The former Outsider stood beneath Jessamine's memorial gazebo, pulse thrumming beneath his collar. Who would they send to greet him? A guard? Someone to shackle him and send him away in chains? Would he even be able to see Corvo? Emily?
Imagining how Corvo would look within his new eyes set his chest in a vice. "Seeing" things through those soaked eyes had been different. Above all else, the Outsider saw in possibility. In cities and oceans he saw it run thick and deep, syrupy and slow. In people, it twisted and swirled like whirlpools and currents thought the sea. And Corvo... Corvo had been a hurricane, drifting with Dunwall's flotsam and jetsam to create forms too beautiful to describe. Corvo had been the freedom he wanted for himself.
He had seen him only through the eyes of a stranger, through the eyes of others, in reflections in Dunwall tower, through spirals of possible futures visible all at once and compounded in a single form. In a way, he had been blind, seeing the shapes a thing could make, yet not the thing itself. And now...
As soon as a guard had sent word of a delivery from Meagan Foster waiting at the gazebo, Corvo had hurried to investigate. That name wasn't used lightly, if it was known at all. When Delilah's dust settled, Emily had recounted what had transpired with Meagan Foster, with Billie Lurk. What she had done. Emily had said that was the last time she expected them to see each other, so now that Meagan Foster had come calling, Corvo had to find out why. Emily would be in sessions for the remainder of the afternoon, so it fell to him to get to the bottom of this.
Corvo arrived at the gazebo, expecting Billie Lurk or Meagan Foster there to greet him, but someone else stood there, alone.
The young man was turned from him, attention cast down to Jessamine's memorial. He shifted his feet as he folded and unfolded his arms, as if unsure what to do with them. Even standing still, the man seemed to thrum with energy looking for a means to escape his skin. It wouldn't be long until the sleeves of his new clothes—for they were new—began to fray beneath his touch.
The strange visitor moved like a bird in a cage, the pillars of the gazebo encircling him, and Corvo couldn't shake the feeling that they'd met before. He tried to place the silhouette, the motions, but they seemed to drift somewhere deep inside him, in a dream.
Then Corvo caught a glimpse of the man's profile, of eyes shaded by the gazebo, and the sight echoed through his memories, to a dark and nameless place and the strange thing that lived inside it. The thing with black eyes who made history his plaything, yet paced like trapped hound.
Corvo let out a soft sound of disbelief that sounded something like a chuckle. What tricks had reality left to play on him?
The man turned to look at him, wrenched from his reverie. And there he was. The lines of his face were echoes of the ones etched onto Corvo's soul as a younger man. It was a timeless face, one that belonged to a marble statue pulled from the depths of the sea. It had spent thousands of years beneath the water, laid in the dark ruins of a forgotten world.
Yet his skin told a different story, its surface now sprinkled with tiny imperfections, warmed for the first time by sun.
But above all, his eyes—those vacant, pitch-black cores—were gone.
Foster stared at the man in the sharp coat. Though his beard was peppered with grey, his posture was straight and steady, a boat mast unbent by battering winds. Foster's head swam with faces, trying to match him to the infinite procession of lives he remembered from the Void. And he guessed who it must be, who it had to be, but he didn't dare believe it.
"You..." the man's voice came out rough and heavy, bewildered, cautious. He was no longer a young man, but his voice rang deep in Foster's chest.
It was his hurricane. Foster traced his eyes over each scar and imperfection, now stitching them into the webs of histories he still held inside his mind. That one from his training with the previous Spymaster, that from Jessamine's first would-be assassin. The Corvo before him was possibility frozen in an instant, and Foster could trace the strands of time that had created the man before him. He understood now, why humans loved paintings. They were tableaus of life, a moment captured in a still frame, a single possibility recorded forever.
The eyes were there, bright and clear, pulled from the black, oily pit of the Void. They were impossible. Corvo thought they looked foreign on his face, a distortion of... everything. But then they began to shift, shapes twisting into something so raw, so human that for a moment he forgot they had ever been anything else. Their edges began to blur, and the tears came.
He moved towards Corvo unsteadily, his body unmoored, and Corvo stepped forward to catch him.
The tears came in torrents that shook Foster's body like a ship abandoned to a storm, and Corvo held him steady, an anchor at port. In his arms he became a ship brought back to shore, safe at harbor.
Seeing the Outsider for the first time all those years ago, in the warped realm of the Void, he had been impossibly inhuman. Something alien and unkowable in the shape of a man, something that waded in ripples of reality to chart his own course through the channels of history. And even then, the more Corvo learned of him, the less he understood. His actions were neither those of a god who wanted Dunwall brought from the brink, nor a demon who wanted it reduced to ash. Instead he had made Dunwall his chessboard, and Corvo his Queen, watching as he knocked pieces from the board or removed them from play. Had he had some grand design, or had it all just been for love of the game? Had the black-eyed thing been bored? Lonely?
Corvo had thought of him as a ruler of the Void, but seeing him now, feeling his trembling form against his shoulder, he knew that the Outsider had been its prisoner.
The sound of the man's sobs took him back into his dreams, when, if he listened closely, he thought he could hear a voice crying in an echo chamber of its own despair. Any doubts he still held were washed away under the torrent of those tears.
Corvo, Corvo, Corvo—the word echoed in his mind, filled his thoughts. He heard his own voice saying it.
"Yes," came Corvo's, low and warm near his ear. So close, so real, and he felt as if he'd spent 4,000 years waiting for that word from Corvo's lips. It was all he could do to keep from dissolving into sobs again.
It was Corvo—his Corvo. The one and the many he'd seen in the eye of history's greatest storm, the point around which he could see the fates bend.
Corvo finally drew back, examining Foster's face like a document written in a language he didn't fully understand. He brought a thumb gently to Foster's cheek, which still trembled beneath his touch. His thumb brushed up and pressed down on Foster's lower eyelid, widening his eye to examine it as a doctor would. And he knew what Corvo would see—an eye red from crying, but undeniably, irrevocably human, the darkness of even the pupils not so deep as the fathomless pits of Void they had once held.
"They're real," Foster said, repeating the words he'd given to Billie's small compact mirror, to the stream at the base of the mountain. "They're real," he said again, as the man pulled his hand away.
"How?" Corvo asked, gaze focused on the eyes themselves but not yet what they contained.
Foster was gone, lost in the contours of Corvo's face. He was so close now, closer than he had ever imagined. Corvo was tangible before him in a way the Void had never permitted, in a way his eyes hadn't been able to see until now. This close, this clear, Corvo's face was littered with smaller markings, nicks and scratches from the years he'd spent with a blade in his hand. The Outsider thought he had seen each one, but Foster found a small slash on Corvo's chin that was a mystery to him. It parted his beard for just a moment, like a dock cutting into the sea.
His face was moving, he saw. Lips parting and forming shapes with tongue and teeth. Foster realized he was saying something.
"—Outsider," Corvo urged, under his breath, trying to reclaim Foster's attention. "How did you get here?"
He looked away, gathering his drifting thoughts back together. "I crossed the sea on a ship that charted waters I had known well, but never seen or felt beneath me," he said, his voice twinged with the slightest excitement.
But that wasn't the question Corvo was asking, he realized. "No. How did you get here. How did you get outside."
"Daud's work was left unfinished. He sent his knife into the Void to rid it of me."
"Daud's behind this?" Corvo's voice had lowered, dipping into dark waters of anger and grief. "Why? What does he gain from this?"
"But Daud's knife had a mind of her own, and a heart that still held pity for all the wretches who hadn't been given a choice. She found the answer in the deepest reaches of the Void, at the beginning of everything, and had the dead speak my name."
"What?" Corvo's eyebrows knit together. "Who?"
Corvo's face remained in a scowl that sat twisted between anger and confusion. "Daud sent her... to kill you? But she let you out?"
Foster's eyes drifted to the spot they had parted ways, just outside the gazebo. Billie Lurk. The woman splintered by time, by him. Why had he done that? Already the morality of the Outsider felt like a cold and distant thing, choices made by someone else.
Billie Lurk, torn asunder by Emily's meddling in the past, had been a problem, a shard in his eye. She held heavier possibility than he could bear, infinite selves ricocheting through fractured mirrors that other people had done the work of cracking. He had been one of them. He had tried to shatter her.
Foster, the Outsider, had spent these past weeks with his thoughts trained firmly on the present, on the future, but now he was being pulled back into those depths. Billie hadn't spoken a word about it, hadn't asked any questions about the things that had come before. She had given him peace, trust.
Why had he done that to her, knowing she would bring about the death of the Outsider?
Death. He remembered that he had wanted it. He had wanted to see her try. He had seen the point at which all possibility stopped, the veins of his vision cut off from their blood. He had wanted to see it when it happened, that end—if only for a moment. All of Billie Lurk's possibility converged at the end of his sight, each thoroughfare ending in darkness deeper than even that of the Void, and it had excited him.
"...Daud. Where is he?" Corvo asked softly, the currents of his voice still running deep.
"Sunken to the depths of the Void, ashes twisting in the waves of the sea," Foster said, though in truth he didn't know what had become of Daud. "His voice rings in my ear with words I no longer understand."
"Daud..." Corvo's mind returned to where they were, where they stood. Upon old blood that arguably still lingered on the Outsider's hands. He looked down, eyes skimming the script of Jessamine's memorial.
"We should finish this inside." He took Foster's arm, and began to guide him back to the Tower. Jessamine's remnants would be there too, but the wound of her memory would not be so raw.
Foster's mind sang as they crossed the thresholds of the Tower's inner rooms, as in his head he heard the cacophony of deliberations, scandals, affairs, peace and war and everything that made humans so fascinating still thrumming within its chambers and hallways. He heard his own footsteps joining the echoes of all who had walked here before him, and it seemed like only moments had passed before Corvo led them into a distant foyer and closed the door behind them.
"What happens next?" Corvo asked him. "Without you there?"
What had Billie been thinking? Why had she done this? More questions flooded Corvo's mind, but their tinder was short-lived. What mattered most was what came next.
"The Outsider is no more," the Outsider said. "He was the knife that cleaved out portions of Void to those he deemed worthy. And now..."
"The butcher is absent from his cutting block."
His shifted, perhaps uncomfortably. "Not quite, Corvo. Without a knife, the butchers can sling their offal where they please, with no knives or blocks to deter the arcs of their carnage."
"Emily—what does this mean for her?" Corvo pressed. He should fetch her, immediately, but he himself couldn't think of a way to explain all this. He needed more information.
When the man's face remained expressionless, Corvo went on. "You were the one to give her influence over the Void." He recalled what had happened during their conflict with Price, when Emily's powers had malfunctioned. "With you gone from the Void, she's a mill with no water. Isn't she?"
Corvo was certain neither they nor the man before him had ever given thought to what would become of the Outsider's marked if he ever ceased to be. He had always been, and it was only this recent anomaly, this impossibility, that had changed that.
Corvo knew Emily could brave this, could rule her empire without the Void to assist her. He had seen her do it, in all the years that came before Delilah, and there was no reason to believe she couldn't do it again. If the Outsider himself had no answer, then they would have to chart those waters together.
The man remained silent, transfixed in thought, and Corvo knew he wasn't going to get an answer, straight or otherwise, so he changed the subject. Corvo eyed the former Outsider up and down. "Do you... get hungry?"
"My form has been returned to flesh, and all that it entails."
A yes, then.
Corvo rang for the waitstaff to bring them some refreshments. When a dish of pastries arrived, he sat it in front of the Outsider, eyeing him warily. What must his manners be like, after 4,000 years in that black pit? Corvo supposed he was not one to judge, recalling the crimes against cuisine he'd committed on the streets of Dunwall all those years ago.
The man eyed the spread hungrily, but showed an incredible measure of restraint as he carefully picked a small fruit pie from the tray, holding it with both hands as he brought it gingerly to his mouth.
"I suppose I didn't..." But the Outsider wasn't listening. In fact, he didn't break eye contact with the pastry until he had finished it, crumbs strewn across his lap. Only then did his attention return to Corvo, who tried again.
"I... said I didn't expect you to eat food so... deliberately."
The Outsider was looking at the platter, with an expression Corvo thought might be "rueful". "...Gravity so often does the work of soiling it," he muttered.
Corvo blinked at him, processing his words. Then, he imagined the Outsider, omniscient god of the Void, dropping his sweets on the ground because he'd forgotten to consider the effect of gravity, and Corvo began to laugh.
It began small, but as he truly considered the absurdity, the flagrant impossibility of the pair of them, here together in a waiting room with a dish of dainty hors d'orderves, the laughter grew in his chest until he had to cover his mouth to muffle the sound.
The Outsider was staring at him, but his gaze couldn't pierce like it used to. Perhaps he didn't mean for it to.
Delilah had sapped the mark from his hand, but nothing could change the fact that, to Corvo, the two of them had been bound forever. They had won back Emily and all of Dunwall together, the Outsider in his own way. Corvo had known even then that the Outsider's interest had little to do with Dunwall's salvation and everything to do with Corvo's role in it. Corvo had accepted the power gladly, and in return he had done what he could to make a show of it. In that way, they had used each other. Still, the Outsider had chosen Corvo above all others, and stitched himself into his soul. Corvo didn't know what to call it, this thing they had, but when the man who had been the Outsider brought his hands to Corvo's face and drew closer, he didn't pull away.
Foster didn't perceive what he was doing, at first. He had been lost in Corvo's features again, mapping them to the snatches of memories he had held in the Void. This time he'd found a soft white line that marked Corvo's lower lip. It had only showed when he smiled. The mark was so unlike his other scars, delicate and soft. It was Corvo's knuckles brushing away Jessamine's hair, his blade sliding silently between ribs.
And then Foster was kissing him, with the fervor of a broken dam rolling its heavy waters out to sea. And Corvo kissed him back, with a practiced ease the Outsider had seen through other eyes, felt through other lips. But that had been nothing like this.
Foster imagined his senses alight, like a whale oil lantern burning in a moonless night. He felt Corvo's warmth on his mouth, the brush of his beard across his skin, and on his lips he could taste the sea. Most of all, Foster took in the way Corvo smelled. He smelled like Dunwall as it is after a storm, of still and shallow waters in the aqueducts and thoroughfares. And he smelled like Karnaca, ladened with spices and exports. Like cool, salt-soaked wool of nights spent on docks to the sea. He smelled like everything that the Outsider had imagined through those cold forevers inside the Void, trying to piece a picture from scattered snatches of memories that found their way to him there.
Millennia passed between them, 4,000 years in moments, and then Corvo was pulling back, a ship casting off from land, marooning Foster on an island uncharted. A brush of fingertips across his face brought his eyes open again to see Corvo, still impossibly before him, trying to look again into his bright, hazel eyes.
Corvo looked at him for a long time. "What do you plan to do?"
It was a question Billie had posed him, gently, not often. It was a question he had asked himself. His answers had come in waves, lines penned as he invented them. The ship. Dunwall.
Corvo. He had been his plan, Foster realized, something he had charted deep inside his chest without realizing it. Without his sight, he had no way of knowing what outcomes lay before him—pity and forgiveness, retribution and reckoning. But he had still brought himself here, at Corvo's mercy. He had to be here, before he could fathom what came after. That leap of faith felt like the most human thing he'd done yet.
"Don't tell me the Outsider is at a loss for words."
"That's one, at least."
"It's the name Billie Lurk chose for herself, when it was time to bury a killer beneath her skin. She thought it sounded unassuming, trustworthy. It sounded like someone with a place and a family and a home."
Corvo was watching him, waiting.
"It's the name she gave to me. Foster." He tried to press conviction into his voice, though he wasn't sure if he'd gotten the nuance right.
The Outsider—Foster—looked so serious. Corvo supposed he always looked serious, dour, but now it seemed intentional. His expressions were easier to read, now, and it looked as if he really meant it.
Corvo shifted in his seat, and drew a hand across his beard. "...You said what Billie thought of the name. Do you feel the same way?"
"What?" It seemed the man had already lost his train of thought—he seemed rather prone to doing so, but that was nothing new—and Corvo continued.
"What did you expect, coming here? What did you want?"
Just two words, spoken clearly and evenly. They were perhaps the last thing Corvo expected, set down between them without cryptic soliloquy, riddle or disguise. Simple and untwisted.
The words had surprised Foster too—out before he could think to elaborate, to explain his meaning, so he did.
"I spent centuries blinded, bombarded by visions of places I could never go, things I could never have. All while I watched those who sought me use my power to rend their worlds asunder and live as I never could. I watched each one chart their course into abyss and ruin. All except one. Then two."
He fixed Corvo with a long, hard look. "All but Corvo Attano, and Emily Kaldwin, born of his flesh and raised under his guiding hand. The two of you... changed everything, as if it were a simple thing. You were undeterred by impossibility.
"And when Billie Lurk did something doubly impossible, and dragged me from the Void, I chose to chart my own path. It led to rising suns and the feel of soil between my fingers, of tiny cakes and the smell of the sea. My path led here, as so many do, all converging on the single point of Dunwall Tower, at the cornerstone of—"
"Tell me what you want," Corvo cut in. He was tiring of this, these cycles back into habit. "Prove to me you can do that much. Give me a straight answer."
Foster's mouth was still ajar from the interruption. He closed it again, drifting deep in thought, and Corvo thought he wouldn't actually do it. But then he spoke again.
"I want to stay with you."
Corvo had known those words for a long time, long before they had been words. He had known them every time the Outsider appeared before him, while other men begged and bled, screaming his name. And yet they still surprised him, laid bare between them like a fresh cut, honest and clean. The Outsider, a mortal man now, had changed in a thousand ways, in large and small measures, in unpredictable and impossible ways, and Corvo realized he wanted to be there to see the rest.