Edward Elric was moving as soon as the fires rose.
He wasn’t the only one, of course. Every Viking on the island of Amestris knew what to do when their greatest enemies struck again, with fire and talons and snapping fangs—the old and young would retreat into the Great Hall, while every able-bodied warrior would set out to guard…everything. Houses, food, lives, their foes had taken it all from them for seven generation. Kept taking it, over and over and over, burning down their homes and stealing their livestock even in the dead of an Amestrian winter (which, since they were just a few degrees south of Freezing-To-Death, was deadly even with their food supplies fully stocked). The entire tribe was set in motion every time the word“RAID!” was called, and he was no exception.
Except, of course, for the fact that Ed wasn’t exactly supposed to be outside in the first place.
Really, it wasn’t his fault. Not entirely. Maybe he’d accidentally blown up a house or two trying to get at one of the foes raining hell down on them, or caused the loss of a few sheep and barrels of sheep, but he wasn’t that much of a disaster. It was just—bad luck. Bad luck, and the misfortune of being a runt in a world of Vikings—a runt who couldn’t even outfight his own little brother.
Being sickly and skinny and small in a society where being extra-large with beefy arms and a side of extra guts and glory was the norm was bad enough, but add thinking differently into the mix, pepper in a metal arm and season it with a dash of disaster, and you got…well, Ed. Village pariah, blacksmith’s apprentice, and the only teen on Amestris that wouldn’t be allowed to fight, because his life was a beautiful fucking dream.
Which was unfair. And stupid. And unfair, he thought mutinously, scowling at yet another Viking who snapped at him to get back inside before you cause them to win this raid, too—
A hand clamped down on the back of his tunic and lifted him clean into the air, and Ed snarled and spat and struggled for a moment—stop fucking using my height AGAINST me, you assholes—before going still as an all-too familiar voice gritted out, “What are you doing out, Ed—what’s he doing out?” The last half of the question was directed at a group of Vikings that surrounded his captor.
Can’t even be bothered to let me speak for myself, he thought with a scowl, crossing his arms as he was dangled humiliatingly before an audience of soldiers who shrugged and grumbled in annoyance. Don’t know why I ever expected anything else. “I’m going to the fucking forge, okay—Izumi can’t handle all of the weapons needing repairs on her own in a raid like this, you know that, so I’m gonna fucking help, so—so put me down, asshole!” He debated kicking his legs and struggling again, but he’d look even more like some dumb, immature kid, which was probably the least convincing thing in the world.
The warriors were already back to ignoring him—of course they were, why would he expect anything more of the people who pretended he didn’t exist unless they were talking about his latest fuck-up—but the man holding him sighed, setting him back on the ground with surprising gentleness. Ed didn’t let himself think about it, didn’t let himself care. He’d done that once—and had been replaced as soon as a better Viking came along. “Then go,” Von Hohenheim, Chief of the island of Amestris, said, almost wearily. “And if I see you anywhere near any dragons, Edward, so help me Thor—”
“Yeah, whatever.” He reined in urge to snap at him again, already bounding out of reach. He was going to the forge—but he wasn’t going to stay away from the fight, or from the dragons. Not tonight. Not when he finally had a shot.
I’m going to kill a dragon tonight.
I’m going to kill the dragon tonight.
Because it wasn’t other Vikings that raided Amestris. It wasn’t humans—humans, they didn’t need to fear. Humans could be fought fairly, humans had minds to trick and out-strategize and break. No raiders from other tribes crowded their shores, no soldiers from the fabled lands beyond the Archipelago sailed in to attack them. Every tribe was preoccupied with the same enemy striking from the skies, burning down their world night after night, week after week, year after year: the dragons.
With so many generations spent killing and fighting and killing and fighting and dedicating life after life to destroying the dragons and ending the raids, it made sense that killing a dragon was everything on Amestris. It was what made a child a warrior, a prince into a Chief, a man into a legend—and getting one kill would be his ticket to…to everything. To acceptance from the tribe, pride from his father, friendship, even, from the other kids his age. And sure, he might not have been able to swing a hammer or throw an axe (yet, he reminded himself fiercely), but he had something none of the others put to use (at least, not much): his mind, and his hands (mismatched though they were), and an invention that could bring down the deadliest of them all.
And he would, he promised himself, dodging swords and screams and blasts of fire as he made for the ramshackle blacksmith’s hut in the central square. He’d bring down a dragon tonight, and bring its heart to the chief.
Then I’ll be worth something to them.
He skidded into the forge, yelping as his teacher immediately set an axe—heavily damaged, what the hell, didn’t any of these goddamn people know how to use a weapon without destroying it?—in his arms, looking altogether too cheerful. “Sharpen that,” Izumi Curtis ordered, barely pausing a moment as she grabbed a broadsword and lifted it effortlessly, setting it under her hammer.
Ed didn’t hesitate to obey, all-too aware of her fierce temper and fiercer skills when it came to the fight. Being the apprentice of someone like that…well, you learned a thing or two about them. He set the edge of the axe to the rolling whetstone, grinning despite himself as sparks flew off of it. Maybe he couldn’t fight in the traditional way, but only Teacher was better in the forge than he was. Incessant illness and inhuman strength and strange, almost inappropriate humor (she’d chopped a dragon’s head off in front of the Aerugoan chief and, when asked who she was, had chirped “A housewife!” with terrifying cheerfulness) and all.
He might have been absolutely terrified of her, if she wasn’t somedays (most days, honestly) the only person who gave a shit about him. Except for Al, but Al…cared too much. He shook his head, flipping the axe in his hand and pressing it to the whetstone, eyes drifting to the canvas-covered contraption in the back. He’ll be proud of me, though, after tonight. He’ll be glad to point at me and say, “That’s my big brother.” You know, for once.
“Nice of you to join the party, kid! Thought you’d been carried off ages ago.”
And speaking of Izumi’s relentless humor. Ed glanced up from the axe, lifting it from the whetstone and setting it back on the counter before moving toward the great bellows by the heart of the forge, grimacing as he practically jumped on them to get them to move. Gods-fuckin’-damnit… “What, me?” Trust me, they’ve tried. “Guess I’m too bitter for them.” He flashed her a grin, praying it dripped general exasperation and irritation and held nothing about his schemes. “Sorry, Teacher, you’re stuck with me for at least another night.”
“My unlucky day, then.” Still, she ruffled his hair as he passed, laughing when he scowled and batted at the soot-stains now covering the top of his head, which would take for-fucking-ever to wash out. He couldn’t really begrudge her for it, though, he thought as he flung open the doors of the stall, Vikings rushing in and setting weapon after weapon on the counter—it was more than any other adult in the village ever did for him.
Sickles, bolas, swords and shields began to pile up in the counter. Ed watched silhouettes swoop by in the firelight as he in turn piled the weapons on the hot coals of the forge—spike-tailed Nadders, two-headed Zipplebacks, stone-skinned Gronckles, even the fiery Monstrous Nightmares. They looked almost like demons, crawling through the flames, snarling and snapping and howling in triumph and defiance with every house set aflame. Rebuilding on the edge of winter, he thought dully, hammering out bends and breaks in another sword. The Chief’s going to lose his fuckin' mi—
Instinctively, Ed ducked—only to jolt up as Izumi cackled, feeling heat that had everything to do with the childish reaction and nothing to do with the fires around them rush to his face. “It’s just the fire brigade, Ed, relax.”
Oh. It had been a signal, not a warning—which made sense, since a blast had literally just landed and most dragons (except for the most dangerous, the rarest, the deadliest) needed a few seconds to recharge before striking again (so he’d been doing his research on how to take one down, so what? It would give him an edge when he got a chance to take his shot at last).
Don’t look, he scolded himself, turning back to the forge. Don’t think about how much cooler their jobs are, don’t think about how much you wish you were in their place. Just do your job until Teacher steps out, and then go.
And don’t even THINK about looking at her.
“You’d better not be thinking of going out there.”
Aaaaaand he’d been caught. Sort of. “Just for a few seconds?” he wheedled, knowing full well that it was no use lying to the blacksmith. Izumi raised her eyebrows, looking entirely unimpressed—just like the rest of them, just as disappointed and annoyed. “Oh, come on, please—I gotta make my mark!” I have to stop you—stop everyone—from looking at me like…that.
“You’ve made plenty of marks already. On the main square, and the docks, the warships, the Great Hall…”
He gritted his teeth—he’d never meant to do any of that! Of course, everyone conveniently seemed to forget that he tried to clean up every mess he made, that he’d never actually intended for any mess to be there in the first place. Guess it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. “Please, Teacher—” he was begging now, but he didn’t care, he had to get out there— “just two minutes, I’ll kill a dragon, my life will get infinitely better. I might even—” Blue eyes and hair like gold flashed in his mind, and he fought back the heat rushing up his skin. Get a date, maybe. Never, probably, but I’ll have a chance, which is more than I've had for fifteen years.
Her eyebrows rose, full of a skepticism too much like the look in his father’s eyes, and he nearly wilted under it. “Not that I don’t have absolute faith in your skills, my foolish pupil—” He forced himself not to flinch at the sudden bite in those words, berating himself for daring to feel betrayed, you knew she wouldn’t let you, you know she doesn’t trust you— “but you can’t swing a warhammer, can’t lift an axe, throw a bola—”
Aha, now this—maybe this opening he could exploit, just for a moment. Ed flung an arm out toward the canvas-covered contraption he’d built of scraps and spare parts over the past few months, backing toward it. “But this—this can throw it for me!” He tugged the canvas off with a flourish he couldn’t quite help—so what if he was dramatic, honestly, no one gave a shit when he was monologuing about inventions. They only really paid attention when he did something wrong, because hey, why not pick on the runt! Sounds like an amazing Wednesday to me!
Her eyebrows went up even higher as she took in the bola-thrower—Ed had wanted to name it the Mangler, but Al had found the schematics and immediately shut that down before he actually mangled something with it—sleek metal and polished wood. Ed squared his shoulders, praying she would be impressed or interested or at least not disappointed—
Then his hand, metal and burning in the heat of the forge, put just a bit too much pressure on it, and he watched in dread and horror as a bola launched itself right into a customer’s head. Oh, godfucking—I can’t just have one thing work out for me, can I? Amazing. Fantastic. This is perfectly fine. “It’s just a—a mild calibration issue, easy fix, but come on, Teacher, this could—this could help!” You know, for once.
Izumi’s voice was heavy with something like sorrow, sorrow and anger and steel, and he made himself meet her eyes. She shook her head, and that simple gesture felt more damning than all the stares and whispers from the other Vikings, felt like a hole cut inside of him. “You’re a brilliant blacksmith—one that will be better than me. But a dragon-killer?” Black eyes were solemn, solemn and sad, and Ed wanted to sink into the floor and never return. “We all have things we can’t be. That’s…that’s yours.”
No, it’s not—it can’t be.
“You’re wrong,” he bit out despite the earth dropping out from beneath him, despite one more person admitting that they didn’t believe in him. “I’m going to kill dragons. I’m going to finally do something right.”
Izumi’s eyes widened, suddenly bright with concern. Where was that a few seconds ago, huh? “Ed—”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not going out tonight, don’t worry.” The lie tasted as bitter in his mouth as all the looks he’d gotten over the past fifteen years. He ignored its flavor, swallowed it down as he headed back to the weapons on the coals, the forge flaring bright as war raged outside.
I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.
There was a high-pitched shriek as wind sheered off invisible wings, and Ed stumbled out of the forge just in time to see his target swoop past a crumbling siege tower, little more than a shadow amidst smoke. One blast—one blast had done that much damage, crushed a catapult to dust and ash in seconds, sent even the Chief leaping from the battlements. It was faster than lightning, invisible in the night, capable of strategy (regardless of what the elders said, regardless of what the warriors said, there was no way that thing would know to target their ranged weapons unless it could think at least a little bit)—
And it never missed.
Another catapult fell—another, and another, and another. Wood, stone, steel, it didn’t matter. Nothing could stand up to those attacks.
Nothing and no one had been able to stand up to the Night Fury. To even see it—not Chief Hohenheim, not Izumi Curtis, not his little brother. Nobody.
How do you catch a shadow that never comes down to earth?
Izumi was gone, joining the fray as soon as the Night Fury had struck for the first time that night, broadsword and fists swinging. Which, you know, meant Ed was alone in the forge, surrounded by sharp objects, fire…and a golden opportunity that he’d have to be an idiot to pass up. And he was anything but an idiot—no matter what they said to the contrary.
Which brought him to here—to a cliffside untouched by fire and smoke and battle, to the night wind on his face and a city on fire behind him. To the moment that could turn him into—into a hero, for once.
With the Night Fury gone, we’ll stand a chance. We could find the Nest, stop the battle for good without worrying about it destroying everything, focus on protecting people’s homes and food instead of losing our defenses. And if I kill the Night Fury—the only Night Fury…
Dad will be proud of me.
Everyone will be proud of me.
He allowed himself a moment to wonder as he opened up and reloaded the bola-thrower, metal click-click-clicking in his wrist as he braced his hands on the trigger. What would it be like to walk through the village and be called a hero? To be more than the kid who lost his arm and his mother in the same raid? To get smiles and praise and—god, more friends than just Al?
A familiar high-pitched whistle filled his ears, and Ed jerked himself out of his thoughts with a gasp. There it goes—
There was only one siege tower left, which meant it would be aiming there—which meant it would be illuminated, just for a second. Just long enough for him to aim and pull the trigger, to bring it down at last. To change everything.
There wasn’t much he could see now, just a shape that blotted out the stars, all dark wings and darker, deadlier wrath. Ed tensed, fingers hovering over the trigger as fire lit up the night. For once the roars and shrieks of the Vikings and dragons seemed far away, unable to reach his ears, his eyes, his mind.
All Ed saw was flames, gold and red and burning bright—and then a sudden, sleek shape soaring through the flames with a howl that screamed triumph and wildfire.
His fingers jerked back, and the bola flew, wild and cutting silver through the inky black of the night—cutting silver right into lightning and death itself. That triumphant howl turned into a shockingly human shriek of pain, a roar of shock and sudden agony and fear that was all-too real for it to belong to the dragon he’d aimed at (because dragons didn’t feel, dragons were monsters, dragons had destroyed everything a thousand times over)—but the Night Fury was roaring, falling, and…gone.
He’d done it.
I did it.
Shock gave way to raw, wild elation, and Ed whooped, throwing his hands in the air. “YES!” I did it, I fixed everything, I can be a hero, a Viking, I can kill dragons! Al would never believe this, Dad would be so proud, the whole village would look at him like he was a person—everything would be perfect. “Oh my gods, did anyone see that—”
There was a low, taunting growl, savage and decidedly not human, turning that shimmering, golden feeling of joy and hope into absolute dread. Oh, come on… That icy, frozen feeling of sheer horror tightened in his chest as he turned to find hellfire-yellow eyes winking at him with vicious, horrible glee, rust-red scales lighting up as flames flickered along wicked talons.
Monstrous Nightmare, he remembered distantly, recalling his father’s words once-upon-a-time (when he still thought you were worth something, a particularly nasty voice whispered), teaching him about the dozens of dragons that had struck their people down over and over and over. Large, powerful, Stoker-Class—only the best Vikings go after those.
Its scales turned to flame, and Ed fought back the shriek of instinctive fear that pulled at his throat. They have this nasty habit of setting themselves on fire. Right.
“I don’t know what your dragon pals have told you, but, uh—” He waved his hands at it wildly, hoping it might stop looking so…hungry. “I taste fucking awful, so you can fuck right off back to the Nest and we’ll keep this between us, yeah?”
The Monstrous Nightmare grinned, malicious and savage and all sorts of things that absolutely did not mean agreement.
Ed gulped. “Thought so.”