What Lies Beyond: Chapter 7

“…And then the next thing I remember, I was with you.” Sister finished.
That’s some story.” Corsair stood up and stretched his arms. “But I don’t see how that proves that the strangers are real.”
It’s one thing for strangers to talk to you,” she insisted, “but Michelle showed insight. She figured out that I wasn't the same as her. You’ve been keeping track, has anyone ever told you that you didn’t belong there?”
Actually, something like that happened just before I found you.” Corsair put a paw on his arm; it was still a bit sore. “There was something very unsettling about it.”
She nodded. “Yes, that’s how I knew. I could just feel it, when she spoke to me, it wasn't like speaking to a stranger, it was like speaking to you. And that’s why I have to help her. I have to find Steven and give him her message.”
That’s impossible. I’ve been keeping track, and I’ve never encountered the same stranger twice. Even if the strangers are real, there must be thousands of them.”
I know...” she said, sadly. “But I have to do something, she’s in trouble. She needs my help. Maybe if we all searched together-”
Sister tried to stand up, but her leg gave out beneath her and she fell forward. Corsair caught her as she fell and held her up. “Right now you need to take care of yourself” he said gently.
I’m okay” Sister insisted, pulling herself up by Corsair’s shoulders. “There’s no time. The sun will be up soon, and I need to start looking. You should get back to your ship. And please, keep an eye out. If you see Steven, give him the message.”
But Corsair didn’t let go of her. “I’m not leaving you. You’re in no state to go out there on your own.” He held her close. “I couldn’t bare to lose you again.”
But you can’t-“ she started to say, but it was too late. She closed her eyes and squeezed him as she felt the warmth of the sun wash over her.

It’s good to see you again too, old friend.” the man said as he gave Corsair a hearty hug. “How long has it been? Fifteen years?”
Sister?” Corsair blurted out, disoriented. He quickly looked about, he was in a hallway and the man was the only other person in sight.
Your sister? Is she not with you?” The man shrugged. “I’m sure she must be around here somewhere. But surely there are other people you’re more interested to see?” A man and a woman walked by them and entered the double doors at the end of the hall.
Corsair started to say something, but he had said too much already. He didn't want to get Sister in any trouble, so he simply nodded.
Well, what are we waiting for?” The man said, as he began walking towards the doors, “let’s go and see the rest of the gang.”
Corsair fell into step with him. “Who are you looking for?” he asked the man, to try to distract attention away from himself.
He laughed: “Probably my old flame, Jenna. I have a family of my own now, and I’m sure she probably does too, but you can’t help but be curious, you know? And lots of others, too, I hope everybody turned up.”
Everybody had. The doors opened to a large, tall room, and as many people as Corsair had ever seen were talking, laughing, and drinking alcohol. He thought he spotted Sabre in the crowd, but he was much more concerned with Sister’s whereabouts. “How will we ever find anyone in here?” he wondered aloud.
We start at one corner and make our way through the crowd”, replied the man. “Come on, we’ve got a lot of people to see.”

A lot” was an understatement, the man seemed to find someone he knew at every turn. Some he greeted with a handshake, others with a jovial hug, and they exchanged a few stories along the way. “You’re in such good shape!” he told one of them, “Do you still play Soccer?”
No, it’s too hard on my knees”, said the other man, “but I still exercise every day.”
You and me both!” the man said, with a wink, and then they both laughed. Corsair wasn’t sure what to make of it, so he took another swig of his drink and went back to scanning the crowd for Sister. There was still no sign of her. Could she have gone back already? He doubted it, with this many people in the room she had to be in here somewhere. “Nice seeing you again.” the man said with a wave, and they were on their way again.

Still haven’t seen her” the man remarked.
No.” Corsair replied distractedly, still scanning the crowd.
I hope she came today”, the stranger continued, “I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone else, but I’d be disappointed if she wasn’t here.”
I’m sure she’s here somewhere…”
I wonder if I’d recognize her after all this time. It sure would be funny if I’d passed her already.” He sighed.
Suddenly, a light-skinned woman with dark hair and blue eyes stepped in front of them. “Excuse me,” she said, “have you seen Steven?”
Steven?” the stranger replied. “Steven Hodgeman? I think I might have seen him back by the drink table.” He pointed to a table in the distance where a group of people were gathered. “He might not be there any more, though.”
Sister thanked him politely and made to leave. Corsair quickly chased after her. “Wait! This one’s the stranger, you should probably stick with us. It’s me”, he whispered, urgently.
Of course it’s you, silly, strangers don't have yellow eyes” she whispered back, smiling at him. “You keep an eye on him, I’m going to keep looking.” Before he had a chance to argue she had already turned and left.
Friend of yours?” asked the stranger. “You could go with her if you want, I’ll be all right on my own.”
Corsair thought he saw the lights dim for a second. He quickly wiped the scowl from his face and turned back to the stranger: “She only seemed interested in finding Steven. Let’s keep looking for that woman you mentioned.”
She’s got to be here somewhere”, the stranger agreed, “we’ve looked almost everywhere.”
Corsair wiped his forehead and took another drink from his cup.

Jenna!” the stranger exclaimed at last, embracing a tall woman with red hair. “It’s been so long!”
Martin! I thought you hadn’t made it!” She replied, giving him a squeeze and then letting go.
I’ve been looking all over for you,” the stranger smiled, happily. “How have you been all these years?”
Oh, I’ve been keeping busy. I’m a teacher now, you know, there’s never a dull moment. How about you?”
Things have been all right, I can’t complain. It’s been tough finding steady work, but that’s the economy for you. At least it’s given me a lot of time to work on my music.”
Corsair scanned the crowd expectantly as they chatted away. Nothing had happened so far, he knew something exciting had to be coming soon. He wondered what it might be.
This really brings back memories,” said the woman, “it’s just like how things were back when we were all in school.”
Well, almost. We were a couple back then, rather than old acquaintances.”
She laughed. “I remember that best of all. We had a lot of happy memories here. Do you remember when you gave me your class ring and said you’d get me a real one soon? Pity it didn’t work out, you were always so much fun.”
I’ve always regretted it too, Jenna. We were so young then, but we really had something…”
You know, we should get together again sometime. I’m sure we have a lot to catch up on. Do you think-”
It wasn’t the right Steven”, Sister butted in, unexpectedly. “I found a Steven, but it wasn’t the right one.”
Are you looking for my husband, Steven?” Jenna asked. “He was just over there. I should probably be getting back to him.” She turned and started to walk away. Corsair was certain the lights dimmed a bit this time.
Wait! Jenna!” cried the stranger. “I still love you!” but she was gone. And so were the stranger, and everyone else. And the lights had gone out.
Great,” came Sister’s voice, from the darkness. “We won’t find the other Steven now.”
What did you do?!” He demanded of her. It was getting cold, he needed to act quickly. Sabre and the others might still be in here. Corsair called out to them: “Can anyone hear me? Is anyone by the door?”
The door’s here!”, someone responded from far away. “Follow my voice!”
He started to run towards the sound, but he crashed into something and fell over. “I’m sorry, Corsair”, a voice weakly responded from beneath him. “I’m too tired. I guess I wore myself out earlier looking for Steven.”
Come on!” called the voice from the door. “There’s no time!”
Corsair climbed back to his feet, lifted Sister into his arms, and ran towards the sound. He could hear other footsteps, but they were all ahead of him now. When he finally reached the door, there was no one left, he kicked it open and fell straight into the water beyond, dropping Sister in the process. “You’re the last! Climb aboard!” Cross threw down the ladder to them as Sister emerged from the water with a gasp and a sputter. Corsair pushed the first rung into her paws and hoisted her up a bit and she began to climb. As soon as she was a safe distance above he began the climb as well.

A few moments later, they were back in her cabin. Sister was still coughing. “Are you all right?”
My side is a little sore from where you crashed into me.” She said. “But at least we made it out in one piece. We didn’t find out anything about Steven, though.”
Well, we did find out that there are multiple Stevens, thanks to you.”
The one I found didn’t look like Steven at all. Michelle’s Steven had dark skin, black hair, and he was average height with a fit build. The one that stranger pointed me to had light skin, brown hair, and was short and chubby.”
We’ll just have to keep looking.”
Oh, so you’ll help! That’s wonderful!” Sister jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. “I knew I could count on you, Corsair!” In the spur of the moment, she stood up on the tips of her toes and pressed her lips against his.
What was that?” Corsair asked, bewildered.
Oh,” she said sheepishly, “Steven showed me that. I think... it’s for someone you like a lot...” She backed away from him and tucked her paws behind her back, suddenly embarrassed. She wondered if her cheeks were red, then she realized Corsair couldn’t see them under her fur. “We should keep searching”, she said, quickly changing the subject, “but we’ll need to split up, and I should check in on my crew. I guess this is goodbye for now. Don’t forget the message – Michelle was in an accident, and she’s sorry.”
I’ll let you know if I find anything”, he said, putting a paw on her shoulder. “Stay safe.”
You too”, she said, as she followed him out the door. She waved to him on the deck as he crossed back to his own ship, then disappeared below deck. That was when Corsair spotted the third ship, docked to his own on the other side.

Don’t you know it’s not polite to keep a lady waiting?” Lay fluffed her cheek the way she always did, and peered at Corsair with an odd look in her eyes.
What are you doing here?” he demanded of her.
I came to help you look for Sister, but I guess I’m just intruding. I heard you spent all night in her cabin. I guess now she knows just how much you missed her, huh?”
There was something in her tone that annoyed him, but he tried not to show it. “She needs our help.”
Oh?” Lay cocked her head.
Corsair told her about Steven, the message, and about Sister’s ordeal, in as much detail as he could remember. Her face remained expressionless the entire time.
It’s crazy.” She said, bluntly.
I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Forget it.” Corsair replied, no longer hiding his annoyance.
I’ll look, because I can tell it’s important to you, but don’t expect much. You’re asking for something that can’t be done.”
Maybe it can be. There’s no way to know unless we try it.”
Lay laughed and turned her back to Corsair. “Some things are hopeless, no matter how hard you try.” She walked back towards her ship, swishing her tail as she went. Halfway across, she stopped, and turned her head to the side. “I’m glad you found her.” she said, without her usual mocking tone, and she returned to her ship.

Prepare to set sail!” Corsair called to his crew, as he set the ship’s course. Slowly the three ships went their separate ways. After they had faded from sight, Corsair descended the steps into his cabin, opened the door, and sat on his chair. Excitedly, he pulled out his journal and his quill, and wrote down the message Sister had given him. He also quickly jotted down some details about what had happened to Sister, how she had been trapped within Michelle’s memories, and how Michelle had sent her away. Finally, he turned to a new page to write about what had happened last night. He didn’t remember much about the man, or about the other people they had met, as usual, but he remembered one thing clearly – “Sister asked the stranger about Steven, and we found out there were multiple Stevens. We never knew that before.” Corsair closed his journal and put it away, smiling to himself. He stood up and glanced at his reflection in the mirror: He was looking better; he looked less weary and his yellow eyes had regained some of their intensity. He grinned slyly to himself and walked out of his cabin, closing the door behind him.

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