What Lies Beyond: Chapter 15

It had been two nights and days since they set sail to find the Black Ship, and the crew was beginning to become restless and tense. Sabre was pacing back and forth across the deck as Corsair leaned over the railing, his head resting in his paws.
“I thought you said we were going to see some action?” she said, annoyed, her tail swishing back and forth. “It's been two nights now and we haven't seen so much as a black speck.”
Corsair made no reply. He was trying to sort out where they could have gone wrong. “Surely, the Black Ship must travel across water, like any other ship.” he thought. “How could it elude us when we've given it nowhere else to go?”

“The Black Ship's not natural”, said Pegleg, as if reading Corsair's thoughts. “It doesn't sail the seas the way that we do, it just appears in the dead of night, bringing nothing but trouble to all those who set eyes upon it.”
Sabre laughed derisively. “Don't tell me you believe that. We've followed the Black Ship before, it rides atop the waves just like any other ship. If the sun hadn't rose we would have caught it.”
“Maybe so, but who know what horrible things we would have found? There's something about that ship that's not right, I tell you.”
Corsair thought back to the strange experience he'd had when they found the Black Ship the first time. He hadn't told anyone else about the strange white room, the dark-skinned man, or the strange void that lay beyond the door. He looked back to the two of them, Sabre pacing restlessly and Pegleg covering behind the mast, and he decided he would continue to keep that part to himself.
“In any case”, Cross piped in, “we'll have to make a decision soon, we're near the end of the known waters. Do we turn back?”
“We press on”, Corsair answered, quickly. “We've come this far, we might as well see this through to the end.” He still wasn't convinced that his theory could be wrong.

Night slowly gave way to dusk, and the air grew cold as they approached the edge of the world they knew. Beyond this point the waters were rough and the winds pushed back against ships that tried to cross, rendering it virtually impassable. Corsair slammed his paws on the railing. “It's no use.” he said, “We might as well go back. The Black Ship must have slipped by us.”
No sooner had he turned away from the railing did he spot Pegleg sprinting over to him as fast as he could, his arms flailing wildly. “Captain! The Black Ship! It's behind us!”
Gritting his teeth, Corsair ran to the rear of the ship. Sure enough, under the faint light of dusk the frame of a boat could be seen in the distance, traveling perpendicular to their current course. “I told you!” He cried, shaking Corsair by his shoulders, “See how it appears out of nowhere!”
“Calm down”, Corsair clasped his paws around the hysterical sailor as he darted off towards the helm. “It's a swift-moving ship with black sails, we probably just didn't spot it in the dark. It's not coming straight towards us anyway.” He took the wheel in his hands and turned it hard. “We're bringing the ship around!” he shouted. “We're in pursuit of the Black Ship!”
Pegleg dove to the deck and folded his arms over his head as ship gradually swung around. Cross examined the Black Ship through a spyglass. “It's really moving now, Captain. We'll have a hard time catching up, it'll take us a while to get back up to speed.”
“Odd”, Corsair thought aloud, “it barely seemed to be moving at all just moments ago, and now that we're coming after it it pours on steam. It's almost as though it wants us to follow.”
“No, it's a trap, and we're sailing right into it!” Pegleg wailed, pathetically.
“I don't care whether it's a trap or not”, said Sabre, licking her claws with anticipation. “I can't wait to catch it and see who's on board. Then I'll show you there's no such thing as a disappearing ship.”
“That's assuming we can catch up to it at all.” Corsair said, gripping the wheel tightly and guiding the ship towards an intercepting course.
“We will, I have faith in you.” she said, putting her paw on Corsair's arm and giving it a little squeeze. “You said we'd find it and we did. Now let's go get them!”
In her excitement, she squeezed his arm very hard, and Corsair was briefly overcome with doubt as he remembered the pain he'd felt in his arm after he had encountered the Black Ship the last time. Could Pegleg have been right? Was there truly something sinister about the Black Ship? He had chased after it without hesitation, but he could be leading them all into grave danger.

But there was nothing to be done about it now. The sun was already rising in the sky and the Black Ship lay dead ahead. He was going back there, wherever he had been.


Corsair regained his awareness to the sound of people talking and milling about. For a moment, he dared to hope he might be in a place he knew well, like a market or a tavern, but he opened his eyes to find himself in a small carpeted room with large windows on one side. It was elaborately furnished, with ornate lamps, plush furniture, flowers, and an elaborate wooden chest. He judged there to be about 20 people in the room, most talking in small groups, others sitting down and sipping glasses of wine. He let out a sigh of relief. “It's some kind of upper-class party”, he thought to himself, noting his own jacket and tie. “Perhaps the captain of the Black Ship intends to meet us here.” He straightened his tie and smoothed out his shirt. “I'll show him that I can play the diplomat when the situation calls for it.”

Corsair proceeded to a table at the back of the room to pour himself a glass of wine. He sipped at it, it was a sweet white wine with a very mild taste. On the table beside the wine he spied a notebook, similar to the one he kept in his cabin. He opened it to the first page, where a variety of stranger names were written. He quickly scanned the list for Steven, but that name did not appear. The rest of the pages seemed to be blank. “Won't you sign your name?”, someone asked him, giving him a pen. He briefly considered writing “Corsair”, but thought better of it, and wrote “Steven” instead, and closed the book. He returned the pen, and left the table hurriedly.

He chose a seat on a sofa next to a rather large woman who was telling a story to several other women seated nearby: “We had such a good time at college, you know”, she said. “She was always the responsible one. I would be out until one in the morning at the pub, then she would drag me home and remind me that I had four finals the next day. And then I'd ask her why she had been on the phone with her boyfriend for the last five hours when she was writing the same finals, and she'd say that I was drunk and needed to get to bed.” The woman laughed. “Those were the days...” she pined, wistfully. Corsair polished off his wine and went for another glass.

After pouring himself another, he went to join another group of people who were standing in one corner of the room. “They'll never be able to replace her”, one of the men remarked, drinking from his own glass.
“No”, said another, “She truly was one of a kind.”
“To her”, they agreed, in unison, raising their glasses. Corsair raised his as well.
Corsair's attention was suddenly drawn by the sound of someone crying softly, and he saw a man sitting on one of the chairs wiping his eyes with a handkerchief while a woman patted him on the back.
“We hadn't spoken in a long time.” His voice was broken up and hoarse: “I just wish I had a chance to say goodbye.” The woman patted his back reassuringly.
“Are you all right?” Corsair asked the man.
“I will be”, he managed, “it's just too much for me right now.” He started crying again. Corsair finished the last of his drink, and returned to the table.

As he picked up the wine bottle yet again, someone tapped Corsair on the shoulder. “Excuse me”, a deep voice interrupted him, and a chill ran up Corsair's spine. He put the bottle back down and turned around, and a dark-skinned man with pale yellow eyes stood before him. He looked straight at Corsair, stone-faced and inescapable.
“Sir, do you not wish to pay your respects?”, the man asked him, gesturing towards the chest by the window. “Everyone else has already done so, and we'll be closing soon.” Corsair thought he caught the slightest glimpse of a smile on the man's face, which made him feel even more ill at ease.

The crowd fell silent as Corsair cautiously approached the chest. It had a lid, which was closed. He put his hands on the edge of the lid and opened the chest.
There was someone inside.
The lid nearly slipped from his hands, but he regained his composure and lifted it all the way up where it snapped into place and took a closer look at the person inside. It was a woman, lying on her back, with her paws folded over her chest and her eyes closed. On the right side of her face was a dark patch of fur, and there was another on her right shoulder.
“Sister...” he said out loud, in disbelief. She made no reply.
“Sister!” he called to her, lifting her paw, but there was no response, and her paw just slumped back down with a quiet thump the moment he released it. The room was completely silent. “What are you doing?” he demanded of her. “Answer me!”

Slowly, one of her eyelids lifted, but there was no pupil underneath. “Why?” asked Sister's voice, but it sounded far-off and strained. “Why, Corsair? Why did you leave me? I needed you. Why?” Corsair stood there, frozen.
A bony paw reached out to him. “Stay with me.” The paw grabbed his throat, and he dropped his wine glass. “Stay forever.” He felt the chest tipping backwards, and he tried to scream, but he could not, the paw's grip on his throat was too strong. There was the sound of glass shattering, and the chest and Corsair tumbled out the window. As he fell, he thought he caught a glimpse of the dark-skinned man in the window. He fell past the entrance to the building and hit the ground hard, hurting his back terribly. To his side was a wall of earth, but there was light above them, and he quickly deduced he must have fallen into a hole in the ground. He tried to reach out, but dirt was pouring in above him. It quickly covered the hole completely and blotted out all light.

Corsair tried to scrape against the earth covering him, but he could hardly move. “Isn't this better?” Sister's voice asked, hauntingly.
“No!” He cried. “We have to get back!” He tried to throw his weight into the wall of earth above, but it was no use. It didn't shift an inch. He was completely trapped.
“Our adventures have to end someday”, the voice said, and he felt the bony arms wrapping around his body, squeezing him. “At least now we'll always be together.”
“Help me!”, he cried out, desperately. “Somebody, help!” He felt his awareness slipping away as her arms gripped him tighter. He tried to yell again, but she pressed her lips tightly against his and he couldn't even breathe. Just before he faded completely he thought he heard a scraping sound coming from above...

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