Title: Interlude: Mysteries
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: November 13, 2017
Genre/Continuity: Fantasy alternate universe.
Disclaimer: "Fullmetal Alchemist" belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.
Edward Elric was terrifying. So terrifying Hughes was starting to want to adopt him.
Which probably explained a lot about his friendship with Roy.
Mind you, he wasn't drawn to them because they were terrifying. It was why they were terrifying. Because they had to be. To protect themselves, and, more, to protect those they cared about.
And, Edward Elric cared about his brother. Something he thought he was hiding. But, even as he clapped his hands and turned the practice grounds into a seething horror of hands and spikes, he was always checking his brother's position. He relaxed fractionally when the king left - and wasn't that interesting - but he clearly didn't trust Hughes much either.
Fair enough. Given Edward was planning to present Roy's head to the king, the distrust was mutual.
"Well?" Edward's shout drew him out of his musing, and Hughes looked over the mutilated training ground.
"Impressive," he said honestly. And, terrifying. If the boy ever caught Roy on the ground... "How high can you reach with those?"
Edward's brows arched up into his hair then came down in a furrow.
"Twenty or thirty feet if I don't have time to prepare," he answered. "With time to build a proper support, sixty, maybe eighty feet."
Good to know.
Hughes nodded gravely. And, made a snap decision to lay a card on the table.
"So, how many circles are you using to perform that many transmutations?"
The brows went up again. This time, a smug look followed them.
"None." Edward held up both gloved hands, palms out. His white gloves were plain linen, unmarked.
"And, under the gloves?" Hughes pressed. "Or woven into them?"
Edward's armored brother rattled in surprise.
"Are you an alchemist, Lord Hughes?" he asked in that child's voice of his. Which was a mystery Hughes was still puzzling out. No child that young should be able to even move that armor let alone fill it out.
"No," said Hughes, "but I try to keep my eyes and ears open."
A habit he'd long cultivated but only recently had to use. And, one which apparently impressed Edward.
But, not enough to stop his next taunt.
True enough. But, Hughes still fixed him with a stern glare. It wouldn't do to break his carefully constructed facade. Not here.
"I don't believe I got an answer," he said.
Edward's eyes narrowed, and he reached for a glove. Then, hesitated, darting a glance at his brother before ripping off first one glove and then the other and tossing them to Hughes. That done, he held both hands out, palms up.
Hughes almost dropped the gloves.
While Edward's left hand was normal enough, his right was the smooth silver of worked steel.
Hughes had only heard of it. It was a rare craft - alchemy or clever metalwork or both - the secrets of which the smiths guarded jealously. Few people had met an automail smith. And, fewer still were gifted with their work.
"I'd like those back when you're done," said Edward, and Hughes realized he was staring.
He focused his attention instead on the gloves, mind whirling. Where had the boy gotten automail? What had happened that he needed it?
The gloves offered no answers. To those or his earlier questions. He couldn't see or feel any patterns in their weave inside or out. Although, there could be transmutation circles hidden in some inner layer.
Why though? To preserve trade secrets?
So many mysteries to unravel. Hughes was sure excitement wasn't what he should be feeling, but couldn't stop the thrill of it.
"Hmm." He offered the gloves back. "Interesting. So, what do you know about dragons?"
Edward accepted his gloves and tugged them on before leaning back against one of his alchemy-crafted spires and crossing his arms. "They can grow up to three hundred feet long, fly, and naturally use alchemy," he rattled off.
Hughes couldn't hide his start. "Use alchemy?" It wasn't hard to fill the words with horror. How did the boy know?
"How else do you think they create fire?" said Edward. "Magic?" He huffed. Then, he straightened as his strange golden eyes lit with an unholy glee. "But, you already knew it was alchemy, didn't you?"
Hughes felt cold, but he forced his tongue to work. "I prefer to deal in proven facts myself. Alchemy is proven."
"And, something proved to you dragons use it," Edward insisted. He crossed his arms again. "I've got my old man's notes where he studied dragons in other countries. Where did you learn about them?"
"My own observations," said Hughes, thinking fast. Someone had studied dragons? Had found any still roaming openly to study? "How can anything that big disappear like it does? It's vanished on clear days with no water deep enough to hide in for leagues. And, if it burrows the conventional way, there's no evidence left behind."
Edward nodding, looking thoughtful as he inclined his head toward Alphonse.
"The dragon could be creating tunnels with alchemy," the armored boy allowed. "Or doing something atmospheric while flying. A heat shimmer maybe?"
"That would match the fire breathing," Edward agreed. "Or," he dragged the word out slowly, suddenly scowling, "it could be a physical transformation."
Hughes' heart skipped a beat.
Alphonse released a humming sound. "You're still thinking of a color change to blend in?"
Hughes was sure all this sudden speeding and slowing was bad for his heart.
"It's the only way to make sense of that part of the old man's notes!" Edward snapped so vehemently Hughes knew he was listening to an old argument.
Alphonse only bobbed his helmet, staying silent.
"A transformation? And, what notes?" Hughes asked in the sudden quiet.
Edward waved a hand. "Our father's notes. He wrote them in a cipher, and we're still not sure of all the meanings." He snorted. "But, if you take the words literally, he thought dragons could turn into humans."
It was late evening when Maes Hughes made his way through the tunnel that led from the capitol's central cathedral to the quiet, fog-laden cemetery behind it. The soft clop of his boots against cut stone was the only sound. Then, it too was gone as he stepped out onto damp grass.
Automatically, his feet carried him past weathered stones to a much newer pair situated in the shade of an ancient oak. Hughes looked at the elegant lines of the two stones and the words engraved across them and prayed they were still a lie. That his family was still safe and well.
There was a soft scuffing to his right, and he lifted his head to see the old gardener approach. The man nodded gravely, face folded in wrinkles.
"I'm still looking after them for you, Lord Hughes."
"My thanks." Hughes pressed a small packet into the man's weathered hands.
The man bobbed his head again and shuffled away. He would finish his last duties before dark fell and then be off to a favorite tavern where the letter would pass to another of Roy's quiet, unobtrusive couriers.
And, soon enough, he would see what Roy thought of the Elrics and their surprising knowledge of dragons.