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On the Outside (Looking In)

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“May I see your hand?”

 

The question comes at the stairwell landing, where the Outsider pauses in a way which pens Corvo in against the corner. Such a slight man, yet Corvo feels as though he were the one on the back foot. The stairway continues before them to a closed doorway, underneath which the purple light is bleeding gently. The wallpaper either side is peeling at the foot, and the board is rotting.

 

“Why?” Corvo asks warily.

 

The Outsider merely tilts his head and purses his lips, and Corvo finds himself, against his better judgement, extending his left hand outwards.

 

“My home is not so easily accessible that any raving madman might enter it, should they attempt to,” the Outsider explains, and Corvo shivers when his palm is enveloped in the Outsider’s cold, pale fingers, “you will need my mark, to see what is not normally seen.”

 

A sudden rush of feeling in his hand, and Corvo snatches it back in a hurry, cradling it against his chest. The Outsider’s nails drag on his palm as he withdraws, leaving rivulets of sensation buzzing underneath his skin. Corvo’s hand runs with colour, ribbons of blue and purple dancing out of dark skin and into the air, but the Outsider appears unaffected. If his dark eyes linger too heavily on Corvo’s face, it is no more than usual.

 

“Your mark,” Corvo echoes, and unfurls his fist. On the back of his hand a sigil throbs for a moment in vivid ultraviolet colour before fading to an inky black, like a tattoo. It is a circular thing, with sharp darts here and there. When next he looks up, there is no doorway on the landing above them, but an open archway into a brightly coloured parlour. There is music playing quietly on a radio, and plush lounges draped in throws of velvet blue. Decorations of warped sea-glass hang from the ceiling, chattering as they brush against each other. There is the scent of opened wine.

 

It seems… lived in, in a way Corvo is ashamed to say he hasn’t expected of the Outsider.

 

Instead he says:

“I sure hope this isn’t permanent.”

 

“Indeed,” the Outsider muses, “wouldn’t that be terrible?”  

 

Then he turns and leads the way into the upper parlour, and legs a little shaky, Corvo nevertheless follows. As he creeps into the room it opens up out into wings. The fireplace is unlit but despite the weather outside, the parlour is comfortably warm. On the mantelpiece rests an enormous oil painting of a rolling sea. Other framed portraits are scattered around, resting against the floor or tucked behind stacks of books. Corvo recognises none of the subjects. Lounges are littered with knick-knacks – unlit pipes, dog-eared novels, comic sections of old newspapers. There’s a small mound of blue glitter near one coffee table which Corvo carefully steps around. It smells of wine, incense and lavender. In the far corner, a large bed is weighed down with layers upon layers of blankets and rugs in different textures and fabrics, all in various shades of purple. It looks unslept in.

 

The windows do not look out into the alley streets. Outside, Corvo distantly knows it to be freezing cold, with the clouds above threatening perhaps a light snowfall.

 

Instead, the windows of the Outsider’s home look out onto a dark, unfamiliar city, and heavy rain drums down around them in a humming blanket. Occasionally there is a distant rumble from the storm clouds, like some great god turning over in its sleep.

 

“Welcome to my home,” the Outsider says, allowing Corvo a moment to adjust to his surroundings, before throwing himself on an ancient chaise lounge and settling into a sprawl, “please, take a seat.”

 

Corvo perches awkwardly on the lounge nearest him, and briefly wonders if Daud had done the same, however long ago.

 

“Listen,” he starts, before the Outsider can say anything else, “I just need some advice, alright? I don’t want training, or, or, your tutelage, or whatever it is you do for the others. I just need help. Is there any way I can ask for that without sacrificing a kidney, or something? Do you do that?”

 

“I do whatever I want to,” the Outsider responds, but it sounds automatic, and his gaze is assessing.

 

“So you’ll help me?”

 

“My dear Corvo, blood magic is no easy thing to master. If it runs naturally in you than I cannot in good conscience leave you with a list of tips and hope for the best.”

 

Corvo very wisely does not ask if the Outsider even has a conscience. Judging by the twinkle in those depthless eyes, he gathers he is caught out, anyway.

 

“It’s not like that,” he protests.

 

“I know exactly what it is like, I was there, of course,” the Outsider drones, and a chill goes down Corvo’s back, “outside your quaint café, in those early hours, and you with your rats and shadows taking down your opponents as easy as breathing. Your attempts at concealing your talents are commendable, but hiding magic is not the same as controlling it. Do you want to know how you looked, Corvo?”

 

The Outsider asks, sliding forward so that his pointy elbows rest on his knees. His throat is long and pale, white like linen. “Relieved. You looked so very relieved.”

 

“Stop it,” Corvo jolts to his feet. “This was a mistake.”

 

“It was naïve,” the Outsider says, not unkindly, “One does not drain a river one cup at a time. You will need my training to control yourself, yes, but it is not something that occurs overnight.”

 

“But I don’t want your training--”

 

“You are here, are you not?” The Outsider gestures to his parlour, to the sheet of rain outside, the rolling waves over the mantelpiece.

 

“Yes,” Corvo says, angry and flustered and embarrassed, “Yes, but--”

 

“So very few people spark my interest these days, you know. Most would be climbing up the walls at the thought of having my patronage.”

 

“I know that--”

 

“And yet here you are, resolute as ever. I’m not sure whether this could be constituted as obstinacy or integrity. Those lines are crossed so often, nowadays. How intriguing, all the same.”

 

Do you ever stop talking,” Corvo snaps, incensed.

 

The Outsider pauses, curious. His black eyes rake up Corvo’s body, held taut with embarrassment.

 

“I don’t want your training,” Corvo continues, “I don’t want your training. Not for me, anyway. I want it for Emily.”

 

“Emily?”

 

Miracles do occur. The Outsider looks genuinely surprised.

 

“Yes, Emily,” Corvo repeats, exasperated, “my daughter.”

 

 


 

 

 

On the other side of the city, Cecelia is adjusting the signage outside of The High Sea when the heavens abruptly split open like a boiled egg and dump gallons of water over the city. Rain. Incessant, unrelenting, pouring rain. Yelling obscenities, Cecelia gathers as much of the signage as she can into her arms and runs for the doorway, which Lydia has flung open, mouth agape.

 

Customers are cluttering the windows, craning their faces towards the sudden phenomenon.

 

“Does someone smell incense?” Samuel grumbles from the staff room.

 

Unnoticed on the flyer board, a crayon drawing of a whale is struck with sudden life. It glitters a little in the cafes lamplight, and dives below pencil waves, shimmering like water.

 

 


 

 

 

The Outsider rises silently. He is shorter than Corvo, by half a foot at least. His dark cap of hair is sleek and slightly damp, but as long as Corvo has known him as the shadow by the café window, it has always been that way. His eyes are polished opals, black and shattered blue, endless as the night sky.

 

“Your daughter,” he repeats tonelessly, but there is a heavy weight behind his words.

 

“She’s,” Corvo clears his throat. He is trying to drag his eyes away but finds he cannot. “She’s starting to show talent. In magic. I’m worried because… because I don’t know how to take care of her. I don’t know how to train her in that. Nobody ever trained me. But I don’t want to take her to a specialist school because--”

 

“Because they will place her on a polished pedestal, as marble as her skin, and she will be paraded for the masses to consume as an oddity. They will love her and they will hate her, and only fate will determine which of the two will win out.”

 

“Yes,” Corvo’s voice breaks, so he repeats, stronger, “yes.”

 

“Can you help her?” He begs. “Train her, so that people don’t know, so she doesn’t have to worry? I just don’t know what to do. I came all the way from Serkonos to hide my talent, I don’t want her to run away too.”

 

“You come to me and beg for the continued safety of your daughter,” the Outsider says, and Corvo feels his stomach sink, “you come to someone who has walked all the paths of all the cities of the world and only sparingly casts his favour. You come to me, me, who has visited your establishment every week for several months, waiting for you to beg my favour, and finally when you do, it is for your daughter.”

 

Corvo is mute. He does not know what to say, to appease whatever strange mood the Outsider has been worked into. There is something behind the other man’s words, an echo, a wondrous power. It makes him dizzy.

 

“I’m sorry,” he finds himself saying, “I’ll go.”

 

Go?” The Outsider mocks, and when he smiles, his teeth are white and sharp. “Corvo. My dear, dear Corvo. You misunderstand. This is most interesting.”

 

Black eyes flick down Corvo’s face, rest to the side of Corvo’s mouth with flat curiosity.

 

“Most interesting indeed,” the Outsider repeats.

 

The sigil on Corvo’s hand burns like pale fire.

 

“When do you next work at the café?” The Outsider asks abruptly. The shadows in the corner seem to recede, flinching back. He steps away from Corvo, and the air feels lighter.

 

“Tomorrow,” Corvo finds himself saying, “I mean – tomorrow, yeah.”

 

“Very good. Bring Emily in with you.”

 

“But she has school—right, right,” Corvo adds hurriedly, at the look on the other man’s face, “of course. Yeah. I’ll do. That.”

 

He starts towards the archway. There’s a grittiness in the skin between his fingers that wasn’t there before. He thinks it might be sea-salt. Out on the landing the building is dark and cool, and small tendrils of purple light cling to his feet reluctantly as he steps out of the magic parlour.

 

“Tomorrow, Corvo.” The Outsider’s voice follows him out, an amused echo.

 

Corvo’s legs are like jelly as he rackets down the stairwell.

 

“Sweet dreams.”

 

The door slams shut behind him. Outside it is like a monsoon, and Corvo gasps, turning his face up into the downpour, blinking hard against the rain. He is shivering. The latent magic he has become so adept at ignoring most of the time feels burnt at the edges, the sigil on his hand drawing it out, bringing it closer to his skin. From a nearby gutter, he hears plaintive squeaking, and several rats peep at him from the sewer entrance fretfully. Corvo rubs his face hard, smoothing wet hair back off his face. He turns his collar up and hunches his shoulders, starts the slow trek out of the slum. Small dark shapes flit out from sewer cracks, follow him along at a protective distance.

 

He does not look back at the townhouse. Not even when he hears a noise beneath the roar of water, like the sound of a creaking gate being opened once more.

 

 


 

 

Emily is ecstatic to find that she has the day off school. Even when Corvo explains that she will be attending special tutoring at the café her excitement cannot be dampened. She ties ribbons in her hair and dresses in a frock of blue velvet, thick white stockings and small clip sandals.

 

“You look like a princess,” Corvo tells her, and she beams happily as they climb into his car.

 

It is still raining. When they arrive at The High Sea Corvo holds his coat over their heads and Lydia pulls the door open for them, gesturing wildly as they madly dash across the street to the safety of the café awning. She is still preparing the shop for opening. Corvo takes Emily to the staff room to dry off, only to find Cecelia already there setting the fireplace. Her auburn hair is curling underneath her damp woollen cap. She is not too good with children, but fetches one of the throw rugs Samuel stashes in the cupboard and tucks it around Emily’s ankles when the girl curls up in the corner of the lounge closest to the fire to wait. Corvo leaves them to help Lydia turn down the tables and open the rest of the blinds.

 

“This weather is ridiculous,” she huffs to him as they sweep past each other. She smells sweetly of rainwater. “Isn’t it, Corvo? Corvo?”

 

Corvo jumps where he is mindlessly wiping down the coffee machine, eyes trained on the door.

 

“What? Yeah, yeah, it’s strange.”

 

“Who are you waiting for?”

 

“I’m not waiting for anyone,” Corvo replies, clipped, and then shakes himself and says, “Emily’s tutor. That’s all.”

 

Lydia purses her lips and unpacks her apron, tying it around her waist. “I doubt anyone would risk the trip in this weather, no matter how good the coffee is.”

 

But Corvo has already straightened, as a dark shape slips past the shop windows, and the doorbell jingles as it is pushed open to reveal the Outsider. He is drenched head to toe, black locks dripping on his pale cheeks, but he seems unbothered. He pauses to take off his sodden coat and sling it over the back of the nearest chair, and then turns and graces Corvo with a quizzical smile.

 

“Then again,” Lydia says suddenly, breaking Corvo from her nervousness.

 

He shoots her a look, but Lydia is already wiping down tables with a smirk, implacable. The Outsider approaches the counter, slim and unassuming. Corvo is at once terrified and fascinated.

 

“Good morning Corvo,” the man says politely, tilting his head, “the café will not be busy today, I fear, what with the sky behaving as it is.”

 

“Uh.”

 

Corvo realises, suddenly, that the Outsider is attempting small-talk.

 

“Emily’s in the back,” he says, and then mentally smacks himself on the back of the head.

 

“Of course she is,” the Outsider agrees, and then pauses, casting the counter a pleased look, “shall I cross the sacred boundary, then?”

 

Lydia quickly turns her snort into a cough. Corvo hurries to raise the counter barrier, and the Outsider slides past him. The soft bunch of fabric at his hip brushes against the back of Corvo’s hand, and the sigil flares hotly in response. Corvo feels himself flush, and slams the barrier closed again, too loudly.

 

“Emily,” he calls, his voice hoarse, “your tutor is here.”

 

Her pale moon face peers around the staff room door, and as she sets eyes on the Outsider, her small lips bunch with curious confusion.

 

“You don’t look like a tutor,” she announced decidedly, “tutors are supposed to be old. And boring.”

 

“I am definitely one of those things,” the Outsider responds amusedly, “do I still qualify?”

 

“That depends. Will you make me do homework?”

 

“Emily,” Corvo hisses.

 

“Perhaps,” the Outsider smiles, “but I promise you, it will be the most interesting homework you’ll ever have.”

 

Emily frowned at Corvo.

 

“Corvo,” she complained, “he is boring.”

 

Horrified, Corvo rushes to apologise, but the Outsider waves one slender hand, cuffs damp with rain.

 

“A black coffee for me, my dear,” he requests politely, moving towards the staff room where he edges around the stacks of books to sit opposite Emily, beside the fire, “and for Emily, a hot chocolate, I believe.”

“With marshmallows,” Emily adds, testing him.

 

“With marshmallows,” the Outsider agrees. “Now, Emily, Corvo tells me you like roses.”

 

Corvo creeps away as quickly as he can, feeling that particularly father-like combination of nerves and hope wrestling in his chest. At the counter, Lydia is making a pretence of arranging glasses in order to listen in more closely, but she is unashamed when Corvo catches her. Instead she angles him a smirk, and says: “A tutor, really?”

 

“Emily could use one,” Corvo retorts defensively.

 

“Oh, don’t mind me,” she laughs, “That’s one way to do it, I suppose.”

 

Corvo is about to ask her what she means when Cecelia emerges from the kitchens, white-faced and trembling, hissing: “What is that man doing in our break room?”

 

“Oh, he’s Emily’s tutor now,” Lydia says before Corvo can speak. Cecelia goes quickly from horror to exasperation.

 

Corvo,” she sighs, before shaking her head and stalking away to right the tables, muttering all the while.

 

“What?” Corvo demands. “What?”

 

But the door is jingling yet again, as a group of elderly women apparently ambivalent towards the veritable tundra roaring around them pour into the store, and Corvo is swept up in an order of breakfast teas and dainty sandwiches that occupies him for long enough to forget his offence. An hour or so later as he is wiping bread crumps off the prep counter, he glances up towards the staff room just as the Outsider looks up at him. The man is kneeling on the floor beside Emily, and she is chattering excitedly as she balances a glittering rose on her slim fingers, explaining how she thought it into existence.

 

The Outsider is seemingly surprised to catch Corvo’s gaze, although he does not flinch or look away with embarrassment. Instead he blinks, slow, and then smiles, small and serene. It is strangely genuine. Corvo feels shivers like fingertips down his back.

 

“Corvo, more tea,” Lydia sighs from the other side of the café. He turns away, wiping his hands on the skirt of his apron.

 

Callista rings in another hour later, to tell them she won’t be dropping by as usual. Although it surprises no-one, the soft murmurs of another voice in the background do, and Corvo forgets his worries long enough to join Cecelia by the phone, needling her with purposefully rude insinuations until she catches onto them and hangs up with a huff. They muffle their laughter behind the counter, until Lydia shoots them a poisonous look and they break apart with a panic, hurrying to look busy.

 

Hours pass. Small pockets of incredibly brave customers come and go. The rain pours, and pours.

 

Then a slight hand is touching the crook of Corvo’s arm as he is foaming the milk, and he jumps. The Outsider is leaning against the hallway arch, loose and pliant.

 

“Her grace demands scones as a reward for hard work,” he informs, “with, and I quote, ‘enough cream to kill me’. I may have underestimated your ward, Corvo. Her temper is as impressive as her craft. I have yet to decide whom she owes that to.”

 

His black eyes twinkle with amusement, and rather than reacting with annoyance or shame as he might normally do to the mention of Emily’s mother, instead the lazy smile on the pale man’s face makes Corvo flush all over. It would be easy to blame the mark, he thinks, the physical connection between the two that wasn’t there before.

 

And yet. And yet.

 

“I’m not making her scones for lunch,” Corvo says, swallowing with a click, “its sandwiches or nothing.”

 

It is an empty threat, but the Outsider raises his eyebrows all the same, and retreats to the staff room to deliver the message. A moment later he appears again.

 

“A sandwich each, and a scone to share.”

 

Corvo pretends to consider it.

 

“With enough cream to kill you?”

 

The Outsider’s smile is black and fond.

 

“You can certainly try,” he murmurs.

 

 


 

 

That night, Dunwall drowns in water, and Corvo dreams.

 

He dreams he is on a small fishing boat, adrift on a rocking black sea. The skies above are flush with colour and lightning, flashes of white fire and blue racketing across the starry canvas. It is so very dark, but Corvo is not afraid. There are rats curled in the belly of the boat, and they chitter to each other in soothing, pleasant tones. Corvo sighs, heavy. He is so very relaxed.

 

A slim, but strong hand drags up his thigh, catching on worn denim and digging into corded muscle with short, sharp nails. A weight settles above him. Although slight, it blocks out the stars.

 

The Outsider fits on him so easily. Oil poured on a fire.

 

Corvo is not afraid.

 

Another hand in the tangled mess of his hair, twisting dark locks into a mean fist, pulling his head aside to reveal his throat. Taut muscle and old scars. Smiling teeth white and mean at his skin, dragging down. The boat rocks in the tide, and Corvo melts against the slats. Rats tumble over his feet, kissing his ankles as they play. The Outsider slides down, and then back up, pushing Corvo’s worn shirt up over his sternum, and the healing wound from the fight with the gang tingles slightly in the cool air.

 

There is something different to the puckered scar, a moonlit shape that was not so visible before.

 

“You see,” the Outsider murmurs, “you have had my mark all along, my dear.”

 

His hand travels further down, intrudes underneath worn fabric, clever fingers. A sudden flare of heat jolts through Corvo’s stomach and he flinches, and flinches and –

 

Wakes.

 

Alone.

 

In his dark bedroom, with sweaty sheets tangled around his ankles, and phantom kisses from rats and – other things – dancing along his spine.

 

“Corvo?” Emily’s voice warbles from her adjoining room. The hallway light switches on, a sudden flare of colour underneath Corvo’s bedroom door. “Is everything okay? You were calling out.”

 

Corvo’s cheeks are burning. Somewhere, Jessamine is surely laughing like a madwoman.

 

“It’s fine,” he croaks, and clears his throat, “just a dream. Go back to sleep, Emily, you have school tomorrow.”

 

“Oh,” she’s disappointed, “but I liked the Outsider, he was very nice, and I promised him I’d bring in all my favourite books on whales. He was really interested.”

 

“Next week,” Corvo promises, and collapses back against his sweaty bed in a huff, dizzy, “next week, Emily--”

 

Between one breath and the next, he is asleep.

 

 


 

 

 

Corvo goes to work.

 

Corvo foams milk, butters sandwiches, slices crisp brownies with a clean knife. He fields coy questions from Lydia and salacious comments from Cecelia. Callista takes revenge on him for yesterday by needling the other two girls for as much information on the Outsider as possible, within hearing range, of course, pausing every so often to cast Corvo a significant look and say, pointedly, “so he was very good with Emily, was he?”

 

Corvo goes home.

 

Corvo dreams.

 

Corvo wakes up.

 

“You were talking a lot,” Emily says from the doorway, in a rumpled nightie and hair sleep-mussed, “it sounded like someone was hurting you. You were saying ‘please’ a lot.”

 

Strangled, Corvo forces her back to bed, but she isn’t satisfied until he sings her his goodnight song, even half-crazed and sweaty as he is. He tucks her in, staggers to the bathroom, and dunks his head in a sink of cold water until he feels marginally sane again. When he raises his head, face dripping and panting, his hands are white where they are clutching the basin.

 

The Outsider’s mark glitters in the shitty bathroom lights.

 

Corvo groans pitifully.

 

 


 

 

“I need to talk to you,” Corvo says, after another week passes, and another. Emily has her lessons with the Outsider and when Corvo finishes work she is always pleased with herself, confident, talking about control and confidence. At the very least, she no longer has nightmares.

 

(“Losing control of yourself is a good fear to have,” the Outsider confines in Corvo cryptically during one scone-break, and Corvo bows his head and chops cucumber and tries not to be too transparent.)

 

Weeks have passed, and Corvo is sure he is a madman, but he can no longer stand by and say nothing. The Outsider, at least, seems content, with his coy smiles and knowing eyes, and the way he holds Emily up under her arms so she can tack her latest drawing to the top of the pin board where there is still space –

 

“I need to talk to you,” Corvo repeats, after he has dragged the Outsider by the arm into the dark kitchen towards the end of one working day. Lydia has already left for home, and Cecelia is manning the counter. The back of the shop is quiet, and cool, and the Outsider’s eyes are luminescent in the filtered light. Corvo is fairly certain he only let himself be pulled, and steps away awkwardly from the Outsider once they are a safe hearing distance from the kitchen door.

 

“I can see that,” the Outsider says, always so damn amused, like the world was a personal show for his entertainment. But he also seems expectant, and a little fascinated, and that is encouragement enough, Corvo thinks.

 

“I was, uh,” Corvo starts, and then flushes, “there have been these dreams, and I thought – I mean, I don’t know if you do that. The dream thing. Or if it’s just me. It might just be me.”

 

“The dreams?” The Outsider prods.

 

“I could be wrong,” Corvo mutters. He’s making a mess of this. It was the same with Jessamine, all irritable muttering and her patient, loving expectancy, waiting for him to unravel herself before her so she could put together what was left –

 

The sigil on his hand is burning, and Corvo gasps at the same time as the Outsider slides into his space, so close, like he wants to blend them together against the cool kitchen counter, make them join into one shadow amongst hundreds.

 

“You’re not wrong,” the Outsider purrs, and Corvo swallows, frozen, “you are so, so very interesting. Corvo.”

 

No I’m not, Corvo wants to say, I’m ordinary and I’m mean and I control rats and other weird things, weird like me.

 

But the Outsiders cool hands are cupping his face and the strength goes out of Corvo in one heaving swoop. The Outsider is stronger than he looks. His arms are iron bars, and they keep Corvo pressed against the counter in a firm brand. Sharp thumbs press into the hinges of Corvo’s jaw, purse his mouth open.

 

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he murmurs, black eyes impenetrable, “but I rather like weird things, Corvo.”

 

Then he pushes against Corvo, pushes inside, his mouth at once cool and hot and demanding, all-encompassing. He steals Corvo’s breath for himself, breaks away to allow him one frantic gasp, before delving back in again with a laughing smile, biting at the soft flesh of his lips, his tongue. Corvo grips his slim arms and hangs on, feeling crushed and elevated.

 

The Outsider consumes him like he talks to him, mockingly, lovingly, and very, very, possessively. Corvo is ashamed to realise he had not noticed sooner.

 

When the Outsider grabs his thigh much in the same way he has in Corvo’s many, many dreams, Corvo spares a desperate thought to Cecelia, hoping she is too busy and too far away to hear his surprised grunt, to hear the squeak of the kitchen counter groaning underneath their shared weight as the Outsider crawls on top of him, over him, within him.

 

He talks, at points. Stupid, ridiculous stuff like, “my dear, dear Corvo,” and “if you could see yourself now.”

 

Corvo only has the strength to retort with the occasional: “oh my god, shut up,” and “do that again, or I’m cutting you off from the coffee machine for life.” But the latter was only after a very convincing turn onto the kitchen floor, and he was mostly brain-addled, by then.

 

“Whatever you like, my dear,” the Outsider merely responds peacefully, “I’m finding myself very fond of you, you see.”

 

“Oh, good,” Corvo gasps, “glad we cleared that up.”

 

 


 

 

Wednesday morning, and the rain stops.

 

The snow stops too, although it is not entirely gone. It drips off eaves and doorsteps, lining the cobblestone pathways in piles of treacherous mush. Emily makes a game of them as they head to the café in the morning, seeing if she can jump from one pile to the other without slipping. Corvo clings to her swinging arm, tries not to have a stroke, and holds onto her for as long as he can.

 

When they reach the café, Emily heads straight for the back room with her bag of colouring books and pens, and her small leather journal which was given to her by her tutor several weeks into their lessons without explanation, but she now uses for points on magical practice and the occasional drawing of a mermaid. Cecelia opens the door for them when they arrive, yawning widely. Lydia is bustling around as per normal, opening blinds and righting chairs, but she has her phone clutched to her ear, and Piero’s slow, nasally drawl comes through the speaker in unfamiliarly fond tones.

 

On the flyer board, a brand new A3 poster in crayon and glitter pens demands the café’s patrons take responsibility for Dunwall’s sea life. Next to it is attached some interesting trivia about Dunwall’s whaling history in torturously neat, slanting black cursive.

 

Corvo settles behind the counter, tying his apron around his waist. He relaxes into the morning routine, turning on the coffee machine, cleaning its spouts. Cecelia giggles when they twist around each other to set out the pastries he baked last night. Corvo can hear Samuel’s gravelly tones turn sweet and doting from the staff room, where Emily has obviously woken him from an impromptu nap.

 

The clock turns eight.

 

The door jingles.

 

“Good morning, Corvo,” a smooth voice says, and Corvo glances up and –

 

Smiles.