|“||Teachings that do not speak of pain have no meaning...because humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return.||”|
—The opening line to the Fullmetal Alchemist manga.
In the cellar of a house, a young boy suffers the aftermath of a mysterious and forbidden alchemical ritual gone wrong. Bleeding profusely from the mangled stump that was, moments ago, his left leg, the boy cries out for his brother Alphonse, but receives no response. His brother is gone.
Several years later, the boy - accompanied by what appears to be a large man clad entirely in steel plate armor - arrives in the frontier town of Reole, where every radio broadcasts the religious teachings and praises of the sun god Leto as proclaimed by the town's spiritual leader, Father Cornello. After a small incident forces the two strangers to reveal that they are alchemists, they introduce themselves as the famous Elric brothers - the younger brother Alphonse Elric being the one in the armor and the much smaller elder brother Edward Elric being a State Alchemist known as the "Fullmetal Alchemist". They meet a young woman named Rosé Thomas, who became Cornello's most devout adherent after being told that her deceased lover could be resurrected through the miraculous power of Leto, and Edward becomes suspicious of such ominous claims, deciding to investigate further.
The Elrics encounter Rosé in the church, where Ed confronts her blind religious faith with scientific facts regarding human beings to disprove the existence of gods, miracles and resurrections, but after witnessing a public display of Cornello's "miraculous power", Edward and Al begin to think that there is in fact an unnatural something behind the Father's power - a something they have been pursuing for a long time. They request an audience with Cornello, but fearing that the State Military has sent them to investigate his "secret plans", the prophet plans to have them quietly murdered. But when Cornello's adjutant Brother Cray attempts to carry out the order, he and his men are deftly subdued by Ed and Al. To Rosé's horror, however, the struggle knocks off Alphonse's helmet, revealing the armor suit to be apparently empty inside. Explaining to Rosé that Al's current state is the result of meddling in "God's domain", the Elrics challenge her to confront the truth about her leader.
Arriving at the prophet's inner sanctum, Edward and Alphonse accuse Cornello of using alchemy to fool his congregation into believing in his miraculous power and add that his strangely liberal transmutations suggest that he is actually transmuting with the aid of the legendary alchemical amplifier - the Philosopher's Stone. Cornello admits his deception as well as his possession of the Stone and Edward demands that the phony clergyman hand it over, but Cornello refuses, citing the ease with which he has used it to fool everyone in town. Despite having heard the truth, Rosé is easily swayed into compliance by Cornello's renewed promise to resurrect her sweetheart and stands idly by while the prophet attempts to kill the Elrics by unleashing a chimera. Edward takes the beast on himself and displays the remarkable ability to perform alchemy without the use of a Transmutation Circle, but when even this talent proves unable to fell the monster, Ed is forced to reveal that his right arm and left leg are both automail - full-steel automotive prostheses - and threatens to show the third-rate Cornello the difference between them.
- While in the church, Edward refers loosely to the myth of Icarus when describing human arrogance, suggesting that Amestris has knowledge of Greek mythology or Greek-equivalent roots (which is confirmed when Xerxes is introduced).
- In this chapter, it is revealed that Edward achieved his State Alchemist license at age twelve.