Half-Inch

Please note that the following is a piece of fan-fiction, based upon the Fullmetal Alchemist story. If I am infringing upon the rights of protagonize in any fashion, please do not hesitate to remove this. I was unsure if fan-fiction violated any rights or not.

For those who have seen FMA, note there are spoilers through episode 45, and starts midway though 45 with the train scene.

For those who wish to continue, feel free, but please check your spelling and grammar before posting. Thank you.

 

Night approached fast, as the cashier at the Rizenbul train station leaned back into his chair, letting his squarish cap fall slightly off his head, tilting cocked to the left and poised to fall off. It had been a ridiculously slow day; it was in-between seasons for crop production and none of the farmers of the small agricultural village had use for the trains.

‘Well, at least I’m still getting paid for this,’ the man thought, noticeably bored with himself, until he realized an average-looking boy rapping hard on the till with the back of his fist.

His black hair fell past his shoulders, and he was hidden almost completely by a large woolen pea jacket that fell just an inch above the ground. Everything he wore was a gothic black, even a pair of sunglasses (which seemed far out of place this late) save a pair of stark white gloves that brought immediate attention to the sixteen-ish boy’s hands.

The cashier straightened immediately upright.

“Uh… one ticket please on the 8:20 to Central,” the boy said, sounding slightly nervous.

The cashier, looking behind the boy, figured out why. A large item of undistinguishable form wrapped in canvas tarp stood upright, with a lone piece of brown luggage leaning haphazardly against it.

“Sir,” the cashier said, “there’s been a couple instances of fugitives lately. I have to look at that large… thing you seem to be bringing with you, you know, routine check. And it costs extra for oversized pieces, too. Sorry kid.”

The cashier came out behind the till. He could see the boy was sweating profusely, whether it was due to his heavy coat or the fact that the cashier needed to check his luggage, he wasn’t sure. Unhooking the rope in the tarp, it fell away to reveal…

“A bronze statue of Major Armstrong?” the cashier asked. He’d seen the military officer a few times coming in and out of Rizenbul, and his picture occasionally in the paper, but never expected this.

“Ah, I’m sorry, it’s not very good,” the boy said modestly. “I was commissioned to make that for the big guys in Central and I have to deliver it for some ceremony tomorrow. Well, I just wish they had given me more time or some better supplies, but you work with what you have, you know?”

The cashier nodded out of politeness, as he was unable to draw anything past a stick figure, let alone cast someone’s likeness in bronze. He at least understood the sweating (the boy was probably nervous that his work would be criticized).

“Hey,” he said looking at the boy, “I’ll wave the extra luggage charge. But just this once. When the train pulls in, do you need help loading this?”

The boy scratched the back of his head and replied with a soft, “Yeah, that would really help,” slumping exhaustedly into one of the wooden benches. Snoring immediately ensued.

‘The poor kid probably dragged that statue all the way here,’ the cashier thought. ‘I guess I’ll just wake him when the train arrives.”

-----------------------------

The train was as bumpy and disjointed as ever. The boy held mercilessly onto the ends of his coat as the wind flapped through the train divider where he stood, outside and in the fresh air, instead of inside one of the dining or sleeping cars. His ears were perked on edge, listening for any sound that might be a cause for concern. The exposition back in Rizenbul was by far a close one, and the boy was only glad that the smaller suitcase had not been searched- it, of all things, may have been reason to land himself in jail.

He sighed and loosened his prying grip on the railing. What was he worrying about, anyway? He’d known David Wellstien, the clerk at the station, for his whole life, and yet the man hadn’t recognized him. Why would the cops be able to?

Meanwhile, in the car ahead of him, three burly MP’s- military issued police force- came barging in, guns waving and eyes glaring, scanning the passengers for one rogue officer.

“Hey, everyone here!” the squattest of the three exclaimed, “We’re looking for a criminal of the military, a major by the name of Edward Elric. He’s five-foot-one, blonde hair, with pale brown eyes, almost golden. He’s at large and on the run with his non-militant younger brother whose physical identity is unknown as he customarily wears a six-foot-nine suit of armor. If you are hiding either of these people, you may be charged with related crimes.”

Nobody stirred in the car as the three men combed through the center aisle, opening compartments and glaring at several of the passengers. Finally satisfied, the head MP yanked open the door to a billowing rush of air and the lone boy, leaning halfheartedly against the railing between cars.

“You!” the squat policeman yelled, and the boy in black stood upright, towering at least six inches over his tormentor, who happened to be five feet tall.

“Yes?” the kid asked.

The policeman looked half-heartedly at the expensive sunglasses, but after noticing the boy’s black locks without a hair out of place, as well as his height, dismissed the thought of having possibly found his man on this train, and thrust open the door to the last compartment, which was only luggage.

The giant bronze statue stood, like a lone man in a sea of insects, almost with a glistening halo as the squat MP brought his lantern to the edge of its smooth surface. Rapping it hard with the end of his bayonet, the surface began to crack; at first a scratch, then a deep gash running down the front end.

The boy’s left eye twitched, and out of muscle memory, hit the MP square on the chin, grabbing the massive statue in one arm and the suitcase in the other. The squat man, enraged, lashed out at the boy’s ankles, sending him flying over the railing and rolling several times onto the ground.

Before the MP, who was far out of shape, could chase him, the boy picked up his strewn things and ran at breaking speed in the opposite direction of the train. By the time the military would be able to stop the mechanical gargantua the boy would be much too far.

After fifteen minutes and feeling windless, the boy stopped, huffing and clutching his chest. The pea coat had since been discarded; it was easily noticeable that this seemingly average-sized boy was actually on a pair of half-foot stilts.

Throwing down the sunglasses to reveal a shimmering pair of slightly dilated lion-colored eyes, a wild amber with a sparkle from the run, the boy proceeded to untie the wooden platforms from the bottom of his shoes, tripping and landing face-first into the mud next to the mangled bronze he had been carrying as it if were a sack of feathers.

“Brother?” a voice echoed faintly from the statue. “Brother?”

The boy spat mud and wiped the side of his mouth clean with the back of his left glove. Except for a lone lantern standing guard over a worn out sign-post, it was pitch black. Any normal person would have thought the statue haunted.

Considerably worn out, the boy attempted to untie his stilts with a slightly annoyed reply. “Hey, Al. Never felt better. How about you? We almost got to Central, too, didn’t we? Just one more hour. One more friggin’ hour and we’d both be out of this ****.”

Al, seemingly inside the statue, sighed in tune with his brother. After finally wrenching off the second stilt, the boy clapped his hands once; the bronze literally melted away at the boy’s touching of it. A large suit of armor covered in insignias slowly revealed itself from within the statue.

Al turned his helmeted head slowly, as if to work out the kinks of being encased, then laughed.

“Ed, you really need a mirror.”

-----------------------------

Dawn was slowly approaching, and it was evident that Ed was exhausted. Obviously he was the very fugitive the cashier had warned him about; he knew he needed somewhere to go before the military got off their bureaucratic rear ends and began searching for him.

His brother was not in so much danger in that sense, the poor kid.

“Al,” Ed croaked. He was sore beyond belief; his neck muscles were twisted into a tight knot for being thrown off a moving train, and his right leg was badly bruised. “I can't believe I'm saying this, but- we're lost.”

“We can't just follow the train tracks,” Al said observantly. “There's a direction post right there, maybe we can go to a town and…”

“Jump on the back of an unsuspecting truck?”

“You are such a bad influence on me, Brother, you realize this.” Al shook his head halfheartedly. At this point the joke was assumed, as it was getting quite old.

Ed was, meanwhile, already hobbling towards the sign. Al ran quickly after; he wasn't tired at all. “Wiengrovitz, seven kilometers. Central…” Ed's voice trailed off.

“Seventy-four,” Al finished.

“And nothing else in between,” Ed commented, groaning.

The light was approaching faster, as an ominous warning. In the shiny surface of his brother's armor, between the cakes of mud, Ed could finally see how disgruntled he looked: pants ripped from the knee down, a small gash opened on his left cheek, hair that had been dyed black to hide its true identity had been (ironically) slightly cleaned off by the wetter mud. Cakes of dry sod and clots of dirt littered Ed's skin and clothes; deep bags under his eyes were also beginning to form. If ever a person was the embodiment of the living dead, he was it.

Also by the light, Ed and Al could see the surrounding landscape. Aside from the unused train tracks and the signpost, the only thing breaking up the endless green plain was a moderately sized handcart a few feet away and the lone luggage Ed had carried. Ed, stumbling, slumped into the nearby cart and curled into a fetal position, dead to the world.

Al sighed. Once again taking the role of the more mature Elric, he scooped up the luggage in one hand and the cart's handle in the other, and set off in the direction of the closer of the two places.

It was far more than seven kilometers to Wiengrovitz, Al thought, considering that he had been walking for three hours at a brisk pace, regardless of the fact that he was pulling a wooden cart containing his sleeping older brother. The signs were placed at what was numbered kilometer-long intervals, but it was most certainly more than a thousand meters between each sign.

At the very least, there were only two 'kilometers' left. By the time his brother woke, he would be in the town or city, or whatever tract of land Wiengrovitz might be.

As fate would have it, however, the lump of flesh snoring loudly in the cart wa beginning to rustle, and soon Ed was tossing violently back and forth in his still childish sleeping position. Al and Ed used to have an unspoken rule between them that if one of these outbursts lasted more than three minutes, Al was to wake him. However, that rule had recently since been suspended, as each knew what would happen if they touched with anything less than a half-inch of cloth or metal (well, any substance, really) between their fingers. It was a mystery to the military why this was so (as Ed and Al were inseparable brothers), but it was also the main reason that the army major, Edward, who was just shy of sixteen, had gone AWOL in the first place.

Fortunately for Al, the spasm had ended almost as abruptly as it had started, and he lifted the cart handle again and continued walking.

The absolute elusiveness of the place they were heading to was becoming apparent. Al continued to walk the huge expanse of grassy field (which came up almost halfway to his giant knees) and on both sides of him, a hundred meters each way, two forests loosely marked the ‘walkway’ that would take them straight there. While the path was devoid of any twists and turns, the forests on each end were slowly converging. It wasn’t a trick of the horizon line and perspective; Al knew that when they left the forests were several hundred meters on each side and were now slowly closing in around him.

The sun slowly continued its circular path in the sky, and an hour and a half later, Ed began stirring again, this time to wake. Once more, Al stopped and watched as his brother lazily stretched and yawned, leaning back so his mangled hair fell in clumps over the edge of the cart, with patches of gold shining through the black.

Ed cracked his neck twice, then, getting his balance, stood up. “Eee-yow! Dammit, that hurts like heck,” he whined, stomping his sore right foot a few times to get the blood flowing again.

Blinking in the patched sunlight a few times, Ed could now see where Al had taken him. The grassy field all but behind them, a wooded forest surrounded him and his brother. A breeze gently rustled through the leaves, and the welcoming warmth from the sunlight that broke the tree line in blotches was refreshing. Looking down, the pair now stood on a wide dirt road (which had taken the place of the field to guide their way) that had two sets of deep carriage ruts that had since been overgrown with weeds, and in some places, even saplings.

“Brother... maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. What if the town is deserted? I didn’t want to wake you up,” Al said, slightly nervous.

Ed stifled a chuckle. “If it’s deserted, all the better. I have some food, and it would be the perfect place to crash while we regroup.”

“Brother, I think you’ve lost a few screws. Did you just... laugh?”

“Well, I’m a bit lightheaded, I think. I’m still feeling woozy from that enjoyable train jump. It’s not every day I get to abandon a moving vehicle after looking down the barrel of a gun while carrying an oversized trash can.” Ed slumped down and sat on the cart. “Ugh, I feel sick,” he groaned, then leaned back doggedly into the wheelbarrow.

Ed looked helplessly into the sky, reaching out halfheartedly with his right hand, as to ask for a suggestion from the heavens-or even grab a piece of it- and get an answer as to what to do. “We’ll keep going,” he said finally, as if he had actually received a celestial answer. “Abandoned village or no, there will still be a well and shelter.”

Ignoring the previous remark being referred to as an oversized trash can, Al plodded along with his brother slouched miserably behind. As much as Ed joked, Al knew him long enough that he was probably in serious pain. A slight wince in his lower lip never ceased to catch Al’s eye in these circumstances, and, when this happened, Ed was usually mangled enough to see a doctor. Underneath the layers of clothing he wore, Al was unable to tell if a bone was actually broken or fractured, but here it was very possible.

With the very first turn Al had taken all morning, the brothers arrived. A broken sign, falling off its post did indeed read “WIENGROVITZ” in faded red lettering, and the town square, cobblestone paved and worn, looked ridiculous, as it was entirely devoid of people.

In the center of the town square (which was actually a circle) was a large communal well, and the Tudor style houses encircling the center mimicked a herd of people waiting around the guillotine for that day’s public affair. Eerily enough, Al felt like an executioner himself, imagining for a second that he was the masked man who brought the prisoners in loads; men or women who were worn, bloody, and stained, ironically enough, like his brother sprawled out in the cart behind him. To complete the scene was the well, the crank rusted and rope worn like a chopping block’s that had been used far too often.

Far worse was the atmosphere itself. While it had been sunny out in the green before entering, all energy seemed to be sapped here- the sky shone bleak- even the trees withered, with a smog that covered the whole town, save a single lopsided hill above the mist far off at the end of the street before them, which, even though it must have been two in the afternoon at the latest, had a candle burning in the top story.

“Brother, I don’t like this place. It reminds me of the time we were at Majahal’s,” Al said, a slight quiver apparent in his speech.

“I don’t either. And, I know you can’t smell it, but this place reeks of sulfur and iodine. I’m only surprised that I didn’t smell this a minute ago before we turned the corner. There’s something fishy here. This place isn’t natural,” Ed replied in a muffled voice. Turning, Al saw Ed using his jacket as a muffle over his nose and mouth, and that his brother’s eyes were tearing heavily. Ed continued his comment with the very thought that had just popped into Al’s mind. “There may be an alchemy lab here.”

Ed and Al had seen this countless times before- towns, too far from a city to sell their produce or other goods, usually places that were not self-sustaining for whatever reason, slowly got deserted. When the population dwindled past the breaking point, the government or the military bought the property from the remaining landowners and turned it into science facilities or military base camps, far from the rest of the population.

Al was now more worried. If they were indeed on government owned property, it was likely someone would turn Ed in. “Ed, we ought to turn around. You aren’t safe if this is military owned.”

Ed smirked. “Nah, I have a better idea.”

The End

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