distinct freckles scattered all across her face. She was already dressed in full uniform, but what caught her attention was her hair. Never before had she seen so much hair on one head, or so curly and vibrant. It was a bright red, and twisted in all sorts of directions. The poor blonde began to feel a bit dizzy after staring at it for too long.
“You ready for training? A lot of people are scared it’s going to be rough.” As she spoke, Rapunzel could tell her accent was different from anyone else’s there. She appeared to drop some sounds and vowels as she spoke.
“No, I’m not too worried.” She replied. “Sure, it’ll be tough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?”
“You’ve got that right.” The redhead chuckled and stuck out her hand. “I’m Merida, by the way.”
Rapunzel took it, responding with her own name and giving a soft smile.
“Rapunzel huh? That’s an interesting name.”
“Wait isn’t that some sort of lettuce? Why’d your parents name you that?”
Suddenly the poor blonde froze. Her hands began to shake, and her eyes were glued with fear. Images flashed through her mind, despite her great efforts to push them away.
Merida could tell there was something wrong. Realizing how casually she had thrown out such a statement, she mentally slapped herself. There was no telling what anyone in this room had gone through, what they lost, or why they were here.
In an attempt of comfort, Merida reached out for the girl’s shoulder, but both their attentions snapped when a soldier came bursting through the door.
“Recruits are to report to the courtyard immediately!”
There were a few exasperated expressions as some of the girls still didn’t have their uniforms fully in place, but Rapunzel just silently walked past her almost-friend and through the door.
Outside, the male recruits were already standing in the courtyard, conversing amongst themselves. Most were about medium build, ready to fight and just as eager. But one stood off by himself, wary of the wandering eyes that looked him over.
Unlike the others, he was skinny, had very little muscle, and looked as though he hadn’t eaten in months. Before the wall was breached, this petite teen would have been turned away from the army at first glance. From the sizes he gave them, his jacket was too short for his arms, yet his boots were much too loose for his skinny legs. Any time he tried to go back and switch out a piece of his uniform, he was either turned away, or found that the new piece fit even less than the other.
He looked around, glancing at the other boys as they measured him up with their eyes. Some just seemed to question why he was there, while others scoffed. He could’ve sworn he heard a bet starting on how long he would last, but it could’ve been his own paranoid imagination.
He knew what would happen if he couldn’t make it here in the military. He’d be sent to the fields in order to cultivate enough food for the overpopulated cities.
Still better than where I was before. He thought to himself, but he’d rather not see himself as a failure…again.
“Cadets! Fall in!”
As they were joined by the girls, everyone got into lines as quick as they could, standing at attention.
As they fell into rest position, a man came and stood before them. He was bald, and looked as though he hadn’t slept in ages. His skin was a dark tan, and didn’t look too intimidating, but as he spoke everyone knew he was the one to fear for the next couple of years.
“I am Keith Shadis, your head instructor for this camp! You will address me a ‘Sir’ and will obey my every order! If I say run, you sprint! If I say get down, you hit dirt! If I say eat, you better be ready to shove an entire platoon down your throat do you understand?”
No one responded, but there were a few in the front line who almost gave a small nod. Shadis’ voice was loud and clear, but there was something behind it that hinted at a deep understanding of the meaning of pain.
“Now understand that I am not your mother! From now on, you are soldiers-in-training, and there will be no coddling or sympathy! You will not do anything unless I instruct you to do so! And if there are any who cannot handle that, leave now!”
Eyes shifted all around the cadets as they waited for someone to leave, but no one did.
At that moment, Shadis made his way to the first cadet in formation, and eyed him down carefully.
“Who are you?” the instructor barked
“Jack Overland Frost of Burgess District, Sir!”
The boy was taller than most there, and seemed a bit older as well. His most distinct feature was his white hair. Also, despite it being rather hot that day, he wore a dark blue hoodie underneath his jacket.
“Why the hell are you here?”
“I’m here to protect the ones I care about, Sir!”
“How touching. You’d do a better job being fed to the titans as bait! You’re not able to protect a single person!”
The boy’s lip tightened a bit, but he said nothing. He simply did as commanded and turned to face the other direction.
The instructor continued this as he went through the lines of cadets, only skipping a few. Soon he leaned into the face of the blonde girl.
“And who the hell are you?”
Her fist snapped up to her heart. “Rapunzel of Corona District, sir!”
“Wrong! You are the dirt of the earth! Your only value in life is to be stepped on, you hear me? Your life means nothing!”
Jack found the mess hall to be noisy, but he was glad they were able to wear casual clothes inside. He would have kept his blue hoodie on, but he found it best to change into his only other set of clothes. His shirt was a plain white, but it was loose and comfortable with its long sleeves. On top he wore a brown vest, and a pair of brown pants that were ripped along the bottom.
As the chatter formed around him, he moved his plate along the line as he received a bit of soup, a piece of bread, a small slice of ham, and a steamed potato. To a first-world citizen, this would have been a measly meal. But to many in the mess hall that evening, it was a feast. Food was hard to come by, especially so close to the edge of the wall.
After he got his food, Jack looked around for a place to sit. His eyes saddened a bit when he realized mostly everyone had already formed friendships and cliques. Since he had dragged his feet after the day’s exercises, he was the last one in line, thus most of the tables were already filled.
He perked up a bit when he saw a mostly-empty table in the corner. There were only three cadets sitting there, but he hadn’t seen any of them before during the initiation as he stood in the front of the line.
“Hey, do you mind if I sit here?” he said, walking up to them.
“Sure, go ahead.” One of them said.
As he sat down, he studied their faces. The one he sat next to was a small, blonde girl. Her hair was braided all down her back and she had a hint of a smile on her face. Across from them was another girl with fire-like hair, and a skinny, brunette boy.
“I’m Merida.” The redhead said, once he was situated in his seat.
“I’m Jack.” He responded.
“Rapunzel.” The blonde said.
At this point, Jack couldn’t help but give out a small laugh.
“Rapunzel? That sounds complicated. Can I just call you Punz?”
She tightened her lip. “It has the same amount of syllables as Merida!”
At this the redhead burst out laughing. “Oy, at least we don’t have to say our full names all the time! Right, Hiccup?” she turned to the brunette, whose face turned a bit red.
“Hiccup?” Jack said. It sounded even more ridiculous than Rapunzel.
The boy sighed. “Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is my full name.”
This time they all laughed, except for Hiccup who blushed even more in embarrassment.
“Hey, don’t take it too hard. At least Shadis didn’t beat you down for it.” Jack continued once he caught his breath.
“Yeah, speaking of which I don’t think he spoke to you during the ‘Rite-of-Passage’.” Rapunzel said.
“He didn’t. He just sort of passed over me.”
“I wonder why.” Merida mumbled as she took a sip of water.
They all sat in silence as they contemplated the meaning, but it didn’t take long for Jack to break the silence again.
“So, what force in holy hell made you guys decide to join the military?”
The three looked at him for a moment, as flashes of memories raced through their minds, organizing words and phrases into meaning and coherence.
“Well, you first.” Rapunzel said.
He shrugged. “Alright, but it’s as I said before, I’m here to protect the ones I love.”
“Oh, he’s so specific.” Merida said with a highly sarcastic tone.
Jack chuckled a bit. “It’s mostly for my sister, Emma. She and I worked the fields of Burgess our whole lives, even before the breach. My mother still lives there, but dad was sent with the able men for the retaking of Wall Maria.”
Everyone went silent. They all knew what a tragedy such an operation caused, and how many died. No one had to ask what became of his father.
“But last winter, Emma fell into a pond and caught hypothermia. I got her out, but it seemed as though she would die. By some miracle, she lived, but while she was sick either my mom or I had to stay with her to watch over her, and so our farm began to die away. I joined the army not only to protect them from the titans, but to raise money for the farm. But that didn’t sound as good for the initiation, so I left that part out.”
“Wow…your sister is lucky to have a brother who cares for her so much.” Hiccup said. “It’s amazing she survived though.”
“Yeah,” Jack continued, “sometimes I think someone up there is looking out for us…So, who’s next? Someone please go.”
All eye directed themselves on Rapunzel. She seemed startled at first, but as she continued to speak her mumbles began to form words.
“Well I grew up in Corona District, which is in the East area of Wall Maria.”
Merida gasped a bit. “So, you saw the titans?”
She shook her head. “No, we were lucky. A lot of us received word before they actually came, and my parents rushed me to the East gate as quick as they could. I was sent with my grandmother, though she prefers I call her Mother Gothel. I…don’t know if my parents actually made it.”
“So, why’d you join the military then?” Hiccup asked.
“My grandmother means well, but her policies are a bit…strict. She never let me interact with anyone, so one day I sneaked out. Somehow I made my way onto a recruitment wagon and…I ended up here.”
“Wait a minute, so you’re not even supposed to be here?” Merida’s mouth gaped.
“Well, that’s the sad part. I’d rather be here, then back with my grandmother.”
Rapunzel’s lips tightened even further, but she all she could do was put her head down and mutter, “It’s complicated.”
From that everyone knew it was time to leave her be. Merida thought it best to draw the attention away from the poor girl.
“Shall I go then?” Everyone nodded. “Well, my mother is actually a lady in the DunBroch District, and my father is a commander in the Garrison division. I have three brothers, all younger and all the same age. But my mother thought it best for me to try and marry a man from Wall Sina so I could go with him and be safe there. But the last thing I want to do is hide behind walls like some coward. I’m a fighter! I have been my whole life, and I won’t sell myself to some pompous twat just to prolong the inevitable.”
Rapunzel raised her eyebrow. “The inevitable?”
“You really think the walls will last forever? The titans are coming, whether we like it or not, and we could either destroy them to finally have our peace, or we can cower and wait for them to come to us.”
Her eyes glowed with determination and courage. Though her view on life a quite grim, no one could deny her outlook. Before the breach of Wall Maria, everyone within the walls would have scoffed at her. But now with so much lost, so many dead, fighting was about all they could do.
“So, what did you mom think of you joining the army?” Jack said.
She shrugged. “I left her a note saying where I was going, but I didn’t exactly leaver her a mailing address.”
This time it was Jack’s turn to let his mouth gape with open. “So you just ran off, without saying goodbye?”
“Look, you can call me selfish, disrespectful, whatever I’ve heard it all before. But I don’t regret any of my actions, and had I asked for her permission, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Yeah, but…” Jack’s voice trailed off, but he never finished. Once again, they all decided to leave the matter alone.
“Well, I guess that just leaves you.” Rapunzel said, turning to Hiccup.
His eyes widened, and he opened his mouth, but no sound came out. They all seemed eager to hear his story, especially since he was the one Shadis skipped over.
“I’d rather not,” was all that came out of his mouth. He closed his eyes and squeezed them as hard as he could.
“Why not?” Merida narrowed her eyes, and she looked a bit offended.
He rubbed a hand through his hair. “Could you just let it go?”
Jack nudged his shoulder. “C’mon, we all told our stori-”
“I said NO!” Hiccup yelled, standing up.
The entire mess hall went silent, and everyone looked up at the brunette. His fists were shaking, and there wasn’t so much fear, as there was anger toward the white haired boy.
Rapunzel couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw a tear forming up in his eye. Before she could see clearly, he left, leaving his food half-eaten.
Hiccup was lying down on his cot, but he wasn’t asleep. He had fought back his tears, and was now just staring at the ceiling. He thought hard about his reaction toward the other three in the mess hall, but all it did was put a heavy weight on his chest. He regretted the way he acted, but at the time, there was no control over his body.
“I should apologize.” He mumbled.
Why would they want to see you now? A small voice told him in the back of his head.
He covered his face with an arm. It wasn’t so much a voice, as it was a feeling. His own thoughts and anxiety making him think these very words. Sometimes he ignored it, most of the time he believed it.
But perhaps they’d forgive me. No, they barely know you. Way to make a first impression.
He sighed and rolled over. They probably hate you now. You won’t find any friends in this place anyway. Why don’t you just quit? Why not? He was weak, and couldn’t hope to make it in the military. The fields probably won’t be so bad anyway.
“No.” he whispered. “I made a promise.”
“You made a promise to who?” said a voice.
Recognizing it as female, Hiccup sprung up to face the trio he had left only about half an hour before. In the hands of the blonde, was his tray of half-eaten food.
“We’re sorry about what happened.” Merida said.
“Yeah, I didn’t mean to push you like that.” Jack stated as Rapunzel placed the tray on Hiccup’s cot.
Hiccup shook his head. “No, it’s okay.”
“In all reality, it wasn’t.” Merida continued. “If you don’t want to talk about something, you don’t have to.”
This made him freeze for a bit. These people he had only just met were so kind, so understanding. They knew nothing about him, and here they were, bringing him food. Hiccup nodded in thanks, and picked up his piece of bread. Before it could reach his mouth however, he froze.
“Wait, isn’t this breaking the rules? We aren’t supposed to have food in the dorm rooms, let alone have girls come in here.”
Merida snickered. “Hey, if you get in trouble we can blame ‘Punz’ over here. It was all her idea.”
“Merida!” Rapunzel tried to shove her, but the redhead was stronger, and the blonde fell to the floor from her own strength.
They all laughed, not caring at all if they were caught breaking the rules. Because for once in any of their lives, they had friends.