"Good evening, sir. Welcome home."
The Captain nodded politely to the doorman, though the last words still made him pause uncertainly. It just didn't sit right that he was living out of a Prince's estate, and Vanora's at that. "Thank you Frederick," he replied. "Is Vanora in?"
Frederick withdrew the hand he'd so hopefully held forth in expectation of receiving the Captain's coat. With a small sigh, he nodded. "She is indeed, sir, as are the guests for this evening."
"Guests?" He arched an eyebrow curiously.
For his part, Frederick looked sincerely apologetic. "I'm sorry sir, I thought you knew. Guild Master Volker and Artemus Bainbridge are here at Her Ladyship's request. And Noman, of course," he added with as much a look of disdain as he would allow himself.
"I probably should have known," the Captain sighed. There'd likely been a message from Vanora somewhere in the stack of things he hadn't bothered to look at yet. It was getting quite large and beginning to crowd his desk. Eventually he'd either have to make time to read them or hire a secretary. "Where can I find them?"
The group had gathered in the library, and the aroma of tea mixed with the musty smell of old books as he entered. Out of habit he took a moment to survey the layout. Vanora had positioned herself at roughly the center of activity, which was normal. Bainbridge had occupied an armchair near the window and Volker a lounge next to one of the bookshelves. Noman skulked in a corner.
"Nikolas," Vanora smiled warmly and stood as he entered. "I'd begun to worry you were working another late night."
"I probably should be," he told her, accepting the cup of tea she pushed into his hands. "And I'm embarrassed to admit I wasn't aware we were all meeting tonight, though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Bainbridge," he belatedly acknowledged the inventor. "I'd heard about your new airship arriving in the city. What brings you by?"
"Noman's mission, of course."
The Captain's eyebrows drew together in an expression of confusion. Volker cleared his throat from near the bookcase. "I'm just as confused as you are," the mage assured him. Vanora took his arm and led him gently to a couch.
"Why don't you sit," she suggested. "Now that you're here, I think it's time everyone was brought up to speed."
He nodded, and all eyes turned to Noman. "The Incursion kicked off a celestial war," he informed them. "Airea and Saliea aren't the only Old Gods left. Aeduun is out there, but he's..." he paused to lick his lips uncertainly. "He's not what he used to be. He's corrupted, twisted. He's driving all the demons beyond the barrier to get back in. Airea and her sister are opposing him as best they can, but they need help. Turns out Aelar found a way past the barrier just after the Old Gods disappeared. He's here, somewhere, doing his best to not be godly. I need to find him and get him back where he belongs."
As he spoke, Noman began pacing. A detachment of shadow followed him back and forth, tiny emerald eyes occasionally peering out of it at the gathered listeners. "Mayrin claims to be a member of an organization that also wants to find Aelar. She claims they know where he is - across the ocean, on a continent long lost to us. She also claims he's in trouble, that he may even be dying. If it's true it means our search for him is more urgent than I suspected."
The Captain took all this in with a slow nod. "And you trust her?"
"I don't have much of a choice," Noman shrugged. "But yes... I think she's telling the truth. Mostly, anyway."
"The plan," Vanora took over, "Is to cross the ocean in Bee's new airship with a small contingent of troops and a number of Mayrin's compatriots. With luck we can find our missing God and be back before things really heat up with Hammon's invasion."
The Captain tilted his head as he picked up on an important detail. "We?" he asked.
"I'm going with them," Vanora informed him. "I had hoped you would come as well." Her first words were matter of fact, but her last were softer, more hopeful than commanding.
Instead of answering, he turned his attention to the others in the room. "Bainbridge is obviously going," he guessed. "And so is Noman. What about you, Volker? Have you been recruited into this as well?"
"I hadn't been asked yet, no," the mage shook his head. "But then, I suspect Her Ladyship knew she wouldn't need to ask after I'd heard the specifics. They'll need a mage, and I can't pass up an opportunity like this. The guild is getting to the point where it can self sustain... I have a few people in mind to run things while I'm gone. It shouldn't be much of an issue."
"I wish I could say the same for Marsten," he sighed. "As much as I'm loathe to have you away from the city right now... away from me... I know you don't need protecting." He smiled slightly as he echoed the idea she'd hammered home during the Incursion. "And I know better than to talk you out of it. But I just can't leave. The Watch needs to be solid as we rebuild, and that means I need to stay here. Especially if you're going to throw off the balance of power by leaving another seat of the Five empty."
"Then I'll trust you to keep Noron, Vincent, and Konrad in line while I'm gone," she told him.
"You said a small contingent of troops were going?" he asked thoughtfully.
"That's right," she nodded. "Just in case."
"Bainbridge, can your new ship hold a couple of combat exoskeletons?"
"Might be a little tight," Bainbridge mused, "But I think we can make it work."
"Good. Then I'm sending Anara and one of her best with you. I'd send Hatchet as well, but I need my Lieutenant here with me. No arguing," he added.
"I hadn't even considered it," Vanora assured him with an amused smile. "I'm sure they'll be there with orders to further the mission, not to watch over me."
"Quite so," the Captain agreed. "Well then... when do you leave?"
"It will take a few days to put everything together," Bainbridge mused. "We'll need to do a complete inspection on the Tempest just to be safe, plus supplies."
"We leave as soon as we can," Noman spoke up. "The quicker the better."