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

Dec 17, 2012

Well THAT Didn't Last Long

I tried the elimination diet, really I did, but I couldn't eat enough chicken and turkey and lamb (all of them fairly lean) to quiet the ravenous hunger I developed.  I tried drinking lots of water, but it was actually making me feel sick to my stomach.  So, last night, I drank about 1400 calories worth of cream.  Did I mention I was hungry?  And then I followed it up with about 800 calories of cheese.  Yeah.

Fortunately, I'm not suffering any ill effects that I can discern, apart from NOT BEING HUNGRY.  That, and I didn't notice any effect on my lingering issues on the days when I stuck with the elimination.  I think my rosacea comes from something other than diet--NOTHING has an effect on it.  I've tried every type of moisturizer under the sun.  Cold showers (actually make it worse).  Lukewarm showers.  Changing detergents.  Changing fabric softeners.  No soap.  Special soap.  Organic soap.  Special organic soap.

When it warms up, maybe I'll try the effects of a (moderate) amount of sunshine.  Or it could be bacterial overgrowth in the intestines (maybe) in which case I'll need prescription antibiotics.  Oh well.

Dec 16, 2012

Skull and Shackles Interlude: Owlbear and Feruzi

Rosie headed down to bed, but stopped when she heard some peculiar whimpering sounds coming from across the way.  Mystified, she crept closer, then realized where they must be coming from.  Someone must be tormenting Owlbear again.  Not sure whether she wanted to witness the fun or chase the tormentors off, she hurried toward the giant's usual haunt, only to discover him lying on his side in a whimpering ball with Feruzi hunched over him.

"Watcha doin'?" Rosie asked, shocked at this sight.  Feruzi looked up, brandishing a smooth length of sanded wood.

"Getting this tar off."  She demonstrated with the scraper and the turpentine.  Owlbear whimpered in pain as more reddened, blistered-looking skin was revealed, but remained where he was.

"Oh," Rosie said, not sure if she was relieved or appalled.  "I thought ye might . . . I dunno what I thought, really.  I'm fookin' amazed he's holdin' still fer it, though.  He's a cussed brute.  By rights he should be wringing your neck after that drubbin' ya gave him."

"Why?"  Feruzi asked in an idle tone.

"Why?!" Rosie demanded, baffled.  "'Cause ye beat him up, that's why!  Made him look a fool--an even worser fool than what he is--in front o' all the crew!  And I'll not be surprised if Plugg gave 'im a few choice marks fer losin'!"

Feruzi seemed startled.  "I doubt he would be so foolish."

"Ye do realize he's an idiot?" Rosie grumbled.

"He may be simple-minded, but he is wiser than most on this ship.  They strike out from fear and rage, like wounded animals.  He understands that I have no fear, so he does not fear me."

"Yer a fool too, if ye don't fear what Plugg and Scourge an' all them might do to ye."

"I do not.  Oh, no doubt they could do Feruzi great harm or even kill her if they tried, but that is not reason to fear them.  They are small men with small minds and smaller souls.  They do not have the power to make Feruzi other than what she is.  So she does not fear."

"You think you could take 'em in a fight?"

"No.  They would defeat me.  But they cannot make me into what they are."

"I don' understand.  They're stronger'n ye are, so ye have to do what they say."

"But I choose how to do it.  I could have beaten Owlbear until he was pulp at my feat, laughed and cursed and paraded about how strong I was."

"Aye, and be better off for it--the crew would leave you alone."

"Would they?  Owlbear is strong, and they fear him--individually.  Together, they pull cruel pranks and make his life a misery.  One who seeks to gain from the cowardice of others must ever watch for the viper in his sleep-mat."

"We got a few vipers around here ye should watch for."

Feruzi smiled.  "Yes, but they must attack from the front."  She scrubbed at the last bits of tar clinging to her hands.  "All finished, Mr. Hartshorn.  Better?"

"Hurts," Owlbear whined.

"I know, but this way it will heal and stop hurting."  He sighed and laid his head against her foot, like a loyal dog.

"Tank.  You." he grunted.

Rosie shook her head.  "I won't ever understand yer way o' thinkin', but I admit, it gets results," the halfling said. 

Dec 15, 2012

Skull and Shackles Session 3: Fighting Well

"What are you waiting for," Mr. Plugg growled. "There's something in the bilges that bit Mr. Scrimshaw. Get in there and don't bother coming out until whatever's down there is dead."

Feruzi frowned slightly. "If we go down there, does that mean we have to be dead before we can come up?"

Plugg's attempted a withering stare, but Feruzi didn't seem inclined to wilt.  "We'll just have to see." 

"I see that irony is not a big thing around here," Feruzi remarked as they headed belowdecks.

"I doubt they understand it," Ezikial replied in an equally offhand tone.

"Are we killing this thing or what?" Reiko demanded, already well ahead of them.  She stopped at the last hatch to don her armor.  Feruzi eyed it, her expression overly bland.

"What?" Reiko asked, shrugging.

Feruzi shrugged in return.  "If you have your crutch ready . . ."

"I'm no fool."

"In the Mwangi, it is dangerous to wear anything that could tire or slow you.  I suspect the same may pertain here, but we shall see."  Feruzi heaved the hatch up out of the way and Chopper trotted rapidly down the steep stair-ladder.  The lowest deck of the ship was a foul, damp place filled with thick cobwebs and knee-deep in stinking water.  In times of trouble it served as the ship's brig, with six sets of manacles fixed to the forward bulkheads.

"I hear splashing," Ezikial commented.

"I don't see anything, though," Reiko said.  "It must be pretty small, whatever it is."

"Sadly, small is not the same as harmless," Feruzi said.

"Where?" asked Chopper.

"Over by those bags," Ezikial indicated.

Chopper picked his way carefully through the sludge over to some barley sacks stacked above the water.  As he drew near, something erupted near his legs and began biting. "Oh, what the hell!" he grunted, dodging backwards.  Ezikial stabbed with his shortsword, but the blade found nothing.  Feruzi knocked an arrow, but couldn't find a target.  Chopper flailed with his axes, and something began to squeal excitedly.

"Get out of the water," Feruzi told him.

"A little busy!"  Stirred into some kind of frenzy, the creatures burst forth: enormous, filthy rats the size of small dogs.  They piled onto Chopper, Reiko, and Ezikial. 

Reiko shouted and hacked one in half with her razor-sharp katana.  "Gross," she stated as the still-squirming halves fell into the water.

"Just don't cook it for dinner," Feruzi said wryly.

"That's a promise."

One of the rats managed to latch on just above Chopper's knee, causing him to grunt again and jerk the leg away.  He hit it on the head with an axe, narrowly missing his own leg.  The rat thrashed, then was still.  An arrow spitted another rat near him while Reiko dispatched the fourth.  "I hate rats," she said.

"It's not good to hate," Chopper chided her.  "Rots the soul."

"I'll take a rat-sized rotting on my soul, then.  Or perhaps a dog-sized rotting in this case."

Ezikial spitted the last enormous rat on his sword, and the bilges were silent once again.  Feruzi gathered up the rat corpses to show to Plugg.  "We should get out of this filthy water before we catch something vile," she commented.

"Aye," said Chopper.  They took a quick look around, finding a few odd lost valuables--a high-quality handaxe, a small vial with the symbol of Calistria on it, and a bag with a few gold coins.  Apparently, when things vanished under the water, nobody was too keen to retrieve them.

Feruzi dumped the corpses on deck.  "We are victorious," she summed up, and went to wash.

"By the Eye, look at those wretched things," Plugg said, clearly disgusted.  "Well done.  We might make pirates of you yet."

"Aye, sir," Chopper said without enthusiasm.  "I was bitten.  Could you direct me to the ship's surgeon?"  Plugg gestured for Caulky Tarroon to fetch the Stitchman.

"Mind if I go clean up and get back to work, Mr. Plugg?" Reiko asked.

"Please do," he responded pleasantly.

"Unless, of course, you have anything else you'd like me to slice up?"

"I'll let you know."

Habbly Quarne arrived and set to work on Chopper's leg.  Chopper assisted, attempting to strike up a conversation, but with Plugg watching Quarne was not talkative.  Chopper's skill was not lost on the surgeon, however.  Chopper thanked him and headed back to work.  The remainder of the day passed quietly, without even a showy discipline during dinner.

Feruzi looked to find the halfling Rosie Cusswell, who appeared to be in a much better mood, throwing her arms around Feruzi's waist as the Mwangi huntress approached.  "Did everything work out for you?"

"Fookin' yeah it did!  Thanks!  I'm gonna play the bawdiest songs I know after dinner!"

Feruzi laughed.  "I shall enjoy that."

Reiko waved to Grok, then leaned over to Fishguts and spoke quietly.  "She often forget to lock up the store?"

"Damn it, not again," he growled.  "Yeah, she's pretty bad like that."

"Want me to let her know, or do you have a key?"

"Nah, it's just 'er.  I'll tell 'er."

"All right, then," Reiko said, and helped him finish distributing food to the crew.  She sidled over to Grok. 

"I heard you took care of a problem in the bilges today," the half-orc said.

"I did," Reiko affirmed.  "It was quite messy.  I don't really like rats, at all.  Ever.  Full of diseases.  Could turn nasty with them around."

"Me neither," Grok said, making yuck noises.  "Those little naked feet, and they'da eaten everything down there.  That's our food."

"It looked as though they came out of one of the bags of barley."

"Yeah, Harrigan picked that shit up from Port Peril on the cheap.  Serves 'im right."

Reiko lowered her voice.  "Oh, Ms. Grok, by the way, I assume Mr. Kroop has already told you about the store?"

"What about it?"

"That you'd forgotten to lock it on your way out?  If you need help with remembering to lock it up, I'd be more than happy to remind you."

Grok's skin visibly paled.  "Oh, crap!  I knew I forgot somethin'!  Bless ya, Miss Reiko, ya saved my arse!  That'd be damned helpful of ya.  Swear I'd forget my arms an' legs if they wasn't attached."  A few nearby pirates had turned at the sound of her exclamation, but they returned to their arm wrestling, apparently unconcerned.

"Of course.  Perhaps we can work out a trade of some kind," Reiko said, then laughed, as if she had told an amusing joke.  Grok's return chortle was a bit broad and theatrical.  She headed below to correct her error. 

Reiko snickered and walked over to the arm wrestling.  "Mind if I join in, gentlemen?"  They shifted to make room for her.  Crimson Cogward, the man wearing the blue Varisian scarf, seemed willing to take her on.  Reiko smiled at him and stretched out her arm.  The board they were using was strewn with nails and bits of broken glass--apparently, it wasn't sporting enough for them unless somebody got hurt.  Cog took Reiko's hand and yowled in surprise as she easily forced it down into the painful debris.  Chopper scowled, watching this, and looked like he wanted to approach, but as several of the more hostile crew crowded up, he held back.

"I got a new deck of cards today," Sandara Quinn remarked nearly in his ear. 

"Cards?" he said, perking up.

"Yeah, we were gonna play tonight, right?"

"Aye," Ezikial said.

"Er," Chopper hesitated, looking around.  "Sure thing."

"Me, you, Feruzi, and maybe Reiko," Ezikial added.

"Feruzi does not know the cards," she said from where she was listening to Rosie scrape away at the fiddle.  The halfling's playing was excellent, but her voice more enthusiastic than professional.

"You'll pick it up quick, Ruse," Chopper said.

"I'll teach you," Sandara offered, winking.

"Feruzi is also not foolish enough to gamble on a game she does not comprehend.  Enjoy, I shall seek other entertainments."

Chopper frowned.  "Sorry, I keep trying to socialize her, but . . ."

"We don't have to play for money," Sandara said.

"I have no money anyway," Ezikial added.  "Come on, Feruzi," he insisted.  "Join us.  Below."  She eyed him for a long moment, then shrugged.

"Very well, if you insist."

"What about Reiko?" Sandara asked.  Chopper glanced over to where she was squaring off  against Jape, the half-orc he'd tusseled with the previous morning.

"Eh.  She can catch the next hand."  Reiko's match with Jape was hard-fought, but in the end he succeeded in forcing her hand to the table.  Sneering, he got up and basked in the applause of his cronies.

Reiko flexed her bleeding hand.  "That smarts.  Mind if we go another round?"  The half-orc looked shocked, but nodded in agreement.  Reiko smiled, and then all-but-hurled Jape's hand to the table, sending bits of danger flying everywhere.  He howled in pain and leapt to his feet, fleeing the deck amidst gales of laughter.

"Hey, Jape!"  Chopper yelled.  "Need me to cut it off?"  Sandara laughed until she had trouble breathing. 

"I'd feel for him," Reiko said, "But all's fair in love and pirates."

"Reiko-tono, will you join us below for cards?" Ezikial said insistantly.  She blinked at him, then seemed to get the point. 

"I apologize, Mr. Hands, I'm not much for playing cards, but I may come down and join you all for some conversation in a bit."

"Aye," Ezikial said, and led the way down to their quarters.  The only other person around was Tilly Brackett, who already had too much to drink and was sleeping it off.  Sandara dealt out hands as the others filed in.  Reiko showed her cuts to Chopper.

"Think you can have a look at this?" she asked.

"Mm.  Looks painful."

"Still better than the other guy.  Guys." Sandara said, chuckling.

"You could've offered him an out once it was clear he was beaten.  I mean, fuck Jape, but . . ."

"Well, it's a contest, Mr. Chopper.  If I hadn't done it to him, he'd have done it to me.  He'll be better for the experience, I'm sure."

"I disagree," Chopper grunted, but he still picked the bits of glass out of her hand and bandaged it up.  "All I'm saying is, a bit of mercy can work in your favor as well as a show of force."

"Mm.  This way he'll probably be disinclined to spend so much time with Mr. Scourge, if you catch my meaning."

"I don't follow that line of logic, no."

"Oh, you must have missed when he was hanging out with Scourge's crew the other night.  I think he'll be the better for this display.  And, really, his wound is no worse than mine."  Reiko grinned.  "Mr. Jape's wound, on the other hand might not fare so well."

"Aye, here's hopin'," Sandara said.  "A bit of the rot might do 'im in.  Lemme see that hand, Reiko, I can mend it for ya."  She took the Tian woman's hand and muttered a spell, closing the worst of the cuts.

Feruzi rubbed her head.  "I would simply  be happy to be shut of this vessel."

"For that, we'll need a spit of land," Ezikial said.  "Or another vessel."

"I don't fancy our chances on the open sea.  Sharks, etcetera.  We haven't actually done any piracy.  No wonder I've never heard of Harrigan."

"We could always steal a boat," Feruzi said.

"A rowboat?" Chopper replied skeptically.  "You landlubber."

"Fever Sea's a big place, an' no mistake," Sandara said.  "Harrigan's huntin' fer a prize.  Should only be a matter of time before he finds one.  If he don't, well . . ."

"Well?" Chopper asked as the sentence petered out.

"Folks will start gettin' itches soon," Reiko explained.

"I don't see anyone on this ship with a hope to replace Harrigan that I would prefer," Feruzi said.

"That, Ms. Feruzi, is not the point," Reiko huffed.

"Harrigan's a nightmare walkin' in the day, no mistake," Sandara said.  "But pirates without plunder do get mighty restless."

"Indeed, Ms. Quinn," Reiko affirmed.  She wandered over to the ladder and peered above, making sure there were no listeners.

"Frankly, Plugg and Scourge look like half a mutiny to me already, with their little brute squad," Chopper said.

"If they start making noise, we may be able to unseat them," Feruzi said.  "But that won't get rid of Harrigan."

"Unless we let them get rid of Harrigan for us.  They'd lose men in such an attempt.  And that gives us an advantage," Chopper replied.

"That is a point.  With Harrigan out of the picture, they'd no doubt fall to fighting each other--and they rule by fear, not affection."

Reiko turned back to the conversation.  "It would help to have a couple more of the current officers on our side if it comes down to it.  That would be my suggestion."

"Like the Surgeon or the Sorcerer?" Feruzi asked doubtfully.

"The surgeon has seen my skill, now," Chopper said.  "I hope to make nice with him soon enough.  Don't know about the sorcerer. Do you know anything about her, Sandara?"

"Longfarthing goes WAY back with the Captain.  She's supposed to be more loyal to him than everyone."

"Could we try turning one of the other officers against her?" Feruzi asked.  "She would be an extremely dangerous opponent."

"You've got a very political mind for a savage," said Chopper, grinning.

"I learned dealing with my sister."

"Right, right.  Didn't you tell me she was some kind of princess?  Or whore?  But I repeat myself."  Reiko excused herself and went back up on deck, not interested in family reminiscence.

Sandara began counting on her fingers.  "Besides the Captain, Plugg, an' Scourge, there's, what, Riaris Krine, the Stitchman, Grok, Fishguts, Kipper, Longfarthing, Patchsalt, Caulky, an' Owlbear.  All's I know about Krine is that she swears even worse'n Grok an' Rosie put together.  An' Patchsalt's crazy.  I'd steer clear o' that one, too.  We might be better off workin' on the rank an' file, as it were."

"True," Ezikial opined, the first time he'd spoken for several hands.

"So, there is a 'we'?" Chopper asked.  Ezikial eyed him.

"Well, sure!" Sandara enthused, then gave Ezikial a concerned look.  "Uh . . . isn't there?"

"If we have a similar goal, there is no reason not to work together," Feruzi said.

"Aye," Ezikial said, finally.

"Not for nothing, but I met most of you three days ago, and I've seen a fair bit of brutality and treachery aboard this ship.  Could be a setup."  He rolled his shoulders.  "That said, you've had ample opportunity to do me harm or simply withhold help.  My gut says we can trust each other."

"Reiko's goals may not align with ours," Feruzi said, noting that the Tian had left.  "We should give her the opportunity to go her own way if she wishes."

"Dangerous," Chopper said. "But I don't really understand Reiko's motivations.  At all."

"Then perhaps you should ask her," Feruzi replied.

"She is iffy," Ezikial said.  "But she doesn't fit with the others."

"She seems to be making her own place on this ship," Feruzi said.

"She didn't hesitate to assist with Fipps and company," Ezikial said.

"Did she not?  Perhaps I remember differently."

"Come on, Ruse, she didn't hesitate to speak up," Chopper insisted.

"She backed off and did not offer herself to their blows in our defense.  Only when the fight was well in progress did she threaten to report them.  Words are one thing.  Wounds are another."

"Words ended the fight."

Feruzi held up a conciliatory hand.  "I do not disparage their worth.  Only the willingness of their intent."  She squeezed Chopper's shoulder, somewhat carefully, mindful of his half-healed injuries.  "I will be guided by you in this, Mngani."

"Then we wait," Chopper told her.  "Time, for now, is on our side."

On deck, Reiko approached a group of pirates who were now playing hog lob, Jape among them.  "Your pardon," she said, "I was just curious about the game.  Sorry about the hand, Mr. Jape.  Arm wrestling is always a game of chance."

"Cram yer curiosity, an' get out of here before we make you."

"Come now, must we be enemies?  Being as little as I am, people often assume that I cannot hold my own.  Same as you, I don't want people trying to take advantage of what they see.  Surely, Mr. Jape, you can understand that appearances are not what makes a person who they are.  Will you really make me leave?"

"Yeah," Fipps growled, stepping up.  He reeked of, well, everything.

Reiko smiled then sighed.  "Surely, everyone here has faced discrimination simply for the way they look.  We pirates are hardly welcome in civilized company."

"Sure," Fipps sneered.  "We don't disc-rim-inate against you for the way you look.  We just don't like you.  So, in the name of civilized company, pretty please, fuck off, please and thank you."

"Well, that's a shame, since I'm a pretty likeable person.  But . . . I'll leave it for tonight."

The next morning, Plugg shot Feruzi a baleful look and assigned her to the bilges.  "Ugh.  Well, no help for it," she muttered.  Ezikial shot her a sympathetic look as he set off on his own task.  Reiko spent the day hunting leatherback sea turtles with harpoons, treble hooks, and nets.  Fishguts was actually sober enough to help, giving surprisingly good advice on the use of the nets.  When the working day ended, Feruzi emerged from the hold sodden and filthy.  Without any apparent modesty, she stripped naked to scrub herself and her clothes, re-donning only a few bits of cloth to let the rest dry.  A few of the pirates shot her odd looks, but most seemed unconcerned.  Nearly half the crew was female, anyway.

Shortly after the evening meal, Mr. Plugg approached, hauling a length of chain behind him.  A hulking brute of a man followed at the end of the chain--Owlbear Hartshorn, Captain Harrigan's "pet".  He was usually kept chained to the foremast in the middle hold.  He chewed mindlessly at a fistful of tiny live crabs, cracking their shells with his teeth.  His arms and back still held a coating of sticky black gunk and white fluff, the remnants of an earlier prank where the crew tarred and feathered him.

"Time for a bit of sport!" Plugg announced cheerfully.

"Poor creature," Feruzi remarked.  "Is there no turpentine on this ship?"  Reiko made a face, a cross between sympathy and disgust.  Plugg looked in their direction.

"Which of you thinks you can take him on?  Bare knuckles or wrestling only, no magic tricks.  Last one conscious wins."  He held up a purse.  "A hundred gold says it's Owlbear."

The rest of the crew muttered and shook their heads.  Reiko and Chopper exchanged a glance while Ezikial fingered his gun and scowled.  Feruzi frowned.  "I shall."

Reiko's eyebrow shot up.  "Good luck, Ms. Feruzi."  The Mwangi huntress stepped forward and bowed to Owlbear.

"When you are ready, sir."  She assumed a defensive stance and circled around, waiting to see what he would do.  His fist pounded into her arm with shocking strength, knocking her bodily backwards and nearly dazing her.  Feruzi staggered sideways, trying to avoid another blow, but Owlbear was curiously slow to orient.  It seemed he was blind in one eye.

"That had to hurt," Reiko remarked as she passed.  Feruzi ducked around to Owlbear's blind side again and struck back with two quick kicks to the ribs.  Owlbear gasped and attempted to follow, but she danced back out of reach.  Mr. Plugg frowned from the sidelines.  Two more quick strikes, this time to Owlbear's knee, nearly sent him to the deck.  Plugg tossed him a club, but the slow giant was still unable to keep up with Feruzi's quick movements.

"Cheating," the Mwangi woman hissed under her breath, slamming her foot into Owlbear's temple.  She dodged away, but the hulk's response was not angry vengeance.  Instead, he suddenly began crying and tried to get away.

"This is just sad . . ." Chopper remarked as Plugg and Scourge together shoved Owlbear back into the fight.  Feruzi planted a final kick just behind his ear, sending him sprawling to the deck, where he whimpered and drooled and attempted to crawl feebly away.

Sighing in relief, Feruzi relaxed her combat stance and bowed deeply.  "Salute.  You fought well, sir."  Owlbear ceased his crawling and gave her an odd look.

"You.  Respect?" he ground out slowly.  The rest of the crew stood by in utter silence.

"Of course.  I am a Hunter of the vast Mwangi.  I respect the laws of the hunt and of the fight."

"You.  Kind." Owlbear grunted.  With much effort, he climbed to his feet, leaving the club on the deck.

"Are we finished?" Feruzi aked.  Owlbear staggered toward her, his arms outstretched.  On the sidelines Chopper crouched, ready.  Feruzi studied the giant's expression, then smiled slightly and stepped back, grasping one of his hands with both of hers and bowing again.  A huge grin split his face, and he brayed with laughter until Plugg's cronies grabbed the chain and hauled him away by main force.

Reiko bowed to Feruzi.  "You are a woman of honor and stature.  Well done."

Feruzi bowed in return.  "You do me too much honor."

"Not at all.  Honor is very important where I am from."

The look on Plugg's face when he handed over his purse was utterly disgusted.

Dec 12, 2012

Skull and Shackles Session 2: Life Aboard Ship

Ezikial looked up at the fat man blocking his path.  "Well," he drawled. "I think--" the fat pirate staggered backwards clutching his groin from Ezikial's well-placed kick.  He pulled out his pistol, cocked it, and shoved it into the man's face.  "Back off and leave me alone."  He was dimly aware of Reiko and Feruzi moving behind him, the Tian slinking back into the shadows while the Mwangi huntress stepped up to prevent the other pirates from surrounding him.

The fat man panted hard for a few seconds.  "You won't get away with kicking Fipps Chumlett!" he growled, yanking a dagger out of his belt and shoving Ezikial's gun aside.

"No!" the big-eared woman standing beside him hissed.  "I ain't gonna get keel-hauled!"

"Most wise," Feruzi commented as Ezikial danced backward, taking a messy but not dangerous cut along the outside of his thigh.  The other pirates waded in, swinging fists and weighted bits of rope.  Chopper punched one in the jaw, dodging a reciprocal kick.  Feruzi's hand shot out with snake speed, striking the rigger woman in the abdomen and doubling her up.  The Mwangi's foot then soared skyward and came down solidly on the rigger's forehead, staggering her and putting her out of the fight.

"Stop this right now!" Reiko yelled.  "I'll be sure Scourge and Plugg know all about this little shindig!"

"C'mon, Fipps!" the remaining uninjured pirate insisted.  "Let's get on deck before we're missed."

Fipps hesitated, then backed away, never taking his eyes off Ezikial.  "Another time, maybe," he drawled.

"don't think the Captain won't hear about this, too," Reiko snarled.  Ezikial un-cocked the pistol and put it back in his shirt.

"Watch your back, mate," Chopper told the retreating pirates, "Cos I'm gonna put my boot up--oh, they're gone."

"Methinks it would be most wise to avoid going anywhere alone for the near future," Feruzi remarked.  Ezikial shrugged.  "Your duties take you alone over the entire ship," she insisted.  "Watch yourself."

The crew was already assembled on the Wormwood's deck when they arrived.  Fishguts handed around some ship biscuits for breakfast in a desultory fashion, his eyes squinted nearly shut against the sunlight.

"What is this, a rock?" Feruzi demanded in disgust.  She watched Chopper attempting to masticate his biscuit without chipping a tooth.

"Just eat it," Reiko told her.


"Valid question," Chopper mumbled.  "Sailors have not yet come up with a satisfactory answer."

"What, did you lose all your teeth already?" Reiko asked.

"No.  And I plan to keep them intact."  Feruzi stared at the biscuit for a few moments more, then put it on the rail and punched it vigorously, turning it into a mush of small pieces.  "Feruzi is victorious," she announced.  Reiko rolled her eyes.

Mr. Plugg glanced over them in passing.  "Mr. Chopper, you're working the lines today.  Hands will be down in the bilges.  Feruzi is our runner.  And Miss Nakayama, Fishguts has . . . something . . . for you to do, I have no doubt."

"Wonderful," Reiko said.  I'll get started on that, then."  She arrived in the galley to find that Fishguts had already succeeded in rendering himself insensible, and the bits of fish already set out would not be enough to feed the crew.  Sighing, she rooted out a hook and line and set out to augment the supplies.  She passed Chopper as he entered the quartermaster's stores, and paused to watch.

"That looks familiar," Chopper said, not as casually as he probably thought, gesturing to a package of his former belongings.  "Any chance I can get that stuff, you know, back?"

"Yep," Grok the quartermaster croaked.  "Plunder belongs to the Captain, but everything has a price."

"Aye," Chopper replied.  "So, what, er, price, were you thinking of?"

Grok snorted.  "Look, I'm used to pressed sailors beggin' me fer their stuff back.  Money talks, friend."

"The Captain took that, too.  Are favors any good as currency?"

"Depends," she replied, grinning toothily. "You got anything to drink besides rum?"

"Ah, see, now we are communicating.  I hear you.  I'll see what I can do," Chopper said, shooting her a little two-fingered salute before sauntering off.  Reiko followed him onto the deck, and spent the entire day attempting to wrangle up enough fish for dinner.  She barely had enough time to scurry back down to the galley, chop up her gleanings, and boil them to a sufficiently cooked status before the bell rang, announcing the end of the working day.  She hauled the stew and a stack of bowls onto the deck for distribution.

"So," she asked Grok as the quartermaster approached for her serving.  "How do you suppose one might gain an audience with the Captain?"

"Oh, you don't want that, sweetie, trust me," Grok said, accepting a bowl.

"You're right, of course.  I was just curious as to how one might go about it, should a need arise."

"Chain of command.  Well, when they aren't beatin' ya with it."

"That makes sense, I suppose."

"If somethin' needs attention, ye tell Scourge, who tells Plugg, who tells Harrigan."

"Time fer the Bloody Hour!" Scourge bellowed.  Chopper shed his jacket and shirt, handing them to Sandara to hold.  Scourge shoved him against the mainmast and tied his wrists together with a thick rope.  The Boatswain then picked up his whip and made cheerful use of it, hacking away like he intended to cut Chopper in half.  The former sawbones made some unpleasant noises, then lost consciousness.  Finally, Scourge wandered off, leaving Chopper lashed to the mast.

Ezikial walked up with a bucket of seawater, and Feruzi helped him wash and bandage Chopper's back as best they could.  They picked up his still-unconscious body and carried him below, Sandara following with his shirt.  Once they had him installed in his hammock, she reached into her bag and pulled out a scroll.  She unrolled it and muttered for a moment, causing a faint reddish light to emanate from the page.  Chopper's wounds receded somewhat and he woke, blinking.

"Huh-wha?" he slurred, wincing.

"Easy there, lay back now," Sandara told him.

"Why," he asked, "were you going to do all the work."  Feruzi snorted.

"Don't coddle him," she said.  "He's an idiot."

"That's true," Chopper conceded.  "Very, very dumb."

"And what do you plan tomorrow when you cannot work? When you cannot lift your arms above your head? Answer that, genius," Feruzi demanded.

"Actually, I feel way better than I think I have a right to. How am I even conscious?"

"Besmara's blessing, Mister Chopper," Sandara said crisply.

"The Pirate Queen blessed me better? Now that is a new experience."

"Maybe She will bless you with some brains as well," Feruzi added, her scowl not budging in the slightest.

"Ease up, Ruse, it still hurts enough that I'm not liable to forget."  Feruzi snorted and left.  "Like a sister to me, that one," Chopper told Sandara.  "An angry, violent sister."

On deck, Reiko had worked her way over to the group surrounding Scourge and Mr. Plugg.  "Ah, good evening, gentlemen.  And ladies," she remarked.  "Pleasant weather, don't you think?  And what a bloody hour!  Not as exciting as yesterday's, but still entertaining."

"Glad you liked the show," Mr. Plugg remarked.  "I imagine that, coming from the Ushinawa Isles, you understand the importance of a disciplined crew."

"Oh, naturally," Reiko replied.  "We samurai are fairly well disciplined from a young age."

"Everyone has a part to play," Plugg continued.  "I know an Ushinawa proverb: 'the nail that sticks out is the one that gets pounded'."

"I couldn't agree more.  That is one of our most famous proverbs.  You've visited the islands before, have you?"

"No, but the captain on my previous vessel served under an Ushinawa captain when he was a first mate."

"Interesting.  I suppose your previous captain described his old captain to you, then?"

"Indeed he did.  A real piece of work named Soshimira, captain of the Dragon's Dishonor.  He was vicious, though.  My captain quit that ship at the first opportunity."

"And how long ago was this, if you don't mind me asking?"

Plugg paused, considering.  "Must have been ten years, if Captain Maciason's to be believed.  Dragon's Dishonor vanished about five years ago."

"Very interesting, sir.  Say, would you care for me to get some more rum?  Refill your cups, as it were?"

Scourge started to speak, but Plugg brushed him aside.  "We were just about to retire, Reiko-san.  Thank you, though.  This has been illuminating."

"Indeed.  Perhaps we can chat again sometime soon."

When the dawn bell rang, Feruzi climbed out of her hammock and helped tip Chopper out of his.  "Thank you," he mumbled as she nudged him upright and then brushed his clothes more or less into order.  They joined the others on the deck, where Mr. Plugg assigned them their work and left.  The day passed much like the previous two, in endless backbreaking labor.  Chopper passed Ezikial coming out of the stores with a number of new items in his possession and growled.  Feruzi finished her assigned repair work early and nicked some supplies to make arrows.  After much diligent effort, she handed the results over to Grok in exchange for her bow.  Chopper growled still more.

Dinner and the Bloody Hour were less exciting than previous, with "Badger" Medlar being given only three lashes for unsatisfactory work.  Feruzi sat in an unoccupied corner, tending to her bow and eyeing a piece of shingle she'd set up for a target.  The tiny halfling woman, Rosie Cusswell, approached her nervously.

"Yes?" the Mwangi asked, without looking up.

"Er, I see that ya got yer bow back from Grok . . . was wonderin' if ya could do me a favor."

"Depends on the favor, but I am not unreasonable."

"Grok's got my fiddle.  I can't get 'er to give it me, cos I kinda lost my temper first time I asked.  I'd be grateful as shit if ya could get it back."

Feruzi smiled slightly at the tiny halfling.  "I do appreciate music.  Give me a day or so to see what I can do."

"Fookin' great!  Thanks!"

"Do you know any small trinkets Grok might particularly enjoy?"

"Nah, I tried a couple different damned things.  I heard she was superstitious, an' she likes to get fooked up on anythin' BUT rum, but that didn't do me no damned good."

"Superstitious?" Chopper asked, butting in.  Feruzi glanced over his shoulder to where Sandara was standing.

"That's how I got my things back from her," the readhead confided.  "By saying they were cuuuuuuursed."

"Well, damn," Chopper said.  "That probably won't work too many times."

Feruzi shrugged.  "I was thinking to make her a holy symbol of Besmara, for protection, you know.  Could you bless it, if I made one?" She looked down at Rosie.  "And then you could give it to her, earn some stock back."

"That sounds like a plan," Sandara said.  "Who knows, maybe even put a little faith in her."

Reiko meandered over to where Fishguts was flopped on a bench.  "Ah, Mr. Kroop.  How's the head doing?"

"It's doin'," he said, grinning unrepentantly.  "I guess ya did all right without me."

"It was tough work to be sure.  I can see why you like the drink.  How about we make a deal, you and I?"

His grin became downright conspiratorial.  "Tell me."
"Well, to start, why not hold back on the drink just a hair so we can chat tomorrow while I'm cooking.  You can take it easy and drink all you want, don't have to drink it all at once, if you know what I mean."

The old cook feigned affront for a moment.  "Well, all right, lass, ye got a deal.  Cap'n Harrigan wants somethin' special tomorrow night, anyway."

"I'll even make sure to be up to take care of breakfast for ya."

"Bless ya, lass."

Feruzi finished her ministrations to the bow and began taking shots at her target.  Within minutes, a small group of the crew had gathered, betting cheerfully as she set up more difficult targets and hit them with ease.  Chopper watched, amused, as Feruzi paused, to disappointed groans from the bored pirates, and then spent several moments negotiating fiercely.  She then handed the target shingle to a grinning pirate, who tripped across the deck with it, setting it up almost, but not quite, behind a barrel.  Feruzi scowled, knocked an arrow, and let fly, hitting a corner of the shingle and sending it skidding across the deck.  Without a pause, she sent another arrow after it, nailing it square in the center.  The pirates applauded happily and handed over a few miscellaneous coins and trinkets, satisfied with their entertainment.

In the morning when the crew assembled, a few of the older hands were grumbling about the slow trip and the lack of plunder.  Reiko spent the day in the kitchen, butchering and roasting a young pig for the Captain's special dinner.  The Captain's concubine showed up to take it away, tasting everything before nodding her approval.  Fishguts shook his head.

"Can't trust noone on a pirate ship," he said, spitting reflectively.  "Tryin' to poison the officers is 'bout the worst thing there is."

"Well, naturally," Rekio responded dimly.  "So, tell me, Mr. Kroop, are there any other officers you're close to?"

"Jist Grok, really.  The Cap'n mostly keeps me around cos he owns me, I guess."

"Owns you?  Care to elaborate?"

"Er, well, I bet me own life again' 'im on th' cards 'bout two year ago, an' I lost," Fishguts mumbled, his accent nearly indecipherable in his embarrassment.  "I'm still a better cook'n any o' these tars, an thass kept me alive.  So far."

"What a shame," Reiko remarked.  "The upside is that you'll be with us for the foreseeable future, though."

Chopper cornered Grok in the stores and launched into a lengthy ghost story about his axes and his previous career removing limbs on a legitimate vessel.  He could tell she wasn't buying it, but neither of them were getting any work done, either.  Finally, she broke down and handed over his gear just to get rid of him.  Triumphant, he buckled on his weapons and set off merrily.

Ezikial spent the day killing vermin.  He ran across Sandara, who was helping to clear the deck.  "You have plans?" he asked her quietly.

"For my life, or just tonight?" she asked.  "Either way, no, not really."

"Maybe some cards and a chat, before bed?"

"Pardon," Feruzi said, interrupting them.  Ezikial glared at her but the Mwangi seemed utterly oblivious.  Or maybe that was just her face.  She handed a neatly-carved wooden symbol over to Sandara.  "I have finished.  Please pass this on to Rosie when it is ready."

Sandara turned the symbol over in her hands.  "Not bad work."

"We could play with Chopper, too," Ezikial offered.

"Aye, I'd like that, Mr. Hands," Sandara said, smiling.  "I think I'd like that a great deal.  The more the merrier!"  She gave him a saucy wink before Scourge stomped over and cussed them back to work.

Mid-morning, an unholy shriek came from below the deck, and Jack Scrimshaw erupted out of the hatch.  "Summat . . . summat jumped right out o' the bilges and bit me!" he yelled, waving his bloody hand like a flag.  Mr. Plugg nodded calmly and waved Jack off to find Quarne, the ship's surgeon.  He then called out, "Mr. Hands! Mr. Chopper! Ms. Feruzi! Ms. Reiko! Front and center!  Get down in there and don't bother coming out until whatever it is, is dead!"

Dec 10, 2012

Elimination Diet

My low carb/high fat diet has been going pretty well overall, but I'm still having a couple of chronic issues that just won't clear up no matter what I do.  Firstly, I have rosacea over my face, arms, and the backs of my legs that will not go away.  Secondly, I have wildly erratic problems with my monthly cycle.  Sometimes it's not so bad.  Sometimes I have horrifically bad cramps, bloating, constipation, so bad that I'll basically be stuck in bed for days at a time.

The thing is, that I can't just change what I eat for a few days and know what effect it's going to have on my cycle--it seems to be really dependent on everything I do for the entire month, if not longer.

So, I'm going to try doing an elimination diet this month to see if things even out at all.  Then I can start introducing foods again to see what, if anything, is causing my issues.

I already eschew grains, starches, and (most) sugar, although I do cheat on the sugar a little when I have chocolate.  So, here's what else I'll be cutting out:

root vegetables (largely because they have a LOT of carbohydrates and I'm particularly carb sensitive)
cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts)

So, this kind of leaves the question of, what AM I going to eat?  Chicken, turkey, and green leafy vegetables, mostly.  Coconut oil.  Yeah, sounds boring.  But I'm sick of randomly falling over and being useless and miserable several days a month.  That, and I'm tired of my skin looking like I have a rash.

We'll see how it goes.

Dec 6, 2012

Skull and Shackles: Session 1: The Wormwood

 The new day was hazy yet curiously bright, the sun not visible in a sky that seemed to glow of its own accord, one shade from horizon to distant horizon.  The cramped cabin which seemed to some combination of crew quarters and brig had only a single tiny porthole, but it was enough to make the two male occupants squint and wince away, still recovering from the unholy mixture of grog and opium they'd swallowed the night before.  Feruzi planted her back to the wall and eyed the other female, a tiny creature, although still armed and lacking a signature headache.

The door flew open and the horrible yellow-toothed, emaciated Master Scourge stomped in, his face twisted in a grimace that on second viewing turned out to be a shark smile.  He spoke in sickly-sweet tones, belied by the six pirates with various bludgeons arrayed behind him.  "Did ye lovely princesses enjoy yer beauty rest, then?  The sun be over the yardarm, and it be time to report to the captain!"  The smile fell away.  "On yer feet, filthy swabs, before Cap'n Harrigan flays yer into sausages and has Fishguts fry yer up for breakfast!"

"Oh, quit yer yellin'," the other woman snapped, her accent belying her exotic appearance.  "I bin up."

Chopper grunted and rolled himself onto his hands and knees, rising slowly and deliberately from there to his feet.  "Oof," was his sole comment. His face slowly took on its usual cheerful, ingratiating expression as he looked around.  "Huh," he said.  "Guess I was righter than I thought.  They do need a doctor, eh Ruse?" He turned to look at Feruzi, who, as always, responded to the nickname with a blank stare.  "So," he continued, clapping his hands and rubbing the palms briskly, "what are our duties, erm, boatswain?  Not swabs.  Yeesh."

"If ye'll make yer way t'the deck," Scourge growled, "we'll sort all o' that out right quick."

"Oh.  Aye, sir."

"This would be a simpler matter were you not standing in the doorway," Feruzi remarked.  Scourge's smile, already more than strained, fled altogether, but he stepped aside, making a florid bow toward the doorway.

The Wormwood proved to be a sizeable ship, three-masted, with a fairly sizeable crew clustered around the mainmast.  Two figures addressed them from the fore deck, one a broad, muscular Garundi man with a shaved head, a long beard extravagantly bound with gold rings, and an eye patch--clearly the Captain--while the other, a younger man in a tailored coat with the front of his head shaved and a long queue behind, fingered a cat-o'-nine-tails.  Feruzi followed Chopper and the other two to join what looked like another small group of new recruits among the pirate crew, set apart by their relative cleanliness and unease with the surroundings.  Master Scourge climbed the steps to the foredeck to whisper into the younger man's ear.

Chopper, friendly as always, took about two seconds to size up the other recruits.  He made a pleased noise as he recognized one red-haired woman from the Formidably Maid.  "Sorry, Miss, I promise, the next rescue will go better," he remarked.  She nodded politely.

The Captain leaned forward, planting his hands on the rail in a way that displayed his extravagant muscles to good effect.  "Glad you could join us at last!" he announced in a gravely voice.  "Welcome to the Wormwood!  Many thanks for 'volunteering' to join my crew.  I'm Barnabas Harrigan, Captain Harrigan to you, not that you'll ever need to address me.  I have only one rule--don't speak to me.  I like talk, but I don't like your talk.  Follow that, and we'll get along fine."  He paused, leaned back, and paced the length of the rail before stopping to look down at the recruits again.  "One more thing.  Even with you folks, we're still short-handed, so I aim to keep what crew I have.  There'll be a keelhaulin' for anyone caught killin'.  Mr. Plug!" the younger man stepped forward smartly.  "If you'll be so kind as to make pirates out of these landlubbers, it'll save me the effort of tossin' 'em into the bilges to rot."  Harrigan then sauntered away.

The apparent Mr. Plugg smiled unpleasantly.  "I got positions what need fillin' on this ship," he announced.  "The first goes to whoever can climb to the crow's nest the fastest."  He indicated  the small enclosure at the top of the mainmast for the assistance of the hard-of-thinking.

"What is the first one?" Chopper asked.

"Does it matter?" the tiny woman asked.

"Well, there are jobs, and there are jobs."

Feruzi shot the tangled ropes a contemptuous look, then leapt into them and began climbing.  They somehow managed to be rough and slimy-feeling at the same time, perhaps the tar that coated them in liberal amounts to protect them from wear and weather.

"See?" Chopper said.  "Now Ruse has a head start."  He, too, began to climb.  The tiny woman followed him, while the fourth man, who had yet to speak, plucked at the cordage in a desultory fashion.

Feruzi estimated she was about halfway to the top when she glanced down.  It couldn't have been more than a glance, but she missed her grip and suddenly found herself scrabbling for a handhold.  Her bare foot slid between the ropes, and with the natural grace of a flapping pelican, she fell off, crashing to the deck amidst a roar of hilarity from the watching pirates.  Grunting, she forced herself to her feet and glanced upward.  Chopper shook his head and continued climbing, reaching the top just ahead of the woman.

"Congratulations," Mr. Plugg said dryly, not sounding particularly congratulatory.  "You're our new rigger; you and the gnome report directly to me."  He pointed to one of the other set of recruits, a short nonhuman in oddly foppish dress.  "Now come on down."

"Aye, sir," Chopper called down.  The woman slid down the mast with little apparent effort, landing neatly on her feet at the base.  Plugg gave Feruzi a nudge with his toe.

"Second test," he said.  "Can you cook?"

"Only if you like your meat raw," Feruzi told him.  He scowled at her, then turned to look at the thus-far silent man.  "What about you?"


"What about you?" Plugg demanded of the tiny woman.

"I've been aboard enough boats to say that I probably can.  Though whether it meets your expectations remains to be seen."

"Fine.  You're the new cook's mate.  Old Fisguts is pickled in grog, and I'm sick of eating his rubbish.  New riggers in the crow's nest, you'll be on lookout today.  Cook's mate, to the galley."  Plugg pointed to the fourth man.  "You're a runner, that means you pass messages to al parts of the ship, saves the officers' quarters.  The rest of you, get to swabbing.  Do your jobs well, and we won't have any problems.  Otherwise, your education in pirate discipline begins at the Bloody Hour.  Get to work!"

Feruzi frowned at Chopper.  "So. How does one swab?"

* * *

Reiko made her way down the stairs to the galley.  Two massive wooden tables squatted between ranks of cupboards.  In the back of the room, a pair of small stoves hunched under seething cauldrons.  Scattered over every flat surface was a chaos of pots, knives, and discarded food.  A full flock of chickens and several goats wandered freely, contributing to the overall confusion and filth.  A fat, short, midle-aged human with a black rooster perched on his shoulder stopped fussing at a stove and looked up, wiping greasy sweat from his face.

"I know th' new hands missed breakfast, but ye're just gonna have t' wait fer dinner."

"Understood," Reiko said.  "I'm your new assistant."

"Cook's mate, eh?  Mebbe that Plugg's had enough o'me after all, wants me t'show yer the ropes so's 'e can toss me overbode.  Board."  The man belched, and Reiko realized he was drunk.  Not insensible, but definitely a couple sheets to the wind, at least.  "Well, c'mon in, I'll show ye around.  M'name's Ambrose Kroop, but ye might as well call me Fishguts, errybody does."

"If you insist, Mr. Kroop."

"An' what should I call ye, Miss?"

"My name is Nakayama Reiko.  You may call me Reiko."

"Well, welcome ta th' Wormwood.  'Tis poison, this ship, but don't let anyone hear ye say it aloud.  The hull listens, see, and the Cap'n hears it all.  Poison the Wormwood is, though, rotten to the core.  You'll not meet a more nasty, sour piece of work than Cap'n Harrigan in all your days at sea, and his crew's the same, 'specially the first mate, Mr. Plugg.  Vicious little sod, he is.  He'd sell his own mother to the butcher for pies, he would, but they leave me alone, mostly.  They know I can't 'arm 'em, and they has to eat regardless."

"How long have you been on this ship, Mr. Kroop?" Reiko asked, poking among the debris looking for a place to start.

"Three years, now.  It ain't the Lobster's Armor, but it ain't the bottom of the Fever Sea, either.  Yer job'll be t' help me cook fer the crew, an' sometimes t'catch stuff fer us t'cook.  Oh, and sometimes the butcherin'.  Ye ain't afraid o' butcherin', are ye?"

Reiko patted her sword, smiling.  "Not in the least.  I'm not very good at fishing, but I'll do my best."

"I just dinna know if ye had a taboo or . . . whatever.  I ain't had a Tian on th' ship afore."

"Not at all.  We eat meat, same as most.  Although, we do prefer it to be unspoiled."

"Oh, good, good.  Anyway, t'day we're makin' stew.  Let's get started.

* * *

Ezikial Hands, now runner aboard the Wormwood, made his way through the middle hold when the readhead he'd seen at the Formidably Maid waved to him from a cubby.  There was no one else around, a situation that was sure to change shortly.  He stepped toward her, raising an eyebrow to invite confidence.

"Ahoy there," she said, somewhat nervous.  "Thought you'd want this back."  She held out a leather-wrapped bundle, which Ezikial recognized as his pistol, powder, and bullets.  "I told the quartermaster that the powder was dangerous, an' she believed me.  Poor thing is superstitious as a Kuru cannibal."

Ezikial accepted the package and bowed.  "Thank you."

"Sure, what are friends for?"

"Ezikial Hands," he replied by way of introduction.  "Want a swallow?" he asked, extending his pocket flask.

"Black Queen, yes."  The redhead took a hearty swig, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and giving the flask back.  "On a pirate ship, it ain't what ya know, it's who ya know.  Friends got ta help each other out.  Enemies just make trouble, and their ain't any places to hide from trouble on a ship like this, savvy?"

Ezikial took a swallow himself.  "I'm back to work.  First day and all . . ."

"Yeah.  I woulda gotten that tall Mwangi woman's bow, but it's kinda . . . conspicuous fer me to carry that thing around."

"Fair enough," Ezikial replied.  "Safe travels."

* * *

The ship's clock finally rang, signaling the end of the workday.  The crew gathered on deck for what was known, aboard ship, as the "Bloody Hour"--dispensation of the day's accumulated punishments before the evening meal.  Reiko joined the crowd, and was somewhat startled when the lanky Mwangi woman passed her some fresh-caught fish.  She hid it surreptitiously up her sleeve.  Most of the ship's "officers" were hanging about, Master Scourge being noticeable in his absence.  Captain Harrigan turned and bellowed down the hatch.

"Bring him up!"

A few moments later, Master Scourge appeared, dragging a dreadfully skinny young human from belowdecks.  He stared around at everyone, his eyes wild, but the crew avoided his gaze.  Harrigan gestured toward Mr. Plugg.

"Jakes Magpie," Plugg announced laconically, "you have confessed to the crime of theft from the quartermaster's stores.  The sentence is a slow keelhauling."

"Stupid boy," Ezikial remarked under his breath.  Magpie struggled to no avail as Scourge hooked a heavy rope around his waist.  Plugg and Scourge heaved the boy over the starboard into the darkening waters, slowly playing out the rope until he dragged along the side of the ship.  A desperate prayer to Besmara could be heard before the boy vanished beneath the waves.

"Guess they ain't that short-handed," Chopper growled, looking at Plugg's face, which was alight with relish at the grisly task.

"Hope he's got strong lungs," Ezikial added.

"He will gain some scars to impress his future wife," Feruzi offered.  A halfling, barely knee-high on the Mwangi woman, laughed harshly.

"In the next life, maybe."

Nearly two minutes later, the remains of Jakes Magipe surfaced off the port side.  Plugg and Scourge hauled the shredded mass of flesh onto the deck.

"Right.  No stealing, then.  Message received," Chopper muttered.

"What a waste," Ezikial agreed.

"What do you think is going into tomorrow's stew?" Reiko reflected.  Chopper cringed.

"Please don't."

"I'll do what I can," she said.

Plugg waved over one of the other new recruits.  "Cut this up and throw it to the sharks."  Feruzi took a step forward, towering over the shorter officer even from some distance away.

"Did the Captain not discuss a penalty for killing earlier?"

"You'll find pirates a contrary lot," Chopper told her.  Feruzi lowered her chin to glare.

"Shall we break out the ropes for Mr. Plugg, then?"

Harrigan gave a short barking grunt that might have been a laugh or a snort.  "The law is upheld.  Let's eat."  Reiko helped Fishguts distribute the stew while an unusually thin half-orc woman in dark clothes appeared with a bucket and a handful of mugs, bringing a cheer from the more experienced crewmembers.  She began ladling out rations of grog.  Chopper glanced at her as she walked past, realizing she had a deep, ragged scar across her neck.  Apparently she'd survived an attempt at throat-slitting. 

"Once you drink this," the half-orc woman explained, "you're free to retire for the evening, or carry on up here.  But you have to drink it.  And you have to be back up here, ready to work, when the dawn bell rings."

Feruzi frowned at the grog, then held her nose and swallowed it, considering it was likely the least foul water on the ship.  Reiko essayed a ladylike sip and grimaced.  Chopper accepted his ration, but only stared at it.

"I don't recall 'drink the grog' being on the Captain's List of Laws," he commented.  The half-orc grinned toothily.

"I think it's more t'keep us from gettin' too rowdy, but I'm all for that!"  Chopper sampled the swill.  "That's the difference between most ships and pirate ships," she added.  "We'll give ya more if ya ask for it."

"I can get another?" Ezikial asked.

"Sure!" the woman said, and scooped more grog for Ezikial.  "I like this one."

"Good vintage," Chopper said, spluttering a little in his attempts at the grog. He turned, handing the mug to Ezikial, whose own cup was again dry.  The half-orc glared.

"Ye'll get a lashin'!" she hissed.

"I saw that, rigger," Master Sourge called from the poop deck.  "Six lashes on the Bloody Hour."

"I'll see if Mr. Plugg's arm is less painful than that dreck."  Feruzi gave him a disgusted look.  She considered his life her responsibility, but if he wanted to pick up a few scars, that was his own affair.  Scourge shrugged and turned away.  Chopper glanced over at the man now drinking his grog.

"Call me Chopper," he said, extending a hand.

"Ezikial Hands," the other said, accepting a brief shake.  Feruzi walked away, heading for a hammock.

"Who'd you used to be?" Chopper asked.  "You know, before you became a pirate."

"Studying up to be one."

"Heh,  Is there a test?"

Ezikial shrugged.  "You?"

"An 'honest' sailor.  A carpenter and sometime surgeon," Chopper explained, making a hacking gesture with one hand.


"Ain't taken many lives, but limbs . . . more than I care to think on.  And here's the assistant cook," he added, as Reiko peeked at them.  "Chopper," he repeated his introduction, making a clumsy bow.


Reiko nodded and then looked up at the sky.  "It's interesting, don't you think."

Chopper glanced in the direction she was looking.  "Could you be a little ore specific?"

"The sky, of course.  It's interesting."

He shrugged.  "Well, the stars are good for navigation, certainly.  Useful.  But . . . interesting?"

"Indeed.  It's so very vast.  Much larger than any of us.  Yet we always reach for it, even while it surrounds us."

"A philosopher in your former life, then?" Ezikial asked.

"Perhaps.  Nakayama Reiko.  You may call me Reiko if you so desire."

"I'll take that as a kindness," Chopper said.  "The first bit is a mouthful.

"And what has you so grumpy, Mr. Hands?" Reiko asked.


"Yes, grumpy.  With the scowl on your face, and all."

"I'm not 'grumpy'.  This is just my face."

"Condolences," Chopper smirked.  Reiko nodded toward another group of the crew, who were playing at a complex-looking game.

"That's interesting too, don't you think?"

"You keep using that word," Chopper said.  "I don't think it means what you think it means."

"So you're a comedian.  I like you."

Chopper smiled, somewhat startled at Reiko's reaction, then gestured off down the deck.  "My clumsy friend is called Feruzi.  She doesn't talk much."

"I noticed," Reiko said.  "But I like her too.  She might want to work on her temper a bit, though.  She won't last long on a pirate ship that way."  They glanced at Ezikial, who had withdrawn from the conversation, and noticed him shaking his flask at the red-headed woman.

"That right there," Chopper said, gesturing toward the redhead, "is the reason I stand here with you now.  Never could resist doing something stupid when I see a woman in trouble."

Reiko shrugged.  "That's not a bad quality, I suppose, but your life might also last longer if you work on that habit."

"Aye," Ezikial replied.  "Wish I'd had time to pull the trigger before they hit me."

"The which?" Chopper asked, then shrugged.  "I'd drink to that, but . . ."

"Not much of a drinker?" Reiko asked.

"I'll drink.  When it's my idea."

"I can't really argue with that decision," Reiko said.

"We should meet our fellow sailors, no?" Chopper said, and walked over toward the redhead.

"Well met!" she said.  "We were talking about the Master of the Gales.  Jack Scrimshaw here thinks that the Master's been healing the Eye of Abendego."

"Is it sick, then?" Chopper asked, glad-handing the other members of the small gathering.

"The Eye's a wound on the world, and he's healing it.  Good for nature, good for civilization--bad for pirates!  Why do you think he keeps what he's doing so quiet?  And the reason he ignores the Cult of the Eye is because he knows he'll soon be giving the lie to their propehcy of a new god arising from the maelstrom."

Sandara shook her head slightly.  "Thanks to you for tryin' to help me last night," she said to Chopper and Ezikial.  She turned a bit too quickly and stumbled.  Chopper extended a hand to steady her.  Reiko grinned.

"You could be her knight in shining armor," the Tian woman said.

"No thanks needed," Chopper replied.  "Especially considering how it turned out.  Still, you're welcome.  Any time."

"Like tonight," Sandara said, steadying herself.  "Strong, ain'tcha?"

Ezikial shook his head.  "Not my first choice of ships, but ship work is ship work.  Still . . . the management will take some getting used to."

"That's putting it lightly," Reiko agreed.  Sandara spat.

"Scourge, that bastard.  I'll show him what for."  She shook her fist at the sky, coming close to punching Chopper in the nose.  He sat down and helped her settle in his lap.  "I'm not  gonna polish his knob just cos he's an officer.  The man's repusslive."

"You've got a sailor's mouth, anyway," Chopper said.

"Damned yeh I do.  My Da was a fisherman, same as his Da, prolly goes back as far as there's been a sea to fish."

They chatted for some time in a desultory fashion, then headed off for bed.  The dawn bell rang far too early, and seemingly only seconds later four pirates were at the door to their cabin.  The fat man shoved Ezikial in the chest.

"In a hurry?" he sneered.

Dec 1, 2012

I Have to Admit, This One Made Me Laugh

Shall I assume that it contains peanuts, seafood, milk, and soy, then?

Nov 29, 2012

Some Musings on Crime and Sense of Life

So, the book I've currently got stored in the Porcelain Reading Room--isn't that a clever euphemism? I thought so, too! sometimes I kill me--is my massive leather-bound volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  One of the things that struck me about Sir Doyle's stories is how benevolent even most of the criminals are.  I am not kidding.  Even the most dastardly and vile of them are after something simple and wholesome like money or revenge.  No nihilists here, just purposeful people in pursuit (haha alliteration!) of values.  It's just that some of them get confused due to emotion and use some spectacularly ugly means of pursuing their goals.  Still, it says something about your view of mankind when even your CRIMINALS are rational.

Compare this to TV crime dramas, where the motivations are much, much uglier.  Every flavor of insanity, religion, hate . . . and then, people with the most rational of motives who aren't doing anything criminal are often portrayed as monstrous, and clearly the law HAS to be stretched to cover their case!  Ugh.  It's night and day.

So, there's that.  But it brought to mind a quote from Terry Pratchett (paraphrase): "Most people will shy away from killing a complete stranger".  Which, from what I've read (admittedly an unscientific survey of anecdotes), is pretty much true.  Generally, if you're going to get killed, it'll be by someone you know.

Now you're probably wondering, okay, what the heck does this have to do with sense of life?  But it occurred to me that this tendency for people to behave in a benevolent manner towards strangers (even MORE benevolent than their treatment of people they know) is not a universal of human behavior, it is, in fact, a cultural artifact.  There have existed (and still do exist, I suppose), cultures where the reverse is true, where people shy away from doing harm to someone who belongs to their "group", but gleefully embrace the torture and killing of strangers.

Which brings me to a third and final thought.  Civilization means not having to live in fear of your neighbors.  So what is it that we have now?

Nov 28, 2012

Hence my Semi-voluntary Strike

Now, I have some serious problems with these statistics.  Receiving some kind of welfare benefits doesn't mean that you're not also working and being productive.  Nor does being a government employee, because the government has spread, fungus-like, into so many legitimate areas of the economy (and some government functions, like the police and military, are legit in and of themselves) that it's not this straightforward to draw the line between producers and parasites.  So it's not entirely true that every 1.25 taxpayers are completely supporting 1 other person.

Granted, if those taxpayers have non-working dependents of their own, they may be supporting MORE than 1 person.  My housemate Adam, for instance, pays his full mandated amount of taxes (probably more than that, actually, since he doesn't itemize deductions) AND supports me at the same time.  I don't think this is a great state of affairs.  I would much rather be self-supporting, more because it'd give me somewhat more freedom and control over my life than because I consider our current situation to be straight-out immoral.  Our setup is one of voluntary exchange (although I'm getting more than he is from my perspective, at least), in contrast to whatever other invisible stranger he's helping to support at the point of a gun.

Enough about me, though.  I think one of the more grievous aspects of this situation is the incredible distortions it produces.  A lot of these welfare programs, for instance, can only be spent on specific goods, like medical care, food, housing, power, etc.  So regardless, money is being drained out of other areas of the economy and directed toward this, instead.  The various education benefits aren't even mentioned.  Here's the thing, too--I have NEVER made more money in a year than the final benefits cliff in that graphic, yet I have never received money from ANY of these programs.  Maybe I should have gotten myself knocked up.

And people wonder why I'm not rushing around straining myself to find a job.

Nov 23, 2012


My hard work is paying off.  After weeks of being plateau'd at 310 lbs, I've finally cracked 300, meaning I've lost over 95 lbs.

Next goal: 200.  Should take about six weeks, right? :o)

Nov 16, 2012

Thought of the Day

One indication that your grasp of a given topic is progressing is when your first reaction to a dictionary definition is that you could improve that definition substantially.

Nov 10, 2012

Toxic People

Via Gus Van Horn I ran across this interesting article about detecting and dealing with toxic customers.  While I've dealt with my share of this sort of thing in my work life, what I find most interesting is that I run across huge numbers of people with precisely this kind of toxicity in their interpersonal dealings, particularly online.

I need to think about it some more, but offhand I'd have to say that it all seems to originate in the article's point #4: unrealistic expectations.  I think that's the biggest, brightest, and easiest-to-detect warning sign of toxicity in a person, and it seems to be pretty darn universal.  So the solution is that when somebody starts complaining or asking for things you don't intend to provide, do not bend over backwards for them.

This isn't the same as being a jerk and just refusing all requests.  Someone with realistic expectations and respect for you will articulate a reason as to why you should deviate from your course in order to help them out.  Things like,  "I'm terribly sorry, but I hurt my back yesterday and I just can't get this ladder down off the shelf . . ." or "I only have 40 minutes so could we do the ones I need first?"

The other good thing to note is that a non-toxic person will learn as much as possible from the general information you have available before asking questions.  It's a terrible red flag for me when I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons Online, have a quest posted in the Looking for More panel, and when someone joins the group the very first thing they ask is something they could determine for themselves by looking at the panel.  "What quest are you doing?" "Are you in progress?"  "What difficulty?"  "How long have you been in the quest?"  Now, I'll grant you, when I've got a group going and we switch between quests, sometimes I do forget to update which quest is the current quest.  If you're an experienced player, though, you can still tell by looking at the location listed for the party members.

The sad part is that toxic people are not always bad people.  Some of them are very nice, it's just that they are so befuddled and their skills for dealing with that befuddlement are so poor that there's just no profit for you of any kind in even attempting to deal with them.

Which leads to one last point.  The most valuable skill anyone can cultivate is to learn how to un-befuddle yourself.  You can know absolutely NOTHING about the task at hand and still be manage a valuable contribution if you grasp a method of fixing that problem rather than flailing about wildly and attempting to dump your issues onto whoever is closest.  Or, if worse comes to worst, you can maintain enough self-awareness to say "sorry, I'm too far out of my depth here" and get out of the way.