Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Arcanum Paterfamilias ❯ Chapter Five: Sazamuz ( Chapter 5 )

[ A - All Readers ]

Arcanum Paterfamilias -- Chapter Five: Sazamuz
Authors: "mfelizandy" & "fractured_chaos"
Genre: Drama/Political Thriller. Futurefic, Genfic, Plotfic, Light Romance. No Sex.
Rating: Teen, for violence and Ed's potty mouth.
Chapter Word Count: 10,000
Main Canon Characters/Pairings: Scar/OC. With nods to: Roy/Riza, Ed/Winry and Al/Mei. Hints of: Jean/Rebecca and Ling/Ran Fan. Appearances by other canon characters.
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of the Manga/Brotherhood. Futurefic set primarily in the Manga/Brotherhood universe. Some past incidents have been changed to render this story “Divergent”. Elements from the first anime have also been woven in.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Both 'Fullmetal Alchemist' and 'Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood' are produced by Funimation. Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu, Square Enix and Funimation. All Rights Reserved

Summary: Fifteen years after the ‘Promised Day’, secrets better kept buried come to the surface. Against a backdrop of political tension, a family fights to keep from being torn apart by one man’s dark past.

Special Thanks: To "evil_little_dog" and "alchemyotaku75" for the beta, and "dzioo" for the awesome artwork!
Thank You To: "havocmangawip" and Sgt. Jody Sunday (ret) for their patience and wonderful technical advice on paraplegia and blindness, respectively.

Written for the 2010/2011 FMA Big Bang Challenge

Lyrics from: "Caravanserai" by Loreena McKennitt

"...We crossed the river beds all etched in stone
And up the mighty mountains ever known
Beyond the valleys in the searing heat
Until we reached the caravanserai..."

Edward Elric helped himself to another cup of strong Bharati tea, then settled back against a camel howdah to listen to the drovers sing. Their nightly impromptu concerts had added a merry accompaniment on the long trek home to Xerxes. In the dark at the edge of camp, he could hear the camels growl and the elephants shuffling restlessly. Neither the Bharati watch nor the Aerugan one seemed at all concerned, though. The animals were as anxious to reach their well-watered destination as the humans in the caravan.

He could see a line of twinkling light close to the solid black of the horizon that didn't belong to the jeweled sky; the beacons of the watchtowers of Xerxes. He'd be home by midafternoon, but he doubted he'd sleep tonight. After being gone for six months, he was anticipating returning to his wife and daughter.

He gazed across the Bharati camp fire to the second on the far side of the well. The Aerugans were keeping to themselves, and were, in contrast to the lively Bharati, quite subdued. One of the dark southern men shot a nervous glance back at him as Edward watched.

A small form flopped down against him, and Edward raised his arm to wrap it around his ten year old son. "I thought you were in bed."

"I couldn't sleep," Theo said. The two of them watched the fire dance and listened to the drovers sing for a while, then Theo shifted. "Mom's gonna be mad that we were gone so long, isn't she? It was only supposed to be two months."

Edward glanced down at the youth, who looked so much like him at that age it was disturbing, and grinned. "Nah. We sent her those letters, so she knew we were fine."

Theo scowled, disbelieving.

"Okay, maybe just a little," Edward admitted.


Edward sighed, "Yeah. Your mom's probably gonna take my leg and hide it." Theo snickered, and Edward arched a brow. "Don't get cocky, kid. Who do you think is gonna have to help your old man to the bathroom, huh?"


"Yeah. So work on your Uncle-Al-eyes to keep both of us out of trouble."

Vasupati settled on the blanket near Edward and helped himself to a cup of tea. "You'll make it in time for your daughter's birthday."

Edward grinned. "Thank goodness for that, at least. The gifts we brought should keep Winry from killing me too badly... I hope."

The old caravan master nodded at the elephants tethered outside the circle of firelight. "Are you sure you don't want to buy Bindi for your daughter? Every princess needs an elephant of her own.” The creases in his weathered face deepened with amusement.

“Marissa doesn’t know anything about elephants!” Theo objected.

"No thanks. It costs enough to feed this one," Edward said as he poked his son in the ribs, eliciting a squirming giggle from the boy. "I'm not sure where he gets his appetite."

The drovers started in on a bawdy tune about a princess with a somewhat questionable reputation, and Edward glanced at his son, who was rapt. "Whatever you do, don't sing that song around your mother or sister," he said.

Theo shot his father a knowing glance that was far older than it should have been. "Are you kidding? Mom would kill both of us." He gazed over at Vasupati. “Are we really gonna be home tomorrow?” He almost sounded disappointed, and Edward was positive it came from having to give up Bindi at the end of their trip.

Vasupati leaned over and pointed into the distance. “See the flickering lights on the horizon?” When Theo nodded, the trader added, “Those are the beacons of Xerxes, lit every night to welcome travelers from afar.” He smiled at the boy. “Do you know the story about the Ishvarun hero Saza and his loyal friend Jaio?”

Theo’s face lit up. “Are you gonna tell me another story?”

“Perhaps one more,” Vasupati said. He took a mouthful of tea and began...

...Now in those times the hero Saza walked the world alone, and he carried only his bow and his plain sword. He walked from the west to the east and the north to the south, and wherever he went both the lowest and the greatest spoke of him as a wise hero, and that is no common thing.

So Saza walked into a strange country with his bow slung over his shoulder and his plain sword sheathed in plain leather and iron. It was a strange and fearsome place. The trees and the crops and the grass grew into knots like ropes, and the stones bent and curved like flames. But strangest and most fearsome was the thick miasma that lay across all the land. Saza, like all wise men, knew that without the light of the sun and the moon, all things, men and women, beasts and birds and fish, and all the things that grow on the land and in the sea turn as grey as the mist, and slowly waste away...

...Heinkel walked the inside perimeter of the Amestrian consulate grounds. Every scent was familiar. He hardly needed his nose to find every ungwaiyar in and around the compound. The air fairly twanged around the young warrior priests-in-training. Fortunately, Ling and his newest wife had already arrived, the Emperor dressed in enough bright-colored silk and jewelry to make it impossible not to notice him. Ran Fan was also accounted for -- she’d let Heinkel catch just a glimpse of her as she leaped from wall to tree to roof. Shadow guard courtesy.

Three stories above, Darius was walking the roof with his newest "assistant". The big ape had drawn the short straw, but Diyari's delighted crow had turned Darius' grumble about being a babysitter for the night into a slightly smug expression. Entertaining the kid would make the time pass a little faster. Security was tight, thanks to Mishyael's and Master Abrahn's ungwaiyar.

As Heinkel neared the front gate, he caught a tendril of freshly cleaned leather, orange blossom, and warm bread, wrapped around the scents of two familiar people. The gate squeaked as he opened it, and he made a mental note to remind Havoc about oiling it in the morning. There was a barely-there crunch of sand underfoot, and Wahyid, who stood guard outside the gate, reached for the short-sword on his hip. Heinkel laid a hand over the ungwaiyar's. "It's just the senior and his wife," he said softly.

A moment later, Mishyael and Ysa appeared in the circle of flickering light cast by one of the torches set near the gate. The senior yevarshedaht carried a cloth-covered basket filled with fresh-baked rolls. Wahyid shot a quizzical glance at the blond body guard, but didn't ask how he’d known who was approaching.

Mishyael bowed to Wahyid and Heinkel. "How is the watch?" he asked.

"We've got four ungwaiyar on the ground, four on the roof." Heinkel gestured up toward the roof. "Darius and his new assistant are covering the high ground...” He flashed a grin at Diyari’s mother. “We’ve also got a senior yevarshedaht--” He took his time to pronounce the mouthful of syllables correctly “--the guy who trained all those guys with swords, and some of the people I work for.” He paused, "And if all else fails, there's always the Emissary."

"Anyone attempting to break through this security net is either insane or suicidal," Wahyid added.

"Remind me to tell you some stories about the Elric brothers one of these days," Heinkel said, amused. A light tattoo of sandals running down the walk toward the front gate caught Heinkel's attention, and he glanced over his shoulder. "Pardon me a moment, Senior." He turned and knelt just as the gate swung open.

Diyari bowed to him. "Zhoji Darius wanted me to tell you--" He cut off as he noticed his parents, and his face lit up. "Momma! Papa!" He made as if to run to them, then caught himself. He forced himself into a more earnest stance, and bowed. "Excuse me. I'm on duty."

Ysa's face brightened with maternal pride, and the normally stern senior yevarshedaht's expression lightened a fraction. Mishyael bowed to his son. "Don't let us keep you from your duties, 'yirhi." He and Ysa stepped around Heinkel, and as they passed the youngster, Mishyael ruffled Diyari’s hair. Heinkel wasn't certain, but he thought he saw the man smile. There was no mistaking the way Diyari beamed.

Heinkel carefully schooled his face into a serious, businesslike expression. "What's this message Darius sent you to deliver?"

Diyari bobbed his head, and said, "Emperor Ling's Shadow Guard arrived a few minutes ago." His eyes went wide and his tone took on an air of awe. "One minute we were alone on the roof, and then the next, they were just there. And then they disappeared again!"

Heinkel chuckled. "How many?"

"Four, Zhoji."...

..The old man spoke to Saza in a high reedy voice. “There is a demon’s curse on this land. Many generations ago, a master smith used magic to form Askira da Scaridis, the sword made of the light of the sun and the moon. A sword forged in water and quenched in fire...

...“But you can’t make anything out of light,” Theo said seriously. He turned to his father. “You couldn’t make a crystal strong enough to be a sword, could you?”

“Probably-- but why would you want to?” Edward Elric shrugged. “Don’t think about it too much, kid, it’s just a fairy tale.”

“All fairy tales have something of the truth in them,” Vasupati said mildly. “The ones with nothing to teach aren’t told by grandfathers to grandsons...”

...The crumpled old beggar then told the warrior Saza, “Many years ago, the king of this land died without naming a successor, and his seven children fought so loudly over the kingdom they awoke the demon who guards the gates to the underworld. The demon grew angry, because the noise of men fighting and women screeching disturbed his sleep. So he took Askira da Scaridis, the mighty sword of kings, and shattered it into seven shards. The demon then turned each prince and princess into a monster, and set them as guards, one standing over each shard. The demon placed a curse on the land, that it would be wrapped in fog and plague until a man both strong and wise came to solve the riddle within the riddles and bring the light of the sun and the gleam of the moon back to that land...

...Makhu reined in Yitamar and peered into the night. He could see a faint glow on the horizon. Behind him, his ungwaiyar came to a stop. Lyron came up beside him, and Makhu pointed at the distant glow. "We're about three hours away," he said.

"We could get there sooner if we run the horses," Lyron said.

Makhu shook his head. "No need. This is just a precaution." He grinned at Lyron. "The Old Man gets a little paranoid whenever Edward Elric returns from wherever it is that he wanders off to."

Lyron grinned back. "Well, if the stories I've heard about that one are true, Senior Mishyael has good reason."

The wind shifted, and suddenly the horses' ears twitched and they tossed their heads. Two of them reared and their riders fought to keep them from bolting. Yitamar pawed the sand and Makhu could feel the animal tensing underneath him. The yevarshedaht's eyes narrowed. "Maybe this time he was right." He dug his heels into his stallion's flanks. The horse squealed and reared, his front hooves tore at the air, but he refused to move. The yevarshedaht snapped an order and jerked at the reins. Yitamar came down and shot forward. Behind him, Makhu could hear the other horses fight their riders and squeal, then bunch up and gallop after him...

..Then Saza’s soul spoke within him, and he said, 'No. If your soul is that of a man, then you must live as a man, with a man’s hungers and a man’s regrets. I will not kill you.'

The monster who had been a prince was suddenly whole, and he rose up to fill the cave again. 'You have said what no man has said. Had you chosen to try to kill me, you would have followed the others into the place from which none has yet returned. Since you see clearly, you will have what I have guarded, and my service.' The monster knelt and put his face to the stones to the prince of Valenring. 'Here is the precious thing you seek.' It opened its mouth, and one of its sharp teeth gleamed and fell out. The monster’s great tongue caught the shard of light and dark and gave it to Saza...

..."Master Abrahn."

"Ah, Ysa, you look lovely tonight." The master yevarshedaht took her offered hands and bowed. He glanced at Mishyael and his lips quirked. "I see you've fixed your husband's hair."

"And I understand you're the reason his hair needed fixing," she said, lightly. She leaned in, and spoke softly, "Next time, take the rest of it.” She gazed adoringly up at Mishyael. "Of course, with or without it, he's still the handsomest man in Xerxes."

"I'm wounded," Roy Mustang said, as he approached on his wife's arm. "All this time, I thought I was the handsomest man in Xerxes."

Mishyael whuffed. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but this city is considerably more than three or four tents full of women and children nowadays.”

“Yes, and for some reason one of the most beautiful women anywhere decided to hunt you down,” Roy answered. “She did in weeks what an army couldn’t do in years.”

“That’s because he didn’t know he was being chased until it was too late,” Ysa said calmly. “He was a little distracted at the time.”

Roy’s face sobered. “Mm. We all were.” He straightened up. “But there will be plenty of time to relive the past when we’re all retired. Right now we have a few countries’ worth of ruffled feathers to smooth.” He lifted an eyebrow at Mishyael. “If you’re in a mood to make my life easier, go loom over the Drachmani ambassador. You can probably scare the little rat out of his pint-sized brain just by looking at him.”

Roy,” Ysa said reproachfully. “International politics is your job, not ours.”

“What is it you think the Drachman will tell me that he won’t tell you?” Mishyael said quietly.

“I’m not sure,” Roy admitted. “What I do know is that his wife is the brains of that embassy, and she’s susceptible to the bumbling blind man act.”

“That’s not going to work forever, you know,” Riza told him fondly.

“Which is why I’m making the most of it while it lasts.” Roy grinned. “Do you mind, Mishyael?”

“I suppose I can loom, though my wife is the weaver in the family.” The yevarshedaht lowered his hand to his wife’s waist.

Roy snorted. “See, it’s that kind of comment that’s absolutely ruined your reputation. One of these days you’ll be caught smiling, and you’ll never be seen the same way again.”

“Not that you’ve seen me in years,” Mishyael commented amiably. “Go and find out whether you can still charm old women with gray streaks in your hair, Amestrian pup.”

“Go scare a spineless Drachman halfwit, Ishbalan lunatic,” Roy answered with mock dignity. He sailed off into the party on his wife’s arm.

Ysa turned to her husband. “You enjoyed that.”

“Not half as much as he did.”

She smiled. “You indulged the Amestrian Emissary.” She reached up and stroked the back of his neck. “Times have certainly changed.”

He very gently lifted a stray curl away from her face, watching her eyes slip shut for a moment. “They have changed because we’ve changed them. Now--” he slipped his arm back around her “let’s go see what I can frighten the ambassador into babbling about.”

...The monster sought to rise from the throne, but she fell on the fine tiles of the floor. 'You are a coward who carries a sword but fears it too much to draw it.'

'I am a man brought up by men. My father and his father taught me that a man’s honor lives in his own mind and soul, not in the eyes and the words of others.' Saza went to the monster and pulled her to her feet. 'My mother and her mother taught me that a woman’s strength lies not in the weight of the sword but the weight of her words. She will see things in the eyes and hear things in the words of others that all but the wisest of men would not think to guess at.'

The monster became too weak and fragile to stand alone, and too small to reach high to his shoulders, so she took hold of the straps that Saza wore across his body. 'Had you bared your sword and run at me to answer my insults as men do, I would have cut it from you and given you such pain as makes a man beg for the release of death. Since you answered me in words, and chose to lift me up, I am powerless against you. I will give you the shard you seek...'

...Darius leaned his arms on the waist-high ledge of the roof, and gazed down at the torch-lit inner courtyard of the consulate. Next to him, Diyari mirrored his pose, although the ledge was high enough that the best the boy could do is prop his chin on his arms. The body-guard cast a sideways glance at him, one corner of his mouth turning up. "What do you see?"

Diyari scanned the people in the courtyard for a long moment. "Zhoji Jean is carrying a tray of drinks around. He's talking to everyone, but he keeps watching Zhoji Roy."

"You got a good eye, kid. What else?"

Diyari was quiet as he looked around, and Darius took the moment's silence to make his own observations. The Emissary was working the crowd, flirting shamelessly with the wives of the Caledonian and Drachmani dignitaries. Mishyael and his wife had arrived late, and were now talking to the Bharati Ambassador and her husband. The senior yevarshedaht stood close to the Drachman ambassador, dwarfing him. Whenever the Drachman attempted to creep out of Mishyael's shadow, the warrior priest would turn and engage him in the conversation. Darius almost felt sorry for the nervous little man. The Emperor's newest wife stood close to her husband (What number was she? Twelve? Ling still had quite a few clans to choose wives from), as he chatted animatedly with Elders Shan and Hamzhya and Abrahn, the master yevarshedaht. Darius huffed a soft laugh. From the pile of food on the plate the Emperor deftly balanced in one hand, his appetite hadn't changed.

Diyari giggled, then pointed out a heavy-set red-headed man with a full beard. He was showing off his ceremonial sabre to Colonel Miles. "Why is that man wearing a skirt?"

"He's the Caledonian Ambassador, kid," Darius said. "And don't ever let him hear you call that a 'skirt'."

"Zhoji Roy just made that fat lady in the blue dress laugh like Momma does when Papa whispers in her ear." Diyari commented. After a pause, he added, "When he does that, they always make funny noises after we go to bed." He shot a confused glance up at Darius. "Doesn't Jzhallei Riza get mad when the Emissary does that?"

Darius choked and stammered, suddenly feeling too warm in the turtleneck he was wearing. "Uh-- well-- um, it's called 'flirting'." Diyari stared blankly at the bodyguard, apparently awaiting more clarification. "It's, uh, somethingyou'llunderstandwhenyougetolder," Darius mumbled.

Diyari rolled his eyes and went back to watching the party.

Darius glanced across the courtyard and saw something shift in the shadows near the ungwaiyar posted there. He nudged Diyari, then jutted his chin at the roof across from them. "Take a look. What do you see?"

Diyari's eyes narrowed as he peered into the darkness, then he gasped and grinned. "That's the captain of the Emperor's Shadow Guard!"

Darius and Diyari laughed as the ungwaiyar finally noticed Ran Fan next to him, and nearly toppled off the roof in his surprise.

Darius rested a big hand on the boy's shoulder, and jerked his head toward the other side of their perch. "C'mon, kid. It's time to make the rounds and see what we can see on the outside of the consulate."

...Now solving seven riddles was no simple task, but there was a final, eighth riddle that had yet to be answered. As Saza led the final monster out of the darkness to join her brothers and sisters, the guardian of the underworld appeared and gathered the seven shards of Askira. 'You have come further than any man before you,' the demon said to Saza. 'You have defeated the seven guardians of Askira, and led them from the darkness which had contaminated their souls. But you have yet to answer the final riddle.'

Saza looked around him at the seven princes and princesses, who were still in their monstrous forms, and saw them hold each other and weep joyful tears at being reunited. It mattered not at all how terrible they appeared on the outside. Then Saza turned to the demon and said, 'The final riddle was never mine to solve.' He nodded to the monsters and smiled. 'They have the answer, now. And it is a simple one, when there are no jeweled crowns or bright clothes blinding the eyes to it.'

With a roar, the demon sank into the earth. The sun broke through the grey miasma and shone upon the monsters who were no longer monsters, but men and women reunited as brothers and sisters.

But the great sword Askira de Scaridis lay still upon the earth in seven pieces...

..."There have been six assaults on Amestrians in Ishvar this past week," Miles said to Shan and Hamzhya. "Ever since violence broke out in Saza's Spires, the attacks have been getting bolder. One Amestrian was nearly killed."

"Did they find who drew first?" Hamzhya wheezed. "The stories from the Pillars are saying the mozhkarishki are the cause."

Miles nodded. "Unfortunately, those words are true. The tribal leaders and the yevarzherih are refusing to negotiate unless the Prime Minister speaks to them herself. The assaults are a threat."

Roy and Riza Mustang approached. The emissary bowed deeply to both Hamzhya and Lady Shan. He faced Miles. "I couldn't help but overhear. Should I radio Madam Prime Minister and advise her to evacuate our people from the region?"

"I hesitate to say yes, Emissary," Miles responded.

"If you withdraw your people," Shan said, "the tribes will see a weakness, and there will be no negotiations then."

"Nonsense," Hamzhya said. "It is better to withdraw before the violence escalates. It shows a strength of soul over a strength of force. The holy lands of Ishvarra and Saza belonged to Ishvarun first. The mozhkarishki are merely trying to defend what is rightfully ours."

"The mozhkarishki are trying to stir up old cesspits and intimidate the Amestrians into leaving," Shan snapped.

Mishyael joined the group. "They have valid grievances," he added. "But they insist on negotiating on their terms, without exception or accommodation."

"Which only makes it more difficult for us," Riza said. "They won't even send a representative who can speak for them. We can't address grievances that we're not aware of."

"And sending in the Prime Minister herself is out of the question," Roy added. "There is no reasonable way to assure her safety at Mahas."

"Yet sending someone of a lower rank is an insult," Mishyael explained. "The yevarzherih is considered equal to your Prime Minister. He won't even speak with any Elder but Zhan Roa, the Master Elder, when we ask to deal with them."

"And where the mozhkarishki go, so goes the rest of Ishbal," Roy said. "I would love to find a loophole that will get the negotiations back on track."

Miles stood silent for a long moment, a finger over his lips. "I did receive some intel before I left Ishvar to come here," he said, gazing at Roy. "I'm not entirely convinced of its validity, though there may be some truth in it."

Mustang frowned. "Maybe we should take this conversation inside. Come to the parlour..."

cBut why was the sword not restored?” the youngest prince asked. “The demon has returned to the earth, the curse is broken.”

A child can set a fire in a moment that burns the mightiest of cities,” Saza answered, “but it takes strong men and learned men seasons and years to bury the dead and clear away the destruction before the city can rise again. A demon can bring the monster inside to the outside. It can make the poison of fear and avarice into poisons of the land and air and water. It can break what man has made, but only God and God’s children can make old things new and the broken things whole.”

The sword was made by magic,” the middle princess said. “Only the sorcerer smith who forged it could reshape it, and no one has seen him since he made the sword for the first king of this land seven hundreds of years ago.”

Once it was that the sword was whole but your family and your kingdom were broken. Now your family and your kingdom are whole but the sword is broken.” Saza spread his cloak on the ground. “I have said I will not take your fine furs or your glittering jewels or even your great horses. Instead, I ask that you give me these broken shards. It may be that I find a man who can make of the pieces a new sword.”

The brothers and sisters were afraid at these words, for Saza was a tall and strong warrior who might easily claim the throne. They consulted with each other, and they said to the prince of Valenring, “We said that you would have any thing that was ours to give as our thanks. So we will give you the broken sword Askira de Scaridis.”

Saza saw that they feared for their thrones and the bloodshed that comes of one man seeking to rule another’s kingdom. He put the shards of the sword of sunlight and moonlight into his cloak, and he said, “It is true that I am a lastborn prince, and in time I may claim a kingdom. But there are lands enough that suffer under cruel and thoughtless kings. I will go to those places and do as God wills me to do. I and my sons and grandsons will take those lands and rule them with wisdom.”

So Saza carried away the broken sword, and he walked away toward the east, following the travelers’ road...

...Hamzhya settled into one of the leather-bound wing-back chairs near the crackling fireplace with an audible sigh. "It feels good to take the weight off these old bones," he said.

"There were plenty of seats in the courtyard, Elder," Riza said, as she made a complete circuit around the room, then took a spot to the right of her husband's seat. "I doubt anyone would have begrudged you one of them."

"As an Elder, it is my duty to set an example to the young ones--"

"--And his vanity won't allow him to admit that his joints have stiffened," Lady Shan finished, as she took the seat next to Hamzhya.

Mishyael and Miles took positions on either side of the fireplace, with clear views of both the window and the door into the parlour.

"We're safe from eavesdroppers here, Miles," Roy Mustang said. "What is this intel you have for us?"

"As I said before," Miles said, "I cannot vouch for the validity of the information--"

"Stop dancing around it like it's excrement," Shan chided. "Just tell us what you know."

"Charming as ever, Vrua," Roy quipped.

The old woman hmpfed. "I'm too old to waste my breath on empty pleasantries. My time could end at any minute." She faced Miles. "So get to the point."

Miles chuckled softly, then said, "As you wish. The yevarzherih may not speak for all of the nomadic tribes. There are rumours of dissent among the younger mozhkarishki..."

...So the great warrior Saza wrestled with the creeping beggar, and found that the old man with a crooked back and one eye filmed white was strong and tireless as no man can be. “Who are you?” he cried as they struggled.

My name is broken as my body,” the beggar told him, “and broken is my weapon!” He snatched up two shards of the sword and drove them into Saza’s belly and threw the prince to the earth with his face turned to the sky and the moon fading in the light of the sun as it rose.

Saza lay with his life’s blood spreading into the dirt, and he saw clearly. He spoke in the whisper of a dying man. “To break the thing shaped by a man is to break the man himself.” The night came back for him even as the day began. “You are the smith who made the sword, and it is truly yours. Take it and forgive me for thinking you a thief.”

The crooked smith saw that Saza was wise and honorable, and that he was not yet beyond the reach of men. He took the broken blades from the hero’s body, and he made healing magic so that Saza would not die. He drew a mighty anvil from the earth and made an iron hammer from Saza’s blood and the earth. Then the smith who had been a creeping beggar laid Saza, all unknowing, on the anvil beside the broken sword of moonlight and sunlight. So he cared for the man and he mended the sword on the same bed, and in that place there is still a stone marked red with Saza’s blood and streaked with the white light of the moon and the golden light of the sun.

No one now knows how long it was that Saza lay sleeping beside the sword, but when the sun set some time later, the smith struck the sword Askira de Scaridis one more blow, and as the sound of iron on light rang among the trees the hero Saza opened his eyes. He saw a man, tall and straight and seeming no older in his face than himself. The smith’s hair was the gold of the men of Xerxes, and his right eye was no longer filmed in white but shone with the silver light of the moon. He held the sword of sun and moon, whole and straight, in his right hand and his iron hammer in the left.

Saza jumped to his feet and took his plain iron sword in his hands in the way of the men of his land, but he found his body weak and trembling against the weight. “I have no desire to fight,” he told the stranger he saw.

Nor have I,” the smith answered. “Sit down and take some food with me, warrior, before you fall and I must spend more days tending your wounds.”

Saza put his sword into its plain sheath, and without the blade before his eyes he saw that the golden man was indeed the creeping beggar. “You are whole, as the sword is whole, and you have mended my body as you mended the sword. It would please me to call you my friend.”

So it would please me to be named your friend,” the smith answered. “My name is broken forever, but there are men who say ‘Jaioada’ for ‘friend of mine’. So I will be your Jaio, and go with you for as long as you call me Jaio.”

And that is how the warrior Saza met his friend Jaio, and won the sword Askira de Scaridis, for after that Saza carried the sword of light and Jaio fought with his great iron hammer. They traveled the world and left many stories behind them, but those are for another night...

“...For the moon is high in the sky, and it will soon be dawn,” Vasupati finished. He took another mouthful of tea.

Edward chuckled. “Okay, Theo, time for bed.”

The boy whined a protest, but Edward shook his head. “We’ve gotta get up early tomorrow, and Bindi won’t listen to you if you’re tired and cranky.”

Theo groaned, but got up and trudged toward their shared tent.

Edward smiled and shook his head. “Kid’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide, sometimes.”

Vasupati chuckled. “That stubbornness will be tempered as he grows older.”

“Don’t be so sure of that,” Edward said, ruefully. “I haven’t outgrown mine. At least that’s what Winry keeps telling me.” He gazed across the fire at the Aerugans and saw one of them make another hand-sign to ward off evil. He nodded at them, "So what's with them?"

Vasupati gazed at the other traders. "It's not unusual for Aerugan trains to join ours. There is safety in numbers. But the Aerugan traders are a very superstitious lot. Their stories say this road is traveled by the souls of the dead." Vasupati faced Edward and huffed a small laugh. "They believe that the caravan is cursed because you are in it. But they'd invited us to join them before they saw you and your boy, and now they don't dare offend you by asking us to leave."

Edward's brows shot up. "They think I’m a curse?"

"The people who once populated this desert were all golden, and to them you're a restless spirit. It's a bad omen."

Edward snorted, got to his feet, and grabbed the tea pot. "Well then, let’s show them some ghostly hospitality," he said. He and Vasupati crossed the wide circle of the camp, toward the Aerugans.

As they approached, several of the black-robed traders tensed, and some hands twitched in presumably magical signs while others went to short swords and guns. The captain of the Aerugan caravan came forward. He had disposed of his robes in favor of a leather vest and breeches. He calmly crossed his arms over his chest and bowed, then uttered a formal greeting in his native tongue. “Bakea gau usiki.”

Baski guski,” Edward mirrored the bow but mangled the greeting, and shrugged apologetically when he straightened.

"I speak Amestrian, traveler," the Aerugan said, "but your attempt shows respect. I am Sango." He snapped an abrupt order to the rest of the dark-skinned men and they reluctantly holstered their weapons. "Forgive them," Sango said as he faced Edward once more. "There are many stories about the golden men of this desert."

"So I've heard," Edward said, then held up the pot of tea. Sango flashed a grin and nodded, then waved at the blanket on the ground. As the three men sat, Edward took a quick assessment of the other traders who kept their distance. They were no longer fingering their weapons, but they could hardly be considered relaxed. "I'm Edward Elric." He nodded at the Bharati trader, "Vasupati is leading us home."

"Vasupati is well known to us," Sango said as he snapped his fingers over his head. One of the Aerugan drovers produced three cups from somewhere, then quickly put a safe distance between himself and Edward. Sango offered the cups to Edward, who poured tea in each of them, passing them out to the Aerugan, then Vasupati, and lastly to himself.

Sango watched Edward expectantly, then Vasupati chuckled, leaned toward him and spoke softly, "Sango won't drink until you do. Aerugan custom is the one who offers the drink, drinks first, to prove there is no poison."

Edward’s cheeks heated and he gave the Aerugan a sheepish grin. "Ah. Sorry." He took a sip of his tea, then held his cup out in a friendly gesture.

The Aerugan grinned again, his teeth shining in the firelight, then tasted his tea. He nodded and set his cup on the blanket. "Aerugan tea cannot compare to the perfume of Bharat's." He pulled a silver flask from the inside of his vest, unscrewed the cap, and poured a generous dollop in each cup. "But, Aerugan brandy improves even the best." With that, he screwed the cap closed and returned the flask to its hiding place. He took a sip of his tea, then gestured for Edward to do the same.

Edward took a swig and coughed. Vasupati slapped him in the back, and Sango laughed heartily.

Edward wiped his eyes and sniffled, then choked, "Smooth."

Sango laughed again. "If this doesn't prove to my men that you're not a demon spirit, nothing will." He bowed his head. "I must apologize for my earlier reaction. I didn't think any of the Golden Ones still lived."

"Uh, I'm not actually from Xerxes," Edward said, cautiously. "We moved to the city about eight years ago, because my wife wanted to set up her automail business there."

"I see," Sango said. "Then perhaps it was a long-ago ancestor who gifted you with those eyes."

"Perhaps," Edward said, then took a sip of his tea.


"'Dissent'?" Roy said. "In what way?"

"Some of the tribes have fractured and reformed under new leaders." Miles said.

"This could work in our favor," Roy said. "If we can find a way to meet with the dissenting tribal leaders..."

"That would be more difficult than you might think, Emissary," Mishyael said. "It is impossible to know how many tribes there are under normal circumstances. At best we can make an estimate that would probably be far from reality."

"And if the tribes have fractured," Hamzhya said, "talking to the wrong people could be dangerous."

Roy tilted his head up and came close to meeting Miles' gaze. "How good is your intelligence network? Could you get the word out that we're more than willing to negotiate with the dissenters?"

"Consider it done, Emissary," Miles said. "As soon as I return to Ishvar."

Roy started to answer, then stiffened, his blank eyes tracking toward the ceiling. "Maybe we should change the subject, ladies and gentlemen.” His eyes narrowed to slits. “We have company."


"Emperor Ling," Ysa said as she approached the silk robed Xingese. She took his offered hand and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Are you going to introduce me to this lovely lady?" she asked, nodding at the delicate Xingese woman standing quietly next to the Emperor.

"Ah, Ysa," Ling said as his hand dropped to the petite woman's waist. "This is my twelfth wife, Xiulan."

The Emperor's wife bowed and greeted her in softly murmured Xingese, and Ysa returned the greeting.

Ysa rested a hand on Ling's shoulder and leaned in to murmur in his ear, "I hear that Izyan missed Temple this morning. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

The Emperor snickered in unimperial glee. "I thought it would be a good lesson for Izyan to spend the day running for me." He turned and took Ysa's hand, then bowed deeply, keeping his loaded plate perfectly level. "If it will ease your worries, I sent one of my vassals to collect his lessons. He's working on them now--" Ling's head jerked up, and his jovial smile disappeared. "Stand back," he snapped as he dropped his plate with a crash of shattering crockery. The Emperor flipped his robes away from the hilt of a sword and shoved his wife behind him with the other hand.


Heinkel took another turn around the walls of the Amestrian consulate, this time along the outside. He stopped and spoke with each of the ungwaiyar, partly to get their reports, and partly to keep them alert. The night was blissfully, and boringly, quiet, and the blond bodyguard almost wished for a pissed-off drunk to come stumbling up, just to give him something to play with.

He returned to the front gate, leaned against the wall next to Wahyid, and crossed his arms. "Anything interesting?"

"Other than a line of ants going by carrying a dead spider?"

Heinkel snorted. The breeze carried the rich odors of the food and people from the consulate courtyard. Wahyid's stomach growled audibly, and Heinkel’s echoed the complaint. The ungwaiyar looked sheepish and rubbed his stomach and chest a little. Heinkel grinned at him and said, "There should be a ton of food left--" He broke off as the air direction shifted, and the scent of several unfamiliar people wafted near the edge of his nose. His hackles rose and he instinctively went for his gun.


A horse ambled up to Sango, and lipped the trader's shoulder. The Aerugan twisted as he reached into another hidden pocket in his vest and pulled out a small treat that he offered to the animal. As the horse chewed, Sango rubbed his nose, and returned his attention to his visitors. "Akilah," he said. "He's more loyal than most humans." In the firelight, the horse's coat gleamed like molten metal.

Vasupati thrummed low. "I thought there weren't any Ishvarun-bred horses left in Aerugo."

Edward glanced from Sango, to Vasupati and back, "Huh?"

"They're rare, to be sure," Sango said, "but the Queen of Zamaradi Parimba has an Ishvarun horse-master who has kept the line pure."

"I don’t get it," Edward said frankly. “The Ishbalans are obsessed with their horses. They list them right next to humans in their birth and death records. They wouldn’t let Amestris keep even the mixed-breed ones.”

Sango laughed and patted Akilah on the nose again. "There are some followers of the solitary god among us, and they breed the horses and give a few as liege gifts to the Queens who rule their pastures. Akilah was given to me as a sign of respect for my loyalty and skill."

”There are rumours that they read the minds of their masters." Vasupati nodded at Akilah. "He comes into the tent with you, doesn't he?"

"Of course! I would no more leave him to the cold desert nights than I would a child," Sango said proudly. He smoothed the horse’s white forelock. “And see? It is said that Akilah has been kissed by the Ishvarun god.”

Edward arched a dubious brow, but a scream from across the camp stilled the bewildered remark on his lips. "Theo!" He was running toward his tent before the echo faded.


A shadow swirled like a wisp of smoke from Darius' windward side. He ducked and jabbed his elbow back, and it sank deep into a soft abdomen with a rush of exhaled air. A whirl of sand-colored robes launched itself at him from one side, then small hands came down on the top of his head. "What the--"

Diyari used the big man and his own momentum to spin a double kick at the desert-robed assailant's face. The would-be attacker staggered back a few steps, dodging the blow. The boy twisted in mid-air and landed on his feet with his back to Darius' in a high-ready stance.

Before the bodyguard could rise from his crouch, another shadow melted out of the darkness in front of him, and he caught a glint of steel. The attacker dodged his kick, but the follow-up punch connected. The dark-robed intruder rolled with the blow, and swept his feet out to take Darius' legs from under him. Before he could regain his feet, a heavy weight hit in him the chest, slamming him back onto the graveled roof. A dagger was pressed against his throat, and he wisely stilled. He couldn’t stop the guttural growl that rose from the darker depths of instinct, but he resisted the urge to bare the ape-fangs starting to press down on human teeth. He raised his hands in surrender. The shadow bounced back with a fistful of the big man's sweater, and jerked him up to sit, then someone yanked his arms behind his back. Diyari squawked, and Darius strained against the hands that bound him. He caught a glimpse of the boy as Diyari was shrouded in darkness, then a blinding light burst nearby, and he couldn't see anything at all.


Ysa wrapped a protective arm around the Emperor's wife, guiding her to the relative safety of the middle of the courtyard. The Emperor had shed his robes in favor of his loose-fitting underclothes. He stood absolutely still, with a utilitarian curved sword at the ready. Ran Fan, Master Abrahn, and Jean Havoc had created a protective ring, herding the civilians into the center as several small round objects fell to the tiles and rolled to a stop near the perimeter of the courtyard. They sizzled and sparked and Ysa instinctively closed her eyes while covering the eyes of the frightened Xingese princess. Several blinding flashes exploded around her. When the light faded, Ysa blinked and stared around her in confusion.

She turned in place, registering the ring of dark-robed figures circling them -- and the Xingese Shadow Guard around the intruders. The masked Xingese guards had their kunai out, but stayed just out of the reach of the desert-robed intruders. No one moved. She heard someone sob and saw the Drachman Ambassador crumple into a faint. Her frightened stare landed on one kneeling figure-- and the small, wide-eyed form in front of him. Spots clouded her vision around the edges and her pulse roared in her ears. She couldn't breathe. Her stomach rolled. Then adrenaline jolted her, and she lunged forward, "DIYARI!"

A strong hand caught her arm, and Jean Havoc's voice cut through the thudding of her heart, "Don't. They won't hurt him if we don't fight."

The intruder angled his dagger at her son's neck, and Ysa felt a scream tear at her throat. Her world wobbled back and forth for a moment, then everything faded into white noise.


A scream erupted in the courtyard. Riza went for her gun.

Mishyael and Miles started toward the door, then came to a sudden halt and slowly backed up.

A shadowed figure appeared in the doorway of the parlour with a falcata at the throat of Wahyid. "That would be foolish." He tossed back his hood, revealing a young, chiseled, brown face, a strip of white hair, and glinting red eyes. Black lines and whorls marked the left side of his neck, up the side of his face and ended on the bare scalp over his ear. "There will be no bloodshed, as long as none of you try to shed ours first." The man searched the faces in the room, then landed on Roy. He grinned, but there was no warmth in his expression. "We've come to negotiate, Emissary."


Camels and elephants bawled and trumpeted in panic. The watch charged toward the Elric tent, guns and scimitars sparking in the firelight.

Edward whipped the draped flap back and froze. The oil lamp hanging from the center pole of the tent was turned down low and Theo was sitting up in his bed-roll within the glowing circle, staring at the sand-colored cobra weaving back and forth near his feet. Ed swallowed and whispered, "D-don't move." Theo's gaze flicked up at his father, terror clear in his wide gold eyes.

Ngiha,” Sango’s voice said hoarsely.

Vasupati snapped around to look at the Aerugan. “Shadow snake?!"

Edward waved Sango and Vasupati back without taking his eyes off the swaying cobra, then risked a quick glance at his son. The lantern guttered, and Edward's eyes narrowed just a fraction. He licked his lips, and whispered, "Theo-- when I tell you to move, jump back." His attention returned to the shadowy snake. "And close your eyes." His glance again flicked to Theo, who barely nodded, then back to the cobra.

The flame jumped, turning the shadows at the edge of the weak light sinister.

Edward took a breath, and coiled. "Now."

Theo scrabbled backwards, his eyes squeezed tightly closed. Sand softly hissed over the phantom serpent as it lunged to strike. Edward shot forward, and slammed his left heel into the snake's hood. The cobra dissolved into a pile of pale sand. “Thought so.”

A shadow in the corner melted into a black feline form, coughed threateningly, and stalked the space between Edward and his son.

“I’m not impressed,” Edward told the menacing shadow. “But I am pissed at you for scaring my kid.”

He heard the click of a hammer, and snapped, "Don't shoot, you idiot!" Edward took a cautious step to the side, never taking his eyes from the shadowy panther. The cat's tail whipped and it snarled, exposing a set of very real-looking fangs.

Edward bared his own canines. "You want a piece of me, kitty?" The panther swayed its head, its eyes glittering and glinting red in the low lamplight. It coughed again. In a human, it might have been a sardonic laugh. Then the cat leaped, jaws agape, and Edward sprang.

A yowl erupted outside, amid startled shouts, panicked animals, and the pop-pop-pop of guns firing. Theo rolled out of the way as his father twisted aside. Edward’s kick slammed the panther hard in the chest as they both fell. A blade stabbed through the back of the tent, then a pair of beefy arms thrust through the ripped fabric and grabbed Theo by an ankle. The boy yelped and kicked with his free foot while the black panther snarled and slashed for the elder Elric, claws extended.

Bone crunched under Theo’s boot even as the flesh of Edward’s left thigh tore under the panther’s claws. The shrieks of injured men rang in the chaos.


Edward’s head snapped toward the sound of his son’s terrified cry, and he saw the horror in Theo’s eyes as the boy was dragged out under the torn edge of the tent. Hot breath stung Edward’s eyes, and he threw his right arm up instinctively.

Theo screamed. Edward’s arm burned as he swung his left foot and connected with solid muscle and ribcage. He howled as the shock sent exquisite pain up his injured thigh. The panther rolled with the blow. Edward struggled to his feet, his arm hanging limply at his side. Outside a harsh voice growled something in an unfamiliar language, a strangled scream cut off abruptly, and more shots were fired. The panther's tail whipped as it crouched.

Edward could tune out pain, but he was growing light-headed from blood loss. He spun and went down on his bedroll, digging for the traveler’s pistol he kept under his pillow. His fingers just touched the heavy steel before he heard an equine scream and caught a flash of liquid copper and a hoof driving down too close.

"Shit!" Edward curled up and the panther coiled, leaping at the horse. Akilah danced aside, swinging his barrel around the central tent pole, then reared with the squeal of an enraged stallion. The horse plunged down with both front hooves as Edward rolled under the loose edge of the tent. The panther screamed, and Edward knew the blow had struck home.

He staggered upright and grimaced at the chill night air stealing the warmth from the blood now soaking much of his right shoulder and left thigh. Edward searched the gloom for his son, then heard a snap and shattering glass. He stumbled out of the way in time to avoid Akilah's escape from the collapsing tent. Edward had a moment’s impression of blood darkening the horse’s coat, but his attention was yanked to his right when Theo shrieked, "DAD!"

There was a muffled whoosh behind him as the tangled fabric burst into flames, and the panther trapped inside began to panic. The light of the burning tent pushed the shadows back, illuminating Edward’s son pinned in a large man’s arm. The man held a dagger at the boy’s throat, the shadows shifting and curling beyond. Beside Edward, Akilah stood still and twitchingly alert, breathing hard. A cheetah sauntered up and calmly sat beside Theo’s captor, licking the blood that stained its muzzle. The rest of the camp froze. The only sound was the crackle of the fire, the complaining of the camels, and the terrified caterwauling of the trapped panther.

The kidnapper grinned.

Edward smirked.

A thick grey serpent coiled out of the darkness and wrapped around the big man's thick neck, lifting him into the air. An angry squeal snapped high above the chaos, and Bindi shook her catch back and forth. The cheetah hissed and squalled, then launched itself at the elephant, digging teeth and claws into her flank.

Caught in a sleeper hold he couldn't break, the kidnapper dropped Theo and the dagger and clawed at the elephant's trunk. As soon as the boy hit the ground, he skidded and scrabbled to his feet then hit Edward in the stomach like a cannon ball. Father and son went down in a tangle.

Bindi dislodged her feline attacker with a lurch, then slung the weakly struggling kidnapper at him. The cat rolled, spat and tore off into the darkness. Bindi let the unconscious man fall to the ground with a dull thunk.

Sango strode up to the collapsed tent, pumping a rifle, and taking aim at the writhing form underneath. Vasupati and one of his men rolled the unconscious would-be kidnapper onto his face, yanked his arms behind him, and began to tie him up.

"It's all right," Edward murmured to his sobbing son. "It's over, it's over."

The smoking panther exploded out from under the pile of burning fabric, knocking Sango back and causing his shot to go wild. Akilah screamed, and Theo echoed the sound, digging both hands into the remains of Edward’s shirt. He could only cradle his son’s head with his working hand as horse and cat fought. Edward wrapped himself around Theo and barely avoided being trampled. The panther tumbled, but quickly found the footing to leap straight at the horse once more. An arrow whistled out from the darkness, and the big cat jerked sideways in the air as if yanked by an invisible chain. It was dead before it landed by Edward's feet.

Edward looked up into the dark face of the yevarshedaht of Xerxes, and said hoarsely, “Took you fucking long enough.” Then the darkness closed over him.


“I take it you’re one of the mozhkarishki.” Roy Mustang steepled his fingers. There was no tension in his body or his voice. “[Be welcome under my roof, traveler.]” His pronunciation of the neutral greeting was carefully correct.

“I seek neither welcome nor shelter here, varisti,” the shaven-headed man answered. He forced Wahyid’s head a little higher with the edge of his finely-honed sword. “I’ve come to offer you something you dare not refuse, and take back something that is rightfully ours in exchange.” There was no mirth in his smile. “That is your way, isn’t it? Something for something, always there is a price.”

“You’re free to reject Amestrian hospitality, of course,” Roy said in measured tones. “But I’d rather not have Wahyid’s blood on my floors.”

“So it begins,” the nomad said. “What will you give for the boy’s throat?”

“Hm.” Roy dropped his head and smiled, then came back up to the nomad’s gaze. “How about your life?”

A hairy arm wrapped around the mozhkarishki’s neck from behind, and a guttural voice growled, “You want to let the kid go now."


Ysa crumpled like a marionette with her strings snipped. She fell to her knees, then the stone courtyard. A strange emptiness settled over her eyes like a film. Jean steadied his gun with his right hand while reaching down with the left to grab the woman’s limp arm and get her fingers out of the way of his tires.

"MOM!" Horror exploded across little Diyari's face. The boy screamed, then wrenched his shoulders and kicked out hard, forcing his captor to grab and lift him. Diyari bucked and slammed his head back, connecting with the would-be captor's nose with an audible crunch. The child slipped from his captor's grip in that boneless way only pissed-off little kids could manage. His little face set in an unnervingly cold rage, Diyari spun, kicking the stunned intruder's feet out from under him, then darted past Jean and crashed to his knees in front of Ysa. "Mom!" He wrapped his arms around her neck, and choked back a sob.

The courtyard erupted into a flurry of activity. The Xingese Emperor’s sword flashed, and Ran Fan’s voice shouted orders to the shadow guard in clipped Xingese, and the black-clad figures swept into silent blurs that drove the attackers back toward the buffet tables. Four bruised, battered, and very pissed-off ungwaiyar and one barely-controlled chimera dropped down from the roof and waded into the brawl. It was over in less than a minute.

Jean Havoc remained beside Diyari and Ysa, his gun out. He watched the downed kidnapper with one eye and Ysa with the other. He sighed out a relieved breath when she gasped and sat up in a rush. Diyari nearly choked the breath out of his mother, babbling in near sobs as Ysa wrapped her arms around her frightened son.

The injured intruder in front of Jean stirred and coughed, then started to sit up. "Ah-ah." Jean pulled the hammer back on his gun. The click froze the cloaked man, and his hands slowly came up. Havoc grinned coldly. "I’d finish you off myself, but I’d rather watch that kid’s father send you to your special place in Hell."

Converting /tmp/php57qnur to /dev/stdout