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The Ascension

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The Ascension

-

Part Four

 

During the last breems of the flight, Quickstrike used an emergency set to strip away his camouflage paint. It was a crude, hurried procedure that came with stinging pain and damage to the first natural paint layers. Sparkling white, contrasting black and at the chevron fiery red were revealed. His sire had always called the chevron a pointy warning of his hidden temper, while smiling proudly. Now, the thought brought only more tears.

The few modifications on his frame were stripped down to a dull grey and mostly hidden by a black cloak. 'Black Dust is dead, long live Prince Prowl,' he thought bitterly. Only to remember that technically he was now Lord Prowl, Grand Duke of Praxus, even if he would carry the title only after the inauguration. The thought felt so very wrong.

They landed directly in front of the Palaise – a place usually not used as a landing pad. Prowl looked out of the shuttle's windows, trying to gather self-control. There were guards everywhere, grim faced and with bristling armor. Outside of the Palaise he could see even more warframes, but these wore a blue triangle on their arms – more soldiers of the army.

Prowl shuttered his optics and pressed his helmet against the shuttle's wall. His tears had dried for the moment, but he still felt them inside like an endless, deep sea of agony. All he wanted to do was to curl up in a corner with his brother and cry for orns.

However, the warframes were so agitated that they needed a clear sign of control and stability or things would soon be even worse. A crying mech barely out of his youngling frame would not be enough. No, he needed to be strong, to be a second prince, even if he failed at everything else.

He straightened, forcing himself to move.

"Quickstrike?" All the servants had already vanished, which had probably been the best decision. "Tell Major General Blueshield that I want an emergency meeting in two joors. Call everyone who needs to be there and make it clear that I expect an explanation. Also, I want Smokescreen kept as safe as possible."

Vague orders, hopefully they would be enough.

"Yes, my prince."

"Let us go."

He walked down the shuttle, barely acknowledging his surroundings. His pedes knew where Smokescreen was and he nearly ran down the hallways, even opening a few doors himself when Quickstrike and the other guards hurrying after him were too slow.

The medical wing of the Palaise was deep within, surrounded on three sides by a small private garden. Ever since Prowl could remember, it was a place of quiet and peace that extended far beyond the few patient rooms at the center. Now, though, the hallways were lined with guards that saluted when Prowl swept past them.

The double doors to the medical ward were held open and Prowl entered a small hallway decorated with soothing crystals and nothing else, which set it into a sharp contrast with the rest of the castle. Despite the panic outside, nothing here hinted at anything unusual. Prowl automatically slowed as he neared the reception desk, where a nurse stood up and bowed deeply.

"Your Highness, it is a relief to see you well."

"My brother…?"

"The Master Medics have just visited him." The nurse deflated a bit. "He is in a serious condition and Master Medic Hoist has called two specialists from the Lysie Charité."

Prowl's spark clenched. Hoist had needed to call help? He couldn't remember that this had happened before. "Tell Master Medic Hoist that I am here and wish to visit Smokescreen."

"Of course. Please excuse me for a second."

The nurse rose and walked down a side hallway, to patient room two. There, he knocked and disappeared inside the room for less than three astroseconds. When he reappeared, he wasn't alone. Behind him walked three medics, easily identifiable by their medical glyphs.

The one in the lead smiled as he saw the prince and nearly ran over. "Prince Prowl! It is so good to see you!"

It was soothing to see a trusted and familiar face in this crisis. Hoist had been his family's medic since before Brazen's creation and had been trusted with small and big problems of all kinds. So when he answered, it was with a certain warmth.

"I am glad to see you as well, Master Medic," he said. "Despite the situation."

"Ah, yes." The medic bowed lightly in front of him. "It's all so very awful. I wished I could have done more to save our Lords, but my skills were insufficient." Hoist looked harrowed. "It all happened just too quickly, who would have thought…!"

"What about Smokescreen? Will he survive?" interrupted Prowl rudely, but the urgency drove him forward.

Hoist flinched. "Ah, forgive me, your Highness. This orn has been too long and difficult already." He waved his two colleagues forward. "May I introduce you to Master Medic Flatline and Master Medic Cardiac. Both are spark specialists and I have drawn upon their skills to provide the best care for Prince Smokescreen. They will be able to give you a better diagnosis on this than I."

Both medics bowed deeply. Master Medic Flatline gave Hoist a glance. "Our esteemed colleague's skills are tremendous, and we are only able to help thanks to our specialization and because this is a very rare case."

Prowl narrowed his optics, quickly losing patience with the medic's polite words. "Please elaborate. So far all I know is that Smokescreen's spark was injured through the- the deaths of our creators." The truth hurt more than anything before in his life.

All three medics nodded. "This is not wrong, your Highness," said Flatline. "Just as bondmates fade without their mates, a young spark suffers without its creators. Only when the spark is old and stable enough does the bond start to fade. Modern medicine has managed to lessen the initial impact of the death of one creator through shielding. Usually the remaining bondmate nurtures the young spark for as long as he can, which is on average a time between fifty and a hundred vorns. Long enough for most young sparks to stabilize enough to survive the death of their second creator."

"But our creators are dead," he snapped. "Get to the point!" Would he lose Smokescreen as well?

Medic Flatline sighed deeply. "As you wish. At the moment we have managed to stabilize Prince Smokescreen's spark through electrical impulses, but we were unsuccessful in preventing him from slipping into stasis. We do not know if he will survive or ever wake up."

The news hit Prowl and let him nearly take a step back. Reeling, he spoke the only thought he managed to grasp: "I want to see Smokescreen. Now."

"Of course, your Highness. Please follow me," said Master Medic Hoist and led him to the patient's room. "The usual rules apply, please be quiet and don't disturb him."

Prowl nodded. Hoist held up the door and they both entered the patient room that Prowl knew from some very uncomfortable orns in his youth. When he had a virus, Hoist had cared here for him, brought him warm energon with a smile and some jokes, and his family had sat on his bed for joors, reading stories or trying to help with his homework, so he would not fall behind.

Now, the room was quiet and cold. Dead, he thought for a moment and shuddered. The heavy curtains on the windows were keeping out most of the light, and around the berth stood more equipment than he had ever seen within a hospital room.

Before thinking, he ran to his brother's side, wanting to take Smokescreen's small servo, but stopped short next to the bed. His little brother was laying on the berth motionlessly, his colors barely visible anymore. Nearly grey. Nearly dead. The armor around his chest had been completely removed and dozens of cables were connected to the sparkchamber, forming a grisly, perverted image. Through the glass he had to strain to see the greenish flickering sparklight. Every time it went out, one of the machines peeped and blue electrical sparks appeared at the chamber, rocking the whole tiny frame.

"He..." began Prowl, but the words were lost to him as he stared in abject horror at the bared and tortured spark.

Hoist stepped at his side and looked down at the youngling with a grim face. "The Grand Duke's bonds were always strong. With only a little less, he would have been too weak to live." He paused and added, "With a little more, they would have pulled him with them."

"Is he in pain?" whispered Prowl.

"No. As far as I know, he only felt Lord Black Haze's death and went offline immediately after. It was then that Lord Sparkshimmer called for help, recognizing the effects of the poison too late to be saved." The Master Medic walked over and checked the machines with the behavior of a mech who didn't expect to find any fault, but needed to do something.

Prowl couldn't stop his doorwings from shivering violently. "Ca- can I touch him?"

Hoist gave him a glance and nodded. "Yes, your Highness. Just take his hand. Some say that siblings help with the recovery."

Trembling, Prowl reached out, touching the limp fingers of his little brother gently. So weak and fragile. Carefully, he took the small servo into his own.

Master Medic Hoist took a few steps back and, when Prowl didn't protest, walked out of the room silently.

Finally alone, Prowl's strength left him and the sobs he had been holding back overwhelmed him without mercy. Not daring to disturb his brother's rest even a little, he slid down to his knees, still holding the hand and pressing it against his tearstained face.

"Don't leave me," pleaded Prowl brokenly. "Don't leave me alone."

~

When the door opened again, he was too exhausted to move anymore. A soft touch against his helmet made him look up. Master Medic Hoist and Quickstrike stood behind him.

"My prince, we only have one joor left until the security meeting," said Quickstrike quietly. "Master Medic Hoist needs to remove your modifications."

He didn't want to leave Smokescreen. He didn't want to leave the room and face the world or anyone. Mechanically, controlling every finger individually, he managed to let Smokescreen's cold hand go.

"Can we do it here?" If he hadn't been a prince, most would have called his tone begging.

"If you wish so, your Highness." Medic Hoist looked towards Quickstrike. "Please fetch a chair."

Moments later, the guard returned with a chair that he placed a few steps away from the bed, along with a warm energon cube.

"Drink, my prince," the warframe ordered. "You need it."

Prowl did as his bodyguard asked without protest, realizing only now that it was far past the time he would have usually drank his fuel. It felt warm and heavier than normal. "Nanites?" he asked.

"Among others," answered the medic. "There was a bit of a discussion even, what exactly will help you most. Your cube has around ten thousand nanite particles, is enriched with iron, potassium and gold, and a calming mixture."

The prince blinked and looked at his cube with new respect. "All that in one cube, Master Medic?"

"Well, the metals, while healthy, are mainly for covering the taste of the rest," answered Hoist with a soft smile. "I remembered that you have always preferred potassium flavored medicine."

Prowl nodded, and managed to convince himself to stand up. Tiredly, he walked over to the chair, freed himself from the heavy cloak, and sat down. His optics drifted towards Smokescreen, even as he felt the soft and sure hands of the medic begin their work.

After only a breem, Master Medic Hoist took a step back. "There is nothing wrong with your frame, your Highness, besides the usual symptoms of shock. Something which is entirely normal considering the situation."

When Prowl didn't find the energy to answer, the medic and warframe exchanged a meaningful look. The Master Medic seemed to struggle with himself, but Quickstrike gave him a stern look. Hoist sighed, nodded curtly and caught the prince's optics.

"Prince Prowl, this might be a private question, but please answer truthfully. Did you feel your creators perish?"

The sudden question nearly undid Prowl. As grief constricted his throat, he couldn't stop himself from touching the armor plate above his spark. Above the gaping nothingness where so much had been. He looked past the medic and the guard towards his brother to gather himself again. If they had been alive, both would surely be sitting on both sides of Smokescreen, holding his hands and stabilizing his spark. If they had been alive, Smokescreen wouldn't be here.

"Yes," he forced out.

Both mechs stiffened, and their faceplates became grave. Could he have ended up like Smokescreen if he had just been a bit younger? Was his spark damaged as well? It felt so upset, so pained, but he couldn't say what was emotional, what physical. Maybe it was the same?

The medic knelt down next to him, placing a daring hand on Prowl's knee. "It is not unexpected, your Highness," said Hoist gently. "You are barely out of your youngling frame and the fading of a bond can vary tremendously."

Prowl blinked. "I thought my bond had already faded," he confessed quietly. "I didn't feel them anymore and suddenly…" He couldn't say it. Couldn't speak about the moment the world lost its warmth.

Quickstrike stepped up, next to the medic. The warframe's face was full of compassion and understanding. "If I may, Master Medic. I personally have felt it, if my creations were alive or not, until their 240th vorn. The stronger the bond, the slower the fading is."

"The slowest recorded fading lasted nearly 350 vorns," added the Master Medic. "It was a special and tragic case really, but it showed the strength such bonds can develop. And the bond to your creators was undeniably a strong one. As such, I have to know if your spark hurts or has shown other abnormalities like becoming hot?"

Prowl was already shaking his head, when he stopped and forced himself to really think about the question. His optics kept drifting to Smokescreen, who was helpless. Defenseless. He couldn't risk becoming like his little brother. Not now, not even when a part of him never wanted to leave this room.

"I am not in pain, if one doesn't consider the emotional," he answered slowly. "But my spark feels cold."

There was a flash of concern on Hoist's face, and downright alarm on Quickstrike's. Again they exchanged looks that were entire conversations.

When Prowl had been a youngling and had observed this behavior for the first time, he had assumed that there was a secret language involved. Maybe hand signs, he had mused and later begged the medical officer to teach him. The poor mech had at first looked flabbergasted and then – after understanding the demand – laughed. Still chuckling, he had sat the young prince down and explained to Prowl's embarrassment that there was no secret involved. Medics and warframes simply understand each other, said the medical officer with a smile.

Prowl had not understood at all. Warframes were a frameclass set apart from the civilian frames, while medic was a profession. How made that sense?

The medical officer had pointed out that he himself was both warframe and medic, and certainly not an odd case. In fact, what Prowl learned that orn was, although warframes were unsuited for most civilian jobs thanks to their specific programming, they made marvelous medics. And even when a medic was a civilian by frame, they often developed deep friendships with the soldiers and guards, and bondings were far from unusual.

Seeing Hoist and Quickstrike interacting now drove that point home and he wondered for how long the two had been friends. However, when the Master Medic demanded that he open his chest plates, such thoughts disappeared fast.

"Is such a thing really necessary?" he asked with a wince, trying not to let his embarrassment show.

"Yes." Quickstrike's voice was stern. "Do not be worried, my prince, I am sworn to my bondmate and loyal to you, and Master Medic Hoist has taken all the vows of discretion."

Prowl sighed. Warframes, he remembered as well, were pragmatic, especially when it came to sparks. They saw a bared spark more along the lines of a wound, than as a sacred part of a mech, bared as a sign of absolute trust and love.

Logically he knew, that his guard was right and his nervousness unwarranted, when he triggered the code. Smokescreen was glaring proof that he could at least trust these two mechs.

It was not an easy procedure. As a second heir, he had been upgraded with protections since he could walk and had by now incorporated them deeply into his systems. The result was that his spark was protected by layers of armor that only reluctantly folded themselves back. Neither medic nor warframe hurried him, recognizing the delicate balance of trust and concentration Prowl needed.

When it was done, the icy blue light of his spark spilled into the room in a strong corona, bathing everything in its color. Politely, Quickstrike had turned away to the door, guarding the prince at his most vulnerable and giving him the much needed privacy.

The Master Medic's scan and fingers were quick as he checked the spark casing. Every light touch made Prowl shudder and gasp softly. He was sure that he was blushing.

"As strong as always, your Highness," he said. "Your spark shows signs of stress and light injury, but both should pass naturally. The coldness is probably more a psychological phenomenon, but it would comfort me if I could check it regularly until your spark has healed."

Prowl barely had waited for the diagnosis before he was already folding up again. "Anything else, Master Medic Hoist?"

"Besides the modifications, no. Captain Quickstrike, how much time do we have left?"

"Four breems." When Prowl had closed up and the light had vanished, the Captain had turned towards them again. "But they will wait if you need longer."

"I'll try to finish in time," promised the medic.

The Master Medic managed to remove the modifications that had made Prowl slightly bulkier and rounder in time. He added a protective coat onto Prowl's strained and pale paint, insisting that it would help in repairing the surface damage faster. Quickstrike tried to point out only once that such a coat was not really necessary before he crossed his arms grumpily and watched in silence. Medic order always beat warframe opinion in health matters. At least some things never changed.

Eventually the Master Medic did step back, and gave Prowl an approving nod. "Much better now."

"He looked fine before as well," said Quickstrike, his armored doorwings flapping annoyed at his back.

"Fine, yes, but he is our Lord now," said the medic and Prowl flinched. Lord. Not prince, never again. Even now they only called him prince, because his inauguration ceremony had not taken place yet. Thankfully, none of the other two commented on his reaction.

"Still, we are now late. My prince, we must hurry." Quickstrike walked to the door. "Major General Blueshield has informed me that they are already waiting."

"One moment, Quickstrike."

Prowl stood, and walked over to Smokescreen. Lightly, he caressed the cold hand, and a new wave of sorrow gripped his spark. All he could look at was his fading brother, so small and vulnerable on the big berth. So alone.

He vented deeply. New determination coursed through him, clearing his thoughts and spark.

He had to protect Smokescreen. No one would ever harm him again. No one.

Not as long as Prowl lived.

When he let go of Smokescreen's hand, he felt calmer and centered. The pain was still there, but at least he had an idea of what to do now.

"Thank you, Master Medic Hoist, for the care." He gave a nod to the medic, who bowed deeply. His optics settled on Quickstrike. "And thank you, Quickstrike for protecting my spark and I, when I was not myself."

The utter surprise on the warframe's face nearly made Prowl smile. Quickstrike bowed. "It's an honor to serve you."

You can trust Quickstrike above everyone else, his creators had said. When he walked down the hallways to the meeting room, Quickstrike at his side, he was glad their words had been proven true. The massive warframe was the pillar he now needed.

As they neared their destination, Prowl quickly recognized where the meeting place would be. It felt like a long time ago when Prowl had played hide and seek here with the Vosian princes and they all had been too small for anything else. Then, it had only been a big room with a long table, many chairs and few hiding opportunities if not for the fact that only few people were allowed to enter.

It was vorns later that Yellowstripe explained that the Council Chamber was the most secure room of the Palaise and reserved for the twelve most important mechs to meet in secret and away from scrutiny. To be chosen by the Grand Dukes as one of the ten chair holders was widely considered the highest honor a Praxian could reach.

"I will have to wait outside, my prince," said Quickstrike in front of the beautifully decorated double door.

For a moment, Prowl contemplated ordering Quickstrike to come with him, but it would have only been for his own comfort. He had never attended a Council meeting before and had only been expected to join when he would take over Lord Vapor's duties as the Field Marshal. Yet here he stood now, hesitating and unsure what to expect. Did they expect him to lead the meeting? Was there a certain ceremony or conduct to be observed?

Did it matter? With the death of his creators he was the acting Grand Duke of Praxus, until the inauguration when he would officially be handed the titles and honors through Sentinel Prime.

Prowl's optics narrowed. They would obey him. They would tell him the names of his enemies. Or else.

As Prowl entered, his optics fell on the huge painting of Vector Prime holding a glowing red radish as a sign of might, while behind him the Praxus of the past tried to connect sky and earth. It hang over the top of the table, where once Black Haze would have sat. Opposite was the painting of Lysis Magnus, Vector Prime's beloved bondmate, holding a bloodied lance. It was a grim reminder that the Council room had once been built as the War Council room.

Between them was the long council table, five seats to each side, every chair showing the crest and rank of its owner. At the heads were two subtly more elaborate decorated ones for the Grand Dukes, directly beneath the paintings.

Around half the seats were empty. The vacancy of the two belonging to the Grand Dukes had been inevitable, as well as Brazen's, who as the first heir had sat to Sparkshimmer's right. Still, the visible reminder hurt so much that for an astrosecond he froze midstride before recovering.

But a full Council should have still included nine mechs. Instead he counted only five behind their chairs, waiting for him.

Frowning, he noticed the absence of his grand-uncle Vapor, who as the Field Marshal and acting second heir was ultimately responsible for the defense of Praxus and its rulers. Had he not yet arrived from the east or was he already hunting down the murderers? He had hoped for his calming presence and advice.

Even more puzzling was the empty seat of Yellowstripe, who alone represented the common civilians as the Secretary of State.

The five mechs present bowed in greeting, but Prowl was only really familiar with one of them, who stepped forward.

"My prince!" greeted the flier warmly. He had the functional build of all warframes that spoke of power, but was more slender and his wings were bigger and more elaborate than any doorwing.

"Airlord Skydive!" Prowl relaxed at seeing the friendly face of his old teacher, banishing his unease. "It is a relief that you could come so fast."

"How could I not, hearing that my favorite pupil and prince was calling?" Skydive's face sobered. "Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss, my prince."

For a moment his emotions roared again, threatening to swallow him up once more. But he couldn't give in, Smokescreen depended on him. "Thank you," he said. He looked to the other mechs in the room. "Lieutenant-General Warpath, it is good to see you as well."

Warpath was a truly massive warframe, capable of dwarfing many in even his own frame class. He gave the prince a small bow. "It is good to see you alive, my prince. Dreadful business all these assassinations."

"Captain Quickstrike informed me that my doppelganger has managed to kill the assassin?"

"Indeed." Warpath smirked. "The assassin was skilled, but Leveler had trained with me and did not let the enemy get away. He died honorably."

In Prowl's opinion it would have been better if he hadn't died at all. But Leveler had died in his place and name, and that was a fact he would have to live with. "He will be remembered as a hero and great warrior, Lieutenant-General. I will make sure of that," he promised with all the sincerity he could give.

Warpath nodded. "His division and family will be overjoyed to hear that. Leveler was a good mech."

Prowl nodded and looked to the last warframe in the room, who seemed reluctant to step forward. He was older than the other two warframes, and looked pale and defeated. "Major General Blueshield, I thank you for calling this meeting."

"It was your wish." The mech bowed. "Yet I am afraid that my failure to protect our Lords and rulers weights too heavily to be part of this Council any longer."

Warframes and their code of honor! Prowl's doorwings made a sharp flick. "You will provide the answers I seek, and afterwards I will decide if the fault lies with you. Do not assume that you can chose your own punishment."

Warpath's engine gave an approving hum, as the Major General took a step back and bowed. "Please forgive me for assuming."

"It is forgiven." But not forgotten, Prowl thought. Blueshield obviously blamed himself for what had happened, but was it deserved? He would find out. "Lord Shanix, Lord Clearwater, I welcome you, too. Were there any attempts on your sparks as well?"

Lord Shanix, a slim teal colored mech with the pale, nearly white spark of the truly ancient and trusted treasurer, gently shook his helmet. "By fortune or Primus's will, my House and I were spared. Though the loss weighs heavily on our sparks."

"There were no attempts on my life as well, your Highness," said Lord Clearwater, High Judge of Praxus. "If I may, I would suggest to begin the Council. Time is of the essence."

"As wise as always, Lord Clearwater," he said. "Please sit, my Lords. The time for pleasantries has long since passed."

They did as he had said and it made the empty chairs between them all the more obvious. Twelve mechs it should be, and yet they were only six. Especially painful was the empty one on the other side of the table, where the second Grand Duke – his sire– was supposed to sit, and only slightly more bearable was the empty chair of the first heir at the right side of the table.

Automatically, he avoided both and found himself staring at the left side – the military side of the table, where Vapor's and the General's seat had no occupant. Prowl wished that at least his grand-uncle would be here. As the acting second heir for the past 200 vorns and the real second heir for far longer, his experience was sorely needed. Not to mention he was family and would understand Prowl's grief better than anyone else.

"Blueshield, before we begin, my grand-uncle has been informed? Is he on his way?"

All three warframes froze. "The Field Marshal has been informed, my prince, but there was no answer."

"No answer?" Prowl could not stop the flinch of his doorwings as new dread crawled into his spark. "Has he too been…?"

"You misunderstand, my prince," said Blueshield slowly. "I tried to contact the Field Marshal and anyone who might be able reach him, yet received no answer."

"That makes no sense." Prowl shook his head. "It's impossible that no one answers."

"Not impossible," said Skydive darkly. "The Major-General contacted me with his problem and I sent my fliers to check the situation. I got their report a breem ago."

Everyone at the table turned to the flier. "And?" asked Prowl anxiously. "Is Vapor still alive?"

"I think so." Skydive's wings dropped a bit. "At the border to the Field Marshal's lands, my fliers were attacked and forced to return. We must assume that Field Marshal Vapor is deliberately not answering the calls."

There was a sharp hiss as several of the mechs vented. Prowl thought he was going to be sick. "Airlord Skydive," he said. "Are you claiming my own grand-uncle is disloyal?"

The flier's optics flashed. "Disloyal and maybe worse."

Vapor. His own grand-uncle. Family. Trusted and loved. Surely, there was an explanation somewhere. Some unknown enemy that had bested him and the hundreds of warframes the Field Marshal had kept at his home for training…

Prowl felt dizzy as the horrendous ramifications hit his processor. All these warframes had probably turned traitorous as well. Maybe more. A lot more. How could this be? Vapor was supposed to be the one to explain everything to him! To be Prowl's acting second heir, the shield of Praxus. Prowl's shield!

"My prince?" said Skydive hesitatingly. "There is more."

Prowl already didn't want to hear the rest, but Skydive had been his teacher for vorns. Had patiently taught him war tactics as well as the art of speeches and warframe customs. Skydive was without a doubt a Talent of war and strategy, and had never led Prowl astray.

"I came here for answers, and I will listen. Please continue, Airlord."

"As you wish." Skydive inclined his helmet, and for but a moment there was something like pride to see within his optics. "Major General Blueshield did not only fail to contact Field Marshal Vapor. General Quake was also unreachable."

"General Quake lives in Praxus," the prince said quietly, staring at the table in front of him but not really seeing anything. "Was there a trip I knew nothing off?"

Blueshield dashed his desperate hopes. "No, my prince. When he didn't answer, I personally visited his apartment with the guard. It has been stripped of anything personal and the General has not been there."

Prowl looked at vacant chair of the Master of Trade with a feeling close to hysterical despair. "I assume Lord Bristle is the same?"

"Yes, my prince."

It hurt. The realization hurt so much. "I see. We will probably find them in the east with my dear uncle."

A klick ago he had feared for his Vapor's life, now he wished that the dagger of a stranger's assassin would have found its mark within his grand-uncle's spark. It would hurt less than the sharp betrayal that was slicing apart his spark now.

His family was dead – by the hands of family and closest friends.

All these mechs his family had trusted and seen as friends. It made no sense. As far as he had been aware, his creators had only ever praised them and given them everything they had asked for. Why would they turn traitor?

Vapor, who had always taken him on the nicest trips around the fortresses of the state. Quake, who had taken the time during the celebrations to sit with the younglings and tell them stories from grand battles of the past. Bristle, who had always seemed gentle and passionate about his office as Master of Trade. It made no sense!

And then, he remembered that there was still one explanation missing. He couldn't stop himself as he looked to his right – to Lord Black Haze's right – where the Secretary of State should have been.

"Yellowstripe too?" he choked out, praying that someone would say no.

Instead, all that met him was a stony silence.

No.

Not Yellowstripe. Not the mech he saw as a third creator, who had encouraged him beyond everyone else. Everyone but him. Please!

The silence stretched unbearably. Not one of the mechs, warframe nor noble, managed to look him into the optics.

It was Lord Shanix who finally answered, on his face pity as clear as light. "Has no one seen fit to tell you, my prince?"

"Tell me what?"

For an awful moment he hoped that Yellowstripe had been murdered.

"Yellowstripe was the one who killed the Grand Dukes."

The world broke and Prowl was falling.

Every moment, every smile, every tear… a lie?

And yet the Lords and Warlord didn't stop talking, didn't stop adding more to the nightmare.

"He'd been bringing sweetened enegex into Lord Sparkshimmer's office for vorns," said Blueshield, his voice shaking. "We didn't control it anymore. It was as good as if it had come from us, the guard. But this time Yellowstripe had added a slow, unstoppable poison."

"Humbling River," said Skydive. "I read the report and would bet my wings on it. Extremely rare, unstoppable, nearly untraceable."

"Yes, thank you, Airlord." Blueshield vented, trying to clear the static from his voice. "Yellowstripe left the poisoned cube and continued to walk towards the meeting with Lord Black Haze. There, he stunned the Lord and attacked him with an energy dagger, stolen from our own weapon chamber vorns ago. When we arrived, he was kneeling next to the Grand Duke, dagger still in hand, blood everywhere..." Blueshield stopped as his voice broke.

"I have ordered my best soldiers to guard him in the dungeon," Warpath jumped into the silence. "He will not escape." Dark rage colored the last words.

"Good work, honorable Warlords," said Lord Clearwater. "What I don't understand is the why. Lord Vapor and Yellowstripe have rarely seen optic to optic, so why would they conspire together?"

"Who knows," answered Warpath gruffly. "Yellowstripe is not speaking. Yet. There are ways to change that."

For a moment there was a heavy silence at the table.

"Maybe blackmail?" suggested Lord Shanix. "Yet, I cannot imagine what would be a bad enough secret to drive a mech to do such a thing…"

"Whyever Yellowstripe did it does not matter!" snapped Airlord Skydive. "We must decide what to do with the three traitors that are running around free! With the Field Marshal and the General among them, there is no doubt that most garrisons in the east are loyal to them and not to Praxus!"

"Worse, Lord Bristle's coffers are full with gold and silver, and as the Master of Trade, he has more than enough connections to ensure a steady money flow," Lord Shanix pointed out.

"Not to mention weapons and energon," said Warpath. But he didn't sound worried, more… delighted by the prospect of slaughter. "Bet they have prepared for a long while."

"Without a doubt," agreed Lord Clearwater. "Neither are prone to hasty decisions and frankly, if Yellowstripe has helped them, we cannot even be sure that any resource will respond to our call."

"My prince," said Blueshield suddenly. "Are you alright?"

Prowl wanted to cry. His optics were swimming with tears. No. No he was not alright. And they made it all worse.

"Silence, please, just… a moment of silence."

The three Warlords and the two noble Lords fell quiet.

Within the silence, Prowl managed to grasp the shards of his world and looked at them. Trying to find something to hold on. Something that might make the horror controllable.

General Quake and Lord Bristle, he could have accepted. It would have hurt, yes, but he would have managed somehow. They were the friends of his creators after all and not his own. Now they were enemies, and nothing more. He released their shards, his spark bleeding.

But grand-uncle Vapor? Yellowstripe? The mere thought of them brought on more pain than he could bear. They were family. He would have trusted them with everything.

His own spark. Praxus. Smokescreen.

In fact, he had trusted that they would find the answers to his desperate questions and would assure him with plans of what to do.

Never had he imagined that as thanks for all the love and trust they'd extended to them, for all the money and titles they'd been given, they would murder his creators and Brazen, put Smokescreen into stasis and try to kill himself as well.

Why?

It made no sense, the world made no sense. There must be a reason, something he was missing. Something he was simply not knowing.

That was it. He needed information. Answers.

He stood up. "Lieutenant-General Warpath, you said Yellowstripe is in the dungeon?"

The Lieutenant-General blinked. "Yes, my prince."

He was already walking to the door when he answered: "I will go to him. He will speak with me." Or else.

Lord Clearwater stood up. "But we need to decide –"

Prowl stopped and turned towards them. "I will get the answers we need. The why, their goals, everything Yellowstripe knows! In the meanwhile, I want you to determine Vapor's assets, how many soldiers he might be capable of calling upon and how many more traitors there might be among the nobles. When the dawn comes, I will decide how to proceed."

He left stunned silence behind as he stepped out of the Council Chamber.