Scar might finally get his revenge.
"Yes. Four single tickets to Xenotime, please."
"Here you go, sir. The train leaves in an hour."
"Thank you. From which platform?" said then Beregond, placing the money on the counter.
"Platform 4. Have a nice trip, sir."
Beregond nodded his thanks and walked away to find the Elric brothers and Dr. Marcoh. They were in a small alley, waiting for the return of the Gondorian.
"Did you get the tickets?" asked Edward, anxiously.
"Yes. But I'm afraid we'll have to wait for an hour or so for the train to leave."
Edward huffed in dismay. "Well, it can't be helped, I guess. Let's hope that we won't be discovered in the meantime."
"Or get caught in the rain," said Beregond, looking up at the sky.
The rest looked up as well, surprised. "I don't see all that many clouds," said Al.
"It's going to rain," insisted Beregond. "I smell it in the air."
Had it been any other man who said this, Edward would have just laughed. But, being aware of Beregond's primeval connection to nature, he decided it would be best not to doubt the Gondorian's words; so, in a few moments, all four were sitting under a shelter, waiting patiently for the hour to pass by.
It was Beregond who spoke first, out of the blue as it seemed. "By the way, I'm sorry." There was sadness reflected in his eyes as he looked at Ed and Al.
The brothers stared at Beregond incredulously. "What for?" asked Ed.
Beregond heaved a sigh. "The way those soldiers died... It could have been you, and I wouldn't have been there. Armstrong was understanding, saying that I was trying to protect you when I went after him, no matter how erroneous my assumptions were. But still, the best way to protect somebody is to stay with him. That's why I'm your escort." There was a small pause. "I neglected that, so I'm sorry."
Edward shook his head. "You've seen what that guy is capable of. If you had been with us, you might have been killed."
"The Ishbalan would have killed all of us. And he will see to it that he does."
It was Dr. Marcoh who said that, his gaze locked on the ground.
The brothers and Beregond remained staring at the doctor for many long moments, surprised.
Ishbalan? Beregond mouthed at Ed, who nodded, clearly showing to the Gondorian that they had talked about this. Beregond's expression changed to understanding. "So what brings him so far away from his land?"
"You should know," said Marcoh, finally looking at the Gondorian. "You look old enough to have been there."
Beregond blinked. "In Ishbal?"
Marcoh frowned, not expecting that answer. "Of course."
The Gondorian shuffled his legs nervously. "No, I wasn't. I'm not from these parts."
Marcoh certainly didn't expect that answer either. "I see."
Thankfully, Ed intervened. "Dr. Marcoh, I think it would be best if you told the story from the beginning. That way the sergeant can understand what's at stake and we might try to figure out what Scar wants from you."
Marcoh bowed his head. "I'm not sure if I..."
"Sir, please," said Beregond. "I need to know if I'm to protect them and you."
Marcoh locked his gaze on Beregond for many long moments. "Strange. There is a young soul behind your eyes; an almost innocent one. Like someone else's that I knew long ago." He sighed. "Then war aged him far more than his actual years."
"I've seen war and I hated every minute of it," said Beregond. "Yet our fight was just and there was no room for regrets or guilt."
"We also believed that our fight was just," noted Dr. Marcoh. "Yet in the end there was much room for regret and guilt." And sighing again, he started his tale.
"The Ishbalans were a people in the East Area who worshipped their absolute one god of creation. But due to differences in religious values, there were frequent conflicts repeated between the two countries. Thirteen years ago, when an officer shot an Ishbalan child by accident, an enormous civil war erupted. Riot brought about riot, and before anyone knew, the flames of the rebellion spread throughout all the East Area. An operation was ordered by the military after seven years of offensive and defensive warfare to deploy the State Alchemists as well in the Ishbal annihilation campaign. The intent was probably to test out their practical usage on the battlefield. Many practitioners were dispatched as human weapons."
Beregond paled considerably and looked at Edward. "So alchemists were no longer protectors of the people. By becoming part of the army, they had to betray their own principles."
Al silently bowed his head, whereas Ed clenched his jaw. That was enough answer. Then Ed turned to Dr. Marcoh, eyeing him curiously. "That's no reason for him to come after you."
"But there is. Just like the real Philosopher's Stone, the red stones I created can amplify an alchemist's abilities tenfold. The alchemists that fought during Ishbal had to wear those so that the damage they could do would certify not only the red stones' effectiveness, but the Ishbalans' utter destruction also."
Beregond bit his lower lip at this. However, Al and Ed exchanged a glance, the same thought occurring to them: that Colonel Mustang had fought in Ishbal also, and that meant he most probably used the red stones too.
"And now this Scar wants revenge from the man who brought this upon his country. What could be more legitimate?" ended the doctor sorrowfully.
"He's still dragging people into it nothing to do with it! How can you talk about legitimacy?" exclaimed Edward, appalled. "He's a fraud! He's on a tirade of personal vengeance and he hides behind this excuse of God's will so he can claim it's noble!"
"Still, if someone took you away from me, Brother, I think I might do the same thing. Isn't that equivalent exchange?" Al asked then, finally speaking his mind.
Ed's eyes widened at this. "No! That's not how the principle works, haven't you learned that yet?!" he cried in exasperation. "Destroying lives doesn't bring lives back! We all just have to live and be content while we can!"
Al didn't say anything this time. He just stood still, cradling his hurt arm. Ed sighed and walked up to him.
"Come here," he said, his tone soft and gentle. And at the next moment, he clapped his hands and placed them on Al's arm, so fixing it.
Meanwhile, Beregond faced Dr. Marcoh, who was looking at the scene thoughtfully.
"He's right, you know. If a god wishes to destroy the world he's created, he does'nt need messengers or representatives to do it for him. And by murdering, Scar is no better than the very people he loathes."
"Yet what choice does he have, if there's nothing for him to hope for?" asked Marcoh. "When any chance for a life was taken from him?"
"There's always a choice. That's what a true god can really offer in the end." Beregond motioned his head at the brothers. "They know that. That's why they're fighting to get a new chance in life instead of being consumed by bitterness and hatred for this world." His gaze became harder. "That's why they came to you. Will you deny them?"
Dr. Marcoh stared at the Gondorian. "I understand what you ask of me.... yet I don't understand why you wish to help them. The Fullmetal Alchemist is a vital asset to the military."
Beregond didn't answer at once. "For a number of reasons. Just know that we all three made a promise to help each other. And I intend to hold to my word, like I know they will."
Just then, the brothers came to them again. No words were exchanged anymore, since everyone was lost in his own thoughts.
It was then that Edward noticed it. Beregond was wringing his hands in restlessness.
"What is it?"
"If the Major had managed to stop Scar, don't you think he would have shown up by now?" asked Beregond.
Al straightened his body, realising that too. "What if he--?" But he didn't complete his question.
Edward thought about it for a few moments. "Then there's no choice; we'll have to separate. Dr. Marcoh, take the train to Xenotime. Beregond, stay with him and make sure he's safe."
Beregond tensed. "What about you two?"
Ed didn't answer; yet his silence spoke louder than any word of his would.
"I'm not making a /request/, Sergeant."
That clearly hurt Beregond. "With all due respect, Sir, that's unfair."
"Noted," Edward said. "Now go."
Sighing, Beregond saluted slightly; then clasped Dr. Marcoh by the shoulder. "Come, Doctor."
And in a matter of moments, both men had disappeared around the corner.
It was then that Ed felt Al's gaze on him - as well as his little brother's question.
"Somebody must protect Marcoh," he said simply.
"Is that the only reason you sent Beregond away?" Al asked.
Ed just shook his head. "You saw what Scar did to the Brigadier General. Beregond wouldn't stand a chance."
"And do we, Brother?"
Ed didn't speak for a moment. "We have to."
A booming sound resonated in the atmosphere, slightly startling the two brothers. But it was only after registering the pattering sound of the droplets hitting Al's armour that the boys understood that the rain had finally started to fall. The brothers looked up, surprised.
"What do you know! Beregond was right," noted Al.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Ed's lips as the rain only became stronger. "Yeah, he was."
And then the brothers saw it: Scar, standing in the middle of the road. They knew what they had to do now, even though neither of them wanted to meet their fate in this way. Ed transmuted his hand into a blade, and Al placed himself into a fighting position again.
"You have courage," Scar commented. "But that won't be enough."
Edward and Alphonse didn't say a word; they just lunged for the attack.
They didn't see Scar's arm glowing again until it was too late. And at the next instant, Al's leg and a big chunk of his torso had disintegrated to smithereens.
Yet the clanking sound of the armour landing on the ground was never heard; because another, far more heart-wrenching sound pierced the air.
"AL!" Tears of fury sprang up in the Ed's eyes, and he lunged blindly at Scar. "YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
It was to no good. Scar simply grabbed Ed's automail again, forcing him to hold still.
"Without this sinful arm you can't transmute quickly. That is your weakness." His arm glowed again and the automail was destroyed, making the most horrible of sounds.
"BROTHER!" Al screamed out, watching Edward fall on his knees. He gripped on the ground furiously with his hands in his attempt to crawl himself there if need be, but it was useless. "No, brother, get up and run! Get out of here!"
Scar simply towered over Ed, seeing his victory at hand. "I'll give you a moment to pray."
"Thanks for the gesture, but I don't believe. Stopped a long time ago," Ed said defiantly through gritted teeth. He looked at Scar. "Back in the tunnel, you told me you lost your older brother. Died in Ishbal, right?"
If Scar was surprised at this, he never showed it. "Correct, Fullmetal. He was killed by a State Alchemist."
"Well, I’m the oldest brother. So take my life and go. That's an equivalent exchange, don't you think?"
"No! What are you talking about, Brother?!" exclaimed Al, dumbfounded. "You just said yourself a life doesn't equal a life!"
"You stay out of this, Al! I'm only doing what's fair!" Ed shouted back indignantly before facing Scar again. "He's not a State Alchemist, I should be enough!"
Scar nodded. "I promise before God, I won't hurt your brother. But you should listen to him, Fullmetal. Your life for another is not a fair exchange. There's nothing in this world that can equal the loss of my brother and my people! Nothing will make it easier to bear!"
"Really? Then why are you murdering all these people?" Ed asked.
But Scar didn't answer this time. He simply placed his palm on Ed's head.
"Brother! What are you doing?! Get away from him!" shouted Al, horror-stricken. "Brother, run! GET UP AND RUN!"
Yet it was in vain. It was as though Ed had gone deaf to all his brother's pleas. Al's fingers trembled as he cursed his own inability to do anything.
"I don't want this," he murmured, the rain providing the tears he wished to shed so much; then grief and terror seized him again and there was only one way to let it out.
It was then that it happened. Suddenly, Scar's arm let out an eerie red glow. Yet it wasn't Scar's doing, because the Ishbalan was startled and grabbed his arm as though in pain.
Shocked, Ed turned around... and saw what caused it.
It was indeed the Crystal Alchemist, now approaching slowly with his arm outstretched, the red stone shining in his hand.
Ed's shock instantly turned to indignation. What is he thinking?! "Don't you have any sense? You should be long gone by now!"
And then, just as suddenly, the thought occurred to him. If Dr. Marcoh was here, then Beregond...
He quickly turned. His eyes just caught in time the Gondorian's form lunging at Scar, tackling him forcefully to the ground and then springing up back to his feet before Scar could touch him.
Scar arose just as quickly, his eyes throwing daggers at the man. "You have just become an obstacle to my goal."
"Edward? Alphonse? Are you hurt?" Dr. Marcoh asked, rushing to the brothers. He placed his arms around Ed's shoulders. "Get up!"
Ed hardly heeded him though. His eyes were widened and locked on the image of the Ishbalan and the Gondorian; and, to his dismay, he now realised Beregond chose a path from which there was no turning back.
"Be careful of his arm!"
Beregond didn't say anything. He simply nodded his acknowledgement at Ed's advice; then held up with both hands a chain as weapon, his eyes locked on the Ishbalan's and welcoming the fight that was to come. The moment Scar lunged, Beregond dodged to his left, and turned instantly to attempt a hit with his chain on Scar's back. Scar proved quicker and used his right arm to block the hit. The chain made a couple of turns on Scar's arm and tangled itself there.
It was then that, to Ed's surprise, Beregond /clapped/, thus using Alchemy consciously for the first time in his life. When the light of the alchemic reaction had subsided, the chain had changed to a metallic control stick around Scar's wrist.
"Another State Alchemist?!" the Ishbalan exclaimed. Hatred consuming him, Scar tried to get his hands on Beregond, but the control stick kept him at bay.
That's it, Ed thought as he watched Beregond planting his legs firmly on the ground, holding on as Scar kept struggling. Don't let him near you. Don't make my mistake. Yet he knew that this would only work temporarily, and something in Beregond's expression as he kept struggling told Ed that the Gondorian was aware of it, too.
"Edward! We have to go! He won't last!" Marcoh's words reached his ears as though from far away - yet they still had the power to make him understand something very important.
Beregond was merely buying time; time for him, Al and Marcoh to escape.
"No!" Ed tried to get up and help; but Marcoh held him back, trying to protect him. And so all he could do was watch on, hoping for some sort of miracle.
All his hopes shattered when Scar grabbed the control stick with his left arm and used it as leverage to push Beregond against the wall; when the scream that cut through the air reached his ears and sent a chill to his heart.
Scar backed away, pulling the control stick with him. Blood sprouted from the Gondorian's side and soon both the wall and the ground were stained red. Moments later, Beregond fell on his knees with a groan, clutching the wound.
In spite of his obvious advantage, Scar didn't go for the kill instantly. He simply towered over Beregond, watching him curiously. "Who are you?"
"What's it to you?" Beregond asked angrily, yet Ed felt sick at seeing the horrible grimacing look at the man's face; the man was in pain.
"Leave him out of this, Scar!" the young alchemist shouted. "It's me you want!"
"From the moment he interfered, he chose his death." He turned again to Beregond, who was in the meantime doing his best to push himself back onto his feet, using the wall behind him as support - and failing. "I thought I knew all the State Alchemists. Yet this is the first time that I hear of a State Alchemist bearing that name." He leaned to examine Beregond's features meticulously, especially his eyes. "Who are you?"
The Gondorian didn't speak for many long moments; until finally, after casting a brief, kind glance to Edward, he locked his gaze on Scar. "Not a State Alchemist. Something different."
Scar's expression hardened. "That's not an answer."
"You're right," Beregond said, chuckling grimly. "You do have my name though. And that's the only answer."
Scar nodded, his eyes reflecting nothing but cold.
"Very well. Now die." And with that, Scar's head rested against Beregond's forehead.
No! Ed gritted his teeth and released himself from Marcoh's grip, determined to fight even if he had to use just one arm and his legs.
Everything came to a standstill at the sound of a gun being fired.
"That's as far as you go."
Everyone turned to see Colonel Roy Mustang, still holding his gun as he fired, accompanied by Hawkeye and Havoc, both armed as well.
"That was a close call, Fullmetal," Roy said to Ed, as kindly as his military position and the circumstances allowed.
"Colonel!" Ed cried, actually gladdened to see Roy. "This guy is..."
"That man is a suspect for the serial murders of State Alchemists," interrupted Roy. He looked at the boys, Dr. Marcoh, and lastly at Beregond. "But there is no doubt about it after taking a look at the present situation." He aimed his gun at Scar. "Step away from the sergeant."
Scar curled his lip in distaste, yet he stepped away, if only to address the Colonel.
"As the messenger of God, I am he to carry out God's judgement. And if you interfere, I will eliminate you, too, just like him." And he pointed at Beregond.
Roy raised an eyebrow at this. "Interesting..." With a graceful movement of his hand, he tossed his gun to a surprised Riza. "Don't lay a finger on him," he told her as she caught the weapon.
"Colonel Mustang!" she said. It was clear that she didn't like what Roy had in mind.
That certainly caught Scar's attention. "Mustang? As in the State Alchemist?"
Roy smirked as he put on his gloves. "Indeed. Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist. If you wish to fight someone, fight with me!"
Scar narrowed his eyes. "So be it." And with that he lunged forward, his hand extended for the kill.
"Col--!" With a swift swing of her leg, Riza kicked Roy off his feet, making him fall. And it was not a moment too soon, for Scar's hand had got only inches away from grabbing Roy's head and do its vile work. Without losing a heartbeat, she then emptied the barrels of both her guns on Scar. She didn't manage a hit, but at least she managed to keep Scar at a safe distance.
"What are you doing all of a sudden?!" Roy exclaimed, dumbfounded at such audacity.
Riza refilled her guns calmly. "You're useless in the rain; so, please, stay back, Colonel."
All colour vanished from Roy's face. "USELESS?!"
Havoc blinked his realisation and looked up. "Oh, yeah. When it's as wet as this, you can't make a spark!"
Roy bowed his head, still muttering the same word, as though not believing he had actually heard it. "Useless?!"
Now it was Scar's turn to smirk. "And in addition to you coming here, it's nice how you can't use your flame," the Ishbalan stated in a matter-of-factly manner. "I can annihilate everyone here!"
"Then try to! You escaped from me once, fiend, but you won't escape twice!"
Edward and Beregond looked up at once as they recognised that voice. Truly enough, Armstrong was behind Scar and had aimed one of his fists at him.
Scar immediately jumped before Armstrong's fist made contact. "Reinforcements," he noted, mildly surprised.
"Major! Please, don't destroy too much of the city!" cried Havoc. Indeed, Armstrong's fist had made a nasty hole on the building.
"What did you say?" asked Armstrong, incredulously. "Behind destruction, there lies creation. Behind creation, there lies destruction! Destruction and creation are two sides of the same coin! Destroy and create! For this is the law of the universe!"
Such a speech had clearly made Armstrong's chest swell - yet again - with too much pride, because his sparkly aura shone brightly once more and his shirt got ripped off, revealing the huge muscles underneath. That made everyone around feel a little more than just awkward.
"Why are you using such powerful Alchemy?" Riza asked then, her eyes still locked on the large hole on the wall.
Armstrong flexed his arms. "As an alchemist you wouldn't think it was too powerful. Isn't that right, Scar?"
Everyone's awkwardness was instantly replaced with shock.
"An alchemist? You mean he's also an alchemist?!" said Roy, hardly believing his ears.
Edward watched the fight, shaking his head. "I thought so. If you break them up, the three major parts of transmutation are knowledge, deconstruction and recreation."
Roy looked as Armstrong created another missile from the ground and Scar destroyed it. "So that guy is stopping transmutation by using the second part: deconstruction."
Ed nodded. "The question is: How long is this supposed to last? And who will prove stronger?"
Meanwhile, Armstrong kept attacking Scar, who was retreating steadily, trying to find any opening in the Major’s defence. Little by little, the Ishbalan was almost a step away from the wall and he would soon be cornered. And it was in that moment that Armstrong made an opening. Scar got ready to seize his chance.
He never did. Before the Ishbalan had the chance to make contact, Armstrong had stepped back. And Scar soon found out why.
Beregond, now standing after much effort, had taken hold of the control stick that was still clinging stubbornly on Scar's wrist and clapped again. In an instant, the control stick had transmuted into a lance, its iron point piercing Scar's arm through and through. Scar immediately let out an exclamation of pain and kicked Beregond away from him, sending him almost flying.
Beregond landed a couple of feet away with a sickening thud, and he remained there, not moving.
"Damn it!" Roy exclaimed. "Havoc, get him out of there!"
At this, Havoc immediately threw his rifle at Riza. "Cover me!"
Complying, Riza caught the rifle and fired; while Havoc, accompanied by two more men, rushed to Beregond's side. The Gondorian's eyes were closed and his face wan as he still bled profusely. Cursing loudly at this turn of events, Havoc placed his handkerchief on Beregond's wound in the wild hopes of stopping the bleeding somehow; then he and his men lifted the unconscious man and got him to safety.
"Is he--?" Ed tried to ask, worriedly.
"He's alive," Havoc said at once. He quickly turned to one of the men. "Call for an ambulance! Now!"
It was Dr. Marcoh who said that. "The hospital is too far away. I can treat him, but we'll have to take him to my house!"
"Good enough," said Roy, overhearing the conversation. "Go!"
Nodding their acknowledgement, a couple of men picked up Beregond and placed him in one of the cars, whereas Dr. Marcoh accompanied them.
Just then, Riza fired again and blood fell from Scar's face.
"Did you get him?" asked Roy.
Riza shook her head. "He’s still fast, in spite of his injury. That shot only grazed him."
Truly enough, but for a gash near his temple, Scar was otherwise unharmed by any bullet. He looked again at each and everyone.
There was military everywhere, and more soldiers were coming.
"I see that I'm at a disadvantage against this many opponents," he said. He lifted his arm, red with his own blood, making everyone nervous enough to take aim.
"Hold it!" commanded Roy immediately; then locked his gaze on Scar. "You don't actually think you can get away when you're surrounded, do you?"
Scar just smiled and placed his palm on the ground. In the blink of an eye, a huge hole opened underneath his feet and, before anyone could do anything, the Ishbalan was gone through the hole.
"The classic sewer escape," commented Havoc wryly, looking at the hole.
"Don't follow him," ordered Roy.
"Damn it! I was just about to jump in," was Havoc's next sarcastic comment.
"Nice mess! Is it over yet?" This came from Maes, who was now coming from around the corner.
Mustang glared at the newcomer. "You know, you could try to help while you were here, Hughes."
"Lay off! I’m as normal as they come and this is a contest of freaks! What would you have me do? Fire my slingshot at him?" Before he got any answer to that, Maes turned to his men, and started giving instructions as to where to place blockades.
Suddenly, a cry filled with terror echoed in the air. "AL!"
The suit of armour was sitting up against the wall, not stirring as the rain fell on it mercilessly. It didn't move even when Edward desperately asked it to speak.
"Say something, Al! Are you still with me?" Edward could feel his voice cracking at the burden of his agony, but he didn't care. The mere thought that his brother could be...
But then Al finally spoke. In fact, he did more than that. He clenched his hand into a fist and punched Ed - hard.
To say that Edward was shocked at the attack would be an understatement. "What was that for?!"
"Why didn't you run away when I told you to?"
"Because he could have killed you, that's why!" cried Ed indignantly.
"So you decided to die instead? That's really smart!" declared Al in one of his rare moments of sarcasm.
"Don't call your older brother an idiot, idiot!" shouted Ed, feeling that, if he had both arms, this would have been a good chance to beat some sense into his brother.
Al, on the other hand, had both his arms, so he put them into good use. He grabbed Ed by the collar, bringing their faces so close that they almost touched.
"That's not how we do things! Live and be content while we can! Live to research more alchemy, so one day we can get our bodies back! That is how we do things, Brother! Dying, and dying by yourself and leaving me on my own? That's something I won't let you do!"
A thunderous clank made both brothers freeze and look down.
"Oh, this is perfect!" Al exclaimed. "Now my arm's fallen off too! Today's been a terrible day!”
Edward took a look at himself, then at his brother. "We're really falling apart at the scene, aren't we? Everyone who sees us must think we're a joke."
"But we're alive, right?" asked Al.
"Yeah... We're that, Al." And Ed finally allowed himself a small, tired smile. He barely felt the softness of the jacket that Riza placed on his shoulders.
Neither brother noticed Armstrong and Mustang watching them.
"A hollow suit of armour," commented the Major, clearly impressed. "I've never seen a soul transmutation that actually worked."
"Yeah, Ed went through hell and back to make that possible. That's what makes the bond between them even stronger than it already was."
Just then, they heard Alphonse talking to Havoc, who was supporting him as they were going to the car. "Is Beregond going to be okay? He looked pretty bad..." he was saying worriedly.
Ed looked at Roy as he passed him by. "You know something, Colonel? I think I begin to understand a bit how you feel when I pull stunts the way Beregond did today," he said resignedly, and he followed Havoc and Al once again.
Armstrong didn't speak for a moment. "There's someone else who's started forming a bond with them."
Roy allowed himself to smile a bit. "I was hoping he would. But I never expected Beregond to be so fierce a guardian. He even got his motivation to finally use Alchemy." There was a small pause. "I suppose the loss of his son might have something to do with it."
"What son?" asked Maes. He had overheard the conversation as he came up to them.
Roy smirked. "I'll tell you all later. Let's see if Beregond pulls through first."