There are some things more important than immortality - like life. (Set during Ch. 50)
"So is it worth this?"
Ling glanced over at the young alchemist who was sludging beside him through the... whatever it was they were sludging through. "Is what worth this?"
"Being emperor. Being immortal." The tone of Ed's voice implied that he thought such goals were altogether too trivial for their current tribulations.
Ling was silent for a moment, pondering how best to answer, until he finally settled on a simple, convicted, "Yes." Ed snorted and shook his head, and Ling decided he'd explain himself -- not because he needed affirmation, but because he knew Ed would find their forced alliance more tolerable if he knew what Ling was fighting for. "Do you understand what happens if I don't become emperor, Ed?"
He gave Ed a sidelong glance and hid a small smile at the disgruntled look on the young man's face.
"Someone else does," Ed muttered sourly, more focused on the substance they were wading through than the conversation at hand.
Ling nodded. "And annihilates all the rival tribes." Ed looked over at him, alarm in his golden eyes, and Ling gazed straight ahead into the endless darkness.
"That's... that's barbaric," Ed decided vehemently, and Ling shrugged.
"If they don't, there could be an uprising, a coup. Those who are not chosen will try to take the throne by force if they are not executed."
Ed looked like he might be turning a little green around the gills. "Will you... do that, if you become emperor?"
Ling nodded again, an uncharacteristic grimness settling over his face. "I have to," he whispered. "If I thought they would live peacefully, I would allow them to live. But they would not. They would target me and my family... and especially my bodyguard. Everyone I love would be in danger."
He glanced at Ed to see if the other boy caught his meaning, and saw when the light came on in Ed's eyes, realization dragging the alchemist's gaze down to the disturbingly dark liquid swirling around their knees.
"Do you understand now?" Ling asked quietly. "I have a... friend who has sworn to protect me, even to the point of death, and I cannot take that lightly. It is my duty to ensure life to my family, my clan, and my friend." His hand settled on the hilt of his sword and determination settled into his dark eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "It is easy to have a friend you would die for, Edward," he noted. "But have you ever had a friend you would kill for?"
Ed's head snapped up and he fixed Ling with a hard look. Ling smiled to himself; he could almost see Ed growing up right in front of his eyes. He saw the war in Edward's face, saw when he finally looked away and admitted softly, "Yes."
Ling took a deep breath. He knew it wasn't a pleasant thought, the knowledge you would kill deliberately, no matter what your motivation, but it was one he'd come to accept out of necessity. Someone would become emperor, everyone else would die. The situation was not of his making and it was not for him to change. As far as he was concerned, the only choice he had was to make sure the people he loved were not part of "everyone else."
"Now you understand," he said, his voice sounding old beyond his years. "Why this is everything to me, why I must succeed at all costs. Why," he said with a wry grin, "it is worth this. Compared to the importance of my goal, this is nothing."
Ed was quiet for minutes, but just when Ling thought the conversation was over, he heard the other boy whisper, "Yes. Now I understand."