She is everything they hate in a woman, and she can feel it in their glances and their glares as she walks down the street.
Her skin, too pale, immediately marks her as an outsider; an Amestrian, whom they despise. (If only they knew, how much she hates them too... what would they do then?) She strides openly, stares boldly; there is no deference in her step, no downcast gaze. The clothes she wears, baring far too much skin—harlot, she hears them whisper, behind her back. Boots are no wear for a woman, nor the way she steps in them, striking the ground although stabbing it into submission.
Among the Ishvar people there are no alchemists, she knows... but still they see, from the languid, liquid (inhuman) grace of her walk, the sway of her movements, the tattoos on her skin that she is something not quite human.
They don't know the half of it, do they, thinks Martel darkly. She knows hatred, she knows reasons for hate. If they knew who she truly was, what she truly was—and more, what she has done, one dark night in a temple not too different from the one just at the end of the block...
Then they would know hatred, true hatred. Then they would feel, maybe, what she feels.
The Ishvarites shun her; they turn their faces away and mutter behind her back, and one of them spits in her wake as she passes. But there is little they can do, nothing they can really do to her. Outcasts among outcasts, the Ishvarites cluster together in this filthy refugee camp, clutching at fragments of their old life. Tempers run high, and hot, but there is no room for territorialism in this place and no energy for the outbursts of violence.
The most they can do is despise her, and shut her out of their world. An outcast among outcasts among outcasts...
She's learned to deal with it, almost revels in the heat of their anger-red eyes. She's taken to going into the pub (shabby thing; watered-down horse piss dealt out by an unscrupulous Amestrian carpetbagger, but it does the job) every night, to toss back as much alcohol she can and look around at the dark, turned-away faces, and dare someone to start something. So far, nobody has; whether it's for fear of her, or some lingering strange respect for their peace-sucking religion, she doesn't know.
But tonight, she sees the newcomer.
She notices her first by the wide ring of space around her; the quarters of the low-roofed, dim-lit shanty are cramped enough already. But the woman who catches her eye now doesn't seem like she would ever have to worry about personal space; the drunkards and the Ishvarites give her a wide berth, nervously avoiding contact even as their eyes are hungrily drawn towards her.
She notices her second for her striking beauty, as much in aura and magnetism as in physical features. One black-gloved nail draws circles around the rim of her pewter mug, as if it were glass of the finest china; the sound almost rings in the dirty tavern. One moon-pale, shapely cheekbone leans propped against a languid hand, creased by only the tiniest hint of a knowing smile. And her eyes, half-lidded, gaze out on the room with more smokey heat and fire than all the hatred of the Ishvarites can put behind their eyes.
She notices her third, and only third, that those darkened eyes are turned towards her, watching her with a peculiarly cold curiosity. And that glance unnerves Martel as she has not been shaken in many long weeks.
By now she's already had enough alcohol to put a man (a human) under the table, and maybe that gives her courage she wouldn't otherwise have had. Or maybe it puts her wits to sleep; courage and stupidity are never far apart. Whatever it is, she knocks back the rest of her drink, slams the mug down hard enough to leave a permanent groove in the wood, and pushes back from her chair to approach the stranger.
This won't be the first girl she's tumbled since she came to this camp, but the others were young, and bewildered, and too fearful of their surroundings to ever prove much trouble; this one is different, and she's almost tongue-tied when she sits across the bar corner from her. The first two smooth pick-up lines, and the second two filthy ones, fall away from her, and in the end all she can think to blurt out is: "You're like me, aren't you?"
The woman turns to regard her, exposing the lovely slim line of her throat, and Martel feels breathless. "You're different, too, aren't you?"
The woman's smile widens, revealing just a hint of pearly sharpness. "No," she says, and at first Martel thinks she is agreeing. "I'm not like you, my dear. I'm not like anyone."
The mysterious stranger makes Martel feel like a teenager again, young and fumbling in the barn with her first girlfriend; shy and desperate in the first dark and seedy bar in Central where a young runaway had gone. Painfully inadequate like her first day in basic training, when she labored so hard to catch up with her raucous male peers.
But in the end it doesn't matter, because pick-up lines or no pick-up lines it all goes according to script and plan, and she finds herself tangled with the woman in a dark shabby tent a few hundred yards from the bar. It's not far from the crowds—nowhere is truly alone in this camp—but there's enough noise coming from all around to mask their voices, if they whisper.
They don't. Words have never been Martel's preference, not in favor of using her fists or her body when she can. She knows the lines of this game well enough, but this stranger is beyond the lines, beyond Martel's experience entirely. So there's no speech in the little tent, just harsh breathing and moans and the slick sound of skin on skin.
Martel tries to take control again, the way she always has; twining about her lover from behind, moving in ways that no normal woman. She alone can thread her legs with her lover's, bending her knees out wide and leaving her bare and open to the air, helpless to Martel's seeking hands. She alone can wind her arms around her lover's torso like an anaconda's, sending her hands darting everywhere while her hungry, primal mouth makes a ravage of the other woman's pale, quivering skin.
She rides from behind and below and direct her lover's limbs and body to her pleasure; slow undulating waves in a strong, unbreakable rhythm. It's dangerous, to reveal so much inhumanity in such a vulnerable space; but it's always been dark and she is confident of her ability to keep her women so out of their minds with painful delight that they won't remember, in the heat of the moment, just which way Martel's elbows can bend.
But this time is... different, and the reason for it slips out of her grasp as easily as an eel escaping in dark waters. This one is different, and she doesn't know why. She gasps and moans like all the others; her hair tangles in Martel's mouth, and the flesh under her hands is slick and wet like any other woman's. Her moans and gasps are the same, and she writhes in all the familiar ways, and yet... there's some part of her that Martel can't reach, can't touch, even as slender, undulating fingers pierce into her most intimate of places.
Even as she cries in pleasure, body jerking in Martel's iron grasp, there is some part of her lover that is still... aloof. She can't understand it, and it makes her angry, stirring the banked coals of rage and contempt in her heart again. She rides her new lover harder than she usually takes mind to, rolling her spread hips against the smooth yielding skin of her lover's back, but the peak is not quick to come and in the end she gives up in disgust, pushing away.
When she finally releases her lover, to relax against the dirty rags on the tent floor, she slides around her, keeping a firm grip with her legs even as she brings her face within sight of the other woman's. The anger still burns corrosively in her heart, and in it she finds words again, words to punish as she never has wanted to before.
"You liked that a lot, didn't you, slut?" Martel whispers, catching and holding the woman's eyes. Slowly, she brings her glistening hand up to her face, breathing deep in the pungent scent of her lover's juices. "You must have done this a lot of times, haven't you? That makes you a whore."
The words make her teeth ache, as though with venom, even as she says them; but if they chilled her lover's blood, there's no sign of it. Instead, the woman rolls over to face her, almost lazily, and the look in her eyes is veiled. "And what does it make you, having practiced your technique so often?" she murmurs in response. "Do you really think that by aping the man's part, you can be spared the cruel words that people aim at ones such as you and I?"
The breath leaves her, and Martel can only hiss in shock and fury. Before she can gather her wits enough to respond, her lover laughs throatily and seizes her, rolling them both over on the rags until it is Martel underneath her. Unexpectedly strong, hard hands seize her thighs and press them apart, and the lovely face dives out of sight between them.
Martel doesn't like it, being on her back, exposed, but before she can find the leverage to push them apart, a wave of liquid pleasure has engulfed her and she can fight no more. The fury melts into lust, seething and coiling in her chest, chasing each other until she can no longer tell where one begins and the other ends.
She usually sleeps afterwards, coiled around her latest partner; not out of affection but out of an old, reptilian need to keep as close to the heat source as possible. Perhaps that explains why Martel comes awake a little later, never really having slept, and realizes now what in the heat of passion she hadn't before; her lover's skin is cold, as cold as her own.
There is a stillness in the body under hers, a watchful stillness without peace; but in the dim lantern-light filtering in through the gaps in the cloth Martel is finally able to trace out the design on her lover's naked breast.
"You're another one," she says aloud at last, when the cold certainty has crystallized in her mind. "You're another one like him." She looks up and meets the woman's eyes; deep violet reflecting green, slit pupils dilated wide in the dim light. Eyes like his, like Greed's, the powerful monster she'd met and followed out of purgatory into fellowship and freedom. The banner she'd followed, faithfully until it crashed into utter ruin, taking with it all her companions and leaving her mired in hatred and petty revenge.
"My dear," the monster in her bed purrs, and she can hear the inhuman melodies in it now. She is smiling, and in the faint light Martel can just see the pointed tips of her teeth. "I already told you. I'm not like anyone."
But she is, Martel thinks. In the coldness of their blood, the scorn in their mouths, the wash of hatred around their feet as they walk, they are akin.
And for the first time in a long, long time, Martel is afraid.