Ed and Al are still in the Lab 5, trying to find the answers they seek. It's not easy.
"We've been had!"
1st Lieutenant Ross quickly rushed inside, looking at the empty room; then outside the window.
"No wonder it was so quiet," she muttered under her breath. She slapped the windowsill in frustration. "Damn it!Why can't they think things from our standpoint?"
"Oh, man..." Bloch said mournfully."Major Armstrong is going to scream at us for not doing our job!"
Ross didn't answer to that. She turned around and hurried outside instead.
"Come on! We've got to tell the others!"
The phone rang once, twice... until finally, with a small groan and not even bothering to open his eyes, Maes rolled over on his bed to get closer to the nightstand and picked up the telephone.
"Hughes," he said sleepily. He sighed when he heard a familiar voice. "Major, do you have any idea what time it is?"
At the next moment, he had bolted upright and grabbed his glasses, putting them on in a fervent rush.
"I'm coming right now! Assemble arescue team as fast as you can!" And with that, he hung up and got himself out of bed.
"Honey?" Gracia said, turning to catch sight of her husband. Her sleepiness hardly hid her concern as she watched him putting on his uniform in such a rush. "What's happened?"
"Trouble at the office, I'm afraid,"Maes answered. Giving the final touches to his uniform and buttoning his military jacket, he walked up to his wife and pressed his lips gently on her forehead. "This shouldn't take too long. Go back to sleep, Gracia."
And with that, he rushed out - being extra careful not to disturb Elysia's sleep as he passed by her room.
There's this thing, see... something I've been meaning to tell you...
Alphonse couldn't help but replay those words within his mind, even though he knew he should be paying attention to the fight at hand. What was Ed trying to say? And, more importantly, why now?
And then other words echoed treacherously, triggering a kind of fear he hadn't realised resided within him.
What if you are a fake? An imitation?
The clank of the butcher knife brought him back to reality, and Al was surprised to see that Barry had managed a cut on his upper arm.
"Well, what's wrong? Why did you suddenly slow down?" Barry asked, only to laugh in a mocking manner at the next moment. "Your soul might have been artificially created, but it doesn't look perfect to me. You're trembling at the idea that I might be right, is that it?"
Al caught himself faltering. "Sh... SHUT UP!"
But Barry attacked again, this time bringing himself so close to Al that, if they had noses, they would be touching.
"Just accept it. You'll feel better!"
Al froze. That was a mistake that cost him, because Barry managed to punch him on his torso. Such was the other armour's force that Al knelt down in shock.
It was the chance that Barry had been waiting for.
"Now you're wide-open, piggy!" he laughed, raising the butcher knife for the kill.
All Al could do was watch his doom fast approaching... and then pieces of armour flying at every direction.
However, they weren't his own. Because it was at that moment that a hand Al had hoped he'd never see again had grabbed Barry's arm and made it explode. Al turned, and there before him was the owner of the hand himself.
Barry arose from where he had fallen, his right arm now missing, and looked at the newcomer incredulously. "And who are you supposed to be?" he demanded.
Scar regarded Barry coldly. "I'm looking for the Fullmetal Alchemist. You're standing in the way."
"And you had to butt in just when I was having fun!" Barry retorted in annoyance. "What was that guard doing--?"
He didn't continue, because he caught sight of the body close to Scar. He chuckled sheepishly.
"Oh, right... Oops..."
He didn't have the chance to say much else, for Al managed a kick that sent him flying three feet away.
Barry arose again with an angry grunt, using his remaining arm as a support. "It's not fair, two against one, you know!" he declared. "But, then again... I always loved cheating!" And with that, he pulled with his left arm a lever that was on the wall close to him.
"What did you do?" Al exclaimed, taken aback by that action.
"Just a little precaution to make sure no one remains to intrude the place!" Barry said, cackling. "Well... time to make a straight getaway! I'd run fast, if I were you!"
And following his own advice, the skull-headed armour sprinted away, leaving his opponents behind.
Al remained rooted on the spot, not really understanding what was happening; that is, until Scar let out a growl of dismay.
"He set off a time-bomb! Get down!"
Al gasped in realisation, but he didn't do as he was told. He grabbed a thin piece of metal and started drawing on the ground fast.
The explosion was deafening and the ground shook violently, making armour and man fall down. Nevertheless, the barrier Alphonse had created on time to protect himself and Scar held firm, and so they didn't get a scratch.
Almost. Scar pushed himself into asitting position and cradled his right arm, wincing.
Al noticed this, and he couldn't help but feel concerned.
"What happened to your arm?"
"It never fully healed, thanks to your escort," Scar answered acidly.
That made Al forget all feelings of worry and he glared at the Ishbalan.
"You mean you never gave it the chance to heal. You still want to go after Brother, don't you?"
"Every State Alchemist deserves death,"was all that Scar said. He stood up. "Is your brother inside?"
Suspecting what Scar had in mind, Al planted himself in front of the Ishbalan. "You're not going in!"
Scar clenched his hands into fists."Out of my way, young Elric; or I will kill you."
"I've just saved your life!"
"And that's why I haven't killed you /yet/,"Scar answered.
"Then do it now!" Al cried, stretching his arms and blocking the way. "I won't let you in so you can just kill my brother! You, of all people, should know that!"
Scar let out a cry and raised his arm. It was now glowing red and in a position to grab the suit of armour in aheartbeat, but Alphonse hardly flinched. In fact, neither of the adversaries moved, resembling statues of stone and contesting their wills against one another.
Finally, Scar relented. He lowered his arm.
"I've no quarrel with you."
Al relaxed, but only a little. He was still dealing with a murderer, after all.
"And you shouldn't have with Brother,"he said. "He just wants to help a friend and atone for his... our sin;" he added belatedly. He winced inwardly when he realised that he didn't say that with the conviction he once had.
Scar regarded Al for several moments, and then turned to look at the building, now half-destroyed and crumbling. "How is he to do that? What does he hope to find in there?"
Al didn't really want to answer that question, but he understood that he didn't have any other choice.
"If I let you in and show you, will you promise not to kill Brother?"
Scar didn't speak for a few moments; but then he nodded. "I promise."
Al let out a sigh of relief. "Good." He walked up to the entrance, which was now wide open because of the explosion, and then vanished in the darkness of the corridors with Scar close behind.
The first thing he noticed was a big, thunderous noise. The second was an inexplicable light that almost blinded him, so he covered his eyes with his arm.
Wait a minute... he could move?
He brought his other hand forward, registering the motion and deciding that this was real, no mere trick of his mind. And when he took two steps forward to bring himself out in the openness of the room he was currently in, he could only grin maniacally.
"Free at last. So you decided you need me again, old hag?"
He looked around, but what he was looking for was nowhere in sight.
That was odd. How did he manage to get out of the seal she used to imprison him?
He looked back at the array on the floor. Though beautifully drawn, there was now a large crack marring it.
"Ah... that explains it."
That, of course, meant only one thing.
She had nothing to do with this. Which meant that she probably wouldn't realise he was free till he was long gone from this hole she'd put him in. Long gone from her and with the chance to finally do everything he wanted; to get everything he desired; and finally satisfy his unquenchable greed.
After all, one had to act on his name, right?
"Free!" Greed exclaimed again, even more happily this time.
Then other voices made him look around again. Voices that begged to be let out also. Voices that were filled with pain and torment. Even inhuman snarls and growling.
So he wasn't alone in this room.
Well, time for a little chaos. With that in mind, his violet eyes darted to a switch on the wall beside him, and then pressed it. Greed's maniacal grin only broadened as the doors opened with a heavy clank, releasing all kinds of people... and not.
"Help us!" a woman's voice was heard beside him. Her cage wouldn't budge open.
Greed just smirked and lifted his hand, which had become black and claw-like in an instant. He swiped swiftly and so cut the door in two.
The woman came out, regarding Greed cautiously. She wasn't very tall, but her body reflected the years of training she might have spent. Two other men followed her: a tall, muscular bull of aman, and a smaller one, who kept cocking his head very much like a dog.
"Thank you. We owe you," she said.
Greed nodded, resting a hand on his hip. "That you do." He turned to other chimeras as well. "You! All of you! I've set you free and now the life you will lead depends on you alone. You can stay here... or get out and play in hell with me!"
Everyone within the room looked at the homunculus, clearly trying to decide what they should do. Then, one by one, they all said:
"We'll follow you."
Maes went up the stairs two by two, hurrying to find Armstrong and the rescue team as quickly as possible. All the while he kept wondering what were Ed and Al thinking when they decided to venture in such dangerous ground on their own, and he was determined to give them quite the lecture for it when he found them.
It was then that he screeched on his tracks, paling considerably. After all, there was no mistaking that proud countenance of the ultimate higher-ranking officer's form, or indeed the female presence beside him.
It was the Führer himself, now walking down the hallway, whereas he was escorted by Colonel Juliet Douglas, his personal secretary.
/Oh no/, Maes thought, for Bradley couldn't become involved in this. If that man found out that the Fullmetal Alchemist was snooping around a former research laboratory without anyone's authority, he could have Ed stripped off his rank and title in a heartbeat!
Maybe Maes could walk by without being noticed...
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes? May I ask what you're doing here at this time of night?" King Bradley said, his only eye looking at him sternly.
Well, there was nothing for it now.
"Sir!" Maes said, saluting at once."There has been news of an officer of the military in danger and actions have been taken for his rescue."
"Indeed?" Bradley said, mildly surprised. "May I ask the name of that officer?"
"Major Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist."
King Bradley's eye widened just slightly. "This is quite a grievous matter. Where was he last seen?"
"At his hotel room, Sir," Maes answered. "And we have reasons to believe that he's in an abandoned research facility by the name of Lab 5."
"I see," Bradley replied. Hardly hindered by the patch that covered his missing left eye, he turned to the secretary. "My meeting with the other officers will have to be postponed, Miss Douglas. I will be with Lieutenant Colonel on his rescue mission."
"Sir, let me call your escorts,"Colonel Douglas suggested, her green eyes unreadable.
"That won't be necessary," Bradley answered, waving his hand dismissively. "In fact," and at that he turned to Maes, "I will allow the Lieutenant Colonel to lead. I'm sure he will do well."
Maes drew his shoulder-blades back and saluted. "Thank you for your trust in me, Sir!"
"Noted," was all that Bradley said."Now... if you'll excuse me, Miss Douglas."
And he followed Maes down the hallway.
Neither men saw the Colonel watching them go, a curious expression on her face; then taking out of the folder she had been holding this whole time a file with data on her own assignment. A strange smile crossing her features, she walked to her office to make a couple of helpful phone-calls.
After all, if Dante wanted answers, she would make sure she got them.
Al looked around once again, uncertain. It turned out that there was a reason his brother had been taking so long to come back. The place was like a labyrinth, and there were more than enough times that the suit of armour felt like he was heading the wrong way.
Al turned, and he was dismayed to see that he had ended up to another blocked hallway. He took out from a small crack in his gauntlet a piece of chalk and got ready to draw an array to do away with the obstacle, but Scar proved faster. With his arm aglow, he destroyed the debris in a matter of seconds.
"It saves us time," was all that Scar said before moving onward. "Now... where did you say your brother would be?"
"Where they make the Philosopher's Stone," Al answered. "But I'm not sure where that is exactly."
Scar made a grim expression. "The brightest room, no doubt; they need power if they're to do such foul deeds." He turned to Al. "I'm surprised though. Why is it just the two of you here?"
Al stopped on his tracks. "What do you mean by that?"
Scar chuckled, although there was no mirth in that sound. "He was nowhere with you, and you never said that he was with your brother either. So where is he?"
Al clenched his hands into fists. "Not that it's any of your business, but he's in East City. He couldn't follow us after the damage you did to him."
"I won't lie by saying I'm sorry," Scar said and resumed walking. "I should have killed him while I had the chance."
"If you had done that, then you would have killed someone just as innocent as my Brother."
"What is so innocent about a man of God who betrays his people and serves Ishbal's enemies?"
Al froze, dumbfounded. "What? You think Beregond is an Ishbalan?"
Scar scoffed. "I suppose you wouldn't know. His appearance is certainly deceiving. But the blood of Ishbal flows in his veins; he carries proudly a name out of the old language of Ishbal - a language that only priests are allowed to use anymore." He locked his gaze sternly on Al. "He's an Ishbalan; and, worst of all, an Ishbalan of noble lineage."
If Al's metal jaw were detachable, it would have dropped on the floor by now. First they question his own memories, now this?! Was he supposed to doubt everything?
But then other memories got triggered.
"I was born in a world much different than yours. A world filled with kings ruling their people justly and knights to protect those very people and their lords. The name of that world can be translated in your language as Middle-earth."
"Now everything falls into place!"Ed declared.
"It does?!" Beregond exclaimed.
"Of course!" said Al. "The odd-looking armour, the strange language..."
"The fact no one's heard of you, the weird name..." piped in Ed.
"Your fascination and fear over machines..."
"Your... unique... approach on things..."Ed shuddered.
"I have apologised for that knife more than once," mumbled Beregond, his face becoming crimson with embarrassment.
"Not to mention your ignorance on the geography, history and society of this world," continued Ed, not taking notice of what Beregond said.
"In other words," Al said, "you couldn't be anything else but from another world."
"Or a crack-pot," Beregond completed half-heartedly.
"A really crazy person never admits that," said Al, laughing.
No, there were no doubts about this. Beregond was who he claimed to be.
"You're wrong!" he cried at Scar. "I don't know where you got that idea about the name, but Beregond's not an Ishbalan! He's a...!"
He never finished his sentence. At that moment, a side-door opened and a dark-clothed woman walked in, followed doggedly by another, man-like creature.
Scar bared his teeth in hatred. "You..."
Gluttony beamed at once. "The Ishbalan I didn't get to eat!"
Al gasped and turned to Scar. "You know them?"
Lust just smirked. "What do you know?We were trying to find something else, only to end up with something just as good." She gently patted Gluttony's shoulder. "Go get your Ishbalan."
Gluttony gave a broad grin and lunged with his jaws open...
...only to close them around a metal gauntlet.
"RUN!" Al shouted, using his other arm to push Gluttony away.
"I have never run to start now!" Scar said, arm aglow.
"Well, you'd better start, because Ican't hold him!"
"You'd better listen to his advice, Ishbalan," Lust said, her soft voice sounding now threateningly. Her claws extended for the kill.
It took all of Scar's speed to dodge them, but he was clearly not willing to give up without a fight. He rushed forward again.
He never had the chance to do anything. Lust used her claws to cut a large part of the wall and pushed it on Scar, burying him there.
Al gasped, horrified. He tried to run towards Scar, but Gluttony's arms seized him from his sides, holding him in place. Al tried to fight back, he really did. However, part of his arm was already gone and he could only kick that hard as Gluttony kept looking at him in a puzzled manner.
"What should I do with this one, Lust?"
The female homunculus smiled. "Let's re-unite him with his brother, shall we? But first make sure he won't do anything funny. He's an alchemist, after all."
Gluttony stared for a couple of moments... then his lips curved again into a maniacal grin.
Ed still walked on, carrying the elder Slicer brother in his flesh hand. He hated to admit it, but he wouldn't have been able to find his way around without the help of that helmet. The place had so many traps and corridors and aisles that thinking about it just made his head hurt.
On the other hand, Ed's head hurt anyway after being knocked about like that...
"Which way do we go now?" Ed asked, looking about.
"Turn left and then straight."
"All right..." Ed moved forward.
As he continued on, however, he felt the hair on the back of his head standing on end. Edward tried to catch aglimpse behind him from the corner of his eye, but he couldn't see anything.
Even so, why did he have that terrible sensation that he was being watched?
There was only one way to find out.
"I know you're there," he declared, turning to look at the dark corridors he had left behind just a couple of minutes ago. "So why don't you grow some backbone and show yourself?"
There was silence for a few moments. Then a hoarse voice reached Ed's ears.
"I really do hate children with good instincts, like you." A form within the shadows moved and stepped out to look at the young Alchemist. "It's been a very long time, hasn't it, Edward?Almost four years."
Ed froze, hardly believing his eyes; for he knew who was before him.
It was Nina's father. It was the very man who had raised the girl that had won a place in Ed's heart in his early years as a State Alchemist, seeing in her the baby sister he never had.
He was also the very same man who had stolen her life.
"This is where we're going to stay?!" a twelve year-old Edward exclaimed, seeing the house of the alchemist who would provide him and his brother accommodations till the qualification exam. "It's huge!"
"You two! Are you going to stay there, gawking?" cried a much younger, Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang.
At that sharp command, Ed and Al scampered ahead and entered the yard. Little did Ed know that his presence would be the source of delight for a hundred and fifty-pound shepherd dog, who decided to show his affection by jumping on him and crushing the young State Alchemist-to-be on the ground.
"Bad Alexander!" scolded the four-year-old girl that came out running when she saw what her dog was up to.
But Alexander just panted happily, not minding the flailing that was going on underneath him.
"Sorry about that!" a man said, coming out as well and seeing Ed on the ground. "I should have tied him up!"
"Just don't say roll over!" Ed blew his bangs away from his eyes and looked up. "Are you Tucker?"
Tucker nodded and helped Ed up."Well, come in. I should warn you, the house is pretty messy. It has been since my wife left."
Ed and Al just waved their hands dismissively in a gesture that it was perfectly fine. They followed Shou Tucker in the house, taking in the size of the place and the amount of books inside it. Suddenly, Al felt like someone was looking at him intently. When he turned, he was surprised to see that it was the little girl, who was regarding him closely.
"Big brother has weird clothes,"Nina noted, her blue eyes widened in surprise. "Aren't they heavy?"
Al's eyes sparkled in amusement at this. "They are, but it doesn't bother me. I'm strong."
Nina just giggled.
"Small Big Brother, there's snow!Let's play!"
Ed looked at the winter-veiled surroundings and then at Nina, who was already playing with Al and Alexander.
He didn't hesitate once. He jumped on the snow and started chasing after them. None knew for how long their games lasted, nor did they care. When exhaustion finally caught up with them, all of them just lay on the snow, looking at the grey sky above and panting softly.
"Big brothers..." Nina said, "I wish that after you take the test you could stay here forever."
Neither Al nor Ed knew what to say to that. They wanted to tell Nina that they would have to look for a house of their own soon, but... how could they?
So they went for the next best option; they didn't say anything. Ed just sat up and started drawing on the snow.
"What are you doing?" Nina asked curiously.
"It makes wishes come true," Ed answered. "Watch." And at that moment, he put the array he had drawn into work. Once the light of the transmutation reaction had died down, flowers had sprouted were there was snow before. As Nina clapped her hands enthusiastically, he made a garland out of them and placed them on her head.
"Small Big Brother is amazing!" she cried.
Ed could only smile.
"Mr. Tucker? Are you in?" Ed cried, entering the house.
There was no answer, which was odd. The lights were on, so someone had to be in.
"Brother just got his results from the qualification exam!" Al cried, too.
There was again no answer.
"Mr. Tucker! Nina!" Ed cried once more.
And finally, Shou Tucker answered."At the basement! Come in!"
Ed and Al complied, though apprehensively. They didn't care much for that place, since it was filled with experiments on live and dead chimeras - Tucker's objects of research. It was true some of them proved to be quite the scientific interest, but even so, the sight of them was still unnerving.
Ed blinked to adjust his eyes in the light of the semi-dark room. Tucker was standing at the centre of the basement, arrays upon arrays surrounding him. The man was smiling, but Ed couldn't possibly guess what for.
"Look!" Tucker announced. "A perfect chimera that speaks and understands human words. Just in time for my assessment exam, too!"
Ed and Al gasped. It was then that they saw what it was that was standing next to the older alchemist. A yellowish four-legged creature, eyes shining brilliantly and a long brown mane extending from the crown of its head till the tip of its tail; it resembled a small lion.
"Watch this!" Tucker said, He faced the chimera, pointing at Ed. "This is Edward. Say it."
The chimera looked at Tucker for amoment and then opened its mouth. The sounds it made were thick and brusque, but they were speech nonetheless.
"That's it! Good job!" Tucker said, patting the chimera on the head.
"Good... job..." the chimera echoed. Suddenly, it locked its gaze on the boy. "Ed... brother..."
Ed frowned at this. And he certainly wasn't comforted when the chimera turned to Al.
"Let's... play..." it said in a pleading manner.
Al tensed, and Ed decided that something was very wrong. He stepped forward, regarding the chimera closely.
It just looked back at him, recognition reflected in its eyes.
It was enough.
"Tucker," Ed ground out, fists shaking as he stood up. "When did you say your wife left?"
Tucker's smile wavered. "Two years ago."
"And when did you create the first chimera that spoke words?"
"Two years ago. Why?"
Only then did Ed face Tucker. Anger flashed in his eyes, and his automail fist got ready to place the first punch.
"WHERE ARE NINA AND ALEXANDER?"
The only answer he got was: "I hate kids with good instincts like you."
"Shou Tucker is placed under arrest. As for the chimera, it will come with us," Brigadier General Grand said and turned on his heel to get into his car. In a matter of moments, he was gone, and the truck that carried Nina was already following.
"No! I won't let you take her!" Ed shouted. He clapped his hands, aware by now that he could perform alchemy in that way also, and made the ground shake long enough for the truck to skid out of its course. As the truck crashed on its side, the doors opened and Nina came out... but ran away from Ed and Al.
"Nina, wait!" Ed cursed himself mentally. He shouldn't have done that, not in the unstable mental state the chimera was in. And then, horrified, he saw her taking a sharp turn on the left and out of sight. "Nina!"
Then there was red light that sent achill to his heart and made him run faster. By the time he had arrived, however, there was nothing but a mass of blood on the wall.
"It looks like... she was decomposed,"Al noted softly, now standing beside his brother.
But Ed didn't listen anymore. He never noticed the great thunderclaps that echoed from a distance, he didn't pay heed to the first drops of rain. He just walked up to the ugly stain on the wall, his eyes stubbornly locked on the ground as he couldn't bear to look at it. Then he raised a hand and touched the wall, somehow hoping for something which logic dictated would never happen.
He couldn't save her...
"I'm sorry, Nina."
And with those soft, broken words, Ed's tears mingled with the tears of heaven.
"You should have been executed long ago," Ed said through gritted teeth. "So what are you doing here, alive?"
"I was spared in order to continue with my work," Tucker answered.
Ed snorted. "Your work... It should have been you who died, not Nina." He looked at Tucker from head to toe. "But Isuppose there is such a thing as poetic justice after all."
Indeed, the corrupt alchemist looked nothing like a human being anymore. His front resembled a grotesque bear, whereas the said grotesque bear's back parts were nothing but the man's upper body and arms. And the only perspective of the world that Tucker could have was upside down - his head was forming the back of the bear's head.
"You don't understand, Edward," Tucker said, his voice always nothing more than a whisper. "It's because of Nina that I'm here. While not working on research concerning Lab 5, I have been allowed to work on a way to bring her back."
"Is that supposed to make me cheer for you?" Ed said in a snarl.
"You should. I've almost succeeded."
Ed stared at Tucker incredulously. Tucker, however, just made a motion with his claw-like hand in a beckoning manner and led Ed to the next room.
Ed looked around him, his surroundings making his heart twist violently. There was a huge transmutation circle on the floor, and several smaller ones on the walls. Arrays just like the one on...
Ed swallowed hard.
"Is this... Is this array what is used to create the Philosopher's Stone?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," Tucker answered.
Ed shivered involuntarily.
"And here is Nina."
And with an abrupt movement, Tucker pulled at a curtain near him, to reveal chimeras upon chimeras in large tubes. Some of them where too inhuman to be recognisable, but some of them were just like...
Ed felt like throwing up as he saw those familiar blue eyes, so empty of life. "You're sick," he told Tucker.
"No. I'm a man with vision. The body is complete, and all I need is the perfect philosopher's stone to put Nina's soul in there. This is where you come in the picture, Edward."
It was then that a deafening sound echoed throughout the room. When Ed turned at the sound, he was confused to see flocks of people being ushered in the same hall.
They were handcuffed.
"Ah... the sound of a wall collapsing from the use of an explosive is so pleasant as it resonates throughout the depths of the body."
"Stop babbling, Kimblee," said another voice, much more gruff. The greasy-haired, sickly thin man was pushed forward, his shackles preventing him from moving freely, and then placed in the cage nearby.
But Ed's eyes widened to see who it was that pushed the prisoner.
It was impossible, yet there he was...
Brigadier General Grand.