What Lies Beyond: Chapter 28

As was often the case, it was a quiet night on the deck of the Passion. Lay's crew were busy below deck indulging their various pleasures while she took it upon herself to keep watch for Pack. She was not completely alone, though, she had been down to see Petal earlier, but she had had to return to the deck afterwards and he had insisted upon coming with her. Of course, he wanted to keep watch from right beside her, but almost immediately his paws were all over her body and she had sent him to the other side of the ship. Maybe no one else realized it, but she was the captain of this ship, and she could be counted upon when something needed to be done. Still,she was already starting to get a bit bored, and several times now she had contemplated going over to him for a bit of fun. It was so quiet up here, no one would ever know...
“I see something!” he shouted, startling her. She rushed over to where he was standing and placed her paw on hie shoulder. He had to point it out to her, but sure enough, there seemed to be a ship on the distant horizon.
“Great job”, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I think it's him!”
She hurried over to the wheel and swung the ship around to head in his direction.
“I'm just glad I could help”, he said sheepishly.
She gave him a hug. “I couldn't have done it without you.”
He held on to her tight, and she knew his intentions right away. “Speaking of... ah... it'll be some time before we gets here, perhaps we could go... to your cabin?”
She smiled and patted his head with her paw. “I'm sorry, sweet, I have to get ready. I can't have visitors looking like this, look at my fur, it's a mess.”
He didn't say anything, but she could read his response in his big blue eyes as clearly as if it had been written down. He didn't care what she looked like, she knew full well that his feelings for her went far beyond physical desire.
“I'll try to come down and see you later tonight, okay?” she said, patting his shoulder.
“Yes, my queen.” They both knew how things were. She sighed. She never meant to let it get this way, but she was weak, and sometimes she needed to feel loved. She'd sort things out with him later, somehow.

Before that, though, there was the matter at hand to attend to. She quickly tided her fur in her cabin and prepared to greet the other ship. Sure enough, the elusive grey tabby that they had all been seeking finally showed his face.
“Pack!” she exclaimed, “You're all right! Did you find the Black Ship?”
He nodded. “I have to see Corsair.” There was none of his usual joviality in his voice.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
He closed his eyes. “I had hoped the Black Ship would lead me to what I was looking for, but instead I found what I've been running from. I understand now why they fear it so much, but I finally think I'm on the right track to finding Lapse.”
“So it helped you?” she asked, surprised.
“I think it means well, but its help comes at a terrible price. I now understand why Corsair tried to hide it from me, but for Lapse I would endure anything.”
“I admire your devotion to her.” She said, honestly. “I wish someone would do that for me.”
“What about Corsair?”
“I- I don't know if he would-” she stammered, putting her paws behind her back. She had definitely not expected him to say that.
“If it's important to you, you should ask him directly. If it you let your fears stop you, nothing's ever going to change.”
“You're right”, she said, still a bit embarrassed. “Let's go find Corsair.”
“Follow me, then”, he said, stroking his whiskers, “I know where he is.” And with that, he went back to his own ship. Lay took the wheel and followed close behind, fervently milling over what she was going to say to Corsair.


“Come back here!” someone yelled. “You won't get away from us!”
Corsair didn't stop to check who it was, he just kept running down the narrow passageway.
“You can't run forever!” a different voice jeered at him. He was right, the passageway came to an abrupt end with high brick walls on all sides. Frantically, he looked for a way out, but the walls were solid and far too high to climb. He braced himself against the wall at the back and faced his attackers.
A man appeared from around the corner, followed by two others. They were tall and dressed in dark clothes, and the way they lurched towards him made it clear they were bad news.
“We've got you now”, said one of them, laughing cruelly. They continued slowly pacing towards him, not making any sudden moves.
“Fighting all three at once in such closed quarters would never work”, Corsair thought to himself. “The only way is to break through them. When they get close enough, I'll try to catch them off-guard.” He braced his left arm against the side wall and waited for the right moment as they drew closer.

Suddenly there was a flash of bright light and something struck the ground in front of him, causing the men to leap back. They all looked upwards to find the source, and something swooped down out of the sky and landed in front of him. It seemed to be a person, but he'd never seen one like it.
“Be gone, scoundrels!” boomed the mysterious figure. It was clearly a woman's voice, but she was covered from head to foot in some kind of strange armour. It was a mixture of red and grey and appeared to fit quite tightly to her body.
“Butt out of this, lady”, said one of the men. “This ain't none of your business.” They started advancing towards her, but Corsair was too awestruck to do anything but watch.
“The strong preying upon the weak is always my business!” she declared, raising a gloved hand. Suddenly, a bolt of light shot out from her palm and struck the attackers, knocking them backwards. “Retreat!” one of them shouted, and they scrambled to their feet and ran off down the alley.

The woman lowered her arm after they left and turned to face him. The front of her body was also completely covered by the armour, she even wore a mask that concealed her entire face. Her suit in no way obscured her feminine figure, however, if anything it seemed to draw even more attention to her chest, which was emblazoned with a giant T. She was definitely the strangest person he had ever seen.
“Fear not, citizen”, she boomed, “I have driven them away with my magical powers!”
“Magical powers?”
“Surely you saw for yourself the special powers that I control” she raised her hand, which glowed with a strange light. “With this gift I will protect the ordinary citizens of this city!”
“Ordinary?” He supposed anyone would be ordinary compared to her. Still, he couldn't help but be intrigued by this strange person, and he wanted to know what was behind her mask. He looked at her for a moment, then an idea came to him. “Actually”, he added, “I also have special powers.”
“Oh?” Said the stranger, looking at him. “Is that why they were after you? What is it that you can do?”
“I can see into the minds of others”, he said, with a smirk on his face.
She seemed taken aback. “So you can see my other identity?” she said, nervously.
“Other identity?” Corsair asked, absentmindedly. “Why yes! The life you lead, once you return from this place! That's exactly what I want to see!”

Everything went dark. Then there was a small light, but he wasn't in the alleyway anymore. It looked as though he was staring at the ceiling of a room, but it was strangely blurred. He tried to reach out towards it, but realized he could not move. It was also eerily quiet, he could not even hear his own breath. Suddenly, the roof shifted downwards, revealing a wall with a window. It was light outside, but he could not see much through the white curtains that covered the glass. Below the window, a hand reached out towards a small box with some red numbers on it, and tapped it.
“What am I seeing?” he wondered. He found he could not speak, either.
The perspective shifted again, and the hands grabbed hold of some fabric and tossed it aside, revealing a pair of legs. The legs moved to the side and drooped over some ledge, and then the perspective moved back up, facing a different wall this time.
“I'm seeing this through someone else's eyes”, he realized. “Just what is going on?”

The blurriness and the strange sensation of seeing events that he had no control over was highly disorienting, but it seemed as though they were standing up and walking towards a door. A hand reached out to open the door, revealing a dark hallway beyond. They walked forward through the door and turned right into an open doorway, which suddenly lit up as they walked through. Inside, he saw a woman standing against the wall- no, as they moved closer, he realized it was a reflection in a mirror. It was hard to make out any features, but the woman in the mirror had brown hair and light-coloured skin.
“Is this... the true form of the stranger?” Corsair wondered, incredulously.
She reached out with her right hand to touch the mirror, and-

“No!” cried the stranger, and suddenly he was back in the alleyway, and she was back in her armour. “You can't just go reading another person's deepest secrets! Power has to be used responsibly and never for evil!”
“But I just want to learn how to help people” he said, honestly.
“It's not always easy to help others”, she said, her tone suddenly serious. “Sometimes we mean to help but we only make things worse . That's why I want to be a hero, someone who can help everyone.”
Corsair saw that the stranger was no longer in that armour. It was the brown-haired girl he saw before, though she was shorter and more slender than the woman in the suit had been. “I don't really have special powers”, she said, sadly, “I just wish that I did”.
“You helped me, though”, Corsair replied.
“Aww, that's so sweet of you”, she said, hugging him. He returned her embrace. “You're soft”, she said, brushing her cheek against his, “almost like a kitty.”
She released him, and he noticed the city walls had vanished from around them. “I have to get back”, the stranger said, “there are people who need me. You take care of yourself, now.”
“You too”, he said, waving to her with a paw as she vanished into the distance. He turned to find his ship was waiting for him, behind where the wall that trapped him had once stood.


He thought about telling Sister that she had been right all along and that the strangers did have a separate existence, like their own, but he figured she would probably take it the wrong way. “Sometimes we mean to help but we only make things worse”, the stranger had said. She was right. The best thing he could do right now was give her some space.
“I suppose I should look for Pack”, he thought to himself as he climbed to the helm of the ship. He had all but forgotten about him these last few nights, with so much else going on. He felt badly about it, but at this point he knew there was nothing more he could do, he'd have found the Black Ship by now. “I just hope he made it back safely”.

He had barely finished that thought when he caught a glimpse of a white speck on the horizon. At first he thought it might be a star, but it was getting bigger. And then it split into two. “Could it possibly be?!” he exclaimed aloud, and he immediately set his ship sailing towards them, without even alerting anyone on Sister's ship that they were leaving. “If that's Lapse with him”, he thought, “then maybe this could be the end of all of our problems!”

Unfortunately, as he got closer, it became clear that it was not Lapse's ship, and his heart sank: “He is coming back to report bad news.” He tried to console himself in the knowledge that at least he had made it back at all, but it wasn't working. A short time later, Pack joined a distraught Corsair on the deck of his ship.

“Pack!” he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “I'm so glad you made it.”
“I found the Black Ship”, he said, getting straight to the point. “I understand now why you tried to keep me away from it.”
Corsair's false demeanour quickly faded to a pained grimace. “You mean... you also saw... something terrible?”
He closed his eyes for a moment. “Yes. It was awful, but now I understand what I was doing wrong. Corsair, I need you to tell me the rest.”
Corsair was puzzled. “The rest of what?”
“The rest of how to find Lapse.”
“But I don't-”
“Look, I get it now.” he said, interrupting him. “I was a prideful fool who let my self-image control me, and it cost me everything. Even then, I wouldn't accept anyone's help, I just tried to find her on my own. And I failed. So now I'm asking you to help me. Tell me what it was you did to find Steven.”
“But that's just it” he said, agonized. “I don't know how it happened. I just came straight back after I met the captain of the Black Ship. On the way back, I found Steven.”
“But... I've already done that!” Pack exclaimed, suddenly distraught. “You mean to tell me it was just a coincidence that you found Steven? That it was just some... dumb luck?!”
“There might have been some trick to it I don't yet understand. I've been working on-”
“No, no, it can't be!” Pack put his paws on his head. “The Black Ship showed that to me for a reason. It was telling me to trust others! You must know something else!”
“Look, I know that answer's not good enough. That's why I'm trying to find a better one. I may not know, but I bet the strangers do. Maybe he was telling you to trust them!”
He shook his head: “So you really do know nothing.” he said, in a gravelly voice. “I've tried. I've tried asking them so many times. They don't know. No one knows where she is. There's nothing left. She's... not coming back.”
“Pack, no! You can't say that!” He reached out towards him and shook him by his shoulders. His head just drooped forward.
“I never had your dumb luck, Corsair. I just had hope. And a fat lot of good it did for anyone.” There was a terribly unnerving sense of calm in his voice that had never been there before.
“Pack, I'm going to find out what's really going on here, I swear. And when I do, I'll let you know, and then we'll bring her back, okay?”
“Goodbye Corsair”, he said, sadly. “Maybe I'll just go sail around, hoping to run into her. It's the best we've got, right?” And with that, he slunk away, back to his own ship.

Corsair sighed and stared out over the railing as Pack's ship slowly drifted away. The sea was calm, and the air was totally still. Someone put their paws around him from behind.
“Is everything okay?” Lay asked, softly.
“No. I try my best for everyone, but it's never enough.” He sighed again. “No one appreciates it, either.”
“I appreciate you”, she said, nuzzling up against his cheek from behind. “I know how hard you work for everyone.” She gently pulled him backwards, squeezing him more tightly. “Why don't we get away from here for a while?” She whispered to him. “You deserve a little thanks for your hard work.”
“All right”, he said, turning to face her. She leaned forward and kissed him, and he returned it eagerly, surprising himself.
Without another word, she took his paw in hers and led him back to her cabin.

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