The prisoner’s hold is barely a dungeon. It is barely even a cell. Emerala stands on the precipice of a hole, dark and deep, and watches as a Listener works to pry open the narrow iron bars that press into the rock surface. Her eyes sting against the sulfuric reek of the stone. Her wrists ache in the small of her back and she feels her muscles give an involuntary twitch. The Listener holding her arms in place tightens his grip.
Far overhead, a slanted sliver of white light drapes through a crack in the vaulted ceiling. She can hear the distant roar of the ocean beyond. Its constant, thundering echo catches in the pitted hollows of the stone. It sounds, to her, like a siren call, beckoning her home.
She shivers slightly, conscious of the hoary glow draping across her skin as she is shoved closer towards the trapdoor in the ground. From the darkness comes a long, low whistle.
The Listener at the door pauses momentarily in his effort to fish out the correct key on his cluttered brass ring. Glaring down into the darkness, he gestures for the Listener behind him to approach with a lantern. Strands of his dark brown hair, pulled back from his face in a loose ponytail, fall from its ribbon and stick to the sheen of sweat on his face. His fingers twitch upon the keys as the orange light dances across the trapdoor.
“Move away from the opening, pirate,” the Listener with the lantern orders.
There is a long moment of silence before a placid voice drifts back up at them; “Have you brought entertainment? That’s very accommodating of you.”
Emerala bristles as she recognizes Evander the Hawk. She leans over her shoulder towards her captor.
“Excuse me,” she says, quite seriously. The Listener, a young man with a golden hoop dangling from one earlobe, looks at her in surprise, blinking rapidly in the thin filament of moonlight. “Is there another hole I can be put into?”
He ignores her. His lips press together tightly as he reinforces his grip upon her wrists.
At the other side of the trapdoor, the Listener with the lantern is still addressing Evander through the bars. “Get back from the opening, I say,” he snaps. There is a metallic chitter as the key shivers into place in the lock. It is followed by the tinny click of a latch sliding out of the strike plate. The iron grate is pried open with a rusting squeal. The Listener gestures for Emerala to be brought forward. Her captor hurries her close to the opening, his movements caught somewhere between a drag and a shove.
“Down the stairs with you,” he says.
She nearly trips over the hem of her trailing gown as she is propelled forward through the darkness. Her foot finds the first, unsteady step of a narrow, rotting staircase. Giving one last hostile glance over her shoulder, she gathers the olive cotton of her gown in her fists and descends the slanted steps.
The final stair splinters beneath her weight and she teeters precariously upon the rotting wood before landing with a squelch on the moist stone floor. Before her, his heavily tattooed arms crossed over his chest, stands Evander the Hawk. Donned only in his boots and breeches, the curvature of his shoulders seems to reflect the moonlight. He stares at her, grinning, his golden tooth caught in the light of a paltry lantern. The fading bruises are black beneath his swollen eyes. She glares back at him and says nothing. Overhead, the rusted bars give a shrill cry of complaint as they are eased back into place. The key slides out of the lock.
“Enjoy your new quarters, murderer,” calls out a Listener.
The swift rustling of garments punctuates his words as the Listeners depart from the prisoner’s hold. Emerala stares through the black, iron bars and feels the light pulling away from her face. A sense of trepidation flutters deep within her gut.
“Murderer?” Evander echoes the Listener, inching closer to her in the gloom. He lifts the tiny lantern from where it rests atop a broken stalagmite and holds the light directly before her face. She blinks in the glare, pushing his hand out of the way.
“I’m not a murderer,” she snaps. “They’re just confused.”
“But someone’s been killed?” The enthusiastic glimmer in Evander’s eyes is unsettling.
Emerala flashes him a grimace before replying, “Evidently.” She moves away from him, feeling discomfited by his proximity to her in the shadows. The hollow, dank and dark, is empty of furnishings. She scuffs her bare heel against the rough stone and stifles a groan.
Behind her, Evander laughs. She glares over her shoulder at him, her brows furrowing low over her eyes. He leans lazily against a thick, dripping stalagmite, his left leg crossed loosely over his right.
“I’m thrilled to know that my predicament is so amusing to you,” Emerala remarks wryly.
“Aye, well, if you didn’t kill anyone, why are you here?” His golden eyes glimmer with curiosity. His palms turn upright and sweep across the dark expanse.
“I was framed,” she replies, her gaze darkening further.
“Ah,” breathes Evander, leaning forward with interest. “The plot thickens.”
–The Winding Maze, Rogue Elegance Vol. III