"I won't let you disappear…"
"Have you come for your brother?" Truth sat in all the whiteness around them with an arm resting on a propped up leg. He watched as the battle-worn Fullmetal Alchemist approached.
It wasn't the first time the sun-kissed haired young man visited him. Truth still remembered how naïve the boy and his little brother were in coming to him the first time, trying to revive their dead mother. He thought it was over when they lost a body and a leg, but imagine Truth's surprise when Ed returned to the gate not minutes later. The kid was willing to offer his body in exchange his brother's return. This brought a smile to Truth's non-existing lips. Such arrogance and certainty, he has seen the same hubris of man happen again and again.
Yet, something about this boy intrigued him. Something unique about the gaze of those golden orbs told him this boy was different, this boy was unique, but what, Truth was uncertain. He could claim he knows all, but humans were such fickle creatures.
Now, three years later, Ed returned again to retrieve his brother and Truth stood in his path again.
"What are you going to give up this time for an entire body to return?" Truth asked as he studied the blond's disheveled and bloodied state.
The metal arm was gone and in its place was the flesh arm he used as sacrifice years ago. He could still see the metal leg peeking through the torn battle-worn pants. Ed stared at him with a stern eye as he stood before him.
"… What do you want?" Ed sighed. "I would offer my life, but knowing that idiot, he'd probably do the same to get me back. So just tell me what do you want in exchange for my brother."
"And the problem lies here." Truth smiled. "You have to be the one to initiate the exchange. I could only tell you whether it's enough. However, since you're indecisive at the moment, why don't you work for me for a little while?"
Ed frowned. "Work for you? Why the heck would you need someone to work for you?"
"I could tell you, but then that would cost you." Truth waggled his finger.
A scowl crossed the blond's face. "What do you want me to do?"
"Figure it out yourself." Truth said and snapped his fingers. Ed was given no chance to protest as the gate open with lithe black arms writhing out and latching onto him.
"Wait! I haven't—!" He shouted, but by then the arms dragged him through the gate and he was gone.
Truth grinned brightly. "Good luck Edward Elric."
Chapter One: The Weapon Maker
Marcus was a simple weapon maker. He took orders all around the world, given the right price and material. The most recent of his masterpieces was the great Masamune. Made with Damascus steel and a magic guard hilt, the blade spans over six feet. Shinra had commissioned the blade for one Colonel Sephiroth. A young upstart that made himself a name in Shinra's campaign to bring mako energy to all.
All Marcus heard of the young man was through the company propagandas. How much of it was true, he had no clue. Not that he cares for the matter. As long as he was getting a steady income, he couldn't complain.
"Old man Marcus!" A cheery voice came through the door, followed by enthusiastic knock. "I know you're there! Open up!" The excited youth sang.
Marcus sighed as he opened the door for his little guest. "What do you want Zachary?"
The black-spiky-haired youth huffed as he crossed his arms. "It's Zack!" He protested. "Z-A-C-K, Zack! Not Zachary. How many times do I have to tell you that?"
The man rolled his eyes. "What do you want?"
Zack grinned brightly. "Please train me how to use a sword."
"I'm busy." Marcus brushed him off as he went back to tending his flames. Any weapon maker, who was worth his grain in salt, knew maintaining a strong flame is necessary for making quality weapons.
"Oh come on, it's only an hour I'm asking. I'll even leave you alone for a week afterwards. I promise!"
"I'm busy, and if you haven't noticed, the war is still going on. Which means I'm in high demand for weapons and armor."
"I though you don't do armor." Zack commented.
"I don't make them, but I do, do customization by adding materia slots to whatever they bring me." Marcus poked at the dying embers and tossed more coal into the fireplace. As great as mako was, it still doesn't beat good old coal, in his opinion.
"That's simple enough right?" The youth grinned and rested his arms behind his head. "Leaving you with plenty of time to train me. I want to be SOLDIER one day, you know, and I'm not going to get anywhere by slacking off."
Marcus paused. "How old are you?"
"Twelve." Zack replied earnestly. "Why?"
"You're still two years away before they would even consider you as a candidate."
Zack started squats restlessly. "That's why I want you to train me! To prepare myself when I'm ready. Come on, just a little while."
"Listen Zachary, I've been so busy that I haven't restocked my pantry in days." Marcus tried to explain, but Zack would have none of it.
"Why don't you get an apprentice or an assistant to do that for you?"
Marcus grinned wryly. "You want the job?"
"Heck no!" The youth jumped up defensively. "I'm not going to stay in Gongaga forever! I'm going to become a hero!"
"And how are you going to do that hero?" Marcus turned away from the burning embers.
"By joining SOLDIER! You're seen what Colonel Sephiroth did right? And he's only 19 this year. I have my work cut out for me if I want to be as great as him!"
"You do know, everything they're reporting to the public is propaganda right?" Marcus said dryly.
Zack frowned. "What's propaganda?"
"It's… Wait a second, how did you get here? You didn't leave the village by yourself did you?" Marcus narrowed his eyes.
"I got here in one piece didn't I?" Zack grinned brightly. "Tell me that's not worthy of one hour of training."
"I call it dumb luck that you're not eaten by monsters." He placed a firm hand on Zack's shoulder and ushered him out of the hut, but not before he grabbed a black scabbard from the hanger.
The spiky-haired youth lit up. "Are you going to train me?"
"No," replied Marcus bluntly. "I'm taking you home."
"But Maaaarcuuuus." Zack whined.
"I'm assuming you haven't even told your mother that you came out here. She must be worried."
"Mom's a worry-wart to begin with. Come on, I'll make an excellent student. You'll be so amazed by my awesomeness you'll even make me a godly sword!"
"Keep dreaming kid, keep dreaming," said Marcus as he closed the door behind them
"But old man Marcus!" The boy whined as the older man dragged along.
"Maybe when you're older. I'm never going to get anything done with you here."
As they walked, the sky darkened and the sun was swallowed by an eerie wind. Zack stopped his whining and looked about confused. Marcus quickly unsheathed his blade and twisted the hilt to the scabbard extending it to a half spear. He shoved Zack behind him as black eye-infested arms slithered down to the ground
"What are those things Marcus?" Zack whispered, fearing that if he spoke any louder it'll come at them.
"Go back inside Zachary." Marcus murmured back uncertainly, but the youth did no such thing.
Zack was stunned, too stunned to even correct Marcus on his name. They watched as sparks surrounded the arms. Piece by piece, a body materialized among the writhing hands. Flesh, metal, blood and tattered clothing, the end result was an injured young man.
The skies lighten and the arms receded, it looked as if nothing happened. Marcus swallowed nervously as he approached the unmoving blond cautiously. Who knew what those things were and what kind of monster they've dropped upon them. Much to his surprised, he noticed it was a young man, not much older than Zack.
"Is he alive?" Zack's innocent question startled him out of staring at the blond's scars and bleeding wounds.
"I thought I told you to go back into the house!" Marcus scolded him.
Zack stepped out from behind him and kneeled down next to the stranger. "You're not going to leave him out here are you old man?" He poked at the metal leg curiously, but pulled back quickly when the blond groaned. "Ah, sorry, sorry!"
"Zachary!" Marcus snapped.
"Al, I'm sorry." The blond murmured deliriously, his golden eyes glazed over as he reached for Zack's retreating hand, but missed when Zack stepped back away from him. He lost consciousness immediately after and slumped back to the ground.
"Old man Marcus! He's out! What do we do? What should we do?" The spiky-haired boy shouted frantically as he ran around in circles.
The older man raised a hand to silence him before he knelt down to check on the blond. The wounds were superficial, nothing bandages and a good rest can't fix, but that metal leg of his has seen better days. "He'll be fine. Nothing a little food and rest and he'll be fine."
"How the heck did he just fall from the sky? That was so cool!" Zack asked excitedly as Marcus hauled the stranger off the ground and carried him back to his house.
"Why don't you ask him when he wakes up?" The weapon maker commented dryly as they trekked back and entered.
"So does this mean I can stay?" Zack asked excitedly.
"At least until he wakes up." Marcus commented with a thoughtful stare. "Can't leave him here all alone while I take you back to the village can I?"
"So this means you're going to teach me how to use a sword right?" The boy grinned brightly with his pearly whites.
The man laughed as he placed the young man on the bed and went in search for his first aid kit. "Nice try Zachary, maybe some other time." The youth stuck his tongue out childishly and plopped down on the seat next to the bed. "Call me if he wakes up."
"I know, I know!" Zack waved him off as he hugged the back of the chair and rocked back and forth.
"Don't fall on your ass." Marcus chuckled.
Arms, arms everywhere, pitch black things that latched on and plunge to the depths unknown. Ed felt nothing, nothing but the rush of fear. Faster and faster it went until he noticed his body slowly broken down to pieces. He could do nothing to fight back against the deconstruction. His mind became a haze. What did Truth want him to do?
Al… I wonder if he's all right…
"Hey! He twitched!" A voice broke through the haze.
"Yo! WAKE UP!" The voice snapped.
"OLD MAN MARCUS! HE'S COMING TO!" It was a struggle, but he managed to crack his eyes open, just in time to see a pair of sky blue eyes staring at him with excitable curiosity. "How are you feeling? We found you outside of old man Marcus's house. The sky went all dark and these black creepy arms came falling down and whoosh! Then you appeared and then the sky lit up again and—"
"Zachary, give him sometime to recover a little before you attack him with so many questions." A gruff voice grunted before a heavy set of steps entered the room. At Ed's first glance, the man was burly with red toned skin, wearing only a leather vest as top and loose, but thick, pants. He had a small ponytail amidst his rather baldhead.
"It's Zack! Z-A-C-K." The youth retorted with annoyance.
Ed shifted uncomfortably as he sat up quickly noticing his bandaged wounds.
"When we found you in the plains you were pretty beat up." Marcus commented.
"Yeah, you looked horrible until Marcus fixed you up. So what were those black wiggly arm things with eyes in them? You appeared out of nowhere! And how come you have a metal leg?"
"I was in a fight…" Ed murmured.
"What type of fight? Were you in the war? Are you a SOLDIER? What are those black wiggly arms with eyes on them?"
"Zachary, that's enough." Marcus interrupted when he noticed Ed's discomfort. "Why don't you go to the pantry and see what you can find." The look the man gave made certain the youth left without a word. It wasn't until Zack left the room that he spoke again. "Sorry for Zachary's behavior. He's been obsessing over joining SOLDIER ever since the propaganda began. Shinra is shameless with advertising."
Ed's brows knitted together in a frown. "Shinra… Is that the military?"
"You don't know Shinra?" The man said in surprise, but a look of understanding crossed his face. "But I guess I could understand, you're not exactly around here. What were those things?"
Ed closed his eyes. "The children of the gate." He murmured quietly, but his mind was only on the faceless entity.
"Excuse me?" Marcus questioned, but Ed made no attempt to answer.
Just where did Truth dump him? Can he get back? "Can you tell me if there's a place named Amestris here?" Ed asked.
Marcus raised a brow. "Amestris? I've never heard of the place. Is it a village?"
Village? Amestris is a nation! Just where did Truth send him? "Do you happen to have a world map?" Ed asked.
"You're not thinking of leaving already are you? You're in no condition to leave." The red-skinned man said.
Ed shook his head. "I just wanted to make sure of something."
"There's no food in your pantry, your covers are completely bare old man." Zack said as he popped back up the stairs. "But there was some honey and teabags." He said as he handed the steaming mug to Ed.
"…Thank you." Ed murmured as he accepted the hot drink. He was momentarily surprised at feeling with his right hand again. He had automail for so long he forgot that he could feel again.
"I'll see if I can find a map in the mess of things here. But I would much rather you stay until you're well enough to travel. The monsters here could be quite dangerous." Marcus said as he headed towards the open stairs.
"…Monsters?" Ed frowned and turned to Zack questionably.
"Ah it's nothing. Just a couple of giant frogs that turns human into frogs and some oversized lizards that petrify you. It's no big deal. Marcus is too overprotective I think." He leaned close and cupped a hand at the side of his face as if telling a secret. "Don't tell Marcus, but I managed to kill one today coming here!"
…Giant frogs? Oversized lizards? Is there a rogue alchemist in the area? Ed paused, what was this place? "Hey Zack? Where am I?"
"Gongaga… hey you remembered my name… uh… what's your name?" Zack tilted his head curiously.
Gongaga? What kind of place is that? Is that even in Amestris?
"Hey." He felt a prod from the other. "What's your name?"
Ed glanced up to him and answered. "Edward Elric."
"Cool, I'm Zack Fair nice to meet you. And the protective old man back there is Marcus. He's a weapon maker in the area."
"I'm not that old." Marcus grumbled as he returned up the stairs with the map at hand. "Edward eh?"
"Just call me Ed." He replied as the man rolled out the map on the bed covers.
"I don't think Amestris is on the map if that's what you're looking for." Marcus quipped as he took a step back.
Ed grabbed the map with widened eyes. What was this place? It looked nothing like his world. No Amestris, no Xing, no Drachma, no Creta and no Aerugo. Even the desert is in the wrong place. Was this the world inside of the gate? What did truth want him to do here?
"Is something wrong?" Zack asked curiously.
"Do either of you have an idea where the closest alchemist might be? I have some questions." Ed asked as he moved the map and sheets aside. He swung his legs over bed's edge before Marcus placed a hand to stop him.
"You need your rest. What is this alchemist thing you're blabbering on about? Do you mean a chemist? We can go to Gongaga later to restock on potions if you want to go that badly, but after you recover."
"Not a chemist, AL-chemist." Ed grounded out and brushed off Marcus' worried hands.
Should he be concerned that this person never even heard of alchemy? But he knows what a chemist is. Gongaga on the map seemed like a small village compared to the cities like Junon and Midgar. Maybe it's like Lior where alchemists were a rarity.
Ed shook his head and tried to stand, but found his leg wasn't responding as well as it should. He would've toppled over had not for Marcus catching him and setting him back on the bed. Ed hurriedly pulled up his pant leg to inspect over his automail leg. He got his arm back, but his still had to worry about his leg. At a quick glance through the basic components were all there, while nowhere an expert like Winry, he knows enough to keep his parts functional at least until he gets a chance to return to his mechanic.
Fortunately, the damage wasn't extensive. There were some wear and tear but the heart of the leg was untouched. Ed glanced around and found the hut abundant with various metals.
"Sorry Marcus, I'll pay you back when I have a chance." He clapped his hands and a spark flew about his hands.
Ed made a quick inventory of the different metals in the area, trying to decide which metal would be best for his automail. The variety was near endless, he felt like a child in a candy store at what was available, but image his surprise when he came across a metal he never encountered before.
It was lighter than lithium, more durable than titanium and at this moment, more valuable than gold. He's never encountered such metal. He must have it. Determined, he manipulated the fine metal into his automail leg. Both Marcus and Zack watched in awe as his damaged metal leg lost all its dents and smoothed out with sheen.
"Oh cool! What kind of magic is that?" Zack asked excitedly.
Satisfied, Ed rolled his pants back down. "It's not magic, it's alchemy."
"I've never seen a materia that could be use to repair prosthetics. I've seen materia that gives the user the ability to throw fire and lightening, but I've never seen it repair things before. What kind of magic are you using?" Marcus asked.
Ed frowned. "What is materia? I'm using alchemy. Alchemy is a science! The rules of equivalent exchange to get something, you must have something equal of value in exchange. It's not magic!"
"Materia is…" Marcus paused for a second as if to think over the answer. "Well, I'm not all too sure what they are, but it has something to do with mako energy and anyone who knows how to use it could do special things with it… depending on which materia you have of course."
"Cinna's shop has materia." Zack quipped. "We can show Ed what it is."
"I don't think Cinna wants you to be bothering his business." Marcus added.
Ed became quiet, what were these weird people talking about? It's nice of them to give him a place to rest after the traumatic ordeal with Truth, but he was starting to doubt their sanity with how they argued over him. He snuck away with the map when the argument became heated. Maybe he could find some sane people to talk to before they finished bickering.
However, the moment he stepped out, he felt the choke of the thick humidity. He hadn't noticed inside the hut because of the roaring flames, but there was nothing out here to evaporate the moisture. He gagged and struggled for a breath. It never got this humid back home. A gush of breeze from the river made breathing a little easier, but it did little else to help with the humidity.
Ed stood at the door and stared at plains, it reminded him a little of Resembool, but the similarities ends there as he spotted a forest in a short distance away. A large construct jutted out from the center of a forest, towering over the forest. Completely encased in metal, he could make out a logo printed on the side, but he couldn't read what was on it. There was nothing like it in Amestris.
"Cool huh?" Zack's voice caught him from behind. "That's the mako reactor Shinra built a couple years back. Gongaga is in the middle of the forest where the reactor is." He grinned brightly at Ed. "Old man Marcus said you can stay until you're better. What do you say?"
"What do you guys get out of helping me?" Ed narrowed his eyes. He learned not to trust people so easily. Not after what he went through.
"Well… Marcus is just a nice guy. But I on the other hand…" Zack cupped the side of his face and gave a mischievous whisper. "I need him to train me and if you're around, it'll give me an excuse to come here and bug him." He snickered. "Come on, I'll even show you how a materia works when we get to Gongaga. I've been bugging Cinna to give me training on how to use materia too. So I could definitely show off! It's going to be so awesome! Can you fight? You can probably fight right? Since you probably got that leg from getting into a nasty fight… though does that mean you lost? But then you have that cool—"
Ed covered his mouth regretting he ever questioned the boy. "Zack." He stopped him. "Let's just get Marcus and go."
CM Aeris: Hiya! I know, I know I didn't finish my Batman stories yet and I'm starting a new one, but this one been bugging me for two years now. I'll call it my pet project. The only reason I haven't tried writing it earlier is because I simply couldn't get Full Metal Alchemist and Final Fantasy 7 to work together, but please do review and tell me how it's coming along.