A/N: I'm alive!... I wish. Haha, sorry. Have an update? :)
To all my reviewers, thank you so, so much! You were the force that's keeping me going. To everyone else: thanks for reading~
by N. Silvutra Mayhem
Chapter 30: Assimilation
As Roy Mustang walked down the footpath to Hogsmeade exactly two days later, he could feel all too clearly the weight of his pockets and the items inside batting against his body. He found who he was looking for seated under a tree with a book in her hands.
Mock-surrepticiously looking around as if afraid of being discovered, and then seeing no one, Roy tapped Royston's wand to his hair and fetched a pair of glasses from within his pocket. A quick check of a hand mirror showed success in his disguise as the blond Fuery, and Roy smiled to himself as if self-satisfied.
He hurried to the tree and leant over to talk with the young woman there.
If anyone was watching, they would have seen the Professor Roy Mustang leave Hogwarts, then Charm his hair from black to blonde before meeting up with a young woman on the outskirts of Hogsmeade before the two of them linked arms for a date together there.
What they wouldn't see was Edward Elric seething under his disguise, because it had been Roy's idea. Yes, there was truth to the fact that, if anyone was watching, a self-created conclusion about Mustang's intentions would convince them there was nothing going on, but surely there could have been another way—
By the time Roy scored the two of them a room upstairs in the Three Broomsticks (and what a place that was called!), Ed was all too ready to transmute his long dress back to a black coat and tie his hair up again. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped when Roy raised a hand. Roy waved a wand, and Ed sensed magic fill the room.
"It's been a while, Fullmetal," said Roy.
"I keep saying, it's Ed," came the correction. "I'd hoped it wasn't you when I found out my replacement. How did you get here? Did you open the Gate?"
"That's what I should be asking you."
Ed frowned. "Stop dodging the question—did you open the Gate, Mustang?"
"Then you must have seen it. The Truth. After everything that happened to Al and I... why?"
Roy didn't blink. He didn't react, forced himself not to react, even as he remembered image upon image of nonsensical figures, nonsensical forms, garbled through and through with words he barely understood though spoken clearly. The trippy expanse of knowledge and power behind Truth's maws... and the power behind the box he'd opened for that knowledge to be his.
"I was being shot at." Roy touched a hand to his chest without thinking when he felt a phantom pain buried under the layers of Royston's body. "Assassins. Gloves were neutralised. I had no choice, and it saved me."
Roy couldn't ignore the flinch in Edward's body, nor how Edward clenched his hands into fists.
"Did—did they kill you?" asked Edward.
"Did you—did your body die in Amestris?" Roy nodded. Edward swore. "This complicates things."
"The Gate is a medium from one plane to another. Each person has a counterpart on the other side; the altor. Souls are transferred through the Gate from one altor to another – if your 'self' in Amestris is dead, that's another body we need to transport instead of just the soul."
"Some form of propulsion is required, then."
"I don't know," Edward admitted. "I would hazard a yes, except it doesn't always appear that way. The data I have is inconclusive... there must be some formula, some equation. Nothing adds up. Though – things can only speed up now that you're here."
It was only a brief moment which Roy allowed himself to dwell in the praise, despite the reminder in the back of his mind that the blonde was so much more.
"You were trying to generate magical equivalency."
"Saw the research notes?" Edward shrugged. "Yeah. If we can at least get the equivalency, everything will work itself out afterwards."
There was a brief silence after that – Roy didn't know what to ask, and Edward was distracted, absently fiddling with a band on his finger. Roy looked closer; Edward had several rings on his hands that had to have been obtained while he was on the run, as they weren't in the photograph of the newspaper article.
That was when Roy remembered the blonde's earlier reaction.
"The assasins that were after me," asked Roy, "you know about them, don't you?"
"I—did. I'd overheard them while in Creta." Edward's expression darkened. "They found me. Screwed up, amateur mistake, there was a rebound. I was lucky my body was sent through."
"Died. According to the calendar on this side, nearly a century ago."
Roy frowned; "What happens to the counterpart if the altor dies?"
"Nothing, I don't think. Especially since I saw H—" Edward cut himself off abruptly; his eyes flickered, and then he shook his head. "Someone who's dead. Nevermind, it's been too long. In this world, time passes faster. I'm not sure if it's related to the Gate," he added, "but I know there's something missing."
"How do you know it's only one thing?"
Edward paused. "...I don—"
They were interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the corridor. Both Roy and Edward stiffened; Edward held his arms up to his chest as if he were about to take on the threat with his bare hands; Roy was surprised when he realised he'd reached for his wand – usually he would have gone after his spark gloves instead.
For some reason, that was when he remembered the spare pair of spark gloves that were in his pocket, an exact copy of those he still had on.
Roy sent the thought from his mind; no matter which weapon he used, and despite the preventative measures he'd placed against eavesdropping, they were not in a safehouse and there was still the very real chance that he'd need to defend if somebody blasted the door. Here he was with escaped convict Edward Elric, after all.
But even when the footsteps receded, the people outside descending down the corridor and down the stairs, neither Roy nor Edward relaxed completely.
Edward's eyes trailed to the wand and he raised an eyebrow. "You can use that?"
"This counterpart is a wizard," said Roy. A thought occurred to him; "You can't?"
Edward snorted. "Never tried."
Admittedly, Roy couldn't imagine the Fullmetal Alchemist waving around a wand either. Instead, what he said was: "Look into it. In this world, it's superior to alchemy."
"Do you really believe that?" Roy hadn't expected the sharp reply. When he opened his mouth to explain, Edward continued before he could begin. "Have these wizards brainwashed you too?"
"To perform alchemy requires the presence of magic – without magic, alchemy would not be possible."
"You saw the Truth; you can do it too, right? Circle-less alchemy." Roy nodded, keeping his hesitation from his demeanour. Edward smiled. "You've realised, then. It's not that alchemy is inferior – clapping is too slow. Why didn't you use your spark gloves?"
Roy didn't answer, simply because he didn't know. Instead, he did what he'd intended to do before their meeting. When the spare pair of spark gloves was extended to Edward, Edward blinked in surprise.
"Take them," he said.
Edward looked at him as if he'd grown a second head. "Mustang, you seriously think I can use these?"
"You can't keep transmuting the way you have. I saw your work in Diagon Ally – it's fatigued. These don't require so much energy—"
"The fucking magic has gone to your brain," said Edward. "I can't use them even if I wanted to. I don't have the training. Fatigue? You try fatigue after being kidnapped by masked morons after Gate resonation and—"
"Yeah. The poser and his 'Death Eaters'."
"That 'poser'," said Roy, "is still looking for you. You won't be able to protect yourself in an area without walls to transmute and the ground too far away."
Edward snarled. "You think I can't look after myself? Try it, use that stick of yours. I'll show you—"
But Roy(Royston?) was already moving. Stupefy!
There were only a matter of metres between them for the red light to cross. Roy had moved forward, about to catch Edward before he fell, an 'I told you so' on the tip of his tongue, when Edward had waved an arm. To Roy's surprise, the brightness of the light dimmed – most of the spell disappeared, and the rest was diverted toward a cushion balancing atop a chair.
The cushion teetred, then succumbed to gravity and fell to the floor.
"What—" said Roy.
"These," came the reply.
Edward held out his hands and gestured to the rings on his left hand. There were no rings on the right hand, only transmutation arrays on his gloves stretching from his knuckles to halfway down his finger. Upon closer inspection, the rings had the same arrays etched onto them, only less disassembled and in their proper circle. The arrays were basic, for air, water and stone.
"Clapping is too slow, too vulnerable," repeated Edward. "To keep up with magic, you need pre-drawn arrays."
"How did you—"
"Spells are just packets of magical energy. The magical energy can be dissolved but the amount depends on the spell's speed."
"You dissolved it?"
Edward frowned. "Not... exactly. Magical energy has wave and particle properties similar to light but they're still affected by medium. Or something... I used this air-array," he gestured, "to change the relative densities of the air so it deflects. At least, I think they're densities. You'll know it when you feel it. The dissolving is just transforming the energy in the spell to power the array, like drawing from the environment but faster. What?"
'Dumbstruck' couldn't even begin describing the expression on Roy's face, nor the feeling in his brain.
"You can do this... instantaneously?"
"Kinda, yeah. Has to be. Like I said: clapping is too slow. Anyway, the main problem we have now is getting payment for the Gate—"
Without warning, Edward's eyes flashed. He leant forward, stumbled; threw out an arm against the edge of the bed and stood doubled-over with a fist cluching his heart. Roy had been frozen from sheer surprise, and could only curse at how he couldn't move whilst a comrade was in danger. The last time he'd been frozen stiff was when he was still a Major fresh on the battlefields of Ishval.
By the time he managed to react, Edward had relaxed. The blonde's eyes had slipped closed, unnaturally calm. It was slowly when Edward opened his eyes, turned to face Roy again; Roy felt something unsettling pool into his stomach at the gaze that looked directly at him but did not see him.
"Tom Marvolo Riddle," said Edward, unblinking.
Roy blinked. "What...?"
"The Gate... is not happy with him. Lord Voldemort... has revived the dead without meeting it. Offered sacrifices worthless in value. He has many things that the Gate wants from him, many debts unpaid. Now he is after alchemy as well. If we find him, bring him, the Gate will let us go home."
"How do you—"
Edward's eyes returned to focus. He frowned, determined, and Roy felt keenly the sensation of the Fullmetal Alchemist's powerful aura.
"I'm not sure," said Edward Elric. "But the bastard had me captured before, so I know where his headquarters are."
"Can we trust—"
"Yes—I'm sure. I know a chance when I find one, and I'm taking it."
Gold eyes met Roy's darker. The Fullmetal Alchemist grinned a shark-like grin.
"We'll strike tonight. Let's go."
A/N: Ed's back, and there's chaos to be had! I'm sure you can guess what's going to happen now, though let's see if I can throw some twists in the way...
Finishing this story? Well, we're getting there. Leave a review on your way out :)
Next chapter: Expulsion