Once upon a time, in a land beyond reason and hope, two bunnies embarked on an adventure to the Unthinkable City.
“This is the worst place we’ve ever been,” spluttered Mellowgrass, shaking rank sewer-water from his matted angora fur.
“It was your idea,” observed Cloudpuff. Somehow, he had escaped the worst effects of the Nonemyr city’s waste; his grey pelt was next to pristine.
“My idea was to send an elite force of highly trained commandos to disable the enemy’s communication networks. Nowhere did I mention requiring the services of a punch-drunk thug and an accountant.”
“Next time don’t leave room for interpretation.” The gas streetlamps made little impression on their foggy surroundings, but Cloudpuff’s ears turned this way and that, like bent, puffy radars. “I can’t hear anyone.”
“Of course not,” said Mellowgrass, as his tablet loaded a navigation app that was one part maths to three parts magic. “This is Orphexas, the Unthinkable City. Nobody lives here.”
Cloudpuff waited in vain for a punchline. “Nobody? Then why are there streets? Why are there buildings, and road signs, and gas lighting?”
Mellowgrass shrugged. “Cities are supposed to have those things. Even cities with no people.”
“But where did the sewerage come from?”
“Oh. That’s just because the city hates us.”
Orphexas the Unthinkable City was the throne of Nonemyr, if Nonemyr could be said to have a throne or a monarch to sit upon it. The bunnies crept through its misty laneways and alleys, leaping for cover whenever shadows loomed at them from the fog.
“I wish just for once you’d let me punch someone,” complained Cloudpuff, as they hunkered behind the tarnished statue of some ancient, tattered noble. Something soundless and shadowy seemed to lumber through the mist, just distant enough to obscure details beyond its sense of malice.
“I told you, there’s nobody here to punch.” Mellowgrass’ attention was fixed on the screen map, which displayed their position, surrounded by slow-moving dots.
“Then who’s searching for us?”
Mellowgrass counted slowly to twenty under his breath. Cloudpuff’s ignorance of the plan’s finer details, which he now felt strongly correlated with the snoring he’d heard throughout their briefing, was not the problem. What mattered was avoiding feeling the slightest sense of impatience, or anything else.
“Everything we’ve seen and heard so far is a distraction. Or rather, an invitation to be distracted. Chase after shadows, and they’ll become your greatest desire.” Mellowgrass sniffed the air and, sensing the danger had passed for the moment, stood up. “Someone to have an enormous fistfight with, in your case.”
“Wishes granted, huh?”
“Yes, but only in the twisted sense, like from a monkey’s paw or a drunk genie.”
Cloudpuff brightened at that. “Hey, remember that time I knocked a genie out?”
“You blindsided him with a sap made from compressed stardust and pixie hide while he was trying to chat up Flopknot.”
“Yeah,” said Cloudpuff happily. “Good times.”
At the heart of the Unthinkable City stood a throne, and upon it sat a king. They had not existed before the bunnies’ arrival, and would vanish the moment they were gone. But Mellowgrass hoped to find them, and so there they were, waiting.
“That’s the King of the Nonemyr?”
The court was a plain stone hall, water-stained and smelling of mould. The colourless banners were limp and frayed. Yellow glass shards littered the floor below cracked picture windows depicting indecipherable tomes.
The throne was simple, wooden, and bent with rot. The withered King slumped slack on one arm.
“There is no Nonemyr King,” said Mellowgrass, not taking his eyes off the decayed figure before them. “There are no Nonemyr. It’s not a country. It’s not a people. It’s just a corrosive idea that wants to spread everywhere.”
With a voice like autumn leaves crushed beneath an armoured boot, the King said, “Have you brought my Champion?”
Cloudpuff cracked his knuckles and flexed his wrists. “So, this is Princess Naomi’s big play? The armies, the raids – those were all diversions so we could kick this raggedy dope’s bony rear?”
Mellowgrass shook his head. Now the moment was upon him, he was surprised to discover he didn’t need to marshal his emotions. Calm radiated through him, and whether it was down to the elegantly simple mathematics of the plan, or the cocktail of drugs in his bloodstream, didn’t matter one bit.
“Nonemyr is a corruption of the imagination. It exists to erode inspiration. And it’s drawn to the hopes and expectations it means to destroy. Cloudpuff, you hope to get the fight of your life here, and you will. But I hoped to be trapped by the Nonemyr essence in one of its centres of power, and so I have. It won’t let us leave until it has extinguished us.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Cloudpuff, we’re the diversion.”
Patterns of sickly yellow light fell across them as the fallen glass rose from the floor and began to spin around an indistinct, inhuman cloud-person.
“Here is my Champion,” said the King, as the razor-skinned cloud raised arms like jagged swords.
Cloudpuff snarled and hopped forward, slashing flat-palmed at the glass creature. Shards splintered and flew away. Cloudpuff retreated, paws and wrists already bloodied.
“I get my fight,” he said, licking blood from a paw, grinning like a feral. “What do you get?”
Mellowgrass fell to his knees, breathless, and flopped sideways. The King cackled, but not with mirth. The Champion rattled liked a shattering window and waited.
“Mellowgrass!”Cloudpuff propped Mellowgrass up.
Mellowgrass’ smile wobbled. “I get to hold it here. Nonemyr won’t stop until it destroys my mind, but my mind’s going where it can’t follow.”
He opened his paw to reveal a crystal phial dotted with purple droplets.
“Courtesy of her Highness. Classic witch plan. S-sorry we couldn’t…sh-share it…with-”
His ears fell limp.
Cloudpuff set his friend down gently and turned to the King and its Champion.
“Captive audience, eh?” he said, shivering the blood from his fur. “Just how I like it.”
No, this is not fan service for people who think (no spoilers) that the Game of Thrones finale didn’t kill off enough characters.
Or is it? I have an extremely sucky cold and it feels like all my ribs are cracked from coughing, so it’s fair to say even I don’t know what I’m thinking any more.
This is the 98th consecutive week of Friday flash fiction (woo!), so I’m looking forward to probably taking a couple of weeks off in June to regroup. It won’t be the end of the FFF, though I haven’t quite worked out what schedule I’ll run with in the aftermath.