Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: August 3, 2016
Warnings: Some violence, lightly described crime scenes.
Genre/Continuity: Any, set early in the series.
Disclaimer: "Fullmetal Alchemist" belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.
Author's Note: Written for Genex 2016 for Alchemicink.
"Roy!" Maes Hughes had appeared at the end of the hall with a grin that was at least two inches too wide and a voice that was several decibels too loud. "I heard you were in town."
As always. Roy Mustang had long ago stopped worrying about checking in with his old friend when he came to Central. Hughes, with his network of contacts, would know to come looking for him before he got off the train. Possibly before he got on the train.
"Assessment time again, huh?" Hughes continued, approaching in long strides.
No matter how he twisted, Roy couldn't evade the arm slung over his shoulder. And, First Lieutenant Hawkeye, who had been at his side, was suddenly several steps back. No help there.
"Close enough," Roy said, resigned. "It seemed better to get it out of the way."
Not that his yearly assessment as a State Alchemist was anything but a formality. He was the Flame Alchemist, a combat alchemist, a war hero, and a target. Keeping his skills sharp was simple survival. But, the top brass wanted proof, and the assessment was a good excuse to be in Central. Especially since Hughes' demeanor was saying volumes more than his last, cryptic phone call.
"So…" Roy began carefully, dark eyes narrowing.
"Lunch! Of course!" Hughes answered. "My treat, and I can you show the latest photos of my sweet Elicia!" He paused to throw Hawkeye a questioning look.
"I have some old friends to catch up with myself," she said as her eyes slid from Hughes to Roy in an unspoken question.
Roy's equally wordless response had Hughes grinning all the wider. "I'll bring him back, I promise," he assured Hawkeye.
"I'll hold you to that," she answered levelly.
Oblivious to the implicit threat of what would happen if he didn't, Hughes only waved cheerfully as he began to steer Roy down the hall.
Thirty minutes later, the two of them were seated in the middle of a bustling lunch crowd at a small café.
"And, this is Elicia when Gracia and I took her to the fair!" Somehow, Hughes could eat and talk without slowing down at either. "Look at her riding her fat little pony!"
Eating his own meal more carefully, Roy leaned forward a bit to take in the image. He didn't have any other choice. If he tried to avoid Hughes' family photo show, Hughes would only become more insistent.
The pony was clearly the roundest one in the bunch. And, Roy would almost bet that Hughes' three year old daughter had been sold on the joys of fat ponies by her over-protective father, who probably assumed it would be harder to fall off such a round animal.
Beaming, Hughes didn't wait for any response just like he hadn't the last twenty photos and snatched the image back. Then, he reached into his breast pocket again.
"Now, for something a bit different," he said. The grin was still present, but there was an edge on it now.
The next image didn't feature his wife or daughter. Instead, it showed a blood-spattered crime scene complete with a man impaled with a chair leg.
Roy looked at it in the same silence he had the previous photos.
"Here's the really interesting part." Hughes laid another photo on top of the first.
The second photo was taken from a greater distance, showing both the body from the first photo and the room surrounding him. It was a mess of overturned furniture and scattered paper. Yet, an oddly focused mess.
Roy pulled it closer. The angle of the photo distorted the scene a bit, but it looked as though everything in the room had been gathered together and flung onto – and, in some cases, into - the luckless victim. Roy looked back at the first photo with the impaled body.
Hughes obviously saw the way Roy's eyebrows shot up. "So, am I right?" he asked. "Not your run-of-the-mill guy, huh?"
"No," Roy answered, swallowing and considering his words carefully. Assured that Hughes' efforts - no act but rather weaponized enthusiasm - had bought them some privacy, he continued. "Your man either has some strange ideas about disguising his actions or he's an alchemist." His eyes narrowed. "How many?"
Hughes grimaced. "Three so far. Same method every time." He reached out to sweep the photos up, eyes suddenly hidden by a glare on his square glasses. "And, all from my department."
Roy went rigid. "They were—!" He lowered his voice. "Do you think it's because of something you did?"
Or rather, because of something they investigated.
"No. I think it's someone I know," Hughes said quietly, keeping his head down as he shuffled photographs.
Someone he knew. By which he meant someone within the Investigations Department.
"Several files have gone missing lately. Important ones. Possibly misfiled, but—" Hughes stopped there, sensing someone approaching them.
A portly man in a military uniform stepped up to the table, breathing heavily. "Lieutenant Colonel Hughes!" he gasped out. "There's been another—!" He stopped, visibly catching himself. "We need you at a crime scene, Sir."
Roy and Hughes traded a look.
"I'll come with you," said Roy.
The crime scene was worse than the photographs. This victim - Francis Skiron, according to Hughes - had tried to find shelter in a corner. For all the good it had done him. The apartment was a mess of splinters and cracked and powdered plaster. And, bare of anything else as every scrap of furniture and other possessions seemed to have been slammed into the luckless Skiron. Likely again and again given the way the furniture had been reduced to kindling.
Roy surveyed the scene, listening with half an ear as Hughes talked with the man from a neighboring apartment who had been the one to report a disturbance.
"There was an awful roaring sound," the man was saying. "The whole building shook! I tried to run outside, but my door was jammed."
Beside Roy, an auburn-haired woman from Hughes' investigation team was snapping photographs. The glare of the camera's flash tube washed the scene with blue-white light. It glinted off shattered porcelain and reflected back white strands in her dark hair.
As she stepped around to the right, Roy knelt to study the floorboards. He ran a hand slowly over first one, then another. Then, frowning, he stood and examined the walls to either side of the body.
Roy jerked before twisting to glare at Hughes. It was amazing how quiet the man could be when he wanted to. "No," he said. "In fact, it's more what I'm not finding." He tilted his head back to consider the ceiling.
"Mm." Hughes turned his attention to the auburn-haired woman. "Do you see anything, Auster?"
The woman lowered her camera a bit to look at Hughes. "There doesn't seem to be an obvious single cause of death this time. But, considering..." She trailed off, eyes sweeping over the mound of shattered furniture and household debris nearly burying the body.
"Yeah," Hughes agreed. "Like the first case all over again. Maybe this guy's getting sloppy."
Auster pursed her lips.
Hughes' intent face folded into something somber. "He was a good man."
Auster nodded stiffly. "We worked on several cases together." Slowly, she raised the camera to take another photo and paused as her finger stuck on the film advance. She looked at the camera in confusion and then slowly turned back to Hughes, frowning. "Lieutenant Colonel Hughes," she began sternly, "have you been using military resources for family photos again?"
Hughes didn't even try to deny it. "We were taking my little Elicia to the fair for the first time!" he gushed, all seriousness gone. "I had to document such an important day!"
Auster heaved a long sigh. "That was all the film I had." She considered the scene. "I should have enough photos." She started toward the camera bag she had left by the doorway and then turned to glare at Hughes. "But, if not, it will be your responsibility, Sir."
"Of course," Hughes agreed. He paused, considering. "Don't you usually work with Boreas?"
"At the office they said he'd called in sick. I..." Auster hesitated, biting her lip. "I think these cases are getting to him."
"Understandable." Hughes watched as Auster packed the camera and then shouldered the bag.
"If that's all, Sir, I'll head back to have these developed," she said.
Hughes nodded. "Good work." Once she was gone, he turned to Roy. "So?"
Roy checked to be sure no one else was around. But, the neighbor had long since left and the soldier who had been sent for Hughes was standing guard down the hall. "There are no transmutation marks," he said quietly.
"Oh?" From his tone, Hughes didn't - quite - understand.
"Transmutations always leave marks," Roy explained. "Even the delicate work done by specialists. You just have to look for it harder."
"So, it's not alchemy?"
Roy shook his head, mouth a grim line. "Oh, it's alchemy. Just not performed on anything solid."
"I don't like the sound of that," said Hughes. "In fact, since nothing is wet, it sounds a lot like what you do."
For all that he might pretend alchemy was for super-humans and nothing a normal guy like him should have any part in, Hughes was more knowledgeable than he let on. And, easily smart enough to comprehend that Roy transmuted gases, not fire itself.
"Except I don't know how to cause this." Roy turned back to the body in the corner. "To create a wind like that…" He put a hand to his chin. "If you used a dual transmutation to create varying temperatures…"
"So, who else knows that kind of alchemy?" Hughes cut in before Roy could get lost in alchemic technicalities.
"Professor Hawkeye was one of the very few people to study oxygen manipulation." Roy thought a minute. "He did trade some notes with a Carlo Venti..."
"Venti?" Something in Hughes' eyes had sharpened.
Roy arched a brow.
"The name rings a bell," said Hughes. "From a case a few months back. I can look it up in my office."
"Carlo Venti." Hughes laid the file folder across his desk so they could both look at it. "He moved here from Aerugo over forty years ago to study alchemy. His housekeeper found him dead at his desk and reported it. There had been several murders in the area, so my department investigated." Hughes flipped through pages, refreshing his memory. "Turns out he died of natural causes."
Idly, Roy wondered if he should be concerned that dropping dead amid their research was apparently common for alchemists in his field. He decided not to ask for details. Instead, he focused on the issue at hand.
"And, his notes?"
"There were State Alchemists on the scene right behind my team," said Hughes. "They packed up everything but the body and carted it off."
Not surprising really. But, it left them back where they started.
"Who did the investigation?"
Hughes was ahead of him, already flipping pages. "Skiron, Auster, Boreas, and Agrestes." He paused. "You saw Skiron back there, and Agrestes is dead too."
"And, the other two victims?" Roy asked.
Hughes shook his head. "Not connected with the case at all."
They looked at one another.
"Decoys," Hughes bit out and threw himself at the office door, flinging it open and startling a passing secretary. He pounced immediately. "Where is Specialist Auster?"
The secretary, apparently used to this, recovered quickly. "Her shift was over, so she went home. Oh, but she said to tell you that she sent the photographs for development. They should be back in a few days."
Hughes was already in motion, dashing off a, "Thank you!" and diving back into his office to grab the phone. Thumbing through a rolodex, he found Auster's number and dialed it. The phone rang. And, rang and rang.
He looked to Roy. She could have stopped somewhere on the way home, after all. The grocery, a café, her mother's place.
"Better safe than sorry," Roy agreed with his unspoken thought.
By the time they leapt out of their car in front of a little, yellow row house, Roy could already hear the building roar of wind and the fainter sound of screams. Yanking on the ignition glove that had been in his lap, he rushed to the door.
It was unlocked, but resisted, held by some invisible force. Roy threw his weight against it. And, stumbled into an impossible indoor storm. A storm centered around a screaming Corporal Boreas and generated by the stiff figure of one Specialist Kate Auster.
Roy flung out his gloved hand even as she whipped around with her own upraised hand. A thin bracelet on her wrist glowed with the light of an active transmutation circle.
And, the winds she was manipulating changed direction, rushing toward Roy in a debris-laden blast.
A blast that stopped between them, swirling violently as it caught between competing transmutations.
Auster's face twisted into a thin smile as Boreas slid to the floor behind her. "As expected of the Flame Alchemist." Her eyes found the glowing transmutation circle on his glove. The dark lines of the alterations he'd made with a pen stood out against the white cloth. "You slowed the air molecules to alter the pressure." The smile widened a bit. "Did you come for Boreas?"
"No," said Mustang. "I knew it was you. You didn't clean up very well after your last murder. There was still plaster in your hair at the crime scene."
"And, I use my own film when I borrow the department camera," Hughes' voice came from behind Auster.
"Ah, ah." Hughes' voice was uncharacteristically low as he crouched by the open window, leveling his sidearm at her back. "Don't move."
Auster's eyes narrowed.
"Stop your transmutation," ordered Roy.
He felt a shift in the air, and the wind was suddenly closing around Auster, encircling her in a miniature whirlwind that swirled faster and faster. Quickly gathering dirt and debris, it darkened until Auster was invisible inside.
"What is she doing?" Hughes shouted, keeping his gun trained on where Auster should be but afraid to shoot given the strength of the wind.
Roy started to answer but stopped, feeling his ears pop with a sudden change in the air pressure. "Get out!" he shouted instead.
Hughes didn't ask questions. Instead, he holstered the gun and darted over to grab a wobbling Boreas. Slinging the other man's arm over his shoulder, he made for the window.
Roy ducked back out the door and ran around to help them down. He caught Boreas as the older man slid more than climbed the five feet down to the sidewalk.
"W—Why would Kate do this?" the balding man was murmuring.
Roy didn't try to answer. He doubted he would be heard over the building wind anyway.
The house was beginning to groan as Hughes dove out the window behind Boreas. And then, it exploded, boards snapping and bursting outward in a crackling roar.
Roy threw himself back against the stone of the foundation, pulling Boreas with him. Hughes followed as the front wall of the house collapsed over them, trapping them in a narrow void.
For endless instants, the alchemic storm howled above them. Then, it was gone, and, in the sudden silence, there was the unmistakable sound of a car rumbling to life and peeling out down the street.
"If I'm not wrong," Hughes said, voice hoarse, "she just stole our car."
"And, she's getting away," said Roy as he pushed himself toward the largest patch of daylight shining through the boards. A cautious tug and he was able to get his head free enough to see the car barreling around a corner at the end of the street. "She went left!" he called. "Come on!" Then, he was climbing and clambering down broken timbers.
Hughes was behind him, nudging a still-dazed Boreas along. "You might have noticed that we don't have a car anymore," he commented.
But, Roy was already in the street, waving down a car that had slowed to gawk at the destruction.
"Excuse me," he said, opening the driver's side door, "but I need your vehicle. Military business."
"Of course, there's always that option," said Hughes. He turned to Boreas. "Find the nearest phone and call Central Command." Then, he bolted after Roy, throwing himself into the passenger's seat and sandwiching the wide-eyed car owner between them.
"What is this?" the man stammered.
"We're pursuing a dangerous criminal," Hughes explained as Roy hit the gas and the car leapt forward. Realizing that likely wasn't going to relieve the man's fears, he added, "Don't worry. You're safe with us."
Reaching the end of the street, Roy took the corner on two wheels, throwing Hughes and the other man into the door.
"There she is!" he shouted, picking out the military vehicle amid the light traffic and immediately swerving around a slower car to pursue it.
"Are you sure?" asked Hughes. It wasn't as though that model car was entirely unique to the military or that military vehicles were uncommon in downtown Central.
"Very," said Roy as the car he'd indicated suddenly picked up speed and turned down a side street. Weaving through the traffic, Roy followed.
"Right." Hughes braced himself for the next sharp turn and gave the man beside him a reassuring smile. "I've been with Roy when he drives like this before." With the hand not pressed to the door frame, Hughes dug in his breast pocket and produced a photograph. "But, looking at my girls' pictures always calms my nerves." He thrust the photo into the man's face. "Isn't my Elicia adorable? Doesn't she just brighten your—?"
"Hughes!" Mustang barked, spinning the wheel. "Less chatter!"
"He's very intense," Hughes confided to their unintentional kidnapee. "I think he needs a wife." Then, to Roy, "If she can't lose us, she'll probably try something flashy again."
Because that was Auster's only hope for escape now. Either lose them in the city or use her alchemy to create havoc and disappear in the panic.
Roy acknowledged that reality with a grunt. "Can you shoot one of her tires?"
"I'm not Hawkeye, you know." But, Hughes dutifully drew his sidearm and started rolling the window down. "Maybe if someone would stop driving like a maniac."
"I'm very aware that the Lieutenant isn't here," snapped Roy. He wheeled them out of the side street and back onto another of Central's main thoroughfares. "And, if I slow down, we'll lose Auster."
Leaning out the window, Hughes tried to take aim at the fleeing car as it ducked and wove around traffic. "How does a normal guy like me get dragged into these things?"
"Because you're the least normal person I know!" called Roy.
Before Hughes could snap a retort, Auster took another sharp turn. Roy cursed and followed her.
Hughes braced himself and took a shot as soon as they were out of traffic and careening along a narrow alleyway. It glanced off the other car's rear bumper. Then, they were bouncing back out onto a busy street.
"She's sticking to the main roads," Hughes growled as he ducked back inside the car. It meant he didn't dare shoot, but Auster had to know that this couldn't go on forever.
"M—maybe this person is going to the train station?" their nearly forgotten passenger asked.
Hughes started and looked ahead. Central's towering buildings were thinning out around them. And, dominating the horizon ahead was Central Station.
"What?" Roy shot them both an incredulous look. "There's no way she can think she'll get away on a train! All the routes will be locked down and inspected!"
"All she has to do is create a tornado in the station," said Hughes, face grim. "Think about it. Chaos. Hundreds of casualties. She could hop a train or just slip away back into the city and hitch a ride."
Roy swore loudly. As the station drew nearer, he growled out, "Take the wheel!" and reached into a pocket.
Hughes and the car owner both lunged for the steering wheel. Hughes withdrew first.
"Do you have a plan?" he asked instead.
"Maybe," answered Mustang as he produced a second ignition glove.
"Ah." Hughes eyed the car owner's white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel as they barrelled toward the train station entrance through two lanes of cross-street traffic. "Well, you might want to let up on the gas."
Roy did. A little. Before leaning out the driver's side window and unleashing a single, quiet snap.
An explosion bloomed in front of Auster's car, sending it into a sharp, screeching turn. And, then rolling as it over-balanced. It came to rest in the station's narrow parking area, and their car was right behind it.
Roy stomped the brake, and Hughes took that as his cue to leap out and run toward the wrecked vehicle. With any luck the crash would have Auster too rattled to perform any alchemy.
It wasn't a good day for luck.
The rear window of the vehicle blew out in an explosion of glass shards. Throwing up an arm, Hughes dove to the side.
The passenger's side door, now facing skyward, burst open, and Auster emerged with wind already swirling angrily around her. Auburn hair a wild tangle over her face, she raised the arm with the glowing bracelet.
Crouched, Hughes risked a single shot at her. It went wide to her right, pushed aside by the alchemized wind.
"That figures," Hughes muttered as Auster turned toward him with her lips twisted in a sneer. Her face was a bloodied mess of cuts and scratches. A familiar pattern of cuts and scratches. His eyebrows shot up. "Oi, oi. You're—"
"Hurting herself with her own transmutation."
And, Roy was suddenly there with his modified ignition glove outstretched.
"You can't think that little trick will work out here in the open air," Auster hissed.
Roy narrowed his eyes. "For a beginner, you're incredibly skilled," he said. "But, your control is still lacking."
"Lacking?" Bracelet circle glowing bright, Auster's artificial pressure system intensified. The winds blew harder, fiercer, building and darkening.
"Sometimes, I hate it when I'm right," said Hughes as he watched a tornado grow before his eyes.
Within his own pocket of calmer air, Roy extended his other hand. "Alchemy requires both control and concentration." The transmutation circle on the second glove activated.
Hughes stared. "He can't be serious." He ran for the nearest wall of the train station anyway.
There was a snap, and Auster's whirlwind ignited. For an instant, it was a towering, spinning column of flame. Then, it came apart in a long, piercing scream.
Immediately, Roy released all the oxygen he had concentrated around Auster.
Slowly, the fire and wind wisped away, leaving a crumpled, smoking figure on the pavement. Somewhere in the distance, sirens were wailing.
Roy approached the prone figure carefully.
But, there was no need to worry.
Auster lay with her right arm still extended, moaning softly. Her clothes were singed tatters, her skin a mottle of burns. Before she could move - assuming she had even considered doing so - Hughes was there, snatching the bracelet from her outstretched arm.
"Now you do something useful," said Roy.
"Normal guys like me can't get involved in freakshows like that," Hughes answered cheerfully. He stood and then sobered, looking down at Auster. "Some of us know better than to get in over our heads."
Roy inclined his head in agreement. "I suspect Drachma or even Aerugo offered her quite a bit for Venti's notes and the other files she stole from your office."
There was a screech of tires behind them, and both men turned.
First Lieutenant Hawkeye was already exiting the car and moving toward them. Her eyes slid from the two men to the ruined car to Auster and back to Roy and Hughes. They settled on Hughes.
"I was bringing him back," he defended himself.
Hawkeye's lips pursed. "Next time," she said, "I'll be joining you for lunch."
Additional Author's Note: I wanted to do more with the wind alchemy in this story, but time constraints and my poor understanding of everything I read on tornado formation stopped me. I hope the story can still stand as a fun, brief adventure.