Beregond discovers some things about this world.
The command had hardly escaped the Colonel's lips when Edward Elric came in, followed as always by his brother.
"Ah, Fullmetal," Roy said, putting down his pen. "That's certainly a surprise; I was expecting you later this day."
"Well, it couldn't be helped," Ed said. "Beregond was too restless today and he wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible."
"You mean Mr. Beregond is here?" asked Roy, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.
"Just look outside the window."
Roy did just that and, as he pulled aside the curtain, he caught sight of Fuery and Falman talking with a tall man, neatly dressed and his dark hair tied back in a small ponytail.
"What do you know! He looks almost nothing like that frightened person I met some time ago," commented Roy with a small smile. "I have to admit that it was good for him to stay with you two." Roy sat down again and knitted his fingers. "How long has it been since he came to your home? Two weeks?"
Ed nodded. "Al's done a good job in teaching him. He should get the most credit."
Al bowed his head and scratched it. "He just knows how to work hard, Sir," he said humbly. "He's done nothing but study these last two weeks."
"This sounds quite promising. I'm sure Maes will be glad to hear it."
"When is Guyton's trial?" asked Ed.
Roy thought about it for a moment. "Today is the 23rd... I'd say in a couple of weeks' time. But that case will keep him busy for some time yet. Right now, he's been doing his best to keep Mr. Beregond out of the investigation procedures."
The brothers were certainly surprised at this piece of news.
"But, Colonel, wasn't Beregond found innocent of those murders?" asked Al.
"So what's the problem now?" asked Ed indignantly. "Did he walk on the wrong side of the road or something?"
"No," answered Roy. He looked hard at Ed. "You're becoming forgetful, Fullmetal. Surely you must remember me telling you of the military trying to find answers at all costs."
"Yeah, but I don't see what's your point."
Roy smirked. "Connors wasn't exactly pleased when Mr. Beregond, the very man he had arrested, got acquitted. So now he's been trying to implicate him again - this time with the accusation of accessory to murder."
"But that's terrible!" exclaimed Al with a gasp.
"How do you know of this, Colonel?" asked Ed, keeping his own emotions in check.
"Havoc gave me a pretty good lead. Fawcette approached him a couple of days ago and he made some pretty suspicious questions, such as on which street did he hit Mr. Beregond with his car, what time was it, at which direction was he running..."
"That son of a...!" Ed stopped himself in time. "He wants to see if Beregond was close enough to the crime scene of the last murder!"
"And not only that, but Maes warned me that he's been searching on the rest of the case files as well," said Roy.
"But, sir, Beregond didn't even speak our language when he was found. How could he be involved in something like this?" asked Al.
"That will hardly make a difference, Alphonse. Considering that no one had seen or heard of Mr. Beregond before Havoc found him, no one can tell us of his character."
"/We've/ been with him all this time and he's done nothing wrong!" Al immediately answered. "He's a good man and honest!"
"Really, Al? Can you prove to me that this is Mr. Beregond's true personality and not just what he wants us to see?"
"/You/ say that?" Ed said quietly. "You saw the man for yourself; you talked to him."
"And can you assure me, Fullmetal, that a man, probably cold-blooded enough to help a murderer kill six women, can't possibly be a damn good actor?"
"Sir!" Al was now horrified.
"That's crap and you know it," said Ed, his voice low and yet his anger evident. "If that were true, he would have attacked us in our sleep, when our vigilance was low enough."
"/I/ know it," said Roy seriously. "But that crap, as you eloquently put it, is what Connors will probably say to get his point across, don't you agree? And your argument isn't going to convince anyone who's willing enough to listen to the Brigadier General."
The brothers fell silent, seeing the Colonel's point.
"So what happens now?" Ed asked.
"For the time being we've got nothing to be afraid of. Hughes is making sure of that," Roy assured them both. "Nevertheless, that shouldn't distract you from your own mission, Fullmetal. Do you have anything new to report today?"
"I'm afraid not much," answered Ed with a sigh. "I've checked the image of a tree and seven stars from his armour to see in which country or city it could belong, but I had no luck. I also talked with a linguist, like you told me to, and he conversed with Beregond for two hours or so. His conclusions were," he took out a small notebook and started reading, "'The sounds the particular subject lets out are certainly non-instinctive, with complex grammar and syntax to express ideas, feelings and desires. It's certainly a language, though it isn't a language I know of.'" Ed closed the notebook.
Roy huffed and ran his hands through his hair. "That's hardly useful, Fullmetal. The sooner we know about him, the better. Then we'll know what we're dealing with."
"Yes, I know that," said Ed, shaking his head dejectedly.
Roy nodded a bit in a tired manner. "Right. That will be all then. Have a good day." And he resumed with his paperwork, showing clearly in this way that the conversation had come to an end. Not needing to be told twice, Ed and Al took their leave.
Still, Al seemed troubled by something.
"Brother, why didn't you tell the Colonel about that friend Beregond mentioned?" he asked as soon as they were out of the office and anyone's hearing.
Ed waved his hand dismissively.
"Though the name 'Meneldor' is just as... unique as the name 'Beregond', it's still just a name. We've got no last name, no address, and the physical description Beregond gave us belongs to more than half the population of the city - if he lives in these parts. Even if I mentioned anything to Mustang, it would hardly make a difference." He sighed. "I don't know, Al. I have this nasty feeling inside that we're just in a wild goose chase. If we're to really find out anything, Beregond himself needs to tell us."
Al didn't say anything, something that surprised Ed.
"I was just thinking of a conversation I had with Beregond, when he asked us about Mum and Dad."
Ed frowned slightly. "And?"
"Well, I asked him if he had a family and he answered no. But, Ed, didn't you notice how comfortable he's with Alice? And whenever Lieutenant Colonel Hughes showed him a picture of Elysia, Beregond would just keep looking at it, a sad smile on his face. And once, when you had a nightmare in the hospital..."
"Wait, wait," Ed interrupted, wincing. "I had a nightmare?"
Al nodded. "Anyway, I couldn't calm you down, but then Beregond came and he did, whispering to you to make the nightmare go away." Al faced his brother. "I know I might sound crazy; but, Brother, as he sat by your side... he looked like Mum in a way."
"Jeez, Al... Not that again." And yet, before he could help it, Ed's mind flashed back to that day at the hospital, when he fell asleep on a chair and found himself on the bed the very next day. He had wondered what might have happened, but he certainly didn't expect anything like this. Was that why he had woken up so comfortable and safe?
"So," he said then slowly, "what you're saying is that, though Beregond might not have a family now, he must have had one?"
Al nodded again. "And remember when you noticed he had been crying? Doesn't it make sense he could have been crying about a family he had lost?"
Ed pondered on it for a few moments. "And the loss of a family is a good enough reason for a mental trauma," he said thoughtfully. He looked up at his brother. "I think you're right, Al. We ought to look into that direction. I bet the newspaper archives might be able to tell us a thing or two."
Just then, Falman showed up, holding a rather large book in his hands.
"Hey, Edward. Hi, Alphonse. Are you guys done with the report to the Colonel?"
"Just now," answered Ed. "What's with the book?"
"This?" Falman held it up so that he could present the title: History Of The Military. "We've been talking with Beregond and he showed interest in it when I mentioned it to him; so I figured I might as well lend it to him."
"Where's Beregond then?" asked Al, concerned.
Falman smiled a bit. "Don't worry, Fuery is with him. They've been checking out the military horses. I can take you to them."
The brothers agreed, of course. However, when they all arrived at the stables, they were surprised to discover that Fuery was alone, mumbling something that could only be translated as: "I don't get it."
"Fuery, what happened? Where's Beregond?" Falman asked, his eyes widening.
Before Fuery had the chance to answer, however, Beregond's voice sounded cheerfully behind them.
"Right here! Sorry, did I keep you?"
Everyone turned to see Beregond coming towards their direction, a horse following close behind him. Fuery looked as though his jaw was going to drop.
"Not at all," said Ed. "Are you ready to go?"
Beregond frowned. "I was hoping I'd see Havoc."
"Well, you'll probably get lucky next time. It's getting quite late, and we've got lots of things to do yet," Ed reminded him.
Beregond nodded his acknowledgement; then turned to Falman and Fuery. "Thank you both kindly for the company. Hopefully, I'll see you next time."
"You're welcome," said Falman, smiling a bit. He handed Beregond the book. "Take good care of it, okay?"
"I will, I promise." Beregond then smiled at Fuery. "Thank you for showing me the horses, Fuery. This one is a real beauty." He patted the horse's neck, an affection that was rewarded with a small nuzzling, and he whispered something near its ear.
"Goodbye!" And he quickly followed Ed and Al.
He never saw Falman eyeing Fuery, who was in his turn perplexed about something.
"What? You didn't expect someone to like horses as much as you do?" asked Falman.
"I-It's not that," Fuery finally answered, straightening his glasses.
Fuery looked around a bit, making sure in this way that no one besides Falman would listen before he leant closely.
"Beregond opened the stable door before I could stop him, and I thought the horse would bolt. Like it's in its nature to do when there's a stranger near it, right?"
"Well, this one not only didn't run off, but it acted all friendly to Beregond; it was even playful!"
"Maybe Beregond had something for it to eat?" figured Falman logically.
Fuery shook his head at once. "And there's something else, too."
Falman looked at Fuery curiously, waiting for the revelation.
"The horse understands when he speaks to it. It even obeys him."
"Come off it!" Falman exclaimed with a burst of laughter.
"I'm serious!" Fuery said. "He'd say something in that gibberish Havoc told us about and the horse would just do it! Just watch!" He stood in front of the horse and thought hard to remember some of the words he heard. "Aphado nÃn!" (Follow me).
The horse moved its ears forward, a sign that it heard Fuery; but that was it. That certainly made Falman laugh even harder.
"It seems your horse-talk isn't all that well-practised."
Fuery turned red with embarrassment and frustration. "Well, I'm not sure what I asked it to do," he said in a hurt manner.
"There, there," replied Falman, patting Fuery on the shoulder encouragingly. "Who knows, you probably told it to stay there and look at you blankly!" He did his best not to laugh again. "Now let's go, there's a little thing called work that's waiting for us in the office." And with that, he went at the main building of Headquarters.
Fuery sighed, seeing that it was useless; then started walking to the building, too.
He didn't notice the horse following him obediently until he was at the doors.
Ed was organising some of the files he had been working on, when he was surprised to hear a knock at the door of his room.
"No," said Beregond, opening slightly the door and daring a peek inside. "Am I bothering?"
"No, not at all," Ed replied, smiling a bit. "Where's Al?"
"He went to buy some food," Beregond answered, walking in apprehensively; he had never been inside Ed's room before. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm putting some order in this mess," said Ed, huffing as he put a big stack of books on the top shelf of his library.
Beregond looked around, his expression clearly saying that he agreed with Edward; the place was a mess. "Want some help?"
Ed didn't answer for several moments, not expecting that question. "No, everything's under control," he finally said. "You can read the book Falman gave you, if you like."
"I've finished it." Beregond shuffled his legs embarrassedly.
Ed faced the man, eyes widened. "That book must've been two thousand pages long!"
"Two thousand and seventy-three."
"And you read it in four days?!" Ed could hardly believe it.
"I liked it," was all Beregond said, blushing.
"And the other books that you got from the library?"
"I've read them."
Before Ed could help himself, he laughed heartily.
"Are you trying to break a record or something?"
Beregond just blinked, not getting the tease.
"Never mind," Ed said, waving his hand dismissively. "Well, you could help then. And while at it, you can tell me what were the books you read about, deal?"
Beregond didn't need to be told twice. Smiling brilliantly that he could be of some assistance, he picked up some books and started working. And as he helped out, he told of everything that he could remember from all the books he had read so far - which were quite a lot. Ed didn't mind all that much though. He was too focused on his own work, so he simply let out an exclamation of acknowledgement every once in a while, just to show that he was paying attention.
That is, until he realised Beregond had stopped talking.
No answer came, something that worried Edward. He turned around, and what he saw sent a chill to his heart.
Beregond was still in the room, standing in the centre of it as though frozen, his hands holding a book like he was holding a basket full of poisonous snakes. But it wasn't that that concerned Edward the most. It was the look on Beregond's face as the man still looked at the pages of that book.
It was one of absolute horror.
"Beregond, what is it?" Ed approached the man cautiously, not knowing what to make of this reaction, and peeked at the page to see what he was looking at.
"A transmutation circle? Is that what scared you?" he exclaimed in disbelief.
Indeed, in the book was the image of an array, a rather simple one at that.
"Um ringorn," (Circle of Evil) Beregond breathed out.
Beregond looked at Edward, still horrified. "Is that what you read?"
Edward nodded. "I'm an alchemist." He clasped a hand on Beregond's arm. "Why are you afraid?"
But Beregond instantly jumped back, dropping the book in the process. "Why are you reading this?"
Edward sighed. "I told you; I'm an alchemist. It's my job to read this. In this way, I can understand how the world works."
Beregond didn't say anything this time, but Edward realised that he had to explain things further.
"This world works through the laws of Alchemy. Somebody who understands the laws of Alchemy is an alchemist, like me. And an alchemist uses these laws for the benefit of the people; wherever there is wrong to fix it - 'Be thou for the people.' But, in order to do that, he has to keep studying Alchemy, discover new options and potential. The more he knows, the more he can help. Do you understand now?"
"So," Beregond said slowly, "you are a protector of the people?"
"Yes," answered Ed reassuringly. "Al, too."
"And the soldiers? Shouldn't they protect the people?"
Ed shrugged. "They do, but not all of them know Alchemy. Havoc and Hughes, for example, aren't alchemists; but Mustang is."
"Yeah. He uses fire."
Beregond's eyes widened. "How?"
"He snaps his fingers, and in this way he creates a spark. Then he makes the spark as big a flame as he wants to. That's his specialty, and that's why people call him the Flame Alchemist."
Beregond fell on his knees, yet all feelings of horror had vanished. Now he was clearly trying to process what he was told, though that proved difficult since everything seemed too incredible.
"Sui Istar." (Like an Istar)
"Come again?" asked Ed, his turn to feel puzzled.
Beregond just raised his hand. "Please. I need to think." And with that, he sat cross-legged, closed his eyes and breathed slowly, not another word escaping his lips. In fact, he had become so quiet that Ed was starting to think that the man had fallen asleep. That is, until Beregond, now quite calmed down, opened his eyes again and locked his gaze on Ed.
"Tell me. Is this Alchemy used only for good?"
"It should be," answered Edward cautiously. "But it's not always. Some people try to gain something for their own ends, and some people are just... too proud." His eyes drifted on his automail before he could help it. "You've never asked me how I got this." His metal fingers twitched a bit. "Or how Al became a suit of armour."
"I knew some kind of misfortune must have been behind it, and I feared to ask. I upset you enough when I asked about your parents," Beregond said.
Ed closed his eyes in a pained manner. "Did Al tell you anything about that?"
"He said that your father left you when you were toddlers." There was a small hesitant pause. "And that your mother died when you were just small children."
Ed didn't speak. He only clenched his hands into fists.
"So there's a connection, isn't there?" Beregond's voice was soft now, and even sad.
That undid Ed. He also sat down cross-legged, as though the weight of the burden he carried finally proved too much for him, facing Beregond in this way.
"Yeah, there is."
Beregond instantly placed a hand over Ed's. "You don't have to speak of it."
"I know." Grim determination was reflected within the amber-coloured eyes. "But I want to."
Though Ed talked about a subject that awoke in him too many pain-filled memories, he didn't leave out anything. Not even how their mother took pride in their interest in Alchemy, since it reminded her of their father; not even his decision to bring her back at all costs after her death; nor how he and his brother studied Alchemy for more than a year for that single purpose; nor of their failure and its consequences. Beregond listened on patiently, without saying a word, and the only thing he did as soon as Edward had finished his narrative was take the young one's metal hand in his own flesh one and caress the palm slightly, as though he could take some of the pain in that way.
Ed sighed and gently pulled his automail hand away. "You don't have to feel sorry for me."
"I don't feel sorry for you."
Ed locked his gaze on Beregond, not expecting that answer.
"I feel sorry for the fact that you failed after the high price you paid." Beregond stood up. "After all, you were only trying to fix a wrong that was done to you."
Ed's eyes widened and he stood up too.
"Trouble is," Beregond continued, "you two tried to correct someone who has a better say on things." His eyes darkened a bit. "That's always the one step where we fall."
Ed didn't speak for a few moments, the words striking a cord within him.
"Have you ever been..." For the first time in a while he found himself hesitating. ".../faced/ with that dilemma?"
Beregond looked straight into Ed's eyes before answering.
"I've heard of people who have; I've witnessed people who have; and I've been subjected to it. All of us made the wrong choice."
"That's all he said?" asked Roy, looking at Edward from behind his desk.
The Colonel frowned. "I don't understand it. He sounded as though he was familiar with the transmutation circles. Yet he doesn't know a thing about Alchemy?"
"He knew one thing," Ed corrected. "He knew how to be afraid of it."
"The only ones that condemn Alchemy are the Ishbalans though," said Roy thoughtfully.
"He's not Ishbalan," Ed objected.
"I didn't say he is - he looks nothing like one!" argued Roy. He pondered on matters a bit. "One could say that he might have been raised with Ishbalan beliefs, but that theory hits several snags. Ishbalans don't accept outsiders so easily. And I bet he doesn't even know what Ishbal is, right?"
Ed nodded. "I had to show it to him on a map."
"Thought so." Roy sighed. "We're missing something; something important. The question is: what?"
"I don't know," answered Ed. "And there's something else that's been bothering me."
Roy didn't speak, waiting for his subordinate to continue.
"He wants to learn Alchemy. He said he wants to understand how this world works, too."
Roy answered with a shake of the head. "He's too old."
"That's not all that much of a problem," said Ed. "These past weeks, I've seen someone who couldn't speak or understand a word of our language not only become acquainted with it, but mastering it well enough to communicate, make friends, read and write. He was afraid of things that you and I've been taking for granted all these years, and now he knows what to do with them. You yourself noted how Beregond's changed just a week ago. He came a long way to be what he's now, Colonel, when others would've just despaired and quit. If Beregond can afford the time and energy to achieve so much, there's a good chance he can grasp Alchemy, too. No, it's not the age that concerns me. It's got to do with something Al told me."
"Al thinks that Beregond must have had a family once. And then something must have happened and he lost it."
"That could coincide with the theory that Mr. Beregond suffers from mental trauma," said Roy.
"That's what I said. But what if Alchemy had something to do with that loss? That could explain both his very vague familiarity with it and his fear of it."
"Perhaps. But that doesn't explain why he wishes to learn it. Wouldn't his instinct try to make him steer clear from it? To avoid triggering too many bad memories?"
"That's what bothers me," said Ed. "And what if he wants to learn it so to try something dangerous?"
"Like a human transmutation?" said Roy, raising an eyebrow as he looked hard at the young alchemist. "All the more reason that you should teach him."
Ed's eyes widened at this. "Seriously?"
"Like you said, Fullmetal," Roy continued on, "Mr. Beregond takes no pains in learning what he wants. Who's to say that, if you refuse to teach him, he won't attempt to learn Alchemy by himself? That could make him unpredictable, even a hazard. But if you teach him, you'll be able to keep a better eye on him and make sure that he doesn't do anything... compromising."
"Point taken," answered Ed, sighing. "I just hope nothing bad comes out of it."
"Nobody ever hopes differently, Fullmetal," Roy said grimly. "But life has its risks."
Ed didn't say anything this time. He simply nodded and walked out, where Al was waiting for him to tell him how things stood.
Humankind cannot gain anything, unless it can give something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange.
That was how my first lesson in Alchemy started.
Frankly, I had expected things to be difficult and, for a while, I had regretted my decision to ask the brothers to teach me and hoped that they would refuse. Certainly the fact that I was told that Alchemy is a delicate science which leaves no room for mistakes did not help matters much either. So I was quite nervous when I was told that they would, in fact, teach me. That must have been evident, however, for neither Edward nor Alphonse forced anything on me. They settled with telling me first the principles of Alchemy and showed a couple of transmutation reactions so I could understand better what I am to learn. Alphonse broke the radio and restored it, whereas Edward warmed the water inside a bowl until it boiled, then froze it.
I could not decide what I should feel as I watched them perform feats that only a Wizard could do: awed or frightened. In the end I decided a little bit of both, though Edward tried to assure me that I should not feel either; that they were as human as I was and, in time, I would be able to perform Alchemy, too.
I just smiled and refrained myself from saying that I had my doubts.
Yet was it only awe and fright that I felt? Because, for an instant, as I watched on, I could have sworn that I felt like my heart jolted with a pang of familiarity. I knew the transmutation circle Alphonse was meant to use to fix the radio; my fingers twitched in eagerness as I was ready to draw it myself if Alphonse had taken one moment longer to do so. And I knew that Edward clapped his hands as another means to perform Alchemy, replacing the standard drawn circle.
The question is: how can I have the feeling that I know something, when I am certain, beyond any doubt, that I have never seen anything like it? I must admit that I have heard of things in my world that, the more I think about them, the more convinced I become that they could be labelled with the term Alchemy. Sauron had to pour a part of himself in the One Ring in order to rule all the other Rings of Power. FÃ«anor would not part with the Silmarils so that their light could save the trees of Valinor. And there was that story of the Pukel-man who, in order to make a guarding statue for his master, he placed a part of himself in it.
And then there's the race of Men, who listened to Sauron and tried to defeat death; and death came to them unnaturally. Like it almost happened with Edward and Alphonse.
Some things cannot be traded. Was it not something like that that I said to DÃ»rinas?
Still, finding similarities between incidents in this world and mine and actually feeling that Alchemy is part of a knowledge within me, elusive yet tangible once reminded, is a different matter entirely.
I wish I knew how I could apply reason to this. Yet I know I cannot, at least for the present. My only hope is that, as I learn more, I might finally find the answers I seek.
Now, however, I have to consider something just as important; and I have put it off for far too long.