|The Masked Man|
|Title||The Masked Man|
|U.S.A. Release Date||March 21, 2006|
|Preceded by||Chapter 21: The Brothers' Secret|
|Followed by||Chapter 23: Knocking on Heaven's Door|
In the Curtises' meat shop in Dublith, Sig asks Izumi if the Elric boys will be all right on Yock Island by themselves. Izumi responds that this sort of direct experience will serve to teach them alchemy's true nature better than any text, quelling her husband's fears with the assertion that Yock, with its warm climate, bounteous live game and vegetation and lack of wild beasts, is perfectly safe.
At that very moment, however, young Edward and Alphonse find themselves under attack by a strangely bestial masked wild man. Finding their own meager attempts at combat ineffective, the boys flee into the thick of the forest and hide out in terror until morning. Understanding that they are on their own for the next month, the Elrics resolve to provide for themselves and, the next day, make traps and tools in order to catch their own meat. However, their initial discomfort with slaughtering small animals and their inability to catch any fish drive them close to despair. And when their luck changes, allowing them to catch a fish for dinner, they are attacked again by the masked man, who steals their food and thrashes them both for good measure, declaring that the island belongs to him alone. In the morning, still determined to survive the test and learn alchemy, the boys prepare more thoroughly for their long stay. They make camp and spend the next two weeks struggling with game traps, failing to catch sufficient amounts of fish, experimenting unsuccessfully with the local vegetation and warding off frequent attacks from the masked man. But two weeks of bare wilderness, near starvation and lost scuffles drive the brothers near their breaking point. Fearing a hard death at such a young age, Al demands angrily what this toil has to do with learning alchemy. After a fresh attack leaves the boys beaten and bruised on top of their hunger, Edward spies a dead cicada being taken apart and devoured by ants and sheds and tear in realization that the insect's fate may soon be his own. The masked man crouches over them and demands that they get up and continue fighting, but though Edward asserts that he does not want to die, he is too weak to move and passes out in despair. When the boys awake, they are shocked to find that the masked man has built a fire and cooked two large fish for them to eat. Desperate, they ravenously accept the meal with tears of gratitude.
Renewed by their brush with death, the boys return to their daily grind. Over the following two weeks, they put their experiences to good use, differentiating between edible and inedible plants, fishing successfully, hunting game with reverent firmness and vigorously fending off further attacks by the masked man, all the while understanding that as humans they are only a minute and insignificant part of an immense and flowing cosmos which itself is made up entirely of minute and insignificant parts.Like the cicada, their bodies are destined to broken down to serve as nutrients for the plants, which then nourish animals which, in their turn, nourish humans and complete the cycle. Understanding this cyclical system and the way it flows, the Elrics realize the answer to Izumi's riddle and that tapping into this massive flow for the purpose of deconstruction and reconstruction is the concept at the core of alchemy itself.
Izumi returns by boat on the thirtieth day and when the boys - both physically and mentally strengthened by their ordeal - answer her riddle correctly, she announces that they are to be her apprentices from this day forward and that warm beds and food await them back in Dublith. As the boys rejoice, however, the masked man springs from the forest and plants himself in their boat, earning him a bit of praise from Izumi, who explains that the masked man is Mason, her employee at the butcher shop, and that she had asked him to stay on the island and keep an eye on them. Al demands to know why she made him attack and Izumi responds that the skirmishes were meant to strengthen them physically before asserting that their "real training" will be much more rigorous.
- In this chapter, it is revealed that Izumi's alchemy apprenticeship took place on Mount Briggs, where she was left by herself for a month in a fashion similar to the Elrics.