Donnelan was exhausted. The young fire mage has been repeatedly rung dry over the last twenty four hours, expelling every ounce of mental effort until his mind felt as if were on fire and blood had started leaking out of eyes.
Blood! Right out of his eyes!
When he’d turned to the centurion in charge of his section to indicate the distress he was in, all he got was a cold snort of contempt and five minutes rest. He’d spent his five minutes with his head in a bucket of ice water in the med tent before climbing back up the wall to finish the last thirty minutes of his shift.
This was the first time Donnelan had been involved in defending a wave, so he wasn’t sure if what he’d seen was normal or not, but what he had witnessed in the last day had shaken his impression of the Dungeon forever.
He knew the Legion was strict, really strict, on the management of the Dungeon. The mercenaries had a nickname for the Legion’s rules in the Dungeon, they called them the ‘Stone law’, unbreakable and crushing like a mountain.
Donnelan had felt some sympathy for their view in the past. The Dungeon was dangerous to be sure but it wasn’t that bad, idiots got themselves killed exploring down here sure, but idiots could kill themselves shaving, was there really such a need to regulate them?
The mage didn’t feel that way now. When the light returned the Legion had been in full force on the wall of their temporary fort, officers striding up and down like angry demons, checking equipment and snapping angry hand signals to any Legionary found wanting in their preparations.
When the monster started bursting out of the soil, tearing out of walls and even dropping down from the roof Donnelan was sure he was seeing a vision of hell. Brutal combat erupted everywhere in an instant, the stench of blood and the shrieks of monster flooded his senses until he wanted to puke. Several trainees had, thrown up right over the edge of the wall. The centurions turned a blind eye to reaction of their younger soldiers, some of them had been in the exact same position once.
The endless waves of monsters crashed into each other like a roaring sea before converging on the fort in fury. None of the Legionaries could explain it but once the monsters drew close enough to the fort they seemed attracted to it irresistibly, suicidally charging in an attempt to scale the walls or burst their way through.
It hadn’t taken long for the fort to be surrounded by so many monsters it looked like an island under assault by the endless tides.
The only reason the monsters didn’t spawn directly under their feet was due to the deployment of an ancient Legion artefact that suppressed monster spawning in an area in the center of the camp. This was another of the Legion secrets Donnelan had been exposed to over the course of this expedition, he wasn’t sure how much more they could possibly hide up their sleeves.
It was shocking to him that he could be a trainee alongside these people for five years and not a whisper of any secrets had ever reached his ears, nothing!
“How are you holding up Don?” an exhausted voice reached him.
Donnelan looked up to see Mirryn, face covered in dust and dried ichor approaching his position in the rest area before she slumped down against a tent post, seemingly devoid of energy.
Mirryn had been working just as hard as he had, pushing her archery skills to the extreme in order to damage long range monsters as well as plugging any gaps when the beasts managed to climb the walls and threaten the mages.
In the background the roar of monsters and regular explosions rocked the fort as mages continued to bombard the beasts with every ounce of magic they could grasp. Donnelan had never felt mana so thick in his life, every mage felt as if their spells were super charged in these conditions, their fire hotter, storms larger and ice colder than ever before.
The same was also true for the monsters of course. Hence all the noise.
The constant din was starting to get into a few Trainees heads. Donnelan had seen another archer, nice guy, they called him ‘Fingers’ due to his extremely dextrous digits he deployed in his archery, after about 14 hours of the wave he’d collapsed in a quivering mess, screaming for the noise to stop, right in the middle of the rest area.
Two medics and knocked him straight out with a rune, tumbled him into a bed where he’d been ever since.
It was almost enough to cause Donnelan to wonder if he should start shrieking himself, maybe then he’d get some sleep!
“I’ve never been better Mir” Donnelan drawled, “I’m practically on vacation”.
Mirryn chuckled, her eyes shut and head leaning back against the post. “I heard about the eye thing. Really only five minutes?”
“Really” Donnelan affirmed.
His friend could only shake her head in disbelief, too spent for any more expression than that.
After a pause she spoke again. “I may have some good news for you though”.
“Apparently the trainees are going to be given a twenty four hour break before our next shift on the wall”.
Donnelan was so shocked he sat up too quickly, causing a cramp in his leg.
“Ouch!” he wailed.
It took a few minutes to straighten out his leg and stretch it until the pain faded, during which Mirryn continuously chuckled painfully.
“How are they giving us a rest? Don’t they need us up there? I don’t see any sign of the fighting dying down…” Donnelan muttered doubtingly.
Mirryn snorted, “If anything it’s getting worse! You know that as well as I do. I have no idea what the brass are planning but I was passed this news by the Tribune ten minutes ago. I swear it!”
The young fire mage could only shake his head. How were they going to hold the defences if so many soldiers took a break?
In the center of the camp the senior officers had gathered together, hundreds of years of collective Dungeon experience amassed in one place.
Despite the horrific din that battered the eardrums of everyone inside the camp the officers were unruffled, stroking their beads or thumbing their chins as they exchanged grumbling words about the state of the young soldiers these days.
There is a stirring amongst them and they turn towards their left as a unit, conversation falling away. Moments later Titus emerged from with his command tent, dark plates of armour strapped to his aging yet still bulky frame.
As he approached his old friends and comrades Titus smiled freely, clapping them on their shoulder, sharing a laugh and a warm nod with each of them. Despite the howling battle occurring not one hundred metres away the commander appeared more relaxed than he had in some time.
Quite a few of his officers noticed the change.
“Almost feels like home now doesn’t it commander?” grinned a grizzled centurion.
Titus looked at the dazzlingly shining forest and drew the air deep into his lungs, drawing the rich mana into his system.
“Almost Margnus, about another 10% and it’ll be just about there.”
The others similarly breathed deeply before nodding in agreement. Not just the commander but the rest of these veterans were similarly looking more refreshed and moving more easily than they had in years.
Margnus glanced back at the tent Titus had emerged from before he spoke, “Any luck waking her up commander? I’d love to see her in action again after all this time.”
Titus just shook his head. “It’s going to take a lot more than 10% to get that old battle axe going, you know that” Titus laughed, “still, I think if we can shake out our old bones then the rest of the soldiers should be able to rest easy for a day, what do you say fellows?”
The men and women who made up the officers of the Legion Liria branch surface headquarters laughed and hefted their weapons, before moving towards the walls. Only Titus and Aurillia remained behind.
“How much longer until they start to show up, commander? Will the trainees be ready?” the Tribune asked, worry in her tone.
Titus only smiled. “Those old dogs will have starting rising up a few hours ago, the pressure in the second strata will be hitting its peak pretty soon. It won’t be long until those monsters start to push up here. We’ll give as many soldiers a rest as we can for now and then we’ll really test their mettle.”
The Tribune nodded. “Body of Iron”.
“Heart of Flame”.