Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
This was when the Skullers first made contact with the human race; a chilly, mid-October evening in the year 2090.
The air was humid, tainted by the odour of decaying leaves. A dark, seamless mass of clouds stretched to the edges of perception, poised to release a brilliant shower onto the woods below.
Julian Laeer was the human they had chosen -- if ‘human’ was the right word. He was a monster by the standards of most. But importantly, he was charismatic. He had a gift for ensuring his needs were met by his agents, and not only in a way that instilled fear, but in a dependable way that evoked loyalty.
Humans would follow a demon into the fiery pits of hell as long as they believed they were on the winning team.
Deep below the woods and inside DASTOS headquarters, Julian Laeer was preparing to interrogate his newest captive. It was a task he would not usually reserve for himself; his weakest recruit could break someone far stronger than the man quivering before him. This was an exception.
The previous night, a mid-level agent of his had botched an infiltration mission to obtain counter-intelligence. The target system recognised an algorithm used to access their security protocols, forcing their entire network into red alert. Stealth had been their only advantage. The agent was extracted along with one of the first guards to take up pursuit of him.
He was low-hanging fruit, but a saving grace. They had fucked the mission but at least this pathetic, trembling man could tell them how much so.
Laeer instructed his guards to seal the chamber on their way out, which they did before exchanging uneasy glances.
Once alone he sauntered towards the metallic table to which the prisoner was chained. His wrists were pinned to the centre, his ankles to the ground. He had been left in this forced sitting position since his capture the previous night.
The air was stagnant, spoiled by the scent of urine.
Laeer came to a stop, standing at his full height of seven feet. His cropped, silver hair reflected the florescent lighting above. The hint of a smile flickered at the corner of his mouth -- a micro expression that indicated he would receive animalistic pleasure in what was about to unfold.
The prisoner spoke without a prompt to do so. Despite how much he was quivering, his voice was steady. “I wasn’t blindfolded before your men brought me here. You have no intention to release me.”
“Yes?” Laeer agreed, but made it a question.
“You’re planning to kill me, then,” the man continued. “But you didn’t leave me chained here all day just so I would piss myself first. You expect me to talk.”
“And will you?” Laeer asked, his voice emotionless. His pale eyes were transfixed on the man but offered no indication of his temperament.
The captive’s voice finally cracked. “Why sh-should I? I’m going to die either way.”
“Yes, you will,” Laeer confirmed. His voice gained an unnervingly merry tone, yet his eyes remained cold, watching. “But consider how you are going to die. I can be quite creative.”
“What could I even tell you? I don’t know anyth” –with a slight whimper the captive paused mid-speech, his expression stuck in a bizarre portrayal of terror. He remained this way for a brief moment, as if frozen in time. Then the captive’s eyes filled with crimson and spilled out, tears of blood streaming down his cheeks.
His head plunged down, slamming onto the table with a violent crunch. His body became entirely still.
“Well, then,” Laeer remarked. The extent of his surprise was a slight raise of his eyebrows and a mild curiosity to investigate the captive’s body. His sudden death defied any reasonable explanation Laeer could think of. It wasn’t caused by a wireless kill device; they were too far underground for a signal to reach and the man would have been scanned for receivers on his way in. A medical condition was possible, but the timing was too convenient.
Laeer took one step towards the body and then froze. Or rather, his limbs began to stiffen, his movements slowing almost to a standstill. It was like a nightmarish state in which you could not escape from danger and the more you wanted to run, the more your movements slowed down.
Then all of his control slipped away and he became a mere passenger inside his own body. Without any intention, he took a seat at the table and stared across the captive’s body at the metallic wall opposite.
His thoughts were eerily calm as he ran through the likely scenarios of what might be happening to him. A neurotoxin could have paralysed him, but he hadn’t been in a position to be compromised by a bio-weapon. There wasn’t any type of device on the black market that could control him remotely like a puppet. He didn’t even consider a mental breakdown. Coping with stress wasn’t an issue he ever struggled with.
The lights flickered and went out, throwing the room into almost complete darkness. The only source of light came from underneath the chamber door.
He heard a soft hum from behind, which progressed into an endless drone. At the same time, and also from behind where Laeer now sat, a purple light crackled into existence. It caused the walls in front of Laeer to flash, as if displaying the illuminations of a brilliant firework show.
As quickly as it had started, the hum was gone and the purple glow was no more. But Laeer could sense that he was no longer alone.
The moment the light had disappeared, something else had remained behind.
Guards, Laeer tried to shout, but was unable to make a sound.
Then came the first words a human would ever hear from a sentient race that was not its own.
“We apologise for cutting your interrogation short, Julian Laeer.” The words were coarse, bestial, and seemed to come from directly behind him.
Guards, Laeer tried to call again. Still his mouth refused to open.
“They are unconscious,” another rough voice said, almost indistinguishable from the first. “We have disarmed this entire facility.”
They can hear my thoughts, Laeer acknowledged. He felt not fear, but rather another emotion he was not accustomed to; helplessness.
“We can do much more,” a third voice said.
What do you want? It pained him to ask such an obvious question, the equivalent to waving a large white flag.
“To come to a mutual arrangement,” replied one of the voices, possibly a fourth. Laeer had lost track.
You need my help?
“You need ours.”
This finally threw Laeer off balance. He waited, unquestioning.
“Your efforts have been impressive, Julian Laeer, but you have fallen short of what you set out to accomplish. You have hundreds of mercenaries who will flex to your will, a base of operation that is unknown to the outside world, and too much money to spend in your lifetime. But this isn’t enough. You need more.”
And you’re going to help me, just like that?
“We have already begun.”
Laeer’s vision was adjusted so that he was now looking down at the dead captive. The blood had spread from his eyes and pooled around his head.
“Yesterday you failed to breach the organisation this man worked for. Return your agents to their facility tonight and you will find the situation has been resolved. This is our first gift of many. Soon you will have everything.”
Why are you doing this? Why me?
“Once we put you on top of your world, Julian Laeer, you will put us on top of ours.”
The hairs on Laeer’s arms stood on end. The implications of what he just heard threw into question everything he believed he knew.
He could hear the hum once again. The purple light also returned, crackling to life behind Laeer and Illuminating the room. Whatever it was, he could feel raw energy emanating from it, like an electrical current that could flow through the air and prickle against his skin.
He wanted to turn and face the intruders, face the source of the strange light, but still he could not move. His eyes were glued to the corpse in front of him.
On the edges of his vision he could make something out; shadows cast against the wall by the mysterious glow. He saw several identical forms with broad shoulders and long, spiny fingers.
Then the purple light disappeared in an instant, leaving him alone in the dark.