“Okay, what the fuck was that?” Ed demands, the second they’re far away enough from the house that the rattling of the burned bushes is louder than the voices from inside. “That kid came out of fucking nowhere?”
“Wait,” Al says, taking Ed’s elbow, hustling them into the null circle and grabbing some chalk to start reinstating the array again. Ed gets it a second later; he crouches down and connects the aspects as Al presses a hand down and activates the circle. “Now we can talk.”
“Yeah, so once more with feeling: what the fuck,” Ed says impatiently. “You couldn’t feel him at all?”
“There wasn’t any qi where he was standing,” Al confirms, equal parts grim and weirded the fuck out. “It wasn’t anything like the inversions that happen when they teleport, it was just - like a light flipping on.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Ed drags his hands down his face. “Is it a- nother kind of teleporting? Teleporting two? Teleporting but worse?”
“Probably not teleporting, given how hard they were trying to convince us it was,” Al says, arms crossing and foot starting an irritable one-two tap. On a less fucked day Ed will ask him whether he’s aware he picked that up from Mei. “This, plus the fact that their shielding disrupts transmutation - can we test this, properly, without letting on that the array strips the whole magical spectra? Or that I can sense qi?”
“That is what happened to the kid’s wand, right? What the fuck did they say about it being connected to lord wader boots?” Ed demands.
“We should test the objects,” Al says, nodding to the pile of random crap Mustache had floated on out here - the cursed shit, presumably. From here it looks like a music box, some pens and some weird tacky jewelry; when Ed squints he can see the shimmer over it all, almost hidden in the grass. “If it strips them too, then it probably was just the intended effect working on a magical object.”
“Yeah, because if the stick also had freaky qi you would’ve noticed,” Ed agrees.
“Not unless there’s been a way to mask qi all along,” Al says unhappily.
That is. A point. O...kay. Their ace in the hole might not be infallible, but it’s not like they were counting on it from the start - the nullification array works, which is the critical thing, and while qi-sense is an incredible asset they don’t need it to kick ass: Ed and Al managed without it just fine on their last apocalypse. Though Ling and Fu and Lan Fan and Mei were all there then, working only slightly at cross-purposes to whatever the hell Ed and Al and the rest were trying to do.
Then an idea strikes. “Was it like. An absence? Qi is everywhere, right? In everything? Astronomers track stuff they can’t see sometimes by the behavior of the stuff around it -”
“- so if there’s nothing where there should be something,” Al says, catching on instantly. “I don’t know, I wasn’t paying enough attention then - maybe?”
The light of the null array dies down and then fades out entirely around them, because they haven’t incorporated the self-sustaining feedback loop yet. “I haven’t noticed anything like that,” Al finishes, frowning as he steps out.
Ed follows, saying, “Okay, so, you stay on the lookout for holes, and I’ll - so about that barbecue,” he swerves, hearing the door to the house open. “The question is, open grill or closed oven? What are we cooking?” Now that he’s saying it, though, it occurs that he is hungry and only liable to get hungrier. “Shit, we don’t even have a marinade started.”
“Why don’t you start making a firepit,” Al says, eyes over Ed’s shoulder, which means it’s definitely a wizard that came out.
When Ed glances over, he sees it’s Bones - by herself. “They don’t need you inside?” Ed says to her, which as polite as his why the hell are you heres get even if they don’t want to make her think they’re hiding anything out here.
“They’re talking about goblins,” she says, coming to a stop a few feet away from them. “Bill Weasley has far more insight there than I do.”
Ed scowls. Goblins or no goblins, if she left Mustang to get up to speed on the local money politics without supervision then either she’s a lot dumber than she looks or Mustang snowed her so hard in the last couple of hours that she now believes he’s both utterly harmless and completely trustworthy. “Is there something we can help you with?” Al asks, managing to make get lost anyway sound all helpful and polite.
Bones’ gaze travels over their workspace, lingering on the array. “So there was something in the boy,” she says. “And it connected him to Voldemort?”
Al cocks his head slightly. “You didn’t think there was?”
Bones shrugs slightly. “Albus suggested as much, but it’s not as though there was evidence.” Her eyes pass over the circle again. “He also has a background in alchemy. It makes me wonder what you found that he couldn’t. Though, of course,” she adds, in a slightly different tone, “he’s not a specialist.”
Oh, Mustang got to her good, and she’s telling them so. “Beardy’s an alchemist?” Ed says sharply.
“He studied it when he was younger,” Bones says. “Though I can’t say if what we have has much overlap with yours. I know he was involved enough to make original discoveries in the field.”
Ed and Al stare at her. That is not just some casual youthful hobby time. “He said he’d never heard of it being used in combat,” Ed says sharply, flicking over what Beardy had said about alchemy; they seriously need to get their hands on some of their books. “That true?”
“I certainly haven’t,” Bones says frankly. “Our alchemists work with potion makers. Those who aren’t researchers mostly brew medicines. Albus was a researcher as well - he discovered the twelve uses of dragon’s blood.”
Ed decides then and there that dragon’s blood is just a stupid wizard name for calcium carbonate or something and that he’s not fucking changing his mind without dear fucking necessity. “But you got rid of it,” Bones says like she’s confirming, saving Ed from skidding any further down that mental waterslide. “Breaking his wand broke the connection?”
“It may have helped,” Al says diplomatically. “While we are familiar with some of the principals at work here, magic and how it behaves is still very new to us.”
“Why didn’t anybody say there was something wrong with the wand?” Ed demands. “Everybody going back and forth on whether he was possessed or not and nobody thought to mention that?”
Bones frowns. “I hadn’t known there was anything wrong with it. Not until potter mentioned you breaking it to destroy the link. I’d assumed the interference during his duel with Voldemort was simply instability caused by their wands having identical cores - though it makes sense, if Voldemort had used that to bind himself to the boy’s mind. If anyone could figure out how, he could,” she finishes darkly.
“Instability caused by identical cores?” Ed repeats. “What the fuck’s… never fucking mind. Where is it? Does the kid still have it?” He glances around; no stick. “The kid still has it. Okay, we’re gonna need that for observation. If it re-ups itself like the wizards did we’re gonna need to zap it again.”
“Get rid of it completely,” Al corrects. “We shouldn’t risk it reactivating again. We can test whether objects reinstate themselves using these.”
He gestures to the cursed junk just as the back door opens again: this time it’s Mustache and Ponytail pushing through, both looking kind of wild around the eyes. “Eric,” Ponytail says, zeroing in on them.
“Elric,” Mustache corrects, but he’s hustling over too.
“What fucking now?” Ed demands.
“How did you do it?” Ponytail demands.
“A good gym routine and a lifelong passion for science,” Ed says sarcastically, because that’s pretty much always the answer whether it’s what people are looking for or not. “What the fuck’s gone up your nose about me now?”
“I’m a cursebreaker,” Ponytail says intently, looking from him to Al. “You cured a werewolf. It’s one of the most complex curses there is, it embeds itself in the body so comprehensively that nothing can get it out - it’s in the blood. Loop in said you’d made a tool -“
“The circle,” Mustache says, indicating the array. “They - activated it, and I stepped in, and it was - removed. Just like that.”
He looks struck all over again by this whole brouhaha, and abruptly goes for Al. Ed tenses enough to shift one leg back into stance, but the guy stops short and kind of makes an aborted hand-out gesture before putting it over his heart instead. “Thank you,” he tells Al, eyes dangerously shiny-looking. “Sincerely, thank you. I - I don’t know that this is what you set out to do, but you - you’ve cured - you’ve done something revolutionary. So many people -” he breaks off, clearing his throat.
Ed loosens a bit when it becomes obvious what’s going on, and Al smiles like he didn’t threaten the guy with group discount decapitation twenty minutes ago. Doctors. “I’m glad,” he says, sticking his hand out like he’s gonna let the wizard handshake him. “We did come here to help, in whatever way we can.”
Mustache takes it, pumping vigorously up and down. “Even if it is temporary - the fact that it can be done at all is - tremendous. Simply tremendous.” He turns to Ed too, looking alarmingly open to body contact. “You have my thanks.”
“Do not hug me,” Ed warns. This isn’t the first patient interaction like this he’s seen - plenty of people thank Winry and Granny after they do something painful and gross to them, and clearly the same goes for Al too - but Ed’s not a medical professional for a reason. “It was all Dr. Elric here.”
Al shoots him a mild-mannered dumpling of a look with pissy filling. “It was a joint effort.”
“He’s right,” Ponytail puts in. “A cure for werewolves - no one has managed it, ever. And it turns out it is possible, with alchemy - well, unplottable alchemy, I suppose - yours isn’t remotely like potion making, I think.” He eyeballs their chalk. “If you don’t mind - how does it work?”
Ed’s about to open his mouth and feed them a nice long line of jargon-heavy horseshit when the house door opens again - and it’s Hawkeye this time, thank fuck. And she’s carrying the Kerchatka. “Oh fuck yeah - hey, here,” Ed says, casting around for the pack full of cartridges Al had made and going to her, glad to have an excuse to get out of the patient postmortem; Al’s the medical miracle man, he can bullshit with the best of them. “We made like… what, fifty?”
“Seventy-five,” Al calls.
“And bastard said he’d do the charges, but he can add that after we check the fit,” Ed finishes. “Can I see?”
Hawkeye trades him the pack for the rifle. Ed takes it in both hands, frowning as he weighs it and feels out the composition. “I can take… maybe half a K out of this,” he says aloud, refocusing on her face. “I don’t wanna fuck with it too much, but -”
“Not the barrel,” Hawkeye says, hooking her elbow through the pack strap to take the rifle again.
“No, just stock. I can do a…” Ed trails off as he claps, pressing his hands to the gun. Discharge crackles over the metal, arcing between his and Hawkeye’s hands as he reshapes the interior, visualizing both the lithograph of four different railway bridge designs from Bridge & Dam: Design in Civil Engineering and that cross-section of bird bones he saw in one of the Grand Anatomy volumes. “... strut matrix,” he finishes, the extracted chromoly falling into his hand as it detaches, shaped like a pair of knuckledusters. He offers them to Hawkeye. “Also, do you want this to be like. Black?”
“Nonreflective,” Hawkeye agrees, hefting the rifle, then places it down butt-first at her side to take the brass knuckles. She inspects them, checks the fit, then pockets one set and hands the other back to Ed. “Black or dark gray.”
“You got it,” Ed says, grinning a little to himself as he also stows his set. Matchy. He’s absolutely the work wife. “It’s gonna take me some extra stuff but I can do that today. How’s the cartridge fit?”
They get to checking the bullets; Bones, Ed notes, is splitting her attention between them and Al with the ex-werewolf interest group. “When you say the curse is in the blood,” Al is saying to the wizards, “what do you mean, exactly? Do curses attach themselves to specific parts of the body…?”
“Did Bones tell you guys Beardy’s an alchemist?” Ed says to Hawkeye, keeping his voice low under the crackle of resizing their test cartridge. Her eyes flick up; Ed nods a bit. “She says she’s never heard of combat alchemy either. But she also says he was a researcher and made original discoveries.” Hawkeye tilts her head slightly, watching the rifle’s bolt as she clears the chamber, so Ed continues, “He hasn’t lied to us, exactly? Not in anything he’s said so far. I think. And he’s not like, good at covering up that there’s some fucky fuckin’ shit going on in his kennel, so -“
The back door busts open again, and this time it’s Beardy himself who comes sweeping out, even more intense than Ponytail and Mustache combined. He goes straight for them, his senile grandpa expression gone grimly forbidding, though the effect is a little bit ruined by how his dress - dark purple today - is the wrong fabric weight to flare dramatically instead of just kinda flapping around his ankles. “What have you done?” he says sharply as Mustang and Hughes and some more wizards all exit behind him, everybody just coming out back into the yard like some kind of reverse clown car. “You say you’ve severed -“
Beardy stops short halfway to them, eyes snapping to the array. “His soul,” he breathes. “What have you done?”
Beardy is an alchemist. And he recognizes, at least on surface, the array for philosopher’s stones.
Al straightens up. Hawkeye lays the Kerchatka on the ground and stands, hands out by her sides. Behind Beardy, Mustang’s gaze bores into the back of his head, and Hughes takes one big prudent step backwards.
“We abso-fuckin’-lutely did not touch his soul,” Ed says slowly, also turning to fully face Beardy, hands opening but still by his sides. “You can tell, by the way there’s no blood and dismembered bodies and screaming. Read the intake notation, alchemist. That look like human transmutation to you?”
Beardy’s eyes rise to Ed’s and stay there. “The alchemies of our worlds are not the same.”
“But not different enough,” Ed says flatly. “What have you been doing, to know what the fuck you’re looking at?”
Beardy’s silent a long moment, just holding Ed’s stare. “I know you have questions.”
“They aren’t the only ones,” Bones says. She’s standing off to the side, closer to Ponytail and Mustache than anyone else, but where they’re looking like kids who just walked in on their parents fighting the look she’s giving Beardy is pretty stony.
“I will answer,” Beardy says, still watching Ed. “But I have a question as well, and mine may mean time works against us. You say you’ve removed the piece of Voldemort’s soul from Hairy - is this true? You are certain?”
There’s a couple of low gasps from the wizards by the house as he says piece of soul , like they didn’t think it was true until Beardy said it . “Yes,” Al says unsmilingly. “We’re certain.”
Beardy’s gaze transfers to him. “When was this? Exactly?”
What the fuck does that have to do with anyhting? “Why?” Ed says suspiciously.
“Sever us was summoned by Voldemort,” Beardy says, grim. “Just this morning. If the timing coincides on your ridding hairy of the connection and sever us’s summons, then we have all but proof that he has seen what Hairy saw.”