Chapter 15: The Well of AllSparks
It was the abominable heat that finally woke Aria. That and the dull ache that ran along her back and across her shoulders. She felt like she had slept in every wrong position possible for a human being. And then when she finally did try to move, every muscle from her neck to her thighs burned as if she had abused them on a treadmill for hours the day before.
Between the burning in her body and the heat outside of it, Aria thought for a second that she was actually on fire.
A rush of panic followed that thought, making Aria jump, only when she came back down she realized there was no ground. She was falling and molten lava was beneath her and she was going to be burned alive!
A harsh yank around her middle brought Aria's panic up short, along with the rest of her body. For a long moment she hung there, wide eyed and frozen, neck hanging practically upside down so she could stare at the bright red flow of lava that oozed hundreds of feet below her.
"What-? Where-?" Her mind could barely think.
Eventually, Aria regained enough of her senses to look up, no matter how much her neck protested at the movement. Stretching far above her was a black rope, her black rope she realized. At the far end, she could just barely make out the metallic glint of her hook still wrapped around the broken girder. Mercifully the chunk of building the girder stuck out of had gotten lodged between two large slabs of metal earth that extended away from the otherwise smooth cliff face.
Aria let her head flop back as relief turned her tense muscles into water. Despite her overwhelming fear, or maybe because of it, she felt herself smile. Breathlessly she laughed at herself, hanging hundreds of feet above certain death with hundreds more above separating her from safety. All the while hanging from an impossibly thin rope that looked as if the heat waves alone could snap it in two at any moment, sending her plummeting past the silvery red cliff face to land in boiling, red metal.
Aria gave a little puff of panicked laughter.
"This is great," she muttered to herself, voice pitched too high for normal, "just absolutely great. They should have a tourist brochure for this it's so great. 'Welcome to Cybertron!' it'll say, 'Home of transforming robots, beautiful architecture, and rivers of lava! Just be careful you don't fall in and make sure to obey the no swimming signs at all times!' Sounds like a summer hotspot to me. I'll have to print them up as soon as I get back." Aria started talking to herself.
The thought reminded her of something and she took a nice long look up the rope that kept her reoccurring nightmare of being burned to death from coming true.
"But first I have to get out of here." She told herself.
It took some finagling, but eventually Aria got herself balanced into a more or less not-flopped-over-backwards-like-a-dead-fish-roasting-over-an-open-flame position. The black rope dug into her hands, leaving red imprints of the metal fabric on her skin, but she didn't dare let go, especially when she felt her belt start to loosen dangerously.
"Okay then, here we go, hup two, hup two," she started chanting as she pulled herself up the rope, not daring to look down for even a second lest she lose it completely and start shaking so much that she just slid out of her belt altogether and fall to her doom.
Her arms were aching by the time she was halfway up. "Of all the stupid, vindictive, slag headed, mean things to do," Aria grumbled and swore at the minicon that had done this to her and she didn't stop until she reached the sturdy outcropping of rock the girder had gotten stuck on.
"…malicious, cruel," she ground out between clenched teeth as she used her aching arms to heave her dead weight onto safety, "fraggin' little midget!"
Completely out of breath, and swear words, Aria collapsed against the sturdy ground and used the last of her strength to back up as far as she could away from the edge of the protruding rock. Despite the heat, she shivered and quaked, fear overflowing her usual senses. Tears left her eyes, but evaporated before they could even make it an inch down her dirty face.
"Oh God," she breathed, her chest heaving, "Oh God I made it." Then, of all things, she started to laugh. She laughed so hard she couldn't breathe. It felt like hours before she could grab a hold of her senses, but from the burning state of her lungs must have been only minutes.
It was ages later even after she stopped laughing before she could really get a hold of herself. She sat there, unconsciously quaking, as she tried to think of what she could do now to get out of this burning chasm.
Nearby, the shifty sound of gravel trickling over the edge of her sanctuary sent Aria's heart thundering again when she saw that it was coming out from under the rock she was still hooked up to. Frantically, Aria unclipped Wheeljack's invention from her frayed belt as the trickle became a stream pouring over the edge like a dirt waterfall. Thankfully the clip opened right away and she didn't have to go through a repeat of her trip down here as the rock finally lost its purchase and tumble down into the lava flow below.
Aria did not watch it go. She stayed well clear of the black rope as it zipped off the ledge, following the debris and hook embedded in its side.
It was only after the molten rock had settled again that Aria realized it probably would have been better if she had untangled the hook end and kept Wheeljack's invention so she could use it to get herself out of here.
"Not that there's anything to latch onto with this cliff face as smooth as it is," Aria murmured to herself as she stared up at the opening of the chasm far above her head and the smoky blue sky beyond.
"Oh well," she finally said with a still somewhat shaky sigh as she carefully climbed to her feet. "I guess that leaves only one way to go," she said as she turned to face the small shelf she had seen that extended from the ledge she had climbed onto. It was barely wide enough for her to walk down, but it posed a much better option than staying here where no one knew she was. Given the Decepticon ambush, Aria would have been very surprised if Chromia and the others had stuck around long enough to search for her.
"Plus it looks like it leads away from this river of death," Aria said as she began walking along the shelf, one hand on the cliff next to her to try and help her balance.
She was right. Soon the shelf became a tunnel, thankfully one she could stand up in. It had widened out too so she could walk quite comfortably. The lava had long since disappeared, however it was still swelteringly hot down here in the red hued dark.
"Whew," Aria breathed as she wiped the sweat from her dripping brow a few hours later, "I hope this place lets out soon otherwise I'm going to sweat to death." She muttered, steadily making her way forward nonetheless. "Which technically would be drowning I guess," she looked at the perspiration running down her hand. "Eww."
She made a disgusted face as she shook the sweat off of her hand and peered off into the growing gloom of the tunnel before her. She felt her heart sink as she realized that the red-hued light was fading up ahead, probably because the metal earth around her was growing cooler the farther she got away from the lava river. So far the walls surrounding her had been so hot that they had glowed slightly even when the daylight had disappeared far behind Aria's back.
"Great," Aria muttered to herself as she stared into the coming dimness, "just great. Yet another thing to add to the brochure." Then realizing that if she refused to go into the darkening tunnel her only choice was to go back to the chasm, she sighed. "Well, at least I know it's going to cool down some." She said as she started her long trek into the beneath surface gloom.
It was some time again before she saw any kind of light.
"Ow!" Aria yelled for what felt like the thousandth time in ten minutes. She had been groping around in the dark for who-knew-how-long and it had more than taken its toll on her toes. If they weren't all bent and bruised by the time she got back to the surface again she was going to be very surprised.
"Dang it all," she muttered darkly as she rubbed her latest injury, keeping one hand on the cave wall so she could at least have some kind of idea where she was. "I don't know which is worse anymore, the heat or not being able to see-OW!"
Her foot met another sharp angle in the heavy dark and Aria went down, sprawling across the damp floor of the tunnel.
She lay there for a long minute, groaning miserably into the ground, her nose shoved up against something squishy and wet and gross that was growing all over the inside of the tunnel, like metallic moss except it wasn't at all soft.
"Stupid, freakin' caves," Aria grumbled, feeling caught somewhere between wanting to cry and wanting to scream until someone just pulled back the ceiling and hauled her out of here.
Fortunately, her sanity returned just in time to banish both opponents. Instead of weeping or ranting, or both, Aria gathered herself together and carefully stretched out a hand to find the wall again. It took her a minute to re-orientate herself, but eventually she found the cave side's warm, slick surface and pulled herself up to her aching feet again.
"When I get out of here I swear I am never leaving Iacon ever again." She muttered to herself as she stretched out a hesitant hand and started on her way again. "I'll just sit in the Hall of Records and watch things happen through the safety of a video screen. I'm sure Optimus won't mind since he seems to think that bad things are going to happen every time I leave anyway."
Aria stopped, realizing just where, exactly, she was again.
"Well," she said as she started fumbling forward again, "at least he won't be hard to live with after this. Not like if Jazz had been the one telling me I shouldn't get myself into trouble anyways. Now that would have been obnoxious. Eww, it looks like my toe is broken! And what happened to my shoes?"
Aria stared down at her left pinky toe, grimacing at the slanted angle it sat at.
Then she realized she could see it.
With a gasp, Aria looked up. It was still pitch black around her, but off in the distance she could just barely make out a dim, gray tinge to the path.
Aria hurried forward, ignoring the renewed pain in her toes as they scraped against the metallic floor. She could hardly believe it. She almost thought she was seeing things after being in the dark too long, but no, she could see the shadowy outlines of her hands as her fingers brushed along the cavern wall. Briefly she wondered why she hadn't noticed it before, but then she thought that it must have happened so gradually that she just hadn't noticed.
Aria slowed as she got closer to the source of the light. She could see all around her now. The tunnel walls were cold and shiny gray, reminding Aria of the corridors of space ships from movies. Only instead of being all smooth and reflective, the walls looked like they had been eaten away by water or maybe-
"Lava," Aria whispered as she trailed her fingers in wonderment along the ebbs and flows of hardened metal that made up the tunnel. "A stream of lava must have burrowed through here and carved this tunnel out, but that river back there in the chasm wasn't nearly as high as this. This must be a whole lot older than the river I guess."
Slowly, Aria continued to make her way forward as she looked around her, wondering at just how old this place might be. If the metallic moss she had noticed earlier was anything like moss back on Earth, then maybe it was a good tell that this tunnel had been around for far longer than a whole forest of redwoods added together.
There was a slight bend in the tunnel and when Aria had rounded it, she finally came face to face with the source of the glow.
Only, it didn't actually have a face. The light was coming from nothing but a bright, simple sphere.
Curious, Aria bent down, peering intently at the ball of light. It was only slightly smaller then her head and as far as she could tell, had no battery or flame at its heart. For that matter it didn't even appear to have an actual surface. It was as if someone had gathered up the glow of a lamp and had spun it so that it existed on its very own, without any visible beginning and, so far, no end.
Carefully, Aria reached out a hand to the little sphere, as if she was warming it by a fire.
"It's so warm," she whispered in awe, "and…pure."
It was the only word she could think of to describe the little sphere, but that's exactly what it was she realized; a sweet, pure, little ball of light.
Hesitantly, completely unsure if she should do this, Aria reached out both her hands and touched it.
She waited a moment, but when she wasn't shocked or burned or otherwise zapped for touching something she wasn't supposed to, Aria picked up the little ball. It was warm, but not hot, and intensely bright, and somehow it weighed barely anything at all. Aria still handled it carefully as if she was afraid it would shatter at a wrong glance. But the ball seemed content to sit in her hands.
Aria had the vague impression that it was watching her just as curiously as she was looking at it.
She quickly brushed off the feeling as being left alone in the dark for too long. But that still didn't stop her from talking to it. "What are you?" She breathed, but she wasn't so sure if she was talking to herself or the ball.
The sphere of light glowed brighter for an instant, sending little buzzing vibrations up Aria's arms, making her giggle, then receded back to its former warm shine.
"Funny little critter aren't you?" Aria asked with another laugh. Then she looked the ball over again. "Well, I guess I've already made friends with robots. Why not a little glowing ball?"
The ball didn't rattle or glow brighter again, just sat quiescent in her hands.
When she was sure it wasn't about to do anything else, Aria looked around her at the dark that still sat outside of the little ball's sphere of light. "And I guess, since I've got nothing else, that I'll just take you along with me so I can actually see where I'm going. And who knows?" She said as she started walking again. "Maybe Optimus or somebody can tell me what you are."
She had barely taken five steps when the sphere's light fell across a deeper darkness in the side of the tunnel.
"Hello," she said as she stopped to stare, "what have we here? An exit maybe?" She turned to look at her new bright friend. "Well c'mon then Glowball, let's go check it out."
The sphere dimmed, showing just how much it liked its new nickname.
"Alright, alright, but I've got to call you something until I find out what you are and that's about the best I could come up with. Besides, I've lost too much of my sanity here not to talk with possibly inanimate objects." She told it as she turned down the new passageway.
It didn't remain a passageway for long. Maybe ten feet in, the tunnel abruptly widened out into a cavern so large that not even Glowball's light could reach the top.
"Wow," Aria breathed, her awed whisper bouncing around in echoes around the cavern, "now there's something you don't see everyday."
Slowly, Aria made her way farther into the metal room, turning in wondering circles to try and take in every angle of this natural wonder. As slow as she was turning it took her awhile to notice that the little sphere in her hands was not the only light in the cavern.
"There're more of you!" She said, her voice bouncing around the metal walls, turning it into a shout.
There were more, several more, maybe half a dozen glowing spheres embedded in the rough metal walls higher up, as if they had been deposited there into the natural hollows scoured out by the flows of lava that had formed the room. Only it was odd. The longer Aria looked, the more it appeared that the lower part of the wall was different than the higher portions. Down here the metal walls were rougher, with more crags and hollows. While up in the more shadowy recesses of the underground cave, the metal was smoother, as if it had weathered more.
"It's almost like there was a lava flow down here recently." Aria mused as she felt the rough surface with one hand, holding Glowball firmly in the other. Looking over at it she smiled. "Maybe that's where you came from yeah? Maybe you're more of a lava ball than a glow ball." She teased.
She would have called herself mad for talking to it if the little ball hadn't buzzed almost sleepily at her.
Aria shook her head and turned her attention back to the other spheres still in the wall. She noticed that there seemed to be differences between them too. The sphere just above her for instance almost appeared to have a pink tinge to it, and a few feet beyond that one there were two stuck together. The longer she looked the more distinctive each one became even in the dim, shadowy light of the cavern.
Aria looked back down, a sense of awe she didn't understand filling her up. Compared to the others still in the wall, her little Glowball, the smallest of them all, looked practically yellow.
"Blindingly yellow," Aria amended as she blinked away sunspots. "Whatever it is you are, the lot of you sure are bright."
All seven of the spheres glowed brighter for a moment, pleased with the observation.
Aria blinked at them and wondered what she should say to that. But then she realized that she was talking with a bunch of lights and decided to concentrate more on finding a way out of here than thinking on what to say.
But a small clank of metal falling onto metal coming from deeper in the cavern distracted her.
Aria froze, mind suddenly going blank before thundering into overdrive. "Please just be the imaginations of my mind slipping over the edge. Please let me be just going mad!" Aria thought, her mind nearly drowned out by the sudden thundering of her heart in her throat and its echo in her ears.
"It's nothing," Aria told herself, "It's nothing, just keep walking. Just turn around and leave."
But something shuffled in the dark again behind her.
Aria froze, Glowball in hand, as realization dawned on her along with a growing sense of terror.
"We're not the only things in here."
Slowly, carefully, Aria turned around, eyes wide as she clutched the little yellow light to her chest protectively, but she didn't see anything lurking in the dark.
"I-I can hear you in there," Aria called out, knowing hiding to be useless as long as she had Glowball. "Come out where I can see you!"
For a moment nothing moved beyond her small sphere of light, but then a dim shape moved in the dark.
Aria waited, breath frozen in her chest as she held tight to the glowing light, although she wasn't sure if that was for her sake or its at the moment.
It was a robot, ("Of course," she thought, not so surprised by that after everything that had happened) but the strange part was that it was only taller than Aria herself by half. At first she thought it was another minicon, but then she noticed the wide eyed way the being was staring at her, and how its parts didn't fit together as smoothly as the other bots she knew, and she realized this one was much, much younger than Optimus and the others she had seen.
Slowly, Aria let go of most of her tension, especially her death grip on the little Glowball, who flickered feebly in appreciation.
"H-hello," she said, still gaining control over her voice. "Are, uh, are you alright there?"
The robot child gave a small electronic shriek and flinched away.
"Oh no, no! It's alright, see? I'm not going to hurt you," Aria said holding up her hands to show she wasn't armed, but Glowball came up instead.
"Eh," Aria said, not sure what to say now, especially since she didn't even know what it was she held.
But the child seemed more in awe than afraid now. He looked between Aria and the glowing sphere she held up. And then, more hesitantly than a cat coming to a large body of water, the child inched forward, sliding his large metal feet towards her little by little.
Aria managed to stay quiet as the young robot approached her. He seemed so afraid of her already and she didn't want to frighten him further by saying anything he might mistake for aggressive or dangerous.
But quiet as she was, the little bot still stopped a good four feet away from her.
"Alrighty then," Aria thought to herself as she watched the boy, "now what?"
The young bot's glowing blue eyes roved the cavern again, reassuring himself that there was no one else here Aria assumed, although how he saw through the thick darkness was beyond her. Now that he was close enough, Aria could just make out the freshly made cuts that ran along his outer limbs, and one that ran across his torso, as well as the large, painful looking dent on his left shoulder. As far as she could tell, he didn't have any weapons on him, giving Aria the strong impression that he was a civilian, not a fighter in this war.
"Poor kid," Aria thought sorrowfully, "he looks terrified out of his mind."
As Aria watched the boy and he watched everything else, along with her, an idea started to form in her head. Slowly, so as not to frighten him, Aria knelt down to the ground, adjusting her grip on Glowball so that she could hold him one handed. Then she reached out a finger and drew four angular lines in the loose dirt.
Confused, the little bot watched her from his reasonable distance.
"Add some eyes and a stern little mouth and…done!" Aria though as she finished the last few strokes. Satisfied, she smiled up at the bot and pointed down at her drawing, moving the little light sphere again so that its light shown directly on to the Autobot symbol she had drawn.
The little bot recognized it in a flash. He pointed at it, beginning to talk very quickly.
Aria nodded at him. She waited until he was looking at her again before pointing up at the ceiling far above them. "I need to get out of here. I need to get back to Optimus Prime and the others." She told him, pointing down at the symbol again.
The little boy's head bobbed up and down quickly, a stream of unintelligible words pouring out of his mouth along with numerous clicks and whirs that Aria had never heard the older bots use.
Not sure what else to do, Aria nodded and smiled at the little bot.
"Just smile and nod Aria, smile and nod."
Her patience paid off. Soon the bot reached out and grabbed her wrist, his grip firm but not strong enough to hurt her, then he dragged her forward towards the far end of the cavern.
"Where are we going?" Aria tried asking.
But the little bot just kept talking as he pulled her forward.
Aria had pretty much resigned herself to not knowing what was going on when the boy suddenly stopped and, at the girl's confused look, pointed again at the far wall, which actually wasn't all that far away now. If she squinted, Aria could just make out the deep outline of another tunnel leading to who only knew where.
"That way?" Aria asked the boy pointing into the dark. "We should go that way?"
Instead of nodding or shrugging, the little mech said something, pointing at the tunnel and then pointing up.
"Alright then, that's good enough for me." She told him before turning around. "But first we should get those other glowing balls to take with us-"
The boy let out a loud squeak and reached out to stop her as soon as he saw where she was headed. Jabbering faster than before, he went and stood in front of Aria, blocking her path to the other glowing spheres.
"What?" Aria demanded.
The boy wouldn't move though, just stood there, waving his arms in clear, 'do not pass', motions.
"Alright, alright," Aria said holding up her free hand and taking a step back, "I won't touch them. Got it."
The child bot stopped swinging his arms and watched her warily, as if wondering if she was trying to trick him or not. He said something that sounded to Aria like a question.
"Nope, I really mean it. I will not touch except for the one I already have." She told him, showing him the shining ball she held. Its light fell across the little bot, showing his injuries and frame in stark relief.
Aria flinched with sympathy. Slowly, waiting to see how the boy would react to her, she reached out her free hand and gingerly touched one of the scratches that ran across his metal form. When she pulled her hand away it was slightly damp, although with what Aria didn't know.
"Poor kid," she murmured again looking up at the child bot's sad face. He wouldn't look at her now, and Aria saw that his blue gaze was very far away now as well as frightened.
After a long minute of standing in the dark, Aria reached out and laid her hand on the boy's cheek, gently turning his head to face her. When she was sure he saw her, and not the horrors she knew were replaying in his head, she smiled at him and nodded towards the tunnel he had shown her.
"Why don't you come with me yeah? I know someone who can fix you right up, good as new." She offered, thinking Ratchet should have an easy time with the little bot's wounds, although she whished she knew of someone that could help with his more unseen trauma.
As if in answer, the boy said something, some of his previous energy returning, and then transformed into a four wheeled vehicle with a flat top and a colored stripe running down his side.
"A blue stripe huh?" Aria said as she went for a closer look. "Y'know, I think there's a saying back home about people talking up blue stripes, or is it streaks? Yeah that sounds right. With as much as you like to talk I think Bluestreak suits you perfectly. Do you mind if I call you that?" She asked politely.
Bluestreak gave a pleased sounding squeak, enjoying the way the little soft body's words rolled off her tongue like hot metal.
Aria smiled at him through the dark. "Cool, now let's get out of here." She said, going to climb onto Bluestreak's roof since there was no cab for her to ride in, Glowball safely in hand. But a nagging sense of guilt made her turn around.
She turned to face the other spheres again where they still glowed sleepily in the wall on the other edge of the cavern. "I'll make sure to tell Optimus Prime y'all are all down here." She promised them.
The lights didn't change this time, as if they were tired out by the previous excitement, but still Aria got the feeling that they were happy with her promise.
"I've got to be going mad," Aria told herself as she turned back to her ride. "Just got to be losing my mind. There's just no other explanation for it."
Bluestreak answered her in his own electronic way as he started rolling down the path that led to the surface and, hopefully, to the rest of Aria's friends.