“Like a mouse…” says Caretaker quietly next to him as the two of them stand there, observing the guardsman, standing there with outstretched arms and spread legs as a duo of tailors adjust the fabric around his wrists and ankles. He’s been draped in an uncolored, gray, drab fabric that the tailors are working into a functional uniform.
If there’s even the slightest, most remote possibility that they’ll have to deal with a human threat, uniforms will serve as an excellent tool for visual identification of friendly units. As long as armies have existed, some form of identification has come with them, whether these were wreaths on their heads, bands of fabric around their arms, or full banners and tabards with iconography worn over steel armor. When thousands of men face off against each other, knowing who is on your side is vital information, especially at first glance. Such things fell out of style with the advent of the gun, when steel armor and knights fell out of fashion. After this, people realized that there was no point in overburdening themselves with so much weight, so they simplified. Armor, padding, and such things were essentially entirely done away with, and the soldiers of the new wars to come wore simple, drab pants, shirts, and boots. Some in more valuable positions were outfitted with experimental armor plating for beneath their shirts, but such developments were rare and extremely expensive.
In the era of gunfire, mobility beats armor. A bunker is only valuable until it has been circled.
There is also an economic advantage. These sorts of ‘drabs’ as they are called, are cheap and simple to produce. They can be made in several uniform sizes and then just given out at the closest match to a soldier. If a man is wounded, layers of padding and armor don’t need to be removed; they can just be cut open. The materials are absolutely minimal, and they are extremely robust. Add in some anqa powder for water resistance, and they’ll be a significant, under appreciated force modifier for the defenders of the valley.
— Of course, in this world, Tango doesn’t have access to those sorts of weapons and will be coming at them the old fashioned way, barring a bit of magic. But that’s nothing a little leather can’t fix.
Caretaker looks over his way, at his jacket before looking back at the man being tailored. It has the same color as Pilot's. Her eyes going wide, the dryad makes two circles with her index fingers and thumbs and stretches, holding them above Pilot’s head so that he looks like a mouse. She laughs.
The people are tired and overworked; it’s clear to see on everyone’s face.
But despite that, morale is at an all time high. After the defeat of the second invasion and then the festival a few days ago, there has been a fervor in the air that is apparent. Everyone is pushing forward with their duties, chores, and tasks, and everyone else around them sees this. Nobody slows down or stops because nobody wants to be the one who calls it quits while everyone else is trying so hard. This sort of progress can’t be sustained for long, but he feels like they’re in good time. If this sprint keeps up for another day or two at least, he’ll be able to sleep like a king for the time before the invasion. More or less.
— Caretaker clings to his arm as they walk. She looks at him, feeling him looking down her way. The dryad smiles, lowering her gaze again to the path.
The two of them stand outside of the settlement, looking down a long, barren stripe of land. The forest has been cleared out from here all the way to the southern gate, with the first section of road having completed its first stage of construction. The teams are working on building toward the other two gates now.
“Your Grace!” yells an excited voice from the side, being overpowered by the sounds of many other dozens of squawking cries. Pilot and Caretaker look, watching as what can only be described as a swarm of children run out of the forest, carrying bags and baskets loaded full of various herbs and plants. Excitedly, they descend upon them, unloading heaps of their harvested materials to show the dryad, all of them arguing with each other to be the first to get her attention.
There are many powerful medicinal plants in the valley. Even with his bare-bones, limited knowledge, Pilot can see this. There are many plants boasting statuses that promise to alleviate illness and infections, plants that sink fevers or cure parasitic ailments, and others that make vague promises of increasing the rate of a wound’s scabbing and healing. He’d have the thought of getting these compounded and turned into all manner of pills and suspensions, but honestly, Alchemy, priests, and Caretaker’s healing magic are so powerful that there doesn’t seem like much of a point in investing resources into the concept of a pharmaceutical industry akin to what was present in his old world. Her creations are better than anything he could have an alchemist dream up with his own world's ideas, he’s sure.
The man stands there with his hands in his pockets, watching as Caretaker is kidnapped by what he can only describe as a legion of children, who excitedly pull on her arm and robes and drag her away toward the settlement as she cries, desperately reaching back for him.
For many of the children, the majority of whom have lost one or both parents, Caretaker has become a very maternal figure. He supposes it’s to be expected. The dryads seem to have an almost mythological status in the culture of the people of this world. To the children, she may as well be a living, breathing goddess. Perhaps even to many of the adults.
Regarding medicine, one interesting thing he’s observed here is that these people seem to have an affinity for potions. Much like the explosive ones he’s used for his benefit many times before, but less… violent. Red potions restore health and vitality; blue ones restore magical energy; green ones restore physical stamina; and so on. These seem popular among the everyday people of the valley. There’s most certainly a military application here too. He’s considered stocking each bunker with some of these potions. But it isn’t easily viable.
It turns out that potions, all potions, are extremely volatile. If you mix up the chemicals or if the glass shatters and they drip together, it could spell disaster. Alchemy is a very dangerous art, and alchemical products are extremely hazardous, even after their production. All of the produced potions of the valley are stored in a separate, walled section of the new stockpile with a door.
Pilot looks down around himself, standing there. Several of the remaining children look up his way. Feeling observed, he stares down at the many expectant faces.
“Come on,” says Pilot, leisurely strolling back toward the settlement. While most of them have become infatuated with Caretaker, a few of them seem to want to stay near him instead. Ideally, he'll manage to recapture Caretaker before he goes back home.
Dozens of small feet run after him. Confusingly for Pilot, none of them are clad in combat boots.
He makes a mental note to pass it on to the leather workers. He needs to get that project started too.
The settlement has a stockpile now, a large, roofed structure with no walls apart from the section holding the alchemical products. Inside of it are many shelves and rows of containers that are being filled and stacked. A few dedicated workers run around with papers in their hands, keeping a tally of everything that is going in and out. This was one of his projects that he had Schtill, the librarian, put into motion. Having a view of your available resources is just as valuable as having resources. You can’t make a plan if you don’t know if you have the tools for it to be viable or not. Here, the children are depositing loads of their herbs that they harvest and then begin drying every day. Others help out the cooks or the last baker alive as assistants or spend time with many of the priestesses and priests who are beginning to once again propagate the teachings of their faiths, in which they suddenly seem to have found stock again.
Promises to God have gotten many men through the lengths of many trenches.
Any materials that are harvested, mined, or plundered from the north are gathered, cataloged, and processed here. This warehouse is the center point of their new industrial center. The alchemists, the smiths, the leatherworkers — everyone — has set up shop here near it for easy access to supplies and tools. A full-fledged center of production is emerging naturally around it.
Pilot watches as Caretaker extensively praises each and every single one of the children for their hard work today, sitting there on her knees as the circle of them buzzes around her, boys and girls each trying to out-talk or outdo each other to be the focus of her attention. Some of them come back more than once, desperate to be affirmed again in some manner.
“I don’t know how she has the energy for it,” says a voice from next to him, Staub. Pilot turns to look at the dark-elf. She’s healed considerably well so far from her injuries sustained during the second invasion. These sorts of injuries, in his world, would have taken her out of commission for months, if not for life. Even if bones heal, there are damages that the body can’t recover.
But here she is, a bit rough but functional and alive.
“She is very talented,” replies Pilot, looking back at Caretaker as the dryad laughs, picking up a girl and holding her up into the air, making her the envy of everyone around her. His answer refers not only to her question but also to many other things. He thinks about his words for a while as they watch her play, trying to understand the sentence he wants to form. “Thank you for keeping her safe.”
The dark-elf shakes her head, her short hair, which is clean now, flowing. “I would hardly say we did,” she concedes, lifting her arm and the shield that she always carries with herself, even on peaceful days like this. “Before… you know, before all of this started,” starts Staub, letting out a wince as she leans against a shelf. “It was my job too, to protect people.” The dark-elf looks back toward the crowd. "It was easier back then."
— Two hands grab Staub from behind, a head leaning over her shoulder. Fiery red hair contrasts the dark-elf’s complexion. “You’ll protect me too, right, Dusty?” asks Vilena, the fire sorceress, squeezing the dark-elf. "From all the bad, mean things?"
Staub winces as her sore body is compressed. She quickly grabs Vilena’s hands, yanking her off of herself. “I’ll leave you for dead first, Vilena,” replies the dark-elf, looking over her shoulders with a tired face at the smugly smiling sorceress.
“Pilot, Pilot!” says Vilena excitedly, leaning her head on Staub’s shoulder and ignoring the woman's reply. “Are you going to thank me too?” she asks, holding a finger against her lips and looking his way with an overly coy expression.
“Have some decency, Vilena,” sighs Staub, elbowing the woman behind her, who still hasn’t fully let go of her. “He already belongs to someone.”
“And so did your shirt before I took it this morning,” replies Vilena, looking at Staub and tugging on the wrongly sized shirt she herself is wearing. The dark-elf shakes her head and says nothing, before Vilena turns back to look at Pilot with wide eyes.
Pilot stands there, thinking. After a full minute of piecing the sentence together in his head, he turns his head to look at her. He hasn’t really had a chance to speak with either of them about what happened that night during the invasion. It must have been brutal for both of them. They were absolutely destroyed by the boss-monster, the Hantu. “I heard that your fire was ineffective,” says the man, looking at the sorceress.
Vilena’s face falls white, all of the blood draining out of it immediately as if she had seen a ghost. The woman begins shaking, her legs giving out as she falls to the ground, her grip on Staub failing in an instant. “Vilena?” asks Staub. “Vilena!” yells the dark-elf, grabbing the sorceress and shaking her as she practically convulses on the floor.
Confused, Pilot watches Staub try to console Vilena while he stands there and scratches his cheek. He was just trying to offer her advice on how she can intensify her spell-casting by adding some sort of incendiary fuel and maximizing the oxygen saturation of her projected fire. There is a much greater destructive potential for her spell-casting that can be reached using some principles of scientific knowledge from his world. The production of medicine might be a wash in most contexts here, given the ready availability of healing magic, but the power of modern knowledge in terms of destroying things is more than applicable. You can always make a bigger explosion.
…Did he phrase it wrong?
Caretaker rushes over, quickly tending to the caster in a crisis, thinking she has an actual injury. But Vilena turns out to be fine — physically, at least. Her spirit, however, might never recover.
Another casualty of the war that never ends.
Nearby, a little gray mouse scampers into the forest, squeaking.