Prologue: The Gate
Some people called it Hell. Some people called it the Void, the Dark Space, the Broken World. In the end, it didn’t matter what you called it, everyone felt the same way when looking at the Gate. They felt its wrongness permeate through every fibre of their being, lancing through them like a blade through flesh.
The day the Gate appeared was the same as any other. The sun rose lazily over the sandy dunes of the Mojave desert, slight wispy breezes breaking the peaks like waves on a beach. A roadrunner scurried across the crater pocked ground of the Nevada Proving Grounds, hot in pursuit of a small lizard that had been caught unawares in these early hours of the morning. It darted and ducked between the small remaining pieces of long-dead shrubbery, narrowly avoiding the deadly beak of the bird as it stabbed down over and over.
With a final swoop the lizard was caught by the bird, the speedy avian nipped it by the leg and tossed it up into the air. If the lizard had any consciousness left it, perhaps, would have been thankful at its speedy demise at the beak of the bird. The gate formed slowly, and then all at once. Tendrils of energy whipped out from the pulsating orb, striking any and all living organics in the immediate vicinity. It sapped their life force, drank it up from the insects to the birds to the plants. The growth of the gate was exponential. It exploded outward, forming its own new crater in the depths of the Mojave, obliterating everything for miles. Those few workers in the military base were lost to its wrath.
It is known now that the years of nuclear testing in the Proving Grounds had worn away the barrier between our world and the next. The radiation had eaten away at the energies that lined the walls of creation, and eventually, those walls broke down altogether. All it took was the spark of one dying lizard, its life energies trickling into the core of the breach, breaking the dam of creation.
The seismic shock of the exploding breach was felt as far away as Las Vegas, vibrations the city had not felt for decades. Those few scientists in the bunkers beneath the sand, tending to the plutonium storage units, were snuffed out in an instant. Vaporised by the meldings of earthly radiation and otherworldly energies. The Americans reacted quickly, assuring their people that it had been nothing more than an earthquake. The fear in the offices of the Whitehouse that day was palpable, the fear it had been some old anti-soviet experiment finally going terribly wrong. When they arrived at the site of the Gate, they realised the truth was much more terrible.
“Damn it, I want a smoke,” Adam said. He shrugged uncomfortably in his biocontainment suit. His nerves were racing as he stared down the barrel of the Gate, its wrongness saturating his body and clawing at his bones. Every part of him wanted to turn and run, it was only the heft of the M4 Carbine in his hands that kept him grounded.
“Keep the coms on task, Adam,” Snapped Lillith, the teams commanding officer. He gave her a nod in response, they’d been working together long enough that she was more than used to his snide remarks. They usually came moments before everything hit the fan.
“Operation Canary is a go,” came the crackle of their handler over the com system. “Drone entry in ten seconds, assume ready positions for the worst-case outcome.”
None of them knew what that worst-case outcome would be, but the four US Marines slunk down onto one knee and trained their carbines at the Gate aperture all the same. The drone, a simple quadcopter with a pre-set flight plan and camera strapped to the bottom, buzzed past them overhead. They had been expecting something dramatic, but the drone seemed to enter without any issue. All four of the Marines heard the gasp of the scientists and their handler.
“What’s the deal here, Sir?” Lillith asked, shifting her weapon in her hands. “Are we good?”
They stayed like that for several minutes, waiting for either the drone to return or their handler to update them on the situation.
Eventually, they were recalled to the Forward Operating Base that had been set up on the outskirts of the crater field. Their handler made them sign advanced Non-Disclosure agreements, they were never to mention the events that had transpired that day, not even to each other. As far as the rest of the world would know, nothing unusual had ever happened in the Mojave that day.
In truth, everything had changed.
After signing a set of NDAs Lillith and Adam had not expected to be suiting up to confront the anomaly in the Mojave desert again, but seven days after their excursion that was exactly what the pair were doing. Their standard hazmats had been discarded in favour of bulky containment suits, padded with extra armour and flame retardant add ons. It was as if someone had taken a bomb squad suit and stripped it down to the bare essentials, an attempt at giving a wearer maximum movement and maximum protection while probably failing at both. It also meant Adam couldn’t smoke.
“What’s with all the extra gear, chief,” Adam asked, shifting uncomfortably in his suit.
Lillith shot him a look, the answer seemed to be right on the tip of her tongue, but she wouldn’t tell him the whole story. It had been that way ever since the pair had been told that they would be returning to the Anomaly site. The details of the mission were on a need to know basis, and clearly, Adam hadn’t been given the green light. He didn’t like it, stank of the higher-ups, and when management got their hands involved in military operations it never ended well. The thought gave him a start. When had he started thinking of this as a purely military operation?
“Come on, let’s get this done,” Lillith barked and nodded her head to the opening flap of the tent, her tone didn’t invite discussion.
The anomaly looked unchanged from the last time Adam and Lillith had been in the Mojave. He wasn’t sure if he had expected it to have changed over the few days since they had been driven back to the forward operating base, he wasn’t sure if he was hoping that it had. The wrongness still permeated every inch of his being, he felt tainted just by looking into the swirling vortex of colour and light that shimmered in the morning desert sun.
“It goes without saying that this mission is of the utmost importance,” the voice of their handler crackled over the comm sets in their helmets. “What you do and see here today could forever change the course of human history.”
“And what is it we’re doing here, exactly?” Adam cut in, his southern drawl more pronounced than usual. “Seems Lillith knows, but I ain’t been told a damn thing.”
“We thought, considering your religious background, it would not do well to worry you unduly,” the handler responded.
“My religious background?”
“We believe we’re sending you into hell.”
The history books will always remember the sacrifice of Adam and Lillith. The two soldiers sent into the Gate with no real knowledge of what may be waiting on the other side. They had been told that they would be stepping into a world that looked, for all intents and purposes, like the hell of religion and lore. A firey world of brimstone and ash, molten lakes of rock, the screams of the damned drifting on the hot and heavy wind. No one really knew if the pair believed the analysis that had been provided to them as they took those first steps into the unknown. No one would ever be able to ask them, either. The pair never returned from beyond the gate. Though something else did.
An hour after the two humans had stepped over the threshold of the gate it began to shimmer and shake. Rippling slightly in the air. Dark clouds drew themselves around the aperture, crackling with lightning and thrumming with thunder. Then they came.
A stream of creatures, around the size of a small dog, erupted from the Gate. They were fluffy, they had small ears atop their heads, human-like eyes on their faces and similar mouths to rats or hamsters. Their bodies were both long and fat, and instead of the usual four legs of any other small fluffy creature on the Earth, they had six. The creatures flew from the gate, though they had no wings or any other visible means of propulsion. Bullets seemed to have no impact on the creatures, harmlessly bouncing off their fluffy exteriors as if they were wearing some extreme form of armour. They were the first Demons.
These creatures spewed themselves across the planet and sought out any child under the age of 13, binding themselves to the child that they felt the most affinity to. There was nothing the governments of the world could do. The truth about the Anomaly, and the States attempt to hide it from the view of the world, quickly surfaced. Parents were not happy that creatures that could be Demons from the dimension of hell itself had connected themselves to their children. They were worried. Worried what it meant for the future, worried about why only children were chosen, worried that it may all be a herald of the end of days.
But time passed, people adjusted. Demons were, eventually, welcomed as companions to the young. As new children were born new demons arrived, pulsing from the gate every moment of every day, binding to newborns from their very first breath. Society was forever altered, but life went on.
Five years had passed since the first demonic incursion on the Earth. Any child or teenager with a Demon at this point began to notice changes in their furry companion’s behaviours. Before this point in time, the creatures had been fiercely loyal to their masters and were around as intelligent as a common dog or cat. That was when those who had been with their Demons from the beginning began to hear the voices in their heads.
They were subtle and quiet at first, barely brushing at the edges of their consciousness, but undeniably there. Some thought they were going crazy, others thought that this was finally the beginning of the end that their parents had raved about when the Demons first arrived. But some knew that this was just the next natural evolution.
Those simple brushes quickly became words, words became sentences, and within weeks people were connecting with their demons in ways never before thought possible. It took five years for a demon to complete the first stage of integration with their partner, and with that brought forth telepathic communication.
Despite all the studies that had been completed on the first twenty years after the Demon Incursion, no one has been able to give a definite reason for the startling and sudden shift in Demon physiology and abilities that occurred on the twentieth anniversary of the initial incursion. The most widely accepted school of thought claims that the Demons reacted to us, to our old entrenched expectations of what a Demon should be, and morphed themselves to better fit what we thought they should have been. It was like a tidal wave. The change began first in the most religious of communities, cute and cuddly demons morphing to grotesque beings in seconds, unable to change back to their previous forms.
Once again panic gripped the world, and once again the world quickly adjusted and moved on. While the appearance of our cuddly demonic friends had changed to become something that was nowhere near as appealing, they were still bonded to us. We were unable to separate ourselves from them, so we moved on.
This change was a sign of the final integration between Demon and Partner.
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