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Beyond These Garden Walls

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The contents of a locked box found in Lady Bethany Ashworth’s attic, willed to her granddaughter after her death. All contents seem to be related to her estranged sister, Breanna Ashworth. The only annotation provided by the late Lady Ashworth is a short note set on top of the stack.

Maybe it was for the best, in the end.

***

The first article is one dated after Breana disappeared. Carefully clipped from a newspaper, it is yellow but smooth, kept as a reminder for all these years.

Beloved Daughter of Lord Ashworth Disappears! The Latest Victim of the Rosewater Killer?

Could Dunwall’s mysterious murderer have struck again? The evidence leaves more questions than answers!

Late in the afternoon two days past, the young Breanna Ashworth was reported missing. She had apparently been acting strange, but her family had attributed it to nerves about her upcoming marriage. But when she was sent on her way to meet her eager husband-to-be, she failed to find her way there! Given the recent killings, a search began immediately, but turned up no signs about her whereabouts.

That is until Lord Ashworth’s banker reported a withdrawal she’d made. Could this have been kidnapping? And what, you might ask, could this possibly have to do with the Rosewater Killer? This journalist wondered that himself, and visited the Ashworths in search of the truth. Only the missing woman’s younger sister would speak, but she told us enough.

Most of Miss Ashworth’s things were gone, but the few that remained paint an ominous portrait of what future might await her, if she is still alive. Books and papers, on top of it a note. Don’t follow, alongside a single rose.

Was the killer a romantic along? A jealous lover, or a wronged suitor? We may never know. But for Miss Ashworth’s sake, we hope the remaining clues provide the evidence needed, and that she’s returned to her family soon.

At the end is another note, written in Bethany Ashworth’s neat hand.

Better that she doesn’t return.

***

The next item is a letter, written in a pompous, curling hand.

My Dearest Breanna,

I know we haven’t been able to talk much, which is why I felt I must write you. After all, given my far greater experience, isn’t it right I offer some words of advice? And assurances you will be well taken care of. As my second wife, I know you’ll understand I have all the knowledge I need.

On our wedding night, my first wife was rather unhappy. I asked her about it later, and she told me I gave no time for her own pleasure. Why, I was quite taken aback! How could a lovely young lady even know what she wanted? But ah, she was wily. She showed me all her tricks. And though she perished from childbirth many years back, I still remember her tricks. And I wanted to assure you, I intend to use them to their fullest extent.

Given your parents, I suspect you are less knowledgeable than she. So I thought it might be best to educate you a bit not only about how I can pleasure you, but how you can pleasure me. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander! And given my age, I sadly say I might need a bit more coaxing now!

First, you must undress—

No further words are legible, and the paper is badly singed, the edges crumpled as if tossed into the fire in the midst of a great rage.

***

Another article follows, this one earlier than the first. One line in particular seems to have been read many times, the ink blurred by the repeated caress of a finger.

Mysterious Murders Plague Dunwall! An Attacker from Beyond the Void?

Thorns encircle another throat, this time in the Rudshore Financial District!

Faithful readers will know that this is the third such murder in Dunwall this year. Each time, a paragon of our society, taken by strangulation. But before any new followers think such things are common, beware! For this is no ordinary killer, dealing in ropes and cords. Instead, thorny vines wrap around the throats of their victims, and rose petals litter the scenes! Some have suggested this could be the unholy work of the Knife of Dunwall, but when has he ever taken such strange measures?

No, dear readers, we here at the Dunwall Courier think we have a new monster on our hands! Or, as has been the recent speculation, a very old one. A confidential source directed us to an old ritual, that of the Rosewater Hag. We dare not reprint such blasphemous and violent words on these here pages, but we hope you trust that we have confirmed there seems to be a link.

Could this killer be this hag, returning from beyond the Void? Or just a copycat, plaguing our dear city? Whatever its origin, all we ask now is this. With such strange murders afoot, when will the Overseers intercede?

***

A leather bound copy of the play Daughter of Tyvia sits amidst the papers. Tucked inside the front cover is a disapproving note.

Breanna,

I can’t believe you still read this nonsense. I understand the appeal, we all loved this sort of thing as girls. But you’ll be married soon, and it’s time you take that responsibility more seriously. And stop destroying your fiance’s letters. I can only make so many excuses to the poor man. Don’t try to tell me you lost it, I found it partially burned in the fire. I know he’s a bit old, but you’ll see the benefit of it soon. A couple decades more, and he’ll be a doddering mess, and you’ll be in control of his fortune.

On that note, I’ve included a recent pamphlet on household management. It’s been quite well-received, and having read it myself, I find the advice largely solid. A few oddities, but you’re a smart girl. I know you can tell the difference between fact and the sort of fluff that satisfies the publishers.

And do try to take better care of your clothes. Ella is quite the seamstress, but even she can only do so much about those tears.

- Mother

There is no attached pamphlet, only a few scraps of paper. One fragment, still barely readable, extols the virtues of buying household linens in bulk from Morley, and marks a particularly dog eared page.

Young Lady Amelia, in the gardener’s cottage
As dear as Abirri is, I cherish our moments alone, my Duchess.

Duchess Kalli, lying beside her, turning to face her
I have had many loves in my life. I know I will have more still. But none as precious as you, dear Amelia.

Young Lady Amelia, reaching out with a trembling hand
You have shown me so much more than I would ever have otherwise known, trapped behind those garden walls. How can I ever repay you?

Duchess Kalli, leaning in to kiss her reddened lips
You have already repaid me tenfold. With your body, and your fiery soul. Tell me, Amelia. If I asked you to run away with me, would you? To go on adventures not just beyond your father’s estate. But beyond these restless seas.

Young Lady Amelia, gasping with tentative hope
To Tyvia, you mean?

Duchess Kalli, smiling and drawing her closer still to whisper in her ear
To Tyvia. To Morley. To Serkonos, where the sands are stained red with wine and blood. And perhaps further still.

Young Lady Amelia, pulling away in genuine surprise
You can’t mean—

Duchess Kalli, voice low and colored with secrets
Pandyssia. I have found a map, to wonders greater than any imagining, To places beyond the reach off these sheltered skies. On such a journey, how could I not take you, dearest of all to me? And we shall gather more. But always, you will be first in my heart.

Young Lady Amelia, hesitating
Would we ever come back?

Duchess Kalli, laughing, pulling Amelia to her feet
Whyever would you want to come back from that? Return to such a dull and ordinary life?

Young Lady Amelia, lips firming in determination
I will come with you then.

Duchess Kalli, thorny plucking a rose and handing it to her
I knew you would. You’ve long outgrown these garden walls.

 

***

Breanna,

I have been traveling, as we spoke of. The arrangements are nearly in place. Lying here, in my solitary bed, I find myself thinking of you. Aching for you, the graceful column of your neck. The way your hair drapes around your shoulders, when I tear it from the bindings of forced civility. How you gasp and writhe under my clever tongue, and gasp again for more when you’ve already had your pleasure.

Could I call you greedy, my love? Perhaps I could. But I have desires of my own. To see you laid out before me, glowing with a light far brighter than the brightest jewels at the garish parties of the people who think they are ruled by anything more than petty grudges and minor squabbles for power. I drew you, last time, as you dozed there. Sketched the sharp lines of your body, the hard angles your family would rather stifle, cover with the latest fashions and smother under the weight of man who will never be worthy of you.

Soon, I will paint you. Perhaps I’ll make a gift of it to you. Or perhaps I’ll keep it for myself. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? A piece of you, forever touched by my hand.

Stay strong, my love. I will return soon. And when I do, you know what to do.

The heavily creased paper is unsigned, and smells faintly of roses even now. Likely only forgotten as it’d been tucked between the bed and the wall, perhaps pushed there in a rush. Too precious to be willfully abandoned.

***

Breanna,

I know you snuck out last night. I won’t tell, but you need to be more careful. Mother and Father will return soon, and you know they barely believed me last time that I told them that you’d snagged your dress walking in the gardens. And no, I’m not coming with you. I won’t ask what you’re doing, and I won’t try to stop you. But I can’t be a part of this.

Your Loving Sister,

Bethany

***

On top of the pile is a single rose, a receipt confirming the withdrawal of a large sum of money from the bank, and a scrap of paper seemingly torn from a book. Some of the text from the book is still visible, two lines that seem to be the end of some poem or song.

Petals, petals on the water
Tell me, tell me, am I your daughter?

When the paper is turned over, it contains only a scribbled note. The letters are almost as sharp as the woman who left them, never to return.

Don’t try to find me.