He failed the first time he tried to take the National Alchemist test.
On that day, the sun shone brightly, and 18 year old Roy Mustang stood on the testing ground, smiling at the materials which had been offered. He didn't need any of them, because his material was all around him.
His breathing was slow and even, and he was confidant in his success. Impress, they had told him. Make us see why we should choose you as one of our own.
He bent down to the ground and scratched out an array which he had carefully constructed—one which he knew would be difficult to work... a pattern which would allow him to adjust the air currents around him. Clapping his hands, he felt the power of the transmutation reaction surge to life, and he stepped back, knowing he had accomplished what he sought.
Roy could see the puzzled frowns of the test examiners as they watched and waited, seeing no immediate response... but he knew that their patience would be rewarded. The air currents shifted invisibly, and he felt the atmosphere grow heavy as the humidity grew, but it was a subtle thing.
And then the sky opened up, and a gentle fall of rain scattered down, baptizing all of those who stood on the ground below.
The Fuhrer stood thoughtfully, casting the dark haired alchemist a thoughtful look. "Interesting," he said. "But no practical application for military purposes."
"The person who controls the weather controls the crops," he replied, wondering why the Fuhrer, reputed for his insight, didn't understand what was obvious to him. "Nothing is more dangerous than nature itself."
"But how large an area can you transmute? And it takes time for your efforts to be shown. Interesting, Mustang-san, but I'm afraid it's of no use to us, as a military body."
It was the first time he had ever failed.
It was his favorite thing to ride a horse across the green grass of the rolling hills, and feel the wind on his face, tossing his already disheveled hair about even more. He always wandered around with scrapes and bruises, but that was okay, because at the end of the day, his mother would find him and embrace him, and straighten him as much as possible.
She worried about how fast he would race, wondering if he would break his neck one day.
Every day, he would promise to be more careful.
But those horse rides would happen the next day without fail, and he would go even faster, rising high in the saddle, leaning forward as he tried to go toward the next horizon. There was a freedom to be found, and around him, the air was alive with vitality.
Perhaps that was why he bought that first book on alchemy when he was eight. He had always been a precocious child, and when he heard his mother talking about the miracles it could accomplish, he decided that it might be worth looking at. There was much to seek and explore, and he couldn't resist the chance to go after the knowledge that others feared.
It was like he rides—no matter how dangerous it was, he would seek the next challenge, because it would elevate him to the next level. In alchemy, he saw possibilities of rising to levels others couldn't dream of.
Little did he know that decision would cost him the horse rides he so cherished.
The idle curiosity about alchemy he'd had toyed with had become an all-consuming passion. The books had been devoured one-by-one, and his mother, always eager to indulge a passion that kept him away from the wild rides that she was convinced would kill him, bought more and more of them. It was an amusing pastime in her mind, after all, and having an alchemist in the family would be useful.
Alchemy was such a wide art, he learned, and it really was only as limited as the human mind. Everything was based on science, and each scientist thought a bit differently. Learning all the branches would be nearly impossible, but after gaining a general knowledge of the fields, Roy found himself fascinated by atmospheric alchemy.
By changing the composition of the air just a little... he could change the world.
The summer of his fourteenth year, there was one of the periodic droughts that came to the area. His father's field, the one that kept the horses fed, was starting to turn brown, and soon they would have to start importing feed. It wasn't exceptional, but like most children, he believed that he could help.
It took over a week to design the right array to manipulate the air enough. There was a bit of water in the air, but not enough to work with, so he had to bring it in from other areas—surrounding fields. It took a while before the air became saturated enough for it to rain... but eventually the clouds began to form around the field.
It was a long and complicated procedure, and bright as he was, he didn't understand the consequences. The drought, which should have past within a week, became worse... except over that field.
And he fell unconscious for three days from performing such a complex transmutation.
The villagers were whispering, muttering about how the Mustang scion had dabbled in things he should have left alone. To them, alchemy was something not understood—after all, complex enough science was close enough to magic, and like magic, it was something to be feared.
The woman who came for him wasn't a National Alchemist, but she still had a reputation. Her name was Nadia, and she was seventy if she was a day, her face lined with valleys of age and possessed of black eyes that would have been more suited in the face of an eagle than an old woman.
Roy, who had recovered, remained in his house, leaning over his books and trying to find out where he had gone wrong. He didn't notice when Nadia knocked on the study door, too intent was his concentration.
She barged in any way, too old for manners. It was only when she grabbed his face between his hands that he dropped the book, startled.
"You're small to have caused so much trouble," she said bluntly. "Someone needs to keep you in line."
Roy's mother was scared of him, and his father was distant—he didn't know how to react to someone who treated him like an impudent child. He was used to having his own way, and being manhandled so rudely infuriated him. "Let go of me!" he snapped after a moment, trying to pull back.
She shook her head, and her claw-like fingers bit more deeply into his skin. "No. I'm here to whip some sense into you, boy."
His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Who the hell are you?"
She straightened proudly. "My name is Nadia, and I'm an alchemist. But you can call me sensei."
That day, she took him away from his home, and his beloved horses. A year after he left, his father died and his mother sold the farm, believing that her son would never return to take over the family business.
The legacy, which had lasted eleven generations, had blown away like ashes on the wind, because of his new fascination. Talented as he was at alchemy, nothing came without a price.
It was why there were so few alchemists who dared to mess with the weather. Atmospheric alchemy wasn't taboo, like human transmutation, but many thought it should be.
Roy laughed at them all, and learned to be better.
It was through Nadia that he learned of the National Alchemists. She had never been interested in becoming one—"too many politics"—but he thrived on that sort of thing. Without the family farm, he had no ultimate direction... but perhaps becoming a National Alchemist would provide that.
Nadia was clever, but he was determined to be better. She had laughed when he had announced his intent to take the test the first year he was eligible. He was confidant he would pass easily.
"Are you sure about that, boy?" she asked, her voice reedy now with age.
He had given her his typically arrogant reply.
Coming back to her after he'd failed had been the most humiliating experience of his life. She had merely given him a quirked eyebrow, and offered him a cup of tea.
"Do you see where you went wrong?"
"I didn't go wrong!"
"Oh? Then why aren't you wearing one of those pretty silver pocket watches right now?"
He had grumbled, and she had merely tilted back in her chair. "You're a master of manipulating the air, but you're caught in a rut. Have you ever thought of what else you could do with it?"
"There's a limited amount I can do. I can't manipulate large enough amounts to create huge storms," he said bitterly, knowing that was the reason the Fuhrer hasn't selected him.
"Use what you have, boy. What's so special about air?"
Roy knew the structure of air as well as he knew the back of his hand. He'd spent a lot of time studying it. "It's made of various gases. Primarily Nitrogen, but also Oxygen and other trace gases... oxygen," he whispered, as his mind began to spin out new possibilities.
She nodded. "Imagine the possibilities."
He'd always before concentrated on the water vapor in air that he'd never really thought about the gases in air. "We need oxygen to live."
If he adjusted the oxygen content.... an image of manipulating the content of the air so that there was no oxygen around a person dawned on him. Slow, painful asphyxiation...
"I'll need to think on it."
He had spend six months changing his methods, and another six perfecting them before returning to Central for the next test. He was confidant that this time, he would pass.
The Fuhrer had raised an eyebrow as he had again ignored the proffered materials, and merely snapped his fingers.
This time, though, the reaction was instantaneous. A firestorm blazed into life, and he let the flames dance around him, flaring high in the wind as they raged—seemingly free, but truthfully leashed under the careful control of Roy Mustang.
The Fuhrer had been impressed as Roy finally sent them spiraling toward the sky in a grand finale. The other candidates stared in awe, amazed that such a conflagration had been commanded by one man, but he ignored them, watching the Fuhrer's face.
It hadn't been a surprise when he passed. It was a matter of style that had made the difference.
When he finally received his new name, it had been all he could do not to laugh.
"Flame Alchemist," indeed.
He didn't have the first clue how to start a fire using a transmutation circle—that was why his gloves had flint in them.