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The Ascension

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The Ascension

-

Part 3

 

Prowl threw himself into his academy work with near desperation. At the next quarter-vorn exam, he passed double the amount of exams as a normal student with excellent grades. Quite aware of his need for security, he only told Flipper and his family about the success, though he soon found that rumours of a genius attending the Academy was making the rounds. Flipper took a certain delight in telling Prowl whenever he heard something new. Prowl suspected that his friend simply enjoyed seeing him uncomfortable and a bit annoyed at the Academy's privacy measures. Though thankfully, the designation Black Haze was kept from the students. The professors, on the other hand, knew full well who the young genius was and so Prowl was not very surprised when he was invited by one of the professors to meet in his office to discuss his further aspirations.

In Prowl's opinion, Professor Hardshell's office looked like a curious mech had wanted to know how big a room really had to be to hold an entire library. The shelves were as tall as the ceiling and the datapads were stacked two rows deep at least. The floor was covered in even more datapads and the visitor's chair in front of the desk had turned into a small datapad hill. The desk itself had the look of a datapad fortress; at its very center was a free working space.

By all rights, the chaos should have made Prowl walk out of the office in disgust, but instead he felt a small delight whenever he recognized that datapad, thought another title interesting or saw some old history pad that had only been mentioned before in a lecture. This was a stronghold of knowledge and his spark basked in it.

The professor who had invited him gave his visitor's chair a short glance, deemed the matter hopeless, and turned to Prowl with a smile. "Please close the door," he said. "I'm afraid we must remain standing. Maybe I'll find the time next vorn to bring a few of these back to Praxus' library."

Prowl did as he was asked to. "The State library of Praxus?"

"Yes, you have visited it?" asked the old mech, who managed to look frail despite his stocky miner frame. Only his doorwings, covered by only three heavy, thick plates, made him look in any way intimidating. Next to them, even Prowl's upgraded armored ones looked light and flexible.

"When I was young," answered Prowl with a fond smile, remembering the many times his tutors had deemed it appropriate to go there. More often than not, though, he had only seen the private study rooms instead of the beautiful reading hall. "The architecture alone was impressive."

"Indeed. It is said that its builder, Grand Duke Brume, was a very well-read mech who appreciated knowledge above all else."

Lord Brume had been his great-grandcreator, Prowl knew. His carrier had always said that Prowl had probably inherited his scholarly tendencies from him. "I have heard the same. Didn't he also support this very academy?"

"Very true. You are well-read, although I should expect nothing less from someone with your grades. I see a great future for you, Black Dust," said the old mech. "Have you already decided what you wish to specialize in?"

Prowl held his doorwings in a respectful cant, trying not to give away the thrill he felt when they finally came to the matter he really cared about. "Yes, Professor Hardshell. Mass-tactical simulations focused on mechs."

Professor Hardshell frowned. "That's an unusual selection. In fact, I do not think any of the current professors have such a specialization. Can you tell me why you would concentrate on something so exotic?"

"It seemed like a very interesting topic to prove that large gatherings of mechs can be predicted through the help of statistics and mathematics." It was only half the truth. The other half was that he was wondering if armies could be predicted that much more accurately. It would fit in nicely with his duties as a second, now prime, heir while still being very much his chosen field of scholarship.

"I see." Professor Hardshell seemed to look for a moment past Prowl into nothing, clearly thinking about all the ramifications of such a selection. After two klicks, he smiled. "If you can manage to prove this, you might not only have your Master thesis, but should also be already on your way to becoming a professor. I look forward to calling you a colleague in a few vorns' time."

Prowl's elation disappeared. He forced himself to nod, despite knowing his Professor's imagined future would never happen. "I would really like to be a professor if it were possible," he said, trying to keep the sadness out of his voice.

"Of course it is possible! Flipper and you are the pride of the academy," Professor Hardshell assured him. "Prepare your thesis paper and study. I am sure you can begin working on it in a few deca-orns at most."

"I will, professor," promised the noble. "Thank you for your time."

"It is always a delight to talk with you."

When Prowl left the office, he gave a sigh of relief. That had gone far better than he had dared to hope. To begin in just a few deca-orns! Maybe he could really manage to complete his education before the vorn of sorrow was over. He just had to work hard.

His steps led him through the busy hallways to the dorms and from there to a small, rarely visited garden. The crystals here were only rarely tended to and as a result showed dull patches next to brilliant light reflections and flashes of color. The pathway beneath his pedes was cracked, but provided no danger to the careful mech and led to a few banks standing in the sun. On one, Flipper was lying on his back, arms beneath his head, seemingly completely oblivious to Prowl's approach.

The prince stopped, looked at his friend and then carefully picked up a tiny crystal shard. He took a moment to aim, and threw.

"Ow!" Flipper rolled off the bank and held his nose. "Dust!"

"Good morning, sleeping beauty." Prowl walked closer and sat down on the bank. "I thought you said you wanted to learn?"

"I did learn." Flipper glared at him playfully, but sat down next to him anyway. "But you took so long that I finished the datapad."

Prowl gave him a surprised glance. He was fairly sure that Flipper had taken that specific datapad from the library only two orns ago. "That was fast."

The other student shrugged. "It was interesting, so I finished it fast." He touched his nose carefully, then gave Prowl an appraising look. "That was a good throw for a normal student."

The prince could hear what he was saying. It had been too good, in Flipper's opinion. He looked around, and after a klick saw a shadow behind a crystal that gave an all clear sign. He relaxed his doorwings and decided that Flipper was the one mech that certainly deserved a truthful answer. "Try to be bad at throwing when warframes train you for 90 vorns." He grimaced, then whispered very quietly: "And for some reason, they are obsessed with coordination and control of the frame. They see it as the basis of everything else."

"Oh." Flipper blinked, then he whispered back just as quietly: "So, they made you throw things?"

"Yes. I think I threw stones for a whole vorn, before they allowed me to use the slingshot."

The civilian chuckled. "Suddenly I'm quite happy to be a normal mech and nothing fancy."

"Besides being a genius that reads a three thousand page book in less than two orns."

Flipper grinned. "Besides that." For a moment they sat in friendly silence, then he spoke again: "The test results for my brother came back last orn."

Prowl gave his friend a concerned glance, not liking that he seemed subdued. "They are not compatible?"

"They are. Barely." Flipper sighed. "69 points."

Prowl winced. That was not a good result. If they bonded, there would be a considerable risk of death. "Do they still want to…?"

"Yes. They said that just because they now know their risk does not mean that it changes their processors or sparks." He looked at the ground, which was covered with crystal shards reflecting the light. "My creators think they want to bond in two deca-orns, but of course they have not told anyone the exact date."

It was tradition not to tell the closest family when exactly you would try to bond, if your chances were low. Supposedly it was to spare them the worry. Prowl wondered if it really helped, as Flipper's fear for his brother was plain to see. He touched his friend's shoulder, trying to offer what meager comfort he could give. "I wish I could have done more for your brother."

"Nonsense! You did more than you had to." Despite the sharp answer, Flipper leant into the touch and shuttered his optics. "We both can now do nothing anymore."

Prowl nodded, then noticed that the other wouldn't be able to see him that answer. "Besides praying."

"Has praying ever helped?" wondered the genius tiredly.

Prowl thought back to Brazen, to the funeral, and to the priests. "I do not know. But it helped me to believe that Primus welcomes us all in death."

"That is a good thought." Flipper sighed deeply, relaxing a bit. "I am happy to have met you."

Prowl pulled Flipper closer, even as he heard himself answering, "I am as well."

~

To Marques Bristle, Master of Trade, Praxus

Lord Bristle,

Have you acquired the new parts and weapons I have requested?

General Quake

~

To Warlord Quake, General of the Praxian army

Dear General Quake,

Have I ever failed to provide what anyone within Praxus wanted? As wished for by Lord Vapor and you, I have bought only the best of the best. Swords from Kaon, armor from Iacon, and lances from our very own master blacksmiths are all on the way to you. Furthermore, I have prepared a million cubes of plain energon as war rations. Just in case the worst happens. But it is better to be prepared than to starve, wouldn't you agree?

Yours sincerely,

Lord Bristle

Master of Trade, Praxus

~

Prowl chose his usual seat in the lecture room, a bit to the side, away from the doors. Right where he was most likely to be overlooked. None of the students that now claimed their seats greeted him, though a few gave him a friendly nod. Maybe, if he had shown more interest in friendships that would be different, he mused. His guards had always given him strict rules, prohibited high risk gatherings like parties and turned trips off-campus into small expeditions. But it had always been possible to make friends, Flipper was living proof of that. No, there was no reason to blame Quickstrike and the others, when the truth was glaringly simple - Prowl was bad at making friends. Not like Brazen. His brother would probably sit over there, right in the middle between the nobles on one side and the civilians on the other, joking and laughing.

Prowl sighed, trying to concentrate on the lecture of Professor Hardshell. Maybe he should practice socializing, he thought. He had nothing to lose and much to win. Certainly, a prime heir with his lacking socializing skills was unacceptable... even Smokescreen was already better than he.

Prowl shuddered. For a moment, he would have sworn that a cold shadow swept across his spark like an enormous bird of prey flying over a city, darkening the sun.

He looked up from his script, but his fellow students were listening to the lecture, whispering or recharging as before. Had the lights in the auditorium changed?

"And for this reason," continued the professor, "it is ill-advised to use the formula without making sure that the numbers were calculated as Median numbers and not in any other way..."

Prowl shook his head, but the feeling didn't want to vanish. Slowly, he raised his hands and touched the plate over his spark. It didn't hurt, but it -

The bird expanded its wings and became a starless, all-engulfing night. A quiet moan of confused despair escaped him as darkness kissed his spark with the sharpest of all blades.

The sun had died, he was alone.

Completely alone, standing in the cold universe as eternities passed in astroseconds.

The soft words of his professor created the path that led him back to reality after an immeasurable amount of time. The feeling of desolation remained, but he again recognized the auditorium, the students, and his professor. Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.

The sun had been consumed.

His mind a frozen tundra, he took the little emergency device in hand and pressed the red button. Quickstrike would have an explanation. Quickstrike would know. Again his trembling fingers brushed over armor hiding his spark. He felt so alone, so cold, so abandoned...

But most of all he felt a creeping fear entering him as his mind went over the possibilities of what was happening to him. Poison, his mind supplied first. Yet, it seemed off. Poison would try to kill him, not make him feel as if a part of him had been ripped out.

Maybe something else. Maybe that it happened in two steps wasn't a coincidence. He was an adult, a very young one, yes, but still...

The door to the auditorium sprang open and hit the wall, mechs stormed the room with military precision. The rustling and whispering of the students was immediately replaced by an eerie silence as all students stared in shock at the newcomers. The nobles and commoners, for all their usual differences, were now united in watching with awe and apprehension the massive warframes spreading through the room and securing it. Some might not even have seen a real, trained warframe before. One-third bigger than the standard civilian frames, armored and bristling with weapons, they let everyone else seem fragile and vulnerable. They were certainly different from the upgraded civilian frames of the normal Enforcers.

For a short moment, Prowl's spark had nearly stopped, then he recognized the sigil of his own bodyguards. Had they reacted this fast to the red alarm? Or had something else called them first...? He didn't know, but was very aware that he couldn't do anything but trust them right now. Quickstrike had the information and as such it was his privilege and duty to make the right calls until Prowl was safe again. As such Prowl's current role was simple –he was Black Dust, a normal student, a minor noble, and nothing more.

The professor, who was the last to notice the soldiers, stepped forward as if trying to block their path towards his students. "What's the meaning of this?" he snarled with all the authority his rank demanded to be given.

The nearest two warframes stopped and turned to him like one mech. Prowl could nearly see how their programs went through the threat assessment and, thankfully, came up with harmless. Promptly, they turned away again and continued their silent search, checking bags and trash cans and beneath the tables.

Just as the professor opened the mouth to demand an explanation once more, a warframe that had until now stood next to the door walked up to the professor. Irrational relief flooded Prowl as he saw him. Quickstrike was here and he wore his full set of honor glyphs on his breast plate that showed him to be an acclaimed hero of Praxus and his rank as a captain of the Praxian guard.

"Please excuse this disturbance, professor," Quickstrike said with a light nod, not sounding sorry at all. "We will disappear in a klick."

"Right." Professor Hardshell squinted at the blue and golden arm crest they were all wearing. "And why are you and your soldiers here, Captain? You're guards of the Grand Duke, right? Shouldn't normal Enforcers handle whatever it is?"

The captain frowned. "It's a matter of the Grand Duchy, more I will and cannot say."

A slyly worded answer, Prowl thought. A matter of the Grand Duchy could mean everything from treason to a harmless interest of the Grand Duke. The guards of the Grand Dukes were their personal force to execute their will. As such, it was entirely understandable that the professor gave his noble students an anxious glance, but fell quiet and watched the proceedings warily. No doubt he expected to never see one of his noble students ever again. For that matter, several of those students looked the same, throwing around near panicked looks or trying to become invisible among their peers.

The warframes had stopped during the exchange at strategic positions in the room. Prowl noted that as they were standing, they were able to shoot down anyone before they could stand up. That wasn't good, his guards expected problems even here; among students they had certainly deemed safe and loyal long ago.

Quickstrike at the front of the auditorium turned now to the sea of frightened students, who watched him as a petrorabbit watched a Seeker. Quickstrike's optics wandered from one face to another, no doubt remembering who paled, who was stoic, who might be a threat. Maybe, Captain Quickstrike was also checking who of his undercover mechs were here, but Prowl had never managed to identify one of those highly trained spies. There were at least three, as Quickstrike had let that fact slip once, but to know their designations was deemed too high a risk to change Prowl's behavior.

After only a klick or two, Quickstrike's searching optics fell on Prowl. A hand wave with three fingers straight and the guards around Prowl moved. Heavy hands fell on his shoulders, restricting his movement.

Prowl did not need to fake his surprise as he was pulled out of his chair like a criminal.

"Black Dust, please come with us on behalf of the Grand Duchy of Praxus," announced Quickstrike.

Please? Prowl knew the laws to apprehend people well, and these were certainly not the right words. As he was led down by the guards, who now respectfully kept their distance of exactly half a step, he understood that Quickstrike wanted to disguise why they were here. Just the "why" escaped him. With a sigh, he looked back towards his scripts and bag and saw that another warframe was collecting everything. This was it, he realized. This was the end; he would not be able to return. He would never finish his degree.

"Black Dust?" whispered the professor in soft anguish as he walked past him.

It was the tone more than anything else that stopped Prowl. His professor sounded as if he was watching one of his students walking down to their execution – and indeed, that was what it looked like. But the warframes knew no mercy; with a soft but firm touch to his shoulders, they forced him forward.

As they reached Quickstrike, the mech gave Prowl a cursory glance, then nodded in satisfaction. "Company! Move out!"

The guards stationed throughout the room took up positions around Prowl, who looked stoically ahead. What were his peers thinking? That he was a criminal or traitor? Was this really the best solution for whatever reason Quickstrike had to do this?

New touches let him move the stairs up to the door. His fellow students were so silent that he could force himself to forget their existence. Then they had left the auditorium, the heavy door fell shut and pandemonium broke out inside the room. Prowl slumped, glad to escape the many optics.

"Quickstrike..." he said, but the older captain shook his head.

"We must hurry. The longer we can keep our enemies guessing who you are the better," the Captain said very quietly and urgently.

Prowl eyed him, then his optics wandered over the other guards. They looked fine at first glance, but they kept the weapons heated, their armor closed and combat ready. Also, he noticed they acted too aware, too protective. They were nervous, he realized with a jolt. Maybe even afraid. And the uneasiness turned into sharp fear as the random puzzle pieces clicked together.

"I see," he whispered back. "Let's go."

Quickstrike and his guards didn't bother with being subtle as they hurried down the long hallways of the Academy of Mathematics and Higher Statistics. The first five at the tip of the group forced surprised students and staff even-handedly aside, ignoring their short-lived protests and exclamations with the same nonchalance as the wide-optic stares that followed in their wake.

Prowl tried to ignore his life's dream crumbling around him, tried to keep his spark from spinning with worst case scenarios, tried to keep that coldness within at bay. More and more guards marched aside and behind him. They had stood watch at every hallway they crossed and now joined the group around the prince that nearly ran through the academy.

He hid behind his guards' broad shoulders as best as he could, while hoping that no one would see his face. The only thing capable of making this worse would be someone screaming "He's Prince Prowl!"

In the middle of the grand entrance hall, a ripple went through the rear guards.

"Let me through!" yelled an agitated voice. "In the name of the Grand Dukes or not, I cannot allow you to simply kidnap one of my students!"

"Sir-" tried one of the warframes, but was interrupted.

"Do not try to pacify me! I know my rights, I know the laws, and this is illegal!"

Prowl walked slower and couldn't help but to look back. This had sounded like... and indeed, it was Professor Hardshell yelling at the warframes, who tried to hold him back without injuring the smaller and quite old mech.

"My prince, please come." Quickstrike's doorwings moved anxiously back and forward. "It is not safe here."

Was it safe for him anywhere? Before he could answer, or indeed do anything, Hardshell whacked the nearest warframe sharply with a datapad on his chevron. The poor mech hissed in pain and for a moment, his grip slipped. The professor managed to wriggle free and ran a few more steps towards Prowl.

A deep, nearly sub-sonic growl was the only warning that Professor Hardshell had just been classified as a threat by a dozen warframes. A high, distinct hum filled the hall as they activated their weapon spaces and seconds later, gleaming swords surrounded the professor, who froze in sudden fear. Menacingly, the warframes approached their victim, ready to kill if the threat so much as moved.

"Enough!" The sharp command had left Prowl's mouth before he could even think. "Stand down."

Reluctantly, they did so, but their swords never left their hands. He walked through his guards, who parted before him without another word. Prowl gave them the order 'Shield me' with his doorwings, and they arranged themselves in a circle around the civilian and their prince. The order was more to their benefit than Prowl's. Agitated warframes calmed down best with precise orders and expectations.

Professor Hardshell clutched his broken datapad before his spark, trembling slightly, while his vents worked at full blast. The running and subsequent fight had clearly taken a lot from the old mech. At some point he must have deactivated his optics, because they only lightened up with a green hue when Prowl stopped before him.

"Professor, what are you doing here?"

Professor Hardshell blinked. Slowly, he looked from his student to the impressive figure of captain Quickstrike towering behind Prowl. He straightened, a look of pure determination on his face. "I... I may be a Statistics Professor, but I know a few laws. And Captain, it's not right to arrest a mech without even stating why!"

Prowl waited for Quickstrike to answer, but his bodyguard remained silent. It was the Prince's decision in this matter, and he would heed it. Prowl cocked his head. "Professor, I assure you I am alright."

"Really?" Professor Hardshell didn't bother to hide his doubt. "These guards might take you anywhere! Prison, or worse!"

Had his professor always been so brave and caring? Prowl had to smile softly. "Professor, I do not need protection from my own bodyguards. I trust them with my spark." Around him, his guards' doorwings ticked up at this highest of compliments, while Professor Harshell frowned.

"Your bodyguards...?"

Quickstrike bowed down to the prince's audios. "Time is of the essence."

The young prince nodded in acknowledgement. "I truly wish I could stay, professor. I have always enjoyed your lectures, but my duty takes me elsewhere."

Maybe there was more regret in his words than was proper, but ultimately his loyalty was to Praxus and his own dreams were secondary to that. He turned away, leaving the bewildered professor where he was.

They stepped through the main entrance and he saw that the guards hadn't come alone. The usually so quiet and tranquil square before the academy, place of many of the most philosophical and intellectual discussions Prowl had had, was now bustling with soldiers and troop transports. Shocked, he paused at the door, trying to understand what he was seeing. Even at a rough conservative estimation, there were around three hundred warframes here and many of them didn't wear the sword and shield of the Grand Duchy's guards, instead wearing a sharp blue triangle.

"The army!" he exclaimed in shock. "What is it doing here?"

"Protecting you, my prince," answered the Captain and firmly pushed him forward.

Since when did he need the Praxian army to be protected? Prowl moved along with them, but his thoughts were racing. They approached one of the army's troop transporters, a shuttle, matte black and green, waiting quietly with an open door. Usually, nobles did their travelling with carriages as a sign of their station and everyone else with money had an altmode. Shuttle mechs were rarely used as most Cybertronians felt it too strange to travel inside another mech. Prowl was no exception, but the grim expressions around him made sure that he didn't voice any protests.

The interior of the shuttle mech was sparse and very utilitarian. A few seats at the rear, and else only long, empty troop benches. Behind him, Quickstrike and two other guards entered. The moment the door fell shut, Quickstrike held his fingers at his audio to activate the comm. "Retrieval accomplished. Take off now!"

A dull vibration went through the whole shuttle, then they were already leaving the ground. From inside, Prowl could hear shouts of "Go, go, go!"

Suddenly overcome with a feeling of desolation, Prowl walked to one of the few seats, barely padded, and fell into it. Next to it was a tiny window, showing the blue sky, a few white clouds and even more shuttles and fliers escorting them. He shuttered his optics and vented deeply as he tried to stave off the fears haunting his spark. Nothing good could mobilize the army like this.

"My prince?" asked the captain quietly.

Prowl's optics remained fixed on the window. "Tell me, please, that my creators simply have become overprotective overnight."

For a moment there was silence, then the captain gave a deep sigh. "My prince, I'm afraid that would make me a liar."

Prowl's left hand put a dent into the chair. "Then tell me the truth."

Quickstrike bowed his head, quietly acknowledging the order. When he spoke, it was with the same heaviness the warframe had once reaped sparks on the battlefields. "My prince, it grieves me to tell you that the Guard of Praxus has failed in its duty to protect our Lords and Masters. The Grand Dukes of Praxus, Lord Black Haze and Lord Sparkshimmer, have been killed twenty breems ago." The Captain fell to his knees, both of them hitting the ground and his head followed. "Please forgive us, your humble servants, our failure."

Prowl could only stare at his trusted bodyguard blankly, as the words pierced his spark. His creators were dead? It was a concept too earthshaking and skyburning to grasp in its entire monumental meaning. Yet, his spark had screamed the truth at him since the auditorium and that truth sliced deeply into him now.

The Grand Dukes of Praxus were gone, despite Major General Blueshield and the entire guard shielding them, the army defending them and countless others. Their protection had been top-notch! They were supposed to live!

And yet... and yet...

His hand formed a fist over his spark as it kept reaching out, encountering only coldness. Maybe, they would appear; maybe they survived somehow. Maybe Primus would give him a miracle. And so it kept searching for the warmth that had always been there.

His optics burned when he looked at his bodyguard.

"Get up." He wasn't able to bear watching Quickstrike debasing himself any longer.

The warframe rose smoothly. "My prince, may I finish my report?"

Prowl wanted to deny the request, he had already heard more than he could bear. Yet, second heirs – shields and swords of the House - didn't run no matter what, and so he made a permissive hand wave, not trusting himself with more.

"Thank you, my prince. Due to the suddenness of the Lord's murders, the medical staff was not able to provide any shields to their bonds. As a result, Prince Smokescreen's bond was wide open and his spark has taken considerable damage."

"Smokey too?" Prowl barely recognized his own voice, as he forced the broken words out. Whatever, whoever, this had brought over his family, surely Smokescreen was innocent!

"He was still fighting, last I heard. But there is a very good chance he will not survive the night."

Prowl slumped back into the seat. Alive. Still alive. Prowl ignored the rest for the moment, clutching that knowledge like a desperate empty clutching his only energon cube of the vorn.

"My prince, we also have news from Fortress Prien." Quickstrike paused for a moment, trying to gauge Prowl's reaction. "Your doppelganger was also killed two joors ago. He managed to kill his assassin, though."

Prowl shuttered his optics. Of course they had tried to get him as well. This had been an attempt to not only kill the Grand Dukes but to eliminate the whole House of Praxus. Whoever the enemy was, he would be very displeased that Prowl was alive. And Smokescreen. The horror of that realization overcame even the grief.

"Are more attempts expected?" he asked, already knowing and fearing the answer.

"Major General Blueshield thinks so and has initiated several counter-measures," answered the Captain. "He has decided that Smokescreen is to be kept in the Palaise despite his injuries."

Prowl nodded slowly, trying to rationalize his desire to take Smokescreen and run far away. Where could they run to? Maybe their grand-uncle Vapor? Could Smokescreen survive such an escape? He didn't know. Yet now it would be upon him to decide the future. He was all Smokescreen had. All their entire House and city state now had.

It was too much. It was all too much.

"Leave," he pressed out, and to his eternal gratefulness Quickstrike only nodded, turned around and walked to the other end of the shuttle.

There was no one anymore who he could run to for advice or help. No one to tell him that it all would be alright. No one who would smile indulgently at his statistics, and praise his accomplishments with pride. No one who would hug him.

He barely noticed it when the first tears fell, and he couldn't hold back the sobs of grief and fear.

Only when a scarred hand gave him a tissue did he pull himself together. Quickstrike was kneeling next to his chair, looking to the ground in a futile attempt to give him the illusion of privacy.

"What is it?" he asked, while drying his face as well as he could.

"We have nearly reached the city of Praxus, my prince."

Time was slipping through his servos mercilessly. He wasn't ready to face anyone, much less his new responsibilities. He was a second heir! And not a Grand Duke. He should have had time. Instead here he was now without the knowledge, the experience, the social connections, but with powerful, unknown enemies. But succession allowed no doubt.

A vortex of choices swirled around in his mind, all of them leading to more death and mayhem. The future, once so bright with his dream of a scholarly career far away from courts and politics, had turned dark and uncertain.

"Quickstrike," he whispered bleakly. "What am I supposed to do now?"

"My prince..." said Quickstrike, an odd tone in his voice.

Warframes liked orders; that had been Prowl's first lesson with them. To ask them this as their supposed leader was not a good idea, and yet he needed some guidance, something, anything at all.

Thankfully, Quickstrike recovered. "I am no noble or civilian. I can only give you advice as a warframe and creator." Prowl only nodded, too drained to find words right now. "I think you should visit your brother. It might not be easy, but if he does not survive the night..."

Quickstrike didn't say the rest, and it wasn't needed. It was all too obvious. If Smokescreen did not survive the night, then this was the last chance for Prowl to see him and to hold him. To say goodbye to the last living member of his family. And also, Smokescreen would die alone, surrounded by strangers instead of family. He deserved better.

Prowl's thoughts and emotions settled.

"Take me to him."