(Let's call this the start of Chapter Two)

It wasn't an easy time to be a Prince of Marsten, Vanora mused. The city was still bore the scars of the Incursion, and likely would for years to come. Fires started during or after the evacuation had spread unchecked, leaving large swathes of the city nothing more than piles of burned out debris. Even the surrounding landscape had been altered, reshaped by the supernatural storm which had encircled it for so long. A lot of good farmland had been washed away. Hills had been eroded and new ravines carved into the ground. 

For some the most visible and heart wrenching change was the loss of the Ivory Tower. The gleaming white tower, iconic headquarters of the Marsten Watch , had risen above the city's skyline for generations. Now it was gone, destroyed in an eruption of magical energy during the Incursion's final moments. The Watch itself had been severely weakened as an organization during the fight to retake the city. Though weakened they lived on, rebuilding their numbers and maintaining their vigilance under the guidance of their Captain. 

Ah, their Captain. Vanora smiled fondly at the thought of him. He was an interesting man. For one thing just about everybody in the city knew him only by his rank. He was just the Captain, living embodiment of the Watch. He'd told her once that the job was his life, and she believed him. His real name was Nikolas. She'd only gotten it out of him when he thought he might die, and as far as she knew nobody else called him by it. Which was not the same as saying no one else knew what it was, of course. Just that those who did knew better than to use it when he was around. 

Presently she stood at the door to his office, watching him frown his way through a drift of paperwork. "Hatchet said I might find you here," she announced herself, making a point to sway her hips a little more than usual as she approached. Her dress made a pleasantly soft rustling noise because of it. He looked up with his frown still locked in place. With practiced grace she lowered herself into a chair and looked across the desk at him. "Problems, my dear Captain?"

"I think you know very well what they are." He rubbed his face with both hands, scrubbing away the frown. When he was done he looked weary, but glad to see her. 

"Talk to me," she invited. It was a ritual they'd developed in the days following the retaking of the city, when they both had too much to deal with and precious little time with one another. 

"The city's population is starting to boom again. Thankfully we're not having any trouble signing up new recruits. Everyone seems to think this is a glamorous job for some reason."

"It's the uniform," she smirked. "Haven't you heard?"

He snorted and ignored the remark. "Unfortunately for us that means cartloads of new Watchmen to train, and not enough of us to do the training. Not if we want to keep patrolling the streets at anything approaching a decent level of coverage. The army is helping as they can, but they're not a police force. They can keep people from rioting or looting, but not much more. And they've got their own problems to worry about, what with that ass Hammon out there building an army to march against us."

"He always was ambitions," Vanora sighed. Hammon had been one of the Five Princes who ruled Marsten. Right up until the Incursion, when he fled. Oh, the other four decamped the city as well - no one in their right mind would stay when there was a portal spilling out demons. But they at least had stopped at Redhurst, the closest Free City, and begun working to save their home. Hammon had just kept right on going. They'd thought him a coward at the time, but now they knew the truth. He'd seen an opportunity. If they failed he could march his own army in and be a savior. If they succeeded, and they had, he could march that same army in and take complete control. He never had liked sharing power. 

"On the plus side," she added, "We're scheduled to get another delivery of combat exoskeletons from Redhurst soon. Hammon won't be counting on those."

"Thank the Gods for that," the Captain agreed, then continued. "Aside from personnel issues there's the new Ivory Tower to be seen to. With all the rebuilding going on the builders and architects are charging prices we would have run them out of town for not too long ago. And that's if you can find any that aren't already waist deep in another project. And then there's the meetings," he bemoaned. "So many meetings."

"Somebody had to replace Hammon," Vanora chided him. "You know as well as I do that a power vacuum in a time like this would do far more harm than good. Besides, it says something about your reputation that they'd willingly give his districts over to you and the Watch. Your seat on the council is a compliment."

"That's because they know I'm not mad enough to want to be a Prince permanently. I'm fairly certain it would drive me mad. Besides," he chuckled a little, "I'm sure they'd say something else entirely if they knew you and I were... well, us."

"Oh, they know we're lovers," she assured him with a sly smile. "I think the whole city knows about that. You're living at my estate. Rumor was bound to spread."

"I suppose it was," he agreed. "So what are you up to this morning?"

"I was on my way to visit Volker. I've heard there are a number of new mages in town and I wanted to check in on things."

"The guild could use every mage they get their hands on," the Captain agreed. "Especially if they're going to keep working on projects like the exoskeletons. Be careful," he warned. "The city is still a mess."

"Not to worry, Nikolas," she stood and straightened the folds of her dress. "I-"

"Don't need protecting," he finished for her, shaking his head. "I know."

"I was going to say I'll be careful." She leaned over the desk and kissed him on the cheek before leaving. On her way out she found Lieutenant Hatchet.

"Find him?" Hatchet asked.

"Right where you said he would be. I'm on my way to Volker now, so you make sure to keep an eye on him. Make sure he eats," she instructed. 

"You can be sure of that," Hatchet agreed. "After all, if he wastes away and dies I get his job, and I don't think I want that just yet."

The End

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