I still didn't know how I felt about everything Vasquez had told me, or the fact that Mum was warning me against him.
Call me childish, but that gave me reason to be suspicious.
Mum didn't hide things. Even some of the things I wish she did hide. Period.
That wasn't intended.
So why had we never heard about Vasquez? Or a "rain-dancing", "world-peace", "fairy-dust" group?
Oh my God.
Was Mum a hippy?!
Wait... That's a dumb question.
It still didn't make sense though - why hadn't she told us any of this? Was it all an illusion?
Had she been so open and free-thinking because she had things to hide and instead made us believe that she didn't?
Dun. Dun. DUN.*
When I think about it... I don't know my mother very well. I know what she's like, how she treats different matters, her involvement in family and that she was a mercenary or still is a mercenary in some way, but... That's it. I don't know about my grandparents, what they were like (although, I've heard they're both dead). I don't know how my mother became a mercenary... Yeah, how did that happen? I've heard the story of how Mum met Dad, and some references to Khadir, but... She's never told stories of any of the epic battles she's personally led or the people she met or the people she killed. When she told stories, they were old ones - about our family, our ancestors, and the morals of their lives.
And, by the way, that's very unlike her. My mother almost constantly puts herself on a pedestal - granted, its one she deserves to be on - but STILL!
Is it all a façade? I suddenly feel like I don't know her at all. Like she's been pretending to be someone she isn't for our benefit.
Am I supposed to feel relieved or offended by that?
So, anyway, some crazy things happened over the last few days. Vasquez had us track the location of Cortés's camp. It was surrounded by thick jungle and we had to slosh through a bog. The muck was knee-deep and I could feel it soaking through my clothes and my fur. It was nasty to say the least, but I knew better than to complain. I might not be in the greatest mood about her, but I wasn't about to turn down free advice from Mum - Vasquez was insane. If I complained, I ran the risk of falling victim to his unnatural insanity. Bex wasn't complaining either, though I did hear her mutter under her breath a few times as she slashed at loose vines and low branches with a machete, and flicked away spiders and mosquitoes with the back of her hand.
Vasquez was at the head of the small contingency - and I not too far behind. I saw him crouch low in the brush and he raised a hand, gesturing for us to remain silent and still. We could hear voices, idle conversation in Spanish.
I didn't understand any of it, but as soon as the conversation became stale and quiet, Vasquez said to me, “The camp is nearby, Cortés is close at hand. Be ready.”
I was about to ask him what I was meant to be ready for, when-
“Go get him!” Vasquez leapt out of the brush and charge at the Spanish encampment, his pirates following in suit.
Bex gave me a look - something between amusement and derision - and I just shrugged and drew my sword, joining the rally of screaming men.
There was blood everywhere.
I hacked at an assailant that was coming at me and used him as a shield when one of the Spanish soldiers aimed a bayonet in my direction. The body jerked when the bullet entered his stomach and I threw him aside. The guard with the gun was reloading, so I ran at him. He used the blade atop his rifle to throw off my swing, but I kicked him in the stomach and delivered a quick slice to the throat. I picked up the bayonet. One more weapon could never be a bad thing.
I could hear Bex punctuate her sword swings with harsh cries as she fought over to my right. She was much faster than me, so I could see a growing pile of corpses lying around her - her face and hair matted with gore. I could only imagine what I would look like. There was a man approaching her from behind, so I hefted the rifle to my right shoulder and fired at him. Bex killed the man in front of her, and spun around when she heard the gunshot. She looked at the dead man who would have seriously injured her. Then she gave me an irritated look.
“Aldrin, stop stealing kills!” she yelled at me.
“You're welcome!” I laughed back.
“I found him, bambino!” Vasquez called.
I turned and saw him usher a large man out of a tent. Cortés. I'm sure he would have looked more grand standing up, but he was large - maybe as large as Dad - and had short brown hair that went up to his ears and was cut in a straight line (like his barber had used a bowl for accuracy or something) and he sported a goatee on his chin.
Cortés was scowling at Vasquez.
Vasquez smirked down at him, “Surprised to see me, capitán?”
Cortés cursed him in Spanish (I'm assuming) and spat at Vasquez.
Vasquez pulled out his pistol and held it to Cortés's head. He thumbed down the hammer.
“Woah, Vasquez, hold it!” I said, coming forward, “We had a deal. Cortés is ours.”
Vasquez gave me a look. It lingered for almost a full minute - as if he was trying to tell if I was being serious or not - before he laughed, “Oh, hermano, so much like your mother.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“You think you can just demand for what you want from me? Hmm?” Vasquez pointed his gun at me, “I said I would give you Cortés, but I didn't say anything about giving him to you alive,” Vasquez grabbed Cortés's hair in a bunch and shook him, “This fuck has been destroying my stores, using my supplies and you expect me just let him run away like the little chicken-shit he is? You really think I'm going to let you take famous Spanish Conquistador Miguel Cortés's death away from me?” Vasquez looked back at me, a menacing smile on his face, “You've got another thing coming, amigo.”
“So, what, you're going to kill us now?” I asked.
“I was thinking something along the lines of holding you until your whore of a mother comes along to save you. If she'll save you at all. There's a lot of fucking money and other things I can get out of her, I should think. It's just too bad she's a married woman - your father probably won't be too happy about your... ransom.”
“My mother is old, Vasquez.”
“You really do take me for a fucking idiot, don't you, amigo? You don't think I know? You don't think I've heard? Your father used that map he took from me and found the Fountain of fucking Youth! Why do you think Cortés came all the way out here? For the fucking sunshine?” Vasquez sneered at Cortés, “He was looking for a guide so he wouldn't go back Isabella in shambles with nothing more than fucking excuses,” Vasquez looked back to me. It only then occurred to me that Vasquez looked a lot younger than he ought to. If Mum was twenty-five-ish when they met... Vasquez would be at least in his seventies now - but that all depended on how long he'd been using the Fountain, “And if your mama is back to twenty years in age, then - fuck - I want her.”
I stared at him. There were Vasquez's pirates all around us and I was out of ideas as to what to do. Whatever I came up with, it had to be planned, strategic, organised so as to-
The sound of a musket cracked through the air and I heard birds leave their nests in fright. I saw a small hole open up in Vasquez's forehead and dribble blood, before he flopped onto the ground.
I looked over at Bex, who was holding a smoking pistol.
“Are you insane?” I had to cry.
“Run, you idiot!” she said, racing ahead of me and grabbing Cortés by the scruff of his neck. I followed quickly after her, hearing the shrieking ululation of Vasquez's pirates as they gave chase, gunshots ripping the air and bullets zipping passed us.
“I cannot believe you just... Urgh! Bex, do you think about anything?” I growled at her.
“Shut up, bambino! I got us out of that mess! You were about to become a sex slave!” she twisted around to fire what was left in her gun. Cortés bumbled beside us, his footfall wide and heavy.
“Oh, like you didn't fall into that category as well!” I retorted.
“Are you kidding? Nobody takes me seriously around here! You are one lucky cookie that it worked in your favour this time around!”
“What's your plan now then?”
“You're the one that plans things! I improvise!”
“Fine,” I paused, focusing on running, “We'll lead them as far from the fort as possible. Then we'll double-back, find Patrick and get the hell out of here!”
* Marijuana is a very common drug in the Americas and the West Indies. It's possible that, in the company of pirates, Aldrin may have been a little high...