There was silence for a long time, as all three people tried to take in what Beregond had just told them. In the end, it was Falman who spoke first.
"You mean... you're suggesting we're..."
He didn't continue. But Beregond did.
"...The descendants of those Numenoreans who supposedly perished when the Island sank." A bittersweet smile crossed his features. "It makes sense, I suppose. A father that loves his child can't kill it, no matter what wrongs it has done. The same can be applied in Iluvatar's case. After all, Men are his creations and there is no denying that he loves them." Havoc got ready to say something, but Beregond proved quicker. "Not beyond punishing them when they've gone too far," he said, already knowing what was in the lieutenant's mind. "By creating for them a world identical to the one they were to leave behind, he let them try to survive on their own, bereft of kinsmen and without the aid of the Valar."
Havoc swallowed hard. "That's like astory my mother used to tell me: The first man and woman of this world ate from the fruit of knowledge in their attempt to become as wise as a god. Because of that, the said god exiled them from the garden he had made especially for them to live in and forced them to earn everything through sweat and toil."
"That could be the same case, just alot more allegorical," Beregond said. He looked at the map thoughtfully. "A most terrible punishment," he murmured.
"At first, at least," Havoc said. "I mean, we're still around. We survived in the end."
"Yeah, you did," Beregond said softly. "You survived and for thousands of years you thrived, becoming strong once again. Yet what greater punishment is there than to forget your brethren? For once we're forgotten, we seize to exist." He sighed. "And I stopped existing in my world along time ago."
"Wait," Havoc said, surprised. "What are you talking about?"
This time, Beregond didn't reply.
"Hey..." Havoc placed a hand on the Gondorian's shoulder.
But Beregond only pulled himself away gently and walked toward the window, his gaze locked outside.
Not knowing what to make of it, Havoc looked at Falman and Syndow in a confused manner. "What?"
Falman pursed his lips momentarily but, in the end, he decided to just answer.
"Beregond showed proof to the Colonel that both worlds were created in the same pattern. Which means that something else is identical," he said slowly. "Time cycles. A year has 365 days not only in this world, but in Beregond's world, too."
"I don't see what this has got to do with anything," Havoc said with a frown.
"Second Lieutenant," Syndow said, "The sinking of Atlantis - and, consequently, Númenor's Downfall - is dated 9,000 years ago."
Havoc regarded Falman and Syndow for many long moments, trying to process what he was told. When it dawned on him, he whirled around and stared at Beregond incredulously.
"When were you born?!"
Beregond answered in a toneless and tired voice; he didn't turn around to look at the others.
"3,000 years after Númenor sank. Which makes me a 6,000-year-old living fossil."
The grim, soulless chuckle that escaped his lips sent a chill to everyone's heart.
Al walked through the corridors of Central Library, scanning at every book he happened to catch sight of.
Where is that book Brother asked me to find? the suit of armour wondered mentally. He rechecked the shelves of the particular corridor, but he had no luck. The book was nowhere to be seen.
/But Brother said it would be here!/Al was sure Ed couldn't have possibly made a mistake. His brother could name the place of each and every book with the precision of a librarian by now.
Wait a minute... Librarian!
And with that, Al started searching all the corridors of the State Central Library again, because he knew /exactly/who would be able to help him.
Truly enough, the woman was up a ladder and putting some books on a nearby shelf. She instantly looked down when she heard a familiar voice calling her.
"Alphonse!" she said, smiling broadly. "Wait a moment, I'll be right down."
"Wait, I'll help!" Al said. He caught the woman gently by her waist, something that made Sarah let out an exclamation of surprise. There was no need for alarm of course; Al merely wanted to ease her way down. And by the time the woman's feet touched the ground, she was grinning.
"You know, you could be very useful around here, Alphonse," she commented. "There would be no fear of falling." She chuckled when she saw Al's body posture - it was signifying that the armour was blushing profusely. She patted the metal arm kindly. "It's good to see you again."
"It's good to see you too, Mrs. Abbot,"Al said. "Lieutenant Colonel Hughes said you were working here now."
"Yes, I have been since... almost three weeks, actually. The lieutenant colonel told me you were here, but I heard you were too busy to accept visits."
"We wouldn't mind seeing you or Alice, Mrs. Abbot, you know that," Al replied, nodding with emphasis.
"Nevertheless, your work is far more important." She looked around, noticing that something was missing from the picture.
Or rather, someone.
"So where's Edward? I'd expect him to be with you."
"He's in room 301; he just sent me over here to find a book for him. I can't seem to find it though."
"Oh? What book was it?"
"A dictionary on Alchemy. Brother said it was supposed to be in this section."
Sarah thought about it for a moment. "If it's not, then somebody most probably borrowed it. Let's go see if it's by any chance on today's returned books, all right?"
"That would be helpful. Thank you, Mrs. Abbot."
"It's nothing that I don't do in ausual day's work, so don't worry about it," Sarah said, waving her hand dismissively. They both started walking towards the registration desk. "I used to do that for Mr. Beregond before I was transferred here."
Al jumped at the chance.
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes told us abit of that. Was Beregond working on something?"
Sarah nodded. "He was, but I'm not sure what he was looking for exactly. I used to give him the books, and he would just spend hours over them. He even took notes on occasion."
"What kind of books?" Al asked.
"You know, that's the strangest part,"Sarah answered. "They were mythology books."
If Al could, he would have blinked his surprise. He couldn't understand why Beregond would want to read such books. He and Ed were never interested in them; they had preferred Alchemy above everything else ever since he could remember.
"Ah, here we are," Sarah declared at that moment, picking up the list of the returned books. "Now, what was the title of that book?"
Feeling his musings cut off for the present, all Al could do was answer the question and look at the list too.
"I don't understand it! How is this possible?!" Havoc finally said. He still kept his eyes on Beregond, frustrated that the man wouldn't turn around to look at him. "You said it yourself: you were in Middle-earth; the next minute, you weren't!"
"I remember what I said," the Gondorian said simply.
"Then how the hell did you end up 6,000 years ahead of your time?" Havoc insisted. He didn't heed Falman's attempts to calm him down or even Beregond's hands curling into trembling fists.
"Sergeant..." Syndow tried to say.
But then Beregond's trembling stopped, and his gaze locked again on the others. "I don't know. The only logical explanation I can think of is that that... moment... lasted a lot longer than Ibelieved."
Syndow frowned at this. "Is that even possible?"
"Until a couple of hours ago you didn't think the existence of another world was possible," the Gondorian pointed out, smiling grimly. "Just like I wouldn't believe in the existence of /this/world several months ago."
It was clear Syndow couldn't really argue with that, for he nodded and accepted Beregond's explanation. He still wanted to know more though.
"Was there anything in that place you were that could indicate the change of time?"
That was a question that Havoc and Falman probably meant to voice as well, because at the next moment they had both pricked up their ears and waited for an answer.
Beregond shook his head ruefully. "I'm afraid I can't help you, Professor. I can't remember but bits and pieces and most of them in a blur."
If Syndow meant to ask something else, he didn't get his chance. For it was then that Beregond turned to Havoc.
"Sir, I believe it's time we reported our findings back to Colonel Mustang."
Havoc and Falman exchanged a brief look, unsure what to think of that. However, there was something in the Gondorian's expression that told both that they would have to indulge him. Havoc raised ahand in defeat.
"All right. Let's go."
And with that, all three soldiers mumbled their goodbye to the professor and started heading out. All Syndow could do was watch them go and return the farewell with the same heaviness of heart.
They had unravelled the truth behind Atlantis... but the price proved almost too high.
Suddenly, Syndow noticed something that made him call out. "Sergeant!"
Beregond turned and looked back at the professor in confusion.
"You didn't take your armour."
Indeed, the armour was still lying where Beregond had dropped it, now all but forgotten.
But Beregond turned his head away.
"Keep it. I don't think I'll need it anymore," he said; his tone was soft and barely audible.
Syndow's eyes widened. "I couldn't possibly--" he started.
Beregond proved faster. "Consider it agift for your help. For you helped, indeed."
The elderly man stared incredulously at Beregond, not sure what else to say. Until, after he finally made up his mind, walked up to the armour and reverently picked up the breastplate. He held it close to his chest.
"I will treasure it, just as if it were one of my own things," he promised.
That made Beregond smile a bit and nod his thanks. However, when he had started walking out once more, Syndow's voice stopped him on his tracks again.
"Sergeant Beregond? Here's a word of advice. Once you do something, you never forget; even if you can't remember."
There was a pause for many long moments, yet the only thing Beregond said before exiting was:
"I understand. Thank you, Professor."
There were many buildings of various sizes and shapes in Central City, but only few that most certainly stood out: The Military Headquarters, which were located west; the Parliament, located on the north; the State Library; and the building of Central Times, which was right on the centre of the city. The latter building was important, because the journalists working there served as the medium to inform the people of Central and beyond about the actions within the first two buildings, as well as what was going on outside the safe borders of Amestris.
However, Thaddeus Gray, one of the most renowned journalists out there, was now appointed to another sort of task.
"Here they are, lads," Thaddeus said to the military officers that had arrived in his office. The huge cigar was still between his lips all the while he talked. "All these papers date as far back as 1823 - the year Central Times were founded, in fact. You should be able to find everything you want to look there. Each file contains the papers published in aperiod of ten years."
The lower-ranking of the two officers, a sergeant-major by the name of Casey Turner, looked at the hundreds of files and envelopes and he swallowed hard. "That's a lot."
Thaddeus let out a loud, hearty laugh. "So it is, isn't it? But don't worry," he added, slapping the sergeant-major on the back in a friendly manner. "I can name you most of the executions that have been done over the years - if not all."
"Really, Mr. Gray?" asked the higher-ranking officer, a certain Charles Devon. "I only thought you covered war-stories. Haven't you been just recently in Liore?"
"Well, I can't always be doing that,"Gray said with a shrug. "Someone from the press has to serve as witness during the execution of those scumbags; preferably someone with the stomach to handle it."
"I see. So you might be able to recall some of those convicted?" Devon asked.
"Sure," Thaddeus answered with a grin."I can actually name two from the top of my head just like that. There was Barry the Chopper; that was one sick bastard. And then there was Shou Tucker, the guy who used his own daughter to make a chimera. Good riddance, that's what I say."
Devon raised an eyebrow. "You mean the State Alchemist Tucker?"
"Yup, unless he's got a twin I wouldn't know of," Thaddeus said, laughing once more. "But come, we can talk this over as you check the articles."
And with that, he motioned for them to sit so they could start working.
Neither of the officers noticed the violet glint that reflected momentarily on the journalist's eyes.
"I don't get it. What did Syndow mean by that?"
It was Havoc who asked that question.
Roy rubbed his chin thoughtfully, watching Havoc, Falman and Beregond with great interest. After all, it wasn't every day that he saw two of his men nearly at a loss for words and the third one with an empty look in his eyes.
"The answer seems simple enough," he finally said. He knitted his fingers and placed his elbows on the desk. "It would appear he suggested Sergeant Beregond's memories are within the sergeant's mind; except Sergeant Beregond can't recall them for some reason."
"This could also suggest Beregond /does/suffer from some kind of amnesia," Falman said.
"The same kind Alphonse does."
Everyone turned at Beregond's direction, slightly taken aback to hear him speak again after being silent for so long.
"When the boys told me of their own... experience," Beregond went on, "Edward could give me every little detail. Alphonse, on the other hand, didn't remember anything; he couldn't. This also explains why Edward and I can bypass the standard array and not Alphonse."
Roy nodded knowingly. "He doesn't remember seeing the Gate, so he can't recall the knowledge within it."
"Yes," Beregond answered. "That leads us to the next logical step."
Roy didn't say anything. He understood what Beregond meant.
But Falman, who had also caught on, stared at Beregond with wide-open eyes. "You are planning on retrieving those memories?" he asked.
Beregond shrugged. "There has to be away. And if I can retrieve them, maybe I can also find out what happened inside the Gate."
And maybe figure out a way to return back to your home, Roy added in his mind.
"But how is that to be done?" Havoc asked, now feeling more confused than ever. "If you can't remember, you can't retrieve them."
"There is a way," Roy declared. "I had searched this matter, considering it as an alternative option in case you, Sergeant, still suffered from that strange... mental trauma that made you forget everything back on the first days of our encounter."
Beregond actually blushed at this and mumbled: "Yes, sorry about that."
"What kind of alternative, Sir?" Falman asked curiously.
Roy didn't speak at once. He first took out from his drawer his journal and opened it to look at one particular written page.
"Falman? Have you ever heard of acertain Dr. Ian Thornlace?"
Falman instantly sat up on the couch. "He's a psychologist. Born in Drachma in 1872, but moved here at an early age. Considered a brilliant mind by his peers, he got a PhD in 1897. He's well known for his research and practice of hypnosis."
Beregond looked at the others, not really understanding. "Hypnosis?"
Falman was ready to answer, but Roy stopped him in a gesture of "I have this" and proceeded, using his journal as reference. "Hypnosis is, as the name implies, a state of sleep. It's induced to the subject by a professional, making the said subject quite susceptible to suggestion."
"What do you mean?" Beregond asked. But then realisation clearly hit him. "The person who is under hypnosis has no will of his own?"
"Yes, one could say that," Roy admitted. "However, I was assured that hypnosis is used mainly for medical purposes. Specifically, to recall memories and thoughts suppressed by the conscious mind, so as to find the cause - and the cure, consequently - of several psychological problems and even traumas."
"If it's so effective, why didn't the doctors who treated me in the past go for that method?" Beregond asked.
"Because many scientists believe that the results are rather dubious," Roy answered. "Considering that the hypnotised person is under the influence of the hypnotist, there's no telling how much of the memories are suggested or not. However, if it's an experience that the hypnotist is not aware of..."
"...then there are more chances that it's a personal experience," Havoc completed, seeing through the Colonel's train of thought. "The hypnotist doesn't know about the Gate or Middle-earth."
"Exactly," Roy said with a nod.
"Sir, with all due respect," Falman said, "that method has also certain complications."
"Complications?" echoed Beregond, frowning.
Roy crossed his arms and sat back on his chair. "Yes. There's also the matter of the abreaction to keep in mind. When the hypnotised person is forced to recall their memories, other things resurface as well."
"You mean feelings. To remember, I have to relive my memories."
Roy nodded again. "Along with all the pain accompanying them. That's one of the reasons that I finally decided against it. Besides, an abreaction can prove dangerous, so the would-be subject's consent is needed."
Beregond didn't speak for many moments, clearly contemplating matters thoroughly. Roy, Havoc and Falman noticed how nervously the Gondorian wrung his hands, yet they didn't say anything.
In the end, Beregond asked only one question:
"Will I be on my own?"
"No. I will be there," Roy answered at once. "First Lieutenant Hawkeye will also be escorting us."
Beregond rubbed his forehead and finally let out a deep sigh. "All right. I'll do it."
Roy locked his gaze on Beregond's eyes."Are you sure about this, Sergeant?"
Beregond didn't answer. He simply nodded.
"Very well. I'll arrange a meeting with Dr. Thornlace for the soonest possible. Gentlemen, you're dismissed."
Complying, Havoc and Falman stood up and saluted before walking out. Beregond didn't follow them though. He stopped on the doorway and then turned around to face Roy.
That certainly surprised the colonel. He raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Is something wrong, Sergeant?"
"It concerns the Elric Brothers, Sir."
Roy caught on. "Close the door."
Beregond did just that and then walked up to the desk.
"Well?" Roy asked. "What is it?'
"I'm aware you know of Edward and Alphonse's attempt on human transmutation. I also know that you've been offering them leads on the Philosopher's Stone."
"Did Edward tell you that?"
Beregond nodded. "And I was told that the Philosopher's Stone helps its wielder to bypass the laws of nature and even offer him immortality. That's why it's so coveted."
Beregond sighed. "So, basically, the goals of the people of Amestris haven't changed from the days of Númenor. Like our common ancestors, you've been seeking immortality, too."
"And like that man Dûrinas from your world. At the cost of your son's life," Roy pointed out.
"Yes," Beregond said, grimacing slightly.
Though he didn't expect such a thing from himself, Roy regretted the jab. After all, if anyone was more than aware of what happened to an innocent life, it was the Gondorian.
Still, it would appear Beregond wasn't that easily daunted, because he continued on. "As the Númenóreans made sacrifices to gain that... 'gift', so did Dûrinas."
"Do you have any idea what made him seek such a thing?" Roy asked.
"Yes. Dûrinas had found some manuscripts in the library of Minas Tirith that dated back from those days. He had said that they had 'shown him the way.'"
Roy frowned slightly. "That means he also followed the guidance of that being you mention so often - Sauron, is it? Just like the Númenóreans."
"Why wouldn't they? Sauron had /promised/them he would grant it to them, so they fell for it," Beregond said. There was a tone of bitterness in those words that Roy didn't think the Gondorian was capable of using. "Honestly though, I have no doubts that Sauron could have offered it, if he didn't feel contempt for humans and only manipulated them to accomplish his own goals. As a force of nature, he knew the laws of it. Well enough to bend them to his will, in fact."
A terrible suspicion started creeping on Roy's mind. "Bend them enough to provide means to immortality, for example?"
Beregond nodded. "He had done it before. He had guided the race of the Elves under fair disguise to create Nine Rings of Power which, among other things, had the ability to prolong a mortal man's life. And then Sauron forged for himself another Ring, pouring into it apart of himself to make it powerful enough to control all the others and so bind them to his will. That one also delayed old age, far more efficiently than the others. So... what does it take to create something which can actually offer everlasting life?"
Roy closed his eyes, taking in what the Gondorian said.
"Looks to me like the Númenóreans and Dûrinas knew the answer." He shook his head. "Bad exchange."
"By the time they had come to that point, they were far too corrupted to care," Beregond said. "Just like Sauron had wanted."
"And since both worlds work the same way..." Roy said, but didn't continue.
"Yes." Beregond sat on the couch in adrained manner. "How am I ever going to tell them?"
It didn't take a great mind to understand about whom the Gondorian was talking.
How are you going to tell them, indeed? Roy thought.
There was only one answer to that.
Beregond stared at the Colonel for afew moments, clearly not expecting Roy to say that. He didn't try to object though; he just nodded his obedience half-heartedly and said: "I'll trust your judgement. You're my superior."
Roy nodded in approval at the answer. If only more people were like you, Mr. Beregond, I'd be one happy man.
Nevertheless, he decided he had to explain himself anyway.
"If the lead Ed followed all the way to Central was offered to him by Dr. Marcoh, as I suspect, he will find out for himself soon enough anyway - if he hasn't already. And there's something else. I'm thinking there might be a chance that, once under hypnosis, you might be able to recall some useful knowledge on alchemy, maybe even about human transmutation. That will certainly prove more helpful to Edward and Alphonse, since the hunt for the Philosopher's Stone will become obsolete."
"I understand," Beregond said. "But what if I don't find anything?"
"Then you have my permission to go after them and see for yourself what they've found. Even tell them about the price, if they don't know about it."
Little did either of them know that, back in Central City, a fifteen-year-old alchemist and his younger brother had eventually managed to crack Marcoh's code. And Edward Elric was now cursing the doctor through gritted teeth, banging his hands on the table in dismay.
For in the notebook were written the words:
"The raw materials needed for the Philosopher's stone are sacrifices of human lives. "
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