Drenii was slithering at top speed throughout the Oasis. The race wasn’t until the weekend when the Festival would be over, so she had plenty of time. As she zoomed through the Oasis, she came across a farmer. “Well, hello, Handrey!” she called to the farmer tending to a camel.
“Drenii!” returned the farmer, Handrey. “Out training, are we?”
“Have to keep in shape,” replied Drenii. “Now, who’s the camel?”
“My first Sentina camel,” explained Handrey. “Meet Dwera!”
“I’m gonna be racing you this year,” continued Dwera, proving she was a Sentina.
“Ah, my competition!” chuckled Drenii. “Well, best not keep you.”
“You know, I’m actually surprised someone with your condition is racing this year,” mused Handrey.
“Come again?” quizzed Drenii.
“Well, you ain’t feeling well,” explained Handrey.
“…First I heard that,” replied Drenii. “I just went five laps around the Oasis without breaking a sweat. Where did you hear such a…?”
“There she is!” called a little Naga girl. She and her friends slithered up to Drenii and looked up and down at her. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” mused a Naga boy.
“No,” remarked another Naga boy.
“I doubt it,” replied a third Naga boy.
“Can’t be sure,” answered another Naga girl.
“Can I help you kids with something?” asked Drenii.
“Let’s measure her tail,” suggested the second boy.
“I wouldn’t try that, if I were you!” warned Drenii as she raised her tail to spook them.
“I’ve seen enough,” declared the second girl.
“Me too,” agreed the first girl. “We better convince our parents to put their bets on the Mystery Camel.” They slithered off, leaving Drenii in a confused state.
“What in the After-realm was all THAT about?” she muttered.
“Word on the street,” insisted Dwera, “is that you’re too old to win anymore. The fastest camel around’s gonna beat you.”
“Nonsense!” countered Drenii. “I’ll win this year just like every year!”
“That IS what folks are saying,” replied Handrey.
“Oh, let them say,” dismissed Drenii. “It doesn’t bother me. Gotta get back to training. Bye!” She slithered off at top speed, going halfway into the town before bumping into old friends about her age. “Hello, Klodii! Hi, Dremir!” she greeted.
“Drenii, as I live and breathe!” declared Klodii. “We were talking about you.”
“You shouldn’t be pushing yourself so hard,” urged Dremir. “Racing while under the weather, what would your family say?”
“I’m not sick!” protested Drenii.
“I know you like being active at your age, but you MUST take care of yourself,” insisted Klodii. “I’m afraid we can’t bet on someone who would kill herself like that.” They slithered off, leaving her gaping in stark shock.
“…I’M NOT SICK! MY DOCTOR CAN PROVE IT!” she shouted. She snarled, then went into a slower slither, the Naga’s equivalent of a jog. As she went nearer to the palace, she saw a young man in a harem outfit. “Hello, Jengi!” she called.
“Greetings, My Lady!” he returned.
“Jengi, sweetheart, could you do an old lady a favor,” requested Drenii, “and tell me who you and your master are betting on?”
“We WERE going to bet on you,” answered Jengi, “but, after we heard the news, Master sent me out to scout around for a younger contestant. Have to make a safe bet. Farewell!” He took off to do his master’s bidding.
“…Yeah, I guess you do,” sighed Drenii as she slithered slowly to the palace.
Back at the palace, Merrim was regaling Nazay, Arsha and her future spouses, and Megramar with a story. “So, there we were, right outside the cave and stark naked, our adrenaline just taking over every cell of our bodies, when, I swear, all the adult wyverns came pouring out of the entrance!”
“You’re lying!” laughed Malnar. “You’re lying through your teeth!”
“So we were booking it, and I do mean BOOKING it, when the Mama Wyvern snuck up behind us, ready to eat us!” continued Merrim.
“How could a Mama Wyvern sneak up on you?!” replied Megramar with a grin.
“Then Draka somehow tripped on sand,” Merrim went on, “so I went back to get him up and said…”
“Should have turned elsewhere,” joked Arsha.
“Exactly what I said!” laughed Merrim. Just then, one of the human men in the Laumfims’ harem approached the group.
“Lord Megramar, Queen Merrim, apologies for interrupting you,” he began, “but Lady Drenii just came in and isn’t looking very happy. She slithered in at the average Naga’s normal speed.”
“Okay, that IS unusual for Grandma,” mused Merrim. “Usually, she slithers at top speed through the palace, calling it agility training.”
“I’ll go see what’s wrong,” offered Megramar. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
“I live to serve, My Lord,” replied the harem man as he headed off to his other duties.
“Excuse me,” bid Megramar as he slithered off to find his mother. He found her by the family’s open garden, looking very sorry for herself as an Elf harem woman sat by her. “Mom?” called Megramar. Drenii looked over to see him, then turned back to just staring off into space, resting herself in her tail. Megramar slithered over and sat next to her. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“It’s nothing,” mumbled Drenii.
“My Lady, forgive my being nosy,” replied the harem woman, “but you’re usually chomping at the bit this close to the race.”
“She’s right, look at yourself, Mom,” continued Megramar. “You’re using your tail as a shield and slumping all over. You don’t want your public to see you like this!”
“What difference does it make?” sighed Drenii.
“You want people to bet on you, right, My Lady?” asked the harem woman. “Well, they won’t unless you look like a winner!”
“Come on, Mom,” wheedled Megramar. “I’ve never known you to be so slouchy! You’re Drenii Laumfim! You LIVE for adrenaline and the course is sure to be the most adrenaline inducing! You LIVE for the challenge!”
“Megramar, Twella, I appreciate what you two are doing,” replied Drenii, “but it’s too late. No one’s betting on me this year.”
“Says who?!” yelped the elf, Twella.
“Says the entire Oasis!” answered Drenii. “You two must have heard the talk going around here!”
“Yeah, well, I don’t listen,” replied Megramar.
“Neither should you, My Lady,” urged Twella. “You shouldn’t let them get you down. You’ll win this race just like every other race!”
“They’re right!” called a nasally voice. A male Goblin then came forward. “Don’t listen to those saps! Think positive!”
“…Since when have YOU been one of my boosters, Tormo?” hissed Drenii.
“I’m a friend and I care, My Lady!” insisted the Goblin, Tormo. “Pay no attention to your naysayers! You can win! I believe in you!”
“What are you up to, you green runt?!” snarled Twella as she stood to her full height, which was at least 1½ times the average height of a human.
“Nothing,” replied Tormo. “Can’t a friend wish their friend luck?” Drenii then blew a loud raspberry.
“Twella, sweetheart, could you prepare the bath?” she requested. “I need to unwind from whatever stress Tormo caused me in the short time he was here.”
“At once, My Lady,” confirmed Twella as she and Drenii departed the gardens. Once they were out of earshot, Tormo sighed.
“Poor sap,” he whispered to Megramar. “She’s going to get her tail handed to her on a silver platter.”
“…Are you the one behind the rumors that she’s not feeling well?” hissed Megramar.
“Look, if she needed a bath after sitting,” remarked Tormo, “she’s not doing well. Take my advice, bet on the Mystery Camel.”
“The what?” quizzed Megramar.
“The Mystery Camel!” repeated Tormo. “Fastest camel ever! Trust me, a smart man like you needs to make a safe bet!” He then scuttled off, leaving Megramar to ponder.
After story time, Arsha and her spouses decided to go their separate ways. She went to the Endeavor and completed some paperwork, a must for any captain, regardless of social status. After that, she was invited by Marshii to play some poker with her, Bashoon, and Thengo. Bashoon dealt out the cards as Arsha observed something. “Ensign,” she called, “I’ve just now started to think about how I’ve never seen any female Goblin with their hair down. They always wear it in a bun as I do.”
“Loose hair leads to loose ends, thus leading to too many questions,” answered Bashoon. “A bit of Goblin philosophy, Ma’am.”
“It’s also tidier,” mused Marshii.
“It’s like our own little club,” joked Arsha.
“The Bun Club!” suggested Bashoon. She, Marshii, and Arsha laughed at that. Arsha then noticed something.
“Counselor, is everything all right?” she quizzed, still giggling a bit.
“I don’t know,” muttered Thengo as she placed her bet. “I’ve always been suspicious of a woman wearing her hair in a bun.”
“Suspicious?” repeated Marshii.
“Yeah, like they’re hiding something,” elaborated Thengo.
“Hiding?!” yelped Bashoon, a little offended.
“Don’t be absurd!” snapped Marshii as she called. “The bun is an ancient and proud tradition!” Thengo hummed half-heartedly.
“Some of the most distinguished women in history have worn their hair in a bun, Thengo,” helped Arsha while she called as well.
“I know,” conceded Thengo, “it’s just that, after the advent of women’s rights, buns became something of a fashion statement.”
“I am NOT concerned with fashion!” hissed Bashoon as she raised. “To a Goblin woman, a bun is a symbol of neatness.”
“Of order,” supplied Arsha.
“Sure, like there aren’t any distinguished women that let their hair down,” mumbled Thengo as she called Bashoon’s bet.
“Thengo, it sounds like you think of the bun as an affectation,” observed Marshii as she called.
“I do,” confirmed Thengo. “There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s like men with beards. I just think you bun-wearers should admit it.”
“My bun is NOT an affectation!” replied Arsha, hotly, as she called.
“Then you wouldn’t mind letting it down?” asked Thengo.
“In a Falgreth minute!” boasted Arsha. “I’ve just grown used to it.”
“Then let’s up the stakes a bit,” declared Thengo. “If I win, you bun-wearers let your hair down for the rest of the festival.”
“I don’t do one-sided bets,” replied Bashoon. “What are you giving up if you lose?”
“I’ve always wanted to see her natural hair color,” mused Marshii.
“My red hair is a shade that clashes horribly with my pink wardrobe,” answered Thengo. “Couldn’t wait to dye it when I was old enough.”
“Now I’m curious,” chuckled Arsha.
“All right, if one of you wins,” replied Thengo, “my hair goes back to its pumpkin orange color for the rest of the festival. Are you in?”
“I’m in!” declared Bashoon.
“Me too!” replied Marshii.
“You’re gonna lose,” remarked Arsha. “I’m in.”
“Ensign, your hand?” offered Thengo.
“Four of a kind,” replied Bashoon as she revealed four 8’s.
“Beat my flush, will you?” grumbled Marshii.
“Looks like Bashoon has the hand to beat,” remarked Arsha as she set her full house down.
“You’re bluffing, Counselor,” declared Bashoon. “Dalengor has a contact that can supply you with hair dye remover.”
“Tell her to hold off on that,” countered Thengo as she revealed her straight flush. Marshii whipped out her scanner and checked for any hidden cards. After she got the readout, she drooped her shoulders, sighed, then undid her bun, letting her hair fall. Arsha and Bashoon grumbled as they did the same. After she did, Arsha repined her hairpiece near her ear. “…You know, you girls pull off the long hair pretty well,” praised Thengo.
“Thanks,” mumbled Arsha. Just then, Nazay slithered in.
“Captain, I need to…” he trailed off as he saw the now bun-less ladies. “Er…did you three lose a bet or something?”
“You had a question, Commander?” quizzed Arsha, not wanting to answer that one.
“It’s about what Drenii and I have heard in Barmek’s,” explained Nazay. “No one’s betting on her! There’s some camel that’s supposed to be the fastest camel alive! On top of that, a Goblin named Tormo’s saying she’s not feeling well! It’s starting to affect her!”
“Tormo?” repeated Bashoon. “Short for a Goblin? Wears a thin mustache? Pudgy?”
“Exactly. Someone you know?” asked Nazay.
“My ne’er-do-well uncle on my mother’s side,” groaned Bashoon.
“Any members of the crew believing the rumor and not betting on Drenii?” asked Arsha, pinning her hairpiece to her waist.
“Commander Sindii, Lieutenant Drolo, Lieutenant Ganthar, and Ensign Drega,” replied Nazay.
“Bashoon and I will have a chat with them,” declared Arsha. She got up to find the crewmembers with Bashoon following her.