A/N: This is my first story in this fandom, so I apologize if any of the characters act a little OOC at times. I am not Arakawa, so I will never fully know how the characters will react in different situations. I just hope that I will be as accurate as my limitations will allow me to be.
This is a story idea that I came up with one day. It is set in a different time and a different world from the manga and the anime. The reader will find many similarities to the original plot even if the story is different; this is the result of both my attempt to follow the original story and my lack of imagination. As for updates, I will see what I can do. However, college sucks, summer session is time-consuming, and MCATs are a pain, so consistent updates are not guaranteed. Still, I hope that you will enjoy this chapter.
Disclaimer: The ownership of Fullmetal Alchemist and all of its characters belongs to Hiromu Arakawa.
Trails of sweat continuously traveled down her skin, doing little to cool the searing heat that radiated from her entire body. Wet bangs fell haphazardly over her face while the rest of her short hair remained plastered to the sides of her head. The burning sensation that had been moving across her back was gone, but she knew that it was only a brief respite. She had lost track of time long ago, the pain consuming all other thoughts in her mind. Everything in front of her eyes became a hazy blur, almost like her future. It was uncertain whether she would survive at all.
"Shush. It will hurt less if you refrain from speaking."
"I am doing this for you. I am doing this for us. I am doing this for everyone."
The pain returned with more force than before. If her voice had not given out she would have screamed in response. Instead, a weak moan rattled out of her already raw throat as she felt the hurt move diagonally, vertically, horizontally; now in a continuous line, now in a fluid arc, now in sharp turns. Even when the pressure on her back disappeared, the excruciating feeling remained in her senses.
As her mind began to slip away, she perceived a pair of hands on her wrists and recalled that she had been restrained in order to prevent unnecessary movement. The fact that she was being released most likely meant that this ordeal was finally finished. But deep down, she knew that there is no such thing as "finish" after something like this.
She was lifted up, gathered in arms that avoided contact with her throbbing back; for this she was grateful. Fingers brushed away the bangs in her eyes, but her mind was already numb, unable to process the external environment. A voice rang in her ears, and her consciousness slipped away.
"Wake up Riza!"
Black irises were the first thing she saw as she opened her eyes, startled by the sudden demand. Blinking to focus her vision, she lifted herself up until she was level with the other woman.
"What's wrong, Rebecca?"
"…You were doing it again."
She knew that there was truth in her friend's words. It was not the first time she had cried out from her dream, well nightmare to be precise. What had happened years ago still remained in her mind; the fatal day was etched into her soul, forever a part of her being.
Her father had been a well-respected man in his younger days because of his knowledge of various subjects. But as age drew away his energy and robustness, he began to dwell in the magic arts, immersing himself in the strange symbols of the ancients. Ultimately his journey led him to the path of summoning, a taboo that is avoided by those who knew the truth about this terrifying deviation of magic. Even then, her father just had to choose the most unethical, the most heretic summons. Her father just had to choose demons.
A shudder ran down her spine as she recalled her father's eyes, those clear, sapphire orbs slowly losing their luster as he dove deeper into his research. She recalled the day when her father approached her with those dull blue eyes and a hot iron in his hand. No amount of comfort had been able to let her come to terms with that day; the pain inflicted by her own father was too great. She almost loathed him for dabbling in the forbidden magic.
Then again, any offensive arts or techniques were forbidden in this land; this kingdom ruled by a cruel leader. It must have been during her early childhood, for she was clueless about how the demon had risen so high in power. The irony of it all; the very beings that her father had tried to control were controlling the humans. Just like the old wives' tales, the demon and his followers viewed humans as less than dirt, only existing to serve their needs. Humans were not allowed to rebel against the demon's authority, the consequences resulted in imminent death. Nothing wrong with killing a couple of humans; they would simply reproduce and the chain would continue.
The greatest insult, though, was the fact that these demons walked in forms that were similar to humans, almost as if they were mocking the inferior beings. As hard as they tried, the people could not help but be fooled. Perhaps that is why trust is so rare these days.
She felt a soft tongue gently lick her fingers, a wet nose nuzzling into her palm. With a smile, she patted the black fur on top of the canine's head. The dog, her dog, perked his ears at his master's touch, a swift wag of his tail indicating his concern. A smile played on her lips as she continued to rub her hand against the dog's head.
"It's okay, Black Hayate. I'm alright." She returned her attention to the other woman. "I'm sorry, Rebecca. I didn't mean to worry you."
"Don't worry about it. It's not like you were doing it on purpose." Rebecca gave her a sympathetic look before going on. "Besides, I felt that it would be better to wake you up rather than let you stay asleep."
Riza nodded, thankful for her friend's judgment. Yes, it was better for her to get away from the memory and into reality. But who knew when the dream would come back to plague her when she is most vulnerable.
Shifting her cloak to get away from the early morning chill, Riza looked over to the shadowed lumps that were strewn around their camp. Light snores could be heard from a couple of them, an occasional shift from those who could not sleep in a single position for too long. She was not surprised, for the sun had not yet signaled the start of a new day.
"Do you want anything to drink? Maybe some liquor to calm you down?"
"No thanks." She watched as Rebecca took a mouthful of alcohol from her canteen, her face wincing as the strong drink went down her throat. "You should get more rest. I'll take over your shift."
"Honey, it's almost time for all of us to be up anyway. I think I can hang on until then. Of course, I wouldn't mind the extra company."
Nodding in agreement, Riza stood and stretched her arms to invigorate her muscles. A cramp would not be helpful, especially in their situation. Never knowing when they could be attacked, the group had to keep their guards up. Complete relaxation would be a fool's decision that will lead to extermination. Unacceptable, for every one of them wanted to survive.
As she finished her stretches, she noticed that Rebecca had come close to her side, so much that she could feel the warm breath on her ear.
"Actually, there was another reason I woke you." She paused, staring at the darkness beyond their current location. "…Right before I heard you, there was a…sound…that seemed to be less than a 100 yards away."
"What kind of sound?"
"It was a small rumble, almost like an explosion. I didn't see any lights to verify the sound, but I did feel the ground vibrate a little."
Looking in the same direction as her friend, Riza thought through the different possibilities that could have caused the sound. If it was an enemy, it would be better to surprise them rather than be surprised. Survival of the fittest was the law in this land. Even if one survived today, tomorrow was always doubtful. Because they knew this, every member of their group made sure to increase the chances of survival for their companions. Closing her eyes, Riza took a deep breath.
"All right, I'll scout the area where the sound was made and see if there's a threat. You stay here and keep watch while I'm gone."
"You must be crazy if you think I'm gonna let you go into the woods by yourself. I'll come with you."
"Are you forgetting your duty? You have the responsibility of keeping everybody in this camp safe. Following me would only harm our group."
"You don't have to be so technical. I know you're right, but I won't feel reassured with you out there alone…"
Riza kept her expression impassive as Rebecca pouted, though she had to admit that she was surprised when her friend suddenly kicked the lump closest to her feet. The force of the attack caused a rough grunt from the victim, who rolled over to glare at the wavy-haired woman.
"What the hell was that for?"
"Shut it Havoc. Hawkeye is going to scout the area and I want you to accompany her."
"Couldn't you have used a gentler way to wake me?"
Rebecca grinned at the man. "At this time of the day, I doubt that anything short of physical abuse would get you up."
Leaving the two to bicker, Riza focused on preparing her weapon. Holding it in her hands, she could feel the familiarity of the elegant bow, crafted from the limbs of an Ash. As her primary weapon, she could use its potential to the max, her skill working together with the bow's strength and flexibility to give accuracy and precision in her attacks. Many foes had fallen before they even reached her, often by only one or two arrows. She could say that she put a lot of trust in her bow.
Pulling out the string from her cloak, Riza connected the two parts with care so that the right amount of tension was put on the end of the limb. Once it had taken a long time to string her bow, some trials resulting in broken wood. Yet, after much practice, she could do the same task in minimal time.
She slung a bag full of arrows across her shoulder and went back with her weapon in hand and Black Hayate at her side. The pair had finally quieted down and was waiting for her to return. Riza noted that Havoc has chosen his crossbow as his weapon, though she also caught the glint of the dagger at his belt. Despite the guilt she felt for waking the man, she was glad that she could count on his reliability to back her up in this hopefully short trip. She nodded to Havoc before turning to Rebecca.
"Keep watch here. Havoc and I will try to come back as soon as possible."
"I'd rather you take your time and stay out of danger."
An exchange of smiles and the two fighters were off. Noiselessly moving through the foliage, both knew how to effectively maneuver around the area, their expertise a result of their experience. As they weaved between the trees, Riza occasionally stole a glance at her dog, which remained at her side. He too knew the usual routine, keeping his steps light in order to avoid making unnecessary noise. Even while running at this speed, she knew his olfactory and auditory senses were at work, searching for the target.
It did not take long for her to get the expected response; Black Hayate kept moving, but there was a slight turning of his ears as he detected a sound. Signaling to Havoc, Riza drastically cut her speed and leaned against the side of a tree. She moved forward with calculated steps, using the shadows as her cover, until the targeted area was a few feet away. Though there it was still dark, her amber eyes were used to seeing in minimum light, even if the exact details were not clear. Slowly, she recognized a number of forms gathered in a clearing in the woods and paused. Havoc halted in his path, aware of what she had just seen.
As they drew closer to the area, they tried to predict the current situation. In the middle of the clearing were three children who seemed close to adulthood. Two males were on either side of a female clinging to a large bag. Circling around the youths was a group of men, all unkempt and dressed in dirty attire. Frightening sneers were on each of their faces, for they knew that they had the advantage. After all, twenty men had much more power than three children, especially when all ten men had some sort of weapon in their hands. Yet, Riza observed that most of the faces looked strained, almost fatigued. Shifting her eyes to Havoc, she watched as he silently mouthed what was on both of their minds.
It was already hard enough to survive in a kingdom run by a demon, so Riza found it ridiculous that there were people who would sink so low as to steal from others. In a time when alliances should be formed, dissension was spread instead. With such strife between the people, how could they hope to endure the demon's rule?
Riza berated herself for not concentrating on the issue at hand. First thing was first. The children had to be saved; death at their age would simply be a waste. Hearing Havoc fit a bolt into his gun, she followed suit and pulled out an arrow. However, before she could draw back her string, the bandits moved in, their weapons drawn and ready to kill. A wild shot would be more dangerous than no shot at all, but it took all of Riza's willpower to hold her bow steady. Fortunately, because neither she nor Havoc fired, they were able to watch the following events without revealing their positions.
One of the boys reacted to the charge by clapping his hands and thrusting them to the ground. Strange as these actions were, they did not draw the same amazement from Riza as their effect. A blue glow emitted from his hands before the earth rose as a number of pillars, the ends slamming against the abdomens of the men. With the breath forced out of their lungs, the raiders that were attacked fell to the ground, clutching their stomachs in hope of alleviating the pain.
The other men had too much momentum to stop their advance, which was a shame because stopping would have been a benefit. The other boy performed the same actions, though this time the earth caved under the men. Surprised screams came from the hole before a crash indicated that they had hit the bottom.
As the scene in front of them unfolded, Havoc's mouth dropped unceremoniously. Riza knew that she was just as surprised as Havoc, though she did well to keep her composure. It was the only reason why she was able to prepare for what happened next. Despite the boys' attempts to keep their companion unharmed, they failed to notice a raider who had avoided their attacks. When the rough hand closed around the girl's wrist, Riza expected a scream in response. Instead, the girl twisted her body and bludgeoned the man's head with an object that Riza guessed to be a hammer.
Though commendable, the girl's action did nothing but anger her captor. By the time the boys looked over, the man's axe was descending with the girl's head as its target. Too late for them to react.
Predicting the man's movement, both Riza and Havoc drew their weapons and released their missiles. Both were considerable shots, both flew true. The bolt hit the man's shoulder, redirecting the path of the axe. The arrow entered through the man's skull, exiting out of the back of his head. Both were effective at preventing death. Only one was effective at delivering death.
Even though the enemies had fallen, none of the children moved from their positions. The expressions on their faces were those of shock, uncertain whether to thank their saviors or run from them. It was understandable, for they did not even know the identity or location of those who fired the shots.
There was no need to keep hidden; Black Hayate had calmed down, not as agitated as before, so Riza knew that that they were safe, at least for now. Moving out of the shadows, she revealed herself to the children. The two males instinctively pulled back their arms, and if the fight was any indication of what was to come, Riza figured that she would gain more than a few bruises. Quickly lifting up her hands, she called out before the boys could perform their magic.
"Hold on! We're not going to attack you."
She saw that they stopped, though they still seemed a little hesitant. To further her point, she put her arm through the bow so that the wood was resting on her shoulder while her hands kept it in place.
"Don't worry, we're not your enemies."
The small rustle from behind told her that Havoc had also moved away from the trees so that they were now in the youths' line of vision. They both showed vulnerability in order to put the children at ease, but they knew that that it would not be so simple.
"How do we know that you aren't trying trick us? You could attack while our guards are down…"
In the pale light that penetrated through the forest, Riza saw that it was the boy with long hair who had spoken. He looked a little shorter than other boys around the same age, but the sharp features of his face and the bright golden eyes hinted at his approach to manhood. His skepticism against the two arrivals was actually the proper response, especially after being targeted only minutes before. Before Riza could reply the other boy gave a reply.
"Brother, I don't think they would have saved Winry if they planned to kill us. And if they really were the enemy, they would've attacked without giving away their position."
"Don't be misled, Al! We can't afford to be weak right now! Let's just get this over with and…"
The hammer hitting his skull caused him to drop his sentence, the hit forcing him to the ground. Wielding the weapon in one hand, the girl frowned disapprovingly as the boy clutched the throbbing area.
"Stop being so stupid, Ed! I swear, sometimes I don't know what goes on in that head of yours." Ignoring the curses thrown at her, the girl faced Riza and bowed her head. "Thank you so much for saving our lives. If you had not helped us, we would have been in deep trouble."
"You don't have to thank us. We were simply doing what any other person would've done." She looked with disgust at the bodies strewn over the ground. "Only scum like these would think to attack children."
"Still, we're lucky that you were here."
"We're the ones who defeated most of them…" A second lump formed next to the first, the boy collapsing onto the ground. His brother fretted over the fallen body while the girl continued to ignore them both. One had to wonder why the girl had not used such skill when she was attacked by the raider.
"Why are you three traveling alone in such a dangerous place? Don't you have other companions with you?" Havoc frowned when the girl answered by shaking her head. Somehow, it did not feel right that they did not have some sort of older supervision. The boy, Al, seemed to have read the Havoc's mind.
"It really wasn't that bad with just the three of us. My brother and I can normally win against a lot of the raiders that try to attack us. It's just that we weren't expecting them to find us at such a time."
"I don't understand why you three aren't in a village or town where it's a bit safer. Why in the world are you camping out in the wilderness?"
It was a legitimate question. Riza knew that Havoc was simply expressing his concern, and she had to agree with his approach. It was difficult for an adult to be here, but children? No, they really should be at a place with a larger population. After all, there was at least some safety in numbers.
"Well, sir, I was actually looking for a place where my skills could be of use. These two are my…protectors." When the boys did not give a response, she continued, though a bit slower. "They do a good job keeping me from harm, so it really wasn't that bad. Truthfully, I feel very safe when they're with me."
Havoc ran a hand through his short hair and let out a sigh. "What do you think we should do, Hawkeye?"
"Knowing raiders, there is a high chance that there's another group prowling around. So leaving these three here is out of the question." Her eyes scanned the surroundings, looking for signs of other people. Seeing none, she returned her attention to the man. "Havoc, take the children to our camp for now, and we'll decide what to do after hearing their story."
"Hold on. What if we don't want to go with you guys?" It was clear that this boy was a stubborn one, but Riza did not want to waste time arguing in such an open area.
"I suppose in the end, it will be your choice. However, we are offering you a bit more protection in the time you are with us. Also, I'm sure that for a long time you haven't seen anybody else in this part of the land."
The children looked at each other. It really had been a while since they had contact with other humans. As much as they enjoyed each other's company, they found that it might be nice to converse with new people. Unable to retort, Ed refused to meet her eyes, but she interpreted his silence as acceptance of the offer.
"Good. Now this man will show you the way to our camp."
"I don't think I properly introduced myself. The name's Jean Havoc, but I prefer to be called Havoc."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Havoc. My name's Winry, and the boy with shorter hair is Al. The one with the bad manners is Ed, but I hope you'll forgive him for his rudeness."
"Excuse ME for not putting my complete trust in people I met five minutes ago."
"I get where you're coming from kid, so no hard feelings." Havoc grinned at the scowling boy. "But trust me when I say that we aren't going to hurt you guys."
Finally giving in, Ed begrudgingly nodded and picked up his bag from the ground, the other two following his example. It did not take long for them to get ready, for the first rule of survival was to travel light. The only item that seemed to be heavy was the girl's bag, which was lifted only when both boys grabbed the sides. With a shake of his head, Havoc went over and slung the pack easily over his shoulders. Al had a look of gratitude that contrasted the annoyed glare that Ed gave to the man, but it was decided that this would be faster anyway.
Riza watched as Havoc sent her a glance, returning the look with an imperceptible nod that only the people close to her could decipher. She would not take long, only checking the periphery of the area. It would be quick, just as long as there was not an immediate threat to the group. Shrugging his free shoulder, Havoc gave her a small wave before leading the youths toward the others. When they had disappeared into the forest, Riza reached down and scratched her dog's ear.
"Just a bit longer, Hayate, and I promise that I'll give you an extra helping of whatever they have for breakfast."
The canine responded by fervently shaking his tail, his instincts picking up the master's offer of a reward. Straightening her back, Riza gripped the middle of her bow and sprinted forward, diving once more into the greenery. Her blond hair, fastened to the back of her head, fluttered as the wind passed by, almost like the rectrices of a bird of prey. The evergreen cloak whipped behind her as she continued to sweep in an arc. Nothing was out of the ordinary, until she was about to head back.
Her ears picked up the snapping of a branch before a low growl rumbled from Hayate's throat. Stopping her feet, Riza pressed her back against a broad trunk, the rough texture of the tree bark pushing against her clothes. It was getting brighter, the darkness of the forest not as thick; good because she could see, bad because she was slowly losing her cover. Shifting to the edge, she moved her eyes slowly until she caught sight of a form. Its silhouette suggested it to be human, but she was unwilling to make such a conclusion when she could not see its face. Whatever the being was, Hayate did not like it. Riza could feel him bristle beside her, his fangs bared, and told herself to keep her guard up.
Without warning, the being turned its head so that it was staring in her direction. She was surprised, for she was certain that the surrounding forest acted as a shield from its sight. Not taking any chances, she pulled her weapon out. Her left hand held onto the bow while her right fingers closed around the both the arrow and string; in a fluid motion, she brought up her arms until the arrow was level with her eyes, the string drawn to her face. As she took aim, the being made its way to her, its steps so shaky that she was surprised that its legs kept it up. When it came close enough for her to distinguish the details, Riza found that she had to force down a gasp.
It almost looked human, its body proportions similar to a person; yet Riza could not tell whether it was a man or a woman, even though it did not possess a single piece of clothing. A picture of paradox, it looked malnourished because of its exposed ribs yet healthy because of its well-toned arms and legs. A number of lines tattooed into its pale skin connected holes that were symmetrically drilled into its body. The strange appearance gave an eerie aura that sent chills through her body. But what was most shocking was the fact that it had only one eye set in the middle of its head; the dilated pupils swiveled left and right, up and down, never keeping still. Though it was badly timed, Riza could not help but chuckle as she wondered how it could actually walk with its eye moving around so much.
She could hear it now, moaning as if it was in pain. It said something that she could not understand, so she guessed that they were simply throaty sounds. Almost deterred from shooting, Riza was about to lower her weapon when it extended an arm and cried out in an inhuman voice.
"I'm hungry!" Suddenly rushing forward, it was closing the distance too quickly. Its next words were enough for Riza to come out of her stupor. "Feed me!"
All hesitation gone, she let her fingers go, the arrow propelled by the energy released from the bow's limbs. The fletching caused the missile to rotate, allowing it to fly straight in deadly precision. Before the being could progress further, the flint head burrowing above its eyes. As it drew back howling in pain, Riza fit another arrow and aimed for the area she perceived the heart would be. A second head landed into the being's chest, further pushing it back.
Yet, it refused to fall to the ground despite getting hit in the vital points. Screeching louder than ever, it continued forward with increased speed. She watched it with a growing fear, giving it the only identity she could draw from her knowledge.
A calloused hand tore a piece of the trunk she was hiding behind, the other getting a hold on her neck. She felt the pressure cut her breathing, the lack of air causing her to cough. The single eye fixed itself on her face, the being slowly processing its captive. There was nothing in that black pupil that indicated higher thinking; the feral glint only came from its instinct to satisfy its basic needs. A twisted grin formed on its mouth, the disturbingly white teeth dripping with saliva as its gray tongue flopped out. Repulsion did not even describe how Riza felt towards its presence.
A black blur shot through the air and latched onto the being's neck, sharp fangs crushing into the sinewy muscles. Perhaps more from surprise than pain, it released its hold on Riza, who lost no time in getting out of its reach. She saw that her dog refused to stop his attack; his claws scraped against the being's skin as he tried to stay on as long as he could. Even though he already saved his master, Hayate was determined to put the unworldly thing to its rest.
Following the canine's example, Riza pulled out a small bow gun from the inside of her cloak. Trained to aim even at close quarters, it took little time for her to find her mark.
The command was enough for Hayate. Taking his mouth off, he leapt into the air as the slender bolt hit. The point of entry was right below the bitten area, the space between the clavicles. Grabbing her bow, Riza ran to find cover without looking to the effect of the attack. Something told her that the monster would not be stopped for long; the least she could do was lead it away from the camp.
In her rush, she failed to see the hand that reached out from under her. The pull on her ankle sent her toppling to the ground as her bow flew into the underbrush. Looking behind, she saw another being completely identical to the one she had attacked, only this one was unharmed. Riza cursed under her breath; it was careless for her to neglect the possibility of a second demon in the area.
It pulled her closer, the same look of hunger in its single eye. Discarding the empty bow gun, she instead drew the final weapon she had at the moment and slashed across the being's face. It let go of her leg as it grasped at the cut, completely open to Riza's kick. She drew the dagger in front of her and realized that the tip was covered with a green liquid. Was this the normal color of a demon's blood?
A yelp brought her attention to the first being. She watched as Hayate was thrown against a tree, the impact causing a crack to form on the trunk. Not stopping, the being ran towards her again, the three projectiles quivering against its body with every movement. The second was finally up on its feet, a trail of liquid flowing down its face. Riza watched in horror as the eyeball continued to move wildly in spite of the injury. She had always believed that she had removed all fear from her soul, yet fear returned to its place in her heart as the two creatures approached.
Pain exploded across her back, the unexpected shock causing her to fall to her knees. She hugged her arms around her chest, her hands unable to go any further than her sides. It was almost like that day years ago, when she had almost wished that death would take her life. The searing hotness consumed her senses, the two beings no longer an issue in her mind. The grass in front of her disappeared as the throbbing continued to pound against her back. She could only feel the symbol, the lines, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, arc. That symbol her father had burned into her flesh, forever scarring her. Now, it was like the old burns were reignited, the pain as clear as ever.
Then, it all disappeared, as if someone had cut the circuit that provided the power. Because of the lingering sting, it took a while for Riza to realize that the pain was slowly dissipating. She found that her hearing was working again, the hungry groans of the beings sounding closer. Vision also returned, and she lifted her eyes to face the oncoming enemies.
Instead of the pale beings, amber eyes caught another figure in front of her view. Clothed in a dark colored cloak that reached to the ground, the hood was pulled back to reveal the figure's head, though all she could see was a mass of short, black hair. Still feeling the pain in her backside, Riza tried to force herself up when she heard a masculine voice come from the figure.
"I don't think it's fair that the two of you are ganging up on a woman. Perhaps the immorality of such behavior isn't clear to you."
Ignoring the cynical tone, Riza tried to keep her voice steady while addressing the figure. "Weapons don't work against them. I've already targeted the vital points, but it was of no effect."
"I see. So I'm guessing that you are in need of assistance my lady?"
She could not stop herself from retorting sharply. "You see my current state and ask such a question?"
"My apologies. I suppose it was a thoughtless inquiry." She saw the figure lift an arm, the sleeve of the cloak falling slightly to reveal a white glove covering the hand. "If they won't fall after targeting the vital points, why not target the entire body?"
As she processed the words, Riza heard a distinct snap as the fingers deftly slid across each other. A single line of blue trailed into the air before the forest was lit up from the two balls of fires that erupted around the beings. No words could describe the astonishment she felt as she watched the flames burn, the creatures immobilized within their fiery prison. Unsure of how the fires appeared out of nowhere, she guessed that the figure had played some part in their ignition.
The figure turned to her, the light from the flames allowing her to take in the appearance. Surprisingly, she found herself looking at a man. Piercing black eyes stared into her own, though the look he gave her seemed to be soft. The dark pupils seemed to be filled with age, a contrast to the boyish features of his face. Despite the short hair falling over his eyes, Riza admitted that he was not exactly bad looking. A smile came onto his face as he reached out his gloved hand to her.
"Do you need some help?"
Without answering, she accepted the hand and felt herself get off the ground and onto her feet. The last of the flames died out, leaving only a pile of ashes where the beings were standing. Unconsciously, Riza shuddered at the awesome power of the man's attack. The creatures that had refused to die by her hands were completely annihilated by a single attack from him. She could feel that his eyes were still on her, as if the man…no…
"What are you?"
He sounded confused, but she had to be sure. The words of her father came back to her, the haunting message that she had refused to acknowledge up until now. Taking a deep breath, she continued.
"The symbols that were etched onto my back reacted today, even though the burns had cooled down long ago. My…father revealed to me that it was the answer to his research, that the symbol would activate one day and…summon…" She stopped as her voice began to waiver. It was not the right time to show weakness, not in front of him. She had to remain strong for what was to come. Holding his gaze, she narrowed her eyes and carried on. "Are you the demon called by this symbol?"
He looked to be in thought, as if he was trying to find the right answer to give her. She studied him carefully; he looked to be human, but she remembered that even demons could wear the skin in order to deceive. Besides, he had called upon flames with only a snap of his fingers, almost like magic.
The image of the boys came back into her mind. It had been the same with them; simple clapping to produce a powerful attack from the earth. She decided that she would have to dig a little deeper with the children in order to comprehend their true situation.
His voice brought her back to the present. "I suppose I was technically summoned by the symbol on your back. And I can't say that I'm the same as you…"
"So, now that you're here, are you going to kill me demon?"
"Why in the world would you think that I'd do something like that?"
"Do demons need a reason for any of their actions?"
"My lady, you are far too cruel."
"I believe that it is your kind who are considered to be cruel." Riza waited for him to finish sighing. "I have no business with you, so depart at once."
"I'm afraid that I cannot follow that order."
"Are you going to tell me that my father's words are true then? Are you a demon who has come to serve the one who holds the symbol?"
He bowed to her with an amused smirk on his face. "If the one holding the symbol is a beautiful woman such as yourself, then yes, I am here to serve you."
"I will hold you to your word for now, demon. But if you show any signs of turning against me, I will send you back to the hell you came from."
"If I stray from my duty, you are free to shoot my back. Will that be acceptable?" He smiled as Riza nodded. "Now, how may I address you?"
"Call me 'Hawkeye.' It is the name I give to others."
"As you wish Lady Hawkeye."
"Drop the 'lady.' I'd rather not be called by that title."
"Whatever you want, Hawkeye. However, I have one request."
"What is it?"
"I would rather you call me by something other than 'demon.' It's a little rude, don't you think?"
"How would you like me to address you then?"
With a thoughtful frown, he turned his eyes to the sky, searching for a suitable name. Smiling again, he looked at her with a spark in his eye. "I believe 'Mustang' would be sufficient."
"Did you choose an animal to make a mockery of my name?"
"Not at all. It is the name that I give to others."
Rolling her eyes, Riza ignored Mustang's chuckle as she picked up her cross bow. The groove was fit with a new bolt before it was returned into her cloak, ready to be used in another tight situation. A light panting made her look down at Hayate, which was patiently sitting with her bow in his mouth. She gave him a tired smile before accepting the offered weapon, rewarding the dog with a scratch behind his ear. Deep down, she was glad that Hayate had not been killed, even though he had suffered much from the fight.
But what exactly were those pale creatures? More importantly, why did she have to resort to demon summoning to defeat them? Riza looked over to her summon. Hands resting inside the pockets, he was staring at the sky. The sun was rising in the east, its presence painting an array of colors across its canopy, the normally blue canvas yielding to the orange, red, and purple. All the while, a look of longing remained on his face. She almost felt guilty for binding him, stealing his freedom so he could serve her. But then she remembered what he was. If he was free, he probably would have been spending his time by killing humans, or at least making them miserable; after seeing his flames, she would not be surprised if he burned souls for his own amusement.
Realizing that he was being watched, Mustang returned Riza's stare, the corners of his lips rising. "Whenever you're ready, Hawkeye."
Already finding him annoying, Riza turned without a word and walked through the forest. She kept her eyes straight ahead, refusing to look behind to see if he was following; in the end, she knew that he was there, and that he would be there for a long time. Silently moving around the trees, she berated herself for her actions, though she was not responsible to some extent. She never knew how to control that symbol, other than the few sentences her father offered. Gritting her teeth, she recalled his final words that day.
The symbol I have given you will activate only when you are in a situation where you cannot get out by yourself. In short, it will summon help for you when you are facing a great danger to your life. Until then, you are free to believe that you will not be using my research. But it will only be a matter of time before you will wish to keep your life…
Clenching the bow tightly in her hands, she could feel her nails digging into her palm just enough so that blood wouldn't be drawn. Had she really been that desperate to save her life? Did she sink so low that she had to rely on the aid of a demon so that she could see one more day?
Surreptitiously moving her head, she watched him out of the corner of her eye. Taking smooth strides, he made sure to remain a few feet behind her, giving her space that she wanted. Surprisingly, Black Hayate was walking beside him without a sound; strangely enough, Hayate did not consider him a threat. At least she knew that she would not be attacked by him for the time being.
Mustang caught her watching him and his face took on a happy expression. The slanted eyes closed and a wide grin shone at her as he gave a small wave. Feeling her face warm up, Riza turned back around, berating herself for almost falling to the demon's charm.
As she continued through the forest, she wondered whether summoning Mustang is going to be the biggest mistake of her life.