Chapter Thirteen: Dead and Alive
A cold chill washed over Ed as he felt the dark wind blowing across the field. Al and Rose had faded with the blue sky, leaving a dark, stormy air above. The green grass withered and died, the trees around the house now dead, and the house itself broken, with holes and gashes running all through it. His happy place had just died.
"Al! Where are you!" Ed yelled into the torrentious sky, but not a sound came in return save for the dark wind whipping across his ears. As the wind blew stronger, he raised his right arm to shield his face, but as the wind touched him, he found it affecting him, changing him just as it had the rest of the field. He watched his own flesh melting away, oozing and dripping from his arm, staining the blackened grass below.
"AAARGH!" He could feel its sting, the horrible, burning agony in his arm, and it brought him to his knees. He had felt this once before, this horrible pain of having his body burn away, torn from him and broken into thousands of pieces. He had given his arm once before, to bind his brother's soul to a suit of armor in order to save his life. He didn't know why he was feeling this now. He–
"AAAAH!" The pain attacked his leg now, ripping and melting his left leg, taking it with his right arm. The agony was indescribable, as if millions of knives were tearing into him, breaking him into a million pieces to make something new. On his knees now, his right arm already melted away and his left nothing more than a bleeding, oozing stump, he struggled with one arm and one leg to stay up, to keep from falling down. "Why...why is this happening?"
"WHAT IS MINE WILL ALWAYS BE MINE, LITTLE ALCHEMIST. REMEMBER THAT."
Fear gripped Edward's heart when he heard the horrible voice echoing in his heart. A deep, whispering voice that had penetrated every surface of his mind, striking at his deepest fears and insecurities. He hesitated, trying not to be afraid, trying with every ounce of strength in his body to be strong, but something inside him was too terrified to even move. The voice sounded familiar, it sounded so very familiar yet he had never heard it before. It had spoken to him once, but when?
Turning his head up, trying desperately to find the source of the terrifying voice, he found nothing to greet him. The blackened ruins of the house and the gray, ashen grass was all that met his gaze, before he turned his eyes back downwards. Blood oozed from his stumps but he didn't feel any wearier. Why wasn't he starting to feel it? He was losing so much blood...he should be passing out, but he wasn't. Was it because this was his mental place, not a physical one? Was this all in his head?
"YOU WILL NOT DIE UNTIL I AM READY FOR YOU TO DIE, ALCHEMIST. I DO NOT RELINQUISH WHAT IS MINE SO EASILY."
"WHO ARE YOU!" Edward shouted into the air, but his voice met no response. This thing, whatever it was, had him entirely in its control. Maybe this was in his head...maybe not. It didn't matter right now, he realized. Real or not, this was real to him, and that's what counted. "What do you want from me? What are you talking about? What is yours?"
"YOU ARE MINE."
A chill ran down Ed's spine as the creature spoke, and with horrifying clarity, he understood where the voice was coming from. He had looked all around the field, but there was one place he hadn't looked. Terrified to see it, terrified of knowing, he slowly turned his eyes upwards, looking straight up into the horrible storm. And there, shimmering down at him, was a sight that sent terror into every part of his being, an image that shook his very soul, and one he had seen a couple times before: a massive, violet eye, a hundred feet wide, with a swirling pupil gazing straight down at him. The eye he had seen so many times before, the giant eye that overlooked the Gateway of Alchemy.
"YOUR BODY WAS CREATED FROM ME. YOUR LIFE WAS FASHIONED FROM ME. I BUILT EVERY PART OF YOUR NEW BODY, MADE YOU WHOLE AND RESTORED WHAT YOU HAD LOST. YOU WERE DEAD AND I GAVE YOU LIFE. YOU WERE BROKEN AND I MADE YOU NEW. YOU LIVE BECAUSE I ALLOWED IT TO BE. YOU. ARE. MINE."
"Alchemy..." His voice just a bare whisper, Ed struggled to understand the figure above him. A powerful manifestation of alchemy, something from inside the Gateway. He was afraid of what it could mean, afraid of what its words were trying to tell him. What did it mean? He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Vhat iz 'appening!" Francis's voice shouted in Marie's ear. Her hands gripped his shoulders, trying desperately to hold him still as his body shook and convulsed in the hospital bed. Francis stood over her, watching in terror and confusion at the strange attack that had taken over Colonel Elric.
"I don't know!" Marie shouted back, trying to hold the injured colonel down. "He's going to make his wounds worse if he keeps this up!" Standing over him, trying to force him down with her own weight, Marie was astonished by the kind of strength he was shaking with. She put every ounce of strength she had into trying to hold him down, but he was shaking her off like nothing. "Give me a hand here! Gah, how does a guy this small get so damned strong!"
Francis took the other side of the bed, helping Marie to force the colonel down. With both of them pushing together, they finally managed to get him to lie back. Hands on his wrists and shoulders, they held him down until he ceased to thrash, before they allowed their muscles to relax. "Like riding ze bull vit'out ze–"
A powerful light washed over them, emanating from the wounded colonel's body. A burst of energy threw both lieutenants back against the far wall, as the colonel's form began to lift slowly from the bed. Marie had seen this energy before, the swirling power of alchemy that was now washing in and out of his body, but she couldn't understand what it could mean. She'd never seen it take a human before, and she certainly didn't understand just what was happening to him.
"My god..." she spoke in a hushed whisper, as the bandages ripped and tore apart, revealing the bleeding gashes in his chest and arm. As she watched in terror, the wounds slowly began to patch themselves up. The torn muscles and tendons slowly reattached themselves. The gashed, fractured bones hardened and filled in the holes, before the flesh sewed itself back up. Was this alchemy? There was no alchemist to do it. Was he doing it? In all her years in the military, she had never seen anything like this.
On the ground now, gripping his right stump with his left arm, Ed strained to keep his eyes from returning up to the horrible figure in the sky. "Not...yours...I'm not..." He tried to speak, but the pain had increased, the agony now far greater than when he'd lost his limbs trying to resurrect his dead mother. Why did it hurt so much more now than it had then? Was it the creature's doing?
"YOU HAVE NO CHOICE, ALCHEMIST. THE CHOICE HAS ALREADY BEEN MADE."
"No..." Ed struggled with all his might, trying to make it go away. "You can't...you can't control me..."
"THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT CONTROL, ALCHEMIST. THIS IS ABOUT WHAT'S MINE."
The dark wind rippled once more across the field, and the dead grass now turned to cold, orange stone. The storm faded, the house vanished, and he was left now, alone before the image that haunted his nightmares. The massive Gateway lay open, and the hundreds of smaller eyes no longer peeked out at him. A dark, black void lay open before him, with only the large eye now staring down at Edward.
He wouldn't go in there. He couldn't. He had to fight it, had to be stronger than this. Pulling back from the Gateway, crawling back with the one hand he had left, he could see a small light in the distance, away from the dark, black void. If he could just–
Something strong latched onto his right leg, gripping it firmly in its grasp. Something small but powerful started to pull back, drawing him towards the void, towards the cold, black uncertainty within. Another grasped his leg, and another, pulling and dragging him back towards the vortex.
"NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, ALCHEMIST, NEVER FORGET THAT YOU ARE MINE."
"I'm not...I..." Looking back for only a moment, Ed saw the small, black claws that now held his leg in their grasp. Dozens of them coming out from the Gateway, grasping him and pulling him back, too many for him to count. The smaller eyes had returned, all acting under the command of the larger.
He sank his left fingernails into the ground beneath him, trying desperately to be free of the creature. He couldn't let himself be drawn in, he knew that only darkness lay in that direction. He couldn't die here, but...he felt them dragging him back. His fingernails scraped against the ground as they struggled in vain for a grip that would never come to them.
Ten feet away now, he tried to pull himself back. His fingers grasped and searched for any handhold he could find. If he only had another arm, perhaps he could crawl, rather than trying to drag himself, and maybe have enough strength to match the claws that now dragged him towards the void. If he only had another arm.
Five feet now, his left arm began swatting back at the tiny claws gripping his leg. Maybe if he could get enough of them off, it would weaken their hold. His stomach ached from being dragged across the stone, and fear rose up in his mind again while his fingers diligantly worked to pry the damned things from his leg. But they had sank in deep enough to bleed, and his efforts were in vain.
Just a couple feet now, he pried at those claws with all the might he could muster. "ALPHONSE! WHERE ARE YOU!" Al had left him to this thing, had vanished just before it could appear. He had to know something, and maybe he could help. He had to–
Ed felt his leg swallowed in the darkness. The Gateway had him and it was not letting go. His hand now returned to the stone ahead, trying desperately to free him, to pull him out as his waist and stomach sank into the void. Soon, all was darkness. His body fell into the dark, and the only light was the open Gateway, which began to close once he was through. Hope abandoned him when the doors fell shut, and the light of the world was forever gone from his eyes. Or so he believed.
Darkness. Absolute darkness.
The mission. I failed. I didn't...I failed. I couldn't do it. The mission. I failed.
Rose. I failed you, Rose.
Darkness. Darkness everywhere. Suffocating. Can't get out. I'm sorry. I failed you. I can't get out. Darkness. Darkness.
Rose. Where are you?
Al? Is she okay? Al, where are you? Talk to me, is she okay?
So dark. Can't think. Can't breath. Where am I? What is this place?
The eyes. So many eyes. Eyes everywhere. Little eyes. Big eye. Where's the big eye?
Rose, where are you? I need you. Rose, I'm sorry. I wanted...I'm sorry.
Can't think. Getting harder. Can't...can't focus.
Rose, I'm sorry. I wanted...I wanted to help you.
I failed. The mission failed. I'm a failure. I failed everyone.
Can't think. Can't...can't focus...getting...harder...
...can't focus...can't...can't th...i...nk...
The light lay shattered and broken on the ground. The bed was splintered in pieces, and chunks of wood were sunk in the walls and floor. The door to the hospital room was now a splintered piece of plywood, and the bedside table was in so many pieces it was no longer even recognizable. The window had been shattered, the floor and walls shredded, the only thing that seemed to have remained intact was the body of Colonel Edward Elric.
Francis had protectively thrown himself over Marie, but now that the alchemy storm had passed, she shoved him harshly out of the way to get to the colonel. "Colonel!" His body lay motionless atop the shattered, broken mattress, and she knew deep inside without even having to check. Her fingers ran to his arm, seeking out a pulse, but the cold skin on his neck told her everything she needed to know. The lack of his pulse told the tale without question. His body was cold and his heart wasn't beating. The colonel was dead.
How could he be cold so fast? This made even less sense than the storm. His body was cold, and his right arm was hard, and it felt smooth beneath her–
Her trembling eyes fell to his arm, and things made even less sense. Where there had been flesh, there was now metal. His entire right arm was now composed of cold steel, running up to an attachment point on his shoulder. Masterwork craftsmanship made up his joints and pieces, with an attaching scar that ran across his chest. His left leg carried a similar construct, what she knew to be automail. He hadn't had this before the storm.
The finger of his right hand began to move. The automail finger jumped, and Marie jumped higher. Dead people didn't get cold this fast, and live people certainly didn't move when their hearts weren't beating. "C...colonel...?" Her voice was barely more than a whisper, as she stared in terror at his arm. But it didn't move again.
Maybe it was her nerves playing a trick on her, or something. She was scared now, more scared than she had been before. The mission was a failure, and she did not envy the thought of reporting this to General Mustang. He'd spoken so highly of the colonel...he was going to kill them when he found out.
Tears filled her eyes, and she pulled herself up into a ball. Francis stood over the destroyed bed, looking down at the colonel's body. He didn't need Marie to tell him; he could tell by her reaction. There was nothing to say. Nothing left to do but have a moment of silence, for the brave, departed colonel.
"ROSE!" Power welled up within him, power he had never known before. Light echoed through the darkness, washing forward from him. His left arm struck and bashed the creatures away, and he felt himself changed by this strange power within him. His right arm manifested, his automail sprouting from the stump, appearing in a flash of light before crashing into anything and everything that tried to stand between him and the doors.
His left leg appeared in another flash, more automail to carry him forward. He didn't know what was happening, but he didn't care. "ROSE!" He was getting out of here, and he was not letting anything stop him. He was Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and nothing was going to keep him away.
His skin turned an ashen gray as he moved, smashing the tiny humanoids out of the way with his automail arm. With every step he was transformed, his eyes glowing yellow, his hair breaking free of its braids and darkening to a cold, dark green. He could feel it taking him, feel this strange power growing within him, but he wasn't afraid. All he cared about now was her.
As he moved, he heard the voice once more chilling his heart. But he found he didn't care as much as he had before. He wasn't going to let anything, not even his own fear, stop him now.
"GO, MY ALCHEMIST. TAKE WHAT YOU DESIRE. BUT NEVER FORGET THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MINE."
His eyes shot open, and Ed sat up in the destroyed bed where he had lain. Gasping for breath, he finally made his way back into the world of the living, back into consciousness. A disquieting stillness occupied his chest, but it took him a moment of breathing before he noticed. Something was wrong. His heart...why wasn't his heart beating?
"Colonel!" Turning his head to his right, he saw Lieutenant Sinclair sitting wide-eyed on the floor. The room was completely destroyed, with pieces of bed, window, and table smashed into every surface. The lieutenant was completely spooked; her lips quivered open as she struggled to speak, and goosebumps ran all across her skin.
But Ed couldn't muster the strength to speak right now. Why wasn't his heart beating? That was a more important question. He felt cold...and his heart still wasn't beating. Taking his eyes off Sinclair, Ed turned them down to his chest, reaching his right hand to try and touch where his gashes had been. They were mysteriously gone, they must have healed in the time he'd been out. How long had he been out?
Before he could ask, his eyes fell on his right hand, when it touched his chest. The metal of his automail was more than familiar to him, and it frightened him even more than his still heart did. "What the..." But before he could press further, warmth filled his body, and he felt himself starting to change.
As he watched, the automail softened, changing slowly back into flesh. Skin replaced steel and finernails replaced the little holes at the ends of his fingers. Bone replaced metal and muscle replaced piston, while the little hairs grew back onto his arm. Before he could watch any further, he felt a familiar thumping return to his chest. His heart had started to beat, and the coldness had been replaced by a strange, familiar warmth, the warmth of the living.
Lieutenant Sinclair watched in awe as the transformation took effect. She had a better view of it than Ed did, watching his ashen gray skin change back to a gentle, peach pigmentation, and his dark green hair slowly soften back to blond. His yellow eyes that had glowed like some horrible monster now returned to their calm, blue tone, and before long the colonel had returned to normal.
This...this was getting a very long mission, Ed sighed. He didn't know what had just happened to him, and he had too much of a scientific mind to simply pass it off. His right arm lifted slowly to his forehead, gently rubbing it while he tried to make sense of things. Sense came to him shortly after, however, but it was a sense that filled him with dread to see. He thought he had returned entirely to normal, but one thing had remained, something that awakened all the deepest fears he had ever held.
For carved into the skin of his right wrist, just beneath his palm where he had easily seen it when he'd lifted his hand, was a symbol he was all too familiar with. A winged snake wrapped in a circle, devouring its own tail, with two triangles facing opposite directions within it. It was the Ouroborous, the Snake that Eats Itself.
He knew it best as the mark of the Homonculi.