What Lies Beyond: Chapter 16

“What are you searching for?”
“I don't know”, Corsair told the voice. He tried to reach out towards it, but he had no body, he was just a consciousness floating through an endless black void.
“What will you do if you find it?” the voice asked, again.
“I don't know that either.” Corsair felt like he was moving, though he couldn't say where, or how.
“Then perhaps you should pay more attention to what's in front of you.” The voice was very deep, he noted. “There are people who need you.”
“Who are you?” he asked the voice, but there was no further reply, and he felt his consciousness slipping away again.

“Corsair! Come on! Corsair!” He suddenly heard someone shout. His whole body seemed to shake.
He opened his eyes. His vision was blurry, but he saw Sabre sitting on top of him, shaking him. “Corsair! Are you all right?”.
“Where am I? Why am I all wet?”, he asked, weakly.
“You're on the deck.”, she told him, a bit choked up. “I poured water over you, but it didn't work. Nothing worked. I thought you were...”
Corsair chuckled weakly. “I never would have guessed you could cry, Sabre.”
“What the hell were you thinking, going in there alone?!”, she yelled at him, her expression suddenly fierce. “Don't you ever do that to me again!” She punched him in the arm, hard, got up, and walked away in a huff.
“I'm sorry”, he groaned, rubbing his sore arm, but she didn't seem to hear him.
“I told you”, Pegleg whispered, peering over him. “The Black Ship brings disaster to all who come across it. We should get out of here as fast as we can!”
“No kidding” Corsair mumbled under his breath, struggling to sit up. Suddenly, he remembered what had happened to him last morning. “...Sister!” he cried, jumping to his feet. “We have to get back, she's in trouble!”


“So what happened exactly?” Cross asked as they sailed back the way they had come.
“I don't know. I was at a strange party, then I saw Sister in a big box, and we fell through the window. Then it all went dark... or something like that.”
“And what makes you think Sister is in some kind of trouble? Surely she's back with the others, waiting for us to return.”
“She was there! You know what that means, she must have been nearby, but now there's no sign of her!”
“Are you sure it was her? And we still don't know what determines whether or not we're sent to the same place.”
Corsair took a deep breath. “I'm sure. It didn't just look and sound like her, the things she said...” He trailed off, not wanting to say any more.
“...In any case”, Cross added eventually, “it's going to be several nights before we can get back. You're just going to have to sit tight until then.”
Corsair slammed his paws on the railing. “That's too long! Why did we come all the way out here?!” He stormed off, angrily.
“Why indeed?” Cross said, to no one in particular.

Back in his cabin, Corsair tried to remember last morning's events in greater detail for his journal. “I guess the dark-skinned man with the yellow eyes must have been the stranger”, he thought, but it didn't seem to add up: that man hadn't spoken to him until the very end, and you usually couldn't see a stranger's eyes very well. “The way they just let me go about my own business, it was almost as though I was the stranger.” He shrugged his shoulders and put the journal away.
There was a knock on the door to his cabin. He turned his head, but before he could get up to answer it they let themselves in. It was Sabre, and she strode right towards him with a determined look in her eyes.
“I told you I was sorry”, he started to say, but she ignored him.
“The sun is already coming up”, she told him. “You were gone for a long time.”
He stood up from his chair, and she took his left paw and locked her arm around his.
“I'm going with you this time.” she said, firmly. “Someone has to make sure you come back.”
“All right”, he sighed, knowing that he wouldn't be able to dissuade her. “I suppose I did promise you some excitement, as well.”
“You wouldn't believe what happened to me yesterday”, she sighed, looking away from him.” I was a princess at a royal banquet, trying to give a speech to everyone. I'm terrible at giving speeches...” she paused, pulling him closer to her. “...But that's better than finding you like you were tonight. I don't ever want that kind of excitement.”
There was a profound seriousness in her words that got through to him. “Sister was there too, things might be even worse for her. That's why we have to find her.”
“Together”, she agreed. A single tear struck the floor as the light enveloped the ship.


The first thing he felt was the rush of the wind against his face. Corsair opened his eyes to a sea of green: grass grew tall across endless hills as far as the eye could see, and fluffy green trees reached out towards the clear blue skies. “The world of the strangers truly is a magnificent place”, he thought, marvelling at the sheer size of it all. He wished he could just go off and explore it at his own pace, but such things were not to be, the sights and sounds of the vibrant green world flew by just as soon as they had appeared. Looking down, he quickly realized why the world was passing by so fast. He was seated atop a magnificent white horse, whose golden mane fluttered in the wind as it galloped down the path, carrying him to whatever destination this morning had in store for him. Corsair himself was clad in a full suit of metal armour, and he wore a sword at his side – a metal one, not one of the wooden ones that they used for practice. Looking at it, he remembered Sabre and looked around for her, but there was only a single narrow dirt pathway and he seemed to be alone. “Maybe it's for the best”, he thought, stroking the horse's mane and smiling to himself, “I don't think she'd be happy about this.” Those horse let out a neigh and broke into a full sprint, and Corsair took one last wistful look at the wide open world before concentrating on the path ahead.

It wasn't long before they came upon a town, gated by a high stone wall. As the horse trotted through the tall archway that served as the town's only entrance, Corsair was immediately struck by how quiet it was. Every home had the windows shuttered and barred, not a single person walked the streets, and the gentle clip-clop of his horse's hooves was the only sound to be heard. “I hope it isn't the plague”, he thought grimly, as they trotted through the empty town. Just as he was about to leave through the other end of town, he heard hushed voices, and he turned to see a small crowd gathered in a nearby square. He dismounted his horse, patted its head, and quietly joined the others. Shuffling about at the back for a better view, he spotted a lone man at the front preparing to address the others.

“Gentlemen!” said the man at the head of the crowd, “our town is besieged! The fearful Dragon Lord raids our farms, burns our fields, and carries off our beautiful maidens! This cannot go on! The king seeks brave men to travel to Darkstone Keep and slay the accursed beast!”

Just then there was a terrible screech overhead, and a giant shadow fell across the crowd. “The DRAGON!!” someone shouted, and most of the people dove for cover. Corsair looked up to try to get a glimpse of the creature, but it was gone just as soon as it had arrived.
The messenger picked himself up, cleared his throat, and continued: “...Who among you has the courage?” he asked, not sounding very courageous himself.
“I will fight the dragon!” bellowed a deep voice. It belonged to a man in a full suit of armour, his face covered by a full casque. “I cannot stand idly by while a lady is in peril!”
“I'll go too!” said Corsair, raising his sword.
“Thank you, brave knight!”, said the man in the armour. “Who else will aid us?”
There was silence from the crowd.
“Count me in as well!”, a bold female voice proclaimed. The crowd let out a collective gasp.
“But the Dragon feasts upon beautiful maidens!” someone volunteered. There were various frightened murmurs of agreement.
The woman drew and brandished her swords, one in each hand. “All the more reason a woman should be the one to slay him!” she said, fiercely. She sheathed the swords and tossed her long red hair back with her right hand.
“We shall welcome all the help we can get” proclaimed the armoured man, “unless one amongst you would take her place?” The crowd fell silent again. “Thank you for your courage, my lady, we would be honoured to have you with us”, he said, taking her hand gently in his gauntlet. She gave him a strange look and took her hand back.
“Someone has to keep you safe”, she whispered to Corsair. “It's me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Is it really? I barely recognized you.” She elbowed him in the side, which still managed to hurt despite the chest plate he wore.

As soon as the commotion was over, the crowd quickly dispersed and the town was empty once again save for the three of them.
“We'll need horses”, the man in armour said, “Darkstone Keep is quite a distance from here.” Corsair saw Sabre wince. “My lady, you can ride with me if you're not comfortable handling a horse”, the armoured man offered, but Sabre declined him. “I'll manage”, she said, bitterly.
Corsair retrieved his horse from the town gate and they were on their way.

“I must confess,” the armoured man said as they rode along, “my motivations for embarking on this quest are not entirely selfless. A woman I once cared for has gone missing, and I wonder if she could have been taken by the Dragon Lord.”
“That's as good a reason as any.” Corsair reassured him. “A friend of mine is missing, too. I hope she's not in any trouble.”
“Then I suppose you'd best hope we don't find her here.” The stranger pointed to the castle that now loomed over them. “This place has trouble written all over it.”
“Bring it on”, Sabre drew her swords. “I'm ready for whatever it is.”
“You are quite a woman”, he chuckled. “A lady warrior is quite rare.”
“A woman makes just as good a warrior as a man”, Sabre told him, “I'll show you that soon enough.”
“I'm very much looking forward to it”, he said eagerly, his gaze fixed on her. Corsair drove his horse forward to get between the two of them before something went wrong.

It wasn't long before they reached the foot of the mountain upon which the castle was built. “We'll have to go on foot from here, the path is too treacherous for horses.”
“Finally!”, Sabre replied, quickly jumping down from her horse. The path was extremely narrow, and parts of it crumbled under their feet. Corsair went first, followed by Sabre and then the stranger. “This feels strangely familiar”, Corsair thought to himself, as he gingerly placed one foot in front of the other to make sure the path would not collapse.

Just then, there was a horrible screech from above. It startled Corsair, and he felt his foot slip out from under him. He tried to quickly steady himself, but it was too late, he was falling over the edge. He tried to grab upwards for the ledge, but it was behind him, and he couldn't turn in time...
“I've got you!” Sabre cried, grabbing onto his arm. “Try to climb up!”
Corsair tried to spin himself around and get his other hand on the ledge. With some difficulty, he managed to find a solid handhold, and with Sabre's help he pulled himself back onto the path. “You've got to be more careful!” She chided him, “we almost lost you.”
“I'm sorry”, he apologized, “that noise surprised me.”
“Just don't do it again.”
“You're really got some strength”, the stranger said, impressed. “To support a fully-armoured man with just one arm is no easy feat.”
Sabre ignored him. “There's no time to waste here, let's keep going.”

From up close, it was clear where the castle got its name. It was made entirely of a rock as dark as the night itself, cold and sharp to the touch. The door to the castle was massive, a giant double wooden door with black metal braces holding it together. Corsair gave it a light push, and it creaked open slowly.
“Unlocked” the stranger noted, “I smell a trap.”
Corsair slowly pushed the door open further. “Or an overly confident dragon.” The inner hallway was completely dark. Sabre retrieved a torch and a flint rock from her satchel. “It's a good thing one of us came prepared”, she said, lighting the torch.

The inside of the castle was even more ghastly than the exterior. Bones were strewn about the hall, with not a scrap of flesh left on them. An assortment of broken weapons and armour were also discarded here and there, and there was an eerie creaking sound coming from the second floor. “It's just trying to intimidate us”, Sabre stated confidently as she strode forward with the torch in one hand and a sword in the other, pointing the sword around in the darkness as she went. “The bones have been scattered about in many piles, but there's only a few complete sets.”
“I'd still rather not become one of them.” said the stranger, as he accidentally kicked aside a skull. It rattled down the hallway before crashing unceremoniously against a wall.
“Then keep your eyes open and your wits about you and you won't-!” Sabre's torch and sword fell from her hands as Corsair tackled her to the ground. Only seconds later a giant log passed over their heads, right where Sabre had just been standing.
“Are you all right?” Corsair asked her as she lay beneath him.
The light from the nearby torch just barely illuminated her face, but Corsair could see how surprised she was. She looked at him for a moment in disbelief, then shoved him off of her. “I will be as soon as you get off me!” The stranger snickered.
“Perhaps I'd better take this”, he said, picking the torch up off the ground. “You'll need both hands to use those swords of yours, and a true gentleman would lead the way for a lady.”
“I guess now we're even.” Sabre said, poking Corsair in the side.
“Hey, we have to look out for each other.” he told her as they stumbled along in the dark.

Under the stranger's leadership, they encountered no further trouble until they came to the stairs. “I can hear voices coming from above!” he told them in a hushed voice, and sure enough, Corsair could hear what sounded like a woman screaming. “We have to hurry!” the stranger said, bounding up the spiralling steps. Corsair and Sabre chased after him.
“Wait!”, cried Corsair. There was a terrible rumbling sound from above. “Something's coming!”
But the stranger seemed not to notice and kept running up the steps. “We can't let anything happen to him!” said Sabre, “or we'll never find out who's on the top floor!”
So Corsair did the only thing he could, reaching out and grabbing the stranger's boot. He tripped and fell, knocking his helmet off and dropping the torch. The rumbling was getting louder. “Run!” the stranger cried, as a gigantic round boulder crashed down the stairs in front of him Corsair dragged the man to his feet and they flew down the stairs as fast as they could, just barely escaping into the hallway before the boulder crashed into the wall behind them.
“That was close!” The stranger wiped his now helmet-less brow. He had short hair, but Corsair could make out no more in the darkness. “We can't go that way again, he might have more boulders. And we've lost our torch.”
“My eyes have started to adjust to the darkness”, Corsair said. “But we have to find another way up. Does anyone see anything?”
“There's a tunnel through the wall over here”, Sabre gestured to a small hole in the wall. “I can hear the woman's voice through here, it must lead to the second floor!”
“Ladies first”, said Corsair, and Sabre deftly climbed into the small tunnel and began crawling along on all fours.
“Good choice, friend”, the stranger said quietly to Corsair, nudging him with his elbow. “What a sight!” he sighed wistfully as Sabre slowly wiggled up the tunnel. “Who would have thought that a bombshell could be such a formidable warrior?”
Corsair wasn't sure what he was enjoying so much. “You're welcome to go in after her if you fancy getting kicked in the face.”
“After you”, he said, pushing Corsair towards the tunnel, “your eyes have adjusted to the darkness better than mine.” He gave Corsair another push as he climbed into the tunnel, causing his head to bump into Sabre's backside. “Hey!” She barked at him. “Watch where you're going!”
Corsair thought he heard muffled laughter from behind him. He paused for a moment to let her get far enough ahead that he wouldn't bump into her again, then started carefully navigating the narrow shaft after her.

Even from behind Sabre Corsair could see that there was light at the end of the tunnel. “Where are we?” He whispered to her.
“I don't know, but the coast seems to be clear. I'm getting out.”
Sabre dropped down to the ground, and Corsair followed her a moment later. They found themselves in room lit by torches burning with an unnatural green flame.
“It's kind of pretty, in a way”, Corsair said. The torches cast everything in the room in a faint green light.
“Yeah.” Sabre said, turning to face him. “Thanks for bringing me here, and for looking out for me.” Her red hair glowed a deep shade of purple in the green light, and the light reflected brilliantly off her green eyes. Instinctively, Corsair put his arms around her, and pulled her close to him. “I'm glad you're here to share it with”, he told her. She seemed taken aback at first, but after a moment she closed her eyes and rubbed her nose against his.
“I hope I'm not interrupting anything”, the stranger apologized, climbing out of the vent.
Corsair expected her to pull away, but she didn't, she nuzzled him for a moment longer before opening her eyes again. “Let's finish this, together”, she drew her swords, instantly back to her regular self. The stranger joined them, and Corsair noted that the light barely reflected at all off his face or skin.
“Help me!” the woman's voice cried out from the next room, clearly audible now, and together the three of them pushed open the door.

With a deafening screech, they came face to face with the mighty Dragon Lord. His bulbous crimson body was like that of a lizard, with two giant scaly wings and three long, snake-like necks housing his three horrific heads. Each featured two pointy horns at the back, a long snout, and gigantic yellow teeth, which it barred menacingly. “Spread out!” Corsair yelled, and the stranger and Sabre took off to separate sides of the room.

“You're mine!” yelled Sabre, lunging at the head on the right with both of her swords.
“Watch out!” Corsair warned her, as the head in the middle turned towards her and belched out a stream of flame. She just barely managed to roll out of the way in time as the flames charred a black mark where she had been a moment earlier.
“My turn!” cried the stranger, charging at the head on the left, but before he could strike, the head on the right ducked under the middle one and snapped at him. He deflected the attack with his shield, but the head on the left spit fire at him, and he had to jump backwards, out of striking range. In the confusion, Corsair made a swing for the middle head, but it dodged out of the way, and the beast spun with surprising quickness, knocking Corsair off his feet with his tail. The middle head was on him immediately, lunging for his unprotected face, but Sabre was faster, thrusting her sword between the beast's jaws and holding him at bay. The Dragon grunted and effortlessly shattered the blade between its massive teeth, leaving Sabre holding only a bladeless hilt. It retracted its head and roared at them.

“Okay, now I'm mad!” Sabre growled fiercely at the Dragon as she tossed the hilt away and switched her other sword to her right hand.
“The heads protect each other!” Corsair yelled, back on his feet. “We have to work together!”
“Wait for it to attack, then take them all out at once!” the stranger agreed.
The Dragon reared back and a puff of smoke rose from each of its three heads.
“NOW!!” cried Corsair, as the Dragon's three heads fired a mighty fireball towards each of them. Dashing forward under the fireball, Corsair slashed at the Dragon's neck, and he felt his sword cleave through the dragon's scaly hide as the once-menacing head let out a final screech and fell to the ground behind him. He quickly looked left and right and was relieved to see that the others had made it as well. With all three of its heads severed, the Dragon toppled forward and hit the ground with an unceremonious thud. The three nodded to each other, sheathed their weapons, and strode forward into the brightly-lit chamber beyond.

“I knew you'd come!” cried the woman, and she ran straight towards Corsair with her arms outstretched. She leapt into his arms, brought her lips to his, and buried her face in his chest: “My hero.” she said softly.
Corsair breathed a deep sigh of relief. “I'm so glad you're safe.” He put his arm around Sister and patted her head as she snuggled up to him.
The stranger shook his head slightly and whispered to Corsair: “A kiss from a maiden's a fair reward for a hero, but methinks the lady knight's heart is yours as well. Choose carefully, my friend.”
“I don't see why I have to choose”, Corsair said, confused.
“You can never have both,” the stranger said, sadly. He looked about the room, and sighed: “and alas, my lady Michelle is not here.”
Sister immediately perked up, and they all froze. “Did you say, 'Michelle'?” Corsair asked, in disbelief.
“I did indeed. A fairer maiden I have never known, but she is lost to me now. I have searched far and wide to find her, and to make amends.”
“Are... are you... Steven?” It was getting dark around him, but Sabre and Sister both looked on, transfixed.
“Indeed, friend, I am Sir Steven. How is it you know me?”
Corsair stepped closer, and the castle seemed to vanish. “Michelle sent us, with a message for you: She was in an accident, and she wanted to tell you she was sorry. Do you know what that means?”
“I do.” He said, looking directly at Corsair through wide, brown eyes, which he could make out clearly for the first time. “Who... are you? You're... a cat?”
There was a load rumbling sound from above.
“We have to go!” cried Sister. “You've given him the message, we have to get back!”
The castle was collapsing around them, but Corsair paid them no heed. He gestured to himself with his paw: “I am Corsair. Remember me.”
“I will never forget it.”, Steven told him, clasping his paw with his hand, “You have saved my life.”
“Come on!” Sabre insisted, grabbing Corsair in her paws and dragging him away. “I'm NOT leaving you behind!” The roof collapsed just as soon as she pulled him through the door.
Corsair was dimly aware of being dragged down the stairs and back to the ship, as Sister shrieked and Sabre growled, but he was in another place. All he could think about were Steven's last words: “You have saved my life.” Something about the way he said it resonated with Corsair. “Sister was right”, he thought: “They ARE real, just like we are.”

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