Joined: 30-April 06
From: lets just say, you don't want to live here either
Member No.: 35,364
QUOTE (Chiyo @ Sep 9 2009, 07:58 AM)
I promised I'd keep up with these, and I didn't. I'm a bad person!
To start with I do have a lot to catch up on but I read the most recent chapter just to check it out. This is just the most epic fanfiction I have ever read. You have taken on so much it's novel worthy and I hope you do more original writing. I shall try my best to catch up.
Your kind words make me feel all 'glowy'. Because I'm far from the best FMA fancfic wirter out there. If you care to know, I can give you a list of at least six writers who I admire as superior wordsmiths.
Joined: 4-January 07
From: the land of tea and crumpets
Member No.: 43,587
you made the waters of lethe? wow. i've seen it on devart alot
persona rp: [url="http://www.fullmetal-alchemist.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=12717"] thankyou Arakawa sensei for the 9 years of awsome story lines, characters and plot twists that became Fullmetal Alchemist. it's been one hell of a ride :3
More than any other chapter, I "saw" chapter 75 in images. The one I most want to see brought to life is the part where Mustang sees Ed wake up. The glaring eyes, angry facial expression and clenched teeth. I can see it, but I can't draw! *sob*
Joined: 30-April 06
From: lets just say, you don't want to live here either
Member No.: 35,364
The Waters of Lethe Disclaimer: I don't own FMA nor any historical characters, just the OCs I've created for this story. I like to play around in its world and torture Ed for a while. Summary: The invasion of Amestris is over, the battle is won, the enemy driven back and/or destroyed. With Alphonse's help, Edward has broken free of the Puppetmaster drugs grip, although he's collapsed from exhaustion. It's not all beer and skittles through, many innocent people have died, among them Alfons Heidreich who bravely gave his life to stop Hitler. Central is in ruins and night has fallen during the arduous task to rescue the trapped and wounded, and recover the dead. But now that normalcy has apparently returned to this war-torn country, the question on the lips of the main players is: Where do we go from here? Beta: Took-baggins
Chapter 77: What Came After (Was danach kam)
The weak halo cast by an old oil lamp was all Roy Mustang had to light his way through Ward A of Central Military Hospital Number One. Like all the rest, this ward, the final one he searched, was crowded with patients. Not only with soldiers recovering from wounds received in battle, but also civilians who'd been caught in the crossfire between the Thule Army and the Armed Forces of Amestris. The latter were surrounded by family members who had no where else to go, so they slept on the floor in the clothes they were wearing, small bundles of any earthly possessions they'd been able to recover held close to their bodies.
The entire city was without power as the main power station was the first target to be bombed that morning, and this ward, like all the others, was oppressively dark and hot. A few points of light in the wards and hallways was shed by a motley collection of lamps, lanterns and flashlights wielded by nurses or orderlies, who glided about like ghosts in rubber-soled shoes. They tended patients with quiet whispers, fluffing pillows, offering cups of water, checking intravenous tubes or dispensing medications. Roy had to step carefully to avoid impeding their progress, or stepping on a sleeping body when he stood aside to let hospital personnel proceed.
The muffled hum of gas-powered generators could be felt through the soles of his heavy combat boots, they powered lights and equipment in operating rooms and the intensive care unit on lower floors; plus refrigeration units in the morgue that occupied the hospitals basement. This was one of the good points of Fuhrer Bradley's rule, the military hospitals (the homunculus had believed in having more than one) were scattered about Central and equipped with the latest medical gear, to ride out any national emergency. The wards would ordinarily have lights and air conditioning, but the Prime Minister had ordered all but absolutely essential generators be parceled out among civilian hospitals.
As a result, only the most critical areas had precious power so lives could be saved, or lives lost could be kept in good condition until they were properly buried. So everyone else gets to stumble around and sweat in the dark, Roy thought sardonically. He'd been to the intensive care unit only a few minutes ago to check on the condition of Kain Fuery, who'd lost an arm during the battle. The brave young man had recklessly grabbed a German hand grenade that landed in the midst of his unit, with the intent to lob it back. Unfortunately, the fuse had been a bit too short for him to complete the task, and the grenade had gone off early. The blast obliterated Kain's left hand and caused so much damage to the rest of the arm it had to be amputated.
Roy sat next to Kain for half an hour and he watched his former subordinate's chest rise and fall steadily, while he fought with the desire to lie down next to him and sleep like he was heavily sedated too. His eyes felt full of grit and his eyelids were so heavy, keeping them open was a struggle. The left side of Kain's face was bandaged due to residual damage from the blast, but the right side still looked the same, if marred by a few lines. Marks of six years pressed into the pale skin; plus strain from the last few weeks added gravity to that baby face. Once Kain recovered, Roy was determined to take him down to Rush Valley and introduce him to a particular automail mechanic. Even if she hadn't forgiven, and still hated him for killing her parents, Roy Mustang would accept any abuse from her. He only wanted the best for a soldier who'd followed him with unswerving loyalty.
He'd left the intensive care unit to search the wards only ten minutes ago, and already sweat ran down his face to sting his eyes, or down his neck to draw an itchy line that followed the curve of his spine. Hours of sweat soaking into a wool uniform and socks resulted in a potent brew of smelly, unwashed soldier. He wanted so badly to tear his uniform off and take a long, cold shower until his lips turned blue, but the water lines were broken too. Fortunately the wells were uncontaminated, so water was drawn up by buckets and carried by hand to where it was needed. Word had come in that other cities in Amestris were rushing emergency relief trains to Central, but the railroad tracks just outside of the city limits were torn up. The trains would have to stop miles short of their goal and get their supplies offloaded into trucks, so relief wouldn't reach Central until after daybreak.
He stopped at an open window and rested a hip on the sill while he got a breath of fresh air, but immediately regretted it because the air coming in smelled of burning buildings and vehicles; plus he thought his nose detected the faintest sweetness of scorched human flesh. Roy smacked his lips and noted they felt slightly sticky; of course, that was his doing. He'd burned scores of people alive during the battle, and countless grey piles of ash mixed with bits of charred bone were blowing around the streets because of his Flame Attack. The air was largely still, except when faint breeze kicked up every so often, but it was humid and not very refreshing. But late summer weather in Central was like that, and Roy almost wished he were in East City instead where the air from off the Great Eastern desert was drier, even if it did bring particles of sand with it.
Central Military Hospital Number One was surrounded by a pool of darkness several streets deep, but further away, lights mounted on cranes illuminated shattered buildings for the benefit of rescue squads searching for wounded or trapped survivors. They'd started work at dusk and would be at it all night until relieved by volunteer groups expected to arrive next morning. The streets were in deplorable condition, either blocked by fallen buildings, or mined by deep bomb craters, so the rescue and recovery efforts moved at a snails pace. Roy felt so incredibly weary at the thought of all the work that had to be done, he could have fallen asleep right there. Actually, he did start to nod off, but woke up with a start just before he began to topple forward, right out the window. That wasn't a wise thing to do as he was six stories up, so he reluctantly stood back on his sore feet and groaned when his back spasmed.
He dearly wanted to find a place to lie down and sleep for a few precious hours, but first he had to find Fullmetal and his brother, who were somewhere in this hospital. Roy stepped aside between two beds to let a nurse pass in the narrow corridor; she gave him a tight-lipped glare from a tired face. He inclined his head slightly and answered her with a warm smile, but she simply gave him one more dirty look before moving away in a circle of faint yellow light.
"So much for the famous 'Mustang charm'", he muttered to himself and the hot, still air before he stepped forward and resumed his search.
Roy found the Elric brothers in a small, semi-private room off Ward A. Edward lay curled on his left side with Alphonse on his left, snuggled next to his brother, head against his chest, but the rest of him perilously close to the beds edge. Roy stood very still, holding his breath and just listening to the pair of them breathing in deep and even rhythms. A white sheet pushed down to his waist covered Fullmetal, who wore pale blue hospital-issue pajamas,with a narrow white bandage encircling his neck. Above the bed, a glass bottle hung from a metal stand, a clear plastic tube led from the bottles bottom to Edward's left arm, which was flung out over Alphonse's head, as if protecting him. A matching bottle, its tube clipped up, balanced the stand, and Roy guessed the if the first bottle contained essential fluids, the other was probably used for liquid nutrients.
Edward would be on a strictly liquid diet until he regained consciousness, which might not be for a week or more, depending on how exhausted he was. The fingers of Roy's free hand tightened into a fist, and he didn't realize it until they started aching and he relaxed the muscles with a concentrated effort. Alphonse had taken the best care of Edward he could, but the Thule Army undid all that by using Edward too hard,. He was only a human being, not a machine that just needed a little oil from time to time. Something Edward had once said floated up from the dark recesses of Roys mind to echo in his ears:
"We're only humans, tiny, insignificant humans; and we couldn't even save one little girl!"
The words throbbed with the pain and anger of a twelve year old Edward Elric, and other memories of Edward surfaced in quick succession. Roy finally came back to himself with a sharp gasp a few minutes later; he'd actually fallen asleep on his feet while part of his brain played back words and images like his own personal movie theater. Except without a box of hot, buttered popcorn to go with it, and the thought of food made his stomach rumble so hard it hurt. He hadn't eaten since very early that morning when he munched a slice of wheat toast and slurped a cup of lukewarm tea in the pre-dawn darkness. His nerves were so keyed up, he refused the offer of a second piece of toast for fear his overwrought state would make him throw up. Now, Roy's empty stomach was reminding him to regret that action.
The hour was sometime between ten and midnight; since Roy had seen to his troops, he should seek out something to eat and a place to lay his head. But he'd first wanted to scratch the urgent itch to locate the Elric brothers and ensure they were being cared for.
"Sleep tight, you two," he murmured in a sudden burst of paternal tenderness, where had that come from?
Major Edward Elric, the Fullmetal was the most difficult subordinate Roy ever had: he talked back, disrespected military protocol, was casual about reporting in, disobeyed orders, lied, kept information from Roy, ran away, and - and - Edward had the absolute worst handwriting Roy had ever seen. Probably the worst in the entire military - what ever had he seen in this little brat?
Roy sighed and dug out his pocket watch out, then he ran his thumb over the seal on the cover, a sea lion, rampant on the background of a six-pointed alchemy array. He really ought to get it replaced with one bearing the new seal of the Free Republic of Amestris, because this was just a reminder of the bad old days, a military dictatorship run by a tyrant who wasn't even human.
Roy stuck a finger nail underneath the cover and it creaked open reluctantly, its hinges rusted from six years in the freezing North; the glass face bore a hairline fracture, but the watch still functioned. The minute hand ticked away contentedly, while the second hand swept smoothly around the dial. He brought it closer to the lamplight and squinted, trying to bring the numbers into focus, Roy was getting older, and maybe it was time he started wearing glasses. Or maybe just a monocle,and for a moment, he tried to picture himself with one before his lips curled in disgust. General Grumman wore a monocle, and while Roy admired the General's strategic genius, he didn't want to go as far as aping the old fossil. Perhaps he would get one of the new contact lenses, that would be more fitting to the image of Roy Mustang, the dashing ladies man.
A sudden wave of weariness washed over him; it pulled at his mind and made his knees nearly buckle. A wooden chair lurked in one corner of the room and Roy pulled it over, wincing when the legs scraped on the floor with a sound akin to fingernails down a chalkboard. Edward mumbled something in his sleep and Roy froze, mentally cursing himself for waking the younger man up. But Edward merely rearranged his position and he went right back to sleep, snoring softly. Alphonse didn't so much as twitch and Roy sat down with a heavy thump in the chair. The seat was solid wood, hard and unyielding, but Roy was so tired his mind didn't register the twinge in his backside. He was just glad to finally take a load off his feet, he'd been on the move since before dawn and he hadn't gotten much sleep during the previous night.
Roy turned the lamp down to the barest glimmer of light before setting it on the floor next to the chair; darkness rushed in and reclaimed its rightful place. He closed his eyes and it felt so good to do so, ten minutes, just ten minutes, he thought to himself. His chin inched lower and lower until it rested on his chest and before long, his breathing matched that of the Elric brothers.
Despite the heat, his hunger and most of all, despite the awkward postion, in an uncomfortable wooden chair, Roy Mustang fell fast asleep. ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Five hours earlier...
The boy reared back on his haunches and he glared at Roy. His nostrils flared like he was a nervous horse, and his brown eyes shone cold and hard like water washed pebbles.
"Don't you remember me?"
Alphonse clearly didn't and suspicion turned his usually mobile young face into a surly mask. Roy suspected the antipathy his alchemy teacher, Izumi Curtis, felt for the military had seeped into the boy by some sort of osmosis. If the information in the file was correct, she'd trained him intensely for two years, he was bound to have picked up some of her attitude. Edward shifted and slumped further in his arms and Alphonse moved position to keep a hold on him, grunting slightly with his efforts. The movement brought the smell of burnt leather to Roy's nose and his eye picked out the remains of the leash, the umbilicus that once connected Edward to his captors.
Roy's gaze followed it up to the leather collar that encircled Edward's neck and his fingers itched with the urge to tear it right off. His right arm actually began to reach out on its own, the fingers curving to grab the buckle as he muttered "Alphonse, let me take that collar off your brother."
But he stopped when a peculiar gleam sparked to life in the teen's eyes, a gleam that said he would be lucky to lose only a few fingers if he dared lay hands on Edward. Roy pulled his arm back and then locked eyes with Alphonse's determined gaze, but the boy didn't flinch. Roy sighed with weary resignation, "Alphonse, this isn't going to -"
"STOP CALLING ME BY MY FIRST NAME!" The boy suddenly burst out with the words, that came at full force, like a tidal wave, hitting Roy almost like a physical blow. "You act as if you know me!" Alphonse was clearly angry and struggling to control himself, and find the words he wanted to say. Roy gaped at him in shock and he tried more than once to explain, but Alphonse continued to cut him off. "I've never met you before in my life and - "
Something very large loomed in the fog of smoke behind the boy and for a brief moment, Roy feared it was a Thule soldier as a human figure became distinct. He was too tired to snap his fingers or even raise the pistol he'd taken from Eckart, and the knowledge he couldn't protect the brothers ran through his guts like cold water. Yet he relaxed almost instantly, his tense muscles eased in relief when the newcomer's size became more obvious. No one else could be that big, or clear his throat quite that loudly.
"ALPHONSE ELRIC!" The voice thundered like a god, and Roy barely heard Alphonse's startled yelp of fear. "DON'T BE RUDE TO YOUR ELDERS!!"
Alex Louis Armstrong had come to Roy's rescue; and Alphonse's face paled several shade. Roy suspected he'd already met Armstrong, and been on the receiving end of a spine-crushing hug. He wanted to melt into the ground and hide too. Alphonse didn't turn his head, but he flicked his eyes right and they looked like black pits in his fear-stricken face. The ground shook with the big man's footfalls; pink sparkles danced like gleeful demons doing the cha-cha as Armstrong approached and then went down on one knee next to the boy. The former Strong Arm Alchemist ( although he'd given up his State Alchemist title, Roy still thought of him by that name) was shirtless, his massive muscles throbbing. His skin was blackened with dirt and soot, he had a few cuts on his arms and one on his bald head trickled blood, but Alex was largely unscathed.
"Alphonse". Alex said it gently, but his low pitched voice still sounded like the grumble of an approaching thunderstorm. "I can personally vouch for the character of this man. Roy Mustang was my superior officer at one time and he never once gave me reason to doubt my loyalty to him." Alex smiled just then and those blindingly white square teeth made even Roy feel a bit faint. "His sanity sometimes, but never my loyalty."
Alphonse gulped hard, but shook his head when Alex coaxed, "Let him remove that collar."
Edward moaned softly just then, his unconscious body was a dead weight and Alphonse was having a great deal of trouble holding on to him. He flashed one more glare at Roy before his expression softened and he nodded reluctantly. "Thank you, Alphonse," Roy muttered as he inched closer on his knees to the pair and reached for the collar again. Roy laid two fingers along the side of Edward's neck and felt for his pulse, it was weak, but it beat steadily. Even underneath a light coating of dirt, Edward's skin was very pale,and waxy looking. He'd given his last shreds of strength to help stop the advance of the Thule tanks, and Roy felt a surge of gratitude towards the boy.
No, that wasn't right. Roy studied Edward's face, strained with exhaustion it may be, but his features had definately left the roundness of childhood behind. He was a man now, longer of torso and limbs, and Roy performed a quick mental calculation. Edward was sixteen when he disappeared six years ago, so he was twenty-two, a legal adult under Amestrian law. Alphonse made a soft sound deep in his throat, a sound Roy interpreted as impatience or even irritation. Get that damn collar off - NOW!
Roy's long fingers moved nimbly on the buckle, it opened easily, but the collar didn't fall away like he expected. He pulled gently at the leather but the skin appeared to be stuck to it. He held his breath and gently, and in fits and starts, he carefully peeled the leather away. The lambswool lining the inside was matted with sweat and dirt, and much to Roy's shock, a few tiny pieces of the uppermost skin layer came off with it. The skin beneath was irritated and puffy, red patches showing where the neck was rubbed raw. Roy noticed Alphonse's eyes were locked on to the collar as if the force of his gaze alone could set it on fire, and even Roy glared at the sinple piece of leather in disgust before he flung it away with a flick of his wrist. It clacked very softly upon landing on the ground, the final piece of the invader's hold upon Edward.
"Alphonse," he said after he turned his attention back to the brothers. "We need to get Edward to a hospital as soon as possible, and -" Roy tried to stand up, but his legs felt as heavy as lead and his knees unbent only slightly before he sank back to the ground. How embarrassing!
"Major Armstrong, I can't seem to stand up, could you help here?" He laughed lightly, if a bit nervously.
Alex smiled that scary smile as if he understood all too well. His left arm reached out and encircled both of the brothers at once, Alphonse squawked with alarm but he continued to clutch Edward to his chest as Alex's grip tightened. "Thank you, Major. Now go and find a medic - AAK! Put me down!"
Roy was mortified when Alex slipped the other arm about Roy's torso and hefted him off the ground to dangle like a sack of grain. "You're done in Colonel, please allow me to convey you to medical aid!" Roy's half-hearted protest was brushed aside and he hoped no one he knew, least of all his former subordinates, saw him being carried like this. //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// At about the same time, a team of battlefield medics was scouring the area of Armstrong Park for wounded soldiers to tend to when they found the body of Alfon Heidreich. One women noted the care with which his hands had been crossed on his breast and the scarf arranged to cover his face. He looked dead, but her instructor had taught her to observe and confirm. She dropped to one knee and placed two fingers on the side his neck, pressing them into the flesh. She turned her head after barely ninety seconds and called out to her fellows. "Stretcher over here! I've got a pulse!"
Joined: 30-April 06
From: lets just say, you don't want to live here either
Member No.: 35,364
I've been bad, very bad. But there are reasons. My former beta graduated from college and she no longer had time to beta. I found a new one through ff.net; I sent her a DocX to look at a couple of months ago, and I haven't heard from her since. Then I has some computer trouble and that kept me occurpied enough I failed to upload chapters 78 & 79. Until I get my - um - sh*t together, here is a little stop gap, a re-write of chapter 52:
THE WATERS OF LETHE
Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, I just like to play around in it's world and torture Ed for awhile. Author's note: post series semi drabbles. Some movie events may happen, but differently. This version is 52.1, a partial re-write because I was never completely happy with this chapter. Warnings: possible movie spoilers. Has contained and will contain violence, bad language, death & mentions of sex. Beta: None, unless someone wants to tkae on the task.
52. The Angelika
An ambulance was waiting at the airfield where the zeppelin landed just outside of Berlin, Germany. The unconscious Edward was brought out on a stretcher carried by two strong men who worked for the zeppelin company. The vehicle backed up as close as it could to the passenger debarkation area, and then two more men, dressed entirely in white clothing got out of its cab. One opened the large double doors on the back of the ambulance and the stretcher was placed inside, then the other man got in behind it and secured Edward. The man remaining outside shook the hands of the other two and thanked them before he slammed the rear doors shut, re-entered the ambulance cab and drove away. ////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Edward was running for his life through a blank yellow void which had no top or bottom, nor back nor front. No signposts for the human brain fix on. He couldn't exactly say just what he was running from, or for how long. But that is the way of nightmares; they only make sense to the subconscious.
He looked back over one shoulder, but the void stretched empty of threats. Maybe he'd outrun whatever unknown terror had pursued him. Edward turned his gaze back to the front a bit too late as he abruptly collided with something hard and unyielding. It knocked him backward about a foot and he landed with an ungraceful thump on his arse.
"NO! Oh, no, no, no!" The breath left his lungs when he saw the Gate looming over him. It stretched black and merciless as high as he could see the only solid thing in the yellow void. It stood solidly on the ground and hung in midair at the same time, and Edward scooted backwards on his rear as fast as he could. He tried to stand up and run again, but his knees had turned to water and he couldn't regain his feet. The Gate was quiet as if observing this foolish human and waiting.
As if some sort of decision had been made, the doors creaked open ponderously, with a terrible grating sound, like the screams of thousands of people in the most awful pain. At first, Edward saw only blackness, darkness too stygian to be normal; and then the eyes appeared and the whispering began. The voices were too low pitched for him to catch any words, but just the sibilance filled him with the upmost horror.
The black arms came whipping out of that darkness that was blacker than black. Edward cried out in fear and he redoubled his efforts to scramble away, but they were too fast and he was too slow. One arm after another wrapped around him until he was covered from neck to foot with writhing black tentacles. The arms gripped Edward in a crushing hold, and they started to drag him inside the Gate; he screamed and screamed, even after he disappeared into the darkness.
The doors of the Gate slowly creaked closed until only a sliver of blackness was left and they paused briefly and the echoes of faint screams were heard. Then, the doors slammed to with a terrible finality, like the closing of a sarcophagus lid. //////////////////////////////// Edward woke up screaming,he bolted straight upright while the sound tore at the walls of his throat. His wide open yellow eyes stared straight ahead, his mind still half locked into the nightmare. Gradually, he got a hold of himself once he realized he was awake, Edward swallowed hard, feeling the sore tightness in his throat.
He swallowed again and panted with exertion, his mouth open and taking in great gulps of air. Sweat rolled off his face and he shivered when a drop traced down his spine. Edward swallowed again and he felt a dry tickle at the back of his throat that demanded a drink of water. His arms were trembling and he flopped back down, but regretted that action instantly because it felt like laying his head on a block of ice.
Gradually, Edward's pulse and respiration slowed their mad galloping and calmer now; he could take stock of his new surroundings. It was clear he'd arrived at his mysterious destination while still under the influence of the drug. It must have put him out for several hours because the light outside was weak, like a late fall afternoon.
He was in another, larger bedroom, a space that was clearly very old. The room was rectangular, the longer walls pierced by two windows, and a high ceiling was crisscrossed by huge oak beams darkened with age. The walls were painted in a pleasing warm yellow shade, like an explosion inside the sun. Directly opposite him was a large window, the sill stretching nearly to the floor, heavy curtains of a dark green damask framing a view of bare tree branches. It was storming outside and they whipped back and forth in a heavy wind while rain spattered against the glass every few seconds.
In the wall to Edward's immediate left was a large oak mantel under which a cheery fire crackled behind a black iron screen. The mantel was heavily carved with acorns and oak leaves, the wood shone as if recently polished. A half open wooden door was on the other side of the bedside table, and another door, closed, pierced the other short wall. The fire spat sparks when a gust of rainy wind came down the chimney and Edward shivered in response. This room was a very attractive chamber, but it was still a prison, this place was picked to store him until the Thule Society was ready to use him.
The furnishings correlated with the age of the room and appeared to be of the same vintage. A bedside table, a desk, dresser were all close to the bed, a full size one on tall legs, and an absolutely massive headboard. Next to the bed was a smaller, marble topped table which had a carafe of pink glass resting upon it. His throat tickled again, he was definately thirsty and he eyed the carafe, which appeared to be full. His mouth felt lined with cotton and he could just taste the delicious coldness. But he still hesitated. What if the water was also drugged?
He would just have to risk it and pushed back the bedcovers. Whoever had put him into bed had covered his body with at four thick wool blankets under a heavy quilt worked in yellow and green blocks. It looked quite cheery, but didn't quite fit his mood, which was far darker. Edward swiveled his hips and sat on the side of the bed, his legs dangling, almost, not quite touching the floor. He felt a brief flash of irritation at that knowledge, the last vestige of his old hair trigger sensitivity to comments about his height. After about a year in this world, Edward had undergone a growth spurt between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one; and he was now of roughly normal height.
Now he was out from under the blankets, Edward also felt definately chilled; he still wore the oversized pajamas his captor had dressed him in and drying sweat stuck them to his skin. His first impulse was to tear the sodden cotton off and just roll his naked body in the blankets, but the undermost one, plus the pillow were also damp and clammy. He reached over to pick up water glass turned upside down on top of the carafe, but his hand shook a little, and he guessed it was an after-effect of the drug.
Bile rose up in his throat when he recalled the calm ease by which his captor had drugged and kidnapped him. He set the glass down heavily on the marble before swallowing hastily and wiping his mouth with a pajama sleeve. Now, he really needed that drink of water and he reached out again to pick up the carafe. It was heavier than it looked and his whole arm shook with the effort of lifting it up, the water sloshed dangerously and most of what he tried to pour into the glass landed on the table top.
Edward set the carafe back down while making a sound of disgust deep in his throat; he gritted his teeth and reached out again, trying to stop the trembling. But it was all too much for him to take, a whimper broke from between his lips, and he threw himself back onto the bed. Edward rolled over and buried his face deep into his pillow before bursting into a storm of bitter tears. He wanted to be free, but despite all his efforts, seven years of running and hiding had only gotten him back where he'd started.
He was determined to escape this new prison, but just thinking about the effort required to scope out the lay of the land seemed like too much work. Edward was tired of always being on guard and looking over his shoulder, of being forced to flee just as he'd seemed to make a halfway comfortable life for himself. He hated always feeling so lonely and a sudden and unexpected wave of homesickness washed over and made him cry harder for a brief moment. He wanted to so much to return to Risembool, the village of his birth, and stand on Sentinel Hill, the high headland that overlooked the Rain River.
Edward could almost feel the warm wind blowing against his skin, and through his hair. If he ever found a way home to his world that would be the first thing he would do. Stand at the top of that hill and watch fat white clouds race through a blue summer sky, mimicking the sheep grazing in the fields far below...
His cries wore down to sobs eventually and he sniffed back a few tears, feeling drained, but also calmer. You'll feel better after a good cry was an Amestrian aphorism. He used to think it was pretty useless advice, but strangely enough, he did feel better. Maybe that's why Winry cried so much, although she'd once said she cried because he wouldn't and Al couldn't.
Al... His throat tightened up again as something vital clenched painfully in his chest. More than home, he missed his little brother so badly, and a few extra tears leaked from his eyes.
Yes, he felt calmer now, time to stop pitying himself. Clear thought was needed, but a wave of weariness pulled at his eyelids. He would rest his eyes for a while, and then pour himself a glass of water before looking around for any weak spots he could exploit to escape. He would just doze for a bit and rest his burning eyes...
Edward fell asleep without even realizing it. //////////////////////////////////////// It was dark outside when he woke up a second time. Edward blearily raised his head from the pillow, and tried to blink the room back into focus. They felt crusted with tears and sleep, and even his lips felt glued together; he must have drooled in his sleep again. Now he was sprawled on his back, someone had pulled the blankets and quilt up to his chin and neatly tucked his arms under the cocoon of warmth. The fire was crackling with fresh vigor as if it had been supplied with more wood. Now the fire was stirred up in a bigger blaze, he could feel the heat of it playing over his face.
Someone else was in the room with him. He heard footsteps, then one of the biggest men he'd ever seen moved into his field of view, pulling the window curtains across the rods and shutting out the cold German night. The newcomer was dressed in gleaming white clothes and was easily twice, almost three times as wide as Edward, but not from fat. This man looked quite fit, with shoulders so broad, he must be compelled to sidle through doorways. Long arms that bulged with muscles hung from those shoulders and one of his hands was about as wide as both of Edward's. He was as big as a wall and Edward felt sure the man could break him in half with contemptuous ease.
So, he is my jailer. They picked a most intimidating one then. Edward levered himself up on his elbows, narrowed his eyes and prepared to loathe the man.
Almost as if some sort of radar ping had alerted him, the big man turned abruptly, but gracefully. Edward blinked because he'd expected a blank face with mean little eyes under a unibrow. But the face presented was open and honest; his eyes were a warm, sparkling brown, although the look of guileless innocence was spoiled by a rather large nose. His lips curved upwards in a big smile when he noticed Edward glaring at him.
"Ah, Herr Elric! You're finally awake, and just in time for dinner too! You must be hungry by now, jah?" His voice was soft and friendly, but it made Edward bare his teeth in response. This was his jailer, he must hate him, hate him with every fiber of his being. Then his stomach growled, a long, plaintive gurgle of "feed me!"; causing the man to laugh, and Edward felt the distinct pop of a vein on his forehead.
"Come, Herr Elric, you smell like a pair of sweaty gym socks. I will give you a nice bath and then bring your supper."
He whipped the blankets off Edward with one large hand before he bent down and scooped up a very surprised blond like he weighed almost nothing. Edward scowled up into that friendly face; he could see the man had dark, perhaps black hair that was cropped so short his scalp could be seen.
"Put me down, I can walk, dammit!" Edward’s protest came out in a fierce, throaty snarl. The smile on the man's face never wavered as he did so, but Edward's knees began to buckle the instant he put weight on his feet. He nearly landed in an ungraceful heap before he was picked up again.
"Oh, I am sorry for not introducing myself earlier. My name is Klaus, and I will be your nurse while you reside at the Angelika." Klaus kept up a running patter as he carried Edward into a room covered in gleaming white tiles banded by smaller black ones. He set Edward in a chair and turned around to fiddle with the drain plug of an enormous white claw-footed bathtub. The taps opened with faint squeaks and water gushed into the tub; steam began to rise from its depths.
"Jah, this place is called the Angelika Convalescent and Nursing Home. It started as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers, but now we also give dignified housing to recovering patients, the elderly, and the terminally ill. Herr Doktor Stein is the director, and he - oh, Herr Elric, are you unwell?"
Edward's face must have paled several shades when he heard that name - "Herr Doktor Stein" - he was the man supposed to pick up Edward after his capture at the Vienna train station so many years ago.
His musings were roughly interrupted by Klaus who began unbuttoning Edward's pajama top and he stripped off the damp, uncomfortable and slightly stiff cloth with practiced ease. Edward found himself picked up again and smoothly slipped into the hot water with hardly a ripple. Klaus handed Edward a washcloth and a square cake of yellow soap. "Can you wash yourself, Herr Elric? I must go and strip the bed and make it up fresh."
Edward nodded once and Klaus turned neatly on one heel, the rubber soles of his shoes squeaking on the tile floor. Edward was left staring speculatively in silence for a moment. His earlier determination to hate his nurse now made him feel slightly ashamed of being such a churl. Klaus called him 'Herr Elric', not 'Shambalan'; apparently he was not in on the plot to use him to open the Gate. That was good, but he would somehow have to convince Klaus to help him escape without sounding crazy. Edward was more than certain Eckart had made some plausible sounding c**k and bull story, he would have to be patient and find out the details somehow.
He got busy with the cloth and soap and had to admit getting clean felt good as he hadn't bathed since the day he'd been kidnapped right off the streets of Dublin. The once almost too hot water was now pleasantly warm, he could just lean back and fall asleep in this deep tub and soak for hours. His eye lids were drooping when Klaus came back into the bathroom. "Ah! Very good Herr Elric! I have some shampoo here and I will wash your hair, jah?" ///////////////////////////// Edward was sitting up in bed, clean and dry; he had on a fresh pair of cotton pajamas. On his lap was a small tray which held a large, steaming hot bowl of beef broth, accompanied by a tall, glass of foamy milk. This is my supper?! He stared at the inoffensive items with disgust. Edward was HUNGRY and wanted something he could sink his teeth into and chew like his mind was chewing over what he’d learned from Klaus.
His “nurse” was insufferably chatty and he’d happily given every last scrap of information contained in his head. About the Angelika and its history, Dr. Stein, the number of staff, and the size of the grounds. But most important was the information there were no guards, no walls, or gates here. He could wander away at will if he liked, although Klaus did let slip - a bit too casually - “it is a long hike to Berlin”.
Edward responded with a sheepish grin and he returned the innocent remark he might be interested in seeing a cabaret show at one of Berlin’s more infamous nightclubs.
Klaus seemed to be content with that explanation - but there was something guarded in his innocuous expression - as if he almost, but not quite, believed Edward. For his part, Edward bent his head and applied himself to drinking his broth, as if he was the completely innocent lamb he pretended to be.
His spoon was scraping the bowl just as a soft knock sounded on the door. “Ah! It’s is Herr Doktor Stein, he’s come to see how you are settling in.” Klaus bustled over to the far wall where he paused and then bowed slightly when the door popped open and Dr. Stein walked in.
“Guten dachs, Herr Doktor.” Klaus greeted his employer with a warm, deferential tone of voice; he seemed to be truly fond of the man he worked for.
“Guten dachs, Klaus.” Dr.Stein replied in a soft, calm voice. This was a man who clearly didn’t get excited over many things, like the arrival of a new patient.
He was a middle aged man of roughly average height with a trim build. His brown hair was cropped short, although the cut wasn’t as short as Klaus’s. Silver hairs spread across his temples and more were sprinkled throughout the neatly trimmed goatee on his chin. He wore a plain dark blue three piece suit of good quality wool. The only colors were a thin silver watch chin across his flat abdomen, and a defiantly red tie that bisected a cream colored dress shirt.
His eyes were gray, a soft sort of gray which gazed on Edward with something like concern when he came to the side of the bed. When Dr. Stein smiled abruptly, the creases around those eyes deepened and they glowed with a benevolent light. Edward decided Dr. Stein wasn’t part of the Thule Society either; it might be possible to make him an ally of him too.
Edward couldn’t help but smile back; perhaps he could turn this situation to his advantage. The older man must have misinterpreted Edward’s expression as mere friendliness, for his words were without guile: “Gutens dachs, Herr Elric. I am Dr. Theophilus Stein, director of the Angelika Convalescent and Nursing Home. I understand you have been sickly for a long time, but I shall make you well again.”
Joined: 30-April 06
From: lets just say, you don't want to live here either
Member No.: 35,364
THE WATERS OF LETHE
Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, I just like to play around in its world and torture Ed for a while. Warnings: Bad language; implied EdxWin Beta: Took-baggins
Chapter 78: I Woke In My Nation (Ich erwachte Herein Mein Volk)
Central was enjoying a spell of what Amestrians called "Ishbalan summer", the day Edward finally woke up. He first heard faint sounds of footsteps and people talking underneath the gaara-gaara-gaara of wheels turning, and this perplexed him because they were so different from the sounds around the cell he'd been imprisoned in. His nose twitched at the smells of dust, and of food cooking coming through the open window near his bed; and the scents of antiseptic and weak bleach from inside made him wrinkle his nose. By now almost fully conscious, he listened hard while still keeping his eyes closed. An experimental movement of his left foot brought a rustling of bed sheets redolent with bleach, and stiffened with a bit too much starch to his ears. The discordant racket of truck gears clashing outside made his body jerk with surprise.
The sun shone full on his face and he felt its warmth, like fingers of a lover caressing his skin. A soft breeze played across his cheeks and ruffled his hair, tumbling long bangs across his nose. Edward sneezed lightly, and then grumbled under his breath before he buried his face into the pillow. He wanted to sleep; he needed to sleep, so why was the whole world being so noisy? Something wooden creaked behind him, followed by a sigh breaking and he stiffened. Someone was close by and watching him, and he wondered if it was the soldiers assigned to guard him. Edward's eyelids fluttered open; he closed them again and smacked his lips together. Feh. He'd drooled in his sleep again, and his lips, plus his entire chin felt sticky with dried liquid.
He rolled over to his left side, reluctant to wake up because the siren call of sleep still beckoned to him. It offered soft and warm oblivion, far from the mental stress and pain of his daily life. Then the unknown person who watched him cleared its throat and all thought of taking up sleeps offer flew out the window. He blinked, once, twice, and then three times before he opened his eyes and beheld the person who sat quietly in a straight-backed wooden chair right next to the bed. Edward stared in complete and utter amazement, mixed with a touch of bewilderment.
He opened his mouth to say a name, but his voice box was rusty from months of non-use, and the single word came out forced and cracked. The two syllables ended in a high-pitched sound of query as he never expected to see this person again.
"Winry?" ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// 'You were unconscious for ten days, Ed."
Edward flicked his eyes up towards her and he managed to look surprised despite the awkward position. He lay on his stomach, left arm flung straight out from his body while Winry sat on the bed next to him and carefully poked a probe through the delicate innards of his machine world made arm. Edward opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and he snapped it shut before a new conversational thread suggested itself. "Ten days, Win?!" He swallowed hard to push back the lump that suddenly arose in his throat. "It feels more like ten YEARS to be honest."
Winry’s hand paused the movement of the probe briefly, and looked up from her work. She didn't want to miss an inch of this strange technology, yet she also wanted to study every plane and curve of Edward's face. He'd been gone for six long years, while she grew from a girl into a woman. Even when she was trying to convince a suddenly ten year old Alphonse that Edward was dead and gone for good, she hadn't wanted to believe it herself. The pain had been indescribable, although it faded somewhat over six years. Yet, in the middle of the night, Winry felt it was still there. The pain of a loss that felt like a partially scabbed over wound, one which stubbornly refused to heal completely.
She'd thrown herself into automail work down in Rush Valley, spending five years apprenticed to old Dominic until he abruptly retired himself from mentorship, saying he'd nothing more to teach her. Winry had been at a loss to know what to do,but after talking it over with Paninya, she'd taken a train back to Risembool, to ask Granny for advice. Winry had to change trains in Central and while walking through the echoing cavern of Central's main tran station, she remembered the times she'd been here before. She'd come alone the first time, it was a spur of the moment visit to surprise the brothers. That trip almost ended badly when she'd been kidnapped by that insane serial killer, Barry the Chopper, who'd nearly made a "Winry-roast" out of her.
The second time through this train station, she'd accompanied the brothers on their way to Dublith, and she'd conned Ed into making a side trip to Rush Valley - "Boomtown of the Broken Down These memories washed around in her brain like her fellow passengers washed around her body, and Winry was surprised suddenly to discover tears were leaking out of her eyes and streaming down her face. A friendly porter, thinking she was an out-of-towner who'd gotten lost came to her aid just then. He offered her a clean handkerchief, and personally escorted her to the correct train; he'd been so kind, Winry didn't have the heart to tell him she knew exactly which track the train to Risembool was leaving from.
Winry had just settled herself into her seat when she saw a flash of red coat in the Departure Hall; she stood up and stared hard. The figure was small and for a moment, just for a moment, she thought it might be Ed. Then she remembered: Ed was dead. He was gone. He wasn't coming back and his body lay only the sky knew where. The train began to move soon after, gathering momentum before it hurtled itself out of the station and onto the main line that stretched like metal ribbons towards Risembool. Winry closed the window only partially, so she'd know she was close to home when the air changed to the sweet smell she associated with her childhood.
She fell asleep somewhere between Central and New Optain, her head pillowed on one palm and swaying with the train's gentle movement. Winry's mind descended into darkness and she began to dream. //////////////////////// Three Days Ago...
The phone rang and Winry raced Paninya to the instrument. As usual,the other girl's prosthetic legs gave her an unfair advantage and she snatched the headpiece off the cradle two strides before Winry's fingers were even close. Paninya stood there with one hand on a hip, eyes bright and mouth stretched open in a thousand-watt grin as she delivered her rehearsed sales patter into the mouthpiece.
"Rockbell Automail - Rush Valley division!" she chirped brightly. "Offering customers Risembool quality and service, with Rush Valley flair; this is Paninya speaking, how may I help you?"
Facing her, Winry jigged from foot to foot, impatient to find out who was calling and from where. Paninya gave her a mock frown, and shook a finger of her free hand at her friend. "Uh, huh, is that right?" her brow furrowed and her frown deepened as she strained to hear over the weak, static-filled connection. Phone service to and from Central had just been restored that morning and the people of Rush Valley, far enough from the battle zones, were anxious for fresh news. "What's your name again? Al - Alfred? Albert? Aloysius? What's that? Oh - ALPHONSE! Sure, she's right here, and - "
Paninya squeaked in surprise when Winry yanked the phone out of her hand and pressed the headpiece to her ear, and then wished she hadn't. A loud whistling sound had abruptly joined the static and the noise pierced right through her skull. "Hello? HELLO? Is that really you, Al?" Winry clapped a hand over her left ear and it helped her hear better - but just a little. She shushed Paninya forcefully and concentrated on listening. "Go ahead, Al." His voice was faint, but enough came through Winry could tell it was deeper; his voice must have broken, she thought. Yet beneath the maturity, her ear caught hints of the ten year old Alphonse. Suddenly, an abrupt burst of static wiped out a whole sentence.
"What? Say it again, Alphonse. The static - ".
He repeated it, slowly and as articulately as he could, despite the circumstances. Winry's jaw dropped and the hand holding the headpiece began to tremble, the phone began to slip through her fingers. Then, suddenly, Al's voice, and the static were gone, replaced by the high-pitched hum of a dropped connection. Winry growled deep in her throat and jiggled the cradle, "Operator? Operator! I've lost the connection, can you get it back? What? Telephones are for ‘Official use only’? That's not fair! Oh, all right, operator, I understand. Thanks."
Winry stuck her lower lip out in a pout as she set the headpiece back into the cradle with rather more force than her deferential tone towards the operator indicated. She knew she was being childish, but this was vitally important and she HAD to find out more. She wondered if the railroad line to Central was clear and if so, could she get to the Rush Valley station in time to catch the last train?
"I know that look on your face, Winry, you've got news!" Paninya was nose to nose with Winry, a serious look on her face. "Don't hold out on your friend, now - uh, Winry?" Paninya said this some concern because Winry had suddenly collapsed into an armless wooden chair next to the phone table, her own face a couple of shades paler than before. She looked up at her friend and partner with tears brimming in her eyes, the blue sparkling like a late summer sky.
"He's back, Paninya, he's back!" Al just called to tell me, and - "
"WHO IS?!" Paninya interrupted, curious to know everything right away. "Is he cute? Is he rich? Does he need automail?" The other woman was in her "all business" mode.
"Ed, Paninya." Winry said in a soft voice filled with wonder and hope. "It's Ed, Edward Elric. I - I thought he was dead, but he's not. He's back and in a hospital in Central and he's sick. Al said he was exhausted and just needed rest, he seemed to be getting better, but now he's very sick." ////////////////////////////////// Central Military Hospital #1
A semi-conscious Edward groaned, and then thrashed wildly against the leather straps that bound him to the bed for a few minutes before he fell back with a loud moan. His head rolled left and right and he whimpered, deep in the grip of delirium caused by a skyrocketing fever. His legs kicked a few times, and the leather groaned, but continued to hold him down.
These symptoms had appeared barely three days after his last dose of the Puppetmaster drug. Now he was free of the drugs influence, no one had given any thought to the concept he might need to be weaned slowly off of it. The side effects started with complaints about a dull headache that throbbed behind his eyes, followed by a mild fever, not serious, but bad enough to make him refuse his dinner. His temperature rose and rose until his skin was almost too hot to touch, and his hair and pajamas were soaked in sweat. Edward descended into delirium and he didn't recognize anyone, not even Alphonse. An orderly brought the leather straps and secured him early the next morning after he tore the needle of an intravenous tube out of his arm.
Alphonse stood next to Edward's bed, his teeth clenched and hands clasped so tightly into fists his fingernails scored red half- moons into the palms. The old Edward, the Edward he remembered was just coming back and re-connecting when he was pulled away again. All Alphonse could do was stand there and watch his beloved brother suffer. That strange man, Alex Armstrong had left two days ago for the Cselkcess ruins, in hopes of finding a Xingese healer among the trading caravans that stopped at that desert oasis for water. He'd promised not to return to Central without such a person.
In his right pants pocket were forty half pills, twenty doses of the Puppetmaster drug. He was debating with himself if he should give one of those halves to Edward, if it would alleviate his pain. Alphonse reached into the pocket and felt around in the jumble of pills, his slim fingers separated one out and he brought it into the light. He stared at it sightlessly for a moment before he turned to the bedside table; picked up a pitcher of water, and poured a splash into the glass that stood next to it.
Alphonse dropped the half pill into the liquid and watched it dissolve before he picked up the glass and swirled it in a lazy circle to make sure the entire pill was gone. "Here, brother." He reached for the strap which bound Edward's left wrist, its buckles were designed so they could be opened or closed with just one hand. Just a little twist and...
His fingers were just a fraction of an inch away from the buckle when Roy entered the room and snapped out in a loud 'obey me or else' voice, "No, Alphonse! Don't open that!"
Alphonse leaped easily six inches into the air, the glass jogged from his suddenly nerveless hand, fell, and struck the table, the water sloshing out when the glasses side broke, and some of it soaked a small potted begonia. Then the remainder of the glass toppled over and hit the floor, shattering into hundreds of pieces. Alphonse had come back to earth by then, and he turned and stared at Roy with a wide-eyed gaze, his startled brown eyes seemingly twice as large. He babbled his reasoning in a rush of words that tumbled out of his mouth like panicked kittens, "But, Mr. Mustang! It was just half a pill; I wanted to ease Brother's pain! He can't take any more of the withdrawal symptoms!"
Roy countered Alphonse’s logic, he lowered the volume and made his voice a little softer. But Alphonse could hear the steel in it, a tone once enabled him to command hundreds of soldiers "We agreed, Alphonse, 'cold turkey' was the best way to wean Edward off this drug."
Riza walked softly into the room just then; she wore civilian clothes, a lavender blouse, and a dark grey skirt, her left arm in a sling. Her voice was even softer than Roy's, but just a little. She must have heard Roy's shout because she finished his thought for him. "Alphonse, I know it's killing you to see your brother in so much pain, but it's almost over. The healer from Xing has arrived."
The healer is here?! Mr. Armstrong had kept his promise!
Alphonse's spirits soared as he looked down at the puddle of water dotted with glass shards, and then he shuddered. He'd nearly given this poison to his brother! "Thank you, Mr. Mustang." He nodded at Roy before he impulsively walked up to Riza and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Roy's eyes widened briefly before they narrowed as a scowl passed across his face, but then it was gone, replaced by a smile at Alphonse's retreating form. The boy had walked out of the room, back straight and shoulders squared, with a hopeful smile plastered to his face.
"I hope he won't do that to Armstrong," Roy chuckled in a warm tone he’d saved especially for Riza, his good humor restored by the sight of her blushing face. "He'd be so overcome with emotion, there's no telling how hard or how long he'd hug Alphonse."
He looked over at Edward, who still struggled against the leather straps, and his smile faded and he said curtly, "Excuse me, Riza" and then he walked out of the room, as if also in search of Armstrong with the Xingese healer. Riza was left alone with Edward and she wasn't quite sure of what to do. She was officially on medical leave because of the injuries she'd suffered in the strafing attack at New Optain, but she felt restless and wanted to do something. Except now there wasn't anything to do but hurry up and wait.
Riza wondered if she should find a broom and dustpan and sweep up all the broken glass, and then mop up the water, but her mind quickly rejected that idea. The sling on her arm made handling tools impossible and her eyes ran over the bedside table which now had a tiny chip taken out of its edge by the glass. That potted begonia...
Riza froze in place. The plant was dead, the once blue flowers turned brown, the leaves wilted and the stems drooped over the sides of the pot. A shiver ran through her at the realization Edward had been fed that drug for months. If the drug had done that to a plant, what had it done to Edward's body and mind? ///////////////////////////////////////// Alphonse's original intent was to find Alex Louis Armstrong and hug the stuffing out of him, but when he finally located the gigantic alchemist, he realized there was no way his arms would come close to encircling the man's body. In the end, he merely smiled at Alex and mouthed his gratitude before hugging his right arm as hard as he could.
"You kept your promise, Mr. Armstrong, just like Brother kept his. Thank you."
Alex smiled back and the pink sparkles around his head surged in anticipation of an emotional outburst. His teeth were huge and square and looked frightening, even when softened by the gentle blue glow coming from his eyes. “Alphonse, may I present Kong Qian, the man who will heal your brother.”
Alphonse let go of Alex and turned to face the man, bowing low as he said, “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Qian.” But a frosty silence greeted that remark and he looked up to meet the unreadable face of a delicate looking man dressed in a suit of what looked like pajamas.
The healer wasn’t much taller than Alphonse, and he was quite thin, his face a slightly yellowed mask stretched tightly over a bird-like bone structure. His feet were very small in a pair of pale yellow slippers, set primly right next to each other. He looked old, but his face was strangely unmarred by lines or wrinkles, except for a few crow’s feet radiating from the lower corners of each eye. His clothing draped silkily over his slight frame and it was decorated with the shapes of exotic flowers embroidered in rich shades of red and yellow. The sleeves of this strange outfit flared out over his clasped hands, hiding them under a fall of blue.
His face didn’t betray any expression, but his eyes did the talking for him. Narrow and so dark they looked black, tiny glints of light from the pupils radiated disapproval at Alphonse. He looked helplessly up at Alex who had stopped smiling.
“Alphonse, the Xingese use their last names first.”
The boy processed this information quickly and he bowed again. “I apologize if I gave offense, Mr. Kong.”
He looked back up, but Kong Qian’s expression hadn’t changed in the slightest, although the glinting eyes seemed somehow less steely when they raked over him. He spoke now, his Amestrian surprisingly good, if heavily accented.
“I have come a long way; please show me to the patient now.”
Alex raised one eyebrow and he looked over at Alphonse who just shrugged. "Please come this way, Mr. Kong." /////////////////////////////////////////////////////
Kong Qian was glaring again at Edward who thrashed against leather straps. He clicked his tongue with annoyance. Tch! This will not do!
The array was drawn in chalk on the floor of the hospital room, but Edward was too restless, and he would need to be stilled for the healing transmutation to work. The healer bent to the opened wooden box set upon the bedside table and rummaged around in it for a moment before he located the item he needed. He made a pleased sound deep in his throat after he pulled it out, a small red velvet bag tied with a black ribbon. A quick flick of two fingers released the ribbon and the bag opened like a flower in the sun. Kong Qian dipped his first two fingers inside and the tips came back out tinged with a purple dust that shone as if wet.
After he reclosed the bag and replaced it in the box, Kong Qian hopped up onto the bed and straddled Edward, who bucked convulsively and nearly threw him off. But the healer seemed to have anticipated the move and he locked his knees tightly against Edward's side, and he waited patiently for a lull in the young man's thrashing. Edward tired eventually and lay still for the briefest moment. Now!
Kong Qian moved quickly, while his left hand held Edward's head still, the two stained fingers of his right hand quickly traced a design on his forehead. He worked with spare, but decisive strokes before sitting back and examining his handiwork: two concentric circles, bisected with arrows that aimed in four directions: North, South, East, and West.
Alphonse, who sat quietly in a chair against the far wall thought the design resembled a compass. He leaned forward;, his brown eyes narrowed, and memorized the circle, committing it to memory. He wasn't very familiar with the healing alkhestry of Xing and he'd watched Kong Qian like a hawk, fascinated by the differences between it and Amestrian alchemy. A particular feeling was growing by the minute and Alphonse decided he wanted to learn more about it. If only he could summon up the nerve to ask the poker-faced little man if he wanted to take on another apprentice. Because Kong Qian had mentioned he already had one who was working healing a badly injured patient elsewhere in the hospital, but perhaps he wouldn't be adverse to two?
Edward was working up to another episode of thrashing just about when Kong Qian touched the edge of the outermost circle with the first two fingers of his left hand. A soft blue light, accompanied by the subtlest of hums, lit up both circles and the arrowed lines. Edward stiffened suddenly and sank back into the mattress; he now seemed to be in an exceptionally deep sleep. His chest rising up and down was the only movement and Kong Qian actually looked pleased as he climbed nimbly back to the floor. "I have caused a temporary paralysis of his voluntary muscles", he announced in satisfied tones to Alphonse and Alex, the only people in the room. Roy was not there as he'd gone to "escort" Riza back to her room, saying she also needed to "rest"; a pronouncement which didn't fool Alex in the slightest.
The healer wiped the residue of the purple powder off his fingers with a large white handkerchief he produced from a hidden pocket of his pajama-like clothes before making a circuit of the bed and unbuckling the leather straps. Edward continued to lay still, his face relaxed and free of the tiny grimaces he'd been making just moments before. "Please to lift him up and on to the array. Carefully now, do not smear the chalk lines." Alex leaned over the bed and scooped up Edward, who looked like a small china doll cradled in Alex's massive, muscle-bound arms. The big man moved with exquisite delicacy as he carried Edward over to the array and laid his unresisting body in the exact center, somehow not so much as smudging one line or rune.
He stepped back, giving way to Kong Qian, who nodded his approval. He reached back into the pockets of his clothing with both hands and each came out holding two odd looking metal devices apiece. Alphonse thought they looked like large arrowheads, the fronts coming to sharp points attached by short shafts to rings decorated with red ribbons. Kong Qian flung his hands into the air and these sharp devices flew up towards the ceiling before they flipped over, points down, and thunked deeply into the wooden floor, one at each of the four compass points.
I get it now, a sudden epiphany occurred to Alphonse. Not North, South East, and West, but Earth, Air, Fire and Water!
This was something Alphonse understood, the bringing together of the Four Elements and grounding them. It was a basic preparatory step before attempting any sort of transmutation; and one of the first lessons he'd learned from reading his father's alchemy books.
Kong Qian knelt on the floor next to the circle and placed his hands upon the chalk lines. A subtle hum began and the first tendrils of the alchemic reaction began to hiss and spit like a sack of cobras from arrow point to arrow point. This was also something Alphonse recognized, he'd seen this reaction many times before, but then the sound took on a pitch he'd never heard. It made his skin prickle and the fine hairs at the back of his neck stand up. His entire body had begun to resonate with the hum, a sound that went down to his bones and then deeper still, to the very nuclei of the cells that made up Alphonse Elric. The effect was similar to the failed human transmutation that had taken his body into the Gate and this feeling made him very uncomfortable.
When his eyesight began to darken and he realized he could see objects in the room and the very walls resonate and vibrate in rhythm with the hum, Alphonse started to feel a little afraid. He shot a look over at Alex, who didn't seem perturbed, but his blue eyes had widened a little bit. The pink sparkles about his head danced with the hum, they darkened and lightened and even changed size in time with the rhythm of the healer's alchemy, and Alphonse decided their movement was almost like - heartbeats.
Kong Qian looked over his shoulder at the entranced Alphonse and smiled for the first time. "This is the rhythm, the flow of the energy under the earth's crust. We Xingese call it the "Dragon's Pulse" and have learned how to harness and channel it to perform our alkhestry."
Alphonse only had the strength to nod because he felt strangely rooted to the floor, like a sapling tree digging deep into the earth. Pale blue and dark red lights rose into the air, like writing snakes on either side of Edward's body. They began to bend towards one another, coiling around and around like living helixes before suddenly diving down and into the young man. The lights surfaced occasionally, flashing between his hands and feet before diving back down into the skin, as if Edward was a human-shaped dynamo. Then, to Alphonse's amazement, black vapors, like undulating streams of ink issued from his body, and Alphonse guessed these were the remnants of the Puppetmaster drug still in his system. The atmosphere inside the room darkened, like a premature night had fallen inside just this area.
A cold aura, like a chilly wind emanated from these vapors, as if to symbolize this was a sort of poison being forced out by the healing alkhestry. The alchemic lights continued to chase them out of Edward's body until they coalesced into a floating pool of toxins above his head, while the blue and red lights concentrated just above his chest. The lights blended and formed into an arrow shape, as if echoing the metal points on the circle, then they pulsed once with a sharp burst that hurt Alphonse's eyes and made them water. A sound like a small explosion was heard and the dark vapors scattered, before they faded with an unpleasant hissing sound and a harsh chemical stench.
The air began to lighten, until the sunlight streamed in, bright and cheery through the single window again. Alphonse's skin still prickled and he realized it was goose pimpled by a strange freezing cold. The returning warmth of the early fall day began to sink in again until he stopped shivering and the fine hairs on the back of his neck ceased standing on end. He took a deep breath and the air smelled pure and almost too sweet; he supposed it was a delayed reaction to the stress he'd been under since Edward had fallen ill. He looked down at his brother, who still slept peacefully, his face slightly paler than before.
He stepped carefully over the chalk lines and touched the back of his hand to Edward's cheek. The skin was still a bit too warm, but no - where as hot and clammy as it had been. A breeze coming from the open window stirred Edward's hair, and some of the strands swayed slightly. Alphonse ran his fingers through his brother's hair, yes, he hadn't imagined it, the outer strands were drying; only the hair close to the scalp was still damp with sweat.
"Here, boy," Alphonse looked to his left, Kong Qian who held out a white handkerchief. "Wipe the symbols off his forehead and he will awaken." The healer was still crouched at the edge of the circle, his face a little paler and sheened with sweat. Alphonse took the offered piece of cloth and gently rubbed at Edward's forehead, folding and re-folding the handkerchief to get all of the purple substance off.
Edward began to stir almost immediately, he moaned softly before he slowly opened his yellow eyes, the blinking lids puffy and lined with crusts of sleep. "Hello, Brother," Alphonse whispered while a smile crawled across his face. He was helpless to stop it, so he just let his joy shine though. Edward frowned slightly and grunted a sort of reply, before his larynx woke up and he was able to answer in proper words.
"Hey Al, I'm starved. What must I do to get something to eat around here?"
He's hungry! Brother is hungry! Alphonse couldn't help laughing at this, and he did so until he started to cry. ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Roughly about an hour later, a tired Kong Qian wandered down to the Intensive Care Unit of Central Military Hospital #1. A low pitched hum and flashes of light issued from the doorway of a room just off of it, and his body began to resonate with the so familiar sound. The closer he came to it, the stronger the reaction and the middle-aged man began to feel the aches and pains just melt away into mere distractions. He came to the door of the room and watched approvingly as his apprentice finished the healing ritual.
The patient, a blond man with pale skin, lay unmoving in the middle of the circle. Alex had told him this man was from the same country as the invaders, but not as an aggressor. He'd been a prisoner too, just like the Amestrian Kong Quan had recently healed, but his injury was more serious, a near-fatal gunshot wound to the chest. The man was one of the few survivors from the large army that had cut such a swath of destruction through eastern Amestris, Word was he could speak their language and Military Intelligence was very anxious to question him as to the technology of the world he came from.
Kong Qian was intrigued too, because his master had told him the ancient Xingese legends about a parallel world, but, he'd always supposed they were just old alchemist's tales. Now to find out this story, like the tale of Xerxes, had a grain of truth behind it was almost too exciting for words.
The apprentice ended the transmutation, and the hum and the glow faded while the room grew brighter. The young man hadn't so much as twitched, but he had more color to his skin and his chest movement was more pronounced, as if his breathing was improved. The apprentice nodded at two orderlies who stood against the far wall as if paralyzed, so both of them jerked into motion like puppets brought to life with harsh yanks. They bowed to the apprentice and murmured thanks in their ungraceful Amestrian language before they carefully picked up the young man and set him on a gurney. They wheeled it through an open doorway and back into the Intensive Care Unit, not that the patient would need such care anymore.
The apprentice stood up and faced him, staring with unblinking coal black eyes before she closed those eyes and bowed. Kong Qian bowed back, a mark of courtesy to an accomplished student. "Well done, Mei Chan."
That was all he said to her, because that was all he needed to say. Kong Qian was an economical man and he did not believe in waste, even of words. The girl turned and began to clean up the room, first retrieving her arrow-like quoins and then sweeping up the chalk lines of the array. A careful alchemist always disabled the circle in order to protect non-alchemists from its power. Footsteps sounded behind him and the girl froze in place, her face a carefully arranged unreadable mask turned towards the intruder.
Kong Qian didn't turn around at first because he knew the steps belonged to the brown-eyed brother. He turned slowly and deliberately and raked his steely gaze up and down the boy who stood, frozen and indecisive, like a bird hypnotized by a snake. The child trembled, his eyes wide and his expression candid.
He wasn't surprised when the boy dropped to his knees and begged Kong Qian to make him his apprentice. Because he knew the boy would come to ask him from the first moment they'd met.
The healer carefully considered the question. From his demeanor in the hospital room, the boy knew about alchemy, more importantly, he also knew how to keep his mouth shut and watch, listen and learn. On the other hand, he was an Amestrian, a barbarian, one of a people who (supposedly) delighted in bringing strife and misery to the people of other nations. Was this uncouth child even capable of learning the ancient and noble Xingese alchemy? The boy stayed down on his knees, head bowed; until he suddenly looked up, those dark brown eyes pierced Kong Qian to the quick with their naked determination. He made his decision in an instant and the boy's face fell after he spoke the first sentence. //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// His intravenous tubes re-connected, Edward slept peacefully on, unconscious to the drama that had just gone on around him. Alphonse, however, was not peaceful, and he jigged nervously in place. Alex had sat down in a wooden chair close to the bed, his head down and blue eyes closed, as if mentally digesting the recent events. Alphonse felt he would watch over Brother and he muttered "excuse me" before going to the door and opening it.
It was now or never and he sprinted down the hallway at a half-run, his breath coming in quick, anxious bursts. He slowed to a walk if a nurse or orderly walked by with a clipboard or a patient in a wheelchair, but he was moving on the double once that person was past and out of earshot. He didn't know where to start looking for Kong Qian and he peeked into each half open doorway he passed in hopes of seeing him, but his previously high spirits began to vanish like smoke in the wind.
Not until he got to the third floor and smelled the slightly ozone-y air did he know he was on the right track. Only the after effects of a transmutation could give the air that particular tang and he just had to follow his nose. Alphonse followed it right into a room off the Intensive Care Unit, and walked in without knocking. The healer stood with his back to Alphonse, and a few feet away and facing him was one of the prettiest girls he'd ever seen.
The girl was dressed similarly to Kong Qian, but in a pink outfit embroidered with a sinuous green dragon and trimmed with piping in a darker green. She was very slight, her head barely reaching to Alphonse's chest. Her hair was black, glossy and very long, gathered up into two large buns twirled on each side of her head. From each one cascaded three smaller and tightly wound braids which reached down almost to her ankles, Alphonse thought she looked exquisite, like a perfectly sculpted little porcelain doll. Her face was a blank mask, the only signs of personality coming from her black eyes that snapped at him like firecrackers.
Alphonse shook his head; he wasn't here to admire a pretty girl, but to ask the healer a very important question. He dropped to the floor and bowed low after the man finally turned his way.
"Please Mr. Kong! Make me your apprentice!"
Alphonse stayed still and waited, he could feel Kong Qian's eyes boring a hole in him, and also felt like a bug under a microscope. Maybe the healer thought he was just kidding? I'm serious! Dammit! He threw his head up and his wide dark brown eyes met Kong Qian's narrow black ones. Their gazes locked and made silent conversation, now Alphonse couldn't have looked away, even if he'd wanted to.
"Yes, boy, I will take you as my second apprentice. But not right now. Your brother will need you, and your duty lies in helping him recover. Study hard for one year; absorb everything there is to know about your country's alchemy. Come to the place you call the Cselkcess ruins, in one year's time. Mei-Chan and I will be waiting for you." The healer nodded once before he turned his back on Alphonse and began to address his apprentice in Xingese.
As before, Alphonse felt a smile crawling of its own volition across his face, but he refrained from bursting into laughter, or even tears. He somehow felt those reactions would not do as befitting an apprentice-to-be of the dignified Xingese healer. Instead, he stood back up and bowed again in his direction before turning smartly and walking out the door. Alphonse looked calm on the outside, but inside, his heart thudded against his ribs and his thoughts scrambled around like stampeding mice inside his skull. The enormity of his decision almost took his breath away, but he felt he'd done the right thing.