"Stay close to me… he's around here somewhere." said the Masked Alchemist bringing his voice down to a whisper.
"Why are you so calm?" asked Rose "That pervert back in the village said this guy could breathe fire."
"Trust me, I've seen a lot worse."
"Yes, I was once hired to kill an alchemist who had been kidnapping people and was using them for his experiments. He tried to use their blood to create the fabled Elixir of Life. It turned out he was able to mutate his body and create four additional limbs that had cannons on them."
"You alchemists can do things like that but you can't bring a person back to life?"
"Mutation is far from being impossible; in fact it's a big part of the evolutionary process. As I've already told you, raising the dead is another matter entirely; and now is not the time for a repeat lecture."
The Masked Alchemist was able to move silently through the woods, but Rose might as well have been shooting off cannons, albeit it wasn't intentional. After about fifteen minutes he gestured for her to stop.
"What is it?"
Rose started hearing sounds all around her; suddenly he spun around and hurled one of his dice past her head. Rose turned around in time to see the die explode on contact with a filthy looking man and envelope him in ice.
"Warn me before you do something like that!"
"If I had stopped to warn you, you'd probably be dead right now."
O'Hara started to swear and curse, but then his voice started to sound inhumane.
"You bastard! I'll kill you! I'll fucking kill you… I'm… gonna…"
His body started to morph and change color. Within moments the ice shattered and Rose and her captor found themselves face to face with a reptilian monster with wings.
"What the hell is this guy?!" screamed Rose jumping back.
"If I had to take an educated guess, I'd say he's a chimera!" said the Masked Alchemist dodging the creature's claws.
Rose had seen a chimera before in Cornello's church, but it had been an abominable cross between a lion, some kind of bird, and another creature. This was something else entirely.
"I ain't going back!" bellowed the monster as he slashed at The Masked Alchemist "Look what they did to me!"
The Masked Alchemist had never seen anything like this. Chimeric research was a legitimate branch of bio-alchemy, but it was considered by many alchemists to be a science built upon countless dead ends and false starts. Most chimeras were just abominable crosses between different species of animals, yet here he was face to face with a human chimera. If he weren't so busy fighting for his life he would have wondered who had managed to pull something like this off.
The Masked Alchemist hurled several dice that exploded on contact with the chimera, but if it felt any pain then it wasn't showing it.
"You're making me… very… angry… RAAAAAAHHHH!"
The chimera started shooting fire out of his mouth, setting several of the surrounding trees ablaze.
"Oh great, it just has to breathe fire too."
The chimera mustn't have learned how to fly, otherwise it probably would have fled by now. Instead the creature was using its wings as makeshift shields, which were surprisingly durable.
"I have to keep its attention on me and away from Rose."
At the moment Rose was a couple dozen feet away frozen on the spot. Not too long ago she tried to take her own life, but she just couldn't, and so she tried to let nature do it for her, but this stranger in a mask kept her from dying, now he had dragged her all the way across the desert to Xing and was now face to face with this monstrosity.
"Why am I even still alive?"
"WILL YOU SNAP OUT OF IT ALREADY!" he yelled dodging another attack from the creature "DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THE REASON YOU COULDN'T BRING YOURSELF TO END YOUR OWN LIFE?! DEEP DOWN YOU WANT TO LIVE!"
It took Rose a minute, but she began to remember all the thing she ever wanted to do with her life that she hadn't yet done. Things she would never get the chance to do if she had died.
"YOU'RE STILL ALIVE FOR A REASON! THINK ABOUT YOUR…"
Before the Masked Alchemist could finish his sentence, the chimera shot him in the face with a fire ball. He screamed and chucked his mask away, giving the creature more than enough time to slash him across the chest.
Just like that the creature remembered Rose.
"Oh… you're a fiery one, let's see if you taste as good as you look."
As the hideous winged monster flew at her, Rose made her decision. She picked up a nearby twig, and when the creature was right on top of her she rammed it into his eye.
"ARGH! YOU FILTY BITCH, THAT WAS MY EYE!"
The creature began swiping blindly at Rose, but then a huge chunk of ice exploded and stuck the creature to a tree.
The Masked Alchemist got up and chucked a black die that landed in the creature's mouth.
Just like that the monster's head exploded, leaving Rose and the now unmasked alchemist alone and face to face. Despite the fact that he had been hit dead on with a fireball, it looked like his mask had taken all the damage. Rose had expected to see some kind of bitter and dirty middle aged man, but he didn't look much older than she was. He had thick but short brown hair and deep piercing black eyes.
"I guess I owe you an introduction… My name is Nick Ripley. I was just your average everyday nothing special guy from a small down until that fateful night I lost my parents."
"You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because I've seen your face, assuming that is your real face and not just another disguise, and you just told me your name."
"Think of it as an equivalent exchange. I saw you naked, and I feel naked without my mask on."
"Seeing someone's face isn't the same thing as seeing their whole body."
"Which is why I just told you my name and backstory."
"You know this is sort of a weird thing for us to be talking about right after you just blew off a monster's head." said Rose half laughing.
"Yeah… Now I've got to drive this thing all the way back to Central."
"Not before we do something about those wounds of yours."
Nick had a well built body, but as Rose tended to his chest she saw that it was covered with scars.
"Where did you get all of these?"
"It comes with the job."
"Why do you do this to yourself?"
"I already told you it's because of what happened to my parents."
"I've been meaning to ask you, what happened to the murderer."
"I beat him to death with the fire poker."
"Are you serious?"
"Witnessing the death of your parents will do that to you. I've tried my best to make sure that what happened to me never happens to anyone else, even if I just end up hunting down those that have already committed crimes."
"By the way… thank you… for saving my life."
"You're very welcome." said Nick giving her a smile.
When Rose woke up the next morning she and Nick were still driving, but they had made it back to Amestris. By the end of the day they had made it to Central, but they didn't stay very long.
"Is there a problem?" asked Rose.
"I asked Bradley about what had happened to O'Hara since he was imprisoned, but he told me not to stick my nose anywhere it might get cut off. That's my cue to take the money and go."
Rose saw in the newspapers that things were finally starting to come under control in Reole, Nick was going to take her home first thing in the morning, but first Rose insisted that they sleep in some proper accommadations.
"Oh my god, it feels like forever since I've had a shower…"
When Rose was done in the shower she saw that Nick was still wide awake.
"Don't you ever sleep?" she asked.
"Just making sure we weren't followed. I don't trust Bradley."
Rose sat down on the bed. After everything that had happened, what the government did with it's convicted criminals was the last thing on her mind.
"You know… it wasn't until after you saved me that I remembered all the things I've wanted to do in life.
"Well… There is one thing I've always wanted to…"
Without warning she dropped her robe.
"I'd like to propose a little equivalent exchange."
Rose and Nick made love for hours. By the time they were done she was gasping and moaning like crazy. Every part of her body was tingling with pleasure.
"Oh my god… I've never felt so alive."
"What are you going to do when you get back to Reole?"
"I do whatever I can to help my town… What about you?"
"I'll just keep doing what I do best."
"Can I count on you to drop around every now and then?"
"For you beautiful, I'd do anything."