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(Back to Letter 7)

Letter #8

Mustang is really a manipulative bastard, you know, Cath? You have to admire the guy. Of course, it's a little harder to take when you're on the receiving end.

We'll be getting back to home base tomorrow. Tonight we're staying at a house near the edge of a little town. It's in an area that's really being turned around. The town wasn't as badly ruined as some others, so the rebuilding is coming along pretty nicely. And we managed to help a lot of the surrounding farmers plant some crops a couple of months ago, so the crops are starting to look real good.

Anyway, after supper, I was sitting on the edge of the rooftop of the house and having a cigarette. I had been looking at the fields, but by now it was getting dark, so I lit a lantern I took up with me. After a couple of minutes, the Colonel shows up, and sits on the other side of the lantern. And he bums a cigarette off me! I've never seen him smoke, not once, so I was pretty surprised.

“I used to smoke a little bit, a long time ago,” he says, “before I was an alchemy apprentice. Some of the clients who visited the girls in my foster mother's house introduced me to it.”

I still had a hard time believing it, especially after he started coughing after his first drag. At least he was a good sport about it, and laughed along with me.

He didn't really smoke it, though. He crossed his legs and sat holding the cigarette on one knee while he looked out into the darkness. We talked for a while about the progress in farm reclamation, and other business things like that. But then he kind of paused, and he finally said, “Rakhella's been asking around, you know. Asking questions about you.”

Did I mention her name last time, Cath? I don't think I did. That's the young lady who lectured me and Breda at that little hot spring, and then joined the elders to come back north with us. She's some kind of student of the elders, so her excuse is that she's an apprentice to them, just like the alchemists who get taught by masters.

But she's always underfoot! You run into her everywhere, and have to explain things to her. Why did we help this farmer who wanted to plant this crop, but not give as much help to farmers who wanted to plant something else. Are we doing enough rebuilding of medical facilities. Have we set up trade routes to make sure people can still get food even when the growing season is finished here. Or can we supplement food from elsewhere, if there aren't enough supplies here in the off season. She does have a point about that, and it's something we've been working on.

But she's a real nuisance. Mustang likes to be as open and above-board about things as he can, but she wants to know every detail! And it's not like she's even part of any official negotiating team or anything. And she doesn't have a farm, and she's not a doctor, and she doesn't sell in the marketplace. I could go on and on.

Anyway, Mustang said, “Rakhella's been asking questions about you.”

I was kind of frustrated, so I said, “She's been asking questions about everything. It's driving me crazy.”

And he said, “That's the funny thing. She only asks you those questions. When she talks to other people, it's you she's asking about.”

I knew exactly what he was getting at. Which was ridiculous, since I can't stand her. (And she wears that scarf over her head constantly. I don't even know what colour her hair is. People think Ishvallans all have the same coloured hair, like in Xing, but that's not quite true.)

The boss made it even worse when he said, “I don't know if you're aware of this, but Ishvallan women are prone to deciding on their future husbands, and then pursuing them aggressively.” And the bastard laughed when I groaned!

“If that's what she's thinking,” I said, “there's nothing to worry about. We don't get along, and I don't see that changing.”

“Well,” he said, “that sort of dynamic seems to work for Ed and Winry.”

I could feel my jaw dropping, but he wasn't done. He said, “But I find it very interesting when someone is asking a lot of questions about one of my people. That kind of interest isn't always a good thing.”

I knew what he was talking about right away. He's remembering Solaris. Well, Lust, actually, the homunculus who took me for a ride during all the troubles in Central. She was the one who injured me, remember?

You have to understand, Cath. Mustang doesn't think I'm stupid. He knows that saying, “Once bitten, twice shy.” You might have noticed that I haven't really paid much attention to girls, since Solaris. I mean, sure, I was in the chair for a few months, and I really didn't know whether I even should think of girls then. I still hadn't decided what the chair meant, for me and girls. And we were so busy trying to defeat the plotters in Central that I didn't really have time to think about it. But Solaris kind of turned me off, so I'm not too sure I really want all that any more.

But Mustang is just worried about me. He said, “I don't want to see anyone hurt you like that again. And we still have enemies here. I think this girl is legit, but I still want you to be very careful.”

And I will. I mean, it's not going to be an issue. Because I'm not interested in her at all, anyway. And he doesn't run into her all the time, and get into arguments, the way I do. If he did, he'd see right away that she's not interested in me like that, either. She's only interested in showing me how superior she is, as an Ishvallan apprentice to elders, and how inferior I am, as an Amestrian soldier who once tried to destroy her people. I mean, in some ways I agree with that part. It's why we're here, isn't it? But it's kind of not the point any more. Not if we want to get anywhere in rebuilding Ishval.

I guess the Colonel had said what he'd come up to say. Well, that's what I thought, but he still wasn't done. Because when he got up to leave, he handed his cigarette back to me. He said something like, “I guess I didn't really need this, after all. My alchemy master told me it was a dirty habit that would ruin my health. So I quit.” And then he smiled that smile he gets, and said goodnight, and went.

Like I said, Cath. A real manipulative bastard.


(Letter 9)
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May 2012

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