Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist – Arakawa-sensei is the mastermind.
Mrs Armstrong had her first child on a very cold, wet and windy morning. The process – which took place in a spacious, luxurious room with the curtains aflutter and the rain pounding against the window – went quite smoothly despite the weather, and the baby was born without a hitch. When the happy couple took a first look at the newborn, however, they got quite a surprise.
"Oho," said Mr Armstrong. "A girl!"
"Such a tiny girl too," remarked Mrs Armstrong, peering into the depths of the bundle of sheets in her arms. "This is a first, isn't it? Up until now, the first child of each generation of the Armstrong family has been a boy."
"Indeed," said Mr Armstrong thoughtfully. "Will a woman be able to lead the family when my time is up?"
"I'm sure she will." Mrs Armstrong tweaked the baby's cheek. "To make sure, we shall give her a boy's name, though not one that sounds too masculine. What do you think?"
"A boy's name, hmm? Bert, perhaps? We could call her Bertie to soften it."
Mrs Armstrong looked at her daughter, who was wriggling about and trying to loosen the sheets around her. "No, I think not."
"Francis, with an 'i'?"
"No, no. It will be misspelled by others, no doubt, and in time we will have to change it to Frances with an 'e'."
"True. Then perhaps . . . Oliver?"
Mrs Armstrong frowned. "That's not quite right. Perhaps something between Oliver and Olivia. . ."
Mr Armstrong chuckled. "My, you're awfully finicky today, aren't you, honey?" He thought for a moment. "Something between the two . . . Olivier? It has a bit of a foreign sound to it."
The baby suddenly stopped struggling and blinked her big blue eyes up at her mother, as though pleading for something.
"Yes," decided Mrs Armstrong. "It's perfect. A strong and appealing name, well suited to the heiress of the Armstrong estate. Though of course, that may change if I have a boy next."
They proceeded to decide that the child's middle name should be 'Mira', an alteration of her mother's name, Myra.
So Olivier Mira Armstrong was named, and within a year proved her parents wrong in thinking that she would not be a suitable heiress. She would not cry over small things, as most babies do, could walk and talk better than the average toddler by the time she was ten months old, and on her first birthday tore the frilly pink dress her mother had bought especially for her to shreds.
"She's a true tomboy, this one," said Mrs Armstrong.
In the next few years, it seemed that Olivier would indeed be the one to inherit the grand Armstrong mansion, as Mrs Armstrong's next two children were both girls. Amue and Strongine looked like a pair of hobgoblins next to their older sister, despite the fact that Olivier was not picture-perfect herself. They were twice the size of her and apparently took pride in being so, as they frequently attempted to bully her.
But Olivier was not to be beaten so early in her life, for despite her appearance, she was much stronger than either of them. Whenever they decided to torment her, she would whack them repeatedly over the head with a saucepan until they cried for mercy.
Things changed, however, after Olivier turned five. Mrs Armstrong was expecting another baby. After months of anticipation, she and her husband were presented with what they had really wanted – a boy, to whom they gave the name Alex Louis. He was a perfectly normal child, though a little big for his age, with blond hair and blue eyes, like all the Armstrong children.
Olivier didn't seem too happy with this. Alex always copied her, from her choice of food to the way her bangs curled at the ends. She gave him the saucepan treatment, but it only made her brother admire her more, and once or twice Mrs Armstrong caught her red-handed and punished her heavily.
Meanwhile, while the children were growing up, innocently oblivious to the adults' pressing matters, Mr and Mrs Armstrong were busy mulling over who was to be the future head of the family.
"I think Olivier should be fine," said Mrs Armstrong complacently one sunny day, as she sat watching her children playing out in the back garden. "After all, we named her so carefully for this purpose, didn't we?"
"Yes, yes," said Mr Armstrong. "But we have one problem – Alex is the first boy to be born into this generation, so shouldn't he be the one to receive the 'special training'?"
Mrs Armstrong frowned. "Perhaps, but he seems such a normal lad. I believe Olivier would learn what is needed more quickly."
"Well, we shall see," said Mr Armstrong. "It is too early to decide, surely."
So they watched and waited. As the years passed, Olivier grew into a pale and slender creature, whose appearance was dangerously deceptive. She looked the perfect little angel, with her long blond hair and sapphire eyes rimmed with long lashes. The only trait that deemed her any less than an angel was her rather thick and full lips. Throwing aside her appearance, however, she had a fiery temper and was feared by all her tutors (the Armstrong children were educated privately). Though she was very bright, she often tried her parents' patience with her defiance and stubbornness.
"Olivier," her mother would often say, "For the last time, do not go up to the top floor to avoid your music lesson."
But Olivier loved exploring the mansion (and despised the fine art of piano playing). It had four floors and about a hundred rooms, most of which Olivier hadn't ever been in. When she felt like disobeying her parents, she would bolt up three sets of winding staircases, wander around the top floor, climb up onto the roof if she felt daring enough, and stroll back down to the ground floor at her leisure, stopping to peer inside rooms, rattle doorknobs and look at paintings and tapestries hanging on the walls.
Alex, however, was too much of a good boy, and despite having deep admiration towards his sister, he never had the heart to disobey his parents in any way. Physically, he was almost as huge as Amue or Strongine.
Seeing the pros and cons of handing down the Armstrong mansion to each of them, Mr and Mrs Armstrong decided to teach them both the battle techniques that had existed in the Armstrong family for generations.
One scorching July day, Mr Armstrong was taking leave from work to spend some time polishing his eldest daughter and son's skills.
"Olivier, Alex," he said. "Spar with each other, if you please."
Olivier rolled her eyes. "Alex has just learnt how to walk. How is he supposed to fight against me?"
"I'm four years old now," Alex complained. "And I'm taller than you, Sis."
"That's right," said Mr Armstrong. "Please don't exaggerate, Olivier. Now begin."
Olivier crossed her arms over her chest and pinched her lips together. "No."
"Now, now," Mr Armstrong sounded amused, "this won't do. Then, how about this – if you agree to the fight, I'll show you both something interesting, regardless of who wins."
In spite of herself, Olivier was curious. "But that's not fair, Father," she said scornfully. "Why should you show Alex too, when it's so obvious that he's going to lose?"
Mr Armstrong chuckled. "Why, you ask? Simple – it is something we have inherited from our ancestors."
This was too much – Olivier was very proud of the Armstrong lineage, and couldn't bear to miss out on such a golden opportunity. She charged at Alex and as expected, flattened him within minutes. As he lay on the ground sobbing, she turned to her father.
"What is it you're going to show us?"
"Patience, patience," said Mr Armstrong. "Before I show you anything, would you mind apologizing to your brother for hitting him so hard?"
"Yes, I would mind," said Olivier promptly. "You never told me to go easy on him."
"Fine by me," said Mr Armstrong. "The deal is off."
As he started to walk away, Olivier immediately yelled, "I'm sorry you're such a wimp, Alex!" up at the sky.
Alex cried harder. "I'm not a wimp!"
Mr Armstrong looked at her daughter sternly. "Apologize properly."
Olivier shot a defiant look at her father, tossed her mop of blond hair behind her and strolled up to her brother. "I – am – sorry!"
"That's better," said Mr Armstrong in a satisfied voice. "Now follow me."
He led them into the house and up numerous staircases, stopping at the third door along the corridor on the second floor. He touched the doorknob lightly, and it made a fizzing noise and flashed brightly before clicking open.
"Alchemy!" said Olivier, her eyes gleaming. "When are we learning that, Father?"
"When you have mastered everything else." Mr Armstrong stepped into the room and indicated that Olivier and Alex should follow.
It was only a small room, but a spectacular one. It was dimly lit by a crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling, and mounted on the walls were row upon row of glass cases that held objects that were no doubt Armstrong relics from long ago. The carpet was a deep emerald green, and printed on it was the Armstrong family tree. Olivier walked slowly across it, intrigued by the many blond-haired, blue-eyed faces looking up at her. Near the bottom were two familiar ones, with the names Philip and Myra under them.
"Now," said Mr Armstrong, snapping her out of her reverie, "Here we are." He strode across to the centre of the back wall and reached out to touch one of the glass cases. "The Armstrong sword."
The siblings stared up at it. It had a magnificent steel handle and blade with some sort of pattern engraved on it, and next to it hung the polished sheath.
"I have used it in the past," continued Mr Armstrong, "but swords have never been my strong suit. However," he paused, "one of you may well be the worthy owner of it."
"Really?" whispered Alex, who seemed quite overwhelmed.
Olivier tutted impatiently. "If you don't improve, you'll never get your hands on it. But if you do," she turned and looked daggers at him, "I won't lose to you."
Alex looked shocked for a moment, before clenching his fists and yelling, "I won't lose either!"
"That's the spirit," said Mr Armstrong. "Now, I shall fetch Amue and Strongine. There is something that needs to be done. Wait here, please."
While he was gone, Olivier strolled around the room, peering into the glass cases. There were intricately decorated glass vases and porcelain plates, expensive jewellery and refined silk dresses, as well as gleaming daggers and shiny armour. Olivier couldn't care less about the overly feminine items, but her fingers itched to touch the swords and knives, to slice through something with the perfect blades.
She stared at these for so long that she didn't notice that her father had returned with her sisters at his heels until he tapped her lightly on the shoulder.
"Please stand over there, Olivier," he said, gesturing towards the carpet that held the bottom of the family tree.
Amue looked very excited, and Strongine extremely bored.
"What is it that we're doing, Father?" asked Amue, batting her eyelashes. She always carried herself like a gracious lady, but had neither the looks nor brains to be one. This annoyed Olivier so much that she often had to leave the room for a short while to restrain herself from kicking Amue in the mouth to wipe the simpering smile off her face and to smudge her lipstick.
"You'll see," said Mr Armstrong.
"I'm hungry," grumbled Strongine. She, on the other hand, didn't care about being a lady at all. In fact, she didn't care much about anything, and spent every single day eating, sleeping and lounging about.
"Shut up," said Olivier crossly. "Well, whatever it is, hurry up with it, Father."
Mr Armstrong was perusing the family tree, frowning slightly. "Yes, yes," he murmured. "I may have to shrink it a little in order for you all to fit." He cracked his knuckles. "Now, watching closely, all of you."
He bent down and placed his hands on the carpet. At once the sensation of alchemy started again, and Olivier watched in amazement as the whole family tree shrunk, leaving adequate space for the next generation, and at her feet appeared four faces: her own, Amue's, Strongine's, and finally Alex's. Swirly letters materialised under them, as though an invisible hand was writing their names on a page of Armstrong history.
When the commotion died down, all four children were speechless for a moment. Then Alex cried, "I love my family!"
Olivier stomped on his foot, wishing he wouldn't be so sentimental, but though she didn't know it, she felt exactly the same as her brother at that moment – prouder than ever to be an Armstrong.
Thanks for reading!
So let me explain: I really, really love backstory – I just love thinking about why characters are the way they are, and what sorts of things shaped their identities. One day I began thinking about Olivier's past, and I thought about it so much that I couldn't help but write it down.
I wanted to make the kid-Olivier's character different from that of the adult Olivier (well, this chapter doesn't really show that much, but there'll be more in future), but still recognisable as Olivier. So . . . I hope that turned out OK!
Until next chapter!