It was a source of reassurance to the crew that no matter what bizarre schemes their captain hatched, there was always a method to his madness. And unlike most people, they were usually able to figure out that method.
"Captain?" the Pirate With A Scarf asked cautiously. "Are you...are you sure about this?"
"Of course I am!" the Pirate Captain exclaimed, applying the finishing touches to his...outfit, if one could call it that. "All right, lads," he said, striking a pose, "how do I look?"
His friends stood around him, trying to find the appropriate adjectives for their leader's appearance. The Pirate Captain had smeared some red paste all over his face and hands, while his hat, beard and coat were adorned with various bits of leaves, feathers and shells, all in bright hues of red and orange and yellow. He had fashioned several large palm leaves into a long flowing skirt, and he was now happily twirling around to make a swishing noise with it. "Well?" he asked expectantly.
"It's...divine, sir?" the Pirate With Gout offered.
"Colorful?" said the Pirate Who Liked Sunsets And Kittens.
Mr. Bobo merely shook his head.
"It...it looks like you're on fire."
"Already? I didn't think it'd be that good!"
"W-What do you mean, already?" Charles asked, eyes widening in fear.
"Polly!" the captain exclaimed grandly. "The final touch, please!"
The crew watched in horror as their dodo picked up a small torch in her beak and held it to the hem of the captain's skirt, which immediately burst into flames. "The Great Fire God," the captain said, "is ready to meet his loyal subjects! Send me up, lads!"
"Sir, there must be an easier way to do this," the Pirate With A Scarf said while the others were preparing the pulley. "Couldn't we just...scare them off or something?"
"We could," the captain answered. "But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun, now would it?"
The Pirate Who Liked Sunsets And Kittens began pulling on the thick vine which had been looped around a branch from the tree overhead and tied around the Pirate Captain's waist. With a triumphant cheer, the Pirate Captain rose off the ground and out of the volcano, his fiery skirt illuminating the rest of his outfit and making him glow. "Up, up and away!" The others looked up after him, open-mouthed. Mr. Bobo held up two notecards; Help. Us.
The Pirate With A Scarf sighed. He was still trying to figure out how it had all come to this...
It was only proper, the Pirate Captain reasoned, to pay a visit to Mr. Darwin. He had, after all, helped them get out of that situation with Queen Vicky. And into it. But also out of it. So, after sending a brief letter to their friend, they set off.
The island they'd left him on was really quite nice; very large, with lots of greenery and animals frolicking about. And on top of all that, there were plenty of native women for Charles to try his luck with. It was also said that there was a volcano somewhere, but the captain couldn't see it. All in all, a fine place.
The sun was setting when they dropped anchor. Charles was supposed to meet them on the beach, but he was nowhere to be seen. "Charles?" the captain called out. "Are you there?"
The Pirate With A Scarf was inching back towards the boat. Something wasn't quite right here. "Perhaps we can look for him in the morning - "
"Come on, lads!" said the Pirate Captain, heading off into the jungle. "He can't be too hard to find."
That had been an hour ago. At the very least.
"I don't like the dark," the Albino Pirate whimpered, clinging to Polly as the crew trudged through the thick foliage.
"Captain, do we even know where we are?" asked the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate.
"In the literal sense."
Mr. Bobo suddenly perked up and began to look around. Do. You. Hear. That?
The Pirate With A Scarf listened. "There's nothing to hear." It was true; not even the chirping of insects was present.
"Albino Pirate?" the Pirate With Gout suddenly asked. "Where'd you go?"
The crew looked around. Sure enough, the Albino Pirate and Polly had vanished without a trace.
"That's odd," the Pirate Captain muttered. "He's not one to - "
A hand clapped over his mouth, four more hands dragged him backwards into the bushes, a large and heavy something struck him in the back of the head, and everything went black.
The first thing the Pirate Captain was aware of when he came to was a bright light shining in his face. As he regained his senses, he noticed that he lacked the use of his hands. They were tied behind him, trapping him to some kind of thin pole stuck in the ground. He was on a round stone platform of some sort, in the center of which was a pit from which tall flames were springing. The glow of the flames illuminated several sun-bleached bones hanging from vines above the pit. He sat facing this pit - and, the Pirate Captain realized, so did his crew. All were arranged in a circle surrounding the terrible thing, hands tied to posts and struggling to get free. Well, not all of them.
"Polly!" the Pirate Captain exclaimed as he felt his dodo's nimble beak deftly untying his bonds. "There's a good dodo!" He quickly got to work, and after a few minutes, the whole crew had been freed.
"Clever, clever girl! They all laughed at us when we decided to teach you knots, but they were wrong, now weren't they?"
Something rustled in the leaves overhead. "Captain? Captain! Oh, thank goodness you're - AGH!"
With a loud crash, Charles Darwin tumbled out of a tree and landed on the platform, barely missing the fire pit. "...here..."
"Are you all right?" the Pirate Captain asked as he helped the scientist to his feet. His hands had been tied behind his back like the others, and he looked more on the verge of hysteria than he usually did. "Chuck, what on earth's going on?"
"It wasn't me, I swear! I had nothing to do with this! All I remember was being about to get my first kiss when something knocked me out and - "
"Just calm down! I know you're innocent. You aren't disturbed enough to put something like this together." The captain drew his cutlass. "We're onto you!" he yelled into the darkness. "Show yourselves, ruffians!"
And they did.
Dozens of native women wearing elaborate face paint and carrying weapons poured into the clearing. The Pirate Captain's cutlass was quickly knocked out of his hands, and he and his companions were forced together and surrounded by a ring of spears.
The Pirate Captain put up his hands, motioning for the crew and Charles to do the same. "Um...evening, ladies. No harm intended. We'll just be on our way..."
He was cut off by the sound of approaching drumbeats. At one end of the clearing, the crowd parted. Four women entered the area carrying small drums and beating out a rhythm while four more followed them, carrying a wooden litter. Upon it sat a small, wrinkled, gray-haired and important-looking lady.
We really must stop running into queens, the Pirate Captain thought. Never works out.
The litter was set on the ground, and the prisoners were pushed towards it. "Excuse me!" Charles said. "I think there's been a bit of a misunderstanding - "
"Silence!" the queen shouted in a voice far too deep for her frail body.
"I speak only to your leader."
"That would be moi," answered the Pirate Captain. "And I do hope you ladies have a suitably interesting explanation for your actions this evening." He was met with blank looks. "Simply put, why'd you tie us up?"
"It is for the great fire god in the hill."
"The loud one," the queen said, pointing at Charles, "is our offering to him."
"What do you...oh."
Charles freaked out. "Absolutely not! Y-You stay away from me!"
"Quite right," the Pirate Captain added. "Charles here would be a most unsuitable sacrifice. I mean, just look at his nose."
"Would you stop bringing that up...?"
The queen stared at them for a bit. "You are wise," she said at last.
"Why, thank you - "
"You shall be the offering."
The natives cheered. Everyone else looked terrified.
"We begin the ceremony now," said the queen when the noise had died down.
"Here?" the Pirate With A Scarf asked. "Don't you just toss him in the volcano?"
"We dare not approach the home of the fire god!"
This wasn't going anywhere good. "Then," said the Pirate Captain, "what happens?"
The queen merely gestured to the fire pit. "Are you ready?"
"Let me answer that as delicately as possible. RUN!"
And with that, the Pirate Captain and company burst through the crowd surrounding them and tore off into the jungle.
The next few minutes were an adrenaline-fueled blur filled with little more than running, screaming and occasionally tripping. Eventually the sound of the pursuing natives faded away, about the same time as the pirates' energy.
"O-kay," the Pirate Captain panted when they finally stopped. "Everyone's here? Yes? Good."
"Where are they?" the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate asked, looking around.
"Never mind that," said Charles, "where are we?"
The pirates performed a perfectly synchronized gulp as the full extent of their plight revealed itself. Clouds had covered up the moon, making it impossible to see through the dense plants, they had lost all their weapons and they could very well be burned alive before the night was through.
"Nobody panic!" said the Pirate Captain. "You know how I feel about panicking." He ventured forward into the flora, his crew following close behind. "The answer is simple. We just find a suitable hiding place and wait for them to...gah!" He tripped over something and fell forward and fell forward, disappearing from view. "Neptune's eyeballs."
The others rushed after him. "What is it, Captain?" They pushed through the wall of plants...which, to their shock, abruptly ended. Before them stretched a plain of smooth black rock which gently sloped upward.
The Pirate Captain had gotten to his feet and was staring ahead. "Look at that!" he exclaimed, pointing. A short distance away, the rock formed a tall, stout funnel, barely taller than the tree shading it. It looked, the pirates thought, rather like the volcano on Blood Island - wait.
"Is that it?" the Pirate Captain whined. "You'd think it would be more dramatic! That's just boring."
The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, however, took one look at the volcano and immediately began walking towards it. "Come on!" he said when the others gave him odd looks. "You can follow me, or you can stay there and burn. What's it to be?"
No further explanation was required.
"Well," said Charles, peering down into the volcano, "it certainly doesn't look ready to erupt." In fact, the thing appeared to be empty.
"I can see the boat from here!" the Albino Pirate chirped, sitting in the tree and pointing straight ahead. "Right on that beach!"
"Good work, Albino Pirate!" the captain said. "We're in the clear, lads - "
Then, far too close for comfort, they heard the drumbeats.
"Right, then," the Pirate With A Scarf said. "Only one thing to do." Without hesitation he got behind Charles, pushed the unsuspecting scientist into the volcano and jumped in after him. The others quickly followed, with the Pirate Captain jumping down just as the first natives crashed into the clearing.
The volcano's insides were bigger than they seemed, and it easily held the whole crew. Leaves, vines, sticks, shells and dozens of some strange red fruit littered the ground. Outside, the natives could be heard chattering in anger.
"Now what?" the Pirate With Gout wondered.
"How would that help?" Charles said. "They'll just come down here and kill us!"
"Don't you remember what she told us?" the Pirate With A Scarf retorted. "They think that fire god of theirs lives in here, so they won't go near it!"
"Then why are they still here?"
"They won't be," the Pirate Captain answered. "At least, not once they get a visit from their fire god."
Reaching into his coat, the captain pulled out a match, lit it and set fire to a stick, making a torch. "Lads, I'm going to need four spools of thread, two dozen safety pins and a pulley! Hop to it if you want to live!"
Ah, yes. That's how it had happened.
"WHO DARES TO AWAKE ME?" the Pirate Captain yelled in his finest bellowing voice as he rose from the volcano with the moon behind him and his skirt burning merrily. It was quite an impressive image, really. The queen and her followers certainly thought so.
"We have angered the great fire god!" the queen exclaimed as her followers gasped in awe and fell to the ground. "Forgive us, master!"
"What's this about, then? Spit it out!"
Meanwhile, the others had begun digging out the other side of the volcano like the captain had instructed. Once his job was done, it would just be a quick run to the boat.
"It was not our fault," the queen trembled. "It was the unruly sacrifices."
"Oh, it was, was it? And why do you think that?"
"They did not realize the honor of being sacrifices."
The crew had successfully made a hole in the rock and were slowly but steadily widening it out.
"I mean, you try jumping in that fire and see how much you like it! What gave you the idea to use live sacrifices, anyway? What makes them so great?"
"Because they're absolutely nasty by the time I get them! Burnt to a crisp, not at all tasty! And that screaming beforehand, that just eviscerates my godly eardrums."
"That should work," the Pirate With A Scarf said, looking over the now-large hole.
Charles, on the other hand, was focused on the volcano floor. Specifically, at the small crack forming in it. "How long has that been there?"
"Does it matter?" As if in reply, the crack abruptly spread.
"What do you wish from us?"
"Something that's not alive. I like nuts and berries, those are nice. And HAM! Yes, ham would be splendid! By the power invested in me as the Great Fire God, I command you to start sacrificing ham!"
The crack had opened into a rather large gap, and a gooey red liquid was beginning to ooze from it. "Get him down, get him down!" the Pirate With A Scarf whispered frantically.
The Pirate Captain started as he felt two sharp tugs on the vine. "All right, glad that's settled!" he told the natives. "Must be going, have lots to do! You should be heading off as well, I should think!"
"Oh, please give us some godly knowledge!" the queen said. "We have been most loyal!"
"Um...well, there are three things you must know when sailing a boat - "
Unfortunately, the natives never learned what those things were, for at that moment the Pirate Who Liked Kittens And Sunsets let his end of the vine go, sending the Pirate Captain plummeting back into the volcano. With the vine still around his waist and his skirt still on fire, the crew dashed out of their hole and towards the boat as a river of lava flowed after them.
The Pirate Captain proudly placed the last charred bit of leaf into his trophy cabinet. "That went well."
"A fine performance, sir," the Pirate With A Scarf said. "What now, shall we head back to Blood Island and tell everyone about it?"
"One more thing first, Number Two," the captain answered, strolling out of his cabin and onto the deck where the crew and Charles were anxiously waiting for him. "Good work, everyone! A most interesting adventure, don't you think?"
They all nodded.
"However, we're not quite done yet. Why is that?" He paused for effect. "We must decide what we are to do with Charles here. And no, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, the plank is not an option."
"I didn't say anything..."
"I was thinking we could find another island for you, Chuck. After making sure it's uninhabited, of course. Or if we're very, very careful, we just might be able to sneak you back into London - "
"Perhaps he could stay with us."
That was the last thing anyone expected to hear the Pirate With A Scarf say. "You know, for the time being," he quickly added as everyone stared at him oddly.
After an awkward silence, the Pirate Captain spoke up again. "Well, let's put it to a vote. All in favor of Charles staying, say 'aye-aye'."
It was a landslide. "Aye-aye!" every member of the crew shouted loudly. Even Polly squawked her approval.
"This is all right, isn't it?" the Pirate Captain asked Charles.
"It's wonderful, but - "
"I thought so!" the captain replied happily. "All right, now we can go to Blood Island and tell everyone about it!"
"I can't really do anything useful," Charles told the Pirate With A Scarf as the captain walked off.
"And you don't even like me!"
"I figured that since we've destroyed your home twice now, we owe you a favor. Or perhaps there's a reason we keep getting stuck with each other. You aren't that awful, after all."
The Pirate With A Scarf smiled. "You're welcome."
"Off we go, lads!" the Pirate Captain shouted, darting up to the ship's wheel and pointing his cutlass at the horizon.
And with that, the band of misfits sailed away, leaving behind one adventure and heading towards the many which were sure to come.