Log in

No account? Create an account
Recent Entries Friends Archive Profile Tags "A Short Obsession"
"Okay, Who Forgot the Flux Capacitor?"
Arc One: Chapter 30
Balance of Power

Part Two

WARNING: Post Series, Post Movie, **SPOILER HEAVY** and just a bit AU

September 5, 2006 Rush Valley, Amestris

The hardest part was making certain Paninya would be safe after the fact. Getting volunteers together actually proved to be the least difficult part of the process. Winry looked out over the gathered-- well, they looked like a rather grease-spattered mob --and gave her head a sharp shake. She should have known better. Of any community of people, automail mechanics, though fiercely competitive, were also bound together by their craft. The moment the word went out that a rescue operation was underway -- to bring back a long-lost hero, no less (not to mention a famous walking endorsement for automail) they converged in droves. Dozens of eager recruits packed into the small courtyard behind Dominic's shop to hear the explanation of what needed to be done.

Winry presented the initial idea, whereupon Dominic himself took over hammering out the details and assigning teams and jobs. The master mechanic sent two teams running back to their own shops for tools -- and some innocent household things that according to Armstrong and Mustang could be used for not-so-innocent purposes.

The scavengers came hurrying back with boxes and bags and knapsacks. Winry found herself carrying someone's grocery bag, loaded with decidedly non-grocery items, and bustling along with a chattering, cheerful group of ladies twice her age. The conversation was trivial and they passed along familiar, mundane streets on an errand that was anything but mundane. If Roy was right (oh please don't be lying about this, Roy!) then there might not be another opportunity like this. Ever.

One hour. Just one hour and she could be seeing Ed and Al... Winry hugged her arms around the heavy grocery bag and boosted it higher.

Would they have changed much? Would Ed be taller? Would Al? She mentally slapped herself for the silliness of her question. Of course they'd be taller -- she'd calculated the rate of Ed's growth years ago. She even had a chart -- though that wasn't something the height-sensitive alchemist needed to know anything about.

Her eyes were blurring as she walked rapidly towards her destination. She wiped away the threatening tears before they could give her away.

One more hour...

The crowds thinned quickly -- reduced to nothing after a few more turns. Five more minutes of walking and they were there.

Winry looked up... and up... and up... The ancient structure was massive.

Over a hundred years ago, before Rush Valley had become the haven for individual mechanics and artisans, there had been an attempt at unifying the makers of automail under a strict consortium. The ruling aristocracy of the time had intended to reserve automail for themselves and their loyal armies. Backed by inherited wealth, the proponents for the plan went ahead and erected a massive warehouse in hopes of gathering up all of the automail mechanics and their shops, and walling them off, permitting access only to those with either the money to pay the exorbitant gate fees or the favor of some duke or petty king who'd trade power for a new arm or leg for his lackey. Unfortunately for the plan, the elite hadn't counted on the reaction of the automail mechanics. History recorded it as the "Craftsmen's Revolt" of 1628, and credited the infuriated mechanics with the founding of multiple anti-monarchist movements that eventually brought down the old kingdom and opened up the modern era, with its loosely-defined social classes, widespread literacy... and automail offered to anyone who wanted to endure the surgery and pay the mechanic's price. The warehouse, built to hold ready-made arms and legs and house the men who installed them, had been stripped of its enormous, studded steel doors, and emblazoned with the words of a nobleman. "My lords, my brothers, you have forgotten that the common man will forgive anything but to be taken for granted." Winry knew the story -- she glanced over the words without really seeing them, until her eyes caught on the nobleman's name. Duke Robert of Aramtrea, called the Strong Arm. I wonder if he wore a blond handlebar moustache?

Rubbing absently at her stomach, Paninya squinted up at the crumbling facade. "Guess you could say we're killing two birds with one stone," she said brightly.

Winry glanced at her friend, smiling. "A distraction and a demolition... I suppose you're right."

And there was no time to waste.

People scattered. Charges were laid out with the precise care of an automail engineer designing the layout of nerves and pistons for a new hand. The building was a decaying ruin and the explosives were homemade from household cleaners and bits of wire. Professionals would have taken days just to survey the building and decide where to put their charges.

The civilian bomb team finished in less than an hour.

One of the mechanics, an explosives expert and former military, wrapped the wires for the different floors. This ate up another ten minutes in which Winry was hard pressed not to chew her nails.

"We're ready."

As each team completed their assigned tasks, they melted away in small groups of one or two or three, blending into the general bustle of the city, but remaining nearby. Eventually only three people remained -- Dominic, the demolitions expert with the controls, and herself -- hidden in the deep shade of the back surrounding wall. They were far enough away to be safe, but close enough to move quickly if they needed to -- their fingers crossed. Waiting.


Time. It was finally time. Roy felt the details of their carefully laid-out plan dimming in significance. He didn't understand where it was coming from, but a calmness washed over him, strengthening with every step. A calm, Roy noted after a quick glance around, that the other three weren't feeling.

He shoved his left hand into his pants pocket and fingered the battered watch he'd placed in there that morning. "Send the signal."

He heard the shots, and felt the earth rumble warningly as if in answer.


The crack of Havoc's pistol firing echoed from the depths of the city, followed by two rapid shots, one right after another, from Hawkeye.

From the corner of the compound -- unseen by any casual passerby, particularly soldiers on patrol -- Dominic nodded to the man crouched in the dirt next to him.

"Do it."

The mechanic grinned and pressed down the bar.


Roy felt it deep in his gut a split second before they heard it, a spike of adrenaline pushed through his system as the sounds of an explosion echoed distantly through the alley. Memories momentarily churned through his thoughts. Ishbal and fire, the rocking of the earth and the sound of rubble clattering down from the sky. Whatever had just exploded had been fairly substantial. With equal certainty he knew that this was Winry's diversion.

Paninya's long shot idea had come in a winner.

"We're not gonna have to arrest her after all this, are we?" Jean called from his spot, backing away slightly from the alley's entrance as people started filling the street, seeking out the source of the commotion.

"We'll let the locals take care of the aftermath," Roy replied. He crouched at the edge of the array and waved a hand at Armstrong to step away from it. Easing his right arm out of the sling, he took a deep breath and ticked off the seconds for the precious window of cover Winry had created for them to arrive. Every nerve tingled with anticipation as he waited for the rippling aftershock that should be following any moment now...


Central Oklahoma

Ed heard his brother draw in a sharp breath, and glanced over to see a grim determination settle across Al's features. Mental alarms wailing, this was it, Ed moved as one with Al while the ground below their feet shivered like it, too, knew the moment had come.

Al reached for his flute even as Ed grabbed him and pulled him down. The whole area began quaking before the agents could react to their suddenly shifting targets. There wasn't time to shoot when they were struggling to just stay upright, and Ed had enough presence of mind to shout to the others to take cover. That came in the form of the van, which Ed watched with relief as Reilly and Tom dove back inside. Hughes rushed towards the agent positioned between them and the van, taking him out with icy efficiency before rounding on the next one. Ducky reacted to the initial tremor like an invisible rug had been yanked from under his feet and he pinwheeled wildly trying to balance. Regaining as much footing as he could, Ducky spun, to Ed's horror, back towards him instead of the van.

"Shut up, I told you I'm coming with you!" Ducky preempted the tirade that was on the tip of Ed's tongue. "What do I need to do?"

Together they glanced down at Al, who had already pressed the flute to his lips and begun the first tentative notes. The tune warbled in time with the shaking ground, but it was short-lived as Al pulled back sharply and frowned. "Right time, wrong place."


Rush Valley, Amestris

Rocks and other debris continued to trickle down over Paninya's awkwardly curled form.  In spite of the cleverly constructed shelter of what appeared to be randomly collapsed beams, she wasn't completely confident in this plan now that her role had been enacted.  Playing the distressed victim was so not her thing, and she had no one to complain about it to but herself.

"Brilliant idea girl. Maybe you should have added a broken leg to make it more realistic." The muttered sarcasm carried a small shake as another cluster of tremors rumbled through the demolished structure. Closing her lids both in anxiety as well as to keep the floating grit off her eyes, she curled one arm around her belly as she tried to readjust. Of all the times to be emotional. If there wasn't so much work to do around here, Paninya would have gladly given in to the urge to smash a metal fist through the beam beside her. Of course, that would probably cause the partial collapse to become a full collapse. Not a good idea.

Another tremor tore past deep within the earth below, and the young woman grasped two support beams in her hands. "Get me out of here!" No need to fake distress, she was pretty sure she was about to be flattened into a very unappetizing pancake. Still no audible sounds from outside, she could only hope the so-called 'rescue party' had done their job in stirring the military into getting their armor clad butts over here.


The ground rumbled with more force than could be attributed to the explosion Roy had heard earlier, and before he could brace himself, it intensified further. He heard Armstrong's offer of support too late, felt his feet scrabble against the trembling ground for balance, then he landed on his back, his right arm bouncing off a wall that was sprouting more cracks as the ground beneath it rippled. A smirk tugged at the edges of his lips even as he clutched at his throbbing arm to keep it from getting jarred further. Any lingering doubts that this wasn't going to work evaporated as the ground continued to shake beneath him.

"Sir!" Armstrong's voice caught the attention of Riza and Jean and they abandoned their posts to pick their way towards the array, steadying themselves along the building's walls. Roy struggled to right himself, paused when he realized he wouldn't reposition himself in time, and caught the larger alchemist's gaze.

With a pang of regret that still didn't overshadow the feeling of rightness, Roy yelled over the ever-strengthening chaos, "You've got to open it!"

"Yes, sir," Armstrong replied, immediately dropping to one knee.

"Not yet!" Roy ordered before the man's hands had reached the circle. "Wait for it..."

"Wait for what?!" Jean hollered just to be heard as he and Riza arrived simultaneously on either side of Roy. "We need to get out of here!"

"Hold on..."

"Don't be an ass," Riza yelled, tugging at his good shoulder with all the strength she dared to keep them both from toppling over.

"I'm not--" Roy stopped mid-protest and closed his eye. The alley and the array, Alex, Riza and Jean, even the trembling ground seemed to fade away. He felt more than saw the Elrics -- they were so close -- Ed's watch dug into his thigh, and a suffocating curtain of dread, of imminent danger for the boys, dropped over him.



Central Oklahoma

"Wrong place?!" Ed shouted, more to be heard over the rumbling of the ground and the mayhem of the agents. "What the hell do you mean? I thought we'd pinpointed it."

Al lurched to his feet, helping his brother up, and as he stumbled past, grabbed Ducky by the arm with his other hand. "It's not like finding a Gate is an exact science, Brother. We're close, just off by a little bit."

The earth chose that moment to become quiet and the three young men found themselves quickly surrounded by goons with guns trained on them. A brief glance past the shoulder of the agent directly in front of Al gave him a view of Reilly about to leap from the side-door of the van, but Tom and Hughes each grasped a shoulder to hold her back -- not that she could have gone anywhere; half the feds were pointing weapons at them, as well. He heard the hammer of a gun being cocked with a resounding click, and he, Ed and Ducky all raised their hands. Al's gaze slid to his left, meeting the hardened gold of his brother's, then came forward -- once again past the agent in front of him -- and locked onto the stares of both Hughes and Tom. He saw the subtle shift in both of them, and knew they were reading everything just as he was.

The raven settled quietly on the roof of the Ninjavan, ruffled his feathers once, then became perfectly still.

A woman in a dark suit, with a pale, flawless complexion and even lighter blonde hair came around the van. "I think it's time to stop this foolishness," she said. "You're not going anywhere, but back to headquarters with us." She stopped just outside the ring of agents and centered her attention directly on Ed. "You're well and thoroughly caught." Gesturing behind her, she added, "If you don't want your friends to be disposed of, I'd advise you two boys to cooperate."


Rush Valley, Amestris

The moment Armstrong's hands touched the edge of the chalk line, the rumbling ceased and the array flared to life. "Yes," Roy breathed, watching the pale yellow light illuminate the alley as it expanded to fill every last arc and rune. He allowed Riza to help him up without looking away.

Behind him, Jean whistled low. "Boss, I really think we should consider relocating..."

Roy dragged his attention away from the array and followed Jean's gaze up. The cracks in the alley's buildings had widened considerably, and even he had to admit that some areas looked decidedly unstable.

"Sir," Armstrong questioned from his spot on the ground, "is this... I don't know what...."

"You're doing fine, just keep the connection open," Roy assured him, though he could see the doubt hiding beneath the faint twitch of mustache. He refrained from acknowledging what Alex was offering. If he had to -- if the other alchemist couldn't hold it alone, he'd risk it. For Ed and Al's sake -- even for Winry's -- he'd try and join an active transmutation being held by a man that he respected but had never even tried sharing an array with. It wasn't the sort of thing one did lightly. Honing the ability to perform alchemy in the first place took such a solitary, personal investment; joint transmutations were usually saved for teaching purposes in only the earliest parts of a student's training. Finding two alchemists who were both temperamentally compatible and strong enough to support each other in a single successful transmutation at any level of complexity... well, the Amestrian military would have found a way to make shared arrays part of the State Alchemist's job, if it weren't for the demonstrated risks. Roy had no desire to spend the rest of his life a drooling vegetable.

He shook his head once, "Too late for that now."

"But how will I know that it's working?"

As if waiting for Armstrong's cue, a faint tremor shuddered underfoot, much gentler than the previous onslaught. They waited for it to die out, but it remained, and slowly began strengthening...


Central Oklahoma

Al felt more than saw Ed's weight shift, just a fraction. His brother said nothing, and made no move beyond the slight brush of his automail hand across Al's, which told him Ed was ready for a real fight. Those who didn't know Ed very well were intimidated by his tendency to scream and pound on whatever was handy when frustrated -- but Ed wasn't actually dangerous as long as he was still yelling. It's the silence you have to fear, Izumi had taught them. Animal and man alike stalk and kill in silence.

Al didn't need to fake his trepidation -- if anyone moved just wrong, this could end horribly -- and he hoped that the woman in front of him read his grasping of Ed's sleeve and Ducky's arm as an instinctive move toward comfort. Al was, after all, the youngest among them. With a defeated sigh, he sagged, pulling on Ed's sleeve a little before letting go, and tightening on Ducky's arm. Okay, Brother. No rules.

Then the ground started to tremble again, and all hell broke loose.

Al dug his fingers into Ducky's bicep, twisted, and threw the squawking hacker into the nearest agent, hurling both to the dirt in a tangle of arms and legs. He continued his turn, using his left leg as a counterweight, and slammed it into the weapon hand of the agent who was still watching Ducky scuffle in the dirt. Al heard the crunch of bone and figured at least two fingers were broken, but he had no more time to contemplate it as two more agents came at him from opposite directions.


At the same second Al threw Ducky, Ed launched himself forward and delivered a right-handed jab with a metal fist. The shock of impact stung hard in Ed's shoulder, but the punch shattered the agent's face shield and crushed the nose behind it. The sound of breaking bone and the cries of the agents weren't something Ed enjoyed, but these bullies had forced him and his brother into a corner. Ed threw a kick that broke a breastbone and sent a man down, probably with a punctured lung, then snapped his body aside and used the oncoming attacker's momentum against him, slamming him into the heavy rear doors of the van. "You guys want to fight? All right, I'll show you how we fight where I come from!"


Al heard the hiss of air before he caught the glint of edged steel. Maes Hughes' green eyes shone cold and hard for an instant, then he was gone as Al reflexively twisted and caught a charging man with a knee in the stomach. He heard the sound of metal buckling as he spun, glimpsed Tom slamming someone against the vehicle with enough force to dent the side, then wrench the agent's arm back hard enough to tear ligaments and tendons. Al twisted and jammed the fingers of his right hand into the exposed throat of a body lunging at him, gun lost who-knew-where, claw-like hands poised to grab. The agent lurched back, stunned, coughing and gasping for breath in a panic as he stumbled onto Ducky. The hacker, who'd just disentangled himself from the first agent, yelped and went down again.

Ducky shoved the dead-weight off and glared at Al, who had just enough time to shrug a half-hearted apology. Then Ducky's eyes widened and gave Al just enough warning to skip aside as a gun fired and the bullet rang off the van's dented side. Edward, his face contorted in a feral snarl, came down on the shooter's shoulders an instant later, and Al knew with a sick certainty that the man was dead before he hit the ground.


Reilly heard a high squeak as another man with a gun charged the driver's door of the van, and belatedly realized that she'd been the one to utter it. Someone moved into the gunman's path, shoved a fist in his gut -- and he fell, stumbling against the door. Hughes pulled the blade clenched between his fingers out of the man's body, took a step forward and slammed the bloodied blade into someone else. Not five feet away, Al -- gentle, sweet Alphonse -- kicked a masked man in the face and calmly turned, catching another man by the arm and throwing him down. The younger Elric dropped to a knee for a second, punched the downed man in the throat, then bounced up in time to catch his brother's right foot at just the right instant to throw Edward into an acrobatic move that left an afterimage on Reilly's retinas of flying blond hair hanging upside down well above the level of the van's roof. Tom lurched into view, and the hold he had on his enemy-- Reilly heard a shriek -- again her own. Tom glanced at the van, and frowned. His mouth opened, and Reilly wasn't sure whether she heard him or just read his face. Either way, the words were "Get down girl!" Some part of her realized that that was a very good idea.


The ground continued its muted rumble as the five men stood in a loose circle amid black-clad bodies: panting, bruised, scraped, battered and splattered with blood -- some their own, most of it not -- with the blonde agent in the middle. Her cool exterior had melted to reveal a terrified, bewildered human woman. To her credit, she kept trying to bring the world back under her control. She aimed her gun with shaking hands at first one, then another of the men surrounding her. She pivoted around and pointed her gun at Ed. "Y-you're coming with me."

"I don't think so," Ed said, evenly.

Hughes took a step, and she twisted, the gun targeting him. "Stay back!" Keeping Hughes in her gaze, she snapped her left arm out to the side, at Ed once again. "Another step and I'll kill him right here."

"I thought your orders were to take us alive," Ed said. His voice was low, and dangerously level.

She glared at him, then. "They are. But you're far too dangerous." She cocked the hammer back on the gun. "My primary objective is the safety and protection of this country." She steadied a little, and wiped at the sweat rolling into her eyes with her free hand. "You're not even entirely human. I don't know what you are or where you came from, but..." She trailed off, searching for something that made sense, something that would fit. "I-I can't take the risk."

She was focused on Ed, and neither Al nor Hughes had given her the least cue -- so the tap on her shoulder startled her and she spun -- only to be met with the full force of Ducky's fist. The gun hit the ground as her eyes rolled up and she landed with a soft thump in the dirt. The fierce anger on the normally good-natured hacker's face brought the Elric legacy into sharp relief, as he leaned over the dazed woman and ground out, "No one messes with my family... bitch."

The van's engine roared to life, startling the raven. Hughes and Tom dove in through the side door when Reilly kicked it into gear and spun the tires. One agent had managed to get to his feet -- one arm hanging limply at his side, the other stretched out and pointing a gun at the windshield -- only to be clipped by the corner of the van as Reilly aimed it at the array. She didn't stop as first Ed, then Ducky dove in -- even sped up as Al leapt inside. She never braked as she spun the wheel, fishtailed, and charged through the trees, wrestling the wheel to keep control in the wild woods and uncertain terrain that shifted and bucked with the quaking.

"Where the hell are you going, ya old hag?!" Ed screamed as she mowed down rangy bushes and tall weeds, barely avoiding a tree that was right in the path. "We've got to get to the Gate!"

She barely glanced into the rear-view mirror and asked, "Al, was he hit in the head out there?"

"No, but he's seen the business end of a wrench more than once," Al said as he yanked his brother down into the back seat, aided by the rough terrain. When Ed started to sputter, Al calmly said, "Just shut up for a minute Ed, and let me play. Miss Reilly knows where to go."

Dawn broke across Ed's flushed face, and Al saw him remember that Reilly could 'feel' the Gates.

"Oh. Oh yeah." Ed lurched back up and hung over the back of the seat in front of him, over Ducky's shoulder. Hughes grabbed his right shoulder to push him back, and Ed actually gave a little, his face going white. Still, with the fight over, he reverted to normal and harangued Reilly. "You crazy old bat! Why the fuck didn't you say something earlier?!"

"My theories are bullshit, remember?" Reilly responded through her teeth. She drove with hands clamped like vises to the wheel.

"Just sit down, Ed," Hughes told him, shifting his grip and pulling him back. Ed let out what might have been a huff of impatience, had it not been for the tensing of his back and shoulders.

The van hit a bump that threw it into a moment's free flight, then slammed it back down into the underbrush with a jarring crunch that yanked him up into the roof, then threw him back into his seat next to his brother. Al snickered and said, "See? Even the earth wants you to sit down, Brother."

Ed scowled and rubbed his head, then pointed at the flute in Al's hand. "Just play, already."

Al giggled again, took a deep breath, then began. This time, the music came effortlessly as the notes wove through the fabric of reality, stitching a tapestry that reached somewhere deep into the incorporeal realm of otherwhere.

Answering his call, the tremors increased and the forest was instantly alight with a warm yellow glow. Reilly spun the wheel violently, nearly tipping the van over and tossing most of the passengers around like salad greens as she fought to keep the vehicle upright in the increasing temblors and headed for the source of the light. The tune Al played warbled and only briefly hesitated as he fell into his brother, but nothing could yank him from the thrall of the music that spoke to the Gate.


Rush Valley, Amestris

"Do you hear that?" Roy asked.

"The rumbling, yeah," Jean replied with a snort. "Kinda feel it, too--"

"No... the music," Roy exhaled, bringing stares from Jean and Riza as they came to the realization, not for the first time, that their superior tended to pick the worst moments to go insane.

And with a sickening crack that everyone did hear, the buildings around them began to fall.

Roy didn't think; he moved. Across the array, Armstrong did the same. Dropping down to his knees and ignoring his protesting right arm, Roy slammed his hands on the chalk line at the precise moment Armstrong released his own hold. Amidst the rush of energy that coursed through his system and whipped at his hair, he saw Strong Arm stand with a fluid motion born from a lifetime of practice, one hand dipping into a pocket to emerge encased in a metal gauntlet.

As Alex rammed his fist into the closest wall in an attempt to protect them from the falling debris, Roy had an instant to worry about two powerful transmutations in the same place at the same time. The thought was quickly forgotten as he struggled to rein in the energy surging through the array. It had destabilized in that instant of changeover... no, it hadn't, Roy realized as he fought to bring the sheer power under control. It hadn't destabilized; it had just grown exponentially stronger.

The ground outside the circle cracked and heaved, and Roy took one last glance around before closing his eye to all visual distractions. His last image before completely surrendering to the force of the transmutation was that of a ring of columns Armstrong had created to reinforce the buildings. They all bore a striking resemblance to their creator, straight down to the bald scalp and chiseled (literally) physique.

Well, Roy thought, allowing himself a moment of amusement, at least we don't have to decorate for the homecoming party.


Central Oklahoma

"Ohshitohshitohshit!" Reilly shrieked, as the Ninjavan burst out of the woods into a clearing. She planted both feet on the brakes to bring the vehicle to a skidding stop amid complaints from the jostled passengers, then stared gape-jawed up through the windshield as a vary large shadow passed overhead.

"Damn," Tom muttered, craning his neck to gaze after what had caused the shadow, and both Hughes and Ducky were up, leaning over the front seats, following suit.

Ed left Al playing as he squeezed between the center seats and irritably elbowed his way through the press of bodies in the tight space, practically crawling up on the doghouse to see what the fuss was all about. "This isn't the time to be sight--" His protest died on his lips as he saw the helicopter hovering overhead -- just out of range of a golden whirlwind whipping the trees in front of them. "Don't these idiots know when to give up?" he asked no one in particular. As he watched the helicopter clawing for position above, he pointed forward and said, "So just go! They can't stop us now."

"Go... where?" Reilly stammered, staring straight ahead.

Ed levered himself up more and leaned forward. That was when he saw it. "Goddammit!" he exploded as he pounded his metal fist into the dash, cracking it in the process. Reilly had stopped barely in time to avoid launching the Ninjavan over the edge of a ravine that looked to be about 50 feet deep and at least twice as wide. And hovering horizontally within that vast empty space, was the Gate.

They saw the muzzle flash from the chopper just before they heard the report and ducked simultaneously as bullets peppered the ground around them and the roof of the van. Armor piercing rounds tore through the sheet metal, sending flakes of paint and fluff swirling into the already-battered interior. Reilly slammed the shifter into reverse and floored the gas, backing the van into the uncertain safety of the trees. Panicked and unable to see out the back, she yanked the wheel, and swerved into an enormous old oak with a deafening crunch and screech of metal. The tinkling of broken glass punctuated the silence.

Al's music had stopped.

Rush Valley, Amestris

A violent concussion heaved through the earth, threatening the swaying buildings. Nervous eyes rolled upward to scan the rocking structures. Armstrong's statuesque reinforcements seemed to be doing their jobs however, and the giant alchemist grunted in satisfaction as another tremor nearly threw him sprawling but didn't disturb his handiwork.

Nearly lost in the maelstrom of light and wind, Mustang crouched, sweat beading across his forehead as he battled to hold the roaring energies from exploding out uncontrolled. Even so, bursts of purple lightning and static discharge rocketed from the epicenter -- impacting against concrete facades and showering the plaza with rubble.

Three soldiers running toward the explosion at the edge of town skidded to a stop as they passed the mouth of the alleyway and gaped at the chaos within. In spite of the obvious danger, the soldiers had edged closer, drawn by the mesmerizing whirl of color and light. "Get back!" Alex bellowed as he caught sight of them, his voice harsh in the dust-filled air. At Armstrong's warning, the men retreated.

Turning back to the storm of power, Alex had no time to dodge as a finger of electricity whipped from the core and licked down his arm in a body shuddering surge. Teeth clamping, his limbs jerked before a force like a giant hammer smashed into his chest and drove him into the base of one hastily built statue.

The wind howled and drove the sand into a furious grinding whirlwind as Alex Louis Armstrong, Strongarm Alchemist and scion of one of Amestris' few remaining noble families, slid down the granite surface of a statue and shaded his eyes with one thick arm. His eyes picked out a huddled mass that might have been Havoc and Hawkeye, crouched and clinging to each other in animal, unreasoning terror.

No matter how he strained his eyes, he could not see any sign of Roy Mustang.

Up above, a pinpoint of shadowed light steadily began to grow.

Then another quake struck, and with a horrendous deep CRACK, the stone behind him began to move.


Central Oklahoma


Reilly heard Ed's horrified cry from a long tunnel, and felt herself being pressed back against a soft surface. Warm hands brushed her hair from her face and she blinked. Something was in her eyes and her head hurt, but she couldn't comprehend why. And then she remembered: helicopters... a rain of bullets... trying to get out of the line of fire. She jerked upright, or tried.

"Easy, easy!" Tom's soothing voice broke through her panic. "You got yourself a nasty bump on the head, girl."

"Al!" she heard Ed choke somewhere behind her. "Al, talk to me, please? Wake up, dammit."

Reilly blinked again and was able to focus on Tom with one eye closed. "Wha...?"

Tom glanced up, past her right shoulder, and she could hear Ed fretting somewhere behind her. "So now what?" he asked.

Reilly gazed out through the windshield, at the burnished glow of the Gate in the ravine. Was the light growing dimmer?

"Whaddaya think, Tom? We gotta jump it, and we'd better do it quick," Ed snapped.

Reilly shook her head. "There's no way we can--"

"I can do it," Ducky said solemnly.

Reilly twisted around in her seat, the very idea shocking her system back into full awareness. "Are you nuts? We'll be killed!"

Maes Hughes had been crouching in the space between the middle seats, examining Al. Without turning, he said gravely, "We're all dead if we stay."

The ground rumbled and bucked, and they heard a loud crack and groan of the van-wrapped tree giving warning. "Whatever we're gonna do, we'd better do it now!" Ed shouted.

Ducky's hand came down on Reilly's shoulder as trembling fingers gripped it in an attempt at comfort. "I can do it. Trust me."

Reilly swallowed, then nodded. With help from Tom, she relinquished the driver's seat to the hacker. She settled into the middle seat as Tom took the one next to her. Ducky was without a co-pilot, as Maes shifted and wedged himself against the street-side wall of the van and wrapped around Ed, who cradled his unconscious brother in his arms.

Ducky pulled a pair of cheap sunglasses from his shirt pocket and slipped them on. "It's 106 miles to Chicago," he said, shakily, as he turned the key to restart the van. Unfortunately, the engine merely whined and didn't catch. "We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes," he continued as he tried again -- and again, the motor complained, but didn't come to life.

Tom peered through the window next to him, and said, "Uh, Ducks? Think you can just get this thing going?"

"I'm working on it! I'm working on it!"

"Now would be a good time," Tom insisted.

And that was when Reilly heard it... the sound of something breaking through the trees. Like some pissed-off, lumbering olive drab beast, the military-issue Hummer, complete with a wedged blade attached to the front, tore its way through, shouldering saplings to the ground and snapping bigger trees at the base. Then it burst onto clear terrain and it sped up, snarling as it charged for them. Tom leaned over and wrapped his arms around Reilly's head, blocking the view of her oncoming demise.

Then he fell on top of her in a screech of stressed and torn metal as the van teetered precariously on two wheels, tumbling both of them to the floor. Reilly held on to him for dear life as the van screamed and protested and fell back onto four tires -- and through the space between his side and arm, Reilly could see the side door shudder and buckle back as the Hummer reversed, readying for another run at them.

"Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail us now!" Ducky yelled over the din, and suddenly she could hear the strain of the Ninjavan's motor as he floored the accelerator, but the vehicle only spun its tires -- the back bumper was still wrapped around the tree.

...And the Hummer made another run at them, slamming into them, tilting them again. The impact broke hinges weakened from the wreck into the tree, but didn't succeed in flipping the van over. As the big green monster backed-up once more, Ducky crowed and the van lurched forward, leaving the back doors behind with an agonized scream that seemed almost alive, along with the bench and bits of litter and detritus. Then the tires grabbed, the Ninjavan gathered speed and barreled toward the rapidly dimming light of the portal.

Dimming... fading... disappearing so fast without Al able to play and keep the Gate open. Reilly knew they'd never make it. They'd plunge over the side into the abyss and that would be the end of it. She squeezed her eyes shut, tears escaping as she clung to the man who was more father to her than her own, and wondered if it was going to hurt when she died.


Rush Valley, Amestris

He was waiting. Earth and air and power surged around him, rasped in his tortured lungs and burned every nerve in his body. But he had to outlast it, to fight the storm and the raging earth, for just a little longer. They were close, their closeness was all that mattered. They were coming home, and he would be waiting to greet them. Just a little longer.

Alchemic fire ripped up his spine, and he knew he didn't have much time.


Central Oklahoma

No one spoke, which was just fine with Ducky, since he really didn't need a distraction as he concentrated on fighting his self-preservation instinct. He'd spared a glance over his shoulder when the van tore free of the tree, noticing that the box he'd welded to the floor at Redfeather's was the only thing that remained at the back -- the doors, the seat and any loose objects were gone. Hughes was wrapped around the Elric brothers, Ed holding Al tight against his chest. Reilly and Tom had wedged themselves between the remaining captain's chairs and the front seats, clinging to each other. They were all together, at least. With that, Ducky clenched his fingers around the wheel and kept his view straight ahead.

The engine complained, the ruined and loose side door rattled and banged against its twisted latch, the wind whistled through the bullet holes that had turned his cherished mechanical friend into Swiss cheese, and the helicopter tore at the air overhead. In the eerie timestretch of adrenaline-fueled clarity, Ducky wondered why the chopper wasn't firing on them, and why that monster Hummer wasn't giving chase, but the edge of the ravine was approaching, and that whirling, spinning light coming from the Gate floating in space was dimming from bright yellow-white, to gold, to orange, as the maelstrom in the center grew smaller and smaller, and he tried to push the accelerator down more, but it was already pressed against the floorboard and wasn't going any further. Ducky forced his eyes forward, refusing to glance down at the speedometer, because he feared if he did, he'd realize the van just wasn't going fast enough to make the jump and he'd chicken out.

Then with a stomach turning lurch, the tires lost the ground. The engine grumbled and hesitated and revved, then the van nosed over into a dive. The last thing Ducky saw before his eyes slammed shut was a blur of black feathers and claws as the raven batted his window, then dove into the rapidly constricting portal.

The End...?

--Creative Credits--

This project would not have been the huge amount of awesomeness that it was without the help of -several- people. Some are still active in the group, others have moved on, and still others are semi-active in a different capacity than before. All-in-all, this was the greatest, funniest, silliest, most insane group of people I have ever had the privilege to lose my mind with. Thank goodness it's not really over! Please give kudos and cyber cookies to --

ladyamber (Writer, Who insisted that this was a good idea) -- aliasheist (Writer, Who's creation of the vilest bad guy ever caused a plot to be dropped in our laps) -- yaykim (The sneakiest Writer/Artist of twisted fluff ever) -- dragonnan (Artist/Writer, who is also indescribably and delightfully insane) -- nebroadwe (The Writer/Editrix who wielded the Red Pen o'DOOM) -- roaming_fool (Writer, and the occasional Voice of Sanity among the nuts) -- kashicat (Writer, and Goddess of the tear-jerker) -- mfelizandy (Writer, who came in on the tail-end of the project, but will be sticking around for more!).

And then me: fractured_chaos (Head Story Coordinator and Writer). I can only sit back in awe when I contemplate just how wonderful it has been to be a part of this project, and I cannot take credit for much, really. The wonderful ladies listed above were the backbone, the blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul of this.

And You, our treasured readers who stuck with us through the delays, the stalls, and the really strange twists and turns. I bow to you, too.

Thank you,

fractured_chaos aka, Lorrie Harris - January 20, 2009


"So there it ends, with a beat-up van plunging toward a collapsing Gate.

...or maybe not.

You didn't really think we'd just leave it like that, did you?

So far, there's been gunplay, alchemical explosions, doppelgangers, automail-related mayhem, computerized geekery, and the revelation of what Ed did while we weren't watching him.

We're now plotting Arc Two, "Balance of Power: Eden Gate". At the moment, we've scheduled more computerized geekery, some character cameos, more explosions, quite a bit of traveling, more mayhem, bad puns (those are mostly my fault), and some ripoffs of the Indiana Jones movies. Then things really start to get out of hand.

We've restructured and are going to be more organized about getting the next however-many chapters finished and posted. Again, we're going to keep this to mostly PG-13 with the occasional soft R scene (at least in the official story -- I make no promises about the crack-fic that will almost inevitably show up).

Where was I? Oh yes! We're also recruiting new writers. Qualifications include a high tolerance for deranged plots and fractured logic, willingness to take criticism and editing of your prose graciously (and the desire to return the favor), and an excellent command of English spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you want a taste of what you'd be letting yourself in for, come visit us at our message boards (http://fracturedchaos.proboards83.com/index.cgi?) , which are now open to the public. (Well, except for the parts that would give away too much about the plot!) Want to get our attention? Draft us your idea of how the Mustang/Hughes reunion will go! Write up the scene in 3000 words or less (I know, that's hard, but we have to set a limit somewhere), then email it as an RTF-formatted attachment to chaos.fractured@gmail.com. We'll pick the best entries and offer up to five authors a spot on the writing team. Deadline is March 1, 2009. Happy writing, folks!" -- mfelizandy

Oh, and if you want some idea of how convoluted things are going to get, go and check out Our Special Sneak Preview for "Balance of Power: Eden Gate"!


Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix. All Rights Reserved
Well, what else were we gonna do? We couldn't just unchain you and let you out of the basement, after all. You might tattle XD

***hugs*** And I'm so glad you stuck around, hon! You added so much depth to this project.