Chapter 11 ‘Settling Bets’
The building that once was the proud foundation of the prestigious Institute of Central was now looking as chaotic as a war zone. The first thing Colonel Douglas noticed upon arrival, was the amount of medical care units parked in the area; all of them attending lines of loud students and teachers expressing different levels of concern and panic. Among them, Central troops were trying in vain to calm down the civilians.
With a frown of discontent towards the paperwork this would cause him, he continued on his stride to the building and turned his attention towards one of his approaching men.
“We have a few suspects detained along a few mindless chimeras, sir,” the soldier explained.
“Chimeras?” Douglas raised a doubtful eyebrow.
“Yes, sir. They seem to be… human chimeras. But only three of them have the human conscience necessary for interrogation. The rest of them are not responding positively to human understanding.”
That really took the cake. This whole situation was turning out to be a puzzling nightmare.
“Have you started the interrogations with the more responsive ones?” he asked as they enter the building.
“Yes. One of them have confessed to the abduction of the students’ bodies we had retrieved right after their decease,” the soldier continued his report. “Something about using them for further experiments and reinforcement of rumors about vampire attacks.”
Douglas’ eyebrow twitched in sudden annoyance. He was here to retrieve a kidnaper and murderer, not a bloodsucking monster coming out of a children’s book.
“And the undercover team?”
“We haven’t seen them yet, sir.”
Of course things were never easy… he had to wonder, not for the first time, why he was assigned to patch things up after someone else’s mess.
“I’m telling you! This is not a place for kids! Go out with the rest of your classmates.”
“But one of ours is still down there!”
“Yeah, we just want to make sure he’s okay!”
“We will take care of things. Just go and wait outside.”
“What’s going on here?” the argument taking place was loud enough to distract Douglas’ already frustrated thoughts. He stepped in, finding a bunch of brats surrounding one of the military officers in charge of guarding a crumbled doorway that led to a particularly spacious area in the building.
At the sound of his voice, everyone present turned his way, ceasing any complains that may have formed in their throats.
“Colonel Douglas, sir!” the guarding officer saluted. “These kids just came back from medical examination claiming that one of their friends is still inside.”
“Which is true! We haven’t hear anything from him yet!” one of the students exclaimed. “Don’t you think we have a right to know how he’s doing?”
“Ren, I think you’re pushing it a little,” another whispered.
Douglas could feel the beginnings of a rising headache coming. Resisting the urge of pinching the bridge of his nose, he stood straighter and addressed the obnoxious bunch.
“This is no place for civilians. Let the military do their job and stay put until everything is settled,” seeing their disagreeing expressions, he was fast to continue, before they could spill a new set of complains. “Be assured that the moment we have any news about your missing friend, you’ll be notified.”
The group of students looked doubtful, already losing the battle, but before anything could be decided, the noise of running footsteps just past the doorway caught their attention to another group of students descending the adjacent stairs, accompanied by a menacing looking man in armor; said menacing feeling vanishing almost instantly at the sound of the young voice coming from the metal protections.
“Lieutenant Breda!” he exclaimed, gaining the attention of the soldier in question. “We found these students on the upper floors and the rooftop.”
“Well done, Al. We’ll get them check for injuries,” Breda nodded at him.
“Have you hear anything about Ed yet?” the girl accompanying the group asked without missing a beat.
“Colonel Mustang and a few others went to his aid,” a tall Warrant Officer with grey hair informed them. “It shouldn’t be too long before they are back.”
“Hey, there’s Kein!” the Ren kid shouted dashing past the doorway and completely ignoring the protest of the guarding soldier; the rest of his group soon following.
Douglas had to fight to keep a professional expression.
“What should we do about them, sir?” his first lieutenant asked him.
“Just keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t mess with anything,” he finally ordered as he turned to leave. “I’ll go find the undercover team and ask them about the details of this whole fiasco.”
“Sir!” with everything said, the Lieutenant watch his commander go without complains, even if he didn’t look all too happy about his new assignment.
Back with the teenagers, Klein stepped back in disinterest as Al and Winry talked with the officers, deciding to take in the sight in front of him instead. He had never seen a warzone, but he was sure his surroundings were pretty close to looking like one. Pieces of debris and furniture, which nature could no longer be discerned, were scattered across the area. Several MP soldiers were busy covering up bodies of what he hoped were once undead ghouls, while other officers assessed the situation. He didn’t doubt the scene was almost exactly the same on several areas of the now ruined school.
“Hey, Klein!” the sudden voice got his attention to the approaching group, finding Fiedler at the lead.
“Oh, hey. Good to see you are all still alive,” he commented.
“Who’s the girl?” Fiedler asked in mocking amusement looking behind Klein.
“That’s Winry,” he answered, causing her and Al to turn their way at the sound of her name. “Blecher’s mechanic.”
“What? You haven’t figured it out either?” Fiedler asked in sudden disbelieve. “Come on people, it’s not so hard to see.”
“What are you talking about?” Klein asked him in confusion.
“Fiedler, you keep babbling and babbling but never explain what you mean,” one of his friends said in exasperation.
“Blecher is not his real name!” he finally shouted impatiently, but that just seemed to get the rest of the group even more confused.
“So Brother blew up his cover, huh?” Al commented in amusement.
“I’m just surprised he lasted this long,” Winry said next.
“Well, it was more of a connecting the dots kind of thing,” Thomas explained. “Ren here is a big fan, so it wasn’t that hard for him to figure it out.”
“Good, I’ll take that as not being Ed’s fault, so my wallet is still safe,” Breda said with a grin, causing Fuery and Falman to exchange amused looks.
“Why do I feel like I have been left out?” Klein complained.
“Welcome to the club,” another in the group commented.
A sudden commotion coming from the underground entrance in the room caught everyone’s attention in time to see Lieutenant Hawkeye coming in, followed by Lieutenant Havoc and a bloody struggling principal. Right behind them, Lieutenant Ross and Sergeant Brosh were dragging a similarly struggling administrative.
“Get your filthy hands off our mistress! You have no rights to treat her this way!” he shouted.
“Don’t you worry, Jansons. We’ll be released soon enough,” the Principal told him with an air of condescendence.
“I’m sorry to burst your bubble, lady,” Havoc interrupted, not really sounding sorry at all. “But with the amount of witnesses we have this time, both civilian and military, along with the fact that you threatened a military official’s life, you won’t be seeing the light of day any time soon.”
Lysbeth Van Thorndike was a proud woman, but even she paled at the implications. “My family will be hearing about this,” she spat in a last effort of avoiding her arrest.
“Hm, I’m sure they will,” Havoc mocked her.
“Sergeant Major Fuery, please request for the retrieving unit,” Hawkeye’s voice commanded as they strolled by. “Make sure someone check her shoulder.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Fuery nodded before doing as he was told without question.
“You there!” she pointed at one of the MPs near the group. “We need a medical team underground ASAP.”
“Ma’am!” the guy saluted and ran to get a team ready.
Both Al and Winry scanned the general area from where they had come, expecting to see the rest of the squad walking behind them. Al stepped up about to ask where they were, but Breda’s sudden question stopped him.
“Is everyone else okay?”
Hawkeye turned to look at the group of teens for a moment before addressing the question.
“For the most part. Though Edward needs medical attention.”
As soon as those words left her mouth, Al and Winry were already sprinting behind the medical team that had left a few seconds before.
The first thing his numbed mind managed to register as he fought to pull through his confusion state, was the harsh and cold ground underneath him. He was already wondering why he was sleeping on the floor when a variation of both familiar and unknown voices reached his ears; the rush and urgency in their tone, already alerting him of something not being right.
“Colonel! What happened?!”
Was that Al? Why did he sound so far away?
“Stay calm, Alphonse,” the Colonel’s commanding voice sounded annoyingly near in comparison. “What’s the status?”
“He does not present any physical injury that would require immediate attention,” a stranger’s voice reported.
“Hudson, how are his vitals?”
“Symptoms show severe blood loss. His condition is stable, but fluid resuscitation is recommended.”
“Do we have any intravenous fluids left?”
“Yes, we have enough Lactated Ringer’s solution.”
Lacta-what? That sounded disgustingly close to the lacteal products he despised so much.
“If you’re t’lking ‘bout milk, I don’t w’nt an’thing to do with it,” he slurred almost incoherently, finally managing to open his eyes, only to find blurry figures instead of people.
“Welcome back to the living, kiddo,” Hughes voice greeted him.
“Ed! Ho-How are you feeling?”
Even in his weakened state, he could distinguish Winry’s voice cracking. She sounded scared, even if her tone was washed with relief at seeing him awake. Crap. He made her cry. Frowning to himself, he made an effort to sit up only to be stopped by a firm grasp on his shoulders.
“Major Elric, please stay on the ground. You are in no condition to stand,” one of what he now guessed was a medical officer requested.
“‘m fine,” he tried to protest, but the hands didn’t budge.
“Edward Elric, do listen to these fine officers,” Armstrong’s voice boomed just over his head. “They are well trained on medical procedures.”
Oh, that explained the inhuman strength of his improvised restrains.
“Please stay still while we inject the solution.”
“Huh?” Okay, time to go. “I’m fine, seriously. I don’t need any injections.”
“Oh! What’s this? Do I sense a wave of fear coming from my subordinate?” Mustang’s smug voice got his attention, just as his sight improved enough to see that damn smirk plastered on the Colonel’s face. “I didn’t know you were afraid of small needles, Fullmetal.”
“Shut up, bastard! Who are you calling small?!” Ed suddenly felt his face warming up in embarrassment.
“Colonel, please stop upsetting the patient,” one of the officers on the medical unit requested almost pleadingly.
“Sorry, force of habit,” he apologized to the woman even though he was still smiling.
“Keep him still, Major.”
“W-Wait, wait, wait! You don’t need to-!”
“Brother, stop struggling. It will be over before you know it,” Al reproached him with a sigh.
“Al, you know those things and my skin do not sit well together! Why aren’t you trying to stop them!?”
“Edward, stop being such a baby,” Winry reprimanded next, before smiling mischievously. “Things like this are why your body doesn’t acknowledge your age in terms of your height.”
He was never given a chance to voice his retorting rant.
A horrified, bone chilling scream coming from underground left the impatient students thinking the worst. They had been stopped from following after Winry and Al by the military officers accompanying them, who reassured them that things were going to be fine, and asked them to please wait patiently for the rest of the team to return.
“That sounded like the chief,” Lieutenant Breda, as they got to know him, commented with serious casualness.
“I wonder what trouble Ed got into this time,” Sergeant Fuery murmured, sounding a bit more nervous than his partner.
“Knowing him, something big,” Breda said. “But nothing he can’t handle.”
“Are you saying he gets in trouble with the military often enough to be known?” Klein asked with a frown of confusion.
Breda smirked. “I guess you could say that.”
Fiedler snorted loudly at the answer causing a few eyes to turn his way.
“So... Tell us what’s so obvious that you can’t believe us blind mortals can’t see.”
“What’s the point? Everytime I try it, I get interrupted,” Fiedler answered with deflated enthusiasm. As if summoned by his words, Colonel Douglas and two of his men approached the group. “See?”
“Lieutenant Breda, correct?”
“Yes sir,” Breda confirmed, standing up and saluting.
“Is there anything to report regarding Colonel Mustang’s and the undercover team’s return?”
“Nothing yet, sir.”
Douglas made an impatient grimace at the lack of knowledge he was getting before breathing deeply.
“I assume the interrogation with the principal didn’t go smoothly,” Breda ventured.
“She used her injury as a pretext to avoid interrogation,” Douglas explained in clear irritation. “The only way to push the investigation forward for now is through the reports of the ones involved on the mission.”
“Colonel Douglas!” one of the MP soldiers came up to him and saluted. “One of the scouting squads had come back from the south entrance to the tunnels.”
“Anything relevant to report?”
“About twenty cages with a variety of both domestic and wild animals were found in deplorable conditions, sir.”
Douglas frowned in disapproval to the news before turning back to Breda. “Let me know if your Colonel shows up before I’m back.”
As they watched the Colonel and his subordinates leave, the group fell back in silence, resuming their task of waiting for the rest of the team to show up. Thankfully, they didn’t have to wait too long before they heard the first signs of someone approaching. As soon as the first familiar face showed up from the dark underground doorway, the students looked up in anticipation.
Breda, Fuery, and Falman, -whose impression of a flower on the wall was as flawless as ever-, stood straighter and saluted at their oncoming superior.
“Welcome back, Boss,” Breda said.
“How’s Ed?” Fuery was fast to ask.
Mustang only smirked at them before moving to the side to let the rest of his company pass. “Why don’t you ask him directly?”
“Seriously, this is ridiculously reckless,” one of the medical unit members was saying in irritation, causing a good-natured looking Hughes to straight out laugh.
“Don’t worry; we’ll keep an eye on him.”
“We’ll let you know if anything happens,” Al reassured the man next.
As the medical team took their leave, they finally noticed the pair of teenagers coming from the back of the group; Major Armstrong following them close behind.
“I told you I can walk on my own, Winry,” Ed was complaining, having his childhood friend grabbing his left arm over her shoulders to offer him support.
“Yeah, as you clearly demonstrated back there when you tried to stand,” she retorted.
“That was then, now I feel fi-!” a wave of what looked like sudden dizziness cut his sentence short before he regained his balance.
“You were saying?”
He turned away in clear embarrassment. “Stupid gearhead…”
Unable to contain their excitement, the group of students stood up and rushed towards the pair with a stream of thrilled words and phrases expressing their relief, throwing questions left and right at a rate that made it impossible for Ed to discern them individually.
“Colonel Mustang,” Douglas voice cut their one-sided conversation short, gaining everyone’s attention. “I have orders from the Higher Ups to wrap things up sooner rather than later. The public is already questioning what the ruckus is all about.”
“I understand the urgency, Colonel Douglas,” Mustang nodded in agreement, already walking ahead and gaining a few curious glances from the students who recognized him as their laidback chemical substances teacher. “Lieutenant Breda, you’re still in charge while I’m gone.”
“Lt. Colonel Hughes, it will be best if you, Major Armstrong, and Major Elric accompany us and report your findings,” Douglas continued while looking at each of them as he named them.
“Does it really have to be now?” Ed complained in exhaustion causing the curious looks to be redirected at him.
“Deal with it, Fullmetal. The sooner we are done with this, the sooner you can go back to your own research,” Mustang told him.
Ed sobered up immediately at that, and stepped away from Winry with an exasperated sigh. “Fine, fine, I’m coming.”
As the three undercover officers walked past the group, they failed to notice the variation of shocked and bewildered faces sent their way.
“You know what would get your energy back?”
“I don’t want to see any pictures of your wife or daughter, Lt. Colonel Hughes.”
“Ack! You went back to address me formally! Why are you so cold, Ed?!”
The moment they disappeared from sight, the tense silence that was left behind was broken in a cacophony of confused yet excited voices.
“What the heck just happened?!”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but they just called Ed Fullmetal.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! He is Edward Elric!” Fiedler said.
“H-Hold on a minute! Does that mean Ble-I mean, Ed is part of the military?!”
“Well he’s not called a State Alchemist for nothing…” Thomas helpfully supplied.
“Are you saying we’ve been talking to a living legend without even knowing it?!”
“Not just that, man! We’ve been hanging out with him!”
“Oh, now you get it!”
“Well it’s not like you were very clear on your explanations...”
“That’s why I never ask him for help in math class…”
Colonel Douglas took them to an isolated room within the building to hold a meeting regarding everything that had happened the past week. They spent a long time discussing their findings and piecing everything together. Douglas couldn’t look more satisfied with the information.
“This should be enough to settle all the paperwork,” the man said as he placed all the written reports in a folder. “That just leaves us with the cleanup, which my troops are already taking care of.”
“What will happen to the chimeras in custody?” Hughes asked in curiosity.
“They will be taken to central headquarters as ordered by the Higher Ups,” Douglas informed them.
That didn’t sit well for Ed. “What are they planning to do with them?”
“That’s for them to know,” Douglas said sharply as if to imply he was not going to accept any questioning about their superiors’ decisions. “Now, regarding Miss Van Thorndike, all the recollected information will serve to finally have her sentenced.”
“You mean, a dead sentence?” Ed asked him with wide eyes.
“It probably won’t come to that,” Hughes told him. “It’s true that with all the evidence against her, she won’t be able to escape imprisonment, but by using her family’s influence, I’m pretty sure she can at least avoid a dead sentence.”
Ed was still unsure with the way things were getting arranged, but a hard look from Mustang reminded him it was not his place to argue, so he bit his tongue and just listen to the rest of the conversation in silence.
By the time they were dismissed, Ed was feeling positively drained; both figuratively and literally speaking. He stepped out of the building just as a couple of soldiers were transporting a covered body to the central plaza of the Institute. Releasing a deep breath, he watched with a heavy heart as they placed it in the ground, lined up with a few others. Thoughts of what could have been avoided if he had acted faster came rushing into his head. After spending so much time within those walls, the lost students were no longer strangers. They had faces now.
The soft voice from his right was enough to get him out of his gloomy thoughts, finding Hoffman and Simon standing beside him.
“Oh, hey, are you two okay?”
“We could be asking you the same,” Hoffman replied. “You don’t look very good.”
“I’m just tired,” Ed answered in automatic. After a brief silence he spoke up. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save your friend in time...”
“You don’t need to apologize for that,” Simon was fast to answer. “If it wasn’t for you, some of us would have been next… so, thank you for saving us.”
Ed looked at them a bit baffled by the gratitude.
“What’s with that look? Are you really that unused to be thanked?”
“Huh? Um, no, it’s just… never mind,” he finished lamely letting a small smile to be formed on his features.
They spent a few minutes just doing small talk, and Ed was already feeling a lot better by the time his younger brother found him and requested a tour to the library so they could check a few books. Being equally eager to see what they could find, Ed agreed to go. Saying their goodbyes to the seniors, the brothers went on their way.
The moment they stepped into the library’s building, all the cheery attitude and confidence Ed had managed to build back up, escaped his body in streams of dark vibes. The library was in total ruins. Not a single bookshelf had been spared from falling over or being crushed by massive pieces of alchemically transformed concrete. Books lay ripped all over the place within debris, wood pieces and loose sheets of their own contents. In other words, it was a total loss.
“I must be cursed. Yeah, that’s it. I’m cursed by whatever higher power is out there to get me for my sins…” Ed was murmuring to himself, drowned in self-loathing. It just couldn’t be coincidence that this was the second library that met imminent destruction before he could check its contents regarding their own research.
“Brother… i-it’s not that bad,” Al, the ever optimistic started saying. “We’ll find what we need elsewhere… Wasn’t that one of the reasons we were going to visit Teacher in the first place?”
“You’re right, Al,” that seem to do the trick. “We should check for the earliest train to Dublith.”
“What? You’re leaving so soon?” Fiedler’s voice let them know they were no longer alone.
Ed turned around and smiled at the group of friends waiting by the entrance. “Yeah, sorry, but we really have to get going.”
“But you’ll come back to Central and visit, right?”
“Sure,” Ed assured them. “I-If we come back alive, that is.”
The curiosity of the group was picked even more at seeing both brothers trembling lightly.
“Why? What’s on Dublith?” Klain was the one who asked.
Ed and Al shared a nervous look before answering. “Our Teacher.”
‘What kind of teacher is that?’ was the thought that came on everyone’s mind.
“Hold on, Ed. Don’t you forget we are stopping at Rush Valley first,” Winry warned him.
He grimaced. “What? You still want to go there? You should have gone on your own while I was here.”
“I told you before! Who will pay for my expenses then?”
They were already in the middle of one of their usual bickering, when the rest of the eastern squad joined the group just outside the library’s building.
“Wait, why are we nulling that bet?” Havoc was asking.
“Breda said there was no way of knowing if Ed was the one to blow up his cover first or not,” Fuery explained.
“That’s still cheating…”
“Well, chief, you managed to destroy the whole school in less than a week,” Breda told Ed, looking at the rest of the buildings as if admiring a good handiwork “That’s got to be a record.”
“Nah, he has done worst, ” Havoc mentioned with a smirk.
“What!? This wasn’t my fault!” Ed defended immediately.
“It kind of is, if you consider how everything exploded after you and the Colonel decided to check the underground tunnels,” Fuery kindly intervened.
“Which means… I won that bet!” Havoc couldn’t look more thrilled even if one of the young staff members they’ve been interrogating would have gone on a date with him.
“How many bets did you pull behind my back?!”
“Relax, Chief. I’ll make sure to get you a drink with my price.”
“He’s still underage, Jean.”
“Oh, right… how about lunch then?”
Ed snorted in response. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t eaten a thing since the day before.
“You know? I think I’ll take you up on that.”
“Not so fast, Fullmetal,” Mustang intervene. “I did say I was going to cut the money off your research funding for any property damage you cause, so we still have some math to do.”
“What was that, you Colonel Bastard? Let me remind you half of this destruction is your fault, so don’t go throwing all the blame on me!”
“What? Is the responsibility too big for you to handle?” Mustang continued mocking.
“Who are you calling a pipsqueak so small that he could be crushed by a particle of dust?!”
“Are they going to fight?” Fiedler asked, watching the banter from the sidelines with stars in his eyes; the excitement of being able to see a battle between the Fullmetal and Flame Alchemists was implied.
“They better not,” Hawkeye answered shortly; her finger already pressing off the safety of her gun.
The immediate reaction of the ones who knew her was to back away, while the group of students paled considerably.
“I think it’ll be best to get tickets for tomorrow,” Al decided with a sigh.“Well, we already waited a whole week, what’s one more day?” Winry agreed with a smile.
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