Fringe Elements #1: Three’s a Crowd

Three figures trod across a soggy plain, disparate feet displacing pale bluish sand. On every side they faced tidal pools filled by iridescent fish and crustaceans–often nestled in crevices and bowls formed by the lowest spurs of peculiar half-circle rock formations in dark reds and oranges. Fewer but much larger formations created ridges and causeways of porous aqua-colored stone. Like shrunken mountain ranges, these carved up the landscape, ranging from knee-high to large as a house.

Miles away waited the true coast, all slate-grey cliffs and green moss. At a few points on the blue skies surrounding them there hovered a glowing gaseous substance, including some tendrils reaching up to obscure the violet sun and its unlikely golden corona. The energy, or matter, or both as the case might be, was cobalt strung here and there with jet black. Ripples, both bluish and clear, along with lightning arcs and brief black tears upon reality’s fabric, snagged out from it.

The Uncanny Marrow; after several journeys here on Creation’s Fringe, both the construct and the scientist had become used to seeing it. The priest was born beneath it, and distrusted a day when they couldn’t glimpse it lurking over the world.

“Look,” the middle figure said, “I understand the broader geopolitical perspective, but I simply can’t support this hypothetical one-world government. The lack of external counterbalances makes the system ripe for corruption, which I’ve found endemic here on the Fringe already.” He stood somewhere between seven and eight feet tall, a fleshy four-legged creature with a binary spinal structure: two separate torsal halves, wrapped by muddy-hued flesh, which rejoined to support a heavy ovoid mouth lined by thousands of interlocking teeth.

His “eyes” were elongated, asymmetric blobs which doubled as ears, undulating pinkish membranes over dark, pulsating blue, assigned one per torso. He wore protective crystalline cases over each, which in turn fitted into a gleaming suit made from a coppery substance arranged into many whining servos and twisting joints supporting his limbs: four stumpy legs, two long spindly arms.

Thlib,” his left-hand companion groaned, “you’re hearing but not listening. I’m not saying one singular government that controls everything. I think there should be one central authority with enough power to hold any given handful of the others in line, but not so much that it can maintain a total autocracy over the planet.”

They stood shorter than the alien, about six feet tall, and wore thick snow-white robes embroidered in shimmering ice-blue patterns with an inner layer woven from an ultramarine silk so dark it appeared black when they turned too far from the light–not that much could be seen of this layer, for jet-black plate armor and a stark helm obscured the inner-robe, all wreathed in impossible snowy gusts: a disciple of the reclusive frost goddess, Mirtulla.

Austere in dress, perhaps, but not manner; they smiled brightly, shaking their head such that they stirred a silver amulet featuring half a blue snowflake–its other half blurring away into carefully-carved mist. Their skin, a rich brown shaded by their helm’s opened visor, reflected glints from the surrounding sea-pools.

It might be said they strove for prettiness, and seemed to like dark eye-shadow and lip-paints well enough. Yet though fine-faced with a keen jaw and bright silver eyes beneath deep blue hair so they might be considered feminine, it was impossible to say for truth whether they were man or woman.

With each step, the Tundra-Chaplain, for such they were, thumped an unusually long and well-made polehammer, its haft lacquered midnight blue, bound by silver langets and rings, its hammer, spearhead and spike all wrought of a white metal from which bronze light streamed.

“Oh, I heard that part, but I’m not convinced the distinction is meaningful,” Thlib, or rather, Thlibnarinc, continued. He thumped in a wide arc around a pool within which glowered a sinuous, sharp-snouted creature with many fins distributed among three tails, much larger even than himself. “Fascinating thing,” he noted, before finishing, “the Fringe’s peoples, in general, tend to be, er, immature? I’m not arguing against the very concept of a one-world government, nor this central authority you propose. I’m arguing against their specific application here. I really do hate to be the snide offworlder, but… sometimes the snide offworlder is right, you know?”

“I think they’re all lovely and they just need to hear it more,” said the last of the trio, who it must be admitted didn’t tread so much as hinge forth in uncanny fashion. She, for such she deemed herself and such she was, featured a bronze core looking perhaps like a more-geometric amphora with the front of its eight faces being half-hollow. Within, many lights of every color formed vague eye-like shapes. Counting this alone, she had the stature of a mid-sized dog.

Concave spars, jutting out from asymmetrical points on the core, supported “arms” made from many interlocking plates, gold and steel and copper, bolted to skeletal steel rods with no joints as such; instead, squelching flesh and black wires held them altogether and linked into slots within the core from which rosy, glowing mist drifted. The same energy burst forth as the many arms lashed out with gleaming hooks, crafted from pure diamond in segmented iron backing. They tore into no visible substance, pulling the entity along to keep pace with her friends.

“Appy, I hope you never change,” the Tundra-Chaplain said.
“It’s a little ill-omened, isn’t it?” Thlib asked. “That sort of statement, I mean.” He recoiled under a withering glare. “Apologies, Cadence. No cynicism around Appy.”
“It was more silly than cynical,” Appy said helpfully, hooking her away across space until she could face Thlib “head”-on. “Well, alright, maybe it was a little cynical, but aren’t you a scientist? Superstition seems very silly to me if you are!” Her core-lights narrowed and changed shape, imitating eyes wrinkled in laughter.

“Causal distortion by arcane factors is a well-documented fact of our universe, and one which clearly applies even in a closed system like the Fringe,” Thlib said. “Otherwise, how is it everywhere we go is full of–” he shot a glance at Cadence. They shook their head, slowly and with finality. “–really interesting people,” Thlib finished. It didn’t need to be a very good lie; Appy, bless her, had all the guile and insight of three kaleidoscopes coated in solidified honey.

Creation’s Fringe being the world it was, this made Cadence their defacto leader. Of course, they’d have led anyway; Cadence liked being in charge. In local terms, anyway, they thought, kissing two fingers and holding the digits due north. The coastal flats around the trio would flood again whether in hours or days; a few stranded sea-beasts, both “mundane” sharks and specimens unique to the Fringe, were trapped in pools. Some unfortunates lay air-drowned amidst seaweed and wave-laid tracks of black crystal-dust to all sides.

The Tundra-Chaplain took a deep breath, extending their mind through the surrounding world. Of course, the effort drained Cadence, but flesh-senses couldn’t compare with psionic ones. They saw colors their human eyes couldn’t process, felt textures so fine a finger’s own print obscured them, and brushed the tiny electrical flickers left by non-sapient minds. It helped soothe Cadence, and prevent them from responding too forcefully to Thlib’s arguments. He made some fair points, after all.

Cadence soon soured; a sickly aura loomed ahead, tinging the psionic counter-pressure created only by sapient minds. Carved from coral chunks and supplemented by driftwood, an unusual frontier fishing village sprouted atop a “hill” to one side of their path. The Tundra-Chaplain didn’t bother asking Mirtulla whether they were meant to visit the village; the Boreal Lady never answered rhetorical questions.

(Next Episode Here)

That comments section down there isn’t just for show–how’re you enjoying this first episode? Don’t bother asking what the long-term plan for these three is, because I haven’t actually figured it out yet! As always, if you’d like to see more of this, then please leave a like, share it with your friends wherever you may go online, and consider supporting me on Patreon!

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