Everyone had received the body reinforcement contract and the fire contract, both of which became known as the Standard Contracts of the group, Vance wanted to get ready for assimilating new people once they dealt with the crabs and some protocol had to be established to keep things working even with sudden increases in numbers.
First of all there was the matter of citizenship, at this point it was obvious that Vance was the sole reason their group was safe and rapidly improving in the new world and thus he naturally took the official title of boss, but a clear hierarchy requires other positions to be filled and they were organized in ten offensive divisions and five support ones, each of which would be able to grow by absorbing new people while keeping an eye on them until they assimilated completely.
The ten divisions had a clear structure of command and eventually everyone would receive an apprentice whom they could boss around until they became official citizens, the steam buggies would each be operated by teams of ten people and every current citizen would receive apprentices one after the other until they became ten and could form their own team.
The divisions would turn themselves for scouting duties and all of them would also help the machinists by providing fire and muscle power as required, the five divisions would work as machinists, builders, house administrators, food producers and artifacters, a new branch of which Vance was the only member.
This should keep the population orderly until they reached a thousand, but could easily be expanded up to ten times that before reaching a critical mass that required reorganization.
Two weeks after the big crab attack the locomotive was ready, several teams of crabs had raided the group but the new fire magic easily turned the tide overwhelmingly into human favor and they eventually stopped coming, maybe perceiving this as a weakness a big wave of bears descended into the lake but never returned, the group assumed they were at a big disadvantage on the tall grass and with large amounts of water at hand and most probably perished.
The humans knew of their dangers and had taken measures to counter them, the machine looked not like a locomotive anymore and most of the engine had been covered in extra aluminum to give it more resistance to pressure, the steam valves were widened to allow a bigger discharge of heat and several pipes channeled it around the armor with some dedicated steam turrets.
For plating Vance had decided on three centimeters thick aluminum sheets covered in two half a centimeter thick steel plates, the aluminum may be soft by itself but if covered with harder metal it would absorb huge amounts of strength before bending and the difference on hardness and flexibility would help to redirect the force of strikes along the whole sheet while the aluminum itself would keep the structure light.
Had Vance made it of titanium it would have been only a little lighter and several times more expensive, he was still a little disappointed after discovering how badly it fared compared against steel and aluminum... but if by any chance they got their hands on free titanium or a mine of it then things would be different.
The vehicle had eight tractor wheels, six of them at the back for propulsion and two of them at the front for direction, as the monsters they knew were capable of piercing a tractor tire they took out the rubber and used steel to increase the size and width of the wheel both by a meter.
It was bumpy as hell.
To solve it they installed thirty centimeters long, conic spikes on the wheels, they would sink and this would give the vehicle a softer movement by piercing the ground instead of just stomping on it while also giving it more grip, the fact that it looked so cool had nothing to do with their choice, none at all.
As they were going to fight at the lake a reasonable amount of amphibian combat was expected, the vehicle was six meters wide and ten meters long, the engine and other heavy elements like coal and water were at bottom level for stability and the vehicle’s casing was completely closed up to three meters to make sure no water would enter by accident and all accesses were from the roof, even the steam shooters had to go upwards before going down and a chimney would allow them to draw in air and expel smoke, an extensible pipe would be deployed after they got out of the forest to raise the reach up to seven meters, the chimney was a nested pipe with the air tube inside and the escape tube on the outside to prevent water leaks to the combustion chamber.
The only place water could enter from where the wheel’s axles but their bearings were thick and heavily greased and there were two of them on each axle’s side to function as an air chamber, even if by chance or a heavy hit water leaked in it would take a long time for the air chamber to fill enough for the second bearing to leak and before that happened the water could simply be pumped out or vaporized.
At this point the spikes for ramming outfitted with steam discharges had become a staple of their machines and were known simply as steam spikes, the vehicle had them all around the structure and the ones at the front part were particularly big and covered with a jaw-like mechanism capable of lowering a metal plate in front of the spikes to prevent accidentally ramming into trees or other structures while traveling.
But once the jaw was up and an enemy got caught by the frontal spikes the jaw could be lowered to crush the enemy by pressure against the spikes.
Besides the regular network of steamers there were also three extra steam machines dedicated solely to provide steam for three big steam guns lined alongside the bolters.
The vehicle was four meters tall with bolters at the top, after the three meters of casing several protrusions popped out around the windows to serve as battlements and machicolations from where to fire, plenty of handle bars were all around the insides to grab onto when the terrain became bumpy of in the middle of battle and some people had vests with security hooks to secure themselves onto them.
Overall it had little space for non-combatants and was purely an assault vehicle, as it was designed to face the crabs and take over their lake they called it the Marsh Raider, an imponent machine four meters tall, six meters wide and fifteen meters long.
You could say the new machine was ready to steamroll the enemy!
They did that joke until everyone got sick of it.
The rider could transport a hundred combatants but at the moment only forty would operate it on the crab offensive and the rest would stay to protect the children.
Vance had already assigned gemstones to everyone and their casting speed increased by ten percent while the mana consumption decreased by five percent. Another problem of the extra contracts was that people simply had not enough mana to use their own spells in combination with body reinforcement, but with the protection offered by the raider they could focus on casting magic without worry and they practiced linking to unleash bigger fireballs until they got the hang of it.
The three fire contractors could link up to five people while Vance could link up to twenty before feeling a strain on his abilities, but when the four of them linked the number could be increased up to fifty and Vance was the only one who could extract more mana from people to give even extra bigger attacks.
During the next week they worked in teams to hone their new magic by taking down trees, chopping them to pieces and burning them to make a path, their slow advance was not a problem as the raider stood next to them as the mobile fortress it was designed to be and provided a safe point to retreat if things ever got dangerous.
But so far the only problem they had were the trees that would occasionally fall to their side when a fireball was not properly aimed.
No monster dared to approach, not only because of the raider’s size but because the bunker had become a known human territory and even monsters could understand that getting in the middle of two big dangerous things was a terrible idea.
This made Vance realize the raider was like a citadel, in medieval fortresses a walled city would have a small fortress outside to host some military force and in case of an invasion the enemy would be forced to attack the citadel first but it could receive reinforcements from the city while if the city got attacked first then it would be the one receiving reinforcements from the citadel.
To divide his forces could be a bad idea, but if both sides were similarly capable of enduring enemy attacks and of providing aid then their strategic ability would improve significantly, the ability to freely maneuver opened new possibilities.
After the got away from the bunker the fallen trees were no longer burned as there and instead they would be crushed to even the path, also, plenty of dry branches were loaded on top of the vehicle for later use, making it look like a big wagon loaded with wood.
As the bunker was mostly safe only Jon would stay behind in case a new and bigger enemy showed up, but when they were at two thirds of distance a new wave of crabs arrived, over three hundred and they had an incredibly big ball of water floating above them.
It was just as big and twice as long as the raider.
Everyone retreated into the raider at full speed.
“Don’t move yet!” said Vance, from their position the workers had cleared a hundred meters ahead of them, if they advanced right at that moment they could ram into the crabs with all of the raider’s weight but from there they would be left with a couple tens of meters to advance, at that moment the crabs would still be able to move among the trees and their advantage would grow.
“Everyone get ready for a full initial link! And somebody burn those branches atop of us!”
The raider required space to turn, it had no reverse speed and they had cleared bigger areas for turning, unfortunately at this point they could only advance and make the most out of those hundred meters.
The crew filled all the burners and pumped air into them.
The crabs reached the fifty meter mark, then forty.
“Full engine ahead!” yelled Vance from his deck “We are not going to let them move their magic this time!”
The jaw was raised and the raider rammed into the crabs while ferociously spitting steam, during the initial clash the steam pushed the water and it rippled wildly.
At that moment Vance unleashed a fireball backed by a link of thirty people, half of their mana was consumed but it splashed out half of the water ball, throwing scalding water all over the place.
The raider advanced slowly crushing the crabs, the ones at the front now completely disoriented by the burns and the steam. The soldiers fired a first volley of bolter fire and killed them with ease.
“Save the shoots for the second half of their formation!” said Vance atop of his lungs “Without their water and teamwork they are a small danger but the ones at the back can still kill us! And lower the jaw.”
Indeed, with all the steam coming down from the raider it was near impossible for the crabs on the immediate vicinity to harm them, they scattered to hide among the forest while limping and tripping but the remaining crab force moved their water ball to ram into the rider.
The vehicle shook and the water lifted it two meters on its hind wheels, all the crew trembled as if they had personally been punched in the face, the jaw deformed and sunk into the spikes, when the crabs pulled the water back they landed with all their weight, for a moment the raider got dragged along but the steam flowing between the spikes and the jaw distorted the water’s grip, half of the burning branches fell and catered around.
Vance realized their tactic, they would punch and pull them until the raider tore apart, just like they did with their pincers, a very crab-like strategy.
“We cannot get caught in their rhythm! Keep advancing!”
The front wheels got deformed when the vehicle crashed down but the spikes provided enough traction to force their way across the fallen trees.
The steaming monstrosity moved forward making it look as if the forest was filled with mist, the trees at the sides may prevent the raider from maneuvering but it also prevented the crabs from spinning their water to ram them from the side, and this forced them into a contest of strength.
But every time they collided the giant bubble would lose some water while the raider still had its steam power and sturdy frame.
The crew stopped caring about the stray crabs and only aimed the big bolters to pierce through the water and into the crab formation, while the regular bolters were aimed at the crabs that broke loose to the sides and were at risk of rejoining the formation.
The raider kept advancing and peeling off more after with every collision, at this point they would clash again every five meters but they were at the eighty meters mark and once they reached the trees the crabs could simply scatter and reassemble at their backs.
Vance opened his hatch and blew away the remaining wood with a fireball.
“Burn the forest!” he said.
The crew in charge of the big bolters shoot fireball at the side while their companions recharged, instead of shooting fireballs at the trees Edward broke down a couple of threes with his ammunition and fired at the splinters.
Soon the forest at the sides of the raider got covered in fire, cutting the crabs means of surrounding them, the lone strays were completely incapable of damaging the vehicle and the front group could not flank them, when they reached the hundred meters mark the crabs finally scattered to regroup but they had to give a big sidetrack which got increased by the expanding fire.
The forest burned and the crew finally had space to turn the vehicle, they advanced in growing circles crushing the trees and killing any crab they encountered but by their own estimations a hundred of them managed to flee.
Still, the ones who fled were mostly wounded and would pose no threat in the near future.
After confirming no crabs were left the crew give another ride around the forest to put down the fires with the steamers and went back to the base, the heavier damage was on the front wheels but they had spares and while the jaw got stuck to the spikes it was inside the damage they could afford to receive.