Having too many resources was not a problem Azma was used to dealing with.
“They all stayed,” she said, hiding her numb surprise as best she was able to.
She and her command staff had convened inside one of the portal comm stations the army had held onto. The comm equipment itself was all missing, reduced to ash and free floating molecules in the [High Beyond]. Free of the potential contagion that gear had carried, the station was little more than a spacious tent with climate control, a privacy screen, and a small powered nook for brewing a variety of stimulant carrying beverages.
On the rolling hills outside the tent, Azma’s Army was setting up similar structures as watches were assembled and a new chain of command was rolled out. Despite not being enthralled by Consortium loyalty enchantments, the army still worked with the focused calm which had been drilled into them.
“That no one left is outside of expectations, isn’t it?” Grenslaw asked, which was the polite phrasing of ‘you totally failed to account for this possibility, didn’t you?’
Azma paused and forced herself to be fair. Grenslaw wasn’t accusing or looking to score points. Not like a typical Consortium subordinate would be. Grenslaw was as surprised by the turn of events as Azma was. Ryschild seemed to be in the same boat. Only Fiori looked like the wholly intact army around them was exactly the outcome she’s anticipated.
“Outside expectations, and demanding some refinements of our overall strategy,” Azma said. Admitting that was an invitation to a contest for her authority.
Or it would have been with any other group of subordinates.
Azma saw the angles Ryschild and Grenslaw could use to usurp her position. It wouldn’t be easy. She, demonstrably, had the loyalty of her forces, at least for the present. No one rose to the level Ryschild and Grenslaw had though without being able to succeed at difficult endeavors. In many senses, her power and position were theirs for the taking. Azma found herself unconcerned by the prospect. She had problems that were far less theoretical to deal with, and she was beginning to suspect that her two assistants understood why she was letting them see how she actually worked.
“Starting from the basics, we will need more supplies and more developed shelter,” she said. “Spread out the troops could have had a lesser impact on a far wider area, together though they’ll need a richer support structure to draw on. Developing that infrastructure isn’t an option, so we are left with using existing instances of it.”
“So we do need to take over a town then?” Fiori asked.
“That’s an option,” Azma said. “Or several towns.”
“Multiple conquests would allow us to target smaller, less defended settlements,” Ryschild said.
“At the cost of being unable to coordinate and reinforce each other as easily as a centralized location would,” Grenslaw said.
“Several towns would be harder to defend overall,” Fiori said. “If we divide up to cover separate areas we’d have to deal with the chance that they’d all come under attack at once.”
“That might be an advantage for us,” Azma said. “This world offers unique opportunities. We lack air support at present, as well as anything like reasonable mobility options, but even without ground or air transport, we have the option of crossing significant distances on the planet in an instant thanks to the [Teleportation Gates] which major population centers all support.”
“Those were all disabled though by the defenders during the first wave of assaults,” Grenslaw said.
“Disabled but not destroyed,” Azma said. “They hoped to reopen them as they retook their cities.”
“I get it, so if we take multiple cities with these gates, we could open them and use them for ourselves,” Fiori said.
“That would allow us to shuttle troops quickly between two or more locations that we conquer, but I think we need more mobility than that,” Azma said.
“Can we replicate the gate technology the native employ?” Ryschild asked.
“Not in any sort of useful timeframe,” Azma said. “I estimate we have two days, three at most before the [Entity] who has taken over the fleet finishes dealing with the [Hungry Shadow] in the [High Beyond] and becomes an issue we need to deal with.”
“Does that change the requirements for food and shelter then?” Grenslaw asked. “We have rations that can last that long for the troops who require them.”
“Two to three days is the length of time we have to consolidate our position,” Azma said. “After that, we may need to withstand a protracted siege.”
“Will the Consortium allow things to play out here against their interests for that long?” Ryschild asked.
“If the Consortium is able to mount an effective response, it will likely be seven days from now,” Azma said. “That, however, presumes that they are able to overcome the [Entity]. Normally that would be a foregone conclusion, but once it penetrated the [Senior Executive] level the outcome became much less certain.”
“Seven day’s isn’t too bad to hold out if we can find a solid defensive position,” Fiori said.
“If the Consortium is able to mount a response, it will involve stellar annihilation,” Azma said. “Seven days is how long it will take them to assemble a sufficient force to accomplish that, with the proper security protocols in place.”
“Uh, and what would we do about that?” Fiori asked.
“Nothing,” Azma said. “That’d a failure mode that is beyond our control. We are too cut off to influence it and if it occurs, nothing we do now will matter in the slightest.”
“That’s not exactly comforting,” Fiori said. “Are we going to tell the troops about that?”
“It doesn’t need to be kept secret, but it’s ultimately irrelevant to what we do,” Azma said. “If we’re vaporized then our problems vaporize with us. If not, then we need to put ourselves in the best position to deal with the myriad problems before us.”
“I believe mobility was the problem we were considering currently?” Ryschild said.
“Yes. I think our strongest position is going to be multiple operational bases, ideally scattered apart far enough that direct fire orbital bombardment with [Energy Lances] wouldn’t be able to strike more than one of the bases at a time,” Azma said. “That will require at least one of the principal population centers though.”
“Why are you smiling?” Fiori asked.
Amza hadn’t been smiling, but a glance around told her she wasn’t the one Fiori was looking at. Grenslaw and Ryschild both had a faintly amused air about them.
“Have you worked with the [Supreme Commander] for long?” Ryschild asked, directing the question to Fiori.
“I guess?” Fiori said, glancing back and forth between Azma’s two aides.
“Have you ever observed her to be unaware of the implications of what she says?” Grenslaw asked.
“No, but I don’t see what you’re getting at?” Fiori said.
“She’s told us that we need to gain access to one of the main population centers and the technology it holds,” Ryschild said.
“That means she already has a plan for how to do so,” Grenslaw said.
It was true, but Azma was still surprised they’d caught on to it. No one she’d work with before ever had.
“Do you?” Fiori asked. “Are we close enough to one to get there on foot?”
“Yes, and no,” Azma said. “Our present location is outside the patrol range of both Consortium and local forces, which places out well away any of the major cities or strongholds. Too far for our army to travel, even if we’d been left to work with a greatly reduced number.”
“Then how…oh, wait, we’re near a town that has one of those gates in it, right?” Fiori said. “If we take that, then we can march through into any of the big towns.”
“Except for the part where the defenders disabled all of the gates in the towns that were under siege, and can do so again,” Grenslaw said.
“So it won’t be a frontal attack on the town then,” Ryschild said. “Unless, hmm, we do have stealth capable units. I suppose we could send them in first to secure the gate.”
“That may not be viable,” Grenslaw said. “We know that the natives have access to highly refined arcane detection techniques.”
“Some of the natives,” Ryschild said. “The assault group in [Delvers Deep] ran afoul of those but the strike teams sent to [Bergon’s Pass] and [Khalamvor] both succeeded while encountering no resistance.”
“In the case of [Bergon’s Pass] the team reached their objective but their quarry had already escaped,” Grenslaw said. “The defenders ceded the pass to us after ensuring that any forces sent there would be prevented from leaving by the avalanches they caused.”
“I will grant you that,” Ryschild said. “Though I note that the team’s post operation scouting report indicated an absence of any arcane sensing equipment at the site in general.”
“Our sample size is too small to draw meaningful conclusions from, but I’ll grant your point that a pre-assault stealth operation might be able to secure the gates, if they’re in operation,” Grenslaw said.
“We’d likely need to mount a reconnaissance effort in any event,” Ryschild said. “An assault on a town whose gate was never reenabled wouldn’t offer any return on the investment of force.”
“Agreed, though the recon team could first be assembled for long distance observation,” Grenslaw said. “The gates in several of the cities were in places open to the public.”
“In which case securing this one would be more difficult,” Ryschild said.
“Yes, the point control team would need to be able defend the gate from range attacks launched with the purpose of destroying it,” Grenslaw said.
“You know, I’m honestly surprised the first assault under the prior [Supreme Commander] made no allowance for that,” Ryschild said.
“He was a rather dismal failure,” Grenslaw said, a sentiment Azma couldn’t help but find both adorable and difficult to disagree with.
“It didn’t help that the extents to which the natives will go to deny us victory have been quite extreme,” Ryschild said.
“They seem to understand the nature of the conflict better than most,” Grenslaw said.
“From all reports they’ve been well versed in cataclysmic conflicts in their recent history,” Ryschild said.
“Something worth considering in any plan,” Grenslaw said. “If we lack sufficient stealth equipped forces, perhaps we could supplement them with high mobility units?”
“Combined with a few heavy shock teams?”
“Exactly. The moment the attack begins, the stealth team takes control of the gate and the [Heavies] make a breech for the [Mobile Team] to exploit.”
“The [Heavies] may suffer significant losses under that approach,” Ryschild glanced at Azma, who had already made her feelings clear on how little interest she had in treated her forces as expendable.
“If the timing is coordinated well, we can have the [Long Range Casters] create a screen of chaos,” Grenslaw said. “The stealth team can also make sure their attack is noticed, to split the defenders attention.”
“That could work,” Grenslaw said. “Combine that with clear instructions to the [Heavies] that they are meant to engage and retreat and the defenders won’t have time to organize a serious resistance.”
Azma clapped her hands lightly in applause.
“That is well reasoned, and a viable strategy for the situation as presented to you,” Azma said. “Unfortunately, it will fall apart at the first step.”
“You have reports on this town already,” Ryschild said with foolish weariness.
“We missed something significant, didn’t we?” Grenslaw said, similarly abashed.
“Your strategy is quite workable for assaulting a town’s defenses,” Azma said. “In this case however, [Tradeways] is already under attack.”
“There are Consortium forces here?” Ryschild asked, eyes widening in concern.
“Former Consortium forces,” Azma said. “Based on their location, they are among the units which the [Hungry Shadow] was able to overwhelm.”
“What does that mean for us?” Grenslaw asked.
“It means we’re not going to attack the [Tradeways],” Azma said. “We’re going to save it.”