“Oh, Void, he's waking up,” Emily gasps, her relief swollen and ready to burst.
“The captain says another forty minutes to landfall,” Billie’s voice. Billie is still here.
Foster can only see the darkness. His eyes won't open. He has failed them all. He tries to see through closed eyes, as he once could. But there is only endless, rolling pitch.
“Why? Why did he jump?”
“He's an idiot,” Billie says, “I think he was trying to reach the Void.”
“Can that be done?” Emily asks.
“A mortal man would die first.”
“But he is not dead.”
Though Foster’s eyes will not open, he tries his mouth, trying to coax his tongue to comply. To assure Emily, sweet Emily, that he is here. To tell Billie that he is well aware he is an idiot. Only, he had to try something.
But no sound comes.
“It's okay,” Emily soothes, running her fingers through his hair. “We’ll be to shore soon.” Her lips press to his forehead, deliciously warm against his cool skin.
“Save your comforts, Empress. He’ll survive,” but there is worry, palpable and thin in Billie’s voice as well.
He hears and feels everything that transpires. The sailors help to transfer him onto a flat board for transport and load him into the Empress’ carriage, laying him down across one bank of seats. They bend his knees so he will fit. Both Emily and Billie sit on the bench opposite. The ride feels bumpier than normal. They're traveling fast.
Once they arrive at the Tower, he is carried, still on the plank, to the Royal Physician's clinic. Vanya asks Emily what has happened, while Billie loiters in the corner of the room. Foster can still smell her magic.
Emily says that he jumped from the boat, he was underwater for some time. Vanya’s assistant bundles him in blankets, bringing a portable whale-oil heater to the bedside.
“I can try an injection to speed his heart rate,” Vanya presses two fingers against his pulse. “But I think it better to wait. See if it comes up on its own. If there is brain damage, it is already done.” She drags her hand away.
“Foster?” Emily crouches at his bedside, both her hands wrapped around his. He wants, desperately to tell her he can hear. Vanya is right, what is done, is done. But he is certain that he will live.
It is not long before Emily is pulled away. She speaks quietly with Billie. Billie says she must leave. But Foster also cannot be left alone. They are at an impasse. There is no one else they can trust with Foster’s care. Under different circumstances, Emily would trust Vanya. But after Jasper’s betrayal, there is no one.
“When does your Consort return?” Billie asks.
“My father will return first. If you are correct that he departed this morning.”
“The trip from Morley is shorter, potentially. If they transfer to the electric train in Driscol.”
“That is true.”
They continue their clipped conversation, trying to find the quickest way to bring Wyman back to Dunwall. Billie can reach them near-instantaneously. The difficulty is that Wyman does not know Billie. Emily says she will write a letter for Billie to take with her. But Wyman is be exposed to as few magics as possible. She doesn’t want Wyman to be subjected to the same scrutiny by the Abbey that she and her father are. And limiting their exposure to Void magics will give them deniability.
His illusion charm! The one meant for Emily’s wedding could obscure Billie’s eye and hand. As long as she does not move too quickly. But he cannot tell them.
“I will speak to Wyman, but I cannot come back here. Waiting may prove disastrous.”
Emily cannot help but agree, “Thank you, Billie.”
Once their chatter dies down, Foster falls to sleep, helpless to intervene.
For the first time since becoming mortal, he dreams.
He puts one foot down in front of the other, his feet bare, pant legs rolled to the knee. Dried salt clings to his dark leg hair, making his skin itch. The stone beneath his feet is cold, cold enough to hurt his nerves. He has lost his jacket, dressed only in a button-down.
His head swims with indistinct possibilities. Futures he can no longer see. He touches his fingers to the corners of his eyes, but it is useless, he cannot see their color.
Opening his mouth to speak, he tries to call for the Leviathans. They call back. But he can neither understand their voice, or his own. Nothing more than echoing wails. The panic is there again, that dreadful feeling that compelled him to jump from the ship. He looks over the sheer ledge. If he falls, he does not know where he will land.
Is this the Void? An illusion? A dream? He cannot tell the difference. He wraps his arms tight around his chest, trying vainly to keep out the cold. There is no choice but to walk, but when he reaches the edge of the slate platform, the gap between his platform and the next is too far for him to jump. He has no arcane powers to help him move across the wild expanse.
He calls to the Leviathans again. They call back. He can't understand.
There is only one choice. He jumps.
Propelled by a force that is not his own, he tumbles onto the adjacent platform, his hands and knees smacking against the slate. It hurts. Pushing himself up, he continues on, following the conversation he cannot translate. Blood runs from his scraped knees, sluicing down his shins to mix with salt. The air smells of brine and copper, tangling with the watery fog.
He reaches a staircase, winding down to the unknown depths below. He takes the steps two at a time. His knees ache, refusing to clot. When he looks down at his legs, there is too much blood, coiling around his ankles, leaving pools around his feet.
But he is getting closer, the whale songs louder, though he still cannot understand. They are calling him, they must be. They cannot have forgotten him.
At the bottom of the staircase stands a mirror, trimmed in seafoam stones, set in silver, each gem cut precisely to fit into place. There is no other way forward, only darkness receding in the distance.
He walks towards the mirror, his feet still damp with blood. It is not until he stands only inches away, that his reflection comes into focus.
The Outsider’s eyes are black. He is not certain if he should be relieved, or concerned. Pressing his hand against the glass, the unmarred surface ripples like disturbed water in an otherwise still pond. His fingers break the surface tension and the Outsider steps through, into a realm unknown. Even to him.
On the other side stands the endless Dark, that which lies beyond the Void. He should not exist here. Nothing should exist here. But the Outsider holds his hands in front of his face, pale-skinned and thin.
He is afraid. He has always been afraid.
Turning around, he finds the mirror gone. Only the expanse remains. He walks, but with no ground beneath him. The Leviathans have gone silent. He is the last of their number. As was intended.
“I thought I was free?”
There is no answer.
“Call the Empress, he is waking,” it is Wyman’s voice, even and kind. “Hey there, Foster? Can you hear me?”
His eyes still won't open, but Foster manages to roll his head to one side. “Wyman?” at least his voice has returned.
“You've been out for a long time, friend,” Wyman’s smiling, as they often are. Foster can hear it. “Emily will be happy you're awake.”
“How long have I been unconscious?”
“Seven days. I've only been here the last two, though.”
Foster swallows, his throat is so dry. “I cannot see,” he admits.
“Huh,” Wyman sounds confused, “your eyes are open. Hold tight. Physician Vanya should be here soon. Her assistant went to fetch her.”
Vanya’s low heels click against the floor, coming to Foster’s bedside. Wyman moves away to give her space to work, but hovers nearby.
“How are you feeling?” she helps him into a seated position, his back straight against the cot’s metal-barred headboard. She moves a pillow into place to cushion his spine.
“I cannot see,” he repeats.
“Hmm,” she murmurs. She holds something in front of his face, moving from eye to eye. But nothing in his field of vision changes. “Nothing?”
“No light? No shifting shadows?”
“No,” he repeats. Only blackness.
Another set of heels comes to the clinic door, “Oh Foster!” It is Emily. She hurries over, stopping just short of the bed.
She and Vanya switch places, so she may wrap her arms around him, “I was so worried. I…we will speak of this later, just,” they cannot have this conversation in front of Wyman, much less Vanya.
Vanya gently tells the Empress there are a few tests yet that she and Foster must complete. She helps him to his feet, asking him to walk about the room. Staying at his side, she guides him, preventing him from crashing into anything. Foster can feel her assistant hovering behind him, ready to catch him if he starts to fall. After sitting down again, she draws blood, and asks if he thinks he can stomach solid foods.
“Perhaps? I think so?”
She tisks at him, saying that the solution he has been receiving in his veins is more nutritionally complete than his typical diet. Still, he should eat something if he can. He starts to tell her that he prefers bread, but she interrupts that she knows all about his distaste for most foods. She will tell her assistant to bring something he will like.
Other than his vision, he is surprisingly well. His reflexes good, his memory intact. She asks him simple questions, and he does his best to answer, history and math and very basic science. All his responses are correct. “Well, you've certainly had proper schooling,” she remarks. “At least this won't be another long recovery. Though I cannot yet discern the reason for your blindness.”
And Foster is unwilling to share what he has seen while his eyes have been shut.
Vanya wishes to keep him at least a day or two more for observation. But as long as they are careful, he is free to accompany Emily or Wyman around the Tower. Only they must be mindful to watch him, both for signs of lingering illness and on account of his impaired vision.
Vanya’s assistant arrives with his food. Foster has to admit, he is glad to find sweet pastries on the tray. Once he begins to eat, Vanya excuses herself, saying she will check on him later. And at dinner, he must eat something with more substance.
“Do you wish to go for a walk, after you eat?” Emily asks, sitting at the edge of Foster’s bed.
He uses his tongue to scrape the piece of dough stuck to the roof of his mouth away, “Don't you have other obligations?”
“I have inconvenienced you enough.”
“You tried to kill yourself,” Wyman states plainly. Of course, they do not know the full story.
Foster does not know how to cover, “Not exactly…”
“That does not matter,” Emily interrupts. “Wyman, love, could you please take Foster for a walk around the Tower? You needn’t go far. But it would mean a great deal to me.”
The edge fades from Wyman’s voice, “It is not a bother, Em. I came to help.”
“Thank you,” she rises and kisses them goodbye, then leans over to squeeze Foster’s hand before leaving for her next engagement.
Wyman waits as Foster finishes eating. There's a second pastry on the platter, but Foster leaves it be. He does not feel particularly hungry.
He is uncertain about this walk. Not because he feels unwell, but because he is unsure of Wyman’s current disposition towards him. The tone of their voice has been running hot and cold.
But Wyman offers their hand, and they walk arm-in-arm to the door. They tell Foster to mind the step, there is a slight rise at the threshold, leading into the hall. Foster can see the layout of the Tower clearly in his mind, but Wyman is indispensable in helping him to navigate past the staff, avoid pieces of furniture, and otherwise steer clear of embarrassment.
They stay indoors, and avoid the stairs, confining them to the second floor rooms. Wyman leads them to one of the finely appointed salons used for entertaining, and closes the door behind them.
“Foster, if you do not mind, I would like to speak to you, frankly.” They take Foster by the hand again, directing him carefully to one of the sofas to sit down. They take the chair across from him, leaning forward across the gap that separates them from each other.
“You have been very kind to me,” Foster says, “please, say what you must.”
Wyman breathes loudly, shifting against the chair, “Are you fucking Emily? I understand I am not in a position to stop you, if you are. But I….would at least like to know if I'm being made a fool.”
“Oh,” Foster was not expecting this. He had thought that Emily had been forthright with Wyman, and that they understood. “No, we are just good friends. I promise you. She has desire for no one but you,” Foster feels his face warm.
“Okay, alright,” Wyman still sounds uncertain, “I am sorry for having asked.”
“She missed you terribly,” Foster tries to comfort them. “I am certain she is happy you have returned to Dunwall.”
Wyman laughs, low and short, “Yeah…we had our reunion when I first arrived. I really am sorry for having doubted you both. She's just so fond of you...and I don't consider myself a jealous person.”
Foster bites his tongue, not mentioning that he knows all about Wyman’s offer, that Emily is free take Foster as a lover, but that they be included in the affair as well.
“There is...someone else,” Foster is unsure how Corvo would take to others knowing. “I am involved with someone else.”
Wyman snickers, “You don't have to lie to make me feel better, Foster. I believe you, just sometimes it is difficult to remember to believe you. You never leave the Tower alone. I know as much.”
“So wouldn't that mean it's someone in the Tower?” Foster teases, unsure how much he’ll reveal. Some not-insignificant part of himself wants to tell Wyman outright. Telling someone will make it real. Emily knows. But Foster wants to say it.
“Hmm,” Wyman contemplates what that means, “but wouldn't they be at your bedside, instead of calling on me in Morley? I know about Jasper...So, perhaps one of the guards? And they are not to be trusted now?”
Foster feels ice run through his veins, “What do you know about Jasper?”
“Oh, that she tried to kill you. Then you tried to kill yourself. Rough week, I suppose.”
“I wasn't trying to kill myself,” Foster argues, but he's not sure how to explain what happened. Perspiration breaks across his brow.
Wyman apologizes, “Oh, Void, I'm sorry. Emily will kick my ass if I upset you. It's okay. If you really weren't trying to kill yourself, I won't mention it again.”
Foster folds his hands in his lap, unsure what to say next.
Ever sensitive to the tone of the room, Wyman picks up the lost strand of their conversation, “So is it one of the guards? Oh,” they clap their hands together. “I know, the one with sandy hair and brown eyes? I've caught him watching you before. Sometimes, he licks his lips. What is his name?”
Foster has no idea who Wyman is talking about. He has noticed no such guard, “No?”
“I don't remember deliberately turning anyone away at the sickroom door. Surely, they would have tried to visit you at least once? Perhaps they came before my arrival. But,” they tisk, “if they haven't been persistent in checking in on you, I don't think they're worth much as a lover. Unless it's something casual.”
“I hope it's not casual…” Foster admits.
“Bah! Well, the ever-gracious Empress appointed me as your knight, so let me know who it is, and I'll give them a stern talking to. Put the fear of the Outsider into them. Then they’ll think twice of not visiting you when you're ill.”
Foster flinches at the mention of his former title. “He hasn't been to see me, because he’s been away,” Foster ventures, though that might give the game away.
Wyman stops the constant fidgeting, that has been a din upon the room. Leaning forward once again, they breathe out, “No fucking way.”
“What?” Foster asks.
“Void, it's not Emily you've been sleeping with.”
“I already told you as much.”
“--it's her father.”
Foster knows he's smiling. He shouldn't be, but he is, “Yes.”
Wyman bursts into hysteric laughter, their nervousness bubbling through the surface. Though Corvo has never made a threat against Wyman, and never would, they have long been afraid of their bride’s father. Foster tries to be sympathetic. The Royal Protector can be...intimidating.
“I cannot...fucking believe this,” they wheeze, “I'm...oh Void…”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, yeah, just...Emily knows?”
Foster frowns, “Yes, though I do not know if Corvo told her or not. But she knows.”
“Excuse me, I have to go stab myself in the face now,” Wyman remarks with humor that Foster doesn't quite understand. Their jokes are often opaque to him.
“Please do not. I don't think I can find my way back to the sickroom alone.”
Corvo arrives in Dunwall. The city looks the same. Of course it does. He has not been gone so very long. The days are short, and the winter wind unpleasant. Buttoning up his coat, he heads for the carriage that will transport him to the Tower.
It is Billie Lurk, of all people, who greets him at the gates. But she appears somewhat changed. Her eye, once afflicted by the artifact, is now warm and brown. Her hand is intact, covered in unmarred skin. Corvo does not know how this is possible.
“The Empress is waiting,” Billie says, not waiting for Corvo to follow.
Emily is not alone in her suite. While she sits behind her desk, Wyman stands, leaning against the wall behind her, arms crossed over their chest. Foster is slouched across the couch, only his head of dark hair popping out from above the backrest. Corvo feels very much as if he has just walked into an ambush. But for the moment, seeing Foster alive and well, after the attempt on his life, leaves Corvo with breathless relief.
“Foster,” Corvo says, unable to hide his concern.
“Corvo,” Foster smiles, turning his head, but does not get up from the couch. It has taken two weeks to make the journey from Karnaca, but perhaps he is still recovering from the attempt on his life. Billie told Corvo nothing about the extent of his injuries.
Walking around the couch, Corvo notices the long walking stick propped up against the coffee table, just beside Foster’s leg. Foster stares at him, his green eyes pale and open, but something is amiss.
“I cannot see,” he says plainly, “though I am sure you look very handsome.”
Corvo drops his weight onto the couch, next to Foster, “You're blind?” And quite suddenly he remembers the first time he saw Foster in his cell, those months ago. That strange, fleeting feeling that something was wrong with his eyes. Something has always been wrong with his eyes. And not simply that they changed from black to green.
“Yes, at least for the time being,” Foster says.
Emily interjects, “Now that my father has arrived, I think it's...time that we explain.” She turns her head around to look at Wyman, then to Corvo. “First of all...Wyman...there is something you need to know about Foster.”
“Fucking Void, you said you weren't sleeping together!” Wyman pushes off the wall and starts to pace instead.
Emily groans, covering her forehead with her hand.
“Are you sure this is wise?” Corvo frowns. He shifts against the couch in order to sit closer to Foster. Reaching to the side, he takes Foster’s hand in his. Foster squeezes back. They will make time for a proper reunion later.
“Father, I trust them...it was perhaps a mistake to hide this for so long. They already know about my Mark. Keeping this from them solves nothing. Telling them gains us another ally.”
Though Corvo is hesitant to share information, he cannot find fault with Emily’s reasoning.
Emily scratches her nails against her arm, “Foster was once the Outsider,” she explains.
Wyman is never going to believe this.
But they at least listen to the tale. Corvo learns details he did not know before. The specifics of the violence that the Outsider committed against Billie. The trials she endured to reach him. Her decision that he should not die, but could not remain as warden of the Void. She had come too far in her mission. His position was too tenuous, too much power in the hands of a god who was all too human.
“I think my humanity was rather the point,” Foster huffs.
Wyman’s eyes stay wide as Foster and Billie bicker. And as a sign of proof, Billie reaches into her jacket pocket, pulling out the bone charm she has tucked inside and tossing it onto Emily’s desk. Once the charm is removed, her eye and hand shift back to their arcane truths. Wyman almost shrieks at the sudden change, but manages to get ahold of themself rather quickly.
Shaking their head, Wyman says, “You look very much like him but…”
Foster nods, “I know. It is difficult to swallow.”
Emily tries to get them back on track, “Jasper knew. Jasper knew with certainty. She's dead now, so we cannot know her ultimate objective. If she knew that Foster was once the Outsider, why try to kill him? Why try to kill him in the same manner that made him a god in the first place?”
“Religious zealotry?” Wyman offers.
“Not from the Abbey, though.” Billie corrects, “The agents of the Abbey have made it clear enough that they have little interest in disposing the Outsider. They still pretend he is present in the Void.”
“Or they have not yet discovered that no Outsider remains,” Foster clarifies.
“Even if they knew, they wouldn't tell a soul. Without an Outsider, they have no reason to exist,” Emily concludes.
“A cult then? Like the one who...made you in the first place,” Wyman throws out another idea.
Emily drums her fingers against the desk, “that seems the most likely answer. But, ugh, we have no clues to follow. And I fear they may attempt again.”
“And there is the matter of Foster’s ‘accident,’” Billie drolls.
Corvo turns to Foster, who simply stares dead ahead, “What accident?”
“He jumped from the side of the boat. Since then, he has been unable to see,” Emily explains.
Billie continues, “He tried to reach the Void, the only way he could think to touch it now. And failed.”
“What?” Corvo still doesn't understand.
“It was a stupid plan,” Foster concedes. “But, without an Outsider. There is no way for mortals to interact with the Void. The paths are all sealed shut. Emily, perhaps could find a way with the Mark. Or Billie. But…I thought if I could reach it myself, I would be able to discern Jasper’s motives.”
“The important thing is, we don't know what happens when Foster dies. I saw a blackness I could not penetrate. But I can't see everything all at once,” Billie explains. “I didn't know until just the moment before that Jasper would make an attempt on his life. And that the consequences would be disastrous.”
“You're not a god,” Foster explains, “close...closer than you realize. But not quite.”
Billie shrugs, unconcerned with her own divinity.
“I will start following leads as soon as possible,” Corvo says, unwilling to share what he has already discovered in Karnaca, especially with Billie present. “She was not working alone. We must find her accomplices.”
Billie pushes off against the wall, “I'll see what I can find as well. They are either trying to kill a god, or make one. In any case, they are trying to undo my work.” She picks the bone charm back off the table, returning it to her coat. Once in place, her hand and eye are obscured again. Corvo realizes it is the charm intended for Emily’s wedding. It seems to work quite well. “Lord Protector, I will let you know if I learn anything. And I expect the same courtesy in return.”
Corvo nods, though he does not consider that a promise.
Billie leaves the room, clicking the door shut behind her.
“I think I still need time to process this,” Wyman admits. “The Mark was easy, in comparison.”
“I'm sorry, love,” Emily’s voice is soft. “I wanted to protect you as much as possible. But the situation has changed. And I need you.”
Corvo nudges at Foster’s shoulder. It is about time they left.