There were quite a few unfamiliar scents wafting towards Rhinox. He snorted, clearing his nose of most of them, then drew in a fresh breath of air, only to stop without warning. The others crashed into him, complaining.
His answer, however, wasn't reassuring. "I smell something."
Dinobot snorted, and snapped, "How can you slagging smell anything other than this blasted swamp?!"
There was an unfamiliar chuckle, and footsteps towards them. Cheetor tensed, preparing for a fight, when a female voice said, "Calm down. I'm not going to harm you. Actually, quite the opposite. If you'll accept it, I'll help you as best that I can."
"Hnnnrrgh . . . What the Pit can a female do?!" Dinobot snarled, irritated and scared. "You're small. I can tell that by your voice. What would you have to offer?"
A soft, fleshed hand gently rested upon the tip of his snout, while anther held the bottom of his jaw softly. Her voice was close, and kind. "I have my eyesight, and I have faith in myself that I'll do the best that I can."
"Then can you see something for me?" Rhinox asked.
Dinobot felt the hands leave his face, and he stood in silence. This femme had strength, and a will. One that matched his own. But . . . "Wait, female. There are others of your kind around, is there not?"
A laugh, kind and warm, sounded, then an accented voice, different from the first, replied, "He's really getting that nose of his down, Sinead! Picked us right out!"
The first girl shook her head at her companion. "Sapphire, not now, please. Something's up." She touched Rhinox's shoulder, and asked, "What is it?"
"Something . . . sour-smelling. I don't know what it is, only that it's dry, and smells like death," the rhino replied quietly. "And it's to the left."
Sinead saw Cheetor under a tree, and leapt over Rhinox's shoulders, just as the snake dropped from the branches above. Drawing a wooden practice sword, Sinead smacked its tail, the closest thing to her. The boa constrictor's head reared up, and Sinead glared back into its slitted eyes. It struck, and with a yell, Sinead leapt to her left, swinging a hefty blow to the back of the snake's head. The group heard the distinct and audible crack as wood met bone.
The animal went limp. Sinead dug the bokuto into the ground, tip-first. Sapphire then proceeded to pull the snake away from a damaged Cheetor. "Kid, can you breathe better?"
He groaned, and nodded slowly. Sinead blinked at the snake, then backed away. "Sapphire, clear off! I only stunned it!"
Sinead left the wooden sword where it was, then drew a katana as long as her arm and backed away from the Maximals, careful to watch the snake's every movement. It released Cheetor, and followed her, this time striking low, by her feet. She yelled and jumped up, only to leap to her left and circle slowly in that same direction. She turned the sword around, so that the dull side would hit the snake. She struck just as it did.
The snake fell again.
This time, Sinead blinked at it closer. She groaned, and sighed. "I think I killed it."
"Make sure," Rattrap said quietly.
Sinead turned the blade again, and let it fall. She swung the katana towards the ground, getting most of the blood off, and then finished cleaning it with a large leaf. Sheathing the weapon, she crouched by Cheetor, and rested her hand upon his ears. "Hey, you all right?"
"It . . . it hurts to breathe . . . and it's cold . . ."
Sinead rested her hand upon his side gently, feeling something grinding against something else each time he took a breath in. A soft voice asked, "Sinead? What happened?"
"A very large and annoying snake happened," the swords-woman replied to the third girl in their group. "Rhinox, how much weight can you handle carrying upon your back?"
"Cheetor and one other shouldn't be a problem," he replied.
Sinead nodded, and said, "StarGazer, get up there. You're keeping the cat on his back. He has broken ribs, or something close to it. If he starts to slip, hold his shoulder, and one of us will help him back to a better position."
"Gotcha, Fearless Leader. Uh . . ." The blonde looked at the large beast mode. "How would I get on, again?"
"Carefully," a fourth voice said, putting her hands in a "ten-fingers" position. "Up you go."
Rhinox turned his head at the voice. "How many of you are there, and what are you?"
Sinead picked Cheetor up carefully, but he still whimpered at the movement. Sinead sighed, then said, "Five, at the moment. The fifth should be at your base by now, telling your leader where about you should be." She managed to get Cheetor upon Rhinox's back, with StarGazer helping her. She then winced, seeing a nasty gash just under the technician's ear. "And we're humans."
Dinobot snarled. "Wonderful. You're even smaller than I first thought."
StarGazer snickered, but Sinead cut her off from saying a rather nasty comment, with, "Say it, and you'll be wishing that you were a better swimmer."
"Aww, but don't you wanna see the look on his face?"
"Not really. Pacerpaw, you lead the way with Rhinox. Sapphire, you help guide Rattrap. I'll be watching the rear."
"And what, pray, will happen to me?" Dinobot hissed.
Sinead took his hand, leading him after the others. "You'll be with me, of course."
The waterfall was larger than Sinead had estimated. StarGazer winced at the height, as Rhinox said, "Whew. We made it."
Dinobot blinked, then yelled back, "What did you say?!"
"I said we made it to the waterfall!"
"What a . . . startling revelation!"
Sinead chuckled quietly at the sarcasm, and then said, "There's a log that goes across! Pacerpaw's already checked it out, and it should be strong enough to hold you!"
Rattrap started over, just to double-check. He reached the Swedish woman at the other end, and then called over, "Hey guys! It's good!"
As the Maximals started over, Sinead looked to Sapphire and StarGazer, who had lessened the weight upon Rhinox's back in order for him to cross. "Things are different than I thought."
The currently-leading young woman sighed, then said, "I certainly hope so. Because if they aren't, then that means that . . . oh, no. No! Get off of the log! MOVE!!! GET OFF!!!"
A missile hit the cliff under their end of the log, causing chips of rock spraying everywhere. Sinead rushed to the edge, just in time to see the Maximals and the log fall into the spray. StarGazer grabbed her arm, and then said, "You're not diving after them! You'd die!"
"What makes you think that I'll do that?!" Sinead yelled back. She looked over at Pacerpaw, whose face was distraught. Cupping her hands around her mouth, she yelled over, "Can you get to the other side?"
"Sure! Honest, Sinead!"
"Alright! We're going after them!"
Pacerpaw nodded, and then started to get to the other side of the waterfall. StarGazer blinked after Sinead. "Woah, wait! What's this 'we' thing?!"
The Maximals made it to the shore. Dinobot growled, then said, "What a way for a warrior to go out: Wet, blind and helpless!"
Rhinox coughed, and then said, "We-we're not finished yet!"
Something snapped within the Velociraptor. "Spare me your eternal optimism! Waspinator will be back, this time!"
Sinead and Sapphire ran ahead, wearing one sword each, while StarGazer had offered to carry the other weapons and lag behind. However, each also had upon their person quite a few daggers and throwing stars. Sapphire pointed to four dark shapes on the other side of the river, about fifty feet ahead. Sinead stopped running, and then gasped, "What do you think?"
"Swim to the other side?"
"It'll bring us closer to them either way."
"That was my thoughts. Let's do it."
Wading in and feeling the current tug at their legs, the two swords-women secured their short swords, and then started swimming for the other side. Ten minutes later, they were twenty feet further downstream than the Maximals, and sopping wet. Boots squelching and overflowing with water, they ran back up to the four warriors, panting.
Rhinox blinked. "You didn't fall off, too, did you?"
Sinead shook her head, then remembered that they couldn't see. "No." Catching her breath, she added, "Climbed down . . . ran . . . swam across . . . whoo!"
Something shot by overhead. Sapphire turned in time to see it. "It's those two goons. Crap!"
Dinobot was beginning to shake with the combination of exhaustion, cold, and the realization that he might actually get killed. Something wet spattered his snout, shocking him, and he heard a quiet hiss right by his ear, "Don't give up."
He closed his eyes, and then nodded silently. Little did he know, that Rattrap was just as terrified as he was, and being silently comforted, again, just like he was, only by Sapphire. Sinead patted Dinobot's shoulder, then moved on to Cheetor. "C'mon, up on your paws, kitten."
"'M not a kitten," the cheetah mumbled.
"You're acting like one, moping like this. You're not going to get anywhere unless you help yourself right this instant. You'll be fine. Just get out of the water."
Rhinox heard both her words to Dinobot and to Cheetor, then said, "Sinead, Sapphire, this is our fight. Hide."
Sinead looked to her sister-in-spirit, then sighed. "All right."
"What the slag to you mean, 'this is our fight'?!" Dinobot screeched. "We can't see!"
Rhinox shook his head, and Sinead patted Dinobot's snout again, wetting it further. "He has a plan. We'll be over here."
The Maximals transformed, and, under Rhinox's instruction, managed to take out the two fliers. Sapphire ran out with a cry, catching Rattrap as he fell, but couldn't reach Cheetor in time. Sinead managed to ease Dinobot to the ground, trying not to let her knees buckle with supporting his considerable metal weight. Rhinox's voice was breathless. "Transforming speeded up the contamination process . . . they're in Stasis Lock!"
Hearing jets far off, but growing closer, Rhinox transformed, seeing no other option. "Stay down!"
A voice drifted through the fog, just as Rhinox was starting to place the flier's position. "Rhinox!"
"Optimus!" The large Maximal lowered his chaingun. "I knew you'd . . . you'd come . . ."
Optimus caught his old friend, lowering him to the sands and activating his commlink all in one motion. "Optimus to Tigatron and Airazor! Code X!"
Sinead looked at the leader, as the two scouts locked onto their co-ordinates. Finally, he looked over to the two humans, each sitting next to at least one of his warriors. Sinead was sitting between Dinobot and Cheetor, while Sapphire was beside Rattrap. He sighed. "Thank you. Your friend, Nurannoniel, was it? She's on top of the cliff. She knows the way back to the base."
"You can't take all these guys back at once," Sinead pointed out.
Optimus sighed, then nodded. "You're right."
Pacerpaw, Tigatron, Airazor, and Nurannoniel skidded down the side of the cliff carefully, just as StarGazer yelled from across the river. "Yo! Am I all alone here?! Leaders aren't supposed to forget their second-in-command!"
Sinead turned, and yelled back, "I wish I could, though! You're thoroughly annoying!"
"It's my job!"
Optimus chuckled. "That sounds about right. I'll bring her over, so she can help out."
"We can't leave her there?" Sinead asked in a mock-whining tone.
Optimus laughed outright, relief flooding over him as he took off, then came back with a wincing StarGazer. "I hate heights. I hate heights. I hate heights. I HATE HEIGHTS!!!"
"We've established that, thanks," Nurannoniel said tartly. "How about helping out?"
StarGazer shrugged. "Sure. What do you need done?"
Sinead rolled her eyes, and said, "Help someone carry someone."
". . . huh?"
Optimus and his scouts placed the bulkiest weapons in their subspace pockets so that the humans could help out easier. Tigatron reverted to his beast mode, and StarGazer and Sinead draped Cheetor over his back. Then, Optimus and Airazor took off with Rhinox, who had taken on more damage than even Cheetor had. Nurannoniel and Sinead each took one of Dinobot's arms over their shoulders. They waited as Pacerpaw and Sapphire did the same with Rattrap, who was obviously a much lighter burden. Finally, they all set off, following Nurannoniel, who knew the way.