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It Seemed the Better Way

Chapter Text

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death

Leonard Cohen, It Seemed the Better Way

It had been years since the black-eyed bastard had spoken to him at one of the shrines, rarely as Daud sought them out anymore, and even longer since he’d appeared to him in his dreams. So when he fell asleep only to open his eyes to the upside-down, torn-apart world of the Void, Daud could do little more than heave an annoyed sigh.

Now, really?

Getting his bearings, he observed that his surroundings seemed to be made mostly from the streets of Dunwall, not, as in the past, his office or whatever hideout he and his Whalers were using at the time or, on one memorable occasion, the yard of Coldridge prison. (That had been before the assault on three prison guards – the very same contract that had brought Billie into the fold.)

He started wandering around, the Void usually linear enough in its range to let him know where he had to go. When he rounded a corner and came face to face with a statue of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin – not just figuratively, it was suspended in mid-air so as for her eyes to be almost level with his – he stopped and blinked. Looking for a way to transverse around her rather than use her head as a stepping stone, he spotted a mass of dark shadows from the corner of his eye. Turning in that direction, he found that a smattering of rocks led to what looked like the remnants of an aristocrat’s study or library.

Daud made his way up.

“Alright, I’m here,” he growled. He hadn’t quite finished speaking when the shadows before him gave an unearthly flutter and the never-aging leviathan materialised.

“Daud,” the Outsider didn’t so much greet him as mock him from the outset. “What fortuitous circumstance.”

Daud barely kept from rolling his eyes. “You brought me here, no need to act like it’s a surprise you could have done without. I know I could’ve.”

“Aren’t you at all curious what has caught my interest, after all this time?”

“I’ve got a feeling you’re going to tell me whether I care or not, much as you ever give a straight answer to anything.” Daud knew the dangers of being so openly antagonistic when he had absolutely no idea why the hell the Void god had suddenly decided to call on him again, but he’d be damned if he resorted to courtesy now.

The Outsider crossed his arms and continued as if he hadn’t spoken at all, another facet of his personality, if it could be called that, that Daud hadn’t exactly missed. “Did you know that there are only seven mortals in this world who bear my Mark?”

Daud had not, in fact, known that. He didn’t say so.

“What would happen if there were eight, I wonder.”

At this, Daud raised an eyebrow. “Well, if you’re that curious, why don’t you just pluck one from the herd and see what happens. Surely I haven’t put you off your favourite pastime.”

“You have let your arrogance take this world to the brink of chaos. You thought you could be important,” the whale god countered.

“I seem to recall no objections from you at the time.”

Any lesser immortal would have probably hissed at him, but the Outsider remained unruffled. “I don’t play favourites. But know… that I will be watching.” He waved a hand and the world around Daud disintegrated.

With a start, he sat up in his bed, sheets tangled around his legs.

Why now?

He got up again, even though it was still far from dawn, and haphazardly put on trousers and a shirt. Not bothering with the buttons, he went downstairs and stepped towards his desk. Reaching for a cigarette, he considered the files currently littering his desk. Reports from his Whaler patrols, documents recently stolen from noble houses, and letters with offers of work. His eyes caught on the one lying on top, received more than a week ago. From Hiram Burrows, Royal Spymaster, to one of Daud’s contacts in the Legal District, offering a contract of significant importance. He was meeting two of Burrows’ agents tomorrow.

A tendril of anxious anticipation curled itself around Daud’s spine.

Chapter Text

It was a mark of Billie’s training and excellent sense of self-containment that she didn’t just flick him in the forehead and asked if his brain had been chewed on by a pack of plague rats, Daud thought somewhat charitably when she merely tilted her head, her face obscured by her Whaler’s mask. Even so, he could guess at the bemused expression she must be sporting.

“Sir, are you certain?”

He spread the information Burrows’ agents had handed to him less than an hour before out on his desk.

‘Assassins don’t take sides,’ had always been one of the first lessons he taught his Whalers, one he repeated to novices and the more experienced alike until it was coming out their ears, right along with ‘walk in their shadow so they can’t see yours.’

“Assassins don’t take sides,” Daud repeated to her now, because he knew it was what she was thinking of. “But there’s a time to remember that we are assassins – not puppets.”

He had not told her about his visit from the Outsider the night before.

*

It was another two weeks until he could do the hare-brained thing that none of the Whalers would actually declare as such to his face: break into Burrows’ offices and “collect” as much information on what the Royal Spymaster was planning as he could. He had nearly gone alone, Billie on a scouting mission in the Estate District, but at the last minute, Thomas materialised on the rooftop next to him.

“Thomas,” Daud greeted him gruffly.

The young Whaler blithely suppressed a shrug. “Rulfio’s idea, Master.”

Daud took care not to grind his teeth too obviously. “Of course it was.” One of his oldest recruits next to Billie, Rulfio had some truly peculiar ideas from time to time. He’d take it as insubordination if Rulfio didn’t agree with him – not that he’s said so. Thomas’ presence here was sign enough.

Together, they transversed across the rooftops into the Legal District.

The documents they returned with painted a very… illuminating picture.

“We’re being used,” he snarled, pinning the final piece of damning evidence onto one of the boards in his office, partially obscuring the faces of targets and contacts from the past few months. “And not just that: the plague is their doing. The Empress has ordered an investigation into whether this was done by enemies of the Empire, and now he's shitting his pants she might find out the truth.”

“But to what end?” Rulfio spoke up from his position among the Whalers gathered around the room. “Wanting more power?”

Daud shook his head. “Not from the start. The Empress has been working very hard to convince Parliament that the poor are worth helping. The rat plague is Burrows’ own answer to Dunwall’s poverty problem.”

Understanding was beginning to dawn.

“Things are getting out of hand and rats don’t care how rich you are. So what Burrows needs is to take over government, and soon.”

“How much time do we have?” Billie got right to the point.

“If we’re planning on breaching Dunwall Tower, we’re going to need time to plan, I made this very clear to Burrows. But they want it to happen while Attano, her Protector, is away. She plans on sending him to the other Isles, to ask for assistance with the plague. We have three months, maybe four.”

Thomas inclined his head. “And what are you going to do next, sir?”

Daud’s lips showed a thin smile. “We break into Dunwall Tower. Just a little ahead of schedule.”

*

One week later.

With Billie and Thomas dogging his heels, they made good time reaching the Tower. It was well past dusk, the shadows long and dark, and the night was swallowing them up by the time they reached the Tower through the sewers. It was a lucky guess, born from exploring every nook and cranny of this Void-forsaken city on principle and the experience that, generally, shit always ended up somewhere. Once they were up on the roof of the lock gate, it was easy enough to get their bearings. Daud had winced at how easy it had been to bribe a captain of the City Watch to get a copy of the floor plans – before the plague, this wouldn’t have been unthinkable, but a hell of a lot more difficult. Making their way across the rooftops of the outer buildings, they found another vent they could crawl through.

Activating his Void Gaze, Daud could see the positions of the guards within the steel structures as well as a small underwater vent leading into the main building. Inconveniently infested with hagfish, it wasn’t the most pleasant route, but it would have to do. Crawling upwards, they only had to choke out two guards and hide their bodies to reach their destination undisturbed. Transversing into the water to avoid arousing any suspicion – Daud did not delude himself that his Whalers were graceful divers – they fended off the hagfish mostly by kicking at them and squeezed themselves through the vent, forcing away driftwood and what was left of an old grate.

From there, it was the familiar routine of crawling across banisters, vents, and through empty rooms before the guards or servants returned. Finding a conveniently open window, they climbed outside again. Daud knew which way to go for the Empress’ rooms, and he signalled for the other two to find high vantage points and to keep an eye on the patrols.

Taking a deep breath, Daud vaulted himself up, further up the Tower, until he reached Empress Jessamine’s office. Crouching on a ledge above the window, Daud reflected that this was potentially the most feckless thing he had ever done in his life – and he’d had plenty of opportunities to be a stupid bastard. Taken most of them, too.

Of course, the Empress wasn’t alone: Attano, her Lord Protector, was with her. As far as Daud could tell, they were discussing that mission the Empress wanted to send him on and that he apparently wasn’t happy with. Not bothering to listen further, Daud dropped down from the ledge and, mid-fall, transversed in through the open window.

His feet hadn’t touched solid ground before Attano was on his feet, his sword drawn and his hand on the grip of his pistol. The Empress was staring at him, her eyes wide, but to his mild surprise she wasn’t screaming. Yet.

He raised his hands well away from his own blade and the weapons on his belt, his wristbow angled away.

“Peace, bodyguard,” was the line he’d settled on while preparing for this, knowing full well it was not going to be long before someone was yelling for the guards when an infamous assassin just dropped in through the window. “If I wanted you dead, you would be already.” Not his most reassuring, he’d admit, but sometimes pointing out the obvious helped settling situations.

Sometimes. Attano drew and cocked his pistol at Daud’s words.

“Daud,” Attano barked, knew his scarred face well enough from the many descriptions he’s no doubt had to read over the years, and his aim was true, right between Daud’s eyes.

Daud turned to Empress Jessamine. “Your Highness,” he started, the words grating over his tongue, “I am not here to harm you. On the contrary, I have information that will determine the future of your reign, and of this city.”

The Empress’ eyes narrowed, piercing him with a shrewdness that, again, took him by surprise, no matter how much he technically knew of the way she kept her court in line and wrangled nobles with seeming ease. He may be the Knife of Dunwall, much as he despised the name he’d been given, but she was the Empress of the Isles, and clearly, she wasn’t one to cower before a blade, even one dripping with as much blood as his. Dimly, Daud had wondered if any of the contracts he’d taken in the past ten years had done her any favours, knowing that at least some of them were vocal in their repudiation of her policies and judgements. Burrows had given him targets before, after all.

“What information? Who sent you?”

“I’m sending myself. I’ve received a contract and I find myself… disagreeable.”

“A contract?”

“For your life.”

“I see.” The Empress’ gaze on Daud changed. There was fear in her eyes now, she wouldn’t be human if there weren’t, not at having the fact confirmed that she was marked to have her life taken away long before her time. The spectre of death haunted any noble reign, but the reality of it was something else entirely. Daud had dealt enough sentences to know.

After what seemed like an age, Jessamine motioned for Attano to lower his weapons.

“Sit,” she told Daud, gesturing towards one of the armchairs in the corner of the room. “One wrong move, and Corvo will kill you.”

Slowly, he lowered his arms and moved across the study. “I’m well aware.” He turned towards Attano as he walked, indicating the pouch of documents attached to his belt. His face now more like the mask of stone Daud knew from official renderings of court functions and parliament sessions, he nodded for Daud to remove it, watching his hands like a hawk. Daud moved slowly, deliberately, and had the sense to hand the pouch to Attano first instead of thrusting the documents towards the Empress directly.

“It’s not everything we have, but this is the most important evidence,” he began while settling himself into one of the cushy chairs. He was itching for a cigarette, but he resisted. Nobody smoked in this office, that much was obvious, and he wasn’t about to leave evidence of his visit behind, not even a trace of tobacco on the air for the maid to smell in the morning. “It’s a conspiracy that involves Burrows, Campbell, and the Pendleton twins, at least, as well as a number of as yet unknown variables.”

The Empress sat across from him, Attano standing at her side. She had the papers in her lap, sorting through them quickly and skimming the pages. “A conspiracy to commit what, precisely?”

“Murder by rat plague,” Daud retorted drily. Two pairs of eyes bore into his. “Those rats were no accident, you were right to suspect it. Nor were they a punishment for neglecting the Strictures, as the Abbey would have us believe. They were simply a plot to eradicate the poor and save the rich their money.”

“You can prove this,” the Empress demanded.

“It’s all there,” Daud nodded at what she was holding in her hands. “Some of the missing links we haven’t found yet, such as by whom exactly the rats were brought here and what ships were involved, but knowing that Burrows is foolish enough to hold on to this kind of correspondence…” He trailed off, his meaning clear. “We’ll endeavour to find the rest.”

“And now they want me out of the way because I ordered Burrows to investigate, and he’s scared that I will discover the truth,” she concluded. Her eyes fixed Daud’s. “What about my daughter?”

The question of how to deal with the child had been a thorn in his side since he'd started planning. Next to her, Attano shifted minutely, his hand tightening on the hilt of his sword. The kid had no father, Daud realised and, fuck, he hadn’t really thought of that.

“She’s to be abducted,” Daud informed her bluntly, shoving the thought aside, “and produced to the public at the opportune moment, cementing the new Lord Regent’s authority as her saviour. She’d be his puppet on the throne.”

“Burrows,” she questioned, and he nodded again. There was a pause as she quickly read another of Burrows’ incriminating letters. Finally, she looked up again. “Why?”

He tilted his head, pretending to misunderstand. “Your Highness?”

“Why are you here?” she prompted more forcefully.

“I don’t like being used,” Daud answered simply, and Attano scoffed. Daud shot him an icy glare. “Believe it or not, bodyguard. I may be but a tool for any side, but I am not a puppet, and I am no fool. Killing the Empress would plunge Dunwall into chaos. I’ve no desire to see it fall, not even after 18 years in this Void-damned place. I have no ambition for power, either. I’ll see Burrows drown in a pit of rats, and then that’s it for me.”

“And the other reason?” Jessamine fixed him with a look. She was fishing rather than truly reading him, but the Empress was no stranger to subterfuge among her subjects and advisers alike. And someone like him… generally had more than one good reason for doing something like this.

“I like being threatened even less,” he admitted, a snarl creeping into his voice. “Campbell wants the heretics dead, and he’s been hearing rumours about the old Financial District.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Attano’s eyebrows rise for but a moment – he had just practically confirmed that that was where they’d been hiding out since the plague had worsened. The Empress had struggled to keep the Abbey in line in recent years, her reign not one defined by persecuting those with the Outsider’s Mark (or those seeking it) even as the Overseers grew increasingly zealous – and bloodthirsty. So Daud took the final leap and continued, “I took the contract. I took it because if I didn’t, someone else would, and then we’d be shit out of luck keeping a handle on it. I also took it because if I don’t do what they say, they’re going to start a war against my Whalers before your body is cold on the ground. And I can’t have that.”

“Then what is your price?” At Daud’s questioning look, Jessamine added, “for the life of an Empress.”

“More than enough for me and my Whalers to disappear for a while,” was what he thought she wanted to hear, and it was the truth, but she shook her head.

“What is your price for helping me?”

Daud blinked at her, taken aback. “I wasn’t going to ask for more money.”

“And you’ve only ever killed those who deserved it, is that it?” Attano accused, and Daud had to stare at him for a moment. They were the most words he’s ever heard the Lord Protector string together, and now that he had, it was impossible to miss what remained of a Serkonan lilt in his speech. Daud reasoned that he could have pieced it together earlier, by Attano’s complexion and the darkness of his eyes, but it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. He wasn’t sure it did now.

Catching himself, Daud rallied. “Yes.” It was a simple answer, but it was the best he could give. The gangs and the nobles of this city weren’t much different from each other – there was always corruption, always a betrayal. And then, there was always a blade. Usually, Daud’s. It was true he didn’t question, many times over the years he hadn't even asked for proof. But he sure as hell didn’t act on his own behalf - if that counted for anything.

“I presume you have a plan, assassin?” The Empress’ expression told him that he better had, or he’d have been royally wasting her time.

He nodded.

His plan was detailed – he’d had three weeks to come up with it – and it took him nearly an hour to detail all of it. At the end, both the Empress and Attano were silent.

“Take your time,” he said, standing slowly, still observing the Protector’s twitching hands. He made for the window and clenched his left fist, feeling the Void reach for him.

Chapter Text

Seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
But now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek

 

Corvo was at the window in an instant, even knowing that he’d see neither hide nor hair of the assassin once he’d made himself scarce. The abilities that the Whaler possessed were perhaps, in some sense of exaggeration, the stuff of legend, but he hadn't missed the otherworldly glow emanate from the back of Daud’s left hand.

'So he really is marked,' he thought. The assassin hadn't discussed how exactly he’d made his way into the Tower, but Corvo made a mental note to seal every sewer grate and every window, even knowing that someone with Daud’s abilities would likely always find a way in. He’d just have to make sure that those ways were even more limited.

“Corvo,” Jessamine’s voice called him away from the window, and he turned to find her sitting at her desk. Sighing openly, he walked over to her and came to stand beside her chair, close enough that she could lean into his side. She wrapped both her hands around his left, threading their fingers together, the easy intimacy between them a soothing balm on Corvo’s soul, all the more for how rarely they could be openly affectionate during the day. Corvo would never turn down a hug from Emily, but there had to be some manner of distance between him and the Empress.

“Can we trust him?” she asked.

“No,” he decided swiftly. “But it would be foolish not to look into it. What do you want to do?”

“Test Burrows. We have some time before you leave for the Isles, we can have him watched, carefully, and ask him a few questions. Depending on his reaction, we can draw our own conclusions," Jessamine explained.

Corvo nodded, considering her choice. "Those documents,” he waved a hand at the papers Daud left them, “are unlikely to be fabricated, there’s too many of them, and I know Burrows’ handwriting. What would Daud have to gain from coming here, except to set a far more elaborate trap than necessary?”

“He’s asking us to protect his family.” Jessamine was frowning, mulling over the problem the Knife had dropped into their lap, but Corvo could see her innate kindness wrestling with her learned mistrust of enemies and supposed friends of the Crown alike. “He has nothing to gain from this but that, and far more to fear besides, from Burrows, from Campbell, and from the Crown.” She withdrew her hands from Corvo’s, standing and pacing between her desk and the extensive shelves on the far wall. “We could crack down on the Whalers tomorrow, hand them to the Abbey, but then what? Burrows hires someone else, and the wheel keeps turning.”

“You could denounce Burrows,” Corvo suggested. “You have proof he’s hired Daud to have you killed, isn’t that enough? Get rid of them all, end it before it even starts.”

“Daud’s plan is thorough,” Jessamine countered.

“Daud’s plan is madness,” Corvo felt compelled to point out.

“We don’t know who or what is responsible for the rats, nor how to make an antidote for the plague. Burrows is slippery, Corvo, you know he is. And if we cannot control the Overseers, what if they stage a coup? I know Daud’s plan is born from his instincts and his past, but he’s not wrong. Removing myself, and Emily, from the centre of power is the better bet for safety. Here, I’m a sitting duck, and you’re still going on that journey.”

“Jess.”

“You’re going. And don’t just ask for help, see if you can find any evidence of how one would go about bringing those rats to Dunwall intentionally.”

Corvo knew when he’d been beaten, so he sighed. “I’ll go. And you’re right about Daud.”

“Good.” Jessamine’s voice was gentle now, and he felt her drawing closer. Her hands were on his cheeks a moment later, and then she was drawing his face down towards hers for a kiss. “This is the better way.”

*

It was another three days before Jessamine made her final decision, but Corvo knew the night Daud dropped into their quarters that she was going to go through with the assassin’s plan. He was glad she’d decided to test Burrows before making it definitive, but the reactions the Royal Spymaster had betrayed when they’d laid a few subtle traps for him in that morning’s meeting had served to support Daud's allegations.

It didn’t sit well with either of them to be cooperating with the man that whispers in the dark called the Knife of Dunwall, but Jessamine had never been above accepting unconventional help. Anton Sokolov was her court physician, after all, as per her own decree. She had "inherited" Burrows from her father, the late Emperor, and Corvo remembered the discussions they’d had about replacing him shortly after Jessamine took the throne. How he now wished they’d gone through with it. Perhaps we should have hired Daud, he thought grimly and a dark chuckle escaped him as he sorted the new reports on his desk.

One caught his eye, as it was written on different paper stock from the others and its handwriting unfamiliar as well. It was neat, almost painstakingly so. He squinted at it, turning the sheet over, until he found specks of ink too deliberately placed to be smudges in the bottom right corner. Grabbing his magnifying glass, he shifted the whale oil lamp on his desk closer.

In tiny, cramped script, likely written with the assistance of a stationary magnifier, it said, ‘Lord Attano, Master Daud wanted you to see this. It’s a copy of one of our patrols’ reports, observed near Rudshore Gate. Thomas’

With a curse, Corvo dropped the magnifying glass on his desk and as good as shoved the piece of paper away from him. How… the thought that one of the Whalers had managed to mix this in with his correspondence from the Legal District made even his well-tethered temper flare. Either they were taking greater risks than they normally would because of what was at stake, or insinuating themselves into City Watch security was just that easy. Corvo felt something heavy settle in the pit of his stomach at the thought that he should apparently be glad that Daud and his Whalers had never had cause (or incentive) to try to end the Kaldwin line before.

Taking a few deep breaths, Corvo finally centred himself enough to pick the sheaf of paper back up. It was a report on City Watch activity on the outskirts of the Flooded District. Rudshore was where most of the bodies were taken and dumped, a measure Jessamine had only reluctantly agreed to when it was proposed by one of her advisers. It was rumoured that small groups of infected had also fled to Rudshore to escape the quarantine, but Corvo hadn’t been able to obtain confirmation – until today. But that wasn’t all the report contained. According to Daud’s men, members of the Watch were evaluating areas and laying out plans for the possible addition of some of Sokolov’s security measures, such as Arc Pylons and even a Wall of Light.

Cursing again, Corvo reached for an empty audiograph card. This warranted a confidential message sent to Captain of the Watch Curnow, and now.

*

Two days later, Corvo slipped out of the palace at the break of dawn, calling upon one of his most trusted guards to arrange for a boat to take him into the Flooded District.

Entering the Whalers’ territory was not going to happen without immediately attracting their attention, so Corvo didn’t bother with stealth. He had to get off the boat and tell the boatman to position himself somewhere out of the way once they got as far as the old oil refinery, spying a pack of river krusts up ahead that he had no intention of disturbing. Either he would be intercepted and brought to Daud by the Whalers, or he would find his own way. There weren’t that many stable buildings left, and after going over some old plans and reports from before the closure of the district, he wagered that most of the assassins would be holed up in the old Chamber of Commerce.

Venturing deeper into the district’s derelict structures, he wondered at the lack of Whalers’ blades pointed at his neck. Then, he finally spotted the tell-tale shards of reality dispersing from the corner of his eye, and he was sure that someone had just vanished away from the rooftop to his right. Walking towards the edge of the building he had scaled, he came upon a chasm, a cavern of tall houses destroyed by the water, and across from where he stood, the Chamber.

Crouching, he unclipped his spyglass from his belt, spotting half a dozen Whalers dotted around the ruins. They were sure to have seen him, and when two of them disappeared, he was certain they were reporting to Daud.

Considering that he’d made it this far without a sleep dart to his neck, Corvo supposed that Daud had given orders to let him pass. He frowned. Had the assassin anticipated his arrival?

His question was answered when he, after a few more minutes of balancing across loose shingles, returned the favour and dropped in through the window of what seemed to be Daud’s office.

“I gotta say, bodyguard,” Daud drawled without turning around, “I didn’t think you’d pay us a visit personally.” Then, he put down the book he’d been leafing through and turned, a shark-like grin on his face. “Or I’d have tidied the place up a little.”

“Daud,” Corvo acknowledged him, refusing to rise to the bait.

Turning towards him fully, Daud moved a step closer. “You’re not useless, I’ll give you that. My men reported on the route you took. Not bad, without powers.”

Corvo ignored the compliment, if it was one. “The Empress has decided to follow your plan.”

Daud’s gaze turned piercing. “And you, what have you decided?”

“I serve at the Empress’ command,” Corvo replied calmly.

The assassin considered him for a long moment, his eyes never leaving Corvo’s face. Then, he nodded. “Alright.” Taking another step, Daud surprised Corvo by extending his hand. Catching himself, he held out his own. They shook, Daud’s grip firm but not punishing.

Parting, Corvo drew back his arm, his nerves alight with tension at the enormity of the deal the Crown had just struck, through him, with a wanted killer.

“Seeing as you’re here,” Daud was already back at his desk, tugging a sheet that looked like a map of the district out from under a stack of papers, “I suppose you’re ready for me to show you the shrine?”

That part of the plan had shocked Corvo when Daud had first mentioned it, though he'd been careful not to let it show. Daud had refused to disclose when he had last communicated with the Outsider, but he had confirmed that he had heard his voice, seen his face. He had also proposed that Corvo should accompany him to a shrine as soon as possible.

‘You’ll need powers to keep up with us,’ Daud had argued. ‘It’s a toss-up whether he’ll find you... interesting enough, and you can refuse the Mark, but…’ he’d trailed off with a shrug.

Corvo had more or less repressed any thoughts on the matter during the last few days, mostly because he’d known that any agonising on it wouldn’t bring him closer to a decision. His gaze strayed to the gloves on Daud’s hands.

Daud seemed content to wait him out as Corvo made the one choice in all this that did, in fact, mostly affect him and him alone. What did Daud stand to gain from having the Royal Protector become a heretic, given that he had allowed Corvo to enter the hide-out the Overseers had been trying to find for a long time now? Increasingly, this looked to Corvo more like the assurance of mutual destruction. Which was, on balance, preferable to empty promises – at least everybody knew where they stood.

Finally, he looked up at the assassin and nodded.

It wasn’t far, but as Daud led Corvo across the ruins on foot, they stopped at a steep drop between two buildings that Corvo had managed to avoid before. Daud looked at him from the side.

“We need to get down there, the shrine’s in the basement.” Before Corvo could ask how, he was surprised into silence by the fact that Daud was holding out his arm. “You’ll need to hold on.”

Hesitating, Corvo curled his hand over the man’s forearm, the red coat rough under his fingers. Daud nodded. “That’ll do,” he answered the unspoken question.

And then, time… stopped.

When Corvo could feel his heart beat again, there were fifty feet down from where they’d been not a second ago. Fighting down the nausea, he raised his eyebrows at Daud, who smirked.

“Told you, bodyguard. Powers come in handy.”

If Corvo didn’t know better, he’d say Daud was trying to get a rise out of him. In any case, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, so Corvo merely gestured for Daud to proceed.

Past a doorway covered by a wooden palette, Daud led him further into the building. Down rickety steps, Corvo had trouble adjusting to the increasing lack of light around them. In front of him, Daud turned, and in what little daylight was filtering in from behind him Corvo realised with a start that his eyes had turned black.

“Void Gaze,” Daud said in a low voice. “Stay close.”

Letting Daud lead him through a damp, pitch-dark basement towards a meeting with the legend-infested Outsider hadn’t been on the list of things Corvo had considered consenting to that morning, and yet here he was. He was relieved when they rounded a bend and, ahead, a peculiar purple light spilled out from underneath a closed door.

“There,” Daud announced somewhat redundantly, and sped up his steps. Reaching the door before Corvo, he hesitated before opening it. “You still sure?”

Corvo nodded.

“Nothing for it, then.” He unlocked the door and opened it, waving Corvo in ahead. When Corvo didn’t move, Daud rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he grunted, then stepped through first. As Corvo followed, Daud was already halfway into the room. “I wouldn’t have pushed you in and locked the door, you know.” Coming to a halt and turning, he crossed his arms in front of his chest. “It’s a little late for that.”

Before Corvo could respond, the shadows moved. His gaze drawn towards the shrine, Corvo felt reality warp around them once again.

“My, my, Daud. What fascinating friends you have. Hello, my dear Corvo.”

Whatever Corvo had been expecting, subconsciously or not, this was… not it, he thought, but then nothing would have been. If this was a god, then he looked more like a boy; except for his eyes, they were bleeding tar just like Daud’s had a minute ago. He was regarding him with inhuman scrutiny, and Corvo bristled at the familiar address.

“You are perched on the precipice, Corvo. One misstep, and everything you know will come tumbling down around you. And now, you have come to me.”

Next to him, unmoving, Daud huffed, but didn’t speak.

“He thinks I’m being theatrical,” the Outsider informed Corvo.

“That’s because you are,” Daud spoke up now, glaring daggers. “Are you going to mark him or not?”

“What makes you think I would?”

"Apart from the fact that you showed up?" Daud countered acidly. “He’s the eighth.” Corvo frowned, but kept quiet. “I thought it might be one of my Whalers, thought it might be Billie. But for all that you pride yourself on being subtle, you’re not.”

“Wait,” Corvo couldn’t stop himself this time, “did he tell you to come to Jessamine to—”

“No.” Daud interrupted him. “Black-eyed bastard doesn’t tell you anything, just garbles moonshine at you and leaves you to sort out what it might all mean; and sure as hell doesn’t tell you when you get it wrong. Not until it’s too late, anyway. So,” Daud turned back to look at the Outsider, “did I get it wrong?”

“Only time will tell. But be assured, dear Corvo, that I will be watching your journey with extreme interest.”

Corvo hissed as lines of black ink seared themselves into the back of his hand. He clenched his fist against the pain. Once the markings settled, he looked up again. The Outsider was gone.

“Typical,” Daud groused next to him. When Corvo didn’t move, Daud barked his name. “Attano. He turn you to stone? No? Good, then get moving.”

They left the basement and for the way back up to Daud’s office, Daud let Corvo tag along one more time. Once they were inside again, Daud handed Corvo a flask of blue liquid, Piero’s Spiritual Remedy. “Drink this, let it take,” Daud instructed. At Corvo's questioning look, he added, "Even if you've had it before, it'll be different now."

As if on cue, a Whaler appeared in front of them, giving a polite bow in Corvo’s direction and then addressing Daud. “Master, one of our patrols has stumbled across a new infestation of river krust in the sewers. They’re stronger in number than we anticipated.”

Corvo weighed the vial in his hand against the distrust that flared every time he so much as looked at Daud and decided that, if the assassin hadn’t stabbed him yet, he wasn’t going to poison him now. Knocking back the contents, he grimaced against the taste and forced himself not to fidget as he felt the serum spread through his system; knowing that Daud was likely watching him from the corner of his eye. Cataloguing the differences in effects now that he had the Mark, Corvo did as he was told and ‘let it take.’

“Take a team of five and head back down to the sewers. Grab enough sticky grenades to get rid of them, collect any pearls you find but don’t take unnecessary risks.”

The Whaler nodded. “Do you want me to bring along a few of the novices? They rather enjoy blowing them up, and they need to learn the sewers.”

“See that you do. Anything else?” Daud prompted. The Whaler shook their head and, taking it as a dismissal, raised their fist over their heart in salute to Daud, then nodded at Corvo again before disappearing.

“That was Rulfio,” Daud surprised him by giving him the Whaler’s name. Then again, ‘Thomas’ had signed his copy of the report.

Reminded uncomfortably of the fact that, technically, he owed the assassin thanks, Corvo swallowed, the aftertaste of the elixir still lingering at the back of his throat. “Am I going to meet Thomas?” he enquired.

“Depends,” was all Daud replied. Again, he smirked. “I take it the report was illuminating?”

“Quite,” was all Corvo was prepared to admit.

“Good.” Daud returned equally curtly. “Now. Are you ready to be put through the paces?”

Corvo forced his expression to remain neutral. “Excuse me?”

“You have no experience with Void powers, you expect me to just set you loose?” Daud questioned, exasperation in his rough voice.

Corvo swallowed a sigh. “So where do I start?” Against his better judgement, Corvo felt… anticipation. He didn’t feel different, as such, but the elixir had noticeably increased his energy levels, that much he could tell right away.

Daud gestured for him to move towards the centre of the room. “Calm your mind, much the way you would for a fight. There’s something new inside you, and it might be hard to find at first. Don’t chase it too hard, just… let it come to you.” From the way Daud spoke, it was clear that these were instructions he had given to many people before Corvo. “Reach for the Void, and when it reaches back, you hold on.”

“And then?” Corvo asked as he closed his eyes, concentrating on his breathing and the beat of his heart as he usually would during training.

“Do the first thing that comes to mind – just try not to transverse right out the window,” Daud advised drily. “Best thing to start with is to see.”

“To see what?”

“Into nothing.”

Before he could ask what Daud was on about, Corvo felt something rear its head inside him. Trying to focus on the sensation, he unwittingly clenched his left fist.

“Breathe, Attano,” Daud’s voice was closer now. “Don’t chase it.”

Corvo counted the breaths in his head and relaxed his hand a little. There it was again, as though something was humming through him, right at his fingertips. Slowly, he let it crawl up his arm, then he felt it caress his shoulders. When it reached for his neck, his breathing hitched.

“Easy,” Daud gentled him, and part of Corvo was revolted at making himself so vulnerable in his presence, at being here at all, at being guided through what was officially heresy by this man; but he forced it down by reminding himself why he was doing this. Who he was doing it for.

He let the magic reach for his heart and when it squeezed, he clenched his fist and his Mark burned. With a gasp, he opened his eyes, and when he looked at his hand, the Mark was glowing, shimmering in vibrant colours.

“Very good,” Daud rumbled. “Now look into the Void.”

“How?”

“Just tell it that that’s what you want to do.”

Closing his eyes, Corvo focused his intent, and when he looked outside himself again, everything was… dark. Colours were muted to the point of being indistinguishable, but he could… he could see through walls. He saw the golden shape of a Whaler guard standing outside Daud’s office, he could see… things. Not paying Daud any heed, he walked a few steps, and saw that there were waves pulsing away from his feet.

“Representation of the sounds you’re making,” Daud supplied.

After a time, Corvo’s vision cleared, and he shook his head for a moment. Daud didn’t speak again, but Corvo felt his eyes on him as he activated the Gaze again – at least that’s what he supposed it was, 'Void Gaze' Daud had called it. Taking another look around the room, Corvo found a few rats by the upper windows, but nothing else. Commanding his sight to return to normal, he found himself with human eyes again a moment later. Expectantly, he turned to look at Daud.

“Nothing to discover?” the assassin asked.

“What do you mean? There’s a guard outside your door and a few rats up next to your bed.”

Daud frowned. “No bone charms, no runes?”

Corvo shook his head. “No. Should there have been?”

“It’s early days, but yes,” Daud replied, crossing his arms. “No Void Gaze for you, then, must be a variation. Well, I guess you’ll learn.”

“What else?”

“You’ll need runes to gather more powers as you go, but I started with Void Gaze and Transversal.”

“Show me.”

Daud nodded, then from one second to the next, he was perched on top of the huge filing cabinet next to the stairs. “Now you try it. See how far you can go.”

Reaching for the Void once more, Corvo wondered what he was meant to think to make himself move. In the end, it was much simpler than he thought. After a few false starts, he made it up on top of the cabinet next to Daud, who hummed thoughtfully.

“Time didn’t stop,” Corvo observed out loud. “And the air… sound around me was distorted.”

“You didn’t disintegrate, either, like we do. More of a… ball of light. It’s like a blink for you, then. Huh. Blink,” he repeated.

“How do I improve these powers?” Corvo asked, reminded of the tales he’d heard told about the Knife of Dunwall.

“Rune rituals,” Daud retorted, pushing himself up and transversing back down towards his desk. Corvo followed him down a moment later, blinking a few feet shorter.

“You’ll gain greater range with time,” Daud commented when Corvo walked up the remaining steps. “Collect enough runes and you can perform one of the rituals. You don’t have to be near a shrine to do it, although it can help with the more advanced abilities.”

“How many runes do I need?”

“I can’t say exactly. At first, it’s trial and error, but after a while, the runes will… sing to you. They give you a sense of what you might achieve if you used them for the ritual.”

“And what about bone charms?”

“Bone charms are just that, charms made of whale bone. Each bone charm carries a distinct design and purpose, their magic infused with intent. That can be an intent to enhance, to conceal, to channel your powers or to improve your mobility. How many you can carry at a time depends on your experience, mostly, but you can increase your capacity through rituals as well.”

Corvo nodded, taking it all in. “And these powers… they can be used during combat.”

Daud’s sharp grin returned. “Oh, they can. Want to have a go, bodyguard?”

Corvo’s question hadn’t been meant as quite so bloody-minded. “Now?”

The assassin shrugged a shoulder. “You need the practice, and I haven’t sparred yet today.”

Considering the man opposite him, Corvo weighed his options. He wasn’t expected back at the Tower until early afternoon and he, too, was itching with not having had a training session in two days. “Alright.”

Corvo and Daud drew their swords.

Chapter Text

“Allow me to demonstrate,” Daud motioned for Attano to hold on for a moment. “Obviously, Blink will be of more use to you in a fight than night vision, at least as long as you keep the lights on. You’re going to figure out the finer details as you go, but for now, know this: Blink can get you there, but it’s also useful in retreat. You can unbalance an enemy by blinking into them, though I’d be careful about where their sword is pointing if I were you. Time it right and you can kill them with one blow. If fighting's not an option, combine a Blink with a leap and you can jump higher, which will save you from a pack of Overseers or guardsmen in a tight spot. Even accounting for your ability not bending time, you can at still move out of the way of ranged attacks, like bolts or bullets.”

At this, he paused, then smirked. Balling his fist, he called for Thomas. Attano’s eyes widened when the Whaler appeared by Daud’s side.

“It’s the Arcane Bond. Through this ability, I can share some of my powers with those who choose to follow me. This is Thomas, by the way.”

Beside him, Thomas gave a bow, deeper than Rulfio’s had been. “Lord Attano. It’s an honour, sir.”

“Thomas,” the Protector greeted his assassin. If the vapor masks and distorted voices disturbed him, he didn’t let on.

“I’m going to take Attano through a few sparring paces today, and in truth we need a straw bag.”

Thomas turned to look at him. “Where do you need me, sir?”

“There’s fine.” Turning back to Attano, Daud continued, “we’ll start with defensive manoeuvres. Thomas, shoot me.”

Without taking his eyes off the Protector, Daud transversed out of the way of Thomas’ first sleep dart, ending up only a few feet to the left. “Again.” This time, he landed on top of the familiar cabinet. “It’s a lot like dodging, only with better chances.” He grinned. “Now you try it.”

When Thomas didn’t attack right away, Daud threw him a look. “Now what way’s that to treat our guest. Shoot him!”

And so the next hour passed, with Daud demonstrating different defensive and attack moves combined with Transversal/Blink. They discovered the differences between their abilities, one very apparent when Daud moved towards a dart incrementally and then plucked it out of the air. Attempting to do the same, Attano realised that he could not interact with the objects around him whilst aiming his Blink – had it not been for his quick reflexes, that sleep dart would have ended up embedded in his neck. And wouldn’t that have been awkward to explain, Daud thought sardonically. Watching as Attano brushed strands of his hair away from his forehead, he wondered if there were more such consequences that they would have to account for as Attano’s abilities progressed. The Outsider’s gifts could be… fickle.

Eventually, they also sparred with each other, Thomas acting as their referee. Their blades clashed relatively infrequently – since not catching each other was rather the point – but Daud felt his lips curl lazily at how good Attano was when they did end up in a brief exchange of blows. The Protector was quick on his feet, and his lighter frame lent him a certain advantage of speed that Daud compensated with his bulk. Once engaged, Daud was difficult to shake off, driving his enemy into the direction he wanted them. Attano realised this quickly, putting more emphasis on his footwork to elude Daud’s parries.

He was aware enough that they had gathered something of an audience – Galia and a handful of novices had snuck in through the upper level of his chamber, watching curiously as none other than the Royal Protector took Transversal lessons from the Knife of Dunwall.

Aiming to distract Attano before he noticed and grew too uneasy to continue, Daud suggested they test his range. “Out on the rooftops, see what your limit is.”

Attano shot him a dubious look, but nodded, and Daud led the way through the window behind his desk. Moving across the rooftops and through the upper levels of nearby ruined buildings, they quickly realised that their difference in range amounted to about five feet, give or take a leap, especially vertically.

“You need to be able to Blink without thinking about it,” Daud lectured from where he was crouched on a ledge above Attano. “That includes running towards the edge of a roof and not knowing exactly what awaits you at the drop. You’ll misjudge a few, but those will teach you to estimate distances more accurately. But the most important thing is trust. Hesitation will cost you your life.”

“So will falling short and dropping a few hundred feet off a balcony,” a disembodied voice next to Daud commented drily, and a moment later Billie appeared on the ledge, peering down at the bodyguard.

“No-one asked you, Billie,” Daud shot back, and Billie shrugged in that way she had, raised arms bent at the elbow and palms upward.

“His funeral, sir.”

Rolling his eyes, Daud turned back to Attano and took in the state of him. His breathing was even, as if they hadn’t been jumping around on rooftops for the past half hour, but there was a slight pallor to his cheeks that suggested oncoming mana drain, even if Daud had advised him of the downtime between Blinks.

As if sensing the reason for his scrutiny, Attano called up, "I need to head back to the Tower."

“Back to my office first. You too, Billie.”

Handing Attano one more of Piero's remedies from the stash behind his desk, he said, “the more complex abilities will drain your mana and it won’t recharge. You’ll need runes to obtain them. Find yourself a few more of these and practise, if you can.”

Attano scowled. “That won’t be easy. The training areas at the Tower are seldom empty.”

Daud considered this, and considered the danger they were all in if the Royal Protector were to be observed practising black magic. Biting back a sigh, he decided, “Then you come here.” At Attano’s unimpressed look, he shrugged. “You need to have them under control by the time you get back from the Isles, ideally by the time you leave. Besides, we can look for spare runes and bone charms, and you can complete some of the rituals when you’re here.”

“Same time as today?" Attano asked, betraying no gratitude for the offer — not that Daud had expected any.

Daud nodded. “As many times as you can make it without drawing too much attention.” He turned on his heel, then whipped around again. “And for the love of everything, get a pair of gloves as soon as you reach your quarters.”

“Captain Curnow is meeting me at the lock gate when I get back to the Tower,” Attano informed him, and Daud was going to start beating his head against the nearest wall one of these days.

“Thomas,” he called, tossing his key in the boy’s general direction, “dig a spare pair out of my trunk, will you.”

“Sir.” Thomas had barely vanished when he was already back again, carrying a dark brown pair of gloves. Handing Daud back his key, Thomas offered the gloves to Attano, who now actually looked uncomfortable. “These should fit.”

“I couldn’t—”

“You can and you will,” Daud cut him off. “Don’t even think about just covering it with a scrap of fabric. Curnow sees that Mark, he might even turn a blind eye, he and Campbell are none too friendly; but anybody else, and the jig is up.”

Giving in, Attano slipped on the gloves. They did fit remarkably well. Catching himself staring, Daud looked away, while Attano seemed to be getting used to having his hands fully covered. A moment passed in silence, then Daud felt the air at his back shift and the bodyguard blinked in place next to him at the desk.

“I’ll take my leave, then.”

“Tomorrow?”

“The day after.”

Daud nodded. “Alright.” Displaced air caressed the back of Daud's neck, and then Attano was gone. Daud resisted the urge to turn and watch him blink away across the rooftops.

“Galia,” he drawled.

“Daud,” she appeared next to him in a cloud of ash.

“Trail him, discreetly. Make sure he doesn’t fall short and drown.”

“Sir.”

“I could have done that,” Billie offered from his left, and he shot her a glare that would have sent a novice quaking in their boots.

“Didn’t ask you to, did I. Now, what did you find at the Golden Cat?”

*

Daud had to hand it to the Lord Protector, he was apparently very good at making up reasons for leaving the Tower that either no-one questioned or that were well thought-out alibis and too difficult to corroborate. In any case, this was their sixth sparring session in two weeks, and he was currently trying very hard not to gape at Attano being capable of possessing rats.

“You what,” he said flatly, glaring at the white-coated rat that was currently sniffing at one of his boots. Then, the creature shifted and Attano, looking about as perturbed as Daud felt, raised himself to his full height, leaving behind a dead rat on his office floor. Daud nudged it with his foot.

“So that’s what those runes wanted from me,” Attano muttered, flexing his gloved hands. He’d given Daud back the borrowed pair the second day he’d appeared in the Chamber; these were obviously tailored to his hands and matched his uniform. At least he’d had the sense to follow Daud’s advice.

Chasing down enough runes all over the Flooded District hadn’t been easy, and they would have to search for more after Attano was back and they could get to work, but so far they’d managed enough to get him to Bend Time (at least slow it down), better Blink range, better Dark Vision (the fact that Attano still could not see runes or bone charms using that power annoyed Daud rather than worried him, if just because it meant Attano was useless looking for them on his own and needed to rely on Daud’s Whalers); and Daud had begrudgingly resorted to using one of Granny Rags’ old recipes to craft a simple rune that would help Attano gain better Agility when the man announced that he was one short of whatever the ritual was telling him he needed and thus couldn't spare any of the ones they'd found.

And now, there were rats.

“Do you think I could summon them, too?” the Royal Protector interrupted his thoughts, and Daud looked up at him in alarm.

“If you do, I’m going to be far away when you try,” he returned, narrowing his eyes at how easily Attano appeared to settle into his new abilities. The questions he was asking were intelligent and spoke of an amount of cunning hiding behind the calm exterior that had taken Daud by surprise. He sighed. “Well, if you want to test your ability, we had better go out and find some. See for how long you can possess them and if there’s any bone charms that make sense to you.”

Together, they appeared on the walkway between the Chamber and the torn-apart building across from it a moment later. Daud was already transversing to a ledge on the upper level when Attano’s voice caught up with him.

“Emily wants to meet you.”

Daud liked to think that nothing could unbalance him mid-air anymore except perhaps a bullet to the head, so if there was ever a time to nearly fall off a ledge, this was definitely not it. Turning, he simply stared at the Royal Protector blankly.

“She’s seen me leave a few times while she was supposed to be with her tutors, and this morning she cornered me and asked me where I was always running off to.”

The thought of a child, even (especially) a tiny Princess, 'cornering' a man as physically imposing as Attano was frankly hilarious, but Daud kept his peace. If anyone of ten years were to question Daud’s actions, they’d be on kitchen duty for two months. Then again, the children Daud knew were his novices, not precocious royalty.

“I told her I’ve been going to see,” here Attano hesitated, “a friend, and that I’d be back by the time her lessons were finished.” Obviously uncomfortable, he paused again. When Daud still didn’t speak, he continued, “and then she asked why that friend never came to visit us. I told her that he had, but that she’d already been asleep.”

That much was true. Daud had snuck into the Tower again a few days ago, to speak with the Empress. He hadn’t stayed long, and Attano had been like stone the entire time.

“So she insisted,” here something akin to mirth entered Attano’s eyes, possibly against his will, “that you make an appearance before her bedtime, and soon.”

“Well, if the Princess insists,” Daud volleyed back, and he'd meant it as a jab, but he froze when the other man’s gaze landed on him. “Are you fucking kidding me, Attano,” he threatened with a growl. Outsider’s balls, this was not happening.

To his horror, the Protector didn’t look away. “The Princess insists. And so does the Empress.”

He was doing this to get back at him, Daud realised. Of all the things Attano could have done to him – injuring him while sparring, pushing him off a roof to see what would happen, or simply stabbing him and be done with it – he’d chosen this. The Royal Protector truly was a menacing creature.

“Fine,” he gruffed.

Below, Attano relaxed, if only a fraction. “Jessamine says it’s better if she meets you now. She’ll be less frightened.” True to character (or what little Daud had been able to discern of him), the bodyguard kept his own thoughts on the matter to himself.

The main concern Daud and the Empress had discussed in their last meeting had been, among others, how to deal with the Princess. Neither Jessamine nor Attano wanted to burden her with the knowledge that an attempt on her mother’s life was being planned, whatever the actual circumstances. Although Daud suspected that the child was keeping her own fair share of secrets – her father’s true identity chief among them – he had no wish to risk exposing their plan because of a ten-year-old’s rambling.

Daud nodded. What was he getting himself into? Then he remembered why they’d come out here in the first place. “Find yourself a rat to inhabit, bodyguard. I’ll meet your Princess.”

He contrived not to stare as Attano's face showed the first hint of a smile.

*

“You agreed to—”

“I agreed to come to the Tower to speak with the Princess,” Daud repeated, just in case Billie hadn’t heard him properly the first time. (She had.) He glowered at her, and again she shrugged.

“When are you leaving?”

“Before sundown. It’ll take a while to get there, so it’ll be dark enough by the time I arrive.”

“At least take Rinaldo with you?” Billie half-requested, half-demanded, and he nodded if just to get her off his back.

He did leave before sundown, and made his way into the Tower the same way as the last few times. It was tedious, but relatively safe. By design, he had avoided the shift change, and the guards’ posts were fully staffed but not on high alert. He left Rinaldo in the same point as he had Billie and Thomas, and then made his way up to the Empress’ quarters, calling on his Void Gaze to ensure there was no-one else in the room but the three people he was seeking.

At the last second, he remembered that it might be wise to climb in through the window rather than appear out of thin air, so he gritted his teeth and heaved himself up the last few feet. Crouching in the open window, he was immediately faced with wide brown eyes and a freckled nose.

Hell, if he hadn’t already suspected, he was sure now. Flickering an annoyed glance at Attano, who was already reaching for the Princess to pull her back, Daud focused on the slip of a girl in front of him, who had gasped at his sudden appearance, one hand covering her mouth.

“What did I tell you about getting too close to the windows, Emily,” the Empress chided her, but gently.

Daud wasn’t usually self-conscious about his weathered face or his scars, but he spared a thought for the kind of first impression he’d probably just made. Slipping into the room and standing up properly, he looked down at the girl. Smirking, he gave a shallow bow.

“Princess,” he greeted her.

She considered him for a moment, her eyes taking in his clothes and weapons before landing on his face again, already possessing the manners (and, apparently, the self-control) not to stare at his scar too long. “You’re Corvo’s friend?”

Daud briefly glanced at Attano over Emily’s shoulder. The bodyguard simply returned his gaze, his dark eyes just slightly less forbidding than the last time he’d been here. “I am.”

“What’s your name?”

“Daud.”

“Pleased to meet you, Daud,” the Princess spoke earnestly. “And please call me Emily, if you’re a friend of Corvo's.”

In truth, it could have been worse. The Empress gestured for Daud to sit, and he did in the same chair as he had on his last two “visits.” The Princess – Emily – sat in her mother’s lap, her small hand sometimes sneaking up to hold on to the hem of Attano’s coat, who let her do as she pleased with equanimity. She peppered Daud with questions: what he did, how he knew Corvo, why he could only come so late and never when she was done with her lessons for the day. Daud, little used to interactions with “normal” children, for lack of a better word – that was, children who weren’t underfed street urchins or escaping from a life of servitude in brothels or the mines – dredged up what patience he had and managed the conversation with, in his opinion, admirably little sarcasm and a good amount of evasion to make up for it.

For reasons she chose not to disclose, the Princess did not question why he’d come in through the window.

Chapter Text

A week later, Daud was in his office, poring over some excellent extortion material with Billie. The Whalers had been busy collecting anything incriminating they could find in the vaults and desks of anyone currently sitting in Parliament, as well as their families and various secret lovers. When the time came, all of this would ensure that the right people felt the right amount of pressure.

Daud looked up when the Void reached for him, but none of his Whalers had joined them. He turned to the window to check for any other guests, but couldn't see anyone. Before he could call on his Void Gaze, however, someone did appear to his left. Seeing that it was Thomas, Daud shrugged it off as one of the Arkane Bond's many quirks.

“Sir,” Thomas began without waiting for an invitation, “we’ve received another communication from Burrows. He’s pushing for you to set the date.”

Daud sighed. “Of course he is, that bloody coward. Hiding in his office and letting us do his dirty work.”

“Didn’t bother you before,” Billie pointed out, but Daud cut her off with an impatient gesture.

“The work didn’t, Burrows has always ‘bothered’ me,” he growled. “He’s a small, worried man, and I wouldn’t have minded putting a piece of sharp metal in his eye long ago. But now… the plague is his doing, and as it always is, it’s the poor who are suffering the consequences of those in power never being happy with their lot in life when everyone else is trying to make do. Burrows despises those who have nothing, for fear of having to part with some of his wealth in order to improve lives that he does not benefit from seeing bettered. So he would rather eradicate them all.” Daud took a deep breath. He didn’t usually discuss his politics, generally denied that he had them, but seeing Burrows incite a plague to wipe out those who had nothing left but the skin on their bones set his blood to boil. “He’s a weasel-faced bastard who deserves what’s coming to him,” he concluded. “I’ve no love for the monarchy, but the Empress is trying, at least, to hold the city together. Without her, it’ll fall to him. I won’t let it.”

Billie shrugged (she’d been doing that a lot of late), indicating that they should consider the subject dropped. “So, when?”

“I’ll speak to Attano when he arrives, but we'll hand Burrows a date close to his projected return.” Daud glanced outside. “Speaking of: any sign of the bodyguard?”

“No, sir, he hasn’t been sighted yet today. But it’s still early,” Thomas provided in an encouraging tone that Daud instinctively squinted at. Thomas, knowing when retreat was the better part of valour, saluted them and disappeared.

“You're restless,” Billie commented from his right, and Daud crossed his arms and turned towards her.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” It wasn’t a question, it was the threat of three months of kitchen duty hanging over Billie’s head, no matter that she was his second.

She blithely ignored it. “You get restless when he’s not on time.”

“We didn’t set a time,” Daud allowed himself a smirk.

“When he’s later than you’d imagined he’d be, then,” Billie needled, and Daud had no earthly idea what she was trying to achieve, but he'd make sure she'd regret it.

“Well, I’m known not to have a very vivid imagination,” he shot back, hoping that would put a lid on it.

Billie drew breath to deliver a (no doubt essentially insolent) reply, but in that moment Daud felt the Void stir inside him again. It was like a tug, similar to that of the Arcane Bond, yet not remotely the same. Distracted, he looked to the window again, knowing not to expect a Whaler yet unsure what else, and was instead faced with – Attano, climbing through.

When the Royal Protector looked up and found Daud staring at him and Billie staring at Daud, he stopped and stood.

“Good morning?” Attano greeted experimentally, and the novelty of that was enough to snap Daud out of it.

“Morning,” he returned, narrowing his eyes at Attano. “Billie, we’ll finish this up later.”

“Sir. Protector.” With a salute and a nod, Billie vanished.

Attano nodded at the papers strewn across Daud’s desk. “What’s all this?”

Daud waved him closer. “Blackmail. Everyone’s in Burrows’ circle, first and foremost, but by now we have something on every member of Parliament and the royal court. Should any of them need to be kept in line…” Daud trailed off, watching as Attano stepped up next to him, picking up a piece of paper at random and quickly scanning the page. When he reached the bottom, Attano whistled through his teeth.

“Lord Ramsey has done very well for himself,” he remarked drily, and Daud still wasn’t used to the man displaying any sort of humour, much less a brand of sarcasm deceptively similar to Daud’s own.

“Yes, well, all that racketeering is finally paying off,” Daud agreed. “And such hard work, too.”

Attano smirked. “When Jessamine receives the reports on recent activity she’s commissioned from Burrows, none of this will be in there,” he asserted grimly.

“Likely not.”

“I’ve been having Burrows watched, carefully,” Attano confirmed what Daud had been reported by his Whalers who patrolled the Legal District, “he’s getting nervous.”

“He’s been onto me about telling him when. We need to give him an answer soon, at least a week before you leave.”

“So we have five more days.”

“Yes.”

“I need to speak to Captain Curnow first. He’s accompanying me, and if we’re going to keep a secret itinerary to save time, he needs to know.”

“And you’re sure he can be trusted?”

“He’s an honourable man. He would never have agreed with Burrows’ methods, or followed him,” Attano insisted, then fixed Daud with a searching look. “He’s a well-respected man who worked his way through the ranks, but he is no aristocrat. You might have heard about his grandfather being Serkonan.”

Daud returned the look with an unmoving expression. “I might.”

“Then you know they never let him forget it.”

It was the closest they’d ever come to discussing their shared origin, and Daud didn’t know if actually mentioning it would be wise. Little was known about the Knife of Dunwall’s childhood, but even though Attano’s past would be subject of public record at least to an extent, Daud had so far declined to snoop, well, beyond how he’d come to be in Euhorn Kaldwin’s service in the first place. Winning the Blade Verbena at sixteen, Outsider’s bleeding eyes.

Opting for the safer alternative, Daud merely nodded.

Apparently interpreting his silence correctly, Attano smiled slightly, inclining his head. “Alright.” Making himself right at home, Attano brushed past Daud and strode towards the centre of the room, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “What’s on the schedule for today?”

Suppressing a grin, Daud followed, walking up at a leisurely pace. “Have you found enough runes for another ritual yet?”

“No, I’m still short.”

"Still? I would have thought the black-eyed bastard would have left you a present by now."

The corners of Attano's mouth turned down. "Why would he do that? I thought he didn't play favourites."

"That's exactly what his current favourite would say." Daud smirked. “Then have you practised your possession on rats, at least?”

“Only a handful of times, the guards at the Tower are quick on their feet when they want to be.” Attano paused. “And you really think the runes are telling me I could possess people, if I used them for the ritual?”

Daud shrugged. “Only you can know what they’re telling you, but what you described last time sounded like skin-walking on two legs to me. It’s one thing to inhabit an animal, but quite another to control a human mind. You best be sure before performing that ritual.”

Attano’s shoulders slumped – just the fraction of an inch, but Daud saw it, and then, distantly, wondered at Attano being so forthcoming today, but pushed the thought aside. The prospect of being able to control other people’s actions in such a fashion was clearly not sitting well with the Royal Protector.

“Even if I do, there won’t be much in the way of practice available,” he answered, pulling himself together, and Daud barked a laugh.

“I’d say so.”

“Unless, of course, you’d like to volunteer,” Attano teased brusquely – at least, that was what Daud hoped he was doing; much as the thought of Attano teasing was making him wonder if he was seeing things.

“My mind is the last place you’d want to go, bodyguard,” he countered, and perhaps some measure of that was banter. Mostly, it was a warning.

In reply, Attano drew his sword. “Then you had better keep me out of it.”

*

Daud didn’t see the either the Empress or her daughter again until the day Attano left for the Isles. The boat that would take him out to sea, to a proper royal vessel, cast off before dawn. Perched high above the heads of guards and servants, Daud watched as the Royal Protector bowed to the Empress, then crouched down to let Emily hug him. Zooming in with his spyglass, Daud caught Attano’s hidden smile as the Princess pressed a kiss against his cheek, their faces illuminated by a few lanterns that had been lit in deference to the early hour.

Motioning for Aedan and Killian to take their new positions near Jessamine and Emily’s quarters, Daud continued to observe as the bodyguard was sent off on his voyage. He’d be gone for nigh on two months, and the timing of it set Daud’s teeth on edge.

For the date had been set.

Burrows had contacted him the week before, as predicted, demanding a fixed date and time for Daud’s assassination of the Empress, and he knew he could delay no longer. So he had given the Royal Spymaster what he wanted – and now, it all hinged on Attano making good time. He had to be home two days early at the latest, or they'd have to go through with it without him and running the risk of Attano walking into a trap, coming back after the Empress and her daughter mysteriously vanished. Daud had suggested making it three days early and instead abducting the Empress and the Princess the night before the hit was supposed to happen, but Jessamine had shot down the idea; even when Daud argued that they could get Attano out when he did return. The risk of capture in that scenario was too great, and if both Daud and the Royal Protector were taken, with the Empress and Emily missing (hidden away with Daud's Whalers), there'd be nothing to save them from months of torture in Coldridge, tried and eventually executed as co-conspirators in the abduction. And so, the plan was to pretend to go through with the assassination the day it was planned, and to disappear. It was not Daud's favourite plan.

Daud had prepared one contingency, a letter to Burrows demanding more money for having to include the Royal Protector in his assault as soon as he learnt of the "complication," not wanting the old coward to get cold feet and call the whole thing off – or, worse, “warn” the Empress himself. Attano had watched him write it after one of their sparring sessions, leaning his hip against the desk next to him and asking what Daud would have done if he had simply taken the contract and he, Attano, had indeed turned up too early.

“I’d have suggested to frame you for it,” Daud had replied without missing a beat. Attano, to his credit, had merely shrugged and downed the last of the mana elixir from a flask in his hand.

Burrows had balked at calling it so close to when Attano was expected to return, but Daud had argued that security around the Tower would likely relax, and tensions lessen, nearer to the Lord Protector coming back from his mission. He hadn’t told him, of course, that a rotation of his Whalers would keep watch over the Empress and her daughter at all times while Attano was away – a circumstance the Protector had accepted with startling ease. Over the course of them sparring, Attano had met most of the Whalers (or their masks, at least), and most times a small gathering of novices had watched them train. (Daud had always kicked them out for the performance of the rune rituals.) The Whalers were courteous if distant, Attano was calm – that was about all that Daud had been able to surmise. That Attano would welcome the protection offered by their presence surprised him. In some ways, it might have even pleased him, but he firmly closed the door on any such considerations.

As for Attano’s mission itself, Daud had his own thoughts on it, but didn’t voice them. The Empress would hardly listen to him in matters of policy, after all, and calling off the journey now would only cause suspicion both here and in the South. Even so, he doubted that the other Isles would be prepared, much less willing, to lend a helping hand, too fearful of the plague coming to their shores.

Below, Attano finally made to leave. Daud was satisfied that the Lord Protector didn’t suspect his presence when, through his spyglass, he watched in shock as Attano’s eyes bled black under the hood he was wearing – just for a moment, but it was evidently long enough to make out Daud’s silhouette against the walls of the Tower, cast in shadow. Dark human eyes seemingly found his and Daud nearly dropped the spyglass. Still looking up at him, Attano nodded almost imperceptibly, the expression on his face once more indecipherable to Daud. Knowing he was too far away for Attano to see anything he did without Dark Vision, Daud didn’t move. The Protector, apparently satisfied to have made his point, turned and stepped onto the boat.

*

“Daud, old friend,” the Outsider’s voice greeted him upon his entrance to the Void, and had Daud any less self-control, he’d have thrown his hands in the air and screamed. At least their surroundings were more familiar this time: his office, books floating in the air, cabinets stuck to the ceiling rather than the floor, and—was that his bed shoved halfway through the window?

“This one thing,” he groused, “I do this one thing, and I can’t go to sleep without you bleating about in my dreams anymore.”

“We haven’t seen each other since I gave Corvo his Mark,” the Void god supplied helpfully (for any given definition of ‘helpful’).

Daud glowered. “And if I had never seen you again after that, it would have been too soon.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect you were jealous – after all, I have appeared to Corvo when he visited my shrine,” the Outsider spoke over Daud’s derisive scoff, “but I understand that you are not given to such tantrums… unlike others.”

“What others?” Daud asked before he could stop himself. The deity had never been particularly forthcoming with details about those who bore his Mark, and now that Daud knew that there were six apart from him and Attano…

“Nobody you should need to concern yourself with,” came the prompt reply, and Daud wondered if talking with the Outsider had ever felt this… predictable. Certainly not at the beginning. But towards the end?

Considering that, now, what he’d thought to be the end looked increasingly like the ill-omened middle of his entanglement with the Void god, Daud decided to keep such thoughts to himself and swallowed his objections.

“If you’re not going to be lording something over my head, why am I here?” he asked instead, crossing his arms.

“Someone else has caught my eye. Thanks to you, no less.”

“Oh? What did I do, except plunder Dunwall for information and train Attano in your ill-gotten gifts for about a month?”

“You agreed to meet the Princess,” the Outsider responded, calm as can be.

“What,” Daud demanded, sharp, and before he knew it, he’d taken a step closer to the immortal in front of him.

“An excitable child, and so curious,” the Outsider continued, “did you notice she didn’t even ask why you came sneaking through the window, like a thief in the night?”

“You stay away from the girl,” Daud threatened.

“Or what, Daud,” was the Outsider’s unimpressed reaction. “She’s not one of your little Whalers. She’s the daughter of an Empress.”

“I will not see you take another child.”

“She’s not yours to protect.”

“Nor is she yours to corrupt!”

“Is that truly what I did to you, Daud, or is it just what you tell yourself? That I corrupted you? You were not so pure of heart when I found you.”

Daud snarled. “Leave. Her. Alone.”

Alarm rose in his gut when the Outsider raised his hand, but instead of an attack (or an answer), all that slammed into Daud was cold, harsh reality as he woke.

At least his bed wasn’t actually hanging out the window.

*

“Daud,” Billie greeted him as she entered his office. “We found the plans you asked for, of the sewers below the Hound Pits.”

Daud took another drag from his cigarette, then turned away from the window. “On my desk.”

“There’s likely to be Weepers in there, but we can clear them out and start packing up and transporting crates,” she told him.

It was going to be an arduous slog, transversing through the sewers connecting the Flooded District and the sealed-off harbour area, but the Hound Pits pub was the perfect place to hide. With water access, they could get anywhere else in the city, and the sewers provided enough escape routes.

“Have Rulfio give you the list of what needs packing, then assemble the novices. Time for them to pull their weight.”

Billie snorted. “Literally, going by the size of those crates.” She hesitated. “Anything else?”

“Go.”

Again, she lingered a moment, but then saluted him and dematerialised.

Daud, for his part, stayed standing at his desk for a moment, looking over the plans. If overrun by Weepers, those tunnels could prove a death trap; but his men had been down there so much since they’d moved to this district that they were practically sewer rats themselves. They had scouted the route to the Hound Pits often enough before, Daud had merely wanted the exact plans to avoid nasty surprises.

It had been about a month since Attano left, and without their regular sparring or Void training sessions, Daud was left mostly to his own devices. The majority of his time was spent planning and compiling information into dossiers that could be used, as well as making sure that the Whalers’ extensive archives would survive the move without losing entire sections (it had happened before). The last time they’d gone this long without an actual hit to complete had been years ago, and only because an unfortunate encounter with a band of Overseers had left Daud with a shattered shoulder that had taken a while to heal, even with an early version of Sokolov’s elixir.

Walking back to the window, Daud observed his Whalers rotate positions as they kept watch. Misha was having the novices have another go at Spot Galia, the novices’ both most and least favourite game. Playing it meant they got to lurk out on the rooftops – but it also meant being picked up and tossed into the water regularly when Galia came up behind them unnoticed.

Daud grinned to himself as he imagined having Attano play that particular game, and whether he’d succeed. Daud had to admit that the Outsider had chosen well, even if he would never be able to look at rats the same way again. The week before, he'd actually had to suppress a wince when a City Watch guard had crushed one beneath his heel.

At the thought of Attano, he frowned. As uneasy as their truce had begun and as little as Attano might still think of him, the man was an excellent sparring’s partner and a quick study in the Outsider’s gifts. His desire to protect the Empress and her daughter overrode everything else, and although Daud had never known such dedication to a cause, he was now at a point where he could... accept it in others, rather than think it foolish. Over the weeks before Attano’s mission, they’d made good headway in making the Royal Protector into a proper little heretic; and as much as the idea had tickled Daud when he’d first realised that that had to be what the Outsider intended, Daud’s feelings on the matter were decidedly less simple now.

Ever since Daud had done the one thing an assassin should never do, a lot of things had become less simple.

*

Halfway through Attano’s absence, Montgomery reported to him after his shift at the Tower and told him that the Empress had expressed the wish to see him.

“And how did she do that,” Daud questioned, having given his Whalers strict orders to stay out of sight except for absolute emergencies, even if at least the Empress knew they were there.

“She just… walked up to a window and, um, thought out loud, sir,” Montgomery shrugged.

Daud suppressed a laugh. “Well, in that case.” He ignored the voice at the back of his head, acidly informing him that he had never used to make a habit of jumping when summoned.

That night, he nodded at Thomas, then transversed into the Empress’ study.

“Your Highness,” he greeted, and was surprised when he was not only met with her steady gaze, but with a rather young face as well. Emily, once again sitting on her mother’s lap, now squirmed free of the Empress’ hold and marched up to where he stood.

“Good evening, Daud,” she smiled at him.

Not showing his confusion, he gave her the same shallow bow as before and returned her greeting. “Good evening, Prin—Emily.”

“I know you’re here to speak with mother, but she told me you were coming and allowed me to wait up for you.”

Daud rather suspected that the Princess had weaselled it out of her mother by childish ways of espionage and blackmail, but he wouldn’t voice that thought even held at gunpoint. “That was very reckless of her, then,” he rumbled before he could check himself, but was rewarded with a beaming smile instead of a pout. The surprises didn’t stop there, however. Emily grasped his wrist in her small hand and made to pull him towards the sitting area. Barely containing his flinch, Daud moved to take a seat.

Satisfied with his compliance, Emily clambered into her mother’s lap again, Jessamine, apparently content to let her daughter lead the conversation, merely nodded at Daud as he sat down. “I miss Corvo,” Emily announced from her perch, sadness tinging her voice.

Obviously expected to chime in, seeing as he was Attano’s friend, Daud cast about for the right thing to say. “I… miss Corvo, too,” was what eventually came forth, stumbling over the use of the man’s first name, and he realised that it wasn’t even a complete lie. Their sparring sessions had been a welcome respite from the tension gripping the Whalers and Daud himself during their preparations.

When he looked up, Emily was regarding him with commiseration while the Empress was smiling at him in a way he couldn’t interpret – nor, frankly, did he care to. The Princess then dragged him into a brief and somewhat stilted conversation (on his end) about bandits, asking if he'd ever fought any and where they'd be likely to be found in Dunwall and other parts of the Empire.

Certainly too soon for Emily’s liking, the Empress did urge her to go to bed and sent her off to find Callista, her nanny and tutor.

“Callista Curnow, niece to the Captain of the City Watch,” the Empress informed him once the door has closed. “She will be joining us.”

Daud nodded. “Is that what you wanted to discuss?”

“Yes. Preparations at the Hound Pits Pub are about to be completed, correct? And there is enough space?”

“My men are nearly done,” he confirmed. “We have enough rooms to house everyone of your family, and as my Whalers will either be out on missions or guarding the perimeter in shifts, they’ll share the servants’ bunks or, most likely, just sleep anywhere convenient and out of the way.”

Their discussion continued for another hour, Daud increasingly perplexed at the Empress’ willingness to see him for such an extended period of time without her Lord Protector at her side. When the clock struck eleven, the Empress looked up and stood.

“That will be all, Daud. I have kept you long enough, return to your Whalers.”

Standing with her, he nodded. “Your Highness.” Before he could turn to leave, however, her voice held him back.

“Daud.”

He tilted his head and shot her a questioning look.

She seemed unsure how to proceed, but the indecision soon slipped from her features, replaced with resolve. “If Corvo doesn’t return in time,” she began, “or even if he does, and something – anything – goes wrong; if the plan… needs to be changed—” she interrupted herself. “Daud, I know that imperial authority means little to you, of all people, but if anything happens to me, I demand that you look after them.”

He didn’t have to ask who she meant, but her words still threw him. Was this a test? Daud could only stare at her for a long moment. “Your Highness—”

Reading the objection in his voice, she cut him off. “No. You brought this to me, and I am willing to go through with your plan, but you will accept the consequences of this truce between your Whalers and the Crown.” Her eyes were like steel. “Accept them.”

Daud felt himself nod. “I accept the consequences.”

*

That night, Daud half-expected to wake in the naked chaos of the Void, but instead every time he opened his eyes a long way from dawn, it was to the torn roof above his bed in the Chamber. Turning onto his side, he grunted, but refused to check the time. Staring, unseeing, into the dark, he wondered whether his choices would end up mattering to someone, somewhere.

 


 

The day came, and everything was ready. Daud had received an urgent message from Burrows the evening before, telling him that the Lord Protector was returning two days early, and Daud had sent one of his Whalers with the prepared letter immediately.

“Cutting it mighty fine,” he had grumbled around the cigarette in his mouth, trying to shove down the relief that was clawing its way up his spine. There had been contingencies for that, too, for Attano not making it back in time. Still, Daud liked their chances better with him.

Next to him at the desk, Billie had put down one of the papers she’d been holding. “You’ve changed, old man,” was all she’d said, and Daud had squinted at her through the curling smoke.

“Just think about the coin,” he’d ordered her, and that had been that.

It was a sunny day, for a change, but Daud refused the superstition. Creeping along the rooftop of the water lock, he motioned for Thomas and Kieron to precede him. Billie, Rinaldo, and Misha were going to hang back with him at first, watching as the Whalers staged their first wave of attack.

Attano fought the Whalers as they’d planned, driving them back but taking care not to wound them. Daud watched as Emily, clearly terrified, threw her arms around the Protector when the first of the danger was over. Nodding at Billie, Daud gave her the signal.

She transversed across the distance to the gazebo, her proficiency making it look like a single bound even though it was actually a series of stops, undetectable due to their ability to bend time while aiming. With Pull, she heaved Attano into the air, who instinctively struggled.

“Corvo!” Daud could hear the Empress scream.

Daud knew that this was it, that this would decide it. If Attano wanted, he could break free of Billie’s hold, could break the Pull by blinking away or even into her, turning her own power against her. If Attano decided now that he’d been played, he could ruin the whole plan.

Nothing happened. The Protector continued to fight being held in the air, but he didn’t break the hold. Daud breathed deep.

Transversing up next to Billie, Rinaldo and Misha following him, Daud nodded at the Empress before focusing on Emily, who looked horrified and confused at the same time. Flicking his wrist, he extended his arm.

“It’ll be alright,” he murmured. Then, aiming carefully and without letting her see the wristbow protruding from his sleeve, he put a sleep dart in her leg. Emily crumbled immediately, likely both from the fast-acting (albeit further diluted) toxin and from shock. Rinaldo caught her before she could hit the ground, cradling her to his chest.

Daud stepped up to the Empress, who was likely no less frightened, but better at hiding it. “Hold on,” he told her, then wrapped his arm around her waist. Behind him, Billie let up on Attano, who hit the ground with a grunt.

“Now!” Daud commanded and as one, he and his Whalers transversed, Attano following with a Blink. Leaping towards the main building, Daud spared a brief thought for his sanity and the picture he must make. The Knife of Dunwall, scaling the walls of the palace with the Empress of the Isles held against his side, saving her from an assassination planned by his own hand. He knew for certain Attano wasn’t happy with that particular arrangement. Attano was the Empress’ Protector, and by rights it should have been him shielding her; but Daud was more experienced at transversing long distances without stopping and running into mana drain too soon, and more used to transversing side-along as well. That was how many of his novices – now masters – had learnt getting around, after all, with Rulfio now teaching the young ones the basics of that in Daud’s stead.

Grabbing the edge of the roof and hauling himself over the edge, Daud let go of Jessamine for a moment, turning around and counting heads. All Whalers were with them, Rinaldo lagging momentarily for balancing Emily who, contrary to her mother, wasn’t capable of keeping her own hold on the Whaler that was carrying her. Attano was right behind Daud, with Misha and Billie bringing up the rear. Kieron and Thomas had orders to make for the sewers immediately after the first wave, and wait for them there.  Being able to hear what was going on around him while using Transverse, Daud could tell that Burrows and Campbell had cottoned on to what was happening and had summoned the officers they had put in place for today, calling for them to pursue the assailants.

Shots rang out, and Daud cursed, leaping back from the edge of the roof. Those bastards were going to try and achieve their end by any means necessary now, and if it meant taking pot shots at the Empress from the Tower walls. Positioning himself between their pursuers and Jessamine, Attano at his side in an instant, while Rinaldo turned to shield Emily with his own body and Billie stepped in to protect him in turn, Daud set loose a few darts from his wristbow. Officers were likely flooding the main levels right about now, some would probably try to get up onto the roof in an attempt to intercept them. Soon enough they’d be assembling in the front yard leading up to the street access entrance, too. The officers that had greeted Attano as he’d arrived had been arranged for by Burrows, the Spymaster’s agents had boasted about the ‘shift change’ in their final meeting with the Whalers. Daud had tried to wheedle out of them – subtly – whether all guards present in the Tower during the attack would be working for Burrows, but they’d been tight-lipped and Daud had backed off, wary of arousing their suspicion so close to Attano leaving. (He wasn’t usually one to ask for specifics beyond the who and the when.) Those City Watch officers that he knew of had likely been bought with extra rations of Sokolov’s elixir – aside from coin, that was one of the only ways people like Burrows had left to inspire “loyalty.”

“Move!” he called over his shoulder, registering as Attano stepped towards the Empress instinctively. Not bothering with warning him (or worse, telling him to be careful, Daud had no wish to lose his head after going to all this trouble), he set off after Billie and Rinaldo. To get to the sewer access point at Barrowe Street, they had to get back off the roof at some point – and then make their way through the main gate.

Half running, half transversing across the roof, Daud was nearly derailed by Thomas materialising in his path.

“What,” he barked, knowing Thomas would not disregard orders if it weren’t important.

“Campbell brought Overseers with him, they were stationed with the guards inside the main building instead of guarding him when we made for the sewers,” Thomas reported.

“So, he didn’t want the Empress to see them, it would have tipped her off,” Daud countered. “Where’s Kieron?”

“He’s in the sewers, access is clear.”

“Let’s keep it that way. Go!” Daud ordered him on.

When Daud reached the other side of the roof and threw himself over the edge, landing on a ledge to get a look at the courtyard, he stopped. To his left, Attano was tipping a mana elixir down his throat – and all he’d done was Blink consecutively. Daud didn’t have time to think about that, however, because they had to get down into the yard, and the moment was now. He inwardly cursed not simply being able to Bend Time and let everyone get across, as his Whalers weren’t immune to the effects as he and Attano were.

“Descend, now!”

Transversal and Blink, respectively, allowed them to drop from the top of the building without further ado, which saved them time that they could ill afford to waste and minimised the risk of being spotted until they were already on the ground, but half a dozen officers were waiting for them already, craning their necks up towards the roof. Mid-Transversal, Daud incapacitated the two that were closest to where they’d land with sleep darts. Thomas transversed up behind another and put him in a chokehold before the other two had fallen to the ground. Billie and Misha had taken care of the other three in the same way, choking two and Misha knocking out the third with a clean right hook.

“Get her towards the gate!” he called to Attano once they had their footing.

“Daud!” Billie cried, getting his attention, and pointed at something behind him.

“Officers, let Brother Gerard handle this!” someone yelled, voice undoubtedly muffled by an Overseer’s mask.

Turning, Daud snarled when he saw two of them make their way towards them through the main entrance, officers behind them, but his anger quickly turned to lead in his gut when he realised what one of them was carrying.

The Overseers had music boxes.

“Shit.” Already recognising the notes, Daud desperately called on the Void, hoping to Bend Time before the music could take hold. He felt his Mark flare to life at the same moment as gut-curdling nausea hit him. Clenching his teeth, he willed the power to take, but his Mark sputtered – and died.

Without powers, they were derelict. They’d have to fight their way out, with an Empress and a child to protect. Daud drew his sword.

Before he could advance on the first Overseer, however, the pain began. The usual notes that he had heard before may have subdued his magic, but this – this was torture. Feeling as though what was left of his soul was being torn in half, his magic ripped out of him and locked away, Daud had to fight not to go down on his knees. A little behind him, Thomas was pressing his hands to his ears, but there was no escaping it. Daud could barely turn his head enough to see what the others were doing, but from what he could tell through the haze, Rinaldo was being held up by Misha and Billie, Emily safe in his arms for the moment; and Attano had collapsed against the Empress, who was pushing against his chest to keep him upright, her face pale with fright.

Gritting his teeth, Daud looked back up again, seeing the Overseers advance on them, the City Watch officers behind them looking uncertain whether to step in and arrest them all, or kill them. Extending his left arm, Daud suppressed the cry of pain rising in his throat. Flicking his wrist with a grunt, he took aim just well enough.

“Stop!” a voice rang out from behind him. Daud froze. The Empress stepped forward, walking towards the Overseers until she was level with Daud, ignoring Attano reaching for her arm to hold her back. “I don’t know what Burrows has promised you, or how he bought you off. But I am your Empress, and I will see you either executed for treason… or rewarded for your loyalty to the Crown today,” she cried over the racket of the music box.

“You are not fit to rule!” one of the Overseers spat, drawing his sabre. Some of the officers were drawing their pistols, readying for a fight. Daud decided he had heard enough.

With a satisfying click, the bolt released from his wrist – and hit the Overseer carrying that infernal instrument in the arm. With a shout, the bastard went down, the poison acting quickly.

“Brother!”

The instant the music stopped, Daud straightened up, baring his teeth. He needed mana, desperately, but they were running out of time. “Get them out of here!”

Billie, Misha, and Thomas were shaking themselves like dogs getting caught in the rain, and leapt towards Rinaldo to pull him and Emily along. Attano, still disoriented and reeling from the strain, heaved himself towards Jessamine with a Blink, but his powers were stuttering and he ended up several feet short of his target. Moving towards him instinctively, the Empress reached out her hand.

"Corvo!"

“Clear the line!” Daud heard an officer shout, but the shot went wide and before he could fire back with a bolt, one of the remaining Overseers had reached him and come bearing down on him with his blade. Blocking the attack, Daud knocked the zealot back, his strength slowly returning.

Attano had his arm around the Empress now, clenching his left fist. Daud’s own Mark flaring to life, they readied themselves, but before he disintegrated, Daud heard another shot ring out. Jessamine stumbled into Attano as he blinked.

*

Hidden from sight, a boat was waiting near the sewer exit, steered by an old sailor Attano trusted.

“Samuel, go!” Attano called over the roar in Daud’s ears, fuelled by adrenaline. The boat set off and peeled away from where it had been hidden.

Billie pushed Rinaldo, still shaking but holding onto the Princess tightly, towards the front of the boat. Daud moved to the side to give Attano room as he knelt down, the Empress in his arms, the wound in her left side still bleeding where Attano had his hand pressed against it.

“Stay with me, Jess,” Attano told her, uncaring who heard. “Just stay with me. The Whalers have a physician, he can help you. Just hold on and we’ll get you help.”

“It’s alright, Corvo,” the Empress murmured, raising her hand to stroke Attano’s cheek. Daud turned away, feeling like an intruder.

Feeling every inch the murderer he was. He had done this, with this mad plan of his, he’d—

“Daud,” Billie called to him from the bough. “Vessels up ahead. Which route do we take?”

Chapter Text

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today

 

Cradling Jessamine’s shuddering body in his arms, Corvo didn’t pay any heed to the people around him. He just kept talking to her, struggling to keep her awake as she grew weaker and her skin began to look like wax. He had applied a make-shift bandage out of strips of fabric torn from his coat, but the bullet was lodged deep in her abdomen and blood was soaking through within minutes; despite the vial of elixir he had painstakingly helped her drink.

What was taking so long? How long had they been making their way downriver, evading ships and sticking close to the river wall to avoid being spotted by guards or officers? They had to get to the Hound Pits, to the Whalers' physician, to—

“Corvo,” Jessamine breathed, looking up at him with wide eyes. "There's no time."

"No," he shook his head, tightening his hold on her, uncaring that her blood was staining his shirt and vest. "We'll get you there, and we'll—"

“You have to protect her, Corvo. You—you’re the only ones who,” she was choking, drawing a rattling breath, “know what to do.”

“Jess,” he pleaded in a whisper, watching as she faded away. “Jess, please.”

Her eyes slid over to the back of the man who was standing above them, telling Sam which way to go. “He accepts—the consequences,” Jessamine spoke through the pain, “Corvo.” Her breathing hitched. “Corvo.”

As her eyes closed and she slipped into unconsciousness, Corvo felt his world tear apart as though it were the plaything of an uncaring god. Swallowing his pain, he pressed two fingers to her neck, barely finding a pulse. Slowly, it grew faint, until. Eventually. It stopped.

Mute with pain, Corvo went still.

He had no recollection of their journey downriver, didn’t know what route they took, or how long it took them. Didn’t know time had even passed until they docked and a gloved hand descended on his shoulder.

“Attano,” a voice came close to his ear. Daud had knelt down next to him. “We’ve arrived. We need to get you inside.” When Corvo didn’t reply, Daud got up. “Can you carry her?”

At that, Corvo nodded. A strong arm wound itself around his back.

“Then up you get.”

Corvo stood, cradling Jessamine’s petite form to his chest, and carried her to shore.

After, Corvo would remember little of what followed. Once they got inside, Samuel helped him carry Jessamine's body upstairs and put her into one of the beds on the first floor. Corvo didn't know whose room it was. He remembered that Daud pulled him back downstairs, towards a bench, and firmly pushed him down to sit.

"Where—" Corvo began, but Daud interrupted him.

“Emily's upstairs. There’s a more secure room for her in another building, but we’ve put her in your room for now. It’s on the top floor. It'll be a few hours before she regains consciousness,” Daud told him, then left when Thomas appeared in the doorway.

Time ticked by as Corvo slowly became aware of his surroundings, of the wooden table under his hands, worn down and in need of a good polish, of the sounds around him, people bustling about, carrying in crates and disappearing into the staircase at the end of the hall. Some of the Whalers were still wearing their masks, others were not.

He heard Daud barking orders to his Whalers through the door.

The sun stood high in the sky when Corvo rose from the bench and went outside. He found Daud not far from the house. Watching him, Corvo tried to reconcile the roaring in his veins with the way Daud went about his duties, now, as if... as if nothing... but it was true. Nothing had been taken from Daud. All at once, the thought that Daud may have planned this, may have engineered exactly this... an unspeakable fear took hold of Corvo. Fear of Daud being exactly who Corvo, before all this, had always thought he was.

Before he knew it, he was advancing on Daud, his steps quickening, and he had almost reached him before Daud turned around. He followed the movement of Corvo's right hand just in time to see his fingers closing around the hilt of his sword, but then Corvo was already on him, his left hand (his left, with the cursed Mark emblazoned on his skin albeit now hidden by his glove, a glove he wore at Daud's behest) closing around Daud's throat. Pushing the assassin back until his back hit the outer wall of the pub with one more stride, rattling one of the window shutters, Corvo ignored the Whalers going for their blades around them. Daud's hand came up, stilling their movement, and they obeyed, but Corvo knew they would not hesitate if Daud did let them loose to protect their master.

"Did you plan this?" Corvo growled, his eyes locked with Daud's.

Daud's brows drew even closer together, his dark grey eyes now nearly unrecognisable to Corvo. "No," he snapped. "What, you think I would rely on one City Watch guard getting off a lucky shot in that mess? I wanted to get them out the night before, with or without you, and if I'd wanted her dead," he leaned his head forward as far as he could with Corvo's hand still wrapped around his neck, close enough for Corvo to feel his harsh breathing, "it'd have been so much easier while you were gone. Two months, Attano. Two months, I expended my own men and resources to make sure nothing would befall her in the meantime. Two months, my Whalers spent lugging everything we have to this Void-forsaken place so that your Empress might be safe." Daud had spoken in a measured rush that Corvo did not know what to make of, and he was now taking in deep lungfuls of air, his chest rising and falling under the heel of Corvo's hand. "Do you think I planned my own failure?"

"Failure, you say," Corvo shot back, "you have the Crown in the palm of your hand."

Daud had the nerve to scoff, but the sound was laden with fury. "I have nothing. I have a ten-year-old and her bodyguard, and any plan we might have had just went to the Void."

"You've worked with Burrows before, did his dirty work."

Daud snarled, baring his teeth. "That bastard can rot in a pit, along with his damned rats."

Corvo pressed closer at that, his fingers tightening. Around them, the Whalers shifted into fighting stances, but still held back. "Give me your word," he demanded, barely recognising his own voice. "Give me your word that this was not your doing."

"I give you my word," Daud rasped as breathing became difficult, his eyes never leaving Corvo's. "You can believe me, or try to kill me. Make your choice."

Instinctively, Corvo felt his left hand relax, and it drifted down until it was covering part of Daud's buttoned-up collar, just above his sternum. He was still using it to press him back, to keep him pinned, for all that they both knew that Daud could have transversed away minutes ago.

“Emily’s going to wake soon,” Daud murmured when Corvo said nothing. “She’ll be asking for you.” And for her mother, remained unsaid. “Come with me.” Daud motioned for the Whalers to go back to whatever they'd been doing and then led Corvo inside, through the hall, up the staircase.

Following Daud up the stairs, Corvo absently noted the other hallways branching off. When they’d arrived upstairs, Daud turned before they reached the door. “Attano, I—” he cut himself off, shaking his head. “Come find me when you’re ready.” Opening the door for Corvo, Daud stepped aside.

Walking into the room, Corvo saw that one of the Whalers was sitting in a wooden chair next to the bed, his mask removed. When he saw who had come in, he jumped up. “She’s doing alright, sir,” he addressed Corvo, eyes briefly flickering towards Daud. “The sedative is wearing off and she should wake within the next twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. She’ll be parched, there's water on the nightstand, and she'll need and more rest.”

Corvo numbly nodded his thanks. Turning, he watched as Daud gestured for his man to clear the room. Meeting his gaze one more time, Daud nodded at him. “Rinaldo will stay outside.” Then, he closed the door, leaving Corvo alone with his daughter.

Looking down at her unconscious form, Corvo remembered all those mornings when she’d been little, mornings when he’d watch her sleep in her crib, mornings when she’d wake slowly and grin toothily at him while Jessamine stretched on the bed behind him, attuned to waking before he had to sneak away to his own quarters before the maids could walk in on them. Mornings when they’d been a family.

Mornings before Emily had begun to speak, had begun to call him ‘dada.’ Mornings before they had to teach her to call him ‘Corvo’ instead, mornings long before they had to explain to her that while he was her father, no-one could ever know. Mornings long before he had to watch her tearfully exclaim that it wasn’t fair.

And now, he would have to explain to her something far worse.

Kneeling next to the bed, he waited.

She woke slowly, held down by the sleep dart venom, and it took her almost the full thirty minutes to regain consciousness. When she did and her eyes blinked open, she whimpered. “Mommy,” she fought the hold sleep had on her. “Corvo.”

“I’m here,” he whispered back, not wanting to startle her. Sluggishly, she raised her hands towards him, grabbing onto his coat.

“Corvo?” Her voice was fearful now, the events of the morning obviously coming back to her. Her eyes were open wide, meeting his. “What happened? Where are we?” Looking around the room, she found it empty. “Where’s Mommy?” When he couldn’t answer, words failing him, she spoke again: “Corvo, why did Daud attack us?”

Her question, the pained confusion on her face, dropped into his gut like ice.

Emily took his silence as confirmation. “I thought he was your friend!” she cried, her voice stronger now. “Corvo, where’s Mommy?”

Finally gathering himself, Corvo leaned forward to wrap his arms around her. “I’m sorry,” he rasped into her hair, holding her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Emily.”

She was crying now. “She—is she gone?”

He nodded into her hair. “Yes. She—we tried to get away.”

“Corvo,” she whimpered, curling into him in fear. “Daud and those men in masks... did they kill her? Corvo, did he?”

Pulling away from Emily, he looked into her eyes filled with tears and grief that he knew were mirrored in his own.

“There’s something you need to understand, Emily. Daud is an assassin, yes. And he was hired by someone to hurt your mother. But he came to us instead, and warned us.”

“Then why was he at the Tower, and why were those people in masks attacking you?”

“That was the plan. We had to make it look like he was going to go through with it so the man who hired him wouldn’t suspect what he’d done and go to someone else. The men in the masks belong with him, they work for him. They didn’t really hurt me.”

“But he shot me!”

“We agreed it would be easier if you slept during the escape.” That made her angry, he could tell, and he didn’t resist when he small hands pushed against his chest to put some distance between them.

“What happened?”

Corvo didn’t need to ask what she meant. “The guards pursued us. There were Overseers, with... they were armed, but we'd just gotten clear of them when the guards started shooting,” here Corvo trailed off, because his memory of the moment was complicated by time stuttering and his own disorientation. “And before we knew what was happening, Jessamine collapsed, and I—I couldn't—”

Emily watched him string the words together, tears rolling down her cheeks. “So it wasn’t Daud?”

Corvo shook his head. “No.” He'd given him his word.

“Who?” she demanded, her voice like he’d never heard it before.

Looking up at her, Corvo questioned, “What do you mean?”

“Who hired Daud to kill my mother?”

*

About an hour later, Corvo opened the door and the Whaler – Rinaldo – turned to face him.

“I need to speak to Daud. Here.”

The Whaler nodded. “I’ll get him, sir.” A moment later, he was gone, leaving a familiar flutter of ash in his wake. Corvo stepped back into the room. Emily was sitting on the bed, wiping at her eyes and face. He’d helped her clean up after she’d stopped crying, but he remembered the burning trails tears left behind on a young face.

Stepping towards her bedside, he turned when he heard steps coming up the stairs. They came closer, until finally Daud filled the doorway, stopping short when he saw that Emily was awake, his eyes darting between her and Corvo.

“Come in,” Emily bade him enter, and Corvo’s heart clenched at her tone. She’d learnt it from her mother.

Daud did, and opened his mouth to speak, but then seemed to think better of it.

“Sit,” Emily motioned towards the chair still next to the bed and with another glance at Corvo, Daud complied. It was strange to see the man so silent, Corvo realised, especially after their altercation earlier. He was a man of few words, in general, but everything about him seemed… muted now. Corvo's hands had shaken earlier. Were Daud's hands steady?

“Corvo told me about what happened,” Emily began, her voice unwavering but for a moment. “About your contract with Burrows, and about your plan. Is it true?”

“Yes.” Daud’s voice was even rougher than Corvo remembered it, and nearly toneless.

“Did you truly mean to protect my mother?”

Daud swallowed, not looking away from the child interrogating him. “Yes.”

“And did you propose this plan to help us break Burrows’ conspiracy?”

“I did.”

Emily grew visibly frustrated with his monosyllabic answers. “Why did my mother die?”

“Because I failed.” The reply came without hesitation, without doubt. “But not by my hand, nor by my will.”

“Do you plan on killing me? Or Corvo?”

Daud’s eyes darkened, but he had apparently leashed his anger, or wouldn't show it in front of her. “No.”

“Is this to be our prison?”

“No.”

“When are you leaving on your first mission?”

Daud squared his jaw. “When you command it.”

To hear those words from the Knife of Dunwall startled Corvo so badly, he flinched. Two pairs of eyes turned on him, his daughter’s worried and Daud’s as if he’d only just remembered he was there.

The moment between them broken, Emily turned back to Daud. “Do you have anything else to say?”

Daud’s gaze returned to her and as Corvo watched, a pained expression flitted over his face, nearly too fast to see. “I’m sorry,” he rasped, surprising Corvo once again. “For—I’m sorry.”

Emily averted her eyes when they filled with tears again. “I want to speak to Corvo.”

Daud nodded, even though she couldn’t see. “Of course.” He stood from the chair, making his way towards the door.

“Wait outside,” Corvo addressed his retreating back. When Daud turned, he added, “please.”

With another nod, Daud acknowledged his request, then left the room, closing the door behind himself for a second time that day.

As soon as he was gone, Emily began crying in earnest, heaving sobs that would not be held in. Sitting next to her on the edge of the bed, Corvo wrapped his arms around her.

Exhausted, Emily soon fell asleep in his embrace. He tucked her in, brushing her hair away from her forehead.

Stepping outside, he found only Daud. Upon his appearance, the assassin’s Mark flared briefly, then Rinaldo materialised beside him.

“Watch over her. Come get Attano when she wakes, I don’t want her to be scared. Don’t,” Daud paused for emphasis, fixing the Whaler with a stare, “put your mask back on, not for anything.”

“Sir.”

Corvo could only watch as the other man gave the same instructions he had been about to. He tried to hold on to his reeling thoughts, tried to make sense of the things Daud had said to him, to Emily, but his mind was scattered. His only focus now was Emily, and her safety.

With a look, Daud signalled for Corvo to follow him downstairs. “I know this is hardly the time,” he said, “but there are decisions to be made that cannot wait.”

*

Hours later, Corvo was sitting on the rocks above the shore, watching the waves lap at the sand as the sun set. He had checked on Emily, who was still sleeping, Rinaldo still standing guard outside her door. Daud had gathered his Whalers in the main room of the Hound Pits pub, giving some last instructions.

Shortly after the Empress’ “disappearance,” announcements had come blaring over the speakers, informing the public of an assault on the palace and the Empress and her daughter’s abduction. Daud had slammed his fist into the table when the announcement went on to say that Corvo Attano, the Lord Protector, was suspected to have been in league with a band of assassins and heretics known as the Whalers. Warrants for their arrest had been issued, and the Overseers charged with finding the heretics and bringing them to justice.

Still, the Empress not being confirmed dead meant that government was in limbo. The Whalers Daud had sent back to the city brought the news that Burrows couldn’t take over with full authority, Court and Parliament blocking his appointment to Lord Regent at least temporarily; with the Empress’ advisers refusing to cooperate until they knew more about what happened.

This had left them with one question.

“We have to decide what to do with her body,” Daud had addressed Corvo, the room preternaturally still. “And we’ll need to be able to prove that it’s her, when the time comes.”

Corvo had only seen one solution, considering the Whalers’ report about the situation in the city. “Sokolov.”

They knew from Daud’s investigations prior to Corvo leaving that Burrows, as Lord Regent, would have had to rely heavily on Sokolov’s security technology to force the city into a prolonged curfew and compliance; especially the poorer districts. With the Empress dead, Sokolov likely would have been tempted to align with him – Corvo had no delusions that the man wasn’t a cold-hearted bastard, he knew enough of his experiments in finding a cure for the plague. Where Galvani experimented on rats, Sokolov had decided humans were the better subjects.

But now, Sokolov had barricaded himself in his house, the Whalers reported, turning his own security measures against the City Watch and any Overseer that dared get too close.

Leaving Jessamine’s body with that man wasn’t an easy thought, but he had the means to… preserve her, and to keep her from being discovered. Indefinitely.

A plan was formed. They would leave at nightfall.

As he sat on the rocks, the emptiness inside him clawing at his heart, Corvo wanted to be angry. To be angry at Daud for taking the contract, for proposing this insane plan. For ever coming to them in the middle of the night. For ever warning them. But he knew, more from explaining it to Emily than having had any time to think about it, that it was Daud’s plan that had saved them – saved Emily – from much worse. Daud’s plan would have worked... if not for that one bullet.

Corvo thought of Daud, then, the assassin who’d dropped into the Empress of Dunwall’s study one night like it had been nothing, who had spent nigh a month training Corvo in dark magic, teaching him how to wield the Outsider's gifts, sharing knowledge it had taken him years to collect on his own. He thought of the man who had agreed to meet his daughter even though each visit to the Tower was fraught with the danger of discovery, who had arranged all this behind the Royal Spymaster’s back in preparation of a successful escape. He thought of Burrows’ plans of controlling Emily, thought of Daud’s dismissal of power beyond leading his Whalers and his disdain for political games, for all that he showed great understanding of them. Corvo had listened, that day when he'd been "late" for their sparring session, had heard as Daud had railed against Burrows and his contempt for the poor.

Daud had given him his word, without hesitation. And somehow, to Corvo, it had meant something.

He considered Daud. From Serkonos, just like him, even though they’d never actually spoken of it, but obvious in his speech the way Corvo knew it was in his own. A man gifted with the Outsider’s Mark, whose path had been very different from the one Corvo had taken out of Karnaca. While he’d been travelling to the other Isles, the Outsider had appeared to Corvo at night, his dreams taking him to the Void more often than not, had whispered secrets in his ear that Corvo had tried very hard to forget.

Daud hadn’t made any more apologies to Corvo, his face carefully neutral when he informed Corvo of their most pressing problem. Corvo didn’t know whether to lash out, to start a fight, with words or with his fists. Perhaps that was what Daud was expecting.

Corvo didn’t ask him.

Steps sounded on the gravel above him.

“Attano.”

It was time to leave.

*

Jessamine’s body wrapped in the same cloth as a plague victim, Samuel’s boat set off again, towards Kaldwin’s Bridge. Corvo and Daud left the boat at the South end, swimming the last few yards and climbing up onto a pier below an arc. They had to disable the floodlights, at least, to allow Samuel and the Whalers who’d accompanied them to get close enough to Sokolov’s house.

During their training before Corvo had left for the Isles, Daud had impressed upon him the importance of learning to use his abilities for stealth as much as combat – and, considering what they’d been planning to do, more than combat. Methodically making their way past guards and watchmen, keeping to the shadows and blinking/transversing to high ground whenever possible, they communicated with hand gestures and jerks of the chin more than words, cautious of their voices carrying. If they were caught, one look at them would confirm their identities.

Before they’d left, Daud had wordlessly offered Corvo a Whaler’s mask. He’d stared at it for a moment, torn.

“Are you going to wear one?”

“I never do.”

Corvo had brushed past him then, the mask still dangling from Daud’s fingers.

Ahead of them, the drawbridge loomed, with the floodlights mounted and illuminating the river below. To get to that section of the Bridge, they would have to get through a guarded gate, near the turbines. Creeping along rooftops and alighting on a vent, Corvo called on Dark Vision, knowing Daud would do the same. In his line of vision, Daud held up three fingers. Corvo nodded.

They watched the rotation of the guards as they patrolled. The first one, up by the switch, would be easy enough, but the other two kept speaking to each other as they passed one another, going up and down the metal walkway.

Daud turned to face Corvo, then jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing at a metal balcony above the first guard. Corvo nodded and, together, they vanished.

Reappearing on top of the first guard, Daud dropped down and choked the guard out, then transversed back up beside Corvo in the blink of an eye. Quietly, he laid the unconscious guard down at their feet. Readying himself, Corvo knew that they only had seconds before one of the other guards would come close enough to notice that the first was missing. Creeping close to the edge, they waited. Once the second guard was in sight, Corvo blinked behind him, taking him into a chokehold. It took him longer than Daud and he only had a second’s thought to spare for a spike of panic when he heard a body drop behind him. The guard in his arms finally collapsing, Corvo turned to see that Daud had used the roof above them as a stepping stone to transverse up behind the second guard as he was coming up the stairs, choking him out before he could round the corner and spot Corvo.

They piled the guards on top of the first and left them to sleep it off.

Creeping closer to the gate, Corvo recognised the beginnings of what was going to be a Wall of Light installation.

“Good thing we got here early,” Daud murmured next to him, handing Corvo the key to the gate he’d taken off the first guard.

Blinking up into the drawbridge tower without being seen was a nightmare and a half, not only because of the increased City Watch presence and the need to get the keys to the drawbridge from one of the guards, but because the differences in their abilities grated on Corvo’s nerves. Daud seemed to take it in stride, pointing out alternative routes for Corvo to take when he realised that he would be able to transverse directly with a leap but the distance was too far for Corvo.

Eventually, they made it up and when Daud disconnected the whale oil tanks, they listened as one of the guards asked his commanding officer whether he should climb up and check on them. Gesturing towards the North end of the Bridge, Corvo pulled Daud over towards the steel beams connecting the cables that carried the weight of the bridge, then down at the Wrenhaven River.

Daud’s eyes widened, and the look he gave Corvo was eloquent. But then he took a deep breath, nodded, and without further protest made to climb onto the left one. Corvo took the right. Half sliding, half blinking a few feet downward, they realised that the guards would be able to see them soon, even without the floodlights. Shooting Daud a look over his shoulder, Corvo couldn’t see his face, and Dark Vision only helped a little. What he could see, however, was Daud’s shrug, and another nod.

Corvo nodded back.

At the same time, they jumped, clenching their marked fists mid-fall.

Even with his abilities cushioning the impact, Corvo nearly had the air knocked out of his lungs when he hit the icy river water. Getting his bearings, he turned and swam towards where he assumed Daud had landed. Blinking to bridge the distance more quickly and activating Dark Vision, he saw that Daud was still underwater, but moving on his own. With another Blink, Corvo was close enough to be in range of Daud’s Void Gaze, and the assassin started swimming to the surface.

Breaking the surface, they gasped for air, and Corvo was dimly glad for the bone charms they were both carrying that made at least their clothes repel water like a duck’s back. Shaking the water out of his eyes, he watched as Daud raised one hand to slick back his hair, then pointed up at the Bridge’s foundations.

“Sneak past those guards, and we’re close to Sokolov’s house.”

“Can we swim past the entire section?”

“Not sure.”

The decision was taken out of their hands when they heard the distant, soft purr of a boat engine. Grabbing for Corvo’s wrist, Daud pulled them under. Using Dark Vision, Corvo scanned the area. Eventually, he could make out the shape of a boat carrying four people. Two of them were unmistakably wearing Whalers’ masks. One stretched out along the bottom of the boat. A fourth was steering the boat. Dimly, he noticed Daud had let go of his wrist.

Swimming up to the boat underwater and then breaking for air just along the side of it, Corvo watched as both Whalers tensed before recognising them. They reached out at the same time to pull them aboard.

“Nice job you did with the floodlights,” Samuel commented pleasantly. “I’ll take us close to the pier on the left side of the Bridge. It’s a few rooftops from there to Sokolov’s house.”

When they arrived and Daud reached for the bundle at their feet, Corvo halted his movements with a hand on his arm. Daud turned to look up at his face, doubt in his eyes. Corvo knew that it would be easier for Daud to transverse with Jessamine slung over his shoulder, but…

“Let me,” he requested quietly.

Leaning back, Daud nodded.

Sneaking past guards and through ruined buildings, they slowly made their way upwards, Daud and the Whalers stopping and keeping lookout while Corvo caught up with them. Fairly soon, they were perched on top of the house across from Sokolov’s.

“He’s in his lab,” Daud murmured and pointed across to a construction of steel and glass. “Can you get there?” he asked with a look at Corvo.

Corvo nodded. Daud led the way across.

Sneaking up towards the entrance of the lab, Daud and Corvo left the Whalers to observe the rest of the house, making sure that no servants or guards were going to interrupt them.

Pushing open the door, Corvo noticed Daud flexing his left wrist, readying a sleep dart. Not bothering with stealth, Corvo entered first.

“Anton,” he called into the room, towards the desk where Sokolov was bent over an audiograph he was recording. Spinning around, the royal physician gasped when he saw just who had entered his laboratory and erstwhile greenhouse.

“Lord Protector, what—how?”

“We don’t have much time,” Corvo cut him off, stepping closer, watching as Sokolov’s eyes flickered towards the body in Corvo's arms.

“The Empress—”

“The Empress is dead,” Corvo confirmed, his voice breaking on the final word. He felt Daud step up beside him, out of the shadows. Sokolov’s reaction was immediate.

“By the Outsider!” he exclaimed.

“Hush, now,” Daud growled, and Sokolov snapped his mouth shut. Had he any mind to, Corvo would have appreciated the assassin managing something that Corvo hadn’t always been quite so successful with on his first attempt.

“Sokolov, we need your help.” Corvo moved forward, lowering Jessamine’s body onto an empty workbench carefully. “Jessamine is dead, but Emily is safe.”

“How could any of this happen, Corvo?” Sokolov was still aghast, his eyes flickering between Corvo and Daud.

“There was a plot, and an attempt on Jessamine’s life. Burrows hired Daud, but he came to us.”

“And yet, she is dead.”

Corvo saw Daud stiffen from the corner of his eye. “We failed,” he spoke past the lump in his throat. “We couldn’t save her, but they cannot be sure that she is gone. Without a body, they have no proof.”

Sokolov seemed to follow his train of thought. “So you need me to hide her? Preserve her?”

“Yes.”

The man’s sharp features twisted. “So. Burrows, hm?”

“Will you help us?”

“We know your loyalties are flexible,” Daud surprised Corvo by speaking up, and stepping closer to Sokolov as he did, menace easily read on his face. “Burrows has made you an offer already, hasn’t he?”

Corvo watched as Sokolov swallowed. “He has. And I was tempted, but… now that I know that he is behind… this.” He paused. “Can I… can I take a look?”

Clenching his teeth, Corvo nodded.

Sokolov made his way over to the bench, reaching out carefully and pulling some of the fabric away. Jessamine’s face appeared between the swaths of cloth, all life drained from her features. The royal physician observed her closely, curling his hand around her forearm above the covering.

“Rigor mortis will set in soon,” he murmured, “then it will be too difficult to move her.”

“Where?” Daud demanded when Corvo couldn’t speak, unable to tear his eyes away.

“Come with me.”

*

Half an hour later, Daud hovered at Corvo’s back as he retched into the muddy waters of the Wrenhaven. Samuel and the Whalers had turned away, observing the night around them for danger or signs of detection. When Corvo had nothing else to give but bile, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and straightened. Behind him, Daud summoned his assassins.

Getting into the boat on unsteady feet, Corvo slumped against the side. Daud got in and sat across from him, their knees not quite touching in the cramped space.

“Let’s go, Samuel,” Corvo heard him give the order.

When they returned to the Hound Pits, Emily was still asleep. Rinaldo informed him that she had not woken while they were gone, and asked whether Corvo would like to keep her in his rooms for the night. Corvo nodded gratefully, and told the young Whaler to go get some rest himself. Daud, standing beside him, made to clench his fist, but Corvo, knowing that Daud himself always used to have Whalers posted around his chambers at all hours in the Flooded District, waved him off.

“There’s no need for a guard. We’ll be fine.”

Searching his face for a moment, Daud eventually nodded.

“Get some sleep, Attano.” With that, he turned and disappeared before Corvo could respond.

Corvo slipped into the room and realised that, instead of the chair, there was now a narrow cot next to the bed. Too weary to dredge up gratitude towards persons unknown, he merely toed off his boots and shed his coat. Dropping his weapons on the floor beside the cot to have them in easy reach, he sat on the edge and turned towards his daughter.

Her sleep was uneasy, he could tell, and broken by occasional whimpers; yet she seemed not to be gripped by a full-grown nightmare just yet. His limbs like lead, Corvo stretched out on the cot, covering himself with his coat for a blanket, reaching out his arm to place his hand next to Emily’s on the bed.

The child Empress slept on.

*

When Corvo opened his eyes again, it was to the by now familiar surroundings of the Void. The low agony of whale’s mournful songs carried on the air, and Corvo swallowed when he realised that there was one floating right above him.

Turning, he looked around to find a hint as to where to go. A small island in the distance called to him, and he blinked. Another, and another, until he came close enough to see his destination, close enough to make his heart squeeze painfully in his chest.

The gazebo, and the unmistakable shape of Jessamine’s body lying in the middle. That wasn’t where it had happened, but it so easily could have been. Blinking closer, Corvo saw the letter he’d brought to her from Serkonos lying on the ground where she’d dropped it. Unthinking, he picked it up, only to realise it wasn’t the same.  

YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER YOU CANNOT SAVE HER

A sob tore from his throat before he could stop it, and then another.

“You cruel bastard!” he screamed, crumpling the note in his fist. When nothing stirred, he shouted, “Black-eyed bastard, show yourself!”

“Only Daud calls me that.” The shadows before Corvo suddenly had a face, and he reared back as if slapped.

“Well, he’s right to,” Corvo shot back, sounding braver than he felt. “Why am I here? To rub it in? To show me that I failed, that I never should have listened?” Corvo covered his face with his hands, sinking to his knees beside her. “Jess. Jess, I am so sorry. I should have—I should have killed him where he stood, I—”

“Then she would have died while you were away,” the Outsider interrupted him. “And then where would Emily be? Hm? You are but mortal, Corvo, made weak by time and fate.”

Corvo raised his head with a snarl. “Are you telling me that her death was fate?”

“I do not tell,” the Outsider replied in an infuriating echo of Daud’s words during their first encounter. “But I did come to you with a gift.”

“I do not want your gifts,” Corvo ground through gritted teeth.

“And yet, you rely on them as if it were second nature,” the god answered calmly. “And you will need to extend them if you want to succeed.” From nothing, the Outsider produced what looked like a clockwork heart, thumping gently in his grasp.

Without making the decision, Corvo’s hands rose to receive it. It felt like rubber, dry and taut along the surface. When he touched it, the shard trapped inside it glowed.

Corvo.

“No,” he gasped, wanting nothing more than to drop the heart but holding on for all he could. “No.”

“It’s the Heart of a Living Thing. It will guide you towards the runes you need to grow. It will also reveal the secrets of those around you, dead and alive alike.”

“No,” Corvo still repeated, shaking his head, “I don’t want—”

“Good luck, my dear Corvo. I will follow your journey.”

*

Time passed differently in the Void than outside of it, so when Corvo woke in a sweat and with his pulse pounding, the sun was already rising in the East.

“You were making funny faces while you slept,” Emily’s voice informed him, and he turned to find her sitting up against the wall, watching him.

Corvo looked down at his bare hands, relieved when he found them empty. Perhaps it had just been a bad dream, perhaps it wasn’t real, he allowed himself to hope. But then, he became aware of an awkward lump inside the coat that was covering him, and a low, rhythmic, thump against his chest.

Lying back down, he stared at the ceiling for a moment.

“How did you sleep?” he eventually asked Emily, who’d scooted closer to the edge of the bed so she could see his face.

She shrugged. “I’m still tired, but not like yesterday. When did you come back?”

“Late,” he replied and rubbed at his eyes. Slowly, he sat up again, throwing his legs over the side of the cot.

“Did you do what you said you would?”

He nodded. “She’s… hidden now.”

“Did Daud betray you?”

His eyes snapped up to hers. “No.”

She nodded. “Good.” Into the silence, her stomach grumbled and she made a face. “I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast yesterday.”

“Then we’ll get you something,” Corvo replied, glad for something he knew how to do. Glad to be reminded of his purpose. “Do you want to come downstairs with me, or would you prefer to stay up here?”

“I know I’ll have to go down at some point,” Emily asserted with a serious look on her young face that it pained him to see. “But… at least for today?” The next expression on her face was far more the child that he remembered.

“For today,” he agreed, helpless but to indulge her. “I’ll be back soon.” He stood and gathered his things, putting on his clothes, hesitating when he picked up the gloves. He knew Daud wore his at all times, but... there was no-one to hide the Mark from now. Emily would ask, and he would think of what to tell her when the time came. He tucked the gloves into the pockets of his coat. He bent to press a kiss to Emily’s forehead. “Go back to sleep if you want.”

She nodded and he let go of her. Pausing at the door to see her moving back under the covers, he sent her a small smile, then he left the room. The hallway was empty. Daud had heeded Corvo's request.

Corvo’s brow furrowed as he recalled Emily’s question. No, Daud hadn’t betrayed him last night, and Corvo was at a loss as to what he should do about her wariness – for she wasn’t just his daughter, she was his Empress, and he her Lord Protector. If she felt suspicious about any of her subjects… the thought of Daud being Emily’s subject was so incongruous that it nearly made him laugh, but then he remembered the way Daud had held himself the day before while talking to Emily in his room.

The Heart in his coat pocket gave another thump, and he had to fight down the wave of nausea that hit him at the thought of taking it out. Of using it.

Deciding that forward was the best way to deal with this, he made his way downstairs.

He didn’t have to look far. Daud was bent over a set of maps and plans with a few of his Whalers, three of them wearing blue, one grey, and one red – Billie. All were wearing their masks. As if sensing his approach, Daud looked up and met his eyes but continued speaking, clearly giving instructions to his men. Hanging back, Corvo waited. Once Daud was finished, he dismissed them, only Billie remaining. They spoke in hushed tones, her words muffled further by her mask. Daud’s expression turned stormy for a moment after his lieutenant's reply, and he barked loud enough for Corvo to hear, “Just get them. Go, now.”

She vanished and Corvo observed as Daud dragged a gloved hand over his face, scratching at the stubble. Stepping closer before anyone else could distract the assassin, Corvo addressed him.

“I need to speak with you. Privately.”

The request clearly surprised Daud, but he only stared at Corvo for a moment before agreeing.

“Let’s go outside.”

Behind the pub, there was a small yard leading to the cages, currently empty of Whalers and mostly in shadow.

“What is it?” Daud asked as soon as they were alone and out of earshot of anyone inside the pub, looking as though he was bracing himself for bad news.

“I had a visit from the Outsider last night,” Corvo told him, and Daud cursed under his breath. “He saw fit to taunt me with Jessamine’s death, but he also gave me a gift.”

“A gift?” Daud repeated, scoffing. “Would that I could make that bastard pay,” he muttered under his breath. Before Corvo could ask what he meant, Daud spoke again. “What did he give you?”

Corvo hesitated, searching Daud’s grey eyes, but then he reached into his coat and wrapped his hand around the leathery shape of the Heart. Producing it from the folds of fabric, he watched as Daud’s eyes widened.

“What the fuck,” Daud exclaimed in shock and, Corvo could tell, with feeling. Daud’s eyes bled black and Corvo waited as he scanned the area around them with Void Gaze for a moment. Then he returned to their realm and went back to staring at the Heart in Corvo’s hands, then Corvo’s face. “He gave you that? To what end?”

“He said it will help me find runes and bone charms,” Corvo explained, and Daud closed his eyes. “I can find my own runes now, and bone charms for everyone.”

Daud’s expression turned incredulous. “That’s what you’re worried about, Attano? Being useful?”

Corvo didn’t reply.

Opposite him, Daud let out a deep breath through his teeth. “You're right. You need the ability.”

“It’s not all it can do,” Corvo then blurted, looking back up at Daud, who narrowed his eyes.

“No? Should’ve known. What else?”

“He said it can… tell me secrets. About things, places. People.”

For the second time in as many days, he watched Daud’s eyes darken. “So it speaks?”

Corvo nodded. Daud stared at the Heart for a long moment before realisation dawned on his face.

“He knew,” Daud snarled, baring his teeth, “the bastard knew. And with whose voice, I wonder.” Daud regarded him with a grave expression. At Corvo’s questioning glance, he shrugged. “I don’t pretend to know him, but the Outsider is nothing if not cruel to those he favours.” He nodded at the Heart, then tapped his own chest with a finger. “Go on, then.”

Feeling his own eyes widening in horror, Corvo stepped back. “No.”

“If you want its help, you need to get used to hearing it,” Daud retorted.

“That’s not what I mean,” Corvo snapped. “I won’t just use it like that.”

“You mean on me?” Daud raised his eyebrows. “Attano, I know full well you don't trust me, but I've never lied to you. Use it, if it will put your mind at ease. Or your daughter’s.”

Whether that last comment was a well-placed jab to get Corvo to lash out or just a slip of the tongue, or whether Daud was just tired of having the secret hang between them, Corvo didn’t know. He didn’t care.

Almost against his will, and certainly against his better judgement, he squeezed, aiming the Heart at the assassin. Hearing her voice about knocked him to the ground, but it was the content of her words that threw him completely.

His hands do violence, but there is a different dream in his heart.

Corvo’s hands were shaking, but Daud stood only a few feet away from him, stock still and his face like granite.

“Make of that what you will,” was all the assassin said, then he turned and marched back towards the house.

Chapter Text

As Corvo returned to Emily with breakfast, he resolved not to tell her about the Heart. He felt a vague sense of guilt at keeping secrets from her, at acting as her father rather than her Protector, but something violent reared in his chest at the thought of exposing her to the Outsider’s “gifts” like that, knowing her curiosity would soon override her need to be protected. It was who she was, she was much like her mother in that way and far too much like him, and so that was that. But he would tell her about what he had just learned, to put some of her doubts to rest - and his own.

She was awake when he entered, her face lighting up when she saw it was him. He lifted the tray higher in his hands to indicate his bounty. “I bring breakfast.”

“For both of us?”

He nodded. “Yes, I’ll eat with you.”

Emily made room for him on the bed, and he sat down at the foot, placing the tray on the mattress between them. They tucked in immediately, and he noted with relief that her appetite seemed to be healthy. He even had to remind her not to scarf her food down like a starving wolfhound, and she grinned at him.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about,” he began when they had eaten their way through about two thirds of what he’d brought up and he noticed her flagging. “About Daud.”

The slice of bread she’d been more nibbling on than attacking paused halfway to her mouth and she glanced up at him anxiously. “What about him?”

“Your question earlier… Daud didn’t betray me. Didn’t betray us. Not last night, and not before. He could have, it would have been easy to. All of this… after the Overseers threatened the Whalers, he could have done as they asked and taken the contract, fulfilled it, and come here to hide. He didn’t. Yes, he would have needed your mother’s authority to make sure that the Overseers would be kept in line, but things... have changed, and we’re still here. He still brought us here, and made sure we’re safe, and he's given me his word that we will be. The Whalers, they’re… they’re his family, and he risked them to do this.”

“So you trust him?” Her eyes were filling with tears again. “Mommy trusted him?”

“She trusted him to tell the truth because he had no favour to curry with lies. Before she died, she said something to me. She looked at him and she said, ‘He accepts the consequences.’ I don’t know what she meant by that, and I haven’t asked him, but…” he trailed off and took a deep, steadying breath. “I had a dream last night. About Jessamine.”

At that the tears spilled over, so he gently reached out and laid a hand on Emily's wrist. Steeling himself for the next part that was part truth, part lie, he took a deep breath.

“She was there, and he was, too. And she told me… she told me that his hands did violence, but that there was a different dream in his heart. I think… I think she may have been right.”

Crying in earnest now, Emily threw down the slice of bread and crawled across the bed to climb into his lap.

Stroking her hair with his hand, the other wrapping around her small frame, he held her. “I think she may have been right.”

*

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, but by noon there came a flurry of activity as multiple teams of Whalers appeared with newcomers in tow – the people Jessamine and Daud had agreed to bring here. Some were loyal servants, like Callista and Lydia, others were contacts of Daud’s; like the scientist Piero Joplin, a young woman named Cecelia, and a former whaler (an actual whaler), Wallace. They would help run the place.

Callista’s arrival cheered Emily immensely, her nanny and tutor since she’d been a small child was a familiar face in a sea of masks and, well, Corvo. Knowing that his daughter was in good hands, Corvo set out to see about the others. Especially this Piero character interested him, having heard rumours about him from reports about the Academy of Natural Philosophy – about his expulsion, specifically.

Running into Rinaldo downstairs, he asked where he could find the scientist, and the young man pointed him towards the building to the right of the pub, outfitted like a workshop.

“He’s with Master Daud, sir, but you can go in.”

“Thank you.”

Coming up on the two men, Corvo took a moment to get a good look at Joplin around the bulk of Daud’s broad back. He was thin and wiry, his face as well. On his stubby nose sat a peculiar pair of round spectacles. He looked altogether strange, and for some reason, that didn’t surprise Corvo one bit. Whether that said more about his view of scientists or of Daud, he didn’t care to examine.

As he had that morning, Daud seemed to sense his approach and turned when Corvo was still a few feet away. Belatedly, Corvo realised that the last time they’d spoken had been the Heart’s revelation about Daud’s character, and Daud’s… tight-lipped reaction. His steps faltering, his eyes caught by Daud’s unwavering stare, he nearly stopped in his tracks, but forced himself to keep moving. Daud had told him to use the Heart, even if neither of them could have known what it would dredge up from the depths.

Depths that, four months ago, Corvo wouldn't have considered the Knife of Dunwall to possess.

Straightening his shoulders, he closed the remaining distance between them and nodded a greeting at Daud, who was silent before muttering, “bodyguard.” That, more than anything else, put Corvo’s mind at ease about this morning’s incident. Turning towards the scientist, Corvo was prepared for fear, or suspicion at the very least. Instead, Joplin looked pleased.

“Lord Protector,” he greeted. “It’s an honour to meet you.”

“Piero,” Corvo returned. “Please, call me Corvo.”

“As you wish.”

“Piero and I were just discussing the things I asked him to bring along,” Daud spoke from Corvo’s right.

“Things?” Corvo queried.

Daud nodded grimly. “Equipment. And weapons, for you, too.” Corvo’s bewilderment must have shown on his face, because the assassin continued, “You’re going to need better than what you have strapped to your belt.” Watching as Corvo’s hand covered the handle of his familiar sword for the second time in as many days, he nodded. “Trust me.” The ease with which he spoke those words, as if trust in Daud's proficiency in murder were precisely what Corvo was lacking, belied their loaded meaning.

Piero, oblivious to the full weight of their exchange, nodded eagerly. “Yes, please, let me show you.” He turned and quickly made his way towards the crates that the Whalers must have transported for him. Opening one, he grunted at not finding what he was looking for, then moved to the other. “Aha!” he exclaimed. Finally noticing that neither Corvo nor Daud had moved and instead were still staring at each other, he tapped his foot impatiently. “Gentlemen.”

Snapping himself out of it, Corvo cleared his throat and walked into the workshop proper. “What do you have, Piero.”

“Everything you need, Corvo. Everything you need.” From inside a small trunk, Piero produced a sheath that looked far too short to contain a decent knife, let alone a sword. Before Corvo could voice his doubts, however, the scientist removed the scabbard and drew forth a magnificently crafted handle, polished to the nines, that contained a folding blade. Corvo stared as Piero teased the sword out of its shell, so to speak, and extended it.

“You’ll find it perfectly balanced, I should hope,” the man said proudly before flipping the sword in his hand, presenting it to Corvo, handle-first. “Try it.”

Reluctantly, Corvo reached out, curving his hand around the grip. Weighing the sword in his hand, he found it much lighter than his customary blade. And it was, indeed, perfectly balanced. Stepping back from Daud, Corvo gave the sword an experimental twist over his wrist, then swung it in a wider arc, then slashed it down, feeling it sing as it sliced the air.

Looking back up, he found Piero smiling and Daud still with the same immovable expression as he’d worn all morning. Making his decision, Corvo unclipped his old sword from his belt and, reaching out for the holster Piero had made to hold the folding blade, replaced it with the new.

“Excellent. Daud, I have brought plenty of replacements for your wristbow, and enough darts for you and your Whalers to be getting on with.” Daud nodded his thanks, which seemed to satisfy Piero. “Corvo, for you I also brought a customised crossbow. It can be upgraded to reload automatically, if you wish, I have the blueprints for that. Anything else you want me to do, just get me the schematics.” He reached into the trunk and removed a wooden case. “It’s smaller than most crossbows, for ease of use and transport, so you might want to give it a bit of practice to get used to it,” he explained as he opened it.

Corvo stepped closer and examined the weapon. It was indeed smaller, and seemed deceptively fragile.

“Kieron and Killian set up a practice area on the other side of the yard,” Daud informed him.

“Good. Anything else?” Corvo asked Piero, who smiled triumphantly.

“Yes!” Reaching into the trunk once again, he withdrew yet another case. “Months ago, Daud asked me to create something with built-in lenses for different purposes – much like a spyglass, but advanced. I made a prototype and informed him that, due to the weight of the lenses and the mechanism needed to make them rotate, I would have to put them in a case of some kind, but that that would also make them bulkier. That’s when Daud suggested that the device could also yield another purpose – concealment. Now knowing who I built it for, I believe that he was right,” he concluded as he handed the case to Corvo.

Turning it in his hands, Corvo chanced a doubtful glance at Daud before opening it. He froze.

What he was looking at – or, rather, what was staring back at him… it was grotesque. A mask, stitched together from metal plates and wires.

The face of death.

*

After Corvo had spoken to her that morning, and reassured by Callista’s arrival, Emily decided to leave her father’s room for the first time since their arrival the day before, and go downstairs for dinner. Walking down the steps behind her, Corvo watched as whoever happened to be out and about – mostly Whalers, although he also spotted Lydia carrying fresh linen – stopped and fell silent as they became aware of her presence. Respectfully slotting themselves against the wall, a gaggle of young Whalers left them enough room to pass on the first floor, bowing slightly as they passed. Two took off their masks; Corvo recognised them as Galia and Aedan. Their faces were serious, although they managed tiny smiles for Emily’s benefit. When Corvo passed them, they nodded at him, but didn’t speak, and Corvo was glad for it.

Once they were downstairs, Corvo realised the sheer number of Whalers under Daud’s command. At least thirty were crowded into the pub’s taproom now, most still wearing their masks. Feeling Emily slow and press back against him, he put his hand on her shoulder to encourage her. Craning his neck, he searched for Daud. Finally spotting his red coat near one of the booths, he contemplated leaving Emily here at the door to fetch him, when someone lightly tapped his shoulder. Half-turning, he saw that Thomas had come up behind them, also without his mask. He had acted as referee and/or guinea pig during most of his and Daud’s sparring sessions, and so Corvo had seen his face eventually.

“I’ll let him know you’re here, sir.” Squeezing himself into the fray, Thomas did as he promised, and Corvo watched as he reached Daud and spoke to him briefly. Seeing Daud nod, Corvo was surprised as the assassin first caught his eye across the sea of Whalers and then let out a sharp whistle.

All conversation stopped and the Whalers seemed to stand at attention.

“Everyone, masks off.”

Within moments, the vapor masks revealed faces of all shapes, origins, and ages. Some, Corvo estimated, could hardly be older than fourteen, while others were already in their late twenties. Now that the masks were off, Corvo assumed a correlation between the colour of their uniforms and their rank – the youngest seemed to largely wear grey, while the older ones were wearing blue. Only Daud and the woman to his right, Billie Lurk, were wearing red.

Most in the crowd had, by now, noticed Corvo and Emily standing near the door. The rest turned at Daud’s next words.

“Say hello.”

As one, the Whalers raised their fists over their hearts. Absently Corvo wondered over the absolute control Daud seemed to have over his crew, and the loyalty it would need to make any dozen men and women follow their master on a fool’s errand such as this. Of course, with the Overseers breathing down their necks, this had been about their survival, too, but from what he had understood from Daud shortly before he’d left for the Isles, those who wanted no part in it would simply be told to pack their bags and make their own way – the implication being that some already had.

“Now make yourselves useful, or piss off,” Daud barked. At Corvo’s side, Emily giggled into her hand.

Corvo took that as a good sign.

Rinaldo suddenly appeared at his side with two plates in his hands. “Dinner?” he asked, smiling at Emily when she looked up at him.

She nodded, and so the Whaler led the way to one of the booths that had just cleared out. He set down the plates, and Corvo frowned when Rinaldo stepped aside and waved for them to sit.

“What about you?”

“I’m off, scouting mission in the Legal District.” He was about turn away when Emily’s voice stopped him.

“You’re the one who took care of me yesterday, aren’t you? I recognise your voice. What’s your name?”

“Rinaldo.”

“Thank you, Rinaldo,” Emily told him earnestly.

In lieu of an answer, Rinaldo gave a small bow. He nodded at Corvo, and then made for the door, where two other Whalers were already waiting for him, their signature masks back on.

“What they did just now, with their fists over their hearts,” Emily spoke quietly as she drew a clean fork from a jumble of cutlery stuck into a large ale mug, “is that a pirate salute?”

Thrown off guard by her question and his own nonsensical attempt to reconcile the mental images of Daud the Knife and Daud the Hypothetical Pirate, Corvo was left to listen as none other than Daud himself leaned into the booth and asked, “and what do you know of pirates?”

Emily faltered briefly in the presence of the man who had, for all intents and purposes, single-handedly abducted her entire family, but she caught herself quickly. “I have a lot of books about them. I’ve read all about Captain Auden and his fearsome crew of ingrates!”

Corvo was reasonably sure that, behind him, someone let out a snort and received an elbow to the ribs for their trouble, but he wasn’t about to check.

Daud, to his credit, didn’t react at all. “Well, we might be joined by a former officer of the Navy soon, perhaps he can tell you a few more stories. Some of them might even be true.”

Emily’s eyes widened.

“What former officer?” Corvo asked once he’d found his voice.

“Farley Havelock,” Daud replied, “dishonourably discharged as of this morning. Refused to sail under Burrows’ command, even an assumed one.”

Corvo raised an eyebrow. “And that’s it?”

Daud let out a snort. “Hell no, that’s not it. I wouldn’t trust the man as far as I can throw him, but he’s got contacts; one of them Teague Martin, an Overseer I happen to know a little bit about.”

“Why do we need Teague Martin?” Emily asked before Corvo could.

Without missing a beat, Daud turned back to her. “Because I recommended him as Campbell’s replacement.”

“Why?”

If it irritated Daud to be discussing (and partially rehashing) their strategy with a ten-year-old, he didn’t show it. “I believe him to be more… amenable to letting heretics like myself live in peace, long as we don’t make too much noise.”

“And my mother agreed?” Emily questioned, looking over at Corvo for confirmation.

“She did,” Daud returned smoothly.

Corvo nodded. “Campbell is part of the conspiracy with Burrows, so he is on our list of targets to begin with. By removing him, we also ensure both our and the Whalers’ safety.”

For a long moment, Emily was quiet, absently pushing the food around on her plate. “When are you leaving?”

“We need to gather some more information, but I think we can make for Holger Square in five days’ time, six at the most,” Daud responded.

“Good,” Emily said decisively, skewering a potato with her fork.

Corvo and Daud exchanged an uneasy glance.

*

The days ticked by, and Corvo was not rightly sure how they passed the time. Emily had taken to sleeping in her prepared room in the tower, and while Corvo’s inherent urge to protect her clawed at the change, some part of him was glad. He’d barely hidden his nightmares from her the first two nights, and he knew it would only become more difficult if they kept sharing the room.

Some of his dreams came from the Void, surreal chunks of reality that he felt he should recognise but that had no rhyme or reason, yet terrified him all the same. Others were his stuttering recollections of Jessamine’s death.

It hadn't even been a week since he'd lost her.

When he woke that night, it couldn't have been later than two in the morning and he felt as though he'd barely slept at all. Still, the prospect of returning to the Void as soon as he closed his eyes was no more tempting than bathing in river krust phlegm, so he got out of bed and padded over to the window on bare feet.

From here, he could see Emily's tower chamber, and he knew she was safe, locked inside with Callista to watch over her.

A distant thump distracted him, and he closed his eyes with a sigh. 'You're gonna have to get used to hearing it,' he heard Daud's deep rasp repeat the words in his mind, and even knowing he was right hadn't made 'hearing it' any easier. Turning from the window, he went over to the chair he'd thrown his clothes onto when getting ready for bed, and reached into the breast pocket of his coat.

Minutes later found him back near the water, dressed haphazardly for modesty. Sitting on the rocks above the shore, Corvo listened as the waves followed a rhythm that was older than the city, and older than the bones beneath.

The Heart was in his hands.

Feeling the leathery texture against his skin, Corvo waited.

Corvo, the Heart eventually spoke.

"Jess," he murmured, knowing without having been told that there was no other spirit trapped inside. The Heart glowed in response.

What have they done to me?

Hearing her voice, disembodied, different, but so unmistakably hers, here in the dark reminded him of the many stolen nights they'd spent in their youth, when Jessamine had been travelling with her father the Emperor, on far-away beaches or rooftops overlooking cities Corvo would have never seen if he hadn't left Serkonos to serve as her guard.

"Magic," was all he knew to say. Magic, and a pound of science that carried Piero's signature a mile off in the wires and shards of glass that were holding the Heart together. It was the magic of the Outsider that imbued it with its gifts, but it was natural philosophy that kept it beating. "It's how you see... things. How you look into the minds of others." Corvo remembered the expression on Daud's face and lowered his eyes.

How can it be that I know such things?

Corvo blinked. "You are beyond us now. You have become part of the Void, even if you do not yet live in it."

I am not alive - nor have I received the gift of death, the Heart agreed. Then, I'm so cold, Corvo.

Guilt flooded Corvo, plunging the shards deeper into his heart. In the dark, he wished he could throw the Heart out into the Wrenhaven, out to sea if that would lay her to rest. But it wouldn't, and he wouldn't, because for all that he despised this trap the Outsider had condemned her to, to have her, to hold her, even in this form... was more than he deserved.

"I'm sorry," he told her, his throat constricting painfully. "It's my fault."

Corvo—

"You're gone," he interrupted her, his voice breaking, "if I hadn't been so stubborn, if I hadn't..."

What do you mean? she asked, her voice as gentle in this as it had always been.

"Daud was supposed to carry you, not me. If I hadn't run out of mana so quickly—"

Corvo.

"It's my fault." Tears were running down his cheeks now, unbidden, and it hurt to breathe. He wanted to hide, from the Heart, from the river, from pitch-black eyes watching in the dark.

Listen to me. Listen - I can hear their every thought. And no-one here thinks you are to blame. No-one.

"You're gone, Jess," he whispered.

The... Empress agreed to it, she reminded him hesitantly. She agreed. And whatever she thought would happen, she trusted you, and what she wanted was for her daughter to be safe. You have given her that. You, and Daud.

At the mention of Daud's name, Corvo's breathing hitched. "I attacked him."

When?

"After you... shortly after we arrived," he amended. "I grabbed him by the throat and asked him whether this was his plan all along. I accused him of wanting to control Emily the same way Burrows would have."

Has he given you reason to doubt him?

"No," Corvo shook his head, wiping at his burning eyes. "But I was afraid." He paused. "What you said about him yesterday, when he told me to... is it true?"

Do you remember when you returned from one of your training sessions with him, and you came to me in my study to give me your report?

"Yes." Of course he did, any time he'd gone to the Flooded District, he'd come home and told her what they'd done, what he'd learned. Had told her about Daud.

Then you remember how I teased you. Your unmoving face may have fooled him, but not me.

"Jess—"

 

I summoned him once while you were gone, and Emily found out. She was adamant she speak with him, too, and I let her wait up with me. She told him she missed you, and seeing as you'd introduced him as your friend, he played along.

"Daud does not wish to be my friend," he muttered, willing her to drop the subject even knowing that she wouldn't. She never had, even before Daud had come crashing into their lives.

And yet, he will follow you tonight, she interrupted his thoughts.

"What do you want me to say?" Corvo finally pleaded, loss and shame tearing at him with claws forged from Tyvian steel.

I want you not to close your eyes to what's in front of you. Accept his comfort, if he chooses to offer it, and see all that he does.

"What am I supposed to see?"

You'll know. Her voice was fading, and Corvo tightened his hold on the Heart. I need to rest, my love. But I will be there when you need me.

"Jess."

Rest, my love.

The glow emanating from the Heart grew faint, then disappeared. Corvo remained where he was, his bare feet cold against the stone, until dawn.

*

The sixth day came, and Daud suggested that they spar in the morning to prepare for their mission that night, and Corvo readily agreed, needing to release the pent-up tension that had been building in the hollow left behind, grief turned into something else.

Fuelled by a rage that he had not known for a long, long time, Corvo fought dirty. His footwork was sloppy and he didn’t care, and as he drove Daud back against the bars of the dog cage, his blade at the assassin’s throat, it was only the discordant rattling that brought him back to himself. He backed off, fully expecting Daud to tear into him for making a fool of himself, but nothing came.

Instead, the assassin flexed his shoulders, dropped back into his customary fighting stance, and, his face unreadable, said, “Again.”

*

By nightfall, it was raining heavily.

Samuel was waiting by the boat, his own this time, the same one he’d used to ferry Corvo over into the Flooded District so many months ago. Corvo and Daud were standing in the doorway to the pub, checking their gear and securing their weapons. Daud briefly glanced at Corvo when he noticed him put on his gloves. Emily was behind them, peering out into the dark between them.

“I’ll wait up for you,” she said, and her tone brooked no argument.

“Alright,” was all Corvo said. “Have Callista or one of the Whalers stay with you.” Across from him, Daud said nothing.

“I will.”

Behind Emily, Thomas appeared, handing Daud a map of their territory, freshly updated with the latest guard patrols and hideouts. Nodding at him, Daud tucked it away inside his coat, then he looked down at Emily with a grim tilt to his mouth before turning to walk through the rain down towards the boat.

Corvo laid his hand on Emily’s hair and smiled at her, then he followed. As he walked across the yard, he pulled the mask from his belt and slipped it on.

No-one told them to be careful.

*

Getting through to Holger Square was, as things stood, comparatively easy. For once, there was no-one in the stocks, either. Corvo had always detested the Overseers’ propensity for humiliating those in public that they tortured for information behind closed doors.

They continued on, creeping down a flight of stone steps past two patrolling Overseer guards. Daud’s map showed that the sewers led right underneath the Abbey’s sprawling headquarters – and to the dog kennels, Corvo noted with a wince.

Arriving in the basement, Daud raised a finger to his lips when they heard music. Corvo frowned, forgetting that Daud couldn’t see his expression, and then shrugged belatedly. Overseers weren’t an artistically-minded lot, generally, by virtue of their Strictures; but there were more than enough stories circulating about Thaddeus Campbell’s… more unconventional pastimes. Being powerful enough to topple an Empress, however, showed quite clearly that nothing short of being convicted of heresy would bring this man down.

So that was exactly what they were going to do.

Pressing the bejewelled eye of a Holger bust displayed next to a metal door, Daud tilted his head as the door slid aside, revealing what looked to be Campbell’s very own private hideaway – and treasure chamber. Once inside, they discovered paintings, artefacts, and a lot of silver. And there among the treasure lay a Whaler’s mask, too. Glancing over at Daud, Corvo waited.

Daud merely looked at it a moment, then drew his blade and used the hilt to smash the glass display case. Looting what they would be able to sell for coin or trade for materials, Daud hesitated when his hand hovered over the mask. Corvo thought he could see a muscle in his jaw tick, then Daud grabbed the mask and clipped it to his belt. Wordlessly, Daud motioned for Corvo to look around, grab what he could, and then get a move on; and as Corvo found himself turning to do just that, he wondered when exactly single hand gestures had become quite so eloquent.

Looking up, Corvo came face to face with that dratted painting of Campbell Sokolov had been working on the day Corvo had returned. Snarl hidden behind his mask, he raised his folding blade to cut it from the frame, then rolled it up and stuffed it into a pouch on his belt.

“Good choice,” Daud rumbled behind him, then briefly touched his elbow to get him to move. “Now let’s go.” Corvo wasn't sure if Daud was aware he'd done it, but the touch nearly made him flinch. As Protector, Corvo generally worked alone, and as he tended not to give much of himself away, the officers and guards he worked with had kept their distance; Geoff Curnow being the only grudging exception. As it was, he was on better footing with any of the servants than the nobles crowding the Palace. With Jessamine gone and them being thrust out into the cold, Corvo had come to realise that his world at the top of Dunwall Tower had been a very small one, for all that the great expanse of the Isles and the Ocean lay before them. And now, his world was his daughter; and between her and Burrows stood only he, a few loyal friends, and the assassin at his shoulder, dragging with him a band of mercenaries who would risk life and limb if he just told them to.

 

 

Sneaking through an Overseer stronghold was not how Corvo would have ever wished spending his time, having hated every occasion he’d ever had to come down here as part of his duties as Royal Protector, either accompanying Jessamine to meetings or alone, to sort out business between the Overseers and the City Watch – two factions that frequently clashed; as they were doing now, resulting in fresh tensions between Campbell and Captain of the Watch Curnow. Now that Burrows needed the City Watch to “keep the peace,” Curnow would end up being even more of a thorn in their sides than usual, that much Corvo knew.

Before they’d prepared to leave, Callista had approached him and asked him to keep an eye out for anything regarding her uncle. She feared that Campbell might be plotting to have him killed, to remove one more honourable man from his post. Corvo had promised, even knowing that they might not have the chance to search the High Overseer’s study thoroughly enough to yield an answer to her fears.

Infiltrating the halls, they made haste to get to high ground. Getting through the staircase leading away from the lobby had been an exercise in patience and carefully judged Blinks and Transversals, coming up behind guards to choke them out and then hide their bodies in the darkest corners they could find. Hurrying upstairs, Corvo pulled Daud along in his Blink on top of a tall filing cabinet next to a set of adorned glass doors just in time before another guard stepped through on his way down. Discovering that the glass panels above the doors had been opened for ventilation, Corvo crept through along the shelf and on top of the doorway.

From there, it was almost too easy. Observing the route each guard took as they patrolled or just wandered the halls on the way to the Archives, they could pick them off one by one, taking turns in blinking or transversing up behind them and choking them out, then depositing their bodies underneath desks or, making Corvo stare at Daud somewhat incredulously, on top of the huge lamps hanging from the ceiling. Thanks to Rulfio finding another bone charm that matched one of those that Daud was carrying, Corvo’s Tyvian chokehold now worked much more quickly, often saving them precious seconds before the next Overseer turned into their path.

When they finally entered Campbell’s meeting room, Corvo realised why the Heart had been thumping faster inside his coat pocket: displayed on the far wall was a rune, hissing and spitting at him. Reaching up to grab it, Corvo bit back a curse at the way the Heart was practically palpitating against his chest.

“Even I can hear that,” Daud hissed from where he was searching a metal cabinet to his left, pulling out a mana elixir and a bag of coin.

Not wanting Daud to know that Corvo had refrained from taking out the Heart for his benefit, he shrugged. “You’re likely the only one.”

Daud frowned, but then nodded. “Touched by the Void,” he muttered. Turning towards the large conference table, he walked towards the tray sitting in the middle. There were two glasses set out next to a bottle of wine. Daud sniffed at one of the glasses experimentally, then reared back. “Poisoned,” he whispered.

“What,” Corvo marched over to him from where he’d been searching a nearby desk, used by Campbell’s secretary during meetings. “Who is he meeting tonight?”

Daud’s eyes snapped up when they could hear voices in the corridor. His eyes bleeding black for a moment, he grimaced. “Four men, one of them Campbell. Not sure about the other one, but two are definitely City Watch.”

Making a split-second decision, Corvo took the glass from Daud’s hand and spilt its contents on the floor, doing the same with the second glass.

“What are you—” Daud began to protest, but Corvo was already pushing him towards the row of cabinets to their right. Taking his meaning, Daud transversed up onto the pipes, Corvo following with a Blink.

And not a second too early, as immediately after they were safely crouched underneath the ceiling, the door opened and revealed that Campbell’s guest was none other than Captain Geoff Curnow. Corvo and Daud exchanged a look – Callista had been right to fear for her uncle.

Watching as Campbell apparently concluded that things had to be done “the hard way,” Corvo and the assassin eventually started moving when the High Overseer ushered Curnow out the door.

Increasingly grateful for Daud’s creativity when it came to hiding bodies, Corvo blinked past unconscious guards placed on cabinets and lamps suspended from the ceiling in pursuit of the two men, who were oblivious to both their being followed and the corridors being markedly empty.

Realising that Campbell was likely leading Curnow down to his secret room, panic briefly flared inside his chest. Seeing as they had raided that room already, there was no way Campbell wouldn’t notice the state it was in. Then again, if his first objective was to eliminate Curnow, they could only hope that he would delay making a scene and sounding the alarm.

Running out of time to speculate, they sneaked downstairs on Campbell and Curnow’s heels, following them into the room. Corvo went first, readying his crossbow loaded with individual sleep darts, Daud keeping to the shadows behind him. They listened as Campbell instructed Curnow to look for a painting for him, it had to be back there somewhere…

Then Corvo recognised the sound of a sword being drawn from its scabbard, and before Curnow could fully draw his own blade, Corvo had leaned around a crate and shot Campbell in the neck. The fast-acting toxin knocked even that mass of a man out immediately. Curnow wheeled around, spotting Corvo in the shadows. Tensing, Corvo readied himself for a fight, but none came. Instead, Curnow walked towards him slowly, his brow furrowed.

“I suppose I should arrest you for what you just did… but you did just save my life. I don’t know how, but you seem familiar.”

Corvo didn’t reply, which seemed to unnerve the other man. Curnow made to speak again, but then seemed to think better of it and left through the hidden door. Once his steps had retreated far enough, Daud appeared in the doorway.

“Give a man a warning next time, I had to hide myself behind those crates so he wouldn’t see me,” Daud grumbled, then looked down at Campbell, considering the man’s crumpled form. “Now. To do the ironing.” Obviously expecting a reaction to his crude remark, Daud looked back up at Corvo. “Attano?” he questioned, but Corvo could barely hear him.

Looking down at Campbell, what they’d just done hit Corvo like a freight train. Within a matter of days, his life had been turned upside-down. He had lost his liberty if not all of his freedom, he had been dishonoured and accused of conspiring to kill the Empress he had sworn to protect, he had lost Jess, Emily had lost her mother.

Once again, an unknown rage roared to fill the void inside him, and before he could make the conscious decision to, he had heaved Campbell’s body over his shoulder.

“Attano,” Daud growled behind him, but Corvo paid him no heed. Walking quickly and with a series of Blinks, it took him no time at all to reach the Interrogation Room they had scouted earlier and dump Campbell in the chair. Daud transversed inside behind him and used Pull to close the doors on either side of the room. The branding iron lay ready on the tray next to the chair, and Corvo considered it as if through a looking glass.

Here was the man who was at least half responsible for all of this, for Dunwall plunging into plague and chaos, for Jessamine’s embittered battles in Court and Parliament against nobles who only cared for their own lot in life, for his little girl sobbing in his arms, crying for her mother

A hand closed over Corvo’s as he gripped his sword. Unaware of even moving, Corvo realised he was now standing over Campbell, who was still unconscious, his blade half-drawn, his left hand braced on the back of the chair besides Campbell's head.

“Corvo!” he finally heard Daud bark over the rushing in his ears. “Corvo,” the other man repeated, more quietly now that he had his attention.

Distantly, Corvo wondered what Daud might say. ‘This isn’t who you are, Corvo,’ or perhaps, ‘He’s not worth soiling your blade,’ as if Daud had any notion of a clean sword.

But the assassin said neither of those things. Instead, he fixed Corvo with a steely look and said, his fingers still clamped around Corvo’s hand: “Be sure.” And with that, he let go and stepped back, still looking at Corvo with the same expression.

Glancing down at Campbell, Corvo slowly felt his breathing settle. What was left was a distant ringing in his ears and the knowledge that, right now, he had a choice.

A choice that would define him for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

They were back at the Hound Pits pub before midnight, finding Emily with Callista and Rinaldo. The child Empress was leaning heavily against her tutor, her eyes drooping even as she was trying her hardest to keep awake, but when Corvo and Daud entered, she was on her feet in a flash, only stumbling a little as her knees turned wobbly.

“Corvo!” she cried, throwing herself into his arms. He caught her against him, burying his nose in her hair. Before he could hold on too long, though, she started squirming and he set her down. Tucking her small hand into Corvo’s, Emily turned to Daud, looking him up and down as though examining him for injuries. Seeing none, she nodded once, satisfied.

Daud returned her nod somewhat stiffly, then glanced at Corvo. “I have to talk to Thomas a moment.”

Corvo nodded, letting him go to talk to his Whaler. Emily was already tugging on his hand when Daud brushed past Corvo’s back, and so Corvo followed and let himself be pulled into the booth with her. Across the table, Rinaldo smiled at him.

“Rinaldo’s been telling me stories,” Emily informed him, sensing that Corvo wouldn’t begin his report until Daud was present. “About pirates!”

“Ghastly stories,” Callista chimed in from Emily’s other side, clearly fighting a yawn herself but likewise refusing to leave her charge. “Entirely inappropriate for a young girl.”

“You’re the one who keeps saying she wants to sail around the world one day,” Emily reminded Callista in what was a well-travelled argument between them. Callista would complain about Emily’s penchant for scary stories, and Emily would needle her about her own sense of adventure.

“Yes, well, but it won’t be carrying a cutlass and battling sea creatures,” Callista chided and Corvo was about to tune them out when he felt a presence at his shoulder. Daud. Corvo looked up at him, and Daud met his eyes. Corvo inclined his head towards the opposite seat.

The man hesitated for a moment, but then lowered himself into the booth beside Rinaldo, who lightly bowed his head in greeting; and Emily would be distracted no longer.

“What happened?”

*

The next day as they sparred, the rage didn’t descend, and Corvo was grateful for it. He could still feel it churning in his gut after he woke from a nightmare, or when Callista told him that morning that Emily had cried out for her mother in her sleep, but if the previous night had shown him nothing else, it was that he had a choice.

When they were done, Corvo thought about what Daud had said to him. ‘Be sure.’ Had he had the presence of mind, he may have returned that, after Jessamine’s death, nothing seemed ‘sure’ anymore. Corvo had been unmoored, his only constant the oath he had taken and the knowledge that there was still someone to hold him to it.

But as it was, he had merely stepped away, sheathed his blade, taken up the iron and branded that bastard Campbell’s face with the Mark of the Heretic. Afterwards, he’d dropped the iron to the ground and then searched Campbell's body for the journal. Without a word, he and Daud had made their way out through the backyard, down to where Samuel had been waiting.

Before Daud could turn to leave the cages after their training, Corvo caught his wrist. He kept his touch light, using only the tips of his fingers, but Daud stopped in his tracks immediately and looked at him expectantly.

“Thank you,” Corvo said earnestly. “For stopping me yesterday.”

The previously at least somewhat open expression on Daud’s face turned inscrutable. “I wasn’t stopping you, Corvo.” Then he transversed away, out of reach.

Confused, Corvo was left staring at the spot where Daud had just been standing.


After the Cambell mission, they waited. Without Jessamine – the rightful Empress and a brilliant tactician to boot – their plans had to change. The strategy they’d drawn up before Corvo left had hinged on Jessamine making a public announcement soon after their escape. Not showing her face in Holger Square, of course, but through a series of audiographs they’d planned on sneaking into the public announcement system at the Tower. Upon hearing that their Empress was alive, so they’d hoped, the citizens of Dunwall would resist attempts at tyranny. Should airing the audiographs have become too dangerous or simply impossible after the first time (due to increased guard presence or, in the extreme, Burrows shutting down the system), then Daud’s Whalers would have been very eager to start utilising buckets of paint and getting creative with famous landmarks.

As it stood, that part of the plan would still work, but with Emily taking Jessamine’s place, a ten-year-old girl on the throne… Corvo wondered what would destabilise the city more: thinking their Empress missing, or discovering that she was dead and her daughter was taking the throne in absentia.

It had been over a month now, and feverish speculation on the Empress’ fate had made room for a resigned sort of mourning. Burrows was slowly clawing his way towards the Regency, with resistance in Parliament waning, those who believed in the Empress’ survival slowly bowing down to the pressure from those who wanted power for themselves; and all the blackmail material in the world (that they had) was, at this point, useless in preventing it. It wouldn't do to show their hand too early, to reveal that there was someone out there looking to restore the Kaldwin throne, even as the other isles made good on their threat and erected a sea blockade, cutting Gristol off from the rest of the Empire. They really did want to wait for Dunwall to tear itself apart with the plague, then.

Even though they had been careful in addressing Emily – the words ‘Empress,’ ‘Princess,’ or ‘Your Highness,’ had so far been avoided by everyone without Corvo having to make the request, and he was beyond thankful – the truth was that that was what she had to do. She would have to be Empress. And her first days – weeks – of ruling the Empire of the Isles came in a run-down pub in a sealed-off district beyond the prospective Regent’s reach.

So instead of taking the direct approach, they would have to wait. Wait for the right information, wait for an opportunity to present itself.

*

Corvo hadn't made a habit of talking to the Heart every night, but bad dreams often led him to the rocks near the river in the hours before dawn and, sometimes, during the day. When the bustle of the pub became too much to bear and Daud didn't have time to spar, Corvo left Emily with Callista and Samuel and came out here, hidden away from prying eyes.

Daud tended to find him, however, as was proven now when a tall shadow fell over Corvo where he was perched.

When Corvo neither told him to sit nor to make himself scarce, Daud's shadow shrugged. Then, it settled next to Corvo's as he sat down about a foot to the left.

"Did something happen?" Corvo asked after a while, wondering if Daud had come to fetch him.

"No," Daud said in a gruff tone.

When he didn't elaborate, Corvo questioned, "Did you wish to speak to me, then? About Campbell?"

"No," came another short reply, and Corvo had to fight not to roll his eyes.

"What, then?" He finally turned his head to glance at Daud, and was promptly caught in an intense stare.

"Emily sent me after you." That seemed to perturb Daud as much as it apparently amused him, because the corners of his mouth twitched even as he frowned.

Corvo could only stare back as Daud's meaning sank in. "She shouldn't have done that."

"She's Empress, there's not much she can't do."

"I never took you for an errand boy," Corvo countered with perhaps a bit more bite than humour.

"I'm not," Daud rumbled, enough warning in his tone to let Corvo know the jab had been received. "But she asked," he amended, "so I went."

Corvo looked back out on the water. "She needn't worry. I'd never leave her."

Daud didn't respond for a long moment. When he did, his voice was pitched low, as if worried his words might carry farther than the two of them. "She doesn't. Not about that."

Corvo resisted the notion to turn again to look at him, for he suspected seeing Daud's face would no more help him understand what those words meant coming from him, or why they meant anything at all.

They spent the rest of the morning in silence, until Thomas appeared above calling for them.

*

With Campbell out of the way, the Overseers were tarnished; and having stolen Campbell’s secret blackmail diary, they had a well of information – except it was encrypted, and finding the key was proving more difficult than either Corvo or Daud liked. Corvo knew that Daud had pored over that damn diary for hours, trying to find a way around it, but the fact was that, without the book that served as the key to the chiffre, they wouldn’t know where to start. Of course, they had guesses – the Seven Strictures, the books explaining the Seven Strictures, or other religious works. Letting out a frustrated grunt one evening, Daud had remarked that a man like Campbell using a book of the Strictures as his chiffre key would be the height of insult to anyone with morals, or indeed anyone without. Corvo, sitting opposite him in the booth, chin propped up on his fist and watching Emily draw what increasingly looked like a gaggle of Whalers on a sea-bound vessel, had hummed in acknowledgement and otherwise said nothing.

Thus, the fact remained that they had to find the key among Campbell’s possessions or happen upon the solution themselves. Admiral (former) of the Gristol Navy Havelock had arrived in the meantime, and both Corvo and Emily had taken an instant dislike to him. Cecelia had pulled Corvo aside one morning and told him about what she’d heard about the man, about the circumstances regarding his discharge from the Fleet, and he’d resolved to be even more wary of him than Daud’s own warning had indicated. Relaying his concerns to Daud during their sparring session that day had earned him a sneer and a drawled, “Listening to gossip now, Corvo?”, but following a particularly vicious stab from Corvo’s blade, Daud had conceded that he shared his reservations.

“The problem with men like Havelock,” Daud had said as he’d pushed Corvo's sword away with a hand wrapped firmly around Corvo's wrist, “is that when they get too close to power they think they have a right to it. We’ll keep an eye on him. He’s not the leader of anything here.”

Having Havelock’s contacts, however, had paid off, in the form of Overseer Teague Martin. Arranging a meeting had taken time, but eventually Corvo and Daud had been able to speak to the man in an abandoned slaughterhouse near the slums, far away from the Hound Pits. Martin, as it turned out, had discovered, through some blackmail of his own, which book Campbell had been using to encode his diary entries, and had given them the title readily enough.

“I’ve no illusions of you letting me leave with that in my hand,” he’d nodded at the little black book in Corvo’s hand. “All I ask is that, once you’ve cracked it, you give me what I need in order to rise in the Abbey. I can be your man, but I need to be able to have eyes in the back of my head, if you get my meaning.”

Corvo did get his meaning. A former soldier and highwayman, how Teague Martin had convinced his brothers in the Abbey that he was a reformed man, Corvo had no way of knowing. Following some urging from Daud, he had used the Heart to learn more about Martin while they'd been watching his approach from the steel beams above the killing room. When it had whispered of his past and informed them that his crimes weigh heavy on his spirit, he had chanced a side-long glance at Daud, who had once again been wearing that same immovable expression as over the past month.

Corvo had thought that, perhaps with time, it would become easier to read the assassin, much as Corvo hadn’t had all that much luck with it before leaving for the Isles. But at least then, Daud had occasionally teased him, or riled him while they sparred, and responded to Corvo’s righteous jabs about his profession with something approaching fire – assassins may not take sides, but Daud was not a man without pride. Now, the sharp grins Corvo had somehow gotten used to were gone, in their place an impenetrable mask. Distracted by Martin’s arrival below them, he’d been forced to leave that thought for another time.

Decoding the diary was grating work but simple enough, following that, and with the information they had, they could begin plotting in earnest. Resolving to keep the true circumstances of Emily’s impending reign from the public, at least for now, Whalers were sent out to scrawl “Long live the Empress” (along with a few other... choice messages) across any wall they could safely reach, and so they did – "in their best cursive," Daud observed drily.

"'Rats are eating our babies.' Really?" Corvo had merely asked Galia, who'd grinned at him, but declined to divulge who had come up with that gem.

 *

Another day, Corvo and Daud had just returned from that morning’s training session that had also included performing a rune ritual for Corvo to finally improve his Bend Time ability when Thomas came striding up to them, giving them both the Whalers’ customary salute. Corvo had been quietly surprised when most of Daud’s men had dispensed with the bowing and simply included him in their form of greeting. (They still bowed when greeting Emily, however, who seemed rankled by that, of all things. Corvo estimated it would be another week before she ordered the Whalers to include her in their ‘pirate salute.’)

“What is it, Thomas?” Daud asked, putting a hand through his hair, though not much of it was out of place after their sparring. Still, Corvo couldn't help but feel some small sense of accomplishment at having ruffled the so carefully controlled exterior. He wouldn't call Daud vain in that way, not as he knew him now, although perhaps he had once been; and Corvo suspected that the scar hadn't been what put a stop to it. If asked, Daud might have replied that there was no time in the Knife of Dunwall's life for extravagance, but then that red coat was hardly inconspicuous - that, and Corvo thought it unlikely that Daud would respond to such questions at all.

“Anton Sokolov has arrived, sir.”

“He’s two days late,” Daud growled, confirming Corvo’s hunch that the assassin preferred his pre-laid plans to be adhered to, and without delay.

“He said he had to make sure that no-one would get into his house, or die in the attempt,” Thomas replied, unruffled by Daud’s gruffness. “I’ve put him in the last available room, sir; he’s upstairs now, if you’d like to speak with him.” Here, Thomas hesitated. “There’s something else, sir.”

Corvo frowned. “What is it?” he asked before Daud could.

“We’ve uncovered new information from Campbell’s diary, sir,” Thomas addressed him, “and it says that Burrows had Sokolov commissioned to create a painting of his mistress. According to the diary, Campbell suspected that she’s also Burrows’ main benefactor.”

“Whoever Burrows is bedding, she’s the money,” Daud concluded.

“Yes, sir.”

Exchanging a glance with Daud, Corvo nodded. “That will be useful.”

Getting information out of Sokolov could be like pulling teeth, and Corvo had never particularly liked dealing with him during Jessamine’s regular examinations, although never as much in the past decade as during her pregnancy with Emily - the man had been insufferable, making snide remarks about the as yet unborn child's beauty or handsomeness; surely they would take after their father if he was worthy of catching the eye of an Empress... Corvo had wanted to strangle him, Jessamine had taken it with the sort of imperial grace that he tended to begrudge her from time to time; but that had been before he'd perfected his own courtly mask. That hadn't truly come in until after Emily's birth.

Daud looked at him strangely when Corvo grabbed a flask of King Street brandy one of the Whalers had snagged on a patrol run, but didn’t comment. Making their way up to Sokolov’s room, Corvo fought down the bile rising in his throat at the thought of meeting the man who he had entrusted Jessamine’s body to. Before leaving his house that night, Corvo had moved close to tower over the stocky man.

“If you lay a finger on her,” he’d threatened, knowing more of Sokolov’s experiments than he’d ever wanted to, even though Jessamine had done her utmost to curb the more disturbing of Sokolov’s attempts to learn more about the Plague.

Darting his eyes over to Daud, who had loomed tall in the background, Sokolov had merely nodded, his face serious and drawn. “You have nothing to fear, Lord Protector. Even I have some manner of respect.”

Now, as Corvo entered the man’s room at the Hound Pits, at least he had something to focus on, an objective: who was Burrows’ mistress? The brandy, for one, should ease the way for the information that they needed.

“Oh, I’ve painted her, but I have never seen her face,” Sokolov revealed after the fifth agonisingly slow sip.

“What,” Daud interjected, his voice flat, from where he was leaning against the windowsill just to Corvo's right, arms crossed in front of his chest, his shoulders tight with tension in a way that Corvo rather suspected mirrored his own body language in that moment. “You’re a portraitist.”

“You should know,” Sokolov regarded the assassin with beady eyes.

Ignoring their exchange, Corvo interrupted, “Then what do you know about her? Anything at all.”

“What I can tell you, dear Protector, is that she has one of the finest hindquarters in all of Dunwall. And,” he paused for emphasis, making Daud twitch with impatience, “she’s one of three sisters. The daughters of Lord Boyle, to be precise. I simply do not know which one. I don’t suppose you have someone here hiding with you who’s had the pleasure of knowing all three of them?”

“No, we don’t,” Daud replied. Then, he walked out of the room without another word.

“Let me guess, he’s been doing that a lot recently,” Sokolov commented, but Corvo wasn’t listening anymore.

*

“The costume ball at the Boyle Mansion is in five days,” Daud grunted as he deflected Corvo’s blade. “We have everything we need,” he ducked and weaved, then parried. “We can take her out.”

Daud was trying to distract Corvo, that much he realised, though he wasn’t sure from what as he forced the assassin into a blade lock. Baring his teeth, he threw his full weight into it, making Daud lose a step of precious ground before he pushed back.

The nightmares, having abated a little, had come back full force the night before, Corvo waking drenched in sweat more than once, a silent scream dying on his lips. Looking down at his ruined nightshirt, Corvo had expected to see blood. With the nightmares and dreams of the Void (albeit without any further visit from the Outsider) came the cold fury that he couldn’t hide, not even from Emily. He’d not gone to see her that morning, instead he had gone downstairs and glowered at Daud until the man had abandoned his breakfast and joined him in the cages without a word.

“All we have to figure out is how,” Daud continued once he’d managed to drive Corvo away.

“I’m sure you have a few ideas,” Corvo spoke for the first time since they’d started, uncaring whether he sounded petty, or accusing, or both. “How was it you left Lord Gillespie,” he snarled, swinging his blade in an arc that would have taken Daud’s head off if he’d wanted it to, “trussed up against the bedpost, his own sword sticking out of him? Blood everywhere, and three of his fingers were missing, never to be recovered. Did you keep them, as a souvenir? I didn't see them up on your mantle,” he finished with a sneer.

“You read about that,” was all the ground Daud gave, knocking Corvo back with a well-aimed kick to the stomach.

Corvo's insides churned with something hot and slick, winding itself through him and wrapping around his heart and lungs like vines. Blinking behind Daud, he shoved him towards the centre of the improvised training room. Daud, unbalanced, whirled around, his Mark beginning to glow as he readied himself to counter the attack. Still, his face barely betrayed what he might have felt, the furrow between his brows no deeper than when he barked instructions at the novices, and the set of his mouth no more severe than when a Whaler returned from a patrol late. Wasn't "regret" supposed to be the whole point of Daud's warning?

Something inside Corvo fractured. “And what would you have done to Jessamine, if the Overseers hadn’t made you tuck your tail,” he demanded, driving forward again, bringing his blade down so hard against Daud’s he could feel his bones rattle, “stabbed her through the heart and vanished, like a shadow. Like a coward!”

Transversing out of the way of Corvo’s dash attack, Daud reappeared on top of one of the cages, then jumped, his blade raised high in the air. Corvo blinked away, but Daud came after him, twisting, their blades grinding against each other with a screech.

And still, Daud remained silent.

“Have you lost your tongue?” Corvo was close to shouting now. “Speak, damn you!”

“What do you want, Corvo,” Daud growled, and if it sounded hollow to Corvo's ears, it may well be because that was what he wanted to hear. “Surely a coward isn’t worth bending your ear.”

Chapter Text

By the time Corvo and Daud finally let up on one another, sweat was running down Corvo's temples, and even Daud was breathing heavily. Corvo's eyes caught on a thin line of blood running from a cut on Daud's lower lip, no doubt courtesy of one of the punches Corvo had resorted to throwing when the clash of their blades had not satisfied the siren call of the Void in his veins. Daud had matched him fist for fist, and it was only now, looking down at his own bleeding knuckles, that Corvo truly hated the assassin's ways of making himself unknowable. His coat, his gloves, his face that would give nothing away. If Daud didn't wear a mask, not like his Whalers, not like Corvo, it was because he didn't need one. Corvo donned his mask at night, moving through the shadows. Daud wore his the moment he opened his eyes in the morning.

'Good,' Corvo reminded himself, for surely he should have no wish to see beyond the mask of such a man.

*

It was still so early as for hardly anyone to be up and about, save for Whalers leaving for patrol. Corvo's feet carried him towards the rocks above the shore without him thinking much about where he was going, but when he realised, his steps faltered. Memories of Daud being tasked with finding him surfaced, and Corvo stopped walking. Even as the Wrenhaven called to him, he turned away, blinking past Piero's workshop, but stopping short of crossing over to the practice yard. Stuck uncomfortably in the middle, Corvo contemplated simply going back inside, perhaps to take a bath. He could do with one, he supposed, but then the thought of taking off his clothes even just for a few minutes left him feeling anxious. Again, he ground his teeth. Perched above the steps leading down to Samuel's boat, he could see the door to the cages, but Daud must have left shortly after him.

While he was still waiting there, a movement from the right caught his eye. Turning, Corvo spotted Samuel walking along the shore, moving towards him. When the boatman realised that Corvo was lingering overhead, he raised a hand in greeting.

"Corvo," he called. "What are you doing up there?"

Unwilling to draw attention, Corvo blinked down next to Samuel, landing neatly a few feet away. While Samuel was certainly used to seeing Daud, the Whalers, and even Corvo himself flit around the grounds by means of their powers, there was no mistaking the widening of his eyes now.

"If you'll pardon me saying so, sir, but it is uncanny, you moving about like that," Samuel muttered, "at least I can see you, the others, they just... turn to ash and by the time I realise, they're off somewhere."

When Corvo didn't reply, Samuel tilted his head. "You alright, Corvo?"

"I'm sorry, Samuel," Corvo murmured, "it's not been a good morning."

"No need to apologise, long as you take good care of that little girl, your manners don't concern me," Samuel only meant to reassure him, but his words sent pain lancing through Corvo.

"It's not my manners that are lacking today, old man," Corvo replied, catching Samuel's frown.

"I saw you and Daud head in towards the kennels earlier."

For a long moment, Corvo didn't know how to respond. Samuel certainly wouldn't appreciate Corvo detailing the length of his "sparring" session with Daud, much less a retelling of what Corvo had said to him. "We did, we... fought, in more ways than one. Though I've no notion of whether 'fighting' with Daud is even possible if there's nothing he'll stick up for."

"How do you mean?"

"If someone confronted you with things you wanted to leave in your past, would you say nothing? Or would you tell them to shove it and given a blade, make use of it?"

"Oh well, I dunno about the blade, but defend myself with words, I would." Before Corvo could respond, Samuel continued, "But considering that we're discussing a man such as Daud, it is perhaps not so surprising that he would choose silence over retaliation, at least where you're concerned."

"I've known him to express his anger, including to me," Corvo replied with confidence. Much like Corvo's own, Daud's temper was slow to rouse, but when it did, you had best know your way through a sword fight.

"But not since coming here, have you?" Samuel interrupted his meandering thoughts, cutting clean through a memory of Daud as good as charging Corvo during one of their training sessions in the Flooded District, after Corvo had made a deliberately insensitive remark about how choosing the Whalers' attire was entirely appropriate to their profession. Trust someone like Daud to take issue with whaling ships and slaughterhouses, he'd thought at the time. It had taken a while until Corvo had understood the concept of leviathans and made the connection to the Outsider's runes and bonecharms.

"No, he's been... different," Corvo eventually conceded.

"Then perhaps it might pay to find out why," Samuel said. "One day, the river will take us all, Corvo, but until then, we can't afford to waste what time we have."

"I'm not sure if—" Corvo's reply was cut short by Piero calling his name from the steps leading up towards the pub.

"Corvo, there you are! There's something I'd like to discuss with you!"

Inclining his head towards Samuel in apology, Corvo made to leave. "Thank you, Samuel, for your counsel."

"What you do is up to you, Corvo. Only, bear in mind that true allies, these days, are few and far between."

Corvo nodded, unwilling to ask whether those words were meant as encouragement - or as a warning. He supposed he would have to discover that for himself. For now, however, Piero wanted his attention. Making his way up towards him, Corvo hoped the scientist would have a suitable distraction for him.


The next morning, Corvo sat with Emily while Callista was taking a bath, reading with her and brushing her hair when she asked him to. She didn’t ask why she’d barely seen him the day before, and Corvo felt shame wind itself around his shoulders like an old friend, turning his head and choking him. He’d neglected his duties, neglected his daughter because of his grief, when she’d lost no less in a day than he had.

Strengthening his resolve, he took his leave when Callista returned, promising to play hide and seek with Emily later, ignoring Callista’s disapproving look. Emily's smile and the brightness in her eyes relieved some of the sorrow weighing on his chest. But when he thought of the other person he'd avoided the day before (or at least for the rest of it), he found that some of that remorse was still there, too, which was nonsensical. He frowned at his own face in the cloudy mirror Cecelia had procured for him as he shaved. Daud was a killer, an assassin, a man who had murdered his way through Dunwall's aristocracy like a disease, leaving terror in his wake, amassing a following - children, apprenticing under the blade. Training with him in the Flooded District, it had been a truth Corvo had never forgotten that Daud and his men outnumbered him hopelessly whenever he entered their domain, and that Daud himself had taken on lesser odds and won throughout his so-called 'career.'

Corvo had read all the reports, had dispatched his own agents to aid the City Watch in catching the Knife of Dunwall. The most dangerous assassin in the Empire. A heretic, an enemy of the Abbey. Daud. A name only ever whispered by thugs in the streets, for fear of him looming up behind them and felling them with one stroke of his blade.

And now, Corvo and his daughter were having breakfast with him nigh on every morning.

All that blood on those gloved hands - did he believe that never letting it touch his skin separated man from legend? - and all those lives destroyed and taken, and for what? Coin. Corvo had been right to accuse Daud of what he had.

The burden wouldn't budge.

Daud had declared, before, that he had enough of killing, and the raw look in his eyes had been enough to give Corvo pause in his judgement of him. For decades, Daud had spilt the blood of innocents as well as traitors, dissenters, and criminals. In the months since then, Corvo had seen more of Daud than the killer behind his eyes, and what had been impossible to contemplate at first had slowly but steadily become a question he had to ask himself. If Corvo was more than the starving, thieving boy who got into street fights with his sister back in Karnaca, then could Daud be more than the blade at his hip and the blood pooled at his feet? Corvo had never been opposed to wet work, either, had spied for Jessamine, had killed to ensure her safety and the security of her reign. Daud had killed for coin, and Corvo for the Crown - to many in this broken city, which would have been the higher calling? Corvo had felt the call of vengeance, standing over Campbell, had felt the Void inside him roil, black as tar and filling him up until it leaked from his eyes. It would have been so easy, and then who would Corvo have become?

Walking out into the staircase, he used Dark Vision to check, on the off chance, whether Daud was in his quarters. He was. With heavy steps, Corvo approached the door and, before he could talk himself out of it, knocked.

“Come in,” Daud’s rough voice called from within, and Corvo entered. If Daud was surprised to see him, none of it showed on his face as much as anything did these days. “Good morning, Corvo,” was all he said, and if Corvo had been in the same bad shape as the day before, his blood would have boiled at being met by the man’s calm exterior. As it was, he closed the door behind himself and stepped closer to the desk Daud was sitting at.

“Daud,” he greeted, ruefully aware of ill-considered this was, just turning up in the man’s quarters after the things he’d said to him the day before; things that he would never have regretted saying six months ago, before all this, when he'd been nought but ready to arrest and execute Daud for crimes against the Crown as soon as seeing him out in the street. Still, there was no way but forward. “About yesterday, I… some of the things I said to you—”

“Were true, and not just some,” Daud finished the sentence for him, holding his gaze with an intensity that seemed ready to strip Corvo to the bone if provoked with further foolishness.

Not to be deterred and perhaps a little surprised at himself for his persistence in the face of Daud's dismissive attitude, Corvo pressed, “I shouldn't have dragged you off like that, either.”

“Apologise for interrupting my breakfast, or for trying to stick me with the pointy end if you must, but otherwise: let it lie, bodyguard,” Daud advised him brusquely, going back to the papers on his desk. Watching him for another moment, Corvo eventually nodded, even though Daud couldn’t see.

“Are you coming down for breakfast?” he asked after a minute.

“Already ate, you go on,” Daud murmured.

Belatedly, Corvo noticed the plate with some leftover Serkonan bread and a few apple slices at the edge of the desk. There was steam still rising from the mug of coffee next to it. Not knowing what else to do and reluctant to overstay his welcome, Corvo turned and left the room.


Four days later, Corvo was standing alone in the atrium of the Boyle Mansion, many of Dunwall’s nobles right next to him. And they had no idea it was him. Corvo remembered similar feasts and parties at the Palace; more of those in Emperor Euhorn's than in Jessamine's time. To think that after months of lurking in the shadows, being a wanted man, Corvo was, just for one evening, mingling with Gristol's high society as the Boyle estate promised a prized family heirloom as the reward for solving a riddle - using citizens' desperation to fill up their decimated guest list. Corvo had spent so much time, months now, hiding himself away in a run-down, quarantined pub, sequestered together with his daughter, a handful of more or less trusted allies, and a league of assassins who seemed to possess more backbone than certainly most of Dunwall's aristocracy... standing here, he realised, while every day he wished none of it had happened and they could simply still live their lives as they had been before, even with the Plague - he hadn't spared this any thought, any of it. Not the splendour, not the obvious wealth, and none of the comfortable life it had afforded him. What he lacked were decent food and a softer mattress, but that could be found anywhere, and certainly better than in these gilded halls.

As he took a turn around the room, taking stock of the number of guards hired by the Boyles as well as mercenary security present for some of the nobles, Corvo's eye landed on the proudly displayed guestbook. Curiosity getting the better of him, he drew closer. His mask had drawn comments from nearly everyone he’d encountered, some reactions delighted, others perturbed – often depending on the individual’s own taste in costume, Corvo noted. He hadn’t been surprised when the noble lady wearing an upside-down children’s doll on her head had been very intrigued by Corvo’s choice in masquerade.

His invitation stolen by Daud’s Whalers (the guard at the entrance had addressed him as Bunting, a notable art dealer of ill repute, if memory served), Corvo had had no trouble entering the mansion, once he and Daud had slipped past the City Watch guards outside the gates. Once in neutral territory, Daud had vanished to make his way into the house from the rooftops. His disinclination to wear a mask continued unabated, it seemed, and he hadn’t been willing to shed his coat and gear for more easily concealable weapons in an effort to draw less attention. And so, they’d been forced to split up, leaving Corvo in charge of figuring out which Lady Boyle it was they were looking for, moving through the crowd on his own, Daud abandoning him as soon as the shadows they were used to moving through together were chased away by bright lights.

The theme for the evening, the guard at the door had told him, was solving a riddle to uncover which sister was wearing which colour gown, having the choice between red, white, and black. Corvo set to exploring the rooms, making brief conversation whenever someone commented on his mask. He had just fetched a glass of apple cider for a noblewoman going by the name of Lady White, and received several clues from her, when someone in a rather bizarre mask depicting some sort of rodent approached him from the side.

“I know your purpose here tonight,” he spoke, and Corvo tensed. “I should like to speak with you privately.”

Following the aristocrat towards a more secluded area of the room, Corvo remained silent, waiting for the man to explain himself.

“My name is Lord Brisby, I am familiar with Lord Pendleton, and through him with Admiral Havelock. The younger Lord Pendleton has rather different political views than his twin brothers, and so I have heard quite a bit about the stirrings of loyalists against Burrows’ ambitions.”

Willing the man to get to the point, Corvo still didn’t speak. Apparently taking the hint, Brisby crossed his arms. “I know which of the Boyle sisters it is you want. Her name is Esma, and she’s the love of my life. So I have this to ask of you: please don’t harm her. Bring her to me instead, and I swear we’ll never be heard of again. I’m not proud of it, but I won’t harm her, and I think in time, she will thank me. It’s a better fate than death, in any case. I will be waiting for you in the cellar.”

Not waiting for Corvo to reply, Lord Brisby turned and left the room.

*

Trailing a few paces behind Esma, the Heart in his hand, Corvo listened as it whispered her secrets to him. Confirming his theory, he had discovered that no-one but him and Daud could see the Heart, so he knew it was safe to walk around with it among the party guests, even though he still scanned the area carefully for anyone watching him.

When Jess' voice told him sadly that this was all she could discern, Corvo put the Heart back safely into his coat pocket, resting against his own. Approaching Esma would be manageable with what he’d heard, or so he hoped.

Responding to his advances, Esma beckoned him upstairs, so he followed her up into her quarters. Once they were inside her bedroom, Corvo put her in a chokehold and, when she collapsed, gently lifted her onto the bed. On the way up, she’d told him about the scandalous affair she was having with another man whose name she couldn't possibly reveal. When she’d admitted that she’d leave him if she could, Corvo had been torn between derision and wondering what hold a man like Burrows could have over a woman as influential as one of the Boyle sisters, so much so that she didn’t dare leave him.

Opening the window near the bed, he waited. Moments later, Daud transversed into the room, casting a grim but searching glance over Corvo's appearance before turning towards the bed. Corvo fought the urge to look down at himself and check for food stains, as if Daud were accusing him of enjoying the feast while the assassin was out on the rooftops.

"Any trouble?" Daud queried. Then, as Corvo shook his head, he gestured at the unconscious Lady Boyle. “Sleeping, or dead?"

“Unconscious,” Corvo replied. “Daud, I might have a solution. Downstairs, a man approached me, Lord Brisby. Her lover. We could have him leave with her, she’d be safe.”

Thinking he’d found an amenable solution, Corvo was surprised when Daud scoffed. “He’s not her lover,” he spat, “he’s obsessed with her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Waverly Boyle nearly had us put a hit on him a year ago,” Daud explained, pacing past Corvo towards the foot of the bed. “She withdrew at the last minute, but we’d already looked into him. She was afraid he’d harm her sister, but perhaps Esma herself convinced her not to go through with it, and we... we hadn't been paid yet.” Daud glanced back at Corvo as if he'd just laid out bait for a starving bear.

“Esma did say she wanted to get away from Burrows,” Corvo argued, ignoring Daud's last remark. Now was not the time for another debate about the sort of morality that came with coin.

Daud shrugged - whether at what Corvo did or didn't say, he couldn't tell. “Be that as it may, Brisby’s not the one she wants to leave him for. He’ll lock her up and make her love him, take what isn’t freely given, and delude himself she'll thank him for it.”

Corvo sighed, the sound caught behind his mask. “Then what do we do, what choice do we have? Have you found anything?”

Daud shook his head. “Nothing. No blackmail strong enough to counter their money. If she does want away from Burrows but hasn’t managed it, no scandal we can manufacture in one night is going to be big enough.”

“Then what about the affair itself?”

“We need to cripple him financially, not embarrass him. If things were different, we could wait to expose Burrows and she’d go down with him when the conspiracy falls apart, but we don’t have that luxury. We have to get rid of her first, Corvo.”

“How much does she know?” Corvo regarded Esma, her face still hidden behind her mask. A mask more beautiful than his, more finely crafted, but beauty was proving, once again, useless in the face of death.

“About what?” Daud asked, and impatience surged inside Corvo.

“You know what. About the Plague, about… about Jessamine’s death. How much does she know?” Corvo demanded, his voice rising. Daud's eyes darkened in warning, and Corvo gritted his teeth - there were guards in the halls outside, and while they might not be surprised at hearing a man's voice from one of the sisters' quarters, it wouldn't do for that voice to be barking about the dead Empress.

“All of it. I found her diary in the other suite. Corvo?” Daud hissed his name when Corvo started moving towards the figure on the bed.

“I’m not giving her to that animal.” Corvo didn't say anything more, raising his head to meet Daud’s forbidding gaze.

The boat ride back to the Hound Pits was silent. Samuel didn’t ask what they’d done as they sat opposite him in the boat. Daud was almost close enough to touch, but it may as well have been worlds between them. Corvo took off his mask, then his gloves, his Mark stark against his hand where Daud's was always covered, hidden away, just as the rest of him. When a wave rocked the boat just slightly, Daud's left shoulder nudged Corvo's right, and Corvo clenched his fist.

Their report to Emily, who was still awake, was brief. Corvo explained that Lady Boyle wouldn’t be able to give Burrows her money anymore, and Daud took Emily’s inquiry after the method of her elimination without a flinch.

“So she’s dead?” Emily asked, as if making sure, and Daud nodded. Drawing her legs up onto the seat of the bench, Emily curled into herself, pressing against Corvo’s side. “I suppose there was no other way.”

“No.” Daud answered in Corvo’s stead, and Corvo tightened the hold of his arm around Emily’s shoulders.

*

Hours later, Corvo couldn’t sleep. Lay, unmoving, on his back and stared at the ceiling of his room, counting the cracks in the woodwork.

Finally resolving himself, he got up and put on his vest on over his nightshirt, but left his belt by his bed. Where he was going, he wouldn’t need his weapons, not this time. Creeping down the stairs silently, he clenched his fist. Finding his suspicions confirmed, he approached a now familiar door. Before he could knock, however, the sound of a rough voice gave him pause. Daud had been alone a moment ago, so who was he speaking to now?

When he activated his second sight again, he realised what he had missed: Daud was recording audiographs. Having just finished one, he was now putting another card into the device on his desk. Checking behind him to make sure that no-one else was up and about, certainly no Whalers who would not take kindly to finding him spying on their master, Corvo crowded closer to the door and listened. No stranger to eavesdropping, he slowly knelt by the keyhole. 

 

“… to dispose of Lady Boyle. So we killed her. I killed her. With a pure dose of sleep toxin, it was over in seconds, she wouldn’t even have felt anything. I’m not sure I did, but I know what it did to Corvo.” A pause, then a bark of laughter. “Well, Outsider knows that’s not true. I don’t know what it’s like to truly regret killing anymore, beyond knowing that I’ve had enough of it. I went to the Empress to spare her the fate I’ve dealt so many others, and what good did it do her? Empress Jessamine’s dead.” On her name, Daud’s voice broke. “She’s dead, and because I failed her… I failed her daughter, and I failed Corvo. But I accepted the consequences, and so this is what I’ll do. I’ll help the child take her throne, and I’ll make sure Corvo survives to see the day. I know the rage that takes him, know it well. I know he gets angry when I don’t push back, but what would I have to give? The remorse of an old man? Guilt? It’s better that he doesn’t see. He would only try to forgive me, soft-hearted fool that he is. And of all the things I deserve, in this world or the Void, forgiveness is not one of them; certainly not for the life I've led, and not for losing her, either.”

The recorder clicked, the audiograph complete, and outside the door, Corvo had one hand pressed to his mouth, holding himself upright against the doorframe with the other. Something fierce that felt a lot like regret and shame burst inside Corvo then – regret for the man who had done all he could and still blamed himself for something that he didn’t do, and shame because he never... Daud had apologised, had laid his failure out before them, if not in as many words, and neither Emily nor Corvo had ever even acknowledged it.

In that moment, Corvo realised the reason for Daud’s strange behaviour, for the way he let Corvo push him around when they sparred, and why it felt so much like punishment: Daud took whatever Corvo gave him – his grief, his anger, his mute sorrow. Took it and put it away and let Corvo’s burden lighten while walking away with leaden steps. And for all that Daud was, for all that he had done...

Moving before he truly thought of it, he pushed himself up, stood, and opened the door without even knocking. Standing at his desk, Daud whirled around, his eyes wide and his face, for the moment, as unguarded as Corvo had ever seen it.

“Corvo—”

Corvo didn’t let him finish, and instead stepped right into Daud’s space and put his hands on his shoulders. Daud, stiff as a board under his touch, didn’t respond but didn’t push Corvo away, either.

“Corvo, what are you doing?” he demanded, annoyance in every line of his face.

Not willing to admit that he hadn't actually planned this far, Corvo said the first thing that came to mind, the first thing that made sense (if, indeed, any of this did). “I don't think either of us will ever forget your past.”

Immediately, Daud’s expression closed, his eyes shuttering. “Corvo—”

“No, Daud. Listen.” Daud turned his head and averted his eyes, but Corvo wouldn’t let him get away so easily. “Look at me.” He waited until he was sure he had Daud's full attention, which dimly he realised should send him running instead of leaning closer. “You are the Knife of Dunwall, but you are also the man who could have killed an Empress and chose not to. It’s not you who killed her, it was Burrows. You’ve kept us safe, you’ve kept your word. I'm sorry for not realising how much—”

“I’m a murderer,” Daud rasped, and with his face so close, Corvo finally recognised the pain twisting in his eyes. His arms came up and long fingers landed on Corvo’s wrists, gloveless for the first time and cool against his skin, gently but firmly pulling his hands away. “I lost my way a long time ago, and I walked the path I did with impunity. I’m not a good man, Corvo. Don’t make the mistake of treating me like one just because I made one different choice after countless others that all ended in blood.”

“Then let me decide how to treat you,” Corvo told him firmly. “Tell me.” When Daud’s brow furrowed in confusion, he clarified, “Tell me about your path.”

For a while, there was only silence, Daud's grey eyes boring into Corvo's own, who struggled not to look away, to prove that he wanted to know. That he deserved to know. And then, Daud released his right but kept his hold on Corvo’s left wrist, pulling at him until Corvo let himself be manoeuvred into the chair behind the desk and pushed down to sit. Daud settled himself on the edge of the bed, facing him.

Corvo waited. After what felt like another age, Daud began to speak.

Chapter Text

I better hold my tongue
Better take my place
Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace

Daud told him. All of it.

He told him about the terrified child he was when he came to Dunwall, about how the Outsider plucked him out of the herd and gave him a gift, promising him he could make a difference. Be important – not powerful, at least not in the way most would have taken it to mean. The Outsider showed him so many disreputable people, so many undesirables, whispered secrets in his ear about their crimes and their betrayals. And Daud realised, at sixteen, that he could cleanse the city of all of them.

He asked the Outsider if that was what he should be, a murderer. But the Outsider told him that murder would not feed him. So Daud understood. As an assassin, he could make that difference and a nice bit of coin, and he was good at it. He made a name for himself and the contracts kept coming; and he assembled a group of street kids, ex-mercenaries and refugees and taught them. And for a time, yes, he felt powerful rather than important, and he felt strong.

Daud knew about the blood on his hands, but he thought that if that was the price he paid to make that difference, then it was a trade he’d make. But things turned sour as he became older and realised that when you cut down one corrupt noble, another took their place, and his relationship with the Outsider fractured exactly when Daud was at the height of his power. Because it’d become about his ego, in justifying to himself why he was still doing it, it'd become about his role in the play rather than the play itself, and that was when the Outsider stopped finding him interesting. Yet, Daud continued, feeling more and more hollowed out as the years wore on and on, until there was nothing left of who he had been, certainly none left of the young boy from Serkonos.

Then, everything had changed on a coin, Burrows gave him the contract for the Empress and the Outsider came back to haunt him with a mystery, and Daud knew that the time had come for him to decide how he wanted his story to end.

By the time Daud was done speaking, his voice low and rough and strangled with tears that refused to be shed, Corvo had come to sit next to him on the bed. Against the silence that descended, he put his hand on the assassin's back, just below his shoulder blades.

Daud didn’t keep time on how long they remained, Corvo’s hand on his back as what should have felt like weights dragging him down to drown, and instead keeping him afloat. How long had it been since anyone...? He didn’t care to remember, and perhaps he should be glad he couldn’t.

Eventually, he subtly leaned away and Corvo let go of him without protest, but where before Daud had seen only a face of stone, he now suspected concern. He heaved himself up and walked a few paces from the bed, towards the window.

“Daud?” Corvo said his name without an inch of hatred, and Daud didn’t understand how he could.

“It’s late. You should get some rest,” Daud forced himself to say, knowing what that sounded like and not bothering to dress it up as anything but a request for Corvo to leave.

“So should you,” Corvo replied, stubborn as anything, but he got up and stepped a few paces towards him. “Good night, Daud.”

“Good night, bodyguard.”

Corvo lingered for another moment, but before Daud could try and interpret the look on his face, he lowered his head and headed for the door. Once he’d closed it behind himself carefully, Daud staggered towards the settee jammed underneath one of the windows by the shelf and let himself drop onto it.

He had never… Corvo hadn’t been meant to see.

He had tried so hard not to let it come to this, to keep the Empress safe, and now… she was dead anyway, Corvo’s eyes were dead and broken, and Emily was crying herself to sleep every night. Daud knew full well the child didn’t trust him, even though she seemed to have warmed up to his Whalers after all.

Corvo had never been meant to be that, either. After Campbell, after calling him back from the edge by the only name that reached him, Daud hadn’t been able to go back to ‘Attano,’ although he did still call him ‘bodyguard,’ a habit that would probably stick. In the beginning, because it had made Corvo squint, now… because it wasn’t ‘Lord Protector,’ and… because he let him.

‘Thank you for stopping me,’ Corvo had told him, but Daud had done no such thing. The ugly truth of it was, if Corvo had chosen vengeance, he would have let him. He would have followed him. He’d told Corvo right when they’d started planning that he had enough of killing, and that he would prefer not to be seen at all, that the plan would work better if there was no need for masks. But that had been before the plan had failed, before he had failed. And then, Corvo had his hand on his blade when they had Campbell in that chair, and Daud saw it, the look in his eyes. Had seen it before. Had owned it, once. Would always own it.

So he simply said, “Be sure.” He knew Corvo was the better man for resisting, for showing mercy when it was undeserved, and he accepted that he wouldn’t have been good enough to hold Corvo back if he had decided otherwise. Daud had accepted the consequences. And so he would see that Corvo and Emily lived to see Dunwall saved from ruin. As for himself… perhaps the Outsider had been right. ‘Made weak by time and fate,’ he remembered the young god’s words from so long ago. Perhaps that’s what he was.

Extinguishing the desk lamp, Daud squashed the writhing mass in his chest.

Sleep refused to come at first, and then only in that space between waking and dreaming that provided no rest whatsoever. It was from that place that the Outsider grabbed him by the scruff of the neck like an unwanted kitten and flung him into the far reaches of the Void.

Struggling to his knees, Daud looked around. Ice flooded his veins when he recognised the broken parts of Dunwall Tower. Part of him wished he could just stay there, on the cold ground, and wait it out, but he knew that if there was one thing the Outsider had, it was time. So he picked himself up and looked around, then his gaze caught on an island to his right.

The gazebo was that way.

Transversing up, he wasn’t surprised at what he found. He had hardly been brought here out of idle curiosity. Or, come to think of it – charity.

Corvo had been right. If the Overseers’ threat of war hadn’t made Daud fear for his Whalers, if Burrows’ scheme hadn’t enraged him, this… this was what he would have done. Pushed the Empress away from her child, subdued her, and driven his blade through her heart.

She had bled out on a boat under Corvo’s trembling hands, but her eyes were as lifeless in his dreams as they’d been in the cold light of day. It mattered little as she lay there now, on the stone floor of the gazebo, a sea of blood around her. Blood, and a letter. Corvo had brought her the answer from the Isles, Daud had watched her read the words and drop the note to the ground. There had been no fortuitous news that day. Bending down, he picked up the sheaf of paper, curious whether he would be able to read what it had said.

YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER YOU KILLED HER

Daud stared at the words for a long moment. Then, he tore the note to pieces and threw them to the ground at his feet. He closed his eyes, but he could still see hers. Could still taste the guilt like bile in his throat. Could still feel Corvo’s fingers curled on his shoulder, like absolution.

“No,” he rasped. He opened his eyes and raised his head. “Do you hear me? No! NO! I didn’t. I didn’t kill her.”

“My, Daud,” that voice he had come to loathe came from behind him. “Such defiance. Tell me, has Corvo given you the courage you were lacking for so long?”

Whirling around, Daud faced the Outsider, the rage he’d kept so tightly reined in all this time roiling just underneath the surface. “You leave Corvo out of this. Don’t think I don’t know about the gift you’ve stuck him with.” The thought of the Heart only increased the roar of blood in Daud’s ears.

“First Emily, now Corvo… you are certainly very protective of that little family,” the Outsider leaned forward, close enough for something molten to brush Daud’s skin. The Void, pure and deadly. He refused to flinch away, immortal deity easily capable of crushing him under his heel be damned.

“That family,” he growled, “is even littler now. But it was me who failed, not Corvo, so if you’ve a hankering to punish someone, look no further.”

The Outsider tilted his head. “But you said you didn’t kill her.”

“I didn’t. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get it wrong.”

*

Morning came far too quickly, and too soon Daud was back in his clothes, and making his way downstairs for breakfast. Wherever they were, the Whalers would keep a loose schedule for mealtimes, seeing as most of the masters were on rotating patrols to begin with, someone always missed dinner. But Daud saw to it that the novices were fed steadily between lessons and patrols. Scarcity of food was the first thing that those kids had learnt on the streets of Dunwall, and it was that that had eroded most of their humanity to begin with.

The taproom was crowded spottily that morning, Rulfio and Montgomery had taken most of the novices out into the surrounding area of the old district to train; the morning shift had relieved the night shift on patrols, and those who’d spent the night out in the cold were already asleep in the bunks upstairs. Possibly stacked on top of each other, Daud suspected, going by the sparse accommodations.

Corvo and Emily were nowhere to be seen, and Daud felt relief, even knowing that there was no avoiding them for longer than a few more hours at most. Helping himself to some dark bread and ham, an apple, and a cup of coffee, Daud slid into one of the booths and tried not to listen for every sound that reached his ears from the depths of the building, and certainly not from the top floor. Not that Corvo would announce himself unless intentionally telegraphing his approach from three stories up; the man moved as silently as Daud had only ever managed to teach a few of his Whalers how.

That didn’t change the fact, however, that a few times over the past months, Daud had been able to tell when Corvo was walking up behind his back. He was familiar with the tugging sensations yielded by one of his Whalers appearing close by, similar to how it felt when he summoned them intentionally; but Corvo… He hadn’t attempted calling him through his Mark, wouldn’t simply try without Corvo knowing, but Daud didn’t think he would be able to, anyway. With his Whalers, he felt their presence as though it was physical, a skein winding from his magic to theirs - in the absence of any sort of control over their abilities, it was the one tangible proof he had that the connection existed.

When it came to sensing Corvo, it felt more as though he was aware of someone else’s magic being near, a magic as strong as his own. Perhaps this was simply what happened when two people with the Mark shared the same space, Daud wondered, but then there’d been the perturbed expression on Corvo’s face whenever Daud had been able to pick up on his approach when he rightly shouldn’t have been able to. This suggested that Corvo did not share this awareness – which, in turn, could be attributed to his inexperience with the Outsider’s gifts, but Daud did not want to let it come down to blind luck. They would have to get to the bottom of this curiosity themselves, and soon, for Daud suspected that the Outsider himself would be no help at all. Certainly not after the previous night.

His thoughts thus returned to unpleasant memories, Daud continued eating his breakfast, and managed to swallow down his nerves when he heard Emily’s tell-tale footfall coming down the stairs – sounding far more like an excited colt this early in the morning, and one of the few remaining concessions to being a child that she seemed blissfully unaware of. Next to hers, Corvo’s near-silent tread was as good as imperceptible, but Daud tensed when he was still absolutely certain he was with her. Without the bustle of the pub at most other times of day and without two dozen Whalers’ bonds clouding his awareness (or adrenaline, while they were sparring), it was really rather obvious.

Having no time to puzzle over what magic outside of the Arcane Bond or similar powers could be causing this, Daud contrived to concentrate on his plate by the time Emily and her father entered the taproom.

“Good morning, Daud!” Emily called when barely through the door, and quite against his will, Daud looked up at them.

“Good morning, Emily. Corvo,” he greeted them both, going back to his food instead of meeting Corvo’s eyes. He cursed himself for being a coward, but he was sure that nothing that he might find in Corvo’s gaze this morning would help his appetite. Disgust, pity, or simply contempt were some of the more likely choices, and Daud had to contend with the fact that he would take plain indifference over any of them.

“Daud,” Corvo answered his greeting, his voice level, but that didn’t mean much. To get Corvo Attano to abandon control of his temper necessitated a relatively short list of things – mistakes – Daud had absolutely no intention of making, or perhaps repeating.

Silence fell while Emily and Corvo got their breakfast in order, Corvo helping her wrestle with the rather overlarge loaf of bread when Emily, having quickly hopped onto a stool at the bar, eyed the old knife beside it a little critically. Daud observed this from the corner of his eye and suppressed a smile when Corvo gently closed his large hand over hers on the hilt and guided her movements without further comment. Through the other door, a handful of Whalers entered, novices due to train with Rulfio and Montgomery. As they passed Emily and Corvo, they gave them both the usual Whaler's salute, repeating the gesture with varied murmurs of 'sir' and 'Master Daud' when they passed him where he sat.

Daud went back to his breakfast, and did his best not to pay too close attention.

Then, suddenly, Emily appeared at his left. “Can I sit next to you?” she asked, looking at him with only a hint of trepidation that she was getting better at covering – if Daud hadn’t known what it looked like on her, he wouldn’t have known it was there. Still, that didn’t leave him any less caught off guard by her request. At his silence, she added, “I’d like to draw something for Corvo, and it’s easier when he’s across from me.”

Daud moved further into the booth just as Corvo appeared behind Emily, setting down their plates as if it were a simple thing to do, sitting across from Daud for breakfast instead of looking for a way out of the situation. “If you like.” What, precisely, would be made easier to draw if Corvo could see it just as well upside-down, he didn’t know, but wasn’t about to argue.

“Finish your breakfast first,” Corvo reminded her gently, obviously long familiar with her habit of ignoring meals for paper and crayons that even Daud had picked up on in the past few months. Then, as apparently the morning wasn’t bizarre enough already, Corvo threw Daud a look across the table – a smile, barely there but almost conspiratorial all the same, as if this were something they shared, as if they shared anything at all beyond this rotting corpse of a city and the Empress they'd lost.

Daud should have liked to scream at him.

Instead, Daud set to finishing his breakfast.

When Corvo excused himself, murmuring something about making more coffee, Emily darted out of the booth, but before Daud could think what to call after her, she reappeared at his elbow, clutching her drawing supplies. “I’ve been hiding it,” she explained, drawing a sheaf of paper out from between the others already covered in sketches and scribbles. Turning it over, she let him see, and then he understood. She’d been sketching Corvo. In her drawing, he was smiling.

*

A week later, Corvo didn’t come at Daud with his sword drawn early in the morning. He sat down across from him, dark shadows under his eyes.

Daud, glancing up from the remnants of his breakfast next to some of the Whalers’ early reports, took in his tired expression and the haunted look in his eyes. “Cages?” was all he asked then, because it seemed he should, even if the man looked like he could barely stand.

Corvo shook his head. “No, not today, if you don’t mind.”

Daud swallowed the ‘Breakfast, then?’ that had been halfway down his tongue. Instead, he shrugged one shoulder and went on reading, summarily ignoring Corvo’s presence – he didn’t seem to mind.

After five minutes of all sound in the room being Daud’s rustling papers, he didn’t look up when a hand appeared at the edge of his vision and hovered near his mug of coffee. Still half full and warm enough not to taste like the Wrenhaven at high tide, it was tempting enough. Without acknowledging him, Daud nodded at nothing in particular, and watched as the hand closed around the cup and both promptly disappeared.

When Daud estimated Corvo to have taken at least three sips, he finally raised his eyes towards him. Corvo looked marginally more awake, which Daud counted as an improvement before he picked up a few papers from the pile to his left and handed them over.

“If you want to make yourself useful,” he commented.

Corvo nodded, reaching for the papers with the hand not holding the coffee. Daud’s eyes flickered towards the stolen cup.

“And next time, get your own.”

Corvo smirked at him from across the table, and then lowered his head to begin reading the reports in front of him.

In that moment, as he could count on one hand the times he had seen Corvo Attano smile, it occurred to Daud that Corvo had perhaps never been made of stone. He had merely fashioned himself mask after mask (though none like the one he now wore to roam the streets of Dunwall) to contend with sycophant courtiers and backstabbers who sought standing with the Empress and who would gladly dispose of Corvo if they could – not because they feared him, but because they looked down on him, the young royal guard from Serkonos, the gift made to the late Emperor. ‘Gift’ meant sold for favour, even if everyone painted Theodanis as a good and just ruler; and Corvo may have thought it so if not for who he had been sent to guard. But underneath those masks was a man, good and kind and true (all the things that Daud was not and doubted he had ever been), a man who had lost all family he had but one.

For a month, Daud had barely known to tell Corvo’s temper from his deliberation, then Corvo had been gone for twice that, and upon his return, their world had been turned on its head – and them, inside out. Corvo’s grief had been plain enough, not even the Royal Protector could guard against that; and Daud had thought the same of his pain and his rage, except who had seen it? Not Emily, who was Corvo’s daughter and his Empress and to whom he had duties beyond that of her Protector, but which were yet eclipsed by that official role.

Daud knew this because of the bad mornings. Those were the mornings Corvo didn’t join Emily before breakfast, those were the mornings he dragged Daud away from his own meal and into the kennels, spoiling for a fight and eyes dark like the Void. The Whalers, who had taken to watching their training sessions before, had stayed away. Piero and Sokolov didn’t have time to watch a pair of dogs tear at each other, and Lydia, Cecelia, and Wallace likely knew better (on top of having other, if not necessarily better, things to do).

Then, as soon as they were too exhausted to go on or when it was time for Daud to meet with the Whalers returning from patrol, the masks slid back over Corvo’s face, and it was Daud who was left with Corvo’s pain bruising his jaw, Corvo’s anger running down his chin from the tear in his lip.

He’d not complained.

Perhaps he’d been seeing more than anyone else all this time. Perhaps he’d been meant to.

And now, everything had changed, yet again.

It took Daud about two weeks to come to terms with their new… dynamic. He didn’t have to cover a double-take anymore whenever Corvo touched his elbow to get his attention, or that one time when Daud had got caught in a vicious argument with Sokolov over his use of living subjects for his experiments and Corvo had eventually had enough and stepped in between them, his hand square on Daud’s chest. Not pushing him back, just resting against his coat, grounding him; his face not betraying any side he was taking in the quarrel, but his back had been to Sokolov and Daud had taken that as a statement. Daud had called on all his restraint to stop himself from leaning forward and into the touch. Then, he’d looked up at Corvo’s face, and nodded; had turned around and left Sokolov’s room, knowing better than to stay and listen to the man speak any more that day, about slaughterhouses and whale oil. He’d gone to sleep that night with the weight of Corvo’s palm against his chest, as if it were still there.


It should take them until nearly the end of the Month of Nets to get a lead on the Pendleton twins that didn’t make Daud shoot down any attempt to formulate a plan to get to them. Well, mostly.

“We’re not contracting Slackjaw to get rid of them for us,” he grunted at Billie’s suggestion. “Whose hare-brained scheme is that?”

Next to him, Corvo coughed. Daud slowly turned to stare at him, raising an eyebrow.

“He’s connected to Madam Prudence,” Corvo argued, “and he doesn’t like them.”

"Nobody does, that's why they're rich," Daud countered. Corvo looked distinctly as though he were trying not to roll his eyes. "Thomas, what about those audiographs you recovered?"

Thomas stepped forward. "I took them off one of Treavor Pendleton's personal guard, Captain Ren. Seems as though the youngest of the three brothers was regularly tormented by the twins in his childhood and youth. He holds no affection for them, nor they for him. He's not entirely useless, though, and it's well known he's politically aligned with the loyalists in Parliament. If he were to inherit the twins' parliamentary holdings, he could turn the tide in our favour."

"What are his politics?" Daud questioned, mulling over some over the transcripts Thomas had submitted along with his report. Not that he cared personally, but it generally did no good to substitute one evil for another.

"He plans to block any motion that might threaten holdings of the gentry," Thomas replied. Next to him, Billie scoffed, but otherwise remained silent. Daud raised a brow at her - normally, she had nothing but vitriol for aristocrats and noble families hoarding their riches. "But it's likely that that pertains more to legislation that would put more money in Burrows' coffers, specifically, especially after the death of Lady Boyle. With her gone, it's becoming more and more difficult for him to gain significant support among corrupt City Watch officers."

"There've been rumblings about Barrister Timsh," Galia chimed in. "Apparently, old Arnold and his niece, Thalia, are carrying out a bitter feud over the family fortune; especially after she found out about his mistress. And then there's the rumours that he and Burrows are planning on expropriating any wealthy family's estate or business by accusing them of hiding plague infections."

"Burrows is seeing his chances dwindling, then. Good," Daud decided. "But we have to focus on the Pendletons first. Keep on Timsh, Galia, collect anything you can find. We might need to get to him later."

"So what about Custis and Morgan," Corvo asked from his left, crossing his arms. "We have to get rid of them somehow. Is there any way we can make them disappear that doesn't involve bloodshed? Another assassination among the nobles and the city is going to turn to ruin quicker than we can catch the rest of the rats."

Daud sighed, fighting the impulse to pinch the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "What did Slackjaw have in mind?"

*

Later that day, Corvo approached Daud while he was preparing reports to discuss with Emily. The first few "visits" to noblemen they had collected dirt on before had yielded promising results. Having given Galia orders to keep investigating Barrister Timsh and his ill-gotten gains since the beginning of the Plague, Daud had also raised the subject with Billie, knowing that she was familiar with the Legal District. Instead of a diatribe or, at least, a well of information, all she'd done was shrug.

"Just tell me how you want this handled," she'd said, and he'd narrowed his eyes at her before dismissing her to join Galia on her patrol. Silence, from Lurk? Another riddle in a line of them that was already growing too long for comfort. Daud could never abide a mystery - something the Outsider had known very well when plucking him out of his dreams nearly seven months ago.

Daud's disjointed thoughts, refusing to come together to complete the puzzle, were derailed when Corvo appeared in his doorway, knocking lightly on the frame.

"Do you have a moment?"

"You know I do, the meeting with Emily isn't for another ten minutes," Daud smirked from where he sat behind the desk.

Corvo didn't respond, but didn't stop his mouth from twitching, either. "I'll be brief, then," he said mildly, which served all the more to set Daud's teeth on edge.

"What is it, Corvo?" he rumbled, continuing to sort the papers in front of him.

Corvo seemed amused by Daud's discomfort, if nothing else, but stepped closer and braced himself on the desktop by his hands, leaning down so he wasn't quite towering above Daud. "I wanted to speak to you about something, it's... about my abilities. About the Mark."

Daud looked up and, upon finding Corvo a little closer than anticipated, contained the instinct to shift back in his seat. Searching the other man's face, he thought to find no signs that anything was truly amiss, but who could be absolutely sure with Corvo? So he asked, "Is it giving you trouble?"

Corvo weighed his answer for a moment, doing nothing to alleviate Daud's concern. "When you summon one of your Whalers, can you control who answers the call?" Corvo queried.

Daud considered the question for a moment. "With some, and with varying success. With Billie, summoning her specifically tends to work with little error. Rulfio, Galia, Rinaldo, and Thomas tend to turn up when called, too. The rest of them, not really."

"So it depends on how long someone has been with the Whalers?"

"Not exclusively, and Thomas is for all intents and purposes still a novice. All my Whalers receive the Arcane Bond, but for some it simply does not take, or only very little, in which case I push them toward the blade, or the crossbow. It's not something I can control."

Corvo hummed pensively. Daud tilted his head, wondering whether Corvo had felt the same... side effects Daud had.

"What's this about, Corvo?" he asked eventually, surprised when Corvo evaded his gaze.

"The last few times you summoned a Whaler while I was in the vicinity, I felt... a tug," Corvo finished, looking back towards him. "I thought it was the runes at first, or just proximity to so many people with abilities, or proximity to another Marked, but once I started paying attention, I realised it wasn't random, and it regularly happened when you summoned someone."

Now it was Daud's turn to hum as he took all of this in. Corvo had described it as a tug...

"I noticed that, too," he admitted. "It's muted when there's a lot of Whalers around, but if you've wondered why sneaking up on me hasn't been working even when there's enough noise to cover your footfall, there you have it."

"I don't have the Arcane Bond and you're not a witch, so how... is it because we are both Marked?" Corvo wondered.

"Could be, there's not exactly an abundance of lore on the subject, much less about two or more of the Outsider's Marked ever meeting in person. I've known people that carried the Mark. A long time ago, there was a boy who spoke to rats, and then there's an old woman on the other side of town, who makes whale bones moan like they're sick with fever. And now, there's you. But for all that there's now eight carrying the Mark, not all of whom can possibly be alive, I've known dozens more who died for wanting it."

"You taught me," Corvo argued. "You were there when I received the Mark, when I first used my powers you showed me how, you made the introduction. Surely that's got to count for something."

Daud shrugged. "My ten minutes are up."

*

They didn't speak about the possibility of their powers somehow becoming entangled over the following week, but Daud couldn't help but be even more aware of Corvo's presence - both in terms of magic, and... physically. Just as a few times before, Corvo had joined him as he was watching Rulfio train the novices in the yard; except this time, Emily was tagging along, apparently successful in badgering her father into letting her observe.

“How are they doing?”

“Aeolos and Quinn still need to brush up on their footwork, but they’re getting faster.” Daud threw a sideways glance at Corvo, demonstratively looking him up and down when he found Corvo’s face already turned towards him. “Perhaps you should try giving them a lesson.”

Corvo raised a brow. “Was that a compliment?”

Daud shrugged, hiding a smirk. “I’m not letting you teach them shooting with a bow, that’s for sure.”

Corvo huffed. “That was one bolt.”

“I still laughed at you,” Daud returned smugly. He felt better.

Emily, standing between them, looked from one to the other, likely trying to determine how serious the argument was.

"You're welcome to them," Daud drawled, "see how receptive they are to your wisdom."

His challenge seemed to have provoked something in Corvo, because he pushed away from the wall and walked towards the ring the novices had formed around the two young Whalers currently sparring, Rulfio standing off to the side, observing and occasionally barking instructions. At Corvo's approach, Rulfio looked towards Daud, who nodded surreptitiously. Rulfio called for Aeolos and Quinn to stop for a moment, who immediately fell into resting positions like they'd been taught. Dimitri and Jenkins moved aside so Corvo could slip past them, into the circle.

"You've been getting faster," Corvo addressed the two novices still standing in the middle, "but you've not been getting more agile. Just getting faster at dragging one foot after the other isn't enough, you have to trust your movements enough to let your feet cross over one another. Most fighters don't, and that's where your advantage will lie." Without much more preamble, Corvo drew his folding blade from its scabbard. "Go on, then. Attack me."

Aeolos and Quinn hesitated, but when neither Rulfio nor Daud made any objections they, too, drew their blades.

Daud and Emily watched as Corvo sidestepped Quinn's lunge easily, then parried Aeolos' dash attack with a flick of his wrist as he stepped into it rather than away, both foreshortening the boy's momentum and bringing him up against Corvo's bulk much faster than he'd wanted to. Out here, Corvo wasn't wearing gloves, and his Mark stood out in the bright morning light, a warning and a curse to all who stood in his way that Corvo carried like the brand it was. Still, the way he had early on in their training held his arm angled away from his body ever so slightly - just enough for Daud's keen eyes to notice - was gone; and in its stead Daud saw nothing but the fluid grace of a fighter given something extraordinary whenever Corvo used his powers while they sparred.

The truth of it was, Daud had never much seen Corvo fight except when sparring with him himself. To see him now was to see with him different eyes, eyes that didn't search for points of weakness to exploit, eyes that didn't see only the Lord Protector - the novice - to be trained. What Daud was seeing now wasn't a student - or the bodyguard, either.

He was seeing Corvo, the taut line of muscle under his vest, the strength in his arms and in the length of his legs.

Daud was still trying to come to grips with this when Aeolos successfully repeated a complex sequence of steps Corvo had shown him in a parry. Corvo smiled at him encouragingly, and then he lifted his head, turned and looked to Daud, and his smile changed. There was challenge there, but none of the smugness Daud had expected, unless smugness on Corvo looked a lot like pride in a student's progress on anyone else; and for a moment, Daud stared back helplessly.

"Good," he rasped eventually, managing a nod towards the novices. "Excuse me." Then, ignoring the confusion entering Corvo's expression and Emily calling his name, he turned on his heel and transversed straight into the bar room, and from there up the stairs towards his quarters. Once there, he closed the door behind himself and let out a deep breath.

*

The urge that Daud felt to jam something sharp into Hiram Burrows' eye socket rose exponentially with every second that he spent, distracted, listening to Corvo outlining the upcoming mission to the Whalers. It'd been his damn idea, so he could explain it, Daud had argued, his eyes shifting away from Corvo's a fraction of a second too soon. In the days since his Void-damned epiphany, he'd been doing his best not to give himself away. When he'd gone to bed that night, he'd lain awake, shame breathing hotly down his neck and reminding him that he had just exchanged keeping one guilty secret from Corvo for another. His promise had been worthless, just as his protection. Corvo had lost everything, had lost his freedom and his love, and Daud had nothing better to do than to... to what? To ogle him while he trained a bunch of street kids Daud was making into killers for hire.

Becoming so aware of Corvo also only served to highlight the way the man himself seemed to seek to close the distance between them in his foolish quest to make up for leaving Daud to fend for himself; and there was no escape unless he wanted Corvo to grow suspicious and haunt him even worse. Once convinced that someone he had decided to care for was troubled by something, Corvo was a relentless pain in anyone's hide - especially Emily's, but Daud suspected that many staying at the Hound Pits had had to contend with Corvo's concerned questions at least once over the past months, even some of the Whalers.

They didn’t always talk about it; when they had bad nights. Sometimes, they did, Daud more reluctantly than Corvo and only because Corvo had made it very clear that he wasn’t allowed to hide anymore – not in as many words, of course. He’d simply cornered Daud after a meeting with the Whaler patrols one evening and told him that if he was going to let himself get distracted like that, Corvo would handle the briefings himself from then on. It had been an unsubtle ploy to get Daud’s hackles to rise, but it had been such a relief to let himself snap at Corvo when his own anger surged. Afterwards, Corvo had possessed the nerve to smirk.

“No more silence, assassin,” he’d told him then.

“Don’t push it, bodyguard,” Daud had growled back, startling a laugh out of Corvo that had made him blink. “What,” he’d demanded flatly, but Corvo had shaken his head.

“Emily wants us both present at dinner,” he’d thrown over his shoulder on the way out of Daud’s room. Daud, left standing at his desk, had rolled his eyes. At whom, he hadn’t been entirely sure.

Just a few nights ago, however, Corvo had appeared in Daud's quarters, an audiograph in his hands and a serious expression on his face.

"I found something outside," Corvo had indicated the audiograph card.

Daud had frowned. "Is it... yours, did someone steal it?"

"No, no," Corvo had assured him quickly, then winced when he'd realised that that didn't really make it better. "It's Samuel's."

"You listened to it?"

"It was hidden in a nook outside, I didn't... "

Daud had sighed, motioning for Corvo to use his recorder. "What's it say that has you so worried, then?"

Corvo had hesitated for a moment, but then he'd set the card to play. 

 

 

I'm taking part in history, here. Dunwall is on the verge of a new age, hopefully a better one, and this old sailor has had a role to play in it. The first time I ferried Corvo into the Flooded District, I had no idea that this is what would come of it, that he would conspire with the Knife of Dunwall not to kill the Empress, but to save her life. Her daughter's a feisty little girl, and she hides the loss of her mother well, bless her, but I am afraid for her. Surrounded by men and women whose life's work is spilling the blood of aristocrats in the streets of Dunwall, their leader a scarred man who rarely gives away an inch of what he thinks, is no way for any child to grow up, certainly not as fast as she's had to. But Corvo seems to trust him, and if it's Daud who's been relieving the Protector of his grieving burden by making himself a human punching bag, going by the way they come out of those cages after sparring, then I suppose I ought to commend him for it. (rustling) Emily's the Empress now, and I will gladly serve her. I doubt I'll be remembered, but perhaps someday someone will listen to this and know that a humble sailor named Samuel was a part of it all.

The device had clicked as the recording ended, and Daud had had to force himself to look up at Corvo when it had.

"He's not wrong," had been all he could think to say.

"He—everyone could see it," Corvo had replied, urgency in his voice.

"Corvo," Daud had barked then, cutting him off. "If this is to be another exercise in apologising, please, spare me." It had come out far sharper than he'd intended, but there was that heat in his neck again. More tempered, he'd continued, "If you'll remember, I kicked your ass down there just as much as you did mine. This can't be about me, Corvo, or about us. Samuel's right to worry about Emily, and I know that, for you, it is second nature, not just as her father. It doesn't matter what he thinks about me, or my Whalers. He poses no threat, and he is your friend. You'll have more need of those than I once Emily sits on the throne."

For some confounded reason, Corvo's eyes had held a wounded look at that, if only for a moment.

"I understand," Corvo had murmured, then, and Daud had looked down at his hands on the desk.

Chapter Text

It was the second week of the Month of Rain, and Daud was reasonably sure he'd gotten away with discouraging that wounded look in Corvo's eyes. Corvo hadn't brought up his behaviour towards Daud since, which was all the same to him. Distrust and grief bred violence in some, malice in others, and seeing as Corvo had somehow retained his ability to see the good in people, Daud was willing to make the trade. 

Now, however, Corvo seemed determined to be his ally and Daud shuddered to think what would have happened had he gotten it into his head to be his friend. The Knife of Dunwall did not have 'friends.' 

So what remained was for Daud not to let himself get caught wondering what it would be like if he did. 

Sparring with Corvo was still part of his routine, after all, but thankfully actually sparring with him afforded Daud the relative distance of thinking about the way Corvo's strong, calloused hands wrapped around his wrist as he tried to force Daud into an arm lock, in the manner that a teacher would. As usual, Daud was wearing gloves to train, but he knew where the pads and knuckles of Corvo's fingers were rough from fighting, from surviving on the streets of Karnaca as a boy, from training as a guard, from handling weapons much like Daud's own since coming to Dunwall. He knew because Corvo never wore gloves anymore. He knew because he'd looked

Corvo had confided one evening that Emily had been asking questions about the Mark – whether he'd been asking for advice as to what to do, Daud hadn't been able to tell, so he'd kept his words to himself. Eventually, Corvo had continued to say that he would tell her, to sate her curiosity and stop her from snooping, if nothing else, but that Daud should prepare to be inundated with questions once she knew for certain. 

"She's going to want you to show her a few tricks, and not just with a knife," Corvo had warned him with a smirk. "Her want for knowledge will not be contained." 

"Certainly not with her parents doing little to contain it," Daud had shot back, inwardly wincing at the reference to Jessamine instead of only mentioning the father sitting across from him, but Corvo surprised him by merely nodding, although his expression had sobered. 

"Jess felt she deserved to be a child, even in a world that didn't value childhood," Corvo had answered, and beside the sadness in his voice, there was fondness, too, for the stubborn woman the late Empress had been – had remained, as Daud well knew, to the last.

Daud had had no way of knowing then just how timely Corvo's warning had been.

He was going over the leads they had collected on the Golden Cat, the Pendleton twins and their bothersome, sickly younger brother a few nights later. His door was open, which was a rare enough occurrence, but most everyone was either in bed or out, and he was expecting Billie. He glanced up at the clock and frowned, finding that it was half an hour past the end of her patrol shift, which meant she should have been back already. Still, if something had gone sideways, they'd have heard by now, and so Daud wasn't about to get up and send someone after her; he'd just grill her when she did arrive. If she made it longer than another twenty minutes, though, he might be tempted to rouse the novices and deliver them to dog her heels all the way back from wherever she'd gotten held up, which would be punishment enough. She'd always kept herself aloof from the others, which just made the young ones twice as curious, but as long as she did her job, he'd allow it. Even so, Billie may hold the highest rank among the Whalers apart from Daud himself, but that did not spare her from all the rules. Tardiness wasn't something Daud tolerated, and whoever made him wait better had a damn good excuse.

Going back to his papers, Daud was distracted again when one of the floorboards outside in the hall creaked with someone's footfall. Whoever it was, they were trying to be stealthy, as there was no further movement for a good thirty seconds. Another cautious step, another complaint from the wood beneath their feet. Having walked that hall often enough now to memorise the sounds they made while learning to avoid them himself, Daud was confident that the would-be spy was someone young, then, light on their feet by dint of their weight more than their practical experience in stalking their prey. Reminded of times when the youngest novices would dare each other to creep into his office in the Flooded District while he was working, Daud smirked, taking it as a good sign they'd picked that habit up again here, and resolved to let his visitor come to their own conclusions. If they wanted something, they would make themselves known - if not, all they'd get was a glimpse of him doing paperwork.

Eventually, they seemed to lose either their patience or their nerve, as a few decisive steps around the doorway, into the room and closer to the desk carried their full weight. Without looking up from his reading, Daud rumbled, "Hey, kid."

"Good evening, Daud," Emily answered, and his head snapped up.

"I—" he began and then shut his mouth immediately. 'I heard you from a mile away,' probably wasn't the thing to say at this point, certainly not after having just reminded the Empress of the Isles that she was, and would remain for a while, still a child.

"Corvo's been teaching me how to move quietly, but I don't know these floors very well yet," Emily spoke when he didn't continue, her frown suggesting that her frustration lay with the shifting wood betraying her approach rather than with how he'd addressed her. "And I asked him to give me more climbing lessons when he returned from the South, but..."

Here, she trailed off, her gaze dropping to the floor, and Daud felt singularly unprepared for this. Was she asking...?  When she looked up again, her expression changed, and he recognised the determination in her eyes. The last time he'd seen it, he'd given her mother a Void-forsaken promise.

"Will you teach me?"

"Teach you what, precisely?" he asked.

"Sneaking, I suppose you do a lot of that. They—they call you the Knife of Dunwall, correct?"

Daud kept his expression carefully neutral. "They might."

"Then I should like to know about knives as well, and fighting with them," she declared, jutting her chin out the way her father did when he was being stubborn - and Daud hadn't even said no yet.

"Does Corvo know you're asking me this?" he asked instead, wanting to test just how much encouragement Emily had received from him in bothering him with her questions.

"If he didn't, would you tell him?" As she spoke, Emily came closer to the desk, walking around it until she came to stand at Daud's left side, eyeing him critically.

"Would you order me not to?" he couldn't help but challenge her. Young as she was, she was Empress, if not yet crowned, and there was a measure to what secrets he could keep for her.

At this, Emily pulled a face. "I don't think that would work."

"I didn't tell him about the note you sneaked Rinaldo when he went on patrol this morning," he informed her with a smirk, watching her eyes widen.

"You were across the room!" she accused.

"I see things," he grinned (an expression that looked 'unsettling' on him, 'and not in a good way,' Billie had once informed him). "But he returned on schedule, so I reckon your little errand didn't take him too far off his path. I was still planning on questioning him about it, though," he warned her.

Emily considered this, taking a moment before she answered. "I'm looking for a friend of mine. Well, and Callista's cousin twice removed, I think. His name's Jameson, we often played together at the Tower. She doesn't know what happened to him, but she heard rumours that his parents got sick. I only gave Rinaldo their address, so he could go and find out if they still live there. But he said that the place was boarded up, and marked as infected."

Daud pushed down his irritation with her for attempting to initiate contact with anyone outside their hide-out; and with Rinaldo for indulging her. At least it had only been directions, not an outright letter for someone to find. "Where did they live? I suppose if they were cast out of their home by Timsh's underhanded machinations he thinks no-one is paying attention to, we might find something in his records."

She tilted her head. "You would help me look?"

Daud weighed his answer. "Galia would, she was the one who collected them. But yes, we'd help you find him, if we can."

At his confirmation, Emily's face lit up. "And you'll teach me?" she asked hopefully.

"Just so we're clear, I won't lie to Corvo if—when—he finds out. This place is cramped as it is." He held up a hand to stall her protests. "But... I suppose if we make Corvo our target, we can evade him well enough for a while."

"Target?"

"At least for stealth, it'll mean we have to keep out of sight from him; and he likely won't stop you from watching the novices train with us more often."

"So... yes?"

Daud exhaled with a sigh. "Yes."

Once more abandoning her imperial bearing, Emily clapped her hands together in delight and, to Daud's utter shock and mortification, leaned forward and hugged him quickly, her arms barely reaching around his chest and back as even sitting down he was still taller than her. "Thank you!"

"Yeah, yeah, alright kid," he mumbled reflexively, barely managing not to roll his eyes at himself. He could count the affection he'd received from novices as young as her over the course of years spent building the Whalers up to what they were now on one hand. Most of those kids were terrified when he found them, first of the world around them and then, generally, of him. He wasn't the most approachable boss, which should come as no surprise, but he saw to it that they were fed and clothed and given a purpose, which was more than could be said about some of their parents. Still, few of them were brave enough to embrace him, and none had ever tried past the first few days with him. "Now scoot, before Corvo or Callista come looking for you."

Nodding, Emily shot him another smile before making for the door, blissfully uncaring about making noise now that she had what she wanted. In the doorway, she all but collided with Billie.

"Boss?" his second queried, her face still obscured by her mask, as she stepped aside and Emily zipped past her.

"There you are," he scowled. "Close the door behind you."

Daud was on his way downstairs for breakfast only days later when he felt the familiar tug of the Void, and knew with uncanny certainty that Corvo had to be close. It grew stronger as he heard steps up on the landing, so he paused and waited, craning his neck a little. 

"Corvo?" he called experimentally. For a moment, there was silence, but then Daud nearly reached for the banister of the stairs to steady himself when the persistent but gentle tug turned into a yank. "Corvo?" he called again, alarmed. 

A second later, Corvo appeared next to him in a Blink. Whipping around to look at him, Daud felt dread settling in his gut at the expression on Corvo's face. He was livid

"Kennels, now," Corvo growled so low Daud barely heard him. 

Dumbly, he nodded, and then followed Corvo as he blinked away. The novices weren't training yet, so they didn't have to take the long way round to get across the yard and into the other building. Daud refused to let his hands shake as he drew his blade, Corvo already waiting for him. 

"Corvo," he tried to force a moment's pause before this went any further, "what's wrong?" 

Instead of responding, Corvo lunged for him with a grunt and so their duel began. Alternating between parrying Corvo's attacks and transversing away to launch one of his own, Daud tried again to get Corvo to talk. 

"What's gotten into you, bodyguard," he spoke through gritted teeth when he followed Corvo into a blade lock. 

Daud refused to make this personal – he wasn’t asking because Corvo's behaviour towards him had changed since the Boyle mission. Corvo's grief wouldn't disappear into thin air just because he'd discovered that Daud had been grappling with the consequences of his actions, too. 

But where Corvo Attano was a man of principle, Daud had seen more blood than honour. So when Corvo came at him with his teeth bared and eyes flashing with a fury unlike anything Daud had seen on his face in the months before, he could think of only one reason why. 

It wouldn't matter, he supposed, how Corvo had found out; whether the Outsider had appeared to him in his dreams and whispered the truth into his ear like poison dripping from a vial, or whether the Heart had finally given away the last of Daud's secrets. 

It didn't matter. Corvo knew. And now, Daud would face the consequences. 

From one second to the next, he stopped moving. 

"Enough!" he barked, relief ringing through him when Corvo's movements shuddered to an abrupt halt. "I'd rather you let me explain before you attempt to take my head off." 

"What are you talking about?" Corvo growled. 

"You're not angry at the world, or Burrows, or Campbell. You're angry at me, for what I... but I've not done anything—" 

"What you've done," Corvo interrupted him, his impatience only adding to Daud's own. "Daud, that is becoming a long list to choose from." 

It was like being doused in ice water. Blood was roaring in Daud's ears, and he could barely make sense of the look that was in Corvo's eyes now. Forcing his breathing into a steady rhythm, Daud braced himself. "Then tell me: which one is it?" If Corvo was going to destroy everything over some notion of Daud's own ill-conceived regard that he had neither asked for nor encouraged in himself after being tasked with taking care of a grieving widower, then he was going to damn well make him spell it out.

"I wish," Corvo began, clenching and unclenching his left fist before pointing an accusing finger at Daud, "I wish you'd never had that dream. I wish He'd never appeared to you, and I wish you'd never insisted that I hear His voice. I wish," on this plea, Corvo's voice broke, "that I'd never received the Mark. Why did you have to solve His riddle, hm, or whatever it was He put to you? Why did you have to be so damned clever to prove a point?" 

Only a short distance away, Daud felt close to swaying on his feet. The Outsider? What? 

"Corvo?" Daud questioned. "What is this really about?"

As if he were a puppet whose strings had been cut, Corvo let his legs fold underneath him, dropping to the floor, resting his blade on his knees. "She woke me this morning. Callista was still asleep, and Emily snuck over into my quarters. She was pale, and looked frightened. When I asked her what was the matter, she told me she had a nightmare about the ghost in her tower."

"Ghost?" Daud interrupted, copying Corvo's prone position on the ground, settling himself so they remained face-to-face.

"He had black eyes, she said," Corvo continued. "He had black eyes, and he spoke with a boy's voice."

The roaring in Daud's ears returned.


That night, their mission had a dual purpose, in more than one sense of the word. Not only were they after the Pendleton twins, but their search for runes and charms would last until they found a shrine. Daud knew of many shrine locations within the district around the Golden Cat, but they either had to find an active one or one that was susceptible to what runes they could spare for the experiment.

Following his and Corvo's "sparring match," Daud marched them back inside the pub, assembling the Whalers tasked with scouting Clavering Boulevard and the surrounding area. No-one asked about their grim expressions or the lack of their usual cuts and bruises. A first batch of Whalers would be dispatched immediately, with two more following over the course of the day to update their information on guard presence and watch rotations. A small group led by Jenkins would scout out the streets near some of the shrines Daud had marked on a second map of the district.

"Slackjaw can get us the key to the Captain's Chair Hotel, this will give us roof access over to the Golden Cat," Daud was just explaining when Sokolov made a sound of amusement. "What?"

"Pity," the scientist leered in Corvo's direction, which only served to set Daud's teeth on edge. "If you'd had any trouble finding a way in, I'm sure sending the former Royal Protector in as a patron would have delighted the girls working there - with or without the mask."

Eyebrows around the room rose even as Daud clenched his fists. "Careful, old man," he growled at Sokolov. Vaguely aware of Corvo giving him a puzzled look, Daud pulled back from the Void.

Sokolov raised his hands as if in surrender, and the meeting resumed as before his interjection.

After, Corvo fell into step with Daud on the way up to his quarters. "You didn't have to defend my virtue to Anton, you know," Corvo told him, trying to catch Daud's gaze.

"Wasn't your virtue I was worried about," Daud muttered, earning himself another of those looks from Corvo. For a moment, Daud was certain Corvo would ask him what in the Void that was supposed to mean, but then he felt relief flood through him when Corvo shrugged, apparently preoccupied enough to leave it be.

*

"Corvo?" Emily asked her father as they stood in the yard, ready to depart. Corvo brushed his hand over his daughter's cheek when he leaned down.

"We might be gone all night, Emily. You can wait up a while, but listen to Callista when she tells you to go to bed." While they hadn't told her about their intention to have a little chat with the Outsider, she was perceptive enough to know that her nightmare, Corvo's anger, and the Whalers' increased patrols ahead of their departure were connected. She hadn't yet asked Daud about his Mark, but he doubted whatever Corvo had told her had truly satisfied her curiosity.

Emily pouted, but nodded. "Alright. Please be careful?" Corvo smiled at her and nodded. Her eyes landed on Daud, then, who was standing on her other side, watching their exchange. He drew up an eyebrow when she raised her hand, but she wouldn't be deterred and tugged on his coat sleeve. "Be careful," she repeated, and Daud wondered at how everything could shift with just two words that were neither an Empress' command nor a child's plea.

He nodded just as Corvo unclipped his mask from his belt.

*

The way towards the Golden Cat led them back to Clavering Boulevard. Perched up on the air shafts connected to Dr Galvani's house near the docks, Corvo and Daud observed the guards below. In spite of Sokolov refusing to sell Burrows more of his security devices on top of those already in operation by the City Watch and then promptly disappearing without a trace, Burrows had somehow managed to convince Parliament to install private Walls of Light and Arc Pylons in strategic locations around the inner districts. Burrows still had not succeeded in declaring himself Lord Regent, but his influence was growing, and soon his opposition would be outvoted. With the Empress' fate unclear, Burrows seemed to be having a harder time simply seizing power than he had anticipated. Infighting had already begun, and soon many different fractions were vying for dominance at what was left of Court. So instead of staging an immediate grab for power, Burrows had encountered unexpected resistance.

The Pendleton twins' support meant that he was still the front runner, however, and so Morgan and Custis were what stood between Corvo and seeing the Kaldwin throne restored. If he and Daud could persuade their snivelling little brother, Treavor, to vote against Burrows' proposed policies in Parliament, their next target would be the Royal Spymaster himself.

The road until then was long and riddled with duplicitous aristocrats, and Daud had no illusions that as determined as he was to see this through to the end, every single instinct he had would scream at him to get away from Court as soon as he'd helped deposit Emily on her throne. Undoubtedly, the Empress and Corvo would prefer him to fade into the shadows just as quickly, the association of their campaign with the Knife of Dunwall would not exactly help legitimise Emily's claim to rule. There were already Wanted posters up for Daud's complicity in the abduction of the Empress (curiously, still depicting the signature Whaler's mask rather than Daud's true face); but they were now joined by posters calling for the arrest of Corvo Attano, co-abductor and presumed murderer of the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin.

Notably, a third variety of poster had been put up: that of a so-called Masked Felon. Apparently, at least one Overseer or City Watch guard had gotten a brief glimpse under the hood, and together with guests' testimony from the party at Boyle Manor, the City Watch had released a call for information with a sketch of Corvo's mask. Using his spyglass to zoom in on the bulletin board near the guard station below them, Daud raised an eyebrow. So it really was that difficult to put two and two together. Then again, these posters were probably more intended for public consumption rather than a true reflection of what Burrows knew, or what the Watch suspected. After all, he and Campbell and a dozen guards had seen Corvo use Blink. They, at least, could be sure that he and Daud were working together and that Corvo, too, was in some way associated with the Outsider. The Wanted posters for Corvo did not explicitly state that he was thought to be a heretic as well, however, and neither did the ones for the Masked Felon. At this point, Daud could only assume that it was Teague Martin who was pulling the necessary strings in the background to keep that information under wraps. So the man had some use after all, and perhaps even some sense.

Next to him, he heard the familiar click of the lenses shifting in Corvo's mask, indicating that he was keeping an eye on different targets as well.

"You know," he rumbled, the only sign that he had Corvo's attention a subtle tilt of his head, "I didn't tell Piero to make it look like... well, like that. I just suggested a mask, any mask, if the kind of spyglass I had in mind wasn't going to work. I may never wear one, but everyone knows your face, so it seemed like a good alternative."

"Is now really the time?" Corvo murmured back, still watching the guards but leaning closer to Daud so he wouldn't have to raise his voice to be heard through the mask. "I admit it wasn't a pleasant surprise, exactly, but I could see why you would have it made."

"That's just it, I didn't," Daud hissed. Impatiently, he clenched his fist to Bend Time around them. "Look: the mask, the Heart. I heard Piero mutter about having strange dreams the night after the--your return. The Outsider did not craft the Heart out of thin air, not if it can actually exist in this world, even if only those touched by the Void can see it."

At this, Corvo turned to face him, the guards below them frozen in their spots. "You think the Outsider used Piero."

Daud nodded. "Long before any of this happened, he terrified Piero into making... that," he gestured at the mask for a non-existent moment, stilling before time warped around them and the world returned from the grey of the Void.

Corvo turned back to watching the guards. "Then the black-eyed bastard's going to pay for that, too."

*

Seeing as they were already in the neighbourhood, Daud suggested they break into Dr Galvani's house first. Their... arrangement with Slackjaw, if it could be called that, specified a few things in exchange for their primary objective, getting rid of the Pendleton twins; and at least one of them was to be found behind the tall doors leading out onto Clavering. At some point after the Empress' disappearance, the good doctor had up and run away, leaving behind his housekeeper and a few City Watch guards, on account of the body that had been found on the premises.

When Kieron had reported that the body was believed to be Crowley, Slackjaw's right hand, and had been surrounded by a suspicious number of dead rats, Daud had raised an eyebrow at Corvo from the side, who'd made a face as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Of course, Daud had heard the stories of the boy who could summon rats - and whose gift had become his curse. As the story went, he might have been the very first victim of the Plague; which wasn't the only reason why Daud preferred that Corvo keep the use of that particular power to a minimum, but certainly not the least.

On the whole, Corvo only summoned the rats in order to possess one of them when there were none conveniently around - which, in Dunwall, was very rare indeed. They recognised Daud as an ally rather than an enemy, apparently, but the first time Corvo had done it while they were sneaking through Holger Square, Daud had instinctively leaped up onto a crate, shooting Corvo a glare and fairly hissing his displeasure, which Corvo had belligerently ignored before possessing one of the rats in order to pass behind the guards on the other side. The remaining rats had milled around, searching for food on the ground, but hadn't swarmed towards Daud perched on the crate as a potential source of it. Carefully, Daud had set first one, then both feet back on the ground, and they'd continued to leave him alone as he'd skulked further into the shadows to flank the other guard. Since then, Daud had managed to resist the urge to get to high ground every time Corvo called for them, but he did not appreciate the way they sniffed at his boots, much like their master had done the first time he'd demonstrated the ability in Daud's office.

In any case, Daud had heard of the experiments Galvani had performed on infected rats to get to the bottom of the infectious disease. Slackjaw had named the erstwhile surgeon as his prime suspect in infringing on the Bottle Street Gang's business, and Daud hadn't contradicted him when they'd met him earlier. With the rats close by the body, however, he was beginning to have doubts. Until they could confirm that Crowley had indeed died of the Plague, he would be hedging his bets.

Using Void Gaze to check the inside, Daud could see at least two guards currently patrolling what looked to be the the doctor's laboratory and study when he peeked through the keyhole. Blinking up from below, Corvo landed next to him in a low crouch.

"Two guards on the ground floor, none on the first," Corvo whispered, his mask muffling the sounds to barely more than an exhale. Daud nodded, calculating their chances.

If they were going in just to fetch anything they could find on or around Crowley's body to take back to Slackjaw, Daud would have contented himself with Bend Time and transversed in and out of the room with the guards being none the wiser. But as it was, they had to check the body for a cause of death, and simply stopping time and absconding with the corpse was right out if they wanted to avoid causing commotion. Rotating his wrist to arm the sleep darts, Daud glanced at Corvo over his shoulder and held up his hand, three fingers extended. Corvo nodded and Daud began the countdown.

On three, Corvo bent time and Daud pushed through the door, which was conveniently unlocked, and sent two sleep darts flying towards the guards at the other end of the room. Corvo closed the door behind them and followed as Daud transversed towards a door behind the expansive lab table. Slipping inside the side room and closing the door, they felt time unwarp. Listening for the solid 'thud' of a pair of bodies hitting the floor, they waited for any disturbances before creeping back out. They hauled the guards into the room they'd just hidden in and left them in there.

Daud turned towards the lab table, skillfully ignoring the various specimens and samples of Galvani's work on display. Instead, he stepped around to the other side, recognising Crowley from Slackjaw's description of him.

"This is him," Daud murmured as Corvo appeared at his shoulder, bending over the body to examine it.

"He didn't die of the Plague," Corvo told him, shaking his head.

"No," Daud hummed, moving closer. "Doesn't look like a weeper." Crowley may have been too fond of the drink, but the symptoms of the Plague included a discoloration of the skin far worse than the sallowness brought on by indulging in too much liquor. Of course, now that he'd been dead for more than a day, it was difficult to tell whether he might not have carried the virus - but if he had, then it had been in the early stages, far too early to have been the cause of death. "A full head of hair and a gut full of ale," Daud concluded his observations. "You're right. But then what killed him?"

Looking Crowley's corpse over together, they found no obvious injuries, say bullet wounds or cuts from a blade. Corvo, sitting back on his haunches to look at the man's feet, of all things, made a noise of recognition.

"What the hell are you doing?" Daud demanded before he could stop himself. Corvo raised his head to look at him and, even as Daud wondered whether, if he got close enough, he would be able to see himself reflected in the lenses wired into the mask, reached out with his hand to grasp Daud's and pulled. Lacking any sort of warning, it was only thanks to Daud's decades of practice not falling to his death from rooftops and balconies that he didn't trip over his own feet. Landing in a crouch, Daud used his other hand to brace himself against the floor. A moment later, Corvo let go of him - with the mask between them, Daud had no idea whether the man at least had the sense to look sheepish, but he suspected he'd find himself disappointed if he were to yank it up and check. Still, he found the time to level an unimpressed sort of stare at Corvo, then nodded towards the feet dangling in front of him. "What?"

"His ankles," Corvo explained, pulling down one of Crowley's frayed socks. "They're covered in rat bites."

Daud frowned. "There are none on his hands or face, so they didn't totally swarm him."

"No, but they did recognise him as an enemy: these bites are vicious." Corvo paused for a moment. "I think whoever killed him can control rats, control them enough to keep them at bay." Daud shot him a dubious look, so he continued. "Look at him. No bullet wounds, he wasn't stabbed to death, there's no obvious evidence of poisoning, right?"

Daud weighed his head. "Nothing I can see. His eyes are clear enough, there's no swelling inside his mouth, no discoloration of the finger tips... For anything else, you'd have to slice him open."

"So if he wasn't murdered by conventional means, the Plague, or an actual swarm of rats..." Corvo trailed off.

"... then what in the Void is left but magic," Daud finished the question. They stood up, checking the lab table for any more of Crowley's possessions or likely clues. Daud picked up an audiograph that was lying right next to the body and had a few smears of blood on it. He held it up for Corvo to see.

"We should take that back to Slackjaw. Do we bring him the body?"

"I don't see how Slackjaw's going to give him a decent funeral in the Distillery District," Daud crossed his arms. "Besides, he'd only slow us down. If Slackjaw wants to come back for him, he can do it himself."

"How—how do you give someone a decent funeral these days?" Corvo asked quietly, surprising Daud, but it was the next question that knocked him out of his carefully maintained equilibrium. "How did you do it in the Flooded District?"

Daud felt his frown deepen and averted his eyes. "Set them out on a dinghy and burn it."

"Have you lost many men to the Plague?" Corvo's voice was even quieter now, as if he didn't expect Daud to answer at all and yet couldn't hold the question in.

"About as many as to the Overseers since it began and we had to abandon our hideouts in other parts of the city," Daud found himself responding. "Let's just say there were fewer dinghies when we left."

Before Corvo could say anything foolish, which would have served merely to remind Daud of the way Billie had only once moved to bridge the distance between them, to put her hand on his arm as smoke clouded Petro and Zachary's bodies as they drifted away; before Corvo could do the same and send Daud down a path he had no intention of travelling, they were both alerted to one of the guards from the bottom floor making their way upstairs.

Time to get out.

Making their way across Clavering, they disappeared down one of the side alleys leading towards the Distillery District. They were about to turn left towards the Bottle Street Gang's hideout when Corvo suddenly stopped Daud with a hand on his shoulder.

Checking the alley up ahead and behind them, Daud stepped in close to Corvo and murmured, "what."

In lieu of a reply, Corvo tightened his hold on Daud's shoulder and pulled him closer, until they were nearly chest to chest.

"Corvo, what—" he ground to a halt when he felt it. The Heart, thumping steadily inside Corvo's coat, stronger than it did for runes and bonecharms, almost as if... as if it were trying to tell them something.

There was a shrine nearby.

Silently, Daud nodded. Then, he stepped away from Corvo, far enough that his hand slipped from Daud's shoulder. Clenching his teeth against the cold, Daud tilted his head towards the end of the alley.

Quietly, they moved further up ahead, leaving the Bottle Street Gang aside as they turned right, coming up on a house that was boarded up, but not locked down. Signalling with his right, Daud indicated the balcony on the first floor. The room beyond it was dark, but not even Daud's second sight could detect any movement within. Together, they made their way up and inside, nearly getting knocked back when they breathed in the stale air. The stench of rats was everywhere, and with it came a whiff of something cold and metallic, like blood filling up Daud's lungs. Void.

"What is this place," Corvo muttered as he turned over an old pot on the stove that had long since gone cold.

"Rats, and the Outsider's magic," Daud answered, holding up a rune he'd dug up from under a loose floorboard for him to see. It was inscribed with the Mark. "There were rumours, well, more than rumours: stories, about an old woman across town. Used to be a lady, and now she's down to rags and whale bone carvings. Granny Rags, they call her, and mutter that she's a witch."

"Looks like we've come to the right place. Downstairs," Corvo told him before heading for the door.

Daud followed him, relying on Void Gaze to get around in the dark. Once they were on the ground floor, Corvo did take the Heart from his coat. Pointing it at a door down the hallway, the shards began to glow and it thumped quickly enough to nearly jump out of Corvo's grip. Coming to stand just behind him, Daud allowed himself to lean into Corvo's shoulder, closer than he normally would only by a fraction, and it struck him that he didn't know who he was doing it for, his own assurance or Corvo's comfort, only that he could. The thought twisted a knife low in his spine, much as Daud would have preferred to pretend that it was the reality of what they were about to do.

Chapter Text

The door was unlocked.

Moving ahead of him, Corvo moved to tuck the Heart back into his coat, as now the characteristic purple light emanating from the shrine would guide their steps. Around a corner, there it was, complete with intricately woven drapes. Looking around the small enclosure, Daud picked up a few pages of scribbled notes.

"By the Void," he cursed under his breath as he read them.

"What?" Corvo appeared at his side.

"They're... recipes, some of them. A diary, and—shit," Daud exclaimed. Corvo crowded closer, trying to read the last note over his shoulder. Daud didn't think to move away, but read the note aloud.

Dearies,
You shouldn't fraternize with those bad boys from the distillery. The current shortage of elixir hasn't improved their dispositions and they don't treat my birdies very nicely at all.

They're a bad influence and I'm trying to warn you, both of you. You've started falling out of favor with me, I have to say. You don't want to keep going down that road, do you?

Granny

For a moment, Corvo just stood there. His mask was hiding his expression, but Daud recognised the tension in his shoulders as his own. "Does that... mean us?"

"If it does, how does she know?" Daud growled, carefully keeping himself from crumpling it up in his fist. "And what does she have to do with the rat plague?"

"There was no evidence of her being involved in Burrows' papers," Corvo reminded him. "What would she have to gain from helping him, she's just as poor as the rest of them."

"The difference being that the rats won't harm her," Daud countered. "Look, going by her diary... whatever the Outsider did to her, it wouldn't surprise me if it drove her half-way to madness, and then when she fell out of His favour, she made the rest of the journey herself. Who Burrows wanted to hurt might not have factored into her decision." He let out a deep breath. "But if she had been involved, we'd have found signs of that before now. Magic is easy enough to hide from those afraid of it, but not from us, or the Overseers, for that matter. Campbell was as ruthless as they come, but he'd have never agreed to that plan if Burrows wanted to use heresy to bring the Plague to Dunwall."

"He was indifferent to using heresy to kill Jessamine," Corvo responded, his voice toneless.

"I wasn't to set a swarm of rats on her," Daud rasped, his throat gone dry. "It was supposed to be the Knife of Dunwall that got her, not a heretic's boon."

"And what got her was a bullet." Corvo moved away, leaving Daud to root himself to the spot so as not to follow. "We came here to do something."

Accepting the return to their mission for what it was, Daud now allowed his legs to close the distance Corvo had put between them and stepped up next to him at the shrine. He watched as Corvo reached for the rune, then stopped.

"Second thoughts?" Daud rumbled.

Corvo jerked his chin forward. "You, too. I don't want him to pick and choose who he talks to."

"He still might," Daud sighed, but extended his hand so it hovered next to Corvo's.

Beside him, Corvo gave an impatient huff, and before Daud could ask what now, moved his arm so his palm covered the back of Daud's hand. This close, Daud knew there was no hiding the way his breath hitched, or the twitch of his fingers underneath Corvo's, the leather of his glove in stark contrast against Corvo's bare skin; the mere sight enough to make Daud want to flee from the room lest he gave himself away. And while it wouldn't do to reveal his circumstance to Corvo after his recent reckless challenge, Daud needed to keep this secret from the Outsider more than anything. If he ever even could.

"Together," Corvo spoke quietly, the air between them suddenly heavy with something other than the pull of the Void they shared.

Not trusting his voice, Daud only nodded. Making the decision for them, Corvo exerted just enough pressure to lay their hands on top of the hissing rune. Shadows devoured the world around them.

"Such determination," the voice of the Outsider echoed through the Void. Daud blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, the immortal changeling was right in front of them, hovering in the air as was His wont. "I wonder what brought this on."

"You know damn well what," Daud snarled even before Corvo could do the same. "We told you to stay away from her."

"Emily is such a bright young thing, so full of questions. Questions that this world cannot answer," the Outsider returned, deceptively unaffected.

"She's my daughter," Corvo found his voice, his growling voice even deeper than before. Even in the Void, he was wearing his mask, and Daud wondered at those for whom that mask would have been the last thing they ever saw if Corvo had chosen revenge over mercy. Cunning, he was either way, although Daud could now only guess at his reasons for not removing it - or, indeed, at the Outsider's motive for not divesting him of it upon entry to His realm. "Meddle with me if you must, but leave her out of it."

"And who are you to tell me what to do, Corvo?" the Outsider moved closer, the shadows around them closing in. "You are on the cusp, Corvo, of a new era. But it is a dangerous game you're playing, you and Daud, and ere you know it, this city will fall, and the rats will split open your bones and lick out the marrow. You will be no different from everyone else the Plague has taken, and your Empress will know what it means to be truly alone, just like her mother when she breathed her last on that boat."

"You bastard," Corvo grunted, lurching forward. Daud instinctively clamped a hand around Corvo's elbow to hold him back, not budging even when he struggled in his grip.

"Of what interest is she to you, really?" Daud asked, observing the Outsider closely. "Because she's the Empress? Because she's Corvo's daughter? Or are you just looking to punish someone for your own damned scheming backfiring on you?"

"Oh Daud, who thinks he is so clever and yet does not see what is right under his nose," the Outsider scorned him. "You chose, and now you're scared of what your choices make you, in the end."

"I am so clever," Daud shot back projecting more smugness than he felt, peripherally aware of Corvo's head swivelling to face him. "There has to be a reason there's rarely even two of your Marked in the same place; and now it's really just your luck that there's three of them in the same city."

"So you found Granny Rags. Congratulations, Daud."

"We did," Daud confirmed with the sort of snotty undercurrent he'd send any of his Whalers down to the sewers for, playing tag with river krusts. "And I won't bother asking you what you know about the origins of the Plague, I could've done that months ago and didn't. But here's one thing: if you wanted us to destroy each other for your amusement, then you got it wrong."

"Do not presume to know my reasoning, assassin," the Outsider advanced on them and Daud's skin began to crawl at the way the shadows at his back started hissing like a pack of rats swarming a fresh body, spitting and feral. "You have been testing my patience for months now, Daud. Always questioning, never listening, and only ever concerned with Corvo, or the child, when it is your time that's running out."

"What are you talking about?" Corvo growled, pushing his way in front of Daud, if only by a fraction by sheer lack of room. The Void was supposedly infinite, and yet they all stood here, huddled together, practically on a pin cushion.

"There is so much you don't know, Corvo, and so much you simply will not listen to," the Outsider declared haughtily, but still close, still angry. "By rights, I should send you all howling into the Void. But go ahead, interfere with the Pendletons and their little brother. See if that yields you the advantage that you seek."

A second later, Corvo and Daud were thrown out of the Void and into their own world.

"Well," Corvo mumbled after a moment, looking down at himself as though searching for fragments of the Void still clinging to his coat.


With the key to the Captain's Chair Hotel, infiltrating the Golden Cat was easy. Coordinating their approach with half a dozen of Slackjaw's men, on the other hand, proved more of a challenge. It also put into stark relief, at least to Daud, how much he and Corvo had come to rely on each other when clambering through the city; even though this was only their third outing (fourth, if one counted their... visit with Sokolov). Upon delivering Crowley's message to Slackjaw, they'd stood with him and listened to his right hand's last words. Daud kept his mouth shut at the confirmation that Galvani hadn't been behind the attempts to encroach on the Bottle Street Gang's territory.

"If not Galvani, then who?" Slackjaw muttered, stroking his beard. Next to him, Corvo shifted, and Daud used Slackjaw's inattention to bump his shoulder into Corvo's, shaking his head incrementally. It would not do to distract Slackjaw now, before they had him doing what they needed him to. Having the Masked Felon and none other than the Knife of Dunwall at his disposal, the man might get ideas to rope him into moving against Granny Rags, tonight, and that was the last thing they needed.

Walking back outside to gather Slackjaw's men, Corvo leaned in close and whispered, "Why didn't we tell him about Granny Rags?"

Casting a glance over his shoulder, Daud murmured back, "If he realises too soon that we know, Granny Rags or not, he'll want us to help. He's not stupid, and he'll try to make it part of the favour we owe him."

"From what I've read about him, he doesn't seem like one to go back on a deal," Corvo argued, and Daud had to fight not to roll his eyes. What was it with Attano and defending wanted criminals anywhere he met them now?

"Then he'll offer us a reward too good to be true. Once they realise you're not there for them, they want you to run their errands. It's been known to happen," Daud effectively ended the discussion when Slackjaw emerged from the distillery behind them.

"Now, dearly beloveds," Slackjaw addressed the assembled members of his gang, "we've gathered here today to help this upstanding pair of thieves with a little problem of theirs, in exchange for getting word to us about Crowley. What we're looking to do is get into the Golden Cat—" at this, a murmur went through the ranks, but none of the crew actually expressed an opinion "—as the city has something of a score to settle with one of its customers, or three."

"What are we gonna do, boss?" one of them asked, a burly man with pox scars all over his face.

"We're gonna take the scenic route, make our way up from the ground floor. Once we're in, get me the ledger. From there, we'll know where to go."

"And what about 'em?"

"They have a separate target. There are always two ledgers, one in the lobby and one with Madame Prudence. They're to make use of hers to find their way," Slackjaw explained with somewhat more patience than Daud suspected the Whalers were used to from him. Still, Slackjaw was keeping the names under wraps, at least for now. "Oh, and Quentin? Bring your flashy razor, won't you."

*

Quentin did bring his flashy razor, although Daud wasn't about to thank him for it. Splitting up after creeping through Holger Square, Corvo and Daud let the Bottle Street Gang go to make their own way while they crept up through the Captain's Chair. Collecting what supplies left behind they could carry once they were inside, they soon were up on the roof. Much preferring high vantage points from above, Daud led the way into into the Golden Cat. He only hoped Slackjaw and his men knew the value of being quiet as well as they did.

It wasn't the first time Daud set foot in the brothel poorly disguised as a bathhouse - not as a customer himself, but he had met many of his customers in here, both by appointment, and by surprise. This time, however, he was sure he wasn't the only man to come here 'just to talk,' but certainly one with a purpose unique in the weight it carried for the city.

Finding Madame Prudence proved simple enough, given that they had a map of the place courtesy of the Whalers and early reconnaissance had indicated that she rarely left her office except to welcome 'special' visitors - such as the Pendletons. All three of them were present tonight, and while the Bottle Street Gang would take care of Morgan and Custis, the youngest brother, Treavor, was in for a treat tonight. As it happened, Morgan and Custis were in the Ivory Room and the Gold Room, respectively; Treavor was holed up in the Smoke Room. Making their way upstairs before Slackjaw's men arrived to take care of Morgan, Corvo and Daud did them a favour and crept up behind the guards and courtesans assembled on the floor and, between them and Daud bending time, choked them out within moments and deposited them overhead.

Daud checked the inside of the room with Void Gaze and found that Treavor was alone - probably waiting for one of his usual girls. From what they knew about the Pendletons, all three were regular punters. Doing this without having to persuade a bystander to stay quiet would make things easier. Still, Daud twisted his wrist to load a sleepdart just in case, then remembered cautioning his Whalers not to waste them on avoiding collateral casualties and suppressed a wince. It wasn't long ago that he'd written that note, but it seemed like a good chunk of eternity now.

Exchanging a look and a nod with Corvo, Daud took a deep breath, then threw open the door, sending one last plea to the Outsider that their quarry still had his pants on.

"Hello, Lord Pendleton."

"What!?" With a shriek, Pendleton nearly fell off the recamière he was lounging on. He was not wearing his pants. Next to him, Corvo let out an annoyed grunt and closed the door behind them.

"Put some clothes on, Pendleton. We need to talk."

"What—Daud, I can, I can pay you double! And you, who are you? What do you want with me? This is my brothers, isn't it? They're paying you to play a trick on me!"

Leaning closer, Daud bared his teeth and watched as the noble's eyes widened in fear. "We're not playing tricks," he growled and, by the Outsider, Pendleton whimpered. Daud tilted his head. "Now do as he says and put clothes on, I'm not having this conversation with your limp cock."

Scrambling for his things, Pendleton kept flickering his eyes between them as they stepped back, Corvo half-behind Daud. When Pendleton nearly fell on his face putting his trousers on, Daud felt Corvo knock their shoulders together, subtle enough that Pendleton wouldn't notice in his haste and fright, but enough to force Daud to suppress a smirk. Trust the Royal Protector to find amusement in arrogant noblemen abandoning their finely honed superiority.

Along with his trousers, Pendleton seemed to have discovered some sense of importance, as he puffed up his chest and said, "I can't fathom what you hope to achieve by coming here, but if you had any sense, Daud, you wouldn't have turned up here after killing the Empress. My brothers and I are well-protected!"

This time, Daud did roll his eyes. "Your so-called loyal guard are unconscious, and your brothers are being bundled up as we speak."

Beside him, Corvo had stiffened. "You believe he—what do you know about the disappearance of Empress Jessamine?"

Pendleton scoffed. "She's dead, that's what I know, even if some of those old fools still believe she's alive. Whether the Knife of Dunwall did it or whether her so-called Royal Protector," he spat with a beady glance at Daud, "turned traitor and murdered her himself, is of no concern to me. Can't say I was surprised, the way she was keeping him leashed like a dog."

Before Daud could intervene, Corvo had stepped forward and right into Pendleton's space, towering over him. "Is that so," he drawled, and Daud went still. What came next had to be Corvo's choice, even if there was questionable wisdom in it. So he didn't interfere, but watched Pendleton carefully when Corvo reached up to remove his mask. "Then surely this won't surprise you, either."

"Attano," Pendleton breathed, stepping back in fear, and again when Corvo advanced on him, backing up until his knees hit the back of the settee and he toppled backwards onto it. "The rumours are true, it is you." He seemed intrigued, but Daud had his doubts whether this meant he was more interested in the truth than he'd originally claimed. "What do you want with me?"

"Your darling brothers are in league with Burrows and former High Overseer Campbell," Corvo growled. "They planned to assassinate the Empress and abduct her daughter, then put her on the throne as their figurehead."

"The Princess?" Pendleton perked up at that. "Where is she?"

"That is none of your concern. What concerns me, however, is: what did you know?"

"About what?"

"About the conspiracy against the throne, how much did you know?"

"N-nothing!"

"Liar!"

"Alright, I knew something was going on, we do live in the same house. But my brothers would never let me near any of the guests they received in the past few months, and they were out more than at the manor to begin with. If they were meeting with Burrows and Campbell, it would not surprise me, but I wouldn't have been able to guess."

"To be perfectly clear, Pendleton," Daud stepped up next to Corvo, rather enjoying the way Pendleton paled at being reminded of his presence. "When I said 'your brothers are being bundled up,' I wasn't talking about a night in Coldridge. Morgan and Custis are going to be buried so deep they'll never see the sun."

"You can't kill them!" Pendleton fairly shrieked. "Do you have idea what would happen if two members of Parliament suddenly turned up dead?"

"Who said anything about killing them?"

"But you said 'buried so deep—"

"Oh, my mistake. Don't worry, Treavor, we'll bury them alive. Perhaps the mines will teach them some humility."

"The—the mines?" Pendleton's voice was very small now.

"The mines," Corvo confirmed, "and that's where you'll end up, too, if it turns out that you could have prevented all this from happening by turning in your brothers at the start."

"I told you, I didn't know what they were doing! I had no idea Burrows had reason to have the Empress killed. All I know is that my brothers were slowly aligning their votes in Parliament with his, even though some of his policies went against our interests."

"How so?"

"We need to protect our estate, not leave it exposed to legislation that is designed to fund public policies."

"That's how taxes work, generally," Daud pointed out, keeping his tone deceptively mild.

"Well, not more than twenty percent," Pendleton retorted acidly.

Daud scoffed. "We know that your mines are barely operational anymore, let alone turning a profit. Although I suppose even if you could afford to pay your taxes, you still wouldn't like to, would you?"

"We must protect the integrity—"

"That wasn't an invitation to speak," Daud growled. Pendleton shut his mouth abruptly, his teeth clicking together. "Once your brothers are gone and presumed dead, you will inherit their votes, and their influence over others. Use them wisely. And, Treavor, for your sake: we were never here. You have no idea what happened to the Princess, or your brothers; and Corvo has fled to Serkonos for all you know."

"And in return?"

Daud ground his teeth. Men like Pendleton were all the same: show them the slightest hint of mercy and they mistook it for room for negotiation.

"In return, you live," Corvo stated simply and clearly running out of patience.

"Alright," Pendleton agreed, his cowering position at odds with the air of authority he tried to project. If he and Corvo were to back away, sure enough Pendleton would try to puff himself up again like a scrawny bird during mating season. "I will take over for my brothers and manage the estate."

"See to it. When the time has come, we will present the Empress to Court and Parliament," Corvo continued, effectively preempting any questions as to their further plans. "Reveal any of this to anyone, and we will know."

As predicted, Pendleton stood up when Corvo moved away from him. "I will keep it to myself. Don't make it too long, though. Even with my brothers out of the way, the situation in Parliament is... tense."

"Let us worry about that," Corvo advised him, then turned towards the door. "And just be glad we didn't throw you off the Tower."

Seeing his chance, Pendleton's expression twisted. "You know, Corvo, if you like noblewomen, I could introduce you to my cousin Celia. She's no Empress, but—"

That was as far as Pendleton got before Daud grabbed him by the throat and forced him back down to sit.

"That's enough from you," he drawled.

"Daud," Corvo murmured from behind him. "It's nothing I haven't heard before."

"It was the worst-kept secret, you know, that he was screwing her," Pendleton wheezed, his spidery fingers scrabbling at Daud's forearm ineffectively.

"Let him go," Corvo ignored Pendleton's snide remark. "He's not important."

With one last shove, Daud let go of Pendleton and stepped back. "You're right. Altogether insignificant."

There was a knock on the door. "Oi," they could hear Slackjaw's voice through the wood. "We got them boys. You ready to leave?"

"We're ready," Corvo replied quickly, reaching for Daud's shoulder. With the other, he put his mask back on just before the door opened and Slackjaw entered. "Best get out of here. Oh, and Slackjaw? Make sure Lord Pendleton gets home safely."

Behind his impressive moustache, Slackjaw grinned. "Much obliged, sir."

Daud let Corvo steer him out of the room. Behind them, they heard Slackjaw say, "Night night, Lord Pendleton," and then the heavy thud of a body hitting the floor.

"He knows 'getting home safely' wasn't a euphemism, right?" Daud asked Corvo critically, who shrugged and, even though robbed of much non-verbal communication by his mask, still managed to convey amusement with the gesture.

"He'll be fine."

Daud didn't ask which 'he' Corvo was referring to.


When they returned to the Hound Pits pub, Emily was, for once, already asleep. Daud felt dog tired - this mission had taken longer than the ones before, and apparently his old bones were growing weary of overnight jobs. Samuel, who for some Void-forsaken reason still insisted on sleeping outside unless it was freezing, let them go on ahead into the pub, where the only ones still up were a group of Whalers who had also just returned from their patrols and Piero, who had about him the distinct look of someone suffering from insomnia.

Beside him, Corvo was removing his mask, brushing damp strands of hair back from his forehead. "I've never worn it for this long at a time," he commented when he noticed Daud's gaze.

"Probably weren't supposed to, either," Daud replied evenly.

"Boss. Corvo," Jenkins greeted them when they trudged closer. "Everything go alright?"

Daud nodded. "The Pendletons are taken care of, we can start laying out the final phase of the plan in the next few days."

"Where's Slackjaw taking the twins?" Galia asked.

"In the morning," Corvo cut in, "we need rest, and you need to get going. The others will be waiting for you."

"Yes, boss," Galia sassed smartly, still smirking even when Daud shot her an unimpressed look. Nevertheless, the Whalers left, and Daud started marching for the staircase.

"Enforcing your own curfew, bodyguard," he drawled over his shoulder.

"Seeing as we're both dead on our feet, I should think so," Corvo countered. "Away with you," he shooed him towards the hallway while turning up the stairs himself. Then, he suddenly stopped, facing Daud with that damned earnest look in his eyes.

Thinking he knew what was coming, Daud raised his hand. "Don't—"

"I wasn't going to apologise," Corvo interrupted him, exhaustion obvious in his voice. "I was going to say thank you. And good night."

Daud held Corvo's gaze for a few seconds before nodding. "Good night, Corvo."

When he got to his room, he closed the door and made his way to the bed, dropping down to sit on top of the covers for a moment. He remembered the last time they'd returned from a mission, and what that mission had been. How it had ended. At least the Pendletons were alive, for now. Lady Boyle was not, and there was some terrible irony in the Knife of Dunwall taking money for a hit only to attempt to save the target and then, weeks later, kill another free of charge. What, if there was no coin to be made, had been his motivation then? Corvo's reasons at least were clear, his devotion to his daughter superseding everything. But Daud... as much as it unnerved him to agree with their mutual friend, Daud had chosen, but the weeks he'd planned for had turned into months; and in that time, things had evolved far beyond his control.

He'd known from the moment of taking it that this would be his last job - he'd not expected to find himself so inexplicably bound to finishing it.

*

He'd been asleep for what felt like minutes when he jolted awake. For a split second, he feared the Outsider had pulled him into the Void to exact revenge for his big mouth, but then he realised he was still in his room at the Hound Pits and it looked distinctly... normal. He shook his head to clear it, then became aware of a voice calling his name - the reason he'd woken up.

"Daud, wake up," Corvo's voice came from outside the room.

"Corvo?" Daud got up, quickly jumping into his trousers and pulling his shirt over his head on the way to the door. Opening it, he found Corvo outside in the hall, in a similar state of undress. "What's wrong? Is somebody hurt?" Belatedly, he recognised the notion of Billie or Rulfio coming to fetch him after patrol, someone else carrying a half-dead Whaler over their shoulder.

"No," Corvo reassured him immediately. "I—everybody's safe, it's nothing like that."

Daud felt a wave of relief - then, a brief stab of impatience, but forced it down knowing that Corvo likely had a very good reason for pulling him out of bed mere hours after they'd come back. "What is it?" he asked, forcing his voice to remain steady.

"It's Emily," Corvo finally came out with it, but that did nothing to quell the dread rising in Daud. "She's had a nightmare, a bad one, and Callista came to fetch me." Before Daud could ask what the hell Corvo was banging on his door for, then, Corvo added, "and she's asking for you, too."

That hit Daud like the proverbial ton of bricks. "For me," he rasped, not knowing what to think.

Corvo nodded. "I sent Callista back to watch Emily to come get you myself, she, uh, wasn't sure how best to wake you."

That was fair, Daud supposed, even though he declined to remind Corvo that he had no experience in that, either. "Is—is that wise?"

Corvo looked at him as though he was a right fool for a moment, but eventually he shrugged. "I'm not about to deny her the comfort she seeks."

What comfort the young Empress would draw from Daud's scarred face appearing outside of her nightmares as well as, as was likely, within them, he had no way of telling, but Corvo was looking at him expectantly and he... had no good reason to say no, did he?

"Go on, then," he gestured for Corvo to lead the way, crowding into him until Corvo stepped away enough for Daud to pull the door to his room shut behind himself.

Making their way up to the dilapidated tower, they were quiet, at least Daud stuck in his circling thoughts. Had Emily's dream been about the Outsider, if she'd asked for him to be there as well? During the few clandestine sneaking lessons he'd given her, usually trailing Corvo around the pub grounds, restricted as they were, and doing their best not to stick out like a pair of sore thumbs, Emily had occasionally asked questions about his abilities, as Corvo had warned him she would, though not about the Mark. Daud had answered them sparingly, giving her the barest bones - helpful as usual, Corvo had not provided him with direction on how much detail he was meant to disclose.

As he walked, Daud gritted his teeth. Just minutes ago, he'd wondered if the Outsider had come to punish him for their earlier confrontation - if that black-eyed bastard had taken his revenge on her instead...

He didn't have time to finish that dark thought, as Corvo waved him on through the window leading to the tower from his quarters. Climbing outside, Daud dimly regretted not putting on his boots as the cold metal bit into the skin of his feet. He made his way across quickly, but then waited for Corvo at the door to Emily's room, which was shut. Corvo and Callista were the only ones who had the key.

Giving him a look when he drew up next to him, Corvo knocked. "Callista, we're here."

"Come in, it's open," Callista called from inside.

"Corvo!" They could hear Emily call for him even before Corvo touched the doorknob. A small smile quirked the corners of Corvo's mouth, but it wasn't a happy one.

They found Emily sitting up in bed, Callista on a chair beside her, holding one of Emily's hands in her own. When Corvo and Daud entered, she gently let go and made to stand to make room for Corvo.

"No need, please," Corvo murmured. Emily was already reaching for him, and he simply sat down next to her on the bed, letting her curl into his right side, putting his arm around her protectively.

Daud had closed the door behind them and was now hovering somewhat indecisively at the foot of the bed. There was no other chair, and Callista would probably object to an assassin using her bed for one.

"Daud," Emily's voice cut through his dithering. He raised his eyes and found both her and Corvo looking toward him. It was easy for Corvo, Daud thought darkly to himself, to slip in next to his daughter and comfort her. Daud was little used to comforting children, even if some of the novices were young enough and many of them had enough reason for bad dreams. Sometimes, Billie or Rulfio would bring them to his attention if they felt that a kid would benefit from his direction and reassurance that whatever was haunting them was either dead or would never make it past the Whalers' fortifications; but those assurances were not usually delivered with an embrace and a pat on the head, but down the edge of a blade during assessment.

Eventually, he forced himself to move. Emily reached out with the hand not clutching Corvo's shirt and patted the covers beside her, so he crossed to the other side of the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress near her feet, at an angle so as to be facing her.

Seemingly satisfied, or at least knowing that this was as close as he would get, she nodded, sending him a small smile. This close, Daud saw how red her eyes were from crying.

For some time, no-one spoke, Corvo apparently content to softly stroke Emily's arm with his hand in a soothing gesture and breathing evenly and deeply. Slowly, Emily relaxed further into his side, unconsciously matching her breathing to Corvo's. The quiet was only broken by Callista hiding a yawn behind her hand, clearly fighting to stay awake. Daud sympathised, but kept himself immobile.

"You should get some rest, Callista," Corvo murmured after a while.

"I'm sorry, Lord Corvo, it's not like I was out all night like you two were. Only, Emily woke early yesterday morning, and then we stayed up as long as we could waiting for you to get back..."

"Don't worry yourself," Corvo reassured her. "We're likely to be up for another while, if you want you can take my quarters for the rest of the night. I'll stay here with Emily, in any case."

"Are you sure it's no trouble?" Callista asked, but clearly grateful for the suggestion.

Corvo nodded. "Go. We'll be fine. We'll come fetch you in the morning."

"Thank you," Callista smiled and stood, leaning over to brush her hand down Emily's cheek. "You get some rest, you hear? You'll be safe as can be with these two."

Daud just about suppressed the impulse to turn and stare at her for including him on the list of "safe" company for the Empress. Callista, for all her horror at their current situation had borne his and the Whalers' presence with far fewer scandalised exclamations than he'd secretly expected, but that did not negate what they were. Who he was.

After Callista had left the room, Corvo moved his hand to brush his fingers over Emily's hair, prompting her to look up at him.

Smiling at her softly, Corvo asked, "Do you want to tell us what happened in your dream?" Emily hid her face against Corvo's chest at his question, and he didn't press her. "It's alright, you don't have to."

"But Mommy always said talking about bad dreams makes them feel less real," Emily said quietly.

"She was right," Corvo murmured, soothing his fingers through her hair again.

"Do you have bad dreams sometimes?"

"I do."

Daud knew that Corvo hadn't told Emily about the Heart, so even though it stood to reason that he did talk to Jessamine about his dreams, in a way, he couldn't really tell Emily that.

"What do you do to feel better?"

At that, Corvo looked up at Daud, who had actually been quite content not being part of this conversation. Fighting to keep his expression neutral, Daud didn't react when Corvo replied, "I have... help. To take my mind off them."

"I heard Samuel tell Callista that you and Daud fight. On days when you don't come to see me before breakfast," Emily lifted her head to look at her father, then turned towards Daud. "Does it help?"

"It does," Corvo told her quietly.

"Do you have bad dreams?" Emily now asked Daud, who hid his bewilderment behind decades of experience fielding the most outrageous questions from novices - and, occasionally, telling them the most outrageous stories in return. But not this time. 

"I do," he answered simply. "They fade, after a time." He had no notion of what she truly knew of his past, of his life spent breaking into palaces like hers and spilling blood just as rich. In the end, it all ran red, no matter who was letting it.

Emily didn't say anything for a while, and as Corvo seemed content to wait her out, so did Daud, not moving from his perch even though Callista had freed up the chair.

Eventually, Emily spoke. "I was alone, here in the tower. It was dark, but Callista wasn't with me. I waited and waited, but she didn't come, so I decided to go looking for her. Everything was quiet, I think not even the wind moved. I went to Corvo's room first, but he wasn't there, and then I went downstairs. There weren't any lights on, so I felt my way along the walls. On the first floor, I thought maybe Daud would be in his room, and the door was open, but he wasn't there. The Whalers weren't in their bunks, either, no-one was. I went downstairs, thinking maybe everyone had gathered in the pub, talking about something important. But there were no voices, no lights. I sneaked down the stairs the way you taught me, Corvo, I was so careful not to make any noise, but suddenly someone grabbed me from behind and held me so tight it hurt and I couldn't move. They said something, but I can't remember what, only that their voice was muffled, like through a mask, but I knew that it wasn't you. They started carrying me the rest of the way downstairs and into the pub and then outside, and that's when I saw it."

While she was recounting her dream, Emily'd begun to cry again, there were tears running down her cheeks. She wiped them away almost angrily, as if annoyed at the interruption her own tears caused to her telling.

"I saw," she began again, but a hitching sob interrupted her, and she balled her right hand into a small fist and pounded it on the bed. "I saw all the bodies. Everyone was dead. You, Callista, Samuel, and there were so many Whalers, all wearing their masks. Daud, too, he was—he was next to you, Corvo. And then I saw them. Overseers, standing over you. They'd found us, and they—"

Another sob escaped her throat, and this time Emily squeezed her eyes shut, more tears spilling down her face. Her grip on Corvo's shirt was so strong her knuckles were white. "It was so horrible," she cried, and Corvo pulled her closer into his chest when she couldn't speak anymore, her small frame shuddering.

"It was a dream, Em, it's not real," Corvo murmured softly, kissing the top of her head. "We're safe. They cannot find us if we're careful. We've made it this far, and we'll make it further."

Against him, Emily nodded, her brows knit together even as she struggled to affirm her father's words. Slowly, as Corvo continued to soothe her, she settled down and the tears let up on her. From somewhere, Corvo produced a handkerchief and helped her dry her face and blow her nose.

"Will you stay with me? I—I don't think I can sleep alone."

Corvo nodded. "Of course I will."

Slowly, Emily raised her eyes to Daud's. "At least until I fall asleep?" she asked, surprising Daud even now with how observant she was.

Perhaps against his better judgement, he nodded. "I'll stay until you've fallen asleep. Corvo can lock up behind me, and I'll... I'll keep watch outside."

"You don't have to," Corvo tried to dissuade him, but Daud shook his head.

"It's only a few hours until sunrise. Rinaldo can relieve me when he's up."

"I like Rinaldo," Emily mumbled, exhausted and already sleepy now that she was reassured they wouldn't leave her.

"He's very fond of you, too," Daud told her quietly. 'He'd guard you with his life,' he didn't say, but he knew Corvo knew it well enough. The Whalers had come to accept Corvo's authority alongside Daud's and Emily's status as Empress, but more than that they'd grown fiercely protective of the girl. The proposed "careful handling" of the Pendleton twins, especially, had drawn disgruntled murmurs from the ranks, paired with suggestions for far more creative ways of getting them out of the way - permanently. Daud had clamped down on those murmurs with a firm hand, but he had no trouble imagining the kinds of things that might have been done had a different path been chosen.

While he thought about this Emily's grip on Corvo relaxed and she slumped a little against her father, who smiled that sorrowful smile of his.

"Stroking her hair always puts her right to sleep," he rumbled so Daud could hear him but wouldn't disturb her rest. "When she was little and wouldn't sleep through the night, we discovered it was the only way to calm her down. Jessamine—she used to say she was glad it wasn't my singing that got her to settle, or else no-one in the Tower would have ever gotten any sleep."

Against all odds, Daud allowed himself a tiny smirk at that. "Something the Lord Protector can't do?"

Corvo shrugged carefully. "I can play the guitar just fine," he said, gently easing Emily down so she could lie down properly, not sleep propped up against him. "But singing was best left to her."

"A smart woman, then."

Corvo hummed. "She was right about you, too."

Daud went very still. Was Corvo referring to Jessamine—or the Heart? He couldn't help but be reminded of what the Heart said about him that morning after Corvo had received his gift, but what could he reply to such a thing? What was there to say? So he'd fled, left Corvo standing there.

For a long moment, Daud was silent. But in truth, he knew Corvo had to know. Deserved to know. Still, when he opened his mouth to speak, the words would not come. His gaze caught on Emily, asleep and unaware between them.

"Daud?" Corvo prompted gently, but Daud shook his head.

"Not now," he rasped, indecision pulling at him like the tide.

Gingerly, Corvo shifted from the bed - easy, since it was so narrow he'd been in danger of toppling off to begin with - and stood, holding perfectly still as Emily resettled herself in her sleep. Daud watched as Corvo rounded the foot of the bed and reached for his shoulder, tugging at him and pointing at the back door to the tower room.

When Daud frowned at him, Corvo's expression turned grim. "I'm not letting you hold this in any longer," he whispered.

Getting up just as carefully, Daud wondered what it was about the members of this family that made him give in to their whims. It was too late to argue now, as he followed Corvo out onto the narrow ledge. Up here, they were safe from prying eyes, overlooking the river and the rocks below where Daud had found Corvo so many times, holding himself apart. Proving himself in the face of vertigo, Corvo sank down and sat on the ledge, letting his legs dangle into nothing. Cursing himself, Daud followed, until they sat side by side, high above and yet so far from freedom.

Keeping his voice nary above a whisper in spite of the door between them and the sleeping Empress, Daud finally spoke. "She extracted a promise. Before she died."

"What promise? When?"

"Early in the Month of Songs. She called me to the Tower via the Whalers there watching her, requesting my presence. We made final preparations for this place, and I brought her some new evidence we'd collected. I was surprised she'd want me around without you there, but then I probably ought to have expected it from her. She was unarmed, but certainly braver than most of the soldiers in that place."

"She wasn't, actually," Corvo interjected, smirking. "Unarmed, I mean. She always carried a small switchblade strapped to her ankle. She was fourteen when she pressganged me into showing her how to wield it."

Blinking at Corvo, Daud let that sink in for a moment. "Well. Even armed, still braver. And smarter, too. She had me thinking I'd get away scot-free right up until she told me that this truce between the Crown and my Whalers, it would cost me."

"Cost you?" Corvo asked, frowning.

Daud nodded. "Her price, Corvo, was a promise. If anything were to happen to her, or if the plan had to be changed, if you didn't make it back in time—she demanded that I... that I take care of you and Emily. She said that if I wanted this chance to save my men, I would accept the consequences. So I did. I accepted them," Daud finished, swallowing thickly. He didn't like to think of that day, or indeed the days that followed.

For a long moment, Corvo didn't speak, only stared at him. When the silence threatened to choke him, Daud murmured, "Corvo?" In truth, the man looked like he'd seen a ghost himself.

"So that's what she meant," Corvo rasped. "On the boat... she told me that we were the only ones who knew what to do. She told me, 'he accepts the consequences.' Daud, what you—what you said, that night I burst into your room..."

"It's what I promised," Daud said simply. "To see her daughter on the throne and to see you survive."

"You promised to protect us. To keep us safe, to—help us. Help me."

"Corvo," Daud had to fight not to run, not to flee from the way Corvo was looking at him, as if... as if—

"There is honour in you, Daud," Corvo wouldn't be silenced, much as he spoke in hushed and broken tones. "In honouring Jessamine's memory, you—"

"There's no honour to what I did, or why," Daud growled. When Corvo's searching gaze bore into him, Daud averted his eyes.

"Daud," Corvo murmured, clearly trying to get his attention, but Daud kept his eyes on his hands in his lap. "Daud," Corvo tried again, but this time he carefully leaned forward, putting his hand on Daud's shoulder. "Please," Corvo whispered, and the single syllable was too much, too little, and altogether impossible to ignore. So Daud raised his head, and when he did, Corvo's fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt. Slowly, Daud felt a tug, then a pull, and realised Corvo was pulling him closer. When they were close enough that he could feel Corvo's breath on his cheek, Corvo stopped. Unshed tears were glistening in his dark eyes, tears Daud would have far preferred never to have seen, not for his sake, but for Corvo's; and then Corvo was drawing closer, and closer, his intent now clear enough, and Daud should break away, should gently pry Corvo's grip from his shirt and excuse himself, make a run for it, deny that this was what he wanted; run, run, don't—

Corvo's lips were warm against his own, soft, and his kiss so gentle Daud wanted to return to his quarters and drive a knife through the Mark on his hand; but first, he wanted to remain in this moment for much longer than he knew he should.

Chapter Text

As Corvo spent the small hours watching over Emily as she slept, he had a hard time wrapping his mind around everything that had happened that night. Within hours, he and Daud had taken great risks, not only by making a pact with a street gang to dispose of the Pendleton brothers but by angrily confronting the Outsider over his transgressions towards Emily. Could he... given that the Void god seemed to usually pluck his Marked out of that space between waking and dreaming, could he have been the cause - the source - of her dream? And if so, was it mere revenge, or a cruel and underhanded means of warning? If the latter, that would rather contradict the Outsider's claim not to play favourites, Corvo thought bitterly. In any case, he had no wish to set foot into the Void anytime soon, if it could be helped.

"My little girl," he murmured softly, brushing a strand of hair from his daughter's face. She'd been through so much, watching her mother struggle through keeping the city together after the advent of the Plague, and then... all of this. For her, it'd been the blink of an eye. Jessamine had been there one moment and gone the next, and Emily had woken up in a strange place surrounded by a few dozen strangers without a clue as to what she'd been dragged into. What Corvo had dragged her into.

And then, over the course of months, Corvo's own world had gone through so many twists and turns that he'd barely been able to keep up; and so much of it had been due to his shifting and changing relationship with one man.

Everything Daud had done, for them - in that moment, Corvo had been so full with gratitude and grief, and he couldn't... Jess had been right, hadn't she, about so many things. She'd seen that Daud was different - was more than the Knife of Dunwall, and that even as Corvo hadn't known whether to trust him, he'd accepted him as an ally. How much of that could be put down to their shared heritage, something binding them together even when they'd barely known each other? And if that was how it started, what were they now?

If anyone might have been able to bully either of them into admitting even a fraction of what they had tonight, it would have been Jess. Now was not the time, but he resolved to speak to her about this. He had to.

Daud was outside, just as he'd promised, keeping watch. His face when they'd pulled apart… Corvo struggled to describe the look he'd given him, but something about the intensity of his gaze tugged on memories of the past few weeks, of the way Daud had looked at him over breakfast sometimes, or of when Daud had abruptly excused himself after watching him train the Whalers. Then, there'd been his completely unreasonable reaction to Sokolov teasing Corvo about the Golden Cat—suddenly, Corvo's eyes widened. 'It's not your virtue I'm worried about,' Daud had groused, and Corvo had been confused, but abandoned the thought in favour of their mission. So much had changed between them since Corvo had asked Daud to tell him about his past. Finally, the Outsider's jabs at Daud's expense, about never listening, about being so concerned with Corvo, and with Emily… he shuddered at the Void god's sinister warning that Daud's time was running out. Looking down at her, Corvo vowed that she would not lose someone else she cared about. They would get to the bottom of this, wherever it led. Finally recognising Daud's protectiveness for what it was, Corvo felt it echoed in himself.

Listening to Emily's even breathing, eventually sleep claimed Corvo for itself.

*

Only hours later, Corvo woke when Emily prodded his shoulder. Opening his eyes blearily, he brushed a kiss against her forehead as she hugged him good morning. When she drew back and sat next to him, he realised she was holding a folded piece of paper.

"What's that?"

"Daud pushed it under the door," she explained, pressing it into his hand.

With a frown, Corvo remembered Daud insisting that Corvo lock the door behind him, citing "prudence." Corvo knew what was prudent, thank you very much, and prudent was also not to have a locked door between them in case something did happen and Daud needed help - unarmed and barely dressed as he was. Of course, Corvo knew well enough that Daud did not need weapons or his signature red coat to project lethal force. As such, the argument was circular at best, so they had abandoned it quickly and Corvo had pointedly locked the door; nearly skittering away when Daud had sent it rattling seconds later, twisting the knob with force. Corvo, unwilling to say anything loudly enough for Daud to hear lest he wake Emily, had merely flicked his knuckles against the wood in mild irritation before taking up his place at her side again.

Slowly, he opened the note to find Daud's slanted, even scrawl.

Corvo —

It's sunrise and I've called for Rinaldo to relieve me. He'll stay outside the door until you're up, have him call for Callista. I'll go to my quarters to catch up on some sleep. Come find me when it's time for breakfast. There is much we must discuss, not least the report we owe to Emily.

Daud

Corvo felt his lips tick up at the fact that the note was signed - not that it needed to have been, but he supposed it was what Daud would do.

His gut kicked at the reference to things they had to discuss, involuntarily fearing that Daud meant what had happened last night. Doubtlessly, they would have to talk about that, too, but Corvo wasn't sure it was a conversation either of them was prepared for.

Pushing such thoughts aside, Corvo let Rinaldo know to go looking for Callista, and then set about getting them ready for the day. Once they were presentable, Corvo and Emily walked down to Daud's room.

"There's a really creaky step," Emily, pointing at the floorboard, warned him in a whisper, and Corvo raised an eyebrow at her.

"So you've found that, too," he ribbed her gently and was rewarded with a sheepish look.

"Of course, you told me to always familiarise myself with my surroundings," she evaded the way only a child winding their way out of accidentally incriminating themselves could.

"So I did," Corvo decided to let her off the hook this once. At her self-satisfied expression, however, he couldn't resist needling, "and what did Daud tell you when he caught you?"

"To 'scoot before Corvo or Callista come looking for me,'" Emily responded in such a ridiculous imitation of Daud's deep voice that Corvo had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. The point of this was, after all, to be moderately stealthy, so it wouldn't do to wake the entire floor.

Putting a finger to his lips, Corvo crept closer to Daud's door, withdrawing a note of his own - signed - from his vest pocket. Slowly, he knelt, the hair on the back of his neck pricking up at the memory of the last time he'd been here, and what he had discovered that night. Today, however, he merely carefully slid the piece of paper underneath the door, giving it a final push with a flick of his finger so it wouldn't peek out into the hall. Satisfied with his handiwork, he stood, resisting the impulse to use Dark Vision to check on Daud, check whether he was really still asleep, or whether he was up, brooding, thinking about—

Cutting off his own train of thought, Corvo focused on Emily instead. "Let's go," he whispered, offering her his hand to take. Smiling, she slid her small fingers into his palm and pulled him along with her.

They'd been down in the taproom for maybe half an hour, Corvo getting coffee before anything else and Emily acquiescing to eating before starting to draw.

"At this rate, I'll never finish it," Emily bemoaned the slow progress of her latest drawing.

"It's not my fault you're insisting on hiding it from everyone who might be in it, which seems to be everyone but me," Corvo reminded her.

"It's Callista's fault for insisting that I shouldn't draw during my lessons," Emily countered stubbornly, frowning at him from across the table. "As if I couldn't listen and draw at the same time!"

Corvo was about to reply when a hand settled on his shoulder, the touch light but by no means without intent, he realised as he felt the pad of a thumb press gently into a knot of tension born from half of a night's sleeping mostly sitting up. Looking up, he found Daud gazing down at him with an accusing expression on his weathered face.

"Daud!" Emily greeted him, misgivings about her tutoring momentarily forgotten, and reached out her hand. "Come sit with us!"

"I thought I'd told you not to let me sleep," Daud groused when he set down his plate and then eased himself into the bench opposite Corvo - next to Emily, who seemed unperturbed by his grumpy demeanour.

Corvo smirked. "Your note told me to find you when it's time for breakfast," he returned. "You're here, so I suppose it must be."

Daud sent him a belligerent look across the table and, frankly, Corvo was expecting a swift kick to the shin next, but Daud kept his feet to himself and, for the next few minutes, his words as well as he tucked into his food. As Daud had arrived without a mug in his hand, Corvo pushed his own coffee, freshly topped up a few minutes before, towards the middle of the table.

Raising a brow as though asking whether that was Corvo's idea of making it up to him, Daud nevertheless reached for the cup. Corvo ignored the way previously unacknowledged nerves dissolved at how Daud carried himself. He had not fled the ledge up on the tower so much as he had made a swift exit, which was fair; but still Corvo had not been certain how things would be.

As he leaned back, Emily happily chattered away at Daud. Corvo had asked her how she'd slept whilst taking over from Callista to brush her hair, and she had reported no more nightmares for the remainder of the night. She hadn't said anything else, however; and if she was not inclined to talk about it today or tomorrow, then he would ask again in a few days. He recognised himself in her reticence, but he remembered all too well how things that remained unsaid could drive families apart. Beatrici had never come home again, and his mother had not always succeeded in hiding her tears as well as she thought in the years that followed.

Just in that moment, Daud shot him a questioning glance, then his eyes flickered back to Emily, who was currently describing the most magnificent pirate ship from one of the illustrations in her books, and Corvo surreptitiously shook his head. Daud nodded minutely and turned back to look at her, humming when she decreed that, surely, as Empress she would be able to rule from the high seas just as well as from a tower.

"Only, I think most of your advisors would be rather miserably seasick," he not so much argued as commented idly before taking a generous bite from an apple, wiping the juice from his lower lip with the back of his hand in a gesture that would have horrified Callista.

Emily, evidently taking this as agreement, merely shrugged. "It would serve them right," she decided.

Although Corvo would cop to enjoying ragging on Jessamine's council whilst sitting down with a glass of fine whiskey; here, at breakfast, faced with Daud of all people enabling such behaviour in Emily, he realised it fell to him to be the voice of reason at their table. It was mildly nauseating.

Still, he favoured them both with a disapproving look that might give even Emily's stern governess a run for her money and cleared his throat. "You," he pointed at Emily, "are not going to rule Dunwall from a ship. And you," he added, aiming at Daud, "will not give her ideas."

"And you," Daud rumbled, "best put that finger away before someone thinks to fetch a knife and relieve you of it."

A giggle escaped Emily before she could clap a hand over her mouth, and for a moment she looked between them. Corvo merely rolled his eyes and lowered his hand, putting her at ease, but Daud looked at her and deadpanned, "Perhaps he should be taking a few of those lessons with Callista."

This time, Emily didn't stop the laughter bubbling up. Corvo waited until Daud looked back up, then smiled at him when he did. As Daud acknowledged his gaze with a bemused twist to his mouth and a nearly imperceptible shrug, Corvo's insides seized with a stab of affection so sudden it felt difficult to breathe.

*

They'd put it off long enough, but after breakfast, Corvo and Daud gathered the Whalers currently at the pub in the bar, Emily sitting in a booth behind them.

"Last night, the Pendleton twins were removed from play," Daud began, addressing the room at large; but effectively, they were making their report to the Empress as well. "Their brother Treavor will inherit their parliamentarian votes, and it has been expressed to him that not aligning himself with the loyalists in Parliament would not be to his benefit. In light of all this, we can now go after Burrows himself. His financial support has waned, he is losing support among even the corrupt City Watch guards as he can no longer pay them in elixirs to buy their loyalty. With Lady Boyle gone, the aristocracy of Dunwall is intimidated and won't simply go along with his every suggestion, not even if it means further disadvantaging the poor. Without Sokolov, Burrows is less well protected than he should like, not least because he is not currently holed up nice and cozy in the Tower; or, if the reports are to be believed, his pet construction project on Kingsparrow Island. He's vulnerable and running out of time," Daud concluded.

Corvo picked up from there, pointing to a thick stack of files perched on the edge of the table next to them. "This is everything we could find on Burrows' allies and supporters. Every dirty secret that you scraped together during raids and patrols. What we have to do now, what we can finally do is let them know we have it. In the coming weeks, we'll do the same thing Burrows and Timsh have been doing on the sly: knock down doors and scare people, only we're not accusing them of being infected. And at the end of it, we're taking Burrows."

"What are you going to do with him?" Rulfio asked, frowning. "Bring him here?"

"No," Corvo shook his head. "Through Callista, we've made contact with Captain of the Watch Curnow. Once we hand over the evidence and can be sure that no-one will come to Burrows' defence, he won't escape justice. Everyone else is going to be too concerned with saving their own hides."

"Can Curnow be trusted?"

"We saved his life when Campbell tried to have him assassinated. He owes us a favour."

"My uncle is a good man," Callista spoke up from the back of the room. "He will do the right thing." She sought Corvo's gaze and he nodded at her in thanks.

"Who's taking care of Timsh?" Galia asked, having expressed her disgust with the man on more than one occasion. "I'd really like not to listen to him coercing another maid into 'keeping him company'," she added. Several of the Whalers carried similar expressions of disgust, having witnessed it firsthand, others echoed Galia's call for Timsh to be taken out.

"Switch his documents for these," Daud lifted a pouch from the table. "General Turnbull is due for another visit soon, and he'll have no choice but to arrest him. We'll set the date as soon as we know."

Quiet up until now, Billie Lurk chimed in. "What about his niece?"

Daud shrugged. "She'll inherit the estate. What she does with it, I don't much care."

"Are you sure that's what's in the will? The estate is still his mother's, not his, not that she'll ever wake up again."

Corvo watched as Daud tensed at being second-guessed by his lieutenant in front of all and sundry. In his limited experience with her, Corvo had been under the impression that she often gave Daud a fair amount of lip, but that he allowed it with some equanimity, not unlike a snappy wolfhound with his pups. Whether that was down to the length of their partnership or to Lurk having worked her way through the ranks to be Daud's right hand, Corvo could not say. But if Daud was bristling at a question that Corvo himself had been about to ask, then perhaps even Daud's leniency with Lurk knew its limits.

Still, Daud's voice was level when he replied, "If you've information to contribute, by all means."

Billie's gaze on Daud turned sharp for a moment, but then she shrugged a shoulder. "Just making sure, boss."

Daud's eyes stayed on her for an uncomfortable moment, but then he went back to indicating the files. "At the right time, everyone will be given a pouch with their marching orders. Familiarise yourselves with your targets and the information we have on them. Every night for the next two weeks, we move at sundown. A small contingent of Whalers will remain here to secure the perimeter, most of the others should be back from their house calls in the early hours."

"Any questions?" Corvo asked the room in general.

*

Afterwards, Samuel signalled to Corvo that he wanted to talk to him. Corvo quickly reached for Daud's forearm.

"I'll speak with Samuel a moment. Do you need me?" he asked, unsuccessful at the last moment in ignoring the band of Whalers currently still milling around Daud's quarters, some talking amongst themselves, others unabashedly observing them.

That, too, was nearly enough to drive the blood up Corvo's neck - could they see, could they tell? These men and women had lived with Daud for years, some well over a decade, and as unapproachable as the man presented himself to be, they knew him. He'd deny it and so, like as not, would they, but it was still true. Corvo had not truly thought about it during the past months, what the Whalers would think about him and Daud inching undeniably closer. They had accepted his authority, in a surprising shift from looking only to Daud for orders to including Corvo in their reports as well as their supply runs (Jenkins had brought him a rune he'd found as recently as a week ago). Expanding their trademark greeting to him and Emily seemed, in hindsight, insignificant when compared to the way they had taken to trailing Emily around the grounds, in pairs, whenever she was not in her tower or accompanied by Corvo - or Daud - himself, often keeping to the roofs so as not to disturb her exploring. He'd asked Daud about it when he'd discovered that there was no such addition to the duty roster. Daud, for his part, had only glanced at him sideways and commented, "So you've noticed them, too." Corvo had understood a great deal about the assassins that day.

Shaking off the distracting thought, Corvo belatedly realised Daud was speaking.

"— find you when it's time for us to leave," Daud replied, still in Corvo's grasp.

Brushing his thumb over the fabric of Daud's coat sleeve, just once, Corvo nodded. Then he let go and turned, his eyes finding Samuel's across the room. When Corvo walked up to him, he waved Corvo on ahead, out the door.

Pitching his voice low, he murmured, "I've been meaning to ask you how Emily is doin'. Callista told me she's had a rough night, is all."

Corvo nodded. "She had a bad nightmare, and woke up... calling for me, and Daud." He registered Samuel's surprised look at that, but Corvo knew he could trust him, precisely because of how much the old sea dog had come to care for Emily. "We stayed with her until she fell asleep. She seemed well enough this morning, but... her dream was... she's scared they'll find us," he summarised, perhaps too neatly, but he had no doubt Samuel could imagine what might have featured in her nightmares, given their current location. The threat of discovery was ever present now, even with Whalers patrolling the old district night and day, keeping looters away and hiding the traces that housing and feeding about three dozen people invariably left. Corvo was well aware that if Burrows was not in state custody by the end of the Month of Wind, they would be.

"I've been watching the water. They'll come over the river, if they come," Samuel responded quietly. Corvo appreciated his easy admission that he was worried, too, and the way he didn't dismiss Emily's fears as childish - unlike others. Havelock, the former admiral, had come by a few days before, to report on his success in winning the cooperation of other officers of the Navy. Overhearing Emily and Callista conducting a lesson and Emily's fearful questions about whether, as Empress, she would be able to keep the Overseers from persecuting alleged heretics unchecked, Havelock had scoffed and told her that, in Dunwall, heresy and persecution went hand in hand, and she would soon grow to learn that. Corvo had turned a blind eye later, when Daud had denied Havelock a bunk for the night and instead sent him back to the city on his own in the failing light.

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Corvo sighed.

*

They had about half an hour before they were due to leave for their target that night, and Corvo was up in his room, alone. His mask was next to him on the bed, but in his hands he was holding the Heart.

Something is weighing on your mind, my love, Jessamine's voice called to him from the Void, and he narrowed his eyes when he realised that even now, her voice sounded exactly like that when she was teasing him about his serious demeanour at Court, telling him the most inconsequential news in her most foreboding tone, and then laughing soundly when he fell for it.

"Jess," he murmured, refusing to let this play out like one of their old games, games that would sometimes drive him up the wall at the time but that he missed so dearly now. "I need to tell you something. Daud and I, we—he told me about the promise he made you, and I—I kissed him, and now I don't... I can't..."

Oh, Corvo. You forget, I can see into your heart. I always could, even before I entered this form.

"Jess, I don't—I love you. I always will."

And yet, you feel drawn to him.

"Yes," Corvo admitted, his voice cracking. "I should despise him, even fear him, but then... he risks his men every day to keep us safe, risks himself every time we head out, and then at breakfast, he sits next to Emily and watches her draw a pirate ship with a crew of Whalers; and if they think I haven't noticed them trailing me around the grounds then they're both deluding themselves. He's good to her, Jess. He kept the promise he made you."

But that's not the only reason.

Corvo closed his eyes. "The way he... reacts to me, sometimes I wonder—but it's as though he's fighting himself, all the time."

Just like you, I'd imagine.

"That's not what I—"

He is very handsome when he laughs, especially with that scar. It's no wonder everyone contrives not to stare.

"Jess!"

What do you expect me to say? Am I supposed to forbid you your feelings, when I could see the kinship that you felt from the moment you received the Mark? I am no longer of your world, and as much as I wish that I could reach across this great expanse and take you and Emily into my arms again, that time has passed. None of this is easy for me, but I have come to accept what I see in this endless cold, and knowing that you are not alone gives me great comfort.

Corvo remembered Daud's words from the night before, and the familiar ache in his chest returned. "I don't know what to do," he confessed. "What about Emily?"

I know that you fear hurting her above all else, but you must realise that what she wants is for you to be happy, just as I do.

"Being close to the man sent to kill you?"

His was not the hand that held the pistol. She knows this.

"Because that's what I told her."

She trusts you more than anyone. There are no simple answers in this, my Corvo. But if there was ever anything I wished for after all this began, it's that whatever happened, you and Emily would never have to harden your hearts. Everything either of you have done has been in service of her safety. For a man who never chose a side and who certainly never swore fealty to the Empress, that is no small thing.

"You told me to accept his comfort, should he choose to offer it," Corvo murmured, wondering how much she'd seen even then. "And he did."

Then let him prove himself to you.  A storm is coming.

"What do you mean?" Again, Corvo recalled the Outsider's words that still unsettled him greatly, the ominous warning returning like a spectre peering over his shoulder.

There are things... I can't see, secrets so shrouded in darkness, hidden behind so much anger. But he will need your strength to show his true face.

"But how—"

Time is running out, Corvo. Help him. Protect Emily. Her voice was calling from further away now. She was being pulled back into the Void.

"Jess?"

Protect them.

With that, the shard stopped glowing. The Heart went still in his hands, and Corvo, reeling, could only hold onto it as he tried to keep his breathing even.

He was torn from his thoughts by a knock on the door. Daud.

"Corvo? It's time."


In the fortnight since sending the Pendleton twins packing, Corvo, Daud, and the Whalers had been running themselves ragged with missions - house calls, as Daud kept referring to them. Every night, they spent out in the districts, persuading those with influence to stall Burrows' advances towards the Regency, to block his proposals, and to deny him funding should he ask for help - most importantly, to recognise the rightful Empress when she reclaimed her throne. They weren't as forward as they'd been with Pendleton, however; keeping to the shadows, they intimidated their prey unseen, surprising them late at night in their studies, in their bedrooms while their wives and children slept. None ever saw Corvo's face nor learnt his identity, but it was almost comical how many of them automatically assumed their assailant to be Daud. Depending on what their allegiances were, they were convinced he was either there to kill them as he had the Empress, or because he'd chosen to double-cross Burrows and earn himself twice the coin.

Nearly all of them asked about the Princess.

In time, practically everyone at Court could be certain that their peers had received a similar visit to their own, but Corvo couldn't hide his surprise at realising that truly no-one dared speak of it. With Daud's shadow cast over their lives, they seemed terrified beyond all sense.

Watching Daud across the desk in his quarters one afternoon, Corvo struggled once again with the reminder of who Daud was, the fear that he inspired and that ran so counter to Corvo's own feelings now. Daud was dangerous - but then, so was the Outsider, and Corvo had barely hesitated before accepting the Mark. He'd done a lot of things he hadn't thought possible before the Conspiracy, and he was not so blind to the fact that, for Emily, he would do more than what he had. For her, he would level the city in a flood of death and ruin if he thought he had no other choice, and it ate at him to know how close he'd come.

'I wasn't stopping you, Corvo,' Daud's words echoed in his memories.

Daud had known it, too.

He had long wondered why someone like Daud would do what he'd done, what might prompt an assassin to choose a side other than his own. There'd been the Whalers' safety, Dunwall, the promise that he'd made... and yet, if Corvo had chosen a different path... what would Daud have done?

The tension at the Hound Pits pub was spiking, everyone aware of how close they were to the final piece of the puzzle falling into place; and Emily's nerves, too, were straining with knowing what awaited her if they were successful. Burrows had to know they were coming for him, seeing his political support within Parliament fall away and his chances to rule dwindling. The power vacuum that had resulted from Jessamine and Emily's disappearance had put Court in limbo, with no interregnum until an heir could be determined. In its stead had arrived a constant tug-of-war between different factions; the quarrelling had served them in so far as no majority could be achieved to appoint a Regent. But it had also thrown into sharp relief the discord between those who were supposed to represent the people. Daud had commented one evening, drily as though observing a turn in the weather, that they should be glad no-one had worked up the courage to stage a coup. Corvo had had no time to reply before Jenkins had interrupted them to inform them that one of the novices had been injured on patrol, and so reluctant scorn had been replaced by worry as he'd followed Daud down the stairs as quickly as he could; but the remark had followed him for hours afterwards, and into uneasy dreams.

Tension between them, too, had risen - almost by necessity. They'd gone back to sparring after breakfast almost every day, albeit peacefully now that they understood each other better, but that understanding also meant that it was useless to hide their frustration with waiting from one another, which did not exactly serve to make their altercations any less intense. Although Corvo was glad that Daud had opened up enough not to hide his impatience, he felt sometimes that it only served to hide... something else. They'd not spoken about that night, about what had happened, and Corvo hadn't dared to breach the distance that remained between them since. It was as though they were waiting, like dogs before a fight, but for what, neither of them seemed to know.

*

"Corvo and I will return once Burrows has been arrested and we're sure he won't escape custody in Coldridge. We'll return by the sewers leading into the abandoned apartment across from the tower. Samuel will ferry us close to the Legal District and then return here," Daud informed the assembled Whalers. "As before, finish your own missions and then join the patrols in the Legal and Estate District. Once you're done and no-one's rioting in the streets, come back here."

They would be making their way into the Legal District by a bit of a detour - Corvo had suggested checking up on the Bottle Street Gang on the way, and although Daud seemed none too fond of Slackjaw (admittedly, about as fond as he seemed of the Hatters, too, but markedly less fond than of the Dead Eels, which Corvo was resolved to ask him about), he'd agreed readily enough.

Had Corvo known that Daud would use the opportunity to antagonise the gang's boss over his handling of both the twins and their younger brother - whose drunken stumbling back towards the manor the night his brothers disappeared had made cautious headlines in the Courier - he might have proposed an alternative route. Currently glad that his mask afforded him the luxury of wincing at the challenge in Daud's tone and rolling his eyes at Slackjaw's offended reply, he watched the two men face off for a moment longer before deciding he had enough and ambling off towards the distillery proper. One of the thugs jerked his chin towards the scene.

"Built like brick shithouses, the two of 'em, and they're just standing in the middle of the yard, arguin'," he said when Corvo was close enough to hear him.

Corvo shrugged. "I prefer that to an actual fight."

"Well, ya better collect yer man, or ya might have one on yer hands," another one of Slackjaw's men chimed in. "Damned shame Crowley's gone, he'd be the one to reel the boss in now."

"Daud is not my boss," Corvo felt compelled to clarify, but he only received a shrewd look for his trouble.

"Slackjaw wasn't the boss of Crowley, neither," the first thug told him with a vague hand gesture that could signify anything between 'if you know what I mean' and 'you posh choffer,' and Corvo was content not inquiring further.

"Hey," a third member of the gang leaned against the railing at Corvo's back, "is it true he used to be holed up in the Flooded District? With the weepers and the wild hounds?"

"I heard he marches with an army of shadows ahead of him," one of the others added, and Corvo had to suppress a snort.

"It's not so poetic," he muttered, but waved a hand when the thugs looked to be gearing up to ask him even more questions.

Instead, he took the sagely offered advice and headed back towards where Daud was now bellowing something about killing a man without ruffling his hair, at which point Corvo decided he would get them both to safety by side-along Blink if he had to. Appearing at Daud's shoulder, he murmured, "What are you doing?" into his ear, gratified when his sudden closeness did seem to distract Daud for a moment, certainly enough to stop talking.

At Daud's annoyed look at being interrupted, Corvo internalised a sigh, then turned to Slackjaw.

"Thank you for holding up your end of the bargain, Slackjaw. If we find out anything further about what Crowley was investigating, we'll let you know."

Still visibly agitated, Slackjaw nevertheless nodded at Corvo's words. "That'd be good of you."

"Come on," Corvo urged Daud, tilting his head when Daud stubbornly stayed where he was.

"I wasn't finished."

"I don't care," Corvo shot back impatiently.

"You care about everything," Daud challenged him, his voice dropping even further into the gutter.

"Daud," Corvo growled, a barely hidden threat in his voice. At this distance, it was impossible to miss the darkening of Daud's eyes, and although he had no idea what to do with that now that he had, nor the time to think about it, it set something to simmer deep inside him that just weeks ago, he might have taken for rage.

He was not expecting Daud to rasp his name in return, however, perhaps a childish retaliation, but distressingly effective nonetheless, as Daud suddenly disengaged and turned on his heel to walk away, towards the door leading out of the Distillery District. Corvo, struck dumb for precious seconds, caught himself and, with a last nod at Slackjaw, who seemed bemused at what he'd just witnessed, if nothing else, made to follow. Corvo decided he was definitely not telling Daud about the things the thugs had just said about him, it'd only make him worse.

"You are impossible," Corvo hissed as he pulled level with Daud, who had, predictably, put his own version of a mask back on, turning his head to stare at Corvo.

"And yet, here you are," was all he contributed to the conversation before striding through the door and then promptly transversing onto the nearest roof. When Corvo blinked up next to him, he added, "besides, that nonsense about telling Slackjaw what we knew? We already know the answers he's looking for, and you haven't given them to him."

Corvo ground his teeth. "Because you were right, now is not the time."

"Hmm," the sound Daud made was barely more than a hum, but still Corvo stopped and stared at him. All this, the arguing, the back and forth, the look on Daud's face - the reminders of before slammed into Corvo with force.

"Don't look so smug," he managed in lieu of so many other things he could have said, not the least among them that finally telling Corvo the truth certainly seemed to have improved Daud's spirits; but Corvo would rather make an acquaintance with red hot pokers than say something that crude. Emily's nightmare had affected Daud as much as it had him, he knew, and although what had ultimately happened might have been a long time coming, now was also not the time to be an ass.

Thankfully, Daud merely transversed again.

*

Erstwhile Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows was holed up in his old residence and offices in the Legal District; gathered around him all remaining loyal members of the City Watch. Deeming it to risky for patrols or solitary raids, they hadn't had access to Burrows' records since the assassination beyond what they'd been able to acquire from members of his circle. Unfortunately, Burrows was paranoid and obsessed with having everything in order to boot, so stealing from him had been a gamble from the start, Daud relying more on copying down relevant information if possible, or returning the original documents within a day of stealing them if chances of discovery were too great.

This time, however, they would take whatever they could find. Rulfio and Galia had been tasked with delivering their evidence on Burrows to Geoff Curnow precisely half an hour ago, which gave Corvo and Daud a head start. Knowing that the last guards still working for Burrows were likely many of those who enjoyed spreading terror in the streets, they did not want to run the risk of Curnow and his men walking into an ambush if Burrows decided to put up a fight.

Choosing roof access over the basement, Corvo and Daud spent precious minutes finding the weak spots - men like Burrows liked to think they had none, but to Corvo and Daud, not even the Tower had been a fortress. Eventually, they decided to take out the guards on the East and West facing balconies first and to deposit them on the roof for safe-keeping. Once they had access to the second floor, they eavesdropped on another pair of guards, who were discussing who would be guarding Burrows in his study on the first floor that evening, before putting them to sleep, too.

It was uncertain whether Burrows would keep pertinent documents in his private chambers rather than in his study, but they would leave no stone unturned in the limited time they had. In lieu of speaking, they relied on hand gestures and signals, periodically looking up to check the other's position while they were rifling through shelves and desks and indicating where to go next; as there were several guards stationed in the corridor outside Burrows' room. As Corvo pushed the last drawer of Burrows' wardrobe closed, Daud appeared beside him and thrust a piece of paper under his nose without comment. Skimming it quickly, Corvo realised it was a note on increased security in the residence as well as a reminder that Burrows had set new combinations for all safes and gates. The combinations weren't listed, of course, so Corvo huffed in annoyance.

Noting his reaction, a smirk tugged on the corners of Daud's mouth and, from seemingly nowhere, he produced a smaller, folded sheaf of paper that he held between his index and middle finger as if it were tomorrow's grocery list and of barely enough importance to tease Corvo with. Plucking it from Daud's grasp with only so much patience, Corvo flipped it to find the locations of safes, gates, and chests throughout the residence, listed neatly and paired with their codes and the locations of the relevant keys, respectively. This was where Burrows' need for order outweighed his distrustful nature, it seemed. Then again, Outsider knew where Daud had to have thought to look for this to find it.

Corvo quickly memorised the combination for the safe on the wall opposite the bed and turned to open it. Inside were two silver ingots left over from what Corvo was sure had been a much more sizeable reserve, together with a cameo depicting Esma Boyle and a collection of papers. Corvo's hand briefly hovered over the cameo. He remembered her unmoving form and the shock on Brisby's face when Corvo had appeared before him in the cellar, empty-handed except for a regular sleep dart and a warning. Shaking his head, he pocketed the silver ingots and left the cameo alone, then grabbed the papers and read them over. Among the notes, there was an audiograph. Without looking, Corvo extended his arm while he continued scanning the documents for information they could use. He felt Daud take the audiograph from his hand. Moments later, Burrows' voice sounded from the speaker, volume turned low but still sending shivers of disgust up Corvo's back.

If I explain, then you will see, I am not at fault. My Poverty Eradication Plan was meant to bring prosperity to the City, to rid us of those scoundrels who waste their days in filth and drink.

And it was a simple plan – bring the disease bearing rats from the Pandyssian Continent, and let them take care of the poor for us. The plan worked perfectly. At first. But the rats – it was as if they sought to undo me. And then people began to ask questions. The Empress assigned me to investigate whether the rats had been imported by a foreign power. So there was no other way than to be rid of her, and take power myself. She had to die, you see. SHE HAD TO DIE.

Bringing about the death of an Empress is not an easy thing, but it gave me the chance to attack the plague with some real authority. But there’s always some idiot woman searching for her wretched lost babe, or some sniveling workman searching for his missing wife. And then quarantine is broken!

But you can see how my plan should have worked? Would have worked! If everyone had just followed orders.

The recording ended, but neither of them were looking to the door to see if the guards had been alerted. Corvo, unseeing, stared at the audiograph on Burrows' private desk Daud had used to play the recording. He had known all this, had known it for months - Daud had brought them enough evidence to piece it together the first time he'd broken into the Tower.

SHE HAD TO DIE.

Burrows' shrieking voice echoed through Corvo's hollowed heart. Slowly, deliberately, he set his hand on the hilt of his blade, the by now familiar angles of the handle a comfort he didn't dare articulate to anyone - except perhaps the man now standing in front of him.

"Not yet," Daud, suddenly close, rumbled lowly. "It will be done. For now, this is all we need," Daud continued, holding up the audiograph card.

Looking up and into Daud's grey eyes, Corvo nodded.

*

They didn't have to wait long for Curnow's car to arrive. He had a dozen men with him, some of whom Corvo recognised from before, trustworthy officers by all accounts. Then again, he had presumed so of the men guarding Jessamine every day of her reign. Blinking down and keeping to the shadows, Corvo waited until Curnow's men were dispersed in front of the manor's tall doors until he bent time. Daud transversed up behind the Captain, gripped him by the elbow and appeared back next to Corvo. Unbending time, Corvo put his hand over Curnow's mouth to prevent him from alerting the guards. His eyes widening, Curnow went stock-still when he stumbled back, right into Daud's bulk.

"Lord Corvo?" Curnow asked when Corvo removed his hand. "It's you, isn't it? You're working with Daud and his assassins. Two of them paid me a visit earlier tonight."

Corvo nodded. "I know it all seems impossible, Geoff, but it's true. Once the whole truth is out, you will understand."

Curnow looked dubious, but made no comment. "Look, what the Whalers gave me is enough to take Burrows into custody. With the Overseers somewhat restrained by that new man, Martin, I might even get to keep him for a while, but I don't know how long. I don't know if I can make it stick until a trial."

Corvo pulled the audiograph card from his coat pocket. "This is all you'll need," he echoed Daud's words. "Play this to any judge not yet completely corrupt, and they'll have no choice but to convict him of high treason."

"You mean it's—"

"It's irrefutable evidence that Burrows not only planned to kill the Empress, but that he caused the rat plague," Corvo interrupted him. "In his own words and voice."

Curnow took the card from his hands as though he'd been offered the keys to Dunwall Tower. "How did you get this?"

"Illegally," Daud rasped from behind Curnow, startling him; something Corvo had come to realise Daud rather enjoyed. With Corvo's mask in the room, people were now actually liable to forget Daud was there - right up until he chose to remind them.

"Your men will come looking for you. Go," Corvo urged Curnow back towards the manor entrance. "Don't let Burrows see the card until you have him in chains." Without waiting for the Captain's reply, Corvo and Daud scaled the side of the house. From the roof ridge, they would be able to observe the arrest just fine.

Prior to Jessamine's death, Corvo might have thought that words would be unsuited to describe the triumph he would feel at seeing Burrows taken down, but what he felt in this moment held no joy, nor vindication. With Jessamine gone, their fight hadn't been for the throne, it had been for the Empire itself, and for restoring the Kaldwin line to rule. It had been vengeance, cold and swift, if bloodless. Daud, a steady presence at his side through it all, perched next to him now, watching, his eyes dark like storm clouds over the river. It had taken Corvo time to understand that Daud feared for the city and its people - had feared the potential consequences of his actions enough to warn the person he'd been hired to kill. It was perhaps the strongest and most incongruent thing that the late Empress and the Knife of Dunwall had in common, the desire not to see the city fall to ruin, not to have the weakest within its wall suffer for the greed of those in power.

Jessamine had been a reluctant ruler, in that she'd believed that her noble birth entitled her to nothing beyond responsibility, and the duty to her people. She'd earned their trust after Emily's grandfather's death, earned it every day; even if the burden of her crown made her weary. Seeing Burrows crushed would not bring her back, seeing his scheme to eradicate the citizens she had worked so hard to protect exposed would not undo the pain already dealt. Lives had been lost, and though only one of them had been their Empress, only one of them had been his Jessamine, they had all been important. Everyone who was lost had been loved, though perhaps none of them by as many as the Empress. If that was her distinction, then Corvo was proud to have served her, to have loved her, for all these years.

Below them, Burrows resisted arrest. Curnow himself subdued him by backhanding him across the face with enough force to knock him to the ground as Burrow's so-called loyal guards looked on, kept in check by Curnow's men.

It was done.

Chapter Text

It was always understood between us.


 

"Come on," Daud laid his hand on Corvo's forearm. "Time to head back." Time to get ready, too. Things would move quickly now, with Burrows removed - Parliament would be in disarray come morning; and while Burrows' attempts at seizing power had polarised the voting blocks enough to hold at least some of the worst in-fighting at bay, this barrier would now fall away. Emily had to take the throne by the Month of High Cold, or everything would have been for nought. Still, Daud did not fight the satisfaction he felt at seeing Burrows fall - literally. He only wished Jessamine could have seen it, too. She'd deserved better.

Together, they blinked away.

They were halfway across the rooftops of Dunwall's Estate District when Thomas and Montgomery practically landed on top of them.

"Daud, Corvo!" Thomas called, out of breath.

Daud felt the icy shudder of recollection at the sight of Thomas staggering towards him across a rooftop. He had not understood the true extent of his warning then. "What," he rasped.

"The Hounds Pits has been overrun. The Overseers. They found us," Thomas forced out between deep breaths.

"No," Corvo breathed next to him, voice filled with pain not yet registered. "No."

EmilyThe Whalers. Daud's insides churned, but he made sure not to let the anguish show on his face when he turned to Corvo, away from Thomas and Montgomery.

"Corvo," he murmured, waiting until Corvo met his eyes. Judging by the shuffling behind them, Thomas and Montgomery had moved away, resting for a brief moment and giving them space. Corvo's head was still bowed under the world threatening to break apart on his back, but his breaths were steadying.

"We need to go," Daud told him quietly. "Now."

Corvo nodded, but when Daud made to pull away, Corvo's voice stopped him. "Daud," Corvo's voice was a broken whisper. "I can't—"

"You won't." The Whalers would protect Emily with their lives. As for Daud... he had a promise to keep. And so he would.

*

The journey back to the Hound Pits felt like an eternity, but in their haste and panic that Daud did his best to quell, they made better time than they had every night for the past fortnight. Still, they paced themselves - the elixirs they carried wouldn't last forever, and it was no use arriving at the pub only to suffer mana drain. Once they were at the border to the old district, they made their way into the sewers. Daud wondered whether Samuel had spotted the attackers first, and whether he'd been given the chance to raise the alarm, at least.

Creeping through Dunwall's damp, river krust infested underbelly, at his side, Corvo's presence tasted like static, Daud's awareness of his powers sharpened to something tangible; and if he looked, Daud was sure he would see Void, cracked and splintered, clinging to him like broken glass. He didn't look.

Following Thomas and Montgomery up the chain into the basement of an abandoned building near the pub, he could hear voices from upstairs. Straining, he recognised Lydia and Cecelia, joined by Jenkins and Galia. He dropped onto solid ground and, on instinct, held his hand out for Corvo to pull him up when he was half-way through the hatch. Corvo gripped his fingers tightly and used Daud's hold to heave himself through the opening. Daud was glad for the mask if only because it spared him attempting to decipher whatever look on Corvo's face it was keeping hidden; so he quickly let go of Corvo's hand and turned towards the stairs.

Meeting Thomas on the landing, Daud demanded, "Where's the Empress?" He didn't care what that sounded like to Corvo, knowing full well that everyone still avoided referring to Emily by her title or the suitable honorific of ‘Your Highness’ when speaking to her directly. If nothing else, it created distance - reason.

Thomas repeated what the others had managed to observe through the drapes since the first wave of the surge. "Samuel spotted them on the river and alerted the others; he'd only just returned from dropping you and Corvo off himself. Rinaldo and Misha were keeping an eye on Em—the Empress and Callista and grabbed them immediately. They're barricaded in the tower, no-one's getting in." Next to Daud, Corvo let out a soft noise.

"Dimitri and the novices barricaded the entrance to Corvo's room to delay them further," Thomas continued. "Sokolov, Piero, Havelock, and Wallace are shut up tight in the workshop. If you hear clanging, that's the Overseers trying to bust their way in, but they've had no success so far. Jenkins helped Cecelia and Lydia get to safety here, Galia arrived about fifteen minutes ago."

"Rulfio?"

"He's outside, scouting."

"Who else is still here?" Corvo asked before Daud could.

"The novices were patrolling the grounds, a few of them scattered, the others have been captured and locked in the kennels. They've got music boxes and they're rigging the speakers," Thomas added, his shoulders dropping. "Most of the others should be returning soon. If we wait for them and regroup, we can still drive them back."

Daud cut him off with a gesture. "No, if they've got that damned music with them, it's too dangerous if we move about in numbers. Corvo and I will have to do this alone."

"Sir. Anything else?" Thomas asked.

Glowering, Daud bared his teeth. "I want to know how those bastards found us in the first place." He called on the Arcane Bond to summon Rulfio, who appeared inside the abandoned apartment moments later.

"Daud," Rulfio greeted him, acknowledging Corvo with a nod. "They're almost done setting up the speakers. We don't have much time if we want roof access. This place is a death trap to climb without powers."

"Who's leading them?"

"As far as I could hear, Overseer Hume. He's searching your quarters right now, and they're all just waiting for you to show your face."

"What about Martin?" Corvo demanded, "where's he in all this?"

"I'm not sure, but there aren't enough of them for a full-scale attack authorised by the High Overseer himself."

"Hume is acting without orders," Daud concluded. Rulfio nodded.

"It seems likely, sir. Martin is definitely not with them, but I couldn't get close enough to look at their plans."

"Plans?" Corvo queried.

Daud let out an impatient grunt. "Overseers don't take a dump without a plan." Another time, he might have been trying to get a laugh out of Corvo with that line, or perhaps at least a rise, but now, what could have been a punchline fell flat in the stagnant air. Internalising a sigh, Daud made for the door, holding out his hand for the key, knowing that Corvo would follow. "Let's just get on with it."

They both knew what their first priority would be.

*

"Think you'll get your own squad after what happened last night?"

"Indeed, I believe so."

Unlocking the door silently and creeping outside, Daud took a moment to roll his eyes at how naive so many members of the Abbey truly were - misguided, overzealous fanatics, the lot of them, but what little information about the children abducted to White Cliff was in the public domain left little doubt as to the cruelty of their practices. The streets around the pub illuminated by lanterns, Daud could make out the patrols. Warfare Overseers, in pairs, some with wolfhounds, some with music boxes strapped to their fronts. His upper lip curled in a snarl. He would not let one of them get the drop on him again, not tonight. At least they seemed to be having trouble rigging the speaker system, working on the one closest to the ruined tower.

Their best chance was to get up over their heads onto the vents outside Daud's quarters. If Hume was there now, perhaps they would be able to glean some information as to their plans without having to enter the building. From there, they could make their way up onto the roof of Piero's workshop.

"Come on," he whispered, moving from the shadows, when Corvo's hand came down hard on his arm.

"Wait." Corvo nodded towards something ahead and to the right. In the unreliable light, Daud had to use his spyglass to spot what Corvo had been able to with a simple rotation of lenses. A pale figure, perched up on the roof of the abandoned building next to Emily's tower. Zooming closer, Daud thought he could make out roses before she - at least he thought it was a woman - disappeared in a cloud of ash.

"Another Marked?" Corvo asked.

"Worse. Witch," Daud growled.

"What?"

"We don't have time." They could puzzle out the hows and whys later - provided they lived long enough, and chances of that would greatly improve once they were up on that damn roof.

As it turned out, eavesdropping on Hume and his lickspittles proved as fruitless as it was infuriating. In all his time in Dunwall and other parts of the Isles during his years travelling, Daud had never heard any Void-forsaken one of them say anything about magic, the Outsider, or those accused of heresy that wasn't complete and utter horseshit. In Morley, a woman Daud had known had been burnt at the stake for nothing but her habit of talking to herself, sold out by her neighbours when the Overseers had come investigating alleged counts of heresy in their quarter; and her son, mute from birth and deaf in one ear following a childhood accident, had been taken in for 'rehabilitation.' He had not survived the torture at their hands.

Overseer Hume himself, apparently, comported himself with no less incompetence. When asked by one of the Overseers guarding him whether he thought that Corvo had recruited Daud to help him kill the Empress, or whether Daud had corrupted the Royal Protector for his own ends during his travels to the Isles, Hume responded: "Neither, Brother Robert, it was the Outsider who seduced them both and twisted them into bearing out his sick imagination. Once enthralled by the Void, there can be no more free will. The people of Dunwall have neglected their Strictures, and so invited the devil into their homes, and with him the Plague."

Outside the window, Daud ground his teeth. He would carry the burden of his sins and do it alone, not pawn responsibility off on the empty promises of a bored transcendental entity.

"After we take Daud and that traitor Attano into custody, we will show the citizens that there is a way out of this crisis - to Restrict the Roving Feet and the Lying Tongue, to abstain from devil worship and the consumption of rat meat. We will cleanse Dunwall of their artefacts and shrines, and imprison the heretics. Once we have accomplished this, our victory will be complete. But until then, this will make very clear that the Abbey of the Everyman is the only institution fit to rule Gristol and, certainly, the Empire."

"What about the Princess, Brother?"

"High Overseer Campbell once noted that she was a bright young thing. I'm sure that, in time, she will grow into a shapely young woman. She should make any High Overseer a fine wife one day."

Next to Daud, Corvo was seething with fury, his fists clenched tight, probably against the overwhelming urge to break the window they were crouching under and break every last bone in that bastard's body, Daud thought. Then, belatedly and through the daze, Daud recognised this urge as his own. Taking a deep breath to centre himself, Daud hardly dared turn his head.

"I've heard enough," Corvo said quietly, his voice toneless. Daud found himself in agreement. Abandoning Hume to be dealt with later, Daud and Corvo made their way up on the roof of Piero's workshop as an Overseer and a wolfhound passed below them. That is, they tried to. Practically mid-aim, Daud flinched at the almighty screech of speaker feedback. Then, the low drone of the Overseers' music filled the air around and, or so it felt to Daud, inside them. Daud's Transversal nullified abruptly, he staggered for a moment, nearly losing his footing on the metal grating. Corvo, who had already called upon Blink, lurched forward. And fell.

Even though robbed of his abilities, for one absurd moment, it was as though time did slow around them. Barely steady himself, Daud threw himself forward, lunging for any part of Corvo he could reach. In some corner of his mind, he was already thinking about their odds of making it - if he got to Corvo in time, if his desperate grab didn't cause himself to overbalance, if the Overseer was turned away and didn't hear them over the din, if he managed to pull Corvo back quickly enough...

His fingers clamping down around Corvo's left arm, Daud locked his shoulders and bent his knees, bringing his centre of gravity back. With his left hand, he grabbed onto the steel light fixtures attached to the outside of the building. Then, all he could do was to brace himself before—

Time snapped back into place and, with it, Daud locked his jaw against the grunt that dared force itself out of his lungs, the air knocked out of him as Corvo's full weight bore down. Dangling for a precarious moment, Corvo kicked his legs a few times, hitting only empty air, but then had the sense to reach up to hold onto Daud's arm with his right hand, using the momentum from his fall to swing to the right, bracing one of his feet on the edge of the awning and wrenching himself upwards as Daud pulled.

Their combined efforts were enough to propel Corvo back to safety, but also sent him careening into Daud, who could only think to catch him as he was forced backwards, his back hitting the bricks with force and, apparently, prejudice. Another rather inelegant noise escaped him on impact, with Corvo only a second behind, albeit muffled by his mask and, so Daud thought sardonically, by Daud. With his right hand still wrapped around Corvo's left arm, Corvo's right trapped between them as he'd been holding on to Daud, they fit together about as well as a jigsaw puzzle assembled from a dozen different sets, but as Daud convinced his vice grip on the steel bars next to his head to loosen, they could do little but wait. Listening for any sign of an alert from below, Daud did his best to regain control over his harsh breathing, equilibrium knocked askew by more than Corvo's elbow currently jammed into his stomach.

Seconds passed. Thirty. A minute.

No-one raised the alarm, and the Overseer-plus-one-angry-wolfhound patrol continued on their way without interruption. Slowly disentangling themselves, Daud was fairly certain that the unspoken agreement to never mention this again would hold until the day they died - provided that Rulfio hadn't seen what'd happened from the window of the abandoned apartment; in which case neither of them would ever live this down. Daud shook his head to dislodge those distracting thoughts, not unlike one of those flea-ridden dogs, as Corvo stepped away slowly to peer over the ledge.

"Chain," Daud hissed at his back. It was their only way up now. Corvo nodded, but didn't turn, and instead grabbed for the chain and heaved himself up. Daud kept an eye on the alley below them as he followed, for once grateful that the Overseers' music covered the tinkling of the chain as they climbed.

Clambering up the chain and onto the scaffolding of the roof of Piero's workshop, they crept, hunched over so as not to make themselves too visible against the moonlit sky, towards the edge facing the yard. More than a dozen Overseers, some patrolling, some standing guard around an alarm; others had apparently temporarily abandoned their attempts to break into the workshop. In the dark, Daud could see the red glow emanate from the wiring - it was live, no use hoping otherwise. When Daud turned towards the tower, Corvo was inspecting the Arc Pylon Sokolov and Piero had installed just the week before. Even if Emily's time at the Hound Pits pub was fast coming to an end, the Whalers' wasn't, and so Piero had proposed something more... permanent in the way of security. Powered by three whale oil tanks, the modified Pylon would be strong enough to incapacitate an entire wave of attackers, or so Piero had promised. Daud hadn't looked at the plans yet.

"Do you think it's ready yet?" Corvo asked in a whisper.

"I hope so," Daud whispered back. "If not, this won't be pretty."

Slowly, they made their way across, towards the tower, Corvo's lenses clicking continuously as he kept an eye on the ground, checking for signs of detection from below. They were about five feet away from the door when Corvo's hand shot out and gripped Daud's shoulder tightly. When Daud turned his head to look at him, he pointed downwards. Carefully, Daud leaned forward to get a look. Below them, a wolfhound was sniffing, its snout raised into the air. It growled faintly. The Overseer assigned to the animal stopped, watching it.

"What is it, Rufus? Got something?" he asked quietly but nonetheless fervently, as if eagerly waiting for the alarm to be raised - wanting to be the one to raise the alarm. Daud moved back into a crouch before he could be spotted, wishing just as fervently for some of the more... unsavoury bone charms he had collected over the years. Not the one that made his teeth rot in his gums every time he shot someone, mind you, but there was one that rendered you near invisible as long as the light was dim and you did not move a muscle. The trade off was that his mana did not regenerate, so he had rarely ever carried it.

On the ground, the wolfhound continued sniffing the air, that much Daud could tell from the snuffling sounds it was making, if not from the continued silence.

"Oh? Must have been the rats, getting into everything," they heard the Overseers say a few moments later, sounding disappointed. A second later, Daud craned his neck again and watched as the wolfhound followed its master towards the yard. After a moment, Corvo let go of Daud's shoulder and they started moving again, and this time Daud would not stop for anything, not even the High Overseer himself. Where the hell was Martin?

Finally arriving at the door to Emily's room, Corvo withdrew the only other key from one of the myriad of pockets of his coat and unlocked it, which Daud would wager was liable to send even-keeled Callista into a fit worthy of a few beatings from any other taskmaster; so when Corvo slipped inside, Daud was about ready to have things thrown at his head when he followed and shut the door behind them quickly. Instead of books used as projectiles, however, what they were faced with were Rinaldo and Misha, wristbows armed with hardened bolts, not sleepdarts; Emily and Callista nowhere to be seen. When the two Whalers realised who had come in, they lowered their arms, but the tension in their shoulders spoke of exhaustion and hours of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Boss," Misha breathed through her mask, relief as obvious as the moon in the sky despite the distortion. "You're here."

"Where's Emily?" Corvo asked immediately after taking off his mask, not bothering with niceties. Instead of answering, Rinaldo moved towards the beds, reaching under Emily's unceremoniously. "It's ok," he said softly, only to start pulling a moment later. Using the young Whaler as a lever, Emily heaved herself out from under the bed.

"Corvo! Daud!" she cried once she had her feet under her, and Daud watched as Corvo dropped to his knees, opening his arms. Throwing herself into her father's embrace, Emily said, "I knew you'd come! I knew they wouldn't have caught you!"

Corvo stroked her hair, just as he'd done after her nightmare, holding her tightly against him. Daud looked away, refusing to let his own memories of that night intrude. Now was not the time to remember, or to speculate regarding the nature of that dream. Looking back at them, Daud saw Corvo letting go of his daughter to hold her at arm's length, checking her over for injuries but finding only dust from underneath the bed. Meanwhile, Misha helped Callista emerge from underneath her own, the governess looking harried but hiding the worst of her fear well for the sake of her charge. On top of likely risking life and limb to maintain contact with her uncle, Daud's respect for the young Curnow grew.

"Are you alright?" Corvo queried, and Emily nodded.

"Rinaldo and Misha made us hide under the bed when the music started coming over the speakers, and told us not to make a sound or come out no matter what," she explained.

"You did well," Corvo told her, probably as surprised as Daud at her following those orders to the letter even after hearing Corvo ask for her. "As did you," Corvo addressed Rinaldo and Misha. "Thank you for acting as quickly as you did." The two Whalers responded by giving Corvo their customary salute, making something inside Daud twinge in unexpected ways. Only he didn't have the time to think on it as, a moment later, he found an insistent eleven-year-old pressed into his side, Emily's arms wrapped around his waist and her face hidden against his coat.

Looking up with something close to alarm, Daud found that Misha and Rinaldo, unknowable through their masks, were no help at all; and Corvo, back on his feet and standing close, was smiling. If Daud hadn't been with him for the entire night, he'd have assumed Corvo had actually fallen and landed on his head earlier. In any case, Daud decided, there was nothing for it. So when he looked back down, he slowly raised a hand to set it on Emily's shoulder, giving it an experimental pat. Reminded of when she'd snuck into his office not too long ago, he mumbled, "Alright, kid."

Taking that for acceptance, Emily raised her head to look up at him with a serious expression. "Thank you for protecting Corvo." Daud frowned. Had she seen their little... mishap from the window? Interpreting his confusion with uncanny intuition, she shrugged. "You always do." The twinge returned, sharper. Not trusting his voice, he nodded.

As if sensing that mute agreement would soon be followed by fidgeting, Emily let him go and moved back so she could look at both of them. "Are the others alright? What are you going to do?"

Exchanging a glance with Corvo, Daud replied, "We have an idea."

*

The climb down into Piero's workshop via the balcony was no less irritatingly cumbersome than the way up, but at least this time they could continue without interruption. Tools and blueprints were scattered on the workbench on the upper level, Piero's things interspersed with Sokolov's works on whale vivisection and oil production, making bile rise in Daud's throat even now. Wordlessly, they continued on, listening to the voices from downstairs.

"Sir, it's too dangerous," they heard Wallace argue.

"Someone has to do it," was Sokolov's obstinate reply.

"I'll do it," Havelock volunteered. "I may not look like it now, but I climbed those rafters like a monkey when I was just a seaman."

"Even if you could heave the final tank onto the roof without blowing yourself up, I still need my plans to complete the modifications," Piero cut in.

"And where are those plans?" Havelock demanded.

Cutting to the chase, Daud stepped out from the shadows and made his way down the stairs, Corvo dogging his heels. "They're in my office."

After a second of shock, the men reacted to his revelation with varying amounts of resignation and ire. Piero, meanwhile, merely waved a hand in Daud's direction as if to say, ‘see?’

Sokolov rounded on Daud. "So now Hume has them. Perfect. I told Piero not to let them out of our hands - I don't know why he insisted on showing you in the first place."

Piero, thus accused, flapped his hands. "He has a keen eye for engineering, I'll have you know; and not least he's paying for a lot of this with his own money, including your infernal brandy." Daud ground his teeth. It was true, a lot of what the Whalers had made over the last few years had been sunk into this operation, but in truth, most of it had been paid for by Burrows himself, with Daud's cut for the planned murder of the Empress drained first and to the last coin.

"Hume doesn't have them," Daud growled at Sokolov. "You really think I would leave something like that lying around on my desk? The plans are locked away, in a chest secured with one of your fancy locks, Anton."

This seemed to quell at least some of Sokolov's irritation, not that Daud actually gave a rat's ass whether the man could stand to look at him or not.

"So how do we get the plans?" Corvo asked from Daud's right. He'd put his mask back on while leaving Emily's room, but Daud didn't have to see his face to know the expression he was sporting - Corvo had a mission now, and he would finish it.

Except... not in the way he probably thought.

"We aren't getting them. I am," Daud replied, not surprised when Corvo squared his shoulders, making himself look even taller than he was, and stepped closer until his chest was brushing Daud's arm.

"You are not going in there alone," Corvo rumbled, the mask doing little to hide the exasperation in his tone.

"Without powers, it's too dangerous if we both go."

"How is this different from Holger Square? We never knew who'd be coming around the far corners there, either, Vision or not," Corvo insisted.

"For one thing, we don't have chandeliers to hide on," Daud hissed, impatience clawing its way up his back along with the traitorous notion that he disliked the thought of splitting up just as much now as he had at the Boyle mansion - possibly more. Knowing that Corvo would not let up, Daud played the only card he had left. "Someone has to stay close to Emily in case something happens."

As he'd predicted, Corvo pulled away from him then, half-turning his back on Daud, who let his gaze drop to the floor.

"Just... don't argue," Daud said quietly. Still not looking at him, Corvo huffed.

"Alright. But," and here he turned back, closing the distance between them and putting himself back into Daud's space, "you get killed, you're explaining it to her." Corvo's words held as much threat as they did a sense of humour as dark as a coal pit, and Daud had to reel in his smirk.

Instead, he nodded and, without another word, turned and reached for the banister. He didn't look back at Corvo as he ran upstairs, but when he was nearly at the balcony door, he heard Sokolov's deep voice.

"Don't fret, Corvo, he'll be back before you know it."

*

Creeping back the way they'd come, Daud used the chain to get back onto the awning above the pub doors, then turned left. Making his way past the windows of his quarters, he scaled the building on the other side, climbing the pipes leading up to the roof of the distillery. An Overseer stood near the far edge, looking out over the yard. Daud observed his movements for a moment, but he didn't seem inclined to make another pass across the roof anytime soon, so Daud advanced on him, treading lightly on the gravel. Once he was close enough, he jumped the Overseer from behind, putting him into a Tyvian chokehold strong enough to very nearly crush his windpipe. But only nearly. Dragging the man back from the edge, Daud made sure to deposit him underneath the stairs leading up to Corvo's room, which was certain to be crawling with more Overseers. Then, he walked close enough to the edge of the roof to get a look at the loading bay below. Another Overseer. Hopefully, the only one in the distillery. Without Void Gaze, Daud had no way of knowing, the low drone of the music drowning out most sounds made my boots scuffing against stone or metal. Still. Hesitation would get you killed.

He dropped into the dark, landing right on top of the Overseer and knocking his head against the metal grating with as much force as he could without bashing his skull in. The mask gave a sickening crunch, splitting into two in a clean fault line across the Brother's right eye. Without even checking what was behind him, Daud grabbed the body and hauled it into the shadows before one of the Overseers patrolling the yard looked up and spotted him.

Lucky, for once, Daud realised that the Overseer he'd just taken out had been alone. Wanting to spend no unnecessary time lurking in the shadows, Daud went over to the door leading towards the bunks, peeping through the keyhole. One solitary Overseer was going through the Whalers' trunks and boxes, sorting through their possessions, mumbling under his breath about the stench of the Void clinging to them as he was holding up what looked to be one of the women's chest binders. Anger surged inside Daud. After this, it was his people who would have to wash the dirt from grubby little Overseer hands off their things.

Not bothering with waiting, or planning, Daud used a moment when the Overseer stood with his back towards him to push open the door. Sneaking up in his shadow, Daud choked him out just like the other one, and let his body crumple to the floor. Briefly, Daud took in the chaos around him - clothes strewn everywhere, diaries, dossiers, ammo pouches. This would take a while sorting out - but none of it would be, unless he did some sorting out of his own first.

Coming through the distillery put him practically right on top of his quarters and thus, Hume. There were no voices coming through the doors, but Daud wasn't fool enough to believe the Overseers would leave Hume without guard. Contenting himself with another keyhole, Daud could make out two shadows - one significantly bulky. Music box. Without his abilities, there was no way of taking them both on without causing a ruckus, which would bring the whole house down. So, Daud looked around. In a public house, there was always something to break.

Snatching up a whiskey tumbler from the floor near one of the bunks (sniffing it experimentally, Daud recognised the stench of Kingstreet brandy and resolved to have a strong word with someone), Daud backed up into the corner near the window and hurled the glass at the opposite wall. Dropping into a crouch, he waited.

"I'll take a look," he heard one of them out in the hall say. Seconds later, the door opened, light spilling into the bunk room. Coiled like a snake, Daud waited for.. just.. the right.. moment. The Overseer was half-way into the room, near the bathroom door, and poised to turn and discover his snoring Brother on the floor near the shipping crates storing the Whalers' belongings when Daud leaped from the shadows, wrapping his arms tightly around the man's throat. With the door still open, Daud waited until the man went slack in his arms, then heaved the body up on his shoulder to carry it slowly across the room, laying his victim down on top of his Brother.

"Brother Leopold?" The other Overseer queried when he didn't hear the all-clear. Footsteps heralded incoming trouble. Out of time, Daud pulled himself up onto the bunks, crouching low so as not to catch the light from the hall. Waiting until the Overseer had rounded the first corner, he dropped low behind him.

And then, all that stood between him and Hume... was a reinforced door. Which he promptly kicked open.

"Daud! I thought your marks never saw you coming. So much for the legend," Hume sneered.

"What can I say. I wanted to greet you personally," Daud smarmed. Then, with a lunge, Daud closed the distance between them in one bound, abilities or no, and punched Hume clean on the jaw.

Knocked out cold, Hume fell back against the desk. Daud left him where he lay, then rifled through his pockets for keys, papers, anything. On his desk, covering the Whalers' reports and Daud's own logs, was a large map of the Flooded District and the surrounding area, and more papers. Looking over the map, reading the notes and letters Hume had exchanged with his superiors and co-conspirators, Daud's vision began to cloud – with rage, and the certainty of betrayal.

He locked the door on his way out.

*

"There he is!" Piero exclaimed when Daud entered the workshop's ground level. Corvo, bent over the workbench on the far side of the room, whirled around and took three steps towards Daud before stopping abruptly. Daud handed Piero the blueprints.

"Finish your work, Joplin."

"I will, but we need—"

"The oil tank. I'm on it." Before Daud could react, Corvo was already on his way up the stairs. Daud followed him with his eyes for a moment, but then Sokolov caught his attention.

"This device can send a powerful electrical signal through the nervous system, merely rendering our enemies unconscious. Or they can be reduced to ashes," the scientist told him. Havelock and Wallace were watching them anxiously.

The Void called to him, singing in his bones even as he was cut off from his magic. Daud remembered the songs that runes and charms would hiss in his ears, about the things he would be able to do - ways he'd be able to kill. He looked up at Sokolov, who was regarding him through his dark, beady eyes, smirking as if he thought he knew what Daud's answer would be.

Just then, Corvo came back downstairs. "The oil tank's ready, we just have to plug it in."

"What's your opinion, Corvo?" Piero asked him.

"On what?"

Piero repeated what Sokolov had told Daud only a minute ago, then added, "Obviously, the lighter charge will only incapacitate them for a limited amount of time, they'll have to be rounded up immediately and put somewhere secure. But, they'll survive."

Corvo turned towards him. "That's up to Daud."

"They put Emily at risk," Daud argued, not sure where Corvo was going with this.

"The Whalers are your family, too," Corvo volleyed back. When Daud frowned, he stepped closer. "You gave me a choice once. I won't take this one away from you."

For a moment, Daud wished Corvo would remove his mask, if only so Daud could gauge the expression on his face. But then, maybe he didn't have to. Perhaps it was all there in the space between them. Without looking away from Corvo, Daud ordered, "Put them all to sleep." The Overseers weren't his first concern anymore now anyhow.

"As you wish. Gentlemen, would you do the honours?"

*

From above, Daud and Corvo watched as the Overseer surge fell to pieces.

"Piero," Daud bellowed.

"Daud?" Piero called from the tiny balcony.

"Turn off that damned racket, will you."

"Right away. Come on, Anton."

It did not take the two scientists very long to dismantle the Overseers' bastardisation of the public speaker system, and when Daud and Corvo felt the Void surge through them, relief so stark it was physically painful; but a pain that Daud would welcome any day.

"Go get Emily. I'll unlock the kennels," Daud barked at Corvo, who nodded and took off towards Emily's room at a run. Transversing down, Daud found the Overseer who held the keys to the outbuilding. Calling on Void Gaze, he saw the gaggle of Whalers inside, some on the floor, some standing with their hands on the bars. The closer he drew, the more movement he sensed from inside. They must have felt the return of their powers just like him, and they knew something was coming.

When he threw open the door, Daud had one question.

"Where's Lurk?"

"I'm here," her voice came from behind him. He turned on his heel, advancing on her and only just managing to throw Thomas, who had materialised beside them, the key so he could free the others.

"Where have you been?" Daud demanded.

"I was held up," she evaded, and he bared his teeth, remembering the last time she'd tried that excuse to cover for herself not being where she should be. Worse, he had believed her then.

"Don't even try," he snarled. From his pocket, he drew the map and letters he'd swiped from Hume before leaving his quarters. "This shows a controlled sweep of the Flooded District and surrounding areas, starting with the Hound Pits. Hume and a few others planned this behind Martin's back; only Hume got cocky and attacked early. Someone told them where we are. 'Someone close to Daud' told them," Daud delivered the final blow to Lurk's denials, quoting from Hume's jubilant missive, his voice low in direct contradiction to how much he wanted to tear the paint off the walls.

"Oh, you stupid child," a cold voice rang out above theirs, otherworldly and dripping with the tar of the Void. Looking up, Daud spotted a woman on the roof of the distillery. He recognised the stench of witch around her immediately. She was wearing flowers - thorned roses - just as the one he and Corvo had seen earlier, but it hadn't been her.

"You," Billie scorned, and Daud's blood ran cold.

"You should have just cut his throat," the witch snarled at Lurk.

“I was a fool to listen to you. He deserves better.”

"Oh, how sweet. Sweet and pathetic. Daud," the woman now addressed him, "her betrayal would have been the sweetest. But as it is, the Brigmore Witches will put an end to your... meddling. And if I ever see your pathetic hide again, I will rip out your heart and skin your bones." With that, she disappeared in a cloud of ash. Panic rising in his throat, Daud turned to look towards the tower. Corvo was halfway to the roof of Piero's workshop, his hand on his sword, Emily nowhere to be seen.

"Daud, I—" Lurk began, but Daud cut her off with a gesture of his hand.

"Lock her in the kennels."

"Sir." Thomas.

"You heard me." Without another word, Daud blinked up to where the witch had just stood. Finding she had left nothing behind, Daud did not stir when he felt Corvo blink up beside him.

"Who was that? What's going on?" Corvo asked impatiently, but Daud merely wrapped his hand around his arm and transversed them both inside Corvo's quarters. Nearly tripping over unconscious Overseers when they landed, Daud nevertheless let his hand slide down to grip Corvo's wrist and hauled him closer. Corvo went willingly, leaning into Daud's space.

"She's safe," Daud heard him murmur. When he said nothing, Corvo slowly pulled his wrist out of his hold and Daud let him go, something inside him keening like a wounded animal; but instead of breaking away, Corvo's fingers curled against Daud's. "We're safe."

It would be so easy to give in, to lay the palm of his free hand against Corvo's cheek and kiss him. It would begin softly, like their first up in the tower, drowning in grief rather than adrenaline, but what if Daud changed the angle, pressing closer? Would Corvo's breathing hitch in his throat the way Daud's had whenever Corvo's skin had brushed his during training since? Perhaps. Then again, none of this was easy.

After a moment lingering too close and yet a world apart, Daud pulled away, but he was caught off guard when Corvo moved with him, putting his hand on Daud's hip and stilling him. A rough sort of noise evaporated between them, and Daud was dimly aware of it being his even as fingers flexed against Corvo's in a way that made his own breath feel short.

"What happened?" Corvo asked again.

Daud gently disentangled himself and stepped away, even as the mounting tension between them expanded to fill the distance he'd created. When Daud raised his eyes towards him, Corvo was looking back at him with concern in his eyes.

"Lurk sold us out. To the Overseers at best or, worse, to a coven of witches. The one we saw earlier must have been one of their spies. The one who appeared just now... apparently, their leader."

"Billie?" Corvo sounded incredulous, and Daud wondered at how quickly he had abandoned that feeling after the first shock in his quarters. "But how—why would she do such a thing?"

"That's what I'm going to find out." Daud turned to leave but, again, Corvo stopped him.

"Daud."

"I'll speak to her alone." Without another glance at him, Daud transversed away.


 

The Whalers were busy rounding up the remaining Overseers and tying them up in a corner of the yard, but when Daud approached, most of them stilled, watching him. Rulfio appeared at his side, walking with him.

"We put Lurk in the hold. She didn't put up a fight. Thomas and Aleksei are watching her. Makes you wish for one of them music boxes so she can't get away." When Daud didn't respond, Rulfio cleared his throat. "Boss?"

"Double the watch on Emily and Corvo. Don't let anyone inside until I'm done," Daud commanded. Entering the kennels, he motioned for Thomas and Aleksei to get out, who pushed past him wordlessly, Thomas handing him the keys back. Billie was inside the cage, sitting on a low crate, hands bound behind her back, her head bowed, giving no indication that she knew he was there. She knew. Her sword and wristbow had been taken off her, they were lying on a table near the far wall, together with her mask. The things that made her a Whaler, that made her one of his, stripped away. So who was left now?

Daud watched her a moment, trying to come to grips with what was going on inside him. Had he known, deep down? But if he had, then why did the world feel so small only now? Coming to a decision, he unlocked the cage and slipped inside.

He waited.

“We both knew there was no future for the Whalers after this. You would have us disappear – everything we built. I always thought it was understood between us, that I would… step up. I wasn’t going to let you take that from me.”

Daud had always known Billie’s ambition. And she was right: by taking this job, he had sealed the Whalers' fate. Only, he had not condemned them to death, but instead to a different life. He’d only told Corvo the bare bones of what had really happened before putting their plan into action, had left out the part where he’d stood in front of the Whalers – street kids, mercenaries, refugees all – and told them that this would be the end of it.

They’d disappear, fade, and find something else to do; and those who didn’t like it could pack their bags right then.

About a dozen bunks had been empty the same night.

With choosing a side came the loss of independence in the absolute, something that Daud and the Whalers had enjoyed for a very long time. What else would they have done? Go back to killing? Continue working as spies, perhaps, but for whom? Daud had not trusted them not to make themselves beholden to the crown they’d saved. Even if Jessamine had lived, if this had only taken weeks instead of the months they’d now spent toiling away protecting a child… but there was no going back now. The Empress was dead – long live the Empress. Once they’d begun protecting a ten-year-old, there would have been no return to the old ways, not even for them. Whose contracts would they have taken? Even after rooting out the Conspiracy, there would be those who would wish her harm. After a life of making a livelihood of murder, putting themselves in service of a higher power, certainly that of any government, even hers, did not bear thinking about.

And so, it had been final.

Billie flinched at the sound of his voice. “I told you long ago, people like us burn hot – and then, they burn up.”

At this, her head reared up and she gave him a hard look. “I know you, old man! You’ve been stashing coin, and no-one does that who isn’t holding onto something else. And that’s the real reason, isn’t it? You saw your chance to get out, and you took it, but at all of our expense! You used to teach us, ‘assassins do not take sides,’ and then you went and did it for us!”

“And I told you why.”

“You told me we’d do well to remember that we are assassins, not puppets! But, apparently, assassins who do not kill – at least, not when it counts. You refused to be Burrows’ puppet, but when you killed Lady Boyle, alone in that room with Corvo, what were you then?”

Her accusation slammed into Daud like the Void, not least because it aimed right at what Daud had been refusing to think about since the Pendleton mission. It had taken so long for him to see it, the way everything had changed. At first, he’d merely wanted to stop Burrows, even if it meant sustaining a monarchy he’d little love for. But then, he’d made a promise to a woman knowing she was going to her death, and from there… little had he known at the time that it wasn’t only his guilt that made him follow Corvo. But now he did, and he had to contend with the fact that he’d abandoned coin in favour of morals only to do something far worse. He’d let feelings dictate his actions; and he’d been so deep down that road, mired in regret, that he hadn’t had the mind to remember how dangerous that truly was.

After things had fallen apart with the Outsider, he’d sworn to himself never to be someone’s plaything again, and then he’d gone and made himself one for a man who’d lost everything, and who, if push came to shove, would have burnt the city to the ground. He’d drawn a line, but then he’d gone and crossed it when he saw no other way, and not just when he helped kill Esma. Campbell, the Pendletons, Burrows, all awaiting fates much crueller than a simple, clean death on an assassin’s blade… and they’d come so close to that, too, only Corvo hadn’t taken advantage, not like that. But was that down to his own unbent will, or to Corvo’s sense of justice? Daud had to believe that it wasn’t only the latter.

“I was never Corvo’s puppet,” he growled. “If there’d been another way with Lady Boyle, I’d have taken it.”

“You let him push you around like a training dummy!” She was merciless, he'd give her that - he'd trained her, after all.

“Because I could take it!”

“Because you thought you deserved it!" For the first time, robbed not only of her Whaler’s mask but all of her other disguises as well, Daud saw the ferocity Billie had worked all her life to hide.

“Lurk,” he warned.

“You care for him! For him and the Princess, and you did… things. And I had to watch you, knowing that this was what you were throwing everything away for.”

“It was time. We would not have survived an all-out war with the Overseers.”

“There wouldn’t have been one if we’d moved here on our own!”

“There wouldn’t have been one if you hadn’t let that witch poison you with lies!”

Billie slumped back against the wall, closing her eyes to his rage, and for a minute the only sound in the room was their ragged breathing.

“You thought I was putting them before you. That I was putting Corvo before you,” Daud reasoned. It was an educated guess, but a good one, from the way Billie winced.

“You told me once that coin was as good a reason to kill as any, but cleaner. Safer. For your own mind, if nothing else. And then you chose a side, which was hard enough, but then… It might have even been the right thing, but you’re only lucky that Corvo and the right thing happen to align.”

“I still would have done it.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I know my own mind, Billie, much as Jessamine’s death tried its best to put me out of it.”

Billie closed her eyes, turning her face away.

"Tell me what happened. Tell me who that witch is, and I might even let you leave."

*

Starting from the beginning, it was not a short tale, and by the time Billie had finished, the sun had risen above the grounds, not that one could really tell through the smudged windows.

"... by the time I realised you were right, it was too late. I didn't see it before, but the Empress' death... it would have meant ruin. Ours, too. But I couldn't stop it, and then I thought, perhaps it's right that I can't. I thought, between the three of us, we'd have you dead to rights. Emily would have taken the throne with our without us now, Corvo would have protected her. But you weren't as weak as I thought. Make no mistake, Daud, I only regret my choice in allies," she finished bitterly, and Daud believed her.

"Delilah," he repeated the name Billie had given him.

"She's powerful." A warning – to be careful.

"She's not the only one." Pushing away from where he'd been leaning against the bars of the cage, he made to leave.

“So you’re just going to let your heart dictate from now on?” Billie called at his retreating back.

Daud paused, speaking over his shoulder. “I spared you, didn’t I?"

He left the door unlocked.

Chapter Text

Being older than Jessamine by a few years, he had sometimes happily deluded himself that he would never have to watch a successor take her throne, even after Emily's birth; even knowing that there would be no-one more worthy than their daughter. But now, the day had come, far too soon - for both of them. History had not looked kindly on child rulers, few as there had been in the history of the four kingdoms. Emily's reign would be contested, and Corvo was no stranger to the sort of whispers having 'a foreigner' as good as guiding the young Empress' hand would incur.

Jessamine, after Sokolov had dismantled the security measures on his house, had been prepared for burial soon after Emily had been presented to the public as the rightful heir to the throne. Interred in the Imperial Crypt, she would rest among those who had defended the city before her. For her funeral, Dunwall had dragged itself from the muck and wept as the carriage, bearing her body and adorned with the Kaldwin crest, wound its way through the streets.

A knock on the door of his chambers shook him from his somber thoughts.

"Come in."

The heavy, reinforced doors opened and revealed - Daud.

"I... was not certain you would come. Much less through the front door," he recovered from his abject surprise at Daud's entrance. Something about the sight of Daud striding towards him after not seeing him for weeks set Corvo's teeth on edge in what couldn't be described as condemnable ways at all, which unsettled him all the more.

Daud smirked. "This is the first actual door I've used today."

Corvo watched him approach, then stop in the middle of the room, halfway towards his desk. "Of course it is. I hope you didn't scare the maids."

"The maids are safe. Parliament and Court, on the other hand - did you really think I would miss watching you strike fear into the hearts of what remains of Dunwall's so-called nobility?"

"If you plan on being visible, I'm not so sure I would be the most frightening one in that room," Corvo pointed out.

"I had better not," Daud shot him an uncomfortable look.

"Emily will want you there."

"Corvo—we discussed this."

"I wouldn't call it a discussion," Corvo issued sternly.

"Presumably, that's why you asked me, instead of letting Emily do so herself," Daud said curtly. At Corvo's forbidding glare, Daud shrugged. "You knew."

"I did," Corvo admitted, "but you're not the one who had to explain it to her." He paused, saw Daud's eyes turn dark, and cursed himself for putting this on him. So he continued, "You know that, were it up to her, you'd stand with us on the other side of her throne today."

Corvo watched as Daud swallowed. Emily had given him authorisation to offer Daud the position of Royal Spymaster - after his strong reaction to being invited to the coronation, Corvo had not mentioned such a thing. Daud had told them, that first night, that he desired no power, no position; had never expressed anything but disdain for those holding public office and serving their own ends. And while Corvo had no doubt that Daud was an excellent spymaster, lower case, he knew that the erstwhile assassin would never feel comfortable. While it would be possible to drag the office back into shadows and secrecy the way it had been before the Morley Insurrection, it was already difficult enough to keep the rumours about Daud and the Whalers' involvement to a minimum. Daud had not so subtly asked him, during their last night at the Hound Pits pub before returning Emily to Dunwall Tower only days after the Overseer attack, to rewrite history and keep his name out of it, for everyone's sake but especially Emily's. Corvo had agreed.

"We can thank the Outsider it's not always up to her, then, Empress or not."

Corvo drew breath to speak, but then thought better of it. Lightly shaking his head, he stepped around his desk. "How is everyone?"

Daud accepted the change in subject with something less than grace, but nodded. "They're recovering well from the attack, but I'm not sure they all understand the danger they're in. My mother warned me never to make an enemy of a witch," he added, surprising Corvo. Daud had been... withdrawn, since that day. Then, Daud came forward and drew a scroll of paper from his coat, tugging off the ribbon and holding it out to him. When Corvo didn't move to take it right away, he wiggled his wrist impatiently. "It's a letter from Billie," Daud rasped, and Corvo's eyes widened.

Quickly, he accepted the note.

 

Daud —

No need to waste breath with apologies or excuses. You taught me that. All I can say is that as soon as I left Dunwall my head felt clear, maybe for the first time.

You taught me that there is no happy ever after for people like us. We don't get a chance to start over. No long days in the sun. But I know you, Daud. Despite all the blood on your hands, you've got some kind of plan, some hope for a new life. You said that you did what you had to to keep all of us safe, that it wasn't just the events of the last few months — not just the Empress (both of them). Not just Corvo. It's been difficult to accept that, but I suppose it is the truth. I just didn't want to hear it. You giving up the Whalers shouldn't have meant that I had to, too.

Maybe you knew, maybe you didn't, but that's what you gave me when you let me walk away. The one thing you said that wasn't possible. And I will never forget that. When the time comes - and it will - I hope you're watching close so you get that chance too.

I left a book for you. The world is big. Bigger than I knew. There are lots of places where an old man like you could disappear for a while.

But first, there is another challenge to complete. One last job. Delilah is not to be trifled with, and her coven... in another life, you might be facing me along with her. Be careful. Both of you.

Please tell Emily I'm sorry.

— Billie

"So she got out," Corvo said quietly, careful not to let judgement pass in his voice on how Daud had handled this. Once Corvo's own incredulity at the situation had worn off, he'd been furious, angry enough to march into the kennels himself to give Lurk a piece of his mind. Only Daud's warning had held him back, and instead he had gone to fetch Emily, whom he'd unceremoniously pushed into Rinaldo's arms and back into the tower room at the appearance of the witch. They'd been in the taproom when Daud had returned from his interrogation in the early hours, and Corvo had been glad he'd warned Emily of Daud's mood, as she'd looked ready to pepper him with questions about the existence of witches as soon he'd entered, despite her own fatigue and exhaustion.

"She did what she thought she had to," Daud murmured back.

"That's no excuse," Corvo replied, sharper than he'd intended but he carried on, "what you gave her—"

"It's a better excuse than coin," Daud interrupted him, his gaze resting heavily on Corvo, adding to the burden of his words.

Unsure of what to do, Corvo reached out to grasp Daud's wrist. It'd been weeks, the walls between them back in place and Daud gone as quickly as he appeared during any of their short visits since Corvo'd returned to the Tower.

"Daud," he murmured, his chest suddenly tight. 'No more silence, assassin,' he'd once told him, but that had been then, and now - who was Corvo to demand such a thing, what right did he have?

Perhaps Daud could read his thoughts, perhaps it was Corvo's touch that sent him listing forward, into Corvo's space and against his shoulder. Corvo turned his head until his cheek was brushing Daud's, his light stubble grazing smooth skin, gratified when Daud shifted but didn't move away.

"Not yet," Corvo murmured into the space between them anyway, his breath stirring the hair at Daud's temple, so dark it was almost black but brushed with grey.

"We'll be late," Daud replied, his voice a low rasp like feet dragging themselves across a gravel path, meeting Corvo in the middle.

Corvo's smile was quiet. "I accept the consequences."