The town ought to be visible by now, but it wasn't.
Ed glanced around him, his sense of uneasiness growing. The ground
still drifted hazily under a bank of fog, but even that didn't seem
quite right. By now the morning sun ought to have burned away the fog,
unless there was a substantial body of water nearby to sustain it.
"Don't wander off, Al," he told his younger brother. Al turned
towards him, bronze eyes wide and troubled, and nodded. He bit his lip,
and Ed tried to say something reassuring, but he couldn't. He didn't
remember seeing a lake or a river marked on the map anywhere near the
train station, but that was the only place this fog could have come from.
The ground began to squelch noisily under his feet, and Edward
hissed. This terrain was becoming more and more unhospitable, and the
fog wasn't clearing. In fact, it was growing even denser.
"Al, I think we've gone off course," Ed decided aloud. "Let's turn
back, and try to find the train –"
He turned around, but his brother was gone. He only saw a slight
shape disappearing into the fog, to his left. "Al?"
"This way, brother!" Al's voice floated back to him. "I think I
see the town!"
"It can't be that way!" Annoyance, sharpened by worry, added bite
to his tone. "Al, come on back. I think we're lost."
"No – I definitely see something –" Al replied. "Brother,
there's lights. I think it's the town! You must have just gotten turned
around. Come on!"
A cold twinge made its way down Ed's spine, and he turned and
tried to follow after his little brother, cursing under his breath. "Al,
that can't be the way," he said. "Wait up!"
"Hurry up, brother –" A turn of his head, a flash of hair turned
moss-brown by the dull light, and Al slipped further out into the fog.
"Al!" Ed slogged after his vanished brother, struggling through
the mud that was getting deeper inch by inch with every step he took.
"We're lost, already! Come back here!"
There was no response. Ed turned in a circle, heart thumping
wildly against his ribcage. He couldn't see his brother, not anywhere,
not a trace; not even footprints in the muddy ground. Even the sun was
hidden, not a trace of gold shining through. He could see nothing except
his own deeper, heavy footprints, trailing off in a line behind him, and
the ever-thickening fog. "Al!"
No answer. The uneasiness began to give away to real fear; Ed
clenched his hands together, but there was nothing around for him to use
alchemy on. He strained his ears, listening for any sound other than the
faint sursurration of the currents. "Al!"
"Brother?" The answer came back to him, sounding faint and far off.
"Where are you? Al!" He took off in the direction the sound had
come from, casting a desperate glance at his own footprints, the only
guide to direction he had. Already the water began to trickle in,
turning them indistinguishable from any of the other fluid-filled pits
and pockets in the ground.
"Brother!" The voice came again, and this time it the wail had a
definite note of distress.
"I'm coming! Stay still until I get to you!" Ed yelled. He tried
dragging his feet a bit, in an effort to make a more permanent trail,
but that only slowed him down, so he gave up. Once he caught up with Al,
he'd just magnetize a compass, but first he had to find him.
He began to pant with exertion, the humid air swirling and
clinging close to his skin. "Al?" he said hopefully.
The voice hit Ed like a blow, and drove the breath from his lungs.
"Where are you?" he shouted. "Where are you?"
"Help me!" Al's voice was high and terrified, suffused with fear
– and pain? "Please, brother, help me!"
"Al!" His metal leg sank in the mud up to the knee, and he
wrenched his good knee pulling free. His brother hadn't sounded like
that since – no, no, this can't be happening! "Al, where are you?"
"Oh, please, hurry! Brother, I –" His voice was cut off, and Ed
lunged towards the source of the voice, only tripping and throwing his
hands out to catch himself at the last minute. His hands sank up nearly
to the elbow in the muck, and with a desperate cry he wrenched free, sat
up, and clapped his hands.
The alchemical energy crackled across the bog, searing the mud and
forcing the moisture out of it, hardening it into baked clay. The tail
edge of the reaction burned his skin, travelling up his metal arm and
leg with a painful shock, but he ignored it as he staggered to hit feet
and climbed up onto the platform. "Al?"
"Brother!" The scream was nearly wordless.
"Al! Al!" The voice had come from this way, this way – hadn't
it? His lungs ached for air, but he staggered on, searching, desperately
searching for his lost brother – how far away was he? Was it even this
way at all?
His brother's voice keened in pain and terror, and it echoed
around him, bouncing through the mist – was that even his voice? Or was
it just his memory? The part of him that could never quite shut that
night out of his mind, and the tiny, nagging suggestion that if he had
just reacted sooner to his brother's scream, turned faster, moved
faster, taken hold of his brother's hand in time, he might have stopped –
He might have stopped—
"Help me! Please!" His brother's voice sounded anguished, now,
and – desperate, like whatever it was that was causing him pain, it was
already too late to stop it. Already too late to break the chain
reaction, which had torn –
"I'm coming, Al!" The words burned in his throat. He put one foot
in front of another, straining his body to move faster, but it felt like
he could barely move through the clinging mud. "Al!"
A shape loomed up in the mist, suddenly, and he threw himself
desperately towards it. It was the shadow of a man, large and ominous,
and without thinking Ed transformed his arm into a blade and struck out,
connecting in a burst of pain and light and impact that stole his senses
for a moment.
He heard something fall softly to the ground, with an echoing
thud that didn't quite have the solidity of a body. His vision cleared
after a moment, and he found himself standing and staring, without
comprehension, at the shape of the body lying on the ground at his feet.
His brother stepped out of the mists in front of him, eyes bright,
smile shy. "Thank you for coming for me," Al's sweet voice told him. "I
knew you would."
Slowly, Ed turned his head, and out of the corner of his eye he
could see the other shadows coming closer. Light flared, and when he
looked again Al's face was breaking up into lines of fire – alchemical
fire – and becoming something else. Something cold. Something alien.
And no longer human.
He awoke, in his bed, in their room, late at night. He sat up, the
air tearing from his lungs in a gasp, barely managing to stifle the
shout that wanted to escape him. It was dark. The blankets fisted under
his hand were soft, slightly scratchy. And across the room from him, the
familiar shape of his brother loomed, the terrifying outline made
comforting for its familiarity.
A dream. Again. Ed buried his head in his hands, not trusting
himself to speak. Al, too familiar with these dreams to offer the kinds
of condolences Ed knew he'd like to, just waited, silently offering his
presence, his support. And slowly, the edges of the dream faded away.
"Are you all right?" Al asked quietly. His voice echoed hollowly
inside the armor, just as it should.
Ed shuddered, then took a deep breath and straightened, taking his
head out of his hands. "Yeah," he sighed.
Al shifted minutely; the soft creakings carried easily across the
quiet. Only gentle night noises could be heard from outside, the sound
of insects chirping, and the air moving.
Ed slipped out of his bed, and padded across the room to his
brother's bed. He sat on the edge of it, and Al creaked slightly as he
turned to look at him.
"Hey, Al," he said. "Do you remember when we were little, and we
made up a code?"
Al's eyes were still dim, a bit confused, so Ed added, "And Winry
got so annoyed with us that she threw a rock at my head? And spoke in it
for days, until eventually Mother figured it out, and then one day she
called us into dinner with it?"
"Oh!" Al's eyes brightened with the memory, and he nodded. "Yes,
brother, I remember. It was fun," he added reflectively, "a secret
language that only we knew. We could talk about anything we wanted, and
only we would understand."
"Yeah." Ed took a deep breath, the uneasiness of the nightmare
still lingering in his bones. "Let's do that again, Al."