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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.

Chapter Text

"We'll be leaving for Morley at the end of the month," Daud informed me, one morning.  Thomas stood a step behind his left shoulder, hands clasped behind his back, mask strapped in place. "And from there, to Serkonos."

"Why the detour?" I asked.

"One smuggler won't take us to Serkonos—not cold enough for her—and Rulfio and I are the only Serkonans the other one ever liked," Daud said. "And I was only able to make arrangements with the two.  Everyone else is too scared to smuggle assassins out of Dunwall."

I glanced at Thomas—Daud's constant shadow the last three days since our last training session together. "And from Morley?"

"I know three captains currently moored there," Daud said. "And not one of them cares a lick about rumors of magic or assassins—two of them are Serkonan, one's half Pandyssian."

"Exotic."

Daud deemed that the end of our discussion. 

I disagreed.

"Thomas, you may leave us," I said.  Daud's hand clenched on his pen.

"Not a muscle, son," he said flatly.

Thomas hovered. "Yessir."

"Very well," I frowned. "On the matter of Corvo."

"What about him?" Daud didn't look up, still.

"You're willing to cage him on a ship with your men for a month?"

Daud exhaled stiffly. "He's your problem, Your Majesty.  And my men can defend themselves if he makes himself their problem," he said, his voice as indifferent as if talking about the weather.

Thomas shifted uncomfortably.

"Something to add, Thomas?" I asked, glancing at him.  Daud looked up, glaring at me.  I smiled pleasantly back at him.

"Sir, what about, er, what... transpired between you and Her Majesty?  Some of the men are chatty—" Thomas cut himself off and hovered back a half-pace.  Daud kept his glare locked with mine.

"If they know what's good for them, they won't be chatty about the Empress seducing me around her boyfriend, Thomas," Daud said. "Thomas, see the Empress out."

 

I contented myself with sparring with Quinn.

She twisted around, her blade dragging against mine and she made to disarm me.  I gripped my hand a little tighter—like Daud had shown me—and twisted back, elbowing her in the throat.  She stumbled, I hit her with my knee in the belly and she took a swipe at me.  I blocked her, then pressed my sword flat against her neck.

"Not bad, ma'am," Quinn said, smiling and nodding her approval.  Breathing heavy, I swept a stray hair back and smiled back.  She'd gone easier on me than Daud had.

"Not bad at all," Corvo said, revealing his presence.  His voice would never be what it was, but it was closer than when he first came to Rudshore.  Corvo picked up a practice saber and twirled it experimentally. "May I have this dance, Your Majesty?" he asked.  I looked at Quinn, who backed up with her hands raised, gesturing for Corvo to move closer.

So he did.  And our blades met.  He moved slowly at first, letting me feel as though I'd gotten an edge, though I knew he was going easy on me.  Then he sped things up.  Soon we were whirling around the floor, his offensive movements simple and easy enough to block, but his defensive movements impossible to predict.  I never met his steel once, even if he did meet mine a few.

"Not fair, my love," I panted. "You're the best swordsman in Serkonos."

"Gristol, too," Corvo smiled. "You've got a lot of back alley in your style, milady.  Where'd you learn to fight?"

"From a Serkonan thug with a gang of assassins," I replied.  My hand faltered, his blade nearly brushed my ear.  I saved myself and kicked him in the shin.  Corvo hissed, drawing his leg back.  I grabbed his wrist and he dropped his blade, jerking away from me roughly.  And that was the end of it.  I reached to touch his arm and he jerked away again, panic flaring in his eyes.

"Jess, I'm sorry—"

"It's alright, Corvo," I said.

 

I leaned into the banister on the little observation platform hanging out over the Wrenhaven.  I heard a step behind me and glanced over my shoulder. 

Daud.

"You won't see me privately in your office, but you sneak up on me from behind when you know there's no one in shouting range?" I raised an eyebrow.  He slid into the railing beside me, elbows propped on the bar.

He shrugged. "I had paperwork, Your Majesty," he said blandly, as if that explained it all.  The silence hung, pregnant and awkward for a long moment. "You and I can't."

"Can't...?"

Damn right I'll make you spell it out, assassin.  Daud looked away from the glaring match first, back down at the river.  He cocked his head a little. "Be lovers."

"Why not?" I crossed my arms. "I love Corvo dearly, but he needs a friend, not a lover..."

"I have no interest in you," Daud growled.

"Oh?  It didn't seem to be the case when you fucked me—"

His glare should've been a slap.  He would've really hit me. 

Part of me wished he had.

"I was curious to see how far you were willing to go," he said.

"I'm sure it was fairly obvious," I hissed.  He shrugged and said nothing more for a long several minutes.  I huffed. "And why did you save me?"

"Because no child should have to watch their mother die," Daud snapped.  Too revealing, Daud.  I touched his arm as his hackles flattened back out, his snarl turning back on the river.

"I agree," I said. "I saw my mother die, as well.  They didn't think I did, but I did..." I murmured, moving closer.  He tensed, but remained resolutely glaring a hole in the river, rather than me.  I thought of a thousand things to add, but all of them felt wrong.  So I just slipped my fingers into his half-clenched gloved hand.  After a beat, he squeezed my fingers gently, gratefully. 

And so the Empress of the Isles watched the sun set with The Knife of Dunwall.

 

Corvo swore and punched the wall, pacing around in a circle before coming back to me, holding my arms at length. "Jess—"

"It's alright, my love," I said, drawing him close, but not into an embrace.  I kissed his forehead and soothed him back to sleep.  I passed Emily, Dodge and Ryan on my way to Daud's office.  She was sleeping in Ryan's arms, her head on his shoulder, Dodge's head in her lap, her hand tangled in his dark curls.  I gave Ryan a nod, he nodded tiredly back.  Daud was standing up from his desk when I threw open the doors.

"We're not leaving Dunwall."

"Excuse me?" he blinked. "I'm leaving with my men."

"You are not," I said. "As the Empress of the Isles, spoken word is as lawful as written decree—" That wasn't strictly true, but I doubted Daud knew intimate political details such as the accuracy of that claim. "You will help me dispose of Delilah Copperspoon and Hiram Burrows.  From this moment forth, I name you, Daud of Karnaca, as my Royal Spymaster, effective immediately.  You will work to ensure the safety of the Empire under and with my authority."

Daud blinked.  He cocked his head, looked like he was on the verge of laughing or calling me an idiot.  He did neither.  He rounded the desk, looming over me.  He wasn't quite as tall as Corvo, but he was taller than me, especially considering I was barefoot and he was not.

"Yeah?" he growled. "What if I decline."

"I find it amusing that you believe you have an alternate course of action," I said. "No matter where you run, eventually the world will fall around you.  Delilah will see you killed for aiding me—and she will make you watch your men die."

The threat wasn't really a threat, so much as a warning.  It hung in the air for a moment, a long, uncomfortable moment.  He moved closer.  I could smell his arousal, I felt mine between my thighs, between my hips, warm and damp and it ached as he moved closer. 

"And what are you offering in exchange?" he rumbled.  It was softer than a growl, resonated through my chest. 

I shivered. 

He saw, but didn't say anything.

"Land, titles, whatever you want," I said, my voice getting husky as I looked up at him.  He'd moved closer still. "After I reclaim my throne, with your aid.  I can't do it without you."

His eyes narrowed.

The air crackled with friction and heat between us.

I swallowed.

"I need your help."

He nodded.  His voice was hoarser still, "That you do."  Then, "I still have two ships scheduled to take my men and I away from here..."

I kissed him.

He hissed against my mouth, but yielded.  I backed him up against his desk, his hands tangling in my hair as I gripped his shirt, ran my fingers over his neck, his jaw, his chest, his back.  He swore as my hand dipped against the front of his pants, gripping just the right way.  He swore in Serkonan into my throat, my shoulder... My nightshirt fell away from my shoulder, his mouth moving there and I whined insistently, grabbing at his left hand.  He complied, his gloved fingers slipping against my sex, pressing through the thin material of my sleeping pants.  The cloth moistened, I bit his lip to stifle myself, bit his neck, his chest through his shirt.

"Daud, help me," I begged, grinding my hips into his hand. "Please."

He hummed into my throat, his hands moving roughly over my hip, away from my sex.

"Daud, I need you," I hissed.  He nodded, his thumb dropping back down to press blindingly into me.  I gasped, he licked my lip, I kissed him again, pivoting my hips into his hand.  He growled.  I reached down and fumbled with the front of his pants, with his belt.  He rutted against me, his length hard and pressing into my hip, and we held our breaths, bodies stilled for a second, his fingers curled in the waist of my pants.  I shimmied my hips, making it clear for him, both metaphorically and to allow him to tug the fabric down far enough for us to continue on.  He wasted very little more time and pressed inside me, to the hilt, in two rough thrusts. 

Papers, an inkwell, his wristbow and sword clattered to the floor as he took me on his desk, stooped over me as he was.  He swore into my throat, curled his fists in my hair and fucked me raw and deep.  He pushed off the desk a little, holding himself above me, jaw clenched and glared down at me with the same look a man might give the long drop ahead of him only after he realized it was further than he'd intended to fall.  I braced one hand against his chest, he groped his left hand around my left breast and a bead of sweat ran down his jaw, cursing in that lovely East Karnacan dialect.  I moaned and he cursed again, in something coarser, throwing his head back as he ploughed his hips hard into mine.

"Daud, please..." I whimpered, I begged, fingers digging into his back.  My heels dug into his backside as if urging him deeper, the edge of his pants surprisingly resistant to my pushing against them and to gravity, his ass unsurprisingly firm under my heels.  His shirt bunched against my ribs and his stomach flexed against my belly again as he dropped back into my shoulder, I arched into his chest, the two of us panting as the glorious, terrible rhythm we'd built shuddered towards its end, our end.  A grander bolt of pleasure shuddered through me, stronger than the last and every one before it, making me close my eyes; it seemed to ripple back through him, too, setting him trembling as his pace was destroyed.

"Fine," he growled into my shoulder, voice roughened and tight with lust and exertion. "As you wish, Your Imperial Majesty."

I smiled, cried out into his chest and came around him while he emptied out inside in me.

 

I did not wake up where I'd fallen asleep.

I was lying on a cold stone floor—a poor copy of the gazebo in my rose garden in the Tower, constructed out of chipping, splintering black marble.  The gazebo sat, floating, on an island in the middle of a vast emptiness—the Void.  I realized, then, what the tattoo on the back of Daud's hand was...

"Well, isn't this a fascinating turn of events..."

The Mark of the Outsider.

I jerked away from what I presumed to be the source of the voice, thumping into a solid enough chest.  I turned and drew away from the slim, black-eyed young man smiling faintly down at me, as quickly as my legs would take me.  I didn't make it far, though, a disturbed curiosity keeping me penned close enough.  His boots touched the ground without a sound.  I held up my hands, bracing him, stopping him from coming any closer.  Daud said it was possible to channel a vicious punch from even so close, from the length of a finger... The Outsider folded his hands behind his back and looked down at me with eyes black as the night through dark-lashed eyelids.

"What do you want with me?" I demanded.  He cocked his head.

"One surprise after another with you, Jessamine Kaldwin," the Outsider drawled. "Seducing an assassin into becoming your Spymaster—the assassin who was destined to take your life.  Choosing a street rat from Karnaca as your Royal Protector... Loving that street rat, producing an heir to your throne with him... Oh, and creating your own demise."

"What do you mean?" I blinked, staring up at him.

He grinned viciously, like a shark scenting blood. "Oh, my dear Empress... Don't you recall?  You engineered your own downfall when you turned on poor little Delilah... Your dearest friend as a child, returned as the most dangerous enemy you're likely to ever face.  A vicious fly in the ointment, isn't she..." he cocked his head. "Surely you haven't forgotten her..."

"She claims to be my sister, but that's—" I stopped.  I'd only half-believed it but here, faced by this... thing, denying it seemed like the only option, but a faint, distant, unrealistic one.  My father was a good Emperor.  A good husband.  A good father.  There was no way— The eldritch beast in front of me chuckled grimly.

"Impossible?  Is that what you mean to say, my dear?  Oh, but it isn't.  It's truth," the Outsider said. "The abbey accuses me of luring lies out of people, but it's the truth I spawn.  The clearest, ugliest truths.  This is one." He tips his head to the opposite side now, trailing his fingers along my jaw. "But how different things should've gone—this is another truth.  Delilah would've been content to watch your city crumble, you dead at Daud's hand, at Hiram Burrows's behest.  But, oh, no, she decided to join Hiram Burrows, to take the initiative, to take everything from you.  And she would have... And you didn't even notice until it was too late...  Did you even notice you'd put your kingdom up for sale, darling Jessamine?"

"Delilah was a mistake.  And I was too trusting of Hiram, but I will do anything to have my kingdom back, you black-eyed scoundrel," I hissed, jerking my head away from his hand.  The Outsider's bitter, shark smile was back.

"More intriguing still..." he drawled. "So alike Daud you are... Holding your tattered pieces of a kingdom close to your breast, declaring you'll do anything for them... No wonder he fell so easily between your thighs..."

"If you have nothing to say, to aid me with, you may send me back," I replied gruffly, folding my arms over my breast.

The Outsider laughed.

"Yes, my dear.  So very like Daud," he said. "He fascinated me once, you know.  A ragged, filthy boy with no name—his was taken from him along with his mother, his innocence, his childhood, any chance at a peaceful night's sleep again.  I slipped into his dreams, soothed him, guided his hand, let him take revenge on the men that took name from him..." He strokes his fingers across my jaw again, gripping it as I try to pull away.  His hand feels like wet silk, but stretched taught over wax and metal. "Daud became predictable, boring.  But you've rekindled my interest—you've drawn my fascination.  Trapped in such a similar web, tangled with no name, no crown, few allies, and even fewer hopes.  You've lured the heretic assassin who was destined to end your life into your specter of a court with cold words and warm thighs—"

The slap echoed in the Void.

He released my jaw when my hand landed on his cheek, thin and pale and boyish.  The skin didn't redden, his head turning just slightly, hair only faintly disturbed.  He blinked and regarded me with hunger in his eyes. "Oh, yes.  Fascinating indeed and so like him.  What are you willing to become, I wonder?  What are you willing to do to take your kingdom back?  Will you take my gift like he did?  How many of your subjects will you kill...?"

"Will you make me hit you again?" I hissed.  He smiled, vicious and sharklike and full of curiosity and hunger. "I want nothing from you," I backed up a step. "I want only my kingdom and my family safe—Corvo, Emily..."

"Ah, yes... Corvo..." the Outsider said. "He would've escaped Coldridge on his own, you know, a month later.  Had you not seduced Daud into letting you steal away his men..."

My hands clenched into fists.  If he carried on, I resolved to punch him as hard as I could, right in the throat, where and how Daud had shown me.  The Outsider noticed this resolution and a chuckle bubbled from within his chest. 

"No, I imagine it wouldn't do to have a heretic on the throne..." he droned. "But two Marked hands..."

I woke on the padded-lid chest at the foot of my bed in Rudshore.  Corvo was sitting up, flexing his left hand.  I tensed.

On the back of his left hand, just like Daud's, sat the Mark of the Outsider.

Chapter Text

Daud might've been the King of Rudshore—the Big Knife (and despite my jests, I couldn't really disagree)—but I was the Empress again, on all his Whalers' tongues.

A day had gone by since Daud agreed to be my Spymaster, and they all addressed me properly, now.  Some of them saluted as I passed when our paths crossed, some bowed their heads.  Rinaldo and Thomas liked their little bows, which were vague echoes of courtlier ones, from the waist and with a downward tilt of the head.  I heard Ardan joke about Serkonans moving up in the world order and interceded after Rulfio and Javier got a few kicks in.

"Ow, fuck, you bleedin' assho—er, mornin' yer Majesty," the tall Morley native stumbled to a salute.  Javier bowed a little, Rulfio tipped his head down.

"Gentlemen," I addressed them, smiling mildly. "Perhaps you should be a bit nicer amongst one-another—"

"She needs you all in good condition," Daud grumbled, materializing behind me, a phantom. "Your Majesty, if you'll walk with me.  We've matters to discuss."

A glance over my shoulder was for the expectation of childish eyebrow-waggling and gesturing.  None of it occurred—Ardan offered his brothers each a cigarette and Javier produced a lighter and Rulfio picked up a story from earlier, their little kicking match utterly forgotten.

I followed Daud back to his office, Thomas appearing at some point just behind me.  Corvo and Rinaldo were there already, Corvo seated, Rinaldo holding up one of the crumbling bookshelves with his shoulders and the back of his head. 

"Hiram Burrows is asserting himself as Regent-Interim and Delilah as the rightful heir to the Kaldwin crown on thin support from the nobility," Daud began as Thomas closed the doors behind us. "Delilah's keeping him to manage the empire, but she's made it clear to him that he is irrelevant in terms of her long term plans."

"Where are you getting your information?" Corvo frowned, arms crossed over his chest.

"Like a good magician, an assassin never reveals his tricks, Lord Protector," Rinaldo said, smiling impudently at Corvo. "And Boss is the best in the business."

"Thank you, Rinaldo," Daud sighed. "In any effect, there are a few more... vocal nobles," Daud said. "Men and women who support Delilah and intimidate otherwise moderately harmless actors into becoming problems, Majesty."

"Such as?" I asked.

"A small list that includes Anderson Crane and one of the Boyle sisters, milady," Thomas replied. "We're not sure which one, yet, but we do know Anton Sokolov painted her portrait and that she's Hiram Burrows's mistress.  Unfortunately, that portrait was done from behind and they've exchanged no correspondence that a name can be drawn from.  Nor has she visited the Tower recently."

"Additionally, Majesty," Rinaldo picked up. "There're a few nobles quietly stirring up rebellion..."

"Oh?" I asked.  Rinaldo nodded. "Do tell..."

"Treavor Pendleton is at the fore on that, alongside a recently 'retired' admiral," Daud said.

"Custis and Morgan Pendleton are the ones with the power, though, the holders of the family seats at council," I scowled. "I detest those two."

"Hn, threw one out of a party once.  Probably should've gone with the window instead of the stairs," Corvo said.  I smiled at the memory.

"Morgan was mortified," I agreed. "And Custis hates you for it."

"They both do," Corvo said.

"If you remove Custis and Morgan, how many nobles will still support Burrows?" I asked.  Daud shrugged and drew a cigarette from a tin case.  He stuck end of it in his mouth, but didn't light it.  Unfortunately, his unvoiced 'how the hell should I know' resonated.  I didn't know either—unfortunate, considering I was the Empress.  However, I knew he knew more than he was letting on.  He might've even known better than I did.  He probably did know better than I did.

"I have a few names, noblemen and women who're more motivated by greed than anything else," Daud said. "Old clients, family of old targets..."

"You know the area better than you've let on, then," I said, a bit disappointed sounding.  We both knew I'd known all along.  He shrugged again and leisurely fished out a box of matches from one of the pouches on his belt.

"Mm, I might," he said. "Problem is, I don't have the perspective you do, Majesty.  Who do you trust?"

"At the moment, everyone I trust is here, in Rudshore," I said.  That left it vague enough.  I trusted Daud wouldn't kill me—he'd been paid to and had his blade in my chest, but hadn't taken the final step to put the blade where it needed to go.  And I trusted his men to be loyal to him.  And I trusted Emily to be innocent and mine and a child.  Corvo... Corvo smiled, thinking I meant him.  But something stirred strangely in my chest when I saw that Mark on his hand.  The Outsider I did not trust.

"Unfortunate," Daud said.  He lifted a folder off the desk behind him. "Thomas, however, is a clever boy."

"Thank you, sir," Thomas said, smiling shyly.

"You're welcome," Daud replied, unsmiling himself. "He's scoured bounty listings and our own records and made a list of nobles who were or are likely being bullied into siding with and supporting Burrows and Delilah.

"I took the folder and skimmed the names. "Pendleton may be important, given his new contacts," I said.  The nobles involved with the rebellion against the new Empress and her Regent were annotated with a small R and a coin sign. "Arrange a meeting.  Esma's daughter is fond of Emily... I might be able to talk some sense into her and her her sisters—including whichever one is bedding Burrows through her. "Byron Alderdice?  Fascinating..."

"His business is being destroyed by Burrows's policies," Thomas pointed out. "And willingness to let the plague go untreated."

"Greed can be a useful tool," I commented, flicking a glance at Daud, who was pretending to be preoccupied with his own copy of the list of names. "See all these men and women involved with the rebellion contacted and their loyalty—or their resolve, rather, checked.  And I want a meeting with Pendleton and this Admiral."

"You should know the Abbey also has lent Delilah its support, ironically," Daud said.  I'd seen Delilah use something like magic, appearing out of nowhere, but I'd attributed it to being disoriented from the pain of being stabbed in the shoulder. "Delilah is Marked like Corvo and myself."

"Makes sense," Corvo said. "And that's a little less unsettling than her being a witch."

"Sure is," Daud nodded. "Mama always said never cross a witch."

"Smart woman, your mother," I said.  Too bad Mama Daud couldn't warn me before I made an enemy of Delilah...

 

 

Emily tried to do it again and Ryan caught her, laughing.  She frustratedly kicked out of his arms and got back up on the bar.  She watched Dodge do it, then Rulfio, then tried to do it again herself.

This time, she managed, grunting quietly, as her little arms bore her weight upside down on the bar.  Her legs swayed too far out and Dodge caught her.

"Very good, Princess," Dodge grinned.

"Better than any of us on our sixth try," Rulfio said.

"Better than you on your sixty-thousandth try, Rulf," Quinn teased.  Rulfio stuck his tongue out at her and she laughed.

"Can I learn how to fence on the bars?" Emily asked.  I paled.  Ryan and Dodge saw.  Rulfio did not.

"Sure, why not, kid?" Rulfio said.

"'Cos Her Majesty turned Tyvian for a sec?" Dodge gestured at me.

"Well..." I feigned contemplating it.  Emily might need to know how to fight as well as one of these Whalers. "I suppose there's little harm in it.  Do make sure nothing happens to her, though, Dodge."

"Yes, Your Majesty!"

"Your Majesty?"

I looked up, Thomas loomed over me. "Thomas."

"Ma'am."

"What is it?"

"I've extended the invitation to meet with the so-called Loyalists.  We decided on an abandoned apartment on Endoria as the meeting place, for tomorrow night.  They think our base is in Draper's Ward," he reported. "And they don't know anything about us except that we have information concerning you and resources that might be attractive to them."

"Excellent.  How does Daud feel about this?"

"Apprehensive, of course, Your Majesty.  He will be going with you and Lord Attano."

It wasn't a question.

"Of course," I said.  It only made sense, anyway, to have the Royal Spymaster and Protector present... didn't it?

Thomas nodded. "That's it, ma'am."

"Thank you, Thomas.  You may go," I dismissed him.  He vanished in a swirl of ash.  I rose to confer with my Protector, leaving my daughter in the care of four assassins.

 

I stopped outside the room.  I'd found Corvo in the third sparring room, with Daud, with the help of a cookie-bribed Hobson.

"So much for no hard feelings, bodyguard."

"That was for bruising Emily's wrist sparring earlier," Corvo paused.  Then, a moment later, said, "I understand why you left me.  You couldn't save Jess and Emily and me, but... Thanks.  Thanks for saving them...But..."

"But what?"

"N-Nothing."

"But I don't know what they did to you in there, do I?" Daud's voice was a sneer.  I almost went in, then, my hand going to the doorknob. "I do, though.  I know a great deal, bodyguard.  Remember the Rat King?"

"I remember hearing he was a ghost story, back in the Guard."

"By the time you made it there, he was.  I'd killed him five years before.  I was... one of his rats.  He didn't treat us well."

"You... You were one of his rats?  Void, you bastards were..."

"Impossible to find, impossible to hit, but everywhere and nowhere at once.  Yeah, exactly the point."

"Wait, what does that even have to do with what they did to me in Coldridge?"

"The Rat King did that to us.  All of us.  It was the worst for the ones who disappointed him... and for his favorites."

"Which one were you?"

"I was one of his favorites—his favorite."

My breath caught, I listened closer, moving my head closer to the door.

"He took my name when he took me, he took everything I had, he scraped everything out of me and broke me down to nothing then forced me to put the pieces back together myself and beat me when I did it wrong..."

"Why're you telling me this?"

"To let you know you're not alone?  Because talking about pain helps?"

Corvo was quiet for a moment. "Fuck... When'd that happen?"

"It started when I was ten, went to sixteen, when I was Marked."

And then you killed him.

I pushed open the door. "Oh, good, you two are getting along," I said, as if I hadn't just stood outside the door listening to them talk.  Daud either hadn't been paying attention—which was unlikely—or didn't care.  I assumed the latter, considering the former was so unlikely.  They were standing an arm's length away from one-another, Daud with a red mark on his jaw, Corvo's hair beaded with sweat and both of their faces glossed with the sheen of the stuff.  Daud was in his shirt, coat discarded, gloves still in place.  Corvo had likewise discarded his coat and, unlike Daud, his shirt was damp with sweat across the collar, ribs and back.  Corvo had never sweat much, physically used to exertion and the heat of Karnaca.  This was concerning.

I launched into it, rather than stare, "I've been doing some thinking— after we meet with these so-called Loyalists, we ought to turn our focus on the Abbey."

"Why?" Corvo asked.

"Rulfio told me the Overseers are aware of your abilities, Daud, or at least suspicious of them," I said.  Corvo glanced at Daud.

"A few of them thought they saw something," Daud sighed.  He was in an explaining mood, it seemed.  I didn't interrupt. "They did see what they thought they did, but..."

"They didn't," Corvo said, reading into Daud's implication.

"Right," Daud nodded.  He turned to me. "And how do you propose to do that?"

"Remove Burrows's allies in the Abbey and reveal Delilah's Mark," I said. "Thaddeus Campbell.  He's close with Burrows.  He'll need to be removed from play."

"Assassinate the High Overseer?" Daud raised an eyebrow. "I can do that."

"If he doesn't have to be killed, that alternative would be preferable."

I watched Daud's expression harden. "Your Majesty, I'm an assassin."

"And a clever man.  Think of some alternative," I dismissed.

His teeth ground near-audibly.  Perhaps I imagined it, but I did not imagine the visible flex in his jaw. "Is that an official order?" he grated.

"Yes," I said.

"Fine."

"I know you'll come up with something," I said. "As I said, you're a clever man."

He didn't respond to me, instead turning to Corvo. "Had enough?"

Corvo glanced at the saber in his hand and nodded slowly. "Planning on sparring with Her Majesty?"

"No," Daud said.  Simultaneously, I grinned and said, "Yes."

Daud's glare could've filled Burrows's hit on me, if looks could kill.  I grinned a little wider.  Corvo handed his saber off to me and I moved on Daud.  He deflected me, swatting my thigh with the flat of his blade.

"Hit."

"Damn it, I wasn't ready," I scowled.

"Think Delilah's witches'll wait until you're ready?" Daud growled, driving hard and suddenly against me.  I barely managed to block. "The City Watch?  The Overseers?"

I fought to ignore him and fought to keep up.  Daud was relentless—as relentless as when he fucked me.  I hissed or shouted each time his blade landed, left a stinging welt on my skin.  I saw something primal, animal, brutal, starving in his eyes.  I lunged, he yanked me flush into his chest, bouncing the air out of my lungs when I slammed into him and pressed his blade into my belly.  He was hard, I could feel it against my thigh.  It took him more control than even I possessed to keep from kissing me; I could see that in his eyes.  His breath ghosted against my face.  His shirt was damp with sweat, darkened around his collar, down his sides, across his chest.  I couldn't angle my hand to stab at him, but I lowered my hand against his shoulders—it was damp there, too.  As suddenly as he'd jerked me in, he threw me to the floor, twisting my arm behind me as he ripped me away from him.  I would've cried out if I'd had air in my lungs.  My sword clattered away and his boot collided—not exactly gently—with my ribs.

Then he was on the floor on his back beside me, his own sword thrown from his grip.  Corvo's right knee was between his thighs, his left hand curled around Daud's throat, growling down at Daud with his right arm cocked back, dontyoueverfuckingtouchheryoubastard.  I couldn't see Corvo's face, but Daud looked... disappointed.  He shoved Corvo off and vanished, coat in arm.

Corvo looked at me, then.  And my heart sank.

Void, he knew.

 

 

Corvo tensed as I lie down beside him that night.  Slowly, he reached for me, drew me against his side.  I didn't touch anything he didn't allow, leaving my hand on his upper arm, head propped on his chest, legs crossed at the ankle alongside his.

"What did they do to you?" I asked. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"I..." Corvo stalled, looking away. "It's hard to talk about, Jess."

"I..." Now it was my turn to sputter out.  I didn't remotely come close to understanding.  What could I even say? "I won't push you."

"Thank you," he whispered. "Jess?"

"Yes?" I clenched my fist on Corvo's arm, just balling it up against his shirt sleeve.  He never slept in a shirt. Don't ask about Daud.  Don't ask about— I looked up at him.  He looked back at me.  That glitter of love was still there.  There was fear and betrayal keeping it company, now, pain, anger, regret.

"I love you, Jess..." he said. 

I kissed his cheek. "I love you, too, my sweetest Corvo.  I always will and it will only ever be you."

I put my head back down on his chest.  He put his arms around me, lightly, gently.  I hugged him a little tighter, but pretended to sleep through his shivers and silent whimpers and tears.

What had I done?

Chapter Text

I uncoiled my arms from around Daud's neck, sliding down beside him as he loosened his grip on my waist.  Corvo shot a glance our way; I couldn't tell what the contents of it were, but it made my stomach churn awkwardly.

It was Daud, Corvo, Rinaldo, Devon and myself.  All of them were dressed in (stolen) suits and tinted glasses.  Corvo's hair was scraped back and cut, Devon had put brown tint in her scarlet hair, Rinaldo had his hair in a loose ponytail, tinted brown with some blond dye.  All four of them wore gloves, guns and swords; I had a pistol belted at the back of my waist and a knife in my sleeve.  All five of us wore hoods, up, and I had a scarf that hid just enough of my face from over-curious eyes.  The disguises were for later, when meeting with nobles.  For now, it had simply been convenient to put them on before we left.

We walked in silence, we five.

We came to a barricade after a time and Rinaldo went into a bin, drawing out a cap, which he tossed to Devon and a tarp.  Devon promptly bundled up her hair, planting a different pair of tinted glasses on her face and smudging rouge across her lips all without my being able to track her movement, with any sort of precision.  Rinaldo dragged a section of tarp on a rope out as well.  He climbed up the wall in a jump and kick and hung by one hand for an alarmingly long moment as he fought the rope free of the tarp and tossed it over the razor wire.  He grunted, dropped to both hands and hauled himself up and over, vanishing on the other side of the wall.  Devon gave a running clamber and perched atop the wall, seated comfortably on the thick tarp.  Daud laced his fingers, moving up to the wall, and nodded up, glancing at me pointedly.  I put my heel into his grasp and between his levering me up and Devon's surprisingly strong grip and arm, I went up onto the wall, too.  Rinaldo caught me easily and checked me quickly for an injury.

"I'm alright," I shooed him away and glanced up in time to see Corvo come over the wall.  Devon came down.  Daud went up on the wall, carefully, impossibly balanced on the toes of his boots and tipped the tarp off the wire, somersaulting down after it and landing in a crouch. "Trying to impress someone, Spymaster?" I jabbed.

"Trying not to get cut or break my neck, Majesty," he replied, matter-of-fact.

Corvo snorted.

We approached the Hounds Pit Pub, again, in silence, Corvo in his proper place on my right and Daud at my left. 

A rugged looking older man puffing on a cigar met us at the door.  He crushed the cigar under his boot and held the door open for me, "Missy."

"Thank you," I replied.

"Admiral Havelock'll be upstairs," he said. "Cecilia—"

"I'll show them," a familiar voice said from off to my left.  I grinned and embraced Callista Curnow happily, much to her surprise.

"Calli, my darling, it's good to see you," I said. "I'm glad you escaped the Tower."

"As am I, glad to see you, Majesty," Callista grinned, touching my elbows gingerly as I held her just far enough to check that she was alright. "Oh, no, Lord Corvo!  What've you done to your hair?"

"I cut it?" Corvo raised an eyebrow and smiled as Callista went for a hug from him.  His jaw clenched, hard, but he took the embrace with grace.

"Not well," Callista chided.  I smiled again and chuckled.

"It looks fine," Devon comments gruffly.

"I'll, er, ask Dom to fix it for you later, sir," Rinaldo offered weakly.  Corvo scowled.  Daud might've sniffed a tiny laugh.  I turned to Callista.

"The Admiral, dear?  What's he like?" I asked.

"He's gruff, but he's a good man," Callista said.  I resisted the urge to glance at Daud.

"Do you trust him?"

"I trust that he hates Hiram Burrows more than I do," Callista said.  She glanced at Daud, but said nothing about him. "Follow me please."

I led the group of us five rebels up, trailing just in Callista's footsteps.  She knocked on the door and heralded my arrival before turning back to the five of us.

"Lord Pendleton is also here," she informed me. "Treavor Pendleton."

"Ah, good," I said.  Treavor had good taste in whiskey—not as good as Daud's taste, though.  I stepped in first and both admiral and aristocrat stood.

"Your Majesty," Pendleton bowed.  Havelock snapped a salute.  When Pendleton straightened, though, he went white as sheet. "D-Daud."

"Hello, Lord Pendleton," Daud rumbled, passing behind me and standing with his shoulder to the window, half-turned to glance out of it. "Admiral."

"Master Daud," Havelock didn't seem as surprised, nor did he stutter. "I thought I recognized that boy's uniform."

"Thomas is hardly a boy," Daud said casually. "He's been in my service for nearly eleven years..."

I hid my surprise as best I could.  That meant Thomas was a hell of a lot older than he looked or had been a child when he joined Daud.  I assumed it was the latter, or perhaps a combination of both.

"Thomas also informs us that you're the men with the plan," I said.

"Well, for the most part, yes, my lady," Pendleton said. "Rather, Farley's the man with the plan.  I'm the man with the money."

"Barely," I said. "The Pendleton silver mines are hardly scraping by, aren't they?"

Pendleton shifted. "Perhaps, Your Majesty—"

"Perhaps," I cut him off. "But only when We have been restored to Our throne."

Corvo paused at my side.  I rarely broke out the overformal mannerisms, typically sarcastic and in private, joking with him when I did.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Pendleton said.

"Admiral?  Lord Pendleton says you have a plan," I said.

"Well, yes, Your Majesty," Havelock said. "Though, mainly it involves turning the Overseers against Delilah and Burrows.  With Daud and his Whalers, that changes things."

"Ah, yes," I said. "I almost forgot.  You will find that it would be more appropriate to address Lord Daud by his title—he is my new Spymaster.  A far more suitable replacement than Hiram Burrows ever was."

"Majesty, are you certain that's wise...?" Pendleton asked.

"Daud's one of the few men who ever got close enough to kill me, who was willing to.  And he didn't," I said. "He stabbed me in the shoulder and rescued my daughter and I, rather than let Delilah have us.  He could've killed me for the coin and taken my daughter, but he didn't.  Yes, I trust him and yes, I am sure it's wise."

"If Your Majesty says it's so," Pendleton said.

"I don't like him," I heard Rinaldo mutter.  No one else seemed to, except perhaps Devon.

"And what... exactly do you plan to do with my..." Daud paused, glancing at me.  I met his glance. "Agents?"

"Raids, attacks on the City Watch and Delilah's witches," Havelock said.

Daud's expression was cool, I couldn't say what he was thinking. "Could work."

"Then we'll coordinate—"

"What sort of forces do you have?" Corvo pried. "The old sailor and the girl in the bar?  And Callista?"

"Callista's uncle, Geoff Curnow, he's Captain of the City Watch.  He has a few loyal men who've been performing minor acts against the Crown—"

"Vandalism?" Daud snorted. "Don't make me laugh."

"And we have a man in the Abbey who assures us the Overseers will fight for us," Pendleton continued as Havelock gritted his teeth at the interruption.

"Okay, so what's the hold up?" Corvo pressed. "Why aren't there off duty City Watch in the pub downstairs?  Overseers?"

"Captain Curnow's playing political games, walking a thin line.  His may be suspected by the Overseers not willing to participate in the Loyalist movement, so he's attempting to smooth it over," Pendleton said. "And our Overseer friend is already playing his own dangerous game."

"Campbell's a viper," Havelock agreed. "Our man in the Abbey is risking a lot—"

"Campbell's more like a cat with mange and a nasty attitude," Daud disagreed. "Who's your friend in the Abbey?"

Both Havelock and Pendleton looked to me, I gestured for them to continue.

"Teague Martin," Pendleton said.  I blinked.  The Overseer I'd used to rescue Corvo.  I glanced at Daud again.  He made no visible physical response to the name, just turning his stare back out the window.

"Of course," he said flatly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Corvo asked.

"Teague Martin is just as corrupt as the rest of them is all it means," Daud said, straightening up.  His voice had an edge to it that Corvo probably wouldn't note, but I had.  Ah, so that was why he didn't mind my plan.  Martin had done something to him. "Any other assets aside from a handful of idiot Watchmen and one reformed murderer?"

"That's it," Havelock said. "Well, that and your, er, agents."

Daud's eyes narrowed slightly, a line of tension entered his shoulders. "Your Majesty, I think we have all we came for."

"I believe you are correct, Lord Spymaster," I agreed. "We'll get in contact with Captain Curnow and this Overseer Martin and plan our next moves," I turned to Havelock and Pendleton. "You two will be read in when a strategy has been prepared."

"Your Majesty," Pendleton bowed.  Havelock nodded.

"Thank you, M'lady," he said.  We left the Hounds Pit, then and went back over the wall we'd come over, this time Daud going first.  My legs slid to either side of his waist, the way he caught me and his hands clenched on my jacket.  My breath caught, our eyes met and something twisted in my belly.  He set me down and turned away.

 

 

I smiled pleasantly— I had just appeared on their doorstep, a hood up, no mask, nothing.  Rinaldo stood behind me on the left, Devon on the right.  Corvo and Daud were behind them, half turned away. 

"Esma, thank you for meeting me on such short notice," I beamed.  Esma nodded and hurried us inside.

"Of course," Esma said, then quietly, "Your Majesty.  Can I ask... who your friends are?"

"Bodyguards," I said.  It wasn't untrue. "How's Claudia?"

"She misses the little princess," Esma replied. "I hope little Emily is alright."

"She's quite well," I said. "And asked after Claudia."

"Other than missing the princess, she's quite alright," Esma said.  She led us through the house, up to her bedroom.  During the walk, Rinaldo leaned into my shoulder.

"Lady Esma's not the mistress," he informed me.  I responded silently, a nod.

"What was that?" Esma paused.

"What was what?" I replied.

"Hm, must've been something from outside, then," Esma decided.  Waverly and Lydia were already there.  Lydia was seated at Esma's desk, the chair turned out to the room, hands clasped in her lap.  Waverly paused her pacing, back to the door, hand balanced on the edge of Esma's desk.

"Your Majesty," Lydia stood and began to offer me the chair.  I held up my hand.

"This will be brief," I informed them. "One of the three of you is carrying on an affair with Hiram Burrows."

Waverly glanced over her shoulder.  The tenseness in her hand, placed on the desk, was telling enough.  I frowned.  Lydia looked from sister to sister and Esma's stare was fixed on Waverly.

"Waverly," Esma began.  Waverly shot her an angry glare, turning around.

"So it's alright for you, then?  To have an affair with an older, crueler man?  But no one else, Esma?" Waverly snapped.  She folded her arms over her chest and looked at me. "He was different at first, Your Majesty.  He was charming, sweet.  He had so many beautiful plans for Dunwall and the Empire—"

"Stamp out anyone who wasn't obscenely rich or noble?" Devon hissed under her breath.  I tensed.

"What changed?" I asked.

"He met Delilah," Waverly replied with a scoff.  I nodded.

"I see."

So my alleged half-sister was the root of all evil, it seemed.

"Waverly," Esma's voice was pleading, this time.  Then she looked at me. "Your Majesty—"

"I will not charge Waverly with treason," I said.  Waverly looked simultaneously stricken and relieved. "I require support— in the council."

"Money would be great, too," I heard Rinaldo mutter, barely loud enough to hear.  Esma nodded.  Lydia, after a moment did as well.  Both sisters looked at Waverly.

"Of course," Waverly said. "And I'll take a swipe at the whore the next time I'm in range, too."

"No, no," I dismissed. "I have someone in mind for that.  No, all I need are the three of you to oppose Burrows—and to persuade anyone you can to do the same."

"Your Majesty will want to speak with Treavor Pendleton," Lydia said.  I nodded, thinking it wise to perhaps not tell them all yet. "He's been as vocal as a shadow of Custis and Morgan Pendleton can be about his hatred of Burrows and Delilah."

"And perhaps you should contact this assassin you have in mind to handle those two Pendletwats—" Esma huffed, then flushed when she realized what she'd said. "Apologies for the language, Your Majesty."

"It is perfectly acceptable, given the rumors I've encountered concerning the two of them—and the behavior I've observed them display..." I said. "I have your support."

"Yes, of course," Esma said.  Lydia nodded.

"Absolutely, Your Majesty," Lydia said.

"Without a shred of doubt," Waverly said.

"Wonderful.  If it becomes necessary, I will contact you.  Until that point, I will be unreachable."

As we left the manor, again led by Esma, I leaned into Rinaldo's shoulder, "Rinaldo, dear, how did you know Esma wasn't the mistress?"

"Er," Rinaldo blushed. "I... saw a painting of the mistress from behind?  And, erm... the, ah, behind didn't quite match."

"I see..."

 

 

 

"About that, sir, there might be a particularly opportune moment for the meeting with Geoff Curnow," Thomas said. "It'll be hard to corner him today or tomorrow, but the day after, he's meeting with Thaddeus Campbell."

I threw Thomas an appreciative smile.  Thomas had left almost as soon as we'd returned, gone to investigate Captain Curnow.  "Opportune indeed," I agreed. "Well done, dear."

"Thank you, My Lady," he smiled quietly at the compliment.  Corvo looked at Daud. 

"Infiltrating Holger Square?"

"So long as we're not seen, it should be easy enough," Daud said.

"The masks are rather restrictive in terms of field-of-vision, too, sir," Thomas commented.  Daud seemed satisfied with this information. "And they don't play in the Square."

"'Play?'" Corvo was as puzzled as I.

"Music boxes," Daud clarified. "They've got these boxes that... somehow disrupt the Mark."

"Disrupt how?"

"It's unpleasant, Lord Protector," Thomas said, now. "It effects the Arcane Bond, too."

"Maybe we should find an alternative meeting time, then," I said. "Are you sure there's no way to squeeze us into Captain Curnow's schedule?"

Thomas produced a slip of paper—a carefully done, legible, if... less than neat copy of a schedule. "I am sure, Your Majesty."

I skimmed it. "Outsider's eyes," I huffed.  Daud snorted, I shot him a glare.

"Well, you did want Campbell dealt with, too," Daud said. "Two birds, one stone."

"I don't know," I said. "It seems... riskier than I'd like."

"You want Campbell gone," Daud said.

"And there's more, ma'am," Thomas said. "If the meeting isn't done then, if we don't kill Campbell then, he's going to kill Captain Curnow.  He suspects Curnow's related to the Loyalist movement on account of his niece and that Curnow's aware of his... er, less than priestly behavior.  He's paranoid."

"Kill—Removing Campbell and revealing the murder plot would secure loyalty from Curnow," Daud said.  I nodded.  He wasn't wrong...

"Princess—"

The four of us looked up.  Daud's office door kicked open and Emily was suspended for a comical second, Ryan's arm looped around her waist.  Panting, Dodge slid in past the taller, lankier Whaler and offered us a sheepish grin.

"Sorry, sirs, Majesty," he said and closed the doors.

"Ryan, you stink!  And you're no fun!"

"Princess, please stop—ow!"

"Sorry, Dodge, I was trying to kick Ryan."

"Emily, stop squirming!  You're making it worse!"

"Lemmegorightnow, you big jerk!  Cor-vo!"

Corvo sighed and unfolded from his position by the bookcases. "Looks like I have a princess to rescue two Whalers from..."

"Good luck bodyguard," Daud chuckled.  Thomas smiled wryly.

"Perhaps he'll need help..."

"He'll be fine," I said.

"I'll go anyway," Thomas followed Corvo after offering me a slight bow and Daud a short salute.  I glanced at Daud.

"Remembering when Thomas was her age?" I smiled softly.

Daud actually smiles, weakly. "A few of my Whalers."

"But one in particular," I pried.  He hesitated, then nodded.

"My inside man in the Tower," he said.  I blinked, surprised.

"If you raised him, trained him like the rest of the Whalers, I'm sure he's fine."

"She," Daud corrected gently.  He flexed his left hand. "She's definitely fine."

He raised his hand again.  The air shuddered and Kerion appeared. "Sir?"

"What'd Geoff do with our copy of the plans for Holger Square?" Daud asked.

"Kent archived them, actually, sir.  Shall I retrieve them for you?"

"If you would."

"Yessir," Kerion nodded and vanished in a shudder of ash.  I straightened up and smoothed out my trousers.

"Well, I'll go make sure poor Ryan's not dead," I said.  Daud snorted and dragged his chair in, sliding down into it. "Don't skip dinner tonight."

"Are you my mother, now?" Daud said without looking up as he reached for a drawer.

"No, but I am your boss," I said.  He shot me a glare, I replied with a smile at the door and slipped out.

 

 

It was an odd thing, getting used to the commissary-style dining.

Emily didn't mind, mainly because it meant that she could get Dodge to leave off the vegetables and ask Ryan to smuggle her more sweets, which were, oddly, not as rare as I thought they'd be.  Corvo glanced at me with concern written into my brows.  I hadn't spotted Daud's scarlet jacket yet and it irritated me, faintly.  Then the chair to my left scraped out and he slid in beside me. 

"Boss," Dodge greeted him softly, pointedly ignoring Emily's less-than-stealthy finger-crawl to the cookie half-hidden by Dodge's napkin.

I glanced at Daud, he scowled at me.

"Happy?" he asked.

"Moderately," I said. "Considering."

He replied with a grunt and went about eating his dinner.  I went back to mine, less distracted, now.  Corvo's gaze stayed on me for a long moment before he also went back to his meal.

"Deva threatened Corvo with scissors," Emily said.  Daud glanced up.

"He does need a haircut, Princess," Daud said.

"All the boys here have short hair," Emily frowned.

"Short hair's practical," Daud said. "That mop is a mess and a hazard.  And not all the Whalers have short hair."

"Yeah, but Rinaldo always wears his hair up like a girl," Emily frowned.

Dodge nearly choked on his drink laughing.  Ryan chuckled through his teeth.  Daud smiled.

"So if it's tied back, it's not a hazard, right?" Emily asked.

"Yeah, but then Lord Attano will look, quote, 'like a girl,'" Ryan said.

"He's the same height as you and a broad in the shoulders as Ardan," I said. "I don't think there's any danger of him looking like a girl."

Corvo pushed his plate away—he'd eaten more than his new usual (far less than ever), but that wasn't saying much.  Out of the little he'd taken, he'd only eaten a fraction of it.  Ryan casually dumped the remainder onto his own plate as Corvo stood.

"Going to try those posts," Corvo said.

"Bad idea with food in your stomach and no one to spot you," Ryan said. "Those pendulums hurt like the Void and'll make you upend everything if they getcha."

"Good thing he hardly ate," I said, more acerbic than I meant.  Daud pushed away from the table, plate in hand.

"I'll spot you, Attano," he said.  I watched them go, digging at my plate with my fork, silently brooding. 

 

They were still in there when I found them.  Silently, I entered the training deck.

Daud had hung up the pendulums and joined Corvo on the uneven wooden posts.  His plate was off to one side, balanced on the edge of a weapon rack, empty.  The two of them were just moving across the posts, blades not even touching as they did, chatting quietly in East Karnacan.

I caught part of it—Coldridge.

Then Corvo's blade clattered against Daud's.  I watched the two of them with my arms crossed over my chest.  Then Corvo said something, a question by the tone.  Daud responded stiffly to the question, slipping back into Imperial Standard.

"What makes you think that?"

"I'm not an idiot," Corvo replied gruffly. "Did you?"

Daud lost his footing, then, somersaulting when he hit the floor and sheathing his sword as he stood.

"Don't fucking walk away!" Corvo shouted, jumping down after him.  They both saw me, then.

"Did you what?" I asked Daud.  He glared at me, then turned on his heel as Corvo sheathed his own sword.

"Ask her," he said, gesturing at me.  I looked from one man to the other.  Corvo's jaw clenched. "Look, Bodyguard, your woman loves you—more than her Empire.  You came first.  Anything she's asked of me has been for one or the other—or for your child.  The answer to your question doesn't matter."

Daud disappeared, with his plate, then.  I looked up at Corvo as he drew closer.

"Are you sleeping with Daud?" he asked.  Not technically.  It wasn't a continuing affair.  I'd done it twice because I wanted things from him.

"I seduced him to get him to allow me to go rescue you," I said.  Corvo's head drooped, his eyes closing, brows clenching. "He'd refused, I'd formed a plan... he wouldn't let me go.  It was the best shot I had."

All of that was true.  It just... wasn't all of the truth. 

"Would you... prefer it?"

"To what?  To you?  Outsider's eyes, no," I made a disgusted expression. "I did it because I needed you."

Corvo's expression smoothed only a little.  I put my arms around him gingerly.  He hugged me to his chest, I buried my face in his chest and held him tight.

 

The room was silent, save for the quiet snkt of scissors as I cut Corvo's hair.  He was sitting shirtless—Void, he was thin—on the floor between my knees, silently relaxing into the gentle smoothing of my fingers through his hair as I shortened each strand.  I hadn't seen the extent of his new scars before.  The fury they drew to my chest was unmatched.  My approval of the man who must've done the majority of this was a formality, Hiram Burrows had actually done the appointing.  The burns, the gashes—there was a bite mark on his left shoulder, the cast of someone's teeth permanently sunk into his skin.

When I finished I leaned down and hesitated for a beat. "I'd like to kiss you," I told him.  He nodded.  I kissed his cheek, then his shoulder.  He retrieved a shirt and hastily drew it on.  I cleaned up the hair and he went to go wash up.  A knock sounded on the door to my new 'chambers'— that is, an apartment that had been claimed as mine. 

It was Thomas at the door. "Your Majesty," he greeted me politely.

"Thomas, dear.  What is it?"

"Daud sent me, ma'am, to let you know he thinks it might be a good idea to take you along after all, to speak with Curnow in person."

"And Daud couldn't have told me that himself?"

"He's working on the plans to get you in there, milady," Thomas said. "And he doesn't have much time to figure it out.  Killian just reported back—apparently the Loyalists' man inside has been found out to be a traitor.  The Abbey's calling him a heretic right now to keep hold of him, but we don't know how long that charade'll work."

I frowned. "Inform Daud that I believe a smaller team would be better—perhaps just him, you, Corvo and myself."

Thomas nodded. "Yes, Milady.  Strategically, that is more sound," he said. "I'm certain he's taken it into account already."

"Then inform him we're in agreement.  When do we leave?"

"Probably tomorrow night," he said. "The Abbey's ruse should hold that long."

"Splendid," I said. "Is that all, Thomas?"

"Yes, Milady.  Good night, Your Majesty."

"And to you, Thomas."

Chapter Text

Corvo was already up when I woke.  He had a cup of coffee and breakfast waiting for me, his own now empty plate sitting across from it, his cup of coffee clenched in his hands.

"Sorry I didn't wait," he said.  I stretched and took the cup he offered.

"It's alright, love," I said.  I pushed the strap of my nightgown back up.  He pretended not to notice, smiling quietly into his mug.  I coaxed him into eating one of the sausages and some of the fruit.  His appetite was coming back—an excellent sign.  Licking syrup off my fingers after hearing his report—Emily was with Dodge and Rinaldo this morning, and Ryan was in some kind of mood, evidently—I looked up at him and said, "We should actually probably go back to bed."

"We should," he agreed.  He shucked off his jacket, belt and boots and tossed his shirt and trousers aside before climbing into the bed with me.  I giggled and kissed the tip of his nose, then his top lip.  He caught my mouth and devoured it, as if savoring the taste of my breakfast.

So he was getting his appetite back... Excellent, indeed.

"Glad to see you're feeling more yourself," I said. "My strong, brave love."

He snorted and nuzzled my jaw, leaving a soft kiss there. "Jess?"

"Yes, Corvo?"

"I... want to try...making love," he said. "If that's okay with you."

I tensed. "Of course it's okay with me, dearest, but I don't want you to push yourself," I said.  He drew back a little and looked at me earnestly.

"I think I'm alright," he said, easing me onto my back.  Corvo kissed me, slowly, hesitantly, now.  I kept my palms generally flat on his shoulders, fingertips just brushing his skin.  We kissed for what felt like a second and several minutes simultaneously. 

We never made it to actual intercourse.  He stalled out and nearly gave up completely after several moments of the two of us trying unsuccessfully to raise an erection.  With a growl and intense determination I hadn't felt in a very, very long time—since before Emily was born—he threw his attentions to my body, drawing three vicious orgasms out of me and leaving three marks that would certainly bruise deeply; one on my lower throat, one on the inside of my left hip and the third on the inside of my right thigh, very near to my groin.  I thought it was three anyway, after the second one, I sort of just melted into a dark, hot void of pleasure, the only things I was reasonably able to establish as real being his tongue and fingers.

Panting, loose and feeling wonderful, I sprawled out next to him in the bed, one hand playing with his hair gently, curling and uncurling a strand around my finger.  He looked up at me with sad, dark eyes.

"That was wonderful, love," I said. "The best since the night we made Emily."

His expression relaxed, then mock-offense. "What about your birthday last year?"

"That was wonderful, too, darling, but not like this."

He smirked softly and we leaned in to kiss one another.  He flinched slightly as my nails scraped his scalp, fingers clenching in his hair.  I released my grip immediately and put my hand on the bed.  I eased him onto his back and kissed his jaw, then neck.  He tensed again, so I quickly moved down further, to his chest, licking at his left nipple.  Corvo drew a sharp gasp—a good sound, not a startled one.

Corvo's hands clenched in the sheets on either side of his hips.  I drew his left hand up and put it on the back of my neck as I worked my way down further.

I skipped over his flaccid cock and pushed his legs open wider. "Pillow," I murmured into his thigh.  He passed me one and I propped it under his hips.  It had been a while since we'd done this.  He cursed, hips trembling as I worked his tight muscle.  I glanced up and smirked at the first hint of at-hand success.  I licked a finger—he was almost begging at this point—and shifted my mouth from his tight ring of muscle to his half-hard cock.

I glanced up and he was watching me, strain showing in his neck as he tensed his muscles, trying not to thrust down my throat as I slid my finger into him.  I drew back and kissed his thigh again. "Love, go on.  You won't hurt me, I promise," I said.  He nodded and didn't take his eyes off me.  I kissed his hip, his thigh. "I won't hurt you, either," I added and shifted slightly, running one hand up his shaft. 

He cursed in East Karnacan and clenched the fist at the back of my neck.  He didn't force me any which way, but the further physical response was good.  I rocked my finger inside him, crooking it just right as I worked his length.  After a moment of that, I added a second finger, also bending it slightly.  It didn't hardly take long, then.  He gritted another Serkonan curse through his teeth and came.  I swallowed around him and he moaned, finally tipping his head back and closing his eyes as he came down my throat.

I swallowed a few more times, off him now, and kissed his hip, then belly; unfamiliar scars felt rough under my lips.  There was mottled burn below his navel that filled me with rage, a little more than some of the other ones.  This one had been deep and from the start of his imprisonment and hadn't been taken care of properly.  And it almost certainly very nearly had killed him.

I withdrew and went to the washroom.  Corvo tossed the pillow from the bed and rolled onto his side to watch me through the open door.  I returned to the bed and mopped up the spatter that had previously escaped me, kissing his belly and chest and jaw before drawing back again to discard the washcloth.  He dragged me against his chest when I made the final return to the bed. "I love you," he murmured into my shoulder.

"I love you, too, my dearest," I told him. "Are you alright?"

"I feel wonderful," he rasped into my shoulder. "You should rest.  We'll be out all night..."

I nodded and smiled as I went back to sleep.

 

 

As my Spymaster would've put it, things had 'gone sideways.'

"Daud—"

I froze, looking at the spot I'd expected him in.  He'd been just a step behind Corvo.  Where was he?

Trembling, Thomas slid down beside me. "Majesty, he's been captured.  They ran out a music box just in time, I think."

"Captured?" Corvo echoed.  I blinked numbly.  No, I couldn't do this without Daud. "Are you sure?" Corvo said.  Thomas nodded.

"The Arcane Bond's been disrupted.  All of us Whalers know he's been caught by now," Thomas clenched his fists against his thighs.  He squeezed his eyes closed.  His hands were still shaking.  I sighed and settled down further on the roof, crossing my arms over my chest.

"Corvo, you have to go for help," I said.  He stared at me like I had said something in Pandyssian. "Corvo, you're the only one who can get help."

"Ryan has a long-rifle and Mont and Tony made a stun-glove," Thomas said. "Ryan can shoot from the building across from Holger Square—"

"No killing," I said.  Thomas went quiet for a moment.

"In that case," he began quietly. "Deva was a damn good thief before all this.  And Rin still has the Overseer uniform."

Corvo scowled. "Don't move, then.  I'll be back as fast as I can."

"I don't plan on moving," I said. "Be safe, be fast."

Corvo nodded, he kissed my cheek and disappeared in a rush of displaced air and flash of blue light.

My plan—the one involving not moving—was short lived.

One moment I was huddled on a roof with Thomas, the next, I was in the Void.

I took a step out, looking around.  The island was barren, a dead whale floated a thousand yards off to the right, slightly.  I rubbed my arms—it was chilly and smelled odd.  The Outsider faded out of nothing, boots just touching the black ice under mine.

"What are you going to do, Empress?" he asked. "Your lover is aware of the fact that you've been stepping out on him with the man who was responsible for landing him in prison..."

"If you don't have anything useful to say—"

Searing pain shot up my arm from the back of my left hand.  It felt like...

"This is what Corvo experienced," the Outsider drawled. "In his legs, arms, back, hips..."

I knew that.  I'd seen the scars.

"And it's what Daud's feeling right now..."

I sobbed, "Please, stop!"

It didn't.

"I don't pick favorites, you should know... but if I had to, I would be terribly torn between darling, sweet Corvo and dearest Daud...I don't much appreciate that you're setting them up to duel one-another.  Who will you champion when they fight over you?  Will you beg Daud to slay Corvo and not you with him?  Corvo to spare Daud even when our beloved assassin has been bested?" the Outsider said.  The pain evaporated. "But here you have a lesser dilemma, dear Empress; sit and wait for Corvo or take the initiative."

"What can I do?" I snapped.

"You're a block away from Bottle Street, my dear," he said.  Oh.  Oh.

"And how do you propose I escape Thomas?"

My knees hit cold stone and I was a block away from my protector and out of the Void.  I stood, slowly, flexing my left hand as I did—it still burned, but faintly.

"Lookee here, Danny."

"Whoowee, Buck.  Ain't she pretty..."

I turned to face the two men, lifting my chin and whipping back my hood. "I am Jessamine Kaldwin, rightful Empress of the Isles and I demand to speak with your leader."

 

Ten minutes later found me in the bottling plant owned by a man named Slackjaw.

Slackjaw was tall, though not as tall as Corvo, with dark eyes and a lean frame.  He crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Well, well, yer Majesty, what can ol' Slackjaw do for you?"

I folded my hands behind my back, lifting my chin a little. "My Spymaster has been taken into custody by the Overseers in Holger Square.  I need a distraction while his men see to his release," I said. "I'm informed that you may be experts in this sort of thing."

Slackjaw scratched his chin. "What do those Overseers want with 'im?  He a witch?"

"He wears a bonecharm to disguise his footfalls," I said.  I wasn't sure if that was true or not, though I had felt the shards of carved bone inside Daud's jacket the once...

"Grounds enough to execute him for heresy..."

"Yes, and I need him in order to restore peace," I said. "I suspect the plague is good for business... to a point," I continued, gesturing at the still. "But right up to the whole customer base dying out anyway part, of course."

"Good for business at first," he agreed. "But you're right.  Ain't so good anymore... What'll you get Slackjaw if he agrees to help you, Majesty?"

"Amnesty," I said. "Once I'm restored to the throne, your record will be stricken, you'll be relieved of any charges put against you...You and your men."

"Hm..." he scratched his chin again. "Slackjaw ain't too sure that's a good deal.  Ain't no given that you'll be getting your throne back, Majesty."

"I will," I said sharply.

"Something more... immediate might be better."

I blinked. "Excuse me?"

"One of Slackjaw's boys gone missing, see... Would like to see him found."

I stared at him. "After you help me retrieve my Spymaster, I'll see to it that your man is brought back to you, in whatever condition he may be in.  At the moment, I can give you nothing—I have not the skill set to find your man myself."

Slackjaw crossed his arms again and sat heavily on the edge of his desk. "Who is this guy?  Your Spymaster?"

I swallowed stiffly.  Perhaps naming names would be in my favor at this point...

The door to Slackjaw's office kicked open then, and Thomas stepped in.  There was a tension in his frame that was unusual.  He was clearly angry.

"Ah, Thomas, perfect," I said. "Mr. Slackjaw was just agreeing to expedite Lord Daud's rescue, in exchange for a favor."

"Milady?"

Oh, he was angry.  I could hear it in his voice, just faintly.

"One of his men has gone missing.  Find him," I ordered.  Thomas cocked his head, hands clenching at his sides.  Thomas approached the man and folded his hands behind his back, the tension smoothing out a little from his stance, but not entirely from his shoulders.

"Where did you last see your missing man...?"

 

I squeezed my eyes shut, gripping down harder on the stone.  I looked over my shoulder.

A burst of flame erupted, I heard a delayed spout of choice expletives, then gunfire and the clang of blades.  Slackjaw's men, masked, were raising hell, howling out, "Void take you!" and "Outsider guide our blades!" as they distracted the Overseers.  I hauled myself onto the narrow ledge and peered through the window.  A few Overseers rushed down the hall and I dropped flat just in time to avoid being spotted. 

I waited ten seconds, fifteen, then looked again. 

The scene was clear.  I crawled into the hallway and I looked around for the room on the stolen map Slackjaw had given me to memorize.  I moved towards it as silently as I could, pressing myself to the wall, staying low.  I peeked in through the keyhole.  An Overseer was standing over a bloodied, shirtless Daud, whose head lolled back when the Overseer let go of his hair.  I could smell the stink of burned flesh and there was blood on Daud's face and pants.  I couldn't see his left arm or the left side of his past the Overseer's frame.

Then I heard it.

The ominous drone of the music boxes had stopped.  I smiled.

The Overseer thudded hard into the door and groaned on impact.  He moaned again as he slid down and I looked around for a way to get in that didn't involve breaking in the door—a feat I was unsure I could effectively preform.  I saw a small grate, open, big enough for a woman of my size to slide through.  I climbed up, using the doorframe and knobs to get myself to it and dropped down, landing on the unconscious Overseer.

Daud was... fairly bloodied up.

His left arm was burned and cut and too bloodied to see the exact extent of the damage.  He had welts and burns on his chest and stomach too, layered across old scars and in formerly unmarked patches of skin.  There was blood on his pants, down his chin, and the right knee of his pants was shredded open, the skin beneath bloodied.  He smiled tiredly when he saw me, his teeth all bloody.

"Where's the bodyguard?"

"Off getting help," I said. "And Thomas is doing something for Slackjaw, who graciously agreed to fill in as a distraction."

"Slackjaw, huh?  Where'd you come up with that?"

My fingers faltered on the restraints. "A mutual friend of ours—and Corvo's."

Daud's eyebrows twitched upwards. "The Outsider?"

I nodded.

I turned, wrenching my knife out and standing defensively between him and the door when I heard someone on the other side of it.  There was a metallic sound, then a crack and the door was wrenched open, Corvo standing on the other side of it, sword drawn.

"Jess?" Corvo scowled.

"If you must blame someone, it is indeed actually the Outsider's fault.  He moved me from where I was with Thomas," I said.  Daud grabbed my shoulder and used me as support to stand, then limped around me and moved for the table his effects were laid out on.

"Are you alright, Daud?" Corvo offered tentatively, if also a bit gruffly.

"Fine, and fucking pissed," Daud replied. "Let's go get Curnow and Campbell."

"You're hurt," I said.

"I'm standing," Daud snarled. "I'm fine."

Corvo and I didn't need to even glance at one-another to sync up our unconvinced expressions.

"I'm fucking fine," Daud growled.  He grabbed his jacket, abandoning the shredded shirt and gloves and carefully dragged it on as he left the room, hissing so softly as he brushed past me that I thought I might've imagined him being in pain if I didn't see the wounds for myself.

"They'll be headed to the conference room," I said. "Follow me."

Daud and Corvo fell into step behind me as I climbed back out onto the ledge.  I heard Corvo mutter something in Serkonan, heard Daud snort in response.  I suspected it was about me, but didn't dwell.

Corvo jimmied the window to the conference room open and I climbed in.  They followed me in.  A pair of glasses were set out, wine poured into them.  Daud moved to the glasses and sniffed them both. "One on the right's poisoned," he said.  Corvo up-ended the glasses on the carpet.  Daud frowned. "Tactless and sloppy."

"Says the guy who got himself captured and had to be rescued by the Empress," Corvo replied gruffly.

"They're coming," I hissed.  Corvo went under the table, reasonably hidden by the decorative legs and long decorative paneling and Daud teleported over to behind the desk with me.  I glanced at his arm. "How bad?"

"Not too bad," Daud said. "Remember the hold I showed you?"

"Tyvian choke hold?"

"Yes."

"Yes?"

"I can't do it, so I'll need you to throw it on Campbell when he comes in.  I'll get you over to him."

We went quiet, then.  I could hear them both outside the door.  Curnow was curt, on-edge and didn't say anything that revealed much of an opinion one way or another.  The door opened, the two men stepped in, the door closed.  Footsteps muffled by carpet and then Campbell huffing.

"I thought I asked the wine to be poured before we got here..."

Then Curnow, "What the?  Why's the carpet..."

He stopped speaking abruptly and the world had a vaguely grey tinge to it—Daud's right hand was curled around my wrist.  Daud grunted and dragged me out from behind the desk with him.  He pushed me towards Campbell and Corvo edged out from under the table.

"I stopped time," Daud informed us. "It lasts only briefly, make it count."

Corvo plucked one of the sleep darts out of his borrowed belt pouches and injected it into Curnow's neck, catching the man when he slumped over.  I kicked Campbell's knee, dropping him into the puddled wine and wrapped my arms around his neck.  He struggled, I pressed my heel into the back of his ankle and he cried out.  I squeezed a little tighter, his fingers clenched hard on my arm.  Then he went still against my chest and I let him fall.

"Corvo, take Captain Curnow somewhere safe, would you?" I asked.

"What about you and Daud?" Corvo asked.

"We'll manage," I said. "See you back at Rudshore, darling."

I kissed his cheek, he hoisted Curnow over his shoulder and replied with a chaste kiss to my lips.

"Take care of her," he told Daud and vanished before Daud could reply.

I helped Daud get Campbell onto his shoulder and we went back out on the ledge.  I hugged his side and we teleported across to the ledge outside the torture room. 

"Daud, is this necessary?" I hissed, following him back into the room.

"You don't have to watch," Daud said. "But yeah, it is."

"Daud—"

He ignored me and took the iron the other Overseer had been using on him earlier from the floor.  He bashed it into Campbell's knee and the man came awake, screaming.  I grabbed Daud's arm and he shook me off.

"I said no killing!" I growled.  Daud fixed me with a glare.

"I think you'll have to forgive me for making an exception."

"Daud, no—"

The poker burrowed an inch deep into Campbell's shoulder, close to the same spot Daud had stabbed me in.  I couldn't say anything to stop him.  So I did the one thing I could think to do.

Daud stumbled back, but dragged me with him, my fingers gripping his shoulders hard, the iron clattering from his fingertips.  Hands smoothed down my hips and I pushed him away.  Breathless, aching and wanting more, I saw the same hunger in his eyes and met his furious stare ounce for ounce. "No killing."

"But he did this," Daud gestured at his arm, his chest.

"He burned you," I said.  I moved to the table and picked up the Heretic's Brand. "So burn him back."

"Killing him would be kinder," Daud said, taking the brand.  I hesitated to let it go, realizing how right he was.  But Campbell deserved it.  For betraying my people, for abandoning them.  For betraying me.

For what he did to Daud.

"Please, no," Campbell pleaded, whimpering. "I'll tell you anything you want to know—"

Daud drew a small black book from his pocket with the trembling, battered fingers of his left hand. "If you're as clever as you think you are, you have dirt on everyone in here—especially Burrows and Delilah," he said. "We don't need you."

Campbell's eyes widened, alighting on me.

"Your Majesty—"

"You're a traitor to the state, High Overseer," I said. "Lord Spymaster, if you would please."

 

 

I reclined in the bath tub, Corvo trailed his fingers through the water near my knee, then smoothed his hand over the joint.  I had a bruise there, from falling to my knees in the Void.

"The Outsider brought you to Daud, huh?" Corvo said.

"He brought me to Slackjaw and Slackjaw let me get to Daud," I said.  I reached for the glass of scotch—a bottle of the stuff had been on our bed when Corvo and I made it back to the apartment after seeing Daud had been taken care of.  Geoff and Emily had been sprawled out on Emily's bed, her using his stomach as a pillow and her favorite book resting open on his face, so neither Corvo or myself could ask them if they'd seen the one who left it.

Corvo nuzzled the side of my neck, then kissed my jaw. "Brave, bold and beautiful," he whispered.

"And yours," I replied.  He kissed me, I kissed him back.

"Daddy?"

Corvo and I looked over at Emily, who stood sleepily in the doorway.  I kissed Corvo's cheek. "Go on, love," I said.  He stood and went to see what Emily wanted.  I sipped the scotch and trailed my fingers over the bruise on my knee—in the same spot Daud had received a blow to the knee that probably should've crippled him.

An uncomfortable realization settled in my gut.  I couldn't have him as my Spymaster—not now, not unless the Overseers who knew about his Mark were silenced.  I drained my drink and got out of the tub.

Corvo raised an eyebrow as I came out of our room fully dressed again.

"Something's come to my attention," I informed him. "Emily, darling, what're you doing awake?"

"I had a bad dream," Emily said.

"A mean boy with black eyes," Corvo said, sounding furious beneath a thin veneer of calm.  Emily huddled into his arm and nodded.  Geoff hovered in the doorway, arms folded over his chest.

"Oh, my dearest," I stooped to kiss the top of her head, running my hand over Emily's cheek. "It was just a bad dream, my little love..."

Emily nodded and hugged Corvo's arm tighter. "Mr. Geoff?"

"Ya-huh, Princess?" Geoff reappeared facing her, hands folded behind his back.

"Can you get Dodge and Ryan?"

Geoff nodded and disappeared again.

I stroked Emily's hair. "Mommy has to go take care of something, but I'll be back later."

 

Some of the Whalers had apartments like Corvo and I shared with Emily.  Some shared apartments that had been converted into more barrack-like halls.  The younger men tended to stay in those.  I tracked Rinaldo down to his.  He was up, sharing a bottle of cheap vodka with Ardan, Tony, Javier, Marco and Thomas.

"And a toast to Empress Jessamine the Ironballed, first of her name—she who sneaks into Holger fucking Square to rescue an assassin," Tony said.

"Salute," the table chorused.

I raised an eyebrow. "And a toast to Thomas for his infinite patience," I said. "Rinaldo, I need you a moment."

He swayed when he stood, but walked to the door fine.  He seemed sober enough. "What can I do for your Majesty?"

"I need you to get into Holger Square—you still have that uniform," I said. "Ensure everyone who may know about Daud's Mark is... eliminated.  Non-lethally."

He stared a moment, then nodded. "I can do that."

"Good.  See it done quickly."

"I'll start tomorrow."

"Excellent."

"Is there anything else, Milady?"

"No, Rinaldo.  Thank you."

"Yes, Majesty.  Of course.  And... thanks for rescuing the boss," he said. "A lot of us he took in as kids, gave us a better home than the one we started with..." He gestured at the table. "Only family we really got is us and him, y'know?  Thomas said you went for him alone... Th-thanks— Thank you for going back for him."

I smiled. "Of course I went back for him," I said.  Rinaldo lurched forward and hugged me.  I patted his back gently. "You're very welcome, dear..."

 

I bundled my coat up tighter and stopped, turned towards my apartment.  Instead, I turned around and walked towards Daud's office.

The Outsider's words echoed in my head and, truthfully, I didn't know what I would do—I'd probably side with Corvo if it came down to it, but I needed Daud more.

I hadn't planned to do this, but it happened anyway.  We exchanged pleasantries—me from the top of the stairs, him from his bed—, I asked how he felt, he informed me that Leon and Patrick had seen to his injuries and gave me an estimate on how long it would be until he was fully healed.  I informed him of the task I'd given Rinaldo and that Montgomery and Ryan had made contact with and were keeping an eye on Captain Curnow, Monty having been the one who reported back also informing me that he was happy to work with the Loyalists and us.  Daud pointed out that I hadn't made my way here for a sit-rep.  I crossed to the edge of Daud's bed and unbuttoned my coat.

I hadn't planned to do this.

I let my coat fall away and stripped off my shirt.  Daud reached up as I stepped out of my pants and boots and into his bed.  His hands smoothed over my thighs, my backside.  The bandages on his left hand were coarse.  I leaned down and kissed him.  I tasted blood from his split lip, from the gash on the inside of his cheek created by impact between fist and teeth.  He was hard, pressing against me through his underwear.  I kissed him deeper— I wanted him to know how glad I was that he was alive, but I couldn't say it aloud.  Couldn't express it...

"Thanks," he grated, hoarse and rough with arousal. "For, y'know, rescuing me."

"Returning the favor you paid me," I murmured, coarser than I wanted to sound.  He kissed me again, I scraped a hand through his hair, landing it on the back of his neck. "Don't let it go to your head..."

"I promise I won't," he growled.  I smiled and licked into another kiss.  He rolled me onto my back, then set about kissing down my neck.  He licked and sucked at my nipples, massaging my breasts.  I made incredibly undignified, unimperial sounds as he did that, and far more reputation shattering noises as he moved to my sex.

"So your knee's not that bad, then?" I asked, voice breathy, coarse.

"Mm," he hummed into my hip.  I bucked into his mouth as his tongue slid against me, a finger on his right hand dipping inside.  In moments, Daud nearly had me coming.  He kissed the inside of my thigh, he moved the now two fingers slowly, tantalizingly, inside me.  The tip of his thumb rubbed right where I needed it— I pleaded his name and he leaned over me.  I kissed him ferociously, delighting in the taste of myself mixed with the taste of him, he filled me in one thrust.  He made it to three before I was momentarily lost to orgasm, everything in a wash of white for a moment, my nails clenching into his hips.  He moved slow at first and I heard a ragged hiss of pain under the pleasure.  I pushed off with one arm and toppled him onto his back.  He hissed again and sat up a little.  I rode him to his oblivion, screaming out all the things I wanted to say in my head.  IneedyouIdontknowwhatIwouldvedoneifanythinghappenedtoyouDonteverscaremelikethatagain—

And censored, aloud, as he nuzzled into my breasts, arms coiled around my waist, "I need you, Daud.  I'm not sure what I would've done if anything happened to you..."

"Whaler leadership—" he paused and cursed as I took him to the hilt. "Would've fallen to Thomas.  And he'd've followed you.  Fuck—as for... this?  Ardan or Tony'd probably be happy to fuck you."

"I don't want Ardan or Tony—" I said.  Well, Void.  I'd opened that can of worms.  I want you.

"Not Serkonan, right..."

I resolved that I was affording him too much ability to think, so I redoubled my efforts, kissing him roughly.  My nails dragged across his chest, I tweaked his left nipple and he bucked sharply, cursing in Karnacan against my skin, the impact shooting a blinding crack of pleasure up my spine and down my legs.  I kissed his neck; his breath was coming ragged by now, and he swore again in Karnacan, then said something in that strange, foreign language and I clenched around him, so close to my second climax.  Daud shifted us over and knelt between my thighs, my shoulder and his leg hanging off the side of the mattress.  I tipped my head back into space and came a second time, gripping his shoulders hard.  The white-hot, blinding bliss momentarily deafened me to his ragged groan and panting.

"Close?" I asked.  He nodded, growling into my skin.  A ragged snarl clawed up his throat from deep within him.  He came hard, saying something in that other foreign language as he did, half-collapsing into me.  His hand shot out past my shoulder, catching us before we hit the floor.  He rolled onto his back and dragged me with him, leaving me to sprawl across his chest.

I looked up at him, his eyes were closed and I could see it scrawled over his face; he was thinking, I'm so fucked.

I leaned up and kissed his cheek.  His brow twitched and he looked down at me. Absolutely fucked.

I put my head on his chest, Don't worry, Daud.  I'm fucked, too.

Chapter Text

I started when I woke—draped across Daud's chest, my head on his shoulder, my legs tangled with his.  He stirred, but didn't wake as I pushed up, off of him.  I paused and looked down at him.  He wasn't handsome—especially with the dark bruises and welts on his face.  He might've been handsome, when he was younger, but violence and hard living had scarred his face, crumbled him at the edges.  But the way the sunlight spilled delicately across the room and the gentle grasp of peaceful sleep softened the hardness of his face.

Wait... Sunlight.

Void, no.

I ripped out of his grip, startling him awake.  Hair mussed, bruises spattered across his face and burns on his chest—a bruise on his throat I had put there.  Daud wasn't an attractive man, not conventionally in the way of being handsome, but I couldn't help or deny the feelings that swirled in my chest, then.  He sat up, a bit fast, jaw straining against a yawn and looked up at me, sweeping his bandaged left hand through his hair, combing it back and in order.

"What, what's wrong?" he asked, voice gruff as gravel with sleep.  I reached for my pants and shirt and put them on before replying—he didn't press.

"I spent the night," I said flatly.  I tugged on my jacket and, haltingly, leaned down and kissed his cheek.  Softly, I said, "I'm glad you're alright."

I didn't wait for a response or check his face for a reaction.  I just ran out of there, praying that Corvo hadn't woken up before us.

 

 

Corvo was sitting on the edge of our bed, already dressed, head hung, hands loosely clasped between his knees.

I thought about turning back around and walking back out—what kind of woman was I, to leave the father of my child for an assassin I barely knew?  He looked up before I could make my embarrassed escape. "Jess," he greeted me softly.  I stepped forward, closing the door behind me.  I had every intention of falling to my knees and apologizing, begging his forgiveness—something I'd never done for anyone before.  But I'd never loved anyone as deeply as I loved Corvo.  Which made my betrayal of sleeping with Daud all the more painful and confusing.

"Corvo, I—"

"We're not going to talk about it now," Corvo said.  His cool, serene tone had me unsettled beyond what I already felt.  I nodded, that was a good idea. "But when we do, please don't make excuses or lie to me again."

I nodded numbly. "Of course."

He stood, nodded and left the room without a further word.

I was too hollowed out to cry.  Besides, who was I to shed tears at this?  I'd manufactured the problem, myself.

Emily bounded into the room a moment later. "Where's Corvo?"

"Out for a walk," I replied. "He'll probably join us at breakfast."

That seemed to satisfy our little girl, who skipped back out of our room to wake Dodge.

 

Corvo didn't join us for breakfast.

The whole commissary eating arrangement was rather annoying, but usually it provided a good view of the mood of the Whalers, and what some goings on were.  I didn't see Daud or Corvo anywhere in the crowd and couldn't manage to eat anything.  I excused myself from the table, and nearly bumped into Thomas.

"Milady," he greeted.

"Hello, Thomas.  Good morning."

He gestured for me to follow him and I did, leaving Emily in Dodge's capable, if mildly exasperated, hands.  Mont and Geoff swept past me, crowding around my daughter and at once causing her to burst out laughing.  I left a backwards glance at the image and trailed after Thomas.

"I hope you slept well, Majesty," he said.  I flushed, he raised an eyebrow and clarified, "You have a long day ahead." 

I nodded.  There was a meeting with Captain Curnow to arrange and attend—though I suspected Thomas had already worked out the arrangements, as he was rather efficient.  He led me back to Daud's office, which was empty.

"Is Daud not here?" I asked.  Thomas shook his head.

"No, Majesty.  Lord Attano went for a walk with him earlier," Thomas said.  He quickly added, "They seemed amicable enough.  And Deva is tailing them."

I lifted my chin slightly, a half-nod.  Thomas drew a folded slip of paper out of Daud's top desk drawer.  "What's this?"

"Someone launched a flare on the opposite side of Kaldwin's Bridge last night," Thomas said. "Cole was out on a job that way, so he investigated.  As it happens, Hiram Burrows and Delilah have Anton Sokolov locked in an attic attempting to contrive a cure to the plague with limited resources and success."

"And?"

"And, when Cole arrived at said attic, Sokolov gave him this, said it was for you," Thomas said. "You should know that Sokolov is aware of our organization and knows Daud."

"Personally?"

"In a passing acquaintance sort of way.  He was one of the professors at the academy when Daud was there."

I blinked. "Daud... attended the Academy of Natural Philosophy?"

"Briefly," Thomas shrugged. "He doesn't discuss it much."

It had never crossed my mind.  I never really thought about Daud's past, always assumed he'd been a killer most of his adult life.  His conversation with Corvo, the one I'd overheard, that had given me a little insight, and confirmed that, but only as far as that it hadn't really been his choice to become a killer.  I inclined my head, supposing it was possible. "He never mentioned."

"As I said, Milady, he doesn't discuss it much," Thomas said. "Milady, I would lke to personally thank you, by the way.  For saving him.  He's the only father a lot of us ever knew."

"I didn't do it for him," I said.  Thomas nodded, comfiing that he knew that.

"I understand, but it's still important to us."

I offering a fading smile. "Of course, Thomas.  Er, is there anything else?"

"How does Your Majesty wish to proceed with Anton Sokolov?"

I raised an eyebrow. "What does Daud think?"

"He is currently unaware, Milady."

"I would prefer he is left to carry on with synthesizing a cure to the plague," I said. "But also keep someone out there to observe or remove him from there if it becomes a necessary course of action."

"As Your Majesty wishes."

 

Anton had taught me a cipher in my childhood that he had contrived on his own.  It involved transposing letters within words and with numbers—the letters were Tyvian.  I had taught the cipher to Corvo, and to anyone but the three of us, it ought to have looked like gibberish.  Anton's letter was written in the cipher.

In it, he mentioned a young man named Kirin Jindosh, who had recently been kicked out of the Academy.  Sokolov also made a point to note that Hiram Burrows had taken an interest in Jindosh shortly before his expulsion.  Sokolov mentioned an exchange he was having with a former student, who brought up Jindosh's arrival in Serkonos and his friendship with Duke Theodanis's son, Luca.  Sokolov went into brief detail on some of the work Jindosh had done while in the Academy—designs for clockwork soldiers.  He continued, then, saying the former student provided some invaluable assistance on contriving a cure for the plague, but there was still something he was missing and asked if I could send someone to find a Piero Joplin, another former professor from the academy, despite how much the idea infuriated him.

I made a copy of the cipher and wrote a brief note on a slip of paper at Daud's desk.  I'd send someone to deliver the note to this Joplin later.  For now, I had a slightly more pressing concern; ensuring my Spymaster and Protector weren't murdering one-another.

I persuaded Devon to nip off with the letter, to find Joplin and trailed after Corvo and Daud myself for a while.  They were talking in hushed Serkonan and disappeared into one of the empty buildings.  I gave them a few minutes before going in after them, knowing it would be harder to stay hidden in an enclosed space.

I heard a groan and thud and rushed in, drawing my knife.

Corvo had Daud pinned up against a wall, Daud's left hand tangled in Corvo's hair.  Corvo kissed him hungrily, both of their right hands down between them, in each other's pants.  Daud's knee was between Corvo's legs and their height difference, I now realized, wasn't as significant as I'd thought.  My knife clattered to the floor and Corvo broke the kiss, groaning again, forehead thumping softly into the wall beside Daud's head as Daud moved his hand

"Fuck," Daud hissed, pushing Corvo back.  Corvo glanced at me sheepishly and refastened his pants.

"Hi, Jess," he managed, voice a little coarser than his new norm with lust and embarrassment.

"Hi, Corvo," I replied. "Daud."

"Majesty," Daud grunted.

"I perhaps should have mentioned Corvo prefers men and that I am the sole exception to his preference," I told Daud.

"You probably should have," Daud agreed. "You're alright with this, then?"

"Of course," I said. "Or were you hoping I'd fight with him over you, Corvo?"

"I didn't think you would," Corvo said.

"Is this what you wanted to talk about?" I asked.  He nodded. "I don't love him, you know."

"I know."

"I just slept with him because I wanted something."

"I know."

Daud raised an eyebrow. "And what did you want last night?"

"To settle my debt," I replied.

Daud snorted. "Of course..."

"Corvo, what do you want?" I asked.

"To have you Jess, to wake up with you," Corvo said. "And I wouldn't mind Daud being present as well."

Daud smirked. "If it's what you want, my lord..." he said. "And... all the same to you, Majesty."

"I suppose I'd be amenable to that situation..."

 

We were a tangle of limbs, sweat and panted breaths.  Daud was leisurely fucking me, and rocking his fingers inside Corvo, who whimpered into my throat as I stroked him and he rutted gently into my hip, below where his leg was slung.  His right hand fumbled over my hand while his left was braced against Daud's shoulder.  I kissed Corvo's neck and slid one hand around, sticking my fingers in with Daud's.  Corvo's hips jumped and he moaned into my neck.

"How do you feel, love?" I asked.  He whined into my neck and I glanced over at Daud, who leaned down and kissed me, the tempo of his hips against mine increasing just slightly.  I gasped against his mouth and quivered into Corvo's chest.

A knock sounded heavily in a soft break in the moans.

Daud swore and withdrew.  I rolled back, keeping one hand on Corvo and watched him go.

"I can see why you're so amenable to that," Corvo mumbled.  I hummed in agreement as Daud stooped to draw up his trousers and tug his boots on.  He wiped his hands off on a rag as he descended the stairs to his office.  I giggled as Corvo's tongue drew a ticklish line under my jaw.  He drew me closer and I took him slowly.

"Dom, make it quick," Daud growled.

"Bill sent this out with Waverly Boyle," the Whaler knocking at his door replied.  Corvo's hips pressed flush into mine.  I kissed him softly.

"Waverly Boyle told you Billie gave it to her?"

"Yes, sir."

"Tynan replaced you?"

"Didn't leave until he had, sir."

"Good.  Good work.  Go get some rest, Dom."

"Yes, sir."

Corvo and I froze, listening as Domenico departed and Daud brought out his audiograph player.  I extricated myself and scraped Daud's shirt off the floor, shrugging it on as Corvo drew his own trousers on.  We came down as Daud was playing the audiograph.

"And our friends in Serkonos?  I did so like them, you know.  Terribly poetic choice, that woman and her people...Particularly because she knows both Attano and the Mouse of Dunwall so well."

"The Blades are ready when the Duke is, Your Majesty, and happy enough when they're getting paid."

"Are you certain, Hiram?  Your track record isn't terribly wonderful in that regard, my dear..."

"I'm not hiring them, Your Majesty, simply making arrangements.  The Duke hired them, all parties seem thus-far pleased."

"Even darling Kirin?"

"He appears to be on rather amicable terms with the Duke.  And his projects are coming along well enough, he says."

"Wonderful.  And my miraculous cure to the plague?"

"Sokolov says he nearly has it."

"He's been saying that for weeks."

"Perhaps it's a technical term, Your Majesty."

"Perhaps indeed..."

The recording stopped, then.

"Who do you both know that could possibly be an assassin?" I said, looking from Daud to Corvo.

"I'm from Batista," Corvo stated.

"Paranka," Daud replied.

"Your East Karnacan's really good," Corvo noted, clearly impressed.

"My mother had a lot of clients from Batista," Daud shrugged. "Cough suppressants, vision-clearing drops, that sort of thing...  All the women I know... No, they'd all be too old at this point.  Unless... Did you know a girl named Triss?  She'd be my age."

"Triss?  No," Corvo frowned. "Why?"

"She... Really?  Not a cousin or something?" Daud's brow furrowed.

"I had a sister," Corvo said. "Named Beatrici..."

"She didn't have any siblings," Daud said, shaking his head.

"And besides, my sister died on a shipwreck on her way to Morley," Corvo said.

"Unless she was actually taken by the Rat King and called herself Triss to avoid leading him back to Corvo," I chimed in.  Both men looked at me.

"Could be, but it's unlikely," Daud said.  To his credit, he didn't demand to know where I'd heard that.  Corvo's eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn't, either.

"Regardless of who the woman is, we have to find out when the Blades are going to do whatever it is Theodanis hired them to do," I said.  Daud raised an eyebrow.

"How do you propose we do that?"

"Have Billie poke around a bit more," I suggested. "She's one of yours, isn't she?  She should be able to manage it."

"I'm not making her take any more risks," Daud shook his head. "She's in enough danger as it is..."

"Then send some men to Serkonos," I said.

"Can't spare anyone."

"I'll try to convince Slackjaw, then," I crossed my arms over my chest.

"How?  With what?"

Frustrated, I huffed and turned my back on him. "I don't know, I'll think of something."

"I'm sure you will." It was sincere and apologetic.  I didn't turn back around until a mouth moved against the back of my neck and hands pawed at my hips.

 

 

Geoff Curnow agreed to issue orders to the Watch to lighten patrols and interactions with civilians except at security points.  He also provided Daud and Havelock with copies of a map detailing exactly where each checkpoint was.  He also provided them with patrol schedules and routes.  He slipped an armory code to Havelock, as well.  Martin informed us that, thanks to the chaos I'd caused, suspicion on him had been removed.  He'd made an agreement with Slackjaw and was campaigning to take Campbell's place.  That made Daud uncomfortable.

It made me uncomfortable, too.

But with Killian and Ryan alternating their sniper nest's watch of Holger Square (and Rinaldo in Holger Square), Daniel tailing Martin and Fergus keeping watch on Bottle Street, it was easier for me to get past the discomfort.

All that and I was easily distracted by certain things.

And, it seemed, so was Daud.

"Fuck, Attano..." Daud growled, hips twitching as he tried to hold still.  Corvo grinned up at him and I kissed Corvo's cheek.

"Love, let the man up, would you?"

With a growl, a giggle and a hum of satisfaction, the three of us tumbled together.

The three of us made love for close to an hour.  It was slow, passionate, intense.  For a time, I was trapped in the middle, pressed between two blazingly warm bodies, with two mouths and two pairs of hands roving over my skin.  I spent a good amount of time facing Corvo, kissing his jaw, carefully gripping his arms, crying out into his chest.  Daud I held tight, too, for a time, kissing Corvo over his shoulder as he gasped into my neck, my fingertips digging harshly into the undamaged parts of his back as one heavy thrust collided into the next, rolling Daud's hips hard against mine, as he clenched his fists hard in the sheets by my shoulders.  I wound up the one drenched in fluids other than sweat.  Daud swore in that odd foreign language as Corvo gave him one final stroke and leaned down to lick his seed off my breasts.

After cleaning up a bit and putting something respectable on, I went to check on my daughter.  Dodge was sprawled across the foot of her bed, hugging the book he'd been reading to her as a pillow.  Emily was half-wrapped in her blanket, head propped against his leg.  I carefully re-arranged her so she was tucked in properly and left a kiss on her forehead before returning to my own bed.

Daud wasn't much of a cuddler, unlike Corvo.  But he allowed me to curl up against his side anyway.  Corvo tucked himself against my back and draped his arm across us both.  I fell asleep wearing nothing but Corvo, tucked between him and Daud.

And I woke in the Void, clad only in Corvo's shirt.

"I can't say I expected this..."

I folded my arms over my chest and made the Outsider come around to face me.  Instead, the island spun violently and I hit the ice on my hands and knees.  I looked up the length of him and scowled.

"What do you want now?" I asked the deity, drawing myself back to my feet.

"To tell you a story..." the Outsider said. "About Kirin Jindosh, specifically.  He hails originally from Karnaca, you know, much like your dear lovers, but had a rather... different upbringing.  Once, when he was a boy, he dissected the family cat.  Horrified, his mother demanded to know why.  Casually, the boy informed her he simply wanted to know how it worked... What he didn't say was that he'd also killed the creature himself," he smiled vaguely at my own horror and continued without so much as a pause, "He went on to teach himself the principles of engineering and applied to the Academy of Natural Philosophy.  They thought him, not incorrectly, to be a genius who would surpass Sokolov and bring about an age of enlightenment.  But just two years after his arrival, he was banned from the Academy for life, for reasons that even Your Majesty might find difficult to uncover.  When they deported him, he left behind a machine that drank seawater, playing music that brought listeners to tears.  They promptly took it apart, and it has never worked since."

"Why are you telling me this?" I scowled. "Do you wish me to show him mercy?  I don't intend to have him killed, merely his clockwork soldiers decommissioned—"

But on the Outsider went, "Nine months ago, back in Karnaca, a nobleman from Tyvia requested Jindosh make a toy for his daughter..." the Outsider's smile took a bitter turn. "He created a little device that ran on a few drops of whale oil a day, comprised of wood, brass and the bones of several cats.  The scream, he believes, that the girl made when it was activated, is the reason Delilah's attention was drawn to him."

"What?"

"She thinks of him as one would a small, 'artistic' child—mildly impressed, but ultimately disgusted," the Outsider said. "But his inventions... those she genuinely appreciates.  His clockwork soldiers are dangerous enough, yes, but together, the two of them will be very dangerous.  Take great care with how you eliminate Jindosh from the playing field, because he is, you see, not a fool.  Neither is Delilah."

I woke with a start and Corvo stirred, hugging me tighter.  Daud shifted, putting his other arm around me, cradling me to his chest. 

I squeezed my eyes closed and lie still pretending to sleep for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

I giggled softly into Daud's chest as Corvo kissed his way up the back of my neck.

Daud's hands curled around my waist, drawing me up on his chest.  Corvo kissed him over my shoulder and I pushed against my Protector, separating the two of them.  Both of them chuckled gruffly at that and kissed me—Corvo catching my cheek, Daud my lips.

"Fuck," Daud cursed, pushing me back down in the bed and yanking the sheets up.  I huddled down into his ribs and heard Emily clatter on the other side of the door.

"Mommy?"

"Be right there, sweetie," I called out.  I smiled down at Daud as I crawled over him. "Good catch."

He grunted softly as my knee brushed across his groin and I smirked at a small, pleasant discovery.  Corvo chuckled softly from the bed and Daud hit him with a pillow before drawing up the sheets over his head and turning his back on the still smirking Royal Protector.  I drew on a night shirt and pants and slipped out of the bedroom carefully as I could.  Emily was already dressed, her hair pulled back in a neat little braid.

"Good morning, darling," I stooped and kissed Emily's cheek.  I smiled up at the yawning Dodge—only now realizing how young the boy was, unguarded as he was, face unobscured by hair.  He couldn't be more than seventeen, and was likely younger than that, even. "Good morning, Dodge."

"Good morning, Majesty," he managed. "I was going to take Lady Emily to breakfast."

"Well, don't let me get between the two of you and Ardan's muffins," I said. "We'll be down in a bit."

"Okay!" Emily threw her arms around me for a hug and grinned up at me. "Bye, Mommy!"

I watched them go before slipping back into the bedroom.

Daud and Corvo had managed to have a little brawl, sprawling the pillows on the floor and tangling one of each of their legs in the sheets and my Royal Protector was pinned on his back on the mattress, wrists lazily shackled in Daud's left hand, all without Dodge, Emily or I noticing.

I raised an eyebrow. "Oh, please, don't stop on my account."

Daud grinned and leaned down, catching Corvo's mouth, smoothing his right hand down the taller man's stomach.  Corvo arched up as Daud's hand slipped lower, moaning softly.  I dragged my nightshirt off and left my pants puddled on the floor, crawling in to join them.

 

 

Dodge looked surprised for a moment, mildly confused, but he nudged it away and continued with his breakfast.

"So, Mr. Daud," Emily looked across the table from him.  He raised an eyebrow over his cup of coffee. "Are you and Corvo finally getting along?"

I glanced over, worried he'd regret taking a sip right at that moment.  Corvo had suddenly found something incredibly fascinating about the sliced fruit on his plate.  Daud set his mug down carefully and arranged a perfectly calm expression, not that his face had been very out of order, aside from the slight eyebrow spasm, which apparently Emily missed, but Dodge did not, given his faint surprised glance at Emily.

"Oh, yes, Princess.  Corvo and I are getting along very well," Daud said.

"Mm hmm, relations have certainly been very good," Corvo said.  I cocked my head, eyebrow lifting slightly at that little admission.  Certainly, it had gone over Emily's head, with the double meaning nature to it, the second meaning being one my daughter was oblivious to, but poor Dodge was finding it very hard to keep from reacting.  The teenager was, naturally, a little more knowledgeable of certain meanings than a ten-year-old would be.

"Oh, good," Emily said and happily turned her attention back to her breakfast.  I glanced at the two older men over my cup, eyebrow cocked, and they both carried on as if nothing had happened.  The ambient sound in the room was more than enough to keep it from getting awkward as our table slipped into a lull of silence.

"Geoff said he wanted me to go fishing with him and Pavel, Dimitri and Petro," Emily piped up. "Would that be okay, mommy?"

"Of course, darling.  Dodge, will you be joining them?

He nodded. "Of course, Your Majesty."

So they scampered off to find Geoff after breakfast and I followed Daud to his office, with Corvo in tow behind us.  Corvo seemed more like his old self—he had certainly eaten more like he used to, at breakfast.

And he reacted as ferociously as ever when we discovered there was a witch waiting for us.

She was taller than me, in a tattered red coat, black staining her hands and running from where it was painted around her eyes.  Dying thorns curled around her throat and arms and her dark skin had an ashen quality to it.  She straightened up from where she was half-lounged against Daud's desk when we came in.  Corvo put himself between her and I—but Daud was on his own.  The witch seemed unruffled by Corvo's threatening presence.

"Bill, what're you doing here?" Daud said.

"You know her?" Corvo glanced at Daud.  I raised an eyebrow.  Corvo didn't yet relax.

"Slipped away for a walk and my feet took me here," the witch said. "It's good to see you, old man."

"You, too, kid," Daud said. "Met the Empress and Lord Protector already."

"Kind of," the witch nodded and half-bowed. "Er, Your Majesty."

"It's lovely to meet you properly," I said. "Miss...?"

"Lurk.  Billie Lurk," she introduced herself. "You've got some new scars, old man."

"Had a dust up with some Overseers," he said. "Her Majesty got me clear before it got any worse."

"Huh," Billie nodded. "Thank you, Milady."

"I need him," I replied flatly. "Of course I intervened."

"Yeah, but you got him clear, Milady—stepped in personally.  Overseers don't have guts so to speak, but they're stupid and fanatical, so it takes real guts to step in where they're concerned," Billie said. "And Daud never does anything easy, so it had to be pretty hard to get him out of there."

Not as hard as it could've been, I thought.  Although, I had climbed up the side of the Abbey's offices...

"Tell you all about it some time," Daud said. "How long before you have to get back?"

"I should probably do that soon," Billie said. "Oh, and you should know, I think Burrows is planning behind Delilah's back.  He might be trying for a power play."

"That's good information, thank you," I said.  She tipped her head in a nod and touched Daud's shoulder, meeting my gaze as she moved past him.

"Take care of yourself, old man," she said over her shoulder.

"I'll take care of him, too," I said, making her smile. "He clearly can't be trusted to do it all on his own."

She chuckled. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

The door banged open behind me and Billie stepped back.  I wheeled around, hand going reflexively to my hip.  Petro tripped into my arms and pointed, panting, hard. "C-City Watch... attacking on the docks..."

Billie paled. "They can't have followed me," she said. "I was so careful... And I didn't come over the water how—"

"No idea, doesn't matter at the moment," Daud growled, moving past me as Thomas ran up. "Thomas, protect the Empress.  Attano—"

"Emily—" Corvo realized.  The two Marked men vanished in a shudder of ash and flash of blue.

"Miss Lurk, you should go," I said. "The last thing we need is you being compromised.  Go back to the Tower and carry on as you were," I ordered.  Billie nodded and vanished.  I turned to Thomas, ignoring the stink of rotting vegetation, and straightened Petro up. "Petro, dear, are you alright?"

He nodded. "I'm fine, Your Majesty.  I just got nicked a little," he gestured to the red splashed on his arm.

"Wonderful, get reinforcements for Daud and Corvo," I said.  He nodded and scampered off.  Thomas shot me a look. "Thomas, are they coming from anywhere else?"

"Leon, Marc, Nick, Scott and Pat are giving them a hard time, though," Thomas said.

Moments later, we discovered "a hard time" wasn't nearly good enough.

"Slackjaw and Stride are coming around—they wanna help," Devon reported, a blessing through Mont's casualty reports and Thomas's agitation.  We'd sent the remaining three long rifles to the roofs with Vladko, Kieron and Javi and they were doing the best they could, but they could only do so much without making themselves targets as well.

"Reinforcements for the Watch are coming," Finn reported grimly. "And they're not City Watch."

"Overseers?" Thomas asked.  Finn shook his head.

"Witches."

"We need to evacuate," I said.

"To where?" Mont scowled.

"We're hitting the boarding crafts, hard," I said. "Overrun and commandeer them.  Does anyone know what Daud and Corvo's status is?  How my daughter is?"

"Mont!  We need you!" Zachary shouted from down the hall. "Dodge is bad!"

I rushed along after Montgomery, Thomas, Devon and Finn behind me.  I glanced over my shoulder, "Devon, Finn, I want that push happening now!"

They both disappeared and Thomas sprinted in behind Montgomery and I.  Dodge pushed weakly against the hands pinning him to the desk.  Zachary looked over at Mont, presumably both desperate and mildly exasperated. "Dodge, honey, what happened?" I asked, hovering just out of Montgomery's way as she began administering aid to the bleeding young Whaler.  He was paler than he should've been and he looked even younger, half-panicked with hair hair stuck to his face with blood and sweat.

"Three assassins," Dodge said. "They had powers.  Daud made Pavel drag me back here..."

He pointed weakly to the corner, where Pavel was slumped in a chair.  I did a double take. "Is Pavel—"

"Dead.  Ricocheting bullet," Zachary replied flatly, blood spurting through his fingers until he shoved another handful of wadding. "Mont—"

"I know," she said. "Thomas—"

He went to her tool bench and ignited the whale oil torch, warming a piece of metal to a red-hot point with it as he crossed back to them.  Montgomery took the rod, Zachary lifted his hands and Mont shoved the bit of metal into the gash in Dodge's thigh.  Dodge screamed and Zachary all but climbed onto him to hold him down.

 

 

My shoulder hurt when I woke—

In the Void.

"We must come to some sort of agreement," I grumbled into the darkness. "A warning of some kind, perhaps a twinge in the back of my left hand or something..."

"You were busy," the Outsider drawls, crackling out of nothing in front of me.  He seems—

"Worried, are you?" I questioned.

"Corvo has taken a nasty wound to his left thigh," he replied, a bit irritably. "And two of Daud's cracked ribs have broken and there's been some internal damage.  As I said, I don't choose favorites, but if I were pressed to make a choice—"

"It would be a good one," I replied.  The Outsider smiled faintly.

"Indeed," he agreed. "And you're not worried about yourself, Majesty?"

"Moreso about my child.  She is safely retrieved, yes?" I asked.  He frowned.

"No."

"Where is she?" I groped for his jacket and my shoulder blazed with agony.  My hand came away bloody from it and I looked down— a shattered spar of metal protruded from me and I was gushing blood right down the front of my own jacket. "Oh..."

He caught me and gently lowered me to the ground, patting my hand gingerly. "It's hardly as serious as it looks," the Outsider reported softly. "You're quite alright."

"Am I?" I blinked up at him. "My daughter's been kidnapped again, my Royal Protector is wounded, my Royal Spymaster is wounded, my empire is dying, my half-sister laughing on its grave—"

"I wouldn't say 'dying,' exactly, but its injuries may yet prove fatal..."

I hit him, weakly, repeatedly, smearing blood on his throat and collar.  He folded me into his arms, more of a restraint than a comfort, and the pain ebbed from my shoulder.  I let a furious sob out into the Outsider's throat, hands gently smoothing across my back.

"She'll be in Serkonos in two weeks," the Outsider said blandly. "But you didn't hear it from me."

I woke screaming.

"Painkillers wore off," I heard someone say, gruff and off to my left.

"No shit," Mont snarled at them and I would've smiled if I wasn't in blazing agony.  A hand curled around mine.

"Fiercest, dumbest bitch I've ever met," I heard Daud grunt roughly from near my ear.

"I'd hit you if I could," I threatened him weakly.

"Sense of humor's good," Mont said.  A prick to my arm, my vision swam a bit and the pain ebbed away again.  It wasn't as gentle as the way the Outsider had smoothed it off, but the pain was gone.  I relaxed my grip on Daud's hand.

"What happened?" I asked.

"You took on two Watchmen by yourself, Your Majesty," Thomas reported from off to my left.  Ah, so Daud's lessons had paid off.  Thomas eased himself up on crutches and hobbled over to my bedside. "And threw me out of the blast radius of a grenade I was trying to protect you from."

"Fiercest, dumbest bitch I've ever met," Daud repeated.  I flicked my hand against his cheek and he caught it, kissing the back of my hand softly.  Under any other circumstance, I'd've thought it sweet.

"Did you find Emily?" I asked.  He shook his head.  His expression was as grim as I'd ever seen it.  I felt my eyes begin to burn, the back of my throat with them. "Who took her?"

"Not sure, but they seemed..." Daud hesitated. "They seemed like they were Marked."

That black-eyed bastard.

It dawned on me.  Serkonos—The Blades. "The Blades," I said, sitting up—oh, Outsider's Eyes that hurt—and meeting Daud's confused stare.  Realization seemed to arrive in his eyes. "And they came by water—"

"They're taking her to Serkonos," Daud said.

"If our friend hadn't smuggled that recording, we'd never find her," I said. "It's perfect.  How long was I out?"

"A day," Daud said.  And you sat by my side that whole time? "I just swapped out with Corvo—made him go get some sleep.  He's... well, he's not fine, but he's not hurt that bad."

"Not as bad as you or Thomas?" I asked, gesturing at his sling and Thomas's crutches.

"Sprained my knee," Thomas said. "I'll be fine in a week, Majesty."

"Agitated my cracked ribs," Daud shrugged. "Sling's precautionary."

"Are you sure that's all it is?" I asked.

"No, Your Highness," Mont grunted. "But the Idiot of Dunwall won't let me check.  And you should probably stay in bed, to heal."

"I'll spend the whole trip to Serkonos in a bunk," I said. "But we're not waiting to go get my daughter."

 

 

Two days later, we were on a ship outward bound to Serkonos.

The captain was a strange woman named Lizzie and she seemed overly gleeful to be in command of the ship.  And far too pleased with Daud for my comfort.

"Kindest, sweetest man in all 'o Dunwall," she leered. "If you ever get cold in your cabin at night—"

"I'll find an extra blanket," Daud grunted, cutting her off. "I'm not terribly interested in starting anything up, Lizzie.  The idea of the act alone is repulsive."

I hid my coy smile.  Mont didn't like it that I was up and about, but at least I didn't complain about the sling she forced me into, like Daud did.  Corvo's leg injury proved less substantial than the Outsider had claimed—or perhaps he was healing faster than a normal man had right to.  He turned up the cowl of his jacket against the wind—and to hide his own smirk at Daud's loyalty.

"C'mon, Daud... I'm the only captain willing to take you all the way," Stride said. "And you bought me a ship."

"I bought me a ship," Daud said. "I just needed someone who knew how to sail it.  And yes, you're the only captain willing to take me all the way to Serkonos."

The conversation ended soon after that and the three of us retreated to my cabin.

The bed in the cabin was new and just barely large enough to accommodate three people.  Daud sat down on the edge of it to remove his boots.  Corvo bent down and helped him and Daud did the same for him after.  And the two of them took my boots off, then crawled into the bed with me.  I huddled into Corvo's shoulder, Daud's chest behind me.  As much as I wanted to fuck, to lose the panic and the worry coiled in my chest to orgasm with the two of them, just sharing their warmth was good enough for me.

"We'll find her," Corvo said. "She's only just out of our reach."

"I know we'll find her," I said.  I had a ship full of assassins and pirates around me—and two of the Outsider's Marked in bed with me and loyal to the death to me.  I knew we'd find her.  And then the four of us—and Daud's agents—would return to and retake Dunwall.  And end Delilah's reign.

Chapter Text

Two weeks without leads left me on edge and with a bit of difficulty sleeping.

I lie between Corvo and the empty space we reserved for Daud.  We had a mattress on a wooden floor in an old slaughterhouse's back office.

As the night began to drag, I rolled out of the bed and went in search of him.

Daud was in the small room that served as an office, pouring over notes and a map with nothing but the light of a candle.  He growled something in the language I'd come to recognize as Pandyssian and slumped back in his chair, sweeping his fingers through his hair, then down over his face.

"Any luck?"

He shook his head. "Sorry."

"It wasn't your fault," I said. "And...you're no good to me dead, Daud.  Come to bed."

He looked at my extended hand and took it.  I pulled him close, wrapping my arms around him in a hug.  He just smelled like sweat, candle wax, ink and paper.  He'd stripped off his jacket and gloves.  The new scars on his knuckles and forearm were rough as his embrace brushed my shirt up a little. 

"I lost your daughter," he murmured into my shoulder. "I... She slipped right out of my hands..."

"It wasn't your fault," I repeated.

He nuzzled my jaw, I squeezed my arms around him a little tighter. 

Daud let me lead him back to our bed.  Corvo was awake, waiting for us.  I kissed Daud's cheek and pulled off his boots.  He stripped his shirt off and discarded his belt with it, leaving him bare-chested.  He kicked his trousers off, too, and I fell into the bed with him in my arms.  Daud sort of drifted off with his head on my chest, Corvo might've gone back to sleep with his arms around my waist from behind.  I didn't sleep, propping my head on Corvo's shoulder and wrapping my arms around Daud's chest.

Though, that would be misleading—

I didn't sleep right away...

 

I woke in the Void—with Corvo and Daud.

Corvo—who was at least in pants—and Daud who was as disgruntled as I imagined he could be in the Void in his underwear.

Something was different—wrong... I groped for Corvo's hand and he clasped mine firmly.  Daud's mouth slid into a firmly downward curved line.  A cracking stone bridge curled out from the platform we had appeared on and Daud took the lead, hands balled into fists at his sides. 

We moved from platform to platform for what felt like an hour, sometimes by stair or bridge, sometimes with Corvo scooping me up and he and Daud using their powers to move from one platform to the next.  It all seemed darker than before, colder, the air was heavier.  The scent of the ocean was gone—replaced with a faded scent of ash and the crispness that a deep cold left in its wake. 

We came to a platform, finally, populated by statues.

There were perhaps a dozen and a half of them, all congregating around a large stone slab.  One of the statues stood at one end of the slab, hands raised as if about to strike a blow down at some invisible sacrifice.

"Oh," Daud said.

"What?" Corvo asked.

"This... this is where it happened."

"Where what happened?" I asked.

"Where the Outsider was made," he clarified, glancing over his shoulder at me.

"What a clever boy you are..."

I started slightly, more at the vulnerable, restrained pose the Outsider arrived in than his arrival.  He was 'bound' by his wrists to the slab, head tipped back, a scar decorating his throat, angry and new and red.  When he rolled to his feet, the scar faded, slightly, the redness going, but the thick, brutal silver mark remaining.

"This is where they sacrificed a boy," he gestured. "Turned him into a god—into me."

"Why've you brought us here?" Corvo asked, sort of standing defensively between the black-eyed god and I.

"It's the last place Delilah hasn't managed to dig her fingers into," the Outsider said. "I can keep her away from here—for now.  If she manages to find a way in..."

"What happens?" Daud asked.

The Outsider's mouth quirked down slightly. "Was I mistaken in believing you to be clever?"

"Shit," Daud cursed. "If she gets in here—"

"With the right tools of course," the Outsider said.

"Then the Void will be contested," I concluded.

"Yes," the Outsider nodded.  He brushed his fingers across his neck as he turned, before sliding his hands into place behind his back.

"That's what Delilah's having her witches search for," Corvo thought aloud. "The knife missing from the tableau."

"Hm, looks like it's a properly clever bunch I've managed to collect..." the Outsider drawled, smiling faintly at Corvo over his shoulder.

"Any idea where your missing knife is?" Daud said.

The Outsider shook his head. "Unfortunately not.  Though, I suspect the Overseers don't have a map right to it, otherwise they may have destroyed me ages ago..."

"So what do you want?  Want us to find it and bring it to you or kill her?"

"The latter would certainly be easier," the Outsider stated. "Despite how powerful she's become..." He half-turned. "As the lovely Empress knows, one is only as powerful as those under their command allow them to be.  Delilah's reign is far more absolute than yours, Majesty.  Belief begets power, you see, and love and fear are two very powerful identities given to belief.  Delilah is feared—almost as absolutely as I was, though in much smaller a circle.  That gives her complete political power—but the fear, the terror... there are ways of siphoning that to add to one's own power..."

"But we can kill her?" Corvo asked.

"Everything dies, my dear Corvo..." the Outsider said grimly. "Her death would be easier an accomplishment at the hands of a master swordsman or assassin, rather than a being she's intimately familiar with the abilities of."

"She's studied you?  Figured out all your tricks?" I blinked. "How could that be possible...?"

"Magic is limited by imagination," the Outsider admitted. "Delilah had nothing but imagination her whole life long..." he met my stare. "Thanks to you, of course, dearest Jessamine."

Corvo looked like he was about to hit the god for me. 

"You're avoiding the question," I said.

"Am I?" the Outsider replied.

"Yeah, you are," Daud grunted. "We plan on killing Delilah.  And we'll get right on that as soon as we can go back to Dunwall—which we can only do once we've found the princess."

"Perhaps some insight, then," the Outsider said. "Kirin Jindosh is a genius—an arrogant man who tolerates being asked to do things a little more poorly than Anton Sokolov.  Perhaps he knows where the princess is and perhaps he's irrelevant to your search..."

"Is he always like this?" Corvo asked Daud. "Do you always find yourself wanting to hit him?"

"It's rather refreshing to be sure.  Hitting him, that is," I commented.  Daud glanced at me with a small smile.

"Well done," Daud said.

"Go home, Daud," the Outsider said. "Back to where you came from."

 

 

The buildings all through the small district of Panarko were in a deplorable state of disrepair.

"How could Duke Theo allow this...?" I voiced.

"His focus is elsewhere," Corvo said. "You and your father couldn't stop the accumulation of poor..."

"It used to be worse," Daud said. "Down that way is where I used to live... There's an actual building there, not a hut..."

"Hey."

The three of us turned.  I resisted the urge to glance up to the roofs where I knew Ryan was scowling through the scope of his longrifle.

A slender young man strode up to us, a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

"Name's Paolo," he introduced himself. "And I think I know why the three of you are here.  Thing is, though... nothing's free."

"Sure," Daud growled. "Paying you by not smearing your brains across the street."

"Yeah, that's a bit of a low-ball offer," Paolo said. "Mindy'll take you out before you draw."

"I didn't say I was going to shoot you," Daud said. "Know who I am, kid?  For sure?"

"Guy that killed the Rat King," Paolo said. "Son of a witch from Pandyssia.  You lived down there.  She's the Empress of the Isles and he's her bodyguard.  See, amico?"

Daud's eyes narrowed.

"I know a guy that knows things," Paolo shrugged.

"What do you want?" I asked, not hiding that I was curling my fingers around my knife.

"I'm a hitter for the Grace's Aces," Paolo said. "But I got ideas.  Thing is, there's one Lieutenant figures the world would be better off if those ideas were kept quiet... And if he were to disappear, I'd be able to persuade the other vecchi stronzi how great my ideas are."

"A revolutionary?" I raised an eyebrow.  I glanced at Corvo to see what his opinion was and he had his sword in hand, undrawn.

"Grace's Aces?" he scowled.

"I'd be running it in favor of the people," Paolo said. "Public Works shit."

"Forget it," Corvo grunted.

"Dearest," I frowned. "Daud, what do you think?"

"I think you convinced Slackjaw to fight for you, so this little shit has no idea who he's dealing with..." Daud said. "I also think having eyes and ears in Serkonos who aren't skeevy, scheming nobles would be a good investment."

"It's up to you, m'a maesta," Paolo said.  Corvo shot him a glare.  I didn't bother to ask for a translation.

"One man," I said.

"One man," Paolo agreed, holding one finger up. "Uberto the Hammer."

"Uberto the Hammer?" Daud snorted.

"You're The Knife.  Please explain how that's better," Corvo raised an eyebrow.

"Did he name himself?" Daud asked.

"Yes," Paolo nodded.

"That's how," Daud said. "Also, precision.  Precision and grace."

"Because you're so graceful," Corvo snorted.

"Watch me work, mi caro," Daud patted Corvo's cheek.

 

 

I stood with Paolo, waiting in the shadows of an alley near Uberto the Hammer's apartment.

Corvo and Daud returned after some minutes with a bloodied pillow case.  Corvo shot Daud a concerned look.

"What?" Daud looked back

"If you'd wanted to—"

"Yes.  And you wouldn't have had to go to Coldridge."

"Because—"

"Yep."

"And why not—"

"Outnumbered."

"Outsider's balls..."

Daud snorted, amused, and handed Paolo the pillowcase.

I used my imagination so I didn't have to look.  Paolo looked in. "Outsider's balls, indeed," he said. "You killed the filho da puttana good, didn't you...?"

"It's my job," Daud replied.

"And you're damn good at it..." Paolo whistled and said something I didn't catch.

"And you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Corvo frowned.

"Nah, whore sold me to the Aces for a bottle of cheap rum," Paolo said.  I blinked, wishing he'd been joking.

"So you can help us with the Blades?"

"Yeah," Paolo said. "Base just moved east—out near the Observatory.  There's... Sixty of them?  Give or take a handful.  Lead by a woman called the Queen of Swords—her real name begins with a B, but other than that I got nothin' on her.  Her lieutenant's name is Damaris, though.  Pretty young thing real bright green eyes—kinda like yours, Signor Knife.  I think she's the Queen's daughter."

"How old is she?  Do you know?" Corvo asked.

"Mid-twenties?" Paolo guessed.

"And the Queen?"

"Forties, I think.  Probably older, though, if she's Damaris's mother," Paolo hazarded.

"Is there anything else you can tell us about them?" I asked. "Are they... witches, perhaps?"

"Don't think so," Paolo said. "They keep a witch, though.  One of mi amici, recent transplant from Dunwall, too, told me 'bout this old woman used to hobble around downtown Dunwall.  Granny Rags—she's a witch.  Apparently they've got her as a guest.  Er, and other than that, I can't tell you anything else for sure."

Paolo told us that if we needed anything else, all we needed to do was post a message asking if anyone was missing a dog named "Howler" on one of Karnaca's many message boards.

Daud was broodier than usual as we walked back to our base.

"What's wrong?" Corvo asked.

"Damaris was my mother's name," Daud said. "There's only one person other than the two of you that knows that.  And I thought she'd died."

"Your friend Trissi?" I asked.  He nodded.

"B-Trissi," Corvo said. "Beatrissi.  Beatrici."

"Your sister," I realized. "Void, what if—"

"It'd be too strange of a coincidence," Corvo said. "My sister kidnapped our daughter.  And named her daughter after—"

He was staring at Daud strangely.

"What?"

"How close were you to Trissi?"

Daud's expression became one I'd never expected to see on him.  He gaped, searched for something to say and was thrown into the closest wall with a rough shove from his protective counterpart.

"Corvo—"

"You fucked my sister?!"

"Corvo!"

I grabbed his arm and he jerked away from me, shooting a furious glare at Daud. "You fucked my sister?"

Daud was quiet for a moment.  Then, "There's really no way to put it such that you won't want to fucking hit me again, pendejo."

"Pende—Vai al Vouto, cazzo!" Corvo shot back.

"Stop!" I shouted. "You two clowns cut it out, would you?  We're in trouble."

They looked around, mortified that they'd been so distracted.

We were in a fair bit of trouble, indeed—

That is, surrounded by Blades.

Chapter Text

Beatrici Attano was tall, dark woman who looked only a slight bit more effeminate than her younger brother.  She stood just a few inches shorter than Daud, had a lean frame and burst of silver in her thick, black hair.

"You got old, Topo," she told Daud after the door to her office was shut.

"So did you, Triss," he replied with a scowl.  I tensed as she approached us and cupped his chin in a gloved hand.  Then the hand was across his back and she was holding him close in embrace.

"Missed you," she said, a bit raggedly.  Then she looked over and up at Corvo. "Cori, irmaollino—"

He stooped into her embrace as well.  I smiled and stepped back, hands folded behind my back.  It was sweet—the reunion.  Corvo's hand clenched on the back of his sister's shirt and her gloved hand worked through his hair, his face pressing into her shoulder.  Daud's hand sat politely in the middle of her back, just below Corvo's.

"Bea," Corvo said as he drew away. "Bea, it's been..."

"Too long, tesoro," she said, cupping his cheek. "I'm sorry it's like this.  You're here for the girl, aren't you?"

Corvo nodded. "Your niece."

Beatrici stepped back completely, glancing at me, then. "And you're what?"

"Jessamine Kaldwin," I introduced myself, offering my hand. "The mother."

Her surprise was refreshing.

"The girl's a princess..." Beatrici realized. "And the bastard of a Serkonan soldier and the Empress of the Isles."

"Seems like you were the last one to know so," Corvo said.

"I don't care much for what goes on outside of Serkonos," she said. "She's my niece..."

"Boss?"

We four turned to the door.  The woman who stood there had Daud's eyes—dark and grey-green—Beatrici's face and a straightness to her hair uncharacteristic of an Attano, but very much like Daud's.  She was a little shorter than her mother, lean and deadly—and had a slight limp.

"Daud, Corvo, Jessamine," Beatrici called our attention. "This is my daughter, Damaris.  Mari, tesoro, this is my brother, Corvo and my friend, Daud, and their charge, Jessamine."

"Lovely to meet all of you," Damaris said, a bit sterner than I felt was necessary.  She turned to the doorway and waved someone in. "Found some rats skulking around the Clockworks house..."

Thomas went to his knees with a grunt, his hands tied behind his back, face streaked with blood.  He bled onto the floor, too.

"Thomas—"

Damaris's hand stopped me from getting any closer and Beatrici's hand fisted in Daud's jacket, preventing him from moving, either.

"He's one of yours, Topo?"

"She called him a 'rat' didn't she?" Daud growled back, shaking Beatrici's hand off.  He knelt beside Thomas and checked his injuries.  I saw Thomas's jaw twitch, as Daud leaned down, ear at mouth-level, to inspect Thomas's slashed chest.  Something in Daud's shoulders shifted.  Daud glared up at Damaris. "How many of my men did you kill?"

"None," she said. "This little bastard was the only one we could catch up to and he raised hell for us when we did."

"Couldn't let them get their hands on Dodge and Geoff.  Two of them are softer than warmed butter..." Thomas panted.

Dodge couldn't go out yet for proper work and Geoff only ever did light recon, from what he'd said—

But they both looked after Emily.

I hid my relief well enough.

"Two?  There were three of them—"

Daud raised an eyebrow, glancing at Thomas.  I saw pride in his face.

"Good work, son," Daud said. "Couldn't have done better myself."

"Thank you, sir, but I doubt it's true..."

"Daud," Beatrici growled.

The Blades at Damaris's back bristled. I glanced from Daud to Corvo, then to Beatrici.

"So it's bone charms," Daud said, standing up. "None of you are Marked."

"Marked?" Damaris frowned.

"By the Outsider," Beatrici finished. "No, none of us are.  None of us were so lucky as you, Topo."

"If I was lucky, Trissi, I'd've never met you," Daud said.  He helped Thomas to his feet and turned back to Beatrici. "Hiram Burrows brokered a deal between you and Luca Abele."

"Yes," Beatrici said.

"What's the job?"

"Thinking of stealing it out from under me, Topo?"

"Trying to protect you, Triss.  Like always."

"I don't need your protection, Topo.  I've managed just fine without you," she frowned.

"This time you won't," Daud said. "Hiram Burrows works for Delilah Copperspoon— a very powerful witch.  Also Marked.  She has a plan, though, to take more than just the Empire of the Isles."

That was news to me.  It explained why the Outsider seemed interested in her downfall, though.  I wondered when Daud had uncovered this information and why he had yet to share it with Corvo and I.

"I don't take your meaning, Daud," Beatrici said.

"She means to take the Void, too," Daud said. "Only thing she doesn't have yet is the exact tool to do it."

Beatrici stared at Daud. "You don't mean—"

He nodded.

"Where'd it end up?"

"Buried with the King, in his skull."

"It's not there anymore," Beatrici said. "The Royal Conservatory added it to a collection this week past..."

"Breanna Ashworth," Thomas rasped. "Sir, Breanna Ashworth applied to become the director of the Conservatory—"

"She's one of Delilah's witches," I recalled.

"She hasn't gotten the position yet," Damaris said. "It's to be announced two days from now—"

"At the event our job is supposed to take place after," Beatrici said.  Damaris shot her a horrified look.

"Mother—"

"Dami, you've never seen exactly what someone with the Mark—not even a powerful witch—can do," Beatrici said. "I have.  And if Delilah means to take the source of that... awful power for herself, she must be stopped, job be damned."

 

The carriage ride back, Daud let Thomas lie across the seat, head in his lap.  He looked the picture of a concerned father comforting his boy, not a murderer and spymaster worrying over a wounded assassin.  I put my head on Corvo's shoulder and would've smiled at what I was looking at—if Thomas weren't covered in blood.

Emily and Mont greeted us, Rinaldo and Geoff with them.  Thomas limped off with Geoff and Mont, I scooped Emily up and Rinaldo came with us into the operations room.

"So what were you talking about with Bea?" Corvo glanced at Daud across the map table.

"A knife," Daud said. "I... got it in the Void.  When I first got Marked."

"What's so special about this knife, sir?" Rinaldo asked.

"It..." Daud sighed and glanced at Emily. "It was the knife used to make the Outsider."

"The Outsider?  Everyone thinks he's really mean, but he's not," Emily piped up. "He came to see me while I was on the boat here.  He said you were coming to get me, Mommy.  And then we were gonna go back to Dunwall and Mister Daud and Corvo were gonna beat Aunt Delilah and you were gonna be empress again— Oh, and we were all going to be a big happy family!"

Daud raised an eyebrow.  Rinaldo looked like he was grappling with the barrier between incredulity and amusement.  Corvo blinked.

"'A big happy family?'" he repeated. "That doesn't sound like the Outsider, at all."

"Well, he said maybe about that part, depending on whether mommy fought Delilah, too... If she does, my little brother and sister might not make it," Emily said. "And if they didn't, it probably wouldn't matter, because you didn't even know about them yet."

"I... will be back later, sir..." Rinaldo said and disappeared.

I stared at my daughter.

It wasn't terribly difficult to grasp the meaning— I was pregnant.  That made a little sense— the feeling of seasickness had never been terribly intense on any voyages I'd ever made before, and never followed me ashore... But a problem clawed at the back of my mind—a terrible problem.  I had no idea which of the two men I'd been sleeping with was the father.  And... another surprise pregnancy after spending so long in the company of a known criminal would cast terrible light on my new Spymaster—and further crush any good I had left in my reputation.

"Daud, could you get Dodge in here?" I asked softly.  He lifted his hand and Dodge appeared. "Emily, my little love, would you like to go play with Dodge?"

"Sure," Emily hopped down and scampered off with Dodge.  I braced myself on the map table.

"They're his, aren't they?" Corvo glanced at Daud.

"I don't know," I said. "They might be yours.  I've been fucking you both."

"Could be both..." Daud muttered.  We both looked at him. "It's unlikely, but... that one time...and I guess the Outsider implied twins... so..."

"I suppose it could be possible," I said. "But unlikely, like you said."

"Yeah..." Daud shrugged.

I sighed. "This can wait, though.  Getting that knife is our new next step."

Daud nodded. "Agreed."

 

Corvo, Daud, Rinaldo and Ryan were gone for a while.  That left me to spend time with Emily, who had conned Dodge into joining her on the floor and was using him as a backrest while she drew.  He didn't seem to mind at all, and was dozing all the while, calmer and more contented than I'd seen him since the attack on Rudshore.

I ran a worried hand over my belly and Devon caught me do it.

"Feeling alright, Your Majesty?" Devon asked.  I nodded.

"As well as I can be," I said.  She cocked her head.  Dodge regarded me though nearly-closed eyes and quickly shut them again. "Devon, how's Thomas doing?"

"He's fine," Devon said. "Or so he insists.  The gash wasn't as deep as it seemed."

I nodded. "I'm glad to hear he'll be alright... I quite like that boy," I said.  Devon chuckled. "So he's conscious, then?"

"And complaining that we won't let him up and about," Devon added.  Geoff came in with food for Emily—cookies, cakes and milk—and Marco propped up the door frame with his left shoulder.  I noticed Ardan slide up against the wall beside him, arms crossed over his chest.  Both of them were armed— and, I realized, so was Devon.

"I think, if you don't mind sitting with Emily, I'll go visit him," I said.

Devon nodded and took my vacated seat.

It wasn't far to our impromptu infirmary, and, nearing it, I could hear Thomas—sweet, patient Thomas—arguing furiously with Montgomery.

"I will knock you out, Thomas, lay down."

"I'm fine—"

"Hello, Thomas, Mont," I greeted the two of them with a smile.

"Majesty, order this idiot to lay down, please," Mont said.  I glanced at Thomas, who threw me a pleading look.

"I'm okay," he said.  I frowned.

"I'm no doctor, and I've no medical training to speak of, besides, but Mont appears to understand medicine a bit... I would do as she suggests, Thomas," I said.  He nodded and settled back, a little annoyed, but obedient none the less.  I glanced at Mont. "Is it alright if I have a chat with your patient?"

"Of course," Mont said. "So long as he doesn't get up."

"I won't," Thomas said, defeated.  I patted his hand.

"How'd you find Emily?" I asked.

"Jo found Jindosh... and a hole in his security," Thomas said. "She interrogated him on the princess's location... destroyed his lab and put a precaution in place to keep him from inventing again."

"Then she came back to report...?"

"And Your Majesty was gone with Lord Corvo and Daud," Thomas continued. "So... she told me instead.  I went off with Geoff and Dodge and we retrieved the princess."

"Thank you, Thomas," I said, clasping his hand.  He blushed a little and smiled quietly.

"Of course, Your Majesty."

 

Corvo laid the knife down on the map.

"This... thing created the Outsider," he said.  Daud nodded. "And you used it to kill people?"

"Magic... is complicated and getting a result is half materials and intent," Daud said. "You can use magical tools for ordinary means and nothing special will come of it—without the intent part, it's... not much more than ordinary."

"Like if you used a rune as a paper weight," Rinaldo offered, sounding very much as though he'd spoken from experience.

"This is different, though," Corvo said. "Isn't it?"

"Not necessarily..." Daud said. "I wasn't trying to weave any magic with it, to create a god or anything... I just needed a weapon, and this worked."

A clatter was heard outside the door and it swung open.  Domenico was sprawled in the hall, and Beatrici was stepping over him. "I appreciate you telling your boys I'm a friend, Topo," she scowled.  She had a triple-score of scratches across her cheek. "And what did you do to my witch?"

"Nothing?" Corvo said.

"She was ranting about two handsome lords for an hour after you left and then she just disappeared," Beatrici continued. "You're both Marked?"

Daud frowned and nodded.  So did Corvo.

"Blind old bitch is more trouble than she's worth..." Beatrici sighed. "She sensed you, then?"

"Probably," Daud said. "She makes you and yours bone charms?"

"Yes," Beatrici nodded. "Good ones."

"I saw," Daud said. "What brings you?"


"Not that we don't appreciate you being here," I added.

"Damaris neutralized Luca Abele.  He will no longer be able to covertly assist Delilah," Beatrici said. "And we will not be moving on Theodanis Abele."

"Thank you," I said.  Beatrici nodded.

”All we have to do now is worry about Jindosh," Rinaldo noted.

”Kirin Jindosh?  Luca hired three of my men to guard him—" Beatrici said.

"I don't want him dead," I said. "But I don't want him to pose a threat in the future, either."

The assassin woman nodded. "I'll make him an offer."

I didn't want details.

But I probably should have asked.

"In case you leave before we see each other again..." she closed the distance between the doorway and Daud in three strides.  I felt something twist furiously in my gut—and dismissed it as quickly as I could—when she kissed him, then hugged him and buried her face in his neck for a second.  He hugged her back.  Then she turned and hugged Corvo, kissing him on the cheek. "Damaris and twenty of my men will follow you back to Dunwall," she said, turning to me, now. "Buena fortuna, sorellina," Beatrici said and hugged me, too, kissing my cheek.

Then she was gone, a flutter of black cloth and the door closing slightly.

"Sorellina?" I questioned.

”'Little sister,'" Rinaldo translated.

I smiled faintly, a bit fondly, and caught Corvo grinning for it.

 

 

Paolo met us at the docks to say good-bye and send fifteen of his fellow thugs along with us.

"They're all I can spare," he said. "Sorry..."

"Thank you," I told him.  He bowed politely.

"Buena fortuna, m'a Maesta," he said.

"Sir—"

Denman didn't get nearly far enough.

Rats came streaming, screaming up the docks towards us, a ragged, furious woman lunging out of the mess of them, nails aiming for Corvo's face.  He cut her and shoved me back.  Paolo pushed me further, drawing his own sword and chopping at the rats that got too close.  Daud cut the witch's head off, she dissolved into more rats and all the little beasts scattered for a moment.

"Rumor goes that Granny Rags can't be killed," Ryan said.

"Rinaldo, fetch the contents of that black sword case," I said. 

The young assassin sprinted off and returned with the Outsider's knife.

"What're you doing?" Daud questioned.

"Materials and intent," I said. "If the rumor is true...?"

"We might be able to kill her with a magic sword," Corvo finished.  He glanced at Daud, who shrugged.

"Alright, I... guess...?"

More rats came screaming, then.

But the witch was in my face before any of the men could stop her, shoving Paolo aside and raking her claws across his cheek.  With a roar of frustration and pain, he swept his sword down and cut her hand—the left one, the one reaching for my eyes—off.

The two-bladed sword pierced her back from behind and Rinaldo gave it a good twist.

She fell, dead, at my feet.

The rats scattered, some of them diving into the water where hungry hagfish had already started gnawing at the bits kicked in during the initial fray.  The sounds turned my stomach more than the blood and gore did.

"Are you alright, Paolo?" I asked, helping him up.  He nodded and touched a hand to his cheek.

"She scratched me," he stated blandly. "I'll live, I think."

"Glad to hear it," Daud grunted. "Good work, kid," he added, patting Rinaldo on the back.  The younger assassin wiped the two-bladed sword off on his sleeve and glanced down at the body.

Ryan answered the question before it was asked, kicking the old woman's corpse into the water. "Done and done," he said. "Man, those hagfish have the right idea... I'll be in the galley if anyone needs me."

 

 

Emily woke me early one morning on the way back to Dunwall—she shared the bed with Corvo and I and Daud still shared the room, as there was none other to spare, now, but in his own 'bunk' on the floor.

"Mommy?"

"Yes, Emily?" I answered sleepily.

"I thought you and Corvo liked Mr. Daud," Emily said. "Like liked."

I blinked. "Well... Yes?" I replied.

"Then why's he sleeping on the floor?"

"It'll be too cramped for you if he's in the bed, too," I said.

"I don't mind," Emily said. "I'll sleep on Corvo's back.  Besides, old people shouldn't have to sleep on the floor."

I heard my lover snort a chuckle from his side of the bed.  I raised an eyebrow.  The bastard was awake, too? "Well, alright, then," I said.  I got up and went over, kneeling down beside my Spymaster. "Daud?"

"Mm?"

"Emily invites you to share the bed with the three of us, so you don't have to sleep on the floor."

"Hn..."

"She says 'old people shouldn't have to sleep on the floor."

He opened his eyes, shooting me a glare for being the messenger of that one, which only made me smirk a little wider.  Daud followed me back to the bed and slid in behind me, propping his face into the back of my neck.  Sure enough, Emily was using Corvo's shoulder as a pillow and was draped—asleep—across his back.

While I wanted this sweetness to last, I had a terrible feeling it might be the last time I'd see it.

 

 

Martin, Havelock, Esma and Pendleton met us.

Pendleton started to speak and a blade blossomed from his middle.  Havelock reeled back and ran.  Esma punched the witch who'd stabbed Pendleton—Billie.  Martin jerked her back, shoved her away and drew his sword, blocking barely in time.

Whalers moved in on Billie, witches moved to match them. 

More witches than we were prepared for.

We were overwhelmed.

Daud yelled for a retreat.

A witch got past Corvo, leaving him stumbling with a slashed-open side, and rushed for Emily.  I threw myself between them, felt a sharp pain in my back.  Emily screamed, Dodge ran to us, a second too slow.  Paralyzed by pain, sprawled on the deck, drowning in my own blood, I watched helplessly as Dodge was run through—twice.  He hit the witch who'd stabbed him, kicked her into the water and fell to his knees, blood spurting out of the filter of his mask.  Thomas scooped Emily up and Transversed—his shirt slick with blood and staining her dress before he disappeared with her.

Someone grabbed my collar—and then there was water. 

Cold, cold water.

And darkness.

Chapter Text

I woke to dry mouth and the scent of mustiness and liquor.

I sat up slowly and a rough hand caught my arm, easing me back down. "Take it easy, yer highness.  Slackjaw pulled you outta the Wrenhaven with a sword in ya.  The doctor man said you're in good shape but Slackjaw ain't ready to have no Empress dyin' on him—"

I lie back, closing my eyes again.  The details were fuzzy, but I recalled the attack well enough. "It's over, isn't it?" I asked.

"No," Paolo said from a ways off to my left.  I opened my eyes and looked over.  He had blood smeared on his cheek and his shirt was stained with the stuff, darker and older.  His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. "Not yet, m'a Maesta.  Faith."

"Sin-yore Paolo, is my mommy awake?" Emily asked from just beyond Paolo's lean frame.  He carded a hand over her head as she squeezed between him and the door frame.

"Easy, there, Princessa," Paolo said, catching her arm as she started to run towards me. "Your mama's hurt."

"C'mere, Princess.  You can sit with ol' Slackjaw a while," Slackjaw waved my daughter over.  She climbed into his lap and peered over at me.

"Hello, my sweet girl," I greeted my daughter.

"Hi, mommy," Emily grinned back.  She clasped the hand I held out and Slackjaw chuckled fondly, looping an arm loosely around her waist.

"Slackjaw had a baby girl once," the gangster said. "Her mama ran off with her when the plague first hit.  Slackjaw ain't heard from 'em since..."

"I'm so sorry to hear that," I said.

"It's okay, m'lady," Slackjaw said. "Slackjaw's not papa material, not like that Lord Corvo."

Emily looked a little stunned. "You don't know that's true," she said.

"You got the same pout as he does," Paolo said. "It's kind of obvious, Princessa."

"It's alright, Emily," I ran my thumb over the back of her hand. "We can trust Mister Slackjaw and Signor Paolo."

"Okay," Emily said.

"Hey, kiddo?"

Ryan side-stepped Paolo and edged into the room.  His left arm was in a sling.

"Yes, Mr. Ryan?"

"Let's go get you some food," he said. "Mr. Slackjaw's got stuff to talk to your mom about."

"Okay," Emily said and hopped off Slackjaw's lap, scampering over to Ryan.  She clasped his outstretched hand and Paolo edged aside to let them out of the room.

"My best sniper is down an arm," I said.  Then it came back to me—Pendleton was dead, Ryan was probably the best off out of all of them... “Dodge?  The boy—”

“He’s alive, kind of,” Slackjaw said, scratching the back of his neck.

”What does that mean—”

”It means he could die,” Anton Sokolov said, appearing in the doorway.  He shooed Paolo and Slackjaw away and closed the door, leaving us alone together.  He did a brief examination and took Slackjaw’s vacated seat. “The Wrenhaven is colder than it has been—by about fifteen degrees.  It kept the two of you alive.  Among others, mind you.”

That was a significant temperature difference.  And sudden.

The Outsider.  

He had saved Dodge and I.

"I wonder, then..." Sokolov said. "Your Majesty, have you... Been contacted by a power—"

"If you're still on about the Outsider, the answer is 'no,'" I said firmly. "Will Dodge live?"

"Probably," Sokolov replied, frowning.  He knew better than to ramble when I was in a mood.  And 'a mood' was a gentle way to describe my current temperament.

"Who died?"

"Lord Pendleton, two of Miss Stride's men—Carl and Job—and Miss Boyle's bodyguard, Fitzpatrick.  About half of Miss Stride's crew are in no state to fight, and the same can be said of Mr. Durante's men, and nearly all of those Blades are injured one way or another, but no one is harmed terribly."

"And the Whalers?"

Sokolov sighed. "A good many of them are missing yet, so I cannot be sure."

"First give me the names of the confirmed dead," I said.

"There are... seven confirmed dead," Sokolov said.  My stomach churned. "Leonid, Jenkins, Feodor, Scott, Finn, Kent and Geoff."

I had expected to hear Thomas's name among the dead, recalling all that blood I'd seen on him. "And the missing?"

Sokolov took a slip of paper out of his pocket for this one.  I tensed.  He read, "Rapha, Misha, Fisher, Galia, Vladko, Kieron, Nicholas, Fergus, Steven, Domenico, Pickford, Javier, Julian, Leon, Connor, Hobson, Daniel, Aeolos, Thorpe, Yuri, Christopher, Rulfio, Thomas and..." 

"And?"

"Daud."

I felt sick.

Missing didn't mean captured— he could be floating dead in the Wrenhaven somewhere, lying in a sewage pipe waiting for death to claim him— "Daud's missing?"

Sokolov nodded. "I would've recognized him among my patients—"

"Corvo—"

"Lord Attano is wounded, but not severely," Sokolov said.

"Doc!" one of the Bottle Street men clattered to the door. "Doc, we found some of them Whalers.  They needs ya!"

"Your Majesty," Sokolov said as he rose.  I made to follow him and he turned, shooting me a glare. "Stay, rest," he ordered.  I sank back down and closed my eyes, silently begging the Outsider to speak to me.

"Yes?"

I opened my eyes—the world was greyed out, like when Daud stopped time.  And there he was, the Outsider, perched in the chair, cool as ice.  I started to sit up and he held out a hand, easing me flat again.

"Is Daud alright?" I asked.  He weighed the question.

"He's injured, but it's not nearly as bad as it could be—he fared better than you, even," the Outsider said. "In fact, he is currently tending to his wounds and damning the witches who hurt you to the Void."

Relief wasn't as... relieving as I'd hoped.

"And the others missing?"

"A few of them have been found," the Outsider said. "And... seven of them are dead."

"More would be dead if it weren't for you," I said.  He smiled faintly.

"Perhaps," he said.

"You made the river go cold."

The Outsider shrugged. "My aim was solely to insure your survival, dear Empress.  Well... your survival and that of your unborn children..."

"Why?"

"Curiosity."

"In the same spirit, then," I said, causing him to raise an eyebrow, "would you then tell me whether Daud or Corvo is the father."

"Yes," the Outsider replied. "Both of them.  Your daughter is Corvo's and your son is Daud's."

Ah.  Wonderful.

He reached across and took my hand. "I've never seen Daud happy before.  But... he's happy with you and Corvo.  Do try to stay alive for him, would you?"

"I will," I said.

"Good," the Outsider said. "Now rest."

 

Daud was there when I opened my eyes.

"Jess—"

I winced as he eased me back, edging into the bed with me, one arm around my upper chest.  He whispered my name again, into my neck, kissing me softly there.  I caught his mouth and kissed him back.

"I thought you were dead," he whispered.

"I knew you weren't," I replied.

"How?" he started to ask. "Damn the bastard for not saying a thing to me..."

"Have some faith, my love," I whispered back. "I'm sturdier than when you brought me in."

Daud hummed softly and nuzzled into my jaw, kissing my neck again.  I kissed his cheek and held his hand.

"Are you alright?" I asked.

"I'm a little banged up, but I've had worse," he said. "How's everyone else?"

"We're missing twenty-three, last I heard, and we lost seven," I said.

"Twelve."

We looked up, Corvo was in the doorway, leaning on a crutch.

"Bertram, Cleon and Tynan died," Corvo said, softly, huskily. "Sorry."

"That's only ten," I said.

"Samuel found Vladko and Misha in the river.  He was dead at the scene, she died on the way here," Corvo said. "I'm so sorry, Daud."

"You didn't plan the ambush.  My men know what happens in a brawl..." Daud grunted, sitting up. "You alright, bodyguard?"

"Battered, but I'll live," Corvo said. "We're still missing Thomas, Rulf, Fisher, Galia, Nick, Julian and Leon."

"And Dodge?" I asked.

"Still unconscious," Corvo said. "Em's been sleeping at the foot of his bed.  Er, you've been out for almost two days."

I glanced at Daud. "And when did you get back?"

"Twenty minutes ago," he said. "I'm going to get a bath and some food and be back later.  Something I want to talk to you about."

I nodded and settled back in the bed.  Corvo took the empty chair after kissing Daud hello and a brief goodbye, too. "I talked to the Outsider," I told Corvo.  He kissed the back of my hand.

"Oh?"

"Mm..." I nodded. "He says of the twins one is a boy, the other a girl—and that the girl is yours."

"And the boy is Daud's," Corvo guessed.  I nodded.  He smoothed his thumb over the back of my hand. "You wanted a son."

"And you only ever wanted a little girl," I said. "Has Emily talked about it with you?  Being a big sister?"

"Briefly, on the boat," Corvo said. "She says she wants to be as good a big sister as Devon or Quinn."

I smiled. "They're very good big sisters."

Corvo hummed in agreement. "I prefer Ryan's big brothering style—or Thomas's."

I chuckled tiredly. "Ryan's terrifying.  And Thomas is sweet.  I like his style of big brothering."

Corvo nodded. "I'll hang out here for a bit," Corvo said.

That sounded like a good idea, and I wanted to say so, but closing my eyes again seemed like a better idea...

 

 

It was six days since my near-death when we finally resumed the rebellion.

Paolo, Damaris and Slackjaw had organized and executed a successful sting against the witches, leading several of them into a trap involving some Overseers, music boxes and a jury-rigged Arc Pylon.  Damaris had lost two more of her Blades and Slackjaw had lost seven men—three dead, the other four wounded beyond the ability to be of much use.

Sokolov and Joplin had brought out some of the tools they'd nearly finished—a variety of mines, a new series of wrist bow, and a folding sword that could slide and extend undetected from within a sleeve, easily.

"Delilah is furious," Damaris began the meeting. "Word just reached her that Duke Theodanis is still alive, Luca's been sent to Addermire Institute, Ashworth hanged herself, Kirin Jindosh has turned on her... "

"She's not thinking straight," Corvo said.  Damaris nodded.

"Just so, Uncle," she said. "Paolo and I have a strategy..."

"Allow me to add to it—"

All weapons were trained on the doorway, save for Daud's. "Billie's still with us," Daud said.

"Pendleton was going to betray you," Billie began, approaching the board. "He got what he wanted and Delilah offered him more..."

"So I was right..." Martin muttered. "Unfortunate.  He wasn't a complete idiot..."

"Just a stinking drunk," Esma snorted. "So that attack was orchestrated?"

"Not entirely," Billie said. "I... was followed.  It was just supposed to be me and two girls I'd made an alliance with.  Only Pendleton and Havelock were supposed to actually die—and we were supposed to make it look like the Empress and Daud and Lord Attano died..."

"But Farley did die," Callista said. "He bled out internally from his injuries..."

"Indeed he did," Sokolov said calmly, folding his hands on the table.  Callista looked at him.  I raised an eyebrow.

"Assassination, Anton?  Still adding skills to your repertoire?" I said.

"The best assassins are those with intimate anatomical understanding," Sokolov said. "Wouldn't you agree, Daud?  You know, I still have that essay of yours—"

"Shut up, Sokolov," Daud growled. "Bill, we're still missing a few—Julian, Fisher, Galia and Pickford."

"Yeah," Billie nodded, her cheeks pinkening slightly. "Julian's my... um, prisoner... that I'm 'sharing' with Fisher, Galia, Pickford and my, er, friend Claudia." She scratched the back of her neck and shifted awkwardly, pausing. "It was the...the only way Delilah would let me...keep him from being used for target practice..."

"I'd bet he hates being Fisher's 'prisoner,'" Rinaldo snorted.

"Claudia... As in Kitty from the Golden Cat?" Thomas said quietly.  I looked over at him, surprised.  Billie nodded.  Thomas shook his head. "So Julian's fine."

"A little banged up, not quite as well fed as he'd like to be..." Billie said. "We have to put on a show of slapping him around, tying him up... But yeah, he's alright."

"How many other allies do we have in there?" I redirected.

"I have ten besides them," Billie said. "Not much."

"Enough," I said. "I have a plan."

 

"I hate this plan," Corvo snarled. "I... Jess, what if she... What if she kills you?"

"She won't," I said. "I know she won't."

"You don't!" Daud shouted, slamming the door behind us. "I spent the last thirty years hating everyone and everything and... I won't let you get the one person I've ever loved killed."

I stared at him. "Daud—"

He Transversed across the room and kissed me.  I clenched my hands in his coat and kissed him back.  Corvo embraced us both and buried his face in the base of my neck. 

Hoarsely, Daud growled, "Jessamine Kaldwin, I love you.  And I can't lose you."

"You won't, Daud," I whispered. "I'll be alright."

"You don't know that."

"You don't know that I won't," I hissed back.

"Jess, he's right," Corvo whispered. "What if it doesn't work?"

"It will," I said. "I know it will.  I know Delilah."

"You knew her," Daud said. "She's not the same kid you played with."

"Maybe not, but people never really change as much as you think..." I said.  Daud jerked away, looking like I'd slapped him.

"Do they, now—"

"No," I shook my head, touching his cheek.  He grabbed my wrist. "You were always a good man, Daud.  A good man who got very used to doing terrible things and forgetting he wasn't just the sum of his actions, but rather was always a good man."

He shook his head, but let me cup his cheek and draw him back.  I tasted salt when I kissed him next—salt and wet.  I wasn't sure who the tears belonged to—him or me.

I slept in a narrow bed, that night, held tight between Daud and Corvo, listening to their heartbeats as I tried to fall asleep.

 

Emily was curled up at the foot of Dodge's bed, a book under her head as a pillow, his shredded, stained coat draped over her for a blanket.  I found a spare one in the chest at the foot of the bed and tucked her in.  Dodge shifted as I bundled Emily, my hand brushing his ankle.

"Majesty?"

I started, looking over at him. "Dodge?" I breathed.  He started to sit up and I pressed him back down. "Oh, sweetheart," I swept his messy hair back out of his face and clasping the fumbling hand he was reaching up, as if to see if I was real. "Oh, Dodge, you gave us such a scare—"

"Dodge!"

I caught Emily before she landed on him, grunting softly as it strained the wound in my chest.  I set her down beside him and he smiled weakly at her. "Princess," he rasped. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Emily said. "You almost died, though.  Mr. Sokolov said it was a miracle or something—or the Outsider himself had to have saved you."

"Huh.  That explains the whale oil taste in my mouth," Dodge said, still smiling weakly.  I chuckled and Emily giggled.  I stroked a hand over Emily's head.

"Be gentle with him," I told her.  She nodded.

"I will," she said.  Emily scrambled down the length of the bed. "I still have the book you were reading to me before.  Well, it's not the same one.  Mr. Slackjaw got me a new copy, but I found where you left off—"

I left the two of them be, her chattering happily along, him dozing off again as she launched into reading to him.

"Are you sure about this, m'lady?" Samuel asked a few moments later, as I got into his skiff.  I touched the bonecharm in my jacket—Damaris's; it would make climbing the waterlock no harder than going for a brisk walk, she said—and nodded.

"I am," I said.

I heard the explosion not far off.  Martin and Esma had begun their diversion.  Daud and Corvo would begin theirs in twenty and fifty minutes, respectively.

The Tower would be marginally sparse in defense.

Though, the aim wasn't to fight.

"Stay safe," I wished Samuel when he left me at the waterlock.

"And good luck, Your Majesty," Samuel replied.

 

Delilah preened on my throne for a moment before getting up.

I'd been beaten on a little.  Burrows himself had belted me across the face.  I'd see him lose his head for more important wrongs.

"Billie, strip her of her bonecharms," Delilah commanded deftly.

"It's a difficult time that you came to power," I said. "But you're doing remarkably well, Your Majesty.  Better than I was."

Burrows snorted.

"I intend to kill you, Jessamine," Delilah said. "But yes, go on, keep playing your little game."

"I'm playing no games, Majesty," I said.  Delilah nodded to Billie, who hit me in the face, knocking me into a stumble.  I just barely caught myself with my tied hands. "I mean it.  You have a cure, your people love you..."

Delilah smirked. "And Daddy always told me I wasn't quite ready to be a princess..."

"No, he was right," I said. "You were ready to be so much more than a princess, Majesty."

Ill crawled in my gut, churning furiously at the sight of what she'd done to my city—to my empire—as she chuckled smugly.

"I can only imagine the wonder you'd create without an idiot holding you back, Your Majesty," I said.

Delilah glanced at Burrows. "Well, sister... it seems you aren't here to play games, are you...?"

"Y-Your Majesty," Burrows stuttered.  Delilah returned to my throne.

"I planned on having you executed anyway," Delilah said. "Billie found evidence in your chambers of treachery—letters from Kirin Jindosh, agreeing to turn away from aiding his Empress... Similar letters from Beatrici Attano... Though, I suspect much of her motivation was Attano cowardice."

I scoffed. "If she's anything like her sweet, dim brother, Your Majesty, it's more likely that she thinks she's playing coy with you, thinks she's being clever..."

"N-No, Your Majesty, please!" Burrows stumbled back.  Billie Transversed behind him and slit his throat, spraying blood across the cracked, filthy marble floor.

"Oh, no..." I sighed. "It seems you're out a Spymaster, Your Majesty."

"It so happens that idiot Daud and his men are dogs for your sister, My Lady," Billie said. "And assassins and spies are awfully similar..."

Delilah considered. "Daud... I may permit to live..."

"If he adores the false Empress so much, his love for you will be as immediate and firm, My Lady," Billie said. "Though, there may be some melancholy if you kill your usurper..."

"And what would you have me do?  Allow him to keep her as pet?" Delilah raised an eyebrow.

"Give him the key to her cell in Coldridge..." Billie said. "She'll suffer, most likely... Not to say I'm certain, but he had to get that nickname somewhere, 'The Big Knife' one, My Lady."

I looked horrified. "Please, Your Majesty, no."

Delilah smirked. "It is an idea, Billie..." she said. "But... Unfortunately, I'd rather have her dead.  At my hand."

Delilah stood and held her hand out.  Billie sighed and handed her sword over. "So much for a slow, painful demise..." she said. "As Your Majesty wishes..."

"Wait, Your Majesty, allow a final request?" I begged.  Delilah stopped.

"I'll hear it."

"A hug," I said. "You always did give the best ones..."

Delilah considered.  She continued down off my throne, across to me.  I bowed my head into the crook of her neck as her arms folded around me. 

She gasped. 

I felt wet on my neck and hand. 

I twisted my tied right hand, pushing my hand further into her belly.

"Thank you, sister.  I'm so sorry, for everything but this..." I said.

Delilah fell, I let go of the folded blade and stepped back.

"I'll see you interred in the Royal Crypt," I told her and leaned down, kissing her forehead.

Delilah murmured something garbled with blood and died.

With my hands tied, I brushed her eyes closed.

It was the bitterest victory against her, ever.

Chapter Text

The post-coital cuddling and fading glow was briefly interrupted as I remembered something important.

Daud grunted as I threw his arm off me and Corvo groaned with annoyance as he fought to keep me trapped.  I smacked his thigh, high and near his buttock, and he, chuckling, let me go.  I scurried over to my private desk and drew out the papers I'd remembered.  I sat on Corvo's stomach and handed them over to Daud.

"Here," I said.  Lazily, he rolled over and took them.  I shifted position, sliding down between the two of them.  Corvo rolled into my side, sliding a hand up my flank and kissing my shoulder, when I wouldn't allow him to drag me closer.

"Deed for a vineyard in Cullero," he paused. "Requisitions for—" Daud looked over at me, the most wonderful combination of sentimentality, surprise, gratitude and adoration scrawled across his features.

"Do you like it?" I asked.

"Never get me anything..." Corvo muttered into my shoulder.

"I gave you a title and a job," I scolded him with a playful swat to the nose. "And two beautiful daughters."

"Hrmph..."

"And my virginity."

"Alright, fine."

Daud leaned in, chuckling, and kissed me. "It's perfect, Jess."

Corvo hummed in agreement, now, his beard ticking my neck as he worked back over to my jaw. "Lets Em have the space she needs to feel independent, but we're not too far away if she needs us..."

"Or wants to see her brother and sister," Daud added.  I nodded.

"Exactly," I agreed. "And it keeps you far enough from Billie and Thomas that they feel independent, too... but close enough that they know you'll be there if they need you."

"Thank you," Daud said. "It... It means more than you know."

"I know how much it means to you," I told him with a small shake of my head. "It means as much to me, too."

He nodded and I leaned down to kiss him.  I scooped the papers back up, kissed Corvo long and slow and deep and went to put the documents away.

When I returned to the bed, there was exactly four seconds before I was assaulted with kisses and caresses.  It was brutally sudden, but progressed slowly.  Before I knew it, my breath was hitched again, I was mewling with my head thrown back with Daud down between my thighs and Corvo tending to my breasts and occasionally dipping kisses lower or higher.  My hands clenched in the sheets, I bucked up, arched and taut and doing my damnedest not to scream out their names.  Corvo's left hand swept down, under my thigh, his finger probing in beside Daud's, and I nearly lost it, there. 

Then it became their little game of "Who Can Get Jess to Come The Most," which went on for— Void, I don't know how long.  I have no idea who won, but I'm guessing it was a very close tie.

It was a while, though.  I'd quite begun to feel exhausted and in a sort of relief, collapsed onto the bed when it ended.

But it was only over long enough for Daud to get something to drink and Corvo to find the bottle of oil again.

"I can't," I panted when I realized what his intent was.

"Okay," he said, kissing the inside of my thigh. "Then just watch."

'Just watch' quickly became Corvo kneeling between my knees, intermittently kissing me sloppily and muffling groans on my chest as Daud fucked him.  I stroked his hair and glanced at Daud, who allowed me to shift Corvo into a different position—on his back between my thighs, his head propped on my chest, back bent awkwardly to bare his ass to our lover.  I smirked against his cheek as I dragged his legs up and open wider, making it easier for Daud, with my fingers clenched against the backs of Corvo's knees.  Daud's hands clasped Corvo's wrists gently, pinning them against my shoulders, as he slowed down, easing against Corvo.

Corvo whined, blurted something jumbled in Serkonan, his body tensing.  He pressed his head back against my chest and I felt the back of his left hand surge hot against the nape of my neck, as it sometimes did in intense situations.

Daud hushed him and pulled out.  Daud let go of Corvo's hands, but they stayed where they were, balled into fists against the back of my neck, now.  Daud swapped my hands for his and I took hold of Corvo's leaking erection in one hand, sliding two fingers into him with the other.  A stroke, a quirk of my fingers...

Corvo bucked and gasped out a curse.

With a smirk, carefully, Daud positioned himself again.  Corvo choked back a cry as Daud's length penetrated him, between my two fingers.

As Daud pushed in on a second thrust, Corvo came.

Corvo went slack against me and I withdrew my hands.  Daud moved his hands off Corvo's legs and planted them on the bed, fucking Corvo to his own completion, kissing me over our awkwardly folded, cum-splattered lover.

On seeing Corvo cleaned up, I got to admire the gentler side of my Spymaster as he smoothed his hands over Corvo's back, working out any kinks that the impromptu gymnastics had put in place.  During this, Corvo started to doze off.  Which prompted me to curl up beside him and Daud to, smiling despite his work being interrupted, settle in with us, behind me.  I fell asleep perfectly content and peaceful.

 

 

"Not bad for an old woman, huh?"

Emily started, somewhere between mortified and stunned that her mother had followed her onto the rooftops and away from the Tower.  I sat down beside her and unslung my satchel, offering her the bottle of brandy I'd smuggled along.

"Mother, I'm not old enough to drink," Emily said.

"According to the exact letter of the law," I snorted. "And in the same law, it states that a parent may permit their child to partake under their supervision.  Here I am, supervising you."

"Father's not too far off, too?"

I smiled fondly. "Your father?  No.  He's back at the Tower with your younger siblings."

"Daud, then?"

I shrugged and she gave up, sipping straight from the bottle.  She made a show at being unfamiliar with the taste.  What she thought I didn't know... I might've tipped my hand with my secretive smile as I took a sip when she passed it back.

"I had no idea you were so good at this free running thing," Emily said.

"Did you not?  Did you think the stories I know you got out of Dodge and Ryan about me climbing the offices at Holger Square and climbing the waterlock were made up?"

"Mother, that was ten years ago..."

"And, what, a person loses all ability to be athletic at age forty?  Someone ought to inform your father—and Daud.  And Ryan, Rulfio—"

"Mother," Emily huffed and sat back. "I didn't say that.  But yes, maybe Daud and Rulf shouldn't be running around on rooftops anymore.  And you're the Empress.  Neither should you..."

"Not for much longer," I said.  Emily threw an arm over her face.

"Please don't remind me..."

"It's not so bad," I said, putting the cork back in the bottle and stowing it away. "It does get a bit dull sometimes, though...  Besides, you've been doing a marvelous job..."

She'd been slowly taking over my duties, speaking her own mind in parliament sessions, assisting me in all the drafting for any official document I'd written in the last year... She would make a fine Empress.  Better than myself, even, in time.

"Can parliament push me to marry?"

I looked over, surprised. "No?"

"I doubt they'd stand for two unmarried empresses in succession..." Emily said.

"Ah," I frowned and stood, dusting off my pants. "Sweetheart, let's head back to the Tower.  There's... something you need to see."

 

 

"It concerns Dodge."

Emily met my stare with a bit of fury. "If it's because he's older than me by a few years, or because he's not nobility—"

"Emily, no," I said. "Captain Warren found something... intriguing about him."

"Marquis Domnhall Oliver Emhyr Darcy Wyman-Graves, the Third," Thomas said, lifting the paper file he'd shown me not half an hour ago.  He handed it to Emily with a significant flourish.  She stared at him, then took the file.  Inside it were a few silvergraphs—one of them of a baby boy, a the boy at a later stage with his father and now somewhat recognizable, and one of his birth certificate.  A copy of a family tree, a detailed account of the fire that claimed his home and other family members, and a copy of the will giving the entire estate in Morley, the land containing the burned-down manor in Gristol, plus various holdings, to the boy—who'd been missing close to fifteen years now.

"He is nobility," I said. "The heir to an old family that was always closely allied with the Kaldwins."

"The Wyman-Graves, yes," Emily said, closing the file.  She set the file down. "Does he know?"

"He's the one that sent me to find all of it, m'lady," Thomas said. "Well... suggested to Her Majesty that she ought to send me to go find all of this..."

"Why?" Emily looked back up at me.

"I believe that's something you ought to ask of him," I said.  Emily blinked.  Of course I knew why Dodge had asked me to send Thomas to find all of this.  But... it would serve her better to hear from him on the subject.

"Okay," Emily said. "May I?"

"Absolutely," I smiled.  I watched her go.  I would be stepping down in two months, on her twenty-first birthday.  Parliament wouldn't stand for a second unmarried imperator, she'd need to find a husband.  And she was close with Dodge— very close, if my suspicions were as accurate as I believed them to be.  And Dodge would be a fine husband for her—a quiet man who knew when to be out of the way and when his arms needed to be around his wife.

Much like Corvo could've been, if he'd been born noble.

Moments after Emily, and a beat after, Thomas, had left, Corvo and Daud entered.

"Did you tell her?" Corvo asked.

"That Dodge is a Morlian marquis, yes," I said. "That he wishes to have her hand?  No.  That's on him to provide an explanation for."

"He'll make a decent husband for her," Daud said.  I raised an eyebrow. "Jess, I see her as if she were mine, too.  Even one of my boys isn't good enough for our girl."

Corvo hummed vaguely in agreement.

"Of course," I said. "But he's the best choice there is for her."

"This is also true," Daud said. "He plans to propose on her birthday, by the way."

"At the party or before?"

"He was vague on those details," Corvo said. "We grilled him hard, he didn't budge."

"Hm," I frowned. "Well... I suppose it's good, at least, that she doesn't intend to name him her Royal Protector..."

"She doesn't?"

"No, she says that she thinks the job would be better suited to someone more intimidating," I said.

"She plans on naming Thomas as her Royal Protector," Daud said. "Not a terrible choice."

"Not terrible at all..." I agreed. "And her Spymaster?"

"She hasn't said," Corvo said. "Guess Daud's still good enough for that, in her mind..."

"Oh, don't be a baby," Daud teased gently.  Corvo shot him a glare.

"I'm not.  I am getting older, so..." he trailed off. "Anyway, Thomas is probably the best she could possibly get."

"Oh, so you're just feeling sentimental," I said, smirking up at my lover.  Corvo sighed.

"Yeah.  I am.  So what?"

"Oh... so nothing," I said, dragging him closer by his lapels.  He smiled down at me and leaned down into the kiss.  I heard Daud chuckle and drew away, then waved him closer.  He leaned down and kissed me, too, then my cheek, then my jaw.

"Remember the last time we fucked on a desk?" he whispered in my ear.  I laughed.

"We got ink all over the floor," I said. "In Rudshore."

"Mm... You did mention wanting a new carpet..." Daud murmured into the hinge of my jaw as Corvo kissed his way into my collar.

"I never fucked you on a desk," Corvo muttered.

"Would you like to?" I asked.

"Kind of," Corvo said.

"Or would you rather get fucked?" Daud offered quietly.

I hummed in appreciation of the mental image that provided. "Oh, Corvo..."

 

 

Emily looked...

"You look like a..." her sister's words faltered.

"You're so pretty, Em!" her brother chimed in, rescuing his twin's fumble.  I smiled at my two little ones, carding a hand over my son's head.

"You look beautiful, Your Majesty," I winked.  Emily flushed and checked her hair.

"I still don't see why this has to be such a... such a thing," she huffed irritably.

My daughter—my Empress, as of an hour ago—looked stunning, in her deep purple, black and gold gown, her hair done up with amethysts and gold mesh and pins.  She was taller than I, thanks to her Attano genes, and looked regal and impressive, even standing nervously in front of a mirror, checking her hair.

She looked like an Empress.

"Because you've just turned twenty-one and you're about to become Empress of the Empire of the Isles," I said.  Devon beckoned my twins off and I moved to adjust the chain of Emily's necklace. "You chose Thomas as your Protector?"

"I did," Emily said. "I'll announce it after you make the announcement of your abdication."

"And your Spymaster?"

"Billie Lurk," Emily replied. "She's good at the job, has been running it behind the scenes for a year now, all by herself."

"But Daud—"

"Has let her," Emily said, smiling. "I asked him to.  And to keep it a secret."

"Emily..."

"Mother, this is my court, now," Emily said. "I won't rob you of your lover because I need a body in a chair.  Besides, Billie's really good at the job.  The fact that you didn't know speaks volumes on it."

"And on Daud's acting skills," I said.

"An example of her talent—" Emily turned to face me. "A vineyard in Cullero was acquired by an unknown buyer, a little over two months ago.  It's been renovated, two childrens' rooms put in, and staff already hired to keep the place for six months before the new owner arrives."

I smiled. "She is good."

Emily smiled back. "That she is."

"And if Thomas is your Protector, who's the Captain of your Guard?"

"It was going to be Captain Ramsey, but... Thomas found Regenter documents in his possession during a surprise inspection of the Officers' Quarters.  The Royal Protector will be overseeing management of the Royal Guard, as well," Emily said. "... And Captain Escobar will be in command of City Watch."

"Splendid," I said. "Rinaldo's a lovely choice."

"Oh, no," Emily shook her head. "Galia."

I was taken aback. "Galia?  When did they..."

"The documents were signed yesterday," Emily said. "Wedding's next month."

"Wonderful," I said.

"Yeah, well within the window between now and when you, Father and Dad leave for your vineyard in Cullero," Emily said.  I smiled and cupped her cheek.

"Ten days' sail away," I said. "I'll be there if you need me."

"I know," Emily said, cupping my hand, drawing it away and dragging me into a hug. "I love you, Mother."

"I love you, too, Your Majesty," I whispered. "Go on out there, meet your people and see what that Dodge boy wants."

I followed her out by a minute, subtly slipping into the crowd as Emily greeted her guests.

It was two hours in, twenty minutes past the news of my abdication, when I heard the commotion. 

It was a good commotion—coos and cheers.

Around the gazebo where my life nearly ended ten years ago, a crowd had gathered.  I couldn't see past the group.  A paid of hands scooped up against my hips and I found myself standing on a bench beside my former Spymaster.  Daud glanced down at me, grinning.

In the middle of the gazebo were two figures—one kneeling, the other standing and in a state of elated shock.

I heard Dodge ask, "Will you marry me?" just before Emily's cry of confirmation and the resulting cheers of the crowd.

Rarely was it safe to say that everything would be alright, but I had a sincere feeling it would—better than, even.