Chapter 2

The hiss of Ada's welding torch echoed through the Armory hall, compounding into a sea of discordant noise until the seam was complete. She placed the tool down and grabbed the piece of alloy in her hand, testing the bond's strength. The actuators in her fingers whirred with effort, but as her focus shifted to the open tome on her desk, the metal promptly snapped. Ada let out an exasperated groan—two more pieces of detritus dropped on an already cluttered floor.

"Did you forget to measure twice?" a voice called out from behind. Ada whirled around as Hawthorne sauntered into the hall.

"Isn't that saying based on woodworking?" Ada asked flatly.

Hawthorne shrugged. "Don't have any welding jokes." She gingerly stepped over a tangle of cables. "Great work environment you've got; love the décor."

Ada turned to her tome with intense focus. "Can I help you with something?"

Hawthorne chuckled. "I was going to ask you that. Heard the cursing all the way up the stairwell."

"Can you interpret Armory schematics and machine the parts needed to assemble them?" Ada answered, without looking up.

"Unlikely," Hawthorne said.

"Can you convince Zavala to stop asking me when a forge will be operational again?"

Hawthorne puffed her cheeks and exhaled. "Even less likely."

Ada quickly flipped a page of the tome. The paper snapped, nearly tearing. "Sounds like the answer to your question is no."

"Is that why you're doing this? Vanguard orders?"

Ada jabbed a thumb at her own chest. "The Forges were—ARE—my legacy. It's my responsibility to continue their operation. Zavala's desires are tangential."

Hawthorne stepped closer to Ada's workstation. "Help me out here. I'm not super familiar with your illustrious organization's history—was the Armory born of a dream to have the world's greatest gun oven?"

Ada sighed. "The Armory was founded to stand against the Darkness, to shield humanity when we couldn't count on others to do so. The forges were simply the tools we used."

"So much for that grand plan. The Pyramids rolled in, and last I checked, Mars is still missing. Titan. Mercury."

"Did you come down here solely to antagonize me?" Ada snipped.

"All right, all right…" Hawthorne pleaded. "Look, I know we aren't friends or anything. I'm not sure you have any of those anyway—"

Ada glowered.

"Right, sorry," Hawthorne said quickly. "The thing is, people around here talk a big game about putting humanity first, but then it's all Guardians, all the time."

Ada nodded. "The devotion to Lightbearers can seem fanatical."

"But you're not like that, Ada."

Ada shook her head. "I appreciate the sentiment, Suraya, but I'm not sure how that relates to the forges."

Hawthorne leaned on Ada's desk. "I think your voice is important to have around here. I want you to succeed. But you might be holding on to the past too tightly."

Ada scoffed. "You presume to tell me how to carry the Armory's legacy?"

Hawthorne gestured to the forge memorabilia strewn about the hall. "Not at all. But your founders didn't wake up one day with forges on the brain. They started with a problem, then designed a solution as only they could."

Ada turned, her eyes thoughtful. "And you're suggesting I'm starting with a solution instead? Limiting my view?"

"I'm saying I would understand if it was hard to let go of all of this when it's all you've ever known."

Ada nodded. "The idea of leaving the forges behind is admittedly unnerving."

"I get it," Hawthorne said. "But the old methods aren't working. Maybe it's time to carry on your founders' legacy in your own way."

Ada was silent for a moment. "I should get back to work. Thank you for your advice." She jutted her arm out in a stiff handshake gesture.

Hawthorne chuckled and clasped her hand around Ada's. "Good luck. But maybe try to keep the noise down, okay? It bothers my bird."