What Lies Beyond: Chapter 40

“This is silly”, she told herself, “there's no one down here, I would have heard them by now.”
Still, she was shaking, standing there at the bottom of the ladder. Lapse took a deep breath and pressed a paw to her chest to gather her courage. She gingerly held the little lantern out in front of herself and shone a beam of light down the darkened hallway. Sure enough, it was clear all the way down to the end of the hall, but that did little to reassure her.

Lapse had not ventured below deck since she had returned. She had no reason to do so, she had everything she needed in her cabin and it was dark and scary down here. She didn't think she had ever come down here much, but her memory of the time before she left was hazy, and that's why she was here tonight. She took a few tiny steps into the hallway, kicking up a little cloud of dust as she went. There were dusty pawprints on the ground, they must have belonged to Sister from that first night. Lapse wished Sister were here now, she'd feel a lot more confident if they explored this place together, but she hadn't appeared tonight. She paused and listened for any sound from above deck, but it was still quiet. “I can do this”, she told herself, taking another few steps forward, “I have to.”

Lapse opened the first door in the hall and peered inside the small room, but it was completely empty. Another room on the opposite side contained only an empty bucket and an old broom. People could have stayed in those rooms, but since she travelled by herself there was no need for them. “I've always been alone”, she sighed. She remembered that well enough.
She came across another pair of empty rooms. One of them had a pile of rope, presumably for ship repairs. That grey-furred friend of hers was always making repairs, but she could hardly remember ever doing any herself. “Maybe he just enjoys doing work?” she wondered, closing the door behind her. He was often busy with work when she came to see him, she recalled, but he always made time for her. She smiled nostalgically as she thought back to some of the time they had spent together, but she knew that wasn't the kind of memory that Sister was looking for, so she pressed on toward the big door at the end of the hall.

Lapse felt a wave of apprehension wash over her as she reached the door to the common room. She could tell that she had been in this room before, and there was something inside her that didn't want to remember what had happened. “This is definitely the place”, she thought, her arm trembling as she reached for the door. Her paw touched the wood and all the strength went of her and she couldn't push it open.
“I'm doing this for Sister”, she reminded herself. Sister had been very kind to her, but Lapse knew she hadn't come just to keep her company. She was desperately looking for answers about what had happened to her friend, and so far she had been no help at all. That's why she had decided to come down here tonight. She gathered all of her strength and leaned on the door and it slowly opened with a loud creak.

Unlike the other rooms, the common room was not empty, though it was completely covered in dust and what little furniture lay inside was in disarray. She blew the dust off a little end table and set her light down there, casting a pale light upon the forgotten room. Near the table a small padded chair was lying on the ground. It bothered her to see it tipped over, so she picked it up and placed it back on its legs. There was another downed chair lying on the opposite end of the room, and she placed it opposite to the first one. “This place could almost have been cozy...” she thought aloud, “if there was someone here to share it with.”
In the middle of the room there was also a long couch that could have sat several people, but it had also been tipped over. She bent down to try to lift it back up, but it was very heavy and she struggled to move it. She'd done it before, though, as she strained her muscles to lift the couch she recalled the evening when she had first set up this room. Back then it was the thought of snuggling up to someone special that gave her strength as she pushed the couch across the room to its proper spot. She winced painfully as she finally managed to tip the couch back up, then immediately flopped down onto it to take a rest.
After regaining her breath she took another look around the room, and her attention was drawn to a large picture frame on the back wall. She retrieved the light from the table and held it up to the picture, it was a long painting of a white bird flying over the ocean in the light of day. “I must have made this.” She touched it with her paw, and it was immediately covered in dust. “...A long time ago.” It was a pretty scene, and something about the picture spoke to her, but as she held the light up to it, she saw that part of the picture was damaged, with three long gashes tearing through the parchment. “Why?” she wondered sadly, knowing the picture would never be whole again.
She blew the dust off her paw and turned around to leave. She had come down here to try to find some clues about her past, but she found that she had lost her appetite for it. The dusty room gradually fell back into darkness as she left, carrying the light away.

Lapse climbed back up the ladder and closed the hatch behind her. It was still quiet on the deck of her ship, no one had come to visit her. She looked over the railing at the other ship, still sailing in the same direction a short distance away. “Maybe she's given up on me”, she thought. It wasn't a big surprise, she hadn't been very helpful, and no one wanted to stay with her for very long. She sadly retired to her cabin and sat down on her bed. She pulled out the picture of the sad girl staring out the window, and thought back to the wonderful dance she'd had last morning. This wasn't how she wanted it to be, but what choice did she have?

She did have a choice. She could go to Sister's ship. It was only a short distance away, she could pull up alongside it and go aboard. Maybe something was wrong with Sister, or maybe she was testing her somehow, to see if she would go. She peered over at the other ship. She hadn't gone to visit anyone since that night, she was afraid and she didn't want to be a burden to anyone. “I don't want to be alone anymore”, she declared, closing her eyes tight and turning the wheel toward the other ship.

It only took a short while for her ship to pull up alongside Sister's, but it felt like an eternity and twice she had to stop herself from turning back. When her ship was finally close enough, she straightened her course and crept over to the railing. No one from the other ship came to greet her, and she couldn't see anyone on the other deck. Sister usually used a board to cross between the two ships, but she didn't have one handy and no one on the other side had set it up. It wasn't too far. Lapse took a few steps away from the railing, then ran towards and leapt off of it, landing softly on the other deck.
She looked around, her nervousness returning to her, and quickly ducked behind the wheel of Sister's ship, peering out to see if anyone was around. There was someone there, a grey-furred man she didn't recognize. She pulled her head back in.
Her instincts told her to just hide there and disappear, but she pushed back against her fears with every ounce of willpower that she had. Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself out from behind the wheel and cautiously strode forward, painfully aware of every set of eyes on the deck, though none of them paid her much attention.
“Excuse me”, she said, very quietly and from too far away to be heard properly. The man didn't seem to notice her. She crept closer.
“Excuse me”, she said again, a tiny bit louder this time.
This time he heard her. “Hi”, he said, looking at her with a smile on his round, grey-furred face. As soon as he turned to her, a chill ran up her spine, nearly paralysing her. “It's not him”, she told herself. The eyes were the wrong colour.
“I'm... looking for Sister”, she managed to say, eventually.
“She's in her cabin”, the man said. He had the wrong voice, too.
She squeaked out something that sounded like thanks and slunk away. The man who looked like her old friend shrugged and returned to what he was doing.

Lapse quietly opened the door to Sister's cabin and found her sitting inside by herself. She was resting her head on one of her paws and didn't seem to notice her come in.
“Umm...” she mumbled, not knowing what else to say.
Sister turned around, surprised. “Lapse?”
“Are you... okay?” Lapse managed to ask.
Sister sighed. “I thought that I might have found Corsair last night, but it wasn't. It was just someone who looked and acted a lot like him. I wanted it to be him so much.” She sighed again. “Why don't you sit down?”
She felt very out of place in here, but she timidly accepted the other chair. They sat in silence for a few moments, and she finally mustered the courage to ask the question she had been thinking about for a few nights: “Why did Mr. Corsair leave?”
Sister rested her face on hew paw again “I don't know.”
“Was he angry?” Lapse asked, leaning forward a little.
“I don't think so.”
“But then how do you know you want him back if you don't know why he left?”
“I just do.” She said, closing her eyes. “He was very important to me and I miss him. No matter what his reasons for leaving were, I know I want to see him again.”
Lapse looked down at her feet.
“I'm sorry”, Sister said, “I'm probably not much help tonight.”
“That's okay”, she said, realizing now that it didn't matter. “I'm just happy to have... a friend.”
Sister smiled a little. “So am I.”
Lapse walked over and gave Sister a hug, then politely let herself out.

Even though Sister's friendship made her happy, Lapse couldn't help but feel ill at ease that night. She knew she was going to face him soon, but she wasn't sure if she was ready for it, or if she even wanted to. She looked up to the stars for support, but they weren't out tonight. She sighed and walked back to her cabin to draw. For some reason, she found herself sketching that little bird, flying freely over the endless waves.

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