Chapter 654 – Diplomacy with the damned

The Colony had been clever with its strategy so far, if a little naive. The inexperience in fighting sapient enemies was likely the reason for their relatively direct approach. If they were allowed to grow, that would change. Yet another reason to excise this problem before it grew too severe. Still, Titus felt compelled to keep his eyes wide open as he approached the elderly woman who stood alone in the tunnel before him.

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“I am Titus,” he confirmed, “commander of the Legionem Abyssi. I have to say I did not expect to find a Lirian in this place. May I know your name?”

The old soldier stood straight and tall, not bothering to try and appear unthreatening. How could he? He was wearing a full set of heavy Abyssal armour with a demonic axe on his back. In truth, he was threatening. Not that Enid seemed to mind.

“My name is Enid Ruther, commander. You might have known my husband.”

Titus frowned.

“Derrion? The mercenary?”

The mayor smiled, pleased to see her dearest husband was still remembered.

“That’s right,” she nodded, “he spoke highly of you.”

“He was one of the good ones. The dark blade of Arranyss. I seldom have respect for mercs, but your husband was very capable and stuck to the rules. I was saddened to hear of his death.”

“He had no time for union politics. He always saw the Dungeon as his place of work and had no interest in jostling for control.”

The commander grunted.

“Good thing too. As much as I would like to take the time to pay the proper respect to your husband, Ms Ruther, I am sure you are aware of what is happening in this place and that my time is limited. I can guess why you are here, but I’m prepared to listen to what you have to say.”

“I agree. It’s unpleasant that we find ourselves in this position.” Enid smoothed her skirt as she gathered her courage. “I don’t know what happened in the Dungeon during the wave, commander, but I imagine it wasn’t easy for you. I presume you were occupied when Garralosh rose to the surface.”

“We held the line and prevented the lower monsters surging into Liria. We couldn’t predict that Garralosh would be able to do what it did.”

She only shook her head.

“I don’t blame you, or the Legion, for what happened during the wave. None of us could have known that a beast like that would be able to survive on the surface. But I must inform you that the beast Garralosh you once fought, was defeated by the Colony you now seek to destroy.”

Titus only shrugged.

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“Monsters kill monsters all the time. I deeply regret I wasn’t able to finish the vile creature when I had the chance, but I do not intend to spare these monsters because they rid the world of an evil.”

“They did more than just that,” she insisted, “they saved us. They scoured the countryside and dug survivors out of the ruins. They built us homes, irrigated our fields, fed us, defended us and brought us together. It is no exaggeration to say that without the support of these monsters, there likely would be no survivors of Liria or the frontier kingdoms at all. We owe the ants our lives and have lived in harmony with them for months. You seek to destroy them simply because they are monsters and were created by the Dungeon. We have decided that this is wrong.”

“You intend to defend these creatures against my Legionaries? There are many in my ranks to were born in Liria. Are you really willing to fight against your own people?”

“I can say the same to you, commander,” Enid’s eyes hardened. “You have brought war and destruction down on this Colony who has done nothing but help me and my people. How can you be seen as anything but an enemy?”

“And what of the people of Rylleh?” Titus demanded. “The city was overrun weeks ago, have they too been spared the creatures hunger?”

“There a number of people from that city amongst our ranks today,” Enid returned, “it seems that many consider the arrival of the Colony a liberation, rather than a death sentence. That city has not been harmed by the Colony, far from it.”

The commander frowned. It was beyond his expectations that this colony would act in such a way, but it wasn’t totally unheard of. The abomination had clearly influenced the ants not to predate on the human population, but for how long would that last? If that creature born of another world were to perish, how long before the ants would revert to their true nature? For that matter, how long until the abomination itself would lose its sense of self and sink into the murderous carnage that claimed them all in the end?

This changed nothing in the end. The hard lines of Titus’ face didn’t budge.

“The Legion has given its orders and I do not intend to debate the righteousness of them here. We will destroy these creatures and stamp them from the Dungeon so that not a single one remains. If you choose to take the field against us then I must warn you that we will not show mercy to those who side with the creatures of the Dungeon against their own kind. I will give you four hours to talk to your people and inform them of our position. During that time, should anyone approach our lines, they will be let through and given safe passage to wherever they want to go. Should they remain, they will die alongside the insects.”

So saying, the commander snapped out a crisp salute and turned back towards his people. Enid only sighed. This was the outcome she expected, but it still lay heavy on her heart. To the Legion, the people of Renewal were now traitors who had abandoned the Sapient races to side with the ancient enemy. It was inevitable once they had made the decision to stand with the Colony.

“Would you think we did the right thing, Derrion?” she wondered out loud.

The discussions were over. She turned and began the walk back to the nest where an open gate awaited her. She had much to discuss with her people.

Titus have orders to have the Legion pull back and widen the tunnel to allow for a temporary camp to be created. The Legionaries rested and conversed in quiet voices as Titus and the tribunes moved from group to group and informed them of what awaited them in the battle ahead. Some expressed sadness, others anger, most felt a level of disbelief that their own people would stand against them on the side of monsters, but none were unwilling to fight. They made war on the Dungeon. Always.

Enid moved amongst the people inside the gate. Farmers, traders, crafters and town guards before the last wave, now they stood firm in their resolution to defend those that had saved their lives and given them hope. Some were dismayed to find that their own kind would fail to see the goodness of the Colony (let alone its holiness), but their resolve was unflinching. When the four hours had elapsed, not a single person had abandoned the Colony.

Disappointed, but not surprised, Titus once more formed up the Legion and they once again began their simultaneous approaches toward the gates of the nest. It wasn’t long until they were able to look up and see the huge metal gates ahead of them. The giant ant head carved into the centre stared down at them indifferently, projecting an alien aura that seemed to say what lay beyond did not belong to human kind. But it would soon, Titus promised himself.

The mighty Legionary gripped the haft of his axe tight in both hands as he stoked the demon within. The gate loomed large in his eyes. Come what may, he would crush that thing beneath his boot before the day was done.

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