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[personal profile] bay_alexison
Title: Wicked Paths
Word Count Approx 34,000 words
Rating: PG
Pairings/Characters: Ed/Winry and their kids, ensemble of canon and original characters
Warnings: Some suggestive material later on
Summary: Edward, Winry, and their three children go to South City for a short family vacation. While there, they stumble upon an elder lady that claims her late father was friends with Hohenheim when they had explored Aerugo together and discovered valuable alchemy notes there. The family then ends up crossing the border with Edward curious what type of alchemy research his father had done in that country.

Chapter Five


The group retired back to the hotel later in the evening and to return their rooms. Ed and Henry were reading while Winry and the girls listened to the radio.

Ed had been reading Ermes's journal the past hour and thought it was interesting how his and Hohenheim's friendship developed. Hohenheim indeed mentioned to him about being the Philosopher's Stone and the story behind Xerxes's demise. They traveled many fascinating sites together, Ed's father often using his alchemy to clear some paths. He stopped flipping through the pages when Winry approached him, leaning in to have a closer look.

"Are you reading Daria's father's journal?" she asked and blinked.

"I asked if I could borrow the journal for tonight and she said it's all right. From the sounds of it, he and Hohenheim are good friends."

"I'm sure your father had a lot of friends throughout the years."

Ed offered Winry a sad smile. He knew it was rough on Hohenheim living a long life while his friends passed away. At least he didn't have to go through that cycle once more. His eyes back at the journal, Ed skimmed over the part where Ermes talked to Hohenheim about the Academy of the Falcon.

"Daria's father knows quite a bit about the academy, too." He reflected back to Daria's lecture on Ettero's involvement in that elite group. He was shocked to hear how Ettero had to run out of the country and the academy dissolving soon after. "I wonder if we'll find anything more about that group tomorrow."

“We might.” She then frowned and Ed could tell something bothered her. “Will you be okay with Anna around? You said we should be careful with her.”

Ed felt his throat tightened. He made it too obvious he wasn’t in favor of Anna coming with them to the castle. Despite that, he could keep his emotions in check for tomorrow and not do anything to embarrass himself.

“I still think that, but there’s no need to worry about me. I’ll be fine. “

“If you say so,” Winry said after regarding him a moment. She offered Ed a quick kiss on the forehead and then moved away to join back with Jane and Esther.

Tomorrow's trip Ed was looking forward to more and more. There should be several things they could find there. He still wasn't all that positive about bringing in Anna with them as it seemed suspicious she wanted to go to the castle also. However, it was most likely a coincidence and that he was thinking too much over this.



Early next morning everyone ate breakfast together before leaving the hotel. Ed and his family followed Daria as she led them to where the buses were at. He glanced around, seeing the streets already filled with people and cars in the morning. A short while later they found two double decker buses next to a curb. Ed only saw those kind of buses running at Central.

"These are the buses that'll take us to Therosta Town?" Ed asked.

Daria nodded. "Yes. Therosta Town doesn't have a train station, so anyone that wants to travel there usually goes on a bus. It takes usually around half an hour.”

"I've never been on a bus before!" Jane said as she looked at the buses in amazement. Her siblings too couldn't stop staring at it.

"Oh, hello!" a voice nearby suddenly called.

Ed turned around to see Anna approaching them. Once she reached to the group, Anna grinned at everyone.

"Glad you can make it!" Daria said, smiling. "We should hurry to one of the buses now."

The inside of the bus was almost crowded, but Ed and the others fitted in just fine. He sat down besides Winry and had Jane sat on his lap. The children settled on the back while Anna and Daria sat across from them. Another few minutes passed until the bus started and drove off.

It wasn't until the bus left Padrid City that Ed looked out through the window to see the road stretching wide. The trees loomed high above like pillars and Ed was amazed how tall they were.

"Will you guys be going back to Padrid City after this?" Anna asked, causing Ed to turn around.

"Most likely we will, yes," Daria said. "We should grab some lunch to bring with us first before leaving."

"I take it this isn't your first time at Aerugo."

"This is my home country, actually. I decided to move to Amestris to study archaeology, though. My husband was born in Aerugo, too."

"I bet living at South City makes frequent trips to Aerugo very easy," Winry said. That made Daria chuckle.

"It is, but not as often as I would like due to my busy schedule."

The rest of the trip the children talked about what stuff they would find at the castle. Ed didn’t pay attention to their conversation, instead looking back at the window. He enjoyed looking at Areugo's simple but beautiful landscape. It had been a while since he experienced visiting a new country, the feeling of wanderlust starting to creep back in. When they got close to Therosta Town, he could see the mountain behind stretched far and wide. He understood now why Daria said it would be a hike.

"Therosta Town’s up ahead!" the driver announced loudly to the passengers.

As the bus drove through town, Ed paid close attention to its scenery. There weren't as many shops compared to Padrid City, but he still caught sight of people coming in and out of them. The bus drove pass several houses and other buildings, including a library and a school. The vehicle eventually stopped at a curb where there was an inn at a close distance and all the passengers climbed out. Outside, a slight cool breeze picked up. It was a good thing they’d thought to bring some jackets with them before leaving.

There was a shop nearby that everyone went to where they bought some sandwiches for lunch. After that, Daria led them to a small stable where the donkeys were kept at. Ed's nose wrinkled at the less than pleasant smell.

"Some of these donkeys are large!" Esther said as they looked at them.

"As I mentioned, some people borrowed them here to go to the mountains." Looking at both Ed and Winry, Daria said, "They can carry both Jane and Esther easily."

Ed heard a snort from behind and jerked his head to see Jane petting a donkey's forehead. She giggled.

"This one has soft fur!" When Jane ceased petting, the donkey shook his head.

"I think this one likes you," Winry said, kneeling down. The donkey let her stroke his forehead.

"Am I going to have to ride them, too?" Henry asked as he narrowed his eyes. Ed could tell his son didn't like the idea of riding one of them.

"You're old enough to hike on your own," he said. "Just stay close with me."

"All right!" Henry grinned, satisfied with the response.

Daria managed to grab one donkey for the group to use before they started hiking up the mountain. Jane and Esther rode on the donkey together, Ed holding the rope. The three were behind everyone else.

Smiling, Ed was reminded of his travels at Creta and hiking one of the mountains there. He had to be extra careful because of his automail leg, but he managed to get through it fine. The fresh air and seeing the wildlife were always his favorite parts about hiking.

The air grew colder the further they hiked, but luckily Ed wore lighter automail fitted for mountain climates like this. He assumed Daria had on a similar model also, hence her not having any problems with it.

"Are you doing fine with your auotmail leg?" Winry asked Ed an hour into the hike. She looked over her shoulder at him.

"I am, don't worry," he reassured her and his smile grew wider.

"All right, just making sure."

"So you're an automail mechanic, Winry?" Anna asked.

"I am!" she responded while offering her a proud smile. "I did Ed's automail leg when we were kids, actually."

A smile tugged onto Anna's lips. "Ah, so you've been doing it for a while."

"Her grandmother did prosthetics also," Ed said.

"That must be why." Anna chuckled. "My interest in archaeology came from my father, so I understand that well."

A short silence followed. Ed stared at Anna briefly, his skepticism of her returning. So far no one else was wary of her as him. He wanted to prove she had some motive going on, but wasn’t sure how.
"That's the castle up ahead!" Daria suddenly said, sounding excited.

Ed looked up to where she pointed out and drew his gaze at the castle on top of the large mound. There was a curtain wall around it and the keep could be seen. Ahead of them were a stone bridge and a long trail leading to the castle. All his children gasped in astonishment, and Ed jerked his head to see them take their eyes off on the castle.

They all continued hiking for a short while longer until they reached and passed through the gatehouse. They moved several steps further into the courtyard before halting. After Ed helped his daughters off the donkey, he and the others gazed at the stone castle in front of them.

"Wow, that castle is huge!" Esther said, beaming.

"Yes it is," Anna said. "You'll be even more amazed inside."

Slowly, everyone stepped inside the castle. The entrance hall was mostly empty and cold as Ed expected, though he imagined it to be much more furnished back in the day. He could spot the stairs at a close distance.

“So all of the construction is from alchemy,” Ed said, grinning. He often heard and seen alchemists used their talents in architecture, but it still amazed him how stunning the end result was.

“Ettero and several alchemists had worked together to build this castle and it took over a month,” Anna said. “He wanted the structure to be similar to the older ones but with some newer touches.”

“That is a great feat,” Winry said. She looked over her shoulder and her expression suddenly changed. “Henry, don’t touch that!”

Ed swung around to see Henry staring at a suit of armor next to the wall, his finger almost touching it. He looked at his mother’s direction with startled eyes, lowered his arm down, and rushed back to join the group.

"Which room should we look at first?" Daria asked.

"We should check out the sitting room, which is upstairs," Anna said and led everyone to the castle’s staircase.

The group climbed the many steps until they reached the upper floor. They passed by some rooms until Anna found the sitting room, opened the door, and took the group inside. There was some dusty furniture left behind like chairs and a chest. Dark red background with a coat of arms was painted on the walls over a stone fireplace. Sunlight from the windows flooded inside.

“The sitting room is mainly used whenever Ettero and his family wanted to relax,” Anna said. “The clue should be here somewhere.”

For a while everyone searched for anything written on the walls and so far they didn’t find anything. Ed thought an alchemist like Ettero wouldn’t leave the code wide in the open like that. An idea hit him.

“I think Ettero might cover his code through alchemy.”

“As a way to not any bypassers see it?” Winry asked, sounding intrigued.

“Yes. Very clever if you ask me.”

“Oh, can I do it, can I do it?” Henry asked very eagerly, clasping his hands together.

Smiling at his son, Ed kneeled down and touched his shoulder. “Did you bring the chalk you bought from the gift store with you?”

A large grin stretched across Henry’s face. He nodded and immediately took out a chalk from the pocket of his pants. “Yup!” he said before sprinting to one of the walls.

Ed and the rest watched as he began drawing up a transmutation circle. Once Henry finished it, he touched his palms to the array and a flash of blue light appeared. A few seconds passed before he let go of his hands and stepped back. Much to Ed’s disappointment, there wasn’t any writing there.

“Maybe it could be around that fireplace,” Winry said and pointed there.

Henry headed toward the fireplace and drew another transmutation circle next to it. He placed his palms on the wall and once more blue light flickered. Ed waited and this time letters started to show up.

Give me silver for my troubles
And I shall lead you to where bats slumber


Muttering the words to himself, Ed instantly recognized it was a riddle over where Ettero had hidden his notes. He looked over his shoulder to see Daria already took out a journal and scribbling the code down. Everyone else continued to stare at it in slight bemusement.

“Is this supposed to be a riddle?” Jane asked.

“It is,” Daria said, “yet a possible location isn’t coming to me yet.”

Ed had his attention back at the code. For certain there were some alchemic references behind it. The word “lead” caught his interest—if it was enunciated differently, then it would be the element lead. There was also the mention of silver there… Yes, of course! He had it figured out now.

“Ettero used the elements silver and lead in his code. Also the mention of bats is most likely at a cave.” He turned to Daria. “Are there a lot of caves in Aerugo?”

“Several of them,” she said. “Most weren’t discovered until after Ettero ran away, though. My best guess is he went to the closest one, Nork Cave.”

“How far is the cave?” Henry asked.

“It’s a few hours train ride from Padrid City to Alley City and the cave is next to the mountains there. It would take Ettero around a day if he went by horse.”

“You think we can catch a morning train tomorrow there?” Ed asked, turning to Daria. By the time they get back to Padrid City it would be close to nightfall. They could take an evening train, but after a day of bus rides and hiking he doubt anyone would be up for a train ride immediately. Even he would like a bit of rest very soon.

“We can do that, yes.”

Anna still stared at the riddle in great interest until she suggested, “It’s best if we cover the code so no one else sees it.”

Ed agreed that the code needed to be hidden away again. He made a sharp nod at Henry and his son quickly touched the wall, the transmutation circle he drew a few minutes ago still there. The letters slowly disappeared like burning paper, no trace of the code anymore. As a precaution, Henry dusted off the drawing with his hand.

“I’m hungry,” Jane said when tugging at Ed’s pants. He looked down to see his daughter placed her other hand on her stomach.

“We haven’t eaten since we left Padrid City,” Winry said, a small smile forming around her lips.

Before Ed could respond, his stomach growled and he let out a sheepish laugh. “I guess we should have lunch first before we head back to town.”

Outside the castle everyone sat on the ground and ate their sandwiches. It was slightly warmer than in the morning, which Ed welcome very much. His sandwich was soft but tasted sweet, probably from the cheese.

Unfortunate they weren’t able to find out more about the Academy of the Falcon, but Ed was fine with that. It was highly unlikely they would, anyways. The castle was still stunning to visit inside.

“How did you figure out immediately Ettero used lead and silver when he wrote that?” Anna asked as she looked at him.

“Silver and lead were used in transmutations often, so it was easy for me to catch that.” He shrugged. Ed was certain Hoheinheim solved it very fast also.

“Ed can be a show off sometimes,” Winry said in a teasing manner. He snorted, already knew she didn’t mean any harm in that.

“I see. I’m also amazed at your son when he made the code appeared with his alchemy.”

“It was easy!” Henry said, flashing Anna a haughty smile.

“Will you be joining us at Alley City?” Esther asked before she ate more of her sandwich.

“Of course,” Anna said immediately and smiled at everyone.

“You’re more than welcome to come with us,” Daria said, returning the smile.

Ed didn’t smile at hearing Anna would continue to stay. He supposed it was a good thing she wasn’t a threat during the exploration of the castle. No doubt her knowledge of the castle’s layout was very useful for the group, yet he couldn’t help but think it was all an act. Now that she would be tagging with them to Nork Cave, he needed to be much more precautious around her.

At least today was a successful day overall. They were able to find the code thanks to Henry and cracked it, so they made some progress on their journey. After everyone finished their lunch, Ed helped his daughters onto the donkey and they began their long hike back down to Therosta Town.

Chapter Six


As night fell upon Padrid City, Anna decided to go to a bar across from her hotel to relax. She sat outside, reading a book as she took some sips of her glass of a local drink made with a liqueur called Camponi. The red drink was bittersweet on her tongue, yet she liked it.

She didn't expect to bump into Daria, nor the family that joined with her, at the museum yesterday. It was understandable the professor would search the notes also, her being Ermes Russo's daughter. Immediately she decided to join the group, able to flatter Daria that she wanted to work with her.

Today's trip was enjoyable for the most part. During the hike she could tell Winry's husband had doubts about her from his long stares. She assumed he wasn't comfortable having someone they only met coming along, so Anna wasn't offended by that. The code being hidden by alchemy made sense; it did impress her that Edward figured the meaning behind it right away.

Anna separated from the group once they made it back to Padrid City, but she had promised to meet them at the train station tomorrow morning. She was glad they were fine with her staying around a while longer.

Realizing she stopped reading her book, Anna put it back in her bag and swallowed the last of her drink before she rose from her seat. Now should be a good time to go back inside. She passed by several people still outside and streetlamps that lit up brightly.

It took her a few minutes to arrive at the hotel, and reach her room. Anna kicked her shoes off once she stepped inside and went to the table to pour herself a glass of water. While drinking, she gazed at the old archaeology magazines and stack of papers left behind while she was away. Anna set the glass down and moved the magazines away to grab the papers. A smirk graced her lips.

The pages were yellowed and the writing smudged in some places. Anna was familiar with the late archaeologist's work for a long time but was surprised to stumble upon some of his travel notes. Her father had these for a long time, leaving them to languish. No need for the rest of the journal as these last few pages was the most important in searching for Ettero's notes.

She studied the pages that referenced Ermes's trip to the castle. It mentioned a man named Hohenheim who performed the same alchemy Winry's son had used earlier. The riddle was also written down in the notes, the words "silver" and "lead" being underlined. Anna then read some paragraphs concerning Alley City and Nork Cave to see if there was anything of particular interest.

Tomorrow she would set off to those two places with everyone. Hopefully they would stay at a hotel overnight so that she didn't have to bring the notes with her. As long as Ed, Daria and everyone else didn't find them, she should be fine.

+++

Ed was surprised when Daria had insisted everyone go to her room as she wanted to show a few things to them. He wasn't sure what those "things" would be, but that had him curious.

The whole family settled and waited on the bed while Daria rummaged through her luggage. Once she found the things she needed, she took a few steps forward until she was in front of Ed and handed him a photograph. Ed felt his throat tighten.

The picture had Hohenheim and another man outside behind a small store. The both of them stood up straight and smiled. Between the two men was a young girl, looking to be about Esther's age, having a wide grin on her face. Ed had only seen two other photos of Hohenheim before –one with his own family and another with Granny—but never with other people. It felt strange to see another picture of Hohenheim years after his death.

fma_big_bang_2014__arego_1875

(Art by Thunderflames!)


"That's our Grandpa!" Jane said cheerfully as she pointed to the photo.

"Is this you and your father?" Winry asked, leaning forward to take a closer look at the photo.

Daria nodded and her face softened. "This is a while after the expedition as the back says it has been taken in 1875."

Turning the back of the photograph, Ed indeed spotted the writing on the bottom corner. Resembool, 1875. He flipped it back and stared at the photograph once more, this time paying particular attention to the younger Daria. If she was with them when this picture was taken, then that meant--

"You actually met Hohenheim before," Ed said in a low voice as he met her eyes.

"I was eight when that happened, so I don't remember too much of that visit. Hohenheim was very nice to me and the two had a nice long chat together. That was the only time I met him." She paused to clear her throat. "I also have another photo of my father."

Daria handed Ed another photograph, this time of Ermes inside an office. He stood up in front of his desk, smiling in this picture also.

"This is his office at South City University?" Ed asked.

"It is. My father had written several articles and books for different publications. Here's one of them."

Daria gave Ed a booked called Post-Medieval Objects in Aerugo, Ermes Russo's name printed in the front cover. He flipped through some of the pages to see the photographs of different artifacts discovered like pots, swords, and clothing. His family gathered around him, looking at the pictures also.

"There's a lot of these artifacts!" Henry said.

"All of them are beautiful," Winry said.

Ed continued flipping through the pages until he stopped at a photograph of some old flasks with the caption "Academy of the Falcon's flasks" on the bottom. The section about the flasks explained those were used on several experiments conducted by the members in that society and how the study of alchemy had been widely practiced back then. There was nothing much else on that particular society.

"Where are those flasks now?" Esther asked.

"They're at the academy's villa with the archived notes too."

"That makes sense." Finished reading, he closed the book and returned it to Daria. "Anything else you have for us?"

She shook her head. "That's all that I have to show you."

"Thanks for showing us those pictures," Winry said, offering the professor an appreciative smile.

"It's my pleasure." Daria smiled back. She then faced Ed. "Oh, almost forgot to ask, Ed. What do you think of my father's journal?"

"I think it's a great read so far. Hoenheim and your father got along very well. You want me to give it back to you tomorrow morning before we leave?" The journal did write like an adventure story and it felt incomplete without the next part. Ed wasn’t sure if he would get the chance to read the ending.

“That’s all right with me.”

"Thank you." Glancing at the clock on the wall, Ed realized that it was close to nine o' clock at night now. "I think we all should go back to our rooms now," he said to Winry and the children.

After everyone climbed out of bed, they said goodnight to Daria and headed back to their room.

Ed thought the stuff she showed them were interesting, especially the picture with Hohenheim. He still couldn't get over that Daria had met him so many years ago. Tomorrow he would hand her the journal back before the departure from Padrid City.

+++

Winry enjoyed Anna's company overall. It meant a lot to her that she was interested in her being an automail mechanic. She thought it was neat what they had in common was being inspired by their family in the careers they're in now. Everyone else save for Ed liked her also, who still seemed to be suspicious of her.

They all boarded the train to Alley City and shared a compartment together. She stole a glimpse of Anna, watching her gaze through the window as if she were daydreaming It was kind of amusing to Winry a new person was added each train ride.

"So Anna, back at the hike you mentioned your father was an archaeologist also," Daria said several minutes into the train ride.

"He was for a while, yes,” she said, tearing her gaze off the window. “His specialty was Cretan archaeology. You probably heard the name Raoul Dabney, correct?"

"I have. Some of his articles on Creta's ruins are wonderful."

“I traveled to Creta several years ago to study alchemy there,” Ed said, joining in the conversation, “and visited a few of those ruins. They’re incredible to see in person.”

"That's great to hear, both of you." Anna flashed Daria and Ed a pleased smile. Changing the subject, she then said, "I’ve enjoyed Aerugo a lot so far. Such a lovely country."

Winry hummed in agreement. She loved Padrid City a lot and was amazed at the castle they visited yesterday. "Me too."

"I'm excited to check out the cave," Ed said, a big smile on his face.

"This is my first time going to Nork Cave, so I'm looking forward to it also," Anna said, wearing a similar expression on her face.

"I hate bats," Esther said and shuddered. "They're disgusting."

Patting her daughter's shoulder, Winry said, "They won't hurt you, I promise."

"Can we eat lunch first before we go?" Henry asked. He was right that it would be lunchtime by the time they reached the city.

"Yeah, will we?" Jane asked next.

Ed chuckled at the both of them. "I'm sure that's a given, Henry."

"Very likely all of us will be in the cave all day," Daria said, "so we'll be staying at Alley City overnight."

As the silence lingered on, Winry didn't like the sound of that. She had been away from Rush Valley over a week and missed home a lot. Also it bothered her the shop had been closed that long. She was certain Joseph worried about her still. Winry didn't regret taking this trip, but the sooner the family got through the rest of this adventure the better.

+++

The train arrived at Alley City early afternoon. Ed along with everyone else left the station immediately to find someplace to sleep for the night. They then stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and stayed there for some time to eat.

Just outside of Alley City was a large forest on a mountainside. They had to pass through a small section of it before they could reach the cave. Tall trees towered over them like pillars from a ruin, but some sunlight still flooded outside. The sound of birds could be heard from a far distance. The fresh air filled Ed's lungs.

“Are we at the cave yet?” Jane suddenly asked, tightening her grip around Ed’s hand. He had let his daughter stay close to him.

“Almost,” Daria said. “Just a few more minutes.”

They had been inside the forest almost half an hour by now, Ed guessed. Compared to the hike to the castle, this trail was slightly easier. His automail leg still worked fine and had been doing fine since the start of this trip—he would like it to keep it that way. It wouldn’t be much longer until they arrived at Nork Cave.

“This cave was a popular hideout for alchemists, right?” Anna asked. “I remember reading that a while back.”

“Yes. They would do all sorts of experiments there and left some writings on the walls. It’s likely Ettero and his colleagues from the academy sometimes met in that cave.”

Pondering what Daria said, Ed believed it to be the case, too. Ettero would hide his notes at a location he was familiar with.

Everyone continued to move further within the forest until they at last reached close to the front of the cave. The entrance had a wide opening from top to bottom and shaped like a mouth. They all stepped slowly inside.

“Hello?” Henry yelled as they moved into the entrance zone, his hands forming a circle close to his mouth. Immediately after, his voice echoed back to him.

Winry had a finger raised and shushed her son. “Not so loud, Henry,” she warned in a whisper.

“Don’t worry, there’s nothing in here to harm him except maybe startled bats,” Daria said.

The whole group continued further into the cave, entering the twilight zone part of it. There was much less sunlight now than when they first entered, so Ed turned on a flashlight. He looked around to see some stalagmites and columns sticking out on the ground. There were a few stalactites hanging above them. Winry and Daria also turned on their flashlights to see the cave better.

“So cool!” Jane said while looking back and forth. “Are all of these rocks?”

“They’re a type of rock formations, yes,” Ed said. “The ones on the floor are called stalagmites and stalactites are…”

Ed stayed still when squeaking noises were heard. He swung his head to see a few black bats flying towards them. His eyes flew wide.

“Bats!” Esther shouted in fright, pointing at them.

The bats fortunately flew passed them, but Esther still screamed and hid behind her mother. Both Henry and Jane also looked startled, though not as terrified as their sister was. Ed’s face softened—she mentioned not liking bats back in the train ride, but he felt sorry she got very scared like that.

“It’s all right, Esther. They’re gone now.”

He waited a bit until his daughter showed herself to everyone.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said, still looking shaky from what just happened.

Ed smiled back at Esther, but his face turned serious when something occurred to him. “You know where exactly the notes are?”

“I’m not sure,” Daria said, “but probably deeper into the cave at a chasm called Crystal Hall. The whole area is supposed to glitter like crystals.”

“That sounds beautiful,” Winry said in awed.

“We should head over there, then,” Anna said and didn’t hesitate to move forward, as if in a rush.

Ed and Jane stayed behind briefly while the others followed Anna. He thought it was a bit unusual of her to hurry off like that. It could be she couldn’t wait to get to Crystal Hall, and he admitted to feeling the same way.

“Are you okay, Daddy?” Jane asked, interrupting his thoughts. She stared up at him.

“Huh? Oh.” He kneeled down to settle both hands on his daughter’s shoulders. “I’m fine, sweetheart,” he reassured with a smile. “I just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.”

“Ed, Jane, are you two coming?” Winry called out to them.

“Mommy wants us to join them,” Jane said, offering her father a large grin.

“Yes she does.” Ed stood up and held Jane’s hand, the pair walking together to join back with everyone.

As the group plunged deeper into the cave, more stalagmites and stalactites appeared. They soon halted when in front of them were two passages that split into different directions.

“Which of these two passages leads the way to Crystal Hall?” Ed asked and scratched his chin.

“Let me check the map.” Daria pulled out a map from her bag and unfolded it. She studied it a few seconds before pointing to the right side passage. “That one.”

They headed to the right side of the passage and kept walking. Ed stared at Anna’s back a brief moment, that weird feeling when he first met her at the museum two days ago coming back. Should he trust his instincts this time? He wondered if Anna had an idea he felt that way about her. Either way, she hadn’t confronted him over that yet.

“Are you being skeptical over Anna again?” Winry asked, low enough so neither Anna nor Daria could hear. She arched an eyebrow at him. “After the last couple conversations you two had, I thought you were fine with her.”

It didn’t surprise Ed that his wife would figure out something had been on his mind. He and Winry had known each other since they were children, so they could sense one another if something were wrong very well. No use to lying to her over Anna.

“It’s unusual that she wants to get to the notes quickly,” Ed said, whispering also.

Winry considered Ed briefly. “I guess Anna is being a little hasty, but all of us can get caught up when getting into something exciting.”

“Perhaps.” Ed still wasn’t entirely convinced, but he was willing to consider that possibility open. He frowned. “I’m sorry if you’re annoyed with me over this.”

“Not annoyed, just a little concerned,” she said, offering him a small smile.

He wasn’t sure he should be relieved or not upon hearing that. It was good that he didn’t irate her. Winry being slightly worried about him, though, was just as worse.

Silence lingered on as the group traveled through more of the passage. The sunlight had stopped trailing behind their backs and the temperature grew much colder. Ed checked his watch and realized they had been in the cave a little over an hour now.

“I believe that is Crystal Hall up ahead!” Daria said cheerfully, extending her arm.

Ed could see the horizontal entrance of a cavern not far from them. His heart pounded harder against his chest the more steps he took. We’re actually getting close, he thought to himself.

Once everyone arrived inside the carven, they all gasped and fixed their gazes at the spectacle before them. There were two tall and thick columns in the front similar to a building structure. Every corner of the cave was embellished with very white stalagmites and stalactites that illuminated brightly like crystals. Close by, water dripped into a small basin. Ed visited a few caves before, but never one like this.

“So pretty,” Jane said, still gazing at everything surrounding her.

“No wonder this part of the cave is called Crystal Hall,” Ed said.

“We should be careful while searching the notes here,” Daria said and made two steps. “Don’t touch the columns.”

Ed made slow steps as he keep an eye on the notes. He believed it might be hidden within the stalagmites somewhere, so he had his flashlight pointed straight at any gaping holes around them.

“I think I found it!” Winry shouted in excitement.

Everyone hurried to where she was and gathered around her. Winry held out a small chest box with a lock attached to it. Simple floral designs adorned the upper part of the chest. She tried to open it, but with no success.

“No key?” Anna asked and raised an eyebrow.

“Ettero doesn’t need one,” Ed said. “He used alchemy to keep the chest closed.”

“Oh, let me open it!” Henry said as he waved his arm.

“No way!” Esther stomped her foot and narrowed her eyes at her brother. “You got to make the code appear yesterday. I should do this, instead.”

“Esther’s right,” Winry said. “It’s only fair.”

Not satisfied, Henry lowered his eyes and crossed his arms against his chest. “Fine.”

“You can use a blank page from my journal to draw an array,” Daria said as she pulled out her journal book from her bag and handed it to Esther. She also gave her a pen.

Esther opened the book and started to draw an array. While everyone was waiting, Ed could see the sheer resolve on her face—both she and Henry were always focused whenever they used alchemy. When Esther finally finished with the drawing, she tore the page from the journal and settled it down on the floor. She then gave the journal and pen back to Daria.

“This should do it.” Esther turned to look at her mother. “Box?”

Winry made a few steps forward until she was close to Esther and handed her the box. She dropped onto her knees, put the box down, and placed her hands onto the array to activate it. Blue light flashed for a few seconds before it quickly disappeared. After Esther picked the chest up, she was able to open it and pulled a journal out.

“The notes are here!” she said, grinning proudly.

“Can I have a look at them?” Ed asked nicely. At least they found Ettero’s notes. A million ideas swarmed inside his mind over what could be in them.

Esther nodded and gave her father the notes. He turned to the first page, crisped on the edges due to age, and read the first paragraph aloud.

“Antimony was the first lady I ever loved and still do, no other woman like her. She was such a golden blessing! It had been many years since our very faithful meeting and I could recall it very well.” Already he caught the elements gold and antimony within the notes. “Ettero had written his notes as a romance story.”

“Romance? Yuck!” Henry said in disgust and stuck his tongue out.

Ed flipped through the journal and estimated it to be a hundred pages. It would take some time, but he should be able to solve it without any problems. Some research materials would be nice, too, if he could get his hands on them.

“It’s to be expected Ettero will disguise his notes in code,” Anna said. Ed studied her face carefully, remembering two days ago when she said she knew alchemists often did that. “How long you think you’ll be able to crack it?”

“There’s some stuff I’ll need to cover, so it’ll take me two or three days at least.” Ed should wait until he and his family get back to Amestris so he could use his books at home, but he wanted to crack it during the long train rides. An idea occurred to him. “Back at the museum you mentioned the villa is here, right?” he asked Daria

“Yes, I did. I don’t know if it’ll be open when we’re back in the city. If not then we can go tomorrow.”

“Either day is fine with me. How about a bookstore?”

“No Ed, you’re not going to buy a hundred alchemy books,” Winry said in a stern tone, her hands on her hips. “The notes can wait.”

“I don’t plan to buy that much. Just a few that relates to Aerugian alchemy.”

“Alley City does have one,” Daria said. “It should still be open when we’re back in the city.”

If they were able to go to the villa and bookstore tonight, then he might have a head start on decoding Ettero’s notes. Hopefully some alchemy books are in stock. They should hurry out, then.

“We got what we wanted here,” Ed said and held the documents up. “I think it’s time for us to leave.”

Chapters Seven and Eight

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