Female mercenary leader, Mariqah, puts faith in an organisation of rebellious world changers in an alternate history where the British colonialism still exists. These world changers seek to abolish all form of imperialism. Mariqah is in tw minds however, as she has friends in both camps. Things go horribly wrong when she sets foot into Bengal which is torn by civil war - where there seems to be deceptive conflict between factions.


20. 16

“You do realise that he's still out cold?” Reynold pointed out.

Mariqah didn't care. She scraped two knives against each other, sharpening the edges and making sparks fly.
“Yes, but when he wakes,” she said, “He'll wake to this sound, this sight. Inducing fear is a helpful talent.”
 “You are a scary person.”
 “And I'm only five and a half feet tall.”
 “Which makes it quite an achievement.”
Mariqah looked at him, “The British taught me about fear. Everything else I know, I learned in the desert.”
 “That can't possibly be true.”
 “The people who taught me already had an imposing look. They didn't need to tell people to fear them,” Mariqah explained, “But to make people fear men in tights, frilly little red coats and cute little white wigs? That,” she pointed at Reynold, “That's an achievement. And that's what I learnt from you.”
Reynold gazed at Mariqah intently for a while. They were seated in the church's storage unit - a dark, cold and musty area below the building. The was a oil lamp sitting in the corner behind the prisoner strapped to the chair, burning brightly in the dark and throwing dancing shadows across the walls, but very little could be made out in the blackness of the room. Reynold could not read Mariqah's expression as she sat there, sharpening her blades - the consistent shing, shing, shing only adding to the strange chill. Mariqah had told him that she didn't want him to be part of the interrogation, but Reynold had insisted. He had bridges to mend.

 He leaned forward in his seat, the old chair creaking as he shifted his weight, “Mariqah.”
 “Mm?” she replied.
“When...” Reynold took a breath, moistened his lips, “when you said that... 'they used it all' against you...” he paused, “He hurt you in that prison cell, didn't he?”
The scraping stopped.
“Like...” Reynold said carefully, trying to find the right combination of words, “like how men wouldn't regularly hurt other men. A punishment almost exclusive to your gender.”
Mariqah didn't say anything for a while, “I don't want to deal with it right now.”
 “And I'm not asking you to, I just... I just want to understand the full... magnitude to the, to the, um, damage-”
 “Reynold, just... just stop.”
 “Sorry, I...” he sighed, “I'm sorry. I know that that doesn't cut it - by any measure - but it wasn't my intention to-”
 “Have me raped in a prison-cell, I know.”
Reynold flinched, “Mariqah-”
 “I told you to stop it!” she snapped.
“I'm asking for your forgiveness, just let me-”
 “There isn't a point, Reynold!” Mariqah barked, “I can't forgive you for this anymore than I could forgive you for William! Maybe it wasn't entirely your fault - but you participated! Nobody held your hand, made you go through with it! So just shut up and leave it alone!”

Reynold stood up, “It makes me wonder why you haven't come after me, why I'm still standing to this very moment. You've made it perfectly clear how far I've disadvantaged you.”
 “Oh, don't you get angry about this!” Mariqah growled, “Of all the people involved in all these circumstances, you're the one who has absolutely no right to get angry.”
 “I'm not angry, I just-” Reynold caught himself shouting and lowered his tone, “I just want to understand.”
 “You want to know why I haven't killed you?”
 “Because when it comes to doing the right thing, emotions are irrelevant. I know you didn't want to do those things. I know you did them because it was ordered from above or to further a cause you believe in. Let's make something clear: it doesn't make me hate you any less, because in the reality of it - you did do those things. But at the same time you have to live with all the regret that came after. That's why I haven't killed you. Because I genuinely believe you are a man with a good heart and a sensible mind, who's made a few bad decisions and regrets them all deeply - and believe me when I say that I am not very good at believing in things!”
Reynold paused for a moment, “Really?”
Mariqah looked frustrated, “Wha- Yes, really!”
 “Well, I, um...” Reynold sat down, “Thank you, I guess.”
 “Shut up.”
He smiled as Mariqah started sharpening her blades once more.

“What I'd kill for a bit of tobacco right about now,” she muttered.
“I just wish you'd listened to me. Then perhaps all of this could have been avoided.”
 “Good. God. Still talking?”
 “Why did you join the Brotherhood, when I told you they were just a kernel of trouble?”
 “I didn't join them,” she replied tersely, “People tend to associate me with them, but I don't believe in their cause anymore than I believe in leprechauns and pixie-dust!”
 “They pay me, so I say yes.”
 “But you accommodated them! Gave them a place to flourish and fester!”
 “You have the right to believe what you believe and act on it - why shouldn't they be free to also?”
 “This is different!”
 “Because it's not what you believe in?”
 “No! Because they're destroying carefully architectured plans to make a better world!”

 “Ah... This the bit where you tell me what the 'Order' is about?”
Reynold blinked, “I'm not meant to talk about it with outsiders.”
 “You're in my interrogation room, I'm sure your club will understand.”
 “Would it help if I strapped you in a chair and shined my knives in your face instead?”
 “Then talk.”
Reynold sighed, “We want similar ends to that of the Brotherhood, I'll admit. But the means are different. We don't want to abolish the Empire entirely - that's too large a goal to achieve - we want to... structure it.”
Mariqah raised a brow and scoffed, “What?”
 “Instead of just killing evil men, we try to replace them with better alternatives. The rule applies internally as well - it doesn't matter if you're a member of the Order, if you rise up in the world and become even the slightest bit tyrannical: we come in to depose you.”
 “So...” Mariqah looked up, considering the idea, “that would mean Brammer, right?”
Reynold raised a brow, “What's this? Are you warming to our beliefs?”
She snorted, “Not in the slightest,” Mariqah laughed.
 “I think you're all men chasing neon butterflies in an intoxicated reality influenced by over-consumption of alcohol and opium,” Mariqah giggled, “But I think killing Brammer would close a few contracts, pick my bone with him and serve, well, your interests - now that he wants you dead for no more than your rank.”
Reynold considered it, “Perhaps.”
 “Then I think I'll be working a contract for the Order,” Mariqah said, “on the house.”
 “After everything that's happened, you still want to work with me?”
 “Well, you know what they say - if you can't kill them, create circumstances in which they will most likely die.”
 “No-one says that.”
Mariqah laughed, “Don't worry. It will catch on.”

The prisoner's eyes fluttered.
“This is how this is how this works,” Mariqah whispered to Reynold, sharpening her knives, “I'm going to interrogate him in a manner that will probably make you sick. If you don't approve, you're welcome to leave.”
Reynold paused, “Brutality is unbecoming of you,” he said.
“Well, if you think that, maybe you should leave. Two-hundred of my men are dead - and I intend to collect the skins of the men who are responsible so I can sew them together, dry them to leather and then write a elegy upon it.”
 “Wha-What is this place?” the prisoner asked, then he stared at Mariqah and whimpered.
“Good, you're up,” she said happily, standing up and getting behind him.
 The prisoner shivered, visibly quaking at the ambience, and looked to Reynold for salvation, “You aren't going to let her hurt me, are you? I mean, I know I tried to kill you and all, but it was just a job-”
 “I actually have no say in the matter,” Reynold said simply, “but this will be much easier for you if you cooperate.”
 “What do you... What do you want from me?”
 “Names,” Mariqah said, grasping his shoulder, making the man flinch, “People, places.”
 “I don't-”
 “Who are the men responsible for my capture and the death of my soldiers? And where will I find them?”
The prisoner shivered, his breathing erratic, “Brammer. Singh. Choudary.”
 “And where are they now?”
 “I... I don't- Argh!”
Mariqah stuck a blade in the corner of his mouth and widened his smile, “Don't waste my time.”
 “I dunno!” his cry was muffled, saliva and blood dribbling down his chin.
 Mariqah drew her face closer to his, “Take a good guess,” she took the knife from his mouth, “Where will Brammer be?”
The prisoner spat on the floor, “On the frontier!” he said sloppily.
“Which city?”

 “Mariqah, that's quite enough,” Reynold said, “He's a rebel soldier, not a Redcoat. He won't know.”
Mariqah stood and turned to Reynold slowly, “You wanna give me some answers then?”
 “Dhanbad. That's General Brammer's regular post.”
Mariqah paused, “Fair enough,” she turned back to the prisoner, “One last thing - where are the rest of my men holed-up?”
The prisoner didn't waste time on hesitating, “Three different prisons,” he babbled, “One in Dhanbad, another in Khulna and the last one is in Chittagong!”
Mariqah smiled, “Quite the fount of information, aren't you?” she scoffed, sticking one of her knives in the chair and patting his head, “Why can't all prisoners be like you?”

She turned away from him went up the stairs to the mercenaries in the study, Reynold following her as she went. The mercenaries were chatting idly.
“John, I'm done entertaining our guest, bring him back up here and fix him up,” she said.
“Still alive?” Barrett asked.
“Yes, and keep him that way until I get back.”
 “You taking a trip?”
 “Yes, and I think it best you stay here. I have a score to settle, and the fewer of us there are to join in, the better.”
 “But, madam-”
 “You've all done enough already,” Mariqah said, firmly, “I appreciate your... support, but I'm telling you it's not a good idea. Stay here, rest up, get well - and when I get back, we'll talk teamwork, okay?”
Barrett paused but then inclined his head slowly and walked out of the study with the others to retrieve the prisoner.

 Mariqah then turned to Reynold, “Well, we'd best be off.”
 “Excellent. Where to?”

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