Heinkel made his way back under the cover of darkness. “They’ve got a perimeter in place,” he told them, gruffly.
“If they knew where we were, they’d come get us,” Darius pointed out.
“Heh,” Greed said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. They made us while we were getting supplies. They know we’re somewhere in their perimeter, and all they have to do is close the trap. And the longer we wait, the deader we are.”
Ed nodded seriously. “Now that they know where we are, they’ll send one of the other homunculi to hunt for us.”
“And other-me could tell you something about how that turns out,” he said, with a dark smirk. “Okay, boys- there’s only one way out of here. We’re going straight through them.”
Heinkel sighed. “Please tell me there’s more to the plan than that,” he grumbled.
Darius rolled his eyes. “Is there ever a plan?” he added, snarkily.
Greed laughed. “Oh ye of little faith!” he barked. “You want a plan? Here’s a plan. Heinkel’s our scout, since he can still function in the dark. Darius, follow him. Me and the kid are going to move forward, and you two take out anyone who notices us. We’re going to try to take out their lookouts, and then punch through the layers of the perimeter as quickly and quietly as we can. “ He grinned, his teeth sharp. “If we succeed, we should make it back out to the woods where it’ll be hard for them to track us. If not, we’re probably dead, so make this count.”
“No killing anyone,” Ed said, stubbornly.
Darius turned to him with exasperation. “What do you think this is, kid?” he asked. “They’re playing for keeps here.”
“Yeah?” Ed countered, his teeth bared. “Well, you and Lion King better be happy that’s not how I work, or you’d’ve been dead back in Baschool.”
Darius laughed, short and sharp. “Really, kid? The way I remember it, Kimbley would have offed you if we hadn’t had pity on you.”
“Both of you shut up,” Heinkel said. “If they hear us arguing, none of this matters anyway.”
“Fine,” Ed said, more quietly but with no less intensity, “But still, no killing. And not just because I don’t like it. Right now, those guys are coming after us because someone ordered them to. If we start killing them, it’ll be personal for them. It’s better for us if it’s not personal.”
Greed laughed again. “Kid’s got a point. Okay- disable ‘em and gag ‘em if you can. Try not to kill anybody, but do what you have to. We can’t afford for them to give away our position. Move!”
Darius and Heinkel scrambled to their feet, pulling their dark coats around them as they left. Greed and Ed waited another moment, and then Ed jumped out from cover. Greed grabbed him and pulled him back. “Hey, not so fast,” he said, grinning sharply at Ed. “I go first.”
“Fine, fine,” Ed grumbled, but he wasn’t really going to argue. Greed could shrug off a bullet in a way that Ed couldn’t, no matter how badass he was.
They ran low to the ground, trying to stay out of sight. Twice, they passed bound and gagged guards; mute proof that Darius and Heinkel were out in the darkness doing their job.
Suddenly, Heinkel was at Ed’s shoulder, his voice rough in the way that meant he was in his chimera form. “There’s a patrol dead ahead a hundred yards. They’ve got men every twenty feet.”
“Okay,” Greed whispered. “Our only chance is to run straight through this faster than they can take us down. I’m taking point, and no arguing, alright?” No one argued. “Alright. Move.”
By unspoken agreement, Greed went first, followed by Ed. The chimeras brought up the rear. The agreement remained unspoken because no one wanted to tell Ed that it was his height that meant he ended up in the middle. Except Greed, but mostly only when he was bored, which wasn’t now.
Greed’s shield snaked up his body, covering his hands and neck. He charged screaming straight through the line of soldiers, slashing at their weapons and sending them reeling. The gunfire started, but that didn’t bother Greed. Coming up behind him, Ed got in a few flying kicks at nearby soldiers before Greed shouted “Run, you idiot!” and he did what he was told. The chimeras ran through the line together, and Greed covered their escape. Some of the soldiers broke the line to follow them, of course, but they had been caught off guard, and Greed’s crew knew how to run for their lives if they knew how to do anything.
They managed to find some cover- a dip in the ground that wasn’t immediately obvious unless you hit it at the right angle- and they all lay there, shaking with tension as they heard the soldiers run past.
“There’s an outer perimeter,” Darius said, once they seemed to be alone again. “I heard them. They know we broke the one perimeter, but not the other, so they’re searching the ring in between.”
“Fuck,” Ed said, eloquently.
“You all still in one piece?” Greed asked.
“We weren’t hit,” Heinkel said, sighing. “The kid was, though. I can smell the blood.”
“Let me see,” Greed ordered, turning to Ed.
“I’m fine,” he protested. “Leave me alone. I won’t slow us down.”
Greed reached for Ed’s shirt. “I said, let me see, idiot. I can’t have you dropping in the middle of a run. You’ll compromise us.”
“Stay the fuck away from my clothes,” Ed growled.
“Fine!” Greed said, exasperated. Suddenly, his whole demeanor shifted. “Hey, Ed,” Ling said.
“Shit,” Ed said. “He let you out?”
“He figured you’d listen to me and not him,” Ling said. “He’s still here; I haven’t got long. Now, don’t be an idiot, Ed; you’re only half made of steel.”
When Ling reached out, Ed sighed, and batted away his hand. “Fine,” he said, and unbuttoned his shirt. There was a deep graze on his side, bleeding sluggishly. “See? I fucking told you I was fine.”
“You know, it’s not weakness to ask for help once in a while, Ed,” Heinkel commented, pulling some spare bandages out of his coat.
Ling took the bandages and started wrapping Ed’s chest with quick, deft movements. “There,” he said, smiling at Ed. “You won’t be favoring your side so much when you run now.” His face changed almost imperceptibly. “And that’s enough of that,” Greed added, pulling his hands away. “And next time I give you an order, don’t make me pull out the prince to talk you into following it.”
Ed glared. “Don’t talk about Ling like that.”
“And don’t you get cute with me, kid,” Greed said, his purple eyes flashing. He turned. “Okay, same marching order as last time, and we rendezvous before the final rush. In cover if we can find it. Move!”
And so they moved. Maybe ten minutes in, though, Heinkel stopped them, puling the crew to cover behind a stand of trees. “They’ve got the high ground,” he said. “And sharpshooters are covering the ground in between. If we take ten steps, they’ll fill us full of holes. Which wouldn’t bother some of us, but-”
“Yeah, yeah,” Greed said. “Can you take ‘em out with your alchemy, kid?”
Ed ducked his head around, considering. “They’re too far away,” he said. “And besides, the transmutation would start where I am. The light’d make me a target ages before the transmutation got to them.”
“It’s pretty dark,” Darius said. “We might be able to low crawl up to their positions without them seeing us.”
Ed cocked his head. “If I had cover, I could make a distraction- throw up transmutations all over the field and maybe let you guys get through.”
“And then how do you get out, pipsqueak?” Greed pointed out. “Besides, what kind of cover do you think you have?”
“I’ll make some!” Ed insisted.
Greed grinned, his teeth sharp. “You’re mine now, kid. And I don’t like losing my things.”
“I’m not trying to get left behind, dumbass,” Ed growled. “I can make it out on my own.”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Darius put in. “Heinkel and I make a run for it while he distracts them; you stay and cover the kid, and then we can attack them from behind so the two of you can make it out.”
“Well,” Greed said, “If it’s enough of a plan for you, Gorilla Man...”
“Yeah, yeah,” Heinkel said. “Come on, Darius.” He looked back as he and the other chimera prepared to leave cover. “Watch yourself, Ed,” he said.
Ed shook his head. “You better pay attention to your own ass, Lion King,” he said.
The four of them left the cover of the trees cautiously. The clearing started maybe fifty yards after that. Ed peered into the darkness, taking stock of the situation as best he could.
“You know what you’re doing?” Greed asked him.
“Do you?” Ed retorted. He clapped his hands and dropped into a crouch, slamming his hands into the dirt. Around him, lightning cracked and earth churned. Grasping hands and gargoyles and skulls sprouted, large and looming, out of the clear field.
Almost immediately, the other end of the field erupted in fire and noise as a dozen sharpshooters took aim at the locus of the alchemic lightning. Greed crouched over Ed, covering as much of the alchemist’s body with his own as he could. Bullets slammed into the Ultimate Shield, flying wild. Unnoticed, the two chimera crawled up the bank on the other side of the field.
It took a moment for the dust- both metaphoric and literal- to clear. When both the shooting and the transmutation finally died down, Ed and Greed were crouched together in a stone bunker.
“Think Gorius and the Lion Man made it out?” Ed asked.
“Who knows,” Greed said. “We’ll find out soon, though.”
They waited, listening- and then they heard shouts coming from the other end of the field. Heinkel and Darius would have been easy targets running across the field, but coming out from the darkness behind the shooters made it a different matter altogether.
Ed melted the bunker in a flash of light, transmuting the plating of his arm into a small, buckler-sized shield. He and Greed made a run for it, ducking in between the cover that Ed had created on the field. Bullets flew past them, but nothing like the concentrated volley they’d faced before. They hit the hill and vaulted up it at speed, slamming into the line of MP’s. Ed clapped, transmuting the man’s rifle into a demonic-looking club. Greed just slashed his claws through the one in front of him, slicing the barrel into pieces. “Keep moving, kid!” he called, punching the MP in the face before he had time to react.
Ed threw his opponent to the ground and ran, following the homunculus.
Ed and Greed found a decent place to hide, and Ed transmuted a little cover. Heinkel and Darius wandered in about twenty minutes later, still in chimera form, with other peoples’ blood on their fur.
“Hey, look who showed up,” Greed said, smiling sideways.
“Nice to see you, too,” Heinkel grumbled.
“They’re sending out search parties,” Ed said. “We were starting to wonder if you got caught by one.”
“Almost,” Darius said. He rolled his eyes. “If I never have to watch this guy shimmy up a hill again, it’ll be too soon. I hate low crawls.”
Greed looked at Ed. “Shimmy?” he asked, his voice a little choked.
Ed snickered. “I had no idea Lion Man could... shimmy.”
“I never would have thought it of you boys,” Greed purred.
Ed just started laughing outright.
Heinkel put a hand over his face. “We are going to get caught if you two idiots can’t shut up,” he growled.
Greed started laughing, too.
There wasn’t much he could do about the homunculus, Heinkel reflected, but there was no reason why he couldn’t wrestle Ed to the ground and sit on him. He knew Darius would back him up.