Titus surveyed the broken wreckage of the once prosperous city of Liria. The Legion fort around the Dungeon entrance had been levelled giving him a clear view of the devastation the moment he had stepped back onto the surface. Garralosh and her monsters had done their work thoroughly here. Everywhere he looked he saw wreckage, as if the beasts couldn’t stand to leave one stone on top of another. The Legion commander felt the pain in his heart as took in the ruins. He could see the ruins of Baker Dockerty’s shop from where he stood. The jolly old man had been full of life, ready with a smile and a glazed bun, Titus’ favourite, every time he’d stopped by. So much waste, so much loss. All because of one stupid monster.
He blew a breath, releasing the tension building in his chest. What was the point of raging at a dead beast? The kingdom was gone, Garralosh was gone, the Legions’ responsibilities in this backward part of the world were over. Still, Titus felt no sense of satisfaction. They hadn’t managed to defeat the giant Croc themselves and he was still filled with regret that he had failed to take her life when they had clashed. His axe had bitten her flesh, taken an arm but she had slithered away like a snake. Perhaps if he’d pursued then, he would never have witnessed this scene now, perhaps his son would have taken the trials elsewhere and survived. Regret boiled in his belly.
Sensing her fathers’ emotions, Morrelia stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re an idiot,” she said.
Titus turned his stony face toward her.
“You did more for this country, more for this city than any dozen other people in its history combined. You fought harder and longer than even the Legion asked of you. There was nothing more you could have done, so stop being stupid and feeling guilty about this. None of it is your fault.”
Nearby Legionaries looked quite chagrined to hear their revered commander spoken to in this way but what could they do? It was his daughter! Titus himself didn’t seem to mind at all. He only nodded and patted the rough and calloused hand on his shoulder with own, equally worn one.
“You always had a way with words, Morr.”
“No I don’t and you know it. I’m just in a unique position to look at you as human instead of a legend.”
“You don’t see me as a legend?”
“My memories are of you teaching me how to lace up a boot, not saving the kingdom for the umpteenth time.” She stepped away from her father to run her eyes over the wreckage again. “I still can’t believe this happened. When Anthony and I first came here, this whole space was filled with monsters, almost every surface was covered with them. How did we ever kill so many?”
Titus flicked an eye when she said that. Behind him, many Legionaries were overcome with emotion as they reached the surface. Many of them had been born here, had parents, spouses, some of them had children. Morrelia had been able to provide a list, the names of everyone who had gathered at the survivor village. It was a scarce comfort. Only a fraction of the people who’d lived in the kingdom remained, and the capital had been the hardest hit. The tears and cries of anguish stung. Sometimes he wished he could unbend long enough to show that kind of emotion, but he never did. Part of him was afraid that if he ever let it out he would never be able to bottle it up again. Only his family were able to truly see what went on under the surface, only his wife and daughter. He was determined to keep them safe.
“Have you thought about my offer, Morr? I want you to come with us when we go.”
Morrelia frowned. In truth, she was conflicted. During the journey upward, she’d spent time talking to her old friends, from her centurions, trainees in her year who’d gone on to make full legionary and others who’d started not long before she left. The Abyssal Legion had been such a part of her life, to reconnect with it again had felt so natural, as if she had been welcomed back to the family. To her, the Legion was literally family. It was a chance to spend time with her father, to reconnect with her mother, after ten years of separation. She didn’t want to abandon the community in the south, the survivors that she’d formed bonds with through desperate battles and struggles, but how could she turn away from this chance. If she did, how long would it be until she saw her parents again?
Enid, Beyn, Isaac. Well, Isaac could burn in the third strata, but the others, even Anthony, that puzzling creature who seemed to turn everything she’d been taught about monsters on its head. There was something building there, something special. She wanted to be a part of it, wanted to help build it. It was an adventure, creating something entirely new out of the ashes of the old.
“Give me a little more time to think.” She told her father.
The commander looked as if he had more to say, but refrained himself. He wouldn’t push her. His children had never reacted well to being pushed. He’d never ever mentioned the idea of joining the Legion to them as they’d grown up. He wasn’t certain he wanted that life for them. Sure enough, they’d thrown themselves in head first the moment they’d come of age. Morrelia was the most headstrong of all, it was unusual of her to be undecided in anything. He would give her the space she needed.
A sob, almost a muffled cry sounded behind them, and the two turned to see a devastated Alberton, the Legion Loremaster for Liria. The old scholar had a hand raised to cover his mouth and his eyes were red as he took in the wreckage of his home.
Titus stepped toward his friend, putting a powerful arm over his shoulders. Morrelia approached his other side, reaching up to grasp his arm. Alberton had been a big part of her upbringing in the Legion, both as her father’s friend and as her teacher when she was a trainee.
“Lean on me, old man,” Titus encouraged his friend, who appeared to be close to collapse. “Don’t stand on ceremony.”
“The entire Kingdom? Everything my family has built for hundreds of years. All gone? So many people…” The old Legion scholar was beside himself as he openly wept. His entire life, his family, his history, wiped from the face of the world. All that was left was ashes.
“This is why we call them monsters, Morrelia. Look at what they’ve done. Look at this! We can never have peace until they all are dead. As if they never existed in the first place.”