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22 April 2011 @ 09:55 pm
FMA Big Bang: When in Xing [1/4]  
Well, here's my Big Bang fic! Posting a little late since I wanted to get some last minute editing in. Hope you guys enjoy it!

Title: When in Xing
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 29,670
Pairing: Ed/Winry, hints of Al/Mei and Ling/Ran Fan
Warning: Teeny bit of nudity and Ed has a potty mouth
Summary: When Al goes missing in Xing, it's up to Ed and Winry to investigate. In addition to dodging assassins, researching a mysterious cult and trying to catch a moment to relieve the sexual tension, Ed has decided it's a perfect time as any to take a few tips from his favorite fictional action hero, James Band. Unfortunately, he learns many of these "tips" are best left to dime novels.
Notes: Thanks so much to haganeneko  for the beta and to bob_fish for the awesome and hilarious art. You guys rock!




Photobucket
art by bob_fish




Two bodies raced across the desert, their footsteps muffled in the sand. It was dark; only the star’s faint light lit their way. Though they panted in exhaustion, never did they stop.

They couldn’t take that chance.

“This way!” The smaller one pointed to the ruined building in the distance. The taller nodded and changed direction; right now, finding cover was their only hope.

The rough, crumbling stone ruin was their refuge. Any other time, they might’ve stopped to read the ancient letters carved onto the rock, but not now.

Now they needed somewhere to hide.

They darted down narrow passages and ancient corridors, hearing their pursuers behind them. The taller of the two, a boy with golden hair, knew he could run faster than this, but he wasn’t about to leave his companion.

Besides, it was his fault they had gotten into this mess.

“Down here!” he whispered to his companion, gesturing to a narrow corridor that led deep into the earth. She nodded and they raced down it; many other ruins had secret exits, so maybe—

Nothing. They nearly ran headfirst into a brick wall. The boy felt the stone, saying, “No good; its underground, we can’t just blast it open—”

And that was when she gasped, looking back—they had been caught.

The ones that had followed them came closer, and the golden-haired boy stepped in front of the girl, shielding her. His golden eyes glared back as several men advanced toward them. Damn it! Anything they tried would bury them alive; the weakening of one stone might send this whole place crashing down!

A chuckle, and then a voice said in Amesterian, “Well now, what is this? Two alchemists, trapped like rats?”




Edward Elric smiled as he took a step over the hill and saw the house he knew so well. It wasn’t just the scent of fresh grass or the pale blue sky above—now he knew he was home.

He loved traveling; the idea of seeing new worlds, new places, and the thought of a journey always beckoned to him, even when he was at his most content. But he had to remember that sometimes the best part of a journey was coming home.

It had been a long trip, and his butt was sore from sitting on that cramped train seat for hours, but at last, he was here. Warm apple pie and a good, long nap called to him from just beyond that door.

The train ride had seemed a lot shorter than usual, since he had taken Al’s advice and picked up a book to read before leaving. He bought a novel at a bookstore shortly before departing that depicted a man wearing a tux and carrying a gun on the cover. Ed only chose it because all the others in the store were cheesy romance novels, and at least this one looked a bit manly.

And it was. It was about James Band, secret agent from Creta who regularly snuck into Drachma to do spy-stuff. Actually, it was really awesome, with James Band fighting Drachma spies, rescuing the girl (and getting a bit more than a kiss in reward!) and staying cool and suave the whole time. If it weren’t for the egregious errors in alchemical formula (transmutation circles don’t work that way, damn it!) he might have promoted the novel to one of his favorite books.

It left him wondering if there was a way he could get Winry to say “Why Mr, Elric, I believe we’re starting to get to know each other better,” next time they were alone together.

Ed grabbed the mail from the mailbox and strode up to the house. There was time to think about that later. But for now—

He opened the front door and she was there, just as he knew she would be. “Ed!” Her arms flew around his neck and she kissed him good and long. When Winry finally pulled back, both of them breathless, she smiled, “Welcome home.”

“Yeah,” he smiled back. It was good to be home.

His fiancée herded him into the kitchen, and he dropped his suitcase down on the floor to deal with later. “I didn’t think your train would be early for once. The apple pie’s not even done yet.”

“I can wait,” he grinned as she bent over the oven to check on the pie. It was worth the wait if she kept bending over like that…

She knew what he was up to, smirking back and wiggling her butt a little bit. “Granny’s downstairs with a patient, but she probably heard you come in, so she’ll be up later.”

“How is she, anyway? Still hanging in there?” Ed shuffled through the mail…bills, newspapers, order forms, and a letter from Xing! He slit it open.

“Knowing her, she’ll live to a hundred…” Winry got quiet as she adjusted the temperature of the stove. After a minute, she said, “Ed…there’s something we need to talk about…”

But Ed hadn’t heard her; he was too shocked by the letter he had just received.

Ed,

I’m writing this quickly because there isn’t much time. You know the Emperor passed away two weeks ago, and I’m waiting for the customary month to go by before I can be crowned. But something happened that I can’t deal with, even with my new status.

Your brother was here in the capital city until a week ago, when he went with Mei Chan to study some ruins in the Xingese desert. They were supposed to return after a few days. I haven’t seen them since.

Ed, I’ve tried to find them, but found nothing. I don’t know your brother like you do. There’s been a lot of suspicious characters floating around Xing since the old emperor died, and I’m beginning to wonder if their disappearance is no accident.

I’m begging you as a friend, please help me find him.

Ling

“Ed?” Winry asked, turning to face him. The color was draining from his face. “Ed!”

Finally, he looked up at her, fear in his eyes. “Ed, what’s wrong?” She took his hand.

“Xing.”

She stared. “What?”

“I have to go to Xing!”




There was a slow beep, beep as the bomb timer ticked slowly down…the clock read :10.

Ten seconds to live.

Veronica gasped, her sparkling blue orbs widening as her ample chest heaved up and down, giving him a nice view of her cleavage.“James…what are we going to do? James!” she suddenly yelled in her distress, wide mouth open and crying.

A normal man would have given up. But he wasn’t a normal man. He was better than a normal man. He was James Band!

Despite being tied head to toe in thick leather thongs that conveniently didn’t obscure the view of his well-muscled bare chest, he said in his suave, yet gruff voice, “Don’t worry, Veronica—haven’t you ever heard the phrase, ‘Dying is for another day’?”

He managed to free his hand, then, grunting with the effort, reached for his stainless-steel belt-buckle that conveniently hid a laser, three knives, and mini-machinegun. He grimaced as he tried to reach—

“Hurry, James!” Veronica cried, her blue orbs widening as he reached for that laser on his crotch.

The timer continued to tick down.
Beep, beep… :03. :02. :01…

James!” Veronica screeched.

:00.

Boom!

Then there was an explosion of fire, metal, plastic, electrical wiring, and more fire as James’s finger found the laser just in the nick of time. As always, but especially right now.

“Oh, James!” Veronica cried, but this time in a good way as James freed his other hand, then used his belt buckle-laser to burn through the ropes binding her, accidentally cutting off a big patch of her dress near her midriff. Not that he would complain about it. He liked his women scantily-clad.

Veronica threw herself into his arms, her well-sized chest pushing up against his firm, toned muscles, and she kissed him with as much force as she could. Their tongues entwined in a lavish dance of lust that wasn’t really a dance but felt so good, so right. She pulled him down on top of her, and he decided that a dungeon in the middle of Drachma was as good of a place as any, despite the fact that Doctor Scorpio was still on the run--

“Are you reading that stupid book again?” Winry gave a disapproving tut as she looked over Ed’s shoulder. They sat on the rough benches of the train platform in the middle of the Xingese desert. It felt weird traveling to another country with Winry in tow, but some part of him didn’t mind, like this felt right. “I should’ve brought one of my automail magazines instead of borrowing that book on the train.”

Ed snapped the book shut and glared at her. “It was not stupid! It was cool! The way Band throws the guy to the sharks at the end—”

“Ed, there aren’t any sharks in Drachma. And there’s no way James Band could’ve wrestled it underwater with his bare hands.”

“Bet he could. I killed a shark once.”

Winry gave an irritated sigh at that story being brought up again. “You didn’t wrestle it, did you?”

“No. But it was a really big one!”

“I know, Ed. But it wasn’t in Drachma. And speaking of Drachma, why would there be a huge battle tank disguised as a mountain? Can you imagine the machinery needed to flick the top off the mountain like that? At least the alchemy was realistic—”

Ed threw his hands in the air. “Are you kidding me? The author doesn’t even understand the principle of Equivalent Exchange! Not to mention that you can’t make something out of nothing—and Band wasn’t even a qualified alchemist! He didn’t even recognize the periodic table when it was on the wall—!” After a moment to calm down, Ed said, “Well, least he got the girl in the end. Even if she started out as a Drachman spy.”

Winry snorted at that one. “She probably still is a Drachman spy.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Her name’s Veronica Busti.”

“So?”

Winry sighed again, as if it was obvious. “Whatever. I still think the book was stupid.” She shook her head again at the ridiculousness of it all, while her finger toyed with the engagement ring on her finger. Ed was very proud of that ring. When he bought it three years ago, he thought that a typical ring might interfere with her working with metal, so he asked the jeweler if he could set the diamond into the band so it wouldn’t be in the way.

That was one of his more brilliant ideas, if Winry’s reaction had been any indication. When he told her why he had it made that way, she had grabbed him and kissed him and…well, made him very happy he had done it.

“Ed, there’s something I want to talk about.” she said, avoiding meeting his eyes.

“Hmm?” he looked at her, curious. Why didn’t she mention this on the train? They had plenty of time to waste while riding to the last stop on the line.

She got quiet again. Before she had a chance to get up the courage—

“Hello! Nice to see you again!”

Ed whirled around to see Ling standing there, trademark grin on his face, and unaware that he had interrupted anything. “How did you—?” Ed was beginning to wonder if appearing out of thin air was a Xingese art or something.

Seconds later, a certain black-clad figure leapt down from the roof of the platform, the usual stoic mask on her face.

Most definitely a Xingese art.

Ling glanced at the two of them, smiling wide as ever. “So, how’ve you been? Finally popped the question, did you?” Both Ed and Winry blushed.

“None of your business,” growled Ed.

Ling laughed, but Ran Fan cut him off before he could make any more inquiries. “Your Highness, we have to hurry back to the capital.”

“Right,” Ling said, the huge grin he had seconds before falling to a more serious expression. He looked out to the desert, where a carriage pulled by four white horses had pulled up. “I’ll explain everything on the way there.”

Ed and Winry exchanged glances for a moment, then stood up and grabbed their bags, taking Ling up on his offer. “Oh, don’t worry about that!” Ling said, able to regain his smile as he snapped his fingers. Two attendants appeared on the platform as if they had been conjured out of midair. “Being the crown prince has its perks!” Ling explained, as the two attendants took their bags for them. “I’ve got a meal already prepared that we can eat on the way, or if you prefer, you can also order some more once we get to the palace—”

“That’s great, Ling,” Ed cut him off as they followed him to the carriage. “Just…” He swallowed. “Tell me what happened to my brother.”




“He had been researching the Xerxian ruins out in the desert. He often took Mei along, but what they were researching I don’t know…”

That was pointless…He already knew that!

“After a few weeks of this, he said he had discovered something huge. I asked him if it had to do with alchemy and he said no…”

But wasn’t that why Al was studying with the girl? Because of alchemy? What else could they have discovered in those ruins but secrets of Xerxian alchemy?

“Before he left, he told me to get in touch with you if he didn’t come back. I asked why but he didn’t say…he just smiled and said to do it.”

But why? Why hadn’t Al said anything? What would make his brother so secretive that, even if it was dangerous, he wouldn’t say a thing?

“Ed, if anyone can find him, it’s you.”

If anyone could find him…but he didn’t know where to begin looking! He didn’t have any clues, and if Al hadn’t been so tight-lipped about it, maybe he would have known something—!

But his brother wasn’t stupid. If Al asked Ling to get in touch with him, there must be something he could find.

“This was his room,” Ling said, as he took Ed to that room hidden within the maze-like corridors of the palace. The huge, red door swung inward and, for a moment, Ed stood there, amazed.

Al had described his room in his letters as “small”. But if this was Al’s idea of “small” he might just take his brother’s next dig at his height as a compliment.

Large silk curtains were draped all over the room, and in addition to the king-sized bed at the center of the room, squishy poufs were arranged around a low table. There was also a western-style desk and chair shoved into a corner of the room, as if the decorators were ashamed of it being there. Ed went for that first.

Al’s notes were arranged in piles on top of the desk, but besides a map or an array or two, Ed didn’t understand any of it. His brother had learned how to code his notes far too well. After shuffling through several pages of the stuff, Ed was about ready to give up, Damn it, Al, give me something I can work with! He couldn’t spend days trying to decipher this—

That was when he flipped to the end of his brother’s journal. The last page…something was different about this page. These notes were encoded differently, like they were a travelogue.

Similar to his own notes.

Ed zeroed in on this and, after a few minutes, he broke the code. It wasn’t as sophisticated as his own, but close enough that no one else would have understood it—

Find Hell’s Well.

…What?

He read it again, but didn’t comprehend it at all. If it hadn’t been encoded so differently, he would have brushed it off. But the fact that his brother had bothered to encrypt it in this fashion gave him reason to file it away for later.

So his brother had left him a note, but it wasn’t enough to go on.

The rest of the notes yielded nothing useful. With a sigh, Ed stood up and stretched his legs, thinking.

“Hell’s Well”? What was that about? His brother visited Xerxian ruins in the desert; there weren’t any wells out there.

Ed sat on his brother’s bed, hesitating before he lay down and stretched out. Hmm…think like Al…

If there were any wells, then why was this one called “Hell’s Well”? He tucked his hands behind his head in his usual habit, fingers slipping under the feather pillow. Hmm…

Ed froze when his fingers brushed against something. Paper. Jerking up, he pulled out a folded note.

His brother really knew him well.

It was written in haste and Al hadn’t even bothered to encode it, Brother, stay away from the Sage Reborn.

That was even more confusing.




“Did you find anything?” Ling asked when Ed met him later in Ling’s “presence chamber”—he was told it was where the emperor did all state business, but it looked more like a glorified sitting room to Ed. Ling got to recline on a couch while the rest of the lesser mortals got lumpy poufs. And was there really a need for the scantily-clad concubine playing a harp over there in the corner?

Ignoring the concubine, Ed dug the paper out of his pocket. “Yeah. You were right—Al left notes for me.” He waved the second one in front of Ling’s face, and asked, “Do you know about anything called ‘Hell’s Well’?”

“Hmm…” Ling studied Al’s note. “I’m not an expert, but I’ve never heard of that. But this—” He pointed to the folded note. “I have heard of something called ‘The Sage Reborn’. I think it’s related to one of the religious cults. The emperor is head of the state religion, but there are many different branches and cults within the city.”

“A cult?” Jeez, Al, what did you get into?

“I’ll look into it,” Ling thought hard. “I know I heard that phrase somewhere before…from an Amesterian.”

“An Amesterian? An Amesterian in Xing?”

Ling blinked. “You didn’t know? Ever since The Promised Day and your government was rebuilt, a lot of Amesterians came to Xing. Some came to get away from the chaos, others because they wanted to see the country. Lots more arrived when the rail lines were completed and the Amesterian embassy was set up. And I know as the crown prince and soon-to-be emperor I should be warm and welcoming to all visitors of Xing, but I don’t like it.”

“What are they doing?”

Ling rested his chin in his hand, staring blankly in thought. “Hmm…it’s hard to explain…I haven’t seen it myself, but Ran Fan says when the foreigners see our fabulous temples or hear about our healing alchemy they’re…unimpressed.”

“He is right.” Ed jumped when he saw half of Ran Fan’s mask emerge from behind Ling’s couch. How long had she been there?! “They say rude things about our customs.” Her part done, she slid back into obscurity.

Ed would be wary of certain eavesdroppers next time he met Ling “alone”. “Still, I don’t know why you’re worried about them saying rude things. They’re just tourists—”

“It’s not that. It’s that afterwards, they talk amongst themselves about how primitive our country is compared to yours. About how they want to ‘improve’ it. How they could do so much better with our resources than what we’re already doing.”

That might be a little worse than he originally thought, but all the same… “It’s just talk, right? It’s not like they can do anything about it; Xing’s government is stronger than our own right now.”

“You’re probably right. But as the future emperor, I have to keep track of these things. It’s like the list of rival clans that say they’ll revolt if I’m crowned emperor. It’s just important to know.”

That was something to worry about. “A revolt? That’s a bit—”

Ling waved if off. “Trust me, it’s all talk. They all threatened to revolt when the last emperor came to the throne, but nothing happened. Now, it’s getting pretty late. Why don’t I get you a room—” He stopped short, grinning. “Or, would you like two of them?” he said, with an impish grin.

Ed blushed, glad that Winry wasn’t in the room. “One’s fine.”




It really was late; if it hadn’t taken them so long to cross the desert, they might have made it back to the capital before nightfall. Still, the view from their room was beautiful—with an open balcony facing the city, allowing in soft breeze to send the silk hangings billowing.

After long moments of silence while Ed and Winry lay in bed together, Ed finally worked up the courage to say what he had wanted to all day. “You know, you didn’t have to come with me.”

“Of course I did,” she said at once. “Al’s my friend, too.”

“I know that, but…” It looks like it might be dangerous. I don’t want to see you get hurt.

“Ed…” Her fingers came to brush his cheek; she could always tell what he couldn’t say.

Changing the subject, he addressed the elephant in the room. “Al is…Al’s smart. He and Mei have alchemy. Even if they’re missing, they’ll be able to take care of themselves.” For a while. Until they have nothing left to transmute to keep them alive. “Al’s still out there. He’s okay. I’d—I’d know if he wasn’t.”

Not to mention he’d probably black out until his brother woke up, too.

“You mean like he knew you weren’t okay?” Winry slipped her hand under his shirt feel the rough, star-shaped scar across his lower abdomen.

His hand came to cup hers; he didn’t want her thinking about that. He didn’t want to think about that.

“I don’t know where he is, but…right now, he’s alive. And waiting for me to find him—”

“Waiting for us to find him,” Winry corrected with a smile.

He couldn’t help but smile back. “Yeah.”

Don’t worry, Al. It might take a few days, but we’ll find you, I promise!




Ed had thought that Xing was beautiful at night. That wasn’t even close to how it looked during the day.

Standing outside on their room’s balcony, Ed looked at the city that stretched almost endlessly into the distance—he saw towering temples, eroding statues, and grids of housing stretching off as far as he could see. The gold plating covering the huge temple of Xing sparkled in the sunlight, and even in this metropolis, Ed could smell the soothing scent of the river that snaked through the city.

No wonder Al loved it here. It truly was a new world.

It was new worlds like this that he wanted to see—all the places he hadn’t visited yet beckoned to him—

He quickly brushed that thought aside, ignoring the little pang of guilt. Ed looked back into the room, now lit with the light of dawn. Winry still snored on, and Ed suppressed a chuckle; even after all these years, she still hated mornings. Trying to wake her up would do no good—he suspected she had her wrench in her bag and wouldn’t be against using it on his noggin if he shook her this early.

Ed leaned against the railing, closing his eyes and letting his senses take it in once more. The air here reminded him of Resembool—so clean and not at all filled with the lingering taste of coal like in Central. Once Winry finally got up, they could ask Ling about the cult he mentioned the day before. Maybe they could pay a visit to their temple.

A sharp tug on the top of his head. “Ow!” Ed screeched, eyes popping open. “What the—”

A tiny Xingese boy dressed in rags sat atop the balcony as if he had just appeared there. In his hands were several of Ed’s golden hairs. “What the Hell—?”

The boy said something in Xingese, then dropped down from the balcony to the courtyard below.

Al had once mentioned that some forms of Xingese alchemy used hair as a way of directing the transmutation from far away. Ed didn’t want to know what that kid could do with his hair and knowledge of Xingese alchemy. “Try that, you little runt—!” Ed had his hands on the railing, about to vault over after the kid, but he saw Winry stirring out of the corner of his eye.

“Ed, what—?” Her mouth fell open as he threw a leg over. “What are you doing?”

“Never mind!” he snapped, hoping he didn’t end up too far behind the boy. “I’ll be back later, don’t worry about it!”

He dropped to the ground. He wasn’t about to tell Winry that this was a personal matter. He spotted the kid running in the narrow alley between two buildings, and dashed after him. “Come back here!”

Damn, this kid was fast! Ed raced into the alleyway, leaping over a pile of baskets and nearly crashing into an old lady who swore at him in Xingese. “Sorry—sorry! Damn it!” Ed skidded to a halt at the alley’s end and saw the kid dashing down another street. “I said get back here!”

He spotted the little runt as he sideswiped a man sweeping a porch. Ed shot after him, only to end up in the middle of the market. He lost the kid amidst the barrels and carts of supplies, eyes darting back and forth, scanning past the merchants selling produce or barrels of rice or fine jewelry or—there!

Ed chased after him again, before darting down another slim street. Along the way, Ed was hit in the face by some newly washed sheets, bumped into an old man on a cane (He did yell a feeble “Sorry!” back at him, though), then chased the kid between another two buildings and then—

Ed stopped.

The kid ran up steps leading to a circular building with two large statues out front. A temple? Ed figured it was just another one of those weird Xingese religions, but then looked at the statues.

They were painted, like a lot of statues in Xing, and instead of some dark haired Xingese man, they showed someone who looked… familiar.

The statue had golden eyes and golden hair that fell past his shoulders, a golden beard, and a kind, fatherly smile…

It wasn’t perfect, no, but it did look a bit like someone he once knew.

Curious, he went inside.

The little boy was there, talking with a man wearing long robes at the far end of the dimly-lit temple. There was another statue inside of the same figure, except this one was made out of gold. “Hey,” he said, glaring at the kid who squeaked and hid behind the man. “What do you think you’re doing?”

The man glanced at the child. “I apologize for his actions; he was just excited.” Then the man’s eyes flickered up at Ed’s hair in its lazy ponytail and said, “Though I see he wasn’t lying.”

“So what was that about? I don’t appreciate having my hair ripped out of my head, thank you very much,” Ed scowled back.

The man sighed and then turned to the statue behind him. “I shall explain. This boy lives here with me; his parents were lost in a flood last year, and now I’m training him to become a priest someday. This place is our holy temple—the Temple of the Sage Reborn.”

That made Ed’s eyes open wider—didn’t Al tell him to stay away from it? But he wasn’t about to show it on is his face. “And what’s the Sage Reborn?”

The priest nodded toward the statue before him. “You know, don’t you? Of the tale of the Sage of the West? He came to Xing ages ago, and taught us great knowledge. He then left, never to return again. That is, what most believe.”

Ed took a moment to look around the temple. Besides the giant golden statue, there were also painted scenes upon the walls; scenes of this golden haired, golden eyed sage teaching knowledge to the Xingese. An altar stood before the statue, with sweet-smelling incense slowly burning and a day’s offerings of food and coin piled upon it.

“Of course, we of the Qin clan believe that one day, the Sage will return. He will come back to Xing and will teach us an even greater knowledge than before.”

Ed couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. He doubted the “Sage of the West” would ever return to Xing, and though he wasn’t one for religion, he wasn’t about to burst their bubble.

He still needed a few answers.

“So what was with that kid?” he said, pointing back at the small boy, who was now adjusting the flowers near the altar. “What does my hair have to do with this?”

The priest gave a small bow, a Xingese gesture. “Please forgive him. You see, our cult has searched for the Sage for hundreds of years, and while we’ve seen some of your race, we have never seen someone with your…unusual coloring. Golden hair and golden eyes…just like our Sage.”

The boy now said some words in Xingese and placed the hairs on the altar, bowing before them.

Ed shrugged it off, “Well, whatever. There are a few out there who look like this—”

“Yes, I know. Another one like you was drawn to this temple a few weeks ago,” the priest nodded. “He seemed fascinated, and some followers had to be held back, they were so overwhelmed at the sight—”

“Wait,” Ed cut him off, heart thudding. “Al’s been here?

“You mean the other one? Yes, he came here. He had some questions for me as well.”

Ed could barely contain his impatience. “What were they? What did he ask?”

The priest paused, noticing his change in demeanor. Still, he told him. “He wanted to know if anyone else got the same treatment—if anyone else had been adored by our followers as he had been.”

“And has there been anyone else?” A “Sage Reborn”…if there was another one it had to be what Al meant in his note. He didn’t know how the pieces fit together yet, but somehow—

“Yes, one other man, who visited months ago…He was Amesterian, like you, but the followers hadn’t seen anyone like you yet, so they worshipped him anyway.”

“What did he look like?” Ed didn’t care if he was being rude now.

“Well…blond hair and brown eyes. But most Amesterians have blue, so…”

Ed sighed, the excitement in his chest fading. He had seen plenty of blond haired, brown eyed Amesterians in his day. There were probably twenty or so already in the Xingese capital, if Ling’s claims of Amesterian tourism were real. “Well…thanks.” It wasn’t much, but it was something to go on, at least.

He felt a tug on his pant leg and looked down to see the Xingese boy again. The kid gave him that bowing gesture, then said a few words in Xingese. Ed glanced back at the priest, “What did he say?”

The priest smiled at the child. “He says he’s sorry he upset you, but hopes you forgive him. He believes he made the Sage happy with his offering.”

Ed looked up at that golden statue again—the very gilded image of his father in life. If there was an afterlife, his father would probably be laughing over the whole thing right now. He pushed aside the sliver of regret that crept into his heart and said, “Don’t worry about it.”




Ed walked out of the temple, noticing a funny feeling in his gut…like someone was watching him. Ed scanned the buildings surrounding him—just a bunch of mud-brick houses, like the rest of the poorer city. A lot of people lived here, so it was stupid to think that—

There!

A curtain fluttered on the third floor of one of the buildings. He spotted a silhouette, but he couldn’t make it out clearly.

Well, if anyone was watching him, there wasn’t much he could do about it now. Giving whoever it was one last glare, he turned, and headed back to the palace.




Ed hadn’t realized how far he had run while chasing the brat down. It wasn’t hard to find the palace again (just look for the big, regal-looking building on the horizon and head that way) but it did take a while to navigate the winding streets. Plus, market day was in full swing and it was necessary to dodge short, old ladies who shoved fish under his nose and screamed prices in Xingese.

Somehow he managed to find his way back (Ling must have noticed he left; the guards said nothing as he walked through the gate) and found his room again. Ed was unsure of how much time had passed, but he was looking forward to taking a long, blissful nap…

When he opened the door to the room, and saw Winry, naked and bathing in a tub.

Ed!” she screeched, reaching for something behind the tub (probably a wrench) before remembering that he had seen her naked before.

“Sorry, sorry!” he said, slamming the door shut and holding his hands up in surrender. “You should’ve warned me or something!”

Winry gave him a dirty look and went back to scrubbing her hair. “Well, you just left, by jumping out the window! How was I supposed to know when you got back? So when the maids came in and brought in a tub, I figured you might be gone all day for all I knew—!”

Ed really did like how when she moved her arms back like that to massage her scalp, her (magnificent!) breasts thrust forward and were ever so perky…

“Ed!” she snapped, giving him a glare. “Are you even listening to me?”

“No.” His eyes trailed along her tummy, onto the bent knee peeking out of the water…

Winry gave a sigh and said something that sounded suspiciously like “Men!

“You know,” he said with a grin, peeling off his socks ruined by traipsing about the capital in them, “I could use a bath too.”

“Bet you could,” Winry muttered, hiding a smile.

Ed stripped off his shirt, taking just a moment to smirk when her eyes widened when presented with Edward Elric in his natural form. He came to the edge of the tub, giving her the show that she wanted, reaching slooowly for the button on his pants—

When there was a knock on the door. “Ed, are you back yet?”

Ed whirled around to snarl at the door. Ling!

He was about to snarl at that stupid prince to go away! but Winry’s hand was already on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Ed. Just hand me that robe over there.”

He gave her a cross look, but seized the black Xingese robe off the bed and handed it to her. After they got themselves decent and squeezed all the water out of her hair, they let Ling in.

Ed tried not to pout.

This wouldn’t have happened to James Band.

“One of the guards said you left the palace this morning,” Ling said, grinning broadly. Right now that grin was just infuriating. “Where did you go?”

“He was chasing after some kid, weren’t you, Ed?” Winry gave him a pointed look.

He did not answer that question. “I found something out, if you’d care to know.”

“What?”

“Remember when Al wrote that note saying ‘Beware the Sage Reborn’?” Ed explained, “I went into the city and found their temple. There’s some crazy cult worshipping the Sage of the West in hopes that he’ll return someday.”

“The Sage of the West?” Ling’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Wasn’t that your—”

“Yeah,” Ed cut him off before he could say it. “But he’s dead. He’s not coming back. Anyway, I did learn something—Al went there a few weeks ago, asking a few questions. So it’s definitely connected.”

“That’s not much to go on,” Winry thought out loud. “Anything else?”

“The priest said someone else came to the temple, too. An Amesterian. With blond hair and brown eyes…”

Ling and Winry saw the problem right away. “There are a lot of people like that.”

“Probably less in Xing then in Amestris,” Ling conceded. “But we don’t know if they went back to Amestris or not. It could just be a coincidence.”

“No,” Ed said firmly, folding his arms across his chest. “I don’t think it is. Most of the tourists would go for the big temples and things like that, right? This one was small, hidden in back alleys—not many people outside the followers would know about it. Besides, if Al went there asking questions, it has to be connected.”

“Hmm…” Ling thought for a few seconds. “I’ll get Ran Fan on it. Maybe she can find out something.”

“Yeah. Also, can you get me a meeting with the Amestesian ambassador? I want to ask him a few things.” Maybe the ambassador would know about any troublemaking Amestesians.

Ling nodded. “I’ll do that; actually, I was going to have a meeting with him today. I’ll ask him then.”

“Good.” But that wouldn’t offer answers right away. Damn it, was there anything else he could do? Ed had only gathered a few puzzle pieces here and there. He needed to find a way to fit them together…There had to be somewhere else he could get information…

What would James Band do…?

“Hey, Ling,” Ed turned back to the crown prince. “Didn’t Al come here with those two chimeras? What happened to them?”




“You know, I don’t know why Ran Fan won’t let me tune up her automail…I could make it much more streamlined—”

“She won’t let you do it because you’re scary when you get into automail mode,” muttered Ed as they walked down a street in the heart of the Xingese capital.

Winry turned to him, eyes like ice. “And what does that mean?”

“You heard me. You get this glint in your eyes, and then the gears start flying!”

She folded her arms over her chest. “You didn’t seem to mind much the last time I gave you an automail tune up, remember?”

Ed was glad it was night, or she might’ve seen the blush spread across his cheeks. He didn’t need to remember that when they were on a mission. “That was…different!

But maybe he could convince her to “tune up” his automail again once they got back to the palace…

Winry rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh. Is this it?”

The couple looked at the building they came to on the corner—it was large, square, and looked like it had been an abandoned warehouse at one time. Light shone through the open doors and, if the crowd and noise was any indication, it was the hot place to be right now. “Looks like it,” Ed said, as they made their way through the obnoxious crowd and inside.

Shouts and cheers came from the throng as all looked toward the center of the well lit building. A raised, circular platform that had been erected from wooden crates. Two muscled figures stared each other down while a third man shouted excitedly in Xingese. Looking around, Ed could tell Ling was right about something—there were quite a few Amesterians in the crowd, and he counted at least three with the combination of blue eyes and blond hair.

Damn it, he’d better get some answers tonight!

Paper and coin shuffled about the crowd as the third, tiny man gave another exclamation, followed by a bell ringing somewhere.

The chubby announcer hopped off the stage as the two shirtless figures started to circle one another. “What are they doing?” Winry asked, watching the two men hunker low and revolve around each other.

“A type of Xingese boxing,” Ed explained. “Al wrote to me about it once. They circle each other for a minute or two, and then lunge, trying to throw the other out of the ring. Usually it’s done with a circle drawn on the ground, but like this…” He glanced at the platform, and the drop of a few feet onto stone. It would be painful, to put it lightly.

The two figures charged; grabbing each other and pushing, shoving. Cheers erupted as the taller of the two was shoved back, back and then—

The shorter flew off the platform to a round of thunderous applause. Money exchanged hands as the taller man—dark skinned with dreadlocks—held up his hands in victory.

Ed pushed his way through the excited crowd to get to the stage. “Hey! Frog Man!”

That got his attention. Jeloso looked down at him in surprise. “The short Elric?”

Ed fought hard to hold back the low growl in the back of his throat. “We need to talk!”

The chimera looked back at the crowd, still thundering in applause. He gave another bow and said, “Sorry, Kid. I got another few matches. Then Zampano’s gonna have a go—”

“We need to talk now—!” But the chimera didn’t hear him—the announcer approached Jeloso and spoke to him in Xingese. Ed didn’t understand a word of Xingese, but it appeared (from Jeloso’s reaction and the announcers gestures, anyway) that he was being offered more matches to sate the crowd.

Fed up, Ed didn’t even wonder about what James Band would do before climbing up onto the platform.

“Ed! What are you doing?” Winry shouted, scrabbling to grab him back, but his arm slipped from her fingers.

“Going to have a talk with this moron,” Ed told her, but her reply (probably something threatening, given the way her face was starting to redden in anger) was lost in the roar of the crowd.

The announcer pointed at him, and gave an excited Xingese shout and hastily backed off the platform.

“They think you’re challenging me,” Jeloso explained.

“I want to talk about Al,” Ed repeated, hands resting in his pockets. “And I want to talk now.”

At the mention of his brother, Jeloso looked sheepish. “Look…they’ve got me up until I lose, then Zampano after me. Can’t this wait?”

“Fine,” Ed said, hands moving to his hips in a defiant posture. “We’ll settle this their way,” he nodded to the plump announcer now taking bets. “First one to fall off the platform loses. You win, I’ll wait. I win, we talk now.”

Jeloso laughed out loud. “Are you kidding? You’re maybe a bit taller than the last time I saw you, but you probably don’t weigh any more—”

“Are we going to do this?” Ed asked, stepping back to the edge of the platform and waiting for the signal. “Or not?”

Jeloso glanced back at the roaring Xingese crowd, and then shrugged. “All right. Sorry about this kid, but I make good money here.” He looked over at Winry, who was now biting her lip and glancing at Ed nervously. “Your girlfriend down there might have to patch you up a bit after this.”

“Just do it,” Ed told him, getting into position.

When the announcer hopped off the stage, the match began. Ed didn’t know the finer points of this art, but it didn’t matter. He kept his body low, his hands outstretched, and eyes always on his opponent. Jeloso tried to circle him and Ed mirrored his movement, waiting, waiting for the right moment…

There!

Jeloso shot forward, Ed leapt away. Jeloso’s hands scrabbled the air as he fell off the side of the platform, landing hard on his belly with a smack!

The crowd roared and the excited announcer came to pronounce Ed the winner. Ed smiled and gave one wave to the crowd, before hopping off the platform to make sure the chimera was okay. He hoped he hadn’t hurt him too badly—he still needed answers.

Ignoring Winry’s complaints (“What is wrong with you, Edward Elric? Do you ever waste a chance to show off? You could have been seriously hurt or worse, busted your automail—”), he stood over Jeloso with a triumphant look.

“That’s cheating,” Jeloso rolled over on his back with a groan.

“Doesn’t matter. You lost.” Ed folded his arms over his chest, a frown returning to his face. “And now, you’re going to tell me what happened to my brother.”

The chimera gave another grunt, and then, “Fine.”




“You saw him the night before he disappeared?” Ed stared in disbelief.

Zampano nodded, “Yeah. Here,” he tossed an ice pack to Jeloso and sat down next to him at the small table in the back of the warehouse. The crowd’s muffled cries tricked through the walls as night’s fights continued. “He came by. Won a little bit with bets, and then came back after the fights to talk with us.”

“What did he say?” The chimeras had come to Xing with Al to try and find a way to restore their bodies…but they didn’t understand complex alchemical formula, so it must have been about…

“Said he was goin’ somewhere the next day with that alkhestry girl,” Jeloso muttered, ice pack resting on his bruised chest. “Wanted to let us know about it.”

“Did he say where they were going?” asked Winry, meeting eyes with Ed.

“Some temple.” Zampano said.

“A temple? A temple in the city?” The Temple of the Sage Reborn, maybe?

“Nah, you got it wrong,” Jeloso cut in. “A ruin of a temple. Said he was going to some ruin in the desert. Said he might be gone a few days, at best.”

Ed narrowed his eyes in thought. A ruin in the desert…One of the ruins of Xerxes? But there were dozens of ruins! How would they know which one? Wait… “How do they expect to last a few days in the desert? Were they planning on transmuting food or something?”

Zampano remembered something. “Oh, right! He said there was an oasis near the temple he was going to.”

“An oasis?” It wasn’t much, but at least it was something to go on. One more piece to the puzzle. It was better than charging off into the desert without a clue where he was headed.

“Al…did he mention anything about why he was going there?”

Jeloso and Zampano exchanged glances. “He did say that one thing,” Jeloso told him. “That he had no choice but to go. That Xing’s under threat and he would do what he could to protect it.”

“A threat?” gasped Winry. “But…from who? What did he mean?”

“Dunno,” Zampano shrugged. “He said he couldn’t tell us any more, but to trust him. And…” He paused, then looked right at Ed. “That if he couldn’t finish the job, you would.”

Ed’s eyes looked downward. Al…

Winry noticed, and reached out to take his hand.

He let her hold it for a moment before pulling away and standing up from his seat. “Thanks anyway, you guys. It helped.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Zampano said with a grin. “You two were some of the first people to treat us like human beings. Anything else we can do to help?”

Ed’s mind raced. “Not really. But…if something happens, something like Al warned about, then…do whatever you can to protect the people of this city.”

“That’s it?” Jeloso smiled. “You didn’t have to ask, Elric. We like it here. Would’ve done it anyway.”

“Still, thanks. Al…he’d thank you, too.”




When they were walking along the dark streets again, Ed commented, “I didn’t think the city would be this busy at night…interesting how all Amesterians think the Xingese are primitive, but they have all these wonderful things.” He gazed out to the river and the steam-powered boats paddling by. “Al…when he gets back. He’s gonna have to show us everything.”

“Ed,” Winry leaned against his shoulder. She glanced down at the ring on her finger again for a moment, then sighed, “You’re still worried, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I can’t help it.” He offered her a small smile. “He’s my little brother. But I know he can take care of himself…mostly. At least I have more to go on now.”

“So, what’s next?”

Ed ran it all through his mind… “Hell’s Well”…the Cult of the Sage Reborn…an Amesterian with blond hair and brown eyes…a temple in the desert near an oasis…a threat to Xing…It still wasn’t nearly enough information to put together.

“Ling got me a meeting with the Amesterian ambassador. That’s tomorrow. I’ll see if he knows anything about Amesterians causing trouble. After that…” he trailed off. Ed really didn’t know what he could do after that. He’d have to find Al soon; his brother had been missing for a while and if he couldn’t put it together fast enough…

But worrying wouldn’t solve anything.

Looking back at Winry, he forced a smile. “Come on,” he said, draping an arm around her shoulders. “Ling said there’s a great noodle restaurant somewhere around here, wanna check it out?”

Continue to Part 2
 
 
Current Mood: mellowmellow
Current Music: Nightwish - The Poet and the Pendulum
 
 
 
Shellisonshellison on April 23rd, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
Dangit, I wanna know what happens! Urgh. I hate waiting for new stuff. Normally I'm tagged as a patient person but when it comes to this I am very IMpatient. (When is the next part coming out? Whine!) I love it though. LOVE. IT. I love Ed and Winry as fiances, I love the mysterious puzzle pieces yet to be put in place, I love the plot perfectly following the well known FMA storyline - not to mention I just love your writing. MAN, I am feeling impatient already. Please don't keep me in suspense TOO long! That would be ever so kind and merciful of you.
Kit: Edwininulovinkit on April 23rd, 2011 03:30 am (UTC)
The next part is already up. I put up all four parts at once. You can click on the link at the end of the chapter to go to part 2. :)
Shellisonshellison on April 23rd, 2011 03:46 am (UTC)
Oh, hello! (Smacks forehead). Am I not paying attention or what? All right, I'll quit acting like an idiot and go read quietly again...
(Anonymous) on April 25th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
*flails*

I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY EXPRESS MY LOVE FOR THIS FIC.
Kit: Edo-kuninulovinkit on April 25th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Flailing is fine. XD

Thanks for reading!
Barking at the windevil_little_dog on March 5th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
Late reader is late
I've been meaning to read this forever, of course, and kept forgetting about it and remembering it and forgetting and remembering - and then today, while I was reviewing some of my Big Bang stuff, I said, "Hey, I wanted to read this story!"

So, here I am.

Ed is such a fun goober in this, and still completely oblivious when it comes to Winry. I love how worried he is about Al, and how he's willing to go the distance to find his brother. The trick with Jerso was pretty cool, and I love your descriptions of the city around them.

Also, the Sage-boy is kind of creepy. :D
Kit: Edo-kuninulovinkit on April 21st, 2012 05:26 am (UTC)
Re: Late reader is late
Late reply is late.

Thanks for reading! You're one of my favorite FMA Fic writers, and it is an honor to hear that from you!

Yeah, as for Sage-boy...originally the whole "Sage Reborn Cult" was gonna play a larger part. By larger, I mean "Al becomes the new sage, etc...but it just didn't work and got cut. So now Sage-boy just remains kind of creepy.