It had been almost a week. Billie had pulled the Outsider from the Void, impossibly, but it had still meant they’d ended up in the middle of the mountains, among no one but the dead. He had been… erratic, in those first days on the peak. Barely functional, barely coherent. But she had gotten him out of the Shindaeray’s thrall, and he had started speaking in sentences again. And now that he was back to being, well, adequate at carrying on a conversation, there was a question Billie had been holding for him.
“What should I call you?”
He gave no response, save a stare. She continued, “Your name. You’re no longer ‘The Outsider’ and you can’t very well introduce yourself like that.”
“My name?” He felt something familiar welling inside him. Despair? Frustration? Desperation? “I have a name, Billie Lurk. You’re the one who found it.”
“But Daud’s the one who spoke it,” she pressed, her eyes following him as he began to pace the alley they stood in. “The existence of your name hasn’t changed the fact that it’s in the language of the dead, which we are not.”
He opened his mouth to say it. He had spoken it, so long ago, but the words that were built in his throat now felt foreign and strange. This, at least, should be easy. But his mouth felt as if it had been tied in knots, lashed to a ship bound for another shore. He froze.
The last language these lips had spoken, and his name, were now lost to him as well.
Billie made an effort to soften her tone. “Hey. Come up with a new name. You’re... different than you were before, and new name will be there to reflect that.”
“For the past 4,000 years, I’ve had no use for a name.”
“...So you say.” Billie let out a breath, unsure what advice she could give. Meagan Foster had been an escape, after all, and Billie Lurk had never quite fit inside her skin. “Give it some thought. For now, though, I’m in need of something to call you.”
“Then a conundrum lies before you, Billie Lurk,” he said, spreading his arms. “...For there are few things I haven’t been called.”
Billie Lurk appraised him, this petulant, expectant foundling. Maybe this was easier than she thought. “Foster.”
“Foster?” His eyes narrowed, as in his mind he considered it. “Am I a childhood pet, named for your favorite character in a story? Can you only spare the imagination for one pseudonym?”
“I’ve still imagined one more than you have,” she replied, smirking. “Now, you have the incentive to come up with a name of your own.”
“Foster,” he said, studying its feel on his lips. It was strange, but not unwelcome. As she said, it would do for now.
“I’ll stay with you a while longer. After all, I haven’t got anything else to be doing.” This, was true. With Daud at peace and the Outsider outside, her agenda had frankly been wiped clean. And frankly, Billie didn’t trust him to be out on his own just yet. She had already caught him putting dirt in his mouth to feel the texture of the grit and verify that it was, in fact, disgusting.
“You’ve nothing better to do than shepherd a former god through the normalities of life?” His arms were folded, but there was something in the manner of his expression that was thankful. His new eyes were easier to read, unobscured by the Void’s ichor.
“For now,” she replied. But there was another question, one she’d carried with her since she’d found his name. Perhaps even before that, when other young girls had whispered of the eyeless god would live forever, apart. She never thought she would be asking him now.
“...All those years,” she broached, “Is there anything you’ve wanted to do?”
To her surprise, his answer came more quickly than any response he’d given so far.
“I want to ride on a ship.”
It had taken a few favors, but Billie hadn’t brought herself to give a damn. She had found them a ship, bound on a trade route to the north. It was no Dreadful Wale, but nothing was. Nothing ever would be.
He had been uncharacteristically cagey about exactly where he wanted to go on a vessel, but when she’d chosen a ship bound for Dunwall, he’d reacted with… the only word she could think of was excitement. Perhaps in a way, his heart lay there too.
They had been in Karnaca for just over a week, and for someone who’d watched 4,000 years pass before him, his profound eagerness to depart this particular island had not been lost on her. It had taken a while to make the rounds to her contacts, find out who would be leaving port soon, and it had only conpounded his already manic behavior.
They had been staying in an inn near the water, while Billie had done her work. She’d be damned if she let the kid sleep on anything but a warm bed, but in the end, he didn’t do much sleeping there. She’d gotten him to stop pacing the floor at night, but still he would wake her with strange questions, or soliloquies he didn’t realize he was sharing.
“What...” She rolled over to face him, rousing herself from near-sleep. He had yet to make it through a night of sleep, which meant she hadn’t either. At least he’d stopped using her full name so much. “What is it?”
“There are those who would slit my throat anew, if given the chance, but there are also those who simply who despise me. Do you?”
She let out a groan. “Are you asking me if I hate you?” For a god, he still managed to be such a child. He was waiting expectantly for her answer, so she obliged him. “...No. I don’t hate you. I don’t agree with the things you did, but... if I had been in your place, I don’t think I would have been any better—done things any different.” She closed her eye. “Now, try to sleep.”
He stared at her in the dark, his face half lit by the small fire they kept going all night, on his insistence. Like a child, he refused to lie in total darkness. He’d already spent dozens of lifetimes without the reassurance of warm flames, and he would not be deprived of them again.
He looked at Billie’s face in the darkness, a corner of her dead eye glinting. She had begun to cover it with a cloth at night. “Why have you helped me, I wonder? Why take me to Dunwall? Is this another chance to—”
Billie let out a breath, but didn’t open her eye. “Void almighty, do you like to talk. I… feel responsible for you. Go to sleep.”
She turned over, ending the exchange. Responsible. “You are responsible for many things, Billie Lurk. Me, and a profound, irrevocable change in reality itself.” He was about to continue, but stopped. This was far from the first time she’d interrupted him or told him to be quiet. People rarely back-talked the Outsider, save Billie Lurk, who did it often. Early on in Karnaca, outside, she’d snapped and told him to think about what he was going to say before he said it, damn him, and he had decided to give it try, when he cared to.
He let her sleep.
The next morning, they were standing on the dock. Billie turned to him. “There’s nothing else you want to do here?”
“‘Here’ is where my throat was cut, and what home I had died with me thousands of years ago. There is nothing for me here.”
Those 4,000 years had passed beneath him, silent as the tides, and it had been easy to forget the things they were washing away. The buildings here were stacked upon ruins upon graves of the dead upon histories long since forgotten. He didn’t know if it would be “home”, but there was something waiting for him in Dunwall.
He looked at the sun reaching into the sky. The sun. Its very presence excited him. He’d forgotten what it had been like. Light on your skin and warmth felt in every breath drawn. The smell of bright days and the promise of a life lived outside unending dark. Soon, he would leave this island—forever, he hoped. He realized he didn’t, couldn’t know for certain. But hope was something he’d thought himself even more incapable of.
Many sailors in Karnaca had come to know Meagan Foster, and when Billie Lurk had come to cash in on favors owed her, they did so without much contention. And when she’d introduced her strange new charge as another “Foster”, they’d let it slide with brief smirks, and few questions.
It wasn’t a perfect day for a voyage, the sailor was telling Billie, but the sea should be forgiving enough. “Foster” looked out at the surface of the water. In the Void, its depths had pulsed and churned through him. He had heard every whalesong, and every mournful wail of the beasts that would die to light the world. Now, on its very shore, he felt more apart than ever.
He gave a start, dragged from his ruminations and up for air. “What?”
Billie repeated herself. “I said Foster, are you ready?”
He looked between Billie and the sailor—a lean, muscular woman walking on a leg of whalebone. Her name was Ayden, and she had lost her leg as a girl, wading into the midnight sea that had called to her with strange voices and songs. The same voice whispered within the whalebone of the first leg her father had carved for her, and every one she’d had made since. She—
“Foster.” Billie was glaring at him. He squinted back, trying to find her meaning. Her eye darted to Ayden, and back again. He followed it.
Ayden’s mouth was agape. “H-How did he… That was...”
Ah. He’d said all that aloud. They were both staring at him.
“I’m sorry, Ayden, Foster… sees things. He’s somewhat of a fortune teller, but… doesn’t always control what comes out. It won’t happen again.” The last part was firm, and directed at him.
In the dark that night, she never saw the thing that took her leg, but the Outsider had known its face. This, he managed to keep inside his throat, and he pushed out a lie instead. “It... won’t happen again.”
The ship was bigger than the Dreadful Wale, though much of it was devoted to storage compartments. Aside from Billie and her charge, there were nearly a dozen people on board—most of them members of the shipping company, with a few other passengers looking to make a discreet voyage to Dunwall.
Billie had worried that “Foster” would have no sealegs to speak of, that she’d spend the voyage supervising his retching, but in truth he was more contented than she’d ever seen him on land. He was less intrusive, less talkative with the sea there to draw his thoughts.
Still, the eccentricities of Billie’s guest were not lost on anyone. He had poor motor skills, and, due to his propensity to drop the things he was holding after he’d finished using them, he was only permitted metal or wooden tableware. Billie had put these measures in place soon after they’d arrived in Karanca, when he broke one of the inn’s drinking glasses on their first night there. “The force you call gravity functions differently within the Void.”
Word of his “clairvoyance” had spread quickly enough, and the less religious sailors of the ship had begun approaching him for “readings”. He had proceeded to ask each of them if they would also like to know the hour and manner of their deaths, which had put an end to most of their inquiries.
“Do you really know when everyone is going to die?” Billie asked, once they were alone.
“I never had any say in the visions I received,” he said, pacing their small cabin. "Many pertained to events that would alter the flow of history, but there were still many whose significance was never apparent to me. The smell of perfume on a lover’s neck, a misremembered recipe that soured a distant family’s last reunion, a—”
“So you said that to scare them,” Billie said, an eyebrow raised. She could tell he was getting especially worked up over this.
“I spent generations being accosted by unwanted solicitations. The weak asking to be powerful, and the powerful asking for power greater than I was capable of giving. Nothing I gave would be enough, and in the end, most were given nothing. Quickly, I grew tired of the blood spilled in my name, the rituals, the sacrifices. For what distinguished them from my own murderers? Surely not the inclusion of the Outsider’s name.”
The last line had been spit from his mouth, bitter to the tongue. He was not looking at her, but in profile she could see his face wretched, twisted with emotion. He tried to continue, but the words caught. “The Outsider. The one who would—” He drew a sharp breath, and it escaped his lungs as a sob.
He spun to face her, and she could see his eyes welling with tears. “Billie, I—I can’t see, my eyes—” He had begun to panic now, and his sobs were making the tears come faster.
“Hey. Hey” she said, quickly standing to take his arm. “There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. You’re crying.”
The day she pulled him out of the Void… He had cried then, too. But in that haze of humanity, there wasn’t much he recalled of those first days. To return to human emotions, after being so long dead, it had almost been too much to bear. But there, in him, Billie had seen the profound life, the sublime bliss of the murdered, permitted to walk the earth again. She had thought of Deirdre. If she had housed any regrets about letting him live, about guiding him now, they had all been wiped away on that mountain.
She stood with him, her arms around him, and when he could no longer stand, she eased him onto his bunk. “You don’t have to answer to anyone, ever again.”
Foster had taken a liking to pacing the upper deck. He would walk, bow to stern, starboard to port, and look out at the water on every side as if he was trying to find the answer to a riddle written out across the waves. Billie often had to bring him a cloak, for he wouldn’t realize he’d started to shiver until his nose was cold and running. When at last he came inside, he told the crew stories of long forgotten voyages at sea, as Billie told them he fancied himself a novelist. She had never seen him so full of… life. Here, surrounded by the smell of the sea, he drew every breath as his first.
Whenever he could, he would hover around the sailors as they went about their work, charting the ship’s course, adjusting its rigging. Too often, he would lean over the railing, gazing into the depths of the water until she or another sailor felt it necessary to grab him by the collar and pull him back as they would a curious child.
“You don’t want ta slip into these waters, lad. Y’might very well never come out.”
They had been at sea for a few days now, and while Foster lingered on deck, Ayden had struck up a conversation with Billie about the trading crew would be doing in port, the kind of people she’d be seeing while they were there, how long she’d planned to stay in Dunwall before shipping out again. “How long will you be there, do you think?”
“Can’t really say,” Billie told her. “Dunwall carries a lot of weight for me. I don’t know how ready I am to return just yet.”
“It’s a heavy place, Dunwall,” Ayden said, absent-mindedly running her fingers along the smoothed wood of the railing. “Even now, even after all this time. Lost my older sister to the rat plague. …My father, too. He’d shipped out to see her and the new baby.” She trailed off for a time, staring at the grain. “Voids, she would have been a teenager by now.”
Billie looked at Ayden. Windswept, inky hair showing the first inklings of grey. A face weathered, characterized by the barrage of strife. A face like her own.
Then she heard a splash. “Outsider’s crooked cock.”
Ayden turned, but Billie was gone.
In the water, Billie’s eye sang. Its echoes whispered through her skull. She couldn’t feel her arm, only the knife as it harmonized with the song of the deep. But her vision was clear, even in the dark water.
She saw him, just as he closed his eyes. He lay there, suspended in the glinting water, as if he were falling asleep among the stars.
As they breached the surface, shouts came swirling into Billie’s ears. Something splashed in front of her. A rope. She heaved Foster onto her shoulder, and took it.
The deck was a sea of hands, all hanging in the air as if by strings. Everyone was ready to steady them, but none dared touch, save Ayden. She help lay him down, his dark hair now plastered sideways to his face, and Billie began chest compressions. I didn’t pull your ass out of the Void for this bullshit, you bastard, she thought as she pushed her breath into his lungs.
Finally, violently, he heaved, coughed, and retched. Everyone drew breath with him, realizing they’d been holding theirs. Foster looked around, but his eyes didn’t see until they met Billie’s.
She eased him up, and Ayden draped a blanket over his shoulders. “Why did you—”
He was already wrapped around her, cold, shivering, and as wet as she was. She heard whispered words at her ear. “T-T-The V-Void, in th-the depths, I t-t-tried to see it.”
“There’s nothing for you down there, Foster.”
Foster was placed under constant watch for the remainder of the voyage, and every precaution short of tying a rope around his waist had been put in place. Billie was with him now, as his current supervisor, and made an attempt at levity.
“What were ships like, before?” she asked him.
The ships he’d seen on the water back then were slender, spindly things. As a boy on the streets, he had only glimpsed them from afar, twinkling spiders dancing with the sun’s reflection upon the water. They had been made with bones, he’d heard, the bones of the first creatures to cross the seas. But he had never learned how they worked.
Billie thought he had been quiet for too long—for him, at least. “...Do you not know?”
“History books can be very informative, Billie Lurk.”
“On ships that existed 4,000 years ago?” she snorted. “They barely remember what happened last week.”
He smirked at that, and when she recalled what had happened these last weeks, she chuckled.
They would be in Dunwall tomorrow.
He had snuck outside, to walk on the deck alone. This time, his eyes were raised from the water, toward the sky. Far from the city, nights here were spent under the stars. Some had come and gone, but the cold constellations that webbed the sky remained unchanged. The cult who had killed him had looked at these same stars, and decided they were wanting, thirsty for spilled blood. For a god. Looking down now, what did they think of their world? Of him?
“I can’t really say.” Billie had appeared beside him. He must have been talking aloud again. “But for their sake, I would hope they’re satisfied. I’ve killed gods before.”
He looked at her. She shifted. They both turned to lean on the railing. As they stared out at the dark waves, neither of them said what they both knew. She had killed him, somewhere. The blood he’d tasted in his mouth in those first moments... it had been fresh.
He changed the subject neither of them had breached. “...As a girl, you dreamed of being the captain of a ship. And Meagan Foster lived that dream. Billie Lurk did not.”
Even with his connection to the Void severed, he still had a talent for being intrusive, and he’d retained an unfortunate amount of knowledge pertaining to Billie Lurk, specifically. “And?”
“Billie Lurk dreamed of a life at sea, away from the dirty streets and cold stones. She dreamed of a life that wasn’t hers, one of plenty—”
“What are you getting at?”
“— where the fish she caught filled her belly and she never wanted for food. She dreamed of adventure, of family, of home.”
His words were digging into her, deep as hooks, and she remembered the times she’d hated him. He had not turned from the sea, but when she saw the moon reflected in his misty eyes, Billie understood. “...You did, too.”
“Meagan Foster lived that dream, for a time,” he continued. “She wasn’t forgiven, she wasn’t free, but she was alive.”
For once, Billie was stunned by his words. He finally turned back to her, and his eyes were as clear as she’d ever seen them.
“There is… nothing that would be enough to thank you for what you’ve done for me, Billie Lurk.”
“...You’re welcome, Foster.”
With his departure from the Void, he had lost his skill for graceful exits, and so he lingered there by the railing, stiff, until he realized that he would have to make the walk back to the cabin himself. He had no smokescreen, no Void magic to mask his escape, save his parting words. “Ayden watches you, when she thinks you aren’t looking.”