The Missing General
Book 2 – Xing
"But... it's a good name!"
The man's vibrant blue eyes looked pitifully at his young wife. In his arms, their son, barely a few weeks old, slept peacefully.
"Honestly, David, why so hung up on picking a Xingese name? It could easily be Amestrian."
"Because I find Amestrian names to be... common. He was born here, Ai. And, he's next in line after your father."
Ai-Qing stood up and kissed her husband gently on the cheek. "Still... I don't think it's a name he'd want growing up."
"Nonsense." David Mustang puffed his chest proudly. "I can tell my son is destined for greatness. Thus, he'll have a name that speaks of greatness!" He looked down at his young son. "What do you say, my boy?"
The child stirred and started to wail abruptly.
David felt himself wilting. "Clearly, you have no sense of taste."
"Or, he's hungry." Ai-Qing grinned and reached for the small bundle.
David sighed and passed his son over to his wife, then watched quietly as she nursed him before asking, "It's been weeks and we still can't decide on a name. What would you name him?"
Ai-Qing considered the question for a few minutes, then said softly, "Ruyi."
Her husband arched a brow, then chuckled. "I thought you wanted an Amestrian name."
She smiled gently, gazing at their son fondly. "'Ru' means 'scholar'."
"So... you're technically naming him after me? My dear, I think you can do better than that." David smiled softly. He wasn't Xingese, being a scholar from Amestris fascinated with Xingese history. His travels had taken him across the desert, with a few mishaps in between (one of which had made him develop a dreaded fear of camels). He was known to attract accidents everywhere he went, and it was by pure dumb luck that the horse that had run him over when he first stepped foot inside the country belonged to his wife. That was how they'd met. After the accident, she took him inside where she personally nursed him back to health.
During his recovery, the twosome taught each other both culture and language from their respective countries. Once he recovered, David was in no hurry to return to Amestris, and when he asked her to marry him, she heartily accepted. At first, his fear was that the family wouldn't want anything to do with an outsider as a son-in-law, but despite where he was from (and his clumsiness), he was welcomed with open arms.
"Ruyi," she said. "There was also a prince by that name."
"Who was murdered by a woman," David added, remembering his history. He then looked down at their son. "Son, I do hope the woman you marry isn't dangerous."
Ai-Qing laughed. "He's got many, many years to worry about that."
"Which is what worries me. I married someone dangerous, remember?" David grinned at the friendly shove she gave him. "With an equally dangerous horse. Ai-Qing, I still think your horse hates me."
"What makes you say that?"
"He tried to bite me this morning when I went pet him. I think he's trying to finish what he started."
"How can you even consider disgracing our family like this? Your own family?"
Tao Heng, leader of the Heng clan, sipped his tea calmly and continued to casually listen.
"I'm supposed to be next in line! ME! And, yet you decide to skip me and give the title to the son of an outsider?"
Cheng Heng, Tao's eldest son, had expected to lead the Heng clan upon his father's death. Why his father had abruptly changed his mind was beyond him, but he was angry.
Understandably angry, mused Tao. But, he had his reasons. The main one being that Cheng wasn't ready to lead their family, nor did he have the ambition or the heart. Watching his children grow, Tao could tell from the get-go that all Cheng wanted was power, especially in a family that lived so well. He saw the way he treated other members, and he saw how he spoke to his teachers.
"You speak of wanting to lead, but you intend on doing so with an iron fist. I cannot allow you to do that, Cheng."
"An iron fist is exactly what this clan needs! Enough to be the next family to rule Xing! And, under my rule, Xing would be the greatest country in the world! You've just grown soft, Father!"
"Then call me soft," Tao returned. "I gave Ai-Qing my blessing to marry the Amestrian because, regardless of where he's from, he showed this family that there was a world outside of the one we know. After your mother passed, Ai-Qing took it the hardest. He brought back her happiness."
"It was a stupid decision! And, by even considering giving that unwanted...!"
"That is quite enough, Cheng." Tao's voice hardened. "The child is your nephew. You will respect him as such."
"No. I refuse to." Cheng turned to go, pointing threateningly in his father's direction. "You've pushed my hand, Father. The Amestrian was wrong to come here."
As the doors slammed in front of him, Tao sighed softly. "My son, if only you understood."
"Stop giving me that look." David eyed the horse cautiously. "I know you don't like me, but we can end this now. I give you a carrot, you stop trying to kill me. How does that sound?"
The white horse snorted as David walked towards it, tossing its mane and pawing at the ground.
"Please, Jiao? How about two carrots? Three?"
With each plea, the horse continued to paw at the ground until David realized what it was doing.
"You're keeping count? Just how many carrots do you want?" He let his head drop in resignation by the time the horse reached twenty.
"He is a stubborn one."
David turned to see his father-in-law join them in the garden.
"I never really understood why Ai-Qing loved him so much, but he's incredibly overprotective of her, so I guess that could be it." Tao chuckled as he took a carrot from David and fed it to the horse, petting it on the neck.
"Makes sense," David muttered. "Is it possible to toss a horse into jail for attempted murder?"
Tao rested a hand on his shoulder. "Don't give it too much thought, my son. One of these days that horse will realize that you are part of this family."
As they walked to one of the bridges overlooking the garden ponds, Tao seemed lost in thought.
"Is there something bothering you?" David asked. "Oh! I forgot to mention that we finally picked a name for your grandson."
Tao smiled. "Ruyi. Was it mutual?"
"I was going to name him... Well, nevermind. I was asking you if something was bothering you?"
"Plenty of things bother me, David." Tao smiled. "All part of being a father and now a grandfather."
"But, I'm not going to lie." Heng sighed. "It's Cheng. I'm afraid that sooner or later he'll do something..."
"Like what?" David was fully aware of his brother-in-law's open hostility towards him. Had it not been for Tao's insistence to become part of the family, he would've left years ago.
Tao gazed at him intently. "David, I am not sure how safe Ruyi would be here while Cheng continues to act like this."
And, with those words, David understood enough.
"But, you have to come with me! I can't just leave you here!"
Ai-Qing smiled sadly. "Nothing will happen to me. I need to aid my father should something arise. Until then, you need to be safe. Both you and our son."
"Please. Do this for me. For us." Cuddling her son one last time, she gently placed him in the makeshift sling over David's chest. "Be good, my sweet Ruyi. Perhaps one day I'll see you again." She then gazed into her husband's blue eyes and held his face gently. "I love you. No matter what happens, come back to me."
David forced back the tears forming behind his glasses as he saw her cry, leaning down to kiss her sweetly. "I will."
Reluctantly letting her go, he made his way outside to the stables, carrying as much as he could to make the long journey back to Amestris as comfortable as he could for his son. He took a deep breath and stopped at one stall in particular, his face set and determined.
Jiao looked up from his slumber, giving him his usual unfriendly snort.
"I don't have time for this!" David grabbed the surprised horse by the ears and glared at him straight in the eyes. "I need your help, Jiao. Please... I need to get Ruyi safe. I don't know what will happen, but..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Please. Please help me."
Jiao offered no response save for a soft neigh, walking out of his stall and holding still as David saddled him for the journey.
It was only mere minutes later that they were galloping outside of the Heng Clan lands, straight down the road and towards the endless desert sands.
"Nope. You're wrong, Jiao. I was talking about the sand dune over THERE. That's three points in my favor."
Jiao gave David an exhausted snort.
"You're just mad because you're losing."
David wiped at the sweat pooling across his eyes and took another drink of water, then peered down at the sling that held his sleeping son. The last two days of travel had been a quiet blessing, literally. The only times that Ruyi cried or fussed was when he was either hungry or needed changing. Aside from that, the long trip across the desert didn't seem to faze him, thank heavens. David stopped to get off and pat Jiao on the neck before offering him some water from a canteen he'd made for him.
"If I'm not mistaken, we should be getting to those ruins soon. Maybe a couple more dunes or so. We can rest there." David managed to perk up some as he mounted Jiao again. "Alright, Jiao. For another five points, I'm spying something... yellow."
It was another four dunes before Jiao got them to the ruins of the lost city of Xerxes. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, David got off the horse and led him to what now appeared to be an oasis, letting him drink from what once was a fountain.
"Finally here. In another day or so we should be in Amestris." David peeked down at the sling to find Ruyi finally waking up, the child gazing up at him with the calm dark eyes that he inherited from his mother. "Well, good morning to you, too."
Dabbing at Ruyi's forehead with a damp cloth, David sighed softly, wondering about his dear Ai-Qing and the family he had to leave behind. Maybe someday, somehow, he'd go back. But his first priority was to get Ruyi safe. Watching the several travelers stopping at this oasis, he spied someone with a goat. If he could trade something for some milk for Ruyi... the only problem was that the flask he'd been using to feed him since leaving Xing was already falling apart.
"Come a long way?" asked a voice.
Snapping out of his reverie, David looked up at the newcomer. "From Xing, actually." Then, to his surprise, the stranger held out a glass baby bottle. "Is that...?"
"You looked as if you needed it."
Thanking him, David took the bottle gently and walked to the goat owner. After exchanging a few words and the little Amestrian cenz he had left, he sat back down and fed Ruyi, making some room for the stranger to sit beside him. Then, he realized something - the man didn't appear to have any traveling companions, much less a family.
"I appreciate the bottle for the milk, but... won't your family be needing one?"
"I don't have a family, I'm afraid."
"So... where did...?"
"I'm an alchemist," returned the stranger. "My name is Van Hohenheim."
An alchemist? That would explain things. Alchemists were notorious for creating and even destroying, as far as David knew. He never really studied up on the science save for a few passages in Amestrian history books.
"Oh. David Mustang." As he shook his hand, David noticed something unsual. The color of Hohenheim's eyes... could they possibly be gold? From what he had read, the only people with gold eyes came from the very ruins they were now standing on. Xerxes had disappeared overnight, leaving no trace of its people and it was said there were no survivors. Convinced it was a trick the sun was playing on him, David turned his attention back to his son.
"Mustang? That's an Amestrian name, isn't it?" asked Hohenheim as he picked up a shard of glass buried in the sand.
"I actually am from Amestris," said David. "My wife is Xingese."
"Oh? Is she here with you?"
David shook his head sadly. "I had to leave her behind... for the sake of our son."
"I see. What's his name?"
Ruyi continued to eat heartily, oblivious to the rest of the world around him.
"Ruyi. Is there a meaning behind it?"
"'Ru' means 'scholar'. I guess my wife wanted to name him after me."
"Really? What did you want to name him?"
Jiao's hoofs thundered across the desert sand, the clear moonlight now making out the faint outline of Xing in the distance.
"So you're going back?"
"I have to return to Ai-Qing. She needs me, and I need to get her out of Xing. I can't let Ruyi grow up without a mother. Please, Chris... please take care of him for me until we get back."
"For all you know, something could've already happened to her."
"I'm not taking any chances."
Chris Mustang sighed. It was clear that nothing could convince her stubborn brother to stay in Amestris where it was safer.
"You're an idiot."
David grinned. "Aww, I knew you cared."
By the time they reached the Heng lands, David spied the light pouring from the small home that belonged to his wife. Nudging a nervous Jiao back to the stables, he broke into a run across the gardens towards the house. "Ai-Qing!"
The sun was starting to rise, a clear indication that Ai-Qing was already awake. She was always up before dawn, the crazy woman.
"Ai-Qing!" He called again as he made it into the house and found his beautiful wife, startled, for some reason, sitting up at their table.
Ai-Qing barely started to warn him before he felt the coldness of sharp steel embed itself into his back. Eyes widened, he realized that Cheng had been waiting for him all this time.
"You should've stayed away, Amestrian." Cheng yanked the knife away nonchalantly, watching as David buckled to the ground and ignoring the screams of his sister as she ran to her husband's side. "One menace down. All that's left now is that runt." A satisfied smirk on his lips, Cheng left the house.
"Ai-Qing?" David managed, ignoring his brother-in-law's snide remarks and searched for the dark eyes belonging to his wife. Ah, there they were. Beautiful as always.
A sobbing Ai-Qing held him gently. "Please... don't..."
"Ruyi's safe, don't worry... He'll be... he'll grow up to be... a fine young man..." He then gave her a weak grin. "I still think it was a good name..."
And, with that, David welcomed the darkness.
- Continued -