Mr. Edward Elric,
Since your employment throughout Germany, you have aided in many inventions of the modern day as well as astonishing concepts to the medieval science of alchemy. It has come to our attention that you have had military training, and your discoveries could prove useful elsewhere. There is a portion of China that is still set in the ancient ways. They have declared war against the Huns, an organization of warriors that is determined to divide the country according to their ideals. You will be sent there as a teacher of modern concepts and weaponry.
You will be given a place among a specific troop in training. Where there soldiers rely on swords and canons, you will be educating them in the use of guns and other strategies. Where the region has kept itself isolated, you will be convincing them to build a bridge between its own and other nations. We expect the best from you.
The Scientific Development Association of the Axis Powers
Edward was beside himself. How was someone supposed to teach people how to use weapons and build a metaphorical bridge? Those two things do not go together! It was bad enough he had to be away from Alphonse after all they had been through. It was bad enough he was trapped on the other side of the Gate without Granny Pinaco or Winry or even the Colonel Bastard himself, and without the ability to perform alchemy. Now he was sent blindly to another nation in the hopes of teaching them these things that he barely had a handle on.
Well, he had to be pretty good at it, actually. After a few years with Honenheim in World War II, he had picked up the concepts of this new world's scientific concepts. Still, was he good enough to be called an expert? He looked blankly out the window the horse-drawn carriage as he arrived to the tents. He exited, and was greeted by another man. "Ah, hello Mr. Elric. I am the Captain. You may refer to me as Shang. Please, walk with me to the main tent while my troop trains."
Ed noticed that most of the tents were in shambles and the soldiers were picking grains of rice. They looked like they were from Xing. He had never met anyone from there, but that was most likely the case. In this world, the main differences were in names of places. "What happened?"
Shang looked away. "There was a trouble-maker. The rice is their punishment. Their training will not begin until tomorrow." Ed took one last look back before entering the tent with Shang.
He motioned for him to sit down. Elric was across from Shang, but he barely paid attention. Most of the speech he gave was about his troop's ability, his father's stature, and what he thought Edward's advances in science could mean for his people. It bored the alchemist to ears, but he kept a bright face. His eyes wandered to the diagram about how the troops would move. It was predictable, but he had no complaints. Ed tapped his finger against one of his books while Shang kept talking. It seemed to have no end.
Finally, he was free. Shang said, "A couple of my men put together a tent to the side for you. Feel free to use it for your studies and meals as well as sleep. I have heard you have experience on the battlefield as well. You may spare with the troops or me if you want a challenge." He walked away, smirking. Edward knew he hated Shang now. He was Captain Bastard.
Ed wrote feverishly in his journal. It has been a few days now, and he has been able to establish nothing. The soldiers themselves appeared hopeless. There was this one soldier in particular named Ping that was especially bad. He was the worst at each obstacle and just seemed … awkward. There was no other word for it. He just did not seem to fit in with the other guys. Something was different. Ed felt a twinge of sympathy for him. He always felt his height, or lack thereof, caused unneeded attention. Maybe it was that the soldier seemed to look rather feminine. Ping certainly wasn't antisocial – he never avoided the others or refused to speak. Something stood out and Elric felt like reaching out to the soldier because of that. He just didn't know how.
The days wore on in his mind. He did not want to introduce guns to these people. Also, being a solitary person him, he wouldn't know what to say to reunite these people with China. He was against their traditions for sure. Men bear arms, girls bear sons. Arranged marriages. No women in the army under penalty of death. Honor a number one priority. He was against all of it. But this was the world he was sent to teach … and he was failing at that much. If only Alphonse came with him; he always had that childlike wonder in him that was just the kind of spirit needed to unite China. But, just like how he adjusted, Alphonse also made his own life in Germany after a while. Al helped him out in the lab, studied in the local libraries with books about the history of that world, and even began to feel close to a girl he bought baked goods from a few times. He was getting really close to that girl. He couldn't tear him away from that.
He decided a nice bath was exactly what he needed.
He convinced a few other guys not to go to the pond that night. He told them that he studied it and found a lot of germs and stuff in there. Suckers, Edward thought. He never did like sharing his showers. Even in the Amestrian military he never showered in their facilities; it was always at home. The nearest pond was the closest he could ever some to privacy on this mission, other than his own tent. He wasn't about to let some barely-trained and powerless soldiers take that away from him. Edward grabbed a towel a walked there.
Behind a bush, he stripped down to his boxers, careful of his prosthetic limbs, and slid in the water. It was ice cold, but he sucked it up. It seemed this isolated region of China also cut itself off before the idea of indoor showers. He watched across from him and saw Ping approach. How annoying. Someone didn't pay attention. That and he didn't feel like explaining why he had a plastic arm and leg. He hid himself behind a lowered tree branch. It hid enough of him before Ping would be able to see him. Then, Ed began to remember how awkward Ping was among the others. Elric always did want to say something to him. Maybe now would be a good time? It'd be a little awkward here, but between guys there was nothing he hadn't seen. While he gathered his words in his mind, Ed lowered enough branches to make his way through. Before he pushed it all the way down, however, he saw something that made his body heat up and his face turn red.
Ping was in fact a woman, and he was in an ideal spot to get a full view of her body. He let the branches hide everything again. His mind was blank. Well, actually it wasn't. Anyone could guess what was going through his mind. Mainly lustful images that were getting harder to fight, and were, of course, getting him harder. But there was also the question of why there was a woman disguised as a man in the military. And was it necessary to bathe nude? Ok, well, that was a bit of a stupid question, but the cross-dressing was still something different. Well, women aren't allowed in the army. Maybe she had a good reason to risk her life to such an extent. He could find out if he asked her, but how would he ask her? "Hi, I saw you naked out in the clearing, found out you were a girl, and want to know why you dressed up like a man to join the army!"? God, the more he thought about it, the more distracted he became. Edward fidgeted in the water, trying to adjust.
He heard a shriek and a splash of water, hurried footsteps after. Crap, had he been discovered. He peeked again. She was gone. He lowered himself under the water. She probably thought he was jerking off to her. His face flushed more. Talking to her would be even more awkward in the morning.
"I'm telling you, my girl'll be into my strength and scars."
"Well, my girl will have such a pale face and bright eyes…"
"Hmm, I just hope my girl can cook good."
Edward's face flushed in embarrassment for those guys. They had no clue there was a girl right in the march with them. He wanted nothing more than for them to just shut up! After looking for a couple moments, he found Ping in between them. He pulled the girl back discreetly while the other man went on in their fantasies. Ping continued to face forward, not showing a hint of emotion. "What are you doing?"
"I need to talk to you. You see…I…"
"You saw. I know. You are the only one here with blond hair."
"I'm sorry. I just want to know why. Can't we just –" Then, they arrived at their destination. The troops they were sent to help were nowhere to be found. With one glance, everyone knew that they had all died. The hill, which was decorated endlessly in snow, had the limbs of other soldiers protruding from every crevice. The Huns were responsible, no doubt. Ping looked to Edward, now that the other soldiers were dispersed upon what was now a graveyard. "You want to know? My father was called to war. He has grown old and tired. He would have died. So I took his place."
Understanding, Elric nodded, adding, "Who are you?"
"My name is Mulan. Please, keep my secret."
He looked down, remembering all the secrets of his life. Please, don't tell anyone that he performed human transmutation. Please, don't tell anyone that he unwittingly resurrected his mother, but without a soul. Please, don't tell anyone that he was about to kill another Homunculus that was, in fact, the leader of his country. Please, don't tell anyone that, while defeating the Nazis, he also failed in returning to his home world. "I promise."
"So then, I joined the military. I hoped to find some way to turn my brother and I back to normal."
Mulan's mouth was wide open.
"Well, we're both ok now. But, Alphonse stayed at home. We're both scientists now; though, physics makes a lot less sense than alchemy, if you ask me."
She walked the carriage full of canons across the gorge. "I'll tell you one thing: you should stop with the science and get to writing books."
Ed smirked. That was exactly what his "other" brother said to him. With no commotions, no canon fire, and no ambush, they crossed the gorge without interruption. Ed continued, "You know, part of my mission here is to build a bridge between this place and the rest of China. There are a lot of changes this region needs to make. Like, where I come from, and in a lot of other countries too, women can do whatever they want. They can marry whoever, they can join the military, and they can even get with other girls."
Mulan looked to him with poison in her eyes after that last comment.
"Well … I'm not lying. Point is technology isn't the only thing your people need to catch up with."
She asked, "Yeah? I would say the first thing to go would be the death penalty. So, get this: if I'm discovered, they kill me. Like, 'No boys allowed; if you're a girl, you die'. How juvenile is that?" She grinned as Ed wrapped his arm around her. They didn't care how it looked. The pass wasn't making a sound and Elric seemed to be a reasonable guy. And very creative.
Then what should happen? The route was covered in arrows flying their way. Edward immediately ran to the weapons. Without alchemy, he needed something to defend himself. He grabbed a dragon canon and aimed it to where a lot of the Huns seemed to be. He looked away to try to find Ping. She was gone. Ed used a bit of flint to get one group of them. He ran one way hoping to find her, and saw that she had mounted a horse and was taking on all of her enemies by sword. "Idiot!" Ed took a horse as well and stormed after her. "Damn it, Ping! No one can slice through all these people, guy or girl!"
Ed rushed to Mulan's side, but was swiped to his side. He knocked into her, letting the both of them topple off of their horses. "What are you doing?" she pleaded. "I can handle everything on my own!"
"I get that! But you need a better plan! You'll just end up sliced open if you keep fighting like this!" Ed tried to mount again but the oncoming enemies forced him off of his ground. Mulan grabbed Ed by his shirt and flipped him on her horse. She remounted and killed a few more. "So you have any ideas?"
Ed shrugged. "I fired a canon a while back; it took out a small group. We could make an avalanche and kill a bunch more."
Mulan yelled, "I came up with that before! But someone grabbed the first canon and the rest of the weapons went downhill! I think the best we can manage now is an escape route!" A few more enemies merged from behind her. Ed's initial reaction was clapping his hands together to transmute, but needless to say that bared no results. He then signaled a few others as Mulan pushed the horse to move forward. Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po were saddled onto one horse, though it was becoming decrepit under Chien-Po, and they were exasperated to help clear a path for their friends in arms. Between the five of them and the Captain, they and a few made it out alive.
After leaving such a massacre, the natural thing was to run to the Emperor. After the division between China and the tradition-based region, the said region has found their Emperor. He was not unlike the one currently in power over the majority of the nation. The Emperor was old, official, and said to be the wisest of all. The troops arrived to the castle. The Emperor was at his balcony, bewildered at the sight before him. Shang stepped forward and bowed before his ruler.
"Captain Li Shang reporting, Your Excellency. The Huns have been defeated, but scouts have been seen en route to this very spot. His Majesty may be in grave danger. Please allow us to put Your Grace under military security."
There was some form of dialogue taking place after that, but Ed didn't listen. He was still amazed at the audacity of this "traditional" region of China. Mulan was one of the best fighters he had ever seen. His back may have been turned when she was actually fighting, but she sure knew how to drive a horse under fire. She led herself and others out of an ambush. Wasn't that enough for this nation? Wasn't that enough to prove a woman's worth to these people? If Winry were to see this world, she would slap every man she saw upside the head with a wrench. Ed knew that Shang and the other warriors acknowledged Ping as a great warrior. It was time they recognized Mulan.
As Shang was midsentence discussing terms with the Emperor, Edward yanked out Ping's hair-tie.
Mulan's hair fell to her shoulders and before everyone she was revealed as a woman.
Immediately, there were screams of protest from some of the palace guards. The other soldiers stood silent. Shang turned his head. Ed began to immediately regret what he had done to Mulan, not only breaking a promise but almost definitely sealing her fate in an execution.
The Emperor raised his hand to silence them all. He asked her, "What is your name?"
She felt the weight of the dishonor she had brought upon her family but still found the strength to speak. "My name is Fa Mulan."
The Emperor turned to the others. "A fine warrior you have. You all are fine combatants."
A guard opposed. "B-but, sir!"
"Equal warriors of equal skill deserve equal treatment." He stroked his long beard, thinking. "I believe it is about time we joined with the rest of China, at any rate. Our nation has a lot to learn from the outside world. Wouldn't you agree?"
Shang stepped forward, regretting to have to move to such a morbid subject. "And the Huns, Your Majesty? Do you not expect a violent reaction from them?"
"Let them attack. I have faith in all of you."