This world is not made for men, and yet Corvo walks there, disappearing between the pillars of lost civilization and the ghosts of the past. He runs and walks and jumps and blinks, and when he finds an island, the island, he stops and looks ahead, his dark eyes full of fearful marvel.
There’s a gaping hole far, far in the horizon, that swallows a world that shouldn’t be swallowed. The void in the Void. Deconstructing, fragmenting. A mise en abyme Corvo never thought he would see.
It’s easy to slip in there, in this pitch black hole of nothingness. It pulls the mind, not the body. It’s worse this way. It’s an itch in the back of the head, in the depth of the brain; and only madness can appease it. Maybe it’s how it went, for Vera Moray. She let the Void nest and fester in her mind.
Corvo steps away before fascination dooms him.
The mark etched into the skin of his left hand is a mangled, painful mess of ash and pain. It flickers, whispers echoing weakly in his ears when he uses it. Another blink to approach the altar. It’s different from before. It’s broken. There’s dread and a sense of panic when he summons the Void in his palm.
“Where are you,” Corvo breathes into his hand.
He is not a man with many words, Corvo, but a man of many emotions. Desperation strangles his voice. Confusion knits his brows. Fear clenches his guts. Where is he? Where is the Outsider?
The warden of the Void is gone. And still here. Corvo feels him. Another paradox of this place. He wishes he has grown used to this.
It’s familiar and strange at the same time. It is the Outsider’s voice dyed with a wonder only men have.
Corvo spins back and sees the Outsider leaning against a chunk of rock, or a wall, or a pillar. He doesn’t know. He only witnesses how it crumbles under the weight. A groan, a hiss; the Outsider is forcing himself straight. He sounds in pain, doesn’t look like himself.
His eyes are gray.
“What’s happening?” Corvo asks.
To the Void. To you. To everything.
The Outsider is silent, for once, but his face shows incomprehension and surprise, with a tinge a fear that shouldn’t be here.
Because the Outsider is the Outsider, an embodiment of many things but absolutely not feelings.
“It shouldn’t have reached your world,” he says, blinking, attention swinging from the man to the vortex of nothing in the horizon. In the end, he looks at his hands with a puzzled expression. “I made sure to, I… Why are you here?”
A chunk of the island breaks and swirls away. It splits and turns into a frightening meteor shower before it reaches its destination, small rocks dark against the light of the Void’s sun. It’s enrapturing, and it hurts Corvo’s eyes to watch. It’s like counting birds against the Karnacan sky.
“You made me come here,” Corvo yells. Not because he is frustrated, but because to wind is picking up and snarling. It’s far from the usual whistle between cobblestones and forgotten memories. It’s angry and it wants to snap its teeth at something.
The Outsider approaches Corvo, and for the second time since they met, he touches him. The mark flares, making Corvo grit his teeth.
“No, I– You have to leave, Corvo,” the Outsider says. His voice is firmer than before, almost like when he was his usual self –a creature with wells of pitch black as eyes. However, his hand on Corvo’s arm is surprisingly weak, unlike when he stopped the man’s fall, some days or months or years earlier.
Time is a strange thing, here.
The mark flares again, defaced and burning, and Corvo is pushed away from the Void before he can muster any protest.
He sees the Outsider back and the gaping hole in the Void, then the very familiar ceiling of his chambers. For a long, long, moment, Corvo stays motionless, breathing hard and trembling with adrenaline.
His left hand burns.
He quickly inspects it under the lamp’s light. The mark is still here, thrumming with the strange, unknown energy of the Void. The link isn’t broken yet, Corvo supposes, and he is strangely relieved to realize this. But some lines are blurred, some parts have disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a white scar.
It wasn’t a nightmare.
He kicks the blanket off him. He needs to find a shrine and a way back to the Void. That thing, there; this black hole of nothingness and destruction, it seems to slowly expand, swallowing the Outsider’s world and threatening Corvo’s.
“It shouldn’t have reached your world, Corvo.”
They were his words. It shouldn’t. But Corvo has a terrible presentiment about this. The Outsider seemed pathetically weak back in the Void, terribly human; something that shouldn’t happen. Not now, not ever. If the Outsider is nothing more than human, how is he supposed to contain his frightening world?
Corvo doesn’t jump because of the Outsider’s presence. Corvo jumps because of how weary he sounds.
He relaxes his left hand as he spots the creature’s silhouette sitting on his desk. The Outsider, despite the apparent tiredness in his features, displays a striking nonchalance in his gestures.
“What happened to you?” Corvo asks. He has the same questions as before. The immutability of the Void dragged into this world.
“Humanity,” the Outsider says. “Someone imbued me with humanity. Freed me. But ‘free’ is a strange, broad word for many things, isn’t it?”
The Outsider inspects his nails for a second before his attention turns to Corvo.
Corvo expects a longer monologue. The two of them scarcely meet; Corvo is too busy with his work as a spymaster to be on the field to find a shrine, and the Outsider doesn’t often call him into the Void. When he does, he is always eager to make up for lost time with long tirades, though.
This time, the Outsider doesn’t say anything else. He stares at Corvo, thunder gray eyes making the spymaster increasingly uncomfortable.
“The Void?” Corvo asks, looking away, clearing his throat.
It’s enough for the Outsider to stop staring.
“Dying,” he replies, simply.
Corvo knows there’s nothing simple with the Outsider.
He sighs and seeks to sit down on the chair of his desk. He wouldn’t have approached the Outsider like that –so suddenly, so recklessly– before, but he is tired. He needs the bottle of brandy hidden in the false bottom of the second drawer.
Corvo brushes against the Outsider as he passes by. His body feels warmer than the burn of alcohol in his chest.
Corvo tries to not think about it.
“By dying, what do you mean?”
The Outsider blinks.
“Is there any other way? It breaks and it disappears. The Void will return to nothing in a while. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe a few years. Time is different there; it’s like looking at stars. Some of them have already disappeared by the time we see them. It will be the same for the Void. By the time its disappearance reaches this world, it would have been nothing but ashes and dust for centuries.”
Corvo presses the palm of his hands into his eyes, hoping the resulting burst of light beneath his eyelids would help him. Of course, they don’t.
“Isn’t the Void already nothing?” Corvo grumbles. He doesn’t understand.
“The Void is part of the Nothing,” the Outsider says cryptically. “It will return to the Nothing. The Nothing is... something else.”
“And when it returns to the Nothing?”
The Outsider stays silent for a while.
“I made sure it doesn’t impact this world, Corvo,” he finally says, low voice barely perceptible. “But it seems I have failed.”
“What do you mean?”
“This morning, a pillar of the Kaldwin bridge will collapse. A rift will appear at its foot. A small one, barely noticeable, but it’ll still be the gnawing teeth of the Nothing, slowly nibbling away your world. Your Empress will notice something amiss, and she will seek your help.”
Corvo freezes and clenches his fists. Emily will be thrown into this mess too, then.
“And after that?” Corvo asks, dread making his stomach twist and churn.
The Outsider crosses his arms. There’s something terribly sad on his face.
“I don’t know, Corvo. I don't know.”