The walls were slick and cool under his fingertips, boots barely gripping the algae-covered rocks as he fumbled through the dark. Humidity made everything much more dangerous, moisture dripping from the ceiling and pooling in the dips in the ground. There was the faintest of lights coming from behind Alizar, growing closer and brighter as he made his treacherous escape from the old tunnels.
Hiding in a tight crevice in the wall, he waited with baited breath as voices reached his ears. Soon, they were loud enough to make out words, then sentences.
“What do you suppose we’ll tell them?” said one voice, belonging to a stout, androgynous individual.
“About what?” said the other voice, belonging to a lanky and feminine individual, carrying a torch.
“About losing our bounty?” The androgynous one, Mahl, stopped to survey the cave opening up around them.
“Well,” said Hyla, stepping carefully and holding the torch high above her head, “Whatever we say, it should be plausible.”
“Duh.” Mahl’s eyes slipped over Alizar’s hiding spot and the escape-artist’s heart leapt into his throat. Then, their eyes moved on. “You know what I meant, Hyla.”
Humming in reply, Hyla suddenly spun on the spot, throwing the room into a frenzy of shadow and firelight. She laughed, saying, “I don’t know, Mahl! Tell them whatever you like! I’m no liar like you!”
Sighing, Mahl’s thin lips pursed thinner. “Can you listen for two seconds?”
“Of course I can!” Hyla halted and faced her companion with a serious look. “Spin away, storyteller.”
“Okay. We were paying attention–”
“Lie number one, got it.”
“If you look at it that way, you’ll never remember!” Mahl frowned, making Hyla deflate. She nodded, looking properly serious. “So, we almost had him in our grasp when he turned on me. Alizar knocked me unconscious, okay?”
“You tried to go after him, but he got into the tunnels. You came back for a torch and stopped to check on me, that’s what took so much time. Got it?”
Hyla nodded. “Alizar kicked your butt, then slipped away from me. I went back and got you and a torch.”
“Close enough,” muttered Mahl, relaxing their shoulders. “I need one more thing from you, though,” they said, looking troubled.
“Sure, what is it?”
“You’re going to need to hit me. With a rock… In the face.”
There was a pause, then Hyla burst out laughing.
“I’m serious!” Mahl’s voice cracked, and it took everything for Alizar not to laugh along with Hyla.
“Nope. Not happening!” Turning and marched the way the two of them had come, still laughing, Hyla added, “I’m not dragging your unconscious body back through this cave!”
“You wouldn’t have to!” Mahl followed her quickly, snagging a large, slimy, fist-sized rock from the ground. “You’d just have to wait for me to wake up!”
Voices fading, Alizar breathed a sigh of relief, waiting for them to round the bend before making his escape.