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The Survivor

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Radishes

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The Survivor

 

The cell was small, cold and bare. The only light came from the small hole in the heavy door through which they shoved barely palatable energon irregularly.

The first time tasting the high-energy war rations and feeling it burning down into his tanks, he had considered starving himself. Instead, he forced himself to drink the energon, knowing that he should be thankful for being fuelled at all. Even if it was with something only a warframe or a specifically upgraded second heir frame could drink without damage.

Greymist curled up around his hurting tank a bit more, staring at the little hole and at the only light in his life.

Truthfully, this cell – this whole setting - was an insult to any noble, who usually could expect to be housed in more comfortable accommodations under close guard. After all, they made good hostages, more often than not one was distantly related or befriended in some way and an upstanding noble just had certain standards. Standards the holy Prime liked to enforce as well.

But then, all this was only applicable if there was someone left to pay your ransom, if honour hadn't already been shredded and forgotten vorns ago. If Sentinel Prime himself hadn't declared you an outcast of the worst kind.

Greymist shuttered his optics. A cell and fuel had already been more than he had expected.

Certainly, he hadn't thought he would stay here for three orns… or were it already four? Five? He didn't know if they simply brought him an energon ration when they had some left or if it was deliberately random so he couldn't tell the time. If their intention was the latter, it certainly worked.

He did not mind too much. But the blank walls and empty cell did nothing to keep his processor from wandering. The past vorns had been a never-ending nightmare; he tried to avoid thinking too much about it.

The blood, the screams, the death. The war.

A civil war that in reality was a war within a single family and had nothing civil about it at all.

As a third heir it had been his duty to remind his family time and again of the moral implications and of the ethical costs their decisions carried. They had just smiled at him as if he was a youngling, naïve and innocent.

In his darkest orns, Greymist had wondered who of them was wrong. Surely, he couldn't be the only one who thought that putting warframes, running hot from battle and near-death, made aggressive by loss and victory, near villages with a helpless, vulnerable civilian population was a bad idea? He had begged his brothers and his creators. Sometimes they had listened. Sometimes they had not.

Just what had his creator thought when he tried to take over? Did he foresee this amount of senseless bloodshed? Oh, who was he fooling, Greymist knew what his carrier, Marquees of Xiphos, field marshal and long-time second heir of the House of Praxus, Vapor, had thought and hoped for.

"It will be swift and nearly painless," he had promised shortly after the funeral of Brazen. "They will not suffer."

His carrier's words held true, the Grand Dukes hadn't suffered.

But poor, little Smokescreen had suffered a bond shock he might never recover from and Prowl… Greymist couldn't help but shudder. They had all underestimated Prowl.

They had thought him a scholar, who was weak and would hesitate even if the assassination failed. Unexperienced and naive. Too young to lead. Too young to rule.

Only Prowl had turned out to be a monster freed from its leash. How had they missed that calculating processor that seemed to predict everything they did? That merciless spark capable of merely watching as someone chokes on deadly poison? That trained second heir who tricked experienced generals into traps they wouldn't leave alive?

The war had stripped away many illusions.

Greymist had believed his creators and brothers when they had claimed that they wanted a better Praxus, a Praxus free of corruption and secure in its borders more than power. It had been a lie. Instead, they all were burning Praxus down together, by fanning the flames of war in the name of power and power alone, doing more damage than the corruption would have ever been able to.

There were heavy steps outside his cell.

His tank rumbled in anticipation of the slag that was his energon ration. Slowly, he stood up and took a step away from his corner, refusing to be seen as weak no matter what. When he realised that there were at least two mechs walking towards him, they were already close. Suddenly, his spark was spinning faster. Was that it? Did they come to lead him towards his execution?

He still remembered his brother's… no. He forced himself not to think about it.

"Greymist?" asked a gruff voice in front of his door. "Step back and turn to the wall. We are coming in."

He did as ordered. What else could he do? As the light flooded his cell, he was glad for a moment that he had turned away. It gave his optics the time to acclimatise. But the relief was immediately followed by sharp embarrassment as he thought of what these mechs were seeing. He was a noble of the ancient House of Praxus, but here he was standing, scared, dirty, defeated. They hadn't even let him use the washracks.

How strange, but he would really prefer to be executed while being half-way presentable.

"Servos behind your back, and no funny business, got it?"

"Yes."

Cool shackles bound his hands, then rough servos on his doorwings turned him around and forced him to stumble outside the cell. It was the small dungeon of the Travux castle they were in, a castle House Crysharp had owned for generations and had offered as a base for the rebellion. He wondered if they had escaped or were dead. He suspected the latter. His cousin was thorough.

Even half-blinded he noticed that nearly all the cells were full. Most with more than one mech, if the painted glyphs on the doors were any indication. Maybe he had received a better treatment after all. Or they had just been afraid of what the other prisoners would do to him.

They followed the stairs upwards, the four guards around him pushing when he was too slow or hesitant. When they reached the ground floor, he strained to hear a crowd that would indicate his impending execution – but all was silent.

His fear of the unknown flared, and only lifelong training in control let him ask with a halfway reasonable voice: "Where are you leading me?"

The warframes glared at him. Greymist wasn't surprised, they were raised defining loyalty as the highest of all virtues. To them he was scum.

"To our prince," snapped the leader finally. "Now be silent."

Greymist nodded. This was no place for pride. But they were bringing him to Prowl? Why? So he could revel in Greymist's debasement? Or maybe Prowl had discovered mercy somewhere along the last war campaign? Unlikely.

Travux castle had never really lost the feeling of being built for war with its high unadorned walls, its tiny windows and large towers. But the last several vorns had turned it from a summer home into an army camp in truth. Greymist had seen it once in the possession of his family; under Prowl the only difference was that wherever he went mechs stared and whispered. Some even made a stabbing movement towards their own spark and grinned. He shuddered and looked down to the floor.

They went up the stairs to the second floor in the tower of the left-wing. The soldiers from the army disappeared and now all the mechs had the prominent sign of the Praxus guard. Yet when they entered a room, it was kept simple to the extreme. A berth, a fireplace, a desk, two chairs. The only thing adding a bit of colour was the blue rug on the floor.

"To the chair," the warframes ordered and proceeded then to chain him onto it. Only when Greymist couldn't move anymore did they step away. At least the chair was more comfortable on his doorwings than anything the cell had offered.

"We will now leave you," growled the leader. "If you hurt our prince in any way, you will beg for death. Got it?"

He gulped. "Yes." Though how someone would be able to hurt Prowl while being chained like this he didn't know.

To his surprise, the warframes really left and he was alone. Hope and fear let the waiting turn into a torture session and soon the chains around his body chafed. At least there was a window here, small as it was, and with longing he saw the blue sky outside. What he wouldn't give to be able to wander free and unworried over fields again.

The door opened and Prowl entered. Greymist had known from the media and the occasional spy report that his cousin had changed, yet it was still a shock to see him now. At Brazen's funeral, Prowl had been a very young mech, barely more than a youngling. This mech was young, yes, but silver littered his frame from old battle wounds and his face had gained a harshness that only experience brought. But what truly set him apart, was the sheer presence he carried, filling the room to the brim with a sense of tense anticipation. This was a mech that expected to be obeyed or he would make you obey. And now, he looked at his cousin with two of the coldest blue optics Greymist had ever seen.

"Welcome," said Prowl and closed the door behind himself. "I would offer energon, but I was told that you were fed."

"I was," confirmed Greymist quietly. "Though it was a bit irregularly."

Prowl shrugged and walked over to the second chair. As he came nearer, Greymist saw that there were especially many healing wounds on the doorwings. He internally winced, knowing full well how sensitive these were. Even those scars had to still sting. Prowl carried them as if they were a natural part of his frame.

After the prince sat down, he stared at Greymist. "We haven't seen each other in a long time," he said. "I had always enjoyed your fairytales as a youngling."

Oh, it hurt to hear these words. "Those times are long past," he said sadly. "I enjoyed those orns a lot more as well."

"I thought so." The prince's expression didn't change. It remained cold and closed-off. "As a third heir, you had less duties than your brothers and so you came over more often. At least that was the explanation I believed. Now I wonder if you were a spy."

Of course he wondered. Greymist shook his head. "No. I came because I wanted to."

"Really?"

"Yes." But his word was clearly not enough of an explanation anymore. So much had changed. He wetted his lips. "As you know, I am significantly younger than my brothers. My creators told me only a few vorns before Brazen's death that something was happening."

The cold blue optics narrowed. "A few vorns?"

He hastily calculated. "Three, they told me three vorns before it…"

"But you never thought to tell my creators," was the harsh verdict. "You just lived on."

Greymist gave him a helpless look. "Yes."

"Why?" Prowl snapped and finally there was anger in these optics. A raging flame that had Greymist nearly cowering. "What did we ever do to you?"

"Nothing!" He slumped in his chair. "Nothing, Prowl, but … I didn't want to see my family die."

"They are now dead anyway."

"Not all of them," he whispered.

Prowl nodded. "Not yet."

Greymist felt sick as the words died in his mouth. His carrier, Vapor, had fallen on the battlefield two vorns ago. Maybe it had been a small mercy of Primus, maybe it had been his age that let even a heavily upgraded second heir frame succumb to the warframes. His sire hadn't taken it well.

‘It is the bond,’ the medics had said. ‘He doesn't want to live anymore.’

They were right. His sire lost colour, smiled less and less, and showed no interest in most things anymore. The three heirs had decided that Greymist should take their sire with him. After all, he was the third heir, devoted to Primus, and the least useful general. It was logical.

Yet, it had hurt to watch.

But not as much as it had hurt to discover that his eldest brother, Cumulus, had been captured and was being publicly executed – live on screen. For everyone to watch. Even now, just remembering made him feel sick. He couldn't say that he had been surprised to discover his sire dead two decaorns later.

"What about…" He stopped, wondering if he was really daring enough to ask this. But yes, he had to know. "What about Cumulus's bondmate, Bluejet, and their creation?" They had been captured, and that had been the last he heard.

Prowl's optics became, if possible, colder. "Bond shock."

Of course. Greymist shuttered his optics, trying to control the grief in his spark. So it was just him and Stratus anymore. Stratus, who had sworn to avenge their prime heir and creators. But… Greymist just felt tired. And looking at Prowl, he wondered if Stratus really thought that he would succeed.

"I didn't want them to die," he confessed nearly brokenly.

For a long moment, Prowl was silent. "I didn't want my family to die as well," he finally said. For a moment Greymist saw the old, gentle Prowl there. "Yet, at the moment I am the last."

For a surreal moment, it was as if he had looked into a mirror. His own cousin. How could they have done this to each other? "Smokescreen…?"

Pain flashed through the blue optics. "It is still unsure if he will ever wake up. But let us talk about you and your family. Because I admit that I didn't expect you to surrender."

Greymist looked away. His family would have blamed him for this, he knew, but… "I see no reason to fight on anymore. You are winning more battles and are the rightful heir. Obviously Primus has chosen you."

"Spoken like a true third heir, Primus's gift, and the spark of any House." Prowl gave him a cold smile. "And that is all of your reasoning?"

"No. I also had over two thousand mechs under my command. I didn't want them to die for something so…" Worthless. But that word was too much to admit to the face of Prowl. "Chanceless."

"And so you surrendered, leaving your brother Stratus alone to fight the battles."

Greymist flinched. It was true. "Yes."

"Stratus was captured yesterday. His execution will be tomorrow."

He wanted to cry. So it was truly over. His spark felt as if it was being ripped apart slowly, piece by piece. "I see." He hung his head, desperately trying to keep the tears in.

Prowl gave him a long look. "No questions about your own fate?"

"No." What need was there?

"Very well." Prowl rose and walked to the door. "Captain, escort him back into the dungeon."

"Yes, my prince."

Greymist didn't care when they took his arms, when they carried him into the dungeons, when they threw him into the cell. All he could think of was that his family was truly dead.

~

He received visitors the next orn. Warframes, with grim faces and heavy chains. Greymist gave the chains a single glance and felt his hands tremble.

"The execution?" he asked.

The warframes only nodded and secured him. Then he was led out of the castle, to the square in front of it. In peace time, it had been surrounded by lush gardens, now they served as a camping ground. There were warframes everywhere, crowding around a podium in the middle of the square on which, oh Primus save his spark, Stratus knelt.

He fully expected to end up next to his brother on the podium as well, but instead he was led down a path to the side. There stood Prowl in a large black cape, with his arms crossed, optics never leaving Stratus.

"My prince," the warframes bowed.

"Thank you." Prowl glanced for a moment at Greymist. "I want you to watch."

Protests would be useless. Greymist only nodded.

"Afterwards," Prowl continued, "you will have a choice. You can either share Stratus's fate, or you reject your family, its goals and its heritage. You would swear that neither you nor your heirs will ever claim anything belonging to the House of Praxus again. And then, and only then, you can ask for mercy on your knees."

Greymist stared as a completely new fear gripped his spark. "I would be houseless…"

"Yes."

Houseless. Rejected. A noble with nothing to his name, with no title, land and money. With no protection. He had heard of their fates in whispers, but had never thought that it would happen to him. Many ended on the streets or worse, in pleasure houses where the common mech paid for the delight to interface with a noble. It was a cruel choice.

Greymist turned away from his cousin and looked over to his brother. Stratus looked down, had his brother even seen him? His face was so composed, but his doorwings looked stiff. He was afraid, Greymist knew. Who wouldn't be?

He wished he could say one more thing to his brother. One last goodbye and hug. Such little things, and yet they were now his greatest regrets. The chains around his arms and ankles weighed heavily as they kept him put.

When the drums started, Stratus looked up. Looked over to Prowl for a short moment and saw Greymist. His optics widened and then darkened with sorrow. Greymist's spark clenched. His brother believed he would die next.

Stratus looked away again, towards the approaching executioners. So, Prowl still acknowledged them as kin enough to not want to kill them through his own hand, else it would bring Unicron's attention down on all participants.

It was done swiftly, with a certain dramatic flair but no needless cruelty. Yet, when Stratus's grey corpse fell on the podium, it felt like an eternity. He was dead. Oh, his brother dead. A strangled sob escaped his vocaliser.

Next to him, Prowl's doorwings flicked up and down. It was the first time Greymist saw some reaction to the execution. Strangely, it helped to compose himself enough to not just break down right now. He didn't have that luxury, the choice still hung over his head.

He expected Prowl to turn around any moment. To demand his answer, but instead they simply watched on as Stratus's empty sparkcase was hidden from view, his body covered by a white blanket and then carried away.

Only when Stratus's corpse had disappeared did Greymist notice that he had been trembling so strongly that the chains were softly jingling.

"Greymist," said Prowl softly, "it is your turn."

He gulped. He was so very afraid. Of life, of death, of being alone. Was that how Prowl had felt? Oh Primus. He shuttered his optics, and fell back to his training to calm himself.

"And if I stand alone in darkness, Primus is with me. For he is my well and my strength, and nothing shall touch me," he muttered.

It calmed his racing thoughts enough to grasp a very dark truth. Death was the end. But a life, even a life in dishonour and poverty, was a chance. And if that chance didn't work out… well, death was still waiting. Suicide was not something any honourable noble would ever commit, but Primus knew after this he wouldn't be a noble in anything but frame.

"I…," he began, "I will swear it."

He wanted to cry. They were all dead, his family, his loved ones, and he would reject and betray everything they stood for. Just to save himself.

What kind of monster was he? For a moment, he wanted to cry out that he would choose death. That he wanted the same fate as his family. But it would be a lie. He wanted to live.

Prowl merely nodded. "I trust that you were taught the necessary vows?"

"Yes." The word felt ashen on his tongue. His sire had taught them to him, so long ago; and during the civil war he had even seen them done once before. But never had he believed that he himself would speak them. "I remember them."

"Good." Prowl walked forward, to the podium. Every inch of him screamed warlord, second heir and ruler.

Greymist felt a warframe push him forward, and slowly he obeyed. He must have made a pitiful picture in comparison. Yet, what could he do? He was a third heir. Trained to be an advisor to his brothers, to know about sparks, religion and ethics. He knew right from wrong, but nothing about ruling and power.

As he followed Prowl to the podium, he wondered if that was why he had never really been enthusiastic about his carrier's plan. Yes, the Grand Dukes were incompetent. Yes, it would have been good for Praxus. Yes, he was loyal to his family. But all these didn't cover the wrongs committed. The oaths and trust broken.

Primus had truly abandoned his family.

He climbed the three steps of the podium, standing in front of his cousin Prowl. It would be the last time he could call the other family. But, he suddenly knew, he hadn't deserved to call him cousin in a long time.

It was this, more than anything else, that made him kneel. Prowl said nothing. Greymist realised that it was up to him. Slowly, he began to speak:

"Second heir of the House Praxus, acting Grand Duke of Praxus, in shame I stand before you, dishonoured and undeserving. I have tarnished my honour, broken my vows and walked away from my duties. I am no longer deserving to be what I am."

He could have started directly with the traditional words. But maybe these words needed to be spoken.

"Primus may be my witness, on his mercy and metal I swear:

"I walk free from my House, the House of Praxus. I shall hold no position in it, claim no titles and be heir to no one. No protection shall be provided to me, and no duty shall fall on my shoulders. I will be as the next mech and all that is to me shall be Greymist – and nothing else."

He gulped, but it wasn't yet over. Prowl had made clear that he wanted even his non-existent creations houseless.

"I have no creators and no siblings. I have no line and no heritage. No land nor House shall know my name and my creations will be as I - free to wander, never to return."

It was done. He shuttered his optics, suddenly just exhausted and sad. It was done and he was houseless, the last survivor of the traitors. Reviled and probably hated by an entire planet.

"Greymist, I accept your oath."

He looked up, straight into the cool optics of Prowl. Was he just imagining it… or was there some relief?

"Rise," Prowl ordered and he did. "Lead him away."

The heavy hands of the warframes fell on his shoulders and Greymist found himself walking back through the castle, through the quiet, so quiet crowd. Had they enjoyed his humiliation? Or did they just feel pity? He didn't know. He couldn't find enough energy to look up into their faces.

When he entered his own black cell, he was nearly relieved. The heavy door fell shut behind him, and all he could do was to stumble against the wall, slide down and curl up, making himself as small as possible.

"Forgive me… brothers, sire, carrier… forgive me…"

Then he softly began to cry.

~

What followed were orns of mourning and of fear. What was now to become of him? What would Prowl do? Again and again, the warframes came and pulled prisoners from the cells. Once, he recognised the voice. It had been an advisor of his sire. He didn't return, just as most others didn't. Had they all been executed? Would Prowl be that blood-thirsty?

Ah, who was he fooling? The old Grand Dukes wouldn't have done it, Brazen would have stepped away from it in horror, but Prowl? Prowl would look at them with those cold optics and send them to the scaffold.

Prowl was too young to rule, Grey knew that. Just because he won the war and would rule well, did not mean it hadn't cost his cou- Prowl dearly. The paranoia, fear, the pressure of acting without a field marshal, without a trusted secretary of state, without family support and advisors, must be tremendous.

Vapor hadn't thought it possible that one mech could stand up to it. Much less a mech that hadn't even seen 250 vorns yet. Prowl did it anyway, to the astonishment and fear of all.

Greymist had studied psychology for a long time, it had been the subject he enjoyed most. At 200 vorns, one was an adult by law and usually not dependent on the creators bonds anymore, but in mind and spark one had still growing to do.

What became of mechs that did this growing alone, surrounded by blood, mistrust and death?

Steps on the staircase caused him to sit up. Would they this time…? Yes. They stopped in front of his door, and Greymist stood up slowly. Partly in fear, but partly in relief that his time of not knowing was, so Primus will, over.

The door was opened and there were the warframes with the now familiar chains. "Greymist, please turn around."

He did, and felt the cool chains around his wrists. He waited for a moment longer for them to add the chains to his ankles, but they never did. Instead they forced him around and out of the door. Was this a good sign? Or had they just realised that he never would stand a chance against even a half-trained warframe?

They led him through the same corridors as before, but the mechs that saw them didn't stop. Yes, they glared at Greymist, but there were no insults or clear death-wishes. They followed the same path as last time, and he found himself again in Prowl's private rooms. This time, the acting Grand Duke was already there, working at the desk which held a fearsome amount of paperwork.

"Sit down, Greymist," Prowl ordered without looking up. "Captain, please remain."

Greymist sat down on the only free chair in the room. The room hadn't lost its starkness and simplicity. So it hadn't been just a matter of logistics, but a choice. Stratus's room had also always held less than his own, and now that he thought of it, his sire was also fond of clean, free areas. Maybe it was a second heir thing. Greymist had always enjoyed books and novels more.

Prowl left them waiting, but no one dared to speak up. It was a demonstration of power. Greymist could still remember the times when he would have been able to simply walk up to Prowl, to hug him and tell him about the newest plays and stories. Now… now it seemed like a far off dream. Last time they had seen each other, they had still been family despite all the pain and horror between them. Now, even that was gone.

Finally, the black and white noble put his stylus down and turned towards Greymist. He looked Greymist's frame over. "You haven't seen the washracks, I suppose?"

Greymist flinched. "No," he paused for a moment, and then added, "My lord."

Prowl nodded and looked towards the warframe that still stood behind Greymist like a looming shadow. "Captain, make sure that he will and bring him back when you have finished."

"Yes, my prince."

A powerful hand pulled Greymist out of the chair and away from the room without further words. Greymist wanted to hide in shame. Was he really that dirty, that Prowl couldn't stand his presence anymore? Primus… he looked down on himself and winced. How had he missed all the scratches and dirt and – was this rust?!

For a moment he thought the Captain would show him to a real bathroom, but that would have been too much luxury wasted on the likes of him. He was led down the stairs, along the corridors and out of the Travux castle to the barracks. There, in a corner, were true washracks, those he had seen but never used so far. They were for soldiers and commoners, not for nobility. Another step down the ladder, he should grow used to it.

At the entrance, under the badly painted sign proclaiming 'washrack', they stopped.

"Be thorough and fast," the Captain rumbled, loosened the chains and pushed a small piece of soap into his hand.

"Y-yes."

Gathering his courage, Greymist entered the washracks and froze at the door. Warframes were everywhere, cleaning themselves, laughing, joking, and two in the corner even… he looked away. At the same moment, the warframes had discovered him and were falling quiet, until there was only the noise from the running water.

"Isn't that…?" whispered one.

"Greymist, yeah," confirmed another.

For an astrosecond, he dared to look up, but they all stared at him and not a single optic was friendly. Trembling, he hurried to the next empty stall, only to realise there were no barriers. How could these warframes live without them? Yes, Stratus had mentioned different cultural values, but still – he didn't want to clean himself in front of all of these brutes! It was supposed to be a private act, of calm and care. Ideally done with your bondmate…

He had no choice. If he just walked out again, surely the Captain would clean him personally or worse. And this brought new tears to his optics as he started mechanically to clean his arms.

"Well, up close, he really isn't ugly."

Greymist flinched. And suddenly the lack of barriers wasn't just a problem of shame, but a lot more dangerous. Surely, they could see the chains? Surely, Prowl wouldn't let his own soldiers… his own cousin?

Primus, help me, he thought. Don't let them… Trembling, he started cleaning faster.

Around him, the warfames were talking, quietly and fast and he tried to listen in.

"Our Prince…"

"Denounced his own family."

"Honourless…"

"I like his aft. Small and round! "

"No armour to speak of… easy to defeat."

Greymist was glad that the falling water hid his sob. But no matter what he did, he couldn't stop listening to them. And what they said was becoming crueller quickly:

"I would like to try out his little spike."

"Do you think Prowl will sell him? I would love to be first customer."

"Ha, look at that aft, all the paint there has already vanished, you think someone was faster?"

When had his shoulder hit the wall? It was all just too much, he couldn't – wouldn't –

"Greymist?" asked a gruff voice. When he didn't react immediately, a hand grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the wall.

Startled, Greymist looked up and saw the Captain in front of him. Around him, the warframes had fallen silent. Even better, the Captain was standing between them and him, and that calmed him more than anything else. The Captain was safe, he knew. That mech could have done anything to him since he had been first thrown into that horrible cell, but he had never been unprofessional.

The Captain looked him over critically. "You should have said that the soap is not compatible with your nanites."

Greymist followed his optics. Indeed, what was left of his former shiny, highly expensive, paint was now duller and barely reminded him of his former standing anymore. He let out a strangled laugh as he realised that this was actually the least of his problems and certainly not something he would have thought complaining about.

The Captain gave him a curious look, but said nothing. "You are acceptably clean. Come."

Greymist followed him, glad to be away from the jeering warframes. The way back he kept closer to the good Captain than strictly necessary. The warframe must have noticed it, but said nothing and for this he was entirely grateful. Never before had he realised so clearly that he was surrounded by enemies and couldn't expect mercy.

When they entered Prowl's room, the mech was working at the desk again. He said nothing and Greymist didn't know what to do. Surely, sitting on the chair without permission was the wrong thing, as it was only permitted to… family and close friends. He was neither anymore.

The Captain solved that, and pushed him to his knees next to the chair. Like a commoner! But Greymist said nothing, what could he have said, after all? The blue rug beneath him was thin, and slightly cold. He tried to relax and not think about what was to come. That these might be his last moments in Praxus or not alone and hungry on the streets.

"You can sit on the chair, Greymist," Prowl said suddenly. Greymist flinched in surprise, but rose and sat down. Prowl moved his chair until he was sitting across from Greymist. "You look better."

Maybe. But he felt worse. "Thank you," he said anyway.

Prowl nodded. "Do you have any friends you can go to?"

"No." His friends wouldn't accept him anymore, a houseless, reviled mech, abandoned by Prime and Primus.

"Lover?"

Greymist shook his head. "I had only two compatibility tests with two mechs. Both weren't good." It had ended the romances fast and abruptly. It had hurt both times.

"I see." Prowl leant back in his chair. "I have had thoughts of what to do with you. Truthfully, it would be the easiest to banish you from Praxus. Free to wander."

And never to return. Greymist gulped. Outside of Praxus they wouldn't know his face, maybe. But he also would be entirely alone. His optics dropped to the rug. "I see."

"But then, I have a second problem," continued Prowl and rose from his chair. "Follow me."

Greymist did, always careful to remain two steps behind Prowl. He didn't know much about warframes, but he thought that it would probably be a bad idea to come too close to their prince's back, even chained as his hands were. And to walk next to Prowl, the acting Grand Duke, was not his right anymore.

They walked down the staircase, a few corridors, where everyone bowed to Prowl, and passed two guards before following up a staircase. They were in another tower, Greymist realised, when they passed yet another pair of guards, and shortly after a third set. Only then did they reach a heavy, locked door.

Prowl turned a bit around. "Captain?"

The warframe nodded, and pulled a key out of subspace. It was a sophisticated one, not easily replicated. Within seconds, the door opened and they stepped into a light room. The room was round and on top of the tower; several windows let in light but all of them were also barred. There were thick, colourful carpets on the floor, scattered toys on it. To the right was a long table with chairs, to the left a berth on which a mech holding a book was sitting. Next to the mech a youngling was sleeping.

"Greymist!" the prisoner exclaimed in surprise.

Greymist had frozen. "Bluejet!" He couldn't believe it. Cumulus's bondmate was alive? Then his optics wandered to the small sleeping form next to his brother-in-spark. "Oh, Bluestreak, he is…?"

Bluejet put the book aside, and stood up. With a short glance to Prowl, he walked past him, and gave Greymist a hug. "It is good to see you. You look… not quite well, but better than I've feared."

Greymist hugged back as well has he could with the chains on and gave Bluejet a look over. The white and light blue mech was paler than usual and looked exhausted. Most worrying, though, was that his optics held a certain brokenness he had only seen in his sire so far.

"It is good to see you as well," he replied. "I only heard that you have suffered bondshock."

Bluejet became stiff in his arms, and stepped back, looking an inch away from hugging himself. "I have," he simply said.

Greymist's spark was heavy, especially as he looked towards Bluestreak. He was only a bit older than Smokescreen…

"As executions are usually known beforehand, the medics provided Bluestreak with a bond blocker," Prowl said quietly next to him. "He felt abandoned a bit, but no pain. I am not cruel."

Cruel, like you. The unsaid words hang in the room.

"You still executed my bondmate," hissed Bluejet, optics blazing. "And Stratus!"

"Yes." Prowl gave Bluejet an icy glance. "And I would have executed you, if it wouldn't have killed Bluestreak."

Bluejet sneered. "Still too weak to follow your goals until their bitter end!"

Greymist had the sudden desire to step away from these two mechs. Their hate for each other was palpable. Bluejet would never forgive Prowl for executing Cumulus; and Prowl, well, he would never forgive them. Greymist, though, felt just tired.

Ignoring them, he walked towards the only true innocent in the room, who was just now awaking from his recharge. "Hello, Bluestreak," he said smiling.

Bluestreak blinked, then recognised him. His whole face lit up. "Uncle!"

A moment later, Greymist had his arms full of a happy youngling, and he found himself smiling. "Have you grown while I was away?"

"Only a little," Bluestreak answered, and looked past his shoulder towards Prowl and his sire. "Are they arguing again?"

"Yes," Greymist answered with a heavy spark. "I do not think they will ever agree anymore."

"Oh." Bluestreak hid his face in Greymist's shoulder.

The former third heir wondered what the little one really knew. Cumulus and Bluejet had tried to keep the war away from him, but no youngling wouldn't notice that they were imprisoned or that their uncle wore chains. The war had raged for a long while as well, did he remember Prowl before all this happened?

Greymist turned around to Prowl and Bluejet who had fallen silent. "What now?" he asked.

Prowl sighed. With a flick of his doorwings towards Bluejet that was clearly an insult, he walked over to the table and put a datapad on it. "I will make all of you a single offer. You can accept it or reject it, I do not care. But this is all the mercy I am capable of giving." He especially looked at Bluejet. "Do not ask for more."

Bluejet opened his mouth, but Greymist hurried to say, "Understood."

With Bluestreak in arms, he sat down across from Prowl and only realised a moment later that maybe he shouldn't have done it. Just because Bluestreak and Bluejet were alive, he wasn't family. Prowl, though, only gave him a look and said nothing.

Bluejet remained standing, too proud to sit at the same table as the murderer of his beloved Cumulus.

"The medics have said that Bluejet will have another 40 vorns to live. Bluestreak is currently 72 vorns old. The second separation will hurt, but with medical support he will survive it."

Bluestreak stiffened in Greymist's arms. Had he known that his carrier was dying? Greymist could only hope so, or this was quite a cruel way to tell the little one.

"Bluejet has refused to release any claims from the House of Praxus," Prowl continued. "And by Prime's law, Bluestreak is too young to do so. As such, Bluestreak is currently the first and prime heir to everything Vapor was. And second heir to Praxus."

Greymist's optics widened as he realised the implications. The very existence of Bluestreak was a political time bomb. He was the heir of the rebellion and all Vapor stood for. And if Smokescreen didn't survive, he would be even the prime heir of Praxus. Worse, with Bluejet's hate towards Prowl, the little one would be poisoned beyond hope very soon…

"My offer is this: Greymist, who has denounced his House, will raise Bluestreak. Once a vorn Bluestreak can see Bluejet, but no more often. When Bluestreak reaches 200 vorns, he will denounce the House of Praxus as well or be executed." Prowl's voice was hard. "If he chooses to try to instigate another rebellion, I will hold you, Greymist, responsible."

Greymist's hands tightened around the youngling when Bluejet gave him a look full of hate and madness. His spark burned in shame, still he managed to say, "I have no money, my lord. To raise a youngling…"

"I will provide a pension. And if you prove trustworthy, I will not be against… giving the both of you more."

That… was incredible. Not only was his immediate survival no longer in question, but he could hope for being a respectable mech again – one day. Or at least, Bluestreak might become one. "Thank you."

Prowl looked towards Bluejet. "You, though, will remain here."

"Of course," Bluejet spat.

"Be thankful I have more morals about younglings than you had," said Prowl. "You have two joors to think about the deal, Greymist and to accept it. Bluejet, you have the same time to say goodbye." Then, he hesitated, and leaned forward to touch Bluestreak's little doorwing, "Don't be said, little one. Everything will be okay."

Bluestreak shuddered, and Greymist found himself wishing that he could believe Prowl's words. But he had to be strong for Bluestreak, no matter what. "He is right," he found himself saying. "You will be able to go out again, to learn, to find friends…"

"Sire?" Bluestreak asked.

Greymist looked helplessly up, just in time to see how Prowl left the room near silently. The door fell shut behind him. "Your sire," he said, and gulped, "your sire has to remain here."

Bluejet shuttered his optics and turned away. The doorwings trembled, the shoulders shook, and he knew that Bluejet was crying.

Little Bluestreak looked from his sire to Greymist. "Just like carrier?"

"Yes," Greymist's voice broke. "Just like him. And your grandcreators and everyone else."

Bluestreak looked sparkbroken. "Why can you and I leave?"

Because I am honourless, Greymist thought, and you are innocent. But he couldn't say it. He couldn't.

To his surprise, it was Bluejet who said from the other side of the tower room, "Because you are the youngest."

Greymist opened his mouth, then closed it again. It was true. Of their family, Bluestreak and Greymist were they youngest, even if nearly 390 vorns were between them.

"Oh," said Bluestreak. "I don't want to…"

"Neither do I. But it's not our choice anymore." Greymist went over to the berth, and sat down. "Let's cuddle, yes?"

Bluejet gave him a tight smile. "Good idea." And joined them, to Greymist's surprise. Bluejet had always been proper and elegant. It said much that he now felt that he needed this comfort. These hadn't been good vorns to them.

As they laid there, Greymist hoped that Bluejet would forgive him for abandoning his House, his family and his heritage. Bluejet said nothing.

~

Two joors later, Greymist left Travux castle with Bluestreak in arm and under heavy guard. He looked back towards the towers, knowing that at least two mechs were watching them.

"Uncle?" said Bluestreak uncertainly.

He turned away. "I am here," he said, and kissed the youngling on the helmet. "I will stay with you."

Bluestreak nodded, and cuddled closer. And for the first time, in far, far too long, Greymist felt a strange, light sensation – hope.