Thirty days now in Karnaca, and I can feel the city coming back to me: In the saloons, in the sargasso weed that washes up on the shore.
Before I left Gristol I worried I’d come back to find a rancid shadow of what it was, and that I’d have to retire deep in the countryside and never see man nor beast again. But it’s no worse than when I left it. In some places it’s cleaner. Better-kept. I can walk through the Campo Seta with my face unmasked in broad daylight, and as long as I keep my hand in my pocket, the sailors and thugs leave me alone. I’d forgotten that sometimes the best place to hide is in a crowd.
I’ve found an abandoned flat with a balcony and a kitchen all to itself, over the remains of a storefront in a seedy part of town. I can tell it was cared for in its time, prosperous, even. It’s nothing now. The thieves and looters have had their way with it. Another Serkonan creature whose glory days have come and gone. I can put in a lamp and a place to sit and some cheap linens for the bed, and make a calm existence for myself. No one will bother me here.
There’s only one thing upstairs that itches at me about this place. In the bathroom the previous owners left a white clawfoot tub, dirty on the inside but with its brass fixtures intact. It’s odd. Something that belongs in the house of a noble, not above a derelict shop. It puts me in a peculiar mood to have it, but something stops me every time I try to tear it out. I’m not sure if it’s a remembrance of things lost, or a sign of things to come.
Walked down to the canal this morning and ate breakfast while I watched the skiffs and tender boats, and for the first time I noticed they have colors here that they didn’t in Dunwall. I missed the clear blue of the water. I missed the light brown dust on my shoes, and the way the sun turns everything to gold in the afternoons. I looked in the mirror when I woke up and the color’s even coming back to my face. Good. I’m not a vain man, but in Dunwall I looked like I had one foot in the grave. Maybe I did.
It’s only now that I’ve been away from Dunwall for a month that I feel the full extent of what that city does to you. There I was paranoid, exhausted, dulled to pain and dried with salt. When I wake up here, I feel rested. I can smell and taste things again. Sometimes too much, and it makes me sick, like giving up those Cullero cigarillos, where I spent a whole spring hacking up death and thought I’d caught some Pandyssian plague. You have to sweat Gristol out of your skin. It has to unstick itself from your lungs.
Work on the flat is ongoing. I’ve patched up the floor and gotten rid of the kitchen rats. It gives me a curious pleasure to be creating something instead of destroying it, but sooner or later I’ll finish, and I’ll have to find something else to do with myself. I guess I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I could learn to play an instrument. I could write my memoirs, though it’d be a sordid story, and I’m not sure anyone would read it. It’s strange to look at the rest of my life and find an open road. It’s strange to look forward to the rest of my life at all.
Still not sure what to do about the bathtub. I think I’ll leave it. For now.
I met a man today in a cafe in the Batista Mining District, where the workers meet for espresso and silver dust gets in the floorboards. An old man, fat with a white beard and missing his left eye, who’d been to the far side of Pandyssia and lived to tell the tale. I forgot that he’s the kind of character you see in Serkonos - pickled with rum and oranges, living between the brothels and houseboats. They don’t come to Dunwall. It’s too cold, and the money’s not good enough. We talked for a while, about whales and our brushes with the underworld, and the price of gin in Gristol, until it grew dark and I headed home.
Maybe we’ll meet again. Maybe we won’t. I guess it makes no difference to me. I realize now I’ll have to learn how to walk among people like one of them, instead of moving through them like a shadow or treating them like my subordinates. Bending people to my will with the Void is one thing. Being human with them is something else. I always wondered if the bastard was laughing into his ethereal sleeve when he gave me that strange condition that gathered the Whalers years ago.
In the meantime I’ve been tempted to stick to the black markets and the gambling dens, at least until I can get more used to living in my own skin. I speak their argot better, but I think someone might recognize me. What a laugh for them. The Knife of Dunwall, with a deckhand’s tan and his sleeves rolled up.
Should I have just said “Karnaca” instead of “the south of Serkonos?” But I didn’t know that I was going to end up staying here, did I? This is the kind of foolishness the heat of passion drives people to. She’s probably in Saggunto, beating flies out of her hair.
Fifty-two days in Karnaca. If the boredom doesn’t kill me, the weather will. The sirhrocco’s come down upon the city and it’s shaking this rickety flat apart. Should find something to board up the windows, so I don’t wake up with glass on the floor.
I haven’t heard from the bastard in a long time. I don’t know why I would. If he thought it was uninteresting when the favorite of his gifted sons fell into the thankless and repetitive job of trading coin and blood, he’s not going to entertain naps on rooftops, or long soaks in the tub. The last few times I heard from him in dreams or at his makeshift shrines, he talked about “a story ending.” Not my life. Just the chapter of my life he cared about. He’d made up his mind already. He’d probably made up his mind before I was born.
Joanna told me in the months after Jessamine’s death that if I turned things over and left killing behind, I might be able to twist my fate. She meant well, and I’d been considering it before she brought it up. But she didn’t know him. Not like I did. She couldn’t guess how much he knows. I’m not going to flatter myself and say I could have tricked someone who can see everything, backwards and forwards, until the end of time. He knew the Lord Protector would spare me. He knew I’d leave Dunwall. Just like he knew I’d kill the empress, and he let me squirm on the plate while he watched.
And now he’s going to let me squirm again as I lie awake and pace the halls, through the sticky, humid nights in a house too big for just myself. One last mystery, and one I can’t control. I hope he’s satisfied.
I was born on the 13th Day of the Month of Ice, 1795, in one of (what?). Ever since I could remember I saw my mother wi
On the 13th Day of the Month of Ice, 1795, I was born
I was born on the 13th Day of the Month of Ice in 1795, in one of the back alleys of Serkonos to a woman whose name the world will never know. As a boy I remember my mother bending at tables and in her chair by the fireplace, mixing fly amanita and hookroot and Pandyssian blowfish glands into elixirs that could do anything from stun a man to stop his heart. “There are people who come into power, Daud,” she told me, “through the circumstances of their birth, and from their position they leer at us and believe we will never grow stronger than them.
But it’s through things like this,” she said, “that power can be
I was born on the 13th Day of the Month of Ice(,)
in 1795, in one of the back alleys of Serkonos to a woman whose name the world will never know. As a boy I remember her bending at tables and in her chair by the fireplace - or the porch when we lived in Cullero and (and what?) - mixing fly amanita and hookroot and Pandyssian (Serkonan?) blowfish glands into elixirs that could do anything from stun a man to stop his heart. “There are people who come into power, Daud,” she told me, “through the circumstances of their birth, and from their position they leer at us and believe we will never grow stronger than them. But it’s with things like this,” she said, “that people like us can take power for ourselves, if we are willing to step in at the right moment and remind them of the fragility of their world. (Thievery. Witchcraft. Murder, if there comes a time for it.) (Did she say that?) For these things they will fear you,” she said. But
This is ridiculous.
Made my way down to the old Clemente District around noon, to see if something was still there that I knew from years ago. An old tenement building that my mother and I had stayed in for a while - cold and flimsy, but I found myself thinking of it sometimes in Dunwall. I remembered every street to take and the names of every house on the block, but when I reached the lot where it should have been, I saw they’d torn it down. No trace of it. Just the tree that I used to climb, and a patch of dust.
I don’t know what I expected. Cities come and cities go. It’s not like they were going to hold it for me while I was gone. On my way back I passed a funeral procession for a girl no more than eight years old, and found out it’s the third this week. There’s black fever in the Batista District.
I haven’t written it down because I haven’t wanted to give it power over me, but in the past few days I’ve begun to feel death nipping at my heels again. The black fever, the places I used to live falling down, the way I moved to a new city and still seem to be casting a long shadow. Something tells me it feels cheated, like it was denied its dinner back in Dunwall, at the hands of some Overseer or the Lord Protector settling up. It’s hungry. It’s itching. It knows I got away. It knows I’m living on stolen time, and it gives me over to morbid thoughts.
I’ve heard dying in a bathtub is a gentle way to go. The water is warm and the blood flows freely, and it’s a short, soft slip into the Void. It’s the choice of women and the sick and people who want to leave a dignified corpse. I’d never do it. I can’t even kid myself that I would. There’s too much of the junkyard hound in me, always fighting to see how long he can survive. But it feels like someone should have, in the Cat, in the rising Rudshore flood. I shouldn’t still be here. Maybe this is all a dream. Maybe I’m not.
Reread the entry from the other day and disturbed myself. Shouldn’t go on like this. Need to stop thinking about death so much. The last few mornings I’ve bought hot breakfasts from the vendor down the road, and sat somewhere shady along the canal again to watch the deckhands work. I’ve decided that the sand in my feet and the abandoned shop is probably not a dream, but if it is, it’s a pleasant one.
I remember a deckhand I met in the neighborhood of the Hound Pits Pub, when I was eighteen or nineteen and still an unknown name in Dunwall. Morlish, I figured, from the sound of him, with a wicked gleam in his eye. I’d just killed an Overseer and I had that youthful itch to feel alive, so I let him have his fill of me until I got the taste of death out of my mouth. Good hands. Would have made a good Whaler. I wonder where he is now.
I wonder where a lot of people are. It’s too peaceful at night here when I try to sleep, and in the quiet my mind drifts to where the other Whalers have gone. I made as many assurances for them as I could before I left, but there’s no guaranteeing anything. Dunwall will still swallow some of them up. Galia and Rinaldo I’m sure are fine. Quinn and Rickard are probably dead. Thomas will be able to hold the rest together for a while, but eventually too many will leave, and he’ll look for work that doesn’t get him killed.
And Billie - Billie’s better off without me. Sometimes I think I was holding her back. By the time she met me I’d gotten used to vanishing into the night, to leaping between buildings. I was special. I didn’t try. Billie did the same things on the vinegar of her force of will. She was better. She deserved better. I hope she finds it somehow.
Saw someone following me last week. Thought I should lay low for a while, so I’m back to trying to make this grisly place look presentable. Got rid of some of the peeling wallpaper. Washed the upstairs windows. Swept the kitchen and cleaned the filth out of the belly of the stove. The downstairs boiler stopped working and my baths were running cold, so in two miserable days I took it apart and found a rat in the pressure control. Maybe the Undine’s engine core was good for something after all.
Going to have to do something about the bed if Jo ever comes. It’s only big enough for one person. Maybe I’ll sleep on the floor.
I feel these entries getting more and more self-indulgent, as I find the list of things I made to entertain myself running out. Either she’s coming or she isn’t. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and the Isles are going to keep living whether my bed is warm or cold. The logical thing would be to pick up killing again and make another fortune for myself, but I couldn’t go back to it, even if I wanted to. When I did it every week and it was just a job, I had stepped away from my feelings. I lived with the Whalers, but I was alone. Something about Jessamine found its way into my ribs and lit the wick of empathy I didn’t want to admit I had, and now that it’s there again, I don’t have the strength to snuff it out. I’m too warmed over. I’ve rejoined the living. All I can do is go forth.
People assumed I was able to keep killing without remorse because I was good at it, that I was a natural killer at heart. It’s not a skill. It’s an attitude. The rest is thorough training and luck. It’s easy to step out from a shadow and slit someone’s throat if you reduce them to labels. Overseer. One leg. Gold tie. You can’t do it if you think of their lovers reading their wills and drying their eyes, or that they were blameless once, squirming in their mothers’ arms.
Just heard the boiler start clinking. Still not the Mechanic of Dunwall.
I think I’m starting to put together who’s been following me, after I caught the same man eyeing me in the black market shop on Panamera Road. Watching my patterns. Keeping his distance. Leaving first to have a smoke, then looking in windows instead of straight at me. I’ve seen it all before. I let him tail me for a while, then lost him near the Siren’s Eye, and when he backed himself into an alley, I nicked his papers and left him alone.
He’s none the wiser, but I know who he is now. Ulysses Flint, 38 years old, sending letters to an employer named A. C. Beckham in Dunwall. Private investigator, apparently. Wonder who’s sniffing me out. Thomas? Possibly. Could miss me. Billie? Probably not. It could be Jo, like I’d been hoping, but I thought she’d use someone in the underworld. I’m not sure she’d go to a private detective. Maybe I don’t know her well enough.
Found something peculiar when I went back to ask the dealer if she’d seen or heard from anyone else. Some kind of cheap pulp book with a brown cover and a wrinkled spine, there on the clearance shelf, “The Passion of the Knife of Dunwall.” The poetic irony of the thing struck me too much to leave it alone, so I bought it for a few coins and picked through it over the course of a sleepless night. It spends three hundred pages presuming to know a great deal about my thoughts, and says I had an untamed lust for the empress and, feeling spurned by the Lord Protector, I cut her down. I’m not perturbed with how it knows about my taste for women with pinned-up hair. My question is how they wrote and printed a full-length book in eight months. The few shiftless weeks where I was in a fit about writing my memoirs, I’d get maybe a page before I figured it was unreadable and had to lie down. This mysterious author writes like I used to kill, whoever they are.
If this is one of the Whalers, I’ll…
[The rest of the page is blank.]
Woke up after midnight last night to a ringing in my ears. It sounded like a whale song. Something had changed. I needed to find out what.
I followed it outside the house and to the end of the street, to a building where the Guard had evicted the last squatters a week ago. Someone had returned and put up a shrine to the bastard himself, with purple drapes and bone charms, just like the ones in Dunwall. I knelt at it. I pricked my finger and left a drop of blood. I even moved the charms around like the bone seers from Pandyssia, but I heard nothing. No matter how long I waited, he didn’t respond.
I wonder why I bothered, thinking about it now. I’ve said in this same journal that I know he has nothing to say to me anymore.
Maybe I wanted to see if I still exist to him. I might even have loved him once, if the strange pull I get in my ribs sometimes is what people call “love.” What kind of a name do you give it when strange pulls in your ribs keep you up at night? Obsession? Infatuation? Childishness? Madness? What? Spent too long sticking knives in other people’s ribs to get a good read on these things. For all I know it could be a panic disease. Could be my heart giving out.
Been taking to the back rooms of pubs and trying again at the memoirs. Overheard some Gristolians in the Siren’s Eye saying that the Whalers are going to fall apart. They said the “new boss” is trying to hold them together, but they don’t have the same stealth anymore. A few have defected to the Eels or Hatters, and more are getting caught.
Felt a twinge when I heard it. Strange. It’s what I wanted all along. Every day I stay here, another piece of the Knife of Dunwall dies off.
When the sun set yesterday evening I lost my resolve. I made my way to a brothel at the end of the dockyards.
I had seen the drunks leave it in the mornings and smelled it on my nighttime walks, though until now I had never found a reason to go inside. A patchouli and rose-perfume place where the women chew habber weed in the halls, not half as expensive as the Cat. The kind I remember from when I was young. I sat in the entry with sailors and thieves and breathed the sweat and smoke for an hour, but before anyone could proposition me, I got up and left. I felt guilty. Like I’d betrayed something, though I didn’t know how, or why.
I miss the carpet burns on my knees, and the handprints on my wrists and throat. I miss rubbing surgical spirits into my back and arms. They say pain is weakness leaving the body in the Navy and the City Watch. Maybe that’s true, but I’ve learned you can sweat out contrition just as well. I could go and grit my teeth and whimper and humiliate myself, and for the next three days, I could sleep. I didn’t see Jessamine, or the Void. It was purgative, like when you’ve been poisoned and you drink the oil of a river krust. No matter how many floors I scrape here and no matter how much I spend on bath salts, I keep thinking. You’re the one who tipped the scale, Daud. It’s your fault. I don’t need the bastard sticking his bony fingers in my life anymore, if the piteous thrashing of my own brain is going to do this good a job.
I told myself I kept coming back because it was medicinal, because it’d become a habit. I haven’t been sure of that for months. There are plenty of people in this city who I could pay a coin of ten to beat me up. They don’t have her laugh. Her face. Shouldn’t think about it anymore.
[The whole page is blank, except for the date, and Daud’s scrawling on the third line:]
Yesterday I took a detour on my afternoon walk, through a set of old, narrow streets with stray dogs and laundry lines. The sun was out, and what I did last week had given me an unquiet mind. It’d been three months. I needed to consider whether I’d stay here or not.
Eventually I heard water, and I came to a courtyard, with faded paint and shuttered windows and vines creeping up the walls. I saw a woman at a fountain, her back to me, a carpetbag at her side - in a summer-weight white traveling suit, her head draped in a loose white scarf.
I knew it could be her, so I decided to play along. I asked her if she was lost. She said yes. I asked her why she’d come. She said she was looking for a man who had left her behind in Dunwall, and that he hadn’t given her good directions. She’d spent months trying to track him down. He was an underworld man, she said, and she knew he made himself hard to find. He’d been trying to disappear. She worried he was already gone.
I asked her whether there was anything she would recognize him by. She turned to face me, and said that she would know his voice anywhere. She ran across the courtyard to me and took me in her arms, then pulled one of the Cat’s silk peonies from underneath her scarf. She stuck it in my lapel. She kissed me. I let her, despite myself.
She doesn’t think much of the flat. Says it’s dingy. Expected nothing else. But she thinks she can work with it. With some paint and furniture it might come into itself. In particular, she says the storefront space on the floor below is big enough that she could open a clinic. Carry on her mother’s work. It’s the kind of joke the black-eyed bastard would tell that after twenty years of dealing death I’d take up with someone who deals in birth. I don’t need to involve myself in it, but it’s a good use of her time. This district is poor. The women need her, along with anyone else she could help.
I think I’m going to put this journal away for a while, at least until I get the itch to try writing those memoirs again. I smelled jasmine on my shirt this morning. I hear singing down the hall. Maybe in a few years the tide of history will cover all of this with dust. Maybe the orange trees will bloom in the spring. Maybe whale bones will still wash up on the shore. Maybe Emily will be a decent ruler, and maybe people will forget the Knife of Dunwall, and maybe the salt breeze will keep blowing.
Maybe I will move on.