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Slugging Out at Sea
by Bryan Young

A day in the life of a morose Satyr appreciating the decisions he regrets.

Rudavia woke with thunder in his head. Knowing the day would be long, he went to the fore deck hoping to be offered some tobacco. The sky was clear, but he could still make out the hazy gray clouds that would demand his attention later. The crew mostly ignored him, a few grunts of acknowledgment and nothing more. He stood in a relaxed stance at the railing swaying ever so slightly with the pull of the breeze through his fur.

“Sky Speaker, you're up early.” Onkross, Captain of The Sea Slug, was loading his pipe as he walked up from behind and took a spot along the railing and stared at the faint clouds on the horizon. “No practice this morning?”

“No. I wanted to see the skies first.” Rudavia held his focus making sure not to look like he wanted to smoke. Instead he obeyed the code Laughing Claw had given him.

Feel the desire, appreciate it, and let the experience of it guide you.

Pointing to the horizon, Onkross asked, “Is that going to be a problem?”

“It's big, Sir. It will overtake us by mid-morning…” Rudavia could hear the tobacco's soft crunch as the Captain finished loading the pipe, “and it's going to be a ride.”

“We are ahead of schedule. Can we change course? Add some time, save some abuse?” The Captain lit the pipe with a reusable match he loved showing off. Rudavia could smell the tobacco even with the wind pulling it away.

Feel and appreciate, the desire is enough.

“Maybe, but it will take us days out of our way. If we make it to the eye, there's a good chance we could ride it into Helt. It's heading that way for now.” Rudavia looked at the Captain, not the pipe, and added, “Either way, we should be prepared to use some of the potions we got in Birah. Keep the men sharp and steady.”

“I'll talk to Mandivish about the potions. You want some smoke before we get started today? I know you like being clear-headed for the rituals.” Onkross waited for a reply. He was never sure what this Satyr would say. He was so unlike his brethren that Onkross had never even heard Rudavia make a lewd joke, or indulge in any of the drinking games with his sailors. The Captain would have thought him a depressed or even suicidal Satyr if he had not always acted oddly.

“Yes, thank you.” Rudavia answered, as he slowly pulled out his pipe, a piece made of solid bone with a single half carat emerald showing on the front. Trying to remember his appreciation of the desire before it was overwhelmed by satisfaction.

The Captain handed the tobacco pouch over, saying, “You can keep that pouch, it's almost empty. If we make it through this I've got some new leaf from Winnow we can try. Very good, end of the day kind of smoke. I'll leave you be for now.” Onkross started to walk away before turning and adding, “We're finally going to throw out the old fishing nets. Mandivish says they are beyond repair. I figure that would make a good treat if your pet is going to be stuck below decks for awhile.”

Standing on the deck alone Rudavia loaded his pipe and snapped his fingers, summoning a spark from the storm-charged air. The smoke was typical and he relished every particle. It had been days since anyone offered him tobacco. He mixed his magical energy with the emerald, telling himself it was to extend the gift that was offered and not for his own enjoyment. With the emerald activated the tobacco became more flavorful and burned slower.

By the time he finished smoking, the clouds were covering the Eastern horizon almost completely. With the waves increasing, and the winds growing stronger, the crew began working a little faster. He went below deck for the daily exercises that Laughing Claw had taught him. An intricate dance of movements meant to not only stretch and strengthen him, but also to let him move with his emotions. Today he was tense and nervous, and it showed. Moving in short bursts, attacking too little and retreating to often, he accepted his emotions and moved through them. Ending his practice feeling more confident and relaxed, he went to visit his friend and companion, Tichka.

Tichka was kept with the animals they had onboard, a few chickens and some pigs. Tichka had his own stall and was standing on his back legs looking over the door when Rudavia came in. His chitinous black exoskeleton looked like oil in the faint light that made it below deck. He made excited chittering sounds when he saw Rudavia and began hopping up and down inside his stall.

“Okay, Tichka. Calm down. You're too big to jump around in here and you know it.” Opening the door Rudavia braced himself for Tichka's inevitable nuzzling. As usual, all 800 pounds of insect pushed into him, his tiny head moving back and forth against Rudavia's stomach. Slapping him on the back to calm him down, Rudavia pulled out some pieces of a hemp bag that he had torn into strips. It was one of Tichka's favorite treats and he sat down immediately in preparation for such a rare morning dessert.

After a little while Rudavia could feel the change in the weather above and he knew it was time to stop playing with his friend. His horns tingled, hearing the storm's song. It was angry, and it was refusing to give up its power. It would build until it could not contain itself anymore, and then it would lash out, releasing everything on the first island it could find. He knew the song he would play and the stories he would tell, but Rudavia was not sure the storm would listen.

He returned to his room. Grabbing one of a dozen blue robes, a small pack of dried fruit, and his pan pipes, before heading back to the fore deck. Back on the deck, the crew was visibly relieved to see him in what they thought of as his ceremonial robes. They were just finishing changing out the sails in record time, a sure sign Mandivish had pulled the potions out of storage. The men would be focused and energized through the night.

Rudavia began playing a slow song. Powerful notes disappeared into the storm, joining the wind and waves as if they were another instrument. Focused on his breath as Laughing Claw had taught him, he added his body's natural energy to the song. He swayed around the deck in rhythm with the ocean until it seemed he was dancing. His song became a dance and then a meditation as he told the storm the story of his life.

The Sea Slug moved to catch the wind They would take it and ride deeper into the storm before Rudavia would start calming it with his magic. The storm was still hours away but the wind had started pushing waves ahead of her. The Sea Slug took it well, magic sails absorbing the brunt of the winds. Captain Onkross yelled commands to his men and added insults as needed. It was a good start.

Rudavia had done this dozens of times in his short career as a Sky Speaker (a name Onkross had created to give him more rank with the crew, and to explain away his odd behavior). As a Speaker, the sailors believed him to be some sort of cleric of the storm, that he could turn the winds the way some clerics could turn away death. Believing that he was truly speaking to some spirit or magical essence. Rudavia never explained the truth: That a storm is more intent than reason, his audience was every drop of water and strand of air it contained. Storms were more like a swarm of bees, or a few dozen swarms, all going in almost the same direction.

His first song had brought them into a smoother arm of the storm. They would be able to follow it to the eye before he would need to do any real magic. The storm was stronger than he thought but its rage was not as deep. He would change tactics for his next performance. Convince it that it's power was better spent at sea, disrupting as many ships as possible instead of wasting itself on some insignificant island. Opening its eye wider so it could see more of the chaos it would bring. And hopefully spreading itself thin enough to lessen the threat of any real damage.

Even with the potions there was fear in the sailors' eyes. Looks hanging a little too long on the clouds, jokes becoming raunchier with nervousness. Rudavia finished his song just as the first few drops of rain started falling. The clouds were still not over head and the drops came in at an angle on the wind. Captain Onkross kept The Sea Slug on a good course, predicting the changes in the wind and waves without any help from Rudavia.

As Rudavia began pacing the deck feeling for the rhythm of his next song in the rise and fall of the ship, there was a burst of activity from the crew. Rudavia followed their gestures and saw the source of the excitement. Three Celari thunderships were moving fast through the storm. There would be no outrunning them and he could only hope they were trade ships and not smugglers. Smugglers would destroy The Sea Slug simply to keep witnesses to a minimum.

There would be no time to calm the storm before the ships arrived. Rudavia acknowledged his anticipation of a fight, amazed at how much he wanted a reason to use the flashy and more impressive side of his storm wizardry. Everyone watched the ships get closer but after a few minutes it was obvious the thunderships were changing course away from them and towards the Northern tip of Helt. They watched for awhile until they knew it wasn't a trick and returned their gaze to the storm.

Rudavia took time to appreciate his disappointment. The storm was a challenge but it was routine. Thuderships were designed to take the rage of a storm and he would have relished the chance to test his power against them. Lightning bolts and water spouts drifted out of his mind, and his thoughts turned to the path that had brought him here.

Rudavia had chosen this path on impulse, making a promise based solely on Laughing Claw's purity of spirit in everything he did. His emotions always guided his actions, no matter what those action were. Laughing Claw could make breakfast with sadness, fight a skeleton with indifference, murder with compassion, and flee with joy. Rudavia had never seen passions expressed so purely and had wanted to be able to live life that completely.

Now he lived for the moment Laughing Claw had told him of - the moment when his emotions would be both separate and unified with his actions, when he would no longer need to watch for the pure emotion that is lost in its fulfillment. At times he believed it impossible: that he had convinced himself of a lie, that this life away from the temptations of the world was a needless and self inflicted punishment, that he could return to port and catch up on all the debauchery he had missed.

He had been weak before. No matter who he fucked or for how long, he was always aware it was because of his lust and not with it. He wished he had never seen Laughing Claw's purity of essence, or been enticed by its spell. He regretted having taken this job to keep himself separate from the world.

Reflexively, he reminded himself to appreciate that he didn't appreciate this life. Without thinking he began laughing and for a moment forgot to appreciate it.

Copyright 2015 by Bryan Young, Appears here by permission.


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