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What Lies Between Sorrow and Longing

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Dunwall could nearly pass for beautiful, when viewed from the rooftops at night. It still stunk of burning whale oil and ripe sea air and sewer, but the moonlight filtering through the patchy clouds overhead cast shadows like the ocean upon the city, drowning it in watery patterns. It would always be a melancholic place full of filth and crawling with rats – both those who scurry on all fours and those who walk upon two, dressed in finery and flitting from party to party in drunken, blissful ignorance. Yet it still managed to draw one in; enticing in the chaos and darkness and rankness it held to its breast like winning cards in Nancy, beloved and secret. Corvo would never dare call it idyllic, or even pleasant, but it could possibly be construed as appealing, if one held one’s breath.

He took a deep breath anyway, in through his nose, and shifted on the slate roof tiles as the stench of the city settled on the back of his tongue. Even the odor and the salt air was more amenable than the stillness of the Tower at this time of night, when there was nothing to keep his restless heart from its tangents and longings. Longings for the sunlit shores of Karnaca, for Jessamine and the distance she was duty bound to keep, for his daughter who could never even call him “father” or fall laughing into his arms. He had found ways to spare himself, and midnight escapades into the city seemed by far the lesser vice when indulging in Jessamine’s occasional whiskey and tobacco habit was not a viable option.

A quiet racket in the alley below drew Corvo’s drifting attentions, and he leant over the gutter to glance down curiously, hoping to spy some entertainment; perhaps a young couple’s midnight tryst or the remnants of a drunken bar fight. Instead, a broad, bulky figure was lowering a limp-limbed noble to the pavement as a woman looked on, seemingly unperturbed when the man wiped a bloody blade on his victim’s velvet jacket.

“Does he have it on him?” the woman asked, peering around her companion’s shoulder as he rummaged in the noble’s pockets.

“It’s here,” he replied, voice like gravel ground into cobblestones. Retrieving a letter and tucking it inside his own red coat, he stood, but did not turn to face her. “Back to base. Full report by morning.”

“Master Daud,” she acknowledged with a fist over her heart.

Corvo thought she seemed discontented with the instruction, with the way her fists curled into the hem of the fine jacket that didn't quite fit her properly, as if borrowed from an elder sister. Still, considering the current circumstances, Corvo doubted such an assumption to be correct. He shifted to see around the ductwork he had used to scramble up to the roof from the fire escape, and when his boot scraped lightly on the slate tile, the man in the alley tensed, suddenly aware.

The man – Daud, apparently – turned and bared his teeth. “Go. Now.”

“Yes, sir,” she conceded, before vanishing in a flutter of shadow.

Startling so badly that he nearly put his hand through a gap in the gutter, Corvo sucked in a panicked breath as he came a fraction too close to toppling headfirst onto the pavement below. When he raised his gaze, the man in the red coat was crouched on the roof of the building across from his own, unsheathed knife dangling in his hand, misleadingly nonchalant.

“You’re a long way from home, bodyguard,” Daud said, with the casual confidence of a man who has already won a fight he had yet to have. “If you plan on alerting the Watch, you may want to get moving.”

“Who was he?”

When Corvo made no move to depart, Daud sighed, clearly disgruntled, and the moonlight made the silver-slick scar along his face look like mercury dripping down his cheek. “Doesn’t matter.”

The assassin’s frown was well practiced, and it amused Corvo despite his raised hackles, as he imagined that it is the same long suffering expression that he often wore himself when Emily disregarded her studies in favor of pranks and daydreams. He only permitted his amusement for a brief moment, as Daud shifted on his perch, a dangerous brand of frustration brewing in his unblinking gaze. It was, frankly, a wonder that he had yet to run Corvo through like a rat on a spit. His posture was loose and fighting-ready, shoulders broad and muscular arms straining against the confines of his coat. Daud would kill him in an instant, and could likely do so with only minor inconvenience, Corvo knew without thought – but he had not. Not yet, at least. Perhaps he felt the same sense of morbid fascination that kept Corvo crouched on the roofline, unmoving in the face of a notorious wanted killer; or perhaps the Royal Protector’s death would merely be troublesome if it came without the promise of coin.

“What quarrel did you have with that man?” Corvo asked with an aborted nod to the corpse in the alley below, slowing his movement when Daud’s grip tightened instinctively on his blade, same as his own.

“The quarrel was not mine,” Daud replied, and Corvo could hear his patience fraying like strands splitting in a thread.

Corvo hummed to himself simply when Daud neglected to elaborate, the assassin’s scarred face neutral save the aborted twitch of what might have been a snarl of disapproval. Frowning down at the pavement once more, Corvo debated alerting the City Watch, but current circumstance was too damning for his own good, and he quickly abandoned the notion. Should the Royal Protector of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, First of Her Name, be found skulking around on rooftops in the middle of the night in the accidental company of a wanted heretical assassin who would surely use whatever mystical gift he possessed to vanish like smoke, the situation would raise more questions than he was prepared to answer. Resigning to the absurdity of coincidence, Corvo studied Daud once more, who had inexplicably remained unmoved in the long moments since he last spoke.

There was something primal in Daud’s presence, something that made one’s stomach churn and hair stand on end in frightful awe, like standing beneath the belly of a trussed up leviathan on a whaling ship. It resonated in Corvo as well, as something outside of prey looking its killer in the face.

Corvo met Daud’s steely gaze. “You’re a witch?”

“No.”

“Are you certain?”

Daud snorted at that, and Corvo ventured that to be as close to expressing amusement as he ever came. “More certain than you.”

Several long moments passed in awkward, creaky silence while Corvo filtered through the myriad questions that rattled behind his schooled expression, debating which would be least likely have him end up with a heretic’s sword in his throat. But the stillness of the night was broken by a harsh gust of wind that tore between the crowded buildings, howling like some Pandyssian beast. The mottled shadows of the clouds creeping overhead plunged Corvo into isolated darkness that struck with a brutal chill. He squinted against the momentary gale, wrinkling his nose to the stench of whale oil refineries and vomit and salt, the ocean air not sweet like he remembered of Karnaca.

His distraction was sliced short by Daud’s voice, prominent and coarse and not hindered by any distance between them. Corvo glanced up at the man towering over him, red coat caught in the wind, and his pulse throbbed in his throat, wariness flooding his body like adrenaline despite his carefully neutral stare.

“Go back to your Tower, Royal Protector, before this city eats you alive,” Daud grated, looking derisively down at Corvo.

And before any coherent thought could pass from Corvo’s brain to his lips, the assassin was gone in a rush of peeling shadows. Rising to his feet with a reprehensible lack of grace, Corvo gazed out across the rooftops in search of a flutter of crimson in the dark, seeing nothing but chimneys spouting smoke into the stillness of the night. With the rush of astonishment still singing in his veins, like the dizzy headiness of white tobacco inhaled too sharply, a guttural farce of a laugh punched out of his belly, harsh and unpracticed.

Daud was by far the most interesting security threat he had yet had the misfortune of encountering, and Corvo was loathe to say that he nearly enjoyed the man’s crass brutality, for he knew that it lie dormant within his own self as well. It was a trait he passed to Emily, in one way or another, as she shared his instinctual knack for fighting and for all things morbidly fascinating; and Corvo could not help but think that if given the chance, Emily would adore Daud. In his presence she would feel the same wretched stirring in her belly that her father could feel now, writhing like eels in a bucket, wanting for a fight with a persistence that he had not felt since the Blade Verbena. It was the sickening combination of fear and awe and primitive instinct that made one swing at shadows in the dark, fighting an enemy beyond comprehension. He allowed himself to savor the old familiarity of it for a moment, before schooling himself back into his usual cold discipline. The Royal Protector was boasted as the most skilled fighter in the Isles, after all, though suddenly Corvo felt as if that title had been challenged, not with violence, but with an even more telling lack thereof.

Daud – the Knife of Dunwall, the heretic, Corvo gathered from the wildly inaccurate wanted posters pasted like wallpaper all over the city – was dangerous. It was a great benefit that Corvo now had an accurate face to put to the name, as scarred and dangerously stately as it was, and he decided that it would be pertinent to keep a close watch on him. A very close watch.

Armed with a new directive, Corvo swung down onto the fire escape, starting once more back to the heartless, stony edifice of Dunwall Tower.

The Watch guards at the gates saluted lazily as he passed through the first checkpoint unhindered, his back brutally straight and long stride full of purpose. It was an innocent deception that kept their questions at bay, even if Corvo knew well of the whispers they shared about him in the locker rooms over irredeemably bitter cups of coffee. Attano was out again last night; you think he’s grown bored of giving it to the Empress? one would ask, too eager. Void, no. If anything she’s tired of having some dark-skinned savage between her legs and finally put him in his place, another would reply. His place should be in a gutter somewhere. The Empress deserves a proper Gristolian man at her side, a third would chime in as he proudly puffed his chest. Or at her back, someone else would growl suggestively, drawing loud guffaws and jeers from his companions.

Corvo never needed to hear any more, he knew what was said in parlors over tea as often as in back alleys, passed between friends like the last cigar. Years ago it was hurtful and riled him in defense of Jessamine’s honor, but his Empress was made of tougher stuff than himself, and she had quickly put an end to his snarling indignation. It merely took one snide comment from a noble in Parliament early in her reign to prove that she was forged of steel, and Corvo quickly ceased to feel insulted on her behalf. There were still times when it wore her thin and she sought comfort in his whispered offers of violence against her abusers – silken, murderous words pressed into her hair, against her skin, falling from his lips like whale song with the promise of depravity. Jessamine never accepted, even if the offer riled her to drag her nails along his scalp and sink her teeth into his lip and dig her heels into his back. It was the only violence she could manage, but it was enough to set her free if only for a little while, even if it left her mortified and appalled with herself in the morning.

The thought of her mettle was often the only thing that kept him from snarling at the smirks that were shared as he passed; like the pointed glances the guards now bored into his back, his footsteps light but steady on the carpeted floor. Corvo wandered past Emily’s room on the way to his own and found it quiet, though he couldn't resist the urge to duck inside.

The governess seated in the corner glanced up from the book in her lap, offering a soft greeting. He nodded in response, taking quiet steps to Emily’s bedside and admiring her sleeping form with a gentle exasperation that he never would have fathomed he would have the chance to know. Sprawled in the center of the bed with her mouth hanging open, she had managed to kick her blankets off in her sleep, and he tugged the wayward linens back up to her chin. Emily snorted in half-hearted protest and flopped gracelessly onto her side, and Corvo sighed as he turned to leave.

“The princess was persistent that we read before bed and asked for you, but she was asleep as soon as she touched the pillow,” the governess offered in a conspiratorial whisper, halting his escape. “We never even made it so far as choosing a story.”

Corvo shook his head in wry amusement, musing that he never had minded that the governesses entertained scandalous theories regarding Emily’s parentage behind the backs of himself and Jessamine. It made them lenient when his mask of professional concern for Emily lost enough of its opacity for his fatherly worry to shine through. They never seemed to mind, sometimes treating him like some poor thing to be coddled, even if they would never show such tenderness to Emily. Corvo assumed that it was simply the curse of the governess to be nervous in nature, contradictory, and overbearing.

“Good night,” he offered in lieu of a reply, slipping out the door and into the hall.

The crack beneath Jessamine’s bedroom door was dark, but flickering light shone tellingly from underneath the door of her office, and Corvo knocked softly in a distinctive rhythm. Her beckoning answer was nearly instantaneous, and her smile was weary when he granted himself entrance.

“Corvo,” she hummed as he leant over the back of her chair, pressing his cheek against hers sweetly. “Have you been out?”

There was faint teasing accusation in the question, so Corvo chose to ignore it. “What are you working on?”

“Documents. Regarding the plague.”

“Nasty business.”

“Undoubtedly.”

They fell into an easy silence, swaying together as Jessamine perused a stack of reports, the quiet familiar and unburdened. Their relationship had changed in recent years, the heat and passion smothered by duty and the invisible strain it imposed upon their shared parenthood. While their bond was still strong, the love still ever-present and tangible, it manifested now in friendship, a companionship not physical, but dire in the absence of anything else. Perhaps they were closer now, with Emily between them, even with the rigor of youth and desire long faded.

“You seem pleased with yourself,” Jessamine broke the quiet, setting her pen aside. “What trouble have you caused?”

“Trouble?”

Jessamine pursed her lips and leant to study him over her shoulder, and Corvo did his utmost to look passive and unassuming, his Royal Protector's blank façade sliding seamlessly into place. There must have been something in his gaze that she could still pick out from his pretending, because she sighed and rubbed at her tired eyes with one finger, lightly smudging her makeup.

“Corvo, my dear, you have reeked of smugness since you walked through that door.”

At his dissatisfied frown, she waved him over to one of the plush chairs on the opposite side of her absurdly expansive desk. Conceding to sit, Corvo still squirmed uncomfortably until he was perched on the very edge of the seat, close enough to rest his elbows on the desktop. Excessive comfort had never ceased to sit ill in his belly, especially given the tendency of his peers to languish in the spoils of the Empress's favor. Corvo had always felt that comfort bred complacency that allowed for trouble, and when his sole purpose for living was preserving the life of the Empress of the Isles, he would rather endure discomfort than allow any such trouble to befall Jessamine.

“Tell me,” she said, offering her hand. He took it gently and they both pretended that her words were not an order, but he had never been capable of refusing her anything, and so he sighed and hung his head, resting his cheek against his bicep.

“I met someone interesting tonight, while I was… on patrol.”

Jessamine pursed her lips at him, but allowed the lie. “Someone interesting? A good sort of interesting or a bad sort of interesting?”

“Both? I think?”

“Oh?” her voice lilted curiously, a hint of suggestiveness in the arch of her brow. “Well you know, Corvo, it's what, 25 Seeds? There’s only three months until Fugue.”

“Void, Jess,” he huffed. “No, no. You know I wouldn't—”

“Corvo,” she interrupted gently, slender fingers tapping against the callouses on his palm, counting out a rhythm only she knew. Her smile was pitying, and it made Corvo’s stomach churn.

“Jess.”

“Twenty years you’ve been in Dunwall, and you’ve not had one friend aside from me. You haven’t even tried, my love,” she reminded him, patting at the back of his hand. “You’ve shut yourself away inside the Tower and sold yourself to duty; you’ve convinced yourself that’s all you need. I know that’s why you disappear in the dead of night. You’re looking for something and you don’t even realize what it is.”

Corvo groaned, leaning back in his chair and pulling his hand free to rub at the stubble along his jaw. Jessamine’s gaze was forceful and pointed on the side of his face, and he rocked his head back against the chair, studying the ceiling in avoidance of the accusation he knew was true. He was stubbornly silent for a long while, until eventually her patience wore thin.

“Tell me,” Jessamine suggested again, and when Corvo dropped his gaze she was smiling at him softly, dark hair removed from its severe twist and spilling over her shoulder.

Groaning, he sat up to straighten his shoulders and pointedly ignored her pleased smirk.

“I was on a rooftop in the Distillery District, watching Bottle Street—,” he began.

“Bottle Street, again?” Jessamine tutted. “One day some thug will see you and knock you right down onto someone’s balcony.”

“Jess,” Corvo warned before continuing, her impatient frown scarcely affecting his pace. “There was a man pulling his knife from a noble’s chest, and a woman looking on. A subordinate of his, I’d wager.”

Jessamine’s eyes had gone wide with horrified astonishment, and her voice dropped low and serious when she next spoke. “An assassination? Who was the victim?”

“I do not know. They stole a letter from his coat.”

“Who was the killer?”

“Daud.”

“The Knife of Dunwall,” she breathed. Daud was an urban legend in his own right, he and his Whalers the sort of ghost story told to keep children on their best behavior, despite the tangible carnage strewn haplessly in his wake. It was not uncommon for the name of the Knife to be whispered like a curse; and he might as well have been one, given the way it tumbled like a gasp from the Empress’s lips. “Did you see his face? The Watch has been hoping for a proper description to put on the wanted posters for years, yet no one has seen him plain; nor the faces of his heretic mob, for that matter.”

“I did see. We spoke, though but briefly.”

The breath that Jessamine sucked through her teeth bode for a scolding, and Corvo loosened his shoulders in apparent nonchalance.

“Corvo, you foolish man, you confronted him?”

“Not intentionally, I assure you,” he grumbled in reply, averting his gaze in embarrassment. “He could have killed me if he wanted to, with those Void powers of his, could have nudged me right off that roof. But he didn’t, Jess.”

“Perhaps. But what if you’ve made yourself a target?” she pleaded, leaning across the desk to grasp his hands once more. “He may yet come for you.”

“And I will defend you to my last.”

“It’s not me that I’m concerned about, Corvo!”

Corvo shrank into his silence, rattled by her outburst and the weary sigh she pulled from her bones. Truthfully, he had not considered his own wellbeing in years, only that of his charges, of Emily and his beloved Empress. He attempted to muse on the thought, but it felt ill-fitted like overlarge shoes or gloves cut too small, and so he dismissed it with a startling urgency while attempting his best to appear properly scolded.

Still, Daud had not set his blade to Corvo’s flesh, and Corvo felt that perhaps there was something there to be exploited, some modicum of indifference that would keep the Knife at bay. It was utterly impossible for a man like Daud to not have intelligence on every gang and wayward noble, every foreigner and highwayman in Dunwall; it was intelligence that Corvo himself could use, given the Spymaster’s propensity for secrecy even within the ranks of the Empress’s most trusted advisors. Ignorance would not permit Corvo to keep Jessamine safe, and Burrow’s derision for low-born Serkonans in positions of prominence would not allow that snake of a man to acknowledge such an oversight. Daud could be useful, and Corvo told Jessamine as much, though he neglected to mention the tingle of morbid enjoyment he felt in the man’s company.

“Considering his occupation, he’s likely one of the most well informed men in Dunwall. The potential in such an alliance is incredible.”

The Empress sighed, heavy and conceding, and met his gaze. “Just be careful, Corvo. Men like that are volatile, and if the rumors are true an army of shadows kills at his behest.”

“On my honor. Though I admit that ‘volatile’ does not seem fitting,” Corvo grinned mildly, immensely pleased with himself, and Jessamine narrowed her gaze in suspicion.

Leaning forward once more, she searched his face for something with the determination of a wolfhound on the scent.

“Tell me.”

*****

Daud managed to make an obscene racket as he returned to his quarters, his boots heavy and clanging against the scaffolds that teetered over the Flooded District. He could see Billie slinking about in his office awaiting his return, and he nearly groaned at the sight of her there, inescapable. Thomas was by her side, leaning against a low bookshelf and glaring absently at nothing – his presence a blessing from the Outsider if he ever deigned to bestow one – as Daud clambered in through the window with practiced ease.

“Sir,” Thomas said, straightening and nodding brusquely.

Daud grunted dismissively in response as he shed his gear in clattering flurry of overzealous distaste, blades and bullets rolling asunder as they struck the battered floor. His typically foul mood was more bitter than usual, and he could not bear to tolerate any catalysts to worsening it. Not after the Royal Protector’s unnerving, quiet defiance.

“Get out.”

“It seems Galia was successful. Looks like Hampton’s little wife will be sitting pretty now that the cheating bastard is gone,” Billie interjected, unmoving as she folded her arms over her chest. “Shame about the witness.”

“What?” Thomas choked, blue eyes wide with concern. “Master Daud… I’ll see to it, if you wish. Give the order, sir.”

“You wouldn’t stand a chance against him, boy,” Daud snapped as his fist bore down on the top of his cluttered desk. “Even unmarked, he’s out of your league.”

Thomas shrank a bit at the blatant criticism, unfair as it may have been, but his spine remained as unerringly rigid as ever. If he had not had the misfortune of falling into the Whalers’ ranks, Daud thought absently, Thomas would have made a spectacular soldier, an officer, even. Ribbons and medals upon his breast would have suited him more than oiled leather and glassy-eyed masks and murder for profit, though his talent for death was greater than most his age. Daud nearly felt a flicker of remorse for the dejection painted across the young man’s face, but he quashed the sensation like a rat in a pantry.

“Who?” Billie asked, and the shift in topic allowed a bit of the scarlet embarrassment drip out of Thomas’s cheeks.

Rubbing at his brow, Daud leaned against his desk. “The Royal Protector. Sitting up on a damn rooftop.”

“Oh,” Thomas breathed unhelpfully.

Daud could feel Billie’s searching gaze heavy against the side of his face, scrutinizing and plucking away little bits of his patience as pills from wool. It was apparent that whatever she saw there was disappointing, at best, and she sighed before speaking once more.

“You could have killed him yourself, Daud. Having the Royal Protector gone would make our lives much easier when we take that job. If he's as impressive as you seem to think he is, it’ll be easier to get to the Empress with him out of the way.”

“I haven't accepted anything yet, Lurk,” he growled in reply, eyes going narrow in frustration.

Lifting one shoulder dismissively, Billie watched him with the sort of gaze that made one’s spine tingle when there was a dark doorway at one’s back. Daud struggled to ignore her as he shuffled through papers on his desk, looking for the evening’s missive from Rulfio on the progress of Sokolov’s latest security prototypes, before deciding to get whatever it was Lurk wanted with him over and through.

“Thomas, you’re dismissed,” Daud said on the tail end of a sigh, frowning when the young man straightened at being addressed. “I have an assignment for you tomorrow. See me after morning patrols.”

“Yes, sir,” Thomas nodded, apparently pleased that he was no longer the target of Daud’s derision. His gaze lingered for a long moment, studying something in the weary planes of Daud’s scarred face before bowing with a crisp salute. “Goodnight, Master.”

Grunting and waving a dismissive hand, Daud turned to Billie as soon as Thomas had vanished in a billow of the Void. “Spit it out, Lurk.”

“It’s not like you to spare a witness, Daud, let alone not notice one hovering right above your head, regardless of who it might be,” she began, cocking one hip to the side as she forged bluntly onward like a blood ox in a stampede. “You may have some purpose, but from where I stand, leaving the only man on this bloody rock capable of posing a threat to us alive when he practically dropped into your lap is just foolish. Though, as always, I defer to your judgement.”

She finished grandly, voice dripping with the type of pointed, challenging insubordination that Daud typically valued in her as his second in command, but now it merely left him gritting his teeth until his jaw creaked ominously. Billie had grown more brazenly oppositional in recent months, in small increments between broad bouts of stoic acceptance of his every order. It flagged something suspicious in the back of his mind that he quashed violently, chalking her fickleness up to testing the limits of her power as his most trusted agent and nothing more.

“Tell me, Lurk,” he replied, voice harsher than intended but sufficient to make her straighten her spine on instinct. “If we were to accept a commission to, say, murder an Empress, would it not be more foolish to disregard the opportunity to wring information from that same Empress’s bodyguard?”

Billie shrugged one shoulder again, feigning indifference, but Daud could tell from the taut line of her shoulders that she had understood him perfectly well. It was not often that he would mince words and languish in excessive discussion, but occasionally it was immensely satisfying to turn the tables on those who would. The novices thought they knew him, thought he was predictable the same as Billie did. Yet he was in his position for a reason, had held Dunwall hostage under the heel of his boot for years, and any who would forget would be reminded with a reprimand at best and a knife to the neck at worst.

“If you plan on wearing that color,” Daud gestured at her crimson coat, sneering, “then you had damn well start thinking and earn it. Now get out of my office.”

“As you wish, sir,” Billie replied with less insolence than before but with a healthy new helping of bitterness, vanishing after a weak salute.

Alone, Daud groaned and slumped back in his chair, rubbing his gloved hands over his face as the weight of silence threatened to drag him through the floorboards and into the murky waters of Rudshore below. Perhaps electing to spare the Royal Protector was foolish, especially considering that he had done so with the end of requiring himself to actually spend time with the man, to seek him out. He would not be too difficult to find, as reports had come from Aedan, Quinn, and Vladko that the Royal Protector had been seen skulking around various districts during the underbelly of the night. What drew him out of the safety of the Tower and away from the Empress’s side Daud had yet to reconcile, but it was a fortunate coincidence that they had stumbled upon each other. And stumbled they had, as the Royal Protector looked about as stunned by the oversight as Daud had felt, at least judging from what little he could decipher from the little fractures in his carefully crafted stoicism.

Still, there was a curious glimmer in those whiskey warm eyes of his, a promise of violence and a quiet confidence that reminded Daud of teenage back alley brawls in Batista, from when he cut his knuckles on teeth and had yet held no assassin’s blade. It was remarkable and infuriating that the Royal Protector did not so much as flinch when faced with the Knife, holding his gaze like a challenge that sat low in Daud’s gut. He had grown weary in recent years, but the Royal Protector’s defiance had woken him somehow, rattling something loose in his placidly complacent head. He would be trouble, and Daud knew it even as he dug his own grave out from under his feet.

Corvo Attano.

Damn him to the Void.

Chapter Text

 

            Three nights later, Daud awoke in the Void after less than an hour of meager, restless sleep. His limbs were heavy, and his joints were stiff, and the eerie pressure in his ears that so often accompanied his submersion in the vast, watery nothingness made him stretch his jaw on instinct, hoping for a bit of crackling relief.

            “Damn it,” he grumbled and swung his feet over the edge of his bed, which dangled at present out the absent wall of the Chamber of Commerce, held aloft only by the Void’s absence of logic and the good grace of the Outsider himself.

            The deity being conspicuously absent, Daud stepped barefoot out into the Void, flitting from obsidian stone to obsidian stone, following the path the god had laid out for him. A whale drifted just above his head as he stopped to let his energy replenish, groaning out a mournful lullaby in its isolation, and Daud scarcely resisted the urge to drag his fingers along its exposed ivory belly. They had never come so close before, having always hovered just beyond reach in a taunting gesture too reminiscent of the Outsider to be something as meager as suspicion or instinct. Why the change was imparted now was a mystery, or perhaps a shadow of foreboding, and Daud found he had neither the inclination nor patience for either. Not now. Not after nearly five years of the Outsider’s indifference beyond the sanctity of his shrines.

            Moving forward, a large island of stone broke the monotony of those that trailed behind him, and Daud studied the scene that had been arranged upon it for his scrutiny. Two figures sat on either side of a large desk littered with papers, their hands clasped in the middle in a gesture of tender familiarity. The woman’s fingers were pale and slight against the man’s broad palm – Corvo Attano’s broad palm, Daud realized with a frown of bafflement – and she wore a smile tinted with familiar exasperation and the heavy sort of weariness that should have been too great for her slender shoulders. Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, he concluded, looked far younger when her finery was disheveled and her hair fell loose from its severe twists, spilling over her shoulders in great waves like those that kissed along the beaches of Serkonos, dark and tender. She was human, for the instant that she lay ensconced in the Outsider’s cruel illusion, not just a face on a poster pasted across the walls of the Empire. It had never occurred to Daud that she may be anything else.

            Unable to resist the curiosity that bubbled in his gut like a hot pang of irritation, Daud stepped around the Empress’s high-backed chair, studying the papers on the desktop. It was far more disorganized than he would have expected, with leaning stacks of folios nearly slithering to the floor and random missives laid out in no comprehensible order. Something told him that it was not merely the chaos of the Void that made it so; perhaps it was the coy grin on the Empress’s youthfully crinkled face or the careless smudge of kohl by her eye.

            Daud frowned. It was easier to think of potential targets as sleazy coin mongers and wife beaters, as high-browed politicos with too much ego to stuff in a fifty-gallon barrel. Burrows had painted a convincing image of the Empress as such: sniveling and weak willed, dragging Dunwall into the gutter. Not that Daud particularly cared for the opinions of his buyers nor considered the humanity of those finished on his blade, since his was such a cyclical industry. Targets were targets, and coin was coin. Those who hired him were sure to taste their own medicine by his hands soon enough, and he was an uncaring physician.

            Being as he was a thorough snoop, if nothing else, Daud picked up a loose leaf of paper with the imperial seal stamped in the corner which detailed the growing troubles of the rat plague upon Dunwall, as written by some aristocrat who had scarcely suffered its evils at all. Those in their sheltered mansions knew little of the plague aside from the suffering they saw in the streets and shunned like the Outsider. Two of his novices, not yet fifteen, had already been lost to the rat disease. It would have been a long cruel death, and Daud deluded himself that the poison he had put in each of their elixirs had been the far gentler fate. They had begged him for release, clutching at his sleeves with too-thin, spidery hands. He had tried to be gentle, patting at their cheeks and speaking softly and wiping away tears already tinged pink with blood, but only so much gentleness could come from a man whose entire self was built around the lives he had taken. And these were just two more.

            Thomas had been livid when he had learned the truth, his stoicism fracturing into hurt and betrayal that shone salty around the rims of his too young, too blue eyes. It was easy to ignore Thomas’s age – as he was barely a month into his twenty second year – in the face of his brutal professionalism and distance on the job, but the Whalers were his weakness, the family he had never quite known, and he loved them dearly. But he still did not betray his master’s desire for discretion. Daud had done his best to keep what he’d done from all the Whalers save Montgomery, who had reluctantly handed over the vial of toxin with a pitying expression. It rankled Daud to know that the physician’s pity was not for those boys who had fallen ill. Daud’s own feeble pity for his Whalers had forced his hand; it would have been far greater suffering for them to watch their youngest suffer and fade than to light pyres in the wake of their passing.

            Baring his teeth at the now crumpled missive in his hand, Daud tossed it aside, snatching up another that had been laid out beneath the first. This one was blank save for the violent scrawl of THE WOLF IS AT THE DOOR repeated unendingly like a punished school child’s written lines, and that paper too crunched in his fist.

            “You’ve had your fun, black eyed bastard!” he shouted into the Void, turning his back on the scene so that his anger would reach every corner of the wretched nothingness. “Show yourself!”

            “What an interesting friend you’ve made, Daud,” the Outsider’s voice came from everywhere at once before focusing into a single source. Daud spun on his heel, donning a prepared scowl for the deity who was sitting casually on the edge of the Empress’s desk and rifling through her papers as if perusing the daily mail. “The personal bodyguard of the Empress of the Isles, who slinks around on rooftops and moonlights as, what? A voyeur, by your estimation?”

            “What do you want?”

            “My, such a warm welcome from an old friend. You’ve grown more sour, Daud,” the Outsider observed derisively. “Sour, like rotten fruit.”

            “And you’re no less of a prick,” he snarled in return, folding his arms across his chest. “Why am I here? I thought I had finally managed to lose your favor.”

            The Outsider stood, fluttering into a mass of inky ambiguity for an instant before reappearing behind the chair that Attano occupied, one pale hand resting lightly on the bodyguard’s shoulder. His fingers traced a seam on Attano’s coat with an apparent reverence that would have turned Daud’s stomach, had he not been so consumed by being once more in the presence of the deity after so many years. It was an eerie sensation, to watch the Outsider carefully study another with those oil-slick eyes, as if he was a philosopher observing the writhing of some specimen. Suddenly Daud became acutely aware that the Outsider used to look at him with such fascination, back when he was a skinny brat fist fighting his way from meal to meal and shanking grown men in alleys to gain a morsel of approval from a master he despised. It wasn’t long after that before he succumbed to another master, spilling blood in reverence of a boy with a black gaze who bolstered his aspirations of greatness with ghostly whispers as he slept. Everything about them both had changed since then, even if the Outsider had scarcely changed at all.

“You lost my interest, perhaps, but not my favor,” the Outsider continued, finally lifting his gaze from Attano’s face. “You grew redundant over the years, having lost what drove you after gaining notoriety as the Knife.  But now it seems you may be toeing the edge of some very intriguing territory.”

Daud growled, hands falling to his sides in fists. “Do you know what the word “succinct” means? Get on with it, whatever this is supposed to be.”

Once more the Outsider vanished, only to reappear chest to chest with Daud, vitriol lining his young face and the Void around them churning like the sea in a rising storm. It irked Daud that he had to look up to meet the god’s gaze, yet it was some small comfort to know that the Outsider only made it so in an attempt to assert his dominance. But Daud knew death and damnation like old friends; he was their silver sword, and he no longer feared men nor beasts nor gods.

            “The world is at a tipping point, Daud, and you are one of the weights that will throw the balance,” the Outsider said, voice barely above a grave whisper even as it echoed all around them. “Some weights are pawns, casualties of those who have already chosen a side. Others still have choices to make. This is bigger than your pride or reputation, Knife of Dunwall. So, I will only say this once: choose wisely.”

            Daud was jerked violently out of the Void, waking in a cold sweat and sprawling from his mattress to the dusty floor of the Chamber of Commerce. Regaining his bearings, he let his head thump to the musky boards and rubbed his hands over his face.

            “Fish fucker,” he growled to the room, and snarled at the echo of laughter that floated through on the cold breeze that slipped through a shattered window.

            Restless, and being as he was not so dense as to ignore the Outsider’s less than subtle insistence, Daud rose and dressed, knife at his hip and bandolier across his chest. His charms seemed to hum louder with his recent excursion into the Void, and his joints seemed more nimble for it, even if he knew it would not last.

The air was crisp and cool as he set off across Rudshore, nodding to his sentries and doing all he could to play at having some set destination in mind. He had not wandered out into the city for anything outside of a job in ages, and it would nearly have been liberating to freely wander if he was not so readily yielding to the Outsider’s insistence. When the Outsider was involved, it suited Daud much more to be contrary on principle, just to watch the deity bare his fangs in frustration. As dearly as the Outsider liked to pretend that he was a soulless god, a god without feeling that languished in indifference, Daud knew he felt as deeply as the ocean was wide, only playing at impassivity to spare himself some disappointment at the failures of his chosen. And they were all destined to disappoint as soon as that mark burned into their skin. Daud knew, for he himself was surely as much a failure as the others, even though he still lived and had yet to succumb to the madness of the Void. The Outsider would surely have preferred him to fall to a blade or into the sickness of his own head – at least it would be more entertaining than the monotony Daud had provided him with this last decade.

“The Outsider can fuck right off,” Daud muttered to himself as he picked through Rudshore, the once viciously gleaming district now derelict after a year of plague and a few months of submersion in flood water. Its abandonment couldn’t have been more fortuitous for himself, he mused while he slipped through the Gate and past the Watch, even if it was so devastating for the rest of the city. He had long since grown weary of leaving his men scattered in abandoned apartments all over Dunwall; it was inconvenient, and dangerous.

It was never dull to venture out into Dunwall at this time of night, when the clouds obscured the city’s sin in shadow and the moon was dim and uncaring. Daud had always mused that it was how Sokolov must have felt when he finally disembarked his ill-fated ship and stepped onto the red cliffs of Pandyssia: it might have been foolish, and it certainly wasn’t safe, but at least it would be an adventure.

He kept to the tallest buildings, boots light on the slate roofs as he meandered above the city, watching Dunwall writhe beneath him like maggots in a wound. It was a filthy city, the fester constantly cut clean by the City Watch and the Overseers – diligent, shining scalpels that only introduced more rot, poisoning the blood of Gristol from the inside out. Daud knew he was just as filthy. He was a grimy knife held by surgeons with discerning eyes who excised the worst of the city so that more favorable terrors could fill the voids. Like maggots upon diseased flesh, a monstrosity one knew was always better than a monstrosity one didn't. It should have bothered him, but filth was good for business.  

It was nearly midnight by the time he had crossed Kaldwin’s Bridge and heaved himself up the spindly sides of the clocktower, pulled through the city by the burning of his mark like he was following a bonecharm. He made himself comfortable, slinging one arm around the steel of a truss while he sipped on a remedy and scanned the rooftops below. Light spilled from the Boyle Estate down the street, flooding the avenue like the expensive wine the fine people inside drank until they spilled it down their coat fronts. Daud had attended once – not that anyone present had known at the time, at least not until they found the corpse – and was not inclined to do so again. The excess made him ill, nearly as ill as the aching of his stomach during lean winters.

The beautiful people milled about below, flashing gilded invitations from inside gilded jackets, and the spectacle nearly distracted him from the shadow sprawled along the edge of a roof two houses down. The shadow was reclined back on one hand, feet kicking idly in the empty space below the eaves. Daud knew it wasn’t one of his and given the persistent sizzling of the ink on the back of his hand, he begrudgingly conceded that he must have found his mark.

Attano was entirely oblivious when Daud transversed onto the ridgeline behind him, landing softly in a crouch on the balls of his feet. He had to smooth the grin from his lips at the glaringly pink ribbon tying back Attano’s dark hair, most of which had clearly escaped its bonds much earlier in the evening. He was crunching loudly on an apple and humming some old Serkonan song that made Daud’s palms itch with memory, the melody out of tune with the tinny audiograph recordings drifting up from the party below.

“Attano,” Daud said casually, grunting with amusement when the Lord Protector flinched hard enough for his apple to fly from his grasp, bouncing off his thigh before plummeting to the ground. Its waxy skin gleamed merrily in the lantern glow as it fell, punctuating its demise with cheery insult. Daud stepped to the edge of the roof to watch it splatter onto the cobblestone in a pitiful puddle, barely addressing the glare he earned.

“You again,” Attano growled, seething with adrenaline. “I wasn’t finished with that.”

Daud snorted and folded his arms. “That could have been you, if I wished it.”

“If you are going to push me off a roof, then I wish you’d get on with it,” he snapped in reply. His fingers were wrapped around the hilt of his knife, confidently settled into the well-worn grooves on the grip.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Daud told him honestly.

“Because no one’s paid you to, yet?”

Daud smirked down at him but said nothing, silently marveling at the display of emotion. Attano seemed about as stone faced as men came, perfectly suited for the discretion needed from a glorified bodyguard. But it seemed instead that he was a more perfect bodyguard than he seemed, with all that ferocity so carefully subdued beneath artful blankness. His temper could be dangerous, but also so very useful to Daud’s ends.

“Very well, assassin… heretic,” Attano hissed to Daud’s silence, his mask slipping back into place even as the wariness would not leave his eyes.

With practiced grace, Daud dropped to a crouch by Attano’s side, smoothly drawing his blade to lay against the Royal Protector’s tanned throat. He grinned as he felt Attano’s knife against his own collar.

“I was a killer long before I was a heretic; black magic just made me better at it,” Daud purred, watching Attano’s pulse throb evenly, coolly beneath his skin. “If there was a price on your head, you’d have been dead three nights ago. If you were an Overseer, your brothers would be blackening your mask by morning. But seeing as neither is the case, there is no need for either of us to have a blade at the other’s throat.”

Daud slowly withdrew and sheathed his weapon, doing his utmost to project the quiet confidence of a man who posed no threat, feigning friendliness and approachability best as he could. He must have been marginally successful, as Attano withdrew his blade to lay it across his lap, though his hold on the hilt never gentled. It was about as Daud expected; he had never been especially adept at infiltration, at gaining the confidence of a target to extract information before putting a knife in their breast. Thomas was more suited to it, with his disarming good looks and genuine, enchanting charm. But such missions always wore Thomas thin and weary, and so Daud frequently opted for Kieron instead, whose beguiling Morlish roguishness and steady brutality brewed into a deadliness that rivaled Daud’s own. It was difficult not to talk to Kieron, after all, since the giddy brute never stopped talking himself.

Daud had sucked in a deep breath, fortifying himself for what was sure to be an unbearably awkward batch of small talk, when Attano spoke again.

“Who is your target tonight, assassin, if it is not me?”

“No one,” Daud lied as he settled to dangle his feet over the edge of the roof.

“You lie.”

“I do not.”

“Then why are you here? What do you want?”

Daud sighed, grinding his teeth. He had always harped to his Whalers that the most important ingredient in a successful lie was the truth, and he hated himself now for knowing that he was right.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he admitted, omitting the Outsider’s part in everything. “So, I came to climb the clocktower.”

Attano’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, clearly unsatisfied with the answer. Either he was more discerning than Daud had given him credit for, or Daud was more out of practice than he’d thought. There was a faint clicking from Attano tapping his thumb against the hilt of his knife, and Daud fought the urge to glance down at those callus-worn hands.

“Climb the clocktower?”

Daud grumbled, growing impatient. “Yes, Void.”

Attano actually laughed at that, a short burst of breathless, bitter mirth that split his face in a wry smile. The realization that Attano was a striking man, all tan cheekbones and jawline and thin lips pulling over accented words, made Daud implausibly angry for an instant, a bubble of heat searing in his chest. Attano was Serkonos incarnate, the island’s golden child, and it irked to see him under Gristol’s heartless moonlight.

“And what keeps a wanted assassin – a known heretic – up at night?” Attano asked, his grin smoothing back into blankness like wake from a long-passed ship.

“Heretic business,” Daud said, before continuing, only to be difficult. “What keeps the Lord Protector up at night?”

“Lord Protector business,” he answered drily.

They fell into silence again, watching as drunken partygoers were herded into waiting railcars by butlers with impossible capacities for patience. Song still echoed up from below, some bastardized version of a Serkonan melody undoubtedly commandeered by a Gristolian composer with the intention of elevating it for enjoyment by polite society. The song was too structured now, too prim; it lacked the chaos of a Serkonan street performance, lacked the heat, the passion, the sex. Daud gritted his teeth and tried not to scoff. He was still young when he left Karnaca, but he remembered sweltering summer nights and dust and the press of bodies in time with a tango more vividly than he recalled his mother’s voice. It was offensive, truly.

Attano’s scoff drew Daud’s attention, and he watched as the Royal Protector leaned back on his hands, blade still balanced on his thighs.

“A Gristolian tango,” he griped.

“No such thing,” Daud replied, unable to keep the venom from his voice.

A smirk tugged at the corner of Attano’s lips, and Daud made an effort to frown back at him. He disliked Attano’s gaze on the side of his face – assessing, appraising, prying a blade into any little crack to get a look inside, as if Daud were some riverkrust bearing the prospect of a pearl. Eventually his consideration slid back to the street below, where some drunken high-born was examining the demised apple on the street like it had fallen from the heavens. Daud was grateful for the respite, and he rolled his shoulders subtly to ease the tautness along his spine.

“You speak as if you are Serkonan,” Attano commented idly after the song had swollen to a rather disappointing crescendo.

“Well I’m not from Gristol,” Daud said, feeling like he was conceding too much.

“A Serkonan must tango, if you are one.”

“I will not,” Daud said as he rose to his feet, finally losing his patience under the scrutiny.

After taking a few steps up the roofline, Daud paused, turning back to Attano; he was still lazily swinging his feet, something like smugness on his face as he pointedly kept his attention on the Boyle manor below. That lopsided pink bow was still clutching at his hair, and Daud's suspicions as to Princess Emily's parentage seemed to gain stronger footing. Corvo Attano was an anomaly, a mystery to rival those dreadful Tyvian murder novels that Galia always read, and he irked Daud beyond comprehension. Still, there was some bizarre appeal to Attano, regardless of how infuriating he could be and his glaring lack of self preservation. Daud didn't understand it, but Attano made him feel like he understood very little. He watched him for a long moment, studying his strong slender build under his well cut coat, the surety in his ease of posture, the dark line of muscle in his neck. Daud sighed, weary.

Digging into the small pack at his hip, Daud dug out an apple he had swiped the day before, dusted it on his coat hem, and dropped it into Attano’s lap. Attano grunted in surprise. He stared at it for a long moment, before turning to glare at Daud with one eyebrow artfully raised.

“It’s not poisoned.”

Unswayed, Attano continued staring with a bitterly indifferent sort of incredulity even as Daud sighed, collected the apple, took an obnoxiously large bite, and dropped it back in Attano’s lap. He hummed, picking up the apple to study it even as Daud turned away.

“Careful, noble Lord Protector. It may not be poisoned, but it is stolen,” Daud commented smugly.

He could hear the smile in Attano’s self-satisfied voice when he finally spoke, punctuated by the crunch of teeth piercing the apple’s flesh.

“Don’t worry. So was the other one.”

Daud snarled and clenched his left fist. Damn Corvo Attano to the Void.

*****

            Corvo was smiling when he let himself into Jessamine’s bedroom at one o’clock in the morning. He knew he was smiling, and he knew he must have looked mad with fever with how hot he was beneath his coat, given it was nearly the Month of Timber and the weather had long since grown cool. He tried to care. He failed.

            “Corvo!” Jessamine startled, closing her book and uncurling from her seat by the fire as she turned, wide-eyed, to gawk at him. “What’s going on? Is Emily alright?”

            “Emily is fine,” he assured her, his words too fast and too breathy. “I’ve just returned. From the Estate District.”

            Jessamine looked disappointed, frowning at him in that muted imperious way that she saved for when she was worried about him. It stalled him for a moment as he read the lines on her face like a map, guiding him towards the realization of his foolishness. Despite his greater years, Jessamine was always the more reasonable of them both, ever ready to temper his anger or loneliness or sorrow so he wouldn’t tear himself apart. She had always carried the greater burden, and she carried the burden of Corvo Attano as well, despite how desperately he strove to make it otherwise.

            Excitement flagging, he moved to kneel by her side, reaching to smooth her blankets back across her lap. “I’m sorry, Jess. I know how you dislike it.”

            “Come now, Corvo,” she cooed, her cool hand alighting against his flushed cheek. “You were so pleased with something, more than I’ve seen in ages. Tell me, my love.”

            “It is nothing.”

            “Corvo.”

            Slender fingers closed around his own, too tight, nearly forceful, and he rested his cheek against her knee, smothering the smile that began to grow unbidden on his lips against the blankets.

            “I met him again, in the Estate District.”

            “Who?”

            “Him.

            Jessamine seemed puzzled for a long moment, and then all at once understanding descended upon her expression as sunlight through clouds. She was so beautiful, so joyous for his every victory, and Corvo knew he loved her dearly despite the passion that had long since died between them. She was his dearest friend, the mother of his child, his empress – and he adored her as all three, even as mischief crept into her eyes.

            “The Knife?” she asked innocently, a wry smile on her lips when he nodded confirmation. “Did he threaten you with a bloody demise, this time?”

            “It was… mutual.”

            “Careful, Corvo.”

            Corvo sighed, dropping his head atop their joined hands.

“I am, Jess. I will be. It is important that I get to know what he knows – he’s probably the most well informed man in Dunwall, if not Gristol,” he argued, trying to defend himself. “I have to earn his favor, his confidence. I’m trying to keep you safe. I’m doing the duty you charged me with.”

“That may be so. But if you end up with your neck slit from ear to ear, who will protect me then? Who will protect Emily?”

Appalled by the thought, Corvo recoiled, studying Jessamine’s expression with betrayal painted across his features.

“I trust you, Corvo,” she continued, more gently. “I don’t trust him. Just don’t do anything foolish.”

Corvo pressed his lips to her knuckles, a promise. Jessamine seemed satisfied with the silent declaration, and straightened in her seat.

“So how was the Knife of Dunwall this evening?”

“He was… pleasant,” Corvo huffed on a laugh, smile returning. “He made clear that the was no threat, and then we sat. Just sat, listening to the terrible “Serkonan” music the Boyles like to play.”

“Oh?”

“He’s… he’s Serkonan, Jess. The first Serkonan I’ve met in Dunwall. In twenty years, Jess,” his voice was rising in relief again, smile wider than he had known it since the day Emily was born. “He is a murderer and a heretic and an ass, but he’s Serkonan.”

It was a great, sagging relief to consider, one that made him giddy and dizzy and desirous for the presence of a coarse, dangerous man who would rather tip him off a rooftop than reminisce about sunny Serkonan shores. It was an echo of home, no matter how distant.  For all his time in Gristol, Corvo had only ever been in the presence of the Dunwall elite; he knew there were Serkonans in Gristol, in Dunwall, even, but it was not within his breadth to pursue those connections. It would draw too much focus from his duties and would shame Jessamine even further than his glaring heritage already did. Truthfully, the long-subdued loneliness and longing for home had scarcely occurred to him for years, but now he could not be free of it.

“I’m glad for you.” His smile must have been contagious, as Jessamine was now grinning down at him like she knew something he did not. “You may convince yourself that this is your duty, but you clearly like the man. He may be a murderer and a heretic and an ass and dangerous, but from the way you speak of him, Corvo, I must ask: is he handsome?”

Corvo spluttered unattractively, flushing deeper than he had since Jessamine had asked if he would bed her mere months after her eighteenth birthday. She had been as direct and brutal then as she was now, uncaring of his modesty. He chuckled awkwardly against her fists, nuzzling her fingers.

“Most would not say so,” he admitted. “But he is… distinguished. Dark hair and grey eyes, with a bearing that nearly makes you ill. You’re not certain if you should be afraid or otherwise.”

Jessamine stood, humming to herself, considering, as she moved to her small desk to rifle through the drawers. Her mischievous smirk returned when she found what she was searching for – an audiograph card – and waggled it at him suggestively.

“These things may be so, but does he tango?”

She inserted the card with a click, and sensual Serkonan guitar floated on tinny strains from the speakers. Corvo closed his eyes and smiled. It sounded like sunset on a Serkonan summer night, like sweltering heat, and dust and sex, and Corvo idly wondered if such music reminded Daud of the same things. He grinned up at his empress when she threaded her hands into his hair, pulling free the ribbon that Emily had tied for him after dinner, her fingers curling into a fist at his nape.

“Dance with me, Corvo,” she said, teasing with a smirk. “You may need the practice.”

Chapter Text

Daud didn’t wake until nearly nine the next morning, somehow impossibly exhausted from his encounter with the Royal Protector the night before. The Outsider had been benevolent to let him sleep through the night this time, even if echoing strands of Serkonan guitar did filter into his otherwise dark, formless dreams. Small mercies, or perhaps mere convenient concessions, were all the benevolence the Outsider would grant him.

            He had left Attano in a huff, unreasonably irritated with the man despite the trickle of satisfaction he had felt while in his company. Attano was a box with no seams, impossible to look inside and wooden and stalwart on each face. But the more Daud studied, the more he saw. Regardless of Attano’s status as the Empress’s stone-faced confidant and premier protection detail, the brief time Daud had spent with him – watching him, just him, not the shadow cast by the Empress’s glow – the more he understood how the Empress could have taken him as a lover. Attano was clever, not just icily so as was so common with people who knew precisely how clever they were, but clever and witty. He was funny, Daud was loath to admit, though in that coy, sarcastic sort of way that would make any high born Gristolian bitter with envy. There was no denying that Attano was also a prime asshole, and smartass to boot, but Daud was self-aware enough to know that the only reason he hated Corvo Attano was because they were exactly alike. Attano, however, pulled off the routine with considerably more charm.

            Daud had watched him from a rooftop several houses down, astounded as Attano dropped from an eave to a balcony, breaking and entering via an unlocked window before reappearing on the sill of another window two stories below, and climbing a trellis down to the street. Rulfio had been so brazen and nimble when he was a younger man, but Attano was at least fifteen years beyond the age at which Rulfio had decided that he’d fallen into a dumpster for the last time. They had to be near the same age now, indicating that Attano was either more competent in illegal entry than Daud had assumed, or he was a damned reckless idiot. Incapable of deciding between the two, Daud just assumed that it was some unholy combination of both.

            The streets had been quiet for Dunwall under the cloak of night, so Attano had moved quickly back towards the Tower as Daud followed, unseen, high above. He had watched Attano’s spine straighten like iron on an anvil as he came within view of the outermost City Watch guard post, saw the moment when the grin he had scarcely noticed slipped from Attano’s face. It was jarring how different he looked in that moment – so cold, so expressionless, so stern. His blankness ran deeper than the icy wall of wariness he had raised upon their first meeting. At least then the danger in his eyes had kept him from looking so much like a corpse sapped of life as he had when he stepped through the Tower gates. Daud’s skin crawled to watch him, to watch his blatant indifference at the sniggering whispers of the guards behind his retreating back, wanting more than anything to see the man who had held a blade to the throat of Dunwall’s most feared assassin and sneered in the face of death. That man did not show, even after the Tower doors shut behind him, and Daud had to sit a long while atop the water lock in fury at the enigma of Corvo Attano.

            Daud had trudged furiously back to Rudshore, draining all the remedies he had left in his pack just so he didn’t have to stop and think about how unreasonably rattled he was. By the time he managed to clatter into his quarters in the Chamber of Commerce and stumble up the stairs, the Void singing in his ears from mana depletion, it was three hours until sunrise. He fell asleep face down on his lumpy bed, made lumpier by the bandolier still slung across his chest, and when he awoke, he could only be glad that he’d managed to set his sword aside on the chest down by his still-booted feet. Void, he was a mess.

            “Damn boss, ye look like shite,” Jenkins greeted him cheerily once he’d managed to drag himself to the mess for a cup of the tar that the Whalers seemed content to call coffee. “Did Fugue come early this year?”

            “Reconnaissance,” Daud grumbled in reply.

            Jenkins hummed, as if some thought was managing to rattle about in that big, empty head of his while he slid a half-cold carafe back over a lit burner. Morlish and boasting the most assaulting red hair Daud had ever had the misfortune of seeing, Jenkins was easily the brawniest of the Whalers, with a long scar across one cheek and a right hook that could put a blood ox in the dirt on the first blow. But he had no taste for violence, and yet still possessed an uncanny ability to dissuade those who did by merely standing around with his arms folded and frowning at passerby. Jenkins wasn’t bright, not clever and knife-edge brutal like Kieron and Killian – his cousins by blood – but Daud gave him a job in the kitchen anyway, regardless of his happy penchant for cooking abhorrent Morlish cuisine.

            “I kept a plate for you, boss. Blood sausage and the last of the figs, just the way ye like,” Jenkins said proudly, gesturing to a cloth covered plate tucked surreptitiously between two towering stacks of pots and pans. “Rinaldo said there’d be a merchant ship comin’ in from Cullero next week, probably have a few crates worth swipin’. We’re running low on greens and liquor, again.”

            Daud picked idly at his breakfast with the only clean fork he could find as the coffee started burbling angrily on the stovetop. Jenkins was quick with a chipped teacup and saucer, grinning like he was pleased with himself regardless of how unnecessary the gesture truly was. Nodding his thanks, Daud polished off his meal and collected the whole coffee ensemble carefully, balancing it in one palm.

            “I’ll have Rinaldo and Galia on a scouting run for supplies tonight. And I’ll send Akila in to help with these damn dishes.”

            “Thank ye, boss,” Jenkins chimed, smiling broadly enough that Daud could see the jagged edge of the tooth he chipped on his first transversal. Daud wasn’t certain why that memory had come so vividly; it meant nothing.

            Waving off the sentiment, Daud wove back towards the Chamber of Commerce, nudging open the glass doors with his hip, his hands occupied with the dainty weight of the cup in one palm and a roll of Dunwall Tower schematics from the archives in the other. The papers consumed most of the floor behind his desk, and he studied them as he sipped at his surprisingly palatable coffee. Jenkins must have been generous enough to give him a dollop of honey to cut the bitterness; Daud hadn’t even noticed.

            The fwip of a transversal behind him heralded Leonid, who was flapping a thin stack of papers at Daud’s back irritably. He looked passively unimpressed with the hour of Daud’s awakening, likely having been waiting to deliver his report since sunrise. Slender but towering in height, he blocked out what little light was filtering through the windows as he stood pointedly in front of Daud, offering a salute with a fistful of papers still in his grasp.

            “Report from Tower surveillance, sir,” he said, glaring out from beneath brows that were always too heavy over his eyes. “Mine and Thomas’s. He completed it after he was relieved at eight.”

            “At eight? He was to be relieved by Billie at sunrise.”

            “She never showed. I sent Misha in her place.”

            Hot frustration curled, serpentine, in Daud’s chest and he slammed his coffee down on the nearest desk, the porcelain rattling precariously. Leonid’s fingers twitched around his papers, leaving miniscule creases that he smoothed out against his chest, looking even more displeased at Daud’s outburst than he had at his tardiness. Though Leonid was not quite Tyvian enough to express his distaste the Daud directly in the clipped words which he so plainly preferred, he did muster a spectacular glare that Daud met with a scowl of his own.

            “I’ll see to those,” Daud seethed, snatching the reports away. “Where is Thomas?”

            “Resting, sir.”

            “Wake him. I need to see him and Kieron, now. Tell your squad that if Billie returns, she is to see me immediately. Who is away from Rudshore now?”

            “Fisher has Aeolos and Little Tom away on a supply run for Montgomery; Dodge and Javier are in the Estate District; and Galia took a few of the girls to Draper’s for the day in civilian clothes. She said she had your permission, sir.”

            “She did,” Daud admitted, thinking through the day’s rotation schedules. He felt disoriented and lagging from how late he had slept, as if the world had carried on without him and left him weeks behind. It should have been Billie’s duty, as his lieutenant, to ready the Whaler’s patrols for the day in his absence; she had not, but they were organized anyway, and that pulled some of the tension from Daud’s spine. “Killian’s squad isn’t in the Estate District as well?”

            Leonid frowned for a moment, the blue of his eyes too vivid against his dark brows and pale skin livid with sleepless shadows. “They left, early this morning, but their mark and his protection detail left for court at the Tower, so Killian sent his novices back and stayed to watch the house himself.”

            The impossibility of how foolish even the brightest of his Whalers could be always astounded Daud, and he kneaded at his temples as he leaned heavily against his desk. Despite being the most disciplined fighting force in Dunwall – rivaled narrowly only by the Abbey’s Warfare Overseers – it was spectacular how inadvertently insubordinate his men could be. He was grateful that they were more loyal and obedient than the City Watch, but he often feared that he was too forgiving, too soft. The vague inklings of affection that he daren’t acknowledge made him blind and weak. He was a stronger leader before, when the Whalers were few and his network minimal, but time had made him complacent. Daud knew some among them thought so, he knew they even felt secure enough to whisper such little betrayals amongst themselves when they thought he could not hear. He could hardly blame them for it; Daud thought the same of himself.

            “Dismissed, Leonid. Summon Thomas and Kieron. Inform me if Billie graces us with her presence.”

            The salute he received could be generously called willful, but Daud had not the time to complain before Leonid was gone in a flutter, the shadows of the Void billowing in his place like feathers shed by a murder of crows. Suddenly wearier than he had been when he fell into bed that morning, Daud sunk down onto the bottom step of the staircase up to his quarters, kneading his eyes with the heels of his palms.

            It felt as if Dunwall was shrinking around his shoulders while its problems grew too big; bigger than he could handle, bigger than the Overseers could handle, bigger than the Watch could handle, and certainly bigger than anyone in a position of power could handle without their status bleeding out from beneath their feet. The rat plague was eating the city alive, descending brick by brick into the type of anxious fugue that desperation had driven into Morley during the four-year famine. Daud had seen the last vile months of it as a boy of no more than eleven, after he was taken from his mother in the belly of a ship that smelled like salt and the same desperation. He’d seen gaunt, mindless men tilling fields of dirt which had nothing to yield, he saw wild-eyed women bartering their screeching babes for moldy scraps of bread. He would see the same here in Dunwall, he knew; but this time the tears shining on hollow cheeks would be streaming red.

            The tension, the impending wave that no levee could break was making the city mad before the plague could even seep fully into its veins. Their contracts had increased wildly in volume and urgency, as if the nobles knew that their heirs and competitors and business partners would snatch up every coin they had before they were cold in their graves, and so elected to put their enemies in the ground first. They knew nothing, or at least had no concept of reality beyond their tea parties and bank accounts and who said what about whom at so-and-so’s soiree. They knew not, cared not that before long there’d be too many graves to fill and no one to dig them. No matter how dogged the Empress was in finding some solution, despite her optimism, everything was still going to go to shit until she came to terms with the reality of it all. And perhaps that was why Burrows had sent him that letter. It wasn’t the typical command with a target, a time, and a hefty sum; this time it was the order to watch, listen, and wait for some vague request that may or may not come. But Burrows was afraid of something this time, as if he knew some secret was under threat. Typically, the Spymaster’s instructions for target elimination were meticulously plotted, brooking no space for improvisation or adaptation on the part of the Whalers. He had docked Daud’s pay before on some such technicality. This time Burrows had given no such instruction, had hardly given any instruction at all aside from reconnaissance on the Tower, but Daud felt he knew what the order would be when it came. An Empress’s blood ran golden into an assassin’s palm.

            “Master Daud?”

            Daud nearly flinched, not aware that Thomas had slipped into the office through the front door. He had trained the young man too well, it seemed; damn, he was quiet.

            “Thomas,” Daud began, studying him for a long moment. Thomas was still mussed from sleep, his sandy hair spiked wild and ragged and deep shadows painted beneath his too blue eyes. It was perhaps the least composed Daud had ever seen him, with his trousers only tucked properly into one boot and his shirt hanging open at the collar, exposing the long scar that traversed his clavicle and stretched down across his chest. Daud remembered that scar well. He remembered carrying a bloody, teary eyed boy back to base after killing his mother’s noble employers on a contract. The blond, blue eyed house maid had been irrelevant collateral at the time. The boy, beaten black and blue and bloody by the master of the house – and the boy’s father, Daud suspected – refused to meet the same fate.

            “Where’s Killian? Leonid was to summon both of you.”

            “From what I gathered, sir,” Thomas said, straightening his spine on instinct, “Killian went to the Estate District after Kieron to, and I quote: ‘either drag that stupid arse back here or to replace his squad.’ Unquote.”

            Daud groaned, closing his eyes and shaking his head in exasperation as he dragged a hand down his face. He would need to think of some create discipline measures for the twins, since any punishment that they were assigned together they always ended enjoying far more than they should. Just another problem.

            “Thomas, we have a problem. And you have an assignment”

            “What is it, sir? Grant the order and I’m yours to command.”

            Thomas was a good man, a good soldier, a good killer – as mutually exclusive as those things seemed to be in the mind of any sane individual. Daud felt in his bones that Thomas’s obedience was never granted in concession, and never in reluctant, sarcastic deference as some Whalers’ always seemed to be. He could trust Thomas with the worst of himself in a way that he had felt eroding between himself and Billie in recent weeks. Daud still trusted Billie with his life, with his back and his exposed throat, even if it was foolish to do so. Sometimes he wondered if he had trained her too well, so well that he would never see her coming – he wondered if he’d trained his men so well that he wouldn’t see any of them coming. But not Thomas; the boy was too genuine, he loved Daud too much for betrayal even in the worst of circumstances. Daud knew that if trusting Thomas ended with a blade in his chest, then he would damn well deserve it.

            He frowned and steepled his fingers against his chin, the leather scratching against day old stubble as he watched Thomas, with his blue eyes so earnest and eager. “This problem is a who, not a what,” Daud said at length. “Its name is Corvo Attano. And your assignment is to meet him. Unarmed.”

*****

            Corvo Attano was having a terrible morning. It certainly had not begun as a terrible morning. It began with Jessamine curled against his back, with one of her bony elbows wedged between her chest and the meaty muscle along Corvo’s spine, and her frigid toes tucked against the backs of his calves. They had stayed up late, swaying to Serkonan music on audiographs played nearly too softly to hear, drinking whiskey and laughing against each other’s cheeks.

            “You know I love you,” Corvo had whispered against her crown, grinning like he had when he’d left Daud hours before.

“I know,” Jessamine had grinned back, butting her nose against his chin. “And I love you. You are my dearest friend, Corvo, and the father of my child. How could I not?”

“Easily, I suppose. I’m unpleasant…”

She nodded sagely.

“Dour…”

“Indeed.”

“And foreign.”

“Lest we forget,” Jessamine huffed, meeting his fond gaze. “Ah, but no sternness or foreignness or inability to behave as anything but a soldier could have persuaded me against my pursuit of the handsomest man in the Empire. If you could have seen yourself, Corvo, at the first moment you stepped into this palace. So young and coltish, but with the promise of a man in the set of your shoulders. I'd never seen skin so tan, or eyes like whiskey.”

Corvo had snorted an ugly laugh, holding her close as they danced idly across the carpet. “I caught my own reflection in a window and saw nothing of the sort. I saw a scrawny boy, ill from eating Theodanis’s too-rich food on the ship from Karnaca and trying his best to look like he wasn’t terrified. But then I saw you, and you were a bullheaded girl with all the confidence I was pretending to have.”

“I still am,” Jessamine smiled slyly, pleased with herself.

Corvo could feel his mirth grow soft and tender, and he brushed a few wild strands of dark hair from her brow, smoothing his coarse palm down her cheek. “You still are.”

Her hand had alighted on his, her fingers curling between his own, and she grinned against the thumb he pressed along her lip.

“You’re a good man, Corvo Attano,” Jessamine said. “And I still see that terrified boy in you, sometimes. But only when you’re looking at your daughter.”

Corvo laughed, his quiet reverie broken in favor of something brighter and warmer, something that felt less like a betrayal of her affection than whatever his inane fondness for the Knife of Dunwall was. It was just loneliness and nostalgic reminiscence for a home he had not seen in twenty years, Corvo knew that; and he knew how kind it was of Jessamine to indulge him in his pitiful attempt to escape that loneliness. Daud – the Knife of Dunwall – was an enemy of the state, he was a resource to be tapped. And if Corvo was to lose his focus each time Daud did something relatively endearing, then he would end up dead and with no benefit to show for it. But it was too easy to insert a young, unscarred, scowling Daud into memories of swiping fruit from street vendors with Beatrici, or sword fighting with sticks in Batista alleyways, or sitting on the beach to count up the take after picking the pockets of Grand Guardsmen at the Dockyards. Corvo could feel down to his bones that beneath that icy exterior and purposely unaccented words, Daud had once been a raggedy Serkonan street kid that still remembered the sun and surf and the taste of dust.

“You are thinking of him, aren’t you?” Jessamine had asked, and it wasn’t until she spoke that Corvo realized the audiograph had clicked into silence. He didn’t say a word, but she knew his thoughts anyway. “Come to bed and tell me, then.”

They had laid side by side, so close in her massive bed, and whispered beneath the blankets about Karnaca and Dunwall and the secrets to be learned from the Knife of Dunwall. Corvo had tried his best to keep the discussion to matters of state, of means of extracting information and what information would need to be offered in return, as he knew Daud well enough already to be certain that the man would offer nothing freely. Jessamine was quick to derail his efforts, asking prying questions that could nearly have passed as innocent if not for the mischievous crinkles at the corners of her eyes. He did not remember falling asleep, but the sun had long been up when he woke to Jessamine’s breaths tickling the back of his neck and voices outside the bedroom door.

“Lady Emily, please,” came a muffled plea, some poor maid or governess tasked with stopping an unstoppable force. “Her Majesty is surely resting still, and her handmaid will be called for once she is ready to rise.”

“Stand aside, this is a matter of national importance,” came the imperious reply, and Corvo smirked without bothering to open his eyes.

“Do you hear your daughter?” Jessamine mumbled between his shoulder blades, her forehead thumping wearily against the warm, bare skin of his back.

“She sounds far more like your daughter, this morning,” he replied, patting consolingly at the slender hand that had snaked around his waist. “Where do you think she gets it from?”

Swatting at his arm, she withdrew to sit up in the center of the mattress, brushing her tangled hair from her face with a sigh. Corvo snorted but rolled onto his stomach, crossing his arms beneath his too-soft pillow and bracing for impact.

“Come in, Emily,” Jessamine called loudly towards the hall.

The door burst open with no preamble as Emily cast a smug glance over her shoulder through the final sliver of open doorway before it slammed resolutely shut. She was already dressed for the day in her white lace and finery, with a ribbon in her hair, but she seemed unconcerned with any creases her outfit might receive as she barreled into the side of the bed. She had hauled herself onto the mattress before Jessamine cleared her throat and looked pointedly at Emily’s shoe-clad feet. Emily worked her tongue against her lip in concentration as she toed off her shoes, which struck the floor with a graceless clatter, and she continued her conquest for the center of the mattress and the slender space between Corvo and where Jessamine had sunk back into the pillows. Corvo was little more than an obstacle in her path, and he grunted as a skinny knee dug into his spine. Satisfied with her pursuit, Emily flopped onto her back, snuggling thoughtlessly into the warmth of Corvo’s side.

“Good morning, mother. Good morning, father,” she said casually. “I missed you at breakfast. Were you on patrol again, Corvo?”

“Good morning, Emily,” he replied, muffled by his half-hearted attempt to smother himself in a pillow. He had taken knife wounds that hurt less than Emily Drexel Lela Kaldwin’s bony joints skewering him in the back. “Yes, I was on patrol. I had an important meeting and didn’t get back until late.”

“Were you meeting a spy?”

“Doesn’t that seem a bit more like Spymaster Burrows’ job?” Jessamine asked. Corvo could see her smirk from the single eye he had deigned to crack open.

Emily frowned up at the ceiling. “I suppose it does.”

“And I suppose I have a meeting of my own,” Jessamine scolded, glancing at the tall clock standing against the wall like a sentinel. “In about forty-five minutes. And you have lessons in about fifteen, Emily.”

Emily pouted and knocked her socked toes together, looking very much like she would prefer to fuse herself with the mattress than suffer through another lecture on the cultural and economic consequences of naval warfare conducted during the Morley Insurrection. Despite his unwavering desire for his daughter to be more educated than himself and to be prepared for her ascension to the throne, Corvo could hardly blame her. He, too, would rather meld with an inanimate piece of furniture than listen to some pompous natural philosopher wax poetic about war and its consequences. It was all theoretical to them; they had never put a blade through a man, and new nothing of consequences earned or instigated.

“Can’t I stay with Corvo today?” Emily complained.

“Well what is it you think he’s going to be doing? He’s coming to Parliament with me,” Jessamine informed her, amused despite her waning patience.

Frowning, Emily twisted onto her side, clasping Corvo’s bicep in her too-small hands. “Daddy,” she whined, scrabbling for purchase in her argument.

“That’s enough, Emily. Go to your lessons,” Corvo finally scolded, pulling away to sit up on the edge of the bed. It wounded him to act like a parent, when he usually only permitted himself distance. It always seemed as if the only time he was allowed to be her father was when he was reprimanding her for simply being a child – for calling her father her father, as was a child’s right. And in those fragile, sickly moments all the pleasant ones seemed further than Karnaca.

He could feel her shifting dejectedly behind him and sliding off the bed, her socked feet thumping softly on the wooden floor. Emily fetched her shoes diligently and went to the door, pausing with her hand on the knob to turn and study him for a long moment, her face pink with remorse.

“I’m sorry I called you that, Corvo. I know I’m not supposed to,” Emily told him. “Are… are you angry?”

“No, Emily,” he gusted, suddenly weary. “No, I’m not angry. But we all have jobs to do, and yours is to obey your mother and go to your lessons.”

“I understand. I love you, Corvo.”

“And I you, mi corazoncita,” he replied, mustering a gentle smile.

Emily grinned in return – she always loved it when he spoke Serkonan, loved to hear his now muted accent slide back into its rightful place – and she slipped out the door, giving her adoration to her mother as she went. Sighing, Corvo drug his hands over his face and fisted them in his hair, clenching shut his eyes when Jessamine’s fingers alighted delicately on his back, her arms sliding around his waist as she nestled close. He could feel her lips at the base of his neck as she spoke, and it made his chest clench painfully, his shoulders taut.

“Corvo, cariño, do not punish yourself. Emily understands.”

“Does she, Jess?” he snapped. “I don’t want my daughter to resent me for not being able to be her father.”

“She never would.”

Corvo huffed, hanging his head. “You sound so sure.”

“Because I am. Come, we have business to attend to. Some are pressing for legislation to protect the finances of the elite from the plague. They fear an economic downturn and argue that by granting the wealthy a reprieve on taxes they will be able to save their money for reinvestment when the plague has gone, thereby triumphantly saving the poor of the Empire,” Jessamine spat, climbing out of bed and crossing to her wardrobe. “They believe themselves just and generous.”

“They are afraid of no longer being above the plague,” Corvo finally conceded, following Jessamine to her wardrobe and digging out the spare shirt and trousers he always kept there.

He dressed quickly, wordlessly, helping Jessamine pin up her hair while she drew on her kohl with a steady hand. It never ceased to be jarring, seeing her soft and supple and so utterly herself one moment and watching her become the stern Empress of the Isles in the next. The Empress was not the Jessamine that Corvo knew, even if she was one and the same to those who knew no better or cared not about the difference. But her severity and angularity and high collared façade never failed to make Corvo straighten his spine on instinct, in deference. It set him apart from her by leagues, not in body but in spirit. The masks they wore complemented each other as perfectly as they did themselves, but it was nothing but a falsehood for the protection of everything that lie beneath.

They ate breakfast in their customary spots on opposite sides of Jessamine’s desk, barely speaking as they each read through reports and letters. It was quiet, and so familiar, like last night and that morning had been; familiar in a way that had been long learned and less frequent in recent years. Corvo frowned at her when she stood to attend to her duties, and she smiled down at him with a warmth that belied her posture. She was already rebuilding her walls for the morning, her spine going straight and her shoulders falling back in a casual sort of regality, already bracing for the vicious nobility before she’d even left her rooms. Together they trudged down to meet Parliament, and the room was already in an uproar when they entered, the hagfish in a frenzy as they cannibalized each other.

The guard announced the Empress’s presence in a bellowing voice and the din was muted for a long moment, the silence heavy enough for Jessamine’s heels clacking on the floor to refocus the room so she get a foothold in the conversation. She only ever needed an instant to do so.

“They’re out for blood today, sir,” the guard muttered to Corvo. Captain Liam Galloway, Corvo thought his name was. He was one of the few who showed much respect to Corvo’s station, often addressing him politely, though with the customary amount of suspicion, even if that suspicion did not bubble over into resentment as it did with most of the Watch.

“Tell me.”

“The Pendleton twins are in an uproar, wanting to liquidate their finances immediately. They claim it’s to protect their fortune from the ravages of the plague, but I suspect they really want to have enough pocket change for whoring their way through this mess, in case everything goes south,” Galloway told him curtly, pausing to look at him askance when Corvo raised a curious brow. “Begging your pardon, sir.”

Corvo waved a dismissive hand, gaze turning to study the room. “Who else?”

“Timsh is siding with the Pendletons, as is Lord Alderdice. Estermont is in opposition, it seems – he thinks it’ll be more detrimental to the economy much faster than the plague. Brisby appears to be in opposition as well, Void knows why,” Galloway dutifully recited, sounding exhausted by the end of it all. “The rest are divided between decided, undecided, and decided but too cowardly to say so out loud, sir.”

A mere few months with plague eating at the city and the nobility were already eager to feed Dunwall to the rats to save their own hides. Some seemed too impassioned, others too quiet to be anything but scheming, and Corvo determined to keep them all within his sights. Luckily, he knew of someone who knew everything, and who commanded an army of shadows who were already accustomed to spying on Parliamentarians and their ilk. He would pose a few names to Daud in hopes of wringing out some information, next he saw him.

"Is that all?"

"All I could gather, sir."

Sighing as he folded his hands behind his back, Corvo nodded to the Captain and followed Jessamine to take his place behind her seat at the head of the table. He loomed, ramrod straight and unwavering as the court resumed bickering at a noticeably more reasonable volume, though tempers were just as hot. The aristocracy would snap and swarm at Jessamine’s ankles like the writhing pit of rats that they were, but they would only grow so vocal, so violent whilst Corvo was present. He was the wolfhound at his master’s heel, loyal to a fault with discerning jaws and a taste for rodents. They feared to be bitten, but they were too quick to forget that Jessamine had jaws of her own. Despite her spectacular training, her pedigree, Corvo knew she would sink her teeth into them far sooner than he ever would, and he loved her for it.

“Gentlemen,” she silenced them with a jarring bark, her smile too sharp and vicious to be complacent. “Shall we begin?”