Fear The Dawn: Chapter 33

As the sun came over him, Karma prepared himself for battle. He took a deep breath to steady his heart rate, emptied his mind of extraneous thoughts, and let his senses take over, as he had done many times before. His entire being was a weapon, honed to a deadly precision that none could match. No matter what might come, he would not lose now.

He waited and listened, but the noise he heard was not that of quick-moving footsteps or a weapon being drawn, but that of a woman sobbing quietly. The unexpected sound pierced his concentration as the memory of that stranger cradling the body of her slain friend came back to him. His eyes snapped open and he quickly scanned his surroundings to make sure he had not been left vulnerable while he was distracted, but the room was as still as a tomb. It was better furnished than any catacomb, with soft carpets, elaborate decorations and plush furniture carefully neatly arranged throughout, but the atmosphere was similarly morbid. The woman had stopped sobbing now, leaving the entire place hauntingly quiet.

What is this?”, he mumbled under his breath. He had considered the possibility that the occupants of the other ship might not be hostile, but he certainly hadn't expected this. Perhaps the other ship simply hadn't caught up in time, or they hadn't been sent to the same place, and it was just a regular morning like any other. He looked around and tried to find the stranger. There seemed to be about two dozen people in the room, but most of them were sitting silently or talking in hushed voices and none of them seemed to stand out. As he surveyed the room, his attention was drawn to a large wooden box sitting on top of a pedestal near the window. It was very ornate, with various designs carved into the wood and shiny golden handles. It had a lid, which was closed, and even though he suspected he knew what was inside he found himself compelled to open it anyway. He put his hands on the edge of the lid and slowly lifted it up.

As he expected, there was someone inside the box. It was fancier than he was used to, but he knew a casket when he saw one. He leaned back, half-expecting the person inside to jump out at him, but they remained still, so he leaned in for a closer look. There was something very strange about the body inside, though the shape was easily recognizable as the body of a stranger, it was almost completely nondescript and featureless. The skin was a plain, almost greyish colour, and the eyes and hair were similarly devoid of vibrancy. The body, too, was so lacking in definition that he could not say whether it was a man or a woman, it seemed as though it could be anyone. As he looked closer, for a moment he thought it started to look like it was Banshee in the box, but he quickly closed his eyes and shook his head and the figure returned to the grey figure he had seen before. “That's just my guilty conscience playing tricks on me”, he thought, closing the lid to the box.

So it was some kind of tomb after all, but what was he doing here? Most strangers seemed to fear such places of the dead, many times he had taken the form of a skeleton, zombie, or vampire and terrified the poor strangers who dared venture into such a place, but this was different. He was not the one in the box, waiting to ambush the hapless stranger, nor did the body in the box seem likely to attack anyone, he had never seen anything so completely devoid of life. Perhaps it was like that first time he had encountered the orange-furred captain of the other ship, everyone was just waiting for him to say or do something and make something happen. The last time he had been lucky and found a piece of paper that told him what to say, but he didn't appear to have any such luck this time. There was no paper near the casket, so he quickly scanned the rest of the room for any sort of clue as to what he might have to do. He spotted something that caught his eye towards the back of the room, there was a long table with a little booklet sitting upon it. He walked across the room and picked it up. The book had been lying open on the table, and the page that was visible was filled with what seemed to be a bunch of stranger names. He flipped through the rest of the book, but it was blank.
Are these names important?” he wondered. He read through the list more carefully.
Andrew. Joan. David. Bruce. Phillip. Margaret. Paul. Isabelle. Helen. Steven.”

He paused. Something seemed familiar about that last name, somehow. He had never paid much attention to the names of the strangers, he had always been content just to dispatch them and get back home as quickly as he could, so why did that name seem familiar? He put his hand on his forehead and tried to remember where he might have heard it.
Hey, are you Steven?”, a voice echoed in his head.
That's it!”, he thought, “that was the name of the person that woman was looking for!”. He looked around the room again. Was Steven in this room? Karma considered calling out that name to see how the strangers would react, but the atmosphere in the room was so muted that it didn't seem like the right thing to do. Perhaps Steven didn't want to be found, and if he called his name, he might run away, and then he could lose his chance of finding Line. “I should probably try to find him quietly if I want to get to the bottom of this”, Karma concluded. “They thought I might be Steven before, so he must be a man.” Karma quickly formulated a plan to find out more about him.

Who was that in the casket?”, he asked, sitting down next to someone he knew could not be Steven.
A good friend of all of ours”, the woman replied, too vaguely to be of any use.
How did they die?”
It was very sudden”, she said, sniffling a bit. “We don't even know exactly what happened, just one day, they were gone.”
Why have you all gathered here?”
To pay our respects to a dear friend, of course”.
This is useless”, he thought, a bit annoyed. He needed to try a different approach.
Is that Steven?”, he asked, quickly motioning across the room with his arm, too fast for the woman to know specifically whom he was pointing to.
You mean that man over there?”, she asked, pointing to a light-skinned man with a dark suit and tie sitting across the room, talking to another man. Karma looked at him for a moment, then the light-skinned man glanced across the room and he caught his eye for moment.
It's him”, he realized, the orange-furred one he had encountered before. He hadn't been drawing attention to himself, so Karma hadn't noticed him until now, but the eyes were unmistakable. Karma quickly averted his gaze to prevent his own eyes from being similarly recognized. “What is he doing here?”, he wondered. “Is he Steven?”
Pardon me”, Karma said, leaving the woman and retreating to a less conspicuous place towards the back of the room. He faced the front of the room and kept an eye on the orange-furred one out of the corner of his eye. Eventually he got up from that couch and went to the back of the room, and fiddled with some of the objects that were sitting on that table.

Think”, Karma told himself. “If he was Steven, that might explain how that woman could mistake me for him, our eyes are the same colour. But why would she have been trying to find him? They had been together immediately beforehand, in fact they had just sailed away from one another. And that woman had been with others, including the stranger, and it seemed like they were asking everyone to try to find this Steven. It seems much more likely that this Steven is a stranger, and they're all looking for him. That's probably why the orange one is here now. But which one here is Steven?”

Then it finally dawned on him. The orange one had been talking to the strangers, if Steven was one of the ones in the room, he would have found him by now. That left only one possibility, the one in the box. No one else had opened the lid while he had been here, so that had to be it. But did the orange one even know that there was someone in there? He was just standing there, at that table, as though he didn't know what to do. Karma glanced out the window, where it seemed that the sun was just starting to go down. He was going to have to do something or he would lose this chance.
Karma took a deep breath and strode up to the light-skinned man with the yellow eyes. “Sir, do you not wish to pay your respects?”, he said, gesturing towards the casket. “Everyone else has already done so, and we'll be closing soon.“
The yellow-eyed man looked at him. There was nothing he could do now, he couldn't turn or back away or risk having his advice be ignored. He had made the choice to intervene, and he could tell the other man knew what he was. Karma wasn't sure how he would respond, but he said nothing, he just walked up to the casket and put his hands on the lid. Karma positioned himself at the other side of the casket and watched anxiously as the orange one lifted the lid.

He said nothing at first, he just stared at the body inside. Karma had expected that it might look different, but it was still the same grey figure that it had been before.
Sister... “, he said, finally.
Sister?”, Karma wondered, perplexed. Not Steven?
Sister!”, the orange one cried, lifting the body's hand, which simply fell back down the moment he released it. “What are you doing?”, he demanded of her. “Answer me!”
His reaction was just like before, when the stranger had seen her little friend struck by that vehicle. But what did it mean?

Fear. It always came back to fear. The orange one must have seen someone else in that casket, like he had for a moment. This “Sister” must be his friend, and he was afraid that something might happen to her. He needed to confront his fear and-

Karma's thought process was interrupted as the grey body began to speak, and suddenly he saw it too, rather than a grey figure the body in the casket was one of a calico-furred woman, one of their own kind rather than a stranger. “Why, Corsair? Why did you leave me? I needed you. Why?”, she demanded. Karma froze up in shock as the girl quickly reached out and grabbed the light-skinned man's throat. “Stay with me”, she said, “stay forever.” The glass he had been holding shattered on the ground, and the casket tipped backwards, smashing through the window behind and tumbling out of the room with the orange one in tow. Karma regained his composure and rushed to the window in time to see the orange one and the casket fall into a large hole a long way below, which quickly filled up with dirt, trapping them inside. He glanced back into the room, but all of the people were gone now, and most of the lights had gone out. Karma swore under his breath and ran for the door to the room. It opened into a stairwell, and he flew down the stairs until finally he saw daylight. He burst out of the doors and into the yard beyond, where he quickly found the mound of dirt where the orange one had been buried. The world seemed to be spinning around him and his vision was starting to blur, but he got down on his knees and started scraping in the dirt with his hands. It was packed tightly and he could barely make any progress on it.

Come on!” he shouted angrily as his fingers began to tear and bleed from the coarseness of the dirt. How had this happened? It seemed like he was about to make a breakthrough towards finding Line, and then it had all fallen apart in an instant. He struck the ground with his fist, but that only packed the dirt tighter. The world around him was disappearing, already the building that they had been in earlier was gone, and he was hardly making any progress at all. The sky went dark, and he could hear the sound of the waves rolling in. He wasn't going to make it. The orange one was doomed, because of him, and there was nothing he could do. He could see that panther as it lay there bleeding to death, and all he could do was run, run away to safety.

Not again. Never again.”

Karma took a deep breath to steady his heart rate, emptied his mind of extraneous thoughts, and let his senses take over. His entire being was a weapon, sharpened for this very purpose. He barred his claws and tore into the dirt with all the anger and rage that he had tried to bury within him. He imagined himself shredding the hunters who shot his friend as he should have done long ago. He could hear their screams in his ears and taste their blood on his lips, as the Destroyer released his fury on all of those who had wronged and tormented him. The carnal pleasure of submitting to his deepest desires was so strong that for a moment he wondered if he ever wanted to go back to being Karma, and then his paw broke through to the box and it was all over. The rest of the dirt fell away, and there was the lifeless body of the orange one, along with the casket, and the faceless, grey-skinned dummy. His breathing was weak, but he was still alive. Karma picked up his body and carried him back towards his ship.
What demons lie in your mind?”, he wondered aloud, though in truth it was his own demons that scared him far more.

The orange-furred one didn't wake up when he got him aboard his ship, so once again he was faced with the tricky problem of trying to sneak him back onto his own ship without being detected. He pulled up alongside the other ship, which was floating nearby, and quickly placed a board across the gap. He hurried over to the other side and propped the orange one up against the ship's wheel, then turned to make his getaway.
But this time there was someone blocking his way. An orange-furred woman with a fierce look on her face and a sword in her paw.
You returned him to us, so I'll let you go, but know this”, she said, pointing her sword at his throat. “We don't need any of your darkness. If you try to come after us, you'll regret it”.
Perhaps you should tell him that”, Karma replied tersely, pushing her sword away. The woman scowled as he cut past her, back to his own ship, and she didn't avert her gaze until his ship was well away.

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