I have been guilty of pride. I sought vengeance in Your name when it was not my place to judge. I took lives in anger when the skills taught to me in Your name were meant as a means of defense and meditation. I took the lives of innocents and tried to take the lives of others. Why, then, O Creator, have you spared me? Am I to atone for what I've done? What path am I—
Scar slowly drew his thoughts back from years and miles away to give his companion an odd look.
"Toby. How does that sound?"
Scar shook his head and turned back to stare at the passing countryside. The sun was starting to set, and they had reached the point where expanses of grass and tall, leafy ash and elms were giving way to bare earth, scrubby plants, and short, drooping meskaa trees. Clouds gathered far ahead to the east, but as Scar mentioned, the rains wouldn't hit for another month.
"It's not funny anymore, Miles."
Miles gave a quiet chuckle and downshifted as they began the ascent up a hill. "Oh, I don't know. It's a lot less painful than banging my head against a wall. I can't call you 'Ishvalan'. We're going to be among a whole populace of Ishvalans in a matter of time, so a name like that won't exactly stand out."
"Your general didn't seem to have a problem with it."
"She's not here."
Scar frowned. No, she wasn't here, but her parting words were more than just a dramatic exit. We'll meet again, Ishvalan. Whatever meeting she was planning on was intended to be on her terms, as were most of her dealings. Scar gave an inward sigh. He never had much luck with women.
She did give them a good car from the Armstrong family fleet, though. Scar had to admit it was a nice change from trudging across Amestris on foot or sneaking onto empty railway cars. So here he was, with only a small bundle of meager possessions donated by a group of Ishvalans Miles had managed to make contact with before they left for their homeland. The only item Scar could really call his, and then only partly, was the tattered remains of his brother's research notes. The puzzle hidden in its pages was now dwarfed by the new one that Brother and Ishvala seemed to have conspired to present him with.
He never meant to outlive either his objective or his anonymity. His purpose and his identity were now blank slates with a few cautious ideas written on them. He had severed his ties with humanity only to forge an odd assortment of new ones through the strangest quirks of fate. Now he traveled with two of these companions, men he had grown to respect, one almost immediately, the other over time.
He envied Miles. The major was his opposite in many ways. He was comfortable in his own skin, and he was accustomed to living in two worlds. Perhaps it was his military training and his natural leadership, but he was much more confident about this endeavor than Scar was. When they arrived in Ishval, it would not be Miles who would feel like a fish out of water.
As much as Scar liked him, however, the name game was getting old.
The passenger in the back seat laughed quietly. Scar glanced over his shoulder at him. He was not someone Scar envied, but in the face of improbability, he had grown fond of him. Colonel Mustang had suggested to Miles that he take Marcoh along with him, since the doctor had practically begged to practice medicine in Ishval.
Marcoh's features, wizened before their time, crinkled into a smile. "I once had a classmate named Metzengerstein," he remarked. "He wasn't terribly bright."
"Fine," Miles said. "Forget that one. Give me time. Something brilliant will come to me."
Scar went back to staring out the window.
Creator, I'm grateful for Miles' friendship, but if you sent him to me as a trial, it's working.
The initial impression of Ishval was a bleak one, and it was Miles' first look at the land of his grandfather. Even with his considerable experience of battle, he gazed in silent awe at the destruction.
"I gave Edward Elric crap about how the Amestrians really did a number on Ishval," he muttered in dark anger, "but I wasn't even close."
They had stopped the car and gotten out to gaze at what looked like nothing more than a field of rubble. It was only barely recognizable as a place where people once lived. Native plants had grown in, around, and over the wreckage as the desert reclaimed the area.
"This is just the outer extremity," Marcoh said. "I understand the military has set up a refugee camp closer to the center."
"Hmm! Refugees in our own land," Scar remarked dryly.
Marcoh pursed his lips and looked down at his shoes. "I didn't mean it like that."
Scar glanced at the older man. He knew how important it was to Marcoh to come here and how much courage it must have taken. He dropped his hand on the doctor's shoulder. "I know you didn't."
"Let's get going then," Miles said, turning abruptly away from the grim aspect before them.
They got back in the car and drove on. The road they traveled on showed evidence of having been recently cleared, with piles of rubble lining each side. Miles sped up a little, anxious to get to where there was some semblance of civilization. As dusk fell over the land, they could see lights ahead. The rubble began to give way to a large cleared area.
Set back from the road along each side were rows of white army tents. Standing around and between them were a number of Ishvalans. They paused momentarily to watch the car drive by, only half interested at first. They then did a double-take, seeing the driver and his front seat passenger.
"That looks like headquarters up there." Miles jerked his chin toward a large tent up ahead. Above it, fluttering in the evening breeze, was the green and white Amestrian flag.
There was a select few who were aware of the real evil behind the white rampant dragon that danced overhead. The general public had been given the safe, "official" version of how the military senior staff had plotted to use a massive alchemical experiment to overthrow the government. They had no knowledge of the cold, inhuman hand that directed the near calamity. It was debatable as to whether being kept in ignorance was really for the citizenry's own good. Scar didn't really care anymore. It was only right that the Amestrians should be here to clean up the mess they made, and it was now up to them to change what that flag represented. He had done his part.
A couple of officers came out of the tent as the car pulled up and came to a stop. One of them, a thick patch of reddish hair on his head, wore his uniform jacket open to accommodate his stocky midriff. The other was taller and slenderer with a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. A couple of strands of unruly dark brown hair fell over his forehead from his otherwise precise military haircut. Miles got out of the car and walked over to them. They clicked their heels together and snapped a salute.
"Welcome to Ishval, Major," Lt. Breda said with a half-grin. "It's good to see you again."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Miles turned to the other soldier, his smile broadening. "Karley! Did you decide you couldn't take the cold anymore?"
Karley grinned back. "Just for a while. They needed a good communications man here, and Mustang won't let go of Fuery."
"Yeah, me he sends out here," Breda growled good-naturedly. They all knew that he was Mustang's watchdog and had been sent as the best man for the job.
He looked past Miles as Scar and Marcoh got out of the car. "Ah. It's true then," he said under his breath. "There were rumors…"
"Is it going to be a problem, Lieutenant?" Miles asked quietly.
"No, sir," Breda murmured quickly. "It's your command, after all." Aloud, he called, "Good evening, gentlemen! Doctor Marcoh! Glad you could make it!" He turned to Scar as the big Ishvalan approached. "Welcome home…uh…" He faltered for a moment, and Miles waved his hand.
"Don't worry about it right now," the major said. "Just don't call him late for dinner."
"Whatever you say, sir. Speaking of which, I'll take you over to the mess tent whenever you're ready."
The sun rose early in midsummer.
Somewhere just outside his tent Scar could hear the squawking of a cactus wren. It had woken him up some time ago and it apparently had no intention of leaving. Not that he minded. That sound had been such an integral part of his life growing up in Ishval that he stopped noticing. Hearing it again, he realized how much he had missed it. They were bold, jaunty birds who acted like they owned the place. As Scar listened to its raucous call, he considered how the Ishvalans ought to be learning by the bird's example.
When they drove in the evening before, the Ishvalans they had passed seemed listless and dispirited. Scar supposed it was not to be wondered at. The journey here had been a long one, and they were still exhausted, both physically and mentally. They had been offered rides on military transport, but many were reluctant to take the offer, not being entirely confident that they would actually be taken home and not driven out to some remote place and shot. They opted to walk.
Time had dulled the edges of their memory, and when they arrived, they were overwhelmed by the scale of destruction. They were then relegated to rows of identical, featureless tents. They had lost the feeling of home and individuality, even in their own land. More and more of them would be arriving here every day, having uprooted themselves from wherever they had tried to make a home over the past six years. Yes, their needs were being seen to. They were given food and water, shelter and blankets. But it would be a long time before this place would feel like home again.
The squawking stopped and there was a brief fluttering of wings. The bird had flown off but was probably still close by. They were very territorial. Scar then heard the crunch of two sets of footsteps not far from his tent.
"Major!" he heard a man's voice call. He thought he might have heard that voice before, but he wasn't sure.
"Behaving yourself, Havoc?" Miles' voice replied. The footsteps had halted and the voices were now closer together.
"Aww, I don't have to behave myself anymore, Major. I'm a civilian."
"I thought you'd get back into uniform once you were on your feet."
"Yeah, I did, too. But I like this new setup better."
"Gun running?" There was a grin in Miles' voice.
"No, no. I prefer 'merchant adventurer.' If the army can't get a hold of it, I can."
"Sounds like you're enjoying yourself."
"Oh, hell, yeah! I have some of my buddies to hang out with here, and I still get to eat McGinty's cooking. Damn! Remember what we used to say about him during those training exercises?"
"McGinty doesn't take shit from anybody, but he's got no problem dishing it up on a plate."
The two men laughed, then Havoc said, "So, I hear you brought our new best friend along with you."
There was a pause, then Miles spoke in a slightly cautious tone. "Doctor Marcoh?"
"No, Major. The other guy. You know…" Scar could imagine the other speaker drawing an X on his forehead with his finger. "Or is it a big secret?"
"Apparently not," Miles replied dryly.
"Hey, we're all on the same side now, right? If the colonel okayed it, that's jake with me."
"General Armstrong didn't seek the colonel's approval."
Havoc gave a chuckle. "Yeah, but he'll balls his way through it. Well, I'll see you around, Major. If there's anything you need, you just let me know."
"Thank you, Mr. Havoc. I'll keep that in mind."
One set of footsteps moved away and out of hearing, while the other moved closer to Scar's tent.
Scar sat up on his cot and set his feet on the ground. "I am now. I'm not sure who chattered the loudest, you two or that bird."
Miles laughed quietly. "Sorry about that."
The tent flap lifted and the major ducked his head down to step inside. Scar met his eyes as he straightened up. "I'm not going to apologize for being here, Miles."
"No one's asking you to. Between the general and me, you didn't have much choice."
"And I'm tired of hearing whether Mustang approves."
"So am I. Consider it a closed subject. Are you up for a tour?"
Scar drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The clear light of morning was unlikely to make the landscape look any better, but it couldn't look any worse. "I suppose."
"Do you think you could stomach breakfast first?"
Scar reached over to the stool where he had put his shirt. "I spent the past six years eating peoples' garbage. I can stomach anything. I'll be with you in a few minutes."
Miles nodded and stepped outside. Scar pulled his shirt on over his head, then rose to his feet, facing east toward the rising sun. He closed his eyes and lifted his hands, palms facing up.
Creator, thank you for the light of this day, even if the light proves to be harsh.
"I almost can't believe it can be done."
They stood on a hill overlooking what was once Kanda. Vegetation wove in and out of the skeletal buildings and through the streets, doing little to soften the devastation. Miles looked back down at the map he had brought with him.
"Did you live down there somewhere?" he asked.
Scar didn't need to look at the map. He had stood on this hill many times for a few moments of solitude. It was once quieter here than down in the city below. Now the city was just as eerily silent as the last time he stood here, blood dripping from his face and his arm. He had broken that silence with a primal scream.
He pointed off to the right. "It's hard to see now, but there's a slightly wider street. The third one from this narrow street just below."
Miles frowned at the wreckage below, then nodded. "Yeah, I see it."
"About a half mile from the base of this hill is...was my parents' house. On the right side of the street."
It was hard to tell where one building started and another ended. "I'll take your word for it."
Scar pointed further off to the right. "My brother kept a room where he did his studying. It was two streets over and three doors down." He then gazed off to his left, shaking his head after a few moments. "There's no trace of it now, but over there"—he pointed to a spot roughly half a mile away—"in the middle of this district, was the Kanda temple, where I was educated and trained." He lowered his arm. "It was as much a home to me as my parents' house."
Miles consulted the map once more. A series of gridlines had been drawn on it in preparation for clearing. He took a pencil from his pocket and drew circles roughly around the spots where Scar had pointed. To Scar's questioning look, he replied, "Just as a point of reference."
Scar shook his head. "I'm not ready to go down there yet," he said.
"That's just as well, then," Miles said. "It's going to be off limits to anyone other than authorized personnel for the time being. You said yourself the place is full of snakes and scorpions and God knows what else." He rolled up the map and tucked it under his arm. He nodded at the scene below. "I probably don't even have to ask this, but wasn't this Kimblee's handiwork?"
Scar's jaw tightened. "Yes."
Miles looked over at him. There was a lot of anger and hatred packed into that single word. "Ready to head back?"
Scar didn't reply at first. He gazed out before him, trying to envision what Kanda had once looked like and remember what it had sounded like, but all that came to his mind were shadows and echoes. He turned away. "Yes, I'm ready."
They walked back to the main camp, passing Karley and his team as they pulled the newly-built steel lattice radio tower to an upright position. On the other side of the road were the supply tents. The flaps of one of them were pulled wide open and a few Ishvalans were inside. A woman stood peering into a box being held by a soldier, and a tall, blond man with a short beard was offering candy sticks from a jar to two children. He looked up and waved as Scar and Miles paused nearby. A moment later, the woman came out, followed by the soldier carrying the box, then by the two children happily sucking on their candy. Scar watched them as they walked on toward the tent city. The woman was chatting pleasantly with the soldier, and the children certainly seemed content. He supposed it was an encouraging sight.
Up ahead, leaning against the trunk of a meskaa tree was an Ishvalan man. He watched the small family and their soldier escort with only vague interest, then, apparently bored, he pushed away from the tree and started along the road toward Scar and Miles. He was a handsome man, but his features were somewhat marred by an underlying truculence. As he drew closer, both he and Scar stopped and regarded each other in mutual recognition.
"So. It's you," the man remarked with little enthusiasm. "I heard you were back." He gave Miles a noncommittal glance before jerking his head toward a group of soldiers. "It's like we never left. The place still looks like hell and it's still crawling with Amestrians."
"Who are here to rebuild," Miles said stiffly.
The man gave Miles a sharp look and a slight, mocking smile. Before he opened his mouth again, Scar spoke.
"Stanno, where is Rada?"
Stanno turned to him, almost startled. "Rada?" He gave a short, harsh laugh. "Hell if I know and hell if I care!"
It was Scar's turn to look startled. "What do you mean? What happened?"
Stanno brushed away the questions dismissively. "I don't want to talk about it." He gave them both a look of barely concealed scorn before continuing on his way. "I've got no time for anybody who sleeps with the enemy."
Scar watched his retreating back, a troubled frown on his face.
"Tch! Nice guy," Miles said caustically. "Friend of yours?"
"Good thing. What do you suppose he meant by that last comment?"
Scar's frown deepened. "I'm not sure."
"I certainly hope he wasn't referring to us." Miles clapped a hand on Scar's shoulder. "I like you. Just not that much."