The Truth Within All Truths
"Ed," Winry called. "There's a package in the mail for you."
"Be there in a minute," Edward replied, setting his pencil down on the desk and standing to stretch. For several weeks now, he had spent a great deal of time in his study, thinking . . . trying to find the answer.
As Ed walked to the door, he noticed the date on the calendar. A jolt of realization shot down his spine. Ten years...had it really been that long since that day?
Ed remembered it so vividly. Nothing could make him forget the fight of his life. In fact, the events of that day were the source of his problem. On that day, The Promised Day, Ed had told the Father of the Homunculi that he refused to accept something as cruel as the Truth as the ultimate authority in this world.
So then...what was? That question had plagued Ed throughout his journey West. He had hoped he would find an answer there, only to have the question follow him home to Resembool. Recently, it was all he could think about, to the point where Edward wondered if he could stay sane much longer.
Another memory resurfaced as Ed descended the stairs. When he and Alphonse had trained on that island all those years ago - when they had first begun to grasp the laws of alchemy - Ed had said that the flow of the universe followed laws of such magnitude that humans couldn't even begin to imagine them. And yet, here he was, puzzling over those laws, or maybe...something even bigger.
That was the heart of it, Ed decided. He wanted to know the answer to the question behind all of it: Who had made the laws? Who had determined the flow?
Lost in his these thoughts, Edward trudged into the kitchen. Winry was hard at work cleaning the breakfast dishes. Two smiling faces greeted Ed from the dining table.
"Hi, Daddy," beamed two-year-old Trisha.
"Good morning, sweetheart." Ed patted his little girl on the shoulder.
"Are you still studying in there, Dad?" piped up her six-year-old brother, Edwin. "You'd think you had a test or something."
"Yeah, you'd think," Ed laughed, ruffling his son's hair.
They were both so beautiful, his children. Such amazing, living miracles. Since time immemorial, alchemists had tried and failed to create life, and yet simple humans did it every day. How? How could something as merciless and cold as the Truth be the ruling power over a universe that could contain something so breathtaking?
Because human life was just that: breathtaking. Even after learning how a Philosopher's Stone was made, Edward had refused to reduce the value of even a single human life to that of mere energy. But, Who had decided that humans were worth more than any other creature? What was it about that mysterious concept of a soul that made a human so valuable?
"Ed?" Winry asked. "You're staring off into space again."
"Oh, sorry," Ed replied, pulling his concentration away from the nagging questions. He tried to put a convincing smile on his face, but Winry was too smart for that. She set down a dishrag, dried her hands, and stepped close to Edward.
"You can't fool me, Ed. Something's bothering you."
"It's nothing much, really," Ed insisted. "Where's that package you mentioned?"
"It's there on the side table," Winry motioned. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Ed leaned forward and kissed his beautiful wife while Edwin made fake retching noises at his parents' public display of affection. Pretending not to notice, Ed walked behind his son in order to reach the side table, changing course at the last second to tickle Edwin. The ringing laughter reminded Ed of the happiest part of his childhood, the time when his and Al's family had been whole.
After releasing his small victim, Ed picked up the package. It was heavier than he expected. The paper concealing the contents was dusty, but that wasn't too surprising, considering from where this package had been sent. The familiar handwriting of the address told Ed that this delivery was from Alphonse.
For the past eleven-some months, Al had been excavating and restoring the ruins of Xerxes with a team of fellow scientists and alchemists. He had told his brother that he wanted to learn more about their father's culture, and how the first homunculus had been created. If we can learn that, Al had reasoned, we can be better prepared to keep it from happening again.
He had mailed regular updates to Ed, telling how he was reconstructing an important building, or how the irrigation ditches were replenishing the long-parched soil. The more adventurous parts had made great stories to tell Trisha and Edwin, like when a group of desert bandits had tried to raid Al's camp and been sent running by a display of power from one of the State Alchemists on Al's research team. Scar and Major Miles had passed through on the way to an remote Ishvalan village, as had Brigadier General Mustang and Captain Hawkeye. In short, Al seemed to be having the time of his life.
Lately, though, Al had been on to something big. He hadn't said it outright, but Ed could read excitement and tension inbetween the lines of Al's last few updates.
Thus, Ed wasn't surprised to find a letter taped to the outer wrapping of the package. Written in a hurried scrawl on the front was Read this before opening! Ed detached the letter and placed the package back on the table.
"There's a letter from Alphonse," Edward announced.
"Yay!" both children cried, scrambling out of their chairs and converging on their father.
"What does Uncle Al say, Daddy?" Trisha asked, tugging gently on Ed's pant leg.
"I don't know," Ed replied, laughing a little, "I haven't opened it yet."
"Read it to us, Dad!" Edwin begged. "Please?"
Slicing open the top with a letter-opener, Ed began to read aloud:
It's hard to believe I've been here in Xerxes for almost a year, isn't it? Excavations continue to go well, way ahead of our original time-frame. The capital city is nearly restored thanks to all the handy alchemists I have helping me. At this rate, I should be able to come home within the next few months, so please tell Winry to have an apple pie waiting for me when I get back. I've really missed those.
May wrote saying she'll join me here as soon as she can. She reports that Ling's reign is prosperous, and that he's abolishing some old-fashioned traditions. That's making him a lot of enemies, but he's got Lan-Fan guarding his back, so I wouldn't be too worried. May even hinted that Ling is going to get rid of their rules about marrying within the same class so that he can marry Lan-Fan. Won't that be great?
Things continue to progress well on General Mustang's end, too. Since the Ishvalans share my desire to preserve ancient cultures, some of them have come out here to help us. Isn't that nice of them? They tell me that the General and Scar have become beacons of hope, and that new groups of Ishvalan refugees flood into their homeland every day. I'm so glad that the General has been able to help them.
Give my love to Winry and to my favorite nephew and niece. I hope to see all of you soon.
Edward was about to refold the letter when he noticed something at the bottom of the page. He chose to read it silently: Ed, the rest of this letter is for your eyes only, at least until you understand.
The tone of this sentence was serious, Ed could tell just by looking at how Al's hand had trembled writing it. The rest of this letter? What rest of this letter; that sentence was the end of it...wasn't it?
"Daddy?" Trisha asked. "Am I really Uncle Al's favorite niece?"
Ed smiled down at her. "Of course you are."
"You're his only niece, Trish," Edwin pointed out. Trisha stuck out her tongue at her brother.
"Ok, then," Ed sighed, disentangling his automail leg from his daughter's tiny hands. "I'll be upstairs if you need me."
As soon as Ed had shut the door of his study behind him, he pulled out the letter from Al. As his thumb and forefinger brushed against the paper, Ed realized something. There was another sheet of paper.
Setting the package and the front page of the letter down on his desk, Ed sat in his chair, his eyes scanning the top line of the second page: I'm assuming you're alone now, Ed. If so, you can go ahead and open the package.
Ed didn't need to be told twice; he ripped open the wrapping, dying to know what Al wanted him to keep secret. Inside was a thick manuscript, bound by hand with a leather cover on each end. Ed didn't understand. He turned back to the letter, hoping to find an explanation.
You're probably really skeptical right now, and I don't blame you. So was I when I found the original. But, Brother, believe me. The answers we've looked for our whole lives are in there. I know about the questions that must be bothering you because, until recently, they were bothering me too. But, then, I found this.
I told you in a previous letter that we had uncovered enough books throughout the capital city to understand the Xerixan written language, which has been immensely helpful in learning about their culture. Well, about four months ago, I was excavating one of the more intact buildings, and I found a book, but not just any book. See, when I read it, everything changed. I can't explain it to you here; you'll have to find out for yourself. All I can say is that everything we thought about...about Him...was completely wrong.
I sent you my translation into our language, as well as my own research. All I ask is that you read it with an open mind and an open heart. Don't give up on it halfway; you have to read it through to the end to understand fully, and even then you may have to read it several times.
I'll be hoping and praying that you come to the same conclusion that I did.
Edward stared at the paper, as if he expected more words to appear there. It didn't surprise him that Al had been plagued by the same questions he had. What shocked him – scared him even – was that Al had somehow found the answers. Plus, what was the deal with this Him? At first, Ed thought of Hohenheim, but Alphonse would never have referred to their father with a simple him. It looked like the only way Ed would discover anything more was by reading the manuscript.
Tentatively, Edward lifted the front cover. On the first page, Al had written The Amestrian Translation of the Holy Bible as Well as His Own Related Research as Complied by Alphonse Elric.
Ed nearly fell out of his chair. Was Al serious? No, there wasn't any doubt of that. Alphonse would never play a joke like this on his brother, especially about such a touchy subject. Ed looked down at the page, and then his eye caught a few lines written underneath the title:
Dedicated to my brother, Edward, in hopes that his eyes may be opened.
Brother, if you think this is a book about religious rituals for giving false comfort – like what we encountered in Leore – you couldn't be more wrong. I've done all I can to help you, but I can't make you believe. Please, just give it a chance, Brother. What do you have to lose?
Ed couldn't help but smile. Alphonse really wanted him to read this thing. He leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling. The last sentence echoed in his mind in Al's voice.
What do you have to lose?
All of his thinking had gotten him nowhere, every hint of an answer leading only to more questions. Ed laughed quietly. He really didn't have anything to lose, and if Al had been converted to some ancient religion, Ed at least wanted to know why. He straightened, took a deep breath, and turned the page.
It took all of Edward's willpower to keep reading. After all, what business did he have looking at the guidebook for a dusty religion? He was a scientist. But...Al was a scientist, too, yet he seemed to be putting some stock into this Bible. For that reason alone, Ed did not quit.
Most of the sections in the "Old Testament," as Al had labeled the first large grouping, contained a lot of history about ancient civilizations Ed had never even heard of. There was enough of a storytelling element to keep him awake, despite all the mentions of God. Al had used many different names for this God: Creator of All, Provider, Healer, Keeper of Promises. The first thing that really caught his eye was the title Lawgiver. Could it be coincidence that this God was given such a name? As much as he had remained skeptical, Ed's interest had finally been piqued.
As confused as he was, Ed continued. Eventually, he reached letters written by different prophets, where he made special note of the description Almighty God, deciding it would make sense for the one who governed the flow of the universe to be Almighty. In the same section, written by a man named Isaiah, Ed tried to understand a line about a child being born of a virgin, but his scientific mind just couldn't grasp it. As if predicting Ed's thoughts, Al had written three words next to this line: Nothing is Impossible. He had a point there; Ed and Al had certainly seen their share of supposedly impossible things.
In-between the two large groupings, Al had inserted pages full of his logical conclusions. Al had wanted to understand their experiences in light of the truths of this belief system. The being that called Itself the Truth was undoubtedly not God, because It had admitted to Ed that he had beaten It. What It was, Al wasn't sure, perhaps a physical representation of humanity's arrogance. In any case, an Almighty God could never be defeated; that was illogical. Along the same lines of reasoning, the Father of the Homunculi could not have absorbed God's power. He merely believed that the massive amount of energy he took into himself made him a god.
Al also addressed a troubling question that had been brewing in Edward's mind during his reading: If this God is so benevolent, how could He have let our mother die? In response to this, Al reminded Ed that all people must die. That was the flow of life. As further explanation, Al referred to a story near the end of first section of the Old Testament about a man named Joseph. This man had suffered greatly, being betrayed and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but God had planned a greater purpose for his life beyond his pain. Al then expounded on this:
Likening this to our story, Brother, you and I dealt with so much loss, but consider this. If we had chosen a different path, is there any guarantee that Amestris would have been saved from the Homuculi's plans? Mom's death was the first link in that chain of events for us; without it, it's very probable that this country would have been destroyed.
Ed had to admit, his little brother had a way with words. Al was starting, if only a little, to convince Ed that this philosophy wasn't just all talk.
When Ed reached the cover page of the New Testament, he saw another note from Al.
Brother, maybe you've started to consider the validity of this belief system by now. I hope so. However, you haven't even gotten to the best part yet. If nothing else, read the fourth section of this.
This last sentence made Ed wonder what was so profound about that particular section. He decided he would skip ahead to that part.
The first dozen lines made little sense to Ed, something about The Word, whatever that was. As Ed continued, he learned about a man who claimed to be the Son of God. The Son of God? How could that even be possible? This man, Jesus, had preached to large crowds of people and gathered a massive following, so Ed wondered if he was just a hoax, like Cornello was.
Ed had to double-take when Jesus and his disciples ate their traditional Passover meal. This man who claimed to be God's Son washed his friends' feet like a servant? What kind of respectable leader would do that? Ed could certainly never picture General Mustang doing something like that for his men.
When Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Ed couldn't help but hate the treacherous disciple. Pontius Pilate seemed no better; He had sentenced this Jesus to death rather than risk the displeasure of the local religious officials who had conspired against Jesus. As painful as it was, Ed read on as Jesus was crucified on Skull Hill. His hands had started shaking. Why? Why was this man's death so important? Ed noticed two words in the margin: Equivalent Exchange.
That was all it took. Ed understood. This Jesus had died because only his sinless life could pay for all of the sinful people in the world. His sacrifice had been the ultimate equivalent exchange.
Ed let that sink in for a minute, then kept reading. After all, the story couldn't end there. Ed had been hooked. He wanted to learn more about this Son of God.
For the past month, Edward had practically shut himself in his study. Several times, Winry had to remind him to eat. All of his concentration was on the contents of the package Al had sent him. When Ed stopped coming to their room at night, Winry truly began to worry. After this had happened four days in a row, she decided something had to be done. She knocked on the door of Ed's study and waited. No reply.
"Ed?" Silence. "I'm coming in," she announced.
When Winry opened the door, she found books strewn about and papers taped to the walls with complex charts scribbled over them. The sight that truly scared her, however, was Ed.
He was sitting on the floor, leaning against a bookcase, as if he had collapsed. His face was buried in his hands, and he was trembling.
"Ed!" Winry rushed to his side, putting her arm around his heaving shoulders. As she sat down next to him, she realized that he was crying, actually crying. Winry hadn't seen Ed cry since his automail operation fourteen years ago.
"Ed... What happened in here? What-"
"We were so wrong," Ed choked between shaky breaths. "I was so wrong."
Ed took several days to recover from his seclusion in his study. Even though Winry told him to lie quietly in bed, he couldn't help but tell her all about what he had learned. Her smile grew bigger as he explained, until Ed couldn't help but ask her what was so funny.
"You," she laughed. "I've never seen you like this. Not even about alchemy." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Who would have thought you could get so animated talking about religion and philosophy?"
"It's not just that, Winry. It's..." Ed paused to phrase his thoughts. "It's about a relationship. A connection between each person and the All-Powerful Creator of the universe."
Even as he said it, Ed felt a strange sensation come over him that he couldn't quite put a name to, but it felt wonderful.
"What was it?"
"What was it that changed your mind about God?"
Ed had been expecting that question, and he had his answer ready.
"Love. I had never known that such a powerful being, no, the most powerful being, could ever care about each of us...enough to send his own son, his only son, to pay for our sins - taboos and all."
"I must say, though," he added after a moment, "It might have been a lot harder for me to accept the truth if Al hadn't gone through so much trouble to help me. That little brother of mine certainly knows how to make a convincing argument."
"I'm so glad, Ed. Ever since your Mom died, it was like a part of you had died with her, but now..."
Ed nodded. Without knowing it, Winry had just helped him figure out what exactly this forgotten feeling was.
"But now, the guilt I've carried for so long...it's gone. For the first time, I really feel...at peace."
Winry gave him her biggest smile yet and kissed his cheek.
"And you owe it all to Al for showing you the way. I'll make sure to remember to bake him an extra large apple pie."
Ed laughed and closed his eyes, ready to recover lost sleep.
Thank you, Al, he thought. And...Thank You...God...