That cold night in December, Central was covered in a white eerie veil of mist, making the atmosphere damp and frosty. Nothing stirred, and most of the lights had already gone out as the hour was late. This lack of light gave the streets a fearsome sense of foreboding, because it seemed that this was a time in which only the dead were welcome to walk.
In spite of this, there /were/living people on the move. And they were now walking swiftly towards one direction, staying close and using the cloak of darkness that was offered to them so as not to be seen by unfriendly eyes.
Havoc, who was walking ahead, raised ahand to signal to the others to stop.
"What is it?" whispered Beregond. He was the last of the line, making sure that he kept an eye on the rear - and on Scar.
"We're getting close," Havoc answered. "Someone's bound to be watching. We should be careful."
"Then we'd better go up on the roofs,"Scar said, already looking up. "That's where they're bound to be if they want to keep an eye on the ground."
Sure enough, when the three men climbed up the fire escape of a nearby building, they came face to face with one of the mercenaries. He, however, never got the chance to fire or call for help. And so, after rendering him unconscious and tying him up, Havoc, Beregond and Scar walked up to the edge of the roof so they could get a clear view of the ground.
It was Beregond who first spotted the hideout. Tapping Havoc on the shoulder, he pointed down and to his left, where there were several men gathered in one place - all clothed in military garment.
"It seems they have an entire operation running here," Scar noted grimly, also looking in the same direction.
"But how many are there?" Havoc said. He kept his voice low so that only his two companions would listen. "This mist really isn't helping."
"Does it matter?" Beregond replied. "There are still only three of us and we have to be careful not to jeopardise Rick's safety." He looked again at the men, watching how they sat by the fire and joked around. "We need to form a plan."
"And what sort of plan would that be?" Scar said.
"Subtlety, for example," Beregond answered. "We locate Rick and we get him out of there before we're discovered."
Havoc, however, shook his head. "These guys are soldiers, Beregond, even if not part of the Amestrian military. They have enough training to expect anyone who tries to sneak up on them." He paused, contemplating matters. "The Colonel always said: 'Surprise attacks are effective in immobilising an enemy.' Why don't we go for that?"
"A mouse can only bite once before the jaws of the cat close around it," Scar said, shaking his head.
Beregond blinked; then his face instantly lit up and a grin formed in his lips. "That's it!"
"Havoc, do you remember my story in the train? When I marched with the other Men of the West against Sauron?"
Havoc frowned. "Yeah, I do. But what does that...?" He never finished his sentence; because it was at that moment that he caught on. He smirked broadly.
"You know... that just might work."
Neither seemed to notice Scar looking at them with piqued curiosity - especially Beregond.
If there was something that the mercenaries welcomed, it was the mist. After all, if anything, it kept them hidden from sight. And this was why, though they still kept vigil for anything unusual, they were also relaxed enough to converse casually to one another as they sat around a fire to warm themselves.
All that is, except one; the leader of the mercenaries.
"Any word from the sentinels?" he asked, approaching the group that were gathered by the fire.
"None, Sir," his second-in-command answered.
The leader frowned slightly; then went to the radio and started transmitting. "West Front, anything happening?"
"North Front, respond. What's the status so far?"
"Everything's quiet, Sir."
"East Front, how's everything on that side?"
There was a cough, and then: "All clear, Sir."
"South Front, do you copy?"
"Any strange Os or Ps?"
"No persons or objects in view, Sir."
"All right. That will be all." And with that, the leader of the mercenaries turned off the transmitter. Still, he didn't seem to be put at ease by the way he started pacing up and down, a frown settled on his features and his arms folded across his chest.
"Is anything the matter, Sir?" the second-in-command finally ventured to ask.
The leader didn't speak for several moments as he stopped in his tracks and looked at the white veil of mist before him. "Do you know the meaning of 'sense of foreboding'? It's when you get that nasty feeling that everything is about to hit the fan."
"Sir, with all due respect, everything went according to plan."
"Almost," the leader said. "Who were those men with the children?"
The second-in-command shrugged. "It's of no matter. They've been taken care of."
The leader didn't say anything this time. He just turned on his heel and took a couple of steps to go back into his tent.
It was then, however, that the ground started shaking and getting ripped right below their feet.
"What was that?" the second-in-command cried out. He cocked his gun and kept pointing it at every direction, unsure where he should aim.
The leader of the mercenaries looked at the ground, examining carefully. He cursed loudly.
"Alchemic residue! Some alchemist tries to be funny with us!"
The second-in-command's eyes widened. "Do you think it's the same one we...?"
"Right now, I'm prepared for anything,"the leader said. "Try to fish him out. I'll take care of the rest." And with that, he was gone out of sight, heading for his tent.
"All right, people! You heard him! Go!"the second-in-command cried, signalling to each and everyone into positions.
That is, until spikes of stone volleyed against him and his companions. Most of them instantly jumped out of harm's way, yet there were some who had wits enough to start firing at the direction from where the spikes sprang.
Silence reigned for many long moments throughout the hideout.
"Do you think we got him?" another mercenary asked, still aiming his gun for anything that might appear from the mist.
It was then that two shadowed figures moved swiftly, keeping themselves out of bullet range.
The second-in-command frowned at this, and with a stolid command to everyone to be prepared, he ventured ahead, followed closely behind by four more soldiers. The rest of the group remained behind, falling on the ground and ready to fire.
What they managed to see was a glint of metal. And then gunshots were heard throughout the area, only to be accompanied by screams of pain. Before any of the remaining mercenaries could understand what had happened, a black object flew out of the mist and landed on the closest soldier's feet.
It was a shotgun, and it was cloven in two.
"Is that the best you can do?"
All the mercenaries looked in the direction from where the voice sounded, and they saw a tall figure moving within the mist, keeping a sword drawn in his one hand and dragging with the other what could only be another man. That man was squirming and whimpering pitifully, clearly in pain.
"Didn't your mother tell you not to use guns if you don't know how to aim?" Beregond mocked again, dropping the man discourteously as though ridding himself of something vile.
The answer to Beregond would have been a volley of bullets, but for the ground torn asunder below the soldiers' feet once again. And before any of them had the chance to compose themselves, Beregond was already onto them, sword in hand, followed closely behind by Scar; for it was his alchemy that kept the mercenaries at bay. Any mercenary who tried to shoot at them had to face the Gondorian, who would just hack the gun in two; and any mercenary left who still tried to fight, had to face Scar and would not survive.
"Can you see him?" Scar asked Beregond amid the uproar. A soldier who tried to punch him ended up with his face on the ground, dead.
"No!" Beregond answered, parrying another mercenary's attack and kicking him in the stomach. "Nevertheless, we must fight on!" And with that, he slashed at a second mercenary that came onto him. The latter fell on his knees, clutching his chest in pain.
It was not enough, as Beregond quickly discovered. More started coming from the interior of the hideout. But it wasn't/that/ that filled Beregond with worry. It was what one of the mercenaries was carrying.
A backpack which Beregond could clearly see had an array drawn on it.
An array that Beregond knew what it did.
"Ai, Valar!" he exclaimed, horrified. "Scar, get down!"
"DOWN!" the Gondorian screamed. Stabbing his sword upright on the ground, he grabbed the Ishbalan and ducked.
It wasn't a moment too soon. A ball of lightning emanated from the backpack and almost hit the two alchemists.
Almost, but for Beregond's instincts. The sword, being made out of metal, served as a conduit to attract most of the lightning's energy and pass it on to the ground, away from the two men.
It still hurt.
Gritting his teeth, Beregond clapped, lifting a barrier so that Scar and he could get into fighting position once again without worrying about bullets.
"Looks like we underestimated them,"Beregond said, gritting his teeth. Another ball of lightning got charged and hit their barrier, making the Gondorian flinch at the bright light that surrounded them.
"So what now?"
"We stick to the plan," Beregond said. Signalling to Scar, they both started running, making sure that the mercenaries' attacks missed their target. As the backpack was getting charged again, Beregond found his chance and clapped to form rocky spikes coming out of the ground; then dodged the bullets that got aimed at him and took cover to some of the debris that were quickly forming hither and thither.
"For how long?" Scar said, also ducking out of harm's way.
"For as long as it's necessary!" Beregond said. He clapped again, forming more spikes, whereas Scar used his own alchemy to fight also.
All they could do was hope that Havoc would hurry up.
His guards were agitated, Rick could tell. This came as no surprise to him. After all, the gunshots were quite close and, from the look of things, his captors were losing the fight. He squirmed in an attempt to bring himself in an upright position and get a peek, but it was no use; the ropes around his hands and feet were too tight. All he managed to do was make one of the guards turn at him and say abruptly: "Hold still or the next shot will be through your head!"
It was then that another mercenary appeared. His shotgun was still in his hands and he looked almost panicky.
"What the hell are you guys doing here?" he cried in exasperation. "Didn't you hear the order? Everyone is to go at the front and face the intruders!"
"When was that order issued?!" the second guard said, clearly surprised.
"These guys are killing us and you want to chit-chat?!" the newcomer said angrily. "Now snap to it!"
"What about the kid?"
The newcomer's answer was a cocking of the gun. "I'll take care of him."
That seemed good enough for the two guards. Finally deciding that they were probably needed more in the battlefield rather than witnessing the execution of a prisoner, they hurried off. As for the mercenary that remained behind, he walked slowly towards Rick, looking to his left and right while doing so. It was clear that he didn't want any witnesses around.
But Rick had no reason to worry. He had already recognised Havoc, and he was more than just relieved to see him there. He now squirmed even more forcefully against his bonds, and the muffled noises that he managed to make from behind his gag urged the lieutenant to hurry up and untie him.
"Hold still, this will only take aminute," Havoc said; then untied the kerchief that covered the boy's mouth so forcefully that the lips were bruised and swollen.
"Where are the others?" Rick asked, panting as he felt able to breathe again.
"Causing mayhem," Havoc simply said, using the knife that he had gotten from the mercenary the three of them had incapacitated to cut the ropes. He hissed a bit to see the chafed skin on the boy's ankles and wrists. "Bastards," he muttered under his breath. "Do you think you'll be able to move on your own?" he asked Rick.
"Even fly, if it means getting out of here," Rick said and stood up. If he were in any pain, he hid it well behind amask of determination and clenched teeth.
Unable but to smile in mild admiration, Havoc offered his support, ready to guide the boy to safety.
It was then that a maniacal cackle sounded so close to them that it sent a chill to Havoc and Rick's heart.
"Here comes Barry!"
And with that, the suit of armour aimed his butcher's knife on Havoc's head.
It was speed that saved Havoc again. After pushing Rick in one direction and throwing himself in another, Barry only managed to hit the ground. But, as the lieutenant quickly figured, that wasn't something that would stop a seven-foot suit of armour; so he grabbed his gun out of its holster and fired.
Barry's laughter was barely more audible than the ricocheting sounds the bullets made as they hit his armour.
"Damn it!" Havoc cursed under his breath. Beregond had already warned him that that suit of armour was like Alphonse - and yet there he was, shooting at it!
Havoc didn't have the luxury to think about this long enough - Barry came onto him at full speed, wielding the butcher's knife once again. Havoc didn't stand a fighting chance, so he jumped again out of harm's way.
Crying out in pain, Havoc instantly doubled over, clutching his chest where he got slashed, staining both arms with his flowing blood. It didn't take a great mind to realise that that was aperfect chance for the armour to finish him off. All Havoc could do was watch his doom approaching in the form of the butcher's knife.
That is, until a stone, seemingly thrown out of nowhere, hit Barry straight on the head, wobbling it off balance.
"Hey! Not fair, kid! Wait for your own turn!"
Havoc never thought that he would ever be grateful to an Ishbalan kid, but Rick made him re-consider. Because it was the boy who had thrown that stone, and then another, followed in quick succession by another; and they were all aimed at Barry's head, until it finally fell off.
That wouldn't stop Barry, of course; Havoc knew that. But it did give him the time to think clearly and figure that there was something that he could shoot at. And so, letting out what could only be described as a battle cry, Havoc fired again, this time aiming for the gauntlet holding the knife.
It was a risk well taken. With two rapid gunshots, the knife was shaken enough to be thrown out of Barry's grip. Cursing loudly, Barry let out a great shriek and dove for both head and knife.
But neither Havoc nor Rick had any intentions of staying a moment longer to watch Barry attack again. They ran as fast as their feet - and their wounds - permitted them, hoping that it was fast enough.
Another ball of lightning was charged, this time aimed at Scar. The Ishbalan used his alchemy to deconstruct one of the spikes Beregond had formed to fall on the mercenary's heads, then quickly ducked before he got hit. But, when it was time to get up, it was to his utter dismay to find out that he couldn't.
His body wouldn't comply. And it probably still wouldn't comply but for Beregond grabbing him and dragging him to a make-shift cover.
"Are you okay?" Beregond asked. He was panting heavily, and the Ishbalan could see sweat flowing down the Gondorian's forehead in spite of the cold that surrounded them.
"I'm not sure," Scar answered truthfully. "I feel like there's no more strength within me."
Beregond cursed under his breath. "You too, then?" Both men flinched when another ball of lightning hit their cover.
"I don't understand," Scar said then. "We haven't been fighting for that long."
"No," Beregond agreed. "But performing alchemy takes a lot of physical and mental strength. Not to mention, you and Iwere already weakened enough before getting ourselves into this mess." Beregond dared a peek; then quickly hid before a bullet hit him. "We have to end this somehow; otherwise we're in major risk of a rebound," he declared.
"How are we to do that?" Scar asked.
"You'll have to let me think," Beregond hissed.
"We don't have that luxury," the Ishbalan noted. He made another ridge in the ground, shaking it violently enough for the mercenaries to think twice before coming any closer.
But the Gondorian hardly paid heed to him anymore. All he did was scrunch his face into a deep frown as he lost himself in deep concentration, mumbling what sounded a lot like a recitation of lightning's properties and weaknesses, as well as conduits and particles of it. That is, until he finally swore again - loudly this time.
And then, just as Beregond lifted his head again... his expression lit up.
"Scar, cover me!"
Scar raised an eyebrow at this, nevertheless he complied. While he made sure that none of the mercenaries managed to hit Beregond, the Gondorian clapped his hands once again; then placed them on the ground. Blue light emanated from the ground and seemed to reach to the entire area. All the mercenaries flinched, unsure what kind of horrific transmutation would happen.
They certainly didn't expect droplets of water falling on them and on the ground. That made several of the mercenaries laugh.
"What is this? Are you hoping to drown us?" they mocked.
They never saw Beregond's small mischievous smile tugging on his lips as he clapped again. "Scar, get ready to jump."
Scar didn't know what to make of it. Either the Gondorian got utterly mad, or...
He looked again at the drops of water and then at the mist.
Scar finally understood. Beregond used his alchemy to condense the moisture enough to form water out of it - which, in turn, wetted the ground and formed small puddles here and there.
Just like rain would do.
A rain filled with lightning.
Scar felt his eyes widening in realisation. Did Beregond just--?
"Now!" the man cried out, cutting into his thoughts. Catching on, Scar instantly jumped on the ledge Beregond had formed on the wall through alchemy, followed closely behind by the Gondorian himself.
Not a moment too soon. Another ball of lightning was about to hit them.
Yet that didn't mean that the lightning/didn't/ hit something. For as the electric ball landed on the wet ground, the energy spread out, electrocuting anyone who was unfortunate enough to be standing on it - in this case, the mercenaries. Most of them didn't even have the chance to scream as the electric current hit them, making them collapse.
And then everything went eerily quiet.
Two seconds passed... then three... and then Beregond's grip on the ledge loosened and he fell down, landing awkwardly- and painfully - on hands and feet. Scar followed closely behind, having a bit more strength in him, and stood beside the exhausted Gondorian.
"You've weakened greatly, Man of Stone. Wasn't there a chance for a rebound?"
"There was," Beregond panted, "But it was either that or nothing." He bowed his head, as though just keeping it upwards proved too much of a difficult task.
He only lifted it up again when he heard Havoc's voice, calling out.
Seconds later, the lieutenant himself and Rick appeared from around the corner too. Havoc slowed considerably when he noticed the bodies and Beregond's condition.
"Jeez, Beregond, the plan was to /distract/them," he said, looking around him and finding nothing but unconscious mercenaries.
If Beregond ever found the strength to answer, he never did. At that moment, a shriek echoed through the air and Barry leapt out of the shadows. He had his butcher knife with him once more, and now he saw the perfect chance to throw it in Havoc's direction, completing his revenge.
What happened next lasted no more than a few seconds. Yet to everyone involved it seemed like everything had slowed down, making the entire scene unfold before their eyes with quite the clarity. Rick cried out in alarm and surprise, whereas Havoc turned, his eyes widening as he watched the knife flying toward him; Scar lunged forward, right arm aglow and shattering Barry's armour to pieces.
And as for Beregond... while screaming in an almost berserk state, he stretched out one arm and, in a blink of an eye, aclay knight formed out of the ground to stand between Havoc and the knife. The knife buried itself in the knight's chest, and Havoc, now fallen on his behind, remained staring at the trembling Gondorian.
Because Beregond hadn't clapped for that transmutation.
And then it seemed as everything warped into normal speed once again. Beregond's eyes rolled heavenwards, his eyelids closed; then the Gondorian barely braced himself as his body collapsed, almost lifeless. The clay knight had also dissolved into nothingness, just as quickly as it had appeared, and the knife fell harmlessly to the ground.
Gasping, Havoc instantly sprang onto his feet again and rushed at Beregond's side. "Beregond?"
Beregond's answer was an almost inaudible whisper.
"I'm still here."
Still there. But whatever remaining strength he had, he used it in a struggle to remain conscious; Havoc could see that.
"Just stay with me," Havoc murmured back encouragingly.
However, what he heard next wasn't encouraging at all.
"This is almost a gift from God, to see someone who has been an obstacle on my path for so long reduced to this vulnerable, broken thing."
Scar's voice sent a chill to Havoc's heart. The lieutenant slowly turned around, facing the Ishbalan, who was now standing quite close, observing the scene with interest; and his hand reached for the gun slowly, figuring that he must have one or two bullets left.
With any luck, they would be enough.
"Scar..." Rick said, watching everyone with worry. "Please..."
Scar, however, just shook his head. "There's been enough fighting this night. You've earned my respect for now, Man of Stone. If God wills it, we'll settle our differences at another time and place."
"If God... wills it," Beregond echoed in agreement, each word coming out through great effort.
Scar didn't say anything this time. He merely turned on his heel, beckoning Rick to follow him back to the Ishbalan camp. Rick stood for a moment in hesitation, first looking at Scar's direction, then at Beregond's; he was clearly indecisive as to what to do. Finally, after casting a brief, apologetic glance at the Gondorian, he too vanished into the shadows.
He never saw the tears that welled up momentarily in Beregond's eyes. But Havoc did, and he sighed.
"At least he'll be reunited with his brother."
"Yes." It was then that Beregond, while looking up at his companion, noticed the blood on Havoc's chest. "You're hurt."
Havoc half-grinned. "What? This?" A bark of nonchalant laughter echoed through the air. "This is nothing! I've had worse!" He offered a hand at Beregond. "Can you stand up?"
"I'll have to," Beregond said.
Havoc nodded and helped the Gondorian on his feet. The moment that he let go of Beregond, however, the latter swayed dangerously off balance. If it weren't for Havoc grabbing him at the last minute, Beregond would have certainly crashed on the ground.
"Lean on me," Havoc suggested. Before Beregond had even the chance to say anything about it, the lieutenant had already passed one of the Gondorian's arms across his shoulders, whereas one of his own wrapped around Beregond's torso. "Did you ever consider that you're maybe too old for this?" Havoc asked then, as both men started forging away from the camp. "You are 6,000 years old, you know."
"Shut up." Albeit tired, Beregond's tone still had a teasing quality in it; and it was difficult for either of the men not to laugh.
It was at that moment that they heard it.
A voice calling out: "Who's out there?"
Both men exchanged a glance, the same thought occurring to them.
One of us? Or another mercenary?
They decided they had to take their chances.
"Over here! My friend needs help!" Beregond cried out as loud as he could in his state.
Moments later, a figure stepped out of the shadows and stared at Havoc in an almost surprised look. It was apoliceman, obviously on his beat before hearing the voices and rushing ahead to see what was going on.
"Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc. This is Sergeant Beregond. We came across enemy fire. Help us," Jean explained.
The policeman still stared for a few moments, his eyes taking in the sight the two men must have proved before him; then nodded.
"Wait here. I'll phone for an ambulance."
And then another voice sounded not too far away.
"That won't be necessary."
Everyone turned to look at the huge bulk of a military officer who came into the scene, and both Havoc and Beregond suddenly felt very uneasy, for he was looking at them with quite the scrutiny.
All they could do was salute in an embarrassed manner.
Somewhere in the background, a great clock that towered over Central chimed 2 o'clock. Beregond could see it through a window quite well, yet all he could think of at that moment that it was agood thing that it was far away. He had quite the splitting headache and the merest sound made his temples throb.
Wrenching his gaze from there, he looked at his surroundings with apprehension. The room was huge, filled with all kinds of lavish furniture; nevertheless, Beregond still felt like a caged animal. His smile was barely visible when the maid placed a warm cup of tea on the table.
"Yes, Colonel, they're here."
Beregond pricked up his ears instantly. It sounded as though Major Armstrong was at the other room, talking on the phone with someone - and that someone was most probably Roy Mustang.
"They came across trouble," Armstrong said then, clearly answering to Mustang. "From what Sergeant Beregond said, some mercenaries tried to start a riot between the Ishbalans and the Amestrian army. Lieutenant Havoc is injured, but nothing too serious. The doctor has already checked up on him and now he's resting."
Beregond sighed and lost all interest in the phone conversation. He bowed his head and remained staring at nothing.
Or rather, staring at his hands.
It seemed so trivial back then, during the battle. But now, as he thought back at matters, he became quite terrified at what happened.
He didn't clap to perform Alchemy. One wave of the hand and the clay knight was transmuted in the blink of an eye. He didn't mean for it to happen but... he was now aware why it happened.
When I reached it, it felt as though a great deal of information was forced into my head and I suddenly could understand a lot of things about Alchemy, Ed had said.
I catch some talk, but I don't understand it; images float before my eyes that I cannot comprehend; my mind fills with a kind of knowledge that I didn't think it even existed,Beregond himself had said under hypnosis.
With those words still echoing in mind, Beregond took out a piece of paper out of his pocket. His fingers were trembling from the fatigue he was suffering from, and it took a great deal of control to finally unfold the paper.
That same piece of paper where there was a sketch of a man, limbs outstretched within a circle and touching the points of a star.
Beregond could recall his theory even now.
What if one doesn't need to clap their hands?
Beregond sighed, for he now understood perfectly. He had reached the next level in Alchemy. And as he checked himself, it was a wonder to him why he hadn't noticed it sooner. Indeed, if he concentrated just a bit, he could feel alchemic energy surrounding him and penetrating him - bound to the energy that his soul was.
And then... other feelings emerged.
Clenching his teeth in anger, Beregond curled his fingers around the piece of paper, not caring about its condition anymore.
He couldn't accept this. This couldn't be happening to him. Why should it happen to him? What right did he have in having... in using... this? Edward and Alphonse were the experts in Alchemy, not him; never him! He was just their student! Those boys had been studying alchemy almost all their lives so to figure a way to get their bodies back and now he came waltzing along to just...!
It wasn't fair!
"Who am I?"
Who am I to take this knowledge from them, was the question he meant to ask himself; but the moment the first three words escaped his lips, he stopped; thus forming another, far more heart-gnawing question.
Who was he anymore?
Before Beregond could help it, his eyes locked on the silverware displayed on the centre of the table. And the distorted image he saw there seemed far truer than any reflection in any mirror could ever be.
He covered his eyes with both hands and turned away. The sight was too revolting.
Though Beregond lowered his hands from his face, he didn't look up. He didn't have to anyway, because he had recognised Armstrong's voice, addressing him this time.
"You should be resting," Armstrong said then.
"I can't," Beregond replied softly. His hands remained in his lap where they had landed, fingers numbingly unmoving and lifeless - and he resumed with just staring at them. It seemed that that was the only thing he could do.
That is, until Armstrong's form approached him and settled a hand on the Gondorian's shoulder.
"What's the matter?"
Beregond just lowered his head further, almost cowering from the touch.
"Everything. Everything's the matter."
Had he looked up, he would have seen Armstrong smile a bit.
"Lieutenant Havoc told me about your worry for the Elric Brothers. I have some good news for you."
Only then did Beregond face Armstrong. "You found them?"
Armstrong nodded. "They're at the hospital. They got hurt badly, but they're out of danger."
Beregond's spirits lifted up a bit at this. "Thank you." He paused, contemplating matters a bit. "Which hospital?"
But Armstrong raised an eyebrow."You're not going there before you get some rest. Don't force me to make it an order."
And the Gondorian was downcast once more. "I understand," he breathed out, accepting his defeat.
"Good," Armstrong said, beaming. He pulled a cord that was hanging close to the door.
Right on cue, the maid appeared through the door and curtsied politely. "You wanted to see me, Sir?"
"Yes, Mirabel. Please escort Mr. Beregond upstairs and show him to his room."
"Very well, Sir." The maid turned to the Gondorian and motioned with her head the way. "Follow me, please."
"I have your bags there," Armstrong said then to Beregond. "You can get changed once you have a bath. I've already told one of the other maids to prepare some hot water for you."
Beregond arose wearily and bowed his head. "All right. Thank you, Major." And with that, he went out.
Beregond had to admit that the bath was refreshing. Moreover, the warm water released those tense knots that had formed on his muscles, treacherously relaxing him and even seducing him to get some sleep. His body clearly demanded it now, for he could barely move to put on abathrobe and walk to the bedroom that was prepared especially for him, where some fresh nightclothes were already unfolded on the bed. He changed slowly, almost carefully and every motion greatly focused - but he didn't settle on the bed just yet. He first went up to his sword, now resting against the wall, checking to see any damages that he could fix.
Fortunately, there were none, in spite of the amount of electricity that went through it, so he put it back in its place. And thus his attention was drawn to the tattered overcoat that had been thrown haphazardly on the chair and dug into one of the inner pockets to take out his journal. He forgot himself as he opened it and let a couple of photos slip out, but he had soon placed them back neatly between the pages. After also finding a pen, he started writing in the Elvish tongue, absentmindedly sitting down on the bed as he did so.
He didn't have the chance to write much, though. His torso leaned sideways as though drawn by the soft pillow close by, whereas the pen and journal slipped out of his hands.
His tears had already surged out by the time the thud of the impact was heard, and soon spasms of grief followed. But Beregond was past caring anymore. Tomorrow he could be strong again; now, he just wanted to let go.
And so, as his defences were torn asunder, his voice of pride cracked and any sense of dignity was dismissed, he curled into a small, insignificant ball, head buried in his arms as though shutting out the relentlessness and cruelty of the world, and cried very much like a small boy; hardly a sound coming out of his lips, but tears flowing out constantly. He cried for the choices he made and the face in the mirror he couldn't recognise anymore; even in fear for what was to come.
And, above all else, he cried for the goodbyes he never said.
He never saw Havoc standing by the doorway, watching him sadly.
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