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Through Dark Waters

Chapter Text

"She has seen me through dark waters.
Soon she will see me unobscured."
- The Outsider

 

 

Night was starting to settle over the city of Dunwall, only the faintest rays of sunlight still illuminating the horizon and casting the whaling trawlers with their grisly cargo as harsh silhouettes against the mouth of the river. On the highest point on Kaldwin's Bridge, Sameen Shaw hunched down against the wind and looked out over the dark city that she hadn't seen for what felt like a lifetime now even if it had only been a year.

“I forgot how much it stinks here,” she said aloud though there was no one else perched on the bare metal struts of the top of the bridge. A good ways below her there were several levels of staircases and corridors on the bridge, protected by the city guards and those large electrical contraptions that were still so popular. These days, the Empress had decreed that the buzzing metal arc pylons could only be set to stun and not kill, but ‘accidents’ still happened from time to time and people got disintegrated by the lightning the pylons shot. Between the guards, the arc pylons, and the lack of any stairs or path up to the very top, there shouldn't have been a way for anyone to reach the beam that Shaw was sitting on.

“Thought it'd be better once I got away from the boats, but the damm smell gets everywhere, doesn't it?”

The slight tingling on the back of her left hand told her she wasn't just talking to herself, but then she rarely was alone these days. It was damned annoying, but at least there was someone to gripe at.

“Would you rather be back where I found you?”

The voice came from right behind Shaw, which should have been impossible since there was nowhere back there to stand. Shaw glanced over her shoulder only long enough to see the form of a woman sitting cross-legged, floating in mid-air. It was too dark to make out her features, but Shaw was already well-acquainted with them.

“No, I guess I'd take whale guts over that place.” She still had strange dreams about the jungle sometimes. They'd woken her up frequently on the pirate vessel she'd earned passage on, and less frequently (but still with some regularity) on the whaling boat she'd worked on for the rest of the voyage home from Pandyssia. “Has the Empress sent any other expeditions since mine?”

“No, though there's been talks about sending another when the weather improves, to find out what happened to yours if nothing else.”

Her companion must have been in the mood to share information for once since she wasn't spouting her usual cryptic nonsense.

“She should just call it quits and focus on finding a way to make this city not stink like dead whales. Be a much better use of her time.” She squinted to examine the dark hulking form of Dunwall tower further down the river. Somewhere inside those walls was the royal family, possibly even now planning another doomed mission.

“But the whale guts are part of Dunwall's charm,” her companion teased, she paused and then continued in a more serious tone. “You could tell her, you know. Warn the Empress off of any more doomed expeditions. She might even listen to you, what with you being the only surviving member of the last expedition and all.”

Shaw was a little surprised. Her companion rarely offered suggestions--usually it was only observations and uncalled for snark.

“None of my concern.” And she'd rather not have her survival become public knowledge.

“More innocent people could die. How many of your expedition even made it to land?” The question might have been serious, but her tone was mocking again.

“People could die, but no one on that boat was innocent.” The almost-mythical continent of Pandyssia had been a huge draw for collectors and investors alike. There had been a few among the group who'd gone in hopes of studying the elusive and extraordinary flora and fauna, and quite a few interested in staking a claim to some of the land and resources of the supposedly unsettled continent. The rest had been people like her, hired fighters looking for an easy escape from the Isles. She hadn't planned on ever coming back, but what she'd found out in the jungles of Pandyssia had turned out to be far worse than anything the gangs or the overseers here could dream up.

“Is Dunwall how you remembered it being?” The voice was right next to her and Shaw had to keep herself from jumping. Her companion sat next to her on the beam now, legs kicking back and forth slowly in space.

“Seems smaller.” Though after Pandyssia everything seemed smaller.

“That's it? Smaller?” Her companion sounded amused. “There was a coup while you were gone, and a massacre, several shifts in power, and a entire district of the city was in ruins. Again. That does seem to happen here a lot.”

“Exactly. And everything's back the way I last saw it.” Though she hadn't ventured much into the city itself yet. She'd headed straight here after slipping off the whaling trawler she'd returned on, and had stuck to the banks of the Wrenhaven river that flowed through the center of the city rather than entering any of the districts proper. Her time in the wilds had only strengthen her instinct to climb up high and scout things out before moving. “Why? Is there something I should know?”

“Oh, there's always things worth knowing, Shaw.” Her companion leaned in closer to her, her solid black eyes glowing like coals in the fading light. “And it's going to be so much fun watching you try to find out.” Her face was inches from Shaw's now. “Though maybe I could be persuaded to give you a hint.”

Shaw knew from experience that if she reached out to grab her companion’s arm, her fingers would pass through her as if she were smoke, and yet she could swear she felt the heat of another body against her skin where they almost touched.

“I thought the Outsider was supposed to stay neutral in the affairs of the world. Embodiment of the chaotic and unfeeling Void and all.”

“The Outsider is gone, Shaw. We've been over this. I'm a little...different than he was.”

It was a conversation they'd had many variants of since that day her companion had appeared to her in the dark forests of Pandyssia, but it always seemed to get a bit of a rise out of her so Shaw never missed the opportunity to bring it up again.

“Okay, well, if you've got anything to tell me, not-the-Outsider, now's the chance. I've got somewhere to be.” It was a partial lie, and they both knew that.

“Did you know that the Outsider had a name once?” Her companion asked as if she hadn't heard her. “They say when he was finally freed from the Void it was because someone whispered it to him.”

“Wait, the Outsider was freed?” The tall man with black eyes who'd been the living embodiment of the Void and a symbol of all things occult and supernatural in the world (and, some said, a god) for longer than anyone could remember had definitely vanished and most assumed he'd been destroyed somehow. No longer did he appear in dreams and at shrines to gift humans with visions and, on very rare occasions, his mark. Shaw hadn't known all that when her companion had appeared to her for the first time, and she'd wondered if she wasn't some new manifestation of the Outsider himself, but she had discarded that theory rather quickly. “You looking to be freed as well then?” Maybe that was why Shaw had been chosen.

Her companion smiled enigmatically and, even as Shaw watched, dark tendrils of the Void wrapped around her like smoke as she faded from view.

“Now why would I ever want that? But maybe someday I'll tell you my name, Shaw.” Her voice faded away after the rest of her and left Shaw alone on top of the bridge.

“Guess there's no more putting this off then,” Shaw said to the empty night.

She looked down at the mark on the back of her left hand--a large circle, almost fully closed with a straight line running from the center out through the small opening. It looked like someone had burned it into her skin and it had definitely felt that way when she'd received it. If her companion wasn't the Outsider, then this wasn't the Outsider's mark, but what it actually was then she hadn't figured out yet, and for the moment it didn't matter.

She opened her hand wide and then clenched her fingers into a fist, grabbing at the fabric of reality and twisting it until she was elsewhere, perched on a metal strut a few down from the first. The eerie blue glow from the mark on the back of her hand faded after a second, but came back when she twisted again and again, making her way down the tower and leaving behind only the faintest trace of void smoke and the slight sound from the rush of displaced air. Within seconds, the top levels of the bridge returned to how they'd always been--silent and empty--and a small figure wrapped tightly in a long coat vanished into the lights of the city below.


 

Shaw had always prided herself on her rationality. She'd assumed that her inability to be swayed by fear or other useless emotions would have given her an advantage on the voyage to Pandyssia--a land shrouded in tales of mystery and madness--and in the end maybe it had.

Only twelve of them made it to shore after the...creature destroyed their ship. She wasn't sure what manner of beast the huge tentacles that had wrapped themselves around the ship had belonged to, and she was fairly sure she didn't ever want the chance to find out.

They had almost no supplies left and were stranded on a seemingly endless beach with a dark jungle stretching away at the edge of the sand. Water had been the first priority, but they lost two men before they found a creek safe enough to drink from. One man was taken by a beast that, in the brief look Shaw got at it, resembled an enormous and misshapen spotted dog with a bark like the laughter of a madman. They found tracks of more of the animals all over and slept in the trees that night. When morning came, another of their party was gone, vanished without a trace.

Over the next week, their numbers dwindled to five. Some were killed by the plants and animals in the jungle, all larger than any they'd seen before and twice as aggressive, and some simply walked off into the night and vanished.

The others spoke of seeing things that did not exist, hearing voices singing to them from the night, and Shaw couldn't deny she'd witnessed these things as well, but she knew they were nothing more than illusions of the Void and refused to be shaken by them. So she watched the others go mad one after another and inevitably succumb to the curse of Pandyssia.

And then she was alone and time seemed to blur into an endless nightmare. Day and night went away leaving the world in a grey haze. Large creatures slipped in and out of existence around her in the trees, and everywhere she could hear the unearthly whirring song that she suspected had driven the others mad.

Her original plan to escape back to the beach and search for a way off the blasted shore seemed impossible, for even if she climbed the highest tree she could see nothing but endless jungle in all directions. The sky above flickered and twisted when she tried to search for stars, and once she swore she saw a whale swim by in the ocean of the night.

Every time she awoke everything around her had changed and any markers she'd left out were gone. Every time she lay down to sleep it became harder and harder to ignore the grinding music that permeated everything.

She was weak from hunger, dehydration, and exhaustion when she staggered into the cave and collapsed to floor, and that was where the woman with black eyes had found her.

In the days and weeks that followed, Shaw sometimes wondered if perhaps she had actually died back in that cave.


 

For someone who eluded the city guard on a daily basis, John Reese’s whereabouts were surprisingly easy to guess, though Shaw had the advantage of knowing him well. Even after a year. There were only so many taverns in Dunwall that weren't owned by one of the gangs or heavily populated by the off-duty guards. The taverns along Dunwall Harbor were mostly full of sailors, fresh off the boats, and definitely not on the lookout for a notorious criminal.

Shaw peered through the thick glass window of the second tavern she'd tried, craning her neck to try and catch sight of a familiar face in the crowd. She didn't have any actual proof that Reese was still in Dunwall or even alive, but she had to look anyway.

“He's not in that one.”

Shaw ignored the voice from behind her. Her companion wasn't going to help her and acknowledging her would only make her worse. Still, she knew she wasn't lying, so she made to move on to the next one, but froze when she caught sight of her own reflection in the glass. There hadn't been mirrors on either of the ships she'd taken back so it had been ages since she'd seen her own face so clearly. She definitely looked different--cheeks hollowed out and dark circles under her eyes--and she felt suddenly uncomfortable and turned away to try the next tavern.

She had to rip a few tattered posters off the window of the third tavern to get a look inside--one advertising Cullero Cigars and another about whale oil rationing--reminders that she was back in civilization now. She recognized Reese from the back even in the dim light of the lamps burning in the tavern’s common room. It took him a second to place her though and surprise spread across his usually stoic face when she sat down across from him at his small table in the corner.

“Shaw?” Some emotion flickered through his eyes and vanished before she could recognize it. “I thought...a trawler found pieces of your expedition's ship at sea, smashed to bits. Everyone assumed the worst.”

“The truth is a lot worse than what everyone assumed.” She reached across the table and relieved him of his mug. “But I'm back now.” Reese's ale was hardly the finest Dunwall had to offer, but after months of drinking the tar-like brew on the trawler it tasted like a glass of the finest brandy.

Reese was still too much in shock to mind the theft of his ale. “And you're actually here, right? You're not some Void ghost or hallucination?”

She kicked him in the leg, hard. “That real enough for you?”

Reese grimaced and rubbed his leg. “There's been no shortage of strangeness in Dunwall since you left. Having your ghost show up would seem less impossible than you actually being here. How did you...what happened out there?”

Shaw tightened the fingers of her left hand into a fist so she could feel the leather strap she'd wrapped around it pull across the mark. “Honestly? I'm not completely sure.” She thought she heard (or possibly felt) laughter coming from nearby. At least her companion had stayed mostly silent so far. “It doesn't matter though. I need to talk to you.” She lowered her voice. “About Daud.”

“Oh.” Reese stared at her in silence for a long second. “We should probably go somewhere else then.”


 

“I can help you, if you'd like.”

Shaw stared up at the strange woman standing over her, not fully believing she was real.

The woman knelt down next to her, her head tilted to one side as she watched her. “I can help you,” she repeated, “but only if you accept.”

“Who the hell are you?” And then she saw the woman's eyes--solid black and glowing like embers. She knew of only one thing that had eyes like that. “If you're really the Outsider then there's a lot of artists out there who've been lied to.” Every painting showed the Outsider as a tall, skinny man with dark hair, not a woman with long brown hair and a mischievous smirk.

“Oh, I'm not the Outsider, Shaw, but for right now let's say I'm something...similar, and like him, I can offer you the ability to help yourself however you see fit.”

Shaw had heard enough stories to understand what she was being offered, hell, because of Reese she'd heard more than most about the powers the Outsider's mark gave to humans. While the powers such a mark granted were intriguing, in other circumstances she believed she would have turned them down.

But it wasn't other circumstances.

“Fine. Get me out of this goddamn place and I'll kill whoever you want.”

“Kill?” The woman looked amused. “That's not how this works. Not for the Outsider and not for me. I just give you the powers, and the rest? Entirely up to you.”

Shaw swallowed as she tried to force some moisture back into her dry mouth. “So you just give people extraordinary powers out of the goodness of your heart?”

The woman laughed, her lips curling up in delight. “Sometimes you drop a wolf in the hen house just to see what will happen.” Her smile was a bit too toothy to be reassuring. “Now hold still.”

The burning pain on the back of Shaw's left hand only lasted a few seconds and left behind a charred black brand. Her whole hand felt odd, almost like a cold draft was blowing on it from somewhere unseen.

“Good, now up you get.” The woman stood up and offered Shaw her hand. Shaw thought about refusing it, but she was in poor enough shape that she figured turning down any help would be pointless now. She reached out to grab the woman's hand and…

...her hand passed through the offered hand as if it were smoke.

Shaw glared up at the woman which only made her look more amused.

“Oops, forgot about that little problem.”

Like hell she had.

“Maybe there's a better way.” The woman leaned back down and reached out as if to take Shaw's hand, but this time instead of her hand passing through, the entire cave fell away around Shaw and left her on an island of grey stone, floating in empty space. All around them things flickered and danced in the endlessness.

Shaw had seen enough paintings of the Void to know where she was. The woman's fingers curled around her hand and pulled her to her feet.

“We're going to have so much fun together.”