The Crimson Countess

Chapter 10 ‘Backup’s Arrival’

After it was decided that the group of teens would check the top floors, Hughes had gone to a lower section of the dormitories, almost immediately finding Hoffman along a couple other teenagers. As they insist in helping with the search for more stranded students, Hughes decided to continue the exploration a bit longer before returning.

“So, do any of you have ideas of where we could find anyone in hiding?”

“There’s an insulated room within the dormitories’ resting area,” Hoffman provided gaining curious looks. “Only a few know about it, but…”

“It’s worth a shot,” Hughes finished for him nodding in agreement.

“Lt. Colonel Hughes!” a new voice coming from the end of the hall made them stop on their track finding a group of military soldiers coming their way.

“Oh, Second Lt. Ross,” Hughes greeted the female officer as her group saluted him. “So the backup finally arrived. That’s great news!”

“We were order to find you and help you search the perimeters for any civilians, sir,” Sergeant Brosh explained.

“Just in time, men. We were about to search a particular interesting and probably dangerous place,” Hughes announced.

As they got into the resting area Hoffman had mentioned, they found it full of ghouls trying to break into the rest of the building. Taking positions, and keeping the students away from the area, the military took immediate action against the hostiles.

“Just as I suspected... “ Hughes commented as he took cover behind the wall separating him from the warzone, pulling out a set of knifes. “It seems that room has another entrance to the underground tunnels.”

“You mean like the one on the library?” Hoffman asked beside him. “That’s strange, we didn’t see any other way into that place when checking the prints…”

“You were with Ed when he went to explore the tunnels,” Hughes stated already guessing what the senior student meant. Receiving a nod of confirmation Hughes narrowed his eyes in thought. “It’s very likely that these other doorways were constructed after the original construction was finished, so they were never marked on the final prints,” he took a quick look at the starting battle before turning to the teens, ready to join in the chaos. “Stay put until it’s safe.”

The sounds of gunshots and overall battle lasted several minutes in which none of the teens managed the courage to take a look.

“W-What’s going on, Hoffman?” one of his friends asked him in fright.

“Why do you ask me?”

“You seem to be in tune with these guys, so…”

“... Even I don’t understand completely. Sorry, I cannot tell.”

Right below the rising chaos, the small group of students that Ed had helped escape found themselves walking through the underground tunnels with uncertainty and feeling completely lost.

“Where are we suppose to be going?”

“This path seems to be pretty straight forward, let’s just keep going a look for an exit.”

With no objections the group continued on their way in silence until one of them spoke up.

“I didn’t know the principal was so insane…”

“Yeah, who would have guess she was behind everything?”

“Does that make her a vampire?”

“Of course not, stupid.”

“Blecher is taking his time. Do you think he’ll be okay?”

“Pfft, who’s that?”

“What’s with you Fiedler? You’ve been babbling nonsense since we fell through the floor.”

“Maybe he hit his head.”

“Nonsense? No, you’re just as blind as a mole,” the teen retaliated ignoring the second comment. “I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out! Blecher is not his rea-”

“Ren...” Thomas waring voice stop Fiedler from continue on with his excited rambling.

“Come on, Thomas, you have notice it too, haven’t you?”

“What the hell are you two talking about?!” Lambert voiced with exasperation. “Spill it already!”

A few murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group caused Thomas to sigh in resignation as Fiedler happily obliged with the request.

“I’m talking about Ed of course,” he started.

“You mean the shrimp that knows alchemy?” Lambert asked. “What about him?”

Fiedler now looked exasperated. “Well that’s just it! How many people our age do you actually know that ca-?”

He cut himself short at a sudden metallic sound coming from ontop.

“W-What was that?” Lambert asked already stepping back.

As if to answer his question, a screeching sound filled the air before one of the chimeras fell in front of the group. Their faces paled in apprehension as they soon realized they had been surrounded by a bunch of them.

“What do we do?! What do we do?!”

“H-How long was Ed going to take, again?”

“Oh, man… we are dead… we are so dead…”

“Shut your filthy little mouths already!” the new voice coming from above made most of them gasp and turn, to find one of the administrative personnel looking down at them.

“I-Isn’t that Mr. Jansons?” Fiedler murmured in apprehension.

The rest of the group realized that indeed, the person talking to them was who Fiedler had mention, yet his appearance seemed to have some extra animalistic traits. Beside him, there was a woman with similar attributes that seemed to be as in control of herself as him in contrast to the more animal like chimeras growling at them.

“Oh, don’t be so rude with our guests. The Mistress just ordered us to keep them some company to make sure they don’t alert anyone.”

“I’m sorry Miss Joubert, I just don’t see why we can’t just get rid of them and get it over with.”

A few students gulped loudly at that.

“Why, it’s leverage of cou-” before she could finish her sentence, a well aimed knife to her thigh made her scream in pain and fall to the ground alerting her comrade of the approaching group of soldiers.

Knowing they were outnumbered, Jansons turned tail from the scene leaving the rest of the chimeras to deal with the newcomers.

“Take care of the creatures and protect the children!” the voice of a female officer ordered from the catwalk above the students as the MPs took position. Gunfires and painful growls already invading the place.

“We… we’re saved,” Lambert’s voice quivered before he collapsed on his butt with relief.

“Isn’t that Ed’s uncle?” Thomas commented as he caught sight of the man that was apprehending Joubert.

“Mr. Hughes!” Fiedler yelled at the man, getting his attention.

Turning down below at the sound of his name, Hughes found a few familiar faces within the group they were rescuing. “Hey, kids! Have you seen Ed?”

“He’s back there!” Fiedler informed him as he pointed behind him.

Hughes nodded in understanding before handing the arrested woman to one of the MPs. “Lt. Ross, Sergeant Brosh, you’re with me. The rest of you take the kids out of here and report back to Colonel Mustang!”

Ed’s knees buckled underneath him and he fell on his palms, feeling a painful pressure on his chest that made him choke. He lifted his head trying to fight against the energy that was still surrounding him, but only manage to look at Van Thorndike with defiant eyes.

“Such a feisty spirit,” she praised. “With such a lively soul, there’s no doubt you’re the key for the elixir’s creation.”

Ed growled at her in respond but his frown was replaced almost immediately by confusion as he felt fluid coming up his throat. Unable to contain it, he coughed violently retching the substance up. The metallic taste in his mouth made him turn to the floor only to feel a wave of dizziness at the sight of his own blood dripping from his mouth. He eyes widen in shock at as it started drifting along the symbols of the circle, slowly turning them red instead of white. He gasped in pain, feeling another strong heave pulling at his insides and he released a second puddle of blood that followed the same path than the first.

“Don’t try to resist it, dear. It will only make it worst for you,” the principal commented; her tone full of cynicism.

Ed tried to put his foggy mind to work through coughing fits and heaves. He suddenly understood. This was what had happened to the victims. The reason why their bodies were dry of their own blood. This was bad. This was really, really bad.

‘If I don’t do something, I’m going to die here!’ he thought in panic.

“So… you’re a girl…”

“Um… yes?”

“Brilliant observation, Jacobs. Any other obvious statement you wanna say to the lady?”

“Shut up! I’m just saying it’s weird to see a girl our age inside the institute.”

“What did you say your name was again?”

“I-I don’t think I have mentioned it…” even as she managed to smile politely, Winry was progressively looking more uncomfortable with the weird looks send her way.

“Stop your amateur flirting, she’s taken,” Klein’s sudden statement made Al feel extremely amused; in the other hand, Winry blushed with an incredulous expression.


“Aren’t you Blecher’s girlfriend?”

“What?! I-I… I’m not...!”

Al’s group had just found a few students hidden on the roof of the building and were on their way to the rendezvous point when a sudden jolt made Alphonse stop on his track with a gasp. Winry and Klain turned to look at him with questioning eyes.

“What is it, Al,” Winry asked him with concerned.

“I’m not sure what’s going on exactly, but something feels wrong,” he tried to explain. “I can’t shake the feeling that something happened to Brother.”

That only seemed to increment Winry’s apprehension as she tensed considerably. Klein frowned at the scene before adopting an indifferent facade.

“What a troublesome roommate,” he said gaining their attention. “Why is everyone worrying about him so much? He might be a shrimp, but he can handle his own.”

“That’s right, Al!” Winry agreed. “Besides, the Colonel said he was going to look for him.”

Al wasn’t convinced at all by their efforts but he still nodded deciding best to continue on their way.

Back with Mustang’s team, the situation was gradually getting undercontrol, as they had finally regrouped with Breda and the others. The backup had arrived within minutes, and the institute was already full of soldiers clearing the area and helping evacuate. Most of the undead have been taken care of and a few of the chimeras under Van Thorndike’s command had been apprehended. It wouldn’t take long before all the chaos was over.

“Sir, the students that had fallen through the broken floor had returned with only mild injuries,” Hawkeye reported.

“Good. Where’s Fullmetal?” Mustang asked turning to look at her.

“He didn’t come back with them, sir,” Hawkeye continued her report with a steel expression.

As said students were lead out of the place, Thomas couldn’t help listening in and approached them a bit apprehensive.

“Are you maybe talking about Ed?” he asked. Their shared look and mutual silence seemed to say it all. “That would actually explain a lot,” he said with a nervous chuckle.

“Do you know where he is?” Mustang finally asked.

“Ed helped us escape the basement, but it was collapsing after the Principal made the ceiling explode. He got trapped on the other side of the room, but said he was going to find a way around and catch up.”

Mustang nodded in acknowledgement and thanked him for the information.

“Lieutenant, call Havoc and Major Armstrong. We are going in.”

“Yes, sir.”

Way deep in the tunnels beneath them, Hughes’s team had yet to find their missing comrade, striding through the catwalk at a fast pace.

“I can’t help getting a strong feeling of dejavú,” Maria Ross commented with chagrin; flashbacks of the incident back in the fifth laboratory already running through her mind.

“I know what you mean, and this place is just as creepy,” Denny agreed.

Just as they passed across one of the several doors connected to the metallic pathway, Hughes stopped in his track at hearing a voice talking, he signal the other two to keep quiet and entered the new area cautiously, finding they had entered and observation room of sorts. The voice he had heard coming from somewhere below them near a metal balcony.

“My original plan was to keep you alive for studying. Coming across someone with your particular traits is a once in a lifetime opportunity, after all,” Van Thorndike’s voice was saying. “But seeing as how you and your little friends couldn’t stay ignorant, I had to change my plans.”

With eyes opened wide in shock, the three officer barely manage to contain the gasps already forming in their throats; Maria placing a hand over her mouth with a horrified expression.

There was an activated transmutation circle drawn on the room below, big enough to cover the whole area. Right in the middle of it, laid Ed on his palm and knees, coughing uncontrollably with a bloodstained hand over his mouth. Van Thorndike herself, stood on a platform a few meters above the ground with a satisfied smirk.

“S-Shut up al-ready, y-you psycho!” the pain on the young alchemist tone and his trembling body reflected the amount of effort it took him just to pronounce one syllable. “Y-You’re wasting your t-time,” he was barely able to say that last before he choked loudly and a river o blood rained down his hand.

“What do we do?” Denny whispered almost in panic getting a signal from Hughes to get in position to fire.

“How good are you at long distances shots?” Hughes asked them without taking his eyes from the woman below.

They shared a look before Maria answered. “With our handguns we might just give away our position, sir.”

Hughes thought as much, but they couldn’t waste any more time. “We’ll have to take the risk.”

Before they could act on it, though, another individual entered the scene.

“Miss Lysbeth! The military has taken control of the Institute and there are some people approaching!” a young man came in the room somehow managing to jump around the circle until he landed on the platform Van Thorndike was standing on.

“How near are they, Jansons?”

“At the rate they are advancing, less than a minute way.”

“That won’t do. Little Edward here still has a lot of blood left on his system,” Van Thorndike commented in total casualness, making the teen growl. “It’s a very risky method but we may have to accelerate the process,” following her words, she pulled out a gun from her waist and pointed it at Ed who looked at her with incredulity. “It’s truly a shame, Edward. If only you had behaved we could have avoided this entirely.”

Seeing her finger already on the trigger, Ed stopped breathing with his eye going as wide as dinner plates. This had to be a joke! There was no way out of this one! He was going to die! He let out a gasp at the sound of a gunshot ringing through the room; his eyes shutting close on instincts waiting for the new pain to flood his system. But as nothing came, he opened his eyes to find the loony woman clutching her bloody hand tightly with the smoking gun still on her grip. His sight travel around the image before him unable to understand what had happened, until it rested on a small knife pinned at Van Thorndike’s feet.

The woman let out a snarl of rage and turned her head away from him. “Jansons, on the balcony!”

The chimera beside her jumped at her command, transforming into a wolf in midair and propelling itself on the room’s wall to reach the observatory above them. Both Bross and Brosh took that as their cue to start fire against the beast, but it was too fast for them and it came barreling into the place with claws in the ready.

“Keep it busy!” Hughes yelled as he ducked to the side to avoid a slash to his stomach.

“Yes, sir!” Armstrong’s subordinates answered in unison, moving around the room and firing at the violent menace.

Trusting them to follow through, Hughes approached the balcony again just in time to see Ed’s limbs giving away in exhaustion causing him to collapse face down on the floor.

“Ed!” Hughes called at him in worry; the teen’s harsh breathing being the only indication that he was still alive. The man then turned to the mad woman with renewed fury. “Lower your gun and cease the alchemy reaction, Van Thorndike!”

“Mr. Hughes, I must admit I am truly surprised to see you here,” she said with a calm demeanor. “I’m sorry you got see your nephew like this. But fright not and take pride in knowing that he would be taking part in the creation of a legend!”

Hughes’ frown deepened at her cynical tone already preparing a new round of throwing knifes, only to find he had just one left. He had to make it count.

“Is that what you say to every parent that lost a child because of your senselessness?”

“None of the others were as special as Edward,” she retorted dismissively with an exaggerated flick of her hand. “By the way, Mr. Hughes, you should have said your goodbyes when you had the chance.”

Hughes understood too late the meaning of her hand movement just as a flying chimera came from the dark ceiling and rammed into him, pushing him all the way to the other side of the room and through the door where he fell on his back centimeters away from the catwalk’s edge.

A shout of alarm from Maria Ross sounded from within the room he had just been in, but the continued struggling noises showed the two lower ranking officers were still having their own troubles to handle to come and help.

With his last knife still in his hand, he used it to slash at the female birdlike beast causing it to back off with a cry of pain. That’s where the sound of turmoil coming from the level below the metal passageway finally caught his attention, finding Roy’s team and Major Armstrong fighting of a large group of chimeras. The colonel didn’t show any restrains using his flame alchemy this time, proving it to be very effective against the menaces.

“Roy!” Hughes yelled at him succeeding in getting his attention.

Mustang looked up in surprised, finding his best friend porting a very alarmed expression, and a bird chimera shrieking threateningly at the man.

“Lieutenant, hostile at seven o’clock!”

With a swift turn around and gun in the ready, Hawkeye nailed a shot on the beast’s stomach, sending it crashing to the ground below.

“Hughes! How did you get there?” Mustang yelled at him.

“There’s no time for chatting, Roy! Ed’s in the next room over! He needs help!” he informed the Colonel, pointing in the direction of the room.

Understanding the urgency of the matter, Mustang nodded and signaled his group to stand back before snapping his fingers and creating an explosive barrier of fire between the rest of the beasts and them.

“Let’s move!” he ordered as he ran towards the Ed’s location.

Upon arriving Mustang stopped in his track right in front of the transmutation circle, where his subordinate was sprawled facedown on the floor, literally choking on his own blood.

“Fullmetal!” he yelled in horrified concern already thinking of a way to stop the reaction. “Major, destroy the circle!”

“Yes, sir!”

Van Thorndike growled at them in defiance before pulling out an extra gun and pointing it at them; the first weapon still facing the teen on the ground.

“Don’t move!” she shouted. “I’ve come a long way for this. I won’t let you interfere now!”

Mustang glared at her with determination, lifting his hand ready to snap.

“I wonder what would be faster. Your bullets? Or my flames.”

“The Flame Alchemist?!” the woman grinded her teeth in apprehension at the sound of his cold voice, but didn’t relented her threat. “This is none of you business, you military scum!” she snarled.

“You made it my business when you decided to threaten my subordinate’s life.”

“Your subordinate?” Thorndike asked in utter disbelief. “This child?” an expression of sudden understanding washed over her features before she bursted out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Why, Colonel, I must thank you then,” she explained with mock gratitude. “He was exactly the person I was looking for and you sent him right into my arms.”

“K-Kick… her b-butt… al-r-ready…” Ed murmured in between coughs; his voice raspy and tired.

“Stop talking, Fullmetal. You’re wearing yourself out,” though part of him was glad the kid seemed to be lucid.

While this was happening, Hughes had returned to the observation room to find Second Lt. Ross pointing her gun at the wolf chimera, which had turned back to human and was lying on its stomach on the ground with Denny halfway through the work of restraining it with handcuffs.

The sound of alchemy energy accompanied with footsteps caught their attention, to the opened doorway to find a new set of stairs on the catwalk recently formed with what was easily distinguished as the Major’s artistic alchemy. Coming up said stairs, was Second Lt. Hawkeye, with a loaded rifle ready in hands. She walked past them and went straight to the balcony.

“I read your research’s journal,” Mustang was saying from below. “There was a mention of the usage of mercury on every single one of your experiments, but I failed to see it used here.”

“Well, Colonel, as a fellow alchemist you surely understand the evolution that any good research goes through…” Van Thorndike answered so enthralled on the conversation that she never noticed the missing company. “With this particular child, that substance won't be necessary.”

“What makes him so special?” Mustang asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Hmm… Edward didn’t seem to understand how unique his particular traits really were, either. You Amestrian alchemists should really get out of that bubble of self-centeredness that you live in and explore other countries’ possibilities…”

“We could look into those possibilities,” Mustang commented nonchalantly, as he stepped to his left, making Van Thorndike change positions as she tracked his movements. “But we are busy creating our own.”

Before anymore could be said, a shot resonated on the room and Van Thorndike fell to the ground with a bullet going through her left shoulder, causing her to cry out in surprised pain and letting go of her guns. Mustang’s distraction had paid off, giving time for Hawkeye to sneak around into position and fire.

“Havoc, apprehend that woman. Major, the circle!” Mustang barked.

Everyone was immediately moving. Armstrong hit the ground with all his might, causing an alchemy reaction that broke the floor all the way to the circle and cutting its activated energy off immediately.

“No! What have you done!?”

The hysterical cries of the woman were tuned out by Mustang, while he ran towards his youngest subordinate, who had stop heaving but was breathing harshly and looked very pale. His visible half-opened eye was dull and a trail of blood was still running down his mouth.

“Fullmetal, can you hear me?” asked Mustang turning him over to inspect for injuries. “Answer the question.”

“T-Took… y-your time… b-bastard.”

Mustang signed in relief. If the kid had enough in him to throw a jab at his superior, he wasn’t as badly injured as he thought.

By then, Havoc had handcuffed Thorndike and was already escorting her out of the room. Hawkeye was next to show up, exchanging a silent conversation with Mustang before turning away and following Havoc towards the exit. Armstrong stood idle,just behind Mustang after giving the order to his two officers to escort the principal’s accomplice to the surface.

That’s when Hughes finally caught up with them in time to see the group leave with their two criminals. He glared at Thorndike before running inside the room to join the ones left behind.

“Do you think you can stand?” Mustang was saying.

“I…” Ed tried to sit up, but a rush of dizziness caused him to fall back. “... Think not.”

“He lost too much blood,” Hughes observed, noting the stains that had form through the room.

“Sorry, kid, you’ll have to swallow your pride,” Mustang informed him before turning to Armstrong. “Major?”

Armstrong nodded in understanding and walk forward to lift Ed’s limp body off the ground and into his arms. The teen didn’t even protest, making Mustang rethink about his true medical state.

“Let’s hurry and take him out of here.”

By the time they were exiting the room, Ed’s consciousness was finally drifting away into blessing darkness.
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