It took a long time, but finally here is the second chapter. :) Good news too, I am nearly finished writing Ascension and it is quite a bit longer than I expected. So instead of 5 chapters, I will probably be 8-9 chapters.
Zeth: You are a very attentive reader. ^_^ You are right to be a 'bit surprised' that the heir was murdered first. It was indeed the first hint to what is played behind the scenes and you definitely already on the right track.
To the Marquess of Xiphos
Dear Lord Vapor,
Concerning recent events, you are to continue as the acting second heir until the orn Prince Smokescreen reaches maturity. As such you will also continue to be the Field marshal of the army and the noble leader of the warframe population. Such has been decreed by our Lords.
It is fortunate indeed, that Prince Prowl hasn't had taken over his duties as a second heir in their full extent due to his additional studies of warframe culture. As a result this change should not unsettle the warframe population too much. Still, both Lords express their willingness to helping any way, should problems occur, especially concerning the Warlords.
Secretary of State, Praxus
The Academy for Higher Mathematics and Statistics was still within the Dukedom of Praxus, but not located in the capital. The Talent-blessed genius Fermat founded the academy four generations ago as a place of thinking and learning. Since then, it has produced some of the planet's best mathematicians and could only call the Altihex University of Applied Mathematics its rival.
Prowl was proud that he had been accepted here. He had applied with his real certificates, but had changed everything that hinted at his identity of a Prince of Praxus. As such, he was called Black Dust here, a homage to his own sire. Luckily, many in his generation were called Black or Spark something to honor the Grand Dukes.
A small part of him had wished that the academy had changed. After all, his brother had died, their prime prince had greyed, shouldn't they mourn as everyone in Praxus did? But no, the mechs were walking around on the campus as always, some smiling, some laughing, and some simply hurrying along. He sighed and looked back to the street, but as Quickstrike had promised, he couldn't see any guards.
Well, time to become a normal mech again, he thought and entered the campus. No one greeted him as he walked past the fountain to the building. It had been built as a temple of higher learning, and that was pretty much what it looked like. The doors were big and heavy, and inside the first thing that welcomed him was a big hall with a white marble floor, statues of famous scientists and mathematicians and a high ceiling that glittered with gold patterns. Many of the students from poorer backgrounds couldn't seem to get enough of this hall. Prowl envied them a bit for that. The first time he had walked in his only thought was that the marble floor would be pit to clean when it rained.
He checked the news board with the news, then walked on taking many turns. The further he moved, the more the hallways became practical and simplistic. He crossed a small square and finally reached his own dorm. It was newer than the rest of the academy, something Prowl didn't mind at all. He had heard some horror stories from the oldest dorm and that had ended any appetite to move.
His steps echoed in the quiet of the dorm hallways. Either they were learning, recharging or in a lecture. Only in the evenings could it get loud, especially when someone was celebrating a significant date.
His room was directly under the roof. Everything here looked like the floors beneath, and even when he touched his door he couldn't make out a difference. His invisible protectors were good, indeed. A simple cardscan opened the door (as well as a visible confirmation through a hidden camera and a body signature scan that tickled gently) and he entered.
As always, the stark difference between the simplistic dorm room and the opulent palace in Praxus was jarring for a moment. There was a datapad shelf, a big desk, a small closet, a berth, and nothing else. No golden decorations, no giant statues, nothing.
With a wing flutter, he found himself relaxing, closing the door, walking to the berth and falling down.
He was home.
The next morning, he went to take his ration in the dorm hall. The energon cubes were simple, but warm and came in seven flavors. As main dish this orn they had tyttrium pearls swimming in boiling quicksilver. Still feeling the loss of appetite since the funeral, he only took a copper cube in servo and lost no time walking to his first lecture. But as he walked past one table, a purple-blue arm blocked his way. The mech it belonged to gave him a big grin.
"Hey, Black Dust, where've you been? Don't tell me you used the National Orns of Mourning for studying."
Prowl fought the urge to growl back. As if he would study during the funeral of his brother! "No, I was in Praxus and attended the funeral with my family."
"Really?" Flipper raised an optic ridge. "Well, guess you are a noble after all."
Prowl noticed the many empty chairs around Flipper. The mech had repulsed many with his direct behavior and the ability to always speak exactly the one truth the other mech didn't want to hear. However, Flipper was also a certified Talent with everything that included numbers and was in the process of dedicating himself to research. Friends were dangerous, Prowl knew that. Still, he liked Flipper and so he sat down against his better judgement.
"You stayed here?" the Praxian noble asked.
To his surprise, Flipper shook his head. "Nah, used the time to visit my family as well."
"Oh, how are they?" Prowl didn't know much about them, besides that they were really poor.
The other student grimaced, not bothering to hide the sadness in his optics. "Well, surviving."
What was he supposed to answer to that? Prowl looked down at the table, trying to find the right words. In the end, all he managed was an "I'm sorry"-response.
Flipper chuckled. "Mech, you really are too sweet." His finger touched Prowl's chevron and forced him to look up again. "Seriously, something within your noble coding must have gone wrong."
"You think so?" Prowl frowned.
"Yeah, you act as if there is no difference between a noble and a mech like me."
Prowl blinked. That was, he supposed, a bit unusual. But in the end, there was not that much difference between them to him. Not only was he the creation of Dukes, but the creation of Grand Dukes which meant he was a – if distant – part of the Prime House. When it came down to it, he was Noblesse du primus, and most everyone would always rank below him. Not that he had ever much cared about such things. Sometimes being the second heir had advantages.
He smiled. "A mech like you, Flipper, has more worth to Praxus than most nobles studying here. You are talented and hardworking, that is what counts."
"Wish that were the truth, Dust." Flipper grinned sharply. "The world would look different then."
"Probably," agreed Prowl quietly. Would his House still rule in such a world? "How is your dissertation going?"
"Slow, but it comes around. Say, shouldn't you be going to your lecture? I think it starts in two breems."
Prowl checked his chronometer and indeed, Flipper was right. "Thank you." He hastily stood up. "It would be nice to meet again soon, if you have the time and inclination."
Flipper folded his hand over his breast plates. "Noble and always so polite too. A dream of a mech!"
Heat flowed into his face. "Flipper!"
"Okay, okay. Until dinner?"
"Until then," nodded Prowl and hurried away.
Unseen behind him at the table, Flipper gave the noble a thoughtful look.
The whole orn, wherever Prowl walked the people would still talk about the funeral of Brazen and how it might impact Praxus politics, or simply the beauty of the funeral. Prowl kept his audials ready for any mention of himself, but there was only the expectation that a former second heir would surely press for retaliation, even a reserved one like Prowl.
At midorn the dean asked for a joor of silence in memory of the deceased prime prince. Prowl tried hard to look as detached of true sorrow as the rest, yet he could only hope to have wiped the tears away fast enough.
Besides that incident he settled in well-enough and three deca-orns later he had only forgotten once to push the green button. But the agent sent had been as discreet as possible, giving Prowl a datapad back with a short 'thank you' and 'how are you'. If the professors wondered at his new dedication to learn as much as he could, they never said a thing.
Still, his new workload was heavy and he found himself in his room more often than not, studying until late into the night. When someone knocked loudly on the door one evening, he ignored it at first, so deeply engrossed was he within a text about probabilities on the molecular plane.
"Black Dust? It's me, Flipper. You here?" Again the sound of knocks.
Prowl turned to the door. Should he open it? Flipper hadn't ever visited him before, but then, they were acquaintances and discussed some theory on more orns than not. It felt wrong to pretend to not be here, wrong and honorless.
"I am coming!" he called out and looked towards his device. His guards probably already knew about his visitor. No need to press the blue button. He hurried to the door and opened it. "Good evening, Flipper."
The other student was clearly agitated. His slender armor was puffed up and showing more gaps than any warframe would have ever allowed. Especially the wide gap between Flipper's very small doorwings and the joint made Prowl wince within his thoughts, even though he knew that this was unavoidable with the thin plating of a poor commoners frame.
Flipper gave him a tight smile. "Evening, Dust. Can I come in?"
Prowl hesitated, but then nodded and stepped aside.
The other student looked around in the bare room with obvious interest. "Is it alright if I sit on your berth?"
Prowl suppressed his reflex of saying 'no'. He only had a single chair after all. "Of course, please take a seat. May I offer you something to drink?"
Flipper blinked in surprise. "You have energon here?"
"Yes, I study in here a lot." Not to mention that his guards preferred that he went as rarely to the meal room as possible. "But it is only plain midgrade."
"Midgrade is more than fine, really. I hope I'm not disturbing you."
"No more than usual," Prowl tried to assure him, while opening the storage. "I am currently reading Farcry's theory on molecular possibilities. A break might not be the worst thing."
Flipper allowed himself a small smile. "Farcry writes as if he wants a prize in boredom. But it's a good theory. Lacking in the secondary mathematical proof, maybe, and less probable than Ortrium's, yeah, but good." Flipper accepted the energon cube from Prowl. "Thanks."
"You are welcome. I have only reached the first proof so far, and this one seems logical." He took seat in his own chair, staring uncertainly at his not-quite-friend. Maybe he should ask, but his creators had always made clear that it was impolite to force his guests to speak about their concerns too fast.
"It is." The talented student took a small sip from the cube then sighed and stared into his cube. "Look, Dust... I'm guessing you wanna ask why I'm here. Don't look so surprised, you're no stranger after all and you're right. I wouldn't be here today if I had any other choice, but you're kind of my last hope."
"Last hope? Flipper, how could I help you?"
"You're a noble, right? And not just any noble."
Alarmed, he couldn't stop his doorwings from flipping upwards. "How..."
Flipper shrugged, not really daring to look at Prowl. "It wasn't that difficult, really. You never talk about your House, although normal nobles make sure at the first opportunity that you know it. I thought that maybe you're the sixth heir or something or you simply don't like your House or creators, but when I asked you did talk about them happily. Kinda easy to see that you love them and they you."
And this was why friends were dangerous. They knew things about you. Prowl looked at the small device with the buttons. But he couldn't convince himself that Flipper – especially one who looked so dejected – was any danger. "Any other mistakes?"
"Some. But nothing major." Flipper gave him a glance. "I'm not good with politics and I never wanted to expose you, so I never searched which second or third heir is missing and you're similar to. I... I thought you might tell me yourself."
Prowl took a moment to repeat the words in his processor. "Why do you not want to know more?"
"Seriously?" Flipper shook his head while chuckling. "Dense nobles, really. 'Cause you're my friend and you're the only student I really talk to! I want you to stay here for as long as possible."
His friend! Prowl fiercely wished he could give the same friendship back, for now his mistrust weighted stronger. He wanted to stay here too, with Flipper, with the professors and all the others. But Brazen was dead and Prowl's duties couldn't wait for long. Vapor wouldn't be able to or allowed to cover for a prime heir the way he had covered for a second heir since before Prowl's creation. He forced his emotions aside to focus on the most important thing said so far.
"You do not know from which I am House from?"
"Not really," admitted Flipper. "I have suspicions, sure, but nothing more. I only know it has to be a rich and powerful one."
"... Your assumption is correct," Prowl said drily. No sense denying it anymore. Flipper's suspicions were a lot better than most mechs proofs.
"Glad to know."
Prowl shuttered his optics and gathered his resolution. "So, you are planning to blackmail me into helping you?" He would pay, he knew. Against all morals, he would, if it wasn't anything too outrageous.
"What- no!" Flipper sounded truly scandalized and that brought more relief to the noble than the words themselves. "No, you're my friend, Dust, nothing changes that. If you say no, I'll go and I'll never tell anyone that you might be richer than all those other stuck-ups at the academy."
"Why are you here then?"
Flipper huffed, embarrassed, and crossed his arms protectively in front of his spark. "... I thought that you might be able to help my brother."
"Your brother." The word alone was enough to conjure a picture of Brazen within his processor.
"Yeah. Told you I've got several siblings." Flipper sighed, his winglets drooping. "Look, he's younger than me and foolish. He fell in love last vorn and now wants to bond."
Prowl's doorwings twitched with confusion. "A bit fast, but nothing bad there."
"Yes, plenty bad, because they never had a compatibility test!" Flipper threw his hands up in exasperation. "He thinks they're Primus-blessed, but the statistical possibility of that occurring is ridiculously small! I calculated it a dozen times. There's 62.3 percent chance that the moment their sparks touch, both will disintegrate!"
Of course Flipper had calculated it, instead of simply taking the number from the Medical Association's archives. He never trusted pre-calculated numbers and had several times already proven his paranoia correct.
"But why aren't they taking a test at the Medical Association?" Prowl asked. "Then he would know their probabilities and not the general ones for two random sparks."
Flipper gave him a scathing look. "Tests cost money, Dust. How should we pay for it?"
Ah, yes, there was that. "You might be able to the moment you aren't a student anymore."
"Might still be some time with my doctorate thesis," countered Flipper sarcastically, winglets fluttering in clear signs of stress. "And he made it clear that he wants to bond now."
"Now as in...?"
"In a decaorn. They are eve already planning the Celebration Ceremony afterwards and my family ain't objecting," Flipper explained. "My creators just said that waiting is senseless, because the chance that we have the money in a few vorns is ridiculous small."
Prowl sighed. "They're approving of the risk."
"Yeah. And the winning chance is just so small." Flipper rubbed his nose in an attempt to hide the tears gathering within his optics. "I read up on it, and they said that even if both sparks don't disintegrate that there can be damage. Sometimes so bad a mech has to be put down."
"I have heard of such cases," Prowl muttered. It was rare as most mechs were able to pay for the Medical Association tests, but even with their numbers, there was always a risk that something would go wrong. Once, he had been barely a youngling sitting on Sparkshimmer's knees, a 83 point compatibility went so wrong that their families appealed to his creators that both mechs be released from their agony through death. The Grand Dukes granted the request.
"Flipper, if I understand all this right, you want me to pay for the compatibility test?"
"No!" Flipper snapped, but then deflated. "I wanted to ask you to lend me the money. And I will repay it the moment I can."
That was a lot more benign than Prowl had expected. "Even though you could blackmail me into giving it?"
"You're my friend, Black Dust, so yes. But even if we were enemies, I'm not an idiot. You would only pay because you like the academy. Afterwards I would have a powerful enemy and I really like living." Flipper gave him a wobbling smile. "Hope that wasn't too blunt."
"Ah, no." Prowl returned the smile. "It's refreshing, sometimes. And I will help you. Just tell me the name of your brother and I will arrange the rest."
"His designation is Flip Up." At Prowl's rising optic brow, he added, "Yeah, I know, my creators aren't good with names."
"Do all your siblings possess such names?"
"Pretty much. Flipper, Flip Up, Downflip, Sideflip and Flippig." He grinned.
Prowl stared. "Primus."
Flipper left soon after and Prowl set Quickstrike on the problem. Barely a breem after waking up from recharge the next morning, Quickstrike brought him the numbers of how much this favor would cost – 892 credits. It was paltry, compared to Prowl's stipend. He knew that some nobles partied as much away in a single evening. And yet, Flipper's whole family hadn't been able to pay this. It felt wrong to make Flipper repay something that barely qualified as pocket change for him.
He tapped his lower lip with his stylus as he thought. "Quickstrike, how will we pay for this test so that no one can follow the money back to me?"
"The easiest solution would be to give the money directly to Flipper, my prince," answered the guard. "Why?"
"Because this amount is ridiculous. Yet a couple might die because of this!" He sighed. "It feels wrong."
"It is how it is, my prince."
Prowl glanced at the amount again. "How much is my stipend as a prince?"
"Currently, 15 million credits a vorn," answered Quickstrike quickly. "Or 1000 credits every orn."
"And how much do I use?"
"On average you use less than two million credits a vorn."
Not surprising, Prowl knew. He was on a scholarship officially, and the guards were paid through the Praxian household. He really only took money from his own coffers when he bought gifts for his siblings or decided to take a small journey. "The rest of the money is invested in a future trust fund, Yellowstripe said."
"Correct, my prince. The earned interest of that trust fund has been added to your stipend as well," Quickstrike explained. "May I ask what my prince is planning?"
"You can always ask, Quickstrike." Prowl smiled. "Contact Yellowstripe and ask him if an anonymous donor can set up a foundation for mechs like Flipper's family. I know it will probably not be a big one, but if we can help a few mechs every vorn, it is worth it."
"A good idea, my prince." Quickstrike bowed a bit lower than usual. "I will see it done."
To the Grand Dukes of Praxus
Dear Black Haze, dear Sparkshimmer,
Rumors about Prince Brazen's death have reached my audios and concern me greatly. If even a small part of them is true, I fear for my nephew. Is Prince Prowl safe? Furthermore, I worry for you. Grief still blackens my spark, I can only imagine what you are going through.
Field Marhshal of Praxus
Marques of Xiphos
To the Marques of Xiphos, Field marshal of the Praxian army
The last orns have been an ordeal, yet Smokescreen has turned out to be our light and hope. Sadly, Prowl couldn't stay with us for much longer. He has already returned to Fortress Prien to prepare for his future duties as the prime heir and to grieve in the privacy the mountain fortress provides.
General-Lieutenant Warpath has sworn to provide for his safety. We can only pray that this is enough.
May Primus be with you in these trying times, Vapor. And be careful. The rumors you have heard are most likely true and you and yours might be targeted as well.
In deep sorrow,
Black Haze and Sparkshimmer
Quickstrike must have kept his word and worked quickly, because he was already waiting when Prowl stumbled back into his quarters from his last lecture. He blinked at the warframe, then chose to ignore him for an energon cube. After a few moments of quietly sipping the fuel, he sighed.
"I guess Yellowstripe said no?" There was no other reason he could discern, that Quickstrike was already here.
"There has been no word on the foundation matter yet, my prince. But our Lords and Masters, the Grand Dukes of Praxus, have expressed their wish to speak with you."
Prowl frowned. That couldn't be good. In all his time at the academy, they had only contacted him once before – to tell him of Brazen's injuries. "Do you know why?"
"I'm afraid I do not." Quickstrike sounded apologetic. "If it helps, my prince, it is my understanding that the matter is of a less serious nature than last time."
Prowl only nodded, not wanting to admit the small panic he had been feeling. "Even then, I should hurry. It is not meet to let the Grand Dukes wait."
Prowl left the campus like a normal student and walked down the street into the city. A few times he glanced around, trying to spot his invisible guards, but he remained unsuccessful. There were several different teams, he knew, but still their level of coordination left him impressed every time. Three streets further on, a plain worker's mech suddenly walked by his right and waved down a cab mech.
"Wanna share a ride with me, lad?" The mech turned and asked with a grin.
'Lad' had been the codeword, so Prowl nodded. "Only if it's going to the center."
"It does, straight down and to the right." The second code. The mech jumped in and held the door open. "Come on, there is plenty of space!"
Prowl climbed in with less vigor and immediately the doors fell shut with a heavy groan. Long training with guards and soldiers left Prowl with little doubt that this cab mech was clad in military grade armor.
The dirty worker mech had by now lost his grin and bowed. "Welcome, your Highness. The ride will last a joor, until we are sure that no one is following us."
A joor was several times longer than the last time he had followed this procedure to pick up a call, but Prowl only nodded. "Has there been anyone following me?"
The worker's mech pressed the tips of two fingers against his helmet and listened for an astrosecond. "None of the teams has noticed anything suspicious, your Highness."
At least something. Prowl pulled out a datapad out of his subspace and started reviewing his last classes.
A joor later the cab mech slowed down and announced: "We're here. I hope you have enjoyed the ride."
"I have, thank you," answered Prowl nearly automatically and put his scripts away. The guard mech had already jumped outside and now held the door open.
They had stopped directly in front of the entrance of a seemingly nondescript building, so much so that the cab was blocking it completely. Before Prowl had a chance to look around more, he was ushered inside. A small, plain office hall greeted him. Quickstrike was already waiting, and behind Prowl four of the biggest warframes he had ever seen fell in step.
"Prince Prowl, second heir of Praxus, welcome inside the headquarters of the Night Guard division," said Quickstrike formally. "Do you wish any refreshments first?"
"Thank you, Captain, but I wish to speak with the Grand Dukes first. Lead me to the communication room."
The communication room was a floor down, but they didn't meet a single mech. The room itself was a small conference room, with a table that looked like it could fit maybe six war the middle of it was a black sphere serving as the communication device.
"I'm setting the frequency. The holograms might be unstable or have other flaws due to the encryption. On behalf of the communication experts, I apologize for this."
Prowl shook his helmet. "Don't apologize." He looked up from the black sphere to Quickstrike. "Necessity trumps comfort. Tell this the technicians as well."
"I will, my prince," promised his guard. "I will now leave you, but remain in front of the door. If you need anything, just call me."
Prowl didn't answer as he stared again at the black sphere with a dry mouth. At his side, the door closed gently and he was alone. He didn't need to wait long before the faces of his two creators appeared over the table. Prowl hadn't even known how afraid he had been until he saw the gentle smiles on their faces.
"Grand Duke Sparkshimmer, Grand Duke Black Haze... I am glad to see you well."
"And we you, my creation," answered Lord Black Haze. "We miss you here."
Sparkshimmer at the right side nodded, then looked down and his face softened. "Smokescreen, seems to want to say hello to you as well." He heaved the youngling into the view. "We have important things to speak about, Smokey, so you have to be quick."
"Yes, carrier!" Smokescreen nodded eagerly, already turning to his brother. Then he blinked in surprise. "Prowl! You look strange!"
The mere sight of his little brother lifted his mood immediately. He huffed in laughter. "I am in disguise, Smokey. After all, not everyone can know I am a prince, right?"
The youngling's doorwings twitched as he frowned. "But doesn't all that paint itch? When I painted myself white it itched. A lot. Hoist was not happy."
Sparkshimmer and Black Haze shared an amused glance. "Master medic Hoist had a right not to be happy, little one," said Lord Black Haze. "The paint you used was supposed to be for our walls, while what Prowl wears is not real paint but nanites."
"Nanites?" Smokescreen squinted. "It looks the same as paint."
"But it isn't." Prowl tried to not laugh. "Or I would itch all the time."
"Guess that makes sense…"
"Indeed, little one." Lord Sparkshimmer caressed Smokescreen's doorwings. "Now, our time is limited so say what you wanted to say."
"Oh, okay." Smokescreen sat straighter, doorwings high, obviously imitating all the serious adult mechs he knew. "Uhm, Prowl, it would be nice if you could send me a letter? Not often… just form time to time?" The youngling looked down. "Just so I know you are still there..."
"I will," Prowl quickly said, guilt stabbing his spark. He should have done so without the prompting. Of course, Smokescreen would worry about him now, after having experienced Brazen's death. "I promise."
"Thank you. I know you are doing really important things, somewhere secret that I cannot know, but … I just want to hear from you." Smokescreen tried to smile, but it looked a bit subdued. "Hope you have fun there."
"I have. Very much so," assured Prowl. "I will see you at the end of the vorn."
"That's enough, Smokey," said Black Haze. "We have to talk about the other things now, before the time runs out."
"Oh" Smokescreen's doorwings went a bit down. "Bye." Then Lord Sparkshimmer and he had already disappeared from the view. The Grand Duke returned a moment later.
"He misses you greatly, Prowl. Not that this is a surprise, he adores you." Sparkshimmer smiled for a moment, then all warmth vanished from his face. "But as much as Smokescreen concerns us, he is not the reason for this call, I am afraid. There have been developments that have given us reason to fear the worst."
"The worst?" asked Prowl, having trouble to grasp what they meant.
"Yes." Lord Sparkshimmer's golden optics flared. "You're too young still to be troubled with such problems, Prowl, but you need to be aware nevertheless. Our investigations have turned up that the murder of your brother was not the act of a single mech, or even of a small group. We suspect that our own nobles, sworn to serve and obey, have betrayed us!" The anger in the Lord's voice was tremendous, and Prowl found it echoed in his own spark. It was a heavy beat calling for justice. "Worse, we believe that their next target will be you, Prowl. They plan to destroy every heir of the House, so they can claim the spoils. It is has turned out that at least one of Bra- Brazen's," a small sob, "friends is a traitor."
"Fire of my spark," whispered Lord Black Haze and leaned over to his bondmate, whose anger was turning into boundless sorrow. Their chevrons touched in an intimate gesture of comfort and love. Tears ran down on Lord Sparkshimmer's face. Prowl tried to find words to sooth their pain, but came up empty. Too much burned his own spark with the pain of the loss.
Black Haze drew away after a moment. "We do not have time to explain everything, I am afraid. The longer this connection exists, the more dangerous it is." He sighed. "Suffice to say, if they plan to kill you, then they need to know where you are. Thankfully, your second identity had been crafted very well, and we found no indication that the enemy has even an inkling you are not stationed in Fortress Prien."
Prowl's thoughts raced. "Does that mean you intend to let me stay here?"
"Yes," confirmed both Lords and Black Haze continued: "We had a guard take over your identity, make some minor public appearances inside the Fortress and do everything you would usually do as the former second heir who is trained to be taking over as the prime heir."
It was a logical decision. "How long?" asked Prowl.
"Until our House is safe again," answered his sire hotly.
Black Haze nodded. "We want to find the master behind the shadows and eliminate the evil by its roots. Acting too fast would only get innocents hurt, but we will act with force the moment proof arrives on my desk."
Prowl crossed his arms. "With force? You will call the army?"
"If necessary," answered his carrier. For a moment his hologram faded, but was then restored.
It was Lord Sparkshimmer who caught the intentions of Prowl first. "No, Prowl. Vapor will lead them in your place."
"I am trained for it!" Prowl growled. "As the second heir, I learned the arts of war long before I turned my sights towards the scholarly subjects!"
"And you are their target!" Lord Sparkshimmer snapped. "I refuse to lose another creation of mine to them. I refuse!"
Prowl blinked, then stared at the table. It was easy think sometimes that it was Black Haze who was the more ferocious of his two creators, but Lord Sparkshimmer's emotions had something unyielding to them that made most everyone back down. Prowl nodded, not able to look his sire in the optics: "Forgive me, I didn't mean to..."
"I know. I wished I could hug you and hide you away like Smokescreen," said his sire wistfully. Both their faces flickered as the connection failed for a moment, but the voice remained clear. "You're no youngling anymore, Prowl, but you will forever remain my sparkling."
"We are proud of you," added Black Haze quietly. "Trust us to take care of this and concentrate on your studies. Captain Quickstrike mentioned that you even might have made a friend."
Prowl looked up abruptly. "You know of Flipper?"
"Of course we do." Black Haze looked at his creation mischievously. "Who do you think approved of your foundation and tripled the starting capital?"
He stared at them in surprise. "You... approve?"
"It is a wonderful idea," praised Lord Black Haze. Suddenly the holograms were fading, becoming transparent and then nearly invisible. "I'm afraid we are out of time. Stay safe."
"Be careful, Sweetspark" said Lord Sparkshimmer. "Listen to Captain Quickstrike. You can trust him above everyone else."
"I will, creators. I miss you."
The connection ended. Prowl stared at the empty spot for a long while, trying to understand all that had been said. He suddenly missed them so much and wished he had stayed in Praxus with them, instead of insisting on returning. Here he had guards and datapads and ... Flipper. Was that enough to replace his family?
A knock on the door. "My prince?"
"I am coming." He stood up and walked out to his guards and back to his academy life, where he was nothing more than the simple, introverted Black Dust.
To the Secretary of State, Praxus
The new expenses for Prince Prowl's foundation have further stretched the treasure. While the expenses are being greatly reduced with Prince Brazen's death, I would wish to caution Prince Prowl against following his footsteps.
Treasurer of Praxus
To Lord Shanix, Treasurer of Praxus
Dear Lord Shanix,
While it is true that the new expenses are unusual for Prince Prowl, his Highness has proven to be prudent with his spending in the past. Prince Prowl has only put his own stipend and savings into the foundation, not the money of Praxus. It had been the Grand Duke's decision to triple the founding capital.
Though I do not share your worry about Prince Prowl, I am not blind to the overall state of the treasure. Please, take the new expenses for the foundation from my own account, number 8655. I can't think of a worthier goal than to ensure the future and happiness of so many Praxians.
Secretary of the State, Praxus
Recharge came slowly to him this night, so he learned, and he only succumbed when exhaustion took over. Far too early in the morning, he was woken by heavy fists hammering away against his door. "Black Dust, open up! I know you are there!"
"Flipper...?" Barely able to activate his optics, he stumbled to the door and opened it. "In Primus's holy name, what happened?"
Flipper stared at him. "You were still recharging?"
He gritted his denta. "Yes. Come in." Prowl closed the door behind his friend. "Pray tell me, what has you upset so early?"
"My brother called. An organization called 'Praxian Foundation of Prince Prowl' has offered to cover the cost, because he had been chosen randomly."
Prowl had shuffled over to his shelf and too an enegex cube to wake up. "Is that not what you wanted?"
Flipper wrought his hands. "Yes, but... I thought you would lend me the money and not..." He looked away. "You didn't agree to any debt or favor or something?"
Prowl looked up from his cube. "What do you mean?"
"Look, Prince Prowl... he's the second heir of Praxus and not exactly the nicest mech, even I know that. Not that he can be with being second heir and warframe prince, and I guess it was the most inconspicuous way to help me without tracing it back to you… but Prince Prowl didn't force you into something, right?"
Prowl stared at him. "You are ... worried, that he is now capable of blackmailing me?"
"I suppose?" Flipper shrugged. "He's now prime heir and you probably know him personally, but ... why are you laughing?"
Prowl was indeed chuckling and trying to hide it behind his cube. "Nothing, my friend."
Flipper opened his mouth, then closed it. For a long moment the young genius just stood there, thinking, then suddenly his optics became wider. "Prince Prowl is supposed to be training in a secret location somewhere."
"Mmh," said Prowl and took a sip.
"He isn't… Right?"
"Well, a doppelganger is."
A shellshocked Flipper sat down on Prowl's berth. "You're… uhm, not angry?"
"For trying to protect me from a strange second prince I have never met?" asked Prowl amused. "No. Maybe a bit honored."
Flipper put his head into both hands. "I'm sorry that's just a bit much at the moment. My nerdy best friend is the second prince and prime heir of Praxus. Unbelievable. Do you have highgrade? I think I need some."
Prowl did not, but Flipper took a deep gulp of the enegex not really caring either way. Only then he dared to look again at his friend. "Is it Black Dust or Prowl, now?"
"Whatever you like more. But I would suggest using Black Dust outside of these rooms." Prowl smiled. "Besides that I have no real preference."
"I see..." Despite that the mech sounded a bit lost. "But how? On the news pics you look very different."
"Some minor cosmetics and color changes done by experts for the maximum effect," admitted Prowl. "Besides that, most photos of me are already quite old, or show only parts of my face. I was only supposed to go public after finishing my education here."
"Brazen's... death has changed many things," said Prowl quietly, the pain clear in every word.
The other mech looked contrite, his small unarmored doorwings growing still. "Oh, of course. I'm so sorry, Du- Prowl."
Prowl only acknowledged it with a nod. "My time here grows short. I do not know when I will be called upon and forced to leave."
"Is that why you've been studying so much in these last several deca-orns?"
"Guess it's not easy to be a Prince..." Flipper smiled nervously. "Uhm, but I don't understand, shouldn't you have guards or something?"
"I have." Prowl gave him a mischievous glance. "They are just very, very good at blending in."
"That's actually quite awesome. I probably walked past them a dozen times!"
"Probably more. Especially as I know for a fact that they have trailed you at least once."
Flipper looked awestruck. Prowl couldn't help but chuckle, feeling more relaxed than in a long time. Certainly since the funeral. It felt good to have a friend.
To my favorite brother
I am well and studying hard here. I think I might have made a friend, rare as that is for me. He might not even care that I am now the prime heir, can you believe it? I can't quite yet, I remain wary, but I hope that he is as true as he seems to be.
I hope you are well. Don't annoy your teachers too much. You might be a prince and great with card tricks, but they are still your teachers and not your unwilling audience. If you practice, though, I would love to see those tricks when I am home again.
I miss you and our creators and only the knowledge that I will see you all again soon keeps me here.
With all my love,