Be careful what you say to the media.
They never forgive, they never forget…and they always play favorites.
“But I need him!” Chuck complained again, following the elf around the warehouse.
“I know, Chuck, but I fight in less than a week. If I don’t fight, Steel and Stone forfeits their spots in the competition. Ya have ta at least finish the first tier, you know that. I can’t just walk away! What happens if I port and it messes up the charm? Can you guarantee that I’ll stay in this form so I can come back and get in the arena?”
The wizard looked up at the hangar ceiling and chewed on his lip, pondering.
Dax held up a hand. “Don’t even try to answer, it’s not worth the risk.”
“After the fight, we’ll have two weeks to figure out a solution, just in case something goes wrong. That’s all I’m saying. Besides,” he stopped and pointed an accusing finger, “ya look like crap.”
Chuck raised his eyebrows high, the wild white hair pushing against the rim of his hat. “Well that’s a might rude young man!”
“Well you do. You’ve been pouring over those books for too long, you’ve stopped eating and you have all of us worried, especially the kid.” With a scowl, “You’re putting him through a world of worry. Take a break before ya crack! Ya won’t be any use to us burned out.”
The wizard huffed and stomped his foot on the ground, “Oh poo!”
Dax’s expression softened as he watched the old man pout like a child. He couldn’t help smiling when Chuck got this way. “You know,” he added softly, so only the wizard could hear, “he’s very fond of you. I can hear it in his voice when he talks about you—so take care of yourself. We care about what happens to you.”
The stomping of feet ceased and Chucks bottom lip reappeared. “Oh…alright.”
Alhannah strode into the hangar. She wore a tight blue jumper, hair curled into ringlets and she even had on bright red makeup that caused her curly hair and full lips stand out.
Several of the TNT crew whistled, including Nibbles.
“Oh shut up!” Alhannah snapped back with a sneer
Nibbles burst out laughing, “Just cause ya clean up decent doesn’t mean ya have to bite our head off.”
Sulking, “Sorry. Just…this blasted interview. Not looking forward to it.”
The click-clack of Nat’s wheelchair riding down the ramp echoed from behind. “Just think of it as a part to a cleverly laid plan.”
Alhannah folded her arms across her chest and stared at the cripple warily. “Oh? What plan is that?”
Rolling up close, he put a hand over his mouth and leaned over to whisper, “To make Clockworks believe that you’re actually a somewhat likable person.”
She hit him in the shoulder.
“I know! I know!” he laughed, “It’s a near impossible feat…but we must try.”
“I’m gonna pop your tire.”
Morty’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Alhannah, Ms. Geebler is here for your interview.”
Nat gasped, “Let the great deception begin…”
She kicked the wheelchair. Hard.
Rishima Geebler was a blonde, long haired gnome with exceptionally large ears, even for her race. They not only allowed her to display the dozen or so gold rings and diamond studs piercing her lobes, they acted as radar dishes for any yummy gossip within her vicinity. Empowered with cutting blue eyes and full lips, her smile was deadly—especially when she batted those eyelashes. Her specialty was cutting through tough personalities and reporting the most private and vulnerable secrets she could uncover. Rumor has it that she would have been fired from WHRN long ago, but dating the station owner did have its privileges.
Those whom she focused upon feared her, while her co-workers envied her.
Not wanting to expose the warehouse to the treacherous snoop, Deloris had Rishima and her camera crew set up in the kitchen area. The camera’s were already set up and rolling by the time Alhannah arrived. The anchorwoman stood up and smiled, motioning to the seat in front of her, then held out her hand.
“Alhannah Luckyfeller, this is such an honor,” she said vibrantly, snatching the warrior’s hand and shaking it with vigor, “I hoped beyond hope to get this interview! I’m SO glad you decided to come to your senses.”
Alhannah peered at Rishima through distrustful slits, “Come to my senses?”
“Well yes!” she beamed, sitting down and pulling a small pocket mirror from her sports jacket. She checked her lips and adjusted the soft strands of hair cascading over her high forehead. “It must be hard, to be the most revered Trench star for two years in a row and then come back to find Darcy Dunnit, you biggest rival, the new favorite of Clockworks City?” Clicking the small mirror shut, she grinned.
Alhannah forced herself to grin back, but she looked more like a cat deciding how best to remove the head from a mouse.
“So here’s what we’ll do. I like to keep everything fresh and real, so this interview will be live, if that’s ok with you?”
Alhannah opened her mouth to object.
“Great!” Rishima smirked, “I knew you wouldn’t mind and the camera’s are already rolling anyway.” Leaning forward slightly, “There’s no reason we women shouldn’t have a candid conversation, right? Right.” Sitting upright, “So, I’ll give you the finger…” she laughed, “Sorry, I mean I’ll point at you and then we’ll start, ok?”
Alhannah folded her arms in front of her, but said nothing.
“Splendid,” whispered the anchorwomen, completely oblivious. She looked over her shoulder and nodded. Her camera man nodded back and a small light on the top of the equipment flashed green.
“And we’re live in 5…4…3…” the camera man he’d up two fingers, then one, then pointed at Rishima.
Turning abruptly to the camera, so her blonde hair whipped around her face and rested on her shoulders, Rishima grinned so wide, he mouth looked like an impenetrable fortress of white pearl walls. “Hello Clockworks! This is your favorite darling, Rishima Geebler, here with another WHRN exclusive interview. If you’ve been watching the Trench Wars,” she paused, giving a breathy giggle, holding her fingers over her mouth in a dainty manner, “what am I saying? Of course you have! Then you also know that one of our all-time favorite pilots has returned in a daring attempt to secure a place among the best of the best in this season of the games.” She nodded at the camera and batted her eyes. “You’re right Clockworks, I’m talking about the one and only Alhannah Luckyfeller—but you know her as Banshee!”
The camera panned out to encompass both Rishima and Alhannah, who was still scowling at the anchorwoman, arms folded.
“Ms. Luckyfeller, let me start off by saying how honored I am that you could join us today.” With that, she stopped and waited for a reply. Alhannah sat frozen to her seat, glaring through red ringlets. A moment past. Then two. Rishima cleared her throat, “Yes, well, I think the question the viewers want to ask most is, what made you decide to leave the games?” She shook her head softly, feigning confusion, “I mean, at the height of your amazing Trench career…that was a crazy move, don’t you think?”
Slowly the arms unfolded, though the tough gaze never faltered or shifted away from the interviewer’s face. “I was bored.”
Rishima gasped, “Bored? Surely you’re joking!? Trench Wars is the most dangerous sport in the city…how could a pilot possibly become bored with a never changing environment, rotating opponents and the possibility of serious injury??”
Now it was Alhannah who smiled. Almost. She sat forward calmly, her mouth splitting across her face into a grin that caused Rishima to sink deeper into her own chair. Alhannah’s eyes never glanced at the camera. Instead, her soft voice carried the warning undertone of a person who’d been standing at the edge of reality for far too long.
“Because I’ve walked outside these walls. The walls that shield you from the real horrors of life. The real monsters that need fighting. I have tracked down and slain giants who still hunt us for food. From dawn until dusk and through the howling sounds of the night, I’ve walked distant lands with only my weapons and plated armor to preserve my life from those who sought to take it from me.” Leaning closer, “I’ve also taken life and bathed my hands in the blood of my enemies,…which is a far cry from sitting comfortably for two seasons in a metal shell, surrounded by air conditioning and safety harnesses.” Her eyes narrowed to slits, her pupils smoldering under red locks and long lashes. “So yes—I was bored. Next question.”
Rishima squirmed in her seat and gulped so loud, the camera picked it up. Her shaking fingers lifted a stapled set of papers on her skirt. “What…uh,” she stammered, trying to collect her thoughts, “made you decide to pursue this career in the first place then?”
Alhannah sat back casually, the rough expression fading away. “Do you mean as a Trench Pilot…or as an adventurer and bodyguard?”
Rishima’s eyebrows shot up so fast, they nearly popped off her forehead. “Oh! I would, uh…either! No—both. Yes, both.”
“I always wanted to follow in my mothers footsteps. She was a great warrior and dad was the great adventurer—always touring the globe in search of more information. I watched both their lives and I wanted both. As for the Trench Wars, I was tired and wanted something different. Something new that I could still engage in combat, but,” she paused, “also to know I was perfectly safe form harm.”
Rishima shook her head, “You call running, sliding and engaging in full out S.L.A.G. combat perfectly safe from harm?!”
Alhannah nodded, “Compared to a vallen horde who want nothing more than to rip my arms of with their bare teeth? Yup.”
It was several moments before Rishima realized she was staring in silence with her mouth gaping open. “Uh, yes..well, safe or not, you seemed to have some difficulty in the Trench against Armored Ensemble.”
“I over estimated my opponent, that’s all. Won’t happen again.”
Rishima paused, then tossed her papers aside. Lacing her fingers together, she placed her hands over her knee. “Looked more like you underestimated the changes in the game, Ms. Luckyfeller.”
From the hallway, came a loud snort. “HAH!”
Both Alhannah and Rishima glanced at the doorway momentarily. A bit frustrated, “During those last moments of the fight you seemed very surprised at the weapons being utilized by your opponents.” Rishima grinned wryly, “In fact, you seemed concerned and even panicked.”
“That’s an exaggeration and you know it,” Alhannah snarled. “Every pilot has unexpected moments—so what? We have to anticipate the combat moves of everyone in that arena. We push past the shock of the unexpected and deal with the crisis as best we can, with what we have. All you can do is make short term goals and reach for them.”
“I see,” Rishima nodded, “so what’s your short term goal?”
“To get through this stupid interview.”
“So you believe sharing your story with millions of caring, faithful fans is stupid.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You implied it.”
Sliding from her seat, Alhannah openly growled, “No, you twisted my words—which is typical from a media jockey.”
Tapping her bottom lip with her finger, Rishima pretended to ponder the comments being made. Then she asked, “So with your negative outlook on Trench Wars, its pilots and its adoring fans, what’s been your biggest professional disappointment?”
“Gnome pilots!” yelled Chuck, as he stumbled into the room. His nose was blistering red, cheeks flushed and he was dragging his beard along the ground with a gigantic clay jug sitting on the end of his facial hair. The wizard didn’t even look over at them. With his sluggish movements he stumbled forward and bumped into the table and chairs. He stopped briefly and tipped his hat when he noticed Rishima, “Oh, pardon my rudeness. Didn’t see you there. Excuse….” he paused, swayed—nearly falling backwards, then moved on. Yanking the refrigerator open, he rifled through the condiments, tossing plastic containers out onto the table and floor haphazardly.
“Chuck!” Alhannah hissed.
The camera turned to focus on the wizard, who just kept mumbling to himself. “UnGRATEful little guttersnipe,…all the things I do for…oh no, but all they want to do is play with S.L.A.G.s!” Tripping over his beard, he face planted into the fridge. Glasses clinked together and food fell from the fridge door as he battled to free his face. “I wiped his butt for crying out…and all I ask is to run an errand? Is that so HARD?” Without warning, he yanked his head out of the fridge and looked straight at Alhannah, “But NOOOooooo….,” then paused. Hands tightly gripping the frame and door of the refrigerator, the wizard stood there, slightly swaying in the cold of the open door. He looked between the two female gnomes, then burped.
“There’s no ice,” he said sadly.
“Check the freezer,” Alhannah whispered, then pointed, “smaller door above you.”
Chuck held up his index finger and again, almost fell over. “Gotcha.”
“Chuck!” Morty hissed, peeking into the kitchen from the doorway. He dashed across the floor, red as a beet, “So sorry!” He grabbed the wizard, spun him around and shoved him out of the room.
It was a few moments before either of the gnomes could recall what the conversation was about. In the end, Rishima simply nodded to the camera and said, “And there you have it, ladies and gentlegnomes—Ms. Alhannah Luckyfeller is back from the world beyond our walls…to challenge the status quo.
“Some are whispering that she’s washed up. Others that she’s desperate for attention in a sport that has passed her by.” Flashing a snide gaze at Alhannah, “Maybe it’s true, but we won’t know until the Trench Wars daughter is thrown back into the pit against tougher opponents and steeper odds.”
With a flick of her hair and an award-winning smile, she winked into the camera. “Stay tuned for recaps of this weeks games and be sure to watch her teammate, Turnpike, attempt to make it through the Tier I fights himself. This is Rishima Geebler, reporting live from Clockworks City.”