|Fullmetal Alchemist: Reawakening (5/6)
||[Jun. 18th, 2014|09:49 pm]
|[||Tags|||||! fullmetal alchemist, # fma: alphonse elric, # fma: edward elric, # fma: izumi curtis, # fma: mason curtis, # fma: original character(s), # fma: roy mustang, # fma: sig curtis, # fma: winry rockbell, & fma: winry/mason, + fma: things that never happened||]|
Title: Reawakening (5/6)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for a small amount of violence.
Characters: Edward, Alphonse, the Curtises, Winry, Mustang, assorted original characters, and a special guest villain.
Setting: First anime. Continuation of my AU one-shot story “Rebirth”.
Summary: Fifteen years after being reborn as a child of the Curtises, Edward has grown to be a healthy, settled teenager with no memory of his first life. Yet shadows of the past are beginning to fall over the family’s happiness… and not all of Ed’s old enemies have forgotten him.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
CHAPTER V: Who Am I
Something was wrong.
That feeling had been nagging at Alphonse for the last several minutes. As he sat at the table and tried halfheartedly to make small talk with General Mustang, all he really wanted to do was get up and go check on Edward—but he knew his now-younger brother would object to such a mother-hen impulse. Ed’s spirit was still as independent as ever, and he didn’t like being fussed over, even when he was troubled.
He had probably just been stopped in the hallway to listen to some sort of chatter from Shaya or Ronan. Either that, or he was procrastinating over the task of fetching bacon from the shop’s freezer. He never had liked going in there.
Ruefully Al touched his chestplate, tracing the spot where Ed’s long-ago blade had struck him in a panic after overcoming Barry the Chopper. That traumatic ordeal was the obvious reason for his aversion to what was now their family’s trade. It was one of the things Al could hold to, almost from the beginning, as proof that Ed’s soul still contained everything he once was. The only question had been whether that part of him could ever awaken.
Now that it was beginning to happen, Al could only wonder what the future held.
If Ed remembered their past, would he be content to keep on living the simple life they had enjoyed here in Dublith? Al couldn’t imagine that he would. Even if he could be convinced that it was truly what Al wanted, he would never really be able to forgive himself for failing to keep his promise. That weight in his heart would deny peace for both of them.
And yet, at the same time, Al couldn’t let them go back to the way things had been all those years ago. He couldn’t just follow along, watching Ed risk his life and suffer hurt day after day, on a quest to achieve the impossible.
He wondered if there could ever be any compromise that would let them both be happy again someday.
“Are you alright?”
Mustang’s voice drew Al out of his sad reverie. He looked up in chagrin, to find the General somewhat concernedly—but quite uselessly—studying the steel mask that passed for his face.
“Yeah.” Al shifted awkwardly on his chair. “I was just thinking about… where we go from here. If Ed remembers everything.”
Mustang smiled thinly. “It wouldn’t have to be his decision, you know. At least not yet. You’re the adult now.”
“That’s true… but this is Brother. I could tell him what to do in this life—but the way he was? Never.”
“It isn’t as if his remembering would just flip some kind of switch and erase these last fifteen years. At least, I don’t think it could happen like that.” The General lightly patted Al’s rerebrace. “Listen, Al. I don’t know just who Ed is going to be if both of his lives come together, but I do know one thing. You and the rest of your family have loved him for all this time… and no matter how much pain he has to relive, the effect that love has had on him isn’t going to go away.”
Al found himself wishing he could smile, to show his gratitude for those words.
Before he could form a suitable answer, the abrupt slam of the front door resounded from the living room. It ushered in two voices, a man and a woman: the policeman on guard duty, and Winry. She was speaking quickly, in a high and anxious voice, as he evidently tried to calm her.
Hearing the commotion, Izumi appeared in the kitchen doorway. Her eyes were so very dark… and Al suddenly knew, seeing it reflected there, that his sense of wrongness had not been mistaken at all.
A second later, Winry thrust herself into the room, ignoring the policeman who trailed confusedly after her.
“What’s happened? I just saw Ed running down the street!”
Horror spilled instantly into Al’s soul, and he lurched up from his chair so violently that he almost upset the table. “What?”
“I was coming out of the police station,” Winry elaborated breathlessly. “I saw Ed on the other side of the street. He stopped and looked at me when I called to him, but then—he just turned around and kept running!”
In Al’s mind, all at once, he saw it so clearly. The direction in which the police station stood, and what lay a distance beyond that, on the edge of town… and somehow, he knew, beyond the faintest shadow of doubt.
“That can’t be,” Mustang murmured, shaking his head. “He only left this room a few minutes ago. What could he possibly—?”
“He’s going to Yock Island.”
All eyes turned to Alphonse, struck silent by his quiet pronouncement. He looked around at them with clenched fists, soul-light eyes flickering with a spark of scarlet.
“I understand. Ed must have remembered something, out of all the things that happened to us there… and now he’s gone to look for the reason why.”
For a brief moment, the room was perfectly still. It was Izumi who shattered that stillness. She strode forward with swiftly, ominously deliberate steps, and pushed past Winry on her way to the front door.
Sig, who had discreetly come up behind his wife at the threshold of the kitchen, started after her. “Izumi…”
“He’s still my son, Sig—even if only for today.” Izumi looked back. “…And there’s a killer out there who knows him.”
If Al could have felt sick, he knew the reminder of that external danger to Edward would have achieved exactly that. He moved quickly to follow Izumi, but Winry reached out, clasping one hand firmly onto his vambrace.
“Wait. That’s something else you have to know—what I was doing at the police station.” The expectant mother’s eyes were wide with anxiety. “You remember how Lieutenant Pardo wanted me to look at the marks on that woman’s neck. I went there first thing this morning, and when I saw the body, I was able to confirm exactly what he suspected. The person who strangled her had automail.”
“We already know that,” Mustang returned brusquely. “This terrorist Bald used to have a whole arsenal in place of his left arm—and since he escaped from prison, he’s probably picked up something else just as nasty on the black market in Rush Valley.”
“No, that’s not it.” Winry shook her head vehemently. “These automail finger imprints… They were from a right hand.”
By the time a heated oath had escaped from Mustang’s lips, Izumi was already out the door, and Alphonse was close behind her.
For some time, the dark was only broken by sporadic fragments of sensation. The creak of oars, the lapping of water… and always, the inferno of Edward’s headache, burning distantly even in the void of black nothingness that kept dragging him back from those flashes of perception.
When at last he fought his way out of it completely, awareness came all at once, in an excruciating flood of sensory input.
His head jerked upward sharply from his chest, his eyes snapping open. The pain heightened his disorientation; now it was not only throbbing in his skull and his limbs, but in his jaw where he had been struck. Strangely, he could feel that he was in a more or less upright position, with his weight resting against something behind his back.
A blur of green and brown filled his view. As he blinked it into focus, it took shape as the familiar varieties of trees, ferns, and vines that grew on Yock Island—but the soft sound of the lake’s ripples against the shore could not be heard. There was only the buzz of insects, the chirps and whistles of birds. Instead of the bright sunshine of the beach, the light was filtered through the shadows of overhanging branches.
This was the hinterland of the island, the very place he had intended to go on his own—but now he had been brought here by force instead.
The realization brought a sharp new stab of clarity. Ed moved, a start of surprise that reflexively became an attempt to push off from the surface he leaned upon… but he remained frozen in place. From the back of his neck down to his ankles, he found that something cool and impossibly sticky was clinging to him from behind, holding him fast against the taut ropes of something that felt like a fisherman’s net.
With some effort, trying not to get any more of his hair caught on the stuff, Ed managed to turn his head a little. The fibers of the net were not rough hemp, but instead pearlescent white and silk-smooth, woven into an intricately beautiful pattern. All down the length of its strands, gobs of the wet sticky substance glistened like dewdrops. It stretched away for several yards on either side of him, its anchor lines vanishing into the foliage of the trees.
In short, it was nothing other than a gigantic spiderweb.
Ed’s pulse lurched and his stomach tightened, intensifying his headache. He forced his head forward a little more, looking around fearfully for whatever monstrosity could have created this trap. No other living thing was visible, either on or near the web… but as his gaze took in further details of the clearing across which it was spread, something else squeezed his heart still further.
Below him, under his feet that were suspended hardly an inch above the ground, he could make out a large circle paved with flat stones. It was covered by a thin film of earth, and vines had begun to crawl across it, but its shape was still distinct. Rising around it in a semicircle were four cairns of piled rocks—some of them serving as anchoring points for the web. The formation was ancient, but clearly man-made, like an altar for some kind of sacrificial offering.
The urge to laugh sickly bubbled up within Ed. Was this why Mother had always warned him and his siblings not to come here?
He had read horror stories like this. Crazy works of fiction about cults that harbored a monster in some hidden place, and occasionally dragged away an unsuspecting traveler or the choicest local maiden to feed to it. He always found such tales hilariously implausible…
But when one was knocked out, hauled to a forbidden island, and hung up on a giant spiderweb, it had a funny way of opening one’s mind to the world’s weirder potentials.
Maybe the one-eyed, hooded strangler with guns for an arm was the cult’s high priest. Maybe what Ed had stumbled upon the day before was a botched attempt to acquire a sacrifice. Of course, he couldn’t be allowed to see that and live.
This time Ed did laugh: a thready, quivering, unhealthy sound. He shook his head as sharply as the adhesion of the web would permit, ignoring the way the movement made his skull throb harder.
There was a far more rational answer. He had a concussion from the strangler’s metal-fisted punch to his chin, and combined with the already dubious state of his mental health, it was getting the better of him. It was that simple. If he could just get a grip on himself, he would realize that the spiderweb was only in his mind, a manifestation of the inner confusion he felt himself tangled in.
…Perhaps even his encounter with the killer on the lakeshore wasn’t real. That could have been a part of the entire hallucination, too. It was so much more likely that he had made his way out here on his own, just as he planned—and now he was plunging headlong into the very madness he had hoped to unravel.
Enough already! I’m going to pull myself off of this thing and walk away—because it’s not really here at all.
Ed took a long, deep breath, and closed his eyes, struggling to concentrate through the pain in his head. He reached inward to recall everything he had learned from Mother about focusing himself…
His eyes flew open. The bizarre stone terrace around and beneath him was still there; but he suddenly saw it veiled by the dark of night. He saw Mother sprawled on the edge of the circle, with a dark-haired, demon-faced child standing over her.
Ed groaned through his teeth and thrashed against the web—not fighting it, but the fresh wave of images and emotions that cascaded through his mind. Mother clinging protectively to the same monstrous little creature. Mother with her strong body bowed, as she coughed up a gush of red-black blood into her hand.
Alchemy lessons—but not as Ed had always known them. Shaya was not there, and even the familiar armored figure of Al was absent. Instead, that boy was there. That boy, learning word for word alongside Ed. That boy, trying to suppress the quiver of his lip, as Mother bandaged his tender bruised flesh after a harsh bout of physical training.
Flesh so precious, so priceless, that Edward had promised…
The scream Ed released then echoed between the trees, causing birds to take flight and scatter across the sky.
“So, you’re awake… Good.”
A chill shot down Ed’s spine. He raised his head, to see the strangler approaching through the forest. The weapon-arm was tucked beneath his cloak, but he reached out with his right hand of ordinary automail to sweep branches from his path.
Bald was his name.
Suddenly made real, the name burned in Ed’s tortured brain like the flame of a welding torch, throwing off further sparks of memories from a life he didn’t recognize. Facing down terrorist thugs. Climbing on the roof of a train. The fatherly soldier Ed had seen in his visions before, catching him when he fell—and wielding a knife with breathtaking precision and speed.
Bald was not alone. Someone else followed him through the brush, a hunched figure who was completely covered by a similar cloak and hood. This person was almost as tall and broad as he was, but even under such obscuring garments, something about their shape and way of moving was distinctly… wrong.
“I wanted you to be awake when you die.” Bald reached out as he came near, his metal talons twisting themselves into the front of Ed’s shirt. He jerked the slight teenager upward as far as the meager slack of the web would allow, until they were face to face. “I want you to die knowing what happened because of you.”
Ed’s consciousness, and his very reality, were spinning so far out of control that he could barely follow the words. All he fully grasped was the menace in Bald’s voice, the absolute promise of pain.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about… I haven’t done anything…”
Even as he choked out those words, he somehow knew they were not exactly true.
In response to the plea of innocence, Bald’s lone eye blinked. His scowl thoughtfully softened a fraction, and he studied Ed’s face.
“A part of me does think it’s hard to believe it was you. It’s been twenty years… but you’re still the same brat you were that day. You’re barely any older at all.”
He bent his head a little closer, his eye intently scrutinizing every detail of the boy’s features. Then he abruptly released him with a rough snort of disgust, letting the stretched fibers of the web snap back into place with a force that jarred Ed’s bones.
“…No. It was you. Everything about you is too exactly the same. I don’t know what you’ve done to stay young like this and get your arm back, or if you really don’t remember what you did—but you’re still going to pay for it. For what you let happen… to her.”
His glance shot toward the figure who lurked behind him. In acknowledgment, or perhaps agreement, a faint moan came from beneath the hood. Even in Ed’s condition, he knew there was nothing natural about the sound.
“I don’t understand,” Ed groaned, struggling to discern whether there was something perfectly rational in Bald’s words that he was missing. He could barely separate the present moment from the images and sensations that spilled through his mind. They felt like memories, and they were filled with the inexplicably younger faces of many of his loved ones; but there was no context, no knowledge of what and when and where to piece them all together.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll explain it to you. I want it to be the last thing you ever know.”
Bald took a few steps back, to stand beside his companion. He rested his automail hand on the figure’s shoulder. The head turned and tipped downward, as if to rub its cheek against his steel fingers.
“Priya was the boss of our organization… but not even our other members knew what she was to me. Do you get me, kid? It wasn’t just politics when I took that train, to hold General Hakuro hostage and trade him for her. It was personal.” He took a deep breath that shuddered through him, closing his eye. “But then you and that armor-plated freak you were with wrecked the whole plan, and the rest of us were sent to prison. I would have hated you enough just for that—but what they did to her as retribution…”
His eye opened, with a gaze that cut straight into Ed like a blade.
“They took her to a place called Lab Five. Do you know what that was, boy? You were an alchemist—were you part of it?”
A fresh, piercing pain surged through Edward’s head. It brought with it new visions, splashed across his mind in shades of glowing crimson.
Metal-clad souls, just like Alphonse. A hulking, no-longer-human creature, fawning over a lifeless puppet in the shape of a child. Prisoners in a cage, watching fearfully as Ed’s own hands trembled over the array for a forbidden transmutation. Al with his armor torn to pieces… and a dark woman bending over him, her finger forming a deadly black needle that was poised to scratch away the bonds of his very soul.
Ed arched and shrieked, his entire body pulling violently against the grip of the web’s clinging adhesive cords. He felt as if his skull was going to burst, unable to contain these impossible horrors that were swelling within it.
The terrorist watched those anguished contortions dispassionately. When Ed finally sagged once more against the web’s inescapable support, gasping in pain and exhaustion, Bald went on in a chillingly quiet voice.
“Maybe you already know what happened to my Priya. Maybe you were the one who did it—but even if you weren’t, you’re still the one who stopped us from saving her. I’ve waited twenty years to pay you back for that. While I rotted in prison, the one thing that kept me alive was the thought of seeing you dead… and finally, two years ago, the day came when I had the chance to break out. The first thing I did then was find Priya at the so-called hospital where they were keeping her. The new government likes to claim they’re rehabilitating the ones like her—but all this time, she was still nothing but a lab rat to them.”
Bald raised his weapon-arm from beneath his cloak, and his automail hand stroked it with a soft clink of metal. “Once I got her out of there, the next step was to get me some new hardware in Rush Valley. That’s where I picked up this… and for good measure, I had my other arm replaced with something stronger, too.”
Those words, with their inhumanly monstrous implication, were enough to fully penetrate Ed’s fog of living nightmares. Staring up wide-eyed at the mechanical constructs Bald had deliberately traded his flesh for, he retched from the depths of his fortunately empty stomach.
“Finally, when I was healed up, it was time to come looking for you.” Bald smirked humorlessly. “I thought I was looking for a man who’d be thirty years old by now—but don’t think that innocent young face you’re hiding behind is gonna save you. Even like that, it won’t be any less of a pleasure for me to watch the life drain out of you.”
The intensity of the threat alone was enough to spur Ed’s resistance. He pulled against the web, gasping out words that felt hollow and false on his own lips, even though he didn’t understand why.
“No, you’re wrong… You’ve got me confused with somebody else…”
“Not a chance. I’ve been seeing your face in my mind every day for twenty years. You were the one, even if you don’t remember—but I want you to remember. I want you to die knowing the reason why… and now, I’m gonna show you.”
With that, Bald seized his companion’s cloak and tore it away, to reveal a creature that looked as if it could only have crawled from the darkest abyss of some primordial nightmare.
The monster was colored a dark slate-gray, its skin rough and bristling with short, spiny hairs. Its torso was clothed in white drapings, almost like a simple dress or a nightgown, but the garment did nothing to conceal the four too-spindly legs that supported its bulbous, swollen body. Similarly, there were four arms or forelimbs sprouting from the upper trunk. One pair distinctly resembled normal human arms in placement and proportion; but the lower pair was smaller, misshapen, covered with an even darker chitinous hide. All four arms ended in things that could no longer be called hands, their fingers fused and elongated, growing together into single serrated claw-hooks with a useless nub of a thumb. A thick, darkly veined neck rose above the shoulders of the uppermost limbs, and at the top of that…
It only made it more horrible that the head retained the strongest vestige of a human form. Much of the skull might almost have been normal in shape—if not for the long, jagged mandibles that pushed forward out of the jaws. Stretched around the roots of these savage pincers were half-recognizable lips, but they could only partially close over other, inner mouth-parts that moved repulsively, dripping with saliva. In the center of the distorted face was a flat semblance of a nose. Above that, four differently-sized pairs of compound insect-eyes stared unreadably, gleaming an iridescent scarlet color. The top of the head was crowned with a tangle of hair, long and black… and somehow, still hauntingly feminine.
Ed wanted to scream, but his throat constricted with sick terror, strangling his voice.
Alchemy. It was alchemy that had done this…
Visions again. A little girl with long brown braids and a dazzling smile, hugging a blond-furred dog so large she could have ridden him. A man whose eyes shone feverishly behind his glasses, his face bloodied from the blows of Ed’s fists. A deformed, hollow-eyed thing that gazed up mournfully at Ed, asking him why it hurt.
It was the spider-chimera who gave utterance to the cry that was choked inside of Ed. Upon her exposure, she reared back and uttered a wail of instinctive, half-animal anguish. She raised her dominant arms, almost crossing them over herself—as if to cover her monstrous appearance, or to hide herself from the light of the sun—while her lesser arms stretched out beseechingly to Bald.
“Easy, Priya. After all these years… it’s time to have your revenge.” Metal fingers stroked the almost-human cheek that bulged around the base of the chimera’s mandibles. Then Bald turned and extended his arm, pointing sharply at Ed. “This is the one who let them hurt you—and now he’s yours. Take him.”
Priya wavered uncertainly. Her head turned, looking back and forth between her erstwhile lover and the boy suspended on her web; and then, slowly, she began a shuffling advance on her four bowed legs. More fluid trickled from her mouth, thick and green-tinged, as she reached out her hooks toward Ed in a heart-paralyzing gesture of greedy want.
A screech finally tore itself out of Ed’s lungs. He twisted and struggled against the web, staring in horror at the approaching monster.
“Don’t fight it. It’ll be quicker that way.” Bald stepped up to the web, leaning close to Ed’s face with a vindictive smile. “She’s hungry, and the animals on this island are too small to satisfy her. I was trying to bring her something better yesterday—until you showed up to get in my way again.” He laughed blackly. “Who would’ve thought it? The payback couldn’t be any more perfect. She became this because of you… and now she’s going to make a meal out of you.”
“No… It’s not—I never meant—!”
Bald lying crumpled on a train platform, his flesh singed, as Uncle Roy—the Flame Alchemist—casually strolled away. A grim, shaven-headed man with a squad of soldiers, forcing the talking dog-child into the back of a truck. Al’s gasp of terror as the dark woman traced the lightest touch over the edge of his blood seal, her low voice murmuring mingled promises and threats. Outrage, frustration, helplessness: the feelings of being betrayed, of being used time and again, like a mere puppet on a string.
The erosion of innocence, as the lines between manipulation and complicity blurred.
My fault… Always, all of it, all my fault…
Now-familiar black hands slithered out of the shadows in Ed’s mind. The sticky secretion that held him to the web became their eager clutches; and this time, he sagged limply into their embrace. His struggles ceased as the guilt of unremembered sins consumed his will to fight.
He had broken that promise, whatever it may have been.
He had failed.
Priya reached the web. Her hooks fastened on it at either side of Ed’s shoulders, and she leaned over him, her mandibles stretched wide. Gusts of foul breath panted out against his face, while a few drops of viscous saliva dripped onto his cheek, causing his skin to burn where it touched him. In his mind, the sting of it was the black hands, clawing into his flesh.
He didn’t flinch. He didn’t care anymore. All that mattered to him now was one thing, one question he wanted the answer to before he died.
Turning his head away from the creature that hungrily drew closer, Ed met Bald’s gaze. The sight of the man’s one stony eye entwined with the memory of another: an eye that stared down at him impenetrably, carved into the surface of a massive pair of doors.
“Tell me who I am.”
Bald’s eyebrow raised at the words. Then the fleeting surprise passed, and his lips twisted with a sadistic grin.
“Your name was—”
The shadow-hands vanished as Ed’s eyes opened wide. His racing heart almost stopped at the cry, unmistakable in its ringing steel resonance; and at least for a few moments, it caused the world to sharpen into clarity around him again.
It wasn’t in his mind this time. He knew it when Bald and Priya both recoiled from the edge of the web, turning to face the four interlopers who crashed through the forest undergrowth and burst into the clearing.
Al. Mother and Father. Uncle Roy.
Father’s fist plowed into Bald’s face before the terrorist could raise his weapon-arm. The two powerful men went down together in a thrashing, punching tangle. Alphonse seized Priya, twisting her backwards and away from the web, as Mother clapped her hands and sought an opening to deliver one deadly touch upon the struggling monster.
The sound of a snap was followed instantly by the odor of smoke, and one side of the web gave way at Ed’s left, its silk fibers burning. With a yelp he tumbled down onto the stone circle below, entangled by more of the web’s sticky strands as it partially collapsed on him. He glimpsed Uncle Roy’s gloved fingers closing together to snap again—and then he saw Bald on the ground, clawing his way up from underneath Father’s restraint, his weapon-arm outstretched to target the Flame Alchemist. Bald’s face was filled with renewed vengeful hatred, testifying to his own memory of pain and humiliation in their last encounter.
Ed didn’t know whether his shout of warning was ever heard. Father shoved Bald’s weapon-arm aside the very moment it fired, but the cannon-like shot still thudded into the ground only inches behind Uncle Roy’s heels. It caused him to stumble just as he snapped his fingers, and the resulting spark burst wide of the other anchoring web-threads he was aiming at. Fire erupted across the fallen strands hardly an arm’s length in front of Ed, billowing up into a wall of flames that obscured his view of the ongoing battle.
The adhesive secretion that coated the web must have been flammable. The fire coursed eagerly along the silk, flaring brighter as it met thicker drops of the stuff. Through his dazed pain, a part of Ed realized that if he didn’t get clear of the webbing he was mired in, he would burn with it.
Through the flames Ed dimly caught sight of Al, releasing Priya to rush toward him; but there was no time for Al to draw an alchemic array, and Mother was fully preoccupied with the snarling spider-woman. The armored brother froze for a moment on the other side of the wall of fire, torn between the encroaching danger to Ed, and the risk that its searing heat would damage his own vital blood seal.
A seal that bound them both—with Ed’s own blood…
The world suddenly blurred again. The flames dissolved from Ed’s sight, and in place of Al, he saw the face of that boy once more.
That boy, huddled beneath a sunset sky the same color as the fire, sobbing beside a grave.
That boy with a heavy club looming over him, wielded by the masked giant who had lurked on this very island.
That boy, wrapped in the clutches of the black hands as they dragged him toward a twisting well of darkness. That boy reaching desperately for Ed as he cried out one word: a word that was also a name.
The word was Brother.
The scream Ed released was high and wild as an animal’s. Without a conscious thought his arms wrenched forward, tearing at the webbing that held them, until the palms of his hands came together in a violent clap. Then they pressed flat to the ground beneath him, his fingers clenching against the rough stones.
Under his hands, blue light surged. The ancient pavement split apart, and a mass of loose earth exploded from the widening crevice. It swelled and congealed, crashing down like a wave to smother the threatening flames.
I promised him…
Ed clapped again, and the webbing that clung all over him disintegrated at his touch.
He staggered to his feet, stumbling over the heap of soil that had extinguished the fire. Still gripped by the relentless pain in his skull, unable to think, he could barely see and comprehend what was happening around him. He didn’t even realize that his hands remained poised instinctively for a transmutation without a circle. For a moment, all he fully registered was the gleam of Al’s armor, as his brother rushed toward him.
Another burst of flames was mingled with a man’s cry, a heavy thud… and a terrible dull crack. Ed whipped around to see Bald lying limp at the base of a tree, the front of his clothes scorched and smoking from the fireball that had blown him back. His neck was twisted, his eye staring emptily toward the sky.
Now held at bay by Mother and Father, Priya saw her lover on the ground. She screeched in anguish and flung herself toward him, sweeping her scythe-like hooks at the couple as they bodily grappled with her.
Al spun to join them, to help subdue the beast, as Uncle Roy stood hesitating. His hand was raised, but the others were pressing in so close around Priya, he had no opening to use his fire without risking harm to them.
For a moment, the struggle was only a blur of motion. Priya thrashed with monstrous strength, her mandibles snapping at her opponents, while smaller, hideous appendages flicked out of her wailing mouth. Her head suddenly snapped forward, causing Mother to gasp and flinch away—as one of those gnashing mouth-parts sliced into flesh.
Mother’s hands clapped together with a greater urgency than before. She reached out just as Al and Father succeeded in dragging Priya back, and her palm struck flat against the chimera’s chest.
In an instant, Priya’s body violently heaved and distorted from within, as every organ inside it ruptured simultaneously. The wretched creature didn’t even have time to cry out. As Mother recoiled, Priya slumped forward onto the ground and lay still, her hooks stretched out toward the lifeless form of the man who had loved her.
Standing paralyzed as he stared at Priya’s body, Ed saw once more the deformed and writhing perversion of the beautiful young woman in his visions.
The thing he and Alphonse-the-boy had made… Made in the image of…
His head jerked up. Al and Father had gathered around Mother. She was clutching her left forearm, and even from where he stood, Ed could see the ugly red gash it bore. There was not only blood oozing from it, but also the greenish, burning liquid that had dripped from Priya’s mouth.
“Mother!” Ed gasped, rushing forward.
She looked up at him, with a wan smile; but her face was rapidly growing very pale.
“It’s nothing,” she murmured, releasing her arm to lay her right hand on his shoulder, with a tight grip that betrayed her unsteadiness. “Only a small bite…”
Then she collapsed at Ed’s feet, shuddering, and the shudders swiftly turned into harsh spasms.
Father and Al and Uncle Roy closed in around Mother then. They tried to still the convulsions, to hold her down, to figure out something they could do to help her… but Ed knew there was nothing. The venom was too potent, and it had already spread too far.
As he watched in numb horror, he felt the last remaining walls inside his mind crumble.
Standing with the boy who had been Alphonse, at the bedside of the young woman when she was still beautiful. Her voice fading to a whisper as she asked them to make her flowers. Her hand letting go of theirs when her life slipped away.
It was her loss that had started it all…
Not this time. Not again.
Ed shoved the other three men away from his second mother. His palms came together once more, and he fell to his knees beside her, spreading his hands over her chest before anyone could reach out to stop him.
Golden light engulfed him, and in the space between two heartbeats, he stood before the inscrutable eye of those all-too-familiar doors.
He stared back at the Gate unrepentantly. A faint, bitter smile twisted across his face.
“…You haven’t gotten rid of me yet.”
Chapters: I. - II. - III. - IV. - V. - VI. - Alternate Ending