“Know this, Corvo,” said The Outsider, lounging carelessly on the edge of Corvo’s dreamscape. “I have marked many, many people throughout my existence. Very few have been undeserving of it. None of them thought they were.”
“And what should that mean to me?”
“I never thought you would think yourself too good for my gift, that’s all. Or perhaps, not good enough?”
Corvo rolled one shoulder up, then down. He kept his eyes fixed on the cobbles. “I don’t have the knack for them yet. No instincts.”
“Oh,” said The Outsider, smiling faintly. “You’ll get them soon enough.”
It was at that moment that Corvo woke up.
The Outsider remained where he was, staring thoughtfully at the place Corvo had been crouched, inspecting something in the cracked cobblestones.
He’d made sure the pavilion had been free of blood and other viscera before calling Corvo to him, but it seemed Corvo had brought along something of his own. Interesting.
The Heart pulsed gently between the paving stones, whispering.
“He doesn’t know who you are,” said the Outsider, crouching in the spot Corvo had left. In the way of dreams, his shadow lingered.
“Does that matter?” The heart whispered, high and sweet and deferential.
The Outsider took a moment, turned the thought over in his mind. He couldn’t find an answer before the Heart, too, vanished.
It had been a woman, first.
The mark did not take to her; she burned from the inside out.
It had been rather a shame, really. The Outsider had liked her, if you were willing to believe that he could like anything. She was bloodthirsty, and creative, but the mark had found something in her lacking. She’d been alone in the world, entirely by choice. Bloody, calculating choice.
When he’d spirited her into the void to take the mark, she’d looked around with wonder apparent even to him. In another time, she might have been an artist.
The few days he’d been able to witness her carving her way through Pandyssia had been something to see, at least. The Outsider thought of her often, although he couldn’t recall her name. He wasn’t sure, centuries later, that he’d ever learned it.
He chose much more carefully, after that, took time to observe his subjects closely, like rats in a maze. They took a while to come to him, but they always did in the end.
The mark took to the next few more easily. It was almost musical, the harmony between the Void and the human vessel.
It was interesting, to see how each marked person created that balance. To each, he gave a different set of paths to choose, and nearly all of them chose to hone their skills towards the most violent ends possible.
Of course, he’d chosen violent people. They tended to do many less boring things, when it came down to it.
Somehow, it was more interesting watching Corvo avoid killing than it had been to watch all his many disciples slice their way through Pandyssia, or Dunwall, or Karnaca.
The day he let the man who murdered the Empress go free, choked him out and lifted his keys, the Outsider spent a long time watching the windows, waiting for him to realise his mistake.
As it turned out, Corvo preferred revenge not served at all.
The next time Corvo found one of his shrines, after the unpleasant business with Granny Rags and her crock pot, he made a point to mention it.
“You fascinate me,” he said, and in the split second before returning to the Void he saw Corvo’s eyes widen behind his mask. He looked terrified.
The Outsider may have inspired that mask, made Piero scream and cry and cut his fingers to shreds on copper and iron, but he could see through it more easily than an oil lamp cut through fog. It was difficult to hide things from the Outsider.
And speaking of Granny Rags...
Vera Moray, as much as Vera Moray could be said to still exist, was something of a success story.
So few of those marked made it more than ten years; an ill-timed blink had killed more of them than the Outsider had expected. It wasn’t as if he’d made it difficult to see where they were going.
But Granny had gone to Pandyssia, like the first one all those centuries before, and she’d succeeded where the other had failed - the mark melted into her, stained her bones. She knew exactly how to do anything he turned her towards, would do anything to hear from him.
It began to bore him, after a while. He’d never been bored before.
So over time, as her sight failed with her mind and she cut her husband apart for bone charms, he retreated and left her for the rats.
She took far longer to die than he’d expected. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that Corvo had broken his self imposed restriction for her, although by that point Vera was so far from humanity it was more of an exorcism than a murder.
After everything, after the plague was fought back and Emily installed as the young Empress, the Outsider’s eye fell back onto her father, stood at her side.
He’d buried the mask deep underground, and kept knowledge of what he’d done locked up tight inside of him, thrown away the key.
That didn’t stop his dreams.
“Hello, Corvo,” said The Outsider, across the shattered cobbles.
Corvo, knelt over Jessamine’s grave, sighed. “I thought you might be here.” He stood up, hands on his knees, grey in his hair.
The Outsider liked to see humans age. It reminded him of the gift that was divinity.
“You need to remember your place,” he said, levelly.
“I know where my place is,” replied Corvo, voice tight as a crossbow about to fire. “I don’t know that you do. I don’t know that you have any idea.”
The Outsider smiled. It was so nice to be surprised, and Corvo had managed it more than most. “Perhaps not. But I know where the mark should have put you.”
“I think,” said Corvo, remembering himself and stepping back, deferential. “That might be more to do with those you marked.”
He thought of the man he’d stripped of it for insolence, took it particle by particle from his flesh until the back of his hand was flayed apart. It was possible, he reflected, that Corvo should have met the same fate.
“I’ll see you soon, Corvo,” he said instead, bent his head in farewell. “Say hello to Emily for me.”