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Where Sister and Brother and God-kin Know Us

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It is said that in the beginning, there were no deserts. 

Rather, there were oceans and land with all manner of greenery, so that the land itself was an ocean of trees. 

It came to pass that Ishvala stood upon his world to look at what he had created. His holiness scorched the earth, burned the trees and plants away until there was only sand instead, warm and golden. There, in that great expanse of desert, he created the first people, gave them skin the color of sand and taught them language and the knowledge of how to survive in this holiest of places.

They called themselves Ishvalans after their creator, and were content.

In the beginning, his people are fearful to return to the holy land. He can see it in their eyes, the poisonous doubt and sickened hope, hear the suspicion heavy in their voices when they ask if they can truly return.

"They think it might be a trap," Miles says one night. They have been traveling from one ghetto to another, proclaiming the news of Ishval's resurrection, for weeks now. If Miles is weary from the journey, he doesn't show it; his shoulders are unbowed, his voice steady as he continues. "One last deception from Amestris to destroy us all."

He smiles bitterly at that. Only a few months ago, he would have thought the same. He bows his head in acknowledgement and passes Miles a bowl of soup. He doesn't say that perhaps their people are also fearful of seeing what Ishval has become, the sand soaked by the blood of their kin, the cities ruined and laid to waste, the holy land desecrated. 

That night, alone in his tent, he kneels and prays east towards Ishval. He has been promising vengeance for so long that the request for guidance and aid in the rebuilding and continued peace falls awkwardly off his tongue. Still, as he lifts his voice in praise to his creator, something eases in his chest.

"May our wounds be healed, o Ishvala," he says, forehead pressed against the cold earth. His right shoulder aches, but it is an old pain now, easily ignored. "May our land and people be restored. O Ishvala, hear my prayer." 

It is said that the god Ishvala, in his infinite wisdom, gave Ishvalans eyes the color of blood for two reasons.

The first reason was this: he was marking them as his own, as the first people and the followers of the one true god. For is it not true that no Ishvalan has ever been born with blue or brown or green eyes, even those whose parents have married outside the faith?

Miles's position in the military proves more of a help than a hindrance. Having spent so much time by General Armstrong's side, he understands the unending amount of confusing paperwork and reads between the lines in the constant missives from Central and the new Fuhrer. 

It is he who thinks of compiling a list of the survivors and their current locations so that any may come and look for family and friends still separated. News and people do not travel easily between ghettos-- there are still families being reunited six, seven months into the rebuilding, children transformed from orphans into sons and daughters once more by a parent's joyous cry. 

It is also Miles who prioritizes what must be rebuilt. First, the Great Temple, where the first prophet built an altar and worshiped Ishvala. (This was not his original first choice, but others persuaded him it must be done, for how could they slight Ishvala and then hope to succeed?) Then homes for the survivors, still returning alone and by the handful, and a few orphanages as well. Then the hospitals, for there are many whose injuries from the war still pain them, and many as well who grew sickly in the ghettos. Then the other temples. Then the schools, for it is said that those who seek knowledge are dearest to Ishvala. The next generation must not, will not grow up ignorant.

When he who was twice dead and thrice born, who is nameless even in the privacy of his own thoughts, sees what they have accomplished so far, and the endless list of things still needing to be done, he laughs. He cannot help it. The rebuilding will take the rest of his life, and perhaps longer, for one, perhaps two more generations. 

"We must start on the irrigation fields next," Miles says, about eight months after the first survivors return to Ishval. "I want at least half of the proposed fields ready for this year's planting season." 

The Amestris government has promised them irrigation and bountiful harvests. Ishval will bloom as it never has before, stretches of what was once sand taken up by the golden stalks of wheat and fields of cotton, white as snow. He tries to imagine it, Ishval becoming a land of farmers, and cannot quite succeed. 

"How long until the rail system reaches us?" he asks.

Miles snorts. "Are we being pessimistic or optimistic today?" he asks wryly. When Miles gets a raised eyebrow in response, he shakes his head. "Another five months at best. Central is balking at so much as starting the railroad until the talks with Xing are over and the treaty finalized."

"They think the treaty will fall through?"

Miles snorts again. "Apparently." 

They both know it won't, not if a certain twelfth prince has anything to say about it. 

He closes his eyes, weary. It has been a long day, building a school in the Kanda district and then dealing with a dispute between a priest and a Rush Valley engineer. Apparently the automail engineer had not done his research on how to entice Ishvalan customers-- he had jokingly told the priest that his automail was the closest thing to Ishvala's mercy anyone could hope for. Fool.

Someone touches his upturned palm, lightly, and he opens his eyes. 

"Get some rest," Miles says. He is still wearing those sunglasses, having remarked that they worked against sun-blindness just as well as snow-blindness, but there is no doubt concern and empathy in his gaze. 

"As long as you get to sleep before dawn," he answers, earning a rueful laugh. They both know Miles spends most of his nights poring over paperwork and scribbling encrypted letters to General Armstrong. Those sunglasses hide the weary shadows under his eyes.

"All right, all right," Miles says, and betrays himself with a yawn. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight," he says. Miles does not believe in Ishvala, believes rather in the glory and resurrection of their people and culture, and so he does not add, "Ishvala bless you," as he would with most others. 

Instead, he saves it for his nightly prayers, praying toward the Great Temple. "Provide Miles with your blessing, o Ishvala, that he may walk your path despite his unbelief. Give him continued strength as he works your will." 

The second reason for red eyes is this--

When you can see the blood about to be spilled in the shade of your god-kin's eyes, will you not hesitate to raise your fist in anger?

He is placing the last brick in a house's foundation and shaking his head at Miles's offer of water when he hears the angry shout. When he turns, an angry Ishvalan youth stands face to face with an Amestrisian soldier. 

"Do you think you can just come and give us some houses and plant some fields and everything will be better?" the boy cries, red eyes hot with a fury he recognizes all too well. It is the desire for vengeance and the sight of the stricken look of one's enemy. The longing for revenge no doubt sits hot and urgent in his belly, so that his hands shake with the desire to feel flesh give way under his fists. 

"I-I am here to- to help you," the soldier says, faltering and flushing. He is part of the new group recently come from East City, for his face is badly sunburned and peeling, and he has not yet learned to abandon most of his uniform and roll up his sleeves. The soldier does not, actually, look all that much older than the boy screaming at him, and not for the first time does he wonder at Amestris and their child soldiers. 

The soldier looks helplessly around, but his fellow soldiers eye the ground beneath their feet, and the Ishvalans milling around look indecisive, their expressions varying from concerned to almost satisfied. Miles is frowning, wanting to intercede but torn on how to approach them, whether as an Ishvalan, a soldier, or a delicate balance of both.

He shakes his head at Miles, murmurs, "Keep working," and is rewarded by a grateful twitch of Miles's lips. 

As the boy opens his mouth to yell again, he strides forward and catches the boy by the arm. "Enough," he says, giving the boy a shake and the soldier a stern look to keep quiet. "This does nothing but harm Ishval." 

The boy turns angrily upon him, ready to yell once more, but then he gapes, eyes going wide with recognition. Everyone knows of him, it seems, for all that he has tried to let Miles be the face of the revitalization of Ishval. His identity is safe only from the soldiers who have not earned Miles's trust, which, Miles not being a charitable man, are most of them. 

After a moment, the boy recovers and says, chin jutting forward and eyes flashing a challenge, "I am only saying what we all think." 

"Do you speak with Ishvala then, to know the minds and hearts of all his people?" he counters, and is glad to see the boy flush and lose a bit of his stubbornness. 

"I only mean--" 

"This does us no good," he says, not letting the boy continue. He makes certain his voice will carry, in particular to those in the crowd who looked eagerly upon the soldier's discomfort. "Has no one taught you the tenets of Ishvala? Violence begets more violence. Hatred, more hatred. Will you send this soldier home to his family to tell them how Ishvalans spit upon him in the streets, to tell them that we will no doubt rise up against Central and seek vengeance for our dead?" He pauses to let that sink in, and is gratified to see the boy's face turn ashen. "We do not have to bow and grovel before them for what they give us, but we must not reject what they offer when it can help our people." 

"But it isn't fair!" the boy cries at last. His voice is choked and his eyes glitter with tears. He looks much younger than he first seemed, and he wonders at the boy's true age. 

"No," he agrees, because it isn't. It is not fair that so many died in the genocide. It is not fair that they now have to endure the awkward apologies and sometimes outrageous attempts of penance from Amestris. It is not fair that Ishval was nearly wiped from the earth entirely, its people exterminated, its faith lost. 

He extends his right arm, palm upwards, and watches how the boy stares at his arm with a look of mixed awe and revulsion. He is forced now to forever wear long sleeves and hide the symbols of his brother's sacrifice behind cloth, but the boy knows what lies beneath his shirt. "You can choose destruction," he says steadily, and then extends his left. "Or you can choose reconstruction."

"I understand," the boy says after a long moment. He presses both hands to his forehead and then to his chest, a gesture of respect for an elder, and then turns and speaks stiffly to the soldier, offers him something that is not quite an apology. The soldier looks relieved nonetheless, nodding quickly. 

The boy melts into the crowd and the soldier returns to his work, finally throwing off his blue jacket and setting it aside. 

He watches the crowd for a moment until he is certain there will be no further problems, and then he returns to the house he was building. Miles offers him an unreadable look, but he thinks there is something like admiration in the set of his shoulders. 

"Let us finish this house," he says, and Miles nods.

"Come on," Miles calls out to the other workers, "we have two more houses to finish today. Don't you want to be home by sundown?"

For a moment, he watches Miles organize the workers, and then he devotes all his thoughts and energies to his task. 

"O Ishvala," he sings as he works, "let this foundation last for seven generations. Let it keep steady for every death and birth. Let it shelter your people through desert storms. Let this foundation remain after every fight and reconciliation."

As he sings, another voice picks up the counterpart. It is an unfamiliar voice, rich and deep, and it takes him a moment to realize Miles has joined in. They work in time together, their voices rising through the street and into the clear blue sky as they sing. 

"Let this foundation be as your love for your people-- enduring forever, O Ishvala."