velvet mace

Stepping Stone to Immortality

"Have you seen the latest reports of the war?" said Prince Yao Ling to the unctuous official dogging his heels. Ling followed down the broad path that linked the buildings of the Tien Military Medical Center. The campus was quite attractive, well groomed and landscaped. The barbed wire perimeter was mostly hidden by grassy berms, and the crows nest was painted to fade into the pastoral background. "This is ridiculous. We've lost another bordertown. The Amestrian Military have advanced so far in, we may even see fighting here. Who is overseeing this battle?"

Head Administrator Chou pushed himself to keep up. "Milord, I believe your brother Lao Tseng is taking charge personally." The little fat man sweated and huffed from the brief exercise.

Ling humphed. It figured that the generals weren't being allowed to fight their battles properly. No wonder Xing was losing. To think that Prince Tseng was the favored son at the moment. Not for long, though unless he started letting his underlings do their jobs.

"The enemy is relentless," Chou quickly continued in an apologetic tone. "They fight mercilessly, and without fear for their person. It is as though demons possess their very souls."

Ling stopped and turned. The administrator quickly bowed and lowered his eyes. He probably thought Ling would be offended to hear that his brother was a pompous ass who didn't know the first thing about directing an army. "My brother is an idiot. But Xing isn't Ishball. We will win out in the end."

Father should have sent me to fight, thought Ling. But no, Tseng is out making a name for himself and I'm stuck running errands like a common messenger.

"Well," said Ling, when Chou failed to move. "Show me this project. My Father, the Son of the Sun, Lord Emperor, wants proof of your success. He informed me that it was of highest priority for him."

Though why the Emperor was so invested in this project, Ling didn't know. It bothered him deeper then he let on. Experimenting with pharmacy to reproduce eyes and limbs and organs made complete sense. Using pharmacy to change a person's gender merely seemed perverted. But Ling knew there was more to it than that. The Emperor was not a dirty old man. Perhaps Chou understood his Father's deeper motivations.

Chou perked up at the change of subject and quickly moved to take the lead, down the path to a large low modern building.

"The experiment was a complete success, so far as we've been able to discern so far. Fertility is still untested. After her interrogation we will begin attempts to impregnate her."

"Impregnate?" said Ling. "Really, what does it matter if she can become pregnant? Surely being turned female is humiliation enough for the soldier."

Chou ducked his head automatically. "Forgive me, my lord, but it is important. Pregnancy would indicate that the change is complete down to the most complicated and delicate hormonal systems. There is a possibility that while she is structurally she is female, her body chemistry remains male. If such is true than the test was a failure."

"I see. And it's important that she be completely female—why?" Ling waited as Chou opened the door to the building for him. "It really seems silly to me. We have plenty enough women already, why would we want more?"

Chou smiled, "It is merely a stepping stone to the ultimate goal, my Lord. If we can alter a persons gender completely, and not produce cancers or other unwanted mutations, then we can work on some less immediately visible changes. Specifically, turning back the clock on aging."

Ling froze in place. "Eternal youth through pharmacy? That is crazy. There have been experiments in that for centuries, it has always ended in disaster." But the Emperor's interest suddenly made sense.

"Which is why this subject is so important, My Lord," said Chou. "And why we are using Amstrians to test it rather than people."

They walked quickly through the grand lobby of the building. Ling could see signs everywhere that the institute had benefited from his father's personal patronage. Compared to other medical facilities he'd toured, it was positively decadent. The curve of the front desk was exquisite, and the art that hung in the main hall was worthy of a gallery.

"The prisoner who was selected. Tell me about him," said Ling.

"Ah he was quite a catch actually. We deprived the murdering Ametrians of one of their finest alchemists. His name is Alphonse Elric."

"I think I've heard of him," said Ling. "Fullmetal I think they call him."

"No, no, my lord," said Chou quickly. "That would be his brother, who, alas, is still fighting out there. This is the younger Elric. Soul is the name he goes by, because he is able to infect machinery with his consciousness, and turn our own weapons back on our troops. The loss of him must be quite a blow to their military. His humiliation is but a poor compensation for the many lives he's taken."

Ling imagined Alphonse as an ugly, battle-scarred man, with stringy unkempt hair. He probably made an equally ugly woman. The sudden image of a tall brawny woman with tattoos and muscular tits made Ling laugh. "Pity the person who has to put his seed into the wretch," he said.

"Oh, I imagine there will be volunteers," said Chou. "Though the duty is rather intimate. The transformation was perfect, without seeing the before and after photos, I myself would have doubted she was ever a man."

"Oh really?" said Ling. Apparently that was an invitation for Chou to lead him to his office and open up Elric's file. Curiosity brought Ling to stare at the photographs, and he regretted it instantly.

Alphonse Elric the man looked like the epitome of wholesome innocence. Round faced with impossibly large eyes, handsome in his youth. The fear in those eyes was palpable. Suddenly Elric seemed much more of a person. He's younger than me, Ling thought. Ling clucked a bit over the distastefully immodest poses, but he supposed they were necessary.

Innocent looks aside Ling chided himself, He is still an invader.

Chou began to spread a second series of photographs out on the desk. The resemblance to the first set was so uncanny that had he not known better, Ling would have assumed she was a twin. Her jaw was just fractionally softened, her eyes, if anything, just a bit larger, her lips fuller. And as for the rest of the body, the photographs left no doubt at all what gender she was. The breasts were rather impressively large, and Ling felt a slight twinge of lust mix with his increasing discomfort.

"Where is she now?" Al asked.

"She is scheduled to begin her interrogation in just a few minutes. I imagine they've already begun to ready her."

"Ready her?" Ling's mouth suddenly felt dry. "Surely you do not plan to torture a woman."

"She is only a woman because we have made her so," Chou reminded him needlessly. "She is a high ranking alchemist, and probably privy to many important plans." Chou bowed again. "Though, my lord, if it offends your sensibilities, we can postpone viewing her until after the interrogation is over for the day."

While part of Ling justified torturing a man for information—torturing a woman, even one artificially produced, offended Ling to his very bones. Still these people were following the Emperor's orders, and Ling did not have any authority to call them off.

"No, I wish to see her immediately," said Ling. The sooner I verify her condition, the sooner I can get out of his horrible place.

Chou nodded. Ling followed the administrator out of the office and down several flights of stairs. They exited into a narrow and badly lit corridor. At once Ling regretted his decision. Agonized moans echoed off the concrete walls, mixed with words that Ling recognized as Amestrian. Curses, pleas, threats. Chou ignored them as if they didn't exist.

They at last reached a door marked off only by its number. Chou yanked the handle and opened it in deference to Ling. Automatically Ling stepped to room. The smell of sweat and urine offended his nose, and he almost turned away, but the sight—the sight—

There was Alphonse Elric bathed in a harsh hot lights. She lay on her back on a table, her blond hair already darkened by sweat while the interrogators made sure the straps around her wrists, thighs and ankles were secure. Ling's eyes slipped over to the table set by her shoulder. The objects selected for her torture were laid out where she could see them. They varied in size and texture, but were all vaguely cylindrical. Elric's spread-legged posture made it obvious what they were for.

She was shuddering, her ribs becoming more prominent as she sucked in deep ragged breaths. Her eyes were tightly shut, and her lips, just ever so slightly parted. She gritted her teeth, as one of the belts tightened about her wrist, but other than her breath she didn't make a sound.

Ling felt nausea grow in his stomach. It was impossible to see the prisoner as anything but a woman, and Ling's whole being reacted instinctively at the thought. The sheer impropriety, the disgusting posture they'd forced her into, and the revolting act they planned to subject her to made his limbs tense. And yet, Ling was fascinated and could not avert his eyes. Alphonse was more attractive in the flesh than in the photographs, and, to Ling's disgust, his body reacted naturally to her nakedness.

It's just a man, an enemy. Ling reasoned, but his mind rejected it. That's a woman, and she needs protecting.

"Stop!" he said, his voice far off and tinny to his own ears.

The room went suddenly silent and the interrogators stared at Ling for one long disrespectful moment. Then realizing who he was, their eyes widened and they quickly bowed.

Ling looked over at the prisoner. Her eyes had opened, and they found Ling's. The pleading look she gave went straight to Ling's gut. He was more offended than he'd ever been in his life. Ling's hand dropped to the hilt of his sword, but then he'd stopped. The tension in the air grew thick as the interrogators froze in place, horrified by his horror.

"My lord," demurred one of the interrogators, hastily bowing as deeply as he could. "The Emperor himself has approved this procedure. She must be questioned."

Ling's heart was beating so hard it hurt. True! True! I can't stop this, without directly going against my Father. I'm getting in the way of their job. Ling let go of the hilt of his sword. I shouldn't be here! Ling thought. I should have heeded my gut and begged off. I could have said the photographs were sufficient.

But Ling couldn't keep from looking at the prisoner. She stared at him, pleading. Her lips barely moved to mouth please.

"Questioned, yes," said Ling hastily. His eyes reluctantly went back over the objects laid on the table. "But not raped. Not with those."

The interrogators looked confused, and Chou touched his elbow. "Perhaps we should move on, my lord," he said.

Ling's mind was rushing with adrenaline, now. He turned and grabbed the administrator's shoulder. "You need someone to impregnate her, to prove your experiment. I volunteer for the job. But not if she has been already ruined by those objects."

Ling watched the men in the room exchange awkward glances. They wanted to object, but they knew they had no place to. Ling drew himself up to his most regal bearing, and they predictably crumbled. A prince in the room trumped the Emperor, seated hundreds of miles away. They nodded and put a brave face on for this royal interference.

Alphonse seemed to relax a little as the objects of torture were hastily gathered up and removed from the room. Her eyes returned to Ling's. They no longer pleaded, but instead they looked, not grateful, but deeply impassive, and almost calculating. Ling turned away wondering if he'd somehow just played into the enemy's hands.

Ling couldn't bear it any longer. He quickly turned and left the room, Chou following him.

Outside the facility, with the prisoner's eyes no longer haunting him, Ling kicked himself. Why did I do that? Why didn't I just walk away? Why now of all times did I decide to get noble? And for such a hopeless task.

Ling rested his head against the textured wall of the building, ignoring Chou's embarrassment. She's invaded my lands and murdered my people. I should be walking out here to go and fight her comrades and drive them back out of my country across the desert to their own stinking, barbaric land.

But now, instead of heading off to the front to prove his worth and save his country, he'd just signed himself on to indefinite duty, in this hideous medical facility, as the sexual partner to an unwilling enemy, who wasn't even really a girl. He'd been tempted to laugh if it all wasn't all so very, very horrible.

The people at the institute were nothing if not efficient. With alarming speed they secured him a house on campus, a mere hundred feet from the building where Al was being questioned. It had not been unoccupied before he'd come, and he could still see personal items left behind after the speedy move. Ling wondered whose bad side he'd managed to get on now. From the size of the house, It must have been someone important.

The whole situation was a diplomatic nightmare. In addition to dreadfully inconveniencing the staff, word of his interference was doubtless already on it's way to the emperor. Ling could only hope the doddering old fool would take it as a sign of loyalty and enthusiasm rather than subversion.

Ling pushed aside some cosmetics left behind on the vanity by the previous owner's wife, and looked into the mirror. Although it was utterly absurd, Ling began primping, as though he were a bridegroom. He brushed his black hair and smoothed sweet oils in until it gleamed. He straightened his tunic, making sure that just the right amount of silk peaked out from the collar and sleeves. He rued the fact that he hadn't brought any proper formal clothes.

Ridiculous, he told himself. Do I really think she will be less upset to be raped by a well groomed man? Ling stared into the mirror for a second, serious the way he rarely let himself be. No, I'm not doing this for her. I'm doing this for me. One of us at least will make sure this event has the proper decorum. I do not commit rape, and I don't sleep with whores. Alphonse will be my concubine, and we shall all maintain our dignity.

After all, how many of the Emperor's wives had come to their marriage bed in tears? More than one, Ling knew. This was no more rape than any arranged marriage.

He turned when the bells to his room jingled, and the inevitable procession came in. Chou and the doctors, and guards and aides. And somewhere in the throng was Alphonse, head lowered, her loose blonde hair covering her face. She wore a simple robe, easy to open with a pull of the sash, and around her wrists and ankles were chains.

They'd washed her, Ling noticed. Her hair had been brushed and someone had even thought to apply a bit of make-up. Ling knew that it was more an effort to make her less disgusting to him than to give Alphonse dignity.

Alphonse reached the bed and sat down primly on the edge, her hands folded in her lap. The entourage stepped back and then began milling awkwardly, as though they were looking for some spot they could stand in the room and not be noticed.

"Surely you don't think you will be witnessing this," Ling said. There were a few embarrassed guffaws and much bowing, and then they left, all but Chou.

The administrator stood in the door for a minute. "When you are done with her, my lord, call and she will be escorted back to the medical facility for examination." Chou's eyes ventured over Lings appearance and he almost stifled a smirk.

Ling gritted his teeth. "I won't upset your experiment. Go." To make sure he waited in the door to his bedroom until the last person had left the house and shut the door. He then turned and looked at his soon to be lover. There were no tears, which was a relief. Instead Alphonse looked extremely wary, almost as if he were attempting to make up his mind about something very important.

For an excruciatingly long moment the quiet stretched between them, as Al waited for the inevitable, and Ling gathered up his courage to do his duty.

"Well," said Ling awkwardly in Amestrian, "Your name is Alphonse?" Years of language tutoring paid off as he said the name without stumbling.

"Yes," said the prisoner. "And I really was a man, if that's your second question. I still am a man, I think."

"I don't suppose you wish to fling yourself at me out of gratefulness," Ling said, hoping the humor would cut through the painful atmosphere.

A tiny smile tweaked Al's lips. "I'm afraid that never occurred to me." Ling noted the lack of honorific. He stiffened a bit at the insult, then reminded himself that Amestrian's didn't have a caste system, and their kings were selected through election of all things. Perhaps Alphonse was the equivalent of royalty. From what Ling had heard of State Alchemists, they were a rare and highly held group.

Then again, it was possible that they hadn't informed the prisoner of who she'd been mated to. Though that seemed a bit far fetched.

"Well," Ling went on, lightly. "You are a lucky, lucky person, Alphonse. I'm not saying it's good luck, but it's definitely luck. You have no less than a Prince of this country courting you. How rare is that?"

Al's smile widened. "Yeah, I'm very lucky," he said. "My life's been nothing but interesting luck. I've actually been in stranger predicaments." For a moment it seemed like the tension between them was defusing, but then it suddenly snapped back into place, as either Alphonse felt she'd gone too far, or perhaps she remembered what her situation was.

"Have you really," Ling pursued. "Well, oddly enough, I haven't. I'm not even sure how I managed to talk myself into this, although, please don't take it as an insult. You are very attractive for an Amestrian."

Al's lips tweaked again. "People have been telling me that."

"It's just, I don't take the matter of sleeping with people lightly," said Ling. "In fact, I admit that I have only had three experiences, where female companionship was offered up as part of a diplomatic package. And then they'd been trained—" Ling began to wonder what he was saying and what he hoped to achieve by the topic.

Luckily Al didn't seem to be insulted. "I'm afraid I won't live up to those experiences," she said. "As long as we are being honest with each other I have never been intimate with anyone but my own hand—and then it was as a man. But I don't think it can be too hard." Ling found Al's innocent crudeness to be strangely at odds with her looks.

"You are taking this all rather well."

For the first time there was a break in Al's composure. "Do you really think so? I feel a bit like I'm standing at the edge of a cliff waiting for the ground to crumble." Al's gaze once more moved over him. "You really don't want to be here any more than I do, do you." It was a statement rather than a question.

"I'm here by my own choice," asserted Ling. "But I do sympathise with what you are going through."

Silence built and Ling became acutely aware of the edge of the vanity digging against his lower back. Al lifted one of her hands to scratch an itch and the heavy links clattered against each other.

Abruptly Ling straightened up. "I think I have a solution to both our problems."

Al cocked her head, curiously. "If it really solved both our problems, that would surprise me a great deal, since I think our best interests are at odds here."

"Yes, well, no I can't help get us out of this situation, but with a bit of luck there should be some rice wine somewhere in this house. I can't imagine the previous owners not having some on hand for guests, and they left rather hastily." Ling almost turned his back when he suddenly halted, then spun around suspiciously.

"You are strong alchemist," Ling suddenly accused. "Why haven't you already attacked me and attempted to escape? It's what I would have done in your place. Or did your alchemy get removed when they changed your gender. What keeps you from escaping the moment my back is turned?" If Al did escape, Ling would be in terrible trouble.

"Do prefer me in chains," said Alphonse, ignoring his questions. "Or would you mind if I took them off?"

"I dislike the chains," said Ling honestly. "But I don't have the key."

"I don't need keys," said Al. She stood up awkwardly and walked over to the vanity, clattering and rattling. While Ling watched, his hand on his sword, Al took a lipstick and drew a purification circle on the furniture's shiny surface. With a touch it lit up and Al's chains broke apart and fell free. Al rubbed her wrists. Then met Ling's eyes with confidence. "If I wanted to, I could have escaped a dozen times," she said.

"What is keeping you here?"

"Duty. There were eight men in my squad when we were captured. They are all being held in the underground prison wing. I was told in detail how they would be tortured if I escaped. They are my responsibility; I ordered them into the trap. I can't leave them behind, even if it means I have to suffer a bit."

Ling's noted the fire in Alphonse eyes. He understood completely. "So you are waiting until you can come up with a plan that saves both you and them?"

Al nodded once. For the first time Ling truly saw past the feminine body to the man trapped within. On one level, it was a bit of relief, letting Ling somewhat off the hook for being chiverous. On the other hand, Ling needed that drink more than ever. "In any case," Ling said. "I hope you won't find our time together to be that painful."

"I'm hoping it won't be either."

"Stay there, I'm going to find the liquor."

As Ling suspected the pantry hadn't been touched in the move. There were several unopened bottles of rice wine, and appropriate cups to pour them into. When Ling returned to the bedroom, to fetch Al.

They moved to the living room where they sat on pillows on opposite sides of a low table. Ling poured the wine, and Al downed hers quickly, swigging it like a man would. Ling filled her cup again and watched as this time she chose to sip. Her cheeks took on a faint flush.

"I was first told," said Al, "That I should treat the man they chose for me like a husband, and rub his feet and make him his meals as well as being pleasing in bed." Al laughed. "Is that what wives do in your country?"

"The good ones," said Ling.

"I think I'd rather be married in my own country," said Alphonse. "Where the men rub the women's feet."

"Do they really?" asked Ling, surprised.

"Well, only the good ones." Al took another swig. "A few hours ago, they changed their mind and told me that I was going to have a Prince as a lover, and forget thinking of myself as a wife. I should just do what you say, and not expect anything in return. One of them said that you probably wouldn't beat me, but if you did, I shouldn't fight back. They said if you killed me out of anger, then they would be in great trouble, so I better be demure."

Ling was insulted. "Did they say all that? I would never." Ling grabbed Al's hand. "I promise I will never lay a hand in hate on you. I consider what we have to be special as an arranged marriage."

"You consider this to be marriage?" Al lifted an eyebrow.

"Yes," said Ling firmly. "Well, no. I'm afraid I can't marry you. Until the succession is decided, I am not allowed to marry anyone. And after that, regardless of how it turns out, my marriages will be diplomatic. However, I'm allowed to take concubines even now, and though they don't have the same rank as a wife, they are considered in many ways more important, since they are chosen out of love and often have the prince's ear."

"A concubine then," said Al thrusting out her cup for another fill. "I can live with that. Which is good because I don't think I have much choice." Alphonse was distinctly tipsy, bordering on drunk.

Ling took a last sip. Though he'd only had a single cup, he felt the edges of his inhibitions beginning to blur away. Alphonse on the other hand was still drinking quickly, and if she were allowed to go much farther, she might be ill in the bed. She was already about as relaxed as alcohol alone could make her. "I think we better get started," Ling said. "I imagine Chou will be getting impatient."

"Oh lets,' said Al. "If I can't be a man, at least I can still be with one." Alphonse had a bit of difficulty gaining her feet, but Ling caught her arm. "I can imagine what my brother will say seeing me now."

"Will he disapprove?"

"Oh very much."

"Even though I'm a prince?" Ling had enough alcohol in himself to feel scandalized.

Al leaned on him. "Well I think it's more the whole abduction, gender change and pregnancy against my will bit that will bother him most. The sex? Maybe not so much. You are a very nice person, Ling. Even attractive—for a guy."

"Attractive? I'm dashingly handsome," claimed Ling.

They arrived back at the bedroom. Al reached for the sash on her robe, but Ling pushed her hands away. "Allow me," he said, and he carefully pulled until the knot came free. The robe instantly fell apart revealing her smooth flesh. Even without powders Alphonse was as pale as the courtesans at court. Ling reached up and slowly pushed the cotton off of her shoulders, and the garment dropped to the ground.

Her flesh felt soft under his Ling's thumbs as he gently swept them over the ridges of her clavicle, then down to cup her breasts. There Ling paused with wonder. Al's breasts were quite full and surprisingly firm, with very little sag. Ling supposed the skin had not had time to give way to their weight. The nipples were small and crinkled from the cold. Ling couldn't resist crouching down and warming one with his breath, before sticking out a tongue for a tentative lick.

Al sucked in a deep breath and for just a second pushed away. Ling glanced up and saw her eyes had closed and she seemed caught up in the sensation. Encouraged he went back and did it again, breathing first, before drawing the tip of his tongue in a circle around the rosy flesh.

"Mmm!" Al said and her brows drew down. "That's—that feels—"

"Good," suggested Ling.

"Too much."

"Too much?" said Ling. "I've barely touched you."

"I'm sensitive—" and Ling cut off her words with yet another lick. "Se-sensitive," Al stuttered again. "To touch. Touch."

Ling wrapped his arm around Al's back to prevent further retreat, and with his other hand he held the opposite breast. He timed a gentle flick of his thumb over that hardened nub with his licks, bracing against the inevitable jerk. Al struggled but not hard, as though she weren't sure if she really wanted to get away. Ling took advantage of her indecision by pulling her closer to him. He took the nipple into his mouth, drawing it up with a suck.

Al wasn't the only one sensitive, it seemed that his mouth was tightly tied to his groin, and every touch of his lips, every taste, every soft flick of his tongue made his own cock grow harder. He felt his muscles growing tense to the point of pain, and tried to adjust his stance to maintain his balance.

"Yes," said Al, running a tentative hand over Ling's hair. "Harder is better." Ling obliged her with harder sucks, taking in not only the nipple but some of the surrounding flesh as well. Meanwhile his thumb continued to stroke over the opposite nub, and his fingers closed in for a gentle squeeze. He sucked in a deep breath through his nose, smelling the faint musk of sex on her.

"I feel weird," Al protested suddenly. "Stop."

"What is wrong?" Ling's legs were beginning to protest the awkward position. He took advantage of the break in momentum to stand straight and begin to guide Al backwards towards the bed.

"I can't say." Al said. Her eyes were still closed, and her expression seemed curiously open and fragile, all traces of masculinity gone. Her brows knit as if she were trying to understand something complicated.

"Is it a good weird?" asked Ling, thinking he knew what the answer was.

"Something is dripping. I think I'd like a tissue." Al flushed. She allowed Ling to lower her onto the bed, but clenched her thighs against his hand.

"It's supposed to do that," Ling assured Al. "It means I'm doing my job right." Ling gently persisted with his hand until Al's muscles relaxed. Sure enough he felt moistness, though not as much as he'd been hoping.

"It tickles," Al complained, bringing her own hand down to explore the area. "I don't know how women stand this."

"Maybe you'll grow used to it," replied Ling. Ling pushed her hand away, and gently massaged the outermost folds of flesh for a moment, then withdrew. He wanted to go further but with Al being so very virginal, he felt it prudent to go slower.

Ling crawled onto the bed beside Al and once more wrapped her in his arms. He wondered how the fabric of his clothes felt against her naked flesh. Did it feel good? Or did it just chafe. She didn't seem to mind, and Ling didn't want to frighten her by being to quick to reveal his own hardness.

He needed to slow things down for his own sake as much as hers, so he began kissing her face. He started almost chastely on the cheek, then moved inwards, a peck on the corner of her lips, a momentary suck to the tip of her chin, then he went for her mouth. She kept her lips pressed closed, but only for a moment, then finally Ling felt her begin to respond. She was melting against him, reluctantly but inexorably, tentatively sucking on his lower lip. He encouraged her with a soft almost-word.

Al's kisses grew more passionate and sloppier, falling from his mouth to the side of his face before feeling their way back. They seemed to become almost violent, as though Al were forcing every bit of tension and fear she'd experienced in the last few days into this one act. Ling had to withdraw for fear of his own flesh.

When he did, he saw that Al's eyes were open, and shining. There was lust there, yes, but also anger and frustration and a thousand other emotions. "It's okay," he told her. "I won't hurt you."

"I know," said Al. "I won't let you." She then grabbed his hand and brought it down to her breast. "Touch these again. Touch me again. Let's do this. All of it. Don't spare me."

Ling wondered if she really was ready, or if she'd merely steeled herself up to the task. He suspected the latter, so he ignored the way she ground her hips against his, and instead pushed himself down to take her nipples one by one into his mouth. The effect was the same as earlier. And Al's movements gradually changed from desperate and jerky to languid.

Ling reached down between her legs again, and felt the moistness. He looked at her spread now wantonly across the mattress and he felt a huge hunger grow in him. Something within him gave way, and the inhibitions that held him back vanished. Her original gender, her nationality, her circumstances seemed to dim in his mind, and Ling's lust took over what little intellect he had left. He wanted her, wanted every bit of her. He wanted to sweep his hands over every inch of her flesh and make it his, claim it with his tongue, mark it with his scent. He wanted to devour every part of her. Holding back wasn't just difficult, it was painful.

Al must have noticed the change in his demeanor because her eyes opened once again, and she hazily gazed at him. "Are you angry with me?" she asked.

Ling let his body speak for him, being true to his own desires he grabbed her, taking handfuls of her soft flesh and squeezing, her breasts, her hips, her thighs, he dug his hands under her and found her buttocks and rolled them against his palms. They felt good. It all felt good.

Ling's hips were thrusting now of their own accord. His clothes felt hot and rough. He pushed himself suddenly away from Al and began to claw at the buttons, forgetting to care whether he tore, only wanting to be free of it's binding as quickly as possible. When he'd clawed his way naked, the cool breeze felt good on his heated flesh.

Al was staring at him now, curious and perhaps a bit alarmed. He noticed one hand loosely fisted into the sheet. "I won't hurt you," he repeated, to reassure her. "Oh God, what a beautiful thing you are."

"What do you want—" Ling didn't let her compete the sentence. He went back to worshiping her flesh with his fingers and mouth. This time she parted her thighs immediately at his touch, and gasped as he gently drew his fingertips over the folds of flesh. She was wetter now. Perhaps his lust was contagious. He certainly hoped so.

He slid further down, taking his erection in his own fist and giving a few much needed pumps. With his other hand he pulled Al's thigh farther up and apart. His mouth circled it's way toward's Al's center. There was something heady about the flavor, the feel of her moist flesh against his mouth. I am such an oral person, should this obsession take me by surprise? At last Ling went for the little hooded clit, sweeping it gently up with his tongue.

At the first touch, Al nearly jumped out of the bed. It took a firm hand on her hip to prevent her from escape. He remembered her admonishment about harder touches, and tried licking again with more of his tongue and a firmer stroke. Al relaxed, her hand now diving into Ling's hair, tightening almost painfully.

Could anything be more indulgent than this? To have a woman responding so strongly, so completely to his every movement. It was the ultimate ego stroke that he had managed to seduce her so completely. She was writhing now, barely able to be still enough to let him do his work, and her breathing was so ragged.

Regretfully he gave his own erection one last squeeze then moved it up to her thigh, sliding it beneath her. His cock regretted it instantly and it took will power not to release Al and grab himself again. But the pleasure of his mind outweighed that of his groin. He needed to penetrate her and be in when she came, and unless he kept her pinned, he might end up thrusting his finger too roughly.

He found the spot by feel, and slowly pressed his finger within her. She was so wet that he slipped effortlessly all the way in. He felt the muscles tighten hard around the single digit, and worked her clit more furiously to distract her. Al cried out and clutched his hair pushing him harder against her, and then suddenly pushing him away. "Stop, stop!" She writhed harder, pushing his hand off her hip and jerking her body out of his reach.

Ling looked up at her. Al's eyes were huge and she panted, her face was flushed and her hair clung to her forehead and cheeks. She was still trembling, when Ling grabbed her ankles and spread her legs apart once more.

"It's best to do this before you come down. There may be a little pain."

Al nodded. "I'm ready."

Ling couldn't wait anymore. He was hard, much harder than he'd been for the well trained courtesans. There he'd been content to lie back and let them do the work. This time he'd done all the work and curiously it made him feel more like a man. He felt potent and strong, his ego as swollen as his cock. He slid between her legs, taking a moment to line himself up, then slowly push forward.

She yielded to him perfectly, holding him tightly, and the friction was just amazing. After the first thrust, she began to push back, increasing the sensation. He loved it and he loved her for it. She could have screamed and cried and fought, but instead she pushed with him, she helped him, she supported him and surrounded him and he absolutely loved her for it. He loved the way her hair lay tangled about her, he loved the feel of her skin, and her smell and the sound of her voice. He loved the way she tilted her head aback and bared her pale throat to him, a willing sacrifice to his lust. He loved that she didn't lie demurely, with false modesty, waiting for him to move her like a puppet. He loved the way she met him as an equal, took him on and accepted him. He loved her feminine curves, the wonderful folds that the pharmacists had gifted her with, and he loved the faint hint of masculinity that ran through her like steel.

She was his. His concubine. His to hold and keep and do this again—soon—

Ling let out a gasp and pushed as deeply within her as he could get, riding the waves of orgasm.

Ling wallowed in the afterglow of a truly spectacular come, the rational part of his mind still on vacation. He knew he should make the call soon, but he couldn't bear the thought of letting Al go. It was too comfortable to keep her next to him. It was somehow soothing to think that he was protecting her. The moment she was out of his arms they would tie her down and rudely examine her to make sure that both of them had done their parts. It seemed just too ugly to contemplate.

Gradually though his conscience woke up and he recognized his the situation for what it was. The woman he held in his arms was not really a woman, and not really a suitable concubine either. She was the enemy. He couldn't protect her, not with all his rank and cleverness, and he shouldn't even want to.

Ling looked over and noticed Al watching him. He gently pushed the hair from her eyes. "Why did you have to be an Amestrian," he murmured.

"Because that was where I was born," Al replied back.

"And why did our peoples have to be at war with each other," Ling said bitterly.

"I have no certain answer for that," said Al, but there seemed to be a quality in her voice that suggested she might have a theory. "I'm not happy about the war either. I wish I'd never been pulled into it."

"Why did you come?" Ling asked. "Why did your people invade my land, why did you use your alchemy to kill my people. What use to do your people have for a land on the other side of a wide desert? Nothing makes sense to me anymore. I don't even know what to feel."

"It wasn't for land," said Al. "It was for revenge. Your people invaded our land first. We, too, needed to protect ourselves."

Ling jerked up in bed and stared in horror at Al. "That's impossible. No. I would have known if that happened."

"There were three towns on our side of the great desert," Al said. "One day they were small but thriving villages—in a single night, every man woman and child was killed. My brother and I were sent to investigate. We found purification circles, not alchemy arrays, and the boot prints in the soil all over the town matched Xing army issue. We soon found tracks made by heavy trucks, the kind that the Xing army uses to carry troops across rough terrain. We managed to follow those tracks most of the way across the desert before we lost them."

"Our parliament sent representatives to court, asking the emperor for his help tracking down those who had committed this crime. Your Emperor sent their heads back, but not their bodies. After that the war began."

"It couldn't be," said Ling. "I've BEEN to court, I've been in my Father's presence, he had never spoken about any of this. Why would he start a war with Amestris."

"My guess is he's trying to forge a philosopher's stone from the carnage," said Al.

"Philosopher's stone? It's a myth." But the world made sense again. Ling remembered seeing his father hunched on his throne, speaking bitterly of his old age, yet putting off any attempts to name a successor. The bastard wants to live forever—and he doesn't care who dies to make it happen.

Al's lithe form came into focus. The cries of the Amestrian prisoners haunted his ears. That's what this all is, thought Ling bitterly. Nothing but a stepping stone to immortality.

Ling lay down and pulled Al close. "I'll protect you," he murmured into her ear. "I don't know how, but somehow, I'll find a solution. One that will be in everyone's best interest." One day I will be emperor and our peoples will be at peace.