~~If Mariqah had been flustered by the heat of the beach, then she would be even more so when she entered the jungle. Vapour hung in the air like flies on a cobweb, and not a whisper of wind could move a hair out of place and give a person some relief. It was over-crowded with thick-bodied trees whose lush green leaves disguised the cerulean sky, and the sounds of life were everywhere. Mariqah remembered thinking that she wouldn't mind sloshing through cold mud - imagine how she felt sloshing through a Tortugan bog.
She tried her best not to complain about it.
Whereas Callum would have laughed and mocked her, Vasquez already didn't like her and she didn't want to upset him further. She still needed the money and so she had to do this job - and she didn't want Callum just paying her because he felt sorry. She knew he would - Callum loved Mariqah far more than she had ever loved him - and she already felt terrible about having exploited his affections in the past for her own benefit. What's more, Vasquez didn't seem... stable - emotionally or otherwise. Mariqah didn't know if it was the stress getting to him or just how he was, but Vasquez was by no means normal.
They jogged their way through the thick of the jungle, following a path that was all but unrecognisable to Mariqah. The woman might know how to find her way in the desert or a city, but here - everywhere she looked was just as chaotic as everything else. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, and tried to keep up. The company halted at a large make-shift fort, erected from splints of wood, with thatch for roofing and boards for floors - all held together with coarse rope. Mariqah couldn't say she was blown away by the architecture or by the decorum, but it was still an impressive structure considering the simplicity in resources and design. It hadn't caught her eye immediately, but she noticed that behind the fort were what looked like small mounds on the tan-coloured ground. Curious, she was about to go and see what they were when Vasquez blocked her way and folded his arms.
“You didn't come here to site-see,” he said, brusquely, “Come inside and we'll discuss the matter at hand.”
Mariqah gave him a look, “You didn't strike me as the business-type.”
“Desperate times,” he said with a shrug.
When he turned his back to her, Mariqah rolled her eyes and looked up at the partially-covered sky. It was so bright that she snapped her head away and blinked a few times to make sure she wasn't going blind. She decided not to spend anymore time outside and followed Vasquez into his little, wall-less office. He had an animal-skin for a rug that he sat on, cross-legged, and gestured for Mariqah to sit opposite to him. She sat, shrugged off her jacket and waited for Vasquez to speak.
“I don't like you,” he said, “My situation is already dire and I wouldn't have asked for help if didn't need it. This is not help: you are not help.”
Was she meant to respond to that?
“What's your point?” she asked, trying to keep a smile from curling her lips.
“I thought I'd just make it clear that this does not make us friends.”
“I can live with that. So what situation is so dire that you needed to employ my help?”
“The situation,” said Vasquez, through gritted teeth, “that is so fucking dire that Captain O'Brien needed to employ mercenaries to help is that the British have occupied a fort on the other side of Tortuga. It's been weeks now: those fucks attacked us, killed nearly half of us and they have been scouring the whole island stealing our fucking supplies and hunting us down. The jungles, though, they seem to have avoided, pieces of cowardly shit.”
“Do you have a map?”
“Of course,” Vasquez said, pulling a folded sheet from his pouch and handing it to her.
Mariqah opened up the withering sheet of paper and looked at the finely drawn lines. Some of the map was faded due to water damage or age, but most of it was readable. She spied a red X marked on one of the edges of Salt Tortuga and assumed that this was the location of the fort. She examined the location as shown by the map, and all the roads leading to it.
“Do you know how many of them there are?” Mariqah asked.
“Do I look like I waited around to count?”
Mariqah sighed, “I would appreciate an estimate.”
“About a hundred, I think.”
“The fort is probably armed to the turrets, I don't think approaching it by land would be a good idea.”
Mariqah bit her tongue for a moment, “Do you have any ships?”
“No. I'm a mother-fucking pirate without a ship.”
“Vasquez, I don't think I can work with you,” Mariqah said, putting the map down.
“Maybe don't ask so many stupid fucking questions.”
Mariqah screwed the aged paper up in her hands, “Let me remind you that you are the one that needs help here!”
“The fuck are you doing to my map!” Vasquez barked, “Do you have any fucking idea how expensive that is?”
“Expensive?” Mariqah tore it apart, “Are you sure?”
“You fucking whore!” Vasquez swore, leaping on her and pinning her to the ground.
Mariqah spat in his face and punched his stomach so that his grip loosened. Mariqah turned her hips to pin him down, but Vasquez bit her shoulder. A scream broke through her lips, as she dug her nails into his neck. Vasquez let loose a string of profane words and Mariqah head-butted him in the nose. He grunted and grabbed her shoulders to bash his head into her face. They turned over and over, out of the fort, flailing and punching and kicking and cursing until they reached those small mounds Mariqah had spotted before. She stared as she realised that they weren't mounds at all. Vasquez was about to punch her again, when she kneed him in the groin and pushed him off.
“What in hell...?” she murmured.
She wasn't certain of what she wasn't looked at. Heads. Heads in the ground. Heads of people in the ground. But not disembodied, some were alive and moaning for release.
“What's the matter, hermana?” Vasquez grunted, rubbing his sore member, “Don't like my prison?”
“This isn't a prison, it's a living graveyard,” Mariqah muttered, “Why would you do this?”
“Don't change the subject!” Vasquez said, pulling her towards him, bunching her collar in his fists, “You ruined my map!”
She spat in his eyes again and he threw her away to rub the saliva out of them.
Mariqah stumbled, but regained her composure, “Look, I don't like you, you don't like me, but whether you realise it or not - you need me,” she said, “The sooner I'm done with your Redcoat problem the sooner I can get the bollocks out of here - so can you just answer the questions I give you and try to get your thick fucking skull to co-operate?”
Vasquez growled at her, “Sí, I have a ship.”
“The fuck? Who do I look like, Blackbeard?”
Mariqah put her hands on her hips, “Oh, I am definitely going to haunt you after I hang myself for this,” she muttered.
“I have a very sturdy frigate,” Vasquez said irritably, “She's docked in Nassau because of the Redcoats, I suppose you'd want me to call her home?”
“The sooner the better. If you can get someone to load her with mortar and cannon-shot, that would be good too.”
“And what the fuck do you want with my ship?”
“We're going to blow that fort off the island.”