Rose watched as Cornello's men pounded on the wall, as if to make the vanished door appear again. Finally Cray ordered his men to search the church and the surrounding streets. He approached Cornello. "My men will continue to search but I have no idea what we will do even if they found them."
"Of course you don't, the boy is a State Alchemist after all. Head to my office, broadcast a message to the city. My faithful flock will help you find them."
"I doubt the civilians will be able to stop State Alchemists."
"They aren't meant to stop them Cray, just flush them from hiding and delay them long enough for you to find them. Send word the moment you find their location, I have a little surprise for our State Alchemist friends."
Cray nodded and headed out with his men in tow.
Cornello finally turned his attention back to Rose. his most devoted follower was looking at him with doubt that was very new and very unwelcome. if she was starting to question, then the rest of the city would start to follow. No he needed her completely on his side and for that he had a little something tucked away for just such an emergency. Elric's little performance had been compelling but, how much more compelling wold the voice of her poor dead boyfriend be. Yes Kain, perhaps a few words from her departed Kain would do the trick. While the Chimera in the basement was his proudest achievement with the stone, the little experiment he kept in the upper towers of the church was equally impressive. Fortunately he had just recently got the thing to speak Rose's name and like any craftsmen he was looking forward to her reaction.
Edward and Xander were resting after fleeing the church. Alphonse, who barely needed sleep let alone rest, checked the streets as if pursuers would spring from the sewer grates themselves.
Suddenly the radio speakers that dotted the street squawked to life and Cray's deep voice could be heard. "Tonight a group of unbelievers made an attempt on the life of the Father Cornello . The Father survived the cowardly attack but he asks that all of you remain safely in your homes,"
Xander sighed "Well that just sucks, Now the whole town hates us and their hunting us like criminals."
"We are criminals." Edward sarcastically reminded him
"Who's we, alchemy boy" Xander snapped "Their looking for the short alchemist and his armored companion. I'm just the sidekick, nobody ever cares about the sidekick."
"Why are they reacting this way." Al asked "If we really wanted to take the stone at all costs, we would have."
"I'd find that a much more compelling argument if we hadn't just gotten owned by Father Conman."
"Well if we are going to get that stone we gotta get close to Cornello." Edward said thoughtfully
"I'm thinking the mindless sycophants might object. The only one they listen to is Cornello." Xander sighed
Ed rubbed his hands together eagerly. "You know something? you're absolutely right. I've got a plan." He said.
Xander noticed an all too familiar gleam in Ed's eye, "I hate it" he said warily
"How do you know you hate it," Ed whined "You haven't heard it yet."
"Because Ed, it's you, which means ridiculously stupid and uber-risky."
"Then it's your fault, you shouldn't give me crazy ideas."
Minutes later Xander considered his fears justified. He and the real Alphonse watched as a frenzied crowed surrounded Edward accusing him of all manner of evil. Rose even put in an appearance claiming that Cornello had returned her dead boyfriend Kain to life, she had even heard him speak. Apparently no one noticed that the Alphonse standing next to Edward was both immobile and strangely silent. Xander had to assure the younger Elric that this was nothing to get upset about. Edward had figured the toughest part would be getting the fake Al to move on its own but that proved unnecessary. Suddenly the many Leto statues come to life. they first surrounded, then attacked the duo crushing the Al statue and beating Edward into unconsciousness.
Soon afterward, the crowd had left and Al and Xander were free to pursue their part in the plan. Xander lost the two out of three rock paper scissors game that decided who would do what in the big plan This was especially embarrassing as he was the one who had taught the Elric brothers the game and had since then managed to consistently lose to Alphonse. His loss meant he had to break into the church utility shed and steal tools since he faced the unpleasant prospect of futzing around inside the bell tower removing the church bell. As he was suspended in the upper gears disconnecting the bell from the pulley mechanism. He thanked god the few days he had spent with the Family Rockbell had reacquainted him with his love for tinkering with and fixing things. Of course, having one of the best automail mechanics in Ametrias proclaim it "a bloody waste of good talent that he had signed up with the military." had done his occasionally fragile ego wonders.
His work took him most of the night and when he finally finished, the sun was just coming up. He managed to get the bell away from the tower just as a bleary eyed acolyte reacted with shock and terror at the vanished bell.
Xander didn't stay to watch the mans frenzied freak-out instead he lugged the heavy bell to a balcony overlooking city where Al joined him. At his side, looking like she had seen a ghost was Rose. Apparently Cornello had tried to win her loyalty by showing her a shadowy figure that spoke her name. His claim had been that the figure was her dead lover Kain, returned to life. The sight had convinced her enough to make her appearance in the street where she had denounced the Elrics. however Edward, imprisoned in a dungeon beneath the Church, had preyed on her insecurities. Those uncertainties had proved too much a temptation for the confused Rose. She had returned to the room to speak with her beloved but the figure had turned out to be another of Cornello's chimera's. Only Al's timely intervention had saved her from a gruesome death. Rose was still upset over the whole deal
She was shocked to see Xander holding the large cumbersome bell but Alphonse deflected her curiosity by assuring Rose Xander was stronger then he looked.
"Did you get the stuff from Corny's office" Xander asked Alphonse
"Yeah I got the mike from Cornello's office without a hitch, Rose is already in on the plan, I kind of rescued her on my way back so I had to fill her in on the details."
Al started patching everything together with alchemy which meant that Xander had nothing to do for a moment, expect satisfy Rose's curiosity. "What are you doing?" She was looking mystified at the patchwork setup taking shape in front of her."
"We're using the bell as a crude speaker." Xander explained "It has a little more output then the tiny speakers down on the street."
"I can't believe all this." Rose looked at the both of them. "Al's body, Ed's arm and leg and yet they're trying to get it all back." She turned to Xander "...and what about you, why are you mixed up in all this. Did you lose something too?"
"Yeah," Xander answered sadly "My entire world."
"Your ...world, I don't understand."
"A friend tried to bring back someone she lost, I think...I was the equivalent exchange."
"You think? don't' you know?" Rose asked, obviously confused
"It should be time to get started." Al said loudly
He was reaching for the switch when Xander cleared his throat. "Alphonse, manners, I think the lady will love this part."
Alphonse bowed and held out the switch for Rose who sheepishly pressed it
There was a high whining hum from the hastily prepared speaker, suddenly then Edward and Cornello could be heard speaking. The mike Alphonse had planted in Ed's cell was picking up every word. "I still don't get it why start a cult. Was it for the money?" Ed's voice issued from the bell
"Your thinking too small Elric," Cornello could be heard gloating. "I can get all the money I want. It's power I'm after."
"I'm making believers who would throw away their very lives in my name and why not I can bring them back to life. There is no greater army then those with a holy cause. Within a few years I'll have enough followers to tear this country apart and rebuild it in my name."
"Makes no difference to me." Edward
"Well its not like there's any real way to bring back the dead once you kill me I'm gone for good."
"I'm afraid so, even with the philosopher's stone I wouldn't dare try human alchemy. I'd just end up like you, and why would a king risk his life for a bunch of mindless pawns."
There was a brief pause then Cornello's frenzied screaming "How did you get my broadcast equipment."
"Xan helped Al rig it up ... I know, you smashed Al into pieces but that was just some metal I whipped up to look like the real thing."
"How long has that been on."
"Long enough for the Mindless-Pawns-Tearing-The-Country-Apart bit."
Cornello screamed and there was sound of a mini-gun firing after which the feed went dead
"That's that," Xander sighed "Lets head street level folks I want to see how this turns out."
"...But aren't you worried for Ed," Rose asked "Cornello took his pocket watch. He said that was the source of Ed's power."
Xander laughed "Then Cornello's even more stupid then I thought. Come on kids, this'll be fun."
"What's he talking about?" Rose asked
"You'll see." Alphonse said. Rose couldn't be sure but it almost seemed like he was smiling.
Cornello came racing out of the church in the time it had taken him to get out there the whole town had flooded the gathering square outside the church Cornello tried pleading with the people to not believe the lying unbelievers when that proved unsuccessful he used the rings power to bring the statues in the square to life.
Ed arrived shortly after him and stood facing him. Rose was shocked to see Ed's automail arm in its blade form. Alphonse explained that Ed loved to fight that way. It meant he and Cornello had tussled before Cornello had fled for his life.
"Last chance holy man." Ed growled brandishing his arm blade. "Give me the stone."
"You can't fool me Elric." Cornello held up the ornate State Alchemist pocket watch that Ed normally wore at his hip. "Without this pocket watch the only alchemy you can preform is to that metal arm of yours."
"Really... You know what, preacher you aren't the only one who can't stand doubters." Ed clapped his hands and slammed them to the ground and then the building, the entire building, began to shake. Suddenly, the Leto Statue from the center of the church burst though the front of the church. The huge thing was moving on its own and raised its fists high before slamming them to smash its smaller siblings into dust.
"You see Rose," Al said proudly." Rings and watches have nothing to do with it. My brother is the real deal, the Full Metal Alchemist."
Cornello began screaming in pain, Al and Xander watched as his arm began seething and pulsating, strange mechanical... things began jutting out of the flesh.
"Alchemical recoil? but how that should be impossible, unless..." Alphonse muttered
"Unless Corny's stone was really..." Xander replied grimly.
Edward's scream confirmed their thoughts "You mean the stones a fake...stop jerking me around."
"Well this just sucks." Xander cursed
Cornello retreated into the depths of the church to avoid the growing crowd out front baying for his blood. He caught sight of the attractive woman. Beside her was a short man with a huge build and a bald head gnawing on a bone distractedly. Next to him was a lanky looking youth with dreadlocks.
"That boy was right," Cornello snapped "That ring you gave me wasn't the real Philosopher's Stone."
"Well Duh, " the lanky youth snapped sarcastically, "Do you really think we would waste a genuine philosopher's stone on a two bit con artist like you."
"Un-holy creatures who are you really " Cornello asked fearfully
"I'm known as Lust" the woman replied "The big boy is Gluttony. I'd properly introduce you to Envy but he doesn't really look like he does now and very soon he's going to look like you."
"Like me? I don't understand."
"Not very bright are you." Envy growled "I'm going to be posing as you for a while so that our little game can continue." As he spoke, Envy's form changed and expanded until Cornello was looking at a exact duplicate of himself. it could even speak with his voice. "You know between the Full Metal Runt and the One Who Sees, the military will eventually be showing up to "secure things" around here."
"Do you think you can keep playing preacher till they get here? After that we can get back to more interesting fun."
"You know me, i like to play to my strengths." Envy shrugged and pushed past Cornello
"What is going on," Cornello asked fearfully "Why did you trick me."
Lust shrugged her shoulders, "Because you were easy to dupe and because you were useful. Traits you no longer possess."
The figure called Gluttony tugged on Lust's arm while pleading, "Come on, Lust isn't about time you let me eat the old preacher."
Lust tapped her jaw thoughtfully while looking at Cornello like he was a toy she had grown bored with. "Well You've been such a good boy lately why not, just make sure to wipe your mouth afterward."
Gluttony smiled and grinned widely and started toward Cornello.
Cornello turned to run and made the last of his many mistakes. What the preacher didn't know, what most people didn't realize, was that the only thing greater then the endless aching hunger that had given Gluttony his name was the speed he could move at when it was time to satisfy that aching need.
Lust looked away from Gluttony's feasting to gaze down at the church square where Envy in the guise Cornello was already calming the people of Liore down. Soon everything would be back to normal. Still the Full Metal Boy was really coming along. Lust knew The Boss would be pleased to hear how far the boy had come in such a short time. Perhaps he had even come far enough that he could become really useful instead of just a mere curiosity, of course his state supplied babysitter might be a problem. For all that Harris played the fool he had already demonstrated he could be a threat when he wanted to be. Still Lust wasn't too concerned. Harris was a mortal, not even an alchemist. Mortals could be bargained with or bullied and if those options didn't work, well Gluttony always needed feeding. Still Lust found herself wondering Who was this Xander Harris, where had he really come from and why had Envy of all people given him that ridiculous nickname, The One Who Sees.
Edward and Alphonse were waiting on the main road out of town. Xander had volunteered to get their stuff from the Church. He quickly gathered their things. While leaving the church he noticed that the people were oddly happy, all things considered. as he jogged through the town he noticed a tall long haired blond talking with many of the townspeople. Since he was still kind of hated he didn't stop to investigate. Still he could have sworn this was the same guy he had been seeing off and on everywhere in the last three years. He finally rejoined the Elrics carrying Edward's suitcase and his own army rucksack.
The brothers were still arguing about how they should have handled things in Liore when Xander walked up to them.
"Whatever, this puts us back to square one," Ed said dismissively "and here I thought we'd finally get you back in the flesh Al."
"You're the one we're going to fix first Brother, that automail is so tough on you. "
"I hate to interrupt this Kodak moment but between this and burying the red water in Xenotime, our best leads have gone up in flames, I don't know about you but I'm thinking Roy Mustang might want to see a return the substantial amount of collateral damage we've been causing."
"Well we still don't know where Cornello got his stone." Alphonse said thoughtfully "I doubt he made it himself. Do you think he got it from Mugwar, Brother."
Edward sighed "Mugwar was trying to use the stones he made to jump-start gold production. I don't see him giving one away to some random dude passing through."
Xander was suspicious "I'm not sure, but I got the feeling Mugwar wasn't the one pulling the strings. Mugwar was a puppet, I'm almost sure of it."
Over the last three years Edward had learned to trust Xander's flashes of insight. "Maybe your mysterious someone gave Cornello his stone."
"Yeah but why, Con artists go for the fast money, the easy score. Starting a religion, building an army, that is way out of character for any con man I've ever heard of. Plus this is a dead ass town in the middle of nowhere, why empower a con artist to raise an army here of all places. I got a bad feeling about all of this.
"We will find the real stone; I promise you Xander " Edward said resolutely
Alphonse patted him on the shoulder reassuringly "And when we do, we can fix what Tucker did to you and send you back home."
Xander sighed "Assuming I have a home to go back to,"
Rose chose that moment to walk up to them "You should have never come here." She said bitterly
"You think we should have just left things as they were."
"Why not, with Cornello we thought we could do anything. We were a desert town what do we have now that Cornello is gone.
"Cornello was conning you," Xander reminded her "Turning you into an army, getting ready to sacrifice you all for his dreams of power."
"What am I supposed to do now that Kain isn't coming back."
Edward looked at the young woman "You'll have to figure that out for yourself. Get up, move forward, you got a good strong pair of legs Rose, you oughta start using them."
Xander sighed as Edward walked away. he shouldered the pack on his back and then muttered more to himself. "Way to go, Mr Smooth." then to Al he barked "Lets go Al before someone decides to find a tree in this desert so they can lynch us."
Al turned to Rose, passing her several folded sheets of paper "Brother was trying to help Rose it just doesn't always come out right."
"Just go..." she sobbed and shut her eyes so she would not have to watch the three of them leave. Later she would look at the pages with their neat writing. She would sit for hours that night reading the story they told. A tale of two talented brothers from a small town whose experiments with alchemy almost cost them their lives and did cost them their bodies. It told of the stranger that had landed in their lives as a result of his own alchemy misadventure, of how the three of them learned to work together and rely on each other. It told of the challenges they had faced and the struggles they had overcome.
Hundreds of miles away in the middle of a refugee camp, two boys went running toward a tent. They had news the couple in that tent would want to know about.
Reaching their destination, they crept inside. The couple they had come to see was looking at strange and arcane circles hanging in the air like smoke. The scarred Isbalian male was watching his female companion as she gestured and made the circles shimmer and change in the air as if they were dancing. Once the woman realized she had an audience, she waved her hands and the circles disappeared.
The tall man turned to look at them. "what news?"
"We're breaking camp, the elders say that there is another encampment just outside of Eastern we going to meet up with them and stay awhile."
The scarred man nodded "You can go now. You and your brother can have my portion of the days rations."
The boys nodded, when they were gone the scarred man turned to his companion "Isvala is leading me back to the heart of my enemies it has to be her will that I bring judgment on them."
"Cowards taking the life of innocents. It can't be a co-incidence that I'm here at this time. This is how I have to make amends to the world "
Your powers are growing stronger soon we will be ready to being justice back to the world I know this is the right path Ishval has chosen this destiny for us
Trust me when I say, Destiny can be funny sometimes." Willow Rosenberg replied coldly "You can never tell where it might lead you or what you'll have to suffer to get there."