Night fell swiftly, covering the mansion far in the south of Amestris in darkness. In fact, the only light that a passer-by would be able to see was shed by a small lamp in the main hall - where two women were talking in hushed whispers.
"You say he's aforeigner, yet not from any countries that we know?" asked one voice. Its croaking sound made it perfectly clear that it was an elderly woman that spoke.
"Yes. A Gondorian, whatever that means," answered the other voice. It was a younger woman's voice, and its depth hardly concealed its seductive quality. "According to the file, he was found by accident and he didn't have any knowledge of the language - or of anything else, for that matter."
A withered hand rubbed awrinkled chin thoughtfully.
"Language, when need is pressing, can be learnt quickly enough," the old woman said. "But the only way one could learn alchemy at Edward Elric's level in nine months is to have seen the Gate." There was a small pause. "On the other hand, you said that Envy didn't manage to find out anything about a failed human transmutation."
Lust didn't bother to answer, for she understood perfectly well that none of what was said was directed at her. Her master was merely thinking.
There was again silence for a few moments as the old woman contemplated matters further, and then she spoke again.
"Give me the file for amoment, Lust. I want to see in what state he was when they found him."
Lust gave the woman the file obediently. However, the withered hands couldn't hold the file as firmly as the homunculus did; so a small piece of paper slipped through the numerous large ones and landed softly on the stone floor. The elderly woman picked it up, seeing that it was a photograph.
A photograph of a man.
"Is that him?" she asked Lust.
The old woman looked at the picture for many long moments, studying the man's features carefully.
"He seems young. Is it certain he is forty?"
The woman, Dante, looked again at the picture, lost in thought. "Intriguing... For some reason he should be familiar to me. Like I've seen his face somewhere before." She didn't speak again for some time. Finally, after making up her mind and with her eyes still locked on the photograph, she turned her back on Lust.
"I must look into this matter further. Meanwhile, go back to Central and keep supervising things in the laboratory."
"How will we hear from you?" asked Lust.
"Pride and Sloth will keep you informed," Dante said. "Besides, I think I'll need their services soon enough."
Before Lust could have the chance to ask what Dante had meant by that, another voice was heard down the corridor.
Dante huffed in dismay at once. "That girl knows when to pick the worst moment to interrupt." She turned to Lust. "Make sure she won't see you as you leave. I'll handle this."
"Why do you keep her around if she's such a nuisance?" Lust asked curiously.
"Even she will serve her purpose when the time comes. Now go."
Lust decided to comply and she stepped back into the shadows. Dante opened the door and looked outside.
"I thought I heard voices. Is everything all right?" asked a young brown-haired girl, looking at her teacher with respect.
"Of course it is, my apprentice. Now go back to bed, please."
Smiling cruelly to hear the mock friendliness in her mistress's voice, Lust opened the window and slid through it with the grace of a lady. As soon as she landed on the soft ground without the hint of a sound, she set off for the train station.
She had work to do.
Falman and Beregond took their places opposite of Syndow in the latter's office once again and sipped some of the tea that had been served. And just like in their previous visit, the professor sat on his desk with a polite smile tugged on his lips, smoking his pipe.
"Sir, thank you for calling us; it was most kind of you," Falman said.
"Well, it's not my place to deny those who want my help when I believe they're worthy of it," Syndow said.
"Do you consider us worthy then?" Beregond asked, his eyes locked on the professor.
"You are here, are you not?" Syndow said, chuckling mildly. "However, I should tell you that I can't show you the original stories."
The soldiers frowned, unsure what to make of that statement.
"But I can," Syndow added in a mischievous manner, "show you copies of them. That is how you can actually study those archives without having to put them at risk. The thousand-year-old manuscripts are far too sensitive to the human touch, you see."
"Point taken," Beregond managed to say, recovering from his unpleasant shock.
"Excellent," Syndow declared. "Now, if you may." With a graceful motion of his hand, Syndow beckoned both men to another room, adjacent to the study.
Beregond looked around the room curiously - or rather, tried to, because he was surrounded in blackness.
"Why is it so dark in here?" he asked.
"As I said, Sergeant, the manuscripts are sensitive," Syndow replied. "Don't worry, we'll be able to see soon enough." And with that, he flicked on the artificial light.
Beregond and Falman could only gape at the sheer size of the room, for it contained bookcases upon bookcases filled with books both old and new. There were files crammed with sheets of paper that appeared ready to be blown away at the slightest breeze. The soldiers even noticed bizarre, ancient-looking artifacts of various shapes and materials in every corner, as well as numerous drawings and illustrations hanging on the walls.
"It's incredible," Beregond murmured, his eyes wide-open.
"Your collection is rightly considered a national treasure," Falman said. He took a few steps forward, his gaze drifting at every direction in an attempt to catch sight of as many books as possible. "These aren't in the State Library."
"No," Syndow said with asmile. "It was worth all forty years I spent to gather them." He turned to the soldiers again. "Now, Sergeant, you said you wanted to read the stories, Ibelieve. Where do you wish to start?"
Beregond looked around, indecisive for several moments. "I always say that the best option is to start from the beginning."
"Good choice," Syndow answered. Still using his cane as support, he went up to a shelf on his right to draw out a thin file and then motioned the soldiers to settle on a large desk nearby.
"There isn't much here,"Falman commented, looking at the few papers in front of them.
"Yes, indeed. I've already told you that, ever since the notion of science started taking shape as we know it and shunned old beliefs, there were not many people who were interested in such... childish concepts anymore. This is one story that all but vanished because of that reason." He picked up a piece of paper and showed it to Beregond and Falman. "This is a transcript of a text chiselled on a black stone found in a cavern by some coal miners about thirty years ago. The discovery is quite unique, because the text is quite primitive - you can see for yourself. And though it's presumed to be 2,000 years old, there are many scholars who believe that the stone nevertheless provides a sample of the language that was used by Ancient Amestrians about 4,000 years ago. Let me see if I can provide the translation for you, it's around here somewhere."Syndow started shuffling through the papers to find the right one. "It's quite intriguing. It seems to be the beginning of an epic, and--"
"Hyathli khantete, makli lanthanete, i lume galne aniara ar i lambe thinde wektheo galne ar prestane. Axe... something... swords fall... the time grows... longer?... and the language... of the Grey People... grows and changes. /Si-lume Lotthinondo tektha sina an i rina./Now time... no, Now... Lothinondo... Lothenon?... writes this for the remembrance."
Falman and Syndow looked at Beregond almost flabbergasted. Beregond just half-shrugged embarrassedly.
"Well," the professor said in the end, "It seems that you didn't have difficulties, after all." He picked up the paper he had been looking for and read aloud: "Axes broke, swords fell, the times grew older and the languages of the Grey People grew and changed. Today Lothenon writes this for the memory."
Beregond nodded a bit thoughtfully. "It's as you said. It commemorates actions of forebears."
"But who are these Grey People?" asked Falman, feeling confused.
Syndow smiled. "Here's the beauty of it all. No one really knows. Of course, there are more than enough theories and, though they all seem to hold water, none of them is quite satisfactory. Some believe that they could be our ancestors - what we came to identify as Atlanteans, to be more precise. Others believe that they were an entirely different race of people which is now extinct; whereas others think that they were actually other entities entirely."
"Are there any illustrations that can give us a glimpse of that era?"
It was Beregond who asked that.
"Yes, there are," Syndow answered. "Not any that depict Grey People, mind you, but the one hanging on the wall behind you might still interest you."
Both soldiers turned and looked at the wall, where there really was a drawing of a tall knight, helmed and armed as though ready for battle. The pencil strokes did justice to the metallic sheen the armour was supposed to have, as well as to the pride in the said knight's countenance.
"Magnificent, isn't it?"Syndow said. "This was drawn by a good friend of mine, based on the descriptions the texts provided."
"Intriguing," Falman said before he could help it. "On his breastplate there's the image of a tree and seven stars." His gaze locked on Beregond, but the Gondorian didn't seem to notice him. He had stepped closer to the drawing, looking at it with scrutiny -and a touch of apprehension.
Beregond pointed at the knight's shield. "What's with the symbol there?"
"The five-pointed star?"Syndow said. "It appears quite often throughout history, actually; even in many artifacts that have nothing to do with weapons or armoury."
"How so?" Falman asked.
"Because it represents many things, depending on the society and era in which it's present," Syndow explained. "In this case, it's quite safe to assume that its five points represented the five virtues that a knight was meant to embody: frankness, fellowship, purity, courtesy and compassion. Those, in their turn, are part of and form in the centre the ultimate virtue: Truth."
Falman didn't speak for several moments; his gaze simply drifted back on Beregond on instinct, noticing that the Gondorian was resting a hand on his chest for some reason.
But Beregond was far from satisfied.
"What else does it symbolise?"
"Like I said, it could be anything," Syndow replied with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "For example, in some cultures, its points represented the four basic elements: earth, water, fire and air, whereas the fifth point represented the spirit; in Xing, it's used as a symbol of health; in Drachma, as a symbol of death; whereas in Amestrian Alchemy..." Syndow paused for a moment. "...But I had better show you instead."
Feeling curious, the two soldiers followed Syndow to the opposite wall, where there was the drawing of alarge five-pointed star, overlaid by the image of a man in a spread eagle position with his head and all limbs touching a matching point.
"This belonged to an ancestor of mine, a well-known alchemist of his time; it's a bit more than four hundred years old," Syndow said.
Beregond looked at the drawing for many long moments, not speaking; until he showed Syndow and Falman a tiny symbol next to one of the points of the star.
"This one is used in alchemy to denote water."
Falman raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
"I'm positive," Beregond answered. "And this one is earth," he added, showing them a symbol close to the next point. Soon enough, he had pointed the other symbols as well, naming the elements they represented. "Spirit. Fire. Air." He looked at Syndow. "They are the very things you said some societies believed the five-pointed star signified. But I can't understand why the image of the man is here."
"Because my ancestor was a man that worked with many theories," the professor said. "He believed that there wasn't just one theory that spoke the truth, but many who spoke /part/of the truth and it was only through their combination that we could get aglimpse of it as whole." He pointed at the drawing. "This is actually his attempt to relate man to nature, believing that the workings of the human body to be an analogy to the workings of the universe. One could say that he was making a cosmography of the microcosm. So, he symbolised Man's material existence by using the earth, fire, water and air symbols; his spiritual existence by using the symbol of the spirit; and, with the circle, he attempted to depict the correlation between these two aspects of human existence."
"So, in a way... your ancestor was claiming that Man wasn't only part of the universe, but could have power over it," Beregond said.
"Like a smaller god,"Falman commented.
"Quite right," Syndow said with a nod.
Beregond looked again at the drawing. "The way the limbs form the circle... what if one doesn't need to clap their hands?" he murmured.
"I beg your pardon?" the professor asked, not quite catching that.
Falman, on the other hand, was now looking at Beregond with bated breath.
Beregond pretended not to hear the question. "This is quite interesting," he merely said. "I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned in any of the alchemical books I studied."
Syndow shook his head."My ancestor was very distrustful when it came to sharing his theories. They say that he told of them to very few people, including his wife - and his mistress.
"That woman proved my ancestor's downfall. She reported him to the authorities and told of everything he had told her, calling him a madman and possessed by demons. My ancestor was arrested and hanged the very next day and his house was burned to the ground. As for my ancestor's wife, she left the country with her newborn child in her arms, after salvaging everything she could - including this drawing."
"I see. So his knowledge was lost except to those within the family."
"Indeed. And no one was interested about that in order to share that kind of knowledge. That is, until your arrival."
Beregond frowned. "If it was a family secret, why did you tell me this? What made the difference?"
The professor's eyes sparkled knowingly. "Because that symbol obviously means something to you too. May I ask what did your hand reach for at your chest?"
Beregond breathed in sharply and took an involuntary step backwards, looking nervously at Falman and Syndow. However, when Falman nodded in an encouraging manner, his expression softened.
And with that, he tentatively reached for the pendant that still hanged from his neck even after all this time and showed it to the two men.
A golden pendant which had the carved image of a five-pointed star on it.
"Ah... I see," Syndow said softly. "Just like the knight in the drawing."
Beregond swallowed hard before saying with as much control as possible, "Yes... just like the knight in the drawing."
It was then that Falman looked at his watch and gave out a small whistle. He pressed his hand on Beregond's shoulder and then turned to Syndow, a small smile crossing his features.
"Professor, I'm very sorry to interrupt, but the sergeant and I must take your leave now. We are meant to be somewhere else in less than a quarter of an hour."
"Of course," Syndow said with a small consenting nod. "Let me show you to the door."
But Beregond didn't move yet, for another thought crossed his mind.
"Professor? Is it possible for the warrant officer and me to come back tomorrow?"
"If you wish it," Syndow said. "Do you want to discuss any further about the myths?"
"Yes... but this time Iwant to talk about the tale of the sunken city."
Syndow's eyes widened slightly, but his voice was calm when he said: "Very well. Until tomorrow then."
Falman and Beregond took the road back to Headquarters, but they didn't speak to each other; they were too lost in thought. The only thing that could be heard were the birds singing in the bare trees of the little park they were presently walking through.
Even that sound was cut off when Beregond spoke.
"Hm?" Falman said.
The warrant officer finally caught on. "Well, you looked like you wanted to get away." He smiled abit, but it was a smile that didn't last. "What was that about? What is that pendant?" he asked curiously.
But Beregond shook his head.
"Not here. You'll find out when I speak to the Colonel."
"From your home?" Mustang asked, looking at Falman and Beregond with a raised eyebrow - the two soldiers were now sitting on a couple of chairs in his office.
Beregond nodded. "It belonged to the murderer of my son." His voice came out uneasily and uncomfortably, his right hand tugging in a nervous manner at the pendant. "It was in my hand when I was... /brought/... here."
Mustang interlaced his fingers and leant slightly forward. "Do you think there's a connection?"
"I don't know," Beregond said, gaze wavering. "If there is, I don't see what it can be exactly. But..." He paused, as though trying to find the correct words. "But there's something you should see."
Feeling Mustang and Falman's gaze still locked on him, Beregond pulled a piece of paper from his journal and a pen from his pocket to draw a circle with a five-pointed star inside it.
"Syndow said that this is a symbol with many interpretations." Beregond said, showing his drawing to Roy and Vato. "It can symbolise a knight's virtues; or the elements of nature; or Man's power over the world; or health; or death. Now... an idea would be to do what Syndow's ancestor attempted."
"You mean combine the theories?" Falman asked.
Beregond nodded at the warrant officer's direction. "That is where the truth lies, according to him."
"But there are numerous combinations, Sergeant Beregond. From where should you start?" Roy said.
"That's just it. Ialready have one in mind."
Falman gaped incredulously. "You--?"
"Look," Beregond said, holding up the piece of paper and beckoning the two men to come closer. "We have the five-pointed star and the circle. I'll put the symbols of water, earth, spirit, fire and air close to each point. So far so good?"
Both Falman and Mustang nodded.
"Now... what if I put names on those elements?"
And before either of the men could answer that, he had already put five names. They were names neither the warrant officer nor the colonel could possibly recognise, because they were written in a language they didn't know - Beregond's language.
"Ulmo for water; Yavanna for earth; Fëanturi for spirit; Aulë for fire; and Manwë for air. And..." Beregond said in a murmur and wrote one final name before drawing asmall arrow to point the star. "Varda." He turned to the other two men to explain matters. "They are the most revered of the Valar in Middle-earth, and they are all children of Ilúvatar, the One. They derived from his thought, which also makes them a part of him. However..." And at that he locked his gaze on Mustang, "Do you remember what I had told you about Ilúvatar, Sir?"
"Yes," Roy answered."You had reached the conclusion that your God is equivalent to this world's Truth, the true knowledge behind this world's workings; the alchemist's main goal."
"Right," Beregond said. He pointed again at the sketch. "Do you see the pattern now?"
Both Falman and Mustang looked at the drawing again, thoughtfully. In end, it was Roy who came up with the answer.
"You've just created asymbol with a dual meaning. If we take it from your people's point of view, this is a symbol of your world's universe. Ilúvatar is the source of the rest of the Valar; he is part of the Valar and vice-versa, whereas the circle shows that they are, nevertheless, whole. On the other hand, if we look at it from an alchemist's point of view, the Truth is the source of all the elements, being part of them and vice-versa, yet still as one."
Beregond nodded. "And... if we put the image of a man on it..."
"It means that people, whether we talk about Children of Ilúvatar in Middle-earth or Men in Amestris, are created by the same source of knowledge and force of creation and are part of it - as the force of creation is part of them," Falman said at once, catching on.
"Exactly. Alchemists -or Wizards and Elves, in my world - are the best example of that. One is all; all is one," Beregond said.
Falman frowned now.
"It's something that Edward and Alphonse kept telling me during our Alchemy lessons - a riddle,"Beregond explained. "I had figured it out quickly enough, but now I see this goes beyond the limits of this world. It encircles both yours and mine."
"But what does that mean?" Vato asked.
"It means, Falman, that the sergeant has found what appears to be proof to a theory of his: if the same force is behind the creation of both worlds, then there's a similar pattern in both of them," Roy said. "But, Sergeant Beregond, you had also told me that you were ready to take this theory further."
Beregond nodded. "I believe, now more than ever, that both worlds were meant to be identical. However, as one world accepted Alchemy and the other didn't, they finally came to take different routes in the course of history."
There was silence as soon as the Gondorian uttered those words.
"I know it sounds crazy," Beregond finally said. Becoming agitated, he stood up and started pacing the room. "But the more I see it, the more I admit that it's the only thing which makes sense. There are the myths, the Ishbalan's language, Syndow's documents and the forces of nature to be considered. If I were something completely different from an Amestrian, then it would be logical that Iwouldn't be able to perform alchemy. On the other hand, the thing that Iidentified as magic in my world can be considered a form of alchemy. I happen to know a Wizard who controls fire, much like you, Sir. And then there are the Gates. What I call Gates of Mandos, Edward identifies it as the gate of Truth."
Roy and Falman's eyes widened, something that made Beregond bite his lip. It was too late though.
"I see you weren't aware of that," he said softly.
"So the gate you've passed though... Fullmetal has seen it?" Mustang asked.
The Gondorian nodded again. "And I know for a fact that it's the same thing, since both our descriptions of it were alike."
"But," Falman reasoned,"if the worlds were meant to be identical, why aren't there any Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits here as well?"
"Falman," Beregond said then, his expression dead-serious. "Do you remember what you asked back at Syndow's place? About the Grey People in that story the professor showed us?"
Vato nodded, uncertain as to where Beregond was getting with this.
"Grey People is another name for Elves." There was again stunned silence for many moments, until Beregond broke it. "That means that there were such things once, even though they now only exist through myths and fairy-tales."
"Nevertheless, I should point out that not all the myths and fairy tales are identical to your people's, Sergeant," Roy said.
"I know. Still, for some reason, they're quite similar up to one point: the tale of the Sunken City."
Falman's eyes opened wide in realisation. "That's why you asked Syndow to show you that tale."
"Yes. It's an important event in my world because it marked a time when the shape of our world changed forever. If it's mentioned in this world as well, it means that it signifies agreat change as well. The most logical explanation would be that it was about then that the Amestris world accepted Alchemy as science. Or..."
But Beregond froze mid-sentence and didn't carry on.
"Or the other way around- your world denounced it," Roy said, wishing to complete the sentence for the Gondorian.
He certainly didn't expect Beregond to pale, a horrified expression getting etched in his features.
Roy and Falman looked at the man in surprise. "Beregond?"
If the Gondorian ever tried to say anything in answer, he never managed it. He lifted his right hand, his index finger twitching slightly as though he was writing something in an invisible blackboard. And to Roy and Falman's alarm, Beregond looked now as though he was about to faint.
At the next moment, Roy had grabbed Beregond from the shoulders and shaken him.
Beregond blinked and looked at Roy and Vato like he was snapped out of a trance. He swallowed hard; then released a breath that, apparently, hadn't realised he had been holding all this time. As the air escaped his lungs, it seemed as though his strength was drained out of his system as well, because his shoulders had slumped forward and his legs were ready to buckle from underneath him.
"I'm sorry, Sir," he said, his voice coming out hoarse and weak.
"What is it?" Roy asked in concern.
Beregond sighed. His gaze dropped and he didn't even try to look at the two men in the eye.
"Another guess as to what event it could be. May I take your leave now?"
Roy frowned at this, but he finally deemed not to pursue the matter any further.
"Very well. You may go."
The Gondorian nodded slightly and headed for the door. Just when he placed a hand on the doorknob, he stopped on his tracks.
"Yes, Sergeant?" Roy asked calmly.
"I'll come with my report right about this time."
And with that he was gone.
However, Falman had remained behind. And now he was looking at his superior in wonder.
"What was that about?"
"You heard him, Falman. It's another guess. One that shook his very core and he doesn't want to prove correct," Roy answered, taking his place behind his desk again.
"But what could it be?"Falman insisted.
"I guess we'll find out when the time comes," Roy said with a sigh. "Will 2nd Lieutenant Havoc drive you to the professor's house tomorrow?
Falman nodded. "That was our intention, Sir."
"In that case, ask him to stay with you until you're done with your visit at Syndow's house."
"I wish for your and sergeant Beregond's report here as soon as possible," Mustang explained. "And... I want you and Havoc to keep an eye on Beregond. Something tells me you'll have to."
Falman nodded his understanding. He exited the office, while Mustang started looking into his paperwork once more, even though his mind wasn't into the particular task.
That night, Beregond didn't go home. He stayed in his office, looking at books and writing fervently in his journal.
/Calculating/something, to be precise. And once he had finished and verified all his figures, he let out another sigh and just lied on the couch nearby, an arm over his face as he desperately tried to think.
Or rather... not to.
It was there that troubled sleep finally claimed him.
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