What Lies Beyond: Chapter 24

“What's happening?”, someone asked, frantically. “Where are we going so suddenly?”
“Everyone, please listen!”, Sister pleaded with the restless crowd. “I know you're all anxious to know what's going on, but please be patient.” The chatter died down.
She took a deep breath: “Our friend Pack, and his crew, have gone missing, and may be in great danger. We all must band together to help search for them.”
“Are they lost?”
“That's a possibility”, she nodded, “but the greater risk is that he may be seeking out the Black Ship.”
There was an audible cry of shock from the crowd. “Why would anyone do that?!” several people wondered aloud, at the same time.
She sighed. “Because he lost someone very special. All of you have people who are important to you, if something happened to them I'm sure you'd do anything to get them back. But it's too dangerous, particularly to go alone. That's why we have to go.”
“Will we be okay?” asked a frightened voice.
“We will be if we stick together”, she tried to reassure them.

After the crowd had dispersed, she wiped her brow with her paw. It was always difficult for her to address a big crowd, and she felt less confident tonight than she was letting on. She hoped that they hadn't seen through her, but she feared they could probably tell.

“Sister?”, someone called to her. It was Memory, one of her friends. “I'm scared”, she said, clearly close to tears. “We've never done anything like this before.”
“I know”, she said, hugging her. “Be brave.” It was the best reassurance she could come up with.
Memory left after a little while, but she didn't seem to be feeling much better. Sister's head drooped. She wished she had something more to give them, but she was scared too. She wasn't cut out for this, and neither were they.

Steeling herself, she walked to the helm of the ship and took the wheel in her paws. She stared up at the stars, but she didn't really understand how that was supposed to help her find where Pack had gone. “Maybe I need to try to think like him instead”, she thought. She tried to imagine what she would do if it had been Corsair that had disappeared instead. “I'd do anything to find him... I'd ask everyone, search everywhere... maybe I'd even ask the strangers if they'd seen him.”
The last thought stuck with her. “That's like what Michelle was trying to do,” she realized, “never before had a stranger asked me to help them, but she must have felt that was her only choice...”
She tapped the wheel restlessly with her paws as she milled the events over in her head. “Oh!”, she remembered, “when I told Pack about what happened, he immediately thought I was talking about him. There must be some other connection between Michelle and Pack that I didn't notice before!”

She left the wheel and retrieved her notebook from her cabin, where she had written down the details of what she had heard from Michelle. “I was in an accident, and I'm sorry”, was the message she had been given. “They had a fight”, she remembered. “Did Pack and Lapse have a fight too? Over what?”
Unfortunately, she could barely remember anything about Lapse, so she had no idea what the fight might have been about. She tried to imagine it being Corsair and herself instead. They had always got along well together, maybe except for the fact that Corsair hadn't seemed to like it when she kissed him, but something silly like that would never come between them. Not like it had for Michelle and Steven.
She froze and the notebook slipped out of her paws. That WAS what their argument had been about, she just hadn't realized it until now. Michelle had gotten so angry when she saw Steven kiss someone else, and then after she left him she got into that accident that separated them. And Steven had warned Corsair that he would have to choose between them or something terrible would happen. It was all falling into place...

Suddenly she felt a terrible pain in her stomach. “It's all happening to us”, she choked out, weakly. She hadn't mentioned it, but she had seen Corsair and Lay kissing on the deck of his ship on the day that they left. She hadn't thought much of it at the time, but now she couldn't think about much else. Why hadn't he kissed her like that? Did Corsair like Lay better than her? Had he chosen her instead? Would they be separated next?

“I have to get back!” She cried, running up the stairs to the helm. There was a surprised yelp from below deck as she brought the ship all the way around. “I just hope I'm not too late!”
Unfortunately, the sun was already peeking above the horizon. “Come on!”, she yelled at her ship, but she knew she wasn't going to make it.


It was quiet. At first, Sister wondered if she was still back on her ship, but grey walls greeted her when she opened her eyes. She looked around apprehensively, and found herself in a hallway, with windows at one end and lockers along the wall behind her. She placed a hand on her chest and took a deep breath.

Suddenly there were footsteps from the other end of the hallway. “So, you haven't made up your mind yet?” a woman asked, though Sister could not yet see who was speaking. A pair of chatting women dressed in casual attire turned the corner, walking towards her.
“It's a big decision”, said the other one, who wore glasses and had short brown hair tied into a ponytail.
“Oh please”, the first one said, throwing her arms up above her head, “We all know what your choice will be. Just get it over with.” She had longer, blonde hair, and was taller than the other woman.
It didn't seem like they had noticed her yet. For a moment, she considered making a run for it, but the opportunity quickly faded as one of them looked towards her.
“Steeling yourself?” the taller woman laughed. Sister quickly removed her hand from her chest and tried to look relaxed. “I don't see why everyone is so worked up about this! It's easy!”
“Well, what about you?” asked the woman with the ponytail, as they walked right by her.
“Of course I've already got my date lined up.” She brushed her hair out of her face. “I'm going with Mark, I asked him yesterday.”
“Lucky you”, said the shorter woman, “he's such a dreamboat.”
“It's all about being proactive. And knowing how they think. You'd better hurry up, or all the good ones will be taken.” They were most of the way down the hall now.
“I can still get away.” Sister thought to herself. “They don't seem to need me.”
“Are you coming or what?” The taller woman called back to her, startling her. Not knowing what else to do, she dutifully fell in line behind them.

They walked into a large auditorium that was bustling with people and activity. Sister carefully picked her way through the crowd as she followed the others, trying not to lose them. She could probably slip away in here, but they had seen her now, and there was no telling what would happen if she just left. It was best just to get it over with as quickly as possible. They eventually came to a large table where there were already a dozen people talking among themselves, but they sat down anyway and no one seemed to notice.
“Making the girls ask the guys is unnatural”, the girl with the ponytail protested.
“Just get out there”, the taller woman almost pushed her right out of her chair. Reluctantly, she slipped away and walked over to another area where a group of people were gathered. She returned a moment later, looking forlorn.
“He's already agreed to go with someone else.”
“Aww, now look, what did I tell you about waiting so long?”
“I never would have thought Dave would have-”
“Dave? Get serious, girl. I know he wasn't who you wanted to ask.”
She raised her hand to her mouth. “You don't mean...! No, I couldn't. There's no way. He'd never... I'm sure he's already been asked.”
The taller girl put her feet up on the other woman's chair, not letting her sit down. “I'm not hearing any of it.”
“You're so mean”, the bespectacled girl pouted as she headed off into the crowd again.
“What about you, chatty?” The stranger turned to her. “You can talk, right?”
“Yes”, Sister said, staring down at the table.
“Then you'd better get out there and ask someone to go with you.”
“Ask who?”
“Isn't there anyone you care for? Someone who's special to you?”
“Cors- ...Of course”, she stammered, still not looking the stranger in the eyes.
“Then you'd better let him know how you feel before someone else does and you lose your chance forever.”
She got up from the table, if for nothing else than to get away from that conversation.

“Please, let there be someone I recognize here”, Sister thought to herself as she wandered through the crowd. Unfortunately, she didn't see anyone from her crew among the throng on people. “Why are they never here when I need them?” she muttered under her breath. Suddenly, someone bounded up to her.
“Can you believe it?!” the ponytailed girl beamed, “he turned down another girl because he was waiting for me! I had no idea he even cared!” She hugged Sister tightly. “Sometimes you just have to go for it!” She skipped off, back towards the table where they had been seated.

“Just go for it, huh?” she thought to herself. She spotted a tall man with short black hair, dark skin, and a kind-looking face, who reminded her of Steven. “He'll do”.
She approached his table, with her hands behind her back. “Excuse me, would you go with me?” she asked, nervously. Everyone turned to look at her.
“Sure”, he said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. She flushed completely red. “You're cute”, he smiled widely, “I'm sure it'll be fun.”
His friends laughed, and Sister hurried away.
“Albert?” the stranger asked incredulously when she got back to the table. “I never would pegged him for your type. Sure, he's very handsome, but... you'd better hope they're not doing the most mismatched couple this year.”
“Hey, isn't that Mark over there?” the ponytailed girl pointed, helpfully drawing the attention away from her. “With Kimberly?”
“Hah!”, the stranger laughed. “Too late, I got him first.”
“Oh, look at the time. Shouldn't we be going?” The girl with the glasses looked down at her arm.
“Yeah, come on, we don't want to be late.” They all stood up and walked out the door.

“I can't believe him!” The stranger cried out, slamming her fist. Sister jumped in her seat.
“To be fair, no guy can say no to Kimberly.”, the woman with the ponytail tried to calm her down, to no avail. Sister pressed her hand up against the wall of the small room she was in.
“He agreed to go with me first! He should have kept his promise!” The stranger let out a string of words that Sister had not heard before, but from how she said them she judged they were all immensely unpleasant. However, she was more concerned with the scenery passing by as she looked out the window. Trees and buildings rushed by at a brisk pace as she watched.
“Why are you even going if you didn't find someone else?” the other woman asked, exasperated.
“Because I can still make their lives a living hell.” Sister scooted over towards the middle to look out the window at the front of the room. To her horror, she found they were indeed inside the same sort of vehicle that she had travelled in with Michelle.
“Great, so it's last year all over again. This is why it's better when the guys ask.”
“He'll be begging when I'm done with him”, the stranger scowled.
“Please.” Sister whispered. “Please, no.” It was mostly dark out, and the lights of various other vehicles whizzed by off to the side.
“Okay, okay”, the girl with the ponytail rubbed her forehead exasperatedly. “Just keep your eyes on the road, all right? I've got a date with the man of my dreams here.”
One of those particularly large vehicles appeared in front of them.
“Yeah, yeah, we'll get there. God, what an ass-” The vehicle's huge red lights shone ominously, as though they were focused right on her, and coming closer.
“No!!” Sister cried out, “I won't let it end like this!” Throwing all of her weight against the wall beside her, it burst open and she tumbled out face first. There was a scream from inside the vehicle and that same horrible screeching sound as the hard pavement below rushed up to meet her.


“I wish I could have found out more”, Corsair thought to himself as he climbed up the ladder to his ship. “There has to be something that could help.”
As he reached the deck, he saw a figure, hunched over and dripping wet, shivering from the cold. He hurried over to investigate.
“Corsair”, she said, in a weak voice, “thank goodness.”
“What happened to you?”, Corsair wrapped his arms around her. She was still shaking.
“I thought I'd never see you again”, she sobbed, burying her face in his chest.
“It's okay”, he said, squeezing her, “what happened?”
“I saw you kiss Lay on the day I left”, she blurted out.
“Oh, did you want one too? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you out.” He lifted her chin up to face him.
“No, that's not-” she started, but it was too late. When their lips parted, she stared dreamily at him for a second, then resumed sobbing. “It's all wrong!” she cried. “And it's all my fault!”
She fell to her knees and buried her face in her paws as Corsair frantically tried to figure out what was the matter.

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