One Night in Ishbal

By Crack Alchemist

Rated R for violence

She sat on the roof and waited, as she had waited for hours. Waiting was an integral part of her training. A dedication to patience was necessary in the art of any good sniper. One had to be able to wait for the target to appear, wait for the perfect shot and wait to see if that shot hit its mark true.

When you have been assigned your target, ask no questions.

She'd been given her assignment the first thing this morning. An envelope, containing a rough sketch and a name.

When acquiring your target, remember that it is just that: a target.

This target, her first target, was a human this time; no paper cutout in a firing range. Blood and skin and heartbeat and brain that held cognitive thoughts.

Don't think of your target as human, and it will be that much easier to make your mark.

Riza slid across the roof on her stomach, just as her target came into view.

Her target was young. The youngest thing to walk out of the doors of the Academy. The youngest to walk off of the Examination Field with the coveted Alchemist's watch. Far too young in the minds of those who had given her the assignment. Too big for his britches, was the consensus. Barely out of short pants.

They did not trust him. He was a wild one, not yet broken to bit or bridle, ready at any moment to break the lead ropes binding him to his duty. Too young to hold that watch, her commander had told her this morning.

Rake thin, still unfinished, was her target. Older than herself, but barely. Dark hair, blue uniform.

She'd been told by her commander that, if her target did not do as it was told, that she was to hit it in the back of its head. Plain and simple. That she could do. She been chosen because she'd demonstrated the ability to shoot the head of a pin off at 100 paces.

Riza lifted the rifle to her shoulder and placed her eye on the sighting mechanism. No questions. Questions give your target a tangibility that will make it hard for you to complete your task.

She was sighting the target through a window in a building, where it stood over two people. Their white coats identified them as doctors; the building, she knew was an Ishballan safe house. She lifted her head to look at them with her bare eye.

No questions.

She sighted again.

The bullet is an extension of yourself. It is a reflection of the work you do for your country. Do not forget this.

She could feel the bullet lying dormant in the chamber. She'd completed the usual sniper's ritual after getting her assignment, and had carved the name of her target into the casing. She still had a little of the metal dust on her fingers. She licked it off and placed her finger on the trigger.

She waited patiently for her target, waiting for the shot. Half of her wanted the opportunity to shoot, to show her prowess. But, secretly, half of her wanted to see the other side of her target, to see its face, so that she would know that the name she'd been given fit.

A wild colt. Bucking authority right off its back every chance it got.

But, it was a soldier after all, and, as such, deserved a modicum of respect for its service to date.

It was also taking too long to complete the deed.

Her finger itched and began to tense on the trigger.

The target raised his own gun, pointed at the two white-cloaked persons. Through the site, she could see the hand shaking and wondered briefly about that.

No questions.

Her target had moved, and now stood in three-quarter profile. It would still be possible to deliver a mortal shot. A bullet to the temple would do just as good a job as one to the back of the head. She adjusted her sites to compensate.

One task, he has to do. If he can't do that, we don't need what he has to offer. She'd heard that murmur as she stood at attention, waiting for her task. She could smell the strange scent of fear in that room too. I'm sure we can get another like him, the high ranking officer had said. That confused her.

The flash of the gun startled her. She cursed quietly and re-sighted.

And now her target was in profile. She saw the trembling in its form, the way it held the gun slack in its hands. And through the site, she saw the growing puddle of dark, slick blood on the floor, beneath the bodies lying there.

He'd followed his orders. She didn't have to kill him.

Something made him turn and now he faced the window. Someone else was in the room; someone he talked to.

Riza frowned, but kept her eye pinned to the sight.

He stumbled, and the other person took the gun from his slack fingers.

An unbalanced weapon.

The military treated their Alchemists like nothing more than weapons these days, breathing killing machines, cleansing the country side of dissent and sedition. But the military hadn't the ability to care for such weapons, had not the expertise or the subtle touch needed to keep them from misfiring, or even exploding in the hands of their keepers.

She did, though. The thought struck her suddenly.

She was expert with weapons. She treated weapons like precious things, the way other girls cared for valuable jewels or pretty clothes.

Her first weapon had been such an unbalanced thing. It hadn't felt right in her small hands; and the kickback was a bitch. She'd dismantled it and found where the weak spot was. She'd fixed it, reassembled it and now it was her favorite personal sidearm. It was the first thing she reached for in a skirmish and would have killed and died to keep it.

She lowered her rifle and watched the two leave the building. The wild one had been broken, she saw in that instant. His shoulders bowed, his feet taking him to the middle of the street with a leaden step.

Then, perhaps her foot had hit a stray pebble. Maybe she'd shifted a little unwisely. But suddenly, the dark head turned to the roof, grabbed her eye in a steel grip.

No, not broken. Forged and formed and blooded, ready for battle.

She really hadn't wanted to see his face. Hadn't really wanted to look him in the eyes, not those eyes, full of the recognition and bitterness that comes when your gods you trusted in have been proven false. When your beliefs have been proven to be lies.

He raised a hand toward the building. She could barely make out the pattern on the back of his glove, but like she knew her favorite pistol, she knew what it was. The damned thing framed the core of her being.

Her pulse quickened. She knew what he was going to do. Knew what he was capable of.

Still holding her eyes, he snapped his fingers. She saw the spark, the flash and –

was blinded by the explosion. She spasmed, curling into herself for a moment. She could taste the sulfur in the air, feel the heat curl around her body.

Wildfire. That was the first thing that came to her mind.

When she could open her tearing eyes, he was gone.

He'd done what he was supposed to do, so she no longer had an obligation to kill him.

She'd joined the military because she wanted to be a part of the force that would lead her world into a better life. She trusted those in power to do that for her, for the people of Amestris. However, in the brief time she'd been enlisted, she realized that there were flaws deep within the machine. That knowledge had hardened her, far more than the death of her parents had those years ago.

And like she did her grief, she buried her emotions, her convictions, and became nothing more than an extension of her weapon, the cause behind the effect.

She took in the sight of the building left in slag and ashes before her. And then she realized why this one was so feared.

The rebellion in his gaze had hit her square between her own eyes, burrowed deep into her mind, and marked her, as violently as her bullet would have marked his life as null and void. Pierced her armor effortlessly, without reason, and caused a chain reaction within her that she could not contain. Angrily, she fought it for a moment, then realized that resistance was futile. It was unstoppable. The power. Power enough to raze the State to its foundations. To wipe those old, stale minds completely from the map, to build something more vital and new.

In her mind, a new target had been acquired. A new type of goal.

She grabbed her rifle and carefully unloaded the shells. She considered the one marked for her previous target. Memorized the name she'd carved in it: Mustang.

Easy enough to find. She went in search of him.