[Doom Crag] had fallen, [Highroost] was burning, but Niminay was not going to let [Eastrun] suffer their fates. [Eastrun] would hold.
“[Starfire Heartseeker Arrow]”, she said, as she had been saying every 10.2 seconds since the battle was joined.
From her bow leapt an arrow crafted from the hottest fire in the sun. It punched through the plate armor of the [Metal Mechanoid] [Guardian] who was leading the squad before her. On the side facing her, the starfire bolt made a hole the size of her fist. On the squad leader’s back, it exited and took the entire rear portion of the torso with it.
“[Hellfire Rain]”, she called, conjuring rather than shooting arrows too numerous to count, to burn through the squad of Consortium soldiers who were advancing on the temporary hospital [Eastrun’s] defenders had set up.
“We have more portals opening in the River Gate quarter,” Penny said. “I’m dispatching the Frozen Cabal to deal with it, but they won’t be able to hold.”
“How long can they buy us?” Niminay asked, trying to recall the levels of the adventurers who made up thew Frozen Cabal.
“If the portals release regular forces? They should be able to hold for fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty,” Penny said. “If the portals bring in [Boss] gangs? We’ll be lucky if they last for two minutes.”
“I can be there in five,” Niminay said. “Without using a portal. Should I go?”
Thanks to the magical transportation networks which had been constructed throughout the [Fallen Kingdoms] moving from point to point was faster than it had ever been, but in the face of worldwide warfare, those networks were being strained to the breaking point. Niminay was willing to strain them further but they were a resource and she was loath to spend any of the resources she had unless the need was great enough.
“No, hold off,” Penny said. “If the Consortium sends a [Boss] gang in I’ll need you to coordinate with one of the other teams. We’ll stop them at the wall to the Traveler’s quarter. Until then, can you link up with the Revengers of Midgard Company and clear out the Granary district?”
“I thought we had the granaries emptied?” Niminay asked. She was moving across the roof tops as she spoke, soaring in long flying leaps towards the southeastern edge of the city where the giant granaries stood, trusting Penny’s wisdom implicitly.
“We got the grain out,” Penny said. “Then I had the store houses packed full of [Abyss Salamanders]. I’d like to keep that a surprise for as long as we can.”
“Uh, last I checked [Abyss Salamanders] only lived in the [Brimstone Deeps], how did you get them here?” Niminay asked, leaving the more pressing question of ‘why would you bring in a horde of creatures who could burn this entire country to ash’ unstated.
Some questions had obvious answers when the world itself was under siege.
“I asked nicely,” Penny said. “If you could please make sure none of the forces inside the district make it to the granaries or make it out alive, that should send exactly the message that needs to be sent.”
Niminay chuckled as she landed on the top of a five story merchant house.
“They are going to send one hell of a force to capture our precious, precious grain aren’t they?” she asked.
“They’re going to send one hell of a force to capture the secret weapon which we hid in our precious, precious grain stores,” Penny said. “Whoever is commanding this invasion is smart. They’re striking low value targets with weaker forces, and hammering us with heavy units in areas that we have no choice but to defend.”
“Can we use that predictability against them?” Niminay asked.
“Hopefully. That’s what the salamanders are for,” Penny said. “This war isn’t going to turn on a single battle or one good trick though. The Consortium commander is definitely going to be prepared for things like this and have resources to cover the losses they’ll take.”
“It almost sounds like you admire them,” Niminay teased.
“That’s concern and fear, not admiration,” Penny said. “Mostly fear. I hate opponents who are this well provisioned and are clever enough to use what they have well.”
“We’ll get through this,” Niminay said. “I’ll clear the granary district myself if I have to.”
“I know,” Penny said, her voice over their private channel tinged with sadness. “Really though Nim, this could get bad. We’re going to need to take the fight to them and I don’t know if that’s a fight we can win.”
“We’ve seen bad,” Niminsay said. “More often than we’ve seen good. We’ll win the fight, beat the head boss and we’ll get through this.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Penny said. “If I run out of ideas, you need to wave a magic wand and make it all better, right?”
“Does my bow count as a magic wand?” Niminay asked.
Penny gave a chuckle of forced mirth.
“With all the enchantments you have on it? Sure, that’ll work just fine,” Penny said.
“Almost at the granary district,” Niminay said. “I think I see the Revengers too. I’ll let you know if the Consortium troops here are packing any special tricks. Just give me a heads up when reinforcements start to arrive, and let me know if you need me to move over to the River Quarter.”
Penny didn’t reply. She could see Niminay drop from the air into streets which were painted red with blood. Niminay knew Penny wouldn’t want to distract her, but hearing her voice would have been nice anyways.
“[Hellfire Rain]”, Niminay called out as she fell, obliterating the three squads of [Skeleton Wrath Chargers] that raced up towards the defenders of the gate into the Granary district.
“Oh thank god!”
“Keep it together and stay on defense!”
The cacophony of voices that rose at Niminay’s appearance was both flattering and somewhat disturbing. So many of the adventurer’s knew her, and yet she was certain she’d never met more than few of them.
Worse they had the most amazing expectations of her – as though she could single handedly drive back the tens of thousands of enemies who were assailing [Eastrun]. Or magic up a shield to keep them all safe and secure. And even the ones who had more reasonable expectations of her were still immediately willing to turn to her for guidance.
Niminay felt like shaking them all and shouting “what do you think I can do that you can’t?”
She was only an adventurer too, just like the rest of them. She had a lot of experience, but so did the people she stood shoulder to shoulder with. They’d fought many of the same terrible beasts that she’d fought. They’d ventured into many of the same deep and deadly forgotten corners of the world and come back with the same sort of treasures which had been lost for ages. She was not the mightiest of them, or the wisest.
So why were they looking to her for leadership?
Why did they seem like all their hard won skill and experience had been washed away and nothing but fledglings surrounded her?
It wasn’t a question Niminay could answer. It wasn’t one she could even ask. In the face of Armageddon, if they needed her to lead the charge, then at the front of the charge was where she was going to be.
Azma was winning, her forces were where they needed to be, holding the targets they needed to hold and harrying the ones they needed to distract, and she wasn’t happy.
“This is wrong,” she said, inspecting the projected globe and the points of conflict represented on it.
“Wrong how, sir?” [Commander] Grenslaw asked.
Azma blinked. Her command staff crew rarely interrupted her musings. They were content to execute her orders and leave her to do the thinking for the fleet.
Grenslaw and Ryschild were different though. They’d been quiet during the initial stage of the invasion, but Azma had noticed the keen interest they’d taken in the fine details of the invasion.
“We’re winning,” she said.
“Are the locals reserving some of their forces against a later wave of the invasion?” Ryschild asked.
Azma smiled. It was a delight to work with someone sharp enough to make at least simple leaps of logic. The rest of her staff would have made some inane comment wondering how winning could be a bad thing, or, if they were struck by a complete lack of self-preservation would have objected to their [Supreme Commander] sabotaging the fleet with plans of failure.
It wasn’t a wise or sensible accusation to make, but still it happened. Over and over it happened. So many bodies jettisoned out of so many airlocks. At first it had been cathartic to throw the offenders to the merciless void of space, but after enough repetitions even the charm of that wore thin.
“No, the local forces are fully committed,” Azma said. “Even more so than they were against our original assault. In the intervening time they’ve had the chance to prepare their defenses as well. We’re sending our troops into heavily fortified positions defended by enemies with unpredictable and, in some cases, uncounterable abilities.”
“And we’re winning,” Grenslaw said, clearly seeing the problem as well. “Did our initial strike cut off their communications, or capture a key leader?”
“We have taps into the general communication network,” Azma said. “From those we can tell that the defenders are still being organized and none of the leaders we saw on the field of the first battle have been reported taken or dispatched.”
“Are they trying to lure us in further?” Ryschild asked. “Perhaps baiting a trap?”
“If so then the bait they are using is more valuable than the prize they hope to catch,” Azma said. “They’ve suffered losses of areas which will be vital to any counter-offensive they try to muster. Look at these cities here,” she gestured to the globe where the dot representing [Doom Crag] flipped color to show it had fallen wholly under the control of the Consortium’s forces. As they watched, builder troops where dispatched by the thousands to refortify the city and cement the Consortium’s hold over it.
“Could they be planning a different counter-assault?” Grenslaw asked.
“A direct assault on our ships?” Azma asked. “Doubtlessly they are.”
“Perhaps they’ve reserved their best forces for that?” Ryschild asked.
“They’re gathering some forces,” Azma said. “You can tell from the battles which are being abandoned. That doesn’t explain their overall level of performance though. If I didn’t know better I would say we’re facing very well equipped troops who are nevertheless quite unused to mass scale combat.”
“Is that possible? Could these be new recruits given mass produced relics? Perhaps that’s how they managed to swell their ranks beyond what we encountered on the first sorte?” Ryschild asked.
“That is what the evidence would suggest, but I mistrust that evaluation too,” Azma said. “There is real strategy in their response to our attacks, and some of the battles we have lost are turning against us on unlikely chances. It’s a puzzle.”
She ran her hand through her hair and suppressed a wolf-ish smile. Part of her was delighted at the prospect of a real challenge or a true surprise. Another part, a very tiny part, was concerned that the surprise might, however improbable it sounded, be something she wasn’t prepared to deal with.
She’d sunk a fair bit of her capital into gaining uncontested command of this operation. Even a fraction of the potential payoff from victory would see her investment rewarded many times over but defeat would be costly far beyond the loss of the money and political influence she’d sunk into the venture. Anything beside victory would show a chink in her otherwise flawless armor and there were so many enemies who had waited so very long to find that.
“Sir, the heavy reinforcements sent to [Eastrun] are reporting 97% casualties in the Granary district,” one of her comm’s techs reported, drawing her attention of the one of the urgent dispatches on her screen.
“Lava monsters ate our reinforcements? Very nice,” she said, reviewing the report from her obliterated troops. “That’s more in keeping with what I expected. Helm, alter trajectory, I want to make it seem like we’re going to bombard that city once we’re in range.”
“We are staying out of range though, right sir?” Grenslaw asked.
“Yes. Out of our apparent weapon range that is,” Azma said. “We’ll drift just within the range of their long range teleportation circles. Let’s see if we can catch some live subjects with a little bait of our own.”