Okay, so I came to an important realization this morning. I thrive on feedback. It motivates me way more than deadlines. I don't want to post my daily NaNoing because I always cut off at weird places, though, and I won't be posting this story to comms until I finish all the editing in December.
That being said, this is my alternative. I probably won't be posting every day, but I'm going to put up the unedited versions of the chapters here, for anyone who feels like reading it. I don't know how much the completed version will differ, but probably not a whole lot. The majority of what I post is my first draft anyway. :F
Anyway, I put up the partial first chapter of this the other day. This is it in its entirety. *wanders off to work on her word goal for today*
Title: Dirge of the Fallen - part 1 (Rough draft)
Rating: Eventual NC-17. PG-13 maybe for this chapter
He held out two perfect arms, evidence of Al’s sacrifice, to the barricaded chasm that was the gate. The offer was made, his life for his brother’s, and he swore he could hear its voiceless laughter, cackling just beyond the reach of his ears.
So, once was not enough for you. All that you have lost has not deterred you from returning, and what will you give this time, Alchemist? Will you surrender your arm and leg? Your life, perhaps?
“Whatever it takes. Just give my brother his life back.”
Ed could feel the gaze of a thousand hungry eyes, gnawing at his being from behind the heavy doors. He swore he could see a vindictive sneer in the back of his mind, twisting its way across the gate, though there was none to be seen when he turned his gaze to it. Still, its meaning was clear. Words swam, vile and threatening at the back of his mind, soundless, but impossible to ignore. And so, his offer was accepted.
Ed bowed his head in resignation, letting himself to be dragged beyond the multitude of eyes, the tugging arms. He was falling, drifting, sucked into the void he’d never been aware of until this day. The dark consumed him, mind, body and soul, shattering him to pieces Only the knowledge that this was for Al sustained him when it left Edward in a sort of agony that ripped through him as if he were no more than scraps of paper. It felt as if an eternity passed in that state, but in a moment’s time, the world ceased to be, and he knew nothing any longer.
Ed’s body felt battered beyond all reason. The searing pain had ebbed, mutated into something dull and aching that pulsed through him. He was weary, exhausted even, and he couldn’t find the strength to even open his eyes. That he was alive was startling, though he couldn’t remember for the life of him why that was. What had be been doing that he was expecting to be dead?
He started, or at least he thought he might have, at the feel of fingers brushing through his bangs. They were warm and soothing, and it was terribly strange because no on ever touched him. Still, the stroking against his forehead was lulling, gossamer light, and familiar in a way he couldn’t quite grasp at.
“Don’t touch that. We don’t even know what it is,” a voice snapped. Ed thought he must be going mad because it sounded like…his own.
“Brother, be nice.” The disembodied voice was closer, and Ed strained to remember why it made his chest tighten. It couldn’t be…Alphonse? It all came rushing back, the stone, the gate, memories flooding back until he felt like screaming. Al was here though, and he struggled to open his eyes.
A face that was and was not familiar met his gaze. A set of eyes he’d not seen in years shone with youth, with life, and knots of worry worked their way from Ed’s belly.
“You’re awake,” Al noted with a smile.
“Al,” Ed choked out, dredging up the strength from somewhere to reach up and grasp Al’s hand, still lingering at his brow. His eyes felt damp, and it was too much. So much time had passed and he hurled himself forward, ignoring the sharp pain that assaulted his every nerve. Ed wound his arms around Al, burying his head against his younger brother’s shoulder. Al was alive, living and breathing and alive.
“How does he know you?” another voice demanded, the one that sounded like him, but who could impersonate his voice?
“Envy!” Ed pushed Al behind him, facing his copy. The world was turning grey and veiled as consciousness began to ebb, his body rebelling against his efforts to move.
“Envy?” The figure who looked like him seemed perplexed.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t fuck with me,” He growled, “I know what you are.”
“I’m Edward Elric.”
“No you’re fucking not. I’m Edward… You’re Envy, you have to be.”
“What’s Envy?” Al asked somewhere behind him.
“You know what Envy is, Al. He’s a homunculus. That thing that killed me… Don’t you remember?”
Ed didn’t wait for a reply. He would protect Al, even if it cost him his life.
“Wait! You’ll hurt yourself worse.” Al reached out, a hand on Ed’s shoulder, even as he clapped his hands together. Flesh met metal with a resounding noise that echoed through the room. He waited for the familiar flash of alchemy to explode before his eyes, the energy of it to course through his veins. His expectations were met with nothing.
“It…didn’t work,” he whispered, his voiced edged in panic. He had to save Al, had to take down this homunculus. What was he supposed to do?
“Of course it didn’t work. What the hell is wrong with you? You’re not even doing it right,” the doppelganger rolled its eyes. When it turned them on Edward once more, they looked dangerous. He clapped his hands together, wincing visibly. A rivulet of crimson worked it’s way between mismatched palms, but the effect was unmistakable, and Ed jumped as Ed’s hands touched the railing of the bed and the linens wound their way around his ankles.
“That is how you do alchemy,” his copy grumbled.
“But… you’re…You can’t do alchemy,” Edward’s head spun. If this wasn’t Envy, what was he? Surely he couldn’t be…
“And get your hands away from my brother, you freak.”
“Your brother? Your brother? Do you have any idea what I went through to bring him back? How dare you show up, and pretend to be me, and…” Ed couldn’t think, he couldn’t breathe. This thing wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. Even as an imitation it failed with the automail on the wrong side. He had to protect Al from whatever this imposter was, but the room was fading fast, and he felt himself falling, sinking back into nothing. All that registered were voices.
“Edward, why do you always have to be so mean? We don’t know what he is. Maybe he really does think he’s you or something.”
“Why does it matter, Al? He’s obviously not me. His automail isn’t even on the right side. Well, whatever. Mustang can deal with it.”
Mustang was alive? Surely, he would know. Mustang would have to know that he was real, that that other thing wasn’t him, right?
“Al, please believe me. That… that other…it’s not me.” He fought to speak, even as the darkness claimed him once more.
When Ed awoke once more, Al and the person who claimed to be him were both gone. His chest clench in fear for a moment, that Al had left with that…that thing, and he struggled to sit up again, only now noticing the IV dripping fluid into his arm, the stark white of his surroundings.
“You should probably stay put. I’m told you’re in pretty bad shape.” Another familiar voice.
“Colonel,” Ed turned to face Mustang. The man reclined in one of the hospital chairs, looking as untouchable as ever.
“General,” Mustang corrected, his brow quirked in a vaguely unreadable expression.
Ed shook his head, ignoring the correction. Perhaps Mustang had gotten a promotion while he’d been out. He took a breath, glancing around the hospital room. It was all too familiar. How often had his body graced these beds over the years? There was a nondescript painting on the wall, just like all the rooms had, and off to his left, the window offered a gracious view of Central. If he squinted he could make out headquarters.
“You have to help me, Mustang. You can clear this up, right? That…whatever he is, he’s got Al thinking he’s me.”
Roy’s eyes narrowed, seeming to consider his request. “Who, exactly, are you?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m Edward Elric!” Ed began to reach up to scrub at his eyes in frustration, deterred halfway by the tug of a needle in his veins.
“That cannot be. Your automail isn’t on the correct side. Since you don’t seem interested in coming clean about who you are, I see no reason to offer you help.”
He remembered then, hurtling through the gate, waking in another world, another body. It had belonged to someone who wore his face, perhaps even shared his name. Could this be another version of the world as well? If that was true, then maybe that other Edward was every bit as real as he was. Then that wasn’t his Al… Perhaps his Al never made it at all.
The thought rattled him and he shoved it away. He had to sort this out, to get home and find out what had become of his brother. Panicking would solve nothing. Mustang was probably his only chance, and the man was getting up to leave.
“Yes?” the General turned to him, waiting as requested.
“I think…maybe I can explain how I got here. I know it sounds crazy, but I really am who I claim to be. I just want to go home.” Ed waited with bated breath, for Mustang to respond. He regarded Ed suspiciously for endless seconds before taking a seat once more.
“You know…at least a little bit about the gate, right?” Ed asked, hoping beyond hope that this world was similar enough to get his point across.
“Somewhat,” Mustang confirmed.
“I…went to it, trying to get my brother back. I died fighting Envy. Al used himself, and the philosopher’s stone to bring me back to life, and…I couldn’t let him sacrifice himself for me.”
Mustang leaned one elbow on the arm of the chair, resting his jaw in the palm of his hand, “Envy?”
“Envy… a homunculus. You know, an artificially made human. They’re monsters,” Ed answered shakily.
“They’re fairytales,” Mustang countered.
“Not where I come from,” Ed muttered.
Roy sighed through his nose, but didn’t counter Ed’s words. “So you went to the gate to retrieve your brother.”
“I offered my life for his.” Ed’s shoulders sank, hopelessness worming its way over his features.
“It was all I had left to give,” came the nearly silent reply.
“But it did not kill you?” There was another unreadable look on Roy’s face, eerily familiar, though its bearer was not the same.
“I guess not. I woke up here.” Ed shrugged before easing back against the mattress. Someone had sat it up a bit, so at least he didn’t feel entirely vulnerable. Edward was distantly grateful for that.
Silence stretched for miles between them, awkward and uneasy. In the end, Mustang stood, mouth quirked in a faint, possibly troubled frown. It was usually impossible for Ed to tell, and this version seemed to be no different.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Mustang finally conceded. The way he said it made Ed wince inwardly, but he nodded all the same, grateful for any help he could get. The sooner he got out of this place, the better. He needed to go home, had to find out what had become of Al.
“Stay put,” the General called over his shoulder as he strode from the hospital room, leaving Ed alone.
The walls felt more confining somehow, now that he had no one to distract him. Ed scowled at nothing in particular, mulling over his earlier alchemical failure. It could obviously be done, though someone had kindly thought to dislodge the bed covers from around his ankles while he was out. He had to wonder, then, what he was doing wrong. He hadn’t felt the faintest spark when he clapped his hands together.
Perhaps he had to use a circle here. He considered the idea, leaning as far towards the night side table as the IV would let him go. Ed grimaced when it pulled back, and yanked the drawer of the bedside table open.
A few minutes of awkward rummaging with his automail hand, and curses at the needle effectively confining him eventually produced a pen and paper. The paper was the back of a phonebook, but that was better than nothing, he supposed.
He started simply, an array that ought to have turned his hospital gown into something more to his taste. Once he’d finished, he ripped the page from the phonebook, holding it to his chest. Ed held his breath, pressed his fingers to the array, and waited. The array was strangely silent.
Ed hissed in irritation, slapping his hand more insistently against the sheet. It jostled the IV, yanking painfully, and, finally, Ed decided he’d had enough of that. Gritting his teeth, he peeled away the tape, tugging the needle from his arm with a hiss of air between his teeth.
Ed poised his hand to try the array again, because he couldn’t give up, couldn’t afford to lose his best chance at getting home. He was distracted by the trickle of blood at the crook of his elbow, winding crimson threads along his skin. He swiped at it in aggravation, hardly noticing the way it clung to his metal palm.
Finally, satisfied that his arm was finished dripping all over the rest of him, Ed pressed his hands to the array once more. To his surprise, it flared to life, leaving him with a comfortable white cotton shirt in place of the hospital gown, the extra fabric falling away in ribbons.
“I knew I could do it,” Ed muttered aloud in the empty room. He felt strangely tired again, though, barely able to keep his eyes open. He was just considering making an attempt at finding his clothes and getting out of here when he blanked out once more.
“So, looks like you’re really me or whatever.”
Ed groaned, raising a hand to his head. It pulsed with pain at the base of his skull. The ache that coursed through the rest of his body was beginning to recede, though, leaving him tired, but in considerably less pain.
“What?” He finally managed a response, grimacing at the way the room spun when he sat up to confront the Ed of this world. His alter sat on the far side of the room, looking stern with his arms crossed over his chest.
The other Ed shook some papers at him, “Blood tests. You and me, we’re the same.”
“I could have told you that,” Ed grumbled.
“That’s not what you were saying earlier.” The words were a bit hostile, but there was no real accusation to them. Edward – Ed would refer to this world’s version of him as Edward – looked more troubled than angry.
“Yeah, well, Envy can take whoever’s shape he wants. I mean, it wouldn’t have been below him to fuck with me like that, just for laughs,” Ed shrugged tiredly. Edward nodded tersely before changing the subject.
“That was a dumb thing to waste your energy transmuting. You’re half dead as is,” Edward motioned vaguely to what Ed assumed was his hospital gown shirt.
“Waste energy?” Ed asked, remembering how tired he’d felt, though he didn’t quite get why.
“Please tell me I don’t have an idiot for a double,” Edward snorted.
“Who’re you calling an idiot? It’s not my fault this place is so fucked up,” Ed snapped.
“What, you guys don’t have alchemy? Mustang said you knew what the gate was… How else would you have seen it?”
“Of course we have alchemy,” Ed replied.
“Okay, then what are you not getting? Seriously, it’s not that hard. You transmute materials using your own energy. You’re blood’s the catalyst. It should have been the very first thing you learned.” Edward looked irritated at having to explain.
“Blood?” Edward thought about it for a minute, he hadn’t used blood. Then, he remembered the IV, swiping at the wound the needle had left. That, at least, explained why he had been so tired after. “Oh.”
“Does it not work that way where you’re from?” Edward regarded him with renewed interest, and Ed couldn’t help a faint smile. He couldn’t help being curious to know how much they were alike, what things differed between them. It seemed they were at least aligned in their curiosity.
“Nah. Back home, I just clap my hands and transmute. It doesn’t really take much out of me at all.” He grinned at the mildly jealous look Edward shot him in response.
“Well, get used to not transmuting every little thing. Heck, I’m surprised you managed to transmute anything at all, the shape you’re in. Then again, you are me,” Edward murmured smugly.
Ed snorted, looking around for his clothes. Now that he was awake, he wasn’t going to accomplish anything by wasting time in a hospital bed. Now that he knew what he’d been missing about the alchemy here, he could go home.
“So…I guess you’ll need a place to stay until we can figure out how to get you home,” Edward noted.
“I don’t plan to be here long,” Ed retorted.
“Course not, but we have to figure out what will be equivalent enough to get you home in one piece. Somehow, I don’t think Al would appreciate you killing yourself trying to get back to him.”
“I can’t wait. I have to get back…I don’t even know if he’s alive.” He had to get out of here, had to know what had happened to Al. What possible reason did he have to stick around here, now that he knew he could transmute?
“Even if you managed to survive using alchemy, you’re not going to live through something that big. Hell, I’m not sure I could do that, and you’re in pretty shitty shape in comparison.” Edward stood, tossing some clothes towards the bed.
“These don’t look like mine.” Ed eyed the garments suspiciously.
“There wasn’t much left of yours,” Edward replied with a shrug. “Hurry up, would you? I’m hungry.”
Ed watched Edward stalk out of the room and set about easing himself off the bed. He pushed the blankets away to tug the pants up his legs. He scowled at the way they hung off his hips, not realizing the effects his time on the run and his ordeal with the gate had had on his body.
The rest of the garments were met with similar irritation. He could only imagine how he looked, black button down and slacks hanging obscenely off his currently raggedy frame. Ed thought about transmuting them for a moment, but he really did want to get out of here sometime in the next century, and figured he didn’t plan to stay long enough for his badly sized clothing to matter.
Once he’d managed to work his shoes on, or rather, Edward’s shoes, Ed slid off the bed, warily gripping its hand railing for balance. Dizziness washed over him, the room moving jerkily before his eyes. He shook his head, but it only made his stomach twist, sick despite its emptiness.
“Are you coming?” Edward popped his head in, scowling at Ed.
“Coming where?” The only place he’d planned on going was somewhere he could transmute himself home in peace.
“You’re staying with me until we can get you home, you idiot.” Edward seemed to notice Ed’s predicament then, the way he leaned on the bed for balance. He closed the space between them with a put upon sigh. Though he looked rather grumpy about it, he was gentle when he grabbed Ed’s arm, letting himself be used for support.
“What about ‘I’m going home now’ do you not get? I don’t need somewhere to stay,” Ed growled, head still spinning as they stumbled towards the doorway.
“Look, I don’t exactly want some weirdo who happens to look like me taking over my personal space… but, I’m not going to let you hurt Al just because you feel like being stupid. Maybe he’s not my brother, but he’s yours, and you’re supposed to be me. Stop being a jerk and think about what he’d want.”
He wanted to hit Edward, really, he did. It occurred to him, though, that Edward was the only thing keeping him standing at the moment. Somehow, the idea of collapsing in an angry, dizzy heap was more embarrassing than getting a dressing down from… himself.
“Look, if you think I’m such a fuckup, why are you helping me?” Ed hissed, finally.
“Huh?” Edward looked genuinely perplexed. “You’re me. You shouldn’t even have to ask. You don’t honestly think I’m so heartless I’d leave you here at Mustang’s mercy, do you?”
It was hard to stay angry in the face of the familiar, conspiratorial smirk Edward directed at him. The frantic worry about Al’s wellbeing still lingered, but he had to admit that trying to get home now wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take Edward up on his hospitality, just for a little while.