Marielle and Oliver squirmed as the gate attendant walked them through the paperwork.
“Since you’ve certified that you have read and accepted the agreement license,” said the attendant, raising a sceptical eyebrow at their apparent mastery of speed-reading and legal expertise, “I just need your on-camera acknowledgment. Do you agree to indemnify Overzone Portal Adventures Incorporated against any and all trespasses and offenses given by you which may result in your being burned as demons, exalted as gods, burned as gods or otherwise fined, imprisoned, sacrificed, eaten or incinerated?”
Their backpacks rattled with their vigorous nodding. The satisfied attendant smiled and handed them each a passcard on a lanyard. “This will unlock the security fields. Each card is keyed to the wearer’s DNA, so don’t mix them up. And remember the Overzone rule: leave nothing but footprints, bring back nothing but photos.”
“I thought she’d never let us go,” laughed Oliver as they stepped through the portal onto a brand new world. The air smelled of tangerines, the sky was a lavender haze and a distant flock of creatures like lions crossed with bats circled about a levitating crystal the size of an apartment block.
“So boring,” giggled Marielle. “All those rules.”
“Don’t forget the stipulations!”
“And the precepts!”
They chortled as they hiked, following the guidebook they downloaded from an anonymous Spreadit user: The Top 100 Spectacles of the Gleaming Principalities. The Principalities was upvoted as one of the five best alternate cosmologies cleared for tourist travel since the discovery of multiversal interstitial tunnelling technology. Tyranno Centralis, Kirbyworld and the Endless Beaches all catered to a wide range of tastes, but for adventurers Marielle and Oliver, nothing beat a realm of picturesque vistas, exotic creatures and scientifically inexplicable high magic.
And what vistas! As they chewed protein bars on a high mountain pass, a migration of Boulderlings, living granite creatures, passed below them in a rumbling religious pilgrimage the guidebook referred to as an Avalanche. They filled memory cards with shot after high definition shot.
Later they came upon a moonlit lake shimmering with silver mist, where dolphins transformed into women and wove their streaming lengths of hair into intricate plaits, decorated with fishbones, pearls and iridescent lobster claws. Maintaining a discrete distance, they took their photos in reverent silence.
Next they visited the Golden Coliseum, a vast stadium constructed from the bronzed bones of giants. There, along with a thousand creatures of all shapes and sizes, they cheered on a herd of unicorns winning a mixed martial arts grudge match against an adolescent dragon. Neither quite understood the details of the dispute, as relayed to them by the drunken triple-trunked elephant in the row behind them, but they got some killer closeups.
With food supplies running low, they reluctantly returned to the waiting portal. As they emerged from the Warlock Woods into the Vale of Allure, they noticed they were being followed. A squat figure approached with a wobbling gait, making sniffing noises.
“Is that an oversized rabbit in a trenchcoat wearing a comically foppish hat?” asked Oliver.
“I’ma take its photo,” said Marielle. She and the rabbit converged with timid, cautious steps, until they were face to face. Marielle set her phone camera on automatic and cooed at the magical creature. In response, the rabbit leaned its bunny face close and reached out a timid paw.
“I think he wants to take a selfie!” squealed Marielle.
Oliver held his own phone up, recording the scene. “Let him. This’ll go viral for sure.”
Marielle held out the phone. The rabbit fumbled with its enormous fuzzy paws. It turned the camera over and peered with big eyes. It twitched its nose and clicked its tongue.
Then it said, “Got it boys.” The trenchcoat immediately popped open from the inside and fell to the ground, revealing three rabbits sitting atop each other’s shoulders. They tumbled apart like a circus act.
The top rabbit tossed the phone to her grey short-hair companion. “Do the honours, Cloudpuff.”
The grey rabbit started tapping at the phone’s screen, muttering to himself, “Unlocked…card storage…gallery files…yep, all here. Mellowgrass?” He tossed it to the third rabbit, a brown angora.
“Wh- what is this?” Oliver scowled, still filming.
Mellowgrass the angora shook his head. “Lotta good stuff here, Flopknot. Illegal recording of a religious ceremony – the Boulderlings don’t like that. Unlicensed shots of a golden ticket cage fight – Volcantio’s agent is notoriously litigious and they’ll be looking for a payday after the Trott clan rolled him. And oooh, paydirt!”
“What’s that?” asked Flopknot, the fuzzy-cheeked leader, kinking one ear and looking directly into Oliver’s camera.
“Paparazzi shots of Princess Longsnout and her entourage nuding it up. Very candid. Great use of natural lighting too.”
“Dear oh dear, Cloudpuff. Can you recall a more egregious case of unpermitted photography?”
Cloudpuff shook his head gravely. “Multiple counts of gross invasion of privacy. Why, if these shots were brought to light I doubt these two would see the outside of an oubliette ever again.”
“Privacy?” barked Oliver.
“But we didn’t know!” complained Marielle.
“Really? Those Overzone agreement licenses are awfully specific.” Flopknot reached into her hat and pulled out an electronic tablet, which booted up with a cheerful bing.
“They were?” said Oliver. “Wait, you get wifi here?”
“We’ve got wizards on staff, we can have whatever we like. Now, as duly appointed officers of the courts of the Gleaming Principalities, let’s talk about your schedule of fines.”
Flopknot named a figure in “golden franchets”, which did not sound too bad until she held up her tablet screen to show them the currency exchange rate. “We accept Paypal, InfraCash and all major credit cards.”
“But that’s a fortune,” wailed Marielle. “Can’t we come to some arrangement?”
Flopknot scratched her chin. “Well, there’s always the oubliette, or –”
“Or? Or?” cried Oliver and Marielle together.
“We can come down maybe ten percent for a really nice review on the Overzone forums.”
Mellowgrass added, “And an upvote for my guidebook.”
I’m still sick, so today’s 1000-word story is very much from the “sorry for the long letter but I didn’t have time to write you a short one” school of composition. Share if you liked it, and if you didn’t – well, I will almost certainly probably go back to something slightly less silly next week.