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.


27. 23

Mariqah woke in a dark place, her head swimming with the dark, dim world around her. She groaned, her blood pounding in her ears and a sick feeling building in her stomach. She heaved a few times, but nothing but saliva and mucus came. She spat on the floor and looked around. A dark expanse all around her. She could see the corners of the room, the edges of a door - specks of dust dancing across the meagre source of light - but nothing else. She was seated on a hard wooden chair, and her hands were bound behind her, her ankles to the chair-legs. Mariqah blinked a few times, to see if her eyes would adjust, but darkness reigned and the silence maintained. She panted, taking deep breaths and trying her level-best to keep calm. 
There was nothing around, so there was nothing to fear. 
Simple logic.
But fear isn't a logical emotion.
Mariqah couldn't get the image of Brammer out of her head, the image of what he did to her. The current setting was perfect for such an attempt.
Mariqah heard a the footsteps of maybe three or four men edging closer and closer to the room. Her heart froze in her chest, fear chilling over all her functioning organs. Mariqah set her teeth together, digging them into her gums with the tension. 
If she said nothing, made no sound - maybe they would go away.
She heard the knob turn and click, and light poured into the darkness - black silhouettes standing in the doorway. One man lit a lamp and Mariqah saw their faces. 
Singh, two guards and Reynold.
She was so relieved, she almost exclaimed his name. It took all her willpower to stop smiling like a lunatic.

Their footsteps echoed as they made their way to her. Mariqah watched their approach, her more rational emotions setting in - disdain etched her face, curled her lips and narrowed her eyes.
“Ah, you're up,” Singh said, a crooked smile spreading across his face.
He paused, as if waiting for Mariqah to say something, but when she did nothing but glare at him, he continued, “Mr Evans here tells me that you intend to kill me. Can't say I'm surprised.”
Mariqah looked over at Reynold, vaguely wondering whether he was still on her side, but then said, “Bit ironic - a rebel taking British claims.”
Singh laughed, “Oh, that's rich, that is,” he looked at Reynold and back to Mariqah, “A mercenary - who fights for no-one and nothing - teaching me about right and wrong,” he threw a punch into her stomach, “So rich.”
Mariqah shouted in pain and threw up violently in front of her. She spat the bile from her mouth when she was done, and tried to soothe her stinging throat by clearing it a few times.
“That was not pretty,” Singh said, frowning at his sick-covered uniform.
“I wasn't born to be pretty,” Mariqah said, a little lethargically.
“I'm sure this can be dealt with,” Reynold said, stripping off his new green coat that was covered in vomit and tossing it aside, “The crowd's waiting,” he drew a knife and bent down to sever the ropes that tied Mariqah's ankles.
He hauled her up and led her out of the room, to a bare corridor. Mariqah could hear the cheering and shouting of many people. She looked a few times at Reynold, but his expression was set and he said nothing as they walked.
Guards opened a set of double doors and Mariqah squinted at the sunlight, flooding her vision and threatening to blind her. They were standing on a raised platform. She looked at the hundreds of faces gathered beneath her,  shaking their fists and screaming at her, throwing rotten vegetables in her direction. 
And directly in front of her stood a single pillar.
“I get it now,” Mariqah said to Reynold, “Your loyalties have never changed. Nice.”
He didn't look at her and he didn't say anything. Reynold just led her to the pillar, her back facing the audience. He cut the rope around her wrists and chained her to the pillar, tearing open the back of her shirt and corselet.

Mariqah slid down to her knees and hugged the pillar, knowing exactly what was to come.

Reynold walked away, and she saw Singh walk towards her and then face the audience. She couldn't see his theatricalities, but she could hear a vivid swishing.
“Citizens of Khulna!” he cried, “Behold, the one woman who would sell you to the British for a few more coins!” insistent booing followed, “Indeed! She needs no introduction! This snake would deliver us into the hands of the enemy and what more can we do but protect our own? She offers no remorse, and only rebuke! I have heard it said that she emerged from these very soils - a Bengali by blood but a savage animal by nature! She must be punished!”
“You liar!” Mariqah barked, “Javed Singh is consorting with the British to draw the rebellion out longer than it needs to be! He serves them, not y-” Mariqah screamed as a seering pain struck her exposed back - digging into her flesh, splitting it open and drawing blood.
“You see?” Singh said, encouraging more booing and applauding, “Even now, she mocks you with corruption!”
Mariqah gritted her teeth. 
They wanted a show? They would get a show.
The whip cracked against her back and she allowed the pain to consume her - she screamed at the top of lungs, never pleading but sparing no-one from her agony. She cried and sobbed to the heavens and roared in blinding anguish until the audience could no longer watch and approve - such that eventually the only sounds that remained was the crack of Javed Singh's whip, the splatter of flesh and blood being torn apart, and Mariqah's tortured screams...

* * * * *

Gravity is a bitch. 

The one time a person might hope they'd never hit earth, it hits them even harder when they smack against it.
These were Mariqah's sentiments exactly when she was tossed into a prison cell, her mangled back scalding every nerve-end in her body. She lay there on her front, dishevelled and uncaring, with her eyes shut and her lungs consuming more air that they usually would. She didn't care that she was naked from the navel up or that she was probably sharing a prison or that - for the second time - her prized sword had been taken from her.
The only things she could hear was the blood pounding in her temples and her breath leaving her; the only things she could feel was her inflamed vertebrae and the cold stone against her bare torso; she could smell nothing of note, she could taste nothing for the soreness of her throat and she refused to see more than the insides of her eyelids.
Some of her hoped she would just pass out.
Most of her decided to open her eyes and deny some hopeful fantasy that she could actually rest for a minute.
Her vision took a moment to adjust, the sounds echoing and mingling as they came, the pain dulling everything.

“Miss Mariqah...?” she heard.

Mariqah blinked, tears leaking from her eyes, and looked up at the distorted figure of a man. The image cleared and sharpened, but his voice made her feel sick. Too loud. Too, too loud. He reached for her, and she remembered putting out her hand for him, but then her brain had mercy and shut down...

...Mariqah woke groggily, frowning at the taste in her mouth. She blinked and tears streamed down her face. She gasped, the pain beginning to register once more. 
“Don't move,” said a voice.
Mariqah turned her head slowly to see its owner.
“Khadir...?” she murmured hopefully.
The man scoffed, and he shook his head, “No, ma'am,” he came closer and took off his filthy shirt. Mariqah flinched, but he only used it to cover her, “I'm Matthew Connor.”
Mariqah noted his light brown hair, the scraggly dark stubble on his jowls and chin, his bright green eyes. 
“Oh,” she said, taking a moment to fully recognise him, “You're Noel's brother- sorry, step-brother. I know you,” Mariqah stopped, internally reprimanding herself. She sounded like she was drunk. 
Then she groaned a little. Matthew had propped her on her side against the bars of the cell. She began to recognise the faces of other mercenaries in neighbouring cells, who were all looking at her. 
Wonderful. Everyone for a few cells down had seen her topless. 
Matthew raised a brow, surprised that she had remembered this detail about him. But then, his brother was a big trouble-maker, so the association was probably easier to make than most, “Don't move, alright? I'm not an expert, but I'm trying to do what I can about these... marks.”
“Sounding real professional over there,” someone jeered.
“She must trust you with her life!” called another.
Matthew didn't respond, but went behind Mariqah to examine the wounds. Something nudged against her thigh, and Mariqah looked down. A small skin for drinking was sitting between the bars. She took it up, the strong smell of alcohol finding its way beyond the cap.
A slight chuckle, “I heard my name.” 
Noel. Noel for sure, Mariqah would recognise his voice if he whispered from half-way around the world. 
“Noel,” she muttered.
“Pass it to Matthew, he's going to need it.”
Mariqah shook her head with great effort, hissing and wincing away when Matthew prodded her.
There was a pause.
“You haven't the slightest idea what you're doing, do you?” Noel said to his brother.
Matthew tied the sleeves of his shirt around Mariqah's neck, so that it hung off her torso like an apron, “You're going to have to hold her,” he said, taking the water-skin from Mariqah before she could protest.
“You want me to hold her? What, against the bars?”
“Well, we don't exactly have many options, now do we?”
“Why can't Smithy hold her?”

Mariqah turned around, grunting with the effort, put her arms through the gaps between the bars and hugged them.
“Back up, Noel,” she said, “I bite,” she turned her head a little to address Matthew, “Make it quick?”
Mariqah turned her head and set her teeth upon one of the bars. Matthew took the water-skin and poured it out on Mariqah's back.
She screamed, biting down on the bar and clawing at her arms - the white-hot burning running through every fibre in her body.
“I'll need to sew you up,” Matthew said, “so stay still. Noel, entertain her.”
“What?” Noel said, “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“I don't know! Something! Anything!”
Mariqah swallowed, resting her head against the cage, the cold metal soothing a section of her head as she felt a needle stitch her back together. She didn't ask where the tools had come from, she just tried to relax.
“Oi,” Noel said gently, “Here,” he put something in her mouth and she took it tentatively with her tongue. A dried date. She chewed the fruit, trying to use it to distract her from what Matthew was doing.
“Thank you,” she murmured, spitting out the seed.
“What are you doing here anyway?” Noel asked, leaning against his cell, “The last we heard of you, you escaped in Calcutta. They told us you left.”
Mariqah didn't answer for a moment.
“Yes. What are you doing in Khulna?” Matthew asked.
Mariqah maintained her silence.
Noel laughed, “See? What'd I tell you all, eh?” he said, “She came for us!”
“Load a tripe, son!” someone else called, “They caught her somewhere and brought her here!”
“You daft, mate? You've any idea how far Calcutta is from here?” Noel yelled back.
The prison broke out into dispute and debate. The noise wasn't helping Mariqah, and she groaned in discomfort.
“Oi, quit your bickering, you lot! Whatever the reason, she's hurt! Shut up!”
“Near two-hundred of us are dead, Connor!” a man yelled.
“Just can it,” Matthew insisted, “You can interrogate her later, but killing her won't help anything.”
Mumbling. Muttering. Agreement in silence.

“There, done,” Matthew said, moving away. Mariqah was about to take off the shirt and wear it properly, when Matthew stopped her.
She gave him a look.
“You should let it heal now, covering it with that filthy shit is going to just work it up and we don't want to pour alcohol on you again,” he explained.
“But...” Mariqah began, but then sighed. She tore the front of the short down the middle and tied the pieces loosely behind her to make the garment slightly more stable, “Damn, I hate being a woman,” she hissed between her teeth as she moved around.
“Come, lean on me,” Matthew offered.
Mariqah found it within her to laugh, “I am sure thousands of girls would want that - you not wearing a shirt and all - but I feel that might make our relationship unhealthy.”
Noel gave her a sickened look from his cell, “You got the eye for my brother?” he said, clearly disgusted.
Mariqah laughed, crossing her legs and putting her head in one hand, “I'm fine,” she assured, “Actually, I haven't felt this at home in a while. It just-” she heard goofy laughter and looked up. She looked away immediately from the unmentionable scene, “I only saw that for a second, and now it's going to stay with me for the rest if my life.”
The prison chamber roared with laughter.
“Why didn't you tell me!” she said to Matthew, “I did not want to see that.”
“Ah, Smithy's been at it for ages,” Noel explained, “He filched some laudanum off a guard and he's been taking the stuff at every moment he can. And now he don't give a shit about nothing.”
“He's stark naked and he just imitated a disturbing windmill,” Mariqah said.
Noel laughed, “The look on your face was priceless.”
Matthew got up and went to Smithy, “Oi, let's have some of that,” he said.
Smithy kicked a small green vial in his direction and Matthew snatched it up.
“Here,” he said, handing the vial to Mariqah.
Mariqah looked at him suspiciously, “You want me to join in?”
Matthew scoffed, “It will help with the pain, ma'am, and make you feel a little better,” Matthew said, and then added, “I will make sure you don't imitate nothing. Really.”
“See? You are no fun,” Noel snorted.
Matthew rolled his eyes, “Ma'am?”
Mariqah looked from the vial to Matthew, “You promise?”
“Look, I don't know about you or them, but...” Matthew began, “I didn't think you would come to save us. At least, not without going back to Masyaf first. Yet... here you are, your flesh all inside-out and your face all fucked-up.”
Mariqah paused, trying to understand and not to look too offended, “You... feel bad because you had no faith in me?”
“Well... yes.”
“If that's all this is about, Matthew, you don't need to worry about it,” Mariqah said, dismissively, “I wouldn't have faith in me either,” she straightened a little and grasped her back, feeling the sticky mangled grooves beneath her fingertips, “I don't think I want the pain dulled. Might help with something,” she passed the vial back to him, “Maybe when we get home, aye?”
Matthew held the drug in his fist, and sat down, “At least get some sleep.” 
“Are you offering yourself as mattress again?”
All the other mercenaries teased him.
Mariqah laughed, leaning her shoulder against the solid wall behind her, “I'll manage... Just wake me up if someone comes around with food?”
Matthew smiled, “Of course, ma'am.”

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