Title: The Alchemist
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Type: Generic, Oneshot
Word Count: 2,308
Summary: In the remains of a destroyed city, a dangerous alchemist with blood-red symbols on his gloves is watched by the ragged survivors of an unjust and devastating war.
A/N: As an experiment, I decided to write this from more of the objective or dramatic point of view. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but I don't think I'll make a habit of writing in this style. I prefer to get into a character's head and explore their thoughts and feelings on a deeper level than what this point of view allows.
A/N 2: This story contains talk about religion from the Ishbalan point of view. Since their religion isn't well expounded on in the anime, I took what I knew of it and mixed in a few things that I thought would fit their religion. If you're uncomfortable reading about religion of any kind, this might not be the story for you.
The depths of a fiery hell could have been no less disheartening than the bleak and decimated landscape of the fallen city. Her towers and spires, once full of a delightful and magnificent grandeur only an ancient civilization could hold, now sprawled in semi-decayed and dilapidated heaps. Her surviving citizens cowered sporadically in the evidence of a long and unholy war. Dirty and starving, they resembled the plentiful vermin that had always infested the dirtiest of alleyways rather than the proud occupants of the once thriving metropolis.
Cowering among the rubble, fearful red eyes followed a serious and dangerous-looking soldier as he strode purposefully down the ruined cobblestone street. His once deep-blue military uniform—partially covered by a washed out, black overcoat—had faded from the bleaching affects of the sand and cruel sun. With eyes blacker than midnight’s shadows he kept an ever watchful awareness of his surroundings; his body tense and ready to react at a moment’s notice.
A sudden gust of dry wind ruffled his straight, black hair; sand blowing lightly through the already dust-saturated, fine strands. The sound of a child mewling pitifully for something to eat echoed briefly—carried on the telling breeze—before a woman’s fearful hushing quieted the beseeching cry.
The crunching of the soldier’s boots against the dirt and rock strewn road ceased when he stopped, and it was as if the earth and weather had taken note of his lack of movement because the light breeze died, leaving the air so still that it was almost suffocating. One of the tattered figures shifted slightly; and, at the movement, one of the soldier’s gloved hands twitched.
Faces already devoid of blood from their pitiful predicament stared in fixed terror on his hand—the dirty-white gloves bearing a blood-red symbol on the back of each. The round emblems marked him as one of the most unclean and godless of men; a man who used a dark art forbidden by their god—Ishbal—for its evil affects on the world and on the souls of those who use it. The unholy practice of alchemy destroyed the very being of its users as surely as it ruined the lives touched inadvertently with its taint.
This soldier had used his wicked craft to annihilate not only their city, but also their civilization. There were a select few who had assisted him, and each was known among the survivors. Yet, in this section of their homeland, it was this man who had done the most damage.
This man... This soldier... This alchemist...
With the wariness of a wild cat, the alchemist scanned the faces of the tattered refugees. What fight had once possessed their souls was gone now; all they wanted was for the pain to end, for life to return to a semblance of normalcy.
When it became apparent that no attack was emanate from the watchers or anyone unseen, the alchemist relaxed marginally, but never let his guard down. With tired and strained black eyes, he glanced from side to side—paranoid from too little sleep and far too much fighting—as he began to walk once again.
The breeze picked up and carried the hem of the alchemist’s coat behind him like a cape. It flapped ominously in the dusty air as he faded from the waifs’ view. Yet, despite his disappearance from the eyes of the living, the ghosts of the once vibrant buildings looked down upon him—accusing... condemning—and his shoulders hunched slightly as he looked from broken building to broken building, cowing minutely before the silent allegations. Then he seemed to realize what he was doing and straightened his shoulders, assuming a more commanding air.
He continued on for another five minutes before reaching a building still in decent repair. They had fought to save this structure from ruin, many dying in the attempt. They’d been like bees protecting hive and queen; only, in this case, it was a place of worship and an invisible god that only they believed in.
Pressing his lips in what could have been anger, regret, or anything in-between, the alchemist deviated from his path, opened the door, and looked inside. Simple, but finely crafted, furnishings and ornaments decorated the small house of worship. Despite the calamity of the city, the interior of this building had been swept, dusted, and polished as well as could be expected under the current circumstances.
The alchemist frowned deeply as he looked around, then outside as if sure someone would have tried to sneak up on him in the few moments he’d been preoccupied, before letting himself into the building and closing the heavy wooden door behind him. With the door shut, the only light in the otherwise dark room were three small candles—each placed at a different part of the room to spread out the warm glow.
There was a sigh—almost of relief—from the alchemist as he leaned a little on the door he’d just closed. The air outside was saturated with dust, and polluted from the raging fires that had unmercifully burned anything and anyone in its path—fires that the alchemist himself had created. But inside, the air was cool and almost clean—a small respite from the dirty heat and horrible reminders of death and destruction.
As if following those same lines of thought, the dark-haired alchemist lifted his gloved hand and stared mutely down at his palms for a moment before turning them over and contemplating the complex circles and lines drawn there.
“No man should have such power,” a calm voice said, echoing dully in the dimness.
The alchemist’s head snapped up—eyes focused, jaw set, and body tense. In that second, he also raised one of his gloved hands and stood poised with fingers together, ready to snap them at a moment’s notice.
A startled and dangerous cat, ready to spring.
“I am no threat...” the voice said again, then a moment later an old man wrapped in the nomadic-style clothing the people of this city had so long favored stepped out of the shadows. His hands were raised, palms forward, to show that he was unarmed. “We are usually a peaceful people... Pacifists, if you will. It is what we believe in...”
The show of placation didn’t put the alchemist at ease. Instead, he narrowed his eyes slightly, an action that only accentuated the lines and dark circles under his eyes. “Your people have a strange way of showing their pacifistic traits.”
The man frowned sadly and studied the alchemist intently as if trying to read a book written in a foreign language. His deeply tanned face was weathered and marred with lines and creases. His hair was long and white. But his eyes, a deep red as genetics played out among his people, were bright with intelligence and wisdom.
“It is... difficult... for some to adhere to the ways of Ishbal when the lives of their wives and children are put at risk...” His voice was slow, but full of emotion and pain—almost a plea for understanding, and a note of a question asking why this had been brought upon them.
The alchemist studied the man quietly for several minutes before moving slowly forward. The old man didn’t back away in fear as most would have from this man. He held his ground, but continued to hold his hands up to avoid any misshapenness or misunderstandings as the alchemist still hadn’t lowered his own hand. That hand was poised and ready for an attack that would take less than a forth of a second to execute should the military alchemist wish it to be so.
When he was less than an arm’s length away from the old man, the alchemist stopped and studied him again. Obsidian eyes met ruby ones—each assessing what the other might be intending.
“Any religion that asks its people to die without fighting for their lives or for what they believe in—to run away like cowards—”
“It is harder to not fight, than to fight,” the old man interrupted calmly. “We must rely on our god—Ishbal—for our safety and our lives.” The strength of his faith radiated from his voice and from his eyes like a beacon, and the alchemist’s lips pressed together slightly as if in disturbed consideration.
Then, with a voice dead of expression, the alchemist finally said, “There is no god.”
The old man’s eyes dimmed slightly with sadness, then he shook his head. “There is. I am old, but I have seen much. I have seen his power. I have seen miracles... He does exist...”
Leaning forward slightly, the alchemist whispered, “Then he has forsaken you...” The flat tone was gone, and this time his words were filled with anger, hurt, and disbelief.
Tears of sadness filled the old man’s eyes. “Some would have believed that, but it isn’t so. Sometimes he lets wrongs fall upon us to test our faith and to make us stronger... He is there... I know he exists...”
As if deciding there was no real threat to be had, the alchemist slowly lowered his hand and took a small step backward. “You’re delusional,” he stated as if it were an irrevocable truth that had been written in stone. “The military has destroyed your city. Only one tenth of your people are still alive. How is this supposed to make you stronger?”
One tear trickled slowly down the weathered face, but the old man’s lips pulled up into a small understanding smile—one that the old give the young when they ask questions that are so obvious to them. Then, he lowered his hands a little, watched for any sign of threat from the alchemist, then moved them completely down to his sides.
“To make a finished product, doesn’t the blacksmith have to heat the metal at high temperatures? Doesn’t he beat the metal? Doesn’t he put the metal through high pressure and stress? But in the end, that metal has become something beautiful. It has become more than it would have been if the blacksmith would have just let it say as it had been.”
Pain filled the alchemist’s eyes before he looked away. “Nothing good can come from this war,” he said quietly, then continued in a low whisper, “Nothing good has come from it...”
Heavy silence filled the room for a time before the old man spoke. “I have seen men like you—alchemists with the state—who have delighted in their work. One in particular, a thin man with long black hair and markings similar to those...” He pointed at the alchemist’s gloves, then continued, “on the man’s hands.”
The alchemist’s eyes darkened at the mention of his fellow soldier, but he remained silent.
“That man enjoys what he is doing. He laughs at the pain of others; delights in their sorrow.” A pause. “But, not you. You’re not like that man; I can see it in your eyes. You’re filled with regret. What you’ve done... it’s eating you inside...” When the old man got no response, he asked quietly, “Why have you come here, to this place of worship? You, alchemist, are not a man of religion, but a man of sin. What business do you have here?”
The old man’s tone was not unkindly, but the alchemist flinched at them as if he’d been struck. After a long time, the alchemist murmured, “I don’t know...” Another long moment, then the alchemist sighed heavily, looked at the old man, and said in a no-nonsense tone, “Your people have lost. Those of you who remain will be relocated and what is left of your city will be destroyed.” A pause, then in a quieter voice, “If they cooperate, no one else will need to die.”
“I understand...” the old man murmured, then added, “Are you sure there is no other reason you came here today?”
Turning, the alchemist strode toward the door. “Don’t presume you know me,” he said stiffly. He rested a hand on the door handle, but didn’t open the door. “If you think I wouldn’t blow up your precious house of worship with you inside of it, you’re wrong.”
“Oh... I know you would,” the old man returned in a sadly heavy voice. “I believe you’re almost as dangerous as your reputation. But I think that you would have unpleasant dreams afterward. Violence is always returned to the user and not always in the ways expected. For some, it returns as an attack on the soul; this is usually the case for those, like yourself, who are forced into violence and allow themselves to take part. For others, it returns as an attack on the physical being—something that often happens to those whose souls have already withered and died...”
The alchemist’s hand tightened slightly on the handle and his head lowered a fraction of an inch before he opened the door and, with back to the old man, said, “If you want to avoid more violence, then pass my message along.” And with that, the alchemist—face only momentarily showing the tangle of troubled thoughts and feelings within him—walked out into the dusty street and closed the door behind him.