"I am not seeing this," Dom murmured, his words barely audible, hit with the sudden onset of imagining Maria possibly still in one of the metal prison sarcophagi strewn throughout the area, some propped up against each other, lying on their sides on the ground, or leaning back adjacent to the walls of a tunnel left in the Riftworm's wake. "Is there someone in every one of these?"
The Latino started looking through the slot of each and every coffin he passed, unable to help but feel the need to free anyone that may have been inside. He soon realized when he couldn't see in it was because there was a metal slot over the window, a hand reaching up to slide it across, preparing himself for what he might've been about to witness behind it.
"How long have they been doing this?" Marcus spoke up, visibly shaken. "And why haven't we heard about this before?"
"Because the Locust didn't want their main enemy finding out about their weakness," this came from the new face among the team, all eyes turning to her, even while the other members of Delta were also checking the cells. They couldn't just walk right on past them, although, if their proved to be any survivors, how exactly would they get all of them out of here in one piece?
~Mana did it,~ Dom thought. ~We can too.~
"Is this what you saw when you helped those Stranded and Civilians, baby?" Cole asked, the answer coming in the form of a solemn nod.
"And, what weakness? What hang on, main enemy?" Baird suddenly chimed in.
Mana just looked at him then motioned ahead to what was left of the deceased Gear lying in front of one of the many coffins lining a large makeshift cage with a wooden plank floor. "I can't help him. He's too far gone," she explained, just seconds before Cole was the first to look at her with expectation in his eyes.
"Too far gone... what?!" Damon exclaimed. "Explain to me how he's too far gone, but you could bring Jennings back from the dead?"
"Because Jennings was technically still alive when I helped him, Corporal," Mana replied. "His brain function wasn't completely gone, there were still the pulses I could latch onto, and thus heal him," it was so straightforward for her. She'd been capable of using the Imulsion in such a way for so long now. "And it was either help those already dead, or save you, directly," she finished.
To those who knew Baird, it wasn't a surprise when he came out with, "Right, so you're tellin' me you have basically a ten minute window before there's just no chance," it was almost as if he was sliding right past the fact this woman he'd been yelling at and, on some level, accusing of being a selfish traitor was the very same one that'd saved his life from having his face smashed in. "Okay, that makes sense," he said, the scientific part of his mind accepting that explanation, wigged out more by just how weird this was and, maybe somewhere in there, actually grateful for the fact he was still alive because of it.
"In other words, you were obviously very close to Alpha-Seven when their Grindlifts landed, right?" Carmine asked.
Mana nodded, looking at the youngest member on the team. "Yes, thankfully," was all she said, at least for now unaware Marcus had taken note of yet another attempt to change the subject. "There's no one here," she went on, just verifying within the Gear's mind there were parts of her past she was refusing to revisit. "They've already loaded who they were able to and finished off the rest," and it was the way Mana said it and the look in her eyes that made it come across as a tactic she'd seen in play before.
"Loaded them onto what?" Fenix asked.
"The Beast Barges," she said, motioning onward and taking point before any one of them could ask her to clarify what those were.
She led them back underground into an area that had not been made completely unstable. ~Right under our noses. This whole time ~ Dom thought, brown eyes falling briefly on yet another torch chasing away the shadows, the fire on its top doing absolutely nothing to quell the eeriness, or the feeling that what they were seeing was only the half of it.
"There," Mana said, as they passed through a narrower section of the tunnel, lit by more torches on each side and opening out to reveal a more condensed amount of sarcophagi and discarded crates.
When Dominic's gaze fell on where she was pointing and saw the biomechanical type creature hanging from the ceiling, crawling towards a loading ramp, he couldn't hold in his gasp. ""Tell me Maria was never on one of those!" he exclaimed, briefly looking at Mana, before Marcus' order to just get the hell up there already took precedent over anything further.
The Grinder on the elevator not only gave away the answer of how exactly to properly board the barge, in addition, stuck inside it, with no room to move meant felling the oversized drone took no effort at all. Mana squeezed in with Dom and Marcus, refusing to allow Fenix's glare to deter her from being one of the first to arrive where only she'd been before, the fact she rushed out and pulled the lever to open the doors yet again proving she knew far more than she was telling them. Not only that, but how could this girl, although showing signs of a type of Lambency never seen before, know so much about Locust strategy, whereas the all powerful COG up until now didn't seem to have a clue about any of it?!
"Empty," she said, rushing straight towards one of the ramps at the end of the floor, disappearing out of sight, and almost instantly being fired upon by the Grubs on the level the squad she was with were now viewing with their own eyes in an effort to keep up with her.
"Damnit kid, slow the hell down!" Fenix growled at her, before they fell into the usual action of returning fire, Damon dropping two of the drones in the time it took to load and reload his Longshot.
"Whoo, yeah baby! You ain't got no skills in this game!" the largest man on the team yelled as he barreled into another of the Grubs just moments after filling it with a shotgun shell. When he caught sight of the barge's legs beginning to move out of the corner of his eye and felt the motion of the platform like structure surging forward, Cole looked around, yelling, "Where we goin, an' how do we steer this thing?" the grin plastered on his face.
"Damn Reavers again!" Carmine's voice rose over the last remaining sounds of the enemy being finished off. "Troika!" and even though they couldn't see him, that exclamation had been filled with just a little bit too much excitement for them not to think he was smiling behind his helmet.
"We're heading for the next barge, Private," Mana said to Cole. "These things have a set path they travel each day so they know where they're going," while she was speaking, several Reavers fell out of the sky, leaving more than just a few of them thinking the same thing Dom had thought when Carmine had dropped that well placed Bolo Grenade in the middle of those Locust earlier.
"Okay, first things first, baby, call me Cole," the ex-Thrashball player told her.
"Ah, right, okay Cole, second thing watch out!" and Mana slid into the cover beside her, Cole vaulting over the crate to take up a flanking position as the evidence of more Grubs being present on the other barge came in the form of Troika and Hammerburst rounds.
The temporary sixth member of Delta didn't stick to that crate however. The moment the Grub on the Troika was no more and the others were being distracted by trying to fend off all bar her own return fire, Mana hunkered low and ran, using various forms of cover until she was crossing the threshold onto the other barge and heading straight for ramps identical to the ones they'd come up from below on this one.
There was a growl from Marcus as he caught Cole's attention, "Go after her, we'll cover you!" and Gus didn't need any further prompting.
"Baby, yer gotta stop doin' that, yer gonna give Marcus some sort of hemorrhage," he warned, managing to fall in step beside her about half way down the ramp.
The smirk curled the corner of Mana's lips, but she was too focused on getting to the lever that'd open the doors to care for actually answering that quip. When the drone stepped out from behind the column in the middle of the prison level, the Healer stepped straight in front of Cole regardless of the fact that even though she was solid, she was still female, and thus much smaller than the dark skinned Gear. Of course, Cole didn't let her do that for long, reaching over to yank her behind him, but before either of them could raise a weapon to fire, the Grenadier was shot dead from another direction by a sniper round.
"Now we're even," Baird said, with a smug smile, catching Mana's gaze from the other ramp, followed down by Dom and Marcus, while Carmine was now behind her and Cole.
"You run ahead like that again and I'll shoot you myself," Fenix reprimanded. "You're not on your own anymore!"
Mana narrowed her eyes a little, it clear she didn't like to be ordered around and was no longer used to it either. However, she could see his point and didn't feel it was the right time to point out to Marcus that not only could she heal others, but her own wounds healed at a far greater rate because of the energy now so much a part of her. So, it would all depend on where exactly he shot her as to whether it'd really make that much of a difference.
"There's someone in there!" the sudden proclamation from Carmine broke any tenseness between the Sergeant and Mana, the latter rushing over to have a look.
"Pull the lever!" she cried, stepping back as the door swung open. The man that stepped out was even more massive than the Private than Cole, and when she looked up at him, she could see something so familiar in eyes trying to focus on his surroundings, but finding it very difficult. "No, no," she whispered.
"Tai?!" Marcus exclaimed. "Is that you?" and without waiting for an answer, he threw his Gnasher over to him, turning around and giving the order for Baird and Carmine to take point upstairs while Cole and Dom kept an eye on the elevator.
~They know him ~ Mana thought, before her eyes widened, and she saw another recognizable look in the Islander's eyes: he'd been through too much, they'd broken him, there was nothing else, nothing left, only the need to stop the pain any way he could. As he turned the shotgun around she slipped her hand over the end of the barrel, between the 12-gauge round that'd burst from it and the chin the gun was now up against.
Marcus heard the sound of the weapon cocking, turning back around, the realization hitting him all at once, and only stopped when he saw what the woman he'd just been so angry with was now doing. Brown eyes crisscrossed with Imulsion were focused directly on Tai's, staring into them, looking through him almost, and he was looking right back at her as a faint glow of energy passed into him.
It was just enough to show him there was something else, there was a new hope, and in her mind she begged him, over and over, to listen, to hear, to feel to respond to lower the weapon and not be another of the many who hadn't wanted or been able to accept her help. ~Don't do it, please, don't let them win. I'm here, I can help. Don't do it, please!~ eventually the exact words were said out loud, and all Dom, Marcus, Baird, Cole and Carmine could do was look between the two of them. They couldn't move! They couldn't do a thing! How could they even begin to know how to react to something so like this!
With no other indication beforehand, Tai nodded, just once, lowered the weapon, and sunk to his knees. Without hesitation Mana's gaze broke to Marcus, reaching down to take a hold of the shotgun and pass it back to him. "Watch us! I need time. Go!" and Fenix fell into Sergeant mode so quickly and fluidly it was like he was working on automatic pilot alone.
Mana kneeled down beside the tattooed Gear, feeling the urgency of his situation even more than normal because it was obvious Delta were in some way close to him. Taking out the black cloth kit she carried in the hip pack on the leg opposite where she kept the her pistol, Mana unraveled it to reveal not various tools, but distinctly different sized vials and a few needles.
"What the hell is that, kid?" Marcus asked, sending the others to keep an eye out while he stayed and observed what was about to happen.
Holding up one of the vials, she plunged the needle into it, extracting the palpable liquid within. "Raw Imulsion," she glanced over at him. "It's like a drug to me, Marcus, I can't live without it. If I don't inject or absorb it to keep me going, especially when I'm low, not only can I not even begin to heal Tai, but I would eventually grow very weak and well, die," and with nothing further, she found the vein on her arm and inserted the needle with all the fluency of a trained medical officer.
Wasting no more time afterwards, she concentrated, catching Tai's gaze again, holding it the entire time her hand was clasped in his. The energy Marcus had seen heal so many already was soon doing the exact same thing to someone who'd only moments before been about to kill himself.
There was just one main difference, and it was a huge one that Mana later explained as her needing far more Imulsion in her system to be able to heal Tai Kaliso completely. Instead, they needed to get him out of there and when Fenix suggested back to base, Mana shook her head, "I'm not going back there, if you take him back to the COG I won't be able to finish what I've started," and there was no time to explain further, because Tai stood up.
"I go where there is light," he said, looking straight at Mana.
"We just need to get the hell out of here," Marcus muttered, blue eyes breaking from the round thick-metal rings that he'd seen fall away from his friend's back, vivid pictures of exactly what they might've been used for running through his mind. Regaining his composure, even though no one saw him lose it in the first place, he motioned for them to follow him, hitting his Tac-Com on the way back to the elevator. "Control, we've found Tai aboard one of these Beast Barges, he's been tortured, but he's okay thanks " he paused, looking at Mana. "Thanks to whatever's been helpin' us out here. Request immediate Evac," he finished.
"Copy that, Marcus," Anya said. "Deploying a Raven now."
"Make it two, Anya," Marcus clarified. "We need to get Tai out of here first."
"Affirming that, Sergeant, closest landing point is atop one of the buildings in another section of sunken Ilima. Request you make your way there and pop a smoke flare for a clearer L.Z."
"Thanks Control, Delta out."
"You stay with him," Marcus said, for the fourth time on the trek that'd begun after they'd all stepped off the elevator, leaving the Torture Barges far behind. Tai didn't like the idea of being the weaker link, the one holding back their progress, but after pushing himself to join in the thus far three confrontations on the way to the coordinates Control had given them, he was experiencing the nausea of overexertion and pain on a body that still needed a heck of a lot of healing.
"I'm sorry Tai," Mana whispered to him, again.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said, his smile belying just what his eyes were screaming to anyone who looked into them. "I do not understand your existence, but you exist."
"All clear," Dom's voice called back to them, and Mana helped Tai back to his feet, joined by Marcus offering his assistance, only to have Kaliso raise his hand and shake his head.
"I can walk, my friend," he said, and as if to emphasize the point, he kept going unperturbed, while Marcus exchanged a glance with Dom, then looked straight at the woman responsible for Tai still being with them.
"Keep an eye on him " he told her, showing a form of trust he hadn't quite been willing to extend before, until he'd witnessed exactly what Mana was willing to do even after explaining the possible repercussions.
"There it is!" Damon yelled, motioning upwards at the building with his Lancer, the body of the now deceased drone kicked aside as a renewed vigor to arrive at the Landing Zone flowed through him.
Although the building was still relatively intact, just like before, various parts of it were being consumed by fire, large chunks of it missing. Yet, thankfully, to all their relief, reaching what'd certainly been one of the various floors of the place, they could see it was safe for the birds to land.
"There, smoke flare is up," Baird announced.
"I hope our people see it before the Locust do," Carmine voiced his concerns out loud.
"Oh, c'mon man, don't jinx us!" Damon remarked at him.
With Tai safely secured in a section of the floor with at least three angles of cover, Mana moved over the weakened floorboards, spotting another entrance into the building, eyes widening at the sight of several drones making their way towards it. She fell to one knee, pulling out the kit again, this time showing every member of Delta what she had to rely on to survive. She heard Baird say something about her being a damn junkie, letting it slide right off as she injected one of the larger vials directly into her bloodstream.
"Enemy spotted," she called back to them, before the first one appeared close enough, and she thrust out her hand, that same energy she used to heal now sending the drone hurtling straight back into the one behind it, out cold. "I can't kill with this little in me," she warned whoever was nearest her, the sound of the Torque Bow then powering up, thankful for the ammo Cole had acquired for her from the Theron's they'd come across and dealt with on the way.
She heard a grunt from Marcus, and then there was nothing, the team of Gears and something else entirely caught in the middle of another bout of overwhelming odds, somewhere in there managing to get Tai into the first Raven, although the pilot hadn't fully landed to avoid possibly being overtaken by Locust. When the shaking she knew far too well began, it was Marcus that clicked as to what it was first, turning to see the giant worm break the surface in the near distance, the remains of buildings and other hints at what had once been Illima swallowed as it pushed its whole body forward and towards them.
The Sergeant's renewed contact with the pilot of the second King Raven was filled with just that little bit more urgency; Delta immediately piling in the moment the aircraft was low enough. It took a warning from Cole for Carmine to hurry the heck up and do the same; then it was Mana's turn, and she yelled over her shoulder that she couldn't come with them. Not only because of what the COG would do to her if they got their hands on her, but also because there were others teams still out there that needed her help. If anyone could understand the sheer truthfulness of those words, it was the only five Gears who had thus far glimpsed her face.
As the helicopter lifted off, Mana looked up briefly, catching sight of those closest to her side looking down, one of them Marcus, the other, Cole, and in-between them, Carmine, on the floor, where he'd been dragged in last minute. She felt a deep sense of sadness, and it merely turned to a real sense of worry when she noted Carmine slip out and fall straight down into the gaping wide mouth of the worm! She didn't here Marcus yell his name over the sound of the Raven and the rounds still being shot in the helicopter's direction, her heart jumping into her throat, because there was no way to get in there to help him.
From where she was standing she could tell Delta's transport wouldn't be able to climb high enough in time, the animal's propulsion upwards helped by its ability to reach high speeds underground. Everything she'd just been trying to tell the men on that chopper no longer mattered. The moment the mouth enclosed around the Raven, Mana started to run, a clear path only made possible by the usage of more energy and the occasional melee battle she really didn't want to have to pause momentarily for on the way.
Reaching the edge of the building, she re-sheathed her Torque and jumped
The short distance to land on the side of the Riftworm, where she proceeded to find handholds in its rocky scale-like skin, slide down in-between what could invariably be described as a crevice, and make herself comfortable for the rough ride that lay ahead.