What Lies Beyond: Chapter 31

“You've got a lot of guts.”
“Please. I think he's going to get himself lost.”
“Who cares?” she turned away, her voice seething with pain and bitterness.
“Look, I don't know what happened between you, but if you care for him at all, you have to help.”
“Why should I?” she demanded, glaring right into her eyes, a kind of vulnerable intensity plainly visible on her grief-stricken face.
“He said that for once, he had been happy. I think he meant you.”
“Damn him.” She closed her eyes and clenched her paw. “Damn him...”
Sabre got down from the big cushion and left her to cry in peace. She needed to hurry back to her own ship and keep an eye on him, anyway.


The water was terribly cold, but he barely noticed it. Single-minded determination drove Corsair towards the ship that he had spotted from the crow's nest. This time, the ladder was down, and as he pulled himself over the railing an ambient voice called down to him:
“You've come again, orange one. Does not the cold bother you?”
“Being cold's the least of my problems,” he replied, though now that he was out of the water he was starting to feel a bit chilly. A towel fluttered down from somewhere above him and he accepted it eagerly.
“Whatever you told Pack didn't help,” he continued, drying himself off. “Now he seems worse than ever.”
Karma appeared from the darkness, his pale yellow eyes visible before the his black-furred body. “That is... unfortunate,” he said. “But I told him nothing. What he found, he found within himself. I had hoped it would lead him down the right path.”
“The others are no better,” he continued. “They both want me solely for themselves. I can't even speak to one without angering the other.”
“So what will you do, orange one?” he asked, idly.
“I don't know. But I'll tell you what I'm not going to do – I'm not going to choose just one friend to spend all my time with at the expense of all others. I can't do that.”
“I see,” he said, peering at him through his big yellow eyes. “The loss of your freedom scares you more than the loss of your friends.”
“That... That's not true. I just can't let this tear us all apart.”
“Then why are you here? You should be with them. If you spurn your friends, you'll regret it.
“I can't help them”, he said, hanging his head. “Anything I do just makes things worse. The help they need is out there”, he said, pointing to the horizon.
They stood there in silence for a moment, staring off towards the distant sky.
“And what if you never come back? Do you think that will help?”
Corsair winced painfully. “Some would prefer I not come back. Either way, I have to try.”
“Orange one.” he said, solemnly. “You should not act hastily out of pain. Many more will be hurt.”
“How is it that you know so much, anyway?”
“I know nothing. All I have are theories and regrets.” He closed his eyes, and in the darkness he almost seemed to disappear. “The darkness holds some answers, yes, but no solution. The only truth lies inside your own heart.”
“I'm sure that's good advice.” Corsair said, “but in my heart there is only confusion and pain.”
When Karma opened his eyes again, he was gone. He shook his head and looked up to the stars: “Only once we lose everything can we see what we truly are” he noted, solemnly.


“I've tried everything”, he thought to himself. “There's nothing left for me now.”
He stared out over the ocean. The waves were strangely quiet. From just beyond the horizon, the sun was just beginning to appear, colouring the tip of the sky in a pale blue light. Atop the helm of the ship stood Corsair, paws outstretched, waiting to greet it.
But he was not alone.
“Corsair,” said a soft voice, tender but proud. “Please, don't go.”
“I thought you hated me”, he said, turning to face her. He could see she had been crying. Looking upon her face made his chest hurt.
Although part of her wanted to turn away from his gaze, she made herself face him: “I was afraid. I've always been afraid that I wasn't good enough, that you didn't like me. I always wanted your attention, so... when you said you cared for me, some part of me still couldn't believe it. I jumped to the worst possible conclusion, but now I see I was wrong.” She swallowed hard. “I don't hate you... I love you, Corsair.”
He looked at her, blankly. She quickly continued: “Tonight was just the beginning. There's still so much more.” She stepped forward and put her paws around him, and he squeezed her back. “Please, stay here. Stay with me. Keep me warm at night. Make me feel wanted. Loved. There's still so many wonderful things I want to share with you.” She looked up at him, and he could see that her beautiful green eyes were full of tears: “Won't you kiss me and say you love me?”
He had never wanted anything more than he wanted her right then. He knew he could leave with her now, and they would go back to the place they shared together, and he would never long for anything ever again. But he couldn't forget the look on her face when he had mentioned Sister. He couldn't forget the anger and pain in her voice when she had cast him out. He was already kissing her, giving into her, giving into his own desires. He was so happy, but he couldn't... he couldn't...
He couldn't. “How could something so wonderful turn so horrible so fast?” He asked, releasing her from his embrace. “That's what I have to know. Until I know the answer I know I'll just hurt you again.”
“Love's like that,” she said, insistently, “When you care for someone that much, you can get hurt. But it's worth it. When something comes up, we'll work through it, just like we did tonight. I know it can be scary, but we'll make it work.”
He shook his head. “I just can't do it. Deep down, something just doesn't feel right. I'm just... missing something. It's not you, Lay, it's me.”

Lay staggered back, hurt. She looked as if she was going to say something more when a tiny voice, timid and frightened, interrupted them. “Corsair, please,” said the other voice, as its owner stepped out from behind one of the sails. “Listen to me.”
The sun was already rising in the sky now, it cast a warm glow over Sister's mottled fur.
“It's all my fault”, she said, placing her paws to her chest. “I brought this upon everyone.”
“No you didn't”, he told her, but she continued as if she hadn't heard him.
“It all began when I got too close to a stranger. I was afraid. I thought I'd never see all of you again. And when I felt like I had lost everything, I started to see myself in their eyes. I felt that their pain was somehow the same as mine, and if I could fix them, I could fix myself, too. But I never should have forgotten who my real friends were. I can't believe I asked you all to put yourself in danger for their sake.”
“Don't say that”, Corsair said, unconvinced. “When we helped Steven, for the first time I felt like we really accomplished something. That was the right thing to do, I know it.”
“But they're not like us,” she insisted. “They say and do strange things to lead us astray. Look what happened when I showed you the things they taught me, that's when everything started to come apart.”
“That's because we don't know enough. If they have these problems, they probably have the answers, too. I just have to figure out how to get them to tell me.”
“No, please” she said, shaking her head. “The last thing we need is more of their problems. We'll solve this ourselves. If we all work together, I know we can do it.”
“We can't do it. We tried everything, and there's so much that's still beyond us. You saw Pack earlier, he knows the truth. As things are now, we'll never find Lapse. Even the captain of the Black Ship doesn't know how to find her. It's just a matter of time before the rest of us get lost too.”
“So your plan is to get yourself lost on purpose? Corsair, no! Think about what losing Lapse did to Pack! Think about how you felt when you thought I could be gone! What if you never come back? Then what would we do? What would I do?” She threw her arms around his waist. “Please”, she said, looking up at him, “don't go. Our place is here. We can make it work.”
He put his paw on the back of her head, and she closed her eyes. “Don't go.” she said, softly. For a moment, there was silence on the deck of The Journey.
“I'm sorry.” He said, closing his eyes as the light washed over him and he slipped through her paws, fading away.
“No!!” Sister cried, grasping frantically for him as the light enveloped her as well. “CORSAIR!!”


He felt terrible for her, but there was no turning back now. This was something he had to do, for all of them. He took a moment to wish for her safety under his breath, then steeled himself and opened his eyes.
As his sight adjusted, he found himself staring at a red-coloured wall. He tried to lift his arms, but found he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly, his heart began to race, as he rolled over to his left to look upon light streaming through an open window. Was it possible? Was he there already?

There was a sound from the front of the room, and he sat up instinctively to see what it was, brushing aside the thin layer of fabric that covered his body.
“Good morning, sire”, said the tall, grey-haired man who had just entered the room. “I hope I did not disturb you at this early hour. I've laid out your clothes for today in the changing room. After you are ready, please follow me down to the dining room for your breakfast.”
“Not just yet”, he said, staying put, “I need to ask you a few questions, and I'm not going anywhere until they're answered.”
“Yes, it will be a busy day, sire”, the man replied. “Please don't tarry, the maid is already setting out your breakfast, and we wouldn't want it getting cold...” He walked out of the room and shut the door behind him, still muttering away.
Corsair rubbed his eyes and held his hands out in front of his face, spreading and closing his fingers. He stroked his face with his left hand, then flexed his fingers again. “It all feels the same as it always does”, he thought. He scooted out of the strange covered box that he had been lying inside and headed for the door through which the man had just left.
As he opened it and stepped inside, he found himself in a mostly white room with elaborate wooden furniture. Some clothes were laid out, and there was no sign of the man, nor any other doors other than the one he had just walked through. His attention was immediately drawn to a shiny surface on one of the walls, and as he approached, it, he saw a tall, broad-shouldered man with short brown hair and deep yellow eyes inside of it. “This is me, but am I any different?” he wondered, reaching toward the reflective wall as the man inside did the same. “I still need to find out”.
He put on the clothes that had been laid out and left through the same door he had entered. Finding himself back in the room with the red box and the window, he tried the other door on the wall to his left. The grey-haired man was waiting right outside to greet him “You look marvellous, sire”, he said cheerfully. “Please, follow me.” Corsair blinked, having been sure the man had entered the other door. But he was already walking down the long hallway, so Corsair had little choice but to follow.

The man lead Corsair into a large room with an enormous table surrounded by dozens of empty chairs. The table was adorned with a fancy white tablecloth and numerous metal ornaments, but it was largely empty apart from the very end, where a collection of colourful items had been laid out. Corsair spied a glass of red wine and sat down in front of it, sipping it. He had tried asking the man a few more questions, but he barely seemed to hear him. He was convinced now that nothing had really changed. He would have to do something else.
“Is the food not to your liking, sire?” The man piped up, startling Corsair. He hadn't paid much attention to the other items on the table, but there was an interesting smell rising up from the table below that piqued his interest. Gingerly, he pinched one of the golden brown lumps laid out before him. It was warm and soft and part of it came apart in his fingers. Enticed by the sweet scent, he licked his fingers, as he had sometimes done to taste wine. The taste was incredibly sweet, but appealing, so he carefully picked up the piece he had broken off, placed it in his mouth, and swallowed it whole.
Suddenly, his whole mouth exploded with a completely new sensation, and for a moment he almost forgot why he had come as he quickly gobbled down the rest of the strange object. “I knew it”, he thought to himself as he licked his fingers clean: “There is so much more out than we've ever known. If Sister and Lay could try this, they'd realize how much we're missing.”
He glanced around the large room. One wall was lined with large windows, and there were a lot of people moving about outside. Something exciting seemed to be going on out there, but before he could get a closer look the big doors at the end of the hall burst open and a huge, round man in a long cloak walked in.
“Son!” He boomed. “Today is your big day! From now on, things will be very different for you!”
Corsair froze. The man did not wait for his response and quickly continued.
“Today's banquet will be your first official function as an ambassador for our country. I'll try to make sure the princess doesn't cause too much trouble for you, eh?” he gestured with his elbow and grinned widely.
But Corsair was having none of it. “I can't go to this banquet,” He said, sternly.
“Don't be silly”, said the big man, his voice softer this time. “You're my son, and I'm so proud of you. I know you'll do great.”
“I know the truth.” Corsair said, putting together everything he had gathered. “What I see before me right now isn't all there is, it's just a tiny fragment of something much bigger. When the sun sets and this place fades away, you'll return to the place where everything comes together, but I won't. I'll just remain here in the dark, lost and incomplete.” He reached out and clasped the stranger's shoulders with his paws. “I need to know what lies beyond the world that I know. I need to see the true world.”
The stranger looked at him through his darkened eyes, and even though Corsair could not make out his expression, he seemed sad. “So you're saying this is all... a dream? Then... who are you?” And then everything around him went white.

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