What Lies Beyond: Chapter 36

“I can't believe it”, she whispered, running her paws along the railing. She stroked her face, which was fuzzy and soft. “Can this be real?” She stared down into the waters below, and a furry face stared back at her.
“That's right... In the back of my mind... I always knew.” She gazed up at the stars, which were twinkling brilliantly, just the way she remembered them.
“But why do I feel so sad?”
She cast her gaze down to the horizon, where a distant light was just starting to bring colour to the darkened sky. A cold wind blew across the deck, and she shivered apprehensively, some long-forgotten memory tugging at the corners of her mind.


“Excuse me”, said a high-pitched voice. “Can I sit here?”
She looked up and saw a small woman with brown hair standing nearby, timidly holding a little bag in front of her chest. “Probably shouldn't”, she replied, lowering her head again.
“I'm new here,” the woman continued, undeterred, “and I don't know many people. I saw you sitting here by yourself and I thought-”
“I'm not a good person to get to know,” she interrupted. “You should just go and be with your friends.”
“But... I don't have any friends...”
Sister closed her eyes and rested her face on one hand. “It's better that way. Learn to be independent. When you don't need anyone, no one can hurt you.”
The short woman screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue. “That's awful! You're mean!”
“I told you I wasn't a good friend”, she said, turning away. “Just leave me alone.”
The stranger left in a huff, and her chair tipped backwards, dumping her into the cold water below. What did it matter? What did any of it matter anymore?


She was the first one back on her ship again. Most of her mornings went like that now. It didn't bother her. She climbed up to the crow's nest to watch the stars, they reminded her of better times. She didn't even bother to adjust the ship's course, she just let it drift wherever the currents saw fit to take it, wandering aimlessly, just as she was.

She thought again about what Lay had told her. “Love” baffled her, if Corsair cared for her so much, why would he deliberately get himself lost? Could there be some explanation? It seemed to her that the only reason he would do what he did was because he just wanted to get away from everyone and everything. She could kind of understand that now, but she was still here, despite it all. She had no idea why, but she was still here.

She heard voices from the deck below, someone else must have returned. She sat up and peered over the edge of the crow's nest, but she couldn't make out who it was, they were too far away. She laid back down and tried to make out what they were saying:
“...What should we do?”
“I don't know.”
“We have to do something.”
“But what? Nothing like this has happened before.”
“Wait... he would know.”
“Yes, he would know!”
Slightly intrigued, she peered over the edge again, but they had moved and she couldn't hear them well anymore.
“...hope this works.”
“...have to try.”
Suddenly, the crow's nest listed a bit as the ship changed direction, startling her. She grabbed the edge to steady herself. Once it settled in again, she climbed down, but the deck was empty. Whomever the plotters were they had made themselves scarce. She climbed to the helm of the ship, and sure enough, someone had adjusted the wheel. She stared at it for a moment, then sat herself down on the deck. “Might as well see where this goes”, she thought, having no better idea of her own.

She didn't catch onto their plan until the next night, when she caught a glimpse of another ship from her usual spot. Then it dawned on her that they were looking for Pack, whom they thought would know how to deal with the loss of Corsair because he had been through it with Lapse. She sighed. “Is that what's left for me? Learning how to cope?” But what else could she do? She gritted her teeth and tried to put on a brave face.

It wasn't long before she came across his ship. She found him barking orders to the rest of his crew, which surprised her. The last few times she had seen him, he hadn't seemed nearly that energetic. After dismissing his staff he greeted her cordially.
“Ah, Captain Sister, what I do for you?”
His crew was still milling about, which bothered her, she felt a bit embarrassed asking for his help. “Isn't there anywhere we can talk a bit more privately?”, she asked.
“Of course, he said”, leading her to his cabin. Once the door was safely shut, he sat down at his desk and gestured for her to take the chair on the other side. “Now, what can I do for you?”, he asked again as she sat down.
Something about his manner unsettled her. “I need to ask you something.” She said, avoiding his gaze. “I assume you know that Corsair is... gone.”
“I had feared that”, he replied solemnly, clasping his paws together and furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I don't know what to do. I can't stop thinking it's my fault. I can barely keep myself going. I need to know how you've waited for Lapse all this time.”
“I haven't”, he said, plainly. “Eventually I realized that Lapse wasn't coming back and by refusing to let go I was only hurting myself and others.”
“What?!” She demanded, almost falling out of her chair.
“It's true”, he said, closing his eyes. “It's been such a long time. Do you even remember what she looked like? If not for me, you might not even remember that she had ever been here at all. I waited for her. I kept hoping for a long time that she would come back. But in the end I was only kidding myself.”
“That's not true!” She insisted. “Of course I remember Lapse. She was-”
She realized to her horror that she really couldn't remember much of anything about her.
He stood up and walked to the window of his cabin. “I'm not saying you have to take that approach with Corsair. He hasn't been gone long. Maybe there's still hope. But don't let your loss define you, the way I did. That's not what he'd want.”
“You... you're disgusting!” she spat, her body shaking with anger. “How do you think Lapse would feel if she heard you talking like that; if she's still out there, still fighting, and you've given up on her?! I can't believe I once thought you had this all figured out! I don't need any advice from you!”
She slammed the door in his face before he could respond and stormed off his ship in a huff. She couldn't get the ship turned around and away from there fast enough.

As soon as the ship was on its way she started to climb to the ladder to reclaim her regular spot, but then, far off on the horizon, she caught a glimpse of something in the corner of her eye. Her heart seemed to leap out of her stomach, even though she knew it couldn't be. Despite her misgivings, she quickly climbed back down the ladder, rushed to the helm of her ship, and turned its heading towards the tiny sparkle of light in the distance.

As her ship drew closer, she saw that the distant object was, incredibly, another ship of some kind. Her heart was pounding rapidly, even as she tried to calm herself. Strangely, the other ship didn't seem to be moving at all. Was it possible that Corsair's ship was lying out there, abandoned? Or could he be waiting for her, ready to throw his arms around her and tell her that everything was all right? She closed her eyes and imagined the warmth of his embrace. “Why can't this thing go any faster?”, she thought irritably, as her thoughts of him turned to cuddles and kisses and more besides. “I never should have left you”, he told her in her fantasy, rubbing his nose against hers. “Can you ever forgive me?”
Of course she could. He made her happy, and that was all that mattered...

She was abruptly jostled back to reality by a great tremor that seemed to shake the whole ship. As she struggled to get back on her feet, she was startled to see that the other ship was right there, pressed up against her own. She quickly peered over the edge, and thankfully her ship still seemed to be in one piece. She took a deep breath to calm herself, wiped the sweat from her forehead with her paw, and with a mixture of excitement and trepidation she hopped over the railing onto the adjacent ship.

As she landed softly on the deck of the other ship, she crouched down low and listened quietly for any sound. Apart from the slow swoosh of the waves, there wasn't a whisper. She surveyed the deck around her and saw no one. “Could it truly be abandoned?” she thought, walking silently across the deserted vessel. She pushed open the door to the cabin, but it was pitch black and totally empty. There were no lanterns, the furniture was undisturbed, and the drawers to the desk were all closed, as though no one had ever been there. The hatch to the lower deck was open, and she descended the ladder to the floor below. “Hello?” She called, but her voice merely echoed down the darkened hall. With a paw on the wall, she slowly made her way into the deserted common room, which looked like it had been abandoned for a long time. “No...” she mumbled under her breath, running a paw along an overturned chair and finding it covered in dust. “Corsair...”

She made her way back up to the deck, a tear streaming down her face, and prepared to return to her own ship. As she was about to leave, she cast a glance back over the deserted ship. Up atop the helm, the wheel seemed to stir slightly, perhaps by the wind, but it gave her a glimmer of hope anyway. She made her way to the front of the ship, and what she found there caught her so completely off-guard that she nearly fell over.

“...Is that you?”, she squeaked, leaning in for a closer look. “...Lapse?”

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