sky dark

Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 28.


He was screaming but no one could hear him, he could hardly hear himself above the crackle and the gunfire, the screams and the snapping.

Someone grabbed him, to his right and he flinched hard and caught himself before he swung his hand around to snap in their face. Havoc was there, he had him by the arm, he was shouting something and forcing Roy along and the General was shouting back, but he didn't know what.

The men, he couldn't leave the men, what was Havoc doing?

"Getting you out of here! We don't know what we're dealing with!" he heard Havoc shouting, but it seemed far away.

There were men screaming behind him. He tried to pull his arm from Havoc's grip, (damn the man's advantage in height and strength!), but Havoc was having none of it.

"Don't force me to order...," he got out before something barreled down on them. He hardly had time to glimpse it, in his peripheral vision it looked like a massive black ball. He was knocked to the side, stumbled and hit the wall of an old building before falling to his knees and looking up.

"Alchemist!" the ball chortled merrily, shaking all over.

"GENERAL GET DOWN!" he heard Havoc shout behind it, and then the sound of a rifle lever being pulled. He flatted out, throwing his hands over his head. The rapid ratta-tat of gunfire vibrated through his entire body and the ball, so jolly the moment before, started shrieking high and long and turned from him toward Havoc and his weapon.

"GENERAL RUN," Havoc was yelling. "GET A FUCKIN' MOVE ON, SIR!"

Roy got to his knees, and then his feet, extended his hand toward the black blob that was advancing on Havoc.

"DON'T DO THAT SARAH LIKES MY EYEBROWS, JUST MOVE, GET SOME DISTANCE, I'LL CATCH UP," Havoc was screeching as he slowly retreated before this thing, baiting it with gun fire.

Retreat, regroup.

The General turned and ran.

He pushed his hair down into the collar of the borrowed uniform. It was too big. It was long in the sleeves and he had to cinch the belt as tight as it would go. His toes came nowhere near the end of the boot and it rubbed his flesh heel. But it would do.

It had to do.

Cain had already loaded the radio equipment into the back of the short truck and Ed was squeezed between him and Breda in the small cab.

"Just let me do the talking," Breda said, "and keep your head down. Pull that hat over your eyes."

He could hear the buzz through the half opened window of the truck as they reached the site. Machinery and generators, the glow of artificial light against the gloom, just to stave off the darkness until the approaching morning. He forced himself to keep his eyes glued to his clenched fists in his lap when the truck shuttered to a stop down the block from the old church.

"What is this?" the sentry on duty asked, poking his nose in the window. Another sentry circled to the passenger side of the truck and Cain cracked the window on that side as well.

"What's it look like, radio gear," Breda snorted. "And for this they drag me out of bed. So what did the brass fuck up this time? We having a war on religion?"

"Who requisitioned this gear?" the sentry on the passenger side said, taking a minute to study Ed and then look again at Cain.

"General Mustang," Cain said, holding up a few rumpled sheets of paper. "It's special long range gear, we would have gotten it here earlier, but we had to drive to get it..."

The sentry on Breda's side of the truck made an impatient motion with his hand and Breda leaned across Ed and snatched the papers from Cain's grip, then shoved them through the window to the man outside.

The second sentry came back around then, and they both stood, trying to read the papers together. Ed shifted and took a deep breath. Cain bumped knees with him, and Breda rumbled.

"Ok," the first sentry said, "this seems to check out. Drive your truck down the block past the second barricade and unload there. One of the guys down there will get you to the communications set up," he pushed the papers back through the window to Breda and stood back, waved his hand to send them through.

They cleared the second barricade and the truck bounced when Breda pulled it over and half up onto the curb. Ed took this as his signal to get out, and he started to climb over Fuery in his quest to escape the truck, but a large hand closed around the back of his neck. The thick fingers where hot against his skin despite being muffled by his hair and Breda growled at him.

"Hang on, boss," and he gave Ed a little shake, like R.D. worried his chew toys and Ed tried to snarl but really he almost felt like he wanted to curl up.

"Now I know," the large red-haired man started, "you just wanna run in there. I know, because you know even though I'm not... I mean, you know the General and all, I'm not...," with his free hand he rubbed his face a moment. "Anyways, I know what you're thinking because I've known you a long time. But you can't do it that way, that's the kids way and you were lucky. You can't think like that anymore, because you aren't that anymore. You got a brain, and you gotta use it, right? So just take it slow. The General, he ain't gonna lay down, curl up and die, so have some faith in him." Breda slowly relaxed the grip on the nape of Ed's neck.

Ed reached up to rub where Breda's hand had been. He gave the man a half scowl from behind his bangs, then nodded tersely.

"So, what is your plan?" he asked quietly.

"Falman is already here," Cain said. "He's suppose to meet us, tell us about the operations here and how we might get in." He opened the door of the truck and slid off the seat and stepped back to let Ed follow him out.

Ed dropped to the ground, said nothing and followed Fuery to the back of the truck. There, together with Breda, they loaded themselves down with satchels and cases and all manner of things to make this look official. If you were carrying things the general military consensus was you were doing your duty, and thus, had a right to be there. With Fuery in the lead, the duty-ladened trio set off for the temporary command headquarters stationed in a tent just in front of the church steps.

Edward gazed up at the portal to heaven that was more accurately a portal to hell. It was here the Tringhams led him, here he left everything behind to start Al anew. Far underground though a man-made gateway no less terrifying than the one between worlds. He took a deep breath and came to a stop just outside the tent. Fuery went in and Breda fished around in his pockets and pulled out a crumbled pack of cigarettes. The waiting was interminable. He resisted the urge to poke his head in the tent, to start questioning Breda, to fidget dammit, he wasn't even allowed the luxury to express all the anxiety coiling up his spine and nibbling at the nape of his neck.

A sharp voice broke his near implosion.

"I've been waiting on that, bring it this way!" Ed snapped his head around and raised his eyebrows. He'd never heard Falman so much as raise his voice, let alone give an order. Breda grunted like all the world was upon his shoulders as he leaned down to pick up his cases. Ed hurriedly followed suit, slinging the strap of one over his shoulder.

"Yeah, hold your damn horses, we're coming," Breda said, spitting his cigarette, still smoldering onto the street. Fuery appeared out of tent and brought up the rear as the trio followed Falman's stiff-backed lead. When they appeared to be far enough away from the real hub-bub, Ed quickened his pace to come up beside the tall, white-haired man.

"What have you heard?" he asked, trying not to sound as antsy as he felt. "How long have they been down there, what was the last communication, how do we get in?"

He needed to know, he needed to know these things so he could go and get Roy. Go and get Roy and take him home.

Falman raised one hand as they walked up a smaller set of stairs and he nodded briefly to the solider at the door. He took them down a small hallway that ran into the side of the church proper, parallel to the main hall and stopped briefly outside a doorway. He knocked once, tersely, mouth pulled down and waited. There was no sound from within the room, so he turned the knob, poked his head inside then stepped in, waving for them to follow.

The room was small and somewhat dim. It had the smell of dust and old books. Nothing adorned it in a way that stood out. Just a scratched desk, a slouched back wooden desk chair and some book shelves listing against the far wall. They sat their cases down and Cain immediately commandeered the desk for his, opening them and starting to unpack equipment.

Falman listened at the door a moment, then nodded briefly to Fuery.

"Ok," Cain said as he started to situation the radio equipment on the table. "The plan is that you and Breda are going to go down and set up a relay station at the post leading into the underground city. That should get you as far as the first mezzanine." He looked up at Ed then.

"We're hoping that from there you can just... wing it. That seemed to be your modus operandi when you were really one of us."

It was certainly meant as a vote of confidence, as to be perfectly honest his loose cannon ways had served him well in his youth. After all, his true talent wasn't alchemy, it was flying by the seat of his pants.

It was easier than it should have been. He just slipped away unnoticed and thanked Breda for his delightfully loud and raunchy mouth.

Down and down and down and down. Over and over and after a while he didn't try to muffle his footsteps. Metal muted by leather on cold stone. He shucked the jacket near the bottom, leaving it lying like a proverbial bread crumb he would follow back. He would follow it back, Roy would be with him. They would have to climb all these fucking stairs to get home and then Roy would indulge him in a nice long hot bath, and wash his hair and grumble about politics.

All he had to do was find him and bring him back to the stairs. It would be as easy as pie, which they would also have, in the hot bath, with the hair washing.

The sight that greeted him would have momentarily suspended the belief of many men. The vast emptiness of the completely filled cavern. The high aqueduct like bridge encircling it for all the gawkers to gather upon. But it was nothing more than a maze, and he was a prize rat, and here he was again to run this race; here he was again to find his reason for being. The gloom had a pallor and it hung, just above his head it seemed. But it was never so dense as to deny him light enough to see his way through the streets of a city that gave new breath to nonvocal. A place that exhaled death and dust even as he struggled to breathe within it.

He stumbled once, and caught himself. He looked in mild curiosity at the gun lying there in the street, he steadfastly ignored the still clutching hand of the arm that lay near it, draped in blue and all alone, missing it's entirety.

For one absurd second he gripped his own right arm and hurried ahead, listening and then ruefully acknowledging the oxymoron of 'hearing' nothing.

Brother, don't make the same mistake twice.

I will do it, if I have to.

Brother, don't leave us behind again.

What good am I really? I have never learned how to live alone.

Brother, it's not what he would have wanted.

He came to a stop and looked upwards, eyes traveling up the spire of a bell tower, still off in the distance. Everything was so enclosed to be so far away.

"You know what, Al?" he whispered to everything and nothing. "I think I'm tired of thinking about what everyone else would have wanted. I think, just this once, I'll think about what I want."

He wanted Roy. He wanted his infuriating, exasperating, manipulative, beautiful General, and he wanted to go the fuck home.

"Ok," he told himself, and gave a small smile that might not have seemed quite sane in any other lifetime. "Let's do that, it's about time I listened to you for once."

He didn't get another ten feet before something bowled him off his feet and clamped a firm hand over his mouth and dragged him into an alleyway across the street.

If only he didn't need to breathe.

Without his breath there would be no noise. There would be absolute stillness.

If only his heart didn't need to beat.

Without his heart, his ears would not be pounding, his ribs would not be aching and he would not be feeling like it might burst at any minute.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," sing songed a childish voice that tricked into his eardrums and swam just at the edge of his brain and made him breathe even faster.

"I can smell you, you smell like smoke and ashes," the voice continued. "You don't have to be afraid. I need you, I need you and when you are needed you are useful and when you are useful you are alive. I need you alive, so don't be afraid, you can come out. Doesn't that feel better? I need you, you want to come out. It's a mutual agreement. All those others? I didn't need them, I didn't need them. But you, I need you, so you are safe. See? It's logic. I have logic so you don't have to be afraid. Come out. I'm already full."

He pressed his head against the wall, grinding his cheek against scarred brick and tried to hold his breath and still his stomach.


Innocuous and surreal, the woman's voice lay over the gloom just above Roy's head and he furrowed his brow. Why would a woman be here, calling that things name?

"I'm here!" the sin returned, his voice just as mirthful as if he were truly calling to a lover and wasn't here hunting another morsel to feed his endless maw. "The Alchemist is hiding from me, you come and talk to him, anyone will listen to you."

"No, come away, let's get out of here while we can. What are you doing causing something like this?" Her voice was even, no vestige of stress or fright. Didn't she know what this was? How could she not know? Who was she? Why was she here?

"But it's for you," the sin whined. " You know I need him. I need him so we can go to the old opera house where she once made things happen. He can make things happen, I know he can. He's an alchemist and I have... I have that in me now. I can feel it. I makes me think and I don't like it. I want it to be like before. I want you to have it in you and you do the thinking. I liked it better like that."

"You make no sense, even if this alchemist is here, why would he help you when all you've done is this? Let's go away from here while we still can."

She spoke in a way that made sense, even in this senselessness.

"But Lust," the man whine, his voice high pitched like that of a child being denied a sweet, or a swing in the park, "If we don't make you the way you were, then you might go away. You need to be like you were, so you understand. When you are like that, then we'll be together like before."

Maybe she was a captive. Maybe she wasn't as willing to this as it seemed and she'd learned to play this thing to her advantage. He heard it call another sin's name, Lust. He knew that for each cardinal sin there was a homuculus. This is perhaps not what the church had intended, but there was no more fitting description to the ersatz beings that seemingly had been brought forth beneath it's very roof. If he could reason with her and her with it...

"I'm coming out," the General said, pushing himself to his feet. "I'm unarmed."

"See?" the man called Gluttony chortled. "He's going to help! People listen to you, but don't believe him when he says he is unarmed. He's not a gentleman in those white gloves."

The General stepped around the corner and stopped, looking at the pair before him. The man he'd never seen before, except in Ed's reports and his halting half whispered memories of him. The woman, too, was no one he recognized. She was tall and dusky with long thick dark hair that fell past her shoulders. She looked him up and down once, then laid her hand on the fat man's shoulder and leaned forward a little.

"How is he going to do what you want him to do?" she asked.

The fat man chuckled a moment, then moved in such a way that made the General think of other impossible things; such as the fact bumblebees were not suppose to fly. He barely had time to blink before his hands disappeared into the meaty fists of the sin before him. He stood there, some horrific parody of two friends, brothers or lovers, clasping hands and the fat man grinned at him.

"You aren't going to make this difficult are you? If you do, I won't be nice. I'm being nice right now, but really, I won't be nice if you are difficult. You don't need your legs to transmute, just your hands!" He gave Roy a savage tug forward and the General pitched and went down on one knee, hands still gripped as if by balls of granite.

"What did they call you?" the man said, grin fading somewhat. "What was the name Pride gave you?" he asked.

"Fuh...Flame," the General gasped, pulling at his hands a bit.

He nodded once, but said nothing else. He released Roy's hands, but grabbed him by one arm and used his fat fingers to pick off his glove and drop it in the street, he repeated the action on the other hand.

"Now he'll be easier to manage," the fat man said, light tone returning. "Let's go to the opera!"

Roy looked at the woman, wondering how he could manage a moment or two alone. She regarded him frankly, arms crossed and mouth pulled down on one side. He gasped at the fat man suddenly lifted him off his feet and flung him over his shoulders, like a soldier shouldering his rifle when the watch was to boring.

The woman gave a disapproving snort.

"I told you not to call me that name. This is lunacy, you'll only eat him like everyone else," she said and turned to walk away.

"I won't," the jolly fat man huffed, a little bounce to his step that forced Roy to struggle for breath before the next one. "I won't eat this one, help me remember."

She turned her head to look at Roy again. It was an appraising look; the kind of look where you weighed options and tried to see the big picture. It was funny how the ambitious were always drawn together, even in absurdity like this.

He'd given himself up for nothing.

This woman...she wasn't a captive.

Havoc whipped his hand away before he lost any appendages and hissed into Ed's ear.

"Be quiet already, for fuck's sake. Do you always have loud conversations with yourself in the middle of a war zone? No wonder you always got the shit kicked out of you."

Ed wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and turned to look at Havoc, narrowing his eyes.

"What are you doing here? You are civilian," Havoc hissed again. "There will be court marshallings upon ass kickings upon court marshallings," he promised gravely.

"Are you listening to yourself? Did you hear what you just said? You expect me to be anywhere else? Where's Roy?" Ed pushed himself back to his feet and Havoc stood with him, adjusting the shoulder strap of his rifle.

"I don't know," he said, not quite meeting Ed's eyes. "When all the chaos started he ordered a retreat. Then this... thing came out of nowhere and starting shrieking about alchemists. It made a beeline for him, I drew it off momentarily," he patted the butt of his rife absently, "but it knocked me into the side of a building, things got fuzzy after that. When I was focused again, everyone was gone. I think a lot of them made it back to the surface, I hope at least they did, but I wasn't going to leave the General."

"Thing?" Ed said. "What thing? I mean, you were shooting it, right?"

"It's a man, but it's large, like a really fat man," Havoc held his arms out around him in demonstration. "And it's insane, it just keeps spouting this gibberish about the General making lust, I have no idea what it's talking about..."

"Lust?" Ed said faintly.

"I emptied almost a full clip in it and it just kept coming, it didn't even bleed, " Havoc said, faltering a little as things finally started to sink in.

Ed let his back hit the wall again, slid back into a squatting position, elbows on his knees, hand over his mouth.

Fucking hell, fucking what the hell was he never to be FREE? What did it take? What did it finally fucking take for it to all just go the fuck away and leave him the fuck alone and let him have his damn life back?! Why was this his fucking responsibility? Why was he being made to deal with every last fucking one of them?! Why was he the clean up crew, was his fucking sin that bad?! Was it?! Just because he loved his mother and his brother and he paid with all his bones and blood and flesh but it was never fucking enough? NEVER?!

"Hey...hey boss, you ok?" Havoc said, looking down at him.

"No Havoc, no, it is not fucking ok, it never fucking will be," he said, muffled through his fingers. "Because obviously I'm the fucking original sinner and I have to pay again and again and again for trying to play fucking god, y'know? I just. Keep. Paying. And I'm sick and fucking damn tired of it. I'm balls busted, flat assed broke of anything left to spew into the maw of never being shit canned free of my past. I never get to pay it forward because I'm still in debt for every fucking thought I ever had!"

Havoc didn't react for a moment, but the he reached down, grabbed Ed by his collar and yanked the smaller man to his feet.

"Yeah, ok, you done then? You done with your tantrum, maybe we can get down to the business that brought your ass where it wasn't supposed to be in the first place?" he growled into Ed's face.

Ed had the grace to look startled.

"Ok, you seem to know what I'm talking about, what I saw back there, so spill your guts Professor, what are we dealing with, how do we find it? How do we kill it? Because between you and me? Maybe the General ain't got time for you to sit around and slam your skull into the wall or fall on your own gawddamn sword, got it?"

Ed licked his lips, and hung by his collar in Havoc's grip.

"'s a homunculus," he said. No one in the world made him feel twelve in quite the way Havoc always did.

"Pretend I don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Havoc said and gave him a shake by his collar. "Pretend I'm just Joe Blow on the street, or better yet, one of your students, and tell me what the hell that word means. And yeah, I sorta know about it, but what does it mean?" he said as he shook Ed some more.

"Ok, it means we're in deep shit, that's what it means," Ed clarified. "Because bullets can't kill it, you gun totting lunatic. The only way to kill it is to, hell, I'm not even sure. You gotta have a piece of it's original body and then just shit," Ed flailed for emphasis despite still hanging in Havoc's hands. "I only killed one, and I had a lot of help even though I didn't know it, what does that make me? An expert?"

I killed two, but really, I'd already killed that one in a way, anyways. So for the record, yeah for that record, it was only one.

"Well shit, can't you just alchemy it away?" Havoc said and snorted.

"What? It doesn't work like that, I can't just alchemy things away. Fuck's sake, let me go already!"

Ed reached up to straighten his collar when Havoc released him.

Havoc looked down at him again, shifted, looked away, looked at him again.

"So, in an advisory, civilian capacity, like a contractor, do you have any suggestions?" he asked.

"Yeah, the civilian side of me says we should run far the fuck away and don't look back," Ed shrugged. "The 'that fucking thing has my boyfriend' part of me says he better not lay one finger on the bastard or I'll fucking kill him and then the bastard to for letting that fucking thing take him in the first place. The other part of me that is still a half-cocked teenager that will fly off the handle at anything says 'let's just go fuck it up for the fun of it'. Really, I'm clueless."

Havoc folded his arms and they both stood looking at each other.

"You went and got soft," Havoc started.

"Oh no, you don't! You're the one rubbing my civilianess in my face, Dog-breath! So get with the military know how and think or shoot us out of this situation, and hurry the fuck up, the rest of my life is riding on it!" Ed snarled.

"Ok, so you good now?" Havoc asked.

"Yeah," Ed nodded. "Thanks. Really, I needed that. Ok, ok," he rubbed at his face. "The chances of us killing Gluttony are slim. It has to be Gluttony. He had this thing for Lust... I think we all had a thing for Lust. But really, I can't believe he's still alive. But alive is too generous a word for him, let's say he's still existing. Then again, it could be that, since he ate part of Al's armor and Al was the stone at the time..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up there boss, what and what?" Havoc said.

"I wish I had time to tell you," Ed said with a small, sort of sad smile. "It's a helluva story. But I don't, I have to find Roy," Ed sighed. "I have to find Roy and take him home."

"Well, at least you got some idea of what we're dealing with. I guess if it comes to it, I can always play distraction, that seems all this toy is good for, and I can't do what you do Ed, and if you can't figure out how to make what you do work..." Havoc trailed off.

"I'll think of something," Ed said, "it's not like I ever really knew what I was doing."

Havoc peered out of the alley, slipped out and motioned Ed to follow him, they started down the street.

"Maybe we should split up, we can signal each other, you with gunfire, me with alchemy-ing something so you can see it," Ed said.

"I don't know," Havoc said, "I'm not all that keen on you wandering around alone."

"I'm not twelve, Jean," Ed ground out.

"Alright, alright, but keep an eye out. Alchemy the shit out of something if you even think you see anything."

Roy grunted as he was dumped onto the floor. He blinked against the gloom and pushed himself up slowly onto one hip.

"We need some light," the woman said, he could hear the strike of her heels on the floor. He craned his head back to look up. Wherever they were, it was large and open, but in the hovering darkness it was really impossible to tell just how large and open.

"Bother," the fat man said, reached down to grab Roy by one arm and started to drag him across the floor. Roy tried to get to his feet, but he was yanked down again. The fat man stopped next to what looked like a pillar and sighed. "We need fire," he called after the woman.

"Oy then, have him make some, he was making plenty before," she called back.

"I took away his gloves, and I can't let him just make an array. Can't you find some way to make fire? There are torches," the fat man said.

"I can make your fire," Roy tried. "I won't..." he exhaled sharply when the fat man rapped him against the pillar.

"I'm not stupid, really," the fat man chortled. "I'm just many and one and confused," he sighed.

Roy got on his knees, one arm still fisted in the fat man's grip. He heard the woman, she sounded like she was mumbling under her breath, and he could hear the rustle of things he couldn't see.

"Where are we?" he tried and then braced himself, if his every word brought a consequence, getting any answers was going to be painful indeed.

"I can't find anything," the woman said. "This was your grand plan, to come to the dark and beat him against a pillar? That will make me into what you want me to be?"

"I'm sorry," the fat man whimpered. Roy was spared another slam against the pillar. He looked down at Roy speculatively.

Roy said nothing. What could he say, really? He wasn't exactly helpless without his gloves, but in sheer physical strength this thing was beyond him. It might as well be an ant trying to take on an aardvark. It was no contest, and the General was savvy enough to know that butting your head against a wall eventually hurt. He wished he could teach Ed that.

The fat man looked between Roy and the woman several times before heaving a sigh of resignation.

"You are going to make the torches burn. If you try anything, even one tiny thing... you will not be happy. I will make you very, very unhappy but leave you alive."

"I'll just light the torches," Roy said, licking his dry lips.

He was released, but the fat man stood very close.

"I don't have my gloves, I need to draw an array," the General said. "Do you have any chalk?"

The fat man squatted beside him, and with the fingernail of one swollen hand he ground a circle into the floor.

"I can see the elements," the fat man said, "but I don't know where to put them."

Roy leaned over the circle, putting his finger on it. Slowly he began to draw, the fat man followed along biting into the wooden floor with just his fingernail, until the simple array had been drawn. Roy then looked up at him as he slowly lowered his fingertips to the outer edge. The fat man grinned.

When people grinned, it usually conveyed a wide variety of emotions, rarely associated with terror. Roy hastily dropped his eyes, took a deep breath and concentrated.

The torch on the pillar beside them burst into life and the fat man made a high sound of pleasure, a few more around the room similarly flared up, and even more as Roy could see them. In moments they were surrounded by light. The fat man snatched him away from the array then and leaned over. He extended his tongue toward the array, Roy could see a red mark on it, and the fat man swiped his tongue over the markings on the floor. As if acid had touched it, the floor distorted and was eaten away where he had licked. Roy swallowed.

The fat man then dragged him out in the middle of what seemed to be a large ballroom. All round them were balconies filled with row upon row of empty chairs. All silent witness to his chance to be center stage.

What a lark, what complete irony. Here he had craved and crawled and begged and bowed, all with the intention of doing whatever he needed to get to the top. He'd bent over, he'd swallowed, he'd waited and he'd struck. But stil, the spotlight hovered right out of reach. Until here, until now, when he would probably perform his final act before an audience of none and then he would be over. Never got anywhere, never did anything, never saved the world.

Al will take care of Ed.

He hadn't allowed himself to think of it, but now, he couldn't help it.

So this is it? You curl up and die?

The General blinked. He hadn't heard that inner voice in a long time. In a very long time. But oh, how he adored it. It's nuances, it's sneers and mocking. He never realized he'd missed it in the joy of having the real thing by his side.

"No," he whispered. "But I'm out of options, any suggestions?"

Kick it in the balls and run.

Ah, the inner Ed, so helpful.

"I don't think it has any balls," Roy muttered and then gasped when he was shoved to the floor.

"Look," the thing above him simpered. "Here it is, the array! See?"

Roy lifted his head, turned it but could only see a stripe of black from where he lay.

"It made armor into flesh!" the thing cried happily. "Look Lust, look! The array!"

Roy turned to look where the woman was standing. She had her arms folded, her hip jutted out and a scowl on her features. She might have been an attractive woman, in fact, Roy was fairly certain she was, but he was blinded in more ways that just physical. All he could see was gold.

"It's a drawing on the floor, how does that help?" the woman asked, voice dripping with skepticism.

"It's an array," the fat man all but whined. "It's what we need to make you into you again. Don't worry, the alchemist will know what to do." He yanked Roy back up onto his knees and Roy looked down again from this little bit of vantage point. He could see a pattern, a huge array stretching out in all directions. It was unlike any he had ever seen.

The fat man released him again, looked down at him in an expectant fashion.

"Wait... you said, armor into flesh?" Roy asked.

The fat man nodded vigorously.

"Yes! All around you, see? It made armor into flesh and the Gate opened wide and all sorts of good and bad spilled in and out! I chased her up in the elevator, because she took Lust away, even if she didn't, she did."

"I don't understand," Roy said.

"Neither do I," the fat man sighed. "But when I did that, I wasn't here yet. I mean, I was, but she had taken from me, the stone gave it back." He patted his round stomach and grinned. "The stone makes me see more than I did before and it makes me understand sometimes, and sometimes I don't care! I just want Lust to come back, the Gate can have it all, it's in here, it can take that and give me back Lust. That's all I want. You do that."

"I can't... I mean I can't make her into a homunculus," Roy said. "I don't know how, I don't think it's possible, I don't know how this array..." but he didn't finish because a fist slammed into the side of his head and his head hit the floor. He lay there gasping and blinking and fighting off the tunnel vision that threatened.

"You can do it," the thing hummed merrily, as if it hadn't just tried to fracture Roy's skull. "You're an alchemist, you can do anything. I know, because here an alchemist made armor flesh, and if he can do that, then flesh can be made into... into what this is," and he patted his stomach again. "We're better than humans, Envy always said so."

Roy pushed himself up slowly to his hands and knees again. When the dizziness stopped he sat back on his knees.

"But... it's not like that. I can't just activate an array I know nothing about. It could do untold amounts of damage uncontrolled. Even kill..." and he cringed backwards, but a hand fell on his head, thick fingers gripped his hair and suddenly his cheek was pressed hard to the floor beneath him. His head was being scrubbed back and forth, as if used to mop up something that had split there.

"You do this! You can do it! I know because I know that alchemy is what makes it work! I was made that way, everyone was made that way! I'll make you do this, you'll do it before it's over," the sin promised.

"Don't kill him before he does it," said someone in the distance. Roy could barely hear over the rush in his ears, but the hand on his head let go suddenly. It didn't seem to matter, because at the moment he didn't think he could lift his head anyways.

He saw a figure, blurry in his peripheral vision, come close and stop.

"I'm going out for some air, and to see if we are surrounded yet. Don't eat him, don't kill him," the voice warned in a slightly scolding manner.

"Awwww, don't go far, come back soon!" the fat man sang after her. "If you see any soldiers let me know, I am a little hungry..." he trailed off as she got out of sight and sighed. He looked down at Roy.

"Sometimes I just don't know what she wants from me. I do and I do, but it's never enough," the fat man plopped down on his fat ass, right there beside the General. "I mean, I can't figure her out. If I do what she wants me to, she's not happy, if I don't do what she wants me to, she's not happy. I'll never understand."

Roy quirked his only remaining eyebrow.

"Not even the stone can understand," Gluttony sighed.

And Roy laughed, because he could at least do that. He could then boast at the pearly gates.

He'd laughed in the face of his death.

He picked his way over rubbled, ran down alleyways, peered in windows. He wanted to scream. He wanted to scream over and over, but Havoc was right. Don't let them know you're coming, why announce you're walking into the trap? Just do it, just stumble in and start shooting. In theory, anyways.

Time moved both swift and slow. It was taking forever to comb though this ruin, but it was moving to quickly because for every slow minute that ticked by, another rushed in Roy's direction.

Find Roy, take him home.

They saw each other simultaneously, and reacted in sync, each gaping then taking a step back.

It was a woman, more a girl, with dark skin and black hair over her shoulders. She wore a fancy silk dress and shoes that were horribly out of place for walking through this mess. She looked quickly over her shoulder, then back to Ed. She widened her eyes and held a finger to her lips as if to shush him and he gave her an askance look. What the fuck? Why was he even here and who the fuck was she?

She beckoned to him, and he stalled, looking back and forth, then, finally, he crossed the few yard over to her. She cupped her hand around her mouth as if to whisper and leaned forward. Ed leaned closer as well.

"He'll hear you, be very quiet," she whispered.

"Who?" Ed whispered back.

"That thing in there," she nodded toward a building and Ed looked over at it, then up to it's dome and it's spire. His stomach curled in on itself and tried to hide behind his spleen.

Oh, he knew this building.

"You need to get out of here," Ed said lowly. "That thing in there is a monster, he'll kill you. How did you get here? Did he bring you here?"

She nodded.

"I didn't have a choice, he forced me. I would have run away, but he has a man in there, I'm afraid if I leave he will kill him."

Ed eyes snapped back to the building, he nodded tersely.

"Right, you get out of here, I'll take care of this. Just head for the arches," he turned to point the way. "There are stairs, a lot of them, but climb them. There are people up there, they'll help you."

"What about you?" she asked.

"I'm going to get the General," Ed said. "Just go, don't worry about me."

"Be careful," she said with a light touch on his shoulder. Ed moved past her and she stood watching him as he made his way to the building, he climbed the steps, paused at the door and turned to see her still standing there. He made a motion to wave her on. She lifted her hand as if to wave back, but he moved into the doorway and then cautiously made his way inside.