Fiona lies on her back on the hard stone floor of her Limsan prison cell. Her cot is next to her, though calling it a “cot” is somewhat generous: it is little more than a threadbare, tattered blanket and a rough, paper-thin mat that is scarcely more than a whisper of comfort on chilly nights when the cold stone beneath her makes her bones hurt. But today she wants the stone; the discomfort it brings her is familiar and cool, and even better—today it is raining.
Her cell is high atop the tallest tower of the prison, though she hasn’t seen the outside of it in years, and its roof leaks. When it rains the water drips through the ceiling, slowly, landing on the stone next to her head with a soft, steady plink, plink, plink. Sometimes a few little droplets splash onto her cheek and she relishes the shock of it, the chill.
Outside, the sun sets. Sometimes, on good days when the evening turns the sky orange and pink and fiery, she can catch a glimpse of it—just a sliver through the tiny window nestled where wall meets ceiling, facing westward. It casts a single beam of color onto the grey, dead walls, and when she sees its little evening sunbeam prodding its way inward she scrambles to the window and stands, neck craned, to watch the sky. But the light always shifts far too quickly: she stares at the sun, watching the clouds, drinking up the colors of the sky as hard and as fiercely as she can until her eyes ache from trying to wring her happiness from the heavens. And then, inevitably, after not enough minutes, the sun disappears beneath the horizon and she falls back onto her cot, heartbroken, again.
But tonight the sky is ugly and dim. The light creeping through her window was faint and grey all day, and now as night falls it is sickly and yellow-green, in the way that heralds an oncoming storm—a big one, too, the kind with towering thunderclouds that stand tall as mountains and fierce, pounding rain that falls so heavy and fast it almost hurts as it crashes into you. She remembers loving being drenched by it, her copper hair soaked and flat and sticking to her face, and laughing, laughing as she rode the waves, as her ship groaned beneath her feet, her voice ringing almost as loud and fierce as the thunder.
She used to love that yellow-green color. Now she resents it. Now her days are always silent and still, except when it rains, and the sound of the water keeps her company.
Her cell is tucked away at the end of the furthest hall, a corner reserved for criminals who were intended to remain in custody for a very long time. She rarely sees anyone apart from the guards, and they barely bother to do more than just bring her food most weeks. She does not receive visitors. It’s been years since she last felt the sun on her skin, watched as her arms and shoulders blossomed with freckles.
Upon her arrest Fiona had a list of charges as long as her arm levied against her, all of which were true: the foremost being piracy, obviously. Rusalka, her ship was called, and she bore her through many an adventure. She misses her dearly. Piracy was followed by many counts of murder, kidnapping, robbery, smuggling… all the classics, really. She sunk many an enemy vessel in her day, as well—but who could blame her for that, really, when they were always the ones who started the fight, and firing cannons was just so fun.
They threw her in prison and kept her tucked away from the rest of the world, even separate from her fellow murderers and pirates and brigands, primarily because they could. It was well known among the guard that her crimes were “violent and egregious”, as they put it, but also that many of those who fell by her hand were Yellowjackets. And they despised her for it.
She had gotten much of their blood on her hands when they and their Admiral finally caught up to her and raided Rusalka all those years ago, invigorated off the passage of their godsdamned “anti-piracy declaration”—an act of hypocrisy of the highest order, if Fiona had anything to say about it—and on one last press into the seas that seemed less focused on apprehending criminals and more proving a point via vengeance-fueled brutality. It was well known that Fiona and her crew had made the Admiral’s life a living hell for years. The seas were restless that day, and the skies were her favorite: yellow-green, stormy.
She did her best to lead her pursuers on another merry chase, but the winds weren’t on their side and the Yellowjackets caught up quickly, and their cannons blew Rusalka’s hull to smithereens as easy as anything. A rather unceremonious ending to their months-long game of cat and mouse, Fiona had thought at the time, but in spite of it she and her crew did her damndest to make sure that if this was going to be the end, it would be a bloody one. The Admiral’s forces killed many among her crew who would rather have died than face defeat, and Fiona might well have joined them had she not struck back so fiercely with her trusty pistols and knife.
She shot several Yellowjackets dead that day, and very nearly got the Admiral too. Her pulse had pounded in her throat as she watched the round soar across the deck for Merlwyb’s heart, as the world around her slowed almost to a crawl and the anticipation and adrenaline buzzed in her limbs. Her aim was off, sadly, and the round instead embedded itself firmly in Merlwyb’s shoulder, but the sound of her scream—pain, surprise, and most deliciously, fury— still sends Fiona’s heart soaring in triumph, all these years on.
Once she overheard a few guards gossiping as they passed her cell, whispering in hushed tones that the Admiral still bore the bullet in her shoulder to this day, almost a decade later. Fiona, for her part, certainly hopes that’s true. She still sees the snarl on that smug, stubborn face of hers in her dreams, sometimes, and the thought of it keeps her warm when the cold makes her joints ache. She relishes the idea of the Admiral still thinking of her at night, still wincing at the pain in her shoulder, still quietly cursing her name; she hopes, someday, she’ll get the opportunity to hear it for herself.
When she was first imprisoned she’d thought the isolation and the stillness would drive her mad, until she learned to while away the hours with anything that could occupy her attention. Before, drink was one of her favorite ways to pass the time; now, when she feels particularly desperate for it, she sips at the rusty, lukewarm water the guards deliver her in those horrible tin cups, shuts her eyes and imagines it to be ale, tries to will it into warming her bones. It doesn’t work, of course, but it’s fun to try. Exercise helps, on occasion, to keep her muscles from wasting away. Sex—or the thought of it, at least—sometimes; she’s become quite adept at picking out shapes in the stone ceiling that bear a passable enough resemblance to human anatomy to help her along. Sleep, certainly, whenever it deigns to allow her the pleasure of its company.
On her bad days she simply sits, blankly staring at nothing. Often on those days she’ll come to her senses and turn to look at her window after what she thinks was only minutes and discover that the sky has rushed ahead by hours, sometimes even whole days. Her bad days grow more frequent over the years.
But on her good days—rare though they may be—she sings.
She sings anything, really: old drinking songs she recalls from her days at sea, lullabies from her childhood, bardic tales of adventure she’d learned from taverns across the land. Often she doesn’t even bother to pick a tune and just follows her voice as it explores a melody for itself, up and down, slowly and surely, as she closes her eyes and lets it go, feels it unspool. In the dark, her voice bounces off the walls, up toward the ceiling, through the bars of her cell and down the hallway. She hopes it makes its way down the stairs and through the rest of the tower—she likes to imagine it spreading like ripples in a pond, with her throat as the stone. The guards hate it, of course.
She likes to sing best on rainy days, when she uses the plink, plink, plink of the water dripping into her cell as her metronome. Her voice is strong and sure and deep, and she hopes it sounds like the sea she misses so dearly.
She’s singing today, on her back on the floor and staring up at nothing, when the evening light finally dies away. This means the day’s final meal will be arriving soon, and sure enough, a guard stomping his way down the hall—Sea Wolf, Yellowjacket, one of many—stops just outside her door.
“Oi. Lynch. You dead in there?” His voice is gravelly and unpleasant. He rattles a tin cup against the bars—hers, and supposed to be filled with water, but certainly left empty—to get her attention.
Fiona does not move. He wants her to move, so she shall not. This guard is one of her least favorites.
“Sadly, no,” she replies. She flicks her eyes over to meet his gaze and keeps her voice flat, because it annoys him.
His skin is clammy and sallow, even for a Sea Wolf, and his beady eyes and blackened teeth make him look rather like a dead fish. “Then what in the seven hells are you doin’ on the ground, inmate?”
“Why?” she asks, sweetly. “Care to join me for a tumble?”
He grumbles, low, between his teeth. “Take your godsdamned supper afore I lose what little patience I have left.”
Fiona smiles. She returns her eyes to the ceiling. “Leave it on the floor for me, won’t you, dove? I’m not particularly hungry.”
He mutters darkly under his breath as he fiddles with the door lock. “You are to stand against the wall when your cell door is open, inmate. Now get your whore ass off the ground.”
“Oh, must I?” she asks, in as simpering, wheedling a tone as she can muster. “I’ve just happened across the most comfortable patch of prison slime, you see, and I’d hate to lose my place.”
He roughly nudges the tray of food toward her with his foot, sloshing much of its contents onto the floor. She glances at it: it looks like her supper is a bowl of something gray and cold that resembles soup in texture, though she can’t be certain that’s what it was intended to be in the first place. It contains lumps. Next to the bowl is a small, somewhat moldy hunk of bread. “Answer me this, Lynch,” the guard says as he advances toward her and her puddle of soup. “How many years have you been in here?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She stretches luxuriously in place, arching her back like a cat. “Thinkin’ this is comin’ up on my tenth here, in a few weeks’ time. A whole decade—imagine that.”
“Imagine that.” He stands directly before her now, arms folded, bent over slightly to better stare her in the eye. She remains flat on her back, because she can. “And when, pray tell,” he says, “did you learn how you are to behave when an officer enters your cell?”
Fiona pouts. “Oh, officer,” she sighs, “do you talk to all your lady friends this way?”
“Sit up, inmate. And answer the question.”
She does sit up, slowly, propping herself up on one arm and sighing heavily, making a great show of it. The officer scowls. “Well, you know, dove, I’m afraid I can’t rightly say. I often find my days have just… blurred together,” she says, lowering her voice to a croon as she slowly drags a fingertip up along the seam of the Yellowjacket's trouser leg, “spendin’ all this quality time with such a handsome officer of the law as yourself—”
And a sharp crack rings through the cell and echoes down the hallway as the back of the guard’s hand collides with Fiona's face. Her head is sent whipping to the side with the force of the blow, her cheek searing with pain. The guard grabs her by the shirt and hoists her up toward his face with an inarticulate snarl. Flecks of his spittle fly into her face, and his breath is rancid.
“You will shut your damned trap, you flea-bitten whore,” he growls, “and you will not touch me again. If I have to listen to one more smart word out of your mouth tonight, I’ll wring your neck myself.”
Fiona does not turn her head back to face him. She remains silent, as instructed, but she allows a tiny smirk to tug at the corner of her lips as satisfaction flares in her gut. Her hair has fallen in her eyes, but she knows his eyes are blazing with fury.
The guard huffs through his nostrils like an angry bull and unceremoniously drops her back to the floor. She crashes ass-first onto the stone with a dull thud. “Eat up, inmate,” he says. “Your supper’ll get cold.”
Then the guard pauses for a moment as though he’s had an idea. He makes a long, horrid snorting noise deep in his throat, and spits, sending a sizable glob of saliva splatting square into what little of her soup still remained in its bowl.
“Oh, dear,” he says, face twisting into a sneer. “Clumsy me.”
Fiona is left staring down at what little remains of her dinner as the guard exits her cell and slams the door shut behind him. The lock engages with a clang. “And quit that singing, by the Twelve,” he spits as he stomps away, back down the hall. “That godsforsaken caterwaulin’ of yours gives me a headache.”
Fiona’s cheek pulses with pain, but she smiles. She plans to sing louder during his next shift.
She tries—somewhat optimistically—to pick bits out of the bread that have not been touched by the mold, rolling them between her fingers into little balls before popping them into her mouth, just so she has something to do. But somehow eating these tiny pieces just makes her hunger worse. She tosses it aside. Despite how her stomach twists pathetically with hunger, she is not desperate enough to touch the soup. She scoots away, having given up on the prospect of food for today, and leans back against the floor.
Her face throbs, but the cool of the stone against her body is soothing. She turns her head, presses her cheek against it, shuts her eyes. Next to her, the rain still drips. Plink, plink, plink.
She remembers when she first got here, almost a decade ago, when it rained for the first time and the water plink, plink, plinked its way into her cell. The noise almost drove her out of her skull, and she had horribly vivid dreams of the walls closing in on her and her cell filling with water, choking the life out of her. She’d never had nightmares about drowning before, never in her life.
Now the water is her lifeline. She listens to the drops and counts the seconds, relaxes, breathes. The silence is crushing, but the sound of the rain at least reminds her that time still passes.
She still thinks of the water rising to the ceiling of her cell, sometimes—but she does not fear the drowning, oh no, not anymore. That left her long ago. Now the thought feels rather more like a comfort, a gracious reprieve. When she drifts into the uneasy space between sleep and waking she idly wonders if, in this dream of hers, when the water fills her lungs and chokes the life out of her, if they would simply dump her body into the sea and let her drift. She wonders if she would wash up on the shore of some distant, abandoned isle, where she could dry out and slowly shrivel away. Maybe then, she hopes, she could finally feel the sun on her skin.
In her dream she looks toward the sky, toward its fiery orange and pink, its towering clouds and thunderclaps. She prays to be washed away.