Drrring… Drrring… Drrring…
“Shut up you Sha-bound thing,” Botha cursed, still half asleep.
His hand flopped around the table beside his bed like a fish on land as he sought the lever that would silence his latest contraption. Upon realizing that aimless pounding of his nightstand would not suffice, the inventor and investigator peeled open an eye. He located the lever, promptly depressed it with his piscine hand, and fell back into a deep slumber.
No more than five minutes later, a loud pounding on his door shook him once again from his sleep. Grumbling, the bulky man sat himself up in bed, smacked his head against the bucket that for some Flameforsaken reason he had hung there, and threw open the blinds which his alarm contraption had once again failed to open.
The sunlight was enough to startle him awake. Botha dropped himself out of bed and made his way to the door. He paused briefly to see if his alarm had at least prepared breakfast, but the pounding on his door resumed, startling him from that task. Muttering under his breath about impatience, Botha made his way to the door, unfastened the half-dozen locks he’d created himself, and swung it wide open.
“What in the name of Sha are you—” Botha paused, recognizing the man at his door. “My apologies, Flamewarden Hein. In this bright sunlight I had mistaken you for the serving girl. She cuts a similar figure.”
Hein glared at Botha, conscious of his ever-growing belly, and tried to figure out if the investigator was making a joke about his paunch. But Botha just smiled genially and gave no indication that he had meant anything but the most genuine of misunderstandings by his statement.
“Well, are you going to invite me in or not?” Novana blustered.
“My apologies once again, Master, I had thought you wished to bask in the sun.” Botha stepped from the door.
Now that was definitely a jibe. “You watch it, Botha, or I swear will have you exiled. I am Flamewarden of Truth.”
“I will keep you to your word, Master. You are the most truthful man in Vithr after all,” Botha replied, hiding a smile. Before Hein could hector him anymore, Botha continued. “What is it you came to see me for, Master? Surely you could have just sent a Shir as you usually do? Unless you wanted this to be just between us.”
“You guessed rightly. The Flamelord wishes for you to investigate her father’s death. She believes that he was killed. Do that on the surface, but I have a better task for your time. Hearthlord Lorin is on our side, but I fear that Hearthlord Rhin’s loyalties might lie in the wrong place. I need you to launch an investigation into this matter at once.”
Botha wasn’t quite sure whose side “our side” was, but he certainly knew that he held no enmity against the new Flamelord and didn’t necessarily wish to undermine her authority. But Novana was his superior, and Botha did not fancy the idea of losing his job and the food it provided. So he nodded affably and gently poked and prodded Novana out the door.
“Don’t you worry, Master. I will have this matter looked into at once. Farewell, Flamewarden Hein. May your paranoia never grow lesser than your girth.”
The investigator shut the door before Novana could recover from his complete shock to shout back at him.
“Alright.” Botha grinned to himself, rubbing his thick hands together; he enjoyed teasing the Flamewarden probably more than was healthy. Pushing that thought aside, Botha began to gather together various odd-looking bits of equipment, humming to himself all the while. Unconsciously, the inventor started mumbling the words to the song.
Let us not forget
Those darker times of old
Let us not forget
Strife reigned and chaos ruled
But we fear nothing
For time moves beside us
But we fear nothing
For fire burns within us
Let us not forget
When fire was lost in cold
Let us not forget
When time for life we sold
Botha could not remember who had taught him that song, but it was one he sung regularly. It made him feel important while he worked at trivial tasks, like investigating a naturally caused death. Swinging his haversack of gadgets onto his shoulder, Botha pushed his door wide open and cheerfully left the house.
His first stop was the palace. Any good investigator knew that investigating the crime scene was the first step. Unfortunately, they also usually dealt with crime scenes that had been completely untouched. Nearly two brightmoons had passed since the incident, so Botha doubted that he could obtain any useful information, but he would try his best anyway.
Tromping along the hallway, the short man gave a friendly nod to one of the guards. The armored man briefly nodded back, as he was on duty, but he spared a wink, and Botha winked back. Continuing along, the investigator mulled over how handy it had proven to be to be friends with the most loose-tongued guard in the palace.
Finally arriving at the entrance to the Flamelord’s personal chambers, Botha made a move to enter, but was halted by one of the soldiers standing in front of the door.
“Nobody enters. Flamelord’s orders.”
Botha blinked up at the man. This was a situation where the inventor wished he’d not stopped gaining height at twelve.
“I would have you know, my good man, that I am Caster Yethr-Botha, Chief Investigator under Flamewarden Hein, and I have been authorized by him personally to look into this case.”
“Don’t see how someone as short as you can do much looking,” the second guard chimed in, and the two soldiers started chuckling to themselves.
This simply made Botha more indignant. “I am the best investigator in the kingdom. Do you think the Flamelord will appreciate it if you halted her investigation?”
Before the guard could respond, the door swung open, and Flamelord Vin stepped into the hallway.
“What is all this ruckus, Gohna?” she asked.
Botha admired her poise and excellent intonation. He could still recall when she’d been a little girl running around the palace, pigtails flying behind her, with her mother following shortly behind, scolding restrainedly. Then the young Firelord had been sent away to Dithmoor, and no one had heard of her for the following twelve years.
Before the guard could reply, Botha cut in. “Apologies, Flamelord. I did not mean to disturb you, but it was impressed upon me by Flamelord Hein that an investigation into the recent passing of your father was of utmost importance to you.”
At the mention of her father, a shadow passed across the young Flamelord’s face, but she quickly regained her composure. “Yes, that would be pleasing to me. Let him in.”
“Do you need one of us—” one of the guards started, but the regent cut him off.
“I played with Caster Yethr’s inventions when I was a child, Gohna. He will not harm me.”
With a smug smile, Botha trundled in after the Flamelord, shutting the door with a resolute bang behind himself. As Flamelord Vin seated herself on the bed, the investigator began unpacking a number of gadgets from his bag. When he’d successfully strewn the floor with devices, he began setting them up.
The Flamelord watched him quietly as he worked. Feeling that it would be improper for him to begin a conversation, he worked in silence instead. Botha had been preparing the contraptions with a practiced ease, but as he settled a finely calibrated rod into its chamber, he happened to glance through the magnifying glass on his particle-detector, and what he saw made him gasp — microscopic particles of precipitate had formed on the banded thin wafers of various metals.
Quickly, he grabbed some chemicals from his bag. Unhinging the matrix from the detector, Botha set it carefully in a dish. Tentatively, he dripped an agent from one bottle onto the metal grill, then emptied a bottle of distilled water over the structure. The water came out with a faint tinge of black, causing Botha to fall backwards in shock.
“What is it?” the Flamelord asked, rising from her seat.
Botha looked up at her and his eyes said it all: her father had been murdered.