Chapter 9

Carrion Crows are Cunning Creatures

If you're that desperate, then leave town and find another job.

Kid, I know you can't understand but…

The mines are our homes…

And our graves.

--Edward and Youswell Coal Miner, Fullmetal Alchemist, Book 1

Digging a mass grave is terrible work. The stench of death lingers in the air as the clump, clump, clump of earth being shifted creates the rhythm of a funeral dirge. The dirt gets everywhere, sticks to sweaty skin, making a gritty, grimy blanket broken by trails of sweat dripping down skin like tears. Carrion crows are cunning creatures and sense the impending loss of a meal. Their harsh, angry cries echo and distort the rhythm of the digging. As horrible as digging a mass grave is, though, collecting the bodies is much, much worse. Ed thought that he'd seen enough tragedy and pain to have gained some sort of immunity to it. Ed was wrong.

The broken bodies strewn about the street were horrible enough. But they'd been picked apart, so he could almost pretend they hadn't been people. He could ignore the fact that a large portion of the bodies were so small they had to be children. But inside the homes…inside the homes was another story. The buildings had provided a modicum of protection to the bodies inside them, keeping at least some of the carrion-eaters out. The bodies in the homes were still in good enough condition to be recognized, if only as a type…male, female, adult, child. Mostly women and children, for the men had died in the streets, fighting hopelessly for their lives and families. Ed would never forget the sight that greeted him in one home. It was a mother and three children. Unlike in most other homes, there had been no futile attempts to hide from an enemy who could smell their fear. Instead they'd met their deaths quietly, laying together in bed. The mother was curled around her children and there was a book of fairy stories in her hands. As the village had died horribly around them, she'd read about faraway magical lands to her children (1). Even though the bodies were mauled, they still possessed a quiet kind of dignity.

Ed walked down the street, heartsick, and found his attention grabbed by a curious collection of people. Roy and Al were there, as well as the whole Sanzo group and that young private who'd been hanging around with Goku. It was odd, the private was probably pretty close to his age but, like Goku, seemed so very young to Ed.

As he approached the group he noticed that their attention was on a house, set just outside of the town. Once closer, Ed could see that this house, unlike the others, had not been entered by the invaders. It was securely locked and deadbolted—from the outside. The few windows were very small and sat high up on the house. The stench of rotting meat wafted from those windows, but for a few moments Ed allowed himself to hope that this was some kind of storage house and the smell was from food stores. But he knew that he was kidding himself. There was no mistaking the sickly sweet stench of human flesh.

A warm look from Al and a fleeting glance from Roy was all the acknowledgment Ed received as he joined the group. The rest stared grimly at the locked door. Sanzo lifted his pistol and with three shots in quick succession blew the deadbolt to pieces. The door creaked ominously as it drifted open a few inches. Sanzo gritted his teeth and pulled the door open the rest of the way. The sight that greeted them was heartbreaking. There were at least ten children…the bodies of ten young children. None could have been more than ten years old. It was hard to tell exactly what had happened, but the bodies looked fresher than the corpses of the rest of the villagers. The score marks across their bodies, as if from claws, and the bite marks that clearly showed on several children bespoke a violent death. But it could not have been at the hands of the same group that had killed the rest of the villagers.

"I don't understand…how did these ch-children die? Why were they locked up in here?" Al's voice choked, betraying his tender heart.

"The villagers put them in here…because they were youkai." Sanzo's grim voice matched his visage.

"Youkai children aren't as affected by the minus wave." Hakkai's soft voice answered the confusion on the foreigners' faces. "Before the minus wave, there were some bad youkai, bandits and the like, but most lived peacefully with humans. They were farmers, craftsmen, hunters…normal people. When the minus wave came, they went insane, attacking anything human, like rabid beasts. Humans suddenly found themselves being attacked by youkai that had been their friends and neighbors. But not every youkai is affected the same way by the minus wave."

"Children aren't as affected by it. Some adults resist it, too." Gojyo picked up the tail end of Hakkai's explanation in an uncharacteristically serious manner. "But humans don't trust any youkai anymore. These poor kids were lucky that the villagers just didn't kill them out right. That's what they usually do. These villagers must have been feeling merciful. So they locked up the unchanged youkai kids where they couldn't hurt the village if they went beserk. The door was heavily fortified, the attacking youkai probably didn't even try to get in when they killed everyone in the village."

"But how did these kids die, if not in the attack. They clearly didn't starve to death." Ed tried to remain detached from the scene, but it wasn't really working.

"Stress make youkai more vulnerable to the minus wave. Being locked in here, hearing the villagers die, then being left alone for days with no food or water…one of the children, maybe more, turned. It attacked they others. They ended up fighting to the death." Sanzo's tone was as cold as ever, but the somberness seemed appropriate.

Caught up in the horror of the house, no one noticed the calculating expression that crossed young Private Landis's face, or noticed his callous disregard for the young corpses strewn about the room.

The day passed in eternity as they dug ditches and buried corpses and after a while everyone's sense of horror became numbed. The evening was sadly quiet as the party moved on hoping to find a new campsite. No one wanted to stay in the ghost town, even if it was getting late. The company spent a restless night pretending to sleep, haunted by the horrors of the ghost town.

The next day the party was subdued. There was less laughter and talking, which Goku sorely missed. Luckily for him, Jerry was there. He was happy to distract Goku from the depressing memories of the town and others like it he'd seen. Before long Goku found the conversation turned to his fighting skills once again.

"I just can't believe that someone so young can be as skilled as you!"

"I'm not that young!" Goku argued hotly. Jerry couldn't be much older than twenty. Goku was over 500 years old. "And you haven't seen a tenth of my fighting power!"

"You mean you can get more powerful!" Goku was gratified by the wonder in his friend's eyes.

"Not even Hakkai and Gojyo are a match when I take off my…" Goku suddenly stopped speaking, realizing what he'd almost revealed.

"When you take off your what? Oh, come on! You can't leave me hanging like that!" Jerry leaned forward excitedly.

Goku knew that he shouldn't say anything, but…Jerry was his friend. It was so nice to have someone his age who was so like him in temperment and wanted to hear what he said. He loved the guys, but…Gojyo treated him like an annoying younger brother, Hakkai was so reserved and mature, and Sanzo. Well, half the time Sanzo acted like he didn't even want Goku around. Goku found himself in a position that he'd never faced before. He had a chance to brag to fit in with his peers. Never before exposed to such temptation, he found himself quickly giving in.

"You have to promise not to tell anyone, ok?"

"Yeah, Yeah! Sure thing!"

"See this?" Goku pointed to the bronze filigreed circlet on his head almost hidden behind a fall of bright hair. "Its my power limiter. It keeps my true power suppressed. Without it I'm, like, a hundred times stronger!"

"Wow! Really? Why do you where it then?"

"Because I can't control it. I get caught up in the minus wave, just like the youkai. I go insane and attack…well, everything. And since I'm so strong, its not like anyone can just stop me that easily. Last time it I took it off, I almost killed the guys!"(2)

Goku was too wrapped up in his confession to notice the mercenary gleam in Jerry's eyes. The two spent the rest of the day talking and goofing off, a bright spot amid the gloom of the group.

That night Ed had a nightmare memory. It was the first he'd had since becoming lovers with Roy; he'd hoped they were behind him.

The sacrificial ceremony was surprisingly clinical in nature considering the tortures which proceeded it. It was overseen by Hoenheim, who approached the array to which Ed lay chained with nothing short of reverence. The homunculi followed suit; for once, even Envy was solemn. The homunculi circled evenly around the array, each standing on a particular symbol. Dante stood quietly outside the circle, watching anxiously.

Without word Hoenheim knelt to place his hands on the array. It lit at his urging, a sickly, greenish color. It twisted and wound about the outer portion o f the array, turning a violet color around each of the homunculi. Then, with increasing speed, it raced towards the center of the array; towards Ed. When it reached him it turned a pure golden color.

Caught up in the array's reaction, Ed was mesmerized. Only once before had he seen the workings of an alchemical reaction this closely; when he'd tried to resurrect his mother. But instead of a seeing the mysterious gate and its macabre guardian, he saw Truth. Every question ever asked was answered, every lie revealed. But the human mind is not equipped to deal with such a propensity of knowledge. Though he tried to hold it the Truth was water slipping through his fingers. Save for a few, immensely precious drops, it slipped away. Those drops, however, would change his life forever.

(1) I got this idea from the movie Titanic. The third-class passengers were locked away below deck so the first and second class passengers could be evacuated first. Most of them went to the gates trying to break free, but one young mother took her kids to bed and told them the story of Tir'na Nog as the ship sank. I thought it was very poignant.

(2) Goku's crown has been taken off twice in the manga. The first time it broke and he almost killed the guys but was stopped by the goddess. The second time he took it off to fight Kougaigi, but almost ended up killing Gojyo, Hakkai, and Sanzo, too. Sanzo was able to create a new power limiter, luckily.

Hey everyone! Sorry it took so long for this chapter to come out, and it's short, too. I knew what I wanted to do in this chapter, but it just didn't come together for me. So I eventually just pushed ahead and got it out. Its not the best chapter, but there are a couple of important things here. Anyway, I'll try to get the next chapter out quicker.

Terry-McElrath: Glad you liked chap. 8. I love to tease my characters with sexual tension! Oh, heck, I just love sexual tension! I've also read a lot of Elricest fics (some are surprisingly good), but no, I'm not implying that here. I simply think that Al would be overprotective of Ed in a relationship with someone older and in a position of authority. He'd also probably be leery of Roy's rep as a heartbreaker. I'm always happy to reply to your reviews because I'm happy to get them! Sorry, again, that this update took so long. I just had problems with this chapter! It was frustrating. Anyway, hope you're still reading, and thanks for reviewing! Ja ne!

Dark Avalon: Glad you liked chap. 8. I love Roy/Ed, too. That's two votes for leather hot-pants so far. Maybe with bitch boots? Or combat boots and fishnets? Maybe I'll go all bondage. Hehe. Bishies rock, and evil bishies usually pull off bondage pretty well! Anyway, keep reading and thanks for reviewing! Ja ne!

Serenity Moon2: Glad you liked the last chapter. Goku is a fun character, but Sanzo is my favorite. Still, I think it's the dynamics between all four that makes Saiyuki rock so much! Sorry it took so long to update, I'll try to do better next time! Ja ne!

Grasshopper: Hello again! Glad you liked the last chapter. I agree that Al is very protective of Ed (and so mature) so that he almost seems like the older brother. Then he goes and does something hopelessly naïve. Roy is always prepare! He's like a dirty boyscout . Yes, poor Goku. His first crush and its someone evil. Mwahaha. Leather hot pants for Envy. With bitch boots, or combat boots and fishnets? Yes, angsty, sullen bishies rock. But I also like some cheerful bishies (like Daisuke in DN Angel), and some confused bishies (like Kazahaya in Legal Drug), and some sweetheart bishies (like Tsuzuki!). My tastes are eclectic. Sanzo/Ran would be fun…so would Gojyo/Ran and Yohji/Sanzo. Hehe. Mix and match! I love YohjixRan. My fav. Weiss pairing! I know that AyaxKen is considered cannon, but I don't really like it for two reasons. 1. Aya has to be the uke! I read him as one of those people who's so in control all the time that when he lets go he lets go all the way! 2. I haven't seen gluhen or side B, where Ken seems to be cooler, only Kapital and fanfiction. What did Ken say to Aya? I'd like to know more about Side B and read more fanfics—do you know any good sites for that? Schuldig can be good when the author writes him as in character but still bearable, but I love him more as a villain. If you want to make him a non-villain, I prefer it to be AU. Which reminds, have you read nekojita? If not, you should! Wonderful Weiss fics (my fav. Weiss author), all YohjixAya. Her shadows arc is a fantasy AU that rocks and her violet eyes arc features Schuldig as the main villain. I love the way she rights Aya and Yohji! While I love Aya as the Uke, I prefer Yohji as a Seme. He just seems so masculine to me—with the great, masculine scent and a five o'clock shadow and a hyperactive libido. Kenken is definitely seme material, but I really want to see him in Side B. He seems so much cooler from what little I've seen. Omi as seme…scary, scary thought. Especially considering what he was wearing the second season of Kapital. I swear that was a girl's outfit. Ah, Sanzo is really a great bitch. Really up there with Aya for emotional problems covered by general bitchiness. If they met they'd either fuck or kill eachother. Or both. Ed-torture, yay! As fun as Sanzo-torture, Aya-torture, Tsuzuki-torture… . Repression works for me, too. I simply repress when I'm angry, then forget about it later. When I'm alone (or driving), I do try to let it out a little, though. I feel like smut should either be blatant—one or two chapters, pure smut for when you just get that itch—or understated—a small part of a much larger story that fits in with the story line. I just can't read chapter after chapter after chapter of smut. Envy is a great villain. As for the gluhen characters…I like Ken's new look, Yohji's makes sense, Aya with long hair rocks (though I miss the eartails and bright red), Shuldig isn't too different, but Crawford and Omi? What the hell? Omi's hair is like navy blue and he gave up his shorts for a business suit, and Crawford…is wearing a monocle. And has white hair. Why? Muraki rocks, Schwartz rocks…don't know much about ff7. I have no gaming system. Why do so many evil bishies have silver hair? Anyway, thanks for reviewing again. I always look forward to reading them! See you next time! Ja ne!

JMJV: Glad you liked the chapter. I did start throwing in Goku out of nowhere…last minute decision…but, don't worry. Jerry really didn't come out of nowhere. If you read the end of chapter 7 again you can probably figure out who he is. If you'd rather wait, he'll be revealed soon! Anyway, thanks for reading and reviewing! Ja ne!

Schizo the Mentally Disturbed: Thank you! I managed to download the first volume of the net, but it doesn't tell any of that. That helps a lot. Would you mind telling me a bit about Homura? I keep reading his name in the fanfics, but haven't seen him in any of the manga. Thanks again! See ya next time! Ja ne!

A VERY lazy Kitty2satan: Fear not! I hate Mary Janes (and the male equivalent) with a burning passion! Jerry is not a Mary Jane! Go back and read the end of chapter seven and you can probably figure out where he came from. Or wait and all will be revealed soon. I am a RoyxEd fan, but I'm glad the story is still good for those who aren't. That's part of what I'm striving for…a story that can appeal to many people with varying tastes. Thank you for reviewing! Hope to hear from you again! Ja ne!.

Climax: Envy would make a good actor. He could do one of those shows where he played all the characters, hehe. Yes, poor, poor, sweet, naïve Goku. Mwahahahaha. Yeah, I'm hoping it'll be kind of funny when Roy and Ed come out…another kind of Ed torture all-together! Hehe. Thanks for reviewings! I'm glad you're still reading, and I'm sorry this chapter took so long! Next time! Ja ne!

CuriousDreamWeaver: Glad you like! I'll continue writing. Thanks for reviewing! Ja ne!