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.


28. 24

Mariqah was alright after a few days. Not fully healed, still very sore - in both body and pride - but alright. She was offered a new shirt from Noel and she took it to cover herself up. Mariqah even found it necessary to huddle up next to Matthew when a chill set into the prison at nighttime. She'd robbed him of what clothes he had, so she owed him some warmth at least.
 Prison was merrier than she imagined it would be: with men chattering frequently after certain times and eating like they were having luxury foods over soupy mush. They got roughed-up sometimes by irritated guards, but most of the mercenaries had a system of nicking finer products that guards tended to carry around - tobacco, opium, wineskins and such - and often loot was passed out to whoever called possession first.

“Miss Mariqah?” Matthew called.
 Mariqah broke out of her day-dream and looked at him, “Hmm?”
He came and sat next to her, “Are you alright?”
 “I've been better, but...” she smiled to herself, “yes, I'd say I was alright.”
 “Got a plan we might get a taste of?” Noel asked from his cell.
“Honestly? No.”
 “You think Khadir's coming for you?”
 “I'd put my money on it,” Matthew commented.
“I don't know...” Mariqah replied, “Khadir isn't very decisive. He's big and scary and strong - but he's not very good at making up his mind. We're stuck here for now, I think.”
 “We can't be,” Noel said, “You came for us, right? You must have had some kind of plan.”
Mariqah gave him a look. It was a look of mixed thought and emotion, such that Noel could not discern. Mariqah knew what it was. She didn't remember such feelings being so strong and combined since she had left home all those years ago - anger, despair, but mostly envy. Noel was younger than most mercenaries, perhaps in his late-twenties/early-thirties, and so retained a measure of hope - a larger measure than the other mercenaries anyway.
“Assume that I didn't come for you,” Mariqah said, the words leaving her sharp and jagged.
 Noel blinked, his frown deep when he couldn't understand Mariqah's anger, “But why did you come then?”
Mariqah didn't answer the question, “Always assume the worst,” she said, feeling a terribly cold sensation as she did, “You can never be disappointed when you never expect good things to happen.”
 “Miss Mariqah-” Noel began.
 But Matthew stopped him, “Just...”

Mariqah turned away from them.
 She hated that.
 People depending on her to do things for them, to take responsibility simply because she was there. Isn't that why she left home? Why she left her father and brothers and sisters behind - because she was sick of being their caretaker and never receiving an ounce of appreciation in return?
 She began to wonder - had she salvaged her life from escaping her home, or had she doomed it to this one?
 Again she was responsible, everyone depending on her - only, now she had no-one to blame, she had no claim to unfairness. This wasn't caused by the untimely demise of a parent - this was the cause of her own choices.
 She turned back to Noel, apologetic, “I'll think of something,” she said, “Just... Just don't keep your hopes high.”
 “What's wrong?” Noel pressed.
 Mariqah sighed deeply, “Two-hundred of your brothers are dead - two-hundred of my brothers are dead,” her gaze fell on young Noel's face, “and there's nothing I can do about that.”
Suddenly, Mariqah could feel all eyes on her and all ears trained to catch her words. She should have felt nervousness - but her hesitation was trumped by her grief.
 Her chilling sorrow slew the butterflies in her stomach.
“They trusted me, you all trusted me - and now they're dead and you suffer,” Mariqah said, the healing scars on her back aching as she felt for them with one hand, “You should have let me die.”
 “You've done no small amount of suffering yourself, ma'am,” Noel said in a small voice.
“I am one person!” Mariqah snapped, “There were four-hundred of you! My solitary suffering pays nothing to each of yours!”
She explained what had happened in Dhanbad, how she witnessed the torment some of her men had to go through - mutilations and blindings - how her intentions had been strong in the beginning, but them how they diminished and she had been prepared to give up when she set foot in Khulna.
“I didn't come to save you,” she confessed, her voice a mere whisper now, “I came to escape from them, and then escape from myself. Do with that information what you will.”


“None of you owe me a thing, yet you would lay down your lives for me. Roll over and die, just because I command it,” Mariqah said, “Everything I have, everything I have ever had; everything I was, everything I am and everything I will ever be - I owe it all to you. And all the gold and silver in the world, all that glisters in the dimmest light, cannot pay for any of it. So when you ask me about how I'm going to save you, don't expect anything from me.”
Silent murmuring began, the mercenaries looking from one to the other, unsure of how to process Mariqah's story or, indeed, how to respond.
 Mariqah blocked most of it out - words of comfort and rebuke alike - shutting her eyes and just sitting there with her head down.
 It wasn't until she heard a constant ping, ping, ping - that she snapped to her senses. A baton running against metal bars. Mariqah heard the sound come closer, until two men came into her line of vision.


Reynold and two guards.


 Mariqah scowled when they stopped by her cell.
“This one?” one of the guards asked, swinging the baton in her direction.
 Reynold stood with his hands behind his back and nodded once, “You're free to leave,” he told the guards.
 The first one looked in Mariqah's direction, and said, “Just allow me a moment first,” he opened the lock and went in, his companion chuckling.
 Matthew got up to stop him, but the guard smacked the baton against Matthew's temple and knocked him out. Mariqah looked at Reynold. He showed no signs to stop the guard. The man stood over her.
 God, she was getting tired of this.
 He picked her up, pressing her against the wall, digging his knees into her thighs and holding down her arms. Mariqah gasped in pain when he raked his nails over her shoulders.
 Noel stood up, shouting and banging his fists against the bars of his cell to try something - anything - to get the man to stop. Others joined in, until Mariqah could hear nothing but the barking of mercenaries. She looked the guard in the eye, as he pressed her down with one forearm and-- she tried to ignore the rest.
“Enjoying this, are you?” he asked, a toothy grin splitting his face.
 Mariqah blinked once, then crashed her skull into his face. He threw back his head, howling like a wounded animal, and Mariqah took the opportunity to sink her teeth into his throat. The man thrashed in agony, pounding her blindly with his fists, but Mariqah held on - her hands grasping the nape of his neck, her teeth sinking deeper and deeper, and sawing so as to tear the skin and flesh, her mouth filling with vital blood.
 The second guard rushed in, but was caught by Noel, who grabbed him by his hair and bashed his skull into the bars. Reynold just watched.
 The first guard's physical protests became weaker and Mariqah let him drop and watched the red river of life spill out on the floor. She spat the blood for her mouth on his face. The second guard rose, escaping Noel's grip, and charged at her - Mariqah grabbed the bucket filled with putrefaction and smacked him down with it, human waste spilling everywhere.


“I'm getting sick of them doing that,” she said to Reynold, then looked down at the cowering guard and pointed to the corpse, “Take him and get out of here. I don't want to look at you.”
The guard shivered in revulsion and fear, but he dragged the body out of the cell and locked it back up. Mariqah returned her attention to Reynold, who stood there unsurprised at everything he had seen.
 Mariqah walked up to the bars, “I don't want to look at you either,” she looked at the sword in his belt. She narrowed her eyes, “My sword...”
Reynold said nothing, he just took a step back as if anticipating that Mariqah would claw at him. And she did, but in vain.
 Reynold let her finish and then said, “I came to give you this,” he pulled out an envelope from the inside of his coat and held it out for her.
“From who?” Mariqah said, eyeing the item with suspicion.
“An old friend of yours, I think.”
Mariqah looked at him with distaste and then snatched the letter from his hand.
 He began walking away, ignoring the dead man's body that the second guard dragged behind him leaving a bloody streak in his wake, when Mariqah called out to Reynold, “I always knew you disapproved of my choices, Reynold, but I never thought you'd betray me like this.”
 “My loyalties have never changed,” he said simply.
“What did you do with my men?”
Reynold turned to look at her, “As you asked.”
Mariqah stared at him for a while, hope blossoming in her chest, “If you're lying to me-”
 “I'm not,” he cut in and walked away.


 Mariqah stepped away from the bars, not knowing what to think, the envelope between her hands. Noel followed her with his mortified gaze as she went up to Matthew and looked at the swollen bump on the side of his head. She raised him, slightly, and had his head rest on her lap. Mariqah took the envelope in both hands, sighed, and opened it up.

 I know what you must think of me, but you must heed this. The warden will come to you at midnight tonight, and he bears ill desires concerning you. Be prepared. You'll know where to find me,

 Mariqah looked up, holding the page and shaking it in her hand.
“Noel,” she said.
“Ma'am?” he said, his voice shaking, still in shock from what he had witnessed.
 She smiled at him, the blood on her face making her look demonic and evil, “We have our escape plan.”


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