"Morr, you seem well."
"Father, you seem to be in good health also. Not that I should be so surprised."
"What is that supposed to mean."
Morrelia rolled her eyes.
"Only that you're basically unkillable up here. Other than Garralosh, what monster could possibly harm you in the first or second strata?"
Perhaps it was foolish, but Titus still felt pride that his daughter recognised his strength. In his mind, she was still the little girl who would follow at his heels, striking fiercely at his back with wooden training swords. She was a warrior born, a lion cub, ready to be a legionnaire from the moment she opened her eyes.
"I'd never seen you happier, than you began your training. You had a fire in you then, you were like an inferno. Everyone was warmed by your zeal," Titus said wistfully.
Morrelia looked up at the commander, confused.
"It's unlike you to reminisce about the past, father." She chuckled a little bitterly. "We both know that to be a legionary was everything I'd ever wanted, to follow you and mother into service. And we both know why I left. That's history now."
Titus cocked an eyebrow.
"You're barely into your twenties, far too young to be talking about history." His voice softened. "We would have you back. At any time. Just say the word and I'll make it so."
"That's against regulations. I'm a deserter!"
"Damn the regulations. You are my daughter. If the Legion wouldn't have you then I'd quit myself."
Morrelia's eyes widened and she dragged her father away from the crowd toward one side of the cavern. The Legionaries, disciplined and reserved, had not batted an eye at their commanders words and the villagers had been too far away to overhear them. But how could she allow the commander, the hero of the Legion in Liria, to speak such words out loud.
"Watch what you say!"' She hissed. "If the people found out you would abandon them"
"What people?" Titus asked. "Tell me truly, daughter, what is left above ground? Is there any kingdom left? Do not doubt this, even if every one of them were still alive, I would put you first."
Tears sprung up in Morrelia's eyes.
"Why are you saying this now? Has something changed?"
Titus shrugged his broad shoulders, his stony countenance as unreadable as ever.
"Things are moving Morr. There's change in the Dungeon, I can feel it. First this wave, then Garralosh getting killed. I don't know what, and I don't know why, but I have a feeling that things are going to get messy. I want you to be safe."
"I can take care of myself."
"I know you can. But I don't know what's coming. This old man would rather you were close by, where I can help if you get into trouble. It's a father's right to worry for his child."
Morrelia gripped the hilts of her two blades as she stared up at Titus.
"There's more, isn't there? What aren't you telling me?"
Titus stifled a sigh and turned to look back at the Legionaries assembled and waiting for him in the centre of the tunnel.
"With the kingdom gone, and the lizard dead, there's no reason for the legion to maintain the Bulwark. It's costly in blood and coin, the high command will be eager to move those resources elsewhere."
As she realised what he was saying, Morrelia's eyes widened.
"I think they're going to call us in. Open the gateway and bring us to the Black Castle."
"Mother." Tears threatened to spill over but Morrelia controlled herself and blinked them away.
"Yes, daughter. You would be able to see her again. I must say, it'll be nice to see my wife again after all this time."
"Not that I could tell, looking at your face," Morrelia laughed.
It was true, even now Titus maintained his usual, stern demeanour.
"You don't have to join again if you don't want to, you can just come with us."
"There's no way they would allow that! A non-Legionary at the seat of their power?"
"Don't underestimate what your mother will allow in order to see your face again. You're the only one we have left."
"But " Morrelia hesitated, "The people here, they need my help."
"Tell me," Titus said.
Morrelia told him of the survivors, and their growing town. She told him of the daring rescue mission she launched with the aid of a 'mysterious mage' and his pets. That even now people were flowing into the town.
"I never trusted mysterious mages," Titus grunted, "handsome is he, this fellow?" The commander's eyes narrowed as he imagined some perfumed fop in silks with books leering around his daughter.
"Anthony? No." Morrelia laughed. "I would say that he's quite hideous in fact. I don't think he's anything like what you're imagining."
Titus relaxed a fraction.
"That's good then." He shrugged ever so slightly. "You don't have to make your decision right now. Think about it. Come and talk with us. I'm sure you have some old friends you could catch up with. I should go and have a word with a few of your people as well. Not that I don't trust you mind, just to maintain friendly relations."
For some reason, his daughter appeared mildly worried by that, but she nodded, even if it was a touch reluctant. Titus was a bit offended. Did she think he was so charmless he couldn't avoid scaring a few farmers? He clapped his daughter on the shoulder and gave her a gentle shove toward the Legion ranks before he turned to walk toward the gathered villagers.
Morrelia cursed a little under her breath. Her fathers' version of 'gentle' and any normal humans were a long way apart. She'd gained a few levels since she'd left the Legion, spent most of her time delving and fighting, but she was still a mile away from reaching his ridiculous strength. What would it take!? Grumbling, she walked towards the Legionaries and began to spy out some familiar faces.
"Greetings good people," Titus began his charm offensive. "I must apologise for the Legion being unable to defend you in person, I understand you have suffered much. Rest assured, we did all we could in the tunnels below to prevent an even worse tragedy unfolding."
Even as he said it he knew it wasn't enough. What did it matter to these people that the Legion had fought, bled and died in the tunnels whilst their homes had been destroyed and their family members consumed by rampaging monsters? He'd be lucky if they didn't spit in his face. He was prepared to take it. It was the least he could do for failing to protect them.
To his surprise, they simply nodded. A middle aged man clutching a simple spear stepped forward and bowed clumsily.
"It's ah, nice to meet you commander. We've heard a lot about you. We was provided for, in the end. Maybe it was fate, or destiny, but the Great One gave us shelter and showed us the way forward."
Great one? Perhaps the mage Morrelia had mentioned.
"Morrelia spoke of this, Anthony. A mage of some power I understand. I hope he's not spending too much time with my daughter." Titus half joked, his eyes narrowing a fraction.
The villager blanched.
"Oh no sir, the Great One is busy helping his family most of the time."
The man had a family? Even better.
"No sir, it's Isaac who's pesterin' her. Proposes every day from what I hear."
Stone shattered and exploded in every direction as the tunnel became filled with a dense murderous intent and invisible pressure that weighed on everyone like a ton of bricks.
"What," Titus said, "was that name again?"