The End of Xerxes
The young who would later go on to be known as Van Hohenheim grew up during the 15th century in the capital of the ancient and advanced country of Xerxes. As a youth, he was the twenty-third house slave of a renowned alchemist in the King of Xerxes' personal employ and was known simply as "23". Though content in his lowly position, without freedom, any knowledge of the world or even a name, the youth's life would change dramatically in his mid-teen years when his master chose him for a particular Alchemical experiment which involved taking some of the young man's blood.
While cleaning his master's laboratory one day soon afterward, 23 encountered the product of this experiment - a nearly shapeless, sentient shadowy creature kept in a flask and calling itself a Homunculus. Grateful to Slave 23 for the blood that had given it life, the Homunculus decided to give the young man a name. Though 23 decided that the name Homunculus had initially planned for him—Theophrastus Bombastus Van Hohenheim—was far too long for him to remember, he accepted "Van Hohenheim" as his name. But when the Homunculus realized that, as a lowly slave, Hohenheim was too ignorant to read or write, it explained that with knowledge, he would be able to escape the bonds of slavery and make something of himself in the big, wide world. As its second gift to the being it called its "father", the Homunculus began tutoring Hohenheim soon afterward, using its own mysterious knowledge to teach him reading, writing, arithmetic, science and basic alchemy. Elated with the new-found sense of pride that came with his knowledge, Hohenheim began giving lessons to the other slaves and when the master discovered his remarkable skills, Hohenheim declared that, with his knowledge of alchemy, he could be a more valuable asset to the master than a mere slave.Soon afterward, the master released Hohenheim from slavery and instead took him on as his assistant. As he grew into manhood as an up-and-coming alchemist, Hohenheim thanked the Homunculus for giving him the knowledge necessary to overcome his days on the bottom rung of society and voiced his hope that he would be able to start a family, despite the Homunculus' distaste for the human existence's dependence on "breeding". When Hohenheim asked what would make Homunculus happy, it merely replied that it would like some day to escape its flask without dying. Soon afterward, however, Hohenheim and Homunculus would begin spending less time together, as the shadowy creature's mysterious knowledge was requested by the King of Xerxes in order to search for a way to make the monarch immortal.
It would take at least a decade for the immortality ritual put forth by the Homunculus to become complete, but when that day came, it became immediately apparent that Homunculus had engineered some sort of base treachery. By feeding the King's court misinformation so that the center of the massive circle would be slightly askew, the Homunculus orchestrated the situation so that Hohenheim (holding the flask) would inadvertently stand at the true center. The over one million people living in Xerxes had their souls immediately pulled from their bodies and condensed at the center when the circle was activated, pulling the two through the Gate and endowing them with the energy of roughly half a million souls each. When Hohenheim awoke the next morning, he was horrified to find the capital a mausoleum and Homunculus inhabiting a humanoid body identical to his own. Explaining the situation, Homunculus revealed that he had sacrificed the people of Xerxes in order to escape his glass prison as well as give his blood kin Hohenheim one last gratuity - eternal life and a body that would never age. This left Hohenheim the last surviving citizen of Xerxes.
An Endless Life
Filled with despair, Hohenheim fled east from his empty homeland, wandering aimlessly through the Great Desert and became aware of the movements and anguished cries of the thousands of people milling about inside his soul. Left with no one, he began to talk to them, separating individual souls out from the endless chorus of screams until he collapsed from exhaustion in the sand. Found still alive by travelers from the eastern nation of Xing, Hohenheim was brought there and regained his strength while coming to an understanding with each of the souls inside him and teaching Alchemical principles to the Xingese people. When Hohenheim's alchemic knowledge was combined with the rudimentary form of alchemy being studied in Xing, Alkahestry was born. The Xingese people called him the "Sage of the West."
Eventually Hohenheim left Xing and spent centuries abroad accumulating knowledge regarding the world's different customs and practices. He also continued his communication with the thousands of souls trapped within him, 536,329, until he learned all their names and heard all their pleas. Once all of them had been heard they finally calmed down giving Hohenheim some peace of mind and continued his endless journey throughout the country but would continue speaking to the souls within him to keep them calm. He later arrived in the growing country of Amestris and settled for a time in a small East Area town known as Resembool, presumably some time in the 1860s. There, he became good friends with the townsfolk, particularly a young woman by the name of Pinako Rockbell. Decades later, Pinako would introduce the ageless Hohenheim to a young woman named Trisha Elric with whom he fell immediately in love. While Hohenheim was reluctant to embrace his feelings, knowing that she'd grow old and he wouldn't, and the fact that he'd met Trisha once before when she was a child as further demonstration of her mortality, Trisha encouraged him to start living his life. Swayed by her courage Hohenheim and Trisha began dating and eventually married and in 1899 Trisha bore Hohenheim a son named Edward with a second son, Alphonse, to follow a year later.But, in watching time affect the infant boys who shared his blood in ways that were lost to him and his immortal body, Hohenheim became concerned. Though Trisha and Pinako had never judged or antagonized him for his Amaranthine existence, Hohenheim began to fear the prospect of watching his new family growing old and dying without him as he had seen happen to so many others over the past centuries. Thinking himself a monster, he began to fear that touching his sons would give them his curse as well, but Trisha sensed his unease and decided to hire a photographer to take a portrait of the four of them. As she placed the smiling young Edward in his father's arms for the picture, Trisha explained that she only wanted for them to stay a closely-knit and loving family regardless of each person's appearance and urged him not to distance himself from his family and call himself a monster. As the camera flashed, tears of both gratitude and sadness streamed down Hohenheim's face. He resolved to find a way to end his immortality and grow old and die together with his beloved Trisha, but also feared failure and watching his family die.
Unfortunately, while perusing countless Alchemical texts in order to find a way to reverse the effect of what the Homunculus had done to him, Van made a shocking discovery: that the very nation of Amestris was built and designed from scratch as to be a much larger and more devastating repeat of the tragedy that had befallen Xerxes - a gigantic Transmutation Circle for the purpose of turning all of the country's inhabitants into a new Philosopher's Stone. Realizing that only the Homunculus could be responsible for such a plot, Van decided to stop it, for the sake of his beloved family and all his dear friends. After explaining to Trisha that he was leaving and promising that they would die together, Van Hohenheim departed from the house and Resembool in 1904.
After traveling for a decade (presumably researching the Homunculus' methods and setting up a counter of his own), Hohenheim resurfaced in Central City in 1914, where he encountered an alchemist named Izumi Curtis, with whom he discussed the Philosopher's Stone and revealed that his "life-long dream" was about to come true.
PreparationHohenheim is first introduced to the story when he returns to Resembool after ten years to discover that his house has mysteriously burned down. He ventures confusedly over to Pinako's house to inquire what had happened and his old friend regales him with the horrible tales of what had happened to his family after his departure: that after Trisha had died of illness, Edward and Alphonse had attempted Human Transmutation to resurrect her, triggering a rebound which resulted in Al being ripped from his body and Ed losing an arm and a leg. Soon afterward, Hohenheim goes to visit Trisha's grave and is confronted by a teenage Edward, who is furious to find his long-lost father there.
Before leaving, he warns Pinako to leave the country for her safety. After he leaves Resembool with an old family portrait of himself, his wife, and their sons tucked into his jacket, his carriage is held up by bandits, who promptly retreat after shooting Hohenheim multiple times, to no effect apart from damaging his clothes. He later resurfaces and reveals to Izumi and her husband that he regards himself as a "Philosopher's Stone in human form" after rearranging Izumi's ravaged internal organs to the most favorable arrangement possible merely by sticking his flat hand into her abdomen, though he is unable to restore the organs she lost. He tells her that she has too much to do yet in her life, and encourages her to move forward.
Hohenheim then moves on to Reole, where he meets Rosé Thomas. She and the Old Shopkeeper lead him to an underground reservoir, where he walks across the poisoned water, forming a stone pathway under his feet as he walks. He eventually enters the giant transmutation circle under Amestris and has a short battle and conversation with Pride. He tells Pride to tell Father that "Number 23" is coming to see him before returning to the amazed Rose and Shopkeeper. Hohenheim encounters Al for the first time in twelve years in Chapter 80, and exclaims, "My vintage armor!" Hohenheim, who considers himself fairly accurately a failure of a father, allows himself to be removed from the situation as quickly as possible, but Al goes after him, and they have a wonderful heart-to-heart talk in which he explains everything about the current situation to Al.
Hohenheim meets Edward again. After Edward gets one good punch at his father, Hohenheim tells Ed the story of his early life. He dryly asks whether Ed wants to use him to regain their lost bodies, but Ed declines vociferously, having refuted the use of a Philosopher's Stone ever since he learned its key ingredients. Before leaving, Edward tells Hohenheim Trisha's last words, bringing him to tears which surprises Ed, who had inaccurately convinced himself that Hohenheim cared nothing for his family. Much later, Hohenheim helps Alphonse by sealing him and Pride (Selim Bradley) in an earthen prison with no light, so that Pride will no longer be able to harm anyone. This enrages Edward, but Hohenheim explains that this was Alphonse's plan.
The Promised Day
After the fight against Pride, Hohenheim becomes the de facto leader of the expedition to take Father down. He mentions a plan ready to counter Father's nationwide transmutation circle if it was to be activated but says he'd rather prevent its activation in the first place. Upon entering Father's subterranean lair, he organizes the group in two teams and goes alongside Lan Fan, whom he later allows to go on her own looking for Ling Yao while he reaches Father. He greets his "friend from the flask" stating that "there is no need for a big group to punish one misbehaving child". The living Philosopher's Stones start to fight each other.
After having dodged few attacks, he is stabbed by Father who absorbs a portion of his Stone, but the restless souls that composed it (with whom Hohenheim managed to come to an understanding) destroyed Father's human-like container from the inside. However Father's Homunculus form, now having the ability to physically exist without a container, leaves Hohenheim in a bad situation.
Father later appears to Edward, Izumi and Al, having absorbed Hohenheim into his body. Hohenheim then tells Ed, Al and Izumi that Father had initially tried to absorb all of his philosopher's stones, but discovered that it would have killed him. However, because Hohenheim had managed to communicate with and understand the stone's souls (which was something Father couldn't do), he survived the incident, and instead had his head and legs sticking out of homunculus create's body (the rest of his body being inside but not separated). Father can then push Hohenheim inside his body, but Hohenheim can also resist and come back out with his head protruding, which is what he did to warn May about Father's powers. When Greed slashes Father but fails to kill him, Hohenheim is then released from his body but still in Father's grasp.
As Father assembles Hohenheim and the others as sacrifices to open "The World's Gate", Hohenheim and the others then have large eyes surrounded by a mock of shadows on their torsos, which starts to fight back against the other gates. As Father succeeds in opening the gate, Hohenheim, Ed, Al, Izumi, Roy, Riza, May, Greed/Ling, Pride, Scar, Wrath and the chimeras are the only ones left alive while all the citizens of Amestris are dead.
Father is then seen in a fog of smoke as he explains that in order to contain God within himself required an enormous amount of energy, which the people of Amestris provided. Now both they and God reside within him. As the smoke clears, Father has now gained a new body that resembles Edward.
Stating that alchemy has outlived its usefulness, Father rains down a sustained energy blast on the group. Hohenheim however, counters it with some sort of alchemic shield, and calls upon the souls of his Stone to aid him. Seeing that his current attack is insufficient, Father conjures a miniature sun in the palm of his hand to wipe out his human sacrifices. But Hohenheim then reveals his own plan; he mapped the path of moon's shadow as the eclipse passed and pinpointed the exact location of each of the points in the five-point circle used to create the Philosopher's Stone. He then ventured throughout Amestris, placing fragments of his Philosopher's Stone on specific spots to create an Umbral Circle to counteract the Nationwide Transmutation Circle. When Father remarks of Hohenheim's failure to have a circle for his counterattack, he retorts with an explanation that the shadow cast by the moon on the Earth during the eclipse will act as the circle.
The souls of the fragments that he had scattered across the land activates and strips Father of all the Amestrian souls contained within him prior to the activation of the Nationwide Transmutation Circle, returning all the souls of the Amestrian citizens to their bodies
Father, now devoting the majority of his power to containing God, is significantly weakened in terms of his offensive capabilities. However, Hohenheim and May are the only alchemists of the group immune to Father's interference, and he fends off Father's attacks, draining many lives from his Philosopher's Stone while May keeps the ground underneath them from fragmenting. Unfortunately for Father however, a group of Ishvalans activate a counter-circle to Father's alchemic seal, allowing the other alchemists to attack Father. Outmatched, and running out of fuel for his Stone, Father retreats above ground to try and replenish his Stone from any humans he can attack. Hohenheim soon follows, along with Ed, Al, May, and Izumi.
He chastises Father for berating humans, telling him that it was human souls that composed the Philosopher's Stone in the first place, which in turn gave birth to Homunculi. While humans create, all the Homunculi do is take. This intrigues Father, who asks whether Hohenheim would like it if he created humans. Hohenheim then watches, in disgust and horror, as Father creates humans out of the souls of the long-dead Xerxesians. Taking advantage of the distraction this has brought to his enemies, Father summons a huge explosive force, and Hohenheim is caught in the blast that follows as he uses himself to shield Izumi from the bulk of it.
His Philosopher's Stone almost gone, he can do little more than watch the battle as it progresses. After Ed finishes off Father, Hohenheim stoically offers his own remaining life as the price to bring back Al, but appears surprised when Ed passionately rebukes the idea. Upon being questioned why he would willingly sacrifice his life, he simply replies it is because he is their father. He explains it is not about necessity or purpose, but because they are his sons and he wants them to be happy. He also says that it was partly his fault of why the brothers attempted to bring back Trisha because he wasn't there for them when they needed him and apologizes. However, Ed tearfully scolds him for even suggesting the idea, but at the same time, accepting him as his father for the first time in many years.
After Ed succeeds in bringing Al back in his human body, Hohenheim finally gets to greet his youngest son once again, and Al marvels at the warmth he feels when Hohenheim takes his hand. However, he wanders away as others crowd around the Elric brothers, finally cadging money for train fare.At the end of the story, he is seen in Resembool. Pinako finds him kneeling in front of Trisha's grave, only to find that he had died in that position with a smile on his face. His last thoughts contemplated that he didn't have a meaning in life until Trisha and his sons entered into it. By now, he didn't want to die at all and stay with his remaining family, and his last thoughts before death were with them. Several years after this, his grave was seen in a photo next to Trisha's. He was the last citizen of Xerxes to die. Later he and Trisha became posthumous grandparents of Edward's and Winry's children along with the Rockbells.
In an extra comic from the manga, shortly after his death Hohenheim's spirit went to the site of his former home where he found Trisha's spirit waiting for him. Trisha expressed surprised that he had arrived so soon and chided him for breaking his promise to grow old with Ed and Al, to which Hohenheim reminded her she had broken her promise first. He reflected on how much his relationship with the boys had developed in a short amount of time, and the two optimistically looked to the future, knowing the world would turn them into fine adults.