An Unsound Soul
by GrievingAngel (yes, I changed my pen name)
A/N: LAST CHAPTER! AAAAAAAH~! I'm really sorry this took so long. I'm just worried that it's crappy, much gomen; hopefully it will make some semblance of sense to all of you. If there are typos, I apologize. I'm ready to be done with this story OTL
Conclusion! The Brothers' Last Duel?
The first scraping clamor of metal on metal made the air itself hum. The arm that had transformed into a scythe found a niche in the steel armor and bit down, hard. A creaking, then a groaning. With a heavy foot, Alphonse kicked Rasa away, dislodging the blade from his forearm. The young Elric quickly ran a gloved hand over the spot and discerned that the scythe had left a sizable cut. If Al had possessed a human heart, it might have skipped a beat out of fear. Always before, he had been on an equal level with Ed (or even a higher level) when they had sparred. But Rasa was not Ed, and this was not a spar. In those crazed golden eyes – possessed by hatred and corrupted zeal – Al saw the truth: in his poisoned mind, this was a fight to the death. No mercy would be given or accepted.
Rasa rushed him, letting loose a hair-raising screech of rage. He moved so quickly that Al barely had time to block again, this time in such a way as to deflect the attack immediately and send Rasa crashing into a nearby pillar. The crack of impact momentarily made Al fear he'd thrown too hard and broken the other's back, but the death weapon picked himself up from the dust-smothered floor as if nothing had happened. Clenching one fist, Al stayed alert for the next attack even while his mind raced in a dozen directions at once.
"There's nothing you can do for him," said a semblance of Professor Stein's voice in his head.
There has to be.
"He's practically a kishin now, Alphonse." It was Death the Kid's imagined voice now. "He's a monster."
I won't believe that.
"Foolish boy," mocked an illusion of the slithering voice of the witch, Medusa – the one responsible for all of this suffering, "How can you, a mere alchemist, hope to undo what magic has done? It doesn't work that way, little Alphonse."
But her whispers persisted, crescendoing into mocking laughter. "The person your brother was is dead, and nothing you could possibly do would be enough to revive him. He is mine now, and, until he draws his last breath, he will serve no other."
"You might as well roll over and die, little armor boy!" cackled the witch. "Because Rasa will not rest until your metal shell lies empty and broken at his feet and your soul lies consumed in his stomach!"
Al moved a half-second too late. During his preoccupation with his thoughts, Rasa had found an opening and seized his opportunity. The golden scythe cut through the steel as if the latter were softened butter, and, moments later, the upper half of Al's front chestplate slid apart from its whole and clattered to the floor. Landing lightly on the balls of his feet, Rasa turned, a maniacal, shark-toothed grin of anticipated triumph etched across his face. Golden eyes fixated on a target, and Al gasped. Rasa had seen through the hole left by his attack to the inside of Al's back. He had seen the blood seal.
"So," the blond hissed, his voice just as snakelike as his supposed mother's, "Is that what holds you together, Alphonse?"
The way Rasa spoke his name… it made Al want to cry. Brother had never before uttered his name with such… concept, such condescension. But now was no time to cry. He had to be strong, like Brother would be if their situations were reversed. "And if it is?" he answered, raising his hands in defense of his exposed weakness.
A dribble of saliva coursed down the death weapon's chin and, after collecting on the underside of his jaw, plopped to the floor in a stringy drip. "Then I think I found dinner."
If Al could have truly shivered in fear, he would have. He's… he's really going to try to eat my soul.
"I told you so," taunted his conjuration of Medusa.
Alphonse kept to the defensive as Rasa rained strike after fierce, frenzied strike down upon him, but those golden scythes kept finding ways to shave off bits of the steel armor. Worse than that, however, was the fact that Rasa began to laugh. Cackle, really. Just like—
Just like his mother.
Despair built up in the pit of Al's figurative stomach. Brother, please! I don't care what everyone says! I won't stop waiting for you to come to your senses! I won't give up on you! Just give me a sign that it's not hopeless!
By pushing off from a pillar, Rasa managed enough force to catch Al in his moment of contemplation and knock him to the ground. Through the cacophonic ringing of his hollow armor as it reverberated in the air around him, Al heard a familiar triumphant whoop. A moment later, Black Star crashed into Rasa from the side, shoving him aside as if the blond had been hoarding his favorite spotlight.
"Yahoo!" roared the blue-haired meister. "TAKE THAT, YOU LITTLE BASTARD! YOU GOT NOTHIN' ON A BIG GUY LIKE ME! HA-HA-HA-HA!"
"B-Black Star," Al said with concern, "You didn't have to step in like that."
"HUH? AND LET YOU GET SLICED UP BY THAT PUNK? NO WAY! I'M TOO AWESOME TO LET A FRIEND GET CUT TO RIBBONS ON MY WATCH!"
"Much as I appreciate that," interjected Al as he got back to his feet and cast a wary glance at Rasa, who was also recovering, "You should focus on destroying the Black Blood, shouldn't you?"
The assassin blinked, as if this idea were novel to him. "Oh! Oh, right! WHERE IS IT? I'LL PULVERIZE IT!"
Al pointed to where the syringe had skittered, and then Black Star was off. Unfortunately, Rasa figured out what was happening in the same instant. Fire so intense it was frightening burned in the amber eyes as the death weapon leapt snarling after Black Star. Al would have pursued, but the other two were just too fast. Even though his metal body couldn't tire, it was bulky and had its aerodynamic limits, especially with all the holes and slices Rasa had left in him. He could only watch and anticipate what would happen.
Black Star reached the syringe first, and one swipe with Tsubaki's blade left a flawless cut in the glass, as if a laser had passed through it instead of enchanted steel. By the time Rasa caught up, the valuable tarlike liquid was oozing onto the tiled floor, dirtied and useless. The scream that left the kishin egg's mouth felt like a punch to Al's very soul. There wasn't just anger in that sound; there was fear, fear that this failure would be his last, as if Black Star and Tsubaki had just signed his death sentence. As Rasa let loose this unsettling, desperate cry, he slashed both scythe-bearing arms downward toward the blue head of the meister. Black Star's eyes gleamed ferociously as the attack came, as if he were yelling, "OH, HELL, NO! NO WAY I'M GONNA LOSE TO THIS PUNY NOSEWIPE AGAIN!" He and Tsubaki guarded in time to intercept Rasa's blades, but that only brought relief for a moment. The smooth edges of the scythes grew jagged, like shark teeth, and began to gnaw away at Tsubaki. The moment that Black Star's footing slid back an inch, Al knew he couldn't afford just to see what would happen.
"YOU!" Rasa screeched, flecks of spit dotting Black Star's face. "LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE, YOU BASTARD! YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING! I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL EAT YOU!"
Beads of sweat collected on Black Star's forehead as he and his partner strove to hold off the increasing strength of Rasa's ferocity. As Alphonse moved in, he thought he heard Tsubaki cry out in pain. Why was Black Star having trouble? Wasn't he one of the powerful meisters among the students at the DWMA?
But then… well, he didn't exactly see it, but Al thought he could sense something dark collecting around the form of his brainwashed elder brother. Glancing back to discern the source, Al realized that whatever it was seemed to be coming from the eerie leather bag that held the kishin imprisoned. So this was madness? If so, that might explain why Rasa seemed imbued with a craze beyond desperation. He was... truly insane.
In the pause Al took to discern all of this, however, said madness gave Rasa the edge he needed. When the armored Elric faced forward again, Black Star had been sent to the ground with a serrated gash across his chest. Thankfully, it looked like he had pulled back in enough time to avoid a fatal strike; the cut looked relatively shallow. The problem was Tsubaki; after returning to human shape, she looked like she had been chewed at by a garbage disposal, with scrapes of varying depths all over her body. As Rasa lurched at his two fallen opponents to finish the job, Al slid in-between the attacker and his would-be-victims, lodging each of Rasa's scythes in a metal arm.
"Stop this!" Al rebuked as he dug his heels into the floor against the force of his elder brother's fury. "There's no reason for you to fight us anymore!"
"THERE'S EVERY REASON!" The way the small blond dangled from the steel arms might have been comical in another scenario, but, right now, Al had to keep his wits about him. Rather than try to dislodge himself from the steel, Rasa swung himself so that the scythes bit deeper into the armor. Al thought about trying to kick him away, but… he was contained for the moment, wasn't he? Was there a chance that he could use this moment to try, once more, to reach his big brother?
"That'll get you nowhere," hissed the semblance of Medusa's voice in his head. "I told you; it's useless."
There has to be something I can do other than just take this!
"Well… you could kill him."
A tremor of horror passed through his hollow body. There's… there no way I could do that.
"Then he's going to kill you. Are you ready to accept that?"
"No." Twisting his arms abruptly, Alphonse wrenched Rasa's blades loose, but in the next instant, his gloved hands had seized the death weapon's wrists. "No, you don't have to fight us, Rasa."
"GET OFF ME!" cried the blond, more in alarm now than anger. His legs kicked out at Al, but the large suit of armor held the small teen off the floor so that he couldn't get a strong enough momentum to break free. "LET ME GO!"
"I'LL KILL YOU!"
"I don't care."
Al glanced around the room. Death the Kid was holding off the werewolf Free with relative ease, but his opponent's durability also meant that the battle between them was not going to end anytime soon. If all had gone well in Maka's fight with Crona, then she, too, would be fast approaching. But, in the meantime, what was he supposed to do with Rasa now? The blond's screams of rage, fear, and overall madness continued, increasing in volume and pitch until even Al was surprised his brother could make such sounds.
"It's okay," he said, reintroducing a tone of comfort into his echoing voice.
"NO, IT'S NOT!" retorted the other. "IT'S NOT! IT'S NOT! IT'S NOT!" He had been jerking his head this way and that in his agitation, and when Al finally caught a good look at his face… there were tears collecting in the corners of the crazed golden eyes. "SHE'S GOING TO KILL ME, AND IT'S YOUR FAULT!"
"She? You mean Medusa? But… why would she do that?"
"YOU MADE ME USELESS TO HER! SHE'LL GET RID OF ME BECAUSE OF YOU!"
"I won't let her hurt you, Rasa."
"NO! NO, NO, NO, NO!" His wails were becoming increasingly pitiful, but – as much as he wanted to – Al couldn't let himself lower his guard. As much as he hated to compare his brother to a cornered animal, he nonetheless had to be prepared for a similarly desperate last-ditch effort. He found it disconcerting enough that Rasa's agitated, bloodshot eyes were being increasingly drawn to the kishin's sealed prison, as if, beneath his verbal outcry, he was calling to the monster contained there. And the darkness-resembling madness continued to amass around the small form, making Al wish it was tangible enough that he could swat the stuff away, that he could protect his brother from the polluting phenomenon. But even he himself was not invulnerable to its effects. All during his time in this creepy room, he'd thought he'd heard snatches of his mother's voice; only strength of will had helped him ignore such distractions. Mom was dead, gone. Not coming back. He couldn't waste a moment on the family that he had lost if he had any hope of saving the last of his family he had left.
Failure. Failure. Failure cannot be tolerated. Failure will be punished. Failure will be destroyed!
I don't wanna die. I don't wanna die, please!
She's going to kill you~
Thoughts scampered around his unhinged mind like little goblins, cackling or screaming their messages over and over. What was he supposed to do? What could he do now that the Black Blood was ruined? How could he free the kishin?
You really want to let me out so badly, little boy? murmured the monster with a hint of curiosity.
Yes! Rasa's thoughts called back. If I can do that, Mother might still be proud of me. If I can do that… I won't have to be afraid.
Is that what you want? Not to feel fear?
It was as if he could picture something in the darkness of his mind smiling at him invitingly. In that moment, he recalled what his hallucination of Medusa had told him in Stein's laboratory: "Madness is a fickle thing; only when you give over completely, when you abandon all sensible or coherent thought, can fear never reach you. You'll know how when you need to. It will take over like an instinct, filling you with power and banishing all fear."
Yes, whispered the kishin's voice in encouragement. That's it. I have all the madness you could need, little boy. Breathe it in. Let it intoxicate you. Make yourself a part of it, and you need never feel fear again.
Rasa followed the sound of the dark murmurs, deeper and deeper, removing his mind further and further from the plane of reality. Until, at last… it all made sense. Or rather, he realized that nothing needed to make sense, that sensibility was pointless. Madness opened its arms to the boy – or perhaps its mouth – and engulfed him.
Rasa had gone quiet at last, but his eyes, wide and glassy, were still fixated on the kishin, as if magnetized to it.
"You don't need that thing to help you," Al pointed out as gently as he could. "Let me help you instead."
There was a long stretch of silence from the death weapon – only the background noise of Death the Kidd and Free's battle prevented total stillness.
But then, a low sound came from the boy's throat, and Al's heart dropped again. It was a laugh, one that gained in momentum as it spilled out of Rasa, until it filled the whole hall. When he had finished, the golden head was tilted back, his slender throat laid bare to the ceiling. Slowly, his head swiveled, swinging back down so that his bangs shadowed his face, but Alphonse could still see the unwholesome grin that leered above his brother's jawline.
The blond lifted his head at the sound of his name, but what Al saw nearly made him drop his brother in alarm. Rasa's eyes were closed, but stamped over them – no, it was as if what was there had been carved into his skin – were symbolic representations of eyes, vertical and lidless, with a third in the center of his forehead. Glancing over to the leather bag that was the kishin's prison, Al realized that the emblem of three such eyes that had been stamped there was gone. Facing his brother again, Alphonse gave the boy who had once been Edward Elric a shake, demanding, "Rasa, what did you do just now? Tell me!"
Rumbling to life from the death weapon's throat was a growl, harsh and jittery, as if someone had tried to hook up a chainsaw and a jackhammer to the slender teen's voice. Next moment, a strong kick had swung upward, knocking Al's helmet clean from his metallic shoulders. On the way down, the same foot sprouted a scythe and hacked at the closer of Alphonse's arms, leaving such a slice in the steel shoulder that the whole limb threatened to part from the main body. Having done that, it didn't take long for Rasa to free himself from Al's grip, kicking against his chestplate with a resounding clang like that of a bell, tearing the loosened arm away from the whole, and landing on the pads of his feet. And then he came back in for the attack, landing relentless blows on Alphonse, carving chunks of his armor off and throwing them aside.
And while this was going on around him in a swirl of slashing limbs, Al's mind worked at high-speed, trying to figure out what he could possibly do to halt this rampage, to bring Rasa… no, forget calling him that, Ed back to his senses. Think! How can I do it? Don't stop thinking! Just because Brother can't remember himself doesn't mean that it's impossible! After all, I remember him!
I… remember… him…
Which is when it all fit together, faster almost than he could wrap his head around it. A mental beat calmed the churning waters of his mind even as he faced his brother… and stood still. Unmoving. His guard lowered.
Rasa showed no reaction to this. Perhaps he couldn't see at all right now, even with those eerie eye-like marks stamped onto his face. But that was all right. This… this is what had to be done. Had Ed been in his right mind, Al was certain that what he was planning would have earned him the scolding of a lifetime from his big brother. But Ed was not in his right mind, and that was precisely why Alphonse wouldn't even think to hesitate to pay whatever price it would take for Ed's freedom.
The darkness made it much easier not to be afraid. Every time he was tempted to open his eyes, the Madness would whisper, Don't look or It's not important. And so he, listening to their lull, didn't question the way his blades met and parted steel, the way that distinct clang of scattering metal signaled that his foe had finally fallen, the way his fingers closed around a warm and fresh soul… and brought it to his lips.
Rasa never really saw much of what other souls contained when he consumed them. They were only nourishment, after all. But, with this one… well, its memories, its… its very presence, soon became impossible to ignore. And once Rasa turned the face of his thoughts to gaze upon that soul, he couldn't look away. Something in there wouldn't let him, as if the soul had sprouted hands and used them to hold his head in place.
Look at me, it seemed to say. Look. See. Understand.
I don't want to look, Rasa's consciousness protested. I don't like it. There's fear there.
But there's more than fear, the other soul pressed. Courage. Love, too. You just have to remember them.
And slowly, as if the recently-absorbed remains of that soul were prying open his mind with a crowbar, Rasa considered what the no-longer-armored being had to show him.
It may have only been a few seconds that he stared into the other's soul, reading what lay inside it… or perhaps it was several minutes… or else many long days. But, eventually, as light breaks out over the horizon, a glimmer of comprehension grew in Rasa's inner countenance, widening into a sunrise that looked quite at home in the golden eyes.
He stared… and then, albeit while still inside his own head, he spoke. "…Alphonse?"
Do you remember now, Brother?
It was… strange. The blond couldn't truthfully say he had regained memories which no longer existed within his mind, but… but here was Al who had been with him through all of it. As he had looked through countless memories just now, he had fought against what he had seen: Al and himself as children in a country town, their mother, their friends, the mistake they had made by attempting to bring back the dead… but enough evidence was enough. There was just too much of it all for it to be a lie. And, so, Rasa looked into the radiance of Al's soul and gave a non-committal shake of his head. "Some of it…" Showing the hint of a smile, he added, "I guess this means I am this brother of yours after all—" but there he stopped himself. "You mean, for that, for getting me to believe you, you let me eat your soul? Are you crazy? H–how do I get you out? Tell me what to do, Al!"
Brother… it's okay.
"What? How can it be okay? After you did that for me, you think I'm just gonna let you di—?"
We need to stop the kishin and the witch Medusa. Worry about me afterwards. Look, what can you tell me about what the kishin's done to you? To your body?
"I… I guess you could say I invited the Madness into my body," Rasa… Ed… whichever, explained. "It's… it's like the kishin himself is inside me."
Maybe that's why it seems like your body is tearing itself apart; I bet it can't take that kind of chaotic energy inside it.
Can you control your body? Your movements, I mean?
"I… I think so." Up to this point, Rasa had been ignoring the outside world, safe with the dark confines of his closed eyes. But there had been enough of that. With a rush of the force of his will, Rasa opened his eyes just in time to dodge a stray bullet from one of Death the Kid's pistols. "I guess that answers that question," the blond said under his breath so that he wouldn't attract even attention to the fact that he was speaking to himself.
Right. There was then a pause in the communication from the other soul, before, Brother… this is going to sound crazy.
"Say it anyway."
I think you should unleash the kishin's energy against Medusa. Then they'd destroy each other, right?
"That doesn't sound crazy to me," said Rasa.
But, will your body be able to take it?
"Like you said, worry about that later."
"Besides… I think I'd be okay if it didn't. I'm okay with dying, I mean." Rasa looked down at his mismatched hands, one unblemished and the other tattooed. "Seeing what I was like before… this shouldn't be allowed to continue. This monster Medusa turned me into."
But, giving up on our goals?
"Even a place full of magic like this can't solve out problems, Al. Sure, I got my arm and leg fixed, but only through a curse that drove me insane and a hunger that induced me to kill hundreds of people. I don't even know if there's any way to get back to Amestris before your soul gets broken down inside me." Clenching, his fists, Rasa faced the door. "But you don't have to die with me, Al. Maybe I can get you out of there by binding your soul again, or—"
No, Brother. There was no hesitancy in Al's voice, and Ra… Ed could imagine that his little brother's hand had slipped into his and given it a supportive squeeze. Whatever happens, we're going together.
Franken Stein drew in a long breath from his cigarette and let it out nice and slow, watching the haze dissipate on the evening air. It had been one hell of a day yesterday… and the rubble would still take many tomorrows to sort through. But what he'd had to do today… that may just have been the hardest bit of it.
The look on that kid's face when he'd come striding in and challenged Medusa… he hadn't faltered once while bombarding the witch with energy so powerful it had to have been channeled from the kishin. And even when it was done, when she had crumbled to dust, he'd still had that defiant look on his face as he, too, had fallen. Thanks to Edward's sacrifice, both Medusa and the kishin would no longer pose any threat to the DWMA or the world at large, but at the cost of a child's life? It made even someone of Stein's stomach sickened. Examination of the scene at the kishin's now-murmurless prison showed that Alphonse, too, was dead, and Stein's own theories on the matter led him to believe that exposure to the memories in Al's soul had been enough to bring that boy's brother back to his right mind.
And today, Stein and Spirit and the kids had buried what was left of those poor boys, marking the grave only as "The Elric Brothers." That was all anyone needed to know about them, really. At least they're together now, he mused as he exhaled another mouthful of smoke. Watching the variances of opacity grow more and more distant, Stein fancied for a second that he saw the shapes of two young boys running along a little road of smoke in the sky, no doubt on their way to find their mother waiting for them at home.
A/N: I probably stretched things a bit with the madness leaving Asura's prison and attaching to Rasa, but *shrug* neither does it seem entirely impossible. (I have finished reading the Soul Eater manga, and THAT had some PRETTY WACKY THINGS happening).
And we all know that Ed and Al were bound closely by their spirits having gotten tangled up in the transmutation, so that's what I'm leaning on as explanation for why Al's memories showed with such pronouncement and clarity in Rasa's mind.
I had no energy to write a whole 'nother fight scene, so you get this epilogue-like ending instead, gomen. Like I said, I just hope it's not a total flop of an ending (I did warn you that it wouldn't be a happy one). Aaaaaand now I'll see what I can do about working on other fics. Thank you, everyone, for your patience with me.
NO OUTTAKES THIS TIME. IT WOULD KILL THE SOMBER MOOD.