Fear The Dawn: Chapter 39

That should do it”, he thought, setting the newly-restored chair down on the wooden floor. He pressed down on the seat with a paw to test it. He hadn't been able to get all four legs perfectly lined up and it had a bit of a wobble, but it seemed sturdy enough. He stood up and took a step back to admire his work. Apart from a few marks on the walls and floors, there was almost no sign that the Destroyer's had been here. He stepped out of the cabin and closed the door. The ship was starting to look presentable again, and it no longer bothered him so much to come down here. There was only one room left, the common room at the end of the hall where he had last seen Banshee. He hadn't attempted to fix that room yet, whenever he opened the door the memories of that night just came flooding back and he lost his desire to work. There would be a time to face those demons, but not tonight. Tonight a different sort of challenge awaited him.

Karma returned to the deck and retrieved his spyglass. There was no sign of any other ships yet, but he knew they had to be close by now. Over the past few nights he had concocted a rudimentary plan of what he was going to do. Once he determined which ship belonged to the one called Pack, he would watch from a distance until the coast was fairly clear, then he would bring his ship as close as he dared and sneak aboard. If he met anyone, he would calmly tell them that he had something important to tell the captain, as though it was nothing out of the ordinary for him to be there. One he found the grey-furred one, he would tell what he knew about Lapse. He had been over the conversation a number of times in his mind already, figuring out what he would say:
Who are you? How did you get here?”
That is not important. I have important information about Lapse.”
How do you know about her? Have you done something to her?!”
I heard of her one morning by chance. She currently resides in the world of the strangers.”
Why tell me this?”
We have a common interest in her safe return. Good luck on your search.”

He had no idea what Pack would say after that, though he was hoping he would be so surprised that he would be able to slip away. Nevertheless, thinking about it made him terribly nervous. He tried to remember the wolf, who had bravely confronted the circle of strangers. He faced them calmly, logically, and without fear or anger, and they had accepted him. Unfortunately, he was no wolf. Their fears of the wolf were unfounded, it had not harmed anyone, but Karma could make no similar claim for himself. He had a hand in Lapse's disappearance. Had Lapse told Pack about him, and how they had hurt her? If so, he could hardly imagine that Pack would just let him walk out of there.
If you still want to kill me, then kill me”.
When he heard the wolf's ultimatum, he had no doubt that they would kill him, and it seemed many would have done so if not for the man with the red hair. What had gone through the wolf's mind at that time? Was he prepared for that outcome?
Karma shook his head. He couldn't afford to die yet. If something went wrong, he would find a way to escape, somehow. Surviving was something he knew well. Plenty of strangers had tried to kill him, and yet he was still here. He would not die tonight, either.
Karma hopped up to his favourite perch atop the base of the sail to take another look at the horizon with his spyglass. This time, he spotted the outline of a ship. They were coming. Despite his resolve, for the moment he was glad to stay hidden, cloaked against the dark sail. The time to step out into the light would come soon enough.

His plans went awry almost immediately. First of all, the outline he saw on the horizon was not one ship, but three, all together. He had known they were close together from the signals, but he hadn't expected to find them all in the same place. That complicated things: although it gave him a better chance of finding Pack, it also gave him a better chance of getting caught, and made any potential escape that much more difficult. To make matters worse, he couldn't find anyone he recognized aboard any of the decks. The orange-furred one, his calico-coloured friend, Pack, Lace, none of them were anywhere to be found, in fact the ships themselves were almost silent, only a few stragglers were milling about above deck. Then the last straw came when he finally saw someone he did recognize – it was that woman with the orange fur who had threatened him that night he brought the captain back to their ship. She seemed to be on patrol, moving purposefully from one place to another. One time he even thought he caught her looking right out towards him.
Well, that settles it”, he thought, putting his spyglass away. “There's no way I'm speaking to him tonight”. He might be able to reason with the rest of them, but it was out of the question with her, she had made that clear enough the first time they had met. She was a good fighter, too, he could see that in her eyes, if she was there any kind of escape would be especially dicey. He sat down on his perch to wait for morning, simultaneously disappointed and relieved.

He checked on the other ships a few more times that night, but there was little point now, even if the orange-furred woman went away it was too late for him to make it back before the sun rose. His main concern now was to try to identify which ship was which. Only three of the ships were present, which brought the possibility that the missing ship might belong to Pack, but so far all he could determine was that one of the ships must belong to the orange-furred captain he had met before.
The last time they were all together, they were celebrating their success”, he recalled. The scene aboard the other ships could scarcely be more different now. The deck was nearly empty and the few people he could see were largely keeping to themselves. “I hope something hasn't gone wrong”.
Karma's ears perked up. Somewhere down below, he heard a splashing sound. He turned his spyglass towards the water in front of his ship, but he couldn't see anything. He dismissed it as a large wave, but then he heard it again. He stood back up on his perch, hiding himself against the sail, and looked down towards the water, where he spied a figure swimming towards his ship. He couldn't make out who it was from this distance, but they were very close now. He caught a glimpse of orange fur.
Was it the woman? Had she come to get him?
The figure grabbed the rope ladder and began to climb. As it pulled itself over the side, he realized it was not the woman, but rather the orange-furred captain who had sought him out before. Just what did he want?
You've come again, orange one”, he called down from his perch. “Does not the cold bother you?”
Being cold's the least of my problems”, he replied, though Karma could hear the suffering in his voice. He had a black towel hung on the end of the sail for when he returned that night, and he knocked it down with his foot.
Whatever you told Pack didn't help. Now he seems worse than ever.”
Karma almost slipped down from his perch. Not only did the orange one know that he had spoken to Pack, but something must have gone wrong. Now he really had to find Pack and tell him what he knew about Lapse, but would he even be willing to listen again?
That is... unfortunate”, he said, dropping down from his perch. “But I told him nothing. What he found, he found within himself. I had hoped it would lead him down the right path”. He still couldn't believe that things could have gotten worse after that night, he had been so sure that Pack had made a breakthrough. Had something else happened afterwards?
He hoped to learn more, but the orange-furred man changed the subject. “The others are no better. They both want me solely for themselves. I can't even speak to one without angering the other.”
The others? He wondered who that might mean. The calico-coloured woman from that morning, perhaps? Then he recalled something from that night where he had seen Pack. At first, there were others taunting Pack, the orange-furred man and two others, the calico one and a white-furred woman he didn't recognize. It seemed like they might all be related to this situation, somehow. He needed to know more.
So what will you do, orange one?”
He buried his face in his paw. “I don't know. But I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to choose just one friend to spend all my time with at the expense of all others. I can't do that.”
Friends weren't something Karma knew much about, Line had been the closest thing he had ever had to a friend, and he hadn't realized it until it was too late. The orange-furred man was afraid of something, though, that much was clear. The last morning, it seemed that he was afraid of losing his friend. He had looked at that box, and then that woman with the calico fur had appeared, and then...
Stay with me... stay forever.”
He finally understood. It wasn't the fear that something would happen to her, what truly scared him was what happened afterwards, when they fell out of the window and into the ground. It hadn't occurred to him at the time, but they must have been trapped together for some time before he was able to get them out.
I see”, he said, stroking his chin with his paw. “The loss of your freedom scares you more than the loss of your friends.”
That... that's not true”, he said, but Karma could tell that it was. “I just can't let this tear us apart.”
In that moment, he was surprised to find that he sympathized with the orange-furred man. “Then why are you here? You should be with them. If you spurn your friends, you'll regret it.”
I can't help them. Anything I do just makes things worse. The help they need is out there”. The orange-furred man pointed to the horizon. The sun hadn't appeared yet, but Karma knew what he meant. In a certain sense, he had a point. It did seem that somehow, everything was connected to that other world. He had been there, and it had changed him for the better. Yet Line and Lapse had not come back. There was still so much about that world that they didn't understand. The risk was too high.
And what if you never come back?”, he asked. “Do you think that will help?”
Anguish showed on the orange man's face. “Some would prefer I not come back. Either way, I have to try.”
There was no question now that something had happened among the others. He needed more time to investigate. “Orange one. You should not act hastily out of pain. Many more will be hurt.”
How is it that you know so much, anyway?”
Karma closed his eyes. “I know nothing. All I have are theories and regrets”. That much was the truth. For all of his efforts, he had made almost no progress towards finding Line. The only things that had gone right were chance encounters that he still didn't fully understand. He could tell that the orange one was not convinced. He took a moment to collect his thoughts, and tried to put his experience into words.
The darkness holds some answers, yes, but no solution. The only truth lies inside your own heart.”
I'm sure that's good advice”, the orange-furred man said. “But in my heart there is only confusion and pain.”
When Karma opened his eyes again, the man was gone. Should he have said something different? Somehow, it seemed like the man was doomed to repeat the Destroyer's mistakes. Was that really the only way?
Only once we lose everything can we see what we truly are”, he noted, solemnly.


This isn't my business”, he told himself. “What the orange one chooses to do has no bearing on me.” He couldn't fully convince himself, though.
Karma hadn't needed the signals to figure out what happened that morning, his eyes worked well enough. When he returned that night, where there had once been three ships, there were only two.
He certainly hadn't ever expected that. When he went away, he was all alone, but there were many people on that ship. Had the orange one taken them all with him? Had they all wished to go? The woman with the orange fur had been right to be suspicious of him. He had no idea how much was at stake. It was just as he said, his own knowledge was pitifully inadequate, and remained so.

The other ships dispersed quickly, heading off in separate directions. He supposed they were searching for the missing ship, but the signals instantly informed him of the futility of that venture. One, two, three... and that was it. Once again the ocean had become a quieter, more desolate place. He wondered if he would eventually be the only one left, drifting alone in an empty ocean with his guilt and mistakes.
Once they were out of sight, he found himself heading back to the place where the missing ship had been. “Perhaps it's not too late”, he thought, recalling how once before he had only felt three signals, yet that time the other ship had managed to come back, somehow. That time, the air near where the other ship had disappeared felt heavy and thick, like there was something there he just couldn't see, but this time it just felt stale and dead, as though the ship had taken the very life of the world with it when it left. Though he was feeling increasingly ill at ease to remain there, he climbed down the rope ladder and dove under the water. The last time he had heard a voice down there, calling out for help, but now there was only cold, all-encompassing silence. Below the surface of the water there was neither wind nor light, the ever-present creaking of the ship fell silent, even the waves above made only the faintest swoosh as they passed overhead. It was peaceful in a certain sense, free from the troubles of the world above, and he contemplated simply staying down there and letting it all fade away, but something drove him back to the surface. His work wasn't done yet.
Whatever you told Pack didn't work”, the orange one had said, “now he seems worse than ever”.
He needed to leave this place and find Pack before it was too late for him, too. He stepped back onto the ladder and dipped his tail in the water, but perhaps because of his soaking body, the dead air surrounding him, or his waning resolve, the signals would not come.
Not now”, he thought, climbing back aboard his ship to dry himself off, yet when he tried again there was still nothing. He tried to remember the directions of the signals from earlier, but he hadn't been paying close attention at the time and he had sailed around the area a bit, and now he had completely lost track of which direction he started from. He swore under his breath and tried to shut everything out of his mind, but there was too much. Line was gone. Banshee was gone. Lapse was gone. The orange one and his entire crew were gone. Pack was in trouble. He was only a few ships short of having wiped out the entire ocean. The Destroyer had wanted that once, or rather, he had wanted it. To stand alone at the top, victorious over everyone. Revenge against the strangers. Revenge against the hunters who made him feel powerless. Destruction, victory, revenge, and an empty ocean, with no signals.

He tried for a long time, it was only the warmth of the sun that let him know it was time to give up. He had become too reliant on the signals, he knew that now. He climbed back onto the deck to retrieve his spyglass, perhaps somehow he would just be able to see Pack's ship in the morning light, but he didn't even get that far. One of the other ships had come back, he spotted them right away. If they saw him now, where the ship had gone missing, there was only one conclusion to be made, and at this point he couldn't even dispute its legitimacy. It was too late for him to get away now, but the sun was nearly up. There was no way to know if the other ship had spotted him before the light took him away.


In stark contrast to the silence of the night, Karma found himself in a very noisy place that was full of strangers. When he opened his eyes, he saw that there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of them. He didn't think he had ever seen so many in one place before.
Could the members of the missing ship have come here?”, he wondered. There were so many that it seemed possible, but had no idea how to go about finding them. When he had found Line, he had recognized him through his words, but he was barely familiar with the crew of that other ship at all. They could be right in front of his face and he would probably never realize it.
He needed to find the stranger. There was always one stranger upon whom the whole world seemed to balance, they would say the most important things and if they were killed the night would come back. No matter what the morning held, it all began from there.
Karma took a moment to survey his surroundings. The entire area was indoors, a single giant room that seemed to go on forever. Apart from the sea of strangers, there seemed to be almost nothing inside, the giant walls were plain and featureless, and though he could see the sky through an opening in the ceiling there didn't appear to be anything interesting up there, either. This seemed to be about the worst place possible if you were trying to find someone, they could be anywhere and there was no obvious clue as to where to look.
Most of the strangers seemed to be talking amongst one another. He tried listening to what some of the strangers near him were saying, but while he could pick out some words here and there there were simply too many voices talking at once for him to make sense of it. He tried to cut through the crowd towards one side of the room, but they barely paid him any attention and he almost had to force them out of his way to get through. He finally reached the wall, but things weren't any more clear from there, as far as he could see it was just the same thing, crowds of people standing around and talking. The route he had taken to reach the wall had already vanished, the people he had pushed out of the way had filled it back in the moment he came through, and were back to talking like nothing had ever happened.
I'll never find the stranger like this”, he thought. “Not with all these people standing around.”
Then an idea came to him. They were all just standing around. When he cut through the crowd, he had been the only one who was actually going anywhere. If there was anyone else who was actually trying to make their way through the crowd, it'd have to be the stranger. He tried to stretch out to see above the crowd, but he wasn't tall enough, he could only see a short distance in front of himself. Along the wall a short distance away there was some sort of platform, so he pushed through the crowd towards it. There were some people sitting on it, but he pushed them out of the way and climbed up. From here, he could see much more of the crowd, so he looked carefully for any sign of movement. His sharp eyes finally caught sight of a ripple working its way through the crowd on the other side of the room. “There!”, he thought, quickly cutting through the crowd toward the other moving entity. He had to guess where they were going, because it would take him some time to get there, and he hoped they wouldn't miss each other.

Karma was knocked to the ground. “Hey, be careful!”, snapped the person he had hit, picking themselves up. It was a woman, and she barely seemed to pay him any attention, a quick glance and she was back on her feet again, working her way through the crowd. He was about to say something, but someone else spoke first.
Excuse me”, someone from the crowd said to her.
What is it?”, she replied quickly.
He recognized her, somehow. For a moment, he wondered if it might be that orange-furred woman from the missing ship. She certainly seemed to have the demeanour for it, but somehow it didn't seem right.
I'm lost, can you help me?”, the other person said. He needed to take a closer look to see who it was, the speaker was much shorter than the others in the crowd. While the woman had barely paid Karma the slightest attention, it seemed like the little one needed help, which likely marked him as the stranger. The woman was probably one of them, instead, but just who was she, and what was she doing here?
I don't have time to help you now”, the woman said. “I'm busy, I also have to look for someone”.
The calico. She was the orange one's friend. He recognized the shrill sound of her voice from when he had seen her in that wooden box. They had met once before, too, when they were all looking for Steven, though she seemed very different then. “Wait!”, he called to her, but she had already left the two of them. She didn't know that what she was searching for wouldn't be found here. Or maybe she did.
Karma looked down at the little stranger, who was still standing there, looking upset.
I could help you”, he offered.
Who asked you?”, the stranger replied, turning away and disappearing into the crowd.
Who indeed. He had done enough. Karma pushed his way toward the far end of the room, and the crowd began to thin out. The room eventually opened up into the sea, and he found his ship waiting for him. He quickly left that place, not wanting to be found by the others when they returned.

When he was a safe distance away, he tried to read the signals again. For a moment, he thought he had something, but he got so excited that he quickly lost it again. After that he was so frustrated that nothing else came to him that night.
How did I ever manage before I learned about this?”, he wondered. In the past, he never really cared too much about where the other ships went. He ran into them every now and again, and that was enough for him. The black sails of his ship were to allow him to remain hidden, not to find others, perhaps that was why he seemed so terribly unsuited to this task. He had done his best, but this was not his place. He would never be one of them, and the more he tried to change that the more he made things worse.
Time was running out. The orange one had said that Pack seemed worse than ever. He had to tell him that Lapse had become a stranger before he disappeared, too. He tried sailing around for a few nights, checking the waters with his spyglass, but he had no success. When had things ever been that easy for him? When had anything ever gone right in his entire life?

The signals were the only way, and he knew it. Karma shut his eyes, and stood on the deck in perfect silence for a moment. Slowly, he walked over to the side of his ship and felt around for the ladder. When he felt the rope underneath his paw, he slowly began to climb down. He had done this so many times now that he knew instinctively how many rungs there were. He could hear the water beating against his ship, like a heartbeat from the ocean. He dipped his tail in the water, and waited.
Please”, he thought, “I have to see Pack.”
There was still nothing.
He was beginning to feel a bit strange, like he was somehow slipping away from that place. He forced himself not to dwell on it.
I found the Black Ship...”
Faintly, he thought he heard someone's voice.
I understand now why you tried to keep me away from it.”
He couldn't see the speaker, but it was Pack, he recognized the voice.
You mean... you also saw... something terrible?”
It was the voice of the orange one. But that was impossible! As he tried to understand what could be going on, the voices started to fade out. He forced his mind to merely listen and not think, and they started to come back.
Yes. It was awful, but now I understand what I was doing wrong. Corsair, I need you to tell me the rest.”
The rest of what?”
The rest of how to find Lapse.”
But I don't-”
Look, I get it now. I was a prideful fool who let my self-image control me, and it cost me everything. Even then, I wouldn't accept anyone's help, I just tried to find her on my own. And I failed. So now I'm asking you to help me. Tell me what it was you did to find Steven.”

In his mind, Karma could faintly see them now. They were speaking on a ship, Pack and the orange one. It seemed the orange one was named Corsair.
Corsair continued to speak. “But that's just it. I don't know how it happened. I just came straight back after I met the captain of the Black Ship. On the way back, I found Steven.”
But... I've already done that! You mean to tell me it was just a coincidence that you found Steven? That it was just some... dumb luck?!”
There might have been some trick to it I don't yet understand. I've been working on-”
Pack was beside himself. “No, no, it can't be! The Black Ship showed that to me for a reason. It was telling me to trust others! You must know something else!”
Look, I know that answer's not good enough. That's why I'm trying to find a better one. I may not know, but I bet the strangers do. Maybe he was telling you to trust them!”
Pack's voice was gravelly and hoarse. “So you really do know nothing. I've tried. I've tried asking them so many times. They don't know. No one knows where she is. There's nothing left. She's... not coming back.”
Corsair tried to argue with him, but it was too late. “Pack, no! You can't say that!”
I never had your dumb luck, Corsair. I just had hope. And a fat lot of good it did for anyone.”

The voices went away, but he could see the despair on Pack's face as clearly as if he had been standing next to him. A tear ran down the fur on his cheek, and he could see the ocean again. He had returned. He tried to climb up the ladder, but he barely had any strength in his arms. He pulled himself over the railing and flopped down on the deck.
It's over”, he thought. “Corsair was right, I made everything worse. Lapse is lost. Line will never return. It's all my fault.”
It was all he could do to flip himself over onto his back. He looked up to the stars above, silent, unchanging, indifferent to the affairs of those below. What had his life been worth? All he had ever brought to anyone was pain and suffering.
I tried to do something good, but the Destroyer won out in the end.”
Another tear landed on the deck beside him. His eyes started to droop and the stars above him gradually faded away.

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