Coltzan IV and the Not-So-Brilliant Bet: Part One
The scorching Lost Desert sun blazed down on the young Shoyru’s back, causing a trickle of sweat to swim down his spine. His perspiration burned as hot as blistering magma in a deep crevice of a volcano. He knew they were somewhere in the distance, waiting for him to rush past that finish line with anticipation, waiting for him to succeed. He couldn’t let them down.
The Shoyru turned his head to look at the Techo next to him, his opponent. His limbs were long and lanky, but fast, and the Shoyru knew he would have to run twice as speedy as normal to beat the Techo. It wasn’t his fault Shoyrus were born with stubby legs but blessed with beautiful wings. The Techo returned his challenging stare, and both pets knew this meant war.
An echoing voice sounded in the background, so low, the Shoyru almost missed it.
“ON YOUR MARKS...”
The Techo adjusted his feet and leaned forward slightly, ready for action. The Shoyru copied him, but leaned forward even more, greed glistening in his amber eyes.
“GET SET...” the voice boomed.
The Shoyru’s muscles tensed, his heart began racing, even though the race hadn’t started yet.
The Shoyru’s right leg sprang off the ground and slammed against the sand beneath him, causing dust to cloud around his sprinting body. But he didn’t let that stop him. The boy raced forward, ignoring the burning sensation of grime clogging his cornea and the uncomfortable sweat flooding his fur.
Through the haze, he managed to locate the Techo, who was only about a foot ahead of him. With a mighty huff, the Shoyru pelted after him. They were head to head.
His lungs felt empty and his throat was dry, but the sweet taste of victory was lingering in his throat, waiting to be released into his mouth for his tongue to lap up smugly. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated on the muddled landscape before him.
Finally, the finish line became visible in the sandy fog. Squinting, the Shoyru recognized the pets cheering for him – his loyal subjects, his fan club, his friends. They jumped up and down, cheering the two pets on as they neared the finish line.
The Techo’s strides became wider and swifter and anxiety crashed and thudded into the Shoyru’s mind. He had to think fast – only a few more seconds and they would cross the finish line...
Squinting against the dust, he sprang into the air and glided across the mark in the sand, just a second before the Techo.
“And Coltzan’s the winner!!” Talina declared, raising the Shoyru’s arm with victory.
At last – sweet, sweet victory! Coltzan smiled at the refreshing pride and accomplishment that prickled his pelt as his friends crowded around him, congratulating him.
But disgust and jealousy nagged at the Techo behind him. No way he could let that cocky Shoyru win.
“That’s not fair! Coltzan cheated!”
The cheers and compliments were cut short as the group turned to notice the Techo, AKA the unimportant loser.
Coltzan glared at his enemy, who radiated challenge and anger.
“What do you mean?” asked Talina. “I was standing right here and Coltzan crossed the finish line a good second before you did, Alam.”
The Techo protested, “But he has wings! Didn’t you see him? He FLEW across the finish line. That’s cheating.”
Coltzan rolled his amber eyes, but his friends exchanged puzzled looks.
“You DID sort of... um, fly across the line, Coltzan...” Nathan the Scorchio remarked, scratching his head in confusion.
“NO,” Coltzan replied stubbornly, “I GLIDED. Everyone can glide, even clumsy Techos.”
Alam’s normally blue face turned as red as the sun beating down on him as he hollered, “I want a rematch!”
Coltzan shot back, “No, you don’t deserve a rematch! I won fair and square.”
Soon, the whole group except Talina joined in the quarrel, arguing for or against Coltzan, who was so angry he could spit.
“Guys, come on.” Talina sighed. Being the only girl in the group, she was used to these kinds of arguments, though she didn’t understand why boys got angry over such stupid things.
“GUYS!” she repeated, this time much louder.
The boys turned to look at the Acara who continued, “Let’s just have a rematch. And this time, NO cheating whatsoever. Got it?”
Coltzan glared at Alam. Alam glared at Coltzan. But they both nodded their heads in agreement.
“Good. Now, go on over to the starting line and-”
“No!” Alam and Coltzan objected at the same time.
The Acara gazed at them with a confused countenance.
“They’re right,” agreed Nathan. “Races are boring. Let’s come up with a new challenge.”
The group was silent as they concentrated on a new idea. Alam tapped his chin with his finger. Talina drummed her foot against the sand, causing dust to clog the air and Nathan to cough furiously. All of a sudden, a small, nasally voice said almost inaudibly, “A-according to my b-book here, the citizens of Sakhmet u-used to hold trials of s-survival.”
Everyone turned to see a plucky young Tonu with giant glasses and a bandage on his left paw. He held a chunky textbook so thick it was nearly as big as he was. It was if he had appeared out of nowhere.
“What do you mean, Milton?” Talina asked.
Coltzan raised his eyebrows. Had he just never noticed this little puny kid before? How did Talina know him?
“W-well,” Milton stammered, pushing his glasses farther up his nose, “since around 3,000 BN (that stands for Before Neopets, you know), two opposing forces often held c-contests to see who could weather extreme c-conditions for a longer period of t-time. For example, whenever Coltzan II and his b-brothers were arguing, they settled the matters by traveling to a land far from their p-palace and dwelling in the wilderness for a few d-days. Whoever gave into the t-temptations of their glorious home back in S-Sakhmet was declared loser.”
The group was silent for a moment as they pondered what the petite Tonu had said. The sticky breeze ruffled Coltzan’s fur and made his eyes water.
“Well, if my great-great grandfather did it, then I will too!” the Shoyru declared.
The rest of the group rolled their eyes and muttered under their breaths. Since Coltzan was named after the three remarkable kings of the Lost Desert, he assumed he was the descendent of them and therefore royalty, which contributed to his obnoxious cockiness.
“Fine,” agreed Alam. “It's a bet. But where will we camp out?”
“How about outside Amira’s palace?” Marlow the Elephante contributed.
“Or in the Qasalan ruins,” Jeremy the Aisha added.
“Or by Coltzan’s Shrine,” suggested Garlan the Lupe.
“You know what would be even spookier?” Coltzan asked, his amber eyes glistening again.
“What?” the group asked, leaning in slightly to hear what the Shoyru had to say.
There was a silence amongst the young neopets. A Scarab scuttled across the ground and the winds stirred the sand around them. Finally, Alam snorted, “Fine, we’ll camp outside the pyramids. Big deal!”
He glared at his opponent through narrowed slits of eyes.
“No,” Coltzan stated calmly, even though anger and rage burned underneath his fur, “I don’t mean camp outside the pyramids. I mean, let’s venture inside them.”
The group was shocked, especially Alam. Coltzan could see fear and apprehension stretched across his blue face, even though he tried to hide it with his usual sneer.
“T-that’s, stupid, Coltzan,” Alam scoffed, but his voice trembled.
Everyone wondered if the Shoyru was serious. Camp out in a pyramid? That was probably the most fearful thing a neopet in the Lost Desert could do! That and break into Amira’s palace, but no one in their right mind would do that. Although... no one in their right mind would sleep in a pyramid that was made hundreds of years ago, either!
“So, you up to the challenge?” Coltzan inquired greedily. “Or are you going to run home to your mommy crying?”
Marlow and Garlan snickered, but stopped when Talina’s threatening gaze landed on them. Milton cowered behind Talina, his eyes wide with... excitement? No, it couldn’t be...
“I-I’m not scared,” Alam declared. “If you want to bunk with the mummies, so will I!”
“O.K., it’s settled!” Nathan cried.
“Let’s meet by the Tallest Pyramid tomorrow at dawn,” Coltzan decided.
“Wait... are you sure you two can go into a pyramid by yourselves?” Talina questioned.
Coltzan rolled his eyes. Girls.
“Of course!” the Shoyru and Techo shouted at the same time.
“But no way am I going in there with him!” Alam added angrily. “Let’s go into separate pyramids.”
“C’mon, Alam, you have to! How will we know if you guys lasted all night if you’re separated?” Garlan protested.
“Yeah,” Nathan added. “You can’t go into a pyramid all by yourself.”
Coltzan sighed and stared at the sand beneath him. Why did that stupid Techo have to turn a good idea into a riot?
“We could partner up,” Marlow suggested.
“Fine,” Coltzan said, “I choose...”
Coltzan surveyed his friends. Talina was beautiful, strong, kind, and witty... but she was a girl, and probably wouldn’t last more than an hour in a pyramid. Nathan wasn’t so brave, but he was loyal and wouldn’t back out on the plan. Garlan was the toughest in the group, but he snored... a lot. Marlow was kind of a wanna-be, but he was funny, and amiable. Jeremy was fast, but had a tendency to be a bit of a chatterbox. And that Tonu? Why was he there anyway?
“Wait,” Talina interrupted. “Since when do you get to choose your own partner?”
Coltzan rolled his amber eyes again. Silly Talina.
“Since... forever, duh!”
Talina stared at him and declared, “That’s not fair! Let’s draw names.”
Everyone but the mysterious Tonu and Talina groaned.
“C’mon, Talina,” Garlan said. “That’s no fun!”
Everyone nodded agreement.
“We’re drawing names!” she said firmly, her arms crossed and her feet planted firmly in the ground. “I’ll write up all our names and put them into a bag. Tomorrow at the pyramids, Coltzan and Alam will draw names for their teams. The two teams will enter separate pyramids. Anyone who is too afraid should back out now before it’s too late.”
A couple shifted around uncomfortably, as if debating between being loyal to the group and saving their life, but no one spoke up.
“All right, then. See you all tomorrow!” Talina concluded.
Everyone mumbled their good-byes before heading off toward their neohomes. Jeremy, Alam, and Nathan headed northward; Garlan and Marlow eastward, and Talina and that wimpy Tonu westward. Coltzan headed southward alone, glancing back every once in a while to watch his friends disappear in the hazy clouds of sand. He tried to shake off a nagging feeling tugging at his fur. It felt as if someone was watching him. He whirled around; ready to fight off his enemy, Alam... but no one was there. The area was deserted, and his friends were nowhere in sight. Still, his mind was doubtful as he crossed the holy ground of Coltzan’s shrine and hurried to his neohome.
To be continued...