Number of words: 3,467
Published date: February 12, 2018
Began chapter: March 12, 2017
Finished chapter: February 12, 2018
Chapter 39: The Sinner Within
Lust found Envy waiting for her exactly where and when they had agreed, the square near where they had entered town and just shy of two o'clock, though she had a hard time spotting him at first. It was only his lazy wave that drew her attention to where he was squatting with his back against a wall decently out of the hot sun, his black clothes blending into the shadows.
"How'd it go?" he asked as she approached, standing and stretching and then wincing as his back cracked loudly.
"My, surely you didn't doubt me, did you, my little brother?" She flashed him a genuinely coy smile that Envy quickly returned as he moved to join her.
"So he'll be able to teach you-" he started to ask, but Lust cut him off with a finger to her lips and a brief flicker of eyes for the villagers with them in the square.
"When we're alone," she told him, and enjoyed the impatient look on his face.
Thankfully, the foot traffic out of town was minimal, and Lust was pleased enough with what she'd accomplished to not begrudge their lack of vehicle. As soon as they were out of earshot of the few farmers returning to their fields after the midday break, the question that had been burning in Envy's eyes burst out of him.
"Well? Spill already! You got the poor sap wrapped around your finger or what?"
"That might be a bit too strong, but he's well in hand," Lust told him. "He's young, and inexperienced, and a bit shy. I'm going to need to be gentler with him than I had planned, but he seems competent and that's all that's really important."
"And he'll be able to teach you how to make Philosopher's Stones?"
She shook her head at him disparagingly.
"No," she said flatly. "I explained this to you already. I know the formula for the Stone; it's the meaning of the formula that I need to learn."
Envy frowned, kicking at a small dust clod as they walked. "It just sounds like so much time and effort. There's got to be an easier way. Aren't alchemists supposed to be selfish? Surely there are some alchemists who wouldn't mind killing a few people to make a Stone. Kimblee'd have no problem with it." His voice grew briefly melancholy. "I wonder whatever happened to him. I suppose he either escaped to another country or was sent to the firing squad. A real shame, that. He might have been willing to help us."
Lust didn't bother replying to that last comment. She had only met Kimblee a few times, and those brief, but the man had been such the polite gentleman that he had seemed to mock even while being respectful. And she'd never caught his eyes straying over her figure, which left her not much interested in him. He'd been useful in Ishval to carve the crest of blood, but nothing more, and he'd been left in jail for so long that Lust was a bit surprised Envy still remembered him.
"There aren't many alchemists here," she said instead. "What do you suggest? That we just outright ask them whether they would mind killing people for us?" Her tone made it obvious what she thought of the idea, and Envy glared at her petulantly.
"Well, excusseee me for voicing ideas. If you're so eager to spend the next few years learning alchemy, then go right ahead, don't let me stop you. Hopefully none of us'll have fallen off a cliff or been hit by a train by then."
"You have such a talent for ruining the mood," Lust told him with a long-suffering sigh that said she never expected him to change. Envy frowned back and stuck his tongue out at her, then fell into what Lust assumed to be sulky silence. They walked like that for several minutes.
"You're not going to ask whether anything interesting happened to me in town, are you?" Envy said after a while.
"Did anything interesting happen to you in town?" Lust repeated disinterestedly.
"As a matter of fact, something veerrry interesting happened. But it doesn't sound like you care, so I think I'll keep it to myself. Maybe I'll tell you if you ask more nicely."
Lust didn't rise to the bait. Past experience told her that, if Envy really did have something interesting to share, he wouldn't be able to resist for very long. She could practically feel her brother's conflicting stubbornness and desire to speak radiating from behind her as they walked.
They reached the end of the mansion's driveway, marked by the large stone and mailbox, only to find Greed waiting for them.
"Saw you down the road from the balcony when you were still a good distance off," he explained, straightening from where he'd been lounging on the large stone. He had taken to wearing his fur-rimmed black vest with nothing underneath. Lust wasn't sure if it was just because of the heat, or if Greed thought it looked good on him. Well, it certainly didn't look bad. "Thought I'd better let you know that Selim's pretty pissed. What were the two of you thinking, taking off without telling anyone?"
"Mind your own damn business," Envy automatically snapped, while Lust demurely spoke over him, as if surprised. "Surely it's not a crime to go for a walk?"
"Can't argue with you on that, considering I did the same thing," Greed said. His tone was neutral, but his eyes held suspicion. "Course, you can understand why Selim'd be upset, given the circumstances. The world's not so safe for us anymore." Greed grinned to lessen the harshness of his words, but the sarcasm carried clearly. "We'd hate for something to happen to either of you."
"We're touched by your concern," Lust replied dryly, brushing past him. Envy followed close on her heels, but could not resist the urge to start a fight.
"I'm not," he said to both her and Greed.
She heard Greed get up to join them. "That's funny, because you always seem so irritated when I ignore you."
"You only ignore me when you don't want to hear what I'm saying!"
"When you have something worthwhile to say, then I'll pay attention to you."
Lust sighed, tuned them out, and wondered wistfully if her brothers would ever mature now that they could actually age. It was probably too much to hope for.
When they stepped through the mansion's front doors, Selim was there waiting for them. For a 6-year old boy, his face was a thunderhead, full of righteous anger and indignation and determination, and he didn't even allow Lust to remove her sandals before starting his rebuke.
"What were you thinking?" he hissed, his words echoing Greed's but in a far different tone. "Running off without telling me! Do you think the Elrics are going to trust it if the two of you suddenly disappear? Because I wouldn't. Envy has an excuse, at least, but you ought to know better, Lust!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Envy barked at the implied insult and took an angry step forward. The large foyer made his voice seem louder, but he stopped when Lust put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back.
"Calm down," Lust murmured, though it was unclear whether she meant the words for Envy or for Selim. "I left a note telling Lily where we were going. We just went to Dublith, Selim. There's no need to be so upset."
"Of course there is," Selim retorted angrily. "You are under my authority. You are my responsibility. Big Brother and Teacher never said that they trusted you. You cannot just leave whenever you feel like it!"
Lust could feel anger growing in her to match her little brother's, but stamped down on it, heedful of her goal and of Selim and Greed's scrutiny.
I thought they trusted me more than this, she thought. Or at least that I had tricked them better than this. Their suspicion was insulting, of course, though not completely unexpected, but she had not foreseen Selim being quite so upset. It had always taken a lot to upset her older brother. But of course he's angry. We just reminded him that he has very little real control over us. Pride's never liked to give up control over anything.
Indignant reassurance, Lust decided, was the best way to proceed.
"The way you said that, it sounds like you think we're planning to run away. Where, pray tell, would we go? And where would be safe for us, powerless in a world full of our enemies? It would be utterly foolish. I'd appreciate it if you didn't patronize me."
Selim did not seem the slightest bit mollified by that. Lust glanced back at Greed, who was unobtrusively leaning against the open door, observing but content to remain uninvolved. Envy was just frowning, arms crossed over his chest and jaw clenched. She looked back at her brother and sighed.
"I'm sorry to have left without telling you," she said in her soft, persuasive voice. Best not to include Envy in that, since there was no way he would apologize too. "But... please do try to understand. This was not an easy decision for me. It feels... degrading."
The anger on Selim's face faded slightly, replaced by confusion. "What are you talking about?" he asked. His eyebrows knit together, wrinkling the dot in the centre of his forehead.
Lust feigned embarrassment, directing her eyes to the floor briefly before looking back up at him and grimacing slightly. She brought just the right amount of heat and hesitation into her voice. It wasn't hard to achieve; what she was saying was mostly true, even though misdirecting.
"I was going to see Pearl. To accept her offer. You did say I should."
"The modeling job?" She nodded and he turned thoughtful. Doubtless he was remembering their conversation in Dublith after first meeting Pearl. Are you actually suggesting I let a human win over me? I have no interest in becoming involved in these humans' lives. Degrading was a strong word, but Pride, of all people, would understand what she meant by it. Lower herself into taking a human job? Utterly disgraceful.
"You were right," she continued, playing to his ego. "A job is a good idea. It's better than doing nothing. And Envy is confident we can mitigate any risk of me being recognized." Envy nodded, pleased by her acknowledgement. "I told Pearl I had a bad encounter with a man in the military. She has no problem changing my appearance a bit for safety's sake. She asked me to go back tomorrow evening. Lily's invited for dinner too. She's sending someone with a car to pick us up."
Finally Selim relaxed and nodded, satisfied with her explanation, though he still added, "Fine. But do let me know where you're going next time. Please," he added belatedly. "If you get into trouble and we don't know where you are, there'll be nothing we can do to help."
Greed said something similar, but I thought he was just joking. Was Selim honestly worried about our safety? That might explain why he was so upset. That possibility hadn't occurred to her.
The boy turned to Envy. "I suppose you just tagged along for the fun of it?"
Envy bared his teeth in that unfriendly smile of his. "Of course! You guys didn't even bother inviting me last time, remember? Hell if I was going to miss out a second time. I wanted to check out Dublith too!"
Selim's eyes flickered briefly to Envy's feet, clad as they always were, and shook his head disapprovingly. "Mother bought you those boots for a reason, you know. If you're too stubborn to wear them... Well, just be sure to wash, or Mother will set you to cleaning up any dirt you track through the house. Lust, you should let her know about the plans for tomorrow." And with his orders given, he trotted off.
Envy grumbled, but sat down on the foyer bench to examine his feet. Lust joined him to remove her own sandals.
"Bossy little brat," he muttered. "I hate it that he still treats us like children. Like we don't have a right to go anywhere without his permission."
"It can't be helped," Lust replied quietly as she leaned over to undo the straps on her left foot. "After all, he's not wrong to be suspicious."
From the corner of her eye, she saw Envy glance up. Greed had disappeared, now that the dispute had resolved itself. It was strange, the ways in which he was trying to act responsible. The old Greed liked to stir things up and would have watched a fight for his own entertainment - he certainly wouldn't have bothered warning them to expect Selim's anger - but Lust had the distinct impression that he was now trying to help keep the peace. It seemed ridiculous. Maybe he had made some kind of promise to the Elrics?
Envy's mouth tickled near her ear, making her start.
"You never disappoint, Sis. Have I ever mentioned how beautiful you are when you lie?"
She laughed and pushed him away, moving on to her second sandal. "I already know it. And you managed to keep your mouth shut. I'm so proud of you." He glowered at her. "Oh, lighten up. I'm teasing." Then, more soberly, "We waited a long time for the Promised Day too. Be patient." He gave her a curt, acknowledging nod.
The first step is to learn alchemy, and I will learn it. And once a new Stone is within our grasp...
By the time dinner rolled around, Selim seemed to have forgotten his anger over their unauthorized trip to Dublith. He listened, bright-eyed and interested, as Ms. Bradley asked Lust about everything they had done in town, focusing particularly on her shop-owning friend.
"I'm so glad you decided to try it," she gushed. "I really didn't think you'd consider it after… Anyway, I know Ruth and Marcella too. They're good girls, especially Ruth. I'm sure it will be fun."
Lust was not nearly as enthusiastic, though she was trying to express optimism; the whole point was to convince Selim that she was at least considering human pursuits, after all. She sipped at her wine and let Lily do most of the talking as the old woman began reminiscing about some of the military balls and receptions she'd attended, how much fun it had been to dress up, and then falling onto a tangent about how King had always softened and stared at her even when he tried not to, more often than not in ways that were entirely inappropriate for the situation at hand.
Envy only half-listened. He had a smidgen of pity – just a smidgen, mind! – for his sister, but was mostly distracted by thoughts of his strange visit with Lyra.
So much of it could just have been coincidence, he thought, but I still don't like that she knew my name. Sure, it's a small town, so maybe she heard it from someone, but… He just had the strong impression that Lyra was not the type to gossip, and she struck him moreover as a loner. He had never been to Dublith before and he found it hard to believe that Selim's cousins would be such big news as to be a common topic of conversation. They hadn't been there for that long, and they hadn't even done anything noteworthy yet.
"Do you know any villagers named Lyra?" Envy asked, as nonchalantly as he could, during a lull in the conversation.
"Who's that? Someone you met in town?" Greed asked around a mouthful of potatoes without looking up from the table. Ignoring the others, he and Gluttony seemed to have settled into a friendly eating competition, with Greed complimenting Gluttony's increasing assistance in the kitchen as the pair matched bite for bite. Greed's new body really did seem to have a hollow leg, and even though Gluttony could now experience satiety, that didn't stop him from eating far more than was necessary.
"Lyra?" Ms. Bradley repeated. "I'm pretty sure that's the young woman who moved to Dublith a few months ago. Or maybe it's been longer now, I can't quite remember."
Selim tilted his head curiously. "The fortune teller, right?" His mother nodded. "Why do you want to know about her? Did you see a poster or something?"
Envy shrugged as if it didn't matter, but he felt uncomfortable. It was almost silly to be asking, but... I've been thinking about it all afternoon, and I still can't figure it out. There's got to be an explanation. "I just wanted to know what you knew about her," he said instead.
Ms. Bradley put her fork down. "I'm afraid I haven't heard very much about her. I think she's been trying to set up a business, but she hasn't gotten many customers yet. She's a lovely young lady, but I don't think she's made very many friends here. And no one knows where she came from. She's a real mystery, that Lyra." She brightened and leaned forward conspiratorially. "Did you see her in town? No need to be embarrassed if you're smitten, dear. She really is quite pretty."
Selim, Greed and Lust all laughed over Envy's spluttered protests.
"As if!" He could feel his face reddening. Damn it all. Lily looked confused again, but Selim inadvertently rescued him by not even bothering to address the ridiculousness of her suggestion.
"It's no surprise Lyra doesn't have many customers," he said dismissively. "This isn't a small town - we have alchemists here - and she claims to be a fortune teller. Or no, what's the word she uses? 'Seer'?" Selim rolled his eyes. "Dublithers aren't naive; they're practical, not given to religion. She'd have much better luck with the credulous masses in Liore!"
"Selim, don't say things like that," Lily said sharply. "You're not being nice. What happened in Liore was a tragedy."
"It was tragic," Selim agreed seriously, "but the people of Liore let themselves believe works of alchemy were miracles, and ended up killing each other in rioting factions. It's hard to feel too bad for them."
Envy tried but could not keep the smallest of smiles from flicking across his lips. He saw the same brief twitch on his sister's face. That had been such a fun assignment.
"So you've never met her?" Envy asked Selim, ignoring the disapproving look Ms. Bradley was directing at her son.
"No, and I have no interest in doing so. What would be the point other than to waste time? And I don't want to think about how Big Brother would react if he found out. He has no patience at all for mysticism."
Envy leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "She explained like it was a science…" he muttered under his breath, but not quietly enough.
"Oh," Lust purred, "is that the interesting thing you were keeping secret? It sounds like you already met her."
He sighed, but gave a begrudging nod. "Yeah. She thought I looked bored, and it's not like I had anything better to do. You did tell me to amuse myself. You're right, kid, pretty much everything she said was mumbo-jumbo-"
"Of course," Selim replied.
"-but it was still pretty strange. She knew my name without me telling her. And she played along when I gave her a fake birthdate. From 1743!"
Lust laughed. "A 'fake' birthdate, was it?" she repeated. "Only you would take something true and turn it into a lie just to mess with someone."
Selim scoffed. "She must have heard your name from someone else. That's the simplest parlour trick I've ever heard of, Envy. Were you actually letting it bother you?"
"Of course not!"
"It's nice to hear that someone was messing with you, instead of the other way around, but don't be foolish. Leave the fortune teller alone and she'll give up and return to the gullible masses in Liore. I won't stand having my siblings be taken advantage of."
Envy frowned, but let it go, not bothering to fight despite his objections. But he wasn't convinced, and he didn't think he would avoid seeing Lyra again if he got a chance. He'd enjoyed himself, even if everything she said was bogus, and even if she was definitely weird.
And if Selim is going to be so controlling of us… If he's going to throw a fit just because we left the mansion without his permission… Well, then I'm going to do exactly what I want to, and there's nothing he can do about it!
Happy Birthday, Mom! Please thank my mother, who insisted that she wanted a new chapter for her birthday.
I'm sorry for not replying to the many kind emails asking if I'm continuing this story. I just felt too embarrassed. I am going to continue writing, I want to continue writing, but I just haven't felt motivated. My professional work is busy, but it's really no excuse. I promise I'm going to try to be more disciplined about this.
This chapter essentially concludes the last chapter.