chapter sixteen

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curbstomp

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Ymir ran, her breath catching in her throat, her chest squeezed tight and her body burning. She felt dizzy, as if the world tilted with each step she took yet she forced herself to keep moving, to find shelter before those bastard Nationalists stumbled upon her again. She clenched the knife in her right hand, its handle tacky with drying blood. Learned the hard way, didn’t they? Learned the hard way that not all ‘girls’ were theirs to paw and flip the skirts. She’d be damned if she let them do to her what they did to Alaia and Montse….

Stumbling across the uneven terrain, she almost let out a sob when she noticed the ruins of a barn up ahead. One wall was completely caved in and the roof looked ready to collapse any day now, but it should be good enough to provide shelter through the night; not too far away was the remains of a burned out home, probably owned by a Republican-supporting landowner. Right now she didn’t care whose property she was on, she just wanted somewhere safe and warm to spend the night. The sun would be down in a couple of hours, and as bad as it was to be a woman alone during the day….

She forced herself to slow down as she approached the sagging barn, just in case someone else was using it for shelter. She’d run from several hopeful resting places because she wasn’t about to trade her body – or have it taken by force – just to have a warm place to rest for the night. Body trembling from exhaustion, hunger and fever, she crept up to the seemingly abandoned barn, the knife held clutched before her in case she needed to stab or slash at anyone.

Sunlight streamed upon on the cool autumn day, causing sweat to run down her back and along the side of her face despite the chill of the breeze that blew a strand of hair into her face. Her worn shoes scuffling along the dusty ground around the barn, she stepped over broken pieces of wood and crept through the exposed side of the barn.

There was still the scent of livestock, of cowshit and pigs, moldy straw and hay even though the animals were long gone; either the rebels had taken them or they had fled through the large opening. For a moment Ymir allowed herself to fantasize about the thought of fresh ham, of steaks and eggs and….

At first she thought that the groaning sound she heard was her own, until she stepped further into the barn and noticed the dark brown lump half-buried beneath a pile of rotting hay. Brandishing the knife, she straightened her shoulders to appear as tall as possible, hoping that whoever it was might mistake her for a young man at first. “Who are you!” The fever lent a raspiness to her voice that aided in the deception as much as the stolen pants and the oversized shirt and vest.

The brown lump was still for a moment, and then it lunged toward her with a speed that had her gasping, coming to a halt only before the beam of light that fell near the pile of hay where it was taking shelter. “Impudent bitch! Run away,” it hissed.

She stared in shock at the pale creature huddled just a couple of feet away, red eyes flashing in a gaunt face which made its sharp fangs appear all that much more prominent. It was wrapped in what probably had been a fine coat but was now stained and torn, the white and black clothes beneath it just as fine and now equally soiled. Lank black hair framed that gaunt face, unwashed and matted with sweat and strands of hay.

“Vampiro,” Ymir whispered, recalling the stories that her grandmother had told her to make her stay in bed at night. What else could this thing be, with the fangs and the glowing eyes?

“Ah, a smart bitch.” The creature sniffed once and tried lunging again, only to cringe from the sunlight. “You one of those mewling rebels? Those facists?”

“Hardly.” Feeling faint, Ymir slowly lowered herself onto the ground before she fell. “You one of those Republican pigs?” She didn’t care for either side of this stupid war – both took what they wanted and left destruction in their wake. Men were idiots, were little children who only knew how to break things.

The vampire scoffed and huddled into itself even more. “I don’t care for this backwards country or its meaningless war. You humans’ll just be fighting again in a few more years, over something just as stupid.”

She couldn’t argue with that, except for one thing. “Not my war – we were just traveling through.” Her head hurt and she was so hungry; what was her life when everyone she knew was dead and she was stuck in a barn about to fall down upon her, and arguing with a walking corpse? “Mama said to go to Prague, but Papa wanted to see our cousins instead.” Just like a man, to not listen to a smart woman.

There was a sound of something twisted, of something dark and broken and hurtful – it came from the creature. “And aren’t you so glad you did!” The vampire shifted about so it could bare its teeth at Ymir. “You got to come here to die!”

Fury washed through Ymir, burned through her hotter than the fever. She’d seen her father shot for not swearing loyalty to that Franco bastard, had watched her mother waste away from heartache and shock, had raged by helplessly while soldiers had used her cousins as if they were nothing but worthless dolls. She was starving, was tired and sick and would most likely die at the hands of the next soldier who stumbled upon her, but she would *not* be mocked.

Inching forward to the edge of the sunlight, she narrowed her eyes and held out the knife until the light reflected back onto the creature, causing it to hiss in agony. “I wonder… I bet the Nationals would be *so* happy if I were to tell them about you. About the abomination in the barn, about something they could parade to the nearest church, in front of the people and show how they are *winning* this war as they set you on fire.”

Those red eyes were baleful as they stared at her, that mouth filled with the razor-sharp teeth held open yet no sound came out for several seconds. “Night will come soon.”

“Yes, but not just yet. Besides, you are weak and I have a knife.”

The glare became even more potent as the vampire crouched back into the hay. “What is it that you want, you foul thing?” For all its glowing eyes and sharp teeth, it sounded… petulant.

Ymir grinned and rocked up onto her knees, made almost dizzy again but not from the movement – no, her thoughts were what made her head spin, her mind blurring with what she saw as her one chance. No one listened to a woman, no one cared what they did or felt. They were ignored, they were abused and belittled to the point where she had to hide her sex if she wished to travel alone. But here… here was a being of power. Well, mostly of power. It held more power than she did, if the stories her grandmother had told her were true.

“I want what you have,” she said, the knife held against her chest. “I want to become like you.”

She imagined that it wasn’t often that one shocked a vampire, but this one stared at her in obvious amazement. “You want… you are truly unwell, you crazy bitch.” It shifted about in the hay as it shook its head. “You want to be turned?”

“Yes. There’s no sense in living – I’ll just starve or be killed by the next soldiers I run across, most likely after they try to rape me. So let me become the hunter instead.” She smiled as she spoke, charmed by the idea. Yes, let them run from *her*.

“You truly are insane.” The vampire continued to shake its head. “You’re unwell, in both body and mind. I’m trapped here not just by the sun but because there’s been no adequate food – too many of you are sick, it’s… it’s doing something to me.” Something like concern flashed across its pale features. “I don’t know if I’ve the strength to keep feeding from the likes of you.”

Ymir made a slitting motion across her throat with the knife. “I don’t care – you turn me or I go get the soldiers – it’ll buy me a few more days if I hand you over.”

The creature seemed to try to rise to its feet but only lifted itself a few feet off of the ground. “Impertinent wench! I am a pureblood! I am among the last- the last of my kind!” It suddenly collapsed onto the ground. “Too many… too many of us lost in this last great war. Too much disease. Something is changing. I must tell the others….” It closed its eyes and panted for air.

Ymir didn’t feel any pity for it, not for something that fed off of humans, not something that could be immortal while everything around her died. “You can tell them after you turn me!”

Those red eyes opened and stared up at her. “You might not even turn – there’s a chance you’ll just rot, like everything else around here.”

“It’s a chance I’m willing to take.” She’d rather play an active part in her death and gamble on becoming something stronger, something better and not die at the hands of those bastards. “So, you get something to eat and maybe become stronger, and maybe I become those assholes’ worst nightmare. We both can win.”

There was more of that awful laughter. “Or you poison me with your tainted blood and I get to curse your corpse as I end my life in this foul barn.” The vampire laughed again. “Oh, if Laleh could see me now….” It shook its head back and forth before motioning Ymir forward with one grime-covered, clawed hand. “Come – let us see how Fate decides, if she favors impetuous youth or wisdom.”

“Maybe it’ll be both.” Refusing to feel afraid, to turn heel and run, Ymir inched forward. “If you try to trick me….” She held up the knife.

“It’s difficult to do anything once the feeding has begun, little fool. But perhaps… perhaps you’re what is needed in the times to come. Your cleverness and determination, your tenacity and ferociousness.” It waited until Ymir was within reach and snatched at her with that blinding speed. “We’ll see if you regret this choice, should the bite take.”

She forced herself not to struggle as she was pulled down, onto the foul-smelling hay. Despite the grime covering the vampire, it didn’t have much of a smell itself, just the scent of dirt and a hint of sweat. She flinched when a cold hand pushed aside the collar of her pale blue shirt and let out a cry when something sharp sunk into her neck; the stories were lies, were all wrong about this being pleasant, about the vampire’s victims welcoming the bites. Agony flared up and down her neck, drilling deeper into her throat as those teeth sunk in, as something wet and warm ran along her skin. She tried to struggle, to resist yet she was held too tightly, grew too weak as the pain continued to grow. Staring up at the sun through the broken roof, she grew confused as the sky gradually darkened into night and then there was nothing else.

It hurt to breathe. Ymir took a deep, shuddering breath and doubled over from the pain of it, from the jolt of fire along her nerves as the air went in and out. It continued to hurt for several more breaths, her hands and feet tingling as if she’d been still too long. Realizing that her eyes were closed, she pried them open and noticed that it was now dark outside. Her hands flew up to her throat to press against her skin; a wave of relief flowed through her when she found the flesh to be whole, to not be torn by the vampire’s teeth. Remembering about the creature, she twisted about to look for it.

The vampire lay a few feet away, barely moving at all. Blood was pooled around its head, as if it had sought to dispel what it had taken it. Ymir licked her lips at the sight of the blood, a sharp hunger pang growing inside of her that twisted her stomach and made her fangs descend, made claws sprout from her fingers and the world to fade from colors into gradients of grey.

“You… survived.” There was a hiccup or two from the vampire. “Fate… favoured… you.”

Ymir crawled toward the vampire. “And you?”

The creature let out a slow breath. “Too… much… sickness….”

She didn’t quite understand what the meant, but there was an odor to the creature, a foulness that hadn’t been there before – or that she hadn’t noticed before. Everything seemed stronger now: the scents, the sounds, the sharpness to her vision. Most of all was the strength of her hunger, urging her on to go feed, to find something to sink her new fangs into, to fill her stomach until she thought it would burst if she drank any more….

The vampire did the hiccup-laugh again. “Yes… go now…. Go… my… future….”

She didn’t wait any longer – the scent of death was unappealing, and the barn no longer held any interest for her. Running out into the darkness, she went in search for something to appease her hunger.

*******

Historia scrolled through her datapad, excited to see that there’d been several new lesson plans loaded onto the device. It happened occasionally and never with any predictability, but new coursework would load at some point during the night just when it seemed that she was growing hopelessly bored with the old. Last time it had to do with mathematics and geography, this time it was poetry and botany. She thought she heard a kind, matronly voice in her head chiding her to study well whenever the new material appeared.

Settling at her desk to begin her studies, she ignored the voices outside of her room with an ease learned over the years; no one welcomed her attention, either to see if she could assist them with the chores or to provide them with any company. The few tasks that her grandparents set aside for her to do were finished for the day, so she was back in her room to stay. In a few more hours, Philippe would bring her something to eat for dinner, then a bit more studying before preparing for bed. She lost herself in one of the botany lessons.

Some time later, it sounded as if there was a guest at the door and for a moment Historia set aside her datapad in an attempt to hear the faint voices; her mother had been back about a week now. She’d seen the beautiful woman a couple of times, only fleeting glances, always careful to stay out of her way or risk being shouted at and insulted. It wasn’t that she minded the abuse, not after so many years of it, but that it hurt to see her mother made so upset – especially after this latest trip. For the last few years her mother had been more inclined to ignore her presence, yet something had made her very unhappy lately.

The voices grew louder, the tones harsher, until Historia found herself huddled by her desk, agitated by the anger that thrummed through the household. Should she go see what was happening? Was it her fault? Usually when her mother and grandparents were unhappy it was her fault. What had she done this time?

The sound of someone knocking on her door startled a high-pitched yelp from her, and before she could move, Anika opened the door. The maid hustled into the room, an anxious look on her face. “You are just sitting there? Foolish girl. Get ready, they want to leave.” She motioned for Historia to get up from the desk.

“Leave? What’s happening?” Historia rose up and watched as Anika hurried over to her closet, where she searched through the few items hanging up until she found a darker sweater than what Historia was currently wearing and a long coat.

“I don’t know, something about Malforms attacking in the Rose dome. None of your silliness, child, I’ve more important things to do.” Anika talked down to her as she always did, even though the maid was only a few years older than Historia. None of the staff treated her with respect like they did her mother or grandparents, leaving Historia to believe that something must be wrong with her. She hurried to obey, as always, and removed her thin yellow sweater to pull on the heavier dark brown one. Anika glared at her until she also wore the black outer coat.

“Yes, now you’re ready to go see your grandparents,” Anika chided Historia, all but shoving her out of the room. “Though why they bother with something like you…,” the servant mumbled under her breath.

Historia hunched her shoulders forward as she allowed herself to be pushed out of the room and eventually down the halls and the stairs until she was standing in the receiving room. She was shocked to find both her grandparents and her mother waiting for her, dressed as if ready to go out for the evening. Even more surprising was the fact that they looked at her, actually paid attention to her for once.

“The child is ready? We’ll be leaving as soon as the transport arrives,” her grandfather said, more to Philippe than anyone else in the room. Historia wanted to ask what was going on, to know where they were going but she had learned early on that it was never a good thing to speak up. Her grandfather didn’t like hearing from her, and her mother had that wide-eyed look which meant that she was moments away from lashing out.

Historia’s grandmother, her grey hair neatly pulled back in a bun and her usually prim dress hidden by the dark coat she was wearing, fussed with the high collar of the coat as she sidled closer to her grandfather. “Is it wise, going out this late? Why is… why is *he* sending for us so late?”

“Lod is finally coming to his senses! The attack at Rose has rattled him, so he wants me close!” Her mother paced back and forth through the room. “Finally, I won’t be sent away anymore! He won’t care about that-“

A knock on the door cut through her almost hysterical diatribe, and she ran toward the front door before Philippe or Anika could even take a step toward it. Philippe called out for her to stop, but Historia’s mother was at the door and opening it in a rush, a wide smile on her face as if it was Historia’s fabled father himself behind it. Instead, there were two men dressed in rather plain dark clothes, with hats pulled low over their faces.

“Who are you? Did Lod send you? Are you with the transport?” Historia’s mother frowned at the younger of the two men, a very tall yet slim young man with a scruffy beard that followed the line of his jaw.

“You could say that.” He pushed her farther back into the room and then reached into his long black coat. “But you won’t be going anywhere.” Something bright flashed in his right hand, and then it slashed across the front of Historia’s mother. “Get the girl,” he ordered the other man.

Historia stood there and watched as her mother slowly crumpled to the floor, blood staining the fancy dark blue coat she was wearing and spreading out onto the slightly faded carpet that her grandmother always insisted be cleaned every day. She stood there until her grandmother and Anika began to scream, until that terrible young man strode over to her grandfather and flashed that bright blade again, causing her grandfather to fall just like her mother had done. Then the other man, a bit older and sturdier than the one who was so quick and terrible with the blade, was reaching for her with his large hands and something finally snapped inside.

She waved about her own hands, one of them smacking at hand reaching for her, another snatching up the lamp that had to be dusted with care every day, the heavy piece of leaded crystal and paper that had caused more than a few tears when she failed to clean it properly. She didn’t wait to see how well she threw it, just that it went in about the right direction and that there was a low, fervent curse and that large hand stopped grasping at her as she ran away, ran away from the screams and the awful odor of blood and something much, much worse.

“Adam! Dammit, *get her*!”

Someone was calling after her, was cursing and yelling, but she didn’t stop. All she could see was her mother’s awful, bloodless face as she fell, could see the pool of blood growing…. She sobbed as she dashed out of the house through the servant’s exit, out onto a street she barely recognized and kept running, running away from the only home she’d ever known.

She didn’t know where she was going, didn’t follow any path or trail, just kept to the shadows and off the main road. There were times when she thought she heard footsteps behind her, when she would crouch down and hide, tucked into a tiny ball and hidden in the folds of her coat as much as she could, trembling in fear and shock. Sometimes it felt as if she hid for minutes, sometimes for forever, and when it was quiet she would run again, further away from home, further into the darker, quieter part of the dome. She didn’t care where she went, as long as it was away from people, away from that terrible tall man.

After a while her feet grew sore from the running and it was dark – as dark as the domes ever got. Historia huddled in her coat, exhausted and cold, thirsty and needing to find a place to rest. She rubbed at her eyes, needing to stay awake a little longer and hoping to find a place where it would be all right to sit for a while, and stumbled enough that she almost fell to her knees. Realizing that she wouldn’t be able to go much further at that point, she looked around for someplace to curl up and decided that a nearby doorway would offer her a little protection as it was out of the way. She sunk down to the ground and leaned her back against the jam, her coat tucked around her and her knees pulled up to her chest.

She had just gotten comfortable and had even begun to drift off a little when someone walked by. “Hey! You can’t stay here!”

Jolted awake by the hissed voice, Historia shivered and prepared herself to be hit or kicked as well. “I’m… I’m sorry!” She looked up to see what appeared to be a boy a few years younger than herself standing a few feet away.

“Do you want to get yourself killed? There’s Malforms around here! You need to get out of the open!” He had a large bag hung over his left shoulder and his clothes looked worn but clean.

Historia forced herself onto her feet, wincing a little as her body complained about the sudden movement. “Ah, all right.” She figured that she could wait until the boy left and then try to find someplace else to rest. When he didn’t move on, she shifted her weight back and forth between her feet and glanced around, made nervous by his attention.

The boy looked up at her through his thick, light brown bangs and shook his head. “You don’t have a place to stay, do you?”

“Uhm….” She’d never been very good at lying. Someone had told her that it wasn’t very ladylike, hadn’t they?

“All right, you can stay with me tonight, then.” The boy stuck out his right hand. “I’m Tyler.”

“Thank you. I’m Historia.” She shook his hand and fell in step behind him when he began to hurry along the street. “Is it really bad in this area?” She’d never heard much about the Malforms attacking back where she lived.

“What, the Malforms?” The kid – Tyler – looked at her as if she was insane. “Where are you from? Unless you see the Corps around here, it’s best not to go out at night.”

“Oh.” She wanted to ask him why he was out, but was afraid of offending someone who was actually helping her. “So we’re going somewhere else?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing great, but it’s out of the dark.” He motioned for her to follow him down one of the side streets. “But we have to be quick – it’s already really late. It took me longer to get everything my cousin needs.”

Forcing her sore feet to move faster, Historia hurried along so she didn’t slow Tyler down. They turned along another narrow street, and at first she thought that they must have arrived at their destination when Tyler came to a sudden stop. She was so tired that it took her a moment to realize what it was that the boy was staring at a dozen feet or so down the alley.

At first it looked like a couple of people huddled together, either to talk or to share warmth since they were dressed in flimsy rags. Then she realized that their skin was too pale, that their misshapen heads were barely covered in strands of hair, if at all, and that they were bent over…. Images of her mother’s body flashed back into her mind, of the blood on the carpet, those wide, staring eyes and the gaping wound. The Malforms hissed at each other as they fed, huge bloody mouths descending onto the body of the poor woman lying lifeless on the ground beneath them.

“We have to run,” Tyler whispered to her, his hand clutching at her right arm. “Now!” But as they turned to do just that, another Malform dropped down from the nearest wall, its eyes gleaming red and its mouth huge in its pallid face, filled with such sharp, numerous teeth.

Terror filled Historia, terror and resolve. She shoved Tyler aside as she leapt into the creature’s path. “Get away,” she urged the boy, unwilling to let him be harmed by the Malform when he had tried to help her. “Run!”

Tyler hesitated for a second, but then began to flee as the Malform seemed to focus its attention on Historia. She waved her arms about to ensure that it stayed focused on her, breathing heavily as it crept toward her. Her eyes closed as she imagined those fangs tearing into her, her life ending much like that poor woman just a few feet away.

There was a savage, deep growl that made her flinch, expecting pain from being bitten to follow at any moment, and then there was silence. The pain didn’t follow, and Historia began to hyperventilate as she waited for the agony to begin.

“Relax – take a deep breath before you pass out, Mother Theresa.”

The sound of a voice – a *human* voice – startled Historia enough that she gasped and opened her eyes. She was even more startled to find a person standing in front of her and no Malforms to be found. “What? Where-“ She searched about, but the Malforms were gone, along with Tyler and the body of the poor woman. All that remained was a pool of blood and this stranger, some woman with dark skin and black hair. At least, Historia thought she was a woman; she sounded like one and she had long hair loosely pulled back, but she dressed like a man. Utterly confused at the moment, she wavered back and forth as her sight darkened.

“Wow, don’t go fainting on me like some Disney princess even if you look the part.” The stranger grabbed hold of Historia’s arm and held her steady.

“Who… why do you talk so funny? What’s going on?”

The stranger smiled at her, both hands wrapped around Historia’s upper arm. This close, Historia could see that she had a sprinkling of freckles across her face. “Who says I talk funny? Maybe it’s *you* who talk funny. As for what’s going on, you’re an idiot who decided to sacrifice herself to a bunch of Malform. That’s not something I see every day.”

Tyler. “Is he all right?” Historia managed to find her feet enough that she could reach out to grasp onto one of the arms holding her upright.

The stranger gave her a narrow-eyed look. “You mean the kid? He ran out of here as if his ass was on fire. Didn’t seem too concerned for you.” The look narrowed some more. “Lot of thanks you got there for saving his life, no?”

“I… I didn’t do it for thanks,” Historia admitted.

“Then why did you do it?”

“Why do you care?” Why were they talking about this in an alley that had been full of Malforms just a few minutes ago? Why did this stranger seem to care? Historia felt a rare rush of anger build inside of her as she pushed away the stranger’s hands. “You don’t even know me.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” The stranger brushed her hands along her hips, which were clad in a plain black material. She was dressed rather plainly over all, as if to blend in or be overlooked: black pants, dark green jacket with a full hood left pushed back and sturdy black boots. “I just know you look a bit fancy to be in this part of town, giving your life up for some kid who doesn’t seem to care if you die. Makes it seem as if you’re a bit too eager to throw your life away, such as it is.” She sounded a bit mocking toward the end there.

“Such as it is.” Historia found herself laughing as she repeated those words, the sound more than a little hysterical. “My life… my life is such that I have no friends and after tonight I don’t even seem to have a home or any family.” She clutched at her neck as she thought about her mother. “Men came to the house and… and… my mother….” Sobs broke free as she remembered the tall man with the knife.

The stranger remained still for a moment before reaching out to Historia, her hand lifting up her chin. “So you’re going to what, give up your life to a shitty Malform because your family’s dead?” When Historia attempted to jerk her chin away, the stranger kept a firm hold on it, her expression severe. “No, listen to me. What’s the point in dying? What’s the point in giving yourself to others when you can live for yourself, hmm?” She stared intently at Historia. “You’re obviously brave and smart to have gotten free, so don’t throw that away on worthless others. Stand up for yourself.”

No one had ever said that to Historia before. No one ever had… had they? Historia remembered some kind words… but nothing exactly like this. She managed a faint smile as she wrapped her hands around the one holding up her chin. “I can try… but can you help show me how?” This person seemed to be strong.

The stranger’s harsh expression yielded the slightest bit. “Look, you seem like a nice girl-“

“I don’t *want* to be a nice girl,” Historia rushed in. “I want… I want to be able to fight.” She remembered how helpless she’d felt when the men had entered the house and then when she’d seen the Malforms. “I want to not have to keep running. You don’t look like you do much running. Teach me how to fight and to stand up on my own. *Please*.”

Something in what she said prompted the stranger to laugh. “Oh, princess, have you got me pegged wrong.” There was a touch of bitterness in her smile just then. “I do run, you know. I run a lot.” Then she sighed. “But yeah, I can fight as well.” She stared hard at Historia for several seconds, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. “If you’re serious-“

“I am!”

“Dammit, somehow this is Eren’s fault, I know it,” the stranger muttered. “All right, you can stick with me for a while, at least until you know how to fight.”

“Thank you!” Historia rushed forward to give the stranger a quick hug. “Thank you so much!” She rocked back onto her heels and smiled. “I promise – I’ll learn how to fight from you, and we’ll be able to fight together.”

The stranger’s expression softened as she shook her head. “That’s quite a promise there.”

“It’s one I intend to keep.” Historia took a step back and held out her right hand, her face heating from embarrassment. “Oh, where are my manners? Let me introduce myself. I’m Historia Reiss.”

The stranger’s smile slowly melted away as she continued to stare at Historia, and then she began to swear softly under her breath, in some language that Historia had never heard before while she paced back and forth. “Uhm, is something wrong?”

“Reiss? You’ve got to be shitting me!”

“No, I, ah, am not ‘shitting’ you. Is something wrong?” Historia frowned in confusion, and let out a gasp when she saw a flash of red in the stranger’s eyes. “What-“

Moving almost too fast to be seen, the stranger was in front of Historia and grabbed her by the arms again to give her a shake. “You really don’t know what it means to be a Reiss, do you?”

“It’s a last name! My last name! What happened to your eyes?” Historia stared up at the stranger, but her eyes were a normal shade of brown now. Had she imagined that just now?

“Eh, don’t worry about it, they do that now and then.” The stranger let go of her and spoke in that odd language again. “All right, we’re getting out of here *right now*.” She grabbed hold of Historia’s left hand and began pulling her out of the alley. “O’Malley owes me a favor – he can set up a new ID for you that’ll hold for at least a few months. We’ll swing by his place tonight and then tomorrow we’re getting our asses out of this dome. Ragako might not be too bad, that or Karanese. We’ll see which of the tunnels don’t look too bad and figure it out then.” She sounded as if she were speaking out loud more than she was talking to Historia.

Historia’s head was spinning at all of this crazy talk. New ID? Leave the dome. “How can we leave the dome? Why would we want to?”

The stranger flashed her a grin that seemed to contain too many teeth. “Don’t look down now, Alice, but you’ve just jumped into the rabbit hole. We’re all mad here.”

Historia could only stare back in complete confusion for about a minute, until she nearly tripped on her own feet. “Are you even speaking English?”

“Yep – can speak it in about fifteen dialects, if you like. Oh, and figure out a new name. O’Malley will need something to put down in the ID when we get there.”

“But you haven’t even told me *your* name,” Historia wailed. Maybe that Malform really had attacked her and this was all one big delusion created by her mind right before she died.

There was another flash of too many white teeth. “Me? I’m Ymir.”

*******

Ymir held onto Krista’s hand as they walked along the street, smiling as Krista glanced this way and that at the various shops. “There’s so much to buy here!”

“Yeah, Trost is one of the better domes.” Ymir’s smile slipped as she reflected back the leaner years, of the times when her skin had crawled at the thought of wearing filthy clothes yet another day, when she’d think nothing of stripping a corpse for an outfit less foul than the rags barely covering her.… “Trost isn’t too bad, compared some other places.” Some other places and times.

Krista gave her left hand a squeeze as if she’d guessed at the memories cluttering her head; her lover was very good at gauging her mood, at figuring out when the dark times came back to haunt her. “How much do you want to bet you’ll be complaining about it in another fifty years, hmm?” Krista tilted her head to the side and grinned, her expression so lovely and bright just then that Ymir had to smile as well.

“You really do know me, don’t ya?”

“Hmm, maybe a little.” Krista stifled a giggle with her free hand, her blue eyes downcast in a fetching, pseudo-shy manner that made Ymir pull her close for a quick kiss. There were times when Ymir felt filthy – more than the sensation of dirt that couldn’t ever be washed away but sins worn deep into the soul, of blood soaked into the skin to the point where she couldn’t understand why people didn’t flinch away from the sight of her – yet Krista always made her feel better than what she was, made her feel as if she was holding redemption in her hands. Krista made her *want* to be better than she really was, made her feel *human* again. Now all she had to do was get that stubborn bastard Eren to agree to turn Krista and everything would be fine – she knew that he was slowly being worn down, that he was starting to see Krista in a new light. He was starting to see Krista as her own person, worthy of living more than the paltry few decades that most people got if they didn’t end up as Malform fodder.

She wondered if that one foul-tempered captain sniffing around him would help her case or not – it was exceedingly rare that Eren did anything more than ‘fuck ‘em and leave ‘em’, but he certainly seemed enamored of the midget. Perhaps having someone to care about other than that bitchy sister of his would make Eren understand why Ymir was so desperate to have Krista turned.

“Hmm, this shop looks good.” Krista tugged on Ymir’s hand and led her across the street toward a small boutique that had several dressed displayed in the windows. They were made with a pretty floral material, the colors pastels that would go well with Krista’s blonde hair and pale skin, and the empire waistline would flatter her figure. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know, I prefer something a bit more plunging to show off my ample cleavage.” Ymir let go of her lover’s hand so she could strike a classic ‘cheesecake’ pose, pushing out her mostly flat chest and curving her rear as well. Krista stared at her in bemusement for a few seconds before laughing, while the passerby’s gave them a wide berth.

“Oh! Yes, and in red satin! Definitely red satin for you!” Krista clapped her hands in appreciation.

“Call me Mae West,” Ymir drawled as she swished her hips about. “When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better.”

Krista giggled some more. “It must have been so fun back then.”

“It… was interesting.” Much of Ymir’s early memories were jumbled from the time she was turned, but the odd snippets still came through. “Like everything else, there was good and bad.” She rubbed at her neck as flashes of sinking her teeth into the necks of her victims came back in a rush.

“You always say that.” Krista smiled as she turned back to the shop’s windows. “Now, what about the dresses?”

“I think you’ll look great in them.”

“Then I’ll go try them on and see which one I like best.”

By now, Krista certainly knew Ymir well enough that she didn’t try to drag her into the shop, where Ymir would be bored and most likely take that boredom out on some poor assistant who was trying to make a living dealing with customers. She lifted up on her toes to kiss Krista on the cheek before going inside, and Ymir was content standing outside as the flow of humanity moved around her while enjoying the anticipation of wondering which dress Krista would end up buying.

It was almost funny how little things had changed in the last few hundred years – the domes were basically designed on the same pattern with the same materials, so varied mostly in upkeep and a few details. Ones like Tartarus and Mosca had fallen on hard times, producing little goods to trade and so barely maintained themselves, while domes such as Trost and Karanese were among the upper-crust. Yet even then they were bland, the people were little more than drones, the air was stale and Ymir was bored, bored, *bored*. She was with Eren in that life was much better out in the ‘wild’, even if it lacked pretty dresses for one’s girlfriend and there was that annoying sunlight.

She picked at her nails with one slightly distended claw and took to internally mocking the people who walked by while waiting for Krista to settle on a favorite dress; that one couple looked so incredibly boring that they probably were kinky as hell once they got back home – that or they were too clueless to figure out where the guy was supposed to stick his friggen dick. Ah, for the good old days of the internet… The guy scurrying in front of her was so afraid of his shadow that she wanted to sneak up behind him and breathe down his neck. The old woman busy arranging fancy pillows in the window across the street appeared to be someone whom-

Ymir took a deep breath and felt her spine stiffen as the familiar whiff of vampire drifted past, too strong for her comfort. Dammit, she’d allowed herself to get distracted, to-

“Ah, we don’t want to cause a scene, do we?” Annie grabbed onto Ymir’s right hand and forced it down, pushing the claws out of sight while keeping her trapped in place. Somehow she’d sidled right up to Ymir, dressed in her MP uniform and with that mocking half-smile on her face. Just a few feet away stood another MP, her back to them and her head bent as if she was distracted by something.

“Why should I care about that?” Ymir hissed, her fangs out and her bangs falling into her eyes. She wanted to tear out this short bitch’s throat, to-

“Because Bertolt’s in there with your girlfriend, and who would think twice about an MP taking down a freak like you?” Annie’s voice remained perfectly even, her eyes unchanged, yet she flashed a hint of sharp fang at Ymir.

“Krista?” Ymir attempted to yank her arm free but Annie had always been strong as hell. “If you harm her, I will string your guts up like Christmas lights!”

“Yes, that threat’s always been impressive.” Annie let out a burst of air and shook her head. “Just keep quiet and she’ll be safe. I want to talk, not fight.”

“Yeah, right.” Yet Annie remained still, her claws sheathed and her eyes blue, when any other time Ymir had run across another vampire she was usually fighting for her life right about now. Part of her screamed that this was a trap, that she should lash out at the bitch, should tear off her head and then get Krista… but Krista… “What do you want?”

“See, was that so difficult?” Annie smiled that mocking half-smile a moment longer before her expression smoothed out and became harder to read. “I want to talk to you, so stay there and nothing will happen to your girlfriend. I promise.” She gave Ymir’s wrist a painful squeeze before she released it and took a step back.

It was a struggle not to run the moment she was released, but Ymir couldn’t take the chance that Annie wasn’t lying about Bertolt being in the store with Krista; he was the ‘gentlest’ of the trio… but that wasn’t saying much. “All right, I’m listening.” She leaned back against the concrete wall of the store, her arms folded over her chest. Of all the shitty luck, why hadn’t she worn her uniform out today, why hadn’t she at least brought a knife or two in the sleeves of her jacket? She was getting too lazy, relying on her claws and fangs.

Annie smoothed down the front of her MP jacket and positioned herself better to appear as if just someone chatting with a friend while doing her best to block Ymir from running into the store after Krista. “I must say, you’ve really done well for yourself these last few years. Love the girlfriend – you really went high class there,” she said, switching into an English dialect that for the most part hadn’t been spoken for centuries.

Annie’s face might have remained impassive, but Ymir knew when she – well, really Krista – was being insulted. “Don’t you dare talk about her like that! Leave her out of this!”

“No, not when you were foolish enough to bring her into your fucked up life.” Annie’s eyes flashed red for a moment. “Do you really think you can keep her safe? They’re so fragile, you know. You might get her to live a little longer, but all it takes is one bite, one slash and she’s dust like the rest of them.”

“I won’t let that happen!” Ymir’s hands clenched into fists, her claws tearing into the flesh of her palms as she fought not to punch that bland face in front of her. “I’ll-“

“Is that why you’re helping Eren?” Annie stepped forward and pressed her right hand against Ymir’s chest. “Is that why you’re hiding with those weak Wingers? Because of Eren?” She cocked her head to the side and stared hard at Ymir. “You want him to turn her for you. He’s the only one who can do it.”

Ymir stared at Annie in shock, and realized too late that doing so was a mistake. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m just trying to get away from your crazy ass.”

“No, you truly do love the girl.” Annie smiled, her face transformed by the expression – not with joy, but malevolence. “We weren’t sure at first, but you *do*. And that means you’ll do anything to keep her safe, won’t you?”

Shaking her head back and forth, Ymir tried to deny the exposed weakness. “No, that’s not it.”

“So Bertolt can leave with the girl and kill her, yes?”

“No!” Ymir shouted out the word before she could even think, her hand lashing out to grab hold of Annie’s throat. Of course the bitch blocked it before she could get a decent hold.

Annie’s smile grew even more evil. “Oh yes, I think you will.” She twisted Ymir’s hand backwards until Ymir winced in pain and then let it go before anyone noticed. “I think you will because we basically want the same thing. We want Eren to do what he was created for, after all.”

Holding her sore hand to her chest, Ymir shook her head once again. “I don’t… you’re insane if you think he’ll do what you want.”

“Hmm, I don’t think so.” Annie glanced down to brush off something from the hilt of her right blade, her brows furrowed and her lips twisted with bitterness. “He’s a bit confused right now, but he’ll see things correctly soon enough.” She looked back up at Ymir, her expression smoothing out to its normal indifference. “And you’re going to help us with that.”

Having a bad idea of where this was going, Ymir laughed, the sound bitter and weak. “And if I decline your offer?”

Annie bared a mouthful of sharp, overlong teeth. “Then something bad is going to happen to your pretty mortal girlfriend.”

Yeah, she had a feeling it would come to that. Ymir closed her eyes for a moment and thought back to the night when she’d met Krista, to the promise she’d made her. All those years of being alone, all those fucked up years, and she’d found her sunshine. She… dammit, she couldn’t lose it now, no matter what the price. “So what do you want me to do,” she asked, sounding defeated even to herself.

This time, Annie’s smile was one of pure joy – yeah, the cunt sure did love breaking things, didn’t she? “You’re going to help us get Eren. We don’t feel like waiting forever for him to come to us and the fights never go the way we want, so when the time is right, we’ll go to him. He’ll never expect something like that.”

Ymir thought about Eren, the way he’d helped her out over the years even if he’d be a snarky bastard about it the entire time. She thought about how Mikasa would hunt her down for this as long as the woman was alive… and how she’d deserve it for the betrayal. “One thing – Eren has to change Krista first.” She glared at Annie and bared her own set of fangs for a second, mindful of the people walking past. “There’s no sense in me handing him over if I’ll only lose her to old age or a Malform eventually.”

Annie shrugged as if unbothered by the condition. “You won’t have forever to convince him, but we’ll give you a little time.” When Ymir was set to complain about it, Annie held up her gloved right hand. “Once we have him, he’ll be turning people for us. You can bring the girl to us to have him turn her then if it’s not done beforehand.”

As if Krista would easily forgive her for this; Ymir was hoping to have Krista already turned and then betray Eren with no one the wiser. But if she failed that… well, Krista would be as close to immortal as possible. That was all that mattered. “All right.”

“Just in case you think that you can hide the girl and betray us, keep in mind that we still hold Maria and Bern in our grasp, along with other domes.” Annie reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out a small device, reminiscent of the cell phones pre-collapse. “Wouldn’t it be a shame if Maria were to be torn apart like Utgard? Isn’t your little princess from Maria?” Her grin just then was more an evil smirk as she handed Ymir the communications device.

“… yeah.” They hadn’t been back to Maria since that night, just in case someone recognized Krista – recognized *Historia* - but Krista still considered it home. Her mother and grandparents were dead, but what about the families of the people who had helped raise her, who had maintained the house where she had lived? No, Krista would be heartbroken if Maria dome fell. “Tell me, were you born this much of a bitch or did it just build up over time?”

Annie’s blue eyes flashed red again as she motioned to the device. “Keep that close – we’ll use that to arrange things when the time is right to claim Eren. Any sign that those Wingers or Mikasa is on to our plan, and there’s one less dome and one less Reiss.” The threat issued, Annie spun around and went after the other MP.

Ymir watched her approach the brunette MP, who appeared to have been watching something on her datapad the entire time. Wow, nice to see her taxes – if she paid any – put to such good use. Annie and the other MP took off down the street, leaving Ymir to slump against the wall feeling drained from a sense of impotent rage. Dammit, what was she going to do? What *could* she do? She didn’t doubt that Annie and the other vampires would destroy Maria if she told Commander Smith about the attempt to kidnap Eren – all that was at stake were human lives, and they were worthless to vampires. The Malform must be desperate to feed by now, so why not unleash them?

Then there was Krista…. She couldn’t let anything happen to the girl, not when she was so close to getting what would keep Krista safe. Ymir wiped at her face with her right hand while she tucked the device into her left back pocket. Somehow, she’d make this work, she’d figure out a way to hand over Eren without hurting anyone else; it was like Annie had said, Eren had been created to turn other people into hybrids like him. Why else was he the only one who could do it? Why else could he and Mikasa survive in sunlight? It was only a matter of time before the vampires got their hands on him anyway, so might as well make sure it happened in as bloodless a manner as possible.…

She was startled from her thoughts when Krista emerged from the store with a bag swinging from her left hand. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t think I’d take that long!” Krista rushed over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “But there was this really sweet guy in there who was helping me pick out the dress, and we got to talking and everything.”

Really sweet guy, huh? Ymir forced herself to grin down at her girlfriend and not choke at the scent of vampire that wafted off of Krista. “That’s nice – I know I suck at helping you out at that stuff.”

Krista laughed and held up the bag to chest level. “You always say that you like the first thing I try on so we can leave quickly. It’s okay – I think you’re going to like this one.”

“I can’t wait to see you wear it later when we go out to dinner.” Ymir reached for and latched onto Krista’s free hand and tugged her away from the dress shop, wanting to put as much distance between them and Annie and Bertolt as possible.

“Ymir? Is everything all right?”

“It’s fine, darling,” Ymir assured her lover. It would be, soon enough. Somehow she’d convince Eren to get over whatever stupid reservations he had about turning people and Krista would be fine, would be almost invincible – hell, she’d be one up on that Annie bitch in that she could survive sunlight. Then… Ymir would figure things out from there, because then they would have the *time*. That was the important thing, the two of them having the time and the ability to just vanish anywhere in the whole damn world. Ymir didn’t care about the humans, she didn’t care about the vampires, and while it would hurt to betray the few friends she had left, all she really lived for was Krista.

*******

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