The Crimson Countess

Chapter 4 ‘Servants’

“Have you ever tried punching someone with that arm?”

“You know? I’m considering doing that with you right about now,” Ed gritting his teeth in an attempt at self-control.

“I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if I was a girl,” Klein commented more to himself, but Ed still managed to hear him.

“Why would that stop me?”

“Wait… so you would hit a girl?”

And that’s how Ed’s conversations had been going since he returned to the dorms the night before. The morning of the second day, Ed made an effort to get up earlier than normal, and get out of the room before his roommate even woke up, but Klein was fast to get ready and follow down the hall to continue with his nonstop inquiry, no doubt in an attempt to get Ed to tell him more about how he got his automail. To say Klein’s continuous eager and blunt questions were destroying his almost non-existence patience was an understatement.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than driving me nuts?”

“But you haven’t really told me how you got your arm,” Klein complained as if that was reason enough to justified his annoying interrogation. “Can’t you at least tell me where I can get one?”

“You want an automail for an arm?” Ed asked him incredulously. “Okay, here’s an idea for you: Go and get yourself a chisel, then stab your arm repeatedly until it falls off; that way you can make space for the automail one!”

“That sounds horribly painful,” Klein deadpanned. Either he was not very good at getting sarcasm, or he was actually very good pretending not to, just to rile him up.

“That’s because it is, you thickhead!” Ed exploded.

It was definitely the second one.

“Are you talking out of experience, shorty?” Klein retaliated in irritation to the insult.

“Wha-? Stop calling me that before I use my right arm to shove your head inside your neck!”

Klein paled visibly at the mental image, but his pride seemed to be bigger than his instinct for self-preservation.

“You know the funny thing about that? I’ll still be taller than you!”

A roar-like scream was all the warning Klein got that Ed had totally lost it. Without his walking conscience of a brother to intervene, Ed was like a loose cannon. Klein seemed to perceive his evil dark aura quite clear this time, since he took his distance while placing his hands in front of him in a placating motion.

But as fate would have it, the strange circumstance prevented Ed from commenting cold murder in his rage. Being too consume by thoughts of painful retribution, he failed to notice Klein sobering up almost immediately; a confused expression replacing the nervous smirk that had been adorning his face.

“Say, isn’t the hall too quiet?”

The question was enough to get Ed out of his angst and make him look around. The dorms weren’t supposed to be this empty at this hour. Raising an eyebrow at the silence surrounding them, he walked the rest of the way on high alert until they reach the second floor, where they found the majority, if not all of the student body cramming up near one of the rooms. Ed’s alarm bells went off as he sensed the anxiousness and slight panic coming from the loud chattering.

He scanned the crowd until he found a familiar face and approached him. “Hey, Fiedler!”

“Oh, hi, Blecher.”

“What’s going on?”

“Another student disappeared last night,” Fiedler was fast to inform, causing his audience to freeze wide eye.

“Seriously? Who was it?”

“I didn’t know him,” Fiedler answered Klein’s question with a shake of the head. “All I know is that he used to be roommates with the first victim.”

“Are you sure he disappeared?” Ed asked for clarification. “I mean, if it was just last night, he could just have spent the night elsewhere.”

“That would normally be the first thought, but there are signs of struggle this time.”

Hearing everything he needed, Ed dashed forward, squishing between curious students to get to the scene himself. It was times like this when he couldn’t help thinking how useful it was to be so sm… sma… smghm…

...moving on! As he arrived, he found Armstrong already in the scene, crouching down on something on the floor.

“What did you find?” Ed whispered beside him as he scanned the disarrayed room.

“There’s a trail of blood on the floor. It looks fresh, too,” Armstrong answered with a serious expression.

Ed followed the trail with his sight trying to figure out what could have happened. That’s when he saw a very familiar looking grey stain on the carpet just beside the trail.

“Wait a moment, I’ve seen that before…” he commented as he crouched and pointed at the stain with his gloved hand.

“Either you’re onto something or they need better maintenance equipment for the carpets.”

“...”

A few seconds went by in silence, while Ed registered Hughes’ presence squatted beside him.

“What are you doing here?!” Ed finally shouted, jumping away from the man.

Armstrong himself seemed to be content to just stand back up and observe the interaction, as if he was used to seeing it happening; his towering figure helping to block the rest of the students from going further into the room. This seemed to provoke quite a few complains about being unable to see and inquiries about the sudden scream.

“Can’t I come and see how my nephew is doing?” Hughes asked as if trespassing the school was a normal daily activity of his. Ed wouldn’t be surprised if it actually was, and somehow felt bad for poor, poor little Elicia. “By the way, Alphonse and Winry say hi. Your brother wanted to know if you’ve been eating well, and Winry wanted to remind you to do the maintenance of your automail properly, if you didn’t want to meet her new wrench face to face.”

“As charming as always…” Ed shuddered with a nervous smile, feeling sweat rolling down his forehead.

“Who’s Winry?”

Ed yelped in shocked surprised at seeing Klein and Fiedler standing at his other side.

“Oh, are they friends of yours, Ed?” Hughes didn’t seem to be phased at being overheard. “Maes Hughes. I’m Edward’s uncle,” Hughes introduced himself as he gave Ed a side-hug for emphasis. “Winry is just his sweet hea-”

“How many times do I have to tell you she’s not my girlfriend?!” Ed shoved the man off of him, deciding to interrupt before Hughes could finish the embarrassing statement.

A snort coming from Klein got their attention back to him. “A girlfriend? You, Mr. Metal-arm-I’ll-punch-you-in-the-face-if-you-call-me-short? Yeah, right.”

“Wait what?” Fiedler’s confused question went unnoticed.

“Well, considering she’s his personal mechanic, it’s not so hard to believe,” Hughes just didn’t seem to know when to stop.

“Mechanic? So you got your arm from her?” Klein suddenly sounded very interested.

“Hold on. What’s that about his arm?” Fiedler tried again.

“Oh, he has an automail for an arm! It’s pretty cool,” Klein supplied.

“For real? Whoa, that’s awesome! Can I see it?”

Feeling an oncoming headache, Ed pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled deeply; all this while murmuring about stupid missions and how he’d rather be facing his teacher’s wrath than having to deal with unworldly teenagers and crazy family-obsessed men.

“How did you get past the bunch of people and the wall at the door anyway?” Ed asked in an attempt to change the topic, as he pointed at Armstrong, who just blinked at him.

“I just pushed people out of my way,” Klein shrugged. The casual statement caused Ed to feel even more irritated for some reason.

“And I just followed behind him,” explained Fiedler.

“Everybody, off with you!” the principal’s booming voice from the outside cut the conversation short as everyone turned their attention to the woman.

“Miss Benik, Mr. Headstrong, would you be so kind as to escort the students back to their respective classes?” she ordered as the students started dispersing.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Right away, Miss.”

Armstrong made sure to grab the two civilian students by their shoulders, before guiding them out of the room and into the hallway. While the authority figures got into their task of emptying the place, Hughes went back to business, catching Ed’s attention.

“Let’s get a sample of that,” the man suggested as he crouched back down near the grey stain. He focused on his work while keeping the conversation in a casual yet serious tone. “Oh, I thought you should know… strong winds are coming from the East. Be prepare for the storm.

Ed eyed him suspiciously, starting to decipher the ambiguous comment on his mind, but couldn’t linger too much in those thoughts before they were interrupted.

“Mr. Hughes, is there a reason to why you are trespassing the school grounds?” Thorndike finally noticed him. “...again.”

‘Again?’ Ed was now sure his theory about Hughes’ hobbies was right.

“I was just worried about my little nephew here!” an instant later, Hughes was patting the head of a fuming teen that kept ranting under his breath about being still in his growing stage and how just everyone else was abnormal for growing beforehand.

“Worried or not, there are protocols. You are supposed to check in with one of our administrators at the reception, and state a reason for the visit.”

“Of course, of course. I’ll do that right away! Could you guide me back to the reception, please? This place is so big I think I got myself lost again,” with that said, Hughes didn’t wait for an answer and started pulling a very annoyed principal along the way.

“Mr. Hughes, please try to read the situation. One of my students just disappeared. This is no time for-”

“I’m completely aware of the gravity of the circumstances, Miss Thorndike,” Hughes’ switching to a completely serious demeanor, made the principal do a double take. “That’s why I believe you should contact the authorities as soon as possible. So let’s go.”

Leaving her without room for an argument, Hughes kept dragging her away from the dorms, switching back to his layback self.

Ed grinned in satisfaction when he noticed the place had been entirely vacated, giving him the chance to investigate the scene further without trouble. That is, until a voice behind him froze him half-step.

“What are you still doing here, Ed? You’re gonna be late for your first class.”

Ed turned around to find Hoffmann, a senior student he met during lunch time the day before, passing by with another one that looked very distressed. Ed tensed up in nervousness, feeling his joints rigid as he placed a hand behind his neck.

“Ah… you see… I, um… Is it that late already?” he finished his lame act with a nervous laugh, receiving confused looks in return. “Well, let’s not just stand here. You’ll be late too, won’t you?”

“Right. Give us a moment, Simon just wanted to retrieve his schoolbag from the room,” Hoffmann explained in apprehension.

“Wait, is this your room?” Ed suddenly forgot all about his nervousness as he addressed Hoffmann’s friend.

Simon only nod in confirmation before entering the room to look for his belongings.

“Simon said he wasn’t here when it happened,” Hoffmann supplied, waiting outside the room beside Ed. “He feels guilty because he thinks he could have done something to help.”

Ed shook his head at that statement. “That could have just ended badly for him, too.”

“I know it could,” Simon suddenly said as he walked out of the room. “But still, David had been acting a bit strange before this happened. I should have tried to help since then.”

“Strange how?” Ed asked severely.

“He… said he had seen his old roommate wandering the school grounds the night before yesterday,” Simon elaborated. “David was determined to find out if it was truly him, so he kept mentioning how he was going to search for him last night. I thought he was just messing around, so I let him be.”

“Did he ever mention finding something out?” Ed pressed on.

Simon seemed to think for a moment before answering a bit unsure. “The last time I saw him, David seemed to be in a hurry to get to the dorms. I tried to ask him what was wrong, but he just mention something about bloodsucking ghouls before I lost sight of him.”

“Ghouls?” just when Ed thought he had heard it all. He folded his arms over his chest in deep thought, but trying to piece the new information together with what little he knew was like trying to swim in mud: confusing, tiring, and horribly slow.

“Popular folklore mentions vampires as creatures that not only suck their victims dry of their blood, but also turn them into their brainless slaves,” Hoffmann commented with the neutral tone of someone who was just sharing knowledge. “It’s a possibility David thought the rumors were true.”

“So when he saw someone that was supposedly death, he panicked,” Ed finished the thought. It would actually make sense to him if there was a logical explanation of how and why the dead seemed to be rising to their feet. Also, whatever he saw seemed to be enough to get him in trouble. But the question was, what exactly did he find out, that caused him to be attacked?

He absentmindedly walked all the way to his class, feeling like he was getting more questions than answers. By the time he arrived, the class had already started, and he had a hard time figuring out what class he had just entered to. Ed blinked in confusion at the scene before him. The room has full of tripods carrying large canvas; all lined up in half a circle around a small platform. The students themselves were standing in front of each canvas with variations of grim looks or horrifying expressions; the reason of their chagrin, standing right in the middle of the room.

"Oh! Glad you could join us, Edward Blecher! You came just in time for our first Artistics lesson of the term!" A very enthusiastic Armstrong started saying.

'Say what now?' Ed was starting to regret not checking the class’ subject instead of just the classroom’s number.

"We will begin appreciating the human body anatomy by using a visual aid! Of course I'll be more than willing to be your model,” and the shirt was off, and the sparkles where on. “So you, young generation of future artists, can transfer the wonders of a magnificent muscular body into paper!”

A collective scream with large variety of pitches could be heard around the whole building, and for a very scary moment, the rest of the campus thought the countess had strike again in less than a day. Later that day, the students of the Artistics class, would confirm to the rest, that they had encountered something very much worse than a bloodthirsty lady with long teeth.

As it turned out, Ed had been assigned to all of Armstrong classes to help them be in contact easier. Ed wanted to discuss the possibility of being scarred for life, but he couldn’t debate against the idea of keeping in contact without raising suspicions.

“So you think he could have been attacked in order to be kept silenced?” Armstrong asked as he placed a folder on his desk, alongside others that were already opened.

“That’s what it seems like,” Ed nodded in affirmation; his eyes scanning the contents of the personal files of each missing student.

They were trying to find a pattern on the victims, but so far, the only thing they found was the similarities between the students’ hair color. All of them had a golden blond kind of hue. All except David.

“I must admit, this is very upsetting,” Armstrong commented with folded arms. “Who would be willing to attack such young kids so ruthlessly?”

“I could name a few...” Ed answered with darken eyes. Flashbacks of the Tuckers and Scar went through his mind, but he shook them off almost instantly. He had to concentrate on the present mission. “I better go now. Getting late to two different classes in a row might look suspicious. And the bathroom excuse can only last so long.”

Armstrong nodded to him, as he started cleaning the desk. “Do be careful, Edward Elr- ahem… Blecher. If the pattern of the victims is anything to go by…”

He didn’t need to continue. Ed understood the implications.

“I will,” he reassured before exiting the classroom.

The rest of the school hours went by full of renewed gossiping about the recent disappearance. Ed used the commotion to try and get more information, but as the rumors kept growing, Ed noticed the information got noticeably uncorrelated to reality and out of proportions.

Ed went to sleep that night with a horrible headache. His thoughts were in turmoil in his quest to find a logical explanation to everything he found during the day. The more he discovered, the more ridiculous it was turning out to be. Ed refused to believe the whole incident was caused by a mythical creature whose existence wasn’t even proven, but the clues weren’t leading him elsewhere. There had to be something he was missing.

He fell asleep without even noticing, so when he came back to consciousness in the middle of the night, he was horribly disoriented and feeling strangely uncomfortable.

“The queen... needs...”

“Wha-?” Ed opened his eyes groggily trying to decipher where the whispering was coming from, or if it was even real. As his senses slowly returned to him, he finally notices the sharp eyes staring intently at him right in front of his face.

His own eyes opened wide in shock at the apparition, and his body reacted on instinct, pushing the extra weight away from his personal space, before it could try anything. Instants later, Ed was already on his feet.

“Who the hell-?!”

“Your blood… she needs your blood,” the whispers continued as if unfazed by the rude treatment.

“Hey, man. Keep it down I’m trying to sleep,” Klein mumbled in his sleep.

The intense gaze was turned that way at the sudden noise coming from the opposite bed. Cursing under his breath, Ed grabbed his own pillow and threw it at his sleeping roommate.

“Get your butt off the bed!” Ed ordered the teen, effectively waking him up, and reclaiming the intruder’s attention in the process.

“What the heck do yo-?”

Klein’s irritation was morphed into horrified shock as he saw the shadow of a person lunging at Ed and throwing him to the ground with a yell of surprise. Ed barely managed to intercept the attacker’s claws with his hands, avoiding what would have been a nasty blow to his chest. With the inhuman strength gaining on him, he resorted on his automail foot and kicked the fierce female on the stomach, sending her flying against one of the study desk.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said you wouldn’t hesitate to hit a girl.”

“Does that look like a girl to you?!” Ed pointed at the supposed girl, who was in the middle of standing back up with the fluid motion of a cobra; claws and sharp teeth shining through the darkness.

Klein seemed to get the point and stood up in seconds.

“Is that the countess?!”

“Of course no-!”

“The countess… the queen…”

“Klein, watch out!”

With another rough kick, Ed was able to counter the intruder’s forward thrust. She didn’t stagger this time however, and shifted around him swiftly, before slashing at him from the back. Ed moved away as fast as his reflex allowed him, but he couldn’t avoid the attack completely, gaining a painful gash on his upper arm. He gritted his teeth in both pain and frustration; whatever this thing was, it was fast. Just like the one he had encountered the first night. Yet Ed knew they weren’t the same individual.

“You’re a tough one,” Ed commented in irritation, receiving a hissing noise in respond.

“Hey, are you feeling okay? You’re bleeding,” Klein informed him with clear apprehension on his voice. He was trying to get cover on the floor, where he could see the drops of dark liquid dripping on it.

“It’s nothing, I’m fine,” Ed reassured him as he placed his metal hand over the injury. He was seriously considering blowing his cover and use alchemy to help him fight.

As he turned his attention back to the fight, he reprimanded himself for getting so easily distracted when he noticed his opponent was nowhere to be seen; her constant whispers and hissing noises being the only way of knowing she was still there. A sudden scream of terror made Ed turn back to Klein, finding the attacker between them, lunging over the taller teen.

“Shit!” To hell with the cover! He ran forward clapping his hands and transmuting his metal arm into a blade.

Ed striked forward, making her back off. He didn’t fail to notice how she flinched at the still flashing blade before barely making contact, ripping a piece of clothing from her. With a new plan already forming, Ed didn’t waste time clapping again and pressing his hand on the ground. The alchemy light coming from it went on a straight line all the way to the wall. In seconds, the lights on the room went on with doubled intensity causing the intruder to screech in surprised pain before the light blew up and darkness surrounded them again.

“W-what just happened?” Klein stammered in total confusion. His face half-buried between his arms and the ground.

Ed stood back up without taking his eyes from the attacker, who seemed to had had enough and moved in a desperate stride towards the opened window and out of sight.

“It fled,” Ed finally answered.

Klein seemed to decide it was safe to climb back to his feet, then. He looked around nervously as if wanting to confirm Ed’s statement with his own eyes. Once he was sure they were the only ones in the room, he visibly relaxed.

“What-the-hell-was-that!?”

Ed bent to the ground and grabbed the piece of clothing he had managed to rip from the intruder. It was a sewed shield that reminded him of the one on his own uniform, but it was different. “Your guess is as good as mine... But I’m going to find out…” he murmured the last part to himself with a frown.

“What about the sudden lightning? What did you do?”

Remembering he hadn’t changed his arm back to normal, Ed hastily hid it behind his back.

“W-What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything!” he screamed too suddenly, before smiling nervously. “B-But, what a lucky break, huh? I thought we were done for.”

Klein wasn’t buying it, but Ed didn’t give him a chance to argue about it, pretending to suddenly feel exhausted and going right back to sleep.

The third day, Ed did almost everything to avoid Klein during school hours, that is until lunch came by. Ed still sat on his desk, putting his notes away as Thomas’ group of friends, stood beside him, talking affably about trivial topics. And just like he tended to do, he dedicated that time to listen to their conversation rather than participating on it.

“Lunch time. Nothing better to charge your energy back up than a delicious cafeteria meal before getting into tortuous math classes…” obvious sarcasm drop out of Fiedler’s emotionless tone.

“Math? So are you going to have classes with the new teacher?”

“Are you talking about Miss Elizabeth?”

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“Wow, I don’t know if you should be considered lucky or miserable.”

“What’s so special about her?”

“The students that had classes with her in the morning said she’s as ruthless as she is gorgeous.”

“She’d already gotten herself a reputation as the Iron Maiden of the faculty members in just half a day.”

“That’s gotta be a record.”

“Well she does have the qualities of a certain countess…”

“What? Do you think it’s her?”

“It would make a lot of sense.”

“She’s not,” Klein suddenly came along and interrupted; his tone full of confidence.

“Why are you so sure?” Fiedler asked in honest curiosity.

“... Well, we were attacked by her last night,” he confessed, gaining a glare from the blond beside him.

“What? You’re making that up!”

“I’m not! We really saw her! And she looked way too young to be a teacher,” Klein continued. “We only survived because Blecher used some serious skills to fend her off!”

By then, Ed was already getting a few curious glances his way. He restrained himself from groaning in despair and just folded his arms with an indifferent façade; neither confirming nor denying what Klein was saying. One wrong move and he could be blowing his cover.

“So are you finally going to tell me what you did?” Klein asked with a smirk. “Maybe some kind of upgrade you did to your ar-?”

“Damn, I’m starving! We’ll be going ahead, see you at the cafeteria,” Ed removed his arm from the table before Klein could even touch it.

Confused stares follow their path as Ed dragged the taller teen out of the room by the collar of his jacket. Once out, he let go of Klein and kept walking at a pace that allowed the other teen to catch up.

“Try to keep your mouth shut about my automail, will you?” Ed requested in a low voice.

“Hey, but that arm is kinda cool. You should be bragging about it,” Klain insisted in excitement.

“I’m serious, you idiot!”

“Edward, please restrain yourself from shouting in the halls around the classrooms. Some students still have lessons at this time.”

Finding the voice strangely familiar, Ed turned around only to find the serious face of a certain blonde Lieutenant staring back at him, while readjusting a pair of fake glasses over her nose.

Ed froze in his place, resembling a piece of white concrete; mouth hanging open and letting out a pitiful choking sound. Klain actually flinched when seeing her.

“That’s her!” he yelled-whispered to Ed. “The Iron Maiden! Admired by some, feared by everyone.”

“H-Hawkeye?” he finally pronounced when he got his voice back.

“Miss Elizabeth,” she corrected with closed eyes; her pokerface flawlessly in place.
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