A/N: This chapter had been lost on a zip drive for about a year, but guess who found it :) It needs some proofing but I think I pulled most of the kinks out. I'll put some more effort into editing but I needed to share this, it has been a long time in coming!
It all started with the death of his father, a man so important to the world he chose to be irrelevant to his. The lawyer had come to them upon his death, apparently Hohenheim had wanted to be buried next to their mother and while Ed could give a rats ass where they threw the bastard, his younger brother had insisted they acknowledge his wishes.
From there everything went to shit.
On their way back to Resembol, the plane had crashed, killing most on impact and stranding the rest of them. A beautiful young doctor had managed to snare his thoughts but even that ray of sunshine had been eclipsed by the shadows of the unknown and the fear of not finding his brother. Their plan had crashed on the island about a month ago, splitting the passenger's into two camps. One camp had remained on shore while the other had fought its way out of the dense and dangerous interior. No radios, all supplies from the plane itself exhausted, and any hope of being rescued smothered had finally sunk in. If fighting against nature wasn't a big enough battle they now had the uncomfortable knowledge that they were not alone. A mysterious group of people still eluded them and now there was a Xingese swordsman to explain. Ed was drained from trying to rationalize their situation. Science and reason were failing him and it scared him more than he was ready to admit.
The humidity of the jungle was sweltering; Ed felt the sweat burn as it ran into his eyes. The thick moisture in the air amplified and trapped the heat around them. Mosquitos swarmed the two brothers as their sweaty bodies maneuvered through the thick brush. They were dirty from the journey and worse for the wear by the time spent on the island itself. He had been in low spirits himself, but time was dragging him under its weight and the light at the end of the tunnel was starting to fade in his mind.
Swearing against any sort of god, Ed grunted, heaving the dead weight farther onto his shoulder. "Damn it." He seethed through clenched teeth. He wasn't a weakling, but he could find a million and one reasons why this was not worth his time.
"Brother, I can help." Al offered as he sidestepped a large tree root.
"No." Ed snarled between breaths. "You're still recovering." He began to pick up the pace. "Can't have you hurt yourself over this idiot." He chanced a look down at the strange man's peaceful expression. "If I was smarter I'd have left him there to rot."
"Brother-" Al protested. "He's passed out; we couldn't just leave him out here."
"We could." He deadpanned. It was actually as simple as dropping his ass right then and there.
"And risk losing the first lead we've gotten in a long time?" His younger brother provoked him, calling him out on his bluff. "Is it worth it to risk losing a chance to get us off this island?"
Was it worth losing a chance to get them home? The weight of his promise to Winry and his brother, the promise of getting them home was heavier than the foreigner. Ed wasn't in the mood to agree so he settled for a steady stream of cursing and complaints before shouldering the dead weight again. "He better be worth it."
The walk back was far from pleasant as the two brothers silently warred with one another but at least they were alive, right? And yet no matter how lucky they were to even be alive he couldn't escape the tidal waves of regret and self-doubt that flooded him. It was an aching feeling, like a rough surface against smooth skin. He was exhausted of being wrong, tired of walking into dead ends and overwhelmed with the task before them. Silence on a long journey can bring on self-reflection, it was just a shame he didn't like what he saw. Had he done anything since they had crashed here that really counted? They were no closer to being rescued than the day they first arrived and the longer they stayed the farther away they seemed to get from going home. Selfishly he had chosen to follow a path that had led to nothing but trouble and now he was bringing back a piece of it. Might as well be walking around blind for the lot of good he had done so far.
A low rumbling sound jerked him from his spiteful musings. Looking around he watched for what sounded like the upset grumbling of a hungry stomach. "Al, you hearing that?"
When his brother didn't respond he dropped the swordsman unceremoniously to the ground to face his brother. "What, are you not talking to me now?"
Al shook his head looking concerned. "I heard you-" Al finally answered, his gaze holding steady to the man Ed had just dropped. "But that noise is coming from him."
The oriental man blinked up at the two of them his expression blank. Ed backed up, pushing Al out of the way. Fear of the unknown had caught them off guard once before but he made it a point to not repeat his mistakes.
"It's coming now." The man crumpled up, his already pale features turning ghostly white.
"Fuck." Ed lost it. "You do not get to turn into a freak after I've dragged your ass all the way back here!" He barked at the man.
The swordsman held his stomach looking like he was in agony. "It's out of my control…please I need nutrients."
Ed threw up his hands, "You need food or you'll what? Turn into some kind of scary monster?" He demanded as the noise continued to grow.
The swordsmen pressed his lips together tightly before taking a slow dragging breath. "Worse…I could pass out."
In the realm of things he thought might be happening to this man passing out was the least of his concerns. Though he strongly wished for a baseball bat, or a well sized blunt object to bludgeon this man in the head with, knock some real sense into him.
"That's your stomach making those noises?" Al asked; eyes the sizes of saucers. "And I thought Ed was bad."
Ed was not in the mood for his brother's humor. "Talk. Who the hell are you?"
"A prince." The man responded after a moment, a shit eating grin briefly lighting up his face. "Weren't you listening?"
Ed slid the palm of his hand down his face. "Right." Swatting a particularly large bug from his arm he gave into his own exhaustion. "Come on your royal high-ass, you're coming with us."
The foreigner moaned. "I don't think I'm going anywhere..." His eyes rolled up into his head and as promised the swordsman slumped to the ground in a faint.
Edward pinched the bridge of his nose. "Give me a break! Just one god damn break!"
Al threw him a dirty look, "Lets both carry him back, the sooner we get back the sooner we can figure all this out."
He might be acting a little melodramatic but his nerves were shot and his patience had never been in supply. Finally consenting he let Al at least carry his bag while he lugged the useless Xingese man.
The first thing to greet them when they arrived back at camp was a pair of vibrantly enraged blue eyes. She looked like a caged tiger pacing its cage and for a moment Ed wanted to tell her to join the party, he wasn't feeling all that pleased himself. Her mouth thinned into a straight line as she stared them down. It wasn't until she caught sight of the Xingese man that her expression faltered and she stumbled back a few steps.
Ed understood that dragging a foreign man from the forest would cause a bit of surprise but she didn't look surprised, she looked horrified in a way that made his fists clench. It was recognition on her face, a look that told him she had some kind of history with this guy and it wasn't good. He was right to think this swordsman matched her description of the man who had saved her.
Dropping the man to the ground Ed's suspicions were confirmed as he watched her suck in her lower lip, worrying it between her teeth. "You know him?" He asked slowly, wishing there wasn't a connection between the two.
She shook her head, words still absent from the conversation.
"Somehow I doubt that." He countered; irritated that she was being silent on the matter.
Winry kneeled down by the man's side, brushing his ponytail over his shoulder. "It's him, it has to be him." She answered in a shaky voice.
Ed waved her on with his hands ignoring the look she sent back his way.
"He was there when they came after me." She looked apprehensively at him, "He was the one who scared it away."
"This?" He poked the guy on the ground with his toe in disbelief. "This weakling saved you from those things?" How could this pathetic man be on a higher level compared to those creatures? There had to be some kind of explanation because there was no way this squinty eyed creep was capable of defeating something that wasn't even entirely human.
"Yes Edward." Her eyes flashed. "So you can cut the sarcasm."
She could cut the crap herself, he wasn't going to let this opportunity go to waste. "Listen, do what you want with your savior, but I'm getting answers out of him first."
"I didn't say I wanted anything to do with him!" Winry retorted looking offended, "I'm just telling you I know what I saw and I saw him make the shadows go away."
"Guys…" Al looked between them, looking miserable. "Let's not fight."
Running a hand distractedly through his tangled hair he nodded his head in quiet agreement because he should know better than to waste what time they were given fighting the ones he cared about. Fighting just came second nature to him; it was his go to response.
The mood was pretty bleak by the time the man in question stirred. By now the camp was well aware of the additional body and while most had taken one look and carried on without another glance, there were still a few lingering around. Apparently people thought he might have something that could help them, but Ed knew just by looking at him what this stranger would probably contribute to them. It amounted to a whole lot of nothing. He had a clear understanding that this man was going to be about as helpful as the scraps of plane littering the shore.
"Moring sunshine." He greeted in a bland tone.
The Xingese man stretched, his chin quivering with the strength of his yawn. "Hmm…hungry."
"You'll get food once we get some answers." Ed laid out, his impatience and irritation taking the driver's seat. "You're lucky we didn't just leave you out there to rot."
"Lucky?" He grinned at Ed, "Luck has nothing to do with it." The man cricked his neck a few times before cracking his knuckles. "I'm well aware of what's out there and it's not coming for me."
Ed glared; hopefully this idiot really did know more about this place than they did because frankly he'd had enough of this pompous free loader. "Un huh and what makes you think you're the king around here?"
The young man answered with a wide grin, "King? In my country we prefer the term emperor; a better suited title for someone if you ask me." Looking bored the swordsman yawned widely. "I'm more interested in how you folks ended up crashed on this island; this place isn't exactly located on a map."
He contemplated this man, what sorts of motives were putting him in this position of obscure indifference? Deciding his answer wouldn't really change much he continued. "We crashed, meaning we had no control over where we landed." Ed deadpanned. "I think a better question is how did you get here?"
The Xingese man shifted, his gaze sliding over to Winry. "I was referring to the pretty lady."
Ed found himself a little perturbed by his admiring gaze and the way the simple act could grate on his nerves. "Why don't you stop avoiding the question?"
Settling into a position of comfort, the man laid his sword across his lap. "Not avoiding any questions, I just simply enjoy talking to a beautiful woman." He wagged his eyebrows before settling for a smirk. "It's not impertinent that I tell you everything, just what you need to know."
Winry made an impatient noise, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, what do you think we need to know?"
He grinned. "You need to know where it is we are exactly, am I correct?"
"Obviously." Ed supplied.
Pretending as if there hadn't been a thread of sarcasm the man continued. "I imagine a backwards place like Amestris can't count on such wide stores of knowledge, but in my country, there isn't a subject we haven't researched. This one in particular isn't as well known but there have been legends of an island with the secret to immortality. Seeing as this particular island has what we consider to be immortals, you can see exactly where my interests and investments stand."
"That still doesn't explain where the hell we are." Ed retorted feeling insulted by the nonchalant mannerisms of this man. It was the way he carried himself, that self-assured gait made him uneasy. This man couldn't be trusted, but in a world of questions unanswered it was easy to believe even the biggest of tales. "I could care less about some urban legends, we just want to get the hell out of here. I don't even care where we are, just tell us how you got here and we'll gladly take that way home."
"That's the thing," The man paused scratching his head for a second. "It's not that simple, we didn't find the island, it found us."
A silence stung the air, each of the listeners to his tale caught somewhere between unease and anger. There was a fine line between supernatural and crazy and Ed was leaning towards the latter. The island found them? Did he honestly believe that's what had happened to him? Even with the creatures they had come across, he didn't think an island had the power of free will or the ability to act upon it in such a way. Not really wanting an answer he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And how exactly did it find you?"
"I'd been sailing for two years with the maps of my people and still nothing. The ancient writings detailed the strange disappearance of another civilization and the great, immortal being that came bringing with him the gift of alchemy. It was said that he left with the souls of men to the island of immortality. But to answer your question, it wasn't until I stopped actively searching for this place that I crashed upon its shores."
"So you didn't land here, you crashed." Ed repeated feeling deflated.
"Technically, yes." The man replied with a grin. "And now immortality awaits me."
Winry scoffed, "If this is the island of immortality than why haven't you achieved it?"
Both of the men turned to look at Winry, watching as her arms folded across her chest, daring them to defy her.
For the first time he noticed a dark look flash across the man's face, as he broke eye contact. "I will have immortality."
Ed eyed the sword carefully catching sight of the sprinkling of rubies along the hilt. Was he really some kind of rich heir or had they discovered a simple pirate on a simple deserted island? But simple had never been a word in his vocabulary. "What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't, it's Ling Yao, youngest son of the Xingese emperor." He introduced in a rather flamboyant way, all previous darkness gone.
Ed laughed. "You don't say? I'm sorry we haven't introduced ourselves, I'm the Fuhrer, Winry over there is an assassin and Al is actually a faerie." He shook his head, "You can go and rot in the jungle you lying piece of-."
Winry put a hand on his arm as if to calm him back down. She turned her eyes toward Ling. "You know something you aren't telling us." She responded with a certain charm to her words.
Ed swallowed back his original annoyance with Winry because it was being eclipsed by the extreme attraction he felt watching her in that moment.
Ling leaned forward. "And what do you think I'm not telling you?"
"You know what those things are and how to get off this island, I just can't figure out why you won't tell us. Do you know how many innocent people have died here? That number is going to grow the longer we stay here."
He looked thoroughly unimpressed. "Where does it say I have to care about what happens to you?"
Ed saw the fury building in her eyes, it was oddly frightening and alluring at the same time. Winry wasn't someone to be trifled with, even if he had tried to do so before. "You fought that thing out there without even breaking a sweat and you've managed to stay alive. Now-"She stepped closer to him, her eyes flashing. "You are going to tell us how you did it…it's inhuman to stand by and do nothing while those around you die in vain."
Ling held onto the band around his waist, his fingertips ghosting over the hilt of his sword. "Seven of them in total, the leader makes eight."
"You don't think they are human?" Al interrupted.
The Xingese prince grinned like a smug toad. "They're immortal, that's all I need to know."
It might seem like he was stating the obvious but he felt like he was missing something. "So what purpose do you have with us? You wouldn't still be here and you wouldn't have saved Winry unless you wanted something from us in return."
Ling crossed his arms over his chest looking superior. "You do realize that if the immortals had wanted you dead they would have just done it. I think you and that girl have something they need, so I think I just might stick around long enough to find out."
Alphonse cleared his throat looking uncomfortable by the young man's words. "Hold on, can we back up to what you said before? You mentioned something about ancient writings here, on the island?"
The prince nodded his head in affirmation. "I've found a few sights with them, but only one with Xingese writing, the others are not of a language I recognize. It's something far older than Xing and that is rather remarkable."
The younger Elric shifted on his feet, his eyes wide with intrigue. "Could you show us?"
"I suppose I am in your debt for the food…" He made eyes at Winry, "I'd be happy to repay that debt with my body."
Winry glowered at him in disgust. "Just take us to the writings."
"You sure that's what you want?" He continued unperturbed.
Her nose wrinkled up at his suggestive tone. "Positive."
Ed frowned; not at all amused by this inept attempt at flirting with Winry. He had never been a fan of sharing and he wasn't about to start now.
It had been a long day and he was tired from the heat. Apparently Ling had made nice with some of the other people around camp and was charming them with what Ed couldn't possibly fathom. The chill of the night was settling in but he hadn't lit a fire, at least not yet. Alphonse was playing with Alexander the dog and Winry was braiding Elicia's hair. It was frustrating, irritating almost, that he couldn't seem to find a sense of normalcy. He watched them with a longing feeling; wondering how much longer they had before this false sense of safety security died.
Feeling older than his years he thought about the man who resembled his father, about those strange creatures and more importantly the idea of alchemy. Greed had told him he was as close to the truth as he was going to come without running head first into it. If he had a connection to this island, was it possible that these other passengers did too? Or were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? He stared back at the ocean, if only they could just sail away. With a heavy sigh he finally opened his eyes and got to his feet, no use in getting lost in his head.
A pair of hands wound around from behind him, the fingers closing him into their embrace as a head leaned into his back. He turned in her embrace and grabbed her chin. "You shouldn't sneak up on people out here." He gently scolded her as his heart pumped wildly.
Winry's pretty face turned strangely sick as the corners of her mouth wound up into an unnatural smile. "I've missed you." Her voice hissed before her irises turned purple.
"AHHH!" Ed sat up, his fists clenched as he stared around the empty tent. Breathing heavily he looked over to see Winry blinking the sleep from her eyes as she too sat up. His younger brother was still sound asleep next to Alexander, the occasional snore escaping his parted lips.
He tried to mask the fear in his face but Winry was already up and at his side. The dream still fresh in his mind he stiffened at her touch. But she fought him into his embrace and he found the reality he was searching for. Pulling her to his chest he felt like a little child again as he asked her to stay with him. As much as he was determined to shoulder the weight of their pain he couldn't do it alone for much longer.
The next morning they got ready for their trek in silence. Winry never asked him what had caused his scream in the middle of the night and he wasn't sure it was necessary to tell her. She was safe for now and he didn't want to think of any other possibility.
From the looks of everyone he knew the idea of them leaving wasn't comforting. They were tired. The kind of tired that makes you despondent, the urge to get out of bed gone…though they could hardly call their makeshift sleeping arrangements the equivalent of a bed. At least they had managed to establish a few key things, one of them being health. A majority of the injuries from the accident itself had been taken care of and those in limbo had either passed away or had grown strong enough to stand on their own again. Their predicament would have been a hell of a lot worse without Winry's medical expertise. Alphonse was on the mend and Sidilla's baby grew more and more each day. It was survival mode and those who fantasized about being rescued were learning to cope.
The island no longer had a frightening unknown, only a hard earned knowledge of what it meant to face death and a learned behavior of avoiding it that had turned into habit. No one went into the woods alone, you didn't eat what couldn't be identified and you didn't trust anyone who hadn't been on the plane.
While they had informed most of the camp about the islands inhabitants it was harder to explain the presence of Kimbley or more recently a prince of Xing; though the pompous brat had certainly taken a liking to them.
No one was really surprised to find the so called prince still snoozing when they got ready to leave. Ed took joy in rousing him with a kick at his legs. "Let's go Ling."
The team consisted of himself, his brother, Winry, and Ling. They had thought about bringing along Mustang or even Hawkeye but the idea of leaving the rest of the survivors without leadership or protection didn't sit well with any of them. Alphonse had been the one to ask Winry if she should stay but both brothers were assured with a death glare that she was going with them.
They spent the first few minutes gathering supplies before saying their goodbyes. Ed chose to ignore the looks that followed them and the way goodbyes lingered as if final in their echoes.
Ling guided them down the southern coastline, slowly having them work their way along the exterior of the island. He had explained it to be about a day's walk but that the caves themselves wound deep into the interior of the island and could keep them occupied for days themselves. Ed shook off the anxiety that liked to travel with the unknown. If he could make sense of some of this islands history it just might explain what they were up against.
A large, winged bird of prey stalked them from the air as if it were waiting for one of them to fall and become its next meal. Their trek slowly began to grow more tiresome, the smooth terrain of sandy beaches giving way to steeper cliffs and juts of rock as the water cut further inland. His feet ached in his worn shoes, the material rubbing his skin raw and creating new sores to add to his plethora of old. But there was no way he was going to whine or complain, especially not when Mr. Arrogance himself was practically skipping through the rocks in his bare feet.
Al took the awkwardness out of their silence by falling in step with Ling and questioning him about Xing. Ed took the chance to really observe Winry. One of the girls had braided her hair in an intricate way that made her look like a surreal sort of native with her stained clothing and bronzed skin. Her once pale skin, much like his own, had long since burned, shed and was now adapting. Her hand shot up against her forehead shielding the sunlight from her gaze. As if sensing his eyes she smiled at him. "It's sort of beautiful isn't it?"
He took a look out at the sea of aqua and blue, the sight rather breathtaking. "Yeah, guess it's not too bad."
She looked at him, a sort of exasperated sigh escaping her lips. "If you are going to look at the glass half empty at least pretend it's full for me."
He held out his half drained bottle of water, "Would you like some water, I've got a bottle full."
Winry hit his arm, a grin keeping the corners of her lips turned up. "You know, they always prepare you for what to do when get stranded on deserted island, but no one tells you what to do if you're stuck there."
"Want to write a book with me on it when we get back home?"
She laughed, the sound easing the tension in his muscles. "Yeah, I think we could do a pretty good job."
Ling cleared his throat loudly from his stance on a ledge above them. "Let's go lovebirds I'm starting to get hungry."
They scaled the wall, the ledge hardly enough to put one foot in front of the other. No one questioned the risks and it seemed taboo to mention what could happen to them. Somehow danger and death were not the deterrents they once used to be.
He could feel the dirt under his nails as he clung to the moss covered rocks happy that so far they were doing alright. Occasionally he would hold out a hand for Winry or in most cases shoot one out for help himself. The only one really without need of help was Ling who had the footwork of a well-trained dancer. Ed pictured him in a tutu and found his minds humiliation of the Xingese man was enough to tide him over.
"There!" Ling called, his finger pointing at a break in the ridge above them.
Ed craned his neck back to catch a look into the opening. "Maybe it'll collapse and put us all out of our misery." He muttered under his breath.
Once the four of them were safely within the mouth of the cave he got a good look inside. Ling ventured ahead of them, already far enough in that Ed had to rely more on his hearing than sight to see him. He finally reemerged with a beaten torch in his grasp. Ling pulled something from his pocket, struck it against his sword with a spark that ignited the tip of the torch in an instant. It wasn't very bright but Ed was well aware it was better than nothing.
It was hard not to feel claustrophobic as they emerged themselves deep within the winding tunnel. He swallowed back the urge to bitch about something, anything. It was a default response to being in a situation that unnerved him.
Their labored breathing echoed along the narrowing corridors, the thick smell of moisture and earth filling their nostrils. He knew part of the odor was his own clothing which was now drenched in his sweat. Winry's fingers curled around his elbow, her eyes flashing up to the ceiling and back to him. He followed her gaze noting what looked like fingernail marks along the roof of the cave which was within arm's reach. Alphonse didn't notice and if Ling knew he was either very good at hiding it or was just as oblivious. There was nothing comforting in the abrupt jagged marks above their heads and especially not when they abruptly ended at the entrance to a chasm.
Ling stepped into the center of the room, his face smug as he turned around. "Well my western friends, I have upheld my end of this bargain."
Alphonse sucked in a deep breath, "Ed, look down."
It was huge, the largest he had ever seen. A picture made of circles and stars, planets and shapes, an array of a proportion he had never imagined. This wasn't a coincidence and it sure as hell wasn't just a cave drawing, his father had taught him at least that.
"It's alchemy." He mused aloud.
He followed the array around watching as lines merged diverged and scattered around in an infinite circle. Where had he seen this before? Tracing the lines with his fingers he closed his eyes and tried to remember.
"Alchemy?" Winry asked, "What is it for?"
Ed looked at the five points and felt his heart sink, his insides twist, it seemed on the tip of his tongue but he was still drawing a blank. "I wish I knew."
He was about to ask Al his opinion when he found the source of his brothers silence. The shadow from Lings flame was growing along with a set of white teeth. The Xingese man took a step back, his eyes growing large. "What…?"
The flame flickered as the teeth spread into a grin before the light went out completely.