Fever-dreams of an empire. Spoilers to chapter 57.
all tense changes within the piece are intentional.
"I found it," her young master told her, and this time it wasn't a note scrawled on a ripped piece of cloth /(a ripped piece of the clothes Ling had been wearing when she last saw him)/. "What we came here looking for. Immortality."
/But that's not what we wanted/, she wanted to say, but she couldn't because she was wrong, it was exactly what they'd wanted. Immortality was what Xing needed in an Emperor, and was therefore what he wanted. It was what the empire needed, and was therefore what she wanted. Or did she want it for him because he wanted it? She wasn't sure she knew anymore.
And then her young master is the Princess of Chen, Ling Yao's half-sister and a distant opponent for the throne. Distant, because she is young and she is seventeen places down in the succession and therefore she is vulnerable. Lan Fan should kill her and help secure her clan's path to the throne. If Mei Chen were to become immortal as well, she would be their only real opposition. Mei Chen draws a circle on the ground, and she remembers that the seventeenth heir to the throne is a pharmacist.
Wait, no. That wasn't right.
"I can't find it," her young master told her, and this time it was a note clenched in Alphonse Elric's lone metal gauntlet (the other lost somewhere, she didn't know where). Ling was with Edward Elric and they had been fighting those monsters, the one who hid its true shape and the one who ate everything it came across.
/Why did you let them go/, she wanted to say, but she couldn't because she would have done the same thing. Those creatures needed to be destroyed, and she would have followed her master into battle against them in an instant (she had followed him into the fight against them with no reservations). Only now her master was one of them, and she couldn't destroy him. She would save him; there had to be a way.
And then Alphonse Elric is the Fuhrer of Amestris, the monster with the eye she couldn't fool with her fast movements and dark clothes. A monster indeed, the one who cost her an arm and nearly her life. His sword flashes and she is fast but not quite fast enough, and her mask falls to the ground behind her in two pieces still joined by the knotted cord. A thin line of blood wells up on her forehead like a red thread binding fates together.
No, no. That wasn't right, either.
"I failed," her young master told her, only the words were his father the Emperor's. She's never actually looked full-on at the face of her Emperor before but she does it now, and suddenly the man with the deep voice she remembers from her childhood isn't her master's father at all. She's an Empress and she wears the face of Mei Chen.
You are not my Emperor is what she wants to say, but she cannot say that to the Empress of Xing even if that Empress is the disrespectful Chen girl. You are a child and you do not understand cannot be said now, not when she is so much more than some distant younger sister to her master.
And then she is staring at the ceiling, and Mei Chen is again a little girl who does not govern anything, not even her own rude tongue.
This isn't right either, but she is awake this time; her master doesn't speak to her again.