Imagine a doll. Just a small, plain, wooden doll; vaguely resembling a “chibi” anatomy doll. The doll – no matter the gender – has angelic-fine hair of whatever color down to whatever length glued down on top of its head with a pristine hair part; the clothing being a simple dress of any color for a girl doll, a simple white shirt tucked into cargo pants of any color for a boy doll. Sometimes it will have a little jacket or shrug over its clothing, sometimes it has “fancy” belts, but nothing else that would make it more than just a simple, plain doll. There are no eyes, nor nose, nor mouth, nor ears; just the hair and the clothing to distinguish it from all the other dolls.
Now…Imagine if the doll was more than just a doll. Like…There’s something special about it. Something…alive. Something that makes you keep it near you at all times, something that makes it very near and dear to you, despite “just being a doll.”
Legend has it that dolls like these aren’t dolls; rather…Spirits of kind, gentle people who had lived a selfless life but died tragically at an early age. The spirit inhabits the doll, shapes it to its general profile before it died, and remains dormant until some kind yet unsuspecting child comes along and picks it up.
It takes a bit more than that, though, to wake up the doll. There are five strings attached to the doll – one on each wrist, one on each ankle, and one on the back of its neck – that languidly snake up to a small wooden crossbeam. The doll could be considered a puppet at that point, but the spirits don’t like that terminology – puppets. They do not like the illusion/impression of being controlled, despite what they agreed and allowed themselves to become. To wake the doll, the child must pluck all five strings, one by one. Once this is done, something truly magical happens.
The doll vanishes from the child’s hands, only to appear beside them as how they were before they died, like they were human again. The doll – well, when outside their doll, the proper term is spirit – then gives a brief introduction of what it is, and then tells what their purpose is. The child who has awoken the spirit becomes the spirit’s “master,” and despite the spirit still having (most of) the free will it did as a human, the spirit is supposed to help its “master” with everything they want; they are there to assist, to give company, to keep their “master” happy, to do as their “master” wishes…They’re pretty much the “best friend for life” but to a slightly farther extent, somewhat treading into “butler” territory if you wish to think of it as so. With the free will the spirit still has, though, they can interpret what their “master” wants and how to carry it out, no matter how much the “master” may try to close up any loopholes – they aren’t the “master” themselves, so they need to do a little interpreting in the first place, and they can do whatever they want as long as they still abide by what their “master” wants. (It's because of this that spirits hate the impression of being controlled, even though they technically are.)
When the spirit has finished its services for the time being, it reverts back into its doll form. Though the entire time – while the doll is in spirit form and interacts with its “master” – only the “master” can see the spirit; onlookers only see the “master” playing with a wooden doll like a puppeteer. This can cause onlookers to worry about the “master’s” mental state, however there is nothing wrong with the “master”; onlookers simply cannot see the truth, while the “masters” can.
Well...There IS a slight exception to that...Spirits normally do not like to be seen by anyone other than who HAVE to see them - i.e. their "master." This does not mean that the spirits cannot interact with inanimate objects, nor that they cannot touch other people. The spirit CAN allow itself to be seen by others - as per their "master's" wish, or their own desire to be seen - but this is seldom; spirits almost always ONLY allow their "master" to see them, and if need be, mess with other humans while being invisible to the others.
The spirit ever-so-slightly bends its will and sense of self to its “master” (and vice versa), and unfortunately because of this, the spirits that were once so kind and pure can become corrupted if they fall into the hands of a corrupted child. For this, spirit dolls tend to hide their dolls away in locations where corrupted children normally would not find them. But there have been too many times where innocent dolls have been turned corrupted that they have become “taboo” and forced worried onlookers to find ways to kill the spirits inside to keep them from “corrupting their children” (when really the corruption happened in the opposite direction).
The only way to kill a spirit doll is to cut all five strings. The “ultimate punishment” to any spirit doll is to cut one or more of the strings – but not the one connected to the neck. Cutting any of the other strings causes the arm(s) or leg(s) to become mutilated – drenched in blood – and lose all functioning; it becomes as stiff as petrified wood, about as snap-able as one, and cannot move whatsoever. It causes continuous, never fading pain for the spirit, like having to experience the physical pain of an amputation for the rest of your existence. If the string connected to the neck is cut, the one to do so essentially “killed” the spirit; it loses all free will, thinking capacity, imagination, ability to comprehend, and anything that makes it human; it’s only able to follow its “master’s” orders to a T, like an emotionless robot. The only way for any of the above to be fixed is if the “master” truly regrets what happened to the doll and re-threads the cut string(s).
No one has seen or heard of these dolls in a very long time, and it has been assumed that they’ve all died out (or that they don’t exist). But the truth is: They’ve seen how corrupted the world has become, and have hidden all of themselves away, believing there to be no child left in the cruel world that is pure of the corruption. They do not want to associate with corruption, knowing that avoiding it is the very reason why they exist, and with many sadden hearts have sealed themselves away somewhere where no human could ever find them again.
The girl looked up from the storybook her mother had read to her, too young to understand most of the words yet old enough to be able to read quite a few of them. “So they aren’t here anymore, mommy?” The girl asked in a half-whimper, her (eye color) jewels shimmering with tears at the thought. Her mother gave a warm smile, chuckling a bit.
“No, dear,” She said, her voice just as warm as her smile, ruffling her daughter’s (hair length) (hair color) hair and closing the fairy tale. “They still exist. No one knows where, though. That’s all.”
The little girl gave a sigh of relief, before becoming upset again. “I don’t like people,” She exclaimed grumpily, crossing her arms, pouting. “They’re so mean; they drove all the nice dolls away!” Her voice whined in the usual, annoying little kid as she stated her reasoning.
Her mother gave a laugh. “Trust me, people aren’t as bad as they seem. Not anymore. The dolls just need to come out so they can see it.” Her mother had been referring to what happened over one hundred years ago; humanity had been pushed to the brink of extinction because of a natural predator called Titans, and one hundred years ago the last Titan fell. During the time the Titans existed was when people became “too corrupted” for the spirit dolls, according to the girl’s mother.
The mother gave a small “ah,” then smiled widely. “You know what day it is tomorrow, don’t you, (Name)?”
At this, the girl perked up. “It’s my birthday!”
Nodding, the mother said, “Un-huh. And I got a very special gift for you.” The girl’s eyes widened, practically pleading for her mom to tell her what it is. “I won’t tell you what it is; you’ll have to see tomorrow, alright sweetie?”
The girl pouted. “But I wanna know what it is now.”
The mother patted the girl’s head and stood up, grabbing the book as she did so. “Well, sorry; it’s for your birthday, which is tomorrow – not tonight. If you go to sleep, you’ll pass the time faster and get your gift sooner, though~” With this, the girl immediately hunkered down in her bed and snuggled up under the covers.
“Night, sweetie.” With that, the mom left, turning off the light, and the girl fell asleep.
Tomorrow morning, the girl jumped up from the first bird’s chirping, startled. Remembering what today was, she ran straight into her mom’s bedroom, and jumped on the bed. “Mommy! Mommy! Time to wake up!”
Already being partially awake, the mother gave a tired chuckle and said, “Alright, alright; give me a minute. I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
The girl ran off like a speeding bullet, almost crashing into the wall once or twice as her feet thumped on the wooden floors while she navigated through semi-small hallways to the kitchen. Once there, the girl scrambled to sit on one of the wooden seats, practically bouncing up and down as she waited for her mother. Her mother walked in slowly, still rubbing the remnants of sleep from her eyes with one hand while holding something behind her back with the other. With each step she took, there was a soft thunk as if something was lightly colliding with a wall or something. The girl started bouncing even more.
With a mischievous smile, the mother placed the thing she was hiding behind her JUST out of the girl’s sight, walked over to the fridge, pulled out a small cake, and set it on the table. “The one day of the year I’ll let you eat cake for breakfast…” The mother sighed dramatically, still smiling to indicate it was a joke. The girl giggled.
The mother lit the candles on the cake (with minimum difficulty) with a wooden match, shaking the match to put out the flame. “Make a wish.”
The girl closed her eyes and blew out the candles with more effort than what was necessary (as usual with littler kids), though she didn’t make a wish; she didn’t know what to wish for. She was too modest to wish for anything, and too bashful to ask for anything. It was one of the “flaws” she had, though her mother always said it was a positive thing. She stayed quiet (though still bounced a bit with excitement) as her mom cut a slice of cake for her and gave it to her on a plate, digging in right away. Eventually, the two became mostly full on cake, and the mother retrieved the present. Setting it down in front of the girl, she saw it was a little wooden box with a tiny metal latch. Gently, she opened the latch, and gasped quietly at what she saw.
Inside was a little wooden doll, with almost chin-length blonde hair that was as fine as angel hair, not a single strand out of place. The shirt was white, gently framed by a tan jacket, and the pants were an off-white with brown shorts (or at least they looked like shorts) on over them. There were five strings, attached to both wrists, ankles, and the neck, leading up to a small wooden crossbow. The girl sucked in a breath; the doll was adorable – but that’s not what shocked her. What shocked her was how much it reminded her of the story her mother told her.
Head shooting up immediately, the girl looked at her mother with a priceless, shocked look, and her mother gave her a knowing look in return. “Go on; it’s yours. I think you’ll enjoy it.” Her voice was light and warm like it normally was, though there was a note of depth to it the girl was not familiar with. Not paying much attention to that, the girl swiftly hugged her mother and dashed off to her room, doll in hand.
The story must be true! she thought while running. It must be! It has to be!
Once she was in, she closed the door and hopped on her bed. Holding the doll up daintily and carefully by the crossbeam with one hand at arm’s length, she tilted her head and inspected the doll carefully. The sunlight that filtered through the window illuminated the golden hair, making it shine and glow in a mesmerizing way. (Eye color) orbs widening almost comically, she reached a timid hand out and gently plucked one of the strings. It soundlessly vibrated for a few seconds, the vibrations dying out very quickly. Gingerly, she plucked the string next to it, almost hesitant and nervous of the vibrations. A bit more bravely, she plucked the third string, then the fourth, then the fifth. All the air rushed out of her lungs in a mini panic-gasp as immediately a small wooshing sound blew about outside and the doll vanished instantly. The girl looked around wildly, eyes wide with fear, panicking a bit.
Too caught up in fright, she didn’t notice the dip in the bed behind her, to the side, until a gentle hand rested on her shoulder. Her head snapped up as she jumped off the bed and stood, shocked by what she saw.
Sky blue eyes, full of tenderness and kindness, stared back into her own (eye color) eyes. When she looked away to look at the rest of the person, she noticed the same blonde hair from before was framing the person’s face with eyebrow-length bangs and a bowl-like cut; and she noticed that the person had creamy pale skin. He was obviously a guy, but a very pretty one at that. Letting her curious eyes wander, she took note of the boy’s garb; white shirt, tan jacket that reached his wrists, off-white pants, a dark brown…Skirt? Skirt-like thing? Many brown belts, and knee-length dark brown boots. His jacket was adorned with patches, the boots and skirt(?) permanently partially wrinkled, the many belts made semi-intricate shapes on his thighs and shirt. It looked like a military uniform…One of the uniforms from before one hundred years ago! she realized.
He looked to be about fifteen-ish. Maybe a bit older, given he had that boyish look that could cover up age pretty well. And the girl looked to be about eight; just barely more than half his age (if fifteen WAS his age).
“Um…Sir? W-Who are you?” The girl asked, not QUITE afraid, but not overly excited to be around him quite yet. Though there WAS an air about him that made the girl feel like she could trust him…
The boy smiled. “My name is Armin Arlert. What’s yours?” His voice was soft – softer than how soft his hair looked to be. It made her feel warm on the inside, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“(N-Name). (First and Last Name). It’s nice to meet you.” The girl stuck out her hand for the boy to shake.
Armin let out a tiny chuckle as he shook the girl’s hand, then a small frown graced his features. “What…What year is it?”
“Year One Thousand and One.” The girl stated proudly, right fist over her heart, left fist behind her back; the salute from all those years ago was still used today, and it surprised Armin greatly. Or maybe it was what year it was.
“One thousand and…” He repeated, cutting himself off. The last memories he had were of back in Year 852; some time after he turned seventeen. Shaking his head, he asked, “What…What year were the Titans eradicated – or are they still around today?!”
The girl smiled proudly, puffing out her chest a bit. “The Titans were finished by Year 900. It’s been exactly one hundred and one years since their…eratitatid.” Armin smiled; her attempted (and failed) use of a “big” word was cute.
The girl dropped the salute and sat back down on the bed next to Armin, and looked up at him. “Sorry if this is rude, but…When…When did you die?” The girl suddenly seemed nervous, like she was suddenly standing in a landmine field, but ventured one question further. “W-What was life like?”
Instead of being upset, the boy adorned a pensive look. “I died back in 852, fighting one of the Titans.” The girl drew in a semi-loud breath. “Before the Titans destroyed the Walls, life was just perfect.” A smile graced his lips. “Yeah, I was bullied often, but my friends would always save me – then we’d go have fun for the rest of the day!” The smile dropped somewhat. “Then the Titans came. Life got very hard from there, but it wasn’t completely bad; I still had my friends, and that’s all I needed.” The smile dropped completely. “Then…Then one of them was about to die, and…I took their place.” He shook his head. “You don’t really need to hear about that, though, do you? You’re…What? Seven?”
“Nine,” The girl corrected proudly. “I turned nine today.” Armin couldn’t help but smile a bit at her enthusiasm, but felt a pang of guilt for talking about such a topic in front of someone so young…Even if she asked in the first place. The girl was quiet for a moment, before she asked out-of-the-blue, “You’ve been bullied…?”
Armin nodded. “Yeah. Why?”
The girl was silent for a moment, looking away, before asking very quietly, “How do you get rid of them?”
Armin blinked. Where did that come from? “Why do you want to know?”
The girl just stayed quiet, and Armin put “two-and-two” together. With a silent “ah,” he said, “You’ve been bullied.” It wasn’t really a question.
The girl nodded, pulling her knees up to her chest. “H-…How do you get them to go away?” Armin sighed; this was a tough topic, and really he wasn’t the one who got rid of the bullies…
An idea stuck him. “How old are the bullies? Around your age?” The girl nodded. He gave a gentle smile. “This is how you can get rid of them—” The girl’s eyes lit up. Armin leaned in closer to her and whispered, “—…Keep my doll with you at all times, and if they try to bug you, just ask me to get them to go away, okay?”
The girl nodded frantically and chanted quickly, “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” She hugged him tight. “Thank you! No one has ever helped me when it came to the bullies; no one would make them go away before. The school doesn’t care, and the teachers pretty much let the bullies do as they please – and award them for doing so.” The girl pouted a bit at that, then smiled again, redoubling her hugging efforts.
Armin gave a small, empathetic chuckle. No one cared for his bullies either, except for Eren and Mikasa…He fought off a frown from blossoming on his face. Pulling back slightly, he asked, “So…When do you have to deal with them?”
The girl looked a bit sad and said, “Every day at school. Today is Sunday, so I have to deal with them again tomorrow…” She perked up then said, “But you said you’d get them to go away, so I don’t need to be sad!”
Such a childish yet adorable smile… Armin thought, giving a genuine smile at her enthusiasm. “Well, is there anything you want to do today?”
The response was immediate. “Lets read some stories! Or maybe we can go walk around the backyard and make up a few stories! Or—” She looked up into his eyes, hopeful. “Maybe…Can you tell me stories you read or were told or came up with when you were around?”
Armin’s eyes lit up. “I know many stories. There’s this one in particular that I like – and I think you’ll like it too – about a little mermaid…”
That’s how their entire day was spent; Armin recounting to the little girl all the lost fairy tales he had memorized as a child. She was stunned by just how many had been lost over the years; they were just too good to be lost! As story after story was told, the two didn’t notice the sun’s gradual change from blue skies to orange, then to pretty periwinkle blue – on the edge of becoming dark out. They only noticed when the girl’s ears perked up at a faint, very familiar sound from outside her room; the sound of her mom humming a lullaby whose lyrics had been lost for years as she did her nightly chores. The girl smiled as the familiarity of it struck a chord inside of her, letting a relaxed, serene feeling spread out from her heart to fingertips. She gave a small yawn, cuddling into Armin’s side, the two having long-since moved to sit side by side.
Armin recognized the lullaby, and noticing the effect it had on the girl, he paused mid-sentence of a story about a prince who was turned into a beast and be returned to his human form by a girl he learned to love. He asked in a softer than usual voice, “Do you recognize this song?”
The girl “mm-hmmm”-ed, her eyes starting to become heavy, and she asked languidly, “Do you know the lyrics to it? No one knows nowadays…”
Armin nodded, but was hesitant of the obvious next question; the song seemed innocent enough in the beginning, but if you looked closely enough the meaning was…Twisted, to say the least. But she’d be too young to understand the meaning behind it… He thought.
The next obvious question was popped. “Do you think…You can sing it to me, please?”
Armin debated for a moment, then nodded again. Taking a deep breath, he sung slowly and softly in tune with the mother’s humming, “Sleep, child; the darkness will rise from the deep, and carry you down into sleep—Child; the darkness will rise from the deep…” His voice eventually lulled the girl to sleep, so she didn’t notice how Armin flickered then faded, the doll she was given earlier that day now being clutched between her little hands like a teddy bear as-if it had been there the entire time. Eventually the mother came in, smiled at her daughter, tucked her in, turned off the light, then proceeded to go to her own bedroom to sleep.