X – War [Eternity: P1]


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Five years later, in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town on the outskirts of a small city in Vithr, Nita sat awake, holding the little money they had left in the palm of his hand. They’d had to sell most of the land around them off, which had fetched a tidy sum, but most of that had gone now, and no one wished to hire the son of someone whom the North Wind had taken.

Nita looked over at his sister, asleep. She looked peaceful, even after all these years of hardship. She had never lost that childlike confidence, and it now manifested itself in a kind of beauty. Nita wished he could have that same kind of peace. Even now he still suffered from terrible flashbacks; his father leaving quickly, the house falling apart around them, him nearly getting beaten half to death.

He was twenty-two now and had been a true no-a for two years. Yet he felt no more powerful than he had felt all those years ago. Outside, the wind howled and screamed as it threw itself against the house. It stood firm, though. After North Winds began to blow with more frequency, everyone had started constructing out of brick and mortar instead of wood. Buying that upgrade was one of the things that had put their finances under the water.

It was funny, how the very same thing that killed his father was now considered commonplace. The thing that had driven him and his sister to abject poverty was talked about as if it was simply ordinary weather. Had everybody forgotten what these winds meant? Did no one realize that their Flamelord was leading them headfirst into calamity? He nearly slammed his fist on the table at the thought, but looking at Vir calmed him.

She stirred in her sleep, as if sensing his tumultuous emotions. He could have sworn that she had some sort of sixth sense. The times he’d gotten into trouble, trying to disguise his easily-recognized face so he could get work, when he’d been attacked by a pack of wolves while delivering a parcel in a North Wind. She even knew when his mind traveled to that bitter place where he railed against his father and cursed him for leaving them.

Yes, his sister was special, and he would do everything he could to provide for and take care of her. She kept his humanity alive. She was the only source of joy in his life. But now he had to leave. There was only one place he knew of that would accept him and pay him wages: the army.

Two years after the Firelord had supposedly been given the throne, he declared war on Asyther, building off of rumors that the assassin had come from the Asythian kingdom, and thus the Everking and his subjects were responsible. After three years, the war still raged on with no less fury than before. Nita was surprised that their Flamelord had kept up as strong a front against the Asythians as he had. Asyther was, after all, the bigger and stronger country.

The wind outside had died down to the occasional gust.

Nita shrugged his shoulders and let the coins slip out of his hand and onto the table. They barely even clinked, there were so few. With a glance over to his sister, Nita picked one up and set it spinning for good luck, then he left.

When Vir woke up the next morning with the sun shining in strongly through the window, she knew something was the matter. Nita may care for her, but he would never allow her to sleep away precious daylight, not with the way their finances were. Their finances! She caught sight of the small pile of coins on the table and instantly knew what had happened.

Recruiters had just passed through their town. While they’d been there, she’d kept a careful eye on Nita, knowing that he would try to join the military, but she’d relaxed her guard when they left. Apparently she’d relaxed too soon.

“Sha take you, you idiot,” she cursed, grabbing the money and slipping it into a pouch.

She rifled through her few remaining clothes and found the worn traveling cloak that had belonged to her father. It was too big, but it would have to do. Putting on a couple of layers of her threadbare clothes — she had no idea how long she would be out — she shrugged on the coat.

Hurriedly, she filled a small sack with their remaining food. How long had it been since Nita had left? She should have suspected something when he insisted on staying up. How could she have been so stupid? Why could she never wake up early on her own?

Having packed food, she glanced hurriedly around. A weapon, of course. She snatched their kitchen knife out of the drawer and slipped it into her coat pocket. Then, putting on a pair of boots, she ran out the door.

Where had those recruiters said they were going next? Vir wanted to ask the passersby about her brother, but she knew they would not speak to her. Why did she have to be cursed because her father had died trying to save her mother? It made no sense. She hated small town superstitions.

That was it! The recruiters been headed to Hearthlord Rhin’s lands, Rhineground, complaining about their small farming towns. A small voice warned that she should take their hyshum, so Vir headed for the stalls, but when she heard no scraping of hoofs, she knew what she would find. The stall was empty. Nita had ridden off. How in all of Sha had she not heard him gallop off on a Sha-bound hyshum?

A look of determination settled on her face. She would walk if she had to. But he would be much faster on a hyshum, the small voice whispered. No, she decided. She would walk. Even if she didn’t catch the recruitment party in Hearthlord Rhin’s lands, there nobody would know her as cursed, and she would buy a hyshum to carry her.

With this resolution in locked firmly in her mind, Vir headed out onto the road in the direction of Rhineground.

Hours later, as the sun began to set and the moon started to rise, Vir continued to stumble forward. Her feet were sore from all the walking, and her mind had gone numb just thinking about the endless plodding. She had no idea how much further Rhineground was. Perhaps it had been rash of her to just rush out after Nita like that. But she couldn’t let him go to war. He had been through enough for her sake already.

This thought drove her further onwards, and gritting her teeth, she continued to walk. But as the sun sank below the horizon, its warmth drained away, and she could feel the chill of the night creeping in. After a North Wind, the following evening was always especially cold. People used to say it was because a darker fate approached, but now everybody just said it was bad weather.

Vir realized her mind was wandering, and caught herself as she was about to walk off the road. She had nearly fallen asleep while walking? Unbelievable. Why did she have to enjoy sleep so much?

Then her long, sensitive ears picked up on a rattling behind her that grew increasingly louder. She knew that she should get off the road, in case what approached was not friendly, but she felt so tired that she could not bring herself to care enough.

So she stood there, wrapped in an oversized cloak, hunched from exhaustion, holding a hand out in the hopes that whoever was coming would give her a ride.

By the time the merchant pulled up beside her, she could barely mutter out a sentence. When he reached down to help her onto his cart, she stared at his hand blankly for a few seconds before realizing its purpose, and the instant the wiry man cracked his whip and the cart started moving, the young girl fell fast asleep.

Tours yruly

IX – Sibling Rivalry [Eternity: P1]


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Flamelord Vin-Shylvia slammed her fist down on the council table and glared at everyone around it.

“I refuse to believe the Asythians are responsible for the murder of my father. Just because Caster Botha found traces of the assassin in a Asythian tavern on the border does not mean that the Asythians committed the killing.”

“But what of the fact that the barkeep received the man welcomingly, Flamelord?” someone, Shylvia could not recall the woman’s name, asked.

“As the investigator said, the barkeep did not know this man. He just received him as he would any other guest, and suspicions in that direction are fallacious.”

“What about the people, Flamelord?”

Chills ran up and down Shylvia’s spine as her brother stepped out from the shadows. She still had not accustomed herself to his presence. As of yet he had done nothing indicative of his previous decadent behavior, but it didn’t mean he could not start.

“What do you mean, Valvoa?” she asked. “The people know nothing. We have kept this a secret.”

“On the contrary,” he said, standing at the head of the table as if combating Shylvia for her position. “Hearthlords and Flamewardens, the people have already heard rumors of this investigator’s findings. Who is to say they will not rise of their own accord to exact revenge? The Vith people are a loyal people to be sure, but they are not the smartest.”

“But how are there rumors of this, Firelord?” Hearthlord Rhin asked.

Everybody was now focused on Valvoa, and Shylvia realized with even greater consternation how easily he had stolen her place. She very quickly moved forward, bringing herself to right against the table, and cut her brother off before he could speak.

“If there are rumors, there cannot be many. We have kept this news very carefully guarded. The people do not and will not know enough to cause an uprising.”

“How can we be sure?” Novana demanded, rising to his feet.

“You will sit down, Flamewarden,” Shylvia retorted, her voice sharp. “And you will address me as Flamelord. I shall have no disorder at my table.

“We cannot be sure that the people will not rise up. The truth is we don’t know what they know.” You didn’t know they knew anything, a small voice in Shylvia whispered. She ignored it. “If they do decide to rise up against Asyther, we will put them down.”

“But that would mean civil war!” Novana again shouted.

Shylvia spoke very evenly. “You will control yourself, Hearthlord, or you will leave this meeting. Would you prefer war with Asyther over civil war? Which do you think would damage our country more?”

“If I may speak, Flamelord?” Valvoa said, and his deference did not make Shylvia feel any better about his presence, but she could not refuse her own brother.

“What is it?”

“I do believe that the most diplomatic solution may be to send to the Asythian Everking and ask about this assassin. If we could gain his assurance that the assassin is not his, then we could make an official proclamation the people, and avoid any conflict.”

“Now that is an idea I can get behind,” Hearthlord Rhin, a hearty man, declared, and everyone else murmured in agreement, though some seemed slightly unwilling.

Shylvia once again chilled at how easily Valvoa had stolen her place. She had to regain control of the situation somehow.

“Thank you for the idea, brother. Flamewarden Hein will ensure that a messenger is sent to the Asythian kingdom?”

Novana inclined his head in acquiescence. He seemed uncomfortable with the entire situation; in fact he had seemed on edge the entire meeting.

“In the meantime, Hearthlord Rhin and Hearthlord Lorin, I understand that maintaining your armies on standby has put a drain on your resources. I ask that you continue to do so, but we will supply you with resources from the kingdom.”

“It is as you wish, Flamelord,” Rhin said, bowing his head.

Lorin also nodded, but said nothing. Shylvia could not tell if he was disgusted or if he always appeared to have eaten something unexpectedly rotten.

“What about our armies, Flamelord?” Hearthlord Poin-Hava asked, speaking for his two compatriots. “Maintaining our armies has put a drain on our resources as well. We cannot keep them on standby without the promise of actual work. The soldiers are growing restless.”

“I am told that your coffers are quite full, Hearthlords Poin, Nain, and Shin. That is why I had you three keep your armies on standby. As for the restlessness of your soldiers, I am surprised that your troops are ill-disciplined enough to be restless while serving their country. You will continue to keep your armies at the ready, until I have given you the express order to stop.”

Hava’s face blackened, but he said nothing, much to Shylvia’s relief. She looked around the table. Everybody looked discomfited, if not completely upset. Only Rhin seemed to maintain his spirits, but that was of little solace to her. There was no way she could run a kingdom if all her subjects hated her. How had her father done it?

“That will be it. You are all dismissed.”

An hour later, Shylvia found herself once again in the room where both her parents had died, the funny little Botha beside her, setting up more of his funny instruments.

“You have certainly done a good job of asserting your dominance, Flamelord,” the inventor said, as he adjusted a knob.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Shylvia said, sharply.

“I meant no disrespect, Flamelord,” Botha instantly said, holding up his hands placatingly. “I actually like you, unlike a lot of the men who were in that room.”

“How can you tell?” Shylvia asked wearily, leaning against the wall.

“I am the investigator. It’s my job to notice things. I wish to warn you. I have been able to build some trust between the Flamelord Hein and myself, and he has let on, none to subtly, that there is some kind of conspiracy going on among the men of court. I fear they may try to depose you.”

“Surely they wouldn’t dare,” Shylvia said, eyes flashing.

“Well,” Botha seemed hesitant.

“What is it, man? Tell me this very instant.”

“I have no problem pointing fingers at the Flamewardens and Hearthlords, believe me, but I am hesitant to go further, Flamelord.”

Shylvia tightened her lips and balled her fists at her side, crumpling the elegant fabric on the sleeves of her dress. Her breath came in short bursts that puffed her veil away from her face. She knew what he was talking about.

Her next words came out in sharp jabs, like desperate sword thrusts at a kink in armor. “It is my brother, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Flamelord. I believe they plan to lock you away and then say that you had passed the throne over to him. Before they had no order and no courage, but the Firelord has worked wonders among them. He has somehow managed to unite them, and I fear that few remain on your side.”

“Surely the royal guard will defend me?”

“I have informants among them too, Flamelord. The news they bring me does not bode well.”

Shylvia felt tears of frustration well up in her eyes, and she turned away quickly, so Botha would not see them. It had only been a brightmoon since she had taken the throne, and she was about to lose it to the one person her father would never have given it to. Defeat tasted sour in her mouth.

Footsteps echoed in the hallway outside, and before Shylvia could react, the door burst open and her brother marched in, accompanied by five soldiers.

“Seize her,” he said emotionlessly, and two of the armored men, whom Shylvia recognized as her guards, moved forward to grab her.

“Is this what it has come down to, brother? Attacking a defenseless woman?” Shylvia said bitterly.

He didn’t say anything. She looked around the room to seek help from Botha, but could see no sign of him. So even he had abandoned her at the last minute. At least he had tried to warn her.

“So what? Now you’re going to lock me in a dungeon and tell the rest of the kingdom that I ceded the throne to you? Is that your brilliant plan? What makes you think the people will believe you?”

Valvoa stepped towards her slowly, his previously submissive eyes hardened like flinty points, and his demeanor impassive, emotionless. Something about him intimidated her, and she shrank from him as far as the soldiers would let her.

He did not say a word as he slid the knife into her belly, did not even blink as he twisted it around. She, herself, could not make a sound from shock. Robotically, he pulled the blade out of her and wiped it on her dress, then turned and left the room. The soldiers followed, dropping her to the ground, and she lay sprawled there, blood streaming out of her abdomen, eyes already losing their color.

In the haze that was approaching oblivion, she stared at the tapestries on the wall, reaching for them as if they could save her. The last thing she saw was a crudely depicted image of a man stabbing a woman. Then consciousness fled her.

Tours yruly

VIII – Death Wears Black [Eternity: P1]


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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.

Tours yruly

VII – The Enigmatic Enomatic [Eternity: P1]


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Everybody in the courtroom murmured and whispered excitedly. Tovorash did not really understand what the fuss was about. Sure, an Enomatic had not been summoned by the Everking for over seven hundred years, but that was no cause for such an uproar. Even the king himself seemed a little annoyed at the fuss that everyone was making.

As if they had all come to some agreement beforehand, everybody fell silent as the large doors swung open. In, first, came the messenger. Tovorash recognized her instantly as Evelle. He did not know everybody by name, but female couriers were few and far between, and she had caught his eye a long time ago due to her unwavering dedication to her task and her straightforward loyalty.

Following the messenger, in simple robes, was the Enomatic. For some reason, he did not ring rightly with Tovorash’s impression of these recluses. Rather than bearing the haughty soberness that one would have expected, this Enomatic seemed to carry with him an air of mischief, and despite the simple garb, he strode with the bearing of a king.

Evelle moved forward quickly, as the cleric paused, waiting for her to announce him. Bowing deeply before the Everking, Evelle waited for his permission to speak.

When he nodded, she stood and proclaimed, “Your Everness and your Dawnesses, I present the Enomatic.”

She moved aside as the cloaked man stepped forward. He threw back his hood, and Tovorash caught a glint in the man’s eye that spoke of a sly intelligence. The Enomatic bowed deeply, but when he righted himself and looked the Everking directly in the eye, Tovorash could not decide if he was bold or stupid.

“What is your name, priest?” the Everking asked.

“Time, your Everness. Justin Time, and just in time, as I have heard.”

There was an awkward pause, before the Everking spoke again. “You know why you are here, I assume?”

“I am here because the Everking wished for an Enomatic, and as I was the only Enomatic available, I have come.”

“But you know of— the incident?”

“Yes, of course. The terrible apparition in the court that everyone hears rumors about, made even more notorious by the flamewarden’s inability to pronounce anything definitive about it.”

This comment sent murmurs through the crowd, and Tovorash could almost feel the tension on his weathered skin.

“Well, smart-mouthed Justin. Why don’t you see if you can tell us anything about the situation.”

“As you wish, your Everness,” the Enomatic said, bowing deeply. “I shall need to talk with anyone present during the incident, but most importantly I will need to talk with your bodyguard.”

Tovorash did not like that one bit. Things had been unsettled enough of late without him having to leave the king for an interview that could take hours, but when the Everking nodded and motioned Tovorash to follow the Enomatic, the bodyguard had no choice.

As the two men left the courtroom, Justin said, “Don’t worry, I will not take much of your time from your precious Everking.”

“He is your king too,” Tovorash said hotly, drawing some attention.

“The Enomatics serve no one,” Justin declared serenely.

The bodyguard grunted disdainfully. “Some Enomatic you are. I heard that you monks are supposed to be meek and submissive.”

“And I heard that you bodyguards are supposed to be discrete and self-controlled.”

This silenced Tovorash, but as they continued walking with Justin showing no signs of asking questions, the bodyguard found himself forced to speak again.

“You said you would not take up much of my time?”

Instead of answering the question, the Enomatic pointed at the sun. “The wanderer Shustyn once said, ‘Time is an illusion, a figment of our minds created to understand change, because we cannot conceive of change without time.’ His friend then pointed to the sun and replied, ‘You say that, but I see for myself that the sun moves.’ Who do you think was right?”

The knight-guardian was about to reply irritably, but the Enomatic held up his hand. “Please, humor me.”

Tovorash paused for a moment to think. He didn’t know why he did so. Maybe it was because the Everking’s recent philosophical reflections had grown on him. When he answered, though, he surprised even himself.

“I don’t think either of them were right. Time is not an illusion, but the sun’s motion was not proof that there is time. There are things that supersede time, however. Great works of writing for example; we call them timeless.”

Justin looked at the bodyguard expectantly. For a second, Tovorash was confused. Then it clicked.

“Timeless! The timeless! Wait. You’re saying that books are what that message was about?”

The Enomatic rolled his eyes. “No, of course not. But it is about something that is beyond time. Whatever ‘the timeless’ is, it is beyond our human parameters. And that is very concerning.”

Tovorash’s expression tightened. “And the messenger said that they were returning, which means they’ve been here before.”

“Excellent!” Justin said applaudingly. “We will make a detective out of you yet.”

The bodyguard just glared.

Tours yruly

V – Investigative Techniques [Eternity: P1]


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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.

Tours yruly

IV – The King’s Daughter [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

“She is only a woman. You must show her that you are in control. Don’t let her get you with her schemes.”

“But I have heard that she has the will of her mother and the courage of her father.”

“Rumors! Just follow through with our plans. She will not—”

Large doors swung open at the end of the counsel room and Vin-Shylvia, new Flamelord of Vithr, entered. Everybody fell silent as the ruler seated herself at the head of the table. She adjusted her gown slightly, then looked at the Hearthlords and Flamewardens expectantly. All stood and bowed deeply in her direction, before seating themselves again.

A man, Shylvia recognized him as Flamewarden Hein-Novana, rose to his feet and spoke, “Firelord, we, the royal court—”

The queen cut in. “Unless you forget, Flamewarden Hein, my parents’ death has no left me as Flamelord, not Firelord.”

“Excuse me. A slip of the tongue, Flamelord. As I was saying, we wish to offer our condolences—”

“Condolences don’t find murderers, Flamewarden Hein,” Shylvia snapped. “How goes the investigation into my parents’ death?”

“Investigation?” Novana asked hesitantly. “They died… Well, he died of a heart… That is, the doctors said…”

“My father was a healthy man. He was murdered. There was no doubt about it. Now I ask again, how goes the investigation?”

Nobody in the room spoke.

The new queen stood, proud, straight, and tall. “If you, Flamewarden Hein, are not capable enough to perform this investigation, I will have somebody else replace you as Flamewarden of Truth.”

Novana shared a glance with his conspirator. Quickly, he stood up and bowed respectfully. “In no way, Flamelord. I apologize for this lapse. I will set our best investigators on it at once.”

“Good. I trust that your loyalty will lead you to make more preemptive decisions in the future.” Shylvia stared icily at Novana until he was forced to drop his eyes.

“There is going to be chaos,” Shylvia said, looking around the room. “Hearthlord Rhin, and Hearthlord Lorin, I understand that your armies are large and well disciplined. I ask that you loan them to my generals for the time being so that we can maintain order in the kingdom. Do you have any objection?”

The two Hearthlords in question stared at the table for a moment before responding in the negative.

“Excellent. Hearthlord Shin, Hearthlord Poin, and Hearthlord Nain, you will keep your armies on standby. I fear that there are those at our borders who will seek to attack us while they think we are weak.

“There was no enmity between my father and the Asyther Everking that I am aware of. But my scouts tell me that our peoples are uneasy, and it is exactly this kind of an event that could set us at each other’s throats. We must be prepared for the worst.”

“And what is the worst, Flamelord?” Hearthlord Shin asked tentatively.

“War.”

Shylvia looked around the table at the assortment of Hearthlords and Flamewardens. Nobody looked at her. Some shared glances with each other, while others just stared at the table.

“Counsel dismissed.”

The instant the last Flamelord and Flamewarden had left the room, Shylvia underwent a transformation. Her straight, powerful posture lost its strength, and her bright, flashing eyes, dulled. She sank in her chair, and let out an exhausted sigh. The burden of ruling a kingdom had been abruptly thrust upon her by an entirely unexpected event, and already her subjects were trying to depose her.

She had not even had the time to mourn the demise of her parents. News had only reached her a brightmoon after the incident, and it had taken her an equal amount of time to return to the kingdom. Not only that, she’d had to abandon her developmental work in the South side of Vithr, as well as the diplomatic agreements with the Borander chieftains whom she could’ve sworn were about to agree to her terms. It was all too much to bear.

Shylvia had not been very close to her parents. Some might have thought that being a Firelord — the child of a Flamelord pair — was an enviable life, but it was quite the opposite. The young no-el had been the object of four assassination attempts before her third year, and thus her parents had sent her away to Dithmoor, an Enomatic island, for twelve years.

There, she’d had to live her developing years under the harsh and unrelenting guidance of the religious Enomatics who sought to instill in her the black and white morality they followed. Despite never personally agreeing with their teachings, Shylvia had found it impossible to avoid being influenced by their commands, and to this day she still bore in her behavior and attitude the marks of having her childhood stolen from her.

“You were never there for me, mom, dad, but I really need your guidance now,” Shylvia murmured, resting her head in her hands.

The young Shylvia had never understood why her parents had chosen to abandon her, when she’d been the perfect child. Her younger brother, who she later received reports about, was quite the opposite. When she returned home, he was no longer living in the house, having been kicked out by her father. Nobody ever told Shylvia what exactly her brother had done, but it had to be very, very bad; there was a large crack down the center of the council table to remind her of that.

Her ears twitched as somebody knocked at the door, causing the newly appointed Flamelord to dart up from her improper position. Shylvia heard her guards conversing with the visitor outside, and she quickly composed herself, straightening out the elegant sleeves on her hands and ensuring that her veil covered her entire face. Not a moment too soon it turned out, as the stranger entered a second later, accompanied on either side by two of her bodyguards.

“Well hello, great and powerful Flamelord,” the man said with an elaborate bow. “I hear that you have newly been instated in your position and have come to offer my sincerest congratulations at your successful ascent to the throne. It is my deepest wish that your reign will be filled with good fortune and success in all your endeavors.”

“Who are you?” Shylvia demanded somewhat coldly. Something about the man’s inveigling disturbed her.

Staying bowed low, the man spoke. “I am not surprised you do not recognize my voice, as I am but a humble and lowly servant of you, great Flamelord, and it has been many years since our last encounter. But perhaps if you see my face, you will remember who I am.”

A vague memory stirred in the back of Shylvia’s head as her mind worked frantically to recognize the voice. “Look up then, that I may see your face.”

Slowly, the man straightened. The first thing Shylvia noticed was the large, unwavering smile plastered on his face. Then she looked into his eyes and what she saw made her gasp. His irises were an unmistakable mix of blue and gold. Only one family in the entire Vith kingdom had eyes like that: hers.

“Brother?”

“My dear Shylvi,” he said, the smile never leaving his face. “Am I glad to be back.”

Tours yruly