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Desert's Caress

By ME!

1-On My Way

Ishbal. That was what it was called. The home of a lone group of people, a group that managed to flourish even in the desolate wasteland of a desert. They grew, prospered and managed to create a monotheistic religion all their own; a cult, almost. It stated that everyone and everything was hand-crafted by the creator himself; an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent deity for which their great civilization was named, a deity by the name of Ishbala. Since Ishbala made everything and everyone on Earth, to change one of His materials into another was a sin against God. When Amestran alchemists demonstrated their abilities to the Ishbalan people, the alchemists were branded as Demons sent to do the work of the Devil. That's where the war really started. When we pig-headed Amestrans tried to force our opinions on others, namely those concerning alchemy.

I was still quite young when the war started. I was 20, a woman full of a burning loyalty to our Führer and patriotism to match. In my mind, serving to defend one's country carried the utmost honour. Fool that I was, I joined the military as a sniper. Looking back, -though I regret some of the things that I did- I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't joined at that time in particular. They were glad to have me, those army recruiters with their carnivorous, beady eyes and their satisfied smirk that would widen each time a possible enlistee walked through the door. They said that "Each new recruit is a ray of hope for our great nation's imminent victory". That had sent me into another of my patriotic moods and I smiled as they handed me my papers. Four weeks later, I was shipped off to basic army training.

I spent a glorious nine weeks in the Boot Camp From Hell dining from a gourmet menu of military-class food (ex. anything that wouldn't give you food poisoning straight out was good enough to eat), learning now not to get oneself killed (ex. know what's coming from where and don't be there when it gets there) and finding out how to properly shoot the rifle I was issued (ex. point and shoot). After those refreshing nine weeks of having my ears screamed off every day during drills, I moved into infantry training. Another glorious four weeks of dining luxuriously, having my eardrums worked out by my CO, and doing simple work (ex. "Grunt! Fetch me a milkshake!") which I would agree to do without the slightest hesitation (ex. "Sir, yes, Sir!" all the while wishing he'd drop dead). I was beginning to feel like the war would be over by the time I earned my keep.

I remember the ride there vividly. Sitting on the train, watching as the cities gave way to rolling countryside. Beautiful, green countryside that stretched out for miles as far as one could see. There were two little boys that ran alongside the train, waving and grinning at the passengers. One with longish blond hair and sparkling, gold eyes, the other, obviously younger, with sandy brown hair and eyes a steely -yet kind- silver colour. I remember smiling softly and waving back at them, their smiles growing in delight as they achieved a positive response. Slowly, though, that rolling countryside gave way to a seemingly endless desert wasteland. We were getting close. Even if one couldn't see the desert just outside the window, one would be able to tell. The air seemed to have a tension to it, as if anticipating something, like the hum of the air before it rains. However, this anticipation had nothing to do with rain. The hum in the air was a warning to all that dared pass into that country. It screamed blatantly in our ears and it rang out through the dark corridors of our minds, echoing through our consciousnesses. This land is cursed.

We set up camp in the desert, our rows of tents a strange white against the yellow sands. There were around thirty or forty of us from the training camp I was at. The rest (a good 100-odd people) all pooled here from different places, mixing, intermingling, slowly all becoming one group. Not a very tight-knit one, but a group that would watch each other's backs. We sat around the fire eating our dinners as each one of us discussed our opinions on the upcoming battle. Some were excited, some were afraid and some didn't know what to feel, so didn't feel anything. Most of the people I sat with were people who, like me, had joined out of their own free will. Then, there were the people who were given the choice of prison or fighting in the military. Many people, given the choice, would rather join the military and have the individuality beaten out of them during boot camp than finding themselves in a prison cell, slowly losing all sanity for who knows how long. All very interesting people in their own rights, but, by far the most interesting of all the people that I met were the alchemists. My group's tents happened to be closest to the alchemist's, thus I got a chance to speak with one. There was a kind-looking older man by the name of Dr. Tim Maroch, the Crystal Alchemist. We chatted, I asked questions, the answers to which he didn't hesitate to give me and he gave me with a smile. I learned a lot from him that night. State alchemists were given a special name and a silver pocket watch that amplified alchemical reactions. There were three alchemists on board that train, not including him. A tall, slimy looking man with long, black hair tied back in a ponytail and evil dark eyes. Zolof Kimbley, the Crimson Alchemist, an alchemist that specialized in making things blow up. An excruciatingly tall, large man with one curl of blond hair and a large moustache. Alex Louis Armstrong, the Strong Arm Alchemist, specializing in using a combination of alchemy and brute force. Lastly, a dark haired, dark eyed man who wasn't too blessed as far as height goes. Smaller than most men, but not short. He was Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist. He would use the special fabric on a glove to create a spark, and by changing the oxygen content of the air, BOOM! Instant bomb.

A country girl like me never really knew much about State Alchemists. This not only pertained to the silver watches and their names and such, but to the stories that were attached to them. We were all dogs of the military, but even the other soldiers were disgusted by the alchemists. People said that State Alchemists were human weapons that mass murdered people every time the Führer called them into action. People, like me, who had spoken to the alchemists feebly tried to stand for them, but ultimately failed. My opinion was that, yes, perhaps some alchemists weren't great people, but weren't there people like that everywhere? I decided not to worry about it and I sell asleep staring out the flap of my tent.

The morning came too soon. Golden light of the sunrise shone through the tent flap and onto my face, shining red through my eyelids. Thanks to the sun's invasion of privacy, I woke up to see the most delicious sight I could ever dream to behold. Two wolf spiders mating centimetres away from my nose. I succeeded in rousing everyone else in the camp with a shriek. Several of the soldiers that slept in tents alongside mine rushed to the entrance to see what the problem was. A crimson blush painted my face as a few of the men started laughing. One of them picked up one of the spiders by the leg and threw them outside for me. I looked at the ground sheepishly and muttered a thank you. Then I glared up at the men who were laughing at me. Among them I noticed the Flame Alchemist smirking ever so slightly before turning tail and leaving with the rest of them. I inspected my tent for any more pleasant surprises before closing the flap and changing into a fresh uniform.

That was where most of the mirth ended. We packed our things quickly and uniformly and we headed out on foot into the desert. I slung my M1-D Garand sniper rifle over my shoulder and watched as all of our company took the form of a line, infantry units in the front, then snipers, then alchemists. There were around five of us snipers walking along there, rifles over one shoulder, bags over the other. For the most part, the oppressive feeling in the air banished us into silence, only ever saying something to try to lighten the mood. That tactic most often failed. Thus, our company listened to the sound of the wind over the dunes. Gradually, people started to speak to each other, if only to try to banish depressing thoughts from their minds. Some of the snipers started to talk to each other about their families, and I ended up striking a chord with Major Mustang. He teased me slightly about my little escapade that morning with the wolf spiders, but, as I was a subordinate, I could only show my displeasure with a "Sir, Permission to speak freely?"

"Granted."

"If you had woken up to find two wolf spiders mating in front of your nose, what would you have done?"

He laughed slightly, "I would have thanked God that it wasn't on top of me and burned them into oblivion."

I wasn't impressed. A red blush of embarrassment once again flushed my face. Seeing this, his smirk only widened. I found out that it was his first time actually being deployed. He was arrogant, but he put up a good shield. He was obviously frightened, as I was starting to be. I was seriously starting to doubt whether or not my patriotism would save me.

It took us two days of crossing the desert on foot before we reached the war zone. Whether this was a good thing or not was arguable. The farther from the station, the less chance there was of an Ishbalan escaping on the train, but the closer the station, the less the walk. When we first saw the city, or rather, what was left of it, such a stench permeated the air that a few of the men had to retch. I removed the telescope from my rifle and scouted out the reason. It was disgusting. The city's streets were stained a horrid blackish-red and there were the same stains spattered on the buildings. Bodies, both enemy and ally were strewn everywhere, rotting, left to lay there and host a myriad of sicknesses and diseases. The picture combined with the smell made me bend down and retch. Mustang flinched slightly at my retching, but motioned for the scope. I coughed and spat, wiping my mouth with my sleeve as I shook my head.

"No, sir. Don't," I said, my voice cracking slightly from the bile that burned the back of my throat. I kicked some sand over my expelled lunch.

"I could order you to give it to me," he warned, voice dangerous. I raised an eyebrow, looking up at him.

"Than order me to, sir. You won't get this rifle scope any other way. It's too much for anyone with a choice to have to see. You have a choice, sir, I suggest you take it."

The Major frowned at me for a minute before lowering his hand and staring at me with those dark eyes of his, "Give me the scope, Second Lieutenant. That's an order," he growled. I slowly stretched out the hand with the scope and pressed it into his palm. He nodded and peered through it at the city. As he was surveying the ruins, I looked at the others in the company. Dr. Maroch had borrowed another sniper's scope and was looking pale and sickly. Armstrong didn't dare to look at it, but Kimbley looked positively ecstatic. Several snipers, following my example, had removed the scopes from their rifles to have a look. Many of those who peered through those dreaded magnification devices were pale, stony or retching on the ground in front of themselves. The man in charge of us started us on our way again and we circled around the abandoned city, giving it as wide a berth as possible. Mustang handed me back my scope looking paler than normal and almost seeming as if he was holding back some bile.

We had entered the War Zone.