The valley itself has several internal positions that are currently within the crudest stages of redevelopment. While the key factor in their defense remains the outer walls, he can’t allow the entire valley to be put at risk if even just one of them falls to the onslaught. This is why several firing positions are being made on hills within the valley itself, weapons caches are being created in marked locations in groves and other such hidden places, and internal fallback locations and fortifications are being made behind the exterior walls. This means that if a wall falls, the defense won’t collapse, rather, it will just shift inside a little deeper. The front lines of a true battlefield always move back and forth.
Pilot watches as a few orcish workers carry sacks of ash over their shoulders, together with some dwarves bringing old growth wood to te construction site.
— Worse still, he can’t rely on the outer walls as their primary defense.
He had seen it himself — how the northern city had been flooded by portals above the city, allowing the goblins to simply bypass its defenses. Staub and many of the others had also told him about this event from their perspectives down on the ground. If they encounter a wave that can bypass the walls, they need to be prepared, which is why the internal positions and points are important. But more so, they need mobile troops who are quick on the move and can keep a situation under control until the rest of the defensive forces arrive. If, say, for example, an invasion somehow came to summon thousands of monsters within their salt mine, which lies inside of the core of the valley, he needs a troop of people who can get there as fast as lightning and who can then hold down the position alone long enough to allow the others to catch up.
Such rapid interceptor units are a critical component of his internal defensive strategy, and their existence is made possible by three things. One, the network of roads that is being built inside the valley. Two, the carriages that the people from the north have brought with them, and three, the beasts of burden that are able to pull these carriages. They seem like quite remarkable animals; he’s never really seen anything like them.
Pilot turns his head, looking as Caretaker stands there, stroking a nervous anqa that is fighting against its reins. Anqas are the large, bipedal birds that the people here of this world use as their primary beasts of toil, be it for pulling carriages or for riding into war. They seem very quick, and remarkably clever for animals. But they are a little skittish at times. But that’s fair. They aren’t used to the sound of gunfire yet. In the old days of the war that never ends in his world, it took special breeding programs years to create animals that weren’t scared off by artillery blasting down near them and their riders firing rifles over their heads. It’ll take a while for these weird birds to adjust just the same. Caretaker soothes the animal, which clicks nervously with its rounded, large beak several times as it cranes its long neck, looking back over its shoulder at the carriage that workers are loading another machine gun into.
— It’s not exactly a tank. But it’ll get the job done if a team needs to rush between the valley’s internal positions.
“Pilot,” calls Caretaker, turning her head back over her shoulder to look his way. She nods for him to come over to her, smiling as softly and warmly as always. “Come pet it.”
Pilot stands there, looking at her and then at the animal that is rearing its legs, clawing them through the dirt with its long, sharp talons, leaving grooves in the ground. The last time he touched the world tree, when he asked her too, it got weird. Before he can make the decision to decline, Caretaker has gone through the motions and simply pulled on the bird’s reins, walking it to him.
Pilot lifts his gaze, finding himself staring into the eyes of the creature, the plumage on its head rising up as it spreads its feathers warily. His hand rests on his pistol in its holster.
“Be nice,” says Caretaker, and he isn’t sure if she’s talking to him or the anqa.
The animal clicks excitedly with its beak for a time, lifting its head into the air again, and Caretaker takes his hand and presses it against the animal’s neck. “It’s soft, isn’t it?” she asks, wrapping her arms around its neck and pressing her face into its fluff. Pilot pets the animal for a time, the two of them warily eyeing each other — both parties being deeply untrusting of their opposites.
After he stops petting it, Pilot looks down at his hand, rubbing his fingers together. It’s covered in a powdery, extremely fine residue. It’s a dust that is far finer than flour and almost seems to stick to the skin in a soft layer.
— The bird squawks, pulling away from them as it moves, and the carriage driver gives the order for them to get rolling.
Pilot and Caretaker stand there, watching it move off as the construction of several bunkers around them continues.
He looks down at his hand again.
“It’s residue,” says Caretaker, standing in front of him, watching him mess with his fingers. He looks at her. Her face and robe are covered in the powder too. The dryad points up to the sky. “Birds stay dry from the rain this way,” she explains. She sticks the tip of her thumb in her mouth and then grabs his hand, sliding her digit over the end of his sleeve. The odd powder there doesn’t displace at all. Despite there being wet on his jacket, the dampness doesn’t move into the material, instead staying on the exterior like dew.
Interesting. Very interesting.
This could be useful, maybe? The anqas are a precious commodity; they can’t afford for anything to happen to even a single one of them. In terms of logistical value, pragmatically speaking, each animal is worth more to the defensive effort than a human life, or even several. But this powder could be very useful if carefully harvested from the animals. He’s going to need to do some field tests.
“Thank you, Caretaker,” says Pilot, forming the idea in his head. He turns to walk away, taking a few steps before stopping and turning back, looking at her. The two of them stand there, several strides apart, as work around them continues, life moving this way and that as teams of all manner construct the fortifications, build the roads, and begin working on the logistics of a pathway toward the mine. Somewhat awkwardly, she stays there, pulling on a strand of her dark hair as their eyes hold contact, the two of them staring at each other for no other reason than the fact that it feels right to do so.
Caretaker’s back presses against the tree as she and Pilot kiss, the two of them having gone into the forest and away from the work being done. Neither of them really said anything. Pilot grabbed her hand, and the two of them walked off together without a word, both of them knowing where they were going, and that was that. Now, here they find themselves, under the shadows of a large tilia tree in the middle of the forest that promises to keep their business a secret.
Her hands grip his shirt, reaching down under his jacket and around him as he holds her, the two of them sharing their breath.
— The bushes rustle.
Caretaker stops and lets out a loud yelp in terrified surprise, as out from the greenery, stares an expressionless, broken, wooden face.
The fire crackles as they sit there. Pilot and the Luisa rather silently, while she sits here like an awkward third wheel, holding her hands in her lap. Caretaker stares at his masked friend and helper, the young alchemist. Caretaker was a little wary at first, but after seeing that Pilot knew her, the dryad seemed less nervous about the situation.
Pilot finishes explaining his idea of waterproofed fabrics to Luisa, who has been quietly sitting there without moving, just staring at the fire. After a moment longer, Luisa nods her head once, looking up at the fabric tarps that hang over her camp. They’re damp and soaked through by the rain. But the concept of a waterproof exterior layer for materials is invaluable for things like this, tents and shelters, but also uniforms for the defenders.
Caretaker looks over toward Pilot, somewhat unsure, as he and the alchemist just sit there, both nodding once and then staring into the fire, both of them seeing something deep inside of it that she doesn’t quite manage to decipher. For her, it’s just very bright and orange. Whatever mesmerizes them about it has no effect on her. In fact, the fire makes her pretty uneasy.
After a little more of this strange ritual that she doesn't get, with Pilot’s new project theoretically set into motion, she and him get up to leave Luisa’s camp and head back home, but get caught up with even more work on the way. Caretaker needs to reinforce the fortified bunkers being built with rootwork from the valley, and Pilot is needed to designate the placement of firing trenches up on the hills around the valley center.
When all is finally said and done, Pilot and Caretaker reunite by the lake where they first met and then walk together back home, where they manage to collapse onto one another in full, total, absolutely exhausted peace and quiet.
— With only maybe a little more of what had happened before.