What Lies Beyond: Chapter 18

The party continued on well into the night. Snag was dancing with Desire, a very bold and confident woman from Lay's crew. His steps were very shaky, and he tripped, bring her down on top of him. Her friends let out a collective “Oooh!” until Snag picked himself up and apologized for his clumsiness. Desire pulled him back down and kissed him, which impressed the onlookers once again. Having finally been released by Sister, Corsair used the distraction to slip away from the crowd and return to his own ship.

The Journey was totally deserted, with everyone else being over at the party, and he welcomed the momentary calm. Creeping silently towards the railing, he looked out over the ocean, watching the endless dark purple waves rise and fall. He strained his eyes to find the figure he thought he had seen earlier, but there was nothing but calm waters from here to the horizon. He was starting to wonder if he had really seen anything at all, but then something drew his eye.

“Shouldn't you be back with the others? You're tonight's hero, after all.”
The voice startled Corsair, but he tried not to show it. “I think I've earned a little break”, he said, quickly covering for himself.
Cross joined him at the railing. “They're very different from us, you know, the crews of the other ships. I was talking to a woman from Captain Pack's ship, and she had a very different view of the adventures they'd been on. And all this dancing and music is something totally new to me.”
“Tell me about it,” he sighed, wearily.
“I would have thought you'd be enjoying yourself. You're never one to back down from excitement.”
“I was, but there's been so much happening lately that even I could use a moment to absorb it all.”
Cross murmured in agreement. “I cannot help but feel a strange sense of foreboding. I've guided this ship through many tight scrapes, but I feel like we're heading towards something very dark.”
Corsair put a paw on his shoulder. “You've been spending too much time alone. You need to go back there and loosen up a little. Try talking with someone from Lay's crew next time.”
“I suppose”, his black and white-spotted friend replied, not sounding entirely convinced. “You'll be coming back too, right?”
“Yeah, I'll be there soon”, he lied. Cross went on ahead of him.

After he had gone, Corsair quickly checked the deck to make sure no one else was hanging around, then quietly lowered the rope ladder and climbed down into the water.
It was frightfully cold, and talking with Cross had raised some doubts in his own mind, but he threw his reluctant body into the water anyway and started pushing towards the shape he had seen earlier.

This far away from the party, it was almost totally silent, the only sound was the splashing of Corsair's paws as he swam. As his arms began to go numb, a thought crossed his mind: “If I lose my strength out here, no one will ever find me.” But he knew from the moment he had seen it that he had to find out, and he could see it more clearly now, so he forced his arms to keep moving.

“I wish I knew what will happen to Steven now”, he thought, trying to distract his mind from his cold and aching body. Would he go now to the place where Michelle had been trapped and rescue her from it? Where did the strangers even go once the sun went down? “There's so much more we don't know yet.”
He used that to drive himself onward. He would find out the truth, no matter what he had to put himself though.

Too tired and cold to even raise his head, it was only the sudden sensation of his paw striking something hard that made Corsair realize he had reached his destination. Letting his legs sink into the water, he looked up at the ship with the unmistakable black sails that he had spied at the party. There was no ladder, at least not on this side, and he did not think he had the strength to swim around to the other, but he knew he could not give up after coming this far. Sinking his claws into the soft wood, he slowly lifted himself one paw at a time until he was able to reach over the railing and pull himself up. He fell to his knees on the deck, shivering.

“You should not have come here!” bellowed a deep voice. Corsair looked about, but there was no one else on the deck. “This is a place of great sadness and suffering!”
Corsair looked up. From the great centre sail, Corsair could see a pair of shining yellow eyes highlighted against the black. “You! You helped me...”, he called to the figure. Those eyes belonged to the dark-skinned man who had hurt his arm in that strange white room, and the same man that had told him to look inside the box at that strange party.

A thin, dark figure dropped down from the sail. Corsair forced himself to stand, though he shivered uncontrollably from the cold. The figure was a man, like himself, tall, but very thin and angular, with short, scraggly black fur and deep yellow eyes. “You should not have come here”, he repeated. Corsair suddenly noticed a single black towel at his feet, which he eagerly picked up and used to dry his frozen arms and legs.
“You helped me”, Corsair said again. “I don't know how, but I know you led me to the people I was looking for. I owe you my thanks.”
The dark-furred one seemed surprised by that. “You would thank me, after what you went through?”
Corsair shivered again, remembering the horrible experience with the wooden box. “It was... terrible, yes, but somehow, I know it helped. If I must endure such things to help my friends, then I will.”
“Are those same friends not waiting for you now? Then why are you here?” He walked away, and a moment later, the ship began to move.
Corsair followed him to the helm. “One is still missing. A woman with brown fur named Lapse. But you knew how to find them. I have to know, too.”
The dark one drooped his head. “If I knew, things would be very different. I merely guess and try to remember things long forgotten.”
“Well, whatever you did, it worked. We were looking for a specific stranger in the other world, and we found him thanks to you.”
The dark one closed his eyes for a moment, taking it in. The ship came to a stop. Corsair's ship lay dead ahead.
“You should go back”, he said, finally. “This is not where you want to be when the sun comes up.”
“You should come with me”, Corsair told him, “there's a place for you here, too.”
“No”, he said, firmly, “my place is here.”
It didn't seem that he would change his mind. Corsair started to leave, but he paused at the railing. “At least tell me who you are.”
“I am Karma.”, said the man with the black fur, turning back to the wheel of his ship. “Now go, before it is too late.”
Corsair leapt over the railing into the water, and swam the short distance to his ladder. After climbing a few rungs, he turned his head back towards the ocean, but the Black Ship was already gone.

The party had finally dispersed, the other ships had set off, and the deck of his own ship was quiet. Corsair hastily dried himself off, stumbled down the steps to his cabin and pushed the door open. He was about to flop down on his chair when he noticed he was not alone in the dark room.
“Corsair...”, the other figure called to him.
“What is it?”
The woman stared down at her feet. “Would you... dance with me?”
He sighed. “I'm worn out. We can practice later.”
She seemed taken aback, and was unnaturally nervous: “No, I mean... the other type of dance... I didn't...”
“Oh, all right”, he said, stepping forward and wrapping his arms around her in a tight embrace. “I suppose I can manage that.”
“That's not right,” she said, removing his arms. “You have to hold me like this.” Sabre put his left paw on her waist and clasped his right paw in her left. “Now follow what I do with my feet.”
His eyes widened. “You understand how to do this?”
She nodded. “One time, when I was forced to be a princess, they taught me how to dance, and I had to dance with a stranger in front of a whole crowd of people. It was so humiliating that I've never forgotten it”.
“Then why show me?” he asked, trying hard to keep up with her.
“I don't know”, she replied as they stepped around the room. Her moves were faster and she seemed more confident than anyone he had danced with earlier, and he was surprised to find that he was enjoying himself. “Why does anyone do anything?”
“That's what I want to find out”, he said, pulling her closer to him. Her eyes widened, but her steps did not falter.
Eventually they stopped, and she released him. “If you ever do figure it out, tell me.”
“Well,” he said, looking into her eyes, “I had fun, maybe that's reason enough.”
“I'm glad,” she said. “I... I really wanted to show you.”

She turned her back to him and walked to the door. Perhaps it was because he was exhausted, but his eyes lingered on her. Steven's words from that fateful night echoed in his mind. He knew something, Corsair realized. If only he had known what to ask...
“Wait”, he called to her, and she stopped. Putting a paw on her shoulder, he turned her around, wrapped his paws around her, and kissed her. “I think you're supposed to do that after a dance.”
She stared blankly at him for a long time, not saying a word. “...They never taught me that part”, she said, finally, and then she turned around and walked out.
The sun was rising. Corsair flopped down in his chair and put his paw on his forehead, trying to make sense of it all.

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