Fear The Dawn: Chapter 44

Karma prepared himself for the worst, but when he opened his eyes he was greeted by a sight completely unlike anything he had expected. Brightly coloured plants of countless different varieties surrounded him on all sides, and the sky was a clear blue with hardly a cloud to be seen. The sun shone down brightly upon the tranquil scene, and all was quiet except for the gentle rustling of the wind through the trees.
This can't be right”, he thought. The girl had warned him of grave danger. Had he not made it in time? Karma looked about for the others, but there was not another soul to be found as far as he could see. Not the calico, nor the white-furred captain of Lace's ship, nor anyone else, not even a stranger. Yet he had been right there when the sun came up, how could this have happened?
On the other hand, perhaps this was the right place after all. It could be that this tranquil scene was only to lure him into a false sense of security before something truly terrible appeared. He had seen something like that before, if one was caught unaware it could be extremely dangerous. And without any warning, the others would never know it was coming. That must have been why the girl had urged him to come. He narrowed his eyes and scanned his surroundings carefully, but it did not seem as though any imminent threat was lurking nearby. Yet he realized he was likely not the one who was in danger, without the girl's warning he wouldn't even be here, it was the others who were walking into some sort of trap.
Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found. He tried to call out to them, but no matter how long he waited there was no response. A dirt path lay at his feet, weaving through the sea of green all the way out to the horizon. The path ended just behind where he was, with an incredible array of colours arranged in a circle, blocking progress on all sides. There was only one way to go, so he started walking down the path, trying his best to remain vigilant in spite of the apparent tranquillity of it all.

After he had walked a short while he came to an unusual display, the dirt path was lined on both sides by a row of wooden torches, and behind them lay many large silver-coloured plants. As the light flickered and fell upon their silver needles, they lit up in a dazzling array of different colours. It was impressive in a certain sense, but he didn't have time to linger, so he hurried through.
Karma!”, a voice called to him. It was the first sound of life he had heard since he had arrived. “Wait for me!”
He turned to see the figure who was coming up behind him on the path. She had dark skin, blue eyes, and shiny silver-coloured hair, and he instantly knew who she was.
Lace, I told you to stay home, it's dangerous here.”
She looked about a bit before responding. “Are you kidding? This place is so beautiful!”
It's probably some kind of trap, designed to make you let your guard down. Trust me, I know these kinds of things.”
You're too paranoid”, she said, moving in close to him. “Or is it that you just don't want me here?”
No, it's not that”, he replied, taking a step back. His foot caught on something and he stumbled. One of the torches fell over and the silver bush quickly lit up in flames as Lace watched in horror.
What did you do?!”
It was an accident!”
He tried to pick it up, but in his haste he fumbled with the torch and it rolled over to the other side of the path, igniting the rest of the plants. In moments they were surrounded by a wall of flame on both sides.
You're doing that on purpose!”, she exclaimed, close to tears. “Would you really go that far just to get rid of me?”
I told you this place could be dangerous”, he said.
How could you?”, she demanded weakly. “You're not a nice person at all, you're a destroyer!”
Lace started to cry. Karma could only watch the destruction, dumbstruck. A burning branch fell off a bush, landing on the ground close to where Lace was standing, but she didn't seem to notice.
Good”, a voice said in the back of his head. “The sooner she's gone the sooner we can get back to business.”
No!”, he thought back to the voice. It would be helpful if Lace went back, but not like this.
I believed in you”, she sobbed. “I just wanted to be your friend. And this is how you treat me?”
Make her leave”, the voice said. “She's weak. A burden. Kill her.”
I would never hurt her!”, he protested, but he found that his body was no longer under his control. He raised his arm to strike her down, as the flames roared ever higher.
Kill her”, the voice hissed. “Kill her and we can be free.”
He leapt towards her. Lace looked up from her tears just at the last moment.

If anything ever happened to you, I'd never forgive myself. Even if this whole world goes up in flames, I'll keep you safe.”
He threw his arms around her and pulled her out of the way just before a much larger piece of the bush fell on top of her. The Destroyer's voice faded away, never to be heard again.
Karma...”, she looked up at him, surprise showing in her teary eyes.
You believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. Now come on, let's get you out of here”.
He took her by the hand and lead her out of the fire. As soon as they escaped the flames the fire began to die down, and when he looked at his hand again he found that she was gone. He quickly looked back to discover that there had never been any torches or any fire at all, just a row of red and orange plants in front of those silver bushes. He scratched his head.
Fears made real”, he thought aloud. He had seen this before, but he had never been on the receiving end of it. It was even worse than he had expected, though he was very relieved to know that Lace was safe and sound.
The others!”, he remembered, the lurking danger revealed to him now. He sprinted off down the path, desperately hoping to find them before it was too late.

Despite his newfound understanding of this place, the others didn't prove any easier to locate than before. After passing countless colourful displays he finally came upon a fork in the path. It seemed as good a place as any to try to call out, but once again there was no response.
Could it be that we've all been sent to separate places, forced to face these trials on our own?”, he wondered. But then why would the girl have told him to come here? No, there had to be something he could do. He quickly chose a path and kept running. Karma glanced up to the sky as he ran. The clear blue sky was starting to grow cloudy, it would be dark before long. He tucked his head down and forced himself to keep going.

He was so focused on pushing himself forward that he nearly tripped over the huddled figure when he finally came upon him. At first glance it almost looked like a rock, but taking a closer look he realized it was a man with a grey coat.
Lapse...”, he pined, sadly. It was the grey-furred man, Pack, in the guise of a stranger.
Karma stood back and examined his surroundings. There was no sign of Lapse, a fire, or anything, really, just Pack hunched down on the ground. What had happened here? Had the man been tormented again? If so, they were long gone. Or perhaps something had happened between Pack and Lapse? If she was also here, it could have been real or imaginary, there was no way for him to know. He looked up at the sky. It was getting dark, but there was still a little time left. He stood off to the side of the trail and watched to see what would happen next. Pack just sat there in silence for a while, and Karma thought he was going to have to prod him back into motion, but then finally he spoke.
Is this it, then? Is this how it ends?”, Pack raised his head, but Karma was behind him.
I thought you understood”, Karma replied. “I thought you knew what your priorities were. Perhaps I was wrong.”
Pack turned around abruptly. “You! How did-”
Does it matter?”
No. No, it doesn't”, he said, falling back to the ground. “I've lost her again.”
True enough, there was no sign of Lapse, but he wasn't ready to give up yet. “We're still here. There's still time.”
She hates me” Pack said, forlorn. “I could hear it in her voice. She was so hurt and upset. She'll never come back.”
So something had happened between them. He could scarcely be surprised from how Pack had acted before. For a moment he considered just leaving him here, but that would never do. Lapse needed him, and far too many good people had been lost already. He pointed up towards the sky. “When the sun sets, those who remain will be trapped here, never to return.”
Maybe that's for the best. Just leave me, I'm done.”
But Karma knew how to motivate him, he had seen it a few nights ago. “What about her? Would you leave her to suffer this fate again? Do you think she deserves it?”
It's your choice”, he said, starting again down the path, “but choose wisely. The wrong choice will haunt you for the rest of your days.”
Pack finally stood up. “Will you help me find her?”
There's not much time”, Karma said, “I came from that way and there was no sign of her.”
They hurried off down the path, continuing the way Karma had been travelling.
Thank you”, Pack said. “I don't know why you've been trying to help us, but I'd have been lost without you.”
Just repaying an old debt”, he replied quickly. There was no further time for discussion, dark clouds already loomed overhead, and there were at least two more lost souls to find before the sun went down.

Unfortunately, their luck wasn't any better than it had been before. No matter how long they ran down those paths, it was just the two of them, and Pack was starting to have trouble keeping up. His body was not nearly as slim as Karma's, and not well-suited to long periods of activity. Karma couldn't help but wonder how he had managed in the mornings until now. Worse yet, the sun had completed faded from view now, and the paths behind them were slowly starting to vanish as they went along.
Hurry up!”, Karma yelled back to him, “it's all starting to fade away!”
But what if she's back there?”, Pack replied, glancing back at the pathway they had taken as it was swallowed up by the darkness.
It won't do her any good for you to get stuck out here. You've just got to trust in her and keep moving!”
Indeed, Karma had already accepted that they were not going to find the others, right now they just needed to focus on getting out of here. He could only hope that the calico or captain Lay had found Lapse.
They came to another fork in the path. Karma peered down one path as they came to it, but the path quickly disappeared into darkness. “This way!” he called back to Pack, who just barely made it around the corner before the darkness closed in.
At least we know we're going the right way!”, Pack huffed, but Karma didn't even bother to respond.

They finally came to a ridge where a path lead down to a small lake. In the distance, Karma could see a few people. One of them was lying on the ground, and two others were keeping an eye on them. “Is everything all right?”, he called to them.
Pack caught up, panting heavily. “Thank goodness”, he wheezed, “someone else is still here!”
No, this girl needs help!”, a man called to him. They hurried down the path to the others.
Oh no, this is terrible!”, Pack exclaimed. The woman on the ground was the calico, and she was badly hurt. There was also a man and a woman, but he didn't recognize them at all, they must have been strangers.
I hear them!”, someone else shouted from elsewhere on the ridge. Two women came up to them. One of them was Lapse, the other must have been captain Lay. Pack and Lapse exchanged a quick hug, but they were more concerned with the calico. Lapse bent down beside her. “I'm so sorry”, she said.
Your friends have come for you”, the stranger said to her. “Please wake up”
She slowly opened her eyes. “Corsair”, she said, weakly, “I'm so glad... I always knew you'd come for me.”
As soon as she spoke those words their stranger guises faded away. Karma slapped his forehead with his paw as the bewildered stranger held the calico's furry body in his arms. “Oh great, now you've done it.”
Look, Corsair”, she continued, undaunted. “We're all together now. The fighting is over. Please come back to us”.
Was it possible that the stranger was really the orange-furred one? Karma looked him over, but he did not get that impression from him. Still, it had been the same with Line, he had not recognized him until he had spoken of his past life. Perhaps it could be true. Yet the stranger merely seemed confused.
I know it's been a long time, but please, you must remember us”. A ship drifted into the lake, but Karma was more concerned about the encroaching darkness, which had now swallowed up everything except for the small clearing in which they stood. “Let's go home, Corsair.”
I don't know what you mean”, the stranger said, “my home is not on any ship.”

Karma really had no idea what was going to happen next. The world around them started to grow hazy, and he thought they might be plunged into the water, or perhaps they would all simply fade away. The one thing he knew for sure that their time had run out. He was about to try to convince them to all get back on the ship when the calico spoke again.
On board that ship lies the greatest adventure anyone could ever have. There's a whole different world out there, unlike anything you've ever known. Don't you want to see it?”
Another world?”, the stranger repeated.
There's not much time left for me”, the calico continued, “the darkness is closing in, and the ship will leave soon, leaving me behind. I can't make it back on my own...”
Amazingly, the stranger rose to his feet, carrying the girl towards the ship. “Where are you going?”, his female companion asked him.
To see this other world. Somehow, I feel like it's calling to me. Will you stay by my side?”
Always”, the woman replied, helping to carry the girl. Someone threw down a ladder, and they carried her aboard. The others hurried up the ladder, with Karma at the rear. He looked up the ladder, unsure if he could go with them.
Come on”, Pack called down to him, and so he climbed aboard the ship with the others and they left that place just as it disappeared into the sea.

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