Soul and Fire
Soul and Fire
Crawford paused at the entrance of the small park and
handed a few coppers to the elderly man in exchange for a small bag of heated,
sugar-coated almonds. Not that he
was particularly hungry, not after lunch at the Koneko, but the nuts would help
keep his hands warm while he waited. Today
was a wet, cool spring day with the promise of summer that was just another
couple of weeks away nowhere to be seen. Not
that he minded the dreary weather as the light rain kept people away from this
rendezvous point – which was exactly what he’d foreseen before he’d sent
A few minutes were spent wandering the fine gravel paths of
the small city park, and a few of the almonds were devoured.
He nodded in satisfaction at their taste and spared a thought on how
he’d have to mention them to his partner.
Jei couldn’t protest too much about being sent on yet even more errands
if he knew there would be delicious snacks along the way.
Too be so easily led by one’s appetite….
Crawford spared yet another pray of thanks that he’d been born a
soul-gaki bound and not a flesh-gaki – although blind luck had little to do
with that fact. No, there had been
nothing ‘blind’ about his existence….
“Are you going to share those?”
He wasn’t surprised by the amused voice nor the sound of
boots on wet gravel. After all,
he’d foreseen this moment over a week ago, and in a smooth motion he held out
the bag of sweetened nuts. “Of
course. What type of host would I be
if I didn’t?” he asked, his voice just as sardonic as his companion’s.
Roy grunted softly as he accepted the treat.
“I’m not sure, but I’m certain you’d be a much better host if you
had picked a warm, dry tavern that served good beer rather than a park on a
He turned to face his companion and felt a spark of
amusement at how Roy had to tilt his head upward to look him in the eye.
They shared many of the same traits so it was a bit gratifying to have
this advantage – however slight – over his younger brother.
He’d learned over the years to use whatever leverage he could against
his sibling. They shared too many
traits, really, determination and stubbornness chief among them.
“We stand less of a chance of being overheard here than at some tavern
crammed with people eager to escape the lousy weather,” he bothered to
explain, his brows drawn together in a slight scowl.
“You had an entire city to choose locations from, you
know.” But before he could answer,
Roy waved his hand and sighed. “Don’t
bother, all right? I’m in a lousy
mood and this little family get-together isn’t helping.”
Roy did some scowling of his own as he chewed on an almond.
“I had to come up with some silly excuse to be able to meet you at this
time, and there will be a very large pile of paperwork awaiting my return, I’m
certain,” he said, as if in excuse for his grumpiness.
“And I’ve a long list of people I need to talk to and
things that I must get done in a relatively short amount of time, which is
another reason why I picked this location. While
you’ll soon head back to your nice, dry office, I’ll be busy with that list
until late tonight.” He felt a
little uneasy about the admission as here weren’t many people who could pull
forth any sort of explanation from him – in fact, there was just one other
besides his brother. “Also, I
figured you’d be the last person to complain about being ‘cold’.”
Roy waved his hand again, and this time sparks flew from
his fingertips. “I don’t so much mind the cold as the wet, as the latter
requires more effort on my part should something go wrong and use of my talent
be required.” Neither of them
needed to elaborate on what could go wrong, not after what they’d been up to
these last fifteen years. There
would be a long line of people after them for treason.
“And don’t try to change the topic when I still haven’t singed you
hairless for what you’ve done to me!”
“Oh, and what would that be?” Crawford asked, unable to
resist needling his brother. “I’ve
done nothing but shield you from harm and send you information to advance your
career these last few years.”
There was a furious hissing sound as Roy stopped as the
path curved around a grove of dogwood trees that would hide them from view.
“Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t know what would happen when
you sent the brat to me!” His
voice was mostly smooth and his expression unruffled, save for his slightly
narrowed eyes, but sparks flew around his gloved fingertips.
Dressed in a large, black rain slicker that hid his dark green uniform,
the bangs of his black hair plastered to his forehead by the rain, he appeared
as if a drawing of a kage from some silly book of fables meant to scare
Crawford realized that smiling just then wasn’t the
brightest of ideas, not when he had precious little to counter a flame attack
with at the moment, but that last thought and his brother’s complaint were
just so… well, not exactly amusing but possibly ironic.
“I appear to have become a matchmaker of sorts and you’re not as
impressive as you think you are,” he said as he walked over to one of the
dogwood trees and took shelter between its green branches.
“If you burn me to a crisp, you’ll never find out why I sent
Elric’s sons to you, now will you?” he pointed out, just to be on the safe
side. Roy had inherited their
father’s pragmatism, just as he did, and would know that it would do no one
any good to kill him just yet. He
didn’t need his talent to know that he would remain unharmed.
His brother appeared flummoxed for a moment, his eyes
narrowed even more until glittering black was all that could be seen, and then
his expression smoothed out and the sparks faded.
As expected, Roy’s common sense had won out.
“So you did know. Please
tell me you’ve had a vision of me reducing you to a lump of charcoal at some
point in the future or I’m off to finish that paperwork.”
Roy’s voice took on a sardonic edge as he stood on the gravel path,
arms folded over his chest and left eyebrow arched.
“You’d have to fight your way past Jei first as he
believes he has the right to be the one who kills me.”
There were identical snorts of derision from them both over that comment.
He waited a moment before asking one of the questions he needed answered.
“So how are they?”
Roy’s left eyebrow inched up a little higher.
“Shouldn’t you already know?”
“I’m a very busy man who doesn’t have time to have
visions all day long,” he snapped, a little stung by the perceived snipe at
his talent. His temper wasn’t
helped at all by Roy’s triumphant smirk and he spared a dark thought for their
father. While he understood the why
the prick had sired two sons, he would much rather be an only child.
Sometimes he felt that their father had another reason besides the
obvious to make them half-brothers who grew up far apart from each other –
such as to ensure that they didn’t kill each other while growing up.
They really were too alike, and as Jei might say, manipulative bastards
weren’t meant to travel together in packs.
Remembering that he had much to accomplish today, he took a deep breath
and forced himself to regain his calm. “How
are they? Have both of you adjusted
to the bond?”
He thought there might be another shower of sparks at the
question but Roy obviously had very good control over both his temper and his
talent. There was a brief flash of
annoyance, the only sign at how his remark had hit home.
He felt a little put out at that, as Roy was now a point up on him.
“Both Edward and Alphonse are fine, although Edward courts death on a
daily basis and I fear we’ve scarred poor Alphonse for life.
Ever since Edward and I became mates, he’s taken to spending a lot of
time hiding in his room so as not to ‘disturb’ us.”
Roy took a step toward a tree and plucked free one of its branches.
“Not that I expect an answer, but what were you thinking to send them
to me? Do you have any idea how much
Edward and I suffered the last couple of years?
How difficult it’s been to raise two boys while pursuing a career in
the military? A career you asked me
to take up, may I remind you.” He
twirled the branch between his fingers as he spoke, the only visible sign of his
Crawford took a deep breath and nodded.
There were times when he felt so weary, so hollow and old that he just
wanted to stretch out on the ground and not get up, and dealing with his brother
usually brought on that feeling. Hatred
and disgust burned through him and helped to dispel the lethargy, the emotions
directed at the Elders and his father. No
matter how many strings he pulled, how many people he treated as his personal
puppets, he had no choice but to dance when his own were pulled and that
“Trust me on this, Roy, you were the best choice for
those boys. I needed them as far
away from Esset as possible, and the sooner Edward became your mate, the
better.” He did feel a bit of
remorse for saddling his brother with a mate half his age, and he could very
well imagine the frustration and pain they both suffered once Edward had reached
puberty. “You are the only one who
can control them.”
Roy chuckled and tilted his head back to look up at the
grey sky. “I think you seriously
overestimate my abilities, Crawford. At
best I manage to steer them onto somewhat a sane path, but no one can really
stop those two if they’re determined.” He
closed his eyes and let the rain fall onto his face, his expression sorrowful
for a fleeting moment. “While
Edward is a little… peeved at being mated to, and I quote, ‘an arrogant,
annoyingly smug pervert of an old man’, he has more or less accepted the
situation and the limitations it places on us both.
He and his brother are still determined to learn everything they can
about the Elders and bounds in general but their thirst for revenge has been
somewhat tempered – for now.” He
turned to look at Crawford, an almost inhumanly cold expression on his face.
“They should be the perfect weapons, along with… well, I assume
you’ve managed to enlist *his* help by now, haven’t you?
Why else would you bring him to the capital?
Things are going according to plan, aren’t they?”
Crawford pushed away from the tree’s trunk and joined his
brother out in the rain. “He’s
mated with the succubae-bound and I’ve his promise that he’ll obey whatever
command I give him, as long as it doesn’t endanger his sister.
I’ve faith that in a few more weeks he’ll be free of his masters and
devoted to our cause.” More
strings to be pulled, more ‘weapons’ enlisted in the war their father had
bequeathed them. He shared a bitter
smile with his brother. “I told
you I’ve become a bit of a matchmaker.”
“Indeed you have. Do
you think you’ll survive the succubae-bound finding out what you intend to do
with his mate?” The question
seemed rhetorical so he didn’t bother to answer it.
“So far you seem to have… *him*, and that means his mate as well, and
the Elric brothers. How many other
potent weapons are there left to gather, hmmm?” Roy asked, a mocking smile on
his lips and his eyes cold. “Have
you found your son yet? Doesn’t he
get a chance to carry on the family tradition?
That’s the reason for our existence, isn’t it?”
His brother had every reason for his anger and derision,
but Crawford felt annoyed that he was the brunt of those emotions.
As if he had much of a choice but to carry out the plans their father had
set into motion – at least Roy, as a fire elemental, was spared from knowing
just how little one could escape destiny. Their
father had been too powerful and too clever for either of them, or those tied to
them by blood or love, to have any other choice.
“My son, Schuldig, is on our side, as expected.
Once we fully have the… *him* on our side, things will have gone too
far to be stopped.” And
it would only be a matter of time before Aya was as entangled in this mess as
they were. “We’ve reached the
foreshadowing of war – another year or two, three at the most and it will
happen. By that time I need you as
highly ranked in Kritiker’s army as possible, and I need the Elric brothers
Tossing the twig up in the air, Roy stared at it as it
burst into flames, his expression carefully blank.
“A friend has informed me that I’m slated to be promoted to Colonel
by the end of the year. If you’re
right and a coup against the king will occur at the wedding, then there will be
many opportunities to advance beyond that in a short time.
Ed… Edward will be all that you could ask of him.
I almost feel sorry for those bastards when we unleash him upon them.”
Roy did indeed feel sorry, but Crawford didn’t think the emotion was
directed at the Elders or Esset. “As
for Alphonse, I’m not quite sure what you expect from him.
He’s every bit as powerful as his brother, but his temperament lies
more toward healing than destruction.” Roy
gave him a dangerous look as ash drifted on the wind between them.
“No matter what his potential, he’ll never be a good weapon.
He’ll break first, and that’s something that neither Edward nor I
will allow to happen.”
No, Crawford had already ‘seen’ that fact.
“I know. He’s the
opposite of his brother, and that’s what we need.”
He felt ancient as he reflected on dark visions of battle, aged by each
familiar image of death and destruction. “There
will be lots of weapons, I’m afraid, but precious few to put things back
together once we’re done fighting.” There
would be Aya, Nagi, Roy and Edward, but to name a few, and the destruction they
left in their wake would be terrible. They
would provide the blood and death that would be their sacrifice to the gods.
But if they did things right, if he could just control things well
enough, there would be something for those such as Alphonse, Quatre, Neely and
Omi to rebuild. The Elders would be
dead and Crawford and his kind would finally be free.
The thought made him feel both scared and exhilarated, but he wouldn’t
back down now. More than anything,
he’d be rid of the chains imposed on him by his father and the Elders, even if
he had to destroy half a world in the process.
A little voice inside whispered that it was probably just what his father
A shower of sparks and steam that surrounded his brother
shook him from his reverie. Roy, his
hair and face now dry, pulled the hood of his slicker up over his head.
“Is there anything else to discuss at this point?
Your message said you just needed a few minutes.”
His right hand disappeared inside the slicker.
Nodding, Crawford pushed his glasses up his nose and
stepped closer to his brother. “If
you have the information I requested, you can leave.”
“And an ‘it’s been wonderful to see you,
brother-dear’ to you, too,” Roy said, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he
handed over a thick envelope wrapped in oiled paper.
“You do realize that by using just the Guard in such a situation, it
will create even more animosity between them and the Army.”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” Crawford explained
as he safely tucked the information into the pouch on his belt.
“The Guard is more open to change, which is what we need the most right
now, not power.” He gave his
brother a cool look. “When the
time comes that we do need the Army, I expect you to be ready.”
“Most brothers ask for presents such as new knives or a
night out drinking, you know.” Roy
seemed amused by something, his lips curved in a sardonic smile.
“But far be it for me to let you down.
I’ll hand over the Army when the time is right, have no fear.”
A change quickly overcame him, his demon nature allowed to the fore as
the air around Crawford grew almost too hot to breathe.
“Until then, I expect you to leave the Elrics in my care and not bother
them with your schemes. Go play with
the shadow boy if you’re that bored.”
Crawford had to struggle with his demon nature in face of
what appeared to be a threat, but he’d spent years perfecting his control over
it and won in the end. Just as he
wouldn’t allow anyone to mess with those he considered ‘his’ – even Jei
and Cassandra, Roy would be just as protective of his own ‘pack.’
That was what he’d counted on when he’d sent the boys to his brother.
So he merely nodded in acknowledgement.
“You want to see this through just as much as I do,” he reminded Roy
as he stepped back. “Can you
arrange to meet with me in a week’s time?
There’s much we need to discuss and as the wedding draws near, I
don’t want to risk sending messages.”
“As long as we can vary the time and location, I should
be able to manage it. My staff will
cover for me.”
quickly used his power to find a suitable date and location.
“Then I’ll see you in a week from tomorrow, eight o’clock in the
morning at Ryujin’s temple.” There
was no need to wait for an answer as his vision showed them both there on that
He stopped and turned to face his brother, a questioning
look on his face. Roy stared back at
him, surrounded by random sparks that the rain couldn’t quench.
Roy stared back, cold and completely inhuman.
“Did you send him to me just as a weapon?
Did you hope to slip a leash on us both?”
answer, said so quickly and with utter conviction, seemed to surprise his
brother. Hell, if Jei had heard it,
he’d been shocked as well. Crawford
never claimed that he wasn’t a manipulative bastard, that he wasn’t above
using his own flesh or blood, or the hearts of others, to get whatever he
wished. But while he wasn’t above
using a bound’s mate as a means of leverage, such as with Aya or Roy, it would
never be his sole means of control. Bonds
such as that were too unpredictable.
“I knew that if the two of you were together, you’d
become mates,” he explained as they both stood there beneath the falling rain.
“I knew that it would tie Edward to you, and Alphonse as well, I freely
admit.” As a cloud of steam slowly
surrounded his brother, rain vaporized intense heat, he continued.
“But I only sent him to you after I was certain that you’d be the
best choice to protect him and his brother, and that the bond would make you
both stronger, not weaker. I could
have sent them elsewhere and been assured of almost exactly the same result, but
it really was in the best interest of all three of you that I brought you
He had no doubt that Roy could sense the truth in his
words. Even though his younger
sibling had taken after his elemental bound mother and not soul-gaki bound
father, there had always been a link of sorts between them.
He felt Roy’s acceptance of the truth and an odd flash of annoyance and
“So it’s for the best that I’m driven insane by that
harridan? I always knew you hated me
because I’m better looking,” Roy replied as he headed back to the park’s
Crawford drew himself up to his full height and looked down
his nose at his brother. “I’m
sure it was the gods’ way of compensating you for your lack of intelligence
and power,” he sniffed.
Roy flashed him an annoyingly smug smile and whistled
briefly. “So I’m stupid and
weak? Rather an odd choice of
co-conspirator then, aren’t I?” When
he grunted in reply, Roy’s smile grew wider and he held up his gloved hand,
fingers poised to snap. “I think
I’ve enough intelligence and power to fry to ash a certain arrogant person.”
“I’ll concede to you your point about power, but what
good does it do you if I can see the strike before it lands?” he asked as they
strode along the gravel path.
“You said it yourself, *brother*, you can’t see everything. And now that you’ve found *him*, you’ll see even less.” Roy’s smile just then, so confident yet cold, bore a frightening similarity to their father’s - which was rather disturbing as he’d never even met the man. Crawford was reminded not to ever underestimate his sibling.
But all he did was smile a cold, confident smirk of his own.
“Very true, but harm me in any manner and you’ll have a furious Jei
on your trail. As I said, he seems
to think he’s the only one who possesses the right to abuse me.”
Roy’s hand fell back to his side as he chuckled softly.
“Touché. I guess you’ll
live, then.” They walked in
silence until they reached the park’s gate.
“I expect you to bring some pastries next week if you must insist on
such an early meeting time,” Roy told him as he waved goodbye.
“I’m sure I can manage something,” he replied before he turned and headed in the opposite direction. Perhaps Jo could be persuaded to provide him with some rolls or muffins that morning.
As he made his way on to his next appointment, he took a moment to reflect on his exchange with his brother. Things had indeed picked up a momentum too powerful to be stopped, and he’d need all the help he could gather to him to keep things under control. Roy would be indispensable in that respect. As much as it galled him to admit it, his father had planned well. That thought made him scowl so fiercely that everyone around him made sure to hurry out of his way.
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