With resounding relief Silverdart closed the door behind her. She pressed her back into it, deactivating her optics and finally let herself feel the sweet, sweet triumph. Oh, how shocked they had all reacted, whispering behind her back about the scandal and pitying her for such a disgrace of a brother. She had fulfilled their expectations well, played the dutiful sibling, apologised for Lightstep's insults, begged for forgiveness.
She had prayed for his execution, but him living in shame and scorn on the mercy of the family was even better! All these long vorns of careful lies and exact planning had finally culminated in the Grand Duke's verdict, and Lord Prowl had indeed not disappointed. Swift and merciless he had doomed Lightstep to a poetic sort of justice.
"My my," said a sophisticated voice suddenly. "This is not the sorrowful face of a caring sister."
She flinched, then her training as a second heir took over and she darted aside. Optics wide, she looked around. This was her own apartment and no one besides her had a right to be here. She discovered the mech sitting in a chair with a high backrest, a cube of energon in one hand, legs crossed as if he was nothing more than a guest.
"Who are you?" she demanded, while discreetly moving closer to her weapons cache. He was no warframe that much was obvious and he carried no blade openly. But sub and weapon space gave a mech endless possibilities.
"A mere messenger, I assure you." There was a certain dark delight dancing in those blood-red optics. "Relax, my dear. I am not here to bring any harm to you or yours."
She reached the weapons cache and pulled out a long rapier. Decades-long training let it rest easily in her hand as she pointed it at the mystery mech. "I am not interested in your message. Leave!"
He smiled sharply. "Then I suppose you have no interest in keeping your involvement in your brother's drug habits secret?"
A cold hand touched her spark, but fear had never held her back. "I do not know what you are speaking off."
"No? It is a rather dreary tale, I admit. One full of drugs and highgrade, and a sister paying the false friends of her brother to lure him deeper and deeper into the worst addictions this planet offers."
He sipped at his energon cube, while she tried to figure out how he could possibly know. She had been careful and so very patient. Only ever offering the drugs over various paths, never pushing the fool into taking them. Lightstep had taken every single drug out of his own free will.
"You can prove nothing," she concluded coldly.
"We have every proof we need as long as your brother is still alive. A few well timed questions and even a processor as hampered as his will come to the right conclusions. Wouldn't you agree?"
She wanted to deny it, but uncertainty caused her to stay silent. Surely she had hidden her traces better than this? Yet, the right questions might throw any incidents into an ominous light, true or not. Even if no one would believe Lightstep, once the accusations had been spoken her standing would be weakened considerably. Which was exactly the reason why she had wished for a more permanent punishment through the Grand Duke, even though the current one had delighted her on a very personal level. Maybe she could help things along...?
Her intruder had observed her every movement, and casually said: "Oh, and before you think about more bloody solutions, surely you are aware that the Grand Duke has your Houses under observation by now. It would be an unwise move and we think you more intelligent than this."
Silverdart gritted her denta. Over the vorns Lord Prowl had proven to be an exceptionally paranoid ruler, though not without cause.
"You are right, stranger. My brother's death would lead to too many questions," she allowed, moving a few steps to the right so she had a direct path to the mech. "But what about your death?"
He chuckled and actually leant back in the chair. "You are certainly welcome to try, no one can fault a second heir for reacting violently, after all. Though as a fair warning, I would consider our negotiations a failure in this scenario and react with equally deadly force."
And I would kill you, whispered his confidence. I would step over your greying corpse without a thought and leave to continue my own business, never thinking of this meeting again.
It angered her. "I am a second heir with a weapon, trained since I could walk, a master in Circuitsu. Do you really think you can so easily kill me?"
"It does not matter what you are, only what you have." He made a handwave to the large windows that reached from floor to ceiling, letting the daylight flood every corner of the room. "Like these lovely windows here. Crystal City imports, if I am not mistaken?"
"What do you mean?"
He emptied his cube and put it on the low table at the side of the armchair, then his red optics focused on her again. "You might have heard that questionable research has given our planet a new warframe class colloquially called gunners. Though I prefer the military term sniper. Fittingly, they transform into weapons instead of vehicles. While this makes them overall slower, it gives them a very specialised advantage – they can kill from afar. You only have to be in their sight."
Her spark became a bit colder. "I suppose you have brought such a warframe with you."
"Naturally. Especially as it was us who conducted said research." He leaned forward, and only now did she notice that his frame had clearly been modified as well. Every hint of his city state of origin had been erased. "Lady Silverdart, my time and patience is growing short. Please, let us come to the important part of our conversation."
Slowly, she lowered her rapier as she went over her options. He had information that could ruin her, and, if he could be believed, a gunner mech on the roof. If she wanted to live, she had to play along. "As you wish. For now you are my guest."
"Excellent." He folded both his hands in his lap. "Our offer is of a simple nature. Your land is at the edge of the state of Praxus and as a second heir, now prime heir, you are the one under whose control the border guards fall. In return for our silence and future help, we only want that you let us pass said border without any of the usual hassle any time we wish to."
She felt herself becoming weak as her thoughts raced. "You want a free pass."
"It is not a high price, all things considered."
It wasn't. Not really. Such free passes had been given and taken away in the past, but only rarely in the last vorns. Not since Lord Prowl had made it clear that he disapproved of such matters. Still, it did carry a small risk... She wished she could have believed that the mech in front of her was the usual smuggler of drugs or even mechs.
"Your organization wants more than just this."
His smile become broader, hungrier. "Oh yes."
"What is it that you want? To rule Praxus?" She forced herself not to raise her weapon again. She might be a traitor to her own brother, but she was not disloyal to her overlord.
"My dear, you are thinking too small. We want Cybertron."
Her optics widened in astonishment. "The Prime...?"
He slowly stood up from the armchair and walked over to her. The movements were so smooth and yet possessed a certain heaviness that she was sure that he had been upgraded with the finest of armors. She took a few careful steps back, maintaining a certain distance.
"We do not acknowledge him as the true guardian of Primus's flame. Though I do not wish to discuss morality and ambition with you as you are not a paragon in either," he said. "Decide now if you want to risk angering us or not."
What choice did she really have? With the sharp feeling she was choosing the wrong thing, she inclined her head. "I accept your proposal. You can cross the border whenever you wish to."
"I knew you would see things our way." He seemed faintly proud of her.
"What am I supposed to call your people?"
"We have many names. Rising Tide will do for now." He cocked his head. "As a personal interest of mine, would you mind answering the one question which answers seems to elude me?"
She eyed him warily. "You can ask, but I promise no answer."
"I would expect no different from you," he answered. "Over the past vorns, my agents have observed your excellent manipulations of Lightstep in detail. What they have never found out was the why. Forgive me for saying this, but while you are intelligent, dangerous and ruthless, you seem to lack a certain uncompromising desire for power."
For a long moment, she wanted to simply take her rapier and push it into his spark. Not because he had said anything wrong, but for the sole reason that his words had forced her to remember. Remember how she'd felt the orn she'd received the news...The orn that her hatred for her brother began. It burned as brightly within her spark now as it did then.
"All my life, I only truly wanted one thing – one mech." Suddenly, it was all back. The memories she had tried so hard to forget, now stormed into her processor with the unrelenting force of a tidal wave. "I will never forget the day I asked Mercury if she wanted to be my oath-sworn, and she smiled." Tears stood in her optics, but she refused to let them fall. "We kept it a secret, because we weren't compatible and Mercury was only the creation of a lawyer... Yet Lightstep found out. He called my decision a waste of potential and wanted me to bond with the heir of House Pilgrim. I refused to."
It felt so good to say it all out loud.
"I take that Lightstep did not accept your refusal?"
She laughed harshly. "Not at all! He fired Mercury's creator under the pretense of some mistake. They were forced to leave our House, and barely a deca-orn later my lovely Mercury was killed in a burglary. A burglary in which nothing was stolen."
"I see." The stranger slowly nodded. She could not tell what he was thinking.
"I will never forgive Lightstep," she swore quietly. "Once I loved him with all my spark. But this, I cannot forgive." She had tried. Primus, she had tried, but her hate was too black and deep. "Please leave now. You have forced me to remember, and I wish to do so alone."
The mech inclined his head with the perfect pose of a noble, even though by now she was sure that he wasn't one. "Forgive me, my lady, it was not my intention to cause you distress." He walked to the door, then stopped and turned around. "Before I forget it, Lady Silverdart, as a gift to you, I have allowed myself to take care of your two... helpers. I hope you do not mind."
She blinked, then shook her head. "No, not at all."
"Very well." He smiled thinly. "Until we have the pleasure to meet again."
The door closed quietly behind him and for a breem she waited for the alarm bells to ring, for a servant to scream, for her bodyguards to storm the room. But all remained quiet and she had to accept that her mysterious visitor had disappeared as inconspicuously as he had come.
With a sigh, she walked over to her window, not finding it in herself to care about the gunner outside when all she could see was the beatific smile of a lithe, silver-green femme.