It had been hours since the herd had left, disappearing into the mist which hunched protectively over the land, the bold faces of snowy mountains dim in the distance. It was towards these very cliffs that the family of mammoths, two opossums, a couple of saber-tooth tigers, two sloths, and a hedge-hog gravitated, leaving the rubble of broken ice and smashed weapons behind them.
In desultorily positions however, protruding from the snow and icy clusters, the stiff limbs of the pirates remained.
One would think the defeated crew of the late Captain Gutt to be deceased—for there was little hope lent out to those when faced with the blast of a whale. Such a force of artic, gushing water cut the face, bruised the limbs, broke the ribs, and ultimately, stabbed the heart into the hands of death if implemented at just the right angle and correct time. But old Captain Gutt's crew, as beaten and helpless as they were, remained none-the-less a hardy bunch. Strengthened by the life on sea, strain and pain was no stranger to them, and even in this time of weakness, their iron hearts gave out not and they grew more resilient even in that victorious blow that left them stranded along the shore of gelid, burning ice.
And so, just as the heavens began to drift down a white and powdery flock of flakes, one by one, the corsairs began to stir.
Groaning and moaning they emerged from their cold graves and stumbling haggardly, made for the center of a rather large ice berg which floated not far from the shoreline.
Silas, the heron-like bird, was first, and upon reaching the block of ice, at once realized truly how chilly he was.
His frame shuddered and shivered with each new step, his long legs shaking and numb. At once, he tried to fluff up his feathers for warmth, but alas, they were coated with a thick frost.
Hobbling then, he passed Raz—who was second to awaken and crawl with frozen bones over to the ice cap—as he made to take off in a weighted, difficult, zig-zag flight in search for anything and everything, that could possibly be used to start a fire.
After Raz stumbled Gupta, his features pale and small icicles dripping down from his snout like an extra pair of fangs. He huddled next to her, seeking any kind of warmth he could find, but she quickly eyed him, and with one swift, albeit weary, kick, the badger found himself sprawled about two yards away. As the air refilled his little lungs, with a cloud of a sigh, the creature then waddled back over and sat merely near her. Tucking his forepaws across his chest, he sat there, trembling, wishing very much that his winter pelt had already grown in.
Not long after that, the rest of the party came to and sluggishly made their way to the center of the bobbing cut of land. Enervated, sullen, and lost, they huddled beside themselves in a slovenly knot which more or less formed a ring in which the supposed fire was to exist.
Silas eventually returned with what little twigs and shavings of hemlock he could, but alas, they were already damp due to the precipitation, and their fire spat with sparks and then died, only to cough up sparks and die again.
His cider-colored eyes falling from whisker to whisker of his deteriorated crew mates, Flynn let out a melancholy sigh which rippled the blubber of his large, rubbery stomach. Vapidly, he glanced up at eh silvery sky above their heads; it was dark and ominous and told the tale with a promise of more dreadful blizzards to come.
Swallowing, he asked in a low voice,
"Well… Now that Gutt's gone… What are we gonna do?"
Silas let out a raspy sigh himself, his feathers rustling as he attempted to find himself a tolerable position to rest his aching, fragile joints.
"I wish I knew," he admitted sadly.
To his left, Dobson snarled sharply and then snorted in agreement.
"Ha! Well I'm glad that obdurate primate is gone—his despotic role of captain too!"
En masse the rugged group of sailors peered over their shoulders to see a scrawny and shuddering Squint.
The rabbit's scruffy ears were curled in a rigid manner atop his fuzzy head due to the harsh temperature, his jagged front teeth chattered uncontrollably when he spoke and his nose continuously twitched as if he was constantly being offended by some king of odor or another. Beyond all that, however, the buccaneer appeared to be searching for something.
Flinging chunks of ice this way and that, scattering old fish-bone knives and javelins, crushed fish skulls and broken blades clammed together from other vertebrae and ribs, the hare was definitely searching for something in particular, but what?
"So what?" Raz retorted, her gold eyes gleaming with bitterness, "You could replace it with your own?"
A cry of delight issued from the rabbit's mouth suddenly then.
Swiftly puzzled, the rest of the crew stared on as Squint whipped around at the speed of lightning, his paws hidden behind his back.
"Aye! And why not?" He challenged, striding over towards them in a proud strut, "I am the most qualified candidate,"
"How so?" Gupta barked.
"Well, I can handle a sword well enough, I am cunning, well-acquainted with the seas, and my surreptitious skills make me quite deleterious!"
As if to demonstrate this quality, Squint leapt and then swung about in a darting fashion to the other side of Raz. He was rather quick, but this technique proved folly, for Raz just as cleverly tripped him with her tail.
The rabbit fell on his face with a muffled, "oof!"
The other members of the crew then gave a solid admonition in union regarding his suggestion.
Picking himself up from the ground, the fur on the rabbit's back instantly bristled. He was furious! Since Shira had left—no, betrayed—them, Gutt had placed him at first mate, and so, he by all rights, should be captain!
Ears constricting and weaving in hot anger, Squint then let a grisly smile twist over his lips.
"Listen here all of you!" He blustered, chest swelling with pride, "Gutt left me as first mate here, and so, captain is what I shall be! It is not debatable… And be there ANY beast here, who disagrees, why, I'll send you to the gates of the afterlife myself so that you can ask him, is that clear?!"
All at once, Flynn perked up, and his worn, leathery countenance brightened,
"The afterlife gives free tours?!" He inquired, "Oh, I'd like to go! See how things are, if I'd like it…,"
His jovial moment faded off into water vapor however, for the others simply ignored him and proceeded, instead, to face Squint with a stony glare.
"And how, just do you suppose, you're going to enact your force and remain potentate over us?" Silas rejected.
Dobson grunted in similar question.
"Why, I'd challenge you to a duel of swords, of course," the rabbit flinched.
Raz cried out, "Impossible! All of our weapons have been smashed, crushed, or shattered during the battle! We literally have nothing left! How do you plan to duel us without any weapons?"
"Ah! Raz, that is where your knowledge betrays you,"
With wicked glee then, the rabbit bolted up and clambered onto a stretch of near-by ice arching over the little group.
"It is true," he related, "all of our weapons were powerless and fell broken and destroyed during our last battle… But," He held up a numb paw in one, jerky gestation, "there was one I saw wielded that evaded all destruction without a scratch!—I knew not what it was made of, but it was whetted by the finest stone and carried no doubt by only the bravest rulers of the ancient world. I saw it only once, a flash, a glint of death in the morning sun, amongst the chaos, but I knew I had to have it—no, needed to possess it, as it possessed, all at once, myself—OUCH!"
The hare raised a fast paw to rub the side of his head, on which a shard of ice had stung issued by one of his fellow crew-mates.
"Get off it, Squint!" They groaned.
"No, no! What I say is true! Behold—the hedgehog lad's cutlass!"
From behind his back then, the skinny mammal held up in the dying sunlight the very weapon that he spoke of.
It was made from what appeared to be the great tooth of some monster of myth and legend, its edge razor sharp and root fastened to the strong, petrified wood of some long-forgotten tree by a flexible green, ribbon-like material.
Raz, Silas, Dobson, Gupta, and Flynn stared up dumbly at the craftsmanship and the remarkable blade, completely flabbergasted and utterly amazed.
His jaw having already dropped, Gupta gaped aloud with blinking, disbelieving eyes and a faraway voice,
"Where—where did you GET that?"
"I told you, that hedgehog laddie had it—I've no idea how he managed to carry it however, 'tis a heavy item for a hedgehog to raise—it must've floated up from the water or something when we were stirring it all up an' the ice was cracking and everything," Squint tilted the blade to the side then, admiring it himself in the shadowy dusk, "She's a gorgeous piece, ain't she?"
All eyes were glued to the fascinating weapon, completely mesmerized by its radiance and deathly beauty.
A sly smile soon erupted over Squint's mouth at a pleasing thought; he would threaten them with this grave weapon, he would, and then, finally, out of both fear and affection for his new weapon, they would find him a venerable figure and obey!
Just as all eyes were glued to the fascinating weapon, however, suddenly, they were not.
A fork of silent lightning, a blur, a dark wind, at once swept it from the hare's digits.
Feeling instantly the hilt absent in his paw, Squint groped about madly looking for it, his voice rising to a frantic squeal,
"What?! Where'd it go--?!"
And just as suddenly a strong voice with a unique accent answered from seemingly behind him, "—I'll take that!"
Whirling around, Squint at once spied his thief; a slender creature stood smartly on a piece of broken mast near-by, a make-shift vine in his paws which he had secured to another frosty heap.
"Hey! Give me that back! It's mine!" The rabbit lashed out angrily.
The mammal only bade him a snort however, and with a yank of his bony forearms, loosened his rope made of vine and began to coil it. The dagger he held between his pointed teeth, a characteristic under bite providing extra support in the matter.
"Did you hear me?!" Squint shouted, his frisky voice echoing out over the dark sea, "That blade is mine, and I demand it back!"
He stomped one of his hind legs.
"Heh, my dagger is no more yours than I'm a lobster!" The intruder smirked behind his dagger as he rolled up the rest of the vine and swung it over his shoulder in a loop so that it crossed over his belly.
He paused, ear flipped into odd angles then, as he pondered aloud to himself,
"Unless, of course, my ancestors are lobsters, or, in some other life I was a lobster,"
He stood still for a moment then, as if analyzing the possibilities of another life, and, if so, whether any of them contained memories in which he was a lobster or not. In the same manner of vicissitude, a cloud passed over his features. He frowned, shrugged indifferently, and thought no longer of crustaceans.
"I don't care if you're a lobster or a turtle with blinkin' wings! That dagger's mine and I want it back! I salvaged for it!"
Running forward, the rabbit grabbed an old fish skeleton from the ground. Flicking off its layer of snow, he jabbed its sharp end at the creature.
"I don't know whose dagger it was before it was mine, but I will send you to the land of the dead he can tell ya it's now mine!"
Faster than lightning then, slicker than oil, and stealthier than a shadow, the rabbit's oppose shot down and was beside him, holding the blunt edge of the stolen blade to his throat.
Squint withered under the mad look which was beheld in the creature's sole eye—a glint which disturbed its sapphire hue, slicing it with a crazed, dark measure of menace and wry.
"You better watch what you say, palaeolagus. I've cut the tongues of beasts larger than yourself—by far!"
Squint's whiskers twitched once, but he remained fainly mute and petrified after that for a great deal of time.
In the blink of any eye, the animal was gone.
Did he jolt back to the shadows he was born from? Dissipate into the brittle breeze? Melt into the darkness which surrounded them? It was hard to tell, harder to know, and therefore, impossible to say.
"A weasel!" Squint managed to squeak once the apparition had gone," I let a blinkin' weasel get the best of me!"
The ex-first mate jumped at the sound of the strange, exotic accent as the familiar voice boomed out behind him.
The rabbit turned to see the weasel, leaning nonchalantly upon the dagger, on a crook of ice lumped not three feet from their campsite.
The others were watching the newcomer closely too, with just as much caution and stupor.
Not only was he a weasel, but an odd one at that. His fur was spotted and flecked, the dorsal consisting of a rusty, waxed almond color and his ventral side a creamy off-white. His coat was darker though than most weasels', as if he had been basking in the sun. On top of that, his pelt was incredibly short—it may have been an unfortunate genetic trait, but many creatures depended on their warm, thick winter pelts for survival—it was the ice age, after all. As mentioned, he only had one eye, the other hollow socket was concealed by a foreign, large leaf wrapped about his head in the fashion of an eye patch. The smooth movements, the causal swagger he traipsed about with as he carried the dagger easily in his palm, and the alien manner in which he spoke, all added to the weasel's incredulous presence, setting all to wonder if he was some manifestation sent to them—a mirage by the northern lights—or a villain ushered from the very mists of time, formed and fed by shadows, where myth fades to legend.
"Pull me tail, wot's this? Are you poor blokes stranded out here or somethin'?" He asked, turning so that he could face all of them at once.
"Err," Squint made the sound of a creaking door.
"Heh," the apparition chuckled to himself, "Come now, wot is the jist? I didn't know a clan could be so lost that they didn't even know they were darn well lost!"
Flynn could take it in no more, and at once busted out into large, salty tears.
"Oh, yes! Are we ever lost, aren't we mates? We 'ave no captain, an' now we don't know what to do!"
His tears already frozen half-way down his face, the elephant seal tried in vain to wipe them from his frosted snout.
"Oh," The weasel mused, unknowing of the full events that took place, "well, let yore ole captain rest in peace then, mate," he said, placing a firm fist over his heart.
Flynn carried on sobbing for a couple more intervals, until the ice in his throat and the glares from his other crew mates caused him to cease.
"Eh, he wasn't exactly a kind-hearted fellow," Silas confessed to the newcomer quietly.
"Oh," The weasel jolted upright after subconsciously balancing himself by the tip of the dagger's blade.
"Well… May he rest in pieces then, for that matter," He bowed his head, placing yet again a tight fist over his chest.
Piecemeal, Squint found his courage again and, puffing out his chest, came over and dared to ask the weasel,
"Hey… Who are you anyway? Where do you come from?"
But when his brown eyes stretched up to meet that of the weasel's, they were met once more by nothing but vacant darkness.
The scrawny rabbit—and everyone else for that matter—all leapt in surprise by the sudden statement that sounded behind them. Turning, all they saw was a flash of fur, a flame of a tail, perhaps even the glint of the dagger, and he was lost to them again, only to be found right in front of their very faces when they looked back.
On all fours, eyeball inches from the icy ground as if he had not seen snow for ages, the apparent Buck rattled on,
"… Long for 'Buh", short for 'Buckminster',"
Raz watched as he sniffed and then chiseled at the snow with the tip of his blade, humming.
"Uh, you're not from around here, are you, Buck?" She asked.
All at once, Buck was on his feet again, this time scanning the surface of a far-away glacier soaking in the ice. His paws were clasped behind his back and his dagger was stabbed into the ground.
"No, not really," He spoke absent mindedly, and then added in a very soft, sing-song voice that sounded a touch lovely, "Oh, where oh where are you my dear ugly pineapple? Where oh where could you be away from me, my darling?"
Abruptly then, he snapped back to attention, a very serious look penetrated across his face, "No, no, no, I'm not from around here, my mammal friends. I come from the Land of Downwards,"
The pirates all gave him an inquisitive look, all very confused. Finally, Flynn made an effort to comprehend as a mechanism in the back of his brain went 'click'.
"Oh, oh! I know! I know where you come from! I've heard of it before!" He waved a soft fin, "It's down, and it's very hot--,"
Buck snapped his fingers together and beamed, reaching for his dagger before Squint could.
"Aye! That's it, mate! You know it!"
"Yes! Yes! It starts with an 'H' I think… Oh!"
"My goodness, Flynn, don't strain yourself," Silas told the seal, and Dobson wheezed with short light laughter.
"Hades?" Gupta murmured with a gulp, "You live in… Hades?"
"Ah, yes, if that's wot you mammals are calling it these days," Buck smiled, "You see, I was enjoyin' a perfectly fine day in paradise with myself and a certain fern plant, when all of a sudden, a loud CRACK!" –Buck clasped his paws together with a loud smack which caused the others to gasp—"Echoed over-head. I looked about me, and all I could see was water gushing in from all sides. I felt for my dagger, but alas, it had already been torn from my side in the wash. And so, vowing to find it, I held my breath for… Hmm… about two days, and then set for finding it when I reached the surface. Prodding about, here I found it,"
The corsairs noted then that Buck's coat was spiked and wet still.
Perhaps he was telling the truth.
Perhaps he wasn't.
"Wow," Flynn breathed, "I wish I could hold my breath for that long,"
A flurry of discussion arose.
"No one can hold their breath for that long!" Squint nearly burned a fuse, "he's tellin' a lie! Can't you see, next we'll be hearing he lost his right eye and got that dagger on the same night!"
"Wait a minute though, if he's from Hades, the abode of the dead, he must be a phantom," Silas fluttered down before the rabbit and used one of his long talons to slowly put down his accusing paw, "so it is entirely possible, if he were already dead, that he couldn’t die twice. Therefore, the water was never a threat to him in the first place,"
Flynn ate up this proposal.
"Wow! A real ghost!" He exclaimed, looking at Buck as if he thought the weasel may evaporate before his own eyes.
Twirling his dagger from his left to his right paw, he laughed softly to himself, "Naw, I held my breath for as long as I told ya: 'bout three weeks, but mates, I haven't kicked the bucket yet. I like to keep 'em worms starven' and disappointed, makes 'em more excited for when it'll actually happen, ya know?"
Buck smiled faintly and laughed at his own joke.
Gupta goggled at him, his features pallid.
"Could it be," the badger asked, craning his neck up to Raz, "that this phantom doesn't realize he's dead?"
Raz only shrugged for an answer, but hearing their conversation, Silas turned to Buck [still twirling his dagger] and questioned him slyly,
"Buck, just what do you see in your land, eh, Hades?"
The weasel stopped. A dark expression flooded his features.
"You would scarcely believe me if I told you," he said intensely, and then, in a zap, perched himself back up upon the lump of ice. The crew crowded near, curious as to what the strange traveler had seen in the realm of the dead.
"Surely there is something that you could tell us of that we would think to be reasonable enough to believe," Raz prompted.
"Ah!" Buck turned his back to them, fur rippling in the lonely wind of night. He held up a single paw.
"Do not believe something because it is believable, believe it because it is true,"
Buck's eye searched for the stars, but when he found none, he twisted his lean body back to the pirates.
"And these things, I have seen," He related to them earnestly, leaning over the rocks with his slender body, eye glazed once again with the wild glaze of madness, "are, indeed, true,"
The lump of ice became a stage and Buck the performer has he related to his audience the fossils he had witnessed from creatures that lived so long ago embrace the form of flesh and blood and walk among the living, against the ticking of the clock which cried out to them "extinction! extinction!" He told them about the exotic plants, the explosive berries, the tar pits, the Chasem of Death and the monsters that lurked in the Jungle of Misery. Briefly, without mentioning their names, he even told them about Crash and Eddie, their piloting of some great bird-like creature at a Lake of Lava and Fire. He told them of his run-in with the Lochness Monster once, before he sealed her up in a cave that led up far above where he didn’t have to worry about her threatening, needle-sharp teeth pinching his tail anymore. He told them he had a rancorous for broccoli, and precisely just how ugly his pineapple wife was. He told them of the Plates of Woe, the poor bloke stuck on that ledge at the bottom of the Black Hill of Death, and where the best strawberries could be found. In a sense, he told them everything, and nothing. But despite themselves, the crew stood there in the darkness in complete awe. Buck's voice captivated them, fore it drifted and floated only to rise a moment later in a volcanic explosion all the while carrying that charming, rough accent. Oh, how they could have listened for hours! Even Squint, whose arms had been stiffly crossed in derision, gave away to the weasel's fantastic reality, and his heartbeat waned as he saw dawn's pink fingers creep over the horizon, and the buttery light of the sun leak over those dim and distant mountains, fore he knew soon, the show would be over.
Buck saw the rising of the sun also, and so, made to a hasty conclusion of his story;
"AH! Bot how lucky am I that I came across a crew of expert pirates that'll take me back home!" He swung his arm in a happy fist.
"Yeah," Flynn drowsed, lost in the dream, and then suddenly, upon realizing the plunge of a nightmare's depth, "Wait, WHAT?!"
All of the other pirates stood aghast in utter shock.
"Y-you want us to take you back to Hades?" Gupta stuttered.
"Aye, you seem like quite the experienced lot," Buck grinned, shouldering his weapon.
He then leaned over and whispered to Dobson, who squealed at the thought, "besides, I can't find anyone else who'd WANT to do it,"
"But, we don’t know how to get to Hades," Silas protested, fanning out his wings to warm them in the twilight.
"Phhf!" Buck snorted as he waved his empty paw about as if he were discarding something, "no one ever knows how to get back home, but they do, don’t they? Brighten up, buccaneer though, for I know the way back; I'll be your navigator, you mates can all do the rest,"
The crew looked about themselves nervously, exchanging glances. When they turned back to inform Buck of their decision however, the Dino-Hunter was already tying off and together masts, sails, and ratlines for their ship, to be the piece of land their feet stood upon that instant.
Encouraged by Buck, Squint, normally ever-fastidious, raised back his ears in agitation and made to confront the others.
"Come on, mates!" He called, marching over toward the weasel to help, "he may be a crazy one, but he's our crazy one now. Anybody else got anything better to do? Nope? I didn't think so, now com'on!"
It was with similar taunts he urged them until finally, when he was abut thirty feet away, the rest of the surviving crew—all of them; Gupta, Raz, Silas, Flynn, and Dobson—reluctantly followed him, trying not to think of their previous failures.
Life on the sea was much more enjoyable with Buck than it had been with Captain Gutt. Of course, the crew still had to perform their daily tasks of keeping the ship afloat, which was no easy feat, but a feat they were mastered at after the many years of toil prior, so these went along smoothly and efficiently. Indeed, since that first, strange morning, they had but two concerns after setting sail, one of them which was an issue that they should have seen coming, but were dismayed at once to see it pass. Briefly after coming afloat, Squint scampered alongside Buck like he was his shadow, observing the strange weasel's every move carefully. Finally, when the rabbit believed himself to have earned his trust an hour or so in, he paraded about his heels, asking over-and-over again the same question,
"Say, Buck, I know you're navigator an' all, but could I be captain? ... Hey, Buck, what'd you think of me bein' captain? I'd make a fine one, wouldn't you say? ...Buck, Buck, could I be captain, please?"
With a crest-fallen sigh, everyone at last heard the weasel relent,
"Wot? Why, why not, bucko? Of course you can be captain! No one else is quite pleadin' for the job,"
Squint leapt with joy at his approval, quite electrified at the thought of himself being Captain.
"Hurrah!" He shouted, "Do yer hear that, boys? I'm the new captain 'round here! So get back to work, all of ye! Now!"
His eyes scurried over to Gupta.
"Badger!" He hissed, pointing to the main mast, "fly the colors!"
"Yes, Sah!" Came the quick reply as the animal scampered past him and up the wooden beam.
"Raz, Dobson, collect more weapons!" He snarled, turning over towards them.
"Aye, Sir," Raz muttered, Dobson snorting behind her.
When Squint came to Silas, the bird, with-out a word, stiffly gave a smart solute and was already off to scout ahead for trouble.
The rabbit glazed over Flynn and at once came to direct Buck.
"Buck!" He shouted.
"Hmm?" The weasel lifted his head from the rosy horizon, once again lost in the maze of his mind and his own little world.
"Navigate!" Squint commanded him.
A smile spread over the weasel's lips and he winked in reply.
"Aye, aye, Captain," He jeered, at once springing into action and joining Gupta in the crow's nest, so that he may have a better view of everything.
To the crew's great surprise, Squint didn't grow into the tyrant they all had feared he would be as Captain. Although you could undoubtedly tell the lad quite enjoyed, relished, even, barking out crude orders every once in a while, calling them a sniffling, querulous bunch, he was nowhere near as ruthless as Captain Gutt had been. While they were thankful for this blessing, many pondered if Squint would actually grow to be much worse, once the influence of Buck was drawn from the picture. Such was a matter they realized, they would not know until later.
Regardless of this, and one other issue, howbeit, life was swell aboard the PINEAPPLE, as Buck insisted on calling it. Throughout the day, they would sail through the pale light of the ice age, their ship rousing the cold, calm waters of the Atlantic.
"Ehh… A little to the left," Buck would advise as he'd lounge about almost lazily in the craig of the crow's nest, only to later yell out happily, "A little to the right now, mates,"
The crew hardly could tell if he was jesting, or being serious during intervals such as these, so they obeyed him anyways.
In the evening, they would pause their course to a drift and take turns more-or-less playing a game of darts with small, fish-bone knives Raz had saved in her pouch. Buck strictly only used his own dagger, however, and won nearly every time, with Raz a close second and Squint holding up third. Flynn and Dobson usually kept score at this game, since they weren't much for javelin throwing. It was also during this time that Silas would fly back to the ship to roost and make his reports. Gupta, upon seeing the feathered ally, would then run down the tall mast to join the others.
Late at night and on into the morning, the crew would then slumber in the sober glorious spectacle of the starlight, glittering and swimming overhead. In a low voice then, Buck could be found perched upon the bow sprint, mumbling nonsense to himself has his eye became absorbed with the great, black inkwell.
A fog of warm breath rolled out of his mouth and into the frigid air, as the others could just barely make out what he was saying. He would go on and on about a certain ruby, no, RUDY, and how revenge was still his for the taking. Bathed in moonlight as he spoke of such strange things and whetted his dagger's blade, Buck cut an eerie silhouette upon the milky ship, and the crew and Captain let the ghastly scene alone. Ignoring him, they shut their tired eyes and let his incoherent ramblings become their lullabies off to sleep.
Buck, was in fact, their last issue.
While they all admired the weasel in their own way, and were fascinated by his unusual existence, his maddening mannerisms and sense of direction gradually appeared to be spelling out doom for them all.
Oh, it was grand at first! The wild swash-buckler would continuously exploit to them wondrous tales of his adventures in the under-world by the light of a flickering fire on deck. He was a masterful story teller; his eye glowed with an ambition that at once captured your attention, and his limbs sailed and soared about him for the proper effect. Alas, his stories were often odd, appearing to be a hybrid of both truth and lies and often left them doubtful and wondering, despite their magnificence.
"Just wait 'till you get down there, mates," he sighed, shouldering his weapon, "then you'll see,"
He talked about his world a lot, with nostalgia.
He talked about it almost as much as they ate fish, one of their only sources of food, (and later, from their bones, artillery). The weasel quickly became disgusted with this constant meal, and would speak zealously of the fine meat of the dinosaurs. He would tell them the various kings of beasts and what kind of meat they had, whether it be tender, dark, light, or tough. He would say how he roasted it over the mouth of a fire—sometimes until it was charred good and smoky, and then take a bite, the meat was as juicy and savory as ever. As a footnote then he would always mention that the bugs there made good chewing candy too, that is, if you broke the exoskeleton's shell in just the right place to avoid getting poisoned.
The rest of the crew would merely blink at him, horrified.
"But, dinosaurs are extinct," Flynn would find his words, only to receive a swift kick from Raz.
"OUCH!" he would moan, rubbing the spot.
"He's from the UNDERWORLD for cripe's sake, Flynn! The land of the dead, remember? There's going to be beasts that exist no longer in the land of the living," Squint would berate him with a hiss.
"Oh, right, sorry," The elephant seal blustered.
In a flash, Buck had slipped down between the two.
"Aw, that's alright, mate," He would re-assure the seal with a friendly grin, "the line between the dead and the living 'tis a fine one, indeed, it 'tis, no reason to be ashamed,"
His crystal blue eye shifted upwards then, as solid as steel and as deep as the ocean, a sparkle hinting at its rim.
"… Gupta, how 'bout a little swell spell to cheer us up, now, eh mate?"
Gupta lit up.
"Aye, Buck! Com'in right up!"
And with that, the Bengali Badger made a dash for a pile of bones he had piled to the side.
Buck had become immediately taken by Gupta's ability to make flutes and fiddles, drums and bizarre-sounding xylophones out of just about any old bones he could find, hollow out, and attach seaweed, twine, or fish guts to for strings. Buck found in the badger a musician, and his slightly off-key, spin-chilling notes a pleasing tune, that in many ways reminded him of his home.
With a cleaned fish skull slid onto his foot, Buck would lie there, among the rag-tag group of pirates, and listen to Gupta's series of, as Flynn put it, "sea shanties". When the number was over, the skull resting upon his toes would cry out,
But Buck, fingering his dagger, would fly his ears backward, and challenging the puppet, demand of it,
"Wot? Are you deaf? I've heard better played by worse!"
"Hmm! The you must be the deaf one, Mister Buckminster!" The skull would squawk back.
"Why! ... We shall see about that!" The weasel retorted venomously.
Buck would then ask Gupta to play another scratch, so that the music may reverberate correctly through the fish's hollow eardrums. Gupta readily nodded his head and was at once off to a new jam.
Again and again the weasel and the skull would argue and again and again Gupta made haste to play for them. Finally, the show was over when Buck, fed up with the skull's commentary, would tackle and wrestle it to the floor.
"Well, wot 'bout that one, Jack? Wot'd you say to that one?" Buck asked him, paws crossed over his chest.
"Well! I say it 'twas played quite terrifically! A swell, fine job to you, Gupta. If I had a hat I'd tip it-- ,"
"GAH! SHUT UP!" Buck would lunge and clamp its mouth up with his paws, "YOU GREAT DIRTBAG!"
Rocking there before the crew, Buck would turn then to Gupta and comment for himself, "Don't you listen to 'em, mate. He hasn't a lick o' sense when it comes to good music; you played just fine tonight, and I would very much like to hear it again sometime,"
Confused slightly, but never-the-less delighted that the navigator enjoyed his performance, the badger grinned radiantly at the praise.
Buck also found Raz's knowledge of weapons quite useful. There would be hours of the day in which the deranged hermit would listen to long lectures as they streamed forth from the marsupial's mouth about which fish bones were fine for graveling hooks, which for spears and swords, and others that were fine for crafting snares and nightmare catchers that warded off supposed evil. At the mention of this, Buck brought up his friend, Nikoli, who was more-or-less a witchdoctor of sorts and would be interested in such 'voodoo'. Raz took a breath to harken this information for a moment, but right after a nod of her head, steadfastly plowed right back on about the narrow skulls of swordfish for rapiers and shark teeth for spiked clubs and maces. In other words, Buck would inquire to her one question regarding a weapon laid out before her on deck, and here he would receive ten to twenty answers about that one in particular [which she always saved for last] and entirely different weapons of topic. Buck knew that she was not purposefully trying to be rude, the kangaroo was simply an expert in regards to the artillery and arsenal she kept in her pouch, and who, may it be asked, if an expert of something, can refrain from speaking on and on of their subject or hobby of expertise out of sheer passion for it?
In Dobson, Buck found a companion yet, as well. Misunderstood as he was, being able to only speak in the tongue of his native boar ancestors, the weasel therefore sought to learn his language when accompanying him below deck when the cannons may need reloaded (hollow logs bolted into the lower sides of the ship, the cannonballs themselves made of dung beetle spheres, an occasional floating coconut from who-knew-where, and specifically rounded boulders, along with anything else they could get their paws on). To an extent, Buck quickly learned it, and could decipher, for the most part, what certain squeals of alarm, oinks, and grunts meant.
Flynn, he found, was a jolly seal with a great head for anything and everything about fruit. Any day, any night, if asked, the friendly creature would talk on and off of his favorite fruit bowls and cocktails. He mentioned that that was one of the things he missed in Captain Gutt's absence; the constant and abundant presence of fruit aboard the ship for him to snatch, snack, and gobble down.
"My absolute favorite was probably the mangos—no, the grapes, I mean, the peaches, wait, ah, it was the kiwi… or was it the limes? Oh, I forget now, Buck, I don't know. They were all so delicious," The seal shook his head sadly and at once, his stomach gave a great lurch and growled ravenously at the tease.
"Yikes, I'm makin' meself hungry just thinking about it!"
The weasel sheathed his dagger under the belt he had fashioned for himself for the time being out of his trusty vine rope and patted the large creature's broad and sturdy back.
"Fear not my oil-lamp friend, where we're heading, into my world, the Underworld, why, there are plenty of fruits for you to munch on there,"
Flynn looked up.
"Really?" He asked.
"Aye, more than you would ever dare to desire or imagine!" Buck cut himself short then, grabbed his dagger with break-neck speed, and added in a gruff voice, his eye filmed over for but a second with madness,
"Just don't you dare touch my pineapple!"
He edged his blade at the seal's throat.
"Eh," Flynn giggled uncomfortably, "a-aye Sir! But… how will I know which pineapple is, er, yours?"
"The same way its sisters identify her to me: she'll be the most ugliest pineapple you ever saw!"
With a cringe in his back and a flick or his tail then, the weasel disappeared, only to be found evanescenced one moment later back up in the crow's nest, shouting directions this way or that, sighing loftily to himself at old memories.
The days wore on like this, and as they did, Buck's intentions grew less and less clear to the crew, and bit by bit they started to discover themselves questioning the scraps of sanity he had left. No method appeared to be present in his madness, as he ordered the stern of the ship to be steering this way, and then that, to the right, left, up and down, parting the skin of the licorice sea and peeling it aside with its cold bulk. Eventually, out on the open waters, with little to no landmarks to guide them on their voyage, it seemed to the pirates that they had been traveling in circles for at least the past five days!
During mess one night, this hypothesis was brought up to Buck, whom dismissed it carelessly as he polished off his fish.
"You think I'd steer you wrong mates? We're going just the way I want us to, don't you fret yore pretty little heads," He licked the remaining meat off the white skeleton and, with a flexible fling of his arm, stabbed it into the ground beneath him.
"Well… How much longer 'till we reach our destination?" Gupta fumbled in reply.
The weasel leapt on his feet and was at once at the musician's flank.
"Soon," Came the answer, strutting away just as suddenly as it had come.
"But… How long is soon?" Raz protested, leaning forward after the slim figure, as if trying to grasp some kind of hidden hint.
Buck merely turned back to face them, his ears at odd angles again.
"Soon," He growled, and then, on impulse, flew up to each of them at the drop of a hat.
"Do you really think," He said, crouched on top of Raz's head in an inch worm position, only to swing himself down to grasp the shoulders of Gupta, "that entering the gates of the underworld is an easy task that provides instant results?"
His thin form stretched over to eye Squint then, as he rasped in his face, "the world is growing smaller, and so my dear fossil friends and I must find the nooks within nooks within crannies, the spaces between spaces, in which to hide in within a world to which we no longer belong, disowned by time and abandoned by death,"
He sprinted up to the front of the bowsprit, the sunset glowing a fiery orange against his silky fur.
"My fossil friends and I, we live by never living. The ignorant mammals—they say we are extinct, and so no one comes looking for us, no one bothers to search for something that's not there, so it is in such a manner that we survive and ARE there, if they believe we are not," He then whispered to the horizon line, quivering many, many miles away and then infinity, " 'Cause if one's dead, he can't die TWICE,"
The pirates all exchanged wary looks at one another, each unsure now how to approach the situation.
"If we're going just the way he wants us to, it's crazy," Silas muttered as he took off once more for his daily rounds.
Flynn gulped audibly and Gupta swallowed hard with wide eyes, somewhat fearful.
Squint's eyes shot over toward his idle crew, "Eh, you heard our navigator," He piped, "Everything's fine, nothing's the matter. Now, get back to work, all of you! Lest I skin you alive!"
In the blink of an eye, the deck was deserted.
Yet, the crew stayed on with Buck, until the very end of their journey. They listened and followed his insane directions of back and forth, north and west, west and south. Perhaps this was because somewhere deep in their black hearts, they wanted to believe him, that there was, indeed, such a realm of adventure and exploration, shrouded with plenty of mystery yet in its unforgiving wilderness.
Finally, however, a week came to pass with no sign of land and waters so gelid, the fish were scarce. It was then the crew decided to approach Buck once again, and inquire in regards to their destiny.
Gupta, once more, was elected to lead the inquiry.
"Um, Buck," the badger faltered one night in a quiet voice.
The weasel was posed on his usual post of the bowsprit, soaking in an uncommon wind which hailed in from the north.
"Hmm?" He hummed.
He didn't turn around, his eye just remained fixated on one star amongst a cluster in the cool cloak of midnight.
"Um," the musician repeated, glancing back over his shoulder to where the rest of the crew was stationed behind him.
"W—we were just wondering, if you could give us an approximate time as to when we are to reach the gates of Hades?"
A large smile slathered over the Buckminster's face at this precise moment, crooked along the uneven jaw of his over-bite.
Gupta at once ceased wringing his paws as his almond colored eyes drifted up just as the enormous shadow swallowed their ship. A terrible shudder ran down his spine.
There, straight ahead of them, rose—out of the mist, out of the pitch blackness of night—the mouth of a monstrous cave, its stalagmites and stalagmites serving as its crooked, pointy teeth and fangs driving down from the lipless gash of foul air and dankness.
"No… That wasn't there a moment ago, I looked over these waters yesterday," Silas breathed.
The pirates shifted their eyes about nervously as they slyly floated into the rock formation. A warm, sticky, damp air settled unpleasantly onto their thick fur, and strange, crawling plants decorated the cavern's roof.
Her eyes over-looking the rail of the ship, Raz was startled when something stranger caught her attention.
"Look!" She shouted in surprise.
At once, they all scurried about to see her findings; a series of strange creatures glowed a neon blue just beneath the water's surface. Blinking and flashing at rapid rates, the strange light reflected softly off of the mammals' gaze.
Flynn let his sight trail just past this curious vision to the dark edges of the cave's bank. There, in the mud and the murky water, he could barely make out the skeleton of a saber, followed shortly after by that of an elder opossum.
Gupta let out a gasp when a badger skeleton was revealed, impaled upon the rocks.
"Oh no! We're all going to die!" Flynn cried out, large tears welling up in his golden eyes and trickling down his gray snout.
"Ha, ha! You're all going to die!!" A horrible chorus of shrieks rang out from deep within the recesses of darkness.
Flynn and the others froze in fear, absolutely petrified.
"W—who goes there?" Squint dared only half a step forth, raising up a fish-bone dagger in his trembling paw.
"Ha, ha! Who goes there?! We go nowhere, we could stay here forever and ever and ever because fools like you COME here and DIE!"
A wicked cackle of laughter ricotta upon the slick walls then, and all at once the shrill voice sounded as though it was all-encompassing, swelling and constricting around them—even INSIDE them.
Entirely aghast, Squint took back his step and rejoined as head of his cowering crew.
"Could it be…?" Silas' voice failed him.
"GHOSTS!" Gupta wailed.
"Ghosts of all the dead corsairs before us!"
Dobson's ears prickled straight up in alarm as the boar let out a terrified squeal.
"They'll haunt us!"
"They'll haunt us!!" The phantom voices repeated.
The crew clenched their jaws tightly and shrank.
"Oh, please, spirits, leave us alone!" Flynn moaned.
Whistling, Buck strolled causally up beside them, completely unafraid.
"Those aren't spirits any, they're too lively," he quirked.
Striking a match then on some flint they had been fortunate enough to find, the weasel then raised a wavering flame up over his head to where he believed the voices to be originating from on a torch.
There, right above the main mast of their ship, crouched on an archway of mossy skulls and other bones, was a hideously molting vulture, and a shiny, coal black crow with beady eyes. Gripped in each's curled talons reeked a wad of rotten meat, upon which they occasionally fed in between talk and taunt.
"Ah! I hate that light! Put it out, now I say!" the crow cawed viciously down to Buck.
"Sorry, mate," Buck announced, "I don't put my light out for cruel scavengers like you,"
"Caw! Oh, I'll tear your other eye out! Maurice, tell him to blow out that terrible fire, tell him, tell him!" The crow rasped impatiently, hopping from foot to foot.
"Calm yourself, Ferdinand; it will be out soon enough," The giant vulture, Maurice, husked in a very deep, grave monotone.
Staring on at Buck and the pirates aboard the mitely melting ice berg ship with dull, dead eyes, the old bird then hissed evilly, its wings arched into the shape of a coffin,
"You're all going to die,"
Drawing himself up then, Squint marched out from the huddled group and, peering just behind Buck, yelled up at the mangy scruff of feathers, "But not today, you sky scum!"
"Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. Ha, ha, ha, ha, HA, HA, HA!!"
The two birds both let out a blood curdling wave of laughter which drowned hope and sliced icily through the warm air.
"That's what they all said!" Maurice boomed.
"Aye! And now they all dead!" Ferdinand finished.
Squint crept back and Buck kept a wary eye on them but said nothing as they slowly drifted under the eerie archway. His ears sat all the way back on his head.
Flu! Flu! Flu! SWISH!
A tide of hot air danced by, and out went Buck's torch.
The weasel tossed the useless thing disgustedly to the floor. There was a loud scramble as the paws of the crew groped about madly for it, desperate to resurrect its flame.
"Ha, ha! There goes your dirty light!" The scavengers' teases died out the further they tread down the cavern, "Your bones'll wash up next week for us!"
A few more squabblings, and then, silence.
The vulture and that horrible crow and their evil archway had vanished, along with the silver light of the moon, for their ship rounded a corner and descended deeper into the tomb.
Darkness engulfed them. The sound of leaking water spattered all around the cavern, dripping in torrents of rain and soaking the creatures' poor heads.
"Eck! That water's cold!" Flynn exclaimed as he felt it stream down his skin and make it crawl with worms.
"I can barely see my own beak," Silas remarked, his blue eyes squinting into the dark.
"Ah! There's a floating skull among us!" Squint yelped, at once reaching for a sword.
Raz kicked him.
"That's Gupta's white skull and crossbones pattern, you idiot!"
Squint turned on her, teeth bared, "Hey! Is that any way to speak to your Captain?"
Dobson sent up a chilling whine, and Buck hushed the other corsairs, springing between them.
"Shhhhush!" The weasel silenced, ears pinned back and single eye darting about everywhere, "Dobson's right: I hear something too!"
They all paused, straining to harken to the sound of death deep within the cave.
A sucking noise could be heard, followed by a tremendous, ear-splitting rumble and roar. The water on which the PINEAPPLE tread suddenly grew more choppy, as it sloshed about the sides of the ship. Soon, the animals were sent sprawling and squealing, being thrown this way and that upon their deteriorating, watery deck as they careened through a series of rapids. The rain-like droplets poured all around them—spearing, pelting, piercing their hides and bones numb with their sharp coolness.
CRASH! The PINEAPPLE smashed into an ancient stalagmite, causing her to be swung around backwards as they entered the heart of the beast, screams and all.
"Where are we going?!"
"How the heck would I know?!?!"
"I can't see anything!!"
"Ask the navigator!!"
Their sails ripped and tore to shreds, flapping violently in the winds twisting about them. With a sickening CRACK! The main mast splintered into pieces and was lost in jigsaw splits.
"YOW!" Squint panted as a jet of bark thundered down inches from him.
Dobson's hooves clattered about nervously on the ice like some frantic tap dance of life un-winding itself. His eyes shooting over-board, the swine squealed shrilly, almost banshee-like; sending creepy fingertips zipping up the other's spines.
Raz scrambled over to join him, followed by Squint.
"Dobson, what is--?" But the question died on Silas' lips as he glided over with saturated wings to view for himself.
Like a great, empty eye socket, the water below them opened up. A deep, dark wound gashed into the ocean. Around this lifeless void their ship twirled. Around and around and around, all the while approaching the hole that would no doubt snuff the life out of them and send them to the land of death and decay.
Thunder clashed over-head, and Squint could hear the blood drumming inside of him, ticking in his pulse, seemingly screaming; "Our time is up! Our time is up!"
Outraged, the rabbit sprinted—slipping and sliding the whole way—toward Buck, laughing and jeering in the midst of the storm like a madman, a foot away from the tip of the bowsprit one of his legs was propped upon.
"Ha, ha! Ye old storm! Go on, spit in me face, rake me fur, but I am still 'ere, aren't I, mate?"
"BUCK!" Squint screamed, "Are you crazy? You've lead us to our deaths!"
Buck whipped his head back to him, the clashing sounds and reverberates unreal, as was the glint in his eye. The vine he carried about him fluttered, as if it wished to tear off his body and fly.
"I'm not crazy," He informed the Captain quite solemnly.
" 'NOT CRAZY'?!" Squint cried in disbelief, "Then what do you call all this?! Buck, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!"
Buck was at him at once and held the struggling mammal by the ears.
"You will not die, you are with me," Buck hissed into his face as he ran his dagger along his victim's chest, "but, if you do, don't do so screaming that you will. It hurts me ears,"
Squint's back legs kicked the open air and Buck abruptly let go, sending the Pirate Captain to fall flat on his face with a cut-off pant.
Buck slithered up the tattered ratlines, securing himself tightly about the waist with his loyal line of vine, he then called down to his companions with a final pull and tug,
"Hold on to yore lives now, mates! Sometimes that's all you have to hold on to!"
Skating about the deck with their claws, teeth, hooves, beaks, the crew tried to vainly latch onto something—anything, in order to survive.
Unsheathing his dagger once more, the Buckminster cried out wildly, voice rising against—racing the air of the storm—"this is for you, my sweetheart! And this is for you, Rudy! You'll never escape—you'll never escape, not while I'm alive! You remember that, you scaly villain! YEAH!"
Finally, the rain turned into hail, and all were blinded by this burning blizzard as the ship gave a final heave and fell sideways. The bow sprint bowed to the sea, and there they sank, into the whirl pool's abyss.
"Yes, and then we fell into the River of Tears… it was right below it… Lucky guess, I know… Heh, yeah… Anyway, I had to grab hold of the helm, it was jittering and wheeling like mad… no, no, they were all already knocked out… Yeah, I know, right?... Well, so I jerked it this way and that, steering it through that gloomy tunnel of white foam until I saw the light. My dagger raised with a final thrill of triumph and venture, I shouted out with joy as we plummeted down Ole Pain Falls! Ah, but it was great to feel the golden rays one me fur again, ye know? I felt once again as if I belonged… Wot was that... No, none of them appear to be seriously injured, just some bruised ribs an' lost teeth…. Heh, unfortunate that is fer you, isn't it?... Well, I best be going now, my minutes are almost up… Mmm. I'll talk to you later, alright? Right now, goodbye,"
Buck let the smooth rock fall to the plush white sand at his feet with a solid plop!
Behind him lay the bodies of the brave pirate crew that had delivered him back home, littered across the beach.
The warm, mellow water of the springs gently lapped and licked their sore limbs. They all breathed heavily, knocked out cold, fur matted and feathers tasseled, but they were, none-the-less, all still alive.
"Rise an' shine my beauties," Buck called to them in a mellifluous note, prodding Gupta with his foot.
The weasel then scuttled over with a graceful leap to the unconscious Squint. Taking up one of the rabbit's long ears, he spoke into it,
"Come on now, wakey wakey!"
"Uh….," The Captain groaned, mouthful of sand.
"Heh," Buck let out a spat of a chuckle as he attempted to wrench open Flynn's eyes, "I'll have to admit, you all rather surprised me; I didn't actually think you'd all survive, you see. Hah, I knew I picked a good bunch of buccaneers, I knew it,"
He smiled and zoomed before them all then, watching on proudly as they all gradually came to. Gupta still held clutched in his paws one of his many, bone-chewed flutes, clogged with seaweed. Squint and Raz gripped in theirs a swift collection a fish skeleton daggers and swords, as if thinking they'd need to fight off their ghosts and past enemies in the afterlife.
Silas, Dobson, and Flynn grasped with them nothing, but instead, as their muscles slowly stirred, shifted, and rippled, their minds followed. As they came to, they examined, with blurry vision and dizzy heads, their sand coated bodies and battered state.
All of this was soon forgotten however, as their eyes widened with both fear, fright, and wonder at the spectacle which surrounded them.
Strange, giant, leafy plants—green and lush—sprung up all around them. Tall trees with strange, grooved barks towered magnificently over-head. Odd creatures such as crabs and echinodermic starfish sprinkled and sparkled along the clean, crisp, golden sand. Nearby, a splendid brotherhood of clear, pure-water falls roared, sending up a misty steam which relieved and loosened the joints. Funny bird songs rang through the air like cheerful, colorful telephones, inter-mingling and tangling with the viscous caterwauls and shrieks of creatures long-thought to be extinct, spying on them curiously behind the bush and undergrowth with reptilian eyes.
"Eh… Where are we?" Raz coughed, eyes adjusting to the brightness.
"Where are we?! Why! Hades of course! The Land of Downwards, the Underworld!" Buck jeered, flipping his dagger up into the air and catching it.
With a twitch of his tail, the navigator added, "the place of unbelievable realities, so tongued as a false fantasy realm of believable imaginings and--,"
"FRUIT!" Flynn interrupted him, gold eyes wide with joy.
Buck grinned and pointed at him with his dagger.
"Aye! That too, mate!"
In his usual droll then, Buck announced in his strong accent, one paw resting on the hilt of his dagger while the other waved about the air, seemingly gesturing to the arthropods which hummed lazily along the beach in the hazy air,
"Captain an' crew," A smile soared over his lips, "Welcome to My World!"
"Welcome to My World!"
Gupta playing his Leg Bone Flute.
"Who are you? Where do you come from, anyway?"
Squint: "I demand to have that dagger back!!"
Buck's Campfire stories.
"We're going to the AFTERLIFE!"