Wisps of black smoke greeted a morning sun as its first rays peered through thick clouds over the valley, revealing what yesterday was a lush green forest; today, however, the light found nothing in the valley but blackened ash, soot, and disintegrated ruins of metal and scrap. Nothing that called this area home still lived to bear witness of the massive fireball that had descended from the sky last night -- not even the nocturnal beasts of the valley could escape the destruction borne down upon them without warning.
Yet, while most creatures would have the good sense to stay away from lifeless charred remains, the scene also drew those of a more curious disposition, as a set of four padded feet trodded quietly through the ash. It was a large brown fox, its eyes winced half-shut from the smoke-tinged air and its already black legs rendered more so from knee-deep soot and dirt. Around one pile of burned scrap and another it wandered, keeping its nose low as if searching for something, though only the animal itself could know what -- after all, any bones that might have survived the blaze would certainly have no edible meat left on them.
The creature wove one way and another around charred, fallen trees, charting a general path northwest as the minutes passed, slowly becoming a full hour as the creature continued to find nothing but ... well, nothing amidst the ashes. Nothing but piles of melted scrap, felled trees and scorched rocks.
Until one of these piles moved. The fox looked up and reared back as a shifting pile of armor rose slowly from underneath a layer of scrap. One foot hit the ground first, followed by its counterpart as the beast struggled to balance itself, albeit with a limp on a hind foot. It was about the size of a wolf -- not too much larger than the fox growling back at it defensively, but certainly large enough to intimidate. The black plates adorning its body bore all manner of scratches, all of them fresh. And it looked down on the smaller fox with a snarl.
Any sensible animal would run from the sight of a larger beast capable of rendering it limb from limb -- but instead the vulpine merely stood there, as if paralyzed in fear, doing nothing but growling back with an open mouth, its full set of teeth visible.
Undisturbed, the larger creature reared back, its armored frame shifting rapidly as it rebalanced itself solely upon its two hind legs and it spread long clawed digits from each of its hands. It took a step forward, its height now four times of the fox in front of it, and it looked down on the creature through a battered pair of orange eyes as it opened the mouth and barked out sounds utterly alien.
"What do we have here...?"
And yet the fox still did not run away, continuing only to stare back and snarl.
The monster took one step forward towards the animal, and only when it swept an arm in its direction did the fox finally run -- but it did not get far before a pulse of light shot it through a hind leg and it fell to the ground, as the larger creature closed the distance with its left arm, clawless, pointed threateningly at the fox.
"And where did you think you were going?" The armored creature stepped within reach of the fox and then clamped its claws down around the creature's shoulders, shifting its upper body back as it carefully hefted the smaller animal into the air.
"Because, unless I am mistaken, you are packing an energon signature. Aren't you ... my little maximal?" The large creature asked, in words that a fox did not understand or reply to.
"Because an energon signature means only one thing -- a robot in disguise. Am I right, or am I right?"
The fox was in pain, and yet its only response was to keep its fangs bared.
"What's the matter? Mode lock got your tongue?"
The larger creature brought its other hand close to the fox, and the animal's only response was to snap at it with its fangs, a successful bite prohibited by mere inches as the larger being held it out of biting reach.
"Or did your alternate mode programming take you over? I thought they patched that centuries ago...."
Ten seconds passed, and the monster grew impatient.
"Speak, damn you!" The large creature raked across the animal's face with its free hand, a hard blow that drew a trickle of blood.
The fox did not even return eye contact, though it let out a pained yelp as the monster's grip tightened around its shoulders. Then something cracked, and the animal went limp. Frustrated, the large monster flung the fox away, its body landing ten paces away and tumbling once before coming to a cold stop, with some ash clinging to its bloodstained fur.
The larger creature shook its head as it berated itself. "Or maybe this wreckage is playing havoc with my sensors...." The beast tapped the side of its head with one hand. "Diagnostic report, please...."
The fox's body was no longer moving, not even breathing, though its head lay in the general direction of the monster and its eyes remained open, a lifeless gaze fixated on the larger creature.
The monster looked back at the fox's body on the ground. "Right, I knew it...." Stepping forward, the armor on its right arm shifted around, solidifying into a large metal blade which it trained down upon the fox's body. "So tell me, maximal, what makes your beast form so important you would rather die than defend yourself?"
The being raised its weapon high in the air, and was about to slash down, but a low, loud growl from behind prompted it to yield. With shut eyes, it shrugged and chuckled to itself, muttering, "oh, but of course...."
Standing behind the dark metal monster was a large beast, a reptilian behemoth much larger than the two already here, lashing a thick, powerful tail behind it as it breathed down upon the metal creature with an open maw.
"How could I not see this?" The beast readied its blade and swung around. "You're just a distraction; all you needed to do was keep me occupied long enough for your backup to arri--"
But the creature found its attempt at a surprise attack blocked even before it could complete the sentence, as it found its right arm clasped tightly in its clawed grip, the sharp blade failing to even scratch its thick scales -- and in another moment the large beast snapped the metal creature's arm clean off.
"...what the hell ARE you?" The metal monster shouted in surprise as it shifted the plates on its left arm around to form any kind of weapon, with which it unleashed several bolts of light towards the behemoth.
The reptile's response was immediate, and fatal.
The creature's four severed limbs now lay strewn widely left and right, while the reptile dropped the creature's unpalatable torso mangled and chewed near the fox's still body. The behemoth seemed ... sad. And it gave the metal creature one more bite, severing its torso into rough halves before leaving it to bleed out the rest of its assorted coolant and reactor fluids.
As the reptile walked off into the distance, the fox's eyes blinked, and the small animal let out a sigh of breath. Then it pulled its four feet underneath itself and stood up, its spine suddenly unbroken and its legs, though bleeding slightly, now perfectly straight and functional. It looked down at the fading spark remaining in the metal creature in front of it, then opened its mouth, and ... spoke back to the creature in its own alien tongue:
"Silly predacon," she told the beast. "We robots are in disguise for a reason...."
Off in the distance, the large behemoth glanced back to see the fox alive and sniffing over the corpse of the metal creature it had just finished. The fox shook her head as she licked over her injuries: Her internal diagnostics had already stemmed the damage done to her organic pelt, but full healing would require at least a day, plus a consumption of raw organic material to fuel the process.
The reptile let out a loud, but calm (almost approving) roar in the fox's direction, and in response she scrambled out of the devastation to the live forests around it, muttering to herself a refrain she'd developed during her first week of duty on this planet:
You will not pick a fight
When the titans are home,
And if you are bright
As a beast you will roam.