Fear The Dawn: Chapter 42

At first he thought he must have imagined it.
Karma hadn't been checking the signals that often as of late, so it might well have been several nights before he even noticed the reappearance of the fourth signal. It was extremely faint, but as he sailed towards it it continued to appear night after night, so he knew there had to be something there.

But who could it be? And how? His mind raced as he tried to figure it out. He scoured the events of the past few mornings in his head, but as far as he could tell he had done nothing out of the ordinary that might account for it. Could it be that the others had done something? They had stumbled upon success before, but somehow with the one called Corsair being gone he felt like that was unlikely, since his departure the rest of them seemed to have lost their spark. Or perhaps Corsair had somehow come back? Karma had come back on his own, or near as he could tell, so perhaps it was possible. Could Lace have had something to do with this? He could hardly contain all of his questions, but unfortunately the anticipation just made the next few nights seem intolerably slow. Much as he tried to hurry through the mornings so he could get back to sailing, it felt like an eternity before he finally glimpsed the faint outline of a ship on the horizon.

Despite his excitement he was cautious in his approach. There were at least three possibilities as to which ship this might be, and he did not want to wander in unprepared lest he squander the chance he had been given. Raising his sails at a safe distance, he stood atop his perch and scanned the ship with his spyglass, looking for a clue as to whom the ship might belong to.
Yet there were none to be found.
The deck of the ship seemed completely deserted, much as Lace's ship had the last time he had been there. It was possible its inhabitants might all be below deck, but somehow he couldn't help but feel apprehensive. He continued to keep an eye on the ship for a little while, but still there was no sign of anyone at all. Karma looked out towards the horizon. The sun had not risen yet, but he couldn't take the chance that the other ship might disappear when the sun set the next day, he had to go in for a closer look tonight. He hopped down from his perch and leapt over the railing to swim to the other ship.

It was no less quiet when he climbed aboard the ship. There was no sign of a towel anywhere, so he had no choice but to shake his fur dry, sending a spray of water droplets splashing down on the deck like a heavy rain. He wondered if somewhat might be alerted by the noise, but if they were they made no sign of it. Karma took a moment to listen carefully for any sound, on a wooden ship like this if someone was to move around the boards would usually creak, but it was eerily silent.
They must be below deck”, he thought, walking over to the hatch and lifting it open. As he prepared to climb down the ladder he was nearly overwhelmed by a thick, musty smell, not unlike what he would expect to find in an old castle or ancient ruin. He took a last breath of clean air and descended the ladder.

Below deck was even more desolate than it had been above. There was no light save for what little starlight filtered in through the boards above, and everything was cloaked in a thick layer of dust. He tried the handle to one of the rooms, and his paw came back completely grey. Inside the room were a few pieces of plain furniture which seemed like they hadn't been touched in an extremely long time. He closed the door behind him, adding a fresh layer of dust to his paw. He slowly made his way down the hall, listening carefully for any sign of the ship's inhabitants, though he was growing increasingly sceptical that anyone had been down here in a long time. He eventually reached the common room, which looked no more inhabited than the others. Actually, this room was in some disrepair, much of the furniture was lying on its side, though it didn't show other obvious signs of damage, it might simply have fallen over and never been cleaned up. Like everywhere else below deck, the dust was thick here too, coating the entire room in a soft grey film. He didn't disturb anything inside the room, it was clear he wouldn't find what he was looking for here.

For all his own ship might have been a dreary place, this one was even worse. While he spent his nights trapped aboard a floating prison surrounded by reminders of his past mistakes, this ship felt much more like a tomb. It wasn't simply broken, it was completely devoid of life, as though nothing had ever been there. As he walked back towards the ladder he couldn't help but be struck by what a waste it all was – there were facilities here for many people, but no one was using them, so they simply waited, building up thicker and thicker layers of dust with each passing night.

Back above deck, Karma took a quick check inside the captain's cabin, though it was also empty. It wasn't as dusty as the rooms below deck had been, which gave him some encouragement, but there were still no obvious signs that anyone had been there recently. Although he had checked quite carefully from his own ship, he decided to give the deck a last check to see if he had missed anything, but his search proved fruitless. The ship seemed to be well and truly abandoned.
A floating derelict?”, he wondered. But no, it couldn't be. If it had been around for a long time, he would have noticed its signal before now, and he recalled that when the calico-furred one had disappeared, her ship was totally gone until she returned. There had to be someone around somewhere, but where?
As if to answer his question, he caught the faintest whisper of a voice: “There's no one here, please, just go away.” It seemed so distant that he wondered if it was just in his head, but then he had an idea where it might be coming from. He walked to the railing and jumped down into the water below.

Back on his own ship, Karma sailed away to a safe distance and pulled out his spyglass. Sure enough, through the lens he could see a small brown figure peering over the crow's nest, then slowly climbing down once they were convinced the coast was clear.
She must have hidden up there the entire time, watching him search the ship and waiting for him to leave. It made him feel terrible to think about it, the first time they had met her she had greeted them enthusiastically, this time she simply cowered in fear. He couldn't really blame her either after how they had acted, it was just another reminder that his crimes would not be so easily forgotten.
Karma tried to put aside his feelings of remorse for now. Whatever state she was in, Lapse had returned from the world of the strangers. Was it possible that Line had come back as well? He went to check the signals, but there were still only four. Line was still out there, and that brought Karma to the unfortunate realization that Line was now waiting for someone who would never return. Any hope that this situation would resolve itself had now been lost, if he was going to get Line back he would have to go and retrieve him, and he would likely need Lapse's help. He looked through the spyglass again. Once again, she seemed to have disappeared, likely gone off to hide somewhere else just in case someone was still lingering around. He could probably find her now, but he knew he couldn't risk confronting her. As things were now, she would probably just flee into the world of the strangers again and then he might never find her. He needed a better plan than that.

If he couldn't talk to her, perhaps someone else could. What about Pack? They were close, and he had been searching for her for a long time. He could try to seek him out and let him know where she was. Surely she wouldn't hide from him, but then again, the last time he had seen Pack he had given up hope on ever finding her again, and whether he had meant to or not, Pack had been the one who chased off Lapse in the first place. As he was now, he might well do it again, and he couldn't take that chance.
Was there anyone else? Lace could be possible, she was kind and gentle and seemed able to relate to Lapse's situation, but he was hesitant to involve her in this matter further. She had already taken a great number of risks to help him this far and he didn't want to see her get hurt if they were to fail. It was an option, but only as a last resort.
Think”, he told himself as he paced up and down the deck of his ship. “There has to be another way.”
Just then he caught a glimpse of something out on the ocean. There was another ship approaching Lapse's ship from the other side! He hadn't noticed it at first, but it was drawing close enough to be seen clearly now. He hurried to the helm and set his course to circle around the other ship.
Who was it? Did they also know that Lapse was here?”
Once he had retreated from sight, he pulled out his spyglass for a closer look. This ship wasn't all that lively either, but there were a few people on deck, and he had no trouble spotting the captain near the helm.
The calico.”
He knew immediately that that was the answer. The calico was very friendly towards others, even towards the strangers and himself. She could help Lapse. What Lapse really needed was a friend, her fear and pain all seemed to stem from her loneliness. Perhaps if the calico could be her friend, he might yet get a chance to speak with her about Line. He watched the calico sail right up to the Lapse's ship, in fact from where he was watching it almost looked like they had collided. She carefully ventured onto the other ship, and he saw her search around a bit, as he had done. It seemed that she didn't know of Lapse's whereabouts either, and he wondered if Lapse would hide from her, too. Finally she returned to the deck and went to check the helm. Karma was worried that she would end up leaving, but somehow Lapse seemed to appear from near the wheel. He couldn't tell what was being said, but they seemed to be talking. A short while later, the calico got up and returned to her ship, and she started to sail away.

That's it?”, Karma wondered to himself. It didn't seem like it had been nearly enough. He turned his spyglass on the calico, but she seemed to be upset. He wondered if perhaps she didn't know whom that ship belonged to and she had been hoping it was her orange friend instead. More likely, she simply didn't feel up to helping anyone anymore. She had seemed like a completely different person the last time he saw her, and he had wanted to believe that was just temporary grief, but looking at her now it didn't seem that way. Still, he couldn't let this chance slip away. He had to do something. There was only one thing he could do.
Poor little Calico”, he sighed. “Once you were a friend to all, but now what have you become?” She was sailing in his direction, and the sun was starting to come up. “I'm sorry to do this, but for everyone's sake, you must remember who you are.”
He set his course to intercept her with the sun rising at his back.


Karma regained his senses to the soft droning of raindrops falling nearby. He wasn't getting wet, so he must have had some sort of shelter, but the rain was falling hard. He opened his eyes and found himself at the wheel of one of those stranger vehicles. It was already dark, and he could hardly see out the glass pane in front of him for all the water, but periodically a strange blade came out and wiped it away momentarily. He leaned forward and peered through the bottom of the glass to see better. A series of floating lights lit the road ahead, and they continued straight ahead for as far as he could see.
This wasn't quite what I expected”, he thought. He supposed people could be afraid of rain, it was cold and it made your fur feel terrible if you stood in it for too long, but he thought that was a bit of a stretch. Besides, he needed the calico to help Lapse, so whatever darkness she had to overcome had to have something to do with helping others. Maybe he was supposed to hit someone with this vehicle again, the stranger had been terribly upset the last time that happened, but he didn't relish the thought of doing so.
Please don't fight with mommy again”.
The voice startled Karma so much that he almost lost control of the vehicle, he had to quickly steady himself to stay on the road. There was no one sitting in the seat beside him, he hadn't even considered the possibility that there might be someone in the back. Once the car was stable again he craned his neck around to see who was there. A little stranger with short brown hair was sitting in the back seat, looking nervous.
Could this be the calico?”, he wondered, taking a moment to check the road in front of him again. The person was looking down at the floor, so he couldn't get a good look at their face. He needed to keep them talking.
What do you mean? I'm not going to fight anyone”, he replied.
The little person looked up. It was a small man, and he had the darkened eyes of a stranger. “Yes you are, you and mommy always argue over me, even when you say you won't. Please, just drop me off and head home.”
Karma returned his eyes to the road and mused over what he had been told. So the stranger feared some kind of confrontation between himself and someone else, this “mommy”, but where was the calico? Had she not made it? It would be a terrible waste to go to all this effort and have her not be here.
The road continued on and on, but he noticed that it seemed to get darker in the distance. It wasn't until he got a bit closer that he noticed that there were no lights past a certain point. He eventually reached the last light and brought the vehicle to a stop. He looked in both directions. The lights continued to the right, so he spun the wheel and moved the vehicle that way, and once again he found himself on a well-lit road.
That's handy”, he thought, “the lights seem to tell me where to go.”
With his mind freed up from navigation, Karma turned his thoughts back to the situation with the little stranger. He hoped that Karma would just drop him off and leave, but he knew that if he left the stranger alone he'd find himself back at his ship right away. If there was anything to be accomplished tonight, he'd have to do exactly what the man feared and confront the mommy. He had some idea what he was in for, he had encountered something like that once before while in an ancient tomb. They were awful things, covered from head to foot in white bandages except for their terrible giant eyes, but if he had to fight one to help Lapse and the others he would manage somehow. Maybe he could hit it with the vehicle, that would make things easier. He still wanted to know how the calico fit into all of this, but he figured he'd just have to play along for now and hope she showed up.

Eventually the lights lead Karma to a small house, the first one that had been lit up since he started. The road lead right up to the house, so he turned the wheel and brought the car to a stop. There was a woman waiting outside for them, and the little stranger got out of the vehicle, so he did too, eyes peeled for the mommy. The rain was still coming down hard and he immediately felt a number of droplets against his skin.
No sooner had he gotten out of the vehicle did the woman start laying into him. “You stupid ass, you're two hours late! You were supposed to be here at seven! We had plans tonight!”
It took him a moment to realize that the woman was actually talking to him, but already he felt a retort forming in the back of his mind: “Are you blind, woman?! Look at the weather, it took us ages to get here! And you dropped him off late last time anyway!”. He wasn't sure what all of that meant, but it sure felt good to yell it at her. He noticed the little stranger looked horrified. This had to be the mommy. Maybe this was what they looked like with the bandages off, she did have have the same horrible eyes.
You're lucky I let you see him at all!”, she continued. “I've told the judge all about your temper!”
He didn't exactly understand everything about their argument, but he had the gist of what to say, and he knew enough colourful language to fill in the rest. The woman looked angry enough to explode, so he tried to match her vitriol as best he could. The little stranger ran off and hid somewhere.
What's going on? What's wrong?”, a small voice protested. He glanced to the side and saw that there was another woman standing there in the rain. It was the first that he'd noticed her, she had dark hair and dark clothes and almost blended in to the rainy night. He caught a quick glimpse of her blue eyes and knew it had to be the calico. She continued trying to plead with them, but the mommy didn't even seem to notice her.
This isn't her role here”, he realized. The mommy barely even seemed to listen to him, much less to the calico. If she was to do anything useful here, it'd have to be with the little stranger, wherever he'd gotten to. Karma was relieved to know that she was here, however, and it let him focus on creating this disturbance. He was actually quite enjoying it now, happily stringing together every curse and obscenity he knew and throwing them at this awful woman. He desperately wanted to kill her, to reach over there, rip her throat out and taste her blood, but he knew he wasn't supposed to. He had to keep the Destroyer under control, there was far more at stake here than his own satisfaction. He settled for simply telling the woman about all the ways he would enjoy maiming and torturing her in between their verbal jabs. She didn't seem to be intimidated by it in the slightest, in fact she even had some interesting ideas of her own for what she would do to him. He actually felt a certain affinity for the woman, he had never met anyone else who was so full of anger and hate. She was a Destroyer too, he realized, and just as he had hurt his friends here it was the stranger that was suffering.
We should stop this”, he said, “the little one is the one getting hurt.”
I suppose you're right”, the mommy replied. “I can put up with you for a moment if it's for his sake. Where did he go, anyway?”
They both took a look around, but he was nowhere to be seen. Just then the little stranger emerged from behind a bush. He walked up to the mommy, and she wrapped her arms around him. Karma got back inside his vehicle and drove back out onto the road, this time heading away from the lights. The rain had let up now, and he thought he caught a glimpse of the calico waving to the little stranger from behind the bush.
I hope that did the trick”, he thought to himself as he drove down the street towards his ship. He wasn't exactly used to the concept of helping people, but it seemed he'd have to learn if he ever hoped to see his friends again.

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