Within a week of the events on Kingsparrow Island, Corvo’s name is cleared and he is, once more, given the title of Lord Protector. He promises himself that he’ll keep it for the rest of his life.
Within two weeks of Kingsparrow, he and Emily—along with Callista, who will continue her services as one of Emily’s tutor—are back in Dunwall Tower, overseeing the deconstruction of the Regent’s madness, piece by metal piece.
Out in the courtyard, Corvo takes great pleasure in watching the destruction of the busts. He steals handfuls of the marble and later, perched on top of the gazebo, he throws them into the sea. He wonders where they might wash up, whether they’ll find their way into the belly of a passing whale.
Within three weeks, Piero and Sokolov are set up with a state of the art laboratory atop Dunwall Tower (courtesy of the former Regent’s safe room). They work long nights—and sometimes Corvo’s convinced they spend more time drinking and arguing philosophy than studying the plague—but Piero insists they’re close to a breakthrough.
Within a month, Corvo comes down with the plague.
It begins at dinner, with a hoarse cough that he dismisses as wine going down the wrong way. Only it happens again as he makes his evening patrol and once more as he retires for the evening. By morning, it’s become the dry, body wracking hack that he’d heard inside too many dank, desolate homes.
It’s Callista who comes to inquire about his missing breakfast. She takes one look at him and runs from the room. When she returns, Piero is on her heels and what follows is a blur of words and concerned faces.
The staff is in and out of his room in the following hour, setting up amenities: fresh water; a platter of fruits, cheeses and bread; a clean washbasin and a second chamber pot. Corvo watches them in a daze. At one point he spies Emily in the doorway, rasps to Callista, “Keep her away.” He rasps to the air, “Keep her safe.”
The fever comes on fast and hard and he lets it bear him down into sleep, losing himself in a confusing web of dream and memory. One moment he’s lost in darkness, his only company the chattering of rats; the next moment, he and Jessamine walk the shoreline below the tower, Emily in tow; Jessamine’s cold hand is tucked into his. When he turns to smile at her, her eyes are black and her face is covered in blood.
He wakes, choking on a scream. His face is wet and he swipes at his eyes, breathing relief when his fingers come away clear. Tears not blood.
His reprieve is cut short by the sudden revolt of his stomach and he pitches onto his side, grasps for the extra chamber pot. It’s then, through the burning bleariness of his eyes, that he sees a form in the room: Piero, fumbling at the bureau, a collection of vials and bottles in front of him.
It’s not unusual for the philosopher to check in on Corvo during the night. (Piero often has trouble sleeping.) But he’s never brought half his lab with him.
“Piero?” Corvo’s voice is rough, reedy. “What are you doing?”
“Providing you with a cure,” Piero says and the timbre of his voice is all wrong, deeper, more melodious. Strangely familiar.
Piero turns. He’s sleep rumpled, not wearing his coat and the top buttons of his shirt are undone. His eyes, normally obscured behind thick glasses, are bare. And black.
Corvo struggles to sit up. “Leave him.”
“I always do.” That smirk on Piero’s face is all wrong. “When our business is concluded. Now…” He approaches the bed, kneels next to Corvo, vial of something dark and murky in hand.
Corvo, failing to sit fully upright, slithers back against the wall.
The Outsider-Piero frowns.
For a moment, Corvo wonders if he’ll be scolded. “What is it?” He eyes the vial, the inky contents, dark as his companion’s eyes.
“Another invention of Piero’s dreaming mind. Really, Corvo. You surprise me. If I wanted you dead, I would not have to go to such lengths. And if you didn’t trust me, you would not have entreated me for Emily’s safety.”
Corvo catches his breath. Of course, the Outsider had heard that half mad prayer. As surely as he’d heard all the others Corvo had murmured as he slipped through back alleys and broken down buildings, dodging weepers, subduing guards. Requests for strength, for perseverance, to find Emily—whole and unharmed—to make his peace, to finally come home.
Somewhere between the shadows and subterfuge, the blood and death, the Outsider has become his deliverance.
“And so I will deliver you.” The Outsider-Piero holds the vial to Corvo’s lips, the fingers of his other hand pressing against the tender flesh beneath Corvo’s chin, tilting his head back.
Bitter-sweet and sour, the tincture pours over Corvo’s tongue, slides syrupy-thick down his throat, hastened by the stroking of fingers over his neck. The drowsiness comes on suddenly and Corvo sways; hands guide him onto his back, place his head on the pillow.
The Outsider’s voice, as it always does, follows him into the dark. “Sleep. This world is not yet ready for your departure.”
Corvo wakes the next morning, fever free, lucid, feeling more cool and clear than he has in days.
A groggy looking Piero greets him from the bedside chair. He’s still sleep rumpled but he’s fetched his glasses. “Corvo, I must apologize. I, last night, I don’t know what—“
Corvo holds up a hand. “Piero, you had a breakthrough.”
The philosopher sits up straighter. “Your fever? Cough?”
With a small exclamation of surprise, Piero darts forward, checks Corvo’s pulse, his eyes.
“I was certain you were hours away from the bleeding and—”
“Do you remember what you did?” Corvo asks, before Piero can get carried on to a topic.
Piero shuts his mouth. Blinks. “Yes. I think—I wrote it down.” He feels his pockets, pants, followed by shirt, comes up with a folded set of papers, instructions scrawled across them in a rather meticulous hand.
Corvo has seen Piero’s handwriting. This is not it. But he won’t burden the man with that thought. Nor will he question a gift given. “I think,” Corvo says, “you have a population to cure.”