Author's note: This story mostly follows the canon of the manga, though certain events involving the end of the series and the Promised Day are somewhat different. A large chunk of the story is already written, but I am looking for a beta reader. Please let me know if you're interested.

All standard disclaimers apply.

Chapter 1:


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The wind ghosted along the back of his neck, bringing with it the last heat of the day; Edward heaved a deep breath, enjoying the spicy smell of mesquite and creosote. The last time he had been in the desert, it had been in the sandy, scorching lowlands to the southeast. He was finding that he liked the knife-edge beauty of the highlands, whose apparent barrenness masked a hard-earned diversity of life. Now if only he could find that damned camp…

"Sir! Mr. Fullmetal!" The voice echoed across the gullies and washes, sounding flat in the dry desert air. Edward turned with an exasperated grin, regarding the thin, graying man who waved to him from the crest of a nearby hill. He returned the greeting.

"Jacques!" Edward pulled his mule's head around to the right, letting it pick its own way up the rocky slope. When he drew even with his host, he smirked. "I told you last time we met, you can just call me Ed."

The researcher shrugged, his cheerful grin unrepentant. "When you've spent as much time as I have in the company of State Alchemists, you quickly get in the habit of using proper titles."

Ed slapped him on the back, "Then we're both lucky I'm not a State Alchemist anymore, huh?" The two men started towards a cliff face a half mile or so in the distance. As they drew closer Ed could see the pale canvas tents set along the base. It was only as they descended the final hill towards camp that his eyes could pick out the dwellings built into the base of the cliff. They were made of mud-covered stone that blended almost perfectly with the living rock, and it was only the black oblongs of doors and windows that gave away their position.

The archaeological camp itself was a beehive of activity as the researchers took advantage of the fading light. A flat section of the desert floor about a hundred yards away from the cliff dwellings was roped off into a grid pattern, the tell-tale geometry of a foundation wall beginning to be unearthed. Surveying and excavation equipment stood about in organized chaos, and a cadre of what Ed suspected were graduate students were bent over their work, meticulously cataloguing the minute ephemera of ancient life. Jacques showed Edward where to leave his pack, and corralled a grad student into taking the mule.

Ed stretched his back, glad to be back on his own two feet again. "So where do we start? Professor Hawkins said you'd found something interesting?"

The researcher nodded, "Yes, and I think it's right up your alley. I understand you've been looking into alternative forms of alchemy?" Ed nodded. "We found a monolith with an unusual array carved into it."

"Unusual how?"

"First of all, I'm by no means an alchemist; I know the basics, things that are useful for my line of work, amateur-level stuff." Jacques shrugged. "This, though, looks like nothing I've ever seen."

"Isn't it a little weird to find something like that here? These cliff dwellings look pretty primitive, and ancient alchemy was developed in cities, not out here in the sticks."

His host nodded. "Normally that would be true; however, we believe that this site held significance for early inhabitants of the area. The dwellings appear to be intended for temporary, short-term use, possibly by visiting pilgrims."

"Why would people travel all the way out here for a pilgrimage?"

"So they could hear the voice of the earth." Jacques laughed at Ed's baffled expression, "Come on, I'll show you."

He led the alchemist along a dirt path that wound past the excavation site and down into a gully beyond. Over the centuries the area's infrequent rains had eroded the soil, leaving a small outcropping of red sandstone jutting from the side of the gully. Jacques climbed up the rocks, gesturing for Ed to follow.

What he found was a vent in the stone, as long as his forearm and a couple of handspans wide. Edward leaned over, trying to peer into the vent, but he could see nothing but darkness. Strangely, though, he could hear a low, throbbing sound, like distant voices crying out.

"What is that?"

Jacques smiled. "Here, hold your hand over the vent." Edward obliged, and he could feel cool air rushing past his hand. "This vent is a shaft that leads down into a network of caves. Differences in air pressure cause the breeze, and the sound is created by the wind rushing through the narrow passageways. The interesting thing is, depending on the outside air temperature, the air can be either blown out or sucked into the ground. The ancient people who lived here believed that it was the earth breathing."

"Hey, that's pretty cool!" Edward stuck his face over the opening, letting the cool air wash over his features. It smelled of damp stone and minerals, and ancient unchanging stillness.

They scrambled down from the rocks and ambled back to camp, Jacques telling him more about the history of the site. They reached one of the larger tents, the only one that had its canvas walls rolled down. Edward ducked through the door after his host, and straightened to see a squat, waist-high column occupying the middle of the tent, surrounded by campaign tables covered in research materials and equipment. It was carved out of a single block of marble, an irregular octagon that looked like a square with its corners cut off. Another researcher was bent over the artifact, sketching in a notebook.

Edward stepped closer to the column; it was almost the right height and width to be a table, except that its top surface was covered with an elaborate transmutation array. Ed's first thought was that Jacques was right, it was like nothing he'd ever seen. At a glance he recognized most of the symbols, but the arcs, angles, and connecting lines held a geometry that was foreign to him.

Ed swept his hand a bare millimeter above the array, careful not to touch it. He squatted down a little until he could look at the stone slab almost edge-on, the better to study the precise lines etched into the surface of the monolith. "And nothing you've done has been able to activate it?" He questioned, eyes not leaving the circle.

The unfamiliar scientist answered, "No, sir. Once the archaeologists who were excavating realized what it was, they were careful not to handle it unduly. We've only tried a couple of very cautious attempts, and that's only because Dr. Jacques believed that its purpose was fairly harmless." The researcher paused, watching Edward with a hopeful gaze. He had done well to hide his initial surprise over the young man's age, and so far seemed cautiously optimistic that the renowned Fullmetal Alchemist would have some new insight.

"What is this writing? I don't recognize it." Ed gestured at several lines of script that marched along the sides of the squat stone column.

"It's ancient Xerxian. It's from one of their religious elegies; you can find similar writings all over their ruins." Jacques explained.

Edward nodded abstractedly. "I think you may be right about it being harmless, though I'm not quite sure what it's supposed to do." He pointed a steel finger at a trio of symbol s on the innermost ring of the array, "This would indicate time, and in conjunction with these two possibly the flow of time?" He gestured to another sigil. "This represents knowledge, and its position on the arc suggests bestowing wisdom, rather than acquiring it…" He hummed to himself a moment, lost in thought.

The researcher, somewhat bashfully, pointed out an observation of his own. "I thought that this was rather unusual." He pointed to a series of alchemic symbols incised between the inner and outermost rings of the array.

Edward nodded. "You're right. It's strange, this array has a lot of theoretical and philosophical symbology, but nothing that seems to tie into a physical transmutation. Those are the only elemental symbols on the whole thing." He studied the marks, muttering to himself as he listed them, "Iron, hydrogen and oxygen bonded together, various salts…" He leaned forward intently for a moment, then rocked back on his heels and laughed. "Where have you seen this combination before?"

Jacques frowned in puzzlement. "It does look familiar, but I can't place it. I don't think I've ever worked with those particular elements before."

Edward's mouth twisted in a wry grin at some private joke. "Probably good that you haven't. It sounds like blood to me."

The researcher jumped a little in surprise, then began rummaging through the papers on a nearby workbench. "Look at this. One of our linguists translated the elegy that's on the slab." He thrust a sheet at Edward. His eyes ran over the page:

Blood of my blood

I call unto thee

Wake and rise

The dawn is come

And night is gone away

Shout with gladness

And prepare the way

He shook his head in annoyance. "It's very pretty, but what does it mean?"

The researcher shrugged, "I've seen similar ones many times, but never this exact one. We believe them to be calls to prayer; they've been found carved into the lintels of temples and other places of worship." Jacques nodded in agreement.

Edward mused on it a moment. "Whatever it is, it seems pretty joyful, nothing dark. I'm not seeing anything in this array that would indicate danger. I also think that you're right about the blood connection between the two."

"But how does that help us activate it? Do we need to put blood on it?" Jacques frowned at the implications.

Ed shrugged. "Maybe. Like I said, I've never seen an array quite like this before. It's very likely that Xerxian alchemy was practiced differently than our modern-day kind. Hell, alchemy isn't even the same between here and Xing." His mind strayed for a moment to the one person he knew who could absolutely answer any and all questions about Xerxian alchemy, but instantly dismissed the thought with an internal sneer.

Jacques nodded, his face scrunched up in an expression of indecision. Suddenly, he pulled a small penknife from his pocket, flipped it open, and ran the blade across his index finger. Ed and the other scientist took a few prudent steps back, but watched intently as the man swiped his bloody finger across the array before placing his hands on the edge of the circle. They both held their breath in anticipation for a moment, but when nothing happened beyond the blood beading up on the stone, they let out a sigh.

"Well, so much for that theory. Let me borrow your notes for the evening and I'll look them over, see if there's anything that got missed." The researcher nodded eagerly, and Ed left a few minutes later with a thick file of papers.

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Later that evening, Ed sat alone in his tent going over the research notes. He had spent several hours meticulously cataloguing everything he knew about every aspect of the array, with no results. The papers had quickly exceeded the carrying capacity of his desk, and the floor was covered. He hunched in the middle of it all, his eyes flickering between the information in front of him and his own personal notebook as he jotted down theories and ideas.

Though he missed Al, and felt as though he had an aching emptiness in the place where his brother should be, he had to admit that his new research was fascinating. They had spent so long relentlessly pursuing the Philosopher's Stone, and then trying to defeat the homunculi, that this new approach was amazingly liberating. If he heard of something interesting, he could go and look into it as long as he wanted, without having that biting fear and guilt pushing him to move on. He hoped that Al was having as good a time with his own research in the West—from their weekly phone conversations, he suspected so. That reminded him: he would have to speak to Jacques tomorrow about using his field telephone to call Al.

Edward's eye snagged for a moment on the alchemical symbol for iron, a vertical arrow bisected by two parallel lines. What had that poem said? Blood of my blood, I call unto thee. He grew very still for a moment. Could it be that simple? What if the outer ring of the array functioned as a gatekeeper, ensuring that only approved guests were allowed into the inner circle? By all accounts the Xerxians had been an insular, xenophobic people, fierce in both their religion and their devotion to their king. Perhaps they had set safeguards against outsiders stumbling upon their jealously guarded knowledge.

There was, of course, an easy way to test out his little theory. But how to explain it to the archaeologists? He could hardly divulge his rather unique ancestry, and it was well known that all of Xerxes had been wiped out in a single cataclysmic event. Even if he made up some story about being descended from survivors, he doubted any man of science would believe that Xerxian genes had remained so undiluted through the centuries. No, perhaps it would be better to do it secretly, and make up some cover story later on to explain why the array had activated. He would wait a few hours until he was certain everyone else was asleep, then go and conduct some research of his own.

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He ghosted through the darkened camp, skirting the sleeping tents, grateful that the research portion of camp was on the opposite side. It made it less likely that any insomniacs or latrine-bound archaeologists would stumble upon Ed's little experiment. He ducked under the canvas door flap of his target, pausing a moment to let his eyes adjust. The moon was full tonight, and shone brightly in the clear desert air, enough so that from the inside the tent walls seemed to glow.

Ed stood before the stone, hesitating; half of him certain it would succeed, the other half sure that the universe could not be wrapped up so neatly. What were the odds that one of the three living people who could make this work would happen to stumble into the right tent at the right time? If Professor Hawkins hadn't decided to go on vacation, if he hadn't happened to mention his friend's discovery to Ed—hell, even if Ed had decided to take a break for the long weekend instead of haring out into the middle of nowhere—the array might have forever remained a mystery. If he even could make this work—perhaps his half-blood would not be strong enough to trigger the mechanism.

He huffed out a breath, suddenly amused at his own uncharacteristic indecision. There was only one way to find out, and standing here arguing with himself wasn't going to achieve anything. He pulled out a thin blade (formerly a tin mug, transmuted for his purpose) and ran it across his palm, careful to cup his hand to collect the blood. He swiped it in a broad swath across the center of the array, then planted both hands flat on the surface of the stone.

Nothing happened. Edward sighed, grimacing in annoyance. So much for that theory, he thought. Just as he began to pull his hands from the array, he noticed something odd. The lines incised into the stone seemed paler than the surrounding surface; when he glanced away, they left squiggly afterimages in his eyes. He placed his hands more firmly on the array, staring intently at the pattern of the circle.

It was beginning to glow—a steady, pale blue light that edged outward from his hands until the entire transmutation circle shone. It built slowly at first, entirely unlike the electric crackle he was used to in his own alchemy. It started out at a crawl, but like train engine building up steam, it began to grow in speed and intensity. Edward felt a pressure in the back of his skull, and the air felt thick and heavy. He was pinned in place now, unable to move, unable to stop the alchemic reaction. The light was almost blinding now, and the feeling of a powerful and other-worldly presence was stifling. His last thought before blazing light wiped everything away was, Well, that was a fucking terrible idea….

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Author's note: The cliff dwellings and the cave with the wind are based on two actual locations in the high chaparral of Arizona. Again, if you're interested in betaing, please let me know.