The Three at the Edge of the Universe

The three figures stared at the crackling little fire, watching as a log occasionally split and sent a shower of sparks flying upward into the sky.

“Getting low on wood,” one of the three finally spoke up.

The other two didn’t move. They didn’t even look around, didn’t take their eyes off of the flickering flames. They especially didn’t look up at the rather strange architectural geometry of the sky above them, how the pinpricks of starlight in the night sky seemed to warp, as if they viewed the world through a fisheye lens.

The first figure waited another minute, tapping his fingers on the side of the log he’d drawn up as a makeshift seat. “I guess I’ll go get some more, shall I? Again,” he added pointedly.

The second figure finally stirred, just enough to glance over at the first. “Yes,” she spoke, in perfect, dulcet tones that would move any being with the capacity for love to tears of joy. “That would be good of you.”

The first figure stood up, turned to look away from the fire, planting his hands on his hips. “Don’t say anything about how I’ve been the one to get more firewood for the last hundred and eighty universal revolutions,” he muttered to himself as he stomped away. “Sure, good ol’ Hester’s always willing to get up and go stomp around this damn place. He’s always been full of energy, you’re doing him a favor by making him retrieve all the wood.”

The female figure around the campfire tutted to herself, shaking her head slightly as she listened to Hester’s mutterings slowly receding away. “He knows that our focus is elsewhere,” she sighed.

The planet on which they sat was barely deserving of the name; a hundred steps would put one back where he began, having completed a full circumnavigation of its surface. On the far side grew its only structure; a tree, its arms branching down to cling to the external firmament, harvesting energy for its growth from beyond, the outside.

As Hester hewed away at some of the tree’s branches, he took care to keep away from the little holes left behind in the air when he tugged the branches free. “Not falling out there, no sir,” he muttered. “Barely made it through that space last time. Not getting another dose of exposure of that, no, not for me!”

Closing her eyes, the woman tuned out Hester’s mutterings. Hester was the most awake and aware of the three, but this kept his eyes on the present, unable to penetrate the fog that occluded the time stream from them at further distances.

She, on the other hand, had fewer scales on her eyes.

“Things are progressing,” she spoke up, seemingly to herself. Her companion, still motionless beside her, gave no indication that he heard her words. Still, she spoke them just the same. “It has taken long for this universe to mature, longer than even we expected. But we move closer.”

One of the branches caught, snagged on the hole to outside. Hester grimaced, wrapping both hands around its base to tug it free. For a moment, as it finally came loose, he caught a glimpse through the hole it left behind, a glimpse of dizzying color, madness twisted into horrible shapes that no mortal could ever hope to comprehend.

He swatted at the hole with the branch until it closed back up. “Nasty outside,” he muttered to himself, tossing the branch onto its fellows and reaching up to rub absent-mindedly at the puckered scar on his shoulder. “Bites, it does.”

“The wood, Hester,” the woman called, and Hester roused himself from his momentary reverie.

“Yeah, coming, hold your damn halo,” he grimaced, scooping up the harvested branches in his hands. “Whole thing’s silly. We could head closer to the center, set up a nice kingdom, put ourself back into a nice spot of power like we had before.”

“And you saw how that ended, didn’t you?” the woman said severely as Hester stomped back around the tiny little planet to bring the wood pile closer to the fire. “Annihilation, intended for us as well as the rest of the universe. If He,” and she jerked her thumb towards the silent third figure, “hadn’t intervened, we’d be as gone as the rest of that world.”

“Hard to remember,” Hester said, a little petulantly, as he fed sticks into the little campfire. “All fades, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” The woman softened her tone, reached out to rub his shoulder. “But I can see our next steps. They grow clearer, and our time approaches. We near the tipping point, when even our feather-light touch will be enough to shift the balance.”

“Feathers. Don’t remind me.” Hester’s fingers stole up towards that puckered scar on his back again. His eyes drifted to the third figure. “He said anything?” he asked, his voice tinged with both hope and fear.

The woman shook her head. “Nothing. We still have time.”

“Still say we ought to just push him out one of the holes, out into oblivion.” Hester shivered. “Having two avatars of the same concept in the same universe. Just seems like asking for trouble.”

“He’s necessary,” the woman said simply. “He will strike when the time is right.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Hester pushed another stick into the fire. The flames roared up a bit higher as they consumed the new fuel, casting light out over the three figures. The light highlighted Hester’s scarred features, still somehow retaining their inhuman beauty despite the marred imperfections. The light sank into the woman’s wrinkles, cutting her face into an intricate tracery of lines. The light reflected off the thin, shining white limbs of the third figure, bouncing around inside its deep, empty eye sockets, over the white teeth frozen in their permanent grin.

Inside one of those eye sockets, clean and free of any flesh or muscle, a cold blue flame licked into momentary light before extinguishing itself again. Neither Hester nor the woman noticed.

“Probably gonna end up going for more wood in a bit,” Hester grumped, sitting down on his log. “This takeover better go a little smoother than last time, that’s all I have to say.”

Above them, the stars curved around the edge of the universe, the light bending around the tiny little hidden planetoid at its very edge.

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