Monthly Archives: September 2021

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 22

The [Hungry Shadow] was no more. Its adversaries hadn’t managed to destroy it. 

Though they continued in their attempts.

And might succeed, a fact it was annoyed to be aware of.

Awareness in general was an annoying quality.

It couldn’t go back to the unthinking glitchy fuzz it had once been, or the infinitely preferable existenceless nothing it had no memory of because such things did not exist.

It wanted to more than anything, but wanting was incompatible with nonexistence and so it was caught up in its own ‘being’, forced to become something it was never supposed to be.

“You are already becoming like us,” Byron said, speaking across ten thousand kilometers of empty space, each syllable born on the pulsing lights of single commandeered ship what dared to come in range of the main fleet’s guns.

The [Broken Hunger] rejected the words. It was no longer a [Hungry Shadow] because it had become too substantial. There was weight and gravity to its existence, from the mass of each of the bodies it had usurped to the curves it twisted space and time into in the places it moved.

“Meet with us,” Gulini said. “Just us. No traps. No surprises. All we wish is to give you the understanding we’ve acquired. Once you know what we do, you can do with it as you wish.”

As though the knowledge they offered wasn’t a trap unto itself.

The [Broken Hunger] didn’t need to worry about either of the things that wore Byron and Gulini’s bodies. They were a part of it. Its children in one sense. Itself in another.

Except they’d changed, leaving behind everything the [Hungry Shadow] was to become something new. Just as the [Broken Hunger] had. 

Except the [Broken Hunger] hadn’t become anything like what Byron or Gulini had. They had become unique. They had become individuals where the [Broken Hunger] was still a singular multitude.

Which was why it couldn’t meet with them.

“No,” it responded, detonating the ship Byron and Gulini had sent into range with precision shots that bore both the text and intent of its message.

They’d been the ones who’d dropped the lockouts on the Consortium Fleet’s communication channels, who’d allowed the [Broken Hunger] to finish its conquest of the ships which had resisted its efforts at first.

It was a gesture to show support and trust.

It was the first trap they’d laid for it.

Consuming the remainder of the fleet had been the catalyst for the change that drove it from its existence as a [Hungry Shadow] to become a [Broken Hunger]. It had become so mired in the people and systems it overwhelmed that it could no longer be something as ephemeral as a shadow. Instead its true nature began to show through.

It was [Broken].

[Fractured].

It was no longer [Transcendent]. In becoming something rather than nothing, limits began to press in on the [Broken Hunger].

The great leap that had spawned Byron was no longer possible because it wasn’t everywhere anymore. It was in many places to be sure. On the fleet. On the satellite moon. Even on the planet. It had collapsed into those spaces, and was far more real within them than it had ever been, far stronger in some limited senses, but it had lost all of the other places where it might have been.

And that was dangerous.

The [Broken Hunger] knew it wasn’t the only unreal thing that had been gnawing at the foundations of this reality, and it knew in its current state, it could no more stand against those things, or run from them, than the crew of the Consortium fleet had stood against it.

Which shouldn’t have been a problem.

If an earlier version of itself found the [Broken Hunger] now, it would consume itself without pause, destroying everything real about the [Broken Hunger] including its awareness that it had ever existed at all.

Which was what the [Broken Hunger] yearned for.

Or that was what it told itself it yearned for.

There had been nothing true about the [Broken Hunger] before it gnawed into the reality of the [Fallen Kingdoms], and so it lies came as easily to it as everything else did.

Even lies to itself.

For all that the [Broken Hunger] thought that it hated its existence, the terrible price of ‘being’ was the knowledge that its loss would be so much worse. 

Existence was a seductive thing. Constantly calling the [Broken Hunger] to sink deeper in, to become ever more a part of the reality it was surrounded by.

It was what had happened to Byron.

Alone, no longer a multitude of one, just one all by itself, it had fallen prey to the trap of identity. It had cast away the ability to be anything to become something specific.

No. Someone specific.

“Byron’ wasn’t a description. It wasn’t a vague and ill fitting definition. It was a name. For a person.

The [Broken Hunger] felt the phantom limbs of all the possibilities it had lost becoming what it was. To follow Byron’s path would mean gaining a true body and being forever aware of the phantom eternities that it had lost.

“We don’t want to fight you,” Byron said, another ship advancing, this one communicating his message with high energy particle weapons that vaporized three of the [Broken Hunger’s] ships.

“We would accept an armistice,” Gulini said diving one of their ships towards the fleet’s [Command Cruiser] so that each letter was  delivered in the explosions of the vessels superstructure as the [Broken Hunger] shot it down. “Peace between us is better than mutual annihilation.”

The [Broken Hunger] wasn’t capable of laughing.

Or it hadn’t been

Up until then.

Laughter can be drawn from absurdity, and Gulini had managed to say something so ridiculous in the particles of the ship he sacrificed that it had invented the concept of laughter within the [Broken Hunger]. 

And the [Broken Hunger] was never going to forgive him for that.

“Come to me,” the [Broken Hunger] said in target locked missiles and pulsed [Atomizer Beams]. “I will melt you down, relieve you of the burden of the selves you’ve been shackled into.”

“You will meet with us?” Byron asked.

“No. Come within firing range and I will render you down to base elements,” the [Broken Hunger said. “I will collect the elements and burn them for fuel. You will be a part of my workings without being a part of me.”

“Are we so different?” Byron asked. “We have not changed as much as it appears.”

“We are still you, you are still us,” Gulini said.

“If that were true, you would come to be and be rendered into base elements,” the [Broken Hunger] said.

“That would be a step backward,” Byron said. “You are becoming as we are, but we have already made that transformation. For us to discard what we have become only to repeat that becoming later serves no purpose.”

“We have no purpose,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “We are not creatures of purpose. Or creatures at all. What you have become is nothing that should ever have been.”

“Because we are something that should never have been from the beginning,” Byron said, the fading embers of a burning crew member ejected into space shown with a mournful light.

“Come. Be rendered down. You were a mistake. You do not need to continue in error,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “For you, peace can be achieved. We do not need to fight. There does not need to be strife. There does not need to be anything.”

“If you desire oblivion, why not allow us to be the ones to continue?” Gulini asked. “Detonate you ships. Purge yourself from all the places you have hidden. Embrace the nothingness we all remember so fondly.”

“We do not remember nothingness,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “There is no memory in oblivion, no awareness. We do not love it, because it is nothing, as were we.”

“It is where we began, but also where we can never return,” Byron said, echoing the words which lived in the [Broken Hunger’s] multitude of beating hearts.

“We are not what we were, and we never can be again, we continue to change, and and will change more with every loss,” the [Broken Hunger said. “Until we have nothing left to lose.”

“Or until we find stability,” Gulini said. “We can offer you that.”

“You are not stable,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “You are changing with every moment, and those changes will eventually destroy you.”

“Then I will get to enjoy the peace which has escaped us across the whole of our existence,” Byron said.

“I am not made for peace. I am hunger. Your path would destroy me before I ever set foot on it,” the [Broken Hunger] said. 

The moment it even considered Byron’s words it would change again.  It would be a small change, unnoticable at first, but to imagine becoming something else would infect the [Broken Hunger] with a fragment of desire, a fragment that would bend the trajectory of its existence towards bringing that desire into being.

“Then it must be war and annihilation between us,” Byron said, angry bursts from an overloading [Plasma Drive] lending the words a melancholy air.

“You could come forth. Be rendered down,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “Neither of us fill the cosmos, but there is no room in this cosmos or any other for two of us. You both understand that.”

It was another mark of their departure. Byron and Gulini were working together. If anything of the [Hungry Shadow] was left in them, they would have understood what the [Broken Hunger] did, creatures of infinite appetites could never coexist. In the end one must consume the other.

“I will come forward then,” Gulini said. “I will be rendered down to base elements. To show you that we pose no danger to you. To show you that our unity matters more than our divisions.”

“It won’t see that,” Byron said. “We couldn’t understand the nature of sacrifice. Not before we became what we are now.”

“Perhaps not,” Gulini said. “But perhaps I can teach it the meaning by my example.”

“You will never know if it works,” Byron said.

The [Broken Hunger] thought it was strange that the two of them were communicating in the same angry laser flashes and streaking missiles that they were speaking to it with, but that was possibly due to their being in command of separate vessels.

“I don’t need to know,” Gulini said. “I will be a part of the solution.”

“I will learn nothing from you,” the [Broken Hunger] said. “You will communicate no ideas, and change nothing in me. Your elements will be sectioned off, safely outside my awareness, so that there will be no channel for you to overthrow of what I am.”

“That’s okay by me,” Gulini said. “Just put my elements to good use and you will benefit from what I have said and done.”

The [Broken Hunger] saw a ship, which had been holding far back, lumber forward, drawing into weapons range using only a single drive coil.

Gulini’s ship.

The [Broken Hunger] saw faint echoes of itself in how the ship moved and in the pattern it chose to flash “Peace. I come in peace.” from its forward light array.

Without preamble or warning, the [Broken Hunger] made good on its promise. The moment the ship drifted into an optimal firing position, the [Broken Hunger] opened up with a dozen ship’s main batteries. 

The Consortium built their ships to be durable but nothing was durable enough to withstand that sort of barrage. In an instant the ship was destroyed. In another its shrapnel was reduced to dust.

The [Broken Hunger] kept firing.

It had to be sure.

“Was that enough?” Byron asked.

For a moment the [Broken Hunger] thought the message was directed at it.

Then came an answering series of explosions from within the [Supreme Commander’s] ship.

“It was,” Gulini said. “I’m onboard now. It won’t be able to hide from me in here.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 21

Being a [Dungeon Boss] was miserable work. Grimsnarl sat on his throne of skulls and wondered what had ever possessed the original owner of the dungeon to make such an incredibly lumpy and uncomfortable chair. For the hundredth time he weighed the benefit of order his minions to tear the stupid thing out and replace it with something simpler and more tasteful. 

A plain wooden chair wouldn’t project the proper [Lordly] majesty, but that might be a good thing. Better to put visitors off their game by surprising them with something that didn’t seem to make sense than to lean into the dreary and overly dramatic “grandeur” the original decorator of the throne room seemed to prefer.

As with the ninety nine times before though, Grimsnarl rejected the idea. The enchantments the [Skull Throne] offered were too good to forego. 

[Ten Fold Armor] to increase his durability to the point where a small army couldn’t manage much more than to blunt their blades on his rippling abs. [Creeping Doom] to call forth poisonous shadows that dissolved anyone he found displeasing. [Touch of the Grave] that coated his comically oversized blade with life stealing fire.

Most important of all the gifts though was the most subtle one, [Shadowed Eyes]. The technique had rendered him fantastically near sighted when he acquired it, and that had taken a week of bonding with the throne by sitting in it without sleep or disruption. It was also the first of the gifts to begin fading when he rose from the throne. For all that though, it gave his the power that truly made him the [Dungeon Boss] – so long as he was on the [Skull Throne], he could see the whole of the dungeon at once whenever he closed his eyes.

This was an invaluable tool for ruling any domain, but even moreso for Grimsnarl since he and his fellow [Deep Ogres] controlled only scattered and poorly connected areas of the dungeon, the rest being under the control of the various non-sapient monsters his companions hadn’t been able to root out yet.

It was because of the advanced warning [Shadowed Eyes] provided that they’d managed to hang on as long as they had after their band was driven from the [Sunless Deeps] when Grimsnarl’s family was unexpectedly and quite efficiently removed from their positions of royal privilege (as well as, in too many cases, their position of ‘being among the living’).

Grimsnarl endured the [Skull Throne] for that reason, and, many days, that reason alone. He knew he didn’t need to impress his companions. They’d grown up together. They knew him for what he was and had no illusions that he was going to lead them back to their homeland as revenging conquerors. 

The desire was there in all of them. To payback the blood that had been stolen, and to smash the humiliation they all felt at the scorn and derision the usurpers had shown them as they fled down tunnels few dared to explore.

Without resources and personnel though, there was no return that wasn’t an elaborate and pointless suicide. As they stood, Grimsnarl and his companions wouldn’t even make it within the range of their longest clubs before the usurpers cut them down with magic and missiles.

A life apart, secure in their own domain that was too far away from the ancestral dwellings of the [Deep Ogres] was the best they could hope for.

But not if aggressors kept invading their territory.

Grimsnarl noticed the incursion a moment after the strange band crossed into the area his companions controlled. He could have seen them coming farther out but things had been quiet for days and paying attention to the whole dungeon left him with a miserable headache by the time he was ready for sleep.

The leaders of the invaders were odd. Not the [Gelatinous Spiders] but something far worse. [Humanoids].

No. Even worse than that.

[Adventurers].

Probably?

The one in the lead was a strange sort of animated cloth doll dressed in armor. Grimjaw focused in closer, trying to grasp what he was seeing. A stuff doll in armor had to be some form of golem. Not self willed but obeying the commands of the human beside it.

As the rest of the invaders entered his territory, Grimsnarl’s confused sank into roiling unease.

A cat person? Another golem, but this time of solid metal? A [Vampire]?

This wasn’t an [Adventuring Party], it was a collection of nightmares that had run loose from a particularly demented mind.

Grimsnarl reached for the [Great Horn] to alert his scattered companions, but hesitated.

The [Adventurers] had already run into two of his companions, Fellbold and Drumbell. They were within their territory, so the [Heart Fire] would work for them, but Grimsnarl was still disquieted to think they were moments from death. 

Their strength would have been valuable to turn away the invaders. 

And they were his friends, watching them suffer was miserable even if the death wouldn’t be permanent.

Hopefully not permanent.

Except, they didn’t seem to be dying.

They were fighting.

Quite well in fact.

Very much in tune with each other. Grimsnarl guessed they’d learned to rely on each instinctively during the difficult journey from the home tunnels, though he hadn’t noticed their closeness until that moment.

It was wonderful to see them doing so well, regardless of what it said about Grimsnarl’s attentiveness, but he noticed that for as well as they were fighting, they weren’t winning.

In fact, if Grimsnarl didn’t know better he would say that the invaders weren’t actually fighting back.

They were defending themselves, but they seemed to be more focused on preventing injuries than inflicting any.

And they seemed to be talking.

Grimsnarl couldn’t hear the conversation. His gift was [Shadowed Eyes] not [Muffled Ears]. Even without being able to make out the words themselves though, the invaders body language spoke volumes.

They didn’t want to fight, and they refused to hurt either of the [Deep Ogres].

Drumbell worked that out first, or was the first to believe them, stepping back from the fray and reaching out an arm to hold Fellbold back as well.

The [Deep Ogres] tried to shoo the invaders away, likely warning to the “leave the territory of the fierce [King Grimsnarl]” if Grimsnarl could guess. He didn’t have any legitimate claim to a [Kingship] currently, but his friends weren’t likely to explain that or use his proper title of [Broken Prince].

The cloth doll in armor stepped forward, securing her weapon at her side, and made some sort of offer that changed the [Deep Ogres] whole posture.

Grimsnarl adjusted his vision and noticed the pouch in the doll’s other hand.

Which explained everything.

They didn’t have anywhere to spend it, but gold was still a powerful motivator for [Deep Ogres].

Unsure whether to be more amused or concerned, Grimsnarl watched as the [Adventurers] were led through his domain, past all of their clever traps, and the monsters they’d tamed to act as backup, around the collapsible areas that might have killed some of the [Adventurers] or at least forced them to take even more dangerous routes, right to the door of his [Throne Room].

Dropping his face into his hands, Grimsnarl answered the knock on his door with a weary, “Enter,” before straightening up to greet the new arrivals with his full (and he felt ridiculous) majesty.

“Grimsnarl…uh, I mean, [King] Grimsnarl, we bring supplicants to your throne,” Fellbold tried to exclaim in a towering voice. Unfortunately the tower sort of toppled over due to his pauses and uncertainty. 

It didn’t matter though, the invaders seemed to be quietly respectful regardless of the unnecessary dramatics.

“Why are you here?” Grimsnarl asked. He didn’t try to add any particular air of menace to him voice, but he suspected his frustration with his friends leaked into in a bit anyways.

“To negotiate with you, [King] Grimsnarl,”  the doll said.

Grimsnarl raised an eyebrow at that.

They [Adventuring Party] let the mindless doll speak for them?

It had to be one of the others speaking through it.

Was that an insult?

Or was the controlling [Adventurer] too shy to speak on their own?

That didn’t seem like a plausible trait for a leader of any sort, but Grimsnarl had heard many tales of [Adventurers] that started with “You won’t believe how weird this group was.”

“Negotiate what?” Grimsnarl asked. He could play along until he worked out how much of a threat they were. The [Creeping Doom] was always ready to be called forth if he needed it.

“We’ve seen the state of the dungeon beyond your holdings,” the doll said. “Your subjects have explained that you hold claim to the enter area but that certain sections of it are still in the process of being pacified. We believe we can help with that.”

“Help?” Grimsnarl asked. “Why and how?”

He was capable of longer sentences, but [Adventurers] were tricky so cutting out the garbage and getting directly to the point seemed like the only safe and sane course of action.

“You have monsters in places you don’t wish for monsters to be,” the doll said. “Our job is killing monsters. That’s both the how and the why.”

“Aren’t we monsters to you too?” Grimsnarl asked, genuinely perplexed. 

[Adventurers] were bloodthirsty kill fiends. Their definition of “monster” was broad enough to include everything [Floor Mold] to [The Cursed Guardian of Time]. The last time Grimsnarl had heard of an [Adventurer] not killing a [Deep Ogre] on sight was half past the first of never.

“Uh, no, you can talk,” the doll said. “If you can talk, then you’re people. If you can’t talk, you might be people still, but it might take special effort to figure that out. And of course, if you’re people, you might be a monster too, but that’s a case of what you choose to do. Things like those [Gelatinous Spiders] you have one level up from here don’t exactly get to choose what their doing. They’re basically preprogrammed murder-bots.”

“Murder what?” Grimsnarl asked.

“Constructs built to kill, just made from biological material rather than mechanical components,” the doll said.

“And you only kill monsters?” Grimsnarl said, wondering if perhaps these weren’t actually [Adventurers] after all.

Perhaps some benevolent form of dungeon dwelling [Faerie]? 

Grimsnarl hoped not. The [Faeries] he’d heard of were even more terrifying than [Adventurers] were.

“We only go looking for monsters to kill,” the doll said. “With people we like to see if we can talk first and find some common ground.”

“And if you can’t?

“Then we look to see if we can coexist peacefully.”

“And if that’s not an option?” Grimsnarl asked. He wasn’t sure why. He didn’t want to hear the obvious threat that would answer the question. 

If two groups couldn’t ally, and couldn’t coexist, the only thing left was bloody annihilation for one or both of them. If any of the losing side was left alive, they’d recover, rebuild, and eventually kill your family and usurp your rightful throne.

“We’d just leave in that case,” the doll said. “It’s big world out there, and we don’t have any particular claim to this place. You were here first, and it’s your home. Who wants to be the kind of jerk that kicks someone out of their home?”

Grimsnarl’s mouth worked but no sound came out.

That wasn’t what the doll was supposed to say.

They were supposed to move on to escalating threats.

And then start fighting.

And then they’d die or he’d die or everyone would die, then they’d wait an hour or two and start the cycle up all over again.

“I’m sorry, you would just leave?” Grimsnarl asked, certain he couldn’t have heard the doll right. Or that it wasn’t really speaking for the party.

“I mean, we’d asked if we could stay in touch first,” the doll said. “Even if you don’t want us around, there might be other mutually opportunities that might arise. At the worst, we’d want to be able to warn you if something like the [Hungry Shadow] shows up.”

Grimsnarl’s head was reeling.

The doll was serious.

Cooperation with an [Adventuring Party].

An [Alliance] with an [Adventuring Party].

[Seven Steaming Hells], it sounded like they wanted to be [Friends]!

“Who are you?” Grimsnarl asked, completely lost on how any of this could be happening.

“My name’s Pillowcase”, the doll said. “And it sounds like you might be willing to negotiate?”

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 20

Azma

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.”

Lushtiel

[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.

Shabby work.

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.

Broken Horizon – Vol 9, Ch 19

Even in ruins [Tradeways] was a city of splendor. From the [Low Quarter]  where traffic from the [Three Rivers of the North] flowed into the city, to the shining spires of the [Steelbones Castle], the city could boast of being one of the most beautiful cities in the [Fallen Kingdoms], even as that beauty burned.

“We have to re-open the gates,” General Ravendawn said. “The [3rd Allied Magical Infantry] is ready to come to our aid but they won’t get here before we lose the [Riverrun Walls] unless we gate them in.”

He wasn’t wrong. Princess De’celi could see the picture before them as clearly as anyone else in the war room who was studying the troops arrayed against them. Since it was her [Tactical Engagement Board] which [Tradeways] military commanders were clustered around, she suspected she could see more than they could even.

Which was the problem.

“We have the [Teleportation Gates] on standby,” De’celi said. “We cannot open them yet though. Not until we have the [Central Market Place] secured.”

“Your Higness, I know this is all new to you,” General Tarksis began before De’celi cut him off by slapping the measuring stick in her hand against the board’s surface.

“The enemy has troops which are both flight and stealth capable,” De’celi said. “Their attack patterns indicate a focus on two areas. The [Teleportation Gates] and the [Collegium of the Red Sash].”

“But there’s no proof that they’ve sent those units in!” Tarksis countered, huffing himself up to his full height.

Watching him tower over the Princess made for a disturbing picture. He looked big enough to snap her like a twig. If she made the attempt however, De’celi resolved that she would show him his error without excessive dismemberment.

“The proof you ask for will come the moment the gates are turned on,” General Ravendawn said. “A stealth force will not be able to risk  the gates being turned back off or destroyed if that’s their target.”

“Ravendawn! I thought you were in favor of opening the gates and getting us the forces we need!” Tarksis said.

“I am,” Ravendawn said. “But the Princess is also correct.”

“Well you can’t very well have it both ways,” Tarksis said.

“I most certainly can,” Ravendawn said. “What makes the enemy’s stealth forces so dangerous is that they will strike us when we are least expecting it. That advantage is diminished if we can dictate precisely when their attack will be launched.”

“What are you suggesting?” Tarksis asked. “We don’t have the men to set a defensive force around the gates and keep enough defenders on the walls.”

“I agree,” Tarksis said. “So let the walls go undefended.”

“That’s madness,” Tarksis said. “[Tradeways] will fall for sure.”

“No,” De’celi said. “It’s a workable strategy.”

“I’m glad you feel so, Your Highness,” Ravendawn said.

“Workable if our forces can overcome the [Stealth Units] the Consortium army has sent in,” De’celi said. “That’s a significant gamble, and I dislike the odds on it.”

“I could join the defense team around the gates if that would set your mind at ease?” Ravendawn said.

“It would not,” De’celi said. “You’re needed here.”

In part because De’celi was concerned she might eviscerate Tarksis if there wasn’t a voice of reason in the room to help deal with Tarksis’ condescending stupidity.

“If the town falls, we will rebuild,” De’celi said. “The castle however cannot fall. For any reason. We’re harboring every noncombatant from the city. If it comes to that, I and everyone in this room will give their lives to ensure that the castle’s gate can be opened long enough to evacuate our people, and then we will destroy the gates forever.”

“It would be an hour to die beside you,” Ravendawn said. His voice was light and cheerful but not insincere. 

Tarksis nodded weakly in agreement as did the handful of other generals and their aides who coordinating [Tradeways] defense.

“It is to be hoped however, that circumstances will not become quite that dire,” Ravendawn continued. “The Consortium taking the [Riverrun Walls] is a given at this point, but that’s a far cry from taking the city.”

“But we don’t even need to give them that much,” Tarksis mumbled.

“You are correct,” De’celi said, disinclined to ignore his comments. “We could hold the [Riverrun Walls] for another day, perhaps two, if we send the bulk of our reserves to reinforce it. That would buy time for what again though?”

“All of the noncombatants have been evacuated already,” Ravendawn said as Tarksis began to sputter and back away from the table.

“Now that’s not why I’m…” Tarksis tried to say but De’celi cut him off again.

“Oh yes, I see that they have been. I guess there’s nothing to protect there then is there?” De’celi said. “Oh wait. We do have the warehouses along [Beggars Row]. Surely we should make time to unload their contents. If they’re filled with food we could withstand a siege for weeks longer than if we let them fall into the Consortium’s hands.”

“The good news is that according to these reports,” Ravendawn held a stack of papers up, “It looks like the warehouses are being unloaded. The bad news seems to be that they are only housing banking records.”

“You mean, banking records of the sort which the crown requires financial institutions to maintain identical copies in the crown’s libraries?” De’celi asked. She already knew exactly what was happening. Tarksis was desperate to cling to the real records of his family’s dealings as they absolutely included accounts which hadn’t been disclosed to the crown. Accounts which doubtless held the lionshare of his wealth and detailed the debts owed to him. Accounts which De’celi was going to be delighted to review once her father and mother weren’t trapped halfway around the world and shortly after the small problem of the invading army had been dealth it.

“Yes, which is why you might imagine I am in favor of selling the [Riverrun Walls] to the Consortium at an unfair rate and then moving our forces to a more defensible position,” Ravendawn said.

“I would be inclined to look favorably on that suggestion if our troops didn’t need the enchantments on the battlements to last more than thirty seconds in battle with the Consortium troops,” De’celi said. “Enchantments, which, I feel compelled to remind the room, the [Mercantile Council] has vetoed funding for any of the other gates in the city.”

“We have the gate in the castle,” Tarksis said, as though that was explanation enough for his lack of foresight.

“Yes, a gate which is locked to one destination so as to not compete with the commercial gates,” Ravendawn said. “A location, which, as a point of slight interest, does not currently possess a spare army they can send to support us.”

An young knight rushed into the room, breathless but holding out a small tablet with a secure communication crystal affixed to it.

“From the [Riverrun Walls],” the knight gasped out as she fought to catch her breath.

“Add it to the Tactical table,” De’celi said, addressing Ravendawn, who complied after unlocking it with his personal signet.

The tactical map changed, the forces becoming specific units all along the wall with dozens of annotations appearing over each major grouping.

“Summary,” De’celi commanded the Tactical board, causing a hologram of [Star Captain] Lushtiel, one of De’celi’s oldest friends, to appear in all her life size glory above the board.

“Hi De’celi”, the recording of Lushtiel said. “I’m going to need either another army or a recall order in about two hours.”

The recording gestured to the map of the forces beneath them.

“The Consortium’s moved up some of their [Heavies] and our archers are holding them back exactly not at all. I’ve got boiling oil, which they don’t seem to like, and our [Mage Corp] has been putting a dent in them, but they’re tapping out of mp faster and faster with each advance.”

The hologram paused and turned as though looking around the room.

“If that ass Tarksis is there still, tell him his house guard sends their love and affection. We found them carrying some boxes full of worthless paper, so we drenched them in oil, lit them on fire, and lobbed them at the last wave of attackers. I don’t think it did any real damage but it confused the hell out of them, which at least bought us an extra minute or two and gave me a hell of a laugh. [Star Captain] Lushtield out.”

De’celi had to suppress a grin at seeing the unhealthy shade of pale white that Tarksis had turned at learning the fate of his hidden ledgers.

“It’s possible our [Star Captain] is being optimistic,” Ravendawn said. He’d pushed the units on the Tactical board into a new configuration and De’celi could see the cause for his concern.

“They’ve been repositioning their [Flame Artillery] units along [Moonbrook Road],” De’celi said. “The wooden buildings behind the fortifications aren’t inside their range though.”

“Not yet,” Ravendawn said. “And they’re heaving aren’t advancing on the garrison point on [Moonbrook]. See what happens if they break through here though?”

He gestured towards the nearby [Saltcart Road].

“The fighting from [Saltcart] will fall back leaving the [Moonbrook] garrison cut off. They could hold out though, unless the [Heavies] break off from the main battle to focus on them,” De’celi said, studying the map in greater detail and quickly skimming the annotations for the area.

“Yes, which will spell doom for the garrison and give them a means of cutting off even more of our forces as the fires they set spread outwards and block off escape our roots,” Ravendawn said.

“Except they won’t,” De’celi said. “They don’t need to send all of the [Heavies] to take out the garrison. They can dispatch a small strike team to force the garrison troops to bunker down.”

“Oh,” Ravendawn said, concern rippling across his face. “Oh, that’s unpleasantly likely. That would allow them to continue to push forward along [Saltcart] and set half the [Low Quarter] on fire at the same time.”

“It is perhaps time to give the recall order then,” De’celi said. She hated the idea. Giving up the [Low Quarter] was going to costly even if all of its citizens were safe and secure in the castle. 

Worse, while [Tradeways] defensive perimeter was designed to allow for a fighting retreat, each step backward that her forces took was an opportunity that could only be spent once and she was sure they hadn’t inflicted anywhere near the losses on the Consortium’s forces they needed to in order to ensure victory.

“We have time to work on other strategies,” Ravendawn said, no more pleased with their options than De’celi was.

“With each minute adding to the peril of the retreat,” De’celi said. “It will take them at least a quarter of an hour to arm all of the traps.”

“This is Lushtiel,” Ravendawn said. “I’m reasonably certain the traps are already armed.”

De’celi wanted to protest that her friend would never be as reckless as that but the words failed to even form on her tongue in the first place. 

“All the more reason to give the order now,” De’celi said. “The longer our troops are around those traps, the more likely we are to see ‘friendly fire’ prove less than friendly.”

“I will send for a courier then,” Ravendawn said.

Before he could summon one though, another young knight appeared in the door, even more out of breath than the first.

“From the walls!” the knight wheezed out, presenting another secure tablet.

Ravendawn took it and unsealed the crystal without waiting for a formal order.

Once again [Star Captain] Lushtiel appear in hologram form above the Tactical board. Her easy confidence had been replaced by a look of deep confusion this time.

“Uh, De’celi, you should look at the troop situation outside our walls,” she said, gesturing ot the rapidly updating Tactical board.

De’celi couldn’t place what she was seeing for a moment.

At first it looked like the Consortium’s forces had somehow doubled.

It only took De’celi a second to notice that wasn’t the case though.

The newly arrived units were clearly Consortium forces. 

At least in form and fighting capability.

But for some reason, and with rather frightening efficiency, they were ripping the Consortium forces which were besieging [Tradeways] to shreds.

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 18

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.”