She finds the shrine hidden in the highest part of the Tower, in a room where everything is gray with dust. On the wall over the shrine someone has written, he watches, in a neat and careful hand. Emily recognizes the handwriting, and wishes she didn’t.
“Well met, little Empress,” says a voice behind her. Emily turns, very slowly. She doesn’t scream.
His eyes are deep black and the shadows curl around him like seaweed. She knows who he is and what he can do. She should refuse him.
When he asks for her hand, she gives it without hesitation.
Corvo is furious when he finds out. Furious, and afraid.
“This isn’t a game!” The hands on her shoulders are white-knuckled. “You can’t just give it back when you’re tired of playing. Do you have any idea how dangerous he is?”
“Then teach me!” Emily yells back. “Everything’s falling apart and I need this, so teach me.”
Corvo’s face crumples. “We need an Empress,” he says. “Not a monster.”
They won’t even let her attend the meetings. Her own empire.. Emily’s lower lip trembles, but she wills it away. Lifts her chin. Steel in her voice. “I can be both.”
The most important thing for her to learn, he says, is to make it look like an accident.
“They must never suspect,” he says. “Do you understand? They have ways of suppressing his power, and if they suspect you they’ll come for you.”
Emily understands. She learned the art of subterfuge young, as men she trusted stole her empire. She learns to stop time, to crawl inside minds, to hold the wind in her hands and speak to the rats, and through it all she remembers to smile the proper smile, to play the good child Empress.
No one suspects.
Emily cries the first time she kills a man.
She had made a mistake, blinking over rooftops without checking her line of sight, and he’d been a nobody, just man smoking out on his balcony. His eyes went wide when he saw her and Emily…
He didn’t make a sound when the wind hit, didn’t make a sound as he tumbled to the cobblestones below, and Emily fled with tears in her eyes and a cold knot in her stomach and Corvo holds her, as she cries, and he doesn’t say a word.
She doesn’t cry the next time.
“She wanted me to wait,” Corvo says wretchedly, “until you were old enough to understand.”
He is so tired. Emily can see it in his eyes, can hear it in the pale rasp of his voice. She is not afraid of him, but rather for him, and so despite her misgivings she takes the heart and utters a low cry of horror when it thrums to life in her hands, drumming a steady metronome of sorrow. The Mark on her hand flares gold, and in her mind a mournful voice whispers, “Oh, my dear sweet daughter. What have you become?”
“She wants to rest,” Emily says.
The Outsider just looks at her. “And you expect me to…?”
Emily doesn’t like the shrine. She often hears Corvo’s voice in the stairs, agonized, lost. Occasionally there are other sounds. She doesn’t want to know. But she still needs the shrine, and so sometimes, she visits.
“Let her rest,” she says. “Let her go.”
“I can’t,” he says. “There must always be a heart.”
Emily turns to go, defeat sitting heavy in her chest, and he adds, “It doesn’t have to be the same heart.” His smile is cold. “You get to choose.”
The plague is worse than ever, huge swaths of her empire dark. She needs money, resources, time. She marries a young politician from Morley, and gets these things and more.
Corvo sits with her on the rooftop, looking at the broken body on the rocks below.
“He was a good man,” he says.
Emily nods, not trusting herself to speak. He’d gasped, “witch!” and she’d had to, she’d had to, and she still remembers being inside his head as he fell. How it felt after, creeping away in a little white rat.
Finally, she says, “He was.”
She never remarries.
At night she cups the Heart in her hands and listens to its secrets. She is careful in how she uses them but always does, precise and deadly as a knife in the dark. There is more gray in Corvo’s hair every day, but she refuses to look for a new Lord Protector. She holds real power now; she has little to fear from the usual assassination attempts and the petty machinations of court.
They call her Emily the Wise. They are too afraid to call her anything else.
Corvo wants to let Jessamine rest.
And Emily says, “I can’t.”
“I spoke to him,” Corvo says. “There is a way.”
Emily has spoken with him too. She says, “No.”
He is so sad. So sad, and so tired. “Emily,” he says, and Emily claps her hands over her ears, like she’s a child again.
“No,” she says. “You can’t. I need you, Corvo, I can’t do this without you, I need you,” and he holds her face in his hands the way he did so long ago, when she was a little girl and he could always protect her.
“I won’t leave you,” he says. “I promise,” and Emily…
“Your choice was not unexpected,” the Outsider says, “but still interesting nevertheless.”
He gives her a heart, one that he has molded by his own hands. It is larger than her mother’s, and the Mark on her hand flares gold in time with its quiet, steady beating.
“He would have died for you,” the Outsider says. There is something curious in his voice, like he doesn’t quite understand. “Many times over.”
Emily looks down at the Heart, and says, “He did.”
The Void sings around them, a litany of madness, and Emily closes her eyes and the Heart whispers, “Daughter.”