AUTHOR'S NOTES: Okay, from this point on I'll start calling Roy…well, Roy. I find it rather awkward to refer to him as "Mustang" when I've always referred to him as "Roy" in all my other fanfics.
Arthur, Olivia, Regine, Victoria, Elizabeth and Mr. Jonah are all my original characters, and mine alone.
Now let's move on. XD
The wind didn't get any stronger, but it did make Roy utterly thankful for his long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Now out of the park, he walked down the streets of Central Amestris, arms folded across his chest, and frowning slightly as the wind decided to toy with his hair again, just as it always did – but then again, it didn't matter, as Roy stopped in front of a glass display to glance at his reflection and saw that even though his hair was slightly tousled, it still looked good. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if Riza said anything about it, and grinned. His reflection grinned back.
But something else caught his eye and made him grin – the books behind the window. Most of them were thick novels and probably also extremely long stories he'd be too lazy to read, but there was one in the middle, with glistening, embossed letters spelling out Advanced Alchemy: What You Really Can and Can't Do With It.
A man, most probably the shopkeeper, hobbled behind the display, leaning on his cane. He adjusted the pince-nez on his nose and squinted at the boy outside, smiling widely and thoughtfully running a hand through his thin mop of gray hair before making a gesture for him to come in. Roy was only too eager to do so, and he quickly ran to the door and shoved it open. The breeze billowed inside with him, but he shut the door right after, and let out a satisfied sigh.
The bookstore was warm, not to mention also stocked with lots and lots of books – especially heavy tomes about alchemy.
"You must be Arthur Mustang's son – Roy, is it? Forgive me; my memory just isn't what it used to be." The man waved casually and walked towards him, patting his young patron on the shoulder. "Feel like warming up? I've got some tea and I've already got the fireplace ready in the back…"
Roy nodded. "Good afternoon, Mr. Jonah. No thanks…I'm all right. I was only looking at that new alchemy book you've got in the window." He shoved his hands into his pockets, and felt his small stick of chalk in one of them.
"Ah!" said Mr. Jonah, a much wider smile crossing his face. "That book on advanced alchemy? It came in only yesterday, and there are only three copies in this shop, if I'm not mistaken Heh, what would a little boy like you want with such a big volume like that?"
"You know I've been learning alchemy," was the reply. Roy headed for the nearest bookcase, and began to scan the spines for some other titles. "How much do I have to save up for it?"
The shopkeeper suddenly looked more serious. "Oh…you want to buyit? Tell me, boy, how long have you been studying alchemy?"
He blinked his squinty, greenish-brown eyes several times behind his pince-nez in surprise and awe when the boy answered, "Since I was…uh, around six or seven."
"My word, at that age, I didn't know how to read yet!" laughed Mr. Jonah. "Listen, come by the fire. Business has been slow these days; would you do an old man a favor and tell me a story? I've always wondered how Arthur's only son got into alchemy; much less at such a young age…maybe you might want some tea?"
Roy shook his head. "Maybe I could sit by your fireplace if it's not too much trouble…it's been getting pretty cold these days."
"But of course! I implore you to warm yourself up, my dear boy!"
Indeed, Roy's interest in alchemy began at an early age – actually, it started much earlier than what he had told Mr. Jonah. It had all began one rainy day at the Mustangs' mansion, located just at the outskirts of Central Amestris, six years before.
Roy lived with his parents, Major General Arthur Mustang, his father, his mother Olivia, and his three older sisters, Regine, Victoria and Elizabeth, the latter two of which were identical twins. Regine was ten years older than Roy, and Victoria and Elizabeth were six years older than their brother. On that day, the four children were at home with their father, while Olivia worked overtime at the restaurant she owned, which was close to Central Headquarters. Normally, Arthur would be working as well, but it was his day off, and he wanted to spend it at home.
While Regine practiced her own composition on the grand piano in the living room, Victoria wrote a letter to a friend in Western Amestris and Elizabeth buried her nose in a history book in the library. They were joined soon after by their father, who was carrying a yawning four-year-old Roy on his shoulders.
"Hey, Dad," said Vicky, folding up the letter she had just finished. "I was writing to Aaron. You know him, right?" She blushed a bit, and pushed back her wavy, chestnut-brown hair.
"I'm almost done with this book you gave me for my tenth birthday," said Lizzie, barely looking up.
"That's nice," Arthur replied. "Anyhow, Roy just woke up from his nap and wanted to go out and play…but yeah, I can't risk him getting out in this rain after he got over his little cold."
"I'm fine," whined the boy as Arthur placed him on the scarlet carpet, next to the table two of his sisters occupied. "I won't get sick again, I promise. Please, Dad? It gets boring in here when Vicky and Lizzie are too busy to play with me."
Vicky turned her nose up in the air in scorn. "Hmph, I really am busy." She reached out for an envelope and started putting her letter inside. "Dang, it won't fit. Pass me the scissors, Liz."
"No way, get them yourself," mumbled Lizzie. "Just fold the letter again."
"I already folded it too many times – what if Aaron won't read my letter 'cause he can't read it 'cause of too many folds? That happens, and sometimes too much folding makes the ink in this pen run!"
"Not my problem. Not my fault you like like him." Using a carnation hair ribbon as a bookmark, Elizabeth put her book aside to glare at her twin.
"I like like Aaron, Liz?! No, I don't!" Unfortunately, Vicky's burning cheeks betrayed her.
"Oh yeah? Then why is your face all red, like that?"
"It's really cold! I mean, it's raining and all…"
Arthur sighed, shaking his head and ruffling some of his salt-and-pepper hair. "Girls," he said warningly, narrowly preventing another row from sparking between the two of them. He looked down at Roy, who was sitting idly on the carpet, resisting the urge to start pulling a stray thread. The boy glanced back at him, his face a mask of utter tedium. "Okay, Roy, what do you want to do today?"
"I want to play outside," was the stubborn reply.
"I told you, you can't play outside. What about…a story? I'll read you a story, would you like that? And I'll also teach you more words!"
"Yes!" Roy stood up and looked deep into his father's serene blue-green eyes. "I want that story with the two Li – Lior – Liorites who go on a trip and get mistaken for the prince and princess of Xing!"
The major general chuckled as he headed for the nearest bookcase in the Mustangs' colossal treasury of reading material, muttering as he mouthed every title he read on every spine of every book. Then he whispered, "Ah, here it is!" and shot out one large, callused hand to pry the chosen volume from the shelf. In one swift move, he got it out, but another fell with a muffled thump, narrowly missing his fuzzy, navy slipper-clad toes. "Whoops."
Toddling over to his father, Roy reached out and tugged at the book, pulling it closer to him and squinting at the cover, his forehead creased in concentration. He pointed to a word as he crouched beside the book and slowly sounded the word out to himself, as he had only very recently learned how to read.
"A…al…alch….alchemy," he said out loud. "Something…to alchemy…I don't know what the first word is."
"Good job," said Arthur, bending over to pick up the fallen book. "Actually, the title is Introduction to Alchemy. Now, I'll just put this back into the shelf…"
Arthur stopped just as he was about to insert Introduction to Alchemy into the shelf. "Why?"
"What's alchemy?" asked Roy, standing up again. Already his father could see the flames of curiosity burning in the little boy's gaze. "What's that book about?"
"Alchemy…well, it's a kind of science, something that can be used for many things. It can create, but it can also destroy. Alchemy is capable of fixing…and breaking. But it's more than just controlling the energy all around us to our own liking…" The Major General sighed and chuckled to himself, looking down at the two books he held in his hands. "Oh, who am I kidding, I don't know anything about alchemy, for the simple reason I never got into it."
"Then what was that alchemy book doing in our shelves?" asked Lizzie, turning to face him.
Arthur shrugged. "Many of these books have been handed down from generation to generation…some of them are actually older than I am. Others have been given to us as gifts or tokens of appreciation, or simply left with us. But this Introduction to Alchemy probably used to belong to your Uncle Julius, who, if I'm not mistaken, passed away just before your mother gave birth to Roy. I guess when we took the books he had left, as per his request, he also gave us his alchemy books. Of course, I couldn't bear to sell them, so I kept them around just in case they were needed."
"But Uncle Julius wasn't an alchemist, I remember him saying that to me when I was little," put in Vicky. "How would he have alchemy books?"
"I guess he probably got them from someone else who was an alchemist," said her father thoughtfully. "Anyhow, I did try a bit of alchemy myself, when I was alone in the library one night doing some paperwork…"
"What happened?" asked Roy excitedly. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," laughed Arthur, putting the two books down on the nearer of two polished mahogany table. "I couldn't pull it off. There's more to alchemy than just drawing a circle and activating it, kids. Anyhow, I don't think I'd like to be an alchemist – not that I have anything against it, but it's just not my style – yes, alchemy isn't easy, not even for grown-ups – "
His voice trailed off when he heard his son speak up again, this time saying the last string of words Arthur expected to hear, much, much less from a four-year-old boy.
"Can we read it, Dad?"
The last syllable hung in the air as Arthur fell silent, and Vicky and Lizzie did the same, trading several unfathomable looks with each other. Roy merely stood there in front of them, an inquisitive, anticipating expression spreading across his face, and watched his father and sisters avidly, waiting for them to say or do anything.
It felt like forever and a day had passed when Arthur finally spoke up. "Well…this book isn't like your storybooks, or those fairy tales you've heard from your mother and I. There are a lot of things in here that you won't be able to understand, especially since you've only learned how to read. Why don't we start with something easy, like what you chose awhile ago, the story of the Liorites in Xing?"
"I'll try to understand," said Roy mulishly. "Please, Dad? Please?"
His onyx eyes were wide, filled with a strange mix of excitement and curiosity, as they stared intently at Arthur, who already laid a hand on the storybook. Vicky and Lizzie also surveyed them intently, no longer writing letters (as Vicky was already finished and the letter was ready for mailing) or reading books, eager to know their father's response. Arthur briefly buried his forehead in his free hand, probably deep in thought. But after what felt like another eternity, he took the thinner book and ferried it back to its respective place in the shelves.
"Dad – "
"Are you – "
Arthur himself was just as surprised at his reaction as the twins were. He sighed, wearing a small smile as he walked back to the table that held Introduction to Alchemy. "You got me there…I just can't resist that look. Well…let me go get the dictionary, in case I run into some words I don't know, and we can start. Just tell me to stop when things start getting too hard, all right? And if you need me to slow down – "
"I'll be fine, Dad, I promise."
And once again, he could see that determination, that thirst for knowledge, within the depths of those dark, dark blue irises.
As the Major General recited the history and the first laws of alchemy, occasionally checking the dictionary and explaining some of the bigger words to his son, he patiently waited for any signs of boredom, such as yawning, fidgeting, or simply whining. But strangely, Roy remained attentive, taking in every word and listening intently, even though some things were just too complex for him to comprehend fully at that age. He didn't even notice his sisters leave – Vicky to mail her letter, and Lizzie to practice with her cello.
"So when you want to perform alchemy, first you have to draw a circle, and then you do whatever you want to do with alchemy?"
"Pretty much, but there's more to it than just that. Plus, it takes years for anyone to become an accomplished alchemist, even if you start early – and no, Roy, you're way too young to start. Perhaps when you're older, I can help you find the rest of the alchemy books in our library."
"Arthur, what are you talking about?"
Judging from where the mellow soprano voice came from, his wife was standing behind him, and she smiled brightly as Arthur stood up and kissed her gently on her cold, slightly damp cheek.
"I'm sorry I came home late. It's the rain," sighed Olivia. "So, what have you been reading our son this time?"
"Alchemy!" crowed Roy, as his mother lifted him up and kissed him on the forehead.
"Alchemy?" echoed Olivia, slowly placing the boy back into his chair, like a rather fragile porcelain doll. "Arthur…I know our son is very intelligent for his age, but don't you think he's a bit too young for alchemy?"
"Listen…Roy, I can't read you everything in this book," said the Major General. "What I've been reading to you were the easiest parts, and if I keep on going, you'll just get too bored, as the words and ideas in this book get harder as we go on."
His son pouted. "But I can understand some of it…like the circle and what alchemy can do and that if you want something, you have to give up something else for it…sort of…" He crinkled his forehead in concentration and shrugged.
"Yes, but that's not everything about alchemy. Like I told you, there's much, much more. You've got a long way to go before you become a great alchemist, Roy. But you don't have to rush things. You have a lot of time to learn everything else that you can't learn now. After all, even though you're a fast learner, I admit, you're still only four."
Roy opened his mouth to object, but shut it and finally conceded. "All right. But promise me that we'll finish the book sometime, okay?"
Arthur nodded. "All right, we have a deal. Now go over to your sister Regine. She's probably waiting to help you with your next piano piece. And I'd like to hear it, too, after dinner."
"Okay." He jumped off his chair and ran off. When the double doors of the Mustang library closed with a soft bang, Olivia turned to Arthur with a skeptical expression.
"I know, I know, I've got some explaining to do. It's actually quite a long story, Livie."
"Well, I've got time before I start making dinner, Arthur. Let's start off with how Roy knew about alchemy."
Two years passed after Roy got his first taste of alchemy. As with all little kids, he eventually forgot about learning alchemy as he got into what any boy his age would get into – he hung out with friends, played all sorts of games, got down and dirty and even in trouble, and continued to grow. His sisters often showed him off to their friends, especially when they asked him to play the piano for them – and eventually, the violin. For a while, talk about alchemy in the Mustang household simmered down for a long while, assuming that Roy lost interest in the subject.
But another boring day came around, and once again, Roy was spending it in their library. Except this time, he no longer needed his father to read books for him, but he would ask anyone around when he encountered more words he didn't know.
He walked through the towering bookshelves, scanning the titles for anything that would be of any interest to him. After all, the boy did like to read, but wasn't exactly a bibliophile, and there were still so many books that a child of his age would not be able to understand.
But suddenly, a spine embossed with fading gold letters caught his attention – and when he read the title, Roy knew that he found a book he would definitely be able to read.
Introduction to Alchemy.
Plucking the volume carefully from the shelf and brushing a bit of dust off its cover, Roy carried it towards a table, opened it to the first page, and began to read, with only the flickering chandeliers, the quiescent shelves filled with books, the other table and chairs, the scarlet carpet bordered with gold thread and cursive M's, and the four walls for company. If he couldn't find anyone to bother with difficult words, he always had the enormous dictionary, perched on its own pedestal. Arthur had taught him how to use it a few weeks ago, in case nobody was around to help him with complicated vocabulary.
So absorbed was he in reading and drinking in as much knowledge as he could that when something crashed just outside the library, Roy almost fell off the chair in surprise. He quickly closed the book and darted outside, forgetting the house rule about putting books back where they belonged.
As he stepped outside, he was instantly met by a scream that rang in his ears.
"Great, now you broke Mom's really expensive vase! It was an old Ishbalan relic that her brother gave her and now it's gone!"
"I broke it?"
"Yes, you did! Why do you always have to be running around all the time, Victoria Anne Mustang?"
"Just 'cause you're the oldest doesn't mean you have to pick on me all the time, Ginny!"
Roy blinked and stared at the broken shards of the vase. It used to be a beautiful thing – made of bluish-white porcelain with various scenes from ancient Ishbal painted on it with precise hands and striking colors, and even had gilded handles designed to look like rearing dragons. Unfortunately, there was almost nothing beautiful about the vase now, as it was all over the floor, being swept up by Victoria and her trusty broom into a dustpan Regine held.
"What are you looking at?" the two girls chorused at the sight of their brother. Unbeknownst to them, he wasn't thinking of how much trouble they would be in when their mother found out about the mess, but how he could somehow put the vase back together…with alchemy.
"Do you have any chalk?" he asked meekly.
"Why would you need chalk at a time like this?" complained Regine. "We don't need chalk – we need a miracle! This vase is irreplaceable! Or at least, that's what Mom says."
Roy sighed. "I'm gonna try fixing the vase!"
"How are you going to do that? There's gotta be a hundred pieces here!" groaned Victoria.
"I'll use alchemy!"
"You think just by holing yourself up in the library for an hour or so reading a book on alchemy would make you a great alchemist already? You're only six!" Regine glared and held his midnight blue eyes with her own furious, dark brown ones.
"Hey, look, that must be Mom and Dad's car!" Elizabeth's voice floated from the living room. Her siblings had no idea whether she knew about the broken vase or not, but right now, there was no time to think about that. Before Regine could say anything more, Victoria ran off, her footsteps clapping hard on the polished wooden floor, and was back in a flash, heaving a bit and brushing away some of her brown hair from her face. In one hand she held a stick of chalk, which Roy grabbed as fast as she had thrust it out to him.
Regine tapped her foot and declared in a domineering tone, "This better work, Roy, or else we're all dead."
"It will work, I promise!" he said, kneeling down on the floor and beginning to draw a circle. The chalk slid across the floor, leaving its powdery white trail and his sisters looked on in amazement and anxiety while the boy recalled the first transmutation circle he had seen in the book and the shapes within it. He drew it all, and barely noticed Elizabeth join them in watching him work.
"There, it's done. Vicky, put all the pieces in the middle of the circle."
The twin did as she was told; she gingerly dumped the pieces of the broken vase from the dustpan into the center and made sure none of them escaped the chalky boundaries. When that was done, she stepped back and waited with bated breath with the other girls. Roy sighed, gritted his teeth, and slammed his hands down on the outer marks, taking care not to accidentally touch any of the shards and cut his fingers.
Golden light burst forth, dazzling the four Mustang children. Elizabeth gasped and shut her eyes tight, Victoria did the same and gripped the hands of her sisters, while Regine squinted through the blaze briefly and saw Roy also step back from his array, shielding his face with his right arm. The shards were glowing too brightly for any of them to actually see what was happening, whether or not the vase was forming again. Through it all, they heard a door click open and someone call out, "We're home!"
"Is it over yet?" asked Regine.
"I don't know!" Roy answered. "I – "
But before he could say anything more, the light simmered down and everything returned to normal, except for the yellow spots that danced before the siblings' sight. At least now they could see what had happened to the vase…
"I don't know!"
"Did you do everything right? Did you forget anything? You should've checked the book – "
"There was no time! I swear, I did it right!"
"What's going on?"
At the sound of Olivia's voice, all the children froze. Roy scrambled to his feet and stood up, while his sisters remained huddled not too far away. Victoria squeezed Regine's and Elizabeth's hands tight.
"What – did that use to be my vase?" asked Olivia, her face the epitome of utter shock. "What did you do to it? It was an irreplaceable Ishbalan relic!"
"I tried to fix it – " Roy started, but Regine cut him off.
"We accidentally broke it while you were gone," she said, crestfallen. The twins looked the same way. "We knew it meant so much to you, so – "
"I tried to fix it with alchemy," said Roy. "But…I guess…" He took a deep breath and glanced down at his shoes, extremely disappointed. "I guess it didn't work…" He sniffed, and his eyes began to water. The three girls swooped down on him instantly and started to comfort him, hugging and patting him on the head and shoulders.
"We're sorry," said Regine, speaking for her younger sisters and brother. "We promise we'll be careful next time."
At first, neither Arthur nor Olivia said anything. They traded a look, and exchanged a few more in silence, increasing the suspense. Olivia whispered something in Arthur's ear, and he nodded, but his expression was unfathomable.
Of course, sooner or later, that silence would have to be broken, like the vase.
"I'm just glad none of you were hurt when it broke," said their father, smiling slightly. "And you know, Roy, that's pretty good for your first try. Still, I know you've got a long way to go before can become a great alchemist, but that's a good start."
"In fact, I think this…vase…is still pretty," said Olivia, picking up whatever Roy had managed to create with alchemy and placing it on a nearby table. "I mean it. It may not be the same as before, but it's still beautiful. I think you will become a great alchemist when you grow up, Roy."
"It's all right," said Regine, agreeing with her mother. Victoria and Elizabeth nodded.
On the table, shining as the sunlight streamed through a window behind it and passed through some transparent lilac curtains, was a painted porcelain replica of a large plume of fire, touched here and there with a few golden bits. It somewhat resembled a porcelain bonfire, glistening brightly before its creator and his family.
That had been Roy's very first attempt at alchemy.