This is my first fan fic. It only took me six days to write. A record for me. smile.gif I've only been watching FMA for a few weeks and since the cable was shut off I can only watch the ones I taped. This story takes place when Ed and Al were young and is based losely around episodes 6 and 7: State Alchemist Qualification Exam and The Night the Chimera Cries. The latter being the one that really got me hooked on the show and spawned this whole idea. After adding my own character to the mix, it took on a life of its own and what was originally going to be a two-parter has now been stretched to a six-part series. I hope you like it.


Placid was the night a slim figure gracefully stalked through Central. She stood in front of a mansion surrounded by well-trimmed hedges. In the darkness, they appeared a wall around his majesty’s castle, as some regarded Shou Tucker as such. The miracles he performed within those walls were top secret. This of course meant that they were widely known.
Thinking this, the strange girl allowed herself a fleeting smile. The only thing left to do was gain access to Tucker’s research. That wouldn’t be too hard for an eleven-year-old girl lost and alone in a strange place. Drawing her cowl over her face, she slipped away into the night, unseen by anyone. Or so she thought.

***

Edward Elric gazed out the window of the room he shared with his brother Alphonse. His brow creased as he watched a shadow on the street below. “Huh, that was strange.”
“What is it, brother?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. I just thought I saw something.”
Edward returned to his bed but he didn’t sleep. There was so much that had to be done to prepare for the upcoming state alchemy exam. He pretended he wasn’t intimidated but inside his mind, he began to wonder if maybe he was doing the wrong thing. After all, he was just coming into his adolescence. Many adults failed horribly at the test. So much was at stake. He had to succeed for Al’s sake and for their deceased mother.
They had once tried to bring her back using alchemy, but they ignored the natural law of equivalent exchange. That is, something must be sacrificed in order to gain what one is after. They had lost so much already the two thought they had nothing more to lose. They were wrong.
During the process something went terribly awry. Edward lost an arm and leg while Al lost his body. Edward was able to save his brother’s soul by transmuting him to a nearby suit of armor. The pain for them was intense, both physically and mentally. That’s why human transmutation was forbidden.
The night came and went much too quickly for Ed. He’d gotten some sleep but it was restless. However, with morning came breakfast and he was the first one at the table. Anxiously waiting with fork and knife in hand, he inhaled the tantalizing aroma that filled the kitchen. Eggs and spicy sausage, pancakes drenched in warm, gooey syrup. Al was helping Tucker set the table when the doorbell rang.
“Nina, would you be a dear and get that?” said Tucker.
“Okay, daddy.”
Nina was Tucker’s four-year-old daughter. She was heaven sent with brown hair and blue eyes. The Elrics had become quite attached to her. They always took time out from their studies to play with her. She now stared in wonderment at the girl on their doorstep. She was young, probably about Edward’s age, and of Japanese descent. She was dirty and had the disheveled appearance of someone who’d been eating very little and sleeping in gutters. Alexander, the family dog, sniffed her and bared his teeth. Tucker came to see what all the fuss was about. He took one look at the girl and her fear and uncertainty was clear.
“Alexander, no! Nina, take him in the other room.”
Nina wanted to stay. She wanted to see more of this strange visitor but knew she should do what her father tells her. “Come on, Alexander.” With a final bark he followed her into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry. Alexander’s very protective of my daughter. I’m Shou Tucker.”
“Masumi Kirosaba.” She spoke breathlessly. “My village was attacked and I’ve come searching for help, but I . . .” She swayed on her feet and collapsed into Tucker’s arms.
Masumi slipped in and out of consciousness, harrowing visions of her past swimming in her head. The screams of the dying echoing in her ears. All of her memories were tinted red with the blood of the villagers.
She moaned and shook her head trying to force herself awake. Slowly, she sat up and rubbed her temples. Her memory askew, she became frightened of her surroundings and the unfamiliar faces crowding her. Then she recognized Tucker and her fear escalated to panic. She had actually made it inside his house. Now what?
Her eyes scanned the rest of the room. There was a small child, a cute boy, and . . . a talking suit of armor! This day was getting weirder by the second!
“Are you all right?” it asked her.
“I think so,” she replied haltingly. “What—I mean who are you?”
“I’m Alphonse and this is my brother, Edward.”
Masumi fixed her gaze on the one called Edward. His blonde hair was pulled back into a loose braid. His hazel eyes were intense as he watched the proceedings unfold.
“Did you hear me?”
“What? No, sorry,” she said to Al.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked Tucker. “You look a little pale.”
“I’m just a little weak from travel, that’s all.”
“Here, eat this.” Al handed her a plate with some leftover breakfast. She devoured it as fast as she could. He went to fetch her another. She had her fill after a dozen sausages, eight pancakes, four eggs, and a slight tummy ache.
“I hadn’t realized how hungry I was,” she said slightly embarrassed.
“You must have come a long way,” said Edward.
“Yes. I come from the village of Tashimi far to the north.”
“You said you were attacked. By whom?”
“A rival village. They came in the middle of the night and invaded our homes. Not many of us survived.”
“That’s sad,” said Al.
“Yes. I was forced to leave to find help.”
The three of them talked away the morning while Nina drew pictures and hummed to herself. Sometimes she would stop and ask a question. Masumi found her to be quite charming. Not only was she adorable, but she was polite and smart as well.
Al was taking a liking to Masumi. She had petite features, wide eyes and a pointed chin. She kept her hands tucked into the sleeves of her kimono, which was purple with silver trim. Once he looked past the smudges of dirt and unkempt hair, he found she was really pretty.
Edward, however, felt differently. He had a hunch that Masumi was more than what she seemed. Later that night he related his feelings to Al.
“I just don’t trust her.”
“But why not?”
“There are too many holes in her story.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, think about it Al. All we know is that her village was attacked by another village, but when we asked her why she avoided the question. You don’t attack somebody for no reason.”
“Maybe she’s just afraid. This place is strange to her. We’re strange to her.”
“We’re strange to everyone, Al.” Edward stared at the ceiling reflecting hatefully on the fear and hostility people had shown them. Especially Al. Unless they saw his auto mail people thought he was just a normal kid but Al couldn’t hide the fact that he was a walking suit of armor.
“Just give her a chance, brother. You’ll see.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Ed rolled over and faced the wall. Still, there’s something about that girl. Something she’s not telling us.
***

Al laid awake listening to his brother’s soft snores. He had no need to sleep, or eat, or exercise, or anything else others did. He missed his body. He missed being able to feel the summer sun warming his hair and the icy gusts of wind that came with winter. He wanted to feel those things again. He wanted to run, skip rocks, and play tag. Eat candy until he threw up. All the things an eleven-year-old boy should be doing. But more than anything, he wanted his brother to be happy again.
Al knew that Ed felt obligated to protect his little brother. He took full responsibility for what happened, even though they were both at fault. They were all each other had now.

***

So, my suspicions were correct. Tucker had given Masumi a room next to the Elrics. Through the wall she’d heard everything they said.
During their earlier conversation, Masumi had sensed Edward’s unease toward her. He kept repeating the same questions and when she wouldn’t give him a straight answer he grew frustrated.
Truth was, she desperately wanted to tell someone what really happened at Tashimi, but if the military ever found out what her people had done, they would throw them all in jail. Those that were still alive.

***

Days passed by and she didn’t see much of Al and Ed. They spent all their time studying for the upcoming exam. Al wanted to become a state alchemist too but Ed wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. It was bad enough that he had to do it. He didn’t want his little brother becoming a dog of the military as well.
Masumi spent her days playing with Nina and Alexander. After she bathed and slipped him a few pieces of meat under the table, he gradually warmed up to her. Now the three of them were like a family. Indeed, she truly regarded Nina as her little sister.
Ed and Al played with them too, although Ed paid more attention to Nina than he did Masumi. When the two did acknowledge each other the air between them was electric. One day, Masumi asked Al why his brother hated her so.
“He doesn’t hate you,” said Al. “He just doesn’t trust you. Ed’s that way. After everything we’ve been through, he’s a little cautious of everyone.”
Masumi nodded somberly and took a bite of apple. They were sitting on the porch watching Ed and Nina. It was the middle of winter and Ed was using alchemy to make flowers grow. He fashioned them into a crown and placed it on her head. Then he bowed on one knee and said, “For you my princess, I would grow an azalea bush.”
Masumi couldn’t help but smile. Despite his harshness toward her, he certainly did love that little girl. And with her bright personality, who wouldn’t? She decided he wasn’t so bad after all. She hadn’t been completely honest so she couldn’t blame him for not trusting her.
Although they were having fun, Masumi never forgot the real reason she was there. Two months had passed since her arrival and she still hadn’t dug up anything remotely useful. She’d rummaged through desk drawers and cabinets all for nothing. She speculated that what she needed was down in the basement since that where Tucker spent most of his time. On those rare occasions when he ventured into the world of the living the door stayed locked. So far, she hadn’t been able to gain access to it.
Then came the day of the alchemy exam. The house was empty. Tucker had driven the boys to headquarters. Nina and Alexander had tagged along. She begged Masumi to come but Masumi had fainted at dinner the night before. She told them she wasn’t feeling well and opted to stay at the mansion. It wasn’t a complete lie, she did feel a little lightheaded.
She watched from an upstairs window as the car drove away. It was now or never. She felt skittish, knowing that what she was about to do was wrong but she didn’t have a choice if she wanted to help her people.
From a supply cabinet she took a candle and some tinder. She also came across a pin that was the perfect size for picking a lock.
Placing the candle and tinder aside she inserted the pin into the lock on the basement door. After a few painstaking moments she heard a click and was mildly surprised. She had never picked a lock before and hadn’t expected it to work. Lighting the candle she stepped over the threshold.
The basement was huge, naturally, as the mansion itself was quite large. The first room contained nothing of interest so she went into the second and nearly dropped the candle, amazed by what she witnessed. Transmutation circles and alchemic symbols covered all four walls, the floor and ceiling. There were dozens of cages containing all sorts of unspeakable creatures. All of them had been children of Mother Nature at one time, though they were hardly recognizable now. Each cage held two animals that had been fused together to create one incredible beast.
Masumi’s heart tumbled. After what she saw, she thought she should be angry and vengeful toward these creatures but all she felt was pity. These chimeras weren’t like the ones she had known. They weren’t like the ones that had killed her family.
Those chimeras had been kept in a building designed specifically for that purpose. The night they all escaped they broke through windows, tore down doors, and slaughtered those who couldn’t run fast enough. Then they took up residence in a nearby forest. The remaining villagers lived in fear and nobody left their houses after sunset.
But these chimeras were different. Some snarled or whimpered but most only raised their heads to see who had disturbed them, then curled back up, resigning themselves to their fate.
Masumi couldn’t let herself be fooled. She knew that the minute she opened their cages they would rip her to pieces. They were monsters. Just like Edward couldn’t trust her, she couldn’t trust them. She forced herself to look away.
It was then she noticed the mountain of books stacked against the wall. Maybe I’ll find what I need in here. She opened a book and her heart sank. When it came to alchemy she was a novice at best. The words she was reading made absolutely no sense. She picked up another book, then another. They were all the same.
“That’s it! I quit!” She tossed the book on the pile. It toppled over and she groaned.
She wanted to cry and stomp her feet. She wanted to lie down in a heap and never get up. Never have to face the world again. She would lay there until she starved to death. That’s what she wanted to do but she didn’t. She was her people’s last and only hope.
She narrowed her eyes. “All right, these books won’t read themselves.”
Masumi reached for the first book she had picked up. She sat cross-legged on the floor with the candle in front of her and read the first paragraph. Then she read it again . . . and again . . . and again. She read it many times over before it sunk in. It was infuriating but she was determined.
When she was through a tremendous amount of time had gone by. She was so lost in her studies she had forgotten where she was and that she wasn’t supposed to be there. The candle had brunt down to nothing so she had to feel her way out. She just hoped she could make it upstairs before Tucker and the others got home.
Her hopes her extinguished when the door swung open and Tucker peered down at her from the top of the stairwell. Her stomach and heart switched places and she froze on the spot. Tucker was equally surprised to see her as he started at her presence.
Masumi tried to think of an excuse for being there. Her thoughts swirled and she knew that there wasn’t one. She shoved past Tucker and ran for the front door. Edward blocked her path. She noticed the silver watch clutched tightly in his hand marking him a state alchemist. In her already panicked condition she became terrified for her life. A state alchemist! He could have her thrown in jail or executed, or worse.
“Who are you really? Why are you here?”
“I – uh – I – I can’t!” She pushed him aside.
He caught her wrist and dragged her toward him. He was about to unleash his anger and get some answers but something felt strange. Her hand didn’t feel like flesh and bone. He yanked the sleeve of her kimono back and was astounded by what it revealed. Her arm was made of auto mail. Just like his! But that meant—
He looked up at her face. Her eyes were brimming over with tears. She wrenched free of his grasp and practically collided with Al. Leaping clumsily over a chair she raced out the door and into the street.
It was mid-afternoon. Masumi raised an arm to shield herself from the glare of the sun. She couldn’t remember which direction to go so she just picked one and started running. It wasn’t long before a painful cramp seized her and she fell to the ground crying out in agony. It felt as though someone had taken hold of her organs and were twisting them. It was such an excruciating ordeal that she heaved and vomited from the unbearable pain. With one hand clutching her mid-section she crawled into an alleyway and leaned against the stone wall. Every breath she took pierced her like a knife. Not yet, I can’t die, not yet. Her head lulled to one side and she lost all consciousness.

***

Tucker hurried downstairs to check on his work. Nina sat with Alexander’s head on her lap and watched the debate between the Elric brothers. Ed wanted to report everything to Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang and let the military deal with it. Al thought his brother was being irrational. He should give Masumi a chance to explain. They had gotten close in the past weeks and he couldn’t believe she was as bad as Edward made her sound.
The air had been deflated. The room was silent except for Al’s metal suit creaking whenever he moved. Ed sat across from him looking like a child who couldn’t have his way. Neither one spoke for a long time.
Then Al decided the silence had gone on long enough. “Brother?” Ed ignored him. “Brother, you saw the way she looked at your medal. She was afraid of it.”
“Well she should be. She had no business snooping through Tucker’s research.”
“Maybe she had a reason. Please, don’t judge her. Think of how it feels when people judge us.”
He knew his brother had a point. It wasn’t right to judge someone before knowing all the facts.
“Please, Ed.”
They both turned and looked at Nina. It was the first time she had spoken since they returned home.
“Masumi was nice to me. She’s my friend. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” Alexander barked loudly as if he agreed.
Ed looked into eyes that were as blue as the sky and tugging on his heart. What could he do but say yes? “Fine, we’ll track her down but you and Alexander have to promise to stay here.”
“Okay,” she smiled, “but only if you promise that you’ll come back and play with me.”
“We promise,” said Al. “Don’t worry. We’ll find Masumi and she can play with us too.”
They were ready to leave when Tucker came upstairs. “Everything’s okay. There’s a mess down there but it doesn’t look like she took anything. Where are you boys off to?”
“To find Masumi.” But upon opening the door, Ed found his way blocked by a dauntingly tall man by the name of Busque Grand. He was second only to the Fuhrer King Bradley. His authority was law.
Edward didn’t like him. He was gruff and arrogant. Simply put a horse’s ass. “Excuse me, sir,” he said mockingly. The general was not amused. With a massive arm he knocked Edward aside and pushed his way into the house.
“Come on, Al, this doesn’t concern us.” Ed slammed the door behind him.
Grand strode over to Tucker, making his presence felt. Tucker swallowed hard and stiffened. This wasn’t going to be an enjoyable experience.
Grand walked the room, casually glancing at bookshelves and their contents. He could care less about them. Hell, let them burn. What did it matter to him? He just wanted to draw out the tension, make Tucker squirm and it was working. When he spoke his tone was severe.
“King Bradley is not happy with your performance. And if he’s not happy, I’m not happy.”
“I just need more time.”
“You’ve had two years already. Your research is lacking. You know what we want.”
Tucker drew in a breath to respond then changed his mind. He knew all too well what they wanted. It was pointless. Even if he succeeded he failed. They would just want more. More than he had to give.
“Do you want to go back to the life you had before?” Grand had his back toward Tucker, gazing out the window.
“Sir?”
“The life you had before. Struggling to make your pay. Begging for a place to sleep.” He walked over, his boots clapping the floor, tightening the grasp he held on the invisible rope around Tucker’s neck. “Is that the kind of life you want for your daughter? It can be arranged.”
“No, sir.”
“Then you have until tomorrow morning. You know what to do.” He left, leaving Tucker to his oppressive thoughts.
It was a lose-lose situation. He had two options: deny Grand and King Bradley and lose the life he’d become accustomed to, or give them what they wanted and lose everything; his dignity, his freedom and—eventually—his sanity. He chose what he was willing to do and returned to his experiments.
Nina followed with Alexander close behind. She was becoming increasingly worried about her father. The last few days he had been indifferent to his surroundings, spending every waking moment buried in his research. When he came upstairs he rarely spoke and his eyes maintained a distant sadness.
Nina’s mother had left them two years before, at least that’s what she believed. That’s what Tucker had told her. She was fed up with Tucker and left in the middle of the night. Nina often wondered if she had something to do with her mother leaving since she never responded to any of her letters. She didn’t want to lose her father too, so Nina showed him all the love and kindness in her heart, she tried her best to be obedient and respectful to him.
Tucker sat at his desk staring blankly at the wall.
“Daddy?” She climbed onto his lap.
“I’m . . . at the end of my rope.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Don’t worry, I know you’ll think of something.”
How right you are. I already have.

***

As evening fell the weather turned bleak. It was as if the elements themselves could sense the escalating despair in Central that day. Thunder moaned in the distance. The wind whipped around Masumi, wailing in her ears. She was dizzy and disoriented as she always was after one of her spells. She just needed a few moments to gather her strength then she would return to her homeland. She was confident she now had the knowledge she needed to save what was left of her village.
Suddenly, she tensed at the sound of her name being called. She recognized Edward’s voice. He was looking for her? That could only mean one thing: she was in serious trouble. She stood and gave her numb legs a moment to get used to the change. When she left the alley, she ran right smack into Al. Shrieking in terror, Masumi sunk to the ground and covered her head. “Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me . . .”
Ed and Al looked at one another. “Why would we do that?”
“Huh?” She looked up. “You mean I’m not in trouble?”
Al shook his head and his armor clanked. “We were worried about you so we came looking for you.”
“Yeah,” concurred Ed. “You actually thought we were going to kill you?”
“Well, you are a state alchemist now.” She pushed herself off the ground. “Shouldn’t you arrest me or something for breaking into Tucker’s basement?”
“Uh—mmm.” Ed knew that he should at least report her. Going by government and military laws, that's what he should do. But something inside told him it wasn’t the right thing to do. “I’ll make you a deal. You tell us the truth, why you really came here, and I won’t turn you in.”
“Well . . .” Masumi hesitated. She was tired of lying. Tired of the empty, sour feeling it left behind in the pit of her stomach. But telling the truth meant dragging those old bones out of the closet and reliving the horrors of the past year.
She couldn’t. As much as she wanted to, she just couldn’t. It was just too much to bear. “I wish I could Edward, but I just can’t. I don’t know how.” She walked away from them. “I’m going to go home now. You can try to stop me if you like, but know this; all that I’ve done, and all that I will do is for my people. I am their only chance for a peaceful future.”
She left them standing there. Edward believed her and so he let her go.
“Brother, shouldn’t we stop her?”
“What for Al? She’s pretty determined to get back to where she’s from. Who are we to stop her?” though for a moment he considered going after her. He wanted to know what happened to her village and who she tried to resurrect. He was almost positive that was how she lost her arm and maybe why she keeled over so often. Whether it was or wasn’t, she obviously wasn’t telling him so there was no reason to pursue the matter.
He headed in the direction of Tucker’s house. Al followed him without a word.
The mansion was eerily quiet. Edward felt a sense of alarm upon entering. Something’s not right, he thought.
“Tucker, we’re back!”
“Down here! Come down to the basement! I have something to show you!”
They followed the sound of his voice and were appalled by the caged chimeras and alchemic graffiti. More disturbing was Tucker’s newest creation.
“Look,” he said proudly, “isn’t it beautiful?”

***

Masumi was beginning to doubt herself. She wished they would follow her and force the facts from her. She walked slowly for that purpose but they never came.
I’m such a fool! What can I possibly hope to accomplish by going back? There’s hardly anything to return to. Here I have friends. Here I have . . . “Nina! I forgot to say good-bye!” She turned on her heels and dashed back to the mansion. She was out of breath by the time she got there.
“Nina.” There was no answer. “Nina, where are you?” Nothing.
“What have you done?”
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
Voices drifted up from the basement. The door was ajar.
I shouldn’t, thought Masumi. Should I?

***

“Where’s Nina?” asked Edward through gritted teeth.
“She’s here,” said Tucker. He turned to the chimera. “Dear, these are you’re friends, Edward and Al, remember?”
The beast looked at them and spoke haltingly, as if it pained it to speak. “Edward . . . friend?”
“Yes, I’m . . . you’re friend.” He couldn’t force himself to look directly at it. It’s eyes; so sad, so full of pain. He grunted and dragged his fingers across the stone floor. No, it can’t be. It can’t end this way. The chimera padded over to Al. “You promised . . . you’d . . . play with me.”
Al didn’t know what to do. He didn’t understand. “Brother what is—”
“Your wife never left you, did she?” Edward glared up at Tucker. “You used alchemy to turn her into one of your monsters!”
The shock of his brother’s accusation threw Al off balance. He clanked as he stumbled. “What are you saying? That this chimera is . . .” He couldn’t finish. It was too horrible. What kind of person would do something like that?
“Tucker created the first talking chimera two years ago, only it died shortly after. His wife disappeared about the same time.”
“I couldn’t see it then. She was just too old to handle the stress.”
“But that doesn’t matter now, because you have a new test subject. Your own daughter!”
“He wouldn’t!”
“Open your eyes, Al. He already has. This chimera is nothing more than a transmuted Nina and Alexander.”
“Nina!” Al sank to one knee and patted the chimera’s head. “How could you do this to your daughter? She loved you!”
“It was simple really, once I had the right elements.”
“Bastard!” Ed punched out and struck Tucker on the chin. His jaw cracked under the force of Ed’s auto mail. Despite the pain and blood leaking down his face he only laughed. “Who do you think you are, toying with someone’s life this way?”
“It’s what alchemy is all about, Ed. Or have you forgotten?”
“Why did you do it? Why?!”
“Because I could. Isn’t that why you joined the state alchemists? Isn’t that the same reason you tried to give life to your dead mother? To prove that you could. It seems to me, young Edward, we’re not so different, you and I.”
“I am nothing like you!”
The indignation Edward had locked inside was released. With a primordial cry of pure outrage, he threw himself on Tucker and beat him with his fists. He was deaf to his brother’s pleas. Only when he felt a pull on his jacket did he stop. The chimera was growling softly with his coattail in its mouth.
Edward looked at himself. Tucker’s blood was smeared on his face and arms. He’d even broken the skin on a few of his knuckles and the blood was oozing through his gloves.
“What is this?” Brigadier General Grand ducked through the doorway as he entered the room, followed by three other military personnel. “Attacking a state alchemist? That’s a serious offense Edward Elric.”
“He transmuted his daughter, sir.”
“I see.” He stroked his chin. One of his men pulled Tucker off the floor and placed him in restraints. Another retrieved Nina.
“You knew about this didn’t you.” Edward was struggling with the tears that pierced his eyes. He couldn’t cry, not in front of these men. “You knew all along and you covered it up.”
“Let’s go you two.” Grand led them out of the basement and into the brisk night. Clouds blocked out the light of the moon. The sky was overcast. It was going to rain soon.
Tucker was being hauled into a truck next to the chimera.
“What’s going to happen to him?” asked Ed.
“He’ll be placed into a holding cell to await his trial,” replied Grand.
“And Nina?”
“She will be kept safe. The state will want to study her.”
“You can’t do that! I won’t let you!” he made a dive for the truck but was slammed hard in the stomach. He doubled over, his breath knocked out of him. Al cried out and grabbed his shoulders to steady him. The military had loaded up and was driving away.
“I won’t let them use her for a test subject!”
Ed clapped his hands and placed them on the ground. The pavement cracked and a whitish-blue light emanated from within. The ground trembled and the truck carrying Nina and Tucker overturned. The chimera leapt forth and sniffed in confusion.
“Nina!” cried Ed.
She looked up and ran in the opposite direction.
“No, come back!”
They ran after her.

***

Masumi had witnessed everything. She had hid in the shadows just outside the door but she had seen it all. A talking chimera. She could scarcely believe. It wasn’t like any other she had seen. It was rather pathetic. Its discomfort was so obvious.
Now it was clear. She understood why they were so vicious and cruel. Why they turned on their creators. Their anguish sent them into a blind rage. Just like it would any animal. And all these years she had been taught to believe that they were evil beasts that couldn’t be tamed or controlled, yet they were necessary for survival.
Silently, she wept. For her family and all the people who had died. For herself and Nina and Alexander. Now she knew the truth. Now she understood.
Masumi followed close behind when they went outside and cringed when Grand struck Edward, though she was glad to see someone do it. Payback for his callousness toward her. But the general was ruthless and coldhearted, and she felt Ed’s sadness, more than either one would ever realize.
She was awestruck by his ability to use alchemy without a transmutation circle. She’d been around alchemists all her life but never had she witnessed something so amazing. The incredibility of the moment was forgotten when the chimera burst out of the truck and ran off. Masumi ran after it. At some point Ed and Al joined her but she was small and nimble and stayed ahead of them.
Her peripheral vision caught a flash of white dashing around a corner and into an alley. There came a blast and a shadow raced away from the scene. She didn’t pay it much attention, wanting to find the creature and do what she could to ease its pain. But she was too late.
“God, no.” she halted at the grotesque sight before her. Someone had already put the animal out of its misery by exploding it from the inside. Something only an alchemist could do.
Masumi fell to her knees and bowed low. Her arms outstretched and her fingers entwined on the cold ground. “What have we done?”
Ed and Al found their way down the alley and stopped short.
“It’s like someone tried to separate them.” Ed trembled, his hands clenched tightly at his sides.
“But who?” asked Al.
“Please, please forgive us.” Masumi lay face down, muttering hysterically.
Al reached for her and she jerked away from him. “It’s okay,” he reassured her. “It’s okay.” He lifted her to her feet.
Edward hadn’t seen her. Weak gasps escaped his throat. The sky opened and the rain poured down but the sound of it was drowned by his anguished wails. Masumi buried her face in her hands and cried as well. Al stood there, helpless, wishing he could do the same.
Roy Mustang, Maes Hughes, and Jean Havoc came up behind them.
“Edward,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mustang, “there’s nothing you can do. Stand aside.” If the boy heard his orders he ignored them. “Edward.” Mustang reached for him and he turned and ran. Roy let him go. The kid needed some time alone.
Al took hold of Masumi and pulled her out of the way.
“Who do you suppose did it?” asked Mustang.
“I don’t know,” replied Hughes. He scratched the back of his head and released a heavy sigh. “But I feel sorry for whoever has to clean this mess up.”
Mustang shot him a knowing look.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Ain’t this a little advanced for him, chief?” Lieutenant Havoc teased. Maes glared at him over his shoulder.
“Take a look around,” said Roy. “This was obviously done with alchemy but there’s something missing.”
They studied the blood stain on the wall and the surrounding area. Havoc parted his lips but Hughes spoke first. “No transmutation circle.”
“Precisely.”
“You don’t think . . . ?” began Havoc.
“It’s a possibility, but I doubt it. Which means there is someone else besides our young Elric who can perform alchemy without transmutation circles. I want him found and fast.”
“Right.”
Mustang turned to Al. “Find your brother. Tell him he is to clear out his things.” He eyed the girl curiously but didn’t object to her presence. “I want to see him at headquarters immediately.”
“Yes, sir.” Al sped off, dragging Masumi with him.
With nowhere else to go, Ed had went back to the mansion. He sat slumped over the kitchen table, staring hatefully at the military’s insignia on his watch. I can’t do this. I can’t be part of an organization that murders innocent people. But what am I going to do? I’ve got to find a way to get our bodies back. It’s the whole reason I became a state alchemist. The rain outside was falling hard, now accompanied by an occasional lightening bolt. The tone set by the storm matched Edward’s mood; dark and uncertain. So much responsibility had fallen on shoulders so young. He couldn’t right the wrongs of this world no matter how hard he tried. For every person trying to do good and bring about peace, there would be a dozen more like Shou Tucker, manipulating those below him just to test his limits.
Ed was lost inside his tormented thoughts and didn’t hear the front door open.
“Brother, are you in here?” Al came into the kitchen. “Are you okay?”
“I keep asking myself ‘why.’ Why bother with anything? In the end our fate is the same. We struggle our whole lives just to lose it all when we die. And for what?”
Al was desperately searching for words to comfort his brother when a loud thump distracted them both. Masumi had passed out again.

***

Masumi slept for a very long time and it was upsetting Al. Even Ed was beginning to worry.
“When will she wake up, brother?”
“How am I suppose to know that?” Ed checked her over. Her skin color appeared normal. But what was ‘normal’ for Masumi?
“What if she never wakes up?”
“Don’t be stupid, Al. Of course she’s gonna wake up.”
Gently, he put an ear to her chest. Her heartbeat was strong. He listened for any irregularities, not that he knew what they would be. So he didn’t notice when her eyes fluttered open.
“Uh, brother.” Al tapped him on his shoulder.
“Not now Al. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Geez, Ed. If you like me that much you should’ve said so.”
“Dah!” He jerked his head back and his face flushed with embarrassment.
An uncomfortable moment of silence lingered in the air.
“Well, thank you for all your help. Now I must be getting home.” Masumi rose and Ed forced her back down.
“You’re not going anywhere. You’re not well enough.”
She tilted her head skyward. “For pity sake, I’m fine! Now let me up!” She rose again and caught the same affect. “You’ve got some nerve, little boy.”
“Little! I’m not little! You take that back right now! You’re not so tall yourself ya know!”
Masumi rolled off the bed to dodge his fury. Al grabbed him by his shirt collar. He was still flailing his arms and shouting empty threats.
“My brother’s a little sensitive about his height. He gets defensive when someone calls him short.”
“I am not defensive! Put me down! I’ll turn her into a slug!”
Masumi placed a hand over her mouth to suppress her snickering. “Relax, Ed. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
His body went limp. “You can put me down now, Al.” He gritted his teeth.
“Promise you won’t lose your temper.”
“Would you just put me down already?!” It was more of a demand than a question.
Al dropped him to the floor. Masumi seized the moment and walked briskly to the door.
“You still want to leave?”
She stopped with her back to them and inhaled deeply. “No, Al. Honestly, I don’t. But what choice have I got?”
“You could stay with us.”
She smiled. “That’s very kind of you. It’s good to know I have friends I can count on, but—”
“But what?” Ed intervened. “If we’re really you’re friends then why won’t you tell us the truth?”
“It’s complicated.”
“Does it have anything to do with human transmutation?”
Her expression of utter bewilderment was a dead give away that he’d been right all along. “H-how did you know?”
He pulled up his sleeve and she gasped. Her eyes became wider than what should have been humanly possible. “I figured it out when I saw that your left arm is he same as my right arm. So . . . who was it?”
Masumi trudged over to the bed and threw herself down. “My father,” she muttered into the pillow. “It’s why I’m so sick all the time. I know you’ve noticed.” She sat up. “Besides my arm I also lost my health. My immunities are weak.” She paused. “I-I’m sorry. I haven’t been completely honest.”
“Psh, no kidding,” grumbled Ed.
“My village was invaded, but I didn’t come here looking for help. I came seeking some information from Tucker. Because, you see, it wasn’t people who attacked us . . . they were chimeras.”
The two of them gasped in unison.
“I can’t imagine how terrible that must’ve been for you.”
“Where did they come from?”
Masumi gazed at the intricate design on the bedspread. Recalling those vague memories and the stories told to her during her childhood, she revealed the truth behind the reason she had wandered into Central. “I was a baby when drought and famine spread throughout my homeland like a plague. More than half our village died, animals too. So our greatest alchemists began transmuting the livestock.” She paused and stole a glance at them. Al was unmoving, waiting patiently for her to finish. Ed furrowed his brow and his face screwed up in a disgusted frown. “We meant no harm. It was the only way to save them. But some soon became obsessed with the power they could wield over nature. My father was among them. His experiments were legendary among our people. But he went too far.”
“Why? What did he do?” Ed’s pulse quickened at the thought of what her answer might be.
“I-I’m not sure.” She spoke slowly, her voice trembling and choking up every now and then. “All I know is he trapped some bear cubs in the forest. Whatever he created turned on him. It was smart enough to free the other chimeras. They went on a rampage, killed all they could and fled to the woods.” She pulled her knees in and buried her face, sobbing hysterically.
Ed was furious. “If you knew what he was doing why didn’t you stop him? You just let him get away with it? You’re no better than your father!”
“Brother, please! It’s not her fault!” Al pulled on his arm. Ed broke away.
“We were starving! We had to do something! It wasn’t suppose to go this far. But now I understand. That’s why I have to go back.” She threw the covers aside and bolted from the room.
“Masumi, wait!” Al ran after her and Ed followed. She was halfway down the front walk before they caught up with her. “Wait! Don’t leave.”
“I have to correct the mistakes my people have made.”
“We’ll come with you.”
“No, Al. I have to do this on my own. Too many people have died already. I couldn’t live with myself if you were to join them.”
“But we could help you.”
“Let it go, Al,” said Edward. “There’s not much we can do anyhow.”
“Besides, I’m sure the military will find plenty of things to keep you busy.”
Al’s shoulders slumped. “Will we ever see you again?”
Ed cast a sidelong glance at his brother. Al was really bummed out over Masumi leaving. It was almost as if . . . He grinned. I see what’s going on here.
“I’m sure our paths will cross again . . . someday.” She placed a hand on each of the boys’ shoulders. “Good-bye friends and good luck.”
“You too,” replied Ed, “and be careful out there, okay?”
Masumi smiled and took to the north, the direction of her homeland.
“Good-bye!” Al called to her retreating back. “We’ll miss you.” She disappeared into the quiet dark.
“You like her don’t you?”
“Of course I do, brother. Don’t you?”
“I mean you really like her.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“What? No, I don’t! What gave you that idea?” Al raised his hands in submission and shook his head frantically.
“A-ha. Al’s got a girlfriend. Al’s got a girlfriend.”
“Stop it, that’s not funny.”
Edward had him a moment of fun, then the two of them stood side by side staring solemnly in the direction Masumi had gone.
“Brother?”
“Yeah, Al?”
“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Edward made no response. He remained silent so long that Al wasn’t sure he’d heard him. “Brother?”
“Yeah, she’ll be okay.” But Ed had his doubts.
The rain had stopped and the light of a half moon shone down on them. There was still a few more hours before sunrise. A sturdy wind blew through Ed and he shivered. He couldn’t decide if it was because of the cold or what lie ahead. For them and for Masumi.