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Tsubasa/FMA fic: Part 2

Title: Catalyst
Series: Tsubasa/Fullmetal Alchemist
Part: 2/11
Summary: It's nearly always safe to assume that whatever trouble the Tsubasa crew wind up in, there's going to be a feather involved somewhere in the middle of things. And it's probably even safer to assume that where the Elric brothers are involved, it's never going to be the Philosopher's Stone.
Rating: PG
Word count: 2430
Previous parts: Part 1



Information regarding the rumour they’d heard from the Elric brothers turned up in bits and pieces. No-one knew anything about the Philosopher’s Stone, even outside the context of the any recent events at their own town. As best Syaoran and the others could guess, that must have been an explanation added to the story somewhere between its origin and wherever the Elric brothers had encountered it. Even the word ‘chimera’ got them as many blank stares as it did answers, but once they learned to phrase their questions a little more generally they began getting better results. An old woman assured them it was nothing more exciting than a pack of feral dogs. A small child had heard that werewolves appeared in town every full moon. A man in a bar told them there were creatures with lion’s manes and scorpion’s tails and teeth as long as a bread knife. The three other men next to him in the bar told similar tales, the creatures involved getting larger and more hideous each time. Something odd was definitely going on in this town, but so far, a sort of doggish theme was about the only common denominator.

One of the best sources they found was the barkeep at the tavern where they stopped for lunch. “There’s something out there, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he assured them, or assured Syaoran anyway, since Fye and Kurogane were tied up in a debate over how much alcohol they needed to buy here as proper compensation for the information they were getting. “A lot of people will try to tell you it’s just bad light and imaginations running away with people, but there’s nothing imaginary about the teeth marks in old Dave Thompson’s leg. He was the first one to start reporting missing livestock, and the other week it looks like the beast got him as well. They’ve been trying to say it was his own dog that bit him, but I say, hah! That old mutt? Loyal as they come and so far past his day they have to cut his dog food into mush just so he’ll keep it down. Maybe he could gum on a leg a bit if you stuck it right in his mouth, but he’s not leaving teeth marks on anything these days.”

“This Thompson, could we talk to him?” Syaoran asked. “He might be able to give us some more information on what’s going on.”

The barkeep scratched his head. “You can try. He’s over at the Doc’s, but you may not get much sense out of him. He thinks he’s delirious.”

Thinks he’s delirious?” Syaoran was quite certain this was not the correct terminology.

***

The injured farmer looked quite comfortable, propped up in his bed, the bandages on his legs nice and clean and not at all indicative of the sort of serious injury that would bring his farming days to an end, but he took on a panicked sort of look when he saw them come in and answered their questions as if he thought he was talking to someone on the ceiling.

“There was ten of them at least! All as big as horses, with teeth as long as your arm and eight legs each!” the man wailed. “Thought I got all of ‘em, but the last one took me by surprise. Oh, but I can feel those teeth like they’re still embedded in me leg! Oh…!”

The doctor pulled the door shut before he could go on. “Best part of forty stitches in those legs, but no sign of infection, should be back on his feet in a matter of days – hobbling around at the very worst,” he told them, with the sigh of a man who’d been dealing with this all week. “The trouble with these sheep farmers is that they get so little excitement in their lives that they feel the need to blow everything all out of proportion. My guess would be that there’s no more to it than an accident with a farm dog, though he must have made it very angry to make it do him all that damage.”

“Isn’t it possible it was something else though?” said Syaoran. Behind him, Kurogane reclined against the wall, while Fye reassured a slightly flustered Sakura that the doctor was the far more likely to be right in this case than the wailing farmer. “There are stories about strange dogs all over the town.”

“I suppose I can’t say it’s impossible,” the doctor replied wearily. “But that’s exactly how rumour spreads. A few little farm accidents, and before you know it everyone’s in a panic.”

“Perhaps we could have a look at the place the attack happened, then?” Fye inquired. “Whatever’s out there, it would put everyone’s minds at ease to know for sure, one way or the other.”

The doctor wiped a hand over his forehead. “Now look, I don’t want to sound rude, but we’ve already had two government alchemists around asking questions today. I’m really not all that sure how much I like the idea of letting even more outsiders go tramping through my patient’s fields on some monster hunt.”

“But we’re…” Syaoran hesitated. In a situation like this one, the ‘writing a book’ excuse wasn’t going to work so well.

“Hunters,” said Kurogane, without looking around. “If there’s anything out there, we’ll find it, and we’ll take it down.”

***

Fye’s capable imagination quickly filled in the rest of the details. He and Kurogane were the hunters – Kurogane the one who tackled the big, nasty beasts with all the claws and teeth, himself the one who stepped in for those cases which required little more finesse in their handling. Syaoran was their very promising apprentice. Sakura was the little sister again, not cut out to be a hunter, but she was very good with animals of the less dangerous variety, and loving every minute of this chance to see the world. Then there was a bit more said to reassure the good doctor that, while naturally they’d come here hoping to find the fabled beasts, they knew better than anyone how often the reality of these sort of things got ridiculously overblown, and they were entirely prepared to find out it really was nothing more than a farm dog gone feral or something of that nature. But if there was something out there and it wasn’t alchemy-related – well, taking care of strange beasts was what they did.

The doctor still looked a little uncertain, but they got directions to the man’s farm, and even to the very field where the attack took place.

***

They stopped in to see the farmer’s wife before they went anywhere else, since it was basic courtesy to do so and could avoid any awkwardness later on in the event they were caught poking around the fields without permission. She wasn’t much bothered either way by their presence, but made it clear that as long as that lazy lout of a husband was lying on his back at the doctor’s telling everyone he’d been gored nearly to death by a giant monster with two heads, she was going to be far too busy doing all the actual work around here to show them exactly where he’d been found after the attack. She pointed them to the far end of one of the fields, made them promise not to scare the sheep and got back to whatever minutely unexciting farming activity she’d been busy with.

The trouble with directions like ‘the far end of that field’ was that the far end of the field could have meant just about anywhere out of sight of the farmhouse, and what filled most of that space wouldn’t have been of much interest to anyone for whom watching sheep keeping the height of the grass down didn’t hold some sort of unnatural fascination. Any traces of anything that had happened here more than a day or two ago would have been trampled by cloven feet far too many times for there to be any evidence left to discover.

They were just finishing their first quick sweep of the place and getting used to the idea that this was going to take some effort, when Fye said, “Oh my,” and spun around to face Sakura only a little bit too quickly, quite coincidently placing himself so that he blocked her view of the field beyond. “Say, we’ve got a lot of area to cover, so why don’t we split up? Little kitty and I can go ahead and take that end of the field,” he waved a distracting hand busily in a direction which looked promising enough, “while the doggy duo poke around up here a bit more. Sound like a plan?”

“Okay,” Sakura agreed, without fuss. “We’ll meet back at the farmhouse afterwards, right?”

“That’s my girl.” Fye gave her a broad smile and ushered her away, only turning back to wave to the others once they’d made a decent start. “Don’t have too much fun without us!”

“Mokona will be a doggy today too!” Mokona declared, bounding on to Syaoran’s shoulder.

“Ah,” said Kurogane vaguely, since he’d have had no trouble spotting a distraction being fluttered that obviously in front of someone else’s face even if he hadn’t already seen the mutilated sheep out in the field in front of them.

As they got closer, a lot of what had looked from a distance like darker patches on the grass resolved in unpleasant ways. Parts of the sheep which hadn’t been eaten had been torn inexpertly apart and scattered around the field. Syaoran swallowed dryly. He wasn’t particularly queasy by nature, but this really wasn’t a pretty sight.

Kurogane’s expression said he’d seen worse, but anything that could make that kind of mess was something to be taken seriously. “How long ago did the doctor say the attack happened?”

“It must have been a few days at least,” Syaoran replied. “We could ask his wife if…”

“This hasn’t been here that long.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a fresh kill, if that woman hadn’t even found it yet,” Kurogane frowned. “Whatever it was came back.”

“It was the monster with three heads and no legs!” Mokona chimed in.

“I’m sure it didn’t really have…” Syaoran started, then hesitated. He’d been sure a minute ago – it stood to reason that if the farmer had gotten away with no worse injuries he must have been exaggerating like crazy, but from the look of this sheep, he may have been luckier than they’d assumed.

“If it’s this new, whatever did this might not have gotten far away,” Kurogane pointed out, doing nothing useful for Syaoran’s fraying nerves.

A quick hunt later they revised that theory. The only thing that was moving up this end of the field was a growing flock of crows, swooping in one by one to fight over the remains. However, there was a hole in the fence, not very conspicuous, as it had formed over what had probably always been a weak point in the structure across a small, natural dip in the ground which also served to hide the gap from view. It was easily large enough to let a decent sized animal through. The fence marked a quite sharp discontinuity between well-kept field and wilderness. Beyond it, the land looked like a battle between forest and scrubland with no clear victor. Quite a lot of things could hide in a place like that.

“Where now?” Syaoran wondered. They could hardly wait here and hope the sheep’s killer came back.

“Leave it to Mokona!” piped up an enthusiastic voice. “Animal tracking is another one of Mokona’s 108…”

“Yeah, just get on with it.” Kurogane growled. You wouldn’t have had to know him very well to guess that while he was willing to put up with following a sentient white meat-bun across the countryside, he wasn’t going to enjoy it.

***

Following Mokona through the woodland was an experience. The shrub posed no hindrance for something of Mokona’s size, but anyone of Kurogane or even Syaoran’s height found the scraggly trees reaching above that level wouldn’t let them pass without a fight. At least that meant those theories about horse-sized monsters coming out of the wilderness were looking all the more ridiculous again – and with the speed Mokona was moving, there wasn’t much danger of them getting left behind.

It didn’t matter what the task was, as long as there was anyone watching, Mokona always made it into a performance – in fact, Syaoran would have guessed Mokona was the sort who would go right on performing even when it knew there was no-one else watching. Tracking the creature was an activity that required close examination of every leaf and stone, a lot of walking back and forth and around in circles and a running commentary on everything that was found, most of which Syaoran was increasingly guilty of ignoring in favour of using the chance to pull leaves out of his hair

“Damn white meat-bun, you’re leading us around in circles!” Kurogane complained, hacking his way past another stubborn bush. “Don’t you recognise the same tree when you walk past it from a different side?”

“But Mokona is just faithfully following the tracks,” Mokona declared, one giant eye peering at Kurogane through the magnifying glass it had produced for the outing. “What Kurogane doesn’t realise is that it must be the monster that went in a circle!”

“Don’t tell me you’ve been making this up as you went along!” Kurogane shouted, a hair’s breadth away from grabbing Mokona and showing it just what he thought of the situation using his fists.

“I’m sure Mokona didn’t mean…” Syaoran tried.

“Ah, Kurogane is so mean!” Mokona declared dramatically, throwing a hand over its eyes for effect. “And Mokona tried so hard for him too!”

“Mokona, wait…” Syaoran tried again, but he might as well have not been there.

“But it’s alright, because now Mokona will just try even harder!” declared their guide, turning proudly to the path ahead.

“Mokona!”

Mokona took another step and opened its eyes again. The first thing that they focussed on was an impressive set of canine teeth.

Mokona froze, leaving two wide smiles of very different nature mere inches apart. Those crucial first three seconds where predator and prey recognise each other and leg muscles coil like wound springs ticked past, without either creature moving an inch.

Fortunately, after only two of those seconds, Kurogane’s boot hit the owner of those teeth hard in the face.




On to Part 3

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
grass_angel
May. 21st, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)
*claps at that last bit* This portion felt very much like a FMA chapter as opposed to a Tsubasa chapter.
Liked Fai's tricks when it came to the sheep and the story.
rallamajoop
May. 21st, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC)
*claps at that last bit*

*bows* Always happy to entertain!

This portion felt very much like a FMA chapter as opposed to a Tsubasa chapter.

That's interesting, considering that it was only the Tsubasa characters in this one, but I suppose they're still in the FMA world, dealing with FMA-type problems. Though Fye's talent for making up cover stories off the top of his head does come straight out of one of the early Tsubasa chapters. He's a tricky sort of guy.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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