Edward could tell immediately when the natural caverns gave way to artificial caverns—much too smooth to be chipped out by power-driven tools, they had to have been transmuted. That definitely clinched it—the alchemist they'd been chasing had to be here somewhere, had to be involved in the creation of these caves. And caves this extensive would have taken immense time and energy to transmute, which meant that wherever they were going, it was probably the very heart of their whole operation.
Of course, the half a dozen thugs that were dragging him down the abnormally smooth passage by his hair might have been a clue in that direction, too. Since he'd refused to walk, they had resorted to carrying him—one on each limb and two for the automail arm.
At every corner or stumble he'd kick up a struggle again, more to let them know he wasn't going to be complacent than out of any real hope of getting away, but what the hell, why not make them work for it? Besides, it was satisfying to see that he'd managed to annoy them, even if their way of showing it was stopping to take a moment to smash his face against the floor again.
"So when was the last time you lot saw the light of day?" Ed asked; it came out somewhat muffled around a split and swollen lip, but it was the tone that was the important part anyway. "'Cause I'm telling you, you sure do stink like somebody put you in storage and forgot to throw you out later—"
"Shut the hell up," snarled the thug with the grip on his hair, and tightened his hold painfully. Ed grinned, and didn't really care whether they saw him do it or not.
These goons were as thick as a pile of bricks, and while they might have gotten him good—six against one odds were just too much in close range even for him—there was no sign that they'd managed to get hold of Al. He'd heard gunshots—sometime after he'd taken that big knock to his head but before his vision had cleared up enough to be reliable—but that didn't really worry him, Al was bulletproof. It would take more than a few incompetent hired thugs to keep him down.
And that being the case, Ed was pretty sure he wouldn't be stuck here for too much longer. He put up a token show of resistance and kept his eyes half-closed, counting side-passages and meters and mapping the place in his head.
He just hoped Al had got away clean. When they'd detonated that shipment, it had shaken up the whole cave system—parts of it had collapsed or shifted, he'd heard the rockslides floating up through the vents. Their planned escape route might have collapsed, leaving Al trapped or lost in the caves. Al might not even be able to find his way back to the old abandoned mine entrance, let alone into the man-made part of the cave system.
Maybe they should have done some more scouting, before they'd opened up an assault. They hadn't looked to find all the ways in and out of this underground lair; they hadn't even a clue as to where the kidnapped craftsmen were being held. But when he and Al had crawled out of their transmuted hiding place in the belly of the freight car, they'd found the underground train platform completely deserted, with the gunpowder and chemical crates piled six feet deep on a side—and the opportunity had seemed too good to pass up, to destroy the stolen contraband and their means of transport all at once.
Edward scolded himself for his sloppiness. If only he'd been standing a few feet closer to Al, maybe he wouldn't have lost sight of him in the smoke—and if he had thought to cover his ears before the explosion went off, he would have heard the shouts and running footsteps of the guards before the first of them bodyslammed him.
And now here he was, being hustled along top-speed down this slimy nowhere cavern... well, he'd just have to keep his eyes and ears open; first to find out all he could about this crazy runaway alchemist and his band of thieves, and then to figure out a route of escape.
Speaking of which, how much deeper did these tunnels go? He'd counted nearly two dozen cross-passages so far, some of them even wider and better accommodated than this one—was this even a main artery?
"Hey, aren't you guys going to blindfold me?" Ed said flippantly, though his mouth was beginning to go dry. The thugs looked at him as if he were speaking in some other language, Russian maybe. "You know... so I won't know the route? So I won't be able to tell anyone else how to get in?"
They looked at him again, then at each other, and snickered as if he'd just made some fantastic joke. "Oh, yeah," one snorted, elbowing his compatriot in the ribs. "Yeah, you got it, we're real worried about that."
"Well, you should be," Edward growled, pushing down on his growing uneasiness with anger. "'Cos as soon as I get loose here I'm going to kick your asses from here to Crete and back and—"
"Shut it," snarled one of the goons, the one Edward was coming to think of as most senior. He couldn't be the alchemist, thought—he had none of the attitudes, the mannerisms of a man of science, even a crazy or unbalanced one. The man jerked his head towards a side-passage. "In here, boys. Check point."
This round, slick-walled corridor dead-ended after just a few feet against a heavy steel door, the first one Edward had seen. His captors dropped him unceremoniously the few feet to the floor—he didn't have time to get his arms to legs under him, and his chin cracked painfully against the hard stone. He briefly saw stars, and then abruptly a heavy weight pressed down on his back, pinning him to the floor, making it difficult to breathe.
Still, he grinned a tiny bit, against the floor where it couldn't be seen; they had left his hands free, the amateurs. Should he make a break for it now? His flesh hand twitched, anticipating, though the automail remained still. He was sure he could get through this door, into the laboratory or prison cell or whatever was beyond. On the other hand, then he'd be without a guide again in this warren.
Before he could make up his mind, or his breath, to act, there was a rattle and a clank and the heavy steel door swung open, revealing a forest of black-booted legs beyond. Ed's eyes widened and he craned his neck as best as possible to look up, as the legs strode—no, marched —into the hallway, and fell into a rigid, precise line along the wall.
One last pair of gleaming black boots followed more slowly, stopping so close to his face that he nearly went cross-eyed, and a bass voice barked, "Atten-shun!"
Edward's stomach went cold. The goons holding him captive fell back, into a close imitation of the rigid line—although whatever gorilla was pinning him down didn't move off, just shifted his weight.
He saw them move to salute, out of the corner of his eye, and then the leader of the goon squad snapped out, "Captured this intruder at the West Ferry Gate, sir. Believe him to have been one of the two interlopers responsible for the explosion there."
"So I see," said shiny-boots, with a chilly edge to his voice. "Where's the other?"
"He didn't pass by our station, sir," the man said. "He may have gone on to South Water Gate. We came straight here."
"Then the all-hands alert is still in effect. Return to your stations at once," the man said brusquely. "We'll take charge of this prisoner. Dismissed."
"Yessir!" The weight on his back finally shifted and eased; Ed began to draw in a breath and move, only to find himself grabbed and jostled by an entirely new set of hands. He growled, and struggled as best he could as they hauled him up quickly enough to make his head spin—
—and it was with no surprise, though with stomach-sinking dread, that Ed found himself nose to chest with the gold-on blue insignia of a Major in the Amestris State Military.
With one addition: on his right breast pocket, opposite the normal tabs of rank and and division on the left, was pinned a gold metal brooch. It showed a pair of balanced scales, above which was thrust a policeman's baton. Edward's eyes nearly crossed trying to pick out the script picked out in tiny letters below him, but he caught ission of Law before the man stepped back, looking down at him with cold eyes.
Ed's throat was growing increasingly dry, and he had to stop and swallow for a moment. He opened his mouth to say something, keep up the defiant attitude, even though his wits were too scattered by this sudden reversal of his assumptions to come up with anything.
Before he had the chance to think of something, however, the major had turned away and was giving orders. "Get those handcuffs on him," he snapped out. "I want his hands behind him, and I want him to walk ahead, where we can see them at all times."
"Sir?" One of the other men paused, and looked uncertain.
"Use your eyes, man—this is the Fullmetal Alchemist." A sudden stir of uneasiness among the men, and their attention snapped back on him; he almost winced. Damn, for once in his life it might have paid to be less memorable... "Mission control will shit themselves when we get him back there, and I don't want him drawing any funny arrays until he's off our hands."
"What, afraid that little old me will take on all... five of you?" Ed scoffed. The major's aide unhooked the handcuffs from his belt and came after him; he kicked suddenly outward, propelling himself backwards and causing the man to flinch away.
The two men flanking him grabbed for firmer holds on his arms, and after a moment of scuffling managed to pin him against the wall with his wrists behind him. Ed gave one last futile twist as the handcuffs fastened around his wrist—cold hard metal against one wrist, scraping noise against the other.
Giving up, he sneered at them "Awful scared, aren't you? Or do you guys just realize how much you suck compared to me?"
"Hardly," the major replied. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw him lift one finger to tap at the unfamiliar insignia. "I simply believe in being... realistic."
After delivering that cryptic line, he refused to rise to any more of Ed's baiting; at his direction, the soldiers pulled Ed away from the wall and herded him through the heavy metal doorway. He heard—and felt—the pressure differential as it clanged shut behind them, and then it was back to the smooth, featureless, dark stone corridors. Damn. Well, at least he could count steps, now, and not just turn-offs.
He'd estimated they'd come at least another thousand meters—fourteen hundred steps—before the close hallway suddenly opened out into a larger cavern. Light had formerly been supplied by phosphorescent patches, or weak fluorescent tubes; now it opened up to a yellow-white strong enough to see by.
Shafts, maybe, bouncing sunlight down from above? They couldn't possibly be close enough to the surface to have outside access from here. Although where there were sunlight shafts... Edward filed this thought away for later consideration.
More important, now, were the two-dozen men busily filling up the chamber in front of him. Ed's eyes narrowed, darting from side to side, trying to take it all in. This room was filled with tables and benches, and the walls were lined with cabinets and tables covered with equipment he didn't have time to identify. Obviously some kind of command center.
At least half of the men filling it were wearing the insignia-less black fatigues like Ed had encountered in the outer chambers. But the rest wore blue uniforms, of varying ranks, each with the scales-and-baton insignia. It was very obvious from the reactions—or lack of them—to his entrance that this was business as usual for him, not a special greeting committee for his sake.
At the limit of Ed's peripheral vision, he saw the major stop, snap to attention, and salute. "Reporting in from West Gate, sir! This is one of the intruders responsible for the explosion there."
Ed stumbled forward a step as insistent hands pushed him forward, then shrugged hard against the restraining hand and stepped forward again, tossing his head back defiantly as he stood square on his own legs.
His attention was immediately drawn to a large, bulldog like figure of a man in the center of the room; a sense of nagging familiarity accompanied it, but he couldn't quite pin it down. The man was large and bulky, reminding him faintly of Armstrong and much more strongly of Basque Gran, but there was more of fat and less of muscle on this man. His hair was shaggily overgrown, his cheeks and nose red and blotched, but there was a sharpness about his eyes that was disconcerting.
He had been puffing on a cigar when Ed entered; now he tucked it behind his ear, and favored Edward with a broad grin. "Well, now, isn't this unfortunate," he said, in a loud, jovial voice. "So this is our little saboteur—Edward Elric? One of them, at least. Still haven't picked up the other, for some reason. Care to explain how, eh?"
So they hadn't caught Al yet! The thought filled Ed with a warm roll of confidence from head to toes, and he drew himself up a little straighter and said with an insolent smile, "Mister, I think there's gotta be some misunderstanding. I dunno who this Eric guy is! All I was doing was just playing down in the caves, and then these guys came out of nowhere and grabbed me! I wasn't doing anything wrong, honest!"
He was half-expecting the resounding smack to the back of his head that followed that, and was able to duck with it (although he still saw stars briefly, courtesy of his earlier knocks.) "Don't fuck around, kid!" one of the guards said, grabbing Ed's flesh shoulder and squeezing painfully; but any further commentary was cut off by the big man throwing his head back and laughing.
"You've got spunk! You've got spunk! I like that!" he chortled, as he got himself under control. "Shame, really, but that'll have to go. No, no. Nice try, boy, but we've already got independent confirmation of your identity. All that we've got left to find out is what you're doing here."
Ed shrugged, and let his lip curl in the sneer. "Why shouldn't I be here? I'm the Alchemist of the People, after all. Breaking up scum like you is all in a day's work for me. Oh," he added, throwing in a note of false sympathy, "sorry about your train tracks, Mister. They were kinda shoddy work, to go up so easy. Guess you're kinda screwed for supplies now, huh?"
The big man snorted, pulled down his cigar and took a drag, before flicking the ashes again. "That won't slow us down. We'll have to reroute shipments through the other gates for a few days, no more. No, you've got bigger things to worry about at the moment, Elric."
Other gates...? Uneasiness tickled at the back of Ed's mind, though he quashed it. "I told you, it's my job to come in and shut down criminals. If you don't like it," he tossed off loftily, "take it up with my C.O."
Or better yet, Mustang could take it up with them—if Al really had escaped, maybe he would go and get help? They were less than a day's travel from Central, and this had all the signs of being a seriously big conspiracy in the works. If Al could tip Mustang off to it, then the cavalry might arrive within a few days, yes!
But the big man merely smiled, unruffled by the implied threat. "Maybe I will, at that," he said, and took another long drag on his cigar. He stubbed it out on the table in front of him, and his sharp eyes shifted over Ed's shoulder. "Well, Mustang, is what Elric says true? Here under orders, is he?"
Edward froze, body going stiff and mind grinding to a half for a moment as a familiar, calm, smug voice floated into his ears from behind. "Not in the slightest. In fact, as I recall, Fullmetal was ordered to the Drachman border less than a weak ago."
Ed couldn't even unfreeze enough to turn his head, but from the corner of his eye he saw a dark blur in blue walk past him and lean casually against the table, hitching one foot on a bench in a casual posture. Dark eyes bored into him with an infuriatingly calm gaze as Mustang continued, "Fullmetal has always been exceptionally bad at following orders, but this is a new record of insubordination from him. What are you doing here, Fullmetal?"
It took Ed two tries, moving his lips and tongue soundlessly against the dry ice that seemed to have clogged up his mouth, before he managed to choke out, "What am I doing here? What the living fuck are you doing here? Did they..." A last warm ray of hope flickered in his mind, and he grasped it with both hands. "Did—did they catch you, too?"
Mustang gave a small smile, but said nothing; it was the large man who laughed again, boomingly, and clapped Mustang hard in the back; hard enough that the metal brooch on his chest chinked and jangled. "That we didn't! Or at least, not in the same way we caught you. Eh, did we, Mustang?" He smirked at the younger man. "No, this one came in from the cold willingly. Bit of a role model for you, isn't he, Elric?"
"Bullshit!" The cry burst from Edward's throat before he could contain it. "You—you said there was nothing wrong! You said that the reports of kidnapped people were just rumors, that nobody was missing—"
"And indeed, they aren't." Mustang chuckled slightly. "I knew exactly where they were. They're right here, of course." Calmly, as though nothing in the world were amiss, Mustang reached into his pocket and drew out a cigar case, pulling out two fresh cigars.
He placed one in his mouth, and nonchalantly passed the other to the bulky officer. He was wearing his gloves, and with a brief snap he had lit them both, before glancing back up at Ed's face. "There's no need to look so shocked, you know. I've merely found another route to express my ambitions."
"I don't believe this!" Edward realized he was trembling, thought he didn't feel at all cold—in fact, he didn't feel much of anything, yet, through the pins-and-needles sensation. "This is—this has to be some sort of trick. The Roy Mus—the Colonel I knew would never have—"
"Well then, Fullmetal," Roy said equably. "That just goes to show that you didn't know me all that well, now doesn't it? No, this is the real me, and there is no trick. Except, ah—" and another small, malicious smile, "—except on the brass at military headquarters, that is. They should be quite surprised, when the Mission of Law rises up to overthrow them. I expect it will be quite thrilling."
"You fucking bastard!" Edward didn't realize he'd lunged forward until he'd been jolted to a stop by restraining hands; his wrists strained uselessly, behind his back, against the handcuffs. "I'llkillyouI'llkillyouI'll—"
The big man took a puff on his new cigar, frowning thoughtfully at Ed's wild struggle, before remarking offhandedly, "He's quite a volatile little bugger, isn't he? Are you sure it wouldn't be easier in the long run just to shoot him in the head now and put the body into cold storage until after the coup?"
Ed froze, his vision narrowed down to a long tunnel, breath panting loudly in his ears.
Mustang shrugged, offhandedly. "Easier? Probably. Better? Maybe not. I assure you, sir, that despite his discipline... issues, Fullmetal is an intelligent and powerful alchemist. And Underground has standing orders regarding trained professionals—letting such a valuable resource go to waste would not be a good turn on our parts. In my opinion, sir."
The older man frowned—a real frown of displeasure, it seemed, and no longer an affectation. "But will he be made loyal?" he asked, with a subtle inflection of tone that was beyond Edward's power to identify.
Mustang's eyes narrowed, and he touched the fingers holding the cigar to his lips, but didn't take it. "Perhaps not," he murmured. "All things considered, sir, I think Fullmetal is capable of looking at the situation... realistically."
"Sir!" Another urgent voice broke in on the tableau; both Mustang and the older man turned their heads to see a young man in the uniform-and-insignia rush in from another direction, and snap an urgent salute. "There's some kind of commotion at the South Water Gate, sir! We think it might be the other intruder!"
"Very well, Lieutenant," the big man said brusquely, and pushed away from the table, stubbing out the new cigar with an attitude of regret. "I'll come oversee the situation myself. Colonel, attend me. Major, take the new prisoner down and get him secured in the lower block."
"Remember, he is an alchemist," Mustang added in a detached tone. "Take no chances. He may yet prove a great asset to the Mission."
"Of course, Mustang. Good on you to think of these things." The bigger man waved brusquely. "Carry on, Major."
"Sir." The officer at Ed's side snapped another salute, and gave a curt gesture towards his underlings. Hands on Edward's shoulders and arms jostled him into motion, and Edward staggered as he was roughly shoved and turned this way and that. They led him back out the way they had come, and if he craned his neck he could barely see Mustang following his commander out. His new commander.
"Mustang!" Ed called, and suddenly began to struggle—not to get free, but just to slow down their progress. "Roy! Roy, listen to me! I don't know what they promised you—I don't know what you think you can get out of this, but listen—"
He managed to brace himself against the doorframe, and dug in his heels as three of them tried to pry him off of it. "Dammit, Roy, don't do this! You say I don't know you but I do, I know this much, you're an alchemist like me! You're not on the same level as all these people. You have the power to make the world a better place, it's your duty, dammit, I know that you know it! Are you going to let them make you forget it? R—"
An explosion of stars cut off whatever he was going to say next, and he came back to himself to dizziness and fresh blood in his mouth. Dammit! What was up with everyone hitting him in the head today? Nauseous and weakened, and with no hands free, he was unable to resist them as they pulled him through the doorway, into the darkened corridor beyond.
With his head hanging down, he caught one last glimpse of Roy leaving the chamber; his back was perfectly straight, and he hadn't once turned around.