In the distance, a rising tide of fangs, claws and flesh approached. When Morrelia squinted, she could make out the individual forms of the monsters as they undulated across the land and between the trees. There didn't seem to be an end to the horde. They spread. Like water pooling over the floor from a spilled cup, until they filled the space in front of her.
It wouldn't be long until they lapped up against the fortifications the villagers had erected and the battle would begin in earnest.
"I'm still not certain we shoulda put ourselves so close to our 'neighbours'," Isaac muttered.
Morrelia rolled her eyes.
"You spent several days with their leader and came home just fine. Do you really think they're going to eat us?"
The former guard shifted uncomfortably.
"I'm jus' sayin' we might want to on our guard once the fightin' is done. Maybe we look appetising at that point."
"If we live to see the end of this battle, there'll be tens of thousands of dead monsters right over there. I don't think they'll need to turn on us for food," Morrelia pointed out before turning her back on the man.
Despite his experience in the field with Anthony, he still had difficulty overcoming his instincts to distrust monsters.
Not that he's entirely wrong about that.
Morrelia couldn't be entirely sure why she wasn't afraid of the colony of strange ants, or their stranger spokes…ant. She just … wasn't. She was cautious of them, always cautious, but not afraid. Perhaps she was just losing her edge. Or, more likely, grabbing onto whatever piece of debris she could reach after a tsunami had washed the nation of her birth away.
"How much longer until they arrive?" Enid asked, walking up behind them.
Morrelia turned to face the leader of the human village and nodded her head respectfully. Enid may never have been a soldier, but she had Morrelia's respect for her attitude and grit alone.
"Should be less than an hour before the main body of the horde reaches us. Could be a lot less if they decide to pick up the pace as they reach the final stretch."
Enid frowned as she looked over the edge of the dirt wall at the monsters. Morrelia choked back a laugh as she watched the older woman. Enid looked as if she were staring at dog that had spread mud on her carpet rather than a slavering mass of Dungeon monsters the likes of which the surface hadn't seen in thousands of years.
"I suppose we'll have to get our people in position then. Is everyone ready?" Enid sighed.
"Ready as they'll ever be, ma'am," Isaac chipped in, flashing a broad smile.
The man had been on the charm offensive the moment he'd met Enid. If the age difference were any less severe, Morrelia would have suspected him of ulterior motives, as it was she believed he was simply accustomed to greasing the wheels of leadership whenever he could. A vital skill for a guardsmen, she was sure.
"I'll go ready the troops," Morrelia grunted before she leapt down from the rampart and jogged toward the shaded area the villagers were resting.
She was decked out in her full fighting gear already and the boiled leather gave her an intimidating air that was only heightened by the plethora of weapons that graced her form. Her bow, dual blades, knives strapped to her forearms and sheathed in her boots. Morrelia was ready for war.
The 'troops' in this case were lying flat on their backs, many of them asleep, resting in the shade spread by nearby trees. Looking at their tired faces, Morrelia mentally kicked herself. She had to continuously remind herself that she wasn't dealing with professional soldiers, trainees or mercenaries, but determined village people. They were farmers, traders and craftspeople. Most of them hadn't held a blade until the current crises.
But they were willing. By the Legion they were willing. When she beat them down, they stood up. When she drilled them to exhaustion, they wanted more. When the monsters charged, they charged right back.
In the face of such determination, how could she hold back? In the past week, every able bodied refugee had been pushed to the edge of their tolerance and then a little further. Constant practice in the village, constant delves into the Dungeon, had brought everyone to the edge. Morrelia herself had barely slept in the past week, snatching a few hours here and there. She was used to it however, broken sleep like this was standard practice when on a delve. The villagers had no such tolerance and once the training had been declared over, they'd collapsed in a heap and barely moved since.
No point regretting it now. You did everything you could, let's see if it was enough to keep them alive.
She drew a deep breath.
"TIME TO GET UP YOU USELESS SACKS OF SICK! THERE'S BLOOD TO BE SPILLED AND SURE AS HELL IT ISN'T GOING TO SPILL ITSELF!" She bellowed.
He roar echoed off the earthworks and the distant trees, returning to thunder in the ears of the unfortunate villagers a second time as they responded instantly to her call. Sleep was rubbed out of eyes and limbs were stretched as the men and women she had trained picked themselves up in response to her call.
Little did she know that on the rampart someone was having a very different reaction.
"Puts my old drill instructor to shame," Isaac sighed as he watched Morrelia's distant form, her shout still ringing in his ears.
Enid looked at the man sidewise before she shook her head slightly to clear her ears. Apparently she wasn't deaf enough.
Used to this sort of treatment (and volume), her troops were up and in rows in a respectable amount of time. In almost neat rows and with their gear mostly worn correctly even. Morrelia couldn't help but feel a twitch in the corner of her eye when she spotted shirt not tucked in or scabbards not fastened correctly.
She took a breath. These aren't professionals, just villagers that are trying to survive. Don't judge them by the old standard. In fact, looking at their drawn faces, covered in grit, their hands blistering with fresh callouses, and the determined light in their eyes, she felt incredible pride.
"THE ENEMY IS NO LONGER COMING!" She roared and paused for a moment before she raised a finger to point at the wall behind her. "THEY ARE HERE!"
She watched their faces closely, no fear did she see. No terror. Only determination. Her heart lifted. She wasn't much of one for speeches. If she was a leader, then she was a leader in the mould of her father. Her brother had the charm, the words and grace of their mother, that she had always lacked. In so many ways she was Titus' daughter. Maybe that was why she found it so hard to forgive him, just as she knew that he would never forgive himself.
"REJOICE!" she bellowed. "REJOICE! THE WAITING IS OVER! THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE! THIS BLOOD ISN'T GOING TO SPILL ITSELF! GET YOUR BACKSIDES UP ON THAT WALL!"
And they did. Faces hard and shoulders square, they walked toward the wall and took in the sight of endless horde. Their armour was ragged, sewn leather and smashed together metal plates. Their weapons were chipped in places, the hafts splintered in others, the best the forges could produce on such short notice, but they didn't care. The hands that had once known the plough now gripped a spear just as surely. The men were grizzled, no time for shaving in the last week. The women had hacked their hair short, much as Morrelia had done. No time for vanity when fighting.
They would do themselves proud today. Filled with a resolute spirit, Morrelia turned and joined them, her twin blades rattled as she drew them from their sheathes. They would work hard today.
Up on the wall, Isaac brushed a single tear from his eye.
"One day, I'm gonna marry that woman."