What Lies Beyond: Chapter 20

“You know how to find Lapse.”

He made no reply, he just stood there with his arms folded, staring right back at him.
“You found Sister, and Steven. I know that wasn't a coincidence. Please, you must tell me!” Still there was no answer.
“Corsair, you don't understand” Pack begged. “Since Lapse left I haven't been myself. The things that used to bring me joy hold nothing for me now. I tried to content myself to my daily routine, but once I allowed myself to hope she might return, I couldn't think of anything else. I cannot go on like this!”
Corsair merely shook his head. Just then, Sister arrived. She walked towards them and wrapped her paw around Corsair's shoulders, and they turned and started to walk away, leaving him all alone.
“Is that it, then? As long as you have Sister you don't care about anyone else?” He clenched his paws. If Corsair heard him, he paid him no heed.
“How can you be so selfish? ANSWER ME!” Pack lunged at him, but his paws struck only air, and he sprawled forward face-first onto the cold, wet ground.

“Are you all right?” a high-pitched female voice asked him.
“No, I'm not”, he spoke into the ground. “I haven't been since you've been gone.”
“Be careful, it's slippery.” The voice said again. “Come on.” She helped him to his feet. It was not Lapse, but a short woman in beige shorts and a red short-sleeved shirt.
“Did you see which way they went?” He asked her.
“No, if I had, we wouldn't have to look for the others.”
“But you do know how to find them?”
“Well of course, we just have to look carefully. They want to be found, no one wants to hide forever.”
Pack looked about. They were in a wooded area, densely populated with trees and bushes. The ground was covered with fallen leaves, and they were wet, particularly where he had laid on the ground. There was a shiny patch behind him where he must have slipped. “Another mirage... ” He thought to himself, stroking his chin. They were becoming distressingly frequent.
The girl was staring at him, waiting for him to do something. He still had a job to do, there was no choice but to play along for now.
“Let's get going, then”, he said, dusting himself off, and they were on their way.

“So why are you trying to find them?”, he asked her.
“I was chosen, one person has to search to play the game.”
“I should have been the one to search.” he told her. “I've been looking for someone.”
She laughed. “That explains why you were trying to hide on the ground. You didn't even try to get away.”
He put his hands on his hips: “The ground's a good place to hide if you don't look down.”
“If I hadn't looked down I'd have tripped over you.”
“That'd have given me a chance to get away. I'd be gone before you knew I wasn't a rock.”
The little woman giggled. Pack also heard a stifled laugh from a nearby bush. “Aha!” he said, peering over the bush where a woman was huddled down, “found you!”
“I can't believe I was found by a rock”, she said, joining them.

A short time later their entourage consisted of about a dozen people, most of whom chose poor hiding spots or couldn't keep from talking amongst themselves. “We're almost done”, said the stranger, as they approached the fence at the edge of the forest.
There was a rustling sound. Pack looked about, but didn't see anyone. Then he remembered his own advice from earlier: “Up there!” he said, pointing to a man in a tree above them.
“You know you're not supposed to climb trees!”, cried the stranger, annoyed.
He stuck his tongue out at her and climbed down. “Fine.”

“That must be the last one.” Pack said.
“No, there's still one more we haven't found yet.”
“But that's impossible, we've looked everywhere. There's nowhere left they could be.”
“You must be new to this game”, she laughed, “We're only looking here right now. If they moved while we were searching they could be anywhere.”
Pack scratched his head: “They could be moving? I never considered that...”
“We'll have to split up”, said the stranger, “Everyone go a different way.”
“If I split up from the stranger I'll never find the missing person”, Pack thought to himself. He let her get a short distance ahead and followed her back through the forest.
“Why are you following me?” She asked, quickly noticing him.
“Just in case our missing person is following behind you”, he said, thinking quickly.
“If he walks as loud as you, I'd have found him ages ago.” He supposed his feet were crunching the leaves below rather loudly. He tried to walk a little softer as he kept his eyes peeled for anyone else in the forest.

Just as soon as the crunching sound died down the silence was broken by an enormously loud ringing echoing all throughout the forest.
“Oh no, we're out of time!” The stranger started to run in the direction of the sound. “We have to get back!”
“What happens now? Where's the other person?” Pack yelled, running after her.
“They got away”, the stranger yelled back, still running, “But there's always next time!”
Pack glanced behind him as he ran. The forest was disappearing before his eyes, quickly being replaced by a black void that was gradually gaining on him. “Hurry!” she yelled.
He started to turn back around, but his foot caught on something, and he felt his legs go out from under him. He landed on the ground in a heap, facing the encroaching darkness. As it closed in on him, his heart stopped. A lithe, graceful figure with scraggly brown fur was walking through the empty void towards him. It was Lapse.

“Pack”, she called to him, in a strained voice, “I've been looking for you for so long, trapped out here, in the darkness.”
Something about her appearance was very odd. Her body was surrounded by a faint glow and she didn't seem to be wholly there. But the sight of her after all this time was too much, he was completely frozen in place.
She called to him again, her paws outstretched: “Please, come with me, Pack. Come to my arms. I've missed you so much. Out here, we can be together.” The blackness was almost touching him now, but still he couldn't look away.
“Lapse”, he called back to her, mustering all of his strength, “sing your song for me. I've missed it so much.”
“Come to my arms.” She repeated, ignoring him. “It's so cold out here, and I'm so lonely.”
“I thought so”, he said, pulling his foot back from the darkness just in time, and forcing himself to stand and run. “Only in my mind could it ever be that easy.” The darkness was still coming, but he was pulling away from it now, and when he glanced back, the figure was no longer there. The sky had gone dark, and he was completely out of breath. “I'll find you, and bring you back for real”, he told himself, pushing himself onward. He could see his ship, just past the fence up ahead. Just as the last of the forest disappeared behind him, he dove into the frigid water and grabbed the end of the ladder. Pulling himself out of the water, only then did he allow himself a moment's rest.
“If she had started to sing, I would have gone to her” he thought, panting from his ordeal. “Thank goodness I never really understood that music stuff.”

Still dripping wet and out of breath, Pack pulled himself over the railing with some difficulty and fumbled about for a towel. Several members of his crew were standing nearby, gawking at him. “Get back to your business”, he barked at them. “I'll be delivering the address soon.” They scattered quickly, and he buried his face in his towel as he walked towards his cabin.

After spending a fair while grooming his fur and straightening his whiskers, he delivered a brief address to his crew. His mind was elsewhere, though As his crew filed out, he stopped Survey on his way back to the crow's nest: “Keep an eye out for the Journey”, he told him. “I have some business with captain Corsair.”

There was no sign of him that evening, but luckily no further distractions troubled him the next morning. “Perhaps it is that I am on guard that keeps them away”, he thought, as he returned early from his assignment. “I must remain vigilant”.
In any case, he was thankful for the peace of mind it afforded him. He spent most of the evening thinking about what he would say, and his patience was rewarded when Survey finally spotted Corsair's ship on the horizon. Not wanting their conversation to be overhead by his crew, he sent them off to their duties as Corsair crossed over to his ship.

“Pack, old friend, is everything going well?”
Corsair greeted him cheerfully, but Pack's manner was all business: “I need to know how you found Steven.”
Corsair shrugged. “I already told you, my search turned up nothing, so I was on my way back to the rest of you. Then I ran into him one morning by pure happenstance.”
“But we all searched for ages and found nothing. And I was sure I had a good lead on how to find Steven, but... you must have known something, there's just no way that could have been a coincidence!”
Corsair sighed. “This is about Lapse, isn't it?”
“Don't change the subject!”
“It really was just dumb luck. I didn't even recognize Steven until he happened to mention Michelle's name. Sister and Sabre will tell you the same thing.”
“Dumb luck finds you too often, Corsair. You found Sister, too, are you going to tell me that was luck as well? There's clearly something more going on here.”
“And no one wants to understand it more than I do. That's the truth, really.” His voice sounded sincere, though Pack still did not believe him.
“Fine” he said, angrily, and stormed back to into his cabin, leaving a distressed Corsair to return to his ship on his own.

“That fool still doesn't trust me!” he pounded his paw on his desk. “Does he truly think I'm that useless?”
He took a deep breath and sat down in his chair. Being angry wouldn't help him figure out how to find Lapse. He put his paws on his temples and tried to collect his thoughts. “If Corsair figured this out, then so can I.”
Pack tried to recollect the events of their search for Steven. He had wanted to remain where they were, but Corsair had wanted to search elsewhere, and Sister had gone after him. And then, somehow they had found Steven. Something else must have happened, he knew, but he had no idea what it was. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, stumped.
Something from earlier that morning came back to him: “They want to be found”, the stranger had said. “No one wants to hide forever.” He rubbed his head. “If you want to be found, Lapse, why can't I find you?”
His mind wandered, he thought of holding her, and how she had pounced into his arms from the railing that night. Standing there, against the starry sky, she had looked so...
There's a secret message for you in the stars... They need to tell you something important...”
Pack snapped back to his senses: The star charts! Corsair had wanted to see them just before he went off to find Steven. He must have seen something in them that told him where to go!

He rushed off to find Quill, who was still alternating between looking up at the sky and jotting down notes, as usual. “I need to see the charts!”, he said, urgently.
“Go ahead”, Quill gestured to the large stack of papers beside him. Pack spread out a number of charts in front of him.
“He wanted to know where we had all been, so he could find out where we hadn't searched yet... But what are the odds that the one place we happened to look last would be the right one?”
Pack ran his paw along the chart, just like Sister had done when they were all together, aimlessly tracing several possible routes. On another chart, he began to trace another path with his other paw. Accidentally, he bumped one paw into the other in the middle.
“Wait.” he said, smiling slightly. “What if the goal wasn't to find out where we hadn't been?” He crossed his arms one over the other, and drew a spiralling pattern, uncrossing his arms without bringing his paws together, then lifted them off the chart. “Two ships could cross the same area but never meet as long as they kept moving. If one chose their route carefully, they could have avoided meeting any of us.”
“Sir?” Quill looked up at him.
“I want you to keep very close track over our route for the next little while. Make sure you keep track of exactly where we've been.”
“As you say”, he shrugged as Pack walked back to his cabin.

“I'm onto your game, Corsair”, he rubbed his paws together as he sat alone in his cabin. “It's just like in that silly game – a moving target is much harder to find than a stationary one, because you can look everywhere and not find it.” Perhaps last morning's ordeal had been useful after all.
He decided not to tell anyone what he had figured out, because he he knew they would be afraid. But he was not - He had long suspected that their fear of the Black Ship was purely superstition, and this confirmed his beliefs. Finally, things were starting to make sense.
“I hope Lapse is all right, and I hope I'll find her soon”, he said, solemnly. This time he felt more confident that his wish would come true.

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