What Lies Beyond: Chapter 32

“Who are you?” the stranger had asked. Corsair started to open his mouth to respond.
“I won't let you!”, someone shouted. he turned quickly, and there she was, another lone figure in the infinite white void, a woman with flame-red hair and an equally intense expression whom he recognized instantly.
“I finally understand what it is I'm supposed to do”, she said, clenching her fist. “I may not be able to ride horses or wear pretty dresses, I won't be a perfect princess, and I probably can't give you the answers you're looking for, either. What I can do is watch over you and put you back on the right path if you go astray. Now stop this madness and let's go back where we belong!”
“I won't!” He replied, defiantly. “Things will only continue to get worse unless I do something! But this has nothing to do with you, you need to go back!”
“I thought you might say something like that” she closed her eyes for a moment, readying herself. From behind her dress, she drew her wooden sword. “For your own sake, I'll have to take you back by force!”

Corsair barely had time to draw his own sword and thrust it above him, she was on him in a flash. He recoiled backwards in shock as the force of blocking her attack sent pain rippling through his arm. She chased after him, slashing and thrusting with savage fury, and he just barely managed to parry one attack and avoid the next. Never in as long as he could remember had she fought this violently, he couldn't afford to hold anything back. He feinted backwards and sliced at her, which she blocked easily and lunged at him, forcing him to dive to the side. She moved to strike from above but he swept out her feet with his back leg and she fell to the ground, stabbing at him as she went down. He rolled away to the right, and she went to the left, and they were on their feet again.

“Stop it, stop it!” cried the stranger. “Why are you fighting?!” but they ignored him.
Corsair got to his feet slightly faster than she did, so he went on the offensive, lunging at her with his sword. “Go back!” he shouted at her as she thrust his sword at her.
“Never!” she growled back at him, deflecting his thrust with a vertical block. He struck at her two more times, but she blocked them both. “I won't lose you!” she cried, as she pushed his sword away with all of her strength and kicked him in the chest. He was winded briefly, and that gave her all the time she needed to strike, as she cleaved down with her sword on his left shoulder.

Unimaginable pain shot through his arm as she struck him. The sword was only wood, but the force of the blow nearly knocked him to the ground. It took everything he had to stay on his feet, let alone keep moving. He tried to move his arm, but it was as though it was no longer there, it just hung limply from his shoulder.
“Please stop”, begged the stranger. “This isn't what I wanted!”
Sabre pointed her sword at him. “You've lost”, she said. “It's time for us to go home.”
“I won't”, he said, defiantly. “Not as long as I can still stand.”
“Have it your way”, she said, a hint of sadness in her voice, as she raised her sword to strike him down.
But she hesitated for just a moment, and he saw his opportunity. Putting every last ounce of strength he had left into one final attack, he swung his sword at her raised arm with everything he had.
Sabre cried out in pain as his sword smashed her hand. Her sword fell helplessly to the empty white ground as she grabbed her injured hand in surprise. He kicked her sword away and pointed his own sword at her neck. “Go BACK!” he shouted at her, his unwavering determination burning like a flame in his yellow eyes.

Then she did something he didn't expect. He half-expected her to keep fighting, but then, as she stood there holding her broken hand, she began to cry. “Why?” she sniffled, “I finally understand what I'm supposed to do. Why did I still fail at it?”
“Are you happy now?” The stranger asked him. “Is this what you wanted?”
It wasn't what he wanted. The rush of battle had left him, and he didn't even really feel the pain in his shoulder anymore. The princess with the red hair was gone now, and in her place stood his closest friend, crying pathetically and clutching the paw he had broken, and he was overcome by shame and remorse.
“Look at us.” He said to her, dropping his sword on the ground. “Look at what we've become. I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt anyone. That's why I have to be better than this. That's why I have to go.”
“No...” she sobbed, softly. “No...”
In that moment, he realized what it was that he had to do, too.
“Come with me”, he said, holding out his paw.
“What?” she replied, her eyes drying for a moment in her surprise.
“You said you'd watch over me, didn't you? I have no idea what's out there. I'd feel a lot more confident with you by my side.”
She looked up at him, the tears still welling up in her eyes. She must have seen something in his face that got through to her, because after a moment she held out her good paw. He drew her towards him and wrapped his good arm around her as she pressed her paw against his chest.

“I don't understand”, said the stranger, whom Corsair only now noticed was no longer in his regal attire, instead he was dressed plainly, in slacks and a short-sleeved shirt that barely covered his ample midsection. “I thought you were supposed to be my children, but who are you really?”
“I'm Corsair” he replied. “This is Sabre, my loyal friend and protector.”
“You're cats?” He put his hand on his head. “Just what kind of bizarre dream is this?”
“It might be the last one.” Corsair noted, looking around.
The world around him began to fade out as everything around him grew brighter and brighter.
“I think it's time”, he told her, as he struggled to raise his hurt arm and put it around her. “Don't let go of me, no matter what.”
She merely nodded. He thought he could still see tears in her eyes, but it was hard to tell now. Everything was blurring together. In a moment, there would be nothing left.
And then it struck him: Not only was the world around him disappearing, but he was disappearing, as well. First his sight faded away, then the pain in his arm, then the feeling of Sabre's fur against his own. His thoughts, his memories, his hopes, the person he had been, all of them vanished into the light. He saw one last vision of his friends pass through his mind as they slipped away, and all he could do was hold on tighter to the last one as his consciousness faded from him.
His final thought was her name. He kept that until the end.

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