The boys and Beregond go to find a runaway State Alchemist, unaware that they're in danger.
It also served as a place of privacy so they could talk without unfriendly ears overhearing them.
"Scar?" asked Roy, mystified. "A man with a scar?"
Maes nodded. "We don't have his true identity yet," he replied. "There are eyewitnesses who say he has a big scar on his forehead, so we call him that."
Roy took another sip of his brandy thoughtfully. "Is he the guy who killed the State Alchemists in Central City?"
"Yeah. Four in Central City alone and nine in the entire country. And if we include the poor bastards who were around the victims, the count easily surpasses twenty." Maes sipped his bourbon, his green eyes not reflecting the cheeriness for which he was known among the other soldiers. "Victims were found with wounds that indicated that they were detonated from the inside. His weapons and motives are unknown. That's why the people in Central Headquarters got scared."
"So they've come here on vacation and are saying they're here to escort the Führer as excuse," Roy concluded with a grim smile. "As though the killer won't come chasing them here."
"You're here as well," Maes pointed out. "The ones who gave you the demotion three years ago know about your skilled abilities."
Roy's smile became even grimmer, if that were possible. "I'm starting to want to run away as well."
Maes chuckled wryly, sharing his friend's dry humour; but he sobered once more. "The problem is his next target."
But Roy never got the chance to hear what Maes had to say because, at that moment, the barmaid approached Maes. All the bespectacled man could do as he watched the woman approach him was blush embarrassedly and say: "I'm sorry, but I have a cute daughter who's going to turn four soon..."
The barmaid just smiled. "That's nice to know, I'm sure; but I've got a phone call for you." And with that, she handed the receiver to Maes and went back to her work.
Roy tried to hide a grin. "Sorry, Maes."
Maes turned a glare at him that clearly meant 'smart ass', before answering on the phone - trying not to mind Roy's stifled laughter.
"Hello, this is Hughes."
Suddenly, all of Roy's mirth died down to be replaced by puzzlement at seeing Maes frowning and tensing.
"What... Major? I understand." And with no other word, Maes put down the receiver and stood up. "They found a soldier's dead body at East City station."
Roy took another, final sip of his drink before standing up as well. "Was he destroyed from the inside?" he asked.
Maes's nod gave him the answer, confirming his suspicions.
The outskirts of the East City were quiet, none aware of the horrors that took place on a station close by. In fact, the only thing that seemed to be of some interest to any citizens that happened to be around was the sight of a young boy with a red overcoat, followed by a tall dark-haired man and a huge bulk of armour.
Beregond looked around. "Dr. Marcoh picked a good spot to retire. Not too isolated, but peaceful enough to keep the nosy parkers away," he noted.
Al nodded. "It's a bit like home." He patted the man on the shoulder and pointed on his left. "See those hills over there? That's what Resembool's countryside looks like."
Beregond couldn't help but smile. "Sounds like a nice place to live in."
Ed, meanwhile, tried not to listen to his companions' conversation and only focused on finding anyone willing to tell him the whereabouts of Dr. Marcoh.
"Dr. Marcoh?" echoed a worker, wiping sweat off his forehead in a puzzled manner.
"You mean Dr. Mauro?" ventured a young boy next to the worker.
"No, Marcoh," insisted Ed.
The worker blinked. "But there's only one doctor in this village; Dr. Mauro. Right over there." And with that, he pointed further ahead to what could only have been the direction to Dr. Mauro's house.
"Thanks," said Ed, trying not to hide his disappointment, and walked on.
Al's eyes flickered, telling of the boy's confusion as he turned to face his older brother. "I don't understand. The Colonel said that Dr. Marcoh would be here, right?"
"I know," said Ed, frustrated. "I'm afraid the Colonel's information was old this time."
"I'm not so sure of that," Beregond said then thoughtfully. "Mauro sounds too much like Marcoh, don't you think?"
Ed frowned, taking in what the Gondorian said. "Yeah... I guess we can ask about Dr. Mauro while we're at it."
Just then, Ed spotted three middle-aged men sitting on stools near the town's outer wall. He asked them politely about the presence of a doctor in this area, and the men were more than happy to tell him everything they knew.
"As you can see, the people living near this road are poor. It'd take us half a day to get to a doctor in East City," one of the men explained, squinting his eyes behind thick glasses.
That was hardly helpful for the three companions, however, and so they continued asking around. Yet the answers they would receive from everyone were no different. The people only knew Dr. Mauro - and he was everything they could ask for.
"He's a good man," said an elderly woman. "He even sees the patients who were abandoned by other doctors."
"When my leg got caught up in a tractor and it looked like I was a goner, he fixed it up just like new!" a farmer said.
"And when he was healing, I thought there was this bright red flash and then it was already healed!" piped in a young girl, seconded by an older woman who nodded enthusiastically.
The boys and Beregond nodded their thanks for the villagers' help and started walking away again. It was only when they were out of hearing range that Beregond ventured to ask the question that formed in his mind.
"It was alchemy," Ed said. "This person is Dr. Marcoh, all right."
"But he's running away from the military, right? Why would he become a doctor at the risk of rumours about him spreading?" said Al thoughtfully.
He never got an answer to his question, because it was then that, for no apparent reason, Ed suddenly tensed up.
"Hide!" he cried, tackling Al into a nearby pile of hay.
Beregond was startled at such an alarm, nevertheless he decided he had to trust Ed on this; so he followed suit obediently. Al, meanwhile, tried to pop his head out of the hay, but Ed dragged him down again.
"That was mean," Al said, fidgeting. "Straws are coming in."
"Quiet," was all that Ed hissed.
"Edward, why are we--?" But the answer to Beregond's question came in sight in the form of a large, bulky man, in a black overcoat, looking at his surroundings.
"Who's that?" Al wondered, watching as the man removed his military cap to reveal his baldness but for a small blond curl on the front of his head.
"He's one of the State Alchemists who came from Central City with the Führer," Ed said, his eyes widening in recognition.
"That makes matters interesting enough. I don't see a Fuhrer with him," Beregond noted.
"Why is he here? Did he follow us?" Al asked.
"Looks like it," Ed said. "The Colonel said that he didn't report Marcoh's location to the military."
"He certainly seems anxious to find something," Beregond whispered.
Whatever it was that the State Alchemist tried to find, he wasn't able to locate it, for he soon placed his cap back on his head and vanished to the direction that the boys and Beregond were originally heading. Ed was about to step out, but Beregond stopped him.
"One can't be too careful," was the only explanation the Gondorian offered as he got out of the haystack first, his senses pricked up at the sign of anything out of the ordinary. It was only after he was certain that everything was clear again that he made a small signal for Ed and Al to come out too.
When they did however, Beregond couldn't help but burst out laughing. Both brothers had hay sticking from the oddest of places, making them seem like infant Ents.
"Oh, go ahead and laugh," Ed said indignantly, brushing off any hay that stuck stubbornly on his clothes. "You're not looking all that better yourself, you know."
"I'm sure I'm not," said Beregond, finally suppressing his amusement, and he started pulling away the pieces of hay off him as well.
Once they were all, more or less, presentable once again, Ed hurried down the road, beckoning the others to follow him. "Let's go. Marcoh's house should be near."
But Beregond just shook his head. "You guys go ahead and find him. I'll catch up with you at the station at sunset."
"What are you going to do?" asked Al, surprised.
"I'll follow our stalker."
Ed actually frowned at this. "Beregond, I don't think this is a good idea," he said.
"We need to know what he's after," reasoned the Gondorian.
"We already know what he's after!"
"Then I'll just have to make sure that he stays away, at least long enough till you have your talk with Dr. Marcoh," said Beregond. "It will be easier for you to do that without having the fear of the door bursting open and a dozen soldiers coming in."
"Brother, he has a point."
Ed thought about it for a few more moments before facing Beregond again. "All right. But be careful. You've seen the size of that guy."
"I once fought against a Troll. You should have seen its size," said Beregond with a grin, winking. And with that, he hurried away to the direction the soldier had taken, leaving Ed and Al somewhat perplexed as to what a Troll was and whether or not they would really care to find out. In the end, they just shrugged off the comment and started looking for Dr. Marcoh's house once again.
When the brothers finally found Dr. Marcoh, a part of them wished they /hadn't/, for the welcome they received was a couple of bullets that barely missed Edward.
"Hey, now, we just..."
But the grey-haired, almost panic-stricken man still held Ed at gunpoint with both hands. "You said you're a State Alchemist? Did you come to take me back there?" he asked, shaken.
Al dared a peek from behind Ed. Suit of armour or not, he still didn't want to have guns pointed at him. "Um, you're the Crystal Alchemist, Dr. Marcoh, right?" he ventured at last.
Dr. Marcoh breathed in sharply, and his grip on his gun only tightened. "I don't want to go back there. Please," he pleaded desperately.
"What are you talking about?!" exclaimed Ed, his arms raised and his palms facing upwards in a gesture of peace. "We just came to ask you a few things."
"Please, that's dangerous," said then Al nervously, motioning for the doctor to put the gun away.
Dr. Marcoh, however, was now beside himself with panic. "Did you come to get rid of me?" A film of sweat started pouring down his face. "I won't let you kill me. I... I..."
Finally, Al decided that this wouldn't do. Having confidence in his invulnerability once again, he arose to his full height and slowly approached Dr. Marcoh.
"It's okay," he soothed. He looked at the gun on which the doctor still held on frantically. "I won't die." And with another step, he brought his armoured chest in contact with the barrel of the gun.
That undid Dr. Marcoh at last. No longer able to hold up the gun, he dropped his arms to his sides. "I see. So you're the Fullmetal Alchemist."
"No," Ed said, coming at the side of his brother. "I am. /Me./"
The Alchemist stopped in his tracks again, making Beregond glue himself against the shadows an alley provided so he wouldn't be noticed. And as Beregond kept the Alchemist within his sight, he noticed how the burly man was becoming almost frantic in his search. The Gondorian should feel relieved at this, seeing that the Alchemist really lost track of him and the Elric brothers, but he couldn't. Something was wrong, Beregond knew that much, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
Finally, it dawned on him.
That man never even attempted to come in contact with fellow soldiers. Not even when a military car - a Brigadier General's, judging by the insignia on its plates - passed by him. The Alchemist simply hid behind a wall.
That was certainly odd, and Beregond had only one logical explanation for it. That the Alchemist was working in something that the military wasn't aware of and, not only that, but it was also meant to be kept that way. The question was, what? And, more importantly, who ordered the Alchemist into this?
Well, there's only one way to find out.
Moving with the slowness and stealth comparable to a large cat ready to pounce at an unsuspecting prey, Beregond watched on until finally the Alchemist headed for a telephone box, obviously wishing to make a phone call. Seizing the opportunity, he picked up a small pipe that he spotted abandoned on the ground and placed an end of it on the back of the man.
"Military. Keep your eyes forward and put your hands where I can see them. Slowly," he said, lowering his voice an octave.
The Alchemist did just that, though he was clearly quite dismayed but this turn of events. "I'm Major Alex Louis Armstrong. You're currently interfering with military business. Please put your gun away."
"Really?" said Beregond, feigning sarcasm and hoping his act was good enough. "Well, Major, this must be quite the secret business if I'm not to be informed personally from Headquarters. Do you know how many people became nervous seeing you around here and sent complaints in my direction?" He clicked his tongue several times in disapproval.
"And who might you be, sir?" Armstrong said, trying to look back.
A nudge from a metallic point made him reconsider.
"I said: keep your eyes forward!" threatened Beregond. "As to who I am..." The Gondorian thought fast, but, unfortunately, he could only come up with only one name. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Faramir, and this area is under my jurisdiction."
Armstrong tensed; Beregond could see that only too clearly. "I've never heard of a Lieutenant Colonel Faramir before."
Beregond faked a chuckle. "I've never heard of a Major Alex Louis Armstrong before, so that makes us even. Now," at that his tone became serious once again, "we can still carry on with the pleasantries, if you like, or you can just tell me nicely what business brings you here. The sooner you speak and I find your explanation satisfactory, the sooner I'll let you go."
There was silence for many long moments, something that made Beregond more than a little nervous.
Come on, just say it...
"I can't tell you, Lieutenant Colonel."
Beregond gritted his teeth. "Then I order you, Major."
That finally did it. Armstrong started talking, though reluctantly.
"There's a serial murderer on the loose. His main victims are all State Alchemists, though he doesn't hesitate to kill even those who stand on the way of his targets. Currently, he's been circulating in this area where a certain Edward Elric, or else known as the Fullmetal Alchemist, is also. I was asked by Lieutenant Colonel Hughes to keep an eye on the boy and his brother so they would stay out of danger."
Beregond's eyes widened at this. There had clearly been a terrible misunderstanding.
"I was under the impression the Elric brothers already had an escort; a sergeant."
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes feared Sergeant Beregond wouldn't be able to deal with the murderer. No one knows what weapons he uses and Sergeant Beregond would be caught by surprise."
"Caught by surprise? No," Beregond said quietly, his voice back to its normal pitch. "Suspecting the wrong person? Yes."
Major Armstrong turned around at once and saw a crestfallen Beregond, hanging his head in shame. The sound of a heavy clank made the major turn to the direction of the metal pipe as it fell from the sergeant's hands. That showed him what was it he was threatened with, and instantly everything fell into place.
"Clever," he noted with a small smile.
"Stupid," corrected Beregond with a shake of his head. "Edward and Alphonse are vulnerable now."
"You were doing your duty and no one can blame you for it under the circumstances," said Armstrong kindly. "But now we have more pressing matters to attend to. Do you know of the Elrics' whereabouts?"
"I can do more than that; I can take you to them," answered the Gondorian. "And I fear we must hurry."
"You said that person kills State Alchemists, isn't it so, Sir?" asked Beregond, dragging Armstrong with him as he hurried down the road.
"I did," said Armstrong.
"Then there's danger that he might claim one more victim while he's at it."
The room in which Dr. Marcoh took the Elric brothers wasn't all that much furnished. There was just a bookcase filled with bottles and jars (others empty and others full); a single bed; a surgical tray with medical equipment on it; and a large table. It was around there that the elderly man and the brothers now sat, so that Dr. Marcoh could tell his story.
"I ran from the battlefield and stole the research data I had," Marcoh said, explaining his nervousness. "Because of that, the military might still be after me."
Ed and Al sat up a bit, seeing that they were now within reach of what they had been looking for, for almost three years. "We're doing research on human transmutation and..." Edward said.
"I can't show you anything," Marcoh answered, his voice abrupt and edgy. He bowed his head in regret. "Although I was ordered to do it, I was involved in the research of the philosopher's stone and that, in turn, was used in the massacre during the East Rebellion." His memories clearly catching up with him, Dr. Marcoh buried his face in his hands.
"Massacre? Do you mean the rebellion of Ishbal?" asked Ed.
"It was horrible," answered Marcoh. "A really terrible battle. Women, children, everyone was killed without any reason. The Ishbalans opposed the military and that was enough." He lifted his gaze, a sad expression reflected in his eyes. "I cannot atone for what I did, not even with my life; but I still wanted to do something. That's why I'm a doctor here." He stared at Ed and Al for many long moments before shaking his head with regret. "Go home."
Ed clenched his hands into fists as he felt anger sweeping through him at being denied. "I am a State Alchemist; I have a right to see your research!" he said, slamming his hands on the table.
Marcoh closed his eyes. "You're very small..." That made Ed even angrier and Al had to do his best to hold his brother into place, but Marcoh didn't take notice. "You probably took the test because of the abundant research funds and the numerous privileges." He sighed. "If you'd been at the scene of that rebellion..."
"I know I'm doing something stupid!" cried Ed. “Still..."
But Marcoh only looked away, clearly showing that he didn't want to discuss this any further.
"Dr. Marcoh," said then Al, "you treated some babies in Xenotime five years ago, didn't you? One of those babies is now healthy."
That made the man falter, something that instantly caught Ed's attention. And when he saw where Dr. Marcoh's eyes drifted for just a brief moment, he had got the answer he wanted. The young alchemist ran to the wall the elderly man looked at and, after knocking on it to hear the hollow sound, he clapped his hands and formed a hole on the wall.
Dr. Marcoh got up at once, shocked. "You did that without a transmutation circle?!"
But Edward didn't pay attention to the doctor anymore. He merely picked one of the three bottles that were inside a small box and looked at the clear red liquid inside.
"Stop that!" cried Dr. Marcoh, alarmed.
"Brother!" Al quickly grabbed his brother from behind and lifted him away from the box. "Brother, you shouldn't do that!"
"Let me go!" cried Edward, kicking in his attempt to escape.
"I said let go of me!"
It was then that it happened. In his struggle, Ed accidentally dropped the phial he was holding and it shattered on the floor. It wasn't that that made the brothers stare in awe and wonder though. It was the way the liquid solidified to become a small red stone.
Eyes locked on the stone, both brothers slowly they knelt over it and examined it with light fingers.
"It's not liquid," noted Edward.
"Brother, this looks like the thing the head priest at Liore had."
Suddenly the door burst open and a soldier came in, rifle drawn, followed by an imposing man with a moustache, clearly a higher-ranking officer. He cast a brief glance at the boys and Marcoh; then at the small stone that was still on the floor.
"The Philosopher's Stone," he noted. "The Astral Stone, Elixir, the Red Tincture, and the Fifth Element. As the various names imply, it doesn't necessarily have to be a stone." He went up to the stone and picked it up, not paying attention to Dr. Marcoh, who was trembling in fear.
"Brigadier General Grand," said Edward, recognising the man at once. So there was more than one military man following them. Beregond's plan didn't work well enough.
"Brigadier General?" echoed Dr. Marcoh. "You've received many promotions, I see," he added bitterly.
Grand turned, seeming finally to acknowledge the doctor's presence. "The Crystal Alchemist. Hand over the Philosopher's Stone and its research data."
Ed and Al froze, as everything finally made sense. Brigadier General was holding in his hand the very thing they had been asking Dr. Marcoh about.
"Are you telling me that you knew about this all along?!" Ed cried, glaring Grand.
"This was created as an experiment of the devil," Grand said, towering over Ed. "We don't know when it will reach its limit and become unusable. It's unstable, incomplete and far from the real thing. But it amplified our abilities during the rebellion and showed a tremendous effect."
Ed stared Grand in the eyes. "So you went for the next best thing. You realised that there can be no such thing as a real Philosopher's Stone."
"It's true that this red gem is incomplete. Still, it was created by human hands, which means it's possible to create the Philosopher's Stone," Grand replied.
Ed felt his heart missing a beat at this. "Where's the method to create it?"
Grand glared at the blond. "And what are you going to do after you see it, Fullmetal Alchemist? The research is top secret and under my jurisdiction. You do not have permission to read the data." He turned to his men. "Let's go."
At the Brigadier General's command, two soldiers grabbed Dr. Marcoh by his arms and they didn't let go, no matter how hard the terrified man struggled against them. They didn't seem to take notice of the crowd that had formed just outside Dr. Marcoh's house to see what was going on, and they weren't kind in their treatment to the doctor as they still manhandled him into Grand's car.
"No, please, release me! I don't want to go back there! I don't want to go back! I'm sick of that place! I don't want to!"
Yet all Dr. Marcoh's pleas were futile. In a matter of moments, he was inside Grand's car; and all anyone could do was watch on, trying to apply reason to such a madness, to understand why the man that had come so suddenly in their lives and had given them so much, had to be taken away just as suddenly, taking all hope with him.
Ed clenched his hands into fists, knowing in his heart that he couldn't allow that to happen to the people that depended on the man. Before Al could stop him, he had sprinted down the stairs of Dr. Marcoh's home and after the car, desperately trying to reach it and stop it at all costs.
It was in that moment that he saw a large man, standing frozen in the middle of the road though the car was coming toward him. And the next thing Ed knew, a red flash of light came out of the man's hand, and as the hand slammed down on the hood of the car, the vehicle broke down with a great explosion.