Edward's hands didn't tremble on the gun like they used to. It had only been a few days since Havoc had shoved the small-caliber weapon into his hands and now he would feel uncomfortable if the weight of the hand gun was not present; tucked into the back of his pants. The weapon could mean the difference between life and death right now - with his ability to utilize alchemy fluctuating daily there was no way he would be able to rely on it. So it had to be a gun.
Alphonse had refused a weapon. He was all but immune to the revenants; their teeth and fingers did no damage to his armor. It was unsettling, though - when Edward's ability to do alchemy waned, so did the responses he got from Alphonse. There would be a day or two at a time that the suit of armor would sit motionless against the wall, eyes dark, no matter how badly Edward pleaded with the hollow armor Alphonse just was not there.
They had been dealing with that oddity in smaller spurts before they even made it to Central City. The train that was supposed to take them from the small farming village back to the city had never arrived - and Edward, typically impatient, had begun the long trek back to civilization by walking along the train tracks. The first time that it happened was when they had rested for the night under the shade of a small tree. Alphonse just stopped talking in the middle of a sentence. Edward had nearly lost his mind when Alphonse would not respond, begging Alphonse to be in there and to come back to him and not leave him alone.
He came back. He picked back up mid-sentence and then halted, confused by the fact that it was nearly morning. Sometimes he would be gone just minutes at a time. The worst was when he was gone for hours. It was not until they almost got to Central City that Edward realized that Alphonse's absences coincided with his inability to do alchemy.
They first encountered walkers along the path of the train tracks. At first, Edward had just thought that the few people were drunkards from a town staggering along like that ... it was not until they got closer that he could see the angle that their necks at were not natural, or that one of them was dragging an arm barely connected to his shoulder. The noise of horror that Alphonse had made drew their attention on both of them; and Edward almost went down when his arm-blade got stuck in the shoulder of one of the walkers.
Alphonse had stomped on one's head, crushing it like an overripe melon. It had been a reflex action, Edward knew, but it did not change the fact that the image of that man's head caving in would be imprinted on his memory forever. The other one he had kicked as it grabbed at him, jaw loose from where Edward had shattered it with a punch. Alphonse was still immobilized by horror at what he had done and all Edward could do was drive the blade of his automail through the walker's chin and up into his head.
There was no exaggerated spray of gore. The thing that was attacking him twitched a few times and went still. The worst of it was trying to free his arm-blade - once he finally got loose the man's face sagged forward on his skull. Edward staggered to his feet and off of the railroad tracks, only to be violently sick in the dirt and sand that the lined the trestle.
Those were only the first of them. Edward did not know how long he had knelt in the sand and stared blankly at his own bile but Alphonse had called his name quietly and when he looked up, in the distance, he could see more people moving in the same slow, shuffling gait.
He rode on Alphonse's shoulders and they passed the revenants unmolested. The creatures would stop and their heads would turn, sightless eyes tracking Alphonse's movement but they never moved to stop him. It was unsettling and macabre. They moved slowly but steadily, never stopping. Some looked barely dead at all, the only indicator that something was wrong was that unnatural gait. Others were missing limbs, had chunks torn out of their bodies or were burned and bent and somehow still mobile.
It was late afternoon when they found the expanse of desert where the train jumped its tracks. The engine was still burning out fuel but the cars that had been on fire had already burned out. There were bodies strewn across the landscape like children's toys, and Edward refused to look closely. Alphonse kept his head straight up and did not stop. It occurred to Edward that the military should have been there, someone should have come to deal with an entire train having jumped its tracks; never mind the straggling, walking dead … but there was no help or aid in sight.
Alphonse did not stop at all. Edward fell asleep with his cheek pressed to the top of Alphonse's helmet as they continued moving at a steady gait across the landscape.
They talked about what had happened in low tones. There was no explanation for the dead to be walking like that, even including alchemy. Any alchemy used to reanimate dead flesh came at so steep a price that there was no possible way for that much of it to be done at once.
Revenants, ghouls, whatever they were ... they were everywhere. Edward, seated on Alphonse's shoulders had a better vantage point and only saw the shuffling dead. If he spoke when the creatures were near it drew their attention, so they quickly shifting into Edward quietly tapping Alphonse's helmet to tell him how many ahead, and which direction.
Everything had toppled quickly like dominoes. They had no idea what to do or where to go. They were too far away from Resembool - a week on foot, possibly longer. This close to Central; the safest bet was to make it back to the main base in Central City. The military would be able to protect them from this, however far it had spread.
They stayed the night in an old farm-house. Alphonse had not wanted to stop but Edward could not sit on his shoulders and ride any longer. There were no lights on, and no sign of the inhabitants. Chillingly, there was an empty noose swinging from a tree alongside the house.
Edward and Alphonse scoured the house from top to bottom for any nasty surprises. They startled a couple of foxes who had made a nest in a back room, but aside from that the house was empty. Edward curled up in blankets inside the front room, on the floor with his back to the wall. Alphonse kept watch.
He was woken by scratching at the door. It was soft scratching, but steady, and insistent. Edward lay curled in his covers, frozen by fear - and the fact that Alphonse's helm lay dark and unmoving. He didn't dare whisper to his brother in case it was a revenant outside, so he brought his hands together to transmute his arm-blade ... and nothing happened.
Edward had felt a lot of different forms of fear in his life, and this was nothing like he had ever experienced before. Cut-off from alchemy, Alphonse checked out, and something so horrible he couldn't quite fathom it on the other side of a flimsy wooden door ... and all he could do was huddle in his blankets and try not to make a noise.
The scratching stopped, eventually. Edward did not sleep. Alphonse shifted in the morning and Edward did not mention what had happened in the night ... or how his ability to do alchemy left when Alphonse did.
They found the walker halfway down the hill. Both its legs were broken and it was pulling itself along by its bloodied, worn fingertips. Edward transmuted his arm-blade and severed the head from its body.
Edward rode into Central City on Alphonse's shoulders like he was a horse. There were dead in the streets - they still had not seen a single living person. It was terrifying in a whole new way ... what if they were the only two people left alive in the world? Alphonse wasn't even flesh. What if it was only him?
Then they saw soldiers. A few of them, running down an alley, shotguns held out as several revenants chased them down. Edward had wanted to go after them, almost got down off of Alphonse's shoulders, but the echo of the shotgun blast drew the attention of most of the revenants on the street. Edward watched in horror as the creatures streamed in that direction. Then he covered his ears with his hands as the screaming started.
It was by luck that Edward spotted the sentries in the late afternoon light. They stood at the top of the steps to the library; solid military blues holding guns. They weren't moving in the same shuffling gait -- they were real people, and alive.
It was Jean Havoc and Riza Hawkeye. Edward and Alphonse had found safety and sanctuary - even if it was just temporary.
The miltary had set up an emergency station in the library. There was about eleven of them in total; most of them soldiers that Edward didn't know. Lieutenant Hawkeye appeared to be in charge; her arm was in a sling and there were bandages around her neck. Lieutenant Havoc said that she had been attacked by the same revenant that had killed the lieutenant colonel they had been stationed with.
Everyone was waiting to see what would happen … whether or not Lieutenant Hawkeye was going to die of her injuries. The dead turned; but no one had yet come across someone who had survived an attack.
Colonel Mustang wasn't with them. Havoc seemed to think that the outlook was grim; Mustang had been stationed across the city and was being over-run by the dead when communications were cut off. Hawkeye felt that way too, although her eyes betrayed her emotions. They had to move on, and soon. The library was not fit to be a haven forever. They were held back by two injured soldiers currently, corpsmen that Edward did not know. Once they were fit to move, they all would move out.
"Where are you going to go?" Alphonse had said as they stood around outside, sounding far more tired than a suit of armor should.
"We'll know when we get there," Havoc replied, his eyes on the street.
Over the next few days, at Edward's insistence, Hawkeye taught Edward how to handle a gun. They could not practice shooting - the echos of the bullets would bring unwelcome attention from the walkers. One of the injured soldiers died of his injuries - and once they were certain he was dead Havoc coldly decapitated the corpse. Edward flinched and turned his head at the action. He had only just learned the man's name.
After that Havoc decided it was time for them to go. Edward told him that they would be staying behind. They were going to look for Mustang. It was a fool's errand, but Edward just knew that Mustang would not die from something like this. The man was far too resilient. Havoc was not surprised by their choice and gave Edward a gun.
What did surprise them all was Lieutenant Hawkeye's decision to accompany them. She had made her decision early on, apparently – and Havoc could not talk her out of it. The three of them accompanied the unit for several blocks before they parted ways. Alphonse, Edward and Hawkeye stood on a ledge and watched Havoc's group vanish around a corner.
"Brother, you think we'll ever see them again?" Alphonse wondered aloud.
"I don't know, Al," Edward said.
"The Colonel's unit was stationed in the east quadrant, they were tasked with evacuating civilians," Hawkeye said. Her arm was no longer in a sling, although it was still wrapped, and she had a rifle slung over her shoulder. "We should start there."
"Right," Edward said. "Let's go."