Fear The Dawn: Chapter 32

Line!”, he cried out as the world went dark around him.
Somehow, he was falling. He could no longer see the train or the explosion, but he could feel the rush of the air against his fur, and a moment later he felt his body plunge beneath the water. The cold snapped him back to his senses and he quickly righted himself and burst back above the water. He looked all about for the flying vehicle or its passengers, but in the darkness all he could make out was the outline of his ship. His strength renewed, he tore through the water like a shark and scrambled up the side of his ship to where he kept the spyglass. He ran to the railing and scanned the waters all around, but there was no sign of the train, the bridge, the land, anything. It was all gone. The sea had taken it away, as it always did.
But none of that mattered. It was only Line that he was looking for. He scanned the waters to see if anyone might be out there, and he even dove back into the water to check for himself, though as the night drew on he realized it was futile. Line was gone. He had been given a chance to save Line, but now he had probably been killed by that bomb. That was the reason he had been brought back, but he had already failed at it. Karma slammed his paws on the railing in frustration. Why hadn't Line agreed to come with him?

I can't leave”, Line had said. “There's this girl, and I have to apologize to her.”
That's right, it all revolved around Lapse. “She must have gone to that world too”, he thought. That fit with what he had seen the other night, and Line was still trying to apologize to her for what they had done. He had called it “another life”. Was that really the truth of it? After he disappeared that night, he began another life as a stranger? It seemed impossible to believe, but he had just seen it with his own two eyes. If that was really the truth of it, it opened up so many questions. Were all of the strangers people who had been here at one time? Was it possible to come back? Would Lapse remember what happened between them before Line left? What about the time when he himself had gone away?
Karma strained hard to remember what had happened after he left. All he could remember was that girl with the light-coloured hair and blue eyes. Perhaps he had been with her as a stranger, but he remembered nothing of himself or the person he might have been, so he couldn't say for sure. He could barely remember anything between the night he went away and the night he woke up on his ship.

Wait”, he thought, his heart racing for a moment with renewed hope. “When I came back, I just found myself on my own ship. Line had his own ship too, perhaps his ship has come back.”
He quickly lowered himself into the water to check. Four signals, the same as last night.
If he's not on his ship, then maybe he's still in the world of the strangers”. He had survived, perhaps Line had too. If there was still a chance, he had to try. He had been brought back here to save Line, he was sure of it, there was no way he was going to give up just yet.
Karma spent the next few mornings searching everywhere for Line. He met a number of different strangers, but he didn't encounter Line again. He had never really bothered to keep track of the strangers before, he just dispatched each one in turn and moved on, but it seemed like there must be thousands of them. Without some kind of plan he was never going to find Line again.

As he thought back on his various encounters, one thing he noticed was that most of the strangers seemed to have some kind of problem or fear, and if it wasn't obvious at first, it would reveal itself before the sun went down. In Line's case, he was afraid that he would never get to apologize to Lapse. “Even if I found him again, he probably still wouldn't come with me”, Karma realized. “Whatever happened between Line and Lapse in that world probably has to be resolved first.” Perhaps Line would resolve it himself, then come back on his own. “No”, he shook his head, “he won't”. He had known Line well enough before, he was never short for enthusiasm and confidence, but it wasn't enthusiasm he had seen that night, it was despair. “He looked just the same as he did the night he went away. If I don't do something, he'll probably be stuck that way forever.”
Karma paced up and down the deck of his ship. What could he do? He had no more idea how to find Lapse than he did Line. Perhaps that other man would know something, the one that had been close to her, but he could hardly just approach him and let him know that he had been the one who hurt Lapse and then ask for advice. There was also that fourth ship, the one that had seemingly disappeared for a few nights. If his theory was correct, they had gone away for a few nights and somehow come back. Perhaps they might know something, and they had seemed friendly enough when he had met them that morning, even offering to help him on his own search. They didn't know who he was, though, they called him by some other name that he didn't remember now. Just what were they doing, anyway? Why would they be looking for someone in the morning? Was someone else missing, besides Lapse and Line?

Banshee. Banshee was missing too. He hadn't even thought about her lately. When that other ship had returned, it seemed like everyone came back with it, but Banshee hadn't come back with him. Was she out there in the other world with Line and Lapse? He'd have to keep an eye out for her, as well.
Still, those women hadn't been looking for Banshee either, it seemed as though it was a stranger they were searching for. That definitely seemed worth investigating, if they knew something about how to find the strangers that would help immensely.

He hopped down into the water again to see where they were. He hadn't been paying much attention to their movements the previous nights, only scouting the waters occasionally to make sure he didn't run into them, so he had already lost track of which ship was which. Tonight the signals came from four very different directions, almost equally spaced around his ship. “I'm surrounded”, he thought, briefly panicked, but he reminded himself that that was merely their direction, the ships themselves might well be leagues away. He pulled out his spyglass to check and found that only one of the ships could be seen, and very distantly at that. Unfortunately, it grew larger as he was watching it, it was heading towards him. He decided to sail straight away from it, then when he had some distance he could check the signals again and decide which way to escape.

For most of that evening he stood at the rear deck of his ship, watching through his spyglass. At times the other ship would vanish from sight, only to reappear again a few moments later. By now he was convinced that they must be pursuing him after all, and he was growing increasingly worried that he was being lead into a trap. He needed to get down into the water and determine where the other ships were, but he couldn't afford to slow down long enough to do it. He darted over to the front of the ship to scan the horizon again. The sky was beginning to change colour, but he still couldn't spot any other ships. He returned to the rear to check on the pursuing ship, but he found it had disappeared again, and this time it didn't seem to come back.
“Finally”, he thought, wiping his brow with his paw. He needed to choose his next course of action quickly. If the other ship had simply fallen behind, the smartest thing was to turn, then he could lose it. However, it might have also turned, in which case he might well be heading towards it, and he could easily get trapped between two ships that way. He needed to know where the others were, but there might not be time to check. He paced up and down the deck, wasting time he didn't have. The other ship still hadn't appeared. He had to check on the signals.

He reigned in the sails and reduced the ship's speed, all the while checking for the pursuing ship. He didn't let it come to a complete stop, just slow enough that he thought he wouldn't be swept away if he went into the water, but still he made sure to tie his rope around the mast extra tight. Taking one last look back, he descended into the water. He couldn't help himself from glancing back towards the rear of the ship even now, but he forced himself to close his eyes and listen.
...Nothing. The other ship was probably getting closer, and nothing. How did he get into this mess in the first place? He was just minding his own business, what reason did they have for chasing him? Still nothing. He was getting frustrated.
My mind isn't clear enough”, he told himself, trying to block all of those thoughts out. He needed to concentrate, but focusing on emptying his mind only caused more errant thoughts to seep in. He opened one eye just a little to make sure the ship hadn't snuck up on him. It hadn't, but he hadn't felt the signals yet, either.
Come on! This is usually so easy!”, he yelled angrily, but that didn't help any.
All right, calm down”, he told himself. He was here to find Line. That was what this was really all about. The others could be dealt with if need be. He took a deep breath, and finally he was at peace. Slowly, the signals started to filter in. There was one behind him, and the other three were all to the port side now.
I'm past them”, he thought. “All I have to do now is turn to starboard.”
That first signal sure was insistent, though, it kept pulsing over and over. He opened his eyes and nearly slipped into the water. It was there, close enough that he could see it without the spyglass now. The sun was coming up, and his ship was in the sun, so they might not have seen him yet, but he had precious little time before they would spot him for sure. He pulled himself up the rope so fast he hurt his paws, then started trying to untie the knot on the mast, but it was too tight, he couldn't get it undone. It didn't matter, he could just take the rope off himself, but it was wet and hard to untie and all tangled up in his fur as well. He pulled and yanked at it, eventually pushing it down past his waist so he could step out of it, though he ended up tripping over the end in his haste and nearly fell. He finally managed to get to the sails and lower them again so he could start picking up speed, but the other ship was a lot closer to him now. There was no chance of executing that turn at this point, all he could do was keep moving and use the sun to escape. His ship was picking up speed now, but the other ship was still gaining ground, it was going to be tight.
Faster, damn it!”, he demanded, shaking the ship's wheel in his paws. He looked back at the other ship, which was mere moments away from being close enough for him to start making out the figures on the deck when the light finally arrived to take him away.


He didn't even get a moment to catch his breath, Karma could feel his legs moving and his arms pumping even before he opened his eyes. It was already dark outside, like the sun had never even come up, or perhaps they were inside, he couldn't really make out much of his surroundings, they were going by too fast. He looked to his left to see someone else running alongside him, which was unusual. He had had mornings like this before, but he was always the one in pursuit, not the one being chased. He enjoyed those mornings back then, but it was a very different experience to be on the other end, even though he didn't know what was behind them he felt a deep-seated sense of anxiety.
What's back there?”, he asked, urgently.
No idea!”, the man replied.
Then why are we running?”
Do you want to slow down and find out?”
Karma knew he couldn't do that even if he wanted to. If he got too far away from the stranger the world would just disappear around him, if whatever was back there didn't get him first. He turned his head to try to get a look at what was back there, but it was too dark, especially behind them where it had to be. He could hear it, though, it was loud, making a forceful but irregular thumping sound as it pursued them.
Could it be one of the others back there?”, he wondered. After all, he had been the one to give chase before, perhaps this time it was someone else. He couldn't really imagine someone like Line or Banshee being back there, but he had no idea what the orange one or the others he had seen through his spyglass were capable of. It was best to keep moving.

He couldn't help but be reminded of Line, though. Line refused to leave that vehicle because he was afraid of what would happen if he left. It was much easier for him to stay there than to face the challenge of getting off, but if he didn't, he could never come home. Karma took another look back at their phantom pursuer, still cloaked in shadow. What if it was one of the others? The round one who was Lapse's friend seemed harmless enough, and some of the others had even been friendly. The orange one? He might be a threat, but he wouldn't let anyone stand in the way of rescuing Line. Besides, he had nothing to lose, everything had already been taken from him. He had no reason to fear anyone.
This is stupid”, Karma said. “We' re just going to tire out at this rate, and we don't know if what's back there is even dangerous.”
It has to be”, the stranger replied, “just listen to it!”
He listened for a moment. The mysterious thing continued its loud, deep, thumping sound. “What is that, anyway? What makes that noise?”
I don't know!”
Then let's find out.”
This was it. Karma stopped turned to face whatever it was that was behind them, and he could only hope the stranger would do the same. If he continued on, he would be left behind, and who knew what would happen then. He could only trust in the strength of his convictions now.
The stranger stopped too, and turned to face the beast. As it drew closer, the ground started to shake, and Karma wondered if he had made the wrong choice. The stranger looked like his resolve might falter, so he tried to encourage him. “Be prepared!”, he barked, not at all used to being supportive.

He finally caught a glimpse of the monster as it approached. Its two giant white eyes were visible first, their ethereal light piercing through the night sky. Its body was darker than the night itself, and it moved with unnatural speed and precision, hardly swaying or bobbing at all as it moved.
It is not a living creature”, he realized as the ground trembled beneath him, “it's some sort of vehicle”. Yet they could still be very dangerous, he remembered that morning where the stranger was killed instantly after being struck by one of them. He braced himself to dive out of the way as it came towards him. The pounding sound was much louder and more frequent now, and it made it hard to focus. The white lights were drawing closer and closer, and Karma watched closely to see when it would make its move to try to strike him. The lights were nearly upon him and he was about to dive to the side when it suddenly swerved the other way, going completely around him as he stood still.
Get out the street, you moron!”, it yelled as it went by. Karma wheeled around, but it was past them now and showed no signs of turning around, the pounding sound and the vibrations in the ground grew weaker and weaker until they finally disappeared altogether. Karma turned to the stranger. The entire time he had said nothing, but he was still there, and he finally breathed a sigh of relief when it was gone.
I can't believe this entire time it was just a loud car.”
I've never seen anything like it”, Karma admitted.
I have. They go by here a lot in the middle of the night.”
It didn't seem dangerous”.
He nodded. “You were right”, the stranger said. “We were getting completely worked up over nothing.”
Not nothing”, Karma replied. “Everyone feels afraid sometimes, but sooner or later we have to face our fears, or they'll start to grow larger and larger until they take control.”
I'll try to remember that, but now that we've got some peace and quiet I just want to rest.” The stranger turned to leave. “Thank you”, he added, then he was gone, and all was quiet in the darkened street.
I suppose that applies to me too”, he thought, returning to his ship. “I can't hesitate to do what needs to be done, or I'll never see Line again.” He dug his claws into the side of the ship and started to climb back up to the deck.


Upon returning to his ship, Karma was relieved to find that the other ship from the previous night was nowhere to be found. He sailed out a bit farther anyway just to be safe, then when he was finally convinced that no one was coming he raised the sails and dipped into the water to check the signals.
Last night's close call had born unexpected fruit. When the other ship drew so close to him, he finally realized that there was a way to tell how far away the ships were, the signals from the closer ships repeated slightly more often. It was very subtle, but now that he knew which of the ships was the closest he could figure it out: if he numbered each signal and waited a long time, the order would eventually change, with the closer signals eventually passing those that were farther away. He still couldn't gauge the exact distance, and it required him to stay in the water for quite a while, but it helped a little. He needed all the information he could get if he was ever going to see his friends again.

He spent most of the next few nights tracking them. He was getting better at it, remembering to note their positions each evening so he could pick them up the next night. Sometimes his ship would end up getting turned around, so he was learning to use the stars to orient himself, too, they seemed to remain constant no matter how many times he went away. He had never really needed to know any of this information before, and he was a bit surprised at how helpful it could be. He idly wondered just how much else there was that he didn't know, but he had no time for such musings, he had his paws full enough just trying to find his Line.
He had really hoped to encounter him again, but it had been many mornings now and he had had no luck. It seemed it would not be so easy to find him a second time. He still occasionally became cross with himself for squandering that chance, but he knew he had no choice but to move forward. At least now he knew that Line was out there, somewhere. He looked up to the stars. It was time to check the signals again.

They seemed to be travelling in groups of two now, there were two pairs of signals that were coming from the exact same direction and the order remained almost completely consistent no matter how long he waited. He had realized by now that his method of determining distance was totally relative, if the ships were equally far away he couldn't tell how close they were at all, so he also kept watch with his spyglass occasionally. The distance between the groups was shrinking each time he checked, it seemed as though all four ships would soon meet.

Something important is happening”, he realized. In all the time he had been watching the four ships had never all been in the same place. Had they accomplished whatever it was they were up to? Or were they going to do it once they met up? Either way, he needed to be there. This might be a chance to find out something useful, and he couldn't afford to let it slip by. Just like he had told that stranger, if he didn't try then he would just end up running forever. Monitoring the signals and the seas carefully, he gradually crept up upon them, a little closer each night, as they also drew closer to the meeting point.
He didn't yet have any real plan for what he would do when he got there. While he could spy upon them from a distance with his spyglass, he couldn't hear what they were saying, and without that it was pointless. At current the best plan he had was to wait for the sun to be nearly up, then approach them just before the sun took them all away. It seemed their plan involved the mornings, and from what he had been able to gather from the time he had been with Line and his experience since coming back, if two people were close together when the sun came up they sometimes wound up in the same place, then he could monitor them under the guise of a stranger and learn what they were up to. It certainly wasn't foolproof, though, he had been together with Banshee for a long time and yet they had only rarely spent the mornings together, but it was the best plan he had.

It was a cloudy evening when the four signals finally came together. He came upon them about halfway through the night, travelling at an extremely slow speed just in case they were actually headed towards him, but he was relieved to see that they had all stopped. Sure enough, they had definitely come to meet, he drew as near as he dared and pulled out his spyglass, but they didn't seem to be doing much of anything, they seemed to just be standing around, then they went back to their own ships, sailing in a slow, circular pattern, as if waiting for something
They're waiting for the sun to rise”, he thought. “My plan is coming together perfectly.”
He took another quick look at the horizon, but the sun wasn't coming up yet. He pulled out his spyglass again, and then he rushed to the sails. One of the ships was leaving the others and heading straight towards him.
He spotted it in good time, so he was able to get far away enough from the lone ship to pull around and return to the spot where the others were waiting. He arrived just in time to see another ship break away from the circular perimeter they had established around the meeting site and head in the same direction as the first.
Something is going on out there”, he thought. “I have to follow that ship”.

He was quick enough to outpace the second ship, and by the second night he had now caught up close enough to the first ship that he could see it in his spyglass again. He had to admit, it was kind of exciting to be in pursuit again after so long, but he tried not to lose sight of his mission. He really had no idea what they were doing out here, he had expected the first ship to turn around, but it was still going, and the currents and winds were becoming very harsh and difficult to navigate, unlike any he had seen before. It wasn't until the sun was beginning to come up on the third night that he finally figured it out:
They're searching for me.”
Sure enough, the other ship had just turned about, and he realized now that they had him pinned between them, and with these tough sailing conditions there was no longer any hope of escape. They probably knew he had been following them and so they came together to set a trap, which had worked perfectly. There was no more time, they would be upon him soon.
Karma closed his eyes. In his mind, he saw the girl with the blue eyes, smiling at him, then turning away and disappearing into the light. He saw Line, the night before he went away, and again, just before the bomb blew up. He saw the panther, bleeding from the stranger's gun, and he saw Banshee, throwing herself into the water.
So be it”, he said, making his peace with the world. “I won't falter, come and face me if you dare!”
He turned sharply and cut across the ship's path, there was no way they could fail to see him now. Sure enough, it turned to give pursuit. The sun was nearly up now, and the other ship was still a way's behind. He had overestimated their speed, at his current rate he might actually escape.
He lowered the sails to let them catch up. It was time to settle this.

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