“This is Dimension None? But there’s nothing here.”
Miles Lorimer scuffed the toe of one gleaming Berluti oxford shoe through a grey ground fog with the consistency of treacle. A dull, silent whiteness surrounded the group, showing no trace of the Overzone multiversal portal they had just stepped through.
“Close your eyes and keep quiet,” replied Flopknot the bunny, as she wrapped Miles’ silk tie around a young woman’s head. The fighters fanned out around them to form a defensive perimeter. “Let the kid do her job. Is that tight enough, Jeralzine?”
“I can’t see anything, if that’s what you mean,” replied Jeralzine Stewpot, shaking in her oversized breastplate and sensibly flat-heeled ankle boots. “Are you sure you want to rely on me for this?”
“You’re doing fine, sweetheart,” said Bruyalle the Crafty, as she slipped two wickedly curved slicers from their sheathes and peered out into the haze. “Just relax and do what the bunny says.”
Flopknot rubbed the back of Jeralzine’s neck, her voice a soothing and melodious contrast to the soundless void about them.
“Dimension None is a conceptual space, unformed until form is imposed by conscious will. Jeralzine, I want you to picture a place where you feel completely unthreatened and perfectly at ease -”
Miles held up his phone. “If you need a secure location, I have detailed technical blueprints for my New Zealand apocalypse bunker right here. We’re talking state-of-the-art life support systems, impregnable bulkheads, supplies and entertainment for a decade, and a bodyguard of hot ex-Army Rangers for protection and company.”
Flopknot’s ear-tip twitched. “We’re looking for a safe zone, Miles, not a hellscape of paranoia, exploitation and toxic competitiveness.”
Bruyalle agreed. “A psychology twisted by the relentless appetites of mid-collapse capitalism is a poor scaffolding for community health.”
“Say another word, merchant, and I’ll strike your prattling head from your shoulders,” added Friedland the Mighty. For emphasis, he tapped a meaty finger on the dragon’s-head pommel of his gigantic zweihander sword.
“Fine,” sulked Lorimer, “but you Tolkein rejects are missing out on an 80-inch LED TV and every episode of The Inspector Otter Casefiles ever recorded.”
The smoke abruptly resolved into a high-domed room of blackened stonework and worn oak beams. A vast copper stove squatted along one wall, its wood-grate opened and tongues of flame licking out. Bundles of herbs, sausages and animal haunches hung on drying-hooks. The air was thick with the pungent memory of bubbling stews, crusty loaves and a million other delicacies. Gleaming knives were laid out on a long bench stained dark with blood and oil; cleavers, flensing knives, paring knives and everything in between waited to be put to their purpose.
“A mediaeval kitchen?” scoffed Miles. “Unventilated, unsanitary and occupied by overworked semi-skilled labourers with access to stabbing weapons?”
“This is the last place I ever felt safe,” murmured Jeralzine, removing her blindfold with a nervous look toward Bruyalle and Friedland. She’d worked in the royal kitchens of Princess Naomi’s Principality of Kepheleq, right up until they had dragged her away to be an adventurer.
“It’s perfect,” said Flopknot, ignoring the nervous exchange of looks between Friedland and Bruyalle. She held up an intricate assemblage of silver wires and glittering gemstones, arranged hexagonally like a miniature chandelier. Several gems glowed. “Localised unspace has resolved. Dimension None is fixed and stable, at least for the time being. Let’s get to work, people.”
Mellowgrass bowed so low his fuzzy brown ears brushed the grass. “Your Majesty,” he squeaked gravely, “we come bearing news.”
“I think we can dispense with the titles, bunnies. Doesn’t your crew do casual Fridays?”
Tammy the Witch wore a grubby gardening blouse and canvas trousers with padding at the knees. She might have looked out of place at the centre of a ten mile wide encampment of polished soldiers in livery of gold and charcoal, but on the whole it was probably the wreath of black, heatless flame encircling her head that most set her apart.
“Mistress Flopknot ain’t exactly known for her disciplinary laxity, ma’am,” observed Cloudpuff, a grey rabbit at Mellowgrass’ side.
“I suppose not,” said the Witch. “She might have more fun if she did. What news, then?”
“The advance team has successful established a stronghold in Dimension None.”
“Then the Nonemyr forces cannot navigate freely between worlds without tipping their hand. Or whatever manipulating appendage they happen to use.” The Witch looked down at her grubby calfskin gloves, still smudged with sap and potting-mud. It would have been nice to get the tulips into their beds before the campaigning began, but some things simply could not wait.
With a sigh, she transformed her blouse into sculpted plates of jet and crimson armour. The canvas trousers became greaves and thigh-length hardboots. Her gloves were now gauntlets, her floppy hat now a griffin-headed helm. In one hand, a scornsword rippled with black flame and urgent hunger. Mellowgrass and Cloudpuff rose to stand at her side, tiny fuzzy guardians of the spiky, marauding figure.
“Loyal soldiers of the Gleaming Principalities,” she said, too softly to be heard at the next camp-tent over, but ringing as clear as a war-bell in every one of ten thousand ears. “Today, we march on our enemies. The Nonemyr tried to destroy us with our love of learning, of language, of life itself. They tried to corrupt what we hold dearest. Nonemyr magic spoiled our food. Nonemyr magic dried our rivers. And I’m sure I needn’t remind anyone it was Nonemyr magic that turned every drop of alcohol in the realms to tasteless water. Shall we let that stand?”
“No, Princess!” came the thunderous cry.
“Shall we rebuke the Nonemyr with stern words?”
“Then shall we answer them with steel and fire?”
“Yes, Princess!” called her army. “Hail Kepheleq. Hail, the Gleaming Principalities! Hail, Princess Naomi!”
“Well then, bunnies,” said Princess Naomi, who was only the Witch of the Forlorn Reach on her days off, “let’s wage war, shall we?”
With only a few more weeks to get to the 100th consecutive week of Friday flash fiction, I might be starting to run out of time to wrap up a few hanging plot threads. This week’s installment probably needs something to happen before you could properly call it a story, so check back in next week to see if I bring things to an exciting conclusion or milk the scenario by making everything more complicated and tragic.
By now I should have blogged about the exciting outcome of the Aurealis Awards last weekend, where I was nominated in two categories. Did I win? Only a cursory google search or subtle deployment of the words “definitely not” may provide a hint. Hopefully I’ll have time to supply a more detailed and satisfactory account of my Melbourne adventures soon.