This was getting ridiculous.

Now that a week had passed and the horror of everything that was going on had died down to a nervous simmer, Maes was—to be perfectly frank—getting deeply irritated.

He wasn't annoyed with the alchemists... No, surely not. This wasn't their fault at all. They were victims of some unnamable evil and were just trying to keep their lives from falling apart. And Maes couldn't say that his irritation was caused by his fellow military men, either. They were doing the best they could.

The whole country was pretty much aware of the alchemist situation by now, and everywhere Maes ran into worried civilians—many of whom with alchemist family members—just wanting to know what was going on and what was being done to fix the problem. Unfortunately for everybody, no one knew what was wrong. No one knew how to fix it.

But in spite of their constant, urgent questions that Maes just didn't know how to answer, even these people were not the source of his ire. The problem was the press.

It was always the damn press.

Maes knew that when he'd been promoted to the head of Investigations that he'd have to deal with the press on a fairly regular basis... But what he hadn't really anticipated, even though he'd been warned about it time and again by his superiors-and even by the Fuhrer himself-was how tenacious those reporters were. They just didn't know the meaning of the phrase, "Okay, that's enough." They were everywhere. Even just now, as he was leaving his office—just to go outside and run into the next building over where the meeting was being held—they had swarmed him at the door, each of them shouting questions over each other, their damnedable pens scratching away at their notepads. They were like a cloud of mosquitoes, each one vying to suck some information out of him.

He knew it was because he was tired, and worried about the alchemists, and stressed over all of the extra work this whole damn thing had given him... but, he swore to any god who was listening, if one more reporter stopped to question him this morning, he was going to blow his fucking lid. There are only so many ways a man can say, "I don't know," and he had already said them all.

He steadied himself with a deep breath and continued down the hallway to the conference room. This room wasn't as grand than the larger meeting hall where everyone had met a few days ago, but it didn't need to be; fewer people had been invited to this gathering. Most of the State Alchemists, of course, would be in attendance, but their subordinate chaperones were not permitted into the room. Mustang had called this meeting himself, and had made an express wish to keep it private and exclusive. In fact, Bradley, Generals Grumman and Hakuro, and Maes himself were the only non-alchemists that would be present. Whatever Mustang was planning to say, he didn't want it widely known.

"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes."

Ah, speak of the devil...

Maes turned to see Roy striding toward him. "Good morning, Colonel Mustang. You're looking..." He trailed off. He had been about to say, "You're looking well this morning," because at first glance, Roy did look good. His eyes were bright and he looked very alert and in control of himself, in a way that he had not the last time Maes had seen him. And while it was good that he looked bright and focused... there was something about him that didn't quite sit well with Maes. He couldn't really place it, but he certainly didn't like it.

"...You're looking... alert... this morning," he finished, lamely.

"And you're looking bewildered this morning," Roy quipped, flashing a smile that was just slightly too wide.

"Perhaps I am a little bewildered," he replied, eyeing him. Roy stared back, something about his eyes just not looking right. Maes tried to shrug it off. "I guess that rubber band thing is working out for you? You do seem a lot less lethargic and distracted. The other alchemists I've seen lately seem to be getting worse, but you look... okay. What's different?"

Roy grinned again, though it decidedly was not a happy sort of grin, and patted Maes on the shoulder. "I'll talk about it in the meeting. I have a lot to discuss at the meeting. I have some ideas. Some people won't like them and I'm probably taking a huge risk with my career, but you have to do what you have to do, right? You know what I mean?"

Maes narrowed his eyes at him, not liking the jumbled, rapid way that Roy was speaking. It took him several seconds of silently looking at his comrade, but then he realized what it was about his eyes that had struck him so oddly. It had been hard to see when he was further away because his eyes were so naturally dark, but now that he was standing closer it was hard to ignore.

"Your pupils are dilated to the size of dinner plates," Maes informed him slowly, not sure whether or not he should be worried about it. "They're huge."

"Oh, are they? Strange."

Maes started to speak again, but didn't quite know how to word what he wanted to say. But then, with mind swirling in bemused shock, he said:

"...Roy Mustang, are you high?"

That wide, creepy smile found its way back onto Roy's face. "I said... I'll talk about it in the meeting." He paused a moment, then lifted his hand and put it to the side of his neck. "Damn, my heart is going a mile a minute," he said excitedly. He grabbed Maes' hand and pressed it against his carotid artery. "Feel this!"

Roy's heart throbbed hard against Maes' fingers, hammering as if he'd just run a marathon. He was high. He had to be on some kind of stimulant for his heart to be beating that fast.

Maes' jaw dropped.

Oh god.

Roy was high as a goddamn kite... in Central HQ... about to lead a meeting with the Fuhrer of all people.

Nothing about this could end well.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Maes hissed when his startled brain remembered how to function. He grabbed Roy by the arm. "You have to conduct a meeting in less than ten minutes! You think Bradley isn't going to notice? Are you insane?"

"Hey, hey. How do you know I'm on anything? Maybe I just had a lot of coffee this morning. And all last night. Like, a lot of coffee."

"Last night? Is that how long you've been like this?" Maes asked in horror. Come to think of it, Roy had sounded very clipped and odd over the phone when he'd invited Maes to the meeting the previous evening... did that mean he had essentially been on a bender since yesterday? And if Roy's heart had been beating this hard and fast all night...

"Maes, really. I appreciate your concern, but I know what I'm doing," Roy tried to soothe him, forcing his tone to be softer and more serious. He looked at his friend, and the confidence that flowed off of him was almost—almost—convincing. "I'm being very careful, and I have a good reason for this."

"What are you on?" Maes asked again, knowing that, of course Roy must have a good reason for it. Colonel Mustang was just not the kind of person to do something so brash without some very deep thought and a long bout of researching and weighing pros and cons. But still, Maes didn't have to like it.

"Cocaine," he said finally, not sounding guilty in the slightest.

"Oh my god, Roy..."

"It's fine," Roy assured him, holding up his hands defensively. Now that he was purposefully speaking more slowly, he almost sounded normal. "I told you, I'm being careful. I'm taking very specific doses at very specific times. I know how to handle myself."

"You could die," Maes argued back, incensed and, for some reason, sad for his friend. "Cocaine is nothing to mess with. You could have a heart attack or stop breathing or—"

"It's helping," Roy interrupted him.

"Enough to risk your health over?"

Roy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yes, actually. It's... Okay, I know how bad this looks, but it's worth it. For now. I don't intend to keep using it forever. I'll stop when I need to. I told you; I know what I'm doing..." He trailed off, then licked his lips nervously before continuing. "You can't imagine what this Call, this... thing feels like. I feel like it's under my skin, Maes. It's in my head and in my bones. Anything... anything that can shut it up for a while is worth the risk. You can't possibly understand..."

He stopped and cleared his throat, something dark flickering behind his gaze for just a split second. "And this makes it quiet. I can think now, Maes. I felt like I was losing my mind, and this is helping me get it back. I have work to do. I have all of my cohorts depending on me to fix this, and I can't fix it if I can't think."

Maes rubbed his face, once again reminding himself that Roy wouldn't be putting his life and his job at stake for something so crass as an illegal drug if it weren't for that fact that he was utterly convinced it was what was needed to be done.

"Just... just be careful, Roy. Don't take any more today."

"I won't. After the meeting, I'm fully prepared to lock myself in my room and wait to come down. I was dosing all night, so the comedown is probably going to be awful..." he grimaced, but then shrugged and smiled again. "I suppose I should enjoy the feeling while it lasts then."

Maes made a face and Roy laughed.

"What, I can't enjoy myself?"

"You shouldn't."

"But if I'm intoxicated anyway, what's the harm in finding pleasure in it?" He took a deep, cheerful breath, that tweaked mania returning to him now that he was done being serious. "If I were ever of a mind to take drugs recreationally—which I never would be—I think cocaine would be my tool of choice. This is actually very pleasant. And think of all the work I'd get done! I'd have energy to last for days!"

Maes made a face at him again, knowing that he was trying to be funny to lighten the dour mood in the hallway, but he was honestly too upset to try and take this lightly. Surely Fuhrer Bradley would put a stop to this madness when Roy proposed that his fellow alchemists start using cocaine—because, Maes realized, that was exactly what Roy was intending to do. But Bradley couldn't possibly stand for this, right?

"Good morning, gentlemen."

A voice from behind them pulled Maes from his thoughts. Recognizing the voice immediately, both he and Roy turned and stood at attention as they saw the Fuhrer and General Hakuro approaching them.

Once again, Maes thought, speak of the devil.

"At ease," Bradley waved at them both, but he was looking at Mustang specifically. "With all the events that are going on with you alchemists right now, the last thing I expect from you is formality."

"That is very understanding of you, sir," Roy bowed in thanks.

"You and your comrades are among my most prized men. It is very important to me that we get to the bottom of this phenomenon and put a stop to it. State Alchemists have helped me build up this country, and I would not lose you for the world."

Something about the way Bradley said that last part stabbed into Maes like a knife. The words sounded as if they were meant to be endearing, but from the way Roy stiffened beside him, he knew that the words had struck him the same way.

Bradley's Alchemists were tools of the State. They always had been; they always would be. The way Bradley had spoken, an outsider might have interpreted the words as, "Take it easy, because I'm worried about you, Roy," but what he was really saying was, "Take it easy, because I'm not done using you, Colonel."

Maes' heart sank, because in that moment he realized that not only was Bradley going to allow Roy to continue with the cocaine use if it meant he was more able to function... but he was likely going to encourage the other alchemists to do it as well.

And Maes was right. The meeting began exactly as he had feared. Roy confessed right off the bat that he was under the influence of an illegal stimulant and reported that its effects were keeping these mind-fogging demons at bay. Many of the alchemists present perked up to hear this, in spite of the obvious dangers this method posed. Maes could see that most of them were wearing bands around their wrists and the surrounding flesh was battered and bruised from constant snapping. Many of them had been complaining over the past few days that, while the stinging pain helped somewhat, the small relief it offered them was becoming less and less each day. Just by looking at them, Maes could see how desperate they were to get their focus back. They were so desperate that even something so horrible as cocaine sounded appealing. Roy was not the only one of them who had sunk this low in his desperation.

There were a few alchemists at the meeting, however, who argued against Mustang's proposal.

"Are you insane?" another alchemist said, re-voicing Maes' exact words to Roy. She was an older woman with curly gray hair and a tense face, who Maes knew Roy had a rocky relationship with. "Are you really suggesting this?"

"It works, Major Gates," Roy countered calmly, quietly reminding her of her rank, "I know it isn't ideal, but it's something. It's more effective than the pain stimulus."

"Yes, but for how long? If the pain stimulus was only effective for a few days, how long before you are going to have to up the ante and take some other, more powerful drug? What's the next step, Mustang? Meth?"

"...I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

"When you come to it? What are you—?"

"Colonel Mustang has made a choice to use what works best for him," Bradley interrupted, and Gates immediately fell silent. "I cannot and will not force you—any of you—to use the same method. It's an option. That's all. Granted, it isn't ideal and I can't believe I'm condoning this... but Mustang has proven that it works, and I can't in good conscience deny you the chance to become functional again if you are willing to take the risk to your health for the sake of your country."

Maes' skin crawled. No, Bradley wasn't actively forcing them to take cocaine... but, ever the master of words, he did insinuate that if they truly loved their country, they would do it on their own, without needing to be ordered.

Sometimes—only sometimes—Maes truly hated the leader of Amestris.

"Thank you, sir," Roy said with a small bow. "The drug is an aid, but do not take it without careful thought..." He trailed off a little, taking a moment to fix his gaze on his fellow alchemists. His eyes lingered on Ed for a moment, then he looked away and continued, "However, this was not my main reason for calling this meeting. I have been researching since we last met. Most of my days have been spent in Central Library, studying old alchemy theories and histories..."

"Have you found something, sir?" Major Armstrong asked, his great shoulders straightening a bit as he sat more upright in his chair.

"...Possibly," he answered, sounding almost hesitant. "I hope so, at least. I still have more research to do, but I've stumbled upon something potentially useful."

He paused, then said, "I think this has happened before. A long time ago."

"How can that be possible?" Gates spoke up again. "You've seen this written down in Central Library?"

"Not precisely. There is nothing directly stating that this has happened before, but there are old newspapers from the mid-1700's that report happenings similar to what is going on now. Alchemists going missing. Alchemists falling into stupors. Alchemists raving in the streets... But there is very little information, just scraps of articles here and there, all of them in the time span of about two weeks. There weren't very many of us back then, and those of us who were openly practicing alchemy were often seen as heathen or insane to begin with, so it's not a huge amount to go off of... but it's a lead, and I intend to follow it."

"...That's it? That's all you have for us? A maybe?" Gates spat. Maes looked at her, shocked by her increasing insubordination. She worked across from Maes' department and she always seemed like a good, hard-working soldier to him and she had always shown him proper respect after his promotion. As he was looking at her now, though, he could see how the stress of this was getting to her. Her eyes were red and her hands were clenched on her lap anxiously. She, like all of the other alchemists, was perched on a very precarious ledge.

"And what do you have?" Roy spat back, her anger becoming infectious to his altered state. "Nothing."

"It's something to start with," Armstrong cut in, trying to pacify them both and derail the shouting match that everyone in the room could feel coming. He turned to Roy. "I will do anything you ask of me to help you in your research," he said sincerely. But then he paused and continued, hesitantly, "But I will not use cocaine."

"Neither will I," Ed piped up, looking disgusted at the thought. Maes glanced over at him and frowned. Was it just the lighting, or was he a little paler than usual?

"That's fine, Alex. I completely understand," Roy told Armstrong, then turned to Ed. "As for you, I wouldn't let you use it even if you wanted to, Edward Elric."

And, for whatever reason, Maes' heart swelled to hear those words. Maybe Roy really did know what he was doing. If he were truly in this too deep, he would not have hesitated to encourage Ed into drug use as he was gently encouraging the others. When it came to Ed, he was backing off a little. As much as it would likely help his cause to have an alchemist as brilliant as Ed at his side under the thought-clearing influence of cocaine, he would not bring himself to that.

The meeting closed not too long after that. Those of the alchemists who wanted to try the cocaine were given the contact information of Roy's supplier, and those who chose to abstain went back to the barracks. None of them were much use to their respective offices at this point, so very few of them had reported to work in the past several days and they simply ensconced themselves in their rooms and waited for their men to check up on them or tell them when another meeting had been called.

Maes wondered how much longer this would go on before they all truly began to lose their collective sanity, caged as they were in their rooms, without even the balm of clear and pleasant thoughts to keep them company through their long, sleepless nights.

Roy and Armstrong discussed research plans quietly outside of the building and Maes stood for a while with Edward, his eyes darting around for any sign of the press. They were nowhere to be seen at the moment, but over the past few days of being constantly harassed, it was hard for Maes to feel any sense of ease when there was the chance that they could be lurking around the building.

"How are you holding up, kid?" Maes made himself ask his small companion, finally convincing himself that they weren't about to be ambushed by flashing cameras.

Ed shrugged, one hand in his pocket. He grimaced, then sneered toward Mustang's back. "At least I'm not on drugs."

It was kind of refreshing that a teenaged boy was so morally against drug use. Maes knew that both of the Elric boys had very high morals, but it was still nice to hear those firm beliefs reiterated.

"The rubber bands are still working okay for you, then? I don't think I saw you snapping it at all during the meeting..."

"Oh, no. I haven't been doing that for days," he said, taking his hand from his pocket and looking down at it. "Aw, crap..."

His fingers were streaked with blood.

"What the hell is that? Are you bleeding?" Maes asked in confused alarm.

"Yeah, a little. I cut my leg. Must be bleeding through the bandage."

"Cut your leg? How did you manage that?" he asked, wondering what Ed could have possibly been doing in the confines of his barrack that could lead him to accidentally slicing his leg open badly enough to bleed through a bandage and then through the fabric of his pocket.

Ed looked up at him strangely, as if he thought that was a ridiculous question. "With a knife."

Maes stared at him, and that moralistic refreshment he'd gotten from Ed quickly dissipated with a sick jolt.

"You cut yourself on purpose?" The realization made him sick.

"Well, yeah. I just stick my hand in my pocket and put pressure on the wound when I'm getting foggy. It does work much better than the band, and—"

"Don't. Don't ever do that again, Edward."

"What? Why? It helps and—"

Maes took him by the shoulders and leaned down to look him in the eye. He wanted so badly to just grab him and hug him, but he resisted the urge.

"Just don't. Find another way. It is not okay for you to cut yourself. That is a dangerous road to go down."

"Yeah, but—"

"No, Edward. I'm not going to discuss it with you. Just find. Another. Way. What you're doing is just as bad as the cocaine if you're depending on it too much, and it can be just as addicting."

"...Fine," he answered finally. He looked as if he didn't fully understand Maes' worry, but was too tired to argue further.

"Good," Maes said, for some reason deeply shaken. "Come on, I'll take you back to the dorm and help you re-bandage your leg."

He turned to give Roy a departing wave over his shoulder, but both he and Armstrong were nowhere to be seen.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that something very strange was going on.

Bradley stood erectly, his hands tucked neatly into his pockets, and tried very hard not to look as uncomfortably ill as he was.

Envy was skulking somewhere to his left. Bradley could hear him pacing and bitching under his breath. Lust was in the corner with Gluttony. Gluttony was pacing, too, his typically blank face now furrowed with anxiety, but Lust was just standing there with her narrow back against a pipe, looking about as ill as Bradley felt.

Pride was around somewhere too, sticking to the shadows as he often did when they all came to visit Father. Bradley could sense him slithering around in the dark, fidgeting, waiting for something.

"What the fuck is going on?" Envy finally exploded, shooting Father his manic glare as he shouted the words that none of the other Homunculi had yet gathered the courage to ask. The lanky Homunculus had dark circles under his eyes and looked even paler than was typical for him, which was saying something.

Bradley wasn't the only one who was feeling odd, if he were to judge by Envy's outburst. All of his Homunculi brethren were feeling just as off as he was. He didn't even have to ask them, he could tell by looking at them that none of them felt well. That slight twinge of a headache he'd been having over the past couple of days had now blossomed into a truly distracting pressure that pounded itself against his temples. Even more bothersome than that was the nausea that still turned his stomach.

That morning, it had gotten so bad that he'd actually vomited.

Never... not even once... had Bradley ever vomited since his transformation into Wrath. Not in this entire immortal existence. That, more than anything, was what had spurred him to call this impromptu meeting with Father and his siblings. Something was wrong with them, and he had no doubt that it was related to the mysterious affliction of the alchemists. The alchemists had felt the wrongness first and most strongly, but now Bradley could not ignore that it was affecting all of the Homunculi as well. There was an anxiety in his breast that he'd never felt before and a kind of lostness, as if something was altering the flow of the Universe, as if something huge was about to happen.

He swallowed, willing himself not to shudder.

"Well?" Envy pressed again. His voice, which Bradley had always thought was rather seductive and lovely—in spite of its roughness—for a creature who usually expressed himself as male, sounded very strained and lacked its usual sardonic silkiness. "We want some answers, old man! Something is going on and I've had enough!"

When Father still didn't answer, just remained silent on his powerful throne and quietly observed them all, Envy made a harsh, frustrated sound and a ripple of dark green shot through his body, as if he was fighting the urge to transform and throw a massive tantrum.

"You don't even know, do you?" Envy challenged, daring to get right up in Father's face to shout at him. Clearly, the inexplicable discomfort that was plaguing them all was wearing him quite thin. "You don't have a fucking clue! You just..."

But then he stopped, and the sudden softening of his face hinted that something had just occurred to him. Something unpleasant. Bradley looked at Father, saw the expression he wore on his own face, and felt the same realization stab into him as sharply as a blade.

What all of them in the room—even slow, simple Gluttony—realized in that instant was that Envy was absolutely right:

Father didn't know what was happening.

And more than that... the thing that made Envy step back, his violet eyes wide and those dark circles looking even more pronounced than they had just a moment ago... not only was their all-knowing Father just as in the dark as the rest of them...

He was afraid.

Seig held his wife down against the mattress, as he had done far too many times in the past few days, just trying to keep her still as she screamed and fought against him.

He spoke to her lovingly, doing everything in his power to reach her, but she was just too sick. They were saying on the radio that other alchemists around the country were also falling ill. Edward had even called yesterday to see how Izumi was doing. Ed never called. He had sounded frightened.

Her fever had spiked again and most of what she said made no sense. She had to leave, she kept saying. It was calling her. She had to go.

It had been three days since he had been able to get her to sleep. In that time Seig and Mason had taken turns watching her and trying to comfort her... but the best they could do was speak to her gently and hold her down on the bed to keep her from ripping out the IVs that they had finally decided was the only way they were going to be able to keep her hydrated.

Still, her writhing and infrequent crying were far more preferable to him than those long silences in between her fits. Sometimes she would just stare at the ceiling for hours, her lips parted and sweaty brow furrowed as if she was listening to something. During those times, no matter how much he shook her or called her name, she never responded. It was as if she were comatose, or so close to death that nothing could reach her.

Perhaps this alchemic meltdown being felt all over the country was bringing an end to the long and sporadic sickness that had been slowly taking its toll on her for years. Maybe this was finally the end that Seig had secretly been preparing himself for since that terrible night when she had tried to resurrect their child.

He closed his eyes and bent over her to rest his brow against hers.

"Have... to... have to go..." she croaked.

Roy lay awake—so very, impossibly awake—his eyes open and staring upward, memorizing the cracks in his ceiling.

It had been a several days since he'd started using the cocaine. For the first few days he had been very, very careful. He had measured his doses precisely and had timed when to take them, down to the very minute. He took what he needed to function—to complete a project or hold a meeting, for example—and then abstained for the rest of the day and let himself come down from the high as gently as he could. He would write a note to his future, cloudy-minded self and set it next to his alarm clock. The note simply read, "Take your medicine" to remind himself of what he needed to do when the alarm went off. This had worked beautifully at first.

But now...

In even just this short time, he was needing to take higher and higher doses to block out that beckoning Call at the back of his mind. The Call was too much to bear now, even if it was just for a few hours. As the days passed, it was getting more and more terrible to withstand that unknowable urge without the blessed barrier of the drug.

And so each day—and of course he knew the danger—he took just a little bit more than his calculated dosage. Just a little. But then the comedowns got harder, and that whispering in his brain was overwhelming... and he took more. And when the drug in his system started to wane, he simply took another hit. And another. Because he couldn't think without it. He couldn't sleep anyway and he was just so exhausted. Even the bed beneath him, which he usually found moderately comfortable, felt hard and unwelcoming. But the drug energized him. It kept him focused on the dozens of books and hundreds of newspaper articles that he was trying to read through, searching for answers. He couldn't afford to stop and let the drug work its way out of his system. Not now.

It kept those thoughts and feelings and voices at bay for just a little longer. And he had to—he had to—find an answer to what was going on. He had to save them all from the insanity that Roy could feel tugging at the edges of his soul as he stared wide-eyed at the dark ceiling above him. They were depending on him. All of his peers and all of those other alchemists across the country needed him. He could not fail.

It had been two days.

Two days and five hours since he had last allowed himself to fully come down.

He closed his eyes tightly against the darkness of the barrack room.

But now he was out of his hellish white powder. He was out, and would not be able to get more until the following morning, hopefully before the HQ meeting that had been called that day. He had lost track of his consumption rate and had gone through his supply much more quickly than he had intended to.

He had used it up quickly. Far, far too quickly. Too much, too quickly. Not enough, not enough.

It had only been a few hours since his final, paltry hit, and he was already starting to crash. Hard. Way harder than he ever had before, when he'd been being careful. He had just been taking too much, and the sudden absence of the drug was almost unbearable.

He felt like he was going to die.

His head ached as if it was pulling itself apart and would split open at any moment, emptying the contents of his skull onto his pillow in a wet gush. He was suddenly hungrier than he had been in days, but the headache made his empty stomach clench with nausea and all he wanted to do was lay in bed and try to sleep.

But sleep would not come. It hadn't come for days and likely would not come tonight, either.

Before, he hadn't needed sleep. Hadn't wanted it. He'd spent his time researching, looking through countless texts for proof that this whole damn clusterfuck had occurred before, and with the energy the drug gifted him with he had been able to go for hours and hours without stopping. But now, as he was coming down, the exhaustion was catching up with him and making him feel so tired that he was sick with it.

But, still, sleep would not come. Slumber was the only comfort that he could give his poor withdrawal-wracked body... and it would not come.

And worse... far worse than the sickness that this crash was giving him... was the Call. Always, always, the Call had been in the back of his mind over the past few days, but the cocaine had made it quieter, almost silent. Now it reached for him again, digging into him with long, cold fingers.

Roy dug his own fingers into the sheet beneath him, terror making his heart beat so hard that it hurt his chest and made his breathing unsteady. His strained, frantic panting was the only sound in the room... oh, but Roy could hear so much more than that.

It was talking to him. It was always talking, whispering, laughing, screeching, doing it all at once in a constant cacophony of mind-raking white noise that wasn't really a sound at all. But it was so much louder now, louder than it had been days ago when all of this first started, when the alchemists all started to lose their minds.

Because that's what it was, wasn't it? It was madness. Insanity. They were all losing their minds to this voice-without-a-voice, this presence, this feeling, this Call. It would consume them all. Roy could feel it inundating him, every cell of him, possessing him and completely owning him. It wanted something from him. It was waiting for him to act, it's non-eyes focused on him. On him specifically.

"What do you want me to do?" he breathed to the darkness.

And the darkness answered him, but, as always, he did not understand what it was saying.