What Lies Beyond: Chapter 19

“So here I was, slowly pacing through this long, dark hallway, a terrible creaking sound punctuating my every step. From the light of the stranger's torch, I can just barely see a large wooden door at the end of the hall. The place was obviously haunted, but in case anyone wasn't convinced, there was a horrible shriek, and a terrible white spectre flew past us, facing backwards. His eyes were rolled way back, and his tongue was hanging out to the side, like this.” Pegleg made a ghastly face, and Empathy couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous he looked. “I'll never forget it, he just flew right through the wall at the end of the hallway, and then the shrieking gradually faded. So I said to the stranger: 'do we really have to go in there?'”
“And what did he say?”, Sister asked.
“That's just the funny part. 'Would you rather not?', he says, and then 'There's another door right here, perhaps this one would be better.' I would have been prepared to swear no door was there until he mentioned it, but maybe I was mistaken. Anyway, so we take the other door, and it leads into this brightly lit room full of more treasure than you ever saw!” His eyes seemed to light up just at the memory of it. “I'm busily stuffing gold coins into my pants when someone taps me on the shoulder, and it's the spectre from before. I nearly jump out of my skin, but now he's wearing a coat and tie, and mixing drinks for us. 'What can I do for you, sir?', he asks. 'You can stop scaring my friend here', says the stranger, and the ghost is apologizing to him with that same crazy expression on his face.” He stuck out his tongue again: “I'm tho thorry thir!”, he imitated, to everyone's amusement. “...So then it all starts to get dark, and I'm frantically trying to fill my pockets and finish my drink before it all fades out, but then the ground gives way and my drink and all the gold disappears into the water with a splash. I just barely catch a glimpse of the spectre saying 'bye bye' and it's all gone. It was the strangest experience I've ever had.” he finished.
“What a bizarre sequence of events.” Sister said. “This all really happened?”
“Exactly as I've told you, or as near as I remember.”
“Wait, so it might not have happened at all?”
Everyone laughed. Pegleg looked flustered. “Someone else tell one.”
“All right” Cross said, stepping forward. “I'll go next.”
And so they whiled the night away, laughing and telling stories under the starry sky.

Sitting alone in his cabin, Corsair could hear the laughter coming from above. Part of him wanted to share in their merriment, but he had more important things to do. Ever since they found Steven his entire way of looking at the world had changed. Steven's words and the knowledge that the strangers were real had filled him with a strange sense of nervous curiosity: he was excited by the promise of learning more about this other world, but at the same time he felt worried that something big was starting to happen and he wasn't yet prepared for it. He had tried to talk to Sabre about these things, but she seemed to be completely back to how she used to be, always training herself to be the best and seeking excitement wherever she could. Any trace of the vulnerability she had shown him that night had vanished completely, as though it had never happened. Currently he was pouring over his notes from that fateful morning, looking for some kind of clue that would put his mind at ease, but once again he came up empty. Was he looking for something that wasn't there? He sighed: “Perhaps my mind does not know how to be at peace.”

There was a knock on his door. “Come in”, he replied, without even looking up from his journal. The door opened, and whomever it was walked in.
“Why don't you come above deck?” Sister asked, putting her paws on his shoulders. “I think you'd enjoy the stories a lot more than moping down here by yourself.”
“I'm not moping”, he said, turning the page.
“Yes you are, I can tell.” She kneaded his shoulders with her paws. “You've been mopey for days now.”
“I'm trying to find something. Something's been bothering me.”
“Well, I can stay down here and keep you company, but take your nose out of that silly journal, if you were going to find something in there you'd have found it by now.” She walked over and sat down opposite him, her big blue eyes peering over his notebook from across his desk.
“All right”, he said, rolling his eyes and putting the journal down. “Maybe you can help. What do you remember about the day we found Steven?”
“Not much, I'm afraid. I was trapped in a small, dark room all by myself. There was only a door, which wouldn't open, and a window, but it was an incredibly long way down. I waited there for quite a long time, and I was starting to get worried that I might be trapped again. Then there was this horrible screeching sound, and then the sound of fighting, and then you came through the door. I couldn't believe it, I mean, you're always there for me when I need you, but I...” She trailed off, brushing her whiskers with her paw and trying to avoid his gaze.

After a brief silence, Corsair continued for her: “Steven was there, too, did you notice anything about him at first? You were the only one who had seen him before.”
“I didn't recognize him until we all did, when he mentioned Michelle. I'm not sure if he looked the same or not, it was so long ago, and he certainly wasn't dressed like that.”
“Well, I wrote down what he looked like, as well as what he said to me. Before he mentioned Michelle, he said that Sabre's heart was mine, and that I'd have to choose between her and a maiden's kiss, whatever that means.”
“A kiss is what they call that thing you do with your lips. I kissed you when you came into the room, so I guess that makes me a maiden.”
“What about the heart?”
“Hmmm... I've heard that your heart is where your emotions come from. When people are sad, it hurts them right in their heart. So Sabre's emotions have something to do with you?”
“I don't think Sabre has any emotions besides rage.” Corsair said, covering for her. “And I've never had the option to be spared of her rage before.”
“It probably doesn't mean anything. You know how the strangers like to ramble on.”
“No.” Corsair said firmly. “If this whole experience taught us anything it's that what the strangers say DOES mean something, we just don't understand it all. Michelle told you about Steven, and we found him. That's proof that the what she told you has meaning.”
“That doesn't mean everything they say is important. Not everything we say is important.”
“No, but some of it is.” Corsair put his paw on his jaw, pensively. “You might as well go back to the others. I need some time to think.”
“There's something I need to know too,” she said, standing up. She walked over to him, put her paws around his neck, and kissed him. After a moment, she pulled her lips away: “What goes through your mind when I do that?
“Not much of anything, to be honest. I'm not sure why you seem to like that so much.”
“Neither am I” she said quietly. She opened her mouth as to say something else, but she turned away and walked out the door without another word.
“So it's true what they say about the heart.” she thought to herself as she solemnly climbed the stairs back to the deck. “What's gotten into me?”
She tried to rejoin the others, but she found she had lost the taste for their company, so instead she returned to her own ship. Atop the crow's nest, where all was quiet, she lay on her back watching the stars until they gradually faded to the morning light.


At first Sister thought it was just her crew returning to her ship as she gazed into the little white dots in the endless black sky and heard the hushed voices of those behind her, but a persistent tapping noise convinced her otherwise. She shook her head and quickly realized she was seated in the middle front of a small classroom, with a teacher scribbling something in white on the wall in front of her. He stopped writing and turned around to face the class. He had a short white head of hair and a matching moustache, and wore thick glasses. “Does anyone know the answer to this one?”
A thinly-built man with brown hair and glasses in the front row raised his hand quickly.
“Why don't we give someone else a chance to answer, Neil? You don't need to answer them all”. The other students laughed. “How about you, young lady?” he said, pointing to Sister.
“I... um... could you repeat the question?” She stalled, trying to make out what was written on the board. They didn't look like any words she had ever seen before.
“You could at least try to pay attention, miss.” the teacher said, rolling his eyes. “Anyone else?” Silence. “All right, Neil, tell them the answer.”
“X is 19 and Y is 5”, he said, standing up. The teacher nodded, “That's correct.”
“Way to go, nerd!” someone congratulated him, which made the rest of the class laugh for some reason. The teacher motioned for them to be quiet and the man who had responded sat down quickly. He seemed upset, and Sister felt a bit sorry for him. The bell rang shortly afterwards, and they all filed out. Sister followed the line of strangers carefully, not wanting to get separated or take any wrong turns.

They led her to a cafeteria where hundreds of people were sitting at various tables, laughing and talking amongst themselves. As she tried to find a place to sit down, she spotted the man who had stood up in class earlier, He was sitting at a table all by himself with his head down, not paying much attention to the people around him.
“Why are you sitting all by yourself?”, she asked him.
“I don't fit in with most of the other kids.” he replied, barely looking up at her. “I suppose you've come to pick on me as well?”
“No, I thought it was very impressive how you knew all the answers like that. I was having a lot of trouble following along and I was pretty embarrassed when he called on me.” She sat down.
“Err... well... “ he fidgeted with his lunch bag nervously, “I could help you understand some of that stuff if you want.”
“That would be great, but why don't you tell me a bit about yourself first?”
“Oh, right”, he said, swallowing audibly. “I'm Neil.”

In their next class, she sat in the previously empty seat beside him, and they talked quietly before the teacher came in. Somehow, it seemed as though many more classes went by like this in the blink of an eye, though she could not recall anything the teachers might have talked about. Eventually the bell rang and they found themselves in the cafeteria again.

“It's so noisy in here”, he said. “Why don't we have our lunch outside?”
The stranger took her to a nice shady spot underneath a big tree some ways away from the main building, where they ate their lunches and talked cordially.
“This is very peaceful”, she said, “Thanks for inviting me.”
“I wasn't sure you'd want to come”, he said shyly, looking away from her.
“You're a very kind person, you just need to have more faith in yourself.”
“I guess I should have more faith in you, too” he said, putting his right arm around her shoulder. “I really like spending time with you.”
“Me too.”
The stranger wrapped his other arm around her and gently kissed her. This was different, though – There was an eagerness to his actions that she had definitely not felt from Corsair. After they parted, she placed and hand on his cheek and looked right into his eyes. “What made you want to do that?” she asked, softly.
“...Well...” he said, fidgeting, “...it's because I really like you”. His cheeks were totally red, and he seemed to be breathing heavily.
“There must be more to it than that,” she said, placing her hands on his chest and leaning over him, bringing her nose right next to his. “I want to know exactly what it is that you're feeling.”
There was a definite look of surprise on his face as she rubbed her nose against his. He gingerly put his hands around her back, but didn't squeeze. “I-...I don't think I'm ready for this” he whispered to her, eventually.
“Why not?” she looked at him quizzically.
“I just... don't want to rush things. I like you. I want this to last.”
“Ohh”, she said, smiling. “You're saying I should be patient. I can do that.”
The relief on his face was plain as day. “It'll be worth it, I promise”, he said, kissing her again, more confidently this time. “We should get back, it's getting late.”
They stood up, and she took his hand as they started to walk back toward the main building. She hadn't noticed that it had started to get dark while they were under that tree. “What'll be worth it?” She wondered aloud, but when she turned to him she found her hand was empty and he was already gone.
“Oh well”, she thought, walking back towards her ship at a leisurely pace. She had something to go on now.


Corsair raised his head, still sitting in his chair from yesterday. Another day had passed by and he had come back with nothing more than he had the night before. He made a quick note in his journal for posterity, but there was very little to write. He put his journal away and stepped out of his cabin.

His navigator had also already come back and was looking over the railing of the ship. “We need to set sail”, Corsair told him.
“I had a feeling you'd say that.” Cross turned to him, resting the side of his face on his paw. Which way are we headed?”
“Away from here. Doesn't matter where. We should have left days ago.”
Pack and Lay had left soon after the celebration. He had remained behind, in hopes of finding out more about the black ship or about Steven, and Sister had stayed with him, but he had learned nothing. It had given his crew time to rest, but already they seemed to be getting anxious. It was time to go.
“Don't you think you should tell Sister that you're leaving?”
“I suppose I ought to.” He didn't see her ship nearby. “She mustn't be back yet.”
“I'll get everyone else ready to leave”, Cross said, heading below deck.

Sabre was also above deck, leaning her paw on the railing at the bow of the ship.
“We'll be leaving soon.” he said, putting a paw on her shoulder.
“Good,” she said curtly, not turning around.
He removed his paw. “You seem very focused this evening.”
She still didn't turn around. “I was watching the waves. They just rise and fall, over and over, always the same. Forever.”
“I know, we've been here too long.”
Now she turned around to face him, her fierce green eyes staring right into him. “Have I changed, Corsair?”
“Where did that come from?”
“Sometimes I don't feel like myself anymore. But maybe I've always been like this. I realized just now that that night when you and Cross almost didn't make it back is the earliest event I can still remember clearly, and even then that's only because it was so traumatic. Everything before that is just hazy. It's... a little bit frightening.”
He gently put his arms around her to reassure her. “It's normal that those recent events are freshest in your mind, and we've been working so hard lately, I'm not surprised that's all you've been thinking about.”
She didn't seem reassured at all. “But we've known each other for a very long time, right? Much longer than that? I wish I remembered more about it.”
“That's why I write in my journal, to help me keep track of those things. But I can't remember when I started doing it, either.”
She closed her eyes and dipped her head a bit. “Have you written anything about me?”
He thought about it for a moment. “I wrote a bit about you when we found Steven.”
“When he asked you who you would choose between me and Sister?”
She raised her head and looked at him again. “So... who would you choose?”
He was surprised by her question. “For what?” he asked, “Why do I have to choose one of you?”
“What if... what if you could only ever see one of us again?”
He shook his head. “That would be terrible. I'd find some way to make sure I wouldn't lose either of you.”
“You haven't changed.” she muttered, closing her eyes for a moment. “Why are you holding me so closely?”, she suddenly demanded of him, pushing at him with her paws.
Sure enough, he hadn't realized he had done it, but he had drawn her towards him as they had talked, and now her body was pressed tightly against his. He quickly released her.
“The other ship is back.” she said, dryly, returning her gaze to the ocean.

“If you're looking for Sister, she's in her cabin”, Empathy told him as he crossed onto Sister's ship. He knocked on her door and then opened it gingerly, half-expecting to be bowled over.
“Hi!”, she said, turning her head but not getting up. She was stretched out on her couch, writing something in her notebook.
“I need to talk to you.”
She closed the book and sat up, leaving a place for him to sit. “What's up?”
He hesitated for a moment, feeling badly for her, and sat down, trying to deliver the news gently. “We need to set sail again. The crew is getting restless.”
“Okay, where are we going?” She asked, innocently.
He frowned. “Not 'we'. It's time for us to sail our separate ways again.”
“Why now? We just got back together again. We all worked so hard to get everything back to normal.”
“This is normal. We'll see each other from time to time, you know that.”
“But I don't want to have to wait a long time to see you. I don't like being separated from you.”
Her kind nature made it much more difficult. “It never bothered you before”, he said, futilely.
“We never had people getting lost or delivering messages from strangers before either. Everything's gone crazy lately and I'm not sure I can face it alone. Please, Corsair, say I can stay with you.” She clasped one of his paws in hers, and her shimmering blue eyes were as wide as her paws as she pleaded with him.
“...All right”, he conceded, even though he had promised himself that he wouldn't. “We'll stick together for now.”
She threw her arms around him. “Oh Corsair, you're the best!”
“...No kiss?” he asked, a little surprised.
She tilted her head to the side inquisitively. “Did you want one? I thought you said they didn't do much for you.”
“I was just sure you were going to.”
“There's no point if you don't want me to.” She opened her book again. “I've got a bit of stuff to finish here, you go on ahead and we'll follow you, okay?”
“Okay...”, he said, and he started towards the door.
“Corsair...”, she stopped him, and he prepared himself for the worst. “Thank you”, she said, and went back to her writing.
“That was definitely different.” Corsair thought to himself as he returned to his ship. “I really wish I could speak to Steven again.”

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