The Legionary camp is a hive of activity. Patrols come and go in a steady stream under the watchful eye of the officers. The monster suppression has been difficult on this expedition, preparations for the wave are not going as smoothly as the brass had expected.
Tribune Aurillia was concerned. Her experience and expectations were continually being defied, the situation at hand refused to conform to historical norms.
Every day squads left the outpost and moved into the expanse, exterminating monsters and hunting down spawn locations. Whenever a spawn point was found the Legionaries would trap it, killing the monsters the moment they were formed from the Dungeon.
This was the typical procedure employed by the Legion when preparing for a wave, the goal was to reduce the number of monsters before the wave broke as much as possible. Trapping the spawn points in normal times would drive mercenaries and Dungeon explorers insane, effectively reducing their ability to earn income, but the Legion took no chances when it came to a wave. Every monster they could reliably kill they would.
Something was different this time. For every spawn point they were able to identify and neutralise, another four would pop up the next day. Despite martialling more resources and bringing reinforcements down from the surface they were simply unable to kill monsters quickly enough to meaningfully thin them out.
Even the commander had acted, entering the Forest Expanse on his own and emerging several hours later covered in gore with a small bag full of cores on his belt.
Aurillia chuckled at the memory. Several trainees had asked who was going accompany the commander as he was preparing to leave. The senior Legionaries had just looked at them as if they were insane. If anyone could keep up with him they would be welcome to go.
Emerging from the woods came the ten person strong trainee unit, returning from their scouting assignment. Aurillia knew they'd be sent to do reconnaissance on the far side of the expanse. Locating the ant nest remained a priority of this expedition, despite the unusual circumstances propagating each day.
The weary soldiers marched single file through the gate, shoulders slumped under heavy backpacks, eyes red from little sleep. Their uniform leather were scuffed and stained in several places, indicators of battle and combat.
The tribune approached the squad. When they saw her coming they stopped and snapped out salutes, their discipline bringing a smile to the weathered features of their officer.
"What do you have to report?"Aurillia said.
Trainee Mirryn had been appointed the leader of this particular squad. She stepped forward to give her report.
The trainees were especially nervous around their superiors on this expedition. The centurions, tribune and even the commander himself found every opportunity to find fault with them. Uniform dirty? Go run laps. Poor form when saluting? Two hours in the training yard. Make a mistake in the training yard? Stay in the damn training yard and work until you pass out.
All of their nerves had been frayed right to the edge. It was almost a relief when they'd been sent out as a squad to scout the far side of the expanse. Fighting their way through hordes of monsters and watching their backs every waking moment for several days almost seemed easier than staying with their officers.
Mirryn cleared her throat and reported.
"The squad was able to reach our designated coordinates approximately thirty hours ago. We identified four spawn points in the surrounds and were able to effectively seal them all. A list of monsters identified and defeated has been compiled for your inspection Tribune."
Having said this Mirryn drew a scroll case from her waist bag and presented it to Aurillia, saluting once more as she did so.
The tribune raised an eyebrow as she accepted the case. Clearly the trainees were starting to realise just how exacting the standards would be for them on this delve.
Aurillia opened the case and unrolled the parchment within, casting her eyes quickly over the lists and numbers her experience allowing her to absorb the information in a moment.
"And what of our quarry? Were you able to locate any ants?" she asked as she stowed the parchment in its case once more. The paper would go to the administration auxiliaries, the bean counters who tallied all of this information for reporting to the Legion brass and the Lirian government.
The faces of the squad member immediately twisted upon hearing the Tribunes words. They had failed to find the ants despite all of their searching. What concerned them most was the punishment that awaited them if the tribune decided to view this as another 'failure' on their part.
Mirryn cleared her throat before speaking. "We were unable to locate any sign of ants or the nest itself Tribune. The increased monster activity has made solo scouting extremely difficult, dramatically reducing our scouting range and efficiency" she paused before continuing, "it is still possible that the ants are operating in the area we were sent to search but we failed to locate them, I recommend a team be sent to scout the area again more thoroughly".
Before she was halfway through her reply the faces of her squad members had gone pale. Their minds were spinning with the possible penalties that would be heaped on their heads for not only failing but admitting they'd found it too difficult and recommending another squad go fix their mistakes!
Not that they disagreed with what Mirynn had said, they'd just hoped it could have been phrased a little more gently?
Contrary to their imaginations the tribune simply nodded. "Trainee Mirryn, you may dismiss your squad to recuperate and then remain here, I'd like a word".
Somewhat dazed Mirryn turned to the other members and dismissed them. The squad shared relieved smiles as they made their way to the tents reserved for resting. There wasn't much recreation of comfort afforded to a Legionary in the Dungeon but at the very least a hot meal, a cold wash and a good sleep were assured.
Watching the others clap each other on the back as they walked away Mirryn couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive towards her officer. Tribune Aurillia had the reputation of a demon in normal times, in the Dungeon she had proven to be five times as strict.
The older woman didn't speak immediately, gesturing for the younger trainee to walk beside her as she turned and wandered deeper into the camp. As they walked they passed the workshop area of the camp. Here, diligent Legion craftsmen and women worked to process raw materials harvested from monsters. There was little priority given to collecting resources on this expedition, killing the monsters was far more important than harvesting but if a Legionary brought down prey close to the camp then it would be wasteful to let the Dungeon reclaim it all.
Hides were boiled and treated, bones shaved, powdered or heated depending on their properties. The Deep Legion seldom sold anything they collected in the Dungeon, preferring to give their own craftspeople the opportunity to create weapons and armour in-house. Any excess would be stockpiled or transported to a Legion branch in another city, sometimes another country.
The Tribune exchanged a few greeting with the hard working auxiliaries. These men and women would never be full Legionaries but they were deeply valued nonetheless.
As they continued to walk Aurillia eventually began to speak. "Your squad won't be going back out to scout tomorrow" she raised her hand to cut off Mirryn when she saw the other was about to speak, "no, not because of any failure on your part. The commander and I have determined that it is becoming too dangerous in the expanse to send out small squads anymore. You'll be concentrating on clearing monsters closer to the camp".
The younger woman frowned, "with respect, Tribune, we don't need to be coddled".
Aurillia barked out a laugh and turned to the trainee. "Do you feel as though you are being coddled down here?"
Whatever was the opposite of coddling was Mirryn's opinion of what they had experienced.
"No" she said.
The Tribune nodded. "Things aren't normal. We've had a report from the headquarters that conditions deeper in the Dungeon are even worse than what we are experiencing here. We've ordered every available Legionary from the Liria to report here to support the wave defence".
Mirryn was confused. "Tribune, how would the headquarters on the surface know more about conditions in the Dungeon than we would? We are in the Dungeon".
Aurillia eyed the younger woman for a brief moment, long years of experience, pain, loss and triumph moved behind those eyes.
"Do you really think that the Deep Legion has its headquarters on the surface?"
Mirryn could hardly process what that meant. The Liria headquarters was inside the Dungeon somewhere?
"Why would you tell me this now?" she eventually asked.
"It is time for you trainees to learn a few more things. After all, at the conclusion of this expedition you will either be a full Legionary, partial to all of our secrets, or you will be dead".