A/N: Important! This chapter uses the spelling "Reole" instead of Lior. This is the spelling in my official Japanese FMA fan guide and I'm sticking to it.
Again, thanks to my beta readers: Mirror and Image. Always a pleasure.
I'd like to warn everyone that I get mighty speculative in this chapter especially with regards to the Gate and how it binds the FMA and TRC universes together. I've done the best I can with the information I have. I hope you enjoy my little take on the subject as this story begins to slowly pull away from the official cannon in the coming chapters. Yay fanfiction! ;)
Chapitre XI: Yoki's Revenge
Mrs. Halling nearly had a heart attack when she saw the injury on Sakura's leg, but was quick to lay the girl on a cot that had been pulled from the rubble earlier and start first aid. The woman worked by the flickering light emanating from the fire at their make-shift camp to treat the wound as best she could. Syaoran and Al, with Mokona accompanying them, scrambled to fetch things as they were needed, but the quality of first aid supplies available in the rubble of the town was abysmal. After a short discussion with Fay about the pros and cons of closing the wound, Mrs. Halling decided it was still bleeding too freely to hope it would clot. She used a sewing needle and fishing wire sterilized in boiling water to suture the gaping cut.
One or two tears leaked from Sakura's eyes as she winced each time the needle poked into her skin, but she didn't utter a sound through the whole procedure. She even managed a weak smile to Syaoran and Al who stood by her side, unable to do anything for her except keep silent vigil.
As he watched, Al couldn't help but be reminded of listening to Ed choke back screams of agony while his automail was attached to the stumps of his arm and leg. Of course, pulling out individual nerves and attaching them to automail was on a whole different level of pain from what Sakura was experiencing, but the connection was still there.
Nii-san said Sakura-san was liable to faint at the first sign of trouble, Al thought, remembering Ed's discouraging words about his first impressions of the girl. But if he would only come see her grit and bear this, he'd change his opinion of her. She doesn't look it, but she has a very strong will. She'd probably make a good alchemist.
"We're just about done. But this is a messy suture, dear," Mrs. Halling said. "And the cut was very deep. It's just a matter of time before this wound gets infected. For proper medical treatment, you need to get to the nearest town that connects to a train line as soon as possible."
"That would be Reole," Al replied instantly. "It's about two days out."
"We could make it in a day if we don't stop," Syaoran said.
"I can carry her," Al offered. "I don't get tired. Ever."
"That's very kind, Alphonse-kun," Fay said. "But I'm sure everyone will help. That is, if everyone is willing to come."
Fay glanced over several yards away where Ed, Kurogane, and Halling were keeping watch over Yoki, who was bound to a chair. The three looked like tigers ready to pounce on the man if he so much as moved a muscle.
"Yoki's still completely out of it," Al commented. "And Nii-san definitely won't want to leave until he's gotten some answers."
"Kuro-rin certainly looks excited about the interrogation as well. He'll be grumpier than usual if we don't indulge him," Fay added, cracking a grin. He stood up and put his arms on his hips. "But Sakura-chan shouldn't move for at least an hour anyway to give those stitches a chance to help clot the wound. In the meantime, I think I'll go see if we can't speed along this interrogation process."
Fay gave Sakura a pat on the arm and an encouraging grin, then moved off toward the lake with a bucket in his hand.
"I really hate to leave those stitches exposed to sand, but there's nothing further we can do about it," Mrs. Halling sighed, standing up. She wiped some sweat from her brow. "For now, stay quiet and keep the leg elevated. I'll come back to check on you in a few minutes."
"Thank you so much," Sakura said to the woman. "I don't know what I can do to repay you."
"Well, you're not out of the woods yet, dear," Mrs. Halling said, her expression grave. "Please get to Reole as soon as you can. Your life and limb depend on it."
Sakura nodded. Syaoran and Al offered their thanks as well and then Mrs. Halling walked over to the spot where her son was sitting by the fire, staring off to where Yoki sat bound and unconscious. When the woman was gone, Mokona hopped down from Syaoran's shoulder to Sakura's.
"Does it hurt real bad, Sakura?" Mokona asked, eyeing Sakura's leg.
"It stings, but I'll be okay," Sakura said, reaching up to pet Mokona. "I'm just feeling a little lightheaded."
"That must be from all the blood loss. We'll get you to Reole very soon, Sakura-san," Al said. "It's a fairly big city. I'm sure someone there can help you."
"Have you been to Reole?" Sakura asked.
Al nodded. "Nii-san had one of his first official missions there a few months ago. Actually, it'll be nice to visit and see how everyone is doing after… Well, we kind of made a mess there."
"Oh, that doesn't sound good," Sakura said. "Was the mission a success at least?"
"Um, well…" Al paused to reflect on all the events that happened in Reole. "No, I guess not. Our objective was to find and secure an alchemic item called the Philosopher's Stone. But what they claimed to be the real thing turned out to be a fake."
"The Philosopher's Stone?" Syaoran said, putting his hand under his chin. "I've heard of it, actually. A few other worlds we've been to have legends in their archives about a stone that can make the bearer immortal. It's interesting a concept like that appears here too."
"In alchemy, it's said that the stone can overcome the Law of Equivalent Exchange. It's an amplifier like the feather in that regard," Al explained. "But, as Nii-san mentioned before, we found out that the stone is bloodied. Besides being a very difficult and volatile transmutation, the creation of the Philospher's Stone involves hundreds, maybe even thousands of human lives. We abandoned all our research and gave up looking for the stone when we discovered that. But we had hope again when we heard about the feather. We thought maybe this time we might be able to…"
Al trailed off and began to fidget. There were a few moments of silence as the weight of his words set in.
"Alphonse-san—" Sakura began, her voice unsteady.
"I-I think I'll go see what Nii-san is up to," Al interrupted. "I'll tell him that you need to get to Reole as soon as possible. I'll go now, but I'll be back. Um, feel better Sakura-san."
He moved away from the two of them quickly, the sound of his clanking armor fading into the night. Once he was out of earshot, Sakura put her hand over her mouth and turned to Syaoran.
"They want to use the feather to get their bodies back to normal," Sakura whispered into her hand. "I don't know why I never realized it until now. I suppose I thought something like that couldn't be reversed."
"Obviously normal alchemy can't get their bodies back or they would've done it already," Syaoran said. "They must need a powerful alchemic amplifier to perform human transmutation."
"What do we do?" Sakura said, her stomach twisting into knots. "The feather is dangerous to people's emotions here. But what if it's the only way Alphonse-san and Elric-san can become whole again? I… I don't know if I want to deny them the chance. I don't even know if I should decide that kind of thing for them, whether it is my power they use or not."
"Remember that we don't even know how they lost their bodies in the first place. Maybe what happened to them is just punishment," Syaoran said. "After all, the Law of Equivalent Exchange sounds like it only takes what is fair. We made sacrifices to come here and they made sacrifices doing forbidden alchemy."
"Yup," Mokona piped in. "Yuuko takes sacrifices just like the Gate. You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get."
"But what we gave up is nothing compared to a physical sacrifice like a leg, an arm, or an entire body," Sakura said. "Alphonse-san and Elric-san are not bad people, Syaoran-kun. I can tell. Maybe they just made a mistake. And I don't know if they should be denied the chance for a normal life because they made a mistake, do you?"
"I'm not sure. But before we're faced with that decision, we have to find the feather again," Syaoran said. He nodded to Sakura's leg, which looked bruised and mangled even in the firelight. "And right now we have something slightly more important to worry about. You need to concentrate on getting better, Princess."
"Sakura," Sakura said firmly.
There was a beat of silence from Syaoran. "What?"
"During the battle, you called me by my name," Sakura said, looking down at her hands. "And, well, after I was done being terrified… I was happy."
Sakura lifted her head to look into Syaoran's eyes. "I was wondering if from now on you could drop the formalities and just call me Sakura. We are a long way from Clow, you know. These days I don't feel very Princess-like."
"I wasn't really thinking when I said that," Syaoran said, feeling sweat pooling on his forehead and heat rising to his face. "I don't think it's right that I call royalty by name. You don't have all your memories back yet. Once you do, I'm sure you'll start to feel offended when I drop your title."
Sakura shook her head vigorously. "My memories may be fuzzy, but I remember enough to know that I was uncomfortable being given royal treatment. When you called my name, I… Well, it just felt good. And after all this ugliness with the feather, I need to feel good more often."
Syaoran didn't answer for a few long moments. He knew things about Sakura's memories that she didn't—and never would. What if he called her by her name during a crisis and it triggered a flood of memories that she didn't have? The kindest thing he could do for her was stay as emotionally distant as possible, even if she perceived it as rejection. Even if it killed Syaoran a little inside.
His right eye began to throb as he said: "Princess, I can't—"
"Huh?" Mokona interrupted, ears twitching. Then the little white puff yelled: "Incoming transmission from Yuuko!"
Lighting up, the jewel on Mokona's forehead projected an image of the slender, elegant woman into the empty air before them. Her jet-black hair was done up with sparkling dark blue butterfly pins and she was wearing a cream and yellow kimono embroidered with sky blue blossoms. She sat at a table with a cup of steaming tea to one side and an ornate glass vial in a cast-iron holder in front of her.
"Yuuko! What's up?" Mokona chirped. "It's been ages!"
"Indeed. You sound well, Mokona," Yuuko said, smiling softly. She looked down at Sakura's mangled leg, but her expression didn't waver. "Ah, Sakura-chan. Seems you've been busy."
"We were in a fight," Sakura blushed sheepishly. "But it looks like I'll be okay."
"I don't doubt it," Yuuko said. She turned her gaze to Syaoran. "And Syaoran-kun. Always a pleasure."
"Hello Yuuko-san. I can't remember the last time you contacted us," Syaoran said. "Is there anything wrong?"
Yuuko smirked. "Not to worry, Syaoran-kun. Now that I've received all your White Day gifts, I have nothing I need of you four. I've contacted you because it seems there is one among your number that I simply must meet."
She picked up the vial from its holder and held it between her two index fingers, smiling mischievously.
"I do believe that this person has a wish."
While Sakura was being treated for her injury, Kurogane had fished a relatively undamaged chair from the rubble of a house close to the caved-in mine. Using strips of salvaged clothing, Ed, Halling, and Kurogane bound an unconscious Yoki to the chair. Kurogane was dubious about a cloth rope's ability to hold someone prisoner, but Ed assured him that they could tie up Yoki with toilet paper and it would make little difference.
They had just barely finished securing Yoki to the chair when he sprung awake as if from a nightmare. He gasped and looked around wildly for a few moments before his body went completely slack like a marionette cut from its strings. He could've been unconscious except for the fact that his eyes were wide open and he had begun spouting gibberish nonstop:
"…sense is a messenger in protein period antisense is opposite two base pairs as prokaryotes combined eukaryotes regulate gene expression fakes created by acid analogue mutation next three point one four one five nine two six five…"
He kept on speaking even as he breathed in. The effect was eerie, but the three onlookers' fascination had quickly dissolved into frustration when Yoki would not respond to any outside stimuli. The three tried yelling, prodding, poking, and shaking to snap the man out of it, but nothing seemed to work. At one point, Halling had pinched Yoki's nose closed and forced his mouth shut, but even that didn't stop him from babbling until his face turned blue and he almost passed out. When Halling let go, Yoki simply continued his diatribe.
"Well, he ain't faking it," Kurogane said, arms folded over his chest.
"This better not be permanent," Ed growled. He was sitting on a rock with his head in his hands and elbows on his knees. "If it is, he'll die from starvation. We can't feed him if he won't stop talking."
"If he dies, I swear I will climb into hell and drag him back here," Halling grunted. "And the Devil'll let me when he hears what I've got planned for the little murdering bastard."
A clanking sound behind the group signified that Al had joined the watch. He moved to stand beside the spot where Ed was sitting on his rock.
"He's awake!" Al said, surprised. He paused to listen for a moment. "What's wrong with him? Why is he saying random numbers?"
"…nine zero zero nine zero one nine two one one six nine seven one seven three seven two seven eight four seven six eight four seven two six eight six zero eight…"
"I think he's rattling off digits of pi," Ed replied, boredom in his voice. "Must be several hundred in already."
"You mean pi as in the irrational number that's the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of any circle?" Al said. "But Yoki didn't know anything about math except when it came to counting money. He certainly didn't know hundreds of digits of pi. I don't think even the greatest mathematicians in Central know pi to a hundred digits."
Ed shrugged. "You should've heard him before. He was talking about chemistry… I think. It was all really complicated."
"It's the ravings of a mad man," Halling said. "You can't take any stock in it."
"He was coherent enough back inside the dome. I mean, he was still pretty crazy, but at least he was responsive," Ed said. "Then Mr. Fantastic bashed his skull in."
"And saved your life, brat," Kurogane countered.
"So maybe all this ranting is the result of head trauma and he'll eventually come out of it," Ed continued, ignoring Kurogane. "We just have to wait."
"But we can't wait, Nii-san," Al said, urgency straining his voice. "Mrs. Halling stitched up Sakura-san's cut, but her wound's almost sure to get infected. We need to get her to Reole as soon as possible. She could lose her leg if we don't get her proper treatment."
"Great. Just great," Ed sighed. "Well, you go with her to Reole. I'm not going anywhere until I know for sure that Yoki isn't improving."
"Nii-san, the safety of your charges is your responsibility," Al said. "It's in your mission statement. We can't split up."
"But it'll take days to get to Reole," Ed growled through gritted teeth. "We can't drag two invalids with us through the desert all that way."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," said a voice from behind them.
"Crap," Kurogane cursed, not even bothering to face the new arrival. "It's her."
Ed, Al, and Halling turned around to see the image of Yuuko projected into the air before them. Behind the image, Syaoran stood holding Mokona, looking sheepish. Halling gasped a little at the strange sight, but Ed and Al had no reaction.
"I feel like I should be shocked by this," Ed said dully, not even bothering to stand up from his seat on the rock. "But I'm just not."
Al reached up and passed a hand through the projection. "Is this a recording of some kind?"
"I assure you that we're communicating in real time," Yuuko replied, causing Al to take a step backward. "My name is Yuuko, better known to some as the Witch of Dimensions. Surely my reputation precedes me."
She glanced over to Kurogane who rolled his eyes and grumbled some incoherent curses, his back still to her.
"Yeah, I've heard of you," Ed said, his expression darkening with morbid fascination. "You're the lady who created that talking chimera and can somehow open the Gate at will."
"You are mistaken on both fronts," Yuuko said. She turned her gaze to Yoki who was still jabbering incoherently. "That man has a wish. I am here to grant it."
"You grant wishes?" Al asked. "Like a genie?"
"Something like that," Yuuko said. "Only genies are bound to their owners. I am a bound to the wish."
Ed cocked an eyebrow. "How would you know if Yoki has a wish or not? You've never even met him."
"You are very quick with your assumptions," Yuuko smirked. "First of all, everyone has a wish, only some wishes are more desperate than others. And I have indeed briefly met this man at the Gate."
"Yoki's been to the Gate?" Ed said, eyes widening. He took a step forward, his heart beginning to pound. "No wonder he didn't need a transmutation circle! Is that why he's gone insane? Did he see the Truth inside?"
"No, he did not see what you so eloquently call 'truth' inside the Gate," Yuuko replied. "There is nothing inside the Gate. In fact, there is no such thing as the inside of the Gate."
"Who the hell do you think you are, lady?" Ed fumed. "I've seen what's inside! The whole world is in there! The Gate is the answer to every question in the universe."
"Again, you are mistaken," Yuuko said calmly, her face blank and expressionless. "Would you call a doorway a destination? Do you place a call to talk to telephone poles? Does the wind care about what sounds it brings to your ears? The Gate itself knows nothing except what of yours would make a suitable toll for its services."
"Are you saying that the Gate is like some kind of… directory?" Al said.
"Not at all," Yuuko said. She smiled. "But if you understood, we would have no need to be talking like this. To fully understand the nature of the Gate is to understand the nature of the universe. Most minds can't even come close to comprehension when they encounter the Gate in its raw form, as exemplified by the poor soul behind you."
"But I came away from the Gate unscathed," Ed said. "Okay, well, minus an arm and a leg. But my mind is fine."
"I thought I specifically said 'most minds,'" Yuuko grinned. "You must have a special one. What that says about your mind is debatable."
"I must've seen the Gate too," Al said the words slowly as delaying a response. "Only it seems my memory of it has been suppressed. Does… does that mean if I ever remember I'll end up like Yoki?"
"Perhaps," Yuuko said. "But seeing as how you two are brothers, hopefully a sturdy mind runs in the family."
Ed glared at Yuuko. "How did you know we are brothers? We don't exactly have the same features."
"I can see the blood that binds you," Yuuko said mysteriously. She shifted slightly in her seat in a way that made it clear the subject was being changed. "Now, would you like me to grant that man's wish and get the answers you seek or would you rather he remain a raving lunatic until the end of his days?"
"You can cure him?" Halling said, only just then getting his bearings.
"In a manner of speaking," Yuuko said. "His current mental state is due to the fact that his brain is overloaded with information. I will simply take his memories of the Gate. But, of course, I require compensation for my services."
"Damn it," Kurogane growled. "There she goes with her freaking demands."
"As Kurogane well knows, I cannot grant a wish without accepting a sacrifice in return," Yuuko said. "The Gate and I are in nearly the same business. Only I have a more humanistic approach to getting you what you wish."
She glanced at Ed and Al. "Unlike the Gate, I see you as more than simply a sum of your parts."
"So what do you want for removing Yoki's memory?" Syaoran asked. "It doesn't seem like he has anything with him."
"Naturally, I want his most precious possession," Yuuko said. "In this case, that would be the only thing he has left: his revenge."
"His revenge?" Ed choked on the word. "Removing a memory, okay, I can buy that. After all, a memory is located somewhere inside the brain. But how do you take away a feeling?"
"As a rule I try to stay out of people's hearts," Yuuko answered. "But here I don't have a choice, seeing as how the man has nothing else to give. And he is desperate enough. Of that I am certain."
"You're not answering my question at all," Ed grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.
"I am not in the business of answering questions," Yuuko said, smirking. "Of course, you realize that because you will also benefit from this procedure, I will be taking something of yours as well."
"What?" Ed shouted. He stood up, throwing his arms to his sides and balling his fists. "But I don't want revenge on anyone!"
"Well, that's not true," Yuuko grinned knowingly. "But fortunately, you have much more to offer than Yoki does. Under normal circumstances, I would ask for your pocket watch or your mechanical arm—"
"No way!" Ed choked.
"—but since Yoki is giving up something so precious to him, I suppose I can accept something a bit less important to you," Yuuko said. "And that would be what is in your left pants pocket."
Ed, confusion evident on his face, reached into his pocket and pulled out the vial of untransmutable soil that he had planned on turning over to the military.
"This?" Ed said.
"Yes, that," Yuuko said. "Mokona, if you please."
"Roger!" Mokona said, taking in a deep breath to create a vacuum. The vial was plucked out of Ed's hand by the suction and disappeared into Mokona's mouth. The puff ball swallowed it with a popping noise and the vial appeared on the table with Yuuko in short order.
"Can alchemy do that?" Halling whispered to Al.
Al shook his armored head, mystified.
"Hey!" Ed cried out, stomping a few feet forward to shake an angry fist at Mokona. "I never agreed to let you have that!"
"You would have eventually accepted the terms," Yuuko said, lifting the vial up to inspect it. "Your curiosity for what the man has to say outweighs your desire for this object."
"Fine. Take it then," Ed said, pulling his arms back over his chest and looking sullen. "I'll just get another sample before we leave."
"You'll find that the feather's effect wears off after a certain period of time," Yuuko said, placing the vial back on the table. "You were smart to seal the container with an alchemic bond that halts isotopic decay. I now have the only proof that the feather exists in your world, besides the feather itself."
"Nii-san, without the soil sample, your report is going to be insubstantial," Al said, fidgeting. "No one in their right mind would believe all this without proof."
"Well, I can't do very much about that now, can I?" Ed's glare on the woman deepened. "So what about taking crap from everyone else? Halling still hasn't paid."
"Hey!" Halling said. "Why'd you have to bring that up?"
"Oh? But he has indeed paid in advance with the destruction of his home," Yuuko said. "As for Syaoran-kun and everyone else, they have no stake in what Yoki knows. So their payment is null."
"About freaking time we come out without losing something," Kurogane said.
"Syaoran-kun, if you would, place Mokona in close proximity to the client," Yuuko said.
Syaoran took a few steps forward to bring Mokona about a foot away from where Yoki sat, still babbling away numbers. After a brief discussion about placement, Yuuko gave the okay to begin. Mokona's mouth opened wide and a glowing, multi-colored rune appeared on Yoki's chest. As the onlookers watched, an object similar in size and shape to the feather only pitch black and frayed at the edges appeared out of the rune. It was in sight for just seconds before Mokona swallowed it and sent it to Yuuko.
The moment the object left Yoki's body, the man slowly shut his mouth and his eyes as if he were a robot powering down, then tossed his head back and began to snore.
"He fell asleep!" Al said, his voice tinged with amusement.
"That's a normal reaction to memory tampering as the mind resets itself. You may wake him at any time," Yuuko said. She turned her attention to the extracted object. "I'm surprised that there's only one; that man's mind wasn't able to hold much information at all. Now, with any luck, my payment should have been taken with the extraction."
She held the object, tip-down, over the big glass vial in its holder on the table. A golden liquid began to seep from the feather-like thing, dipping down in a steady stream to fill the vial before trickling to a stop. Yuuko pushed a stopper into the vial and the golden liquid faded to a stone grey, then darkened to deep burgundy with the consistency of dried blood.
Yuuko smirked. "This tells me his revenge story. It seems he was cheated out of a substantial amount of money and, my, my, certainly wanted physical harm to befall those who wronged him."
Ed scoffed. "Nobody wronged Yoki before he wronged the people of this town ten times over. He only got what was coming to him."
"I would advise against assuming the role of cosmic watchdog," Yuuko said. "The universe usually does just fine on its own without human meddling."
"The universe only does what is good for itself," Ed said hotly. "Justice is way down on its priority list."
"Indeed, justice is a human concept, not a cosmic one," Yuuko said. "But keep in mind that most human concepts were fabricated only to deal with the problems caused by some other human concept."
"Um, excuse me, but are you saying that the universe would be better off without us?" Al asked.
"Well, only if you think that the universe is better off when it's incredibly boring and predictable," Yuuko said, smiling. "My theory is that the universe got sick of being bored a long time ago and then, suddenly, along came the humans."
Out of sight in the projection, there was a crashing noise as if an entire shelf of pots and pans had fallen to the ground. Over all the racket, a male voice screamed in indignation.
"WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU TWO ABOUT PLAYING IN THE KITCHEN?" the male voice roared. "You just ruined dinner! And I spend hours cutting up all those vegetables!"
Two small, girlish voices piped simultaneously: "Hehe! Sorry!"
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" the male voice shouted. "Get back here and bring a mop!"
There was an eruption of giggles and the hallow sound of scampering feet on a hardwood floor.
"See what I mean?" Yuuko said, her smile having never wavered in the slightest during all the commotion. "Life should never be boring. We owe that much to the universe."
The woman picked up her tea cup and yelled to the person out of sight: "Watanuki! I'm out of tea!"
The jewel on Mokona's head went dark and the projected image ended abruptly. The group stood in stunned silence, the only sound coming from Yoki's loud, watery snores.
A/N: Well, that's kind of a sudden ending, but I feel like I've come to a good stopping place with this chapter. Besides, my last chapter was really long and I find I don't get as many reviews when the chapters are over a certain length. Me, a review whore? No, of course not! ;)
Fun fact: I never intended to write this chapter. Popping a conversation with Yuuko in this story was totally improvised. However, the memory extracted from Yoki may just come in handy later on down the line. I'm not exactly sure how it'll all work out, but I trust that Yuuko has a plan. Yeah.