The Tempest was obviously a sibling of the Headwind. Noman could see it in the lines of her hull, just as you could see similar brushstrokes in every work by the same painter. Bainbridge had designed her, that much was certain. But he'd learned a thing or two from the Headwind's destruction. Where the first airship had been a curiosity designed to fly limited amounts of cargo and passengers, the Tempest was hard to mistake for anything other than a tool of war. Gun ports studded her hull six to a side, ready to visit death from on high to her enemies.
Those enemies, thankfully, were also the enemies of Marsten and its allies. Some wondered how easily that could change. Vanora, for her part, seemed certain it wouldn't. And why would it, when she had such a long and close friendship with Artemus Bainbridge? She waited patiently with Noman beside the airfield as the Tempest set down, no less graceful for its armament, the wind from its rotors tugging at her dress and the bottom of Noman's long coat.
As soon as the rotors spun down and the exit ramp deployed Vanora was trotting towards it. "Bee!" she cheerily greeted the man who exited. He grinned back at her and took her hand in gentlemanly fashion. Noman followed at a more measured pace, and Bainbridge's happy expression faltered somewhat as he neared. There were few people who knew the extent of Noman's involvement during the Incursion. Bainbridge was one of them, and Noman was certain the inventor blamed him at least partially for the loss of the Headwind.
"Vanora," Bainbridge regrouped his smile enough to greet her. "It's so good to see you again. Noman," he added perfunctorily.
"Thank you for coming," Vanora hooked his arm in hers and began leading him away from the airship. Noman hung back to one side, letting the Prince do the talking. "You know I appreciate your efforts for us. Even a handful of airships like the Tempest will help level the playing field against Prince Hammon's coalition."
"You needn't thank me," Bainbridge assured her. "It gives me an excuse to refine my designs and do what I do best - build interesting new things. It also helps that you're paying me a handsome sum," he added with a chuckle.
As they left the airfield and Vanora directed them towards the streets of Marsten, Bainbridge pulled gently away from her arm. "This might be too soon, since I've only just landed, but what's this about? Your message made it sound urgent." He spared another quick glance at Noman, who returned the look impassively.
"It is," she assured him. "But all in good time, Bee. We've got enough leeway for tea, at the very least."
Tea turned out to be a more complicated affair than Noman cared for. They returned to Vanora's estate, where a table and chairs were set up outside in the garden. Tea and a small assortment of baked goods was served. Noman tried not to fidget through the smalltalk, and managed to keep from saying much at all as Vanora and Bainbridge discussed mundane things like the weather. But it was over soon enough, and then the real business began.
"Bee," Vanora began, "I'm going to tell you some things that mustn't be repeated."
"You don't need to worry about me blabbing," he told her. It wasn't quite enough, and Vanora's eyes got the cold look that Noman thought looked just a little too much like Airea.
"That's not quite good enough. I need your word, Bee."
The inventor straightened in his chair, a slight frown creasing his brow. "You have it. I won't repeat a word of it."
"Good. This Incursion mess isn't over quite yet."
Bainbridge looked immediately at Noman, who held up a hand. "It's not like last time. Not yet, anyway. Things might get a lot worse, but if I can find a... certain artifact, we might be able to put this danger to rest once and for all."
"Another Incursion is the last thing we need," Bainbridge agreed, "especially with Hammon's armies knocking at the door. So what's my part?"
"We need an airship," Vanora provided the answer. "What Noman seeks is quite far away."
Bainbridge narrowed his eyes curiously. "How far, exactly?"
"Across the ocean," Noman picked up the thread of conversation.
Bainbridge looked from Vanora to Noman and back again, considering his next words. "Before the Incursion I would have called that crazy," he told them. "You're talking a lost continent across the ocean? There's always been myths and rumors, but... Nobody who's sailed out that way has ever come back. You realize that, don't you?"
"There's a good reason for that," Noman informed him. "And we won't be taking any mundane ship. The Tempest, or something like her, could get us there faster and more safely."
Vanora leaned forward across the table, eyes boring into Bainbridge. "We also need someone to pilot it for us. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important, Bee. Time is of the essence, and you saw what the last Incursion looked like. We can't risk another. Will you help us?"
Bainbridge pressed his lips together and let a sigh out through his nose. Finally he said, "Of course I will. I'll have to make some arrangements to make sure everything keeps running as it should in my absence, but as long as we don't have to leave in the next couple of days that shouldn't be an issue. And I do have some questions."
"Of course," Vanora allowed. "It's only fair you know what we do about where we're headed."
"Right," Bainbridge pulled a pad of paper and the stub of a pencil from a vest pocket. "Basics first. How many people are you going to load onto my airship, and how long are we going to be over open ocean...?"