It is the year 1937, and the Nazi scourge has spread over Europe. With a fervor bordering on insanity, Nazi loyalists have been tracking down religious and supernatural articles. But what does this...
The Water-Stone of the Wise
WARNING: This story is set after the movie /Fullmetal Alchemist and the Conqueror of Shamballa/. While there are no direct spoilers at this time, be warned that there could be in the near or far future. There is no need to have seen the movie to understand this story.
1: Connecticut, 1937 .
Edward Elric was bored out of his mind.
He sat in his office at Marshall College and stared blankly at the roll sheet that lay on the desk before him. It was much too early in the semester for there to be paperwork - he had just finished his one lecture of the day not an hour before. His only worry at the moment should have been ascertaining who had actually bothered to show up for his lecture; the first of the semester, and who to properly terrorize at the next class meeting for daring to skip.
By this time tomorrow, in fact, there would be easily two dozen sheets of paper sitting in his inbox that would need to be dealt with. For some reason, paperwork seemed to appear almost supernaturally ... the secretary of the science department was always amazed at the amount of work Edward would be knee-deep in on any given day. By all rights he should be sitting back, enjoying this last, paperwork-less day, and perhaps composing his lecture for the next class session.
He couldn't even pick up the pen. He knew nothing would come out of it, his mind was a runny mess at the moment. Edward was bored, damn it, he was bored with his life and he was bored with this job and if he just let himself think of who he once was he only made it worse.
That was his past. Edward leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, feeling the wood slats of the chair press into his back. His desk chair wasn't comfortable, and that was by his request. When seated behind this desk there was work to be done - if his chair was comfortable, he would be tempted to take naps in it. He wasn't like a certain Colonel, when he sat down to work he would get his work done, then find time to nap, or chase animals, or randomly clean the windows.
A soft smile crossed his face. He had only walked in on the Colonel dodging paperwork once, and he had been up on his chair - one foot on the back, the other on an arm-rest and precariously tilted so that he could finish cleaning the upper-most panes of glass. The sight had been so bizarre and unexpected Edward had stopped in his tracks and just watched the man finish his polishing of the windows.
The smile abruptly vanished as Edward's stomach tightened at the emotions tied to the memory. He was older now than the Colonel who resided only in his memory. The heavy burden of 'what-if' fell over Edward's shoulders and they dropped with its weight.
Where would he be, right now, if he were home? Would he still be in the military, or would he have been discharged and simply opened a lab to do his own research in? Did the Colonel achieve his own goal, and did the country have a new and just ruler?
A knock on his office door stopped that painful line of inquiry before it could go any further. He sat forward in his chair as the door opened without his acknowledging it.
"Professor Elric?" The voice was soft and questioning, and Edward recognized it at once. It belonged to Evaline Atwater, the only female teaching assistant in the science department. The petite blonde woman slid into his doorway, a bundle of letters in her hand. "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but the mail has come in."
Edward smiled at her, and it was genuine. She had spent an entire week arguing over some silly theory with him last semester - for a student, she had absolutely no fear of the professors in the science department OR the reputation that the majority were dirty old lechers. "You are not disturbing me, Evaline, and thank you for bring the letters around." He eyed the bundle in her hands. "Those aren't all for /me/, are they?"
"I'm afraid so, Professor." Evaline handed over the bundle and shook her head. "Old Professor Jacobson over in Geology was having quite a fit over the mailbox earlier."
"I bet he was," Edward muttered, opening a desk drawer to find his reading glasses. "He likes to work himself into fits if the wind is blowing the wrong way." He flipped through the pile of letters quickly, then glanced back up at her with an eyebrow raised. "He shouldn't be complaining, you know. More than half of this is just more work for me to do, and last I heard he was in a tiff about 'those young teachers not knowing the value of hard work.' Or something like that." He waved his hand in the air. "The only reason I have less paperwork than he does is because I actually do mine in a reasonable amount of time and I don't rely on T.A.s or Missus Mac to complete it for me."
Evaline giggled, and Edward rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "This isn't a rant," he told her disparagingly, dropping the pile of letters onto his desk. "You haven't heard me rant yet."
"On the contrary," Evaline said as she started back across the office to the door. "I was in your class my freshman year, Professor. I remember you railing against two finches outside the window who wouldn't be quiet."
Edward quite clearly rolled his eyes in exasperation. That incident had fast become legend in the science department and really, it wasn't like chalk erasers ... or textbooks ... or wooden chairs... weren't easily replaced. "They were insolent," he insisted stubbornly as Evaline let herself out after wishing him a good day. "Besides," he muttered to himself now. "The class feared me for the rest of the semester, and a little fear is good in students."
His eyes turned to the pile of letters. A good portion were from students who wanted in to one of his classes ... he usually got a decent few female students who wanted into his class just to stare at him, which unnerved him considerably. The number of those he got fluctuated from semester to semester and this semester promised to be no exception. The science department occasionally had influxes like these due to the fact that Professor Elric and Professor Kannon were well liked and very conspicuously single. Jacobson had fits because usually once the students realized that their professors really were not interested in them and were far more passionate about the subjects they taught the students dropped the classes and found other professors to woo. Edward had heard that the history department had the same difficulties, but those classes and offices were in another building on the other side of campus so he wouldn't know personally.
Pushing aside class registrations (which he would delegate out to Missus Mac anyway), Edward flipped through the handful of envelopes that were left. Two scientific journals - reading material for over supper - a letter from the dean of another science department for a college halfway across the country, and an envelope with international postage on it.
Edward held the envelope in one hand, tapping the corner of it into his gloved right hand. He couldn't feel the sharp edge through both the glove and the false skin cover to his prosthetic, but he saw the resistance and knew it made contact. Alphonse wrote him dutifully, usually twice a week, occasionally more. Not for the first time, he hesitated before opening the envelope.
Alphonse was wise to send his letters to the university and not to the small house that Edward had in the suburbs. Edward was notorious for never going home, and often forgot completely to check his mail for days on end. He had a cleaning lady come in three times a week to keep the place hospitable, and she clucked at him every time, collecting several days worth of mail at a go. It wasn't Edward's fault that when he DID go home scientific journals and other interesting bits of research distracted him. They were, after all, far more interesting than the mundane chore of checking the mail.
The letter was scrawled mostly in Alphonse's soft cursive. His younger brother's handwriting often looked feminine to Edward's eye, but he had never said anything about it to his brother. Sharper, tighter writing at the bottom caught his eye, but his attention went back to the top of the page.
Alphonse wrote of the French countryside, and of the people he met there. He spoke of mundane oddities and entertained Edward considerably with a small side bit about a cow and a misfortunate farmer. Alphonse loved to travel this world and learn all that he could ... learning the languages delighted him so and he was now fluent in at least four, if not five.
His brother was reporting for some newspapers free-lance about the Nazis and Europe and countless other things. Edward had a special dislike for Nazis after having had to deal with an insane plot to take over two worlds headed by some Nazi higher-up.
Edward finally came to the sharper cursive that decorated the bottom part of the page. He could picture the woman by her writing ... she was small, less than an inch shorter than Edward himself but still enough to make him feel tall. From the looks of her paragraph, she hijacked the letter from Alphonse to finish it. He couldn't help but smile at Kalyn's writing. After all, she loved Alphonse and Alphonse loved her. It had taken Edward two years to get used to sharing his brother with someone else, and he still wasn't quite sure how to deal with it.
There was a second international letter in the mail pile, and this one looked thick. Edward almost groaned but caught himself. At least Mace Hughes limited his letter-parcels to once a month.
The German officer had retired upon his marriage to Gracia the flower-seller, and their daughter was now eleven years old. Edward had met her only once, but knew plenty of her and her younger brother ... that was all the man ever talked about. Once he had his hands on a camera, it was all over. Edward was happy for him, though, and the fact that he was wise enough to get out of the military when he did. Hughes deserved to see his children grow up, in any world.
Edward stretched his arms over his head and picked up the bundled letter, Alphonse's letter and the two science journals. It was getting on towards five o'clock ... he would head home to eat. Maybe tonight he would shuffle out to the bar, his normal routine was boring him. It would do him good to mingle with people, regular people. After all, that's what he was supposed to be, now. If Alphonse could manage it and be happily married, then Edward could at least be sociable.
It wouldn't kill him to at least try.
The air was warm and heavy and stale, and cigarette smoke hung thick in it. Edward Elric sat at the bar and stared at his mug of beer as if he expected it to do a trick.
His house had been dark, and his dinner had been uneventful. The scientific journals were full of theories and new ideas as this world's technology quickly advanced. Edward had devoured them greedily, but still he felt empty inside. His fingers itched for some chalk.
For the first time in several years Edward obeyed the itch and pulled chalk out of the old shoebox in his hall closet. The array came back to him with little difficulty, and he spent five minutes sketching a difficult water array on the wall. Once he had finished he scowled at it and swiped it with his false hand and walked away. The single smear through the center did not hide what he had tried again to do.
This world was not set up to accommodate alchemy. Matter transmutation just didn't exist here ... this was the world that provided the energy for that feat in Amestris. Occasionally Edward would be amused at the deep irony of living in a world that was simply the battery for the alchemy he studied and used and wrapped himself in, but more often than not he didn't allow himself to think on it. It was the trade-off for everything he had done, and Edward mostly accepted it. At least he still had his brother, and was no longer alone in this dull world.
Yet, here he was, alone. Nursing a lukewarm beer at some dingy bar he had visited so many times the bartender knew him and his order by name. Edward had no clue what the bar's name was and frankly had no care to learn it. It was just the bar he frequented to get trashed. Not the popular, nicer, cleaner, brighter one you could find the older students and faculty frequenting, either. Edward often stumped into this bar hoping for a fight.
In the five years he'd been coming to this bar, he'd yet to even see a fight that wasn't ended after once punch.
So Edward nursed his beer, ignored the other patrons of the bar, and brooded.
When the man in the hat came in, Edward didn't give him more than a cursory glance before turning his attention back to his beer. He ignored the man as he seated himself two seats down from Edward, and didn't pay any actual attention while the man ordered and joked with the bartender for a minute.
He was working on his third mug when four men came in the bar. Edward didn't turn around, so he missed the dark look the leader gave the other patrons of the bar that very clearly meant for them to clear out of the place. Most removed themselves then, wanting desperately to be out of the line of fire. The handful that didn't were very clearly too far-gone to care anyway. At the mass exit from the bar Edward finally looked up and frowned muzzily at the men.
They ignored him, instead focusing on the man with the hat. Now interested, Edward watched as the shortest of the men (who, Edward noted with some disgust, was still easily a head taller than he was) pulled out the barstool beside the other man. "Professor," the intruder greeted the seated man in heavily accented English.
Now Edward's interest was truly piqued at the heavy German accent in the man's voice. And the fact that he had been addressed as 'professor' ... was he also employed by the local college? Edward didn't recognize him but that didn't mean anything, he barely knew the people in his own department that he'd worked with for five years.
The man kicked back the rest of his drink and spoke without looking at the other. "Can't say I'm surprised to see you, Maustoff."
"Oh? We were expected?"
"Yes, and you can take your filthy German asses back to whoever the hell it is you report to and tell them that I'm not interested." The professor stood then, abruptly, to leave.
The shorter man stood as well, then shook his head once. "I'm afraid it is not that simple, Professor Jones." Two of the larger men came up on either side of him, presumably to prevent the professor from leaving.
Edward drained the last of his mug to hide a smirk forming on his face. Maybe his luck had finally turned; it looked like there might actually be a brawl.
It was then that one of the bulkier men - a guard of some sort - actually noticed him. "Hey!" His English was as thickly accented as the shorter man's was. It crossed Edward's mind, very quickly; that they shouldn't be here, and he had no clue how they could have gotten into the country. "Why did you not leave with the rest?"
He made a show of holding up his empty beer mug. "Needed t'get my money's worth," he half-slurred, sounding more drunk than he actually was. He staggered to his feet, dropping the mug onto the bar with a soft clunk.
The German man snorted, then glanced to his leader, who nodded once. As the man withdrew a revolver, Edward realized this had just dropped to a different level of dangerous and that his danger sense must really be shot. He hesitated; it had been fifteen years since a gun had been pointed at him like that. In that moment of hesitation, the other professor said something, probably something like 'wait, don't shoot him,' but Edward wasn't listening to him, his universe had shrunk down to the man and his gun.
Then he was kicking, straight up and balanced on a leg that the entire faculty of Marshall College knew was false. His boot connected solidly with the German's chin, it snapped his head back violently and sent him flying backwards. Edward imagined he saw a tooth go flying, but he was already in motion towards the second German, who had also drawn a gun by this point.
The other professor wasn't just standing there, either. The second Edward had moved his hands fell to the barstool, and as Edward's right fist connected with the second German's face a barstool went flying towards the third.
The man batted the barstool away but the other professor took that opportunity to hit him, both fists flying.
Edward stood over the second man, who was off in a happy-land that most people went to after being struck in the face with an automail fist, and watched the other professor easily take down the third German in true bar-brawl style. The shortest of the group, though, had a gun out but couldn't seem to decide at whom it should be aimed. He seemed to decide on Edward as the other professor plucked the revolver out of the now-unconscious German's hand. "It is your grave misfortune to throw in your lot with him," the shortest of the Germans said to Edward, gesturing with his head at the other professor. "/Stupid American swine/," he added under his breath in his native tongue.
"Maustoff," the other professor said, and the man's attention was drawn away from Edward for a brief moment. That span was enough time for Edward to cross the room and lay the man out with enough force to smash his nose in. Edward stood over him and growled, shaking his automail fist as if he had hurt it in the punch. He had long since affected normal mannerisms for the limb ... with the false flesh he wore over it, few could tell it was fake except up close, and he rarely ever let anyone see it as it was.
"If you are going to insult someone," he said in flawless German to the unconscious man, "make sure it is in a language they do not understand."
The other man was already moving, collecting guns and loose money from the downed man. Edward watched him for a moment, the brief brawl clearing the alcohol-induced muzziness from his brain. "We've got to get out of here, now," the man said, stopping and looking at the entrance. "I know Maustoff, and he doesn't travel with just three goons. There's probably more outside, waiting for a signal."
Edward nodded once; not realizing the man's back was to him. He instead kicked the first German in the side, hard, with his false leg when he started to stir. "What the hell is this about, anyway?"
"Later, we've got to get out of here before his buddies decide to storm the place." The man in the hat leapt over the bar in a smooth motion, and headed for the back storeroom. The bartender had clearly deserted like the rest of the patrons, because there was no one behind the bar when Edward dropped to the other side. His dark brown coat fluttered behind him as he hurried to catch up to the other man.
The back exit was through a storeroom filled with more alcohol than Edward was used to seeing in one place. He eyed it for only a second before following the similarly clad man out the door. The storeroom opened into a back-alley that was deserted, but also dead-ended not twenty feet in one direction, making the only exit the clearly visible mouth of the alley.
A frown creased the other man's face, but Edward was sizing up the dead-end. The wall that ended the alley was not terribly high, and it only took Edward a second to decide a course of action. "This way," he said, and took off at a run for the dead-end.
The man regarded him as if he was crazy. Edward stopped by the base of the wall and made a step with his hands. Already he could hear commotion inside of the bar, meaning those unconscious had regained themselves or their back up had decided to actually back them up. Either way, it meant trouble for them. "Come on," he snapped.
The noises inside the bar had reached the other man as well. He ran to where Edward stood, planted one foot firmly in Edward's hands, and leapt.
Edward grunted under the weight of the man but gave him as much lift as he could. The other man's hands scrambled at the edge of the wall then found purchase. He swung one leg up, then glanced back down at Edward, as if trying to figure out how to reach him. "Get out of the way," Edward barked, and the man dropped to the other side.
He might have been out of practice, but Edward was not out of shape. He backed up and took a running leap at the wall, using a way-ward trashcan as a springboard, and somehow managed to catch his fingers on the very edge of the wall. After a few seconds of scrabbling, he pulled himself up and over, landing heavily on his feet.
This alley was darker than the other side; it faced the east. The sun was sinking behind the hills as dusk crept over the land. Edward and the strange man, a professor he did not know, hurried along the streets, keeping an eye on the shadows and watching to see if they were being followed. Edward let the man lead; he seemed far more intent on getting to somewhere safe and familiar before letting Edward in on what was going on.
It was just as well; it gave Edward time to kick himself for being so reckless. It had taken him a long time to get this job because of his 'disability.' He had to argue and verbally spar long and hard with the dean of the college to prove that his false leg didn't stop him from getting around easily, just with a stumping gate that every student grew to know and fear.
Then he had to go and get into a bar brawl where he didn't look like he was disabled at all. Brilliant, absolute STROKE of brilliance on his part. What was done couldn't be undone now; he'd just have to live with the consequences if it got back to the dean of the science department. Maybe, if he were lucky, no one would know that it was him.
He found that they were cutting a path through the city towards the college, and Edward felt his spirits sinking. He hadn't affected the limp since they left the bar, and to do so now would alert the man next to him that something was off.
"Why did you get involved?"
Edward blinked at the suddenness of the question. "Well, the German mook pulled a gun on me," he said. "I wasn't about to stand there and get shot at. I find teaching is easier if there aren't gaping holes in my body."
The man shook his head. "So you ARE that Chemistry professor I'd heard about. I hadn't had occasion to meet you; I don't ... usually attend the faculty parties. I'm Jones."
"Jones, from the History department?" Edward had heard the name before. In fact, with the tales of skirt chasing and a penchant for vanishing in the middle of semesters, Edward had assigned the name an almost Mustang-like quality. He smirked, more to himself than at the revelation. "I'm Edward Elric. So tell me what the hell is going on, and what I've gotten myself in to."
"I'm not quite sure," Jones confessed. "I have my suspicions, but..." he glanced at the building they were walking toward at a good clip, then abruptly stopped. "My office light is on."
Edward stopped as well; glancing at the building as the light turned out. "Let's go to my office," he suggested quietly. "They wouldn't know who I am."
Crossing the campus with little difficulty, they let themselves in to the science building. Edward unlocked the door to his office, not bothering to take off his coat and taking a seat on his desk.
Jones glanced around the office, then moved to the single window and pulled the blinds down, before moving towards Edward's bookshelves. "The FBI came to see me not two days ago," he started, glancing at the map of Europe on Edward's wall. "Some ancient manuscripts had been stolen from a rare book collection in Washington. They were coded in a language that had not yet been deciphered, despite many attempts to do so.
"The FBI asked for my help in finding the rare manuscripts, but I turned them down. The semester was starting, and that's all I cared about." Jones took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair with a frown. "Then the Germans showed up. I'm not entirely sure WHAT they want me for, but I'm willing to bet it has to do with those missing manuscripts." He scowled.
"What were the manuscripts of?" Edward asked, scratching at the nape of his neck, where his ponytail lay against his coat. The tale intrigued him, he had no idea that anyone working at the college was important enough for the FBI to come and ask assistance from.
"They were by some alchemist named Valentine," Jones said, running his fingers over the spines of the books on the shelf. "Although I'm not sure what they are called, they're reputed to hold the secret of the Philosopher's Stone." When there was no response from the man behind him, Jones turned around. "Have you heard of the Philosopher's Stone?"
Edward had gone still. He was staring at this strange man, not trusting himself to speak. How could he even begin to explain the wellspring of emotions tied to that very concept? Instead, he took a deep, measuring breath. "I have heard of it, yes." It was only by sheer strength of will he didn't laugh hysterically. "Who could have stolen it?"
"The Nazis, I'm sure," Jones said, watching him closely.
The expression on Jones's face spoke volumes, and suddenly everything slammed into place for Edward. The abrupt shift in some of the science staff he had only slightly noted, the new cleaning lady ... even this, what seemed like a random encounter. He really did laugh this time, although it bordered on slightly hysterical. "Just because I immigrated from Germany, Professor Jones, does not mean I am a Nazi."
"I did not mean to imply that I thought you were." Jones held both hands up, palms out. "Some of the science staff said that you were very knowledgeable about alchemy and I hoped that maybe you would be able to tell me something I didn't already know about Valentine."
"So you're going to go after the manuscripts, then," Edward said, leaning back and covering his eyes with his right hand. Had this man tracked him down because of his interest? What if someone knew of his involvement in Munich? Had they finally caught up to him?
"I don't have much of a choice, if the Nazis really do have them," Jones had both of his hands in his pockets, now. "Even if I don't know much about the Philosopher's Stone, I do know that the last thing we need is for Hitler to get his hands on it."
That sobered Edward up. He dropped his hand to his desk, and then he rose to his feet. He walked quietly past the taller professor, then picked up a large, unmarked volume on the shelf. It looked like it belonged in an encyclopedia set, but when Edward opened the cover, he withdrew two small, thick notebooks. He held them up, then looked at Jones critically. "What do you know about alchemy, Professor Jones?"
The older man shook his head. "Very little," he admitted.
"I will tell you the first rule of alchemy, then." Edward palmed the two books, then slipped them into his jacket's interior pocket. "To gain something, you must give something." Before Jones could offer money for the information, which was what Edward knew he would do, he held up his hand. "Equivalent trade, Professor." Familiar words. Painful words. "If you want my knowledge of alchemy, of Valentine and his works, I'm coming with you."
The man was quiet for a long moment. Then he nodded his head once, as if going back over the events of the day. "You have yourself a deal, Professor Elric." He offered Edward his hand, which Edward stepped forward to take.
"Edward Elric," he corrected the man with a shark-grin.
The other professor flipped his soft felt fedora back up on his head and returned the grin. "Indiana Jones."