The Simple and the Subtle – Chapter One

Al goes to Ishvar, searching for answers. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Alphonse Elric, Amos, Scar

Al stood by a low fountain, hands opening and closing around the handle
of his suitcase. It was baking hot under the afternoon sun, even though it was autumn elsewhere in the country, but he
made no move for the shade of the wide porch across the square. There
had been too many doubtful or questioning looks directed at him as
he crossed the city, and he wanted to start off on the right foot,
here; his eyes searched through the knots of people sitting among the
pillars, looking for a face that seemed receptive or curious or welcoming.
Unfortunately, everyone seemed very wrapped up in whatever they were
discussing, in some cases quite loudly and with vigorous gestures.

Al sighed. Getting to New Ishvar had been simple. Finding the temple
had been even easier; it was the tallest building in the city and by
far the most finished-looking one. The next step was proving a little

"You can drink from the fountain, if you like, young man."

Al turned to see a comfortably plump woman smiling at him, offering a tin cup of water.

"You look like you’ve just gotten here," she added.

"Yes, ma’am." Actually, water sounded really good now that someone mentioned it. Al took the cup with a bob of thanks and sighed with pleasure as he washed the grit out of his throat. "Thank you very much."

"We don’t get many travelers," she observed to the water as she went back to filling a large jug.

"I was hoping to speak to some of your scholars." Al felt deeply self-conscious, now that he actually came to say it. "They, um, all seem to be very busy, though."

The woman laughed. "Ah, half the men up there are just arguing for the fun of it." She set her full jug down in the shadow of the fountain and beckoned. "Come along, I’ll show you to someone who can actually help."

"Oh. That’s very kind; thank you again." Al trailed behind her, surprised.

She tossed a wry grin over her shoulder. "I think anyone who comes to learn instead of shoot should be encouraged."

Al flushed. "Ah. Yes." How did you answer something like that?

She led him between the knots of gesticulating debaters and finally tapped the shoulder of a square, strong looking old man. "Sensei, you have a visitor."

The man looked up from the group of boys he’d been speaking to, smiling. "A visitor? How unusual. Thank you, Nahal." He waved to the boys, who scattered looking cheerful; Al suspected he’d just interrupted lessons of some kind. The old man nodded to him courteously as the woman shook her head and went after some of the children. "And how can we help…" He trailed off and frowned. "You…?"

"My name is Alphonse Elric." Al hesitated as the man’s eyes widened. "I… may have met you before sir. I don’t remember that time, though. Please excuse me."

"Hm. Well, you certainly look rather different than I remember." The man waved to one of the benches beside him. "I take it," he said quietly, as Al sat, "that your brother succeeded in healing you."

That was actually a very good way to put it, Al thought. "Yes, sir. He gave all of himself to do it, though, and…" Al’s hands tightened on each other, "now I’m trying to find where he’s gone."

"Where he’s gone?" the man prompted softly.

"He isn’t dead," Al told his hands. "I’d know if he were dead."

"You must know, Elric-kun, that we do not teach or learn the old Art." The man’s voice was kind but utterly inflexible.

"I know." Al looked up, meeting his eyes. "I don’t think it’s the Art I need to learn. There’s…" He took a deep breath. "There’s a Gate. It’s spoken of in some of the old books of your people, and nowhere else I’ve found. I’ve passed that Gate. Twice. But I don’t remember it."

The man sat back, looking startled. "Twice?" He examined Al in silence for a long moment and finally said, "I think you had better tell me the whole story, Elric-kun. If you can."

Al’s mouth quirked. This should be interesting. "Well, I suppose it starts from the fact that my brother and I inherited our father’s gift for alchemy…"

Dusk fell while he spoke, blue shadows sliding over the sand and stone.

"…so I came here, hoping I could learn more about what happened. Maybe enough to find the Gate when I’m awake and find my brother through it."

Al turned one hand palm up and waited as calmly as he could for his answer.

"If he has passed through the place you speak of, I do not know if it will be possible to call him back. He was not bound to this world, as you were by the blood seal." The old man stood. "Nevertheless, you have come to us honestly, to share learning. As long as that honesty does not fail, you are welcome to learn what you may."

Al let out the breath he’d been holding. "Thank you, sir."

The man’s teeth flashed in a smile. "My name is Amos. And now, we have to find some place for you to stay." He chuckled. "I’m sure Leo and Rick will be happy to see you again, but Maria has her hands full looking after them; lodging you there might not be the kindest thing to her."

"I don’t want to make any trouble," Al said, hastily, already imagining the look this Maria would give him. "Of course, I’ll do my best to help out wherever I stay, but I can stay outside of town, too, if that would be easier." After Sensei’s ideas of training, camping in the nice, calm desert would feel like a vacation.

"Hm. No, no I think I have a better idea. Come along." Whatever he had thought of put a glint in Amos-san’s eye, Al saw as they passed into the lamplight spilling past the temple doors. Al braced himself and followed along as Amos-san led him out into the city.

The buildings got less and less finished as they went until, at the edge of the city-in-progress, they were mostly wood and stone frames with tent canvas for walls. Amos-san finally stopped at one and rapped on the frame beside a drawn door-curtain.

"Gil! Are you in?"

The man who drew the curtain aside was even bigger and more solid-looking than Amos-san. He had a young face though, as far as Al could make out past the old scarring over most of it. "Shifu? What can I…?" He trailed off as his eyes fell on Al and widened.

Al tried not to sigh, and got ready to repeat the pertinent parts of his story. Again. He got very tired of explaining why he didn’t remember people.

"Gil, this is Alphonse Elric. I believe you’ve met." Amos-san sounded just a little too bland, and Al glanced at him with some suspicion.

"Alphonse?" The man, Gil-san, stepped forward, frankly staring. "You’re alive," he finally whispered.

Al paused. He didn’t remember the name Gil, but it sounded like this man knew a great deal about him. "Yes," he said, finally, and borrowed Amos-san’s words for the rest. "My brother healed me."

If anything, Gil-san’s eyes got wider.

"He’s come seeking a different kind of learning than the last time the Elrics visited us," Amos-san said, quite calm. "I think it would be best if he stayed with you, while he’s here."

There was some kind of protest in Gil-san’s expression as he turned to Amos-san, but it died as their eyes met. Finally Gil-san dropped his gaze and nodded.

"Excellent. I’m sure the two of you can help each other." Amos-san patted Al’s shoulder and turned back toward the center of the city.

Al didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he was sure that Amos-san was doing something for someone’s own good. He’d sounded far too much like Sensei at the end, there, not to be. "I don’t want to impose, Gil-san," he said, cautiously.

Gil-san snorted a little at that. "I’m sure you don’t." He shook himself and held the door-curtain aside. "You might as well come in."

The house was bare and simple; interior walls were half built or only marked out and the furniture was makeshift. Al was reminded of his thought about camping in the desert, and smiled.

"You are welcome," Gil-san told him, waving a rather sardonic hand at the crates and bed-rolls. "If you really want to be."

First things first, Al decided, firmly. "Gil-san, I’m afraid I don’t remember the years I traveled with my brother. It’s clear we met you, but, I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you at all."

Gil-san stopped by the scuffed table, looking at him for a long few breaths with unreadable eyes. Finally he nodded. "Only your life could buy your life." Al blinked at this succinct summing up of the price he’d paid as Gil-san turned away and rummaged in a flat chest, coming up with an extra bed roll. "There’s space in the bedroom; sharing shouldn’t be a problem."

Al was a bit bewildered by how Gil-san knew what had happened to him, and how simply he’d accepted it. Maybe a good night’s sleep would make it all make more sense. "Thank you, then." He bit his lip and added, "If, ah, I seem to be having strange dreams, please don’t be concerned. It… happens lately."

Gil-san’s hands paused for a moment, spreading out the bedding. "I see."

Al was starting to suspect that Gil-san did see, and he wasn’t sure whether that comforted or alarmed him.

"I’m sorry if I, um, miss anything," Al said the next morning as he cut bread for Gil to toast. "I’m afraid I didn’t recognize your name."

"I’m not surprised."

Al sighed. This was the third time he’d tried to imply that it would nice if Gil-san said how they’d met and none of them had gotten anywhere. He had a bad feeling it had been in Lior, where an Ishvarite could probably go unnoticed, and that had sounded like it had been a very bad time, when Winry and Rose told him about it. He didn’t want to push harder. Amos-san wouldn’t have brought him here if there had been problems between them, right?

Al would have felt better believing that if Amos-san’s smile had been even a little bit less like Sensei’s.

Al put the worry aside as well as he could, though, and set off for his first day of new research. Amos-san had said Al should look for someone named Alec.

"A gate, hm?" Alec-san turned out to be an old man with brushy gray hair and long hands and extremely sharp eyes. "A number of things have been called that." Alec-san paged through a book pulled down without looking from the shelves surrounding them. "Hm, yes. Human transmutation. Life and death, that. Does this look familiar?"

He held out the book, open to a sketch: an eye made up of eleven concentric circles. Chills slid down Al’s spine and he nodded positively. "Yes." He wasn’t sure where he’d seen it, but he recognized it. Which was fairly good evidence right there.

"Hmm." Alec-san set the book aside and leaned back. "The Gate before the Crown. That’s what our scholars and teachers have called the thing you seek after."

"Before the Crown?" Al asked, slowly. That was new.

Alec-san gave him a wintery smile. "Divinity, young man. The sum of all that is. That is the Crown."

Al’s eyes widened. "Oh."

"So it’s not surprising if you don’t remember it," Alec-san added, a bit breezily Al thought. "I doubt it’s possible to reach the Crown and remain your limited, mortal self. The Gate, though…" He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "That I suppose you might do. It will be interesting to see."

Al nodded politely and tried not to feel like a lab animal.

Alec-san pulled down another book. "Start with this. You’ll need to understand the concepts of the eleven realms and how they’re connected, if you want to understand what the Gate is. Don’t take it out of the library, here, we don’t have copies of any of these yet."

"Yes, sir. Thank you." Al settled in one of the other chairs and opened the book, determined to make as much as possible of his opportunity. He had one end of the thread, now, and that meant he could unravel the whole picture if he just worked hard enough. He’d follow that thread all the way to his memory and his brother, and be damned to anything that got in his way.

Behind him, Alec-san made an amused little hmph. "Two of a kind, you are, you and that boy. Amos got that right."

That nudged at Al’s attention, but he was already into his note-taking and what Amos-san had gotten right would have to wait for another time.


Poetic license has been taken with the Kabbala and the Tree of Life, in order to fit the Gate in there. Amos is the name I have given to Scar’s unnamed mentor. Alec and Nahal, though, are my own invention.