Title: Dog of the Military
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for somewhat graphic horror.
Characters: Roy Mustang, with a cameo appearance by two unfortunates.
Setting: Pre-canon AU, set during the Ishbal conflict.
Summary: The Ishbalan desert holds something more terrible for Mustang than the sins he has already committed.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: This "Things That Never Happened" tale was written for the 2015 Spook Me fic challenge, as well as filling the prompt of werewolves at Genprompt Bingo. The story is based on a prompt image I chose from the Spook Me community gallery. The artwork featured a certain type of monster brandishing fireballs in his hands… and from that, with a convenient element of first-anime canon to tie into, the leap of inspiration was pretty easy to make. Actually writing this story turned out to be like pulling teeth, but I managed to conquer it just in time for Halloween night!
If anyone is curious, the Ishbalan name I invented for the indigenous wild dog species is a mashup of the Japanese words for desert (sabaku) and dog (inu).
Roy Mustang could have sworn the ominous scarlet gem on his finger was still glowing faintly.
The stone set into the ring was all he had eyes for, when he slipped away from camp and wandered off into the darkness. He took no notice of the beauty that could be viewed in the empty desert at night: the stars shining brightly in a perfect-black sky, or the full moon that painted sand and stones with cool blue shadows.
After the ugliness he had witnessed—and far worse, had committed with his own hands—there was no room in his heart for beauty. There was only the memory of fire. The sight of the dying as they writhed in flames; the sound of screaming, the scent of charred human flesh.
He wasn't sure whether he had set out on this long, lone walk to try to clear his mind, or just to let himself feel the horror and self-loathing for a while. Perhaps in the vain hope that facing it head-on would let him begin to reconcile with it.
Either way, it wasn't working.
Mustang clenched his right hand. The corresponding glint of the red stone in the moonlight was like a fiendish wink.
No military should have such power. No humans should have such power. It didn't matter for what cause they were fighting, what reason they dared to use it. Forces so monstrous should be beyond any mortal grasp. What the State Alchemists could do on their own was already terrible enough, without this devilry that enhanced their abilities into something purely unthinkable.
He paused in the silence. After more than an hour of walking, his aimless pace had taken him a great distance from camp, into a narrow canyon rimmed by high crags of rock. The only visible traces of a human presence were his own bootprints, trailing behind him in the moonlight.
For a moment, he let himself entertain the thought of not retracing those steps. The thought of not going back; of never going back.
Perhaps never going back to anyplace at all.
They'd been wise to take his sidearm before they gave him the ring. He didn't think his basic human instinct for self-preservation would have let him turn his alchemy on himself, even if he could have found the guts to die in the manner he'd inflicted on others. A swift and simple bullet, on the other hand…
His useless thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a long, low howl. Startled, Mustang swung his head around to search for the source of the sound, but it was difficult to trace as it echoed off the surrounding rocks.
Only then did he remember details of a briefing about the terrain and environment of Ishbal. One of the subjects it had covered was the region's wild desert dogs, called sabinu by the Ishbalan people. Largely nocturnal, these animals roamed the empty desert lands beyond the centers of human population. Although they subsisted on a diet of small rodents and lizards, and for the most part were fearful of humans, rare aggressive ones would occasionally attack an Ishbalan who had gone into the wilderness alone on a prayer pilgrimage.
Mustang swore under his breath, further recalling that he had left his ignition-cloth gloves back at camp. It never occurred to him to bring them: he hadn't expected to wander so far off, and his mind was too full of dark thoughts to clearly consider his own safety anyway. Besides that, the sand of the canyon floor was too soft and shifting to draw a viable array in. Added to his lack of a sidearm, this meant he had nothing by which to protect himself if need be—except…
Another howl bounced back and forth along the canyon walls, sounding louder and closer. The soldier gritted his teeth and looked down at the ring on his clenched fist, the stone gleaming like a drop of blood. With that, he didn't need an array; but up to now, he had only used it for fire alchemy, in conjunction with the sparks from his gloves. In truth, he wasn't quite sure how to apply its power to other transmutations. At least, not safely.
Somewhere ahead of him, he heard the skittering of a few loose stones down the steep side of the canyon, and he felt the ominous sense that he was being stalked.
With a muttered curse, he surveyed his surroundings, and saw the skeletal remnants of a long-dead tree that had grown out of a crevice in the rocks. Quickly moving over to it, he snapped off a sturdy branch. The resulting point on the end was jagged and sharp. At least this makeshift spear was better than having no weapon at all.
He took a deep breath, standing braced in the center of the canyon floor, and strained his eyes in the moonlight. The rocks jutting out from the steep walls bore sharp, eerie shapes that threatened to trick the mind, while also providing abundant cover for a predator on the hunt. When he thought he saw movement at the corner of his eye, he barely checked himself from throwing his spear at what proved to be only a craggy pile of stone.
Silence stretched out for several minutes, as Mustang waited tensely.
…This was ridiculous. The animal was probably just going about its own business, sniffing out rats, with no interest in Mustang whatsoever. The odds of it being one of those dangerous rogue specimens were surely miniscule.
Very slowly, Mustang let out his breath, and turned to follow his own tracks back to camp.
Afterward, he never knew where the sabinu came from. His only warning was a loud snarl—and then it was on him, hurling him backwards into the sand. He felt the sudden, vise-like pressure of its jaws as they clamped onto his right arm, but he was conscious of no pain.
The perceptions he captured came only in disjointed fragments. A flash of pale-brown fur, the roll of an eye that glittered green-gold. Long and sinewy forelegs—the same brown, but flecked with darker spots—braced over his body. A dull sensation of pulling in his shoulder socket, as the animal wrenched and tugged the arm it held trapped between its teeth.
Somehow Mustang had lost the tree-branch spear when the sabinu collided with him. He beat his left fist against the dog's neck and head, but it seemed little deterred by the resistance. It merely growled and shook his arm roughly, causing its fangs to tear deeper into flesh and arteries.
With that violent movement, the first hot slivers of pain began to shoot through Mustang's nerves. At the shock of it, an instinctive inner cry for help rippled through him… and it was answered by the crimson gem on his finger.
A blinding flare of scarlet-tinged light erupted from the ring, forcing Mustang to shut his eyes with a gasp. The sabinu uttered a cry above him, and the pressure of its grip on his arm was released; but another, more terrifying kind of pressure took its place. Mustang suddenly felt as if his body was mere putty, being stretched and compressed all at once. A shocking pain ignited throughout his being—but that pain was secondary to the terror of another, even more overwhelming feeling.
The sensation could only be described as that of something outside himself—something other—melting into him.
When Mustang regained his senses, sprawled on his back in the sand, he was surrounded by nothing but utter silence and stillness.
For a brief moment, the soldier's dazed mind was unclear about what had happened. As he remembered nightmare fragments of sharp teeth and alchemic light, his heart began to race. Quickly he jerked into a sitting position, and began to take stock of himself.
The sleeve of his uniform was torn and stained with blood; but underneath the mangled fabric, the flesh of his arm was perfectly unblemished. There was no trace of the savage wound that should have been left by the sabinu's jaws.
Mustang's eyes widened. He stopped breathing for a moment, as his fingers slid gently across his intact skin. The damaged sleeve was proof that the dog's attack had been no dream. Its deep, tearing bite should have left him bleeding his life out onto the sand… yet as far as he could see, he was now completely unharmed. It was a phenomenon he couldn't begin to account for.
His gaze moved down from his arm to the knuckles of his hand—and a new unease ghosted through him. The faint spark of the red stone was gone. Turning his fist in the moonlight, he discovered that the stone itself was gone, leaving only the ring with its empty setting.
The red stone… Could it have recoiled?
Doctor Marcoh had warned him of that possibility. The older man's eyes were haunted when he mentioned vaguely that several accidents had happened during the testing phase. He sternly admonished Mustang to be aware of the stone's sensitivity, and control his transmutations very carefully when using it, to avoid unleashing too much of its power at once.
Until now, that advice had been easy to obey. After witnessing the destruction caused by even the slightest exertion of the stone's potential, Mustang had instinctively shied away from pushing it any further.
But tonight, in the heat of panic, driven by sheer instincts of survival…
He shivered and took in a deep breath, running his fingers over his arm once more. Whatever it might have done to the sabinu, it was clear that the stone had healed his own injury, and that was certainly nothing to complain about. Thanks to it, he was alright; he was fine.
In any case, he could pay a discreet visit to a pair of doctors he knew and trusted. Even though he seemed completely well, it would do no harm to make sure he was alright.
Gingerly he stood up, taking care to gain a stable footing in the shifting sands, and began to walk in the direction he had originally come from.
The adrenaline pumping through his system due to the attack and his fear must have heightened his awareness. Mustang could have sworn he was now seeing more sharply in the dark, noticing details of the canyon's scenery that had been lost in the shadows his first time through. The air seemed to him to be saturated with unfamiliar smells, and he started at every tiny sound of a rat or a lizard scampering back into the rocks as he passed.
Of course, his earlier inattention to his surroundings was what had gotten him into trouble in the first place. It was only natural that after almost being killed through his own carelessness, his nerves would be on edge, hyper-alert to further dangers.
It was funny how a brush with mortality could change one's mind. Only a little while ago, the idea of not living anymore had been appealing to him; but after looking death in the face, here he was, hurrying back to see the doctor and be reassured that he was healthy. Human nature was a strange and fickle thing, with its urge for self-preservation that could compel him to fight to protect a life he still had no love for.
As minutes passed and Mustang kept walking, the canyon walls gradually sloped and receded into the sands of the open desert. Shortly after that, the lights of the military encampment became visible, orange sparks glowing in the distance. The soldier veered to the left then. His doctor acquaintances, a married couple named Rockbell, had set up their makeshift clinic at some distance from the camp.
Mustang knew the reason why. He had discovered it quite by accident, one day when he stepped into the clinic unannounced, and glimpsed a brown-skinned boy with a bandaged eye who hastily fled out the back door.
After that, the Rockbells were forced to trust him with the truth. As civilian volunteers in the war zone, they were unspoken pacifists—and they believed in helping anyone in need, no matter which side their patient was on. If higher authorities in the military were to learn of that secret, the couple would be branded as treasonous… and after all he had seen, Mustang had no illusions about their fate. Public hatred of the Ishbalans had been manipulated to stoke this conflict, and those behind it could not allow a pair of well-respected doctors to contradict the popular image of the natives as murderous savages.
In the beginning, ambitious and obedient, Mustang might have seen it the military's way… but not after the red stones.
For that reason, he knew he could rely on the Rockbells to repay his silence now. As he was faithful to keep their forbidden charity to himself, he could also trust them not to reveal his shocking experience of this night.
Not that it should really matter. When they examined him, he was sure they would discover nothing remarkable. He felt fine… or actually, better than fine, brimming with physical energy and mental clarity. This was a complete change from the battle fatigue that had clung to him when he set out on his fateful walk.
It was madness that the government cared only about the stones' destructive capabilities, if they also had the incredible healing powers he had now witnessed firsthand. He began to wonder if, when he was issued a replacement for his "lost" stone, he could quietly convince Marcoh to give him another one to spare. The Rockbells might be able to work wonders with it; even unlock its secrets and revolutionize medicine, in all of the ways the military's scientists had so utterly neglected.
Another twenty minutes of walking brought Mustang near to the crudely-constructed building that housed the Rockbells' clinic. There were no windows, but he could see light spilling from the cracks around the ill-fitting door.
The closer he came, the more he became aware of… something that jangled his nerves. Ten yards from the clinic, he paused to try to sort out what he was sensing. Except for an occasional sound from the military camp in the distance, the night was quiet and still; it wasn't something he was hearing, and nothing was visibly amiss either.
He prepared to step forward, taking in a deep breath—and then it struck him like a sledgehammer.
There it was, underneath the odor of antiseptics that wafted from the clinic. The sensation that had disquieted him was the faint scent of blood. Likely coming from discarded bandages and rags the Rockbells had not yet found the time to burn, it should have been imperceptible to him; but in this moment, it was seared into his awareness until it was almost all he knew.
Strange images flared in his mind. Chasing lizards among the rocks. Crouching down to lap water from a desert spring. Slipping into a dark cave to sleep through the heat of the day.
Mustang's head throbbed with sudden, sharp pain that nearly doubled him over. It felt as if his skin had caught fire, and every muscle beneath it ached. He released a ragged groan through his teeth as he staggered toward the door of the clinic, his stomach twisting as much from fear as from the rising turmoil in his body.
What is happening to me…?
With every step closer to the door, the blood-smell only grew stronger. More images stirred: memories that were not his own.
Staring down from the cliffs at a solitary Ishbalan pilgrim who was making his camp for the night. Creeping closer—stalking prey. Leaping upon the unsuspecting victim, snapping shut powerful jaws on his throat.
Not only the smell, but the taste of human blood, arousing an irresistible hunger for more.
Gasping, he fell against the door of the clinic, and reached for its handle. His hands didn't feel right; they scarcely obeyed him, but he managed to rattle the lock. From the other side, he heard the voices of a man and woman, followed by footsteps and the jingle of keys.
The door opened onto bright light, permitting him to collapse inside the doorway, his body shaking and wracked with torment.
From above him came the sound of Sarah Rockbell's voice, startled and confused. "Roy? What's happened?"
Raising his head, he looked up at her—only to see her recoil from him in horror.
He tried to speak, but a guttural sound was all that would emerge. It felt as if his flesh and bones were tearing themselves apart. With an effort, he pushed himself up a little; and when his gaze fell to the hands he had braced under his chest, he knew the reason for Sarah's reaction.
His hands were no longer hands at all. Before his eyes, they were twisting into talons, growing rough and hairy—light brown hairs flecked with a darker color, just like the forepaws of the sabinu. His fingers stretched into new shapes, while long claws erupted from beneath his fingernails, breaking the skin and leaving rosebud prints of blood on the floor.
Red—like the red stone.
The rest of his body was no less consumed by this agonizing change. Bones shifted and muscles bulked, splitting his uniform until it fell away in rags. Now exposed, every inch of his skin was sprouting coarse hair that quickly began to layer into a coat of fur. Joints cracked as his limbs bent into new configurations. His spine arched, thickening into a bristled black ridge down the center of his back.
A low howl escaped from his throat as his face distorted, nose and mouth and ears stretching outward from his skull. As he panted for a breath through the tortured convulsions, his tongue felt the sharp, shearing points his teeth had become—and he realized what they were meant for.
It was his last clear perception before his awareness shrank to the pain, the terror, and the scent of blood… and then, only the blood.
Moving on instinct, he lurched into an upright crouch on his haunches. His vision was warped and grayed, but he saw the Rockbells in front of him. The couple he came to seek help from had backed against a wall; Yuri stood braced in front of Sarah, his arms outstretched in a futile effort to shield her.
Within the creature that had once been separately a man and a beast, only a single will held dominance now, its primal power sublimating the anguish and horror of the other. Newly born into this form, it understood nothing except its own hunger.
The chimera lunged forward, and the dark desert echoed with screams.
© 2015 Jordanna Morgan