The Outsider was surprised by the shape of his own body. It was an in-between thing, this physical form that had been preserved by the Void, not quite the way he had looked when he was alive and not quite the way he had appeared to his followers. It had been not quite alive and not quite dead, and Billie Lurk had chosen to return him fully to life.
Billie Lurk looks at him suspiciously. She has saved him, delivered him back into this world, and he wants to thank her, but she gazes at him with cool mistrust. It’s difficult to say anything at all.
“Do you want to tell me your name?” she asks him brusquely. “Something I can call you?”
“I…” The Outsider remembers the name, whispered by Daud into his ear, written down in that language of the dead. But it doesn’t belong to him, not this version of him. It was the name of a child who died long ago. The idea of being called by that name stings at him. He is not the Outsider anymore, but neither does he know who else he could be.
“I’m sorry, no,” he tells Billie. “I don’t think I do.”
She shakes her head in apparent disapproval. He understands; it’s hard to get by in this world without a name, but he doesn’t know what he would choose to be called instead.
“Look,” she says. “I know it’s not what Daud wanted, but I’m glad I could help you out. I believe in giving people second chances, you know?”
Billie had been raised by Daud, Void-touched even though he had not himself marked her. And she knew Corvo. The Outsider had watched her lie to him, and while he could have told Corvo the truth, he preferred to give her the opportunity to do it herself. She had, in the end. He respects that. She is one of those people who found herself in the right place to be a part of events of great significance, and now she has given him a new life.
“Thank you,” he says. “I believe in that too.”
“Where are you going now?” she asks.
The Outsider doesn’t know. He doesn’t have a thing in the world besides the clothes he’s wearing, black and suited for cold weather.
“I suppose I could go anywhere,” he says. “I’m not sure.”
Billie heaves a sigh. “I hope you figure that out. I really do. I’ve got business, though, you understand?”
The Outsider nods. He wouldn’t have expected her to stay. Billie looks at him for a moment, then reaches into her pocket and pulls out a purse filled with coins, which she holds out to him.
“I shouldn’t —“
“Just take it,” Billie says impatiently. “Where else are you going to get any money from?”
It’s a good point. He accepts the coin purse and thanks her again, knowing there are hardly words enough. She nods to him, curtly.
“I don’t want anyone knowing about this,” she says sternly. “I think there’s enough of a price on my head without the Abbey of the Everyman thinking I’m some sort of grand heretic who’s brought the Outsider into this world.”
“There isn’t much I can do to them now,” he says; he can’t help finding the suggestion that he might be dangerous in his present form a little funny.
Billie raises her eyebrows at him as though he’s a bit slow. “You think that’ll matter to them? Look, are you going to keep your head down or not?”
The man who was once the Outsider nods. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I can do that.”
In the closest town he finds a tavern and buys a room for the night, and then a meal: broth, a chunk of brown bread, and a flagon of ale. He understands from the quality of the establishment and the faces of the people around him that none of these items are considered to be of high value, but he dunks the bread into the broth with a sense of greater satisfaction than he’s felt in his memory. The taste of salt and the warmth on the tongue wash over him, and he closes his eyes.
This, he believes, the feeling of life, unmistakable in its simplicity. Nothing that is dead can hunger. Nothing that is dead can be warmed.
After eating, the second purchase he makes with Billie Lurk’s coin is of a newspaper. It carries the latest headline about the triumphant return of the Empress and the policies she is working to enact, an effort to lift all of Gristol’s people on a rising tide.
He skims past that, looking for mention of the Royal Protector, and finds what he’s looking for; the paper reports that the Royal Protector (and Royal Spymaster, the Outsider knows) has taken a leave of absence in the wake of his latest triumph over the false empress Delilah. The writer notes that it is extraordinary, that since Empress Emily’s ascension to the throne he has hardly ever left her side. Beside the columns of text is a small sketch of Corvo in his formal attire; the Outsider smiles slightly at the grim expression inked onto his face.
The Outsider’s gaze did not fail to see where Corvo went after leaving the palace and the life in the lap of luxury he had led for the past two decades. Now, with his new mortal eyes, he can’t see Corvo, but he can follow the trail he remembers.
When he finishes reading, there is a slight stain of ink on the Outsider’s hands. Holding his fingers up to the tavern’s flickering oil light, he marvels at it.
He wonders if Corvo’s hand still bears the Mark.
It is easy to see why he had chosen Corvo. Among his selections he was perhaps the only one who could truly be said to have worked out well. Corvo, in the center of the Empire, was incorruptible. He was a fighter who took no pleasure in causing pain, a warrior who would do nearly anything to avoid having to kill.
And as he performed his valiant deeds the Outsider watched, and his eyes that were not eyes devoured the sight, and his hands that were not hands wanted the ability to touch, and his body that was not a body yearned for something he had never felt even when alive.
Second chances, the Outsider thinks, heading the echo of Billie’s voice. He had never asked Corvo why he did not like to kill, the thing that set him so far apart from the powerful in their world whether or not they had been touched by the Void. But perhaps Corvo imagined that a man he left dizzy from a period of unconsciousness rather than with a slit throat was one who could change, could turn his life around.
Perhaps he had tried to give all those others what Billie Lurk has given the Outsider.
In his room at the inn, there is a small mirror set above the chest of drawers, and he peers at his reflection in it, twisting this way and that to examine the image from every angle. The face that looks back at him is that of a young man, with skin that is unlined and very pale. His limbs are thin and sharply-angled, his bones clearly present under the skin in a way he thinks makes him look almost knifelike. His eyes are grey, and he finds he doesn’t remember what they looked like when he was a child.
It’s not the face of a man who has seen even a fraction of what he has. It’s the face of someone who is new to this world. And he supposes in a way that he is.
There is no sleep in the Void, but although the bed is narrow and the night is cold, sleep comes easily to him that night.
Part of him expects the overseers to somehow find him as he makes his way to the Karnacan coast. Of course, they are not looking for him, and he takes no particular care to avoid them. They could not be avoided, anyway, present as they are in every city and town.
But each time he passes a church or walks past an individual overseer on the street he anticipates something, if only a spark of recognition in their eyes. He thinks surely they will see him for what he was and fall upon him like dogs on meat, tearing him apart. The first time an overseer met his eyes he felt himself physically flinch away from the look, shrinking into the gray stone wall that bordered the market where he was buying his meal.
But the man only looked at him for the briefest of moments and inclined his head in acknowledgement as he would to any other citizen, and continued on his way.
The Outsider could not help laughing. Here he stood, the figure that haunted all the fevered visions of the church authorities, personification of their imagined temptations, and the man did not know him when he saw him.
It’s the same with all the other overseers he encounters. They see only a slim young man whose eyes are gray instead of black, nothing threatening, nothing to be afraid of.
In the Outsider’s own lifetime, people had believed in many gods. Whether or not they ever existed, he cannot say, only that he is certain now he has outlived them all.
The religion of this place, now, does not rely on belief. It relies only on the cloying hatred that fills the temples of the overseers, perfumed sickly sweet with virtue. It needs nothing to live on other than its own antipathy toward that damned figure, the Outsider, the black-eyed devil in the Void.
There are shrines to him as well, of course. Not all of his worshippers dwell in the cities and make their altars with bones and rotted wood. He finds them in the small towns, away from the eyes of the high overseer. His people pile their shrines high with flowers and fruits and coins and they say that the Outsider watches, that the Outsider’s hand guides all men’s fates.
He pockets a few of the coins to pay for his food and lodging when Billie’s money runs out. After all, it has been left for him, even if the offerings were of no use in the Void.
He supposes the church will go on and the sacrifices will be made at the altars for a long time. He, himself, has little part in it.
But the offering of an orange on an altar to the black-eyed god still tastes sweet.
After two weeks’ travel the Outsider comes to his destination.
It’s a small town on the coast — well, it’s not precise to say that the town is his destination, but it is the closest settlement of any real size. From there it’s a few hours’ walk to where he is really going, close enough that one could occasionally venture into town to pick up food and other supplies but certainly not close enough that his destination is part of the community.
The beach is rocky and, when he arrives, overcast and gray. The lighthouse sitting on its twisted plinth of rock is old but well-maintained, painted the color of slate, and its light cuts through the fog.
When the Outsider knocks on the door, there is a moment when he imagines that no one will answer, that he has come to the wrong place and the face of the keeper will be unfamiliar, that the man he has come to see will turn him away. All of those worries resolve into one sensation of startled relief when the heavy wooden door opens to reveal Corvo Attano’s face. He’s dressed in simple clothing, his beard and hair both somewhat longer than when the Outsider spoke to him last, the hair held back with a leather tie.
Corvo, undeniably, is a handsome man. His age is no disadvantage; there is something about the lines on his face and the gray streaked through his hair that makes him only more pleasant to look at, as if he were designed with late middle age in mind. The Outsider had known this before, but he feels it differently now, a sort of heat rising through his body as he looks at Corvo Attano, the man who has twice saved the Empire and who has, clearly, now retreated from it.
“You’re alive,” Corvo says, simply.
The Outsider inclines his head. “Alive, and mortal,” he says.
Corvo looks at him for a long moment. His eyes must be studying the solidity of his flesh. The Outsider thinks of the reflection he had seen in the mirror back at the inn, that first night, and wonders what Corvo is thinking.
“How is that possible?” he asks.
“Daud tried to kill me,” the Outsider says simply. “He found the knife that could do it. But Billie Lurk set me free instead.”
Corvo nods in understanding. “Well, then,” he says. “Come in.” He does not ask the Outsider why he is here.
Stepping over the threshold, the Outsider is instantly warmed by a small fire burning in the hearth. On the interior of the lighthouse is a small room, simply furnished. It’s a dark, cramped-feeling space, an even more cramped flight of spiraling stairs leading upwards. Quite a distance from the palace of the Empress.
Corvo leads him through a narrow doorway and into a tiny kitchen, where he gestures at a roughly-made wooden table and chair and busies himself making a cup of tea.
Reluctant to take the only chair, the Outsider perches on the edge of the kitchen table. Corvo raises his eyebrows at him but says nothing.
“Do the people in this village have any idea their lighthouse keeper is the Royal Protector of Empress Emily?” the Outsider asks him.
“They don’t know what doesn’t concern them,” Corvo says. He pours two mugs of black tea, adding nothing to it, and crosses the short distance to take a seat at the kitchen chair. The Outsider accepts the mug of tea when it’s offered, and tries not to wince at the bitter taste.
“Does anyone know the Outsider is walking among us these days?” Corvo says.
The Outsider smiles. “Only Miss Lurk,” he says. “And you.”
Corvo looks thoughtful for a moment, and the Outsider watches as, perhaps without realizing it, Corvo runs his fingers over the place where the Mark must be on his opposite hand, covered in thin black gloves.
The tea is useful for the way it warms one’s hands, if not for the taste. “I’m surprised to see you here. Away from your daughter.”
“I left Emily with people I trust,” Corvo says. “There are some. Not many. I believe she will be safe.” After a moment he adds, reluctantly, “I trust her to take care of herself.”
“It was her idea, I assume,” the Outsider says. “For you to take some time away from your position.”
Corvo’s laugh is sharp and short. “Yes. Naturally. My daughter thinks I should relax. She said I am… I think she said ‘getting up there in years.’”
The Outsider can’t resist a slight smile. “No one could argue you’re not still capable.”
Corvo only hmms in reply, and takes a deep drink of his tea. The Outsider’s eyes follow his hand as he raises the mug, wishing he could see through the fabric to where he left his mark.
“Do you still have it?” the Outsider asks abruptly.
Corvo looks up at him sharply. “What?”
“Your mark,” he says. “You are the only one left alive who bears it, you know. Or did, before.”
By way of answering, Corvo slides off the glove on his hand and stretches it, calloused and strong-fingered, across the table, nearly brushing the Outsider’s thigh.
On the back of Corvo’s hand is his mark, faded and no longer thrumming with any kind of power or potential, but still there as surely as if it had been branded there or carved with a knife.
There must be many others across the world who have attempted to give themselves a facsimile of this mark with their own hand. But only one belongs to him. He can’t resist reaching out to touch with one finger, tracing the outline of his own unspoken name. Corvo does not flinch away from his touch.
“I felt it,” Corvo says. “When the power left me. I thought that must be your doing.”
“No,” the Outsider says. “It was not my choice.” He takes his hand away. It is too strange, this contact before his own body and another’s, even if it is Corvo, even if it is his mark.
Corvo doesn’t flinch at that either. He looks at the Outsider with something like curiosity, as if waiting for his next move.
“I think I’d like to stay here for a time,” the Outsider says. “Would you let me?”
He watches carefully for the way the corners of Corvo’s mouth turn up just slightly. “I don’t see why you couldn’t. There’s two bedrooms. Second one is very small, though.”
“Suppose I should get a second chair as well,” Corvo adds.
The Outsider smiles and unfolds himself to stand from the kitchen table. “Quite.”
In the morning, over another mug of strong tea, the Outsider meets the third inhabitant of the lighthouse.
She saunters into the kitchen without any announcement of her arrival, and leaps immediately onto the small counter. The cat is larger than any stray the Outsider remembers seeing in Dunwall, a mottled white and black and orange calico with one dark eye, the other scarred over. She’s missing half an ear as well, and walks with a slight limp.
Corvo reaches over to scratch her behind the ears, and when she lets out a plaintive meow, pulls a plate from the cupboard and sets a fish in front of her. The cat begins devouring it immediately, long tail waving back and forth in apparent pleasure.
“You have a guest,” the Outsider says, amused.
Corvo shrugs. “She comes and goes,” he says. “Keeps the rats away. Probably here long before me.”
“Of course.” He watched, sipping his strong tea, as the cat eats its breakfast. Having grown accustomed to the taste, he finds that he doesn’t mind it. Whatever Karnacan brew it is, there’s a hint of spice just strong enough to be pleasant.
When she’s finished eating, the cat appears to notice there’s someone unexpected in the room with her and eyes the Outsider suspiciously. He holds out a hand, offering her the opportunity to sniff it.
“What’s her name?” the Outsider asks.
“She’s a stray. Doesn’t have one.”
“Ah. You and I have something in common,” the Outsider tells the cat. He sees Corvo give another slight smile.
Apparently not put off by finding this stranger in the kitchen, the cat licks the Outsider’s hand. He cautiously offers her a stroke on the head, which she accepts as well, and after a moment she begins purring.
“She’s been through a few battles, hasn’t she,” the Outsider says.
Corvo nods. “She’s a tough old girl.”
The cat tilts her head upward, allowing the Outsider to run his fingers beneath the fur under her chin, and closes her one eye in apparent bliss. “She reminds me a bit of Granny Rags,” he says, and nearly startles Corvo into a laugh.
“I suppose I can see the resemblance,” he says.
“Rags, do you like that name?” the Outsider asks the cat seriously. She tilts her head, nosing into the palm of his head.
Even this contact with a living being is strange. He wonders at the feeling of warmth, the ability to feel the cat’s heartbeat beneath its skin.
“Hmm,” Corvo says, “two extra months to feed now.” But he says it without any malice, and the Outsider thinks he looks almost fond.
The Outsider does not make any attempt to define how long he’ll be staying, and Corvo doesn’t ask.
In the mornings, they breakfast and drink their tea together, and the cat the Outsider quickly takes to calling Rags generally joins them. She comes back for dinner in the evenings, winding her way around their legs under the table to beg for scraps. And in the evenings Corvo will generally busy himself with some task like sharpening a knife or whittling a bit of driftwood into the shape of a fish, while the Outsider reads one of a small selection of books he’s found in the spare bedroom of the lighthouse and, out of the corner of his eye, watches Corvo.
The work of a lighthouse keeper is defined less by the actual activity than by the need for a presence to keep the lights on. Corvo is there partly as a monitor and partly in the event of a wreck, but his days are not, for the most part, busy. Still, there is maintenance that needs to be done and clockwork that needs to be wound, the whale oil that keeps the light burning replenished. Corvo does all of this with uncomplaining precision.
During the days, when Corvo is working, the Outsider walks down to the water and watches the waves break on the shore. The sting of the salt air on his face is pleasant, and the feeling of his boots sinking just slightly into the hard-packed sand.
It is cold this time of year, too cold for swimming, but sometimes he takes off his shoes and walks into the water up to his ankles anyway, letting the smallest echoes of the waves laps at his feet until the cold becomes too much. Other days, he’ll sit and watch the distant forms of the whales for hours. From where the lighthouse sits, they are just in view on the horizon sometimes, when they emerge from the water to breathe that salt air.
As the Outsider, the whales belonged to him. No, possession isn’t exactly right, because he was as much theirs as they were his. They are creatures of the deep with their own kind of strange magic, and when they died, slaughtered for the continuation of the Empire’s industry, he felt their pain, as perhaps they felt the long-ago pain of a twin-bladed knife.
When they died, they came to him, remained in the Void alongside him still bearing the tears in their flesh where they had been killed. Their souls lingered for a long time, longer than any of the human spirits in the Void. He used to be able to hear their song quite clearly, both the living and the dead. Sometimes the dead sang songs to the living, and the living sang their songs of mourning as if in reply.
Sometimes, here, he can hear them faintly in the distance, but he no longer understands as he once did what they are calling to one another.
The whale song is part of what reminds him of the Void, of course, but the stillness does too, the silence and the absence of other living souls. And of course, the vastness of it, the sea with its waters that continue far beyond what his eyes can see. Sometimes a ship is visible, warned away from the shore by the beam of the lighthouse, but even that is rare.
He thinks about what it would be like to walk into those waters in the summer, to immerse himself in them and hear nothing but the rush of water in his ears, and he thinks that he might like to learn to swim.
After a few days, Corvo comes to find him as the sun is setting in the evening. The Outsider expects some kind of urgency when he sees the approaching figure on the horizon, but Corvo’s silhouette walks toward him at a leisurely pace, his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“Wondered where you’d been getting off to,” he says when they meet. The Outsider has been sitting on a rocky outcropping some distance from the shore, watching the waves.
“I like it here,” the Outsider says. “It reminds me of —“
He almost says home, but he stops himself. That isn’t right. For all that the Void had a grip on him just as strong as it did on those who aspired to be his acolytes, it was not and could never have been home. That was something he’d never had.
“No people to watch here,” Corvo says. He stands with his back to the Outsider, face turned toward the sea. The Outsider watches as Corvo’s hair, mingled silver and brown, is tossed this way and that by the light wind.
“I listen for the whales.”
“Ah,” Corvo says. Turning, he gestures toward one of the rocks where the Outsider is perched. “Could I…”
“Yes,” the Outsider says, too quickly. “Of course.”
Corvo sits. He folds his hands in his lap like a child in prayer and closes his eyes, and the Outsider realizes after a moment that he is trying to focus, listening for the song of the whales.
“Do you hear it?” the Outsider asks.
Corvo nods. “Yes,” he says. “I think I do.”
Corvo uses whale oil to keep the lighthouse burning, but the Outsider can’t fault him for that. It is the way of the world.
They remain there, listening, until the sun sets.
At the end of each month there is a market in the village which all of the locals attend, offering their goods of every kind for trade or for sale. Corvo says it is the only time to buy anything of quality and says he will give a shopping list to the messenger who brings his deliveries and mail, but the Outsider insists they should go for themselves.
The market is busier than the Outsider would have expected for such a small town; it seems vendors and buyers come from some distance away. It’s different from a market square in the city, where all the sellers are eyeing each other nervously and half of the patrons are looking for a chance to buy something illegal or stolen. People group together, laughing, and there’s a scent of fresh-baked bread and the music of an accordionist in the air.
Corvo’s bearing among this small crowd of others is stiff and martial, straight-spined, as though an assassin could be lurking anywhere. The Outsider thinks of watching him crouch unseen among market stalls, pocketing a bit of meat when the purveyor’s back was turned, and wonders if he might prefer it.
For his part, the Outsider wants to spend the last of the altar offerings he took. “Come with me,” he says, and Corvo follows him along through the aisles of market stalls, where the Outsider wanders to whatever goods catch his eye. He examines the sea glass pendants, the candles made from beeswax that come in a surprising variety of scents. Corvo gives him a skeptical look, but he buys a few of the candles anyway.
Among the food stalls, Corvo steers him to one selling pastries and orders some sort of bread with pieces of tomatoes and olives baked into it. “Here,” he says, breaking it in half unceremoniously and handing one half to the Outsider. “You’ll like it.”
He does. It’s warm, and seasoned with that Serkonan mixture of spices that make it rich and comforting. The Outsider closes his eyes, savoring the taste of it, and it occurs to him that he is happy, the contendness so unfamiliar he hadn’t noticed its arrival.
“I like it,” he says.
And the Outsider finds out what Corvo does with his wooden carvings, the tiny but precise renderings of animals. He gives them to the local children. The Outsider watches from a slight distance as Corvo offers a young girl his hand, spread out to show her several of the little features. She picks up each one to inspect it in turn before she chooses the figure of a horse tearing up onto its hind legs, and her mother smiles gratefully at Corvo, who salutes to the child as if she is a member of the royal guard. She has dark hair like Emily if she had grown up a peasant girl on the coast instead of a princess; the Outsider does not see everything anymore, but he sees enough to know that is what Corvo is thinking.
The Outsider wonders if the strength of his wanting will wane overtime, if it is only because his humanity is so new or if everyone feels the sting so sharply. They go back to the lighthouse with their baskets of goods, together.
“Why did you come here?” Corvo asks him that night.
The Outsider had been somewhat caught up in the novel he was reading — a rather lurid tale of a young peasant woman who finds herself at the estate of a nobleman with a dark secret — but he looks up when he hears the question to see that Corvo has ceased working on to wood carving in his hand and is looking right at him.
It’s not a judgmental question — at least, the Outsider doesn’t think, from the tone of his voice, that it is. It sounds as though Corvo is genuinely wondering, confused by the Outsider’s presence. Somehow that, too, stings.
“You were the only one left,” the Outsider says. “The only one of my marked. Who else should I go to?”
Corvo only looks at him. “If it’s money you need,” he says, “you know, of course, I have plenty —“
“I didn’t come here for that,” the Outsider says, although he has not a coin to his name after spending the last of the money from his shrines. Technically, he supposes, he is entitled to all those offerings, but he feels the nomadic existence collecting them would require wouldn’t be a pleasant one.
“Then why?” Corvo says. “A thousand years in that pit, and once you’re human again you decide the way you want to spend your time is keeping an old man company on his retirement?”
“Four thousand years,” the Outsider says.
“Four thousand years,” he repeats. Irritation is rising in the back of his throat. If Corvo wants him to leave, all he need do is say that. He will go. “That’s how long I spent in the Void. So you are not an ‘old man’ to me. And anyway, I thought you weren’t retired.”
The words seem to rather take the wind out of Corvo’s sails. He scrubs a hand over his face, and when he takes it away he looks very tired.
“I will be if Emily has anything to say about it,” he says.
Stillness falls between them, and the Outsider looks down at his hands. This type of speaking is nothing like how they communicated before, when the Outsider gave instruction and offered commentary and Corvo, mostly, listened. This is unfamiliar, and he wishes for that confidence that he feels has fled him now.
“Your daughter cares a great deal for you,” he says. “And I came here because it is where I wanted to be.”
Corvo just looks at him, expression shielded and unreadable.
“You were a god,” Corvo says.
“And now I am not,” the Outsider replies impatiently. “And for the moment, I choose to be here.”
He isn’t sure what reply he expects from Corvo — perhaps that he will get up and leave the room, or perhaps tell the Outsider to go, that he has far overstayed his welcome. But instead, after a moment, Corvo’s frown resigns into itself to something like acceptance.
“Alright, then,” Corvo says, and turns his face back to his carving. “By the way,” he adds a moment later.
“If you’re going to read, you could do it out loud.”
The Outsider can’t help smiling, feeling oddly pleased by the request. “Very well,” he says, and turns back to the beginning of the chapter, so that Corvo does not miss the heroine’s discovery of the baron’s bastard daughter.
The day after that is when the Outsider finds the beached whale.
its carcass is not far down from the shore from where the lighthouse sits. Only an afternoon’s walk away, but he had not walked to the beach the previous afternoon, and this place is too isolated for anyone else to have found it, let alone to have attempted some kind of rescue.
Still, it looks almost as though it could be alive. He touches the smooth, grey skin with a hesitant hand, feeling for a heartbeat or a breath, but he knows instinctively that it is dead.
He stands, hand still on the whale’s side, for a long moment. Its underbelly is deeply scarred, the ugly remenant of a whaling ship, and he wonders whether it was chased here, whether it was fleeing in fear of its life only to die at low tide on this cold, lonely shore.
He goes back to the lighthouse to tell Corvo.
“It happens sometimes,” Corvo says. His hands are stained with black oil from some repair he had been doing. “I’ll tell someone in town, and they’ll break it down, use the flesh and the bones.”
The Outsider can’t help the face he must make. Corvo sighs, and splashes water over his hands in the small kitchen sink to clean them off.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “But it’s dead. There’s nothing we can do for it.”
“We do this to them,” the Outsider says. He doesn’t know where the sudden anger in his voice comes from. “No — you do this to them. The Empire. With your need for power, your whale oil.”
“And your bone charms,” Corvo says lightly.
The Outsider turns his head away. “No, not mine,” he says. “I never asked for that. I never made them.”
Corvo’s eyes fix on him, heavy and — he thinks with surprise — almost scolding. “And what else would light the Empire?” he says. “Magic?”
No, the Outsider thinks. Magic comes with a heavy enough price too. There is only one way for an empire to run and it is on blood.
“Come with me and pay your respects,” he says sharply, disregarding Corvo’s question. “An individual is dead.”
That grants him another half-smile. “Alright, then,” Corvo says. “Lead the way.”
They walk down to the beach together in silence, neither speaking until they reach their destination, the corpse. It still lies there looking for all the world as if it could breathe again.
“They’re crushed by their own bodies, you know,” the Outsider says. “Without the water to make them lighter.”
“Oh,” Corvo says, looking uncomfortable.
The Outsider skims his fingers over the dead skin of the whale again. “It almost seems like a trick on them, doesn’t it?” he says. “They can’t breathe under the water, but they can’t live on the land. They’re in-between creatures.”
Corvo doesn’t say anything. He looks at the Outsider with something in his eyes that’s difficult to understand. Always so veiled, and the Outsider doesn’t see things the way he used to.
“Do you want to say something?” the Outsider asks.
Corvo shifts uncomfortably, casting his eyes down at the corpse below them. “Ah,” he says, shifting from foot to foot in the sand. “We’ve come here to… to pay our respects to this whale.”
He glances sidelong at the Outsider, who nods, encouraging him to go on.
“Every life is worthwhile,” Corvo says, with a little more conviction. “We, uh, command the soul of this creature to the Void. May its sleep be peaceful.”
“Good,” the Outsider says. Corvo’s words, though stilted, are sincere, and he finds it a comfort. “I’ll something now. A prayer.” He holds out his hand, and after blinking at him for a moment, Corvo takes it. The Outsider holds out his other hand as if they are joined to an invisible circle, and after a moment, Corvo follows suit.
Bowing his head, the Outsider recites a long-forgotten prayer in a dead language. He’s not sure exactly who he’s praying to, but it is a blessing for a peaceful death, and it feels good to say the words. He knows it has been many years since the language was spoken.
When the prayer concludes, he lets go, somewhat reluctantly, of Corvo’s hand.
“You’ll make sure the remains are taken for useful purposes?” the Outsider says. “Not simply disposed of?”
There is little he can imagine that would be worse than a purposeless death.
“Yes,” Corvo says. “Of course.”
The Outsider looks back at the vacant, still-open eye of the whale. When he turns and begins to walk away, he must stumble a little, because Corvo catches his arm. And instead of letting go a moment later, his hand remains there, as if he’s guiding the Outsider through a crowded ballroom.
“Careful,” Corvo says gruffly. “You’ll fall.”
In many ways, the Outsider feels that he already has.
It’s Corvo who asks, eventually, on a night when they are doing nothing in particular but sitting outside together a short distance away from the lighthouse, watching the stars. The cat has come with them, too, curled up at Corvo’s side.
Corvo claims the constellations are different in Karnaca than they are in Dunwall. The Outsider knows it can’t be true, that the placement of stars is the same, but he likes to listen to Corvo tell the stories.
“What will happen now that you’re gone?” Corvo says. “Will they make another Outsider?”
It’s abrupt, breaking the silence of several minutes, and the Outsider doesn’t know what to say. He watches Corvo again run a finger around the outline of his mark, which has faded significantly.
“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I’m sure there will be some who want to.”
“But what happens to the Void?” Corvo presses. “If you’re gone?”
“I don’t know that either.” He feels mildly ashamed of the lack of knowledge. If it’s possible to know what will become of the Void, he, in the rush of new life, he hardly cared.
Corvo looks at him for a long moment, absently stroking the cat’s fur as he does. Rags — they’ve both taken to the name by now — nuzzles contentedly against his hand.
“Do you know that one?” Corvo asks him eventually, pointing to some indistinct form in the sky. The Outsider must have known the name of the constellation once, but he finds that many of his memories are slipping from him these days. It doesn’t trouble him as much as he might have thought it would.
“No. Tell me.”
“That’s the form of Ivo, the shepard,” Corvo says. “The story is that he pined away with love for a noblewoman who hardly noticed his existence. One day he spoke with her, and at the end of the conversation he did something he wasn’t supposed to do. He kissed her hand.”
Corvo is looking up at the stars, his eyes fixed on that distant point. He doesn’t turn his head. The Outsider waits, patiently.
“But it turned out this woman was cruel,” Corvo continues, “and she told her guards to kill the shepard. They did. Cut off his head on the spot.”
He glances at the Outsider with a half-smile, like he finds this detail amusing. Still quiet, the Outsider twists his hand into the grass by his side, oddly discomfited by the image of the noblewoman’s dead admirer.
“But he died still loving her,” Corvo continues. “The story is something took pity on him and made him into a constellation so he could look at the woman he loved without getting close to her.”
It’s probably the longest speech the Outsider has ever heard him make; he might have thought Corvo was incapable of so many sentences said together. For a long moment, the Outsider does not know how to respond.
He feels that he’s missed the obvious punchline when Corvo says, “You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?” and laughs.
“Ah, no. I think I would remember that.”
Corvo, face tilted up to the sky, remains sitting beside him, idly stroking the cat behind the ears, but the Outsider is still troubled.
“I am sorry,” he says eventually. “I imagine it seems terribly unfair to you.” The taste of guilt is only made more sour by admitting to it.
Corvo looks over at him silently, brow furrowed.
“About Jessamine,” the Outsider elaborates. “That she could not be returned to you, but here I am.”
Corvo only looks more puzzled. “That isn’t your fault,” he says.
The Outsider could argue that point. True, he never possessed powers of clairvoyance, but if he had never given Daud the mark, perhaps the coup against Jessamine would have been avoided entirely.
“Couldn’t have said goodbye to her without you,” Corvo says.
Yes, the Outsider could say, I gave you her heart. To guide you where I could not. You trusted her. What if I told you that sometimes I hated her for it?
He does not say that; he says only, “I’m not the one who deserved another chance. Among everyone who has lived.”
“Why not?” Corvo says.
The cat has lost interest in Corvo, occupied by her own pursuit of stalking some insect among the grass, and he turns more fully toward the Outsider. “Why not?” he says. “You died young, the way I see it. Nothing natural about it. Most people get a little more good out of life before they go. You—“ He gestures at the Outsider, his face tight with some unnameable expression. “You got a second chance. Make good on it.”
Corvo says nothing else. The Outsider, silent and still beside him, can’t help the small flicker of light in his own heart.
On other nights, the Outsider reads to Corvo from the penny novel he has been working his way through. Not much for reading himself, Corvo seems to find this amusing, although the books are not of particular literary merit. In the latest one, a virtuous heroine named Abilene has been betrothed against her will to a man with a reputation as a ruiner of women, though the story suggests this may be somewhat exaggerated.
The Outsider feels undeservedly proud of the small skill he has for reading aloud. At least, Corvo seems to think he reads well, listening with apparent attention and occasionally even pausing in the carving he’s working on to do so more fully. But the tale of Abilene and the duke is giving him some trouble.
In the passage he is reading, the two of them find themselves alone and unchaperoned in the duke’s drawing room — a scandal in the making. The man draws nearer to the young woman and then looms over her with a hand on the wall behind her head.
“The duke stood over her,” the Outsider reads, “his hovering form both imposing and thrilling. Before she could move, Abilene felt the feather-light caress of that long, elegant hand on her neck, the fingers leaving gooseflesh wherever they touched.”
Corvo’s smiling, even though his face is still turned toward his knife. The Outsider reads on.
“‘Sir, you realize this is most inappropriate,’ she said. But he paid her no regard, only looked down at her lips and said, ‘Have you ever been kissed?’ She found there was only one way she could reply. ‘No,’ she said, ‘never.’ ‘I am sorry for that,’ the duke said, ‘for you deserve it.’”
He coughs lightly. Skimming ahead, there are an unfortunate number of pages left in the chapter.
“Abilene’s gaze went from the dark, searching gaze of the man before her to his lips, and then his hand was in her hair, tilting her head upward. She was powerless to resist. At the first touch of his lips, she went stock still. Then his tongue touched her lips, and she opened her mouth without thinking, and all thought of refusal left her head.”
The Outsider has been reading as drily as he can, but at this point he cannot continue.
“Well,” he says, “I believe you see the general point. Moving ahead —“
“No, go on,” Corvo says. He looks up from his carving, and there’s laughter in his eyes. “I want to hear the rest of it.”
The next paragraph visible from glancing back down at the book contains mention of Abilene’s heaving bosom and trembling legs. “I would rather not,” the Outsider says. He feels absurd. There is nothing of humanity’s various depravities and vices he has not seen, but the idea of reading a few paragraphs of smut out loud to Corvo mortifies him — an emotion he never felt at all before being thrust back into this mortality.
He wonders if he should thank Billie Lurk or curse her.
“It embarrasses you,” Corvo says. His obvious amusement has faded a little. One might even say that he looks fond. “Of all things.”
Compulsively, the Outsider crosses his legs primly, one knee over the other as if he were the proper heroine from the book. “It doesn’t,” he says, knowing that Corvo can see through it. “The quality of the writing, perhaps.”
“Has anyone ever kissed you?” Corvo asks him.
The Outsider can’t stop himself from letting out a short, harsh laugh. “Whoever would have?” he says. “Daud?”
Corvo raises his eyebrows. “No,” he says, “I can’t picture that.”
“My reputation for debauchery, like so much else your church believes, is incorrect,” the Outsider says. “I did not appear to young women in any feverish visions. Nor did I tempt any upright young men away from their Abbey training. I had no body, what would be the point in that?”
The snappish tone of his voice must give him away, because Corvo looks at him more piercingly still, and he says, “And now?”
The Outsider shrugs. “And now I find myself reading literature favored by unhappily married women,” he says. “And some of the Sisters of the Oracular Order.”
Corvo’s half-smile cuts straight through him. He sets aside the knife and the rough, unformed carving, and when he gets to his feet, a strange thrill runs through the Outsider’s whole body, at once familiar and foreign. “Come here,” Corvo says, his voice light and friendly.
The Outsider does. It doesn’t occur to him not to. Even that moment feels foreign, as if the legs that carry him across the small space could not possibly belong to him. The hand that Corvo takes in his own, that cannot be his, because he is not permitted this sort of touch, is not capable of this feeling. Yet every nerve in the body he now possesses tells him exactly what this is.
Corvo’s hand is rough, callused, and his eyes are trustworthy. He is nothing like a caddish hero from a penny novel, or anyone else the Outsider has known. When Corvo looks at him he is not illusory; he is solid, real.
“Can I kiss you?” Corvo asks, plain and straightforward.
It can’t belong to him, this feeling, but he allows himself to feel it anyway. “Yes,” he says, and Corvo’s hand is on his neck, guiding his face up into a kiss.
It’s like nothing else, when their lips meet. There is nothing in his life before that was so warm, that made him so dizzy. The Outsider is certain that the small, overwhelmed sound he makes almost immediately is embarrassing, that his body is stiff and unyielding, but then Corvo has an arm around his waist and it is easy.
He’s never been so close to anyone before, not that he remembers. Corvo holds him up and kisses him in a way that is like drowning in reverse. The Outsider has to break away after a moment of it, breathing hard.
There is hot blood thrumming through his veins and it proves to him that he is alive. There is Corvo’s body warm against his and it proves to him that he is not alone, not anymore.
Corvo looks at him, eyes gentle, and brushes a thumb over his lips. The Outsider parts them, slightly, tasting the salt on his callused skin.
“I wanted,” the Outsider says, and then shakes his head. “More than that. I wanted to want, I suppose. And then I was alive again, and I came here.”
Corvo smiles like he understands. “Thought about this,” he says, like a confession. “For years.”
The thought of that twists something in the Outsider’s stomach. He feels a kind of powerful hunger, desire, so inaccessible to him before this new humanity that it makes his knees weak.
“Let me see the mark,” the Outsider says. Corvo doesn’t question it, just offers the Outsider his hand.
The shape of it is still there, but in thin white lines that have clearly faded from the way it looked only days before. Likely it will fade still more, into nothingness, without the power of the Void behind it. The thought of that mark, that claim, disappearing makes the Outsider more than a little sad.
“I don’t need it, you know,” Corvo says gently. “Not now that you’re here.”
The Outsider kisses him again, Corvo’s marked hand releasing his to cradle the side of his face and then slide into his hair.
“Come to bed with me,” the Outsider says, and Corvo doesn’t need to be asked twice.
When all that is left of the beached whale are its ribs, the townsfolk leave them for the inhabitants of the lighthouse.
The Outsider doesn’t know exactly what Corvo told them, if he asked for them, but they are brought to their door with a strange kind of reverence by a local child. It’s not like the kind the Outsider used to attract; this is more the kind that’s bestowed upon village eccentrics.
They are reassured that the meat and organs of the whale have been put to good use, and Corvo sets about carving the bones.
He doesn’t make bone charms from them, or anything that would once have been imbued with arcane powers. Only the little figures that he gives away to children. For the Outsider he carves a miniaturized version of a whale itself, its chalkwhite tail positioned as if in the middle of a dive.
A letter from the empress finds them as well. Corvo reads over it on the morning it arrives and then passes it to the Outsider for him to read as well. Emily sends her well wishes and her assurances that when Corvo has had enough of the sea air, he is welcome back at court.
“You’ll go back, of course,” the Outsider says.
Corvo nods. “Soon,” he says. “And you’ll come with me.”
It isn’t truly phrased as a question, and the Outsider is quietly pleased by that. “And the cat,” he says.
Corvo makes a face of exaggerated annoyance. “Alright,” he says. “Emily will be thrilled.”
There is one more thing Corvo carves for him out of the whale bone before they go. Two things, really, a matching set, each a thin white ring carved with the mark Corvo once wore on his hand. And when Corvo places the ring on his finger, the man who was once the Outsider leans close to him and whispers his true name.