"You want me to do what?" Noman asked, glowering across the desk at The Captain. The two of them sat in an office that had probably stood empty for some time until being appropriated for it's current use. Though it had been cleaned of the dust that had no doubt occupied it's every surface the air retained an old, musty smell that spoke of a forgotten place. Though the room was fairly small, only just big enough to accommodate the desk and some bookshelves, the lack of personal effects made it feel cavernously large, hollow and empty.
"It's a little late to start playing simple, don't you think?" The Captain responded. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. It wasn't that the chair itself was actually uncomfortable. In fact he suspected it was a rather nice chair. It just lacked the familiar contours of the chair he'd left back in Marsten, and that was one more thing to nag at the edge of his attention.
"What I meant to say was no," Noman clarified.
"Luckily for me you don't have that option," The Captain said. "I haven't forgotten what you did in Marsten," he said, and saw Noman's eye twitch just enough to know that this was a barb he could use to good effect. "I've said before that the only reason I haven't had you locked up again is because we might need you. Now I'm going to come at this from a different angle," he leaned forward on the desk. "You've said you want to help, maybe to make amends for what you've done. If you're serious about some kind of personal redemption then you don't really have room to say no, do you? So which is it? Do you really want to help us here? Or are you just offering token assistance because your goddess abandoned you and you don't know what else to do?"
The last words might have been a slap in the face for Noman's reaction to it. His eyes widened in surprise before narrowing, and his lips twisted into a silent snarl. But that expression also passed and he looked down at his hands in silence. The Captain wondered what he was thinking, what manner of inner dialog was taking place. When Noman looked up again his eyes were set, any sign of his thoughts erased.
"I want to help," Noman affirmed.
"Good," The Captain nodded. "I hoped you would. That being the case, I need you to go and talk to those inventors. Whatever personal hangups you have about technology, get over them. I shouldn't need to tell you that we're going to need ever edge we can get to retake Marsten and stop this Incursion. If they can use technology to give us that edge I'm not going to tell them no. And I'd rather they didn't waste time and effort on things that won't help, which is where you come in. Like it or not you're the only one who has extensive experience with demons. You worked with them back in Marsten so you're uniquely qualified to tell us what they can do. If what you've told us is true you were also trained to fight them in the Iron Order and you've had first hand experience with an Incursion. Get down to those factories and see what you can do."
"Fine," Noman acquiesced. "I'll do it. I doubt I'll be as helpful think I'll be, but I'll see what I can do."
"Glad to hear it," The Captain said. He leaned back in his chair and frowned as his back failed to find the well worn shape it was accustomed to. "Prince Haldran has a strategy meeting scheduled for tonight," he added. "After dinner. I want you there to provide feedback."
"I may have fought an Incursion but it was as a soldier. I'm no general," Noman objected. "But," he added before The Captain could object, "I'll be there anyway. Whether or not anybody listens to what I have to say..." he shrugged, remembering how Marsten's army had attacked the Ivory Tower despite his objections.
"Just so long as you're there," The Captain told him. He rummaged into one of his desk drawers and handed Noman a piece of paper. "Here. This will identify you as an agent of Marsten's Watch, with privileges to operate in Redhurst authorized by Prince Haldran and Prince Vanora."
"Who?" Noman asked, taking the paper and looking it over curiously. It bore two fairly ornate seals with signatures underneath them, and the device of the Marsten Watch.
"The ruler of Redhurst and one of Marsten's Princes," The Captain explained. "We've had a number of these made and distributed to people who don't have time to go through channels. Mostly quartermasters and the crew of the Headwind."
"Do I get a rank?" Noman inquired, carefully folding the paper and placing it in an inside coat pocket.
"No," The Captain told him flatly. "You're outside of our normal chain of command. Don't think that means you can ignore an order from an officer of the Watch," he warned. "And you'll still be escorted by a member of the Watch wherever you go."
"Fair enough," Noman agreed. He found Hatchet waiting for him out in the hallway, idly chatting with another Watchman. His eyes were immediately on Noman.
"How'd it go?" Hatchet asked.
Noman took a deep breath and let it out again. The other Watchman was still there, hands resting behind her back as she regarded him. "Getting ordered around by a human being instead of a goddess is a nice change," he told them. "Who're you?" he asked.
"Anara," she said. "I'm Hatchet's partner."
"So now I need two of you to watch me?" Noman asked.
"Have a problem with that?" Anara asked.
"Not that it would matter if I did," Noman told her. "Come on then." He turned and started walking down the hall, Hatchet and Anara following.
"So where are we going?" Hatchet wanted to know.
They were the ugliest, most inelegant buildings Noman had ever seen. They had obviously been built with nothing more than function in mind, aesthetics not even an afterthought. Each one looked like the others, multistory boxes of red brick filled with machinery and the workers to operate it. Stacks sprouted from the rooftops to pour white steam or black smoke into the wind. Everything seemed coated in a fine layer of ash.
It seemed the industry of Redhurst never rested, even in the face of an Incursion. Haggard looking workers bustled in and out of the factories, unloading carts of of raw materials on one side of the building and loading finished goods onto carts that waited on the other side. Even so space inside had been given over to the inventors and their equipment, and Noman understood that they could call on the services of the factory's machinery if they needed it.
This arrangement had not gone over well with the factory's foreman, who watched the inventors as if they were a vile disease in danger of spreading. When Noman and his escorts began crossing the factory floor he saw them from his perch and quickly moved to intercept this new group of trespassers.
"Oi!" he hollered at them as he strode purposefully in their direction. "And just who are you?" he demanded, though the look he gave the uniformed Watchmen was enough to tell Noman he knew exactly who they were.
"Hatchet and Anara," Hatchet introduced himself and his partner, "Marsten Watch. We're here to-"
"Yeah?" The foreman interrupted, "And is that supposed to impress me? If you haven't noticed this isn't your city. It's bad enough I've had those maniacs foisted on me," he jerked a thumb back towards the inventors, "Now you people think you can come in and wander around like you own the place?"
"That's right," Noman told him, holding out the piece of paper The Captain had given him. "Go ahead and look that over. I think you'll be particularly interested in Prince Haldran's signature. It's right there below the part that says I get to go where I damned well please."
The foreman snatched the paper from his hand and scrutinized it carefully. When he handed it back he looked more annoyed than before, which Noman hadn't thought possible. "Fine," he snapped. "Go do whatever it is you do. But try not to get underfoot, right? I still have a job to do, whether you're here or not."
"You stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours," Noman promised. "Mostly." The foreman gave him an especially dirty look and stormed off.
"Does it really say that?" Hatchet asked curiously as they moved on.
"It does," Noman confirmed.
"Haldran actually signed it?" Anara sounded dubious. "How did you manage to get something like that?"
"Your captain gave it to me," Noman said, tucking the paper securely away in his coat. "I didn't think I'd have to use it much, but if that was any indication I may just want to pin it to the outside of my coat and save my arm the strain."
The inventors had taken over a section of factory floor that had been used as office space until their arrival. Chalkboards, drafting desks, cork boards with notes and sheets of paper pinned up on them, even cramped looking clerical desks had all been taken over and rearranged to suit individual tastes. Most of then were too engrossed in their work to notice the trio's arrival, but several looked up in interest.
"Who's in charge here?" Noman demanded. A few more inventors looked up at him, then looked curiously at one another.
"Nobody's really... in charge," one of them spoke up.
"Why?" Another asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Depends on your point of view," Noman muttered under his breath. Louder, he said, "No, nothing's wrong. Yet. I've been sent by Prince Haldran and the Princes of Marsten to work with you towards finding new technology that will help us fight the demons and end this Incursion." It sounded overly officious to his own ears, and he pressed on. "In order to do that, I need to find out who's in charge." More of the inventors were paying attention now, though none of them seemed to know the answer to Noman's question. "Then I guess that means I'm in charge," he told them.
"Ah," one of the inventors cleared his throat, "We aren't really doing much of anything just yet. Nothing to be in charge of, really. We only just got here and got set up a little while ago."
"Only just?" Noman asked. Looking around he saw pieces of paper scattered chaotically around the area. The chalkboards were filled with sketches, notes, and equations. Pieces of paper had already begun to populate the corkboard. "What's all this then?" he asked, gesturing to all he saw.
"Random ideas," yet another inventor shrugged. "Most of them won't pan out. Just idle thoughts, theories, conjecture."
"Don't let them fool you," someone told him, drawing the attention of those who were actually following the conversation. "They're hard at work, the lot of them, even if they won't admit it. Problem is they don't think of it as work." He stood and made his way over to Noman with one hand outstretched. Noman accepted the gesture, grasping him firmly by the forearm for a second. From the man's briefly surprised expression it hadn't been what he was expecting, though he returned the grip just as firmly. It made Noman wonder if customs had changed since the last time he'd had to deal with such social niceties.
"And you are?" Noman asked.
"Lex Barrow," the man introduced himself, "Tinkerer."
"It's as good a word as any," Barrow shrugged. "Tinkerer, artificer, machinest, inventor... they're all different ways of saying the same thing. I don't think you mentioned your name," he prompted.
"Noman," he said.
"Just Noman?" Barrow inquired with a raised eyebrow.
"These days yes, just Noman. This is Hatchet and Anara," he introduced his escorts. "They're..." he paused, looking back at them. "My escorts," he finished, deciding it sounded like something that could be interpreted in a positive sense. "You seem more social than your fellows," he observed.
"We all have our flaws," Barrow said with a smile. "It strikes me you need a little help understanding the unique mindset of 'my fellows'."
"Stark raving mad, wasn't it?" Hatchet quipped, and Barrow laughed.
"There is a bit of that, yes," he admitted. "It's an occupational requirement for those of us who's creations are just as likely to explode as work right the first time."
"You volunteering?" Noman asked him.
"I guess I am," Barrow nodded. "I figure if we're going to have someone in charge that's not... well, one of us... it would benefit everyone to have someone there to provide a little insight and understanding. Don't you think?"
"You're hired," Noman told him.
"Great," Barrow smiled. "Where do we start, then?"
"What's everybody working on already?"
"A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Hard to say, really, it's not like we all give reports."
"So they're all working on their own individual projects?" Anara asked.
"Mostly," Barrow nodded. "A few of them have teamed up or formed small groups if their personalities mesh, but mostly it's individuals. The more directions you come at a problem from the more likely you are to find a solution, right?"
"Maybe," Anara mused, "Maybe not."
"Well, the wheels are turning," Barrow said. "That's the important part."
"They'll have to turn faster than this if we're going to get anything useful done," Noman grumbled. "How fast can you build something once you figure out what you want to build?"
"Depends. It's... well, it's like making a spell, sort of. The more you want it to do the more complex it is and the longer it takes."
"All right then," Noman took a breath and walked to the center of the inventor's chaotic arrangement of desks. "Listen up!" he said loudly, enough to carry over the din of operating machinery and get every inventor's attention. "You're here to come up with ways to kill demons. To do that, you'll need to know what works and what doesn't, what hurts them and what will just get you killed if you try it. So here's what I know..."