A TV Studio. Two figures sat opposite each other, being filmed under the hot lights. A man, and a rat.
“So what did it feel like, scoring the winning touchdown?”
“It not me, it group-team. All work tough-hard for win.”
“Yes, but it must’ve felt amazing, right, as you crossed the line in turn 16?”
“It felt good-great to not let teammates-friends down. Not have to sit in naughty corner with mouldy cheese after game.”
“And then of course, you went and did it again, two seasons later.”
“Mmm-yes, second time good too-also. Hopeless-Useless dead-man-things scare Zizz.” A shiver ran down the rat’s spine and he shook himself.
“I have to say Mr. Sprint-Dash, you’re a lot more grounded and, dare I say it, humble, than RAN’s previous one-turning specialist.”
Zizz stayed silent.
The interviewer adjusted himself in his seat, “I am of course referring to self-proclaimed Rat God, Han Tavirus, who never actually managed to reach a final, let alone win one. Do you think that you, Zizz Sprint-Dash, are now Rodentia Ad Nauseam’s greatest Gutter Runner?”
Zizz’s cheeks glowed red under the fur and he mumbled something incoherent.
The interviewer leaned in closer, “I’m sorry, I can’t quite hear—“
CRASH! BANG! WALLOP! From somewhere near the back of the studio. Shouts of “Hey what are you doing?” and “You can’t come in here!” quickly followed by shrieks and rapid footsteps off into the distance.
The interviewer spun around in his chair. “What the blinking Nuffle is going on? I’m trying to do this interv—“
Emerging from the shadows beyond the studio lights, stalking towards him, both heads snarling, was none other than the infamous living legend himself, Han Tavirus.
“Cheap-knockoff Rat-God clone say, NO-NEVER. Stupid question-man-thing just have bunged up earholes from sludge-goo slipping from mushed-up brain.”
“Security! SECURITY!” The interviewer looked around desperately for support, but the studio floor was deserted.
Han approached Zizz menacingly, tail whipping from side-to-side. The poor rat scurried from his chair, bowing and scraping and offering the seat for Han. The lower head snapped it’s jaws at Zizz as the Rat God moved forward, before swinging his cape (yes he has a cape. Obviously) and seating himself opposite the interviewer.
“Like old times, question-man-thing.” Han gave what amounted to a smile.
The interviewer squeezed a sweaty finger into his shirt collar to loosen it. Suddenly the studio lights seemed even hotter than usual. He checked around again.
“I, I don’t think we are rolling anymo–“
“We rolling. Ask me same-same question.”
“Ask. Me. Same question.”
The interviewer smoothed out his notes, took a deep breath and then, in a very faint voice, asked, “Do you think Zizz Sprint Dash is RAN’s greatest Gutter Runner?”
“Louder. Rat God deaf in three ears.”
The interviewer swallowed hard, then repeated, marginally louder, “Do you think Zizz is RAN’s greatest Gutter Runner?”
“Still can’t hear question-man-thing. Pitiful-tiny sound coming from sack of blood. Speak big-loud or Han get rage-angry.”
“No, no, please, not rage-angry, Mr. Tavirus.”
“Then. Speak. Loud.”
A big exhale and then, almost like he wanted to expel the words from his body as quickly as possible, the interview yelled, “DOYOUTHINKZIZZISRAN’SGREATESTGUTTERRUNNER?” and fell back in his chair, curling up into a protective foetal position, eyes screwed up tightly.
Silence. A long silence. That’s weird, the interviewer thought, so he slowly opened one eye—
Han was right in front of him, eyebrows arched, arms folded, clawed fingers tapping, the other head rocking side to side, staring inanely. Han’s smart head leaned down slowly, closer and closer until his snout was almost touching the interviewer’s nose, and in a raspy, but almost reasonable voice asked simply, “Do you?”
The seconds dragged on for ages. The interviewer’s eyes glanced past Han to Zizz who was rapidly shaking his head from side-to-side. He moved his eyes back to Han and squeaked out, “No?”
“Then why question-man-thing ask-query?”
“Slip of the tongue?”
Han holds up the interviewer’s notes. “Man-thing wrote it down. Two-twice.”
“Er, someone must’ve added that later. You can’t get the staff these days.”
A clawed hand gripped the interviewer’s throat and squeezed. His eyes bulged. He gasped for breath, desperately trying to get out the syllables, “Ple-ea-se.”
“Every man-thing know, there is no RAN without Ha—“
“ZIZZ! ZIZZ! Great news!” A voice yelled from a corridor outside. “Zizz, where are you?! Actually, where is everybody? Hello?!” The studio doors burst open and Coach Ntb entered.
Both of Han’s heads snapped towards him.
Coach Ntb froze. He took in the hostage situation; Han strangling the terrified interviewer as Zizz hid in the background.
“Han, old buddy, what are you doing?”
Han looked between his old coach and the interviewer. Eventually his grip slackened, allowing some rasping breaths.
“What’s become of you?”
Han stepped back, his top head bowed, muttering something. Then the bottom head looked up at the top head and whispered something. One eye peered at Coach Ntb.
“What is this news?” said Han.
“Oh, er…” Coach Ntb waved the letter in his hand flippantly. “Nothing that interesting.”
Han took a step towards him. “Han know coach-thing for big-long time. Han make coach-thing famous. Han want to know… what news?”
Coach Ntb looked down at the paper, then slowly raised his head. “Rodentia Ad Nauseam have been invited to play in the Champions Cup.”
Han’s eyebrows raised, “What is this Champions Cup?”
Coach Ntb read, “The battle of the best versus the best, the insane versus the sane, the creme de la creme.” He looked up. “Basically a tournament between all the previous MML Champions.”
Han’s face brightened as the thought of the fans, the adulation, the ultimate glory of finally taking his rightful place amongst the MML Legends flashed before his eyes.
“This wondrous-amazing news. Han can finally make comeback-return.”
“No need for stupid Dizzy Stumble-Slip, Han will lead RAN to glory as it should’ve been!”
Suddenly, two fire exits slammed open and four burly Chaos Warriors stormed in. “Ah, there you are, you manky scoundrel, you’re coming with us.”
Han spun around and all four eyes widened in fear. “No, NOoooOOO!” He scampered over and cowered behind Coach Ntb. “Don’t let them take it… don’t let them take poor Han back.”
“Back where Han?”
The Chaos Warriors closed in on Han, but Coach Ntb stepped valiantly into their way. “No, you can’t take him. He’s giving you enough. He’s given you ALL enough.”
“Out of the way, runt.” A giant arm backhanded the Coach to the side leaving Han, quivering with fear, his heads and body no longer the strong, menacing figure of a moment ago. Now he was reduced to the reality; spine crooked, knees buckled, one head truly insane. Two Warriors grabbed him, an arm each, and dragged him towards the exit. “Back to the Timberwolves training camp with you. We’ve been missing our favourite tackle bag!” The Warriors laughed.
Coach Ntb shook off the mild concussion, and turned just in time to see Han’s face staring back at him. Their eyes locked. Man and rat. So much had passed between them. But there was nothing Coach Ntb could do now, and Han knew it. Despite his fear, the last thing Han did before the outside Sun enveloped him was to nod. Coach Ntb nodded in reply. And with that, Han was gone.
Zizz scurried over and helped his coach up. “So sorry, was fear-scared.”
Coach Ntb patted Zizz’s head. “It’s OK Zizz. But you know what we should do now?”
Zizz looked up, “What Coach-man-thing?”
Coach Ntb smiled.
“We should win it for Han.”