“This Matter is found in one thing, out of which alone our
Stone is prepared … It is found potentially everywhere,
and in everything, but in all its perfection and fullness
only in one thing.”
The Sophic Hydrolith; 1619
“The secret of alchemy is this: there is a way of manipulating
what modern science calls a force-field. This force-field acts
upon the observer and puts him in a privileged position in
relation to the universe. From this privileged position, he has
access to the realities which are normally concealed from
us by time and space, matter and energy. This is what we
call the Great Work.”
.: Prologue :.
The air in the warehouse smelled of must and old metal, tarnished with the neglect of years. Suits of armor were lined in silent rows, restored to their feet and weapons positioned at the ready. Each suit had been thoroughly examined and documented; with tags hanging from the weapons and helmets to aid in identification. Against the far wall were several piles of incomplete suits of armor, their limbs and helms jumbled together and their cataloging since abandoned. This storage room was brightly lit, and yet a dark aura seemed to lurk about the armor, as inexplicable as the black substance that coated each suit.
Men had died in those suits of armor. No one knew exactly how - according to the official records, not a one of them had survived to relay the tale. Most of the soldiers had bled to death, although their bodies had no visible wounds. Some were missing limbs, or had various organs gouged from their torsos. Others still looked as though they had merely asphyxiated. Not a single death was easily explained. It was a grisly, macabre task to sort out all this information - a task that had been carried on in secret for years.
“Eckhart’s Mistake” was what the fiasco had been called, on paper. Outside of the documentation of the armor and a pile of strange plans and notes coded in a language that was not easily decipherable there was no other evidence of the plan that had resulted in the dissolution of the Thule Society. The Mistake was never mentioned within the party, and those best and brightest of the Thule Society that had been swept up in Dietlinde Eckhart’s plot had vanished as if they had never existed at all.
The party was quick to sweep up after their mistakes. The Thule Society seemed to disappear from the occultism scene almost overnight; and with the rapid turmoil that the country was in it was no surprise that they were quickly forgotten.
“What was done with the bodies?” A man, tall with regal bearing and a severe expression on his face moved between the suits of armor, studying them dispassionately. He had not been involved in this plot, although he had known of it - and of Dietlinde Eckhart, as well. He had called her a fool, to her face and to the other members of the Thule Society, but they had all been too swept up in the notion of Shamballa to pay heed to his warnings. It was a pity that none of them thought to listen even for a moment, as then they might have averted this tragedy and this wanton loss of life.
Wilhem von Eiselstein was not publicly involved with the Nazi party, though many of his interests and goals intersected with their own. Eiselstein rarely brought himself out of his secluded castle in Austria to conduct business, especially with this political party that he watched so warily from a distance.
Most only knew of him through an intermediary; few had actually been privileged enough to see his face. Eiselstein’s dark eyes flickered over the grim and blank visages of the empty helmets before they finally settled on the similar expression of the uniformed soldier who had escorted him to the warehouse. “Surely they were not all buried. Were they examined thoroughly?”
“Madame Eckhart was autopsied and buried,” the soldier said, his blue eyes alert despite the bored expression on his face. “The rest of the bodies were too numerous to be dealt with. Once they were identified they were … disposed of.”
“Cremated,” Eiselstein murmured, staring up at a particular armor and arcing his eyebrow. Something about this one seemed familiar … perhaps it was one of the many suits of armor his family had sold from their ancestral home before he inherited it. “What a waste … and you say that there is no evidence of how they all died?”
“Blood loss, and acute trauma is what the official reports say,” the soldier said dutifully. Eiselstein turned away from the suit he had been studying to scoff at the uniformed man.
“And what do the unofficial reports say? What theories are there on what really happened here? I was summoned here for some unexplained reason, and not to hear with my ears what I so easily could read with my eyes.” Eiselstein turned sharply, and the light glinted ominously off of the rows of armor, dull with age. “I have business to attend to, and this is a waste of my time.”
“Leaving so soon, Baron von Eiselstein?”
Eiselstein halted in mid-stride, waiting a moment before he turned to face the voice. “You were, after all, brought here to meet with me.” The man stepped out from the darkness between two of the suits of armor, his hand still touching the cool metal of one of the suits. “Amazing, aren’t they?” He ran his hand over the hardened substance on one of the arms. “Imagine what we could have done if she’d succeeded. Where we would be, right now.”
“Who are you?” Eiselstein demanded. The stranger was not wearing any uniform; just a dark; plainly cut suit. He wore his dark hair slightly longer than was fashionable in Berlin, and his eyes held an Oriental slant - not as sharp as some of Eiselstein’s servants, but enough to show his mixed descent. “What purpose do you have, summoning me here?”
“You don’t know me, Baron,” the man said, folding his hands crisply behind his back. “I am not seen by very many at all - the same as you, it seems. It is a great privilege for us to meet like this.” He bowed from the waist, but did not take his eyes off of Eiselstein. “The burden and reparation of Eckhart’s Mistake has been placed upon my shoulders, and I have spent many years already deciphering her notes and codes.”
“That is a terrible burden, and an admirable goal,” Eiselstein said. “Yet, I reiterate: What does that have to do with me? I am nothing but a simple merchant-”
“And in that you excel,” the man said. “But you do more than exchange commodities, good Baron. You are also a noble philosopher and a student of the arcane arts - as are most members of the Thule Society.”
Eiselstein’s eyes narrowed. He had been quite careful at keeping his participation in any secret society off the record; and of the Thule Society few records remained of its members. He had destroyed several himself. This man was watching him carefully, like a hawk lazily circling overhead.
“I brought you here to request your aid in my task, as your knowledge and years of experience far outweigh my own.” There was no mistaking the undercurrent of threat laced in those words, this was no more a request than when the soldiers came knocking less than a week prior.
“Eckhart’s Mistake is a closed book,” Eiselstein said carefully. “What gain is there in her failure?”
The man turned to the soldier who had escorted Eiselstein into the warehouse and nodded. The younger man saluted him crisply and then strode off, leaving the pair alone. “I do apologize … this is a most sensitive matter and does require the utmost of discretion.” He began to cross the room and inclined his head to Eiselstein, indicating that the man should follow him. “It is not the Mistake that we are researching. It is the secret that is locked deep within Eckhart’s folly that was barely brushed upon but could mean the success … or ruination … of our entire party.”
Eiselstein raised his eyebrow, waiting for the man to continue. “What we seek is the secret to immortality … the Elixir of Life; the Great Work, the Herculean task … surely you know of that which I speak, noble philosopher?”
“The Stone of the Sages,” Eiselstein breathed. It was a story told by schoolchildren and fools, and even those who studied the Art hardly believed in its reality. Throughout history those who sought its creation more often led to their own destruction; and there was not on record a single occurrence of success. “Eckhart knew it?”
“Alas, I do not know if she made an attempt,” the dark-haired man stopped walking, placing a hand solemnly on one of the more-mangled suits. “Her notes are mostly gibberish to me; I have not yet cracked her code. There is also a great portion of them missing - pages torn and, I suspect, an entire book gone from her personal library. This leads me to believe that more know of the truth behind Eckhart’s folly than were originally reported. Hence, our intense and intricate study of the Mistake; so that we may determine who has the notes that may hold the key to our inquiries.”
He was beginning to see how it all came together. “The party is not funding you.”
“This is an endeavor I have undertaken at my own discretion,” the man said simply. “If Eckhart’s Mistake holds the key to immortality, the value of the findings to our cause would be immeasurable.”
Eiselstein stood in silence, staring out at the rows of empty armor suits. He thought of the madness that must have overwhelmed Dietlinde Eckhart in those last days, to gird her soldiers in such archaic technology; and what power had destroyed all that it had touched, leaving only cold metal as testament to the loss. This man needed Eiselstein; both as a benefactor and as a resource.
“You would, of course, have complete control over the operation and all experimentation,” he assured Eiselstein. “We would be at your very beck and call, Baron…”
Perhaps a better man than Eiselstein would turn his back on such a partnership. But what student of the arcane, even just a reticent dabbler, would be able to turn down such a proposition? The rewards, should he succeed, were almost too much to consider.
“Send all of her logs and notations to my residence,” Eiselstein said suddenly. “All of them, no matter how inconsequential they seem.” He spun on his heel, staring deep into the dark sockets of the armor that stood beside him. “I want her body exhumed. I assume that despite her betrayal she was not cremated?”
“Her death was by gunshot, not an unknown malady,” the man said, the frown on his face evidence enough that this request had not been considered.
“No matter, I still want to autopsy her. There is no telling what could have been missed.”
“I can provide you with the full account of her autopsy,” the man said carefully. “However, as for the exhumation of her body, that will prove … difficult.”
“If you want my full cooperation, you will hold nothing back.” Eiselstein turned an imperious look upon the man, who did not back down like his servants. He tilted his chin up and met Eiselstein’s eye coldly. “Additionally, I will need a complete record of all the men present for her demise and their current whereabouts.”
Eiselstein turned and faced the open doors of the warehouse, where sunlight spilled in and crept across the feet of the first few suits of armor. He looked over when the man stopped beside him. “So this is a partnership then, Baron?”
“Call it that if you must,” Eiselstein replied. “One final question,” he said after much thought. “You seem quite knowledgeable about the Thule Society. Tell me, whatever became of Hohenheim of the Light?”
“That I could not tell you,” the dark-haired man said after a long, quiet moment. “However, he has a son…”
Artwork for this chapter provided by firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
.:Chapter One :.
The warm spring afternoon drew students out in droves. They chattered amicably, women in their calf-length dresses and men in ties as they strode languidly down the paths that cut through the grass outside the lecture halls. The bright bustle of conversation outside the windows of the Science building was a common occurrence and was simple to ignore, unless one was looking for a distraction.
It was remarkably hard to keep the bright sunlight out of the tiny corner office with the lack of shrubbery blocking the windows like they did further down the way. Even with the shades drawn it was bright in the room, dust motes caught drifting in the dingy light.
The office of the interim Chemistry professor looked like a hurricane had come through and no one had bothered to sweep up after it. The bookshelves were crammed full to bursting with a number of books ranging from recently-printed textbooks to reprints on treatise on the elements, and even books on rocketry and physics. These books spilled off the shelves and to the floor, piled almost knee-high in places. The filing cabinets were spilling papers out the sides to the floor before it, and all over the room on every available surface empty vials, beakers and alembics were balanced. It was chaos personified, confined in a tiny room, almost completely forgotten by the cleaning staff.
Edward Elric sighed deeply, bored. There were several lab reports sitting on his desk waiting for grades, and his next lecture would not write itself. He had lost a good part of the afternoon reading one of Pauling's most recent articles on electronegativity - but it was a simple distraction, nothing more. He had grown restless these past few months, and this restlessness disturbed him. Edward knew exactly what is was he wanted to do.
It was time to move on. He had been stationary for years now, after moving all across Europe in the pursuit of knowledge. This was a thirst that never slackened - he and Alphonse had been dogged in their quest. There was a whole new world of opportunity spread open before them, and they were certainly going to make the most of it. As the years passed, however, their mutual goal slowly disintegrated. While Edward pursued the path of a scientist, funneling his passion for the intricacies of alchemy into the science borne from its ashes; Alphonse chose a different path. He became far more interested in the histories of the lands they traveled, their languages and their roots. He eventually chose a scholarship at Cambridge University, and that was the point that Edward continued on his journey alone.
He could have stayed in Cambridge with Alphonse as he studied. Edward didn't have to keep moving, but travel was all he knew. He had his sights set on studying in Venice for a while, but the Fascists there left a bad taste in his mouth. They had been very careful to keep their tracks covered for years after the debacle involving Dietlinde Eckhart, and they were quite fortunate that the Nazi party thought it in their best interests to sweep the Thule Society under the rug. All the same, Edward was not fond of the political climate in Europe.
Edward sat back in his desk chair and considered for a moment throwing his feet up on his desk to recline. He dismissed the thought just as quickly. The door to his office very seldom locked correctly, and all the students and staff at Marshall College knew of his false leg. He had affected a limp - a war injury, of course - and no one gave him a second thought. His arm would be harder to explain, so Edward kept the automail covered at all times. That required long sleeves, even in the sweltering heat of summer. Gloves were not optional. Fortunately this was written off as an eccentricity, as all the professors in the Science department seemed just the slightest bit odd.
Edward had gotten this job by sheer luck, and had almost turned it down. He and Alphonse had been sitting on the steps of the library at Cambridge, enjoying sandwiches and talking of the future; they had been approached by an almost-nervous, middle-aged man who introduced himself as Marcus Brody. Apparently he had been a correspondent of their father's - Edward had learned very quickly that Hohenheim wasted no time getting his fingers into everything in this new world. They had run across acquaintances of their father in every country that they had been in … which had been quite a bit disconcerting when they had spent three months in Japan several years prior. However at this point Edward had made a bit of a name for himself as well; having published a few random papers and articles over the last few years.
Brody had offered him a job - assistant interim professor at a small-town university in America. The man had connections - he would be able to get Edward into America; after all, Edward didn not have any papers and would likely not have made it through immigration any other way. Brody was fascinated by the stories of Hohenheim and in exchange for his pulling of strings all he wanted was some first-hand accounts of the man. Edward had hesitated - he had never taught before, but Alphonse encouraged him to take the job.
That was how Edward found himself employed by Marshall College in Connecticut. And that had been almost five years ago now. This was the longest he had stayed in one place since he lived in Munich. No wonder he was restless.
Maybe when the semester was over he would visit his brother. Alphonse had moved on from Cambridge to London itself - he had not found work but he had found love. He had gotten married not two years after Edward had left for America, to a woman also in the history program. Edward had met her only once, at the wedding; and Alphonse had to take him aside and make him promise to be on his best behavior. The warning was necessary because Sofia was a dead ringer for their childhood friend, Winry Rockbell.
It was a phenomenon that both of the Elric brothers had observed since they had first set foot in this strange parallel Earth. There seemed to be alternate versions of their friends and family here - although fortunately they did not seem to run across them nearly as often as Edward feared. Sofia might look like their childhood friend but she was not the same person; she was very quiet and viewed Edward with a veiled distrust. When she spoke, he could detect the traces of a French accent in her tone.
That was really the only thing that kept Edward from visiting his brother. It was not that he disliked his brother's wife … her presence just made him deeply uncomfortable. It brought back memories he would rather stay buried. They had been firm in their decision to make this world their new home, and protect it as they would the land of their birth. Still, Edward could not help but feel homesick for the country he nearly gave his life to defend.
There was no point in looking back, he told himself firmly. Only forward. He could not change the past, and even if he could he would not want to. He had a good life here, even if it was a bit lonely without Alphonse. Brody checked in on him occasionally - but the rest of the teaching staff were either idiots or incompetent. The students showed more promise than most of the teaching staff, and despite several accidents in the lab Edward was far more comfortable about them than any of the stodgy older professors.
Even with the thought in mind that he was going to go visit his brother, and the fact he needed to plan that little excursion, Edward was restless now. He shoved back from his desk, determined that he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.
The afternoon air would do him some good - he hoped.
A late faculty meeting meant that Edward was going to be eating bar food again for dinner. He despised faculty meetings with every fiber of his being; the Sciences department was not exempt from the time-consuming glare of budget meetings. Edward had sat in the back and contributed the least - he could not get away with feigning issues at understanding any longer; he used to get a pass from these long, dry meetings by layering on a thicker German accent than he actually had.
So Edward sat in the back and doodled mindlessly on the sheaf of notes he was supposed to be taking - suggestions on ways to cut corners with the budget, on how to conserve the supplies each science lab was allowed and things of that nature. The first thing Edward had done was scribble out the spelling of his name on the list of professors in attendance. Despite his constant corrections, not a single secretary in the establishment seemed to grasp the concept that there was not an "h" on the end of his surname.
When they dismissed, finally, the sun was low in the sky. Most of the teaching staff were older than he was - happily married, home to their wives and a hot prepared meal and maybe a drink later. Edward, on the other hand, was off to the local drinking establishment.
The air in the bar was warm and heavy and stale, thick with cigarette smoke. It was a comforting atmosphere to him, he frequented this little hole-in-the-wall bar on the far side of town specifically because the students did not. He didn't mind his students and would even drink with them occasionally, but most of the time he preferred to drink alone.
Tonight though, he was staring at his mug of beer as if he were expecting it to do a trick. He was so lost in thought that he did not notice the people coming and going around him.
Edward had stopped by the house on his way to the bar, to drop his class notes off and to sort through his mail. There had been a few scientific journals that came this week that he wanted to flip through first; and he had devoured the information within them greedily. This did not abate his restlessness and instead made it significantly worse, and for the first time in several years he pulled out some chalk.
The transmutation circle came back to him with little difficulty, and he spent a few minutes sketching a difficult transmutation circle on the wall. It was meant to transmute water, to change its properties and funnel it - but once Edward had finished he had scowled at it and swiped it through with his false hand. The single smear through the center of the transmutation circle did not hide what he had tried again to do.
This world was simply not set up to accommodate alchemy in the manner that he was used to. Matter transmutation just did not exist here.
Of course that had not stopped him from trying, most notably when drunk. Alphonse had discouraged that practice very quickly, but now that Edward was alone again he could moon quietly over that which was lost and never could be regained.
So Edward nursed his beer, ignored the other patrons of the bar, and brooded silently.
When the man in the long-brimmed fedora came in, Edward didn't give him more than a cursory glance before turning his attention back to his drink. He ignored the man as he seated himself two seats down from Edward at the bar, and did not pay any actual attention while the man ordered and joked with the bartender.
It was not long after the man in the hat came in that four men followed. Edward glanced up at the strange silence the fell over the rabble as the door swung loudly shut behind the men, and he looked over his shoulder.
They did not look like government agents, or policemen. Three of the men were wearing three-piece suits but they obviously felt uncomfortable in the dress judging by their posture. They all wore hats, pulled down tightly to shadow their eyes. Edward assessed them through his buzz - this was not a good sign. They stood in a three-point formation, blocking his view of the fourth man.
These men were trouble, and the entire bar knew it.
The establishment seemed to be holding its breath, waiting to decide on what to do. The men in the three-point formation spread out slightly, giving dark looks at the drinkers around the door. The other patrons of the bar took the hint and began to clear out, wanting desperately to be out of the line of fire. The handful of people who did not move were clearly too far gone to care about what was happening anyway.
The fourth man looked directly at Edward, and Edward's bad feeling only intensified. The man was Oriental and was dressed like he had walked straight out of Chinatown, in a changshan and trousers. It was a distinctly unusual sight in small-town Connecticut; Edward had only seen changshan when they passed through Shanghai years ago. He turned completely around as the man stepped delicately into the bar, looking with disinterest at the handful of patrons who had not bothered to shift themselves.
"Good evening, professor," he said, his English accented but very good. "I trust that you are well."
Edward was not going to beat around the bush, he was tired and getting on towards drunk. "Do I know you?"
"I don't believe so." The man folded his hands before him and bowed. "I am called Ling Yao. May I join you?"
Edward glanced around the now mostly-empty bar, the three men - bodyguards, he now realized, although their ethnicity was difficult to determine due to their mode of dress and the hats that stayed firmly in place upon their heads - working on removing the rest of the patrons from the establishment. He turned his eyes back to the man who had introduced himself as Ling Yao. "I don't suppose I have much of a choice."
"You are quite wise." Edward watched, his drink forgotten, as the Chinaman slid onto the stool beside him. "I have traveled a very long distance to find you, Professor Elric," he murmured. "Your presence is requested by my employer."
Edward turned his beer so the handle of the stein was no longer facing his left hand but his right. "That's interesting. I'm not looking for a new job, so why don't you tell me what you want so I can go back to my beer?"
"The Philosopher's Stone."
It was a knee-jerk reaction. Edward stiffened, his hand gripping the handle of the beer stein as he stared down into its depths. The Philosopher' Stone. Of course there were legends on it here, Edward had read tirelessly about it over the years. The alchemists of the era searched relentlessly for the secret to immortality. Flamel, Paracelsus, Dee, Kelly, Bacon - the list went on and on, and yet no success to be had.
The Stone was not a stone at all, no rock nor powder but a concept, an energy that could be imbued in any object at hand. It was never what the holder thought it would be. It brought pain and misery to all around it, and misfortune to those unlucky enough to unlock its secrets. Edward somehow kept his voice level and didn't raise his eyes to the stranger. "There's no such thing."
"Ah," Ling said, and the lightness of his tone made Edward raise his eyes. "But there is. My employer has obtained one of the sacred stones and requires someone far more … qualified … to help harness its power."
"Bullshit," Edward said firmly. "I don't know how you heard about me, but I can't help you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to be getting home. I have papers to grade."
A heavy hand fell on Edward's left shoulder, forcing him back down onto the bar stool and gripping him tightly. Edward twisted under the hand instinctively, but he glared at Ling instead. He was running his finger along the top of the bar thoughtfully, and then rubbed his fingers together. "Unfortunately, I must insist," he said, not even looking at Edward. "My employer had very specific instructions."
Edward did not like where this was leading. He braced both of his feet against the solid bar in front of him and shoved his entire body backward. The man behind him let out a grunt of surprise as Edward's entire body weight hit him and they both went over backwards. As he landed, elbows dug deep in the man's solar plexus, Edward could see that the other two goons were hassling the guy who had sat down at the other end of the bar. The clatter of Edward going over backwards drew their attention, and they both pulled revolvers from the interior of their jackets.
He rolled off of the drooling goon and staggered to his feet as one of the other two rushed him. He had not expected that fall to hurt quite so much; he had tried to keep himself in shape but it was clear he had gone a bit soft. Edward loosened his shoulders, widened his stance and as the man with the revolver got within striking distance he threw all his weight on his back leg and kicked up.
Even without stretching out first he still had his martial artist's flexibility. The revolver was knocked out of the goon's hand, but he was smarter than Edward anticipated and he wrapped one meaty hook around Edward's leg and yanked him off his feet. The next thing Edward knew, he was having an unpleasant face-to-face meeting with several tables as he crashed through them.
Edward blinked the stars away in time to see the man in the hat give the third goon a spectacular right cross. It did not take the other thug down but it did make him stagger back and the man in the hat lunged for the gun in his hand. Edward did not see what happened next because the goon grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him to his feet.
Ling had not even gotten up from his bar stool, Edward saw over the goon's shoulder. He was watching the brouhaha with an eyebrow cocked, as if he had expected this and was waiting for Edward to expend all of his energy so he could have the outcome he desired.
Forget everything about that.
There was a huge crash as the man in the hat broke a bar stool over the other goon. That got the attention of the man who held Edward, and Edward seized the distraction. He grabbed the outside of the man's arms, surged up as high as he could and head-butted the man so hard he saw stars himself. Surprised by this action the man dropped him and Edward staggered backward, feeling a twinge of pain shoot through his good leg. He took another step backward, in preparation to give the man a full-on right hook that he would never forget when the first goon lunged up behind him and wrapped both of his arms around Edward from behind.
Edward kicked hard but the man yanked him off his feet backward and gave him absolutely no leverage to work with. He was dragging Edward back, toward the door and he realized that they were not going to give him any option, it was a come-with-them-or-die choice. Edward tried to get his elbows in to jam them back toward the man's solar plexus when the revolver went off and Edward could feel the man hit. He jerked backwards and then went slack, his arms dropping to his sides. The man in front of him started moving toward Edward and this time Edward was prepared, hand curled into a fist he struck the man full in the face with his automail.
Suddenly Ling was between him and the man, catching the follow-up left fist in his hand and twisting Edward's arm violently. Edward yelped in surprise as Ling dropped him to the ground. "You are really quite the handful," Ling said. "I oughtn't be surprised by this."
"I think you need to back up now," a new voice said. Edward looked up to see the man in the hat with the goon's revolver in his hand and trained directly on Ling.
Ling did not look up, instead increasing the pressure on Edward's left arm in a way that made it clear he could snap his arm if he so desired. "Why Doctor Jones, this really isn't any of your business."
"Do I know you?" The man in the hat said, the distrust evident in his voice. Edward turned his face back down to the floor and gritted his teeth, trying to get his automail hand under him. With his left arm twisted so painfully and Ling crouched above him, he could barely move.
"No, but I know of you," Ling said smoothly. "I will give you the benefit of this temporary indiscretion if you would be so kind as to leave."
"Sorry, but I can't do that," Jones said. Edward grunted in pain as Ling twisted his arm harder.
"Your friend here is going to be down one arm very fast if you don't comply."
"I am going to feed you your own asshole if you don't let me go," Edward snarled, his face still pushed into the ground. For his effort Ling ground his face into the floor again.
The next sequence of events happened so quickly that Edward barely had time to react. The man in the hat - Jones - shot Ling. Or rather, he had shot at where Ling was, because as the gun retort reached Edward's ears the pressure was gone from his arm. Edward rolled instinctively, his automail arm out in front of him to protect, but Ling had flipped onto the surface of the bar itself. Jones didn't give him any time to hesitate, he fired shot after shot at Ling. "Wait!" Edward shouted, just as the revolver clicked empty. "Who has the Stone?"
It was too late. Ling was gone.
Edward gritted his teeth in pain as he sat on the dilapidated sofa that was in the sitting room of his small apartment. The seam of metal and skin where his automail ports were located throbbed, seemingly in time with the beating of the headache he had acquired as he limped his way home. He had seen fit to vacate the bar as quickly as possible, to avoid any unpleasantness with the local constabulary.
His automail ached frequently these days. It was something he had grown used to over time, but the intensity of the pain had slowly been increasing, as his ability to use the limb slowly diminished. Edward did not have quite the same range of motion he had once had with the automail and Alphonse had postulated many theories on his gradual loss of mobility. The one that seemed to make the most sense was the one Edward liked the least - that the technology that maintained the automail was in part dependent on a subconscious connection with alchemy itself. Now he was living in a place where the energy no longer permeated the world around him, and that seemed to have a negative effect on the biometrics of the automail.
If Alphonse's theory was correct, there was absolutely nothing he could do about it but suffer the pain until his right arm and his left leg became as useless as blocks of wood. Edward really did not have any idea what he would do at that point in time, but it did not bear thinking on now.
Not now, when he had bigger things to think on.
Ling and his goons had already been by Edward's apartment. The study had been ransacked, books pulled down from shelves and scattered all across the floor. Papers were pulled out of his locked desk drawers and strewn on top of everything, even the cushions of his favorite overstuffed easy chair had been slit open. They had been searching for something, and Edward had a pretty good idea what they were looking for.
Their quest was in vain, Edward's personal alchemy notes were not hidden in the flat he had lived in for five years. He once kept them on him at all times; useless here but a keepsake of a world he had left behind. Months ago he had gotten the strangest notion in his head and he had posted the notes to Alphonse in London to keep safe.
Edward had thrown his overcoat on the first piece of furniture he had come across once he had staggered into the flat, and he stared at it in the darkness, replaying the conversation in the bar with Ling over and over in his head. Someone had the Philosopher's Stone. That was madness, but why claim to have it?
The man Jones had shot had a letter on him. It had been in Italian, but it was Edward's only lead. Italian was one of those languages he kept meaning to learn but never got around to, so skimming the letter proved to be nothing but frustrating. Jones did not seem to be able to understand it either, so Edward had folded the letter up and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. There was an official-looking seal on the paper, maybe that would provide some kind of lead.
There was no way that this mysterious employer of an assassin - for that was what this Ling fellow had to be, he had seen the type - was up to any sort of good. And if they were after Edward in relation to the Stone, then that meant that they knew. They knew of his heritage and they knew of Alphonse and everything the two of them had fought for was hanging in the balance. He had to track this person, this entity down and convince them that this plot of theirs was not in their best interests.
He had a responsibility to this world now, and to his own. So long as he was alive and kicking the path that bridged the two worlds would never be opened again.
"What do you know of the League of Shadows?"
Marcus Brody had asked the question casually, but Indiana Jones had heard that tone of voice come from his old friend before. He thought about his answer for a moment, staring down into the coffee that sat on the table before him.
"Not much," Indy said truthfully. "Their name gets bandied about frequently but there's been little to substantiate their existence. Some say that they are assassins, others a cult of thieves. Most say they don't exist at all." He sat back in his chair and rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. It was still sore. Why would Brody bring up a band of cutthroats and thieves unless for good reason?
Indy knew that most archaeologists would quite happily lump him in with similar bands of malcontents and tomb raiders; say what they would about his methods but he got the job done, bringing home more priceless artifacts than most of those by-the-book archaeologists would ever see in a museum. There were occasionally those treasures that got away - stolen out from under him by rivals, greedy merchants and looters whose first and only interest was the amount of profit they could turn. It was a frustrating business, to be sure - if he had the resources Indy would chase those profiteers to the ends of the earth to recover those stolen valuables.
But that was Brody's business. He was the director of special acquisitions for the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and it was he who very quietly funded the numerous expeditions that Indy undertook. Usually said expeditions were started at a word from Brody - a rare manuscript gone missing; an ancient lost city uncovered the jungles of South America or even when one of those artifacts that "got away" turned up in a foreign black market - that was all the impetuous it took to get Indy on the road again.
"So what does the League of Shadows - which may or may not even exist in the first place - have to do with me?" Indy asked curiously.
"Oh, the League exists," Brody said without a flicker of doubt. "Several of my contacts in Europe are quite aware of their numbers and facilities. In fact, one of the acting figureheads was spotted at a less-than-reputable auction in Marrakesh a few weeks ago." There was a sparkle of excitement hiding in Brody's eyes that got Indy's attention. Whatever was going on in that auction in Marrakesh was apparently very important! "One lot in particular was quite interesting," Brody said, his voice not giving away any of his excitement. "It had quite a few odds and ends to it - old manuscripts on hermetic alchemy, skulls from an excavation in Africa, some knick knacks from a long-dead Pharaoh's tomb and - a Spanish gold cross."
Indy's head shot up and he looked directly at Brody, who could not contain his grin any longer. "Do you think-?"
"Unfortunately my contact was unable to describe the cross, he didn't get to see it first hand, but there's a strong chance that it is indeed the Cross of Coronado, my friend."
Indy exhaled and ran his hand down his face. The Cross of Coronado was his white whale, his life-long pursuit. He had been running after that artifact for half of his life, and the fact that it might have been sighted - at auction, nonetheless! - sent a jolt of adrenaline through his system. "Do you think it's still in Marrakesh?"
"Doubtful," Brody admitted, and Indy hissed a breath of disappointment through his teeth. "However, the man who purchased the lot had it sent to Florence; and where it would go after that is anyone's guess." Brody's eyes were serious. "I know what the Cross means to you, Indy. However the League of Shadows isn't to be trifled with - if they have their sights set on it…."
"Florence, huh," Indy repeated slowly. Italy seemed to be cropping up frequently these days, he would have to brush up on his Italian. The thought crossed his mind - the letter that the blond-haired man had pulled from the body of the man Indy had shot had been in Italian. Curious. The Chinaman had called him "professor" as well - if he had not have said that, Indy would have thought the man to be a student himself.
Brody had his contacts within the college, and not just within the History department. He really was an invaluable resource. "What do you know about the Philosopher's Stone, Marcus?"
The abrupt shift in topics seemed to surprise his old friend. "I wouldn't imagine something like that to catch your attention, Indy," Marcus said. "It's a fairy tale - a legend of a rock with the ability to give its holder eternal life. Oh, and there's that whole lead-into-gold business that alchemists were after as well." He raised his eyebrow. "I thought you were a scientist, my friend."
Indy snorted. "I know that there's no such thing," he said darkly. "There was a bit of a scuffle in town last night; it involved a professor, a German with a ponytail."
Brody straightened up. "Professor Elric was involved?"
"You know him, then?"
"I should say so, I got him his job at the college." Brody frowned. "His father was a brilliant man - I met him in Europe only once, and he did me a favor, so in return I was able to get his son a job teaching here."
"Well, he's a hell of a scrapper," Indy said. "Some goons approached him about the Philosopher's Stone, I think - but he fought them off pretty well. One of them was carrying a letter in Italian, but I barely got to glance at it. Didn't recognize the seal or the letterhead, though." He paused. "It was a strange symbol, almost a bastardized Jerusalem Cross, now that I think about it."
Indy put his finger in his coffee and sketched the design on the tablecloth for Brody. "A circle divided into four quadrants, but not by straight lines - very Oriental, and then the four triangles made up the cross."
Brody nodded. "There are also four smaller crosses; one each at the north-west, north-east, south-west and south-east points."
He looked up at Brody. "You've seen this before?"
"Yes, I have," Brody said, and now instead of excited, he sounded tired. "It's the symbol of the League of Shadows."
Edward was buttoning his long-sleeved collared shirt when the insistent knock came at the door. He hesitated a moment, adrenaline already going. However, no one came through the door - although the knocking continued. Edward buttoned his shirt the rest of the way and grabbed his gloves that were sitting atop his suitcase, pulling them on as he moved toward the door.
"Edward?" a familiar voice called through the door. "Edward, are you there?"
He opened the door a crack, just to be certain; but it was in fact Marcus Brody on his doorstep. Marcus Brody, and the man in the hat from the bar the previous evening. Edward gave the man in the hat - Jones, he recalled - a dark look before focusing on Brody. "What the hell are you doing in Connecticut?" Edward asked sharply. "I thought you worked in New York."
"Can we come in?" Jones asked.
Edward looked between the two men for a moment, taking stock of the situation, before inclining his head and opening the door further. He turned around and walked back toward the bedroom, skirting the mess in the den as he went. "I don't know what you want," Edward called over his shoulder sharply, "but I'm busy."
"Oh my," he heard Brody say as they entered the den. "Edward, what happened?"
"What does it look like?" Edward muttered, more to himself than to the others. He closed his suitcase and latched it, before taking one last look around his room. The bedroom was mostly empty - just a bed and a closet. He did not own much, mostly books and knick knacks that Alphonse had mailed him over the years. It would be no great regret if he never set foot in this house again.
When he turned around, Jones was leaning in the doorway. "The men who attacked you," he said. "They were League of Shadows."
"Never heard of them," Edward said. It was only half a lie; he had heard the name before when he was traveling with Alphonse, but he had never had any outright dealings with them.
"Well they clearly have heard of you," Brody said from behind Jones.
"I know," Edward said. "And I plan to take care of it."
Edward gave Jones a solid look, and then over his shoulder at Brody. "If you'll excuse me." Jones turned aside to let Edward pass, carrying his suitcase into the den. Both men followed him.
"You're heading, where, to Italy? Chasing after the rumor of someone with the Philosopher's Stone. That's, you're chasing a damned fairy tale. There has got to be a reason."
Edward dropped his suitcase on the couch and turned, glaring at both of the men. "I don't see how my business is really any of yours," he snapped.
"I'm looking for the League of Shadows," Jones said. "And I think you're my ticket in."
"I thought I just told you I don't know a thing about them."
"Indy," Brody said, trying to placate them both. "Edward, please. I think I might be able to be of assistance to you."
Edward turned his glare from Jones to Brody, and then sighed. "What do you mean, Marcus?"
He had barely seen the older man in years; Edward knew he was supposed to be grateful to Marcus Brody for all the help he had received over the years, but right now he just wanted to get on his way. He had not been able to get a hold of Alphonse - the phone just rang and rang and rang, and he wanted to get to London to check on him and he wanted to get to Italy and track down this mysterious "employer" of that Chinese bastard's and find out what in the hell is going on. Edward was already wearing thin on his last nerve.
"Indy here," Brody clapped the arm of the slightly taller Jones, "is headed out on an archaeological expedition on the museum's dime."
"It's more of a recovery mission," Jones amended, shooting Brody a look.
"Yes, recovery, my dear lad. He seems to be headed the same direction as you, Italy. Since you both seem to have similar goals, and a similar destination I thought perhaps I could convince the trustees that he has you on as a-"
"No." Edward cut Brody off brusquely. "Thanks for the thought, Marcus, but this is something I'm not dragging anyone else into. Besides," he gave Jones a suspicious look. "I don't work well with others."
"Hm," Brody said, a little disappointed. "But the university would be able to fund your tickets to Florence."
Edward hesitated. That had been his one hiccup in the planning stage - how he would actually get across the Atlantic. When he had first come to America years ago it had been by steamer - while he did not mind aeroplanes there was no way he was going to willingly board a zeppelin. It would take him, at worst, five days to get across the Atlantic and really, he did not have that sort of time.
He looked from Brody to Jones. "I wouldn't have to actually do any of that archeology crap, right?"
"You don't have to do anything at all," Jones said, spreading his hands. "All I want is a nice long chat on what you do know about the League of Shadows and why they're after you. Just a talk, in exchange for tickets. Fair trade, if you ask me."
He could not help the chuckle that escaped at that. Edward looked away, at the mess of books upset from the shelves, the paper he had kicked across the floor as he paced throughout the night, trying to decide his best course of action. "Yeah," Edward said, raising his head. "That sounds pretty equivalent to me."
"Good, good," Brody said, obviously sounded relieved. "I shall get those tickets straightaway - Florence then, Indy?"
"Please, Marcus." Jones responded. He looked back at Edward and extended his hand. "I don't think we were ever formally introduced. Indiana Jones."
"I've heard of you," Edward said, looking at Jones' extended hand and considering, before gingerly offering his right one as well. "Edward Elric."
"Can't say I’ve heard of you," Jones responding, taking his hand. As his eyes widened in surprise at the metal disguised only by a thin layer of gloves, Edward grinned sharply.
"Just the way I like it."
Art for this chapter by email@example.com
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
.:Chapter Two :.
It was a particularly chilly day to be outside, but Alphonse Elric was dressed warmly. It was dreary, the sky a bleak shade of gray and the clouds heavy with the threat of precipitation. Nearly everyone he could see had an umbrella with them in anticipation that the skies would open up at any time. There was no doubt that it would rain, it was only a matter of when.
Alphonse warmed his hands. He had been ambling about downtown, wasting his morning going in and out of book stores and small shops in a vain attempt to lose the tail he had picked up some time in the last few days. At first, he had not been sure that he was really being followed. However, spread over time the dress and mannerism of the pair made them stick out and Alphonse realized that he had been noticed. They were government men, no doubt about it - but the question of the day was which government that they were with.
They had traveled extensively, he and Edward. Years were spent going from one country to another, avoiding political skirmishes where they could and occasionally spending weeks at a time in small villages working for their food and shelter. It was a fascinating and thrilling existence and Alphonse drank it up - he had no memories of his time traveling with his brother before, but he had traveled the length and breadth of Amestris by himself those two long years without his brother and he had loved it. It was fascinating meeting all those people and witnessing for himself the many different walks of life. Of course it was often disconcerting, because he would occasionally run across people who recognized the blond hair and the red coat; but those were the people who filled in the gaps of his memory with tales of the exploits of his missing brother.
Aside from his first impulsive tumble into this strange new world, he and Edward had stayed as far away from anything involving Germany and the Nazi party as they could manage. Noa's warnings had been dire and they had taken them to heart. Of course, that had not stopped interviews with various police and military and country's borders - while they were not actually German they looked it - and Germans were not looked kindly on anywhere.
Being followed was not an unusual occurrence in those days. Alphonse was far too used to being the one spotting it - Edward was too oblivious for his own good; his nose stuck in a book and learning everything he could about their new, chosen world while Alphonse watched the people around him. However, Alphonse had lived in England now almost six years - two of those here, in London - and this was the first time that he had been followed in the city.
Or at least, the first time he had been followed so conspicuously.
No one had approached him yet. Alphonse looked up and down the street at the pedestrians. Despite the weather and the looming threat of rain, the sidewalks were full of people. He had stepped from the flow of traffic, his back to the concrete wall that framed the large steps that led to the museum behind him. They were following him because they thought he was German; and he was unemployed after graduating from university despite staying in the country. That was enough to raise suspicions in these dark times. Alphonse had been trying not to let it bother him, especially since Sofia had yet to notice them. She would be the one who would get upset on his behalf, and would take it upon herself to confront the men, regardless of the consequences.
She was a spitfire, his wife. Alphonse could not help but smile. Sofia was very much like Edward in a lot of ways, and one of the biggest was that she would not brook anyone's nonsense when it came to Alphonse. She had long golden hair, wide blue eyes and a face that called to mind their lost childhood friend. Sofia had been the only person in the History & Mythology lecture who had dared to sit beside him, and when she had smiled at Alphonse he knew he was lost.
Alphonse had never bothered to mention to his wife that the night he graduated from Cambridge he had been approached by the SIS. Given his language skills, his visa, and the fact that he "was" German, they wanted to employ him as a double agent. Alphonse had declined them, of course. Both he and Edward had sworn to each other that they were going to stay out of this world's politics and affairs and just try to live out their lives in peace and anonymity.
There was another reason besides that Alphonse did not want Sofia knowing or approaching these men. That was the fact that if they were not following him because he was German, they were following him because he was an Elric. And that was a prospect a thousand times more dangerous then just the suspicion that he was a member of the Nazi party.
Most of the time, when someone sought out an Elric they would go after Edward. After all, he was well-known in occultism circles as the son of Hohenheim of the Light; and their father's legacy in THIS world brought its fair share of trouble. He did not know the man, all that remained for him of Hohenheim's legacy were a few fuzzy memories from his childhood. Edward, however, was less than impressed with their father and was never shy in voicing it. He had lived with Hohenheim for some time in those two years apart from Alphonse, staying within Germany when he studied rocketry.
Because of that, it was almost as if Alphonse did not exist. Edward of course liked that they came after HIM, he would do anything to protect his little brother. He would shoulder the world just to keep Alphonse safe.
It was perhaps because of that inclination that Alphonse had grown apart from Edward. He was not a child any longer, and he did not need to hide in his brother's shadow. They had been together far longer than apart, and Alphonse wanted to learn what sort of man he was without his brother around. It was perhaps provenance that the curator had recognized Edward and offered him a job, as that led to the brother's congenial parting of ways.
He missed Edward dearly; but Alphonse did not need Edward nearly as much as Edward needed him. He pursued his studies in the histories of this world; he met Sofia and their courtship led them all across Europe despite the tumultuous era they lived in. They had been married now nearly three years.
In all that time they had lived peaceful, anonymous lives. Outside of the SIS, Alphonse had never been approached by anyone else. They were watching but not interfering. Sofia got a job as a filing clerk and part-time tour guide at the museum and Alphonse continued his studies. He had a fascination with Greek and Egyptian history in particular, and he tried not to let the familiarity of their long and rich tradition of alchemy override his other studies.
He still studied the art, how could he not? Alchemy was deeply ingrained into his blood, same as Edward's. It had been a sacrifice to step through that door into the abyss, into this world where alchemy was nothing more then a memory to him. There had to be a spark of something, otherwise there would not be such a rich tradition of the science in all these ancient histories. Alphonse had even published a few speculative papers, circulating them about the occult underground of London under the alias "Chrysopoeia," theorizing on the existence of the flow of energy and its direct relation to any given alchemist's ability to perform a transmutation or, to create the Philosopher's Stone.
That particular stunt earned an aggrieved phone call from his brother, which still made Alphonse chuckle. The fact that such a small theoretical paper - published by hand, in limited quantities, nonetheless - made it from the London underground across the pond to Connecticut let him know that his brother was still as deeply entrenched as he ... regardless of how much he chastised Alphonse for it.
But alchemy was merely a hobby, now. Today he had an interview at the museum for a lower-level position, as there were several available in both the Grecian an Egyptology departments. He had been halfheartedly looking for a job for a while, it was hardly fair for Sofia to be the only one working so hard. Although the papers he had published in historical journals had brought some healthy commission, the country was turning more and more toward the possibility of war and he needed something far steadier to support her if the worst were to happen.
He had been standing against the promenade for a while now. The men who had been following him were lingering across the street, trying not to stand out in the crush of gray and brown. One had, in fact, lit a cigarette.
Alphonse stared unabashedly at them. They were too far off for him to see their faces cleanly; which was a mistake on his part. Now that they knew HE knew, they would be far more subtle in their efforts. Alphonse sighed and looked up the stone stairs that led to the museum itself.
Out of the blue someone grabbed Alphonse's arm roughly. Alphonse jerked his arm back in response, adrenaline shooting through his system and prepared to fight; but the person did not yank him toward the cars on the street like he had anticipated, instead pulling him sharply toward the stairs. "Hey!"
The man was dressed similarly to Alphonse, a heavy, dark coat obscuring most of his clothes. However, unlike Alphonse he was not wearing a hat, his brown hair damp from the misty air. "Don't look back," the man muttered to him, half-dragging Alphonse up the stairs. "You're being followed."
Alphonse could have laughed at the sheer ludicrousness of the situation. He let the strange man pull him up the stairs, and once they were safely through the door to the foyer of the museum he yanked his sleeve away. "Of course I'm being followed," Alphonse said, then winced at the way his voice echoed in the cavernous hallway. "I was handling, it, thank you-"
"Handling it by staring directly at them? Because that's not the dumbest thing I've ever heard or anything."
"Hey!" Alphonse growled indignantly. "Who the hell do you think you are, you-"
Alphonse glared at the man a second longer, memorizing his face in case he wanted to punch it later. He understood occasionally Edward's tantrums - he had always, always had to clean up after his brother when they were young - and he had a much better rein on his temper then Edward ever would. That did not mean that he didn't want to unleash hell on the people who aggravated him for whatever reason. Satisfied, Alphonse turned and put a smile on for Sofia, who was jogging across the hall toward him.
"Sofie!" Alphonse said, opening his arms and she ran right into them with a laugh. "Sorry, I'm a little early, but I wanted to beat the rain."
Sofia had her long hair done up in an elaborate bun and whatever she had been doing she was a bit dusty. Alphonse could not help but smile though, when she took a step back and beamed at him. "Today has been dreadfully dull," she informed him. "Here, since you're early I'll just take you right in and maybe they can put you to work today!"
"Hey, hey now," Alphonse said. "I haven't got the job yet."
"Excuse me," the man said, and Sofia glanced over at him in surprise. "I'm looking for Evelyn, do you know where I can find her?"
"We're going down to her office now," Sofia said, giving the man an uncertain look. Then a hint of recognition crossed her face. "Oh, OH! You must be Rick." She stepped away from Alphonse and held her dusty hand out to him. "I'm Sofie Elric, I work for Evie."
"Pleasure," the man now identified as Rick said, taking her hand delicately. "And this is your husband, then?"
"Alphonse Elric," Alphonse said, the distrust still in his eyes. He was waiting for Rick to say something about his tails, but the man did not say a word. He did, however, catch Alphonse's eye and nod a little.
"Rick O'Connell," he introduced himself.
"Rick!" A new voice joined from across the foyer. They all looked over as a woman hurried across the tile. Alphonse recognized her as Sofia's boss, Evelyn O'Connell. "Sorry, I'm running late." She was pulling on her coat as she hurried, then stopped and looked at Sofia and Alphonse. "Oh, oh my," she looked for the clock on the wall.
"I'm terribly sorry, I'm early," Alphonse said.
"No, it's quite all right," Evie said thoughtfully. She looked at Rick, who just looked confused, then nodded her head. "Why don't the two of you join us for lunch? We can do the interview then, if you don't care."
"Uh," Alphonse looked between Rick, who did not look enthused by this idea, and Evelyn, who seemed to like this plan just fine. "Sure, I guess?"
"I'm a complete mess," Sofia announced, brushing dust off of her shoulders illustratively. "I'm not fit to be seen by the public, Miss O'Connell"
"Oh, that's ridiculous," Evie said. "Sofie, you're perfectly presentable. And please stop calling me that, you make me feel far too old." Evelyn turned to Rick. "Did you make Jonathan drive you again?"
"Someone had to get his hung-over ass out of bed," Rick said. He was still giving Alphonse a wary glare. "Are you sure this is a good idea, Evie, I mean we can always wait on lunch-"
"Rick, stop being rude." She shoved his chest with one hand, then turned. "Is your coat in my office, Sofie?"
"Uh, yes ma'am."
"Seriously, my name is EVIE," Evelyn said, grabbing Sofia by her arm and dragging her off. "Let's go get it, I'm starving, where do you want to go for lunch-?"
The women left Alphonse and Rick standing still in the foyer of the museum, Evelyn's voice echoing behind them. Alphonse watched them disappear down a corridor with a bemused smile on his face, then realized that Rick was giving him a concerned look.
"So," he said. "Any idea why you're being followed?"
"A couple," Alphonse admitted.
Alphonse gave the other man a dark look. "Try 'living in London while German,'" he said sharply.
"That isn't the SIS out there," Rick said, his tone mirroring Alphonse's. "They look like Mussolini's men. Want to try again?"
"Fascists?" Alphonse said, surprised. He glanced back at the doors, but they were heavy, solid wood. "I honestly have no idea why they would be following me."
Alphonse narrowed his eyes, he did not like the insinuation of Rick's tone. "Honestly."
The men were saved from further discussion by the reappearance of their respective wives. Sofia had put her coat on, and had retrieved a hat as well. They were both talking in animated terms about a recent dig at Sesebi, Sofia talking with her hands as always, her blue eyes bright with excitement.
Evelyn looked to Alphonse as they drew close. "Sofie tells me you're an expert in Egyptian alchemy, is that true?"
"Hardly an expert," Alphonse murmured, giving Sofia a look, which she grinned smugly at. "It's more of a hobby, really."
"Well, I shall have to have you look at some codexes that we've recently recovered," Evelyn said. "Do you read hieratic?"
"Not particularly well," Alphonse admitted, holding his arm out for Sofia to take. "I haven't had much practice with it, I'm afraid I would not be much help."
Rick opened the door for Evelyn, who was still talking. "Well, nonsense. I can read the hieratic, but I would definitely welcome your insight on the terminology."
Alphonse nodded, not paying that much attention to Evelyn's words as he scanned up and down the street. The two men were no longer across the street - they were waiting at the base of the steps, leaning against the promenade. Rick saw them at the same time, stepping to the other side of Evelyn to put himself between her and the men. Alphonse put his hand over Sofia's on his arm and squeezed it, and she looked up at him, concerned. "Al?"
"Be prepared to run," he murmured to her in French. Sofia's eyes widened in surprise, but before she could say anything the two men stepped away from the wall and put themselves in their path.
"Alphonse Elric?" The taller of the two men asked, the cigarette still hanging from his mouth.
Alphonse nodded his head once. "That's me. What do you want?"
"Come with us, please." The men had Italian accents. O'Connell had a good eye, they had to be Fascists.
"You know my name, but I don't have the good fortune to know yours," Alphonse said, discreetly slipping Sofia's hand from his arm. She clutched at his sleeve for a moment longer than was necessary, but let him go.
They had talked about this, early on in their courtship. That there were people out there who were too interested in him and his brother, and there might come a time when it came back to bite them in the ass. Sofia did not want to believe him, but she did trust him.
Sofia knew most of it. She knew that he had an unusual childhood, and that he and Edward were exceptionally close. That he was an orphan, that he was from far away and that he had missing gaps in his memory. However he had conveniently left out the bits about being from another world. That was just too much to ask anyone to believe.
"I believe that you have mistaken this for a request," the shorter man said. He had moved his arm slightly, to reveal a small handgun masked mostly by his long coat.
"Rick," Evelyn said sharply.
"We don't want any trouble," Rick said, his tone even. Alphonse glanced over at him in surprise.
"There's no trouble to be had, buddy," Tall Guy said, giving Rick a dismissive look. "This don't have anything to do with you, just keep moving."
"It's all right, I'll handle this," Alphonse said. "Just take Sofie and I'll be fine."
Rick shook his head once. "No, see - I have this thing." And then he calmly whipped his coat forward, pulling a small hand-gun from his obscured shoulder holster with the movement. "I really hate Fascists."
Alphonse had already begun to duck as Rick moved, shoving Sofia forward. Evelyn grabbed Sofia's arm and yanked her down the remaining stairs as she shouted out. "Jonathan!"
A roadster that had been sitting parked in front of the museum since before Alphonse had got there roared to life, but that was something he only noticed in the background. Rick shot the shorter man before he had the gun out of his holster.
The taller man did not seem perturbed by the turn of events. "Do you really think we would be so unprepared?" he asked. The gun-shot had caused pedestrians on the sidewalk to scatter, screaming from the area - but there were several men in dark coats and hats who stood out by virtue of the fact that they were not running away.
"What do you want with me?" Alphonse demanded.
The man cocked his head to the side. "I thought this would be obvious," he said. "We want the Philosopher's Stone."
The words actually caused Alphonse's heart to skip in his chest.
The Philosopher's Stone.
Alphonse managed a snort of derision. "Well, I don't have it. Good luck finding one, though, given that they're just a fairy tale."
"I think we both know that it's more than that," the man said softly. "You and your brother are the key that unlocks this decade-old mystery, Alphonse Elric. Either you will come with us peacefully or we will kill everyone here."
Rick took two steps forward and grabbed the tall man with his free hand, slamming him back into the wall as he did so. "I don't like you, and I don't like that you're including my wife in that threat," Rick said, jamming the muzzle of his gun under the Italian's chin. "So maybe you should call off your stooges so we can make a clean exit, and you and your buddy Alphonse here can catch up later."
The man said something quickly in Italian, and Alphonse looked around in consternation as the other men in black dusters and brimmed hats started pulling handguns out from under their long coats. Rick slammed the guy back into the wall again but the damage was done.
There were enough of the men that this was going to get messy very quickly. Alphonse did not hesitate any longer. They needed him alive, after all. It was only a few steps down and the speed gave him momentum as Alphonse slammed his right fist straight into one of the approaching man's face. The suddenness of his maneuver brought the others in closer faster, and he did not look behind him at the retort of Rick's handgun.
"Rick!" Evelyn shouted from the car. She and Sofia had brought down the roll-top, and the car was purring, still in park. Two more men approached Alphonse and he brought them both to their knees easily, one with a snap-kick to the face and the other a short combination of moves that his master had taught him many years ago. The two men hit the sidewalk hard, and then it was Rick who was yelling.
"Get in the goddamned car!"
Alphonse turned to see that Rick had already done so, exchanging his likely out-of-ammunition revolver for a musket. As he was distracted, one of the men attempted to grab him from behind, but Alphonse slammed both of his elbows into the grunt's solar plexus, and sealed that deal with a sharp kick back. Then he was running, his trilby lost to the wind as he leaped to the vehicle. He barely had one foot on the bumper when the man at the wheel accelerated and the car surged forward.
Sofia and Evelyn both grabbed him by the back of the coat, helping him up and over the back of the car as Rick stood upright, seemingly unconcerned by the sway of the vehicle and the rather maniac driving of the man named Jonathan. Alphonse tried to get up but Sofia held him down, and when he looked up at her, her large blue eyes were both worried - and pissed.
Rick sat down in the passenger seat. "They're not following us," he relayed over the back seat. "What the hell was that about?"
Alphonse sought Sofia's hand out and twined their fingers together. "They are after me, they think I've got the Philosopher's Stone."
"The Philosopher's Stone," Evelyn repeated, shocked. "The one that can turn lead into gold?" She shook her head, the wind whipping her tightly coiffed hair into a frenzy. "There's no such thing!"
"Yeah," Alphonse said. "There isn't." He bit his lip, glancing over his shoulder back at the cars as they passed them. No one seemed to be pursuing them; but he did not have time to share everything. "But my father, and to an extent my brother, they both are experts on the Stone. If... if it were possible to make one, they would know how."
"So they came after you," Sofia said. "I knew it, I can't believe it, I knew your brother was bad news-"
"This isn't Edward's fault!" Alphonse's voice came out louder and harsher than what he intended. Sofia had always had a vague, disapproving air when it came to Edward, and now was not the time to set her straight. "We have to get back to the apartment," he said. "There's something important there, if they knew to find me at the museum they know where we live and I need to get to it before they do."
"Are you out of your mind?" Rick said. "They'll be waiting for you."
"It's that important," Alphonse said. "Watch Sofie, I'll go-"
"For fuck's SAKE," Sofia shouted. Alphonse looked at her in shock, she rarely swore. "If you're going back there I'm going with you, Al - I don't know quite what this is about but I'm not letting you go anywhere alone."
Alphonse squeezed Sofia's hand. "I'm sorry," he said.
She tilted her head in close to his, and her eyes were solid. "And once we get this important thing, you are going to tell me everything, Alphonse Elric," she said. "All of it. No more lies."
The street seemed quiet as Jonathan pulled the car onto it. "What is it at your home that is so important?" Evie had asked as Jonathan drove them haphazardly down the side-streets and main thoroughfares of London. They did not appear to have any pursuit, but the way that the man drove ensured that if there was any method of pursuit, they were turned around somewhere completely lost.
"Two diaries," Alphonse said, his amber eyes narrowed as he thought about them. "Travelogues, really. They're a lot more than they seem, and in the right hands they can be very, very dangerous."
"I've seen those," Sofia said, smacking Alphonse's arm. "Your brother's. They're complete nonsense, why would anyone want those?"
"Just trust me," Alphonse said. "We need to get them before the Fascists do. I don't know how much damage could be done with them here, but I'd really rather not have that on my head. Ed will kick my ass."
"What's in those travelogues that the Fascists find so important?" Rick asked, methodically checking the ammunition in each weapon he had and then holstering it.
"Many things," Alphonse said as evasively as possible. "Most of them would be indecipherable to a layperson."
"So the key to creating the Philosopher's Stone, then?"
"One of many," Alphonse said, not startled that Rick had put it all together. "One that needs to be destroyed."
They had ridden in silence from that point on, Sofia's hands wrapped around Alphonse's right arm tightly. He patted her hands awkwardly with his left one, but she refused to release his arm, as if he would run off and leave her behind if she dared to release him. He smiled grimly and covered her hands with his left one.
Jonathan parked the car across from the building that housed their flat. Alphonse extricated his arm from Sofia's grasp as they got out of the car. Rick had girded up for war, several pistols holstered and a musket slung across his back. Alphonse was suddenly quite glad that they were on the same side.
And then the light from one of the windows in their flat came on. Sofia grabbed Alphonse's sleeve, not in fear but in anger. "They're in our HOME," she growled.
"Stay here," Rick told Evie and Sofia as Alphonse crossed the street. Alphonse did not have to count the pairs of footsteps behind him, he knew that Evie and Sofia followed them instantly.
"I'll just stay here and guard the car, then," Jonathan called after as the door to the flats closed behind them.
Alphonse and Sofia lived in a second-story flat; up a flight of stairs and then to see a door sitting, jimmied open. Rick grabbed Alphonse's shoulder before he could storm through the door, and when Alphonse turned his head to look at Rick, Rick offered him a pistol silently.
And then one of the men stepped into the hall.
These weren't the Fascists. He was dressed in all black, and his head snapped to the group wordlessly. Rick leaned a little forward, aiming the pistol he had just offered Alphonse and shooting the man dead effortlessly.
Alphonse shook his head, declining the proffered pistol as the thief's body thumped to the ground noisily. "Well, that just alerted everyone else," he grunted. "We want one of them alive, you know."
"Sure," Rick said. "ONE of them."
The door flapped off of its hinges a little as Alphonse pushed it aside. There were two other men in the main living area of the flat, they had both turned to look toward the door. Alphonse tossed the pistol back to Rick, took two large steps into the room to meet the first of the men head-on with a heavy right hook.
The man staggered backwards, one hand flying to his nose, which was likely broken by the punch. "What are you doing in my HOUSE," Alphonse yelled angrily.
Rick brushed past Alphonse, pistols in either hand and trained on the second man in the room. "Go on, just try something," Rick said sweetly. "And you'll end up just like your friend in the hallway."
"A ninja's duty in life is death," the one Rick had his bead on said calmly. He looked Rick dead in the eye, and then turned and flung himself through the second-story window.
Rick rushed to the window. Glass spilled outward, onto the ledge below the window, and the man had landed awkwardly on the sidewalk below. He could hear the bones snap in his leg from the window. "We've got a runner."
Alphonse, meanwhile, had his thief face-down on the floor, a knee in the center of the man's back. "Check for the diaries," he called to Sofia, who stood just inside the door with a look of horror on her face at the casual violence that was just displayed.
This was what Alphonse had been afraid of - in all the time he had spent with Sofia, she had never had to see what he was capable of. She had seen him practice, certainly, Alphonse hated to let himself fall out of shape and practiced the martial arts his master had taught him before her death without fail. But she had never seen it used, before.
But Sofia nodded her head sharply, and moved to the bookcase, scanning the titles quickly. "In the bedroom too," she called to Evie. Evelyn nodded her head and moved through the door to their bedroom as Sofia pulled one of the travelogues off the shelf. "Got it."
Then Evelyn screamed.
Rick was already out the window and halfway down the drain-pipe after the man who had flung himself to the street below. Alphonse looked down at the man squirming underneath his knee and was about to slam his face into the floor until he was unconscious before Sofia darted through the door to the bedroom after Evie.
"Sofie!" Alphonse called helplessly. There was a crash and a shattering of porcelain, and Alphonse did as he meant do, knocking the man completely unconscious. Then he was up across the floor and through the door of the bedroom himself.
Sofia was standing over a man in black, who was face-down on the floor. There was a surprised expression on her face at the remains of a gorgeous, painted Chinese vase her parents had given them years ago. "I always hated that vase," she said.
Evie had the other travelogue in her hand, she had grabbed it from her attacker. "Are you all right?" Alphonse asked them both.
Sofia nodded breathlessly and Evie nodded as well. "It'll take more than a bunch of bullies in their pajamas to startle us," she said confidentially. "We've got the diaries."
"Good," Alphonse said. "Now let's see who it is who's behind all of this."
Alphonse dragged the unconscious man out of the bedroom and laid him out next to his friend. They were all dressed the same, in foreign black garb. Alphonse frowned considerably - the garb was Oriental in nature, even if the people wearing them were not. That was oddly disquieting.
Rick came in through the door with a disgusted look on his face. "He got away," he announced, the musket slung over his shoulder. "I don't know how he could move that fast given how badly he was bleeding, but I lost him." He crossed his arms. "Probably crawled into the sewer to die."
The man Alphonse had knocked out shifted suddenly, his eyes opening. Alphonse crouched over him. "Good, welcome back," he said. "Why are you after my brother's travelogues?"
"Your brother," the man rasped, his breath whistling through his broken nose. "We have him."
Alphonse swallowed, his blood going cold. "And that's how you knew to come to me for the travelogues," he completed the man's thought. "Where is he?"
The man spat something at him in a language that Alphonse didn't recognize. He grabbed the man's face and slammed the back of his head against the hardwood again, leaving him stunned. "Let's try that again," he said. "In a language I know."
"Trovarlo nella città di Firenze!"
"Florence," Sofia said. "He's in Florence."
Alphonse nodded, Italian was one of the languages he already knew. "Looks like I'm going to Florence," he said.
"Do you think he's still alive?" Sofia's voice was quiet.
"If they have him, it's because of the knowledge in his head," Alphonse said grimly. "And brother won't crack just that easily. I might even be able to get to him before then."
"You're not going after him alone," Rick said.
"Damn straight he's not," Sofia said indignantly. "I'm going with him."
"No, you're not," Alphonse said. "You're going home to your family, Sofie, I don't want you involved in this."
"Excuse me," Sofia said angrily. "You are not just dropping me off like some wayward bit of luggage, Alphonse Elric."
"Sofie, this is going to be really dangerous," Alphonse said gently, taking her hand. "Really, really dangerous."
"So?" She did not seem fazed by this. "If you're going into this very, very dangerous situation, someone's got to be there to watch your back."
Alphonse sighed. "We'll talk about this later."
"If by later, you mean on the plane to Italy, then sure."
Evie chuckled and then patted Alphonse's arm. "You're not going to win this, you know."
Alphonse sighed loudly. "That's what I'm afraid of."
If there was one thing about her husband that Sofia both loved and hated it was how extraordinarily stubborn he was. He had laughed about her irritation at his stubbornness before, telling her that if she thought HE was bad, she should talk to Edward on any given day - but that did not matter to her. She barely knew her husband's brother and quite rightly like it that way. Alphonse belonged to her, after all.
"I don't think we should stay long," Evie's husband said. He was leaning out the broken window with a frown. "The man who got away, he could bring reinforcements."
"I've got to get to Florence," Alphonse said. He had disappeared into their bedroom, probably for a bag. He had collected the travelogues from Evie and her and tucked them both into the inner pocket of his coat.
"You mean we," Sofia called after him angrily.
He returned from the bedroom and she realized he had merely fetched another hat, his favorite trilby lost to the wind out front of the museum. "Sofie-"
"No, you are NOT leaving me behind," she said, ramrod straight and fire in her eyes. She had been nothing but left behind her entire life and she'd be damned if she wasn't at her husband's side for this.
"Fine," Alphonse said. She blinked in surprise - he had acquiesced a whole lot easier than she had anticipated. "But you have got to listen to me, okay, Sophie? I'm not kidding about how dangerous that this is going to be."
She nodded, accepting that - for now. She would be damned if she did not surprise her husband at how useful she could be in a tight situation! Alphonse scratched the back of his head and sighed deeply, looking across their ruined home. "So that just leaves how to get to Florence."
Evie cleared her throat. "I think we can help with that."
Alphonse looked over at her, clearly surprised. Sophia shook her head once. "Oh, ma'am, we couldn't."
"What?" Alphonse looked between them, slightly confused.
"A good friend of ours was going to fly us to Cairo," Evie said. "But I we can make other arrangements, and have him to fly you to Florence. No one will be watching our plane, they'll be watching the passenger flights."
"Evie," Rick said.
"Don't stop me, Rick, it's a good idea." Evie nodded her head sharply, certain of her righteousness. "Besides, since they've seen us all together the Fascists aren't idiots. They'll have a reception waiting in Cairo already."
Rick made an impressed face. "All right. We'll lay down a trail elsewhere - see how long we can get the Fascists to follow us, instead of you guys." He pulled a pistol from his holster and tried offering it to Alphonse again. "You'll need one," he said, when Alphonse held up his hands.
"I don't like guns," Alphonse said.
"Well, I'm not afraid of them," Sofia said, taking the gun from a surprised Rick. She looked the revolver over. "Only six rounds?"
"Sofie?" Alphonse asked.
"My older brothers used to take me with them hunting," she said primly. "I'm not a bad shot." She took the holster that Rick offered her, amused. "I told you I'll have your back, Al."
Alphonse put his arm over her shoulders and kissed the side of her head, amused. "You are just full of surprises, my dear."
Evie clapped her hands. "Let's get you two lovebirds to the airfield," she said. "The faster we get you airborne, the faster we can start laying down a diversionary trail!"
Art by firstname.lastname@example.org
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
.: Chapter Three :.
Edward Elric stepped into the sunlight from under the tiny book shop's awning and stretched both of his hands over his head, rocking forward on the balls of his feet. He had been sitting for hours, almost a day, folded in the cramped seating on several small aircraft. He hated flying, absolutely hated it but if he had to do so he preferred aeroplanes. There was very little on this world that would entice him to set foot in one of those accursed zeppelins.
He cracked his neck, and then put both of his hands on his hips. Florence was an old city, very old and he could almost feel the antiquity through the stones he stood on. It was a center of art and history, and Edward knew that the city was once the focal gathering spot of alchemists of any caliber in the ancient world. The city practically breathed alchemy to him; it was in the priceless codexes and texts housed in spiraling Gothic cathedrals and libraries, it was even in the architecture of the towering church spires and the gargoyles who stared down mockingly from above. There was such a rich tradition of the art in this world that even if alchemy did not function as he was accustomed to, it was very much a vital part of the development of science in this land.
It was completely fitting that his search led him to this place. Edward pulled the much-folded letter out of his pocket and looked at it again.
Italian was one of those languages he just had never gotten around to learning. Alphonse could read and speak it, so he did not bother. It had never occurred to him, not once during the course of their travels across Europe that he would ever part ways with his little brother ... so the fact that Alphonse spoke that language meant that Edward could focus on other ones. Some words jumped out here and there - it was a close cousin to other languages he had been studying off and on, but it was just enough to frustrate him. The crest at the top of the page seemed faintly familiar. Jones had not recognized it either, and had in fact drawn a rough sketch of the crest to keep on him - but something had seemed off about his behavior. Edward had intended that their "partnership" be ended the moment that the plane touched down in Italy, but Jones had other ideas, apparently.
To be fair to the man, he seemed to have contacts everywhere. He was really far more adventurer than archaeologist, and he knew his way around a fight so he was more of a help than a hindrance. Either way, he was there for the long haul and while Edward had contemplated ditching him twice already, the man had paid for food both times on the university's dime and hey, who was he to turn down a few free meals?
Edward half-turned when he heard the bell on the book shop's door jingle. Indy stepped out of the shop, the brim of his hat shading his eyes from the bright sunlight. "Any luck?" Edward asked, folding the letter and replacing it in the inner pocket of his long coat.
Jones shook his head. "None. Each and every person has said the same thing - looks familiar, so sorry, can't place it." He tilted his head back and squinted at the church across the plaza as a crowd of pigeons startled near the spire. He glanced back over to Edward. "It's startin' to sound like a conspiracy, kid."
Edward's gaze turned vitriolic. "Just who are you calling a kid, Jones?"
"Sorry, sorry." Jones did not sound apologetic in the least. "I keep forgetting, you're so tiny and baby-faced you look like you're a student yourself." He had not bothered to look back at Edward, or else he would have witnessed Edward choking back a fair bit of rage. Instead, Jones scanned the plaza that the book shop fed out into.
The plaza was fairly active, both with tourists and locals. There was a pall of unease over the bright sunny day, as several Fascist militiamen huddled in small groups, watching the plaza and strolling about. There was no unrest - just unease. "So we can't figure out who the crest belongs to - what next?"
Edward frowned. That was his best lead - of course translating the letter itself was always an option, but Edward had a feeling that the contents would raise far more questions than they answered. However, it was looking less and less like he was going to have an option in the matter. He patted his hand over the interior pocket of his coat as he thought. "I'm not sure," he said finally.
"Well, we can't just stand around doing nothing."
Jones did have a point. They had to keep moving forward, Edward had to find this person, this entity who desired the unobtainable and convince them that their path led only to destruction.
Alphonse would know what to do.
Not for the first time Edward wished his brother was here with them. Their strengths complemented each other nicely - with Alphonse to bounce his ideas off of they would get this handled in no time flat, or bring down half the city trying. It was hard work keeping the small smile off of his face but Edward succeeded somehow.
From across the plaza a commotion erupted. Edward lifted his head and looked in that direction as feral pigeons scattered into the air and people spread across the plaza, trying desperately to avoid the confrontation. The Fascist militiamen were moving toward the scuffle and Edward started at Jones' hand on his shoulder, pulling him back into the shadow of the awning. "We should go."
That was when the strangest thing happened - and Edward Elric was used to plenty of strange things happening in his life. The awning above them bowed in suddenly, as if a great heavy weight had been dropped from above. Both Edward and Jones separated, moving quickly to opposite sides as the awning above them tore open, letting the sunlight through and dropping a bundle of old clothes and a hat through to the ground.
Edward and Jones exchanged surprised looks as the pile of clothing let out a low groan and a strange man sat up. He had a bruise on the side of his face and his lip was bloody; his dark red hair was cropped short and spiked slightly with blood that ran from a cut along his hairline. "Ow," this strange man said, rubbing the side of his head. He looked up, between Edward and Jones curiously. "Let it be said that I do not recommend defenestration as the best way to quickly vacate the premises."
"Are you all right?" Edward said, as Jones took a step back to stare up past the awning at the building that stretched four floors above. There were several men in dark clothing leaning out the window, scanning the ground below.
"Uh, it's time to leave," Jones said. "Now."
"Right," Edward said, as the red-headed man staggered to his feet. "Let's-"
Suddenly, the man had Edward by the front of his jacket, eyes wide. "I KNOW you," he said.
"Uh," Edward said, unsure of what to do. He did not feel threatened, despite this man being taller than he was - he was thin and reedy, practically swimming in the several layers of old, ratty clothes he was wearing. "You do?"
He peered in close, at Edward's face. Startled, Edward jerked his head back as the man released his coat. "I do know you," he said. "You're an alchemist." He grabbed Edward's hand - his false one - and with no hesitation at all started shaking it enthusiastically. "Always a pleasure to meet a fellow practitioner of the craft! Such a rare duck to come across, I must say that it is the curse of this newfangled technology that drives people away from the Great Art-"
Edward tried in vain to extract his hand. Jones did it for him by picking the man up bodily and moving him. "We have to go, now."
"Go?" The man said. "Where are we going?"
"Just, go," Jones said, shoving Edward forward, toward an alleyway that stretched between the two shops.
"Ah," the man said as Edward and Indy vanished down the alley. "But … that's the wrong way."
The alley between the buildings was very narrow. Edward stumbled ahead of Indy, tripping over an upturned cobblestone and catching himself, barely losing his stride. He moved so agilely it was hard for Indy to reconcile the false leg that he knew the man had.
The German professor was a man of many curious mysteries. Indy had tried to ply him on the never-ending flight across the ocean but he was tight-lipped about himself. All he knew for certain was that Edward was the son of a famous occultist; he had a brother who was just as talented as he was and he was bound and determined to get to Florence and put a stop to - whatever it was that was going on. It had to do with the Philosopher's Stone, of course, but that was just a myth - no rock could exist with such properties.
Then again, Indy had borne witness to the wrath of God unleashed, so he was getting better at taking such things at actual face value.
Here in Florence he had intended to take his leave of the professor and find the location of the Cross on his own - but something warned him away. He had learned in all of his travels spanning six of the seven continents to trust when he gut gave off that nagging feeling that he was already on the trail of what he was looking for. Somehow, the Cross of Coronado tied in to everything that was going on.
Of course, their adventure together would come to a very quick and ugly stop if they got tangled up in the Fascists militiamen - which would very likely occur if the League of Shadows ninja pounced them in plain sight in the plaza. If there was one thing that Indy had picked up from his years of street fighting, it was to take the fight to where you had the advantage.
Edward stopped suddenly, when Indy was not looking and he very nearly slammed into the shorter man. "Hey!"
The twisting alley had turned into a dead end. It was newly bricked - new being relative, the darker brick could have been there weeks or decades, either did not matter because their way was blocked completely. There were several wooden crates stacked against the wall, some caved in but others intact. Of course, Indy could have worked with that if the assassin Ling Yao had not been sitting casually on one of the intact wooden crates.
After their encounter in America, Indy had pulled every bit of documentation he could find on the League of Shadows. It was all pure speculation, of course - they left no loose ends. An organization of that size could not be entirely without record, though, and there had been several records of a smiling Oriental assassin who killed ruthlessly.
The same smiling, Oriental assassin who sat innocently on a wooden box before them, a half-eaten apple in one hand.
"Ah," he said. "Forgive me, I was not expecting you both so soon." He stood in one smooth motion, flowing from seated to standing in the twinkling of an eye. Ling spread his hands and smiled, but there was nothing cheerful about his expression. "So what do you say, gentlemen? No more games, hmm?"
Indy had been through enough fights in his life to know when he was severely outclassed. Apparently the young professor did not have that same experience, as he tensed his shoulders and curled his fists. His prosthetic was a solid steel, so it was really his only advantage, and while he moved quickly Indy figured his punches would be must slower to compensate for the much heavier material of his arm. There was no way he would prove any challenge to the Chinaman.
He did have an advantage, though. Indy drew the pistol he kept in his back pocket, a quick draw that would have made the gunslingers of the old west proud. He was quite handy with the weapon, of course, having been instructed in sharpshooting by some very skilled instructors - and with no hesitation drew a bead on Ling and fired his revolver.
He barely twitched aside, but the bullet seemed to pass him by completely, impacting against the brick behind him with enough force to send a small cloud of particles into the air. "Tut tut, professor. It's bad form to shoot your friends."
"I would hardly call you a friend," Edward said sharply. "Who is it who wants the Philosopher's Stone?"
"Ah, but that is the question of the day." Ling took a bite of his apple. "Who indeed, but every dreamer who fancied himself an alchemist? Better to ask who not, do you not agree?"
"I'm getting real tired of this guy," Indy said, his revolver still held at the ready. It seemed rather useless to shoot at Ling again, but he just might catch the man off guard. "Let's go."
"No," Edward said. "I have to know who it is who's behind all this."
"You're not going to get any answers from him," Indy argued right back.
"Maybe not, but I'm sure I can get SOMETHING out of him." Edward cracked his left hand with his right. "Even if it's just blood, or a few teeth."
"Hmm," Ling took another bite of his apple. "Seems as if your time is up."
Indy heard the sound of heavy boots on the cobblestone behind them. He turned around to see the two men who had spotted him from out the window, burly and in black clothing. They slowed as they turned the corner, and Indy had to wonder how easily that they had been run into this trap.
Edward had not even turned around to see the new arrivals, so focused was he on Ling. Indy sighed, and raised his revolver, aiming it resolutely at the forehead of the first man. This was going to be a mess.
As the first of the men came up on Indy, a door suddenly swung up from the wall itself. The door was colored the same as the dingy brick, a hidden exit into the alleyway from the store. The man slammed into the door face first and stumbled backwards, stunned. The red-haired man - the same one who had made his rather impressive entrance through the awning on the front side of the building leaned out and looked at the man he had knocked senseless, and then over to Indy. "I thought I told you that this was the wrong way."
He did not have to be told twice. Indy grabbed Edward by the back of the coat and slung him through the doorway, ignoring the man's indignant yelp. The stranger slammed the door shut and calmly placed both hands on it. Indy thought he caught a split-second of unearthly red light but he could not be sure, having come from the daylight into a nearly black storeroom. "We don't have much time," the man said. "They can't follow us that way, but they can come right through the front of the store."
Edward had caught his balance and was staring at the man. There was an expression on his face that Indy could not quite catalog, but there was curiosity there. "Who are you?"
"I don't know!" The stranger said cheerfully, without a hint of sarcasm. "Who are you?" He stopped and peered at Edward, his eyes shadowed in the dark storeroom. "Oh, I remember! You're the alchemist. That's important, you know. Alchemy is."
Edward took a step back, the man had invaded his personal space. He shot an imploring look at Indy but Indy shook his head. "I don't know him, don't look at me." There was a clatter from the front of the store and Indy looked up sharply. "But if it's all the same to both of you, perhaps we should save introductions for someplace a little less exposed?"
The red haired man had started shifting crates around the room, finding one in particular. When he touched its side, instead of sliding it around it lifted into the air, showing a ladder and a dark tunnel that lead into blackness.
Indy hated sewers.
"This way," the man said, and without any hesitation he swung into the abyss, both hands on the outside of the ladder and sliding into the darkness.
Edward hesitated only a moment after, but instead of sliding down the ladder, put his feet on the rungs and started descending quickly. Indy watched his brilliant blond hair disappear, swallowed by unfathomable darkness.
Indy found the cord that would pull the disguised hatch back down and conceal their escape before he too set foot on the the ladder. He tugged the hatch closed behind him, sealing them off from the surface world altogether.
Ling Yao stood in the center of the storage room. The two men had searched it but it quickly became apparent that there was no place to easily hide in the small room. There was only one real way in and out - and they had come straight in that way. The tiny Professor Elric and his companion had vanished as if they had simply never existed.
His men were opening a few boxes, but they were too small to easily hide a man. Instead of focusing his ire at the disappearance of their quarry on his men, Ling ran his hand over the wall that fed out to the alley, looking for the door that the third man had used to help Elric and Jones escape.
There was no door here.
He had only caught a glimpse of the man, and he had never seen him in person before. There were rumors about his connection to von Eiselstein's work of course, Wilhem von Eiselstein was off in his own little world and relied primarily on the generosity of the League of Shadows to fetch whatever it was he needed to create the Philosopher's Stone. Currently, he needed one or both of the Elric brothers, but the men were proving to be a lot more trouble than anticipated. "Nicholai," he murmured aloud. "How nice of you to make an appearance. You will make a great gift for our benefactor - along with the Elrics." He grinned sharply, finding the irregularity in the wall. There was no door here but the stone itself was strange, as if it had been taken apart and put back together again sloppily.
There was a loud noise, the catch of metal on stone. Ling looked behind him as one of the crates lifted into the air, exposing the disguised sewer entrance. Both of his men looked surprised, they had just been moving boxes and had not expected one to pop into the air like that. They looked down into the darkness, and then both looked to him.
"Go," Ling said.
Into the darkness they descended.
The ladder seemed to stretch into the depths of Hell. Edward kept his hands tight on the rusted metal bars and his eyes closed - there was no use to trying to penetrate the darkness. It was certainly a sewer he was descending into - he would recognize the stink of decaying bodily waste easily enough, he had spent far more time than he wanted to admit in sewer systems. He could hear Jones above him, but there seemed to be no end to the ladder - until his foot scraped solid ground. Edward put both feet on the surface solidly, and opened his eyes.
It was still dark, but now there was a faint light coming from the end of the tunnel, where the red-haired man stood, a lantern in hand. Edward looked up the ladder and saw Indy glance in the direction of the light, before descending the rest of the way.
"Hurry, this way!" he called, his voice echoing oddly along the sewer's walls. The red-haired man gestured with the lantern, making the shadows leap on the walls around them.
They followed him through the labyrinthine sewers under the ancient city. Edward was lost after the first few turns, but Jones kept glancing back over his shoulder at the way that they had come. "Where are you taking us?" Edward asked the strange man.
"Home," he replied.
He led Edward and Indy to a half-bricked wall, climbing delicately through it. Edward looked back at Indy, who shrugged and gestured him through, so Edward followed. He was getting a strange feeling off of this man, it was unfamiliar but not wrong. Edward stumbled over some broken bricks.
Here the rancid scent of the sewer did not reach. There were chalk etchings on some of the wall, runes in languages that Edward did not know. Then he ducked over a fallen wooden pylon and stepped into another world.
The walls were filled with books, thousands of them. Edward lifted his head in amazement as the man threw the lantern into a large fire pit that dominated the center of the room and lit the walls further. There was a grate high above them that shadows passed constantly; pedestrians going about their business with no idea of what treasures lay immediately below their feet.
Indy ducked under the pylon as well as Edward turned a circle, neck craned to stare at the bookshelves that stretched four times his own height, packed full to bursting with books of all shapes and sizes. "What is all this?" Indy asked as Edward stepped forward to inspect a bookshelf and glance at the notes pinned to one within reach. "Who are you?"
The red-haired man bowed. "Nicholai Boucherie, at your service."
Edward stared at the drawings in chalk on the wall between two of the bookshelves; the crowned mercurial serpent was among the sloppily scrawled images. The image was not rare in alchemical symbolism given its affiliation with mercury, but Edward had only seen the crowned, winged variant in the totem passed on from his master. He looked over his shoulder at Nicholai Boucherie and said, "who are you really?"
"Nicholai Boucherie," he said evenly. Edward stared at him, before glancing back to the drawings curiously. "I think the more pertinent question though is who are you, my young alchemist."
"You keep calling me that," Edward said. "How do you know-"
"Because I know all those who have touched the lapis philosophorum." Nicholai cocked his head and studied Edward curiously. "But you are terribly young to be counted among the Masters, child."
Edward's eyebrow twitched and Indy coughed. "I'm not a child."
Nicholai took two large steps toward Edward, invading his personal space and staring directly into his face. Edward jerked back and hit the bookshelf and had no where else to go as the other man studied him. Then Nicholai nodded his head sharply.
"So why are the League of Shadows after you?" Indy asked, amused at Edward's discomfort. Nicholai turned his head to look at Indy and then retreated, allowing Edward breathing room again. Indy had stepped to a bookshelf as well and was scanning the titles curiously.
"Because the vagabonds have taken my wife."
Indy stopped and looked at Nicholai. "You have a wife? You don't live here, do you?"
"Of course not, these are temporary lodgings." Nicholai seemed insulted that Indy would even insinuate such a thing. "I … am between residences, you must understand."
"Sure," Indy muttered. "Between residences."
Nicholai sighed and stepped away from Edward, toward the center of the room and the roaring fire. The way the shadows moved and danced around made him look infinitesimally old and remarkably young all at once. "You must understand, professor," Nicholai said slowly. "The search for the Great Work has consumed many. Our young friend here can certainly agree with that sentiment. Right now there is a power that will stop at nothing to obtain the sorcerer's stone, involving anyone who might have a passing knowledge. They took my wife in an effort to get to me." He looked up, at the grate far above their heads.
Edward stepped forward. "Do you know who is behind this?"
"A German." Nicholai looked at him. "I know as much as that. The League is wily, and their assassin is very thorough. I have not been able to get close to him, whoever he is he has escaped my notice before now." Nicholai gestured at the books all around him. "I fear I have wasted most of my life in study, I had never once imagined that we would be attacked. Driven from the surface world into hiding, all of this ruckus is beyond the scope of my abilities. It is quite fortunate I ran into the pair of you, for your assistance will be much appreciated."
"Look," Indy said. "I'm just here to find out about the League of Shadows, I don't care about your game with a magical glowing fairy tale rock or whatever."
"Of course not, professor. You prefer the realm of the real to that of the fantastic. I don't ask your belief, just in your aid."
Edward put his hands on his hips. "Who are you?"
Nicholai smiled at him. "Why, alchemist, I am naught but a humble scrivener."
"And perhaps if you had remained but a humble scrivener, you would not be in the trouble you are now," Ling said from the entrance to the room. He stepped delicately over some of the debris that lined the entrance, his two dark-haired goons behind him. "Such an inventive place to hide, Nicholai of Boucherie."
Edward glanced across the room to Indy, who was already in motion. Indy grabbed an entire shelf of books and shoved, knocking over priceless manuscripts and worthless papers both as he moved to block Ling's entrance into the room. Ling moved faster than Indy, kicking him in the face so hard he saw stars and staggered to the side, back toward the goons. "You'll forgive me, professor," Ling addressed Edward. "Your services may not yet be required."
Before Ling could cross the room to where Nicholai stood, stunned, Edward was in motion. He might no longer have the arm blade at his disposal, but he was no slouch when he had a weapon made of pure, heavy steel in his right arm. He lunged forward, reaching deep into the flames and ignoring the heat that licked at his face as he pulled out a burning log and flung it at the startled assassin. Ling leaped back but the tail of his long coat was caught by the fire, consuming the dry material quickly.
"Get out of here," Edward yelled at Nicholai. Spurred into action by Edward's words Nicholai ran past them both. Ling tore his burning jacket off and flung it at Edward, intent on the red-haired man but Edward deflected the burning material with his automail arm and tackled Ling, catching him low and taking him to his knees.
Indy grunted in pain as the first goon punched him in the stomach - the second had him by his arms. He had been outnumbered from the start and there was little chance for him to move. He kicked feebly at the first man, trying to wrench his arms free and keep his gorge from rising when Nicholai darted between them with a polite "Excusez-moi!"
Both the two men who had Indy in their clutches, and Indy himself watched Nicholai disappear down the entranceway in a hurry, before exchanging looks of disbelief. Then Indy slammed his head back into the mook's jaw who was holding him, elbows flung back into his solar plexus enough to make the man stagger. The one who had been punching him nearly blackened his eye, the blow glancing off of his jaw instead.
"Seguire, scemi!" Ling yelled, followed by a string of what were likely expletives in his native tongue as Edward found skin and bit it. Ling was trying his damnedest to get a hold of the wily blond man but Edward would not hold still long enough for Ling to get a good grip on him. Finally, the Chinese assassin pulled a long dagger from his pants leg and slammed it down over Edward's arm, pinning his arm, sleeve and all to the floor.
Unexpectedly, perhaps, Edward did not even screech in pain, yanking the weapon from his sleeve and, in the movement, dragging the blade against the naked, now-exposed metal of his right forearm. "Nope," Edward said, his grin all teeth.
One of Ling's men had taken his orders and was running after Nicholai. Indy freed his trademark weapon - a bull whip - from under his short coat and snapped it. However, before he could snap the whip and hopefully ensnare the other man, his arm was caught by the not-yet unconscious man he had head-butted.
Half-turned and off of his balance, Indy punched the man in his face, three times in rapid succession with a left hook that left his eyes crossed as he fell to his knees, and then backwards, this time definitely out cold. However, the moment was lost and the other man had made it to the end of the tunnel and out of range. Indy swore, coiled his rip and ran after them both.
"This no longer concerns you!" Ling said, struggling to get free from Edward's grip. "You could go home and be free of this-"
"You involved me!" Edward responded.
"Idiot, you have no idea who you're dealing with-" Ling said, and then his eyes widened in almost comic surprise as Edward's right hand bid him a quick good night.
"No, I don't," Edward said, nudging Ling's unconscious body with his foot. "But I am going to find that out." Edward cast a quick look around the room, grabbing a small, dark-covered book off of one of the shelves and tucking it into the inner pocket of his long coat as he started down the tunnel after Nicholai and Indy.
Edward hesitated at the end of the tunnel, looking left and right. He had no idea which way that they went, but he heard a grate scraping and ran to the first ladder that he saw. He put his hands on the rungs and started climbing.
To his surprise, the grate slid completely aside before he got to the top of the ladder and a set of hands shot through and grabbed him by the back of the coat. Edward's initial reaction was to fight and twist away but the surprisingly strong hands yanked him through the grate and up into the world above again. Edward blinked at Nicholai as he dusted Edward's coat off. "Nick?" He looked around. "Where's Indy?"
"Probably still chasing that other fellow," Nicholai said. "Come on now, while that vile miscreant is lying unconscious now is the time to check out the blackguard's base of operations. I followed them once, you know," he added, pulling Edward to his feet and then dragging him by his one intact sleeve forward. "Perhaps we shall find a clue as to the location of my missing wife!"
Edward was dragged along at a run. "We should find Indy," he said, as Nicholai tugged him along.
"He will find us, I have every faith in the good professor," Nicholai said, sounding far too cheery for someone who had the League of Shadows on his tail. Edward glanced back over his shoulder in consternation, but he was already completely lost.
What had happened to Indy?
Art by email@example.com
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
The bulky man slumped forward, his neck surely broken by the whip that was coiled around it. Indy ran forward, the bullwhip going slack as he collected it. He had not intended to break the man's neck but rather ensnare his raised arm; however the man had turned at the last moment. That was that, he would not mourn the passing of a League of Shadows thug.
The man was dressed in all black, the cut of his clothes vaguely foreign. Indy patted the man down, relieving the body of a pistol and several papers, most of them in Italian. Some had the pictograph Oriental writing - those were likely his orders from the assassin Ling Yao. Indy stuffed all the papers in the satchel he still wore over his shoulder, and then looked around.
There was sunlight streaming through grates not far over his head, illuminating this passage through the city depths. It was not as dark and foreboding as the sewers that led under the buildings that no light passed through. He had lost Nicholai, just as this man had - Nicholai Boucherie likely knew these sewers better than any man alive - and judging by the amount of books accumulated in his living space, he had been down here a long, long time.
Nicholai was a strange man, although Indy could confess to having met stranger in his many expeditions across the globe. There was little here that could lead him to the purchaser of the auction - though Indy had a feeling that he needed to work his way up further than just a few measly assassins. However … this whole business with "the Philosopher's Stone" was leaving him uneasy. There was no such thing, he would swear up and down that the Stone was a myth, an embellishment, a mythical Holy Grail for ancient scientists to set their sights upon. Chasing after this fairy tale was as futile as his own father chasing after the Grail legend … it would only end in tragedy.
But Elric didn't seem fazed by that. He seemed to accept the Stone as if it was something that had actually - or could, actually - exist. Boucherie acted like Elric had laid hands on the Stone himself, which was frankly, ridiculous. If Edward Elric had the Philosopher's Stone, then what was he doing teaching college-level Chemistry courses? The Stone promised eternal riches - and, most importantly - eternal life.
Mystery upon mystery. But the first thing to deal with was getting out of this sewer. Indy glanced around until he spotted an intact ladder, leading toward one of the many grates that peppered the ceiling of the sewer. If Boucherie had any brains he went up and kept going - the man was a stick and from the way he flailed about probably had the fighting experience of a fruit fly. He would be smart to go to ground and let Indy take care of his pursuer.
The grate was unlocked. Indy shouldered it open, balanced precariously on the top lip of the ladder, and then pulled himself street-level. Several startled tourists moved out of the way as he replaced the grate, and Indy could not help but tip his hat at a few pretty women before making his way down the street, pulling the brim of his fedora down to shade his eyes. He had to figure out a plan, he had lost his only lead in the dead League of Shadows grunt - there was no telling where Boucherie went, and Elric - well, he felt bad for abandoning the man to the jaws of the assassin but he looked like he was holding his own.
Indy's shoulder brushed another man's as he pushed through the growing crowd of afternoon traffic. He was lost in thought, and barely mumbled a "perdonatemi." The man he had bumped in to did not really give him a second look, and Indy continued several paces down the street before he realized that he had only seen that particular shade of blond hair once before. He stopped and turned on the sidewalk. It was a slim chance, but a curious one.
"'Scusi!" Indy called, jogging back down the sidewalk after the blond-haired man. He had a woman beside him and they both stopped and looked at Indy curiously as he caught up with them. Here went nothing. "I don't suppose you happen to have a brother…?"
Edward finally recovered his balance and yanked his sleeve away from Nicholai. "Stop DRAGGING me," he said firmly, and the taller man took a step back, managing to look both wounded and apologetic.
They were stopped in an alley that wound between two old, tall buildings. In the distance, church bells were chiming the early afternoon hour. Edward pulled on the sleeves of his coat, and frowned at where the dagger had torn completely through both his jacket and the sleeve of his button-down shirt. The automail glinted through, catching the sunlight. A little disgusted, Edward tugged on his coat sleeve, as if that would help disguise the metal. The cuffs of the jacket and sleeve on his right arm were singed as well.
"A curious prostetic," Nicholai said, and Edward dropped his right arm to his side, left hand reflexively covering the exposed metal. Now that he had a moment to stop and breathe the pain had started, a dull ache along the metal pressed into the skin of his shoulder. "Where does the metal stop, and the flesh begin?"
Edward opened his mouth to retort, and then closed it. How did Nicholai know his arm was false? For all he knew it was just some armor worn under his clothes. His fingers tightened on the grill of his automail as he stared at Nicholai. "How do you know it's a prosthetic?"
Nicholai favored him with an odd grin, and Edward had a moment of disquiet. Everything had spun so strangely out of control since the assassin had appeared before him - the years that he had spent working so hard on being ordinary seemed to be completely wasted. "Come now, young one," Nicholai urged. "It is not far now - unless they've relocated, of course."
Edward watched as the tall man moved quickly down the alley, his unease continuing. This man - there was something going on here that he did not quite have a handle on, and it was bothering him greatly. He could not shake the feeling that this entire thing was an elaborate set-up, a trap to separate him and Jones and lead him right into the clutches of the League of Shadows.
But Ling had genuinely wanted to grab Nicholai. As soon as he saw the other man he no longer seemed to care about capturing Edward. There was something about this man that the League of Shadows wanted dearly and for the life of him, Edward wanted to know what. So, with his hand still covering as much of his automail as he could, he followed Nicholai down the alley and back out into the streets of Florence.
The afternoon traffic had increased severalfold. There were seemingly more tourists on the street, and the presence of the Fascist military had nearly doubled. Edward stared defiantly at a few as he passed, and they watched him suspiciously. Nicholai grabbed his arm and kept him from stopping in the street.
"Our quarrel is not with them," Nicholai told him in a low, warning tone. "Not yet."
"Not yet?" Edward repeated incredulously, but Nicholai did not answer him, so Edward continued to watch the people around them as they walked the streets of the city.
Abruptly, Nicholai stopped. Edward glanced at him, and he nodded to a large, old building off of the main thoroughfare. They had walked away from the plaza and were in the side streets now. Delivery trucks were parked all along the street, and there was not nearly the same level of foot traffic as there was out along the boulevard. "That the place?" Edward asked.
"I doubt my wife is held there," Nicholai said. "But they will know where to find her."
The building looked just the same as all the others. There were no guards posted, nor any indication that the League of Shadows was using the building at all. Edward nodded his head. "So, how are we going to go in?"
"This way." Nicholai urged him toward a delivery entrance, with a single large door. Edward followed.
The building was almost too quiet. Edward jimmied the door lock and shoved the delivery door open, which rolled up over his head, while Nicholai stood watch. No one came running, so cautiously, they both entered.
Edward walked into an alchemist's lab.
He stopped a few paces in from the doorway and looked around. Several long tables, full of glassware - vials full of liquid, beakers and burners with various elements burbling away merrily. There were books scattered everywhere, laying on tables and stacked on the floor. Some of the manuscripts looked positively ancient and they were sitting propped open with measure cups used to mark the pages. The room was lit only by the light that streamed from behind them and the few small fires lit underneath several beakers. Edward glanced over his shoulder at Nicholai, and then balled his fists.
Nicholai looked as surprised as Edward to see the lab. He moved to a table, instantly curious, and Edward looked around again.
This time, with Nicholai out of the light, the sunlight ran up against the far wall. The glint of sunlight against metal caught Edward's eye, and when he saw the armor a small tremor of fear worked its way into his belly.
There were several sets of armor lined up against the wall that Edward immediately recognized. They were the suits of armor Eckhart's men had worn all those years ago - even if they didn't have the hardened black material crusted over them he would have recognized them in a heartbeat. Edward crossed the room quickly, making Nicholai look up at him. "What is it?"
"This armor," Edward said.
There were three complete suits of armor, and on the back tables there lay gauntlets and helmets, the deconstructed remains of at least one or two other suits. The black material - from The Gate, Edward knew - scraped off in places. "This is bad," Edward said. "This is very, very bad."
"A pity, I thought you would have been more curious," a third voice said. Edward turned quickly, his hands balled into fists as someone turned on the lights. The electric lights hummed to life above their heads, illuminating the entire laboratory for them both to see. Standing in a doorway, with a revolver in his hand was -
"Eiselstein," Edward said. The man in the doorway cocked his head slightly, his silver hair glinting the in the light as he regarded Edward with a curious expression on his face.
"I don't believe we've ever been introduced, Professor Elric," he said. "But yes, I am Wilhem von Eiselstein. I am glad you know of me, though, for this makes things quite a bit simpler."
Edward swallowed, a bitter taste in his throat. He did know Eiselstein - or at least, he had. The Wilhem Eiselstein of Amestris had been an incredibly talented and famous alchemist. Edward had only met him a handful of times before the man's gruesome and untimely end, but if this man was anything like the one he had met in Amestris, this was probably not going to turn out well. "How do you know who I am?"
Eiselstein did not lower his revolver. "How could I not? Your name comes up frequently." He nodded at the suits of armor. "You know what did this to them, do you not?"
Of course he knew. The Gate had torn those soldiers limb from limb. He still did not know why the Gate did not attack him or Alphonse in similar ways, and frankly he had stopped caring. "I don't have a clue in hell what you're talking about, mister," Edward lied through his teeth. "Why are you sending goons halfway around the world to try to talk to me? I'm just a Chemistry teacher."
"Don't play games with me!" Eiselstein shouted. Edward narrowed his eyes, the man was trying to startle him, to throw him off guard. "I know exactly what you are, Edward Elric - I have it all right here." Eiselstein withdrew a small bound notebook from his inner jacket pocket. Edward stared at the leather-bound notebook, stuffed full to bursting with papers barely contained within it. He had not seen that book in years, had not passed a thought on it since he saw Alphonse for the first time in the flesh.
"You-" Edward breathed.
"Recognize it, don't you?" Eiselstein tucked the notebook back into his jacket pocket, where it was safe against his chest. "It was your father's. The Nazis took it when they took him - it was by pure luck that it escaped the purge when they burned all of Eckhart's materials."
"That doesn't belong to you," Edward said, his voice low.
"It doesn't matter now, does it?" Eiselstein's smile was cold. "So tell me, Edward Elric - Alchemist of the People - how do I obtain the Philosopher's Stone?"
Edward swallowed a growl. He resisted the urge to glance around and locate Nicholai, Eiselstein's attention was on him. He was not afraid - he was angry. All these years, building these quiet, normal, mundane lives for both he and Alphonse and it was all blown to hell by this arrogant Nazi prick - he was clenching his automail fist so hard he could hear the bearings in his hand click.
"You can't," he said flatly. "It's impossible to create it here. Don't my father's notes tell you that?"
"They do," Eiselstein confirmed. "But I also know that they lie, because the Philosopher's Stone HAS been made here, successfully, before. Isn't that right, Nicholai of Boucherie?"
Edward turned his head slowly to look at Nicholai. The red-haired man was still standing at one of the tables, he had looked up at being addressed. Edward's heart sank, he was right. It had been a trap, all of it. And, like the idiot he was he had walked right into it.
However, the expression that crossed Nicholai's face was not of triumph but of concern. He stared at Eiselstein, seeming to forget that Edward even existed. "What are you talking about?"
"Your success with the Stone of the Sages, of course," Eiselstein's gun was still trained on Edward - he was waiting for the revolver to falter, eyes moving from the weapon to Nicholai and back again. "I never would have dreamed to search for you under the name Boucherie. It's quite clever, I must admit."
"Nicholai?" Edward asked, not taking his eyes from Eiselstein.
"You play a dangerous game, Eiselstein," Nicholai warned as he straightened. He looked strange in the florescent light, haunted. "The Stone is not the plaything of mortal men and bullies."
"And you would horde its magic for yourself, then?" Eiselstein laughed, and looked at Edward. "You have no idea who you have brought before me today, do you? Boucherie is not his name, it is where he was buried."
Eiselstein was not making any sense. Edward looked to Nicholai, who shook his head once, his arms crossed and looking distinctly unimpressed. "I was never buried."
"Forgive me then, when you buried your empty casket as a young man, in the year of our Lord, fourteen hundred and eighteen." Eiselstein's grin was wide, and almost manic. "This man that you brought before me today, Professor? He is none other than the Immortal Sage himself, Nicholas Flamel."
Sofia's fingers dug into Alphonse's arm as he stared at the man who had approached them on the street. He was smudged with dirt, the bottoms of his trousers were damp and he just gave off such an air of scoundrel that it almost made Alphonse want to take a few steps back. The question was so entirely out of the blue that it caused him to pause - but given that they had remarkably few leads on where to find Edward once they had gotten to Florence that this man may have just given them the first opening all day.
The plane trip had been rough, and uncomfortable. Sofia was full of questions and Alphonse promised her a lot of answers for when they found Edward. He knew the basics, of course - but given that most of their adventures occurred in that dark hole in his memory it was better still to wait for his brother to explain it all. Sofia had grudgingly accepted the explanation once Alphonse reminded her of his missing memories - very grudgingly. But now the first step was to find Edward, and then they could go from there.
Alphonse looked the stranger up and down, there was something almost familiar about the man niggling away at his memory, almost like he had seen him before somewhere. "Yes," he said cautiously, answering the man in English, the language he had posed the question in. "I do. Don't a lot of people?"
The man lit up slightly. "About this high," he gestured, his hand flat, slightly above the line of his nose. "Blond, ponytail, metal arm?"
Alphonse opened his mouth, and then shut it again because, how many people in this world had an arm made entirely out of metal? "How do you know Ed?"
"You ARE Alphonse," the man said, relieved. He stuck his hand out. "Indiana Jones."
"Doctor Jones?" Sofia said, and Indy looked at her. "The archeology professor?"
"Yeah … that's me," Indy said as Alphonse took his hand and shook it. "Have we met?"
"My wife, Sofia," Alphonse said.
"They talk of you at the museum, we saw you speak in London a few years ago," Sofia said. "Remember, Al?"
That was why the man was so damnably familiar. "I do now. But, wait - how do you know my brother?"
"That's a long story," Indy said. "We've got to get off the street. They're looking for him - and if they can recognize you as easily as I did, they'll be after you too."
"They already are after us," Alphonse said grimly. "They came after us in London. Men all in black, foreign robes."
Indy bobbed his head in a quick nod. "Sounds like League of Shadows all right." He inclined his head toward a far more populated area back on the plaza, and after a moment Alphonse and Sofia followed them.
"Do you know if my brother's safe?" Alphonse asked in a low voice as they walked.
"He was doin' just fine when I lost him, I think he bit the guy who was chasing us," Indy said.
Alphonse rolled his eyes heavenward. "That sounds just like brother." Then, the realization struck. "He got free?"
"Got free?" Indy repeated.
"The men who came after us in London," Sofia explained. "They said that they already had Ed."
Indy shook his head. "No, no one's captured him, he's been with me since we left Connecticut - and I lost him in the sewers going after the red-haired guy. Nicholai whatever."
Alphonse frowned, shooting a worried look at Sofia. "They lied. They wanted me to come after Edward, to get me out of London." Sofia's expression was just as grim as his. "I've fallen right into their trap."
"Not yet you haven't," Sofia reminded him softly.
"If only we had a way to figure out where their base is," Alphonse mused thoughtfully. "That's where Edward would head, the moment he got the location out of someone. We could meet up with him there, get him away and try to figure out what, exactly, is going on here."
"That's a great plan, but how do you suppose we find him?" Sofia asked Alphonse.
Indy stopped walking suddenly and snapped his fingers. He opened his satchel and pulled the papers he had liberated from the League of Shadows mook into daylight. "I don't suppose YOU can read Chinese?" He asked Alphonse, thrusting the papers toward him.
Alphonse looked at Indy, and then down at the papers, before taking them. "You think there's an address in here somewhere we can use?"
"There's got to be SOMETHING," Indy said. "I took them off of a League of Shadows thug who was more interested in Boucherie than your brother."
Sofia tugged on Alphonse's arm, spotting some Fascists down the street. "Let's stop at a cafe," she said. "And talk there. We won't be as conspicuous."
"Good idea," Alphonse said, tucking the papers into his jacket. He looked at Indy. "I don't suppose you know a decent place for lunch?"
The words just did not make any modicum of sense to Edward. He stared at Nicholai, and then back at Eiselstein. Nicholai could not be much more than a handful of years older than he was, there was no way that he was some fabled alchemist that sprang from bed-time stories. Even if such legends were real - the Philosopher's Stone could not exist in this world, it was completely impossible.
"You are so full of shit, Eiselstein," Edward said finally, turning his attention back on the German. "Did you really thing that I would believe a fairy tale like that? What sort of gullible-"
"He is telling the truth," Nicholai said quietly.
Edward looked back to Nicholai. "What?"
Eiselstein was gloating, hard. "After all that trouble tracking you down, Elric. All those fruitless leads and then of all the men in this world you have with you, the Immortal Sage himself! This truly is my lucky day."
Edward was having a hard time processing all of this. Flamel had been legend, even in Amestris - a master of arcana, of all aspects of alchemy - to the point where it seemed almost laughable that this awkward-looking stick of a man could be the same person. Edward's attention was drawn again to Eiselstein as the man gestured with his revolver. "I must thank you, Professor, for you have saved me quite a bit of time. But with Flamel here, I'm afraid that I don't need you." He pointed the revolver directly at Edward. "Goodbye."
His movement was instinctive. Edward put his right hand up as Eiselstein squeezed the trigger on the revolver. It was by sheer luck that he moved fast enough - there was a loud noise as the bullet struck the underside of Edward's right arm, ricocheting and shattering a glass flask nearby. The three of them looked at the flask that had shattered due to the ricochet - and then Edward moved forward, quickly, eyes on the gun before Eiselstein could think about squeezing off another shot. "How-"
Edward closed his right hand on the gun and forced the muzzle down, reeling back his left hand for a heavy punch. However, someone caught his hand before he could punch Eiselstein. "No," Nicholai said. "Not until he tells us where my wife is."
Eiselstein tried yanking his revolver free from Edward's automail hand, which was not going to happen any time soon. Instead he released it and darted back. "Bring me a Stone and we'll have a trade," he said to the red-haired man.
"I already told you that's impossible," Nicholai said, releasing Edward. Edward crushed the muzzle of the revolver in his automail hand and threw it on the floor, judging the distance between him and Eiselstein. "I can't make another Stone. Not without my wife."
Edward glared at Nicholai as Eiselstein smiled, largely. "Well, that's good to know," he said. "WACHEN!"
"Shit," Edward said, shoving Nicholai back as the sound of heavy boots started from somewhere behind Eiselstein. Nicholai pressed against Edward's left hand angrily. "No, no no now is NOT the time-" Edward said, grabbing Nicholai's arm and pulling him along.
"Not without my wife!"
"She's not here and I am not letting you go with him," Edward said. "You are not putting a Philosopher's Stone in the hand of the Nazis-"
Several men started to pour through the doorway behind where Eiselstein was standing. Edward shoved Nicholai back and this time, thankfully, he went. A bullet whizzed by his ear and Edward ducked reflexively as Eiselstein shouted "I need Flamel alive, kill the other one!"
Edward kicked out the leg of the table with all the glassware as they ran past, and all the beakers and flasks slid to the floor and shattered. Several of the burners ignited what must have been flammable liquid and that very quickly spread along the spills to the table itself. Nicholai was not struggling to get away from Edward, but he certainly was not helping their escape, staring still at Eiselstein through the growing flames. "Come on, come on," Edward grunted, kicking through to the door they came in from -
- and running smack into someone taller than he was.
Edward released Nicholai's sleeve and wound up to punch with his automail, not wanting to waste any time when that same someone grabbed his right arm with their left and nearly shouted in his ear. "BROTHER!"
He let his arm go slack as he gaped up at Alphonse. His younger brother was certainly the last person he expected to see here, of all places! "AL!?"
It WAS Alphonse - in a suit jacket and tie, wearing a short-brimmed fedora and looking somewhere between cross and relieved. Edward's mouth worked a second, this day was just getting more and more bizarre - when a few more gunshots echoed past and one hit the cement wall beside Edward.
Indy was a few steps behind Alphonse. He leveled his revolver, aiming over Edward's shoulder and squeezed off several shots into the smoke behind them. "Hate to interrupt, but can we save the touching reunion for a time when there aren't people SHOOTING at us?"
Edward grabbed Nicholai by the front of his jacket and shoved him at Alphonse. "Man's got a point!" he yelled. "Go!"
They ran out of the narrow delivery entrance, smoke and gunshots trailing after them. Indy brought up the rear, emptying his gun at smoky, ambiguous targets. "Where are we going?" Edward said, as Alphonse skidded to a stop outside the building.
Abruptly, one of the many delivery trucks started up, horn honking repeatedly. Alphonse nodded at it. "We're going there."
"Who's driving the TRUCK?" Edward said, as they all ran toward the idling truck. Alphonse ran to the back of it, opening the swinging back doors and jumping in, followed quickly by Nicholai. Edward hauled himself after, and then leaned out the back of the truck. "You coming with us, Jones?"
By this point, several of the guards – in uniform but not a one of them wearing any sort of insignia, all of them yelling in German - had piled out the delivery entrance. Most were coughing, but some had covered their mouths and noses with cloth to block out the thick, black oily smoke that was now issuing from the entrance. Indy was running full speed toward them, yelling as he did so. "Go, go, start the truck!"
"The truck's already started," Edward yelled right back, hanging out the back of the truck. However, the delivery truck lurched forward and Indy leaped for the door, catching it and pulling himself on board.
"We've got everyone," Alphonse yelled, and the driver floored it, causing all four of them to stumble and fall against each other. The hinged doors slammed shut with the momentum, as the delivery truck took a corner hard enough to cause them to tumble against the side of the truck. Edward groaned as Indy's elbow landed in his gut, although Nicholai did break his fall. Alphonse had grabbed onto straps hanging from the roof of the truck. "You guys all right?"
"Fine, peachy keen," Edward groaned, putting his hand on Nicholai's shoulder to try to lever himself off of the man - and his hand came away covered in blood. "Nicholai!?"
There was no response.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
.: Chapter Five :.
Wilhem von Eiselstein's face was nearly pink with rage as he railed at his guards in rapid-fire German. "Idioten! Dummköpfe! Nutzlos unbeholfene Tölpel!" The guards stood impassively at attention, their faces not betraying a single emotion. Their self-restraint was impressive, Ling Yao observed silently from the shadows of the large overhanging room.
The alchemists had disappeared from the city of Florence in, of all things, a parcel delivery truck. The other delivery trucks along the street had met with a series of unfortunate occurrences - mostly vandalism, although a few were missing starters and spark plugs. Something devilishly simple to fix, but it afforded their prey plenty of time to vanish into the city teeming with people.
The men reflexively saluted as Eiselstein completed his rant against them, before turning to leave the room. There was not much time, the entire operation needed to be packed up, as they were moving base from Florence back to the isolated castle that Eiselstein called home deep in Austria. Ling watched them all file past silently, before standing, hands in the pockets of his European-style coat.
Eiselstein had turned his back to the room, staring out into the late afternoon sky, still fuming to himself. "I nearly had him," Eiselstein spat. "I could have had them both!"
Ling stopped before the large desk that dominated the room, his hands still in his pockets as he watched Eiselstein. "And now they're gone, along with my chance to create the Stone entirely from scratch!"
"I was under the impression that the exact recipe was encoded in your notes," Ling said finally. "Is that not the case?"
Eiselstein glanced over his shoulder at Ling, his eyes narrowed. "Of course I have the proper recipe, the words are as plain as day to any alchemist worth his salt. The problem is that the recipe calls for several years of preparation, and that is time that we do not have to waste. If Flamel and his wife can cook one faster than that then the Fuhrer will have his magical, immortality-granting Stone in no time at all and I can be left in peace with my family."
"I have no interest in your Fuhrer," Ling said. "As you well know."
Eiselstein glared out the window again, resigned into silence. It had been a part of their agreement, after all - the Philosopher's Stone held the secret to immortality … an immortality that the League of Shadows wanted just as dearly as the Fuhrer. The shadowy organization had no ties to any one government - they did exactly as they damn well pleased, and Eiselstein knew it. He also knew that he had to continue to appease their representative - Ling Yao - for as long as he could in order to maintain their cooperation. "They were here, Chinaman. Here, within my grasp."
"And they will yet be in your grasp again, if only you could learn some patience," Ling murmured. Eiselstein glanced back at Ling, and then half-turned from the window, his profile cast into sharp relief by the afternoon light.
Ling looked a mess, he knew - he had cleaned up from traipsing around the sewers but his eye was swollen nearly closed, a cut above the wound bandaged to prevent further blood loss. However his open eye was clear and bright. Edward Elric had left him alive - a mistake he would be certain to regret. "Both of my men were carrying copies of your itinerary, Eiselstein. With any luck at all that itinerary has fallen into the grasp of our wayward alchemists. Professor Elric seems to have a sworn sense of duty - or at least, he appears to be very interested in stopping you, so I am certain that if that itinerary has fallen into their hands we will see them again shortly, on the train through to Germany."
Eiselstein turned to the window, a thoughtful expression now present on his features. "You're sure of that?"
"As sure as I can be - I know for a fact that Professor Elric's brother can read Chinese. They will be coming to us again, only this time you shall have far more of a warning."
"Good." Eiselstein sat down at his desk, some of his natural coloring return. "I shall tolerate no more failures."
Ling's one good eye narrowed into a paroxysm of a smile, but his tone was entirely lethal. "Neither will I."
The delivery truck was parked off the side of the road, by a bustling shop. It looked completely like it belong there, so no one paid any attention to the fact that there had been no actual deliveries all afternoon. Earlier several military vehicles has passed, their alert sirens going.
"He's still breathing," Alphonse confirmed, two fingers pressed to the pulse under Nicholas's jaw. Sofia knelt on the floor with his head in her lap, sweat beading on his forehead. She brushed the dark red bangs away from his forehead and stared with concern at her husband. "For now," Alphonse added darkly.
The hastily constructed bandages had already been bled through once. Edward sat cross-legged on the floor, his once-white gloves stained a deep crimson color by the other man's blood. Alphonse looked at his brother, a frown on his face. "We have to get him to a hospital, brother."
"I know," Edward murmured, his hands propped on his knees, ignoring the stains that it was leaving on his clothing. He was staring at Nicholas silently, willing him to wake up but knowing that he would be lucky if he did not die in the next few hours. There was no time for this, they needed every hand on deck to be able to take down Eiselstein and suddenly Nicholai Boucherie - Nicholas Flamel - their most valuable resource, was down for the count. Perhaps permanently.
"Al's right," Indy said. He was sitting with his back against the wall, arms propped on his knees. "We need to dump him at a hospital and get on with it. We can't afford to waste time on him."
"I know," Edward bit out, fingers curling in the fabric of his trousers. They could not just abandon Nicholas to the tender mercies of the Italian government. There was no telling what would happen to him here. "We can't just leave him, though!"
"We're going to have to," Alphonse said gently.
Edward groaned, and lowered his head. Sofia wiped Nicholas's forehead again, humming a little to herself as she did so. Edward stared at his blood-stained gloves. "He's Nicholas Flamel," he said shortly.
Alphonse looked up at Edward, startled. "What?"
"He's Nicholas Flamel," Edward repeated, as if Alphonse had not heard the words clearly. "He's, he was going by Nicholai Boucherie in order to keep hidden, Eiselstein wants him more than us, now, because he's Nicholas-fucking-Flamel."
"There is no way," Alphonse said. "He'd have to be, nearly four hundred years old or something!"
"Like da d?" Edward said humorlessly.
Alphonse's eyes narrowed sharply. "Brother."
"Actually," Nicholas's voice was weak. "More along the lines of six hundred years old." He coughed, and Sofia held his shoulders so he did not try to curl up and twist the bandages. "Six hundred and seven, this year."
"You mean to say that you're immortal?" Indy said, disbelief colored in his voice. Edward had straightened at Nicholas's voice, and looked to the man silently.
"Not immortal," Nicholas Flamel said, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. "Just rather long-lived."
"Try to lie still," Alphonse said, as Nicholas started to try to sit up. Sofia's hands on his shoulders kept him down. "You've been shot."
"Really?" Now the sarcasm was certainly out in full force. "I don't think I would have figured that out on my own, thank you." He looked to Edward, his eyes bleary. "This is your brother, then?"
"How did you know I have a brother?" Edward asked.
"He probably heard him call you brother," Indy muttered.
Nicholas's mouth quirked in amusement. "Because you both remind me very strongly of your father," he said, and then coughed. This time, blood trickled from his mouth and he spent a long moment gasping for air.
"Nicholas," Edward said worriedly.
He started to pat his own chest gently. "On the inside of my waistcoat," he said faintly. "Small black pouch."
Edward and Alphonse looked at each other, and then Alphonse reached to the pile of clothing they had cut off of Nicholas before binding the gunshot wound. Along the inside of the bloodstained waistcoat was a small bulge, a pouch sewn directly into the lining. Alphonse tore it open and a small black velvet drawstring pouch fell into his hand.
There was a wheeze on the edge of every breath Nicholas took. "Take one shard and crush it in a glass of water."
"Shard?" Alphonse repeated, opening the pouch. From out of the drawstring pouch three long, slender ruby shards the length of his finger tumbled into his palm. Alphonse almost dropped them. "They're warm!"
"Just one," Nicholas said. "Hurry." His voice was fading.
Indy had already opened the back of the delivery truck and vanished off, presumably to find a source of water. He returned shortly with a glass borrowed from a nearby cafe. Alphonse held out one shard to Edward who crushed it in his automail hand, and scooped the dust into the glass.
Nicholas had gone beyond the ability to speak, panting hoarsely as Sofia held his head up and Edward carefully poured the mixture into his mouth.
Nicholas closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Then, slowly, he lifted his hands and pressed the palms together, before pressing them both over the bandaged wound.
The light was instantaneous and molten red. It rippled over the bandages and up his arms, and Nicholas let a pained grunt through his clenched teeth, doubling up almost instantly. "What the HELL was THAT-" Indy said as Edward caught Nicholas's shoulder. Both of his hands were clenched still over the wound even as the red light sparked out.
"That," Alphonse said quietly, "was alchemy."
Nicholas sat up against the inside of the truck, his collared shirt open and the bandages left in a bloody puddle on the floor. The gunshot wound was gone as if it had never been, the only testament to its existence the dried blood that stained his skin. He was, however, still pale and sweating. Edward had abandoned the gloves into the pile of ruined clothing, and he sat beside Nicholas, watching him carefully.
"I don't understand it," Indy said. He was standing up, hat cocked askew on his head and arms crossed. "How is he fixed?"
"I'm more concerned with the fact that he has the Philosopher's Stone on him," Alphonse said, the black velvet pouch safely stowed in the pocket of his jacket. "Or what's left of it."
"It is all that remains of the Stone we created nearly six hundred years ago." Nicholas's voice was still weak with pain. "We only made one Stone. It has lasted us all this time."
"You've only made the Stone once?" Indy said. "How are you going to do it again?"
"I cannot," Nicholas said softly. "The means to create the Stone no longer exists in this world."
"You said you couldn't create one without your wife," Edward said sharply.
"I would say whatever I had to in order to ensure my wife's safety," Nicholas snapped at him. "Two shards, now, are all that remains of the great Philosopher's Stone. Do you really think that Eiselstein will leave my wife alive if he knew that there is no longer any way to create it?" He curled his hand over where the gunshot wound was and hissed in pain.
Edward looked up at Alphonse, and then back to Nicholas. "But there is. There is another way to create the Philosopher's Stone."
"What are you talking about?" Alphonse asked. He was sitting with his arm around Sofia, who had her head on his shoulder drowsily.
"Al," Edward said. "Eiselstein has dad's notes." At the furrowed brow Edward elaborated. "The ones that he never left behind. Those notes."
It was slightly comical, the way Alphonse's eyes widened at that. Sometimes Edward forgot that his brother had that gap in his memory, including meeting their father again in Resembool. "How did Eiselstein get that?"
"The Thule society probably took it off of him," Edward said grimly. "I don't even know what's in it - he never let me look at it. That's gotta be full of particularly bad and dark alchemy."
Nicholas exhaled. "We must rescue my wife and recover your father's notebook, then," he said decisively.
Indy crouched, staring at Edward and Nicholas in turn. "So he's fixed."
"Good as new," Nicholas confirmed, lifting his hand off of the vanished wound to prove it. "Mostly."
Indy shook his head in amazement. "The Philosopher's Stone," he muttered. "Won't Marcus get a kick out of this."
"Speaking of," Nicholas said, holding out his hand. "The shards, if you please."
Alphonse stared at Nicholas's outstretched hand, before shifting slightly. Sofia lifted her head and frowned at him, but Alphonse produced the black velvet drawstring bag from his coat pocket. There was the barest hitch of hesitation before he dropped the bag into Nicholas's hand.
Nicholas blinked, gaze still fixed on Alphonse. "Impressive," he said, hand curling around the bag and pulling it toward his chest. "Most people won't give up a shard once they have touched them. The allure and the power of it is too much for them."
Alphonse smiled wryly. "I know the source of the power," he said. "It doesn't interest me." Edward snorted in amusement, as Nicholas tucked the pouch into the pocket of his trousers.
"Now what?" Sofia asked. "If we're going to go after Nick's wife and this notebook, how are we going to find them?"
"The notebook probably travels with Eiselstein," Indy said. "It's going to be too valuable an asset to leave behind anywhere."
"My wife would likely be locked up at his castle," Nicholas said. "I can't see him purposefully traveling with her."
"No, that would not make any sense. Traveling with a prisoner would only be a means for the prisoner to escape easily," Indy agreed. "So it seems the best plan would be to head toward Eiselstein's castle. Good thing he's headed there as well."
Edward lifted his head and looked at Indy suspiciously. "How do YOU know that?"
"Because," Indy said, holding up a piece of paper. "We have his itinerary."
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
.: Chapter Six :.
The whistle of the train cut through the station sharply, echoing loudly above the general clatter of passengers boarding and unloading. Alphonse Elric leaned against a pillar, a folded newspaper under his arm and his hands in his pockets as he watched the crush of people moving around the station.
The others were already on board the train, stowed away safely in their compartment. They had all cleaned up, arriving at the station well before the scheduled departure time so that fresh clothes could be bought and something light to eat could be obtained.
Nicholas was still weak, but could move under his own power. His face had been pale and gaunt and color was slow to return to it, but his eyes were bright and his voice strong. Alphonse still was not sure that he really believed that the man was the famed Nicholas Flamel - that bit of alchemy he had performed was no proof but the fact that he was an alchemist. However, Edward seemed to have no trouble believing it, and Alphonse trusted his older brother, so he was going with it … for now.
This whole thing was a mess of ridiculous proportions. The fact that this German, this Nazi alchemist had their father's research notes was troubling. Alphonse did not remember much of their father, just faint memories from a far-too brief childhood. He had been sent through the Gate to Germany before Alphonse was restored to flesh, and by the time he too made the journey through after his brother, their father was already dead. He had little picture of what the man was like - he was a famed alchemist, certainly, but all he knew of Hohenheim of the Light was his legacy. Edward, who had spent the better part of two years with the man as an adult, spoke rarely of him.
Despite the fact that Alphonse had grown content with his life here, the fact that his father's research notes were out there sent something stirring in his stomach. The alchemy was in his blood, even if the processes no longer existed to connect the two, and to just read, and see, and learn the things their father knew was a whole adventure unto itself. Maybe within these notes was the key to opening the Gate.
He caught himself again - there was no need for that. He had built a life here. He had family, a future, the possibility of children. Beyond the Gate lay the world he came from, but they had both chosen to make their homes here.
Still. Alphonse could not help but wonder that perhaps Edward sacrificed because that was all he knew how to do. If he was happy, or content with his life then something would come along and take it all away from him, so he lived this quiet, miserable existence of self-loathing and guilt because it was all he could do. Alphonse knew that his brother was broken, and had never known quite how to fix him.
One thing to deal with at a time. If Nicholas had slivers of the Philosopher's Stone, that all but proved alchemy could exist here, within the confines of this world. It meant that they had to get their father's notes back from Eiselstein any way they could, because there was no telling what was contained within. Then and only then Alphonse could concentrate on dealing with his brother's malaise.
The train whistle blew again, a final warning to those passengers lolly-gagging on the platform that it would be departing shortly. He had been watching this entire time and had not seen Eiselstein - or anyone that particularly reminded him of the League of Shadows - boarding the train. That was particularly worrisome - what if the itinerary had been false, specifically to throw them all off the trail?
Alphonse straightened and started across the train platform, dropping the newspaper into a bin as he passed. If Eiselstein was not on this train they would catch up with him elsewhere. That was just going to be the way it had to be.
The train compartment was small and cramped - it was barely made to seat six and there was hardly any room to breathe with five of them in there. Edward was squeezed between Indy and Alphonse, being the smallest, while Sofia sat beside Nicholas.
"There's too many of us," Indy was saying. "We stick out like a sore thumb at this point, we need to split up."
"I agree," Nicholas said. He had been growing gradually stronger, and seemed to be almost back to the same state that Edward had met him in. "I can't ask any of you to go any further with me. I appreciate your assistance but our paths must part when this train arrives at the station."
"Oh, piss off," Edward said.
"We are too large a group," Alphonse said.
"Well then you and Sofia can stay behind and go vacation or what the hell ever," Edward snapped at Alphonse. "I'll just go clean up dad's mess on my own, I'm used to it."
"That is not what I just said."
"Sure as hell sounded like it to me!"
"Boys!" Sofia snapped angrily. "No one is staying behind!"
"I don't even know what Jones is still doing here anyway," Edward said, glaring at Indy. "Didn't you have some dig or something to go get to, wasn't that why you were tagging along in the first place?"
"No, I'm tagging along because your buddy Ling is the best in I've got to the League of Shadows," Indy said right back. "And watch it, pal, this little partnership has worked so far but I am getting real tired of your attitude."
"Oh, you're getting real tired of my attitude?" Edward's face was starting to go red. "You know what? Fuck you!"
"Brother!" Alphonse said.
"No, and fuck you too Al." Edward stood up, yanking his coat out from under Alphonse at the same time. "I'm tired of this shit, I'm talking a walk." He yanked the compartment door open and stormed off into the hall, sliding the compartment door shut behind him hard.
"Brother!" Alphonse called after him in irritation, then sighed deeply. "Five years, and he hasn't changed a whit."
Sofia bumped Alphonse's feet with her own. "It's fine, Al, he's under a lot of stress."
"We still need to decide what to do," Indy pointed out. "Alphonse didn't see Eiselstein or Ling get on board this train. We could be headed the exact opposite way that we want to be going."
"No, I am fairly certain we are headed in the right direction," Nicholas said, glancing out the window. "I have never been to his castle, but I feel we are on the right path."
Indy snorted. "What, do you have some sort of psychic link to your wife or something?"
Nicholas gave him a dark look. "You are mocking me."
"Of course I'm mocking you, this whole thing is patently ridiculous."
"Anyway," Sofia interrupted. "The point of the matter is that we aren't going to split up, and no one is going to be left behind. We're all in this together, so we need to decide what to do."
"Well, I'll go get brother," Alphonse said, starting to stand up. "Because despite his temper tantrum, if we try to figure out what we're going to do next without him, he'll get pissed and go do his own thing anyway like the idiot he is."
"You should be kinder to your brother," Nicholas said suddenly. "He's dying."
The compartment grew suddenly quiet. "What?" Alphonse said dumbly, although his stomach had tightened at the words.
"Those false limbs he has." Nicholas' eyes were sharp and clear, and were locked on Alphonse's. "They're draining his life. Can you not tell? I thought it was clearly obvious."
Sofia had covered her mouth with her hand in horror. "Ed's dying?"
"He certainly hasn't said anything about it to me either," Indy said. "He's just been favoring the real limbs over the fake ones, the same sort of thing anyone in his situation would do I thought."
"Does Ed know?" Alphonse's voice was rough.
"I think he suspects," Nicholas seemed unperturbed by everyone else's reaction to his words. "But there is no way to tell without asking him plainly."
"How do you know?" Sofia asked.
Nicholas smiled but there was no warmth in the expression. "I can see a lot of things that you cannot," he said simply. "It comes with the experience of living beyond your years."
"I'm going to get him," Alphonse said. Without another word, he opened the compartment door and shut it solidly behind him. Sofia watched him go with concern, the absolute anguish that had shot across his face at the thought of Edward dying had made her want to run after him.
Unexpectedly, Nicholas' hand covered Sofia's on her lap, and she looked to him in surprise. "I apologize for upsetting you," he said. "But your husband and his brother - you understand how special they are, I hope."
Sofia nodded her head once, looking at Nicholas' hand curiously. "I do, I mean - Al means the world to me, and I don't know Ed all that well but Al loves him so that's all that matters to me…"
Indy let out a long, aggravated sigh and Sofia glared at him. "Do you have a problem with that, Doctor Jones?"
"Lady, I've got a problem with everything to do with this little adventure, starting with your pal there the supposedly-immortal-alchemist and ending with heading straight into Nazi Germany." He crossed his arms and glared out the window.
Sofia patted Nicholas' hand gently. "It'll all work out, I know it will. We'll get your wife back, and Al's father's book, and all of it. It's going to work out."
Nicholas smiled gently at her. "I hope you are right."
She smiled back. "Me too."
Edward had not gone far. He had stopped at the next train car up, a second class cabin full of bench seats. There were not a lot of people in this carriage, and they were mostly clustered toward the front of the car, so Edward seated himself in the last bench seat, sliding up to the window so he could brace his elbow against the ledge and rest his chin in his hand.
He watched the scrolling scenery silently. They had come so far, at this point, only to be thwarted by, what? Being thrown off by a false itinerary. It was aggravating how easily Eiselstein had ditched them. And then, Alphonse had shown up with his wife in tow! Al should not be here, not at all. He was supposed to be happily oblivious in his new life in London, Edward did this sort of thing to protect him, not to end up dragging him along. His automail shoulder twinged and he sighed, rubbing the joint through his several layers of clothing before replacing his chin in his hand.
Eiselstein had no use for either him or Alphonse now, and that made Alphonse and his wife a liability. Now that Nicholas Flamel was in the mix, the ante had been upped considerably. Although, what Eiselstein could do now with the knowledge that the Philosopher's Stone could no longer be synthesized was completely up in the air. All Edward knew for certain was he had to either get his father's notes from the man - or destroy them. The greatest fear of course led that he might have copied the notes already; but if Eiselstein was a true alchemist - and given his vanity, there was a strong argument for that being the case - he would follow tradition, and that mean obscuring and keeping the translated notes out of the hands of other people. And with his involvement with the Nazis, that would mean keeping the only copy of the notes - the original ones - on his person at all times to prevent his own redundancy.
Edward was overextending himself. The automail dug heavily into his skin, paining him more when he thought about it. Caught up in the moment it was just like old times, but given the chance to sit, and to rest - he felt like a hundred years old.
He looked up when Alphonse sat down across from him on the other unoccupied bench. For a brief moment Edward remembered that hulking, noisy suit of armor and he could not help but smile wistfully. Another life.
Right now, though, Alphonse looked as tired as he felt. The skin was pinched around his eyes, and his short blond hair was in need of a good combing. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and kept his voice low, for Edward's ears alone. "Ed, how are you doing? Really?"
Edward opened his mouth, the prepared bullshit response on his lips - and then he closed his mouth and sighed. "It's been too long, Al," he said instead. "It's really been too long."
Despite the solemn expression Alphonse wore a smile did quirk across his face. "You're the one who ran away to America," he said. "It's a pain getting across that ocean."
"Shut up, it was for a job - as you well know, you feckless roustabout," Edward grunted. "At least one of us tries to pull their weight in society. Besides, your wife hates me."
"Sofie doesn't hate you, she just doesn't know you like I do." Alphonse rubbed the side of his face with one hand. "Besides, with displays like that-"
"I'm not going to go back and apologize."
"-I didn't ask you to, brother."
Edward glared at Alphonse, and then sighed again. "What are you doing here, Al?"
"I came to rescue you." Alphonse folded his hands.
"I don't need any rescuing."
"You never do," Alphonse responded dryly. "But, I thought I'd come lend a hand anyway."
"With your wife."
"I couldn't leave her behind, you know that." He glanced out the window a moment, and then to the floorboards between them, before back at Edward's face. "How's your automail?"
Edward considered this question, watching Alphonse watch him right back. "It hurts."
"It didn't use to, did it?"
"It's always hurt." Edward sat back on the bench seat, his left hand on his shoulder. "It's just never been unmanageable."
"I didn't know," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Eh, I didn't want you to know." Edward shrugged. "You'd blame yourself, somehow, and it's not your fault."
"It is, kind of. I got my body back and you didn't."
"Why are you asking about my automail, anyway?" Edward said, steering the course of the conversation away from memories he would rather not relive. "You've never bothered with it before."
"Because I'm worried about you," his brother said seriously. "I'm worried that you've been sitting at home drinking alone in the dark for five years obsessively rereading the handful of alchemy notes you dragged with you through the Gate. That part of our life is over, Ed."
"Clearly it's not, because we wouldn't both be sitting on a train bound for Germany with an alchemist in possession of the Philosopher's Stone - or what's left of one - if it was," Edward snapped back. "I'm happy for you, Al, with your perfect wife and your perfect life - but that's not meant for me and you know it."
"Then what is meant for you, Ed?" Alphonse asked, frustrated.
Edward smiled and put his elbow back on the window's ledge. "I don't have any idea."
Edward moved slow, now, on the train. Alphonse watched his brother with thinly veiled concern - he did not allow his limp to be pronounced, but it was there all the same. Nicholas' words haunted him - he was not so sure that Edward was dying, but he was definitely in a great deal of pain, and masking it as well he could. Alphonse was opening the door to the compartment car when someone else was trying to exit the car at the same time.
That person exiting the carriage car was Ling Yao.
They stared at each other for a split-second of surprise - clearly Ling had not been expecting to run into one of, never mind both of the Elric brothers - and Alphonse used that to his advantage, rearing back with his hands braced on the door frame and planting his foot in the middle of Ling's chest. Edward yelled something from behind him that he did not quite catch, as Ling used the momentum Alphonse had inadvertently given him to turn a flip and land back on his feet. Ling's face was bruised and the one eye hidden by the flip of his hair was swollen nearly shut - but his expression was far more menacing. "It was only a matter of time before I found you again," he said, his accent leaking through thicker than ever. "I knew you had to be on this train somehow."
Alphonse reacted first, shoving Edward back into the open-air vestibule between the cars. Edward staggered against the outside of the car, catching on to the thin railing that separated them from the scenery flying past. "Hey!" Edward snapped, as Alphonse turned to the side, catching Ling's kick with his arm and twisting. With Edward outside Alphonse could focus on Ling, who escaped from his hold and put some space between the two of them.
Ling was watching Alphonse warily. Alphonse was more of a skilled fighter than Edward - Edward relied on both martial arts and street fighting to make his mark, he had to mix up his styles if he wanted any hope of beating Alphonse. "You are better than your brother," Ling remarked, moving his feet slightly as he changed his stance. "I was not expecting that."
"Yeah, I should mention that we've been sparring partners since we were toddlers," Alphonse said, stepping into the tight hallway of the compartment car. "And that Ed has never once won."
Ling did not speak again, moving forward with a hand strike so swift that his hand all-but disappeared. Alphonse blocked the strike neatly and again the one that came behind it, stepping into Ling's space and using his feet at the same time. Alphonse connected one glancing blow to Ling's face as Ling twisted them both, bracing a foot on the wall and using the tight space of the hallway against Alphonse, who was larger and more limited in his movement. Ling drove a knee into his gut as they grappled.
And then Edward was through the door behind them. With Ling twisted around Alphonse it put Edward between him and the door. Ling doubled back, straight into Alphonse's right hook. Somehow he recovered from that nearly instantly, grabbing Alphonse's coat over his shoulder and switching their places so that he had nothing but the rest of the empty hallway behind them. "Suddenly this fight is less than fair," Ling called. "I'll be making my exit, for now."
Alphonse made a grab for him but Ling ducked under it, dashing up the hallway compartment. Edward shoved his brother in the back. "Go, Al, don't let him get away!"
"I'm going," Alphonse said, swiping the blood that was leaking from his nose with the back of his hand. A few of the compartment doors had slid open, occupants curious about the commotion in the hallway - one of them, their own compartment.
"Al!" Sofia said, eyes wide at the blood on his face. "Are you all right!?"
"Ling's here," Edward explained, shoving Alphonse past her.
"We're following him, you and Indy protect Nick," Alphonse yelled back at Sofia.
Sofia's steel-blue eyes flashed in acknowledgment. "Got it!"
The door to the outside vestibule had bounced off its door frame and hung open. Alphonse navigated the space between the two cars carefully - and halfway across a weighted chain wrapped around his shoulders and neck and yanked him off his feet and into the air.
"AL!" Edward yelled as Alphonse vanished from before his eyes. Alphonse felt all the air go out of his lungs as he slammed flat against the roof of the compartment car. Somehow, he had acted unconsciously and thrown his hand up to protect his face, so when the chain wrapped around him it didn't break his neck.
"Hm, fishing's pretty good today," Ling called, his voice almost lost in the wind as the train shot along its tracks. "Snared a big one."
Alphonse snarled something, trying to free himself but the chains were pressed so tight into his skin it was tearing both cloth and skin. He was effectively restrained. "Al!" Edward's voice carried as he hauled himself up on top of the carriage car as well - aching automail fortunately did not seem to impact his actual athletic ability.
"I don't need two Elrics," Ling shouted. "The order was for only one!" He had a revolver in one hand, the end of the weighted chain in the other.
"Ed!" Alphonse yelled, as Ling opened fire.
Edward ducked, his hands the only thing visible as Ling shot at him. Alphonse tried to struggle to his feet but he had no purchase. Ling emptied the revolver and shrugged, as Edward started to climb back on top of the compartment carriage. "You're dead weight either way, I'd rather you didn't struggle the whole time," he explained to Alphonse, reversing his grip on the revolver. Alphonse's eyes widened and he twisted his head, trying to shield but he couldn't do much to block the blow, and then everything went black.
"AL!" Edward yelled again, this time managing to get his foot on top of the roof off the compartment car and finally haul himself up for real. He tried not to think about how much trouble he had pulling himself up when he used to climb drain pipes and run up walls like there was no such thing as gravity and instead focus on not losing his balance against the wind that was whipping his hair around like crazy.
"Don't worry, your brother's not dead," Ling said. He had Alphonse slung up over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "Of course, he could very well be if you don't stop right there. I bet you wouldn't want me to just throw him from here, hm?"
"What do you want with Al?" Edward yelled at him.
"Idiot, what do I want with either of you?" Ling's nose was bleeding still from where Alphonse had punched him. "Come to Eiselstein's castle. Flamel knows where it is, don't let him lie to you."
"You-" Edward said, and Ling pointed behind Edward, the direction that they were going in.
"I would advise ducking, there's a tunnel ahead."
Edward turned around, and indeed the train was advancing on a tunnel. He barely had time to flatten himself against the roof of the train so that the low tunnel ceiling did not take his head off. The noise of the train was deafening, echoing against the tunnel walls as Edward kept his head down - but the tunnel was brief. Once he was able to get up on his knees again Ling - and Alphonse - were gone.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
.: Chapter Seven :.
"I am really, really, really beginning to hate the League of Shadows," Edward snarled, sitting on the floorboard of the train compartment while Sofia tried to work all the knots out of his hair. Edward's clothes were completely covered in grime from laying on top of the train, and his hair was a windswept mess.
"Just now you're beginning to hate them?" Indy asked, amused.
"This is no laughing matter, they've taken Alphonse," Nicholas said severely to Indy. Indy raised his hands in supplication and Sofia ignored them both, focusing on Edward's hair. Her hands were shaking but she refused to let that transmit through to her voice as she spoke.
"Do you think that they'll kill him?"
"Not right off," Edward said grimly, his head bowed. "If they just wanted us dead we would already be dead. There's got to be something in dad's notes that Nick here doesn't know about, because otherwise I can't see any reason that Eiselstein would try to take us alive, if all he wants is Nicholas."
"Do you think Ling is still on the train?" Indy asked. "We should check to see, just to be sure."
"There's no telling." Edward said, wincing as Sofia worked through a particularly painful knot. "I doubt it, though. He said," and Edward pinned Nicholas with a glare, "that Nicholas would know where his castle was."
Indy looked at Nicholas as well. "You said you didn't know."
Nicholas' expression didn't falter. "I don't know," he said. "I've never been, I don't know why that man thought I would."
"Curious," Edward murmured. Sofia stopped her fingers in his hair and put a hand tentatively on his shoulder. "So what do we do, then?"
"We get off this train at the next stop," Indy said. "There should be an airfield nearby, if we're lucky - and then we fly to the castle. This train can only take us so far before things start to get uncomfortable."
Edward nodded his head. "They think I'm German, though, so if the rest of you just shut up and let me talk things could work out."
"All the same, none of us have papers, so I'd rather not risk it," Indy said.
Edward glanced back at Sofia. "Will you be able to keep up? I don't know if any of us will be able to protect you."
Sofia smacked him across the back of the head hard enough to make Indy wince. "I can keep up just fine, and shoot as well as any of you," she informed Edward icily.
"Ow!" Edward said. "I was just asking, you didn't have to hit me."
"Just wanted to make sure you understand," Sofia said sweetly. "That I have as much right to come along with you three to rescue my husband."
"Okay, okay, just don't hit me again," Edward said, ducking his head in anticipation.
Nicholas cocked his head and looked out the window of the train. It was starting to get dark outside, dusk trailing along the sky. "We should be arriving soon, I think," he said.
Indy stood up, stepping over Edward still seated on the floor. "We need to be ready to get off this train as soon as we can," he said, before leaving the compartment.
Edward got up on the seat that Indy had abandoned, his hair tie in his teeth. Now that his hair was more or less combed he was able to pull it back into the high ponytail he usually wore it in. Nicholas watched him pull his hair back curiously.
"Why do you wear your hair long?" he asked.
Edward shrugged. "I always have, since I was young." He flicked the end of his ponytail back over his shoulder. "It just feels right."
"Just like your father," Nicholas said quietly.
Edward blinked, and looked at Nicholas, the curiosity now mirrored on his face. "Did you… know my father?"
"Hohenheim was a model alchemist," Nicholas said softly. "There are few who do not know of him."
"Yes, but you knew he wore his hair long," Edward said.
Nicholas quirked a smile at that. He shuffled, and pulled the black pouch out of his inner jacket pocket. Edward watched as he withdrew one of the two remaining shards from the velvet pouch. "Take this."
Edward shook his head. "No. I can't."
"Safeguard it for me, Edward Elric," Nicholas said seriously.
Reluctantly, Edward took the shard from Nicholas. Even through his stained glove he could feel the strange warmth that pulsed from the red shard. After a moment he closed his hand around it, then put it in the front pocket of his waistcoat.
"If you have need of it do not hesitate to use it," Nicholas said. "Remember though, it must be consumed to transmute."
"I won't," Edward said. "I'm just going to keep it safe for you. I'll return it."
Nicholas nodded his head, as Indy stepped back into the compartment. "What are you two still doing in here? It's not like we have luggage, come on, let's go."
Edward shrugged his long tattered coat on over his shoulders as Nicholas stood up. They were getting closer, he could almost taste it.
Alphonse woke with a throbbing headache, seated upright in a moving vehicle. He was almost sitting on his hands and he tried to move them, only to realize that they were handcuffed tightly behind him. The soft touch of a cool washcloth over his eye made him wince, and an unfamiliar voice made a surprised noise.
He opened his eyes.
He was riding in the back of a vehicle he did not recognize. It was not military in origin, but it wasn't a passenger vehicle either. It was dark out, the only lights came from outside, bold lights that lit the airfield spread out past his window. The vehicle rolled to a stop and Alphonse looked around, trying to gauge what was going on.
There was a woman sitting next to him that he did not know. She had long hair that caught red highlights in the reflected light done up in an intricate hairstyle. She held a bloodied handkerchief in her hand and Alphonse realized that she had been cleaning his face. They were alone in the back of the vehicle.
"Wh-what's going on?" His mouth and throat were dry, his voice coming out far scratchier than he intended. "Where am I?"
"We are at an airfield just across the Austrian border," the woman said in a softly accented voice. "Baron von Eiselstein is meeting with his men, before we are to continue on further."
Eiselstein. Alphonse's stomach dropped. "Can you take off my handcuffs?"
She shook her head. "It would not be wise, just yet. Perhaps when we are closer to the castle." She was watching him intently and Alphonse swallowed.
"Do you work for Eiselstein?"
"Work? Not at all." She shook her head. "I loathe the baron with all my being. But," she looked out the window toward the airfield. "This is all coming to a crescendo, my young alchemist, and all the pieces must be accounted for, for the final movement."
Alphonse stared at her a moment. "You're… you're his wife, aren't you?" When she looked at him curiously, Alphonse nodded his head, almost certain. "You're Nicholas' wife, Pernelle!"
That caused an entire shift in her demeanor. She leaned across the seat, her eyes wide. "You've seen him? My Nicholas? He's alive?"
"Alive and kicking," Alphonse confirmed. "And coming to your rescue."
"That fool! He knows if he comes here that Eiselstein will trap him. Why would he do something so reckless?" Pernelle sat back, glancing out the window in a fury. Confused, Alphonse watched her stew until the door was opened by none other than Wilhelm von Eiselstein himself.
"Ah, you're awake now I see," Eiselstein said as he slid into the back of the car. There was a bench seat immediately across from the one Alphonse and Pernelle occupied. "I have to apologize, Ling is rather … blunt… in his actions."
"Yeah," Alphonse said dryly. "Blunt."
Eiselstein knocked his hand against the wall behind his head and the vehicle started up again. "I usually fly to the castle from here, but madame Pernelle gets very violently airsick."
Pernelle was staring out the window beside her, refusing to look at or even acknowledge the man across from them both.
"How considerate of you," Alphonse muttered.
"It should allow your friends enough time to catch up, I think. Especially your brother. Curious man that he is - how does he move like he does with false limbs?" Eiselstein crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap, chuckling mildly as Alphonse glared at him in the fading light as they drove away from the airfield.
"You are an idiot and a fool," Alphonse said. "If you think for one second that my brother - or me, for that matter - would help you in your idiot's errand."
"Ah, the Great Work. A noble passion indeed. I would hardly call it an idiot's errand, though, given the results." Eiselstein stared off above Alphonse's head, sighing. "Eternal youth. Immortality. Can you imagine it, sir? This lovely young lady here has lived longer than the storied Methuselah, and looks not a day above twenty-five."
"I've tasted immortality." A life that he couldn't remember, locked away in cold, unfeeling metal. "It didn't agree with me."
"So I've read." Eiselstein tapped the breast pocket of his jacket. "In your father's notes. Nothing but a soul bound in armor. And your brother performing such a complicated transmutation at such a young age! You two are truly the product of a great lineage."
Alphonse snorted in disgust. "I really don't care what you think of us. We're going to stop you."
"It's endearing that you think there's even a chance that you'll be able to stop me," Eiselstein said. "So, tell me about your world, alchemist. The countries there, what are they like?"
Pernelle had finally looked over at Alphonse. "You're his son?" The astonishment in her voice was hard to override. "Hohenheim's?"
"It seems that everyone knows my father but me," Alphonse said.
"Your father was a great man," Pernelle said.
"So people keep telling me." Alphonse twisted, trying to keep his hands from going numb. "Oh, and no, by the way."
Eiselstein raised his eyebrow. "Sorry?"
"In response to your earlier question, about where I come from? No, I'm not going to tell you about it. And, additionally, fuck you."
"Mm, more's the pity," Eiselstein said. "But it's not like I haven't got a good picture from these notes of your father's."
They rode in silence for a few minutes more before Alphonse couldn't bear it any longer. "Why are you so concerned with where I came from?" he asked.
Eiselstein's grin was bone-chilling. "Because, my young friend, that is where I'm planning on going."
Indy crouched behind some stacked crates. The airfield was a small one, as he had predicted. It had taken them a few hours to sort out where they needed to be but one of the benefits of being the infamous Doctor Jones was that he could call in favors in just about any town in the world. There was suspicious activity all around this airfield for days now, and the suspicious activity was labeled quite clearly "League of Shadows."
He had given strict instructions to Edward for he, Nicholas and Sofia to stay put out of sight while he scoped out the situation. He observed silently the small cargo plane as it was loaded with supplies. Indy had seen a man who looked like Ling Yao go up inside the plane, but he was too far away to be one hundred percent certain until he saw him a second time.
"What's it look like?" Edward whispered from beside him.
Indy nearly jumped out of his skin. He shoved Edward's head down and ducked himself as several guards looked their direction. "Are you out of your fucking MIND?" Indy hissed. "I thought I told you to STAY PUT!"
The look that Edward gave him was patronizing. "Did you really think I was going to listen?"
"You're worse than a woman," Indy groaned.
"What is that even supposed to mean?" Edward said, and Indy waved a hand at him to shut him up.
"That cargo plane over there, the one they're loading? I think that's the one heading to Eiselstein's. I've seen Ling on it."
"Ling!?" Edward's head popped up like a gopher's. "That must mean Al is on it too!"
"Chances are pretty good," Indy said. "But the problem is getting all four of us across the tarmac and to the plane without being spotted. That'll be difficult."
Edward nodded his head, his eyes narrowed. "Not if we set fire to something."
Indy gave Edward a long look. "I don't know if that's stupid or genius, kid."
"Well, you should decide quick, because Sofie and Nick probably already set the fire."
As Edward spoke, several German soldiers ran by, shouting loudly. Edward's grin was cheeky. "Shall we, then?" Indy shook his head again, this time torn between amusement and exasperation. This man was nothing at all what he had assumed from the first time he had laid eyes on Edward Elric, that was for damn sure.
Edward had turned and was waving Sofia and Nicholas over. They ran quickly, keeping low, until they too were crouched behind the stacked crates with Edward and Indy. "We set the fire as planned," Sofia reported breathlessly. "To several crates. I think at least one of them was-"
The explosion rocked the airstrip and nearly all the rest of the men on the tarmac went running in the direction of the flames.
"-explosives," Sofia finished unnecessarily.
"Come on," Indy said. "Now's our chance."
They ran across the tarmac unmolested, and Indy stopped at the base of the loading ramp, waiting until Sofia, Nicholas and finally Edward were up the ramp before glancing around, gun at the ready, checking to see if they were noticed. No one shouted and no shots rang out, so Indy nodded to himself and he too ascended up the ramp and into the belly of the small cargo plane.
"That was easy," Sofia said as the cargo ramp closed behind them.
"Yeah," Indy said as the plane's engine rumbled to life. "A little too easy."
"You think so too?" Edward said. There wasn't much in the way of places to hide in the cargo bay - or places to sit.
"Yeah," Indy said, grabbing hold of some of the crash webbing that hung from the walls as the plane started to move. "I hate to be the one to say it - but I've got a bad feeling about this."
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
.: Chapter Eight :.
The engines of the cargo plane were noisy in the hold, not nearly as muffled as they would be from up front. Sofia sat beside Edward, her legs pulled to her chest and nestled against his side. He had not discouraged her from getting this close and it was comforting; it was startlingly easy for Edward to think of her as a sister.
It was cold in the hold. Nicholas sat further down, his back to one of the wooden crates, staring blankly at the cargo webbing across from him, his thoughts clearly a hundred miles away. Indy on the other hand was on his feet, poking through the crates curiously, his hat pushed back on his forehead as he squinted at the German printed on the outside of each box. He was too far away for Edward to ask what he was looking for without having to shout - and while the noise of the engines would likely mask the noise, Edward did not want to take any chances.
Ling was, after all, on this plane as well.
This was the last leg of it. They were headed to Eiselstein’s castle. Edward would take back his father’s notebook and kick the man’s ass into the next century. His system was shot through with adrenaline at the thought, even though it could be hours until they made it to the castle Edward wanted to be on his feet and throwing punches into the air.
His automail did not twinge when he was running on pure adrenaline. However behind the rush he could feel that there was a biting exhaustion waiting for him. After this adventure, then what? Back to a life of mediocrity and boredom, grading papers and dealing with students and a government who watched his every move with suspicion? Edward sighed and stared at his gloved hands.
Sofia put her head on his shoulder and sighed as well. Edward stiffened awkwardly - the noise of the engines made small talk all but impossible.
Indy clumped back over, a crowbar slung over his shoulder. He dropped to a crouch in front of Edward. “Oi, you should come check this out.”
Edward nodded and Sofia sat up, allowing Edward to get slowly to his feet. Nicholas watched them both with interest now, but he did not get up either as Indy took Edward to some of the first crates in the hold.
Indy had been hard at work, prying the tops off of some of the crates. “Check this out,” Indy said, and Edward lifted the lid of the crate.
It was full of weapons. More accurately, guns. Lots of them. “There’s more,” Indy said loudly, over the hum of the engine. “Loads more. All these crates are either guns or ammunition!” Indy slapped one of the crates he hadn’t opened yet. “It’s like Eiselstein is preparing for his own personal war!”
Indy was right. The crates didn’t bear the seal of the Nazis on them - these were Eiselstein’s own personal weapons cache. Edward gripped the edge of the crate as he thought hard. The first thought he had had was that Eiselstein was going to make the same foolish mistake Eckhart did, and was going to try to take an army through the Gate to conquer Amestris. That would require considerably more in the way of resources, though, and Edward was willing to bet that the Nazis were not going to be interested in funding a second failure.
But to open the Gate it had taken both Envy - as the Great Dragon - and his father’s life. There were no more homunculi lurking about on this side of the Gate, so what was Eiselstein going to use -
The Philosopher’s Stone.
Edward took a step back, staggered at the enormity of the thought. “I know what he’s doing!” Edward’s voice carried just above the noise of the engines.
“I was wondering if you’d figure it out.”
Indy did not even hesitate when they both heard Ling’s voice. He turned and swung the crowbar in his hands like a baseball bat. Ling ducked under his swing and shoved Indy in the back, making him stagger forward toward two large, burly men in black. Thrown off his balance by Ling and the rumbling of the plane Indy could not quite get a second swing out of the crowbar with the same intensity as the first.
Ling stood in front of Edward. He did not move to attack him yet, just stood with his hands folded in front of him and an endearing smile on his face. “So you’ve figured it out then, Professor?”
“Eiselstein is going to open the Gate,” Edward said. “To get to the country that will allow him to create as many Philosopher’s Stones as he can get away with.”
“And bring them back here, yes,” Ling said. “One reserved for the personal use of the Nazi Fuhrer, one for the League’s dissemination, and the rest for whatever he wishes.”
“He’s going to betray you,” Edward said. “He’ll betray you AND your League. Why would he come back through the Gate? The price isn’t worth it.”
“Then one of us will go after him,” Ling said. “It doesn’t much matter, as long as we’ve got both you and your brother the Gate can be kept open almost indefinitely. It just needs to be big enough for one man - not an army.”
The sudden sound of a gunshot made both Ling and Edward flinch, ducking involuntarily in the tight cargo hold. Edward lifted his head to see one of the very large thugs topple over backwards, a neat red hole in the middle of his forehead. He glanced back the way the shot came and saw Sofia standing against a crate, her pistol braced with both hands and a look of determination on her face.
“Holy shit,” Edward said. “She can shoot!”
“I told you I could!” Sofia yelled at Edward, although he doubted she could hear his exact wording. Indy was still swinging his crowbar at the other thug, now not nearly as outnumbered as before.
And then Edward realized Ling was no longer standing across from him. He stood quickly to see that Ling had darted across the hold to where Nicholas had gotten to his feet.
The solid thud of Indy hitting the steel side of the cargo hold made Edward glance back at him. The thug he was fighting had Indy by the neck, the crowbar dropped useless to the floor somewhere. Edward was torn by a moment's indecision before he vaulted over the box he was standing behind and headed for Ling.
“Stay away from Nick!” Edward yelled, using a crate as a springboard and whipping his leg around fast, trying to catch Ling in the midsection. Ling managed to block Edward’s blow as well he could but it still spun him away from Nicholas. Sofia yelped and climbed over the crate she had used to brace herself when Ling slammed into another one near her. “Help Indy,” Edward yelled at Sofia. “Ling is mine!”
Sofia nodded, revolver held tight in her hands as she tried to find a better shooting vantage point. Edward put her out of his mind, planting his feet firmly in a martial artist’s stance and keeping himself between Ling and Nicholas.
“You don’t have to protect me,” Nicholas said.
“No,” Edward responded, his hands up in front of him, tracking Ling with his eyes. “But I owe this asshole the beating of his life.”
Ling straightened, getting situated in a similar stance to Edward’s at the same time. “We’ll see about that,” Ling said, eyes narrow.
Indy kicked at the man who had his arm locked around his neck. He had dropped the crowbar - it had clanged to the floor somewhere out of reach - when he was startled by the second thug getting shot in the head. The only other person armed in their merry little band was the woman - Sofia - and damn, that had been a good shot.
But that was the least of his concerns at the moment. Right now, his priority was to not lose access to oxygen. Indy had no purchase against the man who held him tight against his body, and he was going to black out soon if something did not happen to even the odds.
This time the gunshot ricocheted off of the metal behind them both, the shot missing the other thug’s temple by a hair. He let out a surprised noise, his arm loosening just enough for Indy to suck a huge breath into his abused lungs and grab a handful of his opponent’s hair. He still did not have quite the purchase required to do serious damage but it was enough to make the man swing him around toward the bulkhead.
Indy braced his feet against the metal of the wall and shoved back.
Luck was with him. The plane hit some turbulence at that very moment. Combined with the momentum he just gave the man the thug staggered backwards off his balance and Indy’s feet finally touched the floor again.
However, the man had not let him go yet. Indy twisted under his tight grip, struggling hard to get free. With both of his feet on the ground now he was able to run the man backwards against the wall - except that wasn’t a wall there, that was where the controls for the cargo bay ramp was. He felt the man grunt loudly as he hit all those controls, and with a lurching groan, the entire cargo bay area shuddered.
Edward slammed back against the wall where the restraint webbing hung from. Nicholas had moved barely just in time, and Edward grabbed a fist full of the webbing and somehow kept his feet.
Ling was holding back nothing, and that was just the way Edward wanted it. He swiped the blood from his face with a snarl and launched himself at the assassin, blooding thrumming in hie veins.
His entire world had narrowed down to the dark-haired man with the taunting grin and the too-fast strikes. Ling had learned to compensate for Edward’s automail; his strikes were toward flesh and bone - although he did miscalculate once, or perhaps he did not realize that Edward’s false leg included a knee, because Ling’s heel strike reverberated off of the automail joint and he swore something in Chinese.
The fatal misstep was when Nicholas, trying to keep out of the way of the circling combatants, got too close to Ling. Ling turned suddenly on him, grabbing Nicholas by the front of his shirt and spinning him between Edward and himself.
“Ling!” Edward yelled, frustrated. “Coward!”
“Opportunist,” Ling corrected. “Now, Flamel, I know you have some bit of the Stone on you, do you not? I suggest you surrender it to me before I break your neck.”
It was at that moment that the entire back of the plane shuddered. Edward grabbed the restraint webbing, hanging on to it as Sofia shrieked, clinging to one of the cargo crates. Ling had nothing to hang on to but Nicholas, and Nicholas used the moment to shove Ling away, scrambling aft.
Indy was still locked in the hold of the black-clad thug, struggling to get free. “Sofia!” he gasp-shouted. “Sofie, do something-!”
Sofia climbed on top of the crate she had been clinging to, aimed with her pistol and shot the thug in the shoulder, centimeters from Indy’s ear. The man howled and let Indy go completely, his hand going to his wound. Indy turned around and slugged him, and this time he staggered right back into the controls and grabbed one, trying to steady himself.
Instead of keeping him steady, the control clicked downward, and with a whirring noise the loading door at the aft of the plane started to open.
Indy grabbed his hat as the cargo area filled with wind. Edward was still hanging tight to the restraint webbing, several of the crates sliding toward the aft of the plane. Nicholas staggered, with very little to hold on to before Ling grabbed him.
Nicholas struggled against Ling's grip. It was hard to see or hang on to anything with the amount of wind coming from the open cargo ramp. Ling made a grab for the black velvet drawstring pouch that Nicholas was wearing around his neck, and Nicholas shoved him hard, with both hands. Startled, Ling released him and Nicholas took two large steps backward - and vanished right off the extended cargo ramp.
There were only seconds to act, and Edward did not even hesitate. Sofia was screaming but he could not hear the words, the volume of wind was far too much. His hair whipped around his head and his ponytail struck like a living thing, but Edward bolted aft. Ling danced out of the way before Edward could grab him too, but Edward did not bother to waste more time on the assassin. Without breaking stride Edward slid down the cargo ramp and dove after Nicholas.
With all the wind in the cargo hold even Indy could not hear what was going on. His attacker had lumbered forward again, but he was staggering and that meant the man was lurched forward - his jaw just at the right height for several sharp punches. His opponent slumped forward and landed, unconscious, on the floor.
Now Indy could hear Sofia's screams. He turned to see her, hanging on to the restraint webbing on the side of the plane, her pistol in one hand as she aimed it at Ling. "No!" Indy yelled, his voice not carrying through the noise. "No, don't shoot him!"
The recoil made Sofia stagger back, her feet slipping on the beveled metal floor. She hit Ling, but where it was hard to tell. He staggered back, and vanished off the cargo ramp.
Indy winced, and turned back to the control panel, locating the cargo ramp and pulling it so that the ramp retracted and closed. After a few long moments the whipping air died down and for the first time Sofia's sobs could be heard as she clung to the restraint webbing with both hands.
He moved across the now scattered crates to her. "Sofie, what's wrong?" He looked around sharply and realized, with a sinking feeling, that they were along in the aft of the plane. "Where's Ed and Nicholas?”
Instead of answering, Sofia turned her face into her arm and cried. Indy straightened, pushing his hat back on his head. There was nothing they could do, now. "Sofia," he said instead. "Sofie, I'm sorry-"
The door that separated the cargo from the front of the plane slammed open, and two men started yelling in German. Indy jerked upright, but both men were holding pistols pointed directly at him. Indy looked around, and then slowly, held up his hands.
The wind made it nearly impossible to hear anything, never mind see. Edward's eyes teared up almost instantly. He kept his arms and legs together, scanning desperately for any sign of Nicholas.
This was probably the stupidest thing he had done in a long history of stupid, off-the-cuff things - but now was not the time for a laundry list of regrets. He squinted and then, luck was with him because he saw Nicholas in free fall, spinning through the air. Edward tucked his arms and legs in together and angled himself toward the alchemist.
There was no time to be afraid. He put his hand in his waistcoat pocket and found the shard. Clutching it tight in his automail hand, Edward transferred it from hand to his mouth, holding it securely in his teeth as he closed the gap between them.
He hit Nicholas in mid-air. The impact was enough to drive the breath from both their lungs, and somehow Edward did not drop the shard. He could not yell any instructions to Nicholas, who thrashed against him, so Edward instead tightened his arms around the other man as they plummeted headfirst toward the ground.
There was not a lot of time to play around. Edward crunched the shard as hard as he could, the fragments sharp and cutting his tongue and the roof of his mouth. He did not even KNOW if this was going to work, he had no guarantee but if it didn't ... they were both dead, so it better.
Edward closed his eyes, focused everything inward, on that sharp metallic tang of blood in his mouth, that strange sweetness that the shard had - and that small glimmer of hope. He reached inward, grabbed at that trace of power, and then opened his eyes and clapped his hands.
The reaction was instantaneous. It was second nature, it always had been, Edward pressed the palms of his hands, one against Nicholas' back, the other his own arm. The fabric of their coats rippled, the blue charge of alchemical reaction flowing around them both as Nicholas went limp.
The patchwork parachute flew open, jerking them both hard. It wasn't big enough, but it slowed their descent considerably so that Edward could minimize the damage done.
He had done all he could. Edward tightened his arms around Nicholas as the tree line came rushing up at them. They weren't free falling, not any more, but this was NOT going to be pleasant.
The military-issue truck braked hard, slamming to a nearly complete stop on the road. The officer who had been dozing the passenger seat was slammed back against his seat and he shouted obscenities in two languages, before focusing on the driver.
he demanded in German.
the driver said, indicating the road in front of them. For the first time the driver looked forward, in time to see a make-shift, patchwork parachute settling over the figures that had broken through the canopy above.
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
.: Chapter Nine :.
Despite the best of his intentions, Alphonse's hands had gone completely numb by the time the vehicle ground to a slow stop. It had been dark the entirety of the long ride. Eiselstein had watched him the entire trip but had not spoken another word to him.
He had been keeping a mental map of where they had gone. Alphonse had always been good at locations and timing because it was usually up to him to ensure that they never got too terribly lost during their travels across the European countryside. However, he was also usually under much less duress when trying to create a mental map of where he was going and what was going on.
Pernelle sat beside him silently, her hands folded in her lap. She had been watching out the windows as they drove along. It was curious that she was unrestrained. It made sense that Eiselstein kept Alphonse's hands tied, after all given half the chance he would have his father's notes in his pocket and his hands around Eiselstein's throat. Clearly Pernelle was no physical threat to him.
"Ah," Eiselstein said as the car slowed considerably. "We are here."
Alphonse did not say a word in response, watching instead as Eiselstein slid along the bench seat to the door. The car was still idling, but the a man in a servant's uniform opened the door and held it as Eiselstein exited the vehicle.
Pernelle gave Alphonse a long, resigned look as the servant offered her his hand. Pernelle took it, stepping gracefully out of the vehicle.
He was a bit too busy trying to keep his feet to pay attention to the people outside. Alphonse managed not to trip, catching himself and straightening, looking up as he did so.
It was truly a castle, there was no doubt about that. They had not pulled up to the building itself, but to a small landing strip that had been cleared of trees. A plane sat on the tarmac there, one of the smaller cargo planes that he had seen through the windows of the car earlier. And standing in front of it, with their hands held up in supplication, were Indy and ....
"Sofia!" Alphonse called, his voice strangled. Sofia actually jerked at his voice, her eyes skimming across the grounds until they lit on his figure. Her face broke into a relieved expression, but then her eyes went to the man with the gun on them both.
Alphonse shuffled in their direction, his legs aching with the restoring circulation. "Sofie! Sofie, are you all right-"
The click of rifles brought Alphonse to a halt. Eiselstein walked past him, ignoring Alphonse completely. "What happened?" He barked at one of the pilots. "Where's Ling? Where are the alchemists?"
That was a good question. Alphonse looked around in confusion. "Sofia!" he called. "Where's Ed?"
Her expression broke and she stared at the ground. Alphonse's heart was in his throat - where WAS his brother?
"He, he dove after Nicholas," Sofia called, only meters away but it could have been a sports field. "Out of the plane. I'm sorry, Al."
Alphonse's stomach seized. Edward had - out of a PLANE? Of course he had. Alphonse sighed hugely as Eiselstein exploded in anger, yelling at the pilots. "Of course he did. Don't be sorry, Sofie, Ed's like that."
Indy cocked his eyebrow quizzically. "You're awfully calm for somebody whose brother is a pancake somewhere."
The man who had a gun on them both struck Indy across the back of his head with the butt of his rifle. Indy stumbled forward, dropping to one knee, his hat falling onto the tarmac. "No talking!" the soldier intoned sharply.
Sofia had gasped and taken a step away in case the soldier had intended to shoot Indy while he was on his knees, but Indy picked his hat up slowly, placing it on his head before getting to his feet.
Alphonse watched as Indy stood up, and then met the other man's eye. "I believe in my brother, Professor Jones. And you should too."
"All right, all right," Eiselstein shouted from the other side of the plane. They all looked in his direction, and Eiselstein stormed toward them. "Those two," he pointed at Indy and Sofia. "Take them and put them with the others. Bring the alchemists to the great hall."
The soldiers saluted Eiselstein. "Sofia!" Alphonse called as the soldiers shoved her and Indy forward. "Sofia, I'll get you out of this, I promise!"
"Al!" Sofia called, before she was out of earshot. "Don’t worry about me!"
Alphonse watched that particular group make their way toward the castle, and then turned to have words with Eiselstein. To his surprise the man was no longer where he had been standing. One of the soldiers who had his rifle out nudged Alphonse in the shoulder with it.
"C'mon now," the man said in a thick accent. "Don't want to keep the boss waiting."
Indy rested his hands on his head, fingers interlaced as he followed Sofia into the castle. They moved single file, a guard in front leading the way and two behind him, the muzzle of a pistol occasionally jamming into his lower back to remind him that they were still there.
He had been in worse situations. Indy kept glancing around, cataloging rooms and corridors as they were led deep into the castle. It startled him, slightly, how Alphonse had not seemed nearly as perturbed that his brother had willfully leaped to an untimely death as Sofia was expecting. Alphonse had seemed upset, surely - but not perturbed. But then again, Indy should have stopped expecting the usual reactions from those men when they revealed that they were from another world entirely.
Sofia, however, was taking it hard. Her arms were trembling, slightly, her hands resting on her head as well. Indy really could not fault her, it was not the best situation to be in.
Abruptly, the German leading them stopped in front of a heavy, barred door. "You'll wait in here," he said, his English thickly accented. "You will wait until the Baron has need of you."
"And will he?" Sofia asked, her voice bitter. "Have need of us, then?"
The soldier cocked an eyebrow at her. "I am sure if your husband is ... uncooperative ... your presence shall be highly valued."
"Comforting," Indy muttered as one of the soldiers from behind unbarred the door. The one remaining, the one manning the pistol that he seemed to enjoy jamming into Indy's lower back nudged him forward. "In there, both of you."
Sofia looked back at Indy, who nodded his head, encouraging her to move forward. Sofia took a deep breath, and stepped into the room. Indy took one last look around at the men - soldiers, all of them - and then stepped into the room himself.
The door was slammed behind him almost immediately. Indy turned and put his hands on the heavy wooden door, but there was not a hint of weakness there. "DAMN it," he snarled, slamming his closed fist into the door, before glancing behind him.
The room itself was long, but the ceiling was low. Indy could reach out a hand and, on tip-toes, place it flat on the ceiling. "Where is this?" Sofia asked, peering into the dim, dark room. "Where are we?"
"Seems to be an old wine cellar," Indy said. "I didn't think that we went that far down, though. The floor is stone, not dirt."
A lamp flickered to life at the far end of the room, and Indy grabbed Sofia's arm and jerked her behind him as several more lamps were lit, or uncovered. "Who's there?"
"Someone new," a voice said nearby, their English thick and rusty-sounding. "New faces." A lamp was uncovered to show an older man, with a shock of white hair and a very dirty outfit.
"Who are you?" Sofia asked.
"Once, the head cook," the old man said. "Now, just forgotten. Like the rest of us." He nodded at the people slowly emerging from alcoves hidden along the long room.
Indy looked over the crowd of people in amazement. "You're all servants, here? You work for Eiselstein?"
"Once," a woman said from the other side. "Now he takes us, locks us away with no warning, no explanation!"
"How long have you been down here?"
"Weeks. Months. Some, longer." The old man sighed. "Days ago he came with his soldiers, made us all stand against the wall while they painted the ceiling. No one knows what is going on, just that it is the Devil's work."
"Painted the ceiling?" Sofia said, looking up at the low roof over their heads. "Painted the ceiling where?"
The old man, who seemed to speak for all of them, gestured his hand. Several of the other servants lifted their lanterns and illuminated, in dark red paint, the symbols on the ceiling.
"Oh," Sofia said quietly. "Oh my."
It was a huge transmutation circle, almost ten meters across in diameter. It looked similar to the ones in Edward's notes, and on the walls in Flamel's hideaway. Indy took several steps forward, neck craned to try to read the complex runes that lived within the circle.
"Well, I hate to break it to you," Indy said, staring at the dark, painted lines. "But I think that we're in serious trouble."
"Welcome, welcome," the Baron von Eiselstein shouted as Alphonse followed Pernelle into the sprawling great hall. Alphonse had seen a few castles in his day - the great hall usually was full of decorations, of tapestries hanging on the walls, long tables or other such furnishings to give the room life and substance. The particular room was different.
If it had been furnished once all traces had been removed from the room. There were no wall hangings, no large carpet leading from the door to the stairs opposite the room. Just a few tables full of glassware, and in the center of the room a large, painted transmutation circle on the floor.
The circle was huge, three times the size of the one he had once drawn in chalk on the floor of their father's study. It was also very complex, almost a hundredfold. Several binding circles, runes in many languages, and many, many symbols. Alphonse became aware that Eiselstein was watching him read the transmutation circle and he forced his head up, to stare at the man angrily.
"You know that you're crazy, right?" Alphonse said. "Completely mad. This is never going to work."
"Your existence in this world tells me volumes otherwise," Eiselstein said. He had crossed the room, walking over the transmutation circle fearlessly, toward the tables spread with paperwork and glassware. "You know what Eckhart's greatest mistake was, I hope?"
Alphonse stared at the man in sullen silence. Eiselstein shrugged, flipping over several books until he found the one he wanted. "Her greatest mistake," he said, lifting the book and walking forward, "is that she strove for too much, too quickly. Opening a Gate of that magnitude was certainly impressive, but it was completely unstable. Taking so many men through the Gate to act as her army? A bold move, and ultimately her undoing. She lacked finesse, and subtlety."
"Something that you clearly have," Alphonse muttered sarcastically.
"Quite," Eiselstein said, ignoring Alphonse's mockery. "I am starting small. A Gate for one, as it were. Then, as I reinforce its solidity, I can expand. More people through at a time, first civilians like myself, and then soldiers. Once I have harnessed the power of the Philosopher's Stone I can make myself the ruler of two worlds!"
"An ambitious one, isn't he?" Alphonse asked Pernelle, who had remained silent.
"Foolish, more likely," Pernelle murmured.
Eiselstein scowled at them both, and then spread both of his arms. "You are alchemists both," he said. "Look on this transmutation circle! Surely even you must be aware of its ability."
Alphonse laughed aloud. "Like we're going to help you, Eiselstein. You're completely mad. For all you know, there could be a handful of lines misplaced, and that margin of error is all that separates you from a puddle of steaming internal organs."
"Do you honestly think so little of me?" Eiselstein strode to the center of the circle and stood there, his hands clasped behind his back as he looked at his feet. "Beneath this circle lies another, separated only by a half meter of rock. Twin transmutation circles." He looked up at Alphonse. "As I am sure you would willfully damage this array even at the cost of your own life, I doubt very seriously that you would do so if it cost the life of innocents."
Alphonse swallowed before he spoke again. "Where's my wife, Eiselstein?"
"In the room beneath this one, same as nearly a dozen innocent men and women, trapped underneath a duplicate transmutation circle." He smiled wickedly at Alphonse. "If this circle is wrong, and you lie about it? When I activate it, it will trigger the activation of the other one. Explosion begets explosion, and everyone dies. If not, then our friends downstairs will be treated to a pretty light show while we make the real magic up here."
Pernelle put her hand on Alphonse's arm. "I will kill you," he said roughly. "If any harm comes to Sofia in the slightest I will kill you and not feel even the slightest regret."
"If you cooperate, there will be no need for killing," Eiselstein said. "Just some lost blood, which will be quickly replaced." Eiselstein spread his hands again, gesturing at Alphonse. "What do you say, alchemist? A deal for you, one so fond of equivalent trade. Your life, for that of your wife's."
Edward was jostled awake by a sharp jolt as the military truck hit a pothole. His head banged back into the wooden bed of the truck and stars of pain exploded in his vision. Edward whimpered, and cushioned his head with both hands.
What had happened?
He winced as a firm hand covered his mouth, but then a familiar voice murmured in his ear. "Not so loud, they are listening for us."
Everything came back in a flash - Ling, the airplane, the ecstatic adrenaline rush of transmutation that tingled all the way to his fingertips. Edward opened his eyes slowly, squinting despite the low light.
Nicholas was stretched out beside him on the wooden planks. They were in the back of a large, covered military vehicle, but the seats that ran along either side were empty. Their parachute - what was once their jackets - was balled up in the corner. Edward rubbed his forehead and managed to keep another wince off of his face. "How long was I out?"
"Not long," Nicholas said. "Several hours." He was lying on his stomach, facing the hatch. The truck was still idling, but it was no longer moving. "We're in luck, this truck is headed toward Eiselstein's castle."
"How do you know that?" Edward murmured. It felt like there was a rhinoceros trying to escape his skull, starting first with the tender area behind his eyes. He did not know if sitting up was the best idea right now, so he stayed put.
"They've been talking the entire way. The commander wanted to shoot us and leave us on the side of the road, convinced we were enemy spies, but you look sufficiently German enough that the driver convinced him to take us to the castle. They'll call the authorities from there to determine whether or not there's a reward for our heads." Nicholas was grinning by the last part. "Luck seems to be finally with us."
"Yeah. Luck." Edward closed his eyes again. "I think I'm going to throw up."
"You ingested the Stone without any diluting or mixing agents, I'm not surprised at all." Nicholas did not sound very sympathetic.
Edward rubbed his face. "I think it has more to do with a rather violent lesson in gravity instead of the effects of the Philosopher's Stone," he said.
Nicholas shook his head sharply. "No, it is definitely the Stone. You cushioned my landing, and probably broke your back and several bones. It's a wonder you weren't killed, but since the Stone was still in your system you survived, and your wounds have already healed."
Edward lifted his hand and stared at Nicholas. "Only a few hours to repair multiple broken bones? You were messed up for longer than that with a gunshot wound."
"I had lost blood, which needed to be manufactured and replaced. Your body only needed to heal itself. Trust me," Nicholas said. "I have had my share of injuries in the span of six hundred years."
"I bet," Edward muttered. "I still think I'm gonna throw up."
"Well if you must, do so quietly. They still think that we're both unconscious."
Edward was starting to pull himself into a sitting position when the engine stopped idling and cut off. He froze, and looked at Nicholas, but Nicholas was looking at the hatch of the truck. "Do you think we're here?" he whispered, now that the idling engine could no longer disguise their voices.
Instead of answering, Nicholas nodded. Edward groaned quietly and got to his knees. "I feel like shit," he muttered, crouching with his hands in front to brace him. "I really hate airplanes."
Now upright, Edward was already starting to feel a little better. The rhinoceros was no longer trying to bash its way out of his skull via his eyes, and the urge to empty his stomach all over the floorboards was fading. That was good, because he did not have the time to deal with being ill.
Edward leaned forward on his hands, keeping his voice low. "If we wait until they come to check on us, it'll be too late. They'll be armed and we'll probably be outnumbered."
Nicholas nodded. "But we don't know what it looks like out there." What little bit they could see was mostly darkness - the road was washed out from bright lights far out of the range of their vision.
"We'll have to take that chance." If they were at Eiselstein's castle, Indy and Sofia had to definitely have made it. Alphonse was probably here, too. Edward curled his hands into fists. He was going to make that bastard pay for all the shit he had put them through.
With his face.
Nicholas got up from his prone position on the floor, moving slowly so as to not make the wooden bed creak. There were voices outside the truck, they could hear them now that the engine was cut off - but they were idle chatter, not orders. Edward moved slowly, keeping an ear out for any noises out of the ordinary as they moved to the hatch on the truck.
They were almost to the hatch itself when a soldier swung around, not looking back at them but putting one hand on the hatch as he shouted something over his shoulder in German. Nicholas froze, but Edward did not.
The soldier was turning to look in the hatch, alerted to his movement by the noise of Edward's shoes on the wood but Edward was already on him. Edward blocked with his shoulder, the metal limb catching the man completely off guard. The full force of Edward's weight took the man down, and Nicholas sprang up and over the hatch.
Soldiers were shouting in German at them. Edward took the pistol from the man's belt and held it out to Nicholas, who shook his head sharply. "No. No guns."
"Fine," Edward said, transferring the pistol from his right hand to his left. He had no such compunctions - and a steadier aim with his real hand. They only had a few seconds before the gunfire would start in earnest. Edward craned his head up, looking at the sprawling manor, before glancing toward Nicholas. "Hope you're up for a quick run," he said.
"Funny, I was just going to suggest the same thing."
Eiselstein turned his head toward the door as the distant pop of gunfire started suddenly. Alphonse and Pernelle looked at each other. The great hall had windows - high up in the walls, far too high to see anything out of, except the reflection of the lights on the airstrip. "Fools," Eiselstein muttered. "Why must I be made to suffer fools who start shooting at the slightest drop of the hat."
"You get what you pay for," Pernelle said smartly, and Eiselstein turned a level glare on the woman. She did not seem bothered by the venom in his expression. "He hires mercenaries," she told Alphonse, not dropping Eiselstein's gaze. "They may wear uniforms, but there are no actual soldiers here."
"Makes sense," Alphonse said. "If he's planning on betraying his country, he doesn't want the military already on his grounds." Pernelle's hand was still on his arm, and that was somehow keeping Alphonse from running head-long at Eiselstein like he wanted to. Even with his hands tied he could probably at least take Eiselstein down with a well-placed shoulder.
A soldier - a mercenary, Alphonse self-corrected - appeared in the doorway. "Sir, it seems that we're under attack."
"Under attack?" Eiselstein said. "Don't be absurd." He moved from the center of the transmutation circle, walking briskly toward the man. "Under attack by WHOM?"
"We're ... not sure."
"That's ridiculous." Eiselstein followed the soldier out, and Alphonse breathed a large sigh of relief.
"What is it?" Pernelle said.
"That - that would be my brother," Alphonse said. "I would be willing to bet my life on it." He shifted his hands. "Pernelle, do you think you can help me get my hands out of these cuffs, I'm going to need them for what I'm going to do."
Indy paced the entire length of the room and back again. He had already walked the circumference once, one hand on the wall and muttering to himself in a low tone.
"You should tell your friend there is no use," the old man said. Sofia had sat down beside the door, her hands over her legs as she watched Indy. "We have been down here a long time. If there was a way out, one of us would have certainly found it by now."
"Yeah," she said softly. "But what harm is there in letting a fresh set of eyes take a look at things?"
"Plenty," the old man murmured. "It breeds a false hope, and that is indeed the most potent of poisons."
Edward slammed the large, heavy door behind him and leaned against it, breathing hard. He dropped the emptied pistol to the floor, and pulled the one he had tucked into the waistband of his trousers free. He held his right arm out, wincing slightly. "I think I caught a bullet in my automail."
"Be grateful it was not your side," Nicholas said. "I can attest to how painful those kinds of wounds can be." He had braced one hand on the wall and he too, was breathing hard.
It had been a mad sprint toward the building. Fortunately there were no direct obstacles in their way - unfortunately there were a lot of soldiers standing around with weapons full of ammunition they were apparently just dying to expend.
"So how long do you think we got before they start shooting through the door?" Edward asked, poking a finger through the tear in his sleeve but not able to locate the bullet.
"How about we do not stand around here and find out?" Nicholas suggested.
"Good plan," Edward said. He looked around for something to jam the door with, but Nicholas grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away from the door, just as several bullets popped through the thick wooden frame. "Time to go!"
Sofia stood by the door, her ear pressed to it. "Do you hear that?" she asked.
"Hear what?" Indy responded. He had given up on the walls and was sitting beside the door, next to where Sofia had been sitting moments earlier. The rest of the prisoners had returned to their niches, once they were certain the newest residents did not have any great plan of escape.
"Ssh, shh," she said, a look of concentration on her face. "Gunfire, I think."
Indy lifted his head. "Gunfire?"
"It's far away, I think it's getting louder, though."
As she spoke, Indy heard it. A concentrated burst of gunfire, it sounded like pistols or other hand guns. "Yeah, I DO hear that," he said, getting to his feet.
Sofia started pounding on the door with both hands. "We're in here!" she shouted. "Help us, we're locked in here! Help!"
Nicholas paused and Edward almost lost him. He caught himself on a door frame and stopped, half-turning to look at the ancient alchemist in frustration. "What is it, why'd you stop?"
"I hear something," Nicholas said. Edward cocked his head at Nicholas, and then shook it once.
"That's fine, keep going," Nicholas waved him off, not looking at Edward. "I'll catch up with you. Find your brother."
Edward hovered a moment, indecisive. Nicholas turned around and stared at him.
"All right, be safe." Edward started for the door. "And if you get killed, I won't forgive you!"
"I'll be fine," Nicholas murmured, but Edward was already gone.
The hallway ended abruptly. Edward had lost his pursuit somewhere along the line, he could only hope it was because Nicholas had not split off from him to act as a decoy. The man did not seem interested in using any sort of weapons at all, and that worried him - but he did not have the time or energy to waste on being worried about it right now. Right now, he had to find Alphonse.
Edward trotted up the stairs, eyes and ears open for signs of pursuit. He pushed a large, heavy door open with his automail hand, pistol clutched tight in his left.
Glass shattered as Alphonse straightened sharply. A woman Edward did not recognize with long red hair stood beside him - and without a doubt he knew that had to be the wife of Nicholas Flamel. "Al!" Edward called relief.
"Brother!" Alphonse looked exhausted, much the worse for wear. There was dried blood in his hair and his clothes were rumpled and torn, but he was as relieved to see Edward as Edward was to see him. "You're safe!"
The woman tugged on Alphonse's arm, indicating the table behind them. Alphonse nodded his head and then shoved the table, overturning it and shattering everything. Liquid and glass spilled across the floor, covering books and loose paper alike with chemicals.
Edward stopped at the edge of the transmutation circle, staring down at the immense size of it. He knew better than to walk onto a dormant array, lit or otherwise.
"Do you like it?" Eiselstein's voice said.
Edward jerked up, bringing his pistol up in the same motion but it was too late. The Baron stood in the doorway, a pistol of his own in his hand and pointed at Edward. "It's not entirely mine, you know. A lot of it came from your father." He gestured with his pistol. "Drop your weapon."
He hesitated, but then, reluctantly, placed the revolver on the ground and kicked it away. Eiselstein actually smiled. "Good, good."
"I can tell," Edward said, looking back over the circle.
"Yes. Hohenheim was working on several different transmutation circles when I was living with him. He thought I didn't know, but." Edward's hands closed into fists. "He didn't want me to get my hopes up."
"Well, we can certainly fix that today, can't we?" Eiselstein's voice was low and almost seductive. He had moved into the room itself, walking onto the unlit transmutation circle as if it was nothing. "We can open the doors. You can go home. No more of this," Eiselstein gestured around him. "Dismal, gray world of science and industry."
Edward glanced to his brother. Alphonse had moved from the overturned tables, marching to the edge of the transmutation circle as well. He too was far wiser than Eiselstein and would not set foot on the array. "Where are they?" he demanded. "Where are our fathers' notes?"
Eiselstein patted his breast pocket. "Safe. They are as much my notes now as they are his, you need not worry. I shall take great care of them."
"This is ridiculous," Edward said. "What you want no one man can contain."
"Give me the notes," Alphonse said. "Give us the notes right here, right now and you can walk away. We'll take our friends and leave and you can continue to conduct your miniature war against Germany on your own terms."
Eiselstein laughed. "Let you leave? Alive? Oh no, no." He shook his head. "You're going to assist me. Both of you." He moved his pistol from Edward to Alphonse and then back again.
"Like hell we are," Alphonse said, taking a step forward. "You're in over your head, Eiselstein."
"Well," Eiselstein said philosophically, shrugging his shoulders. "If you're not going to help me willfully, then I shall just have to take what I need by force." He then pointed his pistol at Alphonse, and pulled the trigger.
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
.: Chapter 10 :.
Time seemed to slow almost to a stop.
Edward could not move. He could not think. Alphonse staggered forward almost comically, both hands covering the growing red stain across his stomach. He dropped to his knees, trying to brace himself on one arm, to stay upright as the woman behind him covered her mouth in horror. Alphonse's one blood-covered hand landed on the painted white line.
The entire transmutation circle lit blue.
Time restored itself.
Pernelle was moving at regular speed, she was unbuttoning the top buttons of her her blouse, running to Alphonse's side and dropping to her knees on the lit transmutation circle.
"Stay with me Alphonse," Pernelle said. Where her knees touched the lit lines a spark of red flashed through the color, and the gentle blue light grew suddenly harsher. "Stay with me, look at me."
Alphonse coughed, and blood splattered the floor. "What are you-" he gasped.
"Look at me!" Pernelle commanded, and Alphonse lifted his head, staring fuzzily at her. He was breathing hard, labored - he was dying right there in front of him and Edward could not move, rooted in place like he was a statue.
Live transmutation circle be damned. Edward moved, running across the circle and past Eiselstein, dropping to his knees on the other side of Alphonse. "Brother," Alphonse gasped, and coughed up more blood.
"I'm here buddy," Edward said, resting his hand on Alphonse's back. "Al, you're not going anywhere, just keep breathing. You're going to be fine."
"You're a shit liar," Alphonse gritted out.
"I can heal you," Pernelle said. "I can heal you but I need you to trust me."
Edward looked at her. "You have it, don't you."
Pernelle nodded her head sharply. "Yes. Just enough, I hope-" Her words were cut off as Eiselstein yanked Pernelle to her feet by the back of her dress.
"You have it on you, you little minx?" Eiselstien grabbed the exposed pendant that Pernelle was wearing around her neck and ripped it free. The old, brittle cord snapped and the pendant came away in Eiselstein's hand.
"No!" Pernelle cried out, as he released her. She dropped back to her feet and charged him, only for Eiselstein to catch her with one arm and cast her aside. Pernelle fell to the floor.
"Brother," Alphonse panted. "You'll take care of Sofia for me, right?"
"Al, don't talk like that." Edward said. "You're going to be fine. You just gotta hang on long enough. Just concentrate on that, okay?" Edward lifted his head and stared at Eiselstein.
"Pernelle!" Nicholas' voice rang out through the hall, and he barreled straight for Eiselstein, a crowbar in his hands. He swung at the other man, staggering forward with the weight of his swing, and Eiselstein used that against Nicholas, tripping him. Nicholas went down hard, the crowbar sliding away on the lit lines.
"Nicholas, you fool!" Pernelle cried out. "You should have stayed away!"
Every line that Nicholas stepped on lit red a brief moment, before returning to that blue-white color, only stronger than before. Eiselstein walked to the crowbar, picking it up with one hand. "A crowbar," he said. "How quaint."
The reaction was not the usual color of a transmutation. Instead of a light blue color, it was black tinged with red as the crowbar's form shifted into that of a saber. "I think that this is much more apropos, don't you agree?"
Edward's hand tightened on Alphonse's back. If Eiselstein, of all people in this world, could perform a transmutation at this very moment then so could he.
"Hang on for me, Al," he murmured. "This won't take long."
Edward clapped his hands together, loudly enough that the sound echoed through the hall like a gunshot. As he rose from his knees he touched his hand to the back of his right arm.
It had been a long time, but the way that the weight of his arm shifted, the balance changing ever so slightly as the blade extended - it was like riding a bike. "You want to play this game with me?" he said, stepping forward. "Your call, Eiselstein. Let's dance."
~ * ~
“He's been shot," Nicholas said as he helped Pernelle drag Alphonse off of the lit transmutation circle.
Alphonse coughed and said dryly, "no shit."
Nicholas gave Alphonse a dark look, then looked back to Pernelle, in time for her to slap him. He sat back, one hand flying to his face. "You utter fool, Nicholas Flamel," Pernelle said sharply. "Why do you not listen? Are you incapable of remembering something for such a small span of time?"
"Remembering?" Nicholas said, slightly dazed.
"Of course you do not remember, I am the idiot for expecting that you would. Please tell me that you at least safely stowed away the final shards."
Instead of responding, Nicholas put pressure on Alphonse's wound, trying to staunch the bleeding. "Stay with us long enough for your brother to recover the shard," he said. "I know you have at least that much strength, Alphonse Elric."
Alphonse grinned weakly, and coughed again. "I sure hope you're right."
It had been a long time since he had moved like this.
Edward caught himself on his left hand, executing a backwards flip as he spun away from Eiselstein's strong downward slash. He could certainly feel how long it had been, he was not moving as fast as he would have liked. Edward dropped into a crouch and then moved in low, leading with the blade.
Eiselstein was holding up remarkably well, much better than Edward would have expected. He was blocking most of Edward's attacks, keeping himself - and the shard, encased in that ruby-red pendant - out of Edward's reach.
"Just give me the shard," Edward said, sliding to a stop on his knees. The thin material of his trousers had torn out and his flesh knee was bloody. "You've got what you wanted, a lit transmutation circle. You can make your own damn Stone on the other side, give me that to save my brother."
"There's no need," Eiselstein said with a shrug. "I've still got you to harvest for blood - and it was not like I was going to let you all walk out of here once I achieved my objective anyway." He held the pendant out in front of him, taunting Edward with it.
Edward was quick, but not quick enough. He slid under the expected strike from Eiselstein, moving back around him and hoping to get a shot in at Eiselstein's unprotected back. His attack was thwarted by Eiselstein's blade.
"Did I forget to mention I was a fencing champion?" he said, parrying the blow from Edward's automail arm with the saber as if the blade of the sword was equal to the blade on his arm. "Funny, it didn't seem to be relevant at the time."
He was getting angrier, and that made Edward get sloppy. His brother - Alphonse was lying over there dying and his only salvation lay in this man's hands.
Edward snarled and charged him, deflecting one quick riposte and moving in toward Eiselstein's personal space. However Eiselstein had anticipated that - and grabbed Edward by the shoulder before he could duck away, spinning him off his guard. Edward almost tripped over his own feet and stumbled, trying to regain his balance and get a safe distance away before Eiselstein could strike.
He was not successful.
Eiselstein's rapier pierced Edward's flesh shoulder. Edward roared in pain as the man ripped the weapon free, kicking Edward away. Edward stumbled and fell, landing on his wounded side hard. Edward curled in a ball, automail hand covering the wound as he hissed in pain.
"Quite a pity," Eiselstein said. "You are a worthy opponent, Edward Elric. It seems though, that you and your brother both are far too much trouble to keep alive. I shall have to journey through this Gate and just wait on the other side until I've got as many Stones as I need. Then your blood will no longer be necessary."
Eiselstein looked to the ceiling of the great hall, and then frowned. "Where is my passage to the other world?"
"I got news for you," Edward said through gritted teeth. "You're not going anywhere."
"Did you really think I wouldn't change the lines, if I were left alone in here?" Alphonse called, coughing hard. "I altered your precious transmutation circle, Eiselstein. All this is good for is the ability to transmute elements."
"That's impossible!" Eiselstein said. "If all it took was your blood to transmute, you two would still be using alchemy today."
"It took our blood as well," Pernelle said. "Each time we touched those lines it infused a little of our power into the circle." She was supporting Alphonse, holding his shoulders as he lay against her.
"Five hundred and some-odd years of ingesting the Philosopher's Stone," Nicholas Flamel said, rising to his feet. "Did you think our hair was naturally this color?"
"We are equal parts Stone and flesh," Pernelle said. Her hands, tight on Alphonse's arms, were glowing with a faint red color. "Without us, your mockery of true alchemy would never have even produced a spark."
Eiselstein pointed his sword at Edward, who had not managed to regain his feet. "I'll KILL YOU!" he shrieked.
The gunshot was louder than the thrum of energy in the room. Eiselstein staggered, and dropped to his knees, blood dripping from between his fingers. "Sorry," Indy called from the doorway. "We got a little lost, getting all your human sacrifices out of here before your little fun-time circle got busy."
"ALPHONSE!" Sofia shrieked, running around the outside of the circle.
"Hey," Alphonse said weakly. "Good to see you, Sofie."
"Al, oh god, Al-" Sofia said. Pernelle did not release Alphonse, her hands tight on his shoulders.
"I do not know how much longer I can keep him alive," Pernelle called, her voice starting to waver. "We need the shard, alchemist, now!"
Edward pushed himself to his feet. Eiselstein had dropped the rapier, but still held the pendant tightly. "I would rather die," he hissed.
"Don't tempt me," Edward said, backhanding Eiselstein with his automail hand. Eiselstein howled in pain and was unable to prevent Edward from ripping the pendant from his free hand.
It hurt to move, to even breathe. Edward staggered over to the edge of the transmutation circle but did not step off it, tossing the pendant to Nicholas.
"Edward, what are you doing?" Nicholas asked, concerned.
"Ed, the circle's unstable, you need to get off it," Alphonse said. "Brother, please-"
Edward shook his head. His automail hand was clenched tight over his wounded shoulder. "I can't, Al, I'm sorry. I've got to - I'm the only one who can finish this, you know that."
Alphonse struggled to try to sit up but Pernelle would not release him. "Al, lie still, please," Sofia sobbed.
Edward turned away from them, shuffling back toward the center of the lit transmutation circle. Eiselstein, somehow still alive, was working on dragging himself toward the edge of the lit circle. Edward raised his head and looked at Indy, on the other side of the chamber.
"If he makes it off the circle, kill him."
Indy nodded his head, the pistol in his hands trained on Eiselstein.
The blue-white light of the array had started to shift and change. There were traces of red, and more alarmingly, black that snaked through the light shining from the lines.
"You want the Gate, Eiselstein?" Edward yelled at him. "You can have it!"
He clapped his hands firmly together, and slammed them down on the center lines of the transmutation circle, the most powerful point in the entire array. The whole room lit a blinding, bright blue light.
The blue-white light was bright enough that it reflected off the dark clouds that hung heavy in the sky. The tree branch bowed under his feet as he stood delicately - but even at this distance, he knew what that light meant.
His mission failed.
He sighed deeply, arms crossed. His master would not be pleased with this development. Ling Yao delicately turned on the tree branch, and vanished into the night.
The color faded from a brilliant blue-white light to a disturbing off-white, yellowish color. There was no horizon line, no point of reference. Just an eternity the color of slushy snow.
Edward sighed heavily, and clutched his bleeding shoulder tighter. He had transmuted his blade back at the same time, thankfully he had remembered to in the first place. He glanced behind him, where Eiselstein lay on his side, both hands covering the chest wound that was still bleeding heavily.
The voice that spoke had no voice, and yet could still be clearly heard. Edward looked back toward the large obsidian doors that dwarfed them both.
I DID NOT EXPECT TO SEE YOU AGAIN.
"Yeah," Edward said. "I'm like an old bad penny, I always come back."
WHAT HAVE YOU BROUGHT ME?
"Another fool." Edward indicated Eiselstein behind him. "Do with him what you want. Close this passage for good. I want nothing more from you." Edward turned his back on the Gate, on that all-seeing eye, his hand still covering the violently bleeding wound. He could hear the doors slowly scraping open, and Eiselstein's scream of realization as to what awaited him exactly beyond that darkness.
YOU BELONG TO ME, YOU KNOW. NO ONE EVER ESCAPES. IT IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE YOU MUST SETTLE YOUR TAB, EDWARD ELRIC.
Edward paused. Eiselstein's screams were trailing off, and he knew better than to look back to see the man's final fate. "When that time comes, I will pay my dues.”
"What can I do for you, sweetheart?"
"A telegraph came in for you this morning, sir." She turned to look at the wall of post boxes for the hotel, locating Indy's room number and retrieving a single piece of paper. "It was marked Urgent.”
Indy leaned against the counter and grinned, taking the telegram and tapping it on the counter. "Can't be that urgent, I'm on vacation. Speaking of," he glanced at the clock. "Perhaps you'd like to join me for a late dinner? When your shift is over, of course."
"You flatter me, Doctor Jones," she said. "But you won't be here for dinner, I'm afraid."
He cocked his head, a little put-out by that response. Another guest approached the counter a little further on down the way, and the desk clerk excused herself to go assist them. Indy shrugged and straightened, opening the folded over paper.
The message was indeed urgent. It was from an acquaintance of Indy's, back in the States. Its contents were short and precise. A buyer had purchased the Cross of Coronado. It was headed to America in a steamer boat in just a few days. Time was of the essence.
Indy folded the message up and tucked it in his coat's pocket. The next flight out wouldn't leave until early afternoon. He still had time to make his lunch date.
Alphonse Elric took his pocket watch out and looked at it again, making a vocal noise of disapproval. Sofia sighed, and smacked his arm. "Put it away, Al."
"He's going to be late," Alphonse said. "He's going to miss his train. Again."
Sofia sat back in her chair, her legs crossed delicately at the ankle. "It was YOUR fault he missed his train yesterday, Alphonse Elric, don't you dare try to pin it on him."
"Yes, yes, it was my fault," Alphonse said. "But today it's going to be HIS fault if he doesn't put the lead on."
"Indy, would you tell my husband that Edward is a grown man and can take care of himself?" Sofia asked the third person at the table delicately.
"Ah," Indy said, looking from Sofia to Alphonse. "Al, your wife says-"
"I HEARD her, thank you," Alphonse muttered darkly.
"Well, I just figured that since you're ignoring my logic, perhaps you would hear it better coming from someone else?" Sofia said matter-of-factly.
Indy shook his head and laughed. Alphonse Elric looked very little the worse for wear - there was a touch of gauntness to his features that had not been there before, but aside from fatigue he had bore no ill effects to nearly dying from acute blood loss.
"So you're really going, too," Sofia said, putting her hand on the table. "This is unfair, we've just gotten to know you!"
"I gotta go where the job takes me," Indy said. "That's just the way of the world."
"Where are you headed out from?" Alphonse asked.
"Marakeesh. A steamer leaves out from the port in three days' time. I gotta be on it, come hell or high water." Indy scratched his head, his trademark hat hanging off the back of his chair.
"Well, we wish you the best of luck," Alphonse said, glancing at Sofia. "And I'm sure Edward would too, if he would ever show his face again."
"Alphonse!" Sofia said. "Edward probably got distracted by the book shoppe on the corner, it happened to you yesterday too. Honestly."
"So what are you two planning on doing?" Indy asked. "We've been here almost two weeks, I take it you're done sightseeing?"
"Mostly," Alphonse admitted. "Once we helped Nicholas finish moving all his crap out of that sewer hideaway they dropped off the face of the world, so Sofia and I are gonna go back to London, where it's safe."
"If I'm ever in London, I'll be sure to look you up," Indy said.
"I'm here, I'm here, sorry I'm late," Edward called out, making his way across the sidewalk. "Sorry, I got distracted, there was, um-" Edward looked around at Indy, Alphonse and Sofia, and then patted his head self-consciously. "What? What is it?"
"Brother," Alphonse said with a heavy sigh. "Please tell me you're going to shave that off, it's freaking me out."
Edward patted his face. "Does it really look that bad?"
Sofia laughed. "I think it makes you look more distinguished, Edward."
In the intervening weeks, mostly due to the fact that they were recovering and, alternately, helping Flamel move his massive library, Edward had just flat-out stopped shaving. The result, once he had cleaned it up, was a slightly uneven goatee. Edward covered the bottom of his face with one hand, frowning. "It's taken me until thirty to even be able to grow one, Al, I'm not shaving it off."
"Brother, you look like our father."
Edward dropped his hand and sighed heavily. "DAMN it."
Indy shook his head and laughed. "I've got to get going," he said, rising from his chair.
Alphonse stood as well. "We should all go. Brother's train is leaving shortly anyway."
"Man, and I was looking forward to lunch," Edward sighed.
Indy turned to Edward, offering him his hand. "It's been an adventure, Professor Elric. I hope to see you on campus again."
Edward grinned and took his hand. "My pleasure, Professor Jones."
Indy dropped his hat on his head and tossed off a wave, before heading up the street. Edward put his hands on his hips and sighed as Indy disappeared in the distance. "Do you REALLY think my beard makes me look like dad?"
Yes," Alphonse said. "Shave it."
The train station was quite busy. Alphonse narrowly dodged two kids racing luggage carts. Edward had a single suitcase, and that was it. "Are you sure you won't come back to London with us?" Sofia asked, catching Edward's sleeve. "You can stay with us until you find a flat of your own."
Edward shook his head. "Nah, I like America. It seems like a good place to start fresh, all the side-glances I get for being "German" and everything. Besides," he glanced down the station platform, where some soldiers were getting of the train. "I have a feeling it will be a safer place to be in the next few years."
"We'll write," Alphonse said. "And call, too. You will come visit?"
"If you'll come visit me," Edward said.
Edward and Alphonse looked at each other and smiled. Sofia let out a huge sigh and shoved Edward in the chest. "If you two are done being manly I want a hug," she said.
Alphonse laughed as Edward awkwardly hugged her. That close to his personal space, Alphonse grabbed Edward by the back of the head and bumped their heads together. "Be safe, brother," he said.
"Yeah," Edward said, still grinning. "You too.”
The train car was mostly empty. Edward sat on his bench alone, a newspaper in Italian open before him. He still could not quite read the language, but he was getting there, and it allowed him to pass the time.
Edward glanced up as someone seated himself on the bench opposite him. He folded over his newspaper and smiled. "Hello, Nicholas."
Nicholas Flamel crossed his legs and smiled back at Edward. "You look much better," he said. "Your arm healed?"
"Still a little stiff," Edward said, rubbing his flesh shoulder unconsciously. "But usable."
"Good." Nicholas glanced out at the scrolling scenery, before back to Edward. "I have to ask. Do you regret not taking Eiselstein up on that offer, and returning to the world of your birth?"
That was a hugely loaded question. Edward sighed, and propped his chin in his hand, looking out the window as well as he thought about it. "A little bit," he admitted. "Though truth be told it was the furthest thing from my mind in the moment. I've made my home here - I made that choice years ago, and while I might regret it in some small measure I think I've finally learned to accept it." He lifted his head and smiled again, sadly, then extended his automail hand in front of him, splaying the fingers.
"I figure that if I don't disconnect the automail, I have maybe five years left in me," he said. "Ten, if I'm lucky. But you know what? I made my bed. I'm going to live out the remainder of my life and I will MAKE it worth living."
Nicholas nodded his head. "Good. Then I have no regrets, either."
Edward cocked his head curiously, resting his hand in his lap. "What do you mean?"
Nicholas reached into the inner pocket of his suit coat, and produced a small envelope. He held it out to Edward, who took it, and opened it. Inside of the envelope, broken in half, was the final shard of the Philosopher's Stone.
Edward looked up at Nicholas, and then shook his head. "I can't accept this, Nick."
"You promised once to return a shard to me, but instead you used it to save my life. Now I choose to use this one to save yours." Nicholas gestured at the envelope. "Install it in your prosthetic, one for your arm, and one for you leg. It will supply ample power, and your limbs will no longer be the burden on your body that they have been these past years."
Nicholas stood up, and put his hand on Edward's shoulder. "Our thanks to you, young alchemist," he said. "For one final adventure."
He stepped into the aisle. Edward looked back down at the envelope a split-second, and then back up to thank him, but Nicholas Flamel was already gone.
Edward Elric folded the envelope closed, and tucked it into the inner pocket of his own jacket. Then he opened his newspaper, and sat back to read.
figures and explications are not made for them that have
never seen the Books of the Philosophers, and who, not
knowing the Metallic principles, cannot be named
Children of this Science; for if they think to understand
perfectly these figures … they will undoubtedly deceive
themselves, and never be able to know anything at all.
(Interpretations of Heiroglyphic Imagery)
The rest await the Great Day when the wheels of the
universe shall be stopped and the immortal sparks shall
escape from the sheaths of substance. Woe unto those who
wait, for they must return again, unconscious and
unknowing, to the seed-ground of the stars,
and await a new beginning."
The Divine Pymander of Hermes
Trismegistus (trans. By John Everard, 1650)