XXIII : Salo

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Salo sat nervously on a creaky chair in the far corner of the Resistance's hideout, tapping his fingers restlessly on the plain mug between his hands.

How in the world did I end up here?

The clanging of the dummy swords had died down, yet the chatter had sparked up inside the domed hall. Although it was clear the rebels wanted to seem discreet, they weren't doing a really good job. Salo could feel their glares cling to his skin, and as much as he wanted to shake them away, his body was too strained to allow that.

The boy looked down at the cup of toha tea in his palms, examining his reflection on the dark liquid. Weak. Useless. The dark halos beneath his eyes only made him seem less like a worthy man to make a deal with and more like a worn out traveller. His hair was ruffled into an ambitious architectural project, his cheeks were too hollow to be considered defined and his usually bright eyes were empty, staring at the beverage with a blank glance.

The tall woman, who was revealed to be called Iona, walked towards the small lounge, falling on a chair right before Salo. She stayed silent for a few moments, studying the boy through narrow slits. When the meticulous analysis of his features came to a close, Iona leaned forward. "Salo Canbar," she declared.

"That's me." There is no point in denying anymore.

Iona nodded, rubbing her cheek as she appeared to think. "May I ask you something?" Before Salo could have the chance to reply, she continued. "Why do you want the Halal di Madar?"

The boy blinked in confusion. "What?"

"The artifact. The item you have been hunting." Her thick accent only made her words seem as if they held more weight, as if each one of them mattered. "Why do you want it?"

Salo shifted in his chair. After all those days of searching and searching, he had almost forgotten the reason behind all of his struggles. At last, the answer was resurrected in his mind, and it was not one he was proud of. "Money," he said. "I want the money to--"

"That is all I need to know." The woman stood, pacing around Salo's seat like an untamed lion. "But let me ask you this, Salo Canbar. Do you care about your country's future?"

The boy paused. She didn't know where he was from. Yet that question only proved that the Kingfisher in Kage's hands would favor nobody but himself. "Yes," he stated curtly. "Of course I do."

"Then perhaps you shouldn't care about the money."

"I need the money."

"Are your selfish needs more important than the future of our world?"

Salo huffed, placing the cup in his hands next to him and pushing his heavy body up. "Yes," he said, and even he was surprised at the bitterness of his words. "If the deal is to ignore our goals and deliver the Kingfisher right to your door, then I think I will pass."

Before he could take a step further, Iona grabbed his shoulder and shoved him back down to the wooden chair. Salo suppressed a yelp as he glared at the woman with the most murderous glare he could muster. She didn't seem to be swayed.

"That wouldn't be a deal, Salo Canbar," she retorted. "It would be a favor. We will offer something in return for the artifact."

"Like what?"

Iona bent down, snatching a black leather case from the ground and hauling it on Salo's lap. This time he hissed, almost toppling over his knees at the weight. Reluctantly, he clicked the large briefcase open and slowly lifted the lid.

He saw yellow. A lot of it.

Trying not to drool over the feast of gold under his hands, Salo looked at Iona with a slight jerk of his brow. "Do you suppose the Seyali government wouldn't offer just as much?"

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