Title: Best I Ever Had
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 4,259 (19,215 total)
Warnings: Lame title, swearing, implied sex with a minor.
Status: In progress.
Spoilers: We'll be safe and say yes, for the full series.
Summary: After a decade apart, war with Creta brings Roy and Edward together again, and they discover that nothing between them has been resolved. Something of a sequel to Can't Be
, but you don't need to read it to be able to follow the plot here.
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
"He seeks Antaj," Zira said at length. There was a distinct weight to the words, and when she paused, Roy realized that she expected him to understand the significance.
He shook his head slowly, "I'm afraid I don't follow. What is Antaj?"
Zira turned to stare at him in amazement. "Surely your people have legends of Antaj?" When he shook his head again she mimicked the gesture in disbelief. "Perhaps you know it by a different name. It is the heart of the Empire that once stretched from sea to sea; my ancestors and yours as well, I'm sure."
That did tickle something in the back of Roy's mind, but he couldn't quite grasp it and he shrugged slightly. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing at all? No legends of Antaj, or the sky city?" She seemed appalled, and Roy felt a bit like a chastened child who didn't remember his lessons. She peered at him for a long moment before shaking her head. "Perhaps your people came here after the end of Empire. Who can say? Antaj is an underground city, miles of labyrinthine passages deep below the earth, said to only be accessible to the sorcerers of the time."
"Sorcerers?" Roy said, disbelief creeping into his tone. Zira was an intelligent woman, but the Cretans as a whole tended toward the superstitious; it seemed to him that their king was chasing a myth and nothing more.
Zira frowned at him. "Perhaps they were alchemists," she said. "Even now their abilities seem more magic than anything; so long ago that might be exactly what the people believed it to be. Either way, it is said that they possessed great knowledge and great power, much of which was left behind in Antaj when they made the sky city."
Roy found himself looking up at the canopy in spite of himself, and he heard Zira chuckle. "The sky city is not there to be seen, General. Stories say that the city was also a large craft of sorts, meant to take them to places unknown. They left this land a long, long time ago."
His weariness was telling, making him look for flying cities he knew weren't there. Roy offered her a wry smile. "Then the king is after this mythical city because of the knowledge he believes is there."
"Antaj is no myth, General," Zira said, tone grave. "Nor is the knowledge it contains. In the wrong hands --in any hands-- such knowledge could be catastrophic. However, the location of Antaj and the means to enter it have been lost to the years."
"Then why do you seem so troubled?" Roy asked, rubbing his eyes tiredly and wishing they were discussing something more concrete than legends.
Zira braced her arms on her knees and sighed heavily. "The king has discovered the location of Antaj. It is now only a matter of discovering an entrance."
Zira glanced at him before turning her gaze to the ground beneath her feet. "Here. Antaj runs beneath us."
Roy stared at her, turning the revelation around in his mind and wishing he were a little sharper. His thoughts shifted to the ruins that littered the area, ruins that Miles had said belonged to some long-gone civilization. Could it be coincidence? Maybe, but it would be folly to write Antaj off as nothing more than legend, not when it was possible that it contained such power. "The ruins?"
"Are remnants of Antaj, yes. My king has not yet found one that will grant him access to the city beneath, but it is only a matter of time."
"He's here, then?" Weariness evaporated at the slim prospect of a clean end to this tired war. Assassination wasn't something he cared for; cloak and dagger had its place, but Roy was always reluctant to employ it. In this situation however, he would be remiss in his duty to his nation if he didn't at least try to take the bastard out, and if Roy thought they had the forces to win in a head to head battle, he'd have done it years ago. Which left something more underhanded, but far more likely to be effective.
"Yes," Zira's voice was strained. "I have been relieved of my command, and he watches me with hawk's eyes. It was luck I was able to slip away today; he will not permit me to be so lucky a second time. This will be our last meeting, General." She stood, brushing the dirt from her pants, and bowed; hands out and palms up, a gesture of great respect among the Cretans and one Roy had never seen her use. "I pray this information will aid you in preventing further bloodshed. Good luck, my friend."
"Hold on a minute," Roy said, scrambling to his feet as she turned to go. "You can't tell me you mean to just walk away?" It was madness; after today they would be certain she was a traitor, and in Creta traitors were executed. "They'll think you're a traitor."
She sighed and turned to face him, inclining her head slightly. "Yes."
"Then come back with me," Roy said urgently. The last thing he wanted was to see her dead for the non-crime of preventing loss of life.
"General," she said with a smile. "How many times have you asked me this, and how many times have I said no? I am not ashamed of my actions. What I have done I have done for the welfare of my people; when I return I will do so with my head held high. If I run it is as good as admitting to wrongdoing. Besides, there is no guarantee I will be executed; they have little proof after all."
"Zira," Roy sighed, not for the first time growing a little frustrated with her rigid honor. "This isn't the time to cling to your pride, not when it's your life at stake."
The former commander cast her eyes skyward for a long, silent moment before turning her back on Roy. "In the face of death pride is all we have." She was gone before Roy could muster a reply, and for a long moment Roy considered chasing after her and dragging her back to camp kicking and screaming if necessary. She'd never forgive him, but at least she'd be safe.
Dragging a hand wearily over his face, he let her go. She was a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. Part of Roy thought she was a damned fool, but another part admired her resolve, and it was that part that had to let her go. All he could do now was hope that the king might show his own sister a little mercy.
Damn, he needed a drink.
* * *
"Here, why don't you show me the array you use?" Alphonse said from somewhere to his left. Edward lounged against the side of the barracks, hands folded over his stomach and doing his level best to take advantage of the cool breeze for a quick nap, but Al's impromptu alchemy lesson kept catching his attention.
"Okay," said Sophie, and Ed grimaced as he listened to her scratch the array in question into the dirt. He could practically hear how awful it was, and Al's outraged squawk a moment later confirmed it. Alphonse seemed to view bad alchemy as some sort of personal attack, and took a great deal of pleasure in teaching others. Ed figured it was only a matter of time before Al realized he was an alchemy teacher at heart; the universities in Central would bend over backwards for someone of Al's caliber. He really ought to talk to him about it once this war business was over and done with.
The sound of Al wiping out Sophie's failed attempt and etching it into the dirt once more. "Precision is very important in alchemy; most arrays are symmetrical in nature, and those that aren't can often be difficult to reproduce."
"Right," Sophie said, and she didn't sound at all upset about Al's earlier outburst, just interested. Tough stuff, that one. She'd be a good student. "The general told me that."
There was a pregnant pause, and Al said, "The general taught you?" Edward grinned; Alphonse sounded absolutely horrified that Roy might be churning out such lousy instruction.
"Oh, no. I mean, he tried to help me when he had time, but I learned from watching my sister, mostly. She'd get pissed when she caught me spying on her practice, but I was really curious. So I just pieced things together based on watching her and what I learned from the few books I could get my hands on. S'why I suck so bad."
Alphonse hummed. "You really aren't bad for someone who's basically self-taught," he told her. "You've just got a lot of bad habits, like messy arrays. Alchemy is two parts science and one part artistry. The appearance of your array will absolutely have an effect on the outcome of-- oh, hello General."
Ed opened his eyes in time to catch Sophie leaping to her feet and snapping a crisp salute; Roy seemed a bit amused by her enthusiasm. "At ease, Private." He glanced between Ed and Al, amusement fading quickly. He looked like shit, worse than he had the other day. Roy was exhausted, that much was obvious, but there was a tightening around his eyes that said something else had him upset; something he was trying very hard to hide. Ed frowned, worried in spite of himself. "I was wondering if I could pick your brains for a minute," he didn't wait for an answer. "Have either of you heard of Antaj?"
Edward sat up straight, exchanging a glance with Al. Of course they had; it had only been one if the most promising and most disappointing dead ends in their search for the philosopher's stone. "Sure," he said, wondering why Roy would ask about it now, or care. "The Alchemist City. There's a ton of legends around the place; that it was where alchemy originated, that there's some sort of ultimate knowledge hidden there. It's just a myth, though. Al and I spent months looking into it and never found a thing."
"You looked for it?" Roy seemed surprised, and Ed rolled his eyes.
"The whole 'ultimate knowledge' thing sounded pretty promising, of course we did," he shrugged. It still chaffed a little that they had wasted so much time on nothing, but it hadn't been the first false lead, or the last. "We must have torn the whole border apart up north; if there anything to find, we'd have found it."
"North?" Roy frowned, and Ed could practically see the gears turning. "Where?"
"A bit north of Western, that's where all the stories said it was. Why are you so interested in this all of a sudden?" There was something to this; Roy didn't just pull the subject from thin air for the sake of conversation.
"That explains why he was pushing Riza so hard," Roy muttered. He was silent for a moment before saying, "You're dismissed, Private."
Sophie blinked, looking a little put out, but she just mumbled, "Yessir," and made herself scarce.
Roy waited until she was gone, before looking around. There were a few off-duty soldiers here and there, out enjoying the brief respite from the killer heat, and Roy sighed. "We'd better take this to my office; the fewer that know what I have to tell you, the better."
Edward exchanged a long look with Al, his curiosity sitting up and wagging its tail like an excited puppy. Why would Roy bring up Antaj now, so long after the information was relevant? Not for them, then, but for himself-- but what would a legendary city have to do with a war? It made no sense, and Ed was already thinking circles, wondering what precisely Roy's angle was.
As soon as the door to Roy's office closed behind them, Ed asked, "What's this all about?"
Roy perched on the edge of his desk and stared at the floor thoughtfully for several minutes before he answered. "I have-- had, an informant among the Cretan regiment here. She told me that the whole reason for this war is because their king is trying to find Antaj , which I presume he believes is on our side of the border. If she's correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, this explains why he was pushing so hard further north; he'd probably heard the same stories you had, and come to the same conclusions."
"But he stopped," Alphonse said hopefully. "So maybe he realized it doesn't exist?"
"No," Ed said with a shake of his head, perching on one of the hard backed chairs and turning the situation around thoughtfully. "If he thought he was chasing shadows, he'd have withdrawn, called a truce, pushed the attack, something. This war has to be as hard on Creta as it is on us; no one would prolong it without a reason. It's not that he believes it doesn't exist, he thinks it's somewhere else."
"Exactly so," Roy said, nodding once in Ed's direction. Ed smiled slightly, and for a moment the years vanished; they were back in Roy's old office and he was just a kid with some talent and a lot of determination. Roy spoke, and for a brief instant, Ed almost expected a quip about his height, but what came out was nothing of the sort and the moment passed, putting him firmly back in the present. "He believes it's here, and he's trying to find his way in as we speak."
"I see," Al said, chewing his lip thoughtfully. "Do you believe the king is right? That it's really here?"
"Not really, no, but I'm not willing to risk being wrong." Roy leaned forward intently. "If it does exist, it's imperative that we find it first. If it doesn't, all the better, but I'm willing to waste the time and manpower to be certain. I'd like one of you to take a few men and investigate some of the ruins around here, see if you can find anything. I'm afraid I can't spare both of you, and honestly I'd rather not send either of you, but if this really was an alchemist's city, then it's possible the men would miss something important that an alchemist wouldn't."
"I'll go," Edward spoke up immediately. He had to resist the urge to wriggle around in excitement; he might no longer have need of the 'ultimate knowledge' the city was said to contain, but it would be a hell of a discovery regardless.
Roy nodded once, sharply. "Take Captain Bennett with you. He's from the area; he knows the ruins better than anyone else."
* * *
"Come on Al, don't be like that," Ed pleaded, and received a sour stare and stony silence in reply. Tucking his hands in his pockets, Edward tilted his head and gave Alphonse the best puppy-dog eyes he could muster. He understood why his brother was mad, hell, if their positions were reversed he'd be raising an unholy stink. "C'mon. You know I'd take you if I could."
"I don't see why you get to go," Alphonse muttered, shooting Ed a nasty look. "It was my idea to come here in the first place. If it wasn't for me, neither of us would be in a position to look for Antaj."
Sure, it was his idea to come. Al was the one who wanted to help the war effort, and he would be. By being bored to tears transmuting bullets while Edward was off hunting for a legendary city. Ed stifled a grin at the thought, because it would ruin his carefully constructed oh-so-contrite image. And piss Al off. Which was a bad idea if he wanted to be on his brother's good side again. Ever. "It isn't like this'll be your only chance to see it," Ed reasoned. "If we find anything, it'll take ages to catalogue everything. You'll have plenty of opportunities to explore the city, Al. It's not like this is going to be the only chance."
"I suppose," Al sighed, looking only slightly less annoyed. After a moment, he brightened. "At least I won't be the one tromping through the sweltering heat looking for something that might or might not exist." Alphonse seemed greatly cheered by this notion. Ed was beginning to suspect his brother might be just a little bit evil.
"Speaking of," Ed sighed, "I gotta go meet the captain."
"Yeah," Al said, good humor evaporating. "I've got work to do too. Maybe I'll see if Sophie has time to help. At least then I'll have someone to talk to."
"I'm a bastard, I get it," Ed said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "You love me anyway. Besides, you can't tell me you aren't jumping for the chance to straighten out her alchemy."
"Maybe a little," Al confessed with a smile. "Alchemy that bad should be criminal." Ed reminded himself to start sending out some letters when this was all over; there had to be a school somewhere in need of an alchemy instructor.
They said their goodbyes, and then Ed was out in the bright morning sunlight. It was still early enough that the temperature was almost pleasant; something he intended to enjoy thoroughly while it lasted. Captain Bennett and Lieutenant Willins were already waiting for him by the barracks, both men carrying a heavy looking pack and a rifle. "Expecting trouble?" Ed asked with a nod towards the guns.
"Well," Bennett drawled, "we are in the middle of a war." War. Right. Ed decided to pretend he hadn't completely forgotten the fact in all the excitement.
"Not to mention there are more than a few things out there that'd eat us, given half the chance," Willins added.
"Point taken," Edward said dryly. "So, where to first?"
"The biggest ruin in the area is about six miles to the Northeast. I figure that's the place to start; if we're going to find a secret entrance to a lost city, it'd be there. Although," he shook his head slightly, "I explored just about every ruin within a hundred miles when I was a kid. I doubt there's anything out there to be found."
Edward wasn't sure which way he wanted it to be. On one hand, if the city did turn out to be a myth there was no reason for the war to continue. On the other, if the city was real it would be the most amazing find in his lifetime. Maybe ever. "Well, if this alchemist's city exists, I can't imagine they'd make the entrance something obvious to any curious kid wandering by." He and Al had done a lot of research on Antaj in pursuit of the philosopher's stone. One of the few things the legends seemed to agree on was that the residents of the city were reclusive at best, hostile at worst, and did not welcome intrusion.
"Maybe so," the captain agreed, passing Edward a water bottle designed to clip onto his belt. "Stay hydrated, can't have you conking out from heat exhaustion in the middle of the jungle." Ed nodded, as he shouldered his own pack. According to the captain, chances were good they'd have to stay overnight. "Okay boys, let's go find us a mythical city."
It wasn't so bad at first. The brush around the outpost was relatively sparse, and the going was easy. Before long however, the jungle pressed in and they had to fight for every step, even with Bennett out front hacking away at ferns and vines like a madman. Cool morning had given way to sweltering afternoon, and Ed swatted at the droning insects trying to make a meal of him, trudged slowly after Willins, and wished he'd let Al go after all.
A scant six miles stretched into an all day hike, and by the time the captain announced they'd arrived it was already quite late. Ed frowned as he pushed aside thick leaves and stepped over the raised roots of an old tree. He'd only have a few hours of good daylight left to explore the ruins.
Bennett and Willins were both perched on an old log for a breather, and Edward joined them, dropping the heavy pack to the ground with a sigh and taking a few grateful gulps of too-warm water. He was hot, tired, and his clothes clung uncomfortably to his skin. These things conspired to make him damned miserable, and Edward looked around, hoping a glimpse of the ruins might lift his spirits a bit. All he saw was more jungle, the only break in the unending wall of green was a brightly plumaged bird resting on a branch not far away, head tucked beneath a brilliant orange and yellow wing. "How much farther?"
"We're here," the captain said, his usual bubbly enthusiasm only slightly dampened by the miserable conditions. He leaned forward, pointing. "The jungle's moved back in after all this time, but see there? You can see a bit of wall beneath the vines."
There, camouflaged so well beneath old growth as to be nearly invisible was a length of crumbling old wall. Edward sat up straight, lethargy giving way to excitement. He jumped to his feet and shouldered his pack, bouncing on his toes excitedly. "What are we waiting for, then? Let's go!"
Willins groaned, getting to his feet slowly and with great reluctance. "Already?" he whined.
Bennett clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll have plenty of time to sit on your rump while Ed works, you big baby. Now move it!"
Ed cast the captain a grin and then moved off towards the ruins, not bothering to wait for the other men. All the energy the jungle had leeched out of him returned twofold, and he moved quickly and easily over the uncertain terrain. He moved around the wall that blocked the rest of the ruin from view, and stopped, surprised. When Bennett had said this was the largest in the area, Edward had expected some sort of crumbling city. While the ruins were certainly crumbling, it was definitely no city. One large building was situated in the center of three smaller ones, and that was all. Just four buildings. Ed tried not to be disappointed; after all, what need would they have had of a city above ground when they had one beneath it? It made sense really, and he made his way towards the central building, stepping carefully over piles of old brick and the roots that had ripped them from the ground.
The central building was in pretty sorry shape. The dome-shaped roof had partially caved in, allowing the jungle inside; the green top of a tree just visible above the rim. The architecture was impressive where it was still intact, intricate carvings adorning the stone archway that led inside. The door itself had rotted away long ago. Ed stopped in the doorway, brushing away the lichen that had gathered in the creases of the stone frame. The decorative carvings were really something else, smooth and still distinct after all these years. Ed studied the design while he waited for the others to catch up, tracing the swirling, looping lines with a finger and brushing away more dirt and lichen as he did. The design was quite large, and he realized with a nasty shock, not an abstract one.
It was an eye.
Stylized, but disturbingly familiar, and Edward snatched his hand away and took an involuntary step back. He had seen that eye before, adorning a very different doorway, and unease settled between his shoulder blades like an itch he couldn't scratch. It could be a coincidence, but Ed's good sense told him that a ruin bearing the eye of the Gate was not a thing to take lightly. He had always believed the legend of Antaj had grown with time and telling, and that even if it existed, it could not really be the trove of power the stories claimed. However, if these people had known of the Gate, had perhaps worshipped it enough to adorn their buildings with its image, then there was no telling what secrets the city held in her depths. The possibilities were both exhilarating and terrifying.
He heard Willins and Bennett approaching from behind, and he said, "I think it's real." Ed didn't look at them, couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the carving.
The footsteps stopped, and the captain spoke up. "What makes you say that?"
"That," Ed said, pointing at the carving and wrenching his gaze away. "Is something few alchemists would recognize, and with good reason. The people who built this were powerful, no doubt." And probably damned dangerous to boot, but Edward kept that theory to himself.
The captain hummed thoughtfully and stepped in front of Ed, peering at the eye. Edward had to resist the urge to pull him back; the carving itself likely had no power. "There's another carving like this inside," the man said after a minute. "Bigger though, if I recall. Been a while since I was last through here."
Vaguely uneasy, Edward stepped through the large doorway; muscles strung taut and body vibrating, though from the thrill of discovery or imagined threat, he wasn't sure. Ed took a few steps across the strangely spongy ground and stopped short, Willins plowing into his back and knocking them both forward. Ed barely noticed, staring ahead in numb shock, stomach twisting strangely around his spine.
Looming above them and buried beneath several lifetimes of vines and old growth, was the Gate.