Amestris, year 1900.
"What does this have to do with alchemy?"
For not the first time that day, Berthold Hawkeye rolled his eyes. He'd heard that complaint too many times to count. He massaged his temples with both hands and ran his fingers down his face, which was rapidly accumulating wrinkles. It didn't even matter what the exercise was—it could be meditating, training the body, researching history, or even drawing circles. Whether it was Roy or some other young pupil he'd attempted to teach over the years, they would always ask this stupid question in response to his commands. At this point, experience had granted him the most sophisticated and wisest reply to use in such situations.
"Shut up and do what I say!"
Roy Mustang was young, only about fifteen, but Berthold could feel potential there. If only he could do something about the kid's attitude.
Roy knew there was something strange about the house the minute he walked up the gravel drive. Where, before, there had been an abundance of songbirds, silence now reigned. In what had once been a well-manicured lawn—one that he himself had cared for many times as a favor to his teacher—there was a horde of stinking weeds twisting up through every square inch.
He knocked three times, and for a moment he thought the house might be abandoned; that his teacher had moved on without him. But then Riza cracked the door open.
"Yes? Oh, hello, Roy Mustang." She had changed in the past year. She'd grown her last few inches and her hair had recovered from a stern crew cut—which was good, he thought. She looked much lovelier with those bangs, yet she still had a practical beauty. Her face, however, was hollow and unreadable.
"Is Master Hawkeye at home?" he asked.
She sounded distant, almost lonely. Roy had only heard Riza use this particular voice tone a handful of times. Most of these examples involved talking about her late mother.
She shifted. "I'll ask if he wants to see you."
"Has something happened?" he asked.
Her brown eyes flicked back at him before she closed the door. A chill wind picked up, and Roy gazed around the bleak, fenced-in surroundings as if trying to identify the source. An ironic thought struck him.
If Master Hawkeye had taught me anything about the flame alchemy he knows, I would be warm right now.
The thought was dismissed quickly.
As if he would teach me anything at all.
He started as the door opened fully and Riza motioned him inside. "Sorry, he hasn't been himself of late. He's in bed, resting, but when I told him about you, he nodded. I should warn you…he's not…well." Riza's gaze fell to the floor.
"What happened? He seemed giddy, almost youthful when I spoke with him last year." Roy removed his jacket and draped it over the arm of a waiting coatrack.
She sighed. "He won't tell me, and neither will his doctors."
Heavy curtains were drawn over the windows in Berthold's room, blocking out what little cloudy daylight would have been available. A single lamp illuminated the bedside, casting dramatic shadows on the man's pale, weathered face. He looked three times older than he should have. His once properly coiffed hair was growing long and greasy. Though Berthold was limp against the pillows, his eyes were open and tracking Roy's every move in the dim bedroom.
"Master," Roy began respectfully, but the man's pathetic state drove him past formality. "What happened to you? The last time I saw you, you said that things were about to change for the better!"
No response came.
"You know I would have helped if you just called me. Has Riza been taking care of you on her own? How could you do that to your own daughter? She said you won't tell her what's wrong, either."
Berthold just stared, his mouth sealed shut.
"You're in your forties, teacher. You still have plenty of time to live, so go do it. I'm eighteen—I'm a man now, and I've decided to live for my country. The border wars are becoming more frequent, so I'm going to join the military."
That finally got a rise out of him. Berthold tried to shoot up into a sitting position, but the movement triggered a lightning bolt of pain through his middle, and he fell back, coughing.
Roy drew back in honest shock as blood bubbled over the man's lips. "Master?"
"How—how dare you speak such words in my house. After I taught you. And now after I've lost…my beloved Evangeline…" Berthold's eyes glazed over as he stared at the ceiling. "My Evangeline…"
"Your wife?" Roy's brow wrinkled in confusion. "But you said she died years ago."
"Years and years," agreed the man. "But I have lost her again…all the same. I made a mistake, Roy. I spent so much time with you inferring that…that it was possible…and now I fear there's only one way to drive the possibility from your mind…"
Roy had tried, for many years, to be patient with Master Hawkeye, but he was approaching his limit. It was something he knew he'd regret later, but he turned his back. "You're not making any sense. I'll come back later. Maybe. If my training permits it."
"Mustang." The familiar commanding tone halted him in his tracks. "There's a garden shed…around back…you may look, if only so you will never repeat my mistakes…but you must never tell Riza what it is you saw there. Now…leave me."
Roy turned. His teacher's eyes were locked on him once more, his face quaking—with anger? Apprehension?
"Very well, Master," he said finally.
"What you find will be important," Berthold warned. "Never forget it."
Roy closed the door behind him when he left. He was in the foyer, slipping an arm back into his jacket, when Riza reappeared.
"Did he say anything to you?" she asked. "He was always more open with you than any of his other students…than me…"
"No, sorry, he hasn't told me anything." Not yet, he neglected to mention. "I'll be going now. It was nice to see you again, Riza."
"Please come back some time." Hidden within the colorless words was a degree of pleading, and Roy paused to look her in her clear, tired brown eyes as he thought about the military work that was sure to come in the days ahead.
"I'll try," he said honestly.
A light drizzle had begun outside, making the world appear misty. The curtains that coated the windows from the inside made it easier for Roy to circle the house undetected. He hoisted himself over the fence, and sure enough, the sight of a crooked garden shed greeted him in the backyard. Trees loomed over it like sentinels. The door had been locked, but drawing a transmutation circle to negate the lock took less than five minutes. It was something he'd come up with using the basics Berthold had taught him, after all.
His first thought, as his eyesight began to adjust to the musty darkness within, was that something smelled rotten. The floor was stained with a rusty substance and the air was heavy with the scent of iron. As visibility became better, Roy realized that hidden underneath the stain was an intricate transmutation away. Reading what little remained of the text that ran along the borders confirmed his growing suspicions.
"So you finally did it."
It was something Berthold had muttered about countless times. All alchemists strove at some point in their lives to become gods. Once you tasted that kind of power, power that could change one object into something greater, the temptation to go farther became impossible to resist. And all alchemists, in one way or another, were quickly humbled.
Obviously, the experiment had failed. In the center of the circle, a tarp had been draped across whatever creature had been created. Roy deeply regretted checking underneath it a few seconds later. He should have known from the size of the figure that it couldn't have been human.
Not an entire human, anyway.
Roy ran from the house and managed to keep himself together long enough to get out of sight behind a tree. Then he retched, supporting himself against the thick trunk and keeping his eyes wide open to block out what he had seen.
"What you find will be important. Never forget it." That's what his master had told him. So he forced himself to close his eyes and focus. What had he seen?
He'd seen a man who tried to bring his wife back to life. That's what it was. Evangeline Hawkeye could be the only motivation behind such a taboo form of alchemy. And the incomplete, inhuman monster that had come back in her place…Master Hawkeye's mysterious, internal illness…these things were doubtless the consequences of playing God.
Mustang heaved again, shuddering, the top of his head pressed against the coarse bark. He choked out the words bitterly. "You finally have enough faith in me to show me the results of your alchemical research…and this is it?"
It was a clear warning. This temptation was something that could not be dissuaded with mere words. Entrusting Roy with this secret was the only way he could hope to understand. He thought back to the wasted and wan body of his teacher, propped up on pillows, and how forceful and daunting Hawkeye had once been. Human transmutation was unattainable, no matter how skilled the man who performed it.
"Well, I don't need the dead." Roy straightened, scoffing. He never again seriously considered the theory of human transmutation.
Resembool, year 1910.
Roy stifled an irritated moan. First they'd learned that the Elric brothers were apparently just a couple of kids with too much time on their hands, and now, apparently, they weren't even home. This was the fifth time he'd knocked on the door. The man who had been nice enough to give them a ride into the country had insisted that the boys had no parents, so though it was a frigid autumn day, Roy was hesitant to smash the door down and demand that the two youngsters come out of hiding.
Instead, he popped the lock open with a quick transmutation. Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, who'd become his shadow in the past few years, followed him inside and closed the door behind her politely.
"Hello?" Roy called. There was a door in front of him that hung ajar, open only enough for him to see an intense darkness inside. "We were told that two amazingly skilled alchemists live here." He hoped the stress he put on the words didn't sound like sarcasm. There was no reply, however. The house was as still as the grave. He shrugged. "They don't seem to be in here."
"Perhaps they're playing in the backyard. I'll go see." Riza slipped from his side.
Roy was left alone. With the lieutenant there, he'd been able to ignore the unsettling feeling that crept from the partially-open door before him like residual smoke, but now he was struck with a familiar chill in his gut. He glanced from left to right, then placed his hand on the door and eased it open.
It was just what he expected to see—cleaner, even—yet it shocked him all the same. Bloodstains pooled in the center of a ring drawn in chalk, with detailed equations scrawled expertly into the stone floor.
No way had two young boys done this. But if they had, how could any trace of them still exist in the world? Had the price of the transmutation simply swallowed them up?
The Lieutenant rejoined him. "They're not in back, either." She paused, and her eyes widened as she stared at the floor. "What is this…?"
He chanced to look at her. The horrified curiosity that registered on her face was genuine. Berthold Hawkeye was long gone, but Roy had kept his promise. Riza had never discovered the secret that the garden shed in her backyard contained. A year after the failed transmutation, Berthold had granted him access to the Flame Alchemy research with his dying breath. And afterwards, Roy had slunk back to that shed and, appropriately enough, burnt it to the ground.
"Where are they?" Roy asked aloud. "Where are the Elric brothers? I want them found!"
He'd kept Berthold Hawkeye's reputation as a faultless, independent, and masterful alchemist alive. Now here was another secret, waiting to be concealed.
Author's note: Just some speculation. Master Hawkeye's last words seem to be in code, but he mentions alchemists pursuing the Truth as long as they live, and that he had died long ago...the implications of that statement have always struck me as odd. He might have even been in line to be Father's 5th up until his death, I don't know. But I've always thought it's interesting that Roy glances at the floor of the Elric's house and seems to immediately recognize what must have happened there. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.