Decepticon law came across as barbaric to Autobots and as plain common sense to Decepticons. The entire system was set up around the idea of survival of the fittest. If one was clever enough to steal without being caught, he deserved his spoils. If one was weak enough to be killed, he deserved death. If the victim's friends extracted vengeance on the murderer, then the murderer deserved it because he was too weak to fight them off and foolish to invite their wrath in the first place. There was no pity for victims, but there was no mercy for perpetrators when they were caught.
But sometimes crimes caught the interest of the local authorities.
Eidolon leaned forward on her throne of blades, chin on palm, fingers curling around where she would have had a mouth, and glared at the screen hovering in front of her. Murder was a mundane occurrence in a Decepticon city, but she was both Monitor and scientist, and she recognised patterns. There was one here, but she didn't understand the reasoning behind it.
Seventeen killings, all told, going back several weeks. The victims were no one she cared about. She could even have made an argument for why it was a good thing they were removed from the population. But the obvious motive was wrong. It didn't match the method - such a crime should be messy, the body beaten or shredded, left in a public place, perhaps with graffiti scrawled on to explain why the victim was targeted. Besides, it was a motive ten million years out of date, and the Sapphire City wasn't the right place for it.
It didn't interfere with her territory or her ability to run it, but Eidolon couldn't abide a mystery.
It grated on her that she wasn't equipped to solve it.
It was like this: deep in prehistory, the Liege Maximo, war-leader of the Transformers, left Cybertron for his own reasons, leaving his creations behind to continue his function. Due to various factors, over time, the spark of the Liege Maximo became dimmer in his descendants, often intermixed with the sparks of the other Lines, much as the Liege tried to keep themselves pure. Still, there were always those who manifested the traits of their Primogenitor, and they remained the war-leaders of Cybertron.
After the last Overlord died of energy loss and system shock, the Liege didn't choose a new ruler. Instead, the emirates of the loyal Liege states - Hermeun, Deltacron, and Kalis - ruled by committee and left their subordinates to tend their city-states in their stead. The Emirates were killed when the Decepticons destroyed the Liege capital in Hermeun. The rest of Hermeun and Deltacron were soon razed, which removed the immediate subordinates of Emirate Hermeunis and Emirate Delatacroxis. Because Kalis was on the other side of Cybertron and not an important target, it remained intact.
Which meant that Kalis' governor Halcyon - who not only ruled Kalis in the stead of the Emirate Kallaxis, but had been created by the Emirate Kallaxis - was now, by default, the highest-ranked Liege on Cybertron. Despite the fact that he never officially claimed his titles, Halcyon was not only the new Emirate Kallaxis, but the Overlord.
Halcyon died without naming a successor. Under other circumstances, his rank should have transferred to his last living brother, Seaquake. But Seaquake had turned his back on the Liege and sold himself to the Decepticons, sealing the deal with Halcyon's murder. Scattered and forced into hiding, the Liege were without a leader.
Except that Seaquake later decided to create ...
Dreadmoon slumped in his command chair wearily. "I have heard this all before, you realise?"
They had their own name for themselves, something pretentious with a 'glorious' in it, but in the Amnimount, ever since they tried to persuade Dreadmoon to take over the Decepticons by weight of signatures, they were doomed to be called the Petitioners. Dreadmoon had kept the petition, though had never gone through the bother of hunting up the two-hundred people on the list and making their lives miserable. They seemed to think that was an acceptance.
Dreadmoon used to shoot them on sight, but when that just made the Petitioners more determined to convince him that he was wrong and needed their help more than ever, he gave up. He tended to shunt them to subordinates or get them lost in the Underground, but once in a while he permitted them an audience. It was a way of keeping track of their delusions.
He diverted his attention for a second to take stock of his subordinates. Silverflame was across the room, pretending to work, but with his senses cast behind him. Once in a while, he would stifle a snicker. Nimbus was beside the command chair, stiffly formal, trying to be neutral but annoyed at Dreadmoon's treatment of the Petitioners. Nimbus also wished that the Liege would rule the Decepticons again, but he had a more practical outlook than the two dreamers in front of him.
Dreadmoon had hoped they had all gone away. After the Nemesis left, before the Hibernation, most of the remaining Liege on Cybertron had packed up and left. Others stayed because they thought they had a better chance on Cybertron than heading off for parts unknown. Unfortunately, it seemed that the Petitioners stayed behind as well.
These two were ones he had never seen before, the first Petitioners he had seen since the exodus - a pair of aquatics named Wavecutter and Waterway. By all appearances, by all legal records, they were Decepticons. They just weren't Decepticons in their own heads. Of course it was impossible to tell their ages, but Dreadmoon guessed that they were built sometime after the Golden Age. They only know of their great 'empire' through the nostalgic recollections of people who are still in denial of the Decepticon conquest of Cybertron. And their creators gave them aquatic forms, though the only sea left on Cybertron is the Sea of Rust. Idiots one and all.
Waterway bobbed in a kind of nervous bow. "Well, yes, but we thought that maybe we could convince you. My liege ..."
"I have a name," said the Monitor. "It is 'Dreadmoon'. I'm rather fond of it. If you insist on titles, my preference is 'Monitor'. I will accept 'Councillor' or 'Sir'." It caused Dreadmoon no end of annoyance that Petitioners refused to use his name. Logically, since they were trying to get on his good side, they should call him what he wanted to be called. They seemed to think repetitions of 'my liege' would make him start to believe it. Most likely it was a holdover of the old Liege customs - no one ever called the ranking Liege by name, only by title.
Dreadmoon had once vowed to himself that the first Petitioner to address him by name would win some sort of prize. He wasn't sure what yet. It wasn't as if the situation ever came up. "But, my liege," said Wavecutter.
"In any case," said Dreadmoon, "your type used to hate me worse than Decepticons because I was tainted by Seaquake's traitorous spark. Kalis knows that if I had a brother, I'd probably keep up the sparkline tradition and tear off his head, too. But there was a rather sudden turnaround of opinion, wasn't there?"
"Well, we decided that it wasn't fair to you," said Waterway. "Even though you were built by the traitor, you are still of the line of Halcyon and the Emirate Kallaxis before him."
Dreadmoon tapped his fingers on his chin. "And you decided this so soon after communetech was introduced, which gave the High Council real power instead of just being a group of administrators. How nice. How coincidental. Except that you have forgotten one of the emirates. Certainly the Emirate Voxis is the true heir to the Overlord title, since he has seniority. After all, he wasn't killed in the purge. In fact, he is still alive today. It would have gone to him, not to Halcyon."
"Vos was hardly a loyal state, my liege," said Wavecutter. "The last two emirates were Decepticons."
It was too much to hope that they'd go for it. The idea of Overlord Starscream amused him. "I'm a Decepticon."
Waterway waved his hands a bit. "The Emirate Voxis was sparked as a Decepticon. You just wear the symbol. You're pureline Liege, even though you were given Decepticon programming."
"And programming can be changed," said Wavecutter.
"And heads can be torn off," Dreadmoon reminded him, surreptitiously plugging a fingertip datatap into his command chair and letting a thread of his consciousness slip into Kalis to look up the Petitioner's records. Don't you threaten me, you little wretch. I know who you are, I know where you live, I know the people you're closest to, and I can make the rest of your short life a misery. He found he was right on one guess, though - Wavecutter was a little over two million years old. Most of his life was spent during the Hibernation. Curious, he spent another microsecond looking up Waterway. He was barely four million. Hnh.
Waterway quickly produced a datapad from behind a fin and handed it to Dreadmoon. "Just look at our research, please, my liege? We speak poorly, but maybe looking at the facts ..."
The Monitor took the datapad and scanned through the files. They contained nothing he hadn't seen before, presented by a dozen different Petitioners. "Yes, I suppose this is all legal and proper by Liege and even by Autobot law. Have you checked the Decepticon laws on this?"
"The Decepticons are under Liege law," said Waterway.
"So you say. The Decepticons may have rather a different opinion on that, particularly after that whole rising up and overthrowing the government whilst conquering the planet thing. So," said Dreadmoon, "I suppose you expect me to take your findings to Megatron. I shall simply walk up to him and point out that by rather convoluted Liege inheritance laws, I am the Overlord and now wish to claim my dominion over all the surviving military buildlines, so would he please just hand over the reins of power? In fact, I should demand that he do so, because it is my right. Somehow, I do not think Megatron will be particularly receptive." As if he needed to give Megatron more reasons to dislike him. The Monitor settled back and steepled his fingers. "In fact, I would go so far to say that once he stopped laughing, I would be turned into a molten smear."
"But he would have to obey!" cried Wavecutter. "You're the Overlord."
"That little fact didn't seem to help the last Overlord," Dreadmoon pointed out. "But if you two would like to go to Megatron in my stead as, hm, official heralds or suchlike ... you obviously know more about this sort of thing than I do."
Waterway took a step back. "Oh, we couldn't possibly ..."
"What? Won't your innate Liege superiority shield you from a fusion cannon blast? You may not be pureline, but even a Liegebuild should be able to stand up to a mere Decepticon," Dreadmoon purred. Perhaps if he sent them as toys for the High Commander, with a nice card, it might persuade the Petitioners that he really wasn't what they were looking for and they would finally leave him alone. "I can even write up an official letter for you ... your lot seem to think that signatures have power."
Beside him, Nimbus groaned. All right, that last bit was being just a bit too obvious. The Petitioners looked hurt. "My liege, we only want for you to gain your full potential," said Waterway. "We want only to serve you."
"I prefer servants who can follow orders. I've given you several very easy ones including, 'use my chosen name,' and, 'stop pestering me.'" The Monitor sighed. "I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that I have no interest in being the Overlord, or, in fact, that what I appear to be is what I want to be."
"But it's your duty to ..."
"And you presume to order me?"
"They're not our orders, but the destiny written on your spark by the Fundamental Principle!"
Inwardly, Dreadmoon clapped. It was rare that a Petitioner would actually show some courage and yell at him. Wavecutter would never know that he just saved his own life, conditionally pardoned from his not-so-subtle threat of reprogramming. The condition being that he not say anything else to particularly infuriate Dreadmoon. But, back to the game. "Consider my name," said Dreadmoon. "Tell me the Liegetongue translation."
Waterway bowed. "You are the Resolver of Conflict, the Supreme Hybrid."
Dreadmoon scowled at him. "Not those idiot titles you give me. My name."
"From Modern Decepticon to Liegetongue? 'Who Is What Raises The Frightful Waters'," said Waterway, uncomfortable with saying even the translation of the name. He rallied quickly. "You are the one to make the Liege rise up and drown their oppressors!"
The Monitor chuckled. "Do you know how tides occur?"
"Tides are the rising of the water."
"Tch, and you an aquatic. That is what it looks like." Dreadmoon settled back and steepled his fingers. "Tides do not happen because the water is drawn up. Tides happen because the moon pulls the world away from the water. High tide is the water left behind on the far side of the planet."
"But, my liege ..."
"Waterway, Wavecutter, most of your breed hate me. They see only one who was sparked from a traitor and who continued the treachery. Perhaps they see things more clearly than you do." Dreadmoon leaned forward. "I am not the one to raise the Liege. I am the one who will take the world away from them. Nimbus, throw these idiots out. If either says, 'but,' cut off his fins."
Nimbus herded the two Petitioners out. Dreadmoon sighed. "If I do ever manage to convince Starscream to bond with me, what will the Petitioners think?" he asked Silverflame. "Will that make me irrevocably tainted and thus no longer qualified to be Overlord, or will it make Starscream an honorary Liege? Either way it takes the fool burden away from me."
"Personally? I think it would cause their processors to melt," said Silverflame.
"That could be entertaining." A panel beeped. "Get that, would you?"
Silverflame activated the viewscreen, which filled with the image of the Monitor of Sector Five. Dreadmoon nodded. "Eidolon."
She copied the gesture. "Dreadmoon. I have a proposition. I would like you to come to the Sapphire City. There is a situation up here that may interest you."
"What kind of situation?"
"Someone is killing the local Liege."
Dreadmoon tilted his head slightly. "That's a bad thing?"
"It is an irritating thing," said Eidolon. "I do not care if they wish to believe they are the inheritors of a dead faction. These people are mine. I will not tolerate destruction of my property."
"What do you want, Eidolon?"
"I have a mystery. I do not like mysteries. Given the nature of the people involved, I require a consultant with certain requirements." Fingers intertwined before the mask. "You fit those requirements."
Dreadmoon frowned. "Do you really think I am so foolish as to walk into your territory?"
The image of Eidolon looked bored. "If this were a trap, would I not have baited it with something you wanted?" She shook her head. "No. There are things that are only known by those who were created to know them, nigh-unlearnable by outsiders, and I am an outsider. You have the programming required, you know my city, and this case may end up concerning you some day."
Dizeon, being a state traditionally tolerant of everything, had a fairly high population of ex-Liege. Kalis, the last Liege-state to fall, had even more. Most of the ones left on Cybertron were perfectly sensible people; the Petitioners were merely a vocal minority. Still, any problem to do with the Liege would eventually trickle down to Kalis. Better to stop things where they were. Besides, he could see what changes Eidolon had made to the Sapphire City since he was last there. "Very well. I will come."
He cut the connection. Silverflame turned in his chair and smirked. "Sounds like fun. Be careful of Eidolon, though. She's vicious when she ..."
"Thank you, Silverflame. I've known Eidolon longer than you have."
The gliderjet blinked. "You never mentioned her."
Dreadmoon shrugged. "Eidolon was Nightfall's diadmate. I won't be gone for more than a few days, I think. Try to keep my city in one piece."
One day, it had occurred to Dreadmoon that Wardword was his friend. He never really had one before. There were people in his past he would tolerate or ally himself with, even develop a kind of fondness for, but never someone he had felt truly equal with. They disagreed on most surface matters, but in the most fundamental concepts, they understood one another.
One of these ways was cities. Both were fiercely territorial metrophiles, which would have made them mortal enemies if they had both wanted the same city. Since Dreadmoon wanted Kalis and Wardword wanted the Sapphire City, they had no reason to fight.
And with Wardword came Nightfall, and he was Dreadmoon's friend, too. An unofficial trine with no set leader, they were the adjutants under the governor of the Sapphire City. Generally they ignored the governor and did what they liked. By the end of his time there, Dreadmoon pretty much ran the city, leaving the governor a powerless being with a title. When Dreadmoon left, he handed his power to Wardword, whose first order of business was to execute the old governor and claim the city.
They made a good trine - what each one had was what the other two needed. Dreadmoon brought organisational skills, Wardword brought the ideas and creativity, and Nightfall brought his training from the Decepticon Science Academy. Nightfall also had one more advantage - he had Eidolon.
They were a unit of two, scratch-built and Sigma-sparked. Never a trine, but a diad; their creator wanted a field-worker and a trouble-shooter and nothing more. Nightfall was the worker, the explorer, the one to take on the universe. Eidolon was the researcher, the compiler, the one to take the data and bend it to the advantage of the Decepticons. Dreadmoon had met her in person only twice, both times at the Science Academy where she lived. As rumour had it, she never ventured outside its walls.
She had been a small creature, lines more kin to a lightly-built Autobot than a Decepticon warrior. Dreadmoon was told Nightfall had once looked similar, until he and Wardword decided to get themselves matching bodies like oddly-organic jets. Eidolon had hated Wardword and Dreadmoon, but she hated nearly everybody. Nightfall called on her whenever he ran into a problem he couldn't solve, then went on with his day secure in the knowledge that Eidolon would soon call him back with a solution. Well, that was her function.
They made a good trine, but one they knew wouldn't last forever. Ambition would eventually force them to go their own ways; each saw the trine as a way of learning from the others and honing their skills for the day they would rule their own cities. They could not rule as a trine - neither Dreadmoon nor Wardword would be able to share a city, and Nightfall would not like being a subordinate forever. So, in time, they split up.
They all did well. Dreadmoon and Wardword had become governors of the cities they loved, and Nightfall had found one for himself in Aurknan, the secondary capital of Sector Seven. They kept up ties and their alliance, but there wasn't much they could do for one another. The High Council had very little power in those days.
Then Shockwave invented communetech, and that changed.
The High Council adopted a new title - Monitors. No longer a mere administrative body advising the warlords, the High Council could now take a more active role in the welfare of their states. While anyone could jack into the Worldnet and search for information, the Monitors literally became part of the Worldnet during commune. Anywhere power flowed, a Monitor could control as if it was an extension of himself - the communication channels were their audios, the sensors their optics, the security systems their weapons. A Monitor could only be in one place at a time, but they were as fast as thought.
Between Dreadmoon, Wardword, and Nightfall, they controlled nearly a quarter of Cybertron. Their territories bordered on one another, making their defence that much stronger. They wielded more power than they ever imagined they would, though it had no direction, not yet. But as soon as they decided what to do with their power, Cybertron would just have to watch out ...
Except that Nightfall died.
Nightfall had not been a metrophile, not until he became a Monitor. Suddenly plunged into the glory that was a living city, Nightfall fell in love. But he didn't have the long understanding that his trinemates had. He underestimated the city's hunger and stayed in commune for longer and longer periods until his consciousness spread too thin and dissipated into the Worldnet.
After that, Dreadmoon and Wardword weren't sure what to do. Their trine had been broken. Their territories only shared one short border. Their half-formed plans ended.
Wardword didn't last much longer than Nightfall.
Dreadmoon had found out much later that soon after communetech had been invented, Wardword had taken Eidolon from her sanctuary at the Science Academy to the Nyxmount, to keep her as his personal scientist. Wardword never mentioned it.
Dreadmoon had only found out when Eidolon announced that Wardword was dead and that she had taken his place as the Monitor of Sector Five.
While the outside world considered Sector Five to be the state of Valvolux, whose defence capital was properly known as Safix, the inhabitants of the region still called a piece of the territory Dizeon and its capital the more fanciful name of Sapphire City. The north-western quarter had long ago been claimed by the Rift, which didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the locals. They were a territorial lot, and to them, this piece of Cybertron would always be the place of stars.
Dreadmoon unfolded and landed in what was, by Monitor standards, neutral territory. This was a patch of devastated ground outside the Sapphire City through which no power flowed. Eidolon couldn't control this area because it was dead to her. This also meant it was lit only by starlight, but Dreadmoon, built for spaceflight, wasn't disadvantaged.
There was a quiet hum, and a small device like a flattened hemisphere flew to him. Its energy output wasn't enough for a weapon, so Dreadmoon waited. After a moment, the device flashed, and the image of Eidolon stood before him - taller than he was, all dark blades and heavy treads with optics like burning energon. Possibly quite beautiful to the kind of person who appreciated a showy torture device, but rather silly when one knew that she never set foot outside her watchtower. He had never seen her upgraded form in person. For all he knew, the blade-tank hologram was a lie and Eidolon was still the tiny car-former he had known.
Given her name, that suited her perfectly. "You will not face me in person?" asked Dreadmoon.
"You will not fly right into the Sapphire City?" asked Eidolon.
On the other hand, Eidolon could have had him shot down as soon as he entered Sector Five - her influence wasn't limited to the Sapphire City any more than Dreadmoon's was limited to the capital of Kalis. She needed him alive, at least for a while. Conversely, Dreadmoon knew that if given a chance, he would kill Eidolon without a second thought. Eidolon was smart enough not to give him any chance at all. "A truce until I solve your problem, then?"
The hologram's optics brightened in an equivalent of a frown. "Until you solve the mystery. This is not a problem. This is at most an annoyance."
Careful words - no ranked Decepticon would admit to needing help - but, ultimately, true. Sector Five was not in any danger. Eidolon didn't need the mystery solved. She just didn't like the loss of control that a mystery represented. Asking for help was also a loss of control, but a temporary one, and thus the lesser of two evils. Still, admitting even such a small defeat was going to eat at Eidolon for years, which was another reason why Dreadmoon agreed to help. If he could not physically harm Eidolon, he could at least cause her some mental torment.
"Until I am back in Kalis," Dreadmoon amended, covering his own loopholes. If the truce ended while he was still within the Sapphire City, he would be hard-pressed to escape.
"Until you are back in Kalis," the hologram agreed. This didn't guarantee that either would keep their word, but the choice was either to accept or to spend the rest of one's life in a paranoid huddle in the basement. "I managed to have the last three bodies in the series collected - the rest were smelted for material before I realised the pattern and thought to investigate. Would inspecting them be of aid?"
"I will not enter the Nyxmount."
"I would not allow you inside. The shells are stored in a workshop at the edge of the city centre. The hologram generator will lead you."
With that, the image of Eidolon vanished, leaving only the hematite hemisphere. It flew off towards the city. Dreadmoon shrugged and followed it.
She had killed him. That much was obvious. There was too much planning involved. No one would just happen to install communetech in himself. No, it was plain that Eidolon had fully intended to murder and replace Wardword.
And she had been good. Not nearly as good as the more experienced Monitors of course, but much better than someone with no prior training should have been. She must have practiced in secret, in the times when Wardword wasn't in commune. Then, one day, she decided she was good enough and tampered with Wardword's programming so that he couldn't shut himself off from external dataflow. His processors had burned out - dead by information overload.
He had trusted her. Why not? She was the diadmate of his best friend, and wasn't he kind to take in a mere civilian and give her a job? And wasn't she timid? Wardword never dreamed that his pet scientist hated him so much.
Dreadmoon had wanted to charge off immediately, hunt the ungrateful little wretch through the Worldnet and shred her consciousness into a million screaming pieces. Logic and the will of the other Monitors stayed his vengeance - he may have hated Eidolon, but he knew her, which gave him an advantage he might not have over her replacement, as he didn't have one ready. The other Monitors were curious to see how this civilian upstart with her homemade internal rig and her self-taught skills would handle their kind of power.
To Dreadmoon's disgust, Eidolon turned out to have the intelligence and organisation to run her Sector, and a paranoid sociophobia that manifested in a defensiveness that was nearly impossible to get through. In short, she was quite a good Monitor.
It was of no consequence. The facts that they tended to be on the same side in Council debates and had the same policy regarding xenotrade were ignored. Dreadmoon fully intended to claim Sector Five one day, over Eidolon's dead body.
It had been ignorable out in the state, but here in Eidolon's home city, her presence was almost stifling. No doubt the locals didn't notice, being used to it, but Dreadmoon was accustomed to a city that resonated with his own energy patterns, and the change was jarring.
No doubt it was enhanced by the fact that Eidolon was following him through the Worldnet, using the various sensors around the city instead of relying on the much weaker ones in the hologram generator. It would be much, much worse in the Nyxmount. Even if Monitors were inclined to visit one another, they didn't like to be in one another's watchtowers for long. It felt too much like wearing the wrong body.
While the Sapphire City as a whole was an amorphous sprawl on the Dizeon landscape, the city centre was roughly circular - the city had originally been built on a hill, but quickly extended beyond those borders. The six-pointed star that Dizeon used as its emblem was branded on many buildings, fewer in the suburbs, then with increasing frequency until most of the buildings in the city centre had the blue-white mark. Dreadmoon had been told that all the buildings were slightly more blue than the gray-purple of most Decepticon buildings, but with his sight, he couldn't see it. It was all tinted grays to him.
One building stood out like a rust patch. The Nyxmount was one of the three buildings on the crest of the hill. It had just been one of the secondary administrative buildings when Dreadmoon had been there, but either Wardword or Eidolon took it, twisted it, and turned it into an ebon nightmare. He could see either of them doing that, but thought it was a bit silly. It was like painting a target on the watchtower.
But he wasn't going there. The hologram generator led him to a small building like a dome with a spire on top at the base of the hill.
The door opened automatically as he approached and he found himself in the main workshop. Doors on the other side of the room no doubt led to storage areas or maintenance lockers, but they were of no interest. On three of the four tables were a heavy jet and two groundbounds; one a low-slung armoured vehicle and the other a smallish hovertank. "You've inspected the bodies already, I'm guessing?"
The hologram nodded. "Of course. I had them at the Nyxmount before having them brought here. In each case, the cause of death was spark extraction."
He considered questioning that, but inwardly shrugged. With the right tools, he might be able to confirm or deny her diagnosis, but he could acknowledge that Eidolon understood Cybertronian bodies better than he did and that she was most likely correct. There was no good reason to lie, and so far the visual evidence agreed with Eidolon's pronouncement. Dreadmoon prodded at the closest body, the jet. "I don't see any marks. He went down without a fight?"
"He had no choice," said Eidolon. "That one was paralysed first. Given the pattern of stresses on his motor relays, I believe his attacker shot him in the chest with a surger."
A surger charge in the right place at the right setting could cause death, but they were generally used as a non-lethal weapon. Basically, it delivered an electromagnetic pulse that caused the victim's motor relays to seize up and caused the mind to think the body had taken massive damage when the injury was in fact negligible. The victim then fell into stasis as the internal repair system tried to find damages that weren't there. They also had a maximum range of one metre. "He didn't defend himself from the surger, either," said Dreadmoon.
"Yes. For whatever reason, the attack caught him by surprise."
"But if this was spark-extraction, we may be looking at multiple kidnappings, not serial murders."
Eidolon made a dismissive gesture. "The bodies are dead even if the mind still lives elsewhere. The minds have not turned up. 'Dead' is a term of convenience until the truth is ascertained."
"Certainly they knew their attacker, since he was allowed so close. I'd say the perpetrator is also Liege," said Dreadmoon. "It's ten million years too late for a Decepticon to be killing them out of revenge for their idiocy during the Golden Age. I haven't even encountered any lingering prejudice from the Decepticons for the last five million years."
"Only the Liege care that they are Liege," Eidolon agreed.
"Yes. And they're also a tight-knit group." Dreadmoon tapped his fingers on the table. "In Kalis, there are two kinds - the ones who believe that the Liege will one day rise up and rule Cybertron again and the ones that think the others are idiots and go about their lives. Each kind hates the other, yet they all know one another's names and will buy each other drinks and reminisce about the Golden Age when they meet. They don't often harm one another. In Dizeon, the population of Liege is even lower. They probably all have the codes to one another's quarters, or at least know the others by sight."
A tight-knit group, but one he was not part of - the Liege that liked him were all in Kalis, drafting petitions. The ones in Dizeon would either be indifferent to him or hate him for being sparked by a traitor. He needed an insider, and short of asking Eidolon to check the backgrounds of everyone he had ever known in the Sapphire City, he could only think of one name. "Is Voice-of-the-Sky still alive?"
Eidolon nodded. "Yes, and the Temple of Celestial Revelation remains where it has always been."
"Has he ever done your horoscope?"
The hologram frowned. "Yes. I allowed it once. Wardword used to contact him regularly, and I was curious. Afterwards, I destroyed his records on me. Does he use another language when he gives his prophecies to a Liege customer, or do Liege like having their fortunes told plainly? I recognised the language though I cannot speak it."
"I think Liege fortune tellers only cast horoscopes in Liegetongue to Decepticons." Or to those they believe are Decepticons, Dreadmoon thought, recalling his own experience at the Temple.
"Do you speak Liegetongue, Dreadmoon?"
"Translate this: 'Six little fires should create a blaze, but to bring them together, the heat only dies. Seek another flame lest you burn down the world.'"
Dreadmoon frowned. "I ... Fire imagery tends to refer to Decepticons, but there's a factor in the metaphor that I don't recognise."
"Translate what you can."
"Liegetongue doesn't work like that - it's all cultural references couched in bad poetry and without the references it's as meaningless as a block cipher without the decryption algorithm. The presence of the random factor could change the meaning to anything." Dreadmoon shook his head. "As near as I can tell, it sounds like you will create a doomsday weapon by accident."
"Translation for translation," said Dreadmoon. "When I was an adjutant here, the governor posed a question to me, though the answer is riddle rather than fact: what is the main export of the Sapphire City?"
The hologram chuckled. "Ah. Culture."
Despite her lack of features, Dreadmoon knew Eidolon was smiling triumphantly. "Are Decepticons mere weapons to be fired and forgotten?" she asked. "If we did nothing but fight for the sake of fighting, because it is our programming, we would be no better than insentient machines. The Sapphire City is the living reminder of what we are fighting for - our ideals, our way of life, the soul of our people."
"Interesting." It wasn't an answer he would have thought of and he disagreed with the 'living reminder' boast, but he followed the reasoning behind it.
The hologram wavered. "I will leave you so you may contact Voice-of-the-Sky, if you wish to do that next. In any case, I have work to do. You may contact me if you have new information."
Dreadmoon held up his hand. "One moment, Eidolon. I would like to see the records of the victims."
"They are in the workshop computer now." The hologram vanished and the generator went dormant on a table.
He went to the computer, carefully using manual interface only. In a friendly territory, this would be a courtesy to the local Monitor. Here, he merely had no wish to merge himself with systems tainted by Eidolon's essence and less wish to encounter her without a full control-rig to back him up. Not many people knew that most of a Monitor's communetech was in his watchtower.
He skimmed through the outlines of seventeen lives and found only the pattern that Eidolon had found - they were all Liege. They hadn't even all been living as Decepticons; one had been a neutral and four had been Autobots. There wasn't much information on those five. They all lived in Dizeon. Those were the only connections between them that Dreadmoon could find.
But reading a dossier wasn't the same as knowing a person, hence looking up Voice-of-the-Sky. He left the workshop and took to the air.
Dreadmoon perched on a tower, looking down at the Temple of Celestial Revelation, and activated his radio. < Silverflame. Report. >
The voice of his second-in-command sounded in his mind: < Please. You've been gone for six hours. There hasn't been time for trouble. >
< Report nonetheless. >
< Everything's normal across the board, > Silverflame sent. < There was a minor Autobot raid near the western border two hours ago, dealt with by the locals. The governor of Hydronarox has sent his scheduled import/export report. Nimbus is hopping mad that you went off on your own into enemy territory. Firestarter seems to have taken up with Ghostsong and Tackle's running a betting pool on whether Sunspire will be jealous. >
It was so dull in Kalis that Silverflame was telling him gossip. That was a good sign. < Find something to keep Nimbus occupied. Get him to inventory the junk storage room down in the basement, perhaps. >
< Gotcha. > It was an odd convergence of acquaintances. Centuries after Dreadmoon had left the Sapphire City, Silverflame had arrived there and worked for both Voice-of-the-Sky and Wardword. It also meant that Eidolon would shoot Silverflame on sight if he ever entered Sector Five. With his background and training, he was the perfect replacement for her.
< Tell me about Voice-of-the-Sky, > sent Dreadmoon. < I had only met him once. >
< I haven't seen him since he sold me to Wardword, > Silverflame replied dryly. < We don't exactly keep in touch. As far as I know, he's still doing the fortune teller thing. He's bitter, angry, and a survivor of the fall of Deltacron. If this is all some weird Liege thing, I know he cares less that his people were massacred than that nobody takes his religion seriously. Though now he can be a Polyfoundist as much as he likes, so maybe he's got serious followers again. >
< Hm. > Little that he didn't already know. < Continue to tend my city. Dreadmoon out. >
He returned his attention to the building below him. The Temple of Celestial Revelation was situated on a hill, but one that had been absorbed by the city rather than the one that made up the city centre. It was actually at a higher elevation than the Nyxmount. It appeared the same as it had millions of years ago, though the telescope looked to have been upgraded. It was still the odd, bluish dome, the roof of which was mostly skylight. Dreadmoon jumped off the spire he was perched on and flew down to the temple. As usual, the front door was unlocked.
Voice-of-the-Sky also wore the form of a spacecraft, but because he had never gone farther than the moons and because Dreadmoon didn't like him, Dreadmoon decided that the auditorium was wasted on the priest. It was a large, spherical room, filled with holograms and energy fields to make the viewer feel like he was in outer space. Of course it was far too warm and cluttered, but it was a powerful illusion. Dreadmoon could have just waited in the foyer, but he was curious to see if the illusions of the auditorium still existed now.
"You again, Dreadmoon? Why are you here?"
The Monitor didn't bother turning. "I assume you know that someone is killing the ex-Liege of the Sapphire City one by one?"
"There's no such thing as an 'ex-Liege', save perhaps your creator. But, yes, I am aware of the situation." There was a short, suspicious pause. "It's not you doing it, is it?"
Dreadmoon shook his head, still inspecting the nebula. "No. I am here to find out who is."
"You hate the Liege," said Voice-of-the-Sky. "What will you do when you find the perpetrator?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I will buy him a drink." He turned in the air then, drawing his rifle in the same movement and aimed it at the priest. "Perhaps I will save him the trouble of killing you. You started the Petitioners, didn't you?"
Voice-of-the-Sky blinked. "The what?"
"Excuse me - the Society for the Restoration of the Glorious Liege Empire."
The Monitor's aim didn't waver. "Did you or did you not set those idiots on me?"
"Not on purpose. I told people about your background, but expected they'd be after your head, not trying to canonise you. What made you guess me?"
Dreadmoon vanished his gun. "I realised later that when I first met you, I slipped up and admitted that I could speak Liegetongue. Other than Nimbus, you were the only one who knew my connections to the Liege when I became the governor of Kalis. However, somehow I don't think that you really want me to become the Overlord."
Voice-of-the-Sky smiled without humour. "I send you worshippers to tell you that you are a god and I hear that you blaspheme against yourself. At least you're consistent. Is this all you came to ask or would you like to come in?"
They went up to the priest's study, a dull, heavy place after the auditorium despite the ceiling being a skylight. If anything, the room had only become more cluttered since Dreadmoon's first visit. Voice-of-the-Sky sat down heavily in his chair. "Really, why come? I thought you would be happy with someone removing the Liege."
"The Monitor Eidolon asked me." Dreadmoon tilted his head. "You do not seem too concerned by the current state of affairs. You may be a target, you realise."
"I have faith in the strength of our Line," said Voice-of-the-Sky.
"You expect me to save you."
"That isn't what I meant."
"You lived through the end of the Golden Age and you still believe in Liege superiority?"
Dreadmoon shook his head. Experience with people like Nimbus and the Petitioners had proved that arguing that the Liege weren't actually special was as useful as banging his head against a wall. He gestured to the computer on the table. "May I?"
The priest shrugged and pushed his chair back. Dreadmoon walked around the table and called up the records of the seventeen victims. Then he stepped back. "For various reasons, I am convinced that the killer is a fellow Liege. Did you know the victims?"
"Probably," said Voice-of-the Sky, dragging himself back to the table to read the screen. Then, after a few minutes, "Yes. Of course, I've met most of the Liege in this Sector. I'm fairly visible and I'm the only Starmakers priest in this quadrant. They all come to visit, sooner or later."
"And since you are visible and easy to find, perhaps you hear all the gossip," Dreadmoon said. "What do you know of the killings?"
Voice-of-the-Sky tapped the screen twice. "That they happened. Also, that Eidolon is missing a few."
"There were another seven before this after the Reawakening, but they were all people from out of state, so they were nobody that Eidolon would notice missing. However, we noticed."
The local Liege noticed and said nothing. But then, why would they? Dreadmoon admitted. By Decepticon law, if someone was hunting them, it was their own fault for being easy prey. Eidolon only cared because she hated anything that she couldn't explain. Besides, no stuck-up Liege would ask a mere Decepticon for help. "Summon the records of the others."
Voice-of-the-Sky did. Dreadmoon risked interfacing with the computer long enough to download the files, and scanned them quickly in his mind. "Useless. It's the same thing - no visible connection except that they were Liege." So, the killer got tired of waiting for harder to trace victims to come to him and started going for the locals, it seemed. "What have the local Liege done about this?"
"Worried, mostly. We've tried to find the killer ourselves, but with no luck." He frowned. "They won't like to hear that you think it's one of them."
"It's the simplest answer for how the killer always seemed to manage to get so close without raising suspicion," said Dreadmoon. "If you people refuse to take that into consideration, no wonder you can't get anywhere. Mph, perhaps if I am lucky the killer will try for me. I'm from out of state, and perhaps he will think that a pureline is too tempting a target to resist."
"Feh, you're not pureline," said the priest. "Seventy percent at most. Most people who think of themselves as Liege are between thirty and forty percent."
Dreadmoon tilted his head. "Oh? How can you tell?"
"There are means of estimation."
"Ah, yes, the 'pulling numbers out of the air' method."
"I traced your sparkline and asked the stars," said Voice-of-the-Sky.
"Didn't I say that?"
"You asked my methods, Dreadmoon. I never said you would like them." The priest sighed. "I never recovered from the days that my religion was outlawed. Even now, when I can practice openly, I'm still seen as nothing more than a fortune teller. It doesn't help that most of the Liege serious about their culture left in the exodus before the Hibernation. The only ones that are left are the ones like you - the ones who have come to think of themselves as members of other factions. I don't count your Petitioners - fools too weak to try to change things themselves, and too blind to see that you're their enemy. I do what I can to raise awareness and interest."
"Such as putting percentages on something that doesn't exist. There are no Lines," Dreadmoon said. "Those that called themselves 'Liege' were nothing more than a pack of Decepticon First War heroes who used legends to try to claim they were something special. When they became decadent, it suited the Decepticons proper to keep calling them 'Liege' so as to not be associated with them."
Voice-of-the-Sky sat back and steepled his fingers. "And you claim that we make up stories. What did you feel when Seaquake died?"
The Monitor glared at him. "I'm certain it's possible to program a type of feedback loop into the core of one's creation as a deterrent to assassination."
"It's not." The priest's expression softened somewhat. "Really, what did it feel like? The rest of us don't know."
"It hurt, of course. My first thought was that I must have been shot. I was surprised to find I hadn't." Dreadmoon frowned. "It doesn't matter. I fail to see why feeling sparkline deaths is supposed to be such a wonderful thing. It strikes me as inefficient. I also note that the only ones who think it special and magical are the ones it doesn't happen to."
"Maybe. But, aside from Seaquake, you've never met another pureline, so you wouldn't know their opinions anyway."
Dreadmoon considered that. "But you do?"
It was the priest's turn to frown. "All right. They also found it a painful nuisance and wished it didn't have to happen to them. But they were all forgetful and decadent by the end. They saw a blessing as a curse. The sparkline connection is the physical reminder of our origins."
"Easy to say when you will only feel the pain of dying once."
There didn't seem to be anything else useful to be learned from the priest. Dreadmoon made his excuses to leave. Partway to the door he paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Of the victims ... who would you say was the 'most' Liege?"
Voice-of-the-Sky considered that for a few minutes. "I'd say Permafrost. Why?"
With nowhere better to go and no wish to speak with Eidolon yet, Dreadmoon found a tall building to perch on. He activated his radio again. < Silverflame. >
< Woe is me, for I have lost Nimbus in a mah'hil match to Ultra Magnus. Mags promises to treat him well. >
< I disbelieve. >
< You're no fun. Kalis remains standing. A light scour-storm blew in from the west. Sunspire yanked Tackle's shovel off his aft and smacked him with it, > Silverflame reported. < What do you need? >
< Stand by to receive transmission, > Dreadmoon ordered, then sent the file on Permafrost. The fact that Voice-of-the-Sky had identified him as having stronger Liege-traits than the others was a way to pick a random file rather than any belief that a 'purer' line would help. It was coincidence that Permafrost's body was one of the ones in the workshop - the one with the armoured vehicle as his alt-mode. < Contact your personal astrologer and ask him to do a reading on this person. >
There was a radiation of disbelief. < All right, I can think of several reasons why this makes no sense, starting with it's you making the request, followed closely by that the file says this person is dead. >
< Don't tell your astrologer that. >
There was a busy silence as Silverflame made contact with his astrologer. Another Starmakers cultist, Zodiac was a Decepticon Polyfoundist rather than a Liege. That didn't make Dreadmoon like him any better. Silverflame didn't quite believe in astrology, but wished it was true, and had his horoscope read whenever he thought Dreadmoon wasn't looking. He returned several minutes later. < Why didn't you ask Voice-of-the-Sky to do the reading? >
< Because he knows that Permafrost is dead, > Dreadmoon explained. < The knowledge would influence his reading, if not cause him to refuse outright, I'm certain. >
< You know who would have thought of casting a dead mech's horoscope to try to find his killer? > the gliderjet asked. < This is a Wardword plan, Dreadmoon. I think the Sapphire City is influencing you. >
< There is nothing left of Wardword in this city. It all smells of Eidolon. >
< Not even a statue? > Silverflame asked. < He would have liked to have a big statue in the catacombs. Something good and spooky. >
< I haven't looked. >
< Could you check while you're there? If only to indulge the whim of your loyal second-in-command? >
Dreadmoon chuckled, but didn't transmit it. < Perhaps, if I have time. > Silverflame was worth that much, at least.
There was another patch of silence as Silverflame was distracted. Then, < Zodiac is really angry, Dreadmoon. >
< Why? What is the reading? >
< He refuses to tell me. I'll patch him through. >
Dreadmoon felt the touch of the new radio frequency and opened himself to it. < Yes? >
< WHAT THE SLAG ARE YOU PLAYING AT!? >
Dreadmoon shook static out of his head. < Excuse me? >
The astrologer turned down the gain, but fury still crackled along the connection. < How long were you working on that? I know you can't stand me, but I didn't think you'd lower yourself to a prank, even one that complicated! I'll be jumping at shadows for weeks! >
< Zodiac, I assure you that the person you did the reading for is real. He is, however, presumed dead. >
There was a laugh, but it was tinged with hysteria. < You know, I actually feel a bit better to hear that. That means that I might have a false reading. Better hope I'm wrong if Permafrost is a friend of yours. Otherwise ... >
< He is possibly dead. It doesn't get much worse than that. >
< Cliché as it is, the reading I got says he's worse than dead. >
Dreadmoon bit back anger. < Spare me the theatrics and tell me the reading, astrologer. >
< No theatrics. No fancy language, > Zodiac agreed. < I didn't get a prediction, Dreadmoon. Translated into plain, Modern Decepticon, the message I got was, "Help us, Primogenitor, help us - he's torn us apart!" >
He found the little hologram generator waiting back at the workshop. It activated when it sensed his approach, so he told Eidolon about the previous victims in the series, his experiment, and Permafrost's horoscope. She seemed to think the reading had been a perfectly sensible thing to do. "For the moment, say that the message is true," said the hologram, bending over Permafrost's body-shell and probing at his midsection with intangible fingers. "On the surface, it makes no sense. Spark-extraction leaves the body whole. If his spark could be found, his body could be restored with no problem."
"But spark-extraction is painful," said Dreadmoon, who didn't believe the message for a minute but had nothing better to do than follow the chain of inferences. "Perhaps that is what was meant."
"Possible. The other curious part is that he spoke in plural."
"He was the twenty-third victim."
Eidolon nodded. "He knew of the other victims then, somehow. You say the Liege all know each other in life. Do they remain in touch after death?"
"Having never died, how should I know?"
The hologram made a rude noise. "I forgot. You are the atheist that embarrasses other atheists with your flaunted ignorance. You would know nothing."
Dreadmoon flashed her a frosty smile. "I like to think of it as saving my memory banks for things that are real."
"You would." The hologram's optics unfocused slightly as Eidolon's mind became occupied elsewhere. She returned a few seconds later. "In the message, Permafrost cried out for his Primogenitor. This implies that he is either Polyfoundist or Deciprimordialist. Knowing of the others implies that they are in the Allspark, which implies Deciprimordialism ..."
"Or the sparks of the victims are sitting in a row of jars on the perpetrator's shelf, dimly aware of one another. As well, the Liege community knew about the killings before you became aware of them, so a later victim would know there were others before. Your ramblings into mythology merely confuse the matter. Ignore the reading for now."
"Very well," the hologram nodded. "The fact that there were previous victims is interesting. Either the killer has become much more confident, or his urges come with more frequency now. Likely both. Does the Liege community seem worried?"
Dreadmoon made a derisive noise. "Voice-of-the-Sky certainly isn't."
"Or there is the possibility that these deaths are towards some purpose, and the killer has stepped up his timetable."
"Or perhaps there are two killers now," said Dreadmoon. "We could speculate all day and not get anywhere."
"Then I will return to my work. I will seek you out at the end of my shift," said Eidolon. "Perhaps some hours of thought will bring new ideas."
"Perhaps." Then, "Does Wardword have a monument in the catacombs?"
"Of course. He installed it himself when he heard he had a small psychopatron cult," said Eidolon. Most of the Monitors, particularly the original ones, had small cults of superstitious people dedicated to them. Dreadmoon did his best to discourage it, but Wardword would have found it funny. "I think the current idea is that while I rule the cities above, Wardword's spirit is lord of the Underground."
"I'm surprised you didn't have the statue smashed."
The hologram tilted its head. "Why? There would be no point to it."
"Because you were the one who killed him. I still fail to understand your motive," said Dreadmoon coldly. "I knew Wardword. He would have treated you well."
Eidolon flexed her fingers. "What motive do I need? I wanted his power, the power of commune. The rank of Monitor is the only Decepticon post that allows a civilian any real influence. A Monitor needs no military training."
There was a piece of the story missing. Dreadmoon could hear its absence but couldn't tell what it would say. If Eidolon left it out, she would not explain it even if asked. "Why do they put up with you?"
"Who - the Dizeos?" asked Eidolon. "The Dizeos love me - I make sure the Sector is running smoothly and leave them alone to do what they like. I understand them. I am one of them. The rest of the Sector does not like me as much, but they respect my power. That is all I ask of them."
Dreadmoon nodded, understanding rather than acceptance. "I will contact you when I have more information, if I learn anything of interest before you call me again."
The hologram vanished. Dreadmoon left to look for the entrance to the Underground.
The catacombs were where they had always been. Others found the tunnels frightening, but that was all they were to Dreadmoon - tunnels with statues in them. They were in good repair, clean and well-lit. Superstitious as the denizens of the Sapphire City stereotypically were, they made sure the catacombs were well-tended despite their fear of going down into them. If anyone did run into a ghost in the tunnels, the ghost certainly couldn't complain about the condition of his monument.
Wardword's monument was easy to find. To get into the catacombs proper, there was a short tunnel, then a large room with a dozen tunnels going out to the maze where the statues were kept. The large room used to be empty, but Wardword had placed his statue in the middle of it.
It was not an accurate representation of what Wardword looked like in life. After he became governor of the Sapphire City, he had upgraded to a stealth-jet mode. The statue was twice as big as life and looked something like the stealth-jet, something like the beaked creature Dreadmoon had known, and mostly like some sort of long-limbed quasi-organic biped that Dreadmoon couldn't identify. The optics of the statue glowed energon-pink, a bit of extra expense. Dreadmoon wasn't surprised - if people were going to think Wardword was some kind of nightmare monster anyway, Wardword would encourage them. There was no inscription save his name and titles. Presumably Wardword couldn't think of anything pompous enough to add afterwards, or he thought that his name was enough.
It was uglier than Wardword ever was, and the thought surprised him. While Dreadmoon could recall perfectly what Wardword used to look like, he had forgotten that he was ugly. Friendship caused selective blindness.
There was a bowl set by one clawed foot with a little bit of energon still in it. So, people really did make sacrifices to dead mechanisms.
Dreadmoon picked up the bowl, upended it, and dropped it on the floor - a tribute to a fellow atheist. It was the kind of gesture Wardword would have appreciated.
He could imagine the laugh now - half-mockery, half-fondness - even if he would never hear it again. Wardword was dead, millions of years dead, and there was nothing left but a statue that barely even looked like him.
His radio signalled. < Dreadmoon? >
< Voice-of-the-Sky. What do you want? >
< I think I've figured out the second pattern. Something you said ... Well, come back to the temple and I'll show you. >
< Very well. I will be there shortly. >
Dreadmoon cut the connection. He briefly considered telling Eidolon what he was doing, but decided against it. If Voice-of-the-Sky knew the answers, Dreadmoon wanted to be back in Kalis before he told his fellow Monitor what they were.
Dreadmoon found the priest in the foyer of the temple. "I came as quickly as I could. There were a few small tasks I had to perform first. Tell me what you discovered."
"Everything is intermixed," said Voice-of-the-Sky. "Somehow I doubt that pureline Transformers lasted much beyond the Second Generation. Except Primes. There are still pureline Primes. The Matrix would be useless otherwise."
The Monitor blinked. "What has that got to do with anything?"
"I'm filling in background. You won't understand what I'm about to tell you otherwise. Follow me."
Instead of going back up to the study, Voice-of-the-Sky led Dreadmoon to a workroom in a sub-basement. There were two tables - the one closest to the door had a large box on it, while the farther one was bare. Dreadmoon immediately left the priest's side and walked the perimeter of the room. "Well, what am I supposed to be looking at here?"
When he turned back at the end of the question, he found Voice-of-the-Sky levelling a concussion blaster at him. "Sit down. Put your hands where I can see them and don't point them towards me," ordered the priest.
Dreadmoon sat at the empty table, back to the wall, and rested his hands on the table with his fingers intertwined. "Happy?"
"Don't take that tone with me, Dreadmoon. Being a Monitor might make your mind fast, but it doesn't speed up your body. I can pull the trigger before you can aim your wrist-lasers."
"True. Well, get on with it."
Voice-of-the-Sky lifted the box with one hand, carefully keeping his blaster aimed at the Monitor. Under the box was a glass cylinder with metal at both ends. Inside was a light.
It was a spark, but a strange one. It seemed too large, and its pulsations were erratic. "Who did you pull that one from?" Dreadmoon asked.
"All of them."
"I didn't think sparks could be merged."
"Ordinarily, they can't. Briefly - it happens when people bond, for instance - but they return to their former state quickly," the priest explained. "They can be forced to stay merged, but it takes a great deal of energy. I found another way."
He patted the jar. "Sparks want to be whole - that's why sparking works. Split off a piece of your spark, put it in a lasercore, and the fragment will regenerate. Without a lasercore, it will die unless it can find another way to make itself whole. This little star isn't twenty-four sparks. It's twenty-four spark fragments."
Voice-of-the-Sky glared at him. "I don't think you understand what I've done."
"No, I follow your explanation fine. I'm just not horrified."
"Feh. You aren't even a good audience." Voice-of-the-Sky shook his head. "Because they're all merged together, the sparks won't extinguish. But also, since they're damaged, they want to regenerate. This container acts something like a lasercore, forcing the sparks to regenerate past the point of completion."
The priest's optics unfocused slightly. "There is a legend ... but you do not like legends. Call it a theory. It was like this - there is a theory that the ability of the Liege to feel the deaths of those in their sparkline isn't a curse, but a failsafe device created by the Liege Maximo. We're all connected - within each of us is every other Liege. Even if all but one were destroyed, the Line could be recreated from that one individual. You see why a few deaths neither worry me nor make me feel like a Line traitor."
"I will not spark, Voice-of-the-Sky. My line dies with me."
"You do think you're important, don't you? It comes of having those Petitioners fawning over you," rumbled Voice-of-the-Sky. "You couldn't recreate the Liege. You're a traitsplice like the rest of us, even if the percentage of Liegespark in you is higher than most."
Dreadmoon tilted his head down, peering up from under his chevron. "There is one thing that I do not understand in this work of yours ..."
The Monitor looked up again sharply. "The point of it. What's the use of a patchwork spark?"
"Because the 'patches' are distilled Liege-spark, the taints removed. I'm restarting the Line."
"Voice-of-the-Sky," Dreadmoon sighed, "you are - and I say this with complete sincerity - utterly ridiculous."
"Even if only one Liege exists, he can recreate the Line. The theory goes on to say that if enough Liege exist, they can recreate their Primogenitor." Voice-of-the-Sky raised his voice in triumph. "If I gather enough Liegeline spark energy, the Liege Maximo will be reborn!"
"What, in the jar?"
"You are sorely tempting me to shoot you, Dreadmoon. Must you take everything so literally? You who felt the death of your creator, you still refuse to believe?"
Dreadmoon tilted his head. "I don't see how my knowing when Seaquake died is any sort of proof of the existence of a mythological entity. Show me the Liege Maximo and I will believe in him. Until then, I do not think he ever existed. But, to the matters at hand, are you quite done? You do realise that it will be quite obvious who the killer is if I die here."
"Feh. You might be closer to pureline than anyone else on this planet, but you're the creation of Seaquake and therefore tainted. Your spark isn't any use to me," said Voice-of-the-Sky. "I'm going to let you go after you radio Kalis and order your Petitioners to come up here. You'll get rid of those annoyances and I'll get my spark-energy. Fair?"
"Mm. It is tempting to let them all be destroyed for a silly reason," said Dreadmoon, leaning back in his chair. "But, oh, I'd rather see the look on your face when you realise that I'm going to kill you out of spite."
Even though he knew something was going to happen, the three small explosions that shook the temple were enough to distract Voice-of-the-Sky long enough for Dreadmoon to blast him with his wrist-lasers. While this barely damaged the heavily-armoured priest, it did cause him to lose his grip on his concussion blaster. Dreadmoon materialised his rifle and snapped off four shots. At that range, he couldn't miss.
He could have explained that his initial delay in arriving was because he had first procured some small charges, then set them on the outer wall of the temple in case his hunch was correct and the priest was leading him into a trap, but why give Voice-of-the-Sky any chance to regain the advantage?
Dreadmoon had knelt down to make certain of his kill when his radio activated. < Dreadmoon. Answer. >
< Hello, Eidolon. >
There was the feeling of another presence in the room as Eidolon slipped into the computer system in the temple. < I feel that I will not be wrong in my guess that the recent explosion was your doing. I will send you a bill for repair supplies. Voice-of-the-Sky is the one we sought? >
< Yes. >
< Did you discern his motivations? >
Dreadmoon shrugged and told her what had happened. When he finished, the feeling of Eidolon's presence became stronger, almost sharpened as she probed the container with the room's sensors. < This is a spark, yes, but I do not know if it is viable. Because it is patchwork, to put it in a body may be to make an incomplete person. > There was a considering pause. < I would like to keep it for study. If Voice-of-the-Sky did manage to distil the traits of the Liegeline, that may prove that the legend of the Lines is true. We might finally know the true origin of our species. >
< It would only cause chaos. >
< Oh? >
Dreadmoon gestured at the spark, knowing that Eidolon could see him even if he couldn't see her. < Whether it is true or not, drawing too much attention to it will just cause more schisms. Two factions is quite enough; we don't need twelve. Besides, how would you rather be judged - by your power and service record, or by the percentages of your spark? >
< I understand your objection, but no fear - the research will only be for my own amusement. The distillation of purelines holds no interest for me beyond the academic, and no other person will know that I have it. I want that spark. You are in no position to resist my will. >
< I will destroy it. >
< Do you desire the destruction of the patchwork spark so much that you would die to do it? > asked Eidolon. < My warriors are on their way. Even if you defeated them, you cannot defeat the Sapphire City. >
She might be lying about the warriors ... but probably not. She certainly told the truth about the city. Dreadmoon took a step back and bowed slightly. < I will withdraw. >
Eidolon's presence followed him to the edge of the Sapphire City. < Do not attempt to regain the patchwork spark, > she warned.
< Do not attempt to raise the Lines, > Dreadmoon countered. < I will be left to return to Kalis unchallenged? >
< Yes. We have a truce, > Eidolon agreed. < This is why you are still alive. >
< I'm surprised you've chosen to honour it. >
< Perhaps I only wish to show that I am not bound by my spark. To be a Decepticon is to betray, but to be a Decepticon is also to rebel. I rebel against my spark. I release you. >
His first act upon returning to the Amnimount was to throw himself into his command chair and send questing tendrils of thought to the Six-Five border. Eidolon was not there and didn't seem to be in the system at all. She was probably still playing with the patchwork spark.
The commune was a light one, so the senses of his body were still active. "How was dear Eidie?" Silverflame asked. "Is that blade-tank form of hers real?"
"I never saw her in person," said Dreadmoon.
"I'm guessing you solved the mystery. Who did it?"
Silverflame's smile didn't even flicker. "Too bad." He might have meant the words, he might not. Dreadmoon didn't care one way or the other. "Details?"
"Later. After this shift - I've missed Kalis." It was true and it was a reason to put Silverflame off - the gliderjet was already itching with curiosity and it amused Dreadmoon to make him wait.
Kalis beckoned. Dreadmoon sank into it.
The Worldnet had devoured Nightfall, her brother, her other half. The Worldnet terrified her.
Her only choice was to conquer it. If life were fair and justice poetic, Eidolon would have claimed Aurknan. As it was, neither she nor Wardword could leave the Sapphire City. Wardword because he was in love with it, Eidolon because she was terrified of travel. Therefore, Wardword had to die. That was all.
In one of the hidden laboratories buried in the Nyxmount, Eidolon looked at the strange spark in the jar - a container of her own making, not the false lasercore. The spark would not grow now. Some folklore held that a pure Liege spark should be green. This one remained a flashing blue-white like a ball of lightning, like all sparks. If the message from Dreadmoon's astrologer was to be believed, it was in terrible pain.
She wondered if Voice-of-the-Sky spoke accurately, that a large enough concentration of Liege spark energy could be used to recreate the Liege Maximo, and she wondered if the method would work for any of the Thirteen. Eidolon dismissed the thought. She had no use for a Firstforged, and she certainly couldn't guarantee keeping control over one.
There was only one way to tell if the patchwork spark was viable, and that was to put it in a body.
Eidolon pressed the button that lowered a shield around the container. She might decide to attempt that some other time. Not now.
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