"It was like this," says the first storyteller as you make a seat of a crate in a storage room. "There was a universe before the one here and now, but the Chaos Bringer destroyed it all, or thought he did. The scattered atoms that he missed, those became the start of the new universe - this one. And the soul of the universe created a guardian and named him Primus ..."
"Wrong," says the other. "The Chaos Bringer came from another plane of existence entirely. He slaughtered all his fellow gods but one - Primus."
"How did he miss Primus, then?"
"Maybe he just thought he was dead, or Primus hid. How should I know why a god made a mistake? Anyway, Primus followed him, but realised that he couldn't defeat his enemy. He would have to trick him. So Primus went into one planet and the Chaos Bringer went into another, trying to follow, and found he was stuck. But Primus was helpless now, too - hidden from his enemy, yes, but unable to do anything but be a planet."
"Right, and the reason why Primus remained trapped in planet-form and why the Chaos Bringer could bend his to his will was due to a certain ... quality of the planets chosen ..."
"Ah, true, but we'll get there in a moment. Primus himself couldn't move, but he could spawn beings that could, to protect him. These were the Firstforged, the Thirteen, twelve with names and the one who later committed a sin so great that he was stripped of his name."
"I know his name."
"Of course you do. I told it to you. He started with a name and fought alongside his brothers."
"Oh, yes, the fighting. Unlike his enemy, Primus hadn't joined with a dead world, he had joined with a living one, and the living world resisted. Not everything was wiped out by the change. Many of the native dominants survived, and that's what Primus based his creations on. That's why they didn't look like robots and didn't transform. At least, not at first."
"But why not take over a dead world? Primus couldn't have made a mistake."
"Primus knew his children had to be strong, to fight the Chaos Bringer when he returned. The demons were a test."
"And the demons nearly destroyed the Cybertronian race before it had a chance to do anything. Oh, yes."
There were two of them. They lived deep in Atalantix and they babbled like a pair of cheerful, disagreeing streams. They could generally be found tucked back in a corner of a major work area, such as the engine room or the pump chambers, sometimes with a small audience, sometimes without. He didn't know their names. No one else seemed to, either. To Nimbus and to everyone else, they were simply the storytellers. Their stories tended to be based in Polyfoundist mythology, sometimes embellished versions of the legends, sometimes seemingly made up on the spot. At first Nimbus had thought they were a pair of down-and-out priests, but when he asked them, cautiously, if they were, they had laughed, which was no answer at all. They had a strangely casual style. Instead of the careful, respectful language in the sacred texts, they spoke of the Firstforged like they were gossiping about old friends. And, somehow, it wasn't disrespectful.
He realised it was safer that way, whatever the storytellers were, when he thought about it. Over time, the Liege had drifted away from Polyfoundism as their leaders converted to one of the major Autobot religions. While Polyfoundism was fairly compatible with most of the other Cybertronian theologies, it was the least adaptable to Sigmatism. Preaching about the dark times when demons roamed freely across Cybertron, before Transformers had become Transformers, spawning from twelve of the original creations, was discouraged. However, telling stories about mythological figures was simply a method of entertainment and therefore couldn't be punished.
"Your stories contradict themselves," Nimbus had pointed out one day.
"Of course they do," said one, perched on a large pipe. "It's mythology."
"Everything is true," said the other, grinning. Nimbus didn't bother applying logic to the two after that and simply listened to them talk.
Nimbus saw the storytellers as vitally important. Other religions might work perfectly well for the Autobots, but in his opinion a Liege could only be a Polyfoundist. Being Liege wasn't just a build-line, it was a culture. They were the descendants of the Liege Maximo, war-leader of the Firstforged, highest of the military Lines by right. They were better than the other Lines and their superiority was written on their sparks. Otherwise, what was the point?
"I know why the Liege aren't allowed to kill their kin," says one.
The other makes a derisive noise. "Because we feel it. You would have to really want someone dead if you knew you were going to feel their death like you were dying as well."
"No, no, I mean I know why the Liege feel those in their sparkline die," says the first. "It was like this: the Liege Maximo and Armadakeon were ambushed by a pack of demons. Armadakeon was wounded terribly, and Maximo was almost overwhelmed. He realised that he didn't have the power to win the battle, so he absorbed Armadakeon's power and used his new strength to destroy his attackers. When he returned home, Prima said, 'We know your actions. You have killed our brother.' Maximo replied, 'He was dying. If I hadn't taken his power, I would have died as well.' Prima said, 'Your motives are understood. Still, an example must be made.' After that, Maximo would feel the deaths of his children like it was his own death, and his children carried the same curse. This is also why so many of the Liege wear aquatic forms - Maximo still carried Armadakeon's power, so Armadakeon's form manifested in Maximo's children."
"And because Armadakeon was the first of the Firstforged to die, he became lord of the afterlife," says the other, warming to the story.
"That is Decepticon Primordialism, not Polyfoundism," you correct.
"They borrow from one another," says the storyteller. "And as the other warrior Firstforged died, they took their places alongside him. The Allspark is divided between Valiago, Arkhuto, Alaro, and Dekipatro, with Armadakeon as lord over them all."
You tilt your head. "Not the Liege Maximo?"
The first storyteller grins. "Of course not him. He's not dead."
His master, the Liege Fabulo, Emirate of Hermeun, never asked Nimbus where he went when he wasn't by his side. Nimbus was just one of his primary bodyguards, one of three, and a third of the day was his to spend in whatever way he pleased. Life was peaceful, and Nimbus' purpose was more decoration than defence.
Technically, they did not live in Atalantix, but the Liege Fabulo found any excuse to visit and Nimbus enjoyed the outings. The city was beautiful, the soul of the Liege caught in metal. Or, more accurately, the vessel that held the soul. The soul itself was the culture and the people that embodied it.
The storytellers remembered, even if their leaders forgot. The Sigmatism phase would pass. The Autobots would remember their place and stop thinking that they ruled Cybertron. Nimbus just had to wait.
"Strictly speaking," murmured one of the storytellers when Nimbus mentioned this, "the Liege are not the ruling class of all Cybertron, just of the military Lines. Maximo wasn't the leader of the Firstforged - Prima was. To apply the old hierarchy fundamentally, we serve under the Prime. Maximo was the war-leader. He wasn't even the second-in-command; he just took on the role in the war against the demons."
"Even in terms of age, he was third - Automa was second," said the other. "We're in an era of peace, thus the Autobots are Sentinel Prime's chosen people. When danger threatens, the Liege will take that place. We are a war-breed - remember that!"
After that conversation, Nimbus started putting more effort into keeping up his combat training. To be honest, he had forgotten.
"Dekipatro, Primogenitor of the Decepticons, was the first Cybertronian to create firearms," says one, "but he wasn't the first to use them. When he completed his first weapon, the Liege Maximo took it from him, saying, 'I am your leader in war. The new weapon is mine by right.' Now, Dekipatro was one of the younger Firstforged - in fact, the youngest of the warbuild. And, like all younger creations, he considered his elders obsolete. He said, 'I created the weapon. Only I know how to use it. You're too outdated to understand anything new.' So Maximo broke his own arm off at the elbow and used his power to graft the weapon onto the stump. 'Your weapon is a part of me now,' he said. 'I understand it as I understand my own body.'"
"Dekipatro was also the creator of treachery," says the other. "He was clever. He would have known that Maximo would take it from him and would have rigged a trap into its structure."
"Ah, but Dekipatro created firearms before he came up with treachery."
"Don't be foolish. He would have come up with treachery first. It doesn't require any props."
"Maximo disarmed the trap when the gun became part of him, then. He had total control over it then, and Dekipatro couldn't have guessed that Maximo would graft it to himself. No one had grafted a weapon to himself before."
"Dekipatro would have thought of grafting before Maximo thought of it. Maximo was the most powerful of the lot, but he wasn't the smartest."
On one visit, Nimbus couldn't find them. He asked various workers where the storytellers had gone, but no one knew. A few days ago they had been pensive, the next day they had vanished. Nimbus had found it to be an unusual day all around. Usually the trips to Atalantix were joyful outings, but the Liege Fabulo had seemed worried about something, and it was very hard to worry the Liege Fabulo.
Nimbus never saw the storytellers again.
Two weeks later, the Decepticons attacked.
"The demons were legion, while the Firstforged were only thirteen."
"Oh, but thirteen pieces of a god," adds the other. "And as part of a god cloaked in a living planet, they could also create life."
"But because they were not gods, they could not create so much as copy."
"Hm, true. Even the idea of transformation was borrowed from the Chaos Bringer."
"Right, but I meant in their souls," says the first. "One cannot give what one does not have."
"I heard the Decepticons were trying to find a way around that," you say. "There was a scandal about it in Vos. Someone changed Vector Sigma's programming, I think."
The storyteller on your right nods. "We heard. A necessity of evolution, I suppose, but another step from our origins. We've become so dependant on Vector Sigma. I like Atalantix, even though everyone's so tame. Most people here still build or hire designers and spark on their own. It's a way to remind ourselves that we're living beings and not merely machines."
This is the only time you have heard a storyteller speak of something so personal, and you don't want to ruin the moment by drawing attention to it. The other one breaks the silence, speaking lightly, "Imagine if people started doing that sort of thing themselves. I don't just mean multi-sparking, I mean multi-sparking with creators from different Lines."
The ploy works, and the moody storyteller chuckles, gloom forgotten in the face of the ridiculous suggestion. "Can you imagine a Liege-Decepticon hybrid? At best he would be deadly, ruthless, cunning, with all these traits under his strict control. More likely he would be full of arrogance and ambition, but too much of a coward to act on it."
The tension in the air vanishes. You bring the conversation back to an earlier point. "We seem to have lost the ability to spawn, though," you say. "Why?"
"After too many generations, the power grew too thin," says one. "We still hold a bit of it in the ability to spark, but we no longer have the strength to create new bodies."
The other disagrees: "It was the Builders. When the Builders came, they took away the memory of our past. They tried to make us into mere robots, but we fought back. Still, we lost so much of ourselves that we never managed to reclaim ..."
To the outside world, he was the Liege Hydrueno, Lord of the Calm Waters, and he clung to the title. In fact, he could have claimed the title of Emirate Kallaxis or even Overlord if he wanted to, because for one and a quarter million years, he had been the most powerful Liege on Cybertron. While it was possible that he hadn't even noticed this fact, it was more likely that he realised just how futile it would be to claim power.
To Seaquake, Liege Hydrueno was simply Halcyon, whose qualification for ruling the capital of Kalis was nothing more than the fact that he was built to do so. He was the first to be built by their mutual creator, the Emirate Miraculo Kallaxis, who preferred to rule his territory by proxy from Atalantix. Seaquake, built two thousand years and seven brothers later - ninth of eleven - had to work for his living. Despite his form, Seaquake's temperament wasn't suited to warfare. As soon as he could slip out of the army, he did, and he came back to the city that had stolen his soul.
Seaquake had arrived with plans to rule the city himself, but those had faded when he realised that Halcyon loved the city as much as he did and was doing a perfectly good job of commanding it. Instead, Seaquake contented himself with being the security director of Kallaxis. It was the Golden Age. There was plenty for both of them.
Now, for one and a quarter million years, he had watched Halcyon deteriorate. Sometimes Halcyon would show flashes of his old self in word or gesture, but those times had become briefer and fewer as the centuries passed. He had to be reminded to refuel and to tend to his upkeep. He hadn't left the Amnarum - the tower that doubled as city hall and home - in the last three-hundred-thousand years, not even to stand on a balcony. He hardly ever left the control room; not since the towers of the Decepticons in the Neutral Territories could be seen from the western edge of Kalis.
Better to stay inside anyway, since the Decepticons had started the long-range bombing. The missiles never reached the citadel. Either it was out of range or the Decepticons knew that Kallaxis wasn't always a city - she was built over Cybertron's planetary jets and the reactor that powered them. One good hit would wipe her out and take most of the state with her. If they wanted the city, they would have to come for her.
Both Halcyon and Seaquake had already died nine times, through the deaths of eight brothers and the Liege Miraculo. One brother still survived somewhere. Sometimes Seaquake wondered which one of them would experience true death first, and generally came to the conclusion that he himself would, but not by much. He didn't think of this too often - not so much because it depressed him, but because Seaquake was the type of person who lived in the present and didn't often think of the past or future.
He saw his own reflection in Halcyon. Not an exact copy, but the reflection seen in a distorted mirror - all of the pieces were there, but in different proportions. Seaquake worked to keep himself from reflecting back. Halcyon had enough to worry about without knowing that his guardian felt as hopeless as he did.
There wasn't anywhere else to look. The Amnarum's staff had long ago either fled or been told to go do something useful. With Kalis the way she was now - alone, cut off from all resources, slowly dying - she didn't take much to run. Halcyon and Seaquake could easily handle it by themselves. Sometimes there were visitors, but not often and not for long. Neither of them had much interest in people, only in the city, and no one else understood that.
They spent most of their time in the tower's control room, calling up different views of Kalis. This time there was a slight disturbance on one monitor - the presence of a small seacraft where none was expected. It might have been nothing more than someone out for a swim, but Seaquake tended to trust his hunches when it came to Kallaxis. It also gave him an excuse to get out of the tower for a little while. It took a bit of convincing for Halcyon to let him go, but Seaquake knew the governor would be perfectly fine on his own for a little while. There were no enemies here. Not yet.
Outside, Seaquake stepped off the edge of the courtyard, transformed in midair, and hit the water in the shape of something that looked like a cross between a submarine and a siege engine. His body was built for warfare, even if his mind wasn't.
It took an effort of will to search for his target instead of just enjoying the water. He hadn't been out swimming in so long that he had forgotten that he missed it. The water level was much lower than it had been the last time he had been out, and he wondered how long it would be before the rivers were dry.
His target was easy enough to find - a common type of submersible hovercraft, though no one that he knew. Within himself, Seaquake shrugged. He couldn't be expected to recognise everyone in Kalis. At least the flood of refugees had more or less dried up ...
On the other hand, that just meant there were no more Liege elsewhere. Seaquake returned his attention to the hovercraft. "Identify yourself."
The hovercraft transformed into a smallish warrior who seemed to be mostly blades and turbines and surprise. He bowed nervously, hovering in the water. "I am Nimbus, formerly of Hermeunis and Atalantix."
"You're from two places?"
"We - my lord and his entourage - spent so much time in Atalantix that it was a second home to us."
He might have left before Polyhex rose up and swallowed Cybertron, but Seaquake found it unlikely. "You escaped the purge?"
"Y-yes. We were in Atalantix when it came. Though I should have died in the defence of my lord, I fled and fate spared me to live in disgrace." Nimbus hung his head. "I have travelled ahead of the Decepticon storm front. I had fought by the side of the Autobots at times, when they would have me, but most of that time has been spent in hiding. You are the first Liege that I have spoken to in a long time. Are you going to kill me?"
Seaquake transformed and made a noise of derision. "Foolish little warrior. If fate has spared you, why should I deny it?" Then, on impulse, as he did most things, he made a decision. "Come with me."
He turned and swam up towards a nearby airlock, without bothering to look back. Nimbus didn't follow immediately, but Seaquake knew the small warrior would go with him. It didn't matter to Seaquake particularly, except that now he would have a chance to question him. Possibly Nimbus bore useful information, but more likely he'd merely waste the time that Kalis was swiftly running out of. It would have been easier if the small warrior had fled him, Seaquake mused. Then he dismissed his worries. He wasn't much for regrets.
Seaquake paused at the underwater door that led to the Amnarum and looked back at Nimbus when he sensed he was no longer following. "Well? Come on."
The warrior apparently recognised the symbols on the door. "You are taking me to see the governor of the city?"
"No. I'm going home and inviting you along because I have nothing better to do with you." Seaquake saw the question in Nimbus' optics and interrupted him. "No, I am not the governor. I'm the city's security director."
"You would welcome a traitor?" Nimbus asked miserably.
"At this moment, you are the least of my worries. The Decepticons will come here, and soon. What you do or do not do is of no consequence beside that."
"I betrayed my master. You cannot trust ..."
"I do not care."
Either Nimbus believed him or he realised his only other option involved defying a warbuild submarine that could probably outrun him and certainly outgun him. He followed again and Seaquake lead him up to the control room, where Halcyon was waiting.
"This is the Liege Hydrueno," Seaquake said, using the preferred title. "Though there is some question as to the authority of that now."
"The title is mine by the authority of my existence," Halcyon retorted hollowly, as if reciting, as he had been since Atalantix drowned. "By the authority written on my spark, burned into my essence with a brand as cold as space. For I am of the Liege and my Line is pure, and my authority is the authority of the Fundamental Principle. We oughtn't argue in front of a guest, Seaquake."
"His name is Halcyon," Seaquake added, pleased that his brother broke from his depression long enough to correct his etiquette. "And his name is Nimbus," he told Halcyon, settling a hand on the warrior's arm as a request for silence. "He escaped from Atalantix." It was easier to say that than listen to the warrior's depressed litany again.
Nimbus slipped from Seaquake's loose hold to bow. "If there is any information you require ..."
"No, none. Intelligence reports have already told us more than you can," Halcyon sighed. "We knew Atalantix well. We were both built on the Mercury Sea, and our brothers as well."
"Nimbus has had a long journey," Seaquake told him. "He should rest for now. I'll find quarters for him."
"Good. Do that."
The warrior relented to being steered out into the hall. "You intend to keep me, I see."
"Perhaps. You remind me of the era before the War. Speak to Halcyon of Hermeun of the Golden Age. If this cheers him, you may stay."
"Then I throw you out by your neck." Seaquake caught him by the rim of a turbine and exerted just enough pressure to elicit a wince. "I will not blame you if you decide to flee. However, you will do nothing to worry Halcyon. If you find you absolutely cannot keep quiet and must blather about what a horrible traitor you are, you will unburden yourself to me. Halcyon has enough things to think about without you bothering him."
"I ... I will not tell him of my treachery," Nimbus managed, and Seaquake released him. The warrior relaxed a little, running his fingers over the turbine to check for dents. "Your concern for your brother does you credit."
Seaquake bit back a sigh. He couldn't explain it to this one. Halcyon was the governor of Kalis. He loved the city and the city loved him in return - not the people, but the city. In a way, Halcyon was the city. What hurt Halcyon hurt Kallaxis, and Seaquake's concern was for Kallaxis. But he didn't know how to explain it to an outsider, so Seaquake merely nodded and led the way to a guest apartment.
"The difference between the Liegeline and the Liegebuild is where the sparks come from. People like us," says one storyteller, taking you and the other in at a gesture, "were sparked by Vector Sigma. Whereas the pureline Liege are sparked by individuals."
"We are all Liege, yes," says the other. "We have the same programming, the same culture, and Vector Sigma says our sparks are Liege, but we lack that final connection with our mass-produced souls."
The first one chuckles. "And that connection is the sparkline curse, the legacy of Armadakeon. The pureline can keep it."
"But why do it?" you ask. "If the pureline carries a detrimental effect, why not stop sparking and leave it to Vector Sigma?"
You know the answer, but you still like to hear it. "Because we," says the first storyteller, optics twinkling, "are Liege. We care about the past, and the Line, untainted, is our physical connection to that. We remember ..."
"'... what the other Lines have forgotten,'" Nimbus finished. Halcyon smiled.
Of the two strange brothers, Nimbus liked Halcyon better. The governor was depressed most of the time, but he was friendly. Seaquake, on the other hand, was less a person than a looming threat. Not a particularly subtle threat, either.
The blank look he always wore didn't help. Seaquake never seemed interested in anything. It wasn't that he acted like a mindless machine, just distant and unfeeling. Once in a while, Nimbus would feel sorry for him, and then Seaquake would say something to make him angry again. Halcyon had briefly mentioned that they were the first and ninth creations of their mutual creator, and privately, rebelliously, Nimbus decided that being the ninth creation sparked meant that Seaquake's soul was thin.
They didn't mention their creator or brothers often, just as passing references. Nimbus thought that was a bit odd - he would have expected that a sparkline would take more interest in one another's lives. It might have just been grief that kept them silent and kept them from asking if Nimbus had met any of them, but he felt that wasn't it. Even Halcyon and Seaquake only lived together because they both liked the city.
Halcyon reached up and caught one of the magnetic beads that hovered around Nimbus' head between his cupped hands. "Did they tell you any stories about Armadakeon?" he asked, trying to get the bead to orbit his finger. "I always found him interesting."
Nimbus searched his memory. "Not many, but a few. There was -"
The only warning was a sudden flash behind his optics. Halcyon screamed as if he were dying, a wordless wail that managed to twist itself into a name: "Seaquake!"
Nimbus caught Halcyon's shoulders, trying to offer what help he could, and found the governor gently but inexorably pulled from his grasp. Halcyon practically vanished in his brother's arms, still whimpering softly. Nimbus quietly slipped out of the room. He had no place there and he knew it. He had made the mistake of meeting Seaquake's gaze as the sea-warrior took Halcyon from him.
It lasted less than a second, but Nimbus found he was shaken to his core. For once, Seaquake's optics weren't blank and disinterested. He was in as much pain as Halcyon, but he held it back. And under the pain ...
It was several hours before Seaquake joined him, out on one of the balconies, standing beside him as he stood and stared at nothing. The Amnarum shimmered behind him - no clever paint or holograms, but water cascading down its sides. The tower was a fountain, with channels and grooves to keep the windows and doors clear. The three spines off the cone's side were a curtain of water.
Nimbus couldn't bring himself to look at him, afraid of what he would see. Instead, he asked, "How is he?"
"I had heard of the sparkline curse, of course, but had never seen it in effect before."
"You're 'build, not pureline," Seaquake grumbled. "What do you know?"
Nimbus turned to glare and wasn't surprised to find that Seaquake's optics were blank again. "I know now that you are capable of real emotion. I had thought that you cared only for Kalis. You were unguarded, and I saw through you. You would have taken on Halcyon's pain and borne it for him if it were possible."
Seaquake didn't answer immediately, instead stepping forward to lean on the railing. He moved slowly, and the shifting of his mass was more like the settling of a glacier than the movement of a person. Eventually he said, "Halcyon was not designed for strength."
"Your creator was an utter fool for building so many of you," Nimbus said. "Did the sparkline connection simply not occur to him? Did he not realise that the last survivor of his line would have died eleven times over before his own death?"
"To be honest, most likely not, though I wouldn't know. I barely knew him." There was a short, considering pause, then, "You might have known him better, since you spent so much time in Atalantix. He lived there, off and on. His name was Wellspring."
"The only Wellspring I knew was the Emirate of Ka ... oh ..."
He should have made the connection long ago. Nimbus began to stammer an apology for insulting the memory of one of the highest ranked of the Liege, then faded into sullen annoyance when he realised the deep rumbling sound coming from Seaquake was laughter. The security director shook his head. "Oh, little one, you are too easy to bait."
'Little one'. In a less poetic language, the word would be 'shorty'. "Then you were not created by the Liege Miraculo?" Nimbus asked cautiously.
The rumbling ceased. "No, we were, but your attachment to the past and your reverence of one who has been dead for over a million years amuses me."
"But you brought me here because I remind you of the past!"
"Yes, but that's for Halcyon's sake. He knows what will happen soon, and he broods on it daily. He will see Kalis torn asunder. He will know my death. And then he will die." Seaquake caught his gaze. "You have helped."
"Thank you, but all I do is tell him stories."
"You take him out of the present and shield him from the future." The security director looked away again, back over the city. "You wouldn't be able to do that if you weren't such a credulous little fool who believed everything his superiors told him and never looked beyond Hermeun's borders. I have no wish to die and I do not look forward to our looming extinction, but we brought the Decepticons' hate upon ourselves. We looked back, but we stopped looking back far enough."
"We are their superiors! They have no right to rebel against us!"
"Hypocritical little 'build, questioning a pureline."
"But ..." Nimbus trailed off and scowled. "If we are going to fight, you might at least raise your voice and pretend you were interested."
"Mph. So you do have a brain hidden under the jewellery."
Nimbus pushed away from the railing. "Guest or not, mere servant-caste or not, I see no reason to remain here and be insulted. I will alert you when Halcyon has awakened."
He heard a brief rumble behind him as he stomped back into the tower, and decided it was a laugh.
"Now, Armadakeon was the creative one," says one storyteller. "In his own directions, of course. He was the patron of the literary arts, the inventor of story and song and poetry."
The other interrupts. "Which is why poetry is reserved for the dead. Armadakeon invented it, and he was the first to fall."
"Ah, but it is no mere vanity that we speak of him," says the first. "True, as storytellers, he is our patron, but perhaps more. I have heard it said that the Liegebuild ourselves are actually the spawn of Armadakeon, that the Lines of Maximo and Armadakeon never mixed."
You decide not to point out that last time you visited, they said that the Liegebuild came from Vector Sigma. Next time, you are certain, your kind will be the last of the Persolidons, or that you were Liege that Dekipatro tainted out of jealousy. Pointing out inconsistencies will get you nowhere, so you go with the flow. Instead you ask, "Then where does the sparkline curse come in?"
"It was like this: they had a fight," says the first. "Maximo and Armadakeon did. Armadakeon, being the least war-like of the warriors, had taken Prima's side in an argument. Prima was always trying to find peaceful solutions, while Maximo preferred to destroy enemies so utterly that no trace of them was left. As usual, the debate ended with bad feelings and sulking on all sides. Maximo stormed out, and Armadakeon followed him to try to talk him back. But this failed, and before long, they were reduced to threats and insults."
The second chimes in: "Eventually Maximo snapped at him: 'Continue in your ways then, brother, but do not forget that you will always be subordinate to me. Your children will be the record keepers of the triumphs of my Line.'"
"The insult against his creations was too much for Armadakeon," says the first. "'You listen to no one but yourself,' Armadakeon said. 'Perhaps you will listen to your own spark when it sings of loss. Perhaps you will be less inclined to cause death when you can feel it!' And such was the force of Armadakeon's anger that he didn't just open Maximo's soul to the souls of his spawn, but the souls of the Liege to each other."
"You had known since the fall of Atalantix that they would come," said Nimbus, who was a lovely distraction but never seemed to understand anything truly important. "You could have fled."
"Questions of where to go aside," Seaquake asked, "leave Kalis?"
"Leave Kalis?" Halcyon echoed from his place by the viewscreens, and just saying the words made him feel like a traitor. Deep-set, shining Kalis ... the city was home. He wouldn't leave. He couldn't. Trying to keep the disgust from his voice - Nimbus didn't know, couldn't know - Halcyon told him, "I cannot save this city, but I will not abandon her. Kallaxis won't die alone."
"Do you not look out your windows?" Nimbus demanded. "You rule a city-state of refugees, all that survived Hermeun and Delatacron and Vos. All that could not pass as Autobot or Decepticon. Kalis will not die alone - it will die alongside its citizens!"
"I must remain, to soothe her dying agonies and remind her that she was loved." Halcyon smiled at him, sadly. "I don't expect you to understand."
Nimbus turned to Seaquake, but Seaquake just shook his head. The warrior threw up his hands. "Both of you are mad!"
"You may run," Seaquake rumbled.
"I fully intend to, but not just yet," Nimbus replied. "I may still convince you to flee as well."
Days passed, and Halcyon and Seaquake continued to ignore Nimbus whenever he spoke of flight. Eventually, the warrior stopped trying.
However, he didn't leave. "You needn't share our fate," Halcyon reminded him.
"I think you have infected me with your madness," Nimbus replied. "Or something akin to it. I do not stay to comfort the city, merely to stop running and die as a Liege."
Seaquake made a derisive noise. "Fool."
Nimbus glared at him and Seaquake looked back impassively. Halcyon suddenly felt like he had missed something. He didn't spend all his time in the company of the two warriors. The feeling in the air was one of unfinished argument. They must have fought in one of the times he was away from them.
A panel flashed, and suddenly their argument had no meaning. The Decepticons had entered Kalis airspace. Soon, the murder of the city would begin.
For a long moment, none of them spoke. Nimbus had actually been there at the drowning of Atalantix. Halcyon and Seaquake hadn't been there physically, but they had felt the territories fall.
They had nine other brothers, and their creator as well. They had felt each one of them die. Not the name or the manner of the destruction, only the pain. They had died ten times, each time harder than the last, and survived to die again. And Halcyon knew, deep within himself, that if Seaquake fell before him, he would die with his brother, because it was only Seaquake's strength that kept him alive the last three times.
He turned to his brother, as he always had since he joined him in Kalis. His sheer size had always made Halcyon feel safe and his untouchable calm in the face of challenge was a comfort. Halcyon said no words, but the question was plain - what do we do?
Kallaxis was not defenceless - her walls were strong and her weather was deadly - but she was not a war-city. She was art.
Kallaxis had never fallen. But Kallaxis had never been attacked in force by an army such as the Decepticons.
The army that the Liege used to command.
Seaquake was the one to break the silence, addressing Nimbus: "There is still time to flee, little one."
"I had fled before," Nimbus replied. "I will not now. Here I can redeem my earlier cowardice."
"Then do not interrupt me, no matter what happens." Seaquake turned to Halcyon, kneeling slightly to put them on the same level. "I have one idea. There is a chance it will work, but the chance is very slim. It relies on too many people, on too many unknown factors, and it will hurt."
"But it might work?" the governor asked.
"Your slim chance is more hope than we've had since Hermeun fell," Halcyon said. "Do it. Whatever you need to do. Protect Kalis."
Seaquake stood again and gently cupped Halcyon's face in his hands. The governor wondered if this was intended as comfort - Seaquake was no tactile, but Halcyon was - but the fingers of his left hand tightened. Halcyon's optics brightened in terror. "No, please ..."
Seaquake said nothing, his fields were damped, but Halcyon felt the slight tremble in his hands and finally saw emotion in his optics - sadness.
Suddenly he understood. Suddenly, it was vitally important to him that Seaquake knew he understood and absolved him.
There was time for last words. Halcyon reached up to touch the hands that were about to murder him. "Protect our city."
One says, "Maximo would have overthrown Prima if given a chance ..."
"Oh, he would not have!" cries the other.
"Would so. The only thing that held him back was that he didn't want to kill Prima, just take over from him. And Dekipatro sought to overthrow them both. Part of it was that he thought his ideas were better than theirs. While ones like Alaro or Stygda would simply go off and do what they pleased if they disagreed with their orders, Dekipatro wanted to be the one in command. He wanted power."
"Not as badly as the one who lost his name," says the other.
"No, Dekipatro's desire was as great, but he had more sense and more caution. He chose to rely on his own power to achieve his ends, because he didn't trust anyone enough to form alliances. He didn't even trust his own spawn."
"Of course not! They were just as scheming and power-hungry as he was."
Megatron had turned his attention to the city-state Kalis almost as an afterthought. The Kallaxians had offered a little resistance at the beginning, but after Hermeun fell, they had retreated entirely. Taking the territory would be a distraction, not a battle.
Kalis was the last Liege state. Once, merely thinking the word would have sent him into a rage, but the fire had become a dull burn. Long ago, the Decepticons had been ... not proud to serve the Liege, but at least the Liege had deserved their respect. Then, with nothing to fight, they fell under the sway of the Autobots - many practically thought they were Autobots! - and sold out the Decepticons for their own comfort. Now even the Autobots had turned on the Liege, because the Autobots had their own people to worry about and the Liege couldn't be trusted. They were merely tame Decepticons, after all.
They had fallen. The Liege had once been worthy of respect, then worthy of hate, and now were nothing. Perhaps they would fight back, but that seemed unlikely. They hadn't even attacked yet.
His sharp-sighted lieutenant saw it first and Megatron followed his gaze to a lone figure walking across the plain, carrying a burden. As it came closer, he realised that it was a sea-warrior, the body of another aquatic in his arms. Curious, Megatron signalled his forces to hold back and he dropped to the ground to wait for the sea-warrior to approach. Starscream and Ravage, unbidden, followed.
< It may be a trap, > Ravage cautioned.
Starscream laughed. "Half the fun of a trap is watching it spring."
Megatron glanced back at him. "What's the other half?"
"Watching it spring on someone else," he replied, all smugness. "Note that I am standing behind you, Megatron."
The sea-warrior arrived some minutes later, and the first noticeable thing about him was his size. He wasn't much broader than Megatron, but he was nearly a head taller. If he stood much closer, the sea-warrior's face would have been hidden behind the odd, gold mask that attached to his chest.
He dropped the body-shell at Megatron's feet, and after a moment, Megatron recognised Halcyon. The Liege governor had been killed by decapitation, and the stress-marks on his neck showed it was torn off rather than cut. The head lay on the shell's chest, still cradled by one arm after the other fell to its side. The sea-warrior spoke; his voice was deep and inflectionless, and he struggled to speak Decepticon: "The sea that was calm and prosperous has been drained, and no longer does the river flow here. The riverbed is dry."
< "Halcyon is dead, thus Kallaxis is no longer under Liege control," > Ravage translated for him. Liegetongue was an absolute nuisance of a language, impossible to learn entirely by program. Megatron could understand the words but not the syntax, and the Liege sea-warrior had the same problem with the Decepticon language. Megatron didn't have the cultural background to explain the nuances of the metaphors and the sea-warrior couldn't understand plain speech. Still, Megatron heard the unspoken words clearly: So now there is no need to destroy it.
"Who are you, then?"
There was a few seconds of silence as Ravage translated back. The sea-warrior said, "I am the warden of the river. I am of the end of the river, I am he who is the upheaval of the ocean."
He could translate the job description at least. Megatron tilted his head slightly. "Are you a Liege, Security Director?" he asked, though the sea-warrior's sigil was perfectly obvious.
The sea-warrior's face didn't change and his optics remained blank. "A riddle - what can an ocean be made of if not water? But the ocean was upheaved and the water no longer knows it."
Megatron waited. < It is ... complicated, > said Ravage. < In its easiest terms, he was built Liege, but has acted un-Liegelike. >
Megatron asked, "What are you, then?"
The sea-warrior said something untranslatable. Somewhere behind Megatron, Starscream chuckled. "Oh, but we like those."
The sea-warrior seemed to notice Starscream for the first time and there was a flicker behind his optics, but it faded so quickly that Megatron wasn't certain it wasn't just a trick of the light. It could have been surprise, or a dirty look - Starscream had ruled Vos in the Golden Age, and now he stood by the side of the one who had instigated the purge of the Liege. The sea-warrior took a step back and bowed slightly, addressing Megatron again. "Freely and without condition is the dry river offered up to the thunder. It will not fight. If the water tries to fill its bed, it will be drained. The riverbed is yours to refill."
Kalis is yours. Take it. Megatron frowned, disbelieving. The Liege were too arrogant to surrender; until now they had always fought back, to the death. The ability to surrender, to bite back pride to survive another day, to bend to the conquerors to await a better time to strike was not in them. The sea-warrior was acting like a Decepticon.
Starscream picked up on the hesitation and spoke through the commlink: < You believe him, don't you? >
< He interests me. >
< You're thinking of putting him in charge of the city, aren't you? > the Seeker accused.
< I am considering it. I rather want to see what he'll do next. I appreciate the irony of a Liege traitor ruling their last state. >
< Fool. >
< He knows the territory, > said Megatron. < He has already proved himself to be a Decepticon, by our rules as well as his own. Besides, this would not be the first time I have accepted traitor Liege into my ranks. >
Megatron didn't refer to Starscream - he may have ruled Vos long ago, but he had always been a Decepticon - but to the figure crouched by his side. < Ravage, your opinion. >
The spy considered the question, then shook his head. < I do not know this one, though I knew his line. I do not know how skilled a governor he will be. But I tell you that he speaks the truth - he will no longer be accepted as one of the Liege. >
Megatron returned his full attention to the sea-warrior. "I could declare you the Emirate of Kalis. If you accept this position, it will be your task to turn Kalis into a Decepticon state."
Ravage translated. The sea-warrior nodded, slowly. "The ocean, whipped up so much by the winds so as to become a part of the storm, drawn by the thunder, and sent to fill the riverbed ... the river would not be filled with water."
< Translate that exactly, > Megatron ordered.
< "If I were to gain the power now, under your authority, there would very soon be no Liege in Kallaxis," > sent Ravage.
The words were overly careful and Megatron could hear Starscream chuckling in his head as he eavesdropped, but Ravage's emanations were approving. Megatron frowned. "Only the city?"
"If an ocean could drown a storm, no storm would stand before him. But even the waters may learn their limits. Only the river can be promised, but dry the river and the streams will soon vanish."
< "My power is not limitless - if it was, I would have fought you and won. Instead, I surrender myself and I surrender on the behalf of the Liege who have realised that you cannot be stopped. With no other help, I can only give you the city, but once Kallaxis falls, the rest of Kalis will be easily conquered," > sent Ravage.
"Hnh." Megatron frowned up at the sea-warrior. "Your first act upon returning to Kalis will be to get yourself properly branded."
"The voice of the thunder is heard." The sea-warrior knelt to pick up the body of the former governor, then straightened, nodded, and began the walk back to his city.
Once he was out of hearing range, Megatron turned to Starscream. "What was the word he said that didn't have a Decepticon translation?"
"Oh, that. It's one of their insults. It essentially means something like 'vile, treasonous back-stabber with no respect for tradition.'" Starscream grinned. "Guess what their slang for 'Decepticon' is."
"Oh, to hear them argue, you might think them the most bitter of enemies," says one. "Prima and Maximo especially - they disagreed about everything and could quarrel to bring down mountains. But when the demons attacked, you can guess who were fighting back-to-back, disagreements set aside for as long as the threat loomed."
The other chuckles. "There's another reason why Primus took on the mantle of a living world and let the demons live - not only did it force his creations to grow stronger, they also had to work together."
The first nods. "Exactly. There's no better way to get people to forget their petty quarrels and band together than to give them a mutual threat."
"Why are you still here?"
Nimbus let the repair bay doors close behind him, still feeling faintly dazed. It didn't seem possible that the Decepticons had simply left without a fight. "I thought you might require assistance."
"Mph." Seaquake carefully laid Halcyon's body-shell out on the table, covered the torn neck with one hand, and stroked the helmet with the other. "He would want to be made into building materials. That can wait for now." He looked up at Nimbus and frowned. "Where is your outrage, little warrior?"
"I saw Halcyon's death, yes, but I also saw his life. I cannot hate you."
"Pray that the Liege disagree with your point of view," Seaquake rumbled. "How are you at embossing? I need to wear a Decepticon sigil before I tell the Liege what happened."
The Liege, Nimbus noted. Twice. He had broken one of their greatest taboos when he killed his brother for the Decepticons. He would no longer be accepted as one of the Line. Nimbus went to the closest storage cabinet and looked through it. "How did you convince the Decepticons to stay their attack?"
"I surrendered." Seaquake radiated defiance. "I surrendered, and gave them the body of my commanding officer to prove I meant what I said. I gave them Kalis. I gave them my allegiance. I promised that the Liege would be gone when the Decepticons returned."
"You expect to simply order them away?"
"No." With some effort, Seaquake sat on one of the tables. "I expect them to leave in disgust. I do not care where they go. They will not serve under a kin-slayer who took rank like a Decepticon. Because they will hate me, Kalis will live."
Nimbus mulled Seaquake's words over as he looked for the tools he required. Nimbus was no tech, but a re-branding would be easy enough - fill in the old etching, sand it down, and draw the new symbol.
Work kept Nimbus distracted for a while. He was partway through the etching when he looked up, realisation dawning. "You wanted me to hate you when you took me in. Why?"
"If you used up your hate and your anger on me, you would be kinder to Halcyon." Then, "If you want to stay here, you'll change your own sigil and stifle your 'we are superior' attitude. And if the rest of them want to live, they'll do the same thing."
"You tell us to destroy ourselves."
"I tell you to hold back your pride and live." Seaquake leaned down, resting one hand on his thigh and using two fingers of the other to tilt Nimbus' chin and force him to make eye-contact. "You must think I used to shut off my audios when you would talk to Halcyon. You, of all people, should know that the sigil is merely paint and factions merely words. I have sold myself so the rest would not be needlessly spent. The Line will survive." He sat back again. "If they are sensible."
"Maximo was the last one," says the storyteller. "The last of the Firstforged. The Thirteenth had gone with the Chaos Bringer, and the others were dead. You could say he wasn't alone - the Second Generation were with him. But despite being his progeny and the progeny of his brothers, they were not his kind. The Second Generation were the first true Transformers while Maximo was a shapeshifting relic, more magic than science. The demons had been slaughtered or driven underground, and the Chaos Bringer and his servant had been thrown into the exile of a black hole. Maximo was the first of the warbuild, and there was nothing left to fight."
"More threats would come," the other points out.
The first nods. "True, and he knew that. Let me tell it my way, just once?"
The other shrugs, and the first continues: "More threats would come. But he also knew that he couldn't go on protecting his children forever. One day they would need to learn to defend themselves. The demons and the Chaos Bringer had been defeated. His primary function had been fulfilled. His time on Cybertron had ended."
The storyteller pauses, sight inward, and smiles faintly, sadly.
"And, one day, he just left."
Back to Worlds Apart, Worlds Away
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