For Whom the Bell Tolls

part 1 of Alpha kai to Omega

The alchemist had seen many people die.

The land had been torn apart by religious persecution and plague for years; stinking corpses littered the streets before being buried in mass graves, and heretics' bodies were hung from the outer walls by the blood-thirsty hounds of the Church as a warning to others. The smell of blood and rot hung in the air like a poisonous miasma, and the groans of the dying were a tide of sound washing over the city, cycling with the seasons and never ceasing.

He'd walked among the sick and dead, studying the progression of the plague, marking its symptoms. He'd spent long hours working in the sickhouses beside the Gallian physician-alchemist Michel D'ostredame, toiling over the stricken during the day and exchanging observations long into the night until they both nodded wearily over their cups of tea, falling asleep at the table with their heads cushioned on their notes, only to wake with the dawn and begin again.

He'd seen the public hangings of the so-called witches—seen the ones whose necks had not snapped immediately and who had dangled, choking and writhing the slow, painful inches toward death; he'd been witness to the mockery of a trial that the Church court had instated, and had barely avoided accusation himself: He had been too vocal of an objector to the Church's stance toward alchemy to go completely unnoticed, and only his reputation as a gifted scholar and professor had managed to redeem him sufficiently to keep him from being put on trial as a heretic.

The alchemist had held his first-born son in his arms as the young man convulsed and trembled with muscle spasms, blinded and deafened to his father's grief by the toxin he'd attempted to exploit for eternal life and the Great Panacea. For all of his work in the field of medicine and years studying poisons, for all the healing alchemy he had learned and fine-tuned over the years of working with the sick and dying, he'd been helpless in the face of his own son's death.

Desperately, he'd transmuted his son's cold, still corpse, and in doing so he had seen the gate of death and of deep darkness, coming as close as any living thing could to facing God Himself and surviving...though the encounter had scarred him deeply, breaking his physical heart at much as Lucas's death had broken his emotional one. He'd lived with the non-living, inhuman thing that had risen up from his failed transmutation, and shuddered at the changes wrought between his son's last breath and the monster's first.

The alchemist had been the cause of death.

He'd caused the loss of hundreds of lives, thousands of lives, caused it with the casual simplicity of touching his two hands together...but the true irony of the situation was that he took not only all the lives he gave as sacrifice with that gesture, but that he took his own as well, his weak and wounded heart consumed along with the rest of the holocaust in the savage flame of the alchemical fire.

Hohenheim had been familiar with death, but his own still took him by surprise. The last thing he saw with his own eyes was the blood-red flame of the Philosophers' Stone hanging above him like the most tempting of all forbidden fruit, just out of reach of his straining hands.