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Messages - Marco Bott

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Utopia District / Re: Hardly the king's guard. [Marco]
« on: January 12, 2020, 02:08:38 AM »
Although nervousness bloomed in the pit of Marco’s stomach, the fluttering emotion was matched by resolve and excitement both.  This would be his first taste of the Military Police, a tangible step towards fulfilling his ambition of serving the King.  It felt like only yesterday that he first pulled on his Training Corps jacket, adorned with its emblem of crossed swords.  Yet, simultaneously, conflictingly, it felt like a lifetime ago that he had lived as a civilian in Jinae.

Undeniably, he and the other cadets had come a long way.  They had honed their skills, studied hard (or at least Marco had) and now they were in the final stages of their training.  The freckled boy tried not to think too long about the fact he would soon need to say goodbye to many of his friends.  Waiting in line, the number of familiar faces was slowly whittled away as mentors collected their charges.  Marco stood tall and straight, alert, present, ever eager to please. 

When at last his name was called, he stepped forward and offered a salute, keen for a positive first impression and to make his commitment clear; he truly was ready to dedicate his heart, his life, to humanity.  Discerning blue eyes gave little away as they surveyed, and Marco could only wonder what thoughts or observations were running through the officer’s mind.  Although the cadet didn’t allow his own gaze to drift, he could see that his mentor was beautifully presented, uniform immaculate and cut neatly to his frame, and that he possessed a face fairer than most.  This soldier could easily appear on a poster for Military Police recruitment, like the very one that was pinned to Marco’s bedroom wall back in Jinae.  Its ink was beginning to fade after long years, a symbol of boyhood dreams as it was.  Dreams that the freckled boy, now on the very cusp of manhood, being only weeks away from his eighteenth birthday, was exceedingly close to breathing into reality.

“Sir,” Marco answered, in greeting and agreement both.  Obediently he fell in behind, walking briskly in his superior’s wake as they strode along the street.  A storm of questions buzzed in his mind - How long had the officer served with the Military Police?  Had he always wanted to be a soldier?  What tasks would the next fortnight bring?  Did he have any advice for a cadet? - but Marco knew better than to ask them at this early stage.  Better to hold his tongue, and wait to be spoken to, or to see what the Utopia barracks would bring.

Wall Rose / Re: Ineffable impatience. [Marco]
« on: January 05, 2020, 12:26:01 PM »
Beyond the usual bloom of nerves that accompanied conscientiousness, Marco wasn’t particularly concerned about this aptitude test.  A natural affinity for animals meant he had quickly grown comfortable around horses, and his athleticism was tried and tested, lending him quiet confidence in his abilities.  When introduced to his assigned steed, Marco took a moment to fuss over the creature, teasing freckled fingers through its forelock.  Once mounted, he first trotted then cantered a few wide, easy circles, warming up both the horse and himself.  Satisfied his tack was secure, he settled easily into the saddle and located his partner.

Lingering in the queue, the pair waited their turn.  Petite, quiet and caring, it seemed Claude was seeking some sort of reassurance, and Marco was only too happy to provide.  “I don’t think so,” he answered brightly, looking up from where he leaned over to pat his horse fondly on the neck.  “It’ll be brief, at least.”  It would be a challenge - that was its purpose, and its design - but while physically intense it would be relatively brief.  No long, hard days and nights spent trudging through the wilderness as with hikes.  It would still be difficult, of course, a true test of their horsemanship skills. The final test, in fact.  Marco didn’t share this thought with Claude though, not when he observed that although her voice was steady, her words apparently nonchalant, she seemed to bristle with tension.  Or was he imagining it?

“Me too,” he agreed sincerely, finding the wait alone was enough to make his heart race a little faster.  Suspense did little good to anyone.  As though in response to their quietly uttered wishes, one of the teams ahead of them charged away, eager hooves tearing up clods of earth.  Marco’s smile softened and he pulled lightly on his horse’s reins, a gentle squeeze of his thighs urging it closer to Claude’s mount.  “It’s almost our turn,” he consoled.  “I can lead, if you like.  Or would you prefer to?”  Graduation loomed on the horizon, the time to earn a place that would qualify him for the Military Police fast running out, but Marco would never put ambition over the comfort and safety of a fellow cadet.  In the end it would be this approach - consistent over the past two years - as well as his willingness to tutor any who asked, that would cost him a place amongst the very top rank.  Kindness had its price.

Wall Rose / Re: Wading through adversity. [Jean/Marco]
« on: January 05, 2020, 10:44:31 AM »
In truth, Marco couldn’t have asked to be part of a better team.  After almost two years, he knew Axel and Jean well, admiring them both for their respective strengths.  More than that, he had come to consider the boys as close friends and confidants.  All three of them were motivated to excel, so there would likely be no cajoling required for this test, nor any refereeing - which came as a relief to the freckled cadet.  Admittedly, not one of their number had any particular experience with the Great Lake. Struna might have helped in that regard, the wild-haired girl having been raised somewhere on these shores, but she was disinterested in training it seemed, and unpredictable to a degree that her participation couldn’t exactly be counted upon.  Better, then, that it was just the three of them.

Axel spoke at length, intelligent and ever enthusiastic, slipping into the role of leader as he often did, and Marco was content to listen closely to the familiar cadence of his friend’s voice.  It made sense to leave as soon as possible, to stick together, to consider the possible natural sources for their makeshift supplies.  Turning towards the wide expanse of the lake, Marco’s gaze traced the water’s edge, frost and shards of ice sparkling coldly in the morning light.  It was frigid where they stood close on the banks, and while the crystalline waters appeared calm and serene, they could no doubt prove deadly. 

“I don’t think we should try crossing the water unless we have absolute faith in our raft, if we even find materials to build one,” Marco chewed at his lip thoughtfully, shoving his hands deeper into the warmth of his pockets.  “That’s assuming you can both swim, of course?  If even one of us can’t, we shouldn’t risk it, and we ought to rule it out as an option right now.”  Even if they all could swim, Marco wasn’t entirely convinced.  How would they source supplies?  And what did they really know of currents?  They likely wouldn’t be able to create a sail, so they would need to rely on rowing, its physicality unfamiliar and taxing.  Fit as they were, there was only the three of them, and Axel was a few years younger than he and Jean, and slighter in build.  That was to say nothing of the risk of capsize, or sinking, and ending up in freezing waters miles from shore, wearing thick winter coats that would fast grow heavy and sodden, dragging them into the depths.  The more Marco thought on it, the less inclined he was to try crossing the lake.  Walking might be slower and less theatrical than bobbing across the waves, but it carried considerably less risk, even if it wasn’t without its own set of challenges.  “Actually, I’d be inclined to do that anyway.  Rule it out, I mean.”

It was somewhat ironic that water, both its storage and sterilisation, would likely prove one of the more difficult considerations of their challenge.  They had the largest lake in Paradis at their feet, yet they could still go thirsty.  “I wonder if we could try tree tapping…” Marco murmured, as much to himself as his teammates.  It couldn’t be counted upon, especially as they would constantly be on the move, but if they set up camp and had a tree to hand, it would be something.  Assuming there were trees, and assuming their knife could stand to be hammered into a trunk.  Or they might get lucky and find trickles of water filtering through pale faces of limestone.  But was there limestone in this region?

Turning his attention back to his companions, Marco smiled warm and steady, comfortable in this capable and committed company.  Even though they had more questions than answers at the moment, he had complete faith in their small team, trusting both of the boys implicitly.  “I think it’s best we start walking and stay close to the shore, if we can, unless the ground gets particularly boggy or treacherous.  The lake is our best chance of sourcing food and we can always collect supplies as we go.  Wood for spears, shells, reeds…”  Marco trailed off and raised a hand to shield his eyes from the low-lying winter sun, waiting for feedback.

Training Corps Barracks & Grounds / Re: Learning from the Master
« on: January 02, 2020, 02:57:01 PM »
“Teachers don’t have to be nice,” Marco pointed out, a smile curling the corners of his mouth.  Being nice certainly wouldn’t keep a horde of hormonal teenage cadets in line.  Instructors required a certain amount of authority, and discipline, and as so many of them had served previously in other regiments, they more often than not had both in abundance.  Buoyed by the fact that Jean thought he was competent – it was only a small thing, but a remark Marco would take as a compliment – he recalled his wires and adjusted his course, still mindful of his technique, the wind teasing through his dark hair.

“I do take your point about Eren though,” he conceded, a ribbon of amusement weaving through his voice.  “If I were him, there’d be a lot more shouting involved.”  Jean and Eren were almost constantly at loggerheads, fighting with all the viciousness of a cat and dog.  Marco intervened wherever he could and was immensely grateful to Armin whenever the diminutive blond also stepped in. It seemed no amount of refereeing could dissuade the feuding pair, and even when they tried to be civil with one another, sooner or later patience wore thin.

Truth was, Marco could see both sides.  Eren was fiercely passionate and focused, absolutely certain in his chosen path to join the Survey Corps.  His confidence was almost enviable, his determination admirable.  Jean no doubt saw the danger in this ambition, having experienced first-hand the loss and grief that came when a scout died, and possessing a hard-earned understanding of the cost that was all too often paid by those who wore the Wings of Freedom.  It occurred to Marco, not for the first time, that being in the barracks must be both a blessing and curse to the boy he had fast come to consider a friend.  There would be bittersweet reminders of his father everywhere.  He knew better than to bring up such a sensitive subject, but hoped Jean understood that he was always available to talk, or just to listen.

These first months had blazed past in a whirl of new faces, classes and physical challenges.  Marco wouldn’t say it came naturally to him – he was just a boy from a quiet village, after all – but he was applying himself, finding success through hard work.  It was earned, and every gleaming report was a source of private joy.  Landing on a platform, amongst the highest of the structures, Marco stood high above the training grounds, taking a moment to watch Jean manoeuvre.  Autumn light cast long shadows, glinting on the cadet’s ODM gear and catching in his ashy blond hair.

Training Corps Barracks & Grounds / Re: Thoughts of home. [Marco]
« on: January 02, 2020, 11:46:43 AM »
Axel wasn’t wrong, one person could make a difference.  Some even seemed born for greatness, possessing keen minds that crackled with world-changing ideas, or wells of courage so deep and wide that they wrote themselves into legend.  It was easy to believe Axel himself harboured such potential, though his motivations were far more noble than a desire for glory. There were good people too, who drifted through history nameless, whose kind deeds were smaller in scale and won no renown.  Marco was content to count himself among their number.

He listened closely as Axel spoke on and, for a moment, he had a sense of how young they both were, and how they stood on the cusp of something immense.  Those cadets who fooled around in class – much to Axel’s ire – were seemingly unaware of the precipice that loomed. And yet, almost as a counterpoint, Marco felt the fire in Axel’s words, a maturity born of loss and life experience.  It fuelled his dedication, his ambition, galvanising his good intentions and driving him on towards his goal.  Whichever regiment the boy from Trost chose, they would be lucky to have him.

As the passion in Axel’s voice was reined in – for his benefit, Marco was sure – he revealed his desire to deny the Military Police what they craved.  The freckled cadet couldn’t help but smile at that, though such defiance was alien to him.  His companion had a point though, about it being unfair.  The best soldiers retreated behind Wall Sina, while the rest served their time on and beyond the Walls.

There would be a certain poetry in Axel defending his home district, the boy from Jinae felt, while the mention of the Survey Corps triggered a familiar bloom of concern.  Axel was immensely capable, but plenty of talented scouts lost their lives between the teeth of Titans.  There was little time to dwell on this sobering thought, however, the question that followed catching Marco off-guard. It was the first time it had been asked of him and he hesitated a moment, giving due consideration.

“I… I don’t, actually,” Marco admitted, finding it was his turn to look sheepish.  His earthy gaze dropped to the stretch of table between them, lest he see sharp shards of scrutiny in Axel’s eyes.  “I mean, the Garrison is the safer choice, obviously.”  Just as Axel himself had said, it would be his family’s preference for him, largely to minimise his chances of coming to harm.  And who could blame them for that, for wanting to keep their loved one as safe as possible? 

“My mother gave up everything to have me, to raise me. For her to make all those sacrifices and then be left with nothing…” Marco sighed, broad shoulders rounding beneath the weight of familial responsibility.  How many other parents had suffered the incomprehensible loss of an only child?  And why should they pay that terrible price while he protected his own small, fractured family of two?  His focus fell to the familiar constellations of freckles that speckled the backs of his hands, guilt gnawing at him.  “That doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to die – I am – I wouldn’t have enlisted if I wasn’t certain of that.  I just… I want to make my life count for something.  If I truly thought I could make a difference within the Survey Corps, I’d wear the Wings of Freedom tomorrow.”  He paused, grazing his bottom lip worriedly with his teeth.  This was a line of conversation that could easily alienate him from the majority of his fellow cadets, Axel included.

“But the truth is Axel, my heart is pretty well set on the Military Police, despite its flaws,” Marco continued, finally looking up, brown eyes meeting grey.  He knew that his ambitions put him in the company of other cadets with more selfish motivations, and it was inevitable that people who didn’t know him would simply assume that Marco Bott was cut from the same cloth.  “I just have to believe that it can be better, that it can be improved, that it can truly stand for fairness and order.  The regiment won’t ever change if it’s flooded with self-serving soldiers, by people who are prepared to twist the system for their own gain or who aspire to get fat on the hard work of others. The duties might be mundane and bureaucratic, but I believe they can be honourable.”  That didn’t mean the work of the Survey Corps and Garrison was any less essential and, concerned that Axel might think this was what he was implying, Marco quickly ploughed on. 

“Reclaiming Wall Maria is important, vital even – and who knows what wonders wait to be discovered beyond the Walls – but I struggle to put those goals ahead of the needs of the people who are here, ahead of people who deserve justice and stability.  The Military Police should provide that, they should be a symbol of safety within the Walls.  Just as the Garrison defends us all, just as the Survey Corps have pushed the boundaries of the known world and now hope to retake Wall Maria.  I think that’s the point, isn’t it?  The three factions ought to work together for the good of the people.” That was why it was called military service, he supposed.

The weight of their conversation was palpable, and he almost regretted that they had sunk their teeth into such a heavy subject.  “I know I must sound naïve.  I know there’s a risk that I’ll end up stuck at a desk, filing endless reports, and then just like that – ” Marco snapped his fingers to emphasise his point, “ – thirty years will have passed and I’ll have achieved little to nothing.  But I have to try.”  They could only do their best, and manage their expectations – just like Axel’s mother advised. 

“I’m sorry,” Marco’s voice was lower now, tinged with regret.  “You asked a simple question, and I punished you with a long-winded answer.  If… if I don’t make the cut, I’ll reflect on whatever skills I’ve scraped together, and I’ll go where I’m most needed.” A quiet, vaguely embarrassed chuckle rose in his throat, and he lifted a pen, fidgeting with it, if only to occupy his hands. “I should have just answered with that in the first place.”

Wall Rose / Re: Wind-chill Factor
« on: January 01, 2020, 09:41:34 AM »
Marco hummed his agreement with Jean.  Darkness would come quickly, especially this far north and in the depths of winter, the sun already muted by the thick, grey snow clouds that blanketed the sky overhead.  The temperature was frigid, even as their bodies burned and flushed with the effort to trudge through the snow, but at night it would be truly inhospitable - they needed to be prepared.  A cave would be ideal, giving them respite from the biting wind… but would they be at risk from predators?  Before Marco could give it any thought, his focus was drawn to Eren’s remark, coming from directly behind him - one that revealed a sliver of impatience, perhaps - and the question that followed it.

“Uh, perhaps it’ll be partly frozen over?  I guess it depends how wide and deep the river runs,”  Marco mused, fluffy snowflakes peppering his dark hair as he turned his head, just enough to glimpse Eren in the corner of his eye.  If this was the case, they would need to be exceptionally careful, as trusting a sheet of ice was far from ideal.  “Maybe it’ll be shallow enough that we can wade without filling our boots with water.  Or rocky enough that we can pick a path across.”  Again, this latter possibility was risky.  Their backpacks would interfere with their balance, and no doubt the rocks would be treacherously slick or icy - or both.  “However we go about it, I don’t think we can afford to get wet…” Marco continued before trailing off.  If they had to wade across, they had to wade across, but their clothes would freeze next to their bodies before they could dry.  It was bitterly cold, swaddled in layers though they were, the icy air stinging every inch of exposed skin.  The thought of being damp in these conditions was enough to cause a shiver to roll through Marco’s frame.

Throughout the discussions so far, Javier had remained almost silent, he noticed.  As the sound of their laboured footfall and the winter wind filled the space around them, the freckled cadet considered asking their quiet companion a direct question, in case Javier just needed a little help joining the conversation.  Before he could, however, the ground began to slope downwards, leading into a somewhat sheltered valley that might - hopefully - lead them to the river.  Marco checked his compass, his fingers stiff with the cold as he confirmed they were still travelling directly north.  Beneath the cadets’ boots the terrain became more difficult to traverse, the snow here sneakily covering tree roots and lying in the shade, where it had become frosted and slippery.  Focused on navigating, Marco slipped a little, reaching instinctively for Jean’s arm but stopping short, as he managed to steady himself with an embarrassed chuckle low and quiet in his throat.  An apology would have followed, except that a noise caught his attention.  It was distant burbling sound, barely perceptible but unmistakably the murmur of moving water.  “Hey, you hear that?”  Delight shaped the question, Marco smiling behind his grey scarf.

Wall Rose / Re: Wildness is a Necessity
« on: January 01, 2020, 12:45:22 AM »
The staring did not go unnoticed, its effect seen in the way Marco shifted his weight, the earth soft and yielding beneath his boots.  Those violet-hued eyes seemed to cut through his winter layers, intelligence lending an inherent sharpness to Kaien’s gaze - so much so that it took Marco a moment to understand there was nothing accusatory in it, no hint of rebuke or admonishment.  He was glad of that, and of the bitter wind that raced up the hillside to tease through Kaien’s coloured hair and nip at his fingers, even through his gloves.  It put roses in his freckled cheeks, and disguised the faint flush that bloomed with being studied so intently.  Yet the whisper of the breeze over the coarse grass did nothing to disguise the note of relief in the older cadet’s voice, an intonation Marco was grateful for.  Anything was preferable to annoyance.

“A little,” Marco admitted, with a fleeting smile.  He had experienced a growth spurt in the autumn, and endured the considerable burst of appetite that came with it, but that had since passed, his hunger now lowburning and manageable.  Unhooking his backpack and swinging it down from his shoulders, the cadet rested the canvas bag on his feet, to keep it free from the mud.  Unlike his sombre companion, amusement danced in his eyes as Kaien repeated what he had been told about the bars of field rations.  “Mmm, you’re really selling it to me,” he teased gently, attention focused on rummaging inside his pack, seeking the familiar metallic glint of a flask.  A smile, genuine and warm, graced his mouth as he searched through the supplies.  “Just a half will do me.”  The words were spoken casually, as though the promise of blandness was enough to dissuade him from a whole bar.  It was the truth, though only part of it.  He also hoped Kaien would take the lion’s share, his broad and powerful body clearly having the more pressing need.

At last locating and pulling free the water canister, Marco straightened.  He hesitated a moment, a frown creasing his features as his gaze snagged on the darkening sky.  It was a good thing they were resting now; if heavy sheets of rain rolled in they would likely want to keep moving, the exertion keeping their bodies warm and chasing away the chill that would otherwise gnaw at their extremities.  Casting one last look at the foreboding horizon, Marco’s focus shifted back to his partner, and he held out the flask in offering.  “You thirsty?”

Events / Re: Team Two: Supply Runners [Assault on Utopia]
« on: December 28, 2019, 12:59:16 AM »
Content Warning: Descriptions of grievous injury, death and trauma.

It was Mara's voice, shrill with fear and panic, that pulled Marco's attention. Wind rippled through his dark hair as he turned his head, in time to watch his comrades tumble painfully across the street below, skidding to a halt close to the feet of an approaching Titan. It loomed and leered over the huddled pair, having emerged from the shadows between rows of houses, where it had been hidden from the meticulous scan of Marco's eyes.

Alarm tightened his chest, his reaction immediate and reflexive. The freckled cadet landed and bolted back across the rooftop, calling to his squadmates, yelling for them to move away. Tiles loosened beneath his footfall, one sliding free to shatter somewhere below. Even as he ran, Marco slipped the bulky supply backpack from his broad shoulders. It slid down the roof's pitch and disappeared over the edge. In that moment, it wasn't important, and their mission was no longer a priority. All that mattered was saving Mara and Dalton. The commotion drew the Titan's attention, its head snapping in Marco's direction, the wide grin no less disturbing for being unfeeling.


With unnaturally rapid reflexes, the Titan lunged and snatched up the boy from Trost, its grasping fingers a punishment for the warning that had escaped his lips. Dalton's scream pierced the relative stillness, chilling Marco's blood even as he leapt into the air, fired his hooks, and squeezed his gas triggers so hard that his fingers ached. In later days, weeks - months - he would fixate on this handful of frantic, panicked moments. Had he done everything within his power? Had he been as swift as possible?

Impossibly large eyes flicked in Marco's direction, swivelling to reveal an unsettling amount of sclera, the monstrosity not deigning to turn its head. Whether out of instinct, spite or spasm, its only response was to tighten its grip on the cadet clutched in its hand. Even as he took aim and swung his blades, Marco was aware of the crimson tide pouring out of Dalton, splattering onto the street below. Grief and horror churned in his gut as he sliced through the Titan's wrist, freeing his dying comrade, and he was painted with blood as Dalton's last breath escaped his punctured, deflated lungs.

The Titan's mouth had fallen open, wide and abyssal, its intact hand sweeping upwards, a cold shadow passing over Marco. With a distant shiver of fear, his honey-brown eyes widened in realisation. There was no time to recall his hooks, no time to change course, and he could not move any faster. This was his end. And through the fear Marco felt a sense of peace, knowing that there were worse deaths to be had than this. He had failed, but his intentions had been golden, and there was still a chance for Mara, if she used this moment to make her escape.

Please let it be quick.

But Mara had other plans. She barrelled into him with such sudden and surprising force that she stole the breath from Marco's lungs. Her purposeful, self-sacrificing trajectory allowed her to take his place in the Titan's wide, hungry hand.

"Marco - run! Find others!"

His wires continued to hum and reel in, his landing on the distant rooftop unplanned and therefore clumsy. He turned on his heel, eyes wide, Mara like a bird trapped in the Titan's hand, a bundle of fragile bones and a frantic heartbeat. Firing his hooks in haste, Marco charged into battle once more. This time he would be fast. Mara meant so much, and mattered to so many. Just as Dalton had. If he could save her, keep her from dying for him, that would be enough. Marco's gaze locked on the distracted Titan's neck. His hands were clammy, but his grip on the blades' handles was sure.

"MARA!" Marco's broke on her name, tears swelling in his eyes as those hideous teeth bit down, sinking into her skull, her chest, a terrible and fatal bite. Blood fell first like red petals, then as a torrent, mingling with Dalton's congealing pool. Marco's strike thrust too deep, his blades breaking as they carved through the Titan's nape, felling the behemoth even as it claimed the life of a girl who was sunshine to all that knew her.

She had died for him.

The earth rumbled as their foe was vanquished and, with the shuddering vibrations, one of Marco's anchors came loose. He heard it in the same moment as he felt the now lopsided pull. Freed of tension, the wire cracked through the air, the sound reverberating and warbling, the extended hooks glinting menacingly in the light. Marco just had time to squeeze the trigger to retract the deadly barbs and turn his face away, flinching at the inevitable impact. His last impression was of two bloody roses blooming on the street below, of the broken bodies of his comrades, before the anchor struck him on the temple with a jarring, metallic sound.

Pain was immediate and white-hot, the damage instant, catastrophic and irreversible. His skull fractured with the impact and the world greyed out, the light dying in Marco's right eye. Even if he hadn't choked on the air in his throat, on the agony, there was no time to scream. Unable to control his landing, Marco collided with the edge of the rooftop, hands scrambling blindly and ineffectively for purchase, the toes of his scuffed boots scraping against the building's dusty façade. There was nobody to help him - everyone was dead - and so he fell. Inexplicably, his mind was full of the reassurances the cadets were given when first introduced to the ODM obstacle courses. That falling was part of the learning process, that the thick blankets of sand spread beneath the various platforms and pillars would keep them safe. That it wouldn't hurt.

It won't hurt.

The one remaining wire was burrowed into a brick hewn from crumbly sandstone. It bore Marco's weight long enough to slow his descent before it too came loose with a metallic whine. The boy from Jinae spilled across the cobblestones, grazing the hard angles of his body, and came to a rest facedown in the street, breathing in dust and grit. There was a ringing in his ears, his mind crackling with static as he hovered on the cusp of unconsciousness. He couldn't say how long he lay like this, his body battered and grazed, stinging and aching all at once. Nearby, the fallen Titan steamed and disintegrated, its demise conjuring no sense of victory or triumph. After a time, Marco stirred enough to roll painfully onto his back. The sky above was blue, tinged with smoke, streaked by flare signals. It was flat, lacking depth, a living painting. Pretty and terrible all at once.

Tears fell from the corners of Marco's haemorrhaging eyes. His thoughts were indistinct but he had the sense of overwhelming disappointment. The trust of his companions' had been entirely misplaced. Parents, instructors, cadets, friends - everyone - expected more from him, because he was sensible and hard-working, because he suffered the burden of responsibility so quietly. But being an old soul did not change the fact that he was only eighteen years old and unblooded. It did not change the fact that his best had not been close to enough.

Choking on a sob, Marco unsteadily peeled himself off the hard ground, a persistent throb in his head hinting at the insidious bleed spreading beneath his skull. His daze ebbed and flowed, moments of lucidity puncturing a growing haze. His uneven gaze landed first on Mara.


She was dead, of that there could be no doubt. From where he stood Marco could see the grotesque bite out of her young body. Her glistening innards shifted wetly, sliding out of her carcass, while blood ran along the spaces between cobbles in lurid red rivers. Mara had been alive mere minutes before, her ruinous remains a stark and unkind reminder of the brevity and cruelty of life, like a flower trampled carelessly underfoot. No matter how pretty or kind or brave, they were all just flesh and bone. It should have been me, it should have been me, it should have been me - That thought echoed incessantly and vehemently in Marco mind, who in his shock was unable to process the immensity of Mara's sacrifice. Like the sun, it burned too bright and hot to be looked at closely.

Dalton, however, was moving, a jerk of a limb interrupting fragmented thoughts. Marco staggered towards him, desperation chasing away all reason, relief a short-lived balm. He knelt hastily at the fallen boy's side and immediately realised his mistake. Dalton's glassy green eyes gave him away, his pupils blown wide and unfocused, staring skyward. Crimson ran from his nose, ears and mouth, painting his chin and speckling his cheeks. Every streak and splotch was already tacky and drying in the summer heat. He was dead, Marco was sure, the movements nothing more than spasms. Still the freckled cadet reached out a hand, resting it on the dead boy's caved chest, rasping his name quietly. He immediately regretted the contact, for beneath the thin layers of fabric Dalton felt broken and wrong, his spine crushed and ribs jagged. Marco stumbled backwards, but lingered until the tremors and shudders passed, lest some sliver of awareness remained in that still-warm, shattered body.

At last, Dalton stilled, the air stinking of viscera and smoke and piss. Marco sat back on his heels, bemused when he realised blood was pattering softly on the dusty ground. Frowning, he looked up, half-expecting to find the blood-smeared maw of a Titan looming over him. But there was nothing. Confused, adrift in the fog of his wounded mind, he gingerly touched his head, near his temple, curious fingertips coming away slick. Unbeknownst to Marco, blood ran from a deep gash near his hairline, streaking around the eye that had died in its socket, clinging to and clotting in dark lashes, painting over his familiar freckles and staining his white shirt. Marco's bewildered frown deepened.

Find others.

His heartbeat resonated in his fractured skull, sparking overwrought nerves, his whole body thrumming. At last obeying Mara's final instruction, Marco heaved himself up onto his feet and began to walk. Unsteadily, aimlessly, with the heel of his hand pressed to the wound at his temple. The forgotten controller grips bounced and dragged behind him, clinking almost cheerfully against the cobblestones.

IC / Re: To Write is Human
« on: December 14, 2019, 09:51:22 PM »
Just one is enough.

There was a smile on Jean's lips as he said those words, though it was mostly obscured by the way he lowered his head, his focus trained on his own lap, or perhaps on his ink-stained hands. It was a promising sign though, one that buoyed Marco's heart. Perhaps he had been able to offer some small comfort to the boy from Trost after all.

Yeah... yeah definitely- same for you.

And then Jean smiled in earnest, warm and real. There was no bravado in his expression, no attitude and no snark. There was a shift in him, and Marco had the sense he had seen something that not everyone was privy to. He couldn't help but beam back, dimples appearing at the corners of his mouth.

"Thanks Jean, I'll remember that," the freckled boy replied, sincerity shaping his words. Life in the barracks could be tough, and it could be lonely, but knowing there was someone there for him made facing an uncertain future that bit easier.

The atmosphere inside the hall felt more relaxed now. Grief still lingered in the shadows - it was immense, perhaps impossible to dispel - but at least Jean no longer seemed crushed beneath its weight. Satisfied the boy sitting across from him was a little happier, and a little more comfortable in his company, Marco retrieved a pen, and allowed his attention to fall to his letter. Words flowed easily, in a neat script, as he poured his heart onto parchment. There was a lot to tell his mother, not least of all about the boy he felt he had befriended.

Wall Rose / Re: Through the bristling trees. [Marco/Seb]
« on: December 10, 2019, 03:28:29 PM »
Ever the peacekeeper, Marco hissed softly through his teeth at Sebastian’s harsh words.  His comrade’s frustration was understandable, but it certainly didn’t help the situation with Helena.  There was nothing to be done, though, not this far from the ground and with the unobservant girl pulling further and further away.  Forcing the hopefully temporary fracture in their team out of his mind – at least he could rely on Axel and Sebastian – Marco focused instead on navigating, hungrily seeking any flash of tell-tale red amongst the trees.  The ODM harness dispersed the pressure throughout his broad body and, courtesy of Jean’s advice, he now used his weight to his advantage.  His movements remained measured and methodical, the boy from Jinae steady, and not prone to the acrobatics that appealed to the wilder, more exuberant cadets.

“Nothing,” Marco answered, the breeze ruffling through his dark hair.  It was too soon to feel frustrated, but even a sighting of another team’s sash would give them some encouragement, and an indication of what to expect.  Right now, it was difficult to say just how discreetly hidden their targets would be.  Axel’s cry cut through his introspection, uncertainty giving way to a burgeoning sense of triumph.  Adjusting his course, Marco’s attention snagged on the red fabric.  Now they had to safely secure it.

“I’ll distract,” he called, to confirm he had heard Axel’s instructions, and to announce his intentions to Seb.  Recalling his wires and releasing the gas triggers, Marco fell into a controlled drop, allowing gravity to feed into his momentum.  Timing was of the essence and, espying a potential anchor site in the form of another ancient tree, he fired his hooks.  They sank into the coarse trunk, wires growing taut and pulling him into an arc, swooping in front of the wooden, Titan-shaped structure.  He was pleased with his speed, hopeful that – if this had been a true life or death moment – the monster would have had little chance to grab him.  It was all on Sebastian now, to seize the opportunity and claim the sash.

Wall Rose / Re: Wildness is a Necessity
« on: December 09, 2019, 09:43:39 AM »
You should have stayed home if you're lucky enough to miss it.

Wait… what? Marco blinked, staring in confusion at the broad back of the boy walking ahead of him. For a moment, he was quite sure that he had misheard Kaien, or at the very least misunderstood him. He was still replaying the words when the next question brought the older cadet to a sharp halt - so sudden, in fact, that Marco almost walked into him. A breathless apology was on his lips as a hand seized his collar.

"Hey - !" Marco protested, stunned by the sudden aggression. Instinctively, one freckled hand flew up to where Kaien had a hold of him, with the intention of prising his jacket free from those strong, grasping fingers. The other rested against Kaien's chest, as though he would be able to break them apart, but the taller, broader boy had already closed the distance between them. Beneath the palm of his hand, Marco was aware of the steady, powerful beat of his hiking partner's heart.

In that instant, Marco had a momentary sense of Kaien's immense strength. Although he himself was among the taller and more muscular cadets, Kaien was in a league all of his own. This dominance seemed easy to Kaien, like he wasn't even trying, as though he could lift the younger boy clean off his feet if he desired. Outmatched though he was, Marco's brown eyes bore into violet, warily holding that gaze. His teeth were gritted, a furrow of confusion - perhaps even fear - in his brow. Kaien was so big, and so close.

Look, if you're hoping that this will be some kind of journey where we share our life stories, laugh and have a good time then you're going to be very disappointed.

With that, Kaien pushed him away, Marco staggering a little as he regained his balance, still stunned by the confrontation. The older cadet spoke calmly, plainly.

Pick a rumour you'd like to believe and believe it. I don't care.

Kaien had a point there, and Marco felt a sting of shame. He should have known better than to ask about something rumoured, even if it was among the kinder and more innocuous whispers that swirled around the towering, lavender-haired cadet. It was presumptuous, rude and it had clearly struck a nerve. Yet, for a brief instance, something more than annoyance wrote itself into Kaien's eyes. Jean had dropped his guard like that once, revealing grief in his amber-brown shades, but with Kaien it was something more akin to anguish. Concern flared within the freckled cadet, his regret burgeoning. Somehow, even though it hadn't been his intention, he had wounded his companion. And Kaien certainly cared, even if his assertion was to the contrary.

"Okay," Marco answered hoarsely, smoothing out his rumpled jacket. He cleared his throat softly and fumbled with his compass, flustered. "Okay. We don't have to talk." The day would seem all the longer without the rhythm of conversation, but he could respect his partner's wishes. With Kaien asking the way, Marco drew out his map, folding it several times to make it smaller and more manageable, focusing in on the area they currently occupied. Even as he busied his hands, trying to move on from their exchange, he could feel the heat in his cheeks.

Pinching the compass against the paper with a thumb, Marco aligned it with the north-south grid, orientating the map to north. It was still a new skill, and he felt that he was slow at it, like this was taking a lifetime. Distantly, he wondered why he cared, why he felt so unsteady. "I just… need to get our bearing," Marco murmured apologetically, his gaze flitting to Kaien, a small, tight smile on his lips. His partner mightn't want conversation, but Marco didn't suppose that meant absolute silence. They had to communicate at least a little through this challenge.

Aligning the compass with the route plotted, Marco determined their angle and direction. "We're heading north-east. It's uphill…" His gaze narrowed at the map, gauging the contour lines. "It shouldn't be too steep, not for this first leg anyway. Our checkpoint is beside a stream. It looks like the ground levels out a bit…" He was providing too many details, perhaps. Exhaling with a quiet sigh, Marco fell silent, nodding to Kaien as he took the lead.

Their ascent continued, carving through a rocky, barren hillside. They travelled through the browning heather, the ground damp and uneven beneath their mucky boots. Flecks of mud painted the backs of Marco's legs as they walked. In the summer, this place would be all purple, blush and mauve, the air sweet with pollen and carrying with it the drone of busy bumblebees. With his coloured hair, Kaien would fit very well into such a landscape, but Marco knew better than to make this remark aloud. Instead, he dwelt on the older cadet's outburst, on what had been said in the heat of that moment, and what it could possibly mean. If you're lucky enough to miss it. He didn't miss home then - but why?

The only sound was the wind brushing through the heath and coarse grass, his own increasingly ragged breath, their slow and steady footfall. Dark clouds bloomed on the horizon, as if to reflect the current mood, and Marco's hope for some warmth dwindled. The ground was levelling out a little, so he came to a halt, turning to check on Kaien. "The stream shouldn't be far… do you want to take a break, or keep pushing on?" The question was asked gently, Marco's expression mild. He hooked his thumbs under his backpack's straps, fidgeting a little. The fact that his partner was likely hungry hadn't slipped his mind.

Training Corps Barracks & Grounds / Re: Learning from the Master
« on: December 05, 2019, 02:32:40 PM »
Working his way through the course, Marco moved as though he did not have an audience, manoeuvring as he normally would during drills, classes and tests.  His feedback from instructors was positive, his performance perfectly acceptable – certainly it wasn’t going to keep him from the place in the top ten that he so fervently aspired to – but in wanting to be his own best, he craved critique beyond what the busy instructors could provide.  In this Jean was a blessing, and Marco was aware of the boy’s eyes on him, measuring and gauging. 

Avoiding the obstacles with ease, he ascended using the pillars, until Jean fell in beside him, the breeze ruffling through their hair.  Marco tilted his head, catching his companion’s eye, staying mindful of their surroundings while listening to the advice.

Muscle translated to weight, and Marco had dismissed it a limitation that he could do little to nothing to change.  Certainly it hadn’t occurred to him that he could use it to any sort of advantage.  Entertained by Jean’s observations on Reiner, and cheered by the assessment, Marco flashed a grateful grin.  With a nod, he turned to watch as Jean demonstrated his meaning.

There wasn’t a shred of envy in Marco as he observed, only admiration, and a wish that he could possess the same easy grace.  There was power and majesty in Jean’s movements, a presence that surpassed mere planning and instinct.  He was one of those rare cadets who seemed as at home in the air as he did with his two feet firmly planted on the ground.  He made it look effortless.

Following Jean’s lead, Marco imitated his tactics, allowing gravity to feed into his momentum by resorting to the gas trigger only when a boost was absolutely required.  It took forethought, he found, his kind eyes almost constantly scanning the route ahead, planning his next move.  With time and practice, it would hopefully become easier and more reflexive.  Reaching a platform, Marco recalled his grapple hooks and dashed across the slats, launching them once more as he leapt from the far end, gaining a little height while resisting the gas entirely.

“You’re good at this teaching business,” Marco remarked warmly, calling out to Jean over the rush of wind roaring past.  “If you ever decide the MP isn’t for you, there’s always instructing!”   

IC / Re: To Write is Human
« on: December 04, 2019, 11:10:40 PM »
Jean's words broke Marco's heart a little. Beneath the cocky, self-assured, capable exterior there gaped yawning wounds. The loss of a father, a mother in a quiet house, the weight of love and responsibility on young shoulders… but it didn't end with grief alone. Did Jean really think so little of himself as to imagine he wasn't worth someone's time?

The freckled cadet was glad that he had a moment to focus on wiping the ink from Jean's face. Seeing the boy flinch, Marco worked quickly, gently, withdrawing his hand as soon as evidence of the smudge was cleared. Kindness was something that cost nothing, something that didn't need to be earned. Pulling away, he settled back onto the bench.

"Uh, yeah. I know your full name now and everything," Marco smiled with gentle humour, though the furrow in his brow spoke of his concern for his fellow cadet. "There mightn't be a flock, but there's at least one, for what it's worth." There was a candidness to Marco, to his words. He clasped his hands, resting them on his letter paper, warm brown eyes trained on the cadet sitting opposite him.

"You don't ever have to be alone if you don't want to be. Anytime you need someone to listen, I'm here." The fact that he didn't know Jean all that well - though after this conversation, Marco could say with confidence he knew the boy from Trost at least a little better - did nothing to dissuade him, nor made the sentiment any less earnest. The thought of anyone suffering genuinely wounded him. And Jean… well, Jean had certainly suffered. "Even if it's the middle of the night. Even if you don't want to talk, if you just want company… dig me in the ribs, yeah?"

Wall Rose / Re: Wind-chill Factor
« on: December 03, 2019, 06:31:32 PM »
Although he didn’t voice his concerns, Marco worried a little about their team’s dynamic.  He couldn’t say he knew Javier well – the boy quietly falling to the back of the group – but from what little Marco had seen of him, he was friendly and softly spoken.  The freckled cadet hoped he would be able to help manage Jean and Eren, if it came to that.  With any luck, the frigid conditions would cool hot heads and fiery tempers.  But once they were a few days in, the cold aching and constant, hunger gnawing incessantly in their guts… well, then everyone’s patience and cheerfulness might be tested.

Jean swearing was not a promising start, though Marco couldn’t say he disagreed with the sentiment.  Turning to the boy from Trost, who was wrapped in woollen knits of an emerald green shade, Marco shrugged his shoulders almost apologetically.  His body was made all the broader by the thick layers, the patient smile he offered alluded to only by the faint crinkling around his honey-brown eyes.  The instructors had certainly handed them a challenge, and Marco was quite sure this group’s composition was no accident.

Eren was right though, it was all about resilience.  And perseverance.  And teamwork.

“I don’t know... aren’t we a little remote for there to be bridges?” Marco mused, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth behind his grey scarf.  Not wanting to seem pessimistic or to dishearten his teammates, he quickly continued on.  “Maybe the hunters who come out this far will have built one.  I guess we’ll see when we get there.”  His tone was bright and hopeful, thinking that even a basic structure would be far preferable to none at all.

Around them towered spindly trees laid bare by winter and shining with frost.  Through their creaking branches the wind whistled faintly, eerily, the barren canopy above offering them no protection, the snowdrifts buffeted by an icy breeze.  The other groups, with their staggered starts, had spread out and already there was a growing sense of isolation, as though they were the only people for miles.  Here the snow lay in a thick carpet, taking considerable effort to plough through, powder churning around Marco’s boots as he trudged on.  “We should probably take it in turns to walk at the front, or travel two by two,” Marco suggested, bowing his head against the rising wind.  Walking through snow this deep was exhausting and there was no need for them all to deplete their reserves.  The trail would be at least a little easier on those who followed, treading along a path that had been somewhat flattened by the person ahead.  Admittedly, Marco was primarily thinking of Eren when he made this suggestion.  Eren, despite being one of the most determined cadets – if not the most determined – was by far the youngest and smallest of their number.

Wall Rose / Re: Wildness is a Necessity
« on: December 02, 2019, 11:54:47 PM »
It's probably for the best anyway.

Those words caused Marco to tilt his head a little. Did this mean his partner lacked confidence with orienteering? The instructors often had reams of information to impart during lessons, and frequently lectured to sizeable classes - that was thanks to the introduction of conscription, no doubt - so it was all too easy to miss some details. Diligent though he was, it had happened to Marco himself on occasion. Perhaps when they were up on the hillside, he could offer to help Kaien with the more technical aspects of hiking. And if the lavender-haired boy wasn't interested, that was okay too, as Marco was content to navigate the entire route for them if needed. Even if this was the first time his own capabilities would be properly tested.

Walls, hopefully they didn't get lost.

There came a stretch of silence, save for Kaien's thoughtful hum, which suggested the older cadet was giving the question some consideration. Marco was grateful for that; an earnestly given answer was always preferable to one uttered reflexively. Still, Kaien's response, when it came, caught him by surprise.

"Boring is… good?" Marco queried gently, following his companion's lead by coming to a halt and peering up at him quizzically. Boredom wasn't something he often felt, admittedly, preoccupied as he was with applying himself to his studies, fervently using his spare time to study and revise his notes - and to write home, of course. Kaien moved off again and Marco followed suit, now travelling in the older boy's wake.

"I'm really enjoying it," Marco confessed, his focus falling to the ground, watching the rise and fall of Kaien's boots. The incline was growing steeper, the cold air around them carrying with it the faint scent of fallen pine needles. "I have a lot to learn, and there are so many new skills to practice…" After a pause, and with his head full of thoughts of his mother and a door framed by climbing roses, Marco continued: "But even though I've always wanted to be a soldier, I sometimes miss home."

Through the trees came the brilliant, blazing light of sunrise, heralded by the first sounds of muted birdsong, the bravest of the woodland's creatures welcoming the frigid dawn. The spoke-like shadows cast by the bare trees were stark and inky, sunlight sparkling in the frost-rimmed puddles that punctuated the trail path. Although his boots were up to the task of wading straight through them, Marco chose instead to avoid the small pools, oftentimes placing his feet in the prints Kaien left. Twigs snagged and dragged across their coats, the taller boy contending with branches more frequently than his freckled partner.

A glance up revealed dawn's light catching in the purple-hued hair Marco itched to ask about. Instead, another question fell from his lips. "You're - you're from Wall Sina, right?" The question rang hesitant, even to his own ears. Bringing up something Kaien hadn't told him directly felt dangerously close to bad manners, but his curiosity was too great, burning too bright and too hot to hold. Cadets loved to talk, and although Marco didn't enjoy gossip, he would have to be deaf to have not heard some whispers about the towering boy's origin. Rumours of nobility seemed to carry some weight, and the education that accompanied such high birth might go some way to explaining why Kaien was bored by their classes.

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