Tweeting, Acgh!!!

How do you pronounce “Acgh?” you may be wondering? Well, I think it’s somewhere between the “AAAAAAAAH!!!” one screams when falling off a cliff, and maybe the “Ich!” one might say when practicing one’s German, or the “Ugh!” one might utter when one has to go outside in the winter. Barefoot. In the rain.

I have recently started Tweeting, acgh!

I opened up an account the other day, and I’m now starting to get the hang of it. At first, I posted a generic “Just trying this out” tweet. Then, I shouted-out a “I’m a twitterer!” at someone I knew. Then, I posted a very business-like Banager’s Lights announcement.

Today, I started to get into it.

I rolled up my sleeves. I got down in the mud. I announced that I killed my internet so I could get writing. And when I clicked “Tweet,” and saw my message pop up on my timeline, I felt this nice, happy, “Ooh! I wrote that!” feeling.

It’s kind of scary.

Twitter has the potential to be a time-consuming monster. I mean, I find myself clicking the “Twitter” bookmark a LOT tonight.

It all happens so fast! That’s the thing with social media. Everything happens at lightning-speed. If I were to have a Facebook, I could status-update from my phone, “I’m in the car leaving work.” Ten minutes later, I could status-update, “There’s no place like home!!!” Etc. etc. all night long. If somebody checked Facebook twice a day, they might see that I’m on my lunch break, and the next thing they know, I’m arm-wrestling my nephew over a bowl of chips. I mean seriously? They’ll miss all that happened in between if I am constantly status-updating, whereas they only check twice a day.

But now…I ramble. 🙂

I guess the point is…Social Media can be life-sucking. Control it, don’t let it control you. Take it like chocolate…enjoy it but in moderation. Don’t spread your entire life on the internet. Save some time for real life.

Save some time to go for a drive with a buddy and eat McDonalds fries and listen to old tapes.

Don’t get too busy for the real world and all the blessings God has put in it for us to enjoy.

…Don’t blog your life away. (Dude, did I just say that? What am I doing now?)

Why am I still writing? Acgh!!!

(And that’s more of an “Acgh!” you say when you pull your hair out!)

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Banager’s Lights, Part 6!

Wow, folks, it has been a long time! Story Tuesdays have been neglected, by a very negligent author. 🙂 But I got to thinking about it today, so I’ve decided to post part six. Unfortunately, the gray text does not go well with my new background, so it’s all going to be in black. What a rotten shame. 😦

So, part six, in which things take a rather surprising turn…

@ @ @

Banager’s Lights

6. This isn’t an escape! This is a joke!

Azen awoke. For the first time in days, he had slept soundly through the night. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Mr. Komenk had his dagger, and if anything eventful happened, they would be safe.

Rarawsh wasn’t in the hull with them this morning. Instead of his friendly chatter, the silent emptiness rung loudly in his ears. It was kind of sad not to wake up to Rarawsh’s gabbing. To some people, the endless talking may  have been annoying, but not to Azen. There was something comforting about it. Something in Rarawsh’s happy tones that seemed to say, “Everything will turn out dandy, Azen. Even if I’ve got whip marks on my back. Even if we’re probably doing something illegal. Even if the Merivather crawl aboard. Even if Mr. Kay does not treat you kindly. I will always treat you kindly. I’ll always serve you tea. I’ll always chat with you.”

Well, always except for this morning. Azen wondered where he could’ve gone.

Suddenly, he noticed how quiet everything was…Where was the rocking of the boat, the splash of waves? It was as if the sea had dropped out from underneath them.

Mr. Komenk’s eyes shot open, and he sat up. “Where…What…” He looked at Azen darkly. “We’re here.”

“You don’t have to make it sound so bad,” Azen smiled. “At least we’re off the sea.”

He got up and walked to the ladder, hoping that the door would be open. “You don’t know where ‘Here’ is do you?” Mr. Komenk asked, still very grim.

“Nope,” said Azen. “If it’s something terrible, I really don’t want to know.”

Mr. Komenk shrugged, and tightened his hand around his dagger.

As Azen looked up, the hatch opened, and a tall silhouette against a blue sky appeared.

“Azen, good morning!” came Rarawsh’s chipper voice. “Would you like tea up on the deck this morning?”

– – –

Azen was amazed that he was up on deck. But he wasn’t going to ask questions about it. He was enjoying some nice Kapital (Or Kayles?) tea, and the sea breeze was only a little cold. The sun was bright and warm, and the port was interesting to watch.

The Port of Nayvek had been ravaged by fire years ago. A raging fire started by a bad fish recipe had begun a chain reaction of flames and smoke and charred ruins, leveling all the wooden buildings. The remaining structures were all stone, and the city decided that it looked so good, that’s what everything would be build from in this next chapter of the Port’s life.

Azen ran his eyes over the odd town. Trees around the houses were either bright, cheerful birches, or sulking black carcasses leftover from the famous blaze. Industry was an obvious town ideal here. Little rail-cars went up and down the streets, accompanied by goat carts, horses, and people on foot. Azen even saw a couple woolly mammoths, a rare find these days.

“How would you like to go into the town?” Rarawsh asked, grinning. He could see the excitement in Azen’s eyes, and thought this might make his day.

Azen was taken aback…first he was let up on deck, and next he was given the chance to go out into public?!

“So what’s this all about, Rarawsh,” Azen tilted his head warily.

Rarawsh avoided his eyes. “I’m trying to get you away from Mr. Kay.”

An awkward pause.

“Why?” Azen asked.

Rarawsh glared at Azen. “Because I know why he’s going to Andora, and I know that you wouldn’t want to go.”

“But what about…”

“Oh, don’t worry about them beating me again,” Rarawsh said. “I’m going with you. Me, and Zwaaz. We’re going to have to leave Mr. Komenk behind, I’m afraid.”

Azen felt wronged on behalf of Mr. Komenk. “Why?”

“He’ll drag us behind,” said Rarawsh. “And, he’s not the most innocent person in the world. It’s his own fault that he brought this affair on his head.” He lowered his eyebrows. “I mentioned it a while ago, but I didn’t go too far in-depth with it. Mr. Komenk, in the past, was involved in smuggling weapons for a rebellion. Well, it wasn’t that long ago. In fact, he’s been smuggling weapons for years, and this was no exception.”

“He’s here on purpose…?” Azen leaned forward and wrapped a hand around his cold teacup.

Rarawsh nodded gravely.

“He was shot on purpose, to make it look like he was abducted?” Azen asked.

Rarawsh nodded again.

“…How can I believe this?” asked Azen. “Why should I trust you?”

Rarawsh only stared quietly, and Azen knew. Yes, of course he should trust Rarawsh. Rarawsh was the silent type, the type that knew everything but spoke nothing. And Azen felt that this was some likely truth about Mr. Komenk. Hadn’t he attacked Rarawsh when Avther Komenk was mentioned?

Azen decided to go for it. Lie or no, he bit.

“When do we leave?”

Rarawsh flashed a blindingly white smile (Azen’s eyes actually hurt a little). “Now!” Quickly, he stood up and ran to the gangplank. Azen followed quickly. What was this?! This was no escape plan, this was a joke! A dangerous joke!

Zwaaz was quickly at their side, smiling broadly. Zwaaz, as mentioned before, was the stockier of the two Sherasis, and they shouted to each other quickly in a swelling, proud-sounding language.

“Won’t they catch us?” asked Azen as they flew down the ramp onto the dock loud with activity.

“They went off to buy some things,” Rarawsh grinned. “Isn’t trust great?”

Wonderful, Azen thought. I’ve just escaped with a trust-breaker. I wonder how that will bid in the future!

Suddenly, Rarawsh squealed. Azen looked over to see him with a hand to his shoulder, and between his fingers, a feathered dart. A tranquilizer! Turning back, Azen saw Mr. Kay standing near the gangplank, with his gun raised. He had returned a minute too early! They quickened their pace, and turned a corner.

Rarawsh started to slump sleepily…the tranquilizer was setting in quickly. Zwaaz heaved the skinny Rarawsh over his shoulder, and they kept running. It didn’t slow them down a bit.

“Die, Beast!!!”

@ @ @

Banager’s Lights

Chapter 5. Die, Beast!!!

Rarawsh and Azen had coaxed Mr. Komenk to begrudgingly play a game of cards that night. He sat, stone-faced, angry with the world, analyzing his cards. What a bad hand. He was sure that the two of them had fixed the game in their favor.

They felt every wave that carried the vessel. It was disconcerting, but Azen found comfort in it—every wave was one more moment that the tank was carried on the top of the icy Norden waters.

“Whereabouts are we, Sherasi?” asked Mr. Komenk.

Rarawsh nodded his head from side to side. “Somewhere near Nortres.”
“That far already?”

“Yes. We should be in Andora in about a day. The Port of Nayvek.”

Suddenly, the ship shook, but only for a moment. All three held their breath and eyed each other searchingly for any clue to what could be going on. Again, they rode the waves, but there was a new sound above their heads. It was a shifting, kind of like sand dunes under the wind.

Mr. Komenk stood up quickly, dashing his cards on the ground, and grabbed the harpoon and dagger that Rarawsh had smuggled below.

“Merivather?” Rarawsh asked, choking on the last syllable.

“Decidedly,” said Mr. Komenk, rushing to the stairs. His two companions followed closely behind. What had happened? Were the folks above board safe? They clanged up the metal stairs, and peeked their heads above board.
There was nothing on the rocking platform. The door to the Andorans’ small shack was closed, and the second Sherasi sat sleeping at the foot of the entrance. There was no hint of a merivather.

“Nothing,” Mr. Komenk said, sounding a little disappointed. As they started to descend into their quarters again, though, Mr. Komenk yelled sharply and threw his harpoon at the side of the ship. Rarawsh and Azen looked up long enough to see the harpoon diving into the side of a scaly giant that had pulled itself up along the side of the vessel. It looked somewhat like a cobra, but it was too dark to distinguish much. “Go down below!” The dragon-slayer ordered, as he dove up onto the top deck. Azen and Rarawsh obeyed, slipping down the staircase. Up above, they heard another man’s voice—the Andoran’s. “What is—”

KABANG!!!!

A gun went off, and something slithered back into the water. The two figured it was safe to come back aboveboard.

Mr. Kay, the Andoran who had fired the final shot into the merivather’s head, was shaking Mr. Komenk’s hand laughingly. “Excellent work with the harpoon, Sebashten! Wounded its perception long enough for me to plant some iron between its eyes. Your skill hasn’t diminished at all since we last met.”

“Please sir…” said Mr. Komenk pleadingly, inserting a silence where the last part of the sentence should have gone.

“They can know,” said Mr. Kay.

“No sir, they can’t,” Mr. Komenk urged. “They mustn’t know.” He avoided Azen and Rarawsh’s eyes noticeably. “Now…will you let us turn in for the night, please?”

“Of course, Sebashten,” Mr. Kay conceded. “Can I at least stop the bluff?”

Mr. Komenk nodded, and descended the metal stairs into the hold. Azen and Rarawsh were soon on his back, asking all sorts of unanswerable questions.

“Please, gentlemen!” Mr. Komenk barked, before curling up in the corner with his dagger still by his side.

Azen and Rarawsh glanced at each other helplessly, and Azen took his place on the floor. He couldn’t help jabbing Rarawsh sarcastically. “You see with my eyes now?” He went to sleep with a triumphant smile.

Safe from the Merivather?

Well, well, y’all, here it is…Story Tuesday once again, this time on Thursday. My, how that doesn’t make sense.

One short explanation before we begin this week. As some of you may have noticed, I didn’t post my story on Serial Central on Tuesday. Apart from the fact that this week has been pretty crazy, there is another factor contributing to my absence. And that is that I’ve withdrawn my participation from SC. So, Banager’s Lights will continue to run in my Happy Home, but it will no longer be posted on Serial Central. 😦

Banager’s Lights

Chapter 4. Safe from Merivather

@ @ @

Azen tried to think more about it, trying to cut out of his memory what seemed like hours. But no matter how much he condensed time, there was no denying it.

“Rarawsh, we’ve been traveling for three days now, haven’t we?” he asked the Sherasi serving him tea that morning.

Rarawsh nodded. “We left on Tousdaye. And today is Frodaye.” As if simple math helped the situation look any different.

Azen glanced to the corner, where Mr. Komenk had spent the majority of his time, thinking, glaring at the ceiling, and refusing to eat. Azen had urged him to, but the only response he got was a quick shake of the head. What was the man up to? A hunger strike? And if it was, why hadn’t he voiced what he wanted?

“Are we on the ship?” Azen queried, sipping his tea. It was warm, not hot. It tasted much richer than any tea they could’ve gotten from the Westlands—he guessed it was Andoran, probably from Kapital or Kayles. They were famous for their rich teas there. It didn’t even need sugar. Which made Rarawsh even stranger a character when he started spooning shining lumps of sugar into his cup.

“Yes, we are on Bari’s Kortek,” Rarawsh said, happy to be talking. “On our way to the Port of Nayvek. We are somewhere halfway across the Norden sea right now. Nortres is almost in site…we will bear South of that, which will take us in through Donchek’s Inlet and land us in the Port of Nayvek. I hope you’re happy with your itinerary,” he smiled.

“I’m happy to be informed,” said Azen, segueing. “In fact, I’d be a lot happier a prisoner if I was informed just a little more on where we’re going, why we’re going, and why you’re taking us.”

Rarawsh laughed a hearty, sincere laugh. “And I would be happier if you were informed too.”

“Which means…that you can’t tell me, even if you wanted to.”

“Yes.”

“Which means that if you told me, or broke any other rule, they’d whip you again?”

“Who said anything about ‘again?'” He fidgeted uncomfortably with the sugar bowl. “Would you like some more tea?”

– – –

The ship awoke to ruckus.

Something had gone wrong…somewhere down below, in the steam room, somebody had been eating something that had gotten into the machinery. It didn’t belong there, and the ship told them. The problem was that the engineer wasn’t looking at what the ship was telling him.

In life, there are consequences, and some do more than just “Teach us a lesson.”

“Get up, Azen, Mr. Komenk!” yelled Rarawsh, dragging the two bodies toward the ladder with the strength of a mammoth. The prisoners awoke quickly enough to drag themselves up the ladder on their own.

On the top deck, they were confused by what they saw. Nothing was on fire…no whales, no anything of any sort, just blackness all around. The lights of the steamship shone steadily, reflecting off the deck…which was covered in pools of water.

“The ship is sinking!” somebody yelled.

Everyone was heading for the emergency rafts, scrambling, forgetting all manners of love, forgetting all rules of friendship. Each man was for himself. Soon, all the rafts were taken, and plunked off the side of the boat into the cold water.

“There’s no boats left for us,” Azen stated.

“Ah, but the tank is a boat,” said the Andoran man calmly, while Rarawsh quietly whimpered nearby. “It is completely amphibious. We will be totally safe.”

“From everything?” Rarawsh asked.

“Everything except for merivather,” remarked Mr. Komenk. “Sir, give me a harpoon and a dagger, and I will protect us from the nefarious beasts.”

Mr. Andoran laughed. “We are completely safe from merivather, Mr. Komenk. Because they don’t exist. It is a common confusion with the merry water beasts.”

“But I’ve seen them,” Mr. Komenk explained.

“Back below,” said the man. “Now. And we’ll be safe from these dragons of yours, as well as the demise of this lovely vessel.”

– – –

“Rarawsh, you must give me a dagger and a harpoon,” said Mr. Komenk. “Please. The merivather can slip through small spaces…they’ll be in the hull eating us if we don’t arm ourselves.”

Rarawsh studied his eyes. “Okay. I’ll get it for you, because frankly I think there are merivather in these parts, as well. But don’t let Mr. Kay know that I gave them to you.” He pointed to his back and winked at Azen. “Or I’ll find out. Trust me.”

“The Fresh Sea Air”

Hey all, here’s this week’s Story Tuesday! We answer a question this week…who is Avther Komenk? Is he the uncle, or not…? Hmm hmm hmm…I love torturing my readers. 🙂

And an announcement: A new site is opening! It’s called Serial Central, and it’s dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…(*whispers* “wrong dedication!” “what? oh, sorry”) Um, dedicated to a different episode of a different story every day of the week. Explained further on the site. He he. Enjoy.

Banager’s Lights

Chapter 3. The Fresh Sea Air

@ @ @

The two tumbled on the floor for a second. Rarawsh had managed to pull himself away from the crazed Mr. Komenk momentarily, long enough to grab the bottom rung of the spiral staircase and yell, “Help!!!”

In a few seconds, a second Sherasi—even darker than Rarawsh—was down in the hull with them. He knocked Mr. Komenk on the head with the butt of his gun, sending the man to the ground for another time.

“Your friend is troublesome,” Rarawsh stated the obvious to Azen, who fixed his eyes on the ground.

The second Sherasi grumbled to Rarawsh, making motions to the man on the ground sleeing quietly, and ascended the stairs.

“We’re here,” Azen was informed. Azen looked up quickly. Where was “Here?” Was “Here” Andora? No, Rarawsh had said that they were going Cales. That was on the eastern side of the Westlands; one of the only ports from which Andora accepted Westian vessels.

“Where is that?” Azen asked.

Rarawsh didn’t answer, he only climbed the staircase and beckoned for Azen to follow. Azen took a quick glance at Mr. Komenk on the floor. His old eyebrows were furrowed slightly, as if in an unpleasant dream. Azen wished for a second that he could be let into Mr. Komenk’s dream—if only to gain some insight.

His boots clunked on the metal grating, until he came up to the top deck of the tank. Sunlight shone down, although slightly diffused by a mask of lumbering, silvery clouds. Azen looked around, inhaling the sea air. He took advantage of the chance to observe what he gathered would be his traveling companions for the rest of the journey. There was the man and the woman, and the sunlight did not provide much more on their appearance than he had seen that night. The smell of expensive perfume masked the salty air, as his mind switched signals momentarily. He turned his attention to the two Sherasis, Rarawsh and his fellow, who was wearing a belt laden with a variety of knives and swords. His eyebrows came together in the middle, like a bridge across his piercing, hazel eyes.

Now he turned his attention to the striking landscape—A gray sea sprawling out ahead of them. Between them and the stone-colored vista was the Port of Cales, simply vibrating with activity. Old buildings were streaked with white, scarred by the highly salty air.

“We’re here,” Rarawsh repeated.

“Yes,” said the man. “And it’s time our guests get their instructions.”

– – –

Mr. Komenk’s eyes slowly opened. “He’s good enough,” the man said. “Now, our two Westian companions, listen carefully. You must follow our instructions. If you don’t, then it will mean…rather painful consequences.”

The two Westians nodded (Mr. Komenk a little more sluggishly).

“Do not speak to anyone. We are telling them that you are from the Srish region, and you don’t speak a language that anyone would recognize. I cannot stress how important it is that you don’t speak to anyone, or let on to anyone that you understand them. Understood?”

They nodded again.

“Good. Now, down into the hull. The next time you come above board, hopefully, will be in Andora.” He was wrong. The next time they came above board would be in the middle of the Norden Sea, and not on an island either.

Azen, Mr. Komenk, and their escort, Rarawsh, climbed down into the vehicle. After Mr. Komenk curled up in the corner to sleep off some head pain, Azen turned to Rarawsh and asked him, quietly, who Avther Komenk was.

“You don’t know?” asked Rarawsh in a little wonder. “He helped the rebels with the weaponry during the Royal War, back before the queen retook power. I thought you would know…Mr. Komenk didn’t mention him at all? Hmm. Little wonder. I don’t imagine he’s very proud of when he helped his uncle give power to the rebels.”

“Mr. Komenk helped Avther deliver weapons to the rebels?”

Rarawsh nodded. “But, if he didn’t tell you, I ought to keep my mouth shut. There’s a reason there are stripes on my back—Would you like some tea?”

Azen nodded, confident that Rarawsh would keep his mouth shut on the issue. He may as well enjoy some tea. Or try.

“The Questions are Killing Me!”

Before I start this week’s installment of Banager’s Lights, I’d like to say a little something.

I’m sick and tired of blogging.

Sorry folks, but I’ve had enough. That’s not to say I’m stopping. I have no plans of quitting. I just would like to vent for a couple seconds…I JUST WANNA BE DONE WITH IT!!!

Ahem…well, now that that’s over with…I present to you chapter three of Banager’s Lights…

Chapter 3

The Questions are Killing Me!

As Azen and the Sherasi locked eyes for a couple seconds, boots clanged down the ladder into their little prison. It was the woman who had been with the man at the beginning. Her eyebrows seemed to be stitched on too low, and she stared at them all with too much suspicion.

She broke the silence. “Well, that’s taken care of.”

“Good,” said the Sherasi happily.

“Why is he awake?” she asked, nodding at Azen.

“He’s over the tranquilizer.”

She blinked and headed back up the ladder.

“That was close, eh?” the Sherasi said happily, his eyebrows jumping.

“And Rarawsh,” the woman called down the ladder, “Make sure he doesn’t try anything. Westians, you know…” She finished her ascent to the upper deck.

So his name was Rarawsh. It sounded like an awkward name to pronounce, but Sherasi was an awkward language anyhow. The name was no exception, and no surprise.

Rarawsh sat down again, picked up his knife, and began to fiddle with the apple again. Over the rest of the day, Azen became very used to Rarawsh’s jittery, but confident whittle with the ivory-handled dagger, and his endless supply of both apples, and disappointingly uninformative chatter.

~ ~ ~

“You can’t take me yet!” shouted Mr. Komenk in the dead of night, bolting upright. He fell to the ground again, and glared around the cabin, squinty-eyed.

Both Rarawsh and Azen were recovering from the deathly start that Mr. Komenk had given them when the newly-awoken prisoner started drilling them. “Are they taking me to Ote-Nigau…Have they found out…?! Who are you?” He addressed Rarawsh, who smiled, amused, and announced his name. “What kind of a name is that? Are we in Sheras? You…Azen…” He grabbed Azen’s sleeve and pulled him close. “Did you see what happened?”

“Tranquilizers, sir,” Azen said respectfully, hoping that Mr. Komenk would not go ballistic when he received this information. “We’re in the machine.”

“The machine…The Andoran machine?”

“Yes, sir,” said Azen.

Mr. Komenk pulled back and eyed his two companions. “Oh. Well then, I suppose we’re not in the danger I thought we were in.”

“We’re on our way to Andora,” Rarawsh informed Mr. Komenk. “You might be in danger after all. But no need to worry about it…if we can unload our load successfully, you’ll return to a fairly normal life.”

There was not much comfort in those words. Perhaps “Fairly” threw the sentence off.

“Well, the questions are killing me,” said Azen. “Can you please tell us everything about this operation?”

“Okay,” Rarawsh settled back and flashed white teeth at his prisoners. “First of all, you’re aboard the—”

“I read the Ansi on the side of the machine,” said Mr. Komenk. “I know what we’re on.”

“What then?”

“The Komenk Flander.”

“What?” Azen drew his eyebrows together. “But Komenk is your name!”

“Yes,” said Mr. Komenk. “And to my knowledge, it’s mine and mine alone, with one frightening exception.”

“What exception?” asked Azen, cut off by Rarawsh’s high-pitched chuckle.

The Sherasi raised an eyebrow at Mr. Komenk and grinned. “That would be Avther Komenk?”

Mr. Komenk snorted, and launched at Rarawsh. Once again, the knife clattered to the floor, as Azen tried to stay away from the confused fight that broke out.

“Tranquilizers!”

Well, I think I’ve held some of you in suspense (feigned suspense at least, he he) over the past week. What was written in Ansi on the side of the behemoth machine? Well, I wonder if we’re going to find out…

@ @ @

BANAGER’S LIGHTS

Chapter 2. Tranquilizers!

“Get away from my vehicle,” came a cool voice from a distance off. “That’s Andoran property you’re touching.”

Mr. Komenk backed away from the tank, stumbling over his own feet and looking around. In midnight’s shadows, it was hard to see anything but the short, dark houses surrounding the town square.

Azen saw them first. The one who had spoken was a stout man, who appeared to be muscular, but it was hard to tell, as his form was obscured by a massive sealskin coat. By his side was a short woman—probably his wife—who didn’t look to weigh more than a hundred pounds. She too was wearing a sealskin coat but it was longer and not quite as bulky. By the way they carried themselves, and the jewelry jangling loudly at the cuffs of their sleeves and around their necks, and the rich, expensive fragrance that surrounded them like an atmosphere…it was rather obvious that they were Andoran. And this was their vehicle.

“Well, you are in our outpost,” Mr. Komenk pointed out.

“We’re just stopping in for a few of these,” said the man, holding out his leather-covered palm. Three long gems rested in his hand, catching glitters of moonlight and bending them into flashy sparkles of color. “We ran out.” The massive machine bounced cumbersomely as he climbed up the ladder on the side. His wife gave the two Westians cold glares as she followed him. (The machine bounced considerably less violently when she climbed aboard.)

Long, glassy crystals fell from the top of the craft, as the Andoran man replaced his fuel cells. The old cells, which shattered when they landed on the ground, caught no moonlight at all. It was clear that they had been all used up.

Azen and Mr. Komenk were enveloped in a cloud of black smoke, and deafened by a noise very much like a stone grinding across ice, as the vehicle’s engine started.

Suddenly, the strangers began to speak among themselves in frightened tones. Azen and Mr. Komenk took a few more steps away from the behemoth machine, nervous about what was happening.

The next glimmer that caught Azen’s eye was the long barrel of a rifle hanging over the top of the vehicle. A needle buried its long nose in his shoulder, and within seconds, he was on the ground, having strange dreams.

~ ~ ~

The world was a blur, and his mind was a whirl, when Azen awoke. He had the distinct sense of adrenaline, and he felt like the walls were closing in on him. He tried to comfort his harried mind by telling himself that he was outside, and there were no walls, but he found this to be untrue.

He was in a small dark room, probably the hull of the craft, with Mr. Komenk snoring restlessly somewhere in the same room. As his eyes adjusted to the low, blue lighting, he noticed a third person sitting with them, slicing a snow apple with a knife placidly.

“You’re awake,” the apple-eater said, with white teeth flashing in a smile. “Glad you made it through.”

“Was I not supposed to?” Azen was annoyed…he should’ve been frightened but he wasn’t thinking straight.

“Well, we shot you with a mild poison. Standard procedure for tranquilizers in Andora. That’s why you’re probably experiencing some adrenaline right now. It’s just your system coping with the tranquilizer.”

Azen felt very wronged.

“We’ll explain once your friend wakes up,” said the dark-skinned man. Azen guessed that he was from Sherasi, the Land of Burning Deserts.”

“It says…!” Mr. Komenk struggled to his feet suddenly. The stranger’s knife clanged wildly as it hit the ground, and the man exclaimed something in Sherasi.

Mr. Komenk looked around, with a wild, lost expression in his eyes. “Where are we?” He dropped to his knees suddenly. “No!” he cried, “You can’t take me!” He stumbled around in the dark, as the Sherasi crawled out of his way quickly. Mr. Komenk crashed into the wall, and crumpled to the ground crying. “I’m not done yet!” He whimpered, burying his head in the metal panels of the floor. “I’m not…I’m not…” Silence.

“He’s not taking the tranquilizer as well as you, it seems,” said the Sherasi. He stood up and ran a leathery hand through his black hair, looking thoughtful. “Everyone’s chemistry is different. It may take him a day or more to come out of it. By then, we’ll be far out of Arsab and well on our way to Cales.”

Azen choked. “Why are we going to Cales?!”

“To get out of the Westlands! We’ll be in Andora by the end of next week, I imagine.” He smiled an innocent-looking smile that Azen guessed was not as innocent as he would have liked to believe. “This is going splendidly. Now I wish you two weren’t dragging us down. It’s so difficult to get through border security with people like you hanging around. Between that and our load, we may never get out of this country.”