Trial By Fire, part 2: The Fight

By Tom Zavier

    The Autobots seemed safe--for now. Gathered inside the dubious shelter of a cooled volcanic cave, they assessed their damage and tended to their wounded as best they could.
    Jetfire, Blitzwing and Windsweeper had air-lifted everyone to the cave after the attack. Those confirmed to be dead had unceremoniously been left to sink into the molten bog with what was left of their shuttle. As good a fate as any for Perceptor, Sandstorm, Skids and the Decepticon Breakdown. All had been swiftly killed by the same thing: an invisible assailant which had literally torn them limb from limb.
    The memory of their demise was still very fresh in Sideswipe’s cerebral circuitry. The scorched gash across his shoulder was a souvenir the battle. He sat cross-legged on the ground, watching Arcee as she examined those who lay beside him: Jazz was still unconscious and Prowl who had been horribly mangled and was probably dying.
    Prowl’s mutterings were incomprehensible...his vocal circuitry had been nearly destroyed. One arm module was missing as well as half a leg. His body was so scarred and torn that he was virtually unrecognizable.
    Arcee shook her head slowly. “Nothing. We can do nothing. Why’d you bother bringing him. We’re only prolonging his suffering...”
    “Then what do you suggest? Kill him? I won’t allow it!” Sideswipe snorted with indignation. “I’m ashamed of you!”
    “They’re only a burden to you,” Blitzwing mumbled from nearby. “And will be more of a burden as time goes by. You should’ve left ‘em both.”
    “Shut up, Decepticon,” growled Sludge, standing beside Sideswipe. “We Autobots actually care about our soldiers.” Snarl gave a nod beside him.
    “I’m sure you do,” Blitzwing hissed. “Is that why we’re sitting here waiting for that moron Jetfire to find that other moron?”
    Arcee spoke up. “Sunfire saved us--”
    Windsweeper, sitting next to Blitzwing, laughed harshly. “And then took off--”
    “Quit arguing! Now!” Sideswipe rose to his feet. “Command falls to me while Prowl is, er, indisposed. And we’ll stay right here until Jetfire gets back.”
    “And what if he doesn’t get back?” Windsweeper whined. “That thing is still out there, somewhere.”
    “Jetfire’s no fool,” said Hoist quietly. “He’ll be back.”
    “And in the meantime?” Blitzwing scowled.
    “In the meantime, you’ll do as I say,” Sideswipe stated coldly to him. “You’re still our prisoners.”
    “Really?” Blitzwing smiled. “I don’t see any bands or chains. And I personally carried you, Sideswipe, from that sinking wreck. Therefore, Autobot, your life is mine.” And, swifter than any could see or prevent it, he had drawn a laser pistol out of storage in subspace and shot Sideswipe right between the optic sensors.
    As the Autobot’s body hit the floor, Windsweeper had also drawn a weapon and shot Arcee in the leg, downing her. The two Decepticons moved to place themselves opposite the three remaining Autobots, with the wounded in-between.
    “All your lives are forfeit!” Blitzwing sneered.
                                                    *                                    *                                    *
    Hands on her hips, Sunfire stood erect and alert, perching high on a stone precipice. She looked out over the tortured land below her--shifting mires of boiling rock and thick clouds of scalding gas, scattered between islands of cooler, more solid ground. A twisted and violent environment, pleasing to neither the optical, auditory or tactile sensors.
    Why? She wondered. Why did I bother? Why did I even think I could find that thing? And even if I could...what did I expect to do? All the others couldn’t take it down. I’m no fighter...not a decent one, anyway. Jumping off the precipice, she transformed to her aircraft mode and rocketed forward over the charred and bubbling landscape. It’s all been downhill since Prime died. What did I expect to prove here? Hunting down some wounded animal. The Humans always said that those are the most dangerous kind.
    Her sensors, at that moment, indicated what she’d been looking for: a clear metallic reading. She veered westward to approach it.
    Caverns, she thought as she closed in. Great. Just great.
    Landing and transforming, she carefully approached the cave opening. Inside, flowing lava made red shadows dance on the rocky walls. Stalactites and stalagmites were everywhere within, often joined together in singular pillars of reddish stone.
    Laser pistol drawn, she stepped inside.
    It was dark, but not utterly so. Side-stepping pools and rivulets of molten rock, she crept deeper and deeper, following her sensor-reading. Soon the cavern’s entrance was lost to sight, and she peered suspiciously down tunnels that branched from the main path. Her reading soon led her down one of those tunnels. She’d only followed it for a few more minutes when suddenly the ground and walls shook, rocks clattered, the lava heaved and splattered. Sunfire fell awkwardly to her knees, unable to keep her balance during the tremor.
    Dazed and startled, she started to get up--everything was again silent and still--or so it seemed. Half-standing, she froze at the sound of a thin, menacing hiss, not far ahead.
    Then, straining, she saw it. Curled up in the dim shadows, the fierce red glowing eyes staring into hers--the black-dragon creature they had fought earlier...
    She leapt back, pistol forward--the thing recoiled, snarling, baring glittering metal fangs. Sunfire then noticed the path of dark, oily liquid that stained the ground underneath the creature--it was bleeding, in its own fashion.
    Sunfire smiled, more confident. “Seems I’ve found your lair.” She held the pistol steady. “Licking your wound?”
    Her confidence faltered as the creature’s long jaws curled into a toothy grin. It seemed to snicker, hissing to itself. It spoke suddenly: “Foolish brat. You hurt me. But that is a temporary condition--soon remedied. Soon remedied...”
    “You seem quite un-remedied to me, murderer! What are you and why did you attack us?”
    “Questions, questions. You want answers. Why? I’m going to kill you anyway.”
    Sunfire shifted uneasily. “Humour me.”
    “What is humourous, little one, is that you hurt me. Lucky, I expect. No one has ever hurt me so much. So much pain... yes, it is unusual and impressive in an abstract way. I commend you.” Its long head bent slightly. “You have my compliments, Autobot.”
    “Autobot?” She frowned. “I suspected as much. You’re no native creature. You’re some kind of Decepticon.”
    “Some kind?” It chuckled. “And how many kinds are there?”
    “Only one kind really: despicable. What’s your name?”
    It uncoiled, moving a little closer. “I am called Midnight, by the one who made me.”
    “And who made you?”
    “You’ll never know.”
    “What’s your function?”
    “I am an artist,” Midnight hissed, still smiling. “And the living are my canvas. You’ve impressed me so far, little one--your luck, your hurt me. But I’ve decided to kill you--therefore, you must die. But don’t worry, you will die well. Better then your friends, better than all I’ve ever killed before. You, Autobot, will be my masterpiece!”
    And the black shadow leapt up at her, so fast she never saw it move--and she felt sudden pain as the shadow engulfed her.
                                                    *                                                 *                                         *
    With a long hand shading his visor, Jetfire stood perched upon the edge of a precipice, scanning the twisted, violent landscape. Seaspray and Beachcomber did the same, though both were unnerved by the height.
    “Nothing,” Jetfire sighed. “I detect no clear, proper alloys. She’s not nearby, that’s for sure.”
    “I could have told you that,” Seaspray replied. “And just by looking. Maybe we should head back to Sideswipe.”
    “To report nothing?” Jetfire grumbled. “What’s the point?”
    “At least a little longer,” agreed Beachcomber. “She can’t have gotten too far.”
    “Sure,” said Seaspray. “A hyperdrive equipped spacefighter can’t have gotten--”
    “Okay, okay! I get your point. Maybe we should head back.”
    “Give it another half-hour, guys. If she doesn’t turn up, we’ll leave then.”
    “All right,” Beachcomber muttered. “But, Jetfire?”
    “Can you take us down now?”
                                                    *                                                     *                                     *
    “Don’t move, Decepticreep--” Hoist sputtered, his warning cut short by a laser blast to the chest.
    Snarl and Sludge fired. The Decepticons dodged, and fired back, blasting Sludge’s laser pistol, taking the Dinobot’s hand with it. Snarl was hit in the shoulder, but fired again, knocking Windsweeper down with a stifled cry.
    Blitzwing was still quicker, however. He shot the recovering Hoist again, and still managed to duck Snarl’s shot. Snarl received the answering bolt in the neck, decapitating him.
    Blitzwing stood, smiling, gun leveled at Sludge’s head. “This is the price you pay for turning your back on the enemy!” He cackled gleefully--but a sudden laser bolt tore through the back of his head module, and he fell.
    Behind him, on the ground, lay Arcee, with a laser pistol in her hand.
                                                    *                                                       *                                     *
    The images were clouded in Sunfire’s mind, trying to remember as she ran in terror down the tunnel, dodging stalagmites and lava pools. He had attacked her, why hadn’t she just shot him to begin with? She was too soft. It would probably be her last mistake.
    There were some flashes, he cried out--she’d probably blasted while he was on top of her--that was why he backed off. He’d still managed to slice her up pretty badly. Where was her gun? She’d lost it somewhere. She’d fled as soon as she’d had the chance.
    The ground trembled, and she stumbled--almost right into a lava-filled chasm. The metallic alloys in her armor could probably withstand contact--briefly at best. Cybertron was advanced, but not so advanced as to make a metal that was completely unmeltable, no matter how high the melting point was... she didn’t want to test it. Laser bolts shrieked past her, she ducked.
    Every movement brought waves of pain--but she scrambled up to face the raging demon behind her. She caught a brief glimpse of Midnight rushing toward her--and activated her forcefield barely in time to block the blue inferno that engulfed her. Midnight was terribly damaged, forced to remain visible, but his breath of flame was far from quenched.
    She strained to hold the field as he approached, still sprouting fire... able to bear the strain on her energies no longer, she slipped to the side swiftly, out of the flames, at least momentarily. Singed and agonized, she attacked. Bare-handed, she leapt at the monster that had claimed three of her comrades with almost no effort. It was weaker now, but so was she.
    Her hands grabbed hold of Midnight’s long neck and wrenched his head back as an armor-capped knee was driven into his belly. He squawked, more in surprise than pain. His large wings beat against her, as he twisted and writhed. She felt the point of his tail lash against her back, rending metal. She cried out in pain, and lost control of the beast as he overpowered her.
    Midnight’s talons tore into her side, his jaws clamping onto her right wing--which he tore from her back with a toss of his head. The imbalance was corrected by his repeating the process on the other side as Sunfire struggled and screamed.
    She punched--well-placed, it struck one of his optic sensors, disorienting him. His grip weakened, she broke free--but did not run. She took hold of his forelegs with both hands and swept his hind legs out from under him. Forcing him to the ground, she delivered a hard, sharp kick to his skull, once, again, again, and then one into it’s midsection...
    The harsh clank and crunch filled Sunfire’s audio sensors...she would fight! It didn’t matter if it was Midnight or Galvatron... she would fight, for Prime.
    But her advantage lasted only a moment. Midnight coiled and twisted, freeing himself from her grasp. Sunfire recoiled, suddenly aware of the agonizing fact that in doing so Midnight had sheared her left hand from her wrist. She kicked--Midnight dodged, grabbing her leg in his jaws. She lost her balance and toppled, while Midnight crushed the limb between his teeth.
    She tried to pull away, but Sunfire didn’t have the strength... no, it was over. Midnight’s claws closed upon her neck. She could hear his hissing laughter echoing her own whimperings.
    “You make excellent sport, little one,” Midnight whispered softly into her audio sensor. “But don’t die yet. There’s too much of you left.”
    The ground heaved in sudden violence. Lava sprayed the shaking walls. That had been the worst tremor yet--Broken rock pummeled them as they tumbled, separated from each other’s grasp.
    A brief moment of silence followed. Sunfire lay upon the warm ground, blinded by a curtain of pain. She was ready to die. She welcomed it. She wanted it to end.
    And Midnight would have won...and the others would probably also be killed...
    One by one...
    Could she let that happen?
    She heard Midnight’s claws click against the stone floor, as he slowly approached.
    Terror gripped her. No! She would not give up. By Primus, by Optimus Prime, she would not die!
    Her right hand clasped a long piece of stalactite that good fortune had let fall near her. Lurching to her feet, she swung it, catching Midnight off guard. It struck the side of his skull with a satisfying clang.
    He recoiled, and she swung again, hitting his shoulder. She’d found new strength in the pain, the desire to live. Prime never gave up. She could do no less. With a cry of rage, she thrust the stalactite into Midnight’s side, breaching armor, crushing circuitry.
    Midnight screamed and drew back, falling upon his side as he writhed and twitched. He grappled with the sword of stone, managing to pull it free only with tremendous effort...
    Sunfire forced herself up, standing precariously on her broken leg. She was racked with pain, but withstood it, and watched as Midnight lifted himself up, fire and hatred and rage mingled in his optics.
    “What are you waiting for?” she gasped. “Or are you tired already?”
    Midnight released a thin hiss. “Playtime is over!” He coiled back for a spring, but was interrupted.
    Another tremor shook the cavern, worse than before. The walls and ceiling cracked and shattered and in a sudden, thunderous explosion, the world was sent reeling in a storm of burning rock and fiery magma from which neither Sunfire nor Midnight could escape.