"Are you sure this is the one?" Brigadier General Connors asked; his stern gaze was locked on the closed door of the apartment before him.
"Yes, Sir," the soldier beside him answered. He sounded almost fearful.
"Good. You know what to do then,"Connors said again.
The soldier nodded and, after signalling to two more privates, they forced the door open. They certainly weren't subtle about it, for the clatter they made was enough to make a young woman look outside the corridor.
"What is going on?" she asked, bemused.
"Military business, ma'am," another soldier answered. "Please, go back to your apartment."
The woman complied, looking warily at the soldiers for a moment before complying. What she did next though was something that none of Connors' men, or even Connors' himself, would ever find out.
She phoned to East Headquarters and asked for a certain Colonel Roy Mustang.
"I see," Roy said, listening intently. "Are they still there? Yes... Very well. Thank you very much for your call." And with that, he hung up.
"Was it anyone from the others?" Riza asked. She was standing beside the man, handing him the papers that needed the Flame Alchemist's signature.
"No. Breda, Falman and Fuery have already called and reported about Connors' previous break-ins. This was Thornlace's neighbour."
Riza gave him another document. "It seems he hit the target after four trials," she remarked calmly.
"Yes," Roy said, taking the paper and reading it. "I've got to hand it to him, he was quicker than I had expected."
"Could it mean he has more clues on Sergeant Beregond's identity, Sir?"
"Maybe." Roy signed the paper in abored manner; his mind had drifted into more important matters. "That's not what's been bothering me."
"Think about it," Roy said. "Connors gets a phone call in the middle of the night and he gets ordered to take Syndow to Central. Now he somehow gets the authority to search all the medical examiners' offices? Someone is helping him, and that somebody isn't just anybody."
Riza looked at Roy with mild curiosity."Are you suspecting anyone from the brass, Sir?"
"They're the most likely suspects," Roy said, tapping his gloved fingers on the mahogany surface of his desk. "Only they can get such kind of permission from Bradley at such short notice. They're the only ones with enough influence for it."
The lieutenant nodded her understanding, her features reflecting her calmness. "Any idea who it could be, Sir?"
Roy sighed and shook his head. "None. But... if it comes down to facing one of them, then I won't hesitate." He turned to face Riza. "Are you with me?"
Riza returned the look Roy gave her with the most determined of expressions. "You're asking me that /now/, Sir?"
That was enough answer for Roy. With a small smile, he took another document that Riza handed to him and resumed work.
"Um... Mr. Hughes?"
"Yes?" the man asked. He, along with Winry, Sarah and Alice, was walking down the road to his house.
"What's this for?" Winry asked again, bemused. She was walking right beside Maes, holding a huge teddy bear; whereas Maes himself was carrying three large parcels.
"I'm glad you asked!" Maes declared, smiling broadly.
"And you are going to be /sorry/you asked," Sarah whispered confidentially to Winry, chuckling; the teasing tone in her voice was quite evident.
"It's my daughter's birthday today!"
"Here we go, Mum," Alice said, rolling melodramatically her eyes and then giggling.
Winry frowned slightly. "Coming to think of it... so is Ed's."
"Yeah, we'll have to get a present for him too," Maes said with a nod, before continuing talking about his daughter. "You know, she's going to be four, and it's going to be the first time she'll blow out her birthday candles on her own! Isn't that the most adorable thing you've ever heard?"
Winry winced slightly. "I think I begin to see your point, Mrs. Abbot," she whispered to Sarah.
"You'll get used to it eventually," the woman said, smiling. "And I have to admit he has every reason to brag; he's got a wonderful family. You'll see for yourself."
"I like Elysia. We always share our toys," Alice said, then pointed at the parcel her mother was holding. "I've picked that one for her myself."
"You certainly did," Sarah said, petting her daughter's head lovingly. "And I'm sure she'll love it."
"But I'm still feeling a bit bad," Winry said thoughtfully. "Like I will be imposing on them."
Sarah laughed a bit. "That's what Itold them when they offered their hospitality to me and Gracia nearly told me off. Trust me, they're very open-hearted people."
"Here we are!" Maes suddenly announced. He was standing in front of a small gate, which he had already opened. "Ladies first!"
Alice giggled at this and entered first, followed by Sarah who said: "Charming as always, Mr. Hughes"; and, lastly, came in Winry - and she was blushing profusely. Maes smiled broadly once again and closed the gate before he hurried to open the front door of his house.
It wasn't necessary. The door was already open, and two figures stepped out to the porch; a tall, graceful woman, and a very exuberant toddler.
"Daddy, welcome home!" the little girl cried out, her chubby little arms already reaching out for Maes.
"Elysia, I wanted to see you so much!"the man said, and wrapped his arms around his daughter's form, placing a kiss on the top of her head.
"Daddy, your beard is tickling me!" Elysia said, laughing.
Meanwhile Gracia welcomed Sarah and Alice, gladdened to see them again; then caught sight of Winry.
"And who's this? A relative of yours, Sarah?" she asked the black-haired woman.
It was Maes who answered. "Actually, this is Ed and Al's childhood friend, Winry. She was looking for a place to stay, so I brought her."
"Oh, that's so nice!" Gracia said. "I'm delighted to meet you, Winry."
"Likewise," the teen girl said, taking the hand Gracia offered her.
Elysia, obviously curious to see a new face, walked up to her and eyed her carefully.
Feeling suddenly very self-conscious, yet thinking that she had better talk to the little girl as well, Winry knelt down and asked with a smile: "Elysia, how old are you?"
Elysia was more than eager to answer the question.
"Thr..." Elysia stopped midway, when she noticed that Alice was gesturing 'No'.
Sarah placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Alice, you don't have to help her. She'll find it," she said gently.
Truly enough, Elysia quickly and proudly announced: "Four!"
"Aww... isn't that simply adorable?!" Maes declared, looking as though little hearts would start flying around his head again.
"Obsessive parent," Gracia and Sarah said at once; something that made them both giggle.
Winry laughed, too. However, it must have been obvious that she was uptight, because Gracia asked her to relax.
"It will take more than that, Gracia,"Sarah said, shaking her head. "Winry feels as though she will be intruding if she stays here."
Gracia raised an eyebrow and looked at Sarah's direction. "Like someone else I know," she said teasingly. "Did you tell her what I told you?"
"I didn't think it was necessary,"Sarah said. "I'll leave it to your capable hands."
"Good!" Gracia said, laughing. She then faced Winry, who was looking curiously at both women. "Winry, dear, it's perfectly fine. Besides, isn't it more fun to enjoy the festivities with everyone?" And with that, she took Elysia in her arms and opened the door even wider.
"Welcome to our home!"
Winry's face instantly lit up, and she smiled broadly.
Taking one slow and deliberate step at a time, Connors moved towards Dr. Thornlace's office. He cast a brief glance at his men, who were still searching the place, or rather, ransacking it; then looked inside the by now wide-open drawers of the desk.
He had to admit that, at first glance, there didn't seem to be anything of interest in there. However, on closer inspection, Connors noticed that there were several files in them with numbers on them.
Case files, perhaps, Connors thought. He turned to the soldier that was closest to him. "Private, who searched this desk?"
"I did, Sir," the private answered.
"And did you look at those files?"
"Yes, Sir. There was nothing like what you've been looking for."
"I see. Thank you, Private."
The private saluted and resumed with his work. As for Connors, he started pacing up and down the room; not only because he wished to keep an eye on his subordinates, but also because he was becoming impatient. After all, he had hoped that he would have been able to come up with some results by now, and yet there was nothing.
That proved frustrating, considering that he thought his train of logic had been sound.
So... what was he missing?
"Hey, watch it!" another private cried out at that moment, but it was too late. A bookcase that had been knocked about too roughly had already tipped over and landed on the ground with a deafening sound.
"Now you've done it," Connors said coolly, looking at the two soldiers responsible for the mess. "Just clean it up, will you?"
"Yes, Sir," the two soldiers said, quite flustered. They immediately placed the piece of furniture back to its original place, and then reached for the books in order to put them on the shelves. They were in such a hurry that they didn't care whether they were placing the books in the exact shelf they were before.
Not to mention, they treated the books quite poorly in their haste, even dropping them back to the floor.
One of the two soldiers swore under his breath as he, truly enough, accidentally dropped a small black journal-like book, thus making several loose pages that were within it spill out. He reached for them so that he would put them back in order, no matter how sloppy the result would be.
Connors, however, stopped him. For when he also knelt down to pick up one of the papers that had landed so unceremoniously beside his military boots, he saw something that astounded him.
Jamie Kinkard, the soldier who was behind the desk at the dorms' quarters, didn't have to look up to understand that someone very heavily-built was coming her way; that someone had aparticularly loud, weighty gait that almost shook the ground.
Not to mention that that someone had avery, very large shadow, which was now covering the said soldier and making it almost seem as though there was no daylight filling the room. Looking up, Kinkard settled with a small, mental /Ah... why am I not surprised?/, and then stood up to salute Major Armstrong.
"At ease, soldier," Armstrong said cordially, waving his hand dismissively. He was smiling, and his sparkly aura seemed brighter than ever.
"Sir," Kinkard said, lowering her hand and relaxing her stance. "How can I help you?"
"I was told that you had a couple of new arrivals from East Headquarters and I wanted to see them," Armstrong explained. "They're Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc and Sergeant Beregond."
Kinkard actually hesitated. "Um... Sir, Ididn't place anyone with such names in the dorms."
Armstrong's cheery countenance wavered."Well, they should be here. They left East City yesterday morning."
"Let me check the archives, Sir,"Kinkard suggested, reaching nervously for a large notebook which was sprawled open beside her. She turned the pages slowly, her eyes scanning carefully on the names registered there, until finally she looked up at Armstrong again and said: "They're not registered, Sir."
"That can't be right," Armstrong insisted.
"Nevertheless, their names aren't written, Sir."
Armstrong didn't speak again for some time, clearly contemplating matters. "Were you here at all hours today?"
"What about last night?"
"No, Sir. Private Greg Sommers was on duty."
"Is he here?"
"Not at present, no. He will relieve me at 7 o' clock, Sir."
Armstrong frowned instantly, but the soldier then had another idea.
"Do you want me to call him, Sir? He should be at his quarters."
Kinkard nodded at once and reached for the phone, placing the receiver in her ear and dialling the numbers swiftly. She waited patiently for a few moments, and then she pricked up her ears as she got an answer.
"Sommers? It's me, Kinkard. Yes, I know you were resting, but this couldn't wait. Did you receive two new arrivals from East City, by any chance? Their names were..." Kinkard stopped as she listened for a moment at the voice at the other side of the line. "I see. Right. Thanks." And with that, she hung up.
"So what was his answer?" Armstrong asked.
"Negative, Sir. In fact, no new arrivals checked in yesterday."
Armstrong crossed his arms, which told Kinkard that the major was dismayed to hear such news, even worried. Then, without so much as a second thought, he turned around and headed for the door.
"I need to confirm something," was all that Armstrong said before vanishing out of the door and out of sight.
"Yes, what can I do for you?" asked the cashier, looking curiously at Armstrong.
Armstrong, however, didn't arrive at Central's train station to exchange courtesies; so, he got straight to the point.
"I'm looking for these two gentlemen,"he said, taking out from his military jacket two pieces of paper. One of them had a quick sketch of Havoc, whereas the other was a sketch of Beregond.
The cashier looked at the sketches carefully. He didn't speak for several moments, something that made the burly man frown. After all, Armstrong's sketching talent was passed down to him generations upon generations. So it couldn't possibly be that difficult to recognise the two men.
"I haven't seen them personally," the cashier said finally, handing back the pictures. "But I do remember one of the security personnel talking about two people whose descriptions fit the sketches. You should go talk to him."
"Where can I find him?" Armstrong asked.
"Right next to the entrance of gate No. 2."
"Thank you." And with that, Armstrong turned on his heel and left. It didn't take him long to find the man he was looking for.
"Oh yeah, I remember them. It would be hard not to," the security man said, looking at the pictures. He pointed at the picture of Beregond. "I especially remember this guy. Really weird, that one."
"Well, the one moment he was walking perfectly fine, and the next he dropped everything and started running wildly, shouting the whole time 'Military! Out of the way!' The other guy had to drop everything and start running after him."
"Didn't you try to stop them?" Armstrong asked again, raising an eyebrow.
"Of course I did. But I last saw them just outside of the train station where they blended in with the crowd," the security man said. "Their belongings were picked up and placed on the 'Lost and Found' section over there."
"I see. I'll go and retrieve them,"Armstrong said thoughtfully. He took the pictures from the security man's hand and went to get Havoc and Beregond's belongings, one ominous thought after another cramping into his mind.
What happened to them?
Whatever it was, Armstrong would have to find out. The two men's lives might depend on it.
"What's so special about that notebook?" a soldier whispered close to his colleague's ear.
"No idea," the other said, shrugging slightly. "Whatever it is, it must be really important to make Connors keep his eyes glued on it and read it like that."
That was the kind of conversation that was happening behind Connors back, as the Brigadier General walked down the corridors of East Headquarters to his office. The two soldiers were escorting him, and they were more than just slightly puzzled by that kind of behaviour from their commanding officer.
"Maybe that Thornlace guy is a spy? I heard he was born in Drachma."
"From the little I managed to see on the pages I picked up, it didn't seem to have anything like military information."
"Maybe it's in a code?"
"You watch too many movies," the second soldier finally declared, rolling his eyes.
And that was when they also had to end their conversation, because they had finally reached to their destination. The soldiers stood on each side of the door frame, and one of them opened the door, saluting.
"Thank you," Connors said, keeping his eyes on the book and yet somehow finding his way to his chair behind his desk and sitting down. "You're dismissed for the next hour."
The two soldiers exchanged a brief look, not sure what to make of that order. Connors never dismissed his men, wishing to have them available at all hours.
Even so, orders were orders, no matter how strange or unnatural they sounded. And so the soldiers merely saluted, uttering a brief: "Sir!"; then walked out, making sure they closed the door behind them.
Connors didn't even bother to look at the soldiers leaving, as he kept on reading.
B., by re-experiencing his death, was able to give a very vivid description of it, giving us proof to one of the alchemist's most well-known theories: that the human being is separated into the mind, the body and the soul. The soul is the energy which, through the mind's mechanisms, gives power to the shell (the body); in very much the same way that electricity, through a small metallic coil, gives power to alight-bulb. In both cases, all three parts must function properly so that there can be light - whether it is the literal one, or the figurative one that is life. Yet, like electricity, the soul is the only part that truly never wears down, being the energy that it really is. And, even though till now we weren't sure just where that energy went the moment the body or the mind stopped functioning, that small transcript taken from B.'s hypnotic session already attached in these pages has finally given us an answer to that as well.
"B..." echoed Connors, a smile forming on his lips. "As in... Beregond."
Gotcha. And, as though fate was making it up to him, he had stumbled across something much bigger than he had expected. Now, all he wanted was to confirm one last thing and then he would have his solid case - and a certain promotion.
Chuckling and feeling quite pleased with himself, he picked up the phone and dialled one well-known number. At the next moment, he heard Fawcette's voice at the other end of the line.
"Lieutenant Colonel, I have another job for you."
"Which is, Sir?" Fawcette asked.
"Sergeant Beregond is in Central. As soon as you locate him, place him under arrest."
If Connors could see Fawcette, he would have seen a malicious grin forming on his subordinate's face.
"Will do, Sir."
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