"If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in him." -Ivan Vanko/"Whiplash"
There was a crowd present in the pavilion for the orn Megatron planned to bring a god to his knees.
The city-centre of Epsilon was one of the last standing havens on Cybertron. It was one of the last places on the planet that had not been ravaged by war. A few other scattered oasis still existed in the other territories, but none as large or undamaged as Epsilon's capitol. The denizens of the neutral state were a weak and scared bunch who cowered in fear every time a jet flew overhead. Their will to live was broken and their sparks sagged with exhaustion. They lived on the exhaust fumes of hope, praying that their precious Prime would rise soon with his Autobots to win back all of Cybertron.
It was the unwavering belief that good would always win over evil that kept the war going. Cybertron's unswerving loyalty to their Prime, who was their embodiment of goodness, allowed them all to cower behind him. They would never willingly relinquish their love for their Prime. But this war was not about Good and Evil. It had nothing to do with the Cybertronians' love for an antiquated symbol. It went beyond that, and Megatron was going to uncover their optics to the truth; their war was between who was Weak and who was Strong.
Until the people of Cybertron saw the truth, the war would never end.
So long as there was an ideal to fight for, the Autobots would fight, the Neutrals would hope, and the war would continue to rage across the planet. So long as Optimus Prime remained the embodiment of Cybertron's ideals, he would always exist to haunt Megatron.
"My Lord," Starscream intoned, catching the Lord Protector's attention. "He's ready."
"Drag him in. Let his people see what's become of their precious Prime."
With a nod, Starscream gestured for his awaiting trine members to bring their prize to centre-stage. Thundercracker and Skywarp emerged from the wings with a large mech strung between them. His arms were chained behind him, his legs kicked out from underneath him so he could be dragged across the dais. His paint was sanded off, his armour scratched and dented. He was a husk of his former self.
The crowd stirred, recognizing their Prime. His title was carried on the breeze like a whispered spell.
"Is that the Prime?"
"What's he doing here?"
"What have they done to him?"
"Are they going to kill him?"
Once to centre-stage, Thundercracker and Skywarp threw their prisoner down. With leers and a few scathing remarks hissed under their breaths, they returned to the dark wings in order to watch the show. Starscream stayed for a short while after his fellow jets left, watching as Optimus struggled to his knees. By his expression, the Seeker was not impressed with what he saw. He raised a single arm-mounted blaster.
"I could finish him off right here," he hissed.
Megatron gripped the Seeker's arm tight. "That's my right, not yours. Leave, Starscream."
With an indelicate snort, Starscream carried himself off stage, though not before marching over Optimus's legs in his own fit of petty, self-serving satisfaction.
Now alone with his brother on the dais, Megatron considered his broken form with taunting interest.
"Megatron," murmured the mech.
"Optimus Prime," he greeted in return, letting the title roll from his vocal processor like a poison.
The title that had elevated little Orion Pax from a no one to mech who held an entire world in the palm of his hand. In attaching a single word to the end of a name, he was taken from the mire of mortality to the pedestals where the mortal gods live. Even now, so far into his failure as a leader to his people, they still looked to him for guidance. The Autobots followed him unswervingly, confident in his ability to lead them to victory the same way he had led their planet through the Golden Age. The Neutrals still praised him as their Prime, the one true ruler of Cybertron, the mech who would bring peace once again. They watched him now with a living hope in their optics. They believed the Prime could still rise and fight for them
But his perfection went beyond his mortality. Even if he were to die, his legacy would continue to inspire his people. Cybertronians would always fight back if they continued to remember the great Optimus Prime.
The only way for Megatron to win the war was to break his brother's legacy.
He was going to enjoy every moment of it.
"How does it feel to be finally kneeling at my feet?" the ex-Lord Protector enquired, looming high over his brother.
Optimus raised his head, though said nothing.
"Well, dear brother mine, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter," Megatron goaded.
Still, Optimus was silent. The look in his optics was not of hatred. He did not glare like most prisoners would. There was no heat of anger or the chill of fear in his steady gaze. He did not even beg for release. Where there should have been rage in his unfathomable optics, there was only deep sadness. In the split astrosecond that Megatron met his brother's gaze, he saw an immeasurable depth anguish not for his own pain but for the part that Megatron himself was playing in this stage show. Beyond that, there was abiding acceptance for whatever fate he was about to face.
Rage boiled in Megatron's chassis. He could taste the stain of disgust and hatred swelling up from his tanks. How could anyone accept the fate of death so easily? Give into defeat without any word of defence? Even the weakest of enemies begged for their lives, yet Optimus said nothing.
"Not very talkative today, are you?" Megatron mocked, feeding his hatred into mockery. "If I remember correctly. you used to be so charismatic, Prime. Always had something to say about everything, didn't you? Say something to your people; they're listening."
Optimus said nothing.
Megatron knelt to his brother's level, curling a razor-sharp claw beneath the Prime's chin. "Why don't you beg for your life?"
Optimus worked his mouthplates tightly, as if there were a thousand things he wanted to say at the same time. In the end, he managed to say, "I am not here for myself."
A sneer curled Megatron's faceplate. "If you're here to get me to see the error of my ways, you will fail this time like all the others. Cybertron will be mine, without or without your living spark on it."
"I am not here for you, either."
Now a frown came to the Lord Protector's faceplate. "Then who are you here for?"
Optimus's gaze turned out to the crowd, to every Cybertronian that had even been under his rule and protection.
"For them?" Megatron sneered. Incredulity boiled over and he lashed out at the too-noble figure tied down in front of him. His open palm met with the side of Optimus's faceplate, creating a flash from the violence of metal on metal. The strength behind the attack threw Prime back, but even still he did not scream.
He was a regal martyr even before his death.
It was an image that Megatron was going to have to break, even if he had to beat his brother within an inch of his life to do it.
Rocking to his feet, Megatron turned to the crowd. "Do you hear that? He's here for you. Your precious Optimus Prime is sacrificing himself to me for all of you. What do you say to that? Is there anyone out there who objects? Do you wish to come up here and save his life?"
The crowd shifted restlessly, the sounds of their collective murmuring rising like the hiss of steam from an overworked machine. For all their hissing, they did nothing. Their optics wide, their faceplates horror-stricken. No one from the crowd made a move. They stayed where they were, kept in place by the blockades of Decepticon warriors.
Megatron cast a taunting look to Optimus, who struggled to rise to his knees again. "Do you hear that, Prime?" he asked. "It looks like they don't care that you're here for them."
Optimus's head bowed. "They're scared. They don't want to die."
"And you do?"
"I am willing to do whatever it takes for them."
With a snarl, Megatron's foot flew out and caught Prime across the opposite side of his faceplate. He flew back from the force of the impact, skidding across the raised dais until he crashed into one of the supporting columns that ran along the side. Several screams of shock rose from the crowd, their masses roiling though they still did not press their luck against the sentries keeping them at bay. Optimus stayed where he lay, spitting out gobs of energon as they leaked from severed lines in his jaw and neck column.
"'Whatever it takes,' Optimus? Don't be so noble. You're here for yourself!" Megatron snarled. "We're all here for ourselves." He made his way across the stage, grabbed hold of the front of Optimus's armour, and threw him back to the centre of the stage. "You were tired of failing time and again, weren't you?" He stalked after the fallen frame of his brother, kicking him again. "You knew it was impossible to win, so you gave up."
"No," Optimus grunted,
"Liar." He lashed out again, the sharp tips of his foot driving into the centre of Optimus's abdomen. The metal caved inwards with a wretched screech. "You surrendered to me to end this war because you could never defeat me." Another kick, his one catching him under the chin and throwing his head back. "You accepted that you were weak and I was strong."
Optimus wavered, but somehow still managed to hold his head up. "There are many different kind of strength, Megatron. You only know of one."
"I know of the only one that counts." A punch this time, landing in the centre of his chassis. The power behind the punch was felt right into Optimus's sparkcase; he recoiled, a breathless yell rising from him. Satisfied by the sudden show of weakness, Megatron threw another punch, met with similar results. He threw several more, and with each assault, Optimus's failed to rise to his knees as high as before. A little more light faded from his deep optics.
Shaking with the effort, Optimus raised his optics one more time. "Then you know nothing at all."
A snarl broke the stifling air. "I know of the conviction it takes to win at all costs," Megatron replied, delivering yet another beating to his brother. A punch that caved the side of Optimus's head. A kick that dislocated his left arm. "I know the power it takes to bring an entire planet to its knees." His claws raked down that sorrowful faceplate, whose optics never stopped looking remorseful. "I know what it takes to turn a god into a mortal."
"There is no god here," Optimus coughed. "I am only myself."
"I am the rightful ruler of Cybertron." He sheered plating from that handsome faceplate, mutilating it. Making him less than Optimus Prime. His energon spattered across the cold stage, as blue and mortal as any other Cybertronian's.
When Optimus could no longer rise, Megatron turned to address the crowd.
"You see? This is all the strength that one needs; the strength to defeat one's enemies!" he exclaimed. "Optimus Prime always lacked the strength to take what he wanted. He let you walk all over him, driving this planet into a state of reticent laxness. Your world fell because Optimus Prime was not strong enough to uphold it."
"You're right," announced a quiet, broken voice.
Megatron spun around, zeroing in on the figure of his brother. Silence fell across the tides of Cybertronians as they realized their fallen Prime was speaking. His voice, though quiet, was magnified so that even the edges of the pavilion could hear him.
"Say that again, Prime."
Optimus gave one last effort into raising himself into a sitting position. He met his brother's gaze with optics that flickered in and out of operation. "I said 'you're right," he murmured. "I turned myself in to you because I was not strong enough to maintain this world or its people. You showed me how frail the ideals of Cybertron had become, and how easily our peace could be shattered."
Megatron's smouldering red gaze flashed. "Go on."
Optimus's wavering gaze turned to his people, pleading for them to understand. "I wish that I had been a better Prime for you all. It's true that I was lax. I enjoyed the frivolity that our Golden Age afforded and it made me short-sighted of the future. I could not see past our own fortune to the possibility of it coming to an end. There are no words to describe how sorry I am to have allowed all of you to suffer as you have at the hands of this war. Autobots, Decepticons, and Neutrals- you've all lost homes, friends, and loved ones because I was too busy being a Prime to a perfect world to realize that my own brother was turning against me. I didn't see how much he needed me, and how greatly my failure would cost you all."
He took a wavering drag of air, and then coughed as his intake fans caught on dripping energon from his internals. Spays of gore flew out from his vents, dribbling down his said and painting the stage around him. With a strength that came purely from his spark, he continued.
"Perhaps this is still my naivety talking, or an abject optimism that refuses to die. I've also considered insanity..." He laughed bitterly, which only caused him more pain. "The fact of the matter is, I am no longer fit to be your Prime. You all once put your greatest faith in my abilities to guide this planet, and I failed. I should not be allowed to carry the title of Prime. This is why I am here today. I am here, as my last act of Prime, to give myself up in hopes that no more lives will be lost." His head bowed, his whole frame shaking. "My life is a small price to pay if it will guarantee Cybertron's safety."
Optimus's pleading optics turned to Megatron once more. Broken. Shaking. One his knees and as mortal as any transformer could be, he finally begged. But not for his life.
"Please, you can do whatever you want with me, brother, but promise me that you will end this war. Promise me you will stop killing my people."
Megatron laughed mirthlessly. "Is that it?"
"Done." Silver hands laced together, forming a gun that would easily blow a hole through the centre of the Prime and incinerate the last dregs of hope the people of Cybertron held for Optimus Prime.
Over the whine of charging plasma, the Lord Protector heard a curious rumbling. He felt along this armour the sudden change in the atmosphere. Looking out over the Neutrals, he realized they were beginning to move. Not shifting like restless, fearful things. The tides began to boil like a sea that was about to burst its shores. A roar began from the depths of the people, rising up in force and volume as it was carried on the winds. They were rallying together.
The Decepticons standing closest to the edges of the Neutrals tensed, charging their weapons. The Cybertronians were not to be deterred by threats. A new power had come into them, a new hope, a new inspiration.
As the tension broke, a tidal wave of metal bodies rose. Their combined force flooded into the blockades and swept them away. They came onto the Decepticons in droves, driving the warriors into the depths of the crowd. The tide became a living beast where all those opposed to the force of nature where swallowed whole and left helpless to the growing indignant rage that shook the Neutrals down to the most primal side of their sparks.
In one great surge, they took the stage. Their combined fury hit like thunder, shaking the entire dais. Screaming voices bled together as grabbing hands clamoured to take a piece of Megatron. If he was swept away like the others, he would be ripped apart in the tide by bare hands and unbridled fury. Overhead, Starscream and his Seekers were already seeking refuge in the skies. Knowing it was his best option, Megatron forced his own transformation as writhing frames pressed in on all sides. White-hot flames burst from his thrusters, clearing a path for himself as he shot into the sky.
Behind him, a new roar rose from the depths of the tossing, boiling people. Megatron wheeled around in the sky in time to watch as his brother's frame was gathered into the embrace of his people. They lifted him up and carried him on their tide, many hands running beneath him, keeping him held high like a treasure. He disappeared into the ranks of the Neutrals as the roar of their victory reverberated across the entire city.
Watching, Megatron realized his mistake.
In making a god bleed, he didn't stop anyone from believing. He made their belief stronger.