Mirryn awoke with a start.
Instantly wide eyed and alert she turned her head to look around her and her eyes were struck immediately by the austere white room in which she lay. She was lying on a clean bed in a small white chamber. On the roof a glowing crystal provided illumination, a clean white light that filled the space warmly. Just looking at that light nearly brought Mirryn to tears. She'd feared that she would die surrounded by the blue light of the Dungeon, seeping into her body and killing her slowly.
She couldn't remember much of her arrival to the Legion base in the Dungeon. After their long descent down the carved spiral staircase that the commander had referred to as Periclasus' stair. That journey had tested the trainees to their limits. It had taken long days of endless marching to reach the bottom, spiralling ever downwards into the depths and the lower they got, the sicker they became.
None of the trainees had been down in the Dungeon this deep, for this long. Without proper acclimation, the lower part of the first strata would normally be the first place that a Dungeon delver would need to worry about saturation sickness, or 'the blues' as it was colloquially known.
During this wave, which didn't seem to want to end, the mana had risen to ridiculous levels, the first strata was currently reading much the same as the second right now, the trainees were unable to cope. Every one of them was struck with the blues, quite literally turning a light shade of blue as the raw mana of the Dungeon began to pervade their bodies. Mana saturation sickness was an insidious killer and a truly messy death. Delvers, mercs and every being who entered the Dungeon lived in fear of it, their bodies literally breaking apart cell by cell as the excess energy ravaged their bodies.
The trainees got their taste of it as they walked the endless stairs. They began to stumble, their legs no longer responding as they should. The further they got the more the symptoms became pronounced. Their vision slowly overtaken by a blue haze that made it difficult to see, their hands started shaking, then the whole body. The young, strong trainees began to experience the fear that was normally reserved for the aged, the fear of having their own body betray them and begin to fall out of their control.
Through it all they felt no pain, only a giddy, inexhaustible nervous energy. The blues didn't make people feel tired, as the name might suggest, rather the mana suffusing their body and brain numbed them and gave them the jitters, as if they'd been drinking five cups of coffee every hour. They couldn't sleep, couldn't rest, couldn't think clearly, they were both more exhausted than they'd ever been in their lives and completely unable to rest.
With the encouragement and support of their fellow Legionaries and officers they'd barely made it, the only other members of the party struggling as much as them was the prisoners the Legion had mysteriously brought with them on this expedition.
Less capable than the trainees many of them had to be carried towards the end, the soldiers taking turns to hoist the murderers on their backs as they battled the long march.
The last Mirryn could remember was arriving before a large stone door. She could barely see by that point, the door itself was nothing but a blur. The commander had stepped forward and done something and the door had swung open, vague figures had rushed out, gathering the sick members of the party and bringing them inside. She had collapsed into the arms of the person rushing towards her and then woken up here.
Looking around the room some more she noticed a strange arrangement on the side of the bed. A tube had been inserted in her arm, surrounded by a glowing enchantment that had been drawn directly onto her skin. Nervously following the tube with her eyes she saw it was attached to another enchantment drawn on a nearby flat table. The center of the table held four softly glowing cores.
Mirryn stared at the strange setup, puzzled, after closing her eyes to try and feel if anything was different she noticed that her saturation sickness was significantly better. If she focused hard she was able to feel the flow of mana in her body, slowly inching down her arm before being leeched out through the tubes and being fed to the cores on the table.
She was stunned, she'd never even heard of this kind of treatment before. Such fine manipulation of the mana in another person's body via an enchantment How had they done it?
"I haven't heard anything Alberton but as soon as I do, you'll be the first to know!" the commanders voice penetrated through the door.
Soon after the tread of heavy feet could be heard as the Loremaster and commander continued to argue with each other.
"I just can't understand why we didn't make more of an effort to prevent Garralosh from reaching the surface. You know what will happen up there. That's my family dammit!"
There was a heavy thump, as if a fist had smacked into a wall.
"You think you're the only person with family up there Alberton? You think I don't want to rip the head off that Croc and protect our people? Is that what you think?" the commander demanded quietly.
There was a long pause and Mirryn began to wonder what was going on when she barely heard the Loremaster sigh and reply.
"I'm just worried".
"We all are, but we have a duty to get here to HQ and support the bulwark. As much damage as Garralosh can do, would you want the second strata monsters to rise to the surface? Do you know what that would mean? This wave isn't ordinary Alberton and you should stop pretending that it is. The entire world could go up in flames if we aren't careful".
Another sigh and a quiet "I know" before the door suddenly opened and the two top officers of the Liria branch Legionem Abyssi strode into the room.
"Ah, good to see you're finally awake trainee" Titus nodded.
Mirryn nodded in return but felt a little confused, this greeting didn't feel as positive as it should. Something about her commanders tone and posture was off, even Alberton looked somewhat downcast, almost not meeting her eye.
"Is this the HQ?" she asked.
"Yes" Titus affirmed, "you're in the medical wing. The mana saturation was much higher than expected on this journey, we had to perform emergency treatment to lower the mana levels in your body. All of the trainees received the same treatment, you're the last to wake".
Mirryn's head spun for a moment. So all of them had been in this place? Where were they now?
Alberton could see the question in her expressions. "The others are waiting for you. We have to move quickly" he said.
"Can you walk trainee?" Titus asked.
Mirryn tested her legs. "I think so, sir".
She rolled out of her bed and stood shakily on her feet. She was still weak from the blues. Titus didn't wait for her to ask and stepped forward to support her, carefully removing the pipe from her arm as he did so.
In silence the two old officers walked with her out of the room and down a long corridor. The place was strangely empty and quiet, Mirryn didn't see or hear another person as they travelled. They came to a heavy wooden door with a carved, enchanted lock on the door. Titus waved his palm in front of the elaborate carving and it immediately glowed with bright light before the door swung open to reveal a winding staircase carved in rock.
Not another one, Mirryn thought.
Not saying anything the three descended, Titus keeping a steady grip on her shoulder to help her navigate the steps without falling. At the bottom of the stairs was a small chamber with another door in it and gathered there were all of the trainees.
Mirryn felt relief when she finally saw other people. The feeling quickly faded when she realised that the air was tense in the room, the trainees were nervous, the officers solemn.
With the trainees tightly packed together in the small space, Titus took a position on the lower steps, placing him higher than his audience so they could see him and began to speak.
"Congratulations trainees. You have successfully braved the dangers and hardships of this delve and made it here to the headquarters of the Liria branch of the Abyssal Legion. I'm proud of you".
And he really was. Looking down on these young Legionaries filled him with pride. They were good people, strong people. They had sacrificed, fought, upheld the tenants of the Legion and proven their mettle. They gave him hope for the future.
The trainees themselves allowed themselves a small smile at the rare words of praise from the commander, but the serious expression on his face dampened the mood quickly.
"You represent half of the trainees inducted in your year. The others have been weeded out. Not dedicated enough. Not loyal enough. Not willing to sacrifice. Only those that we trust to keep the secrets of the Legion and do their duty make it this far. You have earned the right to become full Legionaries".
Excitement, smiles and joy lit the expressions of the trainees. This was what they had been hoping for ever since they enrolled. They had worked so hard for this!
Titus saw the looks on their faces and it acknowledged it with a nod even as his heart sank in his chest. This was always the hardest part..