"You say he's met the Empress?" Ayden looked from Billie to "Foster", her odd new charge who was presently bent over, occupied with running a hand along the algae that clung to the underside of one of the dock posts.
"He says he's met the Empress. And the Royal Protector. Says they owe him something." Billie followed Ayden's gaze to eye him just as incredulously, but for a different reason. Yes, they owe him for the heretical powers that could crumble their hold on the empire if anyone found out.
"Empress Emily Kaldwin, and Royal Protector Corvo Attano."
"I know he's..." Foster brought a slimy hand toward his face to better observe the residue's viscosity as the two women watched. "But he's also serious."
"I trust your judgement to the Void and back, Billie, but him—"
"Foster!" Billie barked, seeing that he'd opened his mouth to sample whatever he'd gotten on his fingers.
He straightened, eyes narrowing, and brushed the dock slime onto his pant leg. "Billie Lurk."
She walked past him, onto the bricks that made up the fringe of Dunwall's ports, and lowered her voice beneath the white noise of the water. "Ayden's meeting a client in Dunwall Tower. I've asked her to let us come along so you can... whatever it is you want to do there."
She didn't need to gesture for him to follow—he was already at her heels. "We're going to Dunwall Tower?" He sounded concerned. Nervous?
"What?" she prodded. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
Ayden piped up behind them, having followed them to the pier. "The meeting is scheduled for after sundown. We have a few hours."
Ayden and Billie started talking, going over plans. Foster had gone somewhere else.
A few hours . The words echoed in his mind. Centuries. For centuries he'd waited, for something . They'd given it to him. And now, he could be in a room with them. He could touch Emily's hand, running warm with the blood of her mother and father. He could finally know what Corvo smelled like. In a few hours.
When he came back, Ayden was gone. He looked around, bewildered. His hand was warm. Billie had placed it in hers, a tow leading him back ashore.
"I asked Ayden to give us some time. We'll meet her later." Now she was guiding him to a couple of chairs circled around a small card table on the pier. "Sit down."
"I lost you again," she continued. "I don't know what concerns me more—you blurting out a record of every passerby's forays into the dark arts, or the silence."
They sat there as he tried to find words again. Finally, he settled for repeating Ayden's. "A few hours."
"You don't have to do this. If you aren't ready to see them yet, they'll still be there after Ayden and I are done with her business."
Slowly, he processed her words, their deflection. "You won't come with me."
Billie looked up at Dunwall Tower. "Emily and I said our goodbyes. On the best terms I could hope for." She looked at the deep shadow it cast as it loomed over the water. "We killed her mother."
And what had he done? His vision swam with streams of memories from the Void, rivers of blood and dark paths of chaos that strung themselves around Corvo's reddened hands. And Emily's. He had to remind himself that they weren't real. But they could have been.
It hadn't mattered before. But now he was sitting in a Dunwall that still stood while somewhere, there was one that didn't.
He'd left again. Billie tried to catch his eye. "You aren't ready. You can wait in—"
"No." The word had already left his mouth before he'd thought to stop it. "I have to see them."
Billie let out a breath. "And do what? What do you need to say to them?"
He opened his mouth several times, sifting through words to find any that worked. None did. "...I have to see them."
The two of them sat in silence, taking in the sound of the waves beating against the docks. It was Billie who spoke again. "Listen, just because I brought you back to life doesn't mean I'm going to tell you what to do with it. I just want to know you aren't throwing it away. I want to know I can trust them not to... I don't know. Arrest you. At the very least. "
"Meagan Foster trusted Corvo to help her find Sokolov, her closest friend," he countered. "Billie Lurk trusted Emily to know her past."
"Meagan Foster and Billie Lurk aren't the Outsider ."
"Neither am I."
She didn't have a retort for that.
"To out me as the Outsider would be to reveal their own allegiances to the Void, its heresy. They've proved cleverer than that."
Bille stood, sighed, and placed her dead hand on his shoulder. "Then let's get you ready."
"A few hours" passed, too quickly. Billie first procured a false sling for her arm and a cap she could pull low over her face, successfully masking her most eye-catching features. Then, she had Foster wash off the grime of the sea at a bathhouse—one with scented salts and no gang emblems darkening its walls—before getting in touch with Ayden. She rendezvoused with the pair a little earlier than planned so she could help Billie get Foster into the hands of a seamstress who could outfit him in something other than the clothes he'd been wearing since Billie had pulled him from the jaws of the Void.
They were in a hurry, so Ayden chose a shop that was well-stocked, filled with simple yet stylish garments that coincided with the current fashions of the capital city. Foster's average build meant that it would be simple enough to outfit him without the need for a tailor.
Billie and Ayden took a pragmatic approach, outlining the pieces they'd need with the shopkeeper. Meanwhile, Foster loomed around the store, taken in by cloaks of vibrant reds and greens. Anything that would most distance him from the cold, steely tones of the Void. He ran his hands along each new fabric, fingers tracing the garmets' delicate stitching and embroidery. He wanted to commit each to memory.
Fearing he'd spend hours browsing, Billie and Ayden chose a deep forest green coat adorned with brass buttons and brown accents. Billie helped him change as Ayden passed them new pieces of clothing, replacing his world-weary garments one by one. They stepped out of the changing room to examine the completed look.
Ayden nodded, satisfied with their choices, the coat in particular. "This one brings out your eyes."
Foster's head swiveled, searching for the nearest mirror. In his mind he envisioned inky pools, reflected in the glossy slate of the Void, but that wasn't what she had meant.
Hazel eyes stared back at him, their gold flecks echoing the coat's buttons. He took a step towards the mirror, watching them shift and glint in the light. The ornate, polished mirror before him was nothing compared to the reflection he'd seen in Billie's handheld compact, the inn's rusting vanity, the glass of shop windows, the water of the sea.
A young man stood before him, bereft and confused, but familiar. The lines of his face, so long frozen in time, now quivered and changed like the surface of a pool. His cheeks and ears had pinkened during his time out in the open water, and the inklings of freckles had appeared across his skin. The coat they'd chosen for him spoke of rich wood that burned brightly in warm hearths, and lush vines that scaled buildings to stretch their leaves closer and closer toward the sun.
After 4,000 years, the Outsider had grown to hate his face, evergreen and never-changing, with black eyes that marred every emotion he could think to express. It was a tepid, stagnant, lifeless face, no matter what names artists and poets had given it through the ages. But as he looked at "Foster's", he saw something else, and as he did, he saw Foster's eyes spark with it too.
"We won't need it tailored, it fits well enough," Billie was telling the shopkeeper, with Ayden at her side.
"That it does!" she said. "I'd say your son cleans up quite nicely!"
Billie snorted, then realized the woman was referring to both her and Ayden, who was looking at her quizzically. Expectantly? "He's not our son," she amended, letting the "our" fall between them, testing its waters.
Ayden didn't retract it. "But you're right about cleaning up, to be sure!" she said, effortlessly smoothing the conversation. "I'm more used to him looking like a sour, drowned cat."
This yielded an aghast, "No! Him?" from the shopkeeper, and she and Ayden shared a hearty laugh.
Oblivious, Foster was just now realizing the prices painted in delicate script above each rack. He turned to Billie. "How are we to pay for this?"
Billie ignored his attempts to catch her eye, and tightened her jaw. "You didn't expect me to keep the paintings I collected? Lug them up and down that terrible mountain? Don't concern yourself."
And that was the end of it. He watched her turn back to the others and join their playful banter, at his expense. To Corvo and the Empress, money meant nothing. They could use it to buy every garment in this shop and not notice its absence. To Billie, money meant something. Not having it meant burying a knife in the chest of someone who did.
He ran his fingers along the brass buttons of his new coat, taking in their smooth, cool shapes. To be here, to have hands and mind to command, was all thanks to Billie Lurk. And as she tried to suppress another smile in front of Ayden, he wished her every happiness the Isles had to offer, and more.
As they approached the tower that evening, Ayden went over what her meeting would entail. "I'll be meeting with one of the tower's foreign ambassadors. She's contracted my ship to transport written and audio correspondences, as well as the occasional parcel, in addition to my usual odds and ends."
"And the catch?" Billie asked, using her free hand to adjust her cap over her face before glancing behind them to make sure Foster was still in tow.
"I assume I'll also be informing on the other Isles upon my return," Ayden continued, quietly. "Likely in hopes of preventing more Delilahs and Luellas."
"Luellas?" Billie repeated, trying to place the name.
"Apparently the Empire had their hands full a few weeks ago, dealing with an anarchist bomber called Luella Price."
Luella Price. The name struck a chord deep within Foster's chest, reverberating through his memories of the Void. His eyes had been turned to Billie, to his end, but he could remember when somewhere far away, new bone charms had itched at the corners of him. "They wore rats for faces and sought to make Dunwall their pyre."
Ayden and Billie both looked at Foster, Ayden's face holding questions she didn't ask, while Billie's held only the word "Don't."
"I suppose that's... apt," Ayden continued, hesitantly. "Rumor has it Price used Void magic as a catalyst for the explosions. The man I spoke to even said she and her gang managed to injure the Royal Protector."
Billie's eyes flicked to Foster, whose expression had deepened into a scowl. "He was mistaken. Corvo would never fall prey to such base vermin."
Ayden had opened her mouth to contest him, but Billie caught her eye first and gave her a slight shrug. When they looked back at Foster, they saw that he had gone again, steps slowing until he stopped.
The Royal Protector... injured. He should have been able to see it. Feel it, through all the fibers he'd strung through the Void to lead him back to Royal Protector Corvo Attano. The Void that had been shorn from his soul. He had felt its lack , certainly, but suddenly the finality of its absence struck him. Corvo's future, Emily's—they were no longer his to see.
Billie looked both ways to ensure they weren't blocking anyone's path, then said his new name. His hazel eyes were focused intently on something too distant to see. When he didn't respond, she guided him to a nearby bench that faced the water and sat him down. "Looks like he needs a minute."
"I don't think he's ready, Billie," Ayden said quietly, shaking her head. "I've seen this, in folks who went to the darkest corners of the Isles and saw things that'll never go away."
You aren't far off. Billie leaned back against a nearby wall. "He won't be mended overnight. But seeing the Tower might be enough to patch a few tears."
Ayden crooked her leg to rest it against the same wall, revealing the whalebone that began at the knee. "...I hope you're right."
Billie turned her eye on Ayden. "Why agree to bring us? Has he managed to endear himself to you?"
"All he's done is spout nonsense and try to eat things he shouldn't."
"Which you've asked alarmingly few questions about."
Ayden brushed a strand of hair from her face, averting her gaze. "I just..." She leaned to stroke the whalebone of her leg. "All my life, this leg's told me things. I couldn't explain it if I tried. But... when I listen, things turn out all right. Listening is the reason I'm still here. I look at that boy, and... I look at you, and I hear it sing."
Billie's eye traced the false leg, an elegant arch of bleached whalebone. If her arm was the void's fractured shadows, Ayden's leg was the light that cast them.
"You can hear it, can't you?" Ayden had shifted immeasurably closer to her.
Billie closed the gap and ran her living fingers along the exposed bone, and felt them prickle with energy from the Void. Yes, she could hear it.
Once Foster was ready, Ayden had stood up, but this time it was Billie who stopped them. "They aren't going to let me in, looking like this. This face was plastered across wanted posters in Karnaca, and there's no reason to expect they didn't make their way north."
"And that's enough to stop you from joining us?" Ayden asked, incredulous.
"I didn't say that."
"Well, they will notice if a third guest suddenly joins us."
"Which is why I'm going to have to do something... unsavory."
Ayden raised her eyebrows, waiting for an explanation, but not going so far as to expect one.
"I'm going to need someone else's face."
Foster and Ayden waited near the first guard post of the Tower. A few times, Ayden looked at Foster, as if to say something, then let out a breath before glancing away again.
"I won't ruin the surprise," Foster finally said.
Moments later, they were joined by a dark-haired woman dressed in the well-tailored clothes of a merchant, her breast pocket embroidered with the emblem of her guild. She carried herself strangely, movements more calculated and precise than any tradesman Ayden had seen. When she reached the pair, Billie's low voice crossed her lips. "Let's go."
The woman nudged Ayden's arm, propelling her forward as Foster followed behind. She procured her name from the identification papers she'd stolen from the woman she'd left on a balcony, pocket filled with a bribe hopefully sizeable enough to keep her mouth shut once she came to. "I'm Jane Highgrove, and Foster's surname will be... Marksworth."
Foster scoffed. "I see Jane Highgrove possesses even less of an imagination than Billie Lurk."
Ayden, too dazed to make sense of the exchange, focused instead on arranging her own face as if nothing was wrong.
Foster and Ayden were checked for weapons, but Billie, who had chosen her mark well, simply presented her papers before being waved in. It wasn't as if they would have been able to find her blade, but she couldn't be sure if the illusion would last the scrutiny of a pat-down.
Once the guards had logged their reasons for entry, they were ushered into a waiting room. As soon as they were left alone, Jane Highgrove seemed to crumble before them, and only Billie Lurk was left in her place.
"Billie... How did you..." Ayden managed, shifting weight off her false leg, which thrummed in tune with the Void energy still emanating from Billie.
Foster had already moved toward the door, murmuring to himself. "Dunwall Tower, still echoing with the footfalls of empresses, usurpers, reclaimers..." His excitement was clear.
"Tell them Jane wasn't feeling well and Foster offered to take her for a walk through the gardens. When she doesn't return, you can tell them she backed out of negotiations. I'll rejoin you outside once you've finished your business."
She drew close to Ayden, and brushed a stray hair behind her ear. "That's when you'll hear everything. Mark my word."
Billie Lurk left Foster in the gazebo, banishing its memories from her mind as best she could, even though seeing Jessamine Kaldwin's name rended in cold marble made that all but impossible.
“I won’t be far,” she said, stopping herself from adding: if things don’t go well. Briefly, she had flashes of him in shackles in dungeons, under scalpels on tables, bleeding out in the street, his new eyes glossy and red. If it came to that, no matter what it took, she would be back for him. And she would stay near until she knew for certain that he would be all right.
"I used a guard's face to send word about a delivery from Meagan Foster. That should be enough to get their attention."
"Thank you, Billie Lurk."
"Don't thank me just yet, there's still—" she had turned to leave, but her sleeve had caught on something.
It was Foster's hand. "You will accept my thanks, Billie Lurk." He swerved to get in front of her, a mortal mimicry of the Outsider's habit of using teleportation as punctuation. "You... You..."
And so unlike the Outsider, words failed Foster, and he cried. And so unlike Daud's assassin, Billie stroked his hair and said, "You're welcome."