Botha was concerned, very concerned indeed. The particles on his device had come from only one source: smoke. It took a very special kind of fire to burn with smoke, and he knew of only one source that could produce that kind of fire. Unfortunately, all his knowledge mostly came from myth and legend.
He rummaged around the shelves in his crowded hut, searching for a book that he had put away long ago. Botha found the tome in the very furthest corner, buried beneath a mound of papers and other oddities. Very carefully, he pulled it out. Its pages were aged and the slightest abrasion caused its cover to flake.
Putting it gently on the table, Botha opened it to a page he had memorized from the day he’d received the book. Most of the text had faded over time, but he did soon find the passage he’d been hunting for. The Seventh Prayer:
Light is on my side
Light do not forsake me
In the darkness hide
Darkness that’s inside me
Breathe it from within
Exhale from without
This my smoke is kin
All shall fire out
The rest of the cryptic passage had not been translated, and any remaining commentary had been blotted out by spots of time, but Botha had heard enough stories.
Legends said the Seven Kin were seven men and women chosen from the nations of the world to ward off an evil so great, all of humankind had forgotten it. This did not agree with contemporary texts, since for all recorded history, there had only been two nations: Vithr and Asyther. But ancient legend never agreed with history in the first place.
It was said that the Seventh Kin had the ability to control smoke. From there, the rumors grew wild with speculation as to what exactly the powers of this mythical figure was. What was known was that he’d written the text Botha had read out of, and that he’d written six other prayers for the other six Kin.
If there was smoke in the palace, it could only mean one thing. The Seventh Kin had to have existed, and some descendent of him or her had committed the murder.
What could this mean, though? Why would a descendent of the Seventh Kin murder the king of Vithr? And how much of the legends were true? Botha had heard some of the rumors spreading about the phenomena regarding the messenger in the Everking’s palace. Was that also related to this? It seemed that what the doctors had written off as simple heart failure was not as simple as they’d thought.
The Flamelord had given him express instructions against telling anybody about his discovery, so when Novana had paid him a visit, he’d merely smiled and said that the Hearthlord’s suspicions had been confirmed, and nobody had murdered the king. But in his heart, Botha was deeply disturbed. Dark times were most certainly coming. He could feel it, a cold prickle on his skin, and chill in the very core of his spine.
He shook his head. There was no need for such dark thoughts. His inventions would prove distraction enough while the Flamelord decided what to do. The investigator was glad that he did not have the responsibility of the entire kingdom weighing on each decision he made.
As Botha began working on a new mechanism to prepare his breakfast in the morning, his spirits lifted, and he started to whistle. This felt natural to him. Fitting cogs and gears into place, tightening bolts, and adjusting levers and cranks made him happy. His job as an investigator was merely something to provide him with the money and sustenance required for his tinkering. Not to mention the fact that it allowed him to try out his inventions.
The unbidden thought that his invention had been the thing to detect that the former Flamelord had been murdered intruded into his pleasant state of mind. Like a shadow, it wiped all the joy away from his work, and for the first time he stared at his creation with disgust.
Sure, it was arguably a good thing that he’d been able to detect the crime that had happened, but Botha had not made his contraptions to find evil. He shook his head as he put away his toolkit. That would be enough fiddling for today.
Slipping a few coins in his pocket, the inventor headed out onto the streets to spend the night at his favorite tavern. It was strange. While there was nothing that could beat the meals produced by the royal chefs of Vithr, it was in Asyther where the best alcoholic beverages were. Botha supposed this spoke to the Asythian love of drink and celebration, but that was something that he did not mind.
He crossed into Asyther an hour before the sun set in the hills. His object, the Roaring Radgar, cast a warm, inviting light on its surroundings. The lack of a flicker gave the light away, however, and Botha knew that it was a special kind of tinted window that was designed to make light cast by flameglobes to appear as if it was firelight. He knew this because he’d made the windows himself in exchange for a free drink once a week.
“Ghola, my good friend,” the barkeep said with a grin as Botha entered. While Botha was sure that the barkeep knew who he actually was, he preferred that nobody else in the bar catch on to the fact that Vithr’s chief investigator frequented the joint.
“Lavert,” Botha grinned back. “I’ll have the usual drink in my usual place for the usual fee.”
The barkeep mocked a look of indignance. “You know you never pay!”
“And I know that you know why,” Botha said, winking at the barkeep.
“Shut up and have a seat, I’ll get you your drink,” Lavert replied, realizing that they’d drawn some attention.
Botha looked around at the many customers in the tavern and felt no small amount of pride that his windows had such an effect. Sure, the amount of customers was probably due more to the clean and well-kept joint that Lavert had, but an inventor had to have some pride in what he had made.
The inventor gratefully accepted the steaming cup of Rendelfel from the barkeep and sipped it slowly as he watched the patrons. This was another hobby of his: people watching. He did it all the time, and it was probably why he was so good with people.
For the most part, Botha was able to recognize each of the patrons by name, and if he did not know their name, he was at least able to recall the last time they’d visited. So it was with no small amount of curiosity that he studied the man in black who entered quietly.
Lavert was quick to approach the stranger and take his order, which obscured Botha’s view for a while, but the investigator’s interest had been piqued, and he stared subtly as the man seated himself at a table.
Unlike most of the other people in the bar, who were talking and laughing loudly, this person said nothing and did nothing. His attitude seemed quite forced, and he looked uncomfortable in his environment.
Shrugging his shoulders dismissively, Botha turned to look at his cup. Empty. Too bad. He looked back up, but the stranger was gone. Strange, he had not heard the man leave.
Picking up his cup, Botha headed over to Lavert to hand it in. The barkeep was standing at the table the stranger had sat at, looking around confusedly.
“What’s wrong, Lavert?” Botha asked genially.
“That strange man, he’s gone,” the barkeep replied, scratching his head.
Suddenly, the smile left Botha’s face, and he grew pale. All sound seemed to fade as his brain zoned in on what he smelled. Smoke.