+ the unrenewed +
The momentum is against you.
Already, you cannot be killed.
I have a certain pace, a beat that never fails me. It happens when I walk, sliding down the alley like slipping on my second skin, my gait rolling in a way that many humans consider arrogant. To me my pace feels steady and comforting. It is the bite and snarl and snap of alchemically distilled lives. Giving me life. Almost limitless life. It's not my walk that gives me my air, no matter what the humans say.
No, it is this invincible beat pounding relentlessly through my bones.
The others have their own reasons for wanting a soul, but mine has always been the desire to quench this clanging power that looms over my every moment, marking time with the viciousness of a few hundred stolen heartbeats. Those bastards who feed me, all intention has been stripped from them but this: to remind me of the limitations that comes from being bound to a mortal alchemist's caprice. Again. And again. And again.
Take a heavy hammer, the biggest you can find, and with all of your strength swing that hammer into a free standing lead pole that is buried six feet deep into the ground. The recoil is the systole and the vibrating reverb is the diastole, and that is my beat.
So of course you can see my dilemma.
Humans surround me at every turn, countlessly and pointlessly hemming in my world with their brief, fluttering existence. The others hate the humans, finding them worthy of only contemptuous sneers even as they work to become just like them. But I am fascinated. The soft women with their flushing lips and dark searching eyes; the harder men with their grinding hips and almost fathomless need-- they exist to be touched, to be examined, to be sought. They are animated by energies that do not need to be stolen. They walk the earth with a pulse that laps at their time like a sandcastle disintegrating under the tide of the ocean, and when they look up at the sky they see only the blue, and never the hammer coming down.
I envy them. I do. Ironically, however, this is not my primary sin.
. + .
"It's very lonely, isn't it?"
I could not help but goad him, this man who stood before me with a surefooted, wary poise as he weighed my intentions. There was little chance that his calculations were tilting in favor of trust, but of course I had to press him, and without meaning to, exactly, I felt my lips curl in a predatory grin. Not good, but my nature was to consume, to collect, and before me stood something both precious and rare.
"You are one of them," he accused flatly.
I considered this. "True, and not true," I said at last. "They call me Greed."
Despite the fact that he was standing in the rubble of the abandoned warehouse with a look of disapproval strong enough to suggest imminent violence, I decided to sit down, no more than four full paces from him and his homicidal arm. Yes, no need to tell me, I know that was a completely infuriating thing to do. But there is something intriguing about total confidence. I knew how to harness this power and force his curiosity, and right now I needed to have him in the palm of my hand.
Looking me over, his frown never changed, an impressive display of prejudiced mistrust. I suppose that it was this unbending quality of his which had caused him to hold out for a long as he had. Maybe it was just his grudge. In any case, he weighed and measured and weighed again, looking at me long and hard and robing me with magnificent silences which I endured with no change to my grin which was-- face it-- taunting the devil out of him. I'd wait.
Finally-- "You do not come to fight?"
It would insult the both of us if I said no. I was always game for a good brawl, even when it would be disastrous to my goals, especially when (like now) I had a specific goal in mind. Diplomacy was required, but sometimes it was better to be a pig. I ignored his question. "You healed up pretty nicely after your fight with the others," I said instead, leading.
"I did," he said, and a worried crease lit between his eyebrows for a moment before he remembered himself, crossing his arms and redoubling his judgment as he realized that he might have given away an important personal secret. I pretended not to notice the telling lapse, which was easy to do when I knew everything I needed to know about him already. I could feel the questions he was burning to ask but completely unable to vocalize: 'why does that matter?' with a side dish of 'is there something wrong with me?' To his credit, he left it at 'I did,' biting off his curiosity just as ruthlessly as he'd suppressed his surprise.
"Yes, you did. But not completely. I see you still have a scar." I tapped my own forehead with an index finger. "That's good."
Okay, I admit it. That was just mean. He gave me an odd look, obviously unsure what to make of the apparent non-sequitur. "Who are you?" he said, in tones of confusion and distaste.
Beautiful. I wanted to laugh; he obvious was starting to think I was a touch mad, which was just fine by me. Truth is spoken by holy fools; it would not hurt if he thought I was one of them. "Oh, I know that the scar has nothing to do with your recent fight," I assured him, again refusing to answer his stated question, this time going for the perplexity that obviously was the driving force behind it. "Nevertheless, it is good that your scar has not healed. That means you still have time."
"Time for what?" he said, irritation plain, obviously starting to lose faith in my ability to provide straight answers. Well, for that I guess I'd just have to give him one.
"Time to be human," I said simply.
He blinked, pausing in his irritation to consider my words before resuming both scowl and impatience. Oh, That Person would have a field day with This Person's recalcitrance. "Is that an obscure form of threat?" he asked, never taking his eyes off me (wise move) but managing to sneak a bit of wryness into his tone despite the obvious stakes of what I was suggesting. Humans could be so fascinating sometimes.
Oh, he had to know it… he had to feel it. Whether it was bluff, bluster, or merely a stubborn refusal to let me set the pace, he was not going to let me get off that easy, he wanted it spelled out, possibly in legal terminology. I responded by leering, using the mental trick of imagining him eviscerated to give him the dirtiest and most insultingly condescending look in my repertoire. "No threat," I conceded with a curl of my upper lip. "Merely the inevitability of what you've made yourself out to be."
I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees and tilting my chin up so he could see my face better. A good leer must not be wasted. "The stone, of course. Even that kind of power comes with some cost, you know."
"Eh… The stone? Me?" Apparently, that shook him somewhat, because he actually lifted his arm and took his eyes off me (oh, never do that, human, never ever do that) as he examined the source of his power with some bemusement. "This?" Hell, he even hitched the sleeves up to reveal a bit of the arrays tattooed onto his brown skin. "You know what this is?"
The urgency in his tone, derailing me from the path I'd been carefully leading him down, was completely unexpected. He sounded honestly surprised.
I could not fathom it. How could it surprise him? He must have been the one to have those tattoos put there, to activate the arrays with an alchemist's attention. I understood that zealots often didn't like to let the right hand know what the left is doing (or in this case, vice versa), but that suggested some serious levels of denial. Unless there was something going on here I just was not getting. I allowed the leer to go crooked, then drop slowly, as I decided to take his perplexity seriously. "The philosopher's stone," I clarified. "Incomplete, of course."
I would not ask questions. I would let his own burning need to find things out inform me. At least now his eyes were back on me. Good. Don't go soft on me, human.
"The philosopher's stone," he repeated, voice flat all of the sudden. "Really."
I shrugged. Not believing, is he? Well, the process by which he obtained such ignorance might be fascinating to some, but I am no profiler of human intention and thought, so what did it matter to me if in the end he did not know what he himself was? I would try to be patient. "Equivalent exchange. I'm told it's the basis of all alchemy. The things your arm can do… what price has been paid to achieve them?"
Silence. Dead quiet like the core of a storm.
"The answer is, no price. None at all. And that is your problem, really. Because your arm contains the foundation of a significant power. And that power is reaching out to claim your soul."
And then I stood, shaking off my jacket and dropping it to the ground, and holding forth my own right arm for inspection, as I adjusted the organics of my body to form a sheet of carbon, impierceable carbon, and I clenched my fist slowly, bringing each finger in slowly before flexing my arm at the elbow, twisting it towards myself in a loving fashion. He did not move, or speak, as I performed my little demonstration. "There's only one other thing in this world, other than the philosopher's stone itself, that draws on a power it doesn't have to pay for, human," I said quietly.
"Homunculi," he breathed. Good. He did understand.
This human was not timid. I tilted my head sideways and took one single step closer, which still left several paces between us but which signaled my intention to eventually obliterate that distance altogether. Did he believe me? His eyes betrayed nothing, there was no agitation or grief, nothing other than a generalized tightness that could be that of a man simply waiting to be struck and ready to strike back. I was not too concerned. His own body would teach him the truth of my words soon enough. "Are you interested? In knowing what it's like?"
He stepped back, a motion of disdain rather than fear. "I don't need a teacher. Especially not one like you. Just tell me what it means, since you're feeling so… giving."
I thought on this somewhat. The truth was, I had no firsthand knowledge. But this human had the stone in his body, and the stone worked the same way whenever it was inside a living form: it protected and regenerated, but in the process it also sealed away the soul. Or rather, the soul became a part of the stone, a part of the energies that were used to keep the form alive. In my case, as with the others, I had never had a soul to begin with, so the motive powers I used were always borrowed, never mine. For him, once he sealed his soul altogether, who knew what would happen, really? Who knew what he would become?
And did any of this matter? How he felt about the inevitable deterioration of self was a matter of no consequence to me. The problem was, of course, that how he felt would determine in part how he acted-- an aspect of the illogical façade by which all humans negotiate their lives. In the end, I couldn't help but sigh. "It means you can't die, for one," I said finally.
The Ishibalan raised his eyebrows and I could sense the swell of sarcasm rising in him before he even spoke. Maybe he did not believe me. Or maybe he was simply too used to hiding his damaged emotions from others, and so whatever belief he might have was tainted with mistrust (not just mistrust for me either, which was only natural, but for the whole damn thing). In any case, the man the Amesterans name Scar reached down and carefully adjusted his shirtsleeve at his wrist, making it neat. "Death comes to all," he said coolly. "I think perhaps even…creatures… such as yourself are not as immune as you'd like to be."
I smiled. "Are you offering?"
He returned the smile grimly. "Those who sin cannot sleep," he answered, typical human nonsense, and for the first time since he had looked away from me earlier, his tone became slightly preoccupied. Caught up in a memory, with unfocused eyes. "Is that…?" His voice trailed off as he went inside himself.
This was unacceptable. For a moment I wanted to strike him, draw blood from that still-beating heart and crack open that skull, the kind of violence that Envy had incorporated into his signature persona but which all of us were called to share. Humans, even this wavering one, could be so hateful sometimes. What is it they do when they go away, when they turn inward and close off their awareness of the world? What could possibly be more important than seeing, smelling, tasting… feeling? And how dare they waste their brief lives in a behavior so meaningless?
"Shouldn't you be asking me what I want from you?" I asked tightly, controlling my physical urge for destruction, his destruction, on the thinnest tether. I had intended to leave all the questions in his lap, but… but. It is simply not within my nature to accept being ignored.
He snapped back to attention. "I'm curious," he conceded. "But I'm also not interested in asking pointless questions." His eyes were back on me, examining me from top to bottom slowly, with a slight sneer. "I'll come to my own conclusions about what you… want."
A good plan, for him. I had not intended to tell him my true reasons. Not all of them, anyway. "Is there something wrong with me wanting to meet my future brother?"
My future replacement. My future self, if That Person had her way.
The human lit up, and sprang. If I had been a slow human myself, this should have been the end of me: he was strong and attacked ruthlessly, and as his hand brushed my chest I could already feel threads of power reaching out to read me. That was as close as I let him get: I was already pulling back and to the side, and as his hand clenched at the suddenly empty air I struck, grabbing his forearm with black claws. Using his own momentum to flip him over onto his back. He was a big man; the smack of his back on the cement was sharp.
And already he was rolling, getting to his knees, standing to face me again, this time from the opposite side. Now he was standing in a square of dusty sunlight coming from one of the warehouse windows above.
He held position. "You are not my brother. You will never be my brother." The human spat, and his red eyes were lit from the side, giving him an eerie look. His hands were still held out before him, in position for a second attack.
Ah. Somehow I'd given offence. Touched a nerve, one might say.
"Not literally," I conceded.
Human fury is not like homunculus fury. Mine is lit and fed by the mad, dead souls clanging throughout my body, fury that sounded like a bell. His was informed by pain. I had said something to hurt him, and he struck back. In the way a wounded animal might.
It must have been my allegation of a familial connection. Humans seemed to be inordinately caught up in these coincidences of kinship; the Fullmetal Alchemist was irrational in much the same way.
Was this useful? Or a setback? The human's stare was as prickly as a desert cactus, and gave no clues as to how I would most fruitfully proceed. All I knew was that the temptation to renew battle was strong; perhaps stronger for me than for him, because I needed no excuse to delight in aggression.
But that was not why I was here. And as long as he was looking at me, truly looking at me, I was able to calm my self.
My many selves.
"Perhaps you do not wish to be related to one such as me," I said, pitching my voice low. "That is fine." Soothing, as if attempting to tame a wolf. "There is a way."
The Ishibalan blinked, and again he went into himself, although this time he did the correct thing and keep his eyes with mine. Stay with me, I encouraged mentally. Think, if you must, but stay with me.
"You are offering to teach me how to die," he said, after crossing off all other possible interpretations of my statement.
"Yes." No point in hiding this. It was what I'd come for.
He nodded, giving no hint as to whether he wanted to learn.
I didn't mind. I was not here to convince him. That would almost certainly fail; this one was far too mistrustful to take anything I said on face value. If I pressed too hard, he would push back, and then the seed would never be planted.
That's all I needed. To plant the seed. If he had any curiosity at all (and what human didn't?), my words would torment him in the night, to linger and beckon. This was nothing I could force him to do.
"It's simple." I pointed to his cursed arm. "Use it."
Come on. Ask me. I smiled, knowing my answer was vague, but not so vague as to be useless. It was a hint. I took a few steps closer, and noticed with interest that the human did not bristle.
"…how?" Begrudging. I liked that.
I wanted to grab that arm, to touch it. I wanted it. But then, I wanted everything. "Use it up. Use it all, all the power it has."
He was with me. I could see it in his eyes.
I shrugged, continuing. "It will probably kill you, but it's the only chance you have to be free." And before he could ask again, meaninglessly, why, I added, "It ought to be obvious why one such as myself would consider it beneficial to prevent the birth of another rival." Twist it in. "Brother."
It was good that I was now close to him, because when he went to resume his attack I was in position to counter swiftly. This time I'd anticipated his reaction, and blocked with my arms up before my face. I wanted him to see what happened when he tried to break me. The carbon casing on my arms cracked but did not explode: this was his first true shot reading the elements of my body so it was no wonder he failed.
He would have failed, though, even if he'd succeeded… a little bit of carbon striped from my body was no serious loss. When I brought my arms down, I showed him my changed face.
As expected, he recoiled in disgust. Horror.
"Don't get me wrong," I stalked closer, and he backed slowly away. "If you decide to stick it out, that could be fun too."
True, and not true: were I free and unfettered, I would not have minded playing with a newborn homunculi as pretty and as willful as this one promised to be. But I was not free or unfettered. That Person hounded me, and wanted him.
I might not be able to survive her wrath. But it would still be enjoyable to spite her.
This human's death would be a boon.
"Ishbala forgive me…" he whispered.
Humans resorted so easily to praying to non-existent gods. Yes, I knew how he saw me.
Am I monster to you now, human? I was a monster all along.
I know all about your quest for vengeance. Is this what you want? Is this what you are willing to risk?
Doubt. It is a powerful poison. The weak human heart fears the unknown more than it fears anything else. But sometimes a little knowledge can actually reinforce doubt. You now know enough human, enough to know that you're doomed. But the nature of your doom: do you understand it? Can you possibly comprehend what it is like to be enslaved within a body that refuses to die? To be bound to sins you never intended to commit?
Do you even realize how greedy you are, human? How rapacious your lust for vengeance has become?
"You still have time." I returned my face to flesh. "But not much."
Stay with me.
He would be mine soon.