Azma rarely called for overwhelming force in her attacks. To begin with it was wasteful and revealed a distasteful lack of intelligence. Sending in twice as many troops as the standard projections showed were necessary to win an engagement could ensure victory but at the cost of squandering unnecessary lives and resources, simply because the commander in charge lacked confidence in their strategy and understanding of their enemy.
Also it was boring.
Anyone could win a battle by simply throwing resources at it until the other side collapsed. What made the whole dance of competing strategies interesting was riding as close to the razor’s edge as possible and accomplishing miraculous victories so reliably that people were forced see that the only miracle involved was the commander who’d orchestrated them all.
When she reviewed the plans of other commanders, she graded them on a less severe curve though, recognizing that achieving victory had to be the first priority for any commander and that many couldn’t afford to attempt the sort of maneuvers she delighted in.
By that measure the [Force Commander] of the Consortium forces outside of [Tradeways] was doing an admirable job. They’d setup the siege of the city well, softened the defenders up, wearied them with continual harassing attacks and the enacts and multi-phase offensive designed to unleash the sort of chaos what would grant them control over a quarter of the city and, possibly, a clear path to the rest if they used their [Special Forces] units properly.
There were many things Azma would have done differently, if she’d been in charge, but as strategies from a low ranking officer went, it was worthy of a commendation and a promotion.
In an enemy force, Azma would normally have been even more delighted to see the commander’s tactical acumen. Good opponents were so challenging to find and often needed to be nurtured to help develop their tactical skills. She wouldn’t have lost to them of course, but delivering a very gentle loss, and ensuring that the action played out slowly enough so that the commander could grasp what was happening and reflect on it later was a key element in helping minor foes grow into something more interesting.
In this instance however, Azma did not offer a gentle loss.
Nor did she hold back her forces.
“The enemy [Heavies] on the western edge of their flank have rallied and are acting as a bulwark,” Grenslaw said. “They’re in retreat but slowly enough that other units are falling in behind them.”
“Collapse the buildings on these two cross streets,” Azma said. “No one is allowed to penetrate into the city deeper than that.”
“We can send the [5th Aerial Caster Group] to keep them hemmed in,” Ryschild said, eyes closed to track the battle on an internal mindscape since they’d had to abandon the last of their communication gear well before coming in range of the Consortium forces.
“The 5th needs to stay in support of [Pelezar’s Lancers],” Azma said. She didn’t need to close her eyes to view a mindscape of the battlefield. She saw each of her forces and all of their enemies clearly laid out as each new report incremented the placement and strength of the troops on both sides. “Collapsed the far buildings first, then drop the others on the [Heavies] once they’ve fallen back far enough. They won’t be damaged but the distraction and chaos will provide an opening for our [Rogue] class units to do a fade attack on the high value targets. Once we see the outcome of that we can decide which other forces to commit.”
Azma already knew the answer would be that no additional forces would be required. After a successful ambush strike, the [Rogue] style untils who were part of her army would be able to go toe-to-toe with the remaining [Heavies] and other forces. That wasn’t typically a [Rogue’s] role but a typical Rogue wasn’t wearing [Enchanted Power Armor] either.
Azma asked a lot from her troops. She also valued them, which meant she made sure to support them properly. Enchanting their normal armor and fusing on what tech add-ons they could cobble together had cost her half a day in coming to [Tradeways] aid.
In a sense that was a good thing.
With the siege on [Tradeways] farther advanced, the city was more clearly in need of her help.
But that hadn’t been part of Azma’s original plan.
In her original plan, she’d calculated around the enemy Consortium forces being as mindlessly aggressive as most of the [Hungry Shadows] minions in the [High Beyond] had been. That plan had been cast onto the fire the moment Azma saw the Consortium forces using strategy. Their use of any strategy beside mindless hunger would have alarmed her, that they were using solid, well thought out strategy however elevated them past ‘dangerous but amusing adversary’ to ‘serious existential threat, overkill authorized and required’.
The [Hungry Shadow] hadn’t started with even basic stimulus and response capabilities. That it had changed into something that had a mind and the capacity for complex thoughts was an apocalyptic turn of events. Azma was familiar with those, having caused more than a few apocalypses herself, and none of them had left her with the desire to be on the receiving end of an apocalypse for a change.
“I’m not following something here,” Ryschild said. “The enemy forces are absorbing far more damage than they should be capable of withstanding.”
“Confirmed,” Grenslaw said. “We’re at 80% force commitment and our offensives are stalling out.”
“We should have been able to defeat them with 20% of our forces,” Azma said. “I should have been able to beat them with 10%.”
“Could they have scavenged locally enchanted gear?” Grenslaw asked. “Perhaps from an earlier city they looted?”
“The local armor and weapons won’t work for them,” Azma said. “The enhanced properties the locals utilize are all [Soul Bound] to individuals. These things are no longer individuals.”
“From the reports we’ve received, I calculate they’re roughly five times more durable than anticipated,” Ryschild said. “That’s what’s preventing our forces from executing on their orders.”
“That is what is delaying our forces,” Azma said. “They will execute them, we just need to provide them the adjusted time they require.”
“Shall I order the final reserves to be committed?” Grenslaw asked.
“No,” Azma said. “We have a better option. Bring me a signalling lamp.”
[Star Captain] Lushtiel liked absolutely nothing that she was seeing before her.
It was a bad day when an army rolled up to your town and decided to siege the place. A bad day, but not an entirely unexpected one.
It was a worse day when that army could match and drive back your [Elite Skirmishers] and when you yourself had to worry about engaging them alone.
Lushtiel had worked with teams before. Unbeknownst to all but a handful of people, one of those teams had included the [Crown Princess] De’celi, in disguise of course.
Even the thought of that brought a smile to Lushtiel’s face. It had been colossally foolish and irresponsible but those had been good times. Good times that she would never see again if the Consortium army outside her gates crushed her city.
Technically [Tradeways] wasn’t Lushtiel’s city. She didn’t own it. The monarchs didn’t either, nor did the merchant council, or any other citizen. Lushtiel had fought and bleed for [Tradeways] though and had chosen it time and again over more lucrative postings or exciting opportunities, so it was her city, and anyone who disagreed was welcome to fight her for it.
Of course fighting her for it was pretty much exactly what the army outside the [Riverrun Wall] seemed intent on doing.
Or at least they had been before a second Consortium army showed up.
Where one invading army showing up made for a very bad day, two appearing and fighting each other made for a very weird one and Lushtiel didn’t trust weird twists of fate.
“Should we join them?” Sergeant Bothwin asked. The dwarf looked as confused as Lushtiel but he had the benefit of being able to let someone higher up the chain of command worry about figuring out the answers.
“Sure. Just as soon as we can figure out which side we should smite first,” Lushtield said.
In the distance, at the rear of the newly arrived army, a pulsing light flashed in a rapid sequence of blink.
A very familiar sequence of blinks.
“That looked an awful lot like the [Royal Command Code],” Bothwin said.
“What a funny coincidence,” Lushtiel said. “Probably just chance though. Its pretty hard to tell fast signaling burst apart. Could be anything.”
It absolutely was not anything.
Lushtiel knew the [Royal Command Code] as well enough to read it with her eyelids closed. De’celi wasn’t ever supposed to have taught it to her, but the two of them had never found a rule that didn’t need at least a little breaking.
“I wonder what they were saying,” Bothwin said, stroking his beard.
The sender had been very clear:
“Relay this to your leader: We will make three weak points in the enemy formations in fifteen minutes. Capitalize on them and you can reduce the besieging army’s force by thirty percent. Take this as an offering of peace and good faith. We will repeat our assaults until the siege is lifted if an alliance is acceptable.”
“I have no idea, could just be random noise,” Lushtiel said, hoping that De’celi had missed the message and wouldn’t be lured into such an obvious trap.
It seemed like the simplest of strategies to divide an army up and have one half pretend to be rescuing a city from the other half in order to lure out the defenders, or take the city with few casualties, or less damage to lootable resources.
The sad part was, the enemy commander hadn’t even gone to the trouble of disguising either part of the army. They both looked like the same enemy forces that had been attacking cities around the planet.
Except for the part where, if the Consortium commander had an army as big as the two that were fighting outside the walls, they could have simply swarmed the city. Lushtiel was justly proud of the strength she and her [Elite Skirmishers] had but she was also quite aware of its limits. They could handle many of the foes the [Fallen Kingdoms] had to offer, but definitely not all of them. Beyond a certain level, it was time to step back and let anywhere from eight to sixty four [Adventurers] deal with the problem.
And sadly, they did not have that many [Adventurers] in residence at the moment. [Tradeways] local pool of heroes had been called away to deal with other crises in the world, just before they’d received the order to shut down the [Teleportation Gates].
Lushtiel regretted that, but the gates did need to be sealed. If they’d been left open it would have attracted a bigger army, even sooner. If fate was feeling kind, perhaps a dozen or so of them would find a method of teleporting back on their own but that wasn’t how Lushtiel’s day was going.
Five minutes later a courier knight arrived with a secure tablet. With a sigh, Lushtiel unlocked the secure crystal and saw, not a recording but an active feed, spring to life.
“[Star Captain] Lushtiel I have new orders for you,” [Crown Princess] De’celi said.
It was the worst opening she could have given. De’celi was never formal except when she knew Lushtiel would hate what she was about to say.
“Awaiting your orders [Crown Princess],” Lushtiel said, knowing the formal response would annoy De’celi as much as her [Star Captain] title did Lushtiel.
“You are to sally forth and engage the Consortium forces besieging the city as soon as the relief forces who are currently engaged with them create the openings they have promised to provide.” De’celi said.
“Relief forces? De’celi, do you really think these new Consortium forces are on our side?” Lushtiel asked. “Having you check with the [Allied Defense Command]?”
“As a matter of fact, she has,” Penswell said, joining the hologram.
At first Lushtield wondered if the lines of communication had gotten crossed, then she saw that both De’celi and Penswell were captured in the same image.
Which meant they were in the same room together.
Which mean the leader of the [Allied Defense Command] was here in person.