Finally DONE!! Okay, this my friends is a parody of Howl's Moving Castle, the Studio Ghibli movie by Hayao Miyazaki. It only took me a WEEK, but I'm done. This wouldn't be in existance if it wasn't for Artisan Brown, who gave me almost all the characters and wrote the song that appears at the end. So go thank her a ton, okay? The last three sections are a bit iffy, but only because I literally ran out of descriptions and actions that I ahdn't already used several times already. But I'm still pretty happy with the end result. and ROSANNAxCLIFFJUMPER ROCKS! It was fun transferring character qualities and stuff to this story I'm already so familiar with. Well...enjoy!
Rosanna walked briskly through the crowd, amazed at how loud it was. Usually she liked it when she could sense the energy in the air like this. It showed that not everybot was as boring and unenthusiastic as they seemed. That they were a bit like her. But the celebration today was for reasons that she didn't agree with at all. She didn't understand how there could be so much pomp and circumstances about something as awful as war.
She hated quarrels of all kind, from name-calling to an all-out brawl, but she hated wars the most. `Bots attacked each other for the stupidest reasons. Not only that, but they killed those involved, as well as innocent civilians. And now they were having a big parade, celebrating the soldiers that would go out and be a part of this. All of them beamed proudly as they marched down the street. Like they should be proud of what they were about to do. Killing and ruining families, livelihoods, and a plethora of other things. It was revolting.
Rosanna had heard that there was a time when war only was waged between Autobots and Decepticons. But that was long ago. Different loyalties existed which went past the barrier of Autobot versus Decepticon. One of the `bot-`con wars had caused the way of life on Cybertron to change drastically, suddenly making cities and towns the center of society. And a very different kind of city indeed. They actually resembled the monarchy systems in which organics on Earth used. With that came the sense of independence of each of these cities, and the fierce patriotism that followed. All of these contributed to the ensuing conflicts, and to the war they were now in.
They were fighting Autobots; their own kind. Rosanna wondered what their ancestors would've thought of this. Hopefully they would agree with her: It was pointless.
As she made her way through, she could hear snippets of conversations.
"Good luck, fellas!"
"…think we kidnapped their prince. Like we would do something like that."
"Yeah, he's the guy. The one that they boast about being so 'gifted' and 'great'. Probably ran away, that's my guess."
"We'll be praying for your safe return!"
"…Cliffjumper's castle? It passed by the edge of town this morning!"
"Cliffjumper? Oh no. Must be looking for another poor femme's spark to eat…"
"I'll miss you, sweetie!"
Finally, Rosanna broke free from the large mob, deciding to take a side road down an alley to stay as far from the procession as possible. She knew all the ways to the library, and it sure came in handy in times like this. She didn't even second-guess herself as she slunk into the alley, glad to hear the ruckus get softer as she moved farther away. Humming, she continued down, a bit more of a spring in her step. When it was quieter she could pretend that there were no problems in the world. That is was perfect.
The spring died instantly as she ran into two mechs, blatantly blocking her way. The insignias on their chestplates told her they were a part of the army. One of them was very short, much smaller than any `bot she had ever seen before. That didn't make him any less threatening. She froze, watching as they stared at her longingly.
"Hey, Brawn, looks like we got ourselves a loner." The taller mech said. He sounded like he had lived on an energon farm his whole life.
"Whatcha doin' around here? Are you lost, little girl?" The shorter one, Brawn, asked with a sneer.
"I know exactly where I'm going." Rosanna informed, "I'm visiting my sister. But thanks for your concern anyways." She started to walk past them, but they only scooted closer, making it impossible for her to continue on without them moving out of the way.
"So there's another one!" Brawn whistled, "We've hit the jackpot, Ironhide!"
"Maybe we could get t' know yah and yah sister a little better." Ironhide offered, winking.
Rosanna didn't understand what was going on, or what these mechs wanted to do with her. It was a little scary to see them looking at her like that. Like she was some sort of prize to be won. She stepped back a bit, not sure of what she should do to get them to leave her alone. She could try to run away, but they looked stronger than her. They would be able to stop her and overpower her quickly. And her screams for help would be drowned out by the parade.
"Aw, look now, you've gone and scared another femme, Ironhide." Brawn sighed, "It's that slagged accent of yours."
"I think she looks cuter when she's scared." Ironhide said slyly. "Yah sure you don't want t' help see us two brave soldiers off properly?"
Rosanna was about to firmly answer 'no' and demand that they let her through, when a servo came down on her shoulder. She gasped and turned to see who else could possibly be there, only wondering whether or not they would be in league with these two.
Standing next to her was a mech about her height, if not a little taller. His armor was bright red and he shared a chassis type that was popular at the time, with small horns at the top of his head. He held himself up confidently, as if he were somebot important. She surely had no idea who he was. And by the looks of Ironhide and Brawn, neither did they.
"Where have you been!?" He hissed at her, "I've had to look everywhere for you!"
"I…I…I don't know-" Rosanna began. Why was this mech acting like he knew her? Was this some kind of game that she didn't know the rules to?
"Whaddaya think yer doin' with her, pipsqueak?" Ironhide asked. He took a big step forward, as if asking the mech to test his strength.
The mech growled. "And as for you two, you've tested my patience too much already, even without that insult." He elegantly flicked his pointer finger up. Instantly Ironhide and Brawn became rigid, "I'd suggest you get out of here fast." He made a similar movement, this time pointing the finger to the exit of the alley. Rosanna watched as the two of them marched out in that direction, seemingly against their own will. They squirmed and whimpered the whole way out. She would've felt sorry for them if they hadn't been so rude to her already.
She turned back to the red mech, who looked rather pleased with himself. Who was this guy, anyways? And how did he just do that?
He quickly laced his arm around hers and began to lead her briskly down in the other direction.
"What are you doing…?" She asked.
"I'm taking you safely out of her to make sure no more creeps like them show up." He announced gruffly. She wasn't sure if this was the kind of `bot she wanted as her escort.
"It's okay. I'll manage." She protested. This only caused him to squeeze closer to her. She blushed at the suddenness of it all.
"Don't freak out – and especially don't do that high-pitched femme scream you all seem to be so good at." He whispered, "I'm being followed."
Unconsciously she began to turn around and see who would be following him. Was he a criminal? She wouldn't be surprised, the way he was acting. Did that mean he was using her to somehow cut off his pursuers from getting to him? This could get dangerous! Fear crept back up again. Now she definitely wished she had somebot else to lead her out.
"And don't look back either!" He barked, though still softly so only she could hear. It didn't take away any of the force in it, though, "Sheesh, all you femmes are the same…"
It took a lot of effort to keep looking forward. She was still very curious to know who was following them. She couldn't hear any footsteps nearby. Or engines. And they couldn't be flying; there was barely any clearance in the narrow alley. So how could anybot possibly be after them here? They continued to walk in silence, Rosanna left with nothing but her own thoughts.
Her questions were answered shortly. Something on the wall ahead of her caught her attention, and she turned to look. A black blob, seemingly compose of tar, was oozing out of it. Her spark-rate increased at the sight of it. Even though it had no visible face, as it turned toward the two of them it seemed to look straight at them. It made a horrible guttural sound as it advanced.
"Sorry, it looks like you're involved." The mech said, although he didn't sound concerned. He began to walk faster, passing the first blob, only to run into another one. To her horror, it seemed that they just kept appearing, not only in front of them but also from behind. "Here, this way!" He pushed her towards the intersection up ahead and turned into it.
Rosanna didn't know what these blobs were, but she knew they couldn't be good. Especially with the way the mech spoke about them. Everything in her programming told her to run as fast as she could and get out of there. But she wasn't sure if that was the smartest move. She felt a presence of safety with this mech, no matter how rough he was with her. He had some sort of powers, and seemed to want to protect her.
The blobs somehow passed through more walls, surrounding them. There was no way out. They were trapped! How were they going to escape now?
"Hold on!" The mech cried. She did as she was told (not that she could think of anything else to do). The blobs continued to move in on them, coming dangerously close to touching her. She closed her viz scanners, wondering if that would somehow make them all disappear.
She could feel wind brush by her as she suddenly shot upwards. Vertigo made her processor spin and she could no longer feel the ground beneath her stabilizing servos. Her viz scanners reopened and widened in an instant. Below her she could see the tops of the buildings she had just been next to just moments ago, as well as the blobs, who had begun stacking on top of each other trying to reach them. Even farther on were `bots still watching the parade, completely unaware that there she was, flying in the air!
"Stop gawking and start walking." The mech ordered, not giving her a chance to register what was happening. He had already started to take a few steps forward, his movements suddenly more slacked and fluid without the ground to support him.
Rosanna gulped and hesitantly followed his example. It wasn't as hard as it looked, though she was still afraid that she would fall every nanoclick. They were pretty far up and it would be a nasty drop. After she thought about it, she knew that was a childish fear. The mech was in control of the situation and wouldn't let her fall. With that she took the opportunity to enjoy the event, smiling as the sensations of joy and wonderment emerged inside her. Upon hearing the music from the parade below, she was almost tempted to start dancing with the mech. This was astounding. She had never heard of anybot taking a walk in the sky.
They strode over to the nearest building, which turned out to be the library. It was as if he knew that this was where she was heading. Like he could read her processor. With all that he could already do, she wouldn't be surprised. He helped her land on the balcony as gently as possible. Even with that she almost fell over once he let go.
"Stay here for awhile, and don't do anything stupid." The mech instructed. "I'll lead them off of your trail."
"But how long should I-?" Rosanna started to ask. Before she could finish her question, he jumped backwards off of the balcony. She raced forward, grabbed hold of the railing, and stretched her head over. Frantically she looked for any sign of the mech, any hint of his shade of red among the multitude of `bots on the street. But it was impossible to pick him out. He was gone.
Although she knew that there was no way she would find him, she continued to search through the crowd, as if hoping she's catch sight of him. Rosanna was very intrigued by this mech, and was a bit sad to see him leave so abruptly. She wanted to learn more about him. Like how he had been able to do all of those extraordinary things to save her. And why he was so forceful and stuff.
"Rosanna!" She turned and saw her sister rush out of building and onto the balcony. She looked a bit worried and flustered, some datapads in her servos. Overworked, as usual, but Rosanna knew that she loved her job. And that's all that mattered. She set down the datapads on a table by the door and ran up to Rosanna, giving her a big hug.
"Hi, Glyph." Rosanna said, returning the embrace.
"You said you were coming today, but how'd you get up here?" She asked as she drew back, "I heard somebot say that you floated down from the sky. Did you fall from an airship?"
Rosanna giggled. "No, I walked over here."
Rosanna explained the affair in strikingly accurate detail, expressing all of her emotions during the whole thing. She found that it made it less complicated after she told somebot about it. Glyph, always one for a good story, was hooked on every word. All in all, it took several cycles to finish it all, and that with less embellishments than she usually had in her retellings.
"Spark, Rosanna, that sounds absolutely exhilarating!" Glyph exclaimed, "That mech must've been a wizard! You're so lucky, I've always wanted to meet one!"
A wizard. Yes that made sense. Wizards were `bots with special abilities to control magic through spells and such. They were rare, but powerful and sometimes feared. This mech had to be a wizard. It surely explained the magical things that had happened with him. What else could have caused it but magic itself? But Rosanna had never heard of a wizard in town like this, even with them being so close to the Waste, the dump in the countryside.
"I wonder what he was doing here…" Rosanna pondered aloud. "Maybe he had some business in town. Selling a spell to somebot or something. Flip Sides said that she bought a spell from a wizard a deca-cycle ago."
"You should be glad he wasn't Cliffjumper, though." Glyph reminded, "Your spark would've been eaten for sure!"
"No…" Rosanna smiled weakly, "Cliffjumper only eats the sparks of pretty femmes."
"Now don't say that. You're very pretty." Glyph scowled, "But you should be a little careful. I've heard that even Strika is back around."
Strika, more commonly known as the 'Witch of the Waste', was a very dangerous wizard, one that deserved to be feared. Her evil reputation was well-known all over Cybertron, though only a select few could actually claim to know what she looked like. She seemed to enjoy putting spells on anybot that ticked her off, whether on purpose or not. So many `bots had gone missing because of her.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine!" Rosanna replied with her usual optimism.
"But I doubt you'll be happy if you stay cooped up in that shop the rest of your life." Glyph said, "I know it was Dad's pride and joy, but I think he would want to see you in high spirits rather than his dream continued. I'm sure you could easily let the other femmes carry on the work without you."
"You know I really don't mind, Glyph."
"But what about your singing? Isn't that what you always wanted to do?"
Rosanna sighed. "I like working at the shop."
"Are you sure of that?"
Glyph was staring at her very seriously, looking a little sad. Rosanna wasn't sure how to respond. She turned back to the railing of the balcony, remembering how she had felt when she had been with that wizard. There had been some fear, yes, but also excitement and the thrill of adventure. It had indeed, as Glyph had said, been exhilarating. That plus her sister's words made Rosanna start thinking.
Was she really happy with her normal life?
Rosanna entered the shop quietly and closed the door behind her, locking it in place. She walked over to check the inventory once more before heading off to her room to finally relax. It had been a long and eventful day, and some rest would do her good.
Rosanna's father had been a helmet maker. In his day he had actually led most of the helmet fashion in the area. They had been fairly well off because of this. After his death, though, everything seemed to change. It became less popular, and sales were now at an all time low. Her mother, who never liked the shop in the first place, decided to use all of the money he had left them for herself, while at the same time looking for another wealthy mech to become her next sparkmate. Her place in both Rosanna's and Glyph's life became practically nonexistent, only coming to visit every now and then and making it as brief as possible. Rosanna wanted to think that she acted this way to cope with the loss, but knew that that was unlikely.
Rosanna, being the oldest of the sisters, inherited the duty of running the shop, as well as making most of the helmets. It didn't bring a lot of credits in, but it was enough to live a decent lifestyle. She remembered the times when she was younger, when she had dreamed to be a singer. She had written a few songs that she had thought were pretty good. But then life had hit her full blast, and she had learned the hard way that not all dreams came true. That still didn't bring her down, however. Now she had a new dream: to keep this business going in her father's memory. It wasn't much, but it gave her something to put her energy and optimism into.
An electronic bell rang, signaling that somebot had entered the shop through the door. Rosanna turned around, startled. She had just locked that, hadn't she?
In the entranceway stood a large femme (or at least, she thought it was a femme. It could easily have passed for a mech as well). Just like the wizard Rosanna had encountered earlier, she held herself with stature, as if she possessed a massive amount of unknown fame. She was bulky in appearance, and Rosanna wasn't sure how she had even fit through the door or how she had opened it.
"I'm really sorry, Ma'am, but the shop's closed. If you're interested in something, maybe I could hold it for you so you could pick it up first thing tomorrow." Rosanna announced, "I was pretty certain that door was locked. How'd you open it?"
The femme looked around the shop questionably. "These helmets are so tacky. Nobot even wears these colors anymore." She looked straight at Rosanna, "You fit right in."
Rosanna winced. How rude! This obviously wasn't a potential customer. What could she want to do in here if she didn't like the merchandise? Well, she wouldn't just let this femme stay here and insult her if she wasn't going to buy anything. She marched over to the door and motioned for the femme to follow.
"As I said before, the shop's closed. I'm afraid you'll have to leave now." Rosanna said, an edge unnaturally appearing in her tone.
"You've got some real guts…" The femme mused, her faceplate curling up in a sneer, "…standing up to the Witch of the Waste like that."
"The Witch of the Waste!?" Rosanna gasped, taking a step back. When she looked out the door she saw several of the blob creatures that had attacked her before, seemingly waiting in submission for the femme to come out. Oh no. Now she had gotten herself in big trouble. Of all of the rare occasions that she got snippy with somebot, it had to be with Strika? But she hadn't known!
Strika rushed forward, Rosanna unable to do anything but brace herself for an impact. She raised her servos up to protect her faceplate. Amazingly, instead of hitting her, the witch only seemed to pass through her, as if she were made of a thin layer of fog. There was a chill as she went through her chassis, and Rosanna lurched over in surprise.
"And the best part is that you can't tell anybot about what I just did." She could hear Strika say, "Be sure to tell Cliffjumper I said 'Hi'."
And with that the door to the shop slammed shut. Rosanna held her head, suddenly feeling very sick. And weak. Strika had said she had done something to her. Cast a spell of some sort, no doubt. But what could it have been? And why had she mentioned Cliffjumper, of all `bots? Rosanna didn't even know him.
She made her way over to a mirror, noticing that it took a lot more effort to move and that she couldn't walk as quickly as before. Her parts ached like they hadn't been oiled in stellar cycles, or the hydraulics had been tampered with. Must've been a part of the spell. She finally came to the mirror, after almost a cycle or two of walking. It was then she received the fright of her life.
Instead of seeing her normal self in the reflection, she saw a much older version, several thousand stellar cycles beyond her time. She reacted only as one would expect in this situation: She screamed, scrambling back so she wouldn't have to look at herself anymore.
`Bots didn't age in the normal sense of the word. They looked fairly the same. What changed was that their parts began to slowly stop working, or at least wore down enough to barely be able to function properly. Paint was grayed or nonexistent, making most of the armor dull or a rusty silver. Oh yeah, and there was a lot of rust involved too. Plainly put, if a `bot suddenly became like this way before they were expected to, it was pretty much a nightmare come true.
Rosanna cautiously walked back to the mirror. Her back was hunched over, making her so much shorter, not that she wasn't short already. She touched her faceplate gingerly, making sure it wasn't an illusion. It wasn't.
"Calm down…calm down…" Rosanna told herself, her vocalizer sounding fuzzy and gruffer, "You have to relax. It's going to be alright. It's going to be alright. At least she didn't offline you."
She almost wished she had.
It hadn't taken too long for Rosanna's optimism to prevail again. Sure, she may be old now, but it hadn't changed who she was inside. She actually seemed to feel more experienced, as if her processor had aged as well. And she wasn't as old as she could've been. What would have happened if Strika had made her so old that it was almost impossible to move? She was still fairly fit, and was able to maneuver around without too much hassle.
This did not mean at all that she was content with how she was. She didn't want to be like this forever and she certainly didn't want anybot that knew her to see her like this. So first thing in the morning she slunk out of the shop, hitched a ride, and headed for the Waste. She knew there was only one way to get out of this mess: confront the one who started it and order her to change her back.
It had seemed like such a good plan at the time, but now she was starting to regret it. She had made it to the Waste, but she had no idea where Strika lived in it. There was no sign of any dwellings anywhere, or anything that suggested civilization for that matter. The Waste was adequately described by its name; it was a barren wasteland full of heaps of garbage, with a dense fog covering it. Rosanna had heard legends of the happy-go-lucky mech that supposedly kept watch of it, humming silly tunes all the while, but no such mech was gracious enough to help her today. No matter how crazy he was supposed to be, he no doubt would've known where Strika lived and would've taken the guess-work out of this whole operation.
Rosanna sighed and sat down, mentally and physically exhausted. She had been walking since this morning, and her whole chassis was incredibly sore. Stupid old parts! She had to find a way to make this easier, or she'd never find Strika. She looked around at the piles of garbage, hoping desperately to locate a…
There! Out of a mass only a few mechanometers away was what appeared to be a long metal pole. If she could get it out, it would make an excellent cane to use. She pulled herself up and almost ran over (though 'running' was almost as fast as normal 'walking'), energized by the possibilities. Grabbing a hold of the pole, she began to use leverage to try and lodge it out. If only she had been a little stronger. Her servos shook as she tried again.
"C'mon, Rosanna!" She cried, "You can do this!"
As if her words empowered her, the pole began to rise from the heap. She pushed harder, and finally it came free, pieces of trash falling off as it flew forward, landing on the ground next to her. She gasped for breath, winded after so much labor. But she had done it. Even with being old she could still accomplish things.
She looked down at the pole and frowned. This wasn't a normal pole at all. On top of it was a makeshift chassis, with straw coming out of his servos and a round white object as a head. There was a black helmet over its head that stuck straight up, making it appear to be taller, and a rather poorly put together faceplate with a pipe coming out of its mouth. Rosanna had seen something like this before on an energon farm.
"You're a scarecrow!" She said. As if on cue, the scarecrow suddenly hopped and straightened itself, so that he was no longer lying on the ground but standing straight up. "How are you doing that by yourself? Are you cursed too? It seems to be happening to a lot of `bots lately."
The scarecrow said nothing, but his glassy stare seemed to be aimed at her.
"…your head looks like a turnip. Y'know, I never really liked turnips, but I guess they make better heads than food anyways. Although they are supposed to be good for you, I hear." Rosanna nodded, "Okay then, well, I'd best be going. I hope you manage better now that you aren't stuck upside down."
And with that she walked on, leaving the scarecrow behind. It hopefully would be able to take care of itself. Rosanna would have felt awful if she had freed it only to leave it to go offline alone in the Waste. Then again, did scarecrows go offline? They were supposed to be inanimate objects, but this one seemed to be able to move of its own accord. Must've been a curse. No other explanation.
Almost a megacycle past, and Rosanna once again found herself exhausted, hardly having the strength to go on. Maybe she should quit while she was ahead. But she had come so far, and it would have all been in vain if she stopped. And she didn't know if she would survive the trip back to town anyways. She was so weak, her old chassis not made for this kind of wear and tear. No choice but to go on, she supposed. Just grin and bear it.
There was the sound of footsteps, or something like them, behind her. She stopped, wondering what `bot would be out here. It could be Strika or one of her blob henchmen, for all she knew. Or the garbage-bot from the legend. She turned, ready to face whoever was out there.
She couldn't have been more surprised when she saw the scarecrow bouncing up toward her, something hung around one of his servos. When he finally caught up to her, he threw it down next to her by whipping around quickly. She blinked. It was a cane, and a pretty good one at that. He probably found it in the piles of garbage somewhere. She picked it up and leaned her weight on it. It carried her very well. What a beautiful answer to her prayers!
"You got this for me? To say thank you? That's so sweet! I really appreciate it! It'll make my journey a lot easier." She said with a smile. Then she got a crazy idea. "If you aren't going anywhere, would you like to come with me? It's been rather lonely this whole way up and I would enjoy the company."
Once again the scarecrow didn't reply, but as Rosanna began to walk forward it followed her, hopping right at her side. She laughed softly and led the way. It was nice to have somebot with you, even if it wasn't a `bot at all. Sure, he didn't talk, but he obviously cared about her enough to come along. And it gave her somebot to talk to.
"You wouldn't by chance know where the Witch of the Waste lives, would you? I'm looking for her." Silence. "I expected about that much. She seems to be rather mysterious and hidden away. All the `bots I asked in town didn't know either. Oh well, guess I'll just have to keep searching." She shivered, "Spark, its getting cold. Why is it now that I'm old it's gotten colder? Would be nice if I could find a place to stay the night…What do you think about that, Turnip Head?"
But when she turned toward the scarecrow he was no longer there. He had gone a far ways ahead of her, hopping faster as he went. Her spark sank in sorrow at the loss of her companion. But Rosanna should've known. None of the `bots that she had ever considered her 'friends' had ever stayed with her long. Her father died, her mother practically ran away, and even her sister had left to work at the library. Why should she have expected this scarecrow to stay too?
At least she had the cane now. She walked past more garbage piles, supporting herself heavily on it. Hopefully this meant she wouldn't get so tired so quickly anymore. If she kept stopping for breaks as she had been, she would be stuck out in the cold all night. She might freeze to death.
Creaking sounds from beyond the bend before her filled her audio receptors. Something was coming, and whatever it was it was huge. The fog hid it for a time, and she could only wait and wonder what it was. Slowly it came into view, and Rosanna recognized it instantly.
It was a gigantic pile of walking slag, with wicked-looking stabilizing servos moving it forward. Nothing about it was similar to any other part of it. You could see pieces of a building on one side, an oil refinery or some other kind of factory in the middle, and several different sorts of houses scattered throughout. It was as if they were all somehow welded together, but it looked like it would fall apart at any moment. Smoke rose up from a chimney at the top. Rosanna had never seen it so up close before, only catching glimpses of it at the edges of the Waste from her window in the shop. It fit well with its surroundings.
She felt a bit of relief when she saw the scarecrow bouncing in front of it, as if it was leading it to her. At the same time she was very much afraid.
"Turnip Head, what are you doing? That's Cliffjumper's castle!" Rosanna exclaimed. "When I said I wanted to find a place to stay, I didn't mean that at all!"
She rushed over to the side as the castle kept on marching toward her. As it passed by, the scarecrow slowed up and and seemed to motion in the direction of a part of it that almost touch the ground. It was like a little entranceway, with a few steps leading up to a door. A door that must lead inside of the castle. Did he want her to go in? Oh no, no, no. She couldn't do that. Cliffjumper was dangerous! Almost considered worse than Strika.
But then again…what else could she do? Go inside or stay out here, and most likely go offline. And if the smoke meant anything, it had to be pretty warm inside.
She decided to take a risk. She raced forward as fast as she could, servos reaching out to grab the bars at the side of the stairs. It was difficult to get a hold of, as the castle was constantly shaking and moving out of her reach. She let out a cry of victory when she finally got it, which sounded more like a pitiful squeak with her elderly voice. She nimbly pulled herself up on the stairs and opened the door wide. She was greeted with a waft of warm air. Perfect.
She turned back to the scarecrow, who was obediently hopping after the castle right behind her.
"I think I'll go in now, it seems to be pretty warm. Let's only hope that Cliffjumper won't eat the shriveled spark of a femme my age…" She said, "Thank you so much, Turnip Head. For everything. You really are the kindest soul I've ever met, even if you are my least favorite vegetable." She waved her cane in farewell, "Be careful out there!"
Before she could see him leave she went in through the door and shut it behind her. It would make her feel bad to watch him go away. She didn't really want him to leave, but it would be hard to fit him through the doorway, and she didn't want to endanger him by getting him involved with Cliffjumper.
There were a few more stairs and she slowly made her way up them, relishing the heat that was pocketed in every corner. She wasn't pleased with what she saw once she reached the main room. It was an absolute wreck, no better than the exterior of the castle. Tables were so crowded with random objects. Dust covered the floor and the walls. And was that energon cubes that was lying underneath several datapads? This was supposed to be a castle, but it looked like an abandoned shack.
Her disgust was soon replaced with joy as she recognized a hearth and fire off to one side. Not many `bots used fires anymore, relying on technology to produce heat. But Rosanna had always preferred old-fashioned fires like this. Though this one looked rather pitiful at the moment. She walked over and took some pieces of wood from the side and threw them on. The fire crackled and burned brighter. She smiled at her work and found a chair to sit down in, scooting it over so she could be as warm as possible. Her parts began to defrost, and she slumped in the chair in much-needed comfort.
This really was a dreadful castle. Cliffjumper must not care much for appearance at all. If she wasn't so tired, she might try to tidy it up a bit. Her viz scanners gradually began to droop. A nap would be nice now. She hadn't had any real peace all day.
"That looks like it really sucks, lady." A voice said, amused, "One heckuva curse. Can't tell anybot about too, right?"
She almost jumped out of her chair in shock. Her head whipped around in every direction, searching for the source of the voice. Her gaze finally rested on the fire, which didn't look like a normal fire anymore. Inside of the flames was what appeared to be chassis of a very small mech, with wide eyes and an enormous grin on his faceplate.
"The fire…it's talking?" Rosanna asked while rubbing her viz scanners, not sure whether she was seeing things.
"Why's that the first thing everybot says!?" The fire-bot cried, exasperated, "Yes! I'm a talking fire! Is that so hard to believe?"
"…Cliffjumper?" She offered. Unlikely. Rosanna had always imagined him as being…taller.
"No. Not Cliffjumper." He rolled his viz scanners, "The name's Hot Shot, and I'm an evil, scary, and very powerful fire demon!! Fear me!!" He raised his servos and made spurts of fire shoot out, trying to intimidate her. It didn't work. It actually made her want to laugh more than anything.
"Well, if you're a demon, then you can break my spell, can't you? Demons are supposed to have powers like that, right? That's what I was always taught."
"Eh. Maybe." He shrugged, "Of course, it's a done deal if you break the spell that's on me first. Whaddaya say?"
"…I'm not sure…" Rosanna said warily, "I've been told not to make bargains with demons. They aren't likely to keep their ends of it."
"Oh, come on, lady! Can't you see I'm stuck here!?" He looked frustrated, "This castle? It's moving because of me. I've got no freedom because of Cliffjumper. You gotta help me! I promise I'll help you!"
Rosanna considered this. It was the only way that she could get rid of her curse that she had found so far. And Hot Shot seemed trustworthy. To a point. At least he was a bit sincere, though he also came across as selfish. No matter what, this was as close as she was going to get to becoming young again without going to the Witch of the Waste herself. What did she have to lose?
"Okay, I'll help you." Rosanna agreed. "But…how do I break your spell? What do I have to do?"
"Haven't you gotten the gist of things by now? I can't tell anybot the specifics of the curse, just like you." Hot Shot sighed, "You should be able to figure it out though, eventually. Then I'll finally be able to leave this dusty old castle and…"
Rosanna was unable to stay awake any longer. She leaned back and allowed sleep to overcome her, glad that she had found a solution to her problem. When she got up she would start investigating, finding out how to break Hot Shot's spell and, in the process, hers. But that was a long time from now. Until then she would relax. The last thing she heard before she went into stasis was the fire demon's frantic voice.
"Lady? …Lady? Hey, lady, you listening?"
Heavy knocks on the door woke Rosanna up. At first she was absolutely terrified, unsure of where she was or how she had gotten there. Then the events of the day before caught up to her, and she remembered her journey into the castle and her deal with Hot Shot. She held her head and groaned. Never in her wildest dreams would she have though that she would ever have woken up here. This was either a huge mess she had gotten into or the answer to her troubles.
The knock came again, and Rosanna wondered if she should open it. Did this mean somebot was out in the Waste? She hadn't seen anybot when she had been there. Maybe it was Strika, or Cliffjumper since he hadn't shown up yet. No, she shouldn't get involved. This wasn't her house.
There was the sound of hurried footsteps down the stairs from the second floor. Rosanna quickly shut her viz scanners shut, hoping to make it appear that she was still asleep. If this was Cliffjumper, she didn't want to know what he would do to her.
"Which portal is it, Hot Shot?" A young, energetic voice called.
"Got it!" Rosanna cringed as she heard whoever it was rush past her, then stop, "Who's this old femme?" He walked back over and reached out his servo, a finger poking her faceplate. It took everything in her not to move.
"No time, Bumblebee. You gotta answer the door!" Hot Shot reminded. So this wasn't Cliffjumper.
"Right." This new `bot, Bumblebee, replied. As he passed by her again, she peeked a viz scanner open. He was short, with that same popular chassis type she had seen everybot use, and a bright yellow color scheme.
Bumblebee went down to the door and passed by a strange-looking mechanism. Rosanna hadn't noticed before. It was like a color wheel, with four different colored parts on it. Blue. Green. Red. Black. As he passed, it switched from green to blue, and small bell ringing as it did.
The young `bot then did something most extraordinary. Grabbing the horns on top of his head, he seemed to pull them down. As he did, his chassis turned from yellow to green, and his faceplate changed dramatically. It had more of a pointed look to it than before. Rosanna wasn't really surprised. This `bot must be a wizard, just like Cliffjumper.
In this new guise, he threw the door wide open, revealing a tall blue `bot with an astronomically-sized chin standing in the doorway.
"Is wizard Bumper home today?" The blue `bot asked.
"Wasp's afraid master-bot's out at the moment." Bumblebee answered, though his voice now sounded higher and a bit broken, "Would blue-bot like Wasp to take message?"
"If you must." The `bot looked annoyed, "Tell your master that he has been summoned by the king. War has finally started, and apparently we need all the help we can get. Even from low-life's like you."
"Wasp'll be sure to tell him." Bumblebee replied. Then he shut the door in the `bot's faceplate. "Butthead…"
Rosanna couldn't just hide on the sidelines anymore. Bumblebee didn't look like he was going to hurt her. And even if he did Hot Shot was there to protect her. If anything happened to her, he would lose his chance to break his spell. It all worked out so perfectly.
"War is so pointless…" She sighed, "And now they're bringing wizards into it? Magic will only make the artillery and conflict stronger. How many more innocents will die because of that? They should just set aside their differences, create an agreement of some sorts and be done with it."
Bumblebee whirled around, losing his disguise as he did. "Who are you? And how'd you get in?"
"Hot Shot let me in." She answered quickly. "Wouldn't let an old femme like me just stay outside and shiver in the cold."
"I did not!" Hot Shot protested from the hearth, "She just waltzed in here from the Waste!"
"The Waste?" Bumblebee stared at her as if examining. He opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by more knocking on the door.
"Iacon." Hot Shot announced. "Again."
"Stay here." Bumblebee ordered as he turned into his green counterpart again and answered the door. A young techno-organic with red hair, creamy brown skin, and yellow armor looked up at him. "Does girly need anything?"
"Dad sent me to pick something up."
"Wasp'll get it right away." He walked over to one of the countertops, which was absolutely covered with stuff. No part of its surface was visible. Rosanna had no idea how he could find what he was looking for.
While he was distracted, Rosanna decided to take a look outside. There was no way so many `bots could be coming in from the Waste. There was a large window by what appeared to be a sink, and she hobbled over to it. Peering out, she no longer saw the dismal and dreary Waste, but a small town, much akin to her own. Well, a bit smaller perhaps, but fairly similar nonetheless. How had they gotten here overnight? The Waste was huge! And the castle hadn't been moving that fast.
"Here girly goes." Bumblebee returned to the techno-organic with a pouch in his servos.
"Thanks a lot!" She beamed, and then went off on her own business. Bumblebee shut the door quickly, reverted to his normal appearance, and shot a glare at Rosanna.
"I told you to stay there." He said, "Don't mess with anything, okay? Master Cliffjumper won't be happy if you do."
More knocking. Rosanna wondered how many `bots visited them every day. So many had already come by this morning, and it was still very early. They must have a very busy shop.
"Crystal City!" Hot Shot shouted. Bumblebee nodded and put back on his disguise. The color wheel switched to red. Instantly, the view outside the window changed. Rosanna gasped and stepped back. It looked so much more magnificent, so sophisticated. Like a real city versus a town.
Opening the door, they were approached by a large green `bot, much bigger than any Rosanna had ever seen, with a chinplate that seemed fixed in a smile.
"Uh…hi there…is wizard Hubcap around?" He asked nervously.
"Wasp's sorry, he's not. Would bulk-bot like Wasp to pass something on to him?"
"Uh…yeah. Yeah, that'd be good." He looked at the piece of paper in his servos and cleared his throat, "The king needs all the wizards, including Hubcap, to come to the palace to discuss their involvement in the war." He looked closer, "Yeah. That's about it."
"Okay. Master-bot'll be sure to know." Bumblebee shut the door again, taking off his disguise once more. Rosanna wondered if he got tired of constantly changing back and forth. She surely would.
She looked back out the window again, astounded at how they had moved so fast. So each color corresponded with a place, then? Green was the Waste. Blue was Iacon. Red was Crystal City. She didn't know where black went yet, but she was bound to find out.
"This is a magic castle, isn't it?" Rosanna asked. "I mean, how else can we just be moving from town to town so fast? Oh, this is all so exciting!"
Bumblebee scoffed. "Well, of course. What other kind of place would a wizard live in?"
"So where does the black piece lead to? Something mysterious? Off planet, perhaps?"
"Only Master Cliffjumper knows that, and he's not telling." Bumblebee informed, "And if you try to find out on your own, he'll put a nasty curse on you."
Rosanna smiled and tried not to give any hints away by unconsciously looking towards Hot Shot. Threats of being cursed didn't really bother her anymore, especially since she was already under one. Bumblebee didn't seem to be able to tell that she was like Hot Shot had, though. He spoke to her like any average disrespectful youth spoke to an elder. He obviously had some magical abilities. Maybe they just weren't powerful enough yet.
"I guess I'll have to leave it alone then. It may haunt my dreams, but curiosity did kill Ravage, so maybe I'm playing it safer this way, huh?" She mused. "An old, senile femme like me shouldn't be poking her olfactory sensors where they don't belong, isn't that what you're thinking?"
"N-No! I don't mean to be rude or anything…" Bumblebee blushed, realizing how he had been treating her, "Slaggit, I need some fuel. My tank is almost empty…"
He rushed over to the table where Rosanna had earlier seen the energon cubes. But instead of grabbing them like she would've thought, he went for a small thermos. He poured it into his mouth, oil splashing out as he did so.
"But you have energon cubes. Wouldn't you rather have some of that? I know I would." Rosanna offered.
"Well, yeah. Duh. But these are old and taste like slag unless they're heated up." Bumblebee explained.
"But what about the fire?"
"Hey! I will not tolerate being referred to as 'the fire'! I have a name, thank you!" She heard Hot Shot yell behind her.
"Hot Shot won't do anything unless Master Cliffjumper tells him to." He said with a frown.
"Mm-hm. You know it." Hot Shot nodded, "I hate cooking."
Rosanna knew there was only one way to do this. She grabbed the energon cubes and thrust them in a basket she happened to find among all the other assorted items. Then she marched over to Hot Shot, grabbing the pan that was sitting alongside the poker next to the hearth. The fire demon looked warily as she lifted the pan high.
"Now, Hot Shot, won't you be a good, powerful fire demon and just cook a few cubes for us? It shouldn't be so much trouble for a demon as strong as you. Unless you aren't all that you've told me you are." She implored.
"Lady, I don't fall for that 'flattery' game. There is no way you can make me cook for you." He shook his head and crossed his flaming servos.
"Or maybe I could tell Cliffjumper about the deal we made last night? I'm sure he'd be very interested in it." She whispered. Hot Shot's viz scanners widened.
"You wouldn't!" He squeaked. She smiled, knowing inside that she wouldn't do that, but not betraying that truth at all in anyway. She had to make him think that she would tell their secret so that he would listen to her. It was the one thing she could use to her advantage.
She took the pan, put three cubes in it, and set it down on top of Hot Shot. He flattened out on the pressure, his faceplate pushed to the front. But he didn't object or fight it off. Though he did look very unpleasant and rather annoyed.
"There…you really are a good demon, Hot Shot. I should've never doubted you." She winked. "Now this won't take too long, so try not to make it look like I'm torturing you, okay? I know it can't possibly be that bad. I've been to a refinery before, and it reeked and made your armor want to smolder off. Now that was bad."
Hot Shot spat out a small flame and glowered. "May all your energon burn."
Bumblebee had walked over during the exchange and was staring in amazement. He turned his gaze to Rosanna with a new-found respect.
"You got Hot Shot to listen to you!" He exclaimed, "I've never seen anybot but Master Cliffjumper ever do that!"
"I should've never let you in here…" Hot Shot groaned, "What did I get myself into!? You can never trust femmes…"
"Does this look like enough for you, Bumblebee? I can start up some more if you would like. I bet that a growing mech like you might have a bigger appetite." Rosanna asked, taking the few cubes off the pan and sliding them on a plate.
The stairs to the second floor creaked as somebot walked down them. They were sluggishly slow, as if whoever it was really didn't want to come down at the moment. Bumblebee turned and grinned.
"You're finally up, Master Cliffjumper!" He said, "You got some royal summons as Bumper and Hubcap. Oh, and look, we got Hot Shot to cook!"
Rosanna couldn't believe her viz scanners. This was Cliffjumper? But it couldn't be! Cliffjumper was a scary wizard that ate femme's sparks. He was ruthless, evil, and had no mercy. The scum of Cybertron. The `bot you told scary stories about to keep protoforms in line. And yet, there he was, standing before her; the same mech that had saved her from Strika's henchman only two days before.
She tried not to gawk and quickly got back to work, putting more cubes over the flames to cook. Would he recognize her? Unlikely. She could barely recognize herself. But she didn't know if that was a good or bad thing. He had rescued her, after all, when she had been younger. So was he really not as evil as everybot said? Hot Shot seemed to speak of him like he was evil.
"You got him to cook?" Cliffjumper pondered as he walked over to the hearth. "Why are you suddenly so soft, Hot Shot? Didn't I teach you better?"
"It was her! She bullied me!" He weakly pointed her servo toward Rosanna. "Nasty old femme…"
"Really?" He turned his gaze to her. She blushed and tried not to make viz scanner contact, "You did? I'm impressed. Who are you, anyways? And what in the pits are you doing in my castle?"
"I-I'm Rosanna and uh…" She looked around the inside of the castle again, the revolting filth in every corner, "I'm your new cleaning lady."
She wanted to slap herself. This wasn't the time to lie! But how else would she be able to stay here and work with Hot Shot to break the curse? Cliffjumper looked a bit suspicious, but said nothing. His hard stare reminded her of the gruff manner in which he treated her before. She wondered if it would still be like that now that she was older.
"Hand me two more cubes. Now." He ordered. He grabbed the pan from her servos without even asking.
Looks like nothing changed.
She did as she was told, surprised that she was accepted so fast. He cooked them quickly and set them aside on the plate with the others. Then he went over and pushed several things off of the table so that they could sit down. Bumblebee practically skipped to his seat, his hungry viz scanners never leaving the plate of energon cubes. Rosanna wasn't quite as enthusiastic, but she made her way nonetheless. Hot Shot just pouted, muttering to himself about how he had to do all the work.
"I guess I'll start here when I begin cleaning, hm? It's simply ghastly how much junk is just piled up." Rosanna offered as she watched Cliffjumper continued to clean off the table. "It is a real big mess in here, so you should be glad I'm here to help. You might actually be able to see the floor when I'm through with it."
"I'll be glad when you shut up." He said flatly. She blinked, not sure whether she should be hurt or just ignore it. "Eat, everyone."
Bumblebee shot forward, grabbing the biggest cube of them all and shoving it into his mouth, chewing ravenously. It was like he had been starved. Rosanna watched as he went for another one, Cliffjumper not even seeming to care. The great wizard just took one for himself, not eating but merely holding it. Rosanna considered having one herself, but she wasn't especially hungry.
The castle was quiet, save the sounds Bumblebee made as he ate. She couldn't stand the lack of conversation, no matter how Cliffjumper said he felt about it.
"Do you have anything I could use to tidy up a bit? A broom or a mop or something? I suppose I would need something like that if I want to get anything done." She paused, "Preferably a really big mop. I used to have a nice mop back at home that would do the job. It was old, but very efficient and…"
"Alright!!" Cliffjumper shouted, rising from his seat. "First off: I'm not listening to you, so please shut up! If you're going to be the cleaning lady, I want to see you clean, not listen to you yak all day. Second: what do you have in your compartment? I can feel it and its ticking me off."
Inside her compartment? Rosanna wasn't sure what he was talking about. As she opened it up, a piece of paper flew out and landed on the table. How had that gotten in her compartment!? She never remembered having it. Scorch marks from the the writing on it burned through and stained onto the surface of the table. It was in some language that Rosanna didn't understand.
"What is that!? What's that doing!?" Rosanna cried. Bumblebee stepped back from his seat in fear. Cliffjumper stared, not alarmed at the least.
"It's a message from Strika! Can you read it?" Bumblebee asked.
"'You who swallowed a falling star, O sparkless mech, your spark shall soon be mine.'" Cliffjumper read, then frowned, "Oh great. Look there, she screwed up the table! Next time I see her, she's gonna get a face-full."
He held his servo over the mark, slowly raising it, causing it to peel off of the metal top.
"It's gone! You did it!" Bumblebee exclaimed.
"I wish. Stupid tracking spell's still there." He huffed. Grabbing his cube, he marched over to Hot Shot, throwing the energon into the fire demon's open mouth, "Move us a hundred hics away."
"And while you're at it, heat some water for my wash."
"At the same time!?" Hot Shot whined. "I'm gonna die…"
"Don't even get me started with you." Cliffjumper growled. "I'd better see that water by the time I get up there."
Rosanna sighed as he went up the stairs to the second floor, leaving Hot Shot to whimper. Life was going to be harder with a selfish hothead like Cliffjumper in charge.
Rosanna and Bumblebee rushed back in through the door. Some of the propaganda pamphlets flew in before they shut it behind them. Bumblebee gasped for breath as he transformed back from his guise.
"Did it follow us!?" He asked.
"No…no we lost it…" Rosanna said. What a relief.
It had started out as a normal day. Rosanna had finally finished cleaning the whole castle. It was so clean that she barely recognized it. She was very proud of how she had done it, too. And after she had cleaned, her parts no longer felt so achy and old (though she still looked it). So, to treat herself, she took Bumblebee out to an early-morning market in Iacon. They needed a new supply of energon cubes. Of course, the young `bot had complained the whole way, but he had been kind enough to come along. Then everything had gone so wrong.
First the warship had come smoking into the docking bay; a message from their enemies. In addition to that they rained down propaganda to break the people's spirits. Then they had spotted the blob in the crowd. That could only mean one thing: Strika was catching on to where the castle was located. And that was very dangerous indeed.
They had run all the way back. It didn't look like the blob had noticed them. Thank goodness.
A roar of anger erupted from the second floor.
"I take it that Cliffjumper returned, then?" Rosanna asked. He had gone to the black door the night before. She still didn't know where it went, but it must've been important. He sometimes was gone for days on end.
Bumblebee nodded. "It sounds like he's really ticked though. We should be care-"
"ROSANNA!!" Cliffjumper screamed as he dashed down the stairs, every step causing the castle to shake, "WHAT THE SLAG HAVE YOU DONE!!?"
At first she didn't notice anything different (although that could be because of the anger making his faceplate red). Everything about his appearance seemed normal, although he was pointing at himself frantically. Then she saw it, and she had to cover her mouth not to laugh. His chassis had been dyed bright orange.
"That's actually a very pretty shade, Cliffjumper. I've never seen orange shine quite like that. It suites you well. Not quite as well as red, but it will do." She informed. Bumblebee slit his finger over his neck, telling her to stop talking. She ignored this, "Orange can sometimes represent friendly feelings. Maybe it could help you be less irritable. Take away all that negative energy."
"WRONG! IT'S AN AWFUL COLOR! AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!!" He shouted so loudly, it almost sounded like his vocalizer would break, "YOU SCREWED AROUND WITH MY POTIONS, DIDN'T YOU!?"
"No, I just organized them. They were all messy in that washroom, and I put them in places where you could identify them better. I think I even labeled some of them. So something like this wouldn't happen. That's what a clean space is supposed to do. It relieves stress and takes away pointless searches. If you can't use it now, then I'm afraid the damage from living in an unorganized house is permanent."
"Don't think I won't hit you because you're a femme…" He growled, clenching his servos into fists.
"Hit me then. I don't care." She shrugged, "Sure, it may bring me physical pain, but will you feel any satisfaction? Will it make your armor a different color? Will it change how spick and span this castle has become?"
He loosened his servos and stared at her, looking confused and still a bit angry. Then he walked over to the chair next to the hearth and sank into it. As he did his chassis turned from orange to black. Rosanna wasn't sure she liked that color on him.
"I give up…" He muttered, "…I can't even argue with you…"
The room darkened suddenly, and it felt like the castle became wobbly and unsteady. Cliffjumper bent his head over his knees and let his servos almost fall to the ground. His viz scanners glazed over, as if completely unseeing. Rosanna had no idea what he was doing. Shadows began to seep from the walls and ceiling, adding to the dim lighting.
"Ah! He's summoning the spirits of darkness!" Bumblebee cried fearfully. The spirits of darkness? Over his armor being a different color? It was like the overreaction of all overreactions.
Rosanna went over to him and frowned. "Now, come on, Cliffjumper. Don't be such a protoform. If you could make yourself black, you could turn yourself red again too, right? It shouldn't be too hard. Everybot knows that you are a very strong wizard." She tried to pat him on the back, but he had become covered with some kind of sticky liquid, which was proceeding to spill over onto the floor and the hearth.
Bumblebee slowly approached his master, reaching out a finger to poke him, then withdrawing it in disgust.
"Is he…offline?" He asked solemnly.
"No, he's just throwing a temper tantrum, and a worse one than usual." Rosanna explained.
"Stop it, Cliffjumper! I'm gonna drown!" Hot Shot whimpered. He was settled on top of a log, the liquid having covered most of the hearth. "And if I die, you know you will too! Get some common sense!"
"Come on, Bumblebee. Help me take him to the washroom. We need to get him cleaned off and calmed down." She cringed as she lifted one of his servos from the ground, the liquid sloshing onto her, "Hot Shot, would you be so kind as to make some more hot water? I know you don't like it, but we really need it now."
"Anything to get him to stop doing this!" Hot Shot nodded vigorously.
Bumblebee hesitantly took the other servo, making faces as he did, and they began to carry him across the room and up the stairs. It was more like sliding him, actually. He was pretty heavy, and they couldn't pick him up all the way. And the liquid made it easier to move him around on the ground anyways. After about ten cycles of work, they finally got him to the second floor, now forced to drag him to the washroom.
"Is he going to be alright? What are we going to do to help him?" Bumblebee asked.
"Don't worry." Rosanna smiled, "He's safe in my old rusty servos."
Rosanna still couldn't believe she was doing this.
After Bumblebee had helped her turn Cliffjumper red again, it had taken a full day for him to wake up from his little 'temper tantrum'. When he did, he acted very different. Somber, almost. He even apologized! Of course, it only made sense that right after he asked Rosanna to do a favor for him. A big favor. He had been summoned to see the king, but he had a bad feeling about the circumstances. So he wanted her to go, pretend to be his mother, and tell them he was being difficult and wouldn't leave the castle. Rosanna had agreed, excited that he wanted her to do something he thought would be helpful and to go see the palace.
She had been walking for almost a megacycle now and she had finally made it into the court right before the palace. The whole area was in a festive mood, `bots lined up to take a free ride on a new small flying machine. Ahead of her was the majestic structure itself, proceeded by a grand set of stairs taller than an average house. She wasn't looking forward to climbing those. Even though she had begun to feel less old physically, and definitely mentally, she doubted she would have been able to ascend them easily even when she was younger.
Something barked behind her, and she turned around. A small robot dog was tailing her, barking happily as it did. Its tail wagged and he jumped about around her stabilizing servos. Cliffjumper said he would follow her in a disguise. Was this him? She would've expected something a bit more dignified, not a childish puppy that could barely contain its joy, but you never knew with him.
"Is that you, Cliffjumper?" She whispered. The dog barked in reply. She took that as a yes. "Really, now. A robot dog following an old femme into a palace isn't very conspicuous at all, is it? At least you didn't turn into a bird or something. That going to meet the king would've attracted a lot of attention. I don't even think they let those into buildings anymore."
She kept on walking, glad that she finally identified Cliffjumper among all the hustle and bustle. Knowing he was coming along made her more confident. Having his support made her feel like she could do anything. That was what was strange about him. Even though he constantly yelled at her and got angry, she never got upset or took it to heart. Instead, she was actually very happy. He wasn't ignoring her or anything, like everybot else did. He was taking the time to tell her how he felt, which was more than anybot other than her sister had done for her.
A `bot-driven caravan pulled up beside her, also seeming to be heading for the palace. Except instead of `bots carrying it, there were two blob creatures with fake armor over their gooey bodies. Rosanna froze, but quickly kept moving forward. She wouldn't let this set her back.
"I remember you." The window on the side of the caravan opened, revealing none other than Strika. Her head barely fit in the small space. "The little helmet maker. I'm glad to see you haven't gone offline yet. And you delivered my letter to Cliffjumper. How is he, by the way?"
"As selfish and hot-headed as ever. Difficult to work with. A real pain in the gearshaft." Rosanna said quickly, trying not to give anything away by looking at the dog, "I'm his cleaning lady, so I had to deal with him a lot. I bet you have no idea how he treats his employees, do you? It's as if I were the scum on the bottom of his foot that had nothing better to do but 'annoy' him all day by trying to actually get him to have a civilized conversation."
"Oh really? A cleaning lady? That fits you better than a shop owner now, don't you think?" She smiled cruelly, "What brings you to the palace?"
"Work, actually. I left Cliffjumper's castle. Had enough of it, you see. He didn't appreciate all the effort I put into making his home look presentable, so I'm going to see if the king would think differently. I'm a good worker, so I'm sure he'll be able to hire me for something." Not all of that was a lie. Cliffjumper had not been happy at all with most of the cleaning she had done. "Why are you here? Do you need a job too? I'm sure they could give you a position."
"Fat chance. The Witch of the Waste doesn't work. I was invited here by the king." She informed. "Red Alert finally realized how much she needed me, how much power I really have."
"Well, that's ironic, because I seem to need you a lot too. Why don't you show me 'how much power you have' and remove this curse you put on me? It should be enough payment for delivering your message to Cliffjumper." She paused, "Actually, considering I almost went offline wandering in the Waste, and the brutal treatment I went through in the castle, it's barely enough payment. But I'll be generous and let this cover it all. What do you say?"
"You wish. I don't know how to break curses, I just set them." Strika laughed and closed the window, "Good luck job-hunting!" And with that the blobs began to move faster, making the caravan fly past Rosanna.
So Strika wasn't an answer to her problem after all. She had gone out to the Waste for nothing! Almost froze to death, and for what? Nothing! Rosanna smiled. What an upside down path this journey was taking. Of course, she was glad that she had had the gall to go out to the Waste by herself in her condition. She wouldn't have gone into Cliffjumper's castle if she hadn't. None of this would have happened if she hadn't. And living in the castle with Cliffjumper, Bumblebee, and Hot Shot was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. It was like she had a real family again. Dysfunctional, sure, but at least they were together.
On thinking of this, Rosanna was in extra high spirits by the time she reached the stairs. This was going to take awhile and probably make her exhausted, but it was for Cliffjumper and she was happy to do it. She started up them, feeling energized and confident. Only a few steps later did she hear the pitiful barking from below.
"Oh, Cliffjumper…" She shook her head and went back down to the bottom. The dog hadn't even managed to climb one step, whining pathetically at the start of the stairs. She picked him up, "You really are a big mess without me, aren't you? But don't you worry. I'll always be here for you, okay? If you ever need anything, I'll do it. Especially if you just want to talk about something. I'm good at that."
It took a fairly long while to get to the top of the stairs. Rosanna had lost track by the time she accomplished the feat. All she could think about when she got there was that it was over. She had made it. She set the dog on the ground, relieved to get rid of the extra weight. Way down the stairway she could see Strika clambering up, looking completely awful. Rosanna felt like she ought to help her, even if she couldn't break her spell in return. But she didn't have the time to do so. After stretching a bit and resting, all of the energy having been sapped out of her, she made her way to the door. A `bot decorated in the royal colors opened it for her.
"Right this way, honored guest." He greeted. Rosanna almost blushed. She had never been addressed quite like that before.
Once they got inside the palace, Rosanna was blown away. It was absolutely stunning. Everything was made of the finest materials, with beautiful furnishings. Above was a tall ceiling covered with chandeliers, the glass sparkling as the light hit it. So this was what it was like to live in luxury. Quite a contrast from Cliffjumper's homely abode. She looked around at everything as she passed through, mesmerized. Some `bots announced her arrival, but she was too occupied to notice.
The dog barked and jumped up to her knees, pawing at them.
"What is it, boy?" She asked, not wanting to give anything away by calling him by name. The dog whined, then dashed off in the direction of a small hallway. He stopped halfway there and turned toward her, obviously wanting her to follow. She didn't know what else she could do, and she trusted Cliffjumper anyways.
The hallway led to a large sun room, the stars twinkling through the glass that made up the walls and ceiling. Rosanna noticed some organic plants in pots and jars artfully placed around inside of it. There was a chair that very much resembled a throne in the middle of the floor, and in it was a femme of obvious high-standing. She was red and white, with a large headdress that almost fanned out. She smiled as Rosanna came nearer.
"Cliffjumper's mother?" She asked. Rosanna nodded. "Take a seat, you must be tired." She motioned to a chair across from her own.
"Thank you." Rosanna replied as she sat down. It did feel good to just relax.
"I'm Red Alert, the head sorceress for the king." The femme introduced.
The dog, who had been at Rosanna's side up until this moment, began to bark wildly and ran over to Red Alert. Red Alert patted him gently on the head, and he cuddled at her stabilizing servos. Rosanna blinked several times.
"Is that your dog?" She asked.
"This is Sparkplug. I sent him to lead you to me." She explained. All at once Rosanna felt extremely foolish. That hadn't been Cliffjumper at all. She had been talking to Red Alert's lackey the whole time. Then where was he? She hadn't seen anybot else following her. "Cliffjumper's not coming, is he?"
"I'm afraid not. My son is being very ridiculous and refuses to show at all. Keeping himself locked up in that castle of his…it's all very childish. Something he had never seemed to grow out of. I probably should've stopped this behavior when it first showed up, but it's too late now." Rosanna faked a sigh, "I don't think that he will be able to help the king at all."
"That's too bad. He really was a talented wizard. My last apprentice, actually. But his spark was stolen by a demon, and he abandoned my teachings. I haven't seen anybot with his abilities since." Red Alert mused. She looked genuinely upset, "He's getting too powerful for a `bot without a spark. Soon he won't be able to control it. Then he'll become just like our friend, the Witch of the Waste."
"The Witch of the Waste?" Rosanna repeated, not sure how she related to the situation at all.
"Bring her in." Red Alert called. Almost instantly a mech came into the sun room, rolling in a wheelchair of some sorts. Sitting in it was a sorry excuse for Strika. She had almost shriveled up, her internal parts becoming too big for her armor. She looked older, far older than even Rosanna. And broken in spirit.
"Spark, what happened to her!?" Rosanna asked. Only a few cycles ago she had seen Strika, and she had been absolutely fine then. Now she was groaning, her viz scanners unfocused and crusty.
"I restored her to her real age and drained her powers. That's what happens when you mess with magic to try to keep your youth. Strika, too, had much talent. But like Cliffjumper she gave it up for a demon of greed. Dirge. Ever since she made the deal with him, she has been desperate to steal other's sparks, especially Cliffjumper's, since his is so vulnerable." Red Alert said, a gleam in her viz scanner, "Cliffjumper must come to me. I'll free him off his demon, and he'll help join us in ending this war. But, if he refuses, I'll have to do exactly what I did to Strika."
Red Alert had come across as very kind when Rosanna had first come in. But now she saw her in a different light. She was evil, cunning, and would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. It was all apparent in the dark look on her faceplate.
Rosanna stood up from her chair. "I've heard enough of this! Now I know why Cliffjumper was concerned about coming here. At first I thought he was just being scared, but I should've known better. He never runs from his problems, he always faces them head on, usually without thinking it through. This was a trap! You're luring wizards in to drain them of their powers and use them for yourself!" She cried, "Cliffjumper may not have a spark; he may be egotistical, short-tempered, and most of the time I have no idea how he thinks like he does, but he always wants good to prevail in the end. He wants to end this war as much as I do, and he would not trick `bots like you are. I think that he can solve the deal with his demon by himself, without your help."
Rosanna had never felt such a burst of strong feelings before. She usually suppressed any anger or sadness, trying to stay upbeat and happy. But she had had enough. And somehow these feelings made her feel younger, much younger than she had since she had been cursed. She stared unwavering at Red Alert, hoping she got the message: as long as Rosanna was around, Cliffjumper was not going to fall for any of her schemes.
Red Alert didn't seem too shaken by her words, but instead smirked. "Oh, I understand it now. You're in love with him, aren't you?"
Rosanna's faceplate turned bright red, and all her rediscovered youth vanished. Was it true? Did she love Cliffjumper? She surely cared for him…but there was a difference, wasn't there? Then again, she had never been in love before. She didn't know what it felt like. For all she knew, Red Alert could be right.
"I…I…" She fumbled, oddly at a loss for words.
"Look's like Cliffjumper will be coming after all…" Red Alert said triumphantly, "I now have the perfect bait."
Rosanna was about to protest, to renounce any feelings she had for him if it would keep him safe, when a small flying machine like the one in the courtyard landed outside of the sun room. Through the door outside came a mech Rosanna recognized as their king: Ultra Magnus. He strode in very regally, as only one could expect a king to do. Red Alert stared at him suspiciously.
"Good day, Red Alert." He greeted.
"Hello, your majesty." Red Alert replied curtly. "You sure are out and about."
"Got bored of sitting in on boring war meetings. Took a short flight to loosen up a bit."
"I'm sure that was fun."
"Who are these femmes?" He gestured to Rosanna and Strika.
"Cliffjumper's mother and the Witch of the Waste. They are my guests today." Red Alert said coolly, as if she hadn't just threatened Rosanna earlier. "We were just discussing the war, actually."
"Ah yes, about that. I've decided not to use any magic for it. It will only bring more problems, can't you see?"
"Why the sudden change in strategy, my lord?" Red Alert said, cocking a viz scanner.
"Red Alert!" A voice called from the hallway. A very familiar voice. Everybot in the room turned to see Ultra Magnus walking in, a datapad in his servo.
Rosanna looked back and forth between the two kings, not sure which one was real. They looked completely identical, even sounded exactly the same. From what she could tell, there was no differences between them.
"Yes, your majesty?" Red Alert replied, giving a sharp look at the first Ultra Magnus.
"I just wanted to remind you of the meeting I have scheduled…" He stopped, seeing his doppelganger standing by everybot else, "You never can stop making copies, can you, Red Alert? I must say, this is the best one yet. But please try to put more effort into the war, okay?"
Red Alert nodded, and the second Ultra Magnus, who appeared to be the real one, walked back out into the hallway, leaving everybot in the sun room to an awkward silence.
"Now, Cliffjumper, I thought that you would have done better than that." Red Alert chastised, addressing the imposter. "I knew that it was you from the start."
Cliffjumper? Rosanna watched as 'Ultra Magnus' shrunk down and turned into the red wizard himself. He glared at Red Alert.
"Oh no. I disappointed you again. What are you going to do about it?" Cliffjumper asked.
"Make you come up and say it to my faceplate, so I could kill you."
"Look, I'd like nothing more than to beat the slag out of you right now. In fact, I'm still considering it." Cliffjumper insisted, "But 'mother' and I have to get going."
"Don't you dare leave me, Cliffjumper." Red Alert growled.
"Why don't you show your 'mother' your true alt mode?" Red Alert offered sadistically.
"If you even try to-!" Cliffjumper stepped forward.
Red Alert raised her finger, the floor disappearing under them. Strika fell out of her chair and grabbed onto Rosanna's stabilizing servo in desperation. Although something in her regretted it, she lifted the old witch up and made sure she wouldn't fall again. She had started this all, but Rosanna didn't hold it against her anymore. It wasn't right to take revenge on an old femme like that anyways. Even if she was old herself.
Several dark shapes oozed from the undefined ground and began to dance around them in a circle. Cliffjumper shook violently, moaning. It looked like he was in a great deal of pain. Red Alert didn't seem to care. Actually, she looked like she was enjoying it. This was awful! Rosanna had to stop it before it killed him!
"Stop it! Stop it!" Rosanna screamed, "You're hurting him!!"
Claws burst out of his stabilizing servos, feathers and wings from other parts of his chassis. He grew almost three times his normal size, his new appendages thrashing around wildly. It was horrifying to watch, and she couldn't take it any longer. Rosanna ran up to help him, Strika dragged along weakly behind. She didn't know if she could do anything, but she could at least try. At least get him away from Red Alert so her magic would stop working on him.
Cliffjumper didn't give her the chance. He flew forward, grabbing her and taking to the air. His wings beat loudly, making it impossible to hear anything. She cringed as they broke through the ceiling, glass dashing everywhere.
The darkness faded below them. Cliffjumper lightly brought them to the ground, his bird-like parts slowly withering back inside of him. He looked a bit staggered, continuously shaking his head. Rosanna almost wanted to cry. Why did Red Alert have to be so mean to him? When he had become that bird-thing, it had obviously hurt. She had forced him into that form against his will. But she had said it was what he truly was. Was this because the demon had stolen his spark? It didn't matter. He was still Cliffjumper, whether a bird or not.
"Hurry it up! Get on the hovercraft." He ordered, his voice missing the sharpness it once had. Rosanna helped Strika onto it, the feeble crone trembling the whole way. Then she jumped on, sitting precariously on one of the seats. She had never ridden on something that looked so unstable before. It didn't matter. They had to get out now!
Cliffjumper took the wheel and spun it, the engine starting up. She grabbed hold of the seat as they ascended, surprised at how much boost this machine had. It was so small that it didn't look like it would go that fast. The palace grew smaller and smaller behind them, their speed increasing.
"Cliffjumper, are you alright?" She asked as they soared higher.
He didn't respond at first. He just looked down at the city underneath them as if something had caught his attention that she couldn't see. Then he turned around and made a face.
"Rosanna, you had to bring them along?" He asked, avoiding her question. Rosanna knew he meant the Witch of the Waste, but he had spoken in the plural. Who else was there? A small robotic bark soon answered her question. Sparkplug was sitting in Strika's lap, his tail wagging. "Slaggit. We're too high to throw them off now…"
"Not that we should throw them off, anyways! Would you like to leave her out to die? That wouldn't be any better than Red Alert." Rosanna reminded.
"Whatever." He huffed. "Take the wheel."
"Take it. I'm sending you home."
"B-But I can't…"
"Stop making excuses and just listen, slaggit!!" He cried, "See there? They're on to us!" he pointed behind them, where several of the king's guards where in pursuit on flying machines just like them, "If you want to make it out online, you're going to have to drive this thing!"
"It's not that hard, so stop complaining." He let go of the wheel and let her scramble up to the driver's seat, "Just keep it steady. Like this. Call Hot Shot with your spark, and the castle will come to meet you."
She clumsily held onto it, turning it slightly to the right and left to make sure the craft didn't go off-balance. So far so good. She hadn't run into to anything, and nobot had fallen off. But she didn't know if she would be able to keep it up for long. Especially since it sounded like Cliffjumper was setting her up for him to leave.
"But what about you? Where are you going?" She asked fearfully.
"Distraction. I'm giving you some time of invisibility, so don't screw up." He answered, "Now go!!"
He pushed off from the machine, creating a copy of it, complete with a fake Rosanna, Strika, and Sparkplug. The red herring of a ship flew in the other direction, taking the king's guard with it. What if they caught up with him? Red Alert would be able to do what she wanted with him, that's what. And that would be awful. Rosanna couldn't bear to watch it any longer. She turned her head away, focusing instead on her own task of flying this thing to the castle.
Cliffjumper would be able to take care of himself. She hoped.
The whole inside of the castle shook, almost threatening to tear the walls apart. Rosanna grabbed on to a table to steady herself. She looked around for Strika, making sure she hadn't gotten hurt during the tremor. The old witch was sitting contently in the chair before the hearth, staring longingly at Hot Shot as if nothing had happened. Hot Shot cringed and scooted behind a piece of wood.
"That was a big one!" Bumblebee shouted. "I don't know if we'll make it through another one if it hits that close again!"
It didn't seem fair. Cliffjumper had been forced to move the castle from Iacon and Crystal City to Rosanna's hometown, to her house in fact, to keep Red Alert from tracking them down. It had worked out good so far. Peace a quiet, and most importantly no sign of Red Alert or her henchmen. But now they were in danger again for completely different reasons. The enemy had decided to air raid the town shortly after they had moved in. Rosanna decided that they must have the worst luck in the world. Why couldn't they just be left alone?
"Rosanna!" Hot Shot cried, "I don't like the way she's lookin' at me! Make her stop! It's creepin' me out!"
"She's not going to hurt you now, can't you see? She's harmless. Just an old femme like me." Rosanna assured, picking up some tools that fell on the ground.
"I thought you were a harmless old femme too, but you're wicked scary with that frying pan!"
"Bumblebee, how does it look outside?" She asked.
"The whole town's up in smoke, and the sky's full of warships!" He called from the window. He turned and looked at her in fear, "What are we going to do, Rosanna?"
"Wait until Cliffjumper comes back. He'll know what to do." She answered. "He always does."
"…but what if he doesn't come back?" He asked quietly.
Rosanna didn't respond. That same dreadful thought had come up in her processor as well. He had been gone in the black portal a long time. Longer than usual. What could he be doing? Hopefully he was alright.
Another bomb exploded, sending her tumbling to the floor. She could feel the vibrations of the blast even after it was over. That had been close. It felt like it had been right over the shop. Then that meant…it had gone off mid-air? The enemy's weapons were very high tech, so it shouldn't have been an accident.
"I'm going out to check on something!" She said as she got up. She didn't even listen to any of the protests as she walked out the door.
Bumblebee was right. Fire and ashes were everywhere as she came into the night air. She coughed as the smoke entered her internal parts. That couldn't be good for her health. Rosanna peered through the smog and tried to find out if she could see where the bomb had gone off. Some of its pieces would've fallen down around the shop if it had been that close.
Instead of finding the shrapnel like she had thought, she spotted a flash of red in the distance. Cliffjumper! Rosanna waved around her, clearing up the smoke so that she could see plainly. What could he possibly be doing out here in the middle of all this?
"You wanna piece of me!? Huh!? Do ya? Well then, come and get me! I'm not scared of you!" He screamed, shaking his fists up at the sky, "I bet you can do better than that!"
"Cliffjumper, what are you doing!?" Rosanna asked as she ran over to him.
Cliffjumper frowned and lowered his servos. "You're supposed to be inside."
"We're all waiting for you! What are we going to do about all this?"
Debris fluttered down as more bombs shot off around them. Cliffjumper glared at the gunships, as if he had some long unsettled past with them. Rosanna didn't like the way he was looking at them. He could get hurt if he remained out here for much longer. Just because he was a wizard didn't mean he was invincible, and he should know that.
"Go back inside and stay there. It's safer."
"But I can't just leave you out here like this! Not with all the bombs! It's too dangerous!" She protested. "Come back with me, please! I need you to be with me! We can just hide and wait this raid through!"
"You know me, Rosanna. I don't run away from trouble." Cliffjumper insisted, "I need to be here and protect you. Hot Shot can't keep you safe from the bombs, but I can. Now go back inside."
"Don't do this. I can take care of myself!"
He grabbed a hold of her shoulders and squeezed them. "Slaggit, Rosanna! Listen to me!!" He shouted, "I don't know what I'd do if you got hurt on my account, so get back inside now before I make you!!"
Cliffjumper was staring at her in desperation. Practically pleading with her. Something so different from his usual mannerisms. He didn't want her to get hurt. He cared about her. Rosanna felt her spark beat wildly in her chestplate. He had been denying it all this time, calling her off as bothersome, but somehow she had always known. This confession only made her even surer of her answer. She couldn't let him endanger himself any longer just for her. It wasn't fair.
"…No…" She shook her head, "…I can't…"
"Fine then!" He snapped. Feathers began to burst out of his armor, just like before with Red Alert. Except this time it was of his own will, "I'm sorry, Rosanna, but I have to go and actually do something to stop this stupid war!"
"Cliffjumper!! No!!" She tried to seize his legs, to stop him from taking off or at least force her to go along with him. It was no use; she wasn't strong or heavy enough. She fell helplessly to the ground as he took to the sky, heading straight for the gunship that was setting off the bombs. A stray feather sank down and landed on her faceplate. She brushed it off, not concerned about it in the least. All she could think about was Cliffjumper.
He was going to get himself killed.
Rosanna pushed herself back up, no longer feeling so weak, and raced back inside. She knew there was only one thing she could do to stop this madness. To keep Cliffjumper from protecting her and the castle. It may not work at all, but she had to try something. Bumblebee looked at her quizzically as she slammed the door shut behind her.
"Rosanna…you look so much younger!" He commented, sounding very surprised. "And pretty too!"
Younger? She didn't feel any different. Certainly no different than she had a few cycles ago. But, upon examining herself, she found that the rust and graying had disappeared from her armor. Her joints no longer ached. She felt a youthful energy in her spark. There was only one explanation for this: She was her own age again. How had that happened!?
"Kid's right. Looks like you managed to break that curse on your own." Hot Shot informed from the hearth, "Strong emotions like love can do that to a spell. And knowing you, you've had a lot of that lately."
She had done it. She had done it all by herself. Without Strika. Without Hot Shot. By her own powers she had broken the curse. And yet she wasn't as excited as she thought she would be. In fact, she was somewhat distraught, almost to the point of tears. She would rather be an old corroded femme and have Cliffjumper here than young again.
"Rosanna had a curse on her?" Bumblebee asked.
"Kid, you really need to work on your powers of perception." Hot Shot replied flippantly.
Rosanna couldn't waste anymore time. "Hot Shot! Take us back to the Waste!"
"Uh...okay, sure, Rosanna." Hot Shot answered. The color wheel spun around and landed on green. "But why are we…?"
"Cliffjumper's only fighting because we're in the shop. We have to separate us from the town." Rosanna explained, "Bumblebee, take Strika outside." Bumblebee nodded and started to lead the former witch from her chair to the door. "As for you, Hot Shot…"
"Oh no! I can't move from from the hearth. Part of the contract!"
"Fine then." Rosanna grabbed the frying pan and shoved it toward him, "Hop on this. If you can't move, I'll move you."
"I knew that pan would cause me nothing but trouble!" Hot Shot whined. She pushed it forward, forcing him onto the top of it, "Woah! Hey! Hey! Be careful! I'm real breakable!"
"It's okay, I'll be gentle." She assured. Rosanna balanced the pan nimbly in her servos, making sure not to accidentally drop Hot Shot.
"It's more than that! I don't know what'll happen if I leave the castle! It could be destroyed!"
"That's fine with me." Rosanna insisted. Anything to save Cliffjumper.
She walked over to the stairs, Hot Shot whimpering and yelling the whole way. Not saying anything intelligible, might she add. She would usually tell him to be quiet or else talk him through the process to keep him calm, but she could only focus on one thing at the moment. Time was running out. Sparkplug dashed by them, and Rosanna had to be careful not to trip over him.
Finally, right before they reached the door, Hot Shot gave in. "Okay, okay. If you're going to take me out at least take me out last to be safe."
Rosanna nodded, turning around so that she would be out first. She stepped slowly, counting the nanoclicks that past. 1. 2. 3. Hot Shot warily looked around the doorway as he went under it. 4. 5. 6.
The castle moaned. All at once pieces began to slide off of it, the legs crunching down under the pressure. The door disappeared, roofs and walls falling on top of it. The chimney crumbled down the side, hitting pieces of the wall as it did. Rosanna had to move fast to get out of the way before it crushed her as well. It was all over in a few cycles, but it seemed to last forever. If it looked like a dump before, at least it was a functional dump. Now it was just a pile of assorted trash.
"…the castle…" Bumblebee whispered, walking over to Rosanna with Strika behind him. Rosanna knew how he felt. It had been her home too, but not as long as him. He had to be taking it hard.
Sparkplug barked excitedly and ran for a small opening in the remains of the castle. Rosanna followed him, holding Hot Shot steadily as she did. The dog had already entered by the time she got there, yipping and beckoning her to keep on going. It was so dark inside, but Hot Shot made some light to see by. She stepped over some debris, making sure not to run into anything. The interior of the castle seemed so different. It was quiet, empty. Definitely not inviting.
It took awhile to locate the hearth, but once she did she softly lowered Hot Shot into it.
"Bumblebee, come on in with Strika!" Rosanna called to the outside.
"Whaddaya doin' now?" Hot Shot asked.
"We need to move the castle to the town to show Cliffjumper we're safe." She said, "Then he'll stop attacking the ship. You can do it, can't you?"
"I dunno…there's nothing to work with here! Where's the chimney? Where's the ceiling!?"
Bumblebee and Strika clambered in, the former more horrified by the appearance of the castle than the latter. Actually, Strika didn't even seem to notice that anything was unusual about the place.
"Stay on the floor right here, you two." Rosanna instructed, then turned to Hot Shot, "Hot Shot, you are the best fire demon I've ever known of. I know you can do this. You just have to believe."
"…I'll need something from you…"
He shrugged. "Your viz scanners? That would give me a nice boost."
Rosanna didn't like the sound of that. She would like to be able to see. And she didn't even know how to take out her viz scanners anyways. It was obvious that whatever he needed to start this up had to be important. What was important to her that she could give him?
"How about a song? I could sing it to you." She suggested. Singing had been a significant part of her life for such a long time.
"Eh. Might work."
Rosanna breathed in, trying to find a suitable tune. She could feel the lyrics flow from her processor to her lips, just like she had been able to do so many times before she dedicated her life to work. It was peaceful and soothing, but full of all the emotions she was experiencing. A mix of tranquility and intensity that she couldn't really describe properly.
"Holding your soul close, my dear lonely child.
Lovers shall stand together, apart,
Pity them, dreamer, they came from the wild.
Wandering wizards, please see past the evil,
Because Cliffjumper's coming to steal your heart."
Hot Shot flared up, growing larger with the increasing flames. He pressed up against the ceiling, the floor rising in time with him. The wall fell down around them, taking the ceiling along with it, as the castle took steps forward. It was not quite as sturdy as before, but it was mobile. And it abandoned most of the unnecessary extra parts that it had lugged earlier. Her song had worked!
"This is absolutely brilliant, Hot Shot!" Rosanna exclaimed.
"You consider this good? Think of what I could have done with your viz scanners. Or your spark!"
"Spark…" Strika repeated absently, turning toward Hot Shot.
Rosanna set her sights on the town ahead of them. It was no longer the small quiet home she remembered. Now it was a hazy combination of black and red, the fires seeming to consume it from within. Not too much longer and it would be completely destroyed. And hovering ominously above it was the hulking warship, still raining bombs down. Rosanna looked closer and gasped. On top of the ship was the feathered figure of Cliffjumper, fighting unidentifiable enemies. They had to hurry.
"Hot Shot, do you think that you can…?" She asked as she turned around to the hearth. Her viz scanners widened as she caught what was about to happen.
Strika was reaching for Hot Shot, grabbing at something inside of his flames. He tried to get out of the way, but it was too late. Her servos covered around him and pulled him out.
"Put me down!! Put me down!!" He shouted, wriggling in her grasp.
"I've found it! I've found it!" Strika exclaimed, "Cliffjumper's spark!"
Hot Shot cried out. Fire spread up her armor, licking at the metal. She didn't seem to care, staring lustfully at the fire demon.
"Strika! You're going to burn yourself!" Rosanna cried, running up to them. Strika's whole chassis was engulfed in flames, starting to melt. She had to do something to stop this!
Without thinking it through, Rosanna grabbed a hold of a bucket of water next to the hearth and sloshed it forward. Instantly she regretted it. Hot Shot looked at her with a pained expression, then died down to a faint blue glow, suddenly losing all resemblance to a `bot at all.
The lack of support from the fire demon was immeadiately effective. The impromptu castle shakily went forward, sending Rosanna flying off the side. She screamed, trying to stop her fall by all means possible. There was nothing in reach for her to cling to. Sparkplug jumped after her, landing on her chestplate. The acceleration hit her full blast, and darkness filled her vision.
Barking. Lots and lots of barking. Rosanna slowly opened her viz scanners, leaning up from the ground. Pieces of the castle that had fallen off surrounded her. Her processor ached, and she strained to remember what happened. Hot Shot had gotten the castle to move, then Strika had grabbed him, and then…
Oil welled up and she wiped it away quickly before anything could start. What had she done!? She had poured water on Hot Shot. He was a fire demon, he wouldn't have been able to survive that. And after all the things he had done for her, she had killed him. Something in her told her not to blame herself; she had to do something to stop Strika from burning to death. But maybe if she had waited a little longer, thought it out more…maybe then Hot Shot would still be alive.
But what about Cliffjumper!? Hot Shot had said on many occasions that their lives were connected. By extinguishing him, had she caused Cliffjumper's death as well? Overcome by confusion and grief, she laid her head in her servos and finally gave in. She leaked, hoping that all her troubles would leave with the oil. It didn't work.
Something brushed up against her side. She raised her head. It was Sparkplug. He whined and nuzzled her, as if he understood what was happening to her. She smiled weakly and patted him on the head.
"What should I do, Sparkplug? I have no idea how I can save either of them…" She asked. "They're most likely already offline anyways."
Sparkplug stared blankly, then barked, tugging at her servos. He wanted her to follow him again. Well, it had worked before. She got to her stabilizing servos and went after him. He sniffed around a bit, searching around in a diagonal route. He stopped at a piece of the castle that Rosanna recognized. It was the doorway, the door misplaced from the collapse.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" She wondered aloud. The color wheel was still attached to the side, set on the mysterious black dial. Sparkplug scratched at the bottom of the doorway.
Suddenly, a liquid rippled where the door once was. Rosanna watched as a scene unveiled in front of her, as if it were being projected on a screen.
Stars were falling down, sparkling the sky behind them in a brilliant display of colors. There was a young mech standing in the middle of the countryside, looking up as star after star flew to the planet. His red color scheme made him identifiable upon sight. A star fell right next to Cliffjumper, and he caught it. It started to crackle, slowly losing its luminosity. Cliffjumper brought it close and forced it into his mouth. He winced, swallowing it down. His sparkchamber opened, and Rosanna gasped. Hot Shot materialized where his spark should have been, and dropped into his servos.
As the images faded away, Rosanna finally realized the connection between Cliffjumper and Hot Shot. Hot Shot had Cliffjumper's spark. He had given it to the demon to keep him alive when he fell as a star. So if she returned his spark to Cliffjumper…everything should be okay. If they were still alive. She still feared this was not true, that she had killed them, but at the same time she felt their presence. Somehow they were online, and she just had to find them.
"Sparkplug, where is Cliffjumper? Do you know where he is?"
Sparkplug barked furiously at something behind her. She whipped around. His feathers were covered with energon, dripping onto the ground below. His viz scanners were glassy and unseeing, although they were directed at her. He looked absolutely dreadful, and Rosanna almost screamed. But he was online, and that was all that counted. Though he may not be for long.
"Cliffjumper!" She shouted. He didn't respond, didn't even move. She slowly approached him, reaching out a servo to touch his faceplate, "Oh…I'm so sorry, this is all my fault!! Please…you have to take me to Hot Shot. Then you'll be okay! I'll be able to fix it!"
His wings unfurled, sending energon everywhere. He clutched her in his claw, being rather rough. She wasn't surprised by this; she doubted he did anything gently. Pieces of the castle were dislodged as they flew upward. She held on tightly, trusting in Cliffjumper even with him in the condition.
Soon the 'castle' came into view. Now it was only a small portion of the floor, carried by two legs that wobbled and threatened to break at any moment. Turnip Head was hopping beside it, as if waiting to assist if that time would come. He really was a loyal scarecrow. It was walking along the top of a cliff, not going in any particular direction anymore. Bumblebee shouted and waved at them, telling them to come down. They landed awkwardly, Cliffjumper crumpling on his side. He shrunk down to his normal size, losing his bird-like appendages and feathers. He was cold, his armor fading in color. Rosanna had to hurry if this was going to work.
"Master Cliffjumper!" Bumblebee cried, absolutely horrified.
Strika was still huddled in the corner, greedily holding what was left of Hot Shot in her servos.
"Strika, I need you to give me Hot Shot now. If you don't Cliffjumper will go offline." Rosanna said, "Can't you see the pain he's in? Are you going to just sit there and watch it?"
Strika looked up and frowned. "No, it's mine."
"Please, Strika." Rosanna pleaded, "…I love him…"
"…will you keep it safe?" She asked, gesturing to the small pulsating spark inside of the weak flames.
"I promise. Nothing will happen to it." Rosanna nodded. Strika uncertainly passed him over, seemingly unhappy with her decision, "Thank you, Strika."
A wave of sorrow hit Rosanna as she held the waning form of Hot Shot close to her. Why had she been so reckless? Look how close she had been to ruining everything. Stupid mistake. Stupid decision. Hot Shot stirred, his faceplate appearing in the fire.
"Rosanna…" He smiled softly. "I'm so tired now…what happened…?"
"I watered you…I-I'm so sorry!" She cried, "But now you and Cliffjumper are going to go offline…will you be alright…if I give his spark back, will you still live?"
"Dunno…should be fine. If I made it through the water, this should be easy…" He said faintly.
Rosanna lowered herself to her knees next to Cliffjumper, Bumblebee at her side. She gingerly touched his chestplate, his sparkchamber opening up. She winced at the thought of what she must do. It would be uncomfortable, but it must be done. She pushed Hot Shot into the sparkchamber, forcing the old spark into its rightful spot. She felt warmth as it clicked into place. A light sprang out, and she jumped back. She recognized that light; it was just like the falling stars she had seen in the doorway. It sparkled and whizzed into the air.
"I'm free!! I'm free!! And ALIVE!!" She heard Hot Shot cry as the star flew out of sight.
That was good, he had made it through. Rosanna was relieved. But that was only one accounted for. Rosanna leaned over and laid her audio receptor on Cliffjumper's chestplate. A faint beating could be heard. His spark was fully functional. He was online.
"But if Hot Shot's gone…who is controlling the castle?" Bumblebee asked.
As if on cue, the castle stumbled to the side. The legs broke off from underneath, and they careened downward, to the edge of the cliff they were on top of. Rosanna held onto Cliffjumper's servo, determined to make sure nothing happened to him. She wouldn't lose him now. The castle slid over the boundary, suddenly gaining speed as they skidded down. Rosanna heard a scream, unsure if it was from her or Bumblebee.
There was a flash of white. The castle began to slow, though still going at a fairly breakneck speed. It gradually grew down, until finally they came to a stop at the bottom of the cliff. Everybot froze, catching their bearings as they tried to figure out what had just happened. They were so close to going offline. What had stopped them from falling to their deaths? Rosanna looked around, and saw a pitiful black top hat at the front of the castle.
"Turnip Head!" She cried, running over to him. The poor scarecrow was leaning against the side, his pole run down so that he was even shorter than her. He must have used himself to decelerate them. He had given up himself to save their lives. "Oh, Turnip Head! You should've have…We'll have to find you a new pole…You saved us all!"
Rosanna felt stupid, extremely stupid, but she knew there was only one way to properly express her gratitude. She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
Instantly, the scarecrow raised itself into the air. A blinding light emanated from him, and Rosanna had to look away. When she returned her gaze, instead of a scarecrow a dashing `bot stood in front of her. He was orange with two yellow metallic wings jutting out of his back. Rosanna blinked, not sure if this was real.
"Thank you, Rosanna!" He said kindly, "I'm Prince Rodimus. Because you kissed me, my curse was finally broken."
"A true love's kiss!" Bumblebee exclaimed, "I've read about that!"
"Yes." Rodimus nodded. "It is on of the most powerful things in the world."
"Too bad…it seems your true love is in love with somebot else…" Strika spoke up, motioning toward Cliffjumper.
Rodimus smiled sheepishly. "I'm afraid I have been aware of that for awhile."
"Everybot's looking for you! The whole war's because of you!" Bumblebee informed.
"I know. I'm going to go home now and fix things up so this war can finally end."
"That sounds wonderful!" Rosanna said. "No more war…"
There was a small sound behind her. Cliffjumper was stirring, slowly raising himself up with his elbows. Rosanna was instantly at his side. She could hardly contain her joy any longer. She wanted to hug him. To kiss him. To tell him everything that had happened. But she knew he must be sore from everything, so she used the bit of self-control she had left. He looked at her happily, then cringed.
"Rosanna…I feel different…like I'm carrying something…" He said.
She smiled. "You know what they say. A spark is a heavy burden to bear."