UNSC Dominion, Sickbay
Ilia woke up to the sound of something softly beeping beside her. Groggily, she opened her eyes. Her eyelids felt like they were heavy as bricks, and it was a monumental challenge just to open them all of the way. Her mind was clouded and dull, but she was just about awake.
Her vision steadily improved as the seconds passed, and she saw that she was in the Dominion's Sickbay, hooked up to all sorts of high-tech looking contraptions. Her whole body felt like it was made of lead, the only thing she could even move was her right arm, which she lifted and found was covered in bandages.
"Gruh…" She groaned as she felt a few dull pains across torso. She was clearly on some kind of intense painkiller, but she still felt like she had a couple of very large bites taken out of her. Just as she grunted, a Doctor passed by, who looked at her with open shock on her face.
"Holy shit, you're awake?!" The Doctor exclaimed, rushing over to her side and reading off some of the instruments.
Ilia tried to speak, and only then did she realize there was a plastic tube shoved down her throat, so her words only came out as incoherent mumbling. For a brief moment she panicked and thought to struggle against it, but the rational part of her mind took hold and stopped her. Instead, she gagged, which did little to help with the discomfort.
"I wouldn't try to speak. In fact, just stay still and don't do anything…" The Doctor said. "Actually… hmm. Blink twice if you can hear me."
Ilia did as asked. Her eyes still felt heavy, but not nearly as much as they had been just a few moments ago.
The Doctor sighed with relief. "Good, then there's probably no brain damage. Now, I'm gonna put you back under, but-"
The Doctor was interrupted by Jorge, who took them both by surprise. "Doctor Chase, can I speak to Amitola for a moment?"
The Spartan wasn't wearing his armor. Instead, he was wearing casual UNSC gear, with a large bandage wrapped around his head. Specialist Schnee was standing beside him in similar garb, covered with far more bandages than Jorge, but still apparently well enough to walk.
Chase visibly thought it over for a few minutes, before reluctantly nodding. "Well, she obviously can't talk right now, but she seems to be at least partially conscious. You and Miss Schnee can speak to her, but I'll be back in five minutes, and once I am, I'm putting her back under."
"We'll be brief." Schnee promised.
Doctor Chase walked off, and Jorge and Specialist Schnee both sat down beside her. She could only imagine that she looked like she was in rough shape, because both of them had incredibly stern expressions.
"I'm not sure if you remember what happened, but you were badly wounded by Tyrian Callows." Jorge told her. "Winter managed to hold him off while Ben took him out, and then she used her Semblance to keep you alive until medevac could arrive. For a little while the Doctor didn't think that you were going to make it, but you pulled through."
Ilia felt herself tear up a bit as the memories came back to her. She remembered the battle, fighting Tyrian, getting shot and stabbed, it was a miracle she was still alive. Her vision started to blur from the tears, but Schnee cleared her eyes for her with a handkerchief.
"Grhm." She tried to thank her, but Winter just shook her head.
"Save your manners for when you can speak, I think you can be forgiven for forgoing etiquette right now." Winter said, apparently understanding what she had tried to say. "And… I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I was wrong about you. With what my father did… it's hard to come to grips with. I was wrong to take that out on you."
Ilia tried to nod to convey her forgiveness, but her neck was in a brace, so instead she blinked again.
"I've been speaking to some of my colleagues from Atlas, one of them has a healing Semblance, and the UNSC is going to let them help you." Winter said, shooting a targeted glare at Jorge, as though there had been an argument.
Jorge thankfully noticed that she was out of the loop, and explained the situation for her. "We've been trying to avoid using healing Semblances. Curie's still not sure if there's any long-term health risks with how quickly they can mend wounds, like cancer. For you, we're making an exception. We need Onyx Team at full strength, now more than ever."
Again, Ilia blinked, this time to convey her thanks, or at least acknowledge what they were saying.
"Damn good work out there, by the way. I know it cost you dearly, but you managed to help us take out the most wanted man on Remnant." Jorge said. "Commander Miller gave me a briefing earlier as to what Tyrian was doing with the White Fang… but that's something you can worry about later. Oh, and before I forget…"
Jorge pulled a pair of small boxes out of his pocket, opening them to reveal they were containing medals. One of them resembled a purple heart, the other a star made of silver.
"Commander Miller issued you a formal commendation for your efforts, in addition to the Purple Heart for your injuries." Jorge said. "Chieftain Belladonna wants to give you an award as well, and that will be a public ceremony where you'll get these, so you'll need a dress uniform. Curie and Penny can help you with that-"
Schnee interrupted Jorge. "Lieutenant, I think she has more important things to think about than getting awards right now."
Jorge nodded sheepishly. "Ah, you're right, sorry."
The sight of Winter telling off Jorge was funny enough that Ilia would have laughed if she could have, but all she got out was a wheeze and painful cough.
"Don't worry Corporal, I'll handle the planning for your ceremony, you just get some rest." Jorge said.
As if on queue, Doctor Chase returned, and gestured for the two of them to leave. "Alright, that's quite enough! Stop putting pressure on my patient and go away!"
Jorge and Winter complied, and Doctor Chase came over to inject something into Ilia's IV. "Sorry about them, Spartans can be a little… strange. I hope you can get some sleep."
Ilia blinked an acknowledgement, before a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion came over her, and she fell back into a peaceful rest.
UNSC Dominion, Bridge
November 24th, 0654 Local Time, 2552
Richard walked onto the bridge to find everyone in a melancholic mood, which an unobservant person might have blamed on the massive rainstorm that was hitting Vytal. In truth, the matter was far more bleak, their recent "victory" over the White Fang at the Battle of the Bloody Delta had cost them dearly.
"Commander, it's good you're here, I need your call on something." Bradford said. His first officer never really sounded happy, but today, he just sounded dead inside, and Richard could hardly blame him. "Fourth Platoon needs at least thirty-two men to carry out their current assignments, but they only have fourteen."
Fourteen men left, out of a whole platoon? Richard thought. He had known that Zulu Company was having staffing issues, but he hadn't realized it was so bad. Being so understrength, Zulu Companies ability to complete their objectives would be seriously endangered.
"Tell them to consolidate with Third Platoon, and tell Ghira that he'll just have to hire more Huntsmen to cover that part of the city." Richard replied, doing his best to keep his feelings out of his tone. "Actually, scratch that. Tell Captain Clark to consolidate all of his active Marines into three Platoons. We need to concentrate what forces we have left."
Bradford nodded, but did not speak his response. On a normal day, Richard would've called out the lapse in protocol, but he was finding it harder and harder to care about that kind of thing.
Moerdani's good, but he's going to need more time before we can put the new recruits in the field to replace our losses, and even then, they'll be green, inexperienced… Richard thought, working the problem over in his head. Hiring Huntsmen to fill in the gaps had worked for the UNSC so far, but that was a strategy he really didn't want to rely on. Then again, it's not like we'll be needing them urgently.
For as bad as the UNSC had been hit at the Bloody Delta, the White Fang had undoubtedly suffered far worse. For the cost of forty Marines dead and nearly everyone who had been deployed wounded, a little over a thousand White Fang Fighters were dead, with survivors of the battle counted in the low dozens. Even then, most of the surviving White Fang had been taken prisoner.
While Adam Taurus and Vermillion Redwood had through some terrible miracle escaped, Richard felt slightly content with the knowledge that there wasn't much of the White Fang left for them to go crawling back to. On the off chance that the White Fang wanted to continue fighting after their disastrous losses, their ability to threaten the civilian population of Menagerie had been severely reduced.
It might hurt… but it's worth it, just like how Argus was worth it, and how Atlas was worth it. Richard thought, hating himself for how clinically and dispassionately he was forced to view the deaths of his men. As a commanding officer, he had no choice but to save the greater number of people.
"Commander, update from Sickbay." Bradford said. "Apparently Corporal Amitola's awake… although she's still on the respirator. Ben and Sergeant Meadows have been cleared for field duty again."
Richard smiled, content with even the slightest amount of good news. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Please pass on my hopes for her quick recovery, and make sure that Onyx Team is cleared for action. I don't think it's likely that the White Fang will try anything… but there's worse than terrorists on this gods-forsaken rock that we have to worry about."
Bradford smiled too, taking the small victory while he could. "Aye, Commander."
White Fang Camp
November 24th, 1143 Local Time, 2552
As Adam limped back into camp alongside Vermillion and a small group of survivors, he couldn't help but feel sorrow at seeing just how empty the camp was. Far too many of his brothers and sisters hadn't returned from the battlefield, and it was all thanks to the Humans.
He heard Sienna before he saw her, and already knew what to expect. She'd be angry at his failure, she'd blame him instead of the Humans, all because she was struck by the same grief as him. Only unlike him, she could not handle the grief, because of something that he'd been unwilling to admit to himself.
The UNSC had made Sienna Khan weak.
The High Leader of the White Fang stormed out in front of him, with a murderous glare in her eyes. "What the hell happened out there?! You promised me a victory!"
She reeks of insolence… Adam thought, wondering when the great leader he had followed had fallen, or if perhaps she'd never been as strong as he had thought.
"I promised you a battle, you got one." He coldly replied. "You lacked the will to fight, I didn't."
His open challenge to her authority clearly caught the rest of the camp off guard, as everyone seemed to take a step back from the two of them. A small circle of White Fang formed around them as Sienna boiled with rage.
Eventually, she simmered down enough to speak, her words came slowly and with unspeakable anger. "What did you just say?"
Adam smiled, he hadn't intended to back down once he made his challenge, and he wasn't going to. "I said you lack the will to fight, you've gotten weak. If you can't handle loss, then we'll never win this war! We need to be willing to make the hard decisions-."
Sienna howled with rage, and in one swift motion, she drew her Cerberus Whip and lashed out at him, but he saw it coming. Wilt came up and met her chains with a rancorous clang. Her strike parried, he raised Blush with his other hand, intending to put a bullet in Sienna's chest.
He was stopped by a blur of tan and red, and their weapons were forced apart, before Vermillion appeared before them. She had her spear raised at Adam's throat, and a hand firmly gripping Sienna's chains, making swinging them almost impossible.
"Enough!" Vermillion shouted, pushing the two warring parties apart. "The UNSC are breathing down our necks, and you two are fighting each other?! You're meant to be leaders!"
Adam staggered backwards and prepared to strike Vermillion down in anger… before an idea came to mind. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise…
Adam visibly paused, before making a show out of sheathing his sword, before bowing his head at Sienna. "You're right, Vermillion. I have no excuse for my words. We're all grieving, I should have given our High Leader more credit… I apologize."
Sienna stared at him with undisguised hate, knowing that not a single word out of his mouth was truthful, but her answer had already been decided. Even if she knew that he was lying, the rest of the White Fang, all watching them, didn't. If she attacked him, she would appear to be petty and weak.
"...Apology accepted." Sienna said through gritted teeth. "All of you, get back to work and get some rest. Adam was right about one thing, defeat or not, we still have a war to win."
Sienna turned back for her tent, but before she left, Adam made sure that she saw his wicked grin.
This isn't over, not by a long shot. Adam thought. If Sienna isn't willing to do what's necessary to win this war, then I will!
White Fang Camp
November 24th, 1231 Local Time, 2552
Vermillion was not feeling as well as her daring maneuver with Adam and the High Leader would've implied. Like everyone else from the Bloody Delta, she was wounded, and she was probably sick. Several of her Commandos were dead, and like her comrades, their recent defeat hung over her head like a dark cloud. Her new robotic arm was also starting to itch, and while that made no sense, the sensation was still annoying, especially since scratching did nothing to alleviate it.
I should go see Doctor Watts. She thought. Maybe he'll know how to fix this.
Her faith in the Human Doctor had finally been sealed when he'd joined them for the battle. Although he'd been helping from the backline, his electrical rifle proved devastating to the UNSC's most elite troops, offering most of her commandos the window to escape, although not all of them had been able to survive.
Her trust, however, was perhaps too easily given, as when she walked into his tent, she found him packing his bags.
"Ah, Vermillion, good to see you." Watts dispassionately said, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. "I'm afraid I've just received some word from-"
"Stop." She ordered him. "You're leaving?"
Watts narrowed his eyes in annoyance. "Yes, I was just getting to that. My mistress just called in, there's other business I need to attend to… she's quite displeased with Tyrian's death."
"So you're abandoning us, at our lowest point?" Vermillion rhetorically asked. "Typical, I shouldn't have expected any different-"
"From a human?" Watts guessed. "You know, not five minutes ago, I saw four of your men make a run for the jungle, and they made it. If I didn't know any better, they were deserting, and they weren't Humans."
Vermillion wanted to be angry, she wanted a righteous fury to fill her, and to go on a massive tirade against the apparent deserters and Watts for letting them go. But she didn't.
Instead, she slumped to the ground, and leaned back against the tent's wall, watching as Watts continued to pack his bags. "It itches."
"The arm?" He correctly guessed. "Those are phantom pains, you'd need a psychiatrist to take care of those, and months of therapy. Even then, some people never lose them."
She nodded sorrowfully, it wasn't like she had expected good news. "It's just… it's all too much."
"Then leave." Watts told her. "What obligation do you have to these people? Your race? Humanity has never stood in defense of itself. Even with the Grimm threatening them, you'll notice there's four Kingdoms, not one."
She shook her head, it wasn't that easy… was it?
"I couldn't. I've put too much into this war to back out now. I won't leave what friends I have left to fight it alone." Vermillion said.
"The sunken cost fallacy." Watts dispassionately summarized her point, and dismissed it in the same sentence. "If you wanted to hurt the UNSC, you could come with me. My mistress will undoubtedly be looking for new muscle now that Tyrian's gone, and your skills certainly fit the bill."
She considered it for only a moment. "I couldn't, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Your life is yours to do with as you see fit. As is mine." Watts said, before he zipped his doctor's bag up, slung his electrical rifle over his shoulder, and turned for the tent's door. "I only hope you realize that before you throw it away."
And with those words, he left, leaving Vermillion with one more decision to make.
Author's Notes: No idea if more is coming or not, but I've been feeling pretty good lately, hence why I'm uploading again.
And now I will shamelessly plug my new Fallout story, Knightfall. It's not going to be a megastory like this one, only eleven chapters, but if you like Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I think you'll like it.