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Tsubasa/FMA fic: Part 8

Title: Catalyst
Series: Tsubasa/Fullmetal Alchemist
Part: 8/11
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: 2830
Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7



The last turn in the staircase brought Ed and Syaoran through a doorway opening on to a space nearly as large as some of the greater rooms in house above. A light source high up and out of sight from their angle lit the area with an artificial hue. It did look lived in - once they got past their initial surprise, they had the opportunity to notice that, arranged quite neatly to one side, were a table and three chairs, some bed rolls and a pile of books (some shelved neatly in a transmuted earth bookcase, the rest stacked on the floor and table in a manner suggesting they were far too well used to ever get put away properly for long), and assorted other items of the domestic variety.

None of these mundane features stood out initially. The first thing the boys laid eyes on was the array.

At a glance, it appeared the whole room was filled with a giant mass of fine, silver wire, strung from wall to wall and ceiling to floor and tangled like steel wool where ever strands met. By a second glance, patterns began to emerge from the chaos. Wire had been twisted to trace the outlines of dozens of intricate alchemical circles, small and large, strung together and suspended at any variety of angles by a network of joining threads. Just staring into it would have been enough to give many people the beginnings of a headache – the complexity was dizzying in scale. In the relatively brief period since Syaoran had first heard of alchemy, he’d gotten the idea of arrays as something that were drawn or carved on some flat surface – this room was forcing him to revise that impression rather quickly.

“It’s an amplification device,” said Ed, staring into the wire uneasily, in barely less awe than his companion.

“For alchemy?” Syaoran asked. “People can make things like that?”

“The larger the circle, the more specialised the transmutation you can perform,” Ed recited, “but larger circles take a lot longer to prepare. A device like this uses a simple circle at the centre to transmute wire or carvings in stone to form the more complicated circles for more advanced alchemy. That way, you only have to change a few details in the central circles to make whatever you want. The fancier ones can have whole extra arrays just to move raw materials around. I’ve seen devices like it a couple of times before. But usually, they’re far more trouble than they’re worth. Any tiny mistake gets amplified along the way too – you have to spend so long checking and fixing the things that it’s nearly always faster just to do it all by hand from the start. For there to be one this big…”

Ed hesitated and broke off, his eyes flickering as something caught his attention in a side corner of the room. Syaoran followed his gaze and saw a bright white light – an activated circle? – just on the edge of the clear zone along the wall that made up the living area. Wordlessly, the boys exchanged a glance and began making their way towards it.

The active circle was one of the largest in the room, strung vertically so that the upper edge nearly grazed the ceiling, though the reaction they’d seen was focused only on a smaller shape at the centre. The light was too bright for it to be easy to see what was going on, but one could, without too much effort, imagine they saw shapes – canine or serpentine or avian – suspended within that glow. In the same way one can start to see the minute hand of a clock move with a little concentration, you could even perhaps start to imagine you saw limbs lengthening and separate forms combining under the flicker of the light. A chimera was being born. Sprawled around the foot of the array in an untidy circle lay seven more of the beasts, sleeping the uneasy sleep of predators dreaming of prey.

“We were right – this is where all those chimeras have been coming from,” said Syaoran, voice pitched low in case the sound might disturb them.

“I’ve never actually seen one being made before,” said Ed cautiously. Something in his voice hinted that he wouldn’t ever have imagined this was how the process worked, but he wasn’t quite sure enough to argue when the evidence of his own eyes so clearly said otherwise. “Circles can’t activate themselves though, there must be someone nearby.”

“But where?”

They hadn’t been that inconspicuous in coming down here – surely if there was anyone else hidden in this room they must already know about the intruders, but other than the hum of the active circle, they’d seen no movement and heard no sound. Both boys peered uneasily into the heart of the massive device. All that twisted wire played tricks on the eye, turning the room into a giant optical illusion. In there, the same knot of wires might be tangled into the shape of a bird, might be the border outlining the shape of a tree in negative space, might be blocking direct view of a figure laid out at the centre of the device…

“There!” Syaoran exclaimed suddenly. “I think I see someone.”

At the centre of the device, someone was lying curled on the floor. From where the boys stood, they could just make out the curve of a small back, and a mass of long, dark hair. The floor beneath the person was pale and soft looking, some sort of makeshift mattress, though there was nothing else to suggest the state was deliberate – that whoever it was hadn’t collapsed where they’d been working.

“I see it,” Ed confirmed.

Syaoran squinted in, shifting his head awkwardly in attempt to find a better angle, but still could see no sign of movement. There was no way to be sure at this distance whether he or she was even breathing. “Do you think – who ever that is – are they alright?”

“Dead men can’t do alchemy,” said Ed, bluntly. “But if they haven’t heard us…”

“They’re asleep? Or unconscious?” suggested Syaoran. “Could an alchemist transmute while asleep?” It didn’t sound likely. If there was alchemy going on here which worked in such strange ways – ways even Ed didn’t seem to fully understand – could the feather be involved? But where would it be? Syaoran looked around and wished for the first time that he’d found an excuse to bring Mokona along with him.

Ed frowned. “You hear stories about experienced alchemists who fall asleep over their research and transmute their furniture into matchsticks during bad dreams, but this – aargh! None of this makes any sense!” he complained, nearly forgetting to keep his voice down in his irritation.

Ed clapped his hands together in the now familiar gesture and pressed them into the floor. A few feet away, a circle of ground surrounding the chimeras sprang up obediently until it had risen over the animals’ heads, then closed inwards to cover them completely – though Syaoran couldn’t help but notice Ed had thought to leave some air holes in the top. Suffocation in a mass coffin had to be a more unpleasant fate than even a pack of feral chimeras deserved.

The young alchemist surveyed his handiwork briefly, and when nothing sharp-toothed and angry had burst out after the first short while, he formed the circle with his hands again.

“Next I’m turning that amplifier into scrap,” he announced. “We can wake up our mystery alchemist up and ask him what he thought he was doing once his toys are out of the way.”

“Wait, is that safe?” Syaoran asked urgently. “Can you really just transmute this many circles way like this without…”

“Don’t sweat it, I know how to do this without activating them. I’ll leave that one,” he indicated the circle over the chimeras with a jerk of his head, “to last – the rest won’t be a problem.” And with that, Ed pressed his hands to the floor again.

At the angle Ed was facing, the nearest extent of the vast wire sculpture was a few feet away, so the reaction had to travel a short distance over the floor before reaching it, crackling with the promise of having this whole mystery cleared up quickly and easily with minimal fuss.

And then the reaction hit the outermost circle and the crackling built up far too sharply, culminating in a bright and utterly unexpected flash of light.

Ed spotted it coming just fast enough to wrench his hands back up from the ground and hold his metal arm up in front of his face to protect himself before the worst of the shockwave hit him coming back. The blast threw him backwards so that he hit the wall at an angle with a metallic clank that Syaoran felt right to his bones. He skidded to a rest a few feet away, more stunned than truly damaged, but guaranteed at least some memorable bruises as souvenirs. Not one single wire in the whole device had been so much as deformed.

“Ed!” Syaoran yelled – pure, useless gut reaction.

Ed came back to himself enough for events to properly register, and stared at the device with wide, scared eyes. “What the… how…?”

There wasn’t the opportunity to worry about even such obvious questions. It dawned on Syaoran almost too late that after that much light and sound, no-one in any kind of natural sleep could help but be woken, and his head whipped around to see. By then, the mystery figure as not only awake, but on his feet.

The alchemist stood no taller than a young child in dirty white clothes, hair hanging limply over his shoulders. There was a look to him that suggested he might not have known – nor cared – whether he was awake or still dreaming, that such things were details that held no interest for him.

He narrowed his eyes at the intruders. “You can’t be in here.”

And the forming chimera leapt from the circle and landed, already snarling, in front of them on all four feet.

***

The first chimera Fye and Kurogane found was being fended off – barely – by a panicked looking girl of about Sakura’s age who’d managed to get her hands on a length of broken piping. She was waving it around with a lot more ferocious enthusiasm than efficiency, but her crazed movements had still succeeded in confusing the creature enough that it was keeping its distance. She was such a small, pretty looking thing the odds were that when the tale would be told to friends and family later, they would have been amazed to learn she had it in her. Souhi made short work of her attacker.

The second they saw had chased a cat up a drainpipe, but hadn’t yet quite come to terms with the fact it was too heavy to follow, and was perched on its hind legs against the wall, scrabbling at the bricks as high as it’s forepaws could reach. Kurogane’s previous assessment of these creatures as ‘not a challenge’ no longer seemed to do them justice – for a warrior as experienced as him, Fye would have guessed that dealing with these had to be an embarrassment. But the townspeople here were poorly equipped to combat them, and a full-scale invasion of the town by the chimeras within an hours of seeing Syaoran go crawling into that tunnel to the mansion seemed like slightly too big a co-incidence for there not to be some sort of connection they ought to take responsibility for, and the beasts needed to be taken care of.

The third chimera came racing full pelt down the road from behind them and leapt at Fye, jaws open for the kill. There was never any real danger, of course, not when Kuro-rin was standing right there ready to slice it in half before it ever got within a safe few inches distance from his face – but he did make sure to sidestep out of the way as what remained of the body flew past and give his favourite ninja an appreciative clap afterwards.

This seemed to annoy the other man for some reason.

The fourth and fifth chimeras were actually running away from them, at such a speed that it was some effort to catch up, although it would have been much harder had they not moved with a gait that gave them less resemblance to sleek predator than an animal permanently one slip away from tripping over its own feet. Fortunately, this did mean that inducing them to do so did not take too much imagination.

When they encountered a sixth behaving likewise, Fye decided that he just might, perhaps, have spotted a pattern that bore drawing some attention to.

“My,” he declared, “they are a bit predictable, aren’t they? Or just well behaved, perhaps?”

“You noticed that, did you?” said Kurogane, unmoved, never even breaking his pace. “They’re not running away from us. There’s somewhere they’re all running towards.” Easily distracted though the chimeras might have been, the hunters had not had to backtrack once since they found the first animal. Every one since had been going the same way.

“Isn’t the Thompson’s farm in this direction?” Fye wondered aloud. After all, they had only been this way once or twice already in the last twenty-four hours.

The last chimera bounded cleanly over a low fence in its flight, the hunters following.

“Let’s find out.”

Their chase took them over another fence, around a corner, narrowly missed upsetting a roadside fruit stall, and slowed to a halt at a house only a couple of buildings from the edge of the main bulk of the settlement. It was small and did not look very lived in – not unless whoever did live there believed broken windows added some sort of artistic touch. The chimera came to an abrupt halt and began snuffling around the bottom of the door.

“This must be the place,” Fye said aloud, silently noting that unless he’d lost all sense of direction (which would be quite out of character) then those fields he could see peeking out between the houses were the start of the sheep farming district – in fact, taking the most direct route from the mansion, any number of chimeras could have made it here without having to travel through the more populated parts of the town at all. Now wasn’t that interesting. “Whatever could there be inside?”

Kurogane drew his sword and took a step towards the chimera – by far the most determined of all they’d seen that day, it showed no sign it had ever noticed they were there – then swore as the creature gave up on that option and leapt through a broken window. The window wasn’t large enough to let them follow, but the door proved to be unlocked and admitted them just in time to see a chimera tail disappearing into another room. They gave chase, rounding the doorway to the next room to the sight of the animal launching itself at a strangely glittering structure held within.

And then there was a flash of electric blue, a sound like something heavy being thrown into boiling water and a smell of burnt fur, the last of which mercifully dissipated again almost as fast as it appeared. When the spots in front of their eyes faded, there was no sign of the chimera anywhere. Only that glittering structure remained – and what a sight it was.

Spun between floor to ceiling, some unknown length of silver wire had been shaped into the outline of a giant sphere before them. But the wire was not simply woven in haphazard fashion, the lines that defined it were arranged into an arrangement of decorated circles which Fye would not so long ago have happily identified as magical symbols, but knew in this world would be more usually termed alchemical arrays. Where the chimera had hit the sphere one still glowed faintly. Where circles met, smaller ones filled the gaps, then smaller still to fill the space between those. The whole structure had a cold elegance to it – it was truly very fine work.

But far more importantly, cocooned within it, a small, dull-eyed boy was huddled on the floor, knees held to his chest, long black hair tied in a low ponytail which hung over one of his shoulders. He was worryingly skinny even for a boy of his age, as though he hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks, and he looked at them with an expression so blank it was hard to guess whether he rightly knew what he was seeing.

The first words he spoke to them were, “I won’t go back.” He looked just about ready to pass out.




First person to correctly guess the identities of our new characters wins an Internet cookie. (Because hey, if there weren't at least one or two alternate versions of random CLAMP characters wandering around in every new world, it just wouldn't be Tsubasa, y'know? ^_~)



On to Part 9

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
cheu
Jun. 23rd, 2007 09:44 am (UTC)
Nice chapter!
Could those txo characters be the twins from Clover? I just got that impression when one said 'I won' t go back'. Anyway I hope you' ll update soon.
rallamajoop
Jun. 23rd, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Congrats! Have a virtual cookie - the twins from Clover they are indeed. And believe me, I plan to keep updating this thing as fast as I can. ^_^
smokexscribbles
Jun. 23rd, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)
Aww, poor little kid D : New chapter soon please!
rallamajoop
Jun. 24th, 2007 05:06 am (UTC)
Pff, you people are so demanding. Isn't two chapters a week enough? =P

(Seriously - just got the last two parts of this fic back from my beta reader, all I should need to do now is find the time for a few final edits and changes before they're all ready to go up. ^_^)
smokexscribbles
Jun. 24th, 2007 06:06 am (UTC)
*spoiled rotten*
grass_angel
Jul. 3rd, 2007 01:25 pm (UTC)
"give his favourite ninja an appreciative clap afterwards.

This seemed to annoy the other man for some reason."

Permission to squeal? And oh no, only three more chapters before this is finished. Ah, so sad. But still, wonderfully good gen fic.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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