"Why the hell is the chapterhouse a bar? Who decided that, Cross Marian? I bet it was him, nobody else would do that."
Ah, trust Edward to immediately find the best thing about any given situation and immediately take offense to it. Next he will probably find a way to blame his father for this, or to possibly tie his brother to it.
"I mean, what if Al were here? He can't go into a place like that!"
See? There are so many other things that are far more deserving of Edward Elric's ire, like the fact that we're meeting two exorcists already in the field in Marseilles, of all the places we could have been assigned to (which is, in fact, a topic that Edward has never once deemed to shout at me about, more's the pity), or the fact that the chapterhouse (chapter-tavern?) looks awfully run-down for something that's supposed to be a beacon of hope to all who worked for the Black Order on France's Mediterranean coast. Or perhaps he will come to an epiphany that he has been ignoring me in favor of shouting about random things, and he will apologize for being in such a beastly temper when it is not my fault we're on the seedier side of a port city where his northern constitution is likely as not to catch the ague.
All right, even I can agree that last one is farfetched.
"Alphonse isn't here, and if he were you'd be around to keep him out of trouble." Flattery is the only way to get Edward to stop talking sometimes. Well, besides explosions, and hopefully it won't come to that while we are on Order property. Luckily for me and even moreso for the chapterhouse, that gets Edward to subside into vague, dark mutters that I'm quite sure I don't want to actually hear.
Inside the chapterhouse, it's clear that the tavern is a very profitable business front for the Order in this city. There are people everywhere, more people than I'm accustomed to seeing crammed into one building by choice even after spending so much time in Europe. They mostly speak in French and Spanish, languages that I only know a smattering of, and some in Portuguese, a language that I know quite well from spending time in Macao when I was young. Their conversations aren't particularly interesting, though, and I can only assume that either the other conversations-- for Edward speaks both French and Spanish, albeit with what I am told is a rather abominable German accent-- are just as uninteresting or that Edward's focus is so single-minded that he isn't listening to them.
"There," Edward says with a tug at my arm that's unnecessarily rough (but then again, it wouldn't be him without that). We have our reward for his single-mindedness in the form of a pair of rose cross-adorned coats at the bar. "At least they're already here."
They are a pair of exorcists I have not had the pleasure of working with before, which admittedly describes most of the Black Order. I have not been an exorcist so long that I have met most of my comrades, given how thinly-spread we are nowadays-- unlike Edward, I didn't grow up in the Order and didn't meet any of them until a General wearing a gold-trimmed coat informed me that I was one of them. Edward, now, Edward knows-- and has infamously little liking for-- nearly everyone we come across, simply because he is Chief Chang's second cousin and grew up among Order supporters.
"Have you done anything to offend them lately?" I asked, and get an elbow in my side for my trouble. Good; it would be a pity if Edward were out of focus the first day of our mission.
They are both seated at the bar, though neither is drinking anything stronger than water out of deference for the mission. That, or it's deference for the fact that French beer is piss (at least, that is what Edward says-- I must admit that I prefer finer libation than that, and my poor tongue runs screaming at the thought of any country's beer regardless of my partner's towering Teutonic pride).
"Hello!" To their credit, neither jumps when I sit down on the stool between them, if only because my coat registers before anything else. That is a reflex one picks up quickly; it would take a very bold akuma indeed to falsify such a thing. Edward takes a seat on the other side of the girl sitting to my left. "You are Lee and Kanda, yes?" I speak English and simply hope that they do as well; that and Portuguese are the only European languages I am particularly fluent in.
We are always described copiously to one another before we meet for the first time if such a meeting is to take place outside the auspices of a motherhouse, if only because someday some akuma might indeed have the audacity to falsify the rose cross. I had been given photographs of Lee and Kanda before leaving, but from what I understand they had already been in the field and couldn't be given such photographs over the wireless. A good physical description-- and Edward's presence, of course-- would have to be enough for them.
"You must be Ling Yao," Lee says with a brilliant smile, and she answers me in English. She looks rather happy for someone in the middle of a mission, which means that she is a person I'm quite sure I can like. "I'm Lenalee Lee."
To my right, Kanda makes a derisive click of his tongue and looks at his glass of water like it's done something to offend him. This can mean one of two things: either that he is the sort of person who is-- much like Edward-- completely inept at expressing the finer emotions in life, or he is the sort of person I'll end up strangling before this mission is over. I like to think I'm an easygoing sort of guy (and my being the only partner Edward hasn't run off in under a fortnight means that I'm probably right), but people who are completely determined to ruin other people's moods irritate me.
"Kanda!" Lee knows an elbow technique to rival Edward's, and she is very limber indeed to be able to reach around me absolutely effortlessly and apply it without leaving her barstool. "Be polite!"
"I believe you both already know Edward Elric," I say, and Lee gets a funny little tic at the corner of her smile.
"I do," she says. "My brother still talks about the time you blew up his lab, Edward."
"Your brother's a hack," Edward says in English less accented than mine, and I get the feeling things are going downhill when they start arguing some point of mechanics.
"It's kind of terrifying that she can keep up with him," I say, trying to engage Kanda in some kind of conversation so that I can figure out whether I'll like him or not.
"She's Chief Lee's sister, of course she knows about that kind of thing." Kanda shrugs, the motion making his ridiculously long ponytail bob a little. "Did they give you a mission report?"
"Not a thing!" Did I mention that I am also one of those people who is very, very cheerful in the middle of missions? I find it's much more productive than bringing everyone else down or just being angry all the time. "They said you would have it."
Kanda mutters something unflattering about undersized, blond megalomaniacs, and I'm not sure whether he's talking about Chief Chang or Edward. Both, quite possibly.
"Of course they didn't give you anything," Kanda says, in the tone of someone who is accustomed to the world dealing him the world's worst poker hand every single time he sits down at the table. His eyebrow twitches in a way that's fascinating, in the same way that a cobra is fascinating. I don't know whether to laugh or to duck for cover, which is a new feeling; normally I know where I stand with Edward's rage, which is to say, I am always the intended target.
"--and he doesn't have the faintest idea how to actually utilize a practical fuel source, he could have at least used a chemical stimulant he doesn't have to import, never mind the inherent impracticality of using a chemical stimulant intended to act on biological systems in a mechanical system in the first place--"
Edward's fervent argument against the usage of caffeine as fuel is the last thing I hear before a table in the corner explodes with a sound far, far disproportionate to the flash. In fact, my ears ring loudly enough to hide the sound of gunfire until someone-- Kanda-- vaults over the bar and yanks me right down behind it.
The first thing I hear when my hearing recovers is Edward swearing, because though he speaks a language I don't know the tone of profanity is distinct in any language. He lapses into a confused welter of German and Dutch when he's well and truly angry, the languages of his respective parents tangling on his tongue in his frustration. He keeps on going, words I don't understand spilling out fast and guttural as he takes off the glove hiding his right hand and slams his metal-encased palm onto the side of the bar. The words he uses to invoke are German words that I have grown to recognize, even if I don't know their exact translation, and just like that the bar in front of us is no longer a flimsy wooden barricade but over a foot of solid steel that the akuma bullets bounce right off of.
"Stay here," Kanda says.
"No way," I say, and give him my best cheerful, isn't this mission fun? grin.
"Don't be stupid, Kanda," Lee says. "Nobody's hiding back here."
"Ultimate Shield, invoke." They stare at me, except for Edward, because to their eyes nothing has happened at all for the moment. I smile wider still.
I can always tell when the fine black sheen spreads from the mark on my hand, because Lee and Kanda stare. You're weird, even for a parasite type, other people say when they see my anti-akuma weapon for the first time. Well, besides Edward, who'd just started babbling about how it was the same principle as his own weapon, really, it was obviously just turning the carbon in my molecular structure into a diamond shell and the only thing weird about it was how I stayed alive while that happened. (That's the main drawback to having a power like mine and partnering with a guy whose anti-akuma weapon changes around the molecular structure of matter; I'm never sure whether he wants to take me apart and experiment on me.)
"Like I said," I say, and I stand up. "I'm not staying back here."
I can't tell if the people have run and scattered, or if they're all dead. There are certainly bodies, but it doesn't look like everyone who had been in the crowded bar, by any means-- which is bad, as awful as it sounds, because some of those people who ran were probably hit. The last thing we need is a new akuma outbreak in a crowded port city on top of whatever mission we've got (which we still need to get the briefing on from Kanda and Lee, for that matter). We're going to have to destroy the chapterhouse when this is over, which is bad enough; they're going to have to find a new one for the south coast of France.
Still, that's half the purpose of having a well-known chapterhouse, I guess-- to draw the fire the same way we do with our own bodies. The only thing I can't figure out is why they would front a public business in the same building; someone higher up in the Order will probably have something to say about that. Lee's brother, probably, if he's not too busy blowing up another laboratory. (I've heard Edward's side of that story, too, and I'm pretty sure the blame lies on both of them.)
That's when the akuma spots us. Edward grabs the bartender-- one of the few people in here who will probably get out of this alive and whole-- and keeps him down behind the shield he's put up with a hissing admonition in French that probably means stay the hell down here. The akuma hisses, too, and since the body inhabits knew French in life I don't understand a word it says.
"...keep up," Kanda says to me, with the same kind of smirk Edward gets when he's about to kick someone's face in. He draws his sword.
I think this is the kind of guy I'll get along with when it counts, all right.