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06 September 2009 @ 03:06
Arc II: Debut, Chapter 05 Part A  
Title: Catalysis (Full details, here. Also available on Fanfiction.Net.)
Words: For this chapter (both parts A and B), ~13600
Rating(s): PG-13 for this chapter.
Warning(s): Language.
Chapter Summary: More insights into the mystery of the Persian book and the Xerxian flask; the unearthing of a Xerxian book; a meeting with a new friend; and, as the peace is broken, into the scene comes a mystery murder.

Catalysis


Notes: I have divided this chapter into two smaller parts because of LJ's word limits, but even then, the parts are rather lengthy. This is the first part; start here, else nothing will make sense. There will be a link to the second part of the chapter at the bottom. For the detail-mongers out there, this will be a fest for you. I apologise for the long pause in between updates; universities, as most of you might know, start the fall semester around this time, so it was rather hectic, adjusting back into school. Hopefully there will be steadier updates from here on.


II : Debut
05
Part A
Part B →



Edward blinked into wakefulness.

His vision swam as he stared up at the ceiling. Motes of dust danced in and out of his vision as they crossed lineated bars of sunlight streaming through the library’s tall arched windows. He had, again, fallen asleep on the library couch; he could feel a slight crick in his neck and a faint numbness on his left arm where the spine of the book he had been reading had pressed against it all night.


He closed his eyes.


There in the curve of his ears, just beyond intelligibility, was a whisper of something, sibilant as quietly rushing water. Thoughts. They were thoughts. Still half-mired in the cloudy confusion of dreams and the subconscious but quickly shedding the dregs, he kept grasping for it as the mist slowly faded away.


XerxescatalysisPersiabookglyphscircle


He sprang up at the slam of information swiftly clicking into place as memories of the previous night rekindled themselves. The book that had been half-lying on his chest slid to his lap, flopping open to a marked page—the Persian book, he realised, relatively thin and light enough that he did not feel uncomfortable sleeping underneath it. Almost instinctively, his eyes slid to the study island table, where the bronze flask sat. Mustang had bought it for him last night.

“Edward.” Ed swivelled towards the back stairs. “Come on down for breakfast.”

Mustang was untying the same dark blue apron he wore every time he cooked, and only now did Ed notice the wafting aroma of food from the kitchen. Seeing no point in resisting the beckon, Ed rose and deposited his book on the table, stretching as he spanned the distance from the study island and took the stairs two steps at a time.

Mustang stopped him at the base of the stairs, turning him back up and shooing him to his bath. “Straighten your shirt, and fix your hair.” He rolled his eyes, but followed anyway.

After having washed his face, rinsed his mouth, and made himself presentable, he clambered back down the stairs, eager for some grub after a long night of heavily taxing critical thinking. Mustang was already pouring them generous glasses of pineapple juice, to go along with a hearty combination of focaccia, cheese, and roasted sweet peppers atop cooked ham slices and scrambled eggs. On the side was a small selection of fruits: young grapes and half-sliced strawberries.


Ed politely waited for the wordless cue to begin eating, and when they tucked in, Mustang propped him the first question: “Have you figured anything out from last night?”

“Nothing yet,” it pained him to admit, but it was the truth. “I’ll need time. I don’t want to make mistakes.” Both he and Mustang were quite intimately acquainted with the costliness of rash action. Mustang inclined his head. Ed continued, “I need to compare the glyphs closely. Things would be much easier if I had a Xerxian book for cross-reference, instead of just a half-decayed flask they used to use for who-knows-what.”

Ed cleanly sliced and forked a piece of ham. It was startling and scary how quickly he was learning Mustang’s manners by observation, just as it was unsettling how he felt so at ease with the man—enough so that he had shared his hypotheses with Mustang the previous night while they were yet incomplete. He had never done that before, not once in his deceptively short life—not even Alphonse got to hear his thoughts before he had them checked, cross-checked, double cross-checked, and triple cross-checked. It was, for the lack of a better word, freaky.


“It’s not a book,” Mustang began, commanding all of Ed’s attention, “but it might help. The tapestry in the hall is Xerxian; purely authentic.”

Ed stilled.

He had not realised that. Why had he not realised that? Shooting up from his seat, he dropped his knife and fork and made to rush to the living room to get a glimpse, but was stopped by Mustang’s hand on his arm.

“Where do you think you’re going, Edward?” the admonishing disapproval in Mustang’s eyes was not supposed to sting that much, but it did. “Sit down and finish your meal. The tapestry won’t be going anywhere.”

Cowed but still (intrinsically) defiant, Ed sat back down and huffed into his meal. After a moment’s thought, however, he muttered quietly, “Sorry.”

“Quite alright,” Mustang’s disapproval vanished into a satisfied little smile. “I understand what you feel—I understand that near-manic passion you have for your science. But it’s important as well that you mind your priorities. You won’t be able to function properly without nourishment, yes? So eat first—and while you’re at it, why don’t you organise your thoughts? I find it quite easier to begin when I have what I need to do in line.”


Nodding quietly, Ed resumed his meal. His mother had not minded him carrying his books to the dinner table or rushing off in the middle of a meal to record a sudden light in his theory. Izumi was, however, dismayed with this habit, and tried her very best to knock it out of him. She had said that such behaviour was terribly disrespectful towards the generous person who prepared the food for him, and that it was unbecoming of a civilized human being. His brain had not cared; either way, it demanded attention whenever there was an epiphany.

Now, he felt rightfully awkward about the situation. More and more he found himself seeking to follow Mustang’s principles, and what few rules the man had for him while he was in the house. His respect for Mustang was already quite high, and it was continuing to build. The entire thing was disconcerting, to say the least. He was normally a very rebellious child, and to think that it was barely a week since he arrived…

But my priority is learning, he told himself solidly, and rebellion is beneath it. Mustang has the world to give me and teach me. That’s more than enough.

He learned by theory, by example, and by experimentation; as if by some stroke of absurd luck, they perfectly matched Mustang’s preferred teaching methods. Before he could learn from Mustang, however, he first had to follow and see, and within this, obedience was essential. A teacher, he knew, was not an efficient teacher if unable to make the student obey, one way or another. Mustang was simply very good at this. Even before he was consciously willing to submit to instruction, his mind had already realised the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he could inherit from this man—and his brain already was learning the first of the patterns.


A wry smile came to his face as he emptied his glass of juice. Izumi had always been amazed (and heartily approving) of his self-knowledge. It was an expected personality trait, she had said, but his self-analysing was so incredibly ruthless it went beyond the norm. He strove to be aware of his faults and to correct them—and he was willing to sacrifice pride for the sake of learning the right way.


“I should have maps of the old world in the library,” Mustang abruptly interrupted his train of thought. “They’ll help if you should feel the need to re-examine and trace Xerxes and Persia’s communications.”

The previous night, the similarities between the Xerxian flask’s ancient glyphs and the Persian book’s circles had jumped out at him in a realization so unexpected and so obvious it had knocked him off his feet. The Persians were known to frequently trade with Xerxes, although they had unsavoury relations with Creta and the then tiny Amestris. Xerxes liked Persia’s gold and art; Persia wanted Xerxes’ expertise in alchemy. It made sense that Persia’s advanced theories were rooted from Xerxian theories; the circle modifications were probably because of the time gap. Xerxes had disappeared three centuries before Common Era; the Persian book was from the fifth century after Common Era. There was an eight-century lapse in between.


At the moment, the Persian circles seemed translatable through Xerxian script. If indeed this was possible, then it was no longer a priority to learn Persian (or Xingese to understand Persian) in order to decode the arrays in the mysterious Persian book. Of course, understanding the very book itself would help, but Mustang could do that part of the work. Mustang already knew Xingese, and unlike how Persia only had similarities with Xerxes in terms of alchemical arrays, Xing’s language itself was very much similar to the Persian language. (1)

The engraved glyphs on old Xerxian flask, though a bit laborious to make out, were startlingly similar to the Persian circle’s scripts, if not at times the exact same. Whatever the flask was used for centuries ago, it had something to do with the atomic theory the Persian book was talking about. This much was more than enough for him to begin researching; atomic theory was an obscure field, and obscure was just his penchant. He would not rest until he got to the bottom of this.


“Edward.”

He started and looked up to Mustang. “Sorry—what?”

Mustang smiled, “You blanked out. Never mind organising your thoughts; finish your food first. Go on.”

“Oh, uhh, sorry,” abashed, Ed ducked his head and, with renewed vigour, returned to his food. The ham was almost gone, and he had not even tasted them yet. He hated eating in a daze; all the flavour went to waste.

“If I could ask you one question,” Mustang began; Ed shrugged, “from where did you learn ancient Amestrian? You’re frighteningly fluent. Your teacher?”

Ed scoffed. “No; she hates my old-style alchemy. She doesn’t like how intricate it is; it’s dangerous if I accidentally fail to balance it correctly, after all.”

“Then who?”

“Same as you: from Hohenheim.” Ed polished off the last of his fruits. The scrambled eggs (with chopped bell peppers in them, apparently) were damn good. “Or rather, from Hohenheim’s books and journals. The man was never there to teach me anything. The rest I figured out on my own.”

“Figured out on…” Mustang trailed off, muttering to himself in disbelief, with raised eyebrows and an appraising eye for Edward. “Child, you never fail to surprise me.”

“I’m not a child,” Ed scowled up at the Bastard. “And it’s not that hard, you know. There’s a pattern, like with every other language.” This really was how he understood the ancient Amestrian language (and by extension the Xerxian language, though only roughly). He gave a vague wave of the hand, as if that was meant to explain everything.

Mustang merely cocked a brow at his offhand remark. “A pattern. Edward, have you ever heard of the concept of structured learning?”

“Nope, never,” merrily, Ed emptied his glass of juice and dabbed at his mouth with the napkin. Then he reclined against his seat and patted his full belly. “I’ve always learned by intuition and instinct. It’s just my style. Al learns more with structures than I do.”

“Genius.”

Ed rolled his eyes. “Just talent.”

“No,” Mustang shook his head. “Doing easily what others find difficult is talent. Doing what is impossible for talent is genius. You brought your dead mother back to life—that is no talent, Ed. That is genius.”

Again, Mustang wore the all-penetrating look in his eyes, and in awkward discomfort, Ed looked away. The man’s logic was sound, but was there a need to state the obvious over and over again and again?

“You’re being far too generous with your compliments, Bastard. If you don’t watch it, I’m going to start thinking you’re intentionally flattering me.”

Letting out a delighted laugh, Mustang rose from his seat and began collecting the dishes. “I’m just stating things as they are, Edward. You undervalue yourself, did you know that? And whoever said I wasn’t flattering you?”

“Pervert.”

“Why, thank you.”

Ed paused.

“Did you just say thank you?”

“Yes.”

With a sense of dread, Ed asked: “What’s so great about being a pervert?”

“Perversion is essentially deviance from the norm or the orthodox definition of things, which society does not condone, and therefore is given a negative connotation.” Mustang shrugged as they cleaned the table and he replaced the jug of pineapple juice in the cooler. “I personally don’t see anything wrong with being able to appreciate genius in a way no one else can. In fact, it makes me feel rather special.”

“Of course,” Ed cast his eyes skyward. “Egotistic bastard.”

“Why, thank you.”

“You said thank you again.”

“Being selfish is perfectly healthy and normal, Edward. There is nothing wrong with it, so long as you hurt no one.” Turning and giving him a grave face, Mustang said, “You must shed away society’s opinions in order to understand what I will be teaching you. Society’s rules and norms are for the sheep; free-thinkers like you, surely, will not be satisfied. You should know what I’m talking about.”

“Thinking out of the box.”

“Yes,” Mustang nodded. “Painful, but beneficial. All great wisdom is like that, and they are made to be handed down from one generation to the next—but only to those who are fit to receive them.”

“Elitist.”

“Yes.”

Ed sighed. This Bastard was a bad influence on his morality.





He excused himself ahead of time when he finished helping with the dishwashing. It would take only a minute or two to put the washed and dried plates away, so Mustang let him go with a knowing little smile. Ignoring this, he dashed up the stairs and hurtled towards the study island, snatching up an inkwell and a sheaf of paper. When he returned to the kitchen, Mustang was already finished and there waiting for him, patting nimble hands dry with a fluffy kitchen towel.

“Careful now,” the Bastard said when Ed nearly tripped over himself at the foot of the stairs. Ed just scowled up at the man, crossing the kitchen and stepping into the formal dining, where he skirted the long table and walked up to the tapestry. The formal dining was the far section of the area he had inwardly dubbed the Great Hall, which encompassed an entire long half of the house, with a spacious section for entertainment and general pleasantries. If cleared out, it would be a suitable ballroom in medium size.

The ceiling was high, just as every ceiling in the house was high. On its flat expanse was a fresco of the Great Amestrian War, the very battle that moulded Amestris into being. If his history was not failing him, Ed knew that this had been a battle between the Drachman empire and the then scattered and largely tribal Amestris, sometime around three to four hundred years into the Common Era.

Generally ambivalent towards each other and rather familiar as well since they were fellow traders, the tribes had banded together in a desperate attempt to push out the invaders. Under the fortuitous command of the first Grand General Friedrich the Conqueror (modern-day equivalent of the Fuhrer), the tribes won, and upon the very heart of Central, a city-state was born, modelling that of Creta’s impressively old and then still functioning system. The young and tender city-state was named Amestris—an old Xerxian (and perhaps Persian) word meaning ‘friend’: a testament to the lasting friendship between the tribes. (2)

“Rather expensive, that,” Mustang remarked, coming up beside Ed as he gazed up, head tipped back. “But well worth the money, don’t you think?”

Ed continued to gaze thoughtfully at the fresco. Morning light played its tricks on his eyes, and for a second had him finding movement in the still images. Bodies were prostrate on the ground, arms raised with gleaming swords, warhorses neighing and bucking, and a great man on a great mount raising a green flag over a very dead Drachman General. On the green flag was the well-known symbol of the great white beast with claws ready to grapple and defend.

“You know what I can’t understand about this entire business?” Ed tilted his head thoughtfully to the side. Mustang waited patiently, and quietly, for his continuation. “Creta was an ancient democratic city-state. The books say Friedrich modelled Amestris after Creta. Why is it, then, that we are militaristic and nowhere near democratic?”

“Good question,” Mustang nodded. “Sit down. This is your politics lesson for the day.”

The idea of disobeying never even once entered his mind as he wordlessly set his sheaf of paper and inkwell on the table in one of the sitting areas. There were two, but this one was closer to the formal dining and kitchen. The other lounge was across the blank space of the hall, near where the grand concert piano and a few bookshelves sat. He sprawled himself on one of the armchairs, leaning forward, eager for a good story.

“The reason why Friedrich refused to fully mimic Creta’s democratic system,” Mustang began without preamble, “is because democracy does not work.”

Ed’s eyebrows shot up. “Creta’s democracy lasted for nearly a thousand years, you know.”

“And look at how much incompetent decision-making was made,” Mustang reclined against his chair, forehead crinkling in deep thought. “Creta was a great city-state, with great emphasis on culture, wisdom, and the search for truth. But it had its flaws, and they were grave ones.”

“For one, I’m pretty sure you would not survive at all in ancient Creta. Creta was very similar to the Western colonials. They persecuted anyone who went against the norm. They scorned free-thinkers, accused them of heresy and impiety—yes, they were religious—and sentenced them to death. I can name a handful of influential thinkers brought to their sudden end, all because of petty sheep-thinking.”

Upon hearing this, Ed grimaced. Of all things, he loathed people who were unable, unwilling, or both, to think for themselves.

“For another, it was not a true democracy in Creta; it was an aristocratic democracy. A lot of the residing people in Creta, in truth, were not entitled with voting rights. They were slaves. You have to remember that history is often written with a biased hand, and almost never with absolute truth—it’s hard, you see, for a people to admit their own faults. The greater they are, the harder it gets.”

Ed nodded. That sounded logical, and all too human.

“And lastly, even if it was a true democracy, it still would not have worked. In fact, it only worked that well for that long because it was an aristocracy in disguise, and aristocracy is inherently stronger than democracy. Think about it, Ed. What is the definition of democracy?”

“The rule of the people’s majority.”

“And what is the flaw in this?” the Bastard folded his hands on his lap and expectantly gazed upon Ed with the eyes of one who was no longer a mere guardian and companion, but a strict disciplinarian and mentor.

In a flash, Ed remembered their discussion over breakfast. He muttered with a frown, “The majority of people are idiots.”

“Excellent answer, as always,” Mustang smiled beatifically. “You have real potential for this, Edward.”

“I would rather not, please.” Sullenly, Ed swung his legs forth and back, his heels hitting the couch in a muted thud every time. “Politics is something I think I can do, but it doesn’t mean I’d like it. Much.”

“As long as you are prepared—that is all I wish for,” Mustang opened his palms in a gesture of welcome—an overt indication of his willingness to let Ed have his freedom with both opinion and career choice. “As long as one is educated, enlightened, and prepared, one will fare just fine in this world, with enough hard work. The problem is that most people aren’t educated enough, wise enough, tactful enough, or even just sensible enough to decide for themselves the right things.”

“Imagine the horror, Edward, if Amestris was ever surrendered to the hands of the dumb majority. Rights would be stripped, alchemy grants minimised, defence made secondary, funds wasted on the leisure of the many. Free-thinking would cease to exist, because of the enormous pressure to identify with the majority and avoid persecution. Ordinary people are given to panic and distress, and every little thing would turn into a major catastrophe. No confidentiality on the part of the military; the public would know everything, which does not work in a political scheme, because people are often better off not knowing what is done for their benefit. As you might already know, people predominantly revert to hostility when their innocence is broken, or when faced with something they cannot handle.”


And yes, Ed did know that, quite intimately in fact. Memory of his own mother’s livid face flashed through his memory, and he hung his head low, overcome with a shame he knew he should not feel. It was not his fault; he did nothing wrong. He did everything right, and it was because of him that she was alive. But of course she failed to understand that, so here he was, left with nothing but her oblivious contempt.

A weight on the crown of his head pulled him back to reality, away from the taunting cackle of the Gate and the scalding lash of hurt and shame at the memory of his mother’s words. He blinked and looked up—Mustang had a tentative, gentle hand on his head.

“I apologise,” Mustang said, quiet now, and almost remorseful.

Ed shook his head. “It’s not your fault; you shouldn’t be the one to apologise.” In fact, he thought quietly to himself, I should be the one apologising for all the trouble I must have caused you.

“It’s not your fault either. You shouldn’t be the one to apologise.”

They were sharp and solid words, cutting through the haze of Edward’s scattered thoughts. They snapped him into place, just as the heavy hand now on his shoulder anchored him into reality. It was then, at that moment, that Edward realised just how much Mustang was intent on keeping him grounded and stable. This person, for some utterly unfathomable reason, was trying to keep him from sinking into the mire of depression.

“Well, Mum thinks otherwise,” he snorted, lifting his head, but not drawing away from the comforting hand. It was a reassurance to be touched, he realised with a start. Touch was something he had not had in abundance since the transmutation. He was beginning to sorely miss it.

“Your Mother does not know to what extent you have gone through for her and for your brother,” Mustang haughtily dismissed. He seemed mightily offended at how laxly Trisha had looked upon Ed’s momentous achievement. She really did not understand alchemy at all. Mustang continued in a quieter but more determined voice, “Her opinion is not valid.” And then, as if to remediate: “Please do know that I don’t mean to insult her or her intelligence.”

Lips quirking, Ed uttered a quiet chuckle. “Bastard, by just being in the room, you insult everybody else’s intelligence.”

Caught unawares, Mustang was quiet for a split-second. Never before had Ed engaged in games of wiles with the man and pulled a stumping good one. Mouth lifting at the edges in satisfaction, Mustang, with approval in his eyes, playfully parried back, “I’m afraid you have it wrong, Ed. It’s not me who insults intelligence by mere presence; it’s you. After all, you are the genius.”

Ed rolled his eyes. “Oh, shut up.”

He rose and grabbed his sheaf of paper and inkwell. It was high time he moved on to his work.





On the wide wall of the Great Hall hung on display a giant and inconceivably old Amestrian tapestry. It was, as Ed had expected, protected by seals on the fabric’s four corners, designed to defend against weather and tear. Mustang had not dared to touch the circle painted into the absorbent fabric at all, and rightly so—the ancient thing was a colossal monster, an array that would probably take Ed a good while of time and a great load of help to fully decode.

Already he could feel the eager tingling in his palms.

Suppressing his apprehension, he stood before the wall. He felt a creeping dread when he looked at this circle, though he could not fathom why. Underneath his feet, the rugs felt comfortable and warm. He curled his toes into them uncertainly.

What was there to be afraid of? It was just an array, nothing more. What was there to fear? Nothing.

Inside of his head, the Gate was deathly silent.

“Alright, Ed?”

He jumped.

“Yeah,” sweat began to moisten his palms. “Yeah, fine.”

Taking a huge breath, he closed his eyes, calmed himself, and then opened his eyes again. With a blank mind, he gazed upon the massive array on the wall, absorbing every detail, burning the very threads of the fabric into his retinas. When he had looked enough and his eyes were watering generously, he closed them again, and instinctively brought his palms together.

Clap.

He knelt on the soft Xingese rug. With one hand, he touched the sheaf of paper, and with the other, he touched the inkwell

surgecracklerush

in a bright wave of blue light the leaves of paper chained together to form one large blank sheet. Another surge of light and on it an invisible hand began inking in an exact replica, albeit smaller, of the Xerxian tapestry circle. When the inking stopped and the light faded, the copy fluttered to the floor, harmless and clean.


“What did you just do?”

Ed blinked.

“Huh? Oh,” he turned towards Mustang, who was gazing at him with an incredulous look on his face. “A copy,” in a not entirely too bright manner, he pointed at the huge fold of paper.

“Yes, I can see that much,” the sting of sarcasm was back in the Bastard. “I meant your reaction. Where are your circles?”

“Oh, those,” Ed shrugged idly. “I—don’t need them?”

Disbelieving, Mustang stood there for a quiet heartbeat, and two, and three. And then as if driven by some invisible force, the man lunged forward and took Ed’s palms, examining them as if to search for some sort of cheat device: a set of tattoos or perhaps twin slips of paper. Nothing.

No cheating.

“That, Edward,” Mustang began in a somewhat dazed tone, “is just impossible.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ed shrugged again. “I just did it, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but how?” the words escaped Mustang’s lips in quick succession, as if bursting with anticipation and curiosity—which the man obviously was. “I mean—the energy has no directional.”

“There is a circle—in my mind,” Ed warily amended, toeing the tasselled end of the rug beneath his feet. He bit his cheek as he was pitched headfirst into a struggle between telling and not telling Mustang about the piece of the Gate inside his head. The latter eventually won out. His words were slow and deliberate: “I don’t know how to explain it. I… project the array I have in my mind onto the circle of my arms…? I still have a circle, but having it down is unnecessary, I guess.”

“You guess,” the arch of Mustang’s brow was clearly sceptical. For some inane reason, this urged Ed to make a more corporeal case, when normally he would have dismissed anyone who could not bring themselves to believe in his genius. For some inane reason, Mustang was different.

“I—don’t know, okay?” desperate now, Ed tugged at the Gate’s strings for help, and though it unravelled for him pieces of information, the smug and mocking nature by which it leered at him was intensely unpleasant. He felt as though a bucket of grime was just poured over his head. “I see it as something similar to psychological projection, except instead of inwards, it goes outwards—if that makes sense?”

Mustang was deep in thought now, eyes bright and roiling with knowledge. The man was rather well-informed in the relatively fresh field of psychology.

“You attribute the circle upon the object with your mind?”

“Uhh, no, it doesn’t work that way,” Ed said. “If I did that, it would mean that I would have to project a circle on every grain of sand or every piece of rock. No—I attribute the circle on the energy—“

“Of course, because the object is of no direct relevance to the circle!” Mustang was now pacing back and forth, back and forth, and Edward stood there watching. The Bastard was a bright bastard; they were, miraculously enough, on the same page. No one apart from Al had ever been able to keep with him this much, not even Izumi. “The circle shapes the energy, and the energy shapes the object. There’s no need for the circle to directly touch the object, as long as it touches the energy and directs the energy to touch and mould the object!”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Mustang stopped a few paces away from him, arms crossed, chin on chest. “But how can you mentally project a circle on invisible, intangible energy? That’s—thoughtform projection?”

“…I have no idea what you’re talking about,” so it pained him to admit, yet again. This was quickly becoming commonplace between the two of them, and it was beginning to get on his nerves. Normally, he knew more than most people—but this was rarely the case with Mustang. Of course, it should be this way, because Mustang was now his mentor, never mind the informality. But still, it was incredibly annoying—especially to someone like Edward.

“It’s basically harnessing and manifesting mental energy to project a cohesive, solid form of thought on something physical. Yes, energy counts—energy is physical,” Mustang slowly supplied. The man continued to stare; Ed ignored this and lifted the large sheet copy of the tapestry’s circle, collecting it in a neat roll. “I should have you read that Xingese book on mysticism.”

Mysticism,” Ed scoffed.

“Most of it, if you look close enough, is actually based on solid science and experimental alchemy. We just aren’t open-minded enough to appreciate it fully.”

“If you say so,” Ed was, at this point, unwilling to argue. He still felt conflicted about the Gate’s presence in his mind, and now that he was reminded of it, the unease returned to the forefront of his mind with full force. Hearing voices inside his head was not a very warm reassurance of his sanity, especially to Mustang, who would be incredibly paranoid about these sorts of issues. Genius or not, having the piece of the Gate in his head was not normal, and it was a serious matter he was not sure he wanted to confide in Mustang about.

The secrecy made him feel filthy and rotten. Mustang was giving him so much, and yet here he was, a dirty little liar hiding a potentially destructive secret from the man who provided for him shelter, food, clothing, and generous education. He tried to convince himself that this was technically not lying, but it was all in vain: personally, he considered omission a form of deception, and from the beginning, he had never been all too exceptional at fooling his own incisive mind.


Walking back up to the library was a quiet and short affair with both of them in deep thought. Mustang immediately made for the shelves, muttering titles under his breath. Ed spread the tapestry’s copy on the study island table (which was, for once, relatively clear of paperwork and clutter). With a few books in arm, Mustang settled himself into a seat across from Ed, borrowing a little bit of table space for a notepad, and easily sinking into informative reading.

Together in quiet and comfortable company, they worked until well into the mid-afternoons, only to be interrupted when Ed’s stomach let out an embarrassingly loud growl of distress. With an affectionate little smirk on the Bastard’s part, they retreated into the kitchen for quick sandwiches and orange juice.

The rest of the day was spent in the same manner, with intense reading and research on Edward’s part. His charting was meticulous and detailed; it would take a while before this research went anywhere significant. But Ed was, if nothing else, persistent.

Dinner was the same: quick, elegant, substantial, and full of conversation. They exchanged theories (Mustang on Ed’s thoughtform alchemy, Ed on the Persian book and tapestry) and bantered playfully, a light reprieve from the extensive heavy reading.

Afterward, they retreated again to the library, where instead of sitting back in the study island with his yet unfinished but generously tagged pile of books, Mustang walked up to the baby grand piano. Now why anybody would have a piano in a library, Ed had absolutely no idea—but Mustang has always been a strange man, and just like everything else in the ridiculously posh and primped house, the reason behind this was probably a combination of indulgence and laziness.

“Please don’t break my eardrums,” sighed Ed as he settled comfortably into his pet couch. He swirled the contents of his second glass of wine (which he was allowed for the lighter kinds) and relished the short break from his books.

“I will have you know that I was schooled in music by the best instructors from my childhood,” the lid of the piano went up; Mustang sat down.

The very moment those long and tapered fingers descended upon the keys, Ed’s ears were captured by an upward cascade of notes, smooth, quick, and flowing. After a short proem of graceful notes strung in clipped and common melodies, Mustang began a light and sweet summer song—a love song, Ed realized very quickly.

Not just a grand Bastard, but a grand romantic Bastard, he snickered to himself.

He had to admit, though: the piece was a beautiful one, simple but memorable. There was not a single word of reproach he could pull up against the execution, though of course his opinion was an admittedly amateur one. There was no detectable stutter, the tempo was even, the flow was smooth, and the style and flair indeed very Roy Mustang. Not a single doubt.

At that very moment, as Mustang switched to the next song, Ed was struck with the intense desire to learn how to play. The descant tickling his ear was a mystery—how could something so beautiful be created so easily?—and he wanted to unravel it. Music, he had read, was in its nature very mathematical, though it had more of the passion and emotion the physical sciences so refused.

But would he be able to? He doubted it.

He glanced down at his automail hand, and for the first time since that inauspicious night, he felt a wave of self-loathing and regret. In this sense, his rashness had taken away from him an avenue of learning he could have otherwise pursued. There was nothing that disheartened him more.

The music stopped. “Ed, come here.”

Ed looked up. “Why?” he blurted before he could catch himself.

Mustang had that little smile playing on his lips again; Ed felt justifiably apprehensive, if only a little bit. “Come; I have something to show you.”

Leaving his empty wineglass behind (Mustang seemed bent on turning him into some sort of alcoholic), he stood and made his way over. The Bastard pulled over another stool for him to sit on, and when he was safely situated on Mustang’s right, his hands were taken and placed upon the keys.

“These are the basic notes. A to G, starting with the middle C, right here. It’s the basic reference point,” to demonstrate, Mustang played eight notes, one whole octave. “Go ahead; try.”

Sceptically, Ed blinked up at Mustang. “You expect me to learn the piano? I have an automail hand.”

“So?” Mustang arched an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’ll let such a tiny setback stop you from learning something new. I expected better of you, Edward.”

Successfully refuted, Ed scowled and set his awkward hands back on the keys. Gingerly, he pressed down on the middle C. The single note vibrated in his ears, loud and clear. This, he realized immediately, was good practice for his automail arm’s control, which he had yet to perfect.

“That’s alright; loud is good when you’re beginning to learn,” Mustang encouraged, ever the model teacher. “Scaling volume is something you master later; all loud for now. But don’t bang on the keys; know that there is a clear distinction.”

Gently, patiently, Mustang took him through the core basics of music and the piano, letting him find his own balance with his fingers. Mustang—in moments like these no longer a bastard—said nothing when his fingers slipped, when his automail hand refused to cooperate and gave him minor difficulties. All that was said were quiet words of encouragement, spaced out and even, there for comfort whenever Ed needed them.

Was it disturbing that he found he needed them often?

Yes.

It should not be, he told himself, because he was a child, really. He was eleven, barely going on twelve. It was perfectly natural for him to seek an anchor, if not a guide. It was perfectly natural to feel a pull of gravity towards Mustang: this confusing, charming man who now held his hand as he walked his slow way into the adult world. It was perfectly natural, he convinced himself.

These accidental thoughts and self-doubts, however, tended to stick in the spokes of the mind, so when Edward fell asleep on the couch that night listening to the serenade of Mustang’s fingers, his dreams were occupied by none other than the magnanimous Bastard and his magnanimity.

He had never had sleep so full and satisfying.

(Sarcasm.)


Part APart B →



FOOTNOTES
(1)
Some of you might be confused with the truckload of information I just gave. The Persian book's circles are similar to the Xerxian flask's seals, while the language & script is similar to Xingese (which Roy can speak). I hope that makes it clearer.
(2) Xerxes is an old kingdom predating Amestris by nearly 800 years. Amestris inherits greatly from Xerxes, especially in language and alchemy. The ancient Amestrian language is almost entirely similar to Xerxian language. But THEY ARE NOT ONE COUNTRY. Please keep this in mind.

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