Title: Collared: Chapter 10: Down to Ash
Genre: AU, Master/slave
Warnings: implied gore
Summary: “The entire city is booby-trapped and everyone within its borders is in danger. I need everyone to head back to base immediately!”
Roy’s lungs were burning. His legs had nearly given out on him twice, but he couldn’t let himself rest. Not until he reached the base. The men and women there were his responsibility; their deaths would be on his head.
Just when he thought he might collapse he spotted blue uniform against the city’s dun streets. Roy stumbled and caught himself against a wall, doubling over and bracing his hands against his knee. He was too short of breath to call out, but they soon spotted him and rushed over.
“Sir!” It seemed Breda was leading this unit, but three of the four soldiers with him were unfamiliar. “Sir, are you all right?”
“—out of the city—”
Roy straightened up and tried again to fill his lungs. “Get everyone out of the city!”
the lieutenant hesitated. “Sir, we’ve had a breach at the prison camps. Lieutenant-Colonel Archer has ordered—”
“It’s booby-trapped!” He finally caught his breath, and put as much authority into his voice as he could. “The entire city is booby-trapped and everyone within its borders is in danger. I need everyone to head back to base immediately!”
Breda turned to one of the men, one he recognized from East. “Get to the radio and alert the units you can.”
As that man took off two of the others shared a look. “Lieutenant, Archer’s order’s were clear—” one of them started.
“I am overriding those orders,” Roy snapped. “We’re dealing with a powerful enemy with a history of violent murders and I am ordering everyone back to base immediately!”
They hesitated for much longer than they should have before turning. If Roy didn’t have more pressing matters to deal with he would cite them for improper conduct.
“How many units has Archer sent out?” Roy asked.
“Five so far,” Breda said as they picked up their pace. “Only two have a wireless. Sir, is this another one of those—things?”
He shook his head. “It’s the alchemist killer. The scarred man,” he explained. “We have to consider those creatures still a threat, but right now he’s the bigger danger.”
Breda looked at him in alarm. “The scarred man? Here?”
He nodded. “And he’s rigged the entire city with an array. One he could set off at any moment.”
Once they got to the base it was easy to follow the web of activity back to Archer. He stood at the north edge of the courtyard, organizing more teams of five to send into the city.
“Archer!” Roy called. “Recall your men to base!”
The lieutenant-colonel turned, disappointment coloring his pale features before he bothered to paste on a smile. “Colonel Mustang! How fortunate that you’ve managed to elude your abductors.”
“Pull back to base immediately!” he repeated. “The entire city is booby-trapped—”
“Really, now. By your own reports these booby-traps are laughable.” Archer turned away and signaled to the units to proceed.
“NO ONE IS TO LEAVE THE BASE!” Roy shouted, directing the imperative to everyone around. “THAT IS AN ORDER!”
The soldiers who knew him from East looked spooked and immediately held back; he rarely pulled authority so blatantly and they knew it meant trouble. Archer’s soldiers hesitated, looking back and forth between them—Roy had rank, but Archer was their commander. Many of those who’d been under Hakuro seemed split as well.
Archer turned an icy stare on Roy, his contempt only marginally veiled. “I have orders from the Fuhrer to clean up this mess you’ve made. If you’re thinking of overriding those orders, you’re going to have to come up with something better than booby-traps.”
“The city is a death trap. The scarred man—”
“The scarred man?” Archer interrupted. “The alchemist killer? Then the only one who should be in danger is you.” He turned away and reissued his order to move out, reminding everyone that he was acting on behalf of the highest authority in the country.
The entire base had gathered by this point, and Roy once more ordered everyone to stay put. Most did, probably more than half—but far too many went with Archer. Roy turned to his staff to get an accurate assessment.
“The two units with a wireless, units one and three, have been notified and are returning to base,” Hawkeye told him. “The status of the other two is unknown. Sir, how imminent is this threat?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “He could activate the array at any time.”
“We need to send runners to notify those units.”
Anyone he sent would be at risk It was a question of weighing the odds and deciding which was more acceptable, sending two men in to possibly die in the small chance that the units could make it back in time, or condemning the units to a certain death. The exact kind of decision he despised. “I need the fastest runners we have.”
“Sir! Unit three is returning.”
He left Hawkeye to deal with the runners. “Unit one?”
The soldier shook his head. “No word yet.”
The lieutenant in charge of unit three saluted as he approached. “Glad to see you’ve returned, Sir.”
“Did you pass any of the other units?”
“Negative, Sir. Archer sent us out in a fan pattern. Sir, what. . . .” The man hesitated, and Roy could see the doubt. “What are your orders regarding this new threat?”
“Remain on base until further notice.”
“You will receive further orders as the situation develops—”
A sudden, blinding light interrupted them. Roy ducked behind his arms, squinting past them in terror to find the city engulfed in a dome of energy. He backed away, expecting it to surge into the base despite the scarred man’s words.
And then, as abruptly as it had appeared—the light was gone.
Ed could only stare at the city, his eyes still dazzled by the transmutation.
They’d tried. Tried to reason with the Ishvalan, then tried to stop him physically. In the end, it didn’t matter. Scar had turned on them. Attacked them. Ed was only bruised but Al had been damaged, the armor deconstructed at the hip.
When his brother collapsed into pieces on the stone Ed had seen red, but Scar had been ready for him. He’d deconstructed the ground under his feet and then thrown him back so hard he’d been dazed.
And in that moment when they were both down, he’d activated the array.
Now where Liore had been was nothing but dunes. Buildings clung to the edges, many sheared in half. The section that had been commandeered by the army was untouched, but the bulk of the city, the entire heart of it—gone.
“Scar. . . .” Al’s quiet plea came from behind him, snapping Ed out of his stupor. “Scar, what did you do?”
Ed could see distant figures in blue dashing back and forth at the edges of the affected area. He had a sudden, horrible realization they were tending to wounded comrades, that buildings hadn’t been the only things caught at the edge.
He turned and leapt at the Ishvalan. “You—murdering son of a bitch!” He swung with his automail, again and again. “You’ve killed them—all those people—you—just—”
Scar caught his arm. A split second after Ed realized that he was gripping the metal with his right hand the transmutation flared, and Ed was flung back amid a shower of metal.
He thudded into the sand and immediately scrabbled at his shoulder—his arm was still there. He looked down and found the back plate of his forearm gone and the rest of the casing cracked, but otherwise the arm was still there.
“Forget about the soldiers,” Scar spat. “They new the risks when they chose this life.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” Ed growled. He climbed to his feet but kept his distance, holding the damaged arm to his chest. “It doesn’t matter how you justify it. It’s still murder.”
“See to your brother. Stop wasting your concern on those who don’t deserve it.” He turned away, turned his back on them and headed for the center of this new wasteland.
Ed stumbled over to Al. He felt numb, detached. He supposed the enormity of what had just happened hadn’t fully sunken in yet.
“Sorry, Al. Sorry.” He dropped down to his knees and quickly swept the bits of metal together. “At least the ground is rocky here—shouldn’t pick up too much sand—”
“Brother, your arm—”
Al grabbed his shoulders. “Brother, it’s about to break! Look at it!”
Ed did. The web of cracks had grown, and the casing was starting to bend where it shouldn’t.
“I can’t believe Scar did that!” Al continued.
Ed choked out a laugh. “You’re the one in pieces, Al.” He gingerly put his hands together and transmuted the casing back into a solid piece. The back plate he would have to do without. “This was just to warn us. Get us to back off. He could have—have—”
His throat closed on the words. They both knew what the Ishvalan was capable of. He bent to finish gathering the armor shards, the empty expanse of desert a heavy presence at his back.
“Why would he do this . . .” Al moaned. “I thought—I-I thought—”
Ed shook his head, and quickly transmuted the armor back together. “We need to get out of here. The a-army—” what’s left of them, “—the army will be searching this whole area. We can’t be here.”
The closest tunnel entrance would be in the city, but Ed couldn’t make himself head into that void. Couldn’t even make himself turn to look.
Al took one last, long look at what Scar had done, and then climbed to his feet and turned away as well. “All the landmarks are gone, anyway,” he reasoned. “We’d do better to head for the lake.”
The lake was a dry, ancient lakebed well outside of town, intended to be the exit when and if the people of Liore decided to leave their city. It might take them the better part of an hour traveling overland in the heat of the day to get there.
Ed’s feet felt rooted. The sooner they left, the better, but he couldn’t pull himself away. Almost against his will his eyes were drawn to the military base.
“I’m sure the colonel made it there in time,” Al said. Then added, “We should go, Brother.”
“. . . Yeah. You’re right.” He lowered his gaze to the dry, rocky ground in front of him and dragged his feet forward. “Let’s get out of here.”
Roy finally broke away from the chaos and sank down in the shade of a building. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since the city had lit up like the sun at midday, but he was exhausted. They were still tending to the injured—those caught at the edge. The dead—and the missing—they hadn’t even begun counting.
Hawkeye walked up beside him and held out a canteen. He accepted it, only then realizing how dry his mouth was. “Sir? When did you last eat?”
He had to think back, dredging up what seemed like a lifetime ago. “Yesterday. Evening, probably.”
“You should eat something.”
He stared out at the men and women scrambling about the triage station set up in the courtyard. Others were out searching the city—or where the city had been—in what he feared was a vain effort.
Roy downed the last of the water, and dropped the empty canteen onto the stone ground. “What does it matter.”
“You did what you could, Sir.”
“It wasn’t enough.”
She turned to look out at the courtyard.
He sighed, and pushed himself back to his feet. “Has Central been notified?”
“Yes, Sir. They’re sending aid but can’t give us timeframe.”
“And they want details on this incident as soon as we have them.”
“They’re going to be waiting for a while, then.”
“What do you plan to tell them?”
“The truth.” He rubbed a hand over his forehead. “We were attacked by strange, regenerating monsters, and ambushed by the scarred man.”
One of the medics was making his way over. The man looked dazed. “We’ve lost three more, Sir.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Their bodies have been sliced clean through—sheared off by something I can’t even imagine. What would do this? Who would—?”
“The same kind of man who would burst someone apart from the inside,” Roy said. “How he did it isn’t important right now. Do any of the wounded have a chance?”
The medic glanced away with a grimace. “I . . . maybe. A few. The ones who didn’t lose more than a piece of a leg or arm. And even then, if we don’t get out of here soon their chances are small. We’re not equipped for this.”
“Central is sending aid. Do your best until then.”
He nodded. “Sir—they’ve brought in Lieutenant-Colonel Archer. He’s alive, but he’s in poor shape.”
“If he lives, it will be a miracle.”
Roy drew a hand over his face. He had no love for Archer, but no one deserved this. “Do everything you can.” To Hawkeye he said, “Get me a line to Grumman. Maybe we can find a way to speed up this aid.”
She nodded and headed for the communications room, while the medic trudged back to his duties.
Roy paused for another moment to let the situation sink in. He’d been sent here to keep this from escalating and to minimize casualties, and he’d failed horribly. Now he couldn’t even accurately report on the number of deaths. He felt like a man trying to hold back a deluge with a single oar.
“What an unpleasant development.”
Roy jerked around and snatched his gloves, but Lust was looking past him.
The homunculus sighed, stepping around the far side of the building from wherever she had been lurking. “This doesn’t serve us at all,” she muttered, eyeing the catastrophe like she resented the inconvenience. “Father is going to be so displeased.”
“What do you want?” Roy demanded, his glove on and ready for any sign of aggression or threat. He had a strong urge to burn her out of hand but that wouldn’t get him anywhere. “Who is this ‘Father’?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She waved a hand at the destroyed city. “Go try to save your soldiers, Colonel. There isn’t nearly enough of them for our needs, now.”
“What needs?” he snapped. “What was your purpose here?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” With a last put-upon sigh Lust turned to leave. “Take care of yourself, Flame Alchemist. We may yet have a use for you.”
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