yuuo: (Pandora's Box)
[personal profile] yuuo posting in [community profile] pandorasuniverse
Character/Series: Edward Elric, cast; AU to the original series
Rating: MA
Notes: Written based on the 'what if' idea that Ed had never been able to bind Al's soul to the armor. Please heed all warnings. All chapters can be found here.
Title: Pandora's Box Chapter 1: City Of The Damned
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 3073
Summary: Wandering through a desert in all black is not pleasant in the slightest.

city of the dead
at the end of another lost highway
signs misleading to nowhere
city of the damned
lost children with dirty faces today
no one really seems to care
-Green Day

Wandering through a desert in all black is not pleasant in the slightest. My dark-colored coat wasn't helping matters much. The oasis city of Liore was finally in sight when I gave up, shucked my coat and tossed it on the sand. A clap of my hands summoned the necessary alchemical energy and within a minute, I had transmuted my dark coat into a light tan cloak with a balaclava to keep the blowing sand out of my nose and mouth. I probably should've done that before I wandered into the desert, but for all my genius, I sometimes lack common sense.

One of these days, it'll get me killed, but for now, I manage.

There wasn't much I could do about my clothing, besides change their color, although another quick transmutation turned the leather of the pants into a much more forgiving cotton blend. I definitely should've done that sooner.

Liore was once a pretty shabby town, from what I'd heard, but in the last couple years, it'd abruptly began to flourish under the leadership of some priest who'd come up out of nowhere. I didn't trust the abilities of a priest to be much of a ruler, and there were some kooky rumors coming out of the place that led me here. I would've been there much sooner than I had, but my automail required another surgery to accommodate my growth, and it'd delayed me.

I'll be honest. I didn't like what I was hearing. I'd heard a number of rumors about people coming back from the dead. And that just doesn't happen. Believe me, I'd know. The dead simply don't come back, no matter how much studying, praying or any other obscure ritual you do. It doesn't happen.

But it was apparently happening in Liore. I suspected trickery, but it had to be elaborate trickery, or else...

Or else someone had the Philosopher's Stone.

So wearing the most inappropriate outfit for travel in a desert in existence, I tromped my way across the sands to Liore.

The inside of the city was vastly different from the outside. From the outside, it looked like nothing more than a collection of stone buildings half-buried in sand, with one building jutting out from the middle like some sort of elaborate sundial. Inside the city, there was life, people walking around, doing their business, flowers decorating doorsteps and windows, giving off a deliciously foreign scent.

What bothered me, though, was how armed to the teeth the people there were. It seemed like everyone was armed with some sort of firearm, and there was a radio in every window and doorway, all of them playing the same station.

"If you become His disciples and listen to my words, this Stone will minister to you. For there are five trees for you in Paradise which remain undisturbed summer and winter and whose leaves do not fall. Whoever becomes acquainted with them will not experience death."

I didn't need to pause in my steps to listen to the sermon- like I said, it blasted from every damn radio in the town, and there were a lot of radios there. I glanced around. Everyone was stopped in place, hands folded and heads bowed, weapons and dishes and baskets and whatever else they'd been holding set aside and forgotten for the moment. It was like standing in the middle of a wax museum where nothing melted, even under the sun's unforgiving heat. Food sizzled on the grill of an outdoor eatery, burning away while the proprietor ignored it.

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Eerie doesn't even begin to describe it. I suddenly felt like a cat in a room full of sleeping dogs.

There was one woman standing by a fountain in the middle of the main causeway just ahead of me. Her head wasn't bowed, nor were her hands folded and she didn't seem to be packing anything, unlike the others in her town. She looked over at me as I crept through the streets like a thief.

She was pretty, I suppose, with sun-bleached bangs and otherwise dark hair. Her eyes are what stood out to me. They had the thousand mile stare, like someone who'd seen too much too young. She couldn't have been more than five years older than I was.

That kind of worried me. I'd seen a lot in my lifetime, probably more than most my age, or even more than most twice my age, but it always bothered me to see that look on someone's face. It usually meant abuse. Given the religiosity of the city, I was pretty much instantly suspicious about that. Of course, I'm sort of paranoid that way. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not really out to get you, you know.

That's kept me alive over the years more than I care to think about.

The woman didn't say anything, which unnerved me, just kept staring at me. I began to wonder if I had something on my face or if my hair had turned into a windblown mess and she was trying to decide if she should laugh or if that would be too impolite.

"And now, may God bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you, may He lift up his countenance upon you, give you His peace. Amen."

The city around us began to come to life as the sermon ended and was quickly replaced with an ethereal hymn that made my teeth rattle. If the duration of the sermon had been eerie, this was downright creepy as people went back about their tasks as if they'd never stopped, like the dead rising from their graves and going back about their lives like they'd never been dead.

My skin began to crawl.

Finally, the woman turned to face me fully and bowed slightly. "Pilgrims are always welcome in our town, friend," she said with a hollow voice.

Notice how she assumed I was a pilgrim. Apparently, changing my clothing had been a good idea. My coat had a tendency to stand out. Now I looked like any other traveler that town saw. The best way to be inconspicuous is to look just like everyone else.

I nodded once in response to the woman, then walked over to her. She smiled, and it was just as dead of an expression as her previous one had been. Something was definitely wrong with this woman. Not that it was any of my business, or even any of my interest. I'd probably find out enough to administer a quick brand of justice on my way out of town, but if I didn't, then it was up to her to pull herself out of whatever she'd gotten herself into.

If she'd been a child, that would've been a different story.

Does that seem cold? When you carry around the job I have, you don't always have a lot of room for compassion. I stumble over things enough to get a reputation, but mostly, I don't go looking for wrongs to right. I'm not any sort of hero. I'm just a dog of the military with chewed ears and probably a case of rabies.

"My name is Rose," she introduced herself. "I am in charge of welcoming pilgrims. It's my duty as the Bride of Leto." Bride of a god, huh? That really made me suspicious, but I didn't say anything. I didn't even offer her my name- I'm not much of a talker, and I didn't feel much like talking right then. My brother would scold me for my bad manners, but I'm sure I didn't care.

Rose waited as patiently as a stone for me to offer my name in return, but at my continued silence, she shifted on her feet, clearly becoming uncomfortable, then gave up. "This way," she said, turning and leading me towards the cathedral in the middle of town.

The cathedral was stupidly enormous, towering several stories over the tallest buildings in town, and done up in elaborate buttresses, towers, spires, and wings, and everything else a building could possibly have without looking too slapdash. Like the other buildings in town, though, it was simple stone, made to withstand the unforgiving sun (which was burning me to a crisp by that time) and the harsh winds and the sands the winds carried. Erosion would eventually claim it, but not for a long while.

Rose led me through the place like she lived there, which she probably did, I realized, once I thought about it. Leto would want to keep his bride very close to him.

Maybe I would have to pay a little call to her tormenter. Hopefully, it'd turn out to be Cornello and I could kill two birds with one Stone.


There was a service that evening, and as a pilgrim, I was expected to show up, or at least, that's what Rose told me after she led me to a room to stay for the night. I decided I wanted to see this Cornello to determine for myself if he had the Stone or if he was just another charlatan. I didn't want to give away that I was there, though- even when I change my clothes and hair, I'm not much at disguises, and I inevitably end up recognized. I didn't want to give myself away just yet. If it turned out the Stone wasn't there, I'd simply leave town and leave the place to its own devices.

That probably seems cold of me. The town was obviously being deceived and probably pushed towards war, with all the weapons being carried, but I knew the military would sit up and take notice eventually and take care of it. It wasn't anything of my concern.

Cornello turned out to be a giant man, even by my standards. I stand about 6'4", this guy was only shorter by maybe an inch or two, and he had a massive amount of girth and broad shoulders going on to make his size fairly relative.

He was bald, and somehow had managed to not burn that bald head of his. Probably spent more time hiding in the cool chambers of the church, communicating with his followers by radio instead of in person. Probably counted himself above the unwashed masses.

The sermon was a basic repeat of the one that had broadcasted over the radio, and my eyes glazed over until he started performing magic tricks. Oh, they were simple tricks, just little alchemical transmutations like turning the water into a wine that everyone went up and had some of, or turning some grass into bread, which everyone also went up and had some of in some obscure ritual. I refrained.

The man was a third rate hack, but I saw the distinctive red glow of his alchemy. It came from the ring on his hand that radiated alchemical energy like a fire radiated heat. The old fraud did have a Stone.

When I returned to my room, I realized I wasn't alone. There was a priest standing by my door, in the shadows. And I distinctly heard the click of a gun hammer. "Fullmetal Alchemist," he hissed, probably taking aim. My back was to him, I couldn't see him very well. "Enemy of God, how dare you profane this place."

I'd wondered how long it'd take someone to recognize me. I guess there's just no disguising me.

The priest already had his gun aimed, but I was faster. Before he'd even pulled the trigger, I'd turned, aimed my own gun, and fired. The priest went down with a gunshot to the head. I put my gun back in my shoulder holster, then grabbed my suitcase. Guess it was time to make with the thievery and get out of this town before anyone else got any smart ideas.

I realized, of course, I had no idea where Cornello might be. I suppose I could've wandered my way through the whole church until I found him, but I prefer to be more efficient than that. I'd seen Rose staying behind in the chapel as everyone else had filtered out from the evening mass, so I figured I could just ask her.

Not that I really wanted to talk to anyone, and the risks involved probably should've made me find a different way, but I wanted to confirm some things with her anyway.

As I thought, Rose was still in the chapel, kneeling before the altar, weeping quietly. I wondered how many nights she did that. I didn't bother to hide the sound of my footsteps as I approached her. She startled, getting up and turning to face me, hurriedly wiping at her eyes to try to hide what I already knew.

When I didn't say anything right away, she clasped her hands in front of her. "Can I help you find something? Or did you come here to pray?"

I approached her, setting my suitcase down by the altar, looking up at the great statue of their god that stood over the chapel. "Tell me," I said in a whisper to her. "What's the cost of a life for this guy?"

She looked at me for a second, probably bewildered as to why I was whispering when there was no one else in the chapel, then looked away. Her face was as blank as a statue's, and her tone was just as dead. "Faith," she answered quietly. "Prayer and faith."

I looked at her, my expression saying I didn't really buy that. "And prayer and faith, has it gotten you anything?"

There was a long pause. "I'm the bride of Leto now, what more could I ask for?" The words sounded rehearsed, and badly.

"Yeah, about that." She glanced at me, wariness written on her face. "How much does he hurt you?"

Her expression turned angry. "I don't know what you're talking about," she snapped quickly, then turned away again. Sure, she didn't. I believed that, too.

"Lemme guess, you didn't get who you wanted back, did you?"

She put her hands over her ears, shaking her head vehemently. "Stop it, just stop it! I'm happy this way, I truly am!"

No, actually, she wasn't, and it was obvious. I put a hand on her shoulder. "Where is he?" I asked her, still whispering.

She looked at me with a haunted look, then bowed her head. "His chambers. Up above the sanctuary." I turned to go, but she grabbed my arm, stopping me. I looked at her. She held out a gun. "Please. Let it be mine that does it." I didn't ask where she got it, but I didn't take it. I didn't need it, even if it would be a fitting justice to shoot him with her gun that he probably gave her.

I shook my head, then clapped my hands, changing my cloak back to my violet duster. "I have better ways," I told her, then headed off to find Cornello. He may have been guilty of hurting Rose, but he was more guilty of trying to play God. There were more brutal punishments that went with that crime.

By the time I'd climbed the stairs leading to the upper level, the rage had begun to build in the back of my mind. Nobody brought back the dead. There were consequences for that. I embraced the anger and hatred that was wrapping around me like a cloak, letting it build up my temper and my imagination ran wild with what would happen to this man for his false promises, his lies, his abuses, and the crime of playing God.

Nobody played God, not without losing something. Cornello was about to find out what exactly happened to those who played in God's realm. An arm for an arm, a leg for a leg, and a life for a life. Equivalent exchange. I'd lived by equivalent exchange since that awful day.

By the time I got to his bedchambers, I'd spiraled down into a level of hatred and rage that blinds a person to what they do or say. I woke him up rudely by transmuting his bed sheets into shackles. He started to use the Stone to undo my transmutation, but I was faster. He was a third rate hack, I was the State's best for a reason. I stole the Stone from his finger. He probably didn't appreciate losing that finger to do it, but I was too far wrapped up in the rage to care. This man played at God and got away with it, while my brother and I had suffered dearly.

No, there would be equivalent exchange.

The screams didn't bother me, while I took his arm and leg. I didn't hear his screams at all. All I could hear were Al's screams as he was broken apart by the Gate. I whispered Cornello's own benediction to him while I showed him what God was really like.

"And now, may God bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you, may He lift up his countenance upon you, give you His peace."

I woke up the giant statue of Leto beneath us in the sanctuary and made him reach up through the floor for Cornello's bleeding body.



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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

May 2017

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