Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 4, 2016
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.
A pebble pattered away into the chasm below, and Riza reminded herself not to watch its descent. She couldn’t afford dizziness now. Instead, she kept still, clinging to the rock face and listening.
Only the moan of the wind through the pass reached her, the pebble’s clatter lost beneath it. Good.
She couldn’t afford to alert her quarry now. Not when she was so close. Not after the chase had drawn on so long. And, not with the other would-be hunters finally far below, laying out their own strategy and providing such a convenient distraction.
Carefully, Riza edged her way along the cliff, numbed fingers searching for handholds, feet feeling for purchase. It was slow, painful going, but at last she had rounded the side of the mountain and was rewarded with a view of the valley below.
It spread before her, a winter palette of brown and gray brightened only by the dense green of the evergreens that hugged the lower slopes. And, there, taking advantage of the trees’ cover, were the hunters. They were nearly invisible, moving shadow to shadow. But, she was the Hawk’s Eye, and few things escaped her notice.
Few things had ever escaped their quarry’s notice either.
Her gaze shifted to the mass of black scales curled into a rocky depression along the mountainside. They had been only a flicker of obsidian from the valley floor, but here she could see the dragon clearly.
As she had planned.
And yet... She frowned. Something was different. In the light of day, the dragon was somehow diminished. Somehow less than the monster that had stood over her with wings spread, roaring to the skies as the Capital burned.
She pushed away the memories of that night. This was not the time. Now was the time to end this hunt.
For a few minutes, she concentrated on judging distances, angles, and wind direction. Then, she nodded in satisfaction. It wouldn’t be an easy shot, less so with only the dragon’s armored back exposed. But, she was an alchemist’s daughter, and her arrowheads were more than mere steel.
She steadied herself, bracing her feet and reaching for the bow swung over her back. Stringing it was second nature. A moment, and her arrow was nocked.
Riza drew a long, slow breath and pulled the arrow back.
“Might I ask that you wait a moment, Lady Hawk’s Eye?”
The voice behind her was resonant and male and completely unexpected.
Riza twisted, throwing the bowstring around her neck and dropping the arrow in favor of putting one hand to the rock and the other to the knife at her belt. Too fast. A foot slid, and she was over the abyss, flailing desperately for a grip.
A warm hand caught hers, and Riza looked up into black eyes framed by black hair.
The man gave her a reassuring smile before effortlessly pulling her up to firmer footing beside him.
“My apologies for startling you,” he said, releasing her. “But, it would have been a shame for you to dispel my illusion before we had a moment to speak in private.”
“Illusion?” She stepped back carefully, putting distance between them.
He didn’t close it. He only waved a hand toward the sleeping dragon below. “A little cantrip to keep the rabble busy.”
Cantrip.... The dragon hadn’t looked right. The dragon was an illusion.
“You’re—!” Her right hand found her knife.
The man's lips quirked and something like fire flickered in his dark eyes. “I believe we know one another by reputation only.” Balanced impossibly on the cliff face, he bowed. “You know me as The Dragon.” Sharp teeth flashed as he looked up at her. “Unless I’ve gained some flashier title like The Scourge?” He looked at Riza expectantly, but she was silent. “No?” The man straightened then. “Well, in this guise, I prefer Roy.”
“Roy.” Her voice was flat with disbelief as she gripped her knife tighter. “You burned the Capital.”
“Singed.” His lips curled into a full smile. “The work of generations of alchemists would never burn so easily.”
And, the wooden homes of the common farmers and tradesmen to the east of the city had been untouched.
Riza felt her mind come to an impossible realization. “You weren’t interested in the Capital itself,” she said slowly, testing the idea. “You wanted to draw out King Bradley. Because he ordered that dragons were to be exterminated.”
“Yes.” ‘Roy’ sobered. “And, no. Your king has been dead for years. But, the thing that replaced him is always happy to issue orders in his stead.”
Riza stared at him.
“Dragons are annoyingly good at sensing magic,” Roy continued. “And, no homunculus can hide the taint of forbidden alchemy they carry.”
Homunculus. She was no alchemist, but she had grown up with little company beyond her father’s books. A homunculus controlling the country would explain so much. The change in the tone of royal decrees. The country’s steady shift toward a more militarized state. The pressure on her father to join the Royal Alchemists despite his obvious age and poor health. And, the terrible news that had reached her not a week after her father completed his research and sent her away with it.
Riza let her hand drop away from the knife. “Tell me more.”
‘Roy’ smiled again. “I had hoped you would say that.” He extended a hand. “Will you join me for a bit, Lady Hawk’s Eye?”
She regarded him for a minute and then lifted the bow from her neck, unstrung it, and secured it properly. That done, she reached to take his hand, gripping it firmly.
“My name is Riza.”