The cylinder was twelve feet across and as tall as it was wide. Veins of dark and light stone ran through it in intricate patterns that could only be understood when viewed from the inside. It existed in every world that could conceive of it, inspiring its own creation, oozing into the dreams of those with the necessary skill.
If it had a purpose, it was not fathomable to the human mind. But its powers were obvious.
From it you could reach anywhere, any world where it existed.
But those who used it understood, for such a gain, something of equal value must be lost.
Severus Snape pitched the cauldron of acid across the cylinder's surface. The green slime oozed into the strange patterns on its surface, eating away at the incomprehensible design. He watched it melt. He could hear the reaction, hissing and sputtering. He could smell the dissolving stone, the eye-watering stench. He pressed a ruler into the hole the acid had made, confirming its depth. He did everything short of tasting the damn thing.
But if he left the room and came back, the cylinder would be whole again.
He knew it was a mystical object. It had managed to spit out two Alchemists who had aided Potter and his little gang in their quest to destroy the Dark Lord. He supposed they had at least in part succeeded. Lord Voldemort had been dragged into a strange dark portal along with Potter's corpse and Edward Elric. As far as Snape knew, and from the hysterical reaction of Alphonse Elric, Edward's younger brother, there was little chance of any of those three returning from wherever that portal went. But Snape couldn't risk even a little. If the cylinder and the portal the Elrics had created were in any way linked, then they had to be destroyed.
After levitating the cylinder to his new base of operations, Snape had gathered all the information he could about it, but Edward Elric had destroyed the Riddle house where most of it was kept, and Snape hadn't been very much involved in the project before it started spitting out enemies. He was fairly certain the cylinder was a gateway between worlds. He supposed he'd have to break up the mystical as well as the physical aspects of the object if he were going to destroy it, but he didn't know enough about it to do that. It resisted transfiguration the same way it resisted acid, explosions, and being dropped from great heights.
Snape left the cylinder to heal itself, and went to the library he'd gathered at his hideout. He researched the problem for another hour, but then picked up a potion text. He slumped down into a chair he'd conjured and paged through the book, relaxing. He supposed he didn't have to rush that much. If anything came out of the cylinder, they'd run into the wards and traps he'd set around it, and he doubted even Voldemort would survive those.
If Edward Elric came through, he wouldn't stand a chance.
The Southern Border of Amestris, The Ruins of Ishbal…
Was the glass half empty or half full? Colonel Mustang glared at it. The bourbon was so watered down it didn't really matter one way or the other. Since Hawkeye wasn't there to stop him, he drank it.
The latest report was on the folding card table that was now his desk. The last table had been much nicer. They'd brought it out on the supply train, but that had been blown up, along with the building he'd been using as an office in the crumbling remains of Ishbal. He wasn't certain if it was Kimblee or Scar who took out the building, but it was gone either way. So were the fifteen people who were working there at the time, including Breda and Fallman: their bodies unrecoverable.
He looked at the paperwork that had survived the fighting that had killed so many good friends, and somehow managed to crawl after him. The siege of Leore was not going well. They'd twice been forced to pull back by massive alchemic reactions that flared up whenever they got more than a dozen soldiers into the city.
And now there's this, he thought. I should've known your death wasn't enough to keep you from causing trouble, Edward. I guess I'll have to wait for mine.
Mustang glared at the report and then got up from his desk. He started marching toward the brig they'd set up. Lt. Havoc fell in step behind him.
They'd built the jail after the first week waiting to deploy. In most circumstances they wouldn't have bothered with an intermediate step like that, so close to the front lines. Executions were the norm when soldiers stepped out of line in a war zone. But things had gone so strangely out of control that they'd have been forced to execute half their own troops if they stuck to the letter of Military Law.
The guards outside the jail saluted as they passed. The first 6 cells were packed with soldiers who'd been drunk and/or fighting, though what there was to drink or fight over Mustang couldn't begin to fathom. He marched past them, getting salutes or obscene gestures depending on sobriety.
The last cell contained only two occupants, the female prisoners, kept separate for their own safety. One of them had short auburn hair and a red tattoo curling up her neck onto her face. Her right arm had been blown off by the Crimson Alchemist, Kimblee, apparently while she was trying to slit his throat. Both her legs were broken in the explosion Crimson had set off to prevent her escape. She wouldn't give her name, but Crimson called her Marta, and claimed she was one of the Chimera that had survived Archer's purge in Dublith. Marta lay stretched out on the only bench in the cell, with her head resting in the lap of the cell's other occupant: Winry Rockbell.
Winry was in the cell thanks to the Crimson Alchemist as well, though she'd come out of her run-in in much better condition. According to her written statement, she'd been crossing the desert to Leore when Kimblee stumbled across her. Kimblee had tried to grab her, (which would have resulted in her horrific and gory death due to the alchemic arrays tattooed on Kimblee's palms) and Winry had clubbed him unconscious with a torque wrench. She'd then tied him up and dragged him to the military camp. Kimblee, when he woke in the medical tent, claimed he was acting in self-defense.
Winry looked up as Mustang came to a stop in front of her cell.
"What happened to Ed and Al?" she asked.
"I told you not to come out here, Ms. Rockbell," Mustang said.
"What happened to them?" she asked. The other prisoners had gone quiet to listen as well.
"An alchemy accident," he said.
"Ed and Al don't just have accidents," she said.
Mustang decided not to point out the fact that they did, all the time. "I don't know how it happened. They were studying the artifact under my orders, and Alphonse somehow activated the array. Ed attempted to free him from it, and it consumed them."
"It's classified, and it's already been sent to Central for study. There's nothing out here for you."
"Everyone else comes out here, why shouldn't I?" She was crying now.
"There is a supply train coming out here in two days," Mustang said. "You will be put on that train and escorted back to Central. From there I suggest you return home."
"I need answers."
"Sometimes there aren't any."
Mustang turned and marched out, Havoc still silently following.
There was a bright light burning his eyes.
Ed blinked and flinched, and realized it was the sun.
Where? Where? Where?
His whole body ached and stung and tingled, and something was poking him in the butt. He realized after another addled moment that the lower half of his body was wet. Ed groaned and turned his head.
He was lying half in a river, caught up on a bunch of trampled reeds. He tried to sit up, but ended up sliding further into the water. He went to pull himself around, but his right arm caught on something. He looked over, and saw a hand clenched around his automail.
There was someone lying next to him. His head throbbed as he tried to identify the other person: dark hair, a pale face with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Ed was sure he should know this person. Ed wracked his brain and the name slowly came back to him.
"Harry?" he asked.
He pried the other boy's hand free and with a huge effort, sat up.
"Harry? Are you alive?"
The other teenager didn't answer. He was lying there with his eyes closed. His shirt was torn open at the collar, and the blood seal carved into the skin of his chest still oozed blood. His glasses were missing, and Ed could see his eyelids twitching. Ed supposed the other was dreaming.
Guess that means he's alive, too, Ed thought.
The sky above them was a horrible, cheerful blue, filled with fluffy white clouds. The other side of the river was a featureless muddy bank. The tall stalks hid the rest of the world from view. He couldn't see anything of the battlefield they'd been on.
"What the hell?" he muttered. "What the hell?"
He looked around for Al, but didn't see him. He'd gone through the Gate after him, and taken his place. So shouldn't Al be out here, then? Ed checked himself, but found no pieces missing. He poked himself in the stomach, but everything seemed to be there, too. That made him incredibly suspicious. He looked over at Harry, but all his limbs appeared accounted for. Ed decided to wait for Harry to wake up and check if anything not-so-visible was missing. Ed had noticed the other boy had landed on enough bent reeds to keep him completely out of the water. Ed glared and considered tumbling him in to wake him up.
But if neither of us paid a Toll to the Gate…
Ed's stomach clenched. He hadn't seen Al in the writhing mess inside the Gate, but what if his younger brother hadn't made it back out? What if he'd been taken, once again as the payment for a human transmutation? There was only one other person unaccounted for.
A soft hissing was coming from upstream. It didn't sound like a snake, more like air slowly escaping a tire. Ed crawled toward it, pushing through the plants. There was dark figure sprawled a few feet away, with smoke rising from him. The body was wrapped in a dark robe, but all of the flesh was gray and bubbling slightly as it sublimated in the light. Ed saw a wand in the mushy remains of the hand, and he snatched it up.
He frowned. If the Gate had taken Voldemort in exchange for their passage, why had the body come with him? Was the extra bit of soul Harry was carrying around really enough to pay both of their way out? He didn't trust it--until they found Al, safe and sound, he wasn't going to relax, and that meant nobody else was either.
"Harry, wake up!" Ed ordered.
The other boy flinched.
"Harry!" he shouted. "Get up or get dunked!"
"Uh?" the other responded sluggishly.
After many more repetitions of "Harry" and "get up" Ed finally got the other teenager conscious.
He didn't want to get up, or speak or even open his eyes, but Ed was still talking at him. He couldn't imagine a more grating voice. His chest ached and stung. His body ignored him as he tried to move. It might've had something to do with being dead.
He remembered that green light washing over him…again, and the arms reaching for him, pulling at him as memories flashed through his head, memories that weren't really his. Voldemort's memories and Ravenclaw's and maybe even Ed's, too.
"Harry! Get up or get dunked!"
There was a strange pressure in the back of his head, like someone was stepping on him. It didn't make much sense, since he was lying face up.
"Harry! Hey, Harry!"
I wish that wasn't my name. Maybe it's not. Maybe I've got a new name now, and I'll lie here till he gets it right. He considered who else he might be, but his other options weren't that great. I guess I'll be Harry, then. He tried to answer Ed, but a garbled hiccup came out instead of words.
"Come on! Get up!"
"um up," Harry finally mumbled.
Ed glared at the other teenager as he flopped around and finally sat up. He looked tired and confused, which didn't make a lot of sense to Ed, since he had been doing all the work.
"You alright?" Ed asked.
"I guess. Where are we?" Harry asked.
"Don't know," Ed said, "But we aren't going to find out sitting here."
"What's that hissing noise?" Harry asked, feeling around in the rushes, presumably for his glasses. He didn't find them.
"Dead guy over there," Ed said.
"Who is it?"
"Don't you remember?"
Harry froze. "He's dead? Voldemort's dead?"
Harry insisted on Ed showing him the body, though he couldn't really see it. After Harry finished squinting at the rapidly decomposing corpse, they stumbled away from the rushes, up a riverbank that Ed thought looked a bit familiar.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked.
"That way," Ed said, pointing, though he was pretty sure Harry couldn't see his finger, much less the bend in the watercourse he was directing him to.
"I lost my wand," Harry mumbled.
"Here," Ed said, holding out the one he'd taken off the corpse. "Mr. Melty isn't going to be using it again."
"I don't want it," Harry said, backing away.
"Yours isn't around," Ed pointed out.
"I don't want it!" Harry said again, more emphatically. "It was his!"
"It's not like I'm telling you to put on his old underwear! Just take the goddamn wand!" Ed shouted.
After a bit more pointless argument Harry relented, though his attempts to summon his glasses back to him failed. Ed wondered if the Gate had taken those as payment. He burst out laughing and Harry gave his a strange look.
"Where are we?" Harry asked again.
"I don't know," Ed said. "I was trying to find a way out of the Gate; I think I may've gotten turned around."
"Then where are we going?"
"Maybe…Resembool," Ed said.
"In your world?" Harry asked.
"Maybe," Ed said. "This looks like a place Al and I went hiking, but I could just be imagining things. Half of your world looked like this, too. Maybe we just got dumped out a few miles from the battlefield in Scotland. Tell me if you see smoke."
"How'd we end up…here?"
"You don't remember?" Ed asked.
"I remember Snape…the green light…the killing curse…and everything was dark…arms pulling at me…and eyes floating…looking at me…" Harry said.
"You don't remember the transmutation? The bits of your soul hanging out of your body?" Ed asked.
"No," Harry said. "My soul was hanging out?"
The dark haired teenager looked down at the front of his clothes as if he thought he should check his fly. Ed was about to point out the stupidity of that when Harry gasped, apparently noticing the array Al had carved into his chest.
"What is this?" he asked.
"Blood seal," Ed said.
"What's it do?" Harry asked.
"It might be holding your soul in your body," Ed said. "I didn't really see what Al did, I only noticed when the Gate showed up and pulled the two of you in."
"I went in after him. I think I switched him back out, since I didn't see him in the Gate, and he wasn't around where we came out-"
"I'm sure he's fine," Harry said.
"So how will you know for sure if we're in your world?" Harry asked, as if he expected Ed to know all about dimension hopping.
"I guess if that's Resembool a few miles around that bend, it will be pretty conclusive."
There wasn't much Harry could do besides follow. His arms were numb and his hands were filled with pins-and-needles tingling. When Ed had gotten a few yards ahead of him, Harry pulled open the collar of his shirt and inspected the seal Alphonse Elric had carved on him. Blood oozed from it. He wondered if it really was all that kept his soul from falling out of his body.
Was I really dead? he wondered. He didn't know enough about Alchemy to know if it could really raise the dead, but he knew magic couldn't, not for real anyway. He hoped he wasn't some sort of zombie or Inferi. He also hoped Alphonse Elric hadn't died for this. It was bad enough he'd gotten his own parents and Sirius killed. He didn't want to carry the weight of another kid dying in his stead as well.
"Walk faster!" Ed ordered.
Now if Ed was dead… he grumbled to himself.
"What happens if this heals over?" Harry called out.
Ed turned around and stomped back to him. "Then you'll have a scar with the same array, and you'll be fine."
Ed sounded like he was making things up.
"Come on," Ed ordered.
Harry wanted to try a spell, but his hands only fumbled as he tried to command Voldemort's wand.
"Can you wait up a bit?" Harry called.
Ed glared back over his shoulder at him. "What?"
"Wait up, alright?"
"Why? We've got a ton of shit to do. There's no time for sitting around!" Ed declared.
"I was dead, damn it! I can't just run around like it's nothing!"
"Is something wrong with you?"
"Aside from having a couple of extra souls take over my body, getting killed, and getting dragged into an alchemic gate? Well, I think I might have sprained my wrist a bit when we landed."
"Al's in trouble," Ed said. "And your pals are still on a battlefield in another world. We don't have time for you to have a personal crisis. Walk it off or something!"
With that, Ed turned and continued storming along, and Harry was forced into a stumbling jog to keep up. The concept of being in another world was a little hard to swallow. He hadn't really doubted that Ed and Al had come from somewhere far away, but this place didn't seem that different from England. He sort of expected another world to have purple trees, or dinosaurs or something.
Of course he hadn't really put that much thought into where Ed had come from. He just assumed they'd find that cylinder and use it to send the Alchemists on their way. Using magic to go wherever you wanted in the blink of an eye sort of messed up his sense of logistics.
And now I'm stuck here.
Harry palmed Voldemort's wand again. He was starting to wonder if his magic worked at all in this place. He squinted and pointed the wand at a parched-looking hedge on the side of the road. It was his intention to transfigure it into a pair of glasses.
"Verto!" he said.
A blue burst of energy came from the end of the wand and the hedge caught fire.
"What the hell are you doing?" Ed called back.
He was already at the top of the next hill.
"Nothing," Harry called back. "Aguamenti!" he said, trying to conjure water.
Another burst of blue energy came from the wand--this time the burning hedge was blasted apart and flaming twigs flew all over, starting other fires.
"Crap," Harry said.
"What the hell is wrong with you? You get to my world and you start burning stuff?" Ed demanded, clapping his hands together and pressing them to the ground, the earth under the fire rumbled and then rolled over itself, smothering the flames.
"I wasn't trying to do that!" Harry said. "I think I've got some wires crossed or something."
"Well, don't do anything else. I think I can see the town from up there. Come on."
Harry frowned and followed.
The researchers watched it nervously. They had all done their best not to touch it as it was taken off the flatcar and lowered by crane into the warehouse. They'd observed it carefully in the weeks since it arrived, but without breaking it open, they had no hope of understanding its inner workings. For the past few weeks they'd watched the cylinder gather dust.
But now the Fuhrer wanted a report, and they had nothing new to tell him. He'd come all the way back from the base outside the ruins of Ishbal to hear what they'd learned. He wasn't going to be happy.
"Do you have any idea what it does?" Fuhrer Bradley asked as he walked in slow circles around the cylinder, keeping his eye on it. The patched eye was towards the head researcher, though the man thought the Fuhrer could probably see him just as well from his blind side.
"No sir, but if it absorbed the Elrics, they might still be inside."
"Has it done anything since you brought it in?" the Fuhrer asked.
"There might've been some energy discharge through the exterior arrays. It flashed briefly."
"Has anyone tried to activate it yet?"
"No, not after hearing what happened-"
"Get someone to try. There are always washouts from the State Alchemist's exam hanging around Central. A cut-rate alchemist shouldn't be too hard to find."
"But even we don't know what it will do-"
"You don't need to understand it. Just turn it on."
"Are you disobeying a direct order?"
"No sir! It's just…what if something comes back out?"
Author's Note and Tiny Time Line: Yeah, I know. I haven't posted in forever. So for those of you trying to remember what's going on, Ed and Al got sucked out of their world, into the wizarding world about a month ago. They had a big adventure and kicked butt in Harry Potter's world. In their own world, the military had been setting up to invade and "pacify" the city of Leore. Without them there for it, things have gone a bit AU from the FMA anime storyline. If I don't explain well enough where things and people have gotten to, let me know!
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