sisyphean effort

Painted Truths

chapter 1. Secret Treasures

"This way Ms. Hughes. . ."

The heavy paneled oak door swung open with a loud creak and two figures entered a large room dark and dusty with disuse. Very little light filtered through the few windows on the left. Still, even in the gloom one could make out all the massive shelves full of books. They dominated the room with their presence, row upon row, like forgotten soldiers in the dark.

"Oh my goodness, I didn't realize Uncle Roy had such an extensive library!"

Elysia Hughes stood just inside the threshold. She was a delicate creature, just coming into womanhood, and she swept her long brown hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture. She felt she was too young to have inherited so much. But then, not everyone was the god-daughter of the fuhrer of Amestris.

No—make that the former fuhrer, for "Uncle Roy," as he was always known to Elysia, was gone.

Elysia felt a wave of sadness wash across her small frame anew. Roy Mustang had been the closest thing to a father that Elysia had known, ever since the death of her own father so long ago. He had merely been "Uncle Roy" to her—not the powerful fuhrer of Amestris, the Fuhrer of Peace who had ushered their nation into a new prosperous Golden Age. No, he had been the man who had been there for her all through her childhood, stopping by her mother's house, bringing by small presents to try and make Elysia's brown eyes light up with something like delight—like they did before her father's untimely death. He tried, in so many small ways, to fill the black, gaping void that Maes Hughes had left behind. In the end it had ultimately proved unfillable. Elysia's mother never remarried and all through their life together that gaping hole remained, bearable, but always there—it was present in the numerous photos spread around their small apartment, the reading glasses set on a bedside table, her father's, never removed, never put away. In a way, Gracia Hughes' life had become a mausoleum to the past—despite the half-smiles and apple pies and warm kisses—Elysia could feel it there, whispering in every unspoken word or gesture. And Roy had tried to make it less—what?—unendurable? Yes, he had tried, tried so very hard, and Elysia could never thank him enough for it. . .

And now she had inherited everything. For the great (former) fuhrer of Amestris had no children of his own.

She heard a small chuckle come from her right. "Uncle Roy, huh? That sounds so strange. It makes the fuhrer seem remarkably. . .human."

Elysia turned and smiled softly at the young man—one of the fuhrer's secretaries, and one who had been entrusted with the arduous task of helping Elysia sort through the mountains of possessions that Mustang had left behind. The will had been very specific about the library, though. The extensive collection of books was to be donated to the great library in Central. The Central library, after all, had suffered through a devastating fire a few years back, and rebuilding and re-amassing the contents of what had been lost there had been—and still was—a long and continuous struggle. There was no doubting where all the books would go—everything here would be donated to the rebuilding of the great library.

"Oh no, I could never think of Uncle Roy as anything else," said Elysia. "Even to this day, the idea that he was the fuhrer. . .well, that's the strange part." Elysia smiled as a very specific image popped into her mind, a long ago memory—Uncle Roy sitting on her living room floor in shirt sleeves, swearing (much to her mother's dismay) as he tried to assemble a mechanical toy horse for her. Which birthday had that been? Seven? or Eight? Elysia couldn't quite remember which one, but the image of Roy on that day was specific and true. In fact, if she recalled correctly, Roy never did figure out the riddle of the mechanical horse, and in the end he had to get one of his officers, Fuery she believed it was, to make the thing work. Which reminded her—

"Aren't you related to Kain Fuery?" Elysia said, turning suddenly.

The young man seemed caught off guard. "Uh, why yes I am—he's my uncle, in fact." Elysia suddenly remembered the young man shaking her hand vigorously on the front grounds; he had introduced himself as Hodge Fuery, but at the time the connection didn't click. But looking at him now she could see the family resemblance—unruly curly dark hair, small quick eyes behind round framed glasses, small stature. Yes, she could definitely see it now.

"But your uncle left the military, right? He invented that, uh, that, communicator-thingy. And after that he got rich from the pattens, right?"

The young man smiled. "Yes, that's right. But my uncle always spoke highly of the military—thought it was a good way to do service to one's fellow man—so I joined up when I became of age. I'm pretty sure it was Kain's influence that got me this position so close to the fuhrer." He smiled again, wider. "Well, actually the fuhrer himself told me outright that was the reason—he never did like to beat around the bush."

Elysia laughed softly at that last statement. Fuhrer Mustang had been obliged to present a cool, controlled facade to the rest of the nation, but to those closest to him—the ones he trusted, like herself—he had always been unapologetically open and honest, sometimes almost brutally so. Like that time she told Uncle Roy that she didn't want to go to university, but instead to a culinary arts school, he had frankly told her that she was "wasting a brilliant mind on baking pies and scones." But in the end, the tuition was paid and nothing more was ever said about it.

Hodge moved further into the library and Elysia followed behind him, head swiveling right and left to take in the obscene amount of shelving on either side of them. Who knew Uncle Roy had been such a book lover? But, she supposed, there was so much that she didn't know—would never know—about her illustrious godfather.

"There's more stuff in here than just the books," commented Hodge. "There's the desk," he waved his hand to the back corner, "and the file cabinets, the paintings," He stopped and motioned to an ornate-looking vase on an oak stand. "That's a real Xingian vase, centuries old, a gift from the emperor himself. Probably worth a load of cenz." Hodge absently pushed his glasses further up his nose. They flashed and shifted in the poor lighting. "And of course there is the safe. No telling what kind of valuable stuff is in there." Elysia followed as Hodge led her to the back wall behind the desk (and one of the only available spaces not occupied by bookshelves). She watched as Hodge pulled an official-looking document from his jacket. He studied it intently then moved towards the wall. He inserted a glove finger into a small, almost imperceptible slit in the wood and slid back the large piece of concealing paneling. Underneath was a large black safe, almost as tall as a person.

Elysia watched as Hodge grasped the safe's dial and confidently swiveled it back and forth. There was a final "click," then Hodge pushed down on the handle. The safe door opened with a protesting groan, like a grumpy giant being awoken from a heavy slumber. Hodge stepped aside. "The fuhrer once told me specifically to never look at the contents of this safe. I don't know if that order extended beyond his death, but I'm not violating it now. I'll leave you to it. If you like I can go see about scrounging us up some tea. Between this, the desk contents and all the file cabinets, I think it will be a while before we leave this room."

"Thank you," replied Elysia, "and the tea would be lovely if you can get it."

Hodge nodded and turned and left the library, his boot heels clicking smartly on the wood floor and making a soft echo. Elysia glanced once more around the room. In her head, there were echoes, snatches of conversations, voices from people long gone, long dead. There were ghosts in this room. But whether or not they were real or only in her head was unclear. Elysia shivered slightly and turned back to the shallow darkness of the safe. She was just a teenager, barely a woman, yet she had been given this access to all the dead fuhrer's belongings and secrets. "Uncle Roy," thought Elysia and she smiled again, remembering how it had been with them, with him as just Roy, not the incomparable Fuhrer Mustang. Just Roy smiling and smirking and being so unbelievably aggravating in the way he would always reach out and ruffle the top of her head like she was a little kid (and she had been a little kid, but no, don't tell her that!). Roy laughing and playing fetch with the puppy he had brought to her, out in the park. Just Roy. That was who Elysia remembered, not some cold and distant fuhrer, and she invoked these fond memories like a happy talisman in her mind as she reached inside the safe.

The largest item in the safe appeared to be some sort of tall canvas painting, and as she reached in to haul it out, two things happened at once:

First, she felt pain in her hand as the dangerously sharp edging of the gilt frame cut into her palm, causing her to cry out and lose her grip on the entire thing. The painting lurched mutinously and landed on the floor with a large resounding thud, yet miraculously upright and slouching (like an agile cat) against the safe wall.

Second, she recognized the subject of the painting and the complete and utter shock of it made her forget about the cut on her hand entirely.

The painting had been done in the darkest, boldest oils, the background of an unidentified space/room bleeding into black. Glowing in the foreground was the figure of a boy—no, a man, corrected Elysia—sitting sideways on some overly ornate and completely unimportant piece of furniture. His right leg was bent and propped up casually on the base of the chair and his bent wrist—silver, shining, and very much made of metal—rested on a black-clad knee. The subject had his head turned toward the viewer, and that face, oh his face, looked over that metal arm towards the viewer with amber-gold eyes of blazing fire. Fire! That was the only way Elysia could describe it and she felt caught, hooked in the flames of that painted, heated gaze. He was so beautiful, all light, all shimmering hair and eyes and flashing metal silver. She had literally forgotten to breathe. Elysia felt something unknown wrench inside of her, something she didn't know was there. It was as if she had been pinned, stilled so completely by the beautiful boy's fiery gaze, that her mouth hung open and she couldn't move. The only thing that remained in her thoughts was a name, repeating with the insistent urgency of a musical leitmotif, just one name. . .

Edward. . .