Corax bolted awake.
And immediately knew he was not in the disused flood drain that he had holed up in for the night.
Everything was wrong. Even the air itself felt somehow distorted, as if ripples were pulsing through it, pushing against him, urging him to wake up and move on. Corax twisted his neck to look at the drain around him, behind all was normal, but ahead, that was far from normal.
Half of the pipe had broken away, its pieces floating freely in space, like time had stopped and held them in place mid-fracture. And beyond that...
Where in curses am I?
Pulling a knife from the sheath strapped to his thigh Corax held it in front of him, throwing off the cloak and crawling out of the wide tunnel.
This...this had to be a dream. A nightmare of some-kind. All of this...it couldn't be real.
The landscape was a collection of floating rocks, some as large as a whaling ship and others no bigger than a pebble. Some of the drifting islands carried buildings and landmarks he recognised from Dunwall...or at least parts of them anyway. He saw a fractured and twisted Dunwall clock tower, planted on a huge conical slab of rock, like a rose that had been pulled up by its stem with soil still clinging to the roots. Far off from his floating platform Corax saw Dunwall Tower, white walls shining in the un-light of this strange dream, the emerald flags hanging from the parapets twisted and warped as if blown by a storm. But like everything else here they were frozen in time. He saw parts of Serkonos too, and other buildings he didn't recognise...
But nothing took away from what the islands orbited. A whale. Huge and long and as broken as everything else. Its flesh bleeding from the holes left by meat hooks, with strange runes and markings carved into its flesh. 'What in the hell?' he said, stepping out of the pipe and rising to his feet. Why didn't this feel like a dream? Everything felt so real...yet...somehow...not.
He could feel the rough leather of the knife handle, the gentle breeze on his face, the coldness of the air on his skin.
Looking out over the violet expanse of this nightmare Corax couldn't help but feel like he was staring into something ancient, something that few other people had ever seen before. How he knew this...he didn't know. It was just a feeling.
'You are a most interesting little bird,' spoke a voice that was not his own. Sudden and total it seemed to speak from everywhere and nowhere. A cloud of black smoke blossomed out in front of Coax, swirling around his legs and rising until it was as tall as himself, then in a burst of wind Corax was no longer looking into smoke.
He was looking at a man.
Firing backwards Corax swore, tripping over an exposed pipe and falling flat onto his arse. Pale and tall with a plain face and short brown hair he looked like every other man in Dunwall. But those eyes...black as night and staring right through him. The Man smiled down at Corax as he scrambled back to his feet, gripping the knife ever tighter. 'I've been watching you for a long time Corax, the abandoned child. I am quite impressed with what you have become.' said the Man, folding his arms over his chest, the leather of his jacket crumpling loudly.
'Who are you?' Corax spat. 'Where the hell am I?'
'Hell is a good word for where you are,' the Man smiled. Looking around at the floating rocks with that constant smile over his face. His voice had a strange, mocking tone, as if he knew everything around him to be some sort of joke. 'It has been called such before. And as for who I am,' he continued looking back down at Corax. 'You know who I am, or at least, you know what your people call me.'
Corax shook his head. 'No...no you're a myth.'
The Man shook his head, his smile growing as he clicked his tongue several times. 'Come now Corax, you're a smart bird. You're never one to deny what is plain for your eyes to see.'
'You're...the Outsider?' he stammered after a small pause.
The Man shrugged his flat shoulders. 'An ignorant title, but to your culture I am known by that name. And many others.'
'You're a daemon!' Corax spat, pointing his knife at the Man's heart.
'I find that the difference between angel and daemon depends solely on which side one is standing on at the time.' the Man said with a smug grin. 'Take you for example, my dear Corax. After the plague thousands of people were left homeless, turning to crime and murder to survive in the aftermath. You are one of these people, wanted by the Watch for murders you didn't commit, and thefts you certainly did. And yet you protect those you do not know, you give the profits of your robbery to others before yourself, and you fight for justice in a city slowly rebuilding itself.' he said with that easy smile growing over his thin lips. 'So on which side do you fall? Angel?' he asked unfolding one hand to Corax. 'Or daemon?' he said, offering the other.
'I'm no murderer.'
'And yet you've killed people.' he said, not judgmentally. Just, like he was stating a fact.
'Only people who tried to kill me first.'
'A small difference between you and a thousand others. But an important one.' said the Man, refolding his arms.
'Why am I here?' asked Corax lowering the knife slowly.
'Always straight to the point,' the Man smiled. 'You are here because a war is coming Corax, a war the likes of which your precious Empire has never seen before. A war that will be fought in the shadows of your great cities.'
'What does that have to do with me?'
'Everything,' the Man whispered. 'Those that are coming have stolen from me Corax, they came into my world and stole gifts that were not theirs to take. I don't like being made a fool of.' the Man said, a sinister bite to his words and a dark glint behind those midnight eyes. 'With ancient magic and sickening rituals they think they have beaten me. But I still have gifts to give. Many years ago I gave such things to another, I gave him the heart of the woman he loved and he re-wrote the history of your country. Can you do the same I wonder?'
A burning pain tore across the back of Corax's left hand. A dark mark growing outwards across his skin, its edges glowing white hot. When the pain finally ended Corax couldn't believe what he was seeing, the mark was a strange mix of jagged lines and half circles, the lines perfectly straight across the contours of his hand. 'I give you my mark, little raven. Use the powers that come with it in any way you wish, and search out amulets bearing my mark. Like the one you carry in your pocket.'
Corax paused for a moment before reaching into his coat, pulling out the whale-bone charm Gertrude had given him the day he left the orphanage. The runes carved into the polished bone glowed with the same dark smoke that the Man had emerged from, and Corax could hear whispers emanating from it. Like...singing.
'I am looking forward to watching this story unfold, my dear Corax. It has been so long since something, interesting happened.' the Man said with a wide smile.
'Why me?' asked Corax, looking up from the glowing amulet in his hand.
'Because, like the one who came before you, you know the great truth of this world. That in the shadows, all men are equal, save for those who embrace it.'
Opening his eyes Corax shot upright, sweat pouring down his face in great shiny rivers, and the mark of the Outsider tattooed on the back of his hand.