[RO] I don't want to set the world on fire
#1
He favored his right leg now.

It was the price of a life well served, and Rafael Salcedo accepted this with little acrimony; though indeed, he would have preferred a better cane. The dimly lit hall was filled with its clatter, and gaunt faces swam forward from the darkness of their cells to witness his passage. Flanked by neither guard nor attendant, Rafael alone hobbled past, carrying but the knowledge that very little had divorced his fate from those of these inmates. Had certain forces not conspired to give him the chance to live again, he would have died here. Tonight, he would repay that debt.

Perched on a crumbling bluff beside the sea, the Tower cut through the misty coastline like a knife. In spite of its unfortunate location on Arena lands, it was house to criminals for all of Onuba; there was no place worse, nor more fitting, for their ilk. On full moons the tide rose high enough to trickle through the stone, leaving a film of salt and a sticky moisture which never granted them pardon even on the coolest days. Down, Rafael Salcedo went through these humid halls, thick of sickness and rot. The journey to the underworld was torturous even for those young and hale, and by the time the cramped stairwell let out to his quarry, his joints and muscles had turned to fire.

Here at the last cell, only a harsh sliver of moon came through the high window bars, striking its occupant from the shadows. A man sat on the edge of his cot, which was little more than a stack of filthy crates with a cover of moldy fur, and held his face in his hands. By the grieving bow of his shoulders, he looked the very image of repentance. Rafael knew that would wear off with the hunger.

"Elizar Moreno," he said.

The man didn't stir.

"Elizar Moreno," he spoke again. "You are sentenced to exile."

His voice loomed almost as another body in that silent corridor, all abandoned but for this one prisoner. When he began to think that perhaps the man had broken earlier than expected, there came a movement.

"No," Elizar moaned from his hands. "To death, sir. Tomorrow, if I've counted the days right."

"The charges against you were steep. I do not envy your advocate."

"I do not blame her. No one could have done better. This is what..." Elizar struggled, "This is..."

"What you deserve?"

The man shuddered. He turned his face away, though he could not hide the bitterness from his voice. "Yes. As the Light decides."

His bad leg was hurting something fierce now. Rafael would have placed both of his hands on the cane to better balance his pain, but lacking his left one, he simply endured.

"Your parents are Adora and Saulo Moreno, are they not? A beloved High Priestess and a leading scholar. You are quite accomplished in your own right. It would be a waste to lose a gifted mind like yours."

"All meaningless in the face of my transgressions."

Rafael received this with a calm disdain. The Moreno family once more stabbed itself with its own unyielding principles. "They would not grant you an exception."

"Not for this. I can't be reformed," Elizar whispered. He ran his hands through his hair and at last, looked up. A glaze of recognition set in his shining eyes.

"You know my brother," Rafael said.

"Only through the courts, sir."

"Where else?" Rafael didn't smile, but the young man seemed to take comfort in this nonetheless.

"Why have you come?" He wondered.

Rafael took a careful step closer. "To tell you the real terms of your sentence. You will not die tomorrow, Elizar Moreno."

The young man was too sharp to let hope be more than a passing glimmer in his eyes. Rafael went on, "Nor will you simply be exiled, given to a life of unbridled freedom."

"No. In no life would that be possible," Elizar murmured. He stood and approached the iron gate. He was a tall man when standing straight, and in looking up, Rafael was beset with a short-lived envy for the time of his life when he was not so encumbered by the ravages of age and battle. But they all had their burdens to bear.

"Tell me, sir, what do you want from me?" he asked.

"There is a Kingdom across the sea known by the name of Salsola. It was home to my wife, and it is home now to our children and my kin. You will go to them. You will bring our gifts, our messages, and then you will send my heir, Rhaegar Salcedo, back here."

Elizar had taken to pacing, though it wasn't long before he returned to the bars. "After that?"

"You will serve them. They do not spare bodies, but they will make equitable exchanges. You will have your life, and perhaps with time, you may prove yourself worthy of their resources and support. I can't see them wasting your potential as Onuba has done."

The Moreno man's eyes roved his face, their meticulous gleam picking out the spread of grays which had infiltrated the tan hues of his pelt. "Is it a choice when my only other option is death?"

Rafael's lips curled. "You mistake me for an altruistic man, Elizar. The terms are fair, given the circumstances." He settled back. "You gave your life to Onuba and to the Moreno family and they deemed your ambitions reckless. This new society will better accommodate you."

Elizar set to pacing again. Rafael got the sense that this was a habit before captivity, but one could never be sure.

As the moments passed, he imagined a different sort of calculation was taking place in the young man's mind: the immeasurable uncertainty of their lives, the opportunities and the risks of a new and unknown society (although Rafael would not leave him so unprepared). To his surprise, Elizar gripped the metal bars and simply said, "I agree to this plan if you get my trunk back."

Rafael scoffed. The arrogance. "This is not a negotiation."

"I need my trunk."

"You will have opportunity to find yourself a new one."

"You can't expect me to be of any use if I don't have my books, my...my research. My tools."

"It's a good thing that your only use is to replace my son. Your mind is sufficient enough, isn't it?"

"You're a swordsman. You try fighting without a sword. I can't even replace what I lost that easily."

Rafael bared his teeth in a humorless laugh. "Try losing a hand."

Despite his earlier rebellious fluttering, Elizar recoiled with proper respect. "My apologies. I meant no offense." His gaze roved delicately over the bone of his wrist.

Rafael attributed his lingering stare to a nervous mind. "Where is it?"

The prospect ignited his strange fervor once more, and Elizar pushed his sleek black snout through the bars. "They took it when they came for me." He sneered. "B-but if you can get it back, I'll do anything you want. There's no point in living without it."

There was a new look in his face, more desperate than hopeful. Rafael didn't know what to make of this; the report had painted Elizar in a tragic light, deeming him both brilliant and arrogant. This was not arrogance. It was reckless, dangerous. 

With some consideration, he dismissed his instincts in light of their context. Elizar was a young man staring down his mortality in conditions unfit even for vermin. He had neither mate nor children to divide his attention. His work was the only thing of significance in his entire life.

When had Rafael become so forgiving? Was he so tired? The days were warm and long, and his wife was happy. Some softness was bound to happen, if not by circumstance, then by age. Rafael gave the young man a nod and watched as he lapsed back into civility at once. Elizar even offered him a quick smile, which somehow looked less natural to his face than the previous expression.

"So it is settled, then?" Elizar asked.

"Yes." Rafael turned away. "Salvador is making the arrangements for your travel as we speak. Our guards will soon be here to lead you to the ship. Trust only those with our crest."

"Understood." He licked his lips, and dared a nervous, giddy laugh. "Thank you, sir. Thank you."

Rafael allowed himself one final glance around that Light-forsaken dungeon. Never again. "Do not waste this chance, Elizar."

The young man gave a slow nod.

In the hall above, they heard the doors open. Men robed in rich purple filtered in one after the other, their golden crests catching at the lamplight. A sweet smelling breeze rattled inside with their entrance, summoning Rafael back to the world of light and music above.

"Ah, before I forget." He turned in that narrow stairwell. "You will receive your trunk when we have received word from my niece, Lilia. No point in going through the trouble if you don't make it, hm?"

He didn't wait to see the young man's face drop with realization. He had spent enough time here already; a warm fire and his wife were waiting back home.
Onuba, close to midnight | NPCs: Elizar Moreno
All dialogue is in Spanish. Backdated to mid-February.
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