Another fic co-written with my itoko. This time, featuring Jing from his anime and the Elric Brothers from Fullmetal Alchemist. Note: It might help to take a peek at Luminary Larceny first, since this is along those lines, though not connected with that fic. Also, my itoko and I own neither King of Bandits: Jing nor Full Metal Alchemist.


Pilfering Parables
By Ankhutenshi and Halys


"Well, that was a waste of time," Kir groused, sagging into the shoulder of the boy he was riding in. "We didn't learn a thing!"

"That's not true," was the calm answer of his yellow-jacketed partner. "We learned that the Philosopher's Stone is no longer in Ishvar."

Kir snorted. "Come on, Jing, they threw rocks at us!"

"They've been through a lot," Jing answered with a shrug. He raised his hand to shield his eyes and gazed across the harsh glare of the desert sand. "You can't expect them to be too welcoming to outsiders."

"Welcoming would have been flowers and wine! We got rocks!" He ruffled his feathers and sighed dramatically, lifting into the air and clasping his wings together wistfully. "Even the ladies threw rocks, Jing. Those lovely ladies with their beautiful eyes, the color of wine..."

Paying little mind to Kir's reminiscing about the gorgeous women in Ishvar, Jing seemed thoughtful. Even though they hadn't found the precious item there they were seeking, they had still come up with some clues -- no thanks to the hostile inhabitants of that ruined city. Even the Bandit King, who prided himself on being where he usually wasn't welcome, hadn't wanted to extend his stay any longer than necessary.

"Hey, are you even listenin' to me, Jing?" Kir grumbled, swooping down to clip the young man upside the ear with one wing. "I said, there's something up ahead!"

---

The heat of the desert was stifling, and the heavy coat Ed was wearing was not helping matters. He did not consider taking it off, however, as he stooped to shovel more sand out of the pit he had created. "That's it, I'm not taking you anywhere, anymore!"

"Nii-san!" Came a shout from below the sand. "It's not my fault!"

"All right, all right... just hold on." With a clap of his hands, the sand dispersed, revealing a tall suit of armor. "C'mon, Al. We need to get going. And the next time you sink, I'm leaving you there!"

"Uh, nii-san?"

Ed rolled his eyes, but swung his leg backwards, and kicked the suit of armor squarely in the chest. Before the armor could react, Ed stepped back and crossed his arms. A cascade of sand spilled out of the armor. The alchemist crossed his arms and smirked. "So, ready to go?" he asked.

The suit of armor nodded. If the features could change, one would assume that the armor would be frowning in disapproval. "Hey, nii-san? What's that up ahead?"

"It's just the sun reflecting off the sand, you should know that, Al." growled Ed, and they plodded along. The whole mess in Lior was over, but they still had the problem with avoiding the Amestrian army. With Al as the Philosopher's Stone, any contact with the military could lead to problems. Especially since the Führer was a homunculus. Still, the Elric brothers were in decent spirits. They had dealt with a lot, but the road was still long.

"I'm telling you, nii-san! There's something up ahead. It looks like someone in a yellow coat. Do you think they need help?"

"Al, we shouldn't talk to people. Besides, anyone out here by themselves would have to be crazy."

"Like us?"

"Shut up, Al."

---

"Jing --"

"I'm listening to you, Kir." Indeed, the black-haired one had caught sight of the large black shape against the wavering desert. When it didn't fade he knew it wasn't a mirage, but he wasn't sure what to make of it. The chance of anyone else wandering out here alone was a little too much on the side of fantastic coincidence. "Maybe we should go introduce ourselves. We could use some directions anyway."

---

"Al, we don't have time to give insane people directions."

"But, nii-san..."

Ed rolled his shoulders, and tilted his neck. There were a few cricks and he winced. The joint where his automail met his skin was hurting and would need a good rub soon. Oh, how he hated the heat. "Fine, but we can't hang around all day. I don't want the colonel catching up to us."

---

Jing put on a friendly smile as they approached, adjusting the small bag over his shoulder. Kir settled onto his shoulder, and then gave a surprised squawk. "Hey, there are two of them. I didn't see the short one before..."

"Be nice, Kir," his human partner chastised with a chuckle. "I'm sure they're saying the same about you..."

---

Before they were in earshot of Jing, however, Al and Ed were arguing over who the character in the ridiculous yellow get up was.

"You don't think it's a relative of Scar, do you?" Ed asked, glaring at the approaching figure. He had seen enough of the now deceased man's jacket to see slight similarities.

"No, I don't think so. He only said he had a big brother, who died." Al shook a leg, dislodging more sand.

"Oh. Well, whoever they are, they're funny looking."

Jing lifted a hand in greeting as the two groups met up. "Hi there," he said. He couldn't figure out why anyone would wear that much armor in the middle of a desert -- wouldn't he sink into the sand? -- but he supposed it didn't matter. "Are you guys lost?"

"We were just about--" Al started before Ed jabbed in the chest plate.

"What are you doing out here? Don't you know this is a desert? With no water? And no people?" Ed emphasized each new sentence.

"Nii-san..." the armored-boy hissed, trying to placate his brother.

"A desert?" Jing repeated in surprise. "Really? I'm awfully glad you told us. We might not have known otherwise, eh Kir?" The black albatross snickered a bit, but didn't speak up.

Ed merely growled. He shot a glare up at Al, who stepped forward. "Are you lost? Is there any way we could help you find your way?" The voice emanating from the suit of armor was kind and compassionate, though it seemed to echo slightly.

"We're just sightseeing," Jing said vaguely. "Never been to this region before. We're not really lost, just wondering what else is in the area... where are you two headed?"

"Home..." replied Ed, equally vague. "So, you're not from Amestris, then?"

"Aquavitae," Kir supplied helpfully, grinning.

There was a pause, while Ed and Al took in what the bird said. Suddenly, the suit of armor let out a scream, and attempted to hide behind his older brother... rather unsuccessfully. "Nii-san! The bird is talking! Is it possessed?"

"I... I don't think so..." said Ed, equally shaken. "Your bird did just talk... right?"

Jing's eyebrow quirked slightly... most people didn't take so badly to Kir's gift of speech. "Yeah, he talked," the Bandit King said casually. "Sometimes, you can't get him to shut up."

"Jing! Why I aughta...!"

"Maybe, Kir," Jing chuckled, poking the albatross, "but we know you won't." He fixed his gaze on the two brothers. "You know, you look really ridiculous like that. Calm down, his beak is -- well, whatever that saying is."

"Who're you calling ridiculous?" Ed retorted, glaring at the other young man. "We're not the one wondering around aimlessly in a desert, with a talking bird."

"You should be nicer, like your big brother," Jing said mildly.

It took a moment for the comment to sink in, then, with a jumble of limbs, Ed sprang forward, screeching nonsense about being so small he blended with the sand. He was held back at the hood by Al. Over the din, Al said, "Actually, he's my nii-san."

"Whoa!" Kir squawked. "What's his problem?"

Jing surveyed the two again, then shrugged with a smile. "Big brother, my bad. Anyway, seeing as how we're 'lost' for the moment, as you put it, can we tail along with you guys until we get to the next town?"

Ed continued to grumble, glaring at Jing. Al nodded, however, and beckoned them to follow. The shorter brother forged a path in the sand around Jing, as they began the trek, pausing only to reconsider a swift kick to Jing's face. Al shot him a warning look (one that Ed could interpret from the enigmatic features of Al's armor).

"C'mon, then. We don't have all day," growled Ed.

"Yes, it's quite a ways until we reach the edge of the desert. After that, there are a few villages that we'll be passing through. Would you like to stop there, or do you need a guide for later?" Al supplied, his voice polite as usual.

"'Cause if you're expecting one... Ow! Al, what'd you do that for!" cried Ed, as Al rapped a heavy fist on his older brother's head. Ed rubbed the bump that was beginning to form.

"Be nice, nii-san."

"Depends on if something catches our eye or not," Kir snickered, an odd sound coming from a bird.

As Ed rolled his eyes, Al cocked his head to the side. "Are you looking for something?" he asked. Behind him the desert passed, their footprints disappearing as the hot, arid wind blew past them.

Jing hummed a tune under his breath before answering, "Souvenirs, I suppose. Amestris, you said this country was called? It seems like a nice place."

Al laughed nervously, while Ed snorted. "Sure, if you like a strong military."

"Nii-san.." Al murmured, softly and with warning. In response, Ed shrugged. "What my nii-san means is that Amestris is ruled by a strong military. They... er... go out of their way to take care of... er... people."

"Now, if you're looking for a country with the largest population of alchemists, you're in the right spot," Ed added. "Like me, Edward Elric, The Fullmetal Alchemist!" he boasted.

Al sighed. Ahead of them, the ground was becoming rocky, and gained elevation. In the distance loomed green mountains.

"Alchemist?" Jing repeated with curiosity. "Like a scientist?"

Both Ed and Al stopped in their tracks. The older brother burst out laughing while Al scratched the back of his helm. "Um, not quite sir. You can be a scientist, but not have the ability to be an alchemist. You see, an alchemist takes one object, and using the principal of Equivalent Exchange, turns it into another. For example... uh, nii-san?"

Ed abruptly stopped laughing, though he continued to smirk. He clapped his hands together, and with a crackle of energy and a "shing" of metal, a long and very sharp sword extended from his right hand. The white glove that he had been wearing tore apart, revealing that his entire right hand was metal as well. "Here, by using my arm, I was able to extend the existing metal into a sword. I can only do this by using something I already have. For example, I can change the sand into glass, but only because they are made of the same basic material. I couldn't just turn wine into water."

With another clap of his hands, the metal sword receded, leaving his normal automail hand. With his other hand, he dug into the pocket of his crimson coat to bring out another glove, which he used to cover his right hand again.

Jing appeared fascinated by the whole demonstration. "And everyone here can do that?"

"No, some people only have a small amount of talent while others don't have the talent at all." Al said, watching his brother shove his hands in his pocket and stride forward of the impromptu group. "My nii-san, he's considered a genius, but only because he works hard. He also has a lot of natural talent that helps him. We have friends who, while being talented as well, are not at the level of my nii-san. Plus, their expertise extends to only one area of Alchemy. We also knew another man who could only perform one type of transmutation, or what we call the act of performing Alchemy."

The younger Elric brother paused, as if in remembrance of the man he spoke of. After all, Scar was only recently dead, if he could be called that.

Up ahead, Ed turned back, and pointed forward. "Oy, Al, we better hurry if we want to get out of this desert before nightfall. I'd say the forest up ahead is about five miles away."

Jing noted the fondness in which Al spoke of his older brother's accomplishments and gave a bit of a smile. "That's really something. Hear that, Kir? We're in the presence of someone famous. What are famous people doing wandering around in the middle of a desert, I wonder..."

"For reasons of our own," growled Ed, who was suddenly behind Jing, with his hands on his hips. He smirked, eyeing Jing. "What about you and your talking bird? My brother and I have told you quite a bit about ourselves and our country, but we don't know anything at all about you! Care to share a bit? Like, your name, for example?"

"Jing," the young man said cheerfully. "And this is Kir. Now we know each other."

"Jing... funny name." Ed replied, and then turned his back on the other young man. "C'mon, Al. We better hurry."

Al strode forward, his long legs giving him an advantage as he hurried forward. But, he didn't move past Jing. "Sorry about my nii-san... He's, er... I'm not sure how to put it." If he could, Al would've been smiling good-naturedly. "Anyway, it's nice to meet you, Jing-san. It's always good to meet new people on our travels."

Jing's head tilted to one side as he watched Al walk, almost like he was listening to something. There was a peculiar expression, but it vanished after a moment, replaced by his usual bemused expression. "It's nice to meet you too, except your brother forgot to give us your name."

"Oh, I'm sorry! I'm Al! Alphonse Elric. I don't have a flashy title like nii-san has, but I'm an alchemist too! Would you like to se--"

"AL!" Ed shouted, interrupting them suddenly. His eyes locked with Al's, and he gave a shake of his head. His features were set in a fierce frown.

The suit of armor seemed to slump in defeat. "Never mind," he murmured, then brightened again. "Anyways, I'm an alchemist like nii-san, but I'm not as good. One day, though, I'm going to be just as good as him!"

"I'll bet you've got lots of power stored up inside," Kir said cheerfully, leaving Jing's shoulder for a moment to perch on Al's steel arm.

"Uh..." replied Al nervously, trying to shake Kir off.

The motion dislodged the albatross, who humphed and spread his wings, lifting into the air to survey the area. "Fine, fine, no more compliments. Yeesh!"

Despite being significantly shorter, Jing didn't seem to have any trouble keeping up with Al's long stride. "Don't worry. Kir's been in a bit of a sulk since there haven't been any ladies around."

"Um," repeated Al, nervously. "Sorry 'bout that..."

Ed merely snorted, and beckoned them closer. Their surroundings had roughened now, sand giving way for grass and rocks, and ahead were trees. "What kind of bird likes women?" He asked, skeptically.

Jing laughed at that, the sound making him seem younger somehow. "Kir is special. Don't worry about it; it takes a lot more than that to get on his nerves."

"I heard that!" The albatross called down.

"Good! Stop eavesdropping and find the path," Jing answered, as though this sort of banter was completely normal.

"We don't need your bird to find the way, you know," Ed countered, smirking again. "Even if he is... special."

Al murmured a "nii-san" again in warning. "He's sorta right, though. We do know the way. All you need to do is follow us and we can show you."

"True enough," Jing acknowledged, "but if we come back this way, Kir will remember the route. Unless you plan on escorting us indefinitely?"

"No, that's all right," replied Al.

"No kidding. The sooner we get rid of these jokers, Al, the better," Ed supplied.

Little more was said until they left the desert behind, and Jing tilted his face up to the cooling shade from the trees which were steadily growing denser. "Ahh, that's better. Aquavitae's got a couple of deserts... I prefer the forest, myself."

"We do too," said Al, turning to the shorter, young man. "We're from an area with trees, but there's also a lot of farm land. We like green things so much better than the desert. Right, nii-san?"

Ed nodded mutely, his eyes focused on the path before them. He was keeping an eye out for anyone who might try to sneak up.

The Bandit King did not miss Ed's behavior. "Expecting company?"

"You never know with this area..." Ed replied vaguely. "You could meet bandits any where along the road..." Ed turned, glancing slightly at Jing, before turning back to watch the path.

"Terrible risk, there being bandits on the road," Jing said, nodding sagely.

"We caught one once!" Al added, almost bouncing as he walked along. "He tried to steal a lady's purse, but we got him." Ed nodded again, smiling at Al.

"You must have a nose for trouble then!" Jing said to Al, "I'll bet you can spot a criminal miles away."

"Oh, look nii-san... The stars are coming out. Do you think we should stop for the night?"

The older Elric brother glanced up into the sky as it peaked between the openings of the forest canopy. It was colored the dark blue of twilight, with a star blinking once in a while. The path they were following was becoming increasingly difficult to see.

"Yeah," said Ed. He stepped off the right side of the road, and walked about 100 feet to a clearing. "Here we go. You don't mind sleeping on the ground, do you Jing?"

In response to Ed's inquiry, the grey-eyed young man shrugged, "Personally I prefer trees, but the ground is fine." He let the small knapsack slip from his shoulders to his hand, looking around the clearing evaluatingly.

Ed shrugged and slumped unceremoniously to the ground. Al, meanwhile, searched about the clearing for a few loose sticks and other wood for a fire. He brought it all back to the others, and set about preparing a campfire. Al paused only to hand Ed a small rock. The older Elric brother, rock in hand, clapped and with the spark he had created, started the fire. Soon, a merry crackling was heard in the clearing.

"All right, Al. Would you like me to keep watch first?" The question was more out of routine than anything. They both knew that Al could not sleep.

"No, that's fine, nii-san. You should rest."

Ed nodded again, and curled up on the ground, using his cloak as a covering. Meanwhile, Al turned to Jing. "You're welcome to rest too, Jing-san. I'll keep watch."

"I thought I'd have something to eat first," Jing said, rummaging through his bag and pulling out a few small bars wrapped in paper. He offered one each to Ed and Al. "They're not just for Por Vora, after all."

Both Elric brothers gave him an inquiring look. "Por Vora?" they asked in unison, as Ed readily grabbed the offered food. Al took the chocolate as well, though hesitantly. He would have to find a moment to sneak it to Ed.

"Por Vora are about this big," Jing said, holding his hands up to indicate a small creature about the size of a basketball. "They're pink, biggest eyes you ever saw, and absolutely shy. Oh, and they blow up if they get too scared."

Ed paused, mid-bite. "Weird.." Muttered Al, voicing Ed's thoughts. While Jing was distracted with his story, Al hastily passed his candy over to Ed, who took it greedily. "I've never heard of those. Are they common where you're from?"

"The most we had was Kimbly," Ed added solemnly.

"They used to be," Jing said, looking a bit regretful, "but they're getting rarer. People use them for mining and excavation, because they're ten times more powerful than dynamite."

Al sighed sadly. He had always been fond of cute animals. "I'm sorry. Is there any way of stopping them? Don't you have alchemists or anything?" Ed appeared concerned as he munched on the chocolate.

"Aquavitae doesn't have... quite the structure that Amestris has, from what Kir and I have seen," Jing answered. "I guess the proper term would be martial law. Each city has its own laws, its own people in charge. People there do anything they want."

"Are there any people who can help?" Ed said, around a chunk of candy.

Jing didn't answer, popping a piece of chocolate into his mouth instead. Half the bar, however, was wrapped up and put aside. When he finally did answer, it was with a small shrug. "Nobody wants to step up."

Ed growled with frustration, while Al stroked the fire unnecessarily. "Stupid adults..." he muttered.

The Bandit King gave a wry chuckle at the reaction. "Something like that. Kir and I are used to moving around a lot, so most of the new towns aren't a problem. Actually, some of them are pretty nice. You just have to pick up the local rules quick."

He finished his bit of chocolate and propped his hands behind his head, leaning against a tree. "So you two are headed home, you said. What do alchemists do that takes them so far away?"

"Travel..." muttered Ed. Al shifted slightly. "That is to say, we travel to learn about different types of alchemy and what can be used. A trek for knowledge, so to speak..." It wasn't a total lie. Two years ago, that was all that Ed and Al had done. They were traveling, now, for a different purpose.

"That sounds very noble," Jing laughed. "I'm sure your family is very proud of you two, then."

The Elric brothers silenced, both looking into the fire, though not seeing it. "We don't have a family..." Al finally murmured.

"Al... Don't..." Ed said, frowning at Al.

The expression of perpetual amusement slipped from Jing's face, and for a moment he seemed genuinely regretful for his words. "Sorry. I didn't mean to... remind you of anything bad." Unconsciously, his hand slipped into one of the many pockets of his strange yellow coat, as though reassuring himself that whatever was within was still there.

"Don't worry about it," said Ed. He grabbed a nearby stick, and stoked the fire vigorously, sending sparks into the air.

"Nii-san..."

"Never mind, Al. Look, Jing. We have our path, and our feet, and even while our family is gone, we will continue down our path. That's all that needs to be said."

"That's a good way to live," Jing said quietly. "But at least you two have each other, right?"

The Elric brothers looked at each other, and a soft smile, one that was rarely seen, slipped onto Ed's features. "Yeah..." Then, Ed shook himself, and turned back to Jing. "How 'bout you, traveler. What brings you to our part of the world?"

Out of nowhere, Kir swooped down into the clearing, interrupting any response. "Hey, what's with all the long faces?" He squawked, and Jing seemed to rouse himself.

"Oh, we were talking about the Por Vora," Jing answered, retrieving the half bar of chocolate he had saved for his companion.

"Poor things," Kir said out of habit, and then began eating the food eagerly.

"You've got a lot of interesting legends around here," Jing answered Ed's question after rolling his eyes at the hungry albatross. "We just thought we'd stop by and see which ones were true."

"Oh, like which ones?" Al inquired, leaning forward. Ed ignored the conversation, choosing, instead, to settle down to sleep. Al would be enough to entertain the two, he figured. "We know a few, if you have some questions!"

"Well, like those metal limbs, like your brother's arm and leg. I've never seen anything like that before. I guess that's not so much a legend, but..."

Al quirked his head to the side, shooting a glance at Ed, who was already snoring quietly. "How did you know about nii-san's leg?"

Jing tilted his head, exactly like he had done when he'd matched strides with Al earlier that day. "His gait isn't even," he answered, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "It's heavy."

"And you could tell that by how he walked?" Most people were oblivious to that fact, never noticing the metal limbs until the Elric brothers pointed them out.

"Jing's pretty observant," Kir said, around a beakful of chocolate.

"A good trait, most of the time. Though, I hope it has taught you to be cautious. Nii-san is observant too, but when he notices something he doesn't like, he jumps up and takes action. Some times, before he has all the information."

"Sounds like Kir when he spots a pretty girl," Jing needled his feathered friend. "But I think your brother had the right idea, Al. I'm going to turn in for the night. Wake me if you want me to keep watch for a while."

"You're more than welcome to sleep, Jing-san. I'll keep watch tonight," Al said softly. He shifted once, to sit cross-legged in front of the fire. Soon, he was silent, letting his mind drift as it did each night while Ed slept.

Jing might have preferred trees, but Kir preferred a warm bed and a lovely lady bearing room service, if given the choice. In absence of these things, however, he made do by flopping into the crook of Jing's arm to use it for a pillow. Then he grabbed the edge of the yellow coat for a blanket; and after casting a slightly wary look at the unmoving form of Al by the fire, burrowed into the makeshift nest to sleep.

The movement caught Al's attention, interrupting his thoughts, and he turned to watch the bird snuggle into his master's coat. Gently, he lifted a large metal hand and reached out to pet the bird. "Goodnight, Kir-san," he murmured softly, though the voice sound echoed through the armor.


To Be Continued…