"Stand still, First Lieutenant."
Her superior had noticed her movement towards the door. He didn't miss much. She forced herself to remain still, not turning her head to look towards him.
"Very good. I always knew you were an obedient soldier."
Führer President King Bradley circled in front of her, and she saw his hand on the hilt of his ever-present sword. She swallowed. They would not kill her now. She was more valuable alive. But if she were wrong…she would face her death with open eyes.
"What did he do now, sir?" she asked in a long-suffering voice. She missed her guns, but of course she was not allowed to be armed in the Führer's presence. Not that they would help her much against such a foe, anyway. She'd learned the hard way that pumping a homunculus full of bullets did little to slow them down.
"We have other ways of getting his attention if he is too bold," he said, confirming her suspicions. She would not be receiving his punishment today. But then what…? She heard the sword being drawn. There was no way she could avoid death at the hands of this homunculus.
But that didn't stop her from trying. When the blade came down, she dropped to the floor, so that her head would not be there to meet the cold steel. Bradley's reflexes were inhumanly fast, though, so before he even completed the swing, he adjusted, and with a resounding crack hit her in the back of the head with his sword hilt. She hadn't had a chance to roll away.
"That should take care of you for awhile," he told the crumpled woman. She did not respond, for she had not heard him.
Where the hell was he?
Roy Mustang sat on a bench in the park and did his level best to look relaxed and indolent. He resisted the urge to get up and pace, to pull out his pocket watch and check the time every three minutes. Fullmetal was late. The train had arrived on time; he made sure he knew that much before he sat here and made a fool of himself. So where was he?
It was possible he'd decided not to come. That he'd blown off Mustang in favor of learning something he needed to from Havoc's doctor. Roy didn't like to admit it, but not every one of his underlings owed him unquestioning loyalty, and Fullmetal was just young and immature enough to misunderstand the seriousness….
No, he wasn't young any longer. He remembered his eyes and thought, That boy knows exactly what I was asking of him.
So why wasn't he here, as requested?
And why was Mustang sitting on a bench doing nothing while his lieutenant was in danger?
When Riza Hawkeye awoke, she was surprised to find herself…standing. Her hands were secured above her head, but her weight was not resting on her shoulders. Rather, her entire torso was supported by…fabric. She was swathed from armpit to hip in yards and yards of silk. She could not tell if it were many pieces or just one looped back and forth around her. It was all the same color, a dark orange that reminded her of flowers in the fall. It stretched out away from her body in giant rays of silk. The fabric was attached to hooks and pulleys above her head and off to the sides, obscuring her view of much of the room. She could not guess the purpose of such an elaborate prison, but she had to admit it would take some time to free herself, even if her hands were not bound in thick ropes. The cocoon was not uncomfortable, just snug. Her splitting headache, on the other hand….Damn Bradley, she thought. She knew when he had insisted that she accompany him on this trip to the South that nothing good would come of it. I was being compliant; why did he have to hit me? The obvious explanation was that he did not want her to know where, precisely, she was. If she had no memory of the journey, she could not reveal this location to outsiders. And if he was concerned about that, then she could expect to live through this. Somehow. It was somewhat encouraging. Testing her mobility, she moved her feet – or tried to. She did not hear the clink of chains, but could take only one step in any direction. It doing so, however, she confirmed her suspicion that it was many pieces of fabric, because each seemed to pull in a separate direction. It was a bit like being caught in a giant spider's web, and she found that image unsettling, to say the least.
"Ah, so you are awake, good! Wrath said we'd have a guest soon, so I thought I'd check in on you." He was not who she was expecting. Ling Yao, wanna-be emperor of Xing, stood in the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him.
"Eh? You know who I am?"
"Ling Yao. We met not that long ago. But how -?"
"Oh, I see. That other guy must've been pretty popular. You all seem to know him! I'm Greed, though." He flashed the back of his hand at her for emphasis.
She started, and automatically took a step back, before her narrow cage caught her. "Did you put me in this?" she asked. If she could find out more about it, she might be able to figure out a way to get out. As things were now, she couldn't even see her feet.
"No, I wouldn't do something like that to a woman. Well, not under these circumstances, anyway," he revised his statement. "A waste of perfectly good silk."
"I agree. There's seems to be enough here to curtain a room," Riza said. She knew she should keep him talking.
"Ah, that's why we can afford to waste it, then. No windows here." So they were underground. She'd thought as much – something about the air seemed…contained.
"You wouldn't happen to have any water, would you?" she asked. She doubted it would help her headache, but her mouth was parched and it was hard to think.
"What would you give me for it?" he asked.
"I'm not in a position to offer you anything," she said firmly.
"How about a kiss?"
"What would Lan Fan say to that, young prince?"
"I'm not him," he insisted, but he stopped teasing. He also made no move to fetch her any water. She stifled a sigh and went back to studying her surroundings. With both her feet and hands secured, there did not seem to be any way out of her bonds except cutting them. And nothing was within reach – no conveniently placed sharp metal edges. The edges of the room were in darkness, but most of the space seemed cluttered. It was only her immediate surroundings that had been cleared.
The door behind her opened, and she had to twist around to see who had entered.
"Do you have her ready yet?" the Führer's voice said expectantly.
"You do it," Greed said carelessly. "I don't hurt women."
"Very well," Wrath said with a frown. "Though we are running short of pawns down here."
Then you will have to move yourself, Riza thought. She did not share her thoughts, though. She was not one to speak carelessly, especially not in front of an enemy.
The Führer walked over to a handle extending from the floor, and pulled it towards himself easily. A large gear turned slowly, and she could hear the teeth clicking into place. One, two , three. With each turn, the pulleys above her were hefted a little higher. And the bands across her body pulled tighter…and tighter. Suddenly, she understood what they were doing. She was not being contained; she was being silenced.
Finished, the Führer walked over to observe the effects. "Comfortable, my dear?" he asked solicitously.
"Thirsty," Riza got out in a gasp. She was afraid that as she spoke, she would not be able to replace the air. Her ribcage was straining against the bonds, and her lungs were protesting their confinement. It might not be fatal yet, but she'd seen the gear now, and knew it could be tightened still further. Silk stretched a little bit, she thought, but not indefinitely. A pull of that lever could kill her, she had no doubt.
The Führer frowned. "One more notch, I think. You are slimmer than the last one."
She grit her teeth, but bore it in silence. It was merely uncomfortable, not painful, at the moment, but she had to fight a rising panic at being so effectively trapped. Wrath left the room, but Greed stayed with her.
Wrath returned not too much later. "This way, please, Colonel," he said, and she knew why she was here. She was being used to personally assure his obedience. Which meant that…they were going to ask him to do something that he should never do. It was her duty to do everything in her power to prevent him from giving in. Knowing the situation and having a purpose helped to calm her mind. She took short, shallow breaths and stayed focused.
She felt him enter the room. It was strange, but after so many years of looking out for him without looking at him, she had developed some other sense that always let her know where he was in a room. She supposed it was that the sound of his footfalls was distinct, but it was reflexive. At the moment, she found it easier than breathing.
And so she knew the exact moment when he spotted her, and realized her predicament. Two beats of her heart later, he spoke. "Release her, Bradley. This is between you and I."
"I think she'll stay where she is for now," he said amicably, but with that undercurrent of steel that let you know he was a man to be reckoned with. They were both within the line of her vision now. The Führer's practiced ease had the grace of a hunting cat. Riza let her eyes meet the colonel's, so he could see that she was still alive and alert. She knew she would see his anguish, which he needed to hide, but there was little she could do.
Still, she did not speak. She wanted to wait for the opportune moment, because she knew that once she spoke to him, they would silence her. She would only get one chance, so she must not waste it. She knew he was analyzing her elaborate cage, trying to see the best way to spring her from it. She wondered if he had his gloves…or if he could dare to use them when the homunculus with lightning reflexes stood by with a sword.
Roy Mustang had defeated Lust. Nothing was impossible for him. She clung to that thought, and listened to the men.
"It's simple, Mustang. You're an alchemist; you activate the array," Greed explained nonchalantly. He gestured at the large array on the floor, and suddenly Riza understood why she was in the midst of a cleared area. They weren't worried about her escaping. They didn't want anything to interfere with their precious alchemy.
"What does it do?" the colonel asked, as if it were a simple proposition.
"Who cares?" said Greed. "If you don't, we kill her."
"I do not think you understand the first lieutenant," he answered, but he directed that statement at the Führer. "You'll have to tell me what it does first."
"You know perfectly well. You've seen this before."
He studied what he could see of it, but his face gave nothing away, not even to Riza who had known him for so long. If he had seen the array in the past, she could see no flicker of recognition from him.
"Come now, I thought you were the ones who discovered the Elric boys. Surely you saw the circle they drew? And you've been to our labs. Or were you distracted at the time?"
"Why should I activate an array like that? I would have to pay a terrible price."
"Of course. That's why we've given you an added incentive, human sacrifice." Wrath walked over towards the lever, and Riza realized her time was up.
"I will kill you if you obey them," she said abruptly, looking straight into his eyes. "Do not compromise…" she gasped out, "…to save me."
Bradley threw the lever, and the gear turned two notches.
Riza gasped as the silken bonds tightened, forcing out her last breath. "Save…the country," she said, and then her mouth was opening and closing in a desperate attempt to find air. But it would not come. Her ribcage was trapped closed, and it would not expand no matter how she tried. The panic she'd been holding at bay since she first understood the Führer's intentions slammed into her. This was it. She was going to asphyxiate in this windowless underground room, like a prisoner in some barbaric dungeon, while the man who meant everything to her was forced to watch.
Or not. Roy Mustang was not the sort of man who could passively watch something like that. He looked hard at Bradley, his fists clenched at his sides, and a frown deeply set on his face. "This is not necessary."
"But it is," he answered "Once her soul flees, there will be only one way to get her back," Wrath said dispassionately.
"Bastard," he spat. "Let her live, and I'll activate your array." He walked over and grabbed one of the pieces of silk, staring at her helplessly.
Her eyes flew open, but not in protest to his words. She knew he was lying, because he did not speak like a broken man. No, she was surprised, because as soon as he touched the silk, the air in her trapped lungs did not feel so useless. Somehow, there was still oxygen available to her demanding pulse, even though she could not take another breath. Her eyes sought out his, but he was ignoring her. So she looked at his hand, and realized it was the one with the old scar that was gripping the silk futilely. The man could act, she would give him that.
"I think not," she heard. "She'll assure your compliance much better in this position." It was everything she could do not to waste her precious reserve of oxygen by struggling mindlessly against the cage constricting her. Her lungs demanded action, movement, anything to get away! Aside from a single convulsion, she held it at bay. Roy would not have walked in here without a plan. At least, she could hope that.
Author's Note: I felt this story deserved an April Fool's update (even if it was 'Fair Trade' that began on this date.) The only part of this chapter that needed to be written was Roy's time on the bench; the rest has been sitting here since 2008 (including the rest of this author's note). I suppose I should have posted it before some of the more recent manga chapters came out, but ah well…better late than never!
I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor, and I don't like it one bit. ~ Shel Silverstein
I do not know of any specific form of torture that is similar to the bizarre contraption I've described here, but it is based on the concept of strangulation by putting too much pressure on the chest (like a snake that kills its prey by constriction). If you can't move your diaphragm, you can't breathe. The heart would also be in danger here, but I chose to ignore that. I have no idea how long someone could survive such treatment, nor what the side-effects of Roy's intervention would be. I'm a little concerned that he got a very fine dust of graphite in her lungs when he transmuted the carbon dioxide into oxygen, but hopefully that will be no worse than a little second hand smoke. Mainly I wanted to include the *terribly* cliché giant-lever-of-death, though in this case, the pulleys aren't lowering the victim into a vat of boiling acid.