It started not too long after the plague became nothing but a rare, curable malady, when the Pandyssian bull rats were a distant nightmare, when people started to get accustomed to walking the streets again, no longer fearing the chance of being attacked, or robbed, or mugged, or eaten alive. The heavy machinery of Lord Regent Burrow’s short reign became useless artifacts; the only creations of Sokolov and Piero that mattered were the cures that washed away the plague.
Political tensions barely existed after the bloodbath caused by the ambitions of the wayward Loyalists and even by Burrows himself; everyone was pleased to finally have a stable monarch on the throne, a blessed and beloved Kaldwin. Emily repeatedly proved herself a competent and fair ruler, and everyone could smell the approaching golden age on the fresh smell of the Wrenhaven River, no longer so polluted with bodies of the dead.
The second Feast of Painted Kettles in that year that Emily rose to the throne ended with a rare occurrence, the rise of another woman. The sight of a woman as an Overseer caused some suspicious glares, and the fact that the new High Overseer was not only that, but of Tyvian origin as well… well, most people seemed in denial, convincing their own minds that the new High Overseer merely held an empty position, that other, more ‘experienced’ Overseers ruled from the shadows. Such people couldn’t be more wrong, because despite High Overseer Yelena Lagunov’s delicate and spindly stature, she was not weak of mind, and held every ounce of authority her predecessors did, if not more. For once, a High Overseer that actually followed the Seven Strictures, and the common citizen rejoiced.
As always, the throne’s relationship with the Abbey was amicable, and the High Overseer often visited state-sanctioned events. Most expected to see the woman exploiting her wealth or stumbling over manners and polite talk, considering she’d grown up around men. To their surprise, she was a very well-mannered woman, eager to discuss matters of frivolities just as she was matters of more importance. She visited Emily often, teaching the budding Empresses not only the Strictures, but different interpretations of them and how to implement them into her life. Corvo thought that admirable, that a woman of the cloth like that would be so willing to show ways to deviate from the path without losing sight of it.
While High Overseer Lagunov was unofficially among Emily’s tutors, the young empress did not consider the High Overseer to be a teacher, but more of a friend. Emily would often invite the High Overseer to tea, or on an outing, which High Overseer Lagunov rejected more often than not, saying that a person of her rank shouldn’t have time for such things. However, there was one get-together that even Lagunov attended.
The year Emily Kaldwin turned sixteen years of age brought a grand celebration. Aristocrats donned their best clothes and boarded their yachts and came to Dunwall Tower to dance and drink the evening away, while the more common citizens took to their boats and crowded around the Tower to light lanterns and view the fireworks. The sight was stunning from atop the Tower, the glowing lanterns rising into the sky to join the intricate fireworks in a glorious and almost otherworldly spectacle. Some attendees would claim that they even heard the whales singing praise for the great Empress Emily Kaldwin, but no one would be able to agree on if it had really happened or if it was just the effects of the wine.
That evening, Emily dressed in her best suit, her hair done up the same way Jessamine had styled hers. She danced with many aristocrats that evening, but somehow she always managed to make her way back to Corvo. The whispered rumors of Emily’s parentage, who her father was, whom Jessamine Kaldwin had been close enough to have a child with, had never died down, and after that party, the rumors flared again. Emily Kaldwin did indeed look astoundingly like her mother, but somewhere, in the shape of her nose, in the curve of her maturing face, people seemed to find some resemblance to her bodyguard.
Of course, it was all fine. The people loved their rumors, their gossip. Nothing would ever come of it.
Dancing through the night, Emily made her way back to Corvo for what could easily be the seventh time, a big smile on her face as they began dancing, joining into the surrounding dancers seamlessly.
“I’m glad you’re having fun,” Corvo chuckled, looking around the ballroom for someone he could set her on, “But Geoff Curnow is looking a little lonely over there, no one to dance with.”
Emily’s nose scrunched up. “I’ve seen him dance at other parties. He’s got two left feet and he’ll step on my toes,” she complained, adjusting her jacket.
He’d seen her adjust her jacket several times that evening, but how she did it was so peculiar, and when she messed with it just then, he thought he’d seen a familiar aura. It had been years since he’d listened for the sound, but if he concentrated, he could hear the twinkling song with which he’d become all too familiar.
Corvo looked around, making sure none of the Overseers happened to be close by before leaning down to hiss, “Emily, are you carrying a bone charm?” How could she be so stupid? Of all evenings to carry around Outsider artifacts… In fact, she shouldn’t be touching any Outsider anything if he had anything to say about it.
Her eyes widened and her eyebrows rose and he knew he’d guessed it correctly. “But you do it all the time! I just borrowed it from the box in your room…” she whined.
Not only was she carrying around a bone charm, but one of his, as well. Corvo sighed. “I keep that box locked for a reason, Emily, and I don’t carry them around as often as I used to. You need to be careful. Keep it concealed and we’ll talk about this more later.”
Emily nodded, averting her gaze and they danced in silence until the music changed and Emily went stalking off in the direction of Geoff Curnow. At least Corvo knew he could trust her with the man, considering his tastes.
Corvo turned his attention back to the crowd, just about to go off and check his belongings when a hand took his elbow. “Greetings, Lord Protector,” High Overseer Yelena Lagunov greeted, “May I have this dance? As long as I’m not intruding, of course,” she asked, the thick Tyvian accent on her thin voice always strikingly incongruent.
She dressed in simple Overseer colors, the uniform tailored for a woman, with her unruly, curled black hair tied tightly back in a bun that failed to restrict every strand and made her already thin face seem more narrow. She wore large round spectacles that disguised her sharp, Tyvian cheekbones and brow. The woman looked harmless, frail, even. One could tell that she came from poor stock, sickly and gaunt and aging far too fast for her age.
Corvo turned, feeling the sweat building beneath his collar. The High Overseer had not danced the entire evening, he’d noticed, choosing instead to occupy the wine bowl. Perhaps the bit of redness in her face was a blessing, indicating drunkenness and not anger. The Lord Protector bowed. “Of course, High Overseer,” he said.
Lagunov had indeed reached a level of intoxication that he’d never seen before in a woman and with her stumbling to get into the waltz position, it was obvious the woman probably hadn’t seen or heard a thing. As they danced, she stepped on his toes copious times, but the woman was so thin and light, he barely noticed when she did.
She insisted on dancing with him through several songs, and eventually she seemed to get some of her mind back and stopped stepping on his toes so much, getting steadier in her motions. It was a good thing, because Corvo didn’t want the High Overseer passing out on him.
Then she started mumbling about heretics.
Normally, he wouldn’t be particularly bothered by this, considering that members of the Abbey practically based their existence on hunting down heretics, and there was no reason an intoxicated Overseer wouldn’t be deliriously reciting the Strictures. However, the contents of her mutterings were awkward and revealing at best, and unsettling at worst. She talked about how she occasionally broke a stricture or two, and drunkenly asked him to guess which one she broke the most (“Yes, Corvo, I know what you’re thinking, naughty you, it is the sixth.”), tried to tell him that the Outsider liked cute men and would lure them into his realm to do naughty things (“You should watch out, Lord Protector, he might get his eyes on you!”), and then declared that on average, there were about four heretics in the aristocracy at all times and that she was pretty sure who (“Lydia Boyle, for one, is the biggest witch I’ve ever seen but you’ve bewitched me more than she ever could her suitors, Lord Protector~!”).
And thus, by the end of the evening, Corvo was holding the High Overseer at arm’s length.
Apparently, she wasn’t nearly as drunk as she could’ve been, because she somehow managed to get him to down more than a few glasses of wine every once in a while, through the light haze of drunkenness, he could see her grin. She looked insane when she smiled with her eyes wide and teeth barred; it was a frightening sight for just about anyone.
If anyone told him earlier that he’d end up in bed with the High Overseer on the night of Emily’s sixteenth birthday, he would’ve choked on something and then had the speaker sent for psychiatric evaluation.
When she saw that he wouldn’t remove his gloves, she giggled and declared that she wouldn’t take off hers, either.
The following morning went somewhat well, with Lagunov waking after him and giving several hushed apologies that he echoed. Neither of them remembered much, but Corvo figured he remembered more than she did. Without much talk, she left and presumably tracked down the Overseers that usually accompanied her and left the Tower.
Corvo didn’t hear much about it, neither from Lagunov or anyone else except a few quips from people who’d seen him go off with her. Curnow in particular joked, “I would congratulate you, but considering we have enough issues with Overseers breaking the Strictures, I can’t condone helping one out.”
The High Overseer did her best to avoid Dunwall Tower after that, understandably. Corvo didn’t dwell on it too much. They were all adults, and such matters were trivial when there was an empire to run and an Empress to protect.
However, as the Fugue Feast approached in the coming month, their meetings became more frequent, and as always Corvo lingered behind his charge’s throne as the girl cheerily swung her legs, watching as the High Overseer entered the throne room. The High Overseer gave a dramatic, sweeping bow.
When Lagunov wasn’t drunk, she acted prim and proper, but perhaps still a little too friendly and a bit arrogant.
Emily giggled at the gesture, and Corvo allowed the High Overseer to approach the Empress and take her hand, however, he remained wary of the pair of Warfare Overseers that flanked her. “I do apologize, Empress Emily, but I must request an immediate private counsel. Is there a place we could speak alone?” the High Overseer requested.
The not-so-little-anymore Empress looked up at Corvo, “Yes, I think that will be doable, isn’t that right, Corvo?”
The Lord Protector nodded, and gestured for the pair – plus Warfare Overseers – to follow him, sparing Lagunov a glance. As they left, the High Overseer dismissed the men in her procession that weren’t in her immediate guard, leaving just three Warfare Overseers and one man that appeared to be carrying the new miniature music box, a new development brought about shortly after High Overseer Lagunov’s rise. Normally, a device such as that would raise thoughts, but they’d become so common on the belts of the Overseers that there would always be one man with a music box on every major street.
Lagunov suggested the royal chambers, which was within reason, and Corvo was perfectly content with waiting outside the door with the High Overseer’s personal guard. High Overseer Lagunov had been a long trusted friend to the throne, and if anyone could be trusted alone with Empress Emily Kaldwin, it was her.
Or so they all thought.
When he heard Emily cry out and the High Overseer’s firm, unintelligible shouts, he immediately rammed through the two guards that had been preparing to block his path and burst into the room.
“Overseers! Restrain him and remove his gloves!” Lagunov barked, holding Emily tightly with one hand while the other grasped a bone charm above her head.
“What is the meaning of this?” Corvo demanded while throwing off an Overseer before the three of them managed to wrestle him to the ground just as his ears were assaulted with that wretched music. He twitched, twisting a bit as the mark on the back of his hand burned at the sound of the music box.
Lagunov took a long, almost frantic gulp of what smelled like whiskey from a flask attached at her belt and leaned down to tug the left glove off of Corvo’s hand.
The Outsider’s Mark burned with the torture of the music.
High Overseer Lagunov straightened, her face twisting into that disturbing smile he’d glimpsed at the party. “Arrest him. He has Outsider markings on the flesh, the sign of the highest devotion to The Outsider. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Lord Protector Corvo Attano was the Masked Felon… search his chambers. I want that mask mounted on my office wall.”
Corvo tried to struggle, but the weight of the men and the weakening, disorienting noise of the Music Box kept him on the floor.
“As for you, Emily Kaldwin…” High Overseer Lagunov began, making a harsh gesture for an Overseer to open the locked box on Emily vanity. Corvo knew the box; it was the one he’d kept beneath the floorboards of his room.
“No! That’s mine! I swear…!” he begged.
Lagunov’s eyes flickered to him but otherwise she ignored the comment as the Overseer roughly broke open the box, bone charms clattering onto the floor as he did.
“And there’s the proof,” Lagunov clicked her tongue. “A Heretic Empress and her dog,” the High Overseer declared just as the rest of her guards arrived, and pushed the Empress away from her, towards the small group. “By decree of the Abbey of the Everyman, I hereby place Empress Emily Kaldwin under arrest for heresy.”
Corvo wasn’t sure this was something he could fight, and the feeling made him feel so helpless that it could break him. Yet the worst offense here was Lagunov’s, the High Overseer that they’d all trusted so much, had only been close to see their sins and judge them.
Emily cried openly, scared and confused and hurt. Quiet apologies tumbled out of her mouth and half-finished promises and excuses, but this time Corvo wasn’t sure he could comfort her, if he could fight this. It was his fault. He should've kept her away from these things, he shouldn't have let it come to this.
He needed to face the consequences of his failures.
The look of hatred he threw at Lagunov would make a smaller person tremble, but she merely smiled and drank another gulp of whiskey.
are female overseers even thing? do I care? no. *throws around artistic license*
Chapter 2: hearts on the line
Emily... Poor, poor Emily... Have hope, young Empress, there is light in your future, but here, there is only darkness and silence for you.
Sokolov and Piero had invented a new device a few years before that absorbed the light from a scene and recorded it on paper, creating a black and white copy of the scene. One of the first things the Overseers did was make Corvo hold up his hand while they photographed it. Proof, they said, it would be proof that the Outsider’s corruptions had indeed seeped too deep into the empire.
Worst of all, they found the rest of the things that had been hidden beneath the floorboards. The Heart, the Heart lay on a tray somewhere in the Abbey of the Everyman. Jessamine’s soul laid bare, probably under a knife. The thought made him want to find Yelena Lagunov and very vehemently snap her neck.
Of course, they’d been hastily thrown into cells. Corvo was surprised they hadn’t attempted to cut off his hand yet. All they did was tie it up behind his back so he couldn’t clench his fist. The worst part of this whole ordeal was Emily, sitting in the cell beside his, crying apologies and promises she wouldn’t do it again.
His failures started piling up in front of him.
Somewhere in the time he spent in that cell, he fell asleep, the browns and greys giving way to calm blues of the Void. “Hello, Corvo.”
He looked up at The Outsider’s relatively unreadable expression, not too surprised that The Outsider would find these new developments intriguing. However, this meant that the current happenings wouldn’t be the end of it. Corvo nodded in acknowledgement.
“Again, your name is besmirched, dragged through the mud by a person too power-hungry and paranoid for their own good, but this time, there’s more at stake, isn’t there? If her name isn’t cleared, little Emily Kaldwin’s name in the history books could go from being the beloved empress to the heretic queen, and you, Corvo Attano, no longer the Lord Protector, simply the Masked Felon. We don’t want that, do we?
“I look forward to watching your upcoming quest. It’s about time there was some quality entertainment. Give us a good show, will you?”
When he woke, Emily wasn’t crying anymore, or at least he’d thought. Forgetting about his dream completely, he whispered over to her cell, trying to get her attention, but there was no reply. He started to panic. Alright, maybe she’d fallen asleep, maybe she was still there. He couldn’t use Dark Vision to confirm.
He sat back on the awkward little cot in the cell and rested his head against the wall, wondering how everything had gone to the dogs so quickly. He couldn’t care less about the bone charms; they could’ve thrown them all back into the ocean for all he cared, but there had been one object that had no business being in anyone’s hands but his. The Heart – her heart – had spent far too much time away from him. Who knew what they would do with it? Would they cut it apart and see what kind of black magic made it beat? Would they hear the voice of the late empress and try to pin her murder back on him?
Fortunately for all of them, the accursed, beloved thing never did stay away from him for long. He’d rest his eyes a moment and it would be beating against the lapels of his coat again.
Peering out his cell to be sure that there were no guards, Corvo pulled out the Heart and listened to it. “What are you doing here, Corvo?” “Lagunov doesn’t know who her enemies are.” “They fear you so.” These were the only words that Jessamine would give him, and they were nothing particularly new. He tucked the Heart back into his coat, remembering briefly the long nights awake trying to devise a way to destroy it, and finally put Jessamine to rest, and all the failed attempts that left scars upon its surface.
A harsh creak of the door opening rang in his ears. Corvo rose slowly as guards stopped in front of his cell. Well, not guards, actually, they were Overseers, their faces covered with metallic, angry masks. Of course, one carried a music box, the miniature kind. He’d remembered when the things had first started being used, Overseers lamenting often that the reduction in size sacrificed durability. Drop the thing once and it became unusable.
They opened the door to his cell and immediately, the one began playing the music box. It made him want to puke, but there wasn’t anything in his stomach to throw up. One of the Overseers took him by the arm and led him out, accompanied by the rest of the group.
Corvo struggled with the headaches from the music box as they brought him to a less hellish version of the interrogation room. High Overseer Yelena Lagunov sat at the other side of a metal table, her visage twisting when they pushed him in, a disgusted sneer on her lips. The Overseers forced him into the chair across from her and then cuffing him into it. Lagunov watched with unveiled disdain as they did, taking a gulp of whiskey from a rather large bottle, slamming it back down onto the table, making the empty bottle next to it wobble.
The Overseers stepped back when they finished, a couple of them dismissing themselves and exiting the room, while the one with the music box remained along with two others, the music box still twanging it’s dissonant melody.
Lagunov folded her hands and leaned forward slightly, looking a little peaked. Not even two bottles of whiskey could calm that woman’s nerves, it seemed. She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped, glaring at the one holding the music box. “Quit that,” she barked, “My headache is bad enough without that annoying thing trilling in the background! And get out of here this instant! This interrogation is confidential! Out, out, out!”
The Overseer stopped immediately, saluting along with the rest of them as they vacated the room. Lagunov took off her glasses and rubbed her temples. “For the love of… ”she cut herself off with a growl of disgust before replacing her glasses and looking back to Corvo. “I cannot believe my own damned obliviousness,” she hissed, “I… just this past year I…” Lagunov’s cheeks reddened and she hunched down, covering her eyes. A long moment passed before she inhaled sharply and sat up straight once more, her gaze leveling on him. “Well, you’ve betrayed us all, haven’t you?” the line lacked the sincerity her previous words had.
Corvo remained silent for the longest time, holding her gaze. This was different from before, this time he was in prison for a crime he was actually guilty of. Thus, nothing would sway her over him. “… Please, spare Emily from this,” he implored.
Yelena’s face hardened, her gaze not shifting as she looked right through him. “… No,” she stated clearly. “I don’t think I will. We found evidence suggesting that her mother may have shared her poor habit of carrying about heretical artifacts, and the emperor before her, as well. The entire Kaldwin line is tarnished. I think I’ll see it end.”
His heart went cold and air rushed from his lungs. Corvo’s anger was cold, the automatic reaction to any threat or smear across the Kaldwin name. His response was immediate: “Not while I still stand.”
“Well, we can certainly fix that,” she said, pulling out a stack of papers and flipping through them. “Now, let’s talk about that shrine.” Lagunov slid a couple papers in his direction, spreading them out so he could see. On each was a surprisingly detailed layout of Dunwall Tower interior and exterior, with details that no one other than him should even know about, secret passages here and there, the occasional air duct that’s large enough that one could crawl through it. “Where is it?”
Corvo decided he’d play dumb here. “Hiram Burrows’ Royal Torturer had a shrine, if that’s what you’re referring to.” No, he did have one, and a grand one at that in the secret room he’d found with the audiograph Jessamine had left (as well as a bone charm, but damn if he’d tell Lagunov he’d found that in a room only Jessamine had known about). How Lagunov knew that he had a shrine was beyond him.
Lagunov frowned and tilted her head, exhaling. “Denial gets you nowhere.”
“Do you think I would be so dumb to build an Outsider shrine in Dunwall Tower?”
He watched her hand tighten around the empty bottle of whiskey. Lagunov gave a false, annoyed smile. “I could cut out your lying tongue and have it mounted on my wall beside your accursed mask.”
So she did know that there was something in Dunwall Tower, but how she knew remained a mystery. Perhaps Emily had said something at one point. “You’re going to execute me, anyways. You have no leverage, High Overseer. Six months of torture couldn’t get a false confession out of me in Coldridge; you’re not getting a word from me here,” he spat out with vehemence.
Lagunov’s eyes widened with rage as she stood and chucked the bottle, growling with rage. It flew past Corvo’s head and shattered against the steel walls behind him. “You will give me the location of that shrine!” she declared. “Guards!”
The Overseers that had brought him into the room re-entered promptly, scrambling in at the sound of their leader’s fury.
Yelena took a deep breath, adjusting her glasses with both shaking hands. “Bring me the Kaldwin girl.”
At instant reflex, Corvo jerked against his bindings. “Wait, no,” he choked out, realizing what the High Overseer intended. “No, I’ll tell you.”
Lagunov narrowed her eyes. “Yes, Corvo, you will,” she looked back to her men. “You heard me. The girl. Take him with you. Return him to his cell.”
“Yelena, please, don’t do this…” Corvo pleaded. “Emily doesn’t deserve that.”
“Call me by my given name again, heretic, see what fucking happens,” she hissed, grinding her teeth. Lagunov turned on the Overseers, “What are you idiots waiting for?! Get this garbage out of my sight!”
His relative shock and immediate reflex to bargain was replaced with an all too familiar cold rage. The Overseers unstrapped him from the chair and began playing the music box again.
Lagunov shook and hastily grabbed her half-empty bottle of whiskey and downed a huge gulp.
They began leading him towards the when he attacked. Whirling, he jerked out of the Overseer’s grip and immediately kicked the other’s music box, the nullifying music ending when the thing cracked when it hit the floor. Not that it did any good other than clearing his mind, as his hand was still bound, but ever resourceful, the Lord Protector used it to his advantage, dodging out of the way of another Overseer’s sword and turning to knock him out with the heavy wooden block.
The entire thing was over before Lagunov has swallowed her mouthful of whiskey, the Overseers having him on the floor in seconds. He simply wasn’t as fit as he used to be.
Silent, Lagunov set down her whiskey and walked over to him, pausing in front of him to glower down at the broken music box, clicking her tongue. A moment of tense, almost amicable stillness passed.
The High Overseer’s heavy boot connected hard with the side of his face. “Do you know how much those things cost?!” she roared, punctuating each word with another brutal kick. “I think I’ll be particularly nasty to Emily Kaldwin. I was going to go easy on her, but you ruined it,” she sighed, looking at the guards again. “Get him back to his cell. See to it that there are no more incidents.”
He stared at her as the Overseers forced him to his feet. The High Overseer wasn’t a physically strong woman, her kicks would leave him a headache and some heavy bruising (he could already feel the black eye), but she hadn’t managed to break anything.
Corvo hated her. He hated her so much that he wanted to ruin her the same ways he had ruined those people six years ago. He’d destroy the person Yelena Lagunov.
As they dragged him back to his cell, he vowed to himself that for every scratch on Emily’s body, he’d return two-fold upon Lagunov. One day… one day…
Emily was awake when they re-entered the cellblock. “Corvo? Corvo! What have they done to you? Are you alright?” she asked in a hurry.
“Emily. Emily, I need you to be brave, alright?” he told her as dragged him towards his cell. “Be brave for Corvo?” he nearly began crying.
“What? What are they doing? What’s happening?” she cried.
“Shut your mouths!” one of the Overseers barked as they threw Corvo back into his cell.
He surged forward and grabbed the cell bar with his unbound hand. “Emily!”
“Where are you taking me?” she demanded of the Overseers.
They gave her no answer as they jerked her out of her cell. The girl went struggling to the point where one of the Overseers hefted her over his shoulder.
Corvo watched helplessly as they carried her away her hand reaching for him like a plea for help that he couldn’t answer. It hurt; it hurt so much he could kill them all.
That night he couldn’t sleep. They hadn’t returned Emily and Corvo could hear it, he could hear the vague mumblings in the distance that were Lagunov’s garbled taunts. However, the worst of it was that he couldn't hear anything else. No screams, nothings.
Emily was being hurt and he couldn’t do a thing about it, and it was his fault. If he’d only answered Yelena’s question… the woman was mad. Mad and powerful and that was a horrible combination that could only end badly.
The hours dragged on until the Overseers finally returned, a darkness shrouded Emily walking obediently at their side, her eyes on the floor. Corvo couldn’t see any wounds in the dark, leaving the damage up to his imagination. They opened her cell and guided her in, before closing it quietly.
Lagunov strutted in, carrying the same set of maps as before as well as a pencil. She handed the items to a guard, who slid the items through the bars of Corvo’s cell.
Silently, he picked up the pencil and circled the fireplace on the second floor. “You turn the light fixture to the right of the fireplace,” he said, voice hoarse and weak as he pushed the items back towards the cell door for the guard to pick up.
Yelena snatched it out of the guard’s hands and hummed. “Thank you, Corvo, this will do nicely.”
Without another word, she and her procession left, leaving Corvo alone with Emily, their cells only illuminated by the light from the moon outside.
Corvo scooted over to the door of his cell. “Emily,” he whispered, his voice shaky. “Emily, are you alright?”
He reached his free arm out of the cell and over to the bars of hers. “Please, Emily, answer me… I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry this happened.”
A hand touched his. Emily’s thin fingers wrapped around his hand and squeezed.
Chapter 3: the dirt on our boots
your indecisive actions have left two lost souls who have wandered their way home, festered and weakened and now they serve the deceiver
if only they were dead, if only they were dead.
A bleak day, Curnow thought, it was a bleak day that would bring a storm upon its end. Not that the weather brought him much concern; he’d be home by the time the rain fell, warmed by the whale-oil powered heater he’d purchased before he went out on his trip east.
The trip had proved fruitless. He’d gone east towards Whitecliff to visit a distant relative of a deceased cousin’s deceased cousin, who also turned out to be deceased. A shame, that the man had died; Callista had gotten her hopes up about there being one last relative remaining. Geoff didn’t relish eventually breaking the news to her.
After such a disappoint trip, one could imagine Geoff Curnow’s surprise when he discovered the entire place had gone to bedlam, militaristic, religious bedlam. Upon his return, Overseers stopped him at the city gates and thoroughly searched his person and belongings, claiming to be searching for heretical artifacts. Only after nearly fifteen minutes of rummaging through his belongings and patting him down did they let him through.
The blokes behind him in line looked a little worse for wear, though, dressed in tattered clothes that must’ve been rather exquisite when they’d been new. Their already unpleasant features were obscured by layers of grim and soot. The Overseer demanded their names, which they both answered by glaring and opening their mouths to reveal that neither of them had their tongues. One of them scrambled around in his pockets and pulled out a ring, showing it to the Overseer.
The two looked almost painfully familiar. Curnow approached just as the Overseer began accusing them of thievery. “Hold, friend, may I provide a second opinion?” Curnow offered.
With a moment’s hesitation, the Overseer stepped aside and allowed Curnow a look at the bauble.
The twin holding it seemed a bit indignant, straightening and roughly jerking the ring in Curnow’s face.
Curnow got a closer look, examining the familiar emblem on the signet ring. “Outsider’s eyes…!” he hissed, his gaze snapping to the two before him. An old case returned to him, the mysterious disappearance of the twins Pendleton had never been resolved, and they’d eventually forgotten about the noblemen altogether. “Lords Morgan and Custis Pendleton?”
They nodded eagerly, the desperation and relief in their eyes apparent.
Geoff looked to the Overseer. “I’ll be taking these two with me, if that’s all right.” The Overseer nodded in response and Geoff returned his attention to the twins. “I’ll escort the two of you to the Abbey, where you can get cleaned up and we can explain the situation to the High Overseer. She could arrange a place for the two of you to stay until they can determine if you’re really who you say you are.”
Lifting a hand, the Overseer interrupted him. “You’ll have to hurry if you wish to catch the High Overseer while she’s still in Holger’s Square before she departs for Dunwall Tower this evening, sir.”
Any reason why the High Overseer would be spending evenings in Dunwall Tower was beyond him, but Lagunov had always seemed like an incomprehensible person. “Thanks for the heads up, Overseer,” Curnow thanked, and turned back to the Pendletons. “Follow me, sirs.”
They proceeded into the city, and almost the moment the three of them entered the main street, all mysteries were answered by the posters that littered every wall and guard station. Curnow ripped the thing down to more closely examine it.
EMPRESS EMILY KALDWIN
LORD PROTECTOR CORVO ATTANO
FOUND GUILY OF POSSESSION OF HERETICAL ARTIFACTS
AND UNLAWFUL INTIMATE ASSOCIATION WITH THE OUTSIDER.
BY DECREE OF HIGH OVERSEER YELENA LAGUNOV, INSPECTIONS WILL BE CONDUCTED REGULARLY BY THE OVERSEERS TO HELP REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF HERESY IN OUR FAIR CITY.
IF YOU KNOW OF SOMEONE IN POSSESSION OF A HERETIC ARTIFACT, REPORT THEM TO EITHER AN OVERSEER OR A MEMBER OF THE CITY WATCH FOR A 50 COIN REWARD
PLEASE HELP US IN THIS TRYING TIME OF DARKNESS
A photograph showing a box full of charms spilled over the floor of what seemed to be the Empress’s bedroom and an image clearing showing the Lord Protector with some sort of strange, abstract mark on his hand provided further proof of this ridiculous claim. Corvo, a practicing heretic? And stranger yet, Emily Kaldwin, a budding witch?
One of the twins snatched the poster out of his hands with a calloused hand, and the two of them huddled read it before letting out a wretched sound that might be laughter. They gave him back the poster, pleased smiles still on their faces.
… Huh. Well, they definitely were who they claimed to be, at least. Curnow folded up the poster and tucked it into his pocket. He had a few words for High Overseer Lagunov.
As the three of them proceeded towards Holger’s Square, Curnow overheard a conversation between two Overseers.
“Hey, do you know what’s always had me wondering?”
“Not really, but you’re going to tell me anyways.”
“Why is the High Overseer a woman? I mean, why is she in the Overseers rather than the Oracular Order?”
“… I’ve seen other female Overseers, back in Whitecliff. They just rarely make it high enough to get transferred to Dunwall.”
“That may be so, but Lagunov never really struck me as being High Overseer material. What do you think got her into the seat?”
Surely the conversation continued as the three continued out of earshot, but Curnow didn’t have any particular interest in the inner workings of the Overseers. They entered the High Overseer’s office building, several Overseers giving the filthy Pendleton twins the side-eye.
Curnow knocked on the door to Lagunov’s office before entering to see the sickly woman examining a rune, running her fingers over the carving.
She looked up briefly before smiling and returning her attention to the artifact. “Isn’t it glorious, Officer Curnow?” Lagunov cooed.
Her words made him raise an eyebrow in question. “… Ma’am?”
Lagunov picked it up gently, almost with love. “Look at it… it glows so bright, so powerfully… It is irrevocably a genuine Outsider rune,” a pleased grin spread across her thin face, “We found it in Dunwall Tower after I managed to get the Lord Protector to tell me where his secret room was. It’s proof, solid, glorious proof of their heresy.” Lagunov gingerly set the rune inside an open drawer and locked it in.
Curnow stiffened. The High Overseer seemed different, a little more unhinged than she’d been the last time he spoke with her.
The second thing he noticed was a distinctive mask, mounted elegantly on a stand to be used as a paperweight on her desk. The twins noticed it to, and immediately pointed at it forcefully, as if demanding where it had come from.
Lagunov tilted her head, perhaps having not really noticed their presence before they’d made it known. “The mask? It was found in Corvo Attano’s quarters…” The High Overseer adjusted her spectacles, leaning forward. “Pardon me, but do I know these two… mutes? They seem familiar to me.”
Curnow nodded. “Yes, I believe them to be the missing Lords Pendleton. I was hoping that you’d provide them with a place to stay until we could confirm their identities and figure out what to do with them.”
The High Overseer stared at him a moment, baffled and wide-eyed, before she stared at the twins until something seemed to click, a piece in her head falling into place. Lagunov smiled softly, “Thank you, Officer Curnow, I’ll see to it that things are sorted out,” she said, standing. “You’re free to return to your home, Officer, I’m sure you’re tired from your journey. I’ll handle things from here.”
Geoff saluted and left promptly, thanking her.
Morgan and Custis watched as the City Watch Officer left. He seemed like such an unpleasantly dull man. It felt good to be rid of him, but when they looked back to the High Overseer, they shared the thought that maybe having him with them would’ve been better…
Yelena Lagunov’s eyes were hidden by the glare of the fireplace on her glasses, hands folded beneath her chin as she smiled devilishly. “Morgan, Custis…” she clicked her tongue, emphasizing its presence and watched them stiffen. “It’s been quite some time,” she said, gesturing for them to sit.
Morgan thought the woman looked familiar and considered the possibility that he’d fucked her sometime in the past. Custis had a similar observation, but his main line of thought was raging about why this sickly hag was High Overseer. They sat, as she said.
Lagunov pushed a sheet of paper towards them along with a pen. “Now, I’ve listened to several of your younger brother Treavor’s auto-biographical audiographs. Tell me, what did you put in his cradle while he was small?”
Ah, so she doubted who they were, after all. The dumb bitch was smarter than she immediately seemed. Morgan picked up the pen and wrote her answer.
Snakes. Custis snatched the pen from Morgan’s hand with a scoff and added: Vipers.
The woman’s grin widened and she lifted her head, the firelight no longer obscuring her green eyes. “Welcome home, Lords Pendleton.”
Emily wouldn’t speak. That had been the first matter that he had to deal with. Emily. Would. Not. Speak. His mind thought up horrible things. Had they cut out her tongue? Had they injured her head and made her dumb? No matter what he called over to her, she refused to speak.
Their hands were still connected through the prison bars. Corvo’s arm had begun to ache from the awkward position of his arm, but he didn’t care. A storm raged outside, rain falling and thunder crashing and with how cold Emily’s hand felt, she could be dead for all he knew, if not for the pulse he just barely felt. That painful silence as night dragged on, only the sound of his breathing in the cellblock, it would remain in his mind forever. This, this was the worst thing that had happened, not Jessamine’s death, not his allies’ betrayal. What stood above all the rest, the worst moment of his life, was being unable to stop Emily’s pain.
The whale oil lights, for the most parts, had been put out. How easy, Corvo thought, would it be to sneak out of here in this darkness?
The moment he realized this, a knocked came at the bars. No, not the bars in from of him, but the ones high above him, the ones facing outside towards the ocean.
“Hey, anyone in there?” came a gruff voice.
“What is it?” Corvo answered just loud enough to be heard over the storm.
“Hey buddy, you the Lord Protector?” the voice asked. “Is the little empress with ya?”
Corvo blinked. “Who are you?”
“Bottle Street Gang, buddy! A guy by the name o’ Samuel came ‘round asking ol’ Slackjaw for a favor, and apparently since ya saved Slackjaw’s bum from ol’ Granny, he figured he owed ya one!” the man informed him cheerfully. “We got a few explosives. We’re gon bust ya out!”
Yes. This was very good. Corvo almost smiled. “Have you dealt with the nearby guards, or are we going to have to make a run for it?”
“Errr… we don’t like to mess with Overseers, yeeh know?” he said nervously, but then continued equally as quick. “That Samuel guy is waitin’ for ya with a boat down by the shore and e’s gonna take ya to a friend’s place where you can lay low, apparently. I don’t know much more than that. They’ve got this whole scheme put together. Anyways, I’m gonna let these babies blow. Make sure yer all the way against the opposite side when it explodes.”
The gangster stepped away and Corvo hissed over to Emily, “Curl up in a ball and cover your face.”
Her hand slipped out of his and he could assume she had done as he’d told.
Corvo heard a man outside shout, and the explosives went off, his ears ringing from the detonation as debris flew and smoke choked the cell. A beat of silence after the explosion, and an alarm sounded.
Instinct taking over, Corvo leaped out the hole made by the Bottle Street Gang’s bomb and turned back into Emily’s cell, scooping the young Empress up in his arms and cradling her against his chest as he ran for the boat they’d told him about. He didn’t particularly care what happened to these men after this, and he figured that if they’d had the sheer gall to plan this sort of prison break, they’d have an escape plan that didn’t hinge on him.
Corvo spotted Samuel’s boat almost immediately and bounded across the rocks towards the boatman, who sat waiting with a tarp for them to hide. Reaching the boat, he slid beneath the tarp with Emily.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
Samuel nodded with a little grin on his face as he started up the boat. “Lovely night for a prison break, don’t you agree, Corvo?”
He almost laughed. Corvo remembered, holding out his left hand. “Do you have a knife?”
Digging through his pockets, he pulled on out as the boat started off into the waves and sliced the rope that bound Corvo’s hands. “Better?”
“Significantly.” Corvo flexed his hand a few times, and made motions as if he wanted to Blink, making sure everything still worked. “Where are we going?”
Shifting uncomfortably, Samuel accelerated when the searchlights got a bit too close. “Well, it took some time to find someone willing to harbor the two most wanted heretics in Gristol. We found plenty actually, just couldn’t find someone whose home wasn’t regularly searched by Overseers. So, ah…” Samuel hesitated, “Lord Mace Brimsley said he wanted to meet you, outside of a formal environment, so… well, you know how it is.”
The name rang a bell. He'd helped a man by that name in the Flooded District. Rumors about them had floated around the Boyle party, as well. Word had it that they were heretics themselves.
Corvo held Emily a bit closer. She still hadn’t said a word.
Samuel must’ve noticed. “How’s the little lady doing? I haven’t seen her since she was ten.”
“Lagunov had her tortured,” Corvo told him, “She hasn’t said a word since.”
The boatman swore. “If the public only knew how the High Overseer was treating you two… there’d be riots in the streets! Everyone thinks she’s just you under house arrest, but she seems to hate you in particular, Corvo, each broadcasted speech is mostly her cursing your name and calling you the Outsider’s right hand man.”
Corvo remained silent, just as the awake Emily beside him as she stared ahead blankly.
Something beckoned him to put a hand to his chest, the second heart the beat in his jacket. He pressed a hand against the horrid, familiar flesh and Jessamine spoke to him.
“To her, nothing she could possibly say would be worth saying, but at least she feels glad to be out of that place. Take her away from here, Corvo. She needs to heal, more than anything else.”
He gave the Heart a mental vow, a promise that Emily Kaldwin would never, ever suffer from his faults, again.
i can name several other people who are guilty of "unlawful intimate association with The Outsider"
Chapter 4: they can't hold us
both rise from the darkness, the only difference is that one of them escapes into the light
Some changes have been made to the previous chapter, mostly which Boyle sister was mentioned in what situation and then that Lagunov is not the Lord Regent in chapter 3, but the biggest difference you'll notice is that each chapter now has at least one concept sketch in an appropriate spot or an illustration! I hope from chapter 4 onward to have at least two illustrations per chapter.
Timothy Brisby ran frantically between rooms. He’d dismissed the servants years ago, and things had fallen into disarray, dust covering the fine dishware, grim crusted on the crystal wine glasses. He’d been gone for so long, on his extended vacation with his beloved Waverly… ah! Waverly, Waverly, Waverly! He’d nearly forgotten.
As far as the City Watch knew, the Brisby Mansion did not have a basement, only a small boat dock. However, like at the Boyle home, there was another chamber beneath. Opened by the turn of a fake mounted hagfish, the secret room’s door clicked open.
Striding onward into the somewhat larger antechamber, he admired the sight of Waverly Boyle, her slender form laying on the bed he’d had set up for her. The room had everything necessary to live comfortably, with an extra flare of purple fabrics and drapes covering the cold, damp walls. Waverly lay on her stomach, her thin, delicate arm hanging off the side. Her eyes were locked on the little hand mirror in her hands.
It had taken about year before he’d been able to let her out of her shackles, and then another year after that for him to be able to get close to her without using force. Eventually, she began to get used to it, accepting his touch quietly and without resistance. Now, she’d even speak to him occasionally, asking him things about what happened outside. Maybe they’d be able to form a friendship eventually. Maybe someday, she’d love him.
She looked up at him, then back to the looking glass. A moment passed before she spoke. “I can hear the announcements. They’ll be coming, won’t they? The Overseers?”
Timothy hesitated. Oh, no, she’d not be attempting any escape plan, not when he’d definitely have the Abbey coming to investigate him. “Yes, darling, they likely will be,” he answered, unlocking the door to her gilded cage and closing it behind him.
He stepped lightly to her bedside, a hand reaching into his pocket and closing his hand around the cool, glass and metal tube. Brisby caressed the side of her smooth face.
Her face remained indifferent and her eyes remained on the hand mirror. “I suppose you’d like me to be quiet?” she assumed, a bit of bite in her tone.
Brisby bit his lip. That was the reason why he couldn’t trust her yet, that bite, that little bit of fight still left in her. Taking the sleep dart from his pocket, he pushed her hair aside. He almost winced at the number of little red scars where he’d done this before. Waverly didn’t even make an attempt to move or fight back at this, knowing that either way, with the condition she was in, he’d be able to overpower her, anyways.
He didn’t even get to press the needle to her skin before he heard a chime-like scrape. Her arm shot up and the glass mercilessly jammed into his throat. The empty silver hand mirror hit the stone with a resounding ring, the remaining shards clattering out onto the floor.
Waverly exhaled loudly as blood began to pour out of Timothy Brisby’s neck. She pushed him aside, letting the shocked and dying nobleman collapse to bleed out on the bed as she reached for a bread roll from that day’s untouched lunch and munched lightly. How lovely it felt to eat again without feeling like a caged animal. How lovely it felt to have fought for the food in her hands, really. She’d much rather take than have things given to her, after all.
“Good riddance, you disgusting rat waste,” Waverly hissed to her former captor and left him there, heading for the small boat dock along the Wrenhaven.
She’d never piloted a boat before, but she damned well did her best. The Estate District remained as she remembered, except a little less in shambles and a little more the splendor it was before the plague. It took a good few hours to maneuver Brisby’s little motorboat as close to the Boyle Mansion as she could.
The walk home was slow. Her legs refused to respond the way they should, muscles weakened from six painful years of captivity. Waverly stumbled and fell a few times, cursing her legs and cursing Brisby and cursing Hiram for not looking for her. What had she done to deserve this? What god, what entity decided that Lady Waverly Boyle would barely be able to stand on her feet as she returned home?
Reaching the gate to the Mansion, she rattled the chains holding the gate shut. Of course, there was a City Watch post just down the street, but she didn’t care, she just wanted home. Waverly called out to the doorman, knowing that he’d still be standing out there, just in case some urchin managed to sneak in, he’d be the last line of defense there to turn them back. When her reasonable shouts were ignored, she wailed.
That got the doorman’s attention. He came running, looking about to shoo her off or threaten to call the City Watch and have her arrested. Figured, most of the outdoor staff hadn’t even seen their faces.
“I’m Waverly Boyle, you bumbling, daft oaf!” she barked. “Let me in!”
He hastily unlocked the gate and when she stumbled to walk forward, he helped support her. She didn’t like needing assistance on her walk home. She’d dreamt of it for ages, the day she’d manage to get Brisby off guard and escape, walking confidently along the cobblestone to reach home.
Shrugging off the doorman’s help, she limped forward on her own. She’d accept help from two people, and those were her sisters.
As they reached the second gate, the doorman called for the other servants to get Lady Esma, that Lady Waverly was home. Lydia wasn’t mentioned.
Esma ran out the front doors before Waverly even managed to reach the steps. Her sister sobbed, arms wrapping around Waverly’s diminutive shoulders. “Thank the Void, Waverly, I thought I’d never see you again,” she whimpered, wiping at her eyes. “I thought I’d be lonely all my life but you’ve returned to me and I’m thankful for that…”
Waverly felt warm in her sister’s arms, a feeling she’d never admit to before, but something else chilled her, a curiosity that tainted this reunion with its looming presence. “Where’s Lydia? She didn’t run off with some man, did she?”
“No, no, she…” Esma held Waverly tighter. “Come inside. Let’s get some tea and relax by the fire.”
“Esma, where’s Lydia?” she asked again, urgent in tone.
“…They said she was a witch. They took her.”
As they approached the Brimsley manor, Lord Brimsley was getting on his boat, accompanied by none. He frowned as they docked. “I expected you hours ago, Samuel,” he said.
Samuel shrugged. “Not much we can do now. I’ve brought your guests.”
Corvo carefully lifted the tarp and stepped off the boat onto the stone outcropping. He offered a hand to Emily. She did not take it; in fact, she didn’t even seem to realize that he’d offered to help her. She looked lost in thought, a worrying concept. Emily got out on her own and stood beside him on the impromptu dock.
Brimsley started his boat’s motor. “I’ve got an important meeting to attend this evening and I’m already late,” he said, speaking mostly to Corvo. “Go inside. My wife will make sure the two of you are well hidden and well cared for.” The nobleman pushed off without so much as a goodbye and proceeded down the Wrenhaven in the direction of Dunwall Tower.
It came as no surprise that Brimsley had business at the tower. He’d gained an unprecedented amount of support and from what Corvo had seen of the man’s wits and nerve in the Flooded District, well, when Emily announced she was looking for a new Royal Spymaster, Corvo pointed her in Brimsley’s direction. Brimsley was perfect for the job and without the disdain for the poor that Burrows had, as he’d demonstrated back then. The family preferred an upper middle-class lifestyle, and remained in their home just outside the Estate District despite the boost in status.
Corvo stared out over the Wrenhaven. Surely there had to be a bigger plan here. There had to be more than just hiding in Brimsley’s house like a pair of rats. Corvo beckoned Emily to follow him, still concerned by her lack of voice.
The Brimsleys had no servants. Lady Brimsley did most of the housework herself. The house wasn’t all too large, either, nothing like the size of the Boyle Mansion. They owned a large gated-in house, a little larger than was common, but only a house nonetheless, and it had all the amenities of a townhouse. However, for all their obscurity, the interior of their home did nothing to mask their wealth. Fine carpets made with Pandyssian fibers lined the floors, and artifacts from the great continent lined the shelves. The Brimsleys weren’t adventurers; all those goods had been procured from those who were of more curious and reckless stock.
Lady Brimsley didn’t smile when she saw the two of them enter her kitchen. “That fool… I knew he was up to something that would get us killed,” she threw down a dishtowel and removed her apron. “Come on, then, we’ve got a cot in the room where we keep the good stuff,” she paused as she passed them, “If you touch anything , Corvo Attano, if anything is missing, my husband won’t be happy,” she warned him before continuing towards the stairs.
Corvo instinctively put a hand to the heart against his chest. It thudded harder than usual. It was a given that charms were somewhere in the house and Corvo didn’t expect any different. Perhaps the bone charms were the ‘good stuff’ that Lady Brimsley had referred towards, hidden away in a secret room.
Lady Brimsley made sure they were situated and went back downstairs, leaving the two of them in the musty, cobweb-filled room. Corvo had been correct. There were several bone charms in the room, and a shrine set up at the far wall.
Emily sat cross-legged on the bare cot. She still had her cape, at least, her clothes all remained intact, if not somewhat soiled from her being thrown into a cell. She adored that cape, the silk and brocade fabric added to her stature, emphasizing her superiority with its fur lining and shining gold embroidery. It had been Corvo’s gift to her on her fifteenth birthday, bought with the money he’d saved from his salary. Capes recently came into style, the Boyle sisters promenading around in frocks and capes, and he’d seen Emily gazing a little too long at some of the noblewomen’s lovely outfits. Even the men began wearing cloaks and capes, just as much as the women, and he’d seen dresses – dresses! – out among the people now that one didn’t have to worry about a rat climbing up into one’s underwear.
The young Empress wrapped herself in her cape, a welcome alternative to the threadbare sheets on the cot. Her eyes locked on the rune that sang not too far from her. When she spoke, her voice had its usual inquisitiveness, if not a little softened and hoarse. “…What’s so bad about The Outsider, anyways?” she asked. “He’s the man with the dark eyes, right?”
Corvo exhaled in relief. She hadn’t gone mute. However, her questions were troubling. These were not thoughts an empress should have, but he could not stop Emily from thinking them. What should he say to her? Should he feed her the same drivel that the Abbey spewed? He’d seen some truth in the Strictures and the Litany, but a good handful of it was rat shit. Having met The Outsider and relied heavily on his powers, Corvo would feel like a hypocrite if he even tried to recite the words of the Abbey to Emily. As far as he knew, the Abbey didn’t know The Outsider, not the ways he did.
He paused, and considered. “…The Void and its powers aren’t made to be harnessed by the common person, and when they try, it drives them insane. It’s not that the Outsider is bad; it’s that most people are too weak to use the Void. It takes one of these,” he held up his left hand, “To be able to use the powers of the Void without damaging the self,” he explained, surprised by how easy the words came.
Emily leaned forward a bit, taking a closer look at the mark. “How did you get it?”
“The Outsider decided I was interesting,” he answered.
A quiet knock came at the door and Lady Brimsley slipped in and locked the mechanism behind her. “We have a problem.”
Lagunov advanced into the meeting room, followed by two Overseers from her personal guard. They stopped at the door, while she continued towards the seat at the head of the slowly filling table, the seat usually occupied by the Empress –
Anton Sokolov pushed the seat in as she approached it. “I don’t think you sit here, High Overseer,” the Royal Physician scolded.
Her face pinched in disdain. “I sat there last meeting we had, I don’t see there being any reason for me to return to my usual seat.”
He scoffed. “That’s because everyone was too startled by you convicting the Empress and Lord Protector for heresy that everyone was too scared to call you out on your schemes. Then you go and take aggressive action without approval from the crown and taking control of the broadcast station without authorization.”
The room full of officials and dignitaries had slowly trickled to a silence as people realized the Royal Physician’s gall. Lagunov spared them all a glance, leaning back.
“What’s curious enough is that you started this malarkey before Corvo ran off with the girl. You knew he was going to run. However, what that brings to question is how they were treated. Corvo is a smart man, and if you had them under temporary house arrest while you confiscated their illegal goods, he’d wait it out, but apparently, the situation seemed so dire to him that fleeing was necessary?”
Lagunov shrunk away, her posture falling and confidence fading rapidly.
“So, as I’m sure everyone in this room is begging to know, what possessed you to become such a treasonous slug?”
What possessed her, indeed. Lagunov sighed and tugged at her gloves. “Preemptive action felt necessary to maintain order. The Outsider has his tendrils wound tight into our society-”
She was saved by a knock at the door. Exhaling hard, she turned away from Sokolov and to the door to see Lord Mace Brimsley walk softly into the room.
Lagunov put on a smile. “Spymaster! We’ve been awaiting your presence so we could get started,” she side-stepped Sokolov and went to shake Brimsley’s hand. Disgusting. She’d wash that hand later. Several times.
Brimsley offered her neither smile nor cheerful tone. “I apologize for my tardiness. I did not intend to keep you all waiting.” The Spymaster walked past her to his seat.
Realizing that she was the only one still standing, she gave one last longing glance to the Empress’s chair and settled on her usual one.
The appointed speaker – Sokolov this time, of course – began in his gruff voice. “As you all know, the method of choosing a Lord Regent has changed after the disaster with Burrows.”
There was a collective mutter of agreement. Yelena tapped her big toe inside her shoe.
“We will vote on the candidates, which are now chosen by the Empress prior to death or disappearance, those candidates were…” He pulled a pile of papers from the official envelope in front of him. His eyes barely skimmed the first one before crumpling it up and throwing it behind him, “No, no, the Lord Protector won’t do,” he growled.
Yelena drummed her fingers on the tabletop, acknowledging the glare that Brimsley gave her with a scowl.
After shuffling through the candidates in the file, Sokolov had three profiles in front of him. “All right, you’ve got three choices. You’ve got Governor Pendleton – whom I would like to remind isn’t actually a Pendleton because they’re all dead.”
Yelena didn’t bother correcting him on that, that Morgan and Custis were very much alive.
“You’ve got Royal Spymaster Mace Brimsley, and by some work of the Outsider, the Empress trusted her enough that she also nominated High Overseer Yelena Lagunov as potential Lord Regent,” he seemed ready to boil over.
Another dignitary raised an eyebrow. “What does a High Overseer know about matters of state?” he presented.
She stopped drumming her fingers. “Apparently enough that the Empress saw me fit,” Yelena shot back.
Sokolov scoffed and Lagunov made mental note to have his laboratory raided sometime that week. “Anyways, the vote,” he started. “All in favor of Governor Pendleton?” he asked.
Nothing. Not a single person. Lagunov knew that the votes would be divided between her and Brimsley, but Brimsley would almost definitely win it.
Except for the commotion she heard outside the door.
Lagunov looked Brimsley in the eyes and grinned like some crazed beast. Brimsley must’ve realized what was about to happen, because he stood and made an attempt to dismiss himself, but it was already too late. A group of Overseers burst through the door and were upon him in moments. There were no music boxes played. Lagunov had ordered no music boxes at this meeting. They knew dissonant tones had always given the High Overseer headaches due to sensitive ears, and she didn’t have any whiskey to dull the pain at the meeting.
The High Overseer folded her hands and leaned forward as one of her Overseers twisted the Spymaster’s arm behind his back. “Heresy. Not much digging needed for this one. Accounts of Outsider worship hosted by the Brimsleys were acquired from many sources. You keep quiet, Brimsley, but you don’t keep yourself in the dark, that’s for sure,” she said happily; glad to have Brimsley off the playing board. “We have a dispatch also en route to your home to recover any further proof of your heresy.”
She didn’t get to see the panic on Brimsley’s face, as Sokolov and various other officials stood in consternation, drawing her attention away. “High Overseer, that is quite enough! Your power-hungry actions are inexcusable.”
Lagunov scowled. “Neither are the blood sacrifices you do in your spare time, Sokolov, but you’ve skated by clean so far. Not for long, though.”
The natural philosopher’s eyes narrowed and he backed down.
As the Overseers took Brimsley away, Lagunov stood, her personal guard coming in from outside. “It seems as though you have no choice, now,” she said, pacing around to stand at the head of the table, pulling out the Empress’s chair.
Yelena smirked and ran a hand over the velvet coverings before easing into the plush chair. “This is my seat, now.”
Chapter 5: the sound of her voice
designs as large as yours rarely go as planned
who are you to think that yours is special?
Piero muddled around the workshop, not really doing anything productive at the moment. They’d both agreed that starting new projects during this time of upstart would be risky. That and they never knew when the Overseers would come and ransack the place. Piero knew how legitimate of a possibility that was, that the Overseers would come. They’d find Anton’s bone charms first, then after investigating, they’d find Piero’s journal full of his nightmares and they’d both be burned.
Damn Anton. The man couldn’t give up his obsessions even after that two-faced bitch had reinstated the witch-hunts. They had an entire crate in the basement full of bone charms and he still refused to dump them into the Wrenhaven. Every passing hour of inaction left them more susceptible to burning, agonizing death.
He’d dug his journal out of the boxes of things he’d never unpacked and tore out every page that told of his nightmares. Unfortunately, many of those pages also had old ideas and plans. The theme of his dreams in the damned thing continued, occurring at least once on a page of entries. Eventually, he gave up, threw the accursed thing into the fireplace, and set it ablaze.
Kicking off his boots, he settled snuggly into an armchair and let his feet warm by the fire. Thank the Void that the Month of Clans had neared its dusk and the Month of Songs was approaching. The river always gave off such a deathly chill, but the summer months would soon be upon them and with them came some reprieve from the cold.
Just as the fire began to lower, Piero heard the telltale thumps that indicated Anton’s return. He’d been prepared and ordered the maids to prepare dinner about an hour ago. Even after all these years, the staff was still unaccustomed to taking orders from him. Sokolov had insisted Piero take residence with him after the time they worked together at the Hound Pits Pub. Piero had been understandably reluctant. However, circumstances left him with nowhere else to go.
Fortunately, it had been a good choice. They’d cured the plague together. Who knew what other great things they would achieve? Piero could barely wait for the next project, the next brilliant idea that Sokolov would have that he’d arrange and refine. Together, they made the most magnificent of technology and together they would remain. An eternal partnership practically forged in the stars.
His soft peace from burning his nightmares broke when Anton burst into the room. His eyes were wide, sweat beading on his brow. “Pack your things. I’ve already dismissed the staff. We’re leaving. Tonight,” Anton huffed, pushing away from the threshold and stomping over to the workshop to pack.
Piero jolted upwards. “Does the Abbey suspect?” he asked, voice thin and worried. Thank the Void he’d already disposed of the evidence of his nightmares.
Sokolov let out a sharp, short cackle. “It’s not a matter of them suspecting; Lagunov knows, damn that woman.”
He stood and went to follow him into the workshop. “Isn’t Brimsley the Lord Regent, as planned? He should be able to overturn her, I mean, you are allies after a--”
Anton growled. “She planned a damn arrest! She had proof and had him arrested in front of the whole council. They’re likely raiding the Brimsley home as we speak.”
“What of Governor Celia Pendleton?” Piero asked shocked, “Surely there was no fault that Lagunov could’ve found in her?”
The bear of a man chuckled darkly. “Corvo didn’t finish the fucking job. Morgan and Custis managed to crawl out of whatever hole you people had them thrown into. They’re mute and disfigured, but they’re still the rightful heirs and it puts Celia’s position into question until investigations are performed.”
Speechless, Piero reeled for words. “…What about Corvo and the Empress?”
“What about them?”
“Aren’t they at the Brimsley home?! The home you say is being raided as we speak?!”
Sokolov froze. A moment passed, and he began to pace.
Anton stopped after a few lengths of the room. “I have a plan.”
Heavy thuds came at the door below. “Royal Physicians Anton Sokolov and Piero Joplin! By will of the High Overseer, you are ordered to open this door!”
“…Is that part of the plan?” Piero quipped. He hadn’t seen Sokolov this irritated before, and he lived with the man. It was proof, then, that their situation was far from optimal.
Sokolov roared and flipped the switch that activated the Arc Pylon on the lower floors just as the lights went out. “Cut off our whale oil supply, will they? Ha! The pylons aren’t fueled by the main tanks, you metal-faced hagfish!” he called out in victory before turning to Piero. “What setting do you have the pylons on?”
“I usually have them set to stun, but when we started conspiring against the High Overseer, I felt it a valid precaution to set them to incinerate,” Piero answered.
“Excellent. We won’t have to worry about anyone finding anything incriminating. Bloodstains that neither of us managed to get out of the carpets… well, they’ll just make more,” he said. “Quickly, gather your things and then we’ll head down to the motorboat before finding a nice ship to stow away on.”
Piero grabbed his bag, unperturbed by the screams of Overseers exploding on the floor below. “A ship? Tyvia, then?”
Sokolov nodded. “Until things die down, Tyvia, yes. I have a villa there. It is my homeland, after all,” he brushed off as they began to descend the stairs.
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing that villa for some time. You don’t talk about it much and although you never did speak fondly of Tyvia I think some time away from Dunwall would do us both a world of good,” he babbled as they rounded the corner to descend the stairs into the wine cellar, ducking a few times to avoid the projectile exploding pieces of Overseers. “They do realize that pylon is long-range, correct? It doesn’t matter where they enter the apartment; they’re going to get fried.”
He watched Sokolov remove a keg of whiskey from the wall and pull the lever behind. Of course they had a secret room; secret rooms were all the rage these days, especially in the homes of rich heretics like themselves. Of course Piero hadn’t known about it. Piero never learns about anything until the last minute.
The two of them proceeded downwards, towards the water of the Wrenhaven. “Secret passages, really, Anton? This is anticlimactic,” Piero judged as Sokolov opened the door at the bottom of the stairway to reveal the ledge beneath the arch of the bridge. A small boat was tethered, likely the one they’d be taking.
Sokolov stepped into the vessel and Piero stood at the side, watching Anton prepare the boat. After a long moment, Sokolov looked up at his business partner. “You getting in or not?”
“Oh. Yes, ah…”
Corvo inhaled sharply at Lady Brimsley’s words. “What sort of problem?”
She put a finger to her lips and came closer, straining to hear outside before she spoke. “Overseers,” she hissed, “I don’t care what happens to me. If they’re here, then they’ve probably already got my husband. It’s you two that matter. You need to get off the island, away from Lagunov’s reach,” she said, followed by a scoff. “How a woman that wicked rose to power, I’ll never know.”
Emily looked up at Lady Brimsley. “Wicked? She… she was never anything but kind, caring, and gentle. Understanding. I trusted her. She’s one of my trusted,” Emily confessed.
This was news to him. After the incident with Hiram Burrows, a system for selecting a new Lord Regent in the event of an Empress’s absence changed considerably. Instead of choosing the first qualified individual who rose to the spot, one had to be secretly appointed as one of the Empress’s trusted. The trusted of the Empress were supposed to be those that shared the Empress’s views, close friends, and ones that they could trust with their lives and their empire. “A person of faith?” Corvo questioned.
She rubbed her eyes. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Lady Brimsley scooted closer. “Who else is among the trusted?” she demanded. “Surely you chose someone better for the job than that floozy of a High Overseer.”
Emily looked down at her boots, hugging her knees to her chest. “Um… Spymaster Brimsley, Governor Pendleton, and Corvo are all trusted. There’s another, but she was arrested by the Abbey a few weeks ago.”
Corvo blinked. “… Lydia Boyle?”
The Empress nodded.
Mrs. Brimsley let out a short sharp laugh. “How lovely!” she exclaimed, “You placed your trust in heretics, a Pendleton, and an Overseer,” she stood and took the bone charm from the shelf, tucking it into her frock. “She’s definitely got my husband, then, that witch.”
A crash came from the lower levels of the house and Emily flinched. The Overseers had broken down the door. They likely only expected to find an old woman in the house, considering that Corvo and Emily had only escaped a few hours ago and Lagunov had no realistic way of tracking their location.
Corvo shot to his feet, and looked to Mrs. Brimsley. “Do you have any weapons?” he asked quietly as shouts began to sound downstairs. It was the bark of wolfhounds that had him nervous.
Eyes wide, she stammered a moment before she answered. “Yes, there’s an antique Pandyssian throwing axe in the cabinet just outside here.”
He exhaled in relief. “You two should retreat as far back into the room as you can. Those wolfhounds will be an issue.”
Mrs. Brimsley scowled but complied, huddling against the back wall. Emily went to do the same, but stopped and turned back to look at him.
“Be careful, Corvo,” she urged him.
He nodded in acknowledgement and exited the room, careful not to make too much sound. Overseers could be heard below, stomping around and pulling things apart and searching every nook and cranny for trinkets of whalebone or an excess of purple fabric. Corvo figured they wouldn’t be looking up too much, but they also would be ascending the stairs soon.
Corvo located the glass cabinet easily; it was the squeaky glass door that made him wince. At hearing a wolfhound’s bark, he snatched the pitch-black weapon and blinked up to the top of a tall bookcase. Thank the Outsider that the Brimsley’s home was so cluttered and kept so dark, or else he wouldn’t be able to hide so efficiently.
“This is useless,” came the muffled voice of an Overseer, “I’m going to look upstairs. It’s more likely they’ve hidden the artefacts there.”
“I’ll accompany you, brother,” said another, “We still haven’t found the Spymaster’s wife. She could be armed, considering the number of weapons we’ve found so far.”
The two began ascending the stairs, leaving the wolfhounds below with the others. “I doubt the Brimsley woman will be much of an issue. She is just a woman, after all, and a noblewoman at that.”
Corvo crouched lower in his hiding spot as they reached the top of the stairs and turned down the hallway, starting to rifle through the cabinets and display cases. Silently, he started plotting routes he’d need to take to incapacitate them.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, brother. The Empress and our glorious High Overseer are women, as well. Both are strong and righteous, however misguided our fair empress may currently be,” said the companion amicably as he examined a cabinet full of carved statuettes not too far from Corvo’s position.
Leaning to pull a discolored book from a shelf, the other scoffed. “Speaking of the High Overseer, she’s been bitching about the Lord Protector like some jealous lover. Don’t get me wrong, the man is clearly a heretic, but I’d bet a week’s earnings that she fucked him.” He dropped the book and pulled out another. “Heh, fucking strumpet.”
The second man stiffened and turned. “Overseer Sager,” he began, his voice betraying his anger, “Just because you have so recently arrived with the others from Whitecliff does not give you excuse to speak ill about our High Overseer.”
Dropping the second book, the Overseer – Sager – turned his torso to face his companion. “What?” he laughed, “Come on, Aldwyn, you’re in her inner-circle, aren’t you? One of her personal guards? You’re all such sniveling, pathetic men, kowtowing to Lagunov as if she’s your disgusting mistress. No one did that to Campbell or Martin, but then again, neither Campbell nor Martin fucked their way to their posi-”
Corvo chose that moment to drop on the man who wasn’t speaking, ancient Pandyssian war hatchet going through the other Overseer’s neck with a sickening wet sound. However, there was no following thud, only a poof as the body dissolved into ash and Corvo’s mark burned.
Overseer Sager, who had been cut off by his companion’s death, didn’t say a word, but backed up against the bookshelf. He didn’t seem like he was about to shout or run. “…Lord Protector. So you are actually guilty of your crimes,” he hissed.
“You will answer my questions,” Corvo demanded, voice strong enough even at such a low volume, “Then you will linger, and you will go downstairs and you will tell them that there was nothing upstairs.”
The man let out a short, sharp laugh. “What makes you think I’ll listen to you, heretic?”
“Help me, and you can damn well be sure there’ll be a new High Overseer before the year ends. What’s this about new Overseers from Whitecliff?”
Overseer Sager hesitated. Any expression was blocked by the man’s mask, and for a tense moment, Corvo was sure that he was going to call for help. “…We’ve been aggressive in the past. Proactively hunting witches is not something usual. However, when a High Overseer decides that usurping the Empress is necessary to do the job… The elders smelled something fishy. We rotate men from Holger’s Square and Whitecliff every so often, trades to keep people from getting too attached to one place. The men we’ve been getting from Holger’s Square have been strange. Twitchy. Despondent at worst. We got one to admit that they simply didn’t feel comfortable so far away from our glorious High Overseer. That’s not right. The elders got it in their minds that she must either be actively breaking the sixth, or some sort of witch herself.”
“Is she?” The possibility couldn’t be ignored.
“Breaking the sixth? It’s my understanding that you don’t need to ask me that.”
Fair enough. Corvo huffed. “A witch.”
“Ah. Honestly, I don’t think so. She’s a drunkard with a short temper and I’ve seen nothing to incriminate her of anything else,” the Overseer spat. “I should shoot you right now, but you probably have some dark defense against it.”
He remained silent at that remark and gripped the axe. “Can you distract the others?”
“No. No, fuck that. I’m not going to help you get away. I’m not going to alert the others to your presence, but I’m sure as hell not going to assist you otherwise. Unless… hand over the Lady Brimsley. That would be an adequate distraction, don’t you think?”
Corvo stiffened. Mrs. Brimsley had helped them. Turning her over to the Overseers… what did this man take him for? He was faced with a difficult decision. Take the risk and refuse Overseer Sager’s offer, hand over Lady Brimsley, or kill them all. The Overseer had surrendered, so killing him now would look immoral. No one was looking, and he was sure the one thing that was would get a kick out of it, but was he really going to sink that low? He had to think of Emily as well. He couldn’t trust this Overseer, no matter what he’d said. Delivering Lady Brimsley to him would only reveal her position.
‘Emily’s safety… yes, she must remain safe.’ A voice he hadn’t yet gotten used to hearing again, the Heart, spoke. ‘You cannot trust them.’
Yes, Emily’s safety was always the priority. Any sacrifice should be given to secure it. He’d spare this one. The rest downstairs were too many to attempt to take down non-lethally.
Corvo jerked his head towards the direction of the secret room. “Fine. She’s hiding in a room over there,” he said.
“I knew you’d see sense,” Overseer Sager responded and walked in the direction the Lord Protector indicated.
His eyes followed the Overseer as he passed him. Corvo’s footsteps were silent as he ran up behind Sager and choked him out. Easy, easy, hold until they stop moving, then gently to the floor…
Corvo wouldn’t need to hide Overseer Sager. He walked over to the stairs and listened carefully to the movements and chattering of the Overseers below. There were six of them at most. Simple enough.
No, there wouldn’t be anyone left to find him.
Chapter 6: harder they fall
everything will fade eventually. the world is finite and so is the tainted heart that beats in the chest of every living being. there is no such thing is forever and those that strive for it will fall to the flames
Only two illustrations this chapter, but as a bonus I added a colored version of the Lagunov concept art from chapter two. Please enjoy.
Watching, ever watching, gently influencing, from beyond he observed. They were rats; disgusting, vile rats running through sewers and biting through whatever blocked their paths.
The Outsider watched in amused silence as Corvo carved a bloody trail through Dunwall. Of course, it wasn’t as violent as it could be, not when the young Empress was at his side. Regina Brimsley, however, gave a silent thanks to her god with each fallen Overseer. The family had been dedicated and not too overzealous. He’d been surprised that the couple had survived as long as they had without killing each other over his artifacts. They had strong minds, and it reflected in their will.
They were headed for the docks; hopeful to stowaway on a freighter and leave the island. Their odds of making it there alive were good.
In the meantime, Piero and Sokolov fled Kaldwin’s Bridge by motorboat, also heading for the docks. Sokolov had enough coin with him to bribe an entire crew’s silence and then buy the ship. Typical. Bribery was never all that exciting. Money wasn’t much fun unless people were killing over it.
Of course, the two in the boat made to the docks first, successfully bribing the crew of a moderately sized ship bound for Tyvia. The ship would not depart for another hour.
The Outsider looked at his little group of sinners, his precious Corvo and the budding Empress and the devoted worshipper. It would not be enough time. They would not make it. The Overseers covered the city, and with each time Corvo took a moment to hide a body or wait for a guard to pass, the clock was ticking.
There was no outcome of this night that ended with an adventure that did not involve Corvo getting on that ship.
How the Outsider ached to see another adventure. How bored he was, how he needed to see Corvo on the run. Corvo always made the most interesting decisions, and the entire situation had been decades in the making, a project the Outsider had been working on before he ever met Corvo, before Corvo was even born, he’d been cultivating this.
It had initially been an ideal outcome for another he liked to watch, but instead it became a test for his favorite.
He would not have this end so soon.
Corvo needed the way cleared. It was done.
Peasant farmers usually had many children. Farm work could be easily divided amongst the children once they reach an age they could work. A particular farming family lived to the south, their mixed crop of wheat and pears demanded good laborers, hearty boys and energetic girls. They had eight, seven strong and healthy children, and an eighth.
The eighth child was a girl, born during the harsh Month of High Cold and barely surviving the winter. The child took sick the following year, as well, needing to be wrapped in furs and kept with her mother almost the entire time, for fear she might die of the chill. It became clear as the years passed that their latest child would not be able to work the fields. They did not allow her to leave the house often, except in the very height of summer when the cold had receded.
She remembers these days fondly. Sometimes she’d go out with her brothers as they climbed the trees and she’d catch the pears as they dropped them down to her. She caught them in a cloth so they wouldn’t bruise and then set them all gently into a basket, which her brothers would have to carry. Mother would take whatever they didn’t sell and make tarts. They’d each get one, and she’d be careful to make hers last the entire day, but no longer than that or it would turn too sour and she’d catch sick.
Oh, the smell of pears warming in the kettle, becoming a gooey filling for the dough made from oats and brown sugar. Mother, her mess of dark hair tied back as she hummed the whaling songs she’d learned from her grandfather, who had been a whaler himself. She’d cling to her mother’s apron and watch her cook.
Things looked like they were going to work out to the mother and father. They could keep their newest daughter safe, even with her illnesses. They’d be happy and they could easily compensate for a mouth to feed that couldn’t work.
Then winter came the year she turned six, the coldest they’d ever had. She took sick that year. She remembers her siblings whining about her having all the furs, why did she get all of them? Her parents’ quick snaps of “Your sister is sick! You can go without!” and spoon-feeding her broths and stews while she struggled even to breathe.
“Mother… mother I’m cold…”
“Mother I’m not hungry. Please no more…”
“I just want to sleep…”
When spring came in the Month of Harvests, the big, happy family of pear farmers and wheat growers decided that they couldn’t care for their youngest daughter. It got too cold where they lived, and they cared far too much about their daughter to let her die in the cold. They saved up their money, extra coins here and there, and put her on a ship to Serkonos with instructions to find the Oracular Order and ask them for a place to stay and work.
She missed her family so much during that voyage. It wasn’t uncommon for her to wake up with night terrors, crying for her mother and siblings. Sometimes a sailor would wake and hear her and come and comfort her, singing the whaling songs her mother sang. She’d fall asleep soundly to the feeling of the sea softly rocking the ship, the gentle waves caressing the metal vessel like a mother rocking a cradle, lulling her child to sleep. That ship was her childhood bed and the words of the sailors became her cradlesongs.
When she first stepped foot on the land of Serkonos, the land spoken of as if it was some tropical paradise where everyone was fed and no one went cold, it rained. She had spent a month on a ship, fed words of praise to the sea and the whales and part of her would miss it. The girl kicked off her little, worn boots and dipped her feet in the ocean waters one last time before asking directions to the Oracular Order.
The building she arrived at frightened her. All white stone and tall, imposing architecture that she’d never seen before. She told them who she was and why she was there but none of them listened, the women in elegant robes with hoods over their eyes didn’t care what she had to say. They scoffed and said she smelled like the sea, like the Outsider. A little witch child, what was she doing here? She told them over and over that she needed a place to stay, that she’d come by ship to work here, and eventually one listened. The one that listened told the others that this child must’ve been brought to them by the stars. The girl didn’t know what she meant, and wondered if that lady was crazy, but the others listened to her and started to look at the girl with approval.
They bathed her, washed her with soap that smelled like flowers and peaches to wash away the smell of the sea. They put her in stiff, wool clothes that would’ve been welcome back home, but in Serkonos made her sweaty and hot. They put her in classes that taught her letters, numbers, and reading. They also taught about blasphemy and they would chant the Seven Strictures each day before class. Each night, they’d be assigned a passage from the Litany to memorize and anyone who couldn’t recite it perfectly the next day got their hands slapped with a ruler, sometimes worse if they failed multiple times. When she failed the first time, she cried and was hit again for crying, the Oracle scolding her for calling the Outsider with her tears.
Only the best students continued on to the more advanced classes. They were told that only those that continued onto these classes would become Oracles. They were not told what happened to rest of them. They were taught about stars, and the girl came to understand what that Oracle who had listened to her meant. The stars determined their place in the world, and she belonged here. That made her happy, that she belonged someplace.
Around age thirteen, she began to grow more woman-like. Many of the other girls in her classes seemed envious of her figure. Some of them taunted her, saying that the Outsider must’ve made her pretty so he could have her to himself. She didn’t know what to think of that. One benefit to being in a group run by women, however, was that she wasn’t unprepared the first time she bled. They told her it was the body getting rid of the Outsider’s influence and that they were pure because of it.
As the classes progressed, they learned more about the Order itself, and about the Abbey of the Everyman. The initiation procedures, she learned, were far harsher for the men. For once, she found herself thankful to be a woman.
She fell horribly sick at age fourteen during the latter part of the Month of Songs. It was a dastardly stomach illness, and she couldn’t hold down a thing. Some of the Oracles told her she’d be fine, that she should feel ill when the Fugue Feast approached, a time so dedicated to the Outsider. However, her illness ended as the Fugue Feast began. The sympathy and mothering gazes became suspicious and uncomfortable.
She was given her robes at age fifteen during a grand ceremony that many of her classmates also attended. They were ceremoniously cleansed of all taints of the Outsider and given their blue, hooded Oracular robes. She was told stiffly that they fit her well and made her look like one of them. She spent most of the ceremony eager to go look in a mirror and see for herself. When it was over, she returned to her chambers ahead of her roommates to look.
Her eager smile faded. The robes did not give her the elegant, wise aura that the older Oracles had. She filled them out too much, her chest too developed to keep the draping look the fabric should’ve had.
She hadn’t been complimented. She’d been mocked.
Her heart sank but did not shrink. It was fine. She’d work hard and work off the fat so she could fit into her robes better. No big deal.
Their evening and nighttime duties involved watching the stars and copying star charts to sell. Official Oracular Order star charts were a necessity for sailors and the growing whaling business. Her hands became quick with a pen and she memorized the night skies, knowing the stars just as well as she knew the Litany or the Strictures.
Her daytime duties were assisting sermons in the churches, polishing the silver candelabras and replacing the candles. She would sweep between the pews before and after every sermon. Others would do the same, and they rotated duties. They rarely had free time, as restless hands became the tools of the Outsider, they kept busy with wholesome work.
Many wealthy people attended the great sermons and left large donations towards the Order. Repeatedly she was told not to make these men angry or to upset them. The other young Oracles received the same warnings.
She was sixteen when an older man lingered after the sermon and cornered her in a side room so he could try to touch her. She was appalled and shouted at him about wanton flesh but when he slapped her, she took the heavy candelabra she’d been polishing and broke his nose with it. What else was she to do? Let him taint her with the Outsider’s touch? She’d been told, do not let a man touch you, do not lie with women, or else fall to wanton flesh and to the influence of the Outsider.
He cursed at her, called her a witch, a seductress of the Outsider in the guise of a holy woman and she didn’t know why he was saying these things. She panicked. She shouted and told him to cleanse himself of these dark ways of lying tongues and wanton flesh, that there could still be salvation for him.
Her fellow Oracles heard their shouts and became frantic, demanding to know what she had done. She told them, but they did not listen. They went to the man who was accusing her of witchcraft, of heresy and cruelty and they seemed to want to listen to him. So she told them the truth, told them of his lying tongue and wanton flesh and that she defended herself from his Outsider tainted touch and eventually one of them listened.
It didn’t matter. Not to the rest of them. The man was a wealthy patron of the Order, and a few days later he demanded that the Oracle who attacked him be expelled from the Order or he would cease his patronage.
After a week or so of being confined to her quarters, the elder Oracles called her down to the council room. They told her it was a difficult decision, that they didn’t want her to leave, that she was a treasured sister to them all, but in the end, she apparently didn’t matter all that much to them.
“I hit him with a candlestick because he put his filthy hands on me and you call me a witch?” she called out, appalled and upset. “Would you not do the same? Or are you to tell me that you would sit there and let him touch you because you didn’t want to offend him and his money? What are we? Are we glorified whores?! Have you no shame?!” She told them and shouted but they didn’t listen.
This time no one listened.
The High Oracle cleared her throat and the girl shut up.
“Oracle Yelena Lagunov, on charges of violating the Sixth Stricture and inviting the Outsider into our sanctuary, you are hereby expelled from the Oracular Order.”
“They are coming for you, Yelena.”
Lagunov woke with a roar, sweaty and tangled in her bed sheets. Her curly mess of hair was out of its usual tight bun and gathered in a pair of frizzy bunches, lying against her shoulders. The wide-eyed beauty she’d known in her younger years had weathered with the years. Years of tension and fear had carved out the childhood chubbiness in her cheeks and hollowed them, her cheekbones protruding and lips beginning to thin. She was no longer the picture of youth; instead, she was a poster child for the effects of stress on aging.
Eyes unfocused, she searched frantically for the voice that had woken her, groping beneath her pillow for the pistol she kept there. “Who’s there? Show yourself, coward!” she barked, firearm in hand.
A moment later her eyes widened as she undoubtedly recognized the clouds of undulating darkness. The confidence in her eyes turned to resignation. She groaned, expressionless as she discarded the gun, letting it drop with a thump onto her nightstand. Clutching her hands over her heart, she bowed her head. “And I say to you, brothers, it is here we make our stand as a righteous force against the growing darkness,” she muttered, reciting, “It is here that we unite against the spirits of the-”
“- Of the unknown that would drag us screaming into the night, never to return to our homes, to our families?” he finished for her, amusement dripping from his voice. This was not the first time he had visited her. This would not be the last.
She sucked in a breath and did not raise her head. “I am a holy woman. I have nothing to say to you and I will not hear your words,” she declared.
Funny. Someone had said nearly the exact same thing to her once, but from the look in her eyes, she didn’t see the irony as he did. “They are coming for you,” he told her. “Corvo and the Empress will be upon you soon.”
She lifted her head, her eyes holding that fear that had been sown so many years ago. Fear that would bring about a new era.
The drawers of her nightstand flung open, cabinets in her room flinging open and the charms and runes hidden within flying out. Lagunov looked in horror, her hands immediately going to her the bone charm that found its home beneath her pillow alongside her pistol.
“A holy woman, indeed. You strive to work against me and as you flounder about hopelessly trying to cleanse the world of my influence, you strengthen it with your own obsessions. You and I both know that these artifacts are doing less harm in your hands than with anyone else. They will not see it like that.”
She held the charm tighter, pressing it against her bosom. “No… not now…”
“Corvo is coming and he will expose you. All of your sins will be laid bare.”
Lagunov clutched the charm tighter, so tight that it could bite through less calloused skin.
“They will burn you, Yelena.”
Eyes wild, she threw the charm at him with a roar of anger. It would’ve hit him had he not disappeared in a mist of darkness. The charm clattered against the door and fell to the ground just as the door opened.
“High Overseer Lagunov, are you alright?” the attending Overseer asked, pausing as he noticed the bone charm on the floor.
Quickly, Lagunov looked around the room and remembered that she didn’t actually keep any charms or runes in her bedroom. The cabinets were in order, the drawers shut firmly, the floor clear of any whale bone carvings. Thinking quick, she pointed down at the bone charm. “Dispose of that! I found it beneath my pillow. We must have an intruder. Call back the Overseers! Abandon the chase for tonight! I need my men here, not in the streets!” she barked.
The Overseer saluted. “Yes, sir!”
Somewhere outside this exchange, the Outsider smiled.
Chapter 7: climbing up
The two of them share the sea now, and soon… soon they will have more to share with each other…
Overseer Willoughby Sager woke that morning to a dry throat and a bruised neck. Middle-aged eyes opened to look up at the whale oil lights of the Abbey’s infirmary and blinked blankly. His dry lips met briefly before parting again in confusion. He coughed, pushing himself up to sit up. Will groped at the nightstand for a mug or flagon but found none. “Water…!” he gasped out.
A slight shuffling and the attending Overseer – the man wore a medical mask, so he wasn’t a Warfare Overseer – brought him a mug. Will downed it, the moisture welcome against his chapped lips and down his dry throat. He handed the empty mug back to the physician.
The infirmary was full of Overseers, most likely dead. Willoughby thanked the powers that be he didn’t know near any of these men. They were strangers to him; almost everyone at Holger’s Square was a stranger.
“It’s a good thing you’re awake, Overseer Sager,” the attendant interjected and Will’s attention shot back to him. “The High Overseer should be on her way down right now. You can give your report directly to her.”
Forgetting he wasn’t wearing his mask, Will scowled. His disdain must’ve shown, because the attendant gave him a dirty look, but otherwise didn’t say anything. He had nothing to say to the attendant, so he lay back down and focused on remembering what the hell had happened back there. He’d seen the Lord Protector perform dark arts when he killed Aldwyn… they had been about to broker an agreement when an arm had wrapped around Will’s neck and then he woke up in the infirmary. Damn… He couldn’t believe how stupid he’d been, letting Attano get the jump on him like that. The worst part was that he’d conspired with a heretic and failed. Not that he had an issue with that, but he was sure that bloody strumpet of a High Overseer would take exception to it.
It didn’t take too long for the woman to arrive. Will was surprised to see her without any sort of escort as she pulled up a chair and sat beside his bed. He needed water again. The bitch was very much a temptress in his eyes, probably in the eyes of every fucking fool in Holger’s Square. The reds of the High Overseer’s uniform accentuated her deathly paleness and despite her harsh, carved face, her hips and bosom were still damn sinful.
Make no mistake. He wasn’t like the puppies she commanded who would beg to be in her escort, beg to be the one to clean the floors she walked on, beg for her. No, he wasn’t going to stick his nose up her ass, but he’d gladly stick it a little further forward. Call him a fucking heretic, he’d rather bend her over and fuck her like a whore, the sixth be damned. He didn’t doubt that she might let him, too, if he pretended to be one of her puppies. He wasn’t so prideful that he couldn’t do that.
Lagunov stared down at him and didn’t bother beating around the bush. “Are you aware what happened to rest of your squad, Overseer Sager?” she asked, voice monotone and bored.
“Dead?” Will answered. “I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“You wouldn’t?” Lagunov cocked an eyebrow behind her spectacles.
Sager inhaled and propped himself up on his elbows. “The Lord Protector was there,” Sager began, recounting his encounter with Attano while changing enough details so it didn’t make him look like a heretic.
The High Overseer listened emotionlessly. Steely fucking bitch. “And what of Overseer Aldwyn Grey? We found no sign of his body and my first presumption is that he deserted.”
Will shook his head. “No, ma’am, Attano worked black magic and turned Overseer Grey’s body to dust.”
Lagunov blinked, staring at him wide-eyed for a second and swallowed hard. Not that Will was going to pretend he knew what that was about. She inhaled and sat back. “Well, I’ll still need a written report on this later. Be sure you get it in to your higher officer.” Lagunov paused, hands folded beneath her chin. “… You’re one of those new men from Whitecliff, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. What was she getting at?
Her eyes narrowed and Sager’s heart froze. No. No, he wouldn’t touch this woman. Uneasiness rapped at his gut while he felt a vague tugging… towards…
Will swallowed. “High Overseer, forgive me, but the Lord Protector, he said a few things and his… his magic…” He didn’t want to get himself killed. “… Ma’am, your gloves. I haven’t seen you without them.”
Lagunov blinked in apparent surprise and straightened her posture. “Do you refer to the Outsider’s Mark, Sager?” her eyes widened again and Sager figured she looked like a normal woman for a spell before the bitterness settled back in. “Are you accusing me of practicing the Outsider’s arts?” she mocked.
“Ma’am, I mean no disrespect--”
She scoffed. “The hell you don’t. All you Overseers from Whitecliff are the same. Ready to tie me to the stake and set the fire yourself. Fine,” she tugged at her fine leather gloves off by the fingers. “I have nothing to hide. You are not the first to ask. You won’t be the last.”
Sager looked down at her pale hands and saw… scars. Her left hand was marred almost completely with scar tissue, entire patches having scarred so heavily that he wouldn’t have been able to tell it was skin if it wasn’t attached to her body.
When he said nothing, Lagunov put her gloves back on. “If there are no more personal requests, Overseer Sager, I wish you good day.” She stood, took a look at the clock on the wall, and left without another word.
Esma poured a cup of tea and slid cup across the table to their guest. Waverly lounged on the opposite couch nursing a bottle of whiskey. Waverly didn’t care when their guest gave her the side-eye. “Are you sure that a lady like you deserves such trash?” the governor Celia Pendleton trilled and Waverly winced. The woman’s voice was so stupidly high-pitched.
“As sure as I am that I don’t care,” Waverly snapped.
Her sister flinched. “You’ll forgive Waverly, won’t you, Lady Pendleton?” Esma insisted, “She’s been through so much and only to come home to find her sister a witch-”
“Not a witch, Esma! Taken by the Abbey!” Waverly slurred, swinging the bottle up in protest. “She did nothing to deserve captivity, nothing ‘cause no one deserves a fucking cage…” she took a swig of her bottle only to pull it from her lips and glare at it angrily. “This one’s empty. Another!” she shouted.
A servant rushed over to replace the empty bottle, but Esma’s hand shot out. “No. I’ll not have my sister acting so lowly in front of our guest,” Esma seethed, sick of Waverly’s antics. Waverly hadn’t said a word about what happened to her when she was gone. For all Esma knew, Waverly could’ve been partying in Serkonos. Sisterly instinct told her otherwise, but for Void’s sake, Waverly’s manners had gone to the gutters.
Esma turned back to their guest, expecting the Governor to be outraged, but instead found the homely woman smiling. “No, no, I quite like the cut of Lady Waverly’s jib. Bring two bottles, I’ll have a drink, too,” Lady Pendleton requested, “And bring another tray of tarts, if you’ve got any!”
Well, that explained her weight, at least. Celia Pendleton was no waif; instead she had a rather nice body, slender where she needed to be and thick everywhere else. The woman dressed in a manner reminiscent of the late Empress Jessamine, if the empress had worn pastel colors. Her face was pinched and painted, her russet hair pulled back into a braided crown that really did nothing but make her look like a cheap whore. Oh well, those were politicians for you.
Waverly roared with laughter. “See, I knew you were the right person to ask. Tell me, Governor, what’s it like having those foul boys in the house?”
Celia’s plucked eyebrow rose. “I haven’t seen a glimpse of Morgan or Custis since their supposed returned,” she scoffed, “I can only assume the High Overseer fabricated their survival to get me out of the way. That or she’s making sure no one can get at them or that they won’t cause an incident. They were always nasty little fellows, I’m sure they still are.”
“I hear they were enslaved in their own silver mines,” Waverly commented, taking the bottle of whiskey that the maid brought and passing the second over to Celia. She snapped off the cap, downing a large gulp.
“I wouldn’t know,” Lady Pendleton quipped as she took a dainty sip from her bottle. “I don’t want anything to do with them, anyway. They nearly drove the family to ruin and I will see the Pendleton name restored, you know,” she boasted smugly, snatching up a tart.
Waverly cackled. “Damn the games of politicians. Pretentious and pointless! What we need is action, not talk.”
Esma exhaled and sat back in her chair. It was obvious that Waverly was going to make a fool of them here. What a change in their ways! Esma never thought she’d see the day when she’d be chastising Waverly on her unladylike behavior. It usually went the other way, but now… Now they’d both been through horrid ordeals. The day the Overseers came… brought about something.
‘When the Overseers come to call, know your strictures, one and all.’
Hands shaky, Esma lifted her tea and took a sip. Lydia hadn’t known her strictures. They hadn’t asked Esma, only Lydia, but if they’d asked Esma… She certainly hadn’t known them! No one knew the damn strictures in full except for the Overseers! But since that day, Esma had stopped sleeping around, she stopped having gentlemen guests, and she took to the strictures. She had to be sure that those horrible men would never come for her, that they’d never see reason to lay a hand on her.
“Time for action, Lady Boyle? My, my, are you aware what you’re saying?” Celia Pendleton cawed.
Waverly slammed down the bottle of whiskey. “I’m sick of living in fear! I’m sick of the Overseers, I’m sick of this bitch and she hasn’t even been on the throne as Regent for two days yet!” she declared, “I say we take action. Call your friends, Lady Pendleton, get masks made in the image of that thrice-damned Masked Felon.”
Lady Pendleton giggled, “My, you are drunk! A masquerade is no form of action.”
“We’re not going to have a party,” she clarified, voice low and slurred, “We’re going to riot. Take to the streets and scream at them so they can’t ignore us. I won’t stand for this, I demand my sister, I demand my lover, I demand, Lady Pendleton, I demand justice for those that have wronged me, including the damned bastard that kidnapped me that night!”
And Waverly’s words would damn them all.
Emily looked out over the sea, watching birds fly into the sunset over the luminescent waters. The cargo ship that Sokolov and Piero managed to acquire was a rickety thing, but it would get them to Tyvia provided that the skies remained clear and the waters favorable.
The crew didn’t ask many questions. Most of them saw Emily’s Tyvian white Foxhound fur cloak and immediately knew nobility, perhaps even suspecting her true identity. The logical conclusion was that they realized who Corvo was, as well, and kept good distance from him and the little empress. They kept good distance from Lady Brimsley as well, but that had nothing to do with her status. The woman barked orders like a regular sailor. Apparently, the Brimsleys had been on ships before. Perhaps they actually had gone on Pandyssian expeditions. It wasn’t Corvo’s place to ask.
They would spend many nights on that ship, and Corvo would lie in his makeshift bunk in the cargo hold and clutch his most dear and cursed possession.
‘Thank you, my dear; it pleases me to see Emily safe again, even so far from home…’
“Can you hear me, Jessamine?” he’d whisper, and Jessamine would have no answer.
However, one night when the waves wildly tossed them and lightning cracked in the sky, the Heart had something new to tell him.
‘Poor, poor errant little empress. So lost, so cold on these seas, her only friends the whisper in her dreams… they are so similar, you know, Corvo. The two of them share the sea now, and soon… soon they will have more to share with each other… No! Corvo, you must stop him! Don’t let this happen to her!’
Corvo immediately jolted up from his bed, looking over to where Emily slept nearby, his eyes widening as he realized what Jessamine meant.
“The little empress wants revenge, doesn’t she?”
“…Why would you think that?” she asked, kicking a pebble off the edge into the blue void.
“The High Overseer took your throne and would have you and your father executed for heresy if she could. She tortured you, Emily. Or don’t you remember?”
Emily flinched. “I have Corvo to fight that battle for me. Why would I need the power to summon rats? Rats are foul. What need does an empress have for your powers?”
“The powers I can bestow are not limited to ones I have given to our dear Corvo, your highness,” he informed her.
Her hand burned and she stumbled back, falling to her knees and she clutched the searing flesh to her chest, tears of pain overflowing from her eyes.
“To make things interesting, I have given you powers identical to those of another. It will be amusing to see how you decide to use yours, Lady Emily.”
Tears flowing freely from her eyes, Emily looked down at the mark on her hand, the mark glowed an eerie red when she clenched her fist. Rage and panic raced through her. She needed to clear her name, not put herself in a worse place. “Take it back!” she shouted, stomping towards the Outsider, “I don’t want it! I’m the empress and I demand you take it back!” she commanded, perched on the edge of the floating platform.
“Oh, pardon me, my lady,” The Outsider said, “I forgot that you were royalty,” He leaned down, extending a hand to her.
Puffing her chest out, Emily set her marked hand in his.
He gripped her hand tightly and wrenched her off the platform. Emily gasped as her feet met open air and groped for a handhold. She found some purchase on the platform’s edge, her tiny hands holding the edge of the rocky floating land. “You tricked me!” she gasped out, realizing that she no longer held rock, but rather cold metal.
She was gripping a steel catwalk, the metal grating she remembered seeing once a long time ago. Havelock stood over her, and his foot came down repeatedly on her fingers, until her hands slipped completely and she began to fall into the Void.
Her heart beat faster than ever as she flailed for something to hold onto when her hand balled into a fist and she shot up. She stood on the catwalk, Havelock in front of her looking down at where she’d fallen. She didn’t think very hard before she thrust out her marked hand and roared as a blast of wind sent him flying. The illusion dissolved moments later.
The Outsider clapped his hands together in a slow applause. “You’ve used the basic abilities you, Corvo, and the others all have had. Keep learning, young empress. I’ll be watching.”
And he pushed her again, and this time Emily couldn’t react in time before she lost sight of the lighthouse.
Corvo watched Emily shoot upwards out of her restless sleep and immediately curl up into a ball, cradling her hands against her chest and sobbing.
Footsteps approached and Corvo knew who it was, but didn’t react to Lady Brimsley’s interjection. “What’s all this commotion-” she cut herself off and kneeled besides Emily, placing a hand on the girl’s back. “What is it, child? What’s wrong?”
“No, don’t touch me!” Emily cried before she vanished in a low flash of red, sending Lady Brimsley stumbling back.
There was a crash further into the cargo hold and a sobbed curse that she must’ve learned from the sailors. That didn’t matter. Emily had blinked.
Emily Kaldwin was marked by the Outsider.
Chapter 8: blood on our hands
those that know call her the bride-in-red
she hates it more than anything
she does not love him as they think she does
The morning after, Emily had calmed down but once again went silent. It didn’t bother Corvo too much. She’d talk about it when she was ready. Mrs. Brimsley had spent several hours with her even after Corvo had gone up on deck and started helping the crew, but she, too, surfaced eventually.
Corvo helped clear the rats from the lower levels of the ship, a lowly job but one of the only few he was qualified for on this ship.
“Attano,” came a gruff voice.
He stopped and cursed as the rat he was pursing scurried away beneath a crate of spices. “What is it?” he asked.
Sokolov stepped forward. “It seems like everyone is getting powers from the damned Outsider these days,” he stated with a growl. “Not what I came down here to say, though.”
Corvo spotted a rat across the room and immediately clenched his fist and blinked, foot landing on the pest’s tail before it could escape. He leaned down and snapped its neck before putting it in the burlap sack they’d given him for the rats. “Then what is it you came to say?”
“There’s a storm blocking our way to Tyvia, a large one. I don’t trust this ship to get us there. We’re setting a course to Serkonos, instead. Piero and I will acquire a better ship there,” Sokolov said, unperturbed by Corvo’s display of arcane powers.
“And Emily and I?”
“That’s up to you. The two of us have been conspiring against the Abbey for about three years now, and I’m sure they know where we’re going. Keeping you and the empress safe was the prerogative and it’s possible that staying in Serkonos may be the safer option for you.”
“We’ll see,” he said, stomping on another rat.
The rat burst into a cloud of void darkness and the two men staggered back.
Emily uncurled from the darkness, her hand glowing red. “…He said they’d be different, Corvo…” she said softly.
“Different how?” he asked, not waiting for Sokolov to stop sputtering.
“That they wouldn’t be like yours,” she said, looking at the mark on her hand. “I can move to another spot in an instant, I can send out a blast of wind, and I can take control of things. You can do all that!”
Corvo’s brow furrowed. “But that’s not everything I can do. Can you stop time?”
Emily took a deep breath and squeezed her hand a few times, the mark refusing to flare. “No.”
“Can you summon rats?”
“Can you see through walls?”
She looked around, making the gesture with her hand again. “No… but there is one thing,” she held up her left hand and the mark slowly faded from her skin. “I can make it disappear.”
The thick wool frock they'd purchased for her only served to capture the heat of the Serkonian sun. Sweat dripped from her hairline as she waited at the docks, her very few possessions in a small leather bag. Yelena longed for her robes, the loose, breathable fabrics so appropriate for the tropical heat.
Unfortunately, only the sisters of the Oracular Order wore Oracular robes and she no longer was an Oracle.
Yelena stared down at the waves as they rolled over the shore, wishing she could strip down to her smallclothes and leap into the waves. She wished she'd done those years ago when she'd arrived, and maybe the Oracles would have actually declared her a witch child and drowned her.
The Oracular Council had spent a lot of time deciding what to do with her. She had no known family, no skills other than those she'd learned working for the Order. Having the ability to recite the entire Litany at Whitecliff wasn't an applicable job skill. One elder had the audacity to suggest they just put her out into the streets where she'd make her way to some unsavory establishment. Eventually, they decided that she'd be transferred to Whitecliff in Gristol, where she would be a cleaning maid for the Abbey of the Everyman. They claimed that such righteous men would not be seduced by her charms and perhaps the harsh, ordered environment would put her in shape.
She slipped off her boots and pulled off her stockings, stuffing the pantyhose into the waistband of her skirts before she ran towards the water. She didn't care anymore, she wasn't an Oracle, she didn't have any future as a holy woman, so she might as well...
Yelena bunched up her skirts and wiggled her toes in the salt water, the sand and little shells feeling foreign yet welcome on the underside of her feet. Biting her lip, she tugged held her skirts up higher and waded in deeper. She stood there a time, enjoying the cool water on her legs. A song worked its way into her head, and she remembered the whaling songs her mother used to sing. She hummed with it, swaying in the water with the waves. Oh, how mad they would be if they saw her like this! They'd proclaim, the little Tyvian whore is truly a witch! She has given herself over to the Outsider and it is such a good thing we've expelled her from our order before she could taint anyone else!
She hoped they all drowned one day.
Yelena dropped her skirts, the cheap, threadbare petticoat and skirt floating with the water. Bending down, she scooped up a rock from the sands and threw it with a roar. She did it again, and again, and again, each time more ferocious than the next until one of the rocks bit back. She dropped it with a yelp, looking down at her lacerated fingers. Blood dropped into the water and dispersed. Far beneath the droplets of blood sat the thing that had cut her. She reached down, ignoring the sting of salt in her wound, and lifted the thing from the silt.
It had markings all over it, and a metal piece bound three pale, sharp cylinders together at the center. She held it up to the light, some of the blood from her hand dripping down her arm. In a moment of realization, she dropped it.
A loud clanging brought her back. She looked back towards the docks and cursed. Gathering up her skirts, she ran back to shore, hastily put her wet, sandy feet inside her boots, and rushed back to the docks to board the ship.
The night before had been a devastating failure, such a painful defeat that she hadn’t even received a definite casualty count yet.
High Overseer Lagunov stood in the great hall, her eyes scanning the great hall, filled with every single Warfare Overseer left in Holger’s Square other than those she had working customs at the city gates. She had a sparse five-hundred men. They lost nearly a seventh of their forces the previous night between those Corvo Attano had slaughtered and the morons incinerated trying to get into Sokolov’s house on Kaldwin’s bridge, and one other group that had gone into the Flooded District. If they lost any more, Lagunov would have to get on her knees and beg for reinforcements from Whitecliff.
Reinforcements posed a risk, however, to the security of her operation. Hell, even the routine transfers and rotations were a risk. She didn’t like losing loyal men to Whitecliff, and they damn well knew it. That and each loyal Overseer sent to Whitecliff, the more likely those there were to discover what she’d done. The fools never kept their mouths shut.
She called forth each squad leader and had them give her oral reports on their progress towards cleansing the city. They each removed their masks as they spoke. One told her they had seized nearly twenty bone charms in the Estate District alone. Another said he’d killed a whole group of heretics who’d been performing a ritual near the docks.
One man removed his mask, showing just how elderly he was. He was older than she was, at very least. She recognized him as one of the men recently from Whitecliff. “My squad went into the Flooded District in pursuit of a long-time suspect, the old woman called Granny Rags,” the man began, “We didn’t get very far until she sprung a trap on us. She then proceeded to talk for five hours straight,” he shifted uncomfortably. “She had some very… interesting things to say.”
Lagunov sighed. Oh dear, it was that time of year again. “Oh?”
“About you, High Overseer. She said…”
The old woman stood over a table, knife in hand as she skinned one of his comrades. “Oh, the bride in red has sent dear old granny more friends to play with, hasn’t she? Red is such a strange color for a wedding gown, but it suits her, and he certainly doesn’t not enjoy it. Granny’s glad that our darling prince has someone else to enjoy other than us, dearie, you’re all very lucky that she’s so kind. She’s risking so much you know, trying to keep him to herself. She’ll never find granny, but now she’s going after the crow and dove. He won’t like that, no, he won’t like that at all,” the old crone stripped a piece of meat off of the corpse and dropped it to her rat swarm. “Oh, has Granny ever told you about the bride in red? She comes from Tyvia, you know, born to pear farmers. The cold of the land didn’t agree with her and so they sent her off to Serkonos to become a holy woman,” Granny cackled again, walking towards the cage. “Let granny tell you a story, and then you can run home to your lady in red and tell her granny is still here and granny knows. Granny knows what she’s done.”
The Overseer gulped. “She called you a heretic, ma’am.”
Lagunov raised an eyebrow. “But not in so few words? I’m the Outsider’s bride-in-red, correct?” she mocked, causing a wave of laughter through those gathered. They’d all heard of the old woman’s rants, and each year it was the same ridiculous thing.
This Overseer didn’t laugh. He was sweating and his eyes darted about. “High Overseer, some of what she said made a lot of sense,” he said, voice wavering.
“Such as?” she prompted.
“S-She said you were once a scullery maid at Whitecliff.”
“That’s common knowledge, Tommen!” jeered an Overseer from further into the crowd.
The man looked down. “Forgive me, I’d never heard. She told me…”
Yelena laid on hard rock. Oh, for void's sake, the bunks on the ship were uncomfortable but this... She opened her eyes to undulating blue. Carefully, she stood on shaky, ephemeral limbs and gazed in wonder at the scenery around her. She spent what felt like hours walking through the floating pear tree orchard, occasionally reaching for a Tyvian pear and munching on it. They tasted like home.
Eventually, the orchard ended and she reached the edge of the world. There was a boat. Carefully, she stepped off the precarious ledge onto the ship. "Hello?" she called out. "Is anyone here? Is this a dream?"
A chill caught her, and without warning her clothes were soaked with seawater. She gasped in outrage, looking down at her already thin pastel clothes that one could now easily see through if not for her wool frock. She shivered, hugging herself. She turned to go back into the orchard, hoping to find someplace to dry off only to find the orchard floating away in the distance.
Turning back, she found she was no longer alone. A tall stranger floated in front of her, shoulders wide, and hair and eyes black as pitch. She knew this image. His eyes...!
"I- I must leave!" she gasped, "I don't belong here!"
He tilted his head. "Everyone returns to the Void. You belong in my realm just as much as everyone else does, Yelena."
She stepped back, her heel nearly slipping from the ship. She looked down into the void, feeling dizzy from the sheer amount of nothing. Taking a deep breath, she looked back at the Outsider. "Why?"
"The sea raised you, Yelena Lagunov," he told her, "Yet you turn away from it in favor of those that shun and shame you."
"Are you to tell me that you would not do the same!?" she barked.
"For what reason would I? I've already told you. You belong to the sea."
She cried out and fell to her knees as her blood poured from the wound on her hand, the red running down and spreading through her soaked clothes, the fabric staining red. The wound began to burn, the fire spreading through her flesh until something came out the other side.
A mark, bathed in light as green as her eyes. She stared down in shock. A mark from the Outsider... she would never be safe. She would never belong anywhere. They would eat her alive at Whitecliff. "I... I can't have this! I don't want it!" Yelena exclaimed, not rising from her knees. "Take it back!"
"All that matters is how you use it, dearest Yelena," the Outsider told her.
"No! They'll burn me! Don't you see? This makes me a witch! You've killed me unless you take it back!" She shouted up at him.
The Outsider smirked. "Possibly. If you're not careful about it, your fate is exactly as you've said. However, the abilities I've given you will allow you to become one of them, to integrate with them and earn their trust... Do you want great power Yelena?" he asked her, "Don't you want revenge on the Oracles that called you a whore to your face, the man who disrespected you and made you an outcast? Do you want to exact justice on the people whom you once called friends, those that turned on you the moment the bloodstained candlestick hit the floor?”
Yelena was ready to cry. “What do you want?” she pleaded of him, standing finally to look him in the eyes.
“I want your glorious victory or your agonizing failure. Either way, you’ll return to the void eventually. And then you will be with the sea.”
And he pushed her off the side of the ship.
She drowned in waters that weren’t there.
“That was quite the wild tale, there, Overseer… Selmy, wasn’t it?” Lagunov asked, clicking her heels together.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
Lagunov raised an eyebrow, “Tell me, where’s the part where I wed and bed him, too?” she mocked, laughter popping up through the group of gathered Overseers once more. She joined them with a chuckle. “Come on, Overseer, have some respect for the classics. Did she say he was hung like a whale? Did I beg for him to take me like a whore? Drowning, though, that’s different new. I don’t think I’ve heard a rumor like that one…”
“I-I’m,” he stopped and starting laughing with the rest of them.
The High Overseer turned as if she were going to continue on, but instead took out her pistol and held it to Overseer Selmy’s head.
“I’m going to flay that fucking old hag for making me have to kill more perfectly good Overseers,” she muttered.
She pulled the trigger and the Overseer dropped to the floor. She stared down at the body in barely restrained panic. Each time this happened, there was a chance that…
She looked out among the gathered Overseers. Most of them just stared forward, glassy-eyed and unthinking. A few looked at her in fear, some even looking at their comrades in panic, only to seem them statues of indifference, as if their dear High Overseer hadn’t just killed a man.
Before the outliers could cause a commotion, she raised her left hand high and forced herself to exude her strongest power. Eyes glowed green, and everyone became calm.
Everyone but her.
She heard movement, and out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of black.
Someone was watching her.
Someone on fanfiction.net was concerned that I was marking too many people. Don't worry. These are the only two, Lagunov and Emily.
Chapter 9: step into war
the heretics no longer fear you
your crusade has already failed
The evening brought with it a quiet chaos, sounds of Overseer raids drowned by the ambient noises of Dunwall, the hum of machines and the occasional muted blare of a foghorn out over the Wrenhaven. The air smelled of dew, oil, and rot, a constant that only the plague had the ability to chase away with its scents of smoke and sickness and blood. Dunwall didn’t need a plague or Overseers to create chaos, its own natural discord more than enough for the city to sustain itself.
Killian could relax in that thrumming discord, that state of organized chaos that Daud and his Whalers neither created nor resolved, rather co-existed with and fed off of it. Their new home lacked the desperation of a city, that graceful brutality; the Serkonian countryside had no need for their usual services. A farmer had no need to hire an assassin. Fortunately, Daud still maintained some interest in Dunwall’s affairs, and so here the young Whaler was, spying on the ever-righteous High Overseer.
The Whaler quickly darted behind the white pillar. Those green eyes had so briefly met his. He needed to leave. He needed to leave immediately. Killian didn’t know the scope of her abilities, but from what he’d seen, the green mist that briefly made him lower his guard…
As the Overseers began to stir, Killian knew he had to move before he was spotted. Eyes searching for an escape, he blinked over to the side room and stumbled over to the corner where the wall and the large memorial pillars came close. Calmly as possible, he planted his feet firmly against the pillar and his back against the wall and climbed up to the corner of the ceiling.
In the bustle of the now confused and dismissed Overseers, the sound of steel-toed boots thudding softly against the stone floor nearly made him squeeze his eyes shut. The small, middle-aged High Overseer slowly and cautiously passed through the threshold; her eyes narrowed as she searched the room. A few moments passed and she stopped to reload her pistol.
Killian could feel the sweat dripping down the side of his face.
Lagunov’s eyes scanned the room once more before she returned the firearm to its holster and left the room through the opposite doorway.
That’s right, bitch, don’t look up.
He followed her, transversing up onto the chandeliers and bookcases as she went up to her quarters. The room that once had housed the equipment for the heretic’s brand had been converted into her personal rooms some time ago, but from what Killian had found, the heretic’s brand and the interrogation room had simply been moved to somewhere else in the building. He hadn’t found it yet, but he knew it had to be somewhere in the lower levels. The reasoning behind this likely lied in what had happened to Campbell, and Campbell hadn’t truly been a heretic. It was possible that Lagunov also felt safer in keeping her quarters in the High Overseer’s office, closer to her men and well-guarded.
As she retreated into her room, Killian blinked behind one of the wooden screens that flanked the office proper, but immediately found he wasn’t the only one hiding.
The mask-less Overseer slammed him against the wall, sword to the Whaler’s neck. The blade trembled and the Overseer’s dark eyes were wide with panic. “You,” he hissed, “You’re one of them Whalers, Daud’s heretics.” His trembling stilled. “… Did you see that,” he breathed, “Did you see her?”
Killian raised his hands defensively. The patrols of this floor wouldn’t be starting for a while. “Calm down,” he said. The man hadn’t fallen under Lagunov’s thrall, perhaps he hadn’t been in the room. The answer came in the form of a clean white bandages wrapped around the man’s head. He was injured.
“Bloody Strictures… what was that? What did I see? Who is she? Who I am? Am I still me or am I-”
Okay maybe not as unaffected as he thought. Killian knew how to deal with these things. Some of the younger recruits used to have breakdowns back in the day. “Calm down, start slow. What’s your name?” Killian’s voice had a lilt to it, and people said he sounded boyish. He couldn’t argue with that.
The man’s breathing started to even out. “Willoughby Sager.”
“Where are you from, Willoughby?”
“Redmoor… I’m from Redmoor…”
So they were getting somewhere. “Redmoor. Never been there. That’s pretty far north, though. How’s the weather in Redmoor, Willoughby?”
The Overseer’s trembling came to a near complete stop and he began to slump. “It’s nice. Never too hot, but never gets too cold during the winters. Stays pleasant. The women never have to bundle up too much.”
Killian blinked, but continued. “Have any family?”
“My mother, it was just my mother before I was recruited,” he answered, eyes starting to become less crazed. He sank to the floor, head between his knees. “What in the Void was that?” he breathed.
Killian kneeled to bring them level. “The High Overseer bears the Outsider’s Mark. Yelena Lagunov is one of your heretics.”
The Overseer looked up at him. “Takes one to know one, eh?” he chuckled. “Ah, rats, I’m not surprised.” He put his head in his hands.
Offering a hand, Killian stood up. “If you’d help me, it is within the best interests for Daud as well as the Abbey to see Lagunov’s reign ended.”
Willoughby let out a breath laugh, but did not say anything for quite some time. “… All right, what do you need me to do?”
“Nothing yet, I-”
The sudden blare of an alarm sent Killian into action. He clamped a hand over the Overseer’s mouth, grabbed a firm hold of his arm and transversed to the top of the chandelier. Willoughby stumbled and Killian used all his strength just to keep the concussed and confused Overseer on the light fixture.
Something glass shattered somewhere nearby and a woman swore.
“Shhh,” the Whaler hissed, muscling Willoughby further from the edge. The familiar and collective sounds of boots hitting the floor and weapons clanking echoed down the hallway and a door slammed.
Lagunov stormed out of her quarters just as a squad of fully equipped Warfare Overseers arrived at her door. Her hair was down, the alarm likely having caught her in the middle of preparing for bed. “What is it?!” she bellowed, “An intruder?!”
“No, sir,” the man at front replied, “John Clavering Boulevard is filling with masked rioters. The protesters are violent and on their way towards Holger’s Square.”
The false holy woman’s eyes widened. Lagunov looked out the window and back at the Overseer. “Do we know what they want?”
Another Overseer pulled a piece of blood-speckled paper from his pocket. “One of our men was found dead with this note on him.” Lagunov took the sheet and scanned it over with her eyes. “Among their demands is release of all prisoners in our dungeons that were arrested for heresy, the return of Emily Kaldwin, a formal apology for slander against Governor Celia Pendleton…”
Lagunov snorted. “’And High Overseer Yelena Lagunov’s resignation or her traitorous head,’” She scoffed and tossed the paper out the open window. “Put the upper levels on lockdown and form several rows of barricades at the foot of the stairs. Deliver a few prisoners to the steps, but not the important ones.” She began walking past, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a hair tie.
“Yes, sir!” The Overseers confirmed in unison.
Will still felt himself shaking in his knees, the strong, gentle arms of the slender heretic the only thing keeping him upright. Seeing her, seeing that… that person again and hearing her speak… made him want to cry. An ache in his chest pulled him towards her, off the chandelier and onto the ground where he should bow at her feet and beg forgiveness.
But the Whaler holding him provided a tether against High Overseer’s dark arts.
As Lagunov left proceeded to the main hall, the heretic teleported again and Will felt his stomach lurch. “Ey, kid,” Will rasped the moment his mouth was uncovered. “I can’t be your damned mole.”
His eyes readjusted and he discovered they were out on the window ledge. Will squeezed his eyes shut.
“Hm? Why?” the assassin asked, holding a hand out so Will wouldn’t fall.
“I can’t. It’s too strong; I’ve got nothing to hold it off.”
A moment passed and for a tense second Willoughby thought the Whaler was just going to leave him there. However, the heretic grabbed his arm and they changed places again. This time, Will fell to his knees and dry-heaved a few times. “… Fuck…” They were on top of the roof of a building with a perfect view of the front of the High Overseer’s office, the clamor of protestors slowly flooding the Square was deafening.
Will flinched when the Whaler kneeled down beside him and raised his hand suddenly, only to reach up and pull off his mask. “Damn, it’s getting sweaty,” the boy breathed.
The Overseer’s eyes widened. He had thought the heretic sounded young, but he didn’t think he’d actually be as young as he sounded. The boy had light russet hair, round cheeks, innocent blue eyes, and freckles spattered across his cheeks. Compared to Willoughby, the heretic was barely out of the cradle. “Kid. How old are you?”
The boy’s brow furrowed a moment. “Nineteen.”
This wasn’t doing much for Will’s nausea. “How long you been killing for Daud?”
His back straightened and his posture became less open. “Seven years. Since I was twelve.”
Willoughby thought nearly did throw up again. “Disgusting. Does Daud get his assassins like the Abbey gets their Overseers, then? Find the promising ones and see if they can perform?”
“I was a special case.”
“Ha! Let me guess, the old man thought your firm little ass was-”
Will didn’t even finish his sentences before a hard fist connected with his already thoroughly concussed head. Hands grabbed him by the collar of his jacket before he could tumble off the side of the building. “No. And here I thought you were more respectable than the average piece of shit the Abbey of the Everyman drops out of its ass.”
“Listen, I’m sorry, okay? I’ll stop talking shit about your heretic leader, alright?” Willoughby backpedaled like nuts, looking down at the fall behind him.
The boy threw him back further onto the roof and Will curled up, rubbing his head and trying to make the throbbing headache go away. The boy gave him a dirty look and slipped his mask back on before perching on the edge of the building to watch the show.
Will didn’t watch. He knew the High Overseer was out there, standing on the steps. He could hear her shouting and the crowd dying down. He looked up briefly. Three prisoners were lined up on the top steps, blindfolded, bound, and on their knees while the High Overseer paced behind them.
The headache made him do his best to drown out all the noise. He knew what she was going to do. She’d never give into people throwing childish fits. No, she show them what she’d do if they kept shouting and demanding…
Will felt dizzy. He was going to pass out. An arm grabbed him and his stomach lurched as they teleported, and then he did pass out.
She couldn’t have this.
Lagunov paced in her new bedroom that she shared with five other women. Currently, she was the only one occupying the room. She’d managed to dazzle the guard escorting her and the one who was the check her body for any heretic artifacts. She hadn’t been totally aware what she’d done, but his eyes had briefly turned green before going blank and then he listened to everything she told him. She didn’t know if he’d snap out of it later, she didn’t know if others would notice, she didn’t know how to deal with this.
She didn’t want to be able to control minds. She didn’t want to be able to teleport. She didn’t want to be able to do any of these things.
Yelena could not risk being found out. Each moment that passed that had her hand visible to others was another moment that could end in her fiery death.
Why not solve fire with fire?
Her eyes strayed to a whale-oil lamp. Yes. That would do. She took a bit of whale oil on her fingers, rubbed it over the back of her left hand, over that wrenched, beautiful black mark, and lit a match.
Blood splattered across the face of the next prisoner and the crowd went silent. The heretic slumped down his limp, dead body began to fall down the stairs. Overseers moved out of the way as their leader’s bloody response to the uprising left a bright red trail down the pure white stairs of the High Overseer’s Office.
“If this idiocy continues, I will personally execute every single prisoner in my dungeons, another three for every day there are riots. Eventually, I’ll put a bullet through the heads of Spymaster Brimsley and Miss Boyle. I know full aware who the ringleaders of this circus are and I will not tolerate it.” With that, she returned her pistol to its holster and motioned for the guards to execute the other two prisoners.
She would not stand for heresy in this city, no, in the world. No heretic would go unpunished. They used the Outsider’s ways for their own selfish gain, and it was the fault of heretics and the actions of heretics that made her the have to hide all these years. They must suffer the consequences of their heresy.
Vera Moray darkened the Mark with her ways, her rats, her cannibalism, her murder… Yelena would see her burn.
The assassin, Daud, darkened the Mark with his business, using the Mark to capitalize and kill for money… Yelena would see him burn.
And Corvo… Corvo could possibly be spared. But she couldn’t. She’d already gotten too deep with manipulating him. She hadn’t even laid a finger on the Empress that evening. She’d lulled them both into complete trances moments before she’d supposedly taken him in for interrogation. A majority of Corvo and Emily’s prison stay was a hallucination, a dream, an illusion.
Corvo was a good man. The Empress’s birthday had revealed that, the gentlemanly way he’d tried to avoid her advances, that night… she held nothing against him for that. In fact, it was perhaps one of the reasons she was reluctant to end him.
If Granny’s rants were true, Corvo was the closest to the Outsider out of any of them. It made Yelena want to down a bottle of whiskey, but it was true. It could have been worse. He could’ve been fascinated with Daud, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t.
She used to lie awake at night, staring at her hand and wondering why. Why me, why this? Why would the Outsider give his Mark to a woman dedicated to the Everyman? She contemplated the machinations of fate for years, she danced with the Outsider in dreams and asked him why and he’d give her no answer. It drove her mad until she came across another who bore His Mark.
An urchin. Filth. Disgusting. She’d seen the man’s actions and taken an Overseer’s sword and slain the man. She could not bear to be associated with trash, with vile people such as that.
And she’d had a realization.
She must have been given this Mark… to cleanse the world of those who darkened what it meant to bear His Mark, those to stained the beautiful sea and the Void with deeds no devote follower would ever perform.
Corvo was too kind. She needed to see. How far would she have to go to make him despise everything she stood for? To make him as vile as the rest?
She failed, she’d failed horribly. She’d fooled a good man; now he hated her and never would join her crusade. Yelena sometimes thought what it would have been like if she’d revealed herself and purposed they join causes, but she realized how selfish such a thought was. To make him bear the Mark alongside her was too cruel.
This burden was to be hers alone, and Yelena Lagunov would not stop until she was the only one who bore the Mark of the Outsider.
The concept image at the end is vaguely relevant to the story. Vaguely. Like it sort of happens? It's playing off the whole "Bride in Red" thing which isn't actually a thing it's just metaphoric Granny babble.
Also, title drop.