Fear The Dawn: Chapter 16

Hey”, someone whispered, “something's wrong, she's not here”.
The dark one rubbed his forehead. Line had been visiting again last night, and somehow he had talked him into letting him come along. He was regretting it already, but by the time he noticed the sun was coming up there hadn't been time to toss him overboard.
Line tugged at the sleeve of his shirt. “Hey” he whispered, more insistently, “where's Banshee?”
He looked around. They were seated in a classroom full of little strangers, with Line in the desk immediately beside his. School was a place he knew well, it terrified the strangers, his work was always easy here. Just as Line had said, Banshee didn't seem to be among the strangers. He smiled slightly. His morning was looking better already.
Should we go look for her?” Line asked again, insistently.
We don't always wind up together in the mornings”, he whispered back, becoming annoyed. “She's probably in a completely different place from us.”
Will she be okay on her own?”
I have no idea how, but she always seems to make it back. Now stop talking about the night, you'll get us in trouble.”
Line folded his arms and faced the front of the room for a moment, but keeping his mouth shut wasn't something he did well. “What are we supposed to be doing here, anyway?”
Just be quiet and pay attention, it'll become clear soon enough.”

Sure enough, the teacher soon quieted everyone down and addressed the class. “I have a special announcement”, he said, gesturing to the door, “a new student will be joining her class today, so I want you all to meet our new classmate, Peggy”.
A little woman with brown hair and freckles wearing a pink dress walked into the room and stood sheepishly at the front of the class.
I was hoping it would be Banshee”, Line said, “I wanted to see her this morning.”
Don't be stupid”, the hunter said, elbowing him. “That must be the stranger. If you want to see Banshee, then help me finish things here quickly.”
But what are we supposed to do?”
He took another look at the little stranger, and a wicked smile started to form across his face. Maybe having Line here this morning could work to his advantage after all.
That little stranger is new here, and she's very nervous. What she needs to help her loosen up is a lot of funny jokes. You're good with jokes, right?”
Line's eyes lit up. “You want to hear my jokes?”
Everyone wants to hear your jokes. Just follow my lead, okay.”
Right!” he said, much too loudly, but luckily no one really seemed to notice. Most people were too busy watching the stranger, who sat down in the desk in front of them.
Hello...”, she said, sheepishly, turning her head to the side so she was only half looking at them. “...I'm new.”
Hello, big nose, welcome to our class”, the hunter responded to her.
She reeled back, as if in shock. “I don't have a big nose!”, she said, quickly reaching up to cover it with her hand.
Don't worry, I think your nose suits you very well”, Line said, and for a moment he was worried that Line was going to be a detriment here after all. “You've got a pink dress, pig tails, and a pig nose. That must be why they call you Piggy!”
It's Peggy!” she insisted, horrified, “and I'm not a pig!”
What a great nickname!” someone else chimed in. “Welcome to our class, Piggy!”
Everyone laughed, even the hunter chuckled a little. Line beamed, smiling so ridiculously wide it looked as though his mouth might take over his entire face. “Everyone loved my joke”, he said happily. The little stranger looked like she was about to lose it, she quickly turned away from them and the teacher quieted everyone down. He had made some marks on that big black board, which always drove fear into the hearts of the strangers for some reason.

We'll start by reviewing some of the basics.” He said. “Peggy, you're new, can you answer this one for me?”
OINK!” Line covered his mouth with his fist and let out his best low-pitched pig squeal. The class erupted in uncontrollable laughter.
All right you two, go down to the office”, the teacher said, but it was no use, he had completely lost control of the strangers. He threw up his hands as all of the students put on their best pig noises. All except the stranger, of course, who was quietly crying at her desk, though no one was paying any attention to her.

Oh man, that was great”, Line exclaimed as they walked through the hallway. “It's been ages since I got a laugh that big.”
The dark one grinned. “Even I must admit I'm a little impressed.”
So do we get to go home now?”
It would seem we are not done here yet, but if you can keep it up I'm sure we'll be back soon.”
Just leave it to me” he said, pointing his thumbs towards himself as he walked along. “I've got plenty more where that came from!”
The hallway led to a big open room, with a ton of tables scattered about. The stranger was sitting at one of them, so they sat down beside her. Her pigtails were gone, her hair was short and straight at the back now.
Hey Piggy”, he said, “I like your new haircut, was it made with a bowl?”
Pigs don't eat out of bowls, silly”, Line chimed in, “they have troughs. It's a trough cut!”
She quickly grabbed her little bag, got up and started running away from them.
I hope you remembered to wash the swill out of it beforehand!” Line added as they chased after her. “But your hair is kind of the same colour, so maybe it doesn't matter. Do you have naturally swill-coloured hair, or is it dyed?” She just kept running. They eventually cornered her outside.
Just leave me alone!” she demanded, “I just want to eat my lunch in peace! It's enough that everyone calls me Piggy because of you!”
Isn't it great?” Line asked. “Everyone's been laughing and having so much fun. It's been great working with you.” She just stared at him in disbelief.
If you wanted lunch, you should have just said so”, the dark one said, having gotten behind her while she and Line were talking. “Here, a nice pool of mud for the pig”. He pushed her over, and she fell chest-first into the mud with a loud splat. Line loved it, he was laughing so hard that he was doubled over, trying to walk it off with no success. The stranger didn't even bother to get up, she just laid there in the mud, quietly sobbing.
Why are you so mean?” she asked, so choked up she could barely be heard. “What did I ever do to you?”
While Line was too busy laughing to notice, the dark one leaned in close to her on the ground and whispered in her ear: “Let me give you a piece of advice. In this world, there are hunters, and there are prey. You can either become strong enough to fend off the hunters, or you can die.”
And with that, he sunk his claws into her neck. Her eyes went completely wide and her body fell lifeless to the ground, then the world fell out from under them, plunging them into the water below.

Line was still so hysterical that he probably would have just sunk, so he grabbed him and pulled him towards the ladder. He eventually managed to pull himself out of the water, and dark-furred one followed him.
Hoo boy”, he said, when he was finally able to speak again, “slapstick gets me every time, that's a killer.”
He smiled. “You did well. Your pig routine was well-chosen, it really got through to her.”
OINK!” Line imitated again. The hunter chuckled in spite of himself as they relived their routine. It was a little while before Line noticed the third person quietly watching them.
Pretty flower, you made it!” he exclaimed, running towards her with his arms outstretched. She opened her arms too, and he gathered her up into a big hug. She squeezed him tight and nuzzled him, and he patted her head while she smiled happily and held her tail high. Even the hunter couldn't quite hold his usual sour demeanour that evening in the face of the general merriment. He had to remove himself to adjust the ship's course lest their joyful mood prove contagious. He pulled the ship up alongside Line's ship in the hopes that he would take the hint and go home, but he seemed totally oblivious to everything around him tonight.

You should come aboard my ship sometime”, Line told Banshee, who seemed to be hanging on to his every word, “I could take you to see my act in the morning.”
Suddenly, she started swishing her tail back and forth rapidly, hitting the railing each time with a soft thump.
Do you like that idea, pretty flower?” Line asked, but she didn't seem to be paying attention to him anymore. She was just staring out towards the horizon. Line looked at her quizzically, then turned to see what she was looking at. “Do you see something? I don't see anything out there.”
The hunter quickly assumed his usual post on the sail, staring out across the waters. He didn't see anything either, but he knew well enough to trust her eyesight.
In the end, Line spotted it before he did.
Hey, look at that! There's another ship over there! Another friend of yours?”
He dropped down from the sail, landing softly behind them. “I don't have any friends”.
Oh, then maybe it's a new ship come to visit us.”
I'm sure they're just passing by. No one would be foolish enough to approach this ship. Well... almost no one, anyway.”
And yet the ship only continued to draw closer. “Has that other ship come to settle the score?” he wondered. He drew his claws. “There's no way I'll lose”
As the ship approached, however, he could tell that it was not the ship he had clashed with previously. For one thing, it wasn't as large, and the sails were a different shape. He didn't believe he had actually ever seen this ship before, and he was almost curious about who could be so bold as to engage his ship directly.

He didn't have to wait long, the other ship was approaching at high speed, directly towards the port side of his ship. Even as it drew closer, it didn't seem to slow down or pull up alongside his ship.
Don't you think they're getting a little close?” Line asked, backing away from the edge a little. Banshee was still eager to see who it could be.
Not just close”, he scowled. “Could they be intending to ram us? Brace yourselves!”, he shouted at them, turning the ship hard to the starboard side. The ship lurched and pivoted, and Banshee was almost tossed overboard, but Line grabbed hold of her. The other ship passed by so close that they could have reached out and grabbed it, and the turbulence rocked both vessels. Astonishingly, there didn't appear to be anyone on the deck of the other ship, and there was no one manning the wheel.

Oh no, oh no!” a voice cried, but it was impossible to pinpoint the source. His eyes caught sight of a figure fiddling with the sails on the other ship, but before he could get a good look at it it was gone. “I didn't see you!”, the voice exclaimed, and all he could do was stare dumbfounded as the other ship gradually came to a stop. The hunter brought his ship to a stop as well and they all waited to see just who had caused all this trouble.

At first, there was no sign of anyone, the ship was silent and the deck appeared to be attempt. Suddenly, a face appeared above the railing. “I'm sorry!” it exclaimed. “I didn't mean to!”
The fuzzy brown face belonged to a woman, but he could make out no more than that with the rest of her body hidden behind the railing. She peered at the three of them from her current vantage point. “Who are you?” she asked. “I don't think I've ever seen you before.”
Impossible...” he muttered under his breath. “Could someone be even more clueless than Line?”
The woman slowly stood up to her full height. She had messy brown fur and was surprisingly tall, he would not have believed that such a large figure could emerge from behind that railing.
Can I... come over there?” she asked. “It's hard to talk from all the way over here.”
He was about to tell her to go away when Banshee waved to her, and she hopped across the gap between the ships, landing softly on one foot. Banshee clapped her paws.
Line and Banshee were closest to her, so she addressed them. “I'm sorry!” she protested again, “I was talking to the stars and I didn't see this ship at all. I didn't think it was too long since the last time I looked... why does this ship have black sails? That's so dangerous, no wonder I couldn't see it from a distance!”
Who... are you?” he asked, too stupefied to be intimidating.
Oh!”, she said, taken aback, “how rude of me. I'm Lapse.” She bowed to them. “It's a pleasure to meet you.”
Lapse, huh?” Line said, tilting his head. “That's a funny name, because you weren't paying any attention where you were going and you almost hit us!”
Is it?” She didn't seem like she had ever considered that before. “I'm really sorry. I don't have anyone to steer my ship, so when I'm dancing or talking to the stars I kind of have to let my ship go on its own.”
The dark-furred one slapped his face with his paw. “Wouldn't it be easier to just... stay put?”
Oh, maybe, but I hadn't seen anyone else in a long time, so I thought I needed to go somewhere else.”
She looked around the ship at them. Banshee was staring blankly at her, Line seemed to be trying to think of something, and the hunter was still shaking his head. Lapse fidgeted with her paws, as though the gap in the conversation bothered her. “So... who are all of you?”
Look”, the hunter said, finally having had enough, “it was interesting to meet you and all, but the evening is almost over, and trust me, you really don't want to be around here when the sun comes up.”
She hopped up on the railing of his ship. At first he thought she was going back where she belonged, but she paced across it instead. “There's nothing to do over there, I get so bored.”
There are worse things in this world than being bored.”
Yes”, she said, looking down at her feet, “it's worse to be lonely.”
Being lonely's not so bad”, Line chimed in, “when you're alone you can do all the silly things you want, like sail around without watching where you're going or walk across the railing of a moving ship, and no one will tell you not to!”
Her lip trembled, but she said nothing.
And you shouldn't feel bad about being a little strange. You might scare some people away, but at least you'll always have yourself to talk to if you ever feel lonely!”
Is that why I'm all alone?” she asked, devastated. “I'm too 'strange'? No one could like someone like me?”
Wha-?” Line stammered, flustered. “I didn't mean-”
I didn't ask to be strange”, she sobbed. “I just wanted to find someone else like me, so I could have a friend. Everyone else has friends on their ship, but I have no one. I guess I should just get used to being alone.”
Yes, that's a good idea, other people just drag you down. Are you done? It's almost morning.”
I'll go”, she croaked, all of the life gone out of her voice. “I'm sorry for being alive.”
She jumped back onto her ship, tears still streaming out of her eyes, and sailed off with surprising quickness. Line just stood there, his mouth hanging open, so still that he might have been a statue.

I must say”, he mused, stroking his chin, “that was a fine piece of work.”
How?” he asked in a weak voice, sounding almost exactly like how the woman had. “How could you do that to that poor girl?”
Don't give me all the credit, you were the one who crushed her spirit.”
He forced his eyes shut and a tear struck the ground by his feet “This isn't... my jokes... I never wanted... not like this...”
The hunter slapped Line's shoulder with his paw. “Nonsense, Line, you were great! She made problems for us, and you got rid of her! And very nicely done, too, I really couldn't have done it better myself. The others are all fools, but you have potential, Line. I see I can count on you.”
Line quickly spun his arm, knocking his paw away. “You... you're a MONSTER!”, he scowled, with a fierceness he had never shown before. He ran back to his own ship, leaving the hunter in stunned silence.
Banshee watched the scene in complete horror. She looked back at him for a moment with a tortured expression on her face, then she ran after Line.
The dark-furred one rolled his eyes. “Soft-hearted fools, the both of you! I should just leave you here, you two deserve each other anyway. Live out the rest of your pathetic lives on your own for all I care, just don't come crying to me when your weakness causes you to get lost in the morning and disappear!”
He thought about just sailing away and leaving them, but in the end he didn't have it in himself to do it, he just waited for the sun to rise from atop the sail, alone aboard the black-sailed ship.

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