What Lies Beyond: Chapter 10

Candles and rose petals...” she sighed. The tiny bedroom was completely littered with them, on the dresser, the desk, the counter... petals were even strewn about the bed on which she sat. The fragrance was strong and pleasing, but they spoke of a difficult night ahead for her.

She stretched out on the bed, appraising her appearance. Her curvaceous body was covered only by a loose white silk nightgown, which only barely contained her chest and left her legs completely bare. Her nails were neatly manicured and painted with the same white colour, and her long golden hair fell unrestrained about her sides. “At least he has good taste”, she said, approvingly. She crawled over to the end of the bed and laid down on her back, placing her hands on either side of her head and tilting her head backwards to keep an eye on the only entrance to the room.

Moments later, the door opened, and a bespectacled man with fair-coloured skin and short black hair stepped inside. “Hi”, she whispered seductively, batting her eyelashes at him.

If he had been expecting her, he made no sign of it, he froze in his tracks, his eyes went wide, and he stammered something unintelligible. She smiled slyly; she never got tired of having that effect on men. She stood up and walked slowly over to him, waggling her hips as she went, her long hair flowing behind her. He was dressed plainly, in jeans and a white t-shirt, and he was no taller than she was. “It's not nice to keep a lady waiting”, she said, putting her hands on his shoulders and letting her the strap of her nightgown fall off on one side. He swallowed audibly, and she could hear his heart pounding even though her head was nowhere near it.

Don't be nervous”, she said, softly, running a finger along his chest. “I'll guide you. Just do what comes naturally and let me take care of the rest.” He nodded, and she kissed him passionately. Taking his hand, she lead him back to the bed, and pulled him down on top of her.
You're... so pretty”, he stammered nervously.
What are you going to do about it?” she grinned at him, wrapping her legs around him and pushing his head down into her chest. She arched her back and pressed her body against him tightly. “Don't be shy, I want everything you have to give”, she whispered, reaching for some rose petals to sprinkle over him, but there weren't any. She turned her head, and saw that an open window had blown all the candles out and the petals away. “Damn it!” she cried, as her partner slipped through her grasp and the floor of the small room gave way, and she fell through into the cold, dark waters below.

Sputtering and gasping for air, Lay forced her head above water. Her eyes stung, but she could faintly make out the outline of her ship in the distance, and she drove herself towards it, until finally she came up against the side. Angrily, she grabbed the end of the rope ladder and pulled herself out of the water. She was soaked from head to toe, her luxurious fur clumped and drooped all around her as the water poured out of it, completely robbed of its natural grace and dignity. Her mood did not improve at all to find Sonnet at the top of the ladder.
Struck out tonight?” He asked, peering at her, as if her sorry condition didn't make that obvious.
Damned virgins” she muttered, under her breath.
You come on too strong, you know. You need to be more subtle with those who don't have much experience.”
What would you know?” She asked, irritably. “You're back early too.”
Only because I work so fast. You'll notice that my body remains impeccably dry. Now, the lady I was with on the other hand-”
Either her scowl or her claws must have put some fear into him, because his demeanor changed instantly. Hurriedly, he quieted down and handed her a towel to dry herself off.
The water barely tarnishes your peerless beauty, my Queen.”, he said, in a more serious tone of voice. “Perhaps I could keep you company for a while-”
Save it.” Lay snapped, tossing the damp towel back in his face and storming off towards her cabin. Glancing back, the sight of Sonnet still standing there with the wet towel over his head brought a slight smile to her face, but her mood was still very irate.

When she saw her reflection in the mirror of her cabin she nearly fainted. How Sonnet could speak like that to her with a straight face she would never know, if there was one thing that looked more ridiculous than when her fur was dripping wet, it was how puffy it looked after being hurriedly dried. Suppressing her urge to gag, she hunted through her drawer for her favourite brush and began a lengthy battle against the tangles, wincing and cursing every time the brush got stuck.

Unfortunately fighting that unruly mess of wet fur gave her plenty of time to think, and tonight none of her thoughts were good ones. Corsair's plan had been idiotic from the start, but she was even more frustrated by her lack of progress. It wasn't easy to get the strangers to reveal their names, and once again she had come up empty. The man she had met tonight didn't seem like he could be Steven from his appearance, but still. If she had a better description of what she was looking for, it would be so much easier. She shouldn't have agreed to help at all, but the request had caught her off-guard, and in a way she had been relieved that Corsair wanted her help. She sighed. Her fur was still a mess, but this business with the message was far worse.

It wasn't long before she could hear the others starting to return. There was some hooting and hollering from those who had been successful, some consolation for those who had come close, and outright derision for the ones with the worst luck. She hadn't finished brushing yet, but she knew she had to address them now before they all dispersed. Once they retired to their quarters there was no point calling for them, they'd welcome her company but they'd never all appear above deck again. She put the brush down on the table and stepped out of her cabin. Everyone appeared to be back now, all chattering amongst themselves. She had to call for quiet several times before silence fell and she had a chance to speak.

Did anyone have any success tonight?” She asked them.
There were mummers of approval from the crowd. Nuzzle spoke out over the rest: “You know me”, he said, “I'm not one to kiss and tell.”
Yes you are”, Covers challenged him, “you were just telling me all about those twins you were with.”
Ah, but I left out anything about kissing, didn't I?” There was much laughter from the crowd. She raised a paw to silence them. “I meant success towards our goal of finding the stranger called Steven”.
Buckle chimed in next: “I met a stranger who called himself Steven tonight, but he didn't seem to have any interest in any Michelle. Judging from the way he came at me, I don't think she would have been his type.” More laughter. Lay rolled her eyes at him. “Has anyone found anything useful? We all agreed that this was important.”
More like you decided it was important when he asked you.” She couldn't make out who was speaking this time, but there was widespread agreement from the crowd.
This is our chance to learn how stranger romances work”, she reminded them. “Just think of how you could use that knowledge.” They quieted down a little. “...But we have to keep on trying. You are dismissed for now.”

Finally!” cried Ardour, scooping up Glow and sprinting below deck with her in his arms to much cheering from the others. The rest of her crew dispersed, some heading below deck while others gazed out over the side of the ship or discussed their latest conquests. Lay sighed. Still they had made no progress whatsoever. They were an impossible lot to manage, consumed solely by hedonism and narcissism, but they were all she had. Their lack of success frustrated her, and she was even more annoyed at herself for letting it get to her. Distractedly, she found herself walking below deck, to a room she knew well. She knocked on the door, and Petal answered it. He was kind, gentle, eager to please, easy to get along with and even easier to give in to. “My queen”, he said, holding the door for her.
I've asked you not to call me that in private” she said, putting her paws around him. “I'm just Lay here.”


As she lay there in his arms, Lay turned her mind back to their search for Steven and Michelle. Their approach was not working, that much she knew. They had only a pair of names and a short description, and they had quickly discovered that counted for precious little. If the strangers did have some real existence outside of their encounters, there had to be dozens if not hundreds sharing those same characteristics. She needed to see Corsair again, if they intended to continue in this pursuit they needed to come up with a different plan. Petal caressed her tenderly, but she lifted his arms away and stood up to leave. “I have to go”, she told him, and he looked at her with a knowing sadness in his eyes. “I wish you would stay”, he said, putting his paws around her and kissing her one last time. He obediently opened the door for her and returned to his room. “Farewell, my queen.”

Returning to the deck, Lay climbed the stairs to the mast and took the wheel in her paws. She turned the ship around, heading back towards where Corsair, Sister and herself had first discussed their plan, and then she gazed out at the stars for a while. “Do the strangers look out upon the same sky?”, she wondered. “Do they ever feel lonely and confused, the same way we do?”
She sighed and turned away, heading back to the deck. “What what it be like to have a love so strong that you'd reach out into another world just to save it?”
She could not have said whether it was pity or something else that brought her back below deck afterward to offer herself to him a second time, but tonight she stayed with Petal until the sun rose, and he spoke every word of purest, undying love to her.

When the sun came up, she found herself inside a building, in a wide open area with hallways on all sides and a staircase at one end. A few other people wandered the halls, talking amongst each other in small groups, but the area was fairly empty. She was dressed plainly, in jeans and a red tank top, and her hair was cut short, styled into a small ponytail that barely brushed the back of her neck. Just then a handsome, dark-skinned man with broad shoulders and a medium build approached her.
Excuse me”, he asked, in a deep, confident voice, “do you know the way to professor McKinley's class? It's in room 204.”
In that moment, she had a wild, crazy idea: “There you are!” She said, throwing her arms around him. “It's me, Michelle. I've been looking everywhere for you!”
You have?” He replied, tentatively returning her embrace.
Of course I have, silly. I know we had a fight, but I couldn't stay mad at you. I've missed you.” she said, giving him a squeeze.
I think you must have the wrong guy”, he said, shifting a little under her tight grip, “I'm just looking for Mr. McKinley's class”.
You've just forgotten. It's been a while. But deep down, I know you remember me.” She pulled herself up by his shoulders and kissed him, but by the time she opened her eyes he had slipped out of her grip and was quickly walking away from her.
I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry!” she shouted after him, chasing him down the hall. He was running now. She actually felt her right foot plunge into the water this time before she fell forward with a loud splash. As she cleaned the water out of her eyes with her paws and tried to regain her vision, she could already hear Sonnet calling down to her. “Too strong!”.

I hope Corsair knows how hard I'm trying for him”, she muttered bitterly as she dug her claws into the bottom of the ladder.

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