Chapter 8 ‘Panic and Confusion’
The crashing sound of one of the windows on the second floor of the dormitories increased the commotion that was already spreading on the campus. Ed had made the platforms advance towards the building, while avoiding a few chimeras on their way. Just as they had reached their targeted building, he used the momentum they got and placed his metal arm and leg in front of him to break the glass; his automail also helpful to cover from the broken pieces as they stumble inside the place.
The few students that witness the rough arrival were baffled beyond understanding. Murmurs started to rise as more curious eyes joined the hall to see what had happened; some of the teens sounding more panic than others. The impossibility of someone entering the building through the second floor was already creating alerted confusion.
“Is everyone okay?” Ed asked as he stood and shook the broken glass off his jacket.
“Y-Yeah, I think so…” Hoffman was the one who answered, sounding quite a bit shaken.
Noticing the rest of the students were already approaching them, Ed used the still dazed seniors as a cover and hurried to fix the window, adding a few metal bars around the building as precaution. The out of nowhere appearance of the addition to the windows got a few reactions, taking half the attention away from the three recently arrived teens.
“Did you see that?”
“What’s going on?”
That’s when Simon finally got out of his daze. “Oh, we are still alive, right? Good...”
“Get up, Simon. We still have work to do,” Hoffman told him as he looked at Ed for confirmation.
“I guess it would be faster if we split up,” Ed agreed. “Tell everyone to avoid the windows and evacuate through the back of the building; the plaza is not safe.”
With a nod of understanding, they went their separate ways.
The sound of gunshots had risen inside the library as Mustang’s group fought their way out; the only one fighting with alchemy, being Major Armstrong since, as much as Roy himself wanted to burn every single ghoul to ashes with just a snap of the fingers, Hawkeye reminded him coolly how, even if his flames were controlled, it wasn’t a good idea to use them in a place so flammable. So once again, he found himself feeling useless, having to resort instead on the use of conventional guns and his close combat abilities.
“Is it me, or these things are bleeding silver?” Breda asked, stepping back a bit; his group ending up staying due to the developed circumstances.
“That seems to be mercury,” Falman provided as he examined the substance dripped on the floor.
“Not to doubt your orders, Boss. But if you had let Ed help, this might have been a bit easier,” Havoc commented as he fired another round.
“Did you really expect him to finish them off knowing who they once were?” Mustang asked instead, while punching one of the ghouls on the face, making it stumble backwards and staggered enough for Hawkeye to finish the job. Just then, a hint of realization was shown on his team, even before he elaborated his reasoning. “Even knowing these are only the soulless bodies of what once were living humans, he wouldn’t stand the idea of ‘killing’ them a second time.”
“The chimeras’ apparent slight consciousness does not help either...” Fuery commented with a sad tone.
Havoc sighed in resignation, allowing himself to smile a little when he commented back. “I always forget he is still just a kid...”
They finally reached the front doors as another ghoul fell forward thanks to a well aimed bullet to the knee from Hawkeye’s gun.
“Sir, the plaza is already overrun by chimeras!” Breda informed as he checked the perimeter.
Mustang cursed under his breath already signaling his team to follow. They strolled out of the library while trying to keep the hostiles inside.
“Mayor, get us any possible exit blocked! Do not allow any more of these creatures out of that building!” Mustang ordered as the rest of the team got ready to confront the menace outside.
Just as Armstrong started performing his artistic alchemy on the library’s walls, a movement from the nearest bush got the rest of them on high alert, but before they could act on it, Hughes popped out of said plants greeting them with a straight face.
“I got a few profiles that might catch your interest,” he waved a folder in his hand as he said that. “I’ll say you are into something with the administration department. At least four of the staff members that work in that area were also working on the girl’s Institute. And not only there, they also worked at the Asylum that used to stand right in this area. You think coincidence?” he asked, not really believing his own question.
“Were there any records of animalistic behavior on their files?” Mustang asked while his team got to work on cleaning the area.
“Not that I know of,” Hughes answered with an arched eyebrow. His questioning look was enough to make Mustang explain.
“We have reasons to believe they were turned into chimeras, just like all the disappeared students from the girls’ institute,” he said as he signaled the beasts his team was battling with. “The question is, if they really are chimeras, how are they so human like? The ones we have encountered up until now seem to be acting more on animalistic instinct than anything else.”
Hughes frowned in thought. “It seems we’ll need more intel…”
Just then, Hawkeye knocked one of the birdlike creatures from the sky, causing it to fall just in front of them. Squirming in pain, it turned into a more human appearance, clutching the injured arm that was now covered in blood. The admin’s uniform was unmistakable. Both friends stared in bafflement before Hughes smirked widely.
“How much intel do you think she can provide us?”
Mustang regain his composure as they surrounded the now woman. Recognizing her as one of the admin ladies he had chat with over lunch just the day before, he smiled with fake enthusiasm before speaking. “Oh! Dorothea! So good you could join us! We got a few questions for you...”
She seemed surprised at recognizing half of the school staff as the culprits of her not so gracious landing, but her astonishment didn’t last long before she scowled at them. “I won’t betray the queen!” she spat.
Hawkeye loaded her gun loudly, conveying her message clear: ‘Speak or eat lead.’
Dorothea’s expression showed she was already changing her mind.
Back at the dormitories, a second explosion shook the Institute’s grounds alerting the already confused and panicked students.
“That sounded a lot nearer than the first explosion!”
“I’m telling you! We are going to die!”
“No, we are not! Now go and evacuate, and tell as many people as you can,” one of the senior students took charge and send a group of first years on their way, before directing his attention to a pair of middle years. “Why are you standing there? We gotta move!”
“What? Are you scared of a few tremors now?” the condescending tone was more than obvious.
“Lambert, maybe you should listen,” suggested his companion, who was nervously standing just behind his friend.
“Why? Because he is a senior?”
“This is hardly the time,” the older teen continued. “You heard what I said. Hoffman gave the notice that we need to evacuate.”
“And why do we have to believe on what Hoffman has to say? He could be lying for all I know.”
“Isn’t the explosion just now good enough a reason to believe him?” he answered in desperation. “You’re just bitter because he put you back in place when he stood up for one of your next to be victims at lunch time the other day...”
“What did you just say!?” the badly contained snickers of Lambert’s friend behind him, didn’t help his injured pride feel any better. “What about I put you back in place?”
Whatever was going to happen next, was suddenly interrupted by hurried and heavy footsteps coming their way; the strange metallic sound that came with it, making the three of them turn towards it in confusion. That’s when a couple of voiced could also be heard.
“Al! Hold on! What are you doing! You’ll get us caught!”
“Didn’t you hear what they said?! Brother could be in trouble!”
That’s when they finally got a visual of the ones creating such a commotion, which came on the shape of two bright red eyes looming towards them at high speed. What came out of the throats of the two middle years was something that they would later deny as the girliest scream that has ever rang through that institute. The high pitched sound distracted the shadowy figure from its sprint and made it tumble to the floor with a loud crash, just centimeters away from the students.
“It’s… an armor…” commented the senior as he looked at the metallic helmet that had fallen at his feet.
“B-But w-why is i-it empty?!” asked Lambert’s friend as he pointed towards the rest of the armor. “I-It was just moving, right?!”
Noticing the helmet moving at his feet, the older teen reached down with trembling hands and picked it up, revealing a small cat stretching its back.
“Is this some kind of weird joke?” Lambert asked incredulously as anger started to replace his initial fright.
The moans of pain coming from inside the armor paralyzed the group in their places, unable to do anything but stare as a blond head came out of it, followed by the rest of the body.
“Ow… my head…” the person complained looking downwards with a hand on the forehead.
“I’m sorry, Winry. I got startled,” that’s when the armor sat up making the students grow paler while their expressions made very good impressions of what could be a silent scream of pure terror.
“Well Alphose, you shouldn’t be running around in the first place!” Winry retaliated with irritation, finally looking up towards the armor.
Alphonse seemed to tense, placing his metallic hands in front of him in a placating manner. “I-I’m sorry! It’s just I really want to find Brother!”
The small whisper was barely heard, but it was enough to get the two newcomers attention. As they finally realized they were not alone, Lambert talked louder this time.
“I-It’s The Bloody Countess!” he screamed as he ran away.
“Excuse me?” Winry looked even more irritated while Alphonse just did a snorting sound.
“Whuaa! Wait for me!” his friend yelled next, following after him.
In other parts of the building, the uproar fed by the new explosion, along with the notice of evacuation was already at its peak by the time the sun was rising. Students were either hurrying to get out or helping to get everyone on the loop of what had apparently happened.
“Haven’t anyone notified the military about this?!”
“And tell them what? That we are under attack by animal like vampires trying to enter the building?”
“What? You believe that crap?”
“I saw one of them before it disappeared at the first rays of light!”
“Everyone please stay calm and evacuate through the back exits like instructed!” the few adults in the building did their best to control the situation, but with so much going on, they were having troubles getting anyone to listen. “Where is the principal when you need her?”
“Come on, Thomas! We have to evacuate!” one of his friends hurried him.
“I know but...”
“Hey, you two! I found Ed!” Fiedler interrupted as he ran towards them.
“I just heard from a few seniors that some students had come crashing through a window on the second floor. Guess who one of them was…”
“... What?” Thomas looked torn between feeling confused or completely disbelieved.
His other friend only managed to send a deadpan expression. “You know? I’m trying to feel surprised here… really, I am.”
“You can keep trying on the way or give up on it, just come,” Fiedler suggested as he signaled them to follow him.
He guided them to the east side of the dormitories where they found the teen they’ve been looking for, fuming at another three older ones.
“Who are you calling small, you abnormally tall jerk?!”
“Don’t go breaking their noses, Blecher. They are just trying to help us, younger peers. It had nothing to do with your height,” that’s when the group noticed Klain was also there, acting for once like the mediator and not the one inciting the fights.
“Ed!” Thomas voice was enough to claim their attention, giving the escaping chance the seniors needed to get away before Ed decided he didn’t like how they look with their heads on.
“Hey, Thomas. Didn’t you guys get the news for evacuation?” he greeted them.
“We were looking for you,” Fiedler explained. “Klein told us you never showed up at your room last night.”
“‘Told you he would turn up eventually,” Klein commented crossing his arms.
“Oh, sorry for worrying you,” Ed smiled apologetically as he rubbed his neck with his right arm, totally forgetting said arm had ended up completely exposed after transmuting it into a blade and ripping the clothes around it.
“Oh, wow, Ed! I didn’t know you had an automail for an arm!”
“Apparently he grabbed a chisel and stabbed his arm with it until it fell off...” Klein kindly deadpanned.
“You are really asking for it,” Ed threatened him raising his right fist.
“Is that true?” Fiedler asked in astonishment.
“Of course not! Who would be so idiotic!?”
Fiedler placed his palms in a placating gesture. “Then wha-?”
“She’s coming for us!”
The extra voice coming at them put the group in high alert. It didn’t take long before Lambert and his friend showed up running through the hall.
“What’s wrong?” Thomas was fast to ask.
“She sent her pawn of evil after us!”
“Huh!? Did the chimeras enter the building?” Ed asked to himself in alarm.
“Chimeras?” Klein asked in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Hey! Did this countess look like a humanoid animal?” Ed asked Lambert deciding to ignore the questioning looks.
“What? No! She looks human,” Lambert answered.
“But she can manipulate metal armors to do her bindings,” provided his friend.
“Metal-?” that’s when Ed got suspicious. Without another word he went on his way towards the direction in which the two middle years had come from.
“Where are you going, Ed? The nearest exit is the other way, through the cafeterias’ back entrance.”
“Um… I forgot something, just go ahead, I’ll catch up!” he answered as he sprinted out of sight.
A few turns later, Ed found himself in front of a student frozen in place. He slowed down to a normal walk, passing around him to find his hands raised at chest level carrying a very familiar helmet; his face reflecting an astounded expression.
“Are you okay?” Ed asked the older teen, receiving a choking sound as the only acknowledgment to his question.
With a quick scan around the place, he found a certain headless armor standing near the wall looking completely out of place. Ed frowned, taking the helmet from the senior’s hands and walking towards the rest of the armor.
“Ah- W-wait!” his actions seemed to get the senior back to his senses. “Don’t-”
“How many time do I have to tell you to stop picking up strays from the alleys?!” Ed yelled as he threw the helmet towards his little brother, causing Al to yell in surprise losing his balance and falling to the ground; the cat coming out with a screech of discomfort.
“Watch where you throw that thing, Edward!” Winry’s voice sounded from behind a hall decoration as the helmet suddenly came back and hit him on the head.
“Whaa! Stop throwing my head around!” Al exclaimed in alarmed running after the rolling item.
A thud behind them got their attention, finding the senior now sprawled on the ground.
“Ah! This is your fault, Ed! Look what you did!”
“Me? I’m not the one posing as a Bloodthirsty Countess and scaring the crap out of the students with my scary fac-!”
Ed met ‘new wrench’ face to metal jaw, which immediately got him acquainted with the hall’s floor.
“Agh! Stop hitting me, you crazy gearhead!”
“Brother! We’ve been looking for you!” Al interrupted before the two could start bickering. “I’m glad to see you are okay!”
“You know I’m undercover, Al. You are not supposed to be here,” Ed reprimanded while sitting up. “How did you two managed to trespass anyway?”
A purring sound made the three look down to find an older grey cat snuggling the smaller kitten.
“Aw, look! He found his mom!” Al commented pleasantly.
“Isn’t this the same cat I saw in the underground tunnels? How did it get here?” It took Ed just seconds for the realization to hit him. “That basement is huge; of course there are other ways in beside the library’s entrance!”
“Entrance where?” Winry asked in curiosity.
“I’ll explain later, we have to alert the Colonel to check for all possible ways into the underground tunnels.”
Hurried steps alerted them of someone coming, causing them to enter into a slight panic before Al and Winry resumed their hiding places. Seconds later, Van Thorndike strolled at fast pace through the hall so focused in her own thoughts she didn’t see Ed as he helped a much disoriented senior sit up.
“Miss Van Thorndike,” he pronounced in surprise.
“Oh, Edward, what are you two doing?” before Ed could think for an excuse, she continued. “There’s no time to be goofing off, I just got a notice that the ground under the cafeteria gave away and a lot of students seem to be in trouble.”
“What?! How long ago was that?”
“Just a few minute ago, I believe. Now go and tell your peers to not use that exit, then-”
“Wait. I’ll go too. You might need the help,” Ed interrupted before she could finish; his expression daring her to refuse.
“...If you must. Murray, you’re in charge of alerting the rest of your peers,” she ordered the senior. “Let no one near that place.”
“Y-Yes, ma’am,” Murray managed to answer, no quiet on his senses yet.
“Now let’s hurry.”
With the hall finally vacated, Al relaxed his posture. “Let’s go, too,” he suggested, getting a nod of agreement from Winry before they too were off.
A few meters ahead of them Ed and Van Thorndike reached the cafeteria in record time, only to find Thomas and company standing in the middle of it discussing something with a few others. No hole on the ground, nor menace coming from it in sight.
“Huh?” Ed walked in complete confusion towards the group.
“Hey, Ed. Did you find what you were looking?”
“We have bad new! The cafeteria’s back doors are locked tight!”
“We were trying to figure out which was the nearest exit from here.”
Ed barely heard what they were saying concentrated on scanning the place for anything unusual. He frowned in thought looking back at the door he came from to address the principal, only to find the doorway empty with no signs of her.
“Where did she go?” he asked in suspicion.
That same instant, the sound of a third explosion resounded right under their feet, making most of them fall out of balance. No later than that, the ground started giving away right where they were. The last thing Ed registered was the screams of terror behind him and the sight of his little brother and his childhood friend just arriving at the doorway, before the cafeteria scenery was lost to sudden darkness.