A/N:The timeline for this story is a bit whacked to make everything work. Ed and Al are currently in Dublith and Scar is still recovering from his injuries he got fighting Lust and Gluttony. Roy is in the process of transferring to Central and he would have left the day after the story starts. Also, we're assuming Scar was attacked in Central.
The night air would have been soothing to some. It was a relatively clear night, one of the few times the light cloud cover peeled away entirely. To the nameless Ishvalan, it reeked of smog and the street lamps were offensively bright, even through dark glasses. As far as he was concerned, there was no need for anyone to be out and about at midnight unless they were up to some unsavory business.
His own business was as unsavory as it got, but that did not deter him. No one was any more fond of tax collectors or grave diggers than they were of him, but someone had to do the jobs. He was more capable at this job than most.
Almost unconsciously, the right arm clenched into a fist. Sometimes the right arm acted without his express wishes. Hardly surprising, given that it wasn't properly his. He opened the hand, studying what little of the array was visible underneath his sleeve. He barely knew enough about it to use it. Idly, he wondered what else the symbols rendered him capable of, but that line of thought was a blasphemous. He threw it away.
As he passed through the park, a flash of red light, like transmutation caught his eye. He glanced over his shoulder to see a woman cornering a man in uniform inside a phone booth, holding a gun to his head. The man looked vaguely familiar. Perhaps he was one of the soldiers sent to apprehend the Ishvalan.
The woman and the soldier exchanged a few more words as the Ishvalan crept closer. In his experience, transmutic light was usually blue and his gut still ached by the wounds left from the one time he had seen red light. The only clue he had to those monsters' identity was the strange dragon tattoo they shared and the red light.
The soldier drew his knife, blood dripping down one shoulder. The Ishvalan could just make out a voice coming from the dangling phone. Just as the soldier was about to attack, red light engulfed the woman and her form began to shift.
That was when the Ishvalan struck. He had seen all he needed to; the woman was like the monsters that had tried to kill him, a true abomination on the same level as that suit of hollow armor with a child's voice.
The beast fell back with a scream, but refused to die, even as he poured the devil's energy into it's body. The Ishvalan had the element of surprise and he refused to give his enemy a chance to fight back. Despite the Ishvalan's onslaught, it's arm flew out, stretching to an impossible length to destroy the telephone. Then it turned and ran.
Just as the Ishvalan was about to give chase, the soldier spoke.
"Mustang...the array...the stone...have to warn him..." Every word seemed to cost him and he was bracing himself against the telephone booth, but his eyes were fixed on the Ishvalan. "Tell him...it's...it's not just Ishval...goes back...whole damn country..."
The Ishvalan considered leaving, but his quarry was already out of sight. He turned back to the soldier, who was dangerously pale. The knife slipped from his fingers and clattered to the ground. An old Amestrian phrase sprung to the forefront of his mind. Curiosity killed the cat.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
Before the soldier could reply, he fainted.
The Ishvalan hesitated only a moment. He picked up the soldier and carried him away.
Roy slammed the phone down on the receiver, rage and fear welling up inside him.
Whatever Hughes had been trying to say could wait. The important thing now was to ensure that his friend was still alive.
He stormed out of the office, pulling on his gloves as he went. Hawkeye followed him, two paces behind and to the left.
They drove to the phone booth in tense silence. Roy had never been more grateful for his friend's paranoia. Since he had ended the call over a military line, Hughes must have decided that the line was unsafe. If that were the case, he had already informed Roy of the first phone booth from Headquarters that he considered secure. It was the only place he would have made the call from.
Thankfully, the roads from East City to Central were empty this late at night, but it was still the wee hours of the morning when they finally arrived.
The only things they found at the scene were bloodstains and a photo of Gracia and Elicia. So Hughes had been there. And now he was missing. With the amount of blood on the ground and the trail leading up to the ground under Roy's feet, it was possible he was already dead.
Roy's higher functions reviewed these possibilities with clinical detachment even as he struggled to contain his emotions. His hands were shaking. He pulled off the gloves, half fearing that he would lose control and burn away all the evidence. His eyes filled with tears that he choked back. He could not afford to grieve. Not until he saw a body.
He recalled ordering Havoc to search through the rubble of the explosion on the river night and day until he found Scar's body. He almost envied Havoc's job. At least Havoc knew where to start. Roy had no idea.
"Sir. Come look at this."
Hawkeye held the photo by the corner and she was looking at the back with furrowed brows.
Roy walked over to stand behind her shoulder.
There as a note written in blood on the back. Two words: "He's alive" followed by a series of coordinates and a time.
Roy laughed quietly in relief and crushed the urge to hug his lieutenant. Then he sobered.
"Let's assume Hughes was attacked first in Headquarters," he said.
Hawkeye nodded. "Then he was already injured when he made the first call, explaining the trail of blood here. But there were likely at least two assailants."
That would be the only way to explain how he was able to make the second call. "Same group, same goals, but most likely functioning independently."
"Or perhaps the second one was the failsafe, in case the first failed. But that's not what we should be worried about."
Roy tilted his head to the side. "What do you mean?"
"He was attacked in Headquarters."
"Someone could have slipped in."
"Then he decided Headquarters wasn't safe enough to call from."
Roy swore. "Well, if nothing else, this should get me some dirt on someone." He smiled grimly. "So, the rescuer, then. Thoughts?"
"If the assailant was skilled enough to take on Hughes, it's a reasonable bet that the rescuer was unusually skilled in combat."
"That's fairly obvious," Roy said, crouching down to look at the bloodstains more closely. "Look here." He pointed out a faint outline in the cobblestones.
Hawkeye brought over her flashlight. In the light, there could be no mistake. Transmutation marks. "So we're dealing with an alchemist?"
"That's a possibility." Roy had managed to get a mangled account of the Elrics' adventures under the 5th laboratory from Sergeant Brosh.
Hawkeye recognized the other possibility too. "I don't suppose whoever it was would have been showing off their tattoos. Either way, Hughes' rescuer should have more information than us."
Roy checked the time on the photo. Two days away. "I'll go meet them, then."
Hawkeye rolled her eyes. "Do I even need to point out how likely it is that this is a trap?" she asked.
"I'd wager there's about a 78% chance," Roy offered. He caught Hawkeye's look and sighed. "I'll send Major Armstrong."
"Very good, sir."
Maes blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. He felt around for his glasses, but found nothing except hard ground. His shoulder throbbed dully when he tried to move it.
Slowly, the events of the previous night filtered into his head. Talking to Sheska, checking the military records, and the damned array. He remembered being attacked by Maria Ross. No, someone else wearing her shape. And then she had been fought off by someone else. He just couldn't remember who.
He reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out his spare glasses. Roy had said he was being paranoid, carrying around three extra pairs of glasses. Maes had noticed that people tended to call him paranoid until he was proven right and saved all their asses.
Even with the glasses, his vision was somewhat blurry. Blood loss, he assumed.
But at least he could see clearly enough to take in his surroundings. He was lying on a thick blanket in a small shack. There was another pallet next to his and two cots, one of them child sized. All of them were empty. A few pots and baskets lay scattered around the shack, mostly along the walls.
Maes sat up carefully, cradling the injured arm to his chest. Whoever had saved him had removed his coat and shirt to bandage him, but it was still warm enough that the temperature didn't affect him. All his knives were missing.
Before he could try to stand, the door opened and he found himself staring at a young Ishvalan child, maybe seven or eight. The boy looked at him in shock, then frowned.
"You really shouldn't be doing that yet," the boy said. "You lost a whole lot of blood."
"Where am I?" Maes asked.
The boy glared at him, crossing his arms obstinately. Maes sighed and laid back down. "You're in an Ishvalan slum outside Central. The nergui brought you here."
"Nergui?" Maes asked.
The boy nodded. "Means he doesn't have a name. You're not really s'posed to help people like him, but he was pretty hurt when we found him and Gatsovo said it's okay 'cause there aren't really many of us left. And then he showed up with you and Gatsovo said we gotta help you too 'cause we're s'posed to help everybody who's got a name 'cause Ishvala grants names to all his children and all Ishvala's children gotta help each other 'cause that's what Ishvala wants and the only people who are allowed to hurt people are the takili and they only hurt bad people and nerguii. You do have a name right?"
Maes' head was spinning. The only person he'd met who could talk faster than this boy was Edward Elric in research mode, and he usually made himself scarce for that. "Yeah," he said. "I'm Maes."
"That's a weird name," the boy announced. "I'm Rick."
Just then, the door opened again. An old man with a long beard stepped through, but Maes was more concerned with the other man. That face was damn near impossible to forget.
"You're awake," Scar noted.
It was the first time Maes had heard him speak. Maes' hiding spot had been out of earshot the only time anyone had managed to confront Scar. The serial killer's voice was surprisingly smooth, but that did nothing to quell Maes' instinctive panic.
"His name's Maes," Rick offered.
"He can tell us that himself," the old man admonished. "Why don't you go play with your friends now?"
"But Gatsovo," Rick whined. "You said I could help change the nergui's bandages."
"Next time," Scar said.
"But-" Rick started.
"We need to have a grownup conversation," the old man said.
Rick stormed out, grumbling under his breath and slamming the door on the way out.
"I apologize for his behavior," the old man sighed. "I'm sure you know how kids can be."
Maes was tempted to point out that his own, perfect daughter would absolutely never be rude or unkind, but, to what would have been the astonishment of anyone who knew him, he refrained. Probably because of the looming serial killer. Scar was an expert at looming.
"It's fine, really," he said instead. "I don't think I ever caught your name."
"I'd rather you not know it," the old man. "But you may call me Gatsovo if you wish, or Grandfather if you prefer the Amestrian."
"But that is not why you are here," Scar broke in, sitting down next to Maes, clutching his ribs as he did so.
Maes pulled himself into a sitting position so he could look Scar in the eye.
"I take it you're the one who rescued me," Maes said, hoping it was a safe conversation topic.
Scar inclined his head.
"And I take it you didn't rescue me out of the goodness of your heart," Maes went on.
Scar's eyes narrowed slightly at the sarcastic tone, but he only nodded again.
"Before you passed out, you spoke of an array and something concerning Ishval," he explained.
Maes only vaguely remembered that conversation, but that map had been burned into his mind.
"Are you familiar with the concept of a Philosopher's Stone?" he asked. Scar wasn't the ideal person to tell, but as long as someone knew, someone might be able to fix the country.
Scar stared at Maes for a few moments, then spoke to Gatsovo in Ishvalan. Gatsovo nodded and left the shack.
"I am aware of the term. They are alchemical amplifiers, if I recall correctly." Scar was clearly making an effort to stay calm.
"They are. Apparently, some of the researchers in Ishval were tasked with creating a Philosopher's Stone," Maes explained, noting how Scar's glare increased in intensity at the mention of the researchers. "Before I tell you the rest, I'd just like to say that I only found this out a couple days ago. In fact, it was the Elric brothers that decoded the research, not me."
Scar visibly forced himself to relax. It wasn't particularly encouraging, but Maes pressed on.
"Dr. Marcoh, the head researcher, fled Ishval with his research. The Fullmetal Alchemist stumbled across him in a small town and somehow managed to convince him to turn over his notes. What they discovered-" Maes had to pause to gather his courage. He thought of his perfect wife and amazing, beautiful daughter. "The main ingredient for a Philosopher's Stone is human lives."
"So you're telling me that your Fuhrer attacked Ishval to use my people as power for his demonic arts," Scar growled, somehow managing to become even more menacing than before.
"Bear with me," Maes said solemnly. "It gets worse."
"How?" Scar demanded, fists clenched furiously.
"The more people you use for your stone, the more powerful the stone," Maes continued, wishing he still had his knives. "Theoretically, there's no limit to how many people you use."
"Get to the point." Scar had passed growling and was now into snarling territory.
"If you take all the battlefields in Amestris' history, going back to the founding of the country, you get the array for a Philosopher's Stone. There's only one point missing. The Fuhrer's too young to be anything other than a pawn in a larger scheme."
Maes meant to continue, but Scar stood up abruptly, looming over him. Maes idly wondered if Scar practiced his intimidating looks in front of a mirror. He was very good at them.
"You should get some rest," Scar said, his voice as soft as a tiger's paw. Then he strode out and Maes distinctly heard a bolt sliding home, trapping him inside.