A hundred of the most highly trained and powerful warriors within the Liria Bulwark sat in the tunnels, sweat and grime covering their forms. Each of them was exhausted. They’d battled for hours here, on the edge of the defensive line. Wave after wave of shadow beasts had assaulted their position. Even the odd demon had been mixed in, something that Myrrin had never thought she’d see.
A tap at her shoulder caused Myrrin to turn and then raise her head to gaze up at the monstrous auxiliary soldier beside her. Unable to talk with a grotesquely fanged muzzle where his mouth had once been, he raised his claw tipped paws instead and gestured to her in the simple but effective sign language she’d learned at the fort.
She watched his hands intently for a moment before she shook her head.
“No idea. I’ve heard stories, but I’ve never seen anything like…” she gestured helplessly toward the scene that held them all captive for the last twenty minutes. “… that.”
Head cocked to one side, the auxiliary listened carefully then nodded politely and turned back to watch the spectacle. Mirryn kept her eye on him for a moment longer before she turned back. It had taken her some time to grow accustomed to the auxiliaries. Half human, half monster, they were not a pretty sight to see. Not to mention, no two were ever the same. The twisted mutations they manifested depended in part on the monster flesh they were fed, and in part on the human being, she’d be told. Still, after fighting alongside them this last week, she’d gotten over her reservations. Condemned criminals they may have been, down here, they were Legion.
A blinding flash of light from in front caused her to shut her eyes and a deafening crash followed by a hail of stones and debris announced the use of another rock shattering skill. The constant howl and scream of monsters was dimmed for just a second before it rose once more to fever pitch.
It was hell, down here. Day in, day out, they’d fought and battled until they could no longer stand, until their hands no longer worked and they needed to be pried out of their armour, scrubbed down by workers and thrown into a bed for a few hours of nightmare plagued sleep. Then back into the action. Mirryn had fired so many arrows, slain so many monsters, she was sure the Dungeon would have been empty by now. But it didn’t make a dent. Nothing did. This was only one fort along the Bulwark and hundreds of thousands of monsters had met their doom here. But it was never enough.
Mirryn turned to her other side and laid a hand on the scarred runic metal of her new partner. The Abyssal armour she’d been issued, a fine example of the medium sized ‘Ranger’ pattern that she’d been wearing throughout the conflict. Since they’d been relieved at the front she figured she may as well take it off and rest for a moment. It wasn’t exactly heavy, but wearing the armour was taxing on the mind and spirit.
Another impact pierced the shriek of monsters and another shower of dust and rock battered into the tunnel walls, drawing her attention back to the battle still taking place not even fifty metres from where she sat.
Encased in his oversized, rune inscribed Abyssal armour, the commander held the tunnel, by himself. The great axe in his hands hummed with delight as each swing send red blades of light tearing through dozens of monsters at once. Every now and again, he would stomp down with one armoured foot and the tunnel itself would shake, which forced everything in front of him to stumble, which allowed him to wind up another swing.
He’d been at it for twenty minutes already.
They’d been fighting as usual, when the commander had just shown up, pushed his way to the front, and started tearing monsters apart with those wide, impossibly powerful swings. They’d tried to help at first, but the commander had gestured them to move back and kept going. So they had. It felt surreal, to be here at the front and not fighting. She could tell from the bemused expressions of those around her that they felt the same.
Mirryn sighed. Every muscle ached. In fact, she could barely remember a time when they hadn’t ached. What had life been like, before she’d come down into the Dungeon on this delve? What did the sun even look like? It hardly mattered, it was bright enough down here, the tunnels had blazed with light constantly ever since the wave had started.
As she pondered the glare of the Dungeon her eyes flicked towards the veins that lined the tunnel. She thought for a moment, a frown creased her face as she tried to register what it was that she thought she saw. She stood slowly and began to walk toward the closest wall, her attention fixated on it to the point even the horrific sounds of battle faded from her mind.
There was something about the walls. Something about the mana veins. She stared straight at one from only a few metres away. Since when had she started to be unable to stare straight at one? But now she could. Now she could. Because… the mana … was decreasing?
In one motion she turned and sprinted back toward where her fellow Legionaries were resting, shouting at the top of her lungs like a mad banshee.
“The mana is decreasing! The wave is ending! The mana is decreasing!”
At first they looked at her as if she were mad. What did she think she was doing, but gradually they realised what it was she was saying, what it could mean if it was true. One by one they turned to the walls and looked for themselves. It didn’t take long for them to confirm with their own eyes what she had said, and with delighted roars of triumph the Legion leapt to its feet.
There was jubilation, hugs, even the monster auxiliaries were howling and snarling with glee.
With spirits renewed and joy in their hearts, the Legionaries suited up, readied their weapons and charged into battle alongside the tireless commander. One last push! One last push and then it would all be over!
Five hours later, Mirryn lay flat on the ground of the tunnel, still in her armour. The flow of monsters had begun to decrease at last, and when the relieving force had arrived from Raileh, her squad had chosen to stay on for an extra hour to help beat the last of the enemy back.
In truth, with the commander there, it had been the easiest shift she’d had across the entire wave.
The man wasn’t human. Mirryn understood that in some ways, neither was she, but Titus was so far beyond her own limits he simply couldn’t be the same species anymore. Just what did a Legionary have to go through to get that strong?
She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
With a grimace, she sat up and took stock. The battle still raged, but at a reduced cadence, some two hundred metres away. She’d retreated back to the fort proper and most of the Legionaries on her shift were still here, taking a brief rest before they hit their bunks.
The commander was still on his feet. He walked from soldier to soldier, a word here, a pat on the soldier there. His eyes gleamed with fierce energy all the while. He didn’t even look tired. When he saw her staring, he said a final word to the Legionary he was speaking with and moved toward her.
“Finally getting my mana levels back to where they used to be,” he told her quietly. “Taken quite a while to get my motor running again.”
It was clear he’d seen what she was thinking and Mirryn couldn’t help but blush at how easily she was read.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, commander. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
He waved a hand to dismiss her concern.
“Don’t think much of it. Those of us who’ve served the deep, are a little different than most. You haven’t met any Legionaries who’ve been that low other than me. We rarely come back up at all.”
“Why did you then, commander?”
He paused for a moment, a little of the light went out of his eyes.
“My children. My wife became pregnant and I requested a transfer to the surface.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I shouldn’t have pried.”
A tussle behind them at the entrance to the fort broke the awkward silence before it could truly settle and a haggard looking messenger burst forward.
“Commander, sir! The Dungeon Seers have reported. Garralosh has been slain!”