Chapter 1: Prologue

There had been no warning.

What had begun as a routine border patrol was quickly dissolving into a nightmare out of the depths of the Pit itself. Nebulous shapes oozed from the ground around the small party of mechs.

There was no way to classify them: their processors hummed and clicked uselessly with the knowledge that these creatures were somehow wrong. A brief impression of cruel faceplates caught from the corner of the optic, a sudden flash of needle-like teeth, a deep feeling of unease: these were the only observations the mechs were able to make.

Then mechs started dying.

The first to go was a rookie: a young Seeker far more at home in the stars than on the ground. He suddenly squealed in pain as one of his wings was bent in an unnatural angle.

He clawed at the invisible attacker, who severed his main fuel lines and left him on the barren face of the asteroid, his once-vibrant green armor fading to gunmetal grey. Shaken, the other five soldiers clustered together, knowing there was no way to prevent another attack.

"Switch to infrared vision." the commander ordered. To his credit, he kept his voice steady. He had seen violent off-linings before, and knew how to effectively shut down his emotional responses. Fear, however, turned out to be more powerful than he had reckoned.

The next casualty was a seasoned warrior of the old days with a reputation as deadly as the sector of space they had settled in. He had served in many wars, and seemed almost to have a sixth sense at times. He heard a subtle shift in the air current, felt a clinging horror wash over him.

There was barely time for the great triple-changer to shove another soldier down before they overtook him. The life he had attempted to save fared no better than he, and energon flowed freely into the sandy ground from their shattered limbs.

In a blind panic, one black and gold mech began to discharge his plasma cannon at the shifting shapes around them, blasting anything that moved. One shot clipped the canyon wall, the second made a new crater on the asteroid's surface.

He squeezed the trigger a third time, and a choked cry answered him. In horror, he watched his frame-brother totter and collapse to his knees, staring in shock at the hole in his midsection until his optics flickered out and he crashed to the ground.

The shooter howled his anguish to the stars and barely registered the hunters circling him, even as they tore his Spark from his chestplates. Energon dribbling from his mouth, he exhaled once and moved no more.

The commander trembled now, his armor rattling in sheer terror. All those under his command were dead, and the only logical conclusion was that he would soon follow. One of the forms brushed against his back struts, and he was left with the impression of armor as cold as ice.

"Alone..." a cruel voice whispered on the wind, "Are you frightened?..."

The commander reached for his internal com, readying himself to call for backup. His servos froze suddenly. The killers could track a mech just by one drop of energon, what would they do with a com signal? He dropped his hand to his side and hung his helm.

Something like a sob burst from his lips as talons viciously tore across one of his doorwings, ripping it from his chassis. Even in his final moments however, the patrol leader had one last stroke of luck. The spray of energon from his wound covered his nightmarish assailant, revealing its form for one brief moment. It was long enough for the mech, who called forth his twin blades and bisected the creature cleanly.

Roaring one last battle cry, he whirled in a tight circle, slashing at the air around him even as his leaking energon painted his silver armor blue. Enraged by the death of their comrade, the remaining foes converged upon their quarry, savagely shredding his defenses.

In the end, the largest of them held the commander up against the canyon wall and languidly released its cloaking device.

"You fight well." It stated in a harsh, guttural voice, "Better than most, in fact. We are willing to spare you-if you will comply with one demand."

The commander shut his optics, knowing what was coming and dreading the choice before him.

The hunter hissed into the defeated mech's audial fins, "Renounce your leader forever. Give your allegiance to us and you will live."

The words were empty to the mech. Even if they healed him, the shame of betraying his leader and leading five comrades to their deaths would stain him forever.

With a last prayer to his Maker for guidance and forgiveness, he made his decision. He spat a mouthful of energon into his captor's faceplate and stared defiantly into its cold optics.

"Long live Megatronus Prime!"