There is a very fine line to tread here.
The southern cities must be socially corralled. If they learn that they outnumber the valley defenders and that the valley is accessible to them through force of might, the world tree’s protective magics having lessened, they might just try and make a rush on it, deeming it to be a more dependable position than any of their cities. Or at least they might make it the target of a raid. By now, they’re certain to have noticed the capabilities of the defense, given that they have been spared two invasions thanks to Pilot and the valley’s defenders thus far.
Pilot starts the Kestrel. The twelve cylinders roar to life.
One would think that they would take the logical step and ally themselves with the valley, adding it to their defensive alliance of the three remaining cities. However, this cannot be assumed. There’s too much blood in the water; too many lives have been taken; too many tensions have arisen. From the reports, the cities are no longer just on the defensive; they’ve become fully feral, like a cornered fox. It is no longer humanity versus the monsters. It is every faction for itself. The alliance of southern cities, the valley, and the invasions are to be viewed as three separate, distinct parties in this whole mess. He can’t rely on them not being the enemy just because they’re humans too. In the war that never ends, there are many factions, always vying for their way of life to become the dominant power in the world. There are as many personal beliefs as there are bullets in a war, and oftentimes, these are the things that become far more dangerous. One bullet will kill one man. But one belief will kill generations.
Pilot turns his head, looking at Caretaker who is standing there. She had wanted to come with him, but there’s just too much work to do here in the valley.
However, there are things to do to defuse the situation with the cities. Right now, they have the advantage that the valley's true capabilities are a secret. The true capacity of their production of food and weapons is a secret. The nature of their defenses, barring what the very likely present scouts from the south have witnessed after the end of the first invasion that drew their attention, is a secret. As far as the southern cities are concerned, they likely know next to nothing about the valley defenders as a faction.
But he and his people know a lot about the cities.
This is the wedge he’s going to use to drive them apart because of their distrust.
Information is critical on the battlefield; reminiscence, planning, strategy, and logistics are what win wars, not just men with guns.
Caretaker lifts a hand, waving to him with a motionless rise of her palm. Pilot does the same, nodding to her before he pushes the Kestrel forward. The propeller buzzes as the plane taxis across the shore of the lake and then slowly rises into the air, cutting over the tree line.
Pilot diverts the Kestrel, flying a pass around the world tree, before directing the plane toward the south.
Everyone has been on edge, never stopping, always waiting for the needle to drop. First it was the goblin invasions, but they were spared from those by some man named Pilot. Then they all stood in horrified wait, the walls manned and the graves already dug in preparation for the second invasion.
— But that, too, also struck the valley instead of them and was repelled. Again, by this person and by the caretaker of the world tree valley.
The dryads have always been whispered about as being mythical, legendary entities of power. They’ve always been held in great regard in the cities here.
And so, they’ve been spared from not one but two invasions, and, quite honestly, the situation feels more dangerous than ever before because of it. One would think that being spared from the invasions would resolve the tension among the people, but honestly, it has only intensified it.
“Move! Get those arrows into the supply!” barks an officer, bending down and easily yanking a boy up onto his feet who had fallen down into the lane, overburdened and gaunt.
The boy doesn’t have the energy to reply or apologize, simply shuffling on and stumbling as he is let go, moving in a half daze with his load on his shoulders as he files back in a line with dozens of others. All around the city, people are moving, working, and organizing more and more defenses for the war effort. However, prior to the invasions, this city was an industrial hub for smithing, weapons production, and metallurgy. Given the thriving economy, food production was outsourced to the other cities and simply purchased. However, money has little meaning these days.
Their two sister cities aren’t much better off. Together, they form a triangular hub of sorts. The one to the east of here was always renowned for its dominance of the alchemical and magical market, being home to one of the world’s most renowned magic academies that has existed in this area since the times of forgotten generations. The third city to the south-east was a dungeon city, with a dungeon-core in its heart, from which its economy thrived and grew, spawning many adventuring guilds in the region.
Dungeons are underground labyrinths that are said to be naturally occurring all throughout the world. Inside of them are birthed monsters by the thousands. While wildly dangerous, dungeons have been essentially domesticated during times of peace and harvested by people titled as ‘adventurers’ for as long as history records. Adventurers are the people who risk their lives to go into dungeons to hunt monsters and to bring back the precious resources found and earned deep below the world. And, in days like these, things like gold coins and precious jewels have very little value in comparison to the meat of the monsters themselves. Monster meat has become the primary diet of most people, as there is simply nothing else left to eat. Before all of this, eating monsters was always seen as extremely socially taboo. However, taboos fade very quickly when the alternative is to be too weak to defend oneself against the legions of creatures coming to kill everything and everyone.
But there just isn’t enough.
The south-eastern city keeps most of the food for its own people, and what they do send this way or to the alchemical city to trade for exorbitant exchanges simply isn’t enough to feed everyone. Malnutrition, illness, and exhaustion are rampant. People are dying by the hundreds every day just because of those factors.
In secret, there have been plans made together with the eastern alchemical city to push against the south-eastern city together, in order to secure their food source. And with the invasions being spared from them by the valley, it seems like the perfect time to do it.
“Look!” calls a voice from the side. “It’s back!”
He turns his head, looking around as people murmur. For weeks now, the great blackbird has flown from the boughs of the world tree, swooping down from its heaven-bound branches and over the cities and the wastelands like a hawk circling its territory. The talk of odd noises, the sights of destruction, and the stories that are told by the people here know no limits when it comes to the developments surrounding the valley and the blackbird. The way the night took on the colors of fire so often when it flew, the sounds of it roaring over the heads of terrified people outside the walls, and the sight of it obscuring the light of the sun like the silhouette of a dragon have given it quite the reputation as a beast of mythology, akin to the world tree itself.
People have seen it swoop down and kill; they’ve seen it release fire like a wyvern and burn the nests of thousands of goblins; they’ve watched it cut the landscape like a knife, leaving only deep scars in its wake — so far only to their benefit, but this does little to ease the fear surrounding its presence. Living next door to a dragon is no less terrifying just because it hasn’t eaten a person yet. There’s always the chance that it’ll come tomorrow. Something so powerful that the thought of it turning against them is enough to keep many awake at night.
The work stops, with the guardsmen, the survivors, the laborers, and everyone else staring up as it does something unusual today — it flies directly toward the city.
Many freeze in confusion and exhausted delirium, others immediately scream and run, soldiers bark commands and alarm bells start ringing as the droning, the screaming that comes from the sky becomes louder and louder.
He stands there on the plaza, watching, covering his face as the powerful wind of the beast shooting over their heads nearly knocks him off his feet as it flies over the roofs of houses, close enough to touch any them with its gale if it wished.
— And from it, something drops down toward them.
He closes his eyes, accepting that he is about to die and that he is about to finally be free from the burden of survival.
But instead, nothing happens.
The screaming stops, the roaring vanishes toward the east as the thing flies away, and he opens his eyes again, looking around the plaza at the many faces looking out from their hiding places toward him as something slowly drifts down from the sky above, landing next to him. The soldier turns his gaze down, looking at the large container, to which is strapped a large, gray sheet of fabric that drapes around it, attached with many thick cords.
People watch, but only a few approach as they examine it from a vaguely safe distance. Cautiously, he bends down and touches the strange clasping of the box, opening it and flinching in preparation.
Inside is nothing but color. Jams in many stacked glasses, fruits, dried and cured meats and fish, and grains pressed into rectangular bars.
Attached to the inside of the lid is a single note that says only a single sentence.
‘With our brothers, we will share.’
All across the sky, several more containers begin to drift down toward the world below.
The Kestrel glides through the sky as Pilot pulls back up on the controls, rising higher with more ease now that the plane’s load has been lightened.
While it would have been easy enough to drop a few cluster bombs into the hearts of their cities to keep them afraid of the valley, that would do them few favors in the long run. A fearful 'ally', suppressed into service, is an ally who will turn on you at the first opportunity given in order to secure their own freedom.
The valley produces too much food anyway, quite honestly. It’s overly abundant in all manner of things that are edible, from berries to fruits to meats and fish. These people here, on the other hand, have nothing of the sort; they’re an industrial hub with next to no regional food production of any sort. Only one city of the three has the capacity to produce food in any meaningful fashion and that isn't enough for all of them. The valley does, however. This is the wedge he will deploy to break their coalition apart.
Pilot turns the Kestrel, diverting to the next city, which his people have told him is the central alchemical hub of the nation. Or at least, it was.
By showing them that they not only have the ability to trade but that they are good-willed as well despite everything that has happened, they can begin easing into some manner of relations.
Give a cornered animal a way out, and it will take it's escape instead of attacking.
Feed it a hungry animal long enough, and it will become docile.