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What Is It Worth?

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It was done.  This part, anyway.  And I even took a little pleasure from it.  I smoothed my hand over his shoulder, touch as gentle as if I were his lover—we both knew it was a lie.  He sighed, gaze fixed on my collarbones for a moment, until his eyes closed.

"Fine.  Just don't get yourself or my men caught or killed."

I nodded and kissed his forehead.  He relaxed his hips and I lifted mine, sighing softly as he slid out.  I stood up from his bed and collected my clothes—borrowed rags from his people.  I glanced back at him, he was running a hand through his hair, still on his back, expression grim.  The Mark on the back of his hand stood out, dark on his skin.

"Daud, I can't express how much that means to me," I told him.  He grunted and glanced at me and, not for the first time, I was again glad he'd saved me, rather than slain me.  To have that face be the last thing I ever saw.  I finished buckling my belt and left him and his bedroom behind.

I made it to the bottom of the stairs before one of his Whalers approached, pausing to salute.  They didn't do that, not normally, and not most of them anyway.  And if I knew this man by his posture—and I'd tried to learn all of their names—it would be Rinaldo and he only ever saluted Daud.

"Ma'am.  You seem in good spirits."

Ah.  So word just got around quickly, here.

"Rinaldo," I smiled openly at him. "One of the men I was looking for."

"Ma'am?" he cocked his head.

"Yes, dear," I waved for him to follow. "I'll need Thomas, as well.  And either Monty or Jordan."

"Jo's out on a run and Mont's elbow-deep in Outsider-knows-what with Tony and Leo, right now, ma'am," Rinaldo said. "Galia's available."

"Galia is combative and impulsive.  And too muscular," I said. "I need someone waifish, slender..."

"Ma'am?"

"I have a plan that Daud has given me permission to execute."

It had taken me five months to get over the fact that I was no longer Empress and that Daud—patient, grim, infuriating Daud—was king, here.  And while he was content to let my Emily play like she was still a princess, he'd been equally content to remind me that I had no power in his domain.  Except... now I did.  There was a bizarre confidence that came with it—with the physical satisfaction of sex, the lingering sensation of his length inside me, the slick stickiness of his seed.  And clearly, this feeling of confidence, of control and power was not unwarranted.  I had something, now, intangible, but within grasp, resembling power again.  If I had to become the Queen of Rudshore and lay with Daud every night in order to take my Empire back, so be it.

Rinaldo inclined his head in a vague nod. "I'll see if I can find Deva, then."

"Thank you," I said.  Before I could tell him where to find me, he was gone, a few motes of ash shivering where he'd been.

He'd find me.

As if he and his brothers didn't always know where I was...

I continued, picking my way along the route, stepping over anything that looked damp.

I pretended not to hear the little boots rushing up behind me.  I let out a surprised shout and Emily was on my back, giggling.

"Did I scare you, Mommy?" she asked.

"Terrified," I replied. "You came from nowhere, my love."

Ryan and Dodge followed her up.  I could tell them from Ryan's slightly loping gait and Dodge's fidgeting left hand.  I boosted Emily a little higher on my back, letting her wrap her arms around my neck.  Dodge was a sweet young man—probably closer to boyhood, though—and I liked him very much, and even trusted him with Emily, if only just a little.  Ryan, however, I was unsure of—he seemed alright with Emily, he was lovely with the newest handful of 'pups,' but I'd also seen him fight Overseers and Witches—and heard the laugh that crawled out of the Void and through him as he did.  The man was mad.  Though, I suspected they all were, in their own ways.

"C'mon, Princess," Dodge nodded for her to follow him. "Race you to the end of the bridge."

"You're on!"

Emily slid off my back and took off.  Dodge feigned surprise. "Cheater!" he shouted after her.  Ryan cocked his head, looking over at me.

"Don't expect us to start calling you 'Bosslady' or anything."

"I am the Empress of the Isles," I frowned.

"Not anymore, Your Majesty," he stated blandly. "Besides, the Big Knife's king here, no matter who's on the throne of the Isles."

"Oh, Ryan..." I patted his arm. "It's the Average-Sized Knife at best."

His chuckle, filtered through teeth and the mask, sent a shiver down my spine that I hid beautifully as I walked off to find Thomas.

 

It was the first time I'd seen Thomas out of uniform.  He was curled up on his narrow bunk, blanket tangled around his legs, one arm wrapped around his torso, the other folded under his head.  His hair was longer than I'd expected, and curled in a manner that reminded me of Corvo's, despite the stark contrast in color.

"Tommy boy, wakey wakey..." Rinaldo dipped the toe of his boot under the blanket, presumably prodding Thomas's backside.  The blond man jerked awake, ending up half-out of the bed with his sword in hand, pointed at Rinaldo's throat.

"Remarkable," I said. "I've only ever seen Corvo do that once." Then, with a small smile, "Adorable breeches, Thomas."

They had little yellow ducks on them—how could I resist.

Devon giggled from the doorway behind me.

"Gift from Quinn, ma'am," Thomas said, blushing faintly, but coming to attention politely enough.  I brought my satchel around and handed him a bundle of cloth.

"Dress in this," I instructed him.  I handed another bundle of cloth to Rinaldo. "You, Rinaldo and I have a job."

Rinaldo and Thomas looked perfect— one dressed as an Overseer, the other a guard.  Thomas would move in first; a heretic, played by Devon, was due for arrest.  An actual Overseer would be a victim to our scheme— I'd staked him out well.  His name was Martin and he was about the right height.  His congregation was near enough to Coldridge to make it passable.  The prison was required to allow Overseers to use its interrogation suite, or house prisoners awaiting interrogation by Overseers.  Thomas would join Martin and dispatch him once they made it into the interrogation chamber.  In the meantime, Rinaldo would join the second-wave shift change of guards and escort Corvo to the torture chamber—which had to be walked through in order to reach the interrogation room; a brutish, if effective scare tactic.  Martin's uniform would be stripped and Corvo would dress in it.  Rinaldo and Thomas would also swap uniforms and Thomas would, on the third-wave shift change, leave after them.

Martin would be discovered a few hours after that and he would never know any of their true faces.

 

Daud had stopped us on our way out of Rudshore—he spoke and acted as though nothing had transpired between us, thankfully, but handed me a half-mask.  It was the sort of thing noble ladies wore to pre-Fugue Feast balls, an elegant little thing with a short bill and carved feathers—a swan.  He hadn't said much about it, simply that it might do to have my face covered, seeing as the whole damn city knew me.  I'd replied that the whole city knew him, as well.  He'd smiled and said that only a handful knew his face and they'd be too terrified of seeing it closer to let it circulate.  I'd agreed, teasing bitterly that it was a well-founded fear.

I sat in the carriage, drumming my fingers gently on the open window frame, looking out at the Wrenhaven.  I could see the Tower from here and it made me uneasy, knowing my half-sister, the spoiled, terrible woman, was lounging in it.  I didn't know where she was, exactly, but I knew she was there.  The scar in my shoulder itched.  Daud had rescued me from the Tower, from Delilah, at the cost of my name, a few ounces of blood and use of my left arm for a few weeks.  I should've been more grateful—it was a low cost for my life and the life of my child.

Two Overseers clambered into the carriage, followed by a young woman pulling off a wig and glasses, her aged makeup already smeared off, mostly.  Lastly came a guard whose unruly blond curls had been tucked up under his hat marvelously.  The Overseers' masks came off, then so did mine.

Corvo's eyes lit up, he opened his mouth, then shut it and just grinned.  I reached across the expanse between us and took him into my arms.  His uniform smelled like Overseer Martin, he smelled like sweat and blood and filth.  I buried my face in his neck and drank it in anyway.

"Jess, I thought you died," he rasped, his voice all gravel and cracked glass and pain, no more that beautiful Serkonan rumble.

"Daud stabbed me in the shoulder," I told him as the carriage began to roll. "He saved me, he saved Emily— it was all for show."

"Daud," Corvo echoed. "I know that name."

"The Knife of Dunwall," Thomas said.

"The assassin who's been keeping the nobility shaking in their boots for a few decades," Rinaldo continued.

"And the gangs from ripping Dunwall apart," Devon added, pulling the corset out from under her blouse, making Corvo blush a little. "Void, this thing hurts.  How do you highborns do it?"

"Practice, patience and brandy," I replied with a faint smile.

"The Void with practice and patience," Devon scoffed and chucked the corset out the window.  She put her boots up on Rinaldo's thigh. "I'll take the brandy though."

"I've got a bottle of Sekonan stuff under my bunk," Rinaldo said, rubbing her calf absentmindedly.

"No, you don't, Rin," Thomas said. "Tony took it three weeks ago."

"What?  I'm gonna fucking kill him."

"Get in line behind Steve, Nick and Kent," Devon said, pushing her leg out a little further.  Rinaldo relaxed and parted his own knees a little, patting her shin.  I made them a little more room by shifting closer to Corvo.  Something inside him shuddered when I did.

 

I looked up at him, faintly surprised and I let him see it.

He didn't react, I took the cut-crystal glass from him. "What's the occasion?" I asked.

"A successful job," Daud said, staying a respectful distance from me as we watched Corvo and Emily.  She dragged Dodge into things and the young Whaler was nervous so close to Corvo.

"And you share whiskey with all of your Whalers on their successful jobs?"

"Mm, not all of them like whiskey," Daud said. "And you're not a Whaler."

He paused, sipped his own whiskey.

"Or mine."

I took a gulp of the drink—it was good stuff, too.  Tasted just like what I had back at the Tower.  He noticed my surprise and smiled faintly.

"It's exactly what you think it is," he said.

"I had no idea your taste was so refined," I said.  He shrugged.

"You don't know a great deal about me, Your Majesty," he said.  It was true, simple point of fact.  I raised an eyebrow.

I dared, "Is that a warning or invitation?"

Daud sipped his whiskey and his stare flicked away from my face, roving across his little kingdom. "A fact."

"Well, that's a bit boring, isn't it?  A simple fact..."

He snorted and set his glass down. "Fine.  Both."

"I suspected as much," I said. "Your men all know about what we did."

"They do," Daud confirmed. "Rudshore has excellent acoustics."

"It can't happen again."

"I didn't think it would.  I knew what it was, Your Majesty."

"I guessed you would," I said.  I'd suspected he knew when I saw a particular look in his eyes, just before he informed me of how close to climax he'd been.  I'd seen the look before; in the eyes of the only other assassin who almost got close enough to me to harm me—just as Corvo's sword slid across her throat.  And once, a form of it, in Corvo's eyes, the night he tried to break off our affair.

We were fools to think it was so easy.

 

Corvo was unresponsive to romantic probing for... some time.  He wouldn't let anyone touch his back, touch his chest, not even Emily.  If anyone tried to touch him, his back hit a wall and he barred his teeth.

This went on for weeks, and Daud began preparations to move us to Serkonos, to an old ally's abandoned farmstead outside Cullero.  In the meantime, waiting for my love to find the broken shards of his heart and press them together again, Daud taught Emily and I to fight.

"No, that's all wrong.  First strike with a grip like that and your sword hits the floor," Daud tutted, curling his hand around mine.  There was friction, I could feel it buzzing in the air between us.  His jaw loosened, his lips parting slightly.  Mine mouthed a silent gasp— Void, he was so close.

"Where were you from?" I asked. "Before Dunwall?"

"Karnaca," he said.  I suspected as much, nodding. 

And then he was swearing in the East Karnacan dialect I was so familiar with, but still didn't know the meaning of, as my sword hit the floor after his and we crashed into one-another like waves on the Serkonan coast.  His coat followed it, then his belt, gloves, then my jacket and belt.  My fingers closed in his hair, his mouth closed on mine.  He tasted wonderful—like frustration and blood and steel and smoke and regret.  One hand fumbled down into the front of his pants, curling around him.  He hissed into my mouth and his hand curled around my wrist.  He was hard in my fist, throbbing.  I moaned softly into his mouth, my own arousal burning, aching between my thighs as I remembered the feeling of his length inside me.  I tried to move my hand, but his grip was iron and immobile.  Daud licked his lips and backed up then slid to the side, grabbing his belt, coat and gloves and vanishing in a swirl of ash.