Someone was knocking on the door.
"Coming, coming!" Maes Hughes shouted as he stowed away his newest photo album. The new camera had been an excellent idea, the pictures coming out clearer and brighter than ever. Technology truly was an amazing thing; it was just a pity his friends didn't seem to appreciate it.
"All right, what do you—Roy?!"
On his doorstep stood Roy Mustang.
"Roy! Welcome back, welcome back! I completely forgot; you see, I was on holiday with my cousin Fabian – he's a professional photographer and he gave me tips on—" Hughes stopped babbling in the hallway.
Normally Roy would have said something at this point. Grumbled, complained about Maes's chattering and 'camera fixation' (ridiculous, he did not have a camera fixation. His friends were simply unable to appreciate the fine art that was photography, that was all.) He hadn't, though.
Hughes turned around.
Roy was still standing on the doorstep. Looking more closely, Maes saw that he was thinner than before, with dark bags under his eyes.
"Roy, you okay?"
Well, it stood to reason that Roy was a bit confused. He'd been in the war, at Ishvar, for a long time after all. It must be a shock coming home.
And speaking of home...
"Roy? I'm positively delighted that you like me so much you came here immediately, but is there a reason you didn't even drop your bags off at your apartment?"
"...I couldn't find it."
Well, that was unexpected. It must be the stress of travelling, of course.
"No matter, I'll show you later. For now, come on in!"
Roy didn't move. His eyes didn't look quite focussed.
Maes sighed and started to grab his friend's arm, prepared to drag him inside if necessary.
Then he stopped.
Roy was wearing his gloves.
Roy had always been proud of his gloves, true. They were the symbol of his alchemy, which he had worked so hard to perfect.
However, he still realised that they were a form of deadly weapon and he never, ever wore them if not absolutely necessary.
Looking more closely, Maes could see the tensed muscles, the raised shoulders and—even more worryingly—the fingers prepared to snap.
And then, for the first time, Roy met his eyes and he forgot all that.
Roy's eyes were dead. Haunted. Broken.
Something was horribly, horribly wrong.
The rest of the evening passed in a daze. The man Maes called his best friend was so obviously hurt, badly hurt, that it was all the young officer could do not to jump up and scream. Roy was pale and shivering. He jumped at loud noises, fingers ready to snap at a moment's notice. His voice was flat and lifeless. There were lines around his mouth and his eyes... oh, his eyes...
After attempts at conversation failed again, Maes desperately suggested that they go out and get roaring drunk.
In a flat monotone, Roy stated how unwise it was to imbibe in enemy territory, what possible consequences were if one engaged the enemy drunk, what possible consequences were if one attempted alchemy drunk, how it was exceedingly unwise to let ones guard down in wartime and what disciplinary measures awaited a soldier caught with liquor.
There was a long pause after he finished. Then Maes said gently, "Roy, you're not in Ishvar anymore. You're safe. You're home."
Roy started at him blankly, incomprehendingly. Then he started the lecture again.
"I should be—it's dark, I mean—I'm sure you have things to do—"
"You can sleep on my couch, Roy."
Maes fixed him with a long look. "Roy, I'm your friend."
"And besides, you have nowhere else to go."
Roy had nightmares. Terrible, gut-wrenching nightmares; Maes could hear the screams from across the house. He ached to wake his friend from their torment.
He didn't dare.
Roy hadn't taken his gloves off before going to sleep.
While his friend slept, Maes decided to put his intelligence-gathering skills to use. Something was seriously wrong with Roy, and he was going to find out what it was. Besides, there was Ishvar. And the war.
The stories he'd heard—raging bonfires, earthquakes, enemy battallions destroyed by one man, entire cities vanishing in one night—they could not have happened.
But they obviously had.
Something had happened in Ishvar. Something big. And Maes was going to find out what.
Of course, the data was highly classified. It took several hours' work, then he gained access to the files of Roy's fellow State Alchemists.
Afterwards, he wished he hadn't.
Marcoh, Timothy; Dr. med.
Title: Crystal Alchemist.
Specialisation: Medical Alchemy and Amplifiers.
Maes remembered Marcoh somewhat. An elderly, stern and disciplined man, an army doctor turned alchemist. He was veteran of quite a few wars.
Deserter. If encountered, bring back alive if possible; eliminate if not.
Apparently, Marcoh just walked out of camp one day and never come back. It had been directly after what Maes was rapidly coming to think of as That Night, the night cities vanished and an entire nation fell. The night impossible things happened. The night that broke his friend.
Kimbley, Zolof Jeremy
Title: Crimson Alchemist
Kimbley had been a friend of Roy's. The two had been the same age, had gone through various training courses together. They'd gotten on famously. Maes had even been slightly jealous of him, worried the newcomer would steal his friend away.
Incarceration in Second State Prison after trial and conviction for the following war crimes:
The list was long.
Apparently Roy's friend had snapped. Shortly after That Night, he just... hadn't stopped killing. And he hadn't cared who.
He had taken twenty-eight fellow soldiers out before he could be subdued.
Records stated that he had laughed as they took him away.
Armstrong, Alexander Louis
Title: Strong Arm Alchemist
Specialisation: Combat Alchemy
He'd met Armstrong once or twice, a giant of a man with a surprisingly soft heart and an almost uncanny insight at times.
Removed from active duty for an indefinite period of time.
Armstrong was in a nearby hospital. He was catatonic. There seemed little hope for recovery.
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Title: Sword Alchemist
Specialisation: Combat Alchemy
Maes only knew of Fentan by reputation. An unbending, strictly disciplined woman with a rigid set of morals. Pompous and stuffy, but virtually incorruptible.
Killed in action.
A cover-up. Marjorie Fentan had killed herself.
With growing horror, Maes leafed through the files. Suicide... suicide... catatonic... killed in action... brain-dead... suicide... insane... deserted... death by attempted human transmutation... suicide...
The State Alchemists had gone to Ishvar. And, one by one, they had broken.
Roy—what did they do to you?
"Roy, what's the matter with you?"
It wasn't the first time he had asked that question. It was, however, the first time he got an answer.
"The matter? I'm a murderer, Maes; what should be the matter?"
"Roy, it was war."
"It was a massacre. I killed... I killed so many people."
"You were a soldier. It's what soldiers do."
"I... I killed Jamila. Khassib. Faris. Ghayuti. Zadur. Shiran."
Maes started to say, again, It was war, Roy, and although it's horrible that you had to kill these people, people you knew, it was war and you were a soldier—
He felt a horrible, sinking feeling in his stomach.
He was in intelligence, after all, and those names—
Jamila. Khassib. Faris. Ghayuti. Zadur. Shiran.
No. Oh, no.
"Jamila was pretty. Beautiful, really, a jewel of Ishvar. At least, she was. I snapped my fingers and she was gone, turned into ashes."
Jamila. Beautiful, beautiful, jewel of Ishvar.
He remembered the intelligence reports.
Economic centre of Ishvar, a city with a relatively low military presence but at the centre of several trade routes, on the river Zayur. High cliffs to the north, river to the east; an army should probably approach from the west in order to avoid those defensive positions.
Two hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants.
"Khassib was tough. The air was wet and heavy and fought me. It didn't want to burn. But I made it burn, burn until there was only a black smear left—"
Khassib. Large military garrison, up in the mountains. Easily defensible, difficult to attack. However, the supply routes are vulnerable—a prolonged siege and it would fall.
Seventy thousand inhabitants.
"Faris. Big, really big. Too big. So many people. So many screams, oh God, the screams, can't you hear them screaming?"
Faris. Capital city of Ishvar. Economic centre... militarily...
Four hundred and ninety thousand inhabitants.
Jamila. Khassib. Faris. Ghayuti. Zadur. Shiran.
They weren't people, they were cities. Cities that had been mysteriously destroyed, razed to the ground, in one night. Burnt to the ground.
Roy was silent when Maes came back several minutes later. If he heard the sounds of retching from the bathroom, he didn't say.
Hughes tried his hardest to forget the names Jamila, Khassib, Faris, Ghayuti, Zadur and Shiran.
And Roy slept, and dreamed of fire, screams, and a red stone.