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.


29. 25

The warden wasn't as large a man as he liked to think, but holding the keys to the city's biggest prison certainly made him feel large. He liked to swing his baton around, talk down to all the prisoners he managed. He usually had two guards flanking him, to hold down and subdue any prisoners he wanted to intimidate.

Such was the case on the night that Reynold had described to Mariqah in his letter.

The prisoners were rattling their chains and bars and singing choruses off-key, “Heave upon, oh, heave away. Way-hey, roll and go!” and such choruses.
And then a single voice rang out, “The anchor's on-board and the cable's all stored!”
“To be rollicking, randy-dandy-o!”
The warden tutted, standing straight with his hands behind his back as he walked towards Mariqah's cell.
“Come press the bars, bullies, heave her away!” she sang, her body rocking slightly as she did.
“Way-hey, roll and go!” the mercenaries sang.
“Soon we'll be rolling her down through the bay!”
“To be rollicking, randy-dandy-o!”
“'Evening, Mr Warden,” Mariqah said, smiling at him - while someone else picked up the song and sang on.
The warden narrowed his eyes and curled his lip in suspicion - raising his thick moustache up to an angle. He opened her cell and turned to his guards, “Subdue the man,” he commanded.
They went in, took Matthew by the arms and held him away from the bars.
Mariqah raised her brows, “Is there a problem, sir?”
The warden came forward, his heavy boots crunching on the stone floor, “It has been said that you tore out a man's throat earlier today. Is this true?”
“It's a bit of an exaggeration,” Mariqah said, shifting and sitting in a more attentive position, “I merely punctured his throat on both sides with my teeth. It didn't come out. Not while he was here, anyway.”
The warden regarded the messy patch of died gore on the floor, “You killed a man.”
“Not my first time,” Mariqah said, “Though I can't say this was my most pleasurable tryst.”
“You're a monster,” he said, smacking the baton against the palm of his hand.
“Yeah? Well, what you gonna do 'bout it?”
“Punish you,” his baton smacked her across the face, knocking her onto the floor.

Mariqah's face smarted, and she got up holding her cheek with one hand. She felt her lip give way, and dribble warm fluid. She touched the broken line, dabbing her fingers until they came away bloody.
Incredibly, she scoffed, “Really? You're gonna stand there in your cute little green coat, holding a stupid stick and try to be intimidating?” she stood up and cracked her neck from side-to-side and spat, “You're messing with the wrong monster.”
The warden tried to take a surreptitious step back, “Sit!” he ordered.
“Roll over,” Mariqah laughed, “and play dead. Maybe I'll pretend that it's real.”
The warden was about to hit her again, but Mariqah caught the baton and pulled him forward. She gave him a sharp kick to the groin and pulled out his sword. The guards tried to come at her, but Matthew grabbed there skulls and smashed them together. Mariqah watched the guards sink down to the floor and nodded to Matthew. She knelt down by the moaning warden, his hands holding his throbbing member.

She saw a set of keys on a ring hanging from his belt and cut them free. She shook the keys in front of him, “Where's Reynold?” she asked.
The warden made to slap her, but she moved out of the way in time.
“Woah, there, I wouldn't try that,” she pressed the point of his sword between his legs, “I don't want to kill you, and I'm pretty sure you don't want me to kill you either. This will work so much easier if you just tell me where Reynold is.”
The warden paused, hearing movement and loud singing all around him, “I'll never tell.”
“That's too bad,” she tossed the keys to Matthew and took the pistol from the warden's holster, “Because this is either going to be quick or slow. Your choice,” she pressed the cold barrel of the gun to his forehead.
The warden looked at her fearfully, and said, “The white man is on the east-side of the city, in General Singh's compound.”
“And where's Singh?”
“Let me live, and I'll tell you,” said the warden.
“Oh, it's too late to be bargaining, I'm afraid,” Mariqah said.
The warden looked away, “Then I will say nothing.”
“Very well,” she slammed the hilt of the sword into his head until he passed out.

She had the information she needed, he didn't need to die. Mariqah stood up and saw that several of the mercenaries had been freed. She stepped out of the cell, intending to find Matthew, but gasped and held her back. She breathed slowly, feeling her clothing become damp.
“Shit...” she murmured, steadying herself against the cells.
The mercenaries regarded her, as if considering what to do about it. Noel came forward and took her arm, putting it over his shoulder. He put his arm around her waist and supported her weight.
“Well, what're you waiting for, ma'am?” he laughed, “Make a bad joke!”
Mariqah looked at him, grateful. Then she kissed his cheek profusely - noisily - even putting in a few licks of her tongue. Startled, Noel took a few steps back, pulling his lips in - fearing that she really might go for it.
“Ooh, I think she fancies the younger Connor brother,” one of the mercenaries laughed.
Mariqah chuckled quietly, but said, “That's enough for now. We need to find weapons and uniforms. From my count, there should be about fifty guards around this prison. Find 'em, take their supplies and uniforms,” she hissed between her teeth, shutting her eyes, and Noel set her down slowly, “And, for God's sake, someone take those drugs away from Smithy!”

* * * * *

“Ma'am, come on!” Noel insisted, picking her up and supporting her again, “We're nearly there, out of this prison. Can't you see it?”
Mariqah's head lolled forward. All her senses were blunted and blurred, every step and movement a lethargic motion that made her want to be sick. Blood sluiced down her legs and she was leaving gory footprints as they went.
“Put me down, Noel,” she murmured, her breathing shallow, “Leave me here, don't let me be a hindrance to your freedom.”
“Oh, Miss Mariqah, it's just a stretch from here! The soldiers have cut a clean path!”
“I'm already dead,” she moaned.
“I'm not leaving you here, dead or alive! No bloody way!” Noel picked her up, supporting her sticky, leaking back in one arm and her knees bending over the other.
Mariqah sobbed into Noel's shoulder, the pain spiking where his arm touched her wounds. She could hear the vague cracks of gunfire and fierce shouts, and Noel's voice begging her to stay awake, stay conscious.
“Almost there,” he kept telling her, “Almost there.”

“In here! Leave her!” someone instructed.
Noel placed Mariqah on her side and she whimpered soundlessly. She was placed on something hard - maybe the ground or a box - she didn't know. Mariqah just found herself wishing she could hear Noel's voice one more time.

Had he left her...?

Mariqah escaped from the world thinking that she would never blame him for it.

* * * * *

Mariqah turned, something bright shining through her shut eyelids. She groaned, irritated, and turned her face away - trying to slip back into sweet idyllic unconsciousness: a place where she had no responsibilities and no-one to kill.
But then a foggy voice rang in her ears, addressing her, calling her name.
She tossed her head from side to side, trying to dispel the voice and make it go away. But it became clearer, more recognisable and it called Mariqah from the depths of the dark abyss of her retreat.

She squinted as the morning light flooded her vision and tried to blind her, shielding her face with her arm. Mariqah muttered curse words under her breath and felt the matter beneath her. Soft, like a mattress. As her senses sharpened, a sweet vulgar stink reached her and she turn her face up away from it.
“She's awake!” someone cried.
It had to be. She would recognise his voice if he whispered from half-way around the world. The striking sense of deja vu forced her eyes open and she looked up at him.
“Miss Mariqah,” he smiled at her, and touched her shoulder, “Near-dead and still don't look half as bad!”
Mariqah blinked to clear her vision, “Where am I?”
A nun walked out of the open doorway, carrying a bowl of water, and shut the door behind her.
“Um... In a, er, monastery.”
“Monastery...?” she asked, furrowing her brows, “We are still in Khulna, aren't we?”
“Um, no,” Noel admitted, hesitating a little, “We left Khulna a few days back. You've been out of it for quite some time.”

Mariqah pushed herself up, moving the thin sheets that covered her. She looked down, expecting to find her torso bare, but instead it was wrapped tightly in clean bandages. She gasped, the wounds in her back reminding her that she was hurt. Mariqah held her side and sat up, finding a tunic folded up on the cabinet next the bed and pulled it on quickly.
She took a few heavy breaths and rubbed her eyes, before she looked up at Noel and asked, “How many of us are left?”
Noel came and sat next to her, “Forty-three.”
“Four of ours died...?”
Noel nodded, a sombre expression melting away his joy at Mariqah's wake, “I'm afraid so, ma'am.”
“Did...?” Mariqah was afraid to ask the question, “Did they die because of me?”
Noel didn't say anything.
Mariqah nodded to herself, Noel's silence confirming her suspicions.
They should have let her die, she wanted to say. Maybe if she hadn't been spared - the blind wretch that led them into this mess - they might have been. Four for the life of one, instead of the vice versa.
She sighed deeply.

“It hurts you, don't it?” Noel asked, “When one of us dies?”
Mariqah remained pensive and silent, blinking at the dust beneath her feet - as if lost in another world, another time.
She shook her head, snapping out of it for the moment and said, “Did you find Reynold?”
“Aye,” Noel said, standing up, “I'll get him.”
Mariqah grabbed his arm. Noel stiffened and looked at her.
“Thank you, Noel,” she murmured, standing up and holding his shoulders, “for saving my life.”
Noel looked away, feeling abashed and mumbled, “It was nothing.”
Mariqah touched his face - her touch sending a pleasant spark down his spine - and kissed his cheek softly. Noel looked at her, searching her face, trying to determine her intention. He came forward and, when she didn't flinch away from him, he kissed her. Mariqah tensed at first, but took in his softness, his shyness and responded - moving her lips to his, her scar brushing against his soft skin, her hands holding his face and brushing the slight stubble.

Noel scoffed a little, and moved his face away, “I... I didn't expect that.”
Mariqah bit her lip, and smiled, “The others can't know about this, do you understand?” she put a finger to his lips, her body pressing up against his, “You can't tell anyone.”
Noel regarded her. He was hurt by the suggestion, but he understood. He was so many ranks lower than her, it made sense that she would want to keep it under wraps. And then there was Khadir. It didn't matter if he wasn't nearby, if-- no, when he found out... Noel didn't want to think about it. He could practically hear that giant's fist punching his face already.
“Noel?” Mariqah said.
“Sorry, I... erm...”
“If they find out, the mercenaries would accuse me of favouritism. They'll wonder if I raise your rank, or if I give you higher shares - even if you earn them,” Mariqah explained, sensing his discomfort, “You'll be looked on as a... playboy, a whore.”
Noel paused a moment, “So this...?” he raised a brow, “This means something? Us?”
Mariqah nodded, “I think I'm too old for the alternatives,” she smiled.
“So, we are going to eventually come out of hiding?”
“Depending on how things work out, yes, I reckon so.”
“Alright,” he said and they kissed again, growing more passionate. Mariqah pushed him back, until he hit the door and locked the small bolt with his thumb.
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