Chapter 1: It's a Roar and a Whimper and the Sound of Your Own Blood in Your Ears
He stands at the Tower gates, wrapped in dark fabric, his boots too small, pinching his toes. But they are the only pair he has. The pain is acute, so much worse than he imagined. Every step sends a shrill pulse to his fresh nerves. But it's not just the boots, but the heavy weight of his shawl, not enough shape or stitching to be called a proper cloak. It's the rain falling against his cheeks, too. It's each and every sensation, distinct at first, beginning to blur together as he loses the contours.
Two guards in prim attire stand watch by the gate, unbothered by the storm. There are others members of the Watch as well, hiding along the walls, down the lane. The City Watch are not uniformly trained, some are a better shot, others more composure. But those stationed here at the Empress’ Tower are among the finest.
He pushes the fabric down off his hair, letting it bunch around his neck and shoulders. Before arriving, he tried speaking to himself, rehearsing what to say. His vocal cords feel raw already, from a few petty noises. Void, this world hurts. It aches.
“I'm here to see the Empress,” he says to the guard who looks more senior of the two. A woman in her early forties, with a prominent vein in her neck, and sideburns starting to gray.
Her dark eyes narrow, “Invitation?”
He has none. He tells her he has none.
“Then you do not see the Empress.”
“But I must,” he is not panicked yet. But the beat of the rain picks up, stinging at his skin. He cannot endure much longer. He has already been exposed for too long. “She will recognize my face.”
The guard shakes her head, her hand reaching for the pommel of her blade. A subtle warning. The younger guard mirrors her, though his restraint is less.
He hears the scrape of metal against the sheath as the younger guard begins to draw.
He takes one step back, then two. He can barely hear now, though the rain is little more than a summer drizzle. It will pass quickly, and the water is warm. But the drops begin to feel as if they are burning.
With his heart pounding in his chest, his legs begin to buckle. He wants to run, but his feet will not carry him forward, or back.
“The Empress,” he pleads, grabbing at his hair, “she knows me, she knows.” Emily will know his face, even though his eyes have paled. Even though now he must stand on two feet. Even though now he is mortal.
Mortal. The word cuts through him. An impossible thing.
The younger guard steps forward, too quickly, his teeth bared.
He stumbles, telling his body to move backwards, but instead he tips forward. There is blood pounding against his skull, his breath short. He topples against the guard, who cuts against his flank, enough to injure but not to kill. Howling, he clutches at his side. The rain was hot before, but his blood is boiling.
The older guard shouts that her companion in an idiot. She calls for another guard. They can’t kill an intruder simply for being mad. He’ll go to the dungeons for a day or two, see if he is a risk. If he is, they’ll have him transferred on. If he sobers up, they’ll let him go.
But he knows he is not drunk. Or maybe he is. The air no longer smells of salt, though they are so close to the sea. Instead it smells of skin and refuse and rot and perfumes and soap and grilling fish and dirty children and a thousand other things crashing against his frayed senses.
When he loses consciousness from the blood loss, it’s a blessing.
He wakes in a tiny cell. His shawl is gone, reduced to the trousers that are too big on his waist and too short on his ankles, and the shirt with an inkstain at the pocket. He found both balled up behind the jeweler's shop. There’s blood on it now as well, around the tear where the Watchman’s blade sliced through. He lifts up the hem to look at his stomach. An angry black-red clot seals up the wound. It wasn’t deep.
“The Empress,” he says into his hollow room, unsure if anyone can hear him.
One of the guards walks over, wrapping his hands around the bars. “I was supposed to ask your name, for the records.”
He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. His name?
Daud’s voice is in his ear. A terrible, wretched thing that “saved” him from annihilation. Yet, isn’t this what he wanted all along? Just a taste, before the subject of his curiosity turned to dust. Did he not manipulate the odds in the hope of precisely this outcome?
But his name is too large, to bitter, it chokes him, coiling through his throat.
In the end he says nothing. The guard asks a second time before shaking his head and returning to his rounds.
He asks again for the Empress. They ask for his name.
It should be easy to give a false one. But no syllables ever come.
Out of frustration, he screams, pounding against the bars until he’s left black and blue across his wrists, his forearms, his chest. Collapsing in a heap, he cannot make another sound. If only they would bring her. He could explain.
Corvo is not fond of the Tower dungeons, with good reason. No matter how many years elapse, his own imprisonment remains terrifyingly vivid in his mind. Not in words and pictures, but in a frantic, terrifying pressure he feels in his chest. A blurring of his vision. A lingering fear that Emily is in danger, and he is helpless.
He visits the cells as seldom as is possible, only venturing below when absolutely necessary. Today is one such occasion. There is an informant being held. One who Corvo needs back on the docks as soon as possible. The other beggars along the waterfront told him that the woman was picked up by the Watch not two days prior. Carted off for Void knows why. Corvo has already checked the other guardposts across the city. The dungeon is the only place left to scour. If they have killed her, this complicates things for his investigation.
The record of names the guards keep is of little interest. Corvo doubts his informant would give a proper name. Once, she said her name was Cecil, without the “y,” she never liked the “y.” Corvo does take the time to read the log in detail, only looking through which cells are occupied. One of the guards hovers around him while he flips through the pages, asking if there is anything the Lord Protector needs.
He sees the guard off with a grunt. The less time he has to waste on this, the better. He needs Cecil back at her post, tearing secrets from the air.
There are female prisoners in cells 2, 3, and 7. Corvo closes the register, shoving his hands back into the pockets of his coat. The guard offers to accompany him, but there is no need.
Though he hates it here, the smell of piss and bile and stale air, Corvo knows the layout well. He memorized the floor plan, step by step, before he ever managed to escape. Cecil is not in cell 2, the woman there is far too young; cell 3 is empty, but Corvo does not tell the jailer. Taking the turn to reach cell 7, Corvo tries not to listen to the sounds of prisoners breathing, retching, clawing.
His attention sharply turns when one of the prisoners throws themselves against the bars, their thin, wiry body crashing against the iron. Something cracks. The prisoner falls messily to the ground, bony fingers curled loosely around the bars, sliding down. He hasn’t the strength to keep his arms aloft.
The prisoner looks down at the ground, a mop of dirty black hair, a hacking cough. His white knuckles shake against the bars until he lets go, hands falling into his lap.
As Corvo begins to turn away, he hears the man’s voice, raspy, hard. Stronger on the second syllable than the first, “Corvo.”
Snapping his head back, he looks at the man inside the cell again. Corvo’s face isn’t obscured, and there are reproduction lithographs of his portrait in the papers with some frequency. Easy enough to know the Royal Protector’s face. But it is not the name that gives him pause, but the voice.
The man tilts his head, hair brushing aside with gravity. His eyes are pale, greenish around the edge. But so impossibly light. Is he blind? No, when he blinks, his pupils shift, looking into Corvo’s eyes.
His jaw, his cheeks, the slope of his nose. Unmistakable, in the absence of those eyes. Corvo knows his face. But not his eyes. No, no, no.
Reflexively, he touches his right hand over the back of his left. He’s been unmarked for almost a year. Since Delilah stole his conduit to the Void. But still, his hand itches in recognition.
The man inside the cell laughs, thin and broken, “My dear Corvo.”
When he wakes, it’s under a gentle pressure, wrapping him in warmth. He opens his eyes to darkness. Breathing deep, he wonders if he is blind again.
He curls his hand around the fabric he's wrapped inside, and the cloth bound tight around his body throws him into sudden panic.
They bound him like this for transport. To take him from the sea to the shrine. They wrapped him tight to keep him untouched, secure, so he wouldn't hurt himself with incessant trashing.
At first, he'd fought so viciously. But in time he turned docile, walking of his own volition to his execution. The memory makes bile catch in his throat. He retches dry.
There are hands upon him, tugging at the sheets that keep him secure, trying to unwrap him. No. He won't go easily this time.
Fighting his assailant, he gags and coughs again, sour stomach acid at the base of his throat. He stomach knots and twists with nothing substantial to expel. But the bile comes up, running from his mouth.
“Outsider,” the voice sounds far away. That's not his title, his name. But it's all he ever was. Not this shell. This body is a fiction.
The voice speaks to him again, reaching through the barrier of the sheets. Corvo hoists him so he sits up, pressed firmly against Corvo’s chest.
Why is he here?
“You're breathing at least,” Corvo mutters, “are you supposed to breathe?”
He starts to laugh. What is going on? He was made mortal, yes, by Billie Lurk’s hand and Daud’s voice. Spit out from the dark, consuming muck of the Void. Billie offered her hand, but things are not so simple.
His laughter turns back to nausea, his stomach revolting, turning inside out as he gags again. This time, nothing comes up. Corvo doesn't even flinch. There is muck against Corvo’s shirt from where he pressed his face against Corvo’s shoulder.
“What is going on?” Corvo asks.
He's not sure he has an answer.
“I'm not wrong, am I? You are the Outsider,” Corvo sounds less sure of himself now.
“Not any,” he chokes, “longer.” His body convulses in Corvo’s grasp, his esophagus contracting sharply. Corvo holds him steady until the spasms stop.
Corvo pushes him away, not harshly, just enough to see his face. “Your eyes,” he sounds disbelieving.
“An impossible thing,” he replies.
Corvo's hands drop from his shoulders, now that his breathing has evened out. His chest and abdomen still hurt. But for the moment, the nausea has passed.
Resting his hands on the tops of his thighs, Corvo watches him, silent, steady. He must be waiting for explanation more.
“I have been...returned to mortality.”
Now that the blankets have been torn away, he realizes how cold he truly is. Corvo must have wrapped him to keep the chill out. The shirt he wears is clean and white and too large for his shoulders and chest. He's thin, thinner than he was in the Void. Though he is certain that when he was first expelled, his dimensions matched. The weeks? Months? He spent in the Tower Dungeon stripped what little fat he had.
He pulls at the corner of one of the blankets, dragging it up and over his shoulders to try and pen in his own warmth. Corvo watches, but does not help, seated neatly at the edge of the bed.
“I did not know where else to bring you,” Corvo starts. “Or if I should call the Royal Physician. I knew nothing.”
He does not fault Corvo for what has happened. He cannot even fault him for the time he spent locked away. Corvo did not know. And probably better, more cautious, to not tell anyone about his presence, before finding out what had happened.
“I should pass as a mortal man,” he hesitates, “I am a mortal man.”
“So I should call for the doctor, then,” Corvo rises to his feet.
He means to object, to tell Corvo that he is fine. The Physician should not be necessary. But as he opens his mouth to speak, his head spins, forcing him to fall back down against the pillows. This is Corvo’s bed. The pillows still smell of him.
The servants’ bell rings, but Corvo does not return to the bedside. He can hear Corvo pacing about the room, fidgeting with something metal. It scrapes against something else. The servant comes and Corvo speaks to him in a low voice. Placing words proves difficult.
Time keeps marching, he doesn't know how long. Only, he drifts into sleep for some time, before gentle hands pull his arm out from the cocoon of blankets. It must be the Physician, a woman that he does not recognize. Not Sokolov’s replacement. No, he died under Delilah’s short, bloody rule. Someone else, appointed to the position more recently.
He tries to open his eyes to see her face, but it feels as if there is a film over them, making his vision blurry. Blinking, he clears his vision. She has a small face, unremarkable, with dark hair and eyes an unpainted nails. She says that he will be alright. Rest, and food. Only small amounts at first. And antibiotics, to beat the infection back. He doesn't think he’ll remember a word she says.
“What is his name?” she asks Corvo, instead of him. He can already feel himself slipping into sleep again. Awake for four-thousand years. Maybe that is why he is now so tired.
“I can't tell you that,” Corvo says with confidence. He is Spymaster, after all.
He drifts into dreamless rest.
When he wakes this time, it is peaceful, without the twist of panic. He hears pen against parchment. Corvo writes at his desk.
Despite his age, Corvo’s hearing is still acute. He lifts his head when he hears the sheets shift, his mouth tilted in a frown.
“You should try not to overexert yourself. But the doctor said a little walking should be fine. I have instructions for your meals, as well.” Corvo points him in the direction of the water closet before returning to his desk. Corvo’s suite of rooms has a private chamber, so the distance is not far.
He is cautious in walking, his limbs still feeling too loose and weak. But he makes it to the toilet without falling, clicking the door closed behind him.
But it is too much to ask to support his own weight much longer. He leans against the sink. Once he catches his breath, he looks up into the mirror. The glass is slightly smudged at the corner, where the magnetic latch opens with gentle pressure. Corvo’s fingerprints, clinging to the glass. He stares into the swirls, uniquely Corvo’s instead of meeting his own eyes.
They're strange. He cannot even remember if they are the same color as when he was a child. That was so long ago, and so few people ever looked at him with concern. Placing the pad of his finger to the glass, he leaves his print next to Corvo’s
But he cannot avert his eyes forever. He tilts his gaze up, into the center of the mirror. His eyes are pale, like foam. And part of him wishes he would just break apart.
Chapter 2: Marbles wider than the world that can hold them at a distance
So, I had meant to wait a week to release this second chapter. But I also told myself that if this somehow reached 75 kudos, I'd just throw out a chapter as a thank you, so here it is!
Corvo does not wish to leave the Outsider alone. But it cannot be avoided. Preparations are underway for the Empress’ wedding. Emily will hire a professional to plan the event. But Corvo must vet her properly before the contracts are signed. She will have close access to the Empress for the next several months. The affair itself will be grander than the wedding party wishes, but it cannot be avoided. Emily’s nuptials will be an Imperial event, one the Isles have not seen in years.
Emily wishes to go with him to the planner’s shop, though it is unnecessary. Arranging for a carriage and additional guards is bothersome enough, when Corvo could travel alone on foot. But bringing up the additional precautions will only make Emily cross. She’ll insist she doesn't need a guard at all. She can easily protect herself. Corvo knows she isn't wrong.
The Outsider takes a long time in the water closet. But Corvo can hear the taps running now, then shutting off. So he is surely fine. Corvo drops his pen and laces his fingers together, cracking his knuckles despite the fact they hurt like the Void.
There isn't another option, other than leaving the Outsider alone. The Outsider’s health is stable enough that he is unlikely to die while Corvo is away for a few hours. As long as he gets a bit of food in him each day, Royal Physician Vanya sees no reason why he wouldn't recover.
Void, the Outsider is such a small, broken thing. How could Corvo not see before? Was it merely the glamour of godhood? Or was it four months? Four months the Outsider was confined to the dungeons. Corvo didn't know.
Nor does he know what he's doing now. Other than keeping the Outsider hidden in his rooms. He has not even told Emily. This is not something he can keep from her for long. She must be informed. But it need not be today.
The Outsider pads out of the bathroom, still dressed in Corvo’s shirt and soft trousers. Corvo had wiped him down before redressing him, but he could still do with a proper bath. Perhaps it is still too soon for him to wash himself.
“Back into bed,” Corvo instructs, when the Outsider tries to sit on the sofa across from Corvo’s desk. “I've already rung for food.”
Corvo is trying his best to limit the number of people who know for certain there is someone hidden in his room. The Royal Physician was unavoidable. And the kitchen staff will talk about the delivered meals. There will be gossip. Perhaps that the Royal Protector is harboring one of his informants, or a lover, or a prisoner. Even Corvo is unsure what to call the Outsider, at the present moment. Which raises another question.
“What is your name?” Corvo asks. Because he cannot call the Outsider by his title in front of others. He was able to deflect with the Physician, but there will be other queries that cannot be so easily waved away.
The Outsider has already pulled the layers of blankets up over his chest, keeping his arms tucked inside. Still, Corvo can make out the shrug of his shoulders. “It is not for your ears.”
Corvo isn't sure how to interpret that statement. But still, he must have a name. “What do you wish to be called?” The name itself can be false. Just, the Outsider must decide on something.
“You pick a name for me,” he has already sunk back into the pillows, threatening to be swallowed up entirely by the bedding.
Corvo recoils, “Absolutely not.” Though whatever name the Outsider picks will likely be a fiction, Corvo cannot be so presumptuous as to name him. Yes, if the Outsider were actually a spy, an informant under Corvo’s employ, fabricating an identity would be a simple thing. But this is different, though Corvo cannot articulate why.
“I do not care, Corvo,” the Outsider whines.
There is a knock at the door. The Outsider’s food has arrived.
Corvo does not permit the servant to enter the room, taking the tray from his hands and bidding him to leave. He balances the tray on the bedside table, though it is too long and the corners hang over the edge.
“Here, sit up,” Corvo coaxes the Outsider without touching him.
The Outsider at least complies to this request, straightening his back and pulling his arms out from underneath the blankets. His limbs are too thin. Corvo swears he sees the bones of his neck through his throat. There is a scar on the Outsider’s neck that runs from ear to ear. Old and silvered.
“What is it?” the Outsider asks, picking at the sliced roll on the platter, “Bread, yes? Something plain.”
Corvo realizes quite suddenly, “You have not eaten at all?”
“Do not be silly,” the Outsider corrects, “I was given rations in the dungeons. Only the bread there looked quite different. It was cold. And there was not so much of it.”
“The Physician also said butter and figs should be fine.”
“I have had neither,” the Outsider admits. “Bread, salted fish, water,” he lists what he was provided. “I could not stomach the fish. It feels strange in my mouth. Crumbly and slimy.”
Corvo nods, “Well, start with the bread.” He leaves the Outsider be. He is strong enough to feed himself, at least. Besides, Corvo must ready to leave.
Packing his things, he keeps one ear on the Outsider’s movements, listening to him chew the bread. The Physician said apples are likely to upset his stomach, too acidic. He should try to eat fish as soon as possible, the salt will be good for him. Fig is less harsh than other fruits. And potatoes, though they might sit heavily in his stomach at first. Corvo has all her instructions scribbled down on a notepad, in case he forgets.
He latches his mask to the inside of his coat, feeling the metal rest firmly against his side. It’s slim enough as to not disrupt the lines of his garments, and Corvo wonders if the Outsider had taken that into consideration, when the gave Piero Joplin his visions.
But that seems such a mundane, outdated question to ask. So, instead, he takes his sword, clipping it to his waist. Before he leaves, he should check to see what the Outsider has eaten. The Physician wants a record. She wants to transfer him to her labs, where she can keep an eye on him. But Corvo refused, preferring to keep the Outsider close for now.
“I’m leaving,” Corvo tells the Outsider, who has pulled his arms back under the covers. There is little else Corvo can do to heat the room. The fireplace is already lit, though it is somewhat too warm for his comfort. It is late summer, after all.
The Outsider has eaten half the bread, and only a bite of the fig. When he catches Corvo looking over his meal, he says, “I do not like the fig.”
“You should eat it.”
“It is sweet. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t feel right,” the Outsider stares, longer than he should. His eyes do not dart away, but hold. Though his blinking is steady, almost mechanical. Corvo does not like his eyes. They don’t suit him.
“What do you want to eat, then?” Corvo would rather have him eat his fill, then continue to look like skin and bones. “I’ll ring for something else.”
The Outsider shakes his head, “I do not know.”
Corvo does not have time for this. He will deal with it when he returns, “Eat the fig. Choose a name.”
By the time Corvo returns, the Outsider is asleep, his breathing even, though still with an audible rasp. The Physician left medicine with Corvo as well, to help clear the infection in the Outsider’s lungs. Corvo checks the tray. He’s eaten more of the bread, but not the fig.
Corvo pats the Outsider’s shoulder, trying to rouse him. He at least must take the elixir, even if he refuses food.
“Outsider,” he urges.
The body under the blankets groans, then coughs, “Stop calling me that.”
“Then did you decide on another name?”
Corvo sighs, going to retrieve the elixir vial from his desk. There are two weeks worth of medicine, just once a day. But the Outsider must take all of them, even if he appears to get better sooner. “You must drink this,” he says, returning to the bedside.
The Outsider has not bothered to sit up, his head still against the pillow, “Where am I?”
“Oh, right,” he sounds a bit more alert now.
“You must take this medicine.”
The Outsider rolls over, his pale eyes unfocused. He reaches out for the vial, taking it from Corvo’s hand and managing to pour it in his mouth without sitting up. At least he doesn't spill.
The Outsider winces, “It tastes awful.” He wipes his mouth with his hand.
“It’s not meant to taste good.”
The Outsider huffs.
“Do you think you could eat again?” Corvo asks, but he won’t take no for an answer, already heading towards the bell.
This time, the Outsider eats his bread, not the fig, but also finishes a slice of the boiled potato, though he peels away the skin from the soft flesh. The Physician was clear, he’s supposed to eat the skin. But Corvo just wants to go to sleep. He hasn’t the energy to fight the Outsider again.
Retrieving extra bedding from the dresser drawer, he tosses a loose sheet over the couch. That will be enough for how warm he is forced to keep the room. Corvo thinks nothing of undressing. This is his private suite, after all. He bundles up his clothing, carrying it to the bathroom to quickly shower. Through it all, the Outsider remains quiet, though he doesn’t quite yet sound asleep.
By the time he has returned, he is sure that the Outsider is out cold. He’ll recover in time, but for now, there is little more that Corvo can do.
Corvo says he must choose a name. Something that the others can call him by without suspicion. Yes, of course, because while for the moment he is ill, he will one day be well enough to leave these rooms. Though there is a sort of wanton, gaudy thrill creeping through him at the idea of remaining here, like Corvo’s kept pet. Prowling these rooms and never leaving. A strange, human trinket that the Royal Protector guards. The scenario would be terrifying, and seductive. Or maybe that’s just the fever dream.
Corvo sleeps on the couch, at the other end of the room, near his desk. He watched as Corvo prepared for bed. Now there is nothing to see. He pulls the blankets over his face, warm breath trapped and pushing back against his face.
Corvo will not stop asking for a name. He will also keep insisting that he eat. If only food wasn’t so...sharp, or mushy, or dry or wet or...or...or. It frustrates him, it does. Because he has seen every cuisine the Isles have to offer, and he doesn’t know how they taste. He doesn’t know how they will feel against his palate, sliding down his throat. They’re all enticing and disgusting.
As he falls asleep, he realizes the sheets no longer smell of Corvo, but of him.
“Who is it?” Emily corners Corvo as they leave the meeting with the wedding planner. The contracts are all signed now. Finney Tross’ records cleared. Corvo could find no reason to dissuade Emily from her choice.
The carriage waits for them, light rain falling against the canvas roof. Both Corvo and Emily wear their hoods up, to obscure their identities and keep the water off their heads.
“What?” But Corvo already knows. He knew his daughter would ask, soon enough. The Outsider has been in his rooms for four days.
Emily snarls, it doesn't suit her pretty face. But she has always been coarser, rougher than her mother. Corvo thinks it his fault.
“There is someone sleeping in your rooms, who is it?” her face softens slightly. Her curiosity is genuine. She is not truly cross with him. Were the circumstances different, Corvo would have told her from the start.
Corvo looks back over her shoulder, towards the carriage. The open street is not the place for this conversation. “I will tell you when we return to the Tower, in private.”
She sets her mouth into a stern line, but nods. Stepping to Corvo’s side, she heads towards their carriage. Corvo offers her his hand so she may climb up onto the railing and into the cab.
“You are certain he is not an imposter?” Emily's cheeks are flushed, her eyes wide. Corvo swears he can hear her heart pounding in her chest.
She wraps her right hand over the left. Her hand has been bandaged for seven months now. Rumors swirl. After Emily banished Delilah, Corvo considered bartering with the Outsider to have her Mark removed. But he kept delaying the visit the Void, unsure if the god would even answer, much less grant Corvo’s request. Her inability to show her hand has not gone unnoticed by the Abbey.
“Yes...he is…” just as much a brat as ever. But Corvo cannot say that. It's little proof. The way Emily has spoken of the Outsider, with a strange fondness, is very much at odds with the god Corvo knew years ago.
Emily’s breath hitches, “Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because I was uncertain why he was here, what plot he may be harboring. He says that he is mortal now,” Corvo bites his fingers into his opposite arm, trying to keep steady. Emily will want to see the Outsider. Of that much, Corvo is certain.
“Well,” she huffs, standing and brushing at the front of her vest, “take me to him.” She's put on her Empress voice, making it impossible for Corvo to refuse her.
They take the stairs down from her quarters to the Royal Protector’s. Corvo uses his key in the lock, making more noise than he must to try and alert the Outsider to their arrival. Though it is likely the Outsider is sleeping. All he does is sleep and eat. But he is getting better, stronger. Corvo can tell. He's still too rail-thin, but he coughs less already.
“Wait,” Corvo cautions, bidding Emily to stay by his desk while he wakes the Outsider.
The tray from this morning is empty. Corvo sent for pastries instead of bread. He doesn't know of the sugars are good or bad, given the Outsider’s current condition. But he eats sweets with more enthusiasm than bread.
He crouches low enough to be eye level with the mattress. Pushing at the Outsider’s shoulder, he tries to rouse him from sleep naturally. The Outsider stirs beneath the sheets, pulling back the covers enough to look Corvo in the face.
Corvo still hasn't a name to call him.
“Emily is here,” he says, “she wishes to see you.”
At the Empress’ name, the Outsider jerks, sitting up suddenly and turning his attention across the room. His hair filled with static, sticking up at all angles, he looks impossibly young. There are no fine lines around his eyes. “Empress.”
“It's really you,” Emily’s posture softens, stepping hurriedly towards the bedside.
Corvo stands, backing up and away to get out of Emily’s orbit. She stops suddenly, once she is within arms’ reach of the Outsider, pulling her hands back, close against her chest.
The Outsider stares back at her, his fair shoulders and dark hair contrasting in the lamplight. Emily reaches for her wrist, unfastening the ribbon she keeps tied around her hand. She uncoils the dark fabric in a long tail, letting it pool softly on the floor. Once her hand is bare, she shows the back of it to the Outsider. Corvo only catches the faintest glimpse. The Mark is mangled, broken.
“This happened four months ago,” her voice is full of salt water, on the verge of tears.
The Outsider nods, “I think that is right.”
How did Corvo not know?
Emily throws her arms around the Outsider, burying her face against his shoulder. “I'm sorry, I should have known.”
The Outsider recoils at first, at the sudden, intimate contact. Corvo has tried to touch him as little as possible. But, after a long breath, he reaches up, wrapping his hands around Emily’s arms.
“I forgive you.”
Emily laughs, “I forgive you too.”
Corvo feels hopelessly excluded from the present conversation.
Chapter 3: Consistency in Weather Forcasts is a Luxury, not a Right
“Foster,” the Outsider says, upon Corvo returning from meeting with an informant.
Corvo’s work these days consists of mostly conversation, following trails of information to their logical conclusions. He doesn't mind as much as he thought he would. He asks questions, pays coin for answers. It's an exchange he can understand. The girl he has watching the ships from Morley, she's no more than fourteen. Today she was wearing a new silk scarf, wrapped tightly around her neck. When it started to rain, she pulled it up over her head to keep the water out of her hair.
“What?” Corvo asks, pouring himself a finger of whiskey.
The Outsider is sitting up in bed, a book open across his lap. Emily has brought him a stack of things to read. All of her favorites. He's been eating better, too.
“You said I had to pick a name. And I have.”
“Foster?” Corvo wants to ask why. But maybe it's in one of the books Emily has brought, some fantastic tale. He's afraid that if he pushes on the selection, the Outsider...Foster, will change his mind.
Foster tilts his head to one side, “Is there a problem?”
“No,” Corvo deflects, “I only want to make sure I've got it right.”
Corvo downs his whiskey in a gulp, heading to the bedside table to take Foster’s tray away. He’ll leave it outside the door for the servants to retrieve. Foster has cleared his plate. That's good.
When Corvo returns from the hall, locking the door behind him, he busies himself with clearing his desk as the Outs- Foster continues reading.
This is easier than he thought, sharing his private quarters with another person. At first, he was so consumed by making sure the Outsider was safe and sheltered, as he recovered. Now, Corvo has grown accustomed to his quiet, steady presence. Though Foster, Corvo must get used to that name, is often fussy, prone to petulance, the majority of the time he remains quiet, entertaining himself.
But now that the sickness in Foster’s lungs is gone, Corvo doesn’t know his next move.
The coughing has subsided, and when Foster breathes, his lungs don’t rasp. That makes most everything easier, sitting up, walking about, staying awake. His body is still weak from malnutrition, though he can tell from the face that looks back at him in the bathroom mirror, that he steadily gains pounds and inches. He wraps his fingers around his upper arm, trying to gauge how much fatter it’s become.
Instead of staying in bed, he takes his book to the couch, sprawling out against the cushions and reading as Corvo works. Emily has brought him all of her favorites. Foster is startled to find there are still things about this world that can surprise him, even if it’s only in the imaginations of mortals.
The room is quiet, other than the scratching of Corvo’s pen against the parchment, the barely-there sound of Foster turning the novel’s page. The fire need not be kept so violently high anymore. A hefty blanket is enough to keep him warm.
“We will have to get you clothes, and shoes, and paperwork to prove your identity,” Corvo mutters, unprompted.
Foster asks, “What?”
“You’ve been wearing my clothing, but it doesn’t fit you. And you can’t go about barefoot,” Corvo explains, “when you leave.”
Something pinches inside Foster’s chest. Of course, living in Corvo’s rooms could not go on forever. Only, he didn’t think the shift would be so sudden.
“Even traveling about the Tower, for now, you’ll need proper attire,” Corvo continues.
Foster relaxes his shoulders a touch, sinking back against the couch. Corvo is not expecting him to leave now. But it is true he is perhaps well enough to leave these rooms. Having the freedom to walk the Tower, the gardens, perhaps, sounds...good. Though he feels no particular claustrophobia at his confinement. And the idea of the world opening up to him seems strange and foreign still.
He never did properly acclimate to the full vastness of the Void. Even given four-thousand years. Perhaps it was impossible, for one who still clung to the threads of humanity. But as the Outsider, he refused to give up on his weaknesses completely. Perhaps it is by that grace that he has survived what should have been his annihilation.
Corvo decides, without Foster’s intervention, “I’ll make an appointment for the Empress’ tailor to come take your measurements. You may be as evasive as you like about who you are, and why you are here.”
“Oh, can I?” Foster puts his book down on his lap. With Crovo’s sudden talkativeness, it’s difficult for him to concentrate on the words. “Any story I like?”
Corvo rolls his eyes, “Within reason. The servants all know you’ve been in my rooms for weeks. They have already made up their minds regarding your identity.”
“Have they?” Foster is genuinely curious. “And who do they think I am?”
Scoffing, Corvo at least explains, “They assume you are a woman, for one.”
Foster smiles, “That I am your lover?” He means the jest goodnaturedly. Though he hopes that his own base desires do not leak through his tone. He as long wanted Corvo, in a way that was difficult for him to articulate, to realize in the Void. Since his waking on the mortal plane, he has been too ill, too literally starving to heed the hunger of his desire. But it is starting to return. Especially here, settled against the couch where Corvo has slept for two weeks, his scent tangled in the fibers.
“Yes,” Corvo answers plainly, “that assessment may not change. Even when they come to know you are not a woman.”
Foster huffs, pulling his knees towards his chest. Luckily, the blanket thrown over his lap hides his creeping arousal. There is something exciting at the mere thought of even being mistaken as Corvo’s lover, much less the prospect of that mistake becoming a reality. Foster can feel heat creeping up his neck, along his cheeks. He hopes that Corvo doesn’t notice. “I do not mind,” he feigns disinterest.
Corvo’s eyes are narrowed, but otherwise his face says little. “As I said,” he picks up his pen again, “tell them whatever you’d like. Only, not the truth.”
Foster can’t help but laugh. The truth is the only story he could weave that would sound like a lie.
Emily comes to see him. She carries a pair of tall, black leather boots in her hands, instead of her normal gift of books. They are much too large for her feet.
“Come now,” she holds out the shoes for Foster to take, “we’re going out.”
Corvo has already departed for the day, leaving Foster to his own devices. Though he is free to come and go as he pleases, Foster still largely confines himself to Corvo’s rooms. He has ventured into the hallway just outside, managed to walk the length of it, before a clerk came rushing through. The clerk barely noticed Foster’s presence, but still, it left him feeling vulnerable and exposed.
Walking with Emily may be easier. To have someone at his side. The Empress, most of all.
“Why do I need the boots?” he takes them from her outstretched hands. He has not yet dressed for the day, preferring still some of the loose shirts and trousers of Corvo’s that he wore over the duration of his illness.
“I saw the style and thought they would suit you,” Emily answers.
Foster gets up off the couch, tossing the blanket back up so it doesn’t pool on the floor. Corvo has cleared part of his dresser to make space for Foster’s new attire: One of the drawers, a portion of the rack to hang trousers and jackets.
Dressing for the weather, Foster layers a light, crisp jacket over a high-necked dress shirt, pearl buttons at the cuffs. Everything is in fashion, current to his perceived age, and coordinates with Emily’s vest and slacks near perfectly. Blacks and charcoal greys, cut through with flashes of jewel tones. Foster is certain she told the tailor exactly what would suit him. He must admit that he agrees.
The Empress waits for him to pull on his boots, zipping them tight from ankle to knee. The heel is lower than the pair Emily wears, but he is taller than her by at least four inches, no pair of shoes could disguise that difference.
Clapping her hands together Emily explains, “you look sharp,” before tugging at his collar. “Alright then,” she taps her finger against bare lips, “right, who are you supposed to be?”
“Corvo said I could tell any story I wanted.”
Emily rolls her eyes, in a way identical to Corvo. They are both easily exasperated, “Yes, but,” she pauses, “nevermind. It's not important today I suppose. But soon we’ll need something to tell Wyman.”
“Wyman?” Foster hesitates, “why must we tell them anything?”
As they step into the hall, Emily locks Corvo’s door behind them. She slips her fingers into the pockets of her slacks, elbows sticking out. Foster isn't sure what to do with his hands. He crosses them behind his back, but he finds that posture uncomfortable before too long.
“They don't know,” she says.
Foster is unsure how freely they may speak when walking the halls of the Tower. He is fairly certain Emily is leading him out into the gardens, where the path is less thickly choked by clerks and servants and guards. Still, outside of Corvo’s quarters, they'll never really be alone.
“What...did you tell them?” Foster asks, hoping that Emily picks up that he's asking about the Mark.
She waves him off, “Oh, they know about that. Not...really something I can hide from them. I have to take the bandage off sometimes, after all.”
The guards incline their heads as the Empress passes, standing on each side of the door as they exit into the garden. The further they walk from the Tower, the more plainly Emily speaks.
“They don't know about you, though. And I...don't want them to,” she admits. “It's difficult enough, having the Abbey breathing down my back,” she skirts around the gazebo. She has never used it. “I want...Wyman to be able to deny knowing. As much as they can.”
Foster nods, “So, I need a story.”
“They will believe anything you say. Will not question the details of it. But we should at least tell them a story that is vaguely feasible. That you are a relation, perhaps? Of my father’s? Though honestly, you do not look the part.”
Foster bristles. He would rather not masquerade as Corvo’s blood relation. Though Corvo may never want him in such a way, such a ruse would stamp out the last of Foster’s hope. There is something so seductive about possibility.
“An old friend of yours,” Foster considers the details of the Empress’ history. “When you were twelve, you started music lessons. The instructor came to the Tower, twice a week. And once a month, Corvo would take you to her studio.”
Emily nods, recounting the memory, “Until I was fourteen. But I had no talent for music.”
Foster smiles, “you hated those lessons.”
Looking out upon the precisely trimmed hedges, Emily frowns, “Did you always watch me, then?”
Shaking his head, Foster cautions, “Do you really want an answer?”
Emily huffs, “I suppose not.”
Continuing with his fabrication, Foster explains, “Zallie, your instructor, died years ago. In any case, she had no children. But there is no one to dispute the existence of her son.”
“And as to why my childhood friend found a sickbed in my father’s chambers?”
“Corvo has made it quite clear that nothing I, or he, or anyone else says will sway the staff to a different interpretation than the one they've decided for themselves.”
Emily snickers, “No matter. Wyman is terrified of my father, though they’ll never admit to it. They won't poke around.”
With that matter settled, Emily turns her attention to another. One that she has realized, but her father hasn’t, “Why did you take her name?”
Foster frowns, unsure if he can provide an answer that will satisfy her, “It wasn’t intentional.” It’s too soon to speak about, the nerve too raw and red. Some day, he may tell Emily. But not now.
By the time they finish their course around the gardens, Foster is more winded than he would care to admit. It will take time to build endurance. Emily must notice, taking pity on him as they return to the Tower entrance.
“Corvo?” Foster sits, cross legged in the center of Corvo’s bed. Certainly, he is no longer contagious, if he ever was. He is not physically robust, and will not be for quite some time, but his condition is stable. There is no reason Corvo could not move him into one of the Tower’s many guest rooms. Yet, he hasn't.
And so Foster sits on Corvo’s bed. Dressed in Corvo’s shirt, though he now has clothing of his own. More than anything, he wants to ask Corvo to come to bed. To come to bed with him. Even if it is only to lay side by side. To have the warm, dense scent of him clinging to the linens when Foster wakes. The rolling, gentle heat of Corvo’s body next to his.
He wants to tell Corvo of his other desires as well. Dreams that predate his capacity for sleep. Of calloused hands against his skin, gripping down on narrow hips. The scrape of Corvo’s beard on the inside of his thighs. Thoughts he believed had died when he finally lived again. But now they coil hot in his stomach, watching as Corvo unbuttons his jacket, draping it over the back of his desk chair. As he pulls off his shirt, balling it up to toss into the hamper.
“Hm?” Corvo turns at the sound of Foster’s voice. He scratches across the center of his chest, the dark hair run through with gray. “Do you need something?” Corvo asks.
Foster’s request dies in his throat, as Corvo looks to him with gentle concern. But without lust.
“No, it's nothing,” Foster flops back down onto the mattress.
Chapter 4: Mousetraps and Poisons for the Next Geneations
Foster works up the courage to explore the Tower by himself. Emily has assured him he will not be bothered. Both she and Corvo are away today on business. An Imperial Wedding is as important a diplomatic event as any. Particularly since there has not been one in generations, since the age of the Olaskir.
Tugging on his shoes, he decides against his jacket. Indoors, the shirt and vest should be enough to keep him warm. He has no way to latch the door from the outside, but Corvo has given him no particular instructions to keep it locked.
He spends an hour simply wandering the halls. Emily was right, that the clerks acknowledge his presence, but do not ask questions. The guards barely register that he exists. Only once does he hear two servants gossiping. ‘Isn't he a skinny one?’ They'd expected someone different. ‘But the late Empress was tall and thin as well. So maybe Corvo’s guest is not so strange?’
Foster takes the stairs down to the basement chambers, already sure of what he’ll find. He knows the layout of the Tower precisely, having had many years to observe. He watched this monument as it was built, brick by brick.
Sokolov kept a workshop here, when he had the favor of the Emperor, then the Empress. A secluded office, away from the prying eyes of the Academy. Because no matter how powerful, how influential Sokolov became, there were always boundaries left to break.
Part of Foster, the part that will always remember what it means to be a god, will despise Sokolov until the end. There is no one he hates more.
There are no guards posted outside Sokolov’s door. The room has been locked since his departure.
He bashes his fist against the lock, trying to break it somehow. He hasn't the skill to pick the lock. Perhaps Corvo has a key...Foster could run back to Corvo’s suite. But first, he tries bashing the lock again, working the knob open. His fist throbs in pain. But it doesn't matter. He's made his way inside.
Everything is covered in dust, in cobwebs, but luckily nothing nastier. He can hear the rats scurrying away as he steps into the room. The particles in the air make Foster cough. There must be a lamp somewhere.
Groping around in the dark, Foster finds a lamp switch, luckily still attached to the whale oil grid. He curses the invention every day. Most of all Foster hates how elegant Sokolov’s inventions really are. If they were clumsy, they would have never become so dangerous.
Though Foster knew of the existence of this room, he does not know the entirety of its contents. Sokolov’s experiments have made the air inside the room strange. And, even in the Void, the Outsider could not penetrate all its secrets.
He begins sorting through Sokolov’s papers, skimming the scribbled writings and setting them aside. The room buzzes with a sort of crackling energy that makes it difficult for Foster to concentrate. Like static rolling against his skin. Forgetting for the moment about the manuscripts, he starts pulling open drawers. Dust flies up as he bustles around the room, searching for the source of the disturbance in the air.
Opening the cabinet against the back wall, Foster feels the static intensify. He's getting closer to the source. He tugs at the handle to one of the drawers inside, only to find it locked. This time, instead of his bare fist, he grabs a paperweight from Sokolov’s desk to smash the lock open. Splinters fly as the wood chips, but Foster manages to wrench the drawer open.
Inside is a wooden box, long but relatively thin. The metal clasp is flimsy and rusted through, easy enough to snap. He takes the box to Sokolov’s desk, cracking the clasp and opening the lid. It takes Foster a moment to realize what’s inside. A collection of fine steel tools.
The pick is cut through with imperfect gemstones. The clarity of the stones is unimportant for its sharpness. Still, the pick must have cost Sokolov a small fortune. When Foster holds it in his hand, he feels something...something he thought he had lost, a connection to the Void. The sensation curls around his wrist like a lover, with the leather wrapped handle in Foster’s hand. The intimacy of it leaves him breathless.
Unmistakably, it is a kit for making bone charms. But Sokolov never successfully crafted one. Foster is certain of that much. He would have never let the old man experience the pleasure.
Hurrying back to the dresser, Foster checks the other drawers. They are filled with aborted projects, circles and shards of bone that Sokolov fractured, mangled, ruined. He tried again and again, to no avail. So desperately did the Doctor want to touch the power of the Void. And as the Outsider, Foster always forbid his access.
Buried in with the wreckage, Foster finds an unblemished bone segment. One that Sokolov purchased, but never touched directly. Foster turns it over in his hands, making sure that it is unmarked. If Sokolov ever so much as attempted to scratch it, the bone would be worthless.
His hands shake as he heads back towards the desk, pulling out the stool and sitting down. Grey soot grabs hold of his trousers, but he does not care.
In one of the desk drawers Foster finds a display box, empty, but lined in velvet. He puts it on the surface of the desk, tucking the raw whale bone inside. This is a task he has never attempted himself. There was no need when he could give his Mark away, as freely as he chose.
Of course, he knows the mechanics of the practice. He’s watched as old women, young men, those who call themselves witches, patrons of the Void, the devoted, searching for a power greater than themselves, all took tools to bone. Trying to touch what they think is divine. Maybe they were right, even those who failed. And he was wrong.
Innately, Foster feels as if he can do this, he can make the bone talk to the Void, brush against the powers he once had at his disposal. Able to give as gifts, but not quite use himself. Some buried part of him thinks he can hear the Leviathans, speaking through their remains. That he can hear Sokolov’s drawer of bone crying out for him.
We miss you.
Sokolov...is he still alive? He was, when the Outsider died and became a man. But that was months ago.
Holding the pick in one hand, Foster realizes he must have a purpose in his carving. Some end goal he is trying to achieve. But, for now, all he can think of is his rage, cut through with despair. Sokolov, this stupid man. The genius of millennia, has doomed them all.
He puts the pick away for now. And the bone. There will be time to work another day.
Emily soon enough grows bored with the process of preparing for her own wedding. Corvo could have predicted as much. She simply does not have the temperament to be so fussy and involved. What was at first a pleasant, exciting distraction from her other political duties has become a chore. At the very least, the tasks she finds most tedious can be passed off to Tross and her assistants. Only needing final approval from the Empress.
Wyman arrives from Morley this afternoon. They plan to stay four weeks. The wedding is not until Spring. And even after they are wed, it is likely that Wyman must still divide their time between their homeland and Gristol. Emily appears unbothered, commenting that if she wanted someone always by her side, she would look into a lapdog, instead of a spouse.
They travel to the harbor to meet Wyman’s ship. And as much as Emily may try to downplay her excitement, her cheeks are flushed, though the air inside the cab is mild and comfortable. She picks at the ribbon around her hand, and Corvo tries to caution her to leave it be. When he points out that she is fraying the edges, she tries to bite her nails instead.
Once they arrive at the docks, they can see Wyman’s ship in the distance. But Wyman’s ship is small, and larger cargo vessels have priority at the harbor. Important that they keep on schedule. It may be an hour yet before their docking time.
They are content enough to walk the docks together. Dressed plainly, the Empress blends into the scenery as well as any other noblewoman. While the dockworkers may give her and Corvo the occasional glance, none linger long enough to identify them properly.
The silence between them is comfortable, expected. Emily bounces with nervous energy and Corvo remains steady at her side. This is the role he trained for since his youth. Though he hopes he has been a good father, it is in his role as Royal Protector he remains most comfortable.
They could never be equals, no matter how much Emily adores him. And Corvo wants to believe that she loves him, as he loves her. But their stations could never be equivalent. This is the bargain Corvo agreed to. Years ago, when he dared to love her mother.
“You don't talk to him much, do you?” Emily says, hands still shoved in her coat pockets. Even though she hides her hands, Corvo can tell she's fidgeting.
“Hm?” It takes Corvo a moment to realize she's speaking about Foster, “there isn't much to talk about.” He corrects himself, “I don't think he wishes to speak to me.”
Emily frowns. Wyman’s ship is starting to make the creep to shore. Another fifteen minutes, at most until it docks. “I believe he does.”
“I've had...private rooms prepared for him. Now that he is well. He's rarely in my suite when I return in the evenings. I believe he wants for space.”
Her face does not change, “Perhaps. But can't he want companionship as well?”
Corvo is practical in the matter, “I think you better fulfill that need.”
She shakes her head.
Once Wyman steps onto the pier, Emily loses her solemn expression, nearly skipping across the boards to meet them.
When Foster fails to return by ten in the evening, Corvo begins to worry. He has been putting off telling Foster of the rooms prepared for him. Smaller than Corvo’s, but still well appointed, with a view of the gardens and a private bath. They've sat empty for almost a week, as Corvo hesitates to inform Foster about their availability.
But now, Foster has not returned. And Corvo suspects he has made his own arrangements for private lodging. Corvo would have expected Foster to at least tell him that he was departing. Or tell Emily. But she said nothing when Corvo passed her and Wyman in the hallway, on their way outside with a bundle of fireworks hastily hidden in Wyman’s coat.
Pacing the floor, Corvo considers what may have happened. Is Foster leaving without warning the most logical explanation? Or could he have gone out into Dunwall, gotten lost or assaulted. His clothes are expensively made. He could have been mistaken for a wealthy man, easy pickings. Or, there could be those who have seen him at the Tower and thus assumed a familiarity with the Empress. Kidnapping and extortion of the Crown...Then there is the problem that he looks very much like the Outsider. The accuracy of paintings and lithographs is undeniable. A factor Corvo should have considered weeks ago. It is quite possible that...but no, with those haunting eyes, Foster could not be mistaken for a god.
Corvo winds himself tight, ready to burst. He has to go looking. He has to know for certain what has happened.
But when there is a gentle noise at the door, Foster stepping into the room with this shirt sleeves rolled to the elbow, and dark hair falling across his forehead, Corvo feels quite silly.
“Corvo?” Foster asks, tugging his sleeves back down. “Is something wrong?”
Corvo realizes his fists are clenched tight. He loosens them, trying to relieve the tension in his body. “I've arranged for private rooms for you. Now that the infection has passed and your strength is back.”
“Oh,” Foster gasps, his hands going still. “Yes...I suppose that would be proper...should I,” he glances at the dresser, “now?”
“I can ring a servant to help you.”
Foster shakes his head, “I do not have enough belongings for that to be necessary,” his volume drops as he skirts around Corvo to retrieve his things.
Corvo goes to his desk drawer, fishing out the key for Foster’s room. It's on the floor below, and once Foster has his clothes bundled up in his arms, Corvo leads the way. Before they exit Corvo’s suite, Foster asks if Corvo can grab the pair of boots by the door. Corvo scoops them up. He knows they were a gift from Emily.
Once they reach the correct door, Corvo opens it, pleased to see the state of the room. Two rooms really. A bedroom with a full sized bed, fresh linens and a dark comforter. A small desk against one wall, a dresser against the other. And a window that opens onto the gardens, rather than the city-side.
Foster dumps all of his clothes into one pile on the bed, staring at the heap. Corvo will leave momentarily, once he is sure that Foster has what he needs. “There is a serving bell by the door. As a guest of the Empress, you should not hesitate to call. Here is the key,” he passes it into Foster’s hand. “The bath is just through there,” Corvo points to the opposite door. “It is small, but should be adequate.”
Foster stares at him in silence, his eyes wide and lips drawn. Corvo doesn't have anything left to say. So he simply bids Foster goodnight, and departs.
Chapter 5: You were told the fever passed
Corvo hears the servants gossiping, about the boy who has commandeered the old laboratory. Yes, the pretty, young one from Corvo’s rooms. An old friend of the Empress’, from her lessons as a child.
Corvo takes this information to the basement, intending to see for himself if Sokolov’s laboratory is in truth where Foster spends his time. In the days since moving out of Corvo’s suite, Corvo has not seen Foster once.
Silently, he follows the stairs down into the first basement level, listening for any signs of life. The laboratory door is closed, the handle smashed in. Corvo steps close enough to try and hear what transpires on the other side.
There is the sharp sound of metal against a hard surface. A chip, chip, chip. Then silence, until the repetition begins again. A gentle scrape, a sigh. Foster must be sitting down to do his work. Chip, chip, crunch, “Fuck,” muttered just under Foster’s breath.
Foster stands, and Corvo can hear his stool scrape against the floor as he pushes away from the desk. A drawer opens and then closes before Foster sits back down. The chipping noise continues.
Without opening the door, Corvo can learn no more today. He is careful not to make a sound as he slips away.
“Hurry up,” the Empress instructs, her gloved hands twirling as she speaks, “we’re going out.”
“We’re going out?” Foster repeats. He's only just awoken from sleep, Emily barging into his room. Apparently, she never learned to knock. Why would the Empress ever request entry to a room? She simply arrives.
Foster knows she is capable of moving across the rooftops of Dunwall in utter silence. Her father taught her well. But equally, she may be a bit loud, overbearing in her enthusiasm. And right now her energies are focused on getting Foster dressed and ready as soon as possible.
“We’re going riding,” Emily specifies.
“Riding?” Foster reaches for his shoes, but Emily points him towards his boots instead.
“Yes, horses. You’re familiar with the concept, yes?”
Foster huffs, “I’m familiar with all concepts, Empress Kaldwin,” he teases, trying to hide his fear. “It’s the execution which may prove a problem. I cannot say horseback riding is a skill that I’ve had the opportunity to develop.”
Horses and oxen are the largest land beasts left on the Isles. Anything with a greater mass was long ago hunted to extinction. He’d watched it happen, unable to halt the march of human progress. As the forests fell and civilization creeped, larger animals died out, one by one. Horses were lucky, they proved more useful alive than dead. As did the ox.
“Wyman and I will teach you,” Emily assures him. Still, Foster remains skeptical, zipping up the back of his boots just before Emily tugs him to his feet.
She grabs his coat for him, shoving it into his arms as they exit into the hallway. Wyman waits for them, leaning against the opposite wall, tapping their unlit cigarette against an engraved silver case.
“Glad you’re joining us, Foster,” Wyman smiles.
Wyman accepts Foster without question, just as Emily said they would. Wyman’s confidence in Emily’s devotion is unwavering. Or, perhaps they simply know the futility of jealousy. As Empress, Emily would simply take another lover if it suited her. Wyman is more than socially acceptable as a consort, and as a spouse. They are of a suitable family, holding property, wealth, and a title in Morley. But if they cannot hold the Empress’ attention, she will simply cast them aside. So many marriages among the nobility are unhappy. Commonplace.
Foster wishes he could tell Wyman how utterly devoted Emily actually is. How her cheeks flush and heart speeds at the mere mention of Wyman’s name. How she ached for them the long, violent months in Karnaca, unable to promise them that she would return safely. Unable to promise that they would ever see each other again. But to do so would be a breach of Emily’s confidence. And how would Foster explain the depth of his knowledge?
“Foster has not ridden before,” Emily explains as they leave the Tower.
Once outside, Wyman lights their cigarette, offering the open case to Foster. Foster declines, sure that he would make a fool of himself, having seen one too many children take their first drag, only to hack up phlegm and smoke, completely undignified.
“You grew up in Dunwall, right?” Wyman keeps up conversation. Holding their cigarette between their pinky and ring finger, they pick ash off their tongue with their thumb and index, flicking it away. “Em said she knows you from music lessons.”
Foster tries not to provide too many details, needless pieces of information that he’ll fail to recall later. “Mm, yes. There was never the opportunity for me to learn to ride.”
The Imperial carriage waits for them at the gates, drawn by sturdy draft horses. Wyman and Foster wait for Emily to enter first. Then Wyman insists that Foster follows. Foster takes the bench across from Emily, letting Wyman sit by her side. They drape their arm over the backrest, fingers coming to skim against the shoulder stitching on Emily’s jacket.
“Your father will not be joining us?” Foster asks. There are other guards assigned to her protection, so the question sounds somewhat silly. He shouldn’t have asked.
But Emily smiles, as if she knows something, “He has other work to do. One of my personal guards is riding up front with the driver. And the stables are property of the Crown. I’m well enough protected.”
Wyman clicks their tongue but offers little else. Foster is unsure if he’s expected to keep up conversation. But within moments Wyman and Emily have slipped into easy chatter. About the wedding, of course. Foster listens intently, though he has nothing to add.
“If everything isn’t ready for the Spring, I’m going to shit a brick,” Emily sneers. “I don’t want to wait for Summer.”
Wyman taps their fingers against Emily’s shoulder, grabbing at the fabric and pulling, watching it stretch. Emily batts their hand away when they try to do it a second time. “That’s what the planner is for, right?”
“I’d just as soon just go to the registrar and just sign the bloody papers. Ugh,” she rolls her head back against Wyman’s arm.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s an option,” Wyman winces.
Foster falls into the lull of their conversation, letting his eyes go unfocused and his shoulders relax. The rhythm of the carriage is strangely soothing, helping him forget his initial terror at the idea of riding.
It takes a little over an hour to reach the edge of Dunwall, where the city gives way to less-dense suburbs. It’s miles and miles left before open countryside, but the Imperial stables are not so far away. The carriage turns off the main road and towards the stable grounds, coming to a halt in front of the prim, slate-roofed farmhouse.
The caretaker is an older woman, her hair fully gray and features sharp. Emily smiles and waves, but does not take her hands. Despite her open, expressive friendliness with her father, with Wyman, even with Foster, Emily is largely reserved in public. Almost nervous.
Emily leads the way to the horses, expecting Wyman and Foster to follow her. The Guard escort climbs out of the carriage, but stays behind. Wyman takes the opportunity for another cigarette, now that they are not in such close quarters.
Starting to tackle a mare, Emily explains this horse is for Foster. She’s sweet and easy to ride, perfect for a beginner. Foster tries not to give his discomfort away. He’s only just been able to walk without getting winded, and Emily is already keen to test the boundaries of his physical endurance.
Really, he should be thankful that Emily is so enamored with him. At least for the time being. Maybe it is something to take her mind off of the wedding. A grand event that she both wants and hates. She’s too private for the spectacle.
The mare is ready, but Foster isn't. Emily offers her hand and the low fence next to the horse to help Foster onto her back. He tries to keep his hands from shaking, as he approaches the mare.
The horse stares back at him, glassy-eyed and glossy-maned. She holds perfectly still, her reigns in Emily’s hand.
Though he has met relatively few humans face to face since his removal from the Void, Foster has grown accustomed to the idea of being taller than them all. Even Wyman, who stands two inches taller than Emily, is still shorter than Foster in comparison. Standing next to the mare, however, makes him feel small.
Frowning, he places his hand flat against the saddle. This, like many other mundane tasks, he has seen this accomplished thousands of times. He has simply never been in a position where he must make his own limbs obey commands.
He takes Emily’s hand to step up onto the fence, letting go to grab at the horse and hoist himself up and over her back. The landing is harder than is comfortable, putting too much pressure on his groin. If the mare is bothered, it doesn't show. She remains as docile as ever.
Emily laughs, pleased with both herself and Foster. “We can just trot around the ring at first. I'll hold the reigns while you get used to it.” As she leads the horse, all Foster must do is hold on, keep his feet in the stirrups. Though not even five minutes into this little adventure, his thighs and back begin to hurt. He hasn't built up enough muscle yet to keep his balance. Emily must see the way his face blanches, bringing the mare to a halt and coaxing Foster off.
Embarrassingly, Wyman hurries over as well, stamping out their unfinished cigarette in the dirt. They help Foster off the horse, holding tight to Foster’s shoulders until the shaking stops.
Only then does Foster realize how truly beautiful the day is. Outside the smog and dust of Dunwall, the sun shines brightly. And the air smells of vegetation and not the fermentation of fish. But he is so used to the sting of salt in the air, that for a moment, he forgets how to breathe.
Emily and Wyman maneuver him into the stables, sitting him down in a pile of hay, his back against the wall. The Empress says she's sorry, so sorry. She shouldn't have pushed. Foster tries to tell her that he's fine.
Stepping away, Emily returns to Wyman. They whisper to each other. Foster can't hear what they say. But he can see how Wyman frowns, their eyebrow raised, before heading back toward the farmhouse.
Wyman returns with two glass bottles, one of water and one of wine. They pass the water to Emily, who opens the cap and tells Foster to drink. The water slicks down his throat, but does little so calm his nerves, the dizziness threatening to eat him up, bite by bite. Reaching into their pocket, Wyman pulls out biscuits next, saying something to Emily about sugars.
The biscuit makes Foster feel a bit better. When he looks down, he can make out the individual crumbs that have fallen on his coat. That's an improvement. At least everything isn't blurring together anymore.
Emily smiles at him, commenting they might as well eat lunch.
Foster would feel a terrible burden, if not for the fact Wyman and Emily excuse themselves after finishing their meal, and the bottle of wine between them.
If Foster is feeling better, Emily suggests, she and Wyman will take a quick ride before they return to the capital. Perhaps a walk around the stables will be enough to hold Foster’s interest for three-quarters of an hour?
Foster easily agrees, telling Emily and Wyman to take their time on the ride. He can very well entertain himself. And after having eaten, he feels quite silly for having such a strong reaction to being atop the mare.
Once the pair leaves, Foster takes to strolling through the stables. A sheepdog bounces through to greet him as he approaches the rear of the building, rubbing against his pant legs but well-trained enough not to jump or bark. Foster crouches down to pet him, running his fingers through silky fur. The day is anything but a loss.
Corvo is exhausted. He's spent the evening along the rooftops, jumping from balcony to balcony in pursuit of a particularly skilled forger. He suspects they are the one altering records at the docks. Normally, Corvo would not personally see to the matter. But someone is hiding shipments coming from Karnaca. Someone is stamping those illicit shipments with the Kaldwin seal.
He knows now where the forger lives. So it's simply a matter of breaking into his apartment when he is away. That must wait for tomorrow, because at the moment, Corvo aches.
Sometimes, he misses the Mark.
There is a sharp rap at his door. He has not called for a servant, so it is likely Emily. Running his hand down the front of his face, he doesn't bother making himself look presentable. His daughter will not care that his slacks are torn on one side, from the knee down almost to the ankle. Or that his undershirt is soaked through with chilling sweat.
But when Corvo opens the door, it is not Emily at all, but Foster. Foster who Corvo should regard with more suspicion. He has been well enough for weeks now, settled into his own room. Perhaps the allocation of private quarters is what encourages him to stay, when he could just as easily go.
“I have a gift for you,” Foster says, rocking back on his heels.
Oblivious. Foster is oblivious how his words cut Corvo to the quick. The last time that face offered Corvo a gift, it was one Corvo did not know how to refuse. It was a bauble that set his life on a course impossible to correct. It has mangled his daughter’s hand and his own psyche.
But still, Corvo asks, “What is it?”
“Can I come inside?” Foster requests.
When Corvo nods, Foster steps through the doorway, heading towards the couch to sit down. In his hands is something small, wrapped in white cloth. He nods towards the space next to himself on the couch, encouraging Corvo to sit down.
“I've been working on it for awhile now. I'm certain that it is stable. But I'm not in a position to judge its effectiveness.” He unwraps the gift from the cloth, revealing a bone charm tucked inside.
Corvo narrows his eyes, appraising the charm. It looks like any other, nothing remarkable. He still uses bone charms himself, though he is no longer Marked. They have their practical applications, allowing him to move more quietly, to carry more weight, to hold his breath for longer periods of time. Though he has a small collection locked inside his safe, he rarely changes the ones he uses.
“You made it?” Corvo asks.
Foster nods, again gesturing for Corvo to take it. “I found the tools in Sokolov’s laboratory.”
So that is what Foster has been doing in the basement? Corvo can’t help but recoil. Foster had assured him that he’s no longer a god, connected so intimately with the Void. But the skill needed to make new bone charms is a rare commodity. Not just anyone can sit down and carve. And so, Corvo is suspicious of Foster’s intentions. Is he trying to reach back into the Void? To take back his mantle as Outsider?
“What does it do?” Corvo still refuses to touch the bauble.
Certain now that Corvo will not take the charm, Foster pulls it back towards his chest, hiding it from view. “It should ease the pain in your knees, where the cartilage has worn down. I know your knees bother you. The right more than the left.”
Corvo scowls, of course Foster knows. Anything that hasn’t happened in the last five months, he knows with the same precision as when he was the Outsider. He's lost none of his memories.
“I think it works,” Foster urges, “but even if it doesn’t, it shouldn’t cause you more pain. And I can always try again.”
Sighing, Corvo reaches out his hand, waiting for Foster to put the charm into it. Smiling softly, Foster hands the charm over, his pale eyes intensely focused, looking for any change in Corvo.
“I won’t be able to tell just sitting down,” Corvo stands to grab his coat, switching out the charm he uses to augment his strength for the one that Foster claims will ease his pain. Pulling the coat on, he does up the buttons to the neck. “Let’s go outside.”
Foster isn't dressed for the evening air, so they must stop by his room so he may retrieve his jacket. Corvo waits outside the door, but he can't resist trying to peer inside. From what he can make out, Foster has settled in, books stacked on the desk, one at the bedside. There are dirty clothes on the floor, rumpled and discarded. Corvo has to stop himself from laughing. The mere idea that Foster acts congruent with his young appearance giving him pause. A stranger might place Foster at twenty-two, perhaps twenty-four at most.
“Alright, we can go now,” Foster confirms, pulling on his jacket and buckling it together. It's still late summer, just edging into autumn, but Dunwall is always cold after dark.
Instead of heading towards the main entry, Corvo leads them to one of the side doorways used by servants to reach waste disposal. Corvo doesn't miss how Foster screws his face as they step outside. The stench is unpleasant, of course, but Corvo hadn't considered how much more terrible it must be for someone unaccustomed to such strong odors.
“This won't take long,” Corvo promises, hopping up to grab at the edge of a sturdy pipe that runs along the wall. Having used it for leverage before, Corvo knows it can support his weight.
Using his upper body strength, Corvo hoists himself up, swinging his legs until his feet find purchase. He crouches low creeping along the length of the pipe until he reaches the small window just over the dumpster. The window itself has been long boarded up to keep the fumes at bay. But the ledge is still wide enough for Corvo to use as another stepping stone to reach the duct above.
Once he's clambered atop the duct, Corvo decides he's high enough to test the charm properly. He knows he can survive the fall without it, but with significant discomfort to his joints if he bears the brunt of the impact. His landing zone is just to the side of the dumpster, and while an inelegant solution, if something goes wrong mid-drop, he'd rather redirect his path to fall in filth than break his neck.
Corvo leaps from the duct, keeping his body compact as he falls. His limbs must remain loose, any tension might result in injury. He must trust in his own skill, as the pavement rushes towards him.
He lands, crouches low and trying to disperse the impact across his aching joints. When he was twenty, thirty, Void, even forty, such a fall would have been effortless. Now, he'd be sore for days. But when Corvo stands, he can't feel the aftershocks of his little stunt. He feels...good. Without pain. Foster’s charm has worked.
Turning to Foster, he asks, “are you certain there are no side effects?”
Foster’s lips are slightly parted, wet in the center. His skin is flushed, starting below the collar of his jacket and creeping towards his ears. Perhaps he is still ill? Or the smell is beginning to affect him terribly.
“No,” Foster finally answers. His voice slightly broken. “There should be none. It works, then?”
“Good, good,” Foster pauses. “Goodnight, Corvo,” and with that, he rushes back inside.
Chapter 6: Comfort is Worth Losing Sleep Over, but Only if You're Already and Insomniac
fic more or less earns the E rating this chapter
Foster hurries up the stairs, his pulse thundering in his ears. Some distant voice in his head worries that Corvo is following after him. But he cannot hear a thing. In any case, as he reaches his room, he fits the key into the lock, trying to steady his hands. Once he’s inside, he slams the door shut, putting his back against the wood and sinking to the floor.
He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes, blotting out the light. Breathe in, breathe out. What was so acute downstairs is already starting to pass as Foster focuses on himself, instead of the practiced grace of Corvo falling from the duct. The gentle landing, his pleased expression.
Putting his head between his knees, Foster works his way back towards composure, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. His attraction to Corvo is overwhelming, still. Or, rather, the way his mortal body responds to actions that were once merely amusing, but now fill him with a quickening, needy desire to reach out and touch.
And Corvo has made it quite clear that he wishes neither to be touched by Foster, nor touch him in return. When Foster slept in Corvo’s chambers, he only touched Foster when absolutely necessary. At the time, Foster hadn’t thought much of it. Both Corvo and his daughter are rarely affectionate with others. This is something that he has always known. But the open, unselfconscious way that Emily hugged him, combined with their easy relations since that moment, have cemented in Foster’s mind that he is nothing but a bother to Corvo.
Straightening his legs, Foster drops his heels against the floorboards. He tilts his head back against the door. With his eyes still closed, he digs his hand against his half-hard cock, rolling his hips up into the friction.
He knows how this works. He’s watched humans take pleasure in themselves and in others for generations. The mechanics of it are vivid in his mind. But it is not something he has done himself, though many mornings he wakes hard. He’s come in his sleep as well, also normal. Especially given the apparent youth of his mortal form.
But as much as he has felt arousal in the last few weeks, particularly as the sickness that gripped him the first few months of his mortality faded, he has not deliberately tried to pleasure himself. He cannot help but laugh, wrapping his hand around his erection, still trapped inside his slacks. What is he waiting for? Perhaps managing this will make the terrible ache of watching Corvo go away.
Pushing himself to his feet, Foster stumbles towards the bed. He unbuttons his coat, tossing it towards his desk chair before pulling at the hem of his shirt. Shoes kicked away, slacks joining the pile of dirty clothes on the floor, Foster climbs into bed.
On top of the sheets or underneath? He has seen it done both ways. Embarrassingly, he knows that Corvo prefers under when alone.
Is there really harm, in thinking about the tangible source of his desires? When he has admittedly watched Corvo before, from the safety of the Void?
Foster slides under the sheets, cotton cool against his flushed skin. He’s mortified already at how tender and responsive his body is. But his enthusiasm cannot be helped. He feels almost everything with the same intensity. With time, the sensations will even out. His desire is only so overwhelming now, because he has put off giving in for so long.
Once he is covered, his hand drifts to the band of his underclothes, pushing them down and off his hips. He leaves them clinging to his thighs, though the fabric restricts how far he can spread his legs.
He runs the pads of his fingers against the sharp angle of his hipbone, following the muscle that leads down towards his groin. Without the barrier of fabric between his hand and his cock, he’s hesitant to push too quickly. He swipes the inside of his leg, his knuckles brushing against his balls. Sucking down air, he realizes how tense he really is, wound tight and terrified of what should be a simple act.
His other hand he lays flat against his stomach, focusing on the warmth of his palm. He pulls his hand up, towards his chest, letting the one against his thigh remain still. Brushing against one nipple until it hardens, he continues to breathe. The touch is pleasant, not so intense. He increases the pressure, squeezing his nipple between his index and middle finger until the sensation almost turns to pain. Finding that he likes it, he lifts his hips up, his cock brushing against the sheet on top of him. He repeats the process on the other side, moaning softly into the open room. Then he squeezes again, this time letting himself pretend it is Corvo’s fingers, and not his own.
But that leads to thinking about Corvo’s mouth against his skin. Wet and soft, tempered by the roughness of his beard. What would that feel like? And the heat of Corvo’s breathing as he would press kisses against Foster’s chest?
Foster pulls his hand back, throwing his forearm across his eyes. Finally, he moves the hand at his groin again, gently curling his fingers around his shaft. It’s dry at the base, but as he strokes upward, he realizes how much precome he’s leaked in anticipation. Dragging his hand back down, he smears what moisture there is, shivering at the mix of textures from root to tip. All of them are soft and warm, but with contours he hasn’t yet had time to discover.
He cannot help but buck his hips up to meet his hand, rolling into the pleasure that he’s found. It’s no more than a few strokes before the tension in his body finally cracks, come spilling messily over his hand as he reaches orgasm. The choking sob that leaves his mouth can’t be stopped. At least there is no one around to hear him.
Once he's finished, he wipes his messy hand along the sheets, far enough from the side of the bed he prefers, to avoid accidentally rolling into it during the night. He's too dead tired at the moment to do anything else.
But behind the veneer of exhaustion is something else. A hollow, empty nervousness. As a god, he thought nothing of watching Corvo touch himself. After Jessamine, Corvo took no lovers. His attention was always centered on the new Empress and his duties; Royal Protector first and father second. No room for anything else. Oh, there were offers, some of them quite persistent. But Corvo never accepted.
Foster cannot help but laugh into the crook of his arm, trying to muffle the noise of it. His giddiness bleeds into sobs, choked and hurried as he tries to regain his composure, though there is no one to watch him fall apart.
How could Corvo possibly want him? There was no desire for his intimacy when he was a god. And now he is nothing more than a silly man, with his emotions and body in disarray. He cannot even stop himself from crying.
At the very least, he eventually falls asleep.
Since his recovery, Foster takes most of his meals in the guest dining hall. There is a steady stream of nobles and diplomats with whom he shares a table, but they rarely engage in conversation. He increasingly tries to schedule himself as to avoid as many of them as possible.
Eating is still difficult, or rather, bothersome. Though no longer because of the reduced elasticity of his stomach. No matter how hard he tries, certain foods are still uncomfortable when he places them into his mouth. He cannot reckon how the process of eating is so simple for other mortals.
He’s found that pastries work fine, except when a bit of flaky dough glues itself to the roof of his mouth. That’s bad. But easily dealt with by a gulp of heavily sweetened tea. So breakfast isn’t too terrible. For lunches he asks only for bread and butter. Now that Corvo doesn’t hover around him, there is no one to insist he must eat more.
Anything containing whale makes him retch, even before he puts it in his mouth. Dinner is largely the same as lunch, though he realizes that he cannot live on starches alone. That’s a problem he can deal with later. For now he can at least eat until he feels full without vomiting everything back up.
While he’s finishing up his breakfast sweets, stuffed with sugar-soaked apple, the Empress breezes in. It is rare for her to make an appearance. The entire existence of the guest dining room is predicated on the fact she prefers to eat alone.
Foster knows immediately that she is here for him, though there are two other people in the room of stations more befitting of the Empress’ attentions. Emily pulls out the chair next to his, flopping down and telling him that he is to accompany her today.
“What are we doing?” he has long since given up on trying to refuse her requests. Besides, other than crafting charms downstairs, there isn’t anything else that holds his attention.
She rests the heels of her boots on the rung below Foster’s chair, “I have to try on garments for the wedding.”
Foster raises his eyebrow, then quickly looks into the bottom of his teacup, “Alright then.” At least it’s not horses again.
Emily claps him on the shoulder when she gets up, “Be ready in an hour. I’ll meet you at the gate.” She exits the room as effortlessly as she entered, leaving the two nobles at the other end of the table confused and slightly annoyed at their apparent invisibility in the wake of the Empress’ whims.
Foster returns to his room to grab his coat and change from his shoes into boots. Emily clearly thinks her choice in footwear is superior to her father’s. He tucks his pant legs inside the boots as is the fashion, and carries his coat folded over his arm as he heads out to meet the Empress.
Wyman isn’t joining them, Emily commenting that they’ll spend the day entertaining themselves with the guards. They want to learn to shoot, even though their swordsmanship is already exceptional.
Emily leans back against the carriage seat, “I think they want to try and best my father.”
“I’ve seen Wyman at tournaments, you know,” Foster comments. After Emily took interest in Wyman, he watched the noble a bit, to get an idea of their character. “They couldn’t beat Corvo at their current skill level.” Wyman has won three major fencing tournaments in as many years. But their style is for show, not for violence.
Emily smirks, “No, they can’t. But I think it’s cute that they want to try.”
The carriage arrives as their destination and Emily’s guard appears at the door to help her down. She takes her hand only to hop down off the step. The guard follows Emily, rather than waiting for Foster to descend.
The guard’s name is Jasper, apparently. A young woman of about Emily’s age. She trained in Tyvia, before moving to Gristol at the age of seventeen with her family. She has served the Empress since the age of twenty, and was handpicked by the late Alexi Mayhew. Jasper waits at the door, not following them inside.
Tross’ shop is not nearly as garish as Foster expected. In fact, it’s rather tidy. There are huge, beautiful lithographs in the windows, depicting lavish parties. But the interior itself is spartan, long wooden tables with stone tops and drawers for storage built in underneath. Two assistants busy themselves going through the drawers and retrieving documents and drawings and fabric samples, presumably for a different event.
“In the back!” Tross calls, sticking her head out from behind a partition. Her shiny black hair is tied up high in a bun, her nails painted a shocking red hue. “Thank you for coming in, Empress,” she bows.
Tross is petite, several inches shorter than Emily, with a narrow frame and animated hands. She pulls a rack of clothing out from behind the partition. Most of the attire is of standard Dunwall aesthetics, dark and drab. But there are some lighter options as well, creams and wheats and sea-foam green.
“Don’t think I’m much for fashions,” Tross wipes her hands against her trousers. There is a ink stain across the front of her shirt, “but I had these pulled for you to look at. At your next appointment, we can bring the tailor.”
“Thank you,” Emily says idly, running her fingers against the clothing on the rack. She’s not looking at any one piece in particular, just feeling the fabrics over and over again.
“Well,” Tross huffs, smiling, “I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need my help. But I can appreciate that you want privacy. We’ve blocked the entire morning for you. And if you wish, I can cancel my afternoon appointments. You are, after all, our first priority, Empress Kaldwin.”
Emily smiles, not turning his head. Foster has watched her expressions long enough to know she’s not really happy. More uncomfortable than anything else. “That shouldn’t be necessary. I brought my friend to help me. I’ll let you know which things I like.”
Tross clasps her hands together, bowing slightly before turning to join her assistants in preparing for her afternoon appointments.
Once Tross is gone, Emily lets herself frown openly, “What do you think?” she asks Foster.
“Uh,” Foster really doesn’t know how he’s expected to respond. Emily has excellent taste when it comes to dressing herself. And clearly has strong opinions about what is fashionable. “I guess you should try some things on?”
Emily grunts in reply, taking one of the dark gray suits off the hanger. Disappearing behind the partition, she starts to change. Foster isn’t entirely sure what he should do with himself. There’s a low, cushioned ottoman that looks like it’s intended for sitting. So he plops himself down and waits.
Emerging from behind the screen, Emily shows him the suit, narrow cut trousers, a slightly lighter colored vest, and a jacket with three-quarters length sleeves. Her own dress shirt is still underneath the vest. She opens the coat to show Foster the inside lined with forest green.
“So?” she asks. The suit doesn’t quite fit her, but that’s what the tailor is for. Right now everything is too baggy, including the pant legs that are too long.
“You look good?”
Emily groans, stomping back behind the partition. She tosses the jacket back towards the rack, before coming back out, presumably realizing she has to pick something else to try on.
“I thought you were excited about this?” Foster finally asks. Hopefully, her bubbling rage doesn’t burst at the interjection.
Emily starts, almost jumping out of her socks, “I was, I am,” she stresses. “It’s just...a lot of people will be looking at me. The most since my coronation. I was so scared shitless then, I don’t even remember what happened.”
“You were a child,” Foster adds, “it’s not surprising that you don’t remember.”
“That’s not it. I remember plenty of things from that age,” she doesn’t elaborate on what it is that she remembers. They both know. “But it’s like...I blacked out for the whole thing. I must have been shuffled from advisor to advisor. I don’t…” she realizes something, “was my father even there?”
He tilts his head to one side, appraising Emily, tracing the open vulnerability along the wrinkles just beginning to show on her face. She sincerely wishes to know. But that does not mean the truth is kind.
Foster does not wish to lie to her, “he was watching you, of course. You...wanted more comfort than he was permitted to provide.”
“I cried,” she laughs, “and they would not allow him to be a father?”
“You remember enough of your childhood to know that was the case.”
She huffs, grabbing another garment from the rack. This time a maroon dress, with black lining that just peeks under the hem. Foster waits while she tries it on. He already knows she will not like it. Emily is not fond of dresses. Which begs the question, why she is even trying it on?
Emerging from behind the screen, Emily shows Foster the cut of the dress, narrow to her body at the top, her waist sharply defined before the skirts flare out slightly. The color contrasts with her skin pleasantly, but otherwise, Foster has no opinion. “Are you comfortable?” he asks.
She snickers, “Never.”
Chapter 7: Peer Pressure and Pressured Piers
Wyman meets them upon their return to the Tower, offering their hand to help Emily down, before Jasper can get into position. Unlike Jasper, they offer their hand to Foster next, and for all the strangeness of the moment, Foster accepts the offered palm to hop down.
“Good trip?” Wyman asks, beaming at their beloved.
Emily rolls her eyes, grabbing onto Wyman’s arm, “it was fine. But I shouldn't be telling you anyway.” She turns her neck to get a good look at Foster, “Come with us?”
While Foster already feels drained from this morning’s activities, he's not in the habit of refusing Emily anything she desires. He trots along behind Emily and Wyman, until Emily chirps something about how being followed makes her nervous.
They three of them shamble through the Tower, trading places as they take the stairs, turn corners. Foster loses track of where they're going, until they appear in front of the hidden door fitted with Sokolov’s lock. Emily raises her hand to slot her signet ring into the lock, waiting for the mechanism to open.
The room itself is a well-known secret now, but knowing that it exists doesn't mean that just anyone can enter. Corvo is still in possession of the second ring. Emily locks the door behind them, counting out the seconds until the lock fully engages.
Wyman heads directly to the cabinet mounted against the opposite wall, using a much simpler key to unlock the door. From inside they pull an ornate wooden box, no bigger than a thick-bound book. Emily busies herself setting up the hookah, placing it on the low table surrounded by cushions laid out across the floor.
“Royal Physician Vanya said your lungs are clear, right?” Emily asks before blowing into the mouthpiece. She thinks doing so clears the tubing of debris, but really, it's more force of habit.
“Yes,” Foster replies. The serum Corvo insisted that he take cleared all signs of infection weeks ago.
Wyman sits down next to Emily. They take the metal grinder from the box first, unscrewing the cap and checking how much plant matter is still inside. Setting aside the grinder, they pick through the box, pulling out the bag of white leaf. “You've smoked before, right?” Wyman asks.
Foster doesn't know if he's supposed to answer honestly or not. Emily must know he has done no such thing. He looks to her for guidance.
“It's okay if you haven't,” Emily responds, “and you don't have to smoke with us, if you don't want. We have wine too, if you'd prefer.”
Foster hasn't had wine either, at least, not since his...It’s probably best to take substances one at a time.
“I want to try the white leaf,” he admits.
Wyman’s hands are busy, picking bits of stem away from the densely packed leaves. Once they are satisfied, they break the buds into pieces, dropping them into the grinder. Once the device is sealed shut, they turn the top lid to cut into the leaf. The process leaves a fine cut of white leaf in the bottom half of the mechanism.
Emily takes the grinder from Wyman’s hands, packing the hookah herself, “You just, you know, breathe in. It's milder than smoking cigarettes. The vapor, you know?”
Foster knows in theory. Though, like so many things, the practice is something he's never experienced himself.
Emily takes the first drag herself, before handing off the mouthpiece to Foster. Foster tries not to be too ambitious, taking a steady breath and letting the vapor fill his lungs. He passes the end to Wyman, still holding the vapor in his mouth. When he exhales, nothing really comes out, and the aftertaste is minimal.
“See?” Wyman smiles, “easy.”
Wyman cuts him off after the fourth pass around the table, promising that if in ten minutes, Foster still feels sober he can take another drag. Emily and Wyman finish off the current round without him, falling into a comfortable silence until they're through.
Emily rests her weight against Wyman’s shoulder, her eyelids drooping slightly. She drums her fingers against their chest, telling them she’s glad they were able to come to Gristol.
“And in the Spring I’ll stay for good,” they kiss the side of her head, into the soft fluff of her hair.
“Liar,” she smiles, “you've never made such a promise before. And I don't expect you to make it now.”
“Well, I want to stay,” they pout, turning to Foster, “tell her I want to stay!”
“They sound like they want to stay,” Foster says, with more seriousness than is really necessary. Wyman was perhaps right to cut him off. He feels different, but it's only really noticeable when he has to speak. Maybe the feeling would be more acute if he were to try and stand? But he's an object at rest and plans to stay at rest. At least for the time being.
“You'll watch her for me, right?” Wyman asks. “Make sure she's okay?”
Foster can't help but laugh, “I'm pretty sure the Empress can take care of herself.”
“Yeah!” Emily insists, “I'm stronger than either of you.”
“See,” Foster backs her up, even though in raw strength, Wyman is almost undoubtedly Emily’s better. They do not have the same practical training the Empress does.
Emily springs into action, shoving against Wyman’s shoulders and knocking them onto their back. Wyman disappears behind the edge of the table, Emily climbing on top of them to hold them down. “You'd better yield!” she snaps, before Wyman grabs her by the waist.
Foster simply watches as Wyman flips them both over, trying to get Emily underneath them. But Emily is too clever for such an obvious maneuver, slipping out of their grip and sliding away, before bouncing to her feet.
The side room where they are smoking is small, and Emily’s reflexes are somewhat slowed by the white leaf. So she tips back against the wall. Wyman, still on their knees, reaches up to grab her, and she laughs with uninhibited joy.
And Foster understands what Wyman really meant, when they said to take care of her.
Foster spends the next three days in his laboratory. He has ceased thinking of these rooms as Sokolov’s. They are his now. And while he cannot undo the damage done by the scientist’s practical genius, Foster can at least take the small victory of accomplishing what Sokolov never could in communing with the Void.
The charm he intends for Emily is nearly finished. He has tried to be modest in its augmentation. When trying to push for stronger results, the blackness took hold. So the finished product accomplishes a single task. And otherwise comes without conditions.
Just this morning he'd sent a note to the Empress, to meet him here in the afternoon. He has skipped over lunch, to make sure the bone charm is ready. Idly, he thinks about how Corvo will be cross with him. But he has been avoiding Corvo, as of late.
Emily arrives a little later than Foster expects, and without Wyman at her side. Once inside the lab, her attention is drawn in a dozen directions all at once. The room is grim, without adequate lighting and Foster hasn't bothered to really clean, only clearing enough space for now to work on charms. He keeps putting off sorting through Sokolov’s other experiments.
“You came,” he hops down off his stool, picking up the charm off his desk. “I have a gift.”
Emily frowns, “Your gifts are often bad omens.”
Foster is so shocked by the harshness of her words that he takes a step back. Given their interactions over the last few weeks, he had assumed they were now friends, or something like them.
Emily's face softens at Foster’s apparent confusion. “I'm sorry,” she shakes her head, “just, you know. Normally you give gifts when something has already gone wrong. Not that your gifts are what caused the chaos.”
Daud’s accusations are loud in his ears, though he barely heard them as more than a whisper across the expanse. He was the source of chaos in the world. He made the wrong decisions, when all he was meant to do was watch. To survive. And he has failed at both. Because once, long ago, he was a silly child playing by the waterside. And then, not so long ago, the hollow loneliness he was meant to endure became too much. So he chose his Marked, and he chose poorly. Because there was no template to guide him, yes. But also because he was very foolish.
“I-nothing, nothing bad. I don't think. I already gave one to Corvo. And this one was meant for you,” he holds out the charm for Emily to inspect.
“Oh,” she comments, reaching to take the charm without hesitation now. “What is it meant to do?”
“A memory aid,” Foster explains. “Names, dates, familial relations. Like a calendar, or advisor whispering in your ear. Once you commit a name and face to memory, you shouldn't lose it. One less thing to think about in court.”
Emily smiles, and it's genuine. She tucks the charm under the flap of her vest. “Thank you, I have appointments this afternoon. Hopefully it will help.”
“Tell me if it does. I can still make adjustments, or start over, but I believe it should work.”
“You're still...connected, then? To the Void? Do you have other powers still?”
Foster shakes his head. He takes a step back so he can sit down on the stool. “No more than another mortal. Some mortals have the skill to make charms, touched, they're sometimes called. Those untouched can never successfully bring the Void back to the Leviathan once it has died. So I suppose I count among their number. But as far as I know, I have no particular powers beyond that.” He cannot help but glance at her hand, “Do your powers still work? I did not know what would happen when I...surfaced.”
Emily wraps her right hand around the left, fingers pushing down onto the ribbon. “They work. But it hurts, uses more of my energies than they used to. But to be honest, I've had little occasion for magic since Delilah.”
That's reasonable enough, “You may lose them altogether, with time.” He frowns, considering how much he really wishes to share with her. But there is no one else to tell. “You are the only one now. The last of the Marked,” he sucks air through his teeth, “Billie, she...has powers, but the means are not the same. Even if the ends are similar.”
“You still haven't told me, why you've taken her name?”
He isn't sure he has the strength for this, but he can at least start to unravel the tale. “It's not really her name, is it? A disguise, a mask. It felt fitting, to take a false name from a woman who has built her life on running from the truth.”
“And what is that truth?” Emily asks, “you perhaps know her better than I do.”
Foster snickers, “Daud long made the mistake of thinking he knew her better than herself. So, no, I'll make no more presumptions. Other than I have no doubt that she's exactly where she thinks she belongs, now. And the only thing I can provide in tribute to her service, is to carry on her name.”
Emily’s face turns grave, “Where is she?”
Foster is unwilling to admit that he is not entirely sure what happened, when he and Billie were last parted, “she’ll come back for me, eventually.”
“Is that...good? Or bad?”
Foster admits, “I'm not sure.”
Corvo catches him in the hallway, on his way to breakfast. He touches three fingers against Foster’s sleeve, urging him to stop. Foster halts, dead in his tracks, looking down to meet Corvo’s eyes. The creases around them are deep, dark, but Corvo’s eyes are as alert as ever.
The sight of him will always leave Foster breathless. It can't be helped.
“Thank you,” Corvo says, “for the charm. It works well.”
Foster nods, trying to beat back a smile that is sure to be too open and coarse, unbecoming for the stoicness of Dunwall. No one here is ever really elated, at least not in public.
“The one you gave to Emily,” Corvo questions. So he must already know.
“A memory aid. Should be entirely safe,” Foster tries to quiet Corvo’s fears before he even raises them.”
“She is associated with the occult enough. We must be careful.”
Of course, the Abbey will always be watching her. Just as they once watched Corvo. Now that the Royal Protector can show his bare hand in public, attention has drifted to the Empress.
“Is there,” Corvo frowns, “a way to hide it, for her wedding?” It is obvious enough what he means.
Foster is unsure. Perhaps there is. Perhaps he can discern some lesser magic that will make her hand look unmarked.
“Even if only for an hour. If she could show her hand, the memory of it might last a lifetime.”
“I will try, I promise.”
Foster is in no position to deny Corvo anything. Particularly when he stands so close, the smell of tobacco and soap clinging to his skin, driving Foster to frustration, simply by breathing.
“Good. I will come see you, later,” with that Corvo leaves.
Foster leans back against the wall, trying to compose himself before another soul can catch him in a state of obvious disarray.
Corvo does not visit him that afternoon, or evening. Foster returns to his room. The next day he works through the morning, trying to chip the bones into their proper form.
He is quickly running out of raw, untouched bone. Sokolov birthed so many failures, most of the bones are ruined, useless. Foster wants to return them to the sea, so at least, they may be at peace.
But for now, all he can do is continue on with Corvo’s request. Maybe he can ask Emily about going to the seaside when she has free time. He can release the broken bones into the water then.
He’s not making progress with the illusion charm. It would be better if he had a test subject, other than himself. For the time being, he puts the unfinished trinket aside, pulling out a different project.
He has been working on this charm for quite some time, but has not had the opportunity to test it. It is intended for Corvo, eventually, but it requires two people to confirm if Foster is even on the right track. There are...selfish reasons for why Foster wants this particular charm to work. If the enchantment is correct, perhaps Corvo will finally have the evidence to trust Foster with more certainty.
Chapter 8: The Best of Intentions from Start to Finish Line
Corvo finally finds the time to slip away to Foster’s laboratory, though it takes several days to find the opportunity. He’s been receiving reports from the docks regarding unusual shipments from Karnaca. The crates are unmarked, except for the Kaldwin seal, filled with blooming flowers. A bad omen.
Knocking at the laboratory door, Corvo waits to be invited inside. When no answer comes, he checks the time on the wall clock, just past noon. Perhaps Foster has gone to lunch. To be certain, Corvo knocks again, and this time he hears the scrape of Foster’s stool, his shoes clicking against the floor.
The door swings open, a flustered Foster on the other side. His hands are stained with ash. He tries to wipe the excess onto his pants. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” he sounds breathless.
Foster leads Corvo back to his desk. There are three separate bone charms strewn about. One of them is coated in ash, rubbed into the etched lettering of the enchantment.
“That one needs time to set,” Foster explains, picking up on Corvo’s interest. “But I have another one I’d like to test. If you don’t mind.”
“I’m here to check your progress on the charm for Emily’s wedding,” he doesn’t have that much time today. He’s haunted by a box of unwilted roses.
Foster huffs, “I need more time. But soon. Besides, I have until Spring, right?”
Corvo cannot argue with that. Though, he is here to check Foster’s progress now. Also, he fully expects Foster to have departed by the time of Emily’s wedding.
Foster is going to leave, isn’t he?
“Help me with this, though? It’s for you,” he holds up a different charm, waiting for Corvo to take it. “Or I guess, it could be yours, if you wish it.”
“What is it for?” Corvo asks before touching the charm.
Foster smiles, “Interrogations, hopefully. Extracting information. Useful, yes, in your line of work?”
Corvo frowns, “How does it work?”
“Mmm,” Foster hums, he’s unable to hide his smile. “Take the charm, and touch my face. I’m not sure how well it will work. I cannot test it on myself.” Straightening his back, Foster sits up on his stool. Normally, he is taller than Corvo. But seated like this, he must tilt his chin up to meet Corvo’s eyes.
Corvo still finds his eyes strange, unnerving. He has never seen a mortal with eyes so light. He worries that the irises will draw unwanted attention to Foster. And there are already so many other reasons for people to stare at the young man. For one, he is exceedingly beautiful.
Taking the charm, Corvo sticks it into the front pocket of his vest. As long as it is on his person, the enchantment should work. Currently, he wears no others, as his usual loadout are attached to the inside of his overcoat.
He feels the familiar hum of power ghost along his skin. Since Delilah removed his Mark, the power he draws from charms feels more tangible, no longer obscured by higher magics.
Reaching out, Corvo places the pads of his fingers against Foster’s cheek. Foster inhales sharply when Corvo touches him, his skin warm, starting to pink.
“Oh,” Corvo realizes what he has been ignoring these past weeks.
But there is no time to dwell, because the charm drags Corvo’s attention elsewhere.
There is information there, secrets that Foster perhaps wished to keep. But what words take shape are a jumbled mess. No coherency. Corvo can hear them in his head. A roar. A scream of anger. This wash of emotion crashes over him, threatening to drown. Nothing useful. Nothing peaceful.
Crying in the darkness. A boy who doesn't want to die. And then one who wants to die, to live.
But more than violence, there is loneliness, embedded in every heartbeat. A core of empty longing. A desire to connect. But the bottom drops out, and Corvo falls. There's nothing to grab hold of.
Foster jerks his head away, so that Corvo is no longer touching him. His pale eyes are wide, but sharply focused, he looks frightened.
“I'm sorry,” Foster stumbles, hopping off his stool. “It isn't ready,” he holds out his hand, “give me the charm back, please,” he chokes.
Corvo shakes his head, trying to clear the daze. Acting automatically, he pulls the charm from his pocket, handing it off to Foster.
But this is not something he could so easily ignore, “Foster…”
Foster frowns, clutching the charm close to his chest, “I should not have subjected you to...whatever it was you felt. It was not my intention. Something is wrong with the enchantment. I'll find a way to fix it.”
But Corvo is fairly sure that there is no fault with the magics.
Foster is too skittish now to respond constructively. And Corvo still feels too raw himself. He excuses himself, promising to check in again at a later date for Emily’s charm.
Corvo feels it again, as he's trying to fall to sleep. The unfathomable depth of Foster’s despair. The turmoil and sadness and steady beat of terror. He is afraid.
What frightens him so?
Corvo waits until he is certain that Foster has finished with breakfast, before taking the stairs down to the laboratory. There are only a finite number of places Foster may be. He has yet to leave the Tower grounds without the Empress.
Knocking, Corvo waits for a response. This time, Foster opens the door quickly. He has not yet begun his work.
“I haven't had much time to make progress,” Foster explains, wringing his hands.
Corvo does not wish to lose his nerve, “You have been down here all week. Is there somewhere you wish to go? To see?” Emily has been tremendously busy, and hasn't had the time to entertain Foster.
Foster’s mouth drops open, he looks down into his hands, “I...are you honestly asking?”
Nodding, Corvo promises, “As long as it is not far. I have the day free, but appointments tomorrow.” Really, Corvo had a densely scheduled day planned. But upon waking this morning, he cancelled all his engagements to make time for this. He won't be able to sleep, knowing Foster is still in such a state of distress.
Foster turns away from the door, and at first, Corvo assumes he's being rejected. But Foster returns a moment later, a bundle in his arms. “I want to go to the waterfront...please.”
Corvo nods, that request is easy enough to grant. And he feels a thrill of accomplishment, for having correctly discerned that Foster would like to leave the Tower with more frequency. Only he does not yet feel confident enough to go alone.
They stop at Foster’s room to grab his coat, then head out to the main gate.
“Do you think you can walk? Or should I call for the carriage?” Corvo asks, unsure of how much exertion Foster can manage,
“How far is it?” Foster asks, still clutching the bag to his chest. Corvo would offer to carry it for him, but he can already tell Foster will not be parted from the sack.
“Half a mile, the route we’ll take.”
“I can walk.”
As they travel the streets of Dunwall, Foster stays close to Corvo’s side. Their arms brush against each other as they're forced into tighter spaces, when the crowd around them grows.
It's still early enough in the morning that citizens are bustling off to work. The cart merchants are rolling their wares towards the harbor, hoping to set up in time for the lunch rush.
Corvo doesn't miss how Foster’s eyes flick around, darting from building to building, never settling for long. Though he has left the Tower with Emily, they have always gone by carriage, and Corvo regrets having asked if Foster wished to walk at all. He should have insisted on the shelter they would have been afforded by the carriage.
Corvo wraps his arm around Foster’s back, hoping that the unexpected contact is not unwelcome. He draws Foster closer yet, until their hips bump together. He keeps his hand on Foster’s opposite arm, binding them. Foster tenses at first, but relaxes when Corvo says, “I'm here, just focus on that.”
The crowd starts to open up as they reach the docks, though the port has its own sort of unrelenting throb. The source of Foster’s unease appears to be the press of strange bodies against his. And on that count, the docks are certainly less aggressive.
Corvo untangles his arm from around Foster’s waist, watching as he wilts slightly. “Did you wish to go to the water’s edge, or out on one of the boats?”
Foster’s face lights up, “We could take a boat?”
Corvo nods, “The Crown has two docked here. I could have a crew to staff her in thirty minutes.”
Shaking his head, Foster responds, “Just...I want to see the water, the edge of the pier is fine.” Foster may already be flagging from the excitement of reaching the harbor. Corvo won't push him past his limits.
They walk side by side along the planks, Corvo subtly leading them through the less-dense pathways towards the sea. Another time, perhaps, he will bring Foster in the coach. And the boat will already be staffed. And they’ll go out on the water.
Corvo should not be making such plans. But he cannot help it.
Once they reach the furthest most edge, Corvo is pleased to find it empty. Foster crouches down, staring into the water. The sea is hectic here, with the traffic from the ships, murky with debris.
Corvo can't imagine that Foster can see much at all. But Foster reaches into the bag he holds so close, pulling out a scrap of bone. He drops the bone near the surface of the sea, careful not to let the water splash back up. Once the bone sinks, he draws his hand back, standing to his full height.
“When I was a child,” Foster starts. Corvo won't dare to interrupt him. “I would climb out on the pier, as we are now. I would speak to the sea. And the sea spoke back to me.” A sudden wind whips through his dark hair. “One day, the fish came up to meet me. Hundreds, thousands of tiny, silvery morsels. Enough to feed a Leviathan. And all of them dead.” Tugging at the front of his coat, he concludes, “that is how the Cultists knew I was the one.”
Corvo does not know if he should offer condolences. So, instead he only says, “Thank you, for telling me.”
“There may be another...one day. But...I'm not certain.”
“You could see the future? Before?” Corvo cannot help but ask.
Foster shakes his head, “I could see a great many futures. All at once...a cacophony of sound and images and sudden shock. But I could not tell you which events would become the truth of this world.” He laughs bitterly, “I watched you die a thousand different deaths, Corvo. I have suffered them all. You've avoided so many of them already but I…” he stops himself from continuing. “Next time, let’s go out on the boat. I wish to drop the rest of the bones closer to where their brethren can find their remains. They deserve to mourn, you know? As surely as any human.”
In truth, Corvo does not know. He will always be a fool.
Emily sends for him, asking if he would take dinner in her chambers. Foster does not know how he is expected to dress, but knowing the Empress, she will not care either way.
When he arrives, it is Wyman who lets him in. Emily is still fussing around the room. There are six different flower vases strewn about. None of them correspond with the others. “This is why I didn’t want anything sent to the Tower,” she huffs. “I could have gone to the shop to choose.”
Wyman shrugs sheepishly, explaining that the flowers would have wilted by the time Emily found room in her schedule to visit Tross’ shop.
“I know,” Emily admits defeat, sitting down at the table. Our meal has already been arranged. She grabs the centerpiece off the table and sets it on the floor. “We might as well eat.”
Foster picks over the fare spread out across the table. He still mostly subsists on bread. But ones without seeds clinging to the crusts. And butter, but he doesn’t like cheese. Fruit only if they’re at the stage of ripeness where they’re crisp and sweet. But if they’re at all sour, he recoils. And any hint of softness won’t do either.
If either Emily or Wyman find his eating habits strange, they keep their observations to themselves. Foster manages to eat two rolls, and the fig jam isn't too bad either. He's found that pulverized and mixed with sugar, he rather likes fig after all. As long as he can push that first encounter on his sickbed from his mind.
“I have diplomatic engagements for the rest of the week,” Emily’s attention is firmly on Foster, “but soon, we’ll go out again. Do something fun, once there is time.” She huffs, “there's never time,” she scratches her fork against her plate.
“You do not have to worry about entertaining me,” Foster tries to soothe. She really doesn't.
He knows the kind of stress the Empress endures, how counter her social obligations are to her natural temperament. Traits no doubt reinforced by her father’s disposition. He too is largely reserved, withdrawn. But, at least in private, Emily is far more expressive. Corvo would not allow anyone to see him in such a state of distress. Emily can at least admit to her anxieties with those she trusts. Foster wonders if she would have been different, had her mother lived.
Jessamine, at least in adulthood, was every bit an Empress. Self-assured, confident, well-spoken, decisive. She was prepared from childhood and capable for her role. But Emily, beautiful Emily, was passed around from advisor to tutor to diplomat and back again, in some vain attempt to curb her father’s influence. They talk about Corvo even now. They talk about Emily.
Foster heard them, in his last life. How it's such a pity, really, that the noble line has so soon mixed with a commoner. Good, though, that at least their current Empress has selected an appropriate spouse.
Foster knows with utmost certainty that Emily does not love Wyman for their title, or their appropriateness, but for their more tangible attributes. Their humor and kindness and cleverness and stubbornness and even the attractiveness of their face. Because all the rest can be quite irrelevant if she didn't also want to lay with them.
“It's not a bother,” her voice drops low, “I want to. I truly do. And,” she scratches her fork against the plate again. The noise it makes is awful. “I'll make the time,” her decision is final.
Chapter 9: The Funeral for Your Bad Ideas
Thank you all soooooo much! Since we reached 300 kudos, I'm posting this chapter early :) I've also finished the full draft of this story, so updates should be more frequent in general.
Foster continues working on the mind-reading charm. He is determined to make it functional. If he succeeds, it will be the most valuable bone charm ever made, one far beyond the skill of the most renowned crafters of ages past. Even now, his connection to the Void is stronger, more vivid than other mortals. Only, it is sometimes difficult to remember how intimate his knowledge of the Void really is, as it pales in comparison to his former tether.
Idly, he wonders if he has maintained other abilities, ones he has not thought to test.
His body is still somewhat frail, though it is no longer obvious that his delicate constitution is a result of illness, or something else underlying his nature. He cannot recall if he was sickly as a boy. Yes, he would have been malnourished then.
Almost all his memories of his mortal childhood are overwhelmed by the vivid scene of his brutal death. But he knows he did not eat well. Had he not been murdered, he might not have lived into adulthood.
But the body he walks in now is not the same one he had as a boy. They are made of different molecules. Foster cannot begin to understand the science and the magic of his construction. But he knows instinctively that this is different flesh.
He does not wish for his physical shortcomings to determine the efficacy of his mortal actions. If he never pushes himself, he’ll never know the extent of his abilities.
Setting the charm aside, Foster tries to think up an experiment, a test of sorts. He holds out his hands, looking at the backs of them. Pale, long fingered, he finds his hands to be rather on the large side, but he likes them. Where before he was utterly smooth, he now has a few nicks against his skin, there are callouses on his fingers too, from both the pick and the file he uses to craft charms.
It's silly to think he would possess something as obvious as the Mark. But at the same time, he's used his hands to commune with the Void through the medium of bone. So, perhaps there is something more there, simmering beneath the surface of his skin.
Frowning, he makes a plan. He pushes away from the desk, standing the stool in the middle of the room. Looking up, he judges the height of the ceiling, there is just enough space that he won't hit his head.
He's watched his Marked enough to know the idiosyncrasies of their powers. No two were ever the same. And he was unable to determine precisely what abilities they would possess before imprinting on their flesh. But each and every one of them had this one reflexive ability. This one thing in common.
Rifling around in Sokolov’s drawers, Foster finds a ball of string. He cuts about two meters in length, then ties each end to the feet of the stool. Keeping the loop of twine in his hand, he tests the strength of his knots, making sure they hold. This should work, maybe. And if he fails, he won't injure himself too badly.
For Corvo, the limit was twelve feet. For Daud, somewhat more, fifteen perhaps. Delilah only ever fell six. Emily, nearly twenty. Vera never had occasion, other than tripping on her skirts….
The stool is about three feet high, though Foster hasn't measured.
Climbing atop the stool, he centers his feet on the seat, slightly overhanging the edge. He must do this before he loses his nerve. If he doesn't get the momentum on the first try, he’ll surely fail to find the courage to try again.
Breathing deep, Foster closes his eyes. The length of rope is coarse between his hands. He jerks the tether sharply, trying to pull the stool loose from underneath his feet. Using all the strength he can manage, the stool slips, crashing to the ground with Foster coming down hard, partially on top of it. The harsh sound of failure echoes through the room.
Void! That fucking hurts. Foster rubs the small of his back. Kicking at the stool, he admits that the test has failed. Nothing broke his fall, no arcane wind coming to cushion the impact. He's going to have a bruise from that. But nothing his clothing won't hide.
At least no one was around to see him embarrass himself.
Corvo knocks sharply at Foster’s laboratory door. He has already tried Foster’s room. And though the hour is late, Foster did not answer. The laboratory is the next logical place for Foster to be.
There are footsteps on the other side of the door, Foster pulling it open without asking who it is. Corvo keeps his own hands wrapped together, trying not to move too much.
Foster’s hair has gotten long, reaching almost down to his shoulders. It should be cut soon. Corvo can arrange for it to be done, if Foster is having trouble making arrangements for himself.
“Corvo! I wasn't expecting you,” he steps aside to let Corvo inside the room. Not wanting to refuse the gesture, Corvo steps just inside the threshold. He doesn't plan on staying long.
“Do you have plans for tomorrow?” Corvo asks.
“Oh,” Foster’s forehead creases, “no?”
“I have appointments until lunch time. But in the afternoon, I can have one of the smaller Imperial ships readied.” Even the smallest of the fleet is probably larger than they require. But Corvo lacks the seafaring skill to rent and steer a smaller vessel himself. It is best they go with a competent crew.
Recognition sparks over Foster’s pretty features, his pale eyes wide. Corvo has almost gotten used to them. “Yes, that would be--yes.”
Corvo dips his head. They have nothing more to discuss tonight. He will see Foster tomorrow, after lunch. They will go out on the water together for the afternoon. And Foster can perform his sea-burial.
As Corvo turns to leave, he hears a faint, “thank you,” from Foster. There is no need. Corvo is only trying to be decent to him.
After his lunch appointment, with two intelligence professionals from Tyvia, Corvo walks to Foster’s room. Knocking at the door, he waits for Foster to emerge, bundled up in the heavier of the two coats Corvo had tailored for him.
“Are you really so cold already?” Corvo asks. Not the politest of greetings, but he's genuinely concerned. If Foster is already chilled enough to need the heavier coat, Corvo should have something else made for the colder months to come.
Foster frowns, “is it a problem? Will other people find me terribly strange?”
“No,” Corvo assures, “I was much the same when I first arrived in Gristol.”
Foster closes his door behind him, locking it with his key. He's wearing the tall riding boots Emily gave him. “I remember.”
Corvo almost corrects him, that Foster cannot possibly remember a detail like that. “Foster” would not be born for another ten years, maybe more.
“How old are you?” Corvo stumbles, as they are heading towards the stairs. It's such an awful question to ask now. But one that should soon be addressed. Corvo needs to have false papers made for Foster, if he is ever to leave the Tower and move as a real person across the Isles.
“Oh,” Foster shakes his head, “I'm not….hmm, let's not talk about it here.”
Corvo can concede that much. This is really a conversation better left for his private chambers. Or Foster’s. Where they will not to be overheard.
They cannot speak of bone charms either. Or Corvo’s work. Or really anything that would not compromise their privacy. But once they are in the carriage, Foster starts asking about the possibility of renovating Sokolov’s lab. And that topic is mundane enough. Providing they leave out the details of Foster’s experiments.
“There are...other things I would like to do with the space. But the layout of the benches is very particular. Specialized for Sokolov’s sciences. And I'm afraid my interests are different,” Foster explains.
Corvo hums in response, “I can help you fill out the proper documents. And then file them for the bursar to release the funds for renovation. I...could circumvent the process entirely if needed. But I'm certain your request would be approved. So let us try through proper channels.”
“You hate filing those forms,” Foster says, almost teasing. “Are you certain about helping?”
Corvo huffs, “don't make me regret my decision.”
Once the carriage comes to a halt, Foster grows quiet. Corvo steps out first, offering his hand out of habit to Foster. Bent at the waist to fit through the door, Foster stares at Corvo’s hand. Corvo almost pulls it away, before Foster accepts his help, stepping down from the cab.
Withdrawing, Corvo brushes his hand against Foster’s back before letting his arm drop to his side. Perhaps the gesture was too familiar, too forward. But Foster suddenly looked unsteady on his feet, and the last time they were in public, Foster seemed to be somewhat grounded by a familiar presence.
Corvo leads the way to the ship. He was exceedingly specific that it be ready before their arrival. He plans on making good on his promise to Foster, before something can go wrong.
“Here we are,” Corvo gestures towards the ship, indicating that Foster should board. With a six person crew, the ship is not equipped for a long voyage, but should be adequate to go out onto the water for the afternoon.
Corvo busies himself with finding the captain, making sure that they can depart within the next ten minutes. She assures him that they must only wait their turn, now that the Royal Protector and his guest have arrived.
Not knowing if it is best to give Foster space, or hang close, Corvo settles on neither. Awkwardly, he loiters on the deck, watching over Foster but not quite standing with him.
Foster leans over the rail, staring out onto the open sea. With his back to Corvo, Corvo cannot read his expression, chance a guess at what is going through his head. The further out to sea they travel, the more the wind whips through Foster’s hair. Reaching up, Foster grabs hold of the ends, holding tight, though there is little he can do to tame it.
Checking his coat pockets, Foster comes up empty.
Corvo checks his own jacket, before going in search of the captain once again. He bothers her about an extra tie or ribbon, having noticed one in her hair already. Though she seems confused at the request, she sends the deckhand with Corvo to retrieve one from her belongings.
With the ribbon in hand, Corvo returns to Foster, trying to make his footfall heavy, as to not accidentally sneak up on him.
“Here,” Corvo offers, holding out the ribbon in his hand. It's simple, black, and hopefully not offensive to Foster’s tastes, “for your hair.”
“Oh, thank you,” Foster takes the ribbon, messily tying his hair back. Some of it slips down around his ear, too short still to say bunched together with the rest.
Corvo suggests, “if you would like to have it cut, that can be arranged.”
“Yes,” Foster accepts. “You know...they...never mind, thank you.”
There is something more there, something Foster no longer wishes to share. And Corvo doesn't push.
Foster gasps, “Have them stop the ship.”
Corvo isn't sure that is possible, but they can at least lower the sails. He hurries to the captain, seeing if Foster’s wish can be fulfilled. By now, the whole ship already knows Corvo has arranged this trip for Foster. So it's not so very strange, bending to his whims.
With the sails lowered, the ship slows, coming to rest on the water. For the moment, all Corvo can hear is the wind, water sloshing against the hull. But then there's something else. Low at first, rumbling. Before the sharp noise breaks through the surface of the water. A massive whale breaching the surface, far too close to the boat.
The crew starts to rush into action. But Corvo realizes almost immediately what is happening. Without the time to be polite, he barks at the crew to remain calm. No harm will come to them, as long as they do not aggravate the whale. “Step away from the sides!” he instructs.
There isn't a person aboard who would contradict a command from the Royal Protector, though the captain narrows her eyes at him.
Foster stays close to the edge, and Corvo hurries to meet him, once he is certain the crew won't interfere.
Just as the crew are terrified of him, Corvo stares in awe of Foster, reaching over the railing towards the water.
“Hello?” Foster whispers, trying to get as close as he can.
Corvo stands on alert, in case Foster loses his balance. He won't let Foster fall into the water.
“Do you recognize me?” his voice is a broken, needy gasp. Unlike anything Corvo has ever heard from Foster’s lips, even in the deepest reaches of his illness. “I just...I wanted to see you. To tell you I'm alright…”
The whale dips back below the surface of the water. Corvo can see its graceful form sliding closer to the ship. As the water displaces, the boat rocks. Corvo turns to glare at the crew again, making sure they don't disobey his orders.
When the Leviathan surfaces again, it is mere inches from the hull. The ship settles, and Foster reaches out.
What Foster says next is not in any language Corvo can understand. It is something primal, beyond the ears and minds of mortals. A string of beautiful songs, layered atop one another. And Corvo cannot honestly believe the noise emanates from Foster at all.
The whale comes just close enough for Foster to brush his fingers against wet skin. And just as suddenly, it disappears, sinking beneath the waves.
“My bag,” Foster rasps.
Corvo picks up the pack off the floor, handing it to Foster.
Foster takes the bones out, one by one, dropping them into the water and watching them sink.
“I'm sure you're tired,” Corvo says, once they stand before Foster’s door.
Foster’s pale hand looks particularly stark against the wood. His fingers curl slightly, tense, unsure. “I'm fine,” he says. On the ship, he did not allow himself to cry. Though Corvo is certain that the experience left him close to tears. “We can speak inside.” He fits his key into the lock.
Corvo’s first instinct is to flee. To make some excuse to return another day. He is not the man Foster needs at the moment. One who can provide him with simple comforts, an understanding ear. Corvo can listen, of course. But he is not equipped to soothe frayed emotions. To talk Foster back from a ledge of sorrow.
Foster unzips his boots, pulling them off to leave by the door. Only then does he take off his coat, tossing it onto the bed.
Corvo hurries towards the desk chair, before he loses a place to sit. It is the only chair in the room, but suitably close to the bed that Foster can sit on the mattress if they are to have this conversation.
Predictably, Foster seats himself at the edge of the bed. His hair is still tied back, though additional strands have fallen from the knot, framing his face. Corvo will arrange his haircut once their conversation is finished. Hopefully Foster does not object to having an appointment first thing in the morning.
“You asked before, about my age?” while it is not the topic Corvo expected, it is one that brings him relief. The practical matter of arranging Foster’s documents is well within his wheelhouse.
“You will need a date of birth. And a full name. I can check the payment slips for Emily’s music lessons, for the instructor’s surname. And I suppose you will take Foster as your given name?”
Foster frowns, “I hadn't thought much of it. But, I suppose my surname needn't match hers? Remember, there are no relatives alive to contradict my story.”
“That’s true. So Foster as your surname, and a different given?”
Foster curls his hands tightly against the blanket underneath him, “Let me think on it.”
The last time Corvo let Foster think on his name, he waited weeks without an answer. But ultimately, Foster did pick his name. “Your age, then?”
“What do you think would be appropriate? This body...is built upon so many lies. And some truths.”
Corvo honestly has no idea what Foster is saying, “What do you mean?”
“You've read the stories. The myths. I was murdered at fifteen. This is not what I looked like then. As I reached the Void, I took a different form. One more suitable for my station. Though, it is possible that someone who witnessed my execution would see the resemblance between the the sacrificial child and what I look like now. I don't think I look terribly different from who I could have been. But…”
“When I look at myself, my eyes are unfamiliar. I did not have an occasion to look at my own reflection as a child. I had no parents. No home. No possessions. But I look at my face now, and still can’t stomach myself. I’ve seen these eyes on someone else’s face. And it makes me ill to see them now.” Foster huffs, turning his face away to stare at the wall instead of Corvo, “I don't know why I'm telling you this.”
Corvo doesn't know either. But he does know he's forgotten how to breathe. He watches as the apple of Foster’s throat bobs as he swallows.
“You said you would not pick my name, Corvo. Is the same true of my age?”
This is an easier request. One they can work through together. Foster simply does not know the date of his birth. Or, rather, a date that would be reasonable, given his appearances. And a number is not so intimate as a name.
“When you stand next to Emily, you look somewhat younger than she does,” Corvo explains.
Corvo nods, “she has more lines in her face, particularly at the corners of her eyes, and then between them, when she frowns. Her hair is also starting to prematurely grey. Whether it be from stress or heritage, I'm not sure. All of this can be accounted for by her position. So if you would like to be born in the same year as she, that would also be reasonable. But I would not suggest older.”
Working towards a resolution, Foster offers, “Two years younger, then. 1829. 10th day, Month of Ice.”
Once he has Foster’s decision on a full name, Corvo can prepare the documents.
“That's settled then,” Foster’s voice trails off.
Corvo readies himself to depart. Foster’s eyes are drooping shut. But before he can rise from his chair, Foster speaks again.
“Thank you, for today. I...they were worried. And now they know I'm safe.”
“The Leviathans?” the emotional weight of their visit on the sea is still palpable.
“Yes. She will tell the others.” A faint smile ghosts over Foster’s features, “they think what I have done is tremendously foolish.”
“It was not your choice, was it?” Corvo still does not know the details of Foster’s descent.
Foster’s breath quickens, “things are more complicated than that. I will tell you, Corvo. When the time comes.”
With nothing more to say, Corvo finally stands. “I am glad that the Leviathans no longer worry for you,” the statement tastes strange in Corvo’s mouth. But the sentiment is sincere.
“Oh, they still worry. Only now, for different reasons...you know...I can feel it leaving me, even now.”
“What is leaving? Corvo's curiosity gets the better of him.
“One day I will no longer speak their language with my mortal tongue. And I will no longer understand their songs.”
Foster makes Corvo wish he were a better man.
Chapter 10: Trap Doors to the Resolution of Broken Promises
Emily breezes into breakfast, ignoring everyone who isn't Foster. She tells him that she must go to Tross’ shop today, or else endure the horror of having cake samples sent to the Tower. “This isn't the outing I would have wanted, but it's at least something we can do together,” she concedes.
Foster says he's more than happy to accompany her, simply glad that she thought of him at all.
As is custom, the others in the room are quietly horrified. Both by the Empress’ harried behavior (which can be excused by her busy schedule, as well as the cut and dry romanticism of a wedding) and her favoring of a person who is obviously not her betrothed.
Finished informing Foster of their plans, she departs just as quickly.
The servants whisper that Corvo and his young lover had a falling out. That is why they now sleep separately. But since the boy, and Foster hates being called a boy, and the Empress have long been friends, he has not been removed from the Tower. Or, perhaps, Corvo still visits him for sex, even if the Royal Protector has grown somewhat bored of his company.
Foster finishes his breakfast and prepares to meet Emily at the gate. There is no carriage this time, and when Emily arrives, hands shoved in the pockets of her coat and elbows sticking out, she asks if Foster will be alright.
“I believe so,” Foster says. He hopes he won't be a bother.
Flanked by Emily’s solitary guard, they arrive at Tross’ shop, finding the door locked. Emily taps at the window impatiently, scowling when there is no immediate answer. She knocks harder, while Foster looks for a bell. Finding none, they must resign themselves to wait.
It only takes a minute for Tross’ assistant to come unlock the door. But with every second, Emily’s mood sours. Foster suspects her ill temper has little to do with the delay, but he is not brave enough to ask what upsets her.
Jasper remains outside while Emily and Foster enter the shop.
Inside, six different cakes line the long central table. Each one is only a single tier, but with a drawing of the complete design pinned next to the sample cake. At the end of each table is a flower arrangement. Presumably the one Emily ended up selecting.
Tross emerges from the back room, perfectly disheveled. Foster has met her twice now, and is almost certain that her particular aesthetic is a cultivated one.
“Empress,” she bows, “please take your time. And you may sample the taste as well. Any of the bakeries can be asked to send a completed sample cake at your request. Only you had instructed me that you do not like excess waste,”
“I don't,” Emily confirms, her mood softening slightly, “this is a better solution. Thank you.”
Rather than allow Tross to hover, Emily asks her to leave them for the time being. She will call for her, if she has any questions. With that, both Tross and her assistant disappear into the back room.
“I know this isn't terribly entertaining for you,” Emily huffs, “but I supposed it would be better than not seeing each other.”
Foster doesn't mind assuring her again, “It's not a bother. I'm just not certain I'm much of a help.”
Emily’s eyes scan the room, fixating on the door at the back, through which Tross and he assistant disappeared. Then to the front window, where she can see Jasper’s back through the glass.
“You've seen every fashion of what, a dozen civilizations? More?”
“Somewhat less,” Foster responds, “fashions change, but civilizations do not rise and fall as quickly as you would think.”
Emily shrugs her shoulders, then turns her attention to one of the drawings. “Still, you've seen it all. And you must have opinions.” She snickers, “your clothes in the Vo- when we first met were quite fitting.”
“Copying the style of a particular age is easy,” he rolls his eyes, “that's different than my own personal tastes.”
“And what are your tastes?” She picks one of the paper plates from off the table, using the provided spatula to cut into the cake. The inside is blood red, and Emily frowns. “You'd think after I rejected all those roses, Tross would notice I don't like red.”
It's not the color that makes Emily hate roses.
“We can still eat it,” Foster grabs the plate from her hand, dipping into the frosting with his bare fingers.
The gesture seems to brighten Emily’s mood, as she cuts into the next cake over, giving up on cutlery as well. They end up with frosting under their nails, and their stomachs hurting from all the sugar. Emily isn't sure she's any closer to picking a cake.
“Is it that important,” Foster asks, “it's not really for you, right?”
“No, it's not. And that's why I've grown to hate doing this. It's not for me at all.”
Foster shrugs, “then stop caring about which cake is right. Just tell Tross one of them and forget about it.” He shoves one still-sticky finger into his mouth. “Or just the one that tastes best, or we can pull a number out of a hat.”
“I'll be judged poorly, if I select incorrectly,” Emily huffs, “I'll be made a joke.”
“Emily,” Foster hopes he's not crossing any lines, “you're the Empress. And half the city truly believes you are spreading your legs for the Outsider. And that's why you keep ‘sending Wyman away.’”
That, at least, gets her to burst out laughing at the idea.
“And even with all that, you're still largely adored. You could serve your guests dog shit on a platter, and they’ll say it's the sweetest confection they've ever tasted.”
“Are you certain?” Emily asks, with open honestly.
Foster admits defeat, he cannot keep running from what he already knows. Trying to forget serves no one, “I've seen it. I'm certain.”
Emily calls for Tross, telling her that she likes number four the best. There's no need to have a complete cake made before the wedding. She is sure of her choice.
Corvo acquires the necessary forms and files that Foster will need to request renovations to his lab. He has two pens shoved in his pocket, in case Foster doesn't have any.
Knocking at the door, Corvo waits to hear Foster’s footsteps. The rhythm of them, one right after the other, is exactly the same each time. Though Foster is tall, he takes short, hurried steps, as if he's always rushing.
“I've brought the paperwork,” Corvo holds out the stack of paper as his greeting.
Foster’s expression doesn't change, but he accepts the parchment, “Thank you.” He holds the bundle close to his chest, before stepping aside, “Did you want to come in?”
Corvo’s hand is already in his pocket, wrapped around the pens. He had meant to hand them over to Foster, then depart. While he said he would help Foster with the paperwork, he had meant it. But he also does not wish to intrude on Foster’s work.
Though uncertain, Corvo steps over the threshold, looking around the room. It is unchanged since his last visit, still more occupied with Sokolov’s things than Foster’s. That’s what the renovations are for, after all.
“I don’t have anything to offer you, but a seat?” Foster gestures towards the desk chair, shoved in the corner of the room. He clearly prefers the higher, backless stool, to the lower wooden chair.
Corvo crosses the room to take the chair. It’s covered in a fine layer of dust, that he sweeps away with his palm, then brushes his palm against his pant leg, leaving gray dust against dark fabric.
He sets the chair across the desk from Foster’s stool, sitting down to wait for Foster’s cue. Foster, for his part, stands numbly, the documents still clutched in his hands.
“Where do we begin?” he sets the stack back in front of Corvo, grabbing his stool and bringing it back around to the other side of the desk to sit next to Crovo. The stool seat is higher than the desk chair, making Foster even more comically tall next to Corvo.
Corvo doesn’t much care for the tedium of bureaucracy either, but he wants Foster to get the renovations that will make him happy.
Corvo wants him to be happy.
They sort through the requirements together, Foster providing Corvo with the particular specifications of what he would like done with the room. A proper workbench. A new set of flasks, Sokolov’s are stained and contaminated. Chairs for guests.
“Are you expecting many visitors?” Corvo asks.
“You're here now, aren't you, Corvo?” he retorts.
Corvo concedes as much and writes down two chairs on the requisitions list. The one he's using at the moment isn't particularly comfortable. And he adds a note that the chairs should be of decent quality. Foster snickers next to him as Corvo scribbles his request.
It takes nearly two hours to finish fishing through every note and forum. Once they are done, Corvo slides the stack into a large envelope to keep everything together. He can deliver the documentation now, and with his seal, it should be only days before a crew can get to work.
“Thank you,” Foster says with bright sincerity, but refusing to meet Corvo’s eyes. “It would have taken much longer, without your assistance.”
“Having my signature will do more than anything else.”
Foster tilts his head, this time staring down at Corvo. His eyes are always too much, or too little. “Perhaps it was just nice to spend time with you.”
Corvo realizes he's made a series of grave mistakes. One stacked right on top of the other. And yet, he does not know how to bring down the tower of his failures without getting crushed underneath the stones.
His tongue is not clever. But he can act. He can wait for Foster to respond.
Tomorrow. He’ll come back to the laboratory tomorrow.
Tomorrow becomes today, and Corvo falters.
Foster looks so blissfully happy to see him, talking feverishly with his hands. The foreperson has already sent word that he will be by tomorrow to take measurements and clarify Foster’s wishes.
“I cannot wait to see Sokolov’s things in the garbage.”
The statement strikes Corvo as supremely odd, though he knows the Outsider harbored no particular love for the former Royal Physician. Jessamine had been rather fond of him, and thus Corvo treated him with respect. But Foster displays a seething, giddy sort of malice at disposing of Sokolov’s possessions.
And so, while Corvo truly had intended to broach the subject of...what possibilities lay ahead for himself and Foster, it feels so vulgar now. To ask to kiss Foster, perhaps, surrounded by the specter of a man he so detests.
Another time then, or another place. But not here. Not now.
It is late, when the knock rings across Corvo’s room.
He should have been asleep already, but instead he double, triple checks his information. The last thing he wants to do at the moment is travel to Karnaca. Perhaps there is something more in his surveillance reports. A lead he has not followed yet. Anything that could keep him here in Dunwall, instead of spending the winter questioning Breanna Ashworth.
Corvo is uncertain, if he were in Emily’s place, whether he would have allowed Delilah’s lover to live.
Crossing the room, Corvo opens the door without asking who it is. Foster stands outside, looking rather rumpled, his whole body twitching with excitement. “Corvo!” he exclaims. “I've tried again.”
In his hands is another bone charm, swaddled in white cloth. Corvo invites Foster in, surprised when he doesn't head straight to the sofa. “Try it now,” Foster insists, trying to shove the charm at Corvo.
“What does it do?” Corvo asks, trying to keep exhausted exasperation out of his tone.
“Oh!” Foster laughs, “the interrogation charm. I've tried to fix it.”
Corvo is perhaps more accepting than he should be. But the prospect of spending weeks dragging information out of Ashworth seems likely. And if Foster’s charm works, perhaps his trip abroad will be less arduous. Taking the charm from Foster’s hands, he asks what he must do.
“The same as before,” Foster flushes, “touch my face.”
Swallowing thickly, Corvo presses his palm to Foster’s cheek. Now, he is certain that it is not illness that wracks Foster’s body when Corvo touches him. This is as good an excuse as any for the two of them to stand so close, for Corvo to feel his skin. But Corvo will not take what is not explicitly offered. So while he wants to put his lips against Foster’s, he does not.
All Corvo can hear is white noise, the kind of static that the Wall of Light produces, a sizzling, crackling power. At least, it is not the oppressive sadness Corvo felt when he touched Foster before. But he is uncertain if the despair has left Foster, or if he is simply better at hiding it, or if the charm is broken in an altogether new way.
“Nothing,” Corvo whispers, “I hear nothing.”
Foster frowns, touching his fingers to the back of Corvo’s hand, dragging them down Corvo’s knuckles. “I’ve failed at it again.”
Corvo considers what could possibly be wrong, though he of course knows less about the manufacture of charms than Foster. “Maybe it’s not the charm,” Corvo says aloud.
“Maybe it’s you,” Corvo continues. But that is the wrong thing to say.
Foster takes a step back, so Corvo’s hand is no longer against his face. “What do you mean?” his eyes narrow.
Corvo isn’t sure how to explain. He’s not eloquent, “All I hear is noise. Maybe your mind is not as open as a mortal’s.”
“I am a mortal,” Foster insists with a sort of lingering panic, “I should be indistinguishable.”
Uncertain how to soothe, Corvo can only offer, “There are other mortals, unduly influenced by the Void, perhaps it will not work on them either.” With defeat, Corvo knows that if this is the case, the charm will be worthless in questioning Ashworth, who was so intimately tied to Delilah’s magic.
Foster still appears upset, but starts rattling off possibilities, “That will make testing difficult. Presumably Emily would have a similar reaction. And I would prefer as few people as possible know what it is I’m doing in the laboratory.”
“That would be my preference as well,” Corvo acknowledges.
Foster is still cross.
“Leave the charm with me. I will find some way to test it. I will not let anyone know you were involved.”
Dropping his shoulders, Foster concedes, “Alright, but I need it back. Especially if it does not work.”
Corvo nods, assuming their conversation here is done.
“I have one last request,” Foster continues, though with less confidence, “though I have already asked so much of you.”
“What is it?” Corvo goes to his safe, intending to lock the bone charm inside until he has time to test it properly. Despite what he has told Foster, he intends to start with Emily, if she will allow it.
“I need more whale bone. But...I’m at a loss for getting it. A dilemma, you see.” Foster crosses his arms over his chest. “They are...it pains me….the whale trade.”
“You know them,” Corvo broaches a topic he has never fully understood, “As friends, as confidants, as if they are people.”
Foster smiles faintly, “They are more than humans, if I’m honest. Closer to godhood than anything else in this world. Without...what I was, they are the closest beings to divine.”
“And so you do not want them killed, so that you can make charms. But you want to continue making charms,” Corvo explains, more to himself than to Foster.
“Yes. I do not wish to increase demand for bone. But at the same time, I also do not want to reveal myself as a purchaser of bone. I think...I understand better now your great desire for discretion. But I need untouched bone for Emily’s charm.”
Corvo remains practical in such matters, his connection to the Leviathans is not so intensely charged. Though he knows a great disaster looms at the edge of their extinction. “I will take it directly from the processing facility. Before it ever reaches the dealers. That may drive up prices for several weeks, but not on the cause of demand. The market for whale bone has always been reliant on the factories as a source.”
Foster nods, “Thank you, Corvo.”
Another day, then. Corvo will ask another day.
Emily has a fifteen minute appointment free after lunch, before meeting with the Minister of the Press. Corvo goes to her rooms to meet her, to save her the time of coming downstairs.
“Foster says it will let me read thoughts,” Corvo explains, setting the charm down on the table.
Picking the charm up herself, Emily turns it over in her hand. “He’s quite talented, you know? He made me one for remembering names. It works quite well.”
Corvo bites his tongue. Emily has never liked the tedium of learning the personal details of the nobility. Part of him thinks it unwise to use arcane trinkets to make up for her distaste. But isn’t Corvo doing much the same? Though he is no longer a god, Foster continues to provide both Corvo and Emily powers beyond those of mortals.
“When I use it on him, all I hear is static,” Corvo explains.
Emily asks, “And when he uses it on you?”
Corvo hesitates, the thought never occurred to him, “We have not tried it.” Truthfully, the thought of letting Foster in, close enough to feel his wants, his desires, all the things he’s strived to keep hidden, sends chills down Corvo’s spine. “I think he is the problem.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Emily says she does not mind if Corvo uses it on her. As long as she gets to do the same to him. Rolling his eyes, Corvo agrees to her request. After all, the charm may not work.
Corvo touches Emily’s face and waits, not knowing what to expect. At first there is nothing, silence. And then, ‘I’m sorry.’
“What are you sorry for?” Corvo asks aloud, shocked by the clarity of Emily’s mind.
Emily shakes her head and smiles, “I wasn’t trying to share that.”
“I think that’s the point,” Corvo swallows, “won’t do much good in interrogations, if I can only hear what someone wants me to hear.”
“I suppose that’s right,” Emily concedes, “then look for yourself.”
Corvo tries, focusing on the faint voice he heard before. It’s there again, simmering in Emily’s mind. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to be your daughter and the Empress at the same time. I’m sorry I can’t be both.”
“You do just fine,” Corvo says, trying to keep the water out of his voice. Dropping his hand to the back of her head, he pulls her close, kissing against her forehead. “I’ve never known how to be your father, and not your sword.”
Emily cries, though it is quiet and restrained. She has had fewer years to shut herself down, to force her expressions closed. While she manages in public, in private moments, she is a torrent. Another aspect of her station, that Corvo could never manage.
“My turn,” Emily says, taking the charm from Corvo’s coat pocket.
His first instinct is to snatch it from her, but he draws his hand back before he can. Letting his arms hang loose at his sides, he waits for Emily’s too cold fingers against his jaw.
Her eyes widen, but she says nothing. Then she gets that little crease between her eyes. Where her first wrinkles formed. Eventually, the divot there will be quite deep. Corvo hopes to live to see the day.
Drawing her hand back, Emily finally speaks, “You do not wish to be Royal Protector much longer. We should see to your replacement.”
The careful way she phrases the truth Corvo cannot speak strikes him as quite dear.
“I’m not ready to leave yet. But soon,” Corvo admits to her. “I am growing old. And it is better that we do not wait until I am infirm or dead, to choose my successor.” Corvo hesitates, “After the wedding, we will appraise candidates together.”
Emily smiles a little, in a way that is utterly sincere, “Maybe then, we will come to know each other without our titles.”
“I hope so,” Corvo feels a sudden relief, now that Emily knows. “I suppose the charm works, then.”
“It appears it does,” Emily hands the bone back to Corvo. Their time together is running out. Emily must make haste to her next engagement.
Turning to leave, Corvo is halfway out the door when Emily barks with bright enthusiasm, “You should tell him!”
Damn this charm to the Void.
Chapter 11: Corbel
Corvo makes the decision to have Ashworth transferred to Dunwall, rather than take the trip south himself. It’s no easy task, arranging for the transport of a prisoner, especially one as dangerous and high profile as the Curator. But Corvo’s demands will be met. And with the working bone charm from Foster, Corvo hopes that his investigation will move quickly, once Ashworth arrives.
With the paperwork is signed, all Corvo can do is wait for her arrival. There are other matters in Gristol that require Corvo’s attention. Smaller, more mundane tasks that will keep him occupied while he tries to unravel the mystery of the Kaldwin-stamped crates. None of the boxes in the last shipment contained anything suspicious, other than the seal. Most were empty, save for packing materials. Corvo doesn’t know what to make of it.
In the meantime, Corvo must review the guest list for the wedding. Delivered some days ago by the Empress’ secretary, the list has been all but finalized. Emily has had very little to do with deciding who will be in attendance. At most, she may have scribbled down personal acquaintances, friends of Wyman’s who are not typically guests in Dunwall, and she perhaps struck through names of those nobles who have personally offended her. Otherwise, the guest list is a political document. Not a social one.
But as Royal Protector, Corvo has the tedious task of combing through the list of names for obvious security threats. It is not as if he has time to investigate each guest individually. His approval or rejection is more a formality than anything else. A courtesy to give Corvo the illusion of control. What is more important is his selection of the guards to be stationed at the Tower on the day of the ceremony, and who to send out into the streets to control the crowds. The whole city may be awash in celebration. No one is quite sure. It has been so long.
The list of guests is more than two hundred names. Corvo does not get past ten without becoming anxious, too full of creeping energy. He puts the dossier away. There will be time for it later.
Without thinking much of it, he leaves his quarters and takes the stairs down to the basement. To check in on the renovations, he tells himself. After all, his seal and signature were used to approve the project.
He finds the workpeople toiling away, fitting the room to Foster’s exacting specifications. But Foster himself is nowhere to be seen. After a brief conversation with the burly foreman, Corvo excuses himself again.
Now he can't even pretend that he is doing anything other than trying to find Foster. Corvo takes the stairs back up and walks the halls leading to Foster’s room, knocking on the door upon his arrival.
When the door opens, Foster’s eyes are still cloudy with sleep, his hair a mess. But it is almost noon? Corvo is certain of the time.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” Corvo makes to excuse himself. He didn’t mean to wake Foster.
“No,” Foster huffs, “it’s fine, come in. I should get up anyway.” Stepping aside, Foster lets Corvo through the door.
Foster’s room is still sort of a quiet chaos, books stacked seven volumes high on the table, a heap of clothing on the floor, the bed tousled and unmade. Of course, Foster only just climbed out from under the covers.
Kicking the dirty laundry into the corner does nothing to make the room more presentable, but Foster does so anyway. There’s a hamper in the bathroom. Foster clearly doesn’t bother.
The shirt Foster wears is too large for him through the shoulders and waist. And only upon closer inspection does Corvo realize that the garment is his. Foster must have kept it, somehow, when he was relocated from Corvo’s rooms to his own.
Today. Now. It must be now.
“Have you any news about the charm?” Foster asks, fiddling with his hair. It’s been properly cut, but he appears to prefer his fringe long.
“I’m not here about the charm,” Corvo admits. He can tell Foster about his meeting with Emily later. Right now, he does not wish to change subjects. He will only lose his nerve again. “Foster?”
“Corvo?” he responds, almost mocking, but not quite.
But the words still stick in Corvo’s throat, too syrupy and sweet. And it has been so long since he’s had a taste of this emotion. It leaves his throat sticky and wretched.
Instead of speaking, Corvo shoves the charm against Foster’s chest, holding it in place with one hand as he grabs Foster’s wrist with the other. Pressing Foster’s palm to his cheek, Corvo hopes this works.
Foster sucks down air, but doesn’t pull away as Corvo handles him. That same, Void-damned flush crawling up his neck and to his face. Foster’s eyes stay wide as the seconds pass, until he finally breathes, “Yes, Corvo.”
And Corvo isn’t certain which of the racing, jumbled possibilities in his brain Foster consents to. But he knows inside himself is a tangled mixture of softness, want, and crueler desires. Picking through them at the moment is impossible. At the very least, Corvo knows Foster wants him.
“Please,” Foster whispers.
Corvo almost drops the bone charm to the floor, as his hands scramble for Foster’s hips. Foster yips and manages to grab the charm as it falls, keeping his meticulous work from coming undone. Just as quickly, Foster tosses the charm onto the bed, where it lands safely in the sheets.
Wrapping his arms around Corvo’s shoulders, Foster dips his head to meet Corvo’s mouth. It’s too wet and open and with too much teeth. And Foster moans in a way that is so horribly obscene that Corvo nearly laughs. But he shoves down the impulse, instead trying to coax Foster to slow down, to move his tongue less, to be gentle.
Foster tastes of nothing in particular. And there is an undeniable, uncomplicated comfort in that.
Corvo holds him close, the warmth of Foster’s body seeping through their clothes. And Foster is so, so warm, almost hot to the touch, though the thin, soft fabric of his shirt, Corvo’s shirt, still stands between their skin.
Pulling back, Corvo looks into Foster’s eyes. He still cannot honestly say he finds them beautiful. But he finds Foster to be remarkably so, shaking ever so slightly in Corvo’s hold. His arms still lay around Corvo’s shoulders. Even in bare feet, Foster is taller, though he feels quite small pressed against Corvo’s broader frame.
“Are you alright?” Corvo asks, worried that he has pushed too far.
“Yes, Corvo, yes,” his breathing remains hurried. Foster drops his forehead against Corvo’s shoulder. Taking one hand from Foster’s waist, Corvo instead lays it across the back of Foster’s neck. He’s damp with sweat, moisture licking against Corvo’s palm.
Tilting his face, Foster kisses against Corvo’s throat, right where the collar of his jacket parts. Softer, with lingering sweetness, until he buries his face against Corvo’s shoulder again.
“I'm sorry,” Corvo says, if only because it fills the empty air.
“Why?” Foster mumbles into Corvo’s collar, “it is what I have wanted.”
“But you do not like it,” and yet, Corvo cannot keep his hands off the body in his arms.
Foster laughs, a thin, nervous gasp, “Oh, I like it, Corvo. Perhaps too much.” Shifting awkwardly, Foster rubs his groin against Corvo’s leg, hissing at the friction. “You are, overwhelming,” Foster’s voice takes on a hazy quality that makes Corvo strangely nervous. As if Foster has lost control of his own responses.
“Let me court you,” Corvo stumbles, not knowing what else to say. “Let me do this properly.”
“Properly?” Foster laughs again, going somewhat lax in Corvo’s arms. Reflexively, Corvo adjusts his grip, keeping Foster from tumbling to the ground. “Court me? I'm not sure I could bear the waiting.”
Corvo is flattered, he really is. But whether it be from Foster’s lingering fragility or something else, he is in no state currently to continue.
“If you could hear my mind,” Foster babbles, “as I have heard yours. Oh, the things I would do to you, given the chance.” Snapping to attention, Foster smiles, “the things I'd let you do to me.”
With that admission, Corvo knows that Foster has seen everything. Every rough, carnal desire that Corvo has considered in the weeks since his attraction to Foster has taken hold. But the thought of Foster knowing scares Corvo less than he expects. Perhaps because he is also certain that Foster has seen the reverse. How gentle and patient Corvo wishes to be as well.
“In time,” Corvo promises, “if you still want me.” He tries to wrangle Foster towards the bed. Not for anything untoward. But simply to lay him down, now that he is unable to support his own weight.
Once he's maneuvered Foster back into bed, Corvo intends to take the desk chair. If Foster wishes to talk, Corvo will try to appease him. They should talk, talking will be good. But before Corvo can step away from the bedside, Foster’s hand shoots out, grabbing Corvo’s coat and trying to drag him down.
“Lay with me, please? I will not push you further than you wish...only...lay with me?”
Corvo should not. His resolve is sure to break. He will want to kiss Foster’s mouth, touch his skin, strip him from his clothes and take him in his mouth. Void. It has been so long since Corvo has felt another body next to his in intimacy. Now that the possibility has arisen, he realizes how much he craves Foster’s touch.
“I need to take off my shoes,” Corvo explains, touching against Foster’s wrist so he lets go of Corvo’s jacket.
Foster complies, and Corvo can bend over to unlace his boots, inelegantly tugging them off and setting them next to the bed. He hesitates on his jacket, unsure if removing it would prove too presumptuous. But he still has his shirt on underneath, and keeping on his coat will cause him to overheat. After he has draped his coat over the desk chair, Corvo climbs into bed next to Foster, letting him curl against his chest, tangle his hands in the fabric of Corvo’s shirt.
“I thought it would drive me mad,” Foster starts, “when I was still sick and I would lie down on your sofa, and the cushions smelled of you. So badly I wanted you against me, with me. Oh Corvo, Corvo.”
“I didn't know,” Corvo lets his fingers tangle in the back of Foster’s hair. He smells of soap and clinging sleep, the detergent the staff uses to wash the linens.
“I could not find the words,” Foster sighs, “I was so certain you did not want me. And to reveal my affections...you would only find me foolish.”
In all honesty, Corvo admits, “I cannot say I was thinking of this, when you were still sleeping in my rooms. My mind was elsewhere.”
“But you want me now?”
Corvo is not sure if the admission that follows is the right thing to say. If it would cause Foster strife, or kindle elation? But nonetheless, Corvo must say something. He must stop being such a coward. “Yes, I want you. And, despite all reservations, my better judgement, I want to grow to love you.”
The noise that escapes Foster’s throat is so pained, Corvo cannot help but hold him more tightly against his chest.
In time, Foster seems to fall into sleep, leaving Corvo awake with his thoughts. He hopes he is not making a grave mistake. That his affections for Foster do not smother him, drive him away from Corvo. That he can be as kind, as attentive as he wishes to be. Though Corvo suspects that will be impossible. Foster will grow weary of him. Yet, for all the reasons Corvo knows they are sure to fail, he cannot help but be hopeful. Because Foster’s sleeping form in his arms feels divine, a gentle weight and steady breath. And, like Foster himself, Corvo wishes to learn how to live again.
When Foster wakes, it is with a heavy arm draped over his waist, and the scent of Corvo in his nostrils. Oh, oh, oh. What transpired before he fell into sleep comes rushing back. Corvo, Corvo kissed him, wrapped his scarred hands around Foster’s hips. Told Foster he wishes to court him. As if he is something precious, in need of care. And the thought of Corvo’s continued interest flares warm inside Foster’s chest.
If Corvo simply wanted to use him, to throw him down onto the mattress and take what Foster would so easily give, Foster would allow him. Once, twice, a thousand times over, he would give himself to Corvo. He would be that ‘boy’ kept for the Royal Protector’s amusement. The ‘boy’ the servants and guests to the Tower already think he is. At least, in theory, he would.
But he has seen, through his own weak, lingering magics, that Corvo wants more than that. He wants a lover. He wants Foster to be his lover. And Foster can't fully stomp down his glee.
“Corvo?” Foster presses the name against the center of Corvo’s chest, mouthing into his cotton shirt. He cannot help that he is hard, not when he is wrapped in Corvo’s arms.
“Hm?” From the tenor of Corvo’s voice, Foster is sure he was not asleep.
“How long was I out?”
“Not long,” Corvo runs his hand from the small of Foster’s back, up almost to his shoulder blades. “Perhaps twenty minutes, not more. But have you eaten today?”
Foster tries to remember. He had been up late last night, knowing that the construction crew was coming in the morning. It had been nearly eight-thirty in the morning, before he’d scrambled away with the most condemning of his artifacts and tools. The toolkit is now hidden in his dresser drawer, along with the charms he’s still working on. The other bone scraps are easily passed off as Sokolov’s, entirely devoid of magic.
Yes, after that, Foster had gone straight to bed, too exhausted to drag himself to breakfast. Sheepishly, he admits to Corvo that he has not eaten yet today.
Corvo thumbs against his cheek before climbing out of bed. “Get dressed and ring for the servant. We can have food brought up. I haven't had lunch yet, either.” Grabbing his coat from the desk chair, Corvo pulls it back on. He slips his boots back on his feet, as Foster busies himself pulling on proper pants over his shorts.
He does not fault Corvo in the slightest, for wanting to conceal that they shared a bed. Even if the duration was brief and they did very little. Corvo has always been exceedingly private, though Foster is unsure of how much of his discretion is a product of his station, and how much is his natural inclination. The lovers he took after coming to Dunwall, but before Jessamine, were little more than the brief, tawdry flings of youth. And his years-long affair with the Empress was the open secret of Dunwall Tower, but a secret nonetheless. Corvo has little experience with open displays of affection, and Foster cannot hold that against him.
Once appropriately dressed, Foster rings the serving bell. It takes only minutes for someone to arrive. Foster normally does not eat in his room. There is not really the space to place the tray. But more than that, he finds it difficult to choose what he wants to eat, without having it laid out in front of him. So when the servant asks him for his order, he stumbles in deciding. Saying simply that bread and jam will be enough.
Turning back towards the desk, he asks Corvo for what he wishes. Corvo stands, coming to the door and telling the servant to bring smelts, boiled egg, figs, and bread. Foster can already tell that Corvo will pester him into eating at least something from his plate.
Once the servant departs, Foster’s attention turns back to the bone charm. He has to admit, that while he did craft the charm to assist Corvo in his work, the side effects have been beneficial to his own happiness as well. Still, something bothers him about it.
“It let me read your thoughts,” Foster turns the charm over in his hands, “but you could not read mine.”
Corvo nods, returning to the desk chair and propping one foot over his opposite knee. “I've managed to use it on Emily, and Emily on me. It appears that only your mind is clouded. Perhaps because you made it?”
Frowning, Foster considers the possibility. “I don't know why that would be?”
“Even if you are mortal,” Corvo reasons, “that doesn't mean you are not different than the rest of us.”
Foster cannot help but bristle, ‘if’ he is mortal. Corvo implies that he still does not believe. And the accusation stings. Still, it is not as if Foster can prove his mortality, short of dying. And given the recent change in his relationship with Corvo, Foster hopes to live many more years to come.
There is a knock at the door, the servant with their lunch. Corvo carefully stacks Foster’s borrowed books aside on one corner of the desk, clearing enough room to balance the tray.
Having only one chair in the room, Foster takes his plate and sits at the edge of the bed. It doesn't matter if he spills crumbs on the sheets. The maid sees to his quarters twice a week, though she never touches his heap of laundry on the floor. Taking away the washing is a different servant’s job.
Once he has settled down, Foster starts on his bread. But he doesn't get very far before Corvo walks over, forking half the smelts from his plate onto Foster’s. “I suspect you will not eat foods with whale. But perhaps you will eat whale food?”
The smelts themselves are lightly fried in batter, sticking together on his plate. Foster pokes at them with his knife, inadvertently smearing traces of apple jelly on them.
Because he knows Corvo will eventually buckle, Foster ignores the fish after that, going back to his bread. Corvo huffs his disappointment, returning to the chair to eat. After it is perfectly clear Foster has no intention of eating the smelts, Corvo takes his otherwise empty plate and finishes off what Foster didn't touch.
Foster can't help but smile to himself for having won.
Corvo brings the wedding dossier to Foster’s laboratory. This is certainly not what he had in mind when he said he intended to properly court Foster, but there is little time in his schedule for anything else. At least until he has sent the files back to the Empress’ personal secretary. Then, perhaps, he may have a day or two, before Ashworth arrives.
Foster looks surprised to see him, and Corvo is surprised the renovations are already complete. “Four days in all,” Foster explains. “I think being in here frightened some of the workers, so they did their jobs diligently.”
“Sokolov left the position of Royal Physician years ago, but his name is still one that stirs up tempers,” Corvo admits.
“You liked him,” Foster declares, offering Corvo a seat at the desk. He has set up his tools at one of the newly built stations, the flat surface higher up off the ground, so he can still use his favorite stool, but not hunch over quite so far. “You still like him.” There is a pen tucked behind Foster’s ear. Corvo recognizes it as one he brought when they filled out the requisitions forms.
“I have no particular opinion,” Corvo says, settling his packet of documents onto the desk and sitting down. “It was not my place to have an opinion.” He turns on the desk lamp, so that he might have more light.
Foster sits on his stool, but turned towards Corvo instead of his work. His expression one of disbelief. Foster notes, “but you have an opinion. Even if not a public one.”
Corvo rolls his eyes. He flips to the page he left off on, finding the next name to consider. “Wouldn't you know my opinion?”
Frowning, Foster explains, “I could not read the inner thoughts of mortals, Corvo. You know that. I could only see their actions. And make educated guesses as to their inner states. Even then,” Foster chews at his lip, “I could not see everything. Could not process all of what I saw.”
That surprises Corvo. While he knows that those faithful to the Outsider somewhat overestimate his powers, Corvo could never precisely pinpoint what the Outsider could and could not accomplish. He was always cryptic in his explanations.
They are quiet after that. Corvo works through the list of names laid out in front of him. The only noise in the room is the steady chip of Foster working bone. Not even or steady enough to be a metronome. When Foster makes a mistake, he huffs to himself, blowing air out of his mouth, before going back to work.
Chapter 12: Trouble in the details of impending demise
It takes several days for Corvo to properly plan his next gift for Foster.
He waits until nightfall on the appointed day, to try and procure the raw whale bone Foster needs. The butchers in the whale processing facilities work through the night, but the darkness will at least hide Corvo’s approach.
Upon reaching the sprawling compound, really the size of two city blocks, Corvo considers how to proceed. The need for discretion precludes him from simply asking for bone. Foster wishes for no one to know, and Corvo’s own suspected ties to the occult would only intensify if he was connected to the procurement.
Climbing up the scaffolding of the housing unit across the promenade, Corvo reaches a better vantage point. Though the facility rises four stories into the sky, there is a row of open ventilation windows on the second floor roof, where the facade juts out six meters or so, before the building’s dimensions narrow at the third floor, eventually giving way to narrow chimney stacks.
If he remembers the layout of the slaughterhouse correctly, those windows lead to the catwalks over the killing floor. During the day, supervisors observe the butchers from the metal catwalk. But at night, a single foreman stays on the ground floor with the butchers. That's Corvo’s way in.
Descending from the tenement, Corvo plots his path to the open window, skirting around the guards and their blazing oil lamps. They work for a private contracting firm, and are skittish, ill-trained amateurs.
As Corvo rounds the corner of the brick building, he looks for his first leverage point, climbing atop a dumpster to grab hold of a thick sewage pipe that is just low enough that if he hops, he can grab the top and pull himself up.
The pipe doesn't get him much closer to the roof, but he can follow it to the next ledge, within jumping distance of a fire escape that has fallen into disuse. That gets him all the way to the second floor roof, making the slide through the open window blissfully easy. Corvo is careful to muffle his feet touching down against the catwalk. And once he's through the window, he crouches down, making himself as small as possible as to not cast a shadow on the floor below.
Though the exterior of the facility was quiet, almost deadened, inside the workers are raucous, trying to shout over the sounds of whirring saws. The stench of flesh and brine stings Corvo’s nostrils, even through the barrier of his mask. Blood soaks the floor, pooling in a dip in the concrete foundations.
Foster has given him no specific instructions, only that he needs bone. Corvo knows that some of the workers smuggle out pounds and pounds illicitly, selling to black market dealers.
The staff lockers. First floor. Rear of the building.
Corvo follows the catwalk, keeping his figure obscured in shadow, his feet silent. When he reaches the back of the shop, he has to find a way down. There is a hot water pipe running vertically from the first floor, up to the third. It might give Corvo enough purchase to slide down undetected. He waits until the foreman turns the other way, continuing on his rounds, before he jumps, grabbing hold of the pipe and sliding down.
Once his feet hit the floor, Corvo dashes for the staff locker room, making sure he does not linger out in the open. Past the threshold of the changing rooms, Corvo finally exhales.
Rows of lockers dominate the center of the room, fastened to long concrete blocks to hold them in place. Picking locks has never been one of Corvo’s skills, and he's certain anyone trying to steal from their employer would have the good sense to lock up their prize.
But people are also very, very bad at remembering their own combination locks.
Against the near wall, the workers have hung their overcoats in a rumpled line. Corvo searches the pockets of each and every one for scraps of paper. Coming away with two obvious combinations, it's only a matter of finding the locker they match.
It takes a bit of trial and error to match the first set of numbers to a locker. But after that, Corvo is lucky, finding three thick vertebrae inside a canvas bag. Feeling emboldened, Corvo tries to locate the second locker. But before he can, he hears voices from the threshold of the locker room, heading towards the showers. He only has a small window to escape, and going back the way he came isn't possible. And the windows are all barred. Probably to keep the staff from sneaking stolen property out.
Corvo’s only choice is through the laundry chute. Groaning out loud isn't an option, so Corvo simply shakes his head and crawls inside the narrow passage, making his escape.
Once Corvo obtains fresh bone for him, Foster starts work on Emily’s charm, the one that will mask her hand at the wedding.
Corvo’s logic makes perfect sense. The eyes of Dunwall, of all the Isles, will be on the Empress on her wedding day. If her hand must be wrapped, the rumors will continue, they will intensify. While the Abbey already believes her to be meddling with illicit, arcane forces, her popularity among the people keeps her safe. But a bandaged hand will not help.
If, instead, she can show it bare, the accusations of the Abbey will be found baseless. They will be ridiculed and mocked. How could anyone believe that their pretty Empress consorts with the Outsider? That she is marred by the Void? The Abbey must be desperate! Grasping at straws!
For fifteen years Corvo concealed his hand. He was untouchable because of his powerful daughter’s fondness. But in the single year Emily has been Marked instead, there are those within the Abbey who have redoubled their efforts to watch the House of Kaldwin fall.
It cannot. Foster knows as much. It cannot fall yet.
There are so many moving pieces determining the futures humanity may meet. And Foster feels as if he is flailing in the dark. Trying to keep this world he so loves afloat. And the mere idea that he will have better luck steering the course of history as a mortal, than he ever did as a god, is laughable. But possibly true.
The bone segments Corvo has brought him are of high quality, though still unbleached, with bits of blood and meat still clinging to the calcium. He retrieves a large glass beaker from the undertable storage, filling it halfway with solvent. Dipping the bone inside, Foster will have to wait several days before the last traces of viscera dissolve completely. After that, he must wait for the bone to dry before he starts carving.
Corvo left a note with his gift, hastily scribbled down. ‘Busy today, sorry, Corvo.’ And there is something so precious about the idea of Corvo’s condolences that it makes Foster ache. He reads the note a second time.
Knocking at the Royal Protector’s door, Foster waits for Corvo to answer, though he is uncertain if he has even returned from whatever engagement he had today. All that Foster was able to discern was that Corvo left the Tower early this morning, before Foster even woke.
But now the hour is late, and Foster is cold, though he wears the heavier of the two coats Corvo had made for him this summer. Light, heathered wool that fits the breadth of his shoulders perfectly, tapering down to his waist.
There's no use knocking again. If Corvo were in, he would have heard the first time. His hearing is very good.
Behind Foster’s back, a servant passes, distracting him from the door. The servant slows a bit as he crosses behind Foster. Surely, he will say something to his friends about the late hour ‘the boy’ tried to enter Corvo’s rooms.
Foster can't help but smile into his high collar. Because now, the rumors are true. They are not quite lovers, yet. But Foster aims to change that.
He is just about to depart when the handle finally turns, Corvo pulling the door open. Dressed in his bathrobe, Corvo’s hair is wet and his skin flushed from the heat of the water. Foster feels his face warm as well. This is better than he could have hoped.
“Can I come in?”
Corvo steps aside, letting Foster into the room, “Did you get my package?”
It has been four days since they last saw each other. Corvo’s work keeps him away from the Tower during the day. Though Foster has received several lovely notes from him, slid under his bedroom door or tucked into corners of his lab. “Yes,” Foster assures him, “I can start carving soon. Emily will have her charm, if it is within my skill.”
“I would think it easier than the interrogation charm?”
Foster isn't sure quite how to explain, “it isn't a matter of difficulty, but one of ability. The most skilled of swimmers cannot suddenly win a foot race. I will either be able to perfect the charm, or not.” He realizes Corvo is directing conversation away from the purpose of his visit. “Lay with me,” Foster says directly. “I want you to.”
Corvo smiles, just barely, running his hand against his bearded jaw. “I meant what I said. I want to prove myself worthy of your affections.”
Foster groans in frustration, “Can't you see that you are?” Stepping close, Foster wraps his hands around the lapels of Corvo’s robe, soft and plush under his fingers. He dips his head, hoping Corvo will at least kiss him. And when Corvo does, such skittering desires course through him that Foster can't help but groan for another reason entirely. “Please, please, please,” he is obviously not above begging for what he wants.
Corvo wraps his arms tight around Foster’s waist, keeping him close enough to be considered obscene. Especially given Corvo’s state of undress. As Foster drags his hands up from Corvo’s robe and into his damp hair, he can't help but grind against him.
“You're still so sensitive,” Corvo says, fondness on his face.
“What do you mean?”
“I haven't done anything, but your pupils are so wide, you're red, you're warm.” He lifts his hand to Foster’s face, bushing briefly against his cheekbone, just below his eye. Foster hisses at the touch. “See?”
“Don't deny me, Corvo.”
“Have you done this before?” Corvo asks. His thumb continues stroking along Foster’s cheek, down to his jaw, against his neck. Then follows its path in reverse. As if painting the landscape of Foster’s features.
“No, you know I was young, when I was taken.”
“And when you were...your other self?” There's another question embedded in Corvo’s statement. Some unfulfilled possibility between the two of them that never came to pass.
“If I could have had you, as I once was, I would not have waited to make my desire for you known.”
Corvo’s thumb comes to a stop, just at the corner of Foster’s mouth. Pulling his hand away, he is frustrating in his indecision. “But you have touched yourself…”
“Hmm,” Foster hums, “do you remember the night that I gave you the charm for your knees?” He does not wait for an answer, “I ran to my room, rubbed myself raw at the thought of you,” talking, talking is something Foster can do undeniably well. Especially now that he knows that hearing these things will not damage Corvo’s sensibilities. “I thought about fucking myself on your cock. How you would feel filling me. Driving me into the mattress, into the floor, against the wall. Letting you take everything.”
Corvo groans, his hand on Foster’s waist tightening. “Let me watch you,” he rasps.
“I want to watch you. How you touch yourself.”
Grinning, Foster assumes he has already won. Perhaps Corvo will watch, at first, while Foster pleases himself. But almost certainly he will join, once he has seen his fill.
“I'm sure your cock is better than my fingers,” Foster tries to tease, but he knows his own voice only sounds pathetic. He is too giddy.
“On the bed,” Corvo instructs, trying to guide Foster across the room with a gentle push against his hip.
Foster sits on the side of Corvo’s bed to remove his shoes, heart pounding in his chest. Before he can lean over to unlace his shoes, Corvo is already kneeling before him, working open the knots and pulling them off.
Expecting more sweet touches to follow, Foster holds his breath. But they don't come. Corvo stands and waits, staring Foster down.
“Help me undress?” Foster coaxes, his fingers tapping against the buttons on his coat.
“I told you,” Corvo insists, “I want to watch.”
Foster isn't sure he has the grace to strip in an appealing fashion. He has to look down at his hands to work open his coat, pulling it unceremoniously from his arms and tossing it aside.
When he looks up again, he meets Corvo’s eyes, almost golden in the light and focused unflinchingly on him. The thought of having Corvo’s rapt attention sends a warm thrill through his stomach.
“What next?” Foster asks, hoping Corvo will at least speak to him.
“Your shirt.” Even across the distance between them, Foster can tell that Corvo’s mouth is dry.
He's quick with the buttons, sliding them open so he can take off his shirt. He doesn't bother waiting for Corvo’s direction before pulling off the thin undershirt as well, tossing both garments into a pile on the floor.
Despite his earlier enthusiasm, the reality of being bare and under Corvo’s gaze causes a self-conscious panic to rise in his throat. He's thin and pale, with bones curving just under the surface of soft skin. His face is fine, symmetrical, almost pretty with the way he prefers his hair. But his body is still less than ideal. In time, he may add bulk, but for now, he's still lucky enough to manage some light activity each day. Mastubating for Corvo will be the most strenuous exercise he's managed in months.
“You're beautiful,” Corvo says. “I don't deserve this, you. I don't deserve you.”
“Corvo, I’m not something you have to earn,” Foster’s erection grows uncomfortable in the confines of his pants. He wants Corvo to touch him, to wrap his calloused hand around his cock and stroke him to completion. He wants the scrape of Corvo’s beard against his neck and the weight of his cock against his thigh. He wants too many things.
Corvo swallows, his lips parting, “Pants, take off your pants.”
It would be silly to leave his socks on, so Foster shucks those first. The chill of the floor against his feet almost makes him want to stop. But Corvo’s eyes will keep him warm.
He has to stand to undo his belt, but once the buttons are undone, Foster’s slacks slide easily from his hips, pooling around his ankles.
Corvo, Corvo doesn't move. His composure perfectly intact, except for the depth of his concentration.
Foster’s underclothes still cling around his hips and thighs, keep his erection covered, pushing back against the cotton. He won't remove them until Corvo tells him. No, maybe he’ll make Corvo take them off himself.
“When you touch yourself,” Corvo breaks the silence between them, “how do you start? Standing? Your back? Your side?”
“Back, Corvo,” Foster answers, unable to deny him anything, “I lay on my back.”
Foster stands firm on his decision, to pry some brief affection from Corvo’s hands. “Take off my underwear,” he demands.
Corvo stares at him, taking one step towards where Foster stands. With unsteady hands, Corvo tugs at the waistband of Foster’s briefs, before shoving the fabric down his thighs. Foster can't help but gasp as his erection finally springs free, curling up towards his stomach. Flinching, Corvo’s eyes linger on Foster’s cock. His brow furrows, but he says nothing. Foster knows Corvo must question why his foreskin has been cut away.
Corvo crouches as he finishes pulling the offending garment down, before telling Foster to step out of his pants.
And there, there, there. Corvo is right there, his mouth lined up to take Foster’s cock between his lips. But when Foster tries to thrust forward, to catch any hint of skin, Corvo’s hands fly up, gripping him by his hips and preventing him from moving.
Foster cannot help it, when he finally wails in frustration. He pounds his fists against Corvo’s shoulders, letting his chin come to rest against his sternum, neck lax. Corvo wraps his arms around him, drawing him close.
“Please,” and this time, it is Corvo who begs from his place on the floor. “Do this for me.” He reaches up along Foster’s back, spreading his hands wide. “And next time, I will take care of you.”
“Why not now?” Foster demands an answer. He cannot stop himself from shaking.
“I want to know what pleases you,” Corvo places a kiss, feather light against Foster’s twitching stomach. “I want to know for certain you know how to please yourself. It's important.”
And in an abstract way, Foster finally understands. Corvo feels a great responsibility. One that is perhaps too large and too bright to touch directly. Foster knows he has beautiful expectations for Corvo, and does not doubt for a moment that Corvo will surpass even his dreams. But Corvo needs to know that Foster isn't such a hapless innocent when it comes to the matter of his own body.
“Okay,” Foster exhales, “okay, okay.” He looks over to Corvo’s bedside drawer, “do you have oil?”
Corvo pulls away, getting to his feet. Foster already knows he keeps a small flask in the bedside table. But having Corvo retrieve it for him gives Foster a chance to steady his nerves.
“Do you use oil, normally?” Corvo asks, pressing the bottle into Foster’s hand.
Foster exhales, admitting, “No, I have none in my room.”
“I will get you some.” Corvo pulls his hand away, waiting while Foster climbs into bed.
Once Foster settles himself in bed, Corvo comes to sit beside him, legs still hanging off the edge. Keeping his hands firmly in his lap, Corvo doesn't reach for him again.
Corvo’s sheets are cool against his warm skin, the lights of the room muted somewhat by the distance from the bed. Foster grabs one of Corvo’s pillows, propping it up against the headboard so he can lean back comfortably, and then turns his attention to the vial.
The oil smells slightly sweet. It's from some speciality shop, made specifically for use as a sexual lubricant. But though Foster has seen it before, he did not know how it felt, why Corvo enjoyed this particular fragrance so much. Coating his palm, Foster then freezes with indecision. Perhaps it is better if he doesn't look at Corvo. He turns his head slightly, trying to ignore the fact that Corvo is here at all.
But Corvo’s solid, breathing presence is impossible to ignore. Foster wraps his hand around his cock, stroking smoothly, far more slippery than when he normally touches himself. The oil changes the experience considerably. He moves his hand more quickly, finally finding the courage to meet Corvo’s eyes again.
Corvo’s lips are parted, wet. He has licked them. Perhaps more than once. Just where Corvo’s robe comes open, dark hair and skin on display, Foster can see he is sweating.
Foster bends his knees slightly, letting his thighs fall open as he works his cock. Corvo shifts minutely, adjusting his view. Foster doesn't do this every time. He's only had his own saliva for lubricant. But he has tried it. He's sure that he will like it more, when it is Corvo inside of him, instead of his own blasted fingers.
He takes his free hand to his hole, circling one finger around the rim, smearing lubricant across the surface. Oh, but he is already so close, as Corvo leans towards him. Having the subject of his long-held affection so near, so utterly enraptured with his body, is thrilling. Terrifying. When he is certain Corvo can see, he pushes his index finger inside. The fit is tight already, as Foster’s whole body tenses in response.
Bucking into his hand, Foster comes messily across his stomach. His body shakes with exertion, sweat clinging to his skin. He quickly pulls his finger back out, pressing one hand on top of the other as if to hide them both.
“Foster,” the way Corvo says his name is too much, too much.
And it is so much more when Corvo drapes his body over his. He grabs Foster’s wrists, spreading his arms apart and pinning them to the mattress on either side of Foster’s waist. He’s slid down somewhat, from his earlier propped-up position, all but laying flat on the bed.
The soft plush of Corvo’s robe meshes into Foster’s skin. Corvo lets go of his wrists. Hands instead coming to cup Foster’s face, kissing him long and deep. And Corvo was right, just having Corvo’s body over top of his is enough to throw him into a fugue. The distant part of him that is still present in the room wants Corvo to take, take, take. To shove his cock inside of him, wrap those big hands around his thighs and pull Foster apart. But, because it's Corvo, he eases up, pulling away, panting that he's sorry.
Foster is under no pretensions concerning why he left. When Corvo emerges from the bathroom a few minutes later, he curses at himself for not having thought to cover Foster with the blankets, so he would not be cold.
Having brought a hand towel, soaked in warm water, Corvo wipes Foster’s stomach, asking before cleaning his cock and balls as well. Foster cannot help but luxuriate in the attention. He's feeling more himself already. And with his returned clarity, he finds himself annoyed that Corvo left the room to finish.
“You didn't have to do that,” Foster grumbles, grabbing Corvo’s wrist when he stands.
“I'm just taking the towel to the hamper. I'll be right back.”
Begrudgingly, Foster lets go, taking the time after Corvo leaves to squirm under the sheets. He doesn't expect Corvo to try and force him to leave.
“I would have liked to watch you too,” Foster says as Corvo returns to the room, dimming the lamps as he makes his way to the bed.
Corvo slides into bed next to him, this time without his robe, but with underclothes on. “I told you, I'm trying to...ease us both into it.”
“You're not the inexperienced one,” Foster points out. Somehow, it is easier to speak with the lights off, and Corvo’s comforting weight against his back, his hand pressed into his stomach. “Don't do things on my account.”
Corvo huffs, “It’s...been a long time for me.”
“I know exactly how long, Corvo.”
“Of course you do.”
Foster puts his hand over top of Corvo’s, threading their fingers together.
“Your cock…” Corvo starts, unsure how to broach the subject.
Foster snickers, trying to remain lighthearted, “Mortals do like to talk about it. Don’t they?” He continues, before Corvo can ask another silly question, “It happened to be the practice when I was born. It is not the practice now. It was done when I was very young. I am somewhat surprised that this body retains the scar. That is all there is to it.”
Corvo drops the subject. But his next question causes Foster greater distress, “Did you watch me….every time?”
“No,” Foster has no reason to lie now, “not with her. But before…”
Corvo holds very still, “You watched me before I was Jessamine’s lover?”
Foster isn't sure he can properly explain, “You were always known to me...I watched you most of all when you took men as lovers...I...it made things easier to pretend.” Those affairs ended when Corvo became the subject of the Empress’ desires. But they were never more than a night. The same was true of all those Corvo took to bed. Except her.
Corvo is silent after that. And Foster pretends that it is because Corvo has fallen asleep before him.
Chapter 13: Visitations, Evacuations, and Promises Never Made
Corvo leaves a note for Foster, after he fails to rouse when Corvo wakes. Last night surely took a toll on him. Void, it took a toll on Corvo. He still feels intensely warm, heated by Foster’s body curled next to his through the night. Corvo would like nothing more than to stay. But he has an appointment he cannot miss this morning. So he scribbles down his apologies and leaves the note on the bedside table, hoping Foster will forgive him.
The ship bearing Breanna Ashworth arrives in Dunwall Harbor this morning. Corvo means to greet her, before she is transferred to Coleridge Prison. It is not that he doesn't trust the Guard. Only, even severed from Delilah’s bond, Breanna may prove more dangerous than they can handle. He wants to assess her strength and temperament before the interrogation begins.
Corvo walks from the Tower to the docks, the crisp autumn air raking through his hair as the breeze comes off the sea. The streets are just beginning to fill, as the overnight shifts make way for the early morning dockhands and laborers. Corvo doesn’t exactly blend in to the crowd, but nor does he draw attention. The working classes have more important matters to occupy their time.
Arriving at the harbor, he waits at the dockside as the ship comes in. The first tendrils of the morning light cast orange-red streaks against the water, lapping at the hull. The dockhands move with practiced efficiency to bring the ship into port.
Brenna isn't the only cargo aboard, but she is the most precious, as far as Corvo is concerned. She is lead out by four guards, two who hold her arms and another two marching behind her. Corvo steps in their path and greets the most senior, introducing himself. Though the guardswoman surely recognizes his face.
“Lord Protector,” she dips her head, “we were informed you might be meeting us.”
“I only wished to see the condition of Curator Ashworth,” Corvo says with all politeness. “I hope that you are well,” he directs his question to Ashworth directly, meeting her sharp eyes.
Breanna turns up her nose at him. As far as he can recall, they've never met before. Perhaps at a party? Or some other social event Emily attended? But he does not remember her. It is clear enough that she is in no mood to answer his questions now. Besides, this is not the proper venue. But Corvo is sincere in wanting to confirm that she was well-treated. She remains his best lead in rooting out the final choking vines of Delilah’s influence in the Isles. Corvo needs her alive and well. At least for now.
On Corvo’s command, the Guard takes Breanna away to the waiting wagon. Corvo will follow them in a separate carriage, and question her once they arrive at the prison. Foster’s charm is tucked neatly inside his vest, out of sight as to not raise suspicions. Corvo doubts very much that Breanna will take very well to being touched. But she is a prisoner, after all. And, ultimately, Corvo will do what he must for answers. This is better than the alternative.
Corvo shivers despite himself. He will never be free from Coldridge. Sometimes, he still sees bars in his sleep. He sees the scars across his back, without even looking.
He will depart for the prison once the ship is fully unloaded. The vessel itself is not overly large, one of the smaller ones still fit for the two week trip between Serkonos and Gristol. It will take an hour or two at most to unload. Enough time for Breanna to be processed and assigned a cell. He is curious if any of the crates in this shipment illegally bear the Kaldwin seal.
As each box comes off the ship, Corvo pays close attention to the stamped markings and company logos affixed to the crates, comparing them against a copy of the manifest. When one is stamped improperly, he moves to apprehend the crate, invoking his title to commandeer the cargo.
He asks for a crowbar to pry the lid off. One of the dockhands runs to fetch one for him. The side of the crate is stamped with a wax seal of the Kaldwin house, but this is not a parcel intended for the Empress.
With the crowbar in hand, Corvo opens the crate, shifting the contents inside. There are dried rose petals, mixed in with the sawdust used for packing. Cursing under his breath, Corvo searches through the mess for anything else inside the crate. But there is nothing. This is a warning. He’s seen enough.
As he turns to leave, he tells the dockworkers to load the crate into the boot of his carriage. He will bring the whole thing back to the Tower for inspection.
While he waits for his orders to be followed, Corvo pats his chest pocket, though he rarely smokes now. The stress of finding the empty crate has left him craving the gentle bite of tobacco. But, of course, he doesn't carry his cigarette case anymore.
Loitering in the shadow of the ship, Corvo only just catches the shift in light over his head. He steps aside just in time, to avoid being tackled by a hooded figure, dressed in red, descending from above.
The person who now stands before him is trim and small, their features obscured by their hood. But as she tilts her head, Corvo catches the outline of her jaw, the slope of her nose, the sharpness of her eye, and the arcane replacement in the other socket.
“We finally meet properly,” Billie Lurk grins back at him, undeniably lovely. A mesh of magic and flesh, the likes of which Corvo has never seen. Perhaps this world has never witnessed. And she will not be replicated.
“You came from Karnaca,” Corvo realizes, looking up at the ship.
“And I came here for a reason,” she cuts to the quick, “I've heard you found someone I lost.”
Corvo stays silent, keeping his cards close to his chest.
“The Outsider is in Dunwall Tower,” she smiles at him, “take me there. Or I will go myself.”
Breanna must wait for another day.
Corvo nods, giving into her request. The only other option is to fight her here and now. But he knows very little. Only really what Emily told him of their time together in Karnaca, her past relations. None of which accounts for her augmentations.
Billie keeps her hood up to obscure her eye. She sticks her mangled hand into the pocket of her coat. Suitably covered, it is difficult to discern there is anything unusual about her at all. Corvo helps her into the carriage first, then tells the driver to return to the Tower, instead of heading to the prison. Climbing into the cab, he says nothing more to Billie.
Better that he maintain control of this situation, than leave Billie to her own devices. At least, this way, he can protect Foster. He is unsure of Billie’s intentions, though she has made no specific threat, other than requesting to see the Outsider. If she already knows of Foster’s location, her information network must be substantial.
Arriving at the Tower, Corvo tells the attendant to bring the crate in the back of the carriage to his room. They may leave the box outside his door, if he is not in.
Billie sticks close to Corvo’s side, silent and unobtrusive. Given the hour, Corvo doubts Foster is still in the Royal Protector’s suite. Or, perhaps, that is simply wishful thinking. He is trying to spare them both the embarrassment of someone else knowing about their relationship.
Corvo leads Billie to the laboratory, hoping silently that Foster is working at his charms. When he hears the steady ‘tap, tap’ of Foster’s pick from down the hall, he can finally breathe easily.
“Wait,” Corvo cautions Billie, “I will tell him you are here.”
Billie narrows one eye, but does not insist on being let in.
Corvo knocks, and Foster calls back, “Who is it?”
“Just use your key!” Foster shouts.
Corvo fidgets with his key ring, unlocking the door, letting himself into the laboratory, and leaving Billie just outside.
Foster swivels in his stool, smiling brightly at Corvo. His hair is still a mess from last night, and there is bone powder staining his trousers. From the smell of sweat along his skin, Corvo doubts Foster took the time to bathe this morning. Which wouldn't be much of a bother, though Corvo is certain that Foster also smells of him.
“There is someone who has asked to see you,” Corvo explains.
Foster frowns, tilting his head to one side, before his light eyes go wide. “She’s here.”
Hopping from the stool, Foster rushes to the door, swinging it open and revealing Billie on the other side. Reflexively, Corvo reaches for his sword, uncertain of what is about to transpire.
Foster and Billie stand at an impasse, staring each other down. Corvo moves to put himself between them, pushing aside Foster from the doorframe. “You were expecting her?” Corvo asks.
“Yes,” Foster gasps. “I was.”
Billie smiles softly, pushing her hood down off her head. “Did he tell you he did this to me?” Billie asks, her eyes seeking Corvo’s.
“There is none other who could have. But, no. He did not tell me. I assumed as much when I saw you on the docks.”
“I heard from your daughter that she was asked, if she wanted the Mark. She had right of refusal. Did you? Royal Protector?”
“No.” It matters little that he is unmarked now. When Emily was taken from him, the Outsider gave, rather than offered. Though it was not necessarily by force.
“It is something I should not have done, Billie. I should have found another way.”
“I do not hate you for it,” Billie sighs, “but neither do I forgive you.”
Corvo feels much the same, though the depth of the Outsider’s influence on his flesh is significantly less than what he has done to Billie Lurk.
“I do not expect you to forgive,” Foster says.
Billie looks to Corvo again, “Can I come in, or not?”
Corvo looks to Foster for some indication of what he wants. Under normal circumstances, he would consider himself quite able to defend Foster. But he does not know the extent of Billie’s powers. Presumably, Foster does.
“Of course,” Foster replies, heading back into the laboratory. Corvo follows after him. Under no circumstances is he leaving them alone.
Foster offers Billie a chair politely, taking his usual stool for himself. Since the the renovation, there are more than enough seats for visitors, but Corvo remains standing, out of the way, but from a position where he can observe them both. Defend Foster or subdue Billie if he must.
“I took your hand,” Foster shakes his head, “but then you were gone.”
“I know,” Billie relaxes into the chair, though her nails dig into the fabric of the armrest. She is being pulled in multiple directions, even now.
With her hood down, Corvo can now take the time to observe her false eye. It is like nothing he has ever seen, a dark jewel around a blood-red center. An artifact from some arcane experiment. The technology of the contemporary age cannot accomplish such a feat. Of that much, Corvo is certain. The jem fits heavily in her eye socket, not quite flush against her skin and too large for the space it occupies, pressing precariously close to her nose. It was not designed for the purpose. An imperfect fit.
“I found myself falling,” Billie explains, “an endless darkness. I don’t know how long it lasted. I assumed you had tricked me once again.”
“I had not,” Foster whispers, “I saw the same myself. Until I awoke here in Dunwall.”
Billie shakes her head, “Something separated us. I have my suspicions, but…”
“I promise you,” Foster assures her, “I did not let go of my own volition.”
“I...awoke in a different time, a different place. Your promises are worth very little, Outsider. But as a mortal, you could not have sent be back.”
“Sent you back?” Foster questions.
Corvo tenses. There are magics in the room, more than Foster’s charms. The bone is a quiet, steady pulse that Corvo can barely hear. But now there is an acute ringing in his ears.
Clenching and unfurling her arcane hand, Billie makes the air around her sputter. “Through time, at minimum. Maybe something else as well. I kept...stepping through these portals, opened by the blade. But none of them lead back here until recently. I returned to Karnaca, on the day I killed you.”
“But you did not kill me.”
“Sometimes, I did.”
There is an understanding between them. Something Corvo cannot hope to unravel.
“The Royal Protector called you Foster,” she says.
Foster goes very still, red creeping up his collar from embarrassment. “It seemed a fitting name.”
Billie snickers, “I guess I've come a long way, when a god takes my name.”
“Not your real one.”
“As real as ‘Billie Lurk,’” she counters.
“We’ve always had much in common,” Foster looks down at his hands.
“So,” she jokes, “are we married now?”
Foster smiles, fanning out his fingers in front of his mouth. Marble eyes drift over to meet Corvo’s, then back to Billie. “I'd like to think of us more like siblings.”
Billie laughs. The tension of this moment is odd indeed. Corvo feels as if he is watching a picture reel. A farce.
She says she cannot stay. There are matters that need her attention. Places only she can go. Foster tries to tell her that no one is an island. She says she almost believes it, coming from the Outsider. “But there is something I must find.”
Corvo’s chest tightens. He worries that Foster means to convince Lurk to take him with her. That is certainly a decision he is free to make himself; Corvo cannot keep him here against his will. Foster promised Corvo the charm for Emily’s wedding. Corvo made his intentions towards Foster clear. But all of their plans may change in an instant, by Foster’s whims. Corvo lacks the will to deny him anything.
“I'll visit you again,” Billie promises. “And tell you more of what I've found.”
Corvo too is interested in the details of her travels, her investigation. This skipping across time and space. But for now, he bites his tongue.
“There is a rupture here,” she points towards the back wall. “Something was there?”
Foster explains, “Sokolov’s cabinet. He kept bones inside of it. Other things he thought were magic.”
“He killed someone here too,” Billie says. “At least, I think…” She takes the blade from her belt, holding it out towards the space where the cabinet once was. The air starts to split apart on her command. The edges of the portal are slightly blurry, light and intangible. Inside the hole is a depth that Corvo cannot measure. “I can use this tear to come back, I think.”
“I'd rather you didn't,” Corvo says. Even if Foster trusts her, Corvo can't leave an open conduit to the Void in the basement of the Tower. He also can't think of a way to close the tear. But he doesn't share that concern aloud.
Billie shrugs, “Tell the Empress I was here. See what she says about it. See what you can do to stop me.” She hesitates, “that was not a threat. I...the Empress should fear nothing from me. I wish for her reign to be long, and prosperous. Tell her I was here. I mean it. And I hope next time, I may be able to see her. For Lady Emily, it may have only been months since we last spoke. But it feels so, so much longer.”
With that, Billie passes through the rift. Once she is gone, the tear zips up behind her, leaving no indication it was ever there. Corvo presses his hand against the wall, feeling nothing out of the ordinary.
“Did you know that was here?” he asks Foster.
Foster shakes his head, “No,” he puts his hand on the wall next to Corvo’s. “I feel nothing.”
“Can we close the tear?” Corvo asks.
Foster drums his fingers against the wall, “I cannot. And, honestly, I think it better you leave Billie Lurk to her whims. If you close this door, she’ll open a window.” He pulls his hand away.
Chapter 14: Be Cruel and Kind to Hold Your Place in the Impending Descent
Foster finds it difficult to sleep, nervous restlessness clawing at his skin. Corvo refused to take him back to his rooms, citing it was too early yet for them to share a bed. Though they have been increasingly intimate, Corvo still insists that Foster slows down. But Foster so hates being denied.
Gathering up the sheets around his body, he steps out of bed. The floor is freezing under his feet. He keeps his blanket wrapped around him, trying to trap the warmth it provides.
There is some chance a servant might catch him in the hallway, and he must take the stairs one flight up to reach Corvo’s chamber. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Foster tries to decide. Is he brave enough?
He grabs his key from the bedside table, holding it tightly in his hand. If he is quick, perhaps he will not be seen.
Locking the door behind him, Foster dashes towards the stairs. He can hear no voices, no footfall, as he takes the steps two at a time to reach the next floor. Hearing nothing up ahead, he sprints down the hall in bare feet, single-mindedly heading for Corvo’s rooms. The sheet wrapped around his body the only thing preserving his modesty. And he's been having very immodest thoughts.
He raps at Corvo’s door, waiting on the answer. Corvo’s hearing is very good, and he has always been a light sleeper. Impatiently, Foster knocks again, tugging the sheet tight around his shoulders.
Corvo comes soon enough, throwing the door open. He frowns when he sees the state Foster is in.
Trussed up and warm from his own bed, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips, the only argument he has ready is, “Corvo?”
Wrapping his arm around Foster’s waist, Corvo drags him inside the room. The door shuts too loudly, ringing out across the otherwise empty hall. “You have no patience.”
“I have been patient for a very long time,” Foster reminds him.
Corvo’s arm is still about his waist, his hand settled at the small of Foster’s back. But it's not enough, the cotton sheet separating them. Foster shoves the fabric down off his shoulders, letting it fall towards the ground. It bunches up in soft waves around Corvo’s arm. But the particular way it folds towards the floorboards exposes enough of Foster’s body to make it perfectly obvious he is otherwise bare.
“Take me, Corvo, please,” he whines, pressing his chest against Corvo’s.
Corvo is dressed only in soft sleeping trousers, settled low on his hips. His chest hair scratches against Foster’s skin as they stand so close that Foster can feel Corvo’s pulse. Smell the whiskey still on his breath from the drink he always has before bed.
Kissing Foster with practiced restraint, Corvo waits for Foster to demand more. Only this time, Foster speaks with the persistent press of his lips and teeth, rather than desperate words. Foster wraps his arms around Corvo’s neck, leaning his weight against Corvo’s chest.
Corvo lets go only long enough to let the sheet finally fall away completely, before wrapping both arms around Foster’s waist. Foster’s cock rubs against Corvo’s stomach as they kiss, hot and incessant. He wants to be touched, possessed.
When Corvo pulls away, his eyes are wide, glassy. He runs his thumb against Foster’s back in short, geometric patterns. A lovely pressure that makes Foster ache.
Corvo’s hand drops lower, from Foster’s back down to his ass. The slow, deliberate shapes continue, as Corvo carefully pulls him apart.
Foster cannot help but hiss as Corvo brushes against his hole. His fingers are still dry, and he doesn't try to breach Foster, simply brushing against the sensitive outer ring.
“Please,” Foster nearly weeps, dropping his forehead against Corvo’s shoulder. He takes a shuddering breath. So close already.
Corvo’s other hand lays flat against Foster’s spine, holding him in place. Pressing his lips against the shell of Foster’s ear, Corvo whispers, “You’re close already.” Rolling his hips, Corvo allows Foster to grind against him. Foster’s breath quickens in response. Corvo is right, he will not last long.
“Then fuck me already,” Foster demands, pulled in many directions at once. Wanting Corvo inside him, against him, wrapped around him.
“I did say I'd take care of you.”
Corvo grabs Foster underneath his thighs, hoisting him up off the floor in one fluid motion. Letting out a surprised gasp, Foster quickly wraps his legs around Corvo’s waist, trying to steady his balance. Corvo carries him to bed, dropping him onto the mattress and pinning him down with his weight.
Yes, yes, this is what Foster has wanted all along. The heat and weight of Corvo pushing into him.
“We have to go slow,” Corvo kisses at his neck. “I'll be right back. We need the oil.”
Begrudgingly, Foster unfolds his legs from behind Corvo’s back, splaying them open to wait. Corvo opens his bedside drawer to procure the now familiar bottle of oil.
“Take this bottle with you,” Corvo kisses into Foster’s hair, “I got it for you.”
“Hmmm,” Foster hums, “why must I ever touch myself again, when I have you to do it for me?”
Corvo chuckles low in his throat, “you may grow tired of me.”
“Never,” Foster promises. He knows he tells the truth. There are no conditions under which Corvo would come to bore him. He's certain.
“I may not be around,” Corvo continues, popping open the cap to spread the oil across his hand. His fingers are thick and calloused, and Void, Foster wants them inside already.
“Then I will wait for you,” Foster growls. “No, I will not wait. I will hunt you down.”
Corvo doesn't laugh at that. Instead, he traces one slick finger around Foster’s entrance, pushing in the barest inch. Foster cannot help but hiss, his body tightening against his will at the gentle intrusion.
“Careful,” Corvo cautions, the heat of his body rolling against Foster’s skin. “You must tell me if you wish to stop.”
“I won't,” Foster barks, “I won't want you to stop.”
Corvo smiles back, “then I will decide when you've had enough.”
Foster ends up spilling too soon, with two of Corvo’s thick fingers buried deep, pressing incessantly against his nerves. And Corvo’s other hand wrapped tight around his cock, stroking in sure beats in time with Foster’s racing pulse.
He curses Corvo’s name as he comes. Because he still wants. Void does he want. Pitiful requests for Corvo to fuck him, though he is now soft and pliable.
“You will not like it as much,” Corvo cautions. “If you are not aroused.”
“But you are still aroused,” Foster counters, groping at Corvo’s crotch. “If you go take care of yourself in the bathroom again, I'll have you murdered.”
Corvo teases, “Oh? And who might you send for my head.”
“I'll have you know, I have friends who are skilled in many illicit arts.”
“I'm certain that you do,” Corvo looks at him fondly, “we’ll compromise.”
Corvo rolls onto his back, tugging at Foster until he straddles him, thighs pressed firmly over Corvo’s lower ribs, knees almost to his armpits. It would be so easy to shift his weight, to force himself down on Corvo’s flushed cock, dark and hard and oh so tempting.
“Just watch me, touch me,” Corvo urges, reaching behind Foster’s back to stroke his cock.
Foster frowns, suddenly too shy to decide where to put his hands. He wants to put them everywhere. Wherever Corvo would most enjoy them. Having no map to follow, he starts with Corvo’s face, cradling his cheeks in his palms, enjoying the prickly texture of his beard.
Corvo’s eyes are bright in the lamplight, framed by dark lashes. He is perfect, always, Foster thinks. Foster has been in love with this man longer than he has been alive. Though Corvo would say that's impossible, Foster is certain that it's true.
What else would drive a god to such irrationality, as to give up his divine throne?
One day, he must tell Corvo what he has done. But now is not the time.
Trailing his fingers across Corvo’s jaw, Foster drags them down the line of his throat, over the bob of his apple, to come and settle in the dip of Corvo’s clavicle. With both hands, he spreads his fingers wide across Corvo’s chest, coming to circle around each nipple. He flicks at them, watching intently to catalogue Corvo’s expressions.
“Do whatever you wish,” Corvo says, wrapping his free arm around Foster’s back, his hand coming to settle on Foster’s spine.
Foster has seen the mosaic of Corvo’s desires, spread out in bits and flashes. He feels his cock stir at the memories, beautiful, cut-glass depravities.
“But you refuse me,” Foster reminds him.
Corvo digs his nails into Foster’s back, “I have not seen you, as you have seen me. You might think me perverse.”
“I do not. Or, if you are, I am equally so,” Foster grins. As if to prove his point, Foster cants his hips forward, grabbing onto the headboard and sliding until the head of his still-soft cock touches Corvo’s mouth. Parting his lips, Corvo kisses around the head, licks and suckles as Foster quickly grows hard again.
The soft slick of Corvo’s mouth around him is white-hot intense, making Foster’s toes curl. He bucks gently into Corvo’s wet mouth, his lover’s groans shooting reverberating pleasure up and down his spine. Foster fists one hand in Corvo’s hair, pulling at him as he sucks. Corvo’s beard scrapes the unblemished insides of his thighs as his legs tighten around his neck.
Foster still comes first, though he has finished once already. Crying out as Corvo swallows down. He can barely keep himself from flopping over. Corvo lets go of himself, reaching up to capture Foster before he falls. Carefully, Corvo maneuvers Foster so he's settled on the bed. And already Foster feels the familiar edges of creeping inadequacy at his inability to last.
But when he reaches to touch Corvo again, he finds his cock soft and spent, semen cooling on his stomach, caught in the thatch of hair around his groin.
“Did I do well?” Foster honestly wishes to know, though he suspects Corvo would lie to him to keep him placid.
Corvo takes Foster’s wrist, forcing Foster’s fingers over his abdomen, to feel where it is wet with come. “Yes, I enjoyed you, very much,” Corvo sighs.
Foster, out of wicked curiosity, takes his fingers to his lips, licking against the digits.
Oh. That was a mistake.
It tastes awful.
Corvo springs into action, as soon as Foster starts to gag.
Corvo dresses for Coldridge Prison with grim precision. Breanna Ashworth has been held for three days in Gristol.
He had been ready, on the day of her arrival, to follow her transport and commence the interrogation as soon as possible. But now that he has delayed, he finds it increasingly difficult to summon the personal fortitude to enter the prison.
Foster sleeps soundly in Corvo’s bed, under a small mountain of blankets. Corvo knew that when Foster slept here during his illness, he tended to cocoon himself as he turned in the night. Yet, somehow Corvo did not make the connection that he would be a terribly insidious bed-hog.
Once dressed, Corvo returns to the bedside, pulling down the sheets just enough so he can kiss into Foster’s hair before he goes. He does not wish to wake him, though it is very tempting to stay.
The weather is cold, autumn having fully taken hold. Corvo has already made arrangements for a thicker coat to be tailored for Foster. But after seeing him bare, twice now, Corvo worries that the measurements will be wrong. Foster is still slim, his youth and bone structure allowing for little other than leanness, but he has put on weight. He looks healthy. He looks good.
Upon arrival at the prison, the guard attending to the front desk jumps up to greet him. Corvo waves off his overblown deference, asking only that Breanna be transferred to an interrogation cell.
The guard pulls a wire buzzer beneath the desk, and within a minute two more guards arrive. Once the first sees the Lord Protector, she turns around and heads back to fetch Ashworth. The other remains behind to see Corvo to the prepared cell.
The prison is hot, the air stifling in contrast to outdoors. Corvo removes his coat, draping it over his arm as he follows the guard to the assigned room.
Corvo says he need not wait for the prisoner’s arrival. While it is standard procedure to let prisoners stew in lonesome silence for a time before arriving to properly question them, Corvo knows such cheap tactics will not work on the Curator. He gains nothing from insulting her intelligence.
Corvo has no pretensions to his own cleverness. He is intelligent enough to perform his job adequately. Nothing more. Under different circumstances, he would enlist a trained negotiator to assist him in questioning Ashworth. But with Foster’s charm, Corvo hopes to avoid involving more people than necessary. He has always preferred discretion.
Breanna is brought in, flanked by two female guards. Her hands are cuffed together behind her back. Corvo requested specifically that only women tend to her during her transport and stay in Dunwall. He does not know if the same provisions are made in Karnaca. But it is not his aim to anger her. She may prove more pliable with her spirits high.
He stands in a shadowed corner of the room, while the guards strap Breanna to her chair. Her hair is tied back neatly, grayed through the temples, reaching back across her scalp in thick stripes. Even dressed in prisoner’s attire, she retains the practiced composure fitting to her social class. Once a noble daughter, always one.
Breanna waits in silence, her eyes focused straight ahead. Whether she has failed to notice Corvo’s presence, or is simply ignoring him, Corvo isn't sure. He lets the minutes elapse, waiting for some acknowledgement. But her eyes never waver from the door.
Corvo steps into the light.
She merely tilts her head and smiles, still refusing to meet his eyes, “Lord Protector Attano,” there is vile laughter in her voice. “I trust your daughter is well.”
“Who is using the Kaldwin seal? And why?” he ignores her obvious bait to taunt.
Her eyes narrow slightly at the question. “If you are asking me, you must already think you know the answer. But you have spared no expense in bringing me here. Did you think I would not notice the courtesies you took? No,” she tilts her head to the other side, as if stretching, “you hoped to make me like you.”
Corvo says nothing, keeping his hands folded behind his back. He will let her speak her fill.
“Delilah said such kind things about you. What a pity, your lot in life. Things could have been so very different, had you not been bought and sold like a common ox.”
Perhaps Breanna is not as biting as she assumes, to think Corvo has not heard it all before. Whispers from high society tables as he followed his Empresses across the room. Blatant statements too, meant to wound him to the core. When he was young, yes, talk about his common birth, about his unsuitability for his title, his lover, and his daughter, made him angry. With age, he is still angry. But has learned to control his blade and his tongue.
“I do not know who carries your Empress’ seal now. This bothersome journey has been for nothing, I'm afraid.”
Corvo moves to take the chair across from her, a wooden bench the only thing that separates them. There are tools for torture laid out across the table. Other, far more malicious implements stored on the racks and hooks along the walls. Corvo remembers how each and every one of them feels against his flesh. He has the scars, but they are not a requirement for his recollection.
“Allow me to touch your face,” he says with cool composure. The bone charm is tucked into his vest, out of sight.
Breanna smiles back at him, “So polite. What a loyal pet. Do you think that I do not know what you have planned?”
“Then you also know that I do not need to ask.”
“Perhaps,” she leans forward, as far as her bonds will allow. “Make it quick. It will only confirm what I already told you.”
Corvo touches Breanna’s face, her eyes locked to his at the moment of their contact. She shows him many things. Perhaps pushing to prominence what she thinks will most scandalize him. But, ultimately, he only needs to know about the seal.
He sees the brass and darkwood stamp, briefly, in Delilah’s hand. But that was years ago, before she first died. She tells Breanna, in a giddy, distorted voice, that she spared no expense in having it stolen from the Tower. Breanna calls her petty. Thievery such as this is unbecoming. Delilah reminds her, sweetly, that she has always been told she is not a proper lady.
Corvo withdraws his hand, breaking the connection. There is nothing more to see. Breanna did not see the seal again, after that first night. And she spent hours, days, combing through Delilah’s possessions after her death. Even though their affair had cooled, she still considered herself to be Delilah’s widow. The stamp was not among Delilah’s belongings. Though there were many blocks of unused wax.
“Stolen?” Corvo asks, not expecting an answer.
“I do not know. I did not think much of it at the time. But had I seen it, I would have remembered.”
Corvo believes that much. Breanna’s mind is ordered, organized. He can tell, though she was forcing exaggerated chaos onto him through the mental link.
“Who else would have had access to Delilah’s things?”
Breanna gives that up easily, “Abele. But as you know…”
“I do,” neither speak aloud that the current Duke is an imposter. His body double reigns instead, installed as a puppet of the Empress. How Breanna knows what Emily did in Serkonos, Corvo can't start to unravel. But perhaps there was an unfulfilled pact between the late Duke and Breanna. One that the double did not know he had to fulfill? Though that seems unlikely. Corvo doubts very much that Delilah’s lovers would choose to work together again, without sufficient motivation.
There is nothing more to learn from her. But Corvo does not want to return her to Karnaca. She may prove useful yet. And his investigation isn't over. “You have been treated fairly, here?”
“It smells of piss and rot,” Breanna muses, “but it is no worse than Karnaca.”
“Then you stay,” he says with finality.
Breanna does not argue.
Corvo leaves, telling the guards posted outside the door to return the prisoner to her cell. He walks to the warden’s office, simply to confirm the conditions of Breanna’s confinement. She is not to be ill-treated, do not send her young, impressionable guards. The matron sort are better. The warden frowns at him, saying that such conditions are bothersome. Corvo replies that it is not so bothersome to find another qualified warden, and their conversation ends.
Chapter 15: Lovely Gifts (the one track with a comprehensible title)
“I have a meeting,” Emily declares, stretching her arms above her head until her shoulder pops. Though she has been aware of Foster’s laboratory for some time now, she has never before taken the opportunity to visit, choosing to bother him at meals or in his sleeping quarters instead.
Foster smiles, looking up from his work. He has been messing with health potions as of late. Trying to find a way to distill the thick, cloying liquid into a powder, while maintaining regenerative properties. He hopes to rub the powder into bone etchings. He thinks his idea might work. “You have many meetings, every day,” he teases.
Emily drapes herself over the desk chair, spreading her knees wide and sinking into the seat. “But this is a meeting you can attend with me. It's...more a party than a meeting.”
Foster knits his brows together, “What?”
Slamming her flat palm against the desk, she explains, “I'm supposed to choose attendants. You know, young noblewomen to fill various roles the day of the wedding ceremony. Nothing covert or mysterious or threatening to the politics of the Isles. So you can come with me to the luncheon.”
Emily is not that obtuse. She knows full well that selecting attendants is exactly the sort of decision that could throw the Isles into utter chaos. Social decisions such as these are carefully monitored by the nobility. The subject of persistent gossip among the upper classes. Families thrive and die by the Crown’s favor. Who Emily chooses and for what role is gravely important.
“I do not know if we can concoct a suitable excuse for my presence,” Foster argues. He follows the logic Emily does not state explicitly, “And I cannot promise you that I know anything of use about these particular women. I didn't find many of them interesting.”
Emily waves off his concerns, “You are still an excellent judge of character. And, come on, we can make up an excuse. It’s not exactly a secret that you are my dear friend.”
On that point, Foster remains conflicted. He is grateful, beyond words, for Emily’s friendship. He cannot help but think they understand one another on a level that is difficult to articulate with words. And yet, the prospect of being publically known as being quite dear to the Empress fills him with a restlessness he can't quite settle.
He looks too much like the Outsider for comfort. For his safety. And hers.
“And it would be acceptable for a ‘dear friend’ with no noble bearing to advise you in such matters?”
Scoffing, she points out, “You’re the one who told me to care less about what people think.” Emily does not understand how this potentially makes him a target.
But, then again, how is bedding Corvo any different? Corvo is discrete, yes. But even this morning at breakfast, Foster heard the new gossip from the waitstaff, as he entered the dining room.
“He spent the night in the Royal Protector’s bed again; with the cold weather, Lord Protector must need him once again to warm his cock.”
A mixture of embarrassment and pride washed over him at their inappropriate jests. Because he still cannot help but be a bit smug that Corvo is so good to him.
“Fine then,” Foster finally decides. “When is this luncheon?”
“This afternoon,” Emily hops to her feet. “Wear the checkered pants. I like those, with the heather vest.”
“That vest needs to be washed,” he cannot bring himself to complain about her attempts to dress him.
“Pity, it looks good on you.”
“Hey!” he calls out, as she leaves the room, “I look good in everything!”
There are some two dozen women in attendance, ranging from ages sixteen to thirty. Some are wed, others not. The only criteria is that they are willing to take on tasks as assigned by the Empress. It is out of custom, rather than strict requirement, that nobles who are not women do not put their names forward, and that those into their thirties and older do not compete for a place.
The guests spread out across the main hall, collecting in smaller clutches of friends and rivals, conversing with one another while they wait for the Empress to call on them. Laughter and wine and tiny snacks on silver platters occupy their attention in the meanwhile. Everything gives the impression of enforced informality.
The women are all prettily dressed, in attire that too-closely mimics the Empress’ own sense of style to be a coincidence. But Foster is really no different, fitted in the slacks Emily instructed him to wear (but the navy vest, instead of the heather gray).
Foster doubts very much that they are all here of their own volition. In many cases, their families have sent them like piglets to the slaughter. While the Empress is well-liked, there are always rumors about the depravity and capriciousness of those just above one’s own social station. And for many of these women, having grown up with titles and wealth of their own, the Empress herself is the only person they truly envy.
He sticks close to Emily’s side, following her from conversation to conversation. Each of the women try to pique the Empress’ interest with boastful anecdotes or hidden talents. All know that she has no definitive preference in the gender of her lovers, and a handful of them try to flirt in a desperate bid to stand out against the others.
They pay little attention to him, though he remains always in Emily’s orbit. Foster holds his wine glass close to his chest, one arm crossed over the other, and listens. Half the time, Emily doesn't bother to introduce him at all. And none of the women appear particularly curious as to his function at the event.
Quietly, he observes each prospect. There are a few nobles he knows more about. Most of them did not catch his interest when he was in the Void, so he has little to add to what Emily can discern herself. But, he wishes to be useful to her, so he pays close attention and hopes to have worthwhile comments on each lady when she later asks him for his opinion.
One of the women, closer to thirty than to twenty, decides to speak to him directly, while Emily’s attention is turned. She introduces herself as Nadine Kenneth, and asks him for his name.
“Foster,” he replies, realizing with sudden terror that he only has one name. Corvo told him he must pick a surname, or make Foster his surname and pick a new given name. But he has done neither.
But Nadine smiles, “Like Wyman?”
“Yes, like Wyman,” he tries to cover. Right, Wyman rarely speaks their given name.
“I thought so,” she replies. “Are you the Empress’....” She gives him the space to answer, rather than assuming what his title may be.
“We are friends from childhood,” he explains, “she wished for me to accompany her to this event.”
“Of course,” she smiles. “Ah, I shouldn't keep you,” she bows slightly, “Empress. Your friend is quite charming.”
Foster cannot help but frown at the awkward compliment. He is certainly not charming.
Once the little party is over, Foster follows the Empress out. The ladies are welcome to continue drinking, eat their fill, but the Empress has other matters to which she must attend.
It is not until Emily has locked her door that her shoulders finally relax. She unbuttons the top of her dress shirt, then her cuffs. She rolls her sleeves up to her elbows, before flopping down spread-eagle onto her bed.
Foster stands quietly by her bedside, waiting for some question or command. Emily merely grunts, sticking her wrapped hand up in the air, opening and closing her fingers widely, “Come down here, stay awhile.” Flopping her hand onto her stomach, Emily’s Mark reverberates subtly. Just enough for Foster to notice.
Laying down beside her, Foster keeps his feet pointed towards the floor. He lays his hands at his side, still waiting for Emily to articulate what she needs from him.
“I'm so tired,” she admits, “but thank you, for your help.”
“I haven't done anything,” Foster says.
“Your appearance worked wonders, I assure you. But also, I don't know, just having you there helped. My father couldn't come today and...his presence wouldn't have been considered appropriate.”
Foster huffs, “It's ridiculous. Corvo is your father. Were you any other woman, it would be expected that he be involved in your wedding planning.”
“But doing so now would leave no doubts that he is my father.”
“No one has any doubts. Though they have deniability.” Foster watched this horrid pantomime for years. Never being able to intervene. “What they have done to you, to your father, they think they have their reasons. They think that they are acting in the best interests of your dynasty.”
“And what do you think?” Emily asks.
Foster stares up into the canopy of her bed. When she was a child, there were painted stars above the young Lady’s head. Now there is only dark, muted fabric. She is too old for dreams.
“That you should tell your father how much you care for him. He would appreciate the gesture.”
“I know...and I try.”
“He tries too,” Foster assures her. “You've both been...broken, stunted. It is what those who wanted to siphon your power for themselves wanted. With your mother, when she was murdered...they knew that they could keep Corvo away from you. His influence, limited. Though he fought against it. The only way he knew how.”
“He taught me to defend myself. He taught me to be stubborn.”
“Maybe you are too alike. And that is what keeps you apart now,” Foster theorizes. “He wants to see you happy.”
“I want him to be happy too.”
They lay in silence, for a time. Foster wonders if Emily has fallen asleep, when suddenly she turns, facing Foster on her side. Foster turns to meet her, tucking one hand under his head to support his neck. Her eyes are very much her father’s. Their resemblance is undeniable.
“Do you love him?” she asks directly, for the first time. Though Foster has long suspected that she knew.
Foster finds himself breathless, though the answer is blindingly obvious. “With a force that would be dangerous,” he says, “were I not a mortal man.”
Her eyes narrow, “Outsider,” she uses his former title for the first time in months. “What did you do? Why are you here?”
“Billie Lurk...she and the assassin Daud…” nervousness clamps hard around his throat.
“No, Outsider. What did you do?”
She knows. Not the mundane details of how he achieved his aims. But she knows the darkness of what could be called his heart. Because part of her is wretched too.
“I watched the demise of this world, a hundred, a thousand, ten-thousand times. Civilizations that have not yet begun, reduced to fire, ash, and smouldering coals. I have seen the cliffs of Dunwall crumble into the sea. I have seen the extinction of humanity. I have watched it all, unable to intervene. As a god, I could do nothing.”
“And as a mortal?”
Foster searches for the right words, “Perhaps also nothing. But at least now, the future is unknown.”
“And how does my father fit into this scheme of yours?”
“He doesn't, really,” Foster admits, “Only, if this world must end, I did not wish the apocalypse to come to pass, and to never know the taste of him. To never know his affections, his love.”
“You baited Billie into changing you back into a mortal.”
“Yes,” he admits. He will not lie to her. “Though, technically, it was in Daud’s mind I planted the seed.”
“But it would always be Billie with the blade?”
“My Marked could not turn their hand against me. I knew Billie Lurk was clever enough, strong enough, connected enough to the shifting tides of history, to accomplish such a task.”
“She could have killed you.”
“As a child, she loved the idea of me.”
“You are a fool,” she is not wrong. “So, tell me, Outsider. What do you do now?”
Foster cannot help but laugh, “I will continue to bed your father, if he will have me. I will stay to see you wed. I will forget the tongue of the Leviathan, and I will make weak baubles in your basement. And, when the desperate and the scared realize that there is no Outsider, they will make a new god. When they succeed, I will beg at the feet of that unlucky child to offer my counsel.”
“And if you do not live that long?” It is not a threat, merely a possibility.
“At the very least, I have tried the impossible. I have tried to save you all from yourselves.”
Corvo brings Foster a gift, properly boxed and wrapped. He stands in the doorway of Foster’s messy room, holding the box out for Foster to take and saying he may open it whenever he wishes.
Foster bids him to come inside, not missing the scent of ash on Corvo’s clothes, that his knuckles are recently scabbed over. He has been fighting.
The box is large, but not heavy. Foster places it on the bed and fiddles with the knot on the wide, intricate bow. Corvo could not have tied it himself. His hands have grown arthritic with age, and such fine dexterity was never his strength.
Foster takes the green satin ribbon from around the box, drapes it over his shoulders, around his neck, and smiles at Corvo.
“Open it,” Corvo urges, impatient now.
Returning his attention to the box, Foster lifts the lid. Inside is a wool coat, deep charcoal grey and lined with wheaten-colored fleece. The coat is long enough to reach his shins, and with a high collar to guard his face from the wind.
“I told the tailor no fur. And that it should be suitable for Tyvia.”
“Tyvia?” Foster asks, not understanding.
Corvo laughs, “the heavier coat you already wear is considered practical enough for winter in Dunwall. But obviously, it is not enough for you.”
Foster bundles the coat up in his arms, pressing his nose into the soft fleece lining. Corvo was right, he likes it better than fur.
“Thank you,” Foster says with all sincerity. It is a very lovely gift.
Corvo steps in front of him, laying his hands on Foster’s hips. The coat stays bundled up between their bodies, keeping them from standing too close.
“You will not like what I must tell you next,” Corvo sighs. “I leave tomorrow for Karnaca.”
“What?” Foster hisses in shock, “why?”
“There is a matter that requires my attention. It cannot be avoided.” Corvo reaches out to touch Foster’s hair, running it through his fingers.
Foster tries to sound reasonable, he knows that Corvo will only find him petulant if he loses control of his emotions now. But the news knocks him off-balance. The affair between them has only just begun. And now Corvo must leave, potentially for months. “How long?”
“I do not know,” Corvo’s hands are never still, brushing through Foster’s hair, down his cheek, back up. His eyes are fixed, attentive. Foster knows Corvo does not wish to leave. Not only because of him, but Emily as well.
“You have not been home in a long time…” Foster says.
Corvo smiles softly, “It is difficult to think of as ‘home,’ now.”
There are things that Foster should not share. Emily’s private thoughts, her hopes, her dreams. But, sometimes understanding where that boundary stands is imprecisely interpreted. And what Foster says next is meant in good faith. “When Emily arrived in Serkonos,” he puts one hand flat on Corvo’s chest, “she felt as if she had come home. Though she had never seen the southern shores with her own eyes. I am sure you will feel the same.”
Leaning in, Corvo captures Foster’s lips. The kiss is slow, deliberate. And too short for Foster’s tastes. But when Corvo pulls back, he asks, “Come to my rooms, tonight? Or I may return here?”
Foster sighs, content enough that Corvo is finally the one to ask, “I will come to you,” he smiles, “your bed is bigger.”
Rolling his eyes, Corvo is stern, “We should still be careful. I don’t want to push you too hard.”
“And yet, that is exactly what I want,” Foster counters, letting go of Corvo’s jacket. “What time should I arrive?”
Reaching into his coat pocket, Corvo produces a second gift. One perhaps more remarkable than the first. “You may come and go at your pleasure. Wait for me if you’d like. There are loose-ends I must attend to, before leaving Dunwall.”
Foster takes the key, gripping it firmly in his fist. Even when he slept in Corvo’s chambers, the Royal Protector did not trust him with a key of his own. “Alright.”
“You may keep it...while I am gone. It may not be of any use to you. But I have already secured anything you are not meant to see.”
With that, Corvo leaves. Once the door is shut, Foster smiles so broadly that his face begins to hurt. Throwing himself onto his bed, he cannot resist the urge to scream in delight into his pillow. Oh, he is broken indeed over Corvo leaving, but giddy at the inevitability of his return.
Chapter 16: Bloom/Decay
Corvo returns to his rooms in the murky dark of night. But every lamp in his room is lit.
Foster lays reclined across his couch, a book in hand, reading to himself. As Corvo enters, Foster drops the book onto the coffee table. he jumps to his feet. “Corvo!” he exclaims, rushing over to kiss against his cheek. “You said I could wait for you?”
In truth, Corvo is exhausted. Scheduling his journey south has been a nightmare on such short notice. Finding passage is easy enough. His title allows him to travel aboard any licensed ship in the Isles. His reputation would perhaps even endear him to the pirates too, though he has never tested that assumption.
“Yes, of course,” he lifts his chin to press against Foster’s lips, “did you eat?”
“Yes,” Foster replies, obviously annoyed with the question, “In the dining room. You may ask the visitors from Dabokva. They could not keep their eyes off of me.”
Corvo grunts, he has a pretty keen idea why that might be, “It is because you are very handsome.”
“Flatterer,” Foster teases, already playing with the latches on Corvo’s coat.
Foster is dressed in soft trousers, and a shirt that Corvo recognizes as his own. It is not a clean one, but one that Foster has picked from the laundry bin in the bathroom. The idea of that should disgust him. But the thought of Foster deliberately seeking out his scent is maddening.
Corvo is still wary of Foster’s limits, that in his bright enthusiasm, he will ask for things that, ultimately, he will not like. Inviting him to Corvo’s rooms tonight undoubtedly means that he will ask again for Corvo to take him. And though Corvo means to refuse him, his will is only so strong.
Because, ultimately, Corvo wishes for Foster to be happy. This strange, haunting person who should not be. Should have died a pretty beggar on streets that long ago lost their names. A transitory god who watched his mortal charges with feigned indifference for millennia, only to tumble, needing, wanting, warm, and responsive, into Corvo’s bed. Corvo wants him to be happy. And...if that takes Corvo’s love, he will offer it.
“I wish to bathe first,” he touches his fingers into Foster’s hair. “Can you wait a moment?”
Foster nods, parting his lips prettily. And, not for the first time, or the last, Corvo wishes to absolutely wreck him with pleasure.
Managing to step away, Corvo heads to the bath. He does not want anything about tonight to be unpleasant for Foster. He wishes to live up to expectations, though that may be impossible.
He makes quick work of cleaning himself properly, eager now for the night to continue, despite his exhaustion.
Freshly scrubbed and warm from the water, Corvo returns to the bedroom dressed only in a towel around his waist. Foster is draped across the couch again, his socked feet perched high upon the backrest with his back against the cushions.
He must hear the bathroom door unlatch, as he sits up suddenly, haphazardly tossing his book aside when Corvo enters. Corvo’s hair is still wet, but he doesn't care. He doesn't wish to wait any longer.
Foster rises from the couch, rushing towards Corvo in quick steps. Smiling brightly, he wraps his arms around Corvo’s waist, pushing cheekily at the towel until it falls to the floor.
Corvo doesn't mind, tugging at the back of Foster’s neck to put their lips together. Foster feels like he has a dozen hands, teasing, touching, dragging out the bits and pieces of Corvo that he has long kept hidden.
Foster makes Corvo feel raw all over, exposed. Because he has subsumed his own desires for so long, and all Foster does is dredge them back to the surface.
Corvo offers Foster his hand, leading them both towards the bed. Sitting on the edge, Corvo spreads his knees so Foster can stand between them. He pulls at the hem of Foster’s shirt, coaxing him to take it off. Bare-chested and beautiful, Foster shivers in the cold.
Laying his hands across Foster’s chest, Corvo asks, “What is it you desire?”
“You,” Foster shudders into the touch, arching his back to press his chest into Corvo’s hands. Corvo kisses at the center of his stomach. “Please, Corvo, fuck me.”
Corvo groans, trying to form an argument that Foster will accept. One that he will accept himself. The last thing he wishes to do is hurt his lover. And he is still concerned that Foster is too sensitive, too fragile.
“In time,” Corvo offers, knowing full well that Foster will complain.
“You are going away,” Foster says, “for all I know, you will go to Karnaca and come back in love with someone else. Or, perhaps, you will not return at all.” It is a low blow, but Corvo understands why Foster’s attack is quick and true. “At least let me have this, Corvo.”
Corvo kisses Foster’s stomach one last time before pushing down his bottoms, letting his cock spring free. But Corvo does not move to touch it, though it would be so simple to bend his neck and suck. Bringing Foster off with his mouth last time was maddeningly perfect, and he would like very much to do it again, and again, until Foster begs for mercy. But, another time.
“Get the oil from my drawer,” Corvo instructs. Foster is in a better position to retrieve it. As Foster leans over, Corvo cannot help but bring one hand to cup the curve of his ass, under the pretense of steadying him.
Corvo holds out his hand to take the oil from Foster. Popping open the vial, he asks Foster to stay standing, but widen his stance to spread his legs. With his fingers slicked, he reaches around Foster’s waist, sliding two moistened fingers along the cleft of his ass. Already, Foster’s breathing is erratic. Corvo cannot quite see his eyes, but he is sure they are wide and glassy.
“Tell me if I should stop,” he says, before dipping one finger against Foster’s hole. It takes what feels like insurmountable willpower to not touch Foster’s cock. But Corvo knows from experience that he will not enjoy the penetration nearly as much without the throbbing bite of arousal. When Corvo touches himself, he can't withdraw his fingers fast enough after he has come.
Foster grips tight to Corvo’s shoulders, slowly rocking back onto the single finger buried in his ass. Corvo adds a second, whispering praises against Foster’s stomach, silently pleased at his thickening waistline.
“How do you feel?” Corvo asks, once the third finger slides in and out easily. He's able to spread his digits a little, but not too much before Foster hisses.
“It's good,” Foster responds, his voice unsteady. “I'm good, just please,” his vicious little nails bite into the scars on Corvo shoulders. “Aren't I ready yet?”
Corvo hums. Foster is probably stretched enough that they can try. Even with preparation, Corvo isn't convinced that Foster will actually like taking his cock. But he's also fairly certain that Foster can't even think about the other things they could do together until they've tried this (and, oh, Corvo has ideas, one of which is taking Foster’s lovely cock himself. Long and slim enough that it will fit nicely in him).
“Do you think you have the stamina to ride me?” Corvo asks. That will be better for Foster, if he can manage. Give him more control over how much he wants and at what pace.
Foster huffs, “Yes,” then hesitates, “I can try.”
Corvo brings away his hand, positioning himself with his back is against the headboard and his legs straight out in front of him. As Foster climbs atop him, he tries to guide him with soft touches along his sides and hips. Corvo does not think himself a particularly eloquent man, but if he were, he's sure he would first compose something obscenely flattering about the slim seductiveness of Foster’s hips and gently parted legs.
Foster sits across the tops of Corvo’s thighs, at least exhibiting enough patience to wait while Corvo slicks his cock with oil. With a few sure strokes, Corvo coats himself, before tapping at Foster’s back and telling him he can try.
Foster’s mouth sets in a determined frown and he lifts his hips, positioning himself over Corvo’s cock. Corvo holds his cock in place with one hand, the other at the small of Foster’s back. “You don't need to rush.”
Reaching behind himself, Foster pulls himself apart to make sure the head of Corvo’s cock presses against his hole. Lowering his hips, he doesn't quite hit the target, Corvo’s cock slipping along the cleft of his ass instead of plunging in. From the frustration and trepidation on Foster’s face, Corvo can trace his fears. For as much as Foster says he wants this, he is still afraid. And Corvo worries he has not done enough to comfort him.
But every time Corvo has told Foster they can stop, that they don't need to do this at all, Foster only scorns him. This time, Corvo tries a different option, hopefully with better results.
“You're doing so well, you're going to look so good with my cock inside you,” he praises.
The sound that leaves Foster’s mouth is so deliciously wanton that Corvo could drink from his lips for hours. With the encouragement, Foster tries again, with more conviction, gasping when the head of Corvo’s cock finally breaches him.
Corvo tries his best to hold still as Foster sinks down, inch by torturous inch. He takes about a third of Corvo’s cock before stopping, inhaling deeply and his arms shaking as he holds his balance. Corvo has no particular pretensions about his size. And, presumably, Foster is more than well acquainted with human averages in all aspects of anatomy. Corvo is thick, but not particularly long. And Foster has no metric by which to judge what he prefers beyond aesthetics.
While Foster adjusts, Corvo rubs his palm against his hip, trying to render any encouragements he can. When Foster decides he's ready, he starts sinking down again. He's tight and warm around Corvo’s cock, deliciously responsive to Corvo’s touch. With every little praise he seems to shudder, twitching pleasantly around Corvo’s shaft. Corvo bites at the inside of his mouth to distract himself from the racing desire to just thrust inside. To pull harshly at Foster’s waist and impale him on his cock.
Finally, finally, Foster takes him to the base, his eyes wide and wild, lips sweetly parted.
“You're beautiful,” Corvo tells him with genuine awe. He cannot decide if he prefers staring at Foster’s flushed face or where their bodies finally join together. “When you're ready, Foster.”
At the sound of his name, something in his countenance shifts, a subtle wonder or disbelief. Foster wraps his arms around Corvo’s neck, leaning down to kiss him. When he does, part of Corvo’s cock slides out of him, before he rocks back to take it inside again.
Corvo stays still for several minutes, letting Foster fuck himself on his cock. Letting himself be used for Foster’s pleasure. Corvo doesn't mind in the slightest, wishing only for Foster to discover what he wants. What he enjoys.
But as time passes, Foster’s thighs begin to shake with strain, his breathing coming in rapid bursts. His endurance is wearing out. There's more than one way that they can finish this, and Corvo would enjoy each and every option.
“Foster, look at me,” Corvo says, waiting for his lover's attention.
Foster’s forehead is shiny with sweat, his cheeks pinked and full. The sharp angles of his features look softer in this moment of his arousal, lips bitten and slightly swollen with blood beneath the surface. “Corvo?”
“Do you wish for me to bring you off like this?” He ghosts his hand over Foster’s as-of-yet untouched cock. “Or do you want me to pleasure you for longer?”
Foster whines high in his throat, lowering his eyelids in concentration. “Longer, Corvo, please.”
Corvo gently flips them over, so Foster’s back is against the mattress. He tries to keep his cock embedded in Foster, but it slips out when he pulls them into a more comfortable position. Foster lies flat now, not having to support his own weight.
Looping one arm under Foster’s leg, Corvo pulls his knee towards his chest, opening him wide enough that Corvo can see the flushed pink of his hole unobstructed. There will be time for more...later. But for now, the visible evidence of how far Corvo has stretched him is enticing all on its own. Corvo presses back into him in one smooth motion, Foster boneless beneath him.
Corvo rocks into Foster’s prone body, only slightly faster than the rhythm Foster seemed to prefer when on top. His pleas are barely words now, a mixture of syllables and needy breaths. Foster claws at the sheets, the empty air, thrashing his head against the pillow as Corvo works into him.
As Corvo feels his own edge approaching, driven by Foster’s loud, naked enjoyment as much as the pressure around his cock, he slots one hand between them, stroking his partner to a quick completion.
Foster spends between them, sticky and mewling. Corvo concentrates on spilling as quickly as he can, not wanting to draw out his own needs past Foster’s pleasure.
Corvo pulls out as he comes, though he suspects Foster won't like that at all. He comes in between Foster’s thighs, over his now-soft cock and balls, against his hole. Foster looks an absolute mess regardless.
“I'll be right back,” Corvo soothes, kissing into Foster’s hair.
He stumbles to the bathroom, returning with two moistened towels and a dry one. He wipes between Foster’s legs with one, across his face and then chest with the other. Foster’s body temperature is elevated, and Corvo opts not to dry him off, instead letting the water evaporate from his skin.
“Corvo…” Foster finally finds his voice again. “How dare you leave me for Karnaca after that,” he groans.
Corvo laughs a little at Foster’s petulance. Like almost all of Foster’s complaints, this one is based on a compliment Corvo finds difficult to accept. “I will be back, soon enough. Nothing can keep me from returning to you.”
“Death,” Foster says grimly.
And, yes, of course. Foster has said as much, that he has witnessed Corvo’s possible demise many time. He cannot pinpoint which one will come to pass. But he still bears the burden of having seen all the ways Corvo may die.
“I will do everything in my power to come back to you,” is the truest statement he can make,
They fall asleep wrapped in each other, Foster’s breathing leveling out to a dull hum against Corvo’s chest.
In the morning, Corvo deliberately wakes his lover. Foster would not forgive him for leaving without saying goodbye. Drunk on sleep, Foster tries to argue that he will follow Corvo to the docks, but Corvo refuses him, saying it's still early. It’s cold outside. And he wants Foster to stay safe and warm.
Chapter 17: Narrow passages between worlds are easily navigated when giving up a sense of direction
The days apart stretch into weeks. The winter chill descends on Dunwall, wrapping the city in a bitter embrace, and Foster finds himself wearing the coat Corvo gave him inside as well as out. He works on the charm for Emily’s wedding. Other little projects too. Keeping his hands and his mind busy, lest they both grow numb.
When Emily requires his assistance, almost always with her wedding plans, Foster drops everything he is doing to help her. They are both terribly lonely, but there are only so many of her scheduled appointments he can attend with her, without raising suspicions. They take dinner together occasionally, when there is no diplomat or advisor that has scheduled her time. And the rumors that “Little Lord Foster” is the Royal Protector’s bedwarmer warp into rumors that he is sleeping with the Empress, while Wyman is away.
Stale gossip is a sin, after all.
He reads in the evenings, tearing through books Emily loans to him, visiting the Tower library himself when he finishes her recommendations. He write letters to Corvo in his sloppy handwriting, though he does not send them. He's not even sure where he could send them? But he keeps them tucked away in his desk drawer, tied with twine. When Corvo returns to him, he plans to show him every word.
Corvo sends no letters directly to him. And one day, he is bold enough to ask Emily if she has heard any news? She simply shakes her head. She had heard nothing. Neither speak their fears aloud.
Jasper shadows Emily as her private guard, always nipping at her heels. Even when Foster spends time alone with Emily, Jasper is usually just outside the door. Mostly, the stern-faced young guard blends into the furniture, melts into the wallpaper. Sometimes, Foster is startled by her subtlety. He never watched her from the Void. Not important enough.
“Did your father choose her?”
“Indirectly,” Emily says, biting into a biscuit. Crumbs cascade down the front of her vest. “Alexi would have signed the final paperwork.” Emily groans, “I still have not formally replaced her. It's been a year.”
More than that, but Foster does not correct her.
Of all the deaths under Delilah’s reign, Alexi Mayhew’s is the one that most greatly troubles Emily. She blames herself. Alexi promised to lay down her life for the Empress, but the Empress accepted her promise, assuming such a sacrifice would be unnecessary.
More than that, Alexi was her friend. And Emily has had so precious few in her lifetime.
Emily asks if Foster would like to sleep beside her? Her face is drawn, eyes betraying her exhaustion. She knows nothing they do will change what the servants say. And they already believe that he puts his cock in her. So there's no use preserving any sort of facade.
Foster asks her why she wants for him to stay? To share her bed? And she shrugs her shoulders, saying, “The winter makes things worse.”
“And what will Wyman think?” he asks before agreeing. Though the thought of a warm body next to his through the chilly night has its appeal.
Emily snickers, “You know, they asked me, if I wanted to lay with you. After the first time the two of you met.” She works at tying up her hair for sleep. “And that if I wanted to fuck you, they'd like to be present.”
Foster screws his face. He's trying not to act too scandalized, he really is. All the various forms of human intimacy are known to him, of course. And such an arrangement is not a terribly unusual one. But picturing himself in such a position is wholly different. And, at least at the moment, Foster can't parse the exact source of his discomfort with the idea.
“Don't worry,” Emily smiles, “I told them I was fairly sure your attention was focused on….someone else.”
And just as quickly Foster’s mood shifts to indignation. “I was not so obvious,” he blurts.
“You're obvious now, well, I mean. Perhaps it was my father who was obvious, before he left.” She brushes Foster’s objections off. “I knew you did not want me. And I do not want you. And that was enough to dissuade Wyman.”
Callously, Foster asks, “Did Wyman want me?”
Emily flinches, “I don't think so. I don't know. It's irrelevant now in any case. The last thing I'm going to do is interfere in my father’s love life.” She pauses, “no, wait, the last thing I'm going to do is ask about my father’s love life. So don't say a word about it. Ever. Now come to bed.”
Foster sighs, offering only a half-hearted argument that he has nothing to wear. Emily points him in the direction of Wyman’s wardrobe, saying their clothes should fit him well enough.
Foster asks the Empress to come visit his laboratory, when she has the time. And leave Jasper somewhere out of the way, please and thank you.
It takes two days, but she finds twenty minutes to spare. Twenty minutes without Jasper in her hair or an appointment to keep. She looks harried as she comes into the room. But she always does. Dark strands of her hair falling loose from where she has tried to pin it into place. If it had more of a curl, like her father’s, it would stay in place better.
“Unwrap your hand,” Foster instructs. The first attempt at the illusion charm is ready. “Did Corvo tell you about this?”
“No,” Emily says, working the knot of her ribbon open with her nails. “What is it?” She shoves the ribbon into her jacket pocket for safekeeping.
“He wishes to try and obscure the Mark on your wedding day. I have to say, it's a clever plan. It will cement the idea in your subjects’ eyes that the ribbon you wear is nothing more than fashion.” He smiles, “It’ll drive the Abbey mad, too.”
Emily nods, seeming to grasp the logic of it. “So you've made a charm to turn it invisible?” She rolls up her cuff as well, though there is no need.
“Not quite, properly speaking, it casts an illusion over your skin, a trick of the light. It's not perfect, but it's the best solution I've managed so far without side effects.” He passes Emily the charm.
After she slides the bone into her front pants pocket, Foster asks her to raise her hand where he can see it. So far, so good. Her hand appears utterly bare, even up close. He asks her to wave it back and forth, and he watches as the illusion shifts. While for the most part, the trick holds, if she moves too fast, Foster can catch the edges of the Mark.
“I will try to refine it further. But we are making progress,” he holds out his hand to accept the bone charm back.
Emily thanks him, before departing for her next engagement and Foster returns to his work.
Emily does not ask Foster to sleep by her side again. And Corvo’s chambers feel too dark and vast and empty without his warming presence. So, Foster sleeps in his own room.
More often than not, he toys with himself in the evening, spreading his thighs and fucking himself on his fingers, using the oil Corvo gifted him. He brings himself off at least once a night, sometimes more, trying to chase away the ache of loneliness. But also simply because he is still so easily aroused. He is fairly certain that, like other mortals, his incessant need will blunt with age. His body is merely young, and thus, interested in everything. Particularly the memories of Corvo grinding into him. Corvo’s lips wrapped around his cock, Corvo’s hands in his hair and warm against his skin…
Sleep comes easier once he's spent, always dreamless. And for that he is thankful. To see visions of nothing is its own sort of pleasure, after being forced to watch for so long.
But something stirs at his bedside, something that should not be so close. So warm. Breathing. And Foster starts awake. His door was locked, was it locked? He’s not sure. It doesn't matter. Corvo gone. Across the sea. The figure in the darkness is too large and broad to be the Empress.
Someone is by his bedside. Someone he doesn't know. Foster lashes out quickly, striking bluntly against the intruder’s chest before flight overruns fight and he tries to scramble away. The attacker grabs him by the waist, hoisting him out of bed and dragging him against their chest. Foster does not know how to fight. But he knows how to scream. His assailant puts their blade to his throat.
Conscious thought shuts down. He has felt metal at his throat before. No, not metal this time. Glass. The blade catches the light. Too reflective. Mirrored.
He didn't fight it, millennia ago. Didn't fight. Lamb to slaughter.
Then, and now,
he is too weak.
He doesn't want
A screeching noise, the scent of blood. His blood? He doesn't know. He cannot see in the darkness. Only hear. Smell. No no no, not again. He cannot bear the loneliness again. The darkness and the fear. He can move his hands again, pressing them around his neck. There is blood on his palms. It must be his. What other explanation?
He falls to the floor, hands still wound around his neck. It doesn't hurt. And that terrifies him more than anything else. His hands are wet, but he cannot find the incision.
There was no ritual this time, was there? And the blade was not the same. The blade should be in Billie’s hands. His knees hurt from kneeling. He vomits onto the floor.
No, no, no. He is Foster.
“Breathe, in and out, you're okay.”
The voice dragging him back to coherency is one he recognizes. His body still shakes, he cannot see. But there is a hand pressed firmly to his back.
“You're okay,” it's Billie. But Billie is not the one who grabbed him, she is far too small. “I'm going to get you some water, okay?”
Foster cannot answer her. But the weight at his back is gone for a moment, as Billie goes to his desk to pour a glass of water from the jug he keeps there. Opening his eyes, Foster confirms he is still in his Tower room. His hands are streaked with dark blood. The lights are still out.
“It's from the guard,” Billie explains, passing Foster the glass. “It's not yours.”
His head swims with questions. But he is in no state to ask.
“I need to get Emily,” Billie explains. “Corvo isn't here, right?”
“No, Karnaca,” Foster finds his voice. Touching his fingers to his throat again, he confirms that there is no incision.
“Okay, then I need Emily. Or else you are taking the fall for this corpse,” her joke is a morbid one. But Foster understands.
“Let me wash my hands, and I will fetch her,” Foster says. The least he can do to repay Billie’s exceptionally well-timed rescue is brave the hallways and retrieve the Empress.
He stands over the sink in the cramped bath, cool water rushing over his shaking, bloodied hands. Foster has not even seen the face of the dead guard in his room. But their blood washes from his skin and down the drain. Looking up into the mirror, he sees his own haggard face. There is red across his cheek, running down his throat. He tries to scrub as much of it away as he can.
Billie stands over the corpse, saying nothing as Foster ducks from the room. He rushes to the Empress’ chambers. There are sure to be guards just outside the door. But they probably believe the rumors about Foster and the Empress as well, and will think little of him visiting in the night.
Sheepishly, he asks them to step aside. He lies, saying the Empress is expecting him. They both frown in his direction, but one turns to knock at the door.
Emily appears soon enough, her bleary eyes barely open, and her dressing gown pulled tight around her shoulders, “Foster?”
“Empress,” he bites his lip, “you were expecting me?”
Emily feigns, “Of course,” pulling him quickly inside.
He explains in terse terms what has happened. An intruder in his room, Billie showing up just in time, the corpse on his floor.
“We should go, immediately.” She is wide awake now, grabbing her trousers from yesterday and pulling on an oversized sweater.
She tells the guards not to follow them, as they leave the room. What they think is going on, Foster has no idea.
Reaching Foster’s room, he knocks at the door before opening, warning Billie that they have arrived.
Billie stands over the body, the twin-blade wiped clean and her arm obscured in the fabric of her coat. “Empress,” she inclines her head, but doesn’t bow. “I am...glad to see you are well.”
“Meghan...or do you prefer Billie?” Emily’s eyes drift from the body, back up to Billie. Her lips are terse. Perhaps Foster should have told her of Billie’s changed appearance.
Billie does not expect the question, “Billie, is fine. Preferred, I think.”
“Okay, Billie,” Emily finally steps towards the guard, prone on the floor and blood spilling out across the carpet, so much that it surely seeps to the hardwood underneath. “Who is it?” She pushes at the corpse’s shoulder, turning it from its side onto its back.
Foster recognizes her face immediately. It is Jasper.
“Did you lock your door?” Emily asks, still crouched and frowning at the body.
“I honestly can’t remember,” Foster admits. He is generally lax about locking the door to his room, and fastidious about locking the door to his laboratory. But he cannot recall if he locked his bedroom door before retiring.
Emily shakes her head, “It does not matter. Jasper would have had access to a key easily enough. She attacked you in your sleep?”
“Yes,” Foster feels fairly calm now, almost detached. The woman is dead. She tried to kill him. Why is a question they can address later.
“Wait,” Emily looks back to Billie, “were you here when it happened? How are you here? Why?”
Billie flips on another lamp, bathing the room in light, “I came because I knew this was happening. Beyond that...explaining is complicated. I almost didn’t make it in time.”
“We can talk about it later, I suppose. She attacked Foster, you defended him. That is enough to explain the body. Ugh,” she scoffs, “this couldn’t be at a worse time, with the Lord Protector away.” Emily groans again, “No, do you know what? I have more questions. What happened to your eye? Your hand?” She looks at Foster, already half-knowing.
“Something I should not have done,” Foster admits. “And something I can not un-do.”
“Of course,” Emily concedes. “But now I think it’s best that we not tell anyone Billie was here...we should simply say that you killed Jasper when attacked. Fuck,” she curses. “This is a mess.”
“I’m inclined to agree, Empress,” Billie says. “There may be questions about the cuts on the body, but nothing that can’t be explained away. Foster is simply more formidable than he appears,” she smirks.
Foster thinks maybe he should take offense.
“So, our next question, is why would she try to kill you?”
“Her knife,” Foster tilts his head, “Billie, where is her knife?”
“I didn’t take it? Maybe slipped under the bed?”
Getting down on his hands and knees, Foster peers under the bed, trying to find the knife. But he cannot see it anywhere. It's gone.
In a panic, he turns over Jasper’s body again, seeing if the blade is stuck underneath her. He checks her jacket, her pockets, under the bed again, in his sheets. He smears blood everywhere. “It's gone.”
“Shit,” Billie curses.
“Have you seen that knife before?” Foster asks. Billie has been moving through space, through time, crisscrossing existence. Perhaps she would have seen something. She at least saw the moment Jasper succeeded in killing him. And she rushed here in an attempt to prevent it.
Billie shakes her head, “I have not seen it. But I will look. Do you think she meant to trap you in the Void again? Or simply kill you for good?”
“You do not know?” Foster suspects Billie knows more about Jasper’s motives than he does.
“No, I only saw her try to kill you….and then….darkness?”
“Darkness?” Emily repeats. “So...if he dies, we all go with him? Is that what you're implying? Was this your plan for him?” She looks desperately to Foster. But he has no answer.
Billie rolls her eye, “I promise you. Even when I hated him with every fiber of my being, it was not enough to destroy us all.” But there is doubt on her face, “Did you know this was a possibility? That if you died…something terrible would come to pass?”
“Not unless something else goes horribly wrong,” panic bubbles in his lungs. While the Leviathans’ number is waning, they are not yet extinct. That would be impossible. Besides, he no longer counts among them. His death should not be the deciding factor. Unless he so gravely miscalculated...“I need a boat.”
“What?” Billie responds. Emily remains quiet.
Foster swallows, not sure how to explain. “I must speak to the Leviathans, and soon. Billie,” he turns to her, “can you please come with me. And afterwards, you must look for Jasper’s blade.”
She shakes her head, “I do not take commands from you.”
“Please, then,” he pleads, “at least come with me to the water.” He does not want to go alone. And the guards cannot be trusted. Corvo is away in Karnaca. There are so few he can rely on.
Turning away, Billie heads towards the door. No doubt to return to the portal downstairs in Foster’s lab. “I will meet you on the pier at dawn. Do not be late.” And with that, she disappears.
Foster breathes again. There is still the matter of Jasper’s corpse to contend with.
“You trust her?” Emily asks.
There is no other answer, “We must all trust her. She is no god. But in the absence of one, she is as close as we’re going to get.”
Emily calls for the guard captain on duty. She arrives within fifteen minutes, asking questions of Foster regarding the attack. Whenever he hesitates with an answer, Emily supplies one, in a voice that sounds so unlike the friend she has been to Foster these months. It is her Empress voice, the one that can exculpate him from the sin of murder
“Notify her family. Tell them we wish to keep this quiet, and her honor intact. Their daughter attempted to kill a personal friend of the Empress. A man who should have reasonably looked to her for protection,” the Empress explains.
The guard captain leaves and the Royal Physician arrives. Vanya’s eyes are alert, despite the early hour. Foster says nothing when she asks the Empress if she wishes the circumstances of Jasper’s death investigated.
Emily stamps out her concern, “We know the circumstances. Foster was here.”
Vanya tends to Foster with a friendly hand. She has seen him several times since his arrival at the Tower. She saw him when he was too sick to move, and again once his health returned. She sees him now, still giddy with fear. “You should eat more than just bread, child,” she cautions. “You will not be strong enough to kill a guard, otherwise.”
“You will not betray my word,” Emily warns, her brown eyes cold.
“I have no intention,” Vanya assures her. “I was only teasing him. I know he still refuses meat.”
“I eat fowl,” Foster argues, surprised when Vanya smiles back at him.
“Have the kitchens cook more birds then, if it would please the Empress.”
Vanya’s assistant arrives with a gurney to cart the body away. The maids will be next, to dispose of the carpet, change the sheets, scrub the floor.
Emily tells Foster to wash his hands and face again, and to get dressed. It is terribly cold out. He should wear layers. The boat will be ready by dawn, and the hour is not far off.
Foster had not expected for Emily to come with him to the docks. Bundled in his heavy coat, Foster waits at the edge of the water, the Empress at his side.
The captain directs her crew to ready. They have only a narrow window to depart before the cargo ships take priority. The harbor schedule changes for no one. Not even an Empress.
As the Empress takes her first step to board the ship, a third figure slips in at Foster’s side. Billie’s hood is up, obscuring her face from curious eyes as she walks ahead of Foster, trailing the Empress as she boards.
Foster is the last to step onto the deck, the wind whipping through his hair. The captain, accustomed to discretion, leaves the traveling party alone.
“I spoke to the Royal Protector,” Billie tells them, as the boat leaves the harbor. It will be some time yet before they reach their destination over open waters, where the Leviathans are likely to gather.
Emily nods, understanding the breadth of Billie’s abilities, at least enough to know what she says is possible. “What did he say?”
“I cannot bring him through the portals. He will have to take a ship, departing today.”
“Did he say anything of his mission?” the Empress asks.
Billie frowns. She has not lowered her hood. “I do not believe he would trust me with such information. And I did not pry. But he seemed greatly concerned with little Foster’s wellbeing.” She smiles, despite the seriousness of the situation before them.
“I am not sure he will be of any help,” Foster admits. He's not sure any of them can stop the mechanism already in motion. They have so little information. Hopefully the Leviathans will have something Foster can work with.
He hears the first cry of the Leviathan in the waves. Too far away to parse their speech. Once they are closer, he’ll understand.
“Do you believe Jasper was acting alone? That she merely believed you to be my friend, and nothing more?” Emily asks Foster.
Foster must admit, “No...she must have known who I am, what I was,” he shakes his head. “She meant to slit my throat with a strange knife that has now gone missing. There are those who know. Who have found me.”
“And, then, we need my father.”
They reach their intended destination and Foster walks to the railing. He waits for the Leviathans to call, though this time he bears no gifts. He can hear them speaking beneath the surface of the sea, but still, he cannot make out what they are saying. They are still too deep, or the sound of water lapping against the hull too loud. Something is keeping Foster from hearing them properly.
“Billie, Emily, do either of you have a charm?” he asks.
Emily reaches into her coat, pulling out a charm affixed over her breast. One that makes her a bit stronger than her build should allow. It is easily replaced. Foster could carve a new one in an hour.
He tosses the charm into the the water, and though Emily grunts in surprise, she does not scold him. Foster waits for the whales to surface. But they do not come. He waits. He listens to their wails. Why can he not understand?
Why do they only sound like melodies, with no coherence, no wisdom to share? Last time he was here, when Corvo brought him here, their words were crystal clear. They recognized him as their silly one, with a body too small, too misshapen, but a little one whom they had swam alongside for so long. Silly mistake too, to give up the Void. But they understood him. And he understood them.
Now, they speak, but he cannot hear.
“No,” Foster’s heart races, “no it cannot be.” His vision whites. His body moves.
He unzips his coat, tossing it onto the deck.
Panic. Panic. They do not come for him. He must go to the Void. This is wrong. How could he forget their language so soon?
Behind him, Billie curses, “fuck,” dashing to grab him before he jumps. But she is not quick enough, as Foster throws himself into the frozen sea.
He knows. He knows he is a weak, fragile thing. Hollow bones and silken flesh. He was never built to last. The cold sends him into shock. His conscious thought, what was left of it, fizzling out. If he dies here, perhaps he takes the whole world with him.
He opens his eyes, his mouth, he tries to breathe, but the salt water scorches his lungs. His vision clouds with pale green depths, the morning sun against the waves, lighting the sea the same color as his eyes.
Speak, please speak. He cries out without his voice.
He has to know what he has become. And what this new threat is trying to build from his blood and bones.
The Leviathan comes for him, finally. Butting her nose against his stomach, pushing him towards the hull of the boat, until he is pinned tightly against the side. He thinks maybe he can hear Emily and Billie screaming above the surface of the water. But that is impossible. He is surely already dead.
He cannot understand the whale-speak. He cannot understand the human-tongue. But as long as his corpse is pressed against the boat, that means the world has not yet ended.
Foster tries to reach for the Void, to slip from the mortal plane and back into the realm of magic, and sorrow. If only he could visit once more. He might be able. Be able. He doesn't know. It's so cold. He cannot think. He must ask the Leviathans what they know. Afterwards, Emily and Corvo and Billie can figure out how to retrieve him from the Void. Chosen mortals can walk the steps of the Void with ease. But in the absence of a god to choose them, Foster must find another way to reach the Void himself.
Is that what he has wanted all along? Only play-acting his satisfaction with mortality?
The Leviathan jerks away in shock. Her bottomless, dark eyes without expression. She swims away, rocking the boat as Foster floats back to the surface.
Coming up above water, Foster’s lungs scream for air, his entire body numb.
Chapter 18: Travelers in search of lost songs and familiar homes to call their own
Karnaca is not what Corvo remembers. The weather is balmy, even in these first gasps of winter. The air smells of familiar fish and salt. But something else as well, a spice lingering in the humidity. Sharp and almost metallic. It stings Corvo’s nose, dredging up memories he seldom dwells on now.
He steps off of the boat, crossing the docks and into the busy fish market, where wholesalers bark their orders for the catch straight off the ships. Giant tuna, crates packed with sardines, stacks and stacks of immature whitefish, ripped from the sea too early. But they are said to reproduce quickly, their numbers never depleting.
No one pays Corvo any mind as he walks through the packed marketplace, though one monger comments on his coat, saying he must be a wealthy man indeed. Corvo can no longer deny the accusation, but he pays the barker little mind.
The market gives way to the grand avenue, choked with morning traffic. Here, there is some familiarity. In Corvo’s youth, he thought the dockside of Karnaca the busiest place in all the Isles. Now he knows better, but still, he is surrounded on all sides. With the bloodfly population under control, the city has started to swell again. Youths coming in from the countryside to find work.
Though it is still early in the morning, Corvo keeps his eyes peeled for the first open tavern. Drunkards often know things they should not. They keep odd hours, and stranger company, gathering up morsels of information for sale to the first bidder. No need to wait for the highest. Not when there's another tankard to be had.
Upon spotting the Curved Flank, Corvo steps inside. He unbuttons the front of his coat, letting it hang open now that the wind off the harbor cannot be felt.
Needing to keep his wits about him, he orders ale, something mild on the stomach, he insists. He has just landed after a long journey.
The bartender is a pretty girl, with dark hair and light eyes. She is maybe just into adulthood, with her hair pinned up atop her oval head. Strong chin, thick eyebrows.
She asks him to pay upfront, “sorry, Sir, but I haven't seen you before.” Corvo doesn't begrudge her caution, pays the coin.
“Don't you know who this is!” A hearty-looking man shouts from across the bar. He is just about Corvo’s age, with grey run through his beard but a full head of brown hair still on his head. His skin is dark and cheeks ruddy. Not drunk, just come in from the morning sun and work. A laborer, with a night shift perhaps. Having a drink before heading home to bed.
The girl smiles at him, clearly familiar with the older man’s exuberance. “Who is he then, Breja?”
“You should know his face from the lithographs. He always used to be in the papers,” Breja smiles at him, moving two bar stools over to sit next to Corvo properly. “You could call him the first son of Serkonos, though Duke Abele would like to take the title for himself. This is the Empress’ Lord Protector, Corvo Attano.”
“I think I might have heard that name,” the girl says, “are you him?”
Corvo shrugs his shoulders. Truth be told, he's uncomfortable with the attention. But it is best that he try to gather as much information as possible, as quickly as he can manage. His presence in Karnaca will not go unnoticed for long. And Breja at least seems a well-informed man. “Depends, will you buy me a drink if I am?” he asks Breja.
“If you buy me two, on the Empress’ gold.”
“And what if I wanted information instead?” Corvo tests.
“Ah,” Breja nods, “of course, this isn't a vacation, or retirement, then? We always thought you'd return to settle down. Finally take a spouse, that sort of whaleshit.”
“Do you work at the docks?”
Breja shakes his head, “foreman, in the cannery. Night hours. But I know some boys from the docks, if you need them. Good lads. It's young men's work, you know?”
Corvo smiles genuinely, “I know all about young men’s work, and staying in it far too long.”
“Sometimes, the benefits are worth the aches in the morning,” Breja admits. “Are you looking for a specific ship?”
“Specific cargo. Shipments that belong to the Crown. Does not matter which vessel,” Corvo is careful not to give too much away. It could be that the crates have been stamped after being loaded onto the ships for transport. But it is more likely they arrive at the docks already stamped with the Kaldwin insignia. Parading as any other lot of wares bound for the Empress’ stores in Dunwall. They would not be suspicious in the least.
“Kettle has already headed home to bed. But if you have the time tomorrow. He’s here at five after seven, when his shift finishes. He’s the overnight head inspector. Has a pretty baby at home, so he doesn’t stay long at the bar. One pint and he’s out. But if you’re sure to come, I can have him hang around.”
Corvo does not wish to wait until tomorrow, “Do you have an address for this Kettle? A surname?”
“This is your first day in Karanca in a long time, isn’t it?” Breja says with ease. He’s respectful of Corvo’s title, but not afraid of it, falling into casual conversation. “Enjoy it, see the sights. I’ll make sure Kettle is here in the morning.”
The Crown has arranged for Corvo’s lodging while in Karnaca. He stops in at the apartment, the whole fourth floor of a Upper Aventa District building that belongs to the Empress’ holdings. Servants of the Duke’s came through while Corvo was in transit to pull the dust covers from the furniture, sweep the floors, stock the kitchen.
The only staff that remains is a wiry, older man to tend to Corvo’s requests and a harsh woman in her late twenties to cook for him. Frederick, the man, says she may be replaced if Corvo wishes, but her temperament says little about the quality of her work.
“She’s fine,” Corvo tells him. “I will not be around much.”
He tells Salli, the cook, to only prepare dinners, simple things that eat alright when cold. She may leave them in the cool oven to keep the insects away, if he is late to dine. Otherwise, she may consider her assignment to his residence as an impromptu vacation. Both she and Frederick are free to amuse themselves as they wish.
He leaves his bags behind in the bedroom and sets out across the city. He wishes to conclude his investigation as soon as possible. Karnaca, even in winter, feels too warm.
The old Serkonian woman has a hunched back, three fewer teeth than she should, and an opinion about Corvo.
“You’ve been away too long, boy.”
It’s been decades since anyone has dare called Corvo, “boy” to his face.
“Do you know me?” he asks, stepping out of the blinding winter sun and into the shade where the woman sits. Her legs are folded, with gold trinkets for sale spread out across her sky-hued blanket, cut through with brilliant teal. Her long, white hair falls in a thin braid over her shoulder, her skin dark, leathery, with black tattoos wrinkled across the piece of her chest that Corvo can see, where her tunic dips into a shallow v..
“You have the face of a man from this Island. But a voice from the North. You’ve been away too long, boy. And you’re terrified that you don’t feel a thing.”
He ignores her accusation. “How much for one of your chains?” Corvo asks. She has them in all thicknesses and lengths, “One of the thin ones, long enough for a man’s neck?”
“No, someone thinner,” Corvo tries showing her with his hands.
“Your son?” she teases, as if she knows full well who it is for. But that’s not possible. “No? Then how hard would you like to be able to pull on it?” her dry lips curl in a lecherous smile.
Corvo says nothing, but when she shows him the chain, he takes out the coin for it.
Anthony Kettle is a nervous man, picking at his nails as he sits with Breja and Corvo, taking longer with his morning beer than he might under different circumstances.
“My wife leaves for work at nine,” he explains, “I haven’t much time.”
“I only need to know about the shipments,” Corvo explains, “Or I can come visit you at the docks tonight.”
“I’m only the overnight supervisor, I can’t make that decision.”
Corvo has to remind Kettle gently who he is. In the end, Kettle relents, saying that Corvo may come at his leisure. He wouldn’t dare stand in the way of the Empress.
Corvo waits for an invitation from the Duke. He receives two.
The first is for a formal event, the celebration of the fiftieth birthday of Lady Heska Mottli. The second letter requests a private meeting, along with a “sincere” apology for not sending a missive sooner. But the Duke hopes that the servants he has sent to tend to Corvo are satisfactory.
Corvo considers declining the invitation to the birthday party. There are festivities enough in Dunwall that he only attends to guard the Empress. But the truth of the matter is, spying in on the Serkononian nobility may prove useful in his current investigation. All the evidence he has so far collected points to someone in the Duke’s employ. And good friends, dipped in fine wine, have loose tongues.
Agreeing to both invitations, Corvo can only wish the dates were sooner.
The false Duke is as agreeable as Corvo expects. Corvo does not suspect the double would turn against the Empress so soon. His position is a gift from the Empress herself, the highest station in Serkonos, in exchange for keeping a secret. The real Duke Abele has been locked away in the asylum for nearly a year, and his double, and the Isles, have reaped the benefits of a steadier hand.
He gives Corvo permission to search the estate, asking if he needs assistance from the City Watch? He will provide as many people as Corvo needs. Corvo declines the offer. He does not wish to draw attention to himself.
Instead, he quietly watches the servants who work in the basement galleries and storage, observing as they prepare boxes for shipment across the Isles, and as they receive packages from abroad.
Three days into watching the staff, Corvo spots a girl, a runner, who has ink stains on her hands, wax caught in the fibers of her shift-dress. He tells her to come speak to him at the side of the Duke’s loading docks.
Careful to not make her uncomfortable, they stay in sight of the other workers. But far enough away others will not be able to hear their quiet conversation.
“Do you know who I am?” Corvo asks politely.
The girl nods, replying, “Lord Protector Attano. You work for the Empress. And we are meant to help you, if we can.”
“How long have you worked for the Duke?” he asks.
She answers, “I do not work for him, but for the porter. We carry packages about the city.”
“To the harbor?”
“You are small for lifting crates.”
“I do not lift, sir. I keep the manifests. I am good with maths.”
She is maybe sixteen, at most. Just of age for full-time work. Though, increasingly, parents keep their children in school longer. Particularly those of the middle classes. The girl is too robust to count among the destitute. Though her accent suggests that while her family may have food, they do not have social standing.
“There is wax on your clothing.”
She looks down at her pale shift dress. The cut is simple and the fabric rough. “Oh, yes, I suppose there is.”
“Do you affix seals to shipments?”
“Sometimes,” she reaches into her pocket, producing a metal stamp. It is the very one Corvo has found upon the crates sent to Dunwall. How could this be so easy?
He takes the stamp from her, and she does not resist, simply folding her hands back.
“Who gave this to you?”
“My supervisor, at the shop. I was told the crates marked in red are to be stamped. The wax should go over the mark.”
“Do you know whose seal this is?” The girl’s answers are all very straightforward. She is either very innocent or an exceptional liar.
“The Lady Empress’.”
Corvo has no reason to detain the girl. Already, a plan of action spins through Corvo’s head. She confirms that her supervisor is not at the shop, already attending to clients for the day, then he heads home directly. But she may take a message, if Corvo wishes. And if he would be so kind to write something about the stamp, if he intends to keep it. She does not wish to lose this job. It pays well.
Corvo has no pen or paper, so the girl runs to her cart to fetch them for him. Hastily, he scribbles down that he has taken the stamp. And that he will speak to Bailey Caldwell tomorrow about its return. He expects Caldwell to run into the arms of his co-conspirators. Corvo must only give him time to hang himself. The girl says she will give the note to Caldwell first thing in the morning, tucking the slip of paper into the interior pocket of her dress, just over her breast.
He thanks her for being so helpful. Knowing Caldwell’s address, Corvo will be in place tomorrow morning to watch his return to the shop.
Having no other reason to linger at Abele’s estate at the moment, Corvo decides to return to his apartment. The wretched birthday party is tonight. And though he now has a more substantial lead, backing out seems unwise. Going feels unwise as well. Perhaps he will cancel.
Walking from the trolley station, Corvo hears a sharp whistle, and the call of “Crow!” He does not recognize the voice. “Crow, I know your girl,” the voice calls again.
Corvo turns his head, spotting a woman tucked into the open alleyway. She is slim, with dirty fingers but sharp attire, a short, thick chain hanging from her breast pocket, and a sliver of her hip visible where her vest ends too short. Her blonde hair is tied back, a strand on one side coming loose. She smiles at Corvo with a familiarity she should not have.
“Your girl tell you about me?” two of her teeth are broken, all of them stained by tobacco. But otherwise, her face is pretty. “We had a couple of dates, while she was in town. Pity, she never wrote.”
Corvo steps towards the woman, if only so she’ll stop speaking so loudly. “Who are you?”
She frowns, but her eyes are still smiling, “Mindy Blanchard, and I'll be very disappointed if your girl didn't tell you about me.”
“The Howlers,” Corvo says, recalling the brief mention Emily made of the gang’s second-in-command. Though Emily never mentioned being friends with the woman.
“Good, so she at least told you that much. And she should have told you, if you need information in this city, we should have been your first stop.” She takes a cigarette from her case. Then holds the case out to Corvo. He accepts, offering to light her cigarette for her first.
Corvo asks, after his first drag, “What will this information cost me?”
Mindy beams, “That party at the Duke’s tonight? Got a plus one on that invitation?” She waves her cigarette around, “Even if you don't, no one will say no if I show up on your arm.”
Corvo looks just behind Mindy, to where a wanted poster with her face is affixed to the wall. He points it out, but she just laughs.
“I do good at cleaning up. Promise no one will know.” She concludes, “You can try gutting me in front of the ice sculpture if I'm wrong. Those nobles will like the entertainment.”
“Why?” Corvo asks, his patience running thin, “why do you need entry to the Duke’s estate?”
Mindy takes another drag before putting out her cigarette against the wall, “No one has taken me anywhere nice in ages.”
Mindy didn't lie about looking the part.
She arrives at Corvo’s door a different woman, her hair shiny and pinned up in a lovely braid that sits flat against her head, her lips painted petal pink. The color makes her teeth look whiter. She has an artificial cap that fits over the two broken teeth. Hard to see, except up close. Her trousers are slim cut, emphasizing the length of her legs, her torso looking short in comparison. Her nails are painted navy blue and her skin smells of ripe citrus. No one would take her for the hardened woman in the wanted posters.
“See?” she smirks, “those nobles will eat me up.”
They arrive at the Duke’s party arm-in-arm. Mindy gives the name Miranda and laughs at all the right times. Having her at his side proves an unexpected boon. She is more gracious in polite company than he. A spectacular actress.
“How do you know the Royal Protector?” a noblewoman asks, eyeing ‘Miranda’ up and down.
Mindy answers, “Years and years ago, he knew my older brother. I was just a kid when he left.”
Corvo stays quiet, letting her weave some fantastic tale about a brother who doesn't exist, but spent time play-fighting Corvo at the cusp of adolescence, when she was three-years-old or so. Corvo realizes that he can’t even begin to guess her age.
They both drink in moderation, enough to be considered appropriate for the occasion. Not enough to lose their heads. Mindy whispers that this is fun, and they should get roaring drunk sometime after.
“I've brought you here,” Corvo says under his breath, “and you said you had information.”
Mindy takes another gulp from her glass. “I do,” she sets her glass aside, “Dance with me.”
Corvo takes her hand. Dancing was a skill he was expected to learn, but seldom practice. Putting his opposite hand on her hip, he waits for the gentle press of her palm against his shoulder, before taking the lead across the floor. Though not entirely graceful, she dances well enough.
“Caldwell’s Porters transports your boxes to the harbor,” she shares, squeezing where he holds her hand.
“I already know that.”
“The crates are marked in red.”
“I know that too.”
Mindy smiles, coming now to the information that he needs, just as the music begins to swell. She tucks her body closer into Corvo’s, letting her mouth drift close to his ear, “Caldwell has a lover who doesn't like him much. They rarely see each other. Heather Mukherjee, in Dunwall.”
“No one in Dunwall claims the shipments,” Corvo admits.
“Only one box in a dozen contains anything important. The rest are just distractions,” Mindy explains. “You need to find the one she retrieves.”
“What is in the shipments?”
Mindy shrugs her shoulders, “I don't have that information. I don't know which crate is the right one.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Connections,” she says cryptically. “But I'll tell you something even more important. Heather knows about your green-eyed lover.”
The hairs at the back of Corvo’s neck stand up at Mindy’s words. In anticipation of what follows.
“And she knows his eyes were not always so light.”
Bile rises in his throat. How can Mindy know this? How many people must know if she does?
“Now, stop being such a bore and have another dance. You won't get a ship back to Gristol at this hour, in any case. I'll have one of my boys make sure you’re on the fastest to leave in the morning.”
Corvo excuses himself for the moment, his heart racing and sweat starting to drip down his back. He promises Mindy he won't be long. He just needs a moment away from the crowd of bodies, somewhere he can focus. Leaving the ballroom, he shows his face to the guards, who let him pass. His footsteps echo down the empty hall, moonlight streaming in through the walls of glass that face the sea.
He smells salt in the air.
“Corvo,” Billie whispers. Corvo turns to face her, standing at the end of the hallway that was empty just before.
He rushes to her, asking why she is here. The ‘how’ of the matter is clear enough, she has used a portal. The ones only she may open.
“Foster was attacked. He's fine. But someone knows.”
Corvo says nothing, only nods. “I will take the first ship in the morning.”
“I have other places I should be,” Billie explains, looking over Corvo’s shoulder. “I cannot stay with him for long. Emily is there now.”
“I will be there as soon as I can,” he assures her.
With that, Billie departs through the hole in the world.
Chapter 19: The decisions that we make are not always the ones we can stomach through until the end
“Oh, Void, he's waking up,” Emily gasps, her relief swollen and ready to burst.
“The captain says another forty minutes to landfall,” Billie’s voice. Billie is still here.
Foster can only see the darkness. His eyes won't open. He has failed them all. He tries to see through closed eyes, as he once could. But there is only endless, rolling pitch.
“Why? Why did he jump?”
“He's an idiot,” Billie says, “I think he was trying to reach the Void.”
“Can that be done?” Emily asks.
“A mortal man would die first.”
“But he is not dead.”
Though Foster’s eyes will not open, he tries his mouth, trying to coax his tongue to comply. To assure Emily, sweet Emily, that he is here. To tell Billie that he is well aware he is an idiot. Only, he had to try something.
But no sound comes.
“It's okay,” Emily soothes, running her fingers through his hair. “We’ll be to shore soon.” Her lips press to his forehead, deliciously warm against his cool skin.
“Save your comforts, Empress. He’ll survive,” but there is worry, palpable and thin in Billie’s voice as well.
He hears and feels everything that transpires. The sailors help to transfer him onto a flat board for transport and load him into the Empress’ carriage, laying him down across one bank of seats. They bend his knees so he will fit. Both Emily and Billie sit on the bench opposite. The ride feels bumpier than normal. They're traveling fast.
Once they arrive at the Tower, he is carried, still on the plank, to the Royal Physician's clinic. Vanya asks Emily what has happened, while Billie loiters in the corner of the room. Foster can still smell her magic.
Emily says that he jumped from the boat, he was underwater for some time. Vanya’s assistant bundles him in blankets, bringing a portable whale-oil heater to the bedside.
“I can try an injection to speed his heart rate,” Vanya presses two fingers against his pulse. “But I think it better to wait. See if it comes up on its own. If there is brain damage, it is already done.” She drags her hand away.
“Foster?” Emily crouches at his bedside, both her hands wrapped around his. He wants, desperately to tell her he can hear. Vanya is right, what is done, is done. But he is certain that he will live.
It is not long before Emily is pulled away. She speaks quietly with Billie. Billie says she must leave. But Foster also cannot be left alone. They are at an impasse. There is no one else they can trust with Foster’s care. Under different circumstances, Emily would trust Vanya. But after Jasper’s betrayal, there is no one.
“When does your Consort return?” Billie asks.
“My father will return first. If you are correct that he departed this morning.”
“The trip from Morley is shorter, potentially. If they transfer to the electric train in Driscol.”
“That is true.”
They continue their clipped conversation, trying to find the quickest way to bring Wyman back to Dunwall. Billie can reach them near-instantaneously. The difficulty is that Wyman does not know Billie. Emily says she will write a letter for Billie to take with her. But Wyman is be exposed to as few magics as possible. She doesn’t want Wyman to be subjected to the same scrutiny by the Abbey that she and her father are. And limiting their exposure to Void magics will give them deniability.
His illusion charm! The one meant for Emily’s wedding could obscure Billie’s eye and hand. As long as she does not move too quickly. But he cannot tell them.
“I will speak to Wyman, but I cannot come back here. Waiting may prove disastrous.”
Emily cannot help but agree, “Thank you, Billie.”
Once their chatter dies down, Foster falls to sleep, helpless to intervene.
For the first time since becoming mortal, he dreams.
He puts one foot down in front of the other, his feet bare, pant legs rolled to the knee. Dried salt clings to his dark leg hair, making his skin itch. The stone beneath his feet is cold, cold enough to hurt his nerves. He has lost his jacket, dressed only in a button-down.
His head swims with indistinct possibilities. Futures he can no longer see. He touches his fingers to the corners of his eyes, but it is useless, he cannot see their color.
Opening his mouth to speak, he tries to call for the Leviathans. They call back. But he can neither understand their voice, or his own. Nothing more than echoing wails. The panic is there again, that dreadful feeling that compelled him to jump from the ship. He looks over the sheer ledge. If he falls, he does not know where he will land.
Is this the Void? An illusion? A dream? He cannot tell the difference. He wraps his arms tight around his chest, trying vainly to keep out the cold. There is no choice but to walk, but when he reaches the edge of the slate platform, the gap between his platform and the next is too far for him to jump. He has no arcane powers to help him move across the wild expanse.
He calls to the Leviathans again. They call back. He can't understand.
There is only one choice. He jumps.
Propelled by a force that is not his own, he tumbles onto the adjacent platform, his hands and knees smacking against the slate. It hurts. Pushing himself up, he continues on, following the conversation he cannot translate. Blood runs from his scraped knees, sluicing down his shins to mix with salt. The air smells of brine and copper, tangling with the watery fog.
He reaches a staircase, winding down to the unknown depths below. He takes the steps two at a time. His knees ache, refusing to clot. When he looks down at his legs, there is too much blood, coiling around his ankles, leaving pools around his feet.
But he is getting closer, the whale songs louder, though he still cannot understand. They are calling him, they must be. They cannot have forgotten him.
At the bottom of the staircase stands a mirror, trimmed in seafoam stones, set in silver, each gem cut precisely to fit into place. There is no other way forward, only darkness receding in the distance.
He walks towards the mirror, his feet still damp with blood. It is not until he stands only inches away, that his reflection comes into focus.
The Outsider’s eyes are black. He is not certain if he should be relieved, or concerned. Pressing his hand against the glass, the unmarred surface ripples like disturbed water in an otherwise still pond. His fingers break the surface tension and the Outsider steps through, into a realm unknown. Even to him.
On the other side stands the endless Dark, that which lies beyond the Void. He should not exist here. Nothing should exist here. But the Outsider holds his hands in front of his face, pale-skinned and thin.
He is afraid. He has always been afraid.
Turning around, he finds the mirror gone. Only the expanse remains. He walks, but with no ground beneath him. The Leviathans have gone silent. He is the last of their number. As was intended.
“I thought I was free?”
There is no answer.
“Call the Empress, he is waking,” it is Wyman’s voice, even and kind. “Hey there, Foster? Can you hear me?”
His eyes still won't open, but Foster manages to roll his head to one side. “Wyman?” at least his voice has returned.
“You've been out for a long time, friend,” Wyman’s smiling, as they often are. Foster can hear it. “Emily will be happy you're awake.”
“How long have I been unconscious?”
“Seven days. I've only been here the last two, though.”
Foster swallows, his throat is so dry. “I cannot see,” he admits.
“Huh,” Wyman sounds confused, “your eyes are open. Hold tight. Physician Vanya should be here soon. Her assistant went to fetch her.”
Vanya’s low heels click against the floor, coming to Foster’s bedside. Wyman moves away to give her space to work, but hovers nearby.
“How are you feeling?” she helps him into a seated position, his back straight against the cot’s metal-barred headboard. She moves a pillow into place to cushion his spine.
“I cannot see,” he repeats.
“Hmm,” she murmurs. She holds something in front of his face, moving from eye to eye. But nothing in his field of vision changes. “Nothing?”
“No light? No shifting shadows?”
“No,” he repeats. Only blackness.
Another set of heels comes to the clinic door, “Oh Foster!” It is Emily. She hurries over, stopping just short of the bed.
She and Vanya switch places, so she may wrap her arms around him, “I was so worried. I…we will speak of this later, just,” they cannot have this conversation in front of Wyman, much less Vanya.
Vanya gently tells the Empress there are a few tests yet that she and Foster must complete. She helps him to his feet, asking him to walk about the room. Staying at his side, she guides him, preventing him from crashing into anything. Foster can feel her assistant hovering behind him, ready to catch him if he starts to fall. After sitting down again, she draws blood, and asks if he thinks he can stomach solid foods.
“Perhaps? I think so?”
She tisks at him, saying that the solution he has been receiving in his veins is more nutritionally complete than his typical diet. Still, he should eat something if he can. He starts to tell her that he prefers bread, but she interrupts that she knows all about his distaste for most foods. She will tell her assistant to bring something he will like.
Other than his vision, he is surprisingly well. His reflexes good, his memory intact. She asks him simple questions, and he does his best to answer, history and math and very basic science. All his responses are correct. “Well, you've certainly had proper schooling,” she remarks. “At least this won't be another long recovery. Though I cannot yet discern the reason for your blindness.”
And Foster is unwilling to share what he has seen while his eyes have been shut.
Vanya wishes to keep him at least a day or two more for observation. But as long as they are careful, he is free to accompany Emily or Wyman around the Tower. Only they must be mindful to watch him, both for signs of lingering illness and on account of his impaired vision.
Vanya’s assistant arrives with his food. Foster has to admit, he is glad to find sweet pastries on the tray. Once he begins to eat, Vanya excuses herself, saying she will check on him later. And at dinner, he must eat something with more substance.
“Do you wish to go for a walk, after you eat?” Emily asks, sitting at the edge of Foster’s bed.
He uses his tongue to scrape the piece of dough stuck to the roof of his mouth away, “Don't you have other obligations?”
“I have inconvenienced you enough.”
“You tried to kill yourself,” Wyman states plainly. Of course, they do not know the full story.
Foster does not know how to cover, “Not exactly…”
“That does not matter,” Emily interrupts. “Wyman, love, could you please take Foster for a walk around the Tower? You needn’t go far. But it would mean a great deal to me.”
The edge fades from Wyman’s voice, “It is not a bother, Em. I came to help.”
“Thank you,” she rises and kisses them goodbye, then leans over to squeeze Foster’s hand before leaving for her next engagement.
Wyman waits as Foster finishes eating. There's a second pastry on the platter, but Foster leaves it be. He does not feel particularly hungry.
He is uncertain about this walk. Not because he feels unwell, but because he is unsure of Wyman’s current disposition towards him. The tone of their voice has been running hot and cold.
But Wyman offers their hand, and they walk arm-in-arm to the door. They tell Foster to mind the step, there is a slight rise at the threshold, leading into the hall. Foster can see the layout of the Tower clearly in his mind, but Wyman is indispensable in helping him to navigate past the staff, avoid pieces of furniture, and otherwise steer clear of embarrassment.
They stay indoors, and avoid the stairs, confining them to the second floor rooms. Wyman leads them to one of the finely appointed salons used for entertaining, and closes the door behind them.
“Foster, if you do not mind, I would like to speak to you, frankly.” They take Foster by the hand again, directing him carefully to one of the sofas to sit down. They take the chair across from him, leaning forward across the gap that separates them from each other.
“You have been very kind to me,” Foster says, “please, say what you must.”
Wyman breathes loudly, shifting against the chair, “Are you fucking Emily? I understand I am not in a position to stop you, if you are. But I….would at least like to know if I'm being made a fool.”
“Oh,” Foster was not expecting this. He had thought that Emily had been forthright with Wyman, and that they understood. “No, we are just good friends. I promise you. She has desire for no one but you,” Foster feels his face warm.
“Okay, alright,” Wyman still sounds uncertain, “I am sorry for having asked.”
“She missed you terribly,” Foster tries to comfort them. “I am certain she is happy you have returned to Dunwall.”
Wyman laughs, low and short, “Yeah…we had our reunion when I first arrived. I really am sorry for having doubted you both. She's just so fond of you...and I don't consider myself a jealous person.”
Foster bites his tongue, not mentioning that he knows all about Wyman’s offer, that Emily is free take Foster as a lover, but that they be included in the affair as well.
“There is...someone else,” Foster is unsure how Corvo would take to others knowing. “I am involved with someone else.”
Wyman snickers, “You don't have to lie to make me feel better, Foster. I believe you, just sometimes it is difficult to remember to believe you. You never leave the Tower alone. I know as much.”
“So wouldn't that mean it's someone in the Tower?” Foster teases, unsure how much he’ll reveal. Some not-insignificant part of himself wants to tell Wyman outright. Telling someone will make it real. Emily knows. But Foster wants to say it.
“Hmm,” Wyman contemplates what that means, “but wouldn't they be at your bedside, instead of calling on me in Morley? I know about Jasper...So, perhaps one of the guards? And they are not to be trusted now?”
Foster feels ice run through his veins, “What do you know about Jasper?”
“Oh, that she tried to kill you. Then you tried to kill yourself. Rough week, I suppose.”
“I wasn't trying to kill myself,” Foster argues, but he's not sure how to explain what happened. Perspiration breaks across his brow.
Wyman apologizes, “Oh, Void, I'm sorry. Emily will kick my ass if I upset you. It's okay. If you really weren't trying to kill yourself, I won't mention it again.”
Foster folds his hands in his lap, unsure what to say next.
Ever sensitive to the tone of the room, Wyman picks up the lost strand of their conversation, “So is it one of the guards? Oh,” they clap their hands together. “I know, the one with sandy hair and brown eyes? I've caught him watching you before. Sometimes, he licks his lips. What is his name?”
Foster has no idea who Wyman is talking about. He has noticed no such guard, “No?”
“I don't remember deliberately turning anyone away at the sickroom door. Surely, they would have tried to visit you at least once? Perhaps they came before my arrival. But,” they tisk, “if they haven't been persistent in checking in on you, I don't think they're worth much as a lover. Unless it's something casual.”
“I hope it's not casual…” Foster admits.
“Bah! Well, the ever-gracious Empress appointed me as your knight, so let me know who it is, and I'll give them a stern talking to. Put the fear of the Outsider into them. Then they’ll think twice of not visiting you when you're ill.”
Foster flinches at the mention of his former title. “He hasn't been to see me, because he’s been away,” Foster ventures, though that might give the game away.
Wyman stops the constant fidgeting, that has been a din upon the room. Leaning forward once again, they breathe out, “No fucking way.”
“What?” Foster asks.
“Void, it's not Emily you've been sleeping with.”
“I already told you as much.”
“--it's her father.”
Foster knows he's smiling. He shouldn't be, but he is, “Yes.”
Wyman bursts into hysteric laughter, their nervousness bubbling through the surface. Though Corvo has never made a threat against Wyman, and never would, they have long been afraid of their bride’s father. Foster tries to be sympathetic. The Royal Protector can be...intimidating.
“I cannot...fucking believe this,” they wheeze, “I'm...oh Void…”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, yeah, just...Emily knows?”
Foster frowns, “Yes, though I do not know if Corvo told her or not. But she knows.”
“Excuse me, I have to go stab myself in the face now,” Wyman remarks with humor that Foster doesn't quite understand. Their jokes are often opaque to him.
“Please do not. I don't think I can find my way back to the sickroom alone.”
Corvo arrives in Dunwall. The city looks the same. Of course it does. He has not been gone so very long. The days are short, and the winter wind unpleasant. Buttoning up his coat, he heads for the carriage that will transport him to the Tower.
It is Billie Lurk, of all people, who greets him at the gates. But she appears somewhat changed. Her eye, once afflicted by the artifact, is now warm and brown. Her hand is intact, covered in unmarred skin. Corvo does not know how this is possible.
“The Empress is waiting,” Billie says, not waiting for Corvo to follow.
Emily is not alone in her suite. While she sits behind her desk, Wyman stands, leaning against the wall behind her, arms crossed over their chest. Foster is slouched across the couch, only his head of dark hair popping out from above the backrest. Corvo feels very much as if he has just walked into an ambush. But for the moment, seeing Foster alive and well, after the attempt on his life, leaves Corvo with breathless relief.
“Foster,” Corvo says, unable to hide his concern.
“Corvo,” Foster smiles, turning his head, but does not get up from the couch. It has taken two weeks to make the journey from Karnaca, but perhaps he is still recovering from the attempt on his life. Billie told Corvo nothing about the extent of his injuries.
Walking around the couch, Corvo notices the long walking stick propped up against the coffee table, just beside Foster’s leg. Foster stares at him, his green eyes pale and open, but something is amiss.
“I cannot see,” he says plainly, “though I am sure you look very handsome.”
Corvo drops his weight onto the couch, next to Foster, “You're blind?” And quite suddenly he remembers the first time he saw Foster in his cell, those months ago. That strange, fleeting feeling that something was wrong with his eyes. Something has always been wrong with his eyes. And not simply that they changed from black to green.
“Yes, at least for the time being,” Foster says.
Emily interjects, “Now that my father has arrived, I think it's...time that we explain.” She turns her head around to look at Wyman, then to Corvo. “First of all...Wyman...there is something you need to know about Foster.”
“Fucking Void, you said you weren't sleeping together!” Wyman pushes off the wall and starts to pace instead.
Emily groans, covering her forehead with her hand.
“Are you sure this is wise?” Corvo frowns. He shifts against the couch in order to sit closer to Foster. Reaching to the side, he takes Foster’s hand in his. Foster squeezes back. They will make time for a proper reunion later.
“Father, I trust them...it was perhaps a mistake to hide this for so long. They already know about my Mark. Keeping this from them solves nothing. Telling them gains us another ally.”
Though Corvo is hesitant to share information, he cannot find fault with Emily’s reasoning.
Emily scratches her nails against her arm, “Foster was once the Outsider,” she explains.
Wyman is never going to believe this.
But they at least listen to the tale. Corvo learns details he did not know before. The specifics of the violence that the Outsider committed against Billie. The trials she endured to reach him. Her decision that he should not die, but could not remain as warden of the Void. She had come too far in her mission. His position was too tenuous, too much power in the hands of a god who was all too human.
“I think my humanity was rather the point,” Foster huffs.
Wyman’s eyes stay wide as Foster and Billie bicker. And as a sign of proof, Billie reaches into her jacket pocket, pulling out the bone charm she has tucked inside and tossing it onto Emily’s desk. Once the charm is removed, her eye and hand shift back to their arcane truths. Wyman almost shrieks at the sudden change, but manages to get ahold of themself rather quickly.
Shaking their head, Wyman says, “You look very much like him but…”
Foster nods, “I know. It is difficult to swallow.”
Emily tries to get them back on track, “Jasper knew. Jasper knew with certainty. She's dead now, so we cannot know her ultimate objective. If she knew that Foster was once the Outsider, why try to kill him? Why try to kill him in the same manner that made him a god in the first place?”
“Religious zealotry?” Wyman offers.
“Not from the Abbey, though.” Billie corrects, “The agents of the Abbey have made it clear enough that they have little interest in disposing the Outsider. They still pretend he is present in the Void.”
“Or they have not yet discovered that no Outsider remains,” Foster clarifies.
“Even if they knew, they wouldn't tell a soul. Without an Outsider, they have no reason to exist,” Emily concludes.
“A cult then? Like the one who...made you in the first place,” Wyman throws out another idea.
Emily drums her fingers against the desk, “that seems the most likely answer. But, ugh, we have no clues to follow. And I fear they may attempt again.”
“And there is the matter of Foster’s ‘accident,’” Billie drolls.
Corvo turns to Foster, who simply stares dead ahead, “What accident?”
“He jumped from the side of the boat. Since then, he has been unable to see,” Emily explains.
Billie continues, “He tried to reach the Void, the only way he could think to touch it now. And failed.”
“What?” Corvo still doesn't understand.
“It was a stupid plan,” Foster concedes. “But, without an Outsider. There is no way for mortals to interact with the Void. The paths are all sealed shut. Emily, perhaps could find a way with the Mark. Or Billie. But…I thought if I could reach it myself, I would be able to discern Jasper’s motives.”
“The important thing is, we don't know what happens when Foster dies. I saw a blackness I could not penetrate. But I can't see everything all at once,” Billie explains. “I didn't know until just the moment before that Jasper would make an attempt on his life. And that the consequences would be disastrous.”
“You're not a god,” Foster explains, “close...closer than you realize. But not quite.”
Billie shrugs, unconcerned with her own divinity.
“I will start following leads as soon as possible,” Corvo says, unwilling to share what he has already discovered in Karnaca, especially with Billie present. “She was not working alone. We must find her accomplices.”
Billie pushes off against the wall, “I'll see what I can find as well. They are either trying to kill a god, or make one. In any case, they are trying to undo my work.” She picks the bone charm back off the table, returning it to her coat. Once in place, her hand and eye are obscured again. Corvo realizes it is the charm intended for Emily’s wedding. It seems to work quite well. “Lord Protector, I will let you know if I learn anything. And I expect the same courtesy in return.”
Corvo nods, though he does not consider that a promise.
Billie leaves the room, clicking the door shut behind her.
“I think I still need time to process this,” Wyman admits. “The Mark was easy, in comparison.”
“I'm sorry, love,” Emily’s voice is soft. “I wanted to protect you as much as possible. But the situation has changed. And I need you.”
Corvo nudges at Foster’s shoulder. It is about time they left.
Chapter 20: Oxide
“You threw yourself from the ship…” Corvo does not wish to speak more about it. And yet, he is compelled to know.
Now in Corvo’s chambers, seated on the couch, he holds Foster halfway in his lap. Foster’s back presses tightly against his chest, their legs slotted together as they drape across the cushions. Corvo brushes his fingers through Foster’s hair, content to hear his heartbeat, the pace of his breathing, which confirms he is alive. If Foster cannot see, there is little reason to have this conversation facing each other. Besides, Corvo may lose his nerve, if forced to watch Foster’s shifting, fleeting expressions. Foster’s skin already tells too many stories.
Foster rests his head back against Corvo’s shoulder, his hands folded in his lap. He explains, “the Leviathans would not speak to me. I have forgotten their language. I knew this day would come...but it was so soon. Something was wrong.”
“And jumping into the frozen sea would have let you speak to them?” Corvo’s tone remains soft. Though Foster has denied it, Corvo worries that he did try and deliberately end his life. That there were signs of sadness he should have seen.
“I was...not wholly honest with the others,” Foster whispers.
Corvo’s hand in Foster’s hair goes still, “I wasn't either.”
Foster’s heartbeat picks up, speeding at the revelation. “I entered the Void. Like a burglar through a cracked window. I reached inside.”
“Foster…” Corvo cannot help but worry. A tight, curling fear that part of the Outsider yet remains in Foster’s lovely form. That there is a way for him to touch godhood again. And Corvo doesn't know what that means. Not only for himself, but for this fragile world.
“Corvo, I am a person who should not be. I should have died millennia ago, a sickly, unwanted child. But I became a god instead. Billie should have destroyed me, once and for all. But she didn't. She made me human once again. And now, I have seen what should not be possible.”
“What did you see?” Corvo’s mouth feels full of cotton.
“The Dark,” Foster admits. “The Abyss, the End of All Things. The only place that was beyond my vision in the Void. I have now seen as a mortal.”
Corvo finally understands, at least in part, “this is why you cannot see…”
Foster nods, his hair catching against Corvo’s beard. Corvo maneuvers with one finger to push it back down.
“I believe so...yes. But now, while I do not know who Jasper worked for, I think I know what they were after.”
“And?” Corvo may have the other piece of this terrifying puzzle. Though, he is still unsure what picture will emerge.
“Billie can cross space and time. Not entirely at will, but where there are fissures, interrupts in Being,” Foster’s voice picks up with a giddy excitement that worries Corvo. “She saw my death by Jasper’s hand. A possibility that could not exist before my return to mortality. She saw it, and the future it created. The Dark consumed this world, Corvo. But that's not how it should work. There are Leviathans yet alive in the ocean, and thus in the Void. Existence should continue, until we lose the last.” Foster moves his hands in staccato motions. Corvo reaches to take his wrists, running his thumbs over Foster’s joints in soothing motions. “We cannot find her knife, but I think she meant to force the timetable, by killing me.”
“Of the Dark encroaching on our world?” Corvo is unsure if he follows Foster’s manic turns of logic.
“Corvo, there is something I must tell you...and I fear you may hate me for it.”
Corvo keeps Foster’s wrists gripped tightly, “Tell me.”
“Do you know what my purpose was? When I was called Outsider?” there is a smile in his voice. An insincere one.
“The Abbey says many things. You have told me nothing, other than you served as warden.”
“I was both the jailer and the prisoner,” Foster explains. “The age of mortals will come to an end, when the Last Leviathan falls. The empty Void unable to keep the Dark at bay. But mortals are foolish creatures. Who think themselves grander than gods. You,” Foster corrects, “we, will see them extinct. Through industry and progress and the brutal march of the sciences.”
“Whales,” Corvo realizes, “not figuratively, but literally, the whales keep the Darkness back.”
“Yes, but say there is a loophole. A Leviathan who is not a Leviathan. Who stands apart, having no tangible form in the realm of mortals. And existing only in the Void. A manufactured god, built of magics. Untouchable. So it wouldn't matter if their body was small and weak.”
“And you always think you are not clever,” Foster teases. “The Outsider was meant as a final bulwark against the Dark.”
Corvo remembers Foster’s earlier declaration, “You said I would not like what you had to say…”
“Oh! You're going to hate this,” Foster says with terrible cheer. “Please kiss me first.”
Unable to deny his lover, Corvo cups Foster’s jaw, tilting his head further back so their lips can meet. Lowering his hand, he brushes against Foster’s throat, down the line to his sternum. “Now, tell me,” Corvo urges, pulling his lips away. He can make no promise that he will not be angry. He wishes that he could. But he is not naive enough to think that his affections for Foster forgive his misdeeds.
“I lied, a long time ago and I lied to you again just now. I knew all along the possibility existed that I could be made mortal again.”
“You saw the possibility?”
“Yes, and I saw Billie Lurk would be the one to take pity on an exploited orphan, someone who had always been at the mercy of bad men.”
“You tricked her?”
“I guided her actions...for a very long time.”
“How long?” Corvo must know how far down this plot goes.
“My decision to Mark Duad…” Billie would have been only a child then.
“Void,” Corvo curses. He should shove Foster away. Deny him the subtle touches and comforts he has begun to give too easily. And yet, he cannot. “You mean to end us all.”
“No. Your end is inevitable. There were many others who would have thought, and found ways, to dispose me. And, instead, I have thrown my own survival in with the lot of mortals. I wish to live as surely as you do...but if I were to die in either case, I did not wish for it to be without knowing your touch,” Foster’s voice softens, “your love.”
Corvo’s head spins, the Outsider did this for him. What a wretched, terrible gift.
“We need a new god, Corvo. And they would never ascend if I remained.” Foster shifts in his lap, “A new god would create new possibilities.”
“And where do we find this new god, Outsider?”
Foster flinches in his arms.
“We do not. But we stop those who are stupid enough to try and put me back where I no longer belong.”
“You are still lying,” Corvo discerns, “there is something else.”
“I showed you mine…” Foster offers.
Corvo scowls, he knows he must first reveal his partial hand, “I know who has discerned your identity. She was likely working with Jasper.”
“Then we visit her,” Foster concludes.
Corvo argues, “You cannot see.”
“I get on well enough. And you need me,” Foster stresses, turning in Corvo’s arms. He straddles Corvo, knees at Corvo’s hips and hands bracketing either side of Corvo’s shoulders. Though he is blind, his light eyes bore through Corvo’s uncertain gaze. “Corvo, do not deny me this.”
“What are you not telling me?” He must know.
Foster frowns, “In time. I promise.”
Even with the trust between them broken, Corvo cannot deny the suffocating intensity of his want, his impulse to care for Foster. They have been parted too long already, and Corvo aches. Wrapping his hand around Foster’s nape, he draws him close, licking against his pliant lips and into his wet mouth. Foster yields beautifully, melting against Corvo’s chest, panting softly that he has been so lonely with Corvo gone.
Pushing Foster’s shirt from his shoulders, Corvo dips his head to latch onto one pinkened nipple. He sucks and bites as Foster arches into him, pleading too much, too much, not enough. He smells of sharp soap, clinging still to his skin.
Piece by piece, Corvo strips him bare, revealing nothing of himself. He almost commands Foster to fetch the oil, before he remembers that he cannot see. Sticking two fingers into Foster’s mouth, he thrusts them deep against Foster’s soft palate, coaxing him to “suck.” Foster does so without objection, his tongue lapping along the underside of Corvo’s digits. Green eyes never fully closing, blinking too slowly.
Corvo pushes just a fraction deeper, until he feels Foster’s throat start to constrict. Remembering quite suddenly Foster’s terrible retching when Corvo first brought him from the dungeons, Corvo pulls his fingers back. He cannot bear to see Foster in such a state again.
“Spread your legs,” Corvo says, pushing the outside of his thigh against the inside of Foster’s, prompting him to spread his knees further apart on the couch cushions. Foster hovers over him, compliant and quiet, his arms starting to shake. Corvo doesn't know if it's from excitement, fear, or strain.
Wrapping one arm around Foster’s back, Corvo maneuvers him into position, so he can reach around with his other hand and press his spit-slick fingers to Foster’s hole. Foster whines, dropping his head until his hair brushes against Corvo’s shirt. But he does not beg.
“You must tell me yes or no,” Corvo says, still uncertain of where they stand.
“Yes, for you, always yes,” Foster says, tilting his head again to meet Corvo’s gaze.
Corvo will never learn to love those eyes. The rest of Foster...the Outsider...yes. But not his eyes. They are too unreal.
Corvo pushes his index finger in. Foster squirms across his lap, his body tensing at the intrusion. Corvo’s fingers are not slick enough to glide at first, but neither does Foster’s expression give way to pain. Working steadily, Corvo opens him, watching as Foster’s skin flushes, his cock leaks, leaving a wet patch darkening Corvo’s white shirt.
He drives his finger in again, reaching with his free hand to grab hold of Foster’s cock, stroke him in rhythm with the steady thrust of his finger. It is easy, so easy, to make short work of Foster’s lust. But Corvo drags it out, slowing the pace of his hands when Foster’s stomach and thighs start to tighten. He waits for Foster to try and buck into the circle of his hand before resuming, bringing him to the brink one more time before letting go.
“Please, Corvo, please,” he has no right to beg, shaking fiercely in Corvo’s lap, sweat across his pale brow. “More, please-please-please.”
Corvo adds a second finger, leaving Foster’s cock untouched. Desperate for friction, Foster tries to rub himself against Corvo’s stomach, before Corvo gently lays his palm on Foster’s abdomen, pushing him back and away.
Thrusting back onto Corvo’s fingers narrows to his only source of stimulation. Foster bares his throat, tilting back his head as he grinds.
“You're close,” Corvo says what he already knows.
“You could take me,” Foster offers. But he is to dry. Corvo won't. Even with anger and frustration clawing over his skin.
“I don't even care,” Foster stutters, as if he knows what Corvo is thinking, “you could ruin me, if you wish.”
“No,” Corvo repeats, with a gentleness that surprises himself.
This time, he strokes Foster to completion, bringing him to spill across his shirt and trousers, moaning Corvo’s name with open eyes. Corvo pulls his fingers out and bundles Foster against his chest so he can take the weight off of his arms. Running his clean fingers through Foster’s hair, Corvo finds his frustration still palpable, though the sharp edge of his anger has dulled somewhat.
“You are still hard,” Foster says. “I know your desires Corvo, perhaps not all. But enough. And none of them frighten me. I would do them all.”
Corvo gives in, pulling up Foster’s face between his hands to kiss him soundly. “Your knees, on the floor.”
Foster scrambles to get into position, but Corvo gets up to grab a pillow off his bed, before returning to shove it under Foster’s knees.
Sitting on the couch, Corvo brackets one leg on either side of Foster, pinning him in between his thighs. He reaches around Foster’s side to grab at the low coffee table behind Foster’s back, dragging it until it pens Foster in. Foster kneels, surrounded on all sides. To his left and right by Corvo’s legs, and the table behind him that corrals him from the rear.
Corvo opens his pants, pulling out his length.
Dipping his head forward, Foster clearly means to take Corvo into his mouth. Corvo permits him to lick around the head with soft, unsure strokes, then wrap his mouth around the glans, Corvo’s foreskin pulled back. But when he tries to sink deeper, Corvo grabs him by the hair, tugging him back off firmly.
“No, not now.”
“But when?” Foster asks, his mouth already slightly reddened and wet.
“When I have the patience for your mistakes.”
Corvo takes himself in hand, stroking his own cock with the firmness he prefers, watching Foster kneel in silent supplication, his head slightly bowed, pale, sightless eyes visible under dark lashes. To have a god bent in submission.
“Keep your mouth shut,” Corvo cautions. But otherwise, he does not warn Foster when he is at his edge, spilling into his hair, across his cheeks, along his closed lips. Foster doesn't move, even as Corvo shifts his hips to get closer, pressing the head of his cock into Foster’s hair and deliberately wringing out the last of his come. “Void,” he curses quietly, sinking back against the couch and looking at the mess he’s made of Foster.
Foster does not move, remaining silent and on his knees. Realizing that he is waiting for a command to move from the floor, Corvo quickly pulls him up into the couch, pressing his lips to where he has stained Foster’s face. “I should clean this off,” he says, thumbing at Foster’s cheek. “And you’ll need to wash your hair.”
“You can leave it, if you'd like,” Foster says. But that's unreasonable. Corvo stands, tucking himself back into his trousers, and goes to retrieve a cloth from the bathroom. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he realizes he look wrecked himself.
With warm water and a soft touch, he cleans Foster’s face, holding him carefully by the chin to turn his head. Once done with wiping his cheeks, his nose, his mouth, Corvo tries, unsuccessfully to work some of the semen from his hair. But it's no use, washing would be better. He picks Foster’s shirt up off the floor, pulling it over his narrow shoulders to help keep him warm.
Finished, he kisses Foster again, unwilling to be parted just yet. Corvo stands up once more, retrieving his bag from the hook beside the door. Rifling through the contents, he finds the velvet pouch with the necklace he bought from the old woman in Karnaca. He trusts that if it is somehow Void-touched, Foster will recognize immediately.
“I brought you a gift,” Corvo says, turning the pouch over in his hands. Sitting down next to Foster, he opens the drawstring, pulling out the necklace and placing it into Foster’s hands so he can feel.
“Jewelry?” Foster asks for confirmation.
Corvo nods, realizing he should vocalize, “Yes, a necklace.”
Foster stares down into his hands, “Thank you, would you help me put it on?”
Taking the chain from Foster’s hands, he tries to work the clasp. It is difficult to grip at first, too tiny for Corvo’s fingers. But he manages to open it long enough to click it closed around Foster’s neck. The chain hangs low enough that most of it will be concealed by Foster’s collar, but it may sometimes be visible as he shifts and moves.
“Stay the night,” Corvo offers. He wants Foster’s body beside his. Where he can know for certain that he is safe.
“Yes, of course, Corvo.”
Chapter 21: Heartbeats between strange disguises
It is still early in the day, when Corvo arrives at Foster’s room, three minutes ahead of schedule. Foster left Corvo’s chambers an hour prior, to change his clothes and retrieve his jacket before departing to investigate Heather’s offices.
Corvo knocks but does not enter, waiting for Foster to come to the door. Catching only the barest glimpse of the interior of the room, Corvo notes that there is no longer laundry strewn across the floor.
Foster’s expression is pinched, with a fold between his eyebrows. Perhaps that is where he will earn his first wrinkles. Corvo wonders if he will age, how years will change his refined features. Morbidly, he realizes Foster may not even live to see his first gray hair, if they are unsuccessful in foiling the plot against him.
Locking the door behind him, Foster fiddles with the buttons on his heavy coat, his cane in his other hand. While Corvo was away, he apparently became quite adept at navigating on his own, despite the sudden loss of his sight. Still, Corvo feels compelled to offer his arm. He takes Foster’s hand gently, using it to pat at his elbow, so Foster can hold where is most comfortable for him.
“Do you not despise me?” Foster asks, his voice low. Even after spending the night together, the fog around them has not entirely dissipated.
Corvo thinks for a moment, allowing himself to frown, “No, I do not.”
Foster wraps his hand around the bend in Corvo’s elbow, as they fall into step with one another.
At the Tower gates, Corvo helps Foster into the carriage before climbing in himself. He gives an address to their driver, one that is two blocks away from Heather’s offices. An importer of precious stones from across the Isles, she rents space in the jeweler’s district, but has no storefront of her own.
Foster remains quiet during the ride. Corvo is not one for unnecessary chatter and enjoys the silence. When Foster turns his head, Corvo can see the glint of gold around his neck.
As the carriage slows, Foster asks, “Will you ever say my name again?”
And Corvo admits, “I do not know.” Using his name in front of others is unavoidable. But for the moment, it tastes bitter in Corvo’s mouth.
They walk the remaining distance to the office, stopping in front of the narrow stair that opens onto the sidewalk and leads up to the second floor. The shop below sells silver platters, serving spoons, and imported ceramics edged with gold.
Corvo asks Foster if he should ascend first or second, unsure which will be easier on him. The staircase is too narrow for them to walk side by side.
“Second. Allow me to hold to the back of your coat.”
There is a sharp right turn at the top of the stairs, “Heather Mukerjee: Importer” emblazoned across the brass plaque on the door.
Corvo knocks sharply. He has not previously announced his visit. There is no need. His plan, in fact, is to pique Heather’s suspicions, and hopefully in a fit of healthy paranoia, she will inadvertently reveal herself.
The woman who opens the door is tall and lithe. Not quite as tall as Foster, but close. She wears heavy golden bracelets inlaid with colorful lacquer that mimic stones on both wrists. The bracelets clink together and ring like bells when she moves. Her dark hair is braided then pinned high on her head. “You are not my nine-o'clock,” she frowns. “And I'm not taking new clients at this time.”
Corvo reaches to his breast pocket to retrieve his identification, “I am here under the authority of the Empress,” he explains.
Her eyes light up when she sees the brass card stamped with the Empress’ seal, gesturing for him to come inside, “What may I help with, Sir…”
“Not sir,” he corrects out of habit.
“Ah, of course,” she steps back into her office. “Is this about the wedding?” There is hope in her voice. Producing a bulky catalogue from her desk, she flips expertly through the pages, “I do not keep stock here, obviously. But I have very detailed records. And if the Empress would like a viewing, I can make arrangements with a showroom. I have heard she does not like merchandise delivered to the Tower.”
“I'm not here about stones,” Corvo corrects. “I am Corvo Attano, the Royal Protector,” he does not introduce Foster, having no idea how to explain his presence. No one would believe him as Corvo’s assistant, or a common guard.
Heather jerks her head in surprise, closing the catalogue gently, “Then how may I help you?”
“There was a death on the Tower grounds. And we believe you may have known the deceased,” Corvo reveals. Word by word, he watches the changes in her expression. Quiet, subtle, with peaks and valleys of emotion, however small. “Wells Jasper, she worked in the Guard.”
“Oh,” Heather frowns, “I'm sorry, I don't think I know the name. What happened to her?”
“No need to discuss the matter, if you were not acquainted,” Corvo huffs in feigned exasperation. Only when he turns his head, does he see Foster looming in the corner of the office, his fingers pressed against some document pinned to the wall.
“It's pretty, isn’t it?” Heather asks politely, when she notices Foster’s curiosity.
Foster turns to face her, smiling sweetly, “Very.”
Corvo steps over to get a good look of what is hung on the wall. It is simply an old lithograph of Dunwall. Curling slightly at the corners and starting to yellow with age.
“I should get a frame for it, before it falls to pieces. But it will have to be custom built.”
“It would be a shame to lose it,” Foster comments.
Corvo politely excuses them both, and simultaneously there is a knock at the door. Her nine-o'clock appointment.
Foster follows Corvo gingerly down the stairs, his fingers gripped tight to the back of Corvo’s coat. Corvo waits until they clear the first block before asking, “Can you see?” he tries not to sound too hopeful.
“Was there a mirror in her office?” Foster asks breathlessly.
Corvo tries to remember. Yes, there was a full-length mirror against the wall opposite to where Foster became enamoured with the poster.
“I could not see clearly in her office, but there were shadows, lights. And now, my vision is completely dark again. Corvo, what did the mirror look like?”
He tries to remember, he didn't think much of it at the time. “Large, not particularly clear, gold frame...it looked as if a piece may have been missing. But not smashed. Cut away.” That was indeed odd.
“You planned on returning tonight?” Foster asks.
“Yes,” he hopes to catch Heather in the act of destroying documents, or contacting others working with her.
“She knows who I was,” Foster says, “I'm certain of it.”
“You wanted her to see you?” Corvo asks.
Foster replies without hesitation, “Of course. Just as you wished to be seen. Now she will either be very bold, or very scared. And you may use either one to your advantage.”
Corvo agrees. Once Foster is returned to the Tower, Corvo will take up watch.
Dusk falls, and Corvo covers his face.
It would be foolish to leave Foster alone, after having shown himself so plainly to those who wish to use him. So Corvo leaves him in the company of Wyman in the Empress’ suite. Wyman is adept enough at combat, for someone who is little more than amatuer, and has yet to face a life or death confrontation. But Corvo would never freely admit that they have some appreciable skill with a sword. Before he leaves, he gives Wyman a proper weapon, not one of their silly fencing foils.
“Know the difference,” Corvo warns, “I trust that you have training beyond exhibition.”
Wyman smiles, “Of course, Lord Protector.”
Corvo lifts his mask just enough to kiss Foster goodbye. Then leaves through Emily’s open window.
Climbing the rooftops, Corvo crosses the skyline. The leaps between buildings are easier with Foster’s charm to cushion his fall. Within ten minutes he reaches the gem shop, descending from the top of the next building over to crouch and hide on the opposite balcony.
He waits, watching Heather’s shadow dance behind the curtained window, as she hurriedly moves from her desk over to the wall and back again. Destroying documents in the fireplace, perhaps. Corvo tries to catch a whiff of burning paper. There is the faintest hint of ash in the air.
Quietly, he jumps from the opposite balcony to hers, trying to position his body in such a way that he does not cast a shadow. She may be too harried to notice, but he would rather be safe.
Corvo waits for his opening, when she comes back to the desk, he will be able to get in behind her. Testing the latch on the balcony door, he makes sure he will be able to enter swiftly.
But before Corvo can strike, another figure enters the room, barging through the door and already quarreling with Heather. There is a crash of glass and Heather snaps something indecipherable back, before yelling in pain. The other figure lunges at her.
Corvo cannot wait. Throwing open the balcony doors, he faces Heather’s attacker, a short, stocky figure dressed in black, their face obscured by a piece of cloth. Heather lays bleeding on the floor and Corvo has no time to check if she's dead or not.
Dashing forward, he grabs the masked figure, now his best chance at wrestling information. The assassin grapples with him, shifting their weight to try and throw Corvo off. Whoever hides beneath the dark robes is strong, accustomed to using their stature and weight against taller opponents. Corvo counters, clawing to regain his balance.
With his feet firmly on the floor again, Corvo runs his shoulder into the center of the assailant's chest, forcing them to both stumble towards the wall. Corvo grabs at them a second time, reacting faster to throw them against the mirror and hopefully take them to the ground.
The mirror shatters at their back, glass flowing to the floor like a waterfall of shards. The hooded figure screams in frustration, finding their feet and coming for Corvo again, knife drawn. The weapon is something strange, reflective and too thick to be a proper metal blade.
Corvo doesn't know if this is the same knife Jasper wielded, but he intends to find out. Grabbing the attacker’s wrist, he tries to wrench their hand, but only succeeds in leaving himself open. And with a second blade, his opponent stabs deep with a smaller knife in their opposite hand.
Corvo’s head spins. The slice is deep enough that he’s now on a timer, fighting against steady blood loss.
The assassin turns to run, but Corvo lashes out one last time, tackling them to the ground. He grabs the back of their head, smashing their face hard against the wooden floor. Once, twice, three times. And their body goes still.
Corvo rolls onto his side, clutching his hand to where the knife went through. But he needs the longer, mirrored knife in his possession. Pushing himself up on his elbow, he tears through the assassin’s robes. He finds the blade, clutching it tight to his chest as he loses consciousness.
Foster wakes with a start, a tangled, mangled pressure constricting in his chest. He turns his head sharply towards the window, through which Corvo departed an hour earlier.
He can see the skyline of the city.
Wyman has fallen asleep as well, in the armchair across from the couch. Foster is careful not to wake them as he stands, stalking quietly across the room. The Empress has yet to return to her chambers for the evening, occupied with some tedious diplomatic obligation.
The sensation in Foster’s chest does not fade. Corvo. Corvo has done this, restored Foster’s eyesight. But how?
Worry crawls along Foster’s skin, spurring him on. He goes to Emily’s desk, scrawling a quick note that his sight has returned. He considers concocting some lie about where he has gone, but puts the pen down.
Foster steals away to his room, retrieving his heavy coat and pulling it on. He takes his gloves as well, and a scarf. He will have to move on foot across the city. Calling for the carriage will only arouse suspicions.
He takes the stairs down to the ground floor two at a time, out to the side entrance by the kitchens. Corvo has shown him the way through the alleys before. The guards stationed at the small gate do not pay him much mind. Most of the staff is accustomed to his presence at this point. Foster waves at them briefly before disappearing into the Dunwall streets.
The layout of the city is vivid in his mind, though he has difficulty judging distances. This is the first time he has left the Tower grounds without an escort.
Foster knows he's headed in the right direction to reach Mukherjee’s shop, but he does not know quite how much further he must travel. He tries to keep his pace brisk, but he finds his lungs cannot keep up with his legs.
Still, he pushes onward, until he begins to recognize the Jeweler’s District. Though he was blind earlier today, he knows the correct staircase to climb. He rushes up the steps, his worry overwhelming.
Mukherjee’s door hangs partially open. He cannot hear anything inside the room. Cautiously, he pushes the door open, revealing the chaos of the room.
Corvo lies prone on the floor, next to a second body. A dark, wet patch on his side and evidence of a struggle. Foster rushes inside, stepping across the fragments of the broken mirror. As glass crunches under his feet, his vision blurs and fades, then sharpens again. Breaking the mirror is surely what restored his eyesight.
He does not allow himself to believe that Corvo may be dead. Though the blood loss looks significant, Foster steels himself against the mere idea. Ignoring the other body on the floor, Foster kneels beside Corvo, pressing his palms to his chest to feel him breathe.
Corvo’s breath is steady, if a bit shallow, and slow to come. Foster exhales in relief, searching through Corvo’s pockets for a vial. The red fluid will only act as a stop-gap, Corvo’s wound will need proper treatment. But for now, the health elixir will at least help to clot the wound and rouse Corvo to consciousness.
Parting Corvo’s lips and teeth with two fingers, Foster pours the elixir down his throat. All he can do now it wait for it to take effect. Sitting with Corvo, Foster counts out the seconds, staring into the sea of shattered glass.
Corvo begins to stir, groaning heavily and pressing his already-bloody hand back to his injured side. Blinking, he looks around the room, his eyes finally settling on Foster, “Outsider.”
Foster smiles, “Corvo.”
Sighing heavily, Corvo pulls down the cloth covering the other body’s mouth. Their nose and mouth are heavily swollen, blood caked on their upper lip. Foster doesn't recognize the other figure. But he realizes they’re still alive.
“You can see?” Corvo asks without looking at Foster, as he begins to search the unconscious assassin.
“Yes,” Foster confirms. “I think it was the mirror. The frame looks very much like the one I saw in the Void. The one that let me pass into the Dark.”
“Was this the knife?” Corvo stretches his hand out, revealing a knife made from a sharp jut of mirrored glass.
Foster takes it from him, turning the blade to catch the reflection of the room. “Yes, I'm certain. I am more certain than ever they mean for me to merge with the Dark, as I was once merged with the Void.”
Corvo gestures for Foster to return the blade to him. “Heather is dead, I think,” he shakes his head, pulling coins and slips of paper from the assassin’s coat. “Check for her body behind the desk?”
Foster pushes himself to his feet to follow Corvo’s request. He finds the woman behind the desk, a hole pierced through her neck. Holding his hand over her mouth, then pressing it against her chest, he confirms that she is dead. He begins to search her, going through her pockets.
In time, Corvo comes over to the desk, telling Foster he’ll take over from here. He wants Foster to examine the mirror instead. See if there is anything they can learn from it.
Foster crosses the room again, careful this time to brush away the mirror shards with his shoe, rather than step on top of them. He touches the now-empty frame, seeing if he can detect anything amiss. But he suspects the power is in the glass itself.
While he examines the mirror, Corvo gathers up the assassin’s unconscious body, dragging him into the empty desk chair. Gingerly, Foster picks up a larger shard of the shattered mirror, pressing the glass to the now-empty frame. He slides the piece over the backing, until a hole appears in his vision. Holding the shard in place with one hand, he dips his fingers against the surface of the glass, testing if they will pass through. When they don't, Foster considers the gateway fully broken, even if some shred of the magic still remains.
“Come,” Corvo beckons. He has tied the attacker down in the chair with heavy rope. “The bone charm should work with him unconscious, yes?”
“Mm, yes,” Foster confirms, leaving the mirror behind.
Corvo removes his glove to press his hand against the assailant’s face. They wait in silence for several seconds, before Corvo pulls his hand away.
“I know where the others are,” he pulls his glove back on. “They have nothing to do with Delilah. The crates of roses were only to scare me into acting. I've been baited from the start.”
“They knew I was at the Tower?”
“Only later, I think,” Corvo shakes his head. “But they always thought you'd come for me. Who would have known?”
Foster sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, “There have been rumors about you and I for fifteen years, Corvo. Who knows who would have believed such talk?”
“But they would have to know that you were made mortal?”
That narrows the pool slightly, but not much. “Billie could have let it slip. But I doubt that very much. Any of the Void-touched may have noticed something amiss. There are always those who steal a taste, and their minds are addled because of it. But, usually, the sane fail to listen to their ramblings. You said you know where the others are?”
“Yes. At least, they have a base of operations in the interior of Gristol. I'll leave in the morning,” Corvo says.
“You've been stabbed,” Foster argues, “you need time to properly recover.”
“There isn't time,” Corvo states. He reaches up to place his hand on Foster’s shoulder. Even with his mask still on, Foster can easily read his expression through his eyes. “They will come for you.” Lifting his hand, he strokes his thumb across Foster’s jaw.
“Let me help,” Foster urges, though he doesn't know how.
Corvo lifts his mask up enough to kiss him, slow and deep and full of want. “I will end this,” Corvo promises, “you will be safe.”
This is about more than Foster’s personal safety. They both know. But still, Corvo’s persistent protectiveness is something of a character flaw. One that Foster is in no state to correct.
Chapter 22: Giving accurate directions requires a firm grasp on the unknown
Corvo changes his own bandages, unfurling the length of soiled gauze from around his waist, leaving the bloodied rags in a heap on the bathroom floor.
Foster is still asleep in Corvo’s bed, tucked in under the covers to keep out the winter air. He'd lain next to Corvo the whole night, fussing and waking from sleep, urging Corvo to see the Physician each time he woke. But if Vanya saw Corvo in his current state, she would strictly forbid him from leaving the Tower grounds before he is fully healed. And that is simply time Corvo does not have.
With clean hands, Corvo presses salve over the still-raw cut on his side. A burning mixture that should aid healing and prevent infection. Corvo doesn't think the wound is deep enough to warrant stitches. Foster’s concern is unnecessary.
Once the wound is coated with sticky balm, Corvo takes a roll of fresh gauze and begins to wrap himself, tying off the end and securing it tightly around his torso. Finished with dressing the wound, he pulls on a clean undershirt.
Leaving the bathroom, the scent of salt fills Corvo’s nostrils, coats his tongue. And he is unsurprised to find Billie standing beside his desk. The illusion charm is in effect, disguising her hand and eye near perfectly. Corvo is fairly certain he can only see the seams of the mirage because he knows where to look.
“You weren't thinking of leaving without me, where you?” Billie asks, taking a silver paperweight from Corvo’s desk and rolling the bauble between her hands. After a childhood of sticky fingers, some habits die hard.
Corvo grunts. He had intended to do just that. But, apparently, Billie’s visions have other ideas. “What have you learned?” He crosses his arms over his chest. Keeping his voice low, he tries not to wake Foster.
“I suspect the same as you. I know where the bulk of Heather Mukerjee’s associates are hiding, that they spurn the Abbey and worship him,” she nods towards the occupied bed. “But I think they are actually more interested in the former than the latter. And how better to piss off the Order than to destroy the world?”
“We’re terribly short-sighted as a species,” Corvo admits. “I've arranged for the mechanized carriage. I hate that thing. But it means we can travel without an escort.”
“Good. I found a fissure close to their location, but could not enter. I believe they have sealed it shut, somehow. Did you retrieve the mirror blade?” she asks.
Corvo leaves his face impassive.
“I would recommend leaving it with Emily. She can protect it as well as anyone.”
“Give me a moment,” Corvo excuses himself, “then we will go see the Empress together.”
Billie inclines her head slightly, before heading to the door. Corvo finishes getting dressed, pulling on his coat as he walks to the bedside. Pressing one hand to Foster’s shoulder, he urges him to wake up, “Outsider,” he coaxes, watching as Foster’s eyes open.
“You're departing?” his voice is thick with sleep.
“Yes,” Corvo says, “Billie is traveling with me.”
Foster sighs, clearly still tired, “Good,” he grabs hold of Corvo’s wrist, “I’ll feel better, if you're not alone.”
Corvo kisses him goodbye without another word.
Billie waits outside the door, her hands shoved into the pockets of her jacket. They have little to say to one another as they start their journey.
The forests that once choked Gristol’s interior are now all but barren. A few patches of young growth dot the hillsides, replacement trees planted once wood began to grow scarce. Now, most timber is imported from Tyvia. But in time, the forests there will vanish as well.
The town of Leer is tucked up against one of these newly planted thatches. Once the trees are mature enough to cut, the settlement might all but disappear. There will be no reason to remain. But, for now, they tend the saplings.
Corvo parks the mechanized carriage far enough away from the town as to not draw suspicions. This deep in the countryside, the residents probably fuel very little with whale. They may have no electricity at all. Still living by firelight and the turns of day and night.
Rounding the front of the carriage, he offers his hand to Billie to help her down. From the trunk, he pulls the dust cover, throwing it over the frame of the carriage. It does little to help the cumbersome machine blend into the landscape. But Billie helps him push the contraption off the roads somewhat. It's the best that they can do.
They cover the remaining distance to Leer on foot. Having no intention of being seen by the townsfolk, they skirt the edges of the settlement, trying to pinpoint the house they have both seen in murky visions. Corvo read the location from the assassin’s memories; Billie has seen glimpses of a woman, coming and going from a cellar door.
Finding the correct building, they wait patiently for an opportunity to strike. The population of Leer may be small, but they bustle around the dirt streets with hurried intensity. Corvo and Billie retreat for the moment, pulling away from the settlement as to remain hidden from view.
They do not speak. Corvo tells himself that is for the best. Any noise might give away their position among the trees. But, in truth, he knows it is because while he and Billie have much to say to one another, now is not the time.
At dusk they make their move, Billie flashing ahead to the wooden door set into the earth. She works the lock as Corvo crosses the distance on foot to meet her. The tumbler comes apart in her hands.
She tells Corvo to enter first, she will close the door behind them. Nodding, Corvo takes the first four steps down, before waiting for the moonlit sky above to vanish from his vision.
The staircase is unlit, but there is a glowing light somewhere down below that casts shadows across the steps. Just enough illumination that Corvo can descend confidently, years of practice silencing his steps.
Behind him, Billie is just as quiet, taking step by step. At the bottom of the staircase hangs a lamp in an alcove, revealing a second door.
Corvo stands watch while Billie turns the lock. He can hear voices on the other side. Hopefully, Billie’s work does not alert them to their presence. They will only have a narrow window to strike before they are noticed.
Billie indicates the lock is open, and Corvo throws open the door with a crash. With only one available entryway to the basement room, stealth will not be an option. They need the element of surprise.
Corvo darts inside, Billie using her powers to skip to the other side of the room, faster than the inhabitants can retreat. She cuts off their access to the swords and rifles mounted on the opposite wall. Though, certainly, some of them are already armed.
Five cultists in total occupy the cellar room. Corvo hears a pained wail. Someone else is here as well. A sixth person hidden somewhere out of sight. But there is no time to do anything but react. And Corvo swings his blade at the closest man, aiming to injure rather than to kill. The man grabs at his stomach, his cries of pain already starting to wither.
Billie occupies the attention of the two cultists in the rear of the room, while the two closest to Corvo stare in wide-eyed fear. They are both unarmed. Lunging forward, Corvo tackles one of them to the ground. He strangles her as quickly as possible, before the other can gather their wits and launch an attack.
Corvo springs up to pin the last cultist to the wall. Behind him, the struggle between Billie and the others peters out. He hopes she has not killed them. They are useless as corpses.
Shoving the tip of one finger into the mouth of his mask, Corvo grabs his glove between his teeth to tear it off, leaving his hand bare. He jams his hand against the cultist’s face. When he read the mind of the assassin, he saw the face of the group’s leader. A man with fair skin and light eyes, a silver beard, but traces of black still in his hair. None of the people in this room look like him. Corvo must find where he went.
The panicked cultist thrashes under Corvo’s grip. Corvo growls to keep quiet or he’ll kill them. Terrified, the cultist begins to cry. That is better than struggling.
Corvo reads what he can from the surface of their mind, pulling away at layers of information. They cultists are few. All with positions in commerce. Most in Dunwall, though some hail from Dabokva, recent transplants to Gristol. Corvo pokes and prods to find the man he searches for. Until he finally finds his face. Though this time, instead of a proud patriarch, he sees a broken, battered skeleton of a man, trapped and weeping inside a cage.
He is close.
Corvo throws the cultist to Billie. She curses as she catches them, but swiftly knocks them out with a quick strike to the back of their head. She drops them on the floor, asking Corvo what he has seen.
“There's a hidden latch in this room,” he says, running his fingers under the tapestries that line the walls. “Did you hear him earlier?”
“Yes,” Billie starts to check the walls as well, “someone else is hidden inside the walls.”
It is Billie who finds the switch, tucked in behind the weapons rack. The door slides open, revealing a shallow tunnel. Corvo indicates that she should stay behind him, willing to assume the risk himself. Billie grabs a lantern from the wall, the room inside is dark.
The tunnel and subsequent room isn't further than ten meters back, but the darkness that envelops the space is unnatural. An inky, all consuming blackness. Billie’s lamp does little more than light half a meter in front of her.
“You should not have come, Corvo Attano, Billie Lurk,” a voice warns them from the darkness.
Having reached the far end of the room, Corvo crouches down. Billie is just behind him, setting the lantern down next to the metal cage.
The cage itself is short and stout, the prisoner cannot stand up, his legs curled tightly to his chest. Corvo shifts the lantern slightly to see his face. And for a terrifying moment, the man looks like Foster, had he aged sixty years in the matter of a day. But his nose smaller and more refined. His silver beard obscures his jaw, but Corvo is certain the cut of his face is somewhat different.
“Who are you?” Corvo asks. He does not want to touch this man. There is something he can feel, rattling against his breast, where his bone charms sit.
“A traveler, like you, Billie Lurk. We will meet many times,” he smiles, ignoring Corvo and showing broken teeth. They were straight and whole once. A man of the upper classes. “You are witnessing one of my many failures. But soon enough, I will succeed.”
“Your name,” Corvo repeats, as if naming will give Corvo some semblance of control.
“The dethroned god’s bauble will not work on me,” he warns, as if he knows Corvo’s intentions, “my mind is like his, now. Fractured, and yet too complete. Like a jigsaw puzzle with too many excess pieces. I have seen too much. One day, Billie Lurk. This will be your fate as well.”
“Why do they keep you caged?” Billie asks. She pulls the concealment charm from her coat, passing it to Corvo. It is a show of strength, to reveal to the Traveler her true form.
The Traveler closes his eyes, hiding pale irises, “At my request. This form has grown too old, too unstable. And I fear the monster it will become if left unchecked. I have failed to change the course of history, yet again. And so, I must find a different path.”
“You wish to end the world,” Billie accuses, “why?”
“Because all things end. And I'm very tired,” he slumps back against the cage. “He was tired too. And you freed him. Can I not desire the same?”
“And you wish to shackle him again? Bring the Darkness, and he’ll be the only one who remains. You are that selfish?” She knows something Corvo does not.
The Traveler nods, “All gods are selfish. You will learn this in time.”
“We should kill him here,” Billie says, shaking her head, “perhaps he is right, and I will meet him again. But we should destroy this body. Kill him now, while we can.”
Corvo does not question her decision and bashes in the lock with the hilt of his sword. The cage rattles, but the Traveler does not cower. Once the lock is broken, Corvo pulls open the top of the cage so he can reach inside.
Billie cautions him not to slit his throat. They can't take any risks. Instead, Corvo pulls the frail, decaying body from the cage, laying the Traveler prone on the floor. Positioning his blade over the Traveler’s heart, Corvo strikes through with the full brunt of his weight, smashing through his ribs until he pierces the Traveler’s heart without hesitation. His sword comes to rest on the other side, unable to penetrate the stone floor. Blood rushes from the Traveler’s body, red and wet as any mortal. It soaks his tattered clothing. Coat the floor. There is so much blood. Too much.
When Corvo pulls his sword out of the Traveler’s corpse, he tries to wipe the blade clean, and though the excess blood removes easily, the edge stays stained red.
“It is an artifact now,” Billie cautions, “do not let it out of your sight.”
Corvo nods. Billie says that there is nothing more to do with the body. They may as well leave it sealed in the chamber.
“Who is he, Billie? There is something you are not telling me.”
She frowns, “It is better if you do not know.”
They seal the hidden panel shut behind them as they depart.
Chapter 23: Fragments of Affection and Entire Regrets
Uncovering the mechanical carriage, Corvo stuffs the dust jacket back into the trunk while Billie climbs into the passenger seat. By the time Corvo takes the driver’s side, Billie has removed the charm again, perching it on the dashboard. Corvo swears that the charm throbs with magic in a way he hasn’t sensed since losing the Mark, but just as likely, it is Billie herself who pulses.
They drive for thirty minutes, maybe more, in silence. Billie stares out the windshield, her lips drawn tightly. Corvo fidgets with the steering paddles. It’s too dark to be on the roads, and the headlights are too dim. Corvo checked the whale oil reserves before they left Dunwall, so he knows they have no shortage of power. It’s the bulbs that are failing.
“Who was he?” Corvo asks, steering off the road and turning off the car. There may be extra bulbs in the trunk. But that doesn’t mean Corvo knows how to replace them.
Billie does not avert her eyes from the windshield. Corvo doesn’t know what it is she sees that he cannot.
“It is better if you do not know,” she tries to warn.
“He pursues the Outsider,” Corvo clenches tight around the paddles. “He will come for him again. I must know.”
Finally, Billie tilts her head to look at Corvo, the red of her arcane eye cloudy and debilitating in its strangeness. The Traveler said that one day, she will be like him. Surely, she knows something about his identity that Corvo does not.
“Nothing will hurt the Outsider more than knowing,” she says, “I will not tell you.” Her gaze shifts again, out into the open road. “I will not tell anyone.”
Corvo climbs out of the carriage, slamming the door behind him. But Billie does not flinch. No doubt, she could tear Corvo apart as he is now, aging, aching, without the Mark. But more than that, he is frustrated, compromised by the depth of that he does not understand. Adrift with no anchor.
There are no spare bulbs in the trunk. Corvo closes up the back of the carriage, but cannot bring himself to sit next to Billie as they drive back to the city. Instead, he leaves her there in the passenger seat, walking away from the road and towards the open field that spans in front of them.
Wheat, one of the few crops they still grow in Gristol. No one came to harvest, and the yield has died. But not yet decayed in the cold.
Corvo looks back, only once, to see if Billie has followed him. In the darkness, he cannot make out if she is still in the car. Perhaps she has left, torn open the world and stepped through to another time, another place. She may be with the Traveler now, laughing at Corvo’s impotent rage and insecurities.
Turning back towards the fields, Corvo walks into the wheat. The stalks brush against his coat as he descends deeper into the expanse, grains catching against the wool of his coat. He already feels as if he is sinking. As if this is the sea that will swallow them whole. The Dark that Foster fears will come for them all. Under his feet, the earth is soft. Corvo has forgotten what soil feels like, so used to stone and metal.
There is nothing spectacular waiting for him at the center. No revelation, no hidden entrance to the Void. Just more grain.
Corvo returns to Dunwall Tower; Billie does not.
Foster does not ask where she is. He feels as if he would know if something terrible befell her. As if they are intrinsically connected somehow. But that’s not possible. He is a mortal now, and he made her into something more.
“See the physician, Corvo, please,” Foster urges, as he watches Corvo unwind the bindings from around his waist. The wound should have stopped bleeding by now, but Foster can make out the fresh flash of red on the white gauze.
Corvo doesn’t answer, kicking closed the bathroom door so that Foster cannot peer at him from his place on the bed. Foster sits waiting, his legs crossed and hands in his lap. Unless Corvo plans on escaping through the tiny bathroom window, he has to come back out eventually.
The water runs for several minutes. Corvo opens and closes the cabinet doors. He sighs in frustration and paces the tile floor. And still, Foster waits.
When Corvo finally emerges, his face is scrubbed red, his beard freshly trimmed, and new bandages wrapped around his waist. “I’m fine,” he insists, “the physician can’t do much else.”
Foster bites the inside of his mouth, tilts his head to one side as he watches Corvo stalk towards his desk. He takes the decanter of whiskey from the bottom drawer, pouring out a single glass. But Corvo doesn’t drink, simply setting the tumbler back on the table.
“What do you know of their leader?” Corvo asks Foster.
Foster picks up at being spoken to, though he is afraid he has no answers, “I do not know...you and Billie saw him.”
“Outsider,” Corvo warns, “what did you see before?”
They have had this argument before, though Foster always conceals how little he really knew. The wild assumptions about his visions, his powers, were near as valuable as the abilities themselves. “He hid himself from me. I know nothing,” he admits. There is little use in lying now. “I could not even tell you what his face looks like.”
Corvo scowls, finally downing the whiskey in a thick gulp. Foster watches as his throat bobs. “I’ll tell you,” Corvo laughs bitterly. “He looks like…” he stops himself, staring into Foster’s eyes. Instead of continuing, his pinches his face, goes for the decanter again, and pours a second drink. “It doesn’t matter. We killed him. But Billie says he is not dead. He told us he was not dead. I believe she has gone to hunt him.”
Foster uncrosses his knees, drawing them close to his chest so he can rest his chin against them. “He is not Marked,” that much, at least, Foster can say with confidence. There are dozens of people to which he gifted powers through the Mark. All but two are dead now. And there are no others like Billie.
“There are those who stole from you,” Corvo shakes his head, staring down at the surface of his desk. “Those who took without being offered.”
“Yes,” Foster admits, “but I always knew. Most were too broken after touching the Void to be a threat. The others, their abilities limited and weak.” He pauses, “What if I was not the first?”
Corvo looks up, “What?”
Foster chooses his words carefully. Speaking has always been his greatest talent, his subtle descriptions and riddles. He wonders if that too is a power given to him by his former position, or if he was always destined to be clever with his tongue. “I told you already, I did not plan on being the last Outsider. Perhaps there was one before me...one who gave the Mark as well. And they were obscured to me?” It’s as sound an idea as any.
Nodding, Corvo answers, “The leader implied he could pass through the world, like Billie can. And you once gave Emily the means to move through time. He could have been given powers by your inheritor, as well…” Corvo’s face blanches and he shuts his jaw tight. “We know nothing.”
Foster has no choice but to agree. Neither he nor Corvo have the ability to follow any lead they might conjure. They are hopelessly tethered to this place, this time. They may only move forward by their own footsteps, no arcane shortcuts.
“I wish Billie well,” Corvo takes a third drink.
Setting the glass aside, Corvo returns to the bed, climbing in and pushing Foster down against the sheets. Foster thinks perhaps he should protest. Corvo’s injury is still too delicate. But he knows that he is too weak to put an end to this. He is too desiring of Corvo’s touch, his taste. So, as Corvo pins his wrists to the mattress, Foster wraps his legs around Corvo’s hips, locking him close as Corvo starts to grind against him.
Corvo’s anger with him is still there, his frustration that Foster deceived him, however slight. He still won’t call Foster by his name, but the way he pants, “Outsider,” into Foster’s ear is almost as sweet. But not quite.
Foster cradles Corvo’s face between his hands, Corvo’s beard rough against the little cuts and calluses Foster has cultivated in his months of mortality. He tries to apologize for all the things that are and are not his fault by pressing his lips against Corvo’s mouth, by parting, by surrendering.
Corvo palms at Foster’s cock through the thin fabric of his sleeping pants, wrapping loosely around at first and squeezing down until he gasps for more. “You always sound so sweet,” Corvo murmurs, more to himself than for Foster.
Running his hands down Corvo’s torso, Foster brushes up against the bandages, grounding him once again. “Let me be good to you,” Foster coaxes. They should at least try to be careful.
Opening and closing his mouth, Corvo ultimately says nothing. Instead, he thrusts against Foster again, until the outline of his cock is unmistakable between Foster’s legs.
“Void,” Foster curses, unsure if he should push Corvo away or drag him closer.
Corvo finally relents, “Tell me, tell me how you’d be good to me.”
Foster whines, grabbing at the hem of Corvo’s trousers, “My mouth. I want to put my mouth on you.” For as many times as Corvo has brought Foster to completion with his lips and tongue and throat, he still hasn’t let Foster try to pleasure him in return.
Taking one hand to Foster’s mouth, Corvo pushes his thumb against Foster’s bottom lip, prodding his mouth open. Foster licks his tongue against the digit before sucking on it, trying to show Corvo how good he can be.
“Why?” Corvo asks, “why are you so desperate for it?”
Foster has come to realize that Corvo will never understand his reasons. Or his lack thereof. The paths they have walked to reach this point have been too divergent. Their frames of reference are too different. Foster loves him, wants him, because of pasts and futures and presents that have never existed. In addition to the present moment. An endless stream of possibilities and realities tangled together. But each and every vision of Corvo he has ever witnessed has been good. Corvo is a better man than he will ever realize. Because the circumstances of his lives could have been so, so much worse. And yet, Corvo always remains the same.
And if Corvo is to ever love him back, it will be simply based on this single thread he has witnessed with his own eyes. A failed god who let everything fall away, in the hopes of a better future.
“Please...just know...that I want to give you everything I can,” is the best Foster can manage as his head spins with desire.
Corvo pushes at Foster’s knees until he relents, dropping his feet back onto the mattress. “It will be easier if you are on top of me,” he says, turning so his back is against the headboard.
Mutely, Foster nods, pushing down his own erection with his palm, hoping for a little relief from how much he aches.
Corvo doesn’t strip down all the way, instead lifting his hips just enough to pull out his cock and balls, letting his erection curl back against his stomach. Foster watches, opened mouthed, as Corvo strokes himself, “Alright,” Corvo says, moving his hand away, “Your teeth...be careful.”
Foster runs his tongue over is top teeth carefully, they really are sharp now that he thinks about it. Crawling to sit between Corvo’s gently spread legs, he wraps his hand around it first, hot and heavy in his palm. Stroking down, Corvo’s foreskin pulls away entirely, revealing the flushed head. Foster curves his back to lean over and wrap his lips around the first two inches. He tries to cover his teeth with his lips as he sinks down, licking along the underside with his tongue. He’s slow, and deliberate, unsure still of his own tolerance, or if Corvo is even enjoying his careful experimentation.
Corvo is quiet as Foster works, his hands coming to tangle loosely in Foster’s hair. As he gains confidence, Foster takes his hand off of Corvo’s cock, trying to fit more of it inside his mouth. Corvo tastes clean, slightly coppery. But more than anything he’s smooth and warm. Beautifully hard inside Foster’s mouth, stretching him at the corners. Saliva slips past his tightly drawn lips, wetting Corvo’s trousers in dark patches until they’re soaked.
“Outsider,” Corvo gasps, pulling Foster off his cock by his hair. “Come up here.”
Foster frowns, certain that he’s failed to please Corvo. But he listens, crawling up the expanse of Corvo’s body and settling between his legs.
Corvo kisses him, wet and with its own sort of desperation, plunging his tongue into Foster’s mouth. Tasting himself, Foster realizes. Corvo wraps one arm around Foster’s back, the other pushing down his slacks until his cock springs free. Wrapping him securely, Corvo works Foster quickly, trying to pull him through a quick, messy orgasm as Foster mouths against the junction of Corvo’s neck and shoulder. The pace of it is so blinding, the suddenness of it unexpected, that it only takes minutes before Foster feels his abdomen tightening, whining against Corvo’s skin that’s he’s close.
“Come for me,” Corvo kisses against Foster’s temple, “I want to watch you come.”
Foster doesn’t keep himself from crying out as he spills across Corvo’s chest, sullying his bandages in the process. He claws at Corvo’s shoulders, trying to steady himself as his heart races. He’s dimly aware that Corvo has taken himself in hand, using Foster’s cum to slick his cock as he strokes.
“You’re beautiful,” Corvo whispers, “I shouldn’t….I can’t.” None of his affections complete. But Foster thinks he can fill in the spaces. Make a coherent love from the fragmented pieces Corvo can manage now, here in this moment.
Corvo finishes with a heavy sigh and Foster’s lips against his throat.
Chapter 24: And the Punchline
On the last day of winter, Emily calls Foster to her chambers. Tomorrow, she will be wed. Dunwall throbs in anticipation.
She asks Foster to sit across from her on the couch, a heavy book in her hands. She sets the book between them, telling Foster to put his hands down flat on the leather cover. Her nails have already been painted for the occasion, a deep navy that matches her attire for tomorrow’s ceremony. Taking out a bottle of lacquer, she starts painting Foster’s nails to match.
Her attention doesn't waver from Foster’s hands, careful to not let the varnish pool or streak. She says she wanted to paint her own nails herself, but the woman hired to help her with her hair and makeup said she couldn't. Foster says he doesn't mind. Applying the polish helps to calm her nerves. She leaves her Marked hand bare, the Mark stark against her skin. It is only the two of them in the room, no reason to hide.
“I would have had you as one of my attendants,” she says, examining her handiwork. “But it would be a scandal.”
Foster’s hands are covered in little nicks and scrapes from working bone. He is already quite fond of the imperfections. His only other scar of note is from where the guardsman cut him months ago in the summer rain.
“I'll find it in my heart to forgive you,” Foster teases, positioning his hands carefully against his thighs until they dry.
Emily spreads out across the couch, a little bit of her skittish anxiety eased. She will not sleep well tonight. But tomorrow, with Wyman, will be better. “I'm glad you're my friend,” Emily says before laughing, “it's still so strange to think about. Who we are, what we’ve become…”
Foster shakes his head, because he doesn't find it very strange. Across every path of fate he witnessed, Emily Kaldwin would always be the one who understood him best. She was not always destined to be Empress. But she always became his friend. “Great things still lie ahead,” Foster says.
“You've seen it?” she asks. She reaches into her makeup kit, pulling out kohl before gesturing for Foster to move closer. She wants to try lining his eyes. He should wash it off tonight, she tells him, before he goes to sleep.
Watching her now fills him with such admiration for the woman she’s become. Not by destiny. There is no such thing. But the strength of her will and her desire to be better than the day before. In a way, Foster knows he has always loved her. It was impossible not to.
Foster shrugs, “I've seen many things, but you're always magnificent.”
Thousands line the streets of Dunwall at dawn, waiting on the brief ceremony that will join the Empress and her Consort in marriage. Corvo stands in the shadows, against the Tower balcony wall, just visible to the crowd below. He serves as Royal Protector.
The Prime Minister stands in the position that would be held for the Empress’ parents, were they alive. Wyman’s father and mother in the mirrored position.
The ceremony takes less than ten minutes. The grandeur of the affair is in the celebrations and parties afterwards. Festivities will be held both within the Tower and dotted across the city. Most of them financed by the Crown.
Emily is dressed in a navy suit, with sharp angles on her coat, slim trousers, and brass buttons. A crisp white shirt underneath. The fashion is typical of Dunwall. But the cream colored shawl she wears over her hair is traditional to Karnaca. And seeing her wear it makes Corvo’s heart ache. His mother owned a similar one. He remembers his sister playing with it when they were children.
Cupping her hands around Wyman’s face, she pulls them down, their kiss before the crowd brief and chaste. The public roars and cheers. After they pull apart, Emily steps around the Prime Minister, coming to embrace her father instead.
Corvo holds her close, his hand at her neck as he kisses into her hair, right where it is exposed under the shawl. They will both be scolded for this later. For ruining this irrelevant farce that her advisors have been perpetuating for years.
She goes to embrace Wyman’s hand again, and they stand at the edge of the balcony to greet the citizens of the Empire as spouses. All can see that her hand is unmarred, smooth skin. Not the barest hint of the Outsider’s Mark. White streamers fly through the air, littering the streets below.
Wyman leans over to whisper something into Emily’s ear. And she beams so bright and bold that Corvo cannot help but smile as well.
Foster finds him, once the feasting has begun.
Wait staff flit through the crowded hall, offering up sweet and savory delicacies and glasses filled with wine. Emily decided against a formal dinner, something where she would have to sit too still for too long, looking poised and pretty. This way, she can disappear and reappear as she feels comfortable, finding occasional solace in shadows.
Corvo tries to keep track of her, as is technically his responsibility. But if he hovers too close, she will only send him away, insisting that he enjoy himself as well. Between the two of them, they can foil any attempt against her. The hall is not so large as to prove a risk. And Corvo vetted every guest prior to being sent an invitation.
“You look very handsome,” Foster smiles as him, hands clasped behind his back. They have not seen each other since this morning, when they both got out of bed to ready for the wedding.
Foster looks lovely indeed, dressed in charcoal gray and hunter green. His incredibly slim cut skirt ends mid-thigh, before giving way to the narrow trousers he wears underneath. The garment suits him well, just now coming into fashion. Sure to be popular this Spring and into the Summer months, particularly as the Royal Consort wore a similar set during the ceremony.
“They look happy,” Foster says, when Corvo stays quiet, his eyes roaming to the happy couple. Emily keeps her shoulder pressed against Wyman’s side, their arm around her waist. They make a handsome couple. And Corvo cannot express how glad he is to see his daughter so content.
“They do.” He tries to find the right words, “You look beautiful.”
Foster smiles at him, “Thank you.”
“We should dance,” Corvo offers, setting aside his empty glass when a waiter passes in front of them. Emily wants him to enjoy himself, so he should at least make the effort.
With the differences in their heights, it is simpler for Foster to lead. Corvo long ago learned both positions. But Foster’s feet are still somewhat clumsy. He can be graceful sometimes, but really only when he doesn't have to think so hard. When he stops worrying about his hands and feet and what Corvo thinks. With the second dance, they switch positions, Corvo placing Foster’s hands into the right spaces against his body before leading with a firmer stride.
Foster’s body is warm against his, his heart lively and strong. Though Foster is taller, he drops his head against Corvo’s shoulder, breathing heavily against his neck.
After the third dance they part, though Foster lingers close while Corvo asks a waitress to bring a cup of sweetened tea and another glass of wine. After all these months, he still cannot help but fuss over Foster’s peculiar eating habits. But Foster’s continued distaste for alcohol isn't a flaw that needs correction.
Various nobles come to speak to Corvo as he and Foster drink. They ask for the name of his dance partner, and though Foster talks very little at first, they all seem charmed with him. Foster’s presence in the Tower has been known for some time now. Rumors have swirled that he is the Empress’ friend, the Royal Protector’s lover, some bollocks about being Jessamine’s second, secret child, returned now after a long exile that would have threatened her daughter’s legitimacy. Corvo and Foster carefully confirm the first two rumors as true. While discrediting the third.
And it's such a strange, light feeling, quietly acknowledging their relationship to relative strangers. Corvo has a lover, one who can declare his devotion with soft touches and gentle words. He does not yet know how comfortable he is. But he is sane enough to realize that his disquiet is not rational. Foster is his lover; he is Foster’s too.
Foster shoves Corvo towards the bed, trying to pepper kisses across his face and down his neck. Corvo grips his hands over Foster’s hips, trying to steady their coupled descent to the mattress. Foster lands on top of Corvo, supporting his weight with little trouble.
“You look so good,” Foster groans into the juncture of Corvo’s neck and shoulder. “So many of them want you. Makes me jealous.”
Corvo cannot help but laugh, pawing at Foster’s waist to pull his shirt free from the waistband of his skirt. Once he does, he and run his hands across the smooth skin of Foster’s waist unobstructed.
“I don't think it was me they were staring at,” Corvo argues.
Foster hums against Corvo’s cheek, before pulling back slightly so he can start to unbuckle Corvo’s overcoat. He keeps Corvo pinned beneath him as long fingers fiddle with the clasps. “Youth is common,” Foster says. “You, however, are exceptional.”
It is more than youth that renders Foster so hauntingly beautiful. Even as a mortal, his face is unnaturally perfect. Pink lips and high cheeks and pale eyes.
Corvo lifts his shoulders just enough that Foster can pull his jacket off. His next task to attack the buttons on Corvo’s shirt. Corvo rests his hands behind his head, watching as Foster hurriedly undresses him. Having drank enough to leave his head slightly cloudy, Corvo lets himself enjoy the sensation of being tended to.
Opening the front of Corvo’s shirt, Foster drops his head to lick against his chest, laving his tongue against coarse hair and scarred skin. Corvo arches into the touch, bucking his hips and nearly lifting Foster off the mattress..
There's no use arguing over who garnered more attention at the wedding reception. The stars of the evening were Emily and Wyman, after all. Corvo and Foster were only a sideshow, a little entertainment for those waiting their turn to be received by the Empress and her Consort.
Foster sinks his vicious little teeth into the flesh of Corvo’s pec, just above the nipple. When he lifts his head, he smiles wickedly, starting to snake one hand into Corvo’s trousers.
“Off,” Corvo urges, tapping at the outside of Foster’s thigh to coax him to climb off of him. They cannot remove their clothing fast enough. Foster trying to work Corvo’s buckle open before Corvo can bat his hand away. “Strip,” Corvo tells him, attending to his own attire.
Corvo reaches into the bedside table, retrieving the almost empty vial. He tells Foster to slick his fingers, and to start with the index first.
Nodding quickly, Foster follows instructions, wetting all of his fingers at once. Corvo grabs the pillow from under his head, shoving it under his hips to adjust the angle. Parting his thighs, Corvo exposes himself to Foster’s icy stare. Foster’s concentration is absolute, as he runs his fingers along Corvo’s hole.
Foster spreads his fingers, separating the index from the middle, to slip the former past Corvo’s ring to the first knuckle. Corvo exhales at the intrusion, trying to relax so Foster can push deeper. His fingers are long, delicate, and slim. Taking the first is no difficulty, particularly considering how slick they are.
“More,” Corvo rasps, reaching up to sweep his hand across Foster’s cheek. Foster shifts his gaze from between Corvo’s legs to his face. His bottom lip is bitten red, his eyes glassy with desire.
Foster nods, drawing his middle finger against the index and pushing them in side by side. Corvo’s erection has flagged somewhat from the penetration, but he strokes himself with a sure hand until he is fully hard again.
Perhaps unaware, Foster licks his battered lips, watching as he works his fingers in and out of Corvo’s hole. At Corvo’s instruction, he adds the third finger, stretching Corvo wide enough to be prepared for his cock.
Corvo tells him when he feels ready, half sitting up to kiss Foster again, assure him that he’s doing well. Foster’s face softens somewhat, his shoulders relaxing under gentle pressure. Corvo thumbs against the gold chain around his neck.
Reaching for the dresser drawer again, Corvo pulls out the first charm Foster gave him, the one to ease the ache of his joints. Corvo attached it to a leather cord, so he can easily hang it around his neck. The enchantment soothes the dull pain in his knees, as he positions himself on all fours.
Foster runs his hand from the top of Corvo’s neck, down the length of his spine, to the small of his back. The gentle pressure of his touch leaves shivering, coiling warmth in its wake.
Coating himself with oil, Foster readies himself. Corvo urges him on, promising him he's doing well. Foster plants one hand on Corvo’s ass, using the other to guide his cock to Corvo’s hole.
He doesn't push hard enough at first, recoiling slightly when his cockhead slips out of position. Corvo tells him to try again, apply more pressure, and he’ll breach him.
Foster tries a second time, Corvo reminding him it doesn't hurt. They've prepared him well. For all his enthusiasm at being taken, Foster is so shyly careful about doing the same to Corvo, despite Corvo assuring him that he has plenty of experience in assuming both roles. Foster should know that. But he still had to be reminded.
This time, Foster’s cock enters him, the first inch and a half slipping in. Corvo drops his head between his arms, trying to steady his breathing before he scares Foster again. It doesn't hurt, but it's been some time since he's taken anything as big as Foster’s cock. Once he regains his voice, he pleads, “More.”
“Okay, alright,” Foster says, pushing in another inch, then two. Corvo reaches back, trying to grab at Foster’s hip, drag him forward. Waiting is more tortuous than Corvo can bear. He's a patient man, but now that they’ve started, he longs to feel Foster buried deep.
Once Foster is seated fully, Corvo drags his hips forward, only to push back hard against Foster’s hips. Foster stays perfectly still for the moment, groaning into each thrust, digging his fingers into the flesh of Corvo’s hips.
“That's good, Foster, you can thrust,” Corvo encourages, keeping up the pace of his own pleasure. Foster finally starts to move, in short, shuddering motions. He won't last long, Corvo is certain, but Corvo will take what pleasure he can while Foster lasts, the beautiful, slick thickness of his cock pressing inside of him, the heat of his hands and the pretty noise of his gasps.
Corvo strokes himself harshly, trying to drag himself to completion as Foster’s thrusts grow stronger, deeper, instinct starting to kick in. Sweat drips from Foster’s body, clinging to Corvo’s skin. Foster ruts into him without embarrassment now, panting Corvo’s name, that he's tight, that he doesn't want to stop.
But soon enough Foster comes, buried inside Corvo’s ass. He starts to pull out, the remainder of his seed spilling over the backs of Corvo’s thighs. Open and slick and empty, Corvo tells Foster to put his fingers back inside. He does, and Corvo tries to tell him how to curl his fingers, how fast to move.
Corvo comes across the sheets, groaning as he empties, Foster still fingering him open. He hisses, overstimulated now, asking Foster to pull out. Flopping from his knees onto his back, Corvo reaches out, grabbing at Foster to pull him down against his chest.
Foster nestles his head into the crook of Corvo’s arm, his forehead damp with sweat. He's quiet now, his mouth slightly downturned. Corvo kisses him to try and alter his expression.
“I'll get better,” Foster huffs.
Corvo laughs, “I'm sure you will. But you did wonderfully.”
“I love you,” Foster whispers, pressing the words against Corvo’s chest. “I've loved you for so long.”
The words try to catch in Corvo’s throat, sticking to his membranes. But Corvo won't be defeated by his own reservations, fears based on past mistakes and futures that might never come, “I love you,” he says. Each syllable a promise he intends to keep.
Foster wakes in the morning, only to find the space beside him empty. Jolting awake, he calms somewhat when he sees Corvo at his desk, naked to the waist and scribbling something down.
Wrapping the top sheet around his naked body, Foster climbs out of bed. Corvo lifts his head immediately, smiling, and saying he can ring for breakfast.
Foster shrugs, padding towards the desk, “I want pastries.”
“You always do,” Corvo doesn't hide his exasperation.
Looking over the papers strewn about Corvo’s desk, Foster asks, “What's this for?”
Corvo sighs heavily, trying to gather up the documents while they wait for the servant to come. “Preparations for my retirement.”
“Your retirement?” Foster cannot help his shock. The idea that Corvo could give in so easily to abdicating his role is surprising to say the least.
“Not until the summer. Emily and I must first choose a successor. But there are other matters to coordinate as well. I don't like the current property the Crown holds in Karnaca. I was thinking something by the water?”
Foster realizes that Corvo is asking for his opinion. “I'd like that.”
Corvo smiles back at him, looking for his shirt so he’ll look halfway decent when the servant finally knocks. He excuses himself to talk to the woman who arrives, giving instructions on what to bring.
“I'll have a laboratory built for you...I can either send specifications ahead, or we can wait until we arrive and you can oversee renovations yourself.”
Foster cannot help but press his body close to Corvo’s, kiss away any other gifts he's sure to offer. They can plan his laboratory later. But right now, Foster is so consumed with love he can barely think.
“I was hoping you'd agree to come,” Corvo says. As if there was any doubt. He moves to stand behind his desk again. “You can of course visit Dunwall and Emily as often as you'd like. I simply know myself, and if I remain here, I will meddle too much in my successor’s affairs.”
“Of course, Corvo,” Foster laughs, “you cannot get rid of me so easily.”
“Oh,” Corvo sorts through his stack of papers again, bringing a particular document to the top. “I still need to have identification papers made for you. Legally, you do not exist. Once we leave the Tower, it's best if you have proper documentation. You need a surname.”
Foster smiles, planting his hands on Corvo’s desk and leaning forward, “Don't you think it's about time you gave me yours?”
Corvo looks back at him, but only for a moment, before neatly printing on the empty line, Foster Attano.