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29 July 2012 @ 18:52
Interlude: The Road Not Taken (Part A)  
Title: Catalysis (Also available on Fanfiction.Net & AO3.)
Words: For this chapter, 11300.
Rating: PG for this chapter.
Warning(s): Angst? But you asked for that. :P

Catalysis


Notes: Inspired by Sophocles’ Oedipus and the original score James Newton Howard composed for the 2004 M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village.. Written by popular demand! (Ha, no, not really; it was planned into the plot. xD But a lot of you readers were very eager for this chapter, so I hope it comes up to expectations! Let us know what you think!)


Interlude
The Road Not Taken

Part A
Part B →


They had been on the island that day with their master. Pain lanced through his leg as he tried to move it, exhausted though he was. Brother was still standing, but Alphonse was already down on one knee. Air slipped past his lips as he swallowed breath after breath after breath, naught but sheer force of will keeping him from crying out in pain. The spit would not come out of his throat to wet his parched mouth. Master had made a point to be merciless with their sparring that day.

His leg was broken at an alarming angle and so he barely registered her voice when she began talking. Alphonse knew, though, that every word she said was another step forward to excellence. She was their one authority, their alchemy’s lifegiver—her every last word was sustenance to their science. So when she spoke, his mind emptied of all unimportant concerns. He listened. He remembered.

“There was once a young man,” she said, “who lived with parents he thought were truly his own but were not. As a babe, he had been torn from his mother’s breast, stolen away under cover of night, given to another family to raise. It was said by an oracle that he would grow up to be his father’s bane, and the father, a mighty lord, was afraid of being dethroned. So he threw his son to the four winds of fate.”

Brother lunged forward—three jabs blocked, an elbow thrust pushed aside, an uppercut dodged, a roundhouse kick turned against him.

“The boy grew as boys do to become a loving son—a respectful one,” she continued. “When he came of age, his foster parents told him of the partial truth: that he was not theirs, not by blood. That he was born to another woman of another man. That an oracle had foretold his fate—which, when he learned of it, frightened him. So he took to the streets and disappeared from that house to dissociate his misfortune from his beloved foster parents. He was running away from fate—or so he thought.”

Alphonse pressed a finger to the circle he had scribbled in the sand, sighing at the tingle of sparks crawling across his flushed skin. His broken leg realigned itself as a makeshift cast of packed earth surged up to encase it.

“But one often meets one’s fate on the road one takes to avoid it. On the road to another city, dressed as a filthy slave, he came upon a four-ways crossroad, where a wagon came at him at full tilt. Mounted on it was an old man, richly dressed and fully intent on thrusting him off of the road, or else crushing him with the wagon. In anger, the wanderer—once a boy, now a grown man—struck the driver even as the old lord tried to strike him. He knocked the old lord out of the high seat and killed both men.”

Brother was still trying, limbs silhouetted against the setting sun. The lake glimmered all around them, the leaves rustling in a very gentle wind. Alphonse rested his weight against his arms and imagined how the wanderer had unknowingly brutalised his own father.

“The two of you are privileged boys,” she declared. “What do you know of death? But this is how life proceeds. You will see this when you begin to walk your own paths in the world, out there where I can no longer protect you. This image of a wagon with an old man bearing down on you young ones, trying to remove you from the road—it will happen. Life asks such questions. Who will stay on the road? Who will go? Who will move forward? Who will give way?”

“The old always has to give way to the new!” Brother yelled, somehow managing to wrench his arm out from a lock. Alphonse watched as the sun caught in golden hair and flying limbs. Brother did not know how to give up. Brother had to be made to give up.

“Always?” she scoffed. “And yet here I stand, after an entire day of us sparring, still untouched. Have I taught you nothing?”

“Well, this match is unfair, you’re stronger than us!”

“Does the world seem fair to you, Edward Elric? I would have thought you of all people would understand. Is it fair that you had to grow up without a father, your mother without a husband? Is it fair that your friend Winry was robbed of her parents by a war that is not hers or theirs? Is it fair that I can no longer have a child?”

Alphonse blinked, sucking in a short bit of air. He hadn’t known.

But Brother was still trying.

“Recall my story. Is it fair that a lord who has lived in luxury fight against a penniless wanderer? The opponents are mismatched: the old rich, the young poor. The lord’s body is frail; the wanderer, though starved, is still strong. Where is fair? Tell me, Edward.”

“But,” Brother panted, spinning away from her to regain his breath, “equivalent exchange.”

“An illusion,” she said, “a phantom image that alchemy creates. Have you ever considered that though every circle operates within equivalence, we are never told how the values are decided? Oh, you both are very intelligent young boys; if I asked you what a compound consists of, you can rattle it off without your books. Water is worth oxygen and hydrogen. Salt is worth sodium and chloride. But tell me, Edward, Alphonse. What is time worth?”

“Time?” Alphonse said. “Time’s not a compound. Time is... time is…”

“No, time is not a compound. But there exists alchemy that can manipulate time. Those who are fool enough to try it forget that one cannot easily quantify time. If you cannot quantify what it is worth, how can you know what you must give in exchange?”

She spun Edward in her grip and then shoved him backwards to sprawl upon the sandy shore. Her face was cast in shadow as the sun dipped below the mountains behind her. But her eyes shone with a vast depth of wisdom, something that was visible even in the falling darkness.

“When you go out there, Edward, Alphonse, there will be those who will seek to harm you. There will be many. Some will be your contemporaries, but in the beginning, they will be the old. The established. You two are bright—for them, you may be too bright. They might seek to destroy you before you can realise your potential. The young does not always prevail; permanence is an illusion. Think about how many other wanderers the old lord has already pushed off the road or crushed under his wagon before he came upon the one that undid him.”

In the distance, Sig was rowing toward them. This was to be one of their last days out here on the island, for winter was coming. Days shortened minute by invisible minute as the year came closer to its end.

“The young, if it wants to remain, must burst through and conquer. The young must make the old yield and abandon the road. There will be blood. And most often you will find that motivation is irrelevant: whether it was merely self-defence or a true thirst for power and murder on the son’s part; whether the lord was on an urgent and proper business or simply desired the road for himself alone; what does it matter? In the end, there is fighting, yielding, dying, killing. This is the nature of life, growing up and growing old, coming into your strength to eventually move out of it for the others to take over.”

Her hands were warm when she placed them against Alphonse’s knee. They both watched as she put her palms together to summon her alchemy. The pain disappeared, the bleeding abated, the bruises dispersed. He would keep the cast for near a month to allow the bones to reset, but he would be able to bear some weight upon it. She had done this for Brother too, when Brother had broken his right arm.

“Most people make it easier; they create for themselves a cocoon wherein they will not be rocked by these truths. But as an alchemist, you seek to fix your eyes upon the truth. You relinquish the rights to safety, to ignorance, to simple happiness. As an alchemist, it is your responsibility to always aspire to equivalence, no matter how hard the struggle is to ascertain the worth of things. When you perform your alchemy, you obey its laws, so be sure to first search for the value of that which you seek. Alchemy already knows. It will take what it is owed—fair or not.”

That night in their beds, they sank and drank the darkness. Alphonse was tired, his eyelids more than happy to surrender to its own weight. But from the other side of the room, Brother began to talk.

Search for the value of that which you seek,” Brother mouthed into the space between them. “Alchemy already knows. She makes it sound like alchemy can think, or something. I don’t get it. I don’t like not getting it. And of course I’ll not turn away from the truth! I want the truth. I want to know. That’s why we’re here, aren’t we, Al? We both want to know.”

Alphonse smiled into his pillow. Brother was still trying. He should have known from then that Brother would keep trying.

~

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”
( Marcel Proust )

~


Above them had stretched a beautiful sunset as they walked home from the town clinic. The clouds were pulled pieces of cotton with edges dipped in the warmest of colours. The sun inked the sky with itself in a vain attempt to leave behind a memory of its heat. Now that the storm was past, Resembool shone, washed clean and watered plenty. It was only when he found the hastily scribbled note on Brother’s desk did he remember that the skies had been this beautiful too when Mother had died, and when Father had left.

I’m leaving, Al, the note read. I can’t stay. Mother is forbidding me from doing alchemy. I can’t not do alchemy. I have to leave. I’m sorry.

He had howled for Mother then and brandished the note at her. Alphonse rarely if ever lost his temper, but this was a rare day. His weakness of body, his lingering shortness of breath, vanished in a furious fit of panic. What did she mean by forbidding alchemy? What did she think she was doing? What about training with their master? What about Father?

He ran to the Rockbells that night and sat crouched on the porch until the sun began to climb, spilling brilliant yellow rays over Resembool’s rolling hills of green. Nature was mocking him.

None of them dared speak with him that day, or the day after—not even Winry. He was furious, and lost. Was Brother also this furious, and lost? They had always had each other for as long as they could remember; everything they set out to do, they did together. Now they were separate, now each on their own.

It felt alien without his constant companion. It was difficult to reorient. Even the simplest of decisions—what to read today? What to practice?—he found hard to make. He would turn and attempt to address a figure that was not there. After drawing a circle, he would seek his brother’s advice; after realising a new tangent of a hypothesis, he would tell his brother about it. Except Brother was gone. He had checked the train station that evening, but the last train heading for East City had already left. Brother was gone.

It was a whole week before his mother approached him again. Alphonse wanted to cry at the irony of their situation. Had they not sacrificed their flesh and blood and souls and innocence to bring her back? Yet now that she was once more living and among them, it was as if she did not exist. The true cost of what they had done was not their sacrifice, Alphonse now realised. The true cost of it was their relationship. It, too, was gone. What if—

“I had asked him to explain,” Trisha said, settling in the grass beside him. Above, the tree reached over them toward the blue sky. “I had asked him to tell me what he had done.”

“What we did, we did together,” but no more, Alphonse thought. He crossed his legs and closed his book.

“You have always been his anchor. I can’t bring myself to think that you had gone along with his plans from the outset.”

“But I did,” he smiled, but more to himself, and out of spite. “I helped him with everything. I shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have. But what’s done is done. We argued at the last moment—tried to back out—but we did it anyway.”

“Did what, Alphonse?” He could hear her eagerness, see it in the cant of her shoulders, the tilt of her head. Mother was beautiful—so very beautiful that Alphonse began to wonder if she had ever been this way before. He began to wonder if, beyond simple life, they had given her something more.

A sudden pain speared between his eyes, making him grimace and duck his head. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he took a deep breath and centred himself. The pain went away. It always did, after a short moment.

“Human transmutation,” Alphonse murmured, “and you can’t tell anyone that we did, because they’ll take all of us away and lock us in labs to study and experiment on. Stick to our story. No one can know.”

Trisha recoiled, her slim fingers curling into the fabric of her skirt. She only barely understood alchemy, but she knew of what was forbidden. Her eyes went wide, her lips thinning until they were no more than a line.

“You were dead, Mum,” Alphonse told her, “cold and dead. We wanted you back. That was all.”

“I—I have no memory of this,” she said.

Alphonse only shook his head. “We barely understand what we did. We don’t even know how we succeeded. We were supposed to fail. I was supposed to die, but Brother somehow brought me back. I don’t know how it’s possible, he doesn’t know how it’s possible—but here we are. We want to study how we got it right—what part of it is different—we were planning to visit the City libraries when we went back to Master to train. We just—we wanted to know.”

Trisha was wordless and sat there as a statue. From inside, he could hear Winry hammering on metal for their new customer from two towns over.

“We were arrogant, you see. We really thought we could do it and walk away without injury. We wanted you back so badly and didn’t want to acknowledge the truth. So we tried to use alchemy to undo it. But it doesn’t work that way, and what’s worse, we’ve been taught that it doesn’t. We tried anyway—and alchemy forced us to face the truth that we had turned from. It brought you back, but we had to pay for it. All because we had turned our eyes away.”

Alphonse did not know why he continued to explain despite knowing that his mother would not understand. But anything to fill the silence. Anything to stave off her rejection. He was beginning to understand how Brother must have felt. He was beginning to feel the burden of their price.

It was ages until she spoke again. The hammering from inside the shop had stopped. “I’m scared,” Trisha whispered, reaching over to clutch Alphonse’s hand. “I don’t understand anything that’s happened, and I’m scared. I wake up and my eldest has lost two limbs, my youngest unconscious at death’s door. I’m not an alchemist, Alphonse, I don’t have your knowledge. It’s never bothered me before, even with Hohenheim, but now—now I realise how frightening it is to be in the dark.”

Alphonse wanted to tell her that it was equally frightening to be in the light.

“He warned me, you know,” she said. “Your father—he warned me before we married. He told me that if I really wanted what I was asking for, I should be prepared of a life in darkness, because there were things that he knew and he lived with that he could never tell me.”

“I think he only wanted to protect you, Mum. Brother, too.” He took her hand and squeezed it back. “But they’re not that good with words, and sometimes there are no words. Please try to understand.”

They sat there under the tree for a while, holding hands in silence. To Alphonse, it was to reaffirm in flesh the presence of his mother. To Trisha, it was to steady her fear. But too soon Trisha was withdrawing, her hand leaving a cold space in between Alphonse’s fingers. What if the true cost was greater? Alphonse did not try to hold on.

~

The happiest life is a life without thought.
( from inscriptions on Michel de Montaigne’s ceiling )


~


Brother would have gone to Central, not Dublith. Brave though Brother was, he did not have the fortitude required to face their Master after what they had done—and neither did he. Alphonse worried for his alchemical training now. It would be difficult to proceed alone. He had only vague ideas where to start. They were at the phase of their alchemical learning when they needed a solid mentor to guide them through the transition from the basic practical alchemy into the foggy fields of experimentation. Suffice it to say that after their debacle with human transmutation, Alphonse was not very eager to experiment alone.

It was not a written rule that a master had to expel the student if the student committed an act of forbidden alchemy. Truthfully, no written rules for apprenticeship existed in Amestris. Apprenticeship was widely practiced beyond the alchemical trade, and every single instance of it was a private contract between master and student. Theirs was a lax one by comparison to common standard; their master had no other students and intended to have no more. The only stipulation they had to follow was to give every activity, every endeavour, their entire and unfailing focus whenever they were at work. Otherwise, their master encouraged freedom of mind and action.

Forbidden alchemy was declared forbidden by the books, not society. Scholars of the past warned future practitioners to beware certain things, not for propriety, but for their safety’s sake. Alphonse and Edward both wondered before why there was even any area of alchemy forbidden if they were to be true followers of science in search of the truth. Nothing should be forbidden, they had said. Everything should be put under question.

How young and foolish they had been.

Alphonse felt as though he had aged a decade. It could be his imagination, but there were times when he felt a leaden quality in his limbs, a tightness in his chest. There were times when it was hard to form a thought, times when sensations felt dim, and yet other times when he froze in motion or could not go into motion at all.

Earlier today he had studied the multi-chord circle seemingly tattooed into the skin of his chest—sketched it, even, into one of his notebooks. The skin was smooth if he touched it. The circle was of a deep burned red, the colour of blood. It was drawn in his brother’s blood, painted with fingers, steady despite the pain, despite the panic, despite the darkness. Alphonse once more felt a renewed surge of admiration for his brother.

Mother used to often say that Brother was their father’s son. Brother had hated it whenever she did, but she did anyway. Unlike Brother, who remembered enough to resent Hohenheim, Alphonse had very little memory of the man. He remembered a shadow, the glint of firelight against glasses, silken golden hair, and a deep voice—but not much else. He did not even have words. Which was why he liked to look at his Brother sometimes to try to see what their father was like. If Brother was very similar to Father, then Alphonse could use him as a window. It was his little secret.

As they grew together, Alphonse was quick to realise how different they were from each other. It began to make sense what people said when they likened him to his mother. He had her calm temperament, her gentle smile. While little Edward was spitfire and all of Hohenheim’s famed spontaneity, little Alphonse was the grounding anchor and steady bank.

He never resented their differences; he revelled in them. They complemented each other. Whereas Edward learned his alchemy by immersion and practice, Alphonse learned by a systematic and thorough replication of structure. While Edward came upon discoveries and ideas through leaps of intuition, Alphonse approached the world with eyes open to patterns and causation. Together they covered each other’s weakness: Edward made up for Alphonse’s relative lack of (mad) ideas to try out, and Alphonse made up for Edward’s (irresponsible) disregard for procedure and detail.

But now that they were apart, Alphonse was beginning to understand that being together had allowed their weaknesses to persist despite gruelling training that was supposed to have corrected them. Alphonse was having difficulty kindling the spark of a new idea in his study, a job that had always been his brother’s. He wondered if Edward was having difficulty structuring his thinking, and hoped that it did not get his brother into any trouble.

It was something that they would both learn to compensate for in time, something that they would learn to balance out through experience. Alphonse, however, could not help but resent the necessity of learning it in the first place.

He picked up his pen and returned his focus to his notebook, reading through the notes he had written down. Equations jumped out at him with startling clarity, but his sketches needed work. Brother had a knack for the images; they always divided the work of making notes between them by letting the other do what they were better at.

Alphonse sighed. This is going nowhere.

“Can’t think of what to write?” Winry asked, coming up behind him from inside the house. At her heels trotted Den, stick in mouth.

“It’s usually Brother’s job to come up with the ideas,” Alphonse smiled. “I’m usually stuck with trying to make them work.”

“Be glad,” Winry nodded. “It means you’re the sane one.”

Alphonse cracked a light laugh, his first since his brother left. In two days, it would be three weeks since.

“What was he like?” he asked after some silence. “The Lieutenant Colonel who found us.”

Winry shrugged, settling beside him on the porch steps after throwing the stick out for Den to fetch. “Well, he said he was your father’s friend.”

“I know,” he sighed, “but what was he like?”

“He was nice, I suppose. Very polite,” she mumbled, fiddling with the hem of her dress. Still walking under the shadow of her parents’ sudden demise, Winry was acutely discomfited by the military. “I didn’t talk to him very much. He only really talked to Ed and Granny. Sorry.”

Alphonse nodded, throwing the stick back out for Den. The dog barked and bounded away toward the tree. “Brother said he refused the State Alchemy offer. I got kind of mad when he told me. Once in a lifetime chance, you know.”

“Are you really alright with him being in the military?” Winry asked, somehow managing to be hesitant and firmly indignant at the same time. This was a tender topic for her. The last time they had talked to her about anything remotely related to the military was the day she had received news about her parents’ death. She had refused to talk to them for a whole week.

“I think he’ll do fine,” Alphonse murmured. “To be honest, if Brother doesn’t want to do something, nobody can make him do it. So I think he’ll do fine. If the military asks him to do something awful, he’ll tell them to stick it up where the sun doesn’t shine and run away if he has to.”

“You don’t run from the military!” she scowled. “You get killed!”

“You forget that we’re alchemists,” Alphonse reasoned.

“Alchemists, not immortals!” she insisted. “And they have alchemists too! Lots more of them, and with lots more experience! He’ll only get himself hurt!”

Alphonse had to laugh again. “When did that ever stop Brother?”

So Winry was stymied. For a few heartbeats they sat side by side, the thin tension hanging between them like an invisible drape. Then she sighed. “I suppose he’ll never be satisfied with just being here, studying alchemy on his own. Neither will you. Granny told me that the first time you left to train at Dublith, you know. I still don’t get it very well.”

“You will, one day,” Alphonse told her, “when you find that you’ve exhausted what you can learn here from Granny and you want to see the rest of the world. You know that there’s an entire city of automail mechanics in Rush Valley, don’t you? Doesn’t that excite you? It excites me, thinking of the City libraries, the alchemical symposiums and colleges and schools. There are so many things out there. I can’t even begin to describe it.”

She hummed under her breath, scratching Den under the chin as the dog sprawled over their feet. “So why don’t you follow after him, then? See the rest of the world together, instead of being miserable apart like this?”

Alphonse had to blink in surprise. He turned to look at her, but she only gave him a knowing little smile.

“Or maybe,” she continued, turning Den over to rub his belly, “maybe you like being apart. It’s something different, right? You’re sad that you’re away from each other, but at the same time, you have to learn all sorts of new things that you never had to do before, and it’s kind of fun, in the challenging way.”

The very idea was so foreign to him that Alphonse had to sit there for the rest of the afternoon, notebook untouched in his lap as he stared into the horizon. Did he like being apart from his Brother? Was he enjoying the challenge of having to work on his own? And—and if he was, did that count as a betrayal of their brotherhood?

“It’s okay, you know,” Winry told him later that night after dinner. “I felt the same way when Granny started to leave me to construct my designs alone. She said it was part of growing up as a mechanic. I had to learn how to fully function on my own, because one day she won’t be there and I’ll need to know my stuff.”

Alphonse went to sleep with those words. Maybe our ‘one day’ just came a little too soon.

~


It would be a full month before Brother’s first letter came. During that whole month, Alphonse devoted himself to the chase for his own elusive style, for what else was there to do? He was at a loss otherwise.

Their last term with their master had been fraught with her displeasure at what she had dubbed Edward’s first fit of early adolescent rebellion. Brother had begun melding modern alchemical techniques with bits and pieces of old Amestrian and Xerxian alchemy they had weaselled out of Father’s books and notes. Though Alphonse had warned him over and again, Edward had insisted on using it every day, running the risk of incurring their master’s wrath. It had resulted in a very rocky term, but Alphonse had been happy for his brother. Edward always reached the alchemical milestones first, which gave Alphonse a point of reference.

In any case, a little experimentation upon the multi-chord circle on his chest made the pursuit of his new direction much easier. He postulated that the odd sensations that kept plaguing him—the spontaneous headaches, the sudden dimming of his senses, the difficulty with movement and thought—were due to a slight misalignment of the ‘soul’ with the body. Brother had been in a hurry when he had made the circle; it came as no surprise at all.

But for all his certainty, it took him an entire day of sitting in the basement in the middle of a circle he had drawn, guessing and double-guessing as his fingers hovered over the activation. When he finally did it, it took less than a minute: a very slight adjustment, albeit highly disorienting. His perception bent, for the lack of a better word, as the circle crackled into life. Sound distorted and dipped, vision blurred and blackened, tingles ran up and down his skin, the ground fell away from his feet, and for one frightening moment an intense pressure came bearing down upon his chest, crushing until he felt like his sternum was beginning to crack—and then it was gone.

Afterwards, he examined the circle on his chest and found its lines thinner, sharper, as if they were drawn by a pen instead of smeared on by a finger. The minute gaps that had been there at the end of each smear were now replaced by straight, steady lines that properly sealed the ‘soul’ into place. Alchemy demanded precision as a science: a hairline gap in the outlines of a circle could mean the difference between failure and success.

His triumph there, albeit small and private, gave him confidence to move forward with his own thoughts. It also gave him a returned clarity: he felt whole again in a way he had not felt since before the transmutation. The sensation was hard to describe: like a key fitting into the right lock, like the last line closing the outline of a circle. His vigour was renewed, his mind reimbursed its keen edge. He felt ready.

Alphonse decided to start at their most recent escapade, where he already had a few ideas to play with. Some of them were particularly sharp, and ones that he knew his brother would likely not have considered. Brother was self-centred, which doubled as strength and flaw. It gave him a boundless supply of confidence to chase his own paths, but all the while threatened to box him in his own point of view. Alphonse was the complement: he found it easy to slip into other perspectives.

Having it all written down made things so much sharper in Alphonse’s mind. Their attempt, he now realised, was actually easier than most other attempts at human transmutation. For example, they had the original body with them, which disposed of the need to construct a new one. This was the first roadblock that most alchemists tried to overcome, and failed. The full composition of a human body—or any complex living creature—was too involved for the current level of alchemical science available in their country. (With regards to alchemy, if Amestris did not have it, no one else had it. Alphonse could safely assume that the rest of the world was just as clueless as they were.)

If the Gate that Brother had seen truly decided the equivalence, then what they had paid in return for what they received must have been the just price. Brother had hardship accepting the fact that his one limb was equivalent to one soul, but Alphonse thought that Brother had hardship differentiating between equal and equivalent. The latter implied a value judgment, a job seemingly fulfilled by this Gate. Alphonse remembered his master’s words with crystal clarity: it was very difficult to ascertain the worth of things. Now he knew that it was because they did not understand the functions of the Gate; few even knew—or would believe—that it existed.

But it makes so much sense, he thought to himself, flipping to the next page as he ran out of space on the previous one. The Gate filled the missing piece of the puzzle: a piece that most people did not even realise was missing.

Alphonse also had a hypothesis on how a limb would be of equal value to a soul, and this idea he owed once more to their master. She had spoken of things that were hard to quantify, such as time. Another thing that would be hard to quantify would be the future—that is to say, potential. Trisha was not an alchemist and would likely live her life as a normal citizen of Amestris, aging and eventually passing in this peaceful town. But Edward and Alphonse were both young alchemists, their father being a prominent one. If—if they were destined for greater things—if their potential to impact the world was greater than Trisha’s—would the Gate then not value their soul, their life, worth more?

This was all guesswork, of course. He did not truly know. He would have to refer to older records of other attempts at human transmutation, research the circumstances and study the techniques used. He would have to gather his data in order to even call it a hypothesis. The problem, of course, was with proof; he was not going to try it out again. Once was enough.

A dull pressure began to throb behind his eyes, so he closed them, relinquished his pen, and took a deep breath. After a few heartbeats, the pain went away.

“Still having those headaches?” Granny asked from her rocking chair. He was sat on the Rockbell’s porch again, scribbling the afternoon away.

“Yeah,” Alphonse said, “but they’re easing over time. At least they don’t cripple me anymore.” Those terrible ones had ceased that since his successful experiment with the multi-chord circle.

“Well, good,” Granny nodded, puffing on her pipe. “Just try to stay away from too much excitement for now and let your body recover. I know you young ones are always impatient for the next new adventure, but it’s also important to know when to rest.”

Alphonse turned toward Granny, observing her little hunched frame ensconced in her chair. They were worlds apart, Granny and his master, but they had the same deep wisdom in their eyes. Alphonse had to wonder how much pain and grief they had both gone through to acquire those eyes.

“Granny,” he began, “I need your advice.”

“Mmm, good, you’re seeking advice this time,” Granny chuckled, smoke trailing from her lips. Alphonse had to duck his head.

“Well,” he bit his lip, “it’s about Mum.”

“Ah.”

“I want to tell her that I’ll be returning to train with master, but I don’t know how—I mean, how she’ll take it.”

“She’ll be sad, but she’ll take it as she has to,” Granny told him. “Just like when Hohenheim left, and just like when the two of you went to Dublith the first time. She knew this was coming; you are both his sons, after all. His blood runs strong.”

Alphonse gripped the wooden step underneath his hand. “Should I leave her? Do you think I should?”

She puffed on her pipe again. “It matters little what I think, Alphonse. You will anyway. Your alchemy calls you.”

“But,” he murmured, “we’d done all of this just to bring her back. It seems wrong, somehow, to just—go.”

“You would have never been able to go and meet the world if you hadn’t done this,” Granny reasoned. “You see? Reviving her was necessary for both of you. Reviving her allowed you your freedom. If you had allowed her to pass away peacefully, both of you would have had a hard time severing your ties to this town. Ironic, yes, but life often is.”

He fiddled with his pen and looked at his notes, mind cantering alongside Granny’s words. So many decisions! He envied Brother’s self-centred certainty, that ability to leap headfirst into the unknown. He had to build that sort of courage too, but he was the ponderous one by nature, cautious where Brother was not.

“The blood is strong, Alphonse,” Granny said over the creaking of her chair. “It is what calls you to your alchemy, just as it gives you the inner strength to answer. You have followed it this far together; now you need to follow it on your own. You can do it. You are his son too.”

A few days later, the letter from Central came.


Part APart B →

 
 
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