A/N: There is no excuse for the incredibly long delay of this update and the chapter is quite short. However, I am greatly honored to have so many fans who put this on their favs/alerts list (or even both!) and would be absolutely delighted for any comments, even angry rantings at why it took me so long to post this chapter. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to finish this story, believe it or not.

Anyways, please enjoy this new update and forgive me as well! Thanks! :D

Inheritance Arc, part IV:

The Number of the Beast

General Morshower had no idea on how this happened. Oh, he knew why. Being a brillant military strategist required a sharp intelligence and seeing the culimination of events unfolding themselves that lead to this very situation didn't surprise him.

He refused to believe that all this hard work on developing and upkeeping the alliance with Autobots had seemingly vanished with the order given by the President, a public denial on any friendly relationships with Optimus Prime and his friends. It was aired on the public networks and even their international allies began to question their own personal alliances.

He was there, with the President, when the announcement was made at the White House. The NEST leader was too shocked to hear all of it but he got the whole gist of it: the Autobots are no longer wanted here in the US nor are they are considered allies.

The General wasn't alone in his shock of the news and the Secretary of Defense shared his disbelief, surprised green eyes locking with his own from across the room. However, at that time, they couldn't say anything, no matter how hard it was to see the feelings of betrayal in their friends' eyes.

When he chose to look away from the camera that was fixed in their direction, his eyes happened to land on the desk, the top covered by organized stacks of papers, the colour brown denied of showing its brilliance and age. The fifty-six year old would have looked away at a certain comment being called out were it not for something on the desk that caught his eye.

The President always had a picture of his family sitting on his desk, upright and positioned where the photo of the trio would be facing him whenever he was at his desk. Now, it was facing down, buried underneath a rather large stack of papers, like a discarded piece of toy, forgotten and useless. He remembered the President's words, spoken to him in a fond voice a year ago, in his third year of being in office.

They're the love of my live and this photo will always remind me of what's truly important in this state of affairs. No matter how many papers will occupy my desk, this will always be here, sitting up and supporting me.

Having noticed this, he tried to hide his acknowledgement that something strange was going on but it apparently didn't work out well, seeing at how well tied up he was and locked up somewhere. Someone groaned beside him and shifted. Then a familiar face came into his vision and General Morshower let a groan, one of frustration and slight annoyance.

"It's bad that I got caught, but you too?" The question was said in a curt tone but his smile warmed the harshness of his voice.

"Yes, well," the other man coughed several times before struggling to right himself up against the solid wall of their prison. "I deliberately got caught, unlike a certain someone I know."

"John,"

"Andrew."

Then the two men grew quiet, finding something else in their prison that was interesting before finally sighing as one and then saying, "we've got to get out of here."

The sound of a door opening caught their attention and a tall shadow appeared in the bright doorway of their prison. From the yellow light that streamed into the room they were held in, Andrew Morshower immediately knew where they were being kept. In the President's private room.

The man who stood in the doorway came closer to them, his familiar silihouette shocking the two prisoners.

"Mr. President!"

"Hello, gentlemen. How are you liking my new quarters?" The President's question was innocent enough but both the Sec Def and the NEST Commander noticed how the President's face seemed to shift before righting itself to the proper form. However, even then the disguise wasn't perfect. The dark brown eyes had an unnatural light to them and the skin was too pale for it to be the proper skin tone of the man they know and respect.

"Who are you?" The Secretary of Defense asked as he stared at the imposter as defiantly as he could.

"Can't you tell? I'm the President of the United States." The man smiled, but it was one that didn't quite reach his eyes the a way a true smile does. As the door closed behind, the room plunged into darkness and all that could be heard from the lavish prison were screams.

-o0o-

"There's only forty days left until the next solstice," a female voice whispered to the young man, whose head was bent in deep thought. Her only audience didn't respond but she continued, her tone low and soft, almost hypnotic.

"We must get out of here before that time is upon us," she urged on and pale hands reached out of her own cage.

"Stop it, sister. There's no convincing him otherwise. He's lost all hope." Another female hissed out angrily.

"You can't say that, Iselia! There's always hope." Layla replied as she looked at the youngest sister with desperation. Dull green eyes stared right back at her but the youngest sister was not put off by her sister's pessimism. There had to be a way out of here. If only she could get this damn collar off her neck then she could force the bars open and let them free.

Her fingers touched the contraption that clasped around her neck tightly, barring her from her strength. It felt smooth, too smooth to have been manmade. The collar lacked any ridges or miniscule parts that could be manipulated open by a needle. However, as she reached further back, Layla felt something that stuck out a few centimeters from the rest of the collar. Her small finger brushed against the tiny aperture and she realized indeed that a small needle could be used to pry it open. But what could she use?

"Layla, you know they created bobbypins to keep your hair back, right?" Iselia's voice interrupted her musing and Layla was about to snap back at her sister when the idea came to her head.

Before she could say something, a loud shout drew her attention back to the centre of the large space they were in.

Four soldiers were stationed at one of the cages and they had pulled someone out of the cage. Whatever was going on had drawn everyone's attention, including the disinterested Iselia. The middle sister wrapped her hands around the cold steel and her green eyes espied a limp body lying on the ground.

Quiet whispers of the incident spread throughout the cages and a young man made a 'psst' sound at the duo. Layla crept closer to the right side of her cage so she could be close enough to hear the man.

"He has passed willingly," the other prisoner murmured to her, his tone kept low so as to not to alert the guards to them.

"What? Who?"

The man turned slightly away from her, his blonde hair catching the light to where Layla could see streaks of red in his hair. Remember them well, my child, for they will become the last scions of their Houses...

Her grandmother's words came back to her and Layla remembered that this young man was the heir to the House of the Mountains. Members of this House were notably known for the military prowess and on numerous occassions had nearly defeated the Royal House.

"Elcor, a great man of wisdom and knowledge," the man replied sadly, his eyes peering at the sight of the soldiers arguing amongst themselves about who should report this to Ryka.

"Well, that's just great," Iselia snorted angrily, "the one being who could possibly even think of helping us escape just had to go off himself."

"Shut up, Iselia! You're not making our situation any better by complaining about it!" Layla hissed at her but Iselia merely rolled her eyes at her. Instead, the shorter girl just huddled back into her corner, her arms braced protectively against her chest, as if to ward off the hopelessness of it all.

"No," the other man spoke, "this is actually good."

Layla's eyes widened at what the other prisoner was saying. How could anyone construe a death a good thing? What was wrong with this man?

"Ryka says he needs us all to make whatever he's doing work, right? With Elcor having passed away, he can't go forward with his plan."

"So? What? Use this as an opportunity to escape? What about these collars? You have one too apparently," Layla pointed out and the other man unconsciously rubbed against his throat or at least the part of it not being covered up by the black item.

"What is your power by the way? I haven't seen you use it." Layla knew she was rambling and it was a bad habit of hers that really needed to be stopped. Thankfully, the other Hexarian smiled warmly at her and the way his eyes lit up brought a flush to Layla's cheeks.

"I have the will of the Mountains, immovable and strong, just like the ones on our home. Now, sshh. They're doing something," the other man said, trying to stop the girl's ranting as gently as possible.

Layla nodded in agreement and the pair watched the guards as they discussed amongst themselves on how and who to report this untimely death.

-o0o-

Ryka already knew what had happened in the deep chamber he personally made as a home for his brethren. The call for him just merely confirmed it and he strode into the large room, where he kept the other Hexarians in steel cages, with a cold fury that made even Iselia shiver in fear.

His dark brown eyes bore into the poor messenger and, once the man had finished talking, he knelt at the deceased Hexarian's side. An slender hand cupped the elder man's cheek and he whispered a few words to him, "may Primus go with you, dear friend. May your spirit rest at last in the Endless Fields of Him."

The guards fell silent around him as he spoke the prayer and it was jarring to him. He always hated the silence, even in the Old Temple, where he was trained. The silence reminded him of the absence of a God that didn't care. Now, he found a new God, one that told him to cleanse his race of their sins.

"Sir, should we try to locate any Hexarian survivors? Perhaps we could replace-!"

The man who dared speak to him didn't finish his sentence as Ryka wrapped a hand around his throat.

"My people can never be replaced."

"I-I-" His poor victim clawed uselessly at the hand that held him up in the air. Ryka just held onto the poor man tightly, marveling at how he could now see the whites of a man's eyes. The colour of his face paled considerably and the soft gasps quietened now, until the man went limp in his grasp.

He let the body go and it fell with a soft 'thump' to the ground, at his feet. The other guards visibly took a few steps back from him and they were wise to do so. They had no idea how furious he was at what had transpired here and he still had forty days left to go. Anything could happen in those forty days and Ryka knew that he had to keep the rest of them alive.

"You are all useless to me," Ryka said calmly, not flinching at all when the other guards around him began to cough and struggle to breath. The three guards gasped and they all knelt at his feet in submission, their human eyes pleading for mercy. The High Priest had none though and he just watched as his victims gradually laid down before finally stilling in death.

Horrified shouts and cries clamored from his prisoners but it only took one glance, one cry of 'silence!' to stifle the din of their voices.

The ritual will have to be moved forward then. No matter. The Beast will awaken. It matters not the time or day of when it happens. He only loudly voiced out that particular detail to have someone plot an escape plan, something that will indeed involve the Chosen One. As he listened to the telepathic thoughts streaming from the rest of the prisoners, it was working and from the corner of his eye, he saw how Shi'an was listening, despite his cowered stance of bent knees and head tucked in. Yes, everything was going to plan and soon, there'll be a new world, free from the corruption of man and its sins.

-TBC-