It was only a short while until they got to headquarters, but even in that small amount of time, Roy was amazed that Edward Elric had still somehow managed to acquire a large amount of food, which he was digging into with gusto. Al sat next to his brother on the couch, reading a magazine.
Roy entered the room and held the door open for his subordinate, closing it firmly afterward. He went over to the two boys. "With the amount you eat, Fullmetal, it's a wonder why you're still so short."
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING-" he stopped speaking when he looked at Roy. He sprayed crumbs down his shirt as he fell back on the couch laughing hysterically.
"Brother! You're being rude!" Al said, in a futile attempt to stop the tide.
Ed held his stomach, which had begun to ache during his laughing. "Oh god!" he said between tears, "You look ridiculous! You look like someone took a Mustang doll and drew boobs on it!"
Roy's eyes tightened and he pulled out a chair and sat on it. "You know, Fullmetal, the original orders in the Adam Hill case were for you and your brother to be the ones investigating. So it could just have easily been you and your brother sitting here as females. Though I'm not sure exactly how that would work with your brother…" (The resulting mental image of Al Elric with pots welded to his chest was quickly banished by Roy into the deep depths of his mind.)
Shaking his head to clear it, Roy continued. "But since I managed convince the higher-ups that you would not be able to be back in time, I took it up personally, instead."
Sensing Ed's impending outburst, Al clamped a large empty gauntlet over his brother's mouth. "Thank you very much for that, sir," he said toward Roy, "We really appreciate your, uh, sacrifice on our behalf."
Roy nodded. "Thank you, Al. You seem to have gotten all the politeness in the family."
Ed finally managed to push his brother's hand away. "Yeah, whatever, Flamebutt. What exactly do you want us to do?"
Holding out a hand to the blond behind him, Roy was handed a sheaf of papers. He put them on the table (avoiding the dishes of food) and slid them toward the brothers. "These are Adam Hill's notes. We need your help decoding them, so I can figure out how to reverse this."
Taking the notes and flipping through them, Ed said, "All right, we can do that." He looked up at Mustang then the blond behind him. "Is Havoc our liaison or something? Is that why you're here instead of Hawkeye?" The blond stiffened at this, and frowned.
"Brother!" Al whispered.
Ed frowned. "What?" he squinted at the lieutenant, "Havoc, when did you start growing your hair long?"
Al hid his head in shame. In contrast, Roy was smirking up a storm. "For someone so smart, Fullmetal, you really are completely clueless sometimes."
"I'm not Havoc, Edward," Riza said, in a clear but annoyed tone, "I am Riza Hawkeye."
Eyes widening, Ed flushed white and stared at the blond in shock. "Oh god!" he said, "I guess I forgot that you got switched too, lieutenant. I'm really sorry!"
Riza sighed. "It's fine, Edward. You aren't the first to make that mistake." She shot a glare at Mustang, which he ignored. "I suppose when you see a tall blond man near the colonel it makes sense to assume it's Havoc."
Al took the stack of papers off the table and flipped through them. His gasp caused Ed to turn toward him. Ed's eyes widened and he pulled the pack out of Al's hands. He gave a low whistle. "This guy was into some sick shit."
"Yes," Roy said, all traces of humor gone from his voice. His lips were set in a grim line. "He was a deeply disturbed man. I'll spare you from hearing the list of items we found in his warehouse."
Paging through the pack, Ed passed several detailed anatomical drawings of a severed human arm that ended in an eagle talon. "He didn't actually make any of these did he?" Ed paused on a drawing of a man with wings. "A lot of this is basically human transmutation. There's no way you can cover the Equivalent Exchange on most of these, without ending up like Al and me."
Roy steepled his fingers together and leaned forward. "Indeed, Fullmetal, which is why what I am saying to you now will not go beyond this room." He took a breath to steady himself. "Adam Hill was found with a Philosopher's Stone. It's likely one of the batch that Dr. Marco made during the Ishbal War."
Ed scowled while Al clenched the metal under his hands. "So the goddamn government gave this sick bastard a Stone?!" Ed said, in a low angry whisper.
Hawkeye shook her head. "No, they wouldn't risk the bad blood it would cause. We think Hill got them indirectly through another source. Right now we are investigating all of the contractors the government has worked with in the past five years."
There was a grating sound as Ed tightly clenched his automail fist. "I want to help you get this guy!"
"No," Roy said very firmly. "No, I need you here figuring out how to reverse what was done to Riza and I." He held up a hand to forestall the junior alchemist's objection. "No, Edward. That is final. You and your brother have the most experience with human transmutation, so you are the only ones who can do this. I will not let Riza suffer with this."
Riza blinked in surprise. "Sir?"
Roy smiled and looked up at her. "You're not a bad looking man, Hawkeye, but I much prefer you with breasts." He turned back to Ed. "If you can switch me back too, I would, of course, appreciate that as well." He turned thoughtful. "And with any luck, you might find some lead that will help you in your own quest."
Al nodded. "We'll do our best, sir," he said, "Is there a way to reach you since you're, er, incognito?"
"You can talk to any of my subordinates if you need anything. If by some chance you need to contact me right away you can call me at Hawkeye's. I'm staying with her."
There was a knock at the door. "Come in," Roy said, raising his voice so it'd be heard on the other side of the door.
The door swung open to reveal a very grim-faced Havoc. "Boss, Hawkeye…. There's been more murders."
"Are you sure these are connected to the Hill case?" Hawkeye asked.
Havoc nodded. "There's signs of alchemy being used there, and, well, I think you should just go see for yourselves…"
The crime scene was in yet another abandoned warehouse (Roy silently wondered just how many abandoned warehouses Central had).
They were stopped at the door by a stern looking warrant officer. "I'm sorry, lieutenant, but civilians are not allowed inside."
"Don't worry about that!" Roy said, grabbing Hawkeye's hand, "Sweetums here is my fiancee!"
Riza sighed and took an official looking document out of her coat pocket. "She is an outside consultant on this case. She is to be given access to all crime scenes, records and other materials related to the case by order of Colonel Roy Mustang."
The officer took the paper and scanned it briefly. He handed it back to Hawkeye and saluted. "Understood, sir!" he said, stepping out of the doorway, "The scene is towards the back. Oh, and congratulations on your engagement, sir!"
Feeling the vein start to throb in her head again, Hawkeye muttered a quick thank you and entered with Roy trailing behind her. Once out of earshot, Roy leaned close and said, "You know, I don't remember signing any orders recently, Hawkeye."
Hawkeye's face betrayed no emotion. "Circumstances, sir, among them your own laziness with paperwork, have forced me to become adept at forging your signature over the years."
"You know," Roy said, grinning, "Forging your fiancee's signature is against the law."
"So is shooting your fiancee," Riza countered, "And I've been thinking about doing that more and more recently." Roy quickly shut up after that.
The crime scene was a buzz of activity. Falman jotted down notes for Dr. Knox, and Breda worked on a plaster mold of a footprint just outside the back door. Fuery had a camera in his hand, but was hanging off to the side, looking decidedly ill.
No, what was unusual about the scene was the lack of bodies. Instead there were several statues in various states of repair, carved by what appeared to be a master-craftsman. Several of the statues were of animals, but there were a few humans, including two children. One of the statues lay on the ground. It wasn't until he saw Knox examining one of them that Roy realized that the statues were the bodies.
"What happened here?" Roy demanded, his colonel mask easily slipping into place.
Falman saluted and answered. "Several children were playing a game of tag in here, sir, when one bumped into a statue," he pointed to a fallen one with a cracked arm. "They got scared and ran to an adult when they noticed the blood."
Roy knelt near the statue, and ran a finger over the floor where dried blood had pooled under the cracked masonry. He rocked back on his heels. Hawkeye came up behind him and he heard her gasp in shock. "What happened to them?" she asked.
Knox straightened and groaned as he popped his back. "Near as I can tell, some lunatic transmuted their skin into stone," he said, frowning, "He froze their mouths shut, but left their nostrils clear so they could breathe."
Hawkeye's eyes widened. "You mean these people were alive when this was done to them?"
Nodding, Knox continued. "Yep. Even worse, the sick fuck had taped their eyes open beforehand, so that they had to watch the whole thing."
Fuery made a choking sound in the corner and turned paler. Roy took pity on the young officer. "Falman, you take Fuery out for some air, Breda, you take over camera duty." Breda took the camera from a distinctly grateful looking Fuery, who was escorted out by Falman.
"How long have they been like this, Knox?" Roy asked.
Knox looked over one of the child bodies. "I can't be sure without a full autopsy, but right now I'd say they've been like this for a few days, maybe a week at most. I think the animals have been dead longer."
"And how long were they trapped inside?"
Shining a flashlight in the face of the child, Knox said. "Again I can't be sure, but probably no more than 48 hours given the trauma the transmutation would cause to their bodies. I checked and they're all dead now. Though this one," he pointed at the cracked statue, "was alive this morning when the kids found them, but only barely."
"So in your professional opinion," Roy asked grimly, "You think Adam Hill was dead when these people were turned to stone?"
Knox nodded. "Yes. His body, or at least the remains of it, was lying on my autopsy table when these people were tortured."
"Hey, boss," Breda said, "We did find a note. It's over in a box where Fuery was."
Hawkeye walked over and retrieved the baggie containing the note. She handed it to Roy. "Falman figures it's in some language called Latin," Breda continued, "We have a call into Central University asking for a translator."
"Cancel that, Breda," Roy said, "I'll translate it myself."
Knox cocked an eyebrow, "You know Latin?"
"Of course, I learned it when…" Roy stopped himself. He couldn't very well tell them he learned Latin so he could decipher the tattoo on Hawkeye's back and learn the secrets of Flame Alchemy. "Er, I learned it when I was a child," he finished lamely.
"What does it say, sir?" Hawkeye asked.
Roy frowned and looked at it closely. "I'm a bit rusty, but I think it reads: Dear Flame Alchemitrix, Are you enjoying the gift of femininity God bestowed on you? How about the works of art I created in his name? The time is near when you are to come and bask in his glory yourself. Four days hence on the Ides at the twentieth hour, will be the time you will meet the Almighty. Show up outside Warehouse C near the western docks. Only you and the other bearer of God's gift are so chosen. All others must stay away or risk his wrath."
Everyone was silent for several moments after Roy finished reading. Finally, Breda broke the silence, "Damn, Boss, He's calling you out."
"Between all this religious bullshit, and this," Knox said, gesturing to the statues, "Mustang, you are dealing with some very deranged minds."
"That, Knox," Roy said grimly, letter clenched in his fist, "Is an understatement."
Two days later had Hawkeye going through a box of case documents at her kitchen table, and Roy pacing back and forth. Black Hayate sat on the couch, lazily watching the alchemist go from the front door to the hallway and back again.
"Sir," Hawkeye said in an exasperated tone, "The rug here might not be of the best quality, but I'd rather you not hasten its demise with your pacing."
Roy sighed and flopped down onto a chair opposite her. "I hate having to wait before battles. Whoever said waiting is the worst part of war was dead on the money."
Riza's eyes softened. "I know how hard it is. But worrying never helps."
He sighed and put his head in his hands. "It's not just the meeting either".
"What else is wrong then?" she asked.
Jerkily running a hand through his hair, Roy took a deep breath. "The Elrics called while you were out getting lunch. They-" he paused and took another deep breath to steady himself, "They've looked through Hill's notes and have come to the conclusion that nothing short of another philosopher's stone can change us back." He dropped his hand and almost glanced over at Riza, holding his breath in nervous anticipation of her reaction.
"Oh," was all she said. But her face spoke volumes, a myriad of emotions flitting across it quickly. Disappointment, fear, guilt, surprise, all were quick to come and go across her features. Finally, her emotions settled and she shrugged. "Well, there is no law that says a woman can't be Fuhrer."
Roy blinked in surprise. "You mean you'd be all right with staying a man forever?"
Riza shook her head. "Well, no, not really. But even as a man, I can still watch your back. I just have to bend down a bit in the process."
Smiling wanly, Roy said, "Being a woman for awhile has been fun, but I don't want to stay this way."
"I don't either," Riza said, "but considering what else this group has done…" She trailed off and looked down at the table, her thoughts no doubt filled with images of the bleeding statues.
Roy frowned. "Yeah, I guess we got off easy." They grew quiet for a moment, until Roy looked up at his lieutenant. "Riza, how are you doing with the new body? You seem to be handling this well, but lord knows you have a great poker face, so it's hard to tell just what you're thinking sometimes."
Riza didn't answer right away. She tidied the papers in front of her and finally looked up at Roy. "I'm not going to say it hasn't been difficult, because it has. But I am adjusting a bit at a time. It is nice not to have to worry about getting my period." Her smile grew impish. "Speaking of which, sir, has anyone talked to you yet about yours?" She giggled at Roy's horrified look.
"Lieutenant," Roy said, aghast, "I don't want to think about that and neither should you!"
She wagged her finger in his face. "You really should know about it, Roy, so you're prepared for when it happens."
Roy scowled. "Look, I know about periods okay? I grew up in a house full of women, and later in my life I learned a lot about it from observing you."
Raising an eyebrow, Riza gave him a curious look, "Oh, like what?"
"Rule number one among the men in our office," Roy said, grinning, "Do all your paperwork, and be extra nice to Hawkeye when she's PMSing."
Her eyes widened. "Wait," she said, horrified, "Are you saying the entire office knew my menstruation schedule?!"
Roy shrugged. "Pretty much. Didn't you notice there was always three days marked 'RP' marked on the calendar every month? It stands for 'Riza's Period.'"
"Breda told me that stood for the 'Rifle Proficiency' tests that HQ has every month!"
"Well, that's what we wanted you to think," he said, "We didn't think you'd appreciate the real meaning."
Riza crossed her arms and glared at him. "Well, I don't!" A sly smile blossomed on her face, "Well, I guess since I'm now a man, from now on they'll have to change the dates, but they can at least keep the 'RP' acronym."
Roy stared at her. "Why can they keep the acronym?"
Her smile grew wider. "Well, it can stand for 'Roy's Period' now can't it? I must say, I do not look forward to how emotional you're going to get when it's your time of the month."
He scowled, then stood and turned his back to her. "Get back to work, lieutenant," he said over his shoulder, before angrily resuming his pacing.
Riza smiled and picked up another report from the pile.
For the fifth time in an hour, Roy went over the plan in his mind. Breda, being their strategist, had theorized that the group would likely not set up the meeting here, instead Roy and Hawkeye would be taken elsewhere in a car, and probably blindfolded during the ride. Roy agreed with him that this was their enemies' most likely move, so the plan had been based around this scenario.
At first, he and Hawkeye were to play along, and do what the enemy asked. Meanwhile, Havoc and Breda would do their best to follow the car inconspicuously. At the scene, Havoc would set up his sniper equipment on a nearby rooftop and cover the front entrance. Breda was to standby and provide backup as needed. Meanwhile, Fuery would be monitoring them with a transmitter he'd put in Roy's left shoe, and Hawkeye's jacket pocket. Falman's job was to pour over maps of the area and find the best positions for Havoc and Breda.
While it did feel good to have a plan, Roy was anxious at the number of unknown variables in it. For instance, Havoc and Breda could very well lose the car among the hustle and bustle of Central's busy downtown. Also, the transmitters Fuery was using were new, and largely untested. There was no guarantee that he'd be able to hear anything while the car that picked them up was in motion.
The biggest flaw in the plan though, was the fact that his opponents were a bunch of religious fanatics. Roy knew from his own experience in the Ishbal War that the only thing you could predict about zealots was how unpredictable they are.
Roy was drawn out of his reverie by a hand on his arm. "They're coming," Riza said, having spied the car first with her namesake vision. Soon enough, he made out twin headlights moving slowly down the road toward the warehouse. The car pulled to a stop in front of them, and Roy was surprised to find it was a stretch limo.
The first person to emerge was a huge hulk of a man, heavily scarred and tattooed, and wielding a rifle. Roy promptly decided to call him "Tiny." The second person to emerge was smaller than the first, hunched over awkwardly, and covered from head to toe in dusty, faded gray clothing. Even his head was covered in hastily torn bandages. The only things not covered were his hands (which also held a rifle) and one single piercing yellow eye, which swept the area relentlessly looking for any threats. His creativity spent on "Tiny", Roy decided to simply name this goon "One-Eye."
The third figure to emerge was actually rather surprising. A small, plain-looking woman climbed out and stood between Tiny and One-Eye. She wore a neat dress and her hair was tied back in a bun. Overall, she looked like she'd be more at home in the company of the secretarial pool rather than the grizzled gun-bearing men beside her.
It was the woman who was the first to notice Roy and Hawkeye. She waved to them enthusiastically. "Hello, chosen! Welcome! Please come closer!" She made a "come here" gesture with her hands. Roy and his lieutenant exchanged bemused glances. With a last, deep breath, Roy strode forward to the woman…
Only to be stopped several feet short, by two guns being leveled at his chest. "Oh, I forgot!" the woman exclaimed clapping her hands, "I'm sorry but could you please leave your guns and gloves at your feet?" Roy stripped off his gloves, while a clatter on the ground told him Hawkeye had dropped her gun. "Thank you!" the woman bubbled happily. "Now please slowly step over here without making any sudden movements. I'm afraid my companions can be rather skittish."
They did as they were told. Roy looked up at the heavily-worn face of Tiny as he passed. Skittish would be the last word he'd use to describe the stern bruiser.
The woman smiled when Roy and Riza came close to her. "Oh, it is so good to meet you! But where are my manners, I haven't introduced myself at all!" She bowed. "My name is Evelyn Hirsh, and I am but a humble disciple of his Holiness." Roy frowned when he heard the woman's name. It sounded familiar for some reason he couldn't put his finger on.
Evelyn turned and reached into the car, returning with two long strips of black fabric. "I'm sorry, but we will have to blindfold you. It's for safety reasons, you understand." She tied the cloth around Hawkeye's head first making sure to pull it tight. Roy came next and he was careful to remain calm as the scratchy black strip was pulled down over his eyes. A moment later, he felt a tug on his arm. "Come," Evelyn said, "Watch your step getting into the car. Large hands pushed down on his head, forcing him to kneel.
He slid over as far as he could, and was quickly bumped by another body he figured must be Hawkeye. He heard the sounds of more people entering, then a door closing. Shortly after that, the car began to move. He heard a very soft whisper next to him; Hawkeye counting out the turns they were making.
"Isn't this nice!" Evelyn chirped brightly. "Oh, and Mr. Hawkeye, I must tell you that our driver is purposely taking a very long and circuitous route. You'll find backtracking through them quite impossible."
Roy frowned. Whatever else this Evelyn woman and her 'god' were, they knew what they were doing. Getting out of this situation was going to be difficult.
"I hope my note wasn't too difficult for you," Evelyn said.
This caused Roy's head to snap sharply to where the woman's voice was coming from. "You wrote that note?"
Evelyn clapped her hands again, the sound quickly starting to annoy Roy. "Oh yes!" she said, "It was such a bother leaving my workshop like that, but his Holiness works in mysterious ways."
"Your workshop?!" the cry came from Hawkeye this time, "Then you're the one who tortured those people!"
Roy's heart sunk, as he suddenly remembered why the name Evelyn Hirsh sounded familiar. "You applied to be a state alchemist over a year ago. I sat in on your interview."
"You remember!" Evelyn exclaimed, "I was afraid you'd forgotten!"
Roy shook his head. "Oh, no, I couldn't forget a woman who submitted a paper like yours. You proposed that the military start turning various parts of a person's internal organs to stone as a way to get information out of them."
"You'd be amazed how cooperative people can be when you start turning parts of their stomach or liver into hard, thick stone," she said cheerily, "Oh and it works for keeping people from talking too! Just mineralize their voice boxes and they won't be telling any secrets! It does occasionally have the unfortunate side effect of tearing free and crushing the lungs, but well, that's the breaks." She let off a high-pitched laugh that set Roy's teeth on edge.
He frowned again. "As I recall, you hadn't actually had any success with your technique yet. That's why you were turned down."
Evelyn laughed again, and it was all Roy could do to keep from flinching in disgust. "I can do it now, thanks to the Lord! He saved me when I was at my lowest, and gave me everything I needed to fulfill my dream! He truly is a miracle worker!"
Hawkeye decided to join in. "Did he also give you a philosopher's stone?"
Sighing, Evelyn replied, "That is such a crude word for a gift from his Holiness, but yes, that is the common term for his blessings."
Roy pitched forward slightly as the car came to a stop.
Evelyn clapped her hands again. "Oh goody!" she said, "We're here!"
Both prisoners were forcibly propelled through two sets of doors into the building, and pushed down into a chair. The blindfold was removed, and Roy blinked owlishly at the sudden return of light. Once his eyes adjusted, he looked around and saw that he appeared to be in yet another abandoned warehouse. For some reason, an expensive looking rug had been rolled out on the floor, and a table and chairs had been set up. On the table was an elegant looking tea set. In the corner were several statues, he noted with some alarm. Statues very similar to the ones found at the crime scene earlier.
He was relieved to see that in the chair next to him was Hawkeye. Across the table sat Evelyn, and in the other sat an impeccably groomed black-haired man in his late twenties. Roy glanced over at Riza's chair, behind which One-Eye stood with a gun pointed at her. The sound of a gun being cocked behind his own chair confirmed that he was in a similar position, but his menacer was likely Tiny.
The man spoke and smiled warmly. "Hello. It is such a pleasure to meet you. I have heard many tales of the Flame Alchemist's exploits." He turned toward Riza. "And the same welcome extends, of course, to the famed Hawk's Eye sniper."
Roy adjusted his position; the gun held on him creaked as it also changed position. Roy fixed a neutral expression onto his face and looked at the man before him. "And what do you we call you? 'His Holiness' seems a bit too formal for my tastes."
The man laughed. It had a rich, but somehow cold sound to it. "I am Dominic Sterling. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
The name didn't ring a bell with Roy, but apparently it did with Hawkeye. "Dominic Sterling is one of the most prominent railroad tycoons in Amestris. He's the second son of the noble family. Several years ago he decided to enter the business world, and now he controls or outright owns forty percent of all shipping that occurs in this country. There are rumors that he is involved in more shady ventures, but nothing was ever proven. He is also one of the main people we were focusing on in the investigations of the murders."
Sterling gave a mock bow when she finished. "I am impressed, the lady has done her homework." He paused. "Oh, right, that's no longer the case is it? I suppose I should say the gentleman has done his homework." He smiled.
Roy looked over at Hawkeye, but her only reaction to the barb was a slight downturn to her mouth. He looked back at Sterling. "So why did you bring us here?"
Sterling shrugged. "I got impatient waiting for you all to figure it out. Really I expected more from your team, Mustang."
A brief flash of anger rose at his words, but Roy tamped it down before it could show. "So you wanted to be caught?"
Looking thoughtful, Sterling said, "Well, not particularly. But I was growing bored of this game. Plus, I wanted to see the one great alchemical masterpiece of Adam Hill in person."
"What do you mean?" Roy asked with a puzzled look on his face.
Sterling took three cups off the tray and poured tea into each. "Evelyn, be a dear and take these over to the Colonel and his aide." With a bow and a look of adoration Evelyn did so. Neither Roy nor Riza touched the cups.
"Oh do try it," Sterling said, "It's quite good. It's Xingese Green Tea." When again, neither moved to take it, Sterling shrugged. "Suit yourself." He took a sip of his own.
"What are you playing at, Sterling?" Roy said, his patience wearing thin.
Carefully putting his teacup down, Sterling wove his fingers together and rested them on his lap. "I suppose if this was a dime-store pulp story, this would be the part where the villain reveals his grand plan to the intrepid hero?" He smiled and stared at Roy. "It's also traditional to have some sort of deadly trap that the hero is caught up in, right? I'm afraid I didn't have time to prepare one. My apologies."
Roy crossed his arms. "Is it too much for you to give me a straight answer?"
Sterling shook his head. "Not at all!" He reached down for his tea, wrapping his hand around the cup, pinky sticking out. He took a deliberate sip. "Go ahead and ask whatever you wish."
Roy leaned forward and pointed toward the boxes. "What the hell is it with you and all these goddamn abandoned warehouses?"
Riza's eyes widened. "Sir! That's not an issue here!"
Holding out a hand to forestall any more protests, Roy said, "Hawkeye, forgive me, but I have to know!"
Looking decidedly nonplussed, Sterling blinked several times, then let out a bark of laughter. "You are funny, Roy Mustang! You should be in vaudeville." He took another sip of tea. "If you must know, I own many empty warehouses throughout Central. I keep them empty and use them as a tax write-off." He chuckled to himself. "You have amused me, Mustang. I think you've earned some sort of explanation, at least."
"Good," Roy said, a slight smirk forming on his lips. His little ploy had worked. "What were you saying earlier about Adam Hill? What is your connection to him?"
Sterling leaned back. "Ah, poor Adam. Such a shame. He was once a brilliant man you know, but then he went mad and became obsessed with angels. His sanity was pretty much all gone when he died."
"Angels?" Hawkeye asked.
Nodding, Sterling said, "The classical image of an angel, that of a sexless, winged, divine being, was what fascinated him most. He became completely consumed with creating one. He did work mostly on the wings, and ultimately he hit on the idea of making bird-human chimeras. Almost all of them were ugly and misshapen things though. Only one survived for more than a day." He gestured to One Eye who glared at him impassively. "That's the only successful chimera the man made, and even still, he's a disfigured hunchback. The only real success Adam had in all of his research was you two."
Roy frowned. "What does this have to do with us?"
"Another avenue of research he was exploring was how to make a gender neutral being. He didn't succeed in that, of course, but I'd say the first successful complete gender swap of two humans is impressive yes?" He grinned. "I must say I was quite tickled to hear that old Adam had transmuted the Flame Alchemist into a girl."
Said alchemist scowled. "So what the hell is up with this 'God' business?"
Sterling put down his cup and turned to the woman beside him. "Evelyn, can you please go make more tea?"
Bobbing her head, she replied "Yes, my Lord!" She strode out a door in the back.
"You should probably drink your tea now, because Evelyn can't make a good cup to save her life," Sterling replied. Once she was out of earshot he continued, "I didn't wish Evelyn to hear this, but I'll let you in on a secret." He leaned forward and his voice dropped to a dramatic whisper, "I'm not really a God."
"You don't say?" Roy said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
Sterling leaned back and took another sip of tea. "Actually, the alchemists came up with that themselves. It's all a bit embarrassing, really." He shrugged. "I gave them everything they needed to make their dreams come true, and by the time I gave them philosopher's stones, they had already come to think I was some sort of messiah. Alchemists generally aren't stable people to begin with, and they just took it a step further." He blinked in confusion and gave Roy an apologetic look. "Present company excluded, of course."
"Of course," Roy echoed, "So, what do you personally get out of this?"
"Simply put, it amuses me," Sterling said, a smile on his face, "Plus there is always the slight chance that they could produce something useful."
Roy's hands tightened into fists, and his teeth clenched. Beside him, Riza was struggling to keep herself under control "Amusing?" he said, getting louder as she went on, "You find the torture and killing of innocent people amusing?!"
Finally finishing his tea, Sterling deposited his cup on the saucer. He grinned and leaned forward, a determined glint in his eyes. "Why yes, I do. If the government can slaughter an entire race of innocent people under the pretext of a 'war,' then what's wrong with me finding the killing of a few petty thieves, prostitutes, and street trash amusing?"
Her body tense, Riza could no longer keep silent. "You let that woman murder children!"
"And you didn't?" Sterling returned. His gentlemanly mask was torn away, and he now regarded both soldiers with an icy glare. "I know what you two did in the war. You of all people have no right to judge me. I've had enough of this." He gestured to the two goons. "Kill them."
"Wait!" Roy cried out, "I have one request before you kill us." Sterling glared at him suspiciously, but eventually he nodded for Roy to continue. "My lieutenant loves tea, but she's never been able to afford Xingese green tea. Can she have a cup before she dies?"
"Sir?" Riza asked staring at him with confusion. Roy briefly flicked his eyes toward the covered man behind her. Her eyes widened in understanding, then she nodded ever so slightly. "Er, yes," Riza said, her attention on Sterling, "Please let me have a cup."
Sterling shrugged. "Who am I to refuse the request of a former-lady?" He took a new cup and poured out a measure of tea. He slid it over to Hawkeye. She picked it up and brought it to her mouth to take a sip… Then proceeded to fling the hot liquid with all her might into the yellow orb of One Eye. The bandaged covered man let out an inhumane screech and clutched his eye with both hands, dropping his rifle, which Hawkeye promptly picked up.
At the same time, Roy elbowed Tiny in the gut, then turned and kicked him in the groin. Tiny fell to the floor howling and clutching his privates. Roy grabbed Tiny's rifle and whirled on Sterling. "You really need to get better goons," he said to the businessman.
Frozen in shock, Sterling slowly put his hands up. "Okay, we can talk about this, right?" he said carefully. "I have something you want." He reached toward his coat pocket.
There was a loud click as Hawkeye turned off the rifle's safety.
Sterling gulped in fear, but continued reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small object and briefly showed it to the two soldiers. It was a red-hued stone. "I think you know what this is," he said, "It's my last one, and it's almost used up, but it should be enough to change you back."
Suddenly, Evelyn entered carrying a teapot. She stopped in shock when she saw what was happening. "Why are you pointing guns at his Holiness?!"
"Just a disagreement, Evelyn," Sterling said his voice level, "Come and put the teapot down." Trembling, the woman did as she was told. "Now Evelyn, those statues in the corner, you just made them a little over a day ago right?" The woman slowly nodded. "So, they are still alive then?" Another nod.
Raising the stone above his head, Sterling threw it onto the table and turned to Roy. "It's your choice, Mustang. Let me go and you can have the stone, saving those poor petrified people in the process. Or, you could let them die and fix yourself and your lieutenant. It's up to you."
"Not my art!" Evelyn cried, "You can't destroy my art!" She flung herself at Mustang knocking him over and sending the rifle clattering to the ground. All Roy could do was use his arms to protect his face from the woman's furious assault.
Sterling took advantage of Roy's distraction and ran toward the back of the warehouse. Two shots from Hawkeye narrowly missed him, the slugs imbedding themselves deep into the wall near the door. She cursed and ran to help the colonel. The two were struggling on the ground, Evelyn screaming incoherently and beating at Roy with her fists.
Riza seized one of the mad woman's arms, and between the two of them, they managed to pin her to the ground. "Blasphemers! Heathens!" Evelyn said, spittle flecking her chin, "Don't you dare touch my offerings to God!"
Seeing that Hawkeye had Evelyn pinned, Roy went over and picked up the Stone. He went back and crouched down next to the pinned woman. "Is the circle to change those people back the same as the one drawn on the floor of your workshop?"
She spat in his face.
Riza grabbed a hunk of the woman's hair and pulled her neck back at a painful angle. Evelyn grunted in pain. "You will answer the colonel."
"Yes! Yes, it's the same! Let go!" The sniper relaxed her grip. letting Evelyn's head bang against the floor. "Ow, that hurt, you bastard!"
"Sir?" Hawkeye asked, "Do you need this woman for anything else?"
Roy blinked in surprise. "No, not really. If the circle is the same as one at the crime scene, I can reverse the transmutation myself."
"Good." She swiftly whacked Evelyn upside her head with the butt of her rifle, knocking the woman unconscious. "I've been wanting to do that ever since the car ride. All that clapping was really annoying."
A grin formed on Roy's face, but it quickly faded when the reality of the situation came back to him. He put his hand on her arm. "Riza, I don't really have a choice here. I have to free those people…"
She stood and brushed off her pants. "I know. You have to do the right thing."
"I'm really sorry about this." He squeezed her arm in apology.
Riza put her hand over his and smiled down at him. "I'm not."
Dominic Sterling rushed around his darkened house with a lantern, stuffing clothes, money and papers into a suitcase. "Where the hell is that passport?" he said angrily as he rifled through clothing and a stack documents.
"And just where do you think you're going?" said a sultry voice out of the gloom.
Sterling swung the flashlight around. "Who's there?!"
A very attractive black-haired woman with curves in all the right places stepped out into the narrow beam of light. She was wearing a slinky black dress with red piping that hugged her body tightly. Behind her, Sterling could dimly make out the shape of a similarly dressed rotund man.
"We've come to get a return on our investment," Lust said.
Eyes wide, Sterling waved his hands in front of his chest. "I need more time. I had a temporary setback you see, and-"
Lust strode forward, fixing him to the ground with a predatory glare. "You've had a year, and nothing to show for it." She paused just in front of him, "And no, giving the Flame Alchemist a nice rack doesn't count."
"Please!" Sterling pleaded, "Just another few days-"
Black nails shot forward and pierced his chest. "I'm afraid we need to terminate our contract." Sterling, gurgled, spat up blood and dropped heavily to the ground as soon as Lust retracted her claws.
"Can I eat him, please?!" said Gluttony. His eyes glittered as he stared at the bleeding corpse.
Lust waved him on. "Go ahead. He's no use to us now."
Gluttony grinned and went to his meal with gusto.
After a few minutes, Lust's curiosity got the better of her. "So what does a god taste like?"
Putting a bloody finger in his mouth, Gluttony took some moments to ponder this. Finally he pulled his finger out of his mouth with a pop. "Tastes like chicken!"
The doorbell to Roy's apartment rang. He groaned and stood, loathe to move from where he had been sacked out on the couch. The door opened to reveal Riza Hawkeye.
"Lieutenant?" he asked in surprise, "Is something wrong?"
Riza shook her head. "No, I just wanted to check on you. Can I come in?"
Roy took a step back. "Of course."
She stooped to collect some bags and hurried in. Roy closed the door behind her.
"So how are you enjoying your first menstrual cycle, sir?" she asked, with a hint of mischief in her voice.
Roy put his hand on his head and collapsed back onto the couch. "It's awful!" he exclaimed, "I am so incredibly sorry I ever made fun of any woman's period. And I swear on the graves of my ancestors, that I will never ever do it again."
Riza grinned. "I'm sure the women of the world are very grateful, sir." Her grin faded. "I have some news about the case."
That got his attention. He sat up and turned toward her. "Did they find Sterling?"
She shook her head. "Not yet, I'm afraid. The investigators have found no trace of him at all. They feel he's either fled the country or met an untimely end elsewhere."
"If only that were the case," Roy sighed. "Anything else?"
Nodding, Riza continued. "There is some good news. Sterling's two henchmen have both been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Evelyn Hirsh has been found guilty of multiple counts of murder, but she has been remanded to the prison mental institution."
"I suppose that is the best place for her," he said, running his hand through his hair, "Any news on the survivors?"
"They are still recovering from the strain of their ordeal and the two transmutations. Four of them are awake in various degrees of recovery, but the fifth, an ex-con named Issac Stone, is still in a coma."
Sighing, Roy leaned back on the couch. "I guess they can't all be winners, huh?" His eyes fell on the packages in Riza's hands. "Is that more clothes?"
"Yes," Riza said sadly, "I've taken out what I can wear, but most of them don't fit me anymore. They'll do more good in your closet than in mine. At least you can wear them."
Roy's smirk appeared, "Is there any underwear in there?"
She frowned and looked down at the bag and back up Roy. "I think so, why? I washed them if that's what your worried about."
"No, it's not that," Roy said shaking his head. His smirk grew, "I just find the idea of you giving me your old underwear kinda sexy."
Hawkeye rolled her eyes. "And yet, I don't find the thought of you giving me your old boxers to be appealing at all."
She lightly tossed the bag of clothes at him in hopes of getting him to be quiet. It didn't work.
"Com'n, Riza," Roy said, giving her his best pout, "You gotta find it at least a little arousing."
Sighing, Riza replied, "It's just a piece of clothing, Roy. It doesn't mean anything else."
Roy humphed and picked through the bag's contents. He came across a small box "What's this?" He looked up at Riza, and was surprised to see she was blushing.
Riza looked at the floor, her cheeks pink. "That's from General Gruuman. Apparently it was my grandmother's."
He opened the box and was shocked to find a modest but well-made gold ring inside with a row of three small diamonds on top. "Riza, I-I don't understand."
Riza's cheeks were even redder than before. She examined the floor in minute detail. "Grandfather said it was only proper for my fiancee to have a ring."
Roy frowned, his brows furrowed in puzzlement. "But, that was only-" he was cut off mid-sentence.
"I know, but we've known each other for a long time, and apparently there has been talk between you two about this topic before." She gave him a quick glare. "A talk I was never told about, by the way."
He laughed nervously. "Oh, well, I didn't know he was your grandfather did I?" He looked down at the ring. "I can't accept this, Riza." He held out the ring box to her.
She closed her hand over his. This time she looked at him, but her cheeks were tomato-red. "Roy," she began, "It may have been grandfather's suggestion, but I'm not adverse to the idea." She smiled weakly. "Later, I mean, after you become Fuhrer."
Roy flushed and looked down at their joined hands. "Are you sure? I mean, I'm not exactly the man I once was."
Riza moved to sit next to him. She gave him a shy smile. "It doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, you're still Roy Mustang."
Her words set off something inside his body, and a gentle warmth spread all the way down to his toes. He smiled back at her and slipped the ring onto his finger. "I guess I'm not adverse to the idea either, as long as it's after we've achieved our goals."
"Thank you," she said, her smile widening, "I have to warn you though, that the general is very intent on having great-grandchildren."
He shrugged. "I like kids. I wouldn't mind having a few."
"Roy," she said, exasperated, "You do realize you'd be the one giving birth to them, don't you?"
As she watched the color drain from his face in horror, Riza sighed. It was a good thing she loved this man, because otherwise she'd never marry such an idiot.
OMAKE - EXTRA - OMAKE - EXTRA
Both prisoners were forcibly propelled through two sets of doors into the building, and pushed down into a chair. The blindfold was removed, and Roy blinked owlishly at the sudden return of light. Once his eyes adjusted, he looked around and saw that he appeared to be in yet another abandoned warehouse.
A clink of a chain caused his attention to shift to the catwalk overhead. He squinted his eyes and could just make out the black and white-clad figure of a youth with pointy blue hair. He was carrying some sort of weapon which consisted of two blades connected by a chain. Behind him, Evelyn giggled and clapped.
"Kneel down before your god, mortals!" came the booming high pitched voice of a boy on the first stages of puberty, "You're in the presence of the Big Man!"
The "Big Man" made a move to jump off the catwalk, but tripped on the edge of it and fell ending up in a face plant onto the ground in front of them. Suddenly a young woman with a black ponytail materialized out of the chained weapon. "Blackstar?!" the woman cried, "Are you okay?"
The boy sat up and gave the woman a victory symbol. "I'm fine, Tsubaki!" he said grinning idiotically. "You know it takes more than a little fall like this to hurt an invincible God like me!" His words were in direct contradiction to the blood dripping down his face and pooling onto the floor below.
Having had enough, Roy turned to his aide. He rubbed the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to hold off the migraine he could feel coming on.
"Hawkeye, I need you to do something for me," he said.
She saluted. "Of course, sir! What do you need?"
Roy sighed and desperately wished for some aspirin. "Contact the publishers over at GanGan and tell them the editors have been mixing up the pages again."
Well, hello there! Long time no see! I wanted to reenter the FMA fanfic world with a big bang, so I signed up for the LJ community FMA_big_bang. It's a community dedicated to promoting the creation of new long (over 10000) words FMA fanfiction.
It also pairs up artists and writers to create a more complete story experience. In that vein, I have one fabulous artist named Angela, who has created some nice preliminary sketches for this piece depicting the "Morning Wood" scene. I will link to it here when I am able, and / or include it within the text of the story itself. Hopefully I will get to see the finished one soon.
Another very important part of my team is a very patient Beta I had by the name of alchemyotaku75. She is an avid writer herself, and you can find her works here.
Writing this was quite difficult for me, since I am not used to doing long pieces or suspense stories. I decided to do both this time to challenge myself. When I decided to enter FMA Big Bang, I pulled out an old story I'd written the first scene of and never finished. As with most of my stories the final product is quite different than what I originally intended. But I am satisfied with this version.
Out of curiosity did anyone get the Rumiko Takahashi reference in the story? How about the relationships between the antagonist's first names? Anyone get it at all? Anyone? Bueller? Hello?
Oh in case you're wondering, GanGan is the manga magazine that FMA appeared in, along with the Soul Eater series that Blackstar and Tsubaki are from.
I am going to try to be more active as a writer now, both writing new pieces and continuing old ones. There is also the possibility of me entering the Soul Eater arena, since I've become a huge Soul / Maka fangirl.
Anyway, onto the usual credits:
-A huge great thanks to everyone who has worked with any FMA series, in particular Hiromu Arakawa, who created the whole damn thing in the first place. I dearly hope that all of you and your loved ones are all right over there, and will continue to be in the coming months.
-Special thanks to my husband, who gave me time to write, but refuses to read my stories since he hates the state of modern fanfiction. You started this, love, so you only have yourself to blame for this. ^_-
-Mucho thanks and a huge debt of gratitude go out to Angela, my artist, and alchemyotaku75, my beta.
-Thanks as well to enemytosleep for creating and running the Big Bang community.
-And thanks to you for reading!
Anne Packrat (March 14, 2011, Omake added April 20, 2011)
Thank you for reading.