Ed and Al reach to some disturbing conclusions of their own, whereas Beregond comes to an important decision.
When Sergeant Bloch walked into the waiting hall of the hotel, the first thing he did was try to locate Second Lieutenant Ross. He soon found her sitting by a small table close to the registration desk. He walked up to her and greeted her, a gesture politely reciprocated.
"Are the Elric Brothers still in their room?" he asked.
Ross nodded and motioned the sergeant to sit down opposite her. "I doubt they're sleeping though. They've just verified Marcoh's notes. Do I need to tell you the results?"
Bloch sighed, understanding only too well. He pulled up a chair and settled down. "But don't you think they need to rest? Certainly they've overtaxed themselves," he said.
"They do, but we can't exactly force them," replied Ross with a shrug. "The research files they had worked so hard to decode turned out to be so..." She didn't continue.
The young sergeant shuddered. "It makes me sick just thinking about it." There was a small pause as Bloch contemplated something. "Maybe we should try to locate that friend of theirs. He might be able to offer his support somehow."
"I've already tried that," Ross said. "He wasn't in the office at all today. He had an appointment to the doctor's or something."
Bloch blinked. "To the doctor?"However, realisation caught up with him. "Oh, right... his wounds from battling Scar."
But Ross shook her head thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure of that. It has been almost a month since that happened."
"Something else then?" Bloch asked.
Bloch bit his lower lip. "Did you tell them that?"
"No. They have enough troubles."
"You know, Al... I would probably have been happier if I hadn't learned about this," said Ed. He closed his journal with a sigh and, as he felt a headache settling in, he rested his forehead against the table he was currently sitting in front of. His arms hid his face from the rest of the world.
"And what's worse is, the military probably knew about it too," said Alphonse, who was sitting on the couch. "Dr. Marcoh was a State Alchemist, after all."
"Yeah... That's why he left; and that's why the military wanted Marcoh's notes back." It was then that Ed's hands clenched into fists. "Which means Mustang also knew everything all along and he didn't say anything, the bastard!" he said through gritted teeth.
"Brother, you don't know that," Al said.
"But I do! He knew about Marcoh, remember? I had to keep pestering him and suffer through a duel with him to finally find out the doctor's address! Then it turns out that not only did he know about the red stones, but he even used one to murder people! One of the very stones that Marcoh himself admitted of making, Al! And now you're saying that Mustang didn't know about the Philosopher's Stone? Then why would he want to keep Marcoh away from us?" Ed said in an annoyed manner. "He made us spend four years over something that he could have told us in four minutes! He just wanted someone to do the dirty work for him and he could get the glory for himself!"
"Or maybe... he didn't want us faced with a choice that would cost us more than we could afford."
Ed looked up, eyes wide. "Al...?"
"Think about it, Brother. He gave you access to information that wasn't public by giving you a State license, but that was as far as he allowed you to be involved in the military. Whatever leads and missions he gave us took us as far away from the workings of the military as possible. He knew about Dr. Marcoh and the stones; I'll give you that. But Dr. Marcoh had been working on something that had been haunting him for years and he was desperately trying to get away from it; and he/trusted/ the Colonel so that he would get away. Remember, Brother: the Colonel knew the address to give it to us - but not Brigadier General Grand. Don't you remember how frightened Dr. Marcoh was when that man found him?"
Ed kept staring at Al incredulously.
"Brother, whether you like it or not, whether the Colonel knew about the price for the real Philosopher's Stone or not, he was trying to protect us from having a guilty conscience like Dr. Marcoh. He was hoping we would be able to get our hands on the Philosopher's Stone without that kind of price, unlike Brigadier General Grand. Because even though the military is probably willing to sacrifice human lives, he didn't want us to do that. He didn't want us to lose our souls, Brother. Because then, we wouldn't have gained anything."
Ed sat up, feeling shocked. He hadn't thought of that...
But he now realised he should, because he could still recall his last conversation with Marcoh.
"This is the place where the research files are hidden. Look at this if you won't regret knowing the truth... Just make sure no one knows about it, not even Colonel Mustang. He can't protect me forever and I don't want him involved in this."
He couldn't protect Marcoh anymore... Not involved in this...
So the Colonel didn't know - not as much as Ed accused him of at first anyway. Ed felt a bit guilty about it.
"You know him?"
"I knew him long ago, when he had the same innocent soul that the sergeant has. That is, until he was ordered to kill two doctors because they treated Ishbalans."
"'Then war aged him far more than his actual years,'" Ed murmured, feeling his resentment subsiding. He couldn't stay angry with someone who was haunted by memories of his own.
Al nodded, knowing what his Brother was thinking of. "And he also protected us so we wouldn't have his fate." A sigh escaped from the huge armour. "I guess he figured the truth was too cruel for us to know of it."
Ed bowed his head, his bangs hiding his eyes. He hated to admit it, but Al was right; he couldn't blame Mustang for this. He was a victim of the military's politics, and he was actually trying to keep Ed from becoming one too. The truth was too cruel to know and yet he wasn't willing to listen, in spite of Mustang's subtle - yet so clear, come to think of it - warnings.
Wait a minute...
Al tensed. "What's wrong, Brother?"
"I just remembered something Dr. Marcoh told me."
"When he treated Beregond's wounds and I went to check on how he was healing," Ed explained. "He said I might be able to discover the truth behind the truth." He faced Al. "Don't you get it?There's something else!"
In a heartbeat he had walked up to the door and called downstairs to Ross and Bloch. "Hey! Is it possible I can get amap of Central up here?"
Ross and Bloch instantly stood up in salute. "Yes, Sir!"
Al still looked at his brother in an incredulous manner. "Brother, what are you hoping to find?"
Ed rubbed his hands together, pacing up and down as he waited for Ross and Bloch's return. "I'll tell you when I find it."
Beregond poured some hot tea that he had just prepared into two mugs. He put the kettle away from the gas stove and then he walked over to Havoc, who was sitting on the couch in the living room. He presented one of the mugs with a small smile.
"Thanks," Havoc said, curling his fingers around the cup and having a sip.
Beregond merely nodded as he took a sip out of his own mug; then also settled down on the couch next to Havoc.
Silence reigned for many moments, only to be broken suddenly by Beregond's voice.
"'And the man wise in his heart remembers the multitude of deadly combats long ago, and speaks these words:'Where has the horse gone? Where the young warrior? Where the lord? How that time has gone, vanished beneath night's cover, just as if it never had been, into shadow.'"
Havoc regarded Beregond curiously. However, the Gondorian was looking out the nearby window.
"That's what one of the epic poems Syndow had written in his books says," Beregond explained, somehow sensing Havoc's question. "I never thought I'd live the day to ask such questions myself, when an Elf is more fitting to ask them."
And with that he grew silent again and took another sip of his tea.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Havoc asked cautiously.
Beregond turned, and Havoc could see aghost of a smile on his friend's lips. "I know you probably think I'm devastated to see that everything I knew and loved has gone beyond my reach." His fingers traced the rim of the mug. "In a way... I suppose I am. And yet... I'm not."
Havoc let out a grim chuckle. "You realise you aren't making much sense now, right?"
Beregond drank the rest of the tea in asingle gulp, clearly not caring that the liquid was probably too hot. "Well, for one thing, I did save my son. My sacrifice wasn't in vain. And, no matter how much I miss him, or Faramir, or everyone else... well, there's a place where all souls pass. I will meet them all there. They will just have to wait for me a little while longer. It was what the Valar decided, after all."
"But, what are you to do now, if you can't go home?" Havoc asked. "That's where you had invested all your strengths and focus."
Beregond didn't answer at once. He just placed the mug in the table in front of him and then rested his elbows on his knees. He didn't look up at Havoc; his dark strands, which were now much longer since the day he had found himself in Amestris and currently free from the ponytail they were usually in, hid his face from the lieutenant's gaze.
"I've never told you how Elves die, have I?"
Havoc blinked, taken aback by the question. "You said they were immortal."
Beregond chuckled a bit; yet he spoke the next words slowly and carefully, as though they pained him as he uttered them. "But not invulnerable. It takes one of two simple things for an Elf to perish. He's either slain in battle or... he wills himself away. He simply lets his sorrow and grief break his heart and..." he waved slightly his hand, exhaling slightly, "...that's it."
There was a small pause before Havoc decided to speak. "I don't see what that has got to do with you."
Only then did Beregond turn to lock his gaze on Havoc's. Realisation hit the lieutenant and his eyes widened in disbelief.
"You? You can...?" he faltered, trying to find the right words.
Beregond saved him the trouble and nodded. "Another privilege of a Númenórean; it saves us from the embarrassment of senility at an old age, but it doesn't have to be the only reason." His voice lowered as he continued on, whereas his gaze became slightly unfocused. "All I have to do is will it strongly enough... and it would be over before you'd catch me as I'd collapse."
Havoc stared at his companion for many long moments, feeling the mental image of the Gondorian suddenly falling dead right then and there penetrating his mind mercilessly and sending shivers of horror down his spine. He reached with trembling hands for Beregond's form and clasped both the Gondorian's shoulders as firmly as he could so that he didn't.
Beregond merely shook his head and looked back at Havoc.
"But, you see... that would be the easy way out. The Imperishable Flame - our soul - is a gift of the Valar that isn't given in vain. To consider anyone worthy of it, it means that it has something to offer in the world in return."
"So what you're saying is that you don't want to anger your gods by throwing your life away," Havoc said. He shook his head. "No offence, but if you're to stay alive, don't do it for them! They're the ones that sent you here in the first place."
"Which is precisely why I must, in part, do it for them," Beregond said. He stood up and walked up to the window, once again looking at the night sky. "For the last few hours I've kept wondering the same thing over and over again: Why me? Why now? And the only answer I could come up with is that I wouldn't be sent here, an intruder in your world, if I weren't supposed to fulfil a certain task because no one else will." He turned to face the lieutenant. "Havoc, don't you see? As long as I breathe, I have yet something left undone. Letting myself die is like running away from my responsibilities, and I have never done that before to start now."
Havoc listened on, not sure what to make of Beregond's words. They had so much faith and yet... what if that faith was based on just wishful thinking? On a single thread of hope that might also snap if proved false?
Well, let it be. Because the day Beregond would give up, he would also die - quite literally. And Havoc didn't want that.
"So what's your next step now?" he asked.
"Central. That's where Edward and Alphonse are. They need to know the truth and there's my promise I have to keep. I've stayed here waiting for too long."
Havoc nodded his understanding. "Did you tell the Boss?"
"He's already given me permission to go," Beregond said. "And I plan on leaving as soon as possible."
At that moment, Havoc decided to point out something very important.
"You do know that the fastest way to reach Central is via /train?/"
"Do you delight in reminding me?" the Gondorian said glumly, his shoulders slumping forward and bowing his head. Havoc could have sworn that there was even a large, single drop of sweat near his friend's temple. "But if I went through a death experience, I don't suppose Ican complain about that anymore," Beregond reasoned in amuttering tone.
Havoc didn't speak for several moments before grinning broadly. "You won't have to either."
Beregond snapped his head up and locked his gaze on Havoc. "No?"
"No. Because I'll come with you," Havoc explained, still grinning. "Heck, someone has to make sure you don't get lost on the way."
Beregond's face lit up. But, at the next instant, the Gondorian froze in realisation and then raised his eyebrow in a questioning manner. "Is that the only reason you want to come with me?"
Havoc looked down, his hands seeming /very/interesting all of a sudden. "Well, it's a nice opportunity for me to see Sarah..." his voice trailed off, but his tease was quite evident.
"I knew it! Why did I ever set you up with her?" Beregond declared, throwing his arms in the air and plopping himself down on the couch next to the lieutenant as he feigned dismay.
At the next moment, however, he was laughing softly.
In a matter of moments, Bloch and Ross had handed the map to Ed. The young alchemist gave them a brief "Thanks!" and quickly unrolled the map on the table nearby. Everyone sat around, so they would be able to see what Ed was doing.
"I don't understand," Bloch said before he could help himself. "What are you looking for?"
Ed still kept looking at the map. "There are currently four alchemical laboratories within Central that work for the military. I passed though all of them after I got my State license, yet none of them looked like they were doing any research that was all that important. Nevertheless..."At that, Ed paused mid-sentence. He pointed at a square that was painted red.
"This one... what's that building?"
Ross looked at the map were Ed's index finger was now resting. "That building used to be Lab 5. It's currently an unused deserted building though. No one is allowed there, because there is adanger of collapsing."
"It's that one," Ed said at once.
"Huh? How did you come to that conclusion?" Bloch asked.
"There's a prison next to it," Ed answered. "To make the Philosopher's Stone, they need to use living humans as raw materials. That means they need a place where they're supplied with raw materials." Ed crossed his arms. "Now that I think about it, executed death-row inmates don't have their remains returned to their families. The public are told that they're put to death on the gallows within the prison, but... it seems more likely that, while still alive, they're secretly moved to the lab. Over there, they're used for experiments for the Philosopher's Stone. Makes sense, doesn't it?"
But Bloch and Ross had paled considerably in the meantime and weren't able to answer at once.
"The inmates... are the raw materials..."said the woman weakly.
Ed sighed, but he couldn't blame her really. He was feeling sick by just explaining.
"Just a minute," Bloch said then nervously. "Considering that this is a prison, what if that means the government has some involvement in this? Maybe... maybe we've just poked our necks too far into something too big!"
"Wait, let's not be hasty here, Sergeant," Ross said, finally regaining her composure. "That's the ultimate speculation you're suggesting. The State may have no connection to this. Whatever research organisation is behind it may have acted independently."
"That's true," Ed said, seeing Ross'point.
"So who's in charge of this research organisation?" asked Al then.
"That would be Brigadier General Basque Grand."
Ed and Al gasped and looked at Ross incredulously.
"Is something the matter?" she asked, not really understanding.
"That can't be right! Grand was murdered by Scar weeks ago!"
Now it was Ross and Bloch's turn to look shocked.
"Are you sure about this?" asked the woman.
"Sure hardly cuts it!" Ed answered. "He died in front of me!"
"But how is it possible that the research goes on?" Ross exclaimed. "The whole operation should have been terminated automatically with Grand's death!"
"Someone has taken his place then?" Bloch asked apprehensively.
Ross sighed. "Then it's inevitable that this will become complicated." She instantly arose, her eyes reflecting her determination. "Sergeant Bloch and I will look into this matter and inform you later. Until then, you two have to stay put."
"WHAT?!" both brothers exclaimed at once.
Now that was clearly suspicious to Ross and Bloch, so they looked hard at the boys.
"You were thinking of going there and investigating, weren't you?!" Ross asked, her voice austere.
The brothers flinched. "No, we weren't!" they said, shaking their heads emphatically.
"You'd better not! Even if they do experiments on the Philosopher's Stone there, a child should not do such dangerous things!" Ross said, still lecturing.
"Okay, we get it! We won't do anything dangerous like that!" Ed declared.
"We'll just have to wait for what you have to report," Al seconded politely.
Ross still regarded them with a raised eyebrow for a few moments. Deciding that she could trust them, she nodded slightly.
"All right. Now, you'll have to excuse the sergeant and me; we have to make some phone-calls." And with that, she beckoned Sergeant Bloch to follow her downstairs.
A minute passed... two... and then Ed walked up to the door and pricked up his ears to listen to any sound of footsteps. As soon as he decided there were none to be heard, he rushed to the window and opened it wide.
"Like hell we will," he declared under his breath. He pointed at the beds. "Al, grab those sheets! We're getting out of here!"
Beregond still lay on the couch, the blanket that usually covered him at nights now tossed aside. His gaze was fixed on nothing in particular, and he could easily hear Jean's gentle snoring from the inner room.
He smiled inwardly. He had appreciated the lieutenant's decision to stay in a wish to keep the Gondorian some company, but Havoc was clearly very tired. And then there was the matter that Havoc would have to wake up early in order to phone the office and ask the Colonel permission to leave for a few days and go to his home and pack his bags. So, Beregond made Alphonse's bed for him in order to get as much rest as possible. They didn't have to worry about catching an early train; those things were fast, no matter how much the Gondorian hated to admit it. If they took the express at 11 o'clock in the morning, they would be in Central in about twelve hours.
And yet Beregond still couldn't sleep. Uncomfortable thoughts had entered his mind and there was nothing he could do to get rid of them - thoughts concerning the boys. Beregond was almost certain that Edward and Alphonse had found out what it took to create the Philosopher's stone. Their depressive mood Sarah had described to him over the phone spoke only too clearly for that.
How did they cope with it?/Beregond kept thinking. Did /they cope with it? Now, more than ever, Beregond wished whole-heartedly that he were with them. He would have tried to help somehow.
And keep them from doing anything stupid, he added in his mind. Good alchemists or not, prodigies or not, they were still young, and they were driven by a desperate goal.
He turned on his side and looked out the window once more. He could still see some stars, even though a few clouds veiled most of the sky.
Please let them be safe till I get to Central...
I have so much to tell them.
Using the cloak of night as cover, Ed and Al hurried through the streets, making sure they wouldn't be noticed by anyone. Finally, they reached the building they both knew could only be Lab 5.
Ed got ready to rush at the entrance, but Al stopped him and dragged him on the side-wall. Deciding to be cautious this time, Ed looked around the corner and saw what alarmed his little brother.
"A guard standing in front of an'unused' building, huh?" he muttered. Indeed, he could now see the armed soldier's silhouette quite clearly.
"Suspicious, isn't it?" whispered Al. "The question is, how do we get in now?"
"Make ourselves an entrance?" Ed whispered back with a shrug.
But Alphonse shook his head at once. "The guard will spot us from the light of the transmutation reaction."
"Good point," Ed said. "Then that only leaves..." His gaze locked at the top of the wall.
Al understood. Interlacing his fingers so that his hands formed a convenient step, he nodded to Ed to go for it. The moment Ed placed a foot on the hands, Al catapulted him upwards with enough force so that his brother would land on the top of the wall, next to the barbed wire.
Not wanting to admit that there were times like those he was glad he had automail, Ed tore the barbed wire off its place and made a long enough 'rope' for Alphonse so that he could climb up also. Seeing that the wire was strong enough to hold his brother's weight, Edward took a dive on the other side of the wall and landed with a light thudding sound on the ground.
He cursed under his breath when he saw the inner entrance; for there were large boards and chains on it, sealing it shut also.
"Damn it... Now what?"
Just then, his gaze drifted to another, smaller opening on the wall. It was an air duct.
He signalled to Al to help him up. Al did just that and, once within reach, Ed pulled the duct open in order to look inside.
"Looks like it goes all the way to the end," he said thoughtfully. He measured the size of the opening for a moment before he pulled himself upwards. "Al, wait over here."
Al tensed. "Are you going to be okay by yourself?" he asked worriedly.
"It's not as much as being okay. Your huge body isn't going to be able to get in through here," Ed reasoned.
That made Al stomp his leg in a pouting manner. "It's not like I wanted to be this big!"
Ed froze at those words and bit his lower lip. "Al..."
The suit of armour looked at Ed in acurious manner. "Yeah, Brother?"
Ed couldn't help it, he swallowed hard."There's this thing, see... something I've been meaning to tell you..."
Al's flickers of eyes grew bigger in surprise. "Now?! Brother, we don't have time for this!"
Ed didn't speak for several moments. In the end, he shook his head.
"Okay, you're right. We'll talk about it later." And with that, he hoisted himself inside the air duct. "I'll be back in a few!" he added, his voice echoing mildly inside the vent.
Within seconds, he was gone.
The room was quiet and dark. In fact, the only light that could be seen was coming from the street lamps outside and, naturally, it still wasn't enough to illuminate much.
Nevertheless, the shadow lurking inside was able to wander about easily. It paced up and down the room, able to avoid whatever debris was laid in its path in a habitual ease; its eyes glimmered eerily as they reflected the little light.
The shadow stopped on his tracks and turned at the sound of the voice. "What is it, 66?" it asked, annoyed.
"We've got some rare guests!" the voice said again, a small chuckling sound echoing throughout the room.
That caught the shadow's attention.
"Really? Do these ones look like they will provide some sort of entertainment?"
"I'm not expecting much," the other answered. "Two guys; a shorty and a piggy freak in armour."
"'Freak?" the first shadow echoed sceptically. "Of all the people, you are saying that?"
There was no answer but a cackling sound that resembled laughter.
"Tell you what: I'll let you take the shorty..."
Suddenly, the blade of a butcher knife glistened threateningly.
"... and I'm gonna mince up that piggy!"
Let's see... Fullmetal must be somewhere about here.
At that moment, he caught sight of the name of the hotel. That was the place. Moving cautiously, he approached the ground floor window and dared a peek inside.
Two soldiers. It will be easy bypassing them.
Without going inside, Scar walked to the side of the wall in an attempt to locate the brothers' room.
Though he got injured and had not even fully recovered, he had no intention of abandoning his plan on revenge that easily. The alchemists had to be destroyed. So, the moment that he was strong enough and using the slum as his haunt, Scar started with his hunt again. It was easy for him to circulate undetected - it was what had helped him survive during the Ishbal Massacre in the first place.
And then, he accidentally heard news of a young alchemist being in Central with a metallic giant for company... and he saw his chance.
/This would be quite gratifying./The Elric boy had lived long enough.
He looked up and saw a window on the first floor wide open, but it wasn't that that made him stop on his tracks in surprise.
It was the bed-sheets that were forming an improvised rope.
Unsure what to make of it, Scar tugged on the 'rope' a couple of times, making sure that it was tied securely, and then hoisted himself upwards to the room.
Empty. Well, well, what are you up to, Fullmetal?
Pricking his ears so that he detected any sound outside the room, he started looking around in the hopes of finding any clues as to his young prey's whereabouts.
He didn't have to look far enough. Amap was still rolled open on the table. And a pin was nailed on a red square on the map.