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madness be my mercy

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It never really seems to matter when the Outsider doesn’t come to the shrines. Corvo finds far more shrines than the Outsider deigns to visit; obviously the Outsider can’t be bothered with running after one drowned rat of a man, when he has so many other pawns. Still, Corvo visits, to stand still for a moment in a world going mad, and wait.

It’s not hard to make those visits happen. Three weeks have passed since he left Coldridge Prison—three weeks since he met the Loyalists—three weeks since he received the Outsider’s mark. He still dreams of the clang of prison bars and wakes with the taste of rot in his mouth. Though he wants to avoid the dreams, Corvo still forces himself to sleep. This mission, this task he’s undertaken, is too important for him to be sleep-deprived.

Besides, the bed in the attic is soft and comfortable. The mattress has broken springs and smells of dust, but compared to what was in his cell, it might as well be the bed of a king. It’s a good place to rest, safe enough for now. It won’t be safe enough for long.

The Loyalists have convinced themselves that their plan is foolproof. Corvo knows better. These men, looking down their noses at him, are idiots. Corvo, on the other hand, is smart. He cares very little for books, but he’s cultivated his intelligence because being Royal Protector is far, far more than being the imperial guard dog, no matter what aristocrats may sneer behind his back.

He doesn’t trust these men as far as he can throw them and, given the strength worming its way into him from the bone charms hanging from the front of his coat, he could throw them a fair distance if he wanted. The Loyalists are cut from the same cloth as the men who ripped the star from Corvo’s sky. For that alone, he would be willing to kill them, but right now he needs them. As it is, one misstep, one threat to Emily’s life, and he’ll cut their throats where they stand.

Campbell’s blood is already on his hands, along with half the Overseers in Dunwall. There’s been a break in the action since Corvo freed Martin; apparently it’s taking time for Campbell’s journal to be decoded and for Martin to consolidate his power enough that he can actually visit the Loyalists. Corvo is intensely impatient. Emily is out there somewhere, but he can’t find her without the contents of the journal. So he waits.

And he hunts.

Weepers. Overseers. Traitors. Missions of his own, things the Loyalists don’t say to do but Corvo knows will be necessary. Weepers are mercy kills: better to die fast by Corvo’s hand than die sick and screaming in the street. The fewer Overseers there are, the less the Abbey can search for a killer with powers granted by a heretic god. As for traitors, well. There are plenty of people who seem to have been waiting for Burrows to take power so they could declare their loyalty to him.

Traitors won’t be necessary once Emily is back on the throne.  

In all of this moving about the city, he finds shrines. More people than he ever expected worship the Outsider. It’s not really a surprise, given the corruption of the Abbey, that people look for another god to guide them. Once, Corvo thought these people to be unhinged fanatics. Who would risk death for a silent, probably-evil thing from the Void?

Amazing, how fast his life has turned around.

It started in his dreams in Coldridge. A whisper in silence, black eyes looking at him from a black void, cold fingertips brushing over his fevered forehead. Corvo had thought himself going mad. Then…then he went into the Void for the first time, and he saw.

There is reason in this world and Corvo has always abided by it. He believes what he can touch, what he can see, and as a result never found any use for gods. He’s no natural philosopher but what those fine gentlemen discover about the world has always seemed right, because it was found with logic. Even the Abbey’s teachings appeal, though the Strictures grate, because they are teachings of a tangible world, a world Corvo can hold in his hands.

He cannot hold the Outsider in his hands.

But he can touch an altar with his hands, hold a humming bone charm in his hands, touch the carved surface of a rune with his hands. He can smell the strange sea-salt smell that hangs in the air around a shrine, see the flame of a lantern, hear the singing of runes and charms.

It’s an obsession, Corvo knows, and a dangerous one, but a man in his position is allowed a little insanity. Some might call the string of bodies he leaves behind him insanity—Corvo calls that simple wisdom. The insanity is in his quest for shrines, for places to stand and bask in the presence of a god who never shows his face.

This came out of nowhere. Corvo doesn’t understand it, can’t understand it. He’s seen the Outsider in full once, heard his voice once, and it still feels like he’s been stabbed through the heart with a harpoon and is being dragged behind a whaling ship. He can’t stop searching.

The mark on his hand burns hot when he uses his powers, when he uses the gifts of the Outsider, and it’s intoxicating. For just the briefest flicker of a moment he can hear the god’s whispers and it makes Corvo’s head spin. In those moments, he could almost touch the Outsider.

Almost.

Finding shrines and using his powers means finding excuses to go out into the city, excuses to risk the mission, excuses to risk Emily’s safety. Corvo justifies it to himself as helping his cause: with more runes, more bone charms, he can increase his powers. He can be a better protector for—for his daughter.

There are moments, standing with bloody hands over corpses shredded by rats’ teeth, that Corvo wonders if his daughter is even going to want him back.

But the harpoon pulls him along, inexorable, and Corvo can only try not to drown.

So he stands alone in the dark at vacant shrines, hands on the smooth wood of an altar, fingers singed from touching candle flames, the smell of sea salt in his lungs. Bone charms sing in his ears. In those moments he stands frozen, held fast by a rising tide of emotion that he doesn’t understand, but might, at a stretch, call love.

Obsessive, bloody love, born of loss and grief and madness, but love, all the same.

And for just a moment, if Corvo closes his eyes, he can see black eyes looking back.

Watching him.