The military headquarters at Central City was no stranger to explosions. It was a military headquarters, after all, and even discounting the fairly regular bouts of firearms and artillery practice, they, like all military institutions, had an unhealthy passion for fireworks.
They were not even a stranger to things blowing up, such as buildings, trees, or statues. After all, Central was where the annual State Alchemist qualification exams were held, where 'spectacular' was the name of the game. The yearly review performances were a little less flashy, but as proved by the combat evaluation between the Fullmetal and Flame Alchemists the previous year, they could do quite as much damage.
However, this was still the military, and while they might have been accustomed to explosions, they were usually planned for. There was paperwork. Permissions. Regulations. Rules. The people in the buildings were accustomed to schedules. Drills. Announcements.
And so it was that having the HQ generator building just blow up one day, without any advance warning or notice, was quite enough to throw everyone into a fit.
Fortunately, Colonel Roy Mustang was a good officer, and a good leader, and always kept his head in an emergency. So when the explosions started rocking the buildings, accompanied by mysterious flashings and cracklings from that direction, Roy Mustang did what any good senior officer did in the heat of a crisis.
"You take care of it," he told Ed.
The Full Metal Alchemist, of course, accepted his assignment with all the gravity due his station.
"Gee, thanks," Ed said.
Another building exploded as Ed and Al raced towards the source of the disturbance. Most of the military personnel had already vacated, so they got a clear view of the tumult that grew as they approached it.
"It's throwing off an awful lot of energy," Ed said. He had to raise his voice to be heard over the roaring noise. "Don't get too close, Al! I don't know what will happen if that reaction hits your armor, and I don't want to find out."
"Okay," Al responded. "But that goes for you too, Brother! I'll get in close if you're in trouble!"
Ed nodded firmly, and began to push forwards, fighting against the air currents towards the center of the disturbance. He held his hands out in front of him, ready to clap, and his brother hung back, but kept a watchful eye out.
They both froze in shock as a blaze of light suddenly rose up over the lip of the ruined building. It was a crackling bundle of energy, firing blue and white arcs in every direction as it seemed to hover, searching for a new target to destroy.
"What is it?" Al gasped, ducking to avoid some of the flying sparks. "A bomb of some kind?"
"It's independently mobile," Ed yelled back. "What kind of bomb could it be?"
"Brother, look out!" Apparently having considered long enough, the ball of light was suddenly in motion.
"Stand back!" Ed clapped his hands together, then fell to his knees and slammed them against the ground. "I'm going to try to contain it."
The ground bucked and rippled as the reaction spread through it, and then suddenly the ground and broken walls heaved upwards like stone fingers, arching upwards to surround the blaze of light, then closing in to seal it.
The light was quenched, sealed inside the rock barrier, and Ed looked up, then lifted his hands from the ground. "Did that do it?" he asked, wiping away a strand of hair from his forehead.
"I'm not sure..." Al started, worried by the noises that continued to come from inside the rock prison. Just as he started forward, it exploded again, sending the rock fragments flying in all directions. Al lunged forward and was barely in time to swat away a piece of shrapnel that would have struck his brother in the head. "Look out!"
As the dust and debris cleared, though, the blaze of light had changed. Instead of a barely-contained shapeless ball of energy, it now appeared as a giant beast, made out of light. It arched its back, sparks rippling through its mane, and roared, a sound that shook the ground.
"What the hell?" Ed gasped, eyes wide. "That's not just a bomb..."
"Is it a chimera?" Al asked, but his voice was tinged with uncertainty.
"What kind of chimera is made out of energy?" Ed snapped.
"Even if you say that, it doesn't make sense, brother!" Al protested. "There doesn't seem to be anything solid inside it at all—the rocks fall right through it. But if that's the case, then what's holding it together?"
"And what's fueling the energy reaction?" Ed said, getting to his feet. "There must be some kind of solid matter in there—it just must be too small to see."
"But in that case..." Al trailed off as the energy-beast shook itself again, and suddenly expanded, to nearly twice its original size. "It's not obeying the laws of conservation, either," he said in a shocked voice. "That's impossible –"
"Unless it's being powered by a Stone!" Ed said in great excitement. The strange creature was turning away from them, now, and poising itself to leap towards the main complex. "But whether or not that's true, we've got to stop it, now!"
"Wait, Brother! It's dangerous!" Al cried, as Ed took off running towards the heart of the conflagration. "You can't—"
His words were cut off by the sound of another explosion; the force of the energy wave nearly knocked him over, and did send his brother hurling backwards, stunned. Al managed to catch him before he hit the ground, but the force of it drove him to his knees. "Brother!"
"Hmmm," a familiar voice said from right over his shoulder. "So this is THUNDER, eh? It's quite mischievous!"
"Huh?" Al twisted around in disbelief to look at the person who had suddenly materialized by their side. "Major Armstrong!"
"I see you've already forced it to assume its original shape!" Armstrong continued, and stepped forward. "Good work, Elric brothers! Never fear, I can take care of the rest from here!"
"But Major!" Al said in confusion. "What is going—"
His sentence died in his throat as the Major moved in front of him, and the flash of strange energy clearly illuminated the large man's figure. Gone were the familiar white-lined blues of the military uniform; gone was even the tailored civilian clothes Armstrong wore to accompany them to Rizenbul.
Instead, the Major was dressed in a full-length, skin-tight—every muscle on his broad arms was outlined—pink spandex body-glove. Large pink bows adorned each shoulder, matched by similar ones over his ears, and even a tiny one on the single lock of hair that dangled in front of his face. The crowning touch was probably the shiny black mary-jane style shoes on his huge feet, out of which sprouted white stockings that traveled up the length of his legs, ending in a fluffy pink tutu.
"—on," Al finished weakly.
Armstrong ignored him for the moment, instead facing the energy beast with a stern glare. He held out a long slender baton, colored a matching pink and adorned with white feathers. "Return to thy form which thou should be!" he boomed commandingly. He spun the baton in his hands, over his head, and brought it down to a solid stop in mid-air in front of him. A complex, delicate alchemical array sprang into being under his feet, glowing bright gold to match the staff. "CLOW CARD!"
There was a flash of pure white light, a ringing sound, and then before Al's eyes, the energy-beast was being pulled forward, as though sucked in by a vacuum. Arcs of energy peeled off of it and were absorbed by the staff, and finally the entire creation dissolved into a shower of white sparks that coalesced into a single, glowing card.
Ed groaned, and stirred, sitting up with one hand braced on Al's leg and the other rubbing his head. "Major Armstrong?" he said muzzily. "What—"
Armstrong turned around, card in hand, and sparkles abundant. Ed, like Al, found himself abruptly struck dumb.
"Well done, Elric brothers," Armstrong rumbled approvingly. "Your heroic efforts assisted me in capturing this card before it could do too much damage. I owe you a debt of gratitude for that... and an explanation. You must have many questions!"
Ed did, but Al beat him to it. "Major Armstrong, if you don't mind my asking what's with those clothes?" he blurted out.
"It's a very old legend," Armstrong drew himself up and stared far into the distance, still sparkling faintly. "An ancient and slightly amoral Alchemist, Clow Reed, learned Alchemy from his Western father and magic from his Eastern mother. One magical night, he mixed Western alchemy with Eastern enchantments, creating a new breed of magic—his own. Using this new hybrid of magic and alchemy, he created many things, among them are a deck of powerful magical cards, the Clow Cards; and two guardians, one of sun and the other of the moon."
"Yes, but, what's up with that OUTFIT?" Ed wanted to know.
"But a terrible accident occurred!" Armstrong's eyes filled with tears. "And the Clow Cards, which were intended for the good of the public, were loosed wild into the world! Thus it is the job of the Card Captors to hunt down the rogue Clow Cards and return them to their normal states. The title of Cardcaptor, along with the powers and regalia, have been passed down in my family for many, many generations now!"
"But—the clothes are..?" Al faltered.
"It is a beautiful family tradition!" Armstrong sobbed, tears now flowing freely. "The responsibility that goes along with the powers of the Cardcaptors are not something easily undertaken! Nor treated lightly!"
Ed and Al exchanged glances, and sweatdropped.
"It is also," and suddenly Armstrong was completely serious, bending over them with all trace of tears gone, "a very necessary secret. The world must not know that the fearsome Clow Cards are loose. And that is why I am trusting you two boys with this responsibility! Can you swear to me that you will never reveal to another living soul what you have seen here?"
"Major," Ed got to his feet shakily. "I swear up and down that I'll gladly reveal all the secrets of the Philosopher's Stone to you, when I get them, so long as you never, ever show yourself to us in those clothes again."
"Mmm!" Armstrong beamed and nodded, sending the ribbons bouncing. "I knew you boys would understand!"
A shout came from across the parade ground, and Armstrong suddenly took on a furtive look. "I must be gone!" he exclaimed. "You two, never forget the things you have learned on this day!"
With a flourish, his staff glowed, and sprouted wings. With a hop, a skip, and a leap into the air, he was winging away, the ribbons waving gently in the breeze.
Al looked at Ed. Ed looked at the destroyed building.
"It was a bomb, right, Brother?" Al said at last.
"Yup." Ed nodded.
"And we're the heroes who saved the say?"
"Yeah," Ed sighed.
"Then let's go tell the others."
"And get back to our rooms," Ed agreed. "I suddenly... really need a bath."
"Ummm... I think they blew up the water heaters."
A few sparkles drifted to rest, in among the rubble and dust.