[TF] Trial By Fire 01

Was there anything worse than sand in your gears? In your joints? In your seams?

Rodimus swore that he grated as he walked. That he could hear his joints grinding and his hydraulics seizing, no matter how tightly he clamped his armor. Not even the cheap, tattered tarp that Springer had given him ages ago was enough to block it out.

Ow. His ankle joints. Grind, grind, grind. They’d be ground to dust at his rate. Why had he plunged out here again? Why hadn’t anyone warned him about the oncoming dust storm? Oh, sure, it was better than an acid storm but only just.

Sand or acid. Both were murder on the paint.

Not that getting lost was any better. He thought he knew where he was going. But he’d lost his bearings in the storm, and his GPS was going haywire with all the electrical interference. It kept saying he was south of Protihex, and Rodimus knew that was wrong. Protihex was on the other side of the planet!

He should have never come out here. He should have never let the others goad him into this. He should have never listened to their taunts. He shouldn’t have let his own insecurities blind him. He shouldn’t have…

It was all Silverspire’s fault anyway.

Rodimus sighed and wrapped his tarp tighter around his frame, even as the wind tugged back at it, trying to yank it away. Sand battered at his exposed armor, in a harsh raspy noise.

How had it come to this?

He’d been overcharged, or halfway there anyway. It had been a long day of training, of failure, sitting around a small bonfire with his agemates and fellow Firebrands. They’d been laughing, teasing one another, it was meant to be playful, Rodimus supposed.

Talk turned to the upcoming graduation ceremonies, the badge offering and acceptance. Everyone knew Springer was a shoo-in for Lord Megatron’s warriors. Rodimus, sitting there, stewed in his own disappointment.

He’d failed another practical that morning. There was no way they’d offer him a place in the warriors this season.

Or ever, Silverspire had laughed.

He should just give up, Torque had said.

Anger swept in. Anger and embarrassment both, and with them came the stupidity. The boasts he could never hope to back up.

“Oh yeah?” Silverspire had challenged and smirked, his hulking frame bristling with a menace Rodimus could never hope to duplicate. “Prove it.”

“I will!” Rodimus had said, in overcharged confidence. Then the idea came to him. A single, stupid idea. “I’ll… I’ll defeat the Deathbringer!”

Silence. A stupefied silence. For a single, blissful moment, Rodimus had thought it one of awe. That they were impressed with his bravery. Until the laughter started, loud and mocking.

“How? By seducing him?” Silverspire said, with the sort of frame-shaking, outright laughter that made his optics spark and vents wheeze. “Because that’s the only thing you’ve got going for you.”

“If that’s what it takes,” Rodimus had snarled, full of righteous indignation, even as Springer tugged on his arm and tried to get him to sit. Tried to make shushing noises and laugh it off.

Rodimus had shaken off his hold. He’d been trembling from anger, from embarrassment. “I’ll do it,” he’d declared in front of all of them. “I’ll show you. I’ll show Lord Megatron. I’ll prove that I’m a warrior because I’ll do what no one else can. I’ll fight the Warlock and then none of you can say anything!”

His determination might as well have been a joke. They’d chuckled and waved him off. Clockwork told him to sit down, that he was making a fool of himself.

“Sure,” Silverspire had said, like the overconfident slagger that he was. “Fight the Deathbringer. Seduce him or whatever. If you survive that, maybe you do actually have what it takes.”

“I do,” Rodimus had said, anger hot like fire in his lines, and shame the worst of it, curdling the high grade in his tanks and his processor spinning and spinning.

“You’ll see,” he’d muttered as they turned the conversation to something else, namely Torque’s ongoing courtship with Dreadnought.

“You’ll see,” Rodimus murmured, back in the here and now, and his engine growled. He’d set out that morning, with the determination of the foolish, not even telling Springer where he’d gone. He’d left without permission from anyone, because he’d known Kup or Sunstreaker would try and stop him.

He had to do this, he’d told himself. He had to prove he was worth something, that he’d earned the warrior’s badge.

And now he was lost. Lost and probably going to die in one of the worst sandstorms he’d ever seen ripping through the Barrens.

This was the stupidest idea he’d ever had. And he’d had some doozies.

Rodimus sighed and peered through the haze, his drop-down lens protectors keeping his optics safe, but obscuring his vision. He swore there was a large, dark shadow in front of him. Like a mountain? Shelter?

Rodimus’ spark whirled with excitement. His spoiler twitched. His sensors pinged back a solid mass. Perhaps a cave even! So long as there weren’t any duryllibears, he was set!

He would duck inside and hole up for the night. Start out again when the storm passed. Give up this stupid idea entirely and go back home. Sure the others would mock him, and he’d lost the available badge to Hot Spot, but it was better than dying. Right?

Rodimus’ gritted his denta. His tank gurgled at him. His joints screeched agony.

He’d decide in the morning. If he survived until then.

The dark mass loomed in front of him. A small break in the storm gave him a clear view of the gaping opening, stalactites dripping from ceiling and making it look as though the cave had a mouth filled with fangs.

Well, that wasn’t at all disconcerting.

Rodimus pressed forward. He really didn’t have any other choice. His sensors swept the open space ahead of him, but he didn’t trust their feedback. Error messages cropped up every other second, and static glitched across his visual feed.

He plunged into the dim shadows of the cave and gasped as the suffocating press of the sandstorm abruptly vanished. The sheer noise of it dampened, and his audials rang in the quiet. Rodimus shook his head and disengaged his lens covers, letting them slide up and out of the way. His optics cast a pale glow in the dim.

He slung the tarp back, letting it drape from his shoulders as dust rained down from the numerous folds, and activated his chassis-mounted forelights. They, too, barely offered a glow. He swore it felt like the darkness had fingers.


Rodimus shivered and continued, alert for any sound or noise. There didn’t seem to be anything present, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t. He cringed as he heard his joints rattle and scrape. Maybe he’d get lucky and he’d would find an oilspring in here.

The roar of the storm grew more distant the further into the tunnel he wandered. The dark became even more enclosing. His forelights swept back and forth, but there was nothing of interest on the floor, save for a few rusted remnants of something that Rodimus did not intend to investigate closely.

Turborats, he told himself. Or petrorabbits. Something small, meek, and largely harmless.

He came to a fork in the road. Well, three forks to be precise, each of the tunnels looking as ominous as the other. They were all dark and narrow. The one on the left had a minor air flow, but it stank of rot and rust. The air coming out of the right was stale, but he swore he heard something skittering down that way. The path straight ahead seemed to slope downward.

None of it was appealing.

Rodimus chewed on his bottom lip. His only other option was to turn back and plunge into the sandstorm once again.

His forelights swept from one foreboding tunnel to another. Turbowolves and duryllibears didn’t skitter, right? Glitchmice did. To the right it was.

Hoping he wasn’t making the wrong choice, Rodimus preemptively drew his crossbow and started down the right path. He could handle glitchmice. He could even handle ironspiders. A small turbofox perhaps.

Rodimus worked his intake and continued forward. He’d give it a few hundred yards and if he didn’t find anything of use, he’d turn back. He’d camp out just within the cave opening and wait for the storm to pass.

The silence enclosed him. It was eerie, to only hear the noise of his own frame, the whoosh of his vents, and the creak of his gears and the hissing of his pistons and the itching scrape of the sand in his seams. Primus, what he wouldn’t give for a nice, hot oil spring right now. Or even a dip in the Sea of Mercury, so cool and refreshing. Not that he’d ever been. It was on his dream list of places to go.

He doubted he ever would. It took a special kind of warrior to get to travel to those shores. His clan would have to skirt Predaking’s land, and cross boldly into Elita’s, and only the bravest and most skilled of warriors were allowed that treacherous journey.

The risks, oh but the risks, were worth it.

Kup used to tell Rodimus about how smooth the sea was, how it got into your seams and your cables and oiled you better than even an oil bath. How you felt like a new mech afterward.

Rodimus asked if him if that was why he never creaked despite being so old. Kup had cuffed him across the head, laughed and called him cheeky, and winked. Rodimus hadn’t failed to notice he never answered the question.

Still. Sea of Never-Aging or whatever, Rodimus wanted to see it. Second-hand from decaying vidcaptures wasn’t enough. He wanted to see everything.

He had to be a warrior first. He had to get through the initiation, prove himself, so he could graduate beyond Firebrand status and accept his badge.

Rodimus paused as he came to another fork in the tunnels. Unease settled into his spark. Here the airflow was still, without a whiff of freshness. Rather than go deeper and get lost, maybe he should just go back? For all he knew, these caves were a maze and he could get lost forever. Without functioning GPS, no one would even be able to find his locator beacon, for they ran on the same frequencies.

Definitely best to turn back before he got himself impossibly lost.

Venting, Rodimus spun on a heelstrut and turned back the way he came, though his backstrut shivered at the idea of turning his back on the unknown. At least he knew the way back was relatively safe. Anything could have lurked in the shadows of those two tunnels.

Something scuffed in the dark.

Rodimus froze. Had that been his own footstep?

He dialed up the gain on his audials. He held his bow at the ready, energon humming in a dim blue glow that lit up the tunnel a bit further than his headlights. His spark pounded in his chassis as he searched the dark.

He lowered his optical lenses and switched to a different band.


A heated shape approached him. No, scratch that. Three heated shapes. Large, easily up to his hip if not more, and four-legged.

Turbowolves. And here he thought Primus loved him.

Rodimus swallowed thickly. He backed away slowly, his hands shaking around his bowgrip. One turbowolf he could handle with ease. Two was a struggle, one that might leave him injured by the end, but he could survive if he managed to keep them both in his sights.


Three was a nightmare. And three were stalking him.

He’d better make this shot count.

Rodimus continued to back away, though he raised his energon bow. He couldn’t see them, not with his optics alone, but he could make out the blobs that were their frames. If he could just take out one…

He aimed carefully. He sucked in a deep ventilation. The energon bow buzzed with anticipation.

He would have to be ready to run.

Primus, watch over me.

He doubted their deity was listening. But it never hurt to try.

Here goes nothing.

Rodimus stalled, confirmed his target and released. He didn’t wait around to see if it hit the mark. He immediately spun on a heelstrut and took off running down the tunnels, praying again that there was an exit or something ahead of him. These close quarters benefited the turbowolves alone.

Behind him, he heard a yelp and several growls. Good. He’d hit something. He didn’t know if he’d taken it down completely or wounded it. Either way, it was a point in his favor.

He wished he could transform. But in these narrow, twisting tunnels, it would be even more dangerous. He would have to rely on his own speed.

The fork came up again. Rodimus didn’t think; he reacted. He veered off to the left, forelights sweeping ahead of him, revealing more of the same tunnels, until he tumbled through a thick ironspider web.

Gross. He spat out webbing. Behind him, he heard the snarls of the turbowolves giving chase, their clawed feet scrabbling across the rocky ground.

He readied his energon bow again. He’d have to make this fast. Rodimus braced himself, sent up another quick prayer, and then skidded to a stop, spinning at the same time. He swung his bow around as he did so, aimed quickly and released, before sprinting back into the darkness.

He heard another whine. Maybe he’d gotten lucky. Maybe he’d wounded one. He counted footsteps. The quick glance had been a blur, but he thought he’d counted two, and only two. Hopefully, he had felled the first one.

The energon bow was useless in close quarters. He had a knife tucked into his right thigh panel. It was a last resort.

Frag, but he should have been more prepared.

Rodimus’ ventilations heaved. His spark throbbed. The turbowolves were getting closer.

So was that wall.

“What the frag!” Rodimus cursed as he skidded to a stop, barely crashing into what was quite surely a dead end. He had nowhere else to run.

Rodimus whirled around to face his doom, trembling hands grasping his energon bow, optical lenses dropping back down over his optics just in time for him to see the two bodies lunging toward him. One of them dripped energon.

Rodimus yelped and fired. The arrow soared into the darkness, cutting through the remnants of an ironspider web and setting it ablaze. By sheer luck, it slammed into a turbowolf, sending the beast crashing to the ground.

There was no time to celebrate. Rodimus twisted to the side, trying to avoid the lunge of the second turbowolf, and it still caught him. It barreled against his left side, tipping him off balance, and Rodimus tumbled to the ground. He grunted, his energon bow fizzling out, and scrambled for his knife.

The turbowolf snarled. Something wet and oozing dripped onto his armor. Strong talons clawed at him, and Rodimus howled as they bit deep, through armor to cables and lines beneath. He flailed, lashing out with the small knife, his spoiler halves chiming agony at him. One was bent. He’d bent one.

The turbowolf’s pointed denta snapped inches from his nose. Rodimus shouted and beat at it again, knife plunging, tip skittering across the pleated folds of the turbowolf’s armored body. He beat on the turbowolf with his fist, trying to roll the beast off him.

Claws raked at his abdomen, leaving streaks of blazing fire behind. Fangs lunged at his intake. Rodimus rolled sharply to the left, his free hand slamming against the turbowolf’s throat, shoving back. He stabbed up and at an angle, directly into the turbowolf’s midsection.

The tip of his blade caught on something and then bit deep. Hot fluids splashed down on his hand. The turbowolf snarled and lunged, his denta closing down on Rodimus’ shoulder. It was Rodimus’ turn to howl as he stabbed, again and again, thrashing to try and get the turbowolf off him. The weight bore down on him, pinning him and energon flowed freely from his numerous wounds.

More fluids gushed out over his fingers. It took him far too long to realize that the turbowolf was still, that its fangs had loosened their death grip on his shoulder. Rodimus vented heavily, his spark throbbing and his processor spinning.

It… was dead?

Rodimus panted. The knife remained shoved deep, hot fluid staining his fingers. The wolf’s respirations no longer beat down on his face, stinking of whatever it had last consumed. It didn’t matter what it was; Rodimus called it death.

Rodimus’ own fans roared. All the rest was silence. He’d survived. He’d lived. He… was getting crushed under the weight of this damn beast. Energon pooled beneath his frame, his processor spinning faster and faster, until gray spots danced in his optical feed.

That wasn’t good.

Rodimus thrashed beneath the turbowolf and howled when claws dug deeper into his internals, locked as they were around something important. Pain lanced through his frame, sending jagged bursts of light through his optical feed.

“Get off me!” Rodimus growled, shoving both palms at the turbowolf’s chest and giving it a heave.

With a sickening splat and crunch, it pulled free, most of its weight tumbling off of Rodimus, but it tore something free in the process. Something that bled energon and another fluid. Something he probably needed.

Rodimus touched his abdomen with trembling fingers, unable to guess the color with the flickering of his forelights. His world spun and spun. Darkness reached for him with icy fingers, tugging at his consciousness. He tried to flop over, away from the turbowolf corpse. He tried to claw his way free.

He needed to get up. He needed to try and bandage himself. He had to get home. Springer would be worried. They wouldn’t know where to look for him. They wouldn’t–

Energy abandoned him.

Rodimus’ entire frame shook. Darkness encroached his vision.

His lips cracked in a sardonic grin. Three turbowolf kills and not a damn person would ever know about it.

What rotten luck.



The proximity alarms startled Starscream out of a complicated equation. He cursed as his wings went rigid, and the numbers fell apart in his processor, leaving them a jumble on the holographic board in front of him.

Slag it all to the Pit. And he was so certain he was on the right train of thought. Starscream glared at the board, but he’d lost track now. He couldn’t remember where he was going, or where he’d come from, and that fragging alarm wasn’t helping.

Starscream muttered another invective and slammed his stylus into the holding cup. He whirled toward his console, slamming a palm onto the activation switch. The alarm cut off with a shrill hiss as his monitor powered up, giving him a staticky view of his back door.

It was probably the damn turbowolves again, fighting for territory. They were quite effective at keeping out nosy wanderers, but irritating at times like these.

Starscream snarled as he peered at the screen, swatting the monitor to make the fuzzy image clarify into a monochrome view of his back door. That… was not a turbowolf.

It was a mech, though Starscream did not know to which clan he belonged. He certainly wasn’t a cityling, not with the tattered tarp and the powered down crossbow lying next to him.

What in Primus’ name was a clanling doing on Starscream’s backstep? Usually they traipsed up to the front door, belligerently demanding entrance, convinced they had nothing to fear and everything to gain.

Starscream ground his denta. He should just leave the brat out there, but then he’d have to clean up the mess later, and with Starscream’s luck, someone would come looking for him. Perhaps his whole clan even and then Starscream would have far more visitors than he ever wanted. Armed visitors, more likely, convinced their resident monster had eaten their precious heir or such slag.

He couldn’t just leave the brat to rot.

Starscream sighed a ventilation and snagged the closest weapon he had on hand – a sonic blaster. Just in case the turbowolves were guarding their prey, if the brat hadn’t killed them.

He rode the lift down to the lowest level, irritation building to a steady froth within him. There was a reason he chose to live out in the middle of the wilderness alone, and it wasn’t just because he didn’t like others. It was also because he didn’t want to be disturbed in the middle of highly important calculations! And yet, it never failed.

Starscream stalked down the narrow corridor to the back exit and manually unlocked the door, disengaging the holographic projector at the same time. The little lost clanling would have only seen a rocky dead end, rather than the metal door Starscream had wedged there. Why was he even venturing into that dark mountain in the first place? What was he looking for?

Both questions Starscream would demand answers for as soon as he got the opportunity.

The door clicked, and Starscream yanked it open, pointing his sonic blaster into the gloom first. Nothing with teeth or fangs leapt at him, and a quick scan of the tunnel pinged back negative. Nothing but the lost clanling and two turbowolf corpses.

Two, hmm?

The little lost clanling was something of a warrior, wasn’t he? Or maybe he was just lucky.

Starscream tucked away his sonic cannon and knelt down next to the clanling. He was brightly colored, or at least Starscream assumed so beneath the energon streaks, sand-dust, and paint scrapes. The tattered scrap of fabric twisted around his shoulders was nothing special either.

Starscream pressed a hand to the clanling’s chestplate and felt the strong pulse of a spark beneath. He still lived, though he would need some medical care. Because of course. Once more, Starscream’s solitude would be broken.

He cast a glance over his shoulder at the turbowolf corpses. He would return for those, he supposed. There was no need to waste such good materials. For now, however, he would focus on taking this clanling indoors and make sure he didn’t offline.

His calculations would just have to wait.



Rodimus came online with a gasping ventilation, his frame jerking. There was a light, a bright one, glaring down at him, and he was warm. Why was he warm? The last thing he remembered was the turbowolves lunging for him, and frantically stabbing out with his blade.


“Bright!” Rodimus gasped out, slinging an arm over his face as he curled away from the light, feeling as though something had punched him in the chassis. His spark throbbed angrily, his cables feeling strung taut.

The glare faded to a dull glow. Rodimus’ spark hammered in his chassis, and he slowly lowered his hand, shadows dancing in his visual feed. He couldn’t see anything but dark shapes and something moving in his periphery. Something like another mech.

“Who are you? Where am I? What’s going on?” Rodimus groped for his crossbow, but it was no longer attached at his side. “Where’s my bow!?”

“Easy,” the mech murmured, his vocals soft and soothing, and with a hint of a weird accent that Rodimus couldn’t quite identify. “You are in my spare room. You are safe. I’ve disarmed you for my own safety.”

Rodimus swung his gaze back toward the mech. “Who?”

“That is a question I want you to answer first,” the mech said as he reached for Rodimus’ arm, encircling his wrist with long, talon-tipped fingers. “What are you doing in my territory, Firebrand clanling?”

“Your territory?” Rodimus echoed. He rebooted his optics, and hissed with relief when his vision clarified into a…

Seeker. What the frag was a Seeker doing out here? And such a pretty one, too. Rodimus’ face flushed with heat as crimson optics examined him curiously. The Seeker was predominantly gray with bits of red and blue arranged throughout his frame and something in his appearance was familiar.

Wait. The Warlock of the Wastes. The Deathbringer. The Mad One.

He was a Seeker. And there was a Seeker currently gripping his wrist, his free hand reaching for Rodimus. Reaching with a datacable as though he intended to plug right into Rodimus’ wristport.

And he was a Seeker.

“Stop! What are you doing!” Rodimus jerked his hand free and twisted away from the stranger. “Don’t steal my data!”

The Seeker blinked and gave him a confused look. “I’m not stealing your data, you idiot. This is your medical port, not a ‘facing port.”


The Seeker rolled his optics and leaned back, rubbing his fingertips over his forehead. “Primus save me from Firebrands.” He peered at Rodimus under the hood of his hand. “Let’s try this again. Who are you and why are you here?”

Rodimus dragged himself back on his elbows and winced when his head hit a wall. He pulled up his feet, putting his knees between himself and the Seeker. His whole frame ached, his shoulder and abdomen the worst of it, and he could smell the stench of spilled energon and weldfire.

“I know who you are,” he said, and he hated that his voice wavered. How could he be a warrior and still be this much of a coward? “You’re the Warlock. The Deathbringer. The–”

“The Mad One. The Flighted. Yes, yes. I’ve heard it all before.” The Seeker waved a dismissing hand. “Or you could also use my designation, which is Starscream. Frankly, I’m rather fond of that.” He crossed his arms over his cockpit. “Now, answer my questions, bratling.”


Rodimus shaped the name with his mouth. It was a nice name. He wondered what the Seeker had done to earn it.

“Well?” Starscream prompted, baring his pointed denta in a snarl.

Rodimus swallowed thickly. “H-Hot Rod,” he said. It was only a small lie. Honestly, he didn’t even know why he’d give his original designation. “And, uh, I got lost. There was a sandstorm. So I took shelter.”

Starscream stared at him. “I don’t believe you.”

“I’m not lying!”

The Seeker held up a hand as though it would hold off Rodimus’ indignation. “Oh, I believe you got lost. And I believe in the sandstorm.” The hand twisted at the wrist and gestured to the left.

Rodimus followed the gesture with his optics, toward a tall, narrow window through which he could see nothing but swirls upon swirls of sand. So. The storm continued to rage. And judging by his chronometer, he’d been out for half a solar cycle.

If he’d stayed out there, he would have perished.

“What I don’t believe is that you stumbling around this general area is a coincidence,” Starscream finished, dragging Rodimus’ attention back toward him. He’d crossed his arms back over his chassis. “Do you think me unaware of the rumors that persist in your clan? Of the challenge the Firebrands have laid for one another?”

Rodimus felt his faceplate flush before he could school his expression into something that didn’t immediately give him away.

Starscream chuffed a vent at him. “That’s what I thought.” His field roiled out then, tapping against Rodimus’ with offense and disgust. “For the record, I will not be entertaining your delusions of bravery and honor and I’m not going to satisfy your need to prove yourself. Understood?”

Rodimus jerked his head into a nod.

“Good.” Starscream’s mouth curved downward into a deeper frown. “I won’t toss you into the sandstorm, though Primus knows I have the right, but as soon as it’s gone, so will you be. Am I clear?”

“Yes.” Rodimus chanced a look around, taking in the small room, mostly empty of equipment, though the walls were plastered with posters full of science gobbledygook. He dragged his gaze back to Starscream. “Oh, uh, thanks. For, you know…” He made a vague gesture. “Not leaving me to die.” He tried his most charming grin.

It did not work.

Starscream huffed another ventilation. “Don’t make me regret this,” he said, jabbing a pointed forefinger toward Rodimus. “And if you attack me, or touch me, or make even so much as a threatening gesture in my direction, you’ll learn how I earned the title Deathbringer.”

Rodimus absolutely did not squeak. But he did nod his understanding, his spark hammering within his chassis. This little slip of a Seeker – okay, not so little, he was of a height with Rodimus at least – should not be so frightening. There was a menace in Starscream’s expression, however, that couldn’t be discounted.

“Then we understand each other.” Starscream dropped his arms and spun on a heelstrut, stalking toward the door. It opened with a press of his palm, rattling aside to clear the path.

“Wait!” Rodimus unfurled from his protective huddle against the wall and swung his legs over the side of the berth. “Don’t lock me in here.”

Starscream cycled his optics. “You’re not a prisoner,” he said with a snort. “You can go anywhere in the complex that allows you access.” He rapped his fingers on the doorframe, taloned tips making a sharp staccato. “By my calculations, the storm will rage for another seven solar cycles. Do try to stay out of my way until you can be on yours.”

With that, Starscream swept out of the door, and it clattered shut behind him, leaving Rodimus in the humming silence of the small room. Which was apparently to be his own for the next week.

Rodimus cycled a ventilation and hopped to his feet, gingerly stretching his arms over his head. He gave a cursory glance down at himself. He was still dinged and scratched, and he could feel the gritty grains in his joints. His abdomen ached, however, and movement would be a trial. But the slashmarks had been cleaned and covered by static bandages, and his energon levels were steady. He touched his shoulder, felt the gouges of fangs in his armor, but the holes been patched with a colorless putty filler.

His energon bow was still gone, no surprise there, but his pack sat on a nearby table with his tarp folded next to it. It looked more than worse for wear and was probably better suited for the scrap-heap at this point, but maybe it could be salvaged. He would have to work on it later. If his kit hadn’t been lost.

Rodimus let it be for now.

He moved to the window, trying to peer out into the storm. His internal compass was still spinning dizzily, but if he was truly in the Warlock’s tower, then he had an idea of where he was. Home would be a day’s drive south, or three day’s walk depending. He must have spent most of the week wandering around in a circle.

Primus, but this was one story he did not want to tell. He was supposed to be challenging the Warlock, not getting rescued by him. He’d never earn his badge at this rate. He should have known better than to take a short-cut.

It was probably just one of those stories anyway. One of those bold challenges that no one expected anyone to try for, and Rodimus was the idiot who boasted he could do it.

There’d be no challenging Starscream now. The Warlock had made that quite clear. And seducing him? Pah. Rodimus was more likely to have his spike ripped off and ground to bits than succeeding in that avenue.

Rodimus vented and leaned against the window ledge, one hand curled around his midsection, where heat gathered and throbbed around the bandaged wound. His frame temperature was higher than usual, but he suspected that was because his repair nanites were working over time. He didn’t feel overheated otherwise.

Outside, the storm raged. Dust swirled and spattered at the window, raining bits of rust and sand against the transteel. He’d be dead if he’d been caught in that. His collapsible tent would have been a poor shelter. He should have checked with Soundwave before setting out, but he hadn’t wanted anyone to know what he was doing.

He hadn’t wanted someone to stop him.

It all sounded so stupid now.

Seek out and defeat the famed Deathbringer. Or, as Silverspire suggested, seduce him even? Anything that meant Rodimus could return with victory in the face of overwhelming odds.

Rodimus snorted. He never should have let those idiots goad him. Now who was the idiot?

He was.

Rodimus sighed and turned away from the window. It was going to be a long week, but no way could he spend it cooped up in this room. He wasn’t stupid enough to attack Starscream. But maybe he was just stupid enough to see if he could charm the Seeker. Surely Starscream was lonely out here? Right?

Maybe. Rodimus wasn’t sure yet. But he sure as frag wasn’t going to cloister himself in this room.

He wanted to earn his badge. He wouldn’t by hiding away from the so-called Deathbringer. If he was lucky, maybe he could bring back a souvenir? Something to brag about? It was worth a shot.

Rodimus shrugged and then hissed at himself in chastisement. His shoulder ached, the pain dull and ignored until now. Compared to his abdomen, it was a mere scratch. But he could still feel where the turbowolf’s fangs had sunk in deep. Thank Primus it hadn’t been a rustviper. He doubted he could have lived through that venom.

He should probably just go back to recharge. But he wanted to know his way around first. What if there was an emergency and he needed to escape? He couldn’t relax without knowing if there was something to be worried about.

With that in mind, Rodimus moved toward the doorway, albeit at a slower pace than his usual stride. He half-expected the door to deny him, but it slid open as he approached, triggered by a motion detector no doubt.

Starscream hadn’t lied.

That was a good sign.

Rodimus cycled a ventilation. He braced himself. And then he ventured out into the Seeker’s lair.



The Firebrand wasted no time in strolling out of the small side room and poking his nasal ridge all around Starscream’s laboratory. Though he was at least hesitant about it. He kept his hands to himself, didn’t try to hack locks on doors that didn’t admit him, and didn’t set about destroying anything either.

Starscream tracked Hot Rod as a matter of course. He had his security system attuned to the clanling, if only to ensure nothing happened to the mech. And all the better to make certain he wasn’t surprised.

It had nothing to do with admiring the Firebrand’s sleek frame, his bright colors, and the charming way he looked at Starscream with wide, startled optics.

Starscream snorted and bent back over his project. He’d set aside his calculations for now. He couldn’t concentrate on them with a Firebrand loitering about his laboratory, even if said Firebrand had just discovered Starscream’s private oilbath.

Good. The brat could get cleaned up and stop dripping grit all over Starscream’s floors.

A week, Starscream fumed, and that was if his calculations were correct, which of course they were. What a terrible time for a sandstorm, for temptation.

Hot Rod was not the first Firebrand to wander into Starscream’s territory, but he was the first who’d been allowed further than the front gate, who hadn’t been driven away with scorchmarks, dents, and dings.

Starscream never understood these clans, who concocted wild stories and made them legends. He used it to his advantage of course, allowing their fear of him to prevent unwelcome visitors.

Save for the brave few who thought they could earn their badges by taming the Mad One, either in the berth or on the field of combat. Though of course they usually opted for the former rather than the latter.

Some things were universal, Starscream supposed. And the desire to berth a Seeker, code-stealer or not, was one of them.

He sighed and scrubbed at his forehead. He was not focusing on this project or any other right now. Not while a clanling roamed his tower. The risk of getting interrupted was too great. That and intermittent bouts of irritation mixed with longing did not make for good concentration.

Hot Rod was attractive in his own right.

Pity he had arrived here already intent on using Starscream for his own ends. My, how that sounded familiar.

Starscream pushed to his feet and spun away from his desk, only for a wave of dizziness to assault him. He grasped for the edge of the desk to keep his balance, while he paused and ventilated, waiting for the vertigo to pass. Yellow caution warnings streamed through his central cortex, his fans stuttering before they spun, to cool his frame from a rapid increase in temperature he’d somehow missed.

That… was not good.

Dizziness abated, Starscream slowly turned back toward his desk and bent to grope around in a side drawer. There was a code-scanner in here, he knew. He kept them stashed all about the complex. As a Seeker, it had become something of a necessity, especially for a Seeker who chose to live on his own.

He fumbled the handle of a scanner, and Starscream pulled it out with nothing short of alarm. He jammed the scanner into his dataport and peered down at the display, praying to a deity he no longer trusted that it would give him an optimistic answer.

Coding degradation at eighty percent.

He ground his denta so hard he tasted sparks. Primus bedamned. He didn’t know whether he should consider the Firebrand’s arrival fortuitous or a curse. He did not want to give the little brat what he’d came here for.

But eighty percent.

He might not have a choice in the matter. It had been half a stellar cycle since he’d last visited Blurr, and his coding reflected that. He could have made it several lunar cycles more, long enough for Deadlock’s annual visit, if he hadn’t been so hasty in testing the synthetic uploads.

Damn him for his impatience. For being so desperate for a solution that he’d now landed himself in this predicament.

Starscream yanked the scanner out and slammed it to the tabletop. He heaved a ventilation and pretended his fingers weren’t trembling.

Eighty percent. He would last the week for certain. He would last well into next week. He would not last until Deadlock returned, unless the roaming speedster decided, for once, to appear early. Starscream could not take that risk, and he could not contact Deadlock either. He would make the attempt, but he had little belief it would succeed.

Deadlock roamed for a reason.

Starscream pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. He dimmed his optics, cycling several unsteady ventilations.

He could attempt the journey back to the cities and make contact with Blurr once more. But with his luck, he’d arrive in Iacon, only to find his former lover at a race in another citystate, too far for Starscream to travel safely. He could take a risk and seek out Skyfire, but that would mean crossing over Elita’s territory and frankly, Starscream was not up to that challenge right now.

The next synthetic prototype was not ready for testing. He no longer had the time to dally on it. He needed to devote every moment of free time to working on it.

For if it failed again, he would have no choice but to seek out Hot Rod’s company, and that was something Starscream was reluctant to do for obvious reasons.

Damn it all.


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