chapter 1.

People can't get anything without losing something of equal value. That is the Principle of Equal Trade in alchemy.

"It's horrible..." the hushed words sank like stone in the dead silence, absorbed in the quiet like water on sand. Far in the distance there was a muffled rumble as a few of the skeletal support beams of the damaged building finally gave into the inevitable pull of gravity.

"Were there any survivors?"

"There had better be...otherwise all they have done would have been for nothing."

The first thing he did was try to get out of bed.

That attempt was largely a failure, he didn't get much more than a foot before the pain hit, pain that had been a distant memory up until now. The stale hospital air, the chilly tiled floor, the plain, almost paper-like bedsheets that he clutched at for dear life. Air felt like fire in his lungs, and sound and smells and more assaulted him. When Winry found him, he could not help but clutch at her, babbling almost hysterically. She had half-dragged, half-carried him to the bathroom, where he had transferred his grip to the chilly steel rim of the mirror. Panicked brown eyes stared back at him. The same eyes that had been in his dim and fading memories.

How do you know you were real? Where is your human body?

He touched his face. I'm real, he thought, I'm real.

He woke up in a strange place, where strange people talked at him but the words made no sense. His body was oddly light, as if his muscles remembered bearing a heavier weight. His chest was tight with bandages. He didn't realize his right arm—and a good chunk of his shoulder—was missing until he tried to get up. Tried, and failed in the process, and also discovered that there was only one foot under the light blanket covering him.

Later, he would realize he could understand the words. You're lucky you survived. You lost an arm and a leg, we almost couldn't save you. It looks like someone tore out some fixtures that had been you remember having automail? Who are you? What happened? Where did you come from?

He did not know the answers.

He had validation now. Proof that he existed, a body that lived and breathed and felt pain, a human body like the one he was born with, down the last freckle on his nose. The price for the validation—the most important person.

He was truly alone now.


They called him that, because it was the only name that came to mind at all. Al had one arm and one leg, and eyes that no one could stare into for long. The people who saved him were kind-hearted nuns running an orphanage in the far north, and they urged him to stay with them and the children. It was their belief that their god welcomed all lost sheep, and there was no doubt that Al was lost. Al was not pious but he did not reject their offer. Even if he could walk, he would not know where to go. He had a feeling that was not always so, he had the distinct impression that he had a purpose once, but now that was gone. So he stayed. There were more children than nuns, and even with only one arm and one leg, he could help to keep curious fingers from fire and electric outlets. So he stayed in the little run down church, even though the only other thing he remembered was that he did not believe in god.