Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 23, 2013

Business Chaos

It never ceases to amaze me how disorganized most businesses are.  Everything from getting employee schedules correct to locating a dang mop can be an incredible exercise in frustration.  Yet, when you order things out in an organized fashion there doesn't seem to be all that much to manage.  Why is it so hard?  Here's a sample layout for my current job, for instance:

Stuff that needs managing

I.  Employees (this is the biggest area regardless of business type because every single employee is their own individual chaos tornado)

  • Performance
  • Training
  • Payroll/taxes/benefits (overlaps with general accounting)
  • Hiring
  • Emergency
  • Uniforms/protective equipment
  • Workplace safety
  • Complaints/problems
  • Workman's comp
  • Scheduling/time logging/vacation
  • Some kind of employee appreciation party thing because these are apparently mandatory nowadays
  • certifications for those who need them
II. Physical Plant (which is nearly always broken in some way)

  • Electrical/lighting
  • Water (this one area alone is for some reason equivalent in terms of pure chaos to managing the invasion of Stalingrad--plumbing/drainage is Deep Magic and can at any time cause the total destruction of any part of your physical plant)
  • Security
  • Maintenance (cleaning/repairs)
  • Trash (Disposal/recycling)
  • Pest Control
  • Equipment (loaders etc.)
  • Parking
  • Computer systems
  • Physical records
  • disaster recovery
  • laundry
  • Displays/shelving
III.  Inventory (the biggest problem with this area is that in effect it's managed by everyone in the entire company all at once so there has to be a comprehensive system pretty much from the get go just to keep this under control--even then, stuff's just going to randomly disappear like you installed a black hole somewhere in the store)

  • Security/shrink
  • merchandising/layouts/pricing
  • purchasing/receiving/ordering
  • labeling
  • processing/packaging/serving
  • vendors
  • customer requests
  • store supplies (trash bags, paper towels, soap refills etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum)
  • Inspections
IV. Marketing

  • Advertisements
  • Signage/displays
  • sales
  • customer loyalty program
  • website
  • buncha random PR crap like charities and community programs etc.
  • samples/giveaways
  • clearance/markdowns/"please buy this before we have to throw it out and write it off"
V. Customers 

  • Security
  • Emergency
  • complaints
  • requests
  • kill file (okay, not really, but you'll wish you had one sometimes)
 VI. Accounting (overlaps with every other area)

  • Budget
  • Payroll/taxes (these are together because usually the biggest tax headache at a store like this IS the payroll taxes--everything else is handled at the corporate level)
  • Benfits
  • Purchasing
  • Bills/repairs
  • Various forms of insurance too numerous to list
VII. Compliance

  • a buncha regulatory compliance junk
So, it's a long list, but the thing is that almost all of this stuff can be dealt with very quickly and efficiently if you just have a process in place and follow the dang thing.  Some of them can be almost completely automated but they almost never are.  Heck, some places I've worked there was no such thing as a customer complaint or request system, which baffles me.  Customers ALWAYS make complaints and requests, and scribbling it down on whatever random piece of paper happens to be nearby in the hopes that someone will notice it after you've gone home at the end of your shift is no way to follow through on this stuff.  Physical plant maintenance also seems to get blown off a lot.  There's certainly little to no process other than "go hunt down a manager and complain".

Maybe I'm weird, but as far as I'm concerned "hunt down a manager and complain" is not a process.  Managers are busy and distracted.  You're lucky if they remember your issue much less do anything about it.  Heck, I've had questions as simple as "where are the paper towels?" get routed through three or four people before getting resolved.  THIS IS INEFFICIENT.  You know what would be efficient?  A.) having a designated central paper towel stashing site B.) write on the dispenser "refills are in upstairs closet third shelf" or words to that effect.  That way if a customer corrals whatever random employee is passing by to refill the paper towels, they know instantly where said paper towels are at and can handle the issue without looking like a buffoon.  The thing is, you can use the same process for everything in the store that has a refill.  Soap?  Write it on the dispenser.  Garbage bags?  Write it on the dispenser.  This also helps with inventory because you don't have 47 individual stacks of paper towels hidden in various locations and no clue how many you actually have on hand.  So, not only have you saved time and money and prevented buffoonage, nobody has to call the overworked manager to harass him/her.  EVERYBODY WINS.

Stop making more work for yourselves, people.

Jul 18, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 23: Port Peril part 1

"His Kingliness, Kerdak Bonefist, has consented to an audience tomorrow night, Captain Sir," Conchobar declaimed, posing next to their table at the Riptide Alehouse in Port Peril.  The gnome had to raise his voice to be heard over the exuberant crowd.  "Since we don't have the sponsorship of a recognized Free Captain, we're likely to undergo 'Testing'."

"Bring it on," was Chopper's response.  Reiko shrugged.

"It would be convenient if Captain Bloodmourn were in port."

"Would she sponsor us?" Feruzi asked.

"Probably, although I would have to talk to her first.  And she would want to meet Captain Chopper and the rest of you."

Feruzi eyed Chopper for a moment.  "Well . . . perhaps it's better she is not here."  Reiko smirked.

"I'm sure she'd appreciate his unique personality."

"That would be a first, then," Ezikial growled.  Chopper replied with a friendly grin.

"You're lucky I'm not convinced you won't shoot me, Mister Hands."

"Are you convinced I won't shoot you, then?" Feruzi demanded.

"Mostly.  Pretty sure it annoys you every time I am obstinate enough to get myself shot."

"Well I wouldn't want you to think I was getting soft. One of these days I'll have a chance to pay back that debt and you can go get yourself shot with my blessing."

"Well, I already have plans to re-up muh policy with your honor, should it ever come t'that."

"We'll see.  So is there anything special we should do to get ready for this meeting tomorrow?

"Don't go dying before hand?"  Reiko offered.  Or getting yourself killed, as it were.  That might look unprofessional."

Feruzi shrugged. "In my nation, formally meeting a King has more . . . significance. Or so I hear.  My own meeting was not so formal."

"I shouldn't worry overmuch. A king's just a man, same as any other. A might more prickly about respect, mayhap, but I can mind m'manners if and when the occasion calls for it," Chopper informed them.

"Pirates ne'er stood much on formailty," Sandara said. "E'en the ones in charge."

Chopper nodded. "I'm counting on it.  Who's this now?" he added as a tall, lean man with tousled blond hair and an eyepatch muscled up to their table.  His clothes were simple but fine, and he carried himself like a fencer.

"Captain Pierce Jerrell of the Salty Flagon," the newcomer announced, smiling expansively.  "Meeting the Hurricane King already!  I congratulate you on your success, my friends."  He had a lilting accent that hailed from nowhere in the Shackles.

"Captain Chopper of Crisis," Chopper replied, offering his hand and moving over to make space at their table.  Jerrell sat without needing further invitation.   

"Captain Jerrell, where about are you from originally, if you don't mind me asking?"

"I don't mind at all, milady. Druma, originally, the port of Detmer.  Came to the Shackles courtesy of dissident priests of Cayden Cailean."

"Oh? I like Cayden Cailean, me.  Or like what I've heard of him, anyway," Chopper told him.

"Then you MUST have a drink with me,"  Jerrell told him.  "I've had a series of successes on the Fever Sea, and it only seems fitting to share."

"We ain't done half bad our own selves. Lemme buy the next round," Chopper told him, taking a deep swallow from the mug that appeared.

"I have a good feeling about you lot," Jerrell told them.  "And I try to respect such things.  The King's not so bad.  Not as popular as he was in the day, but he HAS been keeping things running for almost forty years.  I'll have to make my way up there and see how it goes for you."  Jerrell's eyes roved over the party while he talked, taking in each of the officers in turn.  Ezikial gave him the stink-eye--assuming that wasn't just his normal expression.  Feruzi shrugged, but Reiko seemed distracted by something in the crowd.  She glanced at Sandara, then stood up and quickly moved off into the crowd.  Ezikial's face tightened and he ducked his head to whisper.

"Caulky Tarroon is here."  Reiko was too short to be visible in the crowd, but a disturbance of sorts began as several drinks were upset.  A woman stared into her mug, then shouted loudly if indistinctly and hurled the mug over her shoulder--straight into the face of a rough-looking buccaneer.

"Oh, bugger me," Chopper muttered.  The buccaneer roared and lurched to his feet, throwing a punch in the woman's direction but missing and pasting a bystander instead.  Reiko jumped back from the rapidly-growing brawl and Caulky erupted from the crowd, heading for the back stairs that led to the balcony.  Ezikial took off after her, jumping from table to table, and fired at her retreating back, the bullet punching a hole in the studded leather she wore.  She staggered but did not stop; at the top of the stairs she smashed into a stack of barrels that shifted ominously.  Caulky kicked at them viciously until they began to move, thundering down the stairs and knocking Ezikial off his feet.  A nearby brawler kicked the pistol out of his hand.  Reiko charged up behind him, jumped the barrels, and sprinted up the stairs.

"If you stop now, you won't die by our hands!"

Feruzi watched the chase, then stepped onto their table and executed an impressive standing jump to grab a chandelier.  She swarmed rapidly up the chain and then ran across the ceiling, her new footwear providing magical purchase and letting her jump to the balcony ahead of Caulky, cutting off the cabin girl's escape.

"Get 'er, Feruzi!" Chopper bellowed.  He elbowed Pierce, who was fending off brawlers with bursts of light and color.  "That's muh platonic life partner!"  Chopper took another drink and reached over to acquire Feruzi's full mug, using his own to bludgeon away at the brawlers.

Caulky hissed and rushed Feruzi, drawing a knife, but Feruzi dodged neatly aside and grabbed Caulky around the waist, bearing her to the floor.

"Lemme go lemme go!" Caulky shrieked as the rest of the officers leisurely approached, Ezikial having freed himself from the barrels. He shoved his pistol into Caulky's face.

"No.  Give up or I will shoot you again."  With a wail of despair, she stopped struggling.

"I'm thinking we should get out of here before the militia arrives," Captain Jerrell said to Chopper.  "Let me show you the back way."

Chopper whistled to get Feruzi's attention and gestured after Jerrell.  She hauled Caulky along as they slipped behind the bar and out an unobtrusive door to the street.

"So, why did we do that, exactly?" Feruzi asked, putting Caulky down and dusting herself off.  Caulky started to scramble to her feet and Feruzi planted a foot on her rump, ending that idea.

"The Wormwood's in port," Ezikial snarled.

"We shouldn't let Harrigan know we're in port just yet," Chopper explained.

"We've been spreading our tales and coin around.  It would be hard for him to avoid knowing at this point."

"That's fact. But I somehow doubt we're his primary concern at this moment. I suspect he was lacking in some crew," Reiko explained.

"So that's what you were about," Chopper said. He turned to Pierce, "So, aye. We're not friends o' Barnabus Harrigan, as ye might know already."

"I haven't crossed paths with him, but from what I've heard, that makes me a fortunate man, indeed."

"I got no loyalty ta Harrigan," Caulky muttered under Feruzi's foot. "An' I'm dead if I go back there wi'out some presses."

"Oh, is that a fact, missy?" Chopper asked. "Lookin' ta defect, perchance? Mister Hands is far less likely to shoot a crewmate. Well. Less likely, anyway.  An' I've got a bit of a hobby of employing former Wormwood-ers."

Feruzi sighed.  "We've already poached most of Harrigan's crew, what's one more."

"Yeah, things went south fer me after half th' crew left on that Rahadoomy ship. I weren't the cabin girl no more, had t' work like a common swab..." Caulky grumbled. "I got pretty good wif a knife! Not good enough, I guess." She finished, glancing up at Feruzi.

"Well, then. Swear yer loyalty, accept my protection, an' be welcome to the crew," Chopper told her.

'I swear m'self t' you, Chopper. CAP'N Chopper."

"Done and done. Turn 'er loose, an' let her walk alongside us like the crew she now is."

"Should take a look at that gunshot wound," Feruzi said.  Sandara emerged from behind Pierce, who was talking to her in low tones.

"I can take care of that!" she burst out and leaned over Caulky to conceal her blush.  Pierce clapped his hands together and grinned.

"Well! Good show all around. See you up at Fort Hazard tomorrow evening?"

"Aye, Cap'n. I reckon we will at that. Good night!"

"Well, he seemed pleasant enough," Feruzi offered.

Chopper nodded. "I like him. One o' you lot oughtta bed him and secure us a more formal alliance there."

"I nominate Ezikial," Feruzi responded instantly.

Chopper snorted. "Seconded."  Ezikial eyed him for a long moment, then Chopper charged him, grabbed Ezikial in a headlock, and scraped his knuckles viciously across Ezikial's scalp several times.  Chopper then let out a whoop and lit off toward the Crisis, Ezikial in hot pursuit.

"Well, I should turn in," Sandara said abruptly, not really to anyone.  The women exchanged a look and slowly followed, turning Caulky over to Tolitha.  Feruzi heard drumming and terrible fiddle music late that night and grinned happily to herself.

The next morning a retinue of pirates arrived at the docks, stopping alongside Crisis and hailing the ship.  "Ahoy!" Chopper called back.  A very large, scarred half-orc stepped forward, seemingly unconcerned with the rapidly-gathering crowd of spectators.

"Tsadok Goldtooth asks for permission to come aboard."

"Granted, and welcome," Chopper told him. "What can we do fer ye this fine mornin'?"   Tsadok regarded Chopper's hand for a long moment before shaking it.  He half-orc was punishingly strong, but refrained from crushing Chopper's hand.

"I am here," he called, projecting so the crowd could hear, "to see if you and your crew are passable sailors, and not just fancy jackets who found yourselves in command of a pirate ship."

"Fair enough.  I can understand not wantin' riffraff amongst the ranks of the Free Pirates."

"I am glad you understand my position."  If Tsadok was glad, he had a mighty strange way of showing it. "There will be three tests. I won't waste time explaining all the rules right now, but you'll choose one of your number to compete in each, without help or hindrance from any others.  Casting spells is... unsporting."

"Heh. No worry on that account."

"Two piers over is a brig called the Stingray. Meet me there in fifteen minutes."

The Stingray was easy enough to locate, a brig with two tall square-rigged masts with a sizeable crowd assembled around it.  Tsadok jumped up on a handy box and addressed the crowd.

"One of these fancy jackets will climb the mast's rigging to the top spar and untie the sail before Mr. Boyne here can do the same."  The half-orc pointed out a wiry human with nut-brown skin sitting nearby.

"Well, hell," Chopper said, and began to wriggle out of his armor, handing it off to Feruzi. Tsadok directed each of them to the masts, then produced a gleaming pepperbox pistol, pointed it at the air, and fired.  Boyle immediately sprang for the rigging, going up with practiced ease.  Chopper cursed mildly and began scrambling as well, keeping pace with the nimble rigger.  Boyne slowed to be careful of the awkward upper rigging, giving Chopper the opportunity to pull ahead and find his balance on the massive crossbar.  Making his way to an outside end, Chopper began untying the knots holding the sail.  Boyne did the same, but seemed to have a different method, untying the opposing knots; the reason for this became apparent when an entire side of Chopper's sail abruptly flapped loose, nearly knocking Chopper off the crossbar.  Chopper cursed and made his way back to the mast and began struggling with the other side of the sail.  He reached the last tie, no longer even aware of where Boyne was, and looked down at a bald sailor loitering below him.

"Whoops!" the sailor said, letting loose the knot securing a boom, which swiveled and crashed into the rigging not far from Chopper, shaking him badly.  He flung himself down on the crossbar, gripping it with his arms and legs, until the shaking passed.  "Stormy weather over here Boyne!" he called out. "How's it over there?!"  Boyne looked up and nearly lost his own balance.  He was across the mast from his last tie, while Chopper was already on top of it.  The race was no contest--Chopper's sail unfurled gracefully and Chopper slid down the rigging to the deck.  Tsadok did not appear impressed, but the civilian crowd cheered anyway.

"Not bad, but one win doesn't make you pirates."

"Might see to those boom lines, Mister Goldtooth. Some of 'em seem ta be a little loose."

"You don't expect pirates to play fair, do you?" Tsadok actually grinned, exposing fearsome tusks.

"Ye've a beautiful smile, sir." Chopper replied, flashing his teeth.

"I don't think he's going to award you extra points for flirting, Captain," Feruzi told him. "So, what's next?"

"We'll test your luck and talent after lunch, back on your ship. One of you will play Bastard's Fool against me. With an additional 'Port Peril' rule: the winner of each hand drinks a ration cup of Gutburn rum." 

Skull and Shackles Interlude: On Magic

Genzei was a maze.  Feruzi surveyed the narrow, winding streets that fed off the docks with considerable trepidation.  In theory, it wasn't any more foreign to her than any other port in the Shackles, but Genzei felt more than foreign, it felt frenzied, like she wasn't going shopping but preparing for war in completely unknown territory against an unguessed foe.

"Ah, you go out, fierce hunter?  Or stay in ship?"  Feruzi jumped and turned around to see Tenchin grinning at her.

"What?"  The man spoke Taldane well enough, but even when the words were clear the meaning was rarely so.

"Go or stay, but not block plank."

"Oh."  Feruzi stepped onto the shore to let the little old man past.  He stumped down the gangplank and struck a pose on the dock, leaning back with his hands on his hips.  Tenchin took a deep breath and smacked his lips appreciatively.

"Ah, good to visit civilization again.  Smell proper air."  To Feruzi, the port smelled much like any other--rotting fish, seaweed, and weird cooking smells.  Maybe a little less of the urine and feces here, but the appalling noise more than made up for it.  "You visit Tien before?  Yesno?"


"Ah, you come!  You eat real food!  Should not miss!"  Without waiting for her response, Tenchin latched onto her arm and barreled straight at the crowds.  Feruzi found herself bouncing helplessly off a pile of caged chickens, bowling over an elaborately-dressed prostitute, and putting her foot through some kind of drum as she staggered after the tiny old man.  There was no point in arguing, so she concentrated on keeping her feet until they fetched up at what appeared to be a combination alchemical shop, tannery, and rubbish heap.  There Tenchin engaged in rapid-fire speech with the equally tiny and elderly shopkeeper, who began picking up bits of rubbish and alchemical concoctions and  throwing them into a smoking, sizzling pan.  He then decanted the result into a bowl and handed it to Feruzi with a sneer.  Feruzi stared at the greasy mess in horror.

"You eat!  Good!  Good!" Tenchin enthused, rubbing his stomach and mugging vigorously.

"This is food?!  It looks like someone scraped it off the bottom of a shipwreck."

"Good food!"  The shopkeeper was waving a spoon at Feruzi and chattering like an angry monkey.  Feruzi glared at Tenchin, then took the spoon and shoveled some of the glop into her mouth.  Instantly, she felt like someone had jabbed red-hot pins into her sinuses.  Her throat swelled, her eyes watered, and she burst into a fit of helpless choking.  Both Tenchin and the shopkeeper exploded into hysterical laughter.

"Oh, you spring chicken!  No fortitude!"  Tenchin took the bowl and wolfed down the volcanic mixture with every sign of enjoyment.

"Ha, ha," Feruzi said weakly.

"We get you food for feeble baby chick!"

"No, no, really, I'm not hungry."

"No food?  Why so many dithering?"  Tenchin pantomimed Feruzi's indecision and the shopkeeper cackled.  "You tell wise Uncle.  He help you."

"I wanted to . . . get a book.  On magic."

"Magic?  You make love potion maybe?"

"What?  No!"

"Ah, of course, you already have man!  You use magic make him last longer!  Much secret!"

"NO!"  The shopkeeper waved an admonishing finger at the outburst.  "We don't have a sorcerer aboard, but we keep running across them.  I don't want us to be undefended.  So I thought . . ."

"Ahh.  You wise.  Very good.  You come!"  Tenchin latched on to Feruzi's arm and once again they were bouncing through the crowd, fetching up after a dizzying time at another tiny hole in the wall that was indistinguishable from the first.  In fact, Feruzi wasn't entirely convinced that this was, in fact, a different location, particularly since there was a rather familiar-looking bowl still sitting on the counter.

"Jahei teach you ALL about magic!"  Tenchin declared.  The shopkeeper reached and grabbed Feruzi's face in what felt remarkably like gnarled bird claws.  There followed a thorough examination of Feruzi's eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, knees, and elbows, and the shopkeeper burst into outraged shouting and retreated deep into the bowels of the shop.  Tenchin's smile vanished.  "Jahei say you no learn."

"What?  Why?"

"Head no smart.  No learning.  But you have magic in blood.  Just need wake."

"Um . . . so how do I do that?"  The shopkeeper reappeared and began throwing things in the smoking pan again, muttering all the while.  The bowl was refilled and pressed into Feruzi's hands.

"You eat."

"I think once was enough, thank you."

"No.  You eat."  Tenchin was not smiling in the slightest.  "Eat all."

"I think I've had enough of this."

"Eat!"  the shopkeeper grabbed Feruzi's wrists, pinning her to the counter, while Tenchin pinched her nose until she gasped for air and shoveled the bowl of mess into her mouth.  He then clamped his bony hand over her face until she had to either swallow or choke to death.  "Good.  You wake up, you read scroll."

"Wh-what?" Feruzi muttered.  Her eyes would no longer focus.  Maybe she'd just lie down for a bit.

Jul 17, 2013

Sketchwork: Feruzi

So, I've created a (very) preliminary sketch of Feruzi for her eventual portrait:

And I tested out my new scanner, which seems to be working just fine.  Win!

Jul 11, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 22: Dat Booty

"That is--rather disturbing,"  Feruzi said at last.  Reiko frowned, evidently thinking hard, her expression inscrutable.  She put the jar with its gruesome contents away for safekeeping and stood.

"Shall we continue on?"  Chopper shrugged at Reiko and they continued their journey through the watery tunnels.  They followed the cross-tunnel south, arriving at a small chamber on the left hand with numerous organic filaments running from floor to ceiling like squishy columns.  Fist-sized pink ovoids were attached to these columns, bobbing gently in the current.  Feruzi grimaced at the sight.

"It is going to turn out that Wolfe's treasure was his collection of weird plants, isn't it."

"It's lookin' a lot like that," Chopper agreed.

"Captain, there's something in there. I can hear it moaning," Ezikial said.  They moved cautiously into the cavern, Feruzi taking the rear and flinching away from the gelatinous protrusions.  On close inspection the ovoids were slightly translucent, revealing small tadpole forms inside.
"Is this some kind of sahuagin . . . hatchery?"  Feruzi demanded.

"No,"  Reiko said.  "They're locathah. They're kind of like rivals to the sahuagin . . . usually.  "I'm not sure how or why they'd be breeding down here with the sahuagin."

The moaning turned out to be coming from a fishlike humanoid--a locathah--chained to the wall at the back of the cave.  Someone had removed the creature's legs and crudely stitched up the stumps.  It seemed oblivious to its surroundings.
"Yeesh," Chopper muttered, approaching and scanning its injuries.  "Seems to be female."

"Don't TOUCH it," Feruzi warned.  "You don't know where it's been!"  Chopper ignored her.

"Killing her would be the merciful thing," Reiko said.  "The sahuagin are probably keeping her to breed slaves."

"Poor blighter," Chopper said, pulling out an axe and working the shackles free from the wall.

"Unless you fix her legs, she's the same as any legless person. It's unlikely that she'll be able to take care of herself even if we free her," Reiko insisted.

"She's aquatic," Chopper says with a shrug. "I reckon we'll leave that decision to her."  The locathah mother seemed to realize what was happening and began struggling feebly, jabbering in an unknown tongue.  Various attempts at communication failed, but the fish-mother seemed to realize they weren't there to kill her and she relaxed, making a gathering gesture toward her chest.

"Her children, maybe?" Reiko guessed.  Feruzi sighed and went back to help gather up the eggs without actually touching them.  The fish-mother swam after and was rather more effective at netting the eggs into a single somewhat sticky mass.

"Why don't we show her the map, and see if she understands," Reiko offered.  The matriarch considered the drawing for some time and then pointed at a spot roughly equidistant from Mancatcher Cove and Tidewater Rock.  She then made an inquisitive gesture toward them, and Sandara pointed to the Rock itself.  That seeming to be the end of useful communication, the matriarch made a sort of aquatic bow.

"Yes, we're super-nice," Feruzi growled under her breath.  "Now shoo."  With her eggs on her back, the matriarch pulled herself into deeper water and vanished into the current.  "We are never going to hear the end of this.  Mark my words."

The Crisis officers went the opposite way, passing through an empty feeding chamber and into what seemed to pass for a common area.  An ancient, bloated sahuagin occupied the chamber along with a man-sized monstrosity that resembled a cross between a turtle and a crab, with a broad shell, flippers instead of legs, a snapping beak, and two pincers.

"And WHAT in the HELLS is THAT?!?!" Feruzi demanded.  A trio of hammerhead sharks rushed into the room, making everyone jump aside to avoid the serrated teeth.  Reiko dodged into range of the tojanida, which snapped at her viciously, claiming a wedge flesh.  Reiko plunged her wakizashi into its back, cracking the shell like a coconut.  Ezikial fended off the sharks with his blades while the sahuagin matron rounded on Chopper, rapidly dealing several nasty-looking wounds.  Feruzi tried to draw her attention away, but the matron dodged aside despite her unwieldy bulk.

Reiko planted her feet on the tojanida's shell and heaved, recovering her wakizashi in a rush of vile fluid and internal organs.  It floated away, limp.  With that threat handled, the matron was quickly surrounded and dispatched.  The single surviving shark swam away.  The next chamber seemed to be the matron's quarters with a few valuables scattered about; another chamber beyond it was full of sahuagin fingerlings and newly hatched fry kept in by seaweed curtains.  A second layer of seaweed concealed a muddy chamber full of thousands of marble-sized milky eggs.

"These, I might suggest we destroy," Reiko said.

"It would probably be effective enough just to remove the curtains and let them escape to get eaten by random sea life," Feruzi told her.

"Sounds good to me," Reiko agreed, and together they ripped the seaweed out by the roots, letting the fingerlings and fry loose to consume the eggs and each other.
"For a savage, you sure are delicate about some things," Chopper told Feruzi.

"Perhaps your definition of savage is in error."  They returned to the main room to explore another branch.  Chopper halted suddenly in the middle of the room and glanced toward the west.

"There's . . . somethin' there.  Something . . . callin' to me."

"Oh, this can't be good," Feruzi grumped.  They followed him down the west tunnel and into what seemed to be the primary barracks for the sahuagin warriors.  Among the various peculiar personal effects they found several raw nuggets of gold and silver, along with a severed hand still wearing a gold ring.  Sandara oohed over the ring, which was carved with miniscule dolphins.

"It helps ye ter charm animals, I be thinkin'," she said.

"Bloody useless.  Still, it looks nice,"  Chopper told her.

"I'm pretty sure he doesn't need to be collecting any more animals," Reiko said as Chopper put the ring on.

"Mebbe ye could use it on Rotgut, Cap'n," Sandara suggested.
"Now there's a thought. Godsdamned stubborn feather-brained layabout."
"Now, thass no way tae talk 'bout Conchobhar, Cap'n."
The chum-filled waters of the next room suggested it was the shark corral.  Chopper looked uneasy again.  "There's power here. I don't think it likes me much."

"Possible opening over there," Ezikial pointed.  They gathered around a narrow crack in the wall which was almost buried under an accumulation of sediment.  Chopper aimed a sunrod into the crack and just made out a ship's anchor driven into the ground in the darkened cave beyond.  The massive chain was coiled around a humanoid skeleton wearing the remains of a captain's coat and a silvery pendant.

"Looks like more Deep Platinum," Chopper commented.  "No time to dig it out now.  We'll come back."  They went back to the common room and took the last remaining branch, heading south into a curtain of golden seaweed.  Pushing past it, they entered a large chamber beyond that was primarily occupied by a stone dais supporting a truly massive throne.  The erosion, stains, and strange runes upon the throne showed it to be ancient, lost to the sea-bottom slime for who knew how many uncounted centuries before the sahuagin dug it out and brought it here.  A four-armed sahuagin monstrosity perched on the throne, flanked by a pair of hugely muscled females.  "You," the male snarled, pointing his trident at Chopper.  "You killed my son!"
"It's possible. I kill a lot of people." Chopper glanced over at Reiko. "Vicariously," he amended.  The fight was quick and bloody and, as usual, ended with Chopper wounded and dizzy and the sahuagin rather deceased.  Finally, the sahuagin threat to Tidewater Rock was relieved.  Chopper and Reiko examined the throne room, recovering numerous valuables including a Varisian music box with the ivory image of a dancing harrower.  The inscription on the lid read "For my Darling Isabella".  Given pride-of place, however, was an object that didn't seem to be treasure at all:  an iron rod used to turn a capstan.

"I could fix it," Ezikial said, turning the music box over in his hands.

"I don't want it to be a bomb, thanks," Chopper told him.

"Not everything needs to explode, Captain.  Some needs to hold alcohol."

"It looks like this throne is from an ancient cyclops empire called Ghol-Gan," Reiko remarked, examining the stone.  She looked closer, frowning, then began examining the floor around it.  "Someone help me and see if we can push this throne a little bit."

"A little bit?" Sandara demanded.  "This thing's gotta weigh eight thousand pounds!"  They tried to move it anyway, the only result being that Chopper somehow managed to wrench his back.  Reiko then wedged herself between the throne and the wall to push with her legs, budging it a bit, but it was just too big and heavy for one person to move.  Then she fixed on the iron rod.  With that massive lever, they were able to force the throne aside, revealing a dark chamber below and two chests.  One was an iron-banded footlocker decorated in a skull motif that seemed untouched by the seawater.  The other was a stone coffer carved with the face of a fish-demon.  Its seams were sealed with lead and it was cemented to the floor.  The other chest they hauled up with little difficulty and set aside.

"Prolly cursed," Chopper said of the sealed coffer.

"I ain't seein' magic on it.  That oth'r one is, though," Sandara told him.  Reiko scrabbled around in the muck and emerged with a key, which she pocketed.  She then attacked the stone coffer.  The lid came off with some difficulty, revealing a blood-red cloud of spores.  Reiko coughed and quickly exited until the cloud had dissipated.  The coffer was otherwise empty.

While they were thus occupied, Feruzi managed to dig out the deep platinum pendant from the shark pit.  Finding nothing else of note, she handed it to Chopper.  Taking their plunder, they returned to the Crisis, arriving just after lunch.  Fishguts' eyes lit up when he laid them on the magical chest.  "Stone me, ye found a captain's locker!"

" A what now?" Feruzi asked.

"Iss bigger on th' inside," he grined.
"That's what she said!"  Chopper shot back. He paused, but no one laughed. "Wait, what?"
"More'n that, if'n we keep it in our hold, our hold will be bigger on th' inside."

"Assuming we can get it open," Feruzi said.  Reiko produced the key with a grin.

"If that's Cyrus Wolfe's treasure," Chopper said, "then less havva looksee!"

Without further ado, they upended the chest on the deck, nearly burying Chopper in a heap of mixed coinage, silks, furs, exotic spices, raw gold and silver, and a truly enormous quantity of prized pirate booty, including an entire ship's figurehead that bounced down the heap of loot and nearly took out Simmed.

"Holy. Buggering. Crap!"  The crew cheered and Kroop clapped Chopper on the back.

"Suren th' Hurricane King will see ya now!"  Feruzi fetched her clipboard and began scribbling while the crew shoveled the booty back into the locker.
"Double shares for the crew on this haul, Ruse," Chopper told her.
"Aye, aye, Captain.  Haroun, has Maoud got any family?"
"His mother lives in Azir," Haroun said, "with his young brother."
"We'll see to 'em both, then." Chopper declared. "Crisis takes care of her own."

"It would be good to head to the Ushinawa Isles for now," Reiko said.

"To bury your da?" Chopper guessed.
"Something like that, Captain."

"Make it so."