"Then we were fighting theshe monsters and they are like freaking shombies, I'm tellin' you. No matter what I hit them with they just don't shtay down. Finally I burn the shtoopid thing so much it falsh down and this ugly ass bug breaksh out of iz back and jush crawlsh off!"
"Donnelan, I think you've had enough. I can't understand what on earth you're saying."
"You are not fine, you've been trying to drink out of the bowl of nuts for the last fifteen minutes!"
"… Maybe I'sh had enough."
"I thought you mage types were supposed to be smart. You had enough an hour ago you moron. You're juicier than a fiddler at festival time. I bet you can't even walk."
Donnelan's eyes go blank for a moment as he sways from side to side, testing his balance.
"Yous right!" he declared. "I cantsh walk."
Mirryn grunted with irritation. She'd been happy to join in and have a few drinks but she was quick to realise that the spirits they brewed down here were several levels more intense than anything they'd drunk on the surface. So she'd slowed down her pace, enjoyed the convivial atmosphere and watched the various races and social grouping here in Railleh mixing within the venue.
Donnelan had just wrecked himself and complained.
"Is he going to make it home?" rumbled the barkeep as he approached.
The enormous Golgarin male had kept a watchful eye on his business all night but hadn't had to flex his size on anyone, something that Mirryn was quite grateful for. Easily seven feet tall and quite literally looking as if he'd been carved from a mountainside, the man looked as if he could crush two human heads in one of his massive palms.
Mirryn had heard that the Golgarin weren't actually made of stone, just that their skin was so dense and, combined with the greyish texture, gave the appearance of rock.
"I'll give him a shoulder" she assured him, "he'll be okay."
The barkeep grunted and stomped to the other side of the bar, ready to serve another customer who was prepared to continue deep into the morning.
"Come on Donnelan, up you get" Mirryn urged, grabbing her friend by the shoulder.
"Ey! Eashy!" he mumbled as he staggered to his feet.
An hour later Mirryn walked out of Donnelan's room in the barracks, loud snoring rumbling out the doorway already. The moron had staggered and stumbled each and every step, not to mention a few stops on the way to expel the worst of his drinks, causing the journey to take four times as long as it should've. The second she'd thrown him at his bunk, he'd been out like a light.
"Big night?" a quiet voice found her from the dark corridor.
Turning to her left she found Tribune Aurillia approaching from the officers' quarters, further down this wing of the barracks. All of the Liria branch trainees who had been recently promoted, along with their officers had been bunked together in one wing of the barracks.
"Ah" Mirryn coughed awkwardly, "bigger for some that for others."
Aurillia laughed. "I'm not surprised. Young Donnelan always struggled to deal with stress. Considering how much has changed for him lately, this was only to be expected."
"Well, as you say, we've had our lives turned upside down. We don't even have a home on the surface anymore" Mirryn pointed out, a little bitterness leaking through. "It shouldn't shock anyone that some people can't cope."
Aurillia only nodded and walked towards the far younger woman, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"We have all lost our homes and family above. We can only hope and pray that some of them have survived and fled. Until the mana levels recede, our duty is to hold the Bulwark and prevent even greater destruction."
Mirryn shrugged her officers hand off and turned to face her directly.
"And when exactly will that be? Ever since we've come down here we've been fighting. I've killed more monsters in the past two months than I've killed in all my life up to this point, and it isn't stopping. Even now the soldiers in the forts are fighting. No matter how much we fight it doesn't seem to matter. Are we even making a difference?"
"We are" Aurillia affirmed, no trace of doubt in her voice. "Every monster we kill is a threat that has been removed, every day we hold the Bulwark matters."
"Why though? Why is it so important that this part of the Dungeon be sealed off? Is this sort of thing normal for the Legion? Have we created pockets like this elsewhere?"
Aurillia closed her eyes for a moment before opening them and looking directly into the younger Legionary. Mirryn had always been strong. Not only had she taken to the Legions training exceptionally well, she had displayed a rare emotional strength. She'd been the rock of her training group and many who might have failed had passed by leaning on her for support.
In many ways she reminded Aurillia of herself when she was younger. This was a Legionary who would go far. Probably further than she herself had managed.
"What do you know about the Ancients?" she asked.
Mirryn blinked at the sudden change of topic.
"Not much? I mean, are you referring to the people before the Rending?"
"No" Aurillia shook her head, "I'm talking about the Ancients. The first monsters."
Mirryn's eyes narrowed and seeing it, Aurillia couldn't help but chuckle.
"All superstition isn't it? The first monsters who rose during the Rending and broke the world. Just a legend. The Church of the Path has worked hard to make people forget those old stories, and in some ways for a good reason."
The officer turned to place on hand on the wall of the barracks, feeling the solidity of the shaped stone. "There are members of the Legion who have gone to the Sixth Strata, hundreds of years ago, the only non-monstrous entities to ever descend that far. Did you know that? It nearly drove them mad but they came back and told us things we didn't dare to discount."
"What did they see?" Mirryn whispered.
That anyone had been able to descend that far was beyond her imagination. The mana down there would be so thick you could practically swim in it. Just what sort of monsters live down there?
"There are nineteen of the Ancients recorded in the old texts. Nineteen. The Legionaries who descended that far came back with confirmation of three of them. Enormous creatures of fathomless power. More like Gods than monsters. When they returned the Legion turned all of its resources to uncovering their secrets, learning whatever we could about these creatures. In time we discovered something we didn't expect."
Aurillia took her hand from the wall and brushed the grit on her uniform.
"The System wants another Ancient. As far as we know there have always been nineteen of them, but sometimes powerful monsters are called to descend. We aren't sure how, or what happens when they get there, but we don't want to find out. The Legion and other forces have shared knowledge and resources to prevent another Ancient from being created."
"Garralosh" Mirryn stated.
Aurillia nodded. "That fat Croc got the call a long time ago. The Dungeon seers can sense it somehow, when the Dungeon reaches out and calls a monster. The second the call went out, the Legion mobilised to lock this region up. We haven't been able to kill Garralosh, she's wily and tough as nails, but we've successfully prevented her from descending."
Mirryn shook her head, trying to take this new information in. One thought nagged at her and she had to ask.
"What's the big deal about the Ancients. If they do exist, they haven't appeared for thousands of years. Does it really matter if another monster joins them in the depths?"
"Maybe, maybe not" the older woman responded, "there are some who think like you, that it wouldn't make much difference, there are others who believe that when their number is complete they will rise again and trigger a second Rending. There are some who study the ancient writings who say that Pangera will end at the hands of twenty monsters. Who can say what is real or not? We simply protect, as best we can."