Beast Hunters - A Million Miles Till Morning

written by Tiger of Prey

Flashfire was in Heaven.

But it more resembled Hell...

All around him the flames licked up into the air, burning all in their paths- the smell of thick burning ash rose to the salimander’s nostrils. He could smell the flesh bubbling from the small chimp that had been suffocated by smoke.

And Flashfire grinned. Heaven.

"Ain’t this great, mate?"

From a few feet away, a metallic Utahraptor Shaft was trying to fan flames that had caught to him with his emptied quiver.

"Slag, man, why coudn’ you use your own fuel ta start the blaze, man!!!"

"C’mon mate, many of these animals will try to eascape this forest... we will stop them... burn them..... with MY fire!!!!!"

"But we’s in the middle o’ da forest!!!!"

"That is the point, bloke... I can see all those escaping via infared vision... like.. THAT OCELOT!!!!!!"

Shaft grimaced as Flashfire sent a volley of liquid, searing hot death into the forested areas to the east, and winced as a sharp cry rang out, then was choked down by the blood filling the pyromaniac victim’s throat.

"I jus’ don’ see why we gots ta do this..."

"BECAUSE, fool! Those... MAXIMALS interfered with the building of the Tor!!! If Bludgeon found out the true extent of the damage, he’d’ve skinned our hides, ‘e would’ve!!! WE were supposed to be watching that wing! Now.. our leader says they must PAY.. must... BUUURN... for their crimes against his empire!"

"What if some Maxie gets ‘round to checkin’ dis out?"

"I have the power of FIRE on my side.. they will melt... and you mate, you are unequaled with the bow.... are you not?"

"You may have a point, but you seem t’ve fergott’n YOU USED ALL MY BOWS!!!"

"Your twin MagBlasters have the same effect, I should think."

"But- what was that?"

"Hrm... I will signal for Tigershark and Savage to come..."

"AWWWWRROOOOOO!!!!!!" The distinctly canine cry rang out through the burning forest, its red flames dancing in the air as they caused so much needless death and destruction....

"Oh, SLAG, dat’s SkySaber! Hrm, maybe the chick with the legs’ll show up..."

"Hopefully Savage and Tigershark can get here in time... maybe Drow and Throttle can come here too...."

----------

At the edge of the burning rainforest...

"Who would cause such-such... destruction?" Basin asked SkySaber, Eclipse, Tusks and Prowl as they walked up. Basin had discovered this fire a short while ago, and had radioed on Maximal channels for help.. she had hoped that maybe Scavenge would show up, but apparently Tusks, SkySaber and Eclipse had been in a barfight and were being forced into duty during their night off as punishment. Prowl... never took nights off.

"I don’t know Basin, but ‘Sabe howled out the moment he saw this.. I swear I saw a tear in his eye..."

"Nonsense. I don’t shed tears. When the battle is over, maybe I shall."

"Me Tusks thinks you should open up to feelings..."

"HEY! If YOU hadn’t asked Eclipse out for a drink-"

"SABE!! He was just being nice!"

"Could you three stop bickering?"

"SILENCE!" Prowl’s shout cut through the conversation. "Do you hear that?"

All squabbling stopped, and all ears turned to the forest. For a few minutes, all they could hear was the cackl of the flaming forest, but eventually they were able to discern a gentle low hum, as if something... large was ever so slowly getting closer, one footstep at a time... but what?

"What in the Pit is that?" SkySaber cut through the silence as efficiently as Prowl had cut through the conversation before...

"I don’t know... I just want to stop that fire!" Basin exclaimed, transforming into robot mode and stepping out into the blaze.

"Basin! Get back here STAT! We need to figure out before-" Prowl trailed off without finishing as SkySaber, Eclipse and Tusks barreled into the flaming forest after Basin, then he shrugged, transformed into robot mode and trotted in after his charges.

----------

Shaft had left Flashfire to fend with the Maximals on his own a while back after Savage and Tigershark had arrived, Savage using a sonic device to make it seem like something very large was approaching the Maximal vector. Shaft still had to recover that Protoform, and he didn’t want it to be melted...

"Rassumfrassum frickin’ idjit why couldn’ we just fall back but noo-oo-oo, we had ta make sure everything was BURNING first... to slag with him!"

High above, SkySaber and Eclipse silently watched, hovering in the air. They had lost Tusks and Basin a while back, and they never even knew that Prowl had followed. SkySaber’s ears piqued at the mention of a Protoform.

"’Sabe, this isn’t really worth it, shouldn’t we be trying to find Basin and Tusks?"

"No love, through the crackling din of the fire I distinctly heard the word ‘Protoform’...." He silently tranformed into attack mode and readied a spear as he trailed off.

"Really? Eclipse, Maximize!"

"We’ve got to reach this pod.. but I can’t sense heat signatures through this, and neither of us are equipped to track down pods!" SkySaber said, and Eclipse noticed how passionate SkySaber could be when considering Protoforms. maybe Quiron was right...

"Basin is! I’ll go find her, you can take the Pred!"

"No... that would leave Tusks alone to fight the Preds that started this... as much as I don’t like him, even he might not be bale to take some of those Preds..."

"Agreed, ‘Sabe. Shall we?"

"Down we go!" SkySaber hurtles down towards Shaft with his spears readied for an assault.

"Hmmph, you’d think he could learn a lesson about chivalry..." Eclipse rolled her receptors and soared after her mate.

----------

Basin carefully plodded through a burnt section of the forest, cringing as she passed the charred corpse of a mother orangutan, her newborn children laying as tiny records of their cruel, fiery fate in a meaningless act of vengeance.

"Basin, I don’t like this.. can we go back to Astroplex?"

"Sorry Tusks, but I want to find out who did this.. who is DOING this.. and make that Pred pay in Aces..."

"Tusks not know much Earth history, but is it not ‘Pay in Spades’?"

Basin smiled despite the carnage and inferno surrounding her, at the childlike brute behind her. Perhaps she could take a lesson from him one day.

From out of nowhere Tigershark jumped out of the shadows and launched two missiles at Tusks’ back, knocking the dim brute over. At the crack of a twig Basin instinctually completed a one-hundred eighty degree flip to face Savage, who shot a laser right into her chest. She keeled over in stasis lock before she could even reach her blaster.

"So much for Maximal interference, eh Tigershark?"

"No Savage... not really interference at all... the dumb one’s sleepin’ like a baby..."

"Is ‘e now? Well then, we’ll just hafta wake him up, won’t we, mates?" Flashfire walked up to Tusks and aimed his flamethrower at the behemoth Maximal and turned the propane feed to max.

"GrrOOOOAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!" Tusks roared into wakefulness, grabbing Savage and crushing him with mammoth-size fists.

----------

Nearby, in a clearing where a rhino had failed to escape a flaming tree...

"That’s Tusks! Gotta go north.." Prowl thought, Maximizing as he broke into a run for the riverbank.

----------

"Uhhh... man? Can we talk, man? This was all a biiiig mistake.. you can have the Protoform! Really! Just uhh... don’t hurt me?” Shaft begged for his life as SkySaber held the raptor over a cliff edge, where hundreds of feet below a section of forest was burning with extreme heat thanks to the palmn oils...

"No dice. YOU started this fire, YOU-"

"’Sabe, stop! We can do this rationally, there’s no need to hurt him!"

"Yes there is Eclipse... this trash-talking waste of Synthoflesh is responsible for the fires that are ravaging this rainforest!"

"What about that pyro lizard?"

"Yezz! It was- it was him! Flashfire’s his name!" Shaft exclaimed in a gravelly, choked voice, because SkySaber had pierced his voice transmuter with his talons.

"You lie, Predacon. Your quiver is emptied." SkySaber held Shaft farther out off of the cliff’s edge.

"Flash- *hurrk!*- F'ashfire, he.. used my energy arrows!" Shaft squeaked out in his gravellized voice.

"Liar." SkySaber released his grip, and the flightless Shaft began his descent to certain doom. SkySaber turned towards the direction of the pod as Eclipse rushed past.

"NOOOOO!!!!" Eclipse and Shaft screamed out the same words as the Maximal nosedived off the cliff, clawing her way through the air to reach the flailing deathbound Predacon, catching him in midair and engaging her thrusters to fly her and her dumbfounded cargo back to the clifftop.

"Woo, thank you ‘Lipse..." With that Shaft blacked out.

----------

Prowl walked into a scene of chaos. Nobody was conscious, that much he could tell. Savage had been crushed and thrown into the reeds, and a layer of soot and mud had ckaed onto his form. Basin lay on the ground in front of him, mech fluid dripping out of a cavity in her chest. Tigershark was pummeled, and one arm was separated from the rest of his body. Flashfire lay on the ground, occasionally twitching as sparks fired out of him. Tusks lay on top of Flashfire, equally in a state of stasis lock. The blue energon flame signaling that Flashfire’s flamethrower was ready to be ignited still burned, and was melting a hole in Tusks, forearm. Prowl wedged out the flamethrower and tossed it aside as he opened a comm channel.

"Attention, any Maximals in near area, please report to sector five-nine-nier, Sector Lambda? Please comply."

"We read you loud and clear Prowl, continue?"

"Who is this?" Prowl asked in reply.

"Aw, ya fergot ‘bout me? This is ScratchCap, standing by."

"Anyone else with you Razorquill?"

"S’me, SlewSlander and Hound.... Slew and I kinda got in a bar fight..."

"Seems like the right night for it. Can you put Hound on?"

"I dunno, can I?"

"Quit joking, I got Maximals down here! I need a medic!"

"Hound here, you need a medic? Sorry, we’re out of range of the Astroplex... we’ll be there ASAP, OK Prowl?"

"Tusks? You expect to carry Tusks?"

"Uhh.. I’ll send ScratchCap back and request for Yundraw to assist us..."

"Thought so. Did you get my coordinates?"

"We did. We’ll be there in an nanoclick, OK?"

"Yeah.. and watch out for Preds." Prowl cut off the transmission and began to pull Tusks off Flashfire. And pulled. And pulled. And pulled....

----------

Elsewhere, SkySaber and Eclipse were arguing...

"You could have KILLED him, ‘Sabe!"

"That was the point."

"He didn’t start that fire! That Fastfire guy did!"

"How do you know that? Do you trust him?"

"I’m a good judge of character, you know that."

"Mayhap you’re not, if you think a Predacon is worthy of life."

"If I wasn’t such a good judge of character, I NEVER would have done anything with YOU!" She barked at SkySaber, and he blinked. Her words stung. "I-I’m sorry, ‘Sabe.. I didn’t mean it like that..."

"Maybe you did." SkySaber solemnly turned and walked off towards the pod, which was half-submerged in the mud.

"Onnhh...." Shaft groaned to wakefulness, and Eclipse turned to the bound raptor.

"You doing okay?" She asked.

"Unnh... I’m da baddest muther dey ever was.. I’ll be whoo.. anybody get the license number of that Optimus Prime? Whoozie....” Shaft struggled to keep his own consciousness intact as Eclipse helped him to sit up. “Why’d you.. wahy’d you.. save me?”

“No one dies needlessly on my watch.” Eclipse said as she fitted an energon restraint around the Utahraptor.

“Well uhhmmm... yer boy toy don’t seem to think so..” Shaft grimly stated, then coughed up some of his own mech fluid.

“’Sabe? He’s just like that....” Eclipse stopped, realizing she was conversing in such a manner with a Predacon.

“Hehe... all you Maximals’re the same... all bein’ the do-gooder... that Saber guy’s a freak tho.. more like a Pred... he’s got cast-iron manifolds, I’ll tell you that...”

Eclipse had never heard such brutal vulgarity or honesty from any Cybertronian before, be it Maximal, Predacon of Autobot... the decepticons were all but extinct now.

“Nuttin’ ta say, ‘Lipse?”

“No.. not really....”

“Then.. could you loosen my bonds a bit? Saber slashed my wrist.. the enrgon is cutting into it... hurts...” Shaft honsetly looked like he was in pain.

“I’m not falling for that. No matter how much you seem like a nice ‘bot, you’re still a Predacon. You’ll be held in the Astroplex brig. Knio is a good cook, you’ll probably like his a la cartere...” Eclipse was surprised her captive had stayed silent for so long, and turne around abruptly, to see....

...nothing.

“Shaft? Shaft, where are you Shaft?” Eclipse could only see the broken wire SkySaber had tied the raptor up in, and the energon bindings, picked expertly and used to cut through Saber’s bindings. “How could I be so stupid?” She thought.

“Thanks, ‘Lipse, I won’t forget, you saved my life! So long, legs!!!!” Shaft’s voice rang out through the canopy. “Maximal restraint lockpicking, second year, Predacon secret Police Training Academy!!!”

Eclipse shook her head and walked after SkySaber. Oddly, she felt better after talking to Shaft... but she shook that out of her head and continued on. She noticed that, at least in this section of forest, the fire had all but died and a soft rainfall was forming. At the stump of a burnt tree a small delicate flower blossomed, and a butterfly landed on it, beginning to suck out its life- nourishing nectar.

After she left, a steel boot suffocated the flower and crushed the butterfly under its heel. A mysterious, tall and skeletal figure stood in the shadows, with two other forms behind him.

“An interesting development...”

“When do we attack, brother?”

“Not for some time.. I must plan.”

The three turned and melted into the canopy, leaving a crushed flower as the only sign of evidence as to their arrival.

The Seekers had come.

----------

Prowl paced around the secured ground, glancing at his two Maximal friends, laying behind him, and the three Predacons he had thrown in the reeds. Hound should have been here by now, and at the moment something felt... wrong.

“Blast in the back for your thoughts?” Prowl whirled around to see Daggerfang grinning, holding a standard-issue Predacon blaster in his clawed hand.

“Hunh? More Preds?” Prowl asked.

“More than you think...”

Prowl turned around again to see Terragator, Siege and Circe rapidly approaching, weapons drawn, the ones that had teeth flashing them menacingly...

And as Daggerfang had promised, Prowl got a blast in the back. As he slowly sank to the ground, the four Predacons hovered over him.

“Heh, you got ‘im good ‘Fang.”

“Why thank you Terragator.”

“Three Maxies, giftwrapped for Bludgeon, eh Circe?”

“And three of our comradessss ssserioussly ssscrapped too! Not an even trade, do you think it is even for our master, Siege?”

“Uhh... no... sorry, Circe.”

“Make that seven Predacons, zero Maximals!”

“Who said that?” Daggerfang asked.

“Me.” Scavenge leapt out kicking left and right at the stunned Predacons, Siege and Circe being instantly knocked out and Terragator being sent flying.

“Who...?” Prowl groggily asked.

“Scavenge, Transform! YOU Preds attacked Basin!”

Terragator flew by Prowl, going from left to right on a collision course with the pile of Predacons Prowl had made.

“Scavenge, interesting.. your beast modes represent that of SlewSlander, but you are no Predacon or Maximal any of us has heard of... this is an interesting development...” Daggerfang said, before hurriedly transforming into beast mode and swimming away.

The next thing Prowl knew he was being helped to sit upright by Scavenge.

“Who.. who ARE you?” Prowl asked as he clutched his backside.

“I am called Scavenge. I oew allegiance to no one.”

“It’s a shame, we could really use you in this fight against the Predacons.”

Prowl grinned and turned to the forest, to see Alpha Hound and SlewSlander emerging from he shadow made by the dead trees.

“Inferno of a firefight, apparently,” Hound continued.

“Yeah, you missed it.. Scavenge saved my skidplate.”

“Yes, this Scavenge...are you the same Scavenge Basin met on patrol?” Hound asked.

“Yes... tell her I said goodbye. My pack will be waiting for me.”

“Wait! Why don’t you-” It was no use, for Scavenge had already disappeared. Hound’s heart sunk. They needed as many Maximals as possible.

Hound helped his old comrade up as SlewSlander reprepared Tusks and Basin to be loaded onto a MedSkiff.

“Is a medic coming?”

“Yeah, ScratchCap is bringing a medic.. hey, where are SkySaber and Eclipse?”

----------

“Slag it!!” With SkySaber’s curse Eclipse hurriedly ran up to the large pod, and her lover SkySaber knelt at the controls...

“What’s wrong, ‘Sabe?”

“What happened to the Predacon?”

“He escaped.”

“Shows how much you could trust HIM.”

Eclipse paused to absorb the sting of his words.

“Wh-what’s wrong?”

“I’ve slagged something in here.. I wish Basin or Wingspan or Swoop were here to fix the slaggin’ thing...”

“Has it scanned a form?”

“Can’t. Nothing’s alive, thanks to your Predacon friend. This Protofrorm has five cycles to live. It’s doomed, and it can’t even make its peace with Primus...”

“Not even a butterfly?”

“Nope. Not even a butterfly. This pod is so big I don’t know if a butterfly would work, but all I can see is dead butterflies on the scope.”

“Hrm... that’s strange...”

“Trying to recalibrate.. maybe make it scan a form of ours or something...”

“Its an idea. Why don’t you make it scan for dead DNA though?”

“I don’t think that’s possible...”

“Well, those Predacons that Optimus and them are fighting, some of them have dinosaur DNA.. that Predacon Maximal, Dinobot, he was a raptor, kind of like Shaft...”

“They never should have let that.. traitor into their ranks. But it’s worth a shot...”

“Anything ‘Sabe?”

“Yes.. two very strong DNA imprints... rhino.. recently dead... *sniff*... and.. a stegosaurus?” SkySaber types in both DNA patterns, as both patterns alone are not strong enough to yield a warrior, and-

BOOOOM!!!!

“Get away fom that pod, it is Predacon property!!!”

“Who?” Eclipse turns to see Bludgeon, Thunderwing, Drow, Throttle, Daggerfang and RazorQuill aiming their weapons at the romantically linked Maximals. SkySaber spoke next:

“This can’t be good.”

----------

“What in the Pit was that?” Razorquill asked as he finished loading Basin, Tusks and the reluctant Prowl onto the MedSkiff, with the help of SlewSlander, Riptide and Hound.

“I don’t know. ScracthCap, Slew, you’re with me. Yun, stay behind to protect the MedSkiff.” Hound took his weapon and began to fade into the jungle, which had been growing back thanks to the rain. Mud caked the feet of the Maximals as the moon shone brightly above and the dampness of the jungle resumed.

“But I can shoot a blaster!” Prowl protested. Hound chuckled and shook his head as he entered the darkness.

----------

Thunderwing and the rest of Bludgeon’s troops had taken the badly defeated SkySaber and Eclipse back to the Predacon transport craft, the Silent Death, which seemed to be having engine troubles, so it was extremely loud as it plunked along. Bludgeon needed to revive the maintenance commander. Endless had been left behind to secure the stasis pod and make sure the protoform within became a Predacon.

“Good... these Maximals will be the first test of our new Predacon warrior... a mighty big one, at that...”

“Provided Endless does not fail...” Drow grumbled.

“Halt, Bludgeon, you’re not taking my troops!”

“What in the Pit?” Bludgeon and Thunderwing simultaneously turned to face Hound, Slew and ScratchCap, weapons drawn. SlewSlander had a particularly interesting weapon...

“Ah, My Viral Vile!” Daggerfang screamed at Slew. The chuckling vulture/hyena and turned the fuzor-venom's distribution container into a strange looking blade.

"You like?" he smirked before he burst into laughter. Daggerfang lunged at the bot who had stolen his invention.

Slew, in turn, jerked sideways, slashing the sword across his opponents chest. Waves of poison surged across the Pred as he collapsed to the floor.

"I don't like this much after all...." Slew muttered before dropping the weapon.

“Ouch...” Drow said, looking at the torturer, before he was dispatched by a blast from ScratchCap.

“That leaves terms even then, Bludgeon. Turn over my troops!”

“Aha, you underestimate me.... Scarem, Spittor! Attack them!!!” The aforementioned two Predacons leapt out of cover and surrounded the three Maximal warriors.

“It looks like the hunter has become the hunted...” Bludgeon chuckled to himself.

“That is the stupidest line I’ve ever heard...” Razorquill muttered, before Scarem whacked him over the head with his tongue.

“Nevertheless, Hound, you are beaten...”

“Not if I have anything to blow up about it! stampede, Maximize!”

A chorus of “Hunhs” and “Whats?” rang out, and a huge Maximal appeared, armed to the teeth with heavy artillery. The massive figure grinned, then fired two sticks of ENT* into the Predacon craft, destroying it completely. *Energon Nuke T-Bomb

More explosions followed, as Stampede, the newest Maximal, proceeded to wipe the floor with the Predacons using high explosives and massive chain guns.

----------

The next day...

“So Stampede, d’you think you’ll like it here?”

“Yes Hound, I could... and it looks like you could use a demolition expert...”

“We have one, but it couldn't hurt to have two. Welcome aboard.”

Stampede grinned as he opened the door to the bar. It was a busy night at the Astroplex, a celebration of Stampede’s arrival among the Maximal ranks.

And SkySaber decided not to come.

END

----------

EPILOGUE

Bludgeon crawled his way out of the wrekage, helped in part by the recovered Savage.

“Damage report?”

“Besides the destruction of our onlt transport back home, we’re all pretty dinged up, but fine... no casualties... we should be ready in a few days.”

“Good. But we will wait... there is much planning to be done.. Stampede severely hampers our plans... but then, then we will use the Tor to full advantage, soon enough.. and we will have our revenge!

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