The road to Briggs was quiet. My "men" weren't too talkative, thank god. I don't think I could take much more of their moronic chatter.
She hadn't spoken to me since she arrived. I guess she had her reasons, but since my declaration yesterday she was looking at me differently. Hopefully it was a good different.
We reached our car's stopping point and made the rest of the trip on foot. It was cold as hell, but right now I was the only one feeling it. I cursed the vampires and their undead, unfeeling bodies. The makings of a blizzard were starting to appear.
"Dammit," I hissed through the chill.
"What?" asked Emmett.
"If we don't hurry up, we're gonna get caught in the storm of the century. Or what they call up here 'normal weather'. And don't just say 'What?' Say 'What, ma'am?' I am your commanding officer."
"Right, um, ma'am."
As we headed further up the slowly disappearing road, I noticed something lying off on the side. It was a wolf cub, sitting with what I assumed was his dead mother.
"Hey, buddy," I whispered, getting closer to them.
He was injured pretty badly. If I left him here, he'd be bear food in no time if the storm didn't kill him first. Sighing, I picked him up and slung him over my shoulder. He protested, but eventually gave in.
This only made the trip harder.
Walking was getting us nowhere fast, but I wasn't asking one of them to carry me. That would be giving in.
As the storm grew, I realized giving in my might be my only option.
"Emmett, carry me."
"All of you, start running!"
I kept a firm grip on my wolf cub as they took off at inhuman speeds. Just as the blizzard was reaching its peak, we arrived at the fort.
"HALT! Who goes there?" called a soldier.
"Colonel Isabella Hawkeye, First Lieutenant Emmett Cullen, Major Rosalie Hale, and Captain Edward Cullen!" I announced as I got down off Emmett's back, carefully holding the cub.
"All clear! Open the gates!"
There was a loud grinding sound as the gates of the strongest fortress in Amestris slowly opened.
Standing behind them was General Olivier Mira Armstrong.
"Decided to come back home, eh Bella?"
The general gave us a brief tour of the fortress and brought us up to her quarters. I handed the cub over to a soldier who took it down to the doctor's quarters.
"Good to have you back, Hawkeye. There's a shortage of good soldiers here."
"I can tell. Hopefully the ones I brought with me will turn out well."
She looked them over.
"Maybe the big guy. The girl looks tough. The little guy? Meh."
"Indeed, though he is a State Alchemist."
"Oh? I've gained a little respect for him then. Still not much. Here at Briggs, it's survival of the fittest! Everyone works hard and we never let our guard down!"
"Yes sir! I mean, ma'am," stuttered Emmett.
"Alright, I'll have some of my men show you to your quarters."
With a wave of her hand she called a few soldiers and they ran over to escort the Cullens.
"Care to have a chat with me, General?" I asked.
"Of course. Step into my office."
"Ha, sparkling vampires? You can't be serious!"
"I am, ma'am. It's quite ridiculous, I know," I grumbled.
"Oh, don't be so formal, Bella. I've known you since you were this tall."
She raised her hand about two and half feet of the ground.
"You were a feisty little kid. Eager to learn. Tough as nails, too."
"That sounds about right."
I took a sip of the coffee that a soldier had offered me earlier.
"So, there's something no one at Central HQ would tell me at all, and I think it has to do with my mother and you," I started. "Care to enlighten me?"
The general looked like she was pondering it for a moment, and then smirked evilly. I shuddered, wondering what my poor ears would be subjected to if she told me.
"Well… You know about your mother and me…" she trailed off.
I nodded, understanding their weird relationship, and then took a sip of coffee.
She was lucky I didn't spit my coffee all over her. Her desk got it instead, and a few unimportant looking documents.
"Well, thanks for that. I've always wanted to paint my desk with coffee," she said sarcastically.
"You're engaged?" I asked incredulously.
"It might seem fast to you, but it's been four years. You've been gone quite a while, and you've missed a lot."
"So, when's the wedding?"
I was still trying to process all this.
"Summer. End of June, I believe."
Summer. It was getting close to winter now. I think it was around October. Damn, I don't know the date.
"What month is it? Now, I mean."
I was close.
"Well, Olli, let's-" I started.
"Don't call me Olli."
"You're not letting that go, are you?" she sighed.
"You're sharing a room with the blonde girl you brought in. There aren't many women in Briggs besides me, so I stuck you two together, knowing you'd prefer that over some random hairy man."
I tried not to, but blushed anyways at the thought of sleeping in the same room as Rosalie. What is wrong with me? I'm going to punch that moron Edward in the face next time I see him. It's his fault.
"Oh, you like her, do you? Looks like homosexuality is a hereditary trait," Olivier said mockingly.
"It is NOT! As a woman of science, I know that has been studied and it has NOT been proven!" I protested.
"Well, you're not helping those studies," she pointed out.
"UGH! You're impossible."
I got up, took the coffee with me, pushed the chair in like a gentlewoman, and walked towards the door.
"You're in room 413. The Cullen brothers are in 414. That wolf you picked up is in the infirmary. Welcome to Briggs."
I stopped by the infirmary to check up on my cub.
"You here for that cub?"
"He's back here."
She led me to a table in the back. The cub's hind leg and stomach were bandaged up.
"Looks like a bear got to him. You know his mother's gonna be looking for him," she warned.
"His mom's dead. She was lying on the side of the road. Dead."
"So you're keeping him?" she asked.
"Yup. I haven't been a dog person for a while, but I'm taking my chances," I said.
"This isn't a dog, Colonel, it's a wolf."
"I know, Doc. I'm not like normal people. I take risks."
I carefully picked up the cub, intent on carrying him to my room.
"I will be!"
As I walked down the hall back to the room, I looked down at the drugged cub.
"Hm, what do I name you, bud?"
I pondered it for a moment.
"How about Loeki? You look like a Loeki."
In some sort of response, he yawned.
"Loeki it is."
It was late when I opened the door to my room to find Rosalie sitting on top of one of the built-in bunk beds, reading a book on some kind of alchemy, judging from the various arrays pictured on the page I could see. She turned to acknowledge me, and then looked back to her book. I nodded at her, sort of at a loss as to how to respond to that.
I set Loeki down on the lower bunk of the bed opposite her. All my stuff was lying in the back of the room near the bathroom and sinks. I laid it all on the lower bunk with the cub. He was still pretty knocked out, so I laid a blanket over him and hoped he'd sleep all night.
I discarded a few layers of clothes, leaving me in my tank top and underwear. It was chilly until I crawled up under the thick blankets on the upper bunk.
Deciding to play curious, I looked over at Rosalie.
She looked up briefly.
"A book on applying alchemy to water and various liquids."
Made sense. That was her specialty.
Not knowing how to continue from that, I said "Cool."
I sat there for a moment, pondering what my next move would be. Failing at that, I leaned backwards over the bed and grabbed a satchel from the bottom bunk, careful not to disturb Loeki. It was full of a bunch of stuff I'd borrowed from Ed: notes on the Philosopher's Stone by Tim Marcoh, Ed's own research, a few rare books covering human transmutation, Scar's brother's notes, some notes on Xingese alkahestry, and a few other bits of important paper.
"What are you reading?" asked the blonde beside me.
I wasn't expecting that.
"Um, a lot of notes from the Elric brothers. You've heard of them?"
"Yeah. Notes from them, notes from other people that they had possession of, rare books…" I trailed off. "That kind of stuff."
"You know the brothers personally?"
"Mhmm. Ed's wife made my auto-mail," I said and raised my foot. "Al has always been friendly with me, too."
"Must be nice."
And the conversation died again.
After a while, my eyelids got droopy and it was hard to keep them open. I ended up rereading the same sentence over and over. Time to give up.
"You can still read in the dark right? I'm going to turn off the lights," I said, knowing she couldn't sleep and would probably want to read all night.
"Yeah, it's fine."
I braced myself by planting my left hand on the ceiling and my right on the bed, and then reached my legs out and around the corner of the indention in the wall that the bunk bed was built into. My back barely touched the corner as I placed my left foot on the wall above the light switch, then flicked it off with my right foot. Now in the dark, I carefully maneuvered myself back onto the bed and under the covers.
"I could have done that much easier," said Rosalie, who had been watching me the whole time.
"I need to strain myself," I mumbled and yawned. "G'night…"
I heard Loeki yawn underneath me, and then I fell asleep.
"Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!"
I awoke to hear Rosalie teasing me out of sleep. When my eyes were finally capable of opening, I saw her standing, already in uniform, with Loeki running in and out of her legs. He saw I was awake and barked quickly before sitting down.
"Your new mutt is surprisingly better-behaved than the old one."
She was referring to Jacob. I scowled a bit at the thought of him, but shook it off and starting getting myself out of bed.
"Morning Loeki! Who's a good boy? You are!"
I teased the cub a bit before gathering up my uniform and starting to get dressed. While I was occupied with checking my jacket, Loeki turned his attention to the blonde vampire, who was now sitting on the bottom bunk of her bed. He propped himself up on the bed beside her. She grudgingly rubbed him.
I noticed that he was surprisingly docile, being a wolf cub and all. It was odd, since I just picked him up off the road yesterday and he probably only about a year old.
"Shouldn't you be a bit wilder, bud?" I wondered aloud.
"Maybe he's being nice because you saved him," Rosalie said.
"Yeah, maybe. I'll have Doc take a look at him later. C'mon boy! Let's go!"
Much to my surprise, he followed me out the door like a trained dog.
"I guess he like you," she said.
"Alright, I'm hungry!"
I took off down the hall with Loeki and Rosalie in tow. Somewhere along the way to the mess hall, wet met up with Dumb and Dumber, aka Emmett and Edward.
"Morning!" called Emmett.
Edward grumbled something incoherent. Still a sore loser, I assumed. Emmett immediately noticed Loeki and Loeki immediately noticed him.
"Cool, a wolf!" called the 80-some year-old kid. "Is he yours?"
"Yep," I answered. "His name is Loeki."
"Neat! Hey, Loeki! I'm Emmett!"
He played with the wolf as we strode down the hall.
In the mess hall, it was loud and busy, the peak of breakfast time. Olivier was nowhere to be seen, but I was sure she ate somewhere else that was a bit more private. I'd find that place eventually and invade her meal times just to irritate her. For now, I skipped over to the cook and picked up a plate of biscuits and gravy, and a bit of sausage for Loeki.
I sat down with my crew, who were, of course, not eating. Emmett had gotten some more sausage for the cub. He was in the process of teaching him to shake hands, with the hot meat as a reward.
"You normally teach dogs to sit first," I said, observing them. "And stay, and speak, and roll over."
"Yeah, but he seemed okay with sitting on command already. You're a fast learner, aren't you?"
He gave Loeki a pat on the head. Loeki barked in return.
After I ate, I headed out to find the General. She was standing tall on an overlook of Drachma.
"How reliable are these alchemists you brought with you?"
I opened my mouth to answer, but realized that I had no idea what their skills were like. I hadn't observed them at all before we left Central. From what little I'd seen, Rosalie at least looked dedicated. They had made State Alchemists, after all. They should at least have some kind of skill that would impress the proctors.
"Um, I'm not really sure, ma'am. I haven't had the chance to observe them yet."
The General smiled.
"Well then, why don't we put on a little show?"
It took me a moment to realize what Olivier was planned, but it all clicked into place after a bit of thought. She wanted to show off, rub these new alchemists in Drachma's face. Of course, if they weren't all that good, it'd be a bit like displaying weakness. I got a little worried. Then again, they were the Cullens after all. They were usually a very showy, impressive bunch.
"I'm sure they'd love that," I said.
"Alright, have them out on ground level in ten. I'll be waiting."
She turned and strode off back into the fortress.
Boy, first thing in the morning and she was already burning like a bonfire. I can see why someone like my mother would be interested in her…
Oh god, it's just weird thinking about that. Not weird in that they're both women, but weird because it's my mom and freaking General Armstrong, the Ice Queen. Of course, mom wasn't without her threatening aliases. The Hawk's Eye was probably a fitting partner for the Northern Wall of Briggs.
I made my way down to the office I'd been assigned to find the three Cullen siblings screwing around inside. "Alright, you three! Get yourselves in order. General Armstrong wants a fancy shmancy alchemic performance! Emmett… you just stand there and look strong. Maybe I'll let you punch some boulders into gravel or something."
The three vampires followed me down and out of the fort towards the borderline between Amestris and Drachma. There was a tiny strip of land on the other side of Fort Briggs that still belonged to Amestris, and that was where we were now. You could almost feel the tension in the air between the two countries. I knew Drachman spies were watching us from all areas across the border. You couldn't see them, but you knew they were there. It was just how life was here.
"Edward," I whispered. "Tell me something."
"Yes?" he answered nervously.
"How far does your mind reading extend?"
"A mile or so."
"Follow me." I walked as close to the flag-marked border as I could.
"Listen," I whispered to the redheaded creature of the night. "Listen. See if you can hear them, the Drachmans."
He closed his eyes and focused. A few minutes passed. Suddenly, those golden orbs shot wide open. "I can hear them."
I smiled big.
"Good. Good! Great, even! Looks like there's more than one use for you, Captain!"
Edward smiled softly and followed me back to the fortress. I motioned for him and Rosalie to stay on ground level as I walked back up onto a low platform with Emmett. Olivier joined me not long after with a few other observers. I noticed a few more soldiers gathering on upper platforms. You could almost hear the Drachman spies scrambling around in the mountains, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Alright, Bella, show me what your little otherworldly friends can do."
I sucked in a deep breath, hoping they would impress her.
Sometimes I wonder why I even worried.
"Captain Edward Anthony Mason Cullen! A display of your alchemic abilities is in order!"
Even at this distance, I could see him scowl a little bit. Always the sour one.
"Yes ma'am!" he called back, almost sarcastically.
I was the tiniest bit surprised when he started stripping. In a matter of seconds, he was shirtless, displaying the elaborate transmutation circles tattooed on his chest and hands. The circle on his chest was somewhat of an altered human transmutation circle, with Flamel's Cross* being the prominent feature. The circles on his hands were new ones I'd never seen before, but they seemed to be a mix of normal circles along with strange ones that I didn't recognize. It was almost like Xingese alkahestry.
He put his hands together, creating a blue charge, and then placed them on his chest. His skin seemed to crystallize and morph before finally expanding into large, crystal, gauntlet-like growths on his hands that extended up to his elbows. The same type of crystal spikes extended out on his back and face. At first, I was confused at why the Law of Conservation of Mass wasn't kicking in; there wasn't any evidence of his other skin getting thinner. Then, it hit me: vampires heal and regenerate, so his skin was replacing itself as it moved around his body.
How Edward had come up with such a magnificent idea mystified me. I guess that moronic brain of his was useful for something.
"I could do my feet too, but I'm not keen on tearing up my boots right now!" he called up.
I nodded in understanding, and then I motioned for him to show off a little. He was good at that, I knew it. Somehow, he understood me, and started to move around a little. In no time, he was cutting flips and punching craters in the ground with his massive hands.
"A bit of a show off," said Olivier. "But a strange and useful application of alchemy."
After a few minutes of him rubbing his alchemy in everyone's faces, I signaled him to stop. He grinned cockily and landed after cutting a quadruple back flip, then dissipated the extra skin, gathered his clothes, and walked up to the platform.
"Good show," I said sarcastically.
"You're just jealous you can't do anything that impressive."
I wanted to sock him in the face with a load of alchemically charged fury, but I wanted to see Rosalie's demonstration.
She stepped up to the (metaphorical) plate with no emotion whatsoever displayed on her face. Good old Rose, never letting anything at all show. Ever.
Her circles were also tattoos on the palms of her hands, but no stripping this time. She merely put her hands together, placed them on the ground, and gigantic spikes of ice shot up out of the ground. Instead of dancing around like an acrobatic fool, she started to explain.
"This is useful in most areas due to water concentration underground. Here, it's a bit easier due to the large amount of snow. The other side of this alchemy can only be used in deadly situations. I am able to manipulate blood, but at most times this is deadly to the person I'm using the alchemy on. I can freeze it, move it, vaporize it, pull it through the skin, make it explode, etc."
Olivier looked fascinated. "This girl has quite the brain on her," she mumbled.
Rosalie started to walk back to the fortress. "I'm not a show off like my brother, but I have the same, if not better, physical abilities as him," stated Rose. Edward growled down at her and she smiled back evilly.
"Olivier, First Lieutenant Emmett is a bit… antsy. He wants to show you a bit of his strengths as well," I said, noticing Emmett's ADHD kicking in.
"That's fine. These vampires interest me."
Emmett let out a violent "YES! THANKYOUTHANKYOU!" and vaulted over the handrail. He landed with a heavy THUD and immediately stood and started tearing up the terrain. After several boulders were transformed in gravel, I turned to Edward.
"Please, for the love of god, go down there and spar with him. This is ridiculous."
He quickly obliged and jumped over, landing behind the larger vampire. Emmett turned around just in time to get knocked over by his speedy older brother. They wrestled on the ground for a moment, and then righted themselves. Emmett tossed his brother about thirty feet away and then the battle turned into a mess of blue blurs.
"They're almost invisible," said the general. "How fast can they move?"
"I'm not totally sure. When Edward gets back up here, you can ask him. He's the fastest one on record; I'm sure he keeps up with speeds."
I turned back to the battlefield.
"Hey! Morons! Get your sparkling asses back up here!"
They apparently heard me and stopped the nonsensical quarrel I'd ordered. Once Edward was back up on the platform, Olivier turned to him.
"What's the top speed of the average member of your kind?"
"We can normally move around 700 mph, but I'm a bit special. I actually broke the sound barrier on one occasion. Some of us actually move slower than that, like Emmett here."
He motioned to his disgruntled brother.
"He moves at around 550 to 600. There's a vampire named Felix who moves at a top speed of 490 mph. There are slower records, but I don't normally keep up with those. Just the fast ones."
"Do you know your top speed?"
"The highest I've ever reached is 887 mph. Never tried to go above that."
"Amazing," said the general.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said, bowing slightly.
"General, Edward also has another ability. Some vampires are gifted with special powers after they're changed. He can read minds, and from the test I performed before this display, he's able to extend it out far enough to read the Drachmans' minds," I explained.
"Hm. Very useful. I'll find a way to employ that ability soon enough." She turned to me. "Thank you for the demonstration."
I motioned for my squad to follow me back into the fortress.
After having a hearty, carb-filled lunch, I made my way down to the gym. It was nothing impressive; the gym had originally been an unused space that the soldiers filled with workout equipment. After a while, it turned into a much more proper gym, but it still left something to be desired. Nevertheless, it worked for me.
During my stay in Rush Valley, I had managed to regain a lot of my upper-body strength. I was getting a decent amount of muscle back. Soon I would be close to my former strength, and after that, I would try to surpass it. Being in the best shape possible was something I strived for.
I started off alone. A few of the men came and went. In the end, I was by myself again.
You could say that I was surprised when Rosalie walked in. In reality, I was pretty damn shocked. She had discarded her jacket, leaving her in only that black, form-fitting military issue shirt. It outlined all her curves and muscles, and I couldn't help but stare.
"Not to sound rude or anything, but why are you in here?" I asked.
"No, it's okay. I guess I just wanted to talk to you."
"Well, talk," I said.
At Central HQ, Carlisle was having a chat with Mustang in the military hospital.
"You are quite a talented doctor," commented the Brigadier General.
"It comes with centuries of practice," Carlisle replied.
"Not to be rude, Dr. Cullen, but just how old are you?"
Carlisle chuckled. "Please, General, call me Carlisle."
"Only if you'll call me Roy."
The two smiled softly at each other.
"Well then, Roy, I am currently 366 years old. It's quite a struggle to keep up with."
"I'd imagine so. As you are immortal, what are your thoughts on eternal life?"
Carlisle laid down the tools he had been cleaned and sighed. "It is what you make of it. I would not wish it on anyone who didn't want it, though I have given it to some."
"And your reasons for this?"
"They were selfish. I turned Edward because I was lonely. His mother had asked me to save him before she died, so I did the only thing I could. Esme had lived a rough life, and I didn't want her to die without knowing what true love was. Rosalie… Rosalie would never say it to my face anymore, but she hates me for giving her immortality. Though she's grown accustomed to it, I know she is torn inside about never being able to have children or grow old."
"And the others?"
"I did not change Jasper or Alice. Jasper was a soldier in our Civil War. Three vampires decided to change him and he fought in the Southern Vampires Wars until he met Alice. Alice has no memory of her past at all; her psychic gifts allowed her to lead Jasper to our coven."
Mustang nodded solemnly. "I see. I'm sure that you've heard the war stories, and that you know of the man who tried to destroy this country because he wanted to be immortal."
"Yes, I've heard."
"Immortality seems to be more common where you come from," Roy observed.
"You could say that. It is, in a way. It is not something that humans know of, though. We keep ourselves well hidden from the mortal eye," Carlisle explained.
"They say that to become immortal-" the general began.
"-is to lose what makes you human," the doctor finished. "This is why we call ourselves vampires."
Mustang smiled sadly. "I should be going. Hawkeye will surely be wondering where I've been. It was nice talking to you."
"Yes, it was. Oh, before you go: I was wondering where I could receive training in auto mail surgery. I've also been looking into alchemy a bit as well."
"You can find everything you'd ever need to know about alchemy in the library. If you'd like a teacher, I'd suggest seeing either Izumi Curtis or Edward Elric. The former is rather stubborn when it comes to taking apprentices, and the latter can no longer perform alchemy, though he is very well-versed in the subject. As for auto mail, there are certain medical schools that you can attend, but I've been told that an apprenticeship in a workshop is a better learning experience. If you visit Rush Valley, I'm sure Edward and his wife, Winry, would be willing to teach you alchemy and auto mail surgery at the same time, respectively. You could kill two birds with one stone."
"Thank you, Roy," said Carlisle. "I'll look into it."
"I just wanted to ask you about what you said back at Central HQ."
I knew immediately what she meant. "About immortality?"
"I meant it. While I was in Forks, I'll admit that I was… dazzled by your family and the prospect of immortality. I'd forgotten almost everything I learned. When I found my old uniform tucked up under my bed that night, I wanted to kill myself for forgetting. So, I went home."
"I admire you for finally coming to your senses," said Rosalie.
I was a little startled. Rosalie Hale admired me? The goddess of beauty admired me?
"Uh, thanks, I guess."
"I know that Edward is upset, but he'll get over it. You two weren't meant to be together anyways. He left you so effortlessly and it barely hurt him. He wasn't your mate."
This I didn't know. It was kind of like a slap in the face. I had gone into such a deep depression while he was gone, but it barely touched him at all? What an asshole.
Rosalie stood up and walked towards the door. "If you ever need to talk to anyone, I'm here," she said.
I watched her go, swaying effortlessly. She was so beautiful.
*Flamel's Cross features a crucified serpent which represents turning something that torments or plagues you, into something that strengthens or cures you. In this circle, it is used to represent Edward's vampirism and his skin. His vampirism represents the problem/plague that he's turning into a strength, a weapon or defense, depending on how he uses it.
If you spot any errors, tell me in a review or PM!