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kazaera

Athraichean

chapter 2.

Fifth Laboratory is in chaos.

Alarms are shrieking, giant suits of armour are padding along the halls in search of intruders and Greed is positively tripping over attack chimerae. It grates on his nerves; he has been kept sealed for over a century, sealed in a quiet room where the only light was the glow of the array. He is not used to these bright lights and loud noises, and it is all he can do not to start screaming. But he has things to do yet.

He ghosts silently around a corner. Security is in an uproar, yes, but over intruders—the same intruders that must have disturbed Greed's seal, allowing him to free himself. He doesn't know who they are, nor does he particularly care. All he knows is that the chaos has given him the chance he needs to escape, and take as many of his fellow captives as possible with him.

Greed still doesn't understand why the second part of that is so important to him. He's not human, he's a homunculus. He's supposed to be a monster, capable of feeling only greed. And he is greedy, yes. He wants it all—fame, wealth, glory, immortality... it is simply not as important to him as it should be.

Greed thinks of a little boy, staring up at him out of golden eyes. He sighs. He has left Edward with the chimerae he has rescued, but he cannot in good conscience (and isn't that a cruel joke? Him, having a conscience?) leave while he still has a chance of finding even one more like that.

Edward. It is still a mystery to Greed what the boy is doing here, and he does not like it. Boys do not just turn up in top-secret military laboratories. If they are there, they are there for a reason.

In a way, he ponders, it would be better if there had been a group of children. Although the sheer thought of experimenting on children makes him ill (and how can he be ill? He's not human. He doesn't work that way) it would make sense. But not just one child.

Not one child in a high-security cell, almost as high as Greed's own, beaten into submission, chained to the wall and missing two limbs. Two limbs Edward says he was responsible for losing.

Greed has a feeling as to what this implies. And he doesn't like it.

A whistle tears the air and Greed drops to the ground, covering his ears. Stupid stupid stupid, he berates himself. Thinking too much about strange children he'd grown fond of (and how can he be fond of people? Fondness is a human emotion and he's not) and too little about his surroundings. And that whistle hurts.

The whistle lets off and is replaced by another, more worrying sound—barks and snarls from up ahead. A large group of chimerae, how lovely. And heading this way. Apparently he's been spotted.

Stupid!

The fight is rather one-sided. On the one hand, the chimerae are attack-trained, primed, have long fangs and claws and there are a great number of them.

On the other, Greed doesn't bruise very easily.

He feels a bit sad about killing the creatures, but careful observation yields that none of them are even partly human. Furthermore, one of them took a big chunk out of his leg before he put his shield up and he really doesn't have much energy to spare right now. Regenerating flesh is a bitch.

He raises an eyebrow. Was that a sound from the corridor ahead of him?

Of course... the chimerae must've had a trainer, after all.

Two steps and he's lifting the man that had been trying to get away by the scruff of his neck. Average-sized, pale brown hair, glasses. White lab coat.

Jackpot. Greed had thought all the scientists in this place were long gone. Apparently not.

"Now, now, now. Leaving so quickly? How impolite. We hadn't even been properly introduced yet." Greed gives the scientist his best smile, the one full of sharp pointy teeth. It had seemed to reassure Edward (and why is he still thinking about the kid?). It has the exact opposite effect on the scientist.

"P-please don't hurt me—" the man manages to gasp.

"Oh, no, of course I wouldn't. Not while we're talking. That would be very impolite. Like I said, we haven't even been introduced yet." Greed shakes the man a little.

He gets the hint. "Shou Tucker. Sewing Life Alchemist, rank Major, currently inactive. Serial number A-zero-five-nine-seven-zero—"

Greed shakes his head. "How complicated. My name is simply Greed." He takes note of how the man's face pales. "Oh, you've heard of me?"

It takes a few more shakes and a couple of slaps until the man really starts talking, but when he does it's very informative. There are others here. Most notably, Envy, Gluttony, Lust and Pride. They come by every now and then for inspections. Greed knows Envy and Gluttony, but Lust and Pride are new. He can't remember a Pride ever, and the last Lust died a few years before he was sealed.

Damnit. Four other homunculi. He had to get out of here now.

"Any other captives here?"

Apparently he's already gathered all the part-human chimerae; there are still some non-sentient ones left in the west part of the compound but none of interest to him. There are also the patrolling souls bound into the armour, but Greed isn't going to go near those. Especially not after learning that the souls come from serial killers. He may be almost immortal, but his people aren't (Edward isn't).

Other than that? Well, him, of course. The north part of the compound is all devoted to creating the Philosopher's Stone so there is no one there. The last batch of prisoners are all gone, mostly into more incomplete Stone, some into armour, so there are no humans left. Well, except for Edward.

Greed's breath catches in his throat. "Edward?" he asks sharply.

Tucker is pale and sweating. "In cell G-13, in the east wing—"

"I know who he is. I want to know why he's here," Greed hisses, fingers digging into Tucker's shoulders.

"Human transmutation," Tucker answers with a sly grin.

Greed drops him.

Edward. Human transmutation.

It makes a terrible kind of sense. Edward, the child whom they consider so dangerous he has to be confined in a high-security cell. Edward, who was chained to the wall. Edward, who was missing two limbs...

Edward.

Questions are whirling through his head. When? Why? Who did he try to bring back? What did he create? One of the new ones—Lust or Pride? Was it intentional? Does he even realise what he's done? How did he survive? How did the military find out?

What happened?

He's torn from his musings by a sharp, sudden pain in his forehead. Lifting his hand to his head, he draws it away to see—blood?

Tucker is scrambling away, the gun in one hand.

Greed has him again a moment later.

"That was very impolite," he tells the terrified scientist as his head regenerates, pushing the bullet back out. "And we were getting along so well, too."

He snaps the man's neck. He's learned just about everything useful, and he hates being shot.

Something clinks as he lets the body drop, and he bends down, puzzled. There's something in the coat pocket... ah.

A Stone.

It tastes delicious going down, all red warmth and power, restoring his strength and abilities. He can almost hear his shield pop back into place, stronger than it has been in over a century, and the aches from the wounds he has incurred so far disappear. Then it is gone and all that remains is a feeling of ravenous hunger, of emptiness in his stomach—he is still weak, a little voice tells him, he needs more, there's an entire room full of Stone in the northern part of the facility...

Greed grits his teeth. He turns quickly and runs back to his people, dodging past the groups of chimera, various traps and one particularly confused-looking ensouled suit of armour.

He's regained his strength, there's no one left to rescue, there are at least four other homunculi who have an interest in this place and there are still the intruders who started this whole thing. Furthermore, the hairs on his neck start to rise when he contemplates what the scientists are doing here. Making the Philosopher's Stone. But Envy and the others are Homunculi; they cannot use alchemy, they cannot use the stone. What could they want it for?

There is only one explanation that Greed can think of, and it sends a shiver up his spine.

Dante.

Forget the Stone. They need to leave, now.

And when they've reached a safe place, Greed will have to have a quiet word with Edward.

He's not looking forward to it.


Alphonse Elric flattens himself against a corner as a dark-haired man runs past. Well, he tries to; it doesn't work very well. Even after over a year in this suit of armour he's not quite gotten used to it. Luckily the man only spares him a glance, then hurries on—which was the plan, of course. There are enough soulbound armours wandering this place, enough that no one will notice one more. Especially since no one knows alchemists outside of this place have ever succeeded in binding a soul to an object.

Which should have made this the easiest espionage mission Alphonse ever went on in his life. The key words of that phrase being "should have."

"Fullmetal Alchemist." The voice—clipped, quick, and sounding quite angry—comes from the small receiver set up in his helmet.

"Yes, sir?" Alphonse slowly makes his way along a currently-abandoned corridor.

"Precisely HOW did you manage to mess this up?"

"I don't know, sir!" And he really doesn't. Perhaps it was that trap he deactivated with alchemy. Or the collapse of part of that one room, although he thought he stopped that before it could draw attention. Or the encounter with that one person who almost recognised him... but none of those should have set off this amount of chaos.

"I don't know isn't good enough, Major Elric! I want to know what you did!" Al's superior officer does not sound happy at all.

"I'll tell you when I find out, Colonel Mustang," Al promises. "I'm approaching people right now."

Mustang grumbles a bit then goes quiet. Al can't blame him, this has been a complete fiasco—especially given that the original mission was "Gather intelligence and report back without being noticed." He can't quite shake the feeling it's not completely his fault, though. There's something else going on here—a number of cells and cages he passed have been recently opened and emptied, there are signs of battle and many of the guardians seem to be preparing for an internal threat rather than an external one. Maybe some of their... test subjects... broke free?

"There is no such thing as a coincidence, Fullmetal," he hears a voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like his commanding officer say. And he's right, the odds that the laboratory security failed at the same time he is infiltrating it is miniscule. This whole mess is, indirectly, his fault.

But although Mustang may scream and shout Alphonse is very close to what he came here for. Al may sympathise with Mustang's goals of exposing corruption within the military and removing the officers responsible for it from power, but his goal is quite different and quite simple—Edward.

Alphonse winces and speeds his steps a little. He cannot help but feel horrifying guilt whenever he thinks of the events that took his brother from him, over a year ago now. How they'd come to Central in hopes of becoming State Alchemists, to find—find—find a way to get their old bodies back? How unimportant that seems now.

Because they weren't careful enough. They had committed the ultimate, unforgivable sin. They had performed human transmutation.

And the military found out.

Ed was the first to realise that the military knew, and he immediately went into action. Al still wasn't quite sure what he did, but somehow Ed must have convinced them that he and he alone was responsible for this crime, that Al had nothing to do with it.

They left Al alone and took his brother away. And Al has been looking for him ever since.

It took him four weeks to pass the State Alchemist Examination. Nine months until he figured out that his brother was being held in an installation in Central. Four months until he found out where. Three months gathering maps, blueprints, codes, basically any kind of information they could get their hands on of Fifth Laboratory. And planning.

And now the very first attempt is a fiasco. But Alphonse looked up a variety of things before the alarm sounded.

Subject 046723, one E. Elric, is being held in cell G-13.

With luck, he'll still be there.

The comlink crackles again. "Everything all right, Fullmetal?"

"I'm almost there, sir." Al smiles briefly at Mustang's voice—sounding calmer now, luckily. He owes the man a very great deal. Without his help, he'd probably still be looking for Ed in Lior. He must apologise for messing this up, he thinks and feels a burst of shame. Mustang wasn't just looking for Ed here. He was also looking for incriminating documents, enough to finally put away Brigadier General Gran, Lieutenant Colonel Archer, Colonel Graham and the like for good. Documents which will probably have been destroyed in this mess.

Still.

Cell G-10... Cell G-11... Cell G-12...

There it is. Cell G-13.

Like so many of the other cells. Like the chimera cages.

Open.

And empty.

"...Fullmetal!" Mustang's voice seems to come from very far away.

"Fullmetal Alchemist, report!"

Al sinks to the floor. "He's gone."