All trembled softly.
There were a Servant and a Despised. Two of them: two Beings of Old, two powers who acted for reasons and causes both stunningly comprehensible and soberingly labyrinthine. Two Olds, whose metaphorical (and, in the case in question, literal) mass could skew the expansion of universes. Two creatures who enjoyed little, wanted little, and normally did little. Two things who might be considered gods of the many-faceted gem of reality.
On this occasion, over a region whose very scope complicated designating a duration for the affair in light of such things as relativity, the possibly-ambiguously-hypothetically mortal entities played at battle. It was not the first time these particular foes had crossed swords, and would not be the last.
Poacher, as he was and had been called for a fascinatingly large number of years, cautiously and sparingly acted. That was his nature. His primary quality was that of the ambush, of setting a trap either millennia or moments prior to his quarry’s arrival. His physical form resembled a gelatinous eukaryotic protoplasm of some kind, tendrils snaking around the tools of his trade – a pilum, a highly specialized blunderbuss, and a brutal sawtoothed snare with far too many hinges. These were more totems than actual apparatus, though they also had tremendous use in their own right. A glowing cubic formation transgressed the otherwise featureless tan membrane of what one might think of as his head.
His precise location was three kilometers beneath the skin of half of a rocky planet, where twenty seconds ago he had considered himself three kilometers beneath the skin of a whole rocky planet.
The reasons for both Poacher’s hiding and the segmentation of the globe into halves which bled their small but vital molten insides away coincided in the person named Predator.
Both deformed parts of the barren honeycombed planet suffered the indignity of a ray-straight knife wedge of sharpened bone. The bone possessed sufficient length that seeing either end of it would have been impossible from the surface of its tungsten-heavy victim had the world boasted an atmosphere. The bone’s width meant that, unless it were removed, one could not see the half of the globe serving as Poacher’s refuge if they stood anywhere on the opposite half.
Fifteen or sixteen hundred parsecs distant, Poacher knew, a vaguely human-looking golden shape scanned the fruits of his effort from above a small galaxy’s broad surface. It boasted eyes darker than the void surrounding it, a hot glow like one might see in forge-worked metal, and a total lack of hair or clothing. The shape, like Poacher’s own, might appear far too small to generate such precipitous events – an opinion which could hold its integrity indefinitely in the mind of an idiot.
The calamitous spine that Predator had called into being, then sent to bisect the little planet like a cleaver through a grape, eventually elicited a response. The same had happened with a considerable portion of planets, and moons, and stars, and other gravitationally significant objects littering the sky. Not always; many times a colossal tooth or horn or talon disemboweled its gigantic prey without more consequence than furthering destruction, and tallying off another place where Poacher had not yet been found.
Given that he had finally struck close to Poacher’s haven of tunnels and metals and lithic layers, Predator would have been thrilled if his foe made the perfectly fatal mistake of fleeing. After all, when things ran from other things, they fell into Predator’s compass, and became his undisputed prey. If he did so, Poacher would be found and subjugated in an instant.
Instead, a flickering ribbon of violent throbbing aura boiled from the dying core’s viscera, then gushed back at the distant form of Predator. It was one of countless mechanisms scattered like chaff through their section of the cosmos. Millions had already triggered, each doing their part to microscopically weaken the almost animalistic Old. Millions more lay in wait for their turn, their instant of transient glorious use.
Poacher had no name for the directed energy tool he had dropped into the middle of his world some short while ago, but it shone with a terrible brilliance which could strip flesh from bone and body from soul. When it lashed outward at speeds which mocked reason and submerged the soundlessly howling Predator in a lance of its spume, it had notably less drastic effect. To compensate for this fact, its target reacted with frustration.
A scintillating body swelled into titanic form, so far away that the mere detection of its presence should have taken eons rather than moments. A gilded taloned palm scooped up the nearby blue giant star, the blazing orb like a grain of sand in the surface of the hand. With a snarl baring teeth spawned by nightmares from within nightmares, Predator released the sun, and it banished the night sky. Again, faster than the local constant of light speed should have indulged, the natural nuclear reactor swept over Poacher’s hiding place.
That was foolish of him, judged the quieter Old after some time, safely enclosed in the larger burning object. Now he will need to peel away the sun as well if he wants to find me. He coiled in on himself in distaste. As long as this hot gas is not actually one of Kris’s children, that is, or else that fool will probably step in on our business.
Fortunately for Poacher’s peace of mind, no third party intruded on their little game. The game, it transpired, would go on for a long while yet.
They had met by happenstance, then relocated their skirmish to a disk of stars far into their universe’s gamma-soaked wilderness. They had a vested interest in avoiding unintended deaths at this stage: fewer lives to shape for their respective ideals. Their fight patently played two different roles against each other, and that suited them equally. A pair of hunters, one patient and armed with hordes of poisoned needles, the other a fabulously hardy bludgeoning berserker.
On the one hand, if Poacher did anything more aggressive than seeding surprises on an extremely occasional basis, Predator would immediately hone in on his position. On the other, while a single petulant swipe could dismantle every heavenly body in the galaxy’s twisting arms, Predator could not do so without awakening the remainder of Poacher’s presents. It was almost beautifully stupid in its primitive shape, their deadlock.
Would Predator smash and cut through just the right crossroads of time and space?
Would Poacher’s legions of tricks eventually take their toll?
They both kept at it. The Olds could feel a change coming. Some major turning point in the war of their respective kinds approached quickly, and whichever won their confrontation would gain the privilege of subjugating his opponent. That single temporary removal of a player in their quiet but unsubtle war might tip the balance.
Whatever that tip of the balance meant… it was something unprecedented. Their natures attuned them to certain milestones of histories prematurely, even those histories higher up the chain of abstraction. Something that came onward, something deliciously novel, waited at the apoapsis of their journey. For Beings of Old whose existences outlasted the lifespans of entire realities, that made for more than sufficient incentive.