I had hoped to get this out over an hour ago one the one year anniversary of when I started writing this. Can you guys believe it's been that long? Never mind the fact that it's been like 5 months since I updated last…. Ahem.

So I'm not dead, and this isn't abandoned, but I won't be updating very often at all. Junior year: it's important, you know?

I very much suggest rereading at least the previous chapter before reading this, because this chapter is very important and I'm too lazy to throw in a summary.

Also, I'm not sorry. You'll see.

.oOo.

This was… humiliating, to say the least.

I observed my reflection and cringed. Pink was so not my color. Ruffles were out, too. And don't even get me started on the bead necklaces. Dear God, there were so many bead necklaces. Ever since they discovered the alchemy necklace I had commandeered from Lyra, the girls believed I had a passion for beautiful neck jewelry.

Hughes and his damn camera were not helping matters, either.

"Come on out now!" He gushed from the hallway, grinning maniacally from behind the lens. "The girls are just dying to get a look at their favorite model!"

With a final look at myself and a sigh, I turned on my heel and threw open the door, putting a hand on my hip and pursing my lips in a pathetic attempt at a model's pout. Hughes's camera flashed, while Mrs. Hughes clapped avidly. Nina and Elysia were positively ecstatic, squealing and clapping and jumping up and down like excited little girls do. Even Sparta looked pleased by my appearance, which is a little weird because last I checked cats were only ever sassy grumpy or hungry.

Hoping that after the—fifteenth?—outfit I could be done playing dress-up for the day; I began to unstring the dreaded beads from my neck. That is, until two jubilant little girls tackled me, squealing something along the lines of 'tea party!".

I let myself be dragged into the next room with a dramatic groan. The girls began setting up the fancy plastic tea set, bouncing stuffed animals and soft dolls off of cushy chairs, and I couldn't help but smile a little.

Aww, who knew you had a soft spot for children?

Well, you've got to admit they're cute when they play around like this. Especially Nina. It's god to see her adjusting well in the family.

yeah, it sure is.

I frowned a little. Jade?

That's not my name.

Feeling a little bitter today?

I'm fine.

Shrugging, I sat down at the table, sipping at my tap water. I idly glanced at Nina. She had taken out her braids for today, letting the soft waves fall freely down her back. I had had no idea that her hair was wavy. It wasn't really an important fact, but it was weird that I had never noticed it before.

A very disgruntled Sparta was plopped down on the table, and I just had to laugh. One of the girls had strapped a frilly pink doll's bonnet to her head, and she was very clearly not amused. She kept twitching her head around, pawing at the thing with an agitated air. Elysia was screaming in delight, and Nina was happily giggling beside her. With a grin and a playful roar, I stood up and pulled them both into a bear hug. By this point we were all laughing uncontrollably.

Flash!

Hughes stood in front of us with his camera, and I didn't even care. It had to be a terrible picture with us moving around like we were, anyways.

.oOo.

When I walked back to the hotel that night, I came upon Major Armstrong talking to Ross and Brosch. Well, it would have been talking if Armstrong hadn't chosen that moment to rip off his shirt and shout that their behavior was 'MOST SUSPICIOUS!' as they cowered in fear.

I walked up to the group. "So…" I started, raising a hand. "What up?"

Brosch frantically waved his hands back and forth. "Nothing! Nothing's happening, nope, nothing suspicious going on here…" Ross was nodding violently by his side. If her head was moving any faster, I'd worry about it falling off.

"…Uh huh…" I nodded before trekking towards the hotel room; the military people following close behind me. Once we reached the second floor (when were elevators invented again?) Armstrong stopped walking.

"What was it the Elric brothers discovered?"

I could practically hear them stiffen behind me. Pausing I turned around to look at them.

"I'M WAAAIITING!" Armstrong bellowed, causing me to jump.

"Nngh, the Philosopher's Stone is made with human lives!" Ross exclaimed quickly. Then her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hands.

Major Armstrong turned to face them. "What?" he whispered, incredulous.

Brosch looked down at his worn, military issue boots. "Human lives. Thousands of human sacrifices have to be made in order to make a single stone."

So they knew. I was a little surprised that Ed and Al had found out so quickly. It had only been, what, a little over a week? Last I had seen them, they had barely scratched the surface of the notes. The fact that they had discovered the truth so soon was astonishing, to say the least.

Armstrong paused for a moment. "I see." He turned on his heel and began marching towards the room, brushing past me. The three of us quickly followed after him.

When he reached our door, he began pounding on it full force. "ELRIC BROTHERS! I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE! OPEN UP, THIS IS THE MAAAAJJOORR!" I stared at him with wide eyes. When the door didn't open, he grabbed the handle and pushed, breaking the wood clean out of the door and forcing it open with a crash. "I know what it said, Edward Elric!"

Edward and Al screamed, while I just shook my head in terror. "I had a key you know…"

"HOW TRAGIC!" he bellowed for the entire building to hear. "To think that the legend of the Philosopher's Stone was built on such a terrible secret!"

Edward turned to glare at Ross and Brosch. "We're sorry!"

"Yeah, it's hard to keep a secret when someone like him asks you!"

Armstrong was still going strong though. "How awful! Imagine the military knowing about such a terrible secret like that. Often, the truth is more cruel than we first bargained for."

Ed and I both froze. Hadn't Doctor Marcoh said something about the truth… the truth hiding the truth? The truth about the truth?

The truth hidden within the truth. Not Jackie suggested helpfully.

"The truth hidden within the truth…" I mumbled after her.

Edward shared a look with me, and he just knew. "It's just like with alchemical notes. What you can see on the surface is only a portion of the truth. There's still more to find here… there has to be."

.oOo.

"There are currently four alchemic research laboratories being used in Central. We can narrow down the list further: Doctor Marcoh was working in the Third Laboratory. We should start there, it is the most suspect." Armstrong pointed to a square on the map heavily.

Most suspect… is that even grammatically possible?

Ed glanced about the map. "Al and I have been to all the labs in Central, none of them were doing any particularly remarkable research… There, what's that?" He planted a gloved hand on another box, this one with a huge red 'X' through the center.

Ross looked at her folder. "It was designed for the Fifth Laboratory, but it isn't currently in use. The building was declared unsound structurally, so it's been classified 'off-limits.'"

"It's there, that's the one." Ed declared with an air of finality.

"How can you be so sure?" Brosch asked.

Ed grimaced. "Because there's a prison next door."

"Ooh, sneaky." I grinned. "Well played. They used the prisoners on death row to make the stone. Nicely done."

Brosch shot me a look. "Eurgh." I simply shrugged in response.

Alphonse looked up. "Prisons from other jurisdictions could be used too. I wonder if the government could be involved?"

Ross gave an exasperated sigh. "Why do I get the feeling we're getting involved in something really dangerous here?"

Alphonse held up his hands in a childish posture. "That's why we told you to pretend like you'd never heard anything!" It was weird seeing such a big suit of armor act like such a little kid. Actually, he was basically my age, so I probably shouldn't have viewed him as younger than me… eh, whatever.

Armstrong rolled up the map and stood. "This has the potential of turning into a political nightmare before long. I'll look into what we've discussed tonight. In the meantime, officers, speak of this to no one."

Ross and Brosch pulled into a sharp salute. "Sir!" Seeing them act responsibly and like adults was weird too. They were always so doofy…

"And you boys, behave yourselves!" He had turned to us. Edward and Alphonse made motions of surprise, while I raised my eyebrows. "RRRNNGH! I know you three boys, you were planning on sneaking into this building and taking a look around, weren't you!?"

A mixed response of Ed ensuring that they weren't planning to do that and Al ensuring that they wouldn't do that followed, along with the rapid shaking of heads. Armstrong seemed to take this as good enough, and proceeded to exit the room. Ross and Brosch followed him shortly after.

I turned to the brothers with a grin. "So how long do we wait before sneaking out?"

Ed returned the grin. "A few hours so that it's dark enou—hey, wait a minute, you can't come with us!" He pointed at me with furrowed eyebrows.

"Uh, why not?"

"You're a suspicious character, and these could be deep military secrets!" He crossed his arms. "Besides, you shouldn't get involved in this. It's our problem, not yours."

I snorted. "If I wasn't involved yet with you dragging me around everywhere, I definitely am now that I know the secret of the Philosopher's Stone. I'm coming with you."

"No you're not." Ed said decidedly. "You'll stay here."

"What, all by my lonesome? With nobody to observe my every move? Why, you'd be putting your mission at jeopardy, Ed!"

"Then you'll stay here with Al."

"Brother!"

"That's not right." I pointed out. "It's Al's problem as much as yours, maybe even more so. In fact, maybe he should go and you can stay here and stare me down."

"I'm not letting Alphonse go out there by himself!"

I grinned. "Then it's settled. We're all going, together."

.oOo.

Two hours later, the trio had tied the sheets together and escaped through the window. They ran through the streets as quietly as they could, Edward taking the lead. When they reached the location of the Fifth Laboratory, they slowed down and began sneaking around as quietly as possible, Alphonse impressively so.

They peered around the corner, noticing that lights were on, and a man dressed in military garb was standing watch outside the front entrance.

"Who stations a guard outside an unused lab?" Ed muttered?

"That is suspicious." Al agreed.

Sneaking back around to the opposite side of the wall surrounding the building, they faced the barrier. "So…," Jack started, "how do we get in?"

"We could make a door with alchemy…" Ed suggested.

Alphonse shook his head. "The light from the transmuted reaction would alert the guard."

Edward frowned. "Well… in that case…"

With a nod, Alphonse placed his hands together. Ed planted his foot on his brother, and Al launched him to the top of the wall, where he landed heavily on the barbed wire with his left leg. He then began to unloop the wire and send it down toward his brother and Jack.

Jack looked at the wire in trepidation, then looked at Alphonse. Realizing that he couldn't climb the wire with his bare hands, and that he couldn't fling Jack up there because he would be significantly less likely to land than Ed was, Al crouched down so that he could cling to his armor.

Once they had climbed up and jumped over, the threesome jogged back around to the front of the building. The doors were boarded over, with metal poles and more barbed wire crossing the entryway.

"They're not taking any chances, are they?" Ed noted, looking around. He spotted a vent about eight feet off the ground and grinned. Using his brother for support, he removed the cover from the opening.

Jack motioned to Al. "I'm going in, too."

"No, you're not." Ed retorted from above. "Stay out here with Al."

"Alphonse can take care of himself." He responded.

"Then so can I." And with that, Ed crawled further into the vent.

.oOo.

I waited for about thirty seconds before shooting another look at Al. "Would you rather me stay here with you or go support your brother?"

Alphonse gazed at the vent. "I'd rather follow him myself, but…" He looked back down at me. "You're the best I've got right now. Take care of him, okay?"

I grinned. "Will do. You take care of yourself, too."

And with that, I stood up on his shoulders and followed the runt into the Evil Laboratory of Death and Despair.

I was being totally awesome at being stealthy and stuff. Until Edward freaking Elric almost kicked me in the face, whispering something about being a 'tiny little pipsqueak'.

"Shit!" I hissed, then clamped a hand over my mouth.

Ed tried to turn to look at me, but the vent was too tight. "I thought I said to stay outside with Al."

"Yeah, well Al wanted me to come and back you up." I countered. "And besides, there's nothing you can do to get me out now. It's only forward from here."

Grumbling to himself, Ed moved forward until he came upon a vent into the ceiling of the space below. Kicking it out, he dropped down the eight feet. I glanced down at the floor, then braced for impact and dropped myself, wincing as I hit the floor.

"There are lights on…" Ed commented from above me. Wiping his nose, he smirked, "Not currently in use, who are they trying to fool?"

We followed the trail of floor lights, wandering the halls until we eventually came upon a large room with a much taller ceiling. Inside was a transmutation circle using some pentagon type shape, with a pedestal sitting in the center. Some of the points of the pentagon had blood splattered suspiciously on them.

"This must be where they transmuted the Philosopher's Stone…" Ed said quietly.

"Yes," a voice came from the darkness, "I don't know who kids are, but you figured that out just by looking at a transmutation circle. I'm impressed." The voice was male, probably an adult, and it sounded very much creepy, considering we couldn't see who it was coming from.

Until a suit of armor came waltzing out at us, with a long slash through one of his eyeholes and a Japanese sword in his hand.

"I'm just good like that." Ed answered cheekily. I was so proud of him for that comment. "Now what are you doing here, pal?"

"I am the person in charge of guarding this place from curious brats like you." He answered. "For the moment, let's just say my name is Number 48, and believe me when I say that I'm not your pal. My orders are to take care of anyone who tries to stick their nose into the business here. Try not to take it personally, boys."

Ed glared at the man. "Alright, I won't." He clapped his hands, transmuting the cool blade thing onto his arm and destroying yet another glove. "You try not to take it personally when these boys kick your ass!" Taking that as a cue of some sort, I pulled the gun out of my belt, glad that I had taken it with me. Not that it would do much good against a suit of armor, but maybe I would get lucky or something.

"Oh, you're an alchemist, are you?" He widened his stance, then shot forward at an alarming rate. "Alright then, let's see what you've got!" He slashed at Ed, and he was only barely able to block with his arm. More slashes and stabs were traded, and Edward ended up scrambling backwards.

I watched in terror as they fought, unable to do anything. What had I been thinking, coming out to help Ed. I wasn't any good in a fight! I had a little stamina for running, but I could barely throw a punch, and didn't know the first thing about alchemy. My gun wouldn't be of any use here either, all I could really do was stand there and stare, completely useless. It sucked ass!

He should be fine for a while. The girl in my head said calmly. Just stand back for now and be ready to jump should you need to.

Well look who showed up to the party. Where've you been?

Pay attention to the task at hand, Jack.

A resounding clang rang through the room. Ed lowered his foot, then grinned. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that you're hollow on the inside!"

48 straightened. "My, aren't you a perceptive one."

"I could tell from the sound. I spar against someone like you all the time."

"Way to spill the beans, dude." I muttered from the sidelines. "Real smooth."

"So there are others like me on the outside." 48 said, sounding interested but bored at the same time. "How fascinating."

Ed grinned again. "Yeah, it makes me sick. To think, somebody else was dumb enough to bind a disembodied soul to a suit of armor!"

"Oh," he said, relaxing a bit, "perhaps I should introduce myself again. 48 was the number I was assigned on death row. Back when I had a living body, I was better known as Slicer. I was a mass murderer, you see."

I groaned. "Well that's bloody perfect, isn't it?"

Ignoring me, Ed continued on, "I see. Tell me something, were they using this laboratory to use condemned prisoners for the Philosopher's Stone?"

"That I can't tell you." 48… Slicer continued. "It isn't exactly my area of expertise. I just know that the scientists recognized my… skills, then stuck my soul in this suit of armor to be an eternal guard dog."

"Then you must have a blood seal, to serve as a medium between your soul and the armor?"

"Yes," he said, unwrapping the cloth from his face, "I have a blood seal." He raised the visor on his helmet, showing a red circle at the base of his head. "This is it right here. If you destroy this, the fight is—"

BANG!

I shot my gun, aiming carefully for the blood seal. I missed my mark, hitting the visor and knocking the entire helmet off of his head, but I guess that was pretty effective too, as he fell down with a clash.

Ed turned to me. "What the hell was that for!?" He yelled.

"The seal was on his head." I answered, "Without it he shouldn't be able to move his body."

"That was still a dirty move." He snarled.

I shrugged. "There's no such thing as dirty in a fight."

Steeling a glare at me, Ed turned to lift the head. "So how about it? Will you tell me now about this lab here?"

"Sorry," the head said, "but this fight's not over yet."

It wasn't until then that I noticed the movement behind Edward. Did the body just… shit! "ED! Left!"

Taking the hint, Ed dropped the head and dodged to the side, getting nicked in the shoulder in the process. The body had stood up and was now wielding the sword at Edward, another blood seal visible on the back of its neck.

"I forgot to mention something about the murderer Slicer. You see, it was actually a pair of murdering brothers!" Slicer no. 1 cackled from the floor.

Ed growled, holding his bleeding shoulder. "That's a dirty trick, too!"

"'There's no such thing as dirty in a fight,' remember?" Slicer no. 2 called out, before striking again.

.oOo.

"You're just a puppet! What proof do you have that you were once a real boy?"

"I kill, therefore I am! That's all the proof I need!"

"Are you really sure that he's you're brother?"

"Why won't you just DIE ALREADY?!"

.oOo.

Damn it… I've lost too much blood! I need to end this soon, or I'm going to dIEEEE!

Ed stumbled and fell, slamming his back against the wall. His right eye was blinded by blood, his arm was utterly useless, and there was practically nothing that he could do. The Slicer body lunged for him, sword aimed right at his heart. The situation was so freaking pathetic, it was almost like that fight with—

Scar!

Taking a leap of faith, he slammed his left palm against his right and ducked under the incoming sword, hitting the stomach of the armor and deconstructing it in two. From somewhere in the background, Jack was rooting him on.

"Aaw yea, buddy! Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!"

Ed touched the legs of the armor tentatively with his foot. "You're not going to tell me you're actually three brothers, are you?"

The head laughed. "No, no, you've beaten us this time." He paused, "So what are you waiting for? Why don't you kill us already?"

Ed frowned. "I couldn't do that. I don't kill people."

"Oh come now, we can hardly be considered people with these bodies. Just look at us! Scrap metal!"

Ed shook his head. "If I didn't consider you humans, I couldn't consider my own brother human."

Jack stared on, his gun hanging limply in his hand. It looked like they had done it. Things were okay now. Aside from Ed losing a lot of his blood and all…

Slicer laughed. "You know what? I'll repay you for this. I'll tell you everything: the purpose of this lab, who ran it, everything! It was—"

Shlunk!

Two spear type projectiles came shooting out from the shadows, silencing the helm. "Oh dear, Number 48, now that just won't do." A very curvy, very dark woman came sauntering out from the darkness, the spears shortening to her hand with the helmet still attached. "You can't go spilling secrets, it's impolite." With a twist of her wrist, the helmet was cut clean in two.

Slicer had been sliced through.

Bad dum, crash!

"Brother?" Slicer no. 2 called from the ground. "Brother? BROTHER!"

Another figure entered the light, this one seemingly male, but ridiculously effeminate. He picked up the sword lying on the ground and began stabbing the blood seal on the other brother. Repeatedly.

"Uuurgh, shut uuupp," he groaned. "Quit your blubbering! You were trying to kill one of our important Sacrifices!" Stab. "Do you understand that?" Stab. "It would have ruined our plans!" Stab. "What would we have done then?" Stab. "Huuh?!"

After noticing that the arms had ceased twitching, the guy stood up and began to walk towards Edward. Edward forced himself up, using the wall to brace himself. "What are you talking about? What plan? What do you mean by important sacrifice?"

The dude leaned in extra close to his face. "Aaw, look at the little pipsqueak! I think I made it angry." He grinned.

Huffing angrily, Edward spat out "Don't call me… pipsqueak… again."

"Then what would you prefer, eh Pipsqueak?"

Ed lashed out with his foot, very nearly kicking the guy in the face. "Woah now!" he said as he backed away, casually leaning the sword against his shoulder. "There's no need to fight here, someone might get hurt!"

Ed clapped his hands together with effort. "This is a fight you started, so come and get it!"

Pop!

And then his automail arm fell completely limp.

The woman smirked. "Technical difficulties?"

"LUCKY ME!" the man grinned before lunging towards Ed.

Bang! Bang!

The guy stumbled to a halt, very nearly landing on Edward. Jack stood a bit of a distance off, the gun aimed where is back used to be.

The woman turned sharply, then paused. "It's you…" she murmured to herself.

Jack lowered his gun a bit, panting. "Aren't you that lady…"

Red sparks shot out of the man's back and he straightened, glaring daggers behind him. "That HURT you piece of filth!" he screeched.

The woman upturned her nose. "Kill him."

Grinning, the man lunged for Jack.

Bang! Click.

He loosened another two shots at the offender, but the first was dodged, and the second never came.

"Out of bullets?" He questioned with a crazed grin as he threw a punch at Jack. Jack managed to duck under the punch, but he was unable to avoid the kick sent towards his stomach. Stumbling back, he tried to run toward the side.

And got stabbed through the left side of his chest.

"Jack!" Ed yelled, running forward but falling to the ground instead. The woman glared over her shoulder at him.

"Don't you dare move, boy. A Sacrifice you may be, but he doesn't have that luxury." She hissed.

The man began walking back towards him, leaving a wheezing Jack behind him. Those were not good sounds. Kicking Ed harshly in the stomach twice, the man stood up and observed his work with a grin.

"You're lucky you've got a busted arm, Pipsqueak, or you wouldn't be getting off nearly this easy." He smirked at him. Jack gave a particularly loud wheeze from the back, then coughed up blood.

"Listen to me well, boy." The woman said with a sweet smile. It would have made him shudder, if he were capable of doing anything right then. "Don't you ever forget that we let you live here." She turned to the man beside her. "We can't have him snooping around this place anymore. It'll have to go. Blow it up."

The man grinned. "With pleasure."

Somewhere behind him, Jack stopped wheezing.

And Ed's eyes widened in horror.

.oOo.

In a white expanse empty of anything save a grand piano, a girl in a white dress with strawberry blonde hair clutched it tightly.

And screamed.

.oOo.

So I started beta-ing a story. It's an FMA harry Potter crossover called Of Ends and Beginning by a certain fantastic BakaNeko. Check it out if you want. I recommend it.

Also, Once again, I'm not sorry. Have fun dealing with the end of that chapter!

Thanks for the name suggestions, I got quite a few. Also, a special shoutout to those of you who somehow stumbled upon this in the months when I didn't update… kudos. Additional shoutouts to everyone who reviewed. I loved those a lot.

I shall see you all… eventually. Feel free to shot me a PM if you want another chapter sooner. I work more when I've been nagged ;)