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.
By Ankhutenshi and Halys
Once Jing was out of sight from the other trio, the he let the tense expression fall from his face and his gait became upbeat. "Ahh," he sighed, then to no one in particular commented, "Being hostile is hard!"
But the Bandit King had been pleased so far with the result. It had been no coincidence that he and Kir had run into the Elric brothers in the middle of the desert. His journey to Ishvar hadn't produced the Philosopher's Stone, but it had given him a very detailed description. A description which he'd decided was quite accurate, upon meeting up with the alchemists.
Yet he wasn't naive enough to think that he could get information from them about that priceless treasure under the guise of a curious stranger. The brothers were jaded, that much was easy to see, and so he'd chosen an alternative method, one much more duplicitous than his usual modus operendi.
The question was… would it pay off?
His feet came upon the path leading down the hill to the village Kir had spotted. There weren't any people moving through the buildings, he noticed, as though everyone was inside. His steps slowed slightly at the gate marking the village limits before stepping inside. He caught sight of thin curtains fluttering; he was being watched.
The people here are scared of something, he thought. But what? The soldiers in the area? Ed and Al seemed to hint that the military of this land are… overzealous in 'protecting' the people of Amestris. Jing approached a small stand near the dirt center of the town. "Hello?"
"What do you want?" A nervous voice asked, as a young woman peeked around the doorway of the shop.
The Bandit King put on a smile, as shy girls never failed to brighten his mood. "I was just looking to buy some food. Do you have anything for sale?"
"I… I might have some fruit and… maybe some things for sandwiches…"
"That'd be perfect," Jing answered.
After purchasing enough for four people -- even if Al didn't eat, and Kir ended up mooching off of Jing's share anyway, he felt it would be polite -- Jing stashed the food in a paper sack and left the village quickly. More curtains rustled on the way out, and it was almost like he could feel the collective sigh of relief behind him.
And I thought Aquavitae had problems. It seems like it doesn't matter what country it is, the people are never happy the way they should be able to be.
With a sigh, Jing concentrated on getting back into the persona of an unhappy outsider, pretending still angry over the skirmish between himself and Ed earlier. It was difficult; such behavior was completely at odds with his easygoing nature. Still, by the time his feet had once again found the path which would lead him back to the clearing he'd left the others in, Jing was sure that his expression once more reflected feigned surliness.
Now if only Kir had been as successful…
Al had fallen into a reflective silence and Jing made his way back to their make-shift camp. Ed was still sleeping, oddly finding comfort in Al's cold, metal lap. "Ne, Kir-san, what is it that you and Jing-san are really looking for?" The younger Elric asked, after a moment.
"Looking for?" Kir echoed, sounding just the faintest bit guilty. "Nothing... we're just sightseeing. Jing likes doing that."
The armored boy cocked his head to the side. "In the middle of a desert, Kir-san?"
"Heh, heh," Kir said awkwardly. "Well, I've got terrible sense of direction, you see..." He fidgeted.
"Kir-san, we're friends right?" Al's voice was soft and inquiring. "Nii-san and I have shared a lot with you and Jing-san. I hope that we could learn a little more about you..."
Kir cleared his throat, but was saved from having to answer as the crunch of leaves alerted them to Jing's return. The yellow-jacketed boy strode into the clearing, sweeping his eyes over the scene. "Got some food," he called shortly.
"Great, Jing," Kir replied, lifting off of Al's shoulder with a hurried flap of his wings. "Did you get me a blonde too?"
"Sorry, Kir, they were fresh out." Jing's eyes studied his feathered companion carefully. "What about a red-head?"
The black albatross landed on his partner's shoulder, and forced a smile. "Sure, Jing! I'd take a red-head any day... right Al?"
Again, Al quirked his head to the side. "We don't know any red-heads. Winry-chan, our friend, is blonde. But I don't think nii-san would want you to meet her..."
Jing turned a smile towards Al, although it seemed just slightly predatory. "What, he wouldn't trust our gentlemanly intentions?"
"Probably. Nii-san is very suspicious, as you already know. Plus, he doesn't want our mechanic to get distracted. She's the one that makes nii-san's automail."
"Blonde, surely beautiful, and mechanically inclined!" Kir sighed happily. "Now we definitely have to meet her."
"Yeah, well if you follow us home, then you will, but keep your claws off her, bird." Ed had awoken, and was slowly sitting up in Al's lap. He stretched, and yawned, and then turned a slight glare on Kir.
Kir stuck out his tongue and pulled down one eyelid at Ed. "Nyahhh."
The older Elric brother growled at the bird, but was soon placated by Al, who wrapped his arms carefully around him. "Nii-san..."
Al turned to Jing. "What kind of food did you find in the town, Jing-san?"
Jing approached the brothers and set the paper sack down on the ground, rifling through it. "Lots of stuff for sandwiches, and some fruit too. Oh, and wrapping so we can take any leftovers with us." He offered the sack to Ed. "We'll just split whatever isn't used?"
"That sounds fine. Al, would you?" Ed leaned forward, revealing his tangled mess of hair that used to be in a braid. Al's hands moved from around Ed's waist to begin a gentle combing through Ed's hair, and then began braiding it again. Meanwhile, Ed focused on sorting through the food. He selected what he knew he would like, and left most of the rest for Jing and Kir. Al wouldn't need anything.
Once Ed was done, Jing rewrapped what was left and, with the exception of what he and Kir would eat right now, packed the rest into his backpack. "The people in that village were scared of something," he said as he worked, grey eyes flicking up to regard the Elric brothers. "There's something bigger going on in Amestris than just the military tracking down 'terrorists', isn't there?"
"Mmn," Ed replied, with his mouth full of a makeshift sandwich. "Da miritawy iv f'of corrupfun."
"Nii-san, don't talk with your mouth full."
"Aah, right." Ed swallowed thickly. "Anyway, the Führer is a homunculus. And they were trying to create a Philosopher's Stone by starting wars."
"How would wars create anything?" Jing frowned. Smaller wars had always been part of Aquavitae's history, and in all their travels, Jing and Kir had come across some of the aftermath from such past battles. "So the soldiers hunting you are the corrupted ones?"
"No," Al cut in, shaking his head. "There are many people we know in the military that are good people, who are trying to make our country a good place."
"You see, Jing, the Philosopher's Stone is made out of humans. By sacrificing human lives, an alchemist can create an stone that allows him to do alchemy outside the restrains of the science. By starting wars, it's more likely that people will try and create a stone, and that's what the homunculus are striving for." Ed took another large bite out of his sandwich. "What we're trying to find out is what the homunculi are planning to do with the Stone, once they get it. Because homunculi cannot do alchemy."
"So it shouldn't make any sense for them to want it at all," Jing finished Ed's thought. "Created using human lives... that's awful."
Al's hands stilled in Ed's hair. "Yeah..." He said softly. "It is..."
The older Elric turned to his brother, and patted one of Al's large hands. "It's all right, Al. We'll figure things out..."
"Well," Jing said abruptly, standing. "We should get going. Those soldiers we fought are going to wake up some time, after all."
Shoving the last bit of food into his mouth, Ed nodded. Al quickly finished braiding Ed's hair, and tied it back. "There you go, nii-san." Then, Ed moved out of his brother's lap and stood, as Al did the same.
"Onward again," Ed pointed north, and began walking in that direction, with Al close behind. He didn't wait for the others to follow, but assumed they were behind him.
Jing shouldered his backpack, but noted that Kir wasn't quite meeting his gaze. "Something wrong, partner?" He asked.
Kir shook his head quickly. "Nah, it's fine. Let's, uh, get going."
The region had turned quite rocky, and by the increased pace that the Elric brothers now moved at, Jing could only assume that their destination of home, Risembool, had to be close. We're running out of time, the Bandit King thought, but no advantage had presented itself yet.
"How much farther?" He asked.
"A mile or so," Ed shouted back. "We have to cross a stream and go south from there. We're going around, through back country, to avoid the road."
Then it's now or never, Jing thought. With a quick glance at Kir, who nodded, the Bandit King stopped and called, "That's far enough. Stop there… and hand over the Philosopher's Stone."
Both Ed and Al froze in their tracks, and then, simultaneously, turned. "What did you say?" Ed asked, his voice low and cold.
"The Philosopher's Stone. You have it and I want it." A confident, cocky smile crossed Jing's face. "And I always get what I want."
Ed placed his hands on his hips, and shot a quick glance at Al, who had uncertainty in his stance. "What makes you think we have it?" Ed prompted, his voice becoming steadily angry.
"Don't play games, Edward," the Bandit King smirked. "Al's been hiding it this whole time. All that talk about wanting to find it and it being a myth… the whole thing was a lie. Just like I lied when I said I didn't know about Alchemy. You really think any word could come out of Amestris without its infamous State Alchemists attached to it? And you, Fullmetal, the youngest State Alchemist ever?"
Kir ruffled his wings, listening to Jing's voice but not really hearing the words. This had better be as good a treasure as stories say it is... this is a high price...
"Kir-san! Jing-san! How.. why would you do this? Didn't you hear what we said? The Stone... it's horrible! It's--"
Ed sidestepped to his right, blocking his younger brother. "Al, don't bother wasting breath on this two."
"Al, I said don't. If they want to Stone, well, they're just going to have to fight me for it. I'm not giving away something so precious to me."
"You don't have a choice," Jing replied. He extended his right arm, and suddenly the air was filled with a green light. Feathers fluttered to the ground as Kir's form suddenly changed, becoming long and hard-edged. The avian spine extended, becoming long and whip-like, and ribs clamped like vices onto Jing's forearm. His beak opened like a roaring dragon, aimed at the brothers, and filled with an emerald energy.
A burst of energy exploded from the ground as Jing fired at them. Rocks and dirt blasted upward and solidified, barely in enough time to block the blast from hitting both Ed and Al. "Quick, Al, run! Hide somewhere!" Ed shouted above the cacophony.
"Just go, Al!" Ed spun, clapping his hands together as another rock wall thrust up from the ground. Then, he flipped back, landing on first his hands, and then his feet. He clapped again, and his automail arm was extended into a sword once more.
"From everything you've claimed, the Stone's not something you want to be involved with anyway!" Jing said as he tried to flank Ed, expression set in unwavering determination. "With all the power of alchemy, you don't need it!" He raised his right arm, bringing Kir to bear on the blonde alchemist again. "So I'm going to take it!"
"Don't you get it?" Ed screamed back, anger and frustration glinting in his eyes. "People died to create the Stone!" Another wave of energy exploded upwards from the ground as the Fullmetal Alchemist used his surroundings to set up a defensive barrier between him and Jing. "And though I can't change what has happened, I'm not giving away someone so precious to me! Al is more than a rock that can help me achieve in alchemy! He's my brother, and there's no way in hell I'm giving him away. Especially not to a bastard like you!"
Jing's eyes scanned the surrounding forest, but somehow Al had managed to slip from sight; he had to give the younger brother credit, since it couldn't be easy to hide such a large grey body amidst such greenery. Another flare of acidic green light, and he and Kir separated, Jing's sword immediately locking into place so he was not left weaponless.
"Find Al!" The Bandit King shouted at the albatross, before running towards Ed full-tilt, intent on keeping the older brother engaged in battle to give Kir time to locate Alphonse.
Ed, meanwhile, was slowly making his way towards the nearby river. He was sure Al was fine, since they had been in numerous battles together and Al always made it out ok. The fact that he had never beaten Al in a spar was also another fact that assured him his brother would fare well on his own. He noted that the bird took off, but focused on Jing instead.
"You're not getting him!" Ed cried out to the thief again, a smirk beginning to form on his lips. Another alchemic blast shook the ground. "Because even if you can beat me--which you won't!--Al is strong than me!"
Jing's lightning fast reflexes served him well, and he was able to dodge the blasts Ed sent towards him. "In a hand-to-hand fight, maybe," he countered, yellow coat fluttering behind him as he moved. "But there's more than one way to beat someone!"
Kir had been circling, hidden by the treetops, when he spotted Al, concealed in some bushes. It would have been a perfect hiding place, if not for his birds-eye view. Angling his wings back sharply, he plunged down towards the suit of armor, talons outstretched to hook the long strands of hair on the helm. He opened his wings at the last possible second, letting the sudden drag provide the extra power he needed to dislodge the helm from its body.
"Hey!" Al cried out, reaching blindly for his helmet. It flew through the air, and Al managed to lunge himself forward in time to catch it. "Kir-san! Why are you guys doing this? I thought you were our friends!"
Ed had heard his brother's cry from the forest, and his gaze on Jing turned frigid. "Like I said, I won't let you have him. You've picked a fight with the wrong alchemists." He dodged another slice from Jing, and flipped off the jutting rocks to land smoothly towards Al's position. Behind him, he could hear Jing following.
With Alphonse distracted by juggling his head, Kir wheeled in the air, saw the flare of red light emanating from the opening in the armor, and dove for it. All I have to do is get my talons on that Stone and me an' Jing can get out of here…
Just as the bird dove in, time seemed to freeze, and all Ed could hear was himself screaming, "ALPHONSE!" A flash of brilliant, blinding red filled the vision of the brawling young men, and then Al body was lying prone on the ground. "Al!" Ed screamed again, forcing himself to move to get to his brother. "AL!"
Spots of red dancing in his eyes, Jing stumbled. Even as his vision cleared, though, he knew immediately that something had just gone horribly wrong; Ed's cries for his brother were proof enough of that and, fight forgotten, Jing ran for the still suit of armor, dread building when he didn't hear the voice of his feathered companion. "Kir!"
Ed was already there, hoisting up his brother and reaching looking inside for what has happened. There, hovering just above the glimmering surface inside Al's armor was Kir, motionless.
Suddenly, Al spoke. "Nii-san... You have to help him..." His voice was faint. "Kir-san... he'll…"
"Al! What about you? Are you all right! Talk to me!"
Jing appeared momentarily stunned by the sight within Al's chest plate. "That's... the Stone?" He reached for the albatross but the red light flared again, not as bright this time, and he snatched his hand back with a hiss of pain. "What's happening! Get him out of there, now!"
"Can't you see I'm trying, bastard? This wouldn't have happened if you would've listened to me in the first place!" Ed shot a glare at the other man then turned back to his brother. "Al, can you move?"
"Nn..." was the response.
"All right... Um, I'll try and get the bird out. Just, ah, hold still." Without hesitation, Ed reached into the chest plate of his brother's armor. He was surprised that he hadn't been rebutted as Jing had been, but didn't dwell on it. Slowly, and with steady hands, he reached further inside. He winced as he felt the flow of alchemic energy weave its way up his limb, but ignored it.
Soon, he felt the wingtip of the albatross, and took hold, not caring much for the bird's comfort. With effort, and keeping the reach slow, Ed was able to extract Kir, and place him gently on the ground next to his brother.
"Nii-san..." The glow inside Al's chest receded to a dull glow. The armored boy slowly sat up and closed his chest plate. "Will... will Kir-san be alright?" He managed after a moment, and when Ed had finished checking Al for any damage.
Jing had gathered Kir into his hands the moment Edward had set the bird down, expression one of numb horror. This has never happened... this can't be happening!
He shook the albatross gently, hoping to prompt a response. "Kir...? Partner, wake up! Kir!" Each repetition of the name became slightly more desperate. Kir… say something… a wisecrack, anything… He swallowed. Don't you dare have left me… not you too…
Al sat up further, leaning close to Jing as he watched the bird. "Oh, I hope he'll be all right! Kir-san... Please... wake up?" Arms wrapped protectively around Alphonse and Ed leaned over his brother's shoulder to watch as well. The older Elric gazed at the bird for a moment, and then smirked.
"Oy, Jing, looks like your pet got a little tired..."
"You bastard!" Jing shouted, red rage stealing over his vision as he tackled Edward, sending the two rolling into the dirt; no finesse or fighting technique this time, the Bandit King appeared ready to beat the alchemist with his bare hands. "He's all I have! It could have just as easily been your bro--"
"Jing," Kir coughed from the ground. "No more chocolate... for you. It makes you... too high-strung."
From beneath Jing, Ed began to laugh. Not a mean or cold laugh, but a genuine laugh. Behind the fighting two, Al stared between Ed and Kir. "Nii-san?" he asked tentatively.
Without much notice, Ed pushed Jing off of him, stood, and dusted himself off. "Can't you tell when your 'partner' is putting on a show? Al always knows when I'm trying to milk attention for all I can."
"Like when you don't want to drink that milk?" Al interjected, seemingly innocently.
"Ah... shut up..."
There was a long moment when Jing simply stared, shock dominating his features, and then with a bellow, lunged for the albatross who scrambled out of the way to hid behind Al. "YOU ARE IN SO MUCH TROUBLE! I'M GOING TO ROAST YOU ON A SPIT FOR THAT TRICK!"
Ed merely continued to laugh, understanding completely. Many times, like when he had nearly lost Al in the desert on their way to Lior, he had been frightened of losing his brother, only to pass the fear off in anger or humor. Nearby, Al was shouting at his brother to stop laughing and help him as he was overwhelmed by Jing and Kir.
Finally, he gave Jing a swift kick, dislodging him from both Kir and Al. "Oy, that's enough."
Jing got to his feet and sighed, looking first at Alphonse who had refastened the chest plate closed, and then at Ed. "I didn't understand before," he said simply. "I do now."
Al stood, and made his way over to his brother, who stood with his arms crossed. Ed had cast his gaze downwards, allowing his bangs to slide forward and hide his features. "Good," was all he said. Then, he turned and began to head upstream. Al watched his brother take off, but lingered a moment.
"He doesn't hate you..." Al murmured. "I think he wanted you to realize that we can't always have what we want. Like us. We've traveled many miles to find the Stone. And now that it's what I've become, nii-san is a little lost on what to do. You see, we never wanted this to happen, and I'm sure, had you fully understood what the Stone was and it's potential, you wouldn't want it either. Like I said, nii-san isn't a genius for nothing. He'll find a way to help me, without the Stone. Just like I'm sure you'll be able to accomplish whatever you need without the Stone's powers."
Jing watched Ed's retreating back, then looked at Al. "Potential is a funny thing, isn't it?" He shook his head, collecting Kir to his habitual perch on his shoulder, and offered the younger Elric a wry smile. "If he cares, I don't hate him either."
"We need to go, Jing," Kir interjected. "When I was buzzing around earlier up there, I noticed some more of those blue boys." He ruffled his feathers apologetically at Al. "You and your brother are going to run into the military soon."
"I'll make the path a little rougher for them to follow," Jing added, "but that's only going to buy you a little extra time."
"Thanks," Al bowed lightly. He turned and took a step forward, but then turned back. "And I'm glad we met you, Kir-san, Jing-san. I hope that we meet again soon!"
"Count on it," Jing smirked, then flipped Al something small, round and silver. "Oh, and tell your brother to keep this on a chain or something... you never know when there's a bandit around." Then he looked at Kir, and the path. "C'mon, partner... let's see if that nap improved your singing voice any."
A flash of green light, and suddenly the surrounding area was upturned with a cry of, "KIR ROYALE!"
Al watched the show, and then turned his attention to the object in his hand. It took him a moment to realize what it was, but when he did, his soul voice gave as close to a gulp as it could. In the distance, he began to hear incoherent screaming.
"Hold on, nii-san! Don't worry! I found it!" And the suit of armor began to run in the direction of the screams.
After that, well, the rest is history.
To Be Continued…