"Colonel," a couple of soldiers said, saluting the woman that was currently passing by them.
"At ease, gentlemen," was all that Juliet Douglas said, and she continued on her way. She didn't pay attention to their murmurs as they commented: 'She's here early today', since it wasn't her main concern for now.
Her main concern was waiting in the Führer's office.
She quickly reached the office and looked to her left and right, making sure no one watched her as she entered. As soon as the door was closed and locked, she concentrated and changed her form. In place of a brown-haired, green eyed woman, there was in her stead adarkly-clothed woman with an inhumanely pale face, violet eyes reflecting nothing but cold calculation; and the sign of the Ouroboros quite visible on her chest.
"Care to explain what happened?" she asked, turning to the darkest corner of the room. Though it seemed like no one was there, she knew better.
"The Fullmetal boy somehow managed to get a hold of Marcoh's notes," Lust answered, stepping out. "They gave him the answers he needed to find out about the laboratory's existence."
"The notes were supposed to be destroyed," 'Douglas' said, her voice carrying an acidic tone that was downright frightening.
"They were," Lust said calmly. "It still didn't stop him."
'Douglas' didn't reply this time. She crossed her arms, contemplating matters carefully.
"That wasn't in our plans," she finally said. "We'll have to make it work to our advantage. And we need to talk to Dante about Greed's escape."
"Do you think he will go after her?"
'Douglas' smirked. "Hardly. She always said he wanted nothing to do with us. That his aspirations always differed from ours and that he'll stay true to that. However, if he does interfere in our plans in any way... you know what to do."
Lust nodded her understanding, a cruel smile forming on her lips. "And what about the Ishbalan?"
"Let the military deal with that. They're always useful for tracking down scapegoats," the other homunculus said, chuckling slightly. "Which reminds me: have you contacted our... employees?"
"Of course," Lust answered. "They'll start their work soon enough."
"Good. Stay close and observe matters. Well-paid or not, we don't want them messing anything. And tell the same to Envy, too."
"I will." Lust was ready to turn and leave, but she stopped in her tracks midway as she remembered something. "And you, Sloth? Have you done what Dante asked of you?"
Sloth smiled. "Did you doubt that? Syndow is already on a train to Dublith. Although I have to say that that man puzzled me. He seemed to know what we wanted from him."
Lust chuckled. "Saves us the trouble of explaining things to him - or that he has no choice but to do what he's told."
And with that she was gone. She never saw Sloth's thoughtful expression on her face, while considering what her best next course of action would be.
The only thing she could come up with was make a phone call. She picked up the receiver and dialed a triple number.
"Yes? Colonel Douglas here. I want you to find the telephone number of a certain John Ronald Syndow - he lives in East City. Yes, I will hold."
"Let me get this straight," Havoc said then, looking at each of the elder representatives of the Ishbalan camp who had surrounded him and Beregond. They were all sitting in the largest tent within the camp, the one that the Ishbalans used as a place of pray and council. No one seemed to notice the large group of people that had gathered around/the tent and were trying to eavesdrop on what was being said, regardless of the noon sun high above. "You guys /knew about the existence of another world- Beregond's world?"
"Of course we did," a strongly-built Ishbalan said. "The tale of the Downfall has been handed down from father to son and mother to daughter for generations untold. It was what made us turn against the ways of Alchemy in the first place."
Beregond frowned slightly. "I see. You had embraced it too, at first. But after seeing that Alchemy was the source of your punishment, you banished it from your lives. You hoped that this was a way you could atone in the One's eyes."
Havoc smiled grimly at this as he lit another cigarette. "Kinda late for that, don't you think?"
That earned him a warning glare from Beregond's direction. He'd prefer to continue this conversation without arguments!
"A lesson that is learnt belatedly is alesson nevertheless," another elder Ishbalan said. "We're not willing to make the same mistake twice. It is the only thing we can do as we await for our redemption."
"Wait," Beregond said. "You believe that one day you will be returned to Arda?"
The eldest Ishbalan, 'Gramps' as Rick always called him affectionately, laughed and shook his head. "No. But we believe that one day the two worlds will come in contact and so the one will know of the other's existence. It has already begun."
At that, everyone locked their gazes on Beregond - including Havoc.
Beregond felt his eyes widening as he stared back at them like they had all gone mad.
"What are you saying?" he asked slowly; because the old man couldn't be saying what Beregond suspected...
"Isn't it obvious?" the old man answered. "By arriving here, you made your world known. The first step has been taken."
Beregond immediately shook his head.
"Hold it!" he exclaimed at once, raising his hands in a gesture that this suspicious train of logic should stop at once. "If there's to be proper contact, it means that this world has to become known on the other side, too. I can't go back there."
"Who said it has to be you?" the burly Ishbalan replied, raising an eyebrow, a half-smile of amusement on his features.
At that moment, Beregond felt as though everything had come to a standstill around him and his blood was getting drained from his cheeks.
Another one will be sent... to my world?
"Who? When?" he managed to say. "And how do we know he hasn't been sent yet?"
The old man shrugged. "Only One knows these things."
Beregond nodded absentmindedly; his mind almost reeled as one thought after another piled up, making his head /hurt/."Yes... of course..."
"It is of no matter for the present. What matters now is that you are here, Beregond," the second elderly Ishbalan said. "Why don't you stay for a while? Learn a bit of our ways and teach us abit of your own. We would be honoured."
Now that was a request that Beregond didn't expect. The Gondorian looked at the Ishbalans in a confused manner.
"I'm sorry. I can't."
"Is there a problem?" the old man asked.
"Two children could be missing or dead. Two boys I've been looking for," Beregond replied without hesitation. "I need to find out what has happened to them."
"And there's the military to be considered too," Havoc added, nodding his agreement. "We were expected last night. Once the 24-hour limit is past, we will be considered missing - or worse, deserters."
The elderly Ishbalans considered this for a few moments; then the eldest turned to Beregond again. "We understand. But, please, Beregond... will you come to find us when you're free from other obligations?"
"Of course," Beregond said earnestly.
"Good. I'll ask Rick and Leo to keep you company. They know Central like the back of their hands."
"Thank you." Beregond bowed his head in respect. "Navaer." (Goodbye).
The old man smiled, and even bowed his head in answer. "Ishbala ahuk." (Ishbala be with you)
Sloth smiled when the information bureau told her the phone number she had asked for. Thanking the operator for the help, she quickly jotted down the number; then started dialing it. She didn't have to wait long before a young man's voice echoed from the other end of the line: "Hello, you've reached Syndow's residence."
"Hello, awfully sorry to disturb you at this time of day, but I wanted to speak to Professor Syndow," Sloth answered, sounding as friendly as possible.
"I'm afraid he's not here. Would you like to leave a message, Miss...?"
"I'd rather give it to him in person. Do you have any idea when he is to return?"
"I'm sorry, no. He's been attending to some military business in Central and it will probably take him several days to return."
"Oh, I see," Sloth said then, finally making her move. "Does this have to do with Sergeant Beregond?"
"You know about that then?" the young man said.
"We've been working closely together with him," Sloth lied smoothly.
"I see," Christopher said, thoughtfully. "No, it doesn't have to do with him; but if you do see Sergeant Beregond, please tell him that my father wishes to speak with him when he's to return from Central."
"What about?" Sloth said, raising an eyebrow.
"It has to do with the talks they've been having only recently. Sergeant Beregond will understand."
Sloth grinned, as she understood that she got what she wanted.
"Then I will tell him. Thank you for your time."
"Wait, you haven't..."
But Sloth had already hung up, thinking that this was becoming more and more interesting; and that she would have to send a telegraph to Dante as soon as possible.
Leo kicked an invisible stone in frustration. He cast a brief glance at the Gondorian and the Amestrian as they stood by a phone booth making their phone-call, a growl of dismay almost escaping his throat. He faced his brother, who was sitting excitedly on a small bench nearby.
"What are we doing here?" he asked.
"Gramps asked us to accompany Beregond and his friend, remember?" Rick answered.
Leo snorted. "Like I said: /What/are we doing here? Why are we supposed to be helping an alchemist and asoldier?"
"Because they didn't give us a reason not to," Rick replied.
"Don't tell me you've actually started to like them!" Leo exclaimed.
"They treated me all right when others would have broken my arm for stealing their stuff!"
"That doesn't make them holy men! Beregond is nothing but a distorter of nature and his friend a member of murderers; the murderers of our people; the murderers of /mom and dad/, Rick! Or have you forgotten that?"
"If they're that, then how is Scar different from them?" Rick retorted heatedly. "I overheard them, Leo. That tattoo in Scar's arm has to do with alchemy. And Scar has murdered, too! He almost killed two kids that were our age!"
"Because of what was done to us!" Leo hissed. "They started it."
"Then maybe someone has to stop/it. And I hate to disappoint you, Brother, but it was the /alchemist who realised that first; not us!"
If Leo had ever intended to reply, he never got the chance. At that moment, Beregond stepped out of the phone-booth and told Havoc: "I didn't find him. He wasn't there."
Havoc's eyes widened. "What about Sarah?"
Havoc thought about it for a moment. "What about Hughes' home? The Colonel must have the number."
"He can't be home that early - it's almost 2 o'clock."
"Maybe he has the day off," Havoc suggested.
"No, I remember Maes saying specifically he had too much work to do and he could hardly afford any."
"So maybe he's gone out."
"Maybe..." Beregond echoed thoughtfully."The question now is... why?"
Havoc blinked; then shook his head, for he understood what Beregond was implying.
"Beregond, we don't know what happened to them, remember? You can't just think the worst case scenario."
"But I can't exclude it either,"Beregond said. He rubbed his forehead as he tried to contemplate matters, until he finally said: "I need to see that place for myself."
"You mean Lab 5?" Havoc said, eyes widening incredulously. "What are you hoping to find?"
"Anything that can give me some clue as to what might have happened after the explosion."
"Beregond, it's been more than 48 hours--"
"I never said the trail won't be cold!"Beregond exclaimed edgily. But then, realising his mistake, his tone softened and looked at Havoc apologetically. "However, you outrank me. Whatever your call will be, I'll follow it."
Havoc didn't answer at once; it was clear he was hesitating by the way he was chewing his cigarette. Beregond, on the other hand, had bowed his head slightly, keeping his eyes closed as he was expecting an answer that he didn't want to hear.
"Well, we're not on duty. And two: the 24-hour limit hasn't passed yet."
Beregond opened his eyes to stare at his companion surprised - and grateful. Havoc smiled and winked at the Gondorian; then turned to Leo and Rick.
"Is Lab 5 far from here?"
Leo didn't answer, but Rick said:"About twenty-five minutes on foot."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
"Oh, man...What a mess," Havoc commented grimly. Taking another careful step on the huge pile of debris that used to be Lab 5, he cast a brief glance around. There was nothing in sight. Just the two Ishbalan kids, who were now a few feet away from him, and Beregond, who was already searching amid the rubble. "How are you supposed to find anything here?" he asked at the Gondorian's direction.
"With a lot of patience," Beregond answered. He lifted another large piece of debris and pushed it further away.
Havoc rolled his eyes at this. "Can't you just go for the old clap thing and zap the obstacles out of our way?" he asked.
"No," Beregond answered.
"Why not?!" Havoc exclaimed incredulously.
"Because..." Beregond paused as he heaved and moved an iron beam a few inches to look underneath it. "...I might also transmute by accident any evidence that can be found." However, finally deciding that some alchemy was necessary, he transmuted out of the iron beam a couple of buckets and shovels and gave one of each to Havoc. "Use these to remove the small rubble," he added, and resumed his work.
"If there is any evidence,"Havoc said grimly, filling the bucket. He called Rick and gave him the bucket so that the boy could empty the contents as far away as possible, something to which Rick complied at once - in spite of Leo's clear disapproval.
"That's why we're looking," Beregond pointed out calmly, already digging.
He stopped when he noticed the colour of the sand he dug up.
It was red.
Red water. Beregond instantly threw the contents away, as though he had touched something vile. At least we're digging up the right hall.
It was then that Havoc's voice calling him made him turn. "What is it?" he called back.
"You'd better come and look at this!" Havoc said, looking at what it resembled a small hole. Rick was carrying another bucket full of dirt away; but Leo, on the other hand, stood where he was, watching everything from a distance.
Dusting his trousers, Beregond walked up to the Havoc.
Havoc pointed down at the floor that was revealed underneath the rubble.
"Doesn't this array look a bit like Scar's tattoo?"
Beregond looked down; then huffed dismayed. "It doesn't just look like it," he said. "They're the same array."
Havoc stared at Beregond, mouth agape. "Are you sure?"
"Positive," Beregond answered, sitting on his heels and removed some dirt to reveal more of the array. "It's an array for creating a Philosopher's Stone."
"What?! How can you tell?"
Beregond didn't answer at once, clearly hesitating. "I've told you about Dûrinas, right?"
"Yeah," Havoc answered, not really sure where Beregond was going with this. "He wanted to create a Philosopher's Stone, and that's why he started killing people."
"And I also told you that he used for that purpose an array that I couldn't recall."
"You did, but..." Havoc froze as realisation dawned on him. "That's the same array, isn't it? You remembered it while hypnotised!"
"But that's also the way Scar's been killing people..." Havoc didn't continue, the thought clearly sickening him. "Do you think he knows about this? Because if he does, there could be big trouble."
The only answer Havoc got was silence.
"We had better carry on with our work."
Now that must have sounded a little off to Havoc, but he never got the chance to comment at it. At that moment, Rick returned and called at the two men.
"There are some soldiers coming this way!"
Beregond and Havoc exchanged a glance. "Did they come to clean up?"
"Or cover it up, if what you say is true," Havoc said. "We'd better not be noticed."
"Agreed," Beregond said with a nod. He beckoned the boys to follow him, while Havoc found a dark alley where they could hide. Soon enough, the soldiers had appeared and, under the command of someone who appeared to be a lieutenant, started examining the place with great interest.
"That's weird," Havoc noted. He was now glued against the wall, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible while he looked around the corner.
"What is?" Beregond asked in a low whisper. Though he was beside Havoc, he didn't have the luxury to get a glimpse of what was going on.
"Those aren't our own guys," Havoc answered. "They're dressed in Amestrian military uniform, but the insignia is all wrong. Not to mention there's someone in a suit of armour with them."
Beregond stiffened. "Is he missing an arm and carrying a butcher knife?"
"Yeah... how did you know?"
"He was a guard at Lab 5," Beregond explained. "According to Scar, he was the one who fought Alphonse. And, for the record, it's just his soul in there."
"This is getting better and better,"Havoc said wryly.
"Tell me about it."
"Do you think they might know about Ed and Al?" Havoc asked.
Beregond considered matters carefully. "I'm not sure. They're certainly here for a reason though." He faced Rick, who was standing next to him and paying attention to everything the two men said. "Did they see you?"
"I think a couple of them did," the boy answered. "But I ran off pretty quickly."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Leo asked, frowning.
"If they're aware there's someone within the area, they might wanna make sure that that someone doesn't see anything they shouldn't," Havoc replied.
"Which means we should leave," Beregond seconded.
"We don't have to," Havoc said then, once again looking around the corner. "They're gone."
Truly enough, there were no more soldiers to be seen. The place had grown quiet once again.
"That seems too convenient for some reason," Beregond mused. "It could be a trap."
Havoc nodded his agreement. "We'd better leave from a different route."
"Wait a second!" Rick said then. Before Beregond had the chance to stop him, the boy had hurried down the alley and dared a peek around the other corner. "Okay, it's clear!"
The words had barely escaped Rick's lips, when suddenly two men jumped from the roof and landed right next to the boy so as to grab him.
But Leo didn't have the chance to run to his brother's aid, because at that moment a third mercenary opened fire. The bullets would have certainly met their target if it weren't for Beregond clapping in the nick of time and transmute a wall to protect Leo. As for Havoc, he had already ducked, taking his gun out from its holster and fired too.
Havoc didn't miss.
That, however, hardly deterred the kidnappers. Clearly thinking that the alchemist was the most vulnerable target, one of them lunged against Beregond and got ready to land a fist on the Gondorian's face. Little did he know that Beregond would not only avoid the attack, but even manage a forceful kick on the attacker's back and throw him to the ground.
"Let him go!" the Gondorian shouted at the ones that held Rick, unsheathing his sword and rushing ahead.
One of the kidnappers simply threw agas bomb right before Beregond's feet, covering everything in smoke as it went off. Snarling, Beregond jumped high enough to escape that misty trap, but it was already too late. By the time he landed on the ground, the mercenaries -and Rick - were gone. It wasn't that that made the Gondorian stop on his tracks and stop the pursuit, though.
It was the sound of coughing.
Beregond acted at once. He slashed his sword through the air to disperse the amount of gas that was closer to him; then rushed in the poisonous mist to help Havoc and Leo, hoping that he would be quick enough.
To his surprise, however, the current Beregond created as his sword cut through the air was far stronger than it should have been. In fact, it resembled a gust of wind that had blown the gas into nothing in a matter of moments.
Beregond could only stare at his hands and his sword as he tried to comprehend what had just happened. He had the answer at the tip of his tongue, he knew he did...
But that had to wait, he decided. He was needed. And with that, he rushed at Havoc's side, trying to shake him out of his unconsciousness. Leo was slightly better off, apparently, because he had already stood up and was ready to run off.
"Where do you think you're going?!" Beregond exclaimed, using all his strength to pull Havoc on his feet and offer his own body frame as support.
"They have my brother!"
"And we have /him/,"Beregond said, motioning his head to the direction of the unconscious mercenary. "Go to the camp and ask some strong men to help us."
"Rick trusted me, so you'd better start doing the same!" Beregond snapped.
Leo didn't say anything this time. After a few moments of hesitation, he merely nodded and started running towards the camp, while Beregond encouraged Havoc to breathe.
Edward was bored. Not just mildly weary or uninterested, but mind-numbingly, staring-at-the-ceiling-because-there-is-nothing-else-to-do bored. Alphonse was at the terrace; Ross and Bloch were on duty just outside his door; his body was all bent up and aching after staying in bed for what it felt like /forever/; and there was absolutely nothing to distract him - not even so much as a book. Sure, he could try and get some sleep if only so that time would actually pass, but he had already dozed off so many times that by now his eyes remained stubbornly open on their own accord.
That was it. Ed would have to get up /now/, or his brain would turn to a gooey pulp out of sheer inactivity. Ross and Bloch could protest and scream: "Your wound will reopen!" all they wanted.
And with that thought in mind and bracing himself for any kind of discomfort, Edward got up. To his pleasant surprise and relief, Ed found out that the pain was more than just easily handled, so he became bolder in his movements and his gait more relaxed as he walked towards the door and opened it. He was ready to tell Ross and Bloch that he was taking a walk, when something odd caught his eye.
Both Ross and Bloch were frowning. /Were/being the keyword here, since they instantly assumed a calmer expression when he came out. And not only they didn't say anything when he announced his intentions, but Bloch insisted that he should come with him.
"All right," Ed said, slightly blinking; then walked on, followed closely behind by the sergeant. He went upstairs so that he could talk to Alphonse. But, as he quickly discovered, Al wasn't in that much of a mood for a conversation, no matter how hard Ed tried to make him open up to him. So, feeling a bit disappointed, he went down again and sat on a small chair nearby to rest his body (better or not, he still couldn't from consider himself healthy). That's where he settled for several minutes, kicking his legs in the air and looking down on the floor in a bored manner.
What to do... What to do...
It was a good thing that Armstrong said that he'd bring Beregond here. That would make things around here interesting.
Wait a minute...Shouldn't they have been here by now?
Eyes widening slightly, Ed fumbled himself momentarily only to realise that he was in pyjamas and so he had no watch.
"What time is it?" he asked Bloch.
Bloch looked at his own watch. "Two thirty."
"Oh." And with that Ed grew silent again. Until Bloch's answer really sank in.
"What?!" he cried out, dumbfounded. Such was his surprise that he immediately stood up from his seat. "That can't be right!"
"Why not?" Bloch asked, surprised.
"Armstrong said that he'd bring Beregond here two hours ago!"
But the thing that made Ed realise that something really didn't add up was when Bloch bit his lower lip. "Err... Idon't know... Maybe Sergeant Beregond got distracted on his way here. It's Central after all! Lots of things to see..."
"Really?" Ed said, not believing asingle word. "You're right though. You don't know that the moment Armstrong would tell Beregond about Al and I being hospitalised, Beregond would have come here /running/."
"Well, maybe Major Armstrong got distracted and he couldn't escort him..."
"You don't get it. Beregond would have come running on his own." Though he was speaking very softly and slowly, Ed felt like he was ready to breathe fire out of his mouth. He took one threatening step forward, something that made Bloch flinch. "You lectured me about having more faith in adults, so give me a good reason for it. How about explaining what's going on?" He emphasized the last three words one by one, his eyes shining brilliantly with determination and oncoming wrath. The fact that he was injured and his metal arm wasn't functioning didn't make the young alchemist less intimidating in the least.
"I can't... I was ordered to..." Bloch instantly covered his mouth, but it was too late.
"Then I'm ordering you, Sergeant," Ed said, his voice low and guttural and signifying: One wrong answer and you're dead.
That finally broke Bloch down and he confessed: "Sergeant Beregond never reached the dorms!"
Ed's feelings of anger and indignation vanished to be replaced by horror and shock. "What?" he breathed out. "But... but you said..."
Bloch bowed his head in regret. "Wrong assumptions. Major Armstrong called half an hour ago. He said that Sergeant Beregond was last seen at the train station - something made him run off, and nobody knows what."
"But 2nd Lieutenant Havoc was with him!What did he say?" Ed asked anxiously.
"Lieutenant Havoc's gone missing too."
Ed felt his heart missing a beat. This couldn't be true; this wasn't happening! What had made Beregond act like that?And why was Havoc gone too?
"This doesn't make any sense," Ed finally said, murmuring to himself. "Beregond would never run off just like that! Unless..."
Unless he saw something. But what?
"I need to get out of here," Ed declared. He turned on his heel and hurried to his room, passing by a very bewildered Lieutenant Ross; then started searching frantically for his clothes.
"What are you doing?" Ross asked, her eyes widening as she looked inside.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm gonna look for him!" Ed snapped. He removed with his functioning arm his pyjama shirt and donned the familiar black one that was on a chair nearby. That is, he attempted to, since his metal arm wouldn't cooperate. Such was Ed's frustration that he started becoming too careless in his movements - until he pulled one muscle too many. He instantly doubled over, gritting his teeth at the pain that coursed through him.
"Edward!" Ross was at his side at once, guiding him to
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