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The Path Not Taken

prologue
part 0 of The Rage of Swords Arc

General Grahn, the Iron Blood Alchemist, makes the introductions.

"Shou Tucker, Binding Life Alchemist, I would like you to meet someone."

"Ye-Yes sir?" Tucker peers nervously past the General, wondering if it's a new spy or some kind of hint that the General wants more breakthroughs.

A young boy, with a thick mop of blonde hair, bangs hiding his eyes, almost swallowed by the overly large military coat covering his shoulders. It's way past the child's bedtime, but there's something in the slump of shoulders that doesn't quite seem like weariness.

"I'd like you to meet Edward Elric, your new apprentice. He should be helpful in your research, Mr Tucker." General Gran's hand is huge on that slim shoulder, and there's something...possessive about the way he guides the child forward.

Tucker swallows nervously. A trick, a trap, some kind of joke?

"He's...General, he's a child."

The Iron Blood Alchemist smiles unpleasantly and gently nudges the boy forward again. The child takes one obedient step forward, and the coat slides open to reveal the dull gleam of metal. An auto—mail arm and leg, clearly visible through the black sleeveless turtleneck and shorts the boy wears. The familiar cross and twining snake is also emblazoned in silver against the black material, and jet eyes of the snake seem to pin Tucker unblinkingly.

"Young Elric here has successfully attempted a soul transmutation...and a human transmutation. You should find him invaluable."

The boy looks up suddenly, and Tucker's doubts all melt away. Those gold eyes burn with a feverish heat, but the look in those eyes are exactly the same one he sees in the mirror everyday, the one he hides behind his glasses, an inner transmutation stretched out slowly.

"Unfortunately, the townspeople destroyed his experiments before we could take them into custody; but I'm sure if you work together, you should be able to help Edward-kun here repeat his results." A heavy hand rests on the boy's head, but Elric continues to stare down at nothing at all.

"Soul transmutation...aren't those...how can you kill that?" Tucker asks. Yes, he has a glimmer of an idea how he might pass this year's State Assessment now...

"They took him apart." Edward says suddenly, his high-pitched voice a startling contrast to the General's gravelly tones. "They took him apart like...like a suit of armour. He was one anyway..." He starts to giggle, and the General withdraws his hand as if burnt.

"Then they melted him down in the auto-mail forge...I think Winry cried." He starts rocking slowly, cradling his own auto-mail arm. "Al...I didn't think armour could feel pain. But he didn't stop screaming until the last piece melted...Then they were going to take me apart too after they stoned mother, but the General stopped them." He smiles, bright and sudden. "The General stopped them all."

There is light reflecting off Shou Tucker's glasses, hiding his eyes as he reaches for Edward's real hand and takes it.

"Thank you, General. I'm sure Edward-kun here will be invaluable."

"Good," says Iron Blood, as child and man disappear into the darkness, the door closing slowly behind them. "I expect good results from the both of you."

Light flickers off Shou Tucker's glasses as the man turns his head and nods, then the door shuts without a sound.