The day of the Regatim Camel Race had arrived. Everyone had gathered behind a rope line while the camels and Drenii took their positions. Tormo and Tensur saw the crowd. “Good, no one can get a good look at me,” observed Tensur. “Well, wish me luck at losing!”
“Hold it!” called Tormo.
“Now what?!” snapped Tensur.
“You’re not leaving until you tell me what you’re gonna do!” hissed Tormo.
“Come on!” protested Tensur. “We already discussed it last night! Multiple times even!”
“All those people placed their bets on you, right?” reminded Tormo.
“Right! I’m the mystery camel!” replied Tensur.
“And?!” asked Tormo.
“It’s only been 25 hours since last night’s discussion!” protested Tensur. “As soon as the race hits the high dunes, I let Drenii pass me because no one bet on her! Then, when she wins, we collect all the money and pay off Dr. Borg! Happy?”
“Happiness with you is temporary,” remarked Tormo. “Hit the road!” Tensur headed off to his position. “Try not to draw attention to yourself!” called Tormo.
“Yeah, yeah!” Tensur snapped back as Tormo ran back to his betting booth. As he arrived, he turned the sign to “OPEN”.
“Two minute warning!” he called. “Last chance to bet on the Regatim Camel Race!” Just then, Bashoon approached with a grin. “Bashoon! My favorite niece!”
“There you are, Uncle Tormo!” greeted Bashoon. “I was afraid I’d missed you!”
“I had it open just for you and your parents!” replied Tormo. “I had a feeling at least one of you would show up. So, is this a social call?”
“No, it’s business,” replied Bashoon. “I’m here to bet.”
“Is it a big one?” quizzed Tormo.
“A real big one,” assured Bashoon. “Captain Arsha Royana herself granted me permission to shoot the works!”
“…Are you saying…?” gasped Tormo.
“Feast your eyes!” declared Bashoon as she held up a piece of paper with her signature on it. “This is my marker for the Realmfleet Skyship, Endeavor, registration CRS-2784!”
“My dear niece, you’ve declared an excellent…!” began Tormo.
“And I’m betting it all on Drenii to win!” interrupted Bashoon as she slammed the marker down.
“Wh…wha…?” stammered Tormo.
“I understand the payoff is 100 to 1,” remarked Bashoon as she sauntered off. “See you in the winner’s circle! Oh, and for your sake, my dear uncle, you better have the funds to cover that bet!” Once she was out of sight, Tormo decided now was a good time to close his betting booth and rush to Tensur.
“Could we have everyone behind the ropes, please?” called the announcer. “We’re about to start the camel race! Did the mystery camel show up yet?” Tensur poked his head out. “Good! Okay, this is it, folks! On my signal!” Tormo then tapped Tensur on the shoulder. Tensur looked and tried to wave him off.
“Get out of here!” he hissed.
“There’s a change of plans!” replied Tormo. “You have to win!”
“What?” whispered Tensur.
“Bashoon was granted permission to bet the Endeavor on Drenii to win!” explained Tormo. “You gotta beat her! We’ll be ruined if you don’t!”
“On your marks!” called the announcer. “Get set!”
“Let me on!” snapped Tormo as he clambered onto Tensur’s back. “I’m helping!”
“Hey! Get off!” he snapped.
“GO!” shouted the announcer. The gates opened and Drenii and the camels took off. The crowd roared in jubilation to see them go at such a fast pace.
“Who’s first?!” called a spectator.
“It’s Drenii!” called another.
“No, it was the mystery camel!” argued a third.
“Everyone!” called Merrim. “Follow me to the finish line! We’ll get a good view of who’s first there!” Everyone left the stands and followed Merrim to the stands at the finish line.
“Go! Go! Go! Win! Win! Win!” urged Tormo as he slapped Tensur’s hump.
“Will you cut that out?!” snapped Tensur. Neither were aware of Drenii approaching them until she spoke.
“All right, little miss mystery camel!” she hissed. “I think it’s high time I got a good look at you!”
“KEEP AWAY FROM HER!!” yelped Tormo as he leaned heavily on Tensur’s hump.
“I SAID, CUT THAT OUT!” shouted Tensur as his hand reached for Tormo. Unfortunately, he lost his balance and crashed into Drenii, causing all three to tumble down the dune…right into a spot belonging to a species that, up until now, was declared extinct, a Sphinx resting ground. The impact caused the Sphinxes to wake up suddenly.
“GET OFF ME, YOU FAT MORON!” shouted Tormo.
“I see that hand, mystery camel!” roared Drenii.
“I’m not a…uh oh!” gulped Tensur as he saw that his glove was off. “Er…I can explain!”
“Camel meat!” shouted a Sphinx. All three then saw the Sphinxes and gasped.
“Impossible!” breathed Drenii. “You’re supposed to be extinct!”
“Camel meat!” repeated another Sphinx.
“Yes, it IS a camel meet!” replied Tensur, fear gripping his heart. “And, if I wanna win, I gotta get back on the path!” He grabbed Tormo and took off.
“WAIT FOR ME!” shouted Drenii as she followed them.
“Was…that a Naga?” quizzed a Sphinx.
“Should we…go back to napping?” asked another.
“Why should we do that?” protested a third. “We haven’t had a decent meal in months! GET THEM!” The Sphinxes ran after the camels, some staying on the ground while others took to the air.
“Hold on, everyone!” called the announcer at the finish line. “I think I hear them coming!”
“That was fast!” remarked Malnar.
“There they are!” shouted Arsha.
“Here they co…wait, is that a Camel Anthro near Drenii?!” roared Dimorea.
“That cape belongs to the mystery camel!” shouted Lurmir.
“We’ve been tricked!” screamed Twundrii.
“Guys, can we save revenge for later?” gulped Merrim.
“Why?!” demanded Dimorea.
“Because I think I see hungry looking people from a race thought to be extinct right behind the racers!” explained Merrim as she drew her wand.
“Are those…Sphinxes?!” yelped Lurmir.
“THEY’RE AFTER THE RACERS!” called a spectator.
“WEAPONS!” shouted Merrim as she fired a magic bolt at a Sphinx. The shot hit the Sphinx’s wing and it fell onto its compatriots on the ground.
“SHE’S GAINING ON US!” wailed Tormo as Drenii drew closer.
“OUT OF MY WAY, CHEATERS!” shouted Drenii as she passed them. Nearer and nearer to the finish line as wand fire attacked the Sphinxes behind her. Nearer, nearer, nearer, until…”HA! I WON!” declared Drenii as she slid across and past the finished line. She skidded to a stop and drew her own wand to fire on the Sphinxes until they could be contained. The Sphinxes stopped their advance and waited at the edge of the town. People were catching their breath as they processed the scene. “…WOO HOO!” cheered Drenii as she danced in happiness. “BEST! RACE! EVER!” Merrim just fainted from exhaustion.
After the racers were checked over to make sure none of them had any injuries, Merrim and Arsha approached the Sphinxes staying on the edge of town. “I am Merrim Laumfim, Queen of the Regatim Oasis! Explain yourselves!”
“My name is Tursu,” answered the lead Sphinx, “Queen of the Sphinxes.”
“We were under the impression your people were extinct,” remarked Arsha.
“Not extinct,” replied Tursu, “merely hiding.”
“Well, attacking our livestock and nearly killing some of my subjects,” hissed Merrim, “was not the best way to come out of hiding! Why did you attack?”
“We have been starving in the sands,” explained Tursu. “Your livestock would have been the only decent meal we’ve had in months.”
“Why have your ancestors believed eking out a meager existence away from a decent source of water was a good idea?” demanded Merrim.
“Because it was the only way to fight the Sickness,” replied Tursu.
“…Some kind of virus?” asked Arsha.
“Yes,” confirmed Tursu. “It attacked our people around the time you thought us extinct. It was an artificial virus that spread through touch. It destroyed our bodies, ravaged our genetic codes and cellular structures. Our ancestors had left the Oasis to try and find a cure. They built a machine that projects a barrier and keeps us from crossing into any densely populated areas.”
“And keeping you away from any decent source of protein,” realized Merrim.
“Yes,” replied Tursu. “We’ve long been cured but the barrier is still up. That’s why we cannot enter your town. Our ancestors destroyed their notes on the barrier’s operation. You and your livestock can pass through freely, we cannot! We’ve been reduced to picking off any sickly animals and making plants two thirds of our diet! We simply have no other way to survive!”
“I have a great…sympathy for what you’re going through,” hissed Merrim, “but future attacks on our livestock need to stop. We can help you lower the barrier.”
“…I fear that is impossible without making us extinct,” sighed Tursu. “The generator is tied to the survival of our species. The only way to lower it is to kill us all.” Merrim looked at the Sphinxes, starving and forced to be alone.
“…I only speak for the Oasis when I say we can at least offer non-Sentina livestock,” she offered. The Sphinxes looked at her with hope. “One condition, though, you must not attack those who bring the livestock.”
“Agreed!” answered Tursu.
“My people can certainly help,” offered Lurmir.
“My wife speaks for me,” supplied Ormu.
“Queen Tursu, you are no longer without allies,” offered Arsha. “I’m sure Realmfleet can help you lower the barrier without committing genocide.” Tursu sniffed.
“Thank you,” she sobbed. “All of you!” She spoke for all Sphinxes.
“I have a little too many non-Sentina cattle,” offered a farmer.
“A little too many non-Sentina camels for my family,” answered another.
“Bring your excess here,” ordered Merrim. “These poor people need meat.” The farmers hurried off to do so.
“I always like it when negotiations are completed with both parties benefitting,” sighed Drenii. “Now, where’s that cheater, Tensur?! I need to get my coils around him!”
Tensur was found alone and promptly arrested for deceiving the public and the visiting royal families. The people of the Regatim Oasis were calling for his blood, but Merrim wouldn’t hear of it. “Death would be an escape for him,” she announced. “He will be working to pay you all back by splitting his time cleaning the castle under our harem’s watch and working the Traversing Tail’s bar.”
“For how long?!” demanded a Naga.
“Until we say so!” answered Drenii.
“And if we’re paid back?!” called another Naga.
“His service is still tied to our word,” explained Merrim. “So it may be a few years after he pays you back until we release him!” The crowd seemed to be placated by that.
“NEVER!” shouted Tensur as he struggled to get out of Drenii’s coils. “I WON’T DO IT! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”
“The way I see it,” hissed Drenii as she tightened her grip, silencing him for a bit, “you’re lucky to be alive!”
“You’ll be in the dungeon until after the closing ceremonies!” declared Merrim. “Guards! Take him away!” The guards grabbed his arms and dragged him all the way to the dungeon. “If only we grabbed Tormo as well,” sighed Merrim.
“We’ve already issued an arrest warrant for him,” answered Elgrad.
“I can convince Daddy to issue a warrant for him as well,” supplied Malnar.
“I doubt any of my parents would argue against issuing such a thing as well,” continued Lardeth.
“So, not exactly what I wanted to show you guys for our Mid-Union Festival,” sighed Arsha.
“Don’t worry, I can safely bet that the next one will be better,” chuckled Foresna.
“I’ll take that bet,” giggled Falnii. Everyone had a laugh after the bet related jokes and Arsha brought her fiancés into a hug.
“Okay,” Tormo gasped to himself. “It’s all here and I’m far enough away.” He took out a communicator and keyed in a channel code. “This is Tormo, calling Dr. Borg! Dr. Borg, come in please!”
“Dr. Borg receiving,” replied the cold voice of Dr. Cytanek Yavenag Borg. “Report.”
“I have 75,000 Golds from the Mid-realm festival!” reported Tormo. “A little more than our arranged deal, but it offers more money to obtain resources with!”
“Excellent,” praised Dr. Borg. “You shall be a splendid member of my council. Are you near a Realmgate?”
“Affirmative!” confirmed Tormo.
“Then return to base immediately,” ordered Dr. Borg. “We have plans to make.”
“At once!” complied Tormo. He activated the Realmgate and returned to Dr. Borg’s lab.