The Crimson Countess

Chapter 5 ‘The Storm from the East’

Ed was barely conscious of the fact that Hawkeye had started talking again, being too shock of seeing her in the school grounds posing as a teacher. Yet, he somehow managed to get the real meaning of her words.

“I hope you have finished catching up with your classes. You start mine this afternoon, and I’m not going to give you any chances to laid back just because you enrolled late.”

That seemed to catch his attention, waking him up from his shock completely.

“Huh? What class is that?” he asked honestly curious.

“Differential and Integral Calculus.”

“Hm, somehow it does suit you,” he commented crossing his arms and tilting his head to the side.

“Man, don’t talk to her so casually! She’ll rip your head off!” Klain kept whispering in panic.

Ed just ignored him.

“Anyway, I worked on it during the first two days. I’m pretty sure you’ll be satisfied with my answers.”

Hawkeye nodded in approval. “I’ll be seeing you in a few hours then,” and with that, she was gone.

As they walked to the cafeteria, Klein for once, seemed to not have words for what he had just witnessed. Ed appreciated the momentary silence, but knowing it wasn’t going to last, he took advantage of Klein’s bewilderment and gave him the slip as soon as they reached the dining area, going straight to the kitchen’s counter. After all, he wasn’t lying when he said he was hungry.

Ed thought that the cafeteria was a fancy and expensive version of the cafeteria at HQ. It was just as crowded and noisy, but with better quality food. He just wished it tasted as good as it looked. Then again, there was never such a thing as bad tasting food when one was this hungry. He really shouldn’t have skip breakfast.

Knowing the drill, Ed took his place behind the line of students waiting to buy their lunch. As he got near, he grabbed one of the previously prepared combo meals, and a drink that he opened and started gulping right there.

“Is that going to be all, chief?”

Instant reaction later, Ed spilled his drink all over the cash register attendant.

“I’ll have to charge you extra for that…” said the unamused voice of Second Lieutenant Havoc, who was giving him a deadpan look.

A few badly concealed snickers took his attention behind the counter, where two other people were crouched in a fix of laughter. Ed immediately recognized them as Breda and Fuery; all three of them dressed in cooking gear. Just when and why did these guys come here?!

“Nice bandana,” Ed mocked them, concealing his shock with a blank face, as he pulled money out of his pocket.

“Nice uniform,” Havoc retaliated with a smirk. “You look like a real schoolboy, chief.”

Ed arched an eyebrow while smiling evilly. “And you look like a real housewife. Finding your true vocation, Jacqueline?”

Breda and Fuery lost it and laugh straight out loud making Havoc’s eyebrow to start twitching. He accepted his payment, clenching his teeth around his still unused cigarette.

“You guys are aware he’s talking about the attire, so he’s indirectly including you in that remark, right?” Havoc told them, shutting them up with the dawning realization.

Ed just smirked accepting his change.

“Thanks for the meal,” he called out as he walked away from the counter to find a free table were to sit.

“Hey, chief!” Havoc called him back making him turn around. “A piece of advice: There’s always a free spot to sit and eat in front of the library.

“I might just take your advice,” Ed nodded, understanding the message.

He swallowed his food on his way to said library, and threw the remaining wrappers on a nearby trashcan before entering the building. Ed didn’t need to make an effort on scanning thoroughly to find what he was supposed to look for. He really wasn’t surprised to find Falman right in front of one of the bookshelves, working on placing a bunch of books on the right place.

“Working hard, W- Falman?” Ed greeted the man, making him jump in place.

“Oh, Ed! I didn’t see you coming,” Falman visibly relax and smiled.

“I just saw Havoc and the others. They tipped me into coming here,” Ed explained.

“Good! We can start our meeting then,” Hughes’ voice answered for Falman, as he showed to be standing behind one of the bookshelves.

Really, Ed should had stopped to be surprised by then.

“Here?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I took the liberty of booking one of the study rooms,” Hawkeye’s voiced informed behind him. “We should have enough privacy for at least half an hour.”

“Excellent idea, Elizabeth!”

The joyful baritone voice made Ed twitched in annoyance. Recognizing it immediately, he turned around to find Mustang sitting on one of the tables folding the newspaper he’d been reading.

“Now, let’s start this parent/teachers meeting shall we?”

“What are you doing here, you bastard?” Ed whispered with gritted teeth.

“Haven’t you heard?” Mustang asked in a casual tone as they all moved to the designated room. “With all the commotion going on, they seem to be a little understaffed.”

Mustang immediately smirked at Ed’s twitching vein.

“I’m not little,” he spat at him in a low voice.

“So, how is school life treating you?” Mustang asked, ignoring Ed’s remark about his height. Ed huffed before letting it go.

“I guess I can’t complain. This library is full of different books I would like to check out.”

“I’m honestly surprised you hadn’t read them all yet.”

“Between having to pretend that I care about school and these freaky disappearance cases I’ve got a full agenda.”

“Hmm… how are those going?”

“Another student went missing just the night before yesterday. Things could be better.”

As they reached the soundproof room, Hawkeye was sure to lock the door behind them before they started.

“I got the results from the substance we found at the crime scene,” Hughes informed first. “It turned out to be mercury.”

“Mercury?” Ed frowned in confusion. What did that have to do with anything? “Could it be it was just a coincidence?” he asked more to himself as he got into his pensive mode.

“Don’t discard it just yet, Fullmetal,” Mustang warned him. “It might turn out to be important if we get the full context later on.”

Ed only folded his arms in response before Hughes continued.

“Armstrong told me you found a pattern with the victims,” he said. “Blond hair, huh? Sounds troublesome. You better watch your back.”

“Yeah, about that... I kinda got attacked last night,” Ed commented as casually as he could, though that didn’t do much since he gained a mix between surprised and worried looks his way anyway.

The only one that looked unperturbed and even a bit amused was Mustang. “Why am I not surprised to hear that?” he said with raised palms and a shake of the head.

“Did you get hurt?” Hawkeye asked, letting a subtle tone of concern escape her usually cold demeanor.

“I’m fine. Whoever that was, barely grazed me,” Ed answered with nonchalance; his metal arm holding his flesh one unconsciously.

Hawkeye sighed closing her eyes, as if she was expecting that answered. “Let’s just check your arm anyway, to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”

“I’ll go get the medkit,” Falman offered as he walked out of the room.

“Any other injury we should know about?” Hughes asked him.

“Just the arm,” Ed affirmed as he raised it in front of the group. He hesitated for a second before continuing. “It was a bit numb after the attack, but I got the feeling back gradually as the day went by.”

Ed wasn’t fond of being fussed over; specially when he didn’t think whatever happened to him was that serious. Yet, when Hawkeye signaled him to sit down on one of the chairs and ordered him to show her his injured arm, he knew better than to protest. As Falman got back and Hawkeye got into work with the disinfectant, Ed decided to go on with the conversation.

“More importantly… I managed to retrieve something from our culprit,” he mentioned as he pulled out of his pocket the sewed shield he had ripped from the attacker. “Does anyone recognize where this is from?”

The adults around him got nearer to get a closer look at the piece of garment. Falman was the one to show recognition at seeing it.

“That shield belonged to an all-girls Institute that used to be situated near the main street here in Central,” he was fast to inform.

“‘Used to’?” Mustang’s eyebrow shot up.

Falman nodded. “It went bankrupt a few years ago after some strange incidents got most parents wary. The dropouts increased gradually till there was no way to keep the institution running.”

“Let me guess… some of the students were reported missing,” Ed said, receiving an affirmation from Falman.

“Did you manage to get a look at whatever attacked you last night?” Mustang asked Ed.

“Well, it was definitely a ‘her’,” Ed confirmed as he thought back to the incident. “But her physiology didn’t look exactly human. It was almost… animalistic. She did spoke a few sentences, though.”

A brief silence followed as everyone assimilated the information they were just given. Hughes was the one to move first.

“I’ll be taking this with me,” he informed as he grabbed the shield from the table. “It could be the lead we were looking for. I’ll investigate as much as I can get from this old Institute.”

“Falman, make sure to write down everything you know about that place and hand it to Hughes,” Mustang ordered as he stood up from his seat.

“Yes, sir,” Falman saluted before putting himself to work.

“Fullmetal, you keep your guard up at all times,” Mustang continued. “Whatever or whoever attacked you, didn’t get what she wanted, so she most likely will try to come back and finish what she started.”

“I can take care of myself, Colonel,” was Ed’s way of confirmation.

“Clearly,” Mustang worded, as he eyed Ed’s now bandaged arm.

The teen only growled at the obvious sarcasm dripping from his superior’s mouth and rolled his sleeve back in place. “Shut up, bastard!”

“Sir, please refrain from riling Edward up within the school’s perimeters, or I’ll be forced to put you back in place to avoid the risk of blowing our cover,” Hawkeye’s words were calm and collected, but the undertone promised pain and horrors should any of them dare push her hand.

Mustangs’ smirk suddenly vanished and was replaced by a clammed up thin line. If he didn’t know better, Ed could have swear the Colonel was sweating bullets now.

With nothing else to report, and Falman’s information safe in Hughes’ hands, they finally left the room.

“Ed!”

Looking around, Ed found Thomas’ group standing at the entrance of the library. Sending a last glance to his team, he parted from them and walk to the group of teenagers instead.

“Klein told us you disappeared after reaching the cafeteria. Where did you go?” Thomas concerned tone didn’t go unnoticed.

“Sorry, I had a sudden parents/teacher meeting,” Ed apologized sheepishly as he rubbed his neck with his undamaged arm.

As the group looked back towards the place where Ed had come from, most of them froze in place and paled.

“You had a meeting with the Iron Maiden herself?!” Fielder asked in shock.

“And, isn’t that the new chemistry teacher?” Thomas observed.

“You mean, Mr. Chris?” another friend asked with sudden chagrin. “He gave us a surprise test even though this was his first day. All while bragging about his latest date… it somehow irritated me.”

“At least you got a normal class. My group had to help him grade all his past classes’ tests,” another complained.

‘That spells Roy Mustang all over,’ Ed thought with a deadpanned expression and slumped shoulders.

“What did they talk to your uncle about anyway?” Fielder asked curiously.

“Um… I-I don’t know, I dozed off,” Ed said with a nervous laugh.

“Ed, I seriously doubt Miss Elizabeth would have let you doze off,” Thomas commented in amusement, probably assuming Ed was just trying to cover a very embarrassing conversation.

Ed looked at him in bewilderment. Thomas must be one of those demon-in-disguise types! Just like his little brother!

“He’s right! Come on Ed, tell us what the conversation was about. We promise not to laugh.”

“W-Wh-? It’s none of your business!” Ed retaliated in both annoyance and nervousness.

Before the conversation could continue, a hand on Ed’s head made them all look behind him. Hughes was smiling broadly at him as Ed made to push his hand away.

“I’ll be heading home now,” the man informed him. “You should come visit after school. I got permission from administration to let you out for the afternoon.”

“Huh? For real?” Ed’s smile couldn’t have been brighter.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure your brother will be more than happy to see you,” Hughes reassured him. “I’ve been informed that you already caught up with your school work anyway.”

“Wait a minute, you caught up with all your subjects?” asked one of the other teens, sounding incredulous.

“Yeah, why?” Ed asked in confusion.

“We are talking about a month worth of homework and class practices!” explained Fielder.

“I’m more surprised at knowing he has a brother. I thought he was an only child.”

“His personality does seem to suggest that,” Thomas agreed.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ed asked, not sure if he should feel offended or not; still not getting what was so difficult to believe. Hughes on the other hand, laughed out loud lightheartedly.

“I’ll be seeing you later,” he said as he patted Ed on the back. As an afterthought, he bent and whispered to him. “I bet you’re happy. You’ll be able to see your wife again.”

Ed face went as red as a tomato.

“I told you to stop with the ‘wife’ comments!” he burst, causing the rest of the teens to look at him in surprised bafflement. “L-Lunch is almost over. We should be heading to class already.”

He didn’t even give them a chance to react before he went and disappeared behind the library’s door feeling flustered and embarrassed.

It wasn’t long till he saw Hawkeye again; this time both posing as teacher and student. Thomas was right, she didn’t take dozing off kindly, as she so neatly demonstrated by throwing a very well aimed piece of chalk to his head, with a strength that could rival Winry’s throwing arm. He got out of that class caressing his aching forehead where a newly red bruise now rested.

“I can’t believe you actually tried to pull that off,” Thomas commented when meeting him on his way to the next class.

“And I would say I couldn’t believe she saw me behind four lines of students and a book, but that would be a lie,” Ed commented back.

They got to their classroom just in time to see the last class coming out; their faces with variants between dull demotivation or straight out irritation.

Ed’s suspicions turned out to be right when they finally walked in and found the supposed teacher leaning on his desk with folded arms. He considered faking sickness to avoid the upcoming torture, but he was sure that wouldn’t work. That pompous bastard of a colonel just knew him too well; just as well as Ed knew how the pleasant smile the man had plastered on his face, hid an ulterior motive. Specially because said smile was directed at him. No, he wasn’t smiling; he was smirking evilly while plotting Ed’s demise by way of his lectures.

“Welcome,” he said with too much joy to be real. “Judging by your youthful look and size, I’ll assume you’re first years, am I right?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Thomas answered. Unable to detect the jab thrown at the air for anyone who got it; that anyone being Ed, who’s temple vein immediately popped with a barely contained rant already forming in his head.

“You’re the first to arrive, so you get to choose your seats. It’s a small classroom but we’ll manage.”

“Oh, okay,” again, Thomas was the one to answer, seen as how Ed was too busy trying to bite his own tongue in the risk of blowing the cover right there and then, for the sake of turning his superior to shreds.

“Anyway, choose your seats quickly. We still have a small timeframe to spare while the rest of your peers show up, but the lesson will start shortly after.”

‘I’ll kill you! You’ll suffer such a traumatic and painful death by the sole of my automail’s shoe, that you’ll regret not bursting yourself into flames before I got you,’ Someone had to commend it to Ed for keeping his thoughts to himself and even more for not acting on them. Any other day, he would have exploded at the first indication of a height reference to his persona, but he kept Hawkeye’s threat fresh in his mind as he plotted his comeback.

“Say, Mr. Chris. Do you like children?” he casually asked as he seated down, lifted his automail leg and placed it over his flesh one meaningfully.

Mustang lifted an eyebrow at the threat. “Can’t say I do, Edward. But you know what I love? Dogs. Specially obedient and well behaved dogs that follow orders.”

“Oh, really? I like Hawks better,” Ed continued with a smirk. “I’ve heard their claws are so sharp they could rip a human’s eyes out of their sockets.”

He could have sworn he saw Mustang paling a bit. “You sure have a big and very active imagination for such a tiny body.”

‘Call me little one more time, and I’ll rip your head off and stuck it somewhere you won’t like!’ Ed’s expression transmitted.

‘Try it and you’ll be court-martialed before you can even blink,’ Mustang’s smirking glare seemed to suggest back.

“Who knows,” Ed growled lowly through his teeth instead. “Maybe someday we’ll see how accurate my imagination really is.”

“U-Um… I don’t mean to interrupt but…”

Thomas’ voice got them out of their witty little world to find the rest of the students already occupying the rest of the seats with perplexed expressions; their faces tonality going a bit on the green side, courtesy of Ed’s earlier blunt description.

With a clear of the throat from Mustang and Ed’s change to a straighter position on his seat, the class started without anymore hidden remarks. Ed supposed it was the Colonel’s way to clean the waters after the colorful display between the two.

‘A storm from the East indeed,’ Ed though, thinking about Hughes’ warning as he entertain himself with doodles of colonels burning on their own fire or eating knuckle sandwiches.

As soon as classes were over, he walked out of the Institute’s main building, feeling somehow relieved of being allowed to get out for the afternoon. As interesting as the past few days had been, he was starting to get a bit claustrophobic.

“Ed! Over here!”

Ed turned to the voice calling him, finding Hughes standing right in front of the entrance gate. He changed to a trotting pace and greeted the man.

“Mr. Hughes! What are you still doing here?” Ed asked in confusion, though not unkindly.

“Well, I wouldn’t be doing my role as a responsible adult the right way, if I didn’t come to pick my nephew up from his school,” he explained with a grin.

“Besides, we wanted to surprise you,” Winry’s voice from behind caught him off guard. As he turned around, he found his childhood friend smiling brightly at him with Elicia right by her side, grabbing her hand.

“Small older brother!” she pointed at him.

Ed’s temple vein started pulsating rapidly.

“Elicia… there is no need for you to add the ‘small’ word to the title,” Ed’s eyebrow twitched as he forced a smiled. Not really pulling off his attempt at hiding his irritation.

“Then… ‘little’?”

“Ghraaa!” Ed pulled at his hair in frustration.

Hearing Winry laughing at his expenses he turned his attention to her, about to reproach her reaction, but a tug on his trousers stopped him mid-action. He turned down in confusion to find little Elicia grabbing his pants with her small fist, while rubbing her eyes tiredly with the other.

“Are you sleepy, Elicia?” Winry asked her with a gentle voice, receiving a halfhearted nod in response.

Elicia then turned to Ed and raised her free hand towards him, in the universal sign children gave when they wanted to be picked up. Ed was honestly surprised for a moment before smiling with a resigned snort and relenting to her request. The moment he lifted her on his arms, Elicia didn’t waste time leaning her head on his left shoulder, getting comfortable. Ed then looked back at Winry only to find her smiling at their direction in a way that was too king to be directed at him. He couldn’t stop the subtle blush of embarrassment that adorned his cheeks.

“What is-?” his question was interrupted by a sudden flash that made them both blink and look at the source.

Hughes was standing just a few steps away with his camera raised and pointed to them.

“You look like a real family! Aren’t you glad I manage to capture the moment?” he sang making them flush furiously. But it didn’t take him long to rethink what he had just said and tears started cascading down his face. “I’m so jealous now! Elicia, why must you be so mean to Daddy? Why won’t you come to my arms instead?”

Both teenagers only stare at him with deadpanned faces. So much for him to be the responsible adult figure… Ed sighed in resignation.

“Mr. Hughes, do you think we could go now?” he requested with tiredness. “You know, before it gets later.”

By the time they reached Hughes’ home, Al was already waiting impatiently by the door, ready to give his older brother a crushing hug before Ed could even put one step inside.

“Brother!”

“Hey, Al. Long time no see,” Ed grinned brightly at his little brother, despite his sudden lack of air.

Al nodded as he finally let go. “Yeah, it’s been quiet without you around.”

“Elicia, come on princess! Come with papa!” Hughes voice sounded from somewhere inside the house.

“But I wanna be with big sister!”

A choking sound from Hughes was heard next.

“She’s already going through her rebellious stage!” he exclaimed in panic. “Why, Elicia?!”

Ed looked back at Al with a raised eyebrow.

“Do you really expect me to believe that?” that was all he had to ask his brother as Hughes continue his heartbroken charade.

Al only laughed before changing the subject. “So, have you been able to find anything interesting on the Institute’s library?”

Ed’s shoulder slumped as he adopted a dejected demeanor. “I’ve been so busy catching up with homework and investigating the case that I haven’t had time to do any research,” he answered in something that sounded like whining.

“That’s okay, brother,” Al tried to appease him. “You can alway ask them to let you check the library after you finish the mission.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with each other and just enjoying their company until it was time for Hughes to go back to the office. As he announced he was going to continue the investigation, they decided to tag along and help.

“So the girl’s institute was shot down back in 1910,” Al started as he was checking Falman’s notes.

“Just a year before this other institute started running,” complemented Ed as he checked a recently rewritten report from Sheska, who was sprawled on the table looking beaten.

“And it wasn’t a coincidence apparently,” Hughes’ sudden frown didn’t go unnoticed by the brothers, who looked at him in puzzlement.

“Did you find something, Mr. Hughes?” Al asked in concern.

Hughes placed the files he was reading back on the table before looking at them. “I just found the connection between the two institutes,” he informed in a very serious voice, while he passed the files across the table so the teens could see it.

As Ed look into it, his eyes opened wide in surprise. Right there in the Principal’s information read ‘Lysbeth Van Thorndike’.

“They both had been ran by the same Principal since their foundation,” Hughes finally said.


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