What Lies Beyond: Chapter 21

The relentless light of the sun quickly alerted Corsair that morning had come again. It was terribly hot, and it was so bright that he had to shield his eyes with his hand to block out the light. As his eyes adjusted to the sun and the blurred mass in front of him took shape, he found himself atop a brown horse, surrounded by little more than dirt and rock in an endless wasteland. “So I'm a drifter this morning, wandering aimlessly from place to place”. He adjusted his hat as his horse continued to slowly pace towards a nearby town. “How fitting.”

He soon found himself the square of a small town, with nothing but a few buildings along the main street. He disembarked and tied up his horse near a trough of water, from which it drank eagerly. The town seemed to be totally deserted except for a quiet murmur coming from a nearby building. Corsair walked towards it, swung open the little wooden doors, and stepped inside.
It was a quiet little saloon, very dank and dusty, with a dozen or so small round tables to the sides of the main isle that lead up to the bar. A woman with long golden hair was sitting on one of the stools, wearing a brilliant green and yellow dress that seemed to have more colour than the rest of the town put together. There were a few other patrons in the bar, but they weren't as fancily dressed and seemed to be trying to keep to themselves at the tables. Corsair drew a chair at a nearby table and slouched down into it.

Suddenly, the saloon doors flew open, hitting the walls of the bar with an ominous crack. There was a collective gasp from the patrons of the bar. A rough, mean giant of a man with a scraggly beard, crazy black eyes, and short black hair stood in the doorway, flanked by a few equally tough-looking men to his sides. “Cheatin' Carl!”, several of the patrons exclaimed, terrified.
“That's right!”, he said, in a terribly deep voice. He strutted down the aisle and flopped down in a seat at the bar, throwing his enormous left arm around the well-dressed woman who had been sitting there. The barkeep stared at him, wide-eyed.
“Give me one a' everything and put it on my tab.” he said, hitting the table with his right hand, sending the barkeep skittering away. He turned his head to the woman, grinning a wide, toothy grin. “And I'll have this pretty lil' thing too, I assume she don't cost nothin'”. He reached around her chest with his giant hand and pulled her onto his lap.
“Let go of me!” she said, smacking his hand. “I'm not that kind of girl!”
“You are now!”, he said, laughing and tightening his grip on her. She struggled and protested but he was too strong for her.
Corsair eyed the scene with casual indifference. “Someone should stand up to that Cheatin' Carl!”, someone nearby hinted in a hushed voice. “He can't treat the late governor’s daughter that way!”, said another. Corsair rolled his eyes.
“I could just leave this place and keep on riding.” he thought to himself. “What would happen if I didn't play along?” He considered it for a moment while the woman protested futilely.

“Get off of me!” the woman cried as the big man pulled at her dress.
“I think you should let her go”, Corsair said, unenthusiastically.
The room fell completely silent. “An' I think you should mind y'own business”, said Carl, in the same deep, threatening voice from before.
“Maybe you didn't hear me the first time. Let the woman go.”
“Well lookie here, boys”, he said, releasing the woman, who quickly made herself scarce. “We got ourselves a real bona fide hero here. I think he wants to take this outside.”
They laughed and hustled Corsair out of the saloon.
Outside, the sun shone down brightly upon them, as the two stood face to face in the square, as the rest of the town looked on anxiously.
“Ten paces.” Carl said, “I hope you know the rest.”
“Of course”, he replied in a gravely voice that almost matched Carl's own. “One...”
Corsair counted the ten paces, turned and pulled out his gun in one smooth motion, and pulled the trigger, well ahead of Cheatin' Carl.


Nothing happened, the gun did not fire. Carl laughed a deep, booming laugh.
“Hah ha ha hah! Y'all didn't reckon I'd play fair, did ya? Ma' boys took the liberty of emptying out your gun for ya. That's why they call me Cheatin' Carl!” He laughed obnoxiously and aimed his gun at Corsair. “And now I reckon it's time for Mr. Hero here to take his last ride.”
“This is just great”, Corsair thought to himself. “I agree to help and this is the thanks I get. I don't know why I bother.”
Corsair instinctively closed his eyes, but he felt nothing. He opened them a moment later to see Cheatin' Carl slumped forward, and his gang tied up. Behind him stood the woman from the bar, brandishing a revolver, with most of the rest of the town backing her up. “I told ya I weren't that kind of girl”, she said in a strong voice, to no reply. A moment later she holstered her weapon and stepped forward.

“Thank you stranger, it was your bravery that gave the villagers the courage they needed to stand up to those ruffians.”
“It was nothing.” he said, shaking his head. “To her, I guess I am the stranger”, he mused. “I wonder what it is that they consider normal?”
“I reckon y'all must'a had a right terrible impression of our town.” she said in a softer voice, wrapping one arm around him. “Perhaps I could show you a little of our southern hospitality as my way of saying 'thanks'?”
“I appreciate the offer,” he said, noting the darkening sky, “but I really have to keep moseying along.”
“Well, I do hope you'll at least stay for a drink. I do believe a round a' everything was just ordered on Cheatin' Carl's tab, and this time he's finally paying up!”
“Now, that I guess I can do.” A collective cheer rose from the crowd. The stranger laughed, pulling him back inside the saloon. Sadly, no sooner had the first drop of his drink touched his tongue did the saloon begin to fade, and he found his ship waiting for him outside. “Typical. As soon as the commotion ends, it's always time to go home.”


After making a brief entry in his journal, Corsair slouched down in his chair and sighed. Another morning had come and gone uneventfully. They had been sailing the open waters for some time now, but still he felt utterly bored and empty. Whatever it was he had been seeking, he hadn't found it yet. He decided to go and check the ship's course for something to do.

“That's odd”, he said as he reached the helm and saw the other ship. “The Companion usually follows behind, not in front.” The ship seemed to be slowing down and pulling to the side, and it wasn't until it was beside him that he noticed it wasn't Sister's ship at all. As usual, the ship's captain did not wait to be invited aboard his ship before coming across.

“So this is where you've been hiding all this time”, Lay said smugly. “It's been very lonely out there, no one comes to see me anymore. I assume everyone else is here with you?”
“Sister's around”, he shrugged. “I saw Pack a few nights ago but he left.”
Lay puffed her cheek with her paw. “Sister's staying with you now, isn't she? That must be nice, now you won't be lonely.”
“I guess.”
She tilted her head and leaned in closer. “You know, you don't seem like your usual self lately. You're not even arguing with me. I can tell something's bothering you.”
“It's nothing” Corsair said, looking away from her.
“Look,” she said, in a softer, less brash tone of voice than usual, “I know we don't always get along. But I know a thing or two about people's feelings. Maybe I can help you.”
He weighed things for a moment. There was a caring look in her eyes that he wasn't used to seeing, and he did need to talk to someone. He took a deep breath: “Lately, I just feel like there's something I'm missing. I can't get excited by the mornings like I used to. Somehow, I want something more from this existence.”
She nodded. “Mm, I know exactly what you mean.”
Corsair was taken aback: “You do? No one else seems to understand.”
She tucked her paws behind her back and looked up at the night sky. “I've also felt that way for a long time. That there was something I needed to be happy, but I just couldn't reach it.”
He sighed. “If only we had some idea what that thing was.”
“Oh, I know exactly what it is I've been missing”, she said, coyly.
“Really?” He asked, surprised again. “What is it?”
She stroked his cheek with her paw. “I'll let you know the next time I see you”, she whispered, turning away and tickling his face with her tail. She pranced back to her own ship, her tail held high, swaying her hips as she went, leaving Corsair in stunned silence.
“I knew this was a bad idea” he said, rubbing his forehead with his paw.

It wasn't for quite a few nights until he saw her ship again. This time, she arrived later in the evening, while he and Sister were talking in his cabin. As usual, she let herself in.

“Good evening, Corsair, I- oh.” She spotted Sister lying down with her head in Corsair's lap and turned away. “I'm sorry, I should have knocked.”
“Hi, Lay” Sister replied, cordially.
He sighed. “You're welcome to join us if you want.”
Her eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed on him. “My, aren't you bold? I guess I can't blame you for trying, though.” She puffed her cheek and looked him over with an appraising glance. “I might be willing to do that for you, but you'd better treat me real nice...” She slunk up to him slowly and reached for his face with her paw.
“We were just talking about whether or not the strangers are the same as we are.” Sister volunteered helpfully, sitting up.
Lay rolled her eyes and quickly took her paw back. “Oh. Of course you were.”
“Why, what did you have in mind?” Sister asked, innocently.
“Nothing. I was just a bit... lonely. That's all.” She sat down beside Corsair and snuggled up to him, simultaneously relieved and a bit disappointed.
“If you've been lonely, does that mean you haven't seen Pack?” Corsair asked her.
Her eyes widened again. “No, haven't you?”
“Not since before I saw you last.”
“I haven't either”, Sister chimed in.
“That's really strange.” Lay said. “Where could he have gone?”
Corsair swallowed audibly and spoke in a sombre tone: “I think he's gone after the Black Ship.”

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