Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2537
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

I got a lovely piece of fan art from Yaoi-Lover-Bro of Eren and Levi on the walk to Metz. If you look closely, Eren has blood on his left leg from getting shot by Americans, but he still has a smile on his face, so happy to be alone with Levi... and doped AF on meth, haha! The suspenders are kinda hot, no? By total coincidence, I have a flat cap in the exact same style and color as Levi’s in this picture. It got packed away when I moved off the farm; I gotta find it and pull it out. It’s such an amazing feeling, being able to inspire talented artists. - https://yaoi-lover-bro.tumblr.com/post/638810991357984768


Chapter 24

A Forest Ride

 

The company traveled through the hills and forests of the Ardennes region as the September drizzle continued. Even if they did not know the full details of this escape to Metz—such as why they were heading north and not south—the soldiers sensed that it was no normal transfer to another location. The officers kept hushing them. The pace was slow and cautious, despite Kitz’s speech that said they needed speed. Gunther and Ian rode their horses back and forth between the three platoons, working as guides and making sure no one strayed off into the woods.

Jean drove one of only three supply trucks, packed with their gear, food, and ammunition. They also had two extra horses being pulled along behind. Marlo and Grützmacher had been their only fatalities, one shot by Kitz for flirting with the Jews, the other beaten to death by Eren for raping Levi. A soldier in Metz could use their horses. Sitting beside him, Armin had his field radio set up with his normal whip antenna so he could pick up from all directions. His hand pushed on his headphones to hear through the static and noise of the truck’s engine.

“Anything?” Jean asked him.

Armin twisted a dial. “No, and that’s good news.”

Jean sighed and stretched his fingers on the steer wheel. “I hope we meet with nobody until we’re at the gates of Metz.”

Up ahead, far enough up the road so he could not hear the noisy company, Eren rode his horse with Levi sitting behind him, his back warm with the heat of Levi’s chest. He thought that it could have been a pleasant early autumn ride through the countryside, if not for the need to keep an eye out for the red, white, and blue flags of the enemy.

“There’s a fork in the road. Which way do we go?”

Levi ended up being his navigator. As a captain, Levi knew how to read a map like this. Armin’s route was admittedly brilliant, a careful weaving between known locations of American troops, using the hilly forests of the Ardennes to hide themselves, taking roads that were so small, tanks had no chance to go across them. Even their trucks would have a hard time. The American army would stick to larger roads to move their massive divisions on from city to city.

Eren had explained everything to Levi on the road, how someone had given them false information, how the Allies had surged past them without checking their small village, and how they now had to avoid the enemy troops as they made a speedy flight north, back into Axis-controlled areas of Belgium, then over to Luxembourg, and finally an approach to Metz from the east. Rather than a few hours, this would take two days, going slower in order to kick up as little dirt as possible and avoid detection.

As tempting as it was to tell Eren to go another direction so Levi could escape to the Allies, he was sure that more people had maps and would catch the deception. His life was only barely saved, and he was determined to do anything to live to see the next day. Plus if he headed the company toward Allies, they were likely to be shot the second someone saw a swastika.

“Straight, but in the next town we go east.”

East. Toward Germany.

The Germans were falling back, and their forces were consolidating in a city that notoriously had never been invaded since Attila the Hun. Even during the Battle of France, the Germans wisely went around Metz, avoiding it. It only became German thanks to the armistice between France and Germany.

No such political agreement would happen here. The Allies had to purge the Germans out, or else risk leaving tens of thousands of enemy troops to wreak havoc on the countryside after the tanks rolled past toward the Westwall. Invading Metz, though, was a feat that no army in 1,500 years had accomplished. Hitler’s generals were wise to bunker down there as their final defense in France.

Levi struggled to translate German notes Armin had written on the map. “Americans liberated Chateau-Thierry on the 27th, Reims on the 29th, Verdun on the 31st. How can they move an entire army that quickly?” Levi muttered to himself. “The sheer amount of petrol they would need is insane!”

Eren whispered, “America has oil fields. Germany does not. So they have tanks and trucks, while we have horses.” He felt Levi rest his head on his back and tried to look around. “Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” he grunted reluctantly. “I’ve not eaten anything all day. Just a little dizzy, that’s all.”

“You should have said so.” Eren reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a wrapped bar. “Here, eat this. It’s full of … um … Eiweiß und Vitamine. Good stuff.”

Levi accepted it, ripped open the package, and smelled a bar that was slightly fruity and sweet. He ate the protein bar ration as they clomped along.

“Do you need anything else?”

“Water.”

“There’s a canteen on the saddle. Help yourself.”

Eating his food, drinking his water. Levi realized more and more, he really did owe his life to Eren.

A debt that big could take a lifetime to repay.

Levi pulled the blanket a little closer around his shoulders. He hated feeling damp and cold, but he was glad that Eren at least tried to give him something warm to bundle up in. The blanket smelled of him. It was comforting, and the warmth of Eren’s back soothed the cold pain in his heart.

He again rested his head on Eren. Such a strong back! His hand rubbed along the leather jacket. It was nice to see Eren wearing something other than a Wehrmacht uniform. Like this, he could think of him as just a man, not a Nazi soldier.

Eren felt Levi’s hand, the gentle caress, the closeness of his body, and he gulped. A day ago, he would have flirted, or at least tried in his awkward, inexperienced way. Now, he felt unworthy of this warm feeling. He even began to hate it.

A man was dead because of him. What right did he have to feel happy?

“Stop that.”

Those two words came out so coldly, Levi’s hand yanked back on instinct.

What was he doing? A few days ago, Eren intimately touching him sent Levi into a panic. Now, the closeness felt comforting, and hearing Eren bitterly telling him not to touch him hurt deeper than it logically should.

He had never been such a needy man. What was wrong with him?

They continued on for an hour in silence. Levi began to get weary again and leaned against Eren’s back, gazing off into the trees. Then he looked down at the road, and he suddenly jolted.

“Stop!”

Eren pulled the horse to a sharp halt. “What is it?”

He pointed out. “Cigarette. I can smell it still. Whoever threw that down, they passed here less than an hour ago.”

Eren inhaled. “I smell nothing.”

“You smoke so much, I’m not surprised. It’s faint, but it was definitely discarded this morning.” Levi began to look around. “I don’t see … wait, there!” He leaped off the horse and walked off the side of the road. “Smart move, kid,” he muttered to himself. “Boot prints. The road is muddy, so they walked off the path to hide their prints, but you can still see them in the mud over here. Two, maybe three sets. Hard to tell for sure with the boots being the same tread. That means military-issue.”

“Americans?”

“I don’t know what their boots look like.” Levi picked up the discarded cigarette. “No label.” He began to look around more, but he frowned as he saw no more evidence.

“They could be long gone by now.”

“Maybe,” Levi said, sniffing the cigarette. He suddenly pulled back. “Americans, for sure.”

“How do you know?”

“The cigarette reeks of barbecue sauce.” Levi’s eyes shifted back and forth. “We continue, but be careful.”

He walked back and climbed onto the horse. Eren gave him a hand up and felt Levi wrap his arms around his waist again. He smiled faintly to himself. It was nice to at least know that Levi was watching out for him. Still, whenever Eren felt a little happy, Abel’s eyes haunted him.

Another hour passed with birdsong and drizzle. Levi knew he was going to end up feverish from this, but there was nothing to do but draw a little closer for warmth.

“Eren,” he whispered, and he heard a curious hum. “All that happened down in the dungeon … don’t worry about it.”

Eren tried to look around, but Levi hid from his eyes.

“To save a life, you must sometimes take a life. It doesn’t soothe your heart to understand that fact, and it’s the sort of choice no one ever wants to make. It darkens your soul for the rest of your life. I know that better than anyone,” he muttered, thinking about the voices in the dark that screamed at him every night. “I wish I could tell you how to stop the nightmares. All I can say is, sometimes it helps to have a goal and simply continue onward.”

“Thank you,” Eren muttered, glad that Levi was at least trying to comfort him, yet being realistic.

“I’ve also done things I’m not proud of,” he said with disgust in his eyes. “I’ve killed people who were not aware of why they had to die. I’ve killed people who honestly thought they were doing the right thing. In their minds, they were the innocent ones, and I’m the villain. It haunts you,” Levi said grimly. “I won’t say it’ll all be better in the morning. I’m just letting you know, you’re not the only person who has had to kill an innocent person to save another innocent person. Not always can we find a nonviolent solution. You do what you must in order to survive to a new day, and you pray that one day you can atone for it all.”

“Couldn’t agree more, buddy!”

Eren yanked the horse to a halt, and Levi snapped his gaze up into the trees. High above, he saw a man in a camouflage uniform blending in with the forest.

“Didn’t know they spoke English here in Belgium.”

Levi leaned into Eren’s ear. “Don’t say a word.” Then he called up to the hidden man. “Some of us do. Forest bandits normally don’t.”

The man laughed. “Forest bandit? I ain’t no Robin Hood.”

“Good, because we have no money, and I’d make a bloody horrible Maid Marian.”

The man let out a lighthearted laugh. “You speak like a Brit.”

“I lived there for a time. Who might you be? An American?”

“Yup! Come to liberate y’all.”

“Belgium and France are happy to be free from the Nazi swine. So, is your army coming up the road, or have they already passed and cleared the way for us?”

“Nah, they’re off a way still. Me and the buddies are just keeping a lookout, y’see. Make sure none of them Krauts try to sneak around. Pretty sure we got ‘em all chased off, scurrying back toward the Siegfried Line like mice in a flood, but I ain’t gonna complain about relaxing in a tree all day. Beats bein’ a mug slogger. Gonna get rained on either way, but I’d rather keep my feet dry.”

“Well, I’ve seen no one on the road. Do you know where we can find a hot meal?”

“Hell if I know! Ain’t my country. You should probably steer clear of Saint-Hubert and Libramont, though. The boys plan to clear the Krauts out of there in the next day or two.”

“That’s good to know. I’d rather keep clear of any fighting.”

“Where y’all heading to, anyway?”

“Bastogne,” Levi answered. “Do you know if there’s any fighting over there?”

“Sorry, buddy, ain’t got a clue where that is. I will say, those boys are moving east faster than ducks in hunting season. Or is that south?” he muttered in confusion. “Anyway! Good luck to ya, and be safe on the road. Happy victory!” He flashed down a V sign with his fingers.

Levi raised an eyebrow, but Eren gave him a big grin and also held up two fingers. Then he snapped the reins, and the horse continued onward.

Levi rubbed his chin and mumbled, “What was that hand sign? Was he insulting us? I saw people do something like that in England, and it was an insult.”

“He didn’t sound like he was insulting us. He thinks we’re Belgians. Plus he said happy victory. Maybe it’s a V for victory.”

“In any case, it means Americans are nearby, and we need to watch what we say in case there are more hiding in the trees.”

Eren glanced into the gray haze of the rainy forest and dropped his voice. “He’ll see the army when they come by. Should we turn back around and warn them?”

“If we do, he’ll get suspicious of us. He has an advantage, being up in the trees. We’d both be shot easily. No, we need to find the main army. Let that bug-eyed bastard deal with the treetop lookouts.”

“He’ll probably be shot, if Connie can catch sight of him.” Eren lowered his gaze. “That’s rather sad. He seemed nice.”

Levi’s eyes narrowed. “That man is the face of your enemy.”

“I … I know,” Eren said softly. “Still, they’re just people with families back home.” Eren gave a long sigh. “I know what you’re thinking: I’m getting weak.”

“No. You’re showing compassion for your enemy. There is nothing weak about that. It means you have a conscience.”

“We’re taught, conscience is the deepest illness of mankind, robbing you of self-confidence.”

“Conscience is knowing right from wrong, good from evil. If you lose your sense of conscience, what are you left with? Self-confidence is nothing but psychopathy without some form of morality.”

“We were taught in Napola, society forms the moral compass of one’s conscience, and the Jews guided that through religion and guilt.”

Levi openly laughed at that. “Seriously? Germany thinks the Jews molded German society, yet allowed ourselves to be oppressed for two thousand years? And what of American society? Do you think Jews have control over that too? And China? Iran? Africa? South America? Do you think Jews secretly took over the entire world and magically invented human conscience and morality? Please! If Jews really were that amazing, Hitler would hire us, not kill us.”

Eren frowned and said nothing more. Just thinking about the hate Nazis had for Jews made him remember watching Kitz shooting the Jewish prisoners one by one without a shred of remorse. Even killing a rat should make a normal person at least a little sad, let alone murdering a human.

Yet Nazis did not see Jews as fully human. They saw them as worse than rats. Did he feel remorse when he swatted a mosquito? To Kitz and those like him, Jews were a pest and not something to be mourned. In reshaping social morality, Hitler had decreed that killing a Jew was no different from killing an insect.

He rubbed his head. “I hate Nazis,” he whispered.

Levi felt the tension in his back, and he dropped his head. “Join the club.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“You’ve already said so. Let’s drop it.”

They rode along in silence, with the rain seeping through Levi’s blanket. He kept his eyes out, checking the shadowy forest, the leafy branches above, and the road under them. There was no way an entire army passed through here. With the rain, they would have seen clear tracks. Still, here were other roads nearby that crossed this forest road.

Levi patted Eren on the back. “Hold up. The forest is ending.”

The horse slowly trotted past the last trees. It was a clearing for a few farms that had carved their way into the Belgium countryside, and up ahead they saw a group of soldiers.

“Americans,” Eren whispered. “I count twenty-seven.”

“No, twenty-nine.” Levi nodded over to a military truck a little closer to the road, and there two men were sitting to have a smoke.

The two men caught sight of Eren and stood, eyes glaring.

“Halt! Where ya boys heading?”

Levi whispered to Eren. “Remember, don’t talk.” Levi then called out in a thick accent and broken English. “Geeentlemen, good day. We jist riding, go to town.”

Eren looked back at Levi with a pinched brow. He never spoke with that thick of an accent.

“Two guys riding one horse?” one of the Americans muttered.

“One horse, oui. Bring les moutons up road. Bah-bah black sheep, oui?”

The other American rolled his eyes. “Some damn shepherds. Great.”

“Sheep spook easy. You no big army, big boom-booms?”

The two men jostled each other. “Big army,” they chuckled. “America’s army is massive, buddy. We’ve got the biggest boom-booms you’ve ever seen.”

“Where best place for sheep? No want sheep go through big boom-booms.”

One rolled his eyes, but the other stepped forward. “My family raised cows, so I know what you mean about herding dumb animals. You need to drive your sheep through here, but you want to avoid a battlefield, right?”

Oui, yes! No big boom-booms for les moutons.”

The soldier on the truck let out a groan as he smoked his cigarette. “Man, don’t tell him where the army is. What if he’s a Kraut?”

Eren gulped at that.

The other soldier glared back. “Does he sound German to you? Look, I don’t want Sarge to get mad that there are a few hundred sheep blocking the road. If these guys want to avoid the army, all the better!” He turned back to Levi. “Where are you two heading?”

“We go to Bastogne, then down to Ville de Luxembourg,” Levi replied.

“Okay, Bastogne is east of here. Lemme see.”

The soldier reached into a pack and pulled out a map. He walked up to the horse, and Eren tensed, gripping the reins until his knuckles were white. To be this close to the enemy!

“Yeah, so Bastogne is here. You’ll want to avoid Saint-Hubert and Libramont. Keep north of them, if you can. We’re driving through this country rather quickly, though. Stay off big roads.”

Oui, no big roads, that is why we go through forest. No army, no boom-booms.”

The smoking soldier chuckled. “No boom-booms,” he repeated in amusement.

“What about Luxembourg?” asked Levi. “I have family there.”

The soldier shrugged. “With any luck, the Germans there fled and there won’t be fighting. They’ve been hightailing it back to the Siegfried Line the whole time I’ve been here, like we’re chasing a scared flock of goose-stepping cowards.”

Eren held back his rage at the proud Wehrmacht being called cowards, but Levi felt his back stiffen.

“Is good, get Germans out of France.”

The soldier slowly looked up. “You mean Belgium.”

Levi realized too late, they were now in a different country. “Oui, Belgium too.”

The soldier lowered the map and looked them both over. Then his eyes landed on Eren’s watch.

“Fuck.”

Eren saw the movement, the soldier’s hand reaching down to his gun, and he reacted on instinct. He kicked the man in the chin, sending him flipping. Then he yanked the horse’s reins, giving it a shout, and galloped back down the road. They heard gunshots behind them.

“What the hell, Eren?” Levi screamed.

“My watch. I didn’t take it off.”

Levi looked at Eren’s wrist and saw the issue. On the face of the watch was a swastika.

“You idiot,” Levi yelled.

They heard the truck’s engine roaring and the sound of shouts, then another bullet exploded through the air. The horse whinnied, but Eren kicked it to keep running.

“We need to warn the others. That’s nothing more than a platoon, probably sent ahead to scout.”

They heard the truck behind them, chasing them down the road and quickly gaining. There were more gunshots, and Eren let out a cry.

“Eren!”

He gritted his teeth and raced back to the main group. They passed the lookout in the trees who shouted out to them. They even heard a gunshot from him, and the horse whinnied loudly again. Finally, Eren saw the first few horses of the German army.

Wir werden angegriffen.” We’re under attack.

As he rode through the other soldiers, shouting out the warning that Americans were coming, soldiers rushed ahead with their rifles. Eren rode to where Kitz Woermann was riding in one of the company’s motorcars, being chauffeured along.

“Sir! American troops ahead.”

“How many?”

“Twenty-nine, plus at least one in the trees. They’re not much of a threat.” He took off his watch and handed it over. “If you could hold on to that for me, sir. It’s what gave me away.”

“To catch such a detail, those Americans have good eyes after all.” Kitz shoved the watch into a pocket and began to bark out orders. “Halt the company. Slaughter that patrol, every last one of them. Comb the trees for sharpshooters. Don’t let them send word back. Figure out where the hell the main American army is.”

“Sir! I got some information before they found out what I am. Americans are in Libramont and Saint-Hubert, and Luxembourg City may be under attack. We will need to swing much further east than we planned.”

Kitz sneered as he looked at his own map. “That will add a day to our trip. Dammit! Still, better to know now and conserve on bullets. Good job, Jäger. I guess speaking English has its advantages.” Then his eyes drifted down. “You’re bleeding. Were you shot?”

“Not badly, sir, but I don’t think my horse will continue.”

“Fall back to the medical truck, get that patched up, and trade out your horse. Guess we get horse meat tonight,” he said with a chuckle. “After we deal with these bastards, I want you back up front. See if Arlelt can find us a new route.”

“Aye, sir!”

Eren rode along to the very back of the column where the medical truck was located, but he felt his horse shaking. Glancing, he saw it had been shot a few times in the flanks. The poor thing could not continue for the two hundred kilometers they would be traveling.

He finally saw the truck and recognized some of the company’s medical staff.

“Herr Doctor, I have a small wound. Hauptmann Woermann says to get it patched now.”

“Yes, let’s hurry.”

Eren climbed off his horse and flinched when he landed. Levi finally noticed blood soaking through the fabric of Eren's trousers.

“Levi,” Eren said quietly, switching to English, “I need to trust you. Go to Armin. Tell him which cities to avoid.”

“How? I don’t speak German.”

“You can point to the map. We don’t have time for me to get patched and also him to create a new route. Also, have one of the other horses ready. Please, I know you have no reason to help me, but can I trust you?”

Levi understood what he meant. Eren was asking him to ride the horse. The chaos made for a perfect time for him to escape, and even with a wounded horse, he could likely get far away. Yet if he did, Eren would definitely get into a lot of trouble.

Levi pursed his lips. “Be honest. How bad is your wound?”

“Barely a scratch,” he said, waving it off.

Despite saying that, Levi saw the blood spreading over Eren’s uniform. “Fine, but you owe me.” He took up the reins. “Been ages since I rode,” he muttered.

He snapped the reins, but he felt the horse struggling onward. The poor beast was doomed, and Levi felt it was ironic that a German horse’s last act would be to carry a Jew so he could help some Nazis.

Levi rode on, weaving between soldiers, some on horse, some on foot racing forward to where the fighting was happening. He saw Connie run by, and the man glanced up at Levi in confusion. Then he saw the truck, and Jean standing up, trying to survey what all the chaos was about.

Jean saw the Jew on the horse, and his mouth dropped. “Was zum Teufel?” What the devil?

Levi reined in to a stop in front of him, but the Jew spoke in rapid English. He heard Eren’s name, but Jean could not make out more than a few words.

“Armin?” Jean called over. If anyone had a chance of making out this barbaric language, it was him.

Armin came over, and Jean heard the Jew switching to French. Armin’s French was elementary, but at least he had made a diligent attempt to learn the language, thinking it would be helpful while in France. He only stopped studying when he realized this Jew would likely be shot if he was not useful anymore. Armin really was too good for this world, to stop his love of studying just to save a man’s life.

Armin finally looked up. “If I’m getting it right, Eren was shot, not badly, but the horse can’t ride anymore. Get Marlo’s horse ready.”

“Eren was shot?” Jean cried out. “What the hell is happening up front?”

“Eren found some Americans and they opened fire.”

“That suicidal idiot, riding up front.” Jean jumped out of the truck and looked over the horse. “Yeah, three shots to the flank. We could patch this, but we don’t have time.” He stroked the horse’s nose. “Poor thing. This isn’t even fatal, except for being in a rush and having too far for you to go. I almost wish there was a farm nearby to take you in, girl.”

Armin smiled at Jean’s love for horses. His father had been a veterinarian, and Jean had learned in his clinic. Eren teased Jean sometimes, calling him a horse-face, but Jean really did love animals.

Jean led the horse to the food truck (might as well butcher it while they were waiting) and saddled up one of the spare horses. Meanwhile, Armin tried to speak with Levi in what limited French he knew. Levi could not tell him much about Eren, but Armin guessed enough, knowing Eren as well as he did. The wound was probably a lot worse than he would admit, yet he was planning to continue.

Levi pulled out the map and began to point. Through pantomime, Armin was able to mark where American troops were.

“Well, of course they would send scouts this way,” he muttered. “We should have headed north. We can’t stop in Bastogne anymore. We’re moving slower than I expected, and now this. It’ll be an extra day of travel at least, but we won’t know where the Americans are by the time we reach Luxembourg. Should we hope they pass it and angle south, or hope to beat them and head further east? East is a gamble, but south is definitely enemy territory. The extra time for a gamble is worth it. Better to be safe and plan to move around the main cities. At this point, it’s ridiculous to go to Metz at all, we could be in Germany in a day, but orders are orders.”

At last, the new horse was saddled, and Armin had redrawn the map. Not trusting Levi, Jean took the reins and led the horse to the medical truck. Not only was Eren being treated, but two others who had been shot in the confrontation were being patched up.

Eren looked like he was arguing with a doctor, wanting to be released while the medic was firmly against the idea. As Levi came up on the horse, Eren stopped yelling.

Eren could not help but gaze in amazement. Levi looked so handsome on that horse, like a warrior out of the past.

“Hey, idiot,” Jean yelled, snapping Eren out of his thoughts. “Who screwed up: you or the Jew?”

“Ah,” Eren said, looking awkward. “That was me. I left my watch on, and the Americans noticed the swastika. Actually, Levi was doing a great job playing a French peasant. He was really convincing.”

Jean weighed those words. “Okay, fine, so he’s still useful.”

Eren wondered what Jean would have done if he had thought Levi was at fault. “I need to get back out there.”

Jean shoved Eren flat onto the medical cot. “They’re still fighting. Rest until we’re done.”

“I can fight—”

“Rest!” Jean shouted. “I hate the idea, but we need you alive. You’re the only asshole here who speaks English, besides a smelly, wretched Jew.”

Eren was stunned. Jean had never spoken so poorly of Levi or any Jew before. Then he realized they were not around their own platoon. Around everyone else, they had to act like they barely tolerated Levi being in their presence.

“Fine, I’ll rest, only because I want to live long enough to kill that Jew myself.”

“Exactly. Think of something creative and painful.” Jean sighed. Even saying that felt disgusting to him. “Armin has a new route.” Jean yanked the map out of the saddle bag and handed it to Eren. “Study it while you wait. I’m going back to Armin, see what’s on the radio. Pray to God that the Americans don’t call in reinforcements.”

Then Jean left, and Levi was left sitting on the horse next to the truck crammed full of medical boxes and equipment. Up ahead, he heard gunshots. The fight would be over quickly with just thirty Americans, but the problem was if they were close enough to radio anyone. They would need to move on, and quickly.

“Levi,” Eren whispered, drawing his attention over. His eyes were focused on the map, but Levi could tell that he was barely seeing it. “I’m glad you weren’t shot. It must have just barely missed you.” A smile twitched on his lips. “That’s good.”

“You were shot, idiot. Don’t be happy about that.”

Still, Eren was glad it was him, not Levi. When he had turned that horse around and galloped off, he thought about that. Levi was now a human shield to him. He could get shot, blocking the bullets from Eren. When he felt the bullet tear through his thigh, he at first feared Levi had also been hit, so when he realized the Jew was unharmed, the pain no longer mattered. He felt immense relief that Levi was safe.

The fighting up ahead took less than an hour. By then, Eren was testing out his leg.

“I’d never be able to walk that far,” he muttered, “but riding a horse will be okay.”

Levi held his arm, looking deeply concerned as Eren hobbled up to the horse and flinched to mount the saddle.

“The rain should wash the blood out of your clothes,” Levi muttered, “but hopefully anyone we meet doesn’t see your left side.”

“Then I’ll show them my good side.”

Levi shook his head at how lighthearted he could be after having been shot, but perhaps it was how he had been trained. An officer should never show panic in times of crisis.

He climbed behind Eren, and together they trotted on to the front. The Germans were beginning to move forward, slowly and gradually. Eren glanced to the side of the forest road and saw the bloodied uniform of the treetop lookout who had flashed them a peace sign.

“Happy victory,” Eren said in quiet irony. “Die Amerikaner werden nicht die Sieger dieses Krieges sein.” The Americans will not be the victors of this war.

He rode on. Up ahead, the Germans were stripping the dead American platoon, laughing at they took guns as trophies, gathered ammunition, picked through food stores, and even siphoning the gas out of their vehicles, to be used to refill their own trucks.

“Looting the dead,” Levi muttered.

“They won’t need their guns anymore,” Eren said coldly.

They rode on past the soldiers, and soon it was quiet forests again. Both said nothing for a long time, riding along, keeping their eyes out for more trouble.

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I made a map Armin would be proud of.  (https://tinyurl.com/yac3ylyg) The purple is the normal route to Metz. It would take 3 hours by car, 13 hours by bicycle, and 35 hours to walk. The blue route shows Armin’s adjustments. He swerves north of Libramont, Saint-Hubert, and Bastogne, and keeps northeast of Luxembourg City since there might be fighting going on by the time they get there. I used any WWII maps I could find to avoid known locations of Allied troops on these days, all while using walking paths and forest roads so they would be less likely to be spotted. This route would take 55 hours to walk, so it’ll be a few days of traveling.

Chateau-Thierry, Reims, and Verdun – Levi was looking at the movement of the American XX Corps (http://xxcorps.org), part of General Patton's Third Army, as it rapidly pushed through France, sometimes liberating a new city every other day. The problem with Patton's fast push was a lack of fuel supplies. The French Resistance had blown up rail lines prior to D-Day to deplete German resources, but that same damage that helped the Allies get a footing in continental Europe now made fueling the tanks and trucks a huge problem. Parts of the Third Army would end up paralyzed through much of September and spent the rest of 1944 suffering from a lack of fuel and bullets.

Cigarette Without a Label – In World War II, the U.S. Army issued a 4-pack of cigarettes with their daily rations. (It was believed to be healthy.) Back then, there were no filters on cigarettes, so they could be smoked from either end. However, Lucky Strike stamped their label on one end of the cigarettes. If a soldier was interrupted and dropped the cigarette he was smoking, the Germans could tell what country they were from by the label. To make sure soldiers smoked the label first, they flipped all the cigarettes in the pack but one. That would be their final cigarette of the day, smoked when they could relax and fully enjoy the cigarette all the way to the end. If they lived long enough to smoke that final cigarette in the pack with “LUCKY STRIKE” on their lips, it was their “lucky cigarette.” The tradition continues as a sort of talisman among veterans and civilians alike, although by the Vietnam War American cigarettes had filters and could only be smoked one direction, so only one cigarette gets flipped now. I remember my grandfather, a WWII veteran, would flip one cigarette in his pack and save it as his “lucky cigarette.”

V sign – The “V for victory” hand gesture was introduced in 1941 as part of an Allied campaign. Two fingers with the palm facing toward the signer is an insulting hand gesture in parts of England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. This is why Levi mistakes it for an insult at first, but Eren happily flashes it around.

Conscience in Nazi Germany – I discussed this a little earlier. In fact, Eren summarizes something Kitz told him. Nazis twisted many of Nietzsche’s philosophies into antisemitic rhetoric, and promoted ideas he had while missing the entire point Nietzsche was trying to make. This included ideas of banishing conscience and guilt. Nietzsche’s point was that the moral content of our conscience is formed under the influence of society during our childhood, and for society to exist, humanity’s natural instincts of aggression and cruelty had to be turned inward, and “guilt” was created as a way for those in power to hold a debt over those not in power. Conscience is not an innate moral feeling placed in one’s heart by a god, but a chain created by society so it could continue to exist. Nazis took this a step further and declared that guilt was a Jewish construct, and “conscience” was created by arbrahamic religions to suppress the people. Thus, everyone should cast aside the enslaving sense of conscience for a new set of morals cultivated by Aryans for Aryans. This is an easy way to have an entire population stand by as horrific acts happen. If they feel guilt or disgust, you claim they were weakened by Jews and say their sense of morality is a product of the enemy; if they gleefully follow orders that are heinous, you reward them and tell them they’re being a good little Aryan. It was a complete restructuring of social morality, and THAT is a terrifying power to wield.

Levi mocking "Do you think Jews secretly took over the entire world" is sadly precisely what many antisemitic conspiracy theory groups believe. (https://eraoflight.com/2019/09/11/exposing-the-cabal-illuminati-deep-state-globalists-and-global-elites-that-rule-the-world) People buy into many colorful theories, like Jews took over the Illuminati, the Deep State is headquartered in Israel, Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks on America, Jews plan to use 5G to depopulate the world and take over with a one-world government, and National Vanguard declared that Jews are the most powerful and dangerous group in the world. (I won't link to them, or any of the organizations that have been categorized as "hate groups" in America.) So yes, Levi … Hitler really did believe Jews took over the world. Millions of Jews died because of these beliefs, and Jews to this day are hated due to cock-brained conspiracy theories. (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/conspiracy-theories-the-jews)

Horses in World War II – While movies love to show World War II being all about tanks, trucks, and airplanes, horses played a huge role in transporting supplies and troops. Germany arguably had superior machinery, but they were used sparingly due to a severe oil shortage. So of the 264 German divisions active in late 1944, only 42 were armored or mechanized. The Germans used 2,750,000 horses and mules, especially for foot infantry, like Eren's company. With horses, soldiers did not have to rely on petrol, did not have to worry as much about the terrain, and in a pinch, the meat could be eaten. The real advantage for Eren's company in this situation is the noise. Although 100 horses trotting down the road are not exactly silent, it is still far less noisy than 100 motorcycles and trucks. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horses_in_World_War_II


How Oil Defeated the Axis

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wrote: “The battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins.” In other words, logistics and supply lines win a battle, not bullets. As romantic as it is to prioritize the warrior, knight, or soldier, the person doing the fighting needs to have food, weapons, and a means of getting onto the battlefield. It takes supplies, and that takes money. As my World History professor repeated a dozen times every lecture: “Follow the money!” This is especially true for black gold: oil.

In modern warfare, the mightiest planes, tanks, and ships are useless without oil. Yet all three of the major Axis countries (Germany, Italy, Japan) had a similar weakness: they were not self-sufficient in petroleum. Adolf Hitler said, “To fight, we must have oil for our machine.”

Many of the battles in World War II were for a single reason: oil.

  • Invading Romania: Hitler wanted the oil fields.
  • The Battle of Stalingrad: diverting the Russian Army from the Caucasus Mountains so Germany could tap into Russian oil.
  • The fighting in North Africa: a push toward the Suez Canal in hopes of getting to Middle Eastern oil.
  • The Battle of the Bulge: the German’s main goal was the port of Antwerp, which the Allies were using to bring in oil for their tanks. No port big enough for an oil tanker = no gas in the Sherman tanks.

Even German economics of the 1930s into the 1940s were a series of sweetheart deals with Iran and Venezuela in hopes of getting access to their oil, or at least convince them to make it more expensive for the Allies.

In the months leading up to Operation Overlord (D-Day), the Allies realized that the Germans were building planes and tanks faster than they could bomb the factories and military installations making them, so they switched tactics. If they couldn’t destroy the war machine, they would bleed it dry. They bombed the oil fields of Romania, cutting Germany off from their biggest supplier of petrol. This left Germany with a massive oil shortage throughout the rest of the war, and this was a direct reason why some of their offenses, like the Battle of the Bulge, failed. They simply ran out of gas.

Even Japan was all about oil. What was going on in Europe was having direct effects on colonial holdings in the South Pacific. When Germany invaded France in 1940, part of their armistice with the Vichy Government was to allow them to keep their colonies, since Germany did not have the fleet power to defend the South Pacific. However, the French no longer had the strength either. The French colonies were under-defended, and Japan was eager to grow as a world power. They surged over the French colonies.

This rapid expansion worried the United States, since they also had colonies in the South Pacific. After many warnings to cease their imperialistic expansion, President Roosevelt placed a limit on exports to Japan. Japan gambled that an alliance with Germany and Italy would convince the isolationist Americans to back off—in 1940, the United States was still determined not to get directly involved in the war—so Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, officially joining the Axis. Far from scaring the Americans into submission, Roosevelt dealt Japan a death-blow: an embargo on American oil being shipped to Japan.

Japan imported 97% of their oil, with 80% coming from the United States and 20% from the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia). America convinced the Dutch government-in-exile (who kept their colonies after Queen Wilhelmina escaped the Nazis) to break their economic pact with Japan and join them in the embargo. This meant Japan was completely cut off from the oil they needed to fight and simply function. Roosevelt had hoped that cutting off their oil supply would force Japan into a ceasefire, yet it would also completely cripple their economy. (“Follow the money.”)

This happened in August 1941. Japan had only one year of stockpiled oil. At the time, the Dutch East Indies was the fourth largest exporter of oil in the world (behind the U.S., Iran, and Romania; the Middle East had not tapped into their oil fields yet). The American-controlled Philippines stood between those oil fields and Japan.

NOT going to war with the colonial forces was simply not an option anymore, not with Japan’s entire economy riding on how soon the oil stockpile was used up. They were left with one choice: get control of those oil-rich lands and secure the shipping lines between Indonesia and Japan before a year was up. They had a very narrow time table for action, so their strikes had to be swift and precise.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the naval base in Pearl Harbor, temporarily immobilizing the American fleet. While emotionally devastating to the Americans who had been trying to stay out of the war, the attack was purely a cover for their real offensive: those South Pacific oil fields. Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan launched attacks on the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and the British holdings in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. This opened up a direct sea route to the Dutch East Indies, while America’s fleet was still largely paralyzed and unable to come to their aid.

The Dutch knew that agreeing with the American oil embargo would lead to war, so as early as November, they had mobilized their fleet, preparing to attack Japan. Then on December 8th, they declared war on Japan, not yet knowing that just hours earlier, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and destroyed much of America’s Pacific fleet, which the Dutch had expected to rely upon. This preemptive move has led to many historical debates (and a military tribunal) on whether Japan’s attack on the Dutch East Indies was a “war of aggression” or self-defense, since technically the Dutch declared war on Japan first.

Without the American fleet to lend aid, on March 1942, Dutch forces in colonial Indonesia surrendered, and Japan occupied the oil fields. It was a race and a gamble that worked, getting rid of Japan's biggest obstacles and securing the oil in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_East_Indies_campaign)

America retaliated with a highly successful submarine campaign along the shipping lines, targeting and destroying Japanese oil tankers. This slowly suffocated Japan from its oil lifelines. By 1945, Japan’s economy collapsed. Fuel for the Japanese air force and navy was drastically rationed, until they simply could not fuel up their planes and ships. Without oil, Japan drew back, preparing to defend their island from a full invasion, even without planes or tanks. Instead of a full invasion, America dropped two nuclear bombs. Realizing the loss of life was far too high, and they could not fight this sort of war without even basic supplies, Japan surrendered.

When you step back from bland history books with their mind-numbing lists of battles and dates, when you look at WHY battles happened, WHY that location, WHY at this particular time, you’ll see that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was right: it’s all about logistics, supplies, and the money needed to keep the war machine running. Both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany embarked upon wars of conquest for access to oil, yet ultimately it was shortages of this black gold that contributed to each nation’s defeat. Whether it’s modern fighting in the Middle East, or 1940s fighting in Indonesia and Romania, just “follow the money” and you’ll see why humans fight: a constant struggle for resources, supply and demand.



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