Actions

Work Header

Target

Chapter Text

Title: Target
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.”

Chapter Text

Title: First Vane: Spy
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 4, 2016
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


           Whispers followed him through the halls. Outwardly, he ignored them with steady steps and a stone face. Inwardly, he strained to hear every word.

           “Hasn’t been the same…”

           “…wife and child both… Nothing left but ash.”

           “Improvement, if you ask me… Always going on like that.”

           He imagined something very public, very painful, and very embarrassing for that last one. But, his imagination was where it would have to stay. He couldn’t be caught indulging in petty vengeance. It wouldn’t suit the persona he’d carefully crafted these last few months.

           Not that it was entirely an act. The best fictions needed a grain of truth, after all.

           Behind him, the whispers abruptly stopped.

           “Ah, there you are, Lord Hughes.”

           Lord Maes Hughes turned quickly at the familiar voice.

           King Bradley was approaching him with a jovial smile lifting his moustache.

           “Your highness.” Hughes bowed deferentially and, at a gesture from the king, fell into step beside him.

           “How goes the dragon hunt?” Bradley’s tone was light. As though he were asking about a sport hunt.

           It made it easy for Hughes to fold his face into a frown. “Badly. The dragon slayers thought they had it cornered in the mountains, but it vanished.” His frown deepened. “I warned them this beast was clever.”

           In a fiery rant that had guaranteed they would dismiss his warnings as the ravings of a man driven mad with grief. But, he warned them.

           “Mmm.” Bradley nodded thoughtfully. “It’s eluded even the Royal Guard and our alchemists more than once. Dragons are canny opponents.”

           “Too canny,” Hughes growled. “But, the trail isn’t cold yet. I’ve sent word to search for caves—”

           Bradley held up a hand, face suddenly serious, and Hughes fell silent. “I know you feel strongly about this, Lord Hughes,” Bradley began. “The loss of your family and your ancestral home is a terrible one.”

           Honestly, the manor was no great loss. Home was with his girls.

           “But, there’s no need to continue in the same manner that has failed again and again,” Bradley continued. “Call the dragon slayers back. I believe it’s time for a new plan.”

           Hughes felt a stab of unease.

           “Your Highness… I…”

           Bradley was abruptly all jovial good cheer again. “Don’t worry.” He clapped Hughes on the shoulder. “I won’t entrust this assignment to anyone else. But, it’s time to consult with some of our other resources.” He turned. “I’ll send for you once they’ve been contacted.”

           Then, he was striding away down the hall.

           Hughes watched him, stiff and silent. So, Bradley was finally tired of his failures. And, sooner than he had expected.

           After a minute, Hughes squared his shoulders and continued the way he had been going. The easy part of this gambit had just ended.

           Well, never let it be said he’d run from a challenge.

           He paused to look out a window facing east and pictured a little village just beyond the mountains, nestled against the border.

           ‘Watch after my girls, Roy.

Chapter Text

Title: Interlude: Unravelling
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 13, 2016
Warnings: None
Genre/Continuity: Fantasy alternate universe.
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


 

“A homunculus.” It was a statement and a question in one as Riza studied her unusual companion across their small campfire. A fire her companion had lit with a soft breath. Its light threw eerie shadows over the walls of the cave that was their shelter. 

But, it was light enough to get a closer look at the human-shaped dragon who called himself Roy. Hair as obsidian as the scales of his dragon form was his only distinguishing feature. He had an average build and dressed in clothes styled much like her own beneath a long, black cloak. Sensible wear for the terrain and nothing that would mark him as anything but human. 

Except for the light she had seen in his eyes and the fact that he could supposedly sense that her king was a homunculus.

At her question, Roy nodded. “I first sensed him five years ago.”

Riza started. “But, you didn’t do anything for four years.”

Roy’s lips quirked. “Dragon and human relations are strained enough without us assassinating kings. And,” he shrugged, “homunculi aren’t common, but there are one or two every generation. They’re dangerous, but their nature usually betrays them quickly and a master alchemist makes an end to them.” Roy’s eyes darkened then, and he stared into the flames. “I had no idea that knowledge had been lost.”

“Lost?” Riza looked at him in confusion. Homunculi had been confined to brief, terrifying excerpts in her father’s alchemy texts, but they were there. 

Roy met her gaze and offered her a small smile. “You’re the first person I’ve met who didn’t stare at me like I was mad when I broached the topic.” The smile widened a bit. “I suspect your education must have been better than most.”

Riza considered that. “You don’t think that’s an accident. No more than a homunculus being king.”

“I wish it was,” Roy’s face grew serious again, “but it’s too much at once.” He held up a finger. “The knowledge of homunculi is lost.” Another finger came up. “A homunculus is installed as king.” He raised a third finger. “And, your country begins an unprecedented series of wars with its neighbors.” Roy dropped his hand. “The last isn’t uncommon. Homunculi, one way or another, feed on human lives. It’s how very careful he’s been.”

“The king only initiates wars where the odds are in Amestris’ favor,” said Riza, slowly puzzling it out. “If he were ruled by his need for human lives, he wouldn’t care which side had more casualties.”

“Exactly.” 

It was enormous. It was so much beyond the mission she had originally undertaken. But, Riza knew she couldn’t, wouldn’t back out now.

“So, what do you plan to do?”

Roy smiled again. “There are some people I need you to meet. Are you rested enough to continue?” 

The cave, as it turned out, was part of a massive system that wound beneath the mountains. A surprisingly hospitable cave system that more favored the warren of a giant animal than the craggy, damp caverns Riza had expected. There was even a faint trickle of fresh air from some distant shaft. As she followed Roy and the ball of fire he’d conjured at his fingertips, Riza ran a hand along the nearest wall. It was smooth with a fine, regular texture almost like…

“Alchemy?”

Roy half-turned. “Yes. These caves were transmuted by generations of dragons. There are caverns large enough to sleep in our true forms and deep enough to stay comfortably warm through the winter months.”

So, dragons had other ways of hiding than their surprising human forms. But, that realization paled in the face of the one Roy had less directly given her.

“Dragons can use alchemy?”

Roy started walking again. “Yes.” He lifted his right hand with its flickering flame over his shoulder a bit. “This is alchemy.”

Riza started. “Flame alchemy.”

The science her father had devoted his life to mastering. A difficult and delicate balance of controlling the air itself. One that the slightest mistake could turn deadly.

Her father had found beauty in it. Riza had seen only death and found other ways to master the air. More mundane, more practical. And, just as deadly, though never so fickle. 

She found no particular beauty in her archery. Only necessity.

Now, she could only stare at the conjured – transmuted – flames and remember the night the Capital had burned. Remember the dragon – Roy – crouched above her, breathing in a great gulp of air before exhaling in flames.

“Dragons,” she began slowly, “don’t breathe fire. They transmute the air and ignite it somehow.”

The grin Roy flashed over his shoulder was fanged and approving.

Riza’s eyes narrowed. “You’re enjoying this.” 

“The chance to speak with someone so well-educated and quick-minded?” There was something softer in the grin this time. “I suppose I am.”

Riza felt a vague, fluttery feeling she couldn’t identify. It was a feeling that stayed with her deep into the mountain.

Chapter Text

Title: Second Vane: Other Resources
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 13, 2016
Warnings: None
Genre/Continuity: Fantasy alternate universe.
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


            When King Bradley had mentioned “other resources”, Hughes had expected knights or Royal Alchemists. He had not expected... this.

            “Ah, Lord Hughes!” The king was waiting for him in a small conference chamber, standing in front of a man in an imposing, spiked suit of armor. “I’d like for you to meet the Elric brothers.”

            Brothers?

            Bradley shifted, and Hughes finally saw the boy sitting at the table that dominated the room. Dressed in a long, red cloak, he looked no older than ten with bright blond hair and even more startling gold eyes to match.

            The eyes were what gave him away. The face was young, but the eyes were somehow old.

            Like Roy with his ancient eyes.

            The unbidden comparison had Hughes quickly reassessing as he allowed a small frown to appear on his face. Looking from the armored man to the boy, he said, “One of them seems very young, Your Highness.”

            Bradley only smiled while the blond boy visibly bristled. “Young but incredibly skilled as alchemists.”

            Ah, that was why the boy reminded him of Roy. Alchemists, whether dragons or humans, were another breed entirely.

            “Alchemists?”

            “Yes, alchemists.” The blond boy had apparently reached the limit of what must be very limited patience. He threw himself away from the table and clapped his hands together before slamming them against the stone floor in a burst of blue-white light. Then, he rose, drawing a crackling form with him. As the light faded, he wrapped his gloved right hand around the haft of a newly formed spear and shot Hughes a challenging look.

            “Impressive,” Hughes allowed. “But, when dealing with a dragon…” Even wounded and grounded, Roy was deadly in close quarters. Hughes knew that better than most.

            But, the blond boy only offered a feral smile. “Wouldn’t want to damage the castle. Give me an open field, and I’ll show you what I can really do,” he said.

            That sounded ominous.

            And, Bradley was still smiling.

            “I’ve already seen one such demonstration, and it was most impressive,” he said. He turned away from the Elrics to face Hughes fully. “Given young Edward’s incredible skill, I’ve decided to grant him a position among the Royal Alchemists and assign him to you for the foreseeable future.”

            Judging by the blond boy – Edward’s – suddenly pole-axed expression, that little detail hadn’t been mentioned before. Behind Bradley’s back, he shot the armored man – his brother? – a frantic look.

            Interesting. Either the prospect of working with Hughes wasn’t appealing or it was the appointment as a Royal Alchemist the kid didn’t like. Well, then they were all stuck.

            “Thank you, your Highness,” said Hughes. “I’ll use them well.”

            My, the kid had a really horrible glare.

            “I have every faith in all of you,” said Bradley. He clasped his hands behind his back. “Have me informed once you’ve devised a new plan of attack.”

            That said, he strode out the door without a backward glance.

            Hughes looked back toward Edward. The boy’s eyes were narrowed, his jaw clenched tight. Hughes had the sudden, sinking feeling that this was going to be an entirely different kind of trouble than he had expected.

 

Chapter Text

Title: Third Vane - Allies
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 9, 2017
Warnings: None
Genre/Continuity: Fantasy alternate universe.
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


             Riza wasn’t sure what she had been expecting after two days - by Roy’s reckoning - inside the alchemy-crafted dragon caves.  Roy had led her past underground waterfalls and vents that hummed with the susurrations of enormous breaths rising from below.  She had walked over sleeping dragons, camped above them by the light of alchemy-fed fires.  Perhaps miles above them, perhaps only feet. 

            In contrast, the sleepy village nestled in the valley below was startlingly normal.  Pastureland spread out over the narrow valley floor dotted with sheep and cattle.  Smoke rose in lazy trickles from at least two dozen structures.

            Riza looked to Roy questioningly, wondering if this was their destination or only a supply point.  Then, stopped and looked instead at the low ridgeline ahead and then back to the mountain they’d slipped through. 

            “This is almost at the border,” she said.  “There aren’t any villages this high in the mountains.”

            “Of course not,” said Roy, smiling.  In the daylight, it highlighted pinched lines near his eyes, and Riza was reminded that he too had spent weeks as part of a frantic chase.  “It wouldn’t do for anyone to know where I’ve hid my people.”  Belying the tired lines around his eyes, he began to pick his way along a narrow path leading down with his usual grace.  “There are vents here too to bring up warm air from below.  It keeps the valley habitable even in the depths of winter.”

            “Also built by dragons?” Riza asked as she followed him.

            “No.”  Roy raised an arm to wave a quick pattern in the air, and Riza saw that a small group was gathering at the edge of the village.  “I proposed the idea, but it’s the humans I found who made it work.”

            The people who met them at the village entrance – Roy’s people? – were a varied lot.  At the forefront was a lanky blond man with a lazy slouch and sharp eyes.  Beside him stood a stocky redhead and a tall, older man with gray hair and a narrow face.

            “That was a long trip,” said the blond man, straightening.  “We were starting to think someone managed to put an arrow in you.”

            Roy grinned.  “The Lady Hawk’s Eye here very nearly did, but she was willing to be persuaded against it.”

            Three sets of eyes focused on Riza.

            She squared her shoulders and met their gazes.  “My name is Riza.”  Roy seemed to know her family name - a mystery she meant to pry out of him eventually - but there was no need to offer it to anyone else.  “I intended to kill the dragon who attacked the Capital.”  She glanced at Roy.  “But, he made a convincing argument for having good intentions.” 

            “He’s good at that,” muttered the shorter, stocky man. 

            “Kill him?” asked the blond.  He started and jerked his head toward Roy while pointing at Riza.  “So, she’s the one who—!”

            He was immediately elbowed by the stocky redhead.  “Later,” he said.  Then, he inclined his head toward Riza.  “Heymans Breda.”

            “Oh, right.  Jean Havoc,” said the blond, idly rubbing his abused ribs.

            “Vato Falman,” said the older man who had been quiet until that point.

            Riza nodded to each of them in turn.

            “Where’s Fuery?” asked Roy.

            “Taking care of the messenger bird that just got in,” said Breda.  “There’s a message from your friend in the Capital.”

            Roy’s eyes sharpened.  “Let me see it.”

            Riza soon found herself inside a small inn with a crackling fireplace.  It was the largest building in the settlement and clearly a frequent gathering place for the group’s private meetings given the way the proprietor had nodded to them and ducked into the back.
           
            Roy had positioned himself by the fire to read the slip of parchment brought in by a small man with dark hair and an earnest face, Fuery apparently.  Whatever was in the message left Roy frowning faintly, but his face slid into a smirk when he caught her watching him. 

            “It seems our target is taking some new steps to find me,” he said.  “But, nothing too worrying yet.”

            His men seemed to take it more seriously, nodding grimly.

            “It was too much to hope that they’d keep using the same tactics,” said Breda.   “So, what’s he planning?”

            “The king has called in outside alchemists, apparently.”  Roy shrugged, but the lines around his eyes were deeper.  “There wasn’t any description beyond ‘unusual’.”

            “Unusual and alchemists.  That doesn’t sound good,” said Havoc.

            Breda grimaced and nodded.  “I’ll draft some messages to let everyone know to keep a lookout.”

            “We’ll spread the word around the village.”  Havoc gestured to himself, Falman, and Fuery.  Then, he looked to Breda.  “I’m making a supply run soon, so come up with some copies I can pass around.”

            Breda nodded then glanced toward Roy as the group began to break up.  Riza followed his gaze and was just in time to catch the dragon-turned-man rubbing at his temple. 

            Breda pretended he hadn’t seen it.  “I can walk the lady here to her quarters,” he offered, indicating Riza.

            Hand slipping away as though he had only been straightening his cloak, Roy inclined his head.  “Very well.”  He extended a hand and passed Breda another strip of parchment.  “Please deliver this to Lady Gracia as well.”  Then, he focused on Riza.  “If you need anything, let Breda know.”

            Riza nodded.  Roy wasn’t the only one who was tired.  And, she probably looked quite a bit worse than her inhuman ex-quarry.  The journey through the mountain had been more pleasant than it had any right to be, but she had still spent weeks on the road without anything resembling proper lodging. 

            At a gesture from Breda, she followed him out into the village.  Evening was slowly falling, and people were busy finishing the last tasks of the day.  Up close, the settlement still seemed normal enough.  If one didn’t look even closer.

            “So many people.” 

            Varied people.  Varied clothing.  Too much variation for a remote mountain village.

            Breda, smirked faintly.  “Every dragon hoards something.  Roy prefers people.”

            She  arched a brow, and he sobered.

            “I’m serious,” he said.  “But, Roy never takes it too far.  He asks.  And, he looks out for anyone that’s his.”  Something in Breda’s face darkened.  “It’s more than I can say for some generals.”  Reading the question in her face, he added, “Let’s just say that the king’s new idea for a standing army anyone can join isn’t as nice as it sounds.”

            Before Riza could ask more, Breda stopped at a small, stone dwelling and rapped on the door.

            The woman who answered his knock presented another small mystery.  Because it was immediately obvious that the Lady Gracia might properly deserve the title Roy had given her.  It wasn’t her plain dress or her simple, short hair.  It was something more subtle.  A turn of speech here, a genteel gesture there.

            Breda offered no clues, introducing her only as Gracia Hughes while he discreetly passed her the note from Roy.  Then, he turned to Riza.  “I stay over there,” he said, indicating another small dwelling across the pathway.  “If you need anything, I’ll be there, drawing up messages.” 

            Once he had left, Gracia smiled at Riza.  “Are you hungry?”

            So it was that Riza found herself eating with Gracia and her three year old daughter, Elicia.  It was as pleasant as it was surreal after the trip that had brought her there.  But, Riza let herself be pulled along with the flow of conversation.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to resume sorting out of the chain of mysteries Roy had given her.

Chapter Text

Title: Interlude: Mysteries
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 13, 2017
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


Edward Elric was terrifying. So terrifying Hughes was starting to want to adopt him.

Which probably explained a lot about his friendship with Roy. 

Mind you, he wasn’t drawn to them because they were terrifying. It was why they were terrifying. Because they had to be. To protect themselves, and, more, to protect those they cared about.

And, Edward Elric cared about his brother. Something he thought he was hiding. But, even as he clapped his hands and turned the practice grounds into a seething horror of hands and spikes, he was always checking his brother’s position. He relaxed fractionally when the king left - and wasn’t that interesting - but he clearly didn’t trust Hughes much either.

Fair enough. Given Edward was planning to present Roy’s head to the king, the distrust was mutual.

“Well?” Edward’s shout drew him out of his musing, and Hughes looked over the mutilated training ground.

“Impressive,” he said honestly. And, terrifying. If the boy ever caught Roy on the ground... “How high can you reach with those?”

Edward’s brows arched up into his hair then came down in a furrow.

“Twenty or thirty feet if I don’t have time to prepare,” he answered. “With time to build a proper support, sixty, maybe eighty feet.”

Good to know.

Hughes nodded gravely. And, made a snap decision to lay a card on the table.

“So, how many circles are you using to perform that many transmutations?” 

The brows went up again. This time, a smug look followed them.

“None.” Edward held up both gloved hands, palms out. His white gloves were plain linen, unmarked.

“And, under the gloves?” Hughes pressed. “Or woven into them?”

Edward’s armored brother rattled in surprise.

“Are you an alchemist, Lord Hughes?” he asked in that child’s voice of his. Which was a mystery Hughes was still puzzling out. No child that young should be able to even move that armor let alone fill it out.

“No,” said Hughes, “but I try to keep my eyes and ears open.”

A habit he’d long cultivated but only recently had to use. And, one which apparently impressed Edward.

But, not enough to stop his next taunt.

“That’s rare.”

True enough. But, Hughes still fixed him with a stern glare. It wouldn’t do to break his carefully constructed facade. Not here. 

“I don’t believe I got an answer,” he said.

Edward’s eyes narrowed, and he reached for a glove. Then, hesitated, darting a glance at his brother before ripping off first one glove and then the other and tossing them to Hughes. That done, he held both hands out, palms up.

Hughes almost dropped the gloves. 

While Edward’s left hand was normal enough, his right was the smooth silver of worked steel. 

Automail.

Hughes had only heard of it. It was a rare craft - alchemy or clever metalwork or both - the secrets of which the smiths guarded jealously. Few people had met an automail smith. And, fewer still were gifted with their work.

“I’d like those back when you’re done,” said Edward, and Hughes realized he was staring.

He focused his attention instead on the gloves, mind whirling. Where had the boy gotten automail? What had happened that he needed it? 

The gloves offered no answers. To those or his earlier questions. He couldn’t see or feel any patterns in their weave inside or out. Although, there could be transmutation circles hidden in some inner layer.

Why though? To preserve trade secrets?

So many mysteries to unravel. Hughes was sure excitement wasn’t what he should be feeling, but couldn’t stop the thrill of it.

“Hmm.” He offered the gloves back. “Interesting. So, what do you know about dragons?”

Edward accepted his gloves and tugged them on before leaning back against one of his alchemy-crafted spires and crossing his arms. “They can grow up to three hundred feet long, fly, and naturally use alchemy,” he rattled off.

Hughes couldn’t hide his start. “Use alchemy?” It wasn’t hard to fill the words with horror. How did the boy know?

“How else do you think they create fire?” said Edward. “Magic?” He huffed. Then, he straightened as his strange golden eyes lit with an unholy glee. “But, you already knew it was alchemy, didn’t you?”

Hughes felt cold, but he forced his tongue to work. “I prefer to deal in proven facts myself. Alchemy is proven.” 

“And, something proved to you dragons use it,” Edward insisted. He crossed his arms again. “I’ve got my old man’s notes where he studied dragons in other countries. Where did you learn about them?”

“My own observations,” said Hughes, thinking fast. Someone had studied dragons? Had found any still roaming openly to study? “How can anything that big disappear like it does? It’s vanished on clear days with no water deep enough to hide in for leagues. And, if it burrows the conventional way, there’s no evidence left behind.”

Edward nodding, looking thoughtful as he inclined his head toward Alphonse.

“The dragon could be creating tunnels with alchemy,” the armored boy allowed. “Or doing something atmospheric while flying. A heat shimmer maybe?”

“That would match the fire breathing,” Edward agreed. “Or,” he dragged the word out slowly, suddenly scowling, “it could be a physical transformation.”

Hughes’ heart skipped a beat.

Alphonse released a humming sound. “You’re still thinking of a color change to blend in?”

Hughes was sure all this sudden speeding and slowing was bad for his heart. 

“It’s the only way to make sense of that part of the old man’s notes!” Edward snapped so vehemently Hughes knew he was listening to an old argument.

Alphonse only bobbed his helmet, staying silent.

“A transformation? And, what notes?” Hughes asked in the sudden quiet.

Edward waved a hand. “Our father’s notes. He wrote them in a cipher, and we’re still not sure of all the meanings.” He snorted. “But, if you take the words literally, he thought dragons could turn into humans.”


It was late evening when Maes Hughes made his way through the tunnel that led from the capitol’s central cathedral to the quiet, fog-laden cemetery behind it. The soft clop of his boots against cut stone was the only sound. Then, it too was gone as he stepped out onto damp grass. 

Automatically, his feet carried him past weathered stones to a much newer pair situated in the shade of an ancient oak. Hughes looked at the elegant lines of the two stones and the words engraved across them and prayed they were still a lie. That his family was still safe and well.

There was a soft scuffing to his right, and he lifted his head to see the old gardener approach. The man nodded gravely, face folded in wrinkles.

“I’m still looking after them for you, Lord Hughes.”

“My thanks.” Hughes pressed a small packet into the man’s weathered hands.

The man bobbed his head again and shuffled away. He would finish his last duties before dark fell and then be off to a favorite tavern where the letter would pass to another of Roy’s quiet, unobtrusive couriers. 

And, soon enough, he would see what Roy thought of the Elrics and their surprising knowledge of dragons.

Chapter Text

Title: Fourth Vane: Revelations
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 12, 2018
Rating: G
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


An arrow thocked into the head of a thick straw dummy, and the blond man who had introduced himself days ago as Jean Havoc whistled.

“The Hawk’s Eye, huh?” Riza heard him mutter to Breda.

It was her fourth such arrow, but not particularly impressive. There was a wind coming down the mountains that made finer shots difficult. Not that she often needed to be more precise, but one never knew what life might bring. Especially if she found herself targeting a homunculus.

Admittedly, Roy hadn’t asked her to do such a thing. But, it wasn’t hard to guess why he might want an archer with her skills.

Although, no single arrow would ever be enough to kill a homunculus. Stun it for a few precious moments maybe. But, the references she had read always spoke of their near immortality.

Of course, Roy might only want to expose the king for what he was and leave the Royal Alchemists to kill him. But, that plan felt sloppy, too open to failure.

Another arrow went wide by fractions.

Also sloppy.

Riza frowned and lowered her bow. The wind eddied around her, channeled down rocky crags in wild gusts. But, there should be at least the echo of a pattern in it, in how the mountain guided it.

So, she waited. She felt how it flowed around her, how it tugged at her clothes. Ears listened, catching a distant moaning and a closer whistle.

“Er, are you—” Havoc started but stopped abruptly as though shushed.

Riza ignored him and focused only on the wind.

There.

She pulled a fresh arrow from her quiver, nocked it, and raised her bow. Then, she waited, listening and feeling.

A fresh gust swept over her and another, and in the instant after them, she released the arrow. This time, it flew true into one of the target’s tiny painted eyes.

“Magnificent.” The voice was almost whispered. And, closer than she had thought any of the onlookers were.

Riza half-turned.

Roy was behind her, a smile on his lips and his dark eyes filled with honest admiration.

“You read the wind masterfully, Lady Hawk’s Eye.”

“Well enough to stun a homunculus?” she dared to ask.

His smile widened, showing a glint of teeth. “And, more than that with a properly treated arrow,” he said.

Surprise washed through her at the implication. Was there a substance that could kill a homunculus?

The question was on her lips when a shout went up in the distance. Everyone turned to see the baby-faced Fuery running toward them, waving one arm frantically in the air. He skidded to a stop in front of Roy.

“S—Sir,” he started, visibly out of breath. “A m—message from Lord Hughes.” He held out a sheet of parchment, longer than the last one Riza had seen. “He used the urgent code.”

Wordlessly, Roy took the offered message, a frown on his face. He made no move to step away or wave the small group off even though it was obvious all eyes were fixed on him. Not that it mattered, Riza mused. Given what she had already heard and seen of how this little band operated, the letter was likely written in some kind of cipher.

So, she watched and waited with the rest of them.

Obviously reading quickly, Roy’s face was stern at first, then his eyes brightened in a flash of amusement before just as quickly widening in surprise. He visibly read and re-read.

Then, he looked to his men.

“I need to go to the Capital.”

Havoc’s jaw dropped. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Very,” Roy agreed. “But, it’s even more dangerous for the… youngsters Hughes has found.”

Breda seemed to find his pause as telling as Riza did. “How come you personally need to get some kids out of the Capital?”

Roy looked into the distance. “Because I’ve never met a human with gold eyes. Not a full-blooded one anyway.”

Silence.

“Wait…” Havoc was the first to break it. “You mean these are dragon kids?” he yelped.

“Likely.” Roy nodded. “Or, considering some of the other details, they may be half-blooded and unaware of it. Which is even more dangerous.”

“Because they could change into dragons without meaning to right on some crowded street in the Capital.” Breda’s face was grim.

“Or,” Roy was even grimmer, “right in front of our target. These boys are the alchemists the king has hired to exterminate me. Hughes included a description this time.”

“He’s using children?” a horrified Fuery almost whispered.

“They’re apparently extraordinarily talented,” said Roy. “Not surprising given dragons’ affinity for alchemy.”

He stepped a few feet away, pacing in agitated thought.

Riza watched the dragon in human form, filing the reality that he wasn’t the only hidden dragon away to examine later. Roy’s movements were sharp and short, almost visibly devising and discarding ideas. Suddenly, his head raised and he was looking into her eyes.

“Lady Hawk’s Eye,” he began, “would you be willing to accompany me?” His lips quirked. “After all, there’s some critical information toward my whereabouts that you discovered while on your own in the mountains.”

Riza stared at him, absorbing the irony of the lie within a truth he was suggesting. It was clever yet simple.

And, with good fortune, it would work.

So, she nodded her agreement.

Somehow, some time, in the last few days and without any conscious decision, she’d already made her commitment to this mad venture.

Chapter Text

Title: Convergence
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 13, 2019
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.


Edward Elric rubbed at sleep grimy eyes as he plodded through the early morning streets of the Capital behind Lord Hughes. Al clanked at his side. The man had woken them - really, only him considering Al's "condition" - at dawn with the news that an informant of his had returned with details on how the dragon escaped its last pursuers. Hughes seemed unusually intense, so Ed hoped that was a good sign.

He wasn’t quite sure what to make of Lord Hughes. The man wasn’t anything like he’d expected.

He was smart, for one thing.

Not an alchemist, but Ed never held that against anyone. No one back home knew alchemy either, but that didn’t make them stupid. They were experts in their crops and their livestock and their smithies.

Just like Lord Hughes was an expert in something.

Not fighting. Though Ed was sure he knew a little of that too. You didn’t survive Teacher’s training without learning when a man had hidden knives.

No. It was more the way Lord Hughes was always watching, studying. He had an incredible memory for details, a knack for picking up on patterns, and an open mind toward the seeming impossible.

Trying not to look as worried as he felt, Ed dared a glance at Al. Hughes might be one of the few people they’d met who could see through their brazen bluff about Al's armor. He had thrown together a few backup explanations involving automail and esoteric alchemy, but they were weak. He and Al just needed to get this job done. Find the dragon, see if it really was the next best thing to a Philosopher’s Stone, and then, hopefully, get Al’s body back.

And, if Hughes was around to see all that, maybe killing his family’s murderer would be enough payment for his silence. If not… Ed did know a few things about dodging knives, and more than a few corners of Amestris remained hidden from official eyes. Like Rush Valley.

"Here we are," Hughes' voice pulled him out of his haphazard planning, and Ed looked up to see that they had stopped in front of a small tavern.

He nodded and followed the man inside. They slipped through a sparse crowd and, after a quiet word from Hughes to a man Ed assumed to be the tavern's owner, into a back room accessible through a door that nearly blended into the wall.

Inside, in a room dimly lit by a single lantern, a cloaked figure was seated at a narrow table. When they entered, the figure rose immediately, revealing a woman with blond hair pinned up at the back of her head, wearing a no-nonsense expression that instantly reminded Ed of Teacher. She was armed too, and probably not only with the bow and arrows he could see clearly resting by her seat. He felt himself unconsciously straighten. This was someone to be taken seriously, someone who had real information.

He wasn't wrong. After the obligatory introductions, the woman, Riza, began her account of finding the dragon in the mountains. Or what she thought was the dragon.

"And then, my arrow passed through it, and the dragon vanished," she finished. "Fading like heat shimmer in the distance as you walk closer."

Ed and Al looked at each other.

"A mirage," said Al, just a bit smugly. "Heat shimmer."

"Yeah, yeah," Ed groused. Then, he reached up to rap his brother's metal shoulder companionably. "The question is: where was the dragon? How could he project the mirage so far?"

"Or was it far?" Al mused.

"Ha!" Ed crowed. "If they can change color for camouflage, like I suggested--"

"Then, it might not have been far away at all," Hughes finished, frowning in thought. "Though it will be long gone by now." A sigh hissed through his teeth.

"But, we know a little bit more about its capabilities," said Al, obviously trying to cheer the man up. He tilted his helmet toward Riza. “Thank you.”

She offered a small but sincere smile in return.

Surprisingly, Hughes shot him a quick, rare smile too. It looked natural on his face, and Ed had the sudden thought that this man had smiled a lot. Once.

“You make a good point,” he said. “And, I already have people watching for any sign of it. A monster like that won’t hide long,” he added darkly.

As they left the tavern, leaving Hughes to pay his informant, Ed ran over everything they’d learned. It matched their speculations and might even explain some of their father’s stranger notes.

But, he felt like he was missing something obvious.

Al voiced it. “Why do you think the dragon hid?” he asked, the bulk of his armor clearing an easy path through the increasingly busy streets. “There weren’t that many hunters. If this dragon is so vicious, why not attack?” He paused a minute. “Do you think it’s two different dragons?”

Ed blinked and then scowled. That was a good point. Dragons were rare, nearly extinct. Most people thought they were myths until this one had attacked. Which meant dragons didn’t make a habit of burning cities to the ground. On the other hand, it meant that seeing two in such a short time frame was unlikely. But, not impossible.

“Or something set it off in the Capital incident,” he ventured. “Someone got too close to its hiding spot, and it felt cornered?” Then, he tossed his arms up. “But, why would it have been there in the first place?”

“Why indeed?” a new voice put in to his left. “Maybe the dragon was desperate for another reason.”

“What?” Ed snorted. “Someone dug in to where it was hibernating like a bear?" He stopped. "Wait, that might be possible. Do you--?”

It was only then that he realized he was talking to a complete stranger. He jumped back, bumping into Al in the process.

A dark-haired man in a long, dark cloak was standing there, looking at him with a thin smirk of a smile. "My apologies," he said. Ed didn't think he looked very apologetic. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation."

His tone was chiding, and Ed opened his mouth to snap a retort when the man continued, quietly.

"But, yes, you're right. Dragons do hibernate."

What?

He was still giving the man his best flat glare when Al spoke up, "Er, how do you know, Sir?"

"Experience." The man gave Al an intent look before his face softened slightly. "And, though limited, I do have experience with your situation as well. But, that's not something we should speak of here." He turned abruptly and swept into a narrow alley between two buildings.

Ed stared after him.

Al's armor rattled. "Brother, do you think--?"

Ed threw himself into the alley. "Hey, wait!"

He could see the man's back ahead of him, a patch of darker color against the already dim light where the morning sun wasn't quite high enough to peek around the buildings.

The darkness deepened. He stumbled. Did he trip on something?

Nevermind. He had to catch that guy. The weird guy who might know about dragons and maybe Al too. Or he thought he did. Neither was good. He had to--

Darkness flowed in at the edges of his vision, and everything faded away.