velvet mace



Colonel Roy Mustang stepped out of the hot summer sun and into the relative cool darkness of the Devil's Nest. The place smelled slightly sour, but appeared to be clean enough. It had the usual accoutrements of a bar—a number of tables and booths and the bar itself was long and gleamed of polished steel.

A few of the patrons looked his way. A tough lot for the most part. Burly men smoking in the corners, their arms wrapped around women who wore rather too much make up and too little of anything else. Roy was aware that he would appear small and thin and rather an easy mark. Truth be told without his uniform to hide behind and his spark gloves to threaten with, he did feel rather naked and exposed. But part of being under cover was having to wear civvies. In this case a white tank top and a pair of baggy slacks. The gloves were, of course, available, shoved deep into his pockets.

Roy walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. Almost as soon as he sat down a woman... or perhaps it was a girl sidled up to him and put a rather presumptuous arm around his neck. "You're pretty," she said. "Wanna party?" She smacked lips that nearly dripped with lipstick.

Even if Roy weren't on duty he wouldn't have been tempted. He shrugged her off. "No."

She looked insulted. "You should go," she pouted. "This place isn't for you, little foreign man."

Roy refused to even acknowledge her, which made her even more furious. She stamped her foot and said, "I bet your dick is too tiny anyway."

Roy suppressed a snicker.

A minute later a tall and rather lanky man settled into the seat next to him. Roy looked his way, noticed the small wire rimmed sunglasses, sharp nose and jaw, the furred fringe around his vest. The other grinned a rather alarmingly sharp-toothed grin at him. "Are you Roy?" he asked.

"Yes, and you'd be Greed, I presume" Roy's lips twitched at the name. Pseudonym, he corrected. No one would be so cruel as to actually name their child Greed. Why Greed would name himself such was beyond Roy as well.

"Indeed." The man actually fit the description in the letter very well. Whoever this Edward really was, he had so far been dead on accurate about the situation going on here. Which meant, Roy realized with an uncomfortable twinge, that the situation he described himself and his brother being in was also probably true.

Roy's eyes drifted down to the tattoo on the man's hand. "Are you an alchemist," he asked. Edward had said that he wasn't, but why else would he have such a mark.

Greed's smile faded just a touch and his hand covered over the ouraborus. "No. This is just... decorative. However I do have alchemists working for me. Two of them, and I dare say every bit as talented State Alchemists. More talented in fact."

"Those are quite the bragging words," Roy drawled. It was time to step into character again, as a middle man for a Xing crime family looking for a source of illegal alchemical weapons. "My employer is looking for quality merchandise, I would like to inspect both the goods and the manufacturers before we complete any deals."

"Of course, " said Greed. "Though not out here. Allow me to take you back to my residence. The alchemists are my wards and I'm rather... possessive of them. I would rather they not be exposed to the likes of these patrons. "

It was interesting that Greed would use the word possessive rather than protective. Roy felt his stomach grow cold.

He left his untouched beer on the counter, along with a bill that more than twice covered the price and followed Greed back behind the bar, through the small kitchen and into a rather opulent hall.

Roy blinked. The floors were marble tiles, the ceiling high. Very high windows allowed sunlight to spill across a sculpture of a horse.

Greed followed his gaze. "Do you like it?" he asked.

"It's beautiful."

"One of my wards made it. Alphonse, the younger of my alchemists. He's quite a talented artist. I have sold quite a few of his works, and he is only getting better with age. The older one used to sculpt as well, but lately he seems to have lost interest in it. Really a shame, he used to do the most amazing things with plants and flowers. All alchemically, of course. Those boy's hands have never dirtied themselves with clay or soil.

Roy looked closer at the sculpture. It was smooth and detailed and absolutely perfect in proportion. Perhaps Greed's brag about them being good enough to be State Alchemists was true.

Greed indicated that he should move further on. But Roy hung back a bit to take in the statue from a different angle, and so doing happened to look back the way he came. Over the door that lead to the bar was a alchemy circle. Roy blinked. It was in every respect as interesting as the sculpture. Roy was well versed in alchemical symbols both common and rare, but he'd never seen anything quite like this before. He found himself spelling out the parts in his head to figure what it would do. Something protective. Something rather violent and messy as well.

Roy heard Greed doubling back to stand behind him. "Ah, yes, and that would be an example of what your employer is looking for, ne?"

"Yes," said Roy. "Did your wards do that? Where did they discover such an array? I have never seen one like it before."

Greed chuckled. "And you won't likely see one like that again. It's original. They came up with it themselves. So Mr. Roy. Are YOU an alchemist... you do seem rather knowledgeable."

"No, I'm not an alchemist," Roy lied smoothly. "But as a buyer, I need to know my stuff."

"Of course," said Greed. "But come further." Greed led him to a living room that looked out on a broad courtyard ringed by buildings, high fences and barbed wire. "Do sit down. You didn't drink your beer earlier. Would you like some tea? I'll have Sloth make it for you."

Sloth, huh. Another pseudonym and an ugly one. Roy detected a theme but couldn't quite understand the reason for it. It would be something to ask Edward later, if he got the chance to speak with the boy alone.

"Tea would be fine," Roy said and settled into the leather sofa. He looked around. Everything of Greed's spoke of money, and a lot of it. Which lead credence to Edwards letter as well, which said that Greed's various illegal schemes were both long running and profitable. The prostitution ring, Roy had already seen, outside in the bar. The illegal alchemy was apparent in the sigil over the door. The other schemes, money laundering, forgery, drugs were probably also accurate.

Edward was right, this was definitely something the military needed to shut down. It looked like the boy would be getting his wish after all. When Greed was in jail, Roy supposed the two would be given a new guardian. Or perhaps they would prefer to just go on their own.... How old were they now?

"How old are your wards? You hint that they are young."

"Oh, quite young. They are 14 and 15."

"And how long have you had them?" Roy asked.

"My, my, curious aren't you."

"I am paid to be," said Roy smoothly. "If the question is too personal, by all means don't answer."

Greed laughed. "No it's not personal at all. I've had them since their mother died. They were, I believe 10 and 9 at the time. I picked them up right after the funeral and took them home with me. Apparently their mother never cautioned them to stay away from strangers with cars."

Roy's eyes sharpened. "Then you aren't their legal guardian."

Greed waved a hand. "Very little of what I do is legal Mr. Roy."

"You kidnapped them."

"That's a harsh way of putting it. I will have you know that they came with me quite willingly. They were looking for someone to teach them alchemy, and I was looking for someone to do alchemy for me. It was a perfect match. Honestly, how could I turn down a pair of prodigies."

"How on earth did you know to find these children."

Greed smiled even wider. My God, thought Roy. His teeth really ARE sharpened, it's not just my imagination. "They foolishly sent out letters saying, our mom is dying, our dad abandoned us as babies. Oh they claimed they were hunting down their father, but really, it was an invitation to come and scoop them up. After all, with their breeding, I could hardly go wrong. You'll never guess who their father is."

This was something the letters hadn't mentioned. "I have no idea."

"Light Hohenheim himself."

Roy blinked. Light Hohenheim was one of the most powerful alchemists ever. He was a legend. The military had been looking for him for ages. Roy was under the impression that the man was very old and probably dead. "He had children?"

"Yes, and hid it very well. None of us guessed it." Greed suddenly looked alarmed as if he'd said too much. But then he covered his lapse and moved on. "Ah I see our tea is ready. Thank you, Sloth."

A rather beautiful woman about Roy's age brought out the tea on a silver platter. Roy smiled when taking the cup from her. Greed noticed this. "Ah, so you do like women after all."

Roy lifted an eyebrow.

Greed went on. "They way you blew off my sweet Karen outside, I assumed you preferred boys. She isn't used to being snubbed, poor thing. I shall have to comfort her later."

"I would like to see these alchemists," said Roy, sipping his tea cautiously. It was delicious.

Greed nodded. "Sloth, have Law let them out of their room." The beautiful woman nodded and walked off.

"They are locked in their room?" asked Roy.

"The older boy ran off yesterday. I had to have my men hunt him down and bring him back. I suppose the younger one wasn't involved, but still it improves Edward's behavior when he sees his brother punished as well as himself. I'm afraid Ed is turning into something of a rebellious teenager. But I'm hoping this is merely a passing phase and he will settle down soon."

"Why do you think he rebels?" Roy asked finishing his tea and looking rather regretfully at the dregs in the bottom.

Greed sighed and relaxed further into the cushions. "I don't know. I give him everything he could want. If he even so much as HINTS of a book or an object he would like, I go out of my way to provide it for him. I'm really quite indulgent. Perhaps too much so. All I ask from him is absolute and utter obedience in every regard." Greed's narrow sunglasses slid down his nose and Roy saw the violet eyes, slit like a snake's peeking out over them. "Really is that too much to ask?"

Roy heard noises from the hall and turned to see Sloth and two small boys. 14 and 15... they looked like 12 year olds. Thin, small and fragile looking, and very pale, but beautiful, like sculptures themselves. The taller one had large grayish-green eyes and short dark blond hair. His face was soft and a bit round. The shorter had long golden hair tied back in a braid and eyes of an amazingly clear amber. Both wore elaborately embroidered silk outfits. Roy didn't know if that was in honor of his supposed Xing homeland or not. Their feet were bare.

Roy found himself looking at the smaller, presumably younger one. His hand and his foot were both automail. A double amputee. The automail was quiet well designed. It was clear that Greed did indeed give his wards nothing but the best. But at what price...

The two clung to each other, quite literally. Their arms were wrapped around each other as if out of terror and the both looked on Roy with trepidation.

"Edward," said Greed. "Come here." To Roy's surprise the smaller one stepped apart, giving his brother's hand a last squeeze and walked over to Greed.

And sat in his lap. Greed put an arm around the youth and lightly played with the bangs that framed his face. "Isn't he pretty," Greed said. "And so talented. Really, I'm honoring you and your patron by letting you see him at all. I live in constant fear that someone will try and steal him away." He snuggled into the boys hair and spoke directly to Edward. "Which is why it so frightens me when you leave the house without an escort. You do know that, my sweet." Greed kissed the boys cheek.

Edward didn't react. He was looking at Roy. Sizing him up. "Now Edward, go keep our friend Roy there company."

Edward stood up as if someone had pulled his string and walked over to the couch where Roy was sitting. He sat next to Roy, but thankfully not on Roy's lap. Roy wasn't sure he could have handled THAT.

"Alphonse," drawled Greed and waved a leisurely hand. The taller boy quickly settled into the spot his brother had vacated moments earlier. "Ah sweet, Al. He's really my favorite you know. He's my good boy." Al molded himself into Greed's arms in such a way that Greed could easily pet him.

Like they were trained pets, thought Roy. The way Greed stroked Al's arm and face was not the way a doting parent might. It was pretty clear why Ed wanted out of the situation. For the first time Roy took the teen's plight seriously.

"There is another issue I've wanted to discuss, in addition to the scrolls you'd like my boys to manufacture for you. Something of a favor."

"What sort of favor?" Roy asked.

"As attached as I have become to this place, I'm afraid I'm pushing my luck. I've lived here now for ten years, but I'm afraid the military has become aware of my existence. And while they are a rather dull and corrupt bunch, they just might attempt to interfere with my operations and perhaps even my wards. I need to set up a new home. I was considering Xing as a possibility. If your patron were willing to help facilitate a smooth transfer, I would of course be willing to do this particular job for free."

"It's possible," said Roy. "I will have to contact him." Roy ventured a look over to Edward, who had been still and silent during their conversation. Edwards was looking rather intently at Roy still, but his expression was somewhat less challenging than earlier, as though he'd come to some conclusion.

"Of course."

"I do wish to see your alchemists in action... "

"Absolutely, let us go down to the lab."

The lab was set up in a rather large open basement. Edward and Alphonse scurried ahead as though they knew the drill perfectly. Al pulled a long sheaf of parchment off a roll and set it on the floor keeping the paper from curling by using hunks of geode to pin down the corners. Edward gathered string, a compass and brushes and ink.

They then looked expectantly up towards Greed. "What trigger would you like to use?" Greed asked Roy. "Thoughts? Or actions? And to what degree."

Roy was amazed and rather alarmed. "It can be set to thoughts?"

"They are remarkable aren't they?"

"Thoughts then, intent to harm. But I don't know how you could demonstrate it properly without harming someone."

Greed chuckled. "Oh, don't worry, I'll demonstrate it alright. I am far tougher than I look. And it will be good for your patron to understand exactly who he's dealing with." Greed turned to Ed and Al—"Go ahead. Explosive please."

The boys nodded and quickly began drawing the array. Roy admired how neatly they worked, their hands were absolutely steady as they drew the curved lines. When they finished they both put their hands on the array. It lit with an intense blue-purple light. Roy gasped at the sheer power of it.

"And now to demonstrate. I am thinking of dashing your brains out with that chunk of rock," Greed nodded at one of the pieces of geode. He pulled off his vest and sunglasses and set them on one of the tables.

Al immediately fled to the corner of the room, Ed grabbed Roy's arm and pushed him away. Greed stepped within a meter of the array and suddenly it lit again. The paper blackened and turned to ash and at the same time Greed's head exploded.

His body dropped to the floor.

Roy gasped. What the HELL? Why on Earth would Greed commit suicide to demonstrate an array. It was insane. He looked over at the boys. They didn't seem at all alarmed that that their guardian was dead. Al looked mildly reproving. Ed looked wistful.

Then Roy realized why. The bits of Greed's flesh were gathering together again, as if drawn by a magnetic pull. In moments they had reassembled, and Greed looked exactly as he had before.

"You're patron should know that I'm very difficult to kill. Neigh impossible in fact." Greed smiled. "Just so he understands that double crossing me would be a poor idea. But you saw my two in action there. Isn't that impressive. And they can make 20 or 30 of those a day without hardly breaking a sweat. Their stamina is amazing."

Once again Roy regarded the two alchemists. Yes indeed, even if Greed HADN'T been running an illegal alchemy lab, the military would be interested in those two. Very interested. As would quite a number of other groups and even governments. Allowing Greed to take them to Xing was completely unacceptable.

But for the first time Roy wondered if he alone could really handle Greed and his people. And would the boys work for him or against him. It was good to know that these arrays could be set to thoughts, he would have to keep his thinking in check while he was in the building.

This was beginning to look like a much larger undertaking than he anticipated.

"You did well, my loves, I'll let you finish on your last project, we need it completed by tomorrow," Greed petted Al's head. "Think you can manage that?"

"Yes, sir," they chorused in unison.

Greed then patted Roy's back, "Let's leave the boys to do their work and we can negotiate the details of our transaction. They will join us for dinner in a couple of hours."

Roy negotiated the phony deal with Greed, mixing practical but ultimately moot trade offs with utterly phony anecdotes about his "homeland" and his "organization." Greed seemed impressed with him.

"You have quite a mind," Greed said after a while. "Very focused, able to handle complex details. You should consider taking up alchemy. I'm sure you would be good at it."

"You appear to be similar. I wonder why you haven't done the same."

Greed laughed. "Alchemy, unfortunately, is impossible for me. I do have my talents though, and with my alchemists, I really don't need it."

"Yes, they are remarkable."

Greeds eyes narrowed. He no longer hid them behind sunglasses, and Roy had gotten used to their animal like appearance. "Don't you go thinking of stealing them from me."

Roy was thinking precisely that, but he smiled and shook his head. "I wouldn't presume."

"Better not. One of my clients did though... oh about a year or so back. Surprised me. He was able to get them half way to Drachma before I caught up with him." Greed smiled evilly. "He lived quite a while to regret his error. And I had to punish my alchemists rather severely as well, much as that pains me to do. I'd have thought they'd have learned their lesson, but Edward seems to be rather stubborn."

Greed shook his head. "Do you know what that silly child did?"

"No idea."

"He wrote a letter to the military. I searched his room yesterday after we caught him. I found the address hidden in one of his drawers, and I was able to reconstruct the letter from the indentations left in the note pad. Little fool. The letter has been sent, unfortunately, but I imagine I have a few days before they will muster any response. If they respond at all."

Roy suppressed a smile. Actually Edward had sent five letters, six if you included the one from yesterday. Apparently this was the first time he'd been caught.

It was true, the first two letters WERE ignored. The third led to a minor investigation that revealed the existence of the Devils nest. After that the investigation had expanded to suggest that many of the illegal alchemical weapons the military had come up against in the last few years might have come from here. After that a full blown undercover investigation was launched.

But Ed wouldn't have known any of that, and his letters had kept coming, growing increasingly more desperate. Roy would have to find some way to be alone with him long enough to reassure him his voice had been heard.

Dinner was as lavish as everything else. In addition to Greed and the two boys, Sloth and three others sat at the table. Roy learned their names were Law, Dorchette and Martel. It was hinted that there was something special about them, but nothing concrete enough for Roy to deal with. He didn't quite dare to ask directly either, he had been pushing his luck questioning about the alchemists.

They were polite to Roy but down right deferential to Greed. The least word, nod or gesture was acted upon instantly, and they seemed extremely pleased when Greed deigned to compliment them. Roy had seen loyalty before, had in fact demanded it from his own underlings, but never loyalty to this insufferable extent. Greeds underlings weren't so much impressed by him as they were in love with him. All but Edward who obeyed the commands and tolerated the touches, but seemed sullen and miserable.

Towards the end of the meal the topic of the military came up once again, this time not aimed in Roy's direction but rather at Ed. "I honestly don't know WHAT you thought you'd accomplish with that letter, my dear," Greed said. "The penalty for what you've done is death... they'd be bound by their own laws to kill you if they ever get their hands on you. Really, the only one who will ever treat you as well as I do is me. I wish you would stop all this silly moping and accept your place in life."

Ed said nothing.

Greed snorted. He turned to Al, "You don't wish to leave me do you, pet?"

"No, sir," Al said quickly.

"Do you love me?" Greed purred.

"Yes, sir," Al said eagerly, smiling. But then glanced at his brother as if with guilt.

Greed chuckled. "Tonight you will be with me."

Al didn't smile at that, but he nodded.

Roy coughed on his rice and put his napkin to his mouth. He looked about the table, no one seemed the least bit alarmed that Greed might be sleeping with one of his wards. Even Edward didn't appear to be bothered by it. They all acted like this was the most normal thing in the world.

What a strange family, Roy thought. Decadence was one thing, but this was beyond the pale.

"Now I won't have you all alone, Ed." Greed smiled again. "Why don't you keep Mr. Roy company tonight."

Ed winced, then quickly covered it over with his usual introspective expression.

Roy cleared his voice, "That is utterly unnecessary."

Greed shrugged. "As you wish... I suppose he can spend it with Law instead."

Roy looked over at Ed who appeared to be thinking furiously.

Taking the child to bed was preposterous. Absolutely preposterous, but having him be sent to someone elses bed was no better.

It is not as though I have to sleep with him, Roy realized. And if we were alone I could would have opportunity to talk with him in depth, get the low down on everyone here, how the operations were working. The opportunity is priceless.

"Ah," said Roy... "Perhaps, perhaps, I was a bit hasty."

Ed's eyes flickered over to his. They seemed actually relieved.

"Ah, very well, then after drinks I will send him to you. Shall we retire to the den?"