The Cybertron Combat Training and Intelligence Academy in central Iacon stood proudly against the day's waning light, its numerous outbuildings and combat arenas scattered across the sprawling grounds. The school had been in operation for eons, its rich and glamorous history producing many of Cybertron's finest warriors, yet its current class of students attended the daily lessons and activities without a second thought to the unique heritage and legacy that they each carried forward; to them, it was simply known as Cybertron's War Academy.
Sentinel Prime was a former student of the War Academy. Long ago, he had demonstrated advanced skills and knowledge and, along with a strong aptitude for leadership and wisdom well beyond his years of existence, had become the next Prime. Now, after his temporary alliance with the Liege Maximus in an effort to stop Megatron and his Decepticons from forming their own Destron group and asserting independence, he had been reprimanded by the Autobot Council of Elders. They had given him a choice: relinquish his mantle of leadership of the Autobot army to a new Prime, or temporarily refrain from making any major decisions without the Council's approval and instead spend some time in a more passive role, such as teaching at the Academy. Sentinel had begrudgingly chosen the latter.
He walked down the Academy's majestic halls, and regarded his new protégé with a discerning optic. It was mostly quiet and the halls were empty after the day's classes, so he was able to speak with Optronix in relative privacy. "Indeed, much has changed since I was a student at this Academy. Did you know that it was once frequented by Destrons alone? Much later, after we assumed their role, it became an all-Autobot establishment, and has remained as such to this day." Sentinel walked a few more paces in thought, and then stopped to examine his student. "You, Optronix, demonstrate much potential. More than I have seen in any other Autobot in a long, long time."
Optronix was a large, sturdily built Autobot whose color scheme matched that of the Autobot High Command; red, white and blue. His heavy vehicle alt mode only added to his brute strength and stamina in combat situations; nevertheless, it spoke little of his mostly unrivalled analytical skills amongst the Autobots – save for Sentinel Prime's. "Thank you, sir." His tone was respectful, almost bashful as he contemplated the Prime's words. After a few moments, he added, "I am honoured that you hold me in such high regard. However, my designation has already been decided. I will not be accepting a position within the Autobot army."
Sentinel looked back at him with obvious displeasure. "Then, why are you here?"
"My residency at the Academy is only temporary. My guardian, Alpha Trion, suggested that I attend for the opportunity to develop my knowledge and experience in combat, should the need ever arise for me to join the military effort; otherwise, I have opted to remain a civilian."
"I see." Sentinel nodded in comprehension of the younger Autobot's reasoning, though he could not even begin to fathom it. From the moment he was sparked into existence, Sentinel Prime had wanted to lead the Autobot army more than anything else in the known universe, and as hard as he tried to see Optronix's point of view, he simply could not. "May I give you some advice?" he began, as he resumed a steady pace.
"Of course," Optronix replied, listening attentively while maintaining a comfortable stride alongside his teacher.
"Quite frankly, it is my sincere belief that, should you opt for civilian duty, your remarkable talents would simply go to waste." He stopped outside the instructors' rec room, deep in thought. "If you wish, I can speak to Alpha Trion and let him know that you have a guaranteed position awaiting you as my chief tactical advisor… once you have graduated from the Academy, of course."
Optronix couldn't hide his astonishment, and for a few moments it seemed as if he had lost his vocal processor. "Sir, that is a very generous offer, but I cannot accept it. I have already given Alpha Trion my word. A place has already been assigned to me, and I wish to honour it." He paused, and then lowered his voice. "Besides… I do not believe in war. I only ask that I be allowed to live my life in peaceful service to my fellow Autobots."
Sentinel's blue optics glimmered with resolve, unable to accept his students' altruistic sense of idealism. "And what kind of service will you be able to offer your fellow Autobots when they are deactivated on their very recharging berths because you did not believe in war?" His gaze drew Optronix's like a magnet. "You may not believe in war, Optronix, but you can believe me when I tell you that one day you will have no choice but to fight for your own freedom, and the freedom of your fellow Autobots." He inhaled deeply, pulling his gaze away. "You do value freedom, do you not?"
Optronix looked distraught and confused, but he valued the Prime's words as if they were made of Cybertonium. "Yes, of course… freedom is the right of all sentient beings."
"Well, then, what are you afraid of?" When Optronix did not reply, he continued. "All I ask is that you think seriously upon my offer. It will be waiting for you, when you decide to take it."
At last Optronix nodded, looking back at his teacher. "Thank you."
Sentinel opened the door to the rec room, and gave his student a tilt of his head. "Just out of curiosity – what will be your assigned place, after you graduate?"
"Data archivist," Optronix replied simply.
Sentinel nodded. "Ah," he said, and then smiled before entering the rec room and closing the door after him, leaving Optronix alone in the hall to ponder his future.
Megatron had dismissed Straxus' attempts at contacting him for several weeks, until now. Ever since he and his newly formed group of Decepticons had ousted Liege Maximus from his post in Kaon, their fame and reputation had steadily increased; they had even been featured on Cybertron's general broadcast network and, as a result, Destrons from all over Cybertron sought to join the Decepticon ranks.
"Megatron, I must congratulate you on your ruthless execution of that fool Liege Maximus." The close up image of Straxus' head filled the view screen of the control room. As he spoke, Megatron watched him with a marked scepticism. Soundwave, the Decepticons' communications expert, and Starscream, their Air Commander and second in charge, were present for the occasion, as were the two highest ranking seekers after the Air Commander, Skywarp and Thundercracker.
Megatron leaned back in his seat, and rubbed the side of his face with his hand. "Ruthless execution?" He was not particularly keen on correcting Lord Straxus. It was only a minor oversight, after all.
"Yes. It was about time he was removed. He does not belong amongst us," Straxus continued.
"'Us?'" Starscream repeated to himself, unsure of the war lord's true motives.
Straxus ignored him. "Unfortunately, by doing so you have deprived me of the pleasure of watching him die a slow and agonizing death in my smelting pools."
Megatron interrupted him before he could continue with his small rant. "Was there some other reason you wished to contact me, Straxus?"
The tyrannical war lord paused, leaned in closer to the screen. "Since you mention it. Yes. Let this be a warning to you all. Stay out of my way, and I will let you live. Try to stop me, however, and I shall take great pleasure in watching you all die agonizing deaths. Especially you, Soundwave, you traitor!" Straxus pointed a finger accusingly at the blue and white Cassetticon guardian.
"I think I've heard enough–" Megatron shook his head dismissively, giving the signal to end the conference, when Straxus changed his tone suddenly, stared straight into the view screen.
"Serve me, and I will spare your lives. But cross me, and you will suffer the consequences! I am the prophesized Chaos Bringer–" Straxus managed to impart, before the image on the screen went blank.
"Thank you, Soundwave," Megatron said, relieved, to which the communications expert gave him a small nod in acknowledgement.
"Well, he was certainly entertaining," Starscream commented in his satirical manner.
"The prophesized Chaos Bringer? Do you know what he's talking about?" Thundercracker asked curiously.
When no one else had an answer for him, Megatron replied. "It's an ancient myth. The Chaos Bringer – supposedly – is the negative counterpart to Primus. A large and powerful robot that devours entire planets. Apparently, it has been prophesized to return one day."
"And Straxus thinks he's this Chaos Bringer?" Skywarp said after a few moments of contemplative silence. "He's crazier than we thought."
Scrounge walked along the path that led to the main student hall at the War Academy. He had scored last overall in today's training exercises, though that had come as no surprise to anyone. He was small and light in stature, and shied away from any task that required making important decisions. His only self-proclaimed useful ability, when it came to military operations, was espionage. It was this special talent that he was unashamedly proud of, and probably the only reason his application to the War Academy had not been rejected outright.
Still, the majority of his fellow class mates never let him forget his general unpopularity. Even the small clan of mini-bots, who seemed to always stick together, looked upon him with condescension. The only two Autobots who ever bothered to show him any kindness at all were a cassette-bot guardian who liked to go by the name of Blaster and, to his delight, the biggest and strongest in his class, Optronix.
As he entered the student hall, the familiar sounds of his class mates chatting and laughing in the lounge sent shivers down his linkage. His optics darting in all directions, he headed for the refuelling station and poured himself a canister, then quietly scooted across to a group of Autobots who were gathered together around a table. It looked as if they were pooling credits for a wager.
"What's going on?" Scrounge asked his friend Blaster.
"Not now, Scrounge."
Scrounge ignored his dismissive reply, and then looked on with curiosity as the loudest of the group – an orange and red Autobot who had been granted the nick of Hot Rod by his fellow class mates – gathered up the credits into a pile with a self-satisfied grin. "Alright, do I have everyone's bets?" he asked.
"Just remember – if you get caught, I never had anything to do with it," said one of the mini-bots.
"Me get caught?" Hot Rod repeated incredulously. "Pfft. No way."
"Huffer's got a point, you know; wagering with credits is against the rules," Swerve chimed in. He leaned an elbow against fellow mini-bot Gears, who gave him an irritated look. "Still, it's your crypt ceremony, I suppose."
"Shut the hell up, Swerve," Hot Rod told him dismissively. "Say, have any of you seen Magnus?" When he received no affirmative responses, he shrugged. "It's his loss, I guess. You did tell him to be here, right, Blastbox?"
Blaster kicked his feet up onto the table, clasped his hands behind his head. "I told ya, the name's Blaster, now. And, yeah, he knows."
Scrounge tried again. "What's the wager for, guys? Blaster?"
"The, you know, I mean, what's – what's everyone betting on?"
Blaster was usually caught somewhere between wanting to tell Scrounge to just go away and leave him alone, and feeling charitable enough to give him an astro-second's worth of attention. "Uh. Well, hot shot over here reckons he can beat Optronix in tomorrow's agility challenge."
"Oh." Scrounge really had no idea who would win in such a competition; all he knew was that Hot Rod and Optronix were two of the most capable cadets at the Academy, and he would be insane to go up against either one of them in any kind of challenge. "Well, I hope you win, Hot Rod – I mean, I know you'll beat 'em easy!"
Hot Rod gave him a sidelong glance. "You can bet your wheel on that, small fry." At that moment, a tall, blue, red and white cadet walked into the hall and past the table of gathered bots, offering only a passing interest at the pile of credits in Hot Rod's possession. "Speaking of the big bot," Hot Rod said, addressing Optronix. "Hey, have you seen Magnus?" Optronix filled up a canister of fuel at the dispenser without speaking a word. "What's the matter with you?"
Optronix walked over to the table, gave Scrounge a nod as he took a chair beside the small bot, and then slowly shook his head at Hot Rod. "You do know that's against the rules?" he reminded his class mate, though rather half-heartedly.
"Eh, rules, shmools," Hot Rod replied, and laughed. "You ready for tomorrow, then?"
Optronix sighed, and then shrugged. He had other things on his mind. "As ready as I'll ever be."