Title: Third Vane - Allies
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 9, 2017
Genre/Continuity: Fantasy alternate universe.
Disclaimer: "Fullmetal Alchemist" belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.
Riza wasn't sure what she had been expecting after two days - by Roy's reckoning - inside the alchemy-crafted dragon caves. Roy had led her past underground waterfalls and vents that hummed with the susurrations of enormous breaths rising from below. She had walked over sleeping dragons, camped above them by the light of alchemy-fed fires. Perhaps miles above them, perhaps only feet.
In contrast, the sleepy village nestled in the valley below was startlingly normal. Pastureland spread out over the narrow valley floor dotted with sheep and cattle. Smoke rose in lazy trickles from at least two dozen structures.
Riza looked to Roy questioningly, wondering if this was their destination or only a supply point. Then, stopped and looked instead at the low ridgeline ahead and then back to the mountain they'd slipped through.
"This is almost at the border," she said. "There aren't any villages this high in the mountains."
"Of course not," said Roy, smiling. In the daylight, it highlighted pinched lines near his eyes, and Riza was reminded that he too had spent weeks as part of a frantic chase. "It wouldn't do for anyone to know where I've hid my people." Belying the tired lines around his eyes, he began to pick his way along a narrow path leading down with his usual grace. "There are vents here too to bring up warm air from below. It keeps the valley habitable even in the depths of winter."
"Also built by dragons?" Riza asked as she followed him.
"No." Roy raised an arm to wave a quick pattern in the air, and Riza saw that a small group was gathering at the edge of the village. "I proposed the idea, but it's the humans I found who made it work."
The people who met them at the village entrance – Roy's people? – were a varied lot. At the forefront was a lanky blond man with a lazy slouch and sharp eyes. Beside him stood a stocky redhead and a tall, older man with gray hair and a narrow face.
"That was a long trip," said the blond man, straightening. "We were starting to think someone managed to put an arrow in you."
Roy grinned. "The Lady Hawk's Eye here very nearly did, but she was willing to be persuaded against it."
Three sets of eyes focused on Riza.
She squared her shoulders and met their gazes. "My name is Riza." Roy seemed to know her family name - a mystery she meant to pry out of him eventually - but there was no need to offer it to anyone else. "I intended to kill the dragon who attacked the Capital." She glanced at Roy. "But, he made a convincing argument for having good intentions."
"He's good at that," muttered the shorter, stocky man.
"Kill him?" asked the blond. He started and jerked his head toward Roy while pointing at Riza. "So, she's the one who—!"
He was immediately elbowed by the stocky redhead. "Later," he said. Then, he inclined his head toward Riza. "Heymans Breda."
"Oh, right. Jean Havoc," said the blond, idly rubbing his abused ribs.
"Vato Falman," said the older man who had been quiet until that point.
Riza nodded to each of them in turn.
"Where's Fuery?" asked Roy.
"Taking care of the messenger bird that just got in," said Breda. "There's a message from your friend in the Capital."
Roy's eyes sharpened. "Let me see it."
Riza soon found herself inside a small inn with a crackling fireplace. It was the largest building in the settlement and clearly a frequent gathering place for the group's private meetings given the way the proprietor had nodded to them and ducked into the back.
Roy had positioned himself by the fire to read the slip of parchment brought in by a small man with dark hair and an earnest face, Fuery apparently. Whatever was in the message left Roy frowning faintly, but his face slid into a smirk when he caught her watching him.
"It seems our target is taking some new steps to find me," he said. "But, nothing too worrying yet."
His men seemed to take it more seriously, nodding grimly.
"It was too much to hope that they'd keep using the same tactics," said Breda. "So, what's he planning?"
"The king has called in outside alchemists, apparently." Roy shrugged, but the lines around his eyes were deeper. "There wasn't any description beyond 'unusual'."
"Unusual and alchemists. That doesn't sound good," said Havoc.
Breda grimaced and nodded. "I'll draft some messages to let everyone know to keep a lookout."
"We'll spread the word around the village." Havoc gestured to himself, Falman, and Fuery. Then, he looked to Breda. "I'm making a supply run soon, so come up with some copies I can pass around."
Breda nodded then glanced toward Roy as the group began to break up. Riza followed his gaze and was just in time to catch the dragon-turned-man rubbing at his temple.
Breda pretended he hadn't seen it. "I can walk the lady here to her quarters," he offered, indicating Riza.
Hand slipping away as though he had only been straightening his cloak, Roy inclined his head. "Very well." He extended a hand and passed Breda another strip of parchment. "Please deliver this to Lady Gracia as well." Then, he focused on Riza. "If you need anything, let Breda know."
Riza nodded. Roy wasn't the only one who was tired. And, she probably looked quite a bit worse than her inhuman ex-quarry. The journey through the mountain had been more pleasant than it had any right to be, but she had still spent weeks on the road without anything resembling proper lodging.
At a gesture from Breda, she followed him out into the village. Evening was slowly falling, and people were busy finishing the last tasks of the day. Up close, the settlement still seemed normal enough. If one didn't look even closer.
"So many people."
Varied people. Varied clothing. Too much variation for a remote mountain village.
Breda, smirked faintly. "Every dragon hoards something. Roy prefers people."
She arched a brow, and he sobered.
"I'm serious," he said. "But, Roy never takes it too far. He asks. And, he looks out for anyone that's his." Something in Breda's face darkened. "It's more than I can say for some generals." Reading the question in her face, he added, "Let's just say that the king's new idea for a standing army anyone can join isn't as nice as it sounds."
Before Riza could ask more, Breda stopped at a small, stone dwelling and rapped on the door.
The woman who answered his knock presented another small mystery. Because it was immediately obvious that the Lady Gracia might properly deserve the title Roy had given her. It wasn't her plain dress or her simple, short hair. It was something more subtle. A turn of speech here, a genteel gesture there.
Breda offered no clues, introducing her only as Gracia Hughes while he discreetly passed her the note from Roy. Then, he turned to Riza. "I stay over there," he said, indicating another small dwelling across the pathway. "If you need anything, I'll be there, drawing up messages."
Once he had left, Gracia smiled at Riza. "Are you hungry?"
So it was that Riza found herself eating with Gracia and her three year old daughter, Elicia. It was as pleasant as it was surreal after the trip that had brought her there. But, Riza let herself be pulled along with the flow of conversation. Tomorrow would be soon enough to resume sorting out of the chain of mysteries Roy had given her.