Commander Titus was a stoic man with a reputation for an Iron will and an unbreakable sense of duty. And it was true, he'd lived a hard life and had made hard choices without hesitation. Where others would shirk their responsibilities, Titus shouldered his burden with pride. For this, he was both loved and respected. The commander knew his reputation and did his best to live up to it. Square shoulders and a stern countenance were synonymous with Titus, as if his face and body had been carved from granite.
But if there was one thing that could push him to the edge of cracking, it was the person he saw coming toward him now.
The Legion had marched hard back to Railleh as the wave had waned and the shocking news of Garralosh's demise spread. The Legionaries had been in dire need of rest, but not all were able to receive it. As the technical crews, smiths and enchanters laboured long to repair worn weapons and armour, scouting parties had been dispatched to ascertain the environment within the Bulwark. Messages were sent to every outpost, ritual spells of communication were enacted to reach out to the wider Legion network and now they awaited word from their superiors.
With the wreckage of their homes weighing on their minds, Titus and his troops had been unable to rest. After the centurions had found the third party attempting to escape the barracks and venture to the surface, Titus had considered relenting and allowing a team to establish an outpost on the surface. When the fourth escape party had contained a good number of centurions, Titus finally gave the order that he himself would lead a full column to the surface. All advanced gear was left behind, only leathers and basic weaponry allowed. The soldiers were eager to be away.
Despite their victory in the lines, the soldiers' mood was grim. They knew roughly what awaited them above. A ruined city, a destroyed nation. How many of their loved ones had survived the slaughter? They pushed hard and Titus marched at their head, as relentless and unyielding as a stone. The Legionaries stuck to the main paths, as direct as they could be. What monsters they found were ruthlessly crushed.
On the fourth day, as they were climbing up the main tunnel, they'd heard footsteps coming down. Titus raised a fist, then pointed to his left and right. Immediately archers had moved to covered positions along the walls of the tunnel as shield bearing legionaries formed up beside him. There they had waited as the sounds of approach grew louder. Humans, by the sound of things, a small group, ten or less.
Titus' ears were far from normal. At his level, with his skills and class benefits, he was barely the same species as those who dwelt on the surface. He could clearly hear the footfalls of those approaching, though they were still two hundred metres away. He could make out the tone of their voices, almost the words as well. Then he heard a woman speak, harsh, cutting, and the other voices grew quiet, their steps more careful.
Titus nearly dropped his axe. He knew that voice, would recognise that wasp tongue whenever he heard it. It was all he could do not to break ranks and run forward. To the soldiers around him it merely appeared as if he grew as still as a winter pond.
Ears strained hard, Titus held himself back as the other group came into view. When they did, his eyes narrowed. Farmboys and merchants' daughters with shoddy gear, no levels and little training. In normal times he'd roll them up, smack their heads and boot them out of his Dungeon, but these were not normal times, and the hard faced woman in stout leathers leading them demanded his attention.
Her name was on his lips but he dared not call it out, lest his will break and he ran to his daughter. He wouldn't stand for such a break of decorum, besides, if he tried Morrelia might just punch him. She wasn't one for public displays of affection.
"Is that Morr? Morrelia! Hey! Longtime no see!" A male voice called out.
The stone beneath Titus' feet shattered into dust, sending of cloud of stone chips flying in all directions. Shouts of alarm and confusion arose but Titus himself hadn't moved, instead he remained at ease, his hands clasped behind his back and his axe strapped across his shoulders.
To one side, Donnelan cursed his own stupidity. How could he be so careless as to call out to Morrelia in front of the commander? It was well known that the legendary commander of stone doted on his daughter, even if he never let it show. The young Mage felt ice cold sweat rolling down his back as he felt as if he were grasped in a giant fist. He prayed that his voice hadn't stood out too much and wasn't recognised, otherwise death might come for him!
Indeed, Titus had recognised Donnelan, and his mind seethed with the torturous drills he would put the Legionary through the moment they got back. As she approached the Legion force, Morrelia couldn't help but sigh. She'd hoped to run into her father and her former comrades here, but it was awkward. And she knew exactly what Titus was thinking about at this moment. Some things never changed.
The Legionaries waited patiently as the smaller villager force approached. When they drew close enough, Morrelia stepped forward as the representative and moved to greet the Legionaries. The villagers themselves were quite overawed. The legendary Abyssal Legion lived up to its reputation. To these people's eyes, despite the glorious victory they'd achieved, these soldiers looked like heroes, returning to the surface after defeating who knows what horrors in the deep.
"Commander Titus," Morrelia greeted her father.
"Daughter," he returned, rejecting the formal tone she attempted to set.
He saw his daughter's eyes narrow at that and he felt his heart swell with pride. She was as stubborn as he was. She'd taken more after him, less like her mother. It was a curse and blessing.