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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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Shamballa - Part 3- The Philosopher's Stone
Submitter: Date: 2009/9/14 Views: 261
Summary: Summary: Edward, Alphonse and Beregond are together once more, and they work together to find the means to create a philosopher's stone. However, the web the Homunculi create is closing around them more tightly than they believe.
Rating: R

Brother's Debt
The great tit turned over another leaf and instantly jabbed its beak on the ground to catch the small insect underneath. Snapping its beak in delight and shuddering slightly in order to ruffle its plumage, the bird then started checking its surroundings warily. But, so far, the park was peaceful and there didn’t seem to be any danger lurking about.

It was then that the noise of crackling leaves was heard and two large people approached. Beating its wings rapidly, the tit immediately flew in the safety of a nearby tree.

However, there was no reason for alarm after all. A soft voice that echoed times that seemed to have always been a part of the small bird made it fly toward the smaller of the two people and land on his hand. Another hand, the bigger person’s, stroked its head, a gesture that made the bird half-close its eyes dreamily.

“Hold out your hand, Alphonse.”

The bigger person did just that. The tit found itself nestled comfortably in a much bigger palm, the petting not lessening in the least.

“Thank you.” The voice was young and almost happy.

“You’re welcome,” answered the ancient voice, the smile that echoed in the words soon dying out to be replaced by concern. “Now… can you please tell me what’s wrong?”

The bigger person gasped, obviously surprised that the other one had read him so easily. But then he sighed and started talking, all the while holding the little bird in his palm and petting it.




Memories are only data. An alchemist like you can easily implant fake memories, isn’t that right? Brother, there was something you started to ask me but you stopped. So let me make it easier for you: were you trying to tell me that my soul and memories were something fake that you created?

Is that what you wanted to say all this time? Is that all you have to say?

Just answer my question, Brother! Why won’t you say anything?! Why?!

Al, please…

DON’T COME NEAR ME! GET AWAY FROM ME!

AL, NO! ALPHONSE!


Ed closed his eyes, trying to shut out the terrible memory, but his mind kept replaying Al’s words over and over. And the only thing he could think as he still lay on his side in the bed of the hospital room was:

Why, Al?

But Al wasn’t there to answer him, and Ed couldn’t find an answer for himself. Because, for the first time after many years, Ed finally felt that there was no point in it. His brother, his primary, main motivation and purpose to find the Philosopher’s Stone so to finally atone for the hurt he caused, was gone, feeling nothing but hatred for his older brother.

If Ed didn’t feel so drained, his tears would be shed right there and then. In his condition, he just curled into a small, trembling ball, all feelings of pain because of his injury forgotten – or rather, no longer mattering. He certainly didn’t notice a pair of cobalt-coloured eyes looking at him through the half-open door. And he certainly didn’t hear the soft click of the said door as it was slowly closed shut.




After finally daring a peek inside Ed’s room, Winry closed the door carefully so as not to make any noise; then faced 2nd Lieutenant Ross and Sergeant Bloch.

“How is he?” Bloch asked, clearly concerned.

“Not good,” Winry said with a shake of her head. “We have to find Al.”

“I’ll call Major Armstrong,” Ross said. “He needs to be notified about this.”

“But what about Al? By the time any other soldiers start searching he will be long gone! We are the ones who should go after him!”

“Miss Rockbell, I’m afraid that is not possible. We’ve been given strict orders not to leave this hospital until Edward is strong enough to be discharged, and that’s that,” Ross answered, keeping her voice neutral.

“You were meant to protect Al too!” Winry exclaimed in exasperation. “And now he’s out there, alone and hating Edward for something he never did!”

“Miss Rockbell,” Ross repeated, more firmly and a bit more meaningfully this time, “we can’t do anything else.”

Winry’s hands clenched into fists as the young girl felt the first surge of tears welling up her eyes. “So that’s it? We’re just going to sit here and wait?”

“You are not a soldier, Miss Rockbell,” Bloch said then.

It was at that moment that Winry realised what it was the two soldiers were trying to tell her. She looked at both of them apprehensively, not daring to hope. Nevertheless, she was already feeling grateful.

“You’d better hurry,” Ross said, smiling encouragingly. “And please, be careful.”

Winry didn’t bother to reply, because she was already running toward the exit. The soldiers just watched her go until she was finally out of their sight.

“Do you think she will be able to find him, Lieutenant Ross?” Bloch asked, facing the woman with an expression of worry.

“I’m afraid she’s the only one who can now,” Ross answered, sighing. “I’d better go make that phone-call. Meanwhile, go into the room and keep an eye on Edward.”

“I doubt it’s me that he wants to see,” Bloch said ruefully.

“No. But there might be someone else.”

And with that, Ross turned on her heel and headed for the phone at the registration desk. Understanding what the lieutenant had in mind and deciding that he’d better do what she told him, Bloch went to Edward’s room.

The moment that Bloch opened the door, Ed turned around. “Al?”

“No. Sorry.”

With eyes reflecting his disappointment, Ed sighed and turned his back to the sergeant. He didn’t move or say anything else again, not even when Bloch sat on a chair nearby, watching him.




Ross frowned. It was taking too long for any reply on the phone, and the woman didn’t know what to make of it. The major himself had assured her that he would stay at his home until Sergeant Beregond and 2nd Lieutenant Havoc were taken care of.

There was another beep on the phone. Ross huffed and got ready to hang up, when a woman’s voice was heard at the other end of the line. “Hello, you’ve called the Armstrong residence. May I help you?”

A maid, most likely, Ross figured. After all, she knew perfectly well the major’s wealthy background. “This is 2nd Lieutenant Maria Ross. May I speak to Major Alex Louis Armstrong?”

“I’m sorry, but Major Armstrong is otherwise engaged. Would you like to leave a message?”

“I’m afraid it can’t wait,” Ross said. She paused as she contemplated matters; then another idea formed in her mind. “I’m aware that there are two other soldiers there: a Sergeant Beregond and a 2nd Lieutenant Jean Havoc. Can I speak to either of them?”

“Let me see if either of them is available,” the maid said cordially. The small clicking sound that followed next clearly showed that she had put down the receiver next to the phone to find the two men.

It was then that Ross realised that there were men’s voices echoing at some distance. At least two of them sounded calm and collected, but the other was nearly shouting. Ross tried to comprehend any of the words and so understand what was going on.

She didn’t manage it. Suddenly, another voice, somewhat weary and strained, sounded through the end of the line.

“This is Lieutenant Jean Havoc.”

“This is Lieutenant Maria Ross, Major Armstrong’s subordinate and temporary escort of Edward and Alphonse Elric,” Ross answered.

“Oh, hello.”

“How is your wound?”

“Armstrong already told you about that, huh?” Havoc answered. “I’m pretty much okay. Provided I don’t give too much of a strain on myself, the wound will heal soon enough.”

“I see,” Ross said. There was something odd about the tone that the lieutenant was using. She couldn’t pinpoint it precisely, but for some reason it sounded too… informal. “How about Mr. Beregond?”

“Mother, really… why do you want to bother the good doctor? It’s just a flesh wound!”

Ross blinked, startled at that. “What?”

Wait a minute… something isn’t right.

“Lieutenant Havoc, just answer with a yes or no. Is there some reason you can’t talk openly?”

There was a small pause, and then a very soft: “Yes.”

Ross frowned. Things were definitely not right.

“Is there some place where you can talk without being noticed?”

“The place is huge, so I can try. Hang on.”

Ross sighed and did just that. There were the occasional voices, now accompanied by the sounds of footsteps to be heard. Still, the only words she managed to grasp were ‘orders’ and ‘court-martial’.

“Okay, this is as far as the phone-cord can go, but I like to think it’s far enough,” said Havoc, keeping his tone low. “I apologise for the embarrassing position I placed you before, Lieutenant Ross.”

“At least can you tell me now what is going on?” the woman asked.

There was another pause for a moment. “Did you hear that commotion?”

“Yes; although I’m not sure who’s who.”

“One is Major Armstrong, the other Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, and the loud-mouthed one is Lieutenant Colonel Fawcette. He says he has orders to arrest Sergeant Beregond.”

Ross’ eyes widened slightly. She had heard of Fawcette before as an officer transferred from East City and somewhat of an egomaniac. Nevertheless, she had to hand it to him that he had handled the terrorist case well. “On what charges?”

“That’s what I would like to know, and that’s what Major Armstrong and Lieutenant Colonel Hughes are trying to find out too. Not that they will have any luck, mind you. I know Fawcette. If it serves his ego not to talk, then he won’t say a word.”

“But if Sergeant Beregond hasn’t done anything wrong—”

“Lieutenant Ross, I’ve been honest to you from the start because Major Armstrong mentioned you were a trustworthy, honest person. So, please, listen to what I have to say. I’ve already talked to Armstrong and Hughes about this, and they have reached to the same conclusions.”

Maria swallowed hard, feeling that she wouldn’t like what she was about to hear. “Go on.”

“Look… If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my commanding officer is that sometimes one has to look deeper than the surface of things. And these last couple of days both Beregond and I had to become witnesses to that truth.”

“How so?”

“You’ve heard the news about the so-called ‘terrorist group’ that was arrested, right?”

So-called? “Yes, but I don’t see what that has got to do with anything.”

“Lieutenant Ross, it was I and Beregond who had to deal with them, long before Fawcette made the honours of arresting them. What’s more, they were no terrorists. They were mercenaries, paid by someone to make sure that there would be trouble in Central. They almost succeeded, too. But instead of trying to find out who could be behind this scheme and why, what does the military do?”

“Searching for Sergeant Beregond,” Ross said, understanding where was Havoc going with this.

“Exactly.”

“But why?”

“Well, it’s true that Fawcette had born a grudge against Beregond from day one, but that hardly justifies his actions now. It has to be something else.”

“What does the sergeant say to all that?”

“He’s gone. The major and I helped him leave the house without being noticed by Fawcette or his men.”

“I see. You’re making sure he doesn’t get arrested until you find anything that will acquit him.”

“Yeah,” Havoc said. “But, knowing Beregond, he will head straight to the hospital. That’s where Ed and Al are, right?”

“Yes,” Ross said, clearing her throat. “About that…”

“What?” Havoc sounded worried now; Ross could hear it only too clearly.

“We have a problem,” she answered, and she told him in a few brief words about Al.

“Damn it. Things are turning from bad to worse,” Havoc hissed as soon as Ross finished her report. There was a pause for many long moments as he thought matters carefully, and then he spoke again. “Look, as soon as Fawcette’s gone, I’ll tell Armstrong and Hughes about Al. Meanwhile, I think you should keep an eye on Beregond in case he arrives. If he finds out about Al make sure he doesn’t leave to search for him. He could risk being caught himself.”

“Understood,” Maria said. “What about you?”

Havoc sighed. “I’m afraid I’ll have to make a phone call.”




When Winry reached to another crossing, she felt ready to give up. She had been searching for a bit more than half an hour, and yet there was no sign of Alphonse anywhere. What was worse, no passer-by she encountered had seen anything that resembled a suit of armour.

How on earth did Al manage that? she asked herself in frustration, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to find an answer to that.

“All right, deep breaths,” Winry murmured under her breath. She had to start calming herself down, otherwise she would never be able to find Al. Her chances were already pretty slim, and she shouldn’t make matters worse. Because she had to find Al and make him talk to Ed. The boys needed to straighten a lot of things out once they got together again, or that emotional rift that separated them so violently now would never heal.

It was ironic that she had to see to that, when several hours ago she had confessed Lieutenant Colonel Hughes how hurt she felt that they never told her anything.

But she couldn’t afford the luxury to think about that. The boys needed her help.

Now… where would I go if I were Alphonse? Winry thought. Her mind’s eye drifted back to the time that she and the boys were younger. Back to the time when their games – and arguments – lasted from dawn till dusk.

Back to the time when Alphonse had once become very upset with her and Edward, and he had run off to sit by a small river. Winry could recall the way the sunlight showered the particular place dotingly, as well as the colour and smell of the fields of flowers that surrounded Al when she and Edward found him. That place felt peaceful and, most importantly, safe.

That’s it.

“Excuse me,” she addressed a young woman that was happening to pass by at the moment. “Can you tell me where I can find a calm, quiet place around here?”

“You mean like a park?” the woman asked, surprised at the question.

“If there’s one.”

“Well, yes. Not too far from here, in fact,” the woman answered. “Just go straight ahead and then turn right. Can’t miss it.”

“Good. Thank you!” And with that, Winry hurried to the direction the woman showed her.




Al couldn’t help it. Feeling once again safe after his soul plunged into the depths of despair, he just let everything out of his metal chest. He told of Barry’s words, of his own fears – and of Ed’s reluctance to answer to him when confronted.

“I just wanted to know if my memories were real, and he only stared at me,” he concluded bitterly. His red eyes flickered, dimming slightly in sadness. “So I ran off. There was no point in staying there any longer.”

“And then you bumped into me,” Beregond said, nodding in understanding.

“Yeah,” Al said, managing a chuckle before sighing.

Beregond didn’t speak for some time. He merely sat on a bench nearby, taking a deep breath as though taking in the scent of the musky leaves; then patted the place next to him in a sign for Al to sit also. The little bird, rather tired of sitting in the gauntlet, flew on Al’s shoulder and gave out a small chirping sound before settling once more.

It was while there was still that silence that Al found the chance to study Beregond a bit more. He had noticed that the Gondorian’s red-rimmed eyes and the unshaved face upon their meeting, of course; but now he could see that the whole man’s countenance screamed weariness.

What happened to you?

And then, Beregond finally spoke, his expression quite serious.

“Alphonse, I’m not going to lie to you. What Barry said holds water. It’s possible that somehow memories can be created.”

Al flinched and averted his gaze. Until then, at that very last moment, he had hoped that maybe…

“But, on the other hand,” Beregond said, continuing on and cutting off Al’s musings, “why should your memories have been created? I refuse to believe that I’ve ended up into a world where someone is willing to give up an arm for the sake of creating a false brother.”

Alphonse faced Beregond again, flabbergasted. But the Gondorian only smiled a bit as his hands reached to the inner pocket of his new overcoat and took out his journal.

“And,” he carried on, “if you don’t like my reasoning, I can give you another.” He opened the journal and, after finding what he had been looking for, handed a picture to the suit of armour. “If you never existed, then who is that next to Edward?”

Al looked at the picture that Beregond handed him, staring at the two boys that now grinned back at him. The red eyes grew large as the suit of armour realised that he knew that picture. Beregond had found it in his father’s abandoned house.

And, what was more, it was Alphonse himself who had said that the other boy with Edward was him.

But then… why did Ed…?

As if Beregond understood what Al thought at that moment, he closed the journal and put it back at its place, smiling kindly.

“I won’t deny Edward isn’t telling you something, nor that it was a mistake not to talk to you sooner about it. But how will you know what that something is if you don’t hear it from his own lips? You owe it to him. If not for the life you’ve spent as brothers, at least for the life you’ve spent as comrades these last four years.”

Al still looked at Beregond’s eyes, the Gondorian’s words at last getting through to him. It was true that he didn’t manage to subdue all of his fears, and what Barry said still echoed hauntingly within his mind – but now he had more than enough strength of heart to fight them back till he talked to Ed.

“Ready to go back now?” Beregond asked softly.

Al nodded.

“Good.” And with that, Beregond stood up.

Al was about to follow suit, noting the stiffness with which Beregond arose; when, suddenly, the tit flew away in alarm. And Al soon discovered just why.

A wrench was flying toward him at incredible speed. A very familiar wrench.

Needless to say that, at that moment, Al was extremely grateful for his metallic head.

“YOU DUMMY!” Winry shouted at the top of her lungs, making her appearance.

“W-W-Winry?!” Al stuttered, practically quailing. Beregond, on the other hand, was now looking at both Al and the newcomer with an expression that clearly said: What did I miss this time?

“You were the last person I expected to do a stupid thing like that!” Winry continued on, still seeing red – which explained why she hadn’t noticed the Gondorian nearby. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to Ed?! Or were you too wrapped up to your own feelings to even think of your brother’s?”

“About that…” Beregond started, but Winry didn’t heed him; whereas Al was too frightened to react.

“Is this the kind of faith that you have in him?! The love that you have for him?! Isn’t he your only brother?”

“Excuse me…” Beregond tried again.

“You need each other and you are just too stubborn to see it! But if you want to act like a jerk…”

“Alphonse was on his way back!” Beregond finally cried out.

“… then you can…” Winry froze as she eventually registered what she was being told. She looked at Beregond incredulously. “He was?”

“Yes,” Al said, finding at last the courage to speak.

“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Winry asked, rolling her eyes. She picked up her wrench and placed it back to the pocket of her jacket. “Well, come on, we haven’t got all day.”

“Okay, okay,” Al said, standing up. However, he felt that there was one more thing he had to do before setting off. He turned to Beregond’s direction and nodded his head slightly. “Thank you… for the talk, I mean.”

Beregond smiled. “Thank me by talking to Edward.”

Winry smiled, too. “And I should thank you too, Mr…” She blinked as she suddenly realised something very important.

“Um… who are you?”




“I must say that this is a strange request from the military,” said the caretaker, casting a brief glance at the officer who was now following him quite closely. “What business do they have with the dead?”

Connors polished the fingernails of his right hand on his military overcoat in a nonchalant manner. He didn’t think he had to explain anything to a mere employer of the town hall of this… hamlet of a village that he found himself into in his search, but he figured he could be magnanimous just this once.

“There were several soldiers who died in the line of duty during the Ishbalan War. I’ve been making a report on those soldiers as to under what circumstances they died and whether they should be given any medals of honour post mortem. Though there were several already given such honours, we have to make sure everyone does. It’s the least we can do for their families.”

“I see,” the caretaker said. He took out a key out of his pocket and opened the door of the room they had been heading. “Well then, I’ll leave you to your work. Tell me when you’re done.”

“Of course,” Connors said, nodding slightly. The moment that the caretaker was gone, he started reading through all the files that dated back from forty years ago onwards.

TBC…
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