By: Joey Maxwell
Bleeding to death, Edward would find, could be a very surreal experience. There was pain at first, but somehow now that all seemed so far away. A coldness and heaviness crept into his body, deep and weighty like lead. The freezing fingers crept further, plunging themselves farther into his body, his mind rolling about like liquid metal in a crucible. Soon he felt himself falling deep into cold and velvety darkness, and for a long while, there was nothing more...
That damnable bird. It wouldn't stop cawing. Edward wondered to himself how one was supposed to sleep with that bird making all that racket. He was peaceful where he was, laying cradled in sweet and numbing oblivion. But now there was this bird that kept calling him back, tugging on his consciousness like a fisherman's line. Okay fine, he thought. He would wake up and shoo the creature away, and go back to sleep. Shakily he lifted himself from his fetal position, and opened his eyes. He found himself laying on a cold stone floor in what he could only surmise was a very huge and old library. The musty smell of mold and rotting paper hung in his nostrils, and slowly he made his way forward, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. It was not until he saw the stack of books sitting before him, and the white gleaming skull that sat on top, did he gasp and draw back, mortified. Sitting atop the skull was a large black crow. The corvid, seemingly amused by the young boy's reaction, chuckled dryly to itself and clapped its beak a few times. Edward was none-too pleased about this, and proceeded to have his arms wildly at the offending bird.
"Go away. Shoo! I'm trying to sleep!"
His words seemed to echo all about him, and he paused for a moment in wonderment as they rang out in his own ears. The crow, however, did not move, and merely fixed him with a quizzical gaze as it ruffled its feathers and set them all in place. Somehow Edward seemed too tired and woozy to think about anything else other than sleep, and he slowly lowered himself back down onto the floor. Just as he felt the darkness come and take him once more, the crow started anew its raucous cawing. It put up quite a show this time, flapping its wings and dancing about on its morbid perch. Feeling fully affronted and robbed of his peace, Edward jumped up from his prone position and charged at the crow, waving his arms and shouting, however the bird had a few tricks of its own. Taking to flight, it circled around above the boy's head and dealt him several sharp blows with its hard and unforgiving beak. Sitting on the floor and nursing his skull, he watched the bird strut confidently above him atop a bookshelf. His anger had reached a peak now and he sought retribution against the crow, which he found in a crumbling old textbook next to him on the floor, and picking it up, he let it fly in the direction of the bird. It hit an inch short of the crow near the edge of the bookshelf and, in an explosion of dust, feathers and rotting paper the bird took to flight. Somehow scaring it off seemed not to mollify Edward, and he gave chase down the main aisle of the library, heedless to anything else about him as he followed the bird's progress.
Edward did not think to stop until he was completely out of breath and, in pausing realised that he had left the library completely and entered some sort of antechamber. All about him, he noticed, where clocks of all shapes and sizes, showing varying degrees of time. Many of them sported dusty and cracked lenses and some where broken open, their gears and cogs plainly visible. Most of them ticked away loudly, causing the very air around him to twitch and vibrate. He turned around and around trying to catch them all with his vision, and it seemed that the more he turned the louder they ticked, until it felt like his brain was being picked at by many tiny beaks. Lost in dizzyness, he collapsed onto the floor in a swoon. It was not until a very loud and very old voice sounded over the ticking of the clocks did Edward break from his daze.
"Who are you, boy?! And how did you get here! Speak up, and get off of my floor!"
Edward staggered up onto his feet and levelled an uneasy stare on the owner of the voice. Standing before him was a very old man with a long beard. He was clad in a dusty, moth-eaten toga, and leaned on an old crutch. He was missing one leg. The crow who had tormented him earlier flew up from seemingly out of nowhere and perched on the old man's boney shoulder. Edward swallowed hard. He felt as if he was going to melt under the old man's stare, those bright and tiny eyes looking all too much like those of the bird sitting on his shoulder.
"Well, don't just stand there catching flies with your mouth, I asked you a question! What are you doing in my home?!"
Edward gulped hard.
"I-I don't know. I kind of just fell asleep and woke up here."
The old man fixed him with a look of appraisal, studying him head to toe.
"Your Edward Elric, aren't you? Yes...you are. I really shouldn't be surprised to see you here then."
Edward seemed frustrated then, unsure of where he was and not liking the idea that this old man clearly knew something he did not.
"What do you mean? How do you know who I am, old man? And what're all these books and clocks, and what's up with that bird? Who are you and how did I get here?!"
The old man did nothing more than laugh. It was a deep, hollow laugh, like old leaves on the wind.
"Ahhh, you children and your questions! My! This," he said grandly, gesturing around him, "is a place of antiquity, and my home. My books tell many stories. Stories of what was, what is, and what is yet to be. Everyone's story is written in here." He limped over to a dusty old desk and sat down. It was littered with old clock parts and books. The crow bounced off of his shoulder and walked about amongst the detritus on the table, pecking at old cogs and plucking out tattered and loose feathers. Humming softly to himself, the elderly man grabbed a black quill and dipped it into an ink bottle. Pressing out the excess ink along the chipped rim of the bottle, he applied the quill-tip to the open and half-empty page of a book and proceeded to write. Edward stood there for a time as if waiting to be noticed, but the elderly man seemed to show no further interest. Slowly and cautiously, he approached the desk, staring with wonder at the strange pieces and baubles spread out before him on its surface. Presently, his eyes alighted on a single silver pocketwatch. Unlike all the other watches there, this one was in flawless condition. It was a bright silver with a sturdy chain and a spirited tick. He seemed strangely attracted to it, and slowly reached out with his hand to pick it up.
"Lets not be hasty now!" the old man cried, slapping Edward's hand away smartly. His lips parted in a yellow-toothed grin, and he wagged one gnarled finger in the young boy's face. "We'll get to that in a minute."
Frustrated, Edward stared down at his feet. Soon he began to feel the hot sting of tears in his eyes and that strange tickling sensation as they coursed down his flush cheeks. He did not want to show weakness in front of this man but he couldn't help it. It was more than just frustration that gripped him now, and that feeling seemed to tighten like a cold leaden fist around his heart.
"A....Am I dead?"
A pause. Then the elderly man threw down his quill and roared with laughter.
"Dead. Dead? Well boy you certainly must be far gone enough to be seeing me!"
Ed sniffed, shivered. The old man rose from his chair, towering over the boy.
"It is an unfortunate thing, isn't it? The road to disaster is always paved with good intentions. In this case...the foolish intentions of a child. Where you to go back, young Edward, you would not have many options before you, and the ones that are open to you will not be easy. You have also left another behind, one who now stands precariously between eternity and death."
Edward puzzled over this. "Someone else? I don't--"
"You won't understand. Not until you see. When you see, you will understand. But first you must make a choice." The man turned and gestured towards the silver pocketwatch sitting on the table. "This watch...you fancy it?"
"Well, uhm...yeah. I'm both attracted to it and terrified of it, but I don't know why."
The old man scooped the watch up and weighed it carefully in his hand like one would weigh fine gold.
"This watch...bears a heavy burden. At this point it is your only path. This decision, unfortunately, was made long before you came to this place. It may be your only way out. The choice, in the end, is up to you."
Edward reached his hand out, hesitated, then carefully took the watch out of the cold palm. He held it gingerly in his hands for a moment, wondering at it. Its tick was like the heartbeat of some small animal in his hands, and it took him a minute to realise that it was ticking in time with his own heart. A cold feeling washed over him now. Was it anticipation? Or dread? He felt as if he where standing at the very edge of a deep precipice, unsure of wether or not he should jump.
"I'm done with you for now, boy. But I'm sure we'll meet again...in time."
Edward suddenly began to feel himself get woozy. Everything around him seemed to waver and shift like quicksilver, and soon he felt himself falling, falling into a tunnel of light...
"My brother....you're alive..."
Edward felt something cold caress his bare shoulder. He moaned, his consciousness bobbing like some child's toy boat on turbulent water. The cold feeling hit him again, and he thought for a moment that it was the cold touch of that old man. Flinching slightly, he opened his eyes only to gaze into a grey metallic face hovering over him.
"How are you? Can you hear me? I was so worried you wouldn't wake up.."
He blinked, wondering for a minute why this empty helmet was speaking with the voice of his younger brother. Then slowly it started to come, only to hit him in the end like a robber in the night. Cold, terrible, absolute realisation.