There is always someone bigger, stronger, faster, better looking and more talented. It’s a painful fact, but a fact nonetheless.
Just keep in mind that you might be holding the short end of the stick.
The beat shook the ground with each step Wendell took. Digital blips and scratches cut the air as thousands of bodies bounced and gyrated as one. Faces smiled and bobbed in mirrors along the walls, which made GAH deceptive in size. It’s…a spaceship. The only surfaces that he could see clearly were those illuminated by the small blue spotlights overhead. Hundreds of them, shining straight down onto the heads of the patrons moving to the music. Hands waved and heads wagged in time with the beat. Alhannah pulled him further in.
Trails of red lights trickled down either side of the ramp leading to the dance floor. Wendell, unsure, stepped and reached out for a railing that didn’t exist. His hand made contact with a girls arm.
“Sorry!” he clamored, “I’m so sorry—didn’t see you there!”
She batted her glowing orange eyelids back at him, “Anytime, handsome.”
Alhannah yanked him forward.
The song shifted, rising in tempo. Several girls screamed out, waving hands over their heads and shaking their hips to the new beat. Wendell noticed the dance floor was not only circular—it had levels. The blue spotlights overhead changed to red with a sudden flash. The smaller ring, closest to the center of the floor, turned inward. Wendell slowed down, pulling against Alhannah. Wow. New lights suddenly appeared. Smaller ones, hundreds of them, all attached to what he could only describe as a massive blue flower—slowly blossoming over the center of the dance floor. Speckles of light covered the surface of the flower, the petals opening and folding back to the ceiling above.
It was then that Wendell noticed the balconies above. Two tiers of the dance floor, tucked away in the darkness until the flower reached its full bloom and the lights on the petal tips pointed outward.
The crowd went wild, screaming and cheering. Wendell hopped up and down, ignoring Alhannah’s tugs, but he couldn’t see what everyone was looking at.
“ARRRRRE YOU READY TO PAR-TAY?” boomed the voice over the speakers. The crowd screamed in response. “THEN LET’S DO THIS THANG!”
Every bulb inside GAH exploded in a single flash of light.
“GAH!” Wendell yelled and threw his hands over his eyes. Nearby gnomes cheered.
“Just close your eyes,” yelled Alhannah, leaning closer, “Count to twenty and open them again.”
The beat intensified, synthesizers buzzing and echoing across the floor. Wendell opened his eyes as a giant platform began rising from the center of the dance floor. Up and up it climbed, towering over the dancing crowd as girls waved and guy pumped their fists into the air. The stem of the platform was covered in lights which spun and flashed to the music, bathing the patrons in multicolored pulses. “PUMP IT!” cried the speakers and instantly all arms were in the air, fists pushing into the air. On top of the rising platform bounced a fat gnome with painted skin and a glowing orange afro as big as his body.
Alhannah tugged on Wendell’s arm again, this time forcefully, and guided him around the rim of the dance floor.
This place is insane! He wondered how many gnomes were actually packed into the building. They were everywhere he looked and he wondered again if this is what a rave might look like back on Earth. Shamas and Dax were waiting for them at a small table.
“He’s here,” Shamas said, leaning forward so they could hear him over the pounding beat.
Dax looked around him, “Who’s here?”
But Alhannah turned in her seat until she faced the DJ dancing on the pillar. When she turned back, her jaw was set. “You ready?”
“Ready for what?” Dax asked louder, “What are you up to, young lady?”
She smiled, “Do it.” Shamas walked off as she scooted next to Dax. “I picked this place not because it’s the most popular club in the area, but because of one of the regulars. I thought it might be fun to get the competition started.” She bobbed her eyebrows up and down enthusiastically.
Everything was wild and intense and full of energy. Wendell loved it. The beat of the music and bouncing bodies were hard to ignore. Wish Lili had come with us.
A waitress appeared at the table with three drinks. She set them down on the table.
“We didn’t order anything,” Alhannah said cooly.
The waitress pointed over her shoulder at three young gnomes at the bar. They smiled and waved—three perfect china dolls with milky white complexions, round blue eyes and full red lips. “Compliments of the three over there.”
Dax smiled and reached for one of the blue glasses.
“They’re for him,” she clarified, nodding at Wendell.
“They’d like to know, sir,” she added, but this time looking directly at Wendell, “if you can leave your date for a few dances on the floor with them?”
Alhannah threw her head back and burst out laughing.
Dax frowned, staring longingly at the drinks. “Wait. Does that mean I can’t have one?”
Wendell tugged at his tie nervously, “W-what should I do?” He leaned over to Alhannah and whispered, “I’m not even a gnome.”
She laughed even louder, and held up a thumb to the girls at the bar. “You’ll be fine. If you like to dance, then go dance! Have some fun, there’s nothing to worry about. Not here. Not tonight.”
He smirked, “Yeah?”
She grinned and winked at him, “Yeah.”
In a flash Wendell was gone, bouncing across the floor. The three girls giggled and pulled him to the dance floor. They weaved and jiggled around him, tugging on his jacket as they all bounced and gyrated to the hip-hop beat. Watching him go, Dax slid all three drinks in front of him.
“Well he ain’t gonna need these.”
“LADIES AND GENTLEGNOMES,” boomed the DJ, “WE HAVE TRENCH PILOTS IN DA HOUSE!” The crowd screamed fanatically, some of the women looking around wildly as the lights dimmed and the music dropped low. “FROM STEEL AND STONE WE HAVE BANSHEE,” a spotlight exploded onto Alhannah, who looked up and waved with a huge grin, “TURNPIKE,” a second light hit Dax, who was scarfing down the third drink. He sputtered all over the table as he tried to smile. “AND GNOLAUM!” The last light popped on like a halo over Wendell, encompassing him and his three dance partners.
Realizing who they had in their clutches, the three gnomes surrounded Wendell, ready to fend off any potential female frenzy.
“BUT THAT AIN’T ALL FOLKS! WE GOTS US A HIP HOP CAT ABOVE ‘EM ALL…OHHHH YEAH—THE ONE, THE ONLY, ALPHA FIGHTER!”
Floodlights exploded on the second level, high above the dance floor. Girls waved to the people below. A large party surrounded a dark skinned gnome with slick black hair combed neatly over his scalp, a thin mustache over his lip and long sideburns. He had a girl sitting on either side of him and six bodyguards with mirrored glasses standing poised and ready for trouble. People cheered and chanted his name.
“DARCY! DARCY! DARCY! DARCY!”
A devious grin snuck across Alhannah’s face.
“You brought us here for him?” Dax choked, “What’re we gonna do, dance with him?”
“Naw,” she turned and grinned innocently, “I just want to say hello.”
Shamas appeared behind her and took a seat. “There you go, Red. You got his attention.”
Sure enough, Darcy sat still in the light, staring across the club in their direction. After a few moments the music picked up again and the lights dimmed.
“What do we do now?” Dax mumbled, “Send him a drink?”
She shook her head, “We wait.”
Frowning, “For what?”
Shamas tapped Alhannah on the shoulder, then nudged Dax. “For that.”
Pushing their way across the dance floor, two large thugs knocked aside the girls dancing with Wendell and grabbed him by the arms.
“Hey!” he piped, “Get off me!”
“Mr. Darcy wants to see you,” growled one, tightening his grip on Wendell’s arm.
“What if I don’t want to see him?” he squeaked.
“I thought all pilots were tough guys?” said the other, and they laughed mockingly.
“Oh, not all of us are,” growled Dax, appearing at Wendell’s side. He cracked his knuckles.
Patrons started clearing the dance floor, but the bigger of the two thugs simply laughed. “Look at this one—he doesn’t even have shoes on!”
Alhannah slid up beside the elf and shared her wily smile. “All the better to kick you with,” she said. Then whispering to Dax, “Remember, make it last.”
In a blur, Wendell was shoved into the crowd as Dax jumped up, into the air and kicked the closest thug in the chin.
“UNGH!” he grunted, flying backwards and landing flat onto his back.
As if on cue, the music and lights started again, pounding with an energetic beat and the patrons cheered. Pushing back, the crowd moved off the dance floor and gave the conflict more space. Within moments, every exit was blocked at least four bodies deep. It became the perfect fighting ring.
“Oh, that was nice one, Uncle Dax!” Alhannah beamed and she threw a right jab at her own opponent. Unfortunately, he had no idea she was even involved and was too busy staring at her tight leather pants. With a loud crack, his nose folded and his oversized head whipped back.
Wendell got to his feet. What’s going on? He brushed himself off and apologized to the people next to him. He spun just in time to see Dax and Alhannah weaving and dodging the swings of two apparently angry gnomes in black suits. What the heck did we do to tick these guys off?
His pulse quickened and he could feel strength trickling through his veins. Oh boy. One of those moments. He patted his chest and looked out over the crowd. Thanks for the warning. But the people were cheering on the fist fight on center stage. Just need to find out why I’m feeling….ahh, there you are. As the lights above rotated to the growing beat, Wendell caught a glimpse of four more thugs pushing and shoving their way towards the fight. Alhannah and Dax looked like they were holding their own, but this wasn’t the wild. These weren’t vallen…and they wouldn’t be able to let loose without serious consequences.
“Excuse me! Sorry, so sorry…excuse me. Thank you. Trench Pilot, coming through…” He weaved between scrunched bodies as fast as he could, working his way towards the four newcomers. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of a waitress serving tables. Doorway. Right. Come on bullies…come to the geek. Pushing through to the opening of the dance floor, he jumped up onto the dividing wall and hung onto the pillar. With two fingers in his mouth, Wendell let out a piercing shriek of a whistle.
Half the dance floor spun around to look at him. He pointed at the four robust midgets and grinned a stupid grin, “Hey uglies! Looking for me—or you just want more room to dance with each other?”
The room rumbled with laughter.
“Eeep!” he hopped down and grabbed the nearest waitress. “Bathroom” he snapped, “quick!”
Brushing him off and with an odd look, she pointed, “Hall, take a left, first door on the left.”
“Thank YOU!” he smiled…and bolted.
“Get back here!” yelled one of the thugs, pushing through the crowd.
He had no idea what was going to happen, but for some odd reason, Wendell couldn’t stop himself from laughing.
I’m on a different world…as a gnome…running from bullies…to a bathroom! HAHAHAHA! It’s so stupid, it’s funny.
The flat sole shoes he was wearing slid across the slate as he hit the hallway.
Pictures bounced off their hooks as he slammed into the wall.
Doh! Come on Wendell, move, move, move!
He didn’t dare turn around, but he could hear the shuffling of feet behind him and as he rounded the corner. He caught sight of three scrambling shapes in his peripheral vision.
He laughed again as he turned the knob and elbowed open the door to the bathroom.
Just like in high school—I’ll just pop open the window and slip on…out?
There were five stalls and two urinals, but no windows. Wendell ran to the wall, his hands frantically trying to find a window his eyes couldn’t see.
No, no, no, NO! There has to be a way out!
With a flick of his wrist, he shoved the stall door open. Nothing but brick and metal.
He gasped, “I’m trapped…”
I know…I know!
The door knob jiggled…then turned.
With a knee-jerk reaction, Wendell put up his fists.
Alhannah wanted me to learn how to fight? Well, at least they won’t be trying to eat me in Clockworks. He smiled to himself. Hah. Yeah, that’s a good way to think about it. Maybe it’ll hurt, but I’ll have all my limbs when I’m done, right Ithari?
With all his might, he tried to recall the fight at the Roadkill Tavern…and in the fields below Til-Thorin.
I can do this.
With a jerking motion, the door opened, music flooding into the room.
“Wendell, you ok?” asked Shamas. He looked about the bathroom, then bent down to glance under the stall doors. “You alone?”
Lowering his fists, “Uh…yeah.” Straightening his tie, “Yes, and I’m…fine.”
Shamas nodded, “Good.” He casually walked to the sink and proceeded to wash his hands. “You ready to go meet ‘Hannah and Dax?”
Wendell couldn’t stop staring at the door.
The gnome goons were after him and he was positive they were right behind him as he ran down the hall. So why’d they give up? Surely they knew Wendell would be trapped in the bathroom…didn’t they?
Shamas smiled, “Come on.” Opening the door, “Watch your step.”
Not more than ten feet from the bathroom, four gnomes in dark suits lay unconscious, their bodies precariously stacked one over another.
Wendell stopped cold, staring at the bodies. “Did you do that?” he asked.
“Don’t look at me,” smirked Shamas, “Must’ve tripped and fell.”
GAH was back to normal with booming music and bumping bodies by the time Wendell reached Darcy’s table. The bodyguards were all gone…the two Alhannah and Dax had engaged were being tended to in a side booth from the dance floor. Even the ladies had left the gnome pilot to face Alhannah and Dax alone. The elf was scarfing down random drinks left on the table, making slurping noises as he did. Alhannah had her boots up on the table, a sly grin fixed irrevocably on her face.
As Wendell approached the table, Darcy looked visually disappointed. “And you made it as well?” he sneered, “Bah.”
Wendell sat in one of the chairs near the isle. The expression on the gnome pilot disturbed him, “Uh…sorry?”
Darcy turned from Wendell as if he was no longer worth the effort to look at. Instead, he peered at Alhannah. The dark rings around his brown eyes studied her, like a prized animal he was about to shoot. His cheekbones lifted slightly, his eyes narrowing until the corners of his mouth decided to join in on the grin. Sliding his hand into his jacket, he pulled out a small box and flipped open the lid. With a flick of the wrist, he caught a cigarette in his mouth.
“You don’t think you’ll actually take the title back, do you Red?” The box vanished back into his pocket, a metal lighter appearing instead. With a run across his leg, Darcy made flame and lit the smoke without blinking. “Cause you know I can’t let that happen.”
She laughed. “Funny, Darcy—you almost sound like you have some kind of leverage over me.” She pulled her feet from the table and leaned forward, “But you don’t. All you have is an ego you can’t control and a career nobody cares about but you.” Smiling, “You’re scum,” then shrugging and sitting back in her chair, “you just haven’t realized it yet.”
Dax had finished all the drinks on the table and was watching the pilot intensely now. Wendell could see the elf opening and clenching his fists under the table. Shamas seemed at ease though, leaning against the railing behind them.
Darcy just laughed. He took a long drag of the cigarette and blew the foul smoke in Alhannah’s face. She coughed and waved it away. “You don’t get it, Red,” he said pointedly, “Trench Wars ain’t what to used to be. In one season, they turned that game on its head.”
She sneered, “So?”
“So,” he smirked, “I’ve seen the clips on WHRN of you and Gnolaum boy here,” he waved a hand in Wendell’s direction without looking. “Old school pilots don’t have a prayer. Not with the rule changes.” He took a long drag, the red embers glowing brightly, giving his face a sadistic glare. The smoke blasted from his nose and rolled down across his chest.
“They just get hurt.”