The brothers Elric knew exactly what kind of dangers Lucifer posed. Though neither brother had to draw an alchemic formula, they knew they were in a terrible position to respond. Still, the Homunculus acted amiable enough. Only a tent enclosed him, and it was whole and untarnished. The soldiers outside offered no challenge to the nearly immortal being.
They decided it was in their best interest to gather information sooner rather than later. Lucifer was more than happy to oblige. He even provided a question or two neither brother thought to ask. They sat and waited patiently as the Homunculus asked about the comfort of the brothers Elric. He assured them that the soldiers outside could bring better seats, a table, food, and most certainly beverages. He was rather incessant on the last point.
Even with the distractions, Lucifer finally waddled to his own chair and sat. He eyed the boys excitedly as he started. "As I said, I promised to start from the beginning. You'll have questions; I'm sure. My only request, dear Edward and Alphonse Elric, is for you to hold your questions. Some may be answered in the tale I weave."
He held up and waggled a finger with a 'tut tut' before Edward could interrupt. "It's all true; I assure you. Every. Last. Word." He rubbed his chin as he collected his thoughts. "I suppose it all begins with why I'm here, before I even came into being." He looked to the young Alchemists greedily. "I need powerful Alchemists to restore my fractured soul."
Again, Lucifer stopped Edward from interrupting. "As I said, I'm sure your questions will be answered as I weave my tale. Please Full Metal, I only request for your patience." His chubby grin impossibly stretched his face before he continued wholeheartedly. "As I said, the tale starts with a yearning. I awoke, born to serve the Shadows, and I yearned for something I did not understand."
He laughed riotously. "The Shadows took everything! They ingrain fear into their servants – their tainted, awful, foul servants!" The laughter died from his speech, but he still sounded hysterical. "I won't deny that we are tainted creatures. We are born of sin and stupidity." He swung his arms as if to envelope the room. "I'm sure you are perfectly aware."
Lucifer slapped his large hands to his massive thighs. "I am not one. I am not whole." He nodded his head. "You see already the painted tapestry, but it is marred by shadow. Allow me to wipe away your ignorance, young Alchemists." He pointed to his chest. "You see before you the form of Greed! I coveted an unknown desire, and I took steps to make it come true!"
Lucifer's tale started far in the past. He told of a time centuries ago, before Corsair's violent history set it on the course of greater technological knowledge. The grief left in the wake of war gave birth to the seven sins of Corsair. Thus, their tale began.
Greed awoke in a cold, damp dungeon. When he tried to move, he could only struggle against restraints. He opened his eyes to blinding sunlight as it filtered through cast iron bars. He did not recoil. He stared into the burning rays, scarring his retinas. He wanted that burning globe! He tried to reach out and grab it, but voices interrupted his ravenous desire. The restraints did not much help either.
He jolted and tried to look around the room. His retinas healed with a burning, red flash. Intact once more, a wide grin split his face. Though he could not turn his head to see them, he yearned for the owners of the voices! He struggled to break free of his restraints, and then the door to his cell opened. His maniacal laughter reverberated off the cobblestone walls.
"Somebody put a muzzle on him." The commander bellowed furiously. His subordinates immediately obeyed and shoved a gag over Greed's disturbing grin. A long silence followed as the captors exchanged items and shuffled about in whispers. Finally, the commander spoke again. "Have you confirmed he's the same as the others?"
"Sir, we have confirmed the mark. However, we are awaiting your command to confirm the creature's abilities." Unlike the commander's husky tone, the first subordinate spoke in a pitch betraying youth. He even squeaked like an adolescent.
"Well, get on with it." The commander sounded annoyed. He did not appreciate waiting. Greed heard more shuffling before the commander thumbed through sheets of papers. "The head office wants this, huh? Fine! I'll put my office's stamp on the orders."
The commander walked clear to the other side of the room. No, he walked just outside the room. Greed thought of a hallway. He heard a furious swipe. Perhaps the commander signed one of the papers with a felt tip pen. After a few moments, a loud thud reverberated through the hallway, the room, and his skull. He was certain the commander used his official stamp.
The commander walked back into the room and shoved the orders into one of his subordinate's arms. He sounded slightly pained as he spoke again. Greed thought he smelled blood. Perhaps he signed the paperwork in blood instead of ink. "Now get on with it!" He punctuated his words as he impatiently tapped his foot. He stood in place and watched as two of his subordinates approached.
A wizened voice spoke up to Greed's side. "As you can see, he bears the strange mark on the outside of his left hand." He paused and hummed. "It appears to be some foolish creature eating its own tail." He took a step back. "We can also confirm the…original owner of this face died in the latest war between royal houses." Obviously, who he was in life was far less important than that he was.
"Our sorcerers' call these creatures dolls." The subordinate was an adult, young and pompous. The eldest man grunted. "Oh yes master, I forget. We have confirmed this specimen neither human nor doll. I apologize for my rash judgment. However, we now have orders to authenticate this specimen's identity."
Okay, Greed was not sure he liked where the conversation was heading. He hiccupped when cold steel touched the top of his left hand. Did they not mention a mark? Then he felt pain – searing, antagonizing pain! He felt as if they wanted to burn, peel, and hack the skin off his hand! He had to do something. He had to stop them!
The blade broke with a satisfying twang. Greed heard gasps of shock, and he renewed his struggle. However, the restrains held fast. He struggled for several, long moments before he gave up the fruitless endeavor. When he gave up, he remembered the pain. With a muffled yowl, he felt and saw the burning, red flash.
Greed stared in wonder at the ceiling. His hand was yet again immaculate. He tested and flexed his marked appendage. The pain was remarkably gone! Then again, he felt depressingly weaker. His mind raced for an answer. He ached to know.
The youngest subordinate broke the long silence. "Sir, we can now confirm Specimen Number Zero-Zero-Four is a doll. Under project directive codenamed Lilac Bluff, we are to contact the Ministry of Wartime Mages. How do you wish to classify the doll, sir?"
The protracted silence unnerved Greed. He did not like how long the commander took to answer. "We've found four of these unclean creatures, and each has a unique ability besides that absurd healing." He spat angrily to his side. "What do these sorcerers want with such rubbish?" He walked over and looked down at the doll.
Greed saw his captor for the first time. He was grizzled and scarred. He wore armor that probably camouflaged him well on the field of battle. "That first…" He looked to his side. "Doll was it?" Perhaps his subordinate nodded in response. "…doll…" He spat the word. "…sprouted razor sharp claws. The second tried to change into another body. The third had uncanny perception."
He tapped his chin in thought. "The sorcerers appreciate irony. Perhaps I'll classify you 'Boneless' for the official report." He waved his hand and walked away. Again, his captors left him to stare at the ceiling. The commander was not done, however. "Send the report upstairs. I want this filth out of my sight within the fortnight." There was a charged pause. "Oh yes, I should remember to give orders to properly weaken the specimen."
His captors left him alone to contemplate his fate. Greed heard the door to his cell slam shut, and the locking mechanisms slid firmly into place. Over the next several days, his only visitors followed the commander's orders. Early on, they killed him only for the burning, red flash to revive him. As he grew weaker, they restrained themselves to hacking off digits.
Otherwise, he was alone and unfed. Though he struggled against his restraints, he did not actually crave for freedom or even an end to the torture. He wanted to own the torturers as his own pawns. He also did not crave food or water. The sustenance he wanted was different.
Finally, Greed heard the commander and a new voice outside his cell. The commander spoke down to his companion. "How many more dolls do you expect me to find for you?" There was no response. "Tch. You sorcerers are all the same. Anyway, I want subject Boneless out of my sight." The door slid open, and Greed heard two sets of footfalls.
"I suppose that is another of your 'ironic' names." The sorcerer sounded as old as the commander did, and he held an identical domineering poise. He grabbed Greed's marked hand and inspected it. "It has the same marking, and your official report indicates the same remarkable healing ability. Perhaps it is a factor of how it was constructed."
"I don't care how your kind rationalizes it." The commander spoke passionately in his venom. "I want this filthy creature removed from my command. I only let your kind wander this facility because Lilac Bluff forces my hand. I only put up with you as long as it takes to get that filthy creature out of my sight."
The ensuing silence felt like pregnant agony. When the sorcerer spoke, he sounded calm and almost friendly. "I'm sure you know the new regulations. After the incident with Noface, you are required to hold the doll for a fortnight. Toothless and Blindeye were difficult enough, but proved a point. After a time, the dolls grow tamer."
The commander growled. "You sorcerers are all the same. Cowards." He spat. Still, he relented. "You'll have your time. I won't go against orders." He paused. "You have one week to prepare. Don't expect any help from me. I won't authorize my facility's resources for the likes of you."
The commander stormed out of the room, but the sorcerer approached Greed. "Perhaps it is for the best that the ways of magic are fading from this land. The grief-stricken only use it as an escapist's tool." He paused to contemplate his next words. "I recommend you cease your struggle. Our Liege put Lilac Bluff into place specifically to study you troublesome dolls."
He stepped beside Greed and revealed his face. Without battle scars, he appeared younger than the commander did. His neck-length beard was the same faded grey as his hair. He wore a dark brown cape over his grass green robes. "In our studies, we have discovered the doll's greatest weakness. We shan't hold you by crude, physical restraints where we take you. However, it would be unwise to think our restraints any less real."
The sorcerer turned and walked out the door. Greed listened to the door slide shut. The locks clamored as they rocked into place. He listened as the footsteps faded into the distance. The humans thought him trapped and cornered, and they were probably right. Still, the struggle brought the smirk back to his chubby face.
Over the next week, Greed realized just how right the sorcerer was. He felt his body grow weaker. Each day, sorcerers entered to carve open his hand or slice off a digit. He grew used to the comfort of the burning, red flash because his armor took too much energy and concentration to manifest. At the end of the fortnight, he still smiled despite his one remaining comfort.
The sorcerers moved him from the command outpost, and the soldiers could not be happier to see them leave. While en route to the Ministry of Wartime Mages research facility, Greed learned more of his fellow dolls. The cantankerous commander named the previous three specimens Toothless, Noface, and Blindeye in order of discovery.
Though the sorcerers did not approve the names, Lilac Bluff prohibited new labels. Nevertheless, they cared less for the dolls. They were abominations of sin and stupidity. Fate forced the brokenhearted to bear their shame as dolls for attempting to reanimate human life. The lead sorcerer thought it poetic justice that the dolls wore the countenance of the targeted soul.
Greed listened in on what he could on the road to the research facility. The Ministry of Wartime Mages served one of the royal houses of the war torn country. Many feared or despised them for their magic, and the royals considered them a match for a dozen well-trained regular infantry. One side loathed sorcerers more than any other side, and they had gained the largest foothold. The Corsair royal lineage held the largest territory of any royal family.
Greed also learned details that did not feel right. The sorcerers used magic to alter the nature of objects around them. They drew formulae inside circles. There was a definite sense of science rather than arcane in their art. The words sorcerer, magic, and doll simply sounded as awkward as the name Boneless.
Greed was especially attentive when details of other dolls cropped up.
Toothless was a voluptuous, tall female with hip length, sawdust brown hair. She exhibited an identical mark at the center of her clavicle bones. She also grew razor sharp claws from her nails, and they tore through most known substances.
In his true form, Noface was a tall, handsome male who wore black hair in a simple buzz cut. He displayed his mark in the middle of his left thigh. He also had many faces. He could morph his body into any countenance he knew.
Blindeye was muscular with wide shoulders and simply shaved his head bald. To the sorcerers, his left eye looked horribly disfigured. However, it held his mark, and it seemed to give him extraordinary visual acuity.
Greed understood the irony of the names. Toothless had the meanest bite. Noface used faces as an arsenal. Blindeye observed the world as nobody could. He was Boneless, a frightful creature with an unbreakable body.
Halfway to their destination, a group of mercenaries waylaid the small caravan escorting Greed. They were highly skilled and flew the banner of the Corsair royal lineage. They arrived in full anticipation of the sorcerers' magic and riddled the battlefield with gun and mortar fire. It was a massacre.
Under normal circumstances, the sorcerers might have repelled the mercenary troupe. They wrote intricate formulae underneath their robes to blunt and spread out the impact of conventional weapons. The mercenaries used the formulae to their advantage. An opening hail of gunfire dedicated the magic to one purpose, but the interspersed mortar rounds ripped through their defenses.
As the mercenaries celebrated their total victory, Greed crawled from the rubble. The mercenaries observed the strange turn of events. They approached him carefully with weapons drawn. A mortar landed near him, blasting off an arm. He wailed in pain and clenched the remaining stump.
The mercenaries grew bold, and Greed finally realized a deep, disquieting hunger. He looked at the men approaching hungrily. He no longer saw them as objects to acquire. He no longer saw conquest or felt any deep yearnings for worldly possessions. No! He wanted their souls!
He launched at the nearest mercenary and bit into his neck. He tore flesh and felt hot blood dribble down his chin. The burning, red flash returned, and he felt his arm grow back. A bullet pierced his shoulder as he dropped the lifeless body. The burning, red flash closed the minor wound, but he did not yet have the energy to put up his defense.
He needed one soul, just one more soul. With a giant leap, he avoided more gunfire and landed on his next victim. He felt the mercenary's life rejuvenating his weakened body! He gulped down more blood, but it did not sate his hunger. He realized what he needed as his defense, his shield, encased his body.
Greed let out a riotous laughter, and the mercenaries froze momentarily. As he flew into action, they opened up with everything they had. His armor seemed impenetrable. Their bullets simply bounced off, and the mortars only barely slowed him. They thought the concussive force might at least frighten him, but his bloodlust did not abate.
Only half the mercenaries managed to retreat. Greed ignored them and hunched over his last victim. He needed souls to survive. He knew consuming their flesh was meaningless. He looked at the sorcerers. Their souls were long out of reach. He had to find a concentrated source of human souls, or he doubted he could later form his ugly, carbon armor.
Greed looked around. He really had no idea where he was. The research facility could be in any direction. It was not as if the sorcerers told him their chosen route. There were dangers to heading on any course, but he could handle it so long as there was a human soul to consume.
He narrowed his eyes. Something just did not sit right. He was not out to kill every human he ran across. He wanted to dominate them. They were his pawns! He had to find another way. He looked around. First, he had to survive.
Greed looked to the sky. He felt his yearning return. Yes, he could survive on that thought. He coveted his continued existence. He grinned. He had big plans for the small world. Everything – every man, woman, child, and object – would be his.
He held a deeper desire. He found it difficult to identify, and he knew it would be more difficult to sate. He still had to seek it. He ached to feel complete. He felt fractured, divided by untold distance. He sought something he did not fully comprehend. It drove him forward – always seeking, always searching.
The next decade was harsh. Greed might find a settlement and hunker down just long enough to take a few souls. He learned the hard way to be cautious. The local townsfolk grew very suspicious if too many people inexplicably disappeared.
As he washed the blood from his chin along a riverbank one spring morning, a shadow crept up on him. He jumped in initial fright. "Oh my, aren't you jumpy." The woman was soft-spoken and utterly ordinary. Her dark mahogany hair just reached her shoulder line. "I just wondered why you smelled so different."
"Excuse me?" His ill used voice sounded hoarse and barely above a whisper. His chubby hands flexed involuntarily. The woman felt dangerous.
She wiped the corner of her mouth of saliva. "You smell different. I've never smelled anything like you before." She licked her lips in barely contained ecstasy. She approached menacingly, mouth agape.
Greed barely registered the mark on the center of her tongue before he threw up his shield. She bit into his ultra dense, carbon armor and almost bounced off. "I'm nobody's prey!" He roared angrily as he thrust his hardened arm to penetrate her chest.
She simply stood and held out her tongue. After several long moments, she looked down at her chest. It closed up as the chubby man backed away. She looked at him curiously and released hold of her tongue. "Why couldn't I bite you?"
Greed grew excited. He was at a distinct advantage! His shield blocked her ability. His face split into an overconfident grin. He lumbered towards her. Not used to fighting, she poorly dodged. He tore into her flesh with sickening ease.
Sucking her finger in disgust, she turned and ran. He gave chase. She was not getting away! She was his trophy! His maniacal laughter rang out across the countryside. She healed slowly, so he knew she grew weak. She probably had few souls and no reason to seek more. Eventually, she simply tripped and fell face first into to the paved, dirt road.
She held back tears as he approached. Her nose looked broken as she contemplated him. "Why can't I bite you? Why do you smell dif-…?" She spoke no more for Greed consumed her. The burning, red light outshone the sun as nauseating crunches and snaps reverberated across the countryside.
Greed even licked remnants of his prey off the paved, dirt road. He grunted and cackled not unlike an excited lunatic. He stood up straight and savored his victory. He felt stronger than ever. He felt closer to his goals than he ever dared dream. He also felt the hunger of Gluttony.
He looked to the sun, much as he had all those years ago in the cell where he awoke. He let the scorching orb scar his retina. Her name was Gluttony. They were not dolls. They were Homunculi. The sorcerers were Alchemists, and they practiced alchemy not magic. The world made a whole lot more sense, but his mind still felt fuzzy.
Greed the Homunculus – not doll – returned his attention to the road ahead. He was more aware of his surroundings than he ever was before. His desire to own everything conflicted with a sudden desire to eat everything. He shook his head to clear the forming cobwebs.
He understood his desires better than ever before. He had to track down the other Homunculi and consume them. In order to feel whole once more, he had to unite the sins strewn across the country. He tilted his head with surprised realization. He knew five remained.
Over the next score, Greed tracked down leads. He also caught up on current events. The Corsair royal lineage nearly had control of the entire country. They wiped out the Killion royal lineage, and the Ministry of Wartime Mages serving them fled into the surrounding country. The three Homunculi – Toothless, Noface, and Blindeye – they captured took the opportunity to become scarce.
Few Alchemists remained, but Greed no longer cared. He never considered them useful. Instead, he concentrated on tracking down Blindeye. In addition to Gluttony's enhanced olfactory, he found greatly enhanced vision the most useful.
A cool autumn breeze spread across the land before Greed sniffed out another Homunculus. He followed his nose until he found an old man living outside a small settlement. The old man glared him down as he approached. He hated his luck. The old man failed to match the description of any Homunculi he knew.
Well, far be it for him to miss out on an opportunity. He rushed headlong towards the small cottage as his shield enclosed his body in the bliss of invulnerability. The old man jumped and ran with greater speed than should have been possible. Still, Greed gave chase.
He lost sight of the old man in the settlement, but he never lost the scent. He tracked the scent to a girl with her face pressed against the glass pane of a candy store. He acted as if he would stroll past her when he stopped and grabbed her shoulder. "You can't hide from me, Noface."
He relished the expression of fright on 'her' face as he opened his mouth wide. The burning, red flash enveloped his tongue as he bit off the male Homunculus' head off in one mouthful. The people on the street screamed in terror as he casually consumed the rest of Envy. Ah, his true name made much more sense.
Greed fell to his knees in abject pain, and tremors racked his body. The other personalities attacked his mind! He yowled as he regained control, and fog lifted from his mind. Of course, he understood why he was in pain. He absorbed too many souls without understanding the consequences.
With Envy's fragment, Greed learned better ways to absorb human souls. He returned to the cottage on the outskirts of town. Along the way, he morphed his countenance into the sorcerer he met over thirty years prior. He shambled to the side of the house and found the well pump. With hardly any effort, red water sprang forth.
Greed gulped it down with great vigor. He felt more rejuvenated than he had in a very, very long time. After a moment to stare at the burning orb in the sky then healed, as was his peculiar habit, he took bucketfuls of the red water to the bathtub within the cottage. He soaked for hours while he contemplated his next move.
With Gluttony, he found it easy to track and ultimately eat his target. With Envy, he suspected he could sneak up and, if necessary, trick his quarry. He hoped Envy's many guises could trick Blindeye just as his armor had repelled Gluttony's gullet.
Envy helped him in other ways. After eating him in the guise of a very young girl, he found his face plastered on bulletin boards in nearly every settlement. He had to skulk around in different bodies. He sometimes played mix-and-match to create unique appearances. He even traipsed around as local fauna or lounged as local flora.
It took only three more years to find his next target. Greed felt almost disappointed to find Toothless, but he felt her offense complimented his defense. He decided to face her head on, and he regretted his judgment. His defense was impenetrable, but she easily kept him at a distance.
Even if her razor sharp claws failed to penetrate his dense armor, she pinned him against the wall. If she felt cornered, she cut open an escape route. Worst of all, she collapsed her escape route in on him. Ultimately, she eluded him. Oh, he still smelled her, but he needed a different plan of attack.
Greed stalked his newest prey for months. He learned her habits. He concentrated on her interests and stomping grounds. She actually succeeded in blending in with society. She received top billing at a gentlemen's cabaret. Her paycheck was outstanding, and she owned one of the nicer houses in the settlement.
Greed worried about his prospects. Toothless rarely found herself without company. She even hired an accountant, butler, and a few maids to watch over her estates. He had to surprise her and avoid a long, drawn-out fight.
When he had all but given up hope, Greed witnessed his one chance. She sometimes invited men into her house for a small fortune. Though accompanied by a guest, she was alone in her large house. It finally paid off to eavesdrop as a bird.
Greed took on odd jobs around the settlement, and he continued to spy on her. He formulated a plan as he saved every bit of money he earned. He had to match her tastes, after all. He designed a handsome male and used Envy as the template. He even created a suave personality. With a small fortune in hand, he called on the services of Lacy Lilac, as irony had it.
Toothless – Lady Lilac suspected nothing. She hurried her aides from the premises, and she almost savagely ogled her client's sculptured body. Greed created a magnificent model to reflect his prey. He took nothing for granted. He wooed her over fine wine and a savory, full-course meal. He waltzed with her to slow, romantic music.
Greed played his expected role. He flirted. He groped. He joined her in bed and rolled around in playful preparation. As he stared longingly into her eyes, she closed hers and leaned in for a passionate kiss. He touched his lips to hers, opened his mouth wide, and bit her face off.
She sunk her razor sharp claws into his flesh, but it was too late. Greed felt the welcome burning, red flash on his tongue, and he simply grew stronger as he chomped large chunks of her flesh. As he gnawed her bones, he felt a familiar yet new sensation. Ah, her true name was Lust, and he felt her insatiable longing for physical contact.
Greed stood and wobbled towards the bathroom as his rotund form returned. His mind felt hazy as the new personality mingled. Drawing from Lust's memories, he turned the knobs in the tub in a unique combination. After a moment, red water spluttered forth. He virtually collapsed into the half-full tub as it continued to fill.
The next morning, he awoke with a start. Lady Lilac's aides returned and knocked at the front door. Greed franticly wracked his brains for a plan. It took several moments, but he finally decided a course of action. He used Lust's form to send them away. With her voice, he told them she was leaving, and he fired them with substantial severance pay.
They left. They were sad to be out of work, but they were confident they had enough to get by until they landed their next positions. Greed observed the sight with a hint of amusement. They were reliable, so he doubted they would find any difficulties in life. With a stretch, he elected to stay for the rest of the day.
His first three and thirty years were interesting. He awoke a prisoner of the Killion project directive Lilac Bluff. He was one of four subjects. Well, he only knew of four. He learned of the existence of three more, and he learned more as he consumed more sins. He had already devoured respectively Gluttony, Envy, and Lust.
Greed persisted in his hunt. He sought any clues, and he kept up with current events and trends. Like Envy and Lust, he decided to blend in with society. He contained the voracious appetite of Gluttony, as he no longer needed to hunt humans for souls. With his newfound knowledge, he unearth springs of rejuvenating red water.
The stuff was toxic to humans. He bought land deeds on the cheap whenever he ran across a large enough well. He grew stronger, and his influence eventually matched a minor royal. He bought off mercenaries for protection as he dealt with the most influential royal lineages.
It greatly slowed his search, but he made connections well worth the hassle. It took almost a century, but the Corsair royal lineage finally won out. They decimated the other royal lineages; though, they kept a few as bloodstock. They were little more than convenient concubines to maintain and strengthen royal bloodlines.
With invaluable contacts, Greed easily tracked down Blindeye and the remaining two. He chose to leave the unknowns alone, for the time being. They stuck together and made a formidable duo. Before he could chase down Blindeye, Corsair's newly minted Ministry of Arcane Regulation wanted a favor. They asked him to hunt down Alchemists – the proper term he taught them.
Greed reveled in the task. He might have pursued them just for the fun of it. As it was, every living or dead body was worth priceless information on his true game. With his help, the Ministry of Arcane Regulation all but eliminated alchemy from Corsair's borders. They enthusiastically supplied the information he cherished.
He studied his soon-to-be adversaries carefully before making his next move. He waited over a century and a half for his inner most wish; he could wait until he felt assured of victory. He refused to rush to his own defeat.
He finally caught up to Blindeye. It only took a century and five and sixty years. Of course, his foe saw him coming. Blindeye's sight was uncanny, truly remarkable. He seemed to predict Greed's next action, and he proceeded to wipe the proverbial floor with him. He never let armor form, and he wove around claws. Blindeye hacked off limbs and killed Greed dozens of times.
It was not a pretty sight.
However, Greed arrived with backup. Full of cold fury, he initiated his one strategy. It really was petty, but he laughed as mortars rained from the sky. He felt his armor comfortably encase his entire body for the first time. He elongated deadly sharp and ultra dense claws.
Blindeye stopped and circled. His disfigured eye rested squarely on the rotund Greed. He found exactly what he was looking for and lunged forward. He plunged his weapons deep into his foe's chest and eyes, but his body split in half before he could disengage.
Greed laughed as he watched his quarry twitch on the ground. Half of his body disintegrated as the burning, red flash attempted to make his body whole. Greed knelt down with a grin that split his face. He chewed Bli…Pride in ecstasy.
The ecstasy lasted only a moment. Perhaps four additional personalities were too much. They fought angrily to gain control. He felt his power surge as he convulsed on the ground. He was vaguely aware that Corsair soldiers carried him off.
He awoke in the atrium of a new rising star's mansion. Jovan Isovar was the son of the current king and a concubine. He had risen swiftly through the line of succession almost on wits alone. He was shrewd and a master swordsman. He was also a genius inventor set to take hold of the world for his own.
He shared something in common with Greed, and he needed the Homunculus.
"You have captured the all-seeing eye." It was not a question. Jovan stared at Greed's newly acquired, disfigured eye. The mark was plain to see, and it was ugly. Still, he admired the disgusting orb. It seemed to pierce through to his soul.
Greed nodded. He was unsure where such an alliance would lead, but he saw no point lying. He only had two sins left to capture, and the Isovar name had some influence in Corsair.
Jovan narrowed his eyes. "I have an invention that will open the Corsair royal lineage to new avenues of conquest. However, I have many enemies. I cannot see all with normal eyes alone. I have many things, but I cannot crush an enemy I cannot see." He left his statement hanging.
Greed scratched his chin. He motioned his host to continue, and the young Isovar half-eagerly obliged. "It is a machine that can stay aloft on its own power." His eyes glowed excitedly. "I have been working on it near my entire life, but I am ready to put theory to practice."
Greed understood the benefit. He put on his ever-widening smirk. Yes, he could work with the young heir's growing influence. The flying machine might even propel him right to the top of the line of succession. However, he had his own goals. "My dear Prince Isovar, I must ask what I get out of the deal. You achieve certain fame, and I must put off my hunt."
Jovan sneered angrily. "My house shall be your house! Is that not enough?" He was incensed. He offered the filthy creature the highest honor a non-royal could possibly receive. "My resources shall be at your disposal, and your petty quarry will not escape. What else could you possibly want?"
Greed had the young heir dancing in the palm of his hands. "I offer something to benefit us both. I saw it in the void between sleep and awake. I'm sure you've heard of Alchemists, so I'll cut to the chase. I need you to revive the Ministry of Wartime Mages as your own."
Jovan felt taken aback. "You ask something preposterous. We have no use for Alchemists in this day and age. We are better and more refined. Besides, the Ministry of Arcane Regulation would stop us. They might even arrest us on charges of sedition. I am only a concubine's son."
Greed chuckled mirthfully. "My dear Prince Isovar, you underestimate yourself. You are now ninth in succession to the throne, and I hear by guile alone. I'm sure you can figure something out. With your flying contraption and Alchemist fodder, the king might even abdicate the throne to you immediately."
Jovan thought about the proposal for a moment. The Homunculus seemed serious. However, he was the one to round up most of the Alchemists by himself. The prince decided to satiate his curiosity. "You show a rather sudden change of heart. You eagerly hunted down Alchemists before. You killed almost as many as my Liege Father had executed."
Greed frowned and nodded regretfully. "Yes, it is a mistake I could not foresee. As I said, I only saw my blunder recently." He pointed to his disfigured eye. "The mark is an ouroborus, and it has shown me how to concentrate power into a ring garnet."
"Concen-…" Jovan shook his head in disbelief. "Perhaps I could divine a plan. I have been given leave to build an army, and I'm sure I can convince my Liege Father of the benefit on a very…unorthodox request. However, I would know the name of this ring garnet."
"It is called the Philosopher's Stone, and it can make the world dance for you."
The negotiations did not last long. Greed secured a contract signed in blood, and he started the search for the conspirators against the house of Isovar. His new eye took him high and low. He regaled royals, and he parleyed shifty bar dwellers. He loitered in many disguises, and he sniffed for clues. He even used Lust to make people drunk on his presence. He often used Envy to create countenances both comely and homely – for seduction or the dropping of eaves.
When he found the conspirators, he sought to destroy their reputation. Jovan Isovar did not elaborate on 'crush' in their contract. Nevertheless, they fell quickly from favor. He used their faces to embarrass the royal family into anger and blood feuds.
One conspirator survived at the bottom of the line of succession. The king's ire saw some moved to mere bloodstock houses. They were lucky.
The king ordered well over half executed. They died only after they watched Jovan Isovar propelled to fourth in line of succession. The last thing they saw from the chopping block was his grin.
Free to complete his work, Jovan invented powered flight for Corsair. He secured first in line of succession and permission to take custody of the remaining Alchemists. He formed the Hoarfrost Brigade with the dissolution of the Ministry of Arcane Regulation. He fulfilled his end of the contract more than pleased with Greed's performance.
The Homunculus was incredibly delighted. He furthered his deepest desire by securing his strongest ally yet. He still had to capture the last Homunculi, but he knew where to find them. With the might of the HoaHHoarfrost Brigade, he marched on a rebel settlement.
Greed did not care for semantics. The settlement was likely innocent. Jovan wanted to test his new army, especially the Alchemists and new arsenal of gunships. Of course, Greed recognized the settlement. He stared giddily at the ruined fort where he awoke. The town once sponsored the Killion royal lineage.
The Hoarfrost Brigade absolutely routed the unsuspecting villagers. They died from gunfire, mortar shells, fires, or asphyxiation. Greed rather enjoyed the show. He watched his hard work and ambition blaze a bloody path. Sure, he would rather have the villagers as pawns. He was not foolish enough to try to stop the cycle of events he set in motion.
The gunships really stole the spotlight. They rained death from above like nothing else could. They were slow, lumbering beasts to be sure, but nothing could touch them. They proved to be Jovan's life work.
The Alchemists were almost a disappointment. They lost much of their former glory due to the Ministry of Arcane Regulation. Greed had killed children with more skill than the eldest Alchemist present. The regular infantry easily outperformed the new war mage division. However, he had other priorities.
His disfigured eye saw them first. A young boy stomped towards him with an ouroboros on the flat of his left foot. A young girl coughed as she followed with an ouroboros over her left breast. Greed could barely tell them apart. Their silhouettes were vaguely different, so they appeared adolescent.
They shared blazing red hair and shining emerald eyes. Greed liked their highlights. The boy wore his hair to his jaw line, and the girl splayed her hair into two ponytails.
"Well that explains a few things…" Greed started, but he did not finish. The boy ran full bore and punched. The rotund Homunculus did not bother to dodge. He let his wide grin split his face before he felt the pain.
Greed looked down and jumped away. He gripped his side and watched the boy absorb his stolen flesh. Okay, he needed a change of plans. He tested his shield. Nothing appeared stolen. He lengthened and retracted his claws menacingly. He wanted to get them off their game.
He failed. Hard. The children proved more of a challenge than Pride. He predicted their movements, but their bodies held no concept for physics. The boy absorbed and regurgitated matter without changing shape or actually using his gastrointestinal system. The girl was a living water fountain!
The Hoarfrost Brigade was useless. The boy actually enjoyed redirecting bullets and explosions. The girl was a living water fountain! No seriously, the girl was a living water fountain! How was he supposed to even fight that? He gravely doubted he could stun her long enough to consume her.
His eyes widened with a flash of brilliance. He made a beeline for the soldiers. As he shoved them aside, he blended in by transforming into one of them – a gaunt, lanky one. As the boy and girl approached undamaged, the Hoarfrost Brigade broke rank and fled. The twins looked around for their foe and locked on.
The boy caught up first and tackled a rotund, fleeing soldier. He laughed as the man struggled, and the girl caught up. As he absorbed the soldier, he tried to determine his new powers. The rotund Homunculus covered his body in thick, black armor and even pushed it out as claws. He tried to duplicate the results when a burning, red flash erupted underneath them.
The twins watched the gaping maw close around them. They stared perplexed as a massive tongue wrapped around their startled forms. They clasped tightly to each other as Greed consumed the last of the Homunculi. He had taken advantage of their ignorance. They thought he simply donned a soldier's jacket.
He laughed as he returned to his normal form. He had finally united the fragmented sins. He felt power coursing through his flesh. Then, the world shattered before him. He fell into a dark, unforgiving void. He screamed noiselessly in torment like nothing he had ever felt. He heard voices all around, but he was blind and mute to the world.
He swallowed Wrath and Sloth, and their fractured souls joined his own. No, he had to regain control! He had the desire, and he had the gumption to make it happen! He sought to reunite the fractured sins, the fractured soul. Everything was his! The world belonged to him!
Greed awoke in Jovan Isovar's mansion. He glanced in a mirror and saw seven faces reflected back. With a jolt, he looked behind and all around. Nobody else occupied the room. He glared back into the mirror, but he saw only his own reflection. He shook his head, and the first heir to the throne walked in.
Greed actually felt happy to see Jovan. The High Prince spoke first. "My soldiers tell me you passed out screaming after you took your prize. What happened?"
Greed thought about the question for a moment. He really did not feel complete. The deep desire to be undivided still existed. He shook his head. "Sometimes my meal fights back." He patted his stomach. "In any case, the Hoarfrost Brigade performed beautifully. The gunship commander was brilliant."
Jovan nodded. "They've been compensated fairly." He stood straighter, and his tone was serious. "Where do we go from here? You told me they were the last Homunculi. I admit; I am not fond of releasing my greatest asset." He paused before honestly amending his comment. "…no matter how filthy."
Greed laughed. "I have no intention of leaving just yet. I may even stay to serve your family into the future." He had bigger plans, but he felt no need to reveal anything. He made alliances to serve his own purposes.
Jovan liked his answer. "Very well, but I'm sure you have plans for the short term. I could even arrange a political marriage. I could convince my Liege Father to make you a Duke or Governor. I might suit you. You could have the old home town of Killion for a bit of poetic justice."
Greed shook his head. "I need time to collect myself. Even now, I feel an internal conflict. I might lash out and strike uncontrollably." He chuckled derisively. "I have an isolated mansion. I think I'll spend some time there to recuperate. The two centuries since I awoke have been hard, but they have paid off nicely."
Jovan agreed. Though the Alchemists proved almost useless, he saw their advantages. The Ministry of Arcane Regulation meticulously destroyed everything related to alchemy, so they lost millennia of research notes. Jovan would not live to see the Philosopher's Stone, but his descendants would inherit his will.
Conversely, the gunships were a huge success. With improvements and modifications, they nearly single-handedly subjugated new provinces. When the former king died, Liege Jovan Isovar led Corsair into stunning conquest. Corsair almost doubled the territories under her borders.
With an expanding populace, the royal lineage experienced a small political upheaval as a new monarchial system came into place. The line of succession remained flexible to allow the most suitable to rule. However, they decided to divide the growing kingdom. Though the royals bickered, they created new titles and laws of governance.
For his part, Greed stayed out of the way for many years. He only visited Jovan – newly appointed Grand Sovereign – on rare occasions, but they celebrated at each event. The six sins proved difficult to tame, so he kept his visits short. Eventually Jovan passed away, and his successor took the throne. He died, and the next generation took over. She died, and another king took the throne.
The entire time, Greed dove deeper into his mind. He often slept in a pool of red water, and his strength only grew as scores passed. One day, his mindscape came into clear focus. He stared at his six companion sins – Gluttony, Envy, Lust, Pride, Wrath, and Sloth.
His voice failed, and they argued and accused. He had no idea how long they kept him prisoner in his own mind, but eventually he broke free of their control. He yelled at them to fall silent, and they grumbled. He understood better than they did, so they complied under protest.
Greed explained what he learned as he absorbed them. They already knew their names. They knew what they were. He avoided those topics for more important details. He explained their origins. They were born from the Gate of Truth to serve the Shadows. They collectively shivered as the truth washed over them.
He clarified what he could. They were fractured segments of the same soul. The Shadows implanted personalities into each fragment. They became distinct and separate entities. Regrettably, the fragmentation left their souls bleeding valuable energy and at odds with each other. The fragmentation resulted in a desperate need for human life energy, and the need yielded a territorial disposition.
Normally, they needed to consume Philosopher's Stones to survive, but Alchemists in now Corsair were too incompetent to produce them. Out of necessity, the Homunculi took souls directly from humans or absorbed them from the toxic red water. As Greed consumed the Homunculi, the fragmentation lessened, and they bled less of their precious life energy.
Amalgamated, they were stronger than ever. As long as they stood united, they were nigh invulnerable. If they bickered and argued, they were more vulnerable than an infant was. With some reluctance, they agreed to share ownership. They demanded a new name, and they decided to entitle their vessel as Lucifer. They appointed Greed their representative to the outside.
They agreed he had the experience and drive. After all, he also revealed that they lacked one fragment. The shadowy realm between the two worlds separated and hid the last fragment. It was beyond the impenetrable Gate of Truth. The Shadows purposely left one fragment out of reach, where only especially skilled Alchemists could reach.
The other sins rather hated the news. They caused a deafening mental uproar. It took a very long time for the sins to calm. It did not take much to understand their anger. In order to recover the fragment, a massive amount of alchemic energy was necessary. It would take an Alchemist of not only great skill but also fortitude and natural ability.
The Alchemists of Corsair were millennia – if not longer – from accomplishing such a feat. Their cause seemed hopeless until Greed reminded them of their unique abilities. The Shadows gave Homunculi ouroboros to mark their sin, and they gave each a distinctive ability to punish trespassing humans. The Pride ouroboros could see past the Gate of Truth to demolish alchemy.
The collective used the all-seeing eye a little differently. They needed to acquire the right Alchemist to regain the last fragment. They needed to find the right Alchemist to make them complete. They sought the Gate of Truth to perceive a path that the Shadows closed to them.
At first, the images made no sense. Lucifer lost track of time as the collective interpreted the images. They puzzled them together and tried to find their temporal relevance. The task infuriated them. It almost seemed the Shadows actively worked against their endeavors. Then, they felt inspiration.
A great explosion created a great well of alchemic energy. It snaked through the Gate of Truth. A young man with golden hair harnessed the energy to… What? They did not recognize the alchemy. The Alchemists of Corsair were inexperienced and incapable of replicating such formulae.
The vision zoomed out. It zoomed far, far out. The young man faded to a field. The field faded to the outskirts of a city. The outskirts faded to a city and surrounding countryside. The countryside faded to a country surrounded by war torn borders. The country was landlocked, and the sins knew the name. The country's name was Amestris.
Lucifer opened his eyes. His course was clear. He studied everything he could with the Pride ouroboros. He perfected his body with the Wrath ouroboros. He terrified enemies of the Isovar royal house with the Sloth ouroboros. He used the Gluttony ouroboros to erase unwanted nuisances. He used Greed, Lust, and Envy to rejoin society.
The sins cooperated, and Lucifer found multitasking easy. He learned the culture and language of Amestris. He helped improve gunship technology. He seduced royals and helped position the most useful. Royals highly regarded Lucifer, and they sought after him constantly.
Lucifer watched and waited. He watched as Dante and Hoenheim progressed alchemical knowledge in Amestris. He saw new Homunculi born through the same sins and stupidity. Instead of quash them, Dante and Hoenheim used alchemy to tame and control them. The humans sought eternal life with the Homunculi's support, and they led Amestris from the shadows.
Eventually, Lucifer enacted his final preparations. He found the right support, and he ensured the Hoarfrost Brigade followed him. Spartan Isovar was Jovan Isovar's descendent, and he shared the same ambition and guile. His daughter showed greater potential as a leader, but Greed found Spartan better suited for the last phase of his master plan.
They trained the Hoarfrost Brigade for the rigors to come. The land was different from Corsair. For those from the motherland, it was large and diverse. It ranged from tropics to desert to ice capped mountains. The people were hearty, and they were nasty when provoked. They also held different values.
They prepared all soldiers for superior alchemy. They discouraged looking down at the inferior technology. They taught core personnel the language and culture of Amestris.
All went according to plan, until Lucifer witnessed Edward and Alphonse Elric disappear into the Gate of Truth. He believed his plans ruined. Nonetheless, he pushed forward. He had to assume the brothers Elric would return.
If the mass of alchemic energy went unchecked, it might destroy everything he worked so hard for. It might exterminate known existence. It might raze the very world!
No, Lucifer had to trust the brothers Elric would return. The Shadows hated humans who trespassed into the between, but they valued balance above all else. They maintained the steady flow of souls across worlds, and one could not exist without the other.
The golden-haired Alchemist had to restore order and balance to the Gate of Truth.
Lucifer leaned forward as he finished his tale. "The rest, as they say, is history." His grin impossibly split his face once more. "I know so much about you because the Gate of Truth saw need of you, and I have a use for that mass of alchemic energy. I know your beloved country because I studied it for over a century as I prepared."
He chuckled. "My dear Edward and Alphonse Elric, I gain everything from all this. My soul will no longer be fragmented. I shall know my true personality. I shall achieve every Homunculus' dream. Freedom."
Edward silently contemplated for several long moments. Lucifer gained much from his deal with Corsair's royalty. He cleverly set up a win-win situation. He felt certain the proffered diplomacy was not a ruse. The Homunculus needed skilled alchemy, and the surest path was shrewd trade agreements.
Lucifer left nothing to chance. The Hoarfrost Brigade was obviously his favorite. He helped found it, and he maintained influence within the royal families. He helped a concubine's son rise through the line of succession and become king. He helped his subsequent family hold onto power.
Edward met Lucifer's eyes. The Homunculus was perceptive. If negotiations broke down, he could draw Amestris and Corsair into war. There was a chance that Lucifer could trick Edward in the ensuing chaos. When the wash of alchemic energy came, an innocent suggestion could turn everything around for the nearly complete Homunculus.
Edward stood. "I have to think about it." He refused to lie. For ill or fortune, he had to think hard about his next move. He stared at Lucifer and hoped to discern something in his excited eyes. He saw nothing as his brother stood.
Lucifer stood. "Of course my dear Edward Elric, you still have time." He nodded encouragingly. "You still have plenty of time. I don't demand an immediate answer. That would be cold. Barbaric." He laughed genially. "You have only just returned from another world, after all."
Edward turned to leave, and Alphonse almost spoke their farewell. However, a question entered the elder Elric's head. "How do you know which personality is the right one?" The brothers turned, and Lucifer's exuberant expression surprised them.
"Ah, you touch on a very important point." Lucifer spoke unabashed. "Well, the point is rather simple." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "We don't know!" He giggled and laughed as if he had just shared a naughty secret.
Edward and Alphonse looked confused. The latter spoke up. "If you don't know, what will happen when you acquire your last fragment? You can't expect to continue living with so many divergent personalities."
Lucifer nodded. "Of course we don't." He shook his head in mock disappointment. "We know perfectly well that only one personality can occupy a human soul. We cannot separate our personalities from our respective fragments, but we understand that much at least."
Edward scratched his head and opened his mouth, but Alphonse preempted him. He did not feel a rude or sarcastic comment would help the situation. "Have you determined which personality will take the reunited soul, then?"
Edward crossed his arms with a harrumph, but he agreed with Alphonse's question. If ownership of the soul was a point of contention, they might have something to take advantage of. However if it was not, then they had a hard road ahead if Lucifer indeed turned out to be hostile.
Lucifer split his face with a wide grin. "You brothers know exactly the right questions to ask. You hope we bicker and fight over ownership of the soul." He quietly applauded their expressionless acknowledgement. "It is something we discussed at length. It is something we have told none in Corsair. It is something we save as a special privilege for you."
Edward and Alphonse knew. They still had to hear it, but they knew the answer to the most important question they could have asked. Lucifer continued when their bodies relaxed with acceptance. "It is a long answer, so I hope you'll indulge me."
"The shadows sent seven fragments to Corsair and kept one hidden in the Gate of Truth." He chuckled. "Maybe I should say 'each region' instead of Corsair. The seven sins of Amestris were much the same." He shook his head. "No matter. Where was I?"
Lucifer finally stood. "The Shadows gave each fragment a unique personality. Perhaps the personality fit the fragment. Your encounters with the Amestris sins give evidence to the idea at least. Whatever the case, it is impossible to say which personality is compatible with the soul. There's a strong possibility the soul will reject an incompatible personality."
Edward nodded. "It makes sense. If the equation isn't balanced, the formula won't work."
Lucifer tilted his head one way. "Perhaps." He shook his head. "You understand the point, but you use chemistry where biology is more appropriate."
Edward looked ready to punch the Homunculus. "Get on with it!"
"We understand, dear Edward and Alphonse Elric. We understand all too well." Lucifer chuckled jovially. "We have an equal chance of acquiring or not acquiring the soul. When you finally reunite the lost fragments, only one personality can have it. We have agreed to quietly relinquish all claims. We shall not fight the final result."
Edward scoffed. "You expect us to believe you'll simply walk away? You have a one-in-seven chance." He pointed accusingly. "You admitted it yourself! You started off as Greed! You want the world. I doubt you'd let some inconvenient agreement get in your way."
The grin never left Lucifer's face. "I suppose you hope to sow seeds of internal conflict. I admire your dedication, skilled Alchemist." In spite of his cordial tone, he sounded distant and cold. "I admit; Greed thought along those lines. However, he yearned for freedom and a feeling of completeness above all else."
He laughed, and his tone became light and inviting once more. "Greed weighed his fondest desires. He had to. He had no choice. He had to weigh a desire to rule over everything against the yearning to feel complete. It should be obvious by my presence that he chose the latter."
Lucifer waggled his finger once more. He seemed to enjoy lecturing. "The other sins would know if he lied. Besides, you're calculations are wrong." He watched the stunned looks on the young Alchemists faces. "There is a one-in-eight chance that one of the sin's personalities will hold to the soul."
He rather enjoyed the idea. "It's entirely possible that the eighth fragment holds the real personality. It's entirely possible the soul committed such a horrible transgression that the Shadows decided to divide it as eternal torment!"
As I mentioned in The Path We Walk, I have been distracted by way too many things happening at once. I had a lot of this chapter finished last year. Since then, it has seen a lot of rewrites and tweaks. The over all story remained the same, but the delivery - I hope - improved.
As always, I hope you enjoy the new chapter, and I hope to see some constructive criticism. Of course, outright flames will be ignored.
Story Word Count: 10,032
Story Page Count: 18