Daud has the nightmare again.
He is a prisoner in his own body, hearing his own voice give orders, feeling his own feet move forward, seeing his own blade pierce through flesh and sinew, all the while struggling in vain to remain silent, to keep still, to stay his hand.
But the result is always the same: he flees the scene of his worst crime with his men in tow, the future Empress in their custody, leaving the corpses of Jessamine Kaldwin and Corvo Attano in their wake.
It isn’t a novelty; he’s had this dream every night since he committed the murder. Only tonight, the nightmare doesn’t end there.
“Daud, my old friend,” the black-eyed bastard says casually, as if he hasn’t been absent from Daud’s life for the past decade. “It’s been a long while, but you’ve got my interest again.”
Not six months ago, he’d have done anything to regain the Outsider’s favour. Now it’s as if another boulder has dropped atop the weight on his shoulders, threatening to bring him to his knees.
“How the years pass and the bodies fall,” the deity muses, in that annoyingly idle way with which he observes everything. “Did you know there are only seven like you in the world, bearing my Mark?”
He didn’t. He also doesn’t particularly care.
“There was to be an eighth,” the Outsider says, his voice suddenly sharper, almost accusatory, “but he breathed his last before I could grant him my boon, staring into the lifeless eyes of the only woman he ever loved.”
Daud doesn’t need to ask whom he’s referring to. Corvo Attano was a remarkable man, managing to break out of Fergus’ tether in a feat of strength no ordinary human ever displayed before. Thomas’ blade caught his neck before he could stop Daud from reaching the Empress, and they left him to drown in his own blood.
Thomas has nightmares too.
“Shouldn’t you have foreseen that?” Daud mumbles the question he would usually bite out. He is too tired and just not in the mood to deal with the Outsider’s oxshit right now.
“It was a possibility,” the Outsider admits, “but not a probability. Not like your murdering the Empress was.”
“A probability,” Daud repeats flatly. The idea that he would have carried out this assassination regardless of circumstances makes him feel sick to his stomach.
“Indeed. And I’m here because you were right. The Empress was different.”
Daud closes his eyes, willing the Outsider away because he does not want to hear this, but the Void circumvents his senses and projects itself straight into his mind. There is no rest for the wicked here.
“This time, you can’t just fade away into the shadows,” the Outsider continues, uncaring of Daud’s inner turmoil. “There will be consequences.”
There already have been consequences. His nightmares, for one. The way his hands shake whenever he picks up his sword. The heavy bags under Thomas’ eyes. Hiram Burrows on the throne, Sokolov’s security devices on every corner, the plague running rampant throughout the city. What more could there be?
“Your story is close to ending, and even you can’t escape it. But what ending will you make for yourself?”
He’s not all that concerned for himself. Daud has known for years that his end will be painful, messy, likely by Billie’s hand. It’s not as if his profession leaves him much room to pass away peacefully, lounging in an armchair while sipping some good whiskey. But his Whalers deserve better, deserve a chance at a bloodless life, and Daud will do whatever it takes to give them that.
“I’m here to give you your last gifts, Daud.”
The Outsider’s gifts always come with a price, Daud knows. But if they can help him secure a future for his men, maybe even allow him to atone for his sins, give him the slightest sense of redemption, he’ll gladly pay it.
“The first is a mystery.” He hates mysteries. “One that starts with a name. Delilah.”
Delilah. Not knowing who she is and why the Outsider has chosen to give him her name is already starting to irk him. He’ll have Billie look into it first thing in the morning.
“The second is this,” the Outsider says, but the Void is already beginning to fade, Daud’s mind pulling him back to consciousness, and he cannot see. But he doesn’t miss the deity’s last words to him, echoing menacingly in the darkness.
“The Heart of a living thing, moulded by my hands.”
When he wakes, he is holding a contraption of flesh and wires, cruelly stitched together to form the crude shape of a human heart. Its pulse beats in rhythm with Daud’s own, and if Daud hadn’t been receiving what the Outsider considers ‘gifts’ for the last two decades, he might have been repulsed.
“You killed her.”
It speaks in a man’s voice, a deep rumble that Daud has never heard before. It’s a voice he shouldn’t know, but he does, he does, and the surge of panic that overtakes him makes both the heart in his chest and the one in his hand skip a beat.
He hurls the accursed thing out the window.
It’s back in his hand the next time he blinks.
“He has bound me to you,” Corvo Attano’s Heart says, sounding about as happy about the fact as Daud feels. “You cannot be rid of me, as I cannot be rid of you.”
“Great,” Daud mutters, running his free hand through his hair. “Just marvellous. Fucking black-eyed bastard and his fucking gifts.”
He tucks the Heart away into the inner pocket of his red coat, ignoring the feeling of a parallel heartbeat so close to his chest as best he can. He has another gift to unwrap, and he’d like to solve the mystery of Delilah’s name while he still has a shred of sanity left. Void knows that won’t last long.
Daud breathes deeply, warding off the headache that always blossoms after prolonged visits to the Void, and summons his second in command.
She transverses into his office three minutes later, yawning theatrically. “Daud, what the fuck do you want at the crack of the Outsider’s ass?”
“I have a job for you,” he says, beckoning her over to his desk. “Should prove challenging, even for someone with your skills.”
That gets her attention. She perks up, all pretence of fatigue gone in an instant. “What is it?”
“I need you to look into a name. Delilah.”
Billie waits for him to continue, until she realises he won’t. “What, that’s all?”
“How the fuck am I supposed to find someone with just a given name?” she asks incredulously.
“I told you it would be challenging,” Daud points out. “You’ve found people even without knowing their name. You’ll manage.”
Billie crosses her arms, scowling at him. “What kind of contract is this, Daud?”
“A personal one.”
She scoffs. “What, did you chase off your girlfriend or something?”
“Careful, Lurk,” Daud warns, his voice a low growl. He meets her defiant gaze with a hard stare of his own, holding it for several long, tense seconds, until she finally lowers her head in submission.
“What should I do when I find this ‘Delilah’ then?”
“Report back to me,” he orders. “Do not engage.”
The scowl returns, and she mutters something inaudible under her breath before she salutes him, however briefly, and transverses out of his office.
Daud closes his eyes and exhales sharply, forcibly relaxing his tense muscles. If Billie continues this behaviour, he doesn’t know if he can justify retaining her as his second. He keeps her close because she isn’t afraid to give him her honest insight, because her sarcasm grounds him, but her remarks as of late are so disrespectful they are bordering dangerously close to insubordination.
She misses the bloodshed, has told him on more than one occasion that the Empress’ murder opened many doors for them and that he is a fool for slamming them all shut. But Daud is done with killing, and he has never been more at peace with a decision he’s made in his life. He’s informed her that she’s free to leave to seek her own fortune, that she doesn’t have to stay if she doesn’t want to. He’d even consider letting her keep the Arcane Bond.
But she hasn’t left, and that has to count for something.
“She cares for you, like a daughter does her father,” the Heart rumbles from its place in his pocket, “but she will not hesitate to strike you down if the opportunity presents itself.”
“I know,” he tells it. It’s always been understood between them that when the time comes, and he is unfit to lead the Whalers any longer, she will take his place.
“She may seek to create an opportunity herself, soon.”
That is news, but it doesn’t worry Daud as much as it once might have. “I’ve made my choices,” he says, more to himself than to the Heart. “I’ll take what comes.”
Attano’s Heart is silent after that, and Daud busies himself with sorting through the contracts Rulfio left on his desk the night before. A large portion of them is discarded immediately, those missives that call for blood. The others he reads through carefully, periodically summoning some of his men to assign the tasks to them. The work takes up most of his morning, and the familiarity of it is enough to make him forget about the presence of the Heart altogether.
That is, until he summons Thomas, and the thing hisses.
“Murderer!” it spits, its beat quickening, out of sync with Daud’s own pulse. “The Empress would still be alive if not for him!”
“No,” Daud says, because she wouldn’t be. The Empress was doomed the moment the Knife of Dunwall decided she had to die. Corvo Attano couldn’t have changed that, even if Thomas hadn’t taken his life.
“Sir?” Thomas inquires. “You have need of me?”
Daud takes the contract from his desk. “Job to make someone disappear, until elections are over.”
“He is loyal to a fault,” the Heart sees fit to divulge, “and a bad judge of character. A lethal combination.”
Daud’s hand flies into his pocket, and he squeezes the thing, hard. “Stop.”
Thomas, his hand extended to take his contract, freezes completely. Loyal to a fault, indeed. Loyal to him. If it is a lethal combination, Daud hopes it’s not Thomas for whom it is fatal.
“Sir?” Thomas asks again, more emphatically this time. “Is everything alright?”
He asks it without the malice and scepticism Daud has come to expect from some of his Whalers since the Empress, and he appreciates that more than he’ll ever admit. “Fine,” Daud says, rubbing his temples in a fruitless attempt to quell his worsening headache. “Just… rough night.”
If anyone understands the concept of a ‘rough night’ these days, it’s Thomas. He nods, not pressing the issue, and takes the paper from Daud’s desk.
“Take Aedan and Denman,” Daud instructs as Thomas reads. “It should be fairly routine.”
He’s about to send Thomas off when the Heart speaks again, more contained this time. “There is rage in his heart, clouding his mind. He will not be able to contain it.”
It’s not talking about Thomas this time, but about Denman. Daud knows what it means to say: if Denman joins this mission, the target will not survive. He’s aware of Denman’s trouble controlling his temper, has seen him kill a man unnecessarily on more than one occasion. But just how seriously should he take the words of a Voiddamned Heart?
“Was there anything else, sir?”
Daud decides. “Keep an eye on Denman. The target must live.”
“Yes, Master Daud,” Thomas salutes him, a fist over his chest and his head bowed.
Daud waits until he hears the tell-tale sound of a transversal before he slams his hand down on his desk and curses, loudly. “Voiddammit!”
The last thing he needs right now, the last fucking thing, is for his Whalers to think him even more unhinged than they already do. Catching him talking to thin air does not seem like the best way to accomplish that.
“Others cannot perceive me,” the Heart says, utterly unhelpfully. “Not even those you corrupted.”
Daud takes the accursed thing out of his pocket so he can properly glare at it. “Yes, that would have been great fucking advice ten minutes ago. You’re a bloody gift, alright.”
The Heart does not respond, and Daud wonders if chucking it out the window again would make him feel better.
“He has bound me to you,” the Heart repeats itself, sounding just as bitter about it as before. “You cannot be rid of me, as I cannot –”
“I know, I know,” Daud grumbles. “Fucking black-eyed bastard and his fucking gifts.”
He sits down on one of the old overturned file cabinets in the room he’s claimed as his own, holding the Heart in both hands. There’s a strange comfort in the feeling of the steady heartbeat beneath his fingertips. His headache slowly ebbs away.
“How many people did I kill over the years?” he asks the Heart, half-expecting it to give him an actual number, and then feeling half-disappointed when it stays silent. “None like the last. None like her. I’d give back all the coin if I could.”
Attano’s Heart pulsates strongly, once. It feels like an act of reassurance, like laying a hand on one’s shoulder, even if Daud knows, rationally, how ridiculous that sounds. Nevertheless, he clutches the Heart closer to his chest, confessing to it what he cannot tell the others.
“No one should have to kill an Empress.”
Alright, so this thing? This beast of a story that I'm currently estimating at 20 chapters in length? Yeah, this was supposed to be a mere ficlet. Just some angst with Daud and Heart!Corvo and a dash of Daud/Thomas thrown in because why not. And I ended up writing a whole novelisation of the first Dishonored with Daud as the protagonist. Ah, well. C'est la vie.
I have a backlog of a few chapters so updates should come every week on Tuesdays. If you want to yell at me for killing Corvo (or for any other reason, really), come find me on tumblr.
Chapter 2: II
It takes Billie the better part of a week to come up with a lead on Delilah he thinks worth pursuing. There’s a ship bearing the name, owned by Rothwild Slaughterhouse’s eponymous foreman, and that sounds just vague enough to be relevant. It could be a coincidence, but it’s not. In Dunwall, things are always tangled up like a bag of snakes.
“Bundry Rothwild,” Daud says with disgust. He hasn’t had the displeasure of dealing with the man before, but Billie’s report has enough mentions of assault, abuse of power, and other felonies to paint Daud a picture of his personality. It isn’t a pretty one.
“What do you make of this?” he asks Billie.
“I’m just wondering what kind of parents would name their child ‘Bundry’.”
That’s the Billie he knows and loves: a sarcastic little shit. “Anything else?”
“He’s a mean fucker, but then who isn’t these days,” she shrugs. “Worst thing about him is that he leaves a piss-poor paper trail. Couldn’t figure out if he bought the ship new or second-hand, so we can’t be sure he’s the one who named it.”
Daud tucks the file away. “Then let’s go ask him.”
Billie grins, and she’s transversed out the window before he can so much as blink. Daud smiles as he fetches a few of Sokolov’s Elixirs and Piero’s Remedies from underneath his desk. Billie may talk big about assassination, but it’s contracts like this, the jobs that require stealth and precision, that bring out the best in her.
“She is a master of two trades,” the Heart pipes up, and Daud starts violently. The thing has hardly made a peep since the day he received it, often only commenting whenever Thomas is in the vicinity. It doesn’t waste words on unimportant matters.
“What about her?” he asks, urgently. “Tell me.”
“Assassinations make her feel powerful,” the Heart obliges him, “but uncovering secrets makes her feel useful. She does not know which she likes better, but in due time, she will make a choice.”
Death or secrets. Daud doesn’t know how significant her choice will be, but he does know what decision he wants her to make. Only one option will allow her to remain by his side. Perhaps he ought to give her a splinter team, make her the commander of her own small network of spies. It might pull her away from the pursuit of death.
“Another will seek to pull her in the opposite direction,” the Heart says, sounding sombre. “I do not know if you can change her fate.”
“There’s no such thing as fate,” Daud tells it, despite his vow not to argue with the organ anymore. “We make our choices, and take what comes.”
“And the rest is Void,” the Heart supplies.
“And the rest is Void,” Daud echoes, resolutely.
The Heart falls silent, and Daud turns his attention back to his gear, stashing the elixirs in his pockets and grabbing some extra ammo for the wristbow while he’s at it.
Billie soon transverses back into the office, her face twisted in an impatient scowl. “Is your arthritis acting up again, old man?” she asks, teasingly. “Come on, we’re losing daylight.”
“What’s that?” Daud retorts, hiding his smile. “You’ll have to speak up, I’m a little deaf in this ear.”
“Har har, you’re hilarious.” Billie rolls her eyes, but he can see the corners of her mouth twitch as she fights off her amusement. “Hurry up already.”
“Alright, alright,” Daud concedes. “Take point, then.”
She grins wickedly. “Keep up this time.”
“Youngsters these days have no respect,” he quips. She sticks her tongue out at him and transverses away. Daud can see her on the rooftop of the factory opposite the Commerce Building, already tapping her foot. That’s arrogance, and it will cost her dearly.
He races her all the way to Slaughterhouse Row, and he wins, albeit barely.
From then on it’s business as usual, even if the alleyways surrounding Rothwild Slaughterhouse are quite a bit more populated than Daud would have liked. Apparently, there’s a strike at the plant, which means the streets are littered with protesting workers and an abundance of City Watchmen to keep them in check.
Still, sneaking into the slaughterhouse itself isn’t hard. Fools never think to look up, and their powers make it easy to zip across the rooftops. They slip in through the loading dock up high, and from there it’s smooth sailing, the bowels of the slaughterhouse deserted but for the few butchers still willing to work their shift.
At least, it’s smooth sailing until they come upon the live whale hanging from the ceiling.
It sings a song of woe, the anguished sounds so different from the whales that float peacefully in the Void. Daud clenches his teeth, feeling his anger fester, his Mark burning fiercely. The Outsider isn’t pleased.
“She has been here for three days,” the Heart says, its voice pained. “Her children went before her. They called out for her, but she could not reach them.”
Daud breathes deeply, attempting to calm himself. They came here with a purpose, and going out of their way for this whale is stupid and likely to get them caught. He shouldn’t interfere.
The Heart’s pulse quickens until he can feel it hammering against his chest, and Daud wonders, not for the first time, how strongly the organ is connected to the Outsider himself. Perhaps it beats as the deity’s would, if he had one.
“The agony!” the Heart laments. “Just let her die!”
Daud grasps the Heart in his hand, stroking his thumb against the leathery muscle. “Alright already,” he mumbles quietly. “Calm down.”
It complies, its beat slowing gradually in Daud’s hold. Daud scans the room, taking note of the three Butchers lumbering about, any and all entry and exit points, and the draining system the whale is hooked up to that simply screams Anton Sokolov. If he knows Sokolov, and he does, there’s no limit to the power the machine can channel, because Sokolov doesn’t put a limit on anything in his life. That’s the ticket.
He forms his left hand into a claw, glad he had the foresight to bring a few of Piero Joplin’s spiritual remedies, and bends time itself to his will.
The room stills completely, the whale’s anguished lullaby silenced, and Daud drops down onto the walkway.
“What the hell?” Billie asks softly, transversing down next to him. “What did you do that for?”
Daud strokes a hand across the whale’s rostrum. “I’m putting her out of her misery.”
He checks over the machine, quickly reading through a set of instructions Sokolov left behind for the workers, when Billie asks, incredulous: “You stopped time… for a whale?”
“Astute observation as always, Lurk.”
She lets out a laugh that’s far too condescending for his taste. “So, what, you’re a philanthropist now? What’s next, are we opening an orphanage? Animal shelter? Soup kitchen?”
Daud struggles to keep his temper in check, knowing from experience that anger will cloud his concentration and weaken his grip on time. “Well, considering more than half of your colleagues are orphaned and we’re already raising four wolfhound pups to do our bidding,” he says airily, “I think we’ve got those covered. Soup kitchen sounds like a good idea though, why don’t you get started on that?”
Billie has no snappy comeback to that, so she just crosses her arms and purses her lips. “This is still a waste of time.”
The receptors for whale oil are tucked away in the corner. “You can either stand there and complain about it, or you can get me a tank of oil,” Daud snaps at her, beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead as he struggles to keep time at bay. “Guess which will get this over with sooner.”
He considers it a small miracle when she follows his order without another word of protest, transversing to the other side of the room to pick up a tank and installing it promptly into the machine’s receptor.
Daud flips the switch and transverses back up onto the rafters just as he feels time slip through his fingers. The burst of electricity that follows is blinding, and the whale lets out one last cry before it slumps in the chains suspending it, finally at peace.
It also makes for a good distraction, every Butcher in the place running over to see what happened to their torture machine, allowing Daud and Billie to sneak into Rothwild’s office without a hitch.
The Heart flutters against his chest, as if sighing in relief. “Thank you.”
Unable to respond verbally with Billie right beside him, Daud gives it a single, gentle squeeze. It’s a peculiar heart to Heart, to say the least, but Daud has to fight to keep the pride from showing on his face. If even a small part of the former Royal Protector thinks he’s done well, he must be on the right path.
The sound of arguing voices renews his focus, and he creeps carefully forward until he can see Bundry Rothwild himself, locking horns with the woman who started the strike at his slaughterhouse.
“Disgusting man,” the Heart says disdainfully as Rothwild circles Abigail Ames like a bird does its prey. “He likes to listen to the whales as they die, revels in their suffering! He believes himself a god.”
Daud takes it out of his pocket, putting slight pressure in his grip. “Focus,” he murmurs, glad Billie’s concentration is on the conversation happening below. “Give me something useful.”
The Heart pulsates once in annoyance. “He… thinks he is invincible,” it says, clearly struggling to see past Rothwild’s crimes against the whales. “Approach, and he will bring down his Empire upon you.”
No other choice but to drag the information out of him, then. Daud generally doesn’t care for torture, because it’s more often than not just too damn messy, but he doesn’t think he’ll mind much in this case.
He’s about to relay orders to Billie when the Heart speaks again. “She knows more than she lets on. Her mind is filled with information she should not possess.”
“Ames?” Daud whispers, looking at the woman with scrutiny. She’s the true definition of plain, someone who’s easily lost in the crowd, but her eyes shine with an extraordinary amount of intelligence. Rothwild’s accusation of her being a spy for Jack Ramsey doesn’t seem all that farfetched. “Can we trust her?”
“She is not a good person,” the Heart says, “but she is honest, for a spy. Strike a bargain with her, and she will hold up her end, if you hold up yours.”
Daud nods, squeezing the Heart in thanks. He nudges Billie, signalling for her to knock Rothwild out. He has to repeat the gesture three times before she grudgingly stops pretending to misinterpret it as the signal for ‘kill’ and switches out the bolt in her wristbow for a sleepdart.
Daud transverses, appearing in front of Ames before Rothwild’s body even hits the ground. He might be looking to bargain with her, but he’s not above showing just who is higher up on the food chain in this exchange.
To her credit, Abigail Ames is entirely unimpressed, and the price she asks for the information he needs is steep, to put it mildly.
“You want me to blow up this slaughterhouse,” Daud repeats, trying not to sound incredulous. “What about the people inside?”
“Growing a conscience?” Ames asks, mockingly. “Don’t worry, the workers are already out.”
“Must’ve been hallucinations I saw carving up that whale back there, then.”
She scowls. “Those are the Butchers. They can die screaming for all I care.”
Not for all he cares, but that’s a concern for later. “You work for Ramsay, correct?”
Ames narrows her eyes at him. “If you’re thinking of trying anything, Jack won’t pay you a dime.”
Daud ignores her. “How does Ramsay harvest his whale oil?”
She stops short, the question obviously catching her off guard. “Not like this,” she says, once she’s decided there won’t be any harm in answering. “Our whales are killed before the oil is drained. It gives less oil, but the old Empress’ law allowed us to sell it for more, so it evened out.”
He doesn’t miss her use of past tense. “Burrows changed the laws,” he says slowly, recalling a recent news article on the Lord Regent’s plea for more whale oil from the slaughterhouses. “That’s why Ramsay sent you here.”
“Did the Lord Regent send you?” she asks, sharply.
“Really? I find that hard to believe, considering the information you’re after.”
“I don’t care what Burrows wants with The Delilah,” Daud says, truthfully. If he ever meets with the man again, it will only be to put a sharp piece of metal in his eye. “My reasons are my own.”
“Very well,” Ames says, sounding all but convinced. “Blow this place sky high and I’ll tell you all you need to know.”
Oh, he will. But he’ll do it on his own terms, not hers.
He snaps the fingers of his Marked hand and summons every one of his Whalers currently not out on a job. There are eleven of them, crowding the small room with their presence. To Daud’s vicious delight, their sudden appearance makes Ames let out a shriek of surprise.
Daud instructs his men, in no uncertain terms, that they are to evacuate the building stealthily and, most importantly, nonlethally. And even though he can see Devon and Andrei exchange a look, none of his whalers are stupid enough to question his orders in front of a client, and they disperse at his command.
Ames watches with wide eyes as he instructs Billie in his next breath to lock Rothwild into a shipping crate and put it on the first boat she can find. It’ll take the bastard months to return, and between his disappearance and the building blowing up, it’s more than likely that the City Watch will believe him to be responsible for his own slaughterhouse’s demise, an attempt to collect the insurance money in the face of the strike.
With all of his men on their respective jobs, Daud transverses away to take care of his own task. Whatever else can be said of him, he is honest, and he will keep his word. If Ames knows what’s good for her, she’ll do the same.
“Let’s hope you’re right, bodyguard.”
Tags: Low Chaos Daud
Daud: Kills whale, blows up slaughterhouse.
For fuck's sake, Daud.
Chapter 3: III
This chapter would not be half as good as it is without the wonderful input provided by BID, who has my eternal gratitude! <3 Go check out their story This Is All I Have, which is pretty damn amazing if I do say so myself.
As always, you are free to yell at me on tumblr if you feel so inclined ^_^
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thalia Timsh is not an easy woman to contact, Daud learns quickly, and much to his chagrin. He’s not surprised; her uncle, whom she’s openly defying, has connections to the Lord Regent, Parliament, and just about everyone who’s anyone in Dunwall. He wouldn’t deem it safe to open letters from unknown senders either.
The knowledge doesn’t make the waiting any less aggravating, however.
He’s sent out Billie to contact Thalia directly, but that was yesterday, and she still hasn’t returned with news.
It’s not that he’s concerned for her wellbeing; Billie knows how to handle herself, doesn’t get caught with her pants down easily. But if things are taking her this long, Thalia must be reluctant to cooperate, and that’s problematic. She’s their only way in.
Hands grip his shoulders, forcing him to stop dead in his tracks. Thomas stands in front of him, tendrils of the Void curling around his silhouette from his transversal. His face is inches from Daud’s own, dark eyes brimming with concern.
“What?” Daud barks, taking a step back in alarm.
Thomas’ hands fall back to his sides. “With all due respect, sir,” he begins carefully, “your pacing is maddening.”
Daud sighs, willing his nerves to calm. He’s been sharing his office with Thomas since the man returned with a nasty wound on his leg after his last mission. Just as the Heart predicted, Denman attempted to assassinate the target they’d been assigned to kidnap. Thomas managed to prevent a massacre and complete the contract successfully, but it resulted in Denman’s banishment and Thomas being forced to take some time to recover.
But sitting around uselessly is hell for Thomas, leaving him with far too much time to contemplate his nightmares, so Daud tasked him with properly archiving the paperwork from the past few months. It is busywork more than anything, but Thomas latched onto the job as if it was a lifeline.
“Sorry,” he grunts at Thomas. “I didn’t mean to distract you.”
He feels the Heart pulsate strongly against his chest, and he stifles a groan of exasperation. Having Thomas in his vicinity for most of the day has made the artefact especially moody, not to mention talkative, and, worst of all, suggestive.
“You always distract him,” it says, its voice laced with mischief. “You drive him crazy, even when you do not pace restlessly.”
Daud pointedly ignores it. He offers Thomas a grimace that almost passes as a smile. “I’ll fetch us supper,” he says, because Thomas needs to stay off his injured leg. “And sit down.”
Thomas sits down. “Thank you, Master Daud,” he replies, sounding genuinely grateful, but also guilty. He doesn’t much like getting waited on, especially not by his superior.
On his way to the kitchen, the Heart cannot stay silent. “His leg is healed, yet he holds his tongue. He basks in your company.”
Daud scoffs at that. “He’s just taking some extra time to rest.”
“You are aware of his regard for you, are you not?” it asks, surprisingly bluntly. “I could have told you as much even when I was still encased by a ribcage.”
“I know,” Daud says curtly. Thomas’ affections are subtle, like the man himself, but Daud makes his living seeing through other people’s façades. “But I don’t care for…” he trails off when Zachary passes him, hurrying towards the training room with an armful of wristbow bolts, “sex,” he finishes in a harsh whisper.
“He has knowledge of that, yet his desire for you has not diminished. He will take whatever you are willing to give,” the Heart says, and for once, there is no anger in its voice when speaking of Thomas. “Though what he sees in you, I can only wonder.”
Daud wonders about that, too – because he knows he is old, unattractive, and difficult to please, and he has no clue why a young, handsome man like Thomas would harbour such feelings for a person like him – and then he realises that the Heart is messing with him.
“I don’t like you, you know.”
The Heart laughs in Corvo Attano’s voice, a deep rumble that vibrates throughout Daud’s chest. “I have seen many realities, in this form,” it says. “In some, we were friends.”
Daud doesn’t know when he stopped walking. “The Outsider told me,” he begins, his mouth suddenly dry, “that I would have killed your Empress almost every time.”
“He spoke truly. But there is one thing he neglected to mention.”
The Heart’s beat slows, as if it’s contemplating its next words. “The Empress – Jessamine,” it says, the name spoken with difficulty. “Her murder, at your hands, has changed you. And it did, it does, it will, change you. Every time, without fail.”
Daud swallows, forcing down the growing lump in his throat. “Shut up,” he says, his voice coming out rather choked. He hasn’t cried since he was twelve years old and he woke up in a cage, taken from his mother. He won’t start now.
The Heart is mercifully quiet.
Billie returns late the same night with an invitation from Thalia Timsh, asking him to meet her at Treavor’s Close first thing in the morning.
Daud jumps on the opportunity, leaving his regular morning tasks in Thomas’ capable hands. He takes Billie along with him, despite her complaints about having to get up at the crack of dawn again – or at the crack of the Outsider’s ass, as she’s so fond of calling it.
“I hope this isn’t a humongous waste of time,” Billie mutters as they make their way to the Estate District. “She wasn’t all that forthcoming with me yesterday.”
“Agreeing to meet with an assassin without having something to bargain with isn’t smart,” he points out. “If she doesn’t have the information she promised us, we can see about getting Rothwild some company down in Samara.”
He can practically see the shit-eating grin behind Billie’s mask. “Fair enough.”
The Estate District is crawling with members of the City Watch, but most of them are Dead Counters in service of the Barrister and his ilk, and they aren’t particularly vigilant. There are even some Hatters squatting in a building just off the main streets, right under the noses of law enforcement.
And to the great misfortune of Thalia Timsh.
“Shit,” Billie mutters as she surveys the scene, from the dead body on the ground to the mean-looking gang member circling their client.
They’ll have to take him out, have to keep Thalia from harm at all cost, at least until she can give them the information they need. It shouldn’t be too hard, as long as they have the element of surprise on –
“I’m here to meet a man named Daud,” Thalia tells the Hatter, proudly, and Daud stifles a groan of dismay.
It’s not the sort of thing to blab about, but then the girl is only seventeen, and stupid enough to wander into Hatter territory with just one bodyguard. Hell, she’s bragging about it, telling her assaulter Daud will come to kill him, and that just puts the fucker on alert.
Daud signals to Billie to stand ready to get Thalia out of the way; he has to deal with this bastard now, or he’ll have an unnecessarily long fight on his hands.
He clenches his left hand into a fist, ready to transverse behind the Hatter, when the Heart’s beat quickens. “Up,” is all it says.
Daud falters, halting Billie with another gesture, and he activates his Void Gaze, looking up to see two more gang members hiding up on the roof, surveying the scene below. In his haste to ensure Thalia’s safety, he’d completely missed them.
He wordlessly points out the two additional nuisances to Billie, instructing her to take the left one, and they transverse simultaneously, appearing right behind their respective targets. The Hatters aren’t prepared for an assault from behind, and a simple Tyvian chokehold knocks them out within seconds.
Daud takes it upon himself to take out the Hatter threatening Thalia, transversing high up into the air and smashing down on him, bashing his head into the ground. He will live, but he’ll have one hell of a headache when he wakes up.
“Look at you,” Thalia says as he straightens up, sounding clearly awed. “The master assassin.”
Before the Empress, her words would’ve filled him with pride. Now his unofficial title just leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. “Lady Timsh,” he greets, bowing to her as befit her status. “I trust you know why I’m here.”
“Your woman told me,” she says, nodding at Billie. “You want to know about Delilah.”
She scoffs. “Well, my uncle is bewitched by her, so he won’t tell you anything,” she tuts, arms crossed. “I’ve seen it all happen, and I can tell you all about Delilah Copperspoon. I require only two things.”
Two. She’s bold, this one. “What?”
“Get rid of my uncle,” she gives her first unsurprising demand, “and bring me his last will and testament.”
Nothing too hard, then. “Consider it done.”
He gestures to Billie, and they transverse back up to the rooftops. Billie goes ahead, keeping an eye on the Watchmen below, and Daud takes the opportunity to nudge the Heart sitting in his pocket.
“Thank you,” he mutters begrudgingly. Without the Heart’s interference, he would have walked straight into that ambush. It’s not a fight he would have lost, but it is a fight he’s glad he could avoid. Having the Hatters add him to their shitlist is not something he needs right now.
“You are not meant to die yet, assassin,” the Heart responds. “There is a long road ahead of you still.”
That’s not what the Outsider said. “I thought ‘my story was close to ending’,” Daud recalls the black-eyed bastard’s words.
“The one in the Void is four-thousand years old,” the Heart says dryly. “The concept of time has faded to become meaningless. To him, your story was close to ending the day you were born.”
“But not to you,” Daud realises, enunciating the words slowly as he comes to the conclusion. “There’s something you want from me. That’s why you’re bound to me, of all people.”
The Heart’s beat quickens. “Yes,” it admits. “These days are dark, and full of terror. You could play a pivotal role, if only you so choose.”
That’s not what he was expecting the Heart to say. “I don’t see how.”
“You will. Before this day is done, you will.”
Daud knows he won’t get any more information from it. The Heart is as forthcoming as the deity who created it, it seems. “Cryptic little shit,” he mutters discontentedly, but the Heart’s responding chuckle diminishes his ire. It’s just as well. Arnold Timsh still needs taking care of, and he can’t very well sit on the rooftops arguing philosophy with an organ all day.
The Barrister comes first. He’ll see about deciphering the Heart’s equivocal message when he’s back home.
One forged document and a curious sack later, Arnold Timsh is on his way to Coldridge Prison for perjury, and Daud knows more about Delilah than he ever expected to learn – mostly because half of that information did not come from Thalia Timsh, but from Delilah herself, a living statue hidden away in the Barrister’s home.
By far the most important fact he learned is her location: Brigmore Manor, the home of her witch coven. Daud will have to take the fight to her, and for that he needs a ship that can make it past the quarantine lines.
“Stride has a ship,” Billie offers when he pitches the conundrum to her on their way back. “She owes you for liberating that crate of elixir from the Hatters for her.”
“Lizzy’s in prison,” Daud says, remembering the article posted in the Dunwall Courier on the heroic arrest of the Dead Eels’ gang leader. “And Wakefield doesn’t owe me a damn thing.”
“So break her out of prison,” Billie says, as if Coldridge isn’t famed for being impregnable. “Then she’ll really owe you.”
It says a lot about Dunwall, or perhaps about himself, that he seriously considers the suggestion, because Lizzy Stride is undoubtedly his best option. But busting someone out of Coldridge is a near impossible task, even for someone with his unique abilities, and he cannot afford to get caught.
“We’ll see about it back home,” he decides, knowing it’s pointless to start devising plans without proper reference. “We need to sort out the details. The one thing I know for certain is that I’m hauling your ass along.”
He expects a snarky comment back, perhaps something about the fragility of his back under such a strain, but Billie is silent, her mask betraying none of her emotions.
“You alright?” he asks, in what he hopes is a casual tone.
“Fine,” she replies instantly, too quickly to be believable. She breathes in deeply, the sound amplified by her mask. “I – thank you, Daud. For everything.”
They’re not words he was expecting, but he’s touched nonetheless. After months of disagreements and hostility, these last few jobs have brought the two of them close again, and Daud realises just how much he’s missed Billie’s respect, and her friendship. “You only have yourself to thank, Billie.”
She chuckles softly. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”
They’re silent the rest of the way home, and they arrive back at the Commerce Building just as the sun begins to set. Daud’s mind is on the bloodox stew Kent’s making for dinner tonight, and the thought of his bed after a long day out in the field – but he’s forced to attention by the small cluster of Whalers waiting for them at the building’s entrance.
“Master Daud,” Jenkins says immediately, the urgency clear in her voice, “there’s an Overseer in Rudshore.”
“An Overseer?” he asks, and when she nods, his brow furrows in confusion. “One Overseer?” Daud is baffled as to why this is such a crisis. Overseers have found their territory before, and they never lived to tell anyone. An invasion would have been a problem, but a single Overseer should not warrant this response.
Jenkins shakes her head. “He wasn’t sneaking around, sir. He walked in, and he asked to speak to you. He says he knows about Delilah.”
That is surprising, but it doesn’t matter. “I already know all I need to about Delilah.”
Jenkins wrings her hands together nervously, clearly at a loss for words. Rinaldo steps up to fill the silence. “He also said we have a traitor in our ranks.”
“Oxshit,” Feodor spits immediately, and Hobson nods fervently beside him.
Daud’s inclined to agree with Feodor, because he knows his men, dammit, but then the Heart speaks, and its words make the blood in his veins turn to ice. “The Overseer does not lie.”
“Where is he?”
“Outside, on top of the ruined building. We’ve tied him up, and Thomas and Rulfio are standing – ”
He doesn’t let Jenkins finish, transversing to meet with this Overseer immediately. If one of his men plans to betray him, he has to know.
On the highest standing floor of what once was an office building he finds Thomas and Rulfio flanking a lone figure kneeling on the floor, his hands secured tightly behind his back. The Overseer’s uniform is pristine, but he’s missing his mask, and the face it reveals looks utterly unperturbed by his situation.
Indeed, when he spots Daud, he smiles. “Ah, the Knife of Dunwall,” he says, as if greeting an old friend. “You aren’t an easy man to find.”
Daud already has one hand on his blade, if only to intimidate the bastard. “What do you want, Overseer?” he growls threateningly. “I warn you, I have little patience for the Abbey’s malarkey.”
The Overseer has the guile to laugh. “That makes two of us, then,” he says cheerfully.
“What. Do. You. Want,” Daud grinds out between clenched teeth.
His face turns serious, and it’s impossible to miss the intelligence gleaming behind his blue eyes. “Allow me to introduce myself,” the Overseer says, sitting up as straight as his bonds allow him. “The name’s Teague Martin, and I have a proposition for you, Knife of Dunwall.”
Martin: Hi I'm here to ruin everything.
Also, spot the Game of Thrones reference (April 14th, y'all! =D)
Chapter 4: IV
“A proposition,” Daud says flatly, wondering just how suicidal this Overseer is.
“Indeed,” Teague Martin confirms with an easy smile. “One I believe will be lucrative for both of us.”
Daud very much doubts that. “I’ve been told you know of a traitor among my men.”
Martin’s expression twists into something that might have been regret, if he hadn’t still been smiling. “You’ve been told correctly.”
“Who?” Daud demands.
Martin shifts his gaze from Daud to one of the Whalers guarding him, flanking the Overseer’s right side, and Daud stops breathing altogether.
In one swift motion, Daud lifts up the Overseer by his collar and places his blade against the bastard’s throat. “Don’t lie to me,” he snarls, because if there’s one person he knows would never betray him, without a doubt, it’s Thomas.
The Overseer laughs merrily, though it comes out choked in Daud’s iron hold. “I said nothing,” he wheezes, even if he knows perfectly well what he just implied. He’s clever, and that’s dangerous in an Overseer.
Daud drops him unceremoniously back on the floor, taking a shred of vindictive pleasure in watching him struggle to sit up with his hands tied behind his back. “Then speak.”
“Ah ah ah,” Martin tuts. “This information does not come for free. I need something in return.”
Where has he heard that before? “How about I don’t gut you like the hagfish you are?”
“A fair offer,” Martin says, still not perturbed in the slightest, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. My life isn’t worth all that much.”
He has to be bluffing, Daud thinks, his grip on his sword tightening, but the Heart does not agree. “The Overseer does not lie,” it says once again.
It hasn’t been wrong yet, about anything, and so against his better judgement, Daud sheathes his blade. “What is it you want, then?”
“Your assistance,” he begins loftily, “in dethroning Hiram Burrows.”
There’s a collective gasp from the Whalers that have gathered around them by now, followed by a chorus of hushed voices. Daud holds up a hand to silence them.
A pivotal role. This is what the Heart was talking about. This is what Corvo Attano would have him do.
“How do I know you aren’t working for Burrows?”
“Are you working for Burrows?”
Martin laughs. “Would you take my word for it?”
The Overseer does not lie. “Yes.”
If that surprises him, Martin doesn’t show it. He looks Daud in the eye, his face serious and sincere. “I am not working for the Lord Regent.”
Daud holds his gaze for several seconds, watching for even the smallest hint of insincerity. There is none.
That has his Whalers start whispering among themselves again, but Daud pays them no mind. They won’t have to join him on this crusade, but he knows, has perhaps known from the moment his blade pierced Jessamine Kaldwin’s stomach, that it is something he has to do. It’s something he wants to do. This will be his atonement.
“Now tell me,” Daud orders. “Who is the turncoat?”
He hears a blade being unsheathed before Martin can answer, and he whips around, fully prepared to meet his adversary blow for blow. But it’s just Billie, her sword laid out horizontally on her palms, as if in surrender.
“Billie, what –”
“It’s me,” she says dully, and when she looks at him, her eyes are filled with tears she refuses to spill. “I betrayed you.”
The silence that follows her proclamation roars in his ears.
He wants to deny it, wants to believe it’s all a joke, an elaborate prank they pulled on him, all his Whalers and this one Overseer. But he knows, as much as he doesn’t want to, that it’s true.
Death or secrets. Billie has made her choice. “You did this.”
“I told Delilah where we were hidden. She planned to relay the location to the Overseers, to have them lead an assault against you.” Billie glances at Martin, and smiles. “Seems that information didn’t make it into the right hands, thank Void.”
Martin grins at her in return. “Convincing my brothers not to trust the word of a heretic wasn’t all that difficult.”
She nods at him, a sign of begrudging gratitude and respect, before she looks back at Daud. “I thought it was my time. I thought you were weak, but I was wrong. I should have known better.”
“Stupid child,” a new voice sneers, and Daud’s head snaps up to see the flesh-and-blood model of the statue at Timsh’ estate standing on the remains of the floor above them. “All you had to do was cut his throat.”
Billie clutches her sword so hard she draws blood. “He deserves better,” she snaps at the witch. “I was an idiot to listen to you!”
“So that’s your choice, then,” Delilah says, sounding only mildly disappointed. “Daud, her betrayal would have been the sweetest, but either way the Brigmore Witches will be your end. You should have forgotten my name the day you heard it.”
If he hadn’t just learned that his second sold him out to his adversary, Daud might have wondered if the Outsider had given Delilah his name just like he gave Daud hers, to force two of his Marked into a showdown to entertain his whim. But he can only focus on Billie Lurk as she turns her back on Delilah, literally and figuratively, and kneels before him, holding out her sword for him to take.
“My life is yours. Kill me, or let me live,” she says, placing her fate completely in his hands. “If it even matters to you.”
It does matter. It matters more than anything, the life of this girl he cared for above all else, the daughter he never asked for but loved all the same. And even though he is being watched by his men, Martin, and Delilah, and he knows the smart move would be to execute her here and now, he also knows that her death would destroy whatever’s left of his soul.
“Touching,” Delilah coos nastily, “and pathetic. If I see either of you again, I’ll tear out your stone cold hearts and walk in your skin!”
And then she’s gone. There’s hatred for the witch bubbling beneath the surface, but Daud files the feeling away for later. Billie is more important right now.
“I forgive you,” he says, and it’s not until the words have left his mouth that he realises he means them. But he cannot keep her by his side anymore. “Get out of here. Leave the city.”
He watches her as she rises and sheathes her sword, soaking in her features for what he knows is the last time. “Get out of my sight, Billie. I give you your life.”
The sound of her transversal echoes throughout the eerily silent District, and Daud allows himself to grieve for exactly one long, shuddering exhale.
Then he squashes all his emotions to the back of his mind, and squares his shoulders. “I want at least two of you on patrol at every access point at all times,” he commands, his voice thankfully coming out much stronger than he feels. “Any disturbances are to be reported directly to me. Contracts will be put on hold until further notice.”
He emphasises his words with a flash of his magical aura, a heavy presence that lets his men know this is not up for debate. “Dismissed, all of you.”
There is a chorus of “Yes, Master Daud”, followed by a deafening rush from the Void as his three dozen Whalers vanish from sight at once, leaving him alone with Overseer Martin. Daud breathes deeply, grounds himself in the familiar sounds of creaking wood and lapping water, the ever-present scent of decay. This is his home, and he’ll be damned if he lets an Overseer see him display any sort of weakness here.
“Since I won’t need your help uncovering a traitor in my ranks,” he tells Martin evenly, “I expect a different payment for my services.”
Martin shrugs as best he can in his restraints. “I’ve spent some of my youth in the employ of a brothel,” he says nonchalantly, though his grin is positively cheeky. “I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
Thoroughly unimpressed, Daud raises an eyebrow. “You are, without a doubt, the worst Overseer I have ever met.”
“Don’t make me blush, now.”
Daud snorts. He trusts Teague Martin as far as he can throw him, but damn it if the bastard isn’t amusing. “I need a boat that’ll get me past the quarantine line.”
“And here I thought you were going to ask for something hard.”
“I decidedly do not want anything hard,” Daud deadpans.
Martin laughs at that, long and loud and earnest. “So the Knife does have an edge.”
“Sharp enough to slit your throat,” Daud grumbles. “Now can you get me a boat or not?”
“Of course. Any requirements?”
“When do you want it?”
“Tomorrow, then,” Martin says cheerfully. “Cut me loose and I’ll have it waiting for you on the Wrenhaven in the morning.”
Daud unties the ropes binding Martin’s wrists. “Careful, Overseer,” he warns, voice a low growl in his ear. “Don’t try and con me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Back in his office later that night, Daud allows his carefully maintained façade of strength to fall away. He sits on the edge of his bed, supporting his heavy head with both hands, and just breathes for a long time.
Then the weight of his responsibilities catches up to him, and he hauls himself to his feet with difficulty. There’s so much left to do before the assault on Brigmore Manor tomorrow; a plan to formulate, supplies to gather, favours to cache in. Most of it he would have delegated to Billie, but –
“You have thirty-eight Whalers left under your command,” the Heart interrupts his thoughts, rather dryly. “Surely one of them is worthy of being your right hand.”
“Damn sarcastic little shit,” he mutters, but he says it fondly. Even if Billie is gone, at least there’s still someone – if a disembodied organ can be called a ‘someone’ – to keep him on his toes. “Who do you suggest, then?”
There’s a pause. “It depends,” the Heart says slowly, “on what you want. Rinaldo is your best scout, Killian your best fighter. Rulfio is best with people, Jenkins is best with weaponry. What do you seek most in a second?”
“Loyalty,” Daud says, because it was the one thing Billie lacked. “I want to be able to trust them, completely.”
“Then you know whom to choose.”
He does. “Thank you.”
The Heart pulses in acknowledgement, and Daud summons his most trusted man.
Thomas appears some minutes later, saluting him. “Apologies for the delay, sir,” he says humbly. “I had to find someone to take over my patrol.”
Daud waves the apology away. “Take off your mask,” he orders.
He can tell Thomas is surprised by the way his posture stiffens, by the way his hands twitch as he reaches for his mask, but he executes the command without comment, and when the mask comes off, his face shows nothing but respect.
“Not only respect,” the Heart says teasingly.
Daud expertly ignores it. “I wish I could do this more formally,” he says, offering Thomas the most sincere smile his strained body can muster, “but there’s too much to do and no time to spare.”
For Billie, he had a red coat tailored to her frame, and given her a special model of wristbow that shot faster and reloaded easier. He’d presented them to her in front of all the others, back at their old base in the Rust District, and cemented her new authority for everyone to see.
He can’t do any of that for Thomas, and it bothers him. “I’m promoting you to second in command.”
Thomas has always been good at hiding his emotions behind a stoic expression of professionalism. Daud has learned to read his face over the years, was taught by experience that his lips are set thinner when he’s amused, or that a small twitch at the corner of his right eye means he is upset. But his expression now needs no careful reading, for it is an open book spelling out ‘bewilderment’ in gigantic letters across the page.
It’s a while before he remembers himself, and then he bows deeply. “I am honoured, Master Daud,” he says, even if his voice drips heavily with incredulity.
“But?” Daud prompts the unspoken question.
There are dozens of reasons Daud could name. Because he works harder than anyone else. Because he is a good leader. Because he has one of the highest mission success rates of anyone in the Whalers.
But Daud made his selection based on one reason only, and he has to be truthful if he wants that reason justified. “Because I trust you.”
A flicker of understanding flashes across Thomas’ face, and then he smiles, open and honest and genuine. “Your trust is not misplaced,” he says firmly. “I promise.”
Daud doesn’t doubt him for a moment. “Good. Because we’re launching an assault on the Brigmore Coven tomorrow, and I could use a hand.”
“Of course, Master Daud.”
“Drop the title, would you,” Daud grumbles as he returns to his desk to study his notes. “I need you to work with me now, not for me.”
“I… will try, sir. Daud.” Thomas trips over his name, as if saying it without its usual prefix is confusing his tongue. “Forgive me if I forget myself.”
Still so formal, and guarded. Billie hadn’t needed to be told twice, not that she ever called him ‘Master’ all that often in the first place. She settled into her role as his second immediately, naturally, gleefully taking advantage of her position to tell Daud he was being an idiot whenever he needed to hear it.
But then Billie also betrayed him.
“He is guarded because he is afraid,” the Heart reveals, its tone startlingly tender. “He fears being close to you in this manner will be his undoing.”
“Speaking from experience?” Daud mumbles under his breath, pretending he’s merely muttering to himself as he traces the river on the map in front of him.
The Heart is silent, and Daud’s almost forgotten about the conversation altogether, head bowed over an old blueprint of the manor, when it speaks again. “For a long time, the Royal Protector loved the Empress from afar, and he was content. When she granted him her attention, he loved her deeper, more intensely.” Its voice is warm and gentle when it talks of Jessamine Kaldwin, and the by now familiar feeling of guilt has Daud’s stomach in knots. He is the one who murdered that love. “He grew to love her beyond the point of no return, and if the Empress had rejected him, it would have broken his heart.”
In other words, keeping Thomas close like this, expecting familiarity, is cruel of him. But… “I have no one else.”
“No,” the Heart affirms simply, “you really don’t.”
The Surge? Never heard of it. No one dies. This is canon.
Chapter 5: V
The next morning, Daud gathers the six Whalers he wants by his side when he storms Brigmore Manor, and they head for the riverbank to see if Teague Martin is a man of his word.
He half-expects nothing at all, in which case he’ll gladly track down the Overseer and make him wish he was never born, and he half-expects a ship the size of Lizzy Stride’s Undine. What he gets instead is a tiny dinghy called Amaranth, along with a scruffy, grey-haired boatman.
“G’morning!” the man greets cheerfully, waving at them – actually waving at the Knife of Dunwall, his second, and five masked Whalers.
Daud approaches, Thomas half a step behind him. “Martin sent you?” he asks, perhaps unnecessarily. No one would be crazy enough to enter the Flooded District without incentive, and he’s never met anyone who didn’t tremble at the sight of him unless they had business to discuss.
“Yes sir,” he nods. “The name’s Samuel, and this here’s Amaranth. We can get you wherever you need to go.”
Rulfio steps up beside Daud. “Boss…”
Daud knows what he means to say, looking at the little boat and its seat that will barely hold two people. Clearly ‘seaworthy’ wasn’t the only demand he should have made of the vessel. “Go back to base,” he sighs. “Thomas and I will handle things.”
It’s not ideal, such an undertaking with only two people, especially since it’s Thomas’ debut as his second, but they’ll have to make do. Their plan relies heavily on the element of surprise in any case; Delilah won’t expect Daud to retaliate against her just a day after losing Billie, and that ought to work to their advantage. If push comes to shove, he can always summon some of his men, though that drains his magical energy more quickly than he’s comfortable with.
Rulfio salutes him, a fist over his heart, and relays Daud’s order back to the others. They vanish with a rush of the Void.
Samuel watches in wonder, mouth slightly agape as he follows the path of the Whalers across the rooftops until they’re gone from sight. Daud braces himself for the plethora of questions that is sure to come, perhaps even a reprimand for heresy he’ll be more than happy to glower away, but the boatman defies his expectations by simply giving them a benign smile.
“Where will I be taking you gentlemen today?”
“Brigmore Manor,” Daud says curtly.
“If you please,” Thomas adds quickly, ever polite. “It’s up north, in the Mutcherhaven District.” He holds out the map that shows the manor’s location and the best routes to get there, but the boatman waves it away.
“That won’t be necessary, sir,” he says jauntily. “I know these waters better than I do my own pockets, and I’ve had these pants for years.”
Looking at the faded, patched fabric, Daud doesn’t doubt for a moment that he’s had his pants for years. Whether or not they can trust him to get them across the river in one piece, however…
The Heart is quick to assuage his fears. “Samuel is a simple man, but he knows the River Wrenhaven and all its tributaries, down to the smallest inlet.”
It speaks fondly of the boatman, as if talking of an old friend. Perhaps Corvo Attano knew Samuel Beechworth, before. Perhaps it can simply sense goodness in him. Either way, Daud will follow the Heart’s guidance. It hasn’t let him down yet.
“Let’s go, then,” he says, stepping into the Amaranth and settling down on one end of the seat. “We’re losing daylight.”
“Right you are, sir,” Samuel affirms as Thomas clambers into the boat too, squashing himself in the seat next to Daud. They fit, but their thighs are pressed firmly together, and there’s a faint blush on Thomas’ cheeks that could easily be attributed to the cold air.
“You know perfectly well the cold air has nothing to do with it,” the Heart teases mercilessly, sounding like a child on Holgermas morning. “Just as it has nothing to do with what is going on down between his le-”
Daud wishes he could tell the accursed thing to shut the fuck up, but he can’t with Thomas and Samuel right there, so he settles for coughing, loud enough to drown out the end of the Heart’s sentence.
Samuel frowns in concern. “You haven’t caught the plague there, have you?” he asks. “I have some extra elixir if you’ll be needing it.”
The offer is as unexpected as it is kind, and Daud is forced to conclude that the Heart was right once again. There aren’t many people around willing to share Sokolov’s Elixir these days, even if they have surplus. Of course, his Mark protects him from disease, and even then he and his Whalers have enough coin to buy their own elixir.
“I don’t have the plague.” And then, after a heartbeat: “But thank you.”
The boatman smiles bashfully. “Ah, think nothing of it, sir. The world would be a much better place if we all just learned to share.” He looks out over the water as he steers, expression thoughtful. “O’course, things would be better too if the Empress were still alive, bless her soul.”
Daud feels Thomas tense beside him, even if his expression betrays nothing. He has trouble keeping the grimace off his face himself. Samuel has no idea he’s sharing his boat with the men responsible for the deaths of the Empress and her Royal Protector. No one knows just who killed Jessamine Kaldwin, even if Daud has been named as a suspect by just about everyone in the Isles for his notorious reputation alone. Burrows can’t out Daud and his men without compromising himself, won’t be able to explain how he knows when there were no witnesses to the crime. Daud suspects that’s the only reason the weasel of a man hasn’t brought the City Watch down upon them yet.
“It’s a shame,” Daud agrees with Samuel, and he means it. He never should have taken that Voidforsaken contract.
“Overseer Martin thinks it’s the Lord Regent who arranged her killed,” Samuel says quietly. “Don’t know if I believe that, but things have sure gone downhill since he rose to power. We’re all very grateful you’re willing to help set things right.”
Daud doesn’t deserve the gratitude, and he wonders briefly if he ought to tell Samuel the truth of his role in the Empress’ murder, but Thomas speaks first, a different issue on his mind. “‘All’?” he asks, rather sharply. “Who else knows about this?”
Samuel starts at the tone of Thomas’ voice. “Oh, there’s… eight of us now, sir.”
“Eight,” Daud repeats, not nearly as surprised as he should be. The Overseer may be clever, but no one plans to overthrow a tyrant all on his own. Of course there’s a conspiracy.
“Who?” Thomas prods.
“Well, there’s Overseer Martin, you’ve met him. Then there’s Admiral Havelock – former admiral, I should say. He was dishonourably discharged when he refused to sail for the Regent. He owns the Hound Pits Pub – that’s where we hide out,” Samuel explains. “He’s the one who got us started. And there’s Lord Pendleton, who –”
“Pendleton?” Daud interjects, and the anger must show in his expression, because Samuel ducks his head down instinctively. If the twins to whom he delivered Emily Kaldwin have anything to do with this operation, he will seriously need to reconsider his role in it.
“Lord Treavor Pendleton, the youngest,” Samuel elaborates, and Daud sinks back into his seat. “He used to work closely with the Lord Regent, but something soured there. Don’t know exactly what happened, but Lord Pendleton’s a good man, and his resources have really helped.”
Daud nods, motioning for him to continue. “Lord Pendleton’s manservant Wallace came with to assist him in the day-to-day. Lydia and Cecelia keep the place clean, bless them, and Piero’s one of them smart natural philosophers who keeps all the equipment running,” Samuel lists.
“Oh, and me,” he adds, as an afterthought. “But I just steer the boat.”
Daud sees Thomas relax, a kind smile gracing his lips. “And you do so expertly.”
Samuel’s ears turn pink at Thomas’ words, and he hastily waves away the compliment, even if it is nothing but the truth. The boatman proves his expertise by getting them past the quarantine line without a hitch, the small boat slipping through remarkably easily, and they arrive at Brigmore Manor before noon.
The witches won’t know what hit them.
Thomas isn’t Billie. He doesn’t speak as much, doesn’t respond to his signals as quickly, isn’t able to spot everything she would have. He prefers to stay half a step behind Daud, rather than right next to him. And Daud is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get the man to stop calling him ‘sir’.
But all that doesn’t mean that Thomas isn’t damn good at his job.
“You got one of them to turn on Delilah?” he asks, impressed. It seems the witch isn’t the only one who can inspire treachery. “How’d you manage that?”
Thomas shrugs easily, but Daud can tell he’s pleased with himself. “Coin.”
He cannot suppress the chuckle that escapes him. If Delilah’s witches are fickle enough to betray their mistress for a handful of money, this might be easier than he thought. “Excellent work, Thomas.”
“Thank you, Mas- Daud.”
He’s learning. “Let’s see what she knows.”
He transverses down from the balcony they’d been perched on, right in the path of the witch Thomas pointed out to him. The red of her coat matches his, and he imagines the scowl on her face mirrors his pretty well too.
“Don’t think I’m on your side,” is the first thing she says in a clipped tone, “because I’m not. If you raise a hand to any of my sisters but Delilah, you’ll answer to me.”
Daud isn’t planning on hurting any of the witches under Delilah’s command. He used to do business fairly amiably with the women before the painter took control, trading coin or services for well-crafted charms. And he knows better than anyone that the underlings are not at fault for their leader’s wrongdoings. The thought of someone tearing through his Whalers just to get to him makes his blood run cold. “Understood. What have you got?”
The witch purses her lips. “When her ritual is done, Emily Kaldwin’s mind will be gone, and Delilah will look out through her eyes, the rest of her life.”
“And Delilah will rule as Empress,” Daud realises, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. So this is why the Outsider gave him Delilah’s name. The black-eyed bastard already Marked one person who went on to murder an Empress, and he doesn’t want it to happen twice. And he gave the killer of Jessamine Kaldwin a chance at redemption by letting him save the next Empress from a life as a living puppet. Poetic, even for the Outsider.
“That’s up to you,” the witch says dismissively. “I’ve got my money, that’s all I need.”
She starts to walk away, but Thomas stops her. “Wait,” he calls. “You mentioned knowing a way in, before?”
“Use the crypt,” the witch says over her shoulder, and she keeps walking.
Daud turns to Thomas. “The crypt?”
“Secret passage, most likely,” Thomas muses. “Most old manors like this have an escape route in an inconspicuous place, like a tomb or an old well.”
Sometimes Daud forgets that Thomas was born a noble. “Did you have one?”
“In the wine cellar. Third barrel on the left was hollow.”
“You didn’t know?” Thomas asks, genuinely surprised.
“I didn’t,” Daud affirms. He hadn’t bothered to find out. “No wonder we failed to kill you.”
His was one of the most peculiar contracts Daud ever received. Thomas’ father had been obsessed with rooting out worship of the Outsider, regularly making hefty donations to the Abbey of the Everyman and preaching the Seven Strictures to whomever would listen. Somehow he’d gotten it into his head that the Outsider had corrupted his son, and after trying everything from an exorcism to burning off the flesh of the back of Thomas’ left hand with a hot poker, he hired Daud and his men to execute the young man.
The old Lord Carmine had been utterly insane, ironically failing to see Daud for an agent of the deity he so feared, but coin was coin, and Daud accepted. It was to be an easy job, killing a noble in his own home, with the blessing of the house’s Lord. But Thomas fought them with an intensity Daud had never seen in a noble before, taking down Montgomery and injuring Rulfio before they managed to disarm and corner him.
And even then he’d remained stoic, standing tall in the face of his impending death, and asked Daud in a perfectly polite manner if he’d mind making it quick. But Daud saw the scars on his arms, the one on his hand standing out most of all, and then he made a different choice.
He offered Thomas a place with him, as an assassin. All he had to do was kill his father.
The mad bastard was sent howling into the Void.
Thomas smiles thinly at the memory. “I do hope you don’t regret that, sir.”
“I have a lot of regrets, Thomas,” Daud understates flippantly, “but letting you live isn’t one of them.”
Thomas ducks his head to hide his pleased expression, and then the Heart thumps painfully hard against his chest. “You shouldn’t give him false hope,” it admonishes. “It’s cruel.”
Daud turns away, pretending to check on the turncoat witch’s position. “Yes, because saying ‘I’m glad I didn’t kill you’ is synonymous for ‘I love you’ in Serkonan,” he hisses into his collar. “And since when do you give half a shit about Thomas anyway?”
The Heart’s pulse dies down until it beats slower than Daud’s own. “He reminds me of… the Royal Protector.”
“He killed the Royal Protector,” Daud points out as he signals Thomas to make for the crypt.
“You killed the Empress,” it deflects nastily.
Daud transverses ahead of Thomas, and he smirks. “Do I remind you of the Empress then, bodyguard?”
The Heart huffs. “Ask again after you put some lipstick on, assassin.”
Daud stifles the laugh bubbling up in his throat as Thomas appears next to him again. “The crypt is ahead, sir. Daud.”
He forcibly retakes his focus, regarding the small mausoleum at the other side of the garden with scrutiny. It’s completely unguarded, solidifying the notion that Delilah is not expecting their assault on her hideout so soon.
Daud will make her sorely regret underestimating him.
Sorry Lizzy, you'll have to stay in prison for a while yet.
Chapter 6: VI
When they return to Samuel, the sun has long since set, and Daud is weary to the very bone. Time always did flow differently in the Void, making mere seconds feel like hours. And having to listen to Delilah’s arrogant drivel while crouched behind a piece of rubble didn’t help to speed his perception of time along either.
But she’s no longer a threat, her own ritual to possess Emily Kaldwin turned into a weapon that trapped her in the darkest corner of the otherworld. The next Empress’ soul is safe, and the weight on Daud’s shoulders has lifted ever so slightly.
“You did well,” the Heart says, almost fondly. “Thank you for saving… Jessamine’s daughter.”
Daud hums softly in acknowledgement, not daring to utter anything more with Thomas beside him and the boatman watching their approach, and he carefully grasps the organ in his palm. It feels strangely like an amiable handshake.
Samuel smiles at the two of them when they clamber back aboard the Amaranth. “Did it all go well?” he asks as he steers them away from the dilapidated manor.
“As well as could be expected,” Thomas nods, seeming pleased with the outcome of his first mission as Daud’s second. And he should be. He performed splendidly.
“Sure looks like it. Not a scratch on you,” Samuel agrees, sounding impressed. “Overseer Martin said I’d likely be taking you to deal with a real witch, so I wasn’t too sure if I’d be seeing you again.”
Thomas lets out an annoyed huff. “It never pays to bet against Daud.”
Samuel chuckles. “I won’t be making that mistake again, sirs.”
Thomas and Samuel make small talk as the Amaranth glides across the water, back into Dunwall proper, but Daud pays them no mind. His visit to the Void has left him utterly drained, as it so often does, and now that he no longer has to actively fear for his life, he finds himself drifting in and out of consciousness. It’s hard to fight off the near irresistible pull of Void-induced sleep.
It’s impossible, in fact, for he is awakened what seems like seconds later by a gentle jostling and an urgent whisper in his ear. “Master Daud!”
Daud lifts his head from its impromptu pillow, which he blearily identifies as Thomas’ shoulder, to look at the man’s worried face. “What is it?”
“We’ve passed the Financial District,” Thomas mumbles quietly, to keep the boatman from overhearing. “I don’t think he plans to take us home.”
Instantly alert, Daud sits up abruptly to survey their surroundings, finding that they have indeed missed the inlet that leads back to base. “Where are we going?” he demands sharply of the boatman.
Samuel rubs the back of his neck with his free hand, pointedly looking out at the water. “Terribly sorry sirs, but Overseer Martin said to take you directly to the Hound Pits once you’d completed your business.”
Daud’s expression darkens. “Afraid I wouldn’t keep my end of the deal?”
The boatman at least has the grace to look ashamed. “I think so, sir. They’ve been planning to take down the Lord Regent for months, and now that things are about to be set in motion… well, they’re a bit antsy, I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course,” Daud all but growls, hands clenched into fists so tightly the leather of his gloves creaks under the pressure. Thomas, too, has a look in his eyes that can only be described as stormy, but they hold their tongues, for now. It isn’t the boatman’s fault, after all.
Samuel clears his throat awkwardly. “For what it’s worth, sirs,” he says carefully, “I think you’re both perfectly respectable gentlemen, despite your… profession.”
“Well, as long as we’re respectable murderers,” Thomas drawls.
The look of shock on Samuel’s face, followed by a hearty laugh, is enough to make Daud’s anger subside, for now, and he pats Thomas’ knee to show his appreciation. Seems like the man has the potential to grow into a proper sarcastic shit after all.
“Oh, so you’re touching now,” the Heart interjects smugly, and Daud pulls his hand away like he’s been burned.
The Heart laughs. “The small of his back is particularly sensitive,” it whispers suggestively, sounding like it’s having the time of its unlife. “For starters.”
The Outsider must be having a ball, Daud thinks sulkily as he crosses his arms, regarding his reflection in the murky water of the Wrenhaven. Fucking black-eyed bastard and his fucking gifts.
Thankfully, the trip is short, and soon enough Samuel docks his boat near the ruins of an old tower, a slightly more inhabitable building visible close by.
Samuel hops out of the boat with an agility that belies his age, smiling contently at the sight of his home. “Well, here we are, sirs. Welcome to the Hound Pits.”
Daud climbs out next, quite happy to be back on solid ground. He never did have sea legs.
He absentmindedly offers his hand to Thomas, the same way he always used to do with Billie. Except Billie always smacked it away with a scowl, which is really the one reason why he kept doing it. Thomas has no such reservations, taking the extended appendage with a grateful smile, using its support to bridge the small gap between the boat and the shore.
The Heart thumps loudly against his chest when they let go, and Daud, recalling its earlier words, presses his palm against the small of Thomas’ back like one might do when hurrying a lady along. He does it out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, to see if the Heart’s knowledge extends to even this. He is not prepared for the gasp that leaves Thomas’ lips, nor for the way his pupils dilate in what even Daud cannot deny is desire.
Thomas schools his expression into its apathetic default in the blink of an eye. “Apologies,” he says, voice strained almost imperceptibly. “Old injury.”
“Of course,” Daud grants him the escape, allowing Thomas to fall into pace half a step behind him to further compose himself. They need to be alert for this meeting with the conspiracy.
Inside his pocket, the Heart laughs merrily.
The three men enter the Hound Pits Pub to the sounds of clinking glasses, the sweeping of a broom, and hushed voices, all of which cease immediately when Samuel clears his throat. Everyone in the bar turns to stare at them – or rather, at Daud. Seven people, he doesn’t fail to notice. Samuel hasn’t lied to them.
Martin emerges from behind a burly man in a naval officer’s uniform, smiling broadly. “The Knife returns victorious,” he exclaims, raising his tumbler. “The witch has met her end, then?”
“Ding-dong,” Daud replies wryly, earning a snorted laugh from one of the serving ladies.
“By the Outsider, you were right,” the nobleman who can only be a Pendleton gasps. “He really does have a sense of humour.”
“Yes, yes, it’s all very amusing,” the naval officer interjects, looking about as amused as the brick wall behind him. “Except the Empress is dead, her rightful heir is missing, and there’s a tyrant ruling the Empire.”
He steps forward, into Daud’s space, using his height to try and intimidate the assassin. Daud already doesn’t like him. “Are you really here to help us get the Lord Regent off the throne?”
Thomas covertly slinks into a combat position behind him, but Daud doesn’t move a muscle, staring the Admiral down evenly. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”
“You could be here to kill us.”
Daud grins rather nastily. “If I were here to kill you, you’d be drowning in your own blood by now.”
The silence that follows carries a tension so thick only a Butcher’s saw would be able to cut through it.
“Now, now,” Martin drawls, sounding bored more than anything, “we’re all friends here at the Hound Pits. Farley, be courteous to our guests.”
The Admiral’s beady eyes slide from Daud to Thomas. “And who’s this?”
“He’s mine,” Daud barks, sharply enough for Pendleton to flinch violently. “That’s all you need to know.”
“Excellent choice of words there,” the Heart sees fit to tell him, sarcasm heavy in its tone.
Daud ignores it in favour of watching the Admiral back off, a resigned look in his eyes. “Very well. It’s not like we have much choice in the matter. Even if we have to work with the scum of the earth to reach our goals.”
If Daud didn’t despise Hiram Burrows so much, if this wasn’t an opportunity for him to fix some of his mistakes, he wouldn’t have stood for that kind of snubbing. As it is, however, it’s in his best interest to stay on the good side of these people, the leading three in particular, if only for the information they’re sure to possess.
That doesn’t mean he takes kindly to being insulted.
His magical aura flares, its presence so stifling even Thomas shifts uncomfortably. “I suggest,” his voice booms, his words anything but a mere suggestion, “that you refrain from questioning me again.”
He releases the flow of magic, and a collective sigh of relief is breathed throughout the room. “Or we may have a problem.”
“I’m sure Farley meant no disrespect –” Martin begins, but Thomas interjects.
“As you didn’t, when you instructed your boatman to keep us from our home?” he asks calmly, even if his eyes spell murder.
“A mere insurance.”
“You did not trust Master Daud to keep his word.”
“Well of course we don’t trust you,” the nobleman says, slightly hysterical. “You’re the most wanted men in the Isles!”
“You’re the ones who came to me,” Daud reminds him bitingly.
“Well, that’s just –”
“Wait!” an exclamation puts an end to the quarrel, and Daud turns to see a feeble-looking man peering at him through a pair of small, round glasses. “I know you!”
Pendleton’s manservant sighs exasperatedly. “Everyone knows him, Piero, his face is on every wanted poster from here to Samara.”
“No,” Piero says, shaking his head, “you were at the Academy in the winter of 1819. You followed Sokolov’s class on barriers beyond the physical.”
Daud cannot deny that. “I did.”
“You disproved his theory on the metaphysika mysterium right in the middle of his lecture,” Piero grins. “It was one of the greatest moments I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Thank you.”
“You’re… welcome,” Daud says, nonplussed.
The natural philosopher smiles broadly. “Would you do me the honour of collaborating with me on my latest project?” he asks eagerly. “I have some original research on the inner workings of the Void and its connection to the human spirit –”
“For Void’s sake, not now, Piero,” Admiral Havelock cuts him off impatiently, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We have more important matters to discuss.”
Daud thinks it may be the first and only time he’ll ever agree with the man. “Let’s talk business, then,” he says, tone leaving no room for argument. “I’m assuming you have something of a plan?”
“Of course we do,” Martin says. “The first phase of one, at least.”
“Getting close to Hiram Burrows is nearly impossible,” Havelock explains with a sour expression. “Even a man like you can’t breach the Tower as it is now. The Lord Regent has barricaded himself behind a legion of guards and masses of Sokolov’s security. We need to weaken him first, by getting rid of his funding, his votes in Parliament, and the support he receives from the Overseers.”
“But our first and foremost priority,” Pendleton jumps in, “is, of course, finding and retrieving the next Empress. With her out of his reach, his claim on the throne will be considerably weakened.”
“Which is why we believe the best opening move is to remove High Overseer Campbell from play,” Martin concludes. “Not only will this give us an opportunity to ensure the new High Overseer doesn’t back Burrows, it will likely also lead us to the location of Emily Kaldwin, if you can find Campbell’s notorious black book.”
It’s a decent plan. But Daud has a better one. “You, Pendleton,” he addresses the nobleman, who instinctively stands up straight. “Where are your brothers?”
Pendleton’s face scrunches up as if he’s eaten a lemon. “My brothers have nothing to do with our organisation, I assure you.”
“Where?” Daud repeats through clenched teeth.
“T-the Golden Cat, probably,” Pendleton stammers hastily. “That’s where they’ve been spending most of their time, since the Empress died.”
“What does it matter?” Havelock asks impatiently. “Our primary goal is to eliminate High Overseer Campbell –”
“The primary goal,” Daud interjects sharply, “is recovering Emily Kaldwin.”
Havelock looks like he wants to argue, but Martin beats him to it, eyes sharp. “The Lord Regent has a close relationship with the twins, since they control the majority of the votes in Parliament,” he muses. “You think he entrusted the Kaldwin heir to them?”
“I don’t think. I know.”
Havelock scoffs. “We’ve been gathering intel on the Lord Regent and his plans for months now. How could you possibly have information we don’t?”
Daud hesitates, briefly. Admitting to the murder of Jessamine Kaldwin could be a death sentence. But then these people are knee-deep into a conspiracy to overthrow the current head of state, and they have a right to know whom they’re choosing to do business with. Besides, Emily Kaldwin knows his face. He won’t be able to keep this secret for long.
He glances at Thomas, who nods once, encouragingly.
“Because I’m the one who brought her to them.”
For a few seconds, the room is utterly silent. Then Pendleton drops his tumbler, which shatters deafeningly on the grimy floor, and Havelock curses like the sailor he is.
“You killed the Empress,” Martin states eventually, a look of wonder in his eyes. “You’re the assassin Burrows hired.”
“You’re actually surprised?” Daud asks, vaguely amused despite himself. “You’re dealing with me for the exact same purpose.”
“Is that why you’re helping?” the redheaded serving girl asks, eyes wide as she regards him with a mixture of admiration and horror. “So you can say you’ve killed two rulers?”
“No,” Daud sighs. “Killing Jessamine Kaldwin was a mistake.”
“We had no choice,” Thomas adds solemnly. “We’ve done odd jobs for Burrows before. He knows the location of our base. If we’d refused, he would have brought down the Abbey and the Watch upon us.”
There’s always a choice, Daud thinks bitterly. He’s made his, and now he’s reaping what he sowed.
“Well,” Samuel says uncertainly, speaking for the first time since they came to the pub, “at least you’ll know your way around the Tower.”
The serving girl with brown hair and mischievous eyes laughs at that. “Right you are, Sam. Now then, will you gentlemen be taking refreshments? Begging your pardon, but you look like you could use some.”
“We need to start planning –” Havelock begins irritably, but the woman waves his protests away.
“Look at them, they’re dead on their feet,” she scoffs, making Daud wonder if he really does look as tired as he feels. “Food and sleep first. The Golden Cat will still be there in the morning.”
There’s no arguing with her, and even the Admiral relents. She nods contently, strolls over to Daud and Thomas, and hooks her arms around theirs, pulling them along with her. “We’ve a lovely attic room for your pleasure,” she smiles easily, seemingly unperturbed that she’s walking arm in arm with two of the most dangerous men in the Isles. “Cecelia changed the linen just this morning.”
She leads them up the stairs to the top floor, chattering happily about the pub and her position as hostess all the while. Up in the attic, she opens the door to a surprisingly spacious and clean room. “Make yourselves comfortable,” she orders, gesturing to the bed tucked away in the corner. “I’ll be back with some food shortly. That Wallace can make even the canned stuff taste good.”
“Thank you, miss,” Thomas says gratefully.
“Oh, think nothing of it, dear,” she says flirtatiously, giving Thomas an appreciative once-over that makes Daud’s skin crawl. “If you need anything else, just ask for Lydia.”
She saunters out, hips swaying suggestively. Thomas smiles at her retreating form. “She’s lovely.”
Daud grunts noncommittally, and the Heart chuckles. “Jealous, are we?”
As he’s become so accustomed to doing, Daud ignores it. He sits down on the bed, breathing a sigh of relief when he no longer has to support his own weight. Thomas follows suit, perching on the edge of the mattress. Daud knows he’ll offer to sleep on the floor. After his visit to the Void, Daud also knows he won’t argue with him.
His entire body feels heavy, and despite his growling stomach urging him to stay awake for supper, Daud’s eyelids droop all too soon, and he falls asleep within seconds.
It’s the first time since he killed the Empress that he does not have the nightmare.
The Loyalists: *hire the most notorious assassin in the history of ever*
Daud: I killed the Empress
The Loyalists: =O
Lydia: I'd still hit that
Chapter 7: VII
Alright, before you do anything else, please that a look at this beautiful art of Thomas <3! Made by my friend BID, whose name you've probably seen pop up in the notes before. If you've ever wondered how I imagine Thomas' appearance for this story, that's pretty much it.
Find me on tumblr if there's anything you'd like to talk about!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Daud wakes to the distinct lack of sewage and decay in the air, a comfortable mattress under his back, and a peculiar weight on his legs.
He drapes an arm over his eyes, seriously contemplating just going back to sleep. He hasn’t had this fine a rest since before the Empress, no Void in his dreams for the first time in six months, and he’s very tempted to prolong the feeling.
But he never could fall back asleep once he was awake, his overactive mind already mulling over the retrieval of Emily Kaldwin, trying to remember the Golden Cat’s entry points, which of the courtesans are willing to share information, and who among his Whalers would be best suited for this particular mission.
Provided his Whalers want to join him on this escapade, that is. Daud will not force any of his men to follow him into the fire just so he can earn himself a speck of redemption. His family will always come first.
Now fully conscious, Daud sits up with a groan, with the intention of getting up. But he’s stopped by a sight that has a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Thomas is curled up at the foot of the bed like a cat, his head resting on Daud’s shin. He always could sleep in strange positions, has even been caught asleep standing up by Yuri once. The exhaustion from last night must have prevented him from seeking another place to rest, instead falling into slumber right where he’d sat down.
“Or, you know, he saw his chance to get into bed with you,” Attano’s Heart chuckles teasingly.
“Sarcastic shit,” Daud mutters back quietly, unwilling to wake Thomas when he looks so peaceful for once. His usually schooled face is open and relaxed in sleep, wrinkles smoothed out to make him look ten years younger than he is. It’s an endearing sight.
“Oblivious idiot,” Attano counters. “You know what he feels for you.”
Unable to go anywhere anyway, Daud leans back against the pillow. “I’m no good for him,” he sighs, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. “He deserves better.”
“Everyone deserves better than your sorry arse,” Attano says merrily. “But he doesn’t want anyone else.”
“He will, in time,” Daud argues, but the thought is disconcerting, twisting his insides painfully.
“Not while you live.”
Daud crosses his arms. “Remind me to jump off Kaldwin’s Bridge, then.”
Attano laughs. “Only you would rather kill yourself than admit you’re in love, assassin.”
Daud is spared the necessity of replying by a soft knock at the door, followed by the red-haired serving girl sticking her head into the room. “Excuse me, sirs – oh,” she stumbles when she sees Thomas still fast asleep in the peculiar position he’s in. “Am I… interrupting?”
In his sleep, Thomas frowns at the sound of voices, wrapping an arm around Daud’s leg and attaching himself closer. The girl hides her smile behind her hand. “I’ll just be back later.”
Daud watches her go in mild annoyance. So much for their reputation as fearsome killers for hire.
He picks up a book left on the small nightstand beside the bed, a sensationalised piece of fiction on the dealings at Bitterleaf Almshouse. He passes the time reading the drivel with strange fascination, wondering all the while how someone could actually have sat down to write a three hundred page novel romanticising murder. Obviously the writer never so much as witnessed a real killing, doesn’t have the slightest clue how messy death truly is. The fictional murderer would never have been able to do half the things she did without blood spurting out like a fountain, not to mention the fact that a butter knife simply can’t cut that deep, regardless of –
He’s become a critic of fictional murder, Daud suddenly realises in mute horror. How low the Knife of Dunwall has fallen.
Daud closes the book immediately, seriously contemplating chucking it out the open window.
“You can’t solve all your problems by throwing them out windows,” Attano says dryly.
“I could before you showed up,” Daud returns, smiling vaguely. He’s gone a long way from wanting to hurl the organ as far away as possible to where he is now. Strange as it seems, Corvo Attano has become something of a confidante to him, a friend, even. He can hardly remember a time when Attano’s Heart wasn’t inside his pocket, snarking something at him.
Daud places the book back on the nightstand and fetches his wristbow from where he’d unceremoniously dropped it the night before. He’s still stuck here for as long as Thomas is asleep; he may as well check his equipment in the meantime.
Eventually, when the sun is high and Daud has moved on to cleaning his bloodless blade, Thomas stirs. He blinks blearily, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion as he tries to discern just what he’d been resting atop. His eyes travel upwards, meeting Daud’s, and then they widen almost comically.
He all but jumps out of the bed. “A thousand apologies, Master Daud,” he says hastily, head bowed in submission. “I didn’t realise –”
“That you were dead on your feet last night?” Daud interrupts, placing his blade down beside him. “Thomas, you don’t get to apologise for falling asleep after putting up with me all day.”
“Putting up with you is my job now,” Thomas snaps back, and then his sleep-addled mind realises what he’s just said. “No, I didn’t mean – Outsider’s eyes, you know what I mean.”
Daud cannot help himself; he laughs, a deep, genuine rumble. “What, you think Billie’s never used me as a pillow before?”
He can’t rightly recall the amount of times he and Billie fell asleep against one another, huddled close for warmth or cover. The two of them went out on the longest, most difficult missions, and getting sleep whenever they could was more important than keeping a respectable distance.
Her betrayal still stings.
“Nevertheless, it was disrespectful,” Thomas says, sounding a bit more composed and awake. “It won’t happen again, sir.”
Daud doesn’t miss the ‘sir’, a sure sign that Thomas has put his guard up again. Perhaps Attano is right. Perhaps it really is cruel to expect the same familiarity of Thomas as he did of Billie.
But then he still has no one else.
With a sigh, he hauls himself out of bed too, and once he’s sure all his weaponry is back on his belt, he makes for the door. “Let’s go. We’ve a lot to do.”
Thomas follows behind him obediently as always, and they make their way down to the bar together.
Lydia grins at them when they enter. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” she says cheerfully. “I trust you slept well?”
“Afternoon?” Thomas balks at the word. Daud doesn’t think the man has ever woken up after dawn before. “Oh, Void…”
He drags a hand across his face, and Lydia laughs. “You obviously needed the rest, dear,” she says fondly. “Neither of you managed to stay awake for supper.”
“Or breakfast, apparently,” Thomas mumbles miserably.
“We saved you some,” Cecelia pipes up from her place behind the bar. “If you’re hungry.”
Daud feels his empty stomach twist at the mention of food, and Thomas too perks up. “Yes, please,” his second says politely.
Cecelia prepares their meals swiftly, setting out the plates and two mugs of coffee on the bar. “I’m afraid the sausages have gone cold by now. Sorry.”
Thomas smiles at her as he sits down on one of the barstools. “I’m sure it’ll be delicious.”
She blushes a fierce scarlet, muttering something about Wallace having made the food, and then she quickly scurries off to wipe down the tables. Thomas watches her go with a frown. “Did I say something?”
Lydia laughs. “No dear, you’re just handsome.”
“Lydia!” Cecelia shrieks, her face now as red as her hair. “You can’t just say that!”
“Oh please,” Lydia says, swatting at Cecelia with her cleaning rag. “If I couldn’t tell men they were handsome I’d still have my flower. Besides, it’s the truth.”
“Yes,” Cecelia hisses, “but you shouldn’t say it!”
Lydia throws an arm around the girl’s shoulders. “I have so much to teach you, young one,” she sighs dramatically. “Come along, we can talk upstairs while you sweep the floors.”
“Hey, it’s your turn to sweep today!”
“Do you want advice or not?”
“Well then.” Lydia all but drags the younger woman along towards the staircase. “Let’s get to it.”
Before they disappear upstairs, she sticks her head back around the corner. “Enjoy your meal, loves.”
And then they leave, Lydia already beginning a story about a poor young sap she’d wrapped around her finger some time ago. Daud and Thomas remain alone on the pub’s ground floor.
Daud shakes his head and chuckles softly. The two women remind him strongly of Quinn and Misha, almost always arm in arm and giggling about something the men didn’t quite understand. He wonders if they’ve ever had a hushed conversation about Thomas, like Lydia and Cecelia are probably having now. They must have. Even to an objective eye, Thomas is good-looking, with his short blond hair and warm brown eyes that light up when he smiles.
Thomas sighs, drinking deeply from his coffee. “I miss my mask at times like this.”
“I’m sorry,” Daud says, spearing a blood sausage on his fork. He’s the one who insisted Thomas didn’t wear his mask anymore after his promotion. Perhaps, if he’d asked the same of Billie, he could’ve seen the intent of betrayal in her eyes. He doesn’t want to risk the same with Thomas.
“You just want an excuse to look at his pretty face all day,” Attano sees fit to butt in. Daud pokes him sharply with his fork through his jacket, earning him a satisfying hiss of pain.
“I didn’t mean to complain, sir,” Thomas says. “I just forget, sometimes.”
“What, that you have a noble’s features?” Daud asks, and Thomas nods. “I could break your nose a few times, see if that helps.”
Thomas hides his smile behind his mug. “I’ll consider it. It’s still a bit too early for physical violence.”
“Thomas, it’s the afternoon.”
He makes a face. “Void, don’t remind me.”
They eat quickly, a habit picked up from years of eating whatever and whenever they could. Daud is working on his last quail egg when Martin enters, raising an eyebrow when he spots the two assassins at the bar. “Ah, so you’re finally awake? We were just about to call the dead counters on you.”
Daud drains the last of his drink. “Call them, then. I’ll make sure they have something to pick up.”
Martin barks a laugh and walks to the bar to fetch himself a pear soda. “When you’re finished,” he says, nodding to their near-empty plates, “Piero wants a word with you.”
Daud stifles a groan. “On the metaphysika mysterium?”
The Overseer grins. “For your sake, I hope not.”
Despite his trepidation, he agrees. The natural philosopher may be peculiar, but he is remarkably bright, and Daud knows from his intelligence runs to the Golden Cat that he is the one who designed half the specialised equipment in the bathhouse. Perhaps he’ll have some insight on how to get in and out unseen.
He sets off to the little workshop next to the bar alone, leaving Thomas to finish his breakfast and get a much needed second cup of coffee. Finding the natural philosopher isn’t hard; he only has to follow the sounds of a heavy drill to spot Piero standing over a small metal object, muttering softly as he fiddles at it with a screwdriver.
Daud clears his throat to announce himself, and Piero jumps, the screwdriver rattling against the metal.
“Careful, please!” he chides as he steadies his hands. “The device is in a very delicate state!”
“You wanted something?” Daud grunts, already out of patience for the inventor. His inability to handle natural philosophers and their twitchy quirks was one of the reasons he left the Academy without finishing his studies. “Or should I come back later?”
His last remark is dripping with sarcasm, but Piero doesn’t pick up on that. “Oh no, that won’t be necessary, but thank you for your consideration,” he says. “It is so refreshing to have a colleague around. The others simply do not understand how mentally straining it is to entertain ignorant company in the face of a great innovation.”
Daud pinches the bridge of his nose, willing himself to stay calm. He’s dealt with natural philosophers before, not to mention hordes of novice assassins, a litter of wolfhound pups, and being snarked at by a disembodied organ no one else can hear. He can bring up the patience for this. He can.
“Ah, there we are,” Piero exclaims, carefully extracting his precious project from the vice that kept it steady. “I’ve spent most of the night adjusting it; it should be perfect.”
It’s a mask, a gruesome skull-like visage that is unsettling even to a man like Daud. He knows why. It holds an unmistakable aura of the Void, as if the Outsider himself guided Piero’s hands in making the monstrosity. Perhaps he did. Daud wouldn’t put it past the black-eyed bastard.
“It’s for you,” Piero clarifies, smiling almost bashfully. “I know you and yours have those industrial whaling masks to conceal your identities, but they’re as telling as your faces nowadays. This mask is still unknown, a clean slate. It can mean terror to those who oppose you, but it may just inspire hope in those you aid.”
A clean slate. Daud likes the idea far more than he has any right to.
He takes the mask. “Thank you.”
“Oh, it’s a trifle,” Piero waves away his thanks, even if the bags under his eyes seem to indicate otherwise. “Now, my door to nowhere, on the other hand, that is research that boggles the mind! You see, with the proper application of energies, I believe I can transform the doorframe into a window of sorts…”
Daud groans. It’s going to be a long afternoon.
How to Make Friends With the Weird People in Your Conspiracy: A Guide (Results May Vary).
Chapter 8: VIII
Daud doesn’t know just how he got himself roped into assisting Piero with his latest experiment, but when he finally leaves the workshop, his back is sore, his coat is stained with whale oil in several places, and the sun is already setting.
He finds Thomas leaning against the workshop’s wall, seemingly relaxed but surveying the pub with a sharp eye, ready to warn Daud of any trouble at a moment’s notice. It’s not what Billie would have done, Daud can’t help but note. Billie would have positioned herself on the walkway above the workshop, so she could survey not only the pub itself but also its surroundings and even the river.
But then Billie wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation with the Hound Pits’ residents, scowling away any who’d dare try to talk to her, and she wouldn’t have gathered the same information Thomas has.
“They’re planning on bringing another into the conspiracy,” he tells Daud in a hushed voice as they walk past Cecelia, who’s sweeping the yard with a bit more aggression than strictly necessary. “Someone to care for and school the Empress while she’s here.”
“Not unwise,” Daud says. He’s not too keen on having another person in on the plans to depose Hiram Burrows, but then he doubts any of the current conspirators knows the slightest about raising a young girl, let alone a future Empress. “Do you know who?”
“No,” Thomas shakes his head. “I believe the Admiral has someone in mind, but he’s not been very forthcoming.”
Daud snorts at the understatement. The Admiral can’t stand the sight of them, hates being forced to work with them. Daud can’t even say he blames the man.
“We’ll see about the nanny when the time comes,” he decides, his mind on entirely different matters. “We’re heading back to Rudshore first.”
Before he can fully commit himself to the conspiracy, he needs to have a word with his men regarding the future of the Whalers. He needs to tell them he won’t come back to lead them after this business is over and done with.
It’s not a decision he’s made lightly, but he knows it’s the right choice. He doesn’t intend to take another contract for assassination as long as he lives, and his men have no place in his personal vendetta against Hiram Burrows. Allowing them to seek their own fortune, free of him, is the greatest kindness he can do them. It’s not a conversation he’s looking forward to, but it has to happen. They deserve as much.
Even if the thought of losing his assimilated family hurts like acid being poured into an open wound.
“Should I ask Samuel to meet us there in the morning, sir?” Thomas asks, oblivious to Daud’s inner turmoil.
A good idea. Daud will need most of the evening for this, he suspects, and going to the Golden Cat at night is the equivalent of suicide. And they’ll need the boat to get to John Clavering Boulevard, now that the adjacent districts have all but been sealed off. “Yes, go.”
Thomas goes, and Daud enters the pub to let the others know he’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with the child Empress in tow.
“Don’t forget about the twins,” Havelock says sternly, as if the pair of horrid nobles is so easily forgotten. “Their deaths will lose the Lord Regent the largest voting bloc in parliament, and that will all but revoke his ability to make any more changes to the law.”
The Admiral’s condescending tone is irksome, but Daud isn’t in the mood to argue, his mind too preoccupied, so he simply nods. “Got it.”
Behind the Admiral, Pendleton takes a large swig from his flask, and his manservant wordlessly places a fresh bottle of wine on the bar for him. He reminds Daud of the clients who hired him to kill their abuser, most often a husband or a father, looking determined and terrified all at once.
Pendleton notices his stare, and he swallows thickly. “I tried to warn them,” he says, sounding like he’s trying to convince himself more than anyone else. “I really did. They wouldn’t listen. They never did listen to me.”
“I’ll make it quick,” Daud promises. Not that he can even afford to take his time in the middle of Dunwall’s most coveted bathhouse, but the words seem to relax Pendleton, if slightly.
“Just get it done,” Havelock grunts. “We can’t afford any loose ends.”
How loftily he speaks of the deeds he’s sending another to take care of. Daud doesn’t miss the way Pendleton shivers at the Admiral’s callous tone, nor the familiar way Wallace lays a comforting hand on his Lord’s shoulder.
Daud turns to leave. “I’ll be back tomorrow, with the Empress,” he says. “I hope your nursemaid is available on such short notice.”
He smirks at Havelock’s sharp intake of breath. The sooner the Admiral learns not to keep information from him, the better off they’ll all be.
Thomas is waiting by the door, and he easily falls into step half a pace behind Daud, as always. “Samuel will meet us on the river tomorrow morning, sir.”
They can make their way back to Rudshore on foot from here, the rooftops of the buildings still standing granting enough cover to evade the Tallboys patrolling the Flooded District. They know the territory around their turf well, despite the recent modifications the Lord Regent has made to keep the plague victims contained, and getting home from the Old Port District is a trifle.
Daud can feel Thomas’ eyes on the back of his head the entire way, and he stops just before they reach Central Rudshore. “If you have something to say, Thomas, say it.”
Thomas starts, and he quickly clasps his hands behind his back, though not before Daud can see they are shaking. “Are you…” he begins, his voice strangely small. He clears his throat. “Are you going to disband the Whalers, Master Daud?”
Perceptive as always. Daud swallows hard at the pained expression on Thomas’ face. “I am.”
“It’s not open for discussion, Thomas,” he says firmly. “I don’t want to kill for coin anymore.”
“But the Lord Regent –”
“Is my problem,” Daud finishes for him. “I’m the one who killed the Empress. I’m the one who ought to fix it.”
“I killed the Royal Protector,” Thomas points out, and Daud can see the regret on his face, like a mirror of his own. “If not the others, at least allow me to assist you.”
Daud shakes his head. “This mess isn’t your fault, Thomas.”
“Nor is it yours,” he counters stubbornly. “It’s Burrows’. And I know I’m not the only one who wants to see him pay for what he did to us, and to the city.”
Attano’s Heart pulsates once, as it tends to do when the Royal Protector has some insight to share. “He’s not wrong. Few of your men don’t wish to see Hiram Burrows’ head roll.”
Daud sighs wearily. “Even if that’s true,” he says, ignoring Attano’s annoyed huff at his hesitance, “what about afterwards? I don’t intend to take any more contracts.”
“Whatever you wish to do, sir,” Thomas says earnestly. “We’ll follow your lead, as always.”
Daud smiles thinly, unconvinced. “What if I want to move to Serkonos and become a viticulturist?” he asks sarcastically.
He expects Thomas to balk at the idea, because it is ridiculous, but his second merely shrugs. “I’m sure you’ll need people to help you make wine in any case. Might as well be us.”
Daud wants to scoff at that, he really does, but then he can so easily imagine Thomas going over a vineyard’s bookkeeping with a practised eye, and Rulfio meeting with clients, and Jenkins crushing grapes. The same family they’ve always been, just in a different setting.
He lets out a long exhale. “I’ll ask the men,” he decides.
The relief on Thomas’ face is palpable. “Thank you, Daud.”
It may just have been a slip, but the lack of honorific is encouraging. “Go on ahead. Gather the men, tell them what happened with Delilah, and the Loyalists,” he orders. “I… need some time.”
“Of course,” Thomas agrees, saluting him before vanishing with a flurry of the Void.
Daud leans against the door leading back to the Commerce Building, his head heavy. “Can I really ask them to stay with me?” he asks quietly. “After I took them off the streets and forced them into a life of thievery and assassination?”
“Self-pity isn’t becoming of you,” Attano berates him. “But if you must know, if you had never met them, twenty-nine of your thirty-eight Whalers would have died before today, Thomas amongst them. Billie as well. Only three would have procured a respectable living. None would have been as happy as they are now.”
“None?” Daud asks incredulously. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Your Whalers didn’t choose to follow you because of the killing, or the coin, but for a sense of belonging, of home,” Attano reveals, a hint of sorrow in his voice. “Not all of them will stay with you, after today. But most could not imagine leaving their family behind.”
Daud’s breath shudders on the way out. He can’t imagine a proper life without his Whalers either, though he’s prepared to distance himself if it would improve their lives. “If they stay,” he begins uneasily, “will they live?”
Attano is slow to answer. “I don’t know,” he admits eventually. “The coming events are unclear. Muddled. The choices you’ll make during this rebellion will shape the future, for better or worse.”
“Make your choices, and take what comes,” Daud mumbles the by now familiar words.
“And the rest is Void,” Attano finishes.
“And the rest is Void.”
Daud breathes deeply, and then enters the Commerce Building, going up to his office with three swift transversals.
“ – the Empress from the brothers Pendleton,” he hears Thomas say to the collected Whalers, all thirty-seven of them crammed into the office, listening raptly.
When Daud enters, he is met with, of all things, applause. It’s a thunderous standing ovation, Aeolos even whistling sharply on his fingers. The noise is overwhelming, and Daud feels honoured and incredibly annoyed all at once.
“What, exactly, did you tell them?” he asks Thomas dryly once the commotion has died down a little.
“Just the proceedings of yesterday,” his second says, far too innocently.
“Specifically?” he presses.
“How you sent the witch howling into the Void!” Ardan cheers before Thomas can answer, and that sets off another round of applause.
“Alright, settle down!” Daud’s booming voice cuts off the noise immediately. “Yes, Delilah is gone –”
Someone whoops loudly from the balcony – Yuri, from the sound of it. Daud pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “Are you done?”
“Yes, sir,” Yuri affirms in a small voice, ducking down their head when Daud glances up at them. “Sorry, sir.”
Ignoring the chuckles that follow the exchange, Daud returns to the matter at hand. “As you all know by now, I agreed to help dethrone the Lord Regent, Hiram Burrows. However,” he adds sharply, before he can be interrupted, “that decision was mine, and mine alone. This is not a contract, and none of you are obligated to assist with this matter.”
“But we can, right boss?” Killian asks eagerly. “I’d love to get a stab at the fucker.”
“You don’t threaten us and get away with it!”
The voices blend together as one, a cry for justice and blood. Daud has rarely been more proud of the people he’s taken under his wing.
“If you feel inclined to help clean up my mess, I doubt I could stop any of you,” he grumbles, grateful for their help and terrified for their lives at the same time. “There’s no coin in it either way.”
That news doesn’t sit well with some, Andrei in particular looking displeased at the lack of reward. Daud doesn’t think his next bit of information will be received any better.
He’s never been good at nuance, so he just says it. “Once it’s done, I will retire.”
What follows is a profound silence from his collective force, the floodwater lapping against the side of the building sounding strangely loud in the absence of everything else.
And then, the spell breaks. “What the fuck?”
“Yuri –” Rulfio attempts to calm his colleague, but they’re having none of it.
“You’re quitting?” Yuri asks, voice cracking even as they glare daggers at Daud. “You’re just going to leave us?”
Daud hadn’t been expecting the raw emotion in their tone, and it tugs painfully at his heart. Yuri is one of the few he picked up when they were not even a teenager yet, a scrawny child of eight that had been kicked out of the house for the inexcusable crime of ‘being a freak’. Daud found them in a back alley in the Rust District, bleeding heavily after having lost a fight with a wolfhound over a scrap of food. The child had looked him in the eye without fear, daring him to end them, and Daud hadn’t been able to just leave them there.
“I am leaving,” he confirms, glad his voice manages to stay level. “But you’re welcome to come with me, if you want. All of you.”
That manages to placate Yuri, whose face breaks into a beaming smile of relief, even though there are still tears in their eyes. It doesn’t escape Daud that many of the others seem intrigued as well, or at least not immediately opposed to the idea.
“So where’ll we be going, boss?” Killian asks. “Not Tyvia, right? I hate the cold.”
“Morley’s lovely,” Misha suggests. “Good food, too.”
“Nah, too many fuckin’ Overseers,” Patrick says. The long scar on his forearm, made by an Overseer’s sabre, strengthens his argument. “We ought to head to Potterstead or somethin’, so we can keep tab on things ‘ere.”
“Potterstead is a dump,” Connor grumbles from the balcony. “Nothing ever happens there. We’d stick out like a sore thumb.”
Daud clears his throat, and the debate ceases immediately. “I was thinking of going to Serkonos. Cullero, perhaps, or Karnaca.”
“Fuck yes,” Jenkins exclaims loudly. “I feel like I haven’t seen the sun in fucking ages.”
“We have a sun?” Kent asks in mock confusion. “I thought that was just a myth, like nice Overseers, or Daud in a good mood.”
“Maybe we could find all three in Serkonos,” Jenkins says, her grin the very definition of shit-eating.
“Don’t go expectin’ miracles, Jenny,” Patrick interjects. “I highly doubt we’ll ever be seein’ the boss in a good mood.”
Daud nearly smiles. Nearly. “No issues with Serkonos, then?”
Hobson mutters something about the heat, but no one else has any qualms. They can sort out the details later, but for now, there is something akin to a plan. Something to look forward to, while they work on dismantling the Lord Regent’s intricate web of support.
In the end, eleven Whalers leave the base before the night is done, Andrei heading the small pack. They’re the most bloodthirsty of his men, and Daud doesn’t doubt that they’ll continue the assassination business elsewhere.
Another six of Daud’s men agree to stay and help dethrone Hiram Burrows, but won’t be coming with them when they leave for Serkonos. They’re the ones who have ties to Dunwall they aren’t willing to sever, at least not yet. Daud’s made it clear that the invitation to join them in Serkonos will remain open indefinitely.
That leaves twenty-one Whalers. Twenty-one men and women willing to follow him across the sea, willing to give up assassination and reconnaissance in favour of staying with their family. Daud is near giddy with relief, and overwhelmed with gratitude.
“I told you so,” Attano says smugly when he is, at last, alone in his office. “You really ought to start taking my word for things.”
“I’d know shit too if I was part of the Void,” Daud counters, though he cannot bring himself to be truly annoyed. “You’re not all that impressive.”
“Lies,” Attano snorts haughtily, but Daud can hear the amusement in his voice. “You wouldn’t know shit if you stepped in it.”
And there are a million witty comebacks to that, but none of them change the fact that Attano is, as always, absolutely right. “Thank you,” Daud says instead.
Attano’s pulse slows until the Heart beats gently against his chest. “Go to bed, assassin,” he says. “You’ll need your rest for tomorrow.”
“Yes, mother,” Daud quips, but he knows he does need his rest, and so he goes.
He spends most of the night tossing and turning, missing a comforting weight on his legs, and when he finally does fall asleep, nightmares plague his subconscious relentlessly.
Daud: I'm leaving.
Daud: ... Fine I'll stay.
Chapter 9: IX
Daud gets up well before dawn. Peaceful sleep eludes him, and the nightmare-riddled periods of unconsciousness leave him more tired than anything. He might as well go over the plans one more time.
He lights a whale oil-powered lantern, bathing his office in a bright blue hue that won’t let him fall asleep even if he’d want to, and then sets to work. The layout of the Golden Cat is quite familiar to him and his men, as they have carried out countless contracts within the bathhouse’s walls. The Pendleton brothers are guarded by the City Watch, whose officers won’t hesitate to shoot a Whaler on sight, but most of the courtesans have no qualms servicing a criminal. Whether they earn their money by practising their craft or by giving needed information isn’t of any concern to them. If Daud can get one of the girls to tell him where –
A large cup of steaming hot coffee is placed on his desk, and Daud’s head snaps up to see Thomas, who’s clutching his own cup tightly between his hands. The dark circles under his eyes leave no doubt as to the reason he’s making coffee at this time of night.
His second smiles weakly. “I saw the light,” he says, motioning towards the lantern. “I thought you might need a pick-me-up.”
If there’s ever anything he needed, it’s this. “You are a godsend, Thomas.”
And neither of them mentions the other being up at this ungodly hour, because they both know exactly why. They also don’t mention the fact that they both slept perfectly soundly yesterday, because that is a can of worms Daud doesn’t want to open now, not when they need to focus their attention on saving Emily Kaldwin.
Instead, they work in companionable silence until the sun rises, and more of the Whalers trickle into the office. Even Attano is quiet, not one quip the entire time. He too must feel the gravity of the situation. It is, after all, his daughter they’re going to rescue from her perilous situation today.
Somehow, it’s decided that breakfast will be served in Daud’s office rather than the room they’ve made into the mess hall. Daud accepts the plate Kent hands him with a muttered word of thanks, and he eats absentmindedly, his eyes not leaving the Golden Cat’s floorplan. He barely notices his office slowly becoming more and more crowded, and the Whalers, usually so rambunctious when collected, are subdued, talking in hushed voices if they’re talking at all.
It’s reminiscent of the days before Jessamine Kaldwin’s assassination, when every Whaler was invested in a single job rather than spread thin across a plethora of assignments, and everyone was focused. But this time, the mood is different. Lighter. Hopeful. When Daud stands to address them, there is tension in the air, but it isn’t stifling. It’s riveting.
“Alright,” Daud says, the one word enough to have every Whaler stand at attention. “You all know our mission today. We’re looking at a double elimination paired with an extraction.” Elimination. Extraction. Old, familiar terms he often uses in his briefings, terms that do not betray the importance of this mission. Terms that give him a sense of control.
“Thomas and I will travel to the Distillery District by boat. I want two teams of five to make their way to Draper’s Ward and Slaughterhouse Row, respectively. Rulfio, Jenkins, you’re heading those teams. Assemble them as you see fit, then head out immediately,” he continues. The closer his men are, the less energy it takes him to summon them. “The rest of you, be prepared for summoning at all times. Kent, be sure to keep a kit on you.”
He breathes in deeply, allowing his body to relax from the rigorous stance he’s forced it to adopt. “I doubt I need to remind you of the importance of this mission. Discretion is everything. If we fail today, Hiram Burrows will come down upon us without mercy, and there will be losses I’m not prepared to accept. Be vigilant.”
And be careful, he wants to add, but he’s not gone quite that soft yet. “Dismissed.”
“Yes, Master Daud,” the chorus of voices rings out as one, and his Whalers vanish from his office with a collective rush of the Void, leaving only Daud and Thomas behind. He can already hear Jenkins barking orders from the training yard, can see Kent rushing past the office with an armful of Sokolov’s elixirs. His men are ready. He wishes he was, too.
Daud’s eyes dart over the Golden Cat’s floorplan one more time, even if he can dream the layout by now, as he wills his nerves to calm. He’s not felt this jittery since his very first paid job, when he was young and fresh-faced and eager to please the client who relied on him to bring death and despair.
“Shall we head for the river?” Thomas asks behind him. He doesn’t sound impatient, like Billie would have, merely inquisitive, and Daud is grateful for that.
“You’ve checked your equipment?”
Of course, he says, because Thomas would never forget to look after his gear. Not like Billie, who used to go through three swords a quarter, whose wristbow spent more time on Hobson’s workbench than it did on her wrist, whom Kent treated for magical exhaustion more than anyone else because she never remembered to pack enough remedies. Not like Billie at all.
“Good. Let’s go.”
They arrive at an empty riverbank, still a while before the time Thomas agreed upon with Samuel. Daud spends the minutes pacing relentlessly, from the crumbling wall of what used to be a bank to the edge of the water and back again. Attano’s Heart beats almost frantically against his chest, and Daud is reminded of the last time he spent pacing like this, when he’d sent Billie out to contact Thalia Timsh. But Thomas doesn’t stop him this time, and Attano offers no comment, so he just keeps walking, and walking, and walking.
“Daud,” Thomas says eventually, and Daud is prepared for the reprimand he surely deserves. But his second has his back turned to him, hands clasped behind his back, eyes fixed on the river. “He’s here.”
Daud halts next to Thomas, locating the speck in the distance that can only be Samuel’s Amaranth. This is it. There’s no going back now.
Thomas sneaks a glance at his face, which Daud knows must be tense. “Are you alright?” he asks, gently.
Daud would have snapped at anyone else. But Thomas hasn’t been like everyone else for a while now. “No,” he answers, tersely. “But I will be, once this is done.”
His second nods. “Atonement,” he mumbles, and it’s only then that Daud notices the way Thomas’ jaw is set, and how badly his hands are shaking. He’s been so preoccupied with his own guilt and self-loathing that he never stopped to think how much this mission must be affecting Thomas as well.
Before he can second-guess himself, he lays a hand on Thomas’ shoulder, squeezing softly. “Atonement,” he echoes, like a prayer. And though it’s not much, he can feel some of the tension seep from Thomas’ rigid posture, and Daud allows himself to feel pleased for a moment.
Throughout the exchange, Attano remains silent.
They land at a small strip of unattended beach, well-hidden from prying eyes. The small cooking fire left burning suggests it’s not an unusual meeting place for those trying to avoid the City Watch.
“I’ll lay low, but keep an eye out for you and the little lady you’re bringing back,” Samuel says as they disembark. “I know you probably won’t need it, but good luck to the both of you.”
“Thank you,” Thomas says warmly, and Daud nods in agreement. “You stay safe.”
Samuel waves the concern away easily. “Don’t you worry about me, sirs. No one will ever know I was here.”
He steps away to warm his hands by the fire, and Daud pulls the mask Piero made for him from his pocket. His clean slate begins here.
“Snazzy,” Thomas drawls as he fastens the mask over his face.
Daud’s chuckle sounds strangely metallic. “Jealous?”
“Astoundingly so,” his second deadpans.
And yet there is something wistful in his tone, because he still misses his old whaling mask. But Daud cannot have the Whalers connected to this operation. “I can’t afford to show my face. If Burrows finds out this was us…”
He doesn’t need to finish. “He won’t,” Thomas says, sounding a lot more confident than Daud feels. “We’ll make sure of it.”
Attano’s Heart slows at Thomas’ words, and Daud feels himself calm as a result. “Alright,” he nods, rolling his shoulders to loosen the tension that’s built up in them. “Let’s go.”
They vanish in a rush of the Void, taking to the rooftops immediately. John Clavering Boulevard is a dangerous place for the Whalers, with Slackjaw and his Bottle Street Gang on one side and the Overseers of Holger Square on the other. Adding in the extra security Burrows hired to keep the plague in check and the Abbey protected, the whole area has become nothing short of a death trap. They’ll have to be damn careful.
Daud takes point, leading Thomas across the treacherous area with pinpoint precision. His new mask comes with an amazingly accurate spyglass, the focused lens rotating in place of the regular one smoothly and soundlessly. It does wonders helping him keep track of all the guards and gang members below, and Daud reminds himself to commend Piero on his work once they make it back to the Hound Pits.
If they make it back to the Hound Pits.
The Golden Cat is bustling with activity as it always is, courtesans and nobles and guardsmen roaming every hallway. Daud considers himself fortunate Madame Prudence insists on her employees wearing nothing but skimpy corsets even while not actively servicing a client. The scarcely clad bodies prove distracting for even the most vigilant guards, and it’s not difficult to slip across the rooftops and down to the canal.
As he’d hoped, one of the girls is taking her smoke break here, well away from prying eyes, and he knows her by her dark skin and long, curly black hair. He couldn’t have asked for a better source.
“Stand guard,” he orders Thomas, who immediately positions himself at the mouth of the alleyway separating the lone courtesan from the deathtrap that is the Golden Cat.
Daud removes his mask before he approaches. He needs her to recognise him, keep her from raising an alarm, and he’s worked with her often enough to trust her discretion. The Whalers are a steady source of income, after all.
He transverses behind her. “Naomi.”
The fact that she doesn’t even flinch at the sound of a voice right at her back says a lot about her. “Daud,” she greets, sounding bored more than anything. “What is it you need today?”
“You’re harbouring a little girl. I need to know where she is.”
Naomi turns to face him, trying to appear uninterested. But Daud knows how to read people, and he can tell she is uneasy. Working with a murderer is one thing. Working with a murderer to get to a child is another. “What do you want with her?”
“To get her away from the Pendletons,” Daud says, honestly. “To keep her safe.”
She raises an eyebrow, but some tension leaves her form, and she doesn’t argue. She never argues. “Prudence keeps her locked up in our living quarters,” Naomi reveals, distaste for her Madame crinkling her nose. “It’s the only room with a working lock on the door, can’t miss it.”
“And the twins?”
Naomi flicks the butt of her cigarette into the canal. “In whichever room they fancy. They prefer the fair-skinned girls, so I’m not privy to the information of their exact whereabouts,” she says, sounding anything but rueful about her exclusion. “But I know that one of them, the slightly less creepy one, tends to go downstairs with Lou most of the time.”
“Good enough.” Daud hands her a pouch of coin, which she pockets without checking its contents. She’s learned a long time ago that he’s as good as his word. “I was never here.”
“When are you ever?” she winks, turning her back to him to light up another cigarette.
Daud signals Thomas, and they once again seek shelter on the rooftops. “They’re separated,” he tells his second, a hint of relief in his voice. At least Emily Kaldwin won’t have to witness what they’ll do to the Pendleton brothers. She’s already seen enough slaughter to last her a lifetime. “I’m calling in the others.”
He summons the two teams he put on standby, Jenkins and Rulfio at their helms, and he swiftly relays the information Naomi gave him. “I’m going for the girl,” he announces, burdening himself with the most crucial part of their mission. If anything goes wrong, it’ll be on his own head. “Thomas, coordinate the attack on the Pendletons. Don’t be seen. Don’t leave any evidence behind. One drop of blood in the wrong place…”
“We have been trained for things like this, you know,” Thomas says dryly, ignoring the way Jenkins’ jaw drops at what must be the first time she’s heard him speak so casually to Daud. “I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.”
Daud replaces Piero’s mask on his face to hide his fond smile. “See that you do.”
He transverses to the nearest balcony of the Cat itself, swiftly making his way up as high as he can. Slipping through an open window on the top floor is child’s play.
Void Gaze reveals the hallway empty but for one room, behind which he can make out a small shape sitting on the floor, drawing a picture. Empress Emily Drexel Lela Kaldwin, First of Her Name, held captive in a brothel. It almost seems surreal.
The door is locked, as Naomi said it would be, but the Whalers have long since procured a copy of the Golden Cat’s master key. Daud’s hand shakes as he puts it into the lock and turns it.
The door clicks open.
Next time on 'Daud tries not to be a asshole': enter the Empress.
Chapter 10: X
“Who are you?”
The young voice is filled with unrestrained curiosity, only the slightest hint of anxiety in her tone despite everything that has happened to her. Emily Kaldwin’s once pristine white attire is near grey with dirt, her black hair greasy and uncombed, and Daud can see a nasty bruise marring her skin, just visible above the ripped collar of her blouse. He doesn’t even want to know how many more are hiding under her clothes. She looks nothing like the Empress she is.
He’s suddenly very glad he opted to leave the Pendletons to Thomas and his men. He’s not sure he could have followed his own instructions not to mindlessly slaughter the bastards.
“Why are you wearing that mask?” Emily asks, cocking her head to the side as she stands up and begins to approach him with small, careful steps.
Daud breathes deeply, readying his power to stop time when she inevitably screams at the sight of his face, and takes off the mask.
The Empress takes one long look at him before her face falls. “Oh,” she says flatly. “It’s you again.”
She goes back to her drawing, not paying him any mind whatsoever, and Daud stands rooted to the spot, regarding her as if she’s just grown an extra head.
“Well?” she asks, her gaze defiant as she looks up at him. “Aren’t you going to kill me?”
A noise forces its way from the back of his throat, low and guttural. Daud didn’t expect his self-loathing could increase even further. As he’s been far too often lately, he was wrong.
“I’m not here to kill you,” he chokes out.
“Oh,” she says again, some trepidation showing on her face now. “Mother then? Or… or Corvo?”
Attano’s Heart slams against his ribs. “Oh, Emily.”
Her eyes widen, and she looks away. “Corvo, huh?” she says, her voice impossibly small. “Please don’t make me watch this time.”
This time. She’s been dreaming – having nightmares. Of course she has. Of Daud, of her parents’ murder. Of her own murder. Outsider’s eyes but he hates himself.
“Empress,” he rasps, and she closes her eyes, squeezing them tightly shut, “I’m not here to kill anyone. I’m here to get you out.”
That doesn’t have the calming effect he’d hoped for. Her head snaps up and she looks at him, really looks at him. “No,” she whispers, backing up, away from him. “You’re real. You’re real. No. No, no, no, no, no…”
“I won’t hurt you,” Daud tries, taking a tentative step towards her. “You have my word.”
“Your word?” Emily asks scathingly, and the look she gives him, of thinly veiled disgust and panic, reminds him strikingly of the way Jessamine Kaldwin regarded him when she pushed him away from her daughter, moments before he seized her throat and shoved his sword through her abdomen. “Why should I trust anything you say?”
“I –” he begins, but she’s right, and he knows it.
“She’s afraid,” Attano tells him, his voice choked as if he’s trying to hold back tears he doesn’t have the eyes to shed. “Not of you, or even of death. She fears the unknown. Nothing is familiar to her anymore.”
Emily clamps her hands over her ears and shakes her head. “Why can I hear Corvo?” she mutters to herself. “Am I going crazy?”
Attano’s Heart hammers furiously against his chest, so hard Daud is certain he’ll be bruised. “She can hear me,” he says, horror-struck. “Void, she can hear me.”
The black-eyed bastard has really outdone himself this time.
Daud takes Attano’s Heart from his pocket, the organ nearly slipping through his fingers from the frantic way it flutters. “Talk to her,” Daud implores. “Tell her we want to help. Tell her… tell her I’m sorry.”
“No,” Attano whispers, “don’t let her see me like this.”
But it’s too late for that. Emily is staring right at him, at the otherworldly piece of her father’s soul clutched in his hand. “What did you do to him?” she asks, her voice high and choked. “What did you do?!”
“Why can’t you just leave him alone?!” She’s screaming now, fury winning over fear. “Corvo never did anything to you!”
“Emily!” Attano snaps, and even Daud flinches at the parental scorn in his voice. The girl falls silent immediately, eyes wide and brimming with unshed tears. “Emily, calm down. It’s alright.”
There’s a profound silence, during which Daud listens hard for any sign that one of the guards or courtesans on the floors below heard Emily screaming, but there are no footsteps thundering up the stairs, no exclamations of surprise. Perhaps they’re just used to the child being loud, and Outsider’s eyes if that isn’t a horrifying thought.
Then Attano sighs, the sound so very human it’s hard to imagine it coming from a half-alive disembodied organ. “Give me to her.”
Daud obeys, crouching down a fair distance away from the Empress and holding out the Heart to her, his arm outstretched as far as it can go. Emily, too, doesn’t get any closer than she has to, plucking her father from his hand before swiftly retreating to her corner again.
“Daud,” Attano calls, his name pronounced with a hint of the Serkonan accent he hasn’t heard in so long, “leave us.”
It isn’t a request. “Don’t take too long.”
He steps out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. The first thing he does is activate his Void Gaze, keeping a close eye on the staircase to ensure nobody comes up and finds him just outside the young Empress’ room. He also checks for his Whalers, but the floors below are bustling with so many bodies it’s impossible to see who’s who. At least it doesn’t seem as though the natural order of things has been disrupted, no one running around or raising the alarm. So far, his men are being discreet, thank Void.
It’s a while yet before the door opens, and Emily Kaldwin steps out with the Heart clutched tightly in her small hands. She looks up at him, with that strong, defiant stare that’s so reminiscent of her mother. It’s almost enough to mask her fear.
“Corvo says you really want to help,” she says, though she still sounds as though she sincerely doubts the fact. “He says you feel guilty for killing Mother.”
“Then why did you do it?” Emily asks. “Why did you…”
Her voice catches in her throat. Daud can’t breathe. “Coin. And safety.”
Emily’s brow furrows. “Safety? From the Spymaster?” When he nods, she scoffs. “But you have magic powers! What could that nasty old Spymaster do to you?”
If he wasn’t feeling so incredibly out of depth, he might have laughed at her sheer indignation. “I am not alone, Empress,” he says. “I have people who count on me. They don’t deserve to pay for my crimes.”
“Neither did Mother. Neither did Corvo.”
The words sting, because she’s right. “No. Neither did your parents.”
“But they did,” she points out, as if he could ever forget.
“But they did,” he affirms. “And I’m sorry.”
It’s not enough, not nearly enough, but Emily nods regardless. “I don’t like you,” she says, in that bluntly honest way only children can make statements, “and I don’t trust you. But Corvo does, and Corvo’s really smart. So I’ll come with you.”
It’s more than he deserves. “Fair enough.”
Emily smiles tentatively. “I have a plan,” she announces proudly. “I almost got away twice on my own. It should work if I have help.”
Daud humours her. “Tell me your plan, Empress.”
“There’s a special door to come and go, for special people,” she reveals, as if Daud hasn’t used that very door himself dozens of times before. “I’ll show you. And if anyone tries to stop us, you can fight them.”
It’s not how Daud would prefer to do it. It would be much easier to pick the child up and transverse, as they’d done when they took her from her home. But he promised her he’d help her, and he doesn’t want whatever fragile sense of alliance Attano has forged between them to shatter. So he agrees with a bow and replaces his mask.
Emily scrutinises him as they make their way downstairs, out of the bathhouse. “Why do you wear that mask?” she repeats the question he never answered. “It’s ugly.”
“So is my face,” Daud says dryly, and the girl actually giggles at that.
“That’s not an answer,” she says. Perceptive and to-the-point. It’s something Billie would have said, with an added insult or two.
“The Lord Regent can’t know I’m working against him,” he tells her. “Not until the day we can take him down and put you on the throne, Empress.”
“Are you going to kill him too?” Emily dares to ask.
“No,” Daud says firmly. “I’ve had enough killing.”
It’s not that Burrows doesn’t deserve a sharp piece of metal in his eye. It’s that Daud doesn’t know if he could, anymore. His hands still tremble whenever he holds his sword.
They make it to the alleyway separating the Golden Cat from John Clavering Boulevard without incident, and that’s when Daud feels a sharp tug at the Arcane Bond, strong enough to make his Mark flare, but not urgent enough to warrant alarm. Thomas is asking to be summoned.
He halts Emily and obliges his second’s unspoken wish, summoning Thomas to him with a flick of his wrist. The young Empress watches with wide eyes, no doubt remembering the last time she saw men appear from thin air, and she clutches Attano’s Heart a bit closer to her chest.
“Is it done?” Daud asks, his voice low to keep the Empress from overhearing. This is not a conversation meant for a child’s ears.
Thomas is briefly distracted by the sight of Emily Kaldwin, his eyes showing the same flash of anger at her treatment that Daud felt when he first stepped into her room. “More or less,” he answers.
“More or less?” Daud repeats in a harsh whisper. ‘More or less’ isn’t good enough. He needs to know the Pendletons are out of the picture permanently, that they won’t be able to report to Burrows, that it’ll be impossible for the Lord Regent to trace the disappearance of Emily Kaldwin back to Daud and the Whalers. “Explain.”
“They’re alive,” Thomas says, distaste for the Pendleton brothers evident in his voice. “But they’re bald, mute, and currently en route to their own silver mine.”
Daud blinks. “Those weren’t your orders.”
“No,” Thomas says calmly, only a small tremor in his tone betraying his unease, “they weren’t.”
“Explain,” Daud says again, pointedly.
Thomas shifts uncomfortably, but he does not waver. “The oldest spoke to his courtesan of financial issues. We figured they might appreciate the chance to earn some extra coin.”
“I,” Thomas corrects swiftly. “I decided they should live.”
It’s the first true decision he’s made as Daud’s second, going against his orders, and he’s decided to complete his mission without bloodshed. Daud doesn’t think he’s ever been prouder of anyone in his life.
“It would have been quicker to nick an artery,” he points out.
“Yes,” Thomas agrees, “it would have.”
The mask hides his smile, but his voice betrays his appreciation. “Good work, Thomas.”
He ducks his head, flustered at the praise as always. “Thank you,” he mumbles, sucking in a breath to keep from adding ‘Master Daud’ to the end of his sentence. He’s learning well.
“Could you please be idiots some other time?” Attano’s fondly exasperated voice cuts off the exchange. “When you’re not in the alleyway behind a bathhouse with the future Empress of the Isles, perhaps?”
Emily snorts a very unladylike laugh at her father’s words, and Thomas starts, as if he’d forgotten about her presence altogether. Maybe he did. Now he snaps to attention instantly, kneeling before her and bowing his head in reverence. “Your Majesty.”
The girl blinks in surprise at his formal respect, a far throw from Daud’s gruff demeanour. “Who are you?”
“My name is Thomas, Your Majesty. I serve Master Daud.”
“Oh,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
Void, but Billie would have loved this kid. “Watch it,” he warns, but there’s no threat in his tone. “Good help is hard to come by these days.”
“Must be the plague,” Thomas quips, as if he doesn’t know full well that Daud is talking about Billie’s betrayal.
Daud briefly pats Thomas’ shoulder. “Let’s move,” he says. “We can’t be caught here.”
He produces the skeleton key to the Cat and opens the door to freedom, to Emily’s great delight. “Finally,” she breathes, and her eagerness to leave with the two men who murdered her parents in front of her eyes says a damn lot about this place. If it weren’t for the working girls trying to make a living, Daud would have seriously considered torching the building, like he did Rothwild Slaughterhouse.
Getting back to the shore is a challenge now that they have Emily Kaldwin with them. At least she allows herself to be transversed alongside Thomas when he offers her his hand, and she stays silent when they rush through the Void despite her obvious discomfort. Daud can hear Attano’s Heart muttering words of encouragement to his daughter, though he tries not to listen in. He has to admit, however begrudgingly, that getting the Empress out would have been a lot harder without the Outsider’s intervention. Fucking black-eyed bastard and his fucking gifts…
Samuel is exactly where they left him, sitting by the fire, looking to all the world like nothing more than another citizen down on his luck. But his eyes are alert, and he’s on his feet the minute Daud, Thomas, and Emily transverse down to the beach. “You found her!” he breathes, a smile lighting up his face. “It really doesn’t pay to bet against you, does it?”
He crouches down to meet Emily’s eye. “Hey there, little lady. I’m Samuel, and that there’s Amaranth,” he says kindly. “We’re going to get you someplace safe.”
The effect of his gentle presence is instantaneous. She opens up like the bud of a flower exposed to sunlight, curiosity shining brightly. “That’s a pretty name for a boat,” she declares.
“Why, thank you,” Samuel chuckles. “You can hop on in if you like.”
Emily beams at him and rushes over to inspect her new vessel while Samuel turns to address Daud and Thomas. “So you ‘did the business’, did you?” he asks in a quiet voice.
Not quiet enough, though. Before Daud can so much as nod, Emily’s inquisitive voice pipes up. “What sort of business are you talking about?”
“Oh!” Samuel starts, his ears turning pink. “I, uh… Grown up business, girl. I mean, your ladyship. Forgive me.
Emily laughs at his stumbling. “It’s okay,” she says. “I heard a lot of grown up business at the Golden Cat.”
“Oh,” he says again, trying to cover the horror that statement invokes. He’s quick to change the subject. “Would you like me to show you how to steer this here boat?”
“Sure! I’ve always wanted to captain my own boat,” she exclaims happily.
It’s an odd desire for an Empress to have, but after all she’s been through, she likely dreams of freedom more than anything else. Daud is again reminded startlingly of Billie. She too dreamed of owning her own ship one day when he first met her all those years ago. He looks out over the river and wonders if she’s out on the water somewhere, sailing from port to port like those in the book she left in his office. He hopes she is. He hopes she’s happy.
“It’s going to be a tight fit with the four of us,” Samuel says, sounding a bit worried. “I hope the old girl can handle it.”
“We could go on foot,” Thomas offers reasonably. They have enough energy left over, and with their skills they can probably make it back to the Hound Pits before the Amaranth does. But between the Gristolian Navy under Burrows’ command and the Dead Eels under Wakefield’s, Daud is not willing to let the Empress of the Isles sail the treacherous waters with only an elderly boatman to protect her.
He shakes his head. “One of us should guard the Empress.”
“Thomas,” Emily declares immediately, to absolutely no one’s surprise. “I want Thomas to come with us.”
“As you wish, Empress.”
He leaves Thomas with Emily and Samuel, making his way back to the Hound Pits alone. Truly alone, for the first time in weeks, now that Emily holds Attano’s Heart. Daud nearly forgot what it was like to be without another presence nearby, a parallel heartbeat close to his chest.
He won’t admit it even at gunpoint, but he misses it.
And it was the beginning of a
Chapter 11: XI
Thank you all so much for the great response to last chapter! <3 I'm really glad Emily's first appearance has been well-received! I'll be responding to comments later tonight, I promise; it's my birthday today and I have some people to entertain first ^_^
As always, you may find me on tumblr for all your needs.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As expected, Daud returns to the Hound Pits before the Amaranth does, his Mark burning fiercely just beneath his skin as though agitated by his heavy use of it. He's not felt it since the day he raced Billie to Rothwild Slaughterhouse, his desire to outclass his apprentice outshining the need for restraint. Perhaps he should have let her win. Perhaps he should have done a lot of things differently, in hindsight, but he’s made his choices, and now he has to take what comes.
He perches atop the walkway connecting the crumbling tower with Piero’s workshop, granting him a perfect view of the water. There’s no sign of Samuel’s boat yet, and despite his rational thought telling him it’s not realistic to expect Amaranth to move as quickly as he did, he feels a sense of anxiety creeping up on him. If something happened to them along the way, he will never forgive himself.
It seems Daud is not the only one who thought to watch the river; the entire populace of the Hound Pits is gathered on the shore, including an unfamiliar, unremarkable woman in neat but inexpensive clothing Daud assumes to be the governess responsible for looking after Emily Kaldwin. He hopes she’s stronger than she appears. It’s taken him only the one interaction to know with the young Empress to know she is a force to be reckoned with.
He’ll take some time to find out. The waiting’s driving him mad anyway.
He transverses down to the shore, and the effect is instantaneous: someone screams, Piero trips over nothing, and Havelock draws his sword immediately, swinging blindly at the unexpected intruder.
Daud smacks the blade aside, causing the Admiral to stumble. “Put that away before you hurt yourself.”
Havelock glowers at him, not taking another swing at Daud but not sheathing his sword either. “Where is the Empress?”
“On her way,” Daud answers as he removes his mask. “Amaranth is not built for four.”
“You have a lot of trust in your man,” Martin says. It would have been an idle observation, but his eyes are calculating.
He does, but Daud doesn’t say that. Somehow he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to let Martin know just how much he depends on Thomas. “The Empress preferred not to sit next to her mother’s murderer for the duration of the trip,” he says instead, dryly. “Shocking, I know.”
Martin laughs. No one else does.
Pendleton takes a step forward, then thinks the better of approaching him. “My brothers?” he asks in a high voice, looking not at Daud, but at Wallace.
“Six feet under,” Daud says. It’s not even a lie.
The aristocrat lets out a whimper like a wounded animal, Wallace’s hands on his shoulders seemingly the only thing keeping him upright, and this too is so very reminiscent of the victims of abuse, the reality of what they’ve asked Daud to do setting in only after the deed’s been carried out. The guilt over ordering an assassination eats at them, even if the people they wanted dead were horrid excuses for human beings.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Pendleton manages to choke out, and he leaves with short, brisk steps, Wallace on his heels. Daud doesn’t need to follow them to know Pendleton will be drinking himself into a stupor tonight.
“Did you have to be so brisk with the poor man?” Lydia scolds him, as if he’s a child who was mean to a classmate. “I’m sure it must have been a shock.”
Daud raises an eyebrow. “I did what he asked of me,” he says, even if he didn’t really.
“You don’t ask for your family to be slaughtered,” the nursemaid spits at him, unexpectedly. When he turns to face her, she stands her ground, and he has to suppress a smile. Emily will meet her match with this one.
“You’ve obviously not spent much time in the nobles’ circle,” he says. “A week without fratricide is nothing short of a miracle.”
“Lucky for you,” she says, and this time he does smile, slowly and languidly. Predatorily.
“I assure you luck has nothing to do with it.”
She balks, her eyes flicking to the sword at his belt. The same sword that slew an Empress. The same sword he hasn’t used in months now.
“If you’re done flirting,” Martin cuts in, enjoying their mutual expression of disgust at the insinuation, “they’re here.”
Indeed, there is a speck at the horizon growing steadily larger to reveal the shape of a dinghy heading their way, its three occupants alive and unharmed. Samuel docks with pinpoint precision, and Thomas exits first, extending his hand to Emily as Daud did for him when they arrived here together for the first time. Emily takes it without hesitation, allowing Thomas to guide her forward, towards the members of the Loyalist Conspiracy. There’s something between them that’s not quite trust, but definitely something close to it. Whatever happened during the hour they were out on the waters?
It’s the governess who approaches, offering to show Emily her room in the tower. The girl goes along with a tired smile and a wave back at Thomas, to just about everyone’s utter bewilderment. Samuel, Cecelia, and Piero follow after them.
Thomas takes his place at Daud’s side, and Havelock finally sheathes his sword. “Good work,” he tells them, even if the words seem physically painful to pronounce. “You followed your instructions to the letter. That’s more than I expected.”
The backhanded insult is more like the Admiral. “What did you expect?”
“Mayhem. Carnage. Another dead Empress,” Havelock lists. “The Lord Regent’s men on our doorstep.”
“We would not have sent the Regent’s men to your doorstep,” Thomas says, his voice low. “The Regent would have sent us.”
It’s true. If Hiram Burrows got wind of a conspiracy against him, he would not have sent the City Watch after them. He would have kept things quiet, under wraps, ensuring the public never knew of any move against his power. If he knew about this conspiracy, he would have sent assassins to deal with it.
Havelock pales at the words, clearly not having thought of that, and Martin smiles, sizing up Thomas with a newfound sense of appreciation. “You have a feel for the political landscape,” he says. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were of noble stock.”
Thomas fixes him with a look of clear contempt. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an Overseer.”
Martin’s grin widens. “How fortunate we both know better, then.”
There’s a heavy silence, during which Martin and Thomas stare each other down with a forced sense of calm. They’re alike, in the sense that they both know this game. The difference is that Martin chooses to play it, has fought hard for his spot among those of importance, while Thomas was given a place at the table from the start, but has taken his pieces off the board a long time ago.
Havelock clears his throat. “Teague,” he says evenly.
Martin recognises it for the clear warning it is, and he averts his gaze. “Farley,” he returns, in the same even tone. “We should discuss the plans for tomorrow.”
“We should,” Havelock agrees.
They leave, and that in itself is a slight. Whatever plans they’ll be discussing – plans Daud and his men will be executing, no doubt – Daud and Thomas are not invited to join them.
Lydia, now the only one left on the small strip of beach with them, sighs. “Well, that was… something,” she says, disapproval clear in her gaze as she watches Martin and Havelock walk up the steps. “I’d like to see them try and do what you did today.”
Daud would too, if only to see the Admiral’s reaction to having to set foot inside the Golden Cat. “They would have failed,” he says. “If they thought they could do it themselves, they wouldn’t have hired us.”
“‘Hired’, huh?” Lydia says, raising an eyebrow. “You’re not getting paid very much.”
“I’m getting paid in moral fibre,” Daud says. “It’s hard to come by these days.”
Thomas suppresses a snort of laughter, ducking his head to hide his smile, and Lydia chuckles merrily. “You’re getting food too,” she says, beckoning them to follow her to the pub. “Killing a man gives you an appetite.”
She says it with a certainty, making Daud wonder if she’s ever killed someone. Probably she has. In Dunwall, very few people are innocent, especially during this time of plague. Besides, it’s not as if he has any right to judge her for it.
Lydia makes them sit in one of the booths near the bar and sets to preparing them dinner. She’s a bit haphazard in the kitchen, not used to taking on this duty, but as Wallace will likely be spending the next few days glued to his master’s side in the wake of the familial tragedy, there’s little to be done about it, she says cheerfully. According to her, the last thing anyone wants is to put Cecelia behind a stove.
The meat she serves isn’t cooked properly, some parts too raw and others cooked too far through, and Daud is reminded, stupidly, startlingly, of his mother’s cooking. She was an artist when it came to preparing medicinal concoctions, potions so good people suspected magic, poisons so deadly no one could trace them back to her. But she’d been a lot less surefooted in the kitchen, only a handful of dishes she knew how to cook decently, and Daud often insisted on using their hard-earned coin to get food from the nearby inn instead.
Daud practically inhales his dinner. “You should cook more often,” he rasps at Lydia, ignoring the subtle, incredulous raise of Thomas’ eyebrow.
Lydia laughs. “Aren’t you a sweet talker,” she says coyly. When she reaches to take his plate, her hand deliberately brushes his, firmly enough that he can feel it through his glove. Daud jumps, snatching his hand back and looking, for reasons he really doesn’t want to decipher, at Thomas.
His second has his eyes fixed firmly on his food, but the crease of his brow betrays him. Daud almost wishes he had Attano back in his pocket, if only so he had something to focus his ire on. He’s spent the day sneaking around the city, retrieving a child who despises him for good reason with the help of a disembodied organ that was once part of her father, and yet this is the moment he feels most out of depth. What a fucking disaster of a human being he is.
Daud considers it a small blessing when Piero enters the bar and strikes up a conversation. “How did the mask serve you?” the natural philosopher asks, leaning over the top of the seat separating their booths. “Is it to your liking?”
“It’s marvellous,” Daud says honestly. It’s been one job, and he’s already gotten reliant on the built-in spyglass. “You know your craft.”
“Of course I do,” Piero huffs, as if it’s a given that this tiny conspiracy has a natural philosopher of his calibre among their ranks. “I have some plans to improve on it, if you like. I should be able to increase the zooming distance by approximately a hundred and twenty percent.”
“What do you need?” Daud asks, because upgrades like that require materials he can’t imagine lying around the old pub, not to mention a sizable portion of Piero’s time.
“Copper wire, mostly, and Tyvian ore,” Piero says. “Oh, some powdered crystal, if you can find it. And if you happen upon some Kingsparrow feathers, I’d be more than happy to take those off your hands as well.”
“Feathers?” Daud asks, deadpan. “Are you going to get the mask prepared for Fugue?”
“Of course not,” Piero says, as always missing the joke. “I’ll compensate you for the feathers. They’re for a different project of mine. I could show you, if you’re interested.”
Lydia saves him from finding a way to politely decline by serving Piero his meal. “Leave the man alone, Piero,” she chides. “He’s had a long day and he should really be getting some rest.”
Daud is all too happy to take the clear out she’s offering. “Thank you for dinner,” he says as he gets up.
“Anytime, love,” she says warmly. “Tell your friend to get some sleep as well, alright? He was looking rather pale just now, the poor thing.”
Daud whips his head around to find Thomas gone, his half-eaten dinner still sitting in front of his vacant seat. He mutters a Serkonan curse under his breath and heads for the stairs, thundering up the steps two at a time until he reaches the attic room.
Daud calls on the Arcane Bond, finding the strongest tether amongst those of his followers. Thomas’ has always been the strongest, the easiest to follow, from the day Daud granted him the Bond. It leads him now to the roof of the pub, a small corner of darkness where no one would think to look if they did not know for certain what they’d find there.
“You can’t hide from me, you know,” he says, lowering himself down to sit beside Thomas, his legs dangling over the edge of the building. “It’s the price you pay for magic powers.”
“I thought the price for magic powers was eternal damnation.”
Thomas huffs a quiet laugh, his breath visible in the cold air of nighttime. He sits with one leg drawn up, his chin resting on his knee, looking at the lights inside the tower where the young Empress now resides. He doesn’t speak.
Daud follows his gaze. “The Empress has taken a liking to you,” he says. “How did that happen?”
“I told her I was the one who killed her father.”
That’s not the answer he was expecting, yet he can see why it makes sense, with Attano’s Heart in Emily’s possession. Thomas may have been the one to put the sword to his neck, but it’s easy to tell the former bodyguard has grown fond of Thomas over the past few weeks. Daud doesn’t doubt for a second that Attano is able to sense the guilt in Thomas, and would have told his daughter as much.
“Right,” he says. “That’s an interesting tactic for making friends.”
“I prefer being honest,” Thomas says. His voice is even, but Daud can pick up on the scorn lying just underneath the coolly spoken words, and he doesn’t need to ask what it’s about.
“My mother was a terrible cook,” he finds himself saying, extremely aware of Thomas’ eyes fixating on him at the confession. He’s never spoken of his mother to anyone before. “She would have made something like what we had tonight.”
“Daud,” Thomas murmurs, and his name alone sounds like an apology.
“It’s cold,” Daud says, “and we’ll likely have a long day ahead of us. We should get some sleep.”
“Yes,” Thomas agrees, “we should.”
They return to their attic room, and Thomas reaches for the extra set of bedding in the corner, clearly planning to sleep on the floor as befit his lower rank in their hierarchy. Daud stops him. “The bed has space,” he says. “I need you well-rested tomorrow.”
And the last time they shared a bed was the first time either of them slept properly in months.
Thomas swallows thickly, and Daud briefly wonders what Attano would have to say about this. But Attano isn’t here, and he is damn tired. “Get in the bed, Thomas.”
Attano definitely would have had something to say about that choice of words, but they are effective. Thomas nods once, takes off his sword belt, wristbow, boots, and heavy whaler’s coat, and crawls underneath the covers, facing the wall. Daud mimics him, stripping himself of weaponry and coat before lying down, his back to Thomas.
The bed isn’t built for two, and their backs are touching, Thomas’ body heat soaking through Daud’s shirt. It should be awkward. It is awkward, to an extent. But it’s also soothing, the steady source of warmth and the proximity of someone he trusts wholly, without reservations.
Daud sleeps soundly for the second time in months.
Lydia is the best, guys. I love Lydia so much.
Chapter 12: XII
Whelp I completely missed last week's update thanks to an unfortunate stay at the hospital, I'm really sorry about that! On the plus side, it gave me some additional time to write ahead, so updates should now continue to be posted every Tuesday without fail. I will finish this thing if it kills me, dammit!
Find me on tumblr if you'd like to talk!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Their next target is High Overseer Thaddeus Campbell.
He would have been their first target, had Daud not know the whereabouts of Emily Kaldwin, but it makes perfect sense to strike against the Abbey now. Not only will removing the High Overseer call for the Feast of Painted Kettles, during which the entire Abbey will all but shut down, the act of recovering Campbell’s notorious black book will likely give them a clue as to which of the aristocrats is funding Hiram Burrows’ campaign as Regent.
Martin seems especially eager to see Campbell gone, and Daud doubts it’s because he longs to see the Abbey return to a more pious path. “Are you going to run for High Overseer when it’s done?” he asks once the Admiral has left after the debriefing. Pendleton has yet to emerge from his room.
“Perhaps,” Martin says, evasive as always. “If Campbell’s black book contains as much information as the rumours say, it’ll be a short Feast.”
Daud snorts. “You really are the worst Overseer I’ve ever met.”
“You can’t have met too many Overseers, then.”
“Only if stabbing someone counts as meeting them.”
Martin’s grin is wicked. “In that case, I hope you have fun ‘meeting’ Campbell.”
“I don’t doubt I will,” Daud says, even though he isn’t planning on shoving his blade through Campbell, as much as the corrupt bastard may deserve it. If Thomas’ actions at the Golden Cat have taught him anything, it’s that there is always another way. And in Campbell’s case, the path to take is quite clear. The Heretic’s Brand will suit him well.
Daud leaves the pub. Thomas pushes off the wall of Piero’s workshop, falling into step beside him. Together, they head for the beach, where Samuel is waiting to take them back to the Distillery District.
Before they can head down the stairs, Daud’s path is blocked by Emily’s new governess.
“Daud,” Callista says, her voice laced with both distaste and nervousness, “a moment, if you please.”
She’s brave, he’ll give her that. “This better be important.”
“It is,” she assures him. “I assume you’re going to kill the High Overseer?”
“He’s a wretched man,” she says, more to herself than to Daud. Callista takes a shuddering breath, but when she looks at Daud, her eyes are clear and determined. “I know there is no reason for you to listen for me, but… my uncle, Geoff Curnow, still serves as a captain in the City Watch.”
Daud recognises the name. Curnow is one of the few uncorrupted officials still left in Dunwall, and Daud has received more than one contract asking for his life. Before the Empress, Geoff Curnow would have been long gone, likely at his own hand. “Campbell wants your uncle dead,” he concludes.
Her eyes widen briefly, and then they narrow in sharp understanding. Of course he knows how to think like an assassin; he is one. “The chatter in servant circles is that Campbell just took delivery of an exotic poison. And my uncle is having a meeting with him at Holger Square today.”
That’s not a coincidence. “You’re asking me to protect him.”
“I know it’s not what you usually do,” she says hastily, “but my uncle is a good man, and my only family. He doesn’t deserve to die like this.”
It certainly puts in perspective her fierce defence of familial relationships yesterday. “I’ll see what I can do,” he says, because she is right about one thing: Geoff Curnow does not deserve to die. “But I make no promises.”
Callista nods tersely. “I suppose that’s the best I could hope for. Thank you.”
She bows at the waist, a sign of grudging respect, and then she goes, heading inside Piero’s workshop to use the walkway leading back to the tower she shares with Emily. Daud has to hand it to the Admiral, loathe as he is to admit it. He knows how to choose his personnel.
“Should we ask some of the others to join us?” Thomas asks, not unreasonably. With the added objective of ensuring Captain Curnow survives his meeting with the High Overseer, their plate is filling up fast. “I’m certain Patrick would be more than happy to –”
“No,” Daud says. “Numbers won’t help us, not at Holger Square.”
The Overseers are in possession of instruments that play the ancient music, capable of cancelling out their otherworldly abilities and inflicting agonising pain. This mission calls for pure stealth, even more so than their quest at the Golden Cat. One Overseer notices them, one music box is turned on, and they’re dead.
Samuel is checking over Amaranth’s engine when Daud and Thomas approach. “G’morning,” he greets them with his usual cheer. “Sleep well?”
“Well enough,” Daud understates. He slept like the Voiddamned dead. “You?”
“Ah, I’ll never truly get used to sleeping on land,” the old sailor laments. “But I’m up and ready to head out whenever you are.”
“Good,” Daud says. “We need to move quickly if we want to get to the High Overseer’s office before his scheduled meeting with the Watch.”
He has one foot inside the boat when someone calls his name. “Daud! Wait!”
Emily runs down the stairs at breakneck speed, Attano’s Heart clutched tightly in both hands. “Emily, slow down! You’ll break your neck!” he can hear Attano plead to his daughter, but the girl pays the Heart no mind.
“Empress,” Daud says, bowing for her when she skids to a halt before him. “What do you need of me?”
She holds out her hands, displaying Attano’s Heart. “You should take him with you,” she says, slightly out of breath from her sprint across the ground. “He wants to help.”
Daud gapes at her, ignoring Samuel’s amused chuckle from behind him. When he’d handed Emily the Heart, he never expected to have it back, because Attano obviously belongs with his daughter, for as long as the Outsider sees fit to keep him in this world. “Are you sure?” he rasps.
It’s Attano who answers. “Not even you are good enough to infiltrate Holger Square without help, assassin.”
“Take him,” Emily implores, all but pushing the Heart into his hands. “And bring him back.”
Daud tucks Attano into the inner pocket of his jacket, where he’s been since the Outsider gifted him to Daud. The weight is familiar, and comforting. “You have my word, Empress.”
The last time he gave her his word, she didn’t trust it. But now she nods, looking regal as a ten-year-old can be. “Good luck,” she says. “You too, Thomas.”
And she’s off, clambering back up the stairs and ducking not into Piero’s workshop, but the small alleyway just beside it. It’s clear to see she won’t easily submit to the lessons Callista has scheduled.
As soon as Emily is out of earshot, Thomas lets out the breath of laughter he was holding. Daud would glower at him, if it wasn’t such a nice sound. “Are you laughing at my imaginary friend?” he asks, raising a playful eyebrow.
“Watch who you’re calling imaginary,” Attano grumbles, at the same moment Thomas says “I wouldn’t dare.”
The Outsider must be having a fucking ball.
Samuel get them as close to the Overseers’ headquarters as he can, docking Amaranth on the waters right below the compound’s backyard. The high stone walls are a steep climb, but with their abilities, it’s doable, and they make it into the yard without incident.
From there, it’s trickier. The backyard is where the Overseers have their mess hall, their barracks, their training rooms. The place is positively teeming with the Abbey’s faithful, and worse, their wolfhounds. The creatures seem to have a nose for heresy, and moving from the shoreline to the main building is a tedious process. Twice, Daud has to call upon his powers to avoid detection, making a bottle roll down a staircase with his tether to distract a wolfhound and bending time to escape the sight of an Overseer turning around at the worst possible moment. And he’s lost count of how often Attano has hissed at him to not go that way, to do this, to watch out for that. All in all, Daud considers it a small miracle he isn’t dead yet.
They have barely made it inside the office of the High Overseer before Daud is forced to drink one of Piero’s Remedies, his magical energy diminished too much for comfort. He pushes his mask back down over his face and pockets the glass vial carefully, taking a moment to orient himself in the large edifice that houses the Overseers’ offices. He’s poured over the maps of this place many times before, when a contract called for the life of a high-ranking Overseer, or when one of his men got caught by the Abbey. But he’s only ever killed Overseers out of office, and none of the Whalers taken to Holger Square for interrogation returned alive.
This is by far the most dangerous job they’ve ever run.
From the unnaturally pale complexion of Thomas’ face, he knows it too. The inside of the High Overseer’s office smells overwhelmingly like the incense the Abbey waves around to ‘cleanse’ places of the Outsider’s influence, even if Daud can attest personally that it does absolutely nothing. The music boxes are a different story, but at first glance, few of the Overseers milling about the offices are carrying one of those contraptions. They must believe their brothers just outside would be able to keep any intruders at bay. A mistake.
He signals Thomas, and they creep up the stairs, Void Gaze showing the way clear of obstacles. If his memory of the floorplan serves him correctly, the meeting room is just around the corner, while the Overseers’ archives and the interrogation chambers are further down the hall. Obviously, securing the Heretics Brand is their first and foremost priority, but it’s also almost time for the meeting between Campbell and Curnow.
“You promised Callista you would try,” Attano says, unnecessarily. Daud has already made his decision.
“Thomas,” he murmurs, “go to the archives and find out where they keep the Heretic’s Brand. I’ll get Campbell and meet you in the interrogation room.”
Thomas nods in acknowledgement and disappears with the Void. “And be careful,” Daud whispers to the air.
“Void, but you are a disaster,” Attano sees fit to tell him. “Maybe you really should jump off Kaldwin’s Bridge.”
Before Daud can retort, the clock chimes four.
He swears and ducks into the still empty meeting room, positioning himself inside a small alcove near the open window. There are voices coming from the adjacent room, keys jangling, and that’s when Daud notices the wine sitting out on the table.
“Poison,” Attano confirms, but Daud is already moving. The setup is simple, a tray containing a bottle of good wine and two already poured tumblers. It’s not hard to smell which one is poisoned, not when Daud’s been an assassin for nearly two decades now. It’s Moreleyan stuff, cheaper than its more potent Tyvian equivalent, but just as deadly. Poison from Morley is painful, ripping through internal organs like they’re nothing, and they leave a clear trace of foul play. It’s why Daud has almost never used it himself. But then Campbell doesn’t need to worry about an autopsy, because who in their right mind would demand a lowly Captain of the Watch examined when it’s obvious he brought the plague into this holy house?
Daud briefly entertains switching the glasses. It would be exactly what Campbell deserves, a touch of poetic irony to his death. But Curnow will more likely than not take the blame for the High Overseer’s murder, and he’ll be cut down before he can so much as proclaim his innocence. No, there’s only one possible course of action here.
He bends time just as the door begins to open, a sliver of Campbell’s bald head visible through the crack. Daud wastes none of the precious time he’s holding, shoving the tray off the table quickly. Its glass contents shatters loudly, but within the confines of this pocket without time, there is no one who can hear it but Daud.
Daud retreats to his alcove, and lets go of time.
“– don’t understand how this got so unpleasant,” Curnow says as he follows Campbell through the door.
“Oh, I agree, I agree. A whore dies, and suddenly this,” Campbell says callously. Curnow’s expression is one of thinly veiled distaste. “Will you have wine? It’s a Tyvian re-”
He stops short when he sees the mess Daud just made, his chance of poisoning the captain now coating the floor. “I owe you an apology, Captain,” Campbell says after a long moment of stunned silence, forced to improvise. “This is hardly the hospitality I had planned for you.”
“No matter,” the Captain says briskly. “I can make do without refreshments. We should –”
“Oh, but what a poor host I’d be if I didn’t have another bottle in storage,” Campbell interrupts, his tone syrupy. “It’s a marvellous vintage, for special guests. Would you indulge me?”
Curnow lets out a breath of air that can’t quite be called a sigh, though it comes close. He reminds Daud a little of Thomas; dutiful, and polite even to those who do not deserve it. “Very well, Campbell,” he agrees, even if it’s painfully obviously he’d really rather not. Not quite like Thomas, then. His second is better at hiding his emotions. “As long as we get this little dispute settled.”
“Of course, of course,” Campbell coos, ushering Curnow out into the hallway. “I’ll see to it that everything’s taken care of. Properly, this time.”
Daud follows them from a safe distance, his vision swimming from the amount of time he’s had his Void Gaze active. Another vial of foul-tasting remedy takes care of it.
Campbell leads Curnow down to the basement, talking animatedly the entire way. Daud briefly wonders if he’ll have the hounds in the kennel take care of the Captain, horrifying as the thought is, but the High Overseer takes a right and opens his inner sanctum for his guest, a secret room only accessible by pulling a cleverly hidden switch. It’s smart; from here, Campbell can dispose of the body without anyone ever knowing, claiming Curnow simply left after their business was concluded. With Burrows on the throne, there will be no investigation.
“You see this painting?” Campbell asks as he pretends to look for the wine. “Believed to be early Sokolov. Something primal in there, the way the brushwork slashes across the canvas.”
“If you say so, Campbell,” Curnow says, sounding thoroughly unimpressed. He turns to admire the painting anyway, if only out of politeness. “I can’t say I have an eye for this sort of thing.”
Campbell draws his sword.
The struggle is brief, but loud. Campbell’s sword clatters to the floor as he brings up his hands to paw at Daud’s arm clamped firmly around his neck. The High Overseer is a large man, his weight driving Daud backward until his back slams against the stack of crates containing wine and other luxuries a man of faith really shouldn’t have in his possession. By the time Campbell finally slumps in his hold, Curnow’s sword is pointing at his chest.
Curnow’s sharp eyes flick from Daud’s gruesome mask to Campbell’s unconscious body, then to the Overseer’s sabre laying discarded at his feet. There’s a few long, tense seconds, during which Daud is beginning to wonder if he’ll have to knock out Curnow as well, but then the Captain heaves a sigh and sheathes his sword. “You have my thanks,” he says, “though by all rights I should probably arrest you.”
He has no idea. “You probably should,” Daud agrees, a wry smile hidden behind his mask.
“What are you doing here?” Curnow dares to ask.
“Your niece asked me to ensure you leave this place alive,” Daud divulges. It’s not a lie, even if it’s not the whole truth. But admitting to an officer of the Watch that he’s here to press the Heretic’s Brand into Campbell’s face doesn’t seem like the brightest idea.
“Callista’s alive?” Curnow breathes, his lips curling into a soft smile as he briefly closes his eyes in relief. “How is she? Is she safe?”
“She’s well,” Daud says. In these times, having a bed, food, and enough elixir to ward off the plague are luxuries few can afford.
When he doesn’t say anything more, Curnow seems to understand. “I’ll have to take your word for it,” he relents. “Please, if you see her, tell her… tell her I’m proud of her, and that I hope to see her again soon.”
It’s an innocent enough request. “I will.”
Curnow nods once, in gratitude if not respect, and leaves.
Daud waits until his footsteps have disappears up the stairs before he kneels by Campbell’s snoring form, turning the pockets of his red Overseer’s coat inside out in search of the black book. He finds it in the inner pocket, and out of curiosity, he opens it. It’s written in code, of course, but he has no doubt Martin will be able to crack it.
“Something’s wrong,” Attano says suddenly, his pulse quickening. “You need to get –”
But the rest of his words are drowned out by the loud, obnoxious sound of an alarm blearing throughout the building, echoing off the walls endlessly. Daud curses, swiftly pockets the black book, and ducks out of Campbell’s secret room, flipping the switch hidden in the bust of Holger to ensure no one will stumble upon the High Overseer in this state.
“Dammit, Curnow,” he mutters, slinking back up the stairs as quickly as he dares. He peeks carefully around the corner, half-expecting to see the Watch Captain’s dead body sprawled on the immaculate marble floor. But there is no sign of Curnow, and the Overseers responding to the alarm are not rushing towards the exit. They’re going upstairs. They’re heading for Thomas.
Daud’s blood roars in his ears, and there’s only one thought penetrating the panicked haze of his mind.
I'm so sorry.
Chapter 13: XIII
To the Overseers, it must seem like a scene from a nightmare. A being wearing a mask the shape of a skull – or maybe that’s just its head, maybe it’s a creature from the Void coming to seek vengeance – racing up the stairs, a bloody blade in its hand, cutting down whoever is stupid enough to get in its way. Left and right, brothers fall; some clutch an injured limb, breathing heavily but still breathing, while others lay unnaturally still, their eyes glazed over behind the face of Holger. There are shouts from all directions, some mere exclamations of pain, others screaming for a lockdown, for music boxes, for the High Overseer. The calls remain unanswered.
“The back room,” a voice no one can hear but Daud speaks urgently. “They’ve got a box, be care-”
The rest of the sentence is cut off by the unmistakable sound of an Overseer’s music box, the noise sending tendrils of white-hot pain through Daud’s body as his connection to the Void is forcibly severed. But he keeps moving even as his vision begins to swim, still engages the Overseers in a contest of blades even as his strength begins to fade, goes towards the sound rather than away from it because he has to get to Thomas.
The room at the end of the hall is meant for spectators to watch the torture of their victims in the interrogation chamber below. It’s a tiny place, little more than a glorified platform to raise the Overseers above those they accuse of heresy. The three people occupying it make it feel crowded, the low, droning tones of the ancient music only adding to the effect.
Daud crashes through the door as Thomas falls to his knees, the effects of the music too much for him to bear. By all accounts, Daud too should be floored by the box’ proximity, but pure adrenaline, furious and burning hot, keeps him on his feet.
An Overseer lunges at him, and Daud can barely block, can barely see the snarl of Holger’s mask even if it’s right in his face. There’s blood dripping down his arm but he can’t tell whether it’s his own or the Overseer’s; there’s blood in his mouth too, his body protesting feebly against the music’s toxic influence. He pushes back with a snarl, putting all the strength he has left into a shove that sends the Overseer to the ground. Daud fumbles to free his pistol from his belt, his fingers shaking as he aims it not at the Overseer picking himself up from the floor, but at his colleague winding up the music box.
He doesn’t even hear the gunshot, but he does hear the silence, the blissful, peaceful sound of no fucking music drumming in his ears. His body is his again; his vision clears, his breathing evens, and he can feel the weight of the gun in his hand, the sting of a shallow cut on his forearm. He can feel the Void reconnecting, can feel the Arcane Bond renew even before Thomas’ face relaxes, his head falling back against the balustrade.
“Heretics,” the last Overseer spits as he staggers to his feet. “You’re going to bleed, damn you!”
“Try me,” Daud growls, his blade at the ready. He wavers only briefly, his brain still trying to pound its way out of his skull. It’s all the Overseer needs.
With a cry of fury, the Overseer turns and drives his blade through Thomas’ stomach.
The word tears from his throat, but he doesn’t even realise he screamed, doesn’t realise he’s moving until he wrenches the Overseer away from Thomas, slamming the bastard into the wall so hard plaster crumbles, leaving a visible indent. Daud doesn’t stop, grabbing hold of the Overseer’s throat and bashing his head against the wall once, twice, thrice, until bone cracks and blood seeps, and even then he would have kept going, made the Overseer feel his wrath even in the depths of the Void.
He would have, if Thomas wasn’t calling for him. “Daud…”
Daud drops the Overseer and rushes to his side, finding the wound on the left side of his abdomen and pressing his palm to it, trying to staunch the bleeding. Thomas hisses, sucking in a breath of air through clenched teeth. “It’s not that bad,” Daud hears himself say, because rationally, logically, it’s not. He’s seen others stabbed before; Void, he’s been stabbed himself before, and this is not the worst he’s seen. This is survivable. But then he’s also seen people succumb to wounds much less severe, because of infection, or complications, or whatever other reason, and Outsider’s eyes but he’s terrified of that possibility. “Hang on, I’m getting Kent –”
Thomas’ hand closes around his before he can summon the Whalers’ physician. “Daud,” he rasps again, his name spoken from bloodied lips, “I’m sorry.”
“No,” Daud shakes his head, squeezing Thomas’ fingers with more force than he probably should. “It’s my fault.” As so much is these days. “I shouldn’t have sent you up here alone.”
Thomas huffs out a breath that may have been a laugh. “Pavel is dead,” he murmurs, jerking his head weakly in the direction of the table placed against the wall, upon which an audiograph player and a Whaler’s mask lie. “I wasn’t… paying attention.”
Pavel went missing about a month before they assaulted Dunwall Tower. He was only a child, not even eighteen yet. “Thomas,” Daud says, only just keeping his voice from breaking, “let me summon Kent.”
In response, Thomas grips his Marked hand tighter, with all the strength he has. It’s very little. “If I don’t make it –”
“Don’t,” Daud growls around the lump in his throat. “You’re going to be fine, dammit.”
He wrenches his hand from Thomas’ grip and scrapes together every last bit of magical energy he has left to summon Kent. Pulling a Whaler from the Flooded District halfway across the city is draining on a good day. With the lingering stress of the ancient music on his body, Daud sees stars.
Kent appears swiftly, and he wastes no time, dropping to his knees beside Daud and gently easing away his grip on Thomas’ wound. “Stabbed?”
“Overseer,” Daud confirms, unnecessarily.
Kent nods, his brow furrowed in worry and concentration as he packs the wound for transport with an expert hand. “Alright,” he says softly, in that comforting bedside tone many a doctor could learn from, “we’re going home. Hang on to me.”
“Wait,” Thomas protests, even if the prodding of his injury has made his face lose all colour, and he looks as though he’s ready to pass out at any moment. “The Brand.”
He shakily holds up the poker clenched in his fist, the very object Daud sent him to retrieve. The Heretic’s Brand.
Daud is tempted to take the thing and hurl it out the window, but he won’t be so callous with the artefact Thomas risked his life to obtain. Besides, it’s not as if he’s had much success with throwing things out of windows lately.
He pries the Brand from Thomas’ fingers. “Good work,” he says gently. “I’ll take it from here.”
Only then does Thomas relax somewhat, allowing Kent to wrap an arm around him. “Be careful,” he says to Daud, eyes gleaming with barely contained emotion. “There’s Overseers here, and they stab.”
Daud manages to bark a laugh that only sounds half-forced. “Take him,” he orders Kent. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
Kent nods once, tightening his grip around Thomas’ shoulders. With a rush of the Void, they’re gone, and Daud is horribly, painfully alone.
The small room is in chaos. One Overseer is slumped in the corner, the remains of his music box scattered around him; the other lies underneath a sanguine painting of blood and brain matter decorating the wall in a gruesome explosion of rage. The floor is coated with a far too large pool of Thomas’ blood.
Daud turns to the table, which was miraculously untouched in the struggle. He clips the Whaler’s mask to his belt and tucks the audiograph containing Pavel’s interrogation into his coat. Void, but he despises the Abbey and everything it stands for.
“Daud,” Corvo says, not unkindly, “you have to go.”
Without a word, Daud turns on his heel, and goes.
It’s one thing to cause carnage in the hallways of the office of the High Overseer when consumed with panic and fury; it’s another to walk back through it. Daud’s heart beats loudly in his chest, for once more prominent than the pulse of Corvo’s Heart, as he realises just what he’s done in his rush to reach Thomas. Bodies are strewn everywhere, Overseers lying dead or unconscious in a sickening amount of blood. Some are alive and awake still; most cower as he walks past, reciting the Seven Strictures in hushed whispers. One attempts to grab his leg as he passes, but a swift kick in the face puts an end to it. No one tries anything after that.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Corvo says, just as Daud’s mind begins to wander to the last time he took a life, and the numerous consequences attached to it. “You were protecting someone you love.”
“I shouldn’t have sent him away,” Daud mutters angrily. “I shouldn’t have…”
“You thought him competent,” Corvo supplies. “And you weren’t wrong. If he had not stopped to listen to the audiograph, if he was not so concerned for the fate of his family, he would not have been caught unaware.”
The audiograph burns in his pocket. “Pavel,” Daud breathes. “How did he die?”
“Quickly. He used the pin.”
Thank Void for that, at least. Small mercies.
“He was going to tell you,” Corvo says then, in a voice so small Daud has to strain to hear him over the thundering sound of his own footsteps on the stairs. “In case he’ll never get another chance.”
If I don’t make it, Thomas had whispered. “Tell me what?”
“That he loves you.”
Daud trips over the next step, and he has to transverse down to solid ground to keep from tumbling down the stairs. “Voiddammit, Attano!”
A downed Overseer groans at his loud exclamation, and Daud purses his lips, hurrying back down to Campbell’s secret room. With everything that’s happened, he nearly forgot he’s far too deep inside the belly of the beast for comfort. He can’t afford to bicker with Corvo while the High Overseer still holds his position.
Campbell is exactly where Daud left him, face down on the filthy floor of his hidden room. Daud doesn’t waste any more time, grabbing the High Overseer by the back of the neck and pressing the Heretic’s Brand into his face. It’s peculiar to see a brand forming and scarring over immediately, not needing heat at all. The mysterious chemical compound the Overseers concocted for this purpose works remarkably well.
Daud bundles the Brand up in a swathe of thick red cloth hiding among Campbell’s excess pile of luxuries and pockets it. Maybe Chester can figure out just what the chemical is, and they’ll be able to replicate it. How much easier it’ll be to get rid of Overseers if they have their very own Heretic’s Brand.
He drags Campbell’s body to the entryway of the hidden room, leaving him half-deposited in the hallway. Let the Overseers find his ridiculous little sanctuary. Let them see what a despicable man their former leader is.
“More are coming,” Corvo warns as Daud replaces Campbell’s sword into its scabbard. “The place will be on lockdown soon.”
Daud considers it a miracle Holger Square isn’t on lockdown already. “What’s the best path?”
“High,” Corvo responds promptly. “Back through the backyard.”
It’s only then he realises he hasn’t even given a thought to the other he’s dragged with him to Holger Square. “Samuel?”
“Fine. Hidden still.”
Small mercies, Daud thinks again, clinging to the notion. Small mercies.
He retraces his steps to the Overseers’ backyard, barely circumventing a platoon of Overseers and members of the Watch coming from the main hall, several music boxes at the ready. Daud cannot suppress the shiver that runs across his spine at the sight. If he had dallied upstairs, he would be dead.
Instead, he makes it outside safely, just seconds before the alarm blears again and the whole office locks down, windows and doors barred with steel impossible to penetrate. They must have found the bodies.
Daud doesn’t linger, downing his last vial of remedy and heading back to the river in a series of swift transversals, keeping his ears open for any life-saving advice Corvo may have. But the backyard is considerably emptier than it was before, most of the Overseers and their hounds now inside, and Daud manages to reach the dock where Samuel is waiting without getting caught.
Samuel starts at the sight of him – and what a sight he must make, masked and bloodied like a spectre from the Void itself. Daud pulls off his mask, even if he knows his face can’t look much better. “We need to go.”
“What about –” Samuel begins, but Daud shakes his head.
“He’s… gone ahead,” he says, not untruthfully. “We need to go now.”
Samuel doesn’t ask anything more, starting up Amaranth’s motor and sailing them away from the accursed headquarters of the Abbey. It’s not until they’re properly out on the water, the eyesore of a building but a speck in the distance, that Daud allows his eyes to close and his shoulders to slump. It’s suddenly very hard to hold back tears.
Samuel must see it on his face. “What happened in there?” he asks gently.
Daud runs his fingers over the Whaler’s mask at his belt. “Thomas was stabbed,” he chokes out. “I killed. I don’t know how many.”
It’s a credit to the boatman that his eyes only widen briefly in shock. “Will he be alright?” is the first thing Samuel asks.
“He should be,” Daud answers, and Void does he hope that’s true. He can still feel the Bond, at least. “I can’t be sure.”
To his shock, Samuel leans towards him and pats his knee. “I’m sorry,” he says simply, not wasting time with empty promises of recovery when he too can’t be certain of Thomas’ fate. “He hasn’t deserved that. And neither have you.”
Daud jerks his knee away. “I’m not the one who got stabbed,” he bites out.
“No,” Samuel agrees easily, not bothered in the least by Daud’s prickly mood, “but someone you care for was. That’s just as bad.”
No, it’s not. Daud would do anything to trade places with Thomas, to feel the sting of the sword sliding into his own flesh, because it’s pain he knows, pain he’s intimately familiar with. It’s pain he knows how to deal with. The throbbing of his heart and the tightness in his chest as he thinks of Thomas having to go through it is much, much worse.
“Thank you,” he manages to say to Samuel.
Samuel’s kind smile is like a beacon of light in a world gone dark. “Think nothing of it, sir,” he says, waving away the gratitude as he always does. “Though… if I may speak plainly?”
Daud finds it in himself to give the boatman a small smile. “When have you not?”
Samuel chuckles, but his face quickly turns serious again. “I think you should tell him,” he says candidly. “That you care about him.”
There was a time when Daud would have balked at the mere idea. Now, he just sighs wearily. “I know,” he murmurs. He’s known for a good while, has seen how Thomas lights up at the merest praise, even if it’s so little in return for his service, for his friendship – for his love. He deserves to know what he means to Daud, even if Daud isn’t yet entirely sure what he’s feeling. But showing affection is not in his nature, the mere thought of it terrifying. The only people he’s ever confessed his regard to were his mother and Billie, and both of them are gone.
“I know it can be difficult,” Samuel says, as if reading his thoughts, “but it’s important. If you don’t, you’ll end up a sad old man with nothing but regrets and a boat named for lost love.”
“I have plenty of regrets,” Daud says wryly. “I could do with a boat, though.”
The boatman chuckles more out of politeness than anything else. “If I had someone look at me the way that boy looks at you,” he says, “you could have this one.”
Samuel allows him peace for the remainder of the trip, which Daud both appreciates and resents. He doesn’t quite feel like talking, but sitting in silence leaves him alone with his thoughts, which keep drifting to images of Thomas in agony, or worse. Corvo is maddeningly quiet in his pocket, his pulse slow and calming. The urge to cry fades slowly.
When they’re close to the Flooded District, Samuel slows Amaranth. “Should I take you home first, sir?”
It’s a tempting offer. But Thomas will need his rest, and Daud has to report to the Loyalists sooner or later anyway. If things go awry at the base, Kent will let him know through the Bond, much as he doesn’t want to dwell on that. “No,” he tells Samuel with a sigh. “Go back to the Hound Pits.”
He may as well get Havelock’s inevitable lecture out of the way.
Lesson: don't mess with Daud's boy, you gon'sta get straight up murdered to death.
Real talk though, I'm pretty proud of this chapter? Action scenes aren't my strong suit but I think this came out alright! =D
Chapter 14: XIV
Just as Daud predicted, Havelock is not pleased.
“What the hell did you do?” he demands, an angry vein throbbing visibly on his forehead. “The whole damn city is on high alert!”
“I did what I had to do,” Daud returns acidly, unceremoniously dropping Campbell’s black book onto the bar. “You can’t expect a heretic to go to Holger Square without repercussions.”
Havelock opens his mouth to protest, but Martin cuts in, snatching the black book up immediately. “Outstanding,” he purrs, flipping through the pages. “This is the very key to the Abbey.”
Daud supposes he should be grateful that Martin is distracted by his new treasure. The sharp-eyed Overseer would more likely than not have asked questions about Thomas’ absence otherwise. “If that is all,” he says, trying to sound unconcerned, “I have things to attend to in Rudshore.”
“How bad was he injured?” Martin asks casually, without looking up from the book.
Daud barely suppresses a growl at the Overseer’s callous attitude. “Not as bad as his assailant.”
Martin merely raises an eyebrow at him, the blood of his brothers nearly impossible to discern on Daud’s red coat, and Daud bares his teeth, not bothering to disguise it as a smile. “Let’s just say you’ll have a lot of scrubbing to do in your new office.”
“I see,” Martin drawls, but even he is not capable of fully hiding the tremor in his voice. Whether that’s from fear of Daud or sadness for his fallen colleagues, he does not care to dissect. “And yet Campbell is still alive.”
“Yes,” Daud confirms, not even beginning to wonder how Martin knows that when he’s quite certain the fate of the former High Overseer hasn’t been broadcasted yet. “He bears the Heretic’s Brand.”
“I know,” Martin says. “I can smell its chemicals on you.”
Now it’s Daud’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You have experience with it?”
“Administered it a few times. Dodged its administration a few times,” Martin shrugs, as if the damn Brand is no more than an ordinary stamp. “I’m quite familiar with the process.” He finally looks up from the black book. “What I fail to understand is why you went through the trouble of branding Campbell when I can only imagine killing him would have been much easier.”
“I think we’re all wondering that,” Havelock hisses through clenched teeth, even though the three of them are the only ones in the bar right now, Pendleton having returned to his ancestral home to deal with the aftermath of the ‘death’ of his brothers. “I thought your orders were clear.”
“You said to get rid of him,” Daud points out. “You didn’t say how.”
Havelock scowls, and Martin laughs. “Technicalities are a marvellous thing, are they not?”
“On occasion,” Daud agrees wearily, steering the conversation back to its purpose before Havelock decides to try and murder either one of them. “Can you translate the book?”
Martin snorts. “If I’m not smarter than Campbell, you may as well shoot me now.”
Daud can’t help himself. “Is that a request?”
The Overseer’s eyes gleam. “More like a challenge.”
Havelock makes a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “Never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d actually miss Pendleton,” he grumbles. “Go do whatever you need to. We won’t have any new tasks for you until Martin figures out the code.”
Taking the clear dismissal for what it is, Daud nods. “I’ll send some of my men here,” he says, already thinking on which of his Whalers would cause the Admiral the most misery. Jenkins and Patrick spring to mind. “They can contact me when you’re done.”
Daud leaves the pub, weariness settling heavily into his bones. Normally, he’d prefer to return to the base on foot, but with his energy low, his supply of remedies depleted, and his emotional state questionable, it’s a better idea to ask Samuel to take him there.
He heads for the shore, but he’s barely made two steps before a gasp sounds from the entrance to Piero’s workshop, and then someone is hugging him.
“He’s alive!” Callista breathes close to his ear, sounding absolutely giddy with relief. “Thank you, Daud, thank you!”
She pulls back with a brilliant smile, with none of the hostility and fear she felt towards him before. There’s blood on her clothes, transferred from Daud’s stained coat, but she doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care. It seems saving Geoff Curnow has put him in her good graces definitively.
“He wanted me to tell you that he’s proud of you,” Daud remembers the Captain’s message to his niece. “He hopes to see you again soon.”
Callista’s eyes fill with tears. “Thank you,” she says again, looking as though she can barely contain herself from pulling him into another hug. “Oh, I have something to pay you with, of course.”
She rifles through her pockets, but Daud holds up a hand to stop her. “No,” he says firmly. “I did this for the right reasons.”
That stops her short, and she looks at him with something akin to awe in her expression. “You’re a good man, Daud.”
Daud lets out a derisive chuckle. “No. I’m really not.”
Corvo sighs heavily from within his pocket. “Can you stop the self-loathing for two seconds and just take the compliment for once? Void, you’re more dramatic than the Outsider himself.”
And that has to be the worst insult anyone has ever thrown at him. Daud has to fight to keep the indignation from showing on his face. He considers it a small miracle he’s distracted from his urge to send Corvo’s Heart back into the Void with violence when a voice calls out to them.
“Callista! I finished my boring sums!” Emily yells as she rushes towards her teacher. “Can we finally do something fun now?”
The governess smiles impishly. “That depends on how well you did your homework, now doesn’t it?””
Emily makes a face, thrusting her notebook into Callista’s hands before turning her attention to Daud. “You’re back,” she says evenly, trying and failing to contain her excitement. “How did it go? Did you fight anyone? Was Cor- my friend any help?” And then, the most heartbreaking question of all: “Where’s Thomas?”
Daud swallows back the bile rising in his throat. “I sent Thomas back home, Empress,” he manages without a stutter, though his breath hitches in his throat from the way her face falls. “We did what we needed to do. And your friend was… indispensable.”
He makes a show of retrieving Corvo’s Heart from his pocket and presenting it to Emily, needing to make it seem to Callista as though he really is dealing with an imaginary friend. Emily smiles as her father is returned to her, a genuine shred of happiness. “Thank you for keeping him safe.”
“Of course, Empress,” he says with a bow, and Emily takes off with Corvo’s Heart clutched tightly to her chest.
Callista shakes her head at him. “Not a good man, my behind.”
The trip from the Hound Pits to the Whalers’ base in Rudshore takes ten minutes at most. It feels like an eternity.
If Samuel is annoyed at the way his fingers drum relentlessly on the gunwale of the boat, he doesn’t show it. He suffers Daud’s less than pleasant presence in companionable silence, breaking it only to wish Daud and Thomas well when they finally reach the Commerce Building.
Daud can only manage a nod of gratitude before he transverses up the tall edifice, ducking inside through the window of the library. He stalks through the hallways on his way to the infirmary, ignoring the way his Whalers scatter upon his approach. He can make things up to them later. Right now, only one person matters to him.
Kent is waiting for him by the entrance. “He’ll live,” are the first words out of his mouth, and Daud feels a heavy weight lift from his chest, allowing him to breathe again. “I put him to sleep for the time being. He won’t be up for a few hours yet.”
He resists the sudden, stupid urge to hug Kent, instead inclining his head at the physician. “Whatever would we do without you,” he mumbles, not quite capable of lacing his tone with sarcasm.
“Die, probably,” Kent grins, clasping Daud’s shoulder. “Take a rest, boss. You look like hell. And that is my professional opinion.”
Daud returns the smile, only now realising just how tired he is. “I have some things to take care of first.”
“Don’t you always,” Kent sighs. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you collapse.”
Daud leaves the physician and heads for his office, so he can deal with the bare minimum of his responsibilities before getting the rest he knows damn well he needs. The first thing that greets him is the growing pile of paperwork sitting on his desk, but he ignores that entirely. He should have time to go through it in the coming days, while they wait for Martin to translate the code from Campbell’s black book. He doubts he’d get far with the papers right now, in the state he’s in.
Instead, he places the Heretic’s Brand and Pavel’s mask and audiograph on his desk for later study before shedding himself of his bloodstained coat and gloves. He washes his face with freezing water, the cold hardly even registering through the haze of exhaustion and relief at Thomas’ confirmed survival.
Only once he feels like some semblance of a human being again, the bloody water tossed out into the flood below, does he summon Jenkins and Patrick to his office. “I need the two of you to head to the Hound Pits Pub,” he says once they’ve materialised in front of him. “Overseer Martin is busy translating Campbell’s source of blackmail material, and I need to know the minute he’s done.”
“Messenger duty?” Jenkins asks, sounding rather put-off. As she’s one of his most senior Whalers, Daud can understand the reluctance.
“You have a secondary task,” he says seriously, and Jenkins immediately stands up straighter. “The leader of the conspiracy is a former admiral called Havelock. I want you to annoy him as much as you possibly can without resorting to violence.”
A shit-eating grin spreads across Jenkins’ face, and Patrick’s eyes gleam with mischief. “Consider it done, boss,” he says in his heavy Morleyan accent.
They salute their Master, and disappear with the Void.
And Daud knows he should rest, like Kent told him to, knows he ought to head up the stairs and seek out his bed. He needs sleep, and there’s nothing he can do for Thomas in any case.
Regardless, he finds himself returning to the infirmary.
Kent has left, and Daud lets himself in, walking to the only occupied bed at the far end of the room, close to the window. Thomas is unnaturally pale, his blond hair clinging to his forehead, his brow furrowed as he mumbles in his sleep, but he is breathing, calmly and steadily, and that is enough. That is everything.
Daud settles in the chair beside the bed, and, after only a brief moment of hesitation, takes hold of Thomas’ hand.
The change is immediate. Thomas’ face relaxes and he grips Daud’s hand tightly in his sleep, sighing something that sounds suspiciously like Daud’s name. The sight is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at once.
Daud lets himself sink into the armchair, his weary body nearly screaming in relief. Despite his attempt to stay awake, the strain of the day catches up quickly, and he falls asleep in the chair within minutes, his fingers still tightly laced with Thomas’.
His mind is blissfully blank for five seconds, and then he slams hard onto the stone ground of the Void.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he grumbles, picking himself up from the floor. “What do you want now, you black-eyed bastard?”
“So hostile,” the Outsider drawls, appearing before him in a swirl of the Void. “I daresay I have not deserved your scorn, when my gifts have obviously served you well.”
“Your ‘gifts’ are as sadistic as they are useful,” Daud spits, familiar annoyance rising within him. “Your ‘gifts’ got Thomas stabbed.”
The Outsider cocks his head. “And whose fault is that?”
Daud closes his eyes, but that has never mattered in the Void. He can still see. “Mine.”
The Outsider smiles that smile with too many teeth. “You’ve changed, old friend,” he says plainly. “You’ve become positively fascinating.”
“I live to serve,” Daud mutters sardonically.
The Outsider pretends not to have heard that. “You took down the Lords Pendleton and the High Overseer without bloodshed,” he muses, as if talking to the Void rather than to a person. “You killed only when your beloved was in peril, and even those deaths cause guilt to fester inside you. Even I cannot predict what you will do in the days to come.”
That is a strangely disconcerting thought. “I will live,” he says resolutely, “and I will fix what I broke.”
“Will you now?”
“Such conviction,” the Outsider breathes, his face close enough for Daud to drown in the dark pits of his eyes. “Do what you must, my dear old friend. I give my Mark sparingly, and I don't play favourites, but I will watch this... with unusual attention.”
The Void swallows him whole, and Daud sleeps a dreamless sleep.
He wakes, hours later, to a voice croaking his name.
Daud’s eyes snap open, and Thomas’ weak smile is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. “Is it done?” he asks hoarsely. “Did you brand the High Overseer?”
Always thinking of the mission first. “I did,” Daud murmurs, squeezing his hand gently. “Campbell won’t be High Overseer anymore.”
Thomas swallows dryly. “Good,” he rasps. “Glad one of us is competent, at least.”
“Be quiet,” Daud orders, untangling their hands to fetch Thomas a cup of water. “You can be self-deprecating when you’re back on your feet, like the rest of us.”
Thomas accepts the cup with a muttered word of thanks, failing to meet Daud’s eye. “I nearly ruined the mission,” he says miserably, his voice a bit stronger after a sip of water. “I nearly got us both killed.”
Daud settles at his bedside again. “Thomas,” he says softly, imploring his second to look at him, “none of this was your fault.”
Thomas scoffs. “You don’t have to lie to me.”
“Do you think Billie never made a mistake? Do you think I never made a mistake?”
It’s clear from the look on Thomas’ face that that’s exactly what he thought, and Daud sighs. “Holger Square is the most dangerous place for people like us to be,” he says, thinking of Pavel, “and we made it out. Not unscathed, not perfectly, but we made it out. I don’t think I could have managed that with someone else at my back.”
Thomas shakes his head, though there is a faint smile tugging at his lips. “You could have with Billie,” he says mournfully, and it’s the first time he’s spoken of his predecessor since gaining her title. “She was always the best of us.”
Every one of his insecurities is laid bare within those words, the injury and the sleep toxin loosening his tongue. Daud can’t believe he didn’t see it before. “Billie was my greatest protégé,” he admits, looking away when Thomas flinches at the words. “But you have never been my student, not truly. You’ve always known how to fight, and how to pick your battles. Better than Billie. Better than I.”
He lays his hand atop Thomas’ again, taking Samuel’s advice to heart. “Billie was my greatest protégé,” he repeats, “but you are my partner.”
Thomas starts, looking at him with wide brown eyes filled with wonder, and respect, and love. Daud can feel it drumming in his blood, seeping into his bones. It would be so easy to close the distance between them, to thread his fingers into Thomas’ hair and pull him in. Outsider’s eyes, but Daud finds that he wants to.
He very nearly does.
Kent slams open the door with his shoulder, carrying in two plates of food. “Ah, good, you’re up,” he says cheerfully, setting the plates down on the bedside table. “Nearly thought I gave you an overdose, Thom. And you,” he turn to Daud, “when I say ‘get some rest’, I mean in your own damn bed.”
“Then you should have been more specific,” Daud growls, with more hostility than Kent deserves. The physician has no idea what he’s just walked in on – there wasn’t even anything to walk in on, not really. But Daud feels the loss of the moment like a physical ache.
“Alright, someone’s grumpy,” Kent says, sounding anything but surprised. He hands Daud a remedy, Thomas an elixir. “Drink that, and eat your dinner.”
“Yes, mother,” Thomas agrees wryly, but there is a tremor in his voice that betrays his disappointment. He too mourns the intrusion.
Kent makes a face, like he always does when someone calls him ‘mother’. “Or don’t,” he says airily. “Starve. See if I care.”
A loud snort comes from the doorway. “I think you’re physically incapable of not caring,” Rinaldo says with a smile, balancing his own plate of dinner on the tips of his fingers. “That’s why we stick you in here.”
The sigh that leaves Kent’s lips is a long-suffering one. “Rinaldo, I’ve told you a thousand times –”
“That you’re a twat,” Kieron finishes for him, smacking the back of Rinaldo’s head before sauntering into the infirmary and claiming a seat on one of the unoccupied beds.
“Eloquent, Kier,” Quinn drawls, forcing her way inside herself. “Real flair for poetry you have.”
Kieron grins. “You know you love me.”
Misha follows after Quinn, pulling her against her side. “Hey, no hitting on my girlfriend.”
Daud blinks at the girls, wondering just when that happened, but he has no time to dwell on things as more and more of the Whalers crowd into the room. Kent quickly gives up on trying to herd them back out.
It turns into a peculiar family dinner, the collective force of the Whalers having missed Daud and Thomas in their midst since they threw themselves headlong into the conspiracy. There is food, laughter, playful insults. This is what home feels like.
Daud looks over at Thomas, and hates himself for wishing everyone else would just go away.
Found family >>> romance. Sorry Daud, I don't make the rules.
Chapter 15: XV
It’s five days before Jenkins and Patrick return with word of Martin’s success.
In that time, Daud has made himself busy to avoid lingering by Thomas’ bedside all day, suspect as that would be. He’s gone through his paperwork, distributed a few contracts to his Whalers to keep up appearances of them being a functional organisation, and he’s been teaching Rulfio how to manage operations in the absence of himself and Thomas, unofficially making him third-in-command.
Most importantly, he’s been working on evacuation plans.
The one thing he’s learned from his trip to Holger Square is that he is not untouchable, much as he’s made himself believe otherwise over the years, and neither are his men. If Burrows finds out about Daud’s involvement in a conspiracy against him, there will be hell to pay – and Daud will take every precaution to ensure the currency of that payment will not be lives. He spends hours poring over possibilities of escape in the case it becomes a necessity, going as far as securing routes that can be used without needing supernatural abilities. If Daud falls, his power falls with him, and he does not want his Whalers to be sitting ducks when that happens.
Thomas helps when he can, the first few days from the infirmary when Daud comes to him with maps, then for extending periods of time in Daud’s office, until Kent comes in to berate him for pushing himself too hard. The Void and Sokolov’s Elixir have him healing quickly, and it won’t be long until he can take on the full plethora of duties as second again.
But not yet on the day Daud has to go back to the Hound Pits.
Thomas positively sulks at Daud’s decision to leave him behind, a rare display of unrestrained emotion. “I’m fine,” he says for the umpteenth time, no more convincingly than the last. “Let me come to the Pub, at least.”
“No,” Daud says, also for the umpteenth time. “You’re injured, and you are staying with people we trust. I wouldn’t put it past Havelock to try and shank you when you’re not looking, especially after having endured a week with Jenkins and Patrick.”
Despite his ire, Thomas cannot quite hide his amusement at that. “Who are you taking, then?”
“No one. I’ve put Rulfio on standby,” Daud explains patiently. “I’m assuming Martin has found out something about Burrows’ investor, and if we’ll be dealing with nobles, Rulfio is our best bet.”
Thomas’ face twists back into a scowl. “If we’re dealing with nobles, I’m your best bet,” he corrects. “I used to be a noble, for Void’s sake.”
“Yes,” Daud agrees easily, “but you’re also injured, and you are staying here.”
Thomas crosses his arms, winces at the strain that puts on his wound, and lets them hang by his side again. “I hate this,” he mutters, defeated.
“I know,” Daud says, not unkindly. “Just take your rest. Void knows you need it after putting up with me these past weeks.”
“Putting up with you is my job now, remember?”
“You’d best sleep in until noon, then.”
Thomas makes a face. “Never again.”
Neither of them mentions that they’ve hardly slept a wink the past five days, separated as they are by decorum in the face of their peers. Every time Daud closes his eyes, Jessamine Kaldwin flashes before them, bloodied and empty and regarding him with an accusatory glare that isn’t hers, her daughter’s brown eyes glaring at him from her body instead. If only the Brigmore Witches hadn’t turned to Delilah, he could have petitioned them to make a bonecharm for dreamless sleep. As it is, none of his ilk knows how to make charms, and with everything that’s been going on in Dunwall lately, it’s not as if they have the time to learn the craft.
Daud stands from his place behind his desk. “I am leaving you in charge here at the base,” he tells Thomas, partly to placate him and partly – a larger part – because he trusts no one like he does Thomas. “Try not to piss off Kent too much.”
Thomas shrugs noncommittally. “I make no promises.”
Chuckling, Daud steps closer to him, and, before his mind can catch up with his body, wraps one arm around Thomas in a gentle hug, mindful of his injury. He pulls back just as quickly, glimpsing the look of pure shock on Thomas’ face, and he bolts, transversing out of the office and up to the rooftops with a speed he didn’t know he still had in his old age.
His heart beating a mile a minute, Daud is very, very glad he opted to leave Corvo with Emily for the duration of his sabbatical from the Hound Pits. He feels awkward enough as it is, and Voiddammit but he is a grown ass man, not a fresh-faced boy with a crush. He’s too fucking old for this nonsense.
He uses altogether far too much of his magical energy to reach the Hound Pits Pub, but the burn of the exertion is a welcome feeling. That, at least, is an ache familiar to him.
Havelock, Martin, and Pendleton are waiting for him inside. The Admiral takes one look at him, then visibly leans to the side to see behind him, and lets out a sigh of relief when he realises Daud came alone. Daud has to fight to keep the smirk off his face; that’s the handiwork of Jenkins and Patrick, alright.
“You’re finished?” Daud asks Martin.
“Good morning to you too,” Martin drawls. “Is that how you greet your friends after a week spent apart?”
“Yes,” Daud deadpans, keeping to himself that he wouldn’t exactly call the three members of the Loyalist Conspiracy ‘friends’. “So, are you finished?”
Pendleton sniggers into his glass, which seems to be filled with water rather than alcohol for once. It’s good to see the noblemen in decent spirits again, after what he believes has been done to his brothers.
“I am finished,” Martin says proudly. “I daresay the Feast of Painted Kettles will be coming to a close sooner rather than later.”
Having another High Overseer who knows the location of his base isn’t exactly ideal, but at least Martin is on their side. For now. “What about Burrows’ financer?”
Martin’s grin stretches wide. “Apparently, Burrows is getting his funds from, if you can believe it, his mistress.”
“Void,” Daud can’t help but mutter, the mental image of that sending a shiver down his spine. “Who’s desperate enough to do that?”
“That, we don’t know,” Havelock says dourly. “The black book doesn’t mention her name.”
“Useful,” Daud drawls. “I hope you’re not expecting us to stalk every noblewoman left in Dunwall.”
“Amusing as that would be, no,” Martin says, to his relief. “Campbell’s journal mentions that Burrows’ mistress sat for a painting with Anton Sokolov. He’s the best lead we have.”
Daud cannot stop the groan of exasperation that leaves his throat. Natural philosophers are a nightmare in and of themselves, and Sokolov has definitely earned his place as the Headmaster of their order. “Great,” he mutters sardonically.
“One more thing,” Havelock cuts in. Of course there is. “We can’t afford to let Sokolov stay within reach of the Lord Regent, not once he realises his knowledge of Burrows’ mistress is sought after. You’ll need to bring him back here. We’ll put him under guard.”
“It’s a shame,” Pendleton says. “I always found him rather charming. He painted my portrait once.”
“Mine too,” Daud admits. At the time, it had seemed like a good idea to sit for a portrait when Sokolov was willing to offer him the formula for his own quick-working sleep toxin in return for the privilege. Before he killed Jessamine Kaldwin, he considered it the worst decision he ever made.
Martin’s eyebrows have nearly reached his hairline. “Really?”
Daud shrugs. He hasn’t been able to find the accursed painting for years now. “It’s not something I like to brag about.”
“Well, aren’t you full of surprises.”
Martin’s tone holds a note of awe he’s not quite comfortable with. “If that’s all…?”
“A last point,” Havelock says briskly. “Call it a request, if you will.”
He’s been shockingly polite today, so Daud humours him. “What?”
“Next time you post your men to the Hound Pits,” Havelock begins cordially enough, “don’t.”
Holding back the chuckle bubbling in his throat is a challenge. “I’ll see to it they’re on their best behaviour next time.”
That’s not what the Admiral wants to hear, but Daud leaves the bar and heads up the stairs before he can protest. Martin’s bark of laughter is audible even on the second floor.
He heads for the attic room, sparing exactly one second to give the bed where he last slept properly a look of longing before climbing through the open window and crossing the rickety walkway that leads to the crumbling tower where Emily and Callista have made their home. If he’s going back out into the city, and without Thomas at that, he could do with Corvo’s assistance.
Daud knocks, and Emily’s voice bids him entrance.
Callista looks rather annoyed when he steps inside. “We’re in the middle of a test,” she tells Daud. “Could you wait, please?”
Daud shrugs and leans against the desk to watch them. It’s not as though Sokolov will be going anywhere.
“Alright,” Callista says, turning her attention back to the book in her lap, “when did the War of the Four Crowns end?”
Emily taps her chin in thought, and another voice answers, in that deep rumble Daud has become so very familiar with. “The fourteenth Day of the Month of Songs, in 1625.”
“Fourteen Month of Songs, 1625,” Emily parrots with a grin.
Callista’s eyebrows rise in surprise as she flips through the pages of her book. “And who was the first Emperor of the Isles?”
“Finlay Morgengaard I,” Corvo says promptly. “His reign lasted until 1651.”
Emily makes a show of thinking, furrowing her brows as though in deep concentration. “I think it was… Finlay Morgengaard. The first of his name, of course.”
“And who was the longest reigning monarch?” Callista fires off another question immediately.
“Alexy Olaskir,” Corvo says.
“Alexy Olaskir,” Emily repeats.
Callista closes the book with a snap. “Well,” she says, drawing out the word with clear suspicion in her tone, “it seems you know your history better than you let on.”
Emily flashes a winning smile. “Can I go play outside now, Callista? Please?”
“Oh, very well,” the governess succumbs, returning the girl’s smile. “I’m due for a bath in any case.”
She tucks her history book into the small bookcase in the corner and then turns to Daud. “What did you need, Daud?” Callista asks kindly.
“I have business with the Empress,” Daud says, quite unwilling to go through another exchange of Emily’s ‘imaginary friend’ in front of a witness. Too late, he realises how threatening his words sound in the face of the last time he had ‘business’ with an Empress.
Callista falters, staring at him with clear trepidation in her eyes. He may have won her respect by saving her uncle from certain death, but that does not mean she’s willing to abandon her charge to him so easily.
“It’s okay, Callista,” Emily says calmly. “I’ll be fine. Daud won’t hurt me.”
“I – no, of course not,” Callista stammers, looking about as floored as Daud feels by Emily’s easy declaration of safety. “I’ll just… be in the bath, if you need me.”
She bows, a little awkwardly, and leaves the tower, closing the door behind her. It’s a while yet before they can hear her footsteps on the metal of the walkway, gradually fading away.
Emily turns to Daud with the regal composure of an Empress far beyond her years. “Did you need something?” she asks, her tone only slightly clipped.
Daud inclines his head in a show of respect. “I’m going to Kaldwin’s Bridge,” he tells her. “I was hoping I might call upon your father for his assistance.”
There’s intelligence gleaming in the girl’s eyes when she looks up at him. “Where’s Thomas?”
There’s no way around the question without lying, and that Daud refuses to do. “He was injured at Holger Square,” he admits to her, keeping the gruesome details to himself. “He’ll be alright, but he needs to rest for now.”
“Oh,” Emily says, her face crumbling slightly, but she takes it in stride. “That’s why you need Corvo’s help.”
“If he’s not too busy doing your studies for you, Empress.”
Emily makes a face, her nose scrunched up. “History is so boring!” she exclaims with no small amount of disgust. “I sort of understand why I have to do sums, or learn etiquette, but what does it matter if I know which Emperor built the Tower, or what natural philosopher invented the carriages? It’s stupid!”
Her youthful disgruntlement is endearing, but she’s quite wrong. “We learn the past, Empress, so we will not make the same mistakes again.”
Emily frowns. “What kind of mistakes?”
It’s been long enough since he listened to his mother telling him stories of the Isles that he has to think a while on a proper example. “You’ve studied the Morley Insurrection?”
“Ugh,” Emily rolls her eyes. “To death.”
“You know why it started?”
“Because the Morleyan people felt exploited by rich immigrants,” Emily drones. It’s more or less correct. “There was a famine.”
“Yes. The last Olaskir Empress did not estimate the threat correctly, and that cost her dearly,” Daud says, carefully avoiding the word ‘assassination’. “Your grandfather, when he was crowned, avoided the same conflict by setting administered prices for basic needs across the Empire, so everyone could afford them. He made sure all of his subjects were able to feed themselves, and no one needed to rebel against that. He saw the mistakes of his predecessor, and he learned from them.”
“Oh,” Emily breathes, staring at him with wide eyes. “I never thought about it like that before.”
Daud allows himself a smile. He may not be a conventional teacher, but he’s passed along his skills to enough people to know which methods are effective. “I won’t tell you every bit of history you have to study will be important, Empress. But try to pay attention, if only to keep your governess from going prematurely grey.”
“Like you?” she asks, her innocent look an absolute farce.
“Like me,” Daud affirms dryly.
She laughs, a clear sound of mirth that can only come from a child. “Thank you,” she says, sounding surprised at her own words. “I think… I think I’ll take the history book outside with me.”
Emily gives her father to Daud without hesitance and collects the book from the shelf. “Good luck,” she says. “I hope you don’t die.”
She runs off, leaving the door wide open.
Daud stares after her. “Well,” he says to the Heart in his hands, “that was… something.”
“When you found her at the Golden Cat, she said she did not like you,” Corvo murmurs, in a strangely absent voice. “She did not lie then. But it would be a lie now.”
Daud starts violently at the words, nearly dropping the Heart in the process. “No,” he whispers, his chest constricting painfully. “That’s not true.”
“She does not want to like you. She hates herself for betraying the memory of her mother. But you do not lie to her. You do not force her, unlike so many others, nor do you place yourself beneath her. You consider her your equal, and she can only respect that.”
The sizeable lump in his throat makes it hard to breathe. “I don’t deserve her respect.”
“The word ‘deserve’,” Corvo says dryly, “is ambiguous at best. You would do well not to trust it.”
It sounds like something Sokolov would say. “You deserve better. Your Empress deserved better.”
Corvo’s pulse slows. “I… do not hate you.”
Daud doesn’t miss the pause. “You sure?” he asks in obvious sarcastic deflection.
“I cannot… my thoughts are… scattered,” Corvo mutters, a hint of frustration in his tone. “I was bound to you. The further you are, the closer the Void comes. Within the Void, I… forget. Not facts, but emotions. Memories of life.”
“You’re losing yourself,” Daud concludes, his brow furrowing in concern.
“You were gone for five days. I was pulled to you, but I wished… to remain here. With her.”
“With your daughter,” Daud nudges gently.
“Yes. My… daughter,” Corvo breathes, marvelling at the very fact. “The daughter of the Empress. Jessamine.”
It’s strange to see the Heart reduced to the artefact it was when Daud first received it, rather than the man it used to belong to, the man it grew to be again. “And my proximity helps you remember?”
“Yes. You are my connection to this world. An anchor. Everything else is the Void.”
Daud squeezes Corvo’s Heart gently in reassurance. “Then I’ll keep you with me,” he decides. “And I’ll spend as much time in Emily’s presence as she’ll allow.”
There’s a sound like a long, shuddering exhale.
Callista: You're a good man.
Emily: I hope you don't die.
Corvo: I don't hate you.
Daud: What the fuck is wrong with these people?
Chapter 16: XVI
Anton Sokolov’s residence is not nearly as well-guarded as it should be.
There are guards, yes, and even a duo of Overseers – which Daud can’t imagine Sokolov agreed with, considering his own obsession with the Void – but overall, the security is nothing compared to that of the Golden Cat. Either Burrows doesn’t find the Royal Physician useful enough to protect with numbers, or Sokolov refused to have any more protection around his sanctuary. Both options seem equally as likely.
The real threats are Sokolov’s own inventions, the Arc Pylons and Walls of Light that can burn a man to a crisp in the span of a second. They’re the only reason his trip across Kaldwin’s Bridge took as long as it did, since he had to stay out of their reach and take many a detour. Without his magic, he would have had a damn hard time reaching Sokolov’s home.
“He is experimenting,” Corvo says, a harsh edge to his voice. “His subject is not willing.”
Daud wishes he could say that surprises him, but he’s known Anton for a long time now. Respecting boundaries has never been his strong suit, and with the self-righteousness that comes with attempting to find a cure for the plague, he’s likely worse than ever. Making him see reason may be a challenge.
He transverses up to the roof of Sokolov’s house, where a large glass dome sits, serving as a laboratory and greenhouse holding all of the herbs the Royal Physician grows himself. If he’s experimenting, he’s in here.
Sokolov has his back to the door, an audiograph machine humming away as he talks to it, recording his latest findings. At the far end of the room, a woman sits in a cage, blood and misery in her eyes. Daud feels no guilt when he aims and shoots a sleepdart at her; she doesn’t look like she’s slept in months. Sokolov doesn’t even notice it when she slumps over.
Daud waits for the audiograph machine to click off. Then he takes off his mask and enters. “Anton.”
Sokolov whips around. “Daud,” he returns hospitably enough. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Please don’t tell me the Lord Regent needs another trinket done.”
Daud’s lips pull back into a snarl. “I am not working for Burrows.”
“Aren’t you?” Sokolov asks, raising an eyebrow. “Then you have some serious competition, my friend. Someone killed the Empress, after all.”
Of course he’d know the men responsible for the tragedy; in all the Isles, he’s the only one who could have figured it out. “I am not working for Burrows,” Daud repeats, pausing briefly before adding, “anymore.”
Sokolov grins in that insufferable way he does when he’s proven correct. “Given the boot, eh?” he asks with a chuckle. It’s his first miscalculation. “Well, who needs an assassin when the plague is killing everyone faster than you can shove a blade through them?”
Daud levels him with an unimpressed stare. “I am not working for Burrows anymore,” he says again, “because I chose to work against him.”
The Royal Physician’s eyes narrow in sharp understanding. “I see,” he enunciates slowly. “You didn’t happen to have anything to do with the recent liberation of Emily Kaldwin from the Golden Cat, did you?”
Daud grins. “As little as I had to do with the orchestration of High Overseer Campbell.”
Sokolov laughs. “And you will have nothing to do with my disappearance either, I take it?”
“Of course not,” Daud snorts. “I’m not even here.”
“I thought you were smarter than this,” Sokolov admonishes, eyes darting across the room, looking for a way out. “You know I’m not an easy man to kill.”
That’s his second miscalculation. “Good thing I’m not here to kill you, then.”
Incredulity etches deep into Sokolov’s features. “Say I believe you,” he concedes, heavy scepticism lacing his voice. “What are you here for, then?”
“Information,” Daud says, “and kidnapping.”
“Really now?” Sokolov leans against his desk in what looks to all the world a casual manner, though Daud has been in the business of lies and deceit long enough to know what tension looks like. “And what makes you think I’ll go quietly?”
Daud smiles; he’s prepared for this. “Because I will be taking you to the same place I took the Empress. You know the days of Hiram Burrows are numbered. This is your chance to gain Emily Kaldwin’s ear.”
It’s easy to see Sokolov is tempted. “And this information you need?”
“The name of Burrows’ mistress.”
“Ah,” Sokolov is quick on the uptake as always. “You wish to cut off his funding.”
“And what are you offering me in return for this information?”
Daud crosses his arms. “What do you want?”
“Hmmm,” Sokolov rumbles, tapping his chin in a mockery of having to think about it. “A bottle of King Street Brandy, I think.”
“Brandy?” Daud is utterly unimpressed. No wonder the Outsider never thought to give Anton Sokolov his attention. “Is that all?”
“ King Street Brandy,” Sokolov says pointedly. “It’s a rare and valuable vintage, and I’ll not tell you a thing until you secure me an intact bottle.”
Daud sighs. Things were easier before his conscience decided to rear its ugly head. Putting his sword against Sokolov’s throat and growling a threat would likely work just as well, but he prefers the old coot on his side. Sokolov is a nasty enemy to have. “Very well.”
He clenches his Marked hand, and Rulfio appears before him. “Boss?”
“Fetch me a bottle of King Street Brandy from our reserves,” Daud orders. Though he doesn’t drink himself, as a general rule, he does not deny his Whalers the pleasure. There is always a stock at the base for those off duty, so no one will have to venture into the city and be exposed to unnecessary danger. Daud has seen first-hand what alcohol does to reflexes, and that influence is much worse when factoring in supernatural abilities.
Even with the mask on, Daud can tell Rulfio is anything but pleased at the prospect of having to remove such a fine cognac from their stock, but he’s not stupid enough to question orders, especially not with an audience. “Yes, Master Daud.”
He vanishes again, and Sokolov stares. “I’m starting to feel like I should have asked for more.”
“Two bottles of King Street Brandy,” Sokolov grins.
Daud rolls his eyes. “You’re quite unimaginative for a genius.”
“And you’re quite boring for an assassin,” Sokolov drawls in return. “You don’t drink, you don’t have sex – don’t give me that look, I know these things. What do you do for fun?”
Uncomfortable with all of his cards out on the table like this, Daud makes a show of smiling languidly. “I lie.”
Sokolov laughs heartily at that. “I think that’s the first lie you’ve ever told me, Daud.”
“So, technically not a lie, then?”
“Don’t get into philosophy with me, young man,” Sokolov grumbles. It’s the exact same thing he used to tell Daud back when he spent his winter at the Academy. “You know I’ll win.”
Daud smirks. “Right. How is your new paper on the metaphysika mysterium coming along?”
Sokolov narrows his eyes. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a damn menace?” The words hold no bite, though.
There’s a tug at the Arcane Bond, and Daud summons Rulfio back to his side. “King Street, sir,” he says, handing Daud the pristine bottle of brandy Sokolov requested with no small amount of reluctance.
“Thank you,” Daud says shortly. “Go see if the floodlights are still off, and check on Samuel.”
Rulfio salutes him and leaves, and Daud suppresses a sigh. Voiddammit but he misses Thomas.
“We are on Kaldwin’s Bridge,” Corvo pipes up the very second Thomas enters Daud’s thoughts. “If you still want to jump off it, now is your chance.”
Well, at least he’s starting to come back to himself. Daud is glad for that, but it doesn’t stop him from slamming a fist against his chest to shut him up.
Sokolov raises an eyebrow at him. “So, my brandy?”
Daud mirrors his expression. “So, my information?”
“Oh, very well. There is no love lost between myself and the ‘Lord Regent’,” Sokolov grumbles. “I can only tell you so much, however. She was always referred to as ‘Lady Boyle’.”
Daud holds the bottle of brandy between two fingers, dangling it precariously above the rough stone floor. “Surely you can do better than that, Anton.”
Sokolov holds up his hands as if he’s willing to dive and catch the bottle should it fall. “I swear, that’s all I know! I was not permitted to see her face or hear her full name. I painted her, to be sure, but I painted her from behind.” He smiles lewdly. “I assure you, she still makes a striking portrait. But I do not know which Boyle she is.”
Daud hums in acknowledgement, gripping the bottle more securely. “Do you have a way of finding out?”
“From here? No,” Sokolov shakes his head, but Daud isn’t surprised. Hiram Burrows would never reveal the name of his mistress through correspondence, even if he did trust Sokolov with the information. “I was to be introduced to her at a masked ball in her honour next week. But I will miss that party, it seems.”
A masked ball sounds like the perfect opportunity to strike, and it also sounds like something Daud absolutely despises. He can only pray Thomas will be healed and ready to come with him, if only to stop him from maiming the thoughtless nobles who throw feasts while the rest of Dunwall struggles to survive.
“And you already have a mask, don’t you, Daud?” Sokolov grins, his eyes flicking to the skull mask hanging from his belt. “I’ve seen both of your wanted posters side by side. ‘The Masked Felon’, they call you now. Much less awe-inspiring than ‘The Knife of Dunwall’, I say.”
“Also much less likely to send Burrows to my doorstep,” Daud counters. He finally releases the bottle of King Street Brandy to Sokolov, who holds it with reverence.
“Yes, true,” he mumbles absentmindedly, stroking the bottle’s curved glass neck. “King Street Brandy… I wasn’t sure any more still existed.”
He tucks the bottle away into his coat with great care, and then his face turns serious again. “So, where is it you’ll be taking me, exactly?”
Daud humours him. “The Old Port District.”
“Ah, of course. Quarantined, inaccessible,” Sokolov pieces together quickly. “We’ll be travelling by boat, I take it?”
“How else?” He’s certainly not going to allow Sokolov to transverse alongside him; the Void-obsessed philosopher would try to analyse that the entire way and then some.
“Indeed,” Sokolov agrees, moving away from his desk. “I’d better get packing.”
He goes to move past Daud, and finds a sleepdart sticking out of his arm. “Sorry, Anton,” Daud says, not sounding sorry one bit, “but I can’t have you attempting to escape.”
Sokolov smiles lazily, the toxin already beginning to take effect. “Worth a try,” he slurs, and then he keels over. Daud doesn’t bother to catch him.
He leaves the Royal Physician snoring on the floor, only kneeling by his form to lift his key. Daud opens the cell of Sokolov’s latest test subject, hoping she’ll be able to make her way out on her own; he cannot afford to take her with them. Then he checks the audiograph machine to ensure nothing of his conversation with Sokolov was recorded, and once he’s satisfied he’s left no evidence of his involvement behind, he takes the small stack of notebooks lying atop Sokolov’s desk. Perhaps he and Piero can attempt to find a cure for the plague together, if they can get over their hatred for one another.
With everything in place, Daud hauls Sokolov up over his shoulder and leaves the inventor’s home behind.
“You want to put him where ?”
“The old kennels,” Havelock says again. “It’s a sturdy cage. He won’t be able to escape, and I have a horde of rats ready for the interrogation.”
“Rats,” Daud repeats flatly.
“You are not sicking rats on him, and he’s not going to the kennels.”
Havelock sets his jaw. “Then how do you suggest we find out the name of the Lord Regent’s mistress?”
Daud fights the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “Burrows’ mistress is Lady Boyle, one of the three sisters. He doesn’t know which it is.”
Havelock’s expression is priceless. “What? How did you get that out of him?”
Daud smiles. “Nicely.”
The Admiral grunts a sigh. “And how do you suggest we find out which of the Boyle sisters is the one we need to eliminate?”
He’s quite comfortable using the word ‘we’ for someone who hasn’t done any of the heavy lifting. “There’s a masquerade party at the Boyle Estate, next week. We’ll infiltrate.”
Martin cannot quite hide his snort. “You, at a party?”
“I’m a very social person,” Daud drawls.
“How will you secure an invitation?” Havelock demands. “I doubt you can pass for Sokolov.”
“One of my men is an excellent counterfeiter,” Daud responds readily, thinking of Feodor. “I took Sokolov’s invitation off of him; with that as an example, he’ll be able to duplicate it easily.”
“I see,” Havelock concedes, his mouth set in a thin line. He doesn’t like being one-upped, and Daud relishes in it. “And you believe he won’t try to run if we don’t lock him up?”
“Not while the Empress remains here.”
Martin hums in agreement. “Sokolov’s smart enough to know the Lord Regent’s time is almost at an end,” he deduces correctly. “He wants to be part of the new order.”
“I don’t think it’s wise to let a traitor anywhere near the next Empress,” Havelock sniffs.
Outsider’s eyes, but he’s dramatic. “He’s not a traitor,” Daud huffs irritably. “He stayed where he was because it was easy. That’s his only crime.”
Havelock sneers at him. “Yes, you would think little of betrayal, wouldn’t you?”
Billie’s mournful expression before he sent her away forever flashes before Daud’s eyes, and it takes every shred of willpower he has not to punch the Admiral square in the jaw. “I know betrayal,” he grinds out furiously. “This isn’t it.”
Havelock looks very much like he wants to argue, but Martin cuts him off. “ Farley ,” he says harshly, a glint of Overseer menace clear in his eyes, “let it go.”
“Fine,” Havelock spits. “Put him in the room on the third floor.”
He stalks off without another word, and Martin sighs, watching him go. “He left the Navy because he couldn’t bear to sail under a usurper’s flag,” he tells Daud. “He’s come to expect the same of everyone else.”
Sokolov could have left the Regent’s service like Havelock, could have gone into hiding; he’d have had the City Watch running circles around each other trying to find him while he hid right under their noses. But then he wouldn’t have been able to go ahead with his research. “Sokolov is trying to cure the plague,” Daud says, deciding not to mention the healthy test subjects Sokolov has been torturing to attain his goal. “Burrows provided him with resources.”
“We’ll try to get him what he needs to continue his work. Hopefully he and Piero can find it in themselves to combine forces,” Martin muses, though with little conviction. Considering Piero’s obvious hatred for the Royal Physician, getting them to work together will be a task in and of itself.
“Good luck with that.”
Martin grins. “At least I won’t be stuck at the Boyles’ pretentious masquerade.”
Daud pulls a face, and Martin laughs, clasping his shoulder good-naturedly. “Come on, let’s get the old Physician settled in.”
He lets Daud haul Sokolov while he leads the way to the third floor, a large part of which is sealed off. Only one room remains accessible. It’s a small, sad place, with peeling yellowish wallpaper and little more furniture than an old bed and a rickety desk. “Maybe the kennels would have been better,” Daud quips as he deposits Sokolov’s snoring form on the mattress.
“I’ll ask Lydia to tidy up the place,” Martin says. “He’ll be well taken care of. You have my word.”
Daud can’t help the sardonic smile that crosses his face. “Never thought I’d be reassured by an Overseer.”
“Never thought I’d be reassuring a heretic,” Martin returns with a matching smile. “Funny, how life goes.”
There’s something in his eyes when he says it, something predatorial, and Daud is not prepared for Corvo’s insight on the matter. “It is not often he judges someone his equal in terms of intelligence, but you have impressed him. He finds himself torn between wanting to kill you… or kiss you.”
Daud flinches despite himself, away from Martin, away from the air of tension that suddenly makes so much more sense. “I’m going back to the base,” he says hastily, backing up into the hallway. “We need to prepare for the masquerade.”
He’s gone before Martin can say a word, transversing through the window and up to the rooftops, putting as much distance between himself and the Overseer as he possibly can in the span of seconds.
All he wants is to go home to Thomas.
Damn I missed writing Sokolov, old coot that he is.
Also I shouldn't ship Daud/Martin but dammit, I do.
Chapter 17: XVII
Alright, listen up! Before you do anything else, please look at this absolutely STUNNING art of Daud learning to take the Heart's word at face value, which is the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life! You can follow the artist on tumblr here (main blog) and here (art blog), so go do that!
Edit: Guys, GUYS, G U Y S, there's MORE art! =D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Daud manages to hide in Rudshore for a full day before his guilt at keeping Emily and Corvo apart wins out over his reluctance to face Martin after Corvo’s shocking revelation.
He returns to the Hound Pits with no small amount of trepidation, soothed only by the familiar presence of Thomas at his side. His second effectively bullied Kent into clearing him for duty, and Daud selfishly allowed it. It’s not as if they’ll be going out into the city proper today, he reasons, and Thomas will be ignoring physician’s orders no matter where he is anyway. Besides, Emily will be glad to see him again.
They arrive just before noon to find Emily and Callista out in the yard, sitting on an old blanket Daud recalls seeing folded up in Samuel’s Amaranth. The boatman himself is nearby, leaning against the overturned rowboat that makes up the roof of his hovel, nursing a steaming mug of tea. When Daud and Thomas transverse down, he is the first to notice them.
“Oh, good morning!” he greets with his usual bright smile. “We weren’t expecting you back so soon.” He eyes Thomas critically, trying and failing to determine where he was wounded. “Are you sure you should be up and about yet, sir?”
The returning smile Thomas gives is perfectly polite, though Daud can tell from the small muscle pulling at the corner of his right eye that the question, which he must have been asked at least three dozen times since leaving the infirmary, annoys him. “I’m fine, thank you,” he says, his tone booking no room for argument. “It was nothing.”
Samuel catches Daud’s eye, no doubt remembering their tense trip downriver after escaping Holger Square. “If you say so, sir,” he concedes. “It’s good to have you back with us. We were concerned for you, we were.”
Thomas’ smile melts into something more genuine, but before he can express his gratitude at the sentiment, a young, excited voice cuts across the yard. “Thomas!” Emily Kaldwin yells jubilantly, flying across the grounds with Callista hurrying after her, calling in vain for her to slow down. “You’re okay!”
She flings herself at him, wrapping her small arms tightly around his waist, and Thomas blanches at the weight of her pushing against his injury, stealing his breath. “Your Majesty,” he gasps, placing his hand atop her head more to steady himself than to return her affection, though the fact that he isn’t pushing her away speaks volumes.
Emily lets go, beaming up at him. “Daud said you were injured,” she says, looking Thomas over much like Samuel had, her sharp eyes landing on the part of his body he’s subconsciously shielding. “Does it hurt?”
“I wasn’t injured,” Thomas denies swiftly, ignoring Daud’s raised eyebrow. “I was lightly stabbed.”
“I’m sorry, you were stabbed?” Callista cuts in, aghast.
“Lightly stabbed,” Thomas corrects stoically. “It was nothing, really.”
Emily’s eyes sparkle with barely contained curiosity. “Do you have a scar?” she asks eagerly. “Can I see it?”
Thomas does not have a scar. Thomas has a half-healed wound that’s barely had time to scab, let alone scar.
“Emily, that is not decent,” Callista chides gently, sparing Thomas the need to find an excuse.
Emily pouts, and Daud cannot help the rumble of laughter that bubbles up his throat at the sight of her face, as if she’s been denied cake on her birthday. “Scars aren’t all that interesting, Empress,” he says.
Her eyes flick to the scar that dominates the right side of his face. “Scars tell stories,” she counters defiantly. “Scars are mistakes you can learn from.”
So she does listen. “That’s true,” he concedes, “but not all stories are interesting.”
She crosses her arms. “How did you get that one, then?”
“Emily!” Callista calls again, more harshly this time. But Emily’s gaze does not waver from Daud’s face.
“A man tried to kill me,” Daud indulges her. “He failed.”
He remembers it vividly; the man who’d plucked him off the streets, took him away from his mother and imprisoned him, coming at him with a knife after Daud mouthed off one too many times in an attempt to protect some of the other kids sharing his miserable fate. He’d been young and inexperienced, but he’d stood his ground, earning him his scar and catching the man off guard. Daud had beaten the bastard to death with his bare hands.
“Did you kill him?” Emily demands to know.
“A contract?” she asks, and now her voice hitches.
“No,” Daud says, tracing the line of damaged tissue across his cheek subconsciously more than anything. “This is from… before.”
Before he became an assassin. Before he was Marked. Before he ruined her life.
Emily chews on her lip, but she cannot contain her next question. “How old were you?”
“Fourteen,” Daud rasps. He’d only just turned fourteen the week prior, and he hadn’t even known, at the time. Those years in captivity, only ever being let out to run jobs, still feel as though they happened outside of time.
Callista has stopped trying to reign in Emily, staring at him with mute horror written across her face. “Fourteen,” she repeats in a whisper. “Who’d want to kill a fourteen-year-old boy?”
Daud recalls the many, many death threats hurled at his head before he even turned fourteen, the man who’d abducted him never one to reign in his temper. “You’d be surprised.”
He is beyond surprised himself when Emily comes to him and hugs him like she did Thomas, her arms wrapping around his broad form as far as they’ll go, her hands grabbing fistfuls of his coat. “I’m sorry,” she says softly, her voice muffled against his stomach.
“I’m fairly certain that’s my line, Empress” he hears himself say, in some semblance of his normal voice.
It’s not until he feels the moisture through his shirt that he realises she’s crying, and then he throws caution to the wind and drops to his knees, pulling the girl close properly. She flings her arms around his neck and weeps into his shoulder as Daud strokes her back gently. “I am sorry,” he whispers into her hair. “I am so, so sorry.”
Emily pulls back, glaring at him with red-rimmed eyes. “I hate you,” she says, her voice cracking right down the middle. “I hate you.”
And then she hugs him again.
“She does not hate you,” Corvo rumbles from his place in Daud’s pocket, and Emily cries even harder at the sound of her father’s voice. “She wants to. She feels she should. But she cannot.”
“I’m sorry for that, too,” Daud mumbles, and Emily hiccoughs a laugh lost amidst her sobs.
He holds her until long after his knees start to ache, only vaguely aware of the others surrounding them. The girl needs this. Not from him – from her parents. But he is the reason they’re gone, and this is the least he can do in their absence.
When she finally releases him, her face splotchy and her hair a mess, Emily gives him a stiff nod. “Thank you,” she says tonelessly, looking very much as though she wants to say a lot more. But no words come, and she turns and walks away from him, back up to her tower.
Callista makes to go after her, pausing briefly to give Daud’s shoulder a gentle squeeze before she leaves.
Daud waits until their footsteps have dissipated before he hauls himself to his feet with considerable difficulty. “Damn,” he curses, swaying as blood rushes back to his lower legs, and Thomas is there immediately, steadying Daud with strong hands on his shoulders.
Samuel regards him with misty eyes, still clutching the mug of tea that has long since gone cold. “That was a fine thing you did, sir,” he says. “You’re a good man.”
Daud huffs a breath he intended to be a laugh. “People keep saying that,” he mutters, thinking of the similar declaration Callista made when she learned he’d saved her uncle.
“Because it’s true,” Samuel insists.
Daud looks at the gloves encasing his hands, and he can practically see the blood dripping from them. A whaling ship could float on all the high-born blood he’s spilled. “I’ve done terrible things,” he whispers. “I’ve made so many mistakes.”
Thomas’ fingers dig hard into his upper arms. “You’re fixing them,” he says resolutely, as if Daud’s attempts to help Emily Kaldwin take the throne her mother should still be occupying make up for even a fraction of the sins he’s committed. “We’re fixing them.”
Daud’s breath shudders on the way out, and then Corvo sees fit to add to this barrage of comfort he definitely hasn’t earned. “You recognise your past deeds as mistakes,” he states. “What is that, if not righteousness?”
Voiddammit, but he is not having an emotional breakdown out here, even if he feels as though he’s falling apart at the seams. The Loyalists are only a stone’s throw away, and Daud cannot afford to show them any weakness. So he shrugs out of Thomas’ hold and breathes, forcefully stitching himself back together until he can function like a simulacrum of a person again. It leaves him feeling raw, like the scar from an improperly cauterised wound, but at least he is calm, and collected.
“How is Sokolov?” he asks Samuel conversationally, feeling relieved to be able to steer the interaction away from himself.
Samuel gets the hint and does not push. “He’s been rowing with Piero,” the boatman reveals to absolutely no one’s surprise. “They’ve been going at it since he woke up. Miss Curnow took the little lady outside for her lessons because she was learning too many new swearwords at the pub, and not from the Admiral this time.”
Daud has more experience breaking up fights than he’d like to have, keeping the Whalers from offing one another quite a challenge on some days, especially in the early years of the gang’s existence. And he knows how easily Sokolov can get under a man’s skin, having been the one trying in vain to scratch him out more than once. “Should’ve let them put him in the kennels,” he grumbles, already turning towards the pub to give the natural philosophers a well-deserved piece of his mind. “There’s a plague, for Void’s sake.”
“Perhaps they need a reminder,” Thomas suggests, a glint of malice shining in his eyes that betrays just how deadly he is when he wants to be. There is a reason other than trust that Daud made him his second-in-command.
“Good luck,” Samuel wishes them sincerely but solemnly.
“Thank you,” Daud says, and he’s expressing gratitude for much more than just his well-wishes. The boatman smiles and raises his mug at them, knocking back the cold tea before retreating to the beach, while Daud and Thomas head for the Hound Pits Pub.
They enter the building to find it in absolute chaos.
Piero and Sokolov are standing right across from one another, eyes spelling murder as they hurl elaborate insults at the other’s head that no one else even remotely understands. Havelock stands with Piero, while Pendleton has taken Sokolov’s side, and Lydia is trying desperately to get some sort of order back in her establishment. In the background, Wallace is righting some of the stools, and Cecelia is gathering the shards of what once was a glass.
Martin sits at the bar, calmly sipping a pear soda.
Daud drags a hand across his face. This is going to be a long week.
By evening, some semblance of normalcy has returned to the Hound Pits. Piero and Sokolov still adamantly refuse to even think about working together, but they’ve agreed to stay out of one another’s way for the time being, and the other residents could not be happier about that. Only Martin seems to lament the loss of his latest source of entertainment.
Daud is sitting in one of the pub’s booths with Thomas, nursing a glass of blood ox milk after a late dinner, when Callista comes to find him. “Emily is asking for you,” she tells him, and it’s not hard to figure out why. With all the commotion, he hasn’t had the time to talk with her about her father’s Heart.
Astutely aware that the others are staring at him, Daud keeps his face impassive as he nods. “Of course.”
He drains his glass and leaves the pub, reaching the door to Emily’s room in the tower with two quick transversals. He knocks, and she bids him entry.
The Empress of the Isles is sitting on her bed, dressed in an old nightgown that is much too big for her, the sleeves falling over her hands making her seem even younger than she is. But her voice is strong, a reminder of how much she’s had to grow up in the span of mere months, years beyond a girl of ten. “I want Corvo,” she demands, as if she’s asking him to fetch one of her advisors rather than hand her the Heart of her father.
Daud retrieves Corvo from his pocket, but doesn’t give him to her. “You can’t keep him,” he says, in the gentlest way he can. “He’s bound to me by magic. He needs to stay with me as much as possible.”
He fully expects her anger at that, and rightfully so, but she just draws her eyebrows together in thought. “Bound by magic,” she hums. “Is that why Corvo was acting so strange when you were gone so long before?”
“Yes,” Daud is quick to confirm, relieved she understands so easily. He’s not sure he could have come through another session of hugging and crying unscathed. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop saying that,” Emily snaps, wringing the sleeves of her nightgown together. “It’s not –”
She falters and looks away. “I’m sorry, Emily,” Corvo offers instead, his voice gentle in a way Daud hasn’t heard before. “I wish things were different.”
Emily sniffs, but her eyes stay dry. “The dreams are worse without you,” she admits in a small voice. It would sound petulant if her dreams did not involve the violent murders of her parents. “I miss you.”
Corvo practically pounds in Daud’s hand, and he knows it would be painful if the Heart were still inside a ribcage. “Just for the nights,” Daud says, because the girl’s downtrodden expression, an expression she wouldn’t need to wear if not for him, is causing familiar guilt to churn in his stomach. “I’ll be close by, for the next week. You can keep him with you at night, and give him back to me at breakfast.”
Daud has no right to feel better when his words cause the despair in her eyes to be replaced by tentative hope, but he does. “Will he be okay?” Emily asks hesitantly. “I don’t want to hurt him. It’s only dreams.”
She says it bravely, but Daud has become intimately familiar with the crippling power ‘only dreams’ can have, and he is not fooled. “I think he can handle it,” Daud says with conviction, because he’s had Corvo with him long enough now to know he wouldn’t say no to his daughter for whatever reason. “Right, Corvo?”
“Of course,” Corvo breathes immediately, sounding as winded as a full person with a heartrate like his would, but no less determined. “Whatever you need, mija.”
It’s the Serkonan term of endearment that brings the tears to her eyes, and Emily takes her father from Daud without any more prompting, holding him close to her chest. “I want…” she begins, but she can’t bring herself to finish her sentence. Daud resents that he knows what she wants to say anyway.
He kneels for her, arms open, and she nestles herself within them, her own arms wrapped tightly around Corvo’s Heart. Daud doesn’t speak this time, doesn’t shatter the illusion that this is the hug from her father she so desperately craves. He just holds her, mindful of the third heartbeat between them, until Emily pulls back.
“Corvo was right,” she says matter-of-factly. “I don’t hate you.”
She turns away and clambers back into her bed, mindless of the bullet she just fired straight into his brain. It’s one thing to have Corvo reveal to him the feelings she keeps hidden from the world; it’s something else entirely to hear her admit them of her own free will. “You should,” he says, because it’s the only truth he has to offer, and he doesn’t want to lie to her.
“Yes,” Emily agrees easily, “but I don’t.”
She arranges herself into bed, placing Corvo next to her head on the pillow, and then she looks at Daud with a peculiar look of longing he cannot place. Emily holds his gaze for long seconds before she turns away from him, pulling the blankets up to her chin. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Empress,” he manages, quite content to turn tail and leave this mindboggling situation far behind him. But of course, he’s not getting off that easy.
“She wants you to read to her,” Corvo rumbles, ignoring Emily’s scandalised intake of breath. “She’s too proud to tell you so.”
Emily sits up with a huff, glaring at her father’s Heart. “I’m not proud,” she sniffs, proudly.
“Of course not. Forgive me. I only want your happiness, mija,” Corvo says mildly, and that placates her somewhat.
“You don’t have to,” she tells Daud defiantly, but Daud has already moved to the small bookcase, perusing the limited selection she has at her disposal.
“You don’t have to,” she repeats, more firmly.
“Which one?” Daud asks again.
Emily is silent for so long he thinks she may have fallen asleep of her own accord, but then she says, in a tiny voice. “Black Sally.”
Not exactly material for children, but then she’s hardly a child anymore after all she’s been through, so Daud plucks the book from the shelf without protest. He settles himself at the foot of her bed and opens the book on his lap, wishing he’d had the foresight to bring the pair of glasses he keeps insisting he doesn’t need.
Daud clears his throat and reads.
“Before Slackjaw ran the streets in the Distillery District, there was no boss more ruthless, violent, or dedicated to squeezing the average citizens for coin than Black Sally.”
Give Daud a hug 2k19.
Also spot the blatantly obvious Brooklyn Nine-Nine reference! =D
Chapter 18: XVIII
When Emily comes to return Corvo to him at breakfast the next morning, she poses a request so ludicrous it has Callista choking on her eggs. “I want you to teach me how to fight.”
Daud doesn’t look up from his newspaper. “Fine.”
“Really?” she asks, brief surprise quickly replaced by enthusiasm. “Callista said I’m ahead with history, so I have a free hour after lunch.”
“Alright,” Daud agrees, flipping the page and sipping his coffee.
“I don’t think –” Callista begins, alarmed, but Emily’s cheerful squeal cuts her off.
“Thank you, Daud!” she exclaims, briefly hugging his arm – the only part of him she can properly reach while he’s seated at the booth – and bounds off, ignoring the stares as she hurries outside.
Daud takes another sip of coffee and discretely slips the Heart back into his pocket. He knows from Corvo’s lack of objection that he’s all for Emily learning how to fight; maybe he was the one who suggested it, like he did the reading yesterday. And Daud can’t say it’s a bad idea. He knows better than anyone that an untrained Empress is easy prey, no matter how good her Royal Protector may be.
“Fighting?” Pendleton asks from his spot at the bar, raising a questioning eyebrow at Daud. “That’s hardly a fitting pastime for an Empress.”
“I’ll say,” Callista says, her brows drawn together in obvious disapproval. “I know you mean well, Daud, but why would she need to learn how to fight? She’ll have plenty of guards, and a Royal Protector.”
Daud looks up at her. “So did her mother,” he says evenly, and he can see the colour drain from her face, as if she’d somehow forgotten she’s addressing the Empress’ killer and has just been forcefully reminded of the fact.
The silence that falls over the bar is so stifling it’s painful, and Daud sighs. “I’ve trained others,” he says, in an attempt to soothe Callista’s obvious anxiety. “They turned out fine.”
“They turned out fine assassins,” Havelock cuts in, disgust clinging to every syllable.
“One of them is a physician,” Daud counters, even if Kent earned his credentials long before he came to the Whalers. “He’s the black ox of the family.”
Thomas snorts into his mug, and Havelock has the audacity to look affronted. “That isn’t what I meant,” he says acerbically, as if Daud didn’t know that. “The Empress shouldn’t learn how to be a Voiddamned assassin.”
He flings the word ‘assassin’ like an insult, and Daud raises an eyebrow. “On the contrary,” he returns with carefully constructed neutrality, “she should learn how to be an assassin, especially a Voiddamned one. The best way to avoid a killer’s blade is to know how it will strike.”
“You make it sound as though you’re going to try to kill her someday,” Martin muses without any real conviction in his tone, but his eyes are sharp as always.
“I won’t,” Daud snaps back, forcing himself to meet Martin’s gaze head on, banishing everything Corvo has said of the man firmly to the back of his mind. “But I’m not naïve enough to think no one else will try.”
The idea of that makes even Havelock swallow back bile, and Callista fixes Daud with a glare that would have burned him to cinders if looks could kill. “If she gets so much as a scratch…” the governess threatens, and it’s a scary thing indeed.
“Then I will accept my inevitable death at your hands and trust you to complete her training,” Daud drawls, and Callista’s lips thin in a way he’s seen many times by now, when Emily’s antics amuse her but she cannot let it show.
“An hour after lunch. No longer,” she says sharply, waiting until he nods his consent before she turns on her heel and leaves, her gait betraying the lecture Emily is sure to get for altering her curriculum without first seeking permission from Callista.
Daud returns to his newspaper and pretends he isn’t the reason the pub has gone deathly quiet.
He’s hardly settled at the booth with his lunch when Emily appears at his elbow, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. “Are you finished yet?” she asks as he takes his first bite.
“Patience,” Daud chides, making absolutely no move to pick up his pace to accommodate her. He’s spent the majority of his morning attempting, in vain, to talk some sense into Sokolov vis-à-vis his refusal to work with Piero, and he’s quite keen on having a brief moment of respite before rushing headlong into the next situation that’s likely to test his temper.
“Ugh,” she exclaims with all the petulance of a ten-year-old Empress. “I’ve already waited all morning.”
She says it as though this morning has lasted for years, and Daud has to admit he felt much the same way talking to Sokolov. “You want to get started?” he asks unnecessarily, and she nods fervently. “Alright. Go outside and run five laps around the pub.”
“Run?” she asks, her nose scrunched up as if the activity is beneath her. “Why?”
“Loosens your muscles,” Daud doesn’t lie. “Thomas can go with you.”
Thomas raises an eyebrow at him from across the table, but he doesn’t argue. “Of course.”
That placates Emily, and she drags Thomas outside with her without any further complaint.
Daud returns to his sandwich, hoping to finish his lunch in peace, but of course he doesn’t have that much luck. The seat across from him, only just vacated by Thomas, is taken up by the very last person Daud wants to have a conversation with. Especially when the pub is this empty, no one left but the two of them.
“I thought you said you were going to train her,” Martin remarks, draping his arms across the backrest of the bench.
“After lunch,” Daud reminds him bitingly, gesturing at his still full plate.
“Right,” Martin says, reaching over to take a chip from Daud’s plate. He doesn’t get far, Daud smacking his hand away without even looking up.
“Hands to yourself, Overseer,” Daud growls.
Martin holds up his hands in mock surrender. “So hostile,” he says, and Daud is vividly reminded of the way the Outsider told him the exact same thing. It doesn’t do anything to put him more at ease. “And after I took such good care of the Royal Physician for you.”
Daud rolls his eyes. “I’d say there are much better ways to ‘take care’ of Anton.”
Like dumping him in the Wrenhaven, he means. But Martin deliberately misinterprets. “I didn’t realise the two of you were… intimate,” he all but purrs, a lazy smirk curving his lips. “I suppose that’s why he painted you.”
Daud refuses to be baited. “Like one of his Morleyan girls,” he deadpans, and Martin laughs.
“That would be a sight,” he says, sounding positively wishful. “A pity it’s lost.”
“A waste of good kindling,” Daud grumbles.
“I’m sure my fellow Overseers would agree with you.”
“Confirming once again that you’re the worst Overseer I’ve ever met.”
Martin snorts. “Even after meeting Campbell?”
“At least Campbell was stupid,” Daud points out, “like Overseers are supposed to be.”
Martin’s eyebrows fly up to touch his hairline, and Corvo thumps against his chest. “Stop flirting with him, you idiot!”
It’s only then Daud realises he’s just paid Martin a compliment, backhanded as it was, and he stands up abruptly before the Overseer can begin to dissect it, taking his half-eaten sandwich and shoving the plate of chips at Martin. “Help yourself,” he grunts, and he means that in every possible way.
He stalks outside, slamming the door behind him with more force than strictly necessary. “You couldn’t have warned me sooner?” he hisses into his collar.
“I thought you knew what you were doing,” Corvo shoots back, annoyed. “That’s a mistake I keep making, apparently.”
Obviously he can handle staying with Emily for a few hours at night, if he can maintain this level of sass. “You know damn well I have no idea what I’m doing,” he mutters, and Outsider’s eyes if that isn’t the truth. “I don’t understand him.”
“He has trouble restricting the Wanton Flesh,” Corvo says, as if that explains anything, “and most of the other Strictures too.”
The worst Overseer, indeed.
He is shaken from his woolgathering by Emily skidding around the corner, running at full speed. Thomas is jogging close behind her, easily able to keep up, though Daud can tell his injury is straining him. Perhaps he shouldn’t have insisted Emily leave the pub. It certainly hasn’t given him the moment of peace and quiet he’d been hoping for.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Daud calls the both of them to a halt. He may as well get started on this immediately. Putting his mind to something other than Teague Martin seems like an excellent idea.
He stuffs the last of his sandwich in his mouth and picks up the two practise swords he had Thomas fetch from the base that morning, tossing one to the young Empress. She fumbles to catch it, but she does, beaming proudly at her accomplishment.
Emily runs out into the yard, swinging her glorified wooden stick wildly as she goes. It’s the lightest practise sword he possesses, but it’s still too big for her, and too heavy, because Daud hasn’t ever trained anyone in swordplay under the age of fifteen. A silly rule, perhaps. But he never wanted any of his Whalers to kill at the age he himself began, fourteen and much too young to understand the value of a life.
But he won’t be training Emily to kill. He’ll be training her to survive.
Daud turns his wooden blade in his hand, working loose the tense muscles of his shoulders. This, at least, is a sword he can hold without his hands shaking as though he’s caught the plague. There’s no death in the wood – even if he could probably kill a man with it, if he applied himself.
“At attention,” he barks as he steps out into the yard, and to his mild surprise, Emily snaps into an acceptable stance, the point of her sword aimed at the sky.
“She could see the officers train from the window of her classroom,” Corvo reveals, fondness in his voice. “They were always more interesting to her than her lessons.”
Daud fights a smile, regarding Emily’s posture with the scrutiny of the master swordsman he is. “Feet apart,” he orders, “and left foot forward.”
She scrambles to obey, nearly sinking down into a split from how far apart she positions her feet. If only all his novices were this eager.
“Thomas,” he implores, and his second doesn’t even need to be told what to do, going over to help Emily into the proper stance.
“Like this,” Thomas says gently, slinking into the correct position effortlessly beside her. Emily copies him as best she’s able, though her shoulders are hunched under the weight of her sword and her hips arch forward too far.
“Like this?” she asks, and where Thomas wouldn’t have hesitated to correct the stance of any other novice by pushing up their shoulders and guiding their hips backward, he hesitates with her, because she is the Voiddamned Empress of the Isles and he is the man who murdered her father.
“Almost,” he says encouragingly, a hand hovering just above her shoulder. “Straighten up a little more.”
She overstretches, the edge of her blade thumping against her shoulder, and Emily huffs. “Guide me?” she requests, as if he is nothing more than her etiquette instructor, and only then does Thomas lay his hands on her, gently moulding her body into the correct stance.
“Oh,” she breathes, testing the weight of the sword in her hands against the impenetrable security of her wide-legged stance. “Like this.”
Thomas smiles proudly. “Exactly, Your Majesty.”
Emily beams at him briefly before her young face turns completely serious again, and she grips her sword tightly in both hands as she turns back to Daud. “What next?”
Daud steps up to stand across from her, adopting the same stance. “Next, you move,” he says, and with a speed he’s honed to trick the eye over many years of training, takes a crooked step forward, leaning to the right, and swings his sword downward to stop a mere centimetre from her neck.
She’s dazed for only a second before she attempts to mimic him, but her sword bounces harmlessly against his own, the crossguard of Daud’s blade protecting his hands from her onslaught.
“Good,” Daud says appreciatively, because that wasn’t nearly the worst first attempt he’s seen. “Again.”
He has her practising the same movement time and time again, far past the allotted hour, until he’s sure her untrained arms must ache from the weight of a sword too heavy for her and her legs must feel like lead. But she keeps going without complaint, face taunt with concentration, until the moment Callista comes to collect her.
“That’s enough,” the governess says firmly, and Daud bows to her authority on the matter.
“But I have an hour!” Emily exclaims in dismay, clutching her sword.
Daud cannot help the chuckle that escapes him. “It’s been almost three hours, Empress.”
She starts, and only now does she realise the small crowd that has gathered around them; Samuel, Lydia, and Cecelia watching from the boatman’s hovel, Martin and Pendleton standing in the shadow of the pub, Piero peering through the window of his workshop. “Oh,” she deflates, smiling sheepishly. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Callista lets out a sigh that speaks of long suffering. “If only you were this attentive during your other lessons.”
“If only all my other lessons were like this,” Emily shoots back. “It’s so much better than doing sums!”
She’s quite literally done nothing but repeat one motion for the better part of three hours, yet the mere physicality of it has piqued her interest much more than anything she’s supposed to learn could. It’s a pity Empresses have to spend so much of their time sitting down. Daud is loath to admit it, but if he’d been training her under different circumstances, she would have made an excellent assassin.
Emily hands Thomas her practise sword with clear reluctance. “Thank you for the lesson,” she says formally, bowing to the both of them like a noble would a fencing instructor.
“Same time tomorrow,” Daud disguises his promise as an order.
“Yes, Master Daud,” Emily grins, and Voiddammit if that isn’t a punch in the gut.
She goes with Callista, and the crowd that had come outside to watch her practise disperses, their source of entertainment gone, leaving Daud and Thomas alone out in the yard.
Daud looks at the workshop looming ominously in the distance and heaves a sigh. He ought to go and have a word with Piero about a potential alliance with the Royal Physician, but after wasting his morning trying to do the same with Sokolov, who may as well have been a brick wall for all the good it did him, Daud isn’t too keen on repeating the torture.
Before he can actually muster up the courage to get over himself, something smacks hard against the wooden sword he’s holding, nearly jolting it out of his grip. He turns to see Thomas poised in combat position, Emily’s light blade held in one hand and a wicked smile playing at his lips. “We haven’t sparred in a while,” he notes. “I wouldn’t want to get rusty.”
“You’re injured,” Daud says immediately.
Thomas twirls the blade idly, a show of control. “These are wooden blades,” he counters dryly. “I’ll manage.”
It’s all the encouragement Daud needs. He lunges, his sword clashing with Thomas’ with a peculiar clack rather than the clang of steel he’s so familiar with. He hasn’t consciously fought since before the Empress, his mindless slaughter at Holger Square a blur in his memory, and it’s strangely exhilarating to lock blades without intent to kill. He can’t rightly remember when he last sparred with one of his men, his confidence in his own skills absolute, arrogantly so. If Billie had tried to fight him the day she revealed her betrayal, she may very well have won.
Thomas has always been exceptional with a blade, even before he joined the Whalers. He’s schooled in fencing as a noble would be, and has combined his classical training with the back-alley style Daud teaches to create a set of movements wholly his own, as graceful and deadly as the man wielding them.
It means he isn’t in the least predictable, not like the other Whalers or officers of the Watch, men who’ve only ever practised one style of fighting. Even if he’s compensating for his injury by protecting his left side more ardently than he normally would, Thomas is a force to be reckoned with, and Daud relishes in it as their blades clash again and again.
There’s a moment when Daud thinks he can knock the sword from Thomas’ hands, and he could have, but Thomas notices the lock he’s been put in and escapes it the only way he can: by transversing.
Daud whips around to intercept the strike that comes from just behind him, and it’s only then that their fight truly becomes erratic, the Outsider’s gifts used without moderation as both of them transverse around the other and attempt to knock sword from hand with a well-timed tether. Thomas’ powers run strong; he has access to nearly every power in Daud’s arsenal, and it’s not until magical exhaustion grips him that Daud finally manages to disarm him.
The sword goes flying, clattering noisily to the ground about a metre away, and Thomas laughs breathily, the exercise having left them both panting. “Almost had you.”
Daud wipes the sweat from his brow. “Glad you’re on my side,” he compliments, and it’s the truest thing he’s said in living memory. He would not have made it through the past few months without Thomas at his side.
“Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Thomas returns with such sincerity it has Daud’s breath catching in his throat. If only they were back home, or anywhere else for that matter – but he won’t act on impulse and close the distance between them like he wants to, not here. And not while he has Corvo Attano’s Heart resting in the inner pocket of his coat.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Corvo drawls, and it’s easy to imagine a shit-eating grin to go with the words. “I’m still rooting for you to jump off Kaldwin’s Bridge.”
Daud turns away, reigning himself in, and uses his magic to pull the discarded sword toward him. He has things to do, an Empire to keep together, because he is the reason it’s falling apart in the first place, and he can’t allow himself to be distracted.
Before he leaves, he tells Thomas the same thing he told Emily.
“Same time tomorrow.”
First date: Beating each other with wooden sticks (not a euphemism).
Second date: Fancy-ass masquerade ball.
What could possibly go wrong?
The week approaching the Boyle party is monotonous in the best way, seeped in a sense of normalcy Daud knows cannot last but is appreciative of all the same. He spends the better part of his days bickering with either Piero or Sokolov, slowly inching them towards a possible collaboration, with a break at midday to teach Emily basic swordplay, followed by an invigorating session of sparring with Thomas. Queerest are the evenings, when he is always summoned to Emily’s room to grant her time with her father and, because the Empress demands it, reads her stories before bed. When he retires to the attic room for the night, he sleeps soundly with Thomas at his back, resting truly and comfortably without nightmares plaguing his subconscious.
He’s nearly allowed himself to forget about the party altogether when the reality of the situation returns in the form of Yuri and Feodor, who arrive with a rush of the Void on the day of the masquerade just as Daud is in the middle of his daily swordfight with Thomas.
Yuri whistles, and Thomas falters, allowing Daud to disarm him much sooner than he usually would. “Eyes front,” he barks despite himself, gently smacking the flat of his wooden blade to Thomas’ side, just above his nearly healed wound. Distractions got him that injury.
“Yeah, Thom, keep up,” Feodor teases.
Daud rounds on him. “I’d like to see you do better,” he snaps at the ginger-haired Whaler like he’s prepared to duel him for nothing more than Thomas’ honour, and Feodor immediately takes an instinctive step backward in the face of his Master’s ire.
“Void, I didn’t mean it like that,” he attempts to assuage Daud’s positively murderous look, but it’s not until Thomas lies a gentle hand on his arm that Daud relents.
“Of course not,” Thomas soothes, unbothered by Feodor’s comment, but he does not let go of Daud’s arm. “You brought the equipment, I take it?”
Only Thomas can keep a straight face while unironically calling a set of tailored suits and two counterfeit party invitations ‘equipment’.
“Yes sir,” Feodor says with none of the sarcasm he would otherwise have infused with the use of the honorific. He is more or less of age with Thomas, thirty-something years old, and referring to his brother-in-arms as ‘sir’ after his promotion has been difficult for him.
Thomas’ eyebrows fly to his hairline at the polite address. “I think you broke him,” he tells Daud matter-of-factly.
“He was like that when I found him,” Daud defends, the smile pulling at his lips undercutting his sharp tone.
Yuri cannot manage to stifle a laugh, and Feodor assaults the one person who’s not his superior by smacking them upside the head. “If you’re quite finished,” he drawls in an excellent impression of Wallace, especially considering he’s never met the manservant before, “we need to get you presentable enough to pass as nobles, and there are only so many hours in the day.”
Thomas draws himself up to his full height, a noble’s posture if there ever was one. “Excuse you,” he says haughtily, matching Feodor’s impression of Wallace with a spot-on imitation of Pendleton. “I happen to be exceptionally well-bred.”
Feodor just stares at him, mouth slightly agape, and Thomas breaks character, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Too much?”
“Bloody terrifying,” Feodor splutters, clutching a hand to his chest dramatically.
“So, perfect,” Yuri concludes, they too watching Thomas with a sense of awe. “I didn’t know you were such a good actor.”
Daud teaches the Whalers the basics of blending into a crowd, has them practise dressing and acting inconspicuously as part of their training. But most of his men are low-born, requiring little instruction in the art of being forgotten, and Daud has never bothered to teach them how to behave like the nobility, simply because there are often much easier ways to get to an aristocratic target. What Thomas just displayed is the result of nigh on twenty years of actually being part of the nobility – a fact few of the Whalers are aware of, Thomas never one to flaunt the upbringing he never wanted in the first place.
Thomas returns to his noble’s stance with remarkable ease. “One of my many talents,” he simpers, bowing stiffly at the waist before adding, suggestively: “as you’ll no doubt come to realise for yourself.”
Feodor snorts. “Bloody terrifying,” he repeats, shaking his head. “I don’t think I want to be around to see the finished product.”
True to his word, he unloads everything Daud and Thomas will need for the party onto them – costumes, invitations, Thomas’ Whaler mask, and two different bottles of expensive cologne – before wishing them luck and dragging Yuri back with him to Rudshore.
Daud sighs as he regards the suit that’s been tailored to his form, black pants and a jacket made of fine red fabric, along with an off-white shirt and a cravat he already hates. Thomas’ outfit is a dark navy blue, the jacket a different cut than Daud’s to better fit his leaner frame. The costumes will have them look the part, at least.
“This is the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he mutters as they transverse up to their attic room. “And that includes murdering the Empress.”
He doesn’t mean that, of course. But the Empress’ assassination hadn’t seemed like such a terrible plan before the fact. This idea is one he’s been dreading since its inception.
Thomas lays his suit out on the bed. “It’s only a night,” he says encouragingly, but there is a strain in his voice that speaks volumes. He too dreads this evening, a return to the roots he’s tried so hard to yank out. Playing at being a noble in front of his brothers-in-arms is one thing; actually integrating back into the society he despises is another.
Daud throws his costume next to Thomas’ and huffs at the ridiculous getup. “Maybe I should just go as your manservant,” he says, only half joking. At least that way he wouldn’t be expected to make conversation with any of the aristocrats.
Thomas starts violently, looking at him as though he’s lost his mind. “No,” he says, his voice hoarse. And then, for good measure, he says it again. “No.”
He gives Daud no chance to comment, heading for the door with long, purposeful strides. “I’m going to bathe,” Thomas announces, because they can hardly show up at the party dressed to the nines and reeking of sweat and sewage. “I’ll prepare yours when I’m done.”
He leaves, and Daud can hear his footsteps thundering down the stairs with much more noise than usual. “What in the Void…?” he mutters, a little dazed. He’s never had trouble reading Thomas before, but this reaction is something he can’t quite work out.
Corvo is quite content to share his insight, as always. “He has you placed on a pedestal,” he reveals. “He cannot stand the idea of you being beneath him, in whatever capacity.”
“If I’ve ever been on a pedestal, I’ve long since crashed back down to earth,” Daud argues, the very notion of it outrageous. “He is better than I am. He’s always been better than I am.”
Corvo hums, as if trying to find the right words to accentuate his declaration. “Jessamine was the Empress. She was above me,” he murmurs eventually. “But if she’d been cast out to live like a beggar, I would have kept loving her the way she deserved to be loved. Because she was the Empress of my heart, as you are the Emperor of his.”
Daud huffs a laugh of disbelief. “In that case, I should have been deposed long ago.”
“But you haven’t,” Corvo is quick to point out, sharply. “Nor will you ever be. So either you rule, or you let what’s rightfully yours fall into disarray.”
It’s a peculiar metaphor, but it strikes a chord in Daud he hadn’t even known was there, the realisation that staying away for Thomas’ sake, because he is old and uninterested in sex and messed up six ways from Sunday, may actually be worse than giving in.
He sighs, running a hand through his sweat-damp hair. “I’ll try,” he avows, unsure if he’s trying to convince Corvo or himself. “When this nonsense is over and done with, I’ll try.”
It’s pathetically easy to imagine the future, living at a sunny vineyard in Cullero, being able to sleep in the same bed as Thomas every night, not just back-to-back but curled against one another, relishing in the presence of the other so close by. Holding hands, unhindered by the need for gloves to hide blood and Mark alike, and kissing, as he’s been wanting to do for longer than he realised.
It’s a good future, one he hasn’t deserved but yearns for all the same.
Corvo chuckles. “Those who’ve seen your hands do violence would be surprised by the dream in your heart.”
“Dreaming does not make up for what I’ve done.”
“No,” Corvo agrees, “but it’s a start.”
Thomas returns from his bath half an hour later, clothed in naught but a towel wrapped around his waist. Daud has never wanted sexual intimacy, but that doesn’t mean he cannot appreciate beauty when it is flaunted before him like this, and he may or may not be staring a bit too intently at the nearly invisible tufts of fine blond hair decorating Thomas’ chest.
It’s not as if he’s never seen Thomas in a state of undress before; with so many Whalers living together in close quarters, and with only Daud and Billie having their own rooms, stumbling upon his men out of uniform has always been inevitable. Daud distinctly recalls the time he believed Aedan was on standby when it was actually Ardan, and he summoned a buck-naked Whaler to his side.
But looking at Thomas now, Daud is overcome with a sense of possessiveness, a desire for no one to be allowed this sight but him. He drinks it in, mapping out the scars that stand out on his fair skin, the fresh one at his side chief amongst them; an unfortunate side-effect of being a murderer for hire.
But not all of the scars come from his time as a Whaler. There is a large one dominating the back of his left hand, from when his father had taken a hot poker to the flesh in a futile attempt to keep the Outsider from corrupting his son – not that Thomas had anything to do with the Outsider at that time in his life, and it obviously didn’t stop Daud from sharing his Outsider-given magic with him. Other scars are less gruesome, thinner lines that look utterly inconspicuous next to their larger counterparts. But it’s a series of small, round scars decorating his upper arm that brings Daud to his feet, catching the appendage without warning, running gloved fingers over the marks.
Thomas flinches at the unexpected contact. “Daud?”
“You should have killed him slower,” Daud manages to growl as he traces the cigarette burns – for that’s what they are, unmistakably, a testament of cruelty. “Bastard deserved it.”
“He thought fire would cleanse,” Thomas mumbles, as if that’s an excuse. “It didn’t, obviously.”
Daud’s jaw clenches, and it’s all he can do not to dig his fingers into Thomas’ arm. “I’m sorry,” he rasps. “I wish we’d gotten you out of there sooner.”
To his astonishment, Thomas chuckles, a mirthless sound. “We all have scars,” he murmurs, looking up at the one that cleaves Daud’s face in half to prove his point. He lifts his hand as though he means to touch it, then thinks the better of it and steps away entirely, tugging his arm from Daud’s grasp. “Your bath’s getting cold.”
“Right,” Daud mutters. He wouldn’t want his odour to match his personality.
He’s always hated bathing. Not because he doesn’t care to be clean – hygiene is crucial, especially when living in close quarters with almost forty other people – but because it makes him so damn vulnerable. Being naked and wet and warm, no matter how close he keeps his weapons, is not a state he wants his enemies to find him in. Not to mention the fact that the few times he dozed off in the bath, the Outsider appeared like clockwork, taking advantage of Daud’s discomfort to push his buttons more effectively than usual.
Daud washes quickly in water he’s allowed to go lukewarm, rinsing off sweat and dirt and no blood whatsoever, which is a rarity for him. More often than not his bathwater is tinged pink as he quite literally bathes in the blood of his adversaries, a sign of a job well done. It’s disconcerting that he used to think nothing of it; not until this moment, when there is no blood to scrub away, does he fully realise how twisted his sense of right and wrong has been.
No longer, he thinks firmly as he hauls himself out of the tub. Despite insistences from Callista and Samuel, he is not a good person, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever qualify as one. But he’ll damn well try his hardest to act like one, even if the suit fits him worse than the one he’ll have to wear to the masquerade tonight.
He heads back to the attic with a towel knotted around his waist and his clothes slung over his shoulder, checking the corridors of the Hound Pits with his Void Gaze before he dares to slip up the stairs. The very last thing he needs is to stumble upon Martin right now.
Thomas is already dressed when Daud returns, fixing his cravat in place with quick fingers. The ensemble flatters his figure, hugging his frame and making him seem even taller than he is. He looks every bit the lord he was born to be.
Thomas turns around at the sound of his footsteps, then immediately looks away, though not before Daud glimpses the blossoming red spreading from his nose across his cheeks. There’s something oddly gratifying about this view, a noble-born assassin who has seen more horrors than most can imagine blushing like a schoolboy at the sight of Daud’s bare chest.
He allows himself a smile as he turns to the clothes laid out on the bed, an unnecessary amount of layers that take far too much time putting on for his liking. The pants and boots are straightforward enough, but the undershirt, shirt, vest, and jacket feel very much like overkill. Not to mention the Voiddamned cravat and the ridiculous little pins that’re supposed to keep it in place.
“Where’s Wallace when you need him?” he mutters angrily as he tries to affix the pins with increasingly erratic movements, an intense hatred for the nobility and everything they do bubbling just beneath his skin.
Thomas has the grace to try and disguise his smile at Daud’s predicament, but he doesn’t do it well. “I’ll do it,” he says, stepping into Daud’s space, but then he falters, not daring to touch without permission. “If I may.”
There is no one else in the known world Daud would willingly bare his throat to, but he does for Thomas. “Please,” he allows, tipping back his head, “before I try to stab someone with those pins.”
Thomas chuckles, his breath ghosting pleasantly over Daud’s skin. “It wouldn’t even be the most creative weapon you’ve used,” he remarks as he works the silken fabric into something presentable. “At least these are sharp.”
“The Knife of Dunwall could kill you with a potato,” Daud mutters, recalling the words a mark spoke not long before he killed them with the sharp end of his blade. “I never did try that.”
“A true tragedy,” Thomas quips dryly, and Daud breathes a laugh, feeling his throat vibrate under Thomas’ fingers. “Perhaps you retired too soon.”
He steps back, the cravat pinning into place impeccably. “I’d say I retired too late,” Daud mumbles, unable to resist pulling at the fabric around his throat. “About a decade too late.”
In hindsight, it’s easy to see he should have hung up his sword the very day he met Thomas, should have taken the man away from his pretentious manor and fucked off to Serkonos without delay. But he’d been so damn proud back then. The Outsider was still giving him periodic attention, even if it was already dwindling, and Daud had thought himself important, somehow. He wouldn’t have left Dunwall and the power he had over the city for all the gold in the world.
But he’d leave it now for nothing but the golden-haired man before him, coin and murder be damned.
“Now would be an excellent time to start trying,” Corvo’s voice comes from the floor, where he’s still sitting in the pocket of Daud’s discarded coat.
Daud starts, having forgotten the third presence in the room altogether, and his gaze drops to Thomas’ lips just as his second turns away, checking the position of the sun through the attic’s open window.
“Almost sunset,” he comments with an anxious note in his tone. Almost time to leave, he means, with how long it’ll take Samuel to ferry them to the Estate District.
Daud sighs, the moment long gone. “We should go.”
He pulls on a pair of white gloves that do nothing to protect his hands but hide the Outsider’s Mark from view and slips Corvo’s Heart into his new jacket. He and Thomas both have their wristbows carefully hidden in their sleeves; swords won’t be allowed across the threshold, so there’s no use bringing them at all.
Daud opens the door. “After you, Lord Carmine.”
This chapter was actually supposed to be the Boyle party but Daud and Thomas got too caught up with getting dressed and being idiots, so the chapter count has gone by one (again). I'm pretty sure 26 is going to be the definitive number of chapters - but, uh, don't quote me on that.
For all the Tallboys and Watchmen patrolling the Estate District on the eve of Lady Boyle’s masquerade, it’s strangely easy to get into the party itself. The guard at the door takes one look at their invitations and waves them in, dutifully wishing them a wonderful time before turning to the approaching guests behind them. Of course, with the city in shambles as it is, no one who isn’t part of Dunwall’s elite has the means to bathe and dress well and procure an invitation. No one but them.
Their masks are enough to grant them a sense of anonymity once they’re on the grounds, though their designs do catch the attention of the nobility, Daud’s skull-like visage and Thomas’ whaling mask both well-known for the promise of death they bring. Some of the guests turn away from them upon approach, which suits Daud perfectly fine, but others find their choice of concealment to be utterly fascinating.
“Oh my, that’s wicked. Who made that mask for you?” a woman whose face is covered by something that looks like a caricature of a weeper gushes unashamedly. “It looks exactly like the wanted posters!”
“I have my sources,” Daud snubs, finding that, at least, to be an easy part of acting the aristocrat.
He pushes past the woman and continues up to the mansion proper, smiling behind his mask when he hears Thomas stop to apologise to her. “You’ll have to forgive him. His main investors came down with the plague – dreadful business, you understand.”
“Oh, of course,” the woman says graciously, sounding quite pleased at the attention she’s receiving. “It’s such a shame the old Barrister was arrested. He’d have made short work of it, I’m sure.”
“Quite so,” Thomas says, a lilt of amusement in his tone. If only she knew just who is responsible for Barrister Timsh’ fall from grace. “Forgive me, I must ensure he doesn’t drink too much. Terrible temper when he gets going.”
Daud has to fight the laugh that tickles his throat. It’s obvious Thomas is laying the brickwork for a plausible excuse should Daud break from the rhetoric that’s expected of the nobility. Being a drunk is as good a cover as any.
“Certainly. Please, don’t let me keep you,” the woman dismisses him, and Thomas quickly catches up with Daud.
“I’d stay away, if I were you,” Daud says conversationally as they climb the steps to the front door together. “I’ve a terrible temper when I’ve drunk.”
Thomas laughs, and it’s a testament to how far he’s come from the man he was at the start of all this, the one who simply could not stop calling him ‘sir’. That man would’ve been bending over backwards trying to explain himself, and apologising for it – if he’d had the audacity to make such a claim about Daud to a noblewoman in the first place. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drunk.”
It’s been years since he’s even had a single drink, let alone enough to become inebriated. But he does remember what it’s like, from when he indulged in his youth. “You wouldn’t want to,” he says honestly, because alcohol truly does induce his lust for violence. “I haven’t seen you drink either.”
“I don’t like the taste of alcohol,” Thomas admits easily, “nor the way it can make you take leave of your senses.”
Daud snorts an utterly un-lordlike sound that makes one of the guests in the foyer jump. “If only all our men thought like you,” he says, thinking of the time Chester rode a bloodox into their old hideout while drunk off his ass, “we could’ve eradicated the whole city by now.”
“Good thing they don’t, then,” Thomas counters playfully, and Void if that isn’t the truth. The last thing Dunwall needs is more bloodshed.
The halls of Boyle Manor are teeming with aristocrats, maids, Watchmen, and even a handful of Overseers, yet the place still seems oddly empty, the mood subdued despite the extravagant surroundings. The plague has been cutting through the entire city’s population, from the homeless to the nobility, and the strain of it shows even here, in the lap of luxury.
That doesn’t stop the ladies Boyle from indulging in frivolities, and the game they devised for their party is the absolute worst thing in the face of Daud and Thomas’ mission. Identical outfits in different colours, and the guests must guess which sister is which – no easy way to discern who their target is, and no way to ask either.
Daud slips a hand into his pocket and gives Corvo’s Heart a gentle squeeze, the closest he can get to asking for assistance without verbal means. “I can discern who is who,” Corvo says to his immense relief, “but I can’t say which of them dallied with the Lord Regent. It’s a secret buried deep.”
Of course it is. The Outsider wouldn’t want any of his gifts to put a damper on his entertainment, after all. “We need to get upstairs,” Daud mutters to Thomas, though the Wall of Light that looms just before the grand staircase makes that seem like quite the impossible task. “Find out which one of them is funding Burrows.”
It’s a lot easier said than done. They’re used to working from the shadows, skulking around to find pathways to their targets. But they’re out in the open now, expected to participate, and it seems as though whenever Daud wants to move, an aristocrat pops up at his elbow, wanting to make conversation. Thomas handles them all with grace Daud doesn’t possess, and more often than once does he consider falling back on Thomas’ ready-made excuse of him being an angry drunk and just punching someone’s lights out – not in the least when one of the nobles unironically asks Thomas “Pendleton, is that you?” because that is an insult if there ever was one.
Daud’s temper is already rising high when someone bumps into him from behind and giggles loudly, her intoxication obvious. “Watch it,” he barks.
“Why, yes sir,” the woman slurs seductively, and only then does he realise it’s one of the ladies Boyle, dressed in a red suit. She grabs his upper arm to steady herself, and gives it an appreciative squeeze. “Hmm, well-toned. I bet you could flip me butter-side up without even breaking a sweat.”
Daud can feel his skin crawl, the way it tends to when sex is on the table, but he forces himself to stay put, going so far as to lay his hand atop hers. Loathe as he is to take this route, it’ll be an excellent way to get upstairs. “Can I get you a drink?” he asks in his most subservient tone, which is not subservient at all.
She laughs as if he’s told an exceptionally funny joke. “I’m already seeing two of you,” she reveals merrily, “but thanks anyway.”
Daud takes a gamble. “Actually, there are two of us,” he says, lowering his voice to a purr as he beckons Thomas over.
Thomas extracts himself from a man keen on explaining to him the merits of investing in real estate to join them. “Oh, you coordinated masks!” Lady Boyle claps her hands in delight. “The most fearsome killers in all of Dunwall. Whatever will you do to me?”
Thomas catches on quickly. “Why don’t you take us upstairs and find out?” he poses mildly, as if he is not truly one of the most fearsome killers in all of Dunwall.
“That sounds lovely,” Lady Boyle purrs contently, as if this is all she’s been dreaming of all night. “Come with me.”
She gives them little choice in the matter, taking one of both their hands and leading them not to the grand staircase, but to a smaller set of stairs just beyond the dining room. The guard on duty steps aside without preamble, daring to give Daud and Thomas a thumbs-up as they pass. It seems this particular Boyle takes strangers up to her bedroom with regularity.
The room they end up in is a marvel of wealth, seeming far too lavish in a city so downtrodden. Thomas’ hands are clenched into fists that betray his disdain, and Daud too struggles to keep his scorn at bay. There are children starving in the streets, some of which he’s picked up himself, and yet this woman has a bedroom at least twice the size of a modest family home all to herself. The uneven distribution of riches is sickening.
“I do believe this is going to be a fabulous evening,” Lady Boyle says happily, utterly unconcerned with anything but the night’s promised pleasure. She sits cross-legged on her bed and takes off her mask, revealing a comely face with the first lines of age barely visible. Now that he can see her visage, Daud recognises her as the oldest sister, Esma. “Now then, whatever shall we do with ourselves?”
From the corner of his eye, Daud can see Thomas covertly loading his wristbow with a sleepdart, but that seems ill-advised. They will need to incapacitate her, but leaving her here drugged when they still have evidence to collect is too great a risk. Many saw them go upstairs together, and they don’t need the kind of suspicion that comes with those implications.
Then he spots something peeking out from under Esma’s bed that may just solve all of their problems in one fell swoop.
Daud halts Thomas with a covert gesture and bends to pick up the bundle of soft-spun rope from the floor. “I have some ideas,” he answers Esma’s inquiry, uncoiling the rope with an expert hand.
Her eyes darken with lust as she regards the rope threading through his fingers. “Oh, but that is perfect,” she breathes, and she holds out her hands willingly for him. “I love it.”
“No,” Daud says, grasping her wrists and leading them up over her head. There’s no merit to tying anyone’s hands in front of them; it’s too easy to get loose. “On your back. Hands on the headboard.”
The brief look of surprise on her face is quickly swapped for a gleeful smile. “Why, yes sir,” she agrees immediately, following his orders to the letter. Daud wraps the rope snuggly around her wrists, tying them together before fastening them firmly to the headboard.
“Look in my nightstand,” Esma gasps as Daud tightens the ropes meticulously, and Thomas obeys her. He comes up with a peculiar contraption, a squishy ball the colour of her outfit affixed to two straps, ending in a buckle.
“Is this what you require?” he asks politely, and Esma nods her head enthusiastically.
Daud wishes he didn’t know what it is, but he’s spent too much time in Piero’s company this past week to not be intimately familiar with every one of his inventions, even ones with uses like these. “Master Joplin’s work,” he comments as he takes the object from Thomas to spare him the awkwardness.
“Oh, you’re familiar?” Esma asks in a strangely conversational manner, considering the position she’s in. “He’s a marvel. I’ve commissioned several pieces from him.”
“Do tell,” Daud implores, but before she can, he puts the object to its proper use, gently pushing the ball behind her teeth before bringing the straps around her head and buckling them tightly, quite effectively gagging her. “Or perhaps later.”
Esma grins around her gag, twisting her hands in the ropes in a show of being an unwilling captive. Daud hooks a finger under her chin. “Scream for me,” he implores, and she does, letting out a wail that’s wholly unintelligible but still loud – loud enough to have the guard stationed at her door come rushing in.
“Milady, I heard –”
He stops short when he lays eyes on what must be the strangest picture he’s ever seen: Lady Boyle bound and gagged on her bed, one masked gentleman leaning over her, another standing close by.
“Is there a problem?” Thomas asks frostily, and the guard flushes a brilliant scarlet.
“I… forgive me,” he stammers, eyes flicking to Esma’s prone form. “Milady, are you… alright?”
Esma nods briskly, her piercing stare enough to have the guard back away. “I suggest,” Daud growls, “that you ignore whatever you may hear from this room tonight. Unless you’re willing to risk a demotion.” And an eyeful, he doesn’t say, but that’s implied.
“Yes, of course, milord,” the guard says immediately. “I’ll just… I’ll just be outside.”
He can’t get out quick enough, all but slamming the door shut, leaving them blessedly alone with a guarantee of no further interference.
Daud straightens and strolls the length of the bedroom, pretending to take interest in some of Esma’s trinkets when he’s really looking for something akin to a diary, or another form of evidence that may link her to the Lord Regent. He can see Thomas following his example, heading into the adjacent bathroom for inspection.
Esma tries to speak against her gag as Daud picks up an expensive-looking jewel box that could probably feed a family of four for months, but Daud cuts her off. “Patience,” he implores, keeping the game afoot just a bit longer. “There is time.”
She huffs, but stills, issuing no further complaint until Thomas returns from the bathroom and shakes his head. Esma is not the Boyle involved with the Regent, not that Daud is particularly surprised by that. Somehow, he can’t – and doesn’t want to – imagine Hiram Burrows engaging in roleplay.
They’ll have to search the other rooms, so Daud calls on his Void Gaze, peering through the walls to see the positioning of the guards. What he finds is even better: a crawlspace leading to a small attic, which seems to connect seamlessly to another sister’s bedroom.
Thomas has noticed it too, and he takes it upon himself to bow before Esma, still playing the part of aristocratic gentleman. “I’m afraid this is where we must leave you,” he says, as if they’ve done nothing but talk of the weather. “It’s been a pleasure, my Lady.”
Esma just stares at him, momentarily dazed by this unexpected turn of events, and Daud has already disappeared into the crawlspace, Thomas hot on his heels, before she thinks to scream.
Through the rickety floorboards, Daud can hear one of the other guards come up to Esma’s door. “Is everything alright in there, Fergusson?” he asks the man on duty.
“Everything’s fine, Nolan. Lady Esma is… occupied. Best not to disturb her.”
“Ugh, again? You’d think these nobles would have a better imagination.”
It takes a lot not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. He’s been an assassin for two decades now and he’s seen nearly all there is to see, yet it’s only when he’s decided not to kill anymore that his life decides to become this absolute clusterfuck. The Outsider must be thrilled.
Daud and Thomas creep through the attic and land in another bedroom, this one meticulously arranged in a straightforward manner Esma would probably find horribly dull. The woman who occupies this room seems much more like someone Burrows would find tolerable, and so Daud is not surprised when he finds a letter from the Lord Regent tucked away near a diary, proving Waverly Boyle to be his mistress.
“She wears black tonight,” Corvo supplies, surprisingly helpful for once. “She’s in mourning for her reputation.”
“No kidding,” Daud mutters empathically. He’d be in mourning too if he’d been reduced to sleeping with Hiram Burrows, of all people. Getting into bed with the bastard in the metaphorical sense has already brought him woes aplenty.
Daud finds Thomas rifling through a dresser. “It’s Waverly,” he informs his second. “Black dress.”
Thomas nods, closing the double doors of the dresser with care for silence. “I found this,” he says, showing Daud a large jewel engraved with a face that is unmistakably a Boyle. “I believe it’s the cameo they’re offering as a prize for the first to guess which sister is who.”
“We’re not thieves, Thomas,” Daud says dismissively.
“No,” Thomas agrees, “but it may be wise to convince her we are.”
He nods in the direction of Esma’s bedroom, and Daud understands – if she believes they tied her up just to get to the Boyle cameo, chances are slim they’ll be connected to the disappearance of her sister. “Good thinking.”
They head back the way they came to find Esma still writhing in the ropes, even if she’ll never get out of them without assistance. Daud knows how to tie a knot, and her fingers simply won’t be able to reach.
When she sees them, she tries to scream again, her eyes filled with equal parts anger and fear, but none of the guards come to her aid, of course. Thomas shows her the cameo he unearthed, twirling it lazily in his hand. “We have what we came for,” he says pleasantly, patting her leg like one might an obedient dog. “You have our thanks, my Lady. Your assistance was most helpful.”
Esma snarls at him, the effect completely undermined by the gag, and then her pupils go wide and her head slumps down to her chest, the sleep toxin Thomas injected into her leg taking effect almost instantly.
Thomas tucks the empty darts and the cameo into his pocket before he goes to untie her. “I’m sure Lady Boyle is exhausted after her escapades with two bedfellows,” he says dryly. “Best to let her rest.”
Daud snorts, but he goes to help Thomas get everything in order all the same. This isn’t the first time they’ve staged a crime scene. “I’m sure this is not the sort of excitement she had in mind.”
“That’s fair,” Thomas drawls as he coils the rope. “This is hardly what I imagined of this evening either.”
“Better or worse?” Daud ventures.
He can practically see the smile behind Thomas’ mask. “The night’s still young.”
“Yes,” Daud agrees as he return’s Piero’s special gag to its place in Esma’s nightstand, “there’s another Lady Boyle in need of attention.”
Thomas hums in thought. “Daud,” he says, sounding curiously worried, “what are we going to do with her?”
The Boyles don’t have a convenient silver mine for Waverly to be thrown into, he means to say. It would be much easier to kill her and dump her body in the river, never to be found, but that’s not their way anymore.
But Daud has accounted for that. “We do have an unoccupied kennel at the Hound Pits.”
“The Admiral’s not going to be happy with that,” Thomas points out.
Daud grins. “All the more reason to do it.”
Lord Brisby who? Never heard of him.
Also, Piero invented this universe's equivalent of the ballgag and Esma commissioned one from him. This is canon now. Let this information haunt you until the end of your days.
“You brought her here?”
For once, it’s not Havelock who begins the lecture. It’s Pendleton.
“Would you have preferred her down at the bottom of the river?” Daud poses with a hard edge to his voice, knowing full well just how much Treavor Pendleton values Waverly Boyle.
“No,” Pendleton sighs, at the same time Havelock says “Yes.”
Daud levels the Admiral with an even stare. “If that’s what you want, you can do it yourself.”
Havelock scoffs at the mere idea of having to do any of the dirty work himself. “You’re the assassin,” he points out, somehow making it sound like an accusation.
“Yet you’ve killed preciously few in the name of our cause,” Martin remarks, sharp eyes boring into Daud’s. “No one save my fellow Overseers and the brothers Pendleton.”
“I didn’t assassinate any Overseers,” Daud points out, and it’s true. “I slaughtered them.”
The guilt that surges within him as he says it is familiar, but no less dreaded for it. If only he’d been more careful, he wouldn’t have had to bloody his blade at all. Even if the world could do with a couple fewer Overseers.
Martin picks up on the omission in Daud’s carefully worded reply immediately. “And the twins?”
Daud sighs. “Alive.”
“What?” Pendleton gasps, and it doesn’t take a genius to interpret the emotion on his face as careful hope. “But you said they were…”
“Six feet under,” Daud supplies. “They are. We put them to work. In their own silver mines.”
“That’s unwise,” Havelock says immediately, because of course it is. “What’s to stop them from telling the foreman who they are?”
Daud grins lazily. “Their lack of tongues, for one.”
“Oh dear Void,” Pendleton gasps, looking distinctly green. “You removed their –”
He’s forced to swallow back bile before he can finish his sentence. “Would you prefer them dead?” Daud repeats.
“No,” Pendleton has to admit again. “I… thank you,” he manages to say, sincere gratitude in his eyes even though he still looks as though he may throw up at any moment. “Even if they are miserable now, perhaps someday I will see them again.”
“That’s all well and good,” Havelock interjects forcefully, “but you were supposed to kill them. All of them. That’s why we hired you.”
Daud crosses his arms, recalling Lydia’s words on the subject. “Hired?” he snorts. “If you’d ‘hired’ me to assassinate this many high-profile targets, the fee would have been far beyond a trip upriver. So you don’t get to question my methods, unless you’d like to storm Dunwall Tower yourself.”
Havelock’s scowl deepens. “You’re the one who killed the Empress,” he spits, as if anyone could have forgotten. “Helping Emily Kaldwin retake her throne is the least you can do.”
“Yes,” Daud hisses, “but committing murder to atone for committing murder is backwards even by your standards. She does not need her reign to be built on blood and deceit.”
The Admiral falters at that, and Martin lets out a low whistle. “Careful, Farley,” he chaffs. “The Knife is sharp.”
Havelock huffs indignantly. “And what about the Lord Regent?” he demands. “Surely you can’t leave him alive.”
That’s a conundrum Daud hasn’t figured out for himself yet, either. “I will do what I must,” he admits, speaking nothing but the truth. “But if there is another way, I will take it.”
“Admirable,” Martin comments, looking at him in that utterly discomforting way again.
“I don’t need your admiration,” Daud snaps at him, but the only one who flinches at his tone is Pendleton.
Martin, as always, is unfazed. “Actually, I think you do,” he grins. “I daresay a healthy relationship with the High Overseer of the Abbey would save you and yours a lot of grief.”
“You were elected,” Daud says flatly, dragging a hand across his face. “Dear Void, take me now.”
“That can be arranged,” Martin quips flippantly, but Daud can feel the subtle shift of power in their dynamic. Martin has always been a dangerous individual, but now that he’s in charge of an equally dangerous organisation, he has the potential to become a real threat to Daud and his men, if he feels so inclined.
Perhaps it would be wise to stand down. But Daud has never bowed to Martin before. “High Overseers can be deposed,” he lilts, purposefully sounding bored. “There might come a day when you won’t be able to dodge the Brand’s administration anymore.”
There’s a flash of something akin to worry in Martin’s eyes that’s gone as quickly as it came. He must know the Heretic’s Brand has disappeared from Holger Square, and that Daud wouldn’t be stupid enough not to hold onto it. “There might,” he agrees with an easy shrug. “But not today.”
“No,” Daud concedes, “not today.”
The tension between them is palpable, and Havelock is quick to put an end to it. “Go to bed,” he says, to no one in particular. “There’s nothing left standing between us and the Lord Regent now, and we’ll need our wits about us if we’re going to finally take him down.”
There he goes again, so liberal with the word ‘we’ when it’ll be Daud and Thomas leading the charge against Burrows. But Daud is tired, and quite ready to get out of the noble’s getup he so loathes, so he lets it slide.
He leaves the three conspirators at the bar and heads upstairs to the attic room, pausing briefly to tug off his much despised cravat before moving on to Emily and Callista’s tower. The Empress and her governess are already fast asleep when he arrives, Callista resting motionlessly, but Emily trashing in her bed, muttering unintelligibly and entangling herself in her blankets.
It’s miraculous how quickly she stills once Daud lays Corvo on the pillow next to her head. She sighs contently, turning in her sleep to grasp the Heart as she might have grabbed her father’s hand, when she still could. Now she has nothing left but her father’s last living organ, the sad remainder of the family Daud tore asunder without a second thought. He can hardly stand to look at her like this, so small and vulnerable in a nightgown too big for her small frame, with no one left to care for her as she deserves. And it’s all his fault.
He returns to the attic room, quite ready to go to sleep and leave this nightmare of a day behind him. Daud sheds the noble’s outfit with great pleasure, struggling out of the too-tight jacket and vest while toeing off the uncomfortable pair of boots.
Thomas enters as he’s kicking off his dress pants. “Lady Boyle is –” He stops to look at the carnage Daud has created, discarded pieces of clothing littering the floor, and he keeps his eyes firmly on the shirt Daud balled up and threw into the corner, his cheeks dusted with red. “– secured.”
“Good,” Daud says as he pulls on a normal shirt – one without buttons or lace or any other useless hoo-ha. “Martin is the new High Overseer,” he offers his own piece of news.
Thomas begins to unbutton his jacket. “Marvellous,” he deadpans, sounding about as happy about the fact as Daud. “Shall we throw ourselves on our swords now or would he prefer to hunt us down himself?”
Daud chortles. “He’ll behave. We do have a Heretic’s Brand at our disposal.”
“That’ll only work if Chester can figure out how to replicate its chemical compound,” Thomas points out. “He hasn’t broken down all the components yet.”
“Yes,” Daud affirms, “but Martin doesn’t know that.”
“Are you sure?” Thomas asks, only half-jokingly. “He seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing things he’s not supposed to.”
Daud hums in agreement, but forgets entirely what he wanted to say in response when he notices Thomas picking up both their discarded articles of clothing and folding them. “What in the Void are you doing?”
Thomas turns to face him and raises a very unimpressed eyebrow. “Cleaning up,” he states the obvious. “Like adults sometimes do.”
It takes Daud a good five seconds to realise Thomas has just made a jab at his expense, and then he laughs, more earnestly than he has in quite a while. “In that case, I’d say it’s long past my bedtime,” he chuckles. He gets into bed and extinguishes the lantern on the bedside table, depriving the room of its only source of light. “Good luck being an adult.”
He can hear Thomas huff in exasperation, but his second leaves things as they are and shuffles towards the bed, slowly finding his way in the pitch dark. Except the floor is littered with clothes, and it’s inevitable that Thomas should trip over one of Daud’s boots, landing ungracefully on top of Daud himself.
Daud steadies him by wrapping an arm around his waist, pulling Thomas towards him to keep him from falling off the bed entirely. The position they end up in is peculiar, Thomas’ back moulded to Daud’s front, with Daud’s arm draped over Thomas to keep him in place. Daud can’t recall ever being this close to another person – not quite like this, in any case – and he finds he doesn’t mind in the least.
“Daud?” Thomas asks, sounding uncertain. “I can’t move.”
“Are you uncomfortable?” Daud poses.
The voice at his ear makes him shudder. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”
Daud hums noncommittally, tightening his arm around Thomas. “Then go to sleep.”
And Thomas, as always, obeys.
Emily, it seems, has an affinity for making intrepid requests at breakfast.
“When I’m Empress,” she says as she subtly slides Corvo’s Heart across the table, “I want you to be my Royal Protector.”
It takes considerable effort not to spit his coffee all over her. “What?!”
“When I’m Empress,” she says again, utterly unfazed, “I want you to be my Royal Protector.” And then, as if to see just how much outrage she can accumulate in the span of seconds, she turns to Thomas. “And I want you to be my Royal Spymaster.”
Thomas does a lesser job of not choking on his food, coughing loudly as a crumb of bread invades his airway. The sound seems to echo, the rest of the pub deathly quiet despite the number of people occupying the bar, everyone but Sokolov and Martin present and staring at Emily Kaldwin as though she’s lost her mind. Which, Daud can’t help but think, she may very well have.
“Empress,” Havelock says, alarmed, “think about what you’re saying.”
“I have,” Emily exclaims, crossing her arms defiantly. “Daud is the best fighter I know. He got past Corvo. And people are already scared of him, so they’ll think twice before trying something if he’s there,” she lists, and it all makes an alarming amount of sense. “Who could be a better Protector?”
Daud can’t manage to wrap his head around it. “I’m an assassin, Empress,” he gets out, imploring her to see reason. Even if he could become the bodyguard she needs, her citizens will never accept him as part of her inner court. Between the murder of her mother, the plague, and her young age, her reign will have a rocky enough start as it is. She doesn’t need him to complicate things even further.
“Yes. And you killed my mother,” Emily states, only the barest quiver betraying her, “because someone hired you. So I want to hire you too. To protect me.”
“She has thought it through carefully,” Corvo tells him, pride evident in his voice. “She truly believes you are the best choice for Royal Protector. And I agree.”
Daud shakes his head, because the very notion that Corvo Attano himself would recommend Daud for his job is absolute lunacy. He has no place in high society, doesn’t deserve to be in the Empress’ presence, can’t be trusted to keep her safe. He’s supposed to leave, to head for Serkonos and disappear from her life.
But then again, what right does he have to deny her?
“Your Majesty,” Thomas begins hesitantly, much of the same mind as Daud, “are you sure –?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Emily cuts him off, her voice as regal as the girl wielding it. “I want Daud as my Royal Protector, and you as my Spymaster.”
Thomas takes that in, before asking, mildly: “Why me?”
It’s the same question he asked when Daud made him his second. And astonishingly, Emily gives him the exact same answer. “Because I trust you.”
The colour drains from Thomas’ face, and he can only stare at her, his mouth opening and closing without any sound coming out.
“Besides,” Emily continues, “you’re good at listening, and you already have spies who can do magic.”
“Emily,” Daud tries again, “we’re wanted criminals. We can’t be part of your court.”
“You can if I pardon you,” she says, as if it’s that easy.
Thomas lets out a laugh of disbelief. “But we’re guilty. Of numerous counts of murder.”
“You’re also guilty of helping me take back my throne,” Emily argues stubbornly. “Emperor Aneirin Rhydderch issued a Royal Pardon to a murderer who saved his life, and Empress Zolana Olaskir pardoned several criminals so they could serve in her guard. I can do the same.”
She’s obviously been studying her history, like Daud told her to.
“The nobility will never stand for it,” Pendleton says thoughtfully, though without malice. “There was already an uproar when Empress Jessamine chose a Serkonan as her Royal Protector. Imagine what they’ll think of a Serkonan assassin. With all due respect, of course,” he adds hastily.
“There’s a plague,” Emily snaps at him, sounding so very much like her mother that day on the gazebo, when she told off Hiram Burrows for the last time. “If the nobles have time to disapprove of my choice of Royal Protector, they need to sort out their priorities!”
Pendleton is stunned into silence, and Corvo laughs. “That’s my girl.”
Emily beams proudly, and when there is no further disagreement, she faces Daud and Thomas again and puts her hands on her hips. “Well?” she asks, only now showing a hint of trepidation as she poses the question to them. “What do you say?”
Daud glances at Thomas and sees the same look of helpless uncertainty he feels reflected in his second’s eyes, so he does the only thing he can.
He forms his left hand into a claw and takes a firm grasp of time, stopping it dead in its tracks.
Thomas immediately lets his head fall into his hands, all pretence of composure gone. “This is madness,” he says hoarsely. “Royal Spymaster. Royal Spymaster. How could I possibly…?”
“You’d be fine,” Daud says dismissively, because he would be. “You’re good at unearthing secrets, you’re a good leader, your name is not on any wanted posters, and we still have the documentation that proves you a Carmine. The nobility would be hard-pressed to find issues with you. But the Knife of Dunwall as Royal Protector…”
Thomas snorts, lifting his head to look at him. “That at least makes some sense. Your reputation alone will be enough to have anyone looking to harm the Empress think twice. And whoever is brave enough to try won’t get past you. You’re the best defence she could possibly have.”
“He’s right about you, you know,” Corvo sees fit to add, because of course Daud’s power to stop time doesn’t work on the Void-touched Heart. “As are you about him. Emily didn’t decide on you lightly.”
Daud sighs, raking a hand through his hair. “Do you think the men will be upset we won’t make it to Serkonos?”
“We’ll follow you wherever you wish to go,” Thomas echoes the words he spoke when Daud first announced he’d be retiring. “Even to Dunwall Tower.”
Daud chuckles weakly. “Jenkins is going to be pissed,” he predicts. “She was looking forward to some sun.”
“Well, the Spymaster will need to station agents at the other Isles,” Thomas speculates. “Jenkins and Patrick could set up their own niche of spies in Serkonos.”
Daud levels Thomas with an inquisitive stare. “Are we doing this?”
Thomas looks at the frozen form of Emily Kaldwin standing at their table, and breathes deeply. “I guess we are.”
This was not what Daud expected to happen when he woke up this morning. But then his life has been one surprise after the next as of late, as if the Outsider himself is trying his hardest to trip him up. He wouldn’t put it past the black-eyed bastard.
Daud steels himself and releases time from his hold.
“I accept, Empress,” Daud says.
“And I,” Thomas adds, inclining his head.
Emily lets out the breath she’d been holding, a smile of relief gracing her features. “Thank you,” she breathes. “Thank you.”
In a world that makes sense, she should be horrified at the prospect of having her parents’ murderers in such prominent positions of power. But then the world has stopped making sense a long time ago.
“So,” Lydia says when Emily has returned to Callista, breaking the uncomfortable silence that’s fallen over the room, “should we start addressing you as ‘Your Lordship’ now, or…?”
Thomas pulls a face. “Please don’t.”
Lydia laughs, and slowly the regular breakfast chatter picks up again, perhaps a bit more subdued than otherwise. But Daud does not miss the burning look of fury Havelock sends their way, his disapproval at their appointment blatantly obvious.
They’ll have to watch their step around him.
Everyone's moving up in the world today.
Chapter 22: XXII
Hey everyone, I'm back! I'm very sorry for missing some updates, I've had to deal with a death in the family and I've not had the time to write or edit much at all. But new chapters will be back on their usual weekly schedule for the final stretch!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Today, they strike.
It’s been four long days since the Boyle party, days spent pouring over floorplans of Dunwall Tower, days spent holding meetings with his senior Whalers to determine an unassailable plan of attack, days spent travelling back and forth between Rudshore and the Hound Pits to keep teaching Emily Kaldwin how to fight, and to rotate the ownership of Corvo Attano’s Heart. Daud’s voice is hoarse from shouting orders, his muscles ache from overuse, and the word ‘sleep’ has lost all meaning.
He feels better than he has in years.
For once, he’s not running himself ragged for the sake of entitled nobles, for coin earned by death and despair. He’s running himself ragged for the Empire, for the Empress, for the future. He’s running himself ragged for redemption, for his men, for Thomas. He’s running himself ragged for himself.
Daud used to believe he was powerful, with his Outsider-given abilities and his penchant for the business of murder. The Knife of Dunwall loomed over the city, always ready to strike, and no one, not a one, considered themself truly safe from him. Daud used to believe that was power.
But he knows better now. Keeping his edge sharp and waiting for someone to wield him as a tool is not power. Rebelling against those who’ve used him, trying to do the right thing despite the odds against him, attempting to fix all of the mistakes he’s made – that is power. And Daud is drunk on it.
Thomas too stands tall and proud as they make their final preparations, commanding the other Whalers with a certainty Daud hasn’t seen in him before. And the men follow his lead without question, listen to Daud’s second as well as they do Daud himself, as well they should. After all, it isn’t Daud they’ll be taking orders from when they relocate to Dunwall Tower; the Whalers will be in service of the Royal Spymaster, not the Royal Protector.
Daud still can’t quite wrap his head around the fact that he’ll be taking over Corvo Attano’s position once Emily Kaldwin is secure on her throne, but it is a fact he’s at peace with, if nothing else. “You’d have driven yourself mad lounging around a vineyard anyway,” Rulfio told him when Daud broke the news to the Whalers, and he’s right at that. Serkonos was a good dream, and perhaps Daud would have been content in retirement. But he knows himself well enough to understand he’ll be much happier to be useful.
The Whalers are as well. True to Thomas’ claim, they’re willing to follow him wherever he goes, and no one objected to being appointed a member of Her Majesty’s spy force. The words “Thank fuck, I hate the sun,” may have been loudly uttered by Hobson, in any case. Daud is more grateful to his men than he’ll ever be able to express.
All that’s standing between them and their new lives now is a single small, worried man.
“We’ll go through the water lock,” Daud tells Thomas, his fingers tapping the map. “Then up to the gardens, by the gazebo,” – here he swallows, the memory of their last trip to the gazebo still capable of stealing his breath – “into the Tower. Burrows will either be in his chambers or in his safe house up on the roof. Once we’re in, we’ll have to play it by ear.”
Thomas nods, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration. “Guard will be diminished, now that the Lord Regent no longer has access to Waverly Boyle’s funds,” he thinks aloud, “but that means the men who remain are his most loyal supporters. I doubt we’ll get a warm welcome.”
Daud takes a deliberate step back from his desk, allowing Thomas full access to the maps. “So what do you suggest we do, Lord Spymaster?”
“Stealth,” Thomas says simply, taking over Daud’s spot with so much ease it’s as though he belongs behind that desk. “Quick and quiet, with minimal personnel. If we want to find a way to neutralise the Lord Regent without the use of lethal force, we cannot afford to be seen.”
Daud hums his assent, peeking over Thomas’ shoulder. “Backup?”
“Teams of three. One team on the palace grounds, preferably with Kent. Four in the Estate District, here, in the evacuated area,” Thomas muses, pointing along on the map as he speaks. “The Tower isn’t far upriver, so I suggest the others remain here.”
It’s an excellent assessment. “Pick your teams, and tell the men.”
Thomas salutes him and vanishes. Daud can hear his voice down the hall, calm but powerful, and he smiles fondly. He’s come far since the day Daud appointed him as his second, going from someone he can trust to someone he can trust in, from someone who would lay down his life for Daud to someone whom Daud would lay down his life for, from someone who loves Daud despite his flaws to someone Daud has come to… well. That’s a bridge he’ll cross when he gets to it, once Hiram Burrows has been dealt with. Or a bridge he’ll jump off of.
“You said you’d try,” Corvo admonishes him for the very thought of cutting and running. “You owe that much to him, and to yourself.”
“I know. I will,” Daud assures him as he arranges the mess of papers on his desk into something reminiscent of a pile. “But this comes first.”
Corvo sighs. “Yes, I suppose it has to.”
“It does.” Daud knows for a fact he won’t be able to focus his attention on the matter at hand if he were trying to muster up the courage to address this… thing between himself and Thomas, and he cannot afford to lose focus. Not yet.
“Daud,” Corvo says, the beat of the Heart that traps his spirit oddly soft against Daud’s chest, “I haven’t yet thanked you, for all that you’ve done.”
Daud freezes, some of the maps he’d been moving slipping from his fingers to clutter the floor. “Don’t.”
As always, Corvo does the exact opposite of what he’s been told. “I am grateful,” he proclaims with a sincerity Daud can barely stand. “Without your interference, Emily would have been in a far worse place than she is now, if she survived at all.”
“Without my interference, you’d be alive,” Daud spits, the familiar feeling of self-loathing curling hotly in his stomach. “Your Empress would be alive.”
Corvo laughs without mirth. “Jessamine was always meant to die,” he divulges, sorrow clinging to his every syllable. “Even without you to carry out the deed, she could not have lived. Such is the will of the Void.”
“But you could have lived,” Daud counters stubbornly. “Emily could have had her father.”
“Yes,” Corvo admits. “I could have lived. I could have been Marked by the Outsider, and I could have saved her. But I’ve seen the paths I would have had to take to get to this point. I likely would’ve had to spill more blood than you have. I would have suffered, from torture and from my conscience.”
“You don’t mean to tell me you’re at peace as you are?” Daud scoffs, pulling the Heart from his pocket to glare at it, to gain the illusion of looking Corvo Attano in the eye.
“I asked for this,” Corvo says. “I wished to remain here, to guard my daughter as best I could in death, and to allow Jessamine the peace she deserves. I did not yet know which path you would take.”
“Which path?” Daud finds himself asking, his voice barely above a whisper.
“In some worlds, you leave for Serkonos. In some worlds, you kill Teague Martin before he has a chance to speak. In some worlds, you cut a bloody swathe through the city. In some worlds… you die,” Corvo lists. “In this world, you are atoning. In this world, you saved Emily. In this world, you agreed to protect her in my stead. In this world, you will succeed.”
It takes a while for Daud to find his voice. “You can’t be sure of that.”
“No. But I have faith in you all the same.”
Daud huffs a breath that’s meant to be a condescending laugh, though it comes out more as though he’s fallen from a great height, all of the air pushed out of his lungs. He is the last person Corvo Attano should be placing his faith in. But he also knows, after everything he’s done to get to this point, that he is the only person Corvo possibly can place his faith in, depressing as the thought may be. And Daud will do whatever he can to ensure that faith, that trust, is not misplaced.
“Thank you, Corvo.”
“No, Daud. Thank you.”
If he were being honest with himself, which he tends to avoid, Daud would admit that he never truly believed there is any other way to end this than with Hiram Burrows impaled on his sword. He’s spent hours, days, pouring over journals and letters and maps, hoping to find something that might help him rid the Empire of its Lord Regent without having to resort to violence. But he came up empty-handed, any correspondence he had with Burrows signed with nothing more than the man’s initials, most of their business conducted verbally. Daud has nothing on him.
Which is why it’s a surprise when Thomas transverses to his side, deep in the bowels of Dunwall Tower, with a manic gleam in his eyes and a plan on his mind.
“Audiographs?” Daud asks, his eyebrows reaching for his hairline. Would Burrows really be that stupid? Daud records audiographs himself, on occasion; it’s good to vent, to talk away his frustrations, ensuring they don’t get in the way of his work. But he never keeps them, always burns the cards almost immediately after his voice has finished recording. He expected Burrows would be the same, but it seems he’s overestimated his opponent.
“That’s what the announcer told me,” Thomas confirms. “He keeps them in his safe.”
Of course he does. Order is everything to Burrows; he may be stupid enough to keep his audiographs, but he wouldn’t just leave them out in the open. “Code?”
That’s where Thomas falters. “One of the digits is a nine. That’s all he knew.”
“Damn,” Daud curses, leaning back against the wall of the supply closet they’re hiding in. With the code, he could stop time long enough to break into the safe without Burrows ever being the wiser, but he simply doesn’t have enough power to keep time at bay long enough to guess the combination.
Almost subconsciously, his hand slips into his jacket, grasping Corvo’s Heart and squeezing softly, asking for help. “I cannot discern the code,” Corvo sighs, and Daud has to refrain from cursing again. “His mind is filled with panic, struggling to hold on to thoughts. Everything has come apart around him, and he is afraid. It’s the Masked Felon that haunts his dreams, and his every waking moment. His life has turned into a nightmare.”
Daud hums, the sound stifled by the metal mask concealing his face. It’s amusing, in a way, that Hiram Burrows is one of the few people in this city not inherently scared of the Knife of Dunwall, yet trembles at the thought of the Masked Felon, none the wiser that they are both one and the same man. If Daud were to come to him without the mask, he’d be welcomed with open –
“Thomas,” he breathes as he removes the mask, staring down at it as if seeing it for the first time, “I have an idea.”
“Is it a good one?”
It’s an answer Billie would have scoffed at. Billie would have insisted they went in for the kill rather than rely on some half-baked plan that could land them into much more trouble than Burrows is worth. Billie would have been cold, and calculated, and sensible. Billie would have been the person Daud used to be, before the Empress, and they would likely already be on their way back to the base by now, celebrating a job well done.
But Thomas just smiles, his eyes alight. “Then let’s get to it.”
Daud clips his mask to his belt and leads the way through the Tower, up to the Lord Regent’s personal chambers. Here, in the heart of the palace, the remainder of Burrows’ loyal guards are collected, and they are still a force to be reckoned with. Getting in through the door would be close to impossible. Luckily, they won’t need to use the door.
Daud and Thomas enter through the balcony.
Hiram Burrows is alone in his bedchamber, pacing the length of the room relentlessly, muttering to himself all the while. If he had hair, Daud is certain he’d be pulling at it.
“Stay out of sight,” Daud whispers to Thomas.
He steps into the room proper when Burrows’ back is turned. “Lord Regent.”
Burrows whips around with a speed that belies his age, a hand on his sword, mad eyes wide with panic until he realises the identity of his visitor. At the sight of Daud, he breathes a sigh of relief, of all things. “Daud,” he returns, his simpering voice betraying his annoyance. “I didn’t call on you.”
“No,” Daud agrees, trying his hardest to keep his voice polite. From the look on Burrows’ face, he’s not trying hard enough. “But I believe we have business to discuss.”
He taps his fingers against the metal mask hanging from his belt, and Burrows lets out a gasp. “You found him? Thank the Strictures, that man has been a blight on this city,” he exclaims, failing to see the irony in his statement. “Who was it?”
Daud shrugs. “No one we knew. Unimportant.”
“I will decide what’s important,” Burrows snaps, and he reminds Daud startlingly of Havelock in that moment. It’s not a favourable comparison.
“Of course,” Daud relents through gritted teeth, “but the deed is done. Unless you want to fish his remains from the river, I can’t help you.”
Burrows seems anything but pleased at that answer, but he does not argue. “Very well. I suppose you’re here for the reward money?”
Daud inclines his head. “I do not work for free, Lord Regent.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Burrows waves away his ire. “And you aren’t at liberty to claim the reward for this contract from the City Watch, considering your own bounty. Which is why I believe a payment of five thousand is more than generous, wouldn’t you agree?”
The amount promised on the wanted posters is six times as much. If Daud were truly here for money, he’d be insulted. “Twenty.”
“Alright,” Burrows agrees far too quickly, obviously believing he’s won this round, “if it will send you on your way.”
Daud hands him the mask, and Burrows moves to his safe, blocking it from Daud’s view as he enters the code – but Daud doesn’t need the code. He just needs the damn thing to be open.
Burrows retrieves three hefty sacks of coin from the safe, five thousand a bag, and when he is about to close the door, Daud calls on the Void and stops time in its tracks.
“Thomas,” he says, and that’s all he has to say. Thomas steps out of the shadows and wedges himself in between Burrows and his safe, taking from it the skull-like mask Burrows has only just placed into it and a small stack of audiographs that will be the Lord Regent’s undoing. Daud remains motionless in his spot, unwilling to give Burrows even the slightest hint he’s made a move against him, and he keeps a calm and controlled hold of time until Thomas is certain he has obtained everything he can and slinks back into his hiding place.
Daud lets time resume its flow, and Burrows shuts the safe with his shoulder, unceremoniously dropping the sacks of coin at Daud’s feet. “Fifteen thousand, as agreed.”
It’s too much for Daud and Thomas to carry around with them, so Daud does the only thing he can. He summons one of the teams he’s had Thomas put on standby, the one with Rulfio at its helm, hoping his Whalers will be able to read the situation and act accordingly.
Rulfio isn’t one of Daud’s most senior Whalers for nothing. “Master Daud,” is all he says, not even a questioning lilt in his tone as he bows before his superior. “What do you need?”
“We’ve been paid,” Daud announces, nodding at the bags at his feet. “Take those back to base.”
“Yes, Master Daud,” the three Whalers say in unison. They each take a bag and vanish from sight, no questions asked. Even after all these years, their loyalty still manages to astound Daud.
He returns to the matter at hand. “A pleasure doing business with you, Lord Regent,” Daud lies unconvincingly.
“And you, Daud,” Burrows returns the lie with equal lack of vigour. “Now leave me. I have work to do.”
Daud bows stiffly at the waist, but Burrows has already turned away from him, so confident in his control over the assassin he doesn’t even think twice about exposing his back to Daud. He’s tempted to stick a knife into his back, just to make a point, but he stays his hand. Barely.
Slipping back to an unoccupied part of the Tower is almost too easy. Sorting through the audiographs Thomas obtained proves to be more difficult.
The cards are all dated, as befit Burrows’ obsession with order, but the numbers scribbled neatly in the corners give them preciously little to work with. They can’t even be certain any of these audiographs contain the information they need.
“We need somewhere to play these,” Thomas states, and Daud concurs. They cannot very well go up to the broadcast control station and insert cards at random. Not only can that get them caught long before they’re able to expose any of Burrows’ treachery, they may very well end up playing a recording that points to the Whalers as the Empress’ murderers.
But where can they possibly find a spot hidden and quiet enough to play a stack of audiographs around here?
“There is… a place,” Corvo says hesitantly, his heartbeat quickening. “On the upper floor, there is a lamp next to a fireplace. Turn it, and you will see.”
It’s a peculiar set of instructions, to say the least. But Corvo has never steered him wrong before, so Daud takes Thomas up to the second floor, feigning confidence in his actions, and finds the spot Corvo indicated.
Daud isn’t sure what he was expecting after turning the lamp sideways, but it sure as Void wasn’t the back wall of the fireplace noiselessly sliding out of the way to reveal a secret room small enough to escape notice even on the Tower’s blueprints.
“How did you know this was here?” Thomas asks once they’re safely inside, the hidden door back in place. He brushes away the thick layer of dust that has collected on an audiograph machine, exactly the thing they need. “I’m certain it’s not on any of the maps.”
“The black-eyed bastard,” is all Daud offers as an explanation. It’s the truth, in a way.
Thomas chuckles as he fiddles with the dial of the audiograph machine, Daud’s less than endearing pet name for the Outsider always a source of amusement amongst the Whalers. “There’s still a card in here,” he observes. “Whose room was this?”
Daud has an inkling. He reaches over and turns on the machine.
“Emily, my daughter,” Jessamine Kaldwin’s voice spills from the apparatus, and Daud slams his hand back down on the button, silencing her as he did all those months ago. Even though he suspected, even though he knew what was coming, he was not prepared to hear her voice again.
Daud ejects the audiograph from the machine and pockets it, carefully. It rests comfortably near Corvo’s Heart, the two final reminders of the Empress and her Royal Protector. “Emily will want this.” His voice is shaking.
Thomas lays a hand on his arm, and the touch grounds him. “We should listen to the Lord Regent’s audiographs,” his second says, gently steering him back on track.
“Yes,” Daud agrees hollowly, as if the card in his pocket isn’t burning a hole through his skin, “we should.”
It’s Thomas who takes charge, inserting card after card into the machine as they listen to Hiram Burrows rant and rave about everything that has ever gone wrong in his life, which turns out to be quite the list. But there is one audiograph that makes the whole expedition worthwhile, a detailed account not only of Burrows’ plot to murder an Empress, but his role in bringing the plague to the city as well. If they play this through the broadcast system, all of Dunwall will know what he’s done.
It’s so much better than putting a sharp piece of metal in his eye.
Daud casually walking up and showing Burrows the mask and Burrows going 'oh okay cool' was actually the first thing I thought up when I decided to make this a full-length fic. Because of course the little shrimp wouldn't think Daud and the Masked Felon are one and the same person after their collaboration in the assassination of the Empress. Joke's on him though, hehe.
Daud and Thomas return to the Hound Pits one last time, to bring word of their final success.
Hiram Burrows’ confession is still blasting through the city’s speakers on repeat, his role in murdering the Empress and spreading the plague now privy to whoever is still alive to hear it. They stayed long enough to watch the guards take him away, even the members of the City Watch most loyal to their Lord Regent unable to turn a blind eye to the revelation of his crimes.
It’ll be up to Emily to decide his lawful punishment, but the only choices she really has are execution and lifelong imprisonment. After the past six months under Burrows’ Voidawful regency, Gristol won’t stand for anything less.
“The others will be in the bar, waiting to raise a glass in your names,” Samuel says as they disembark. There’s something unusually glum about the boatman, especially in light of their recent victory. “Me, I think I’ll just linger out here, if you don’t mind. Reflect on things while we have a moment.”
From the small frown furrowing Thomas’ brow, he’s picked up on Samuel’s mood too. “Is everything alright?”
Samuel’s smile is too strained to be convincing. “I know it’s a good day, sirs. But the rats are still here, aren’t they? And there’s going to be some big changes now. Makes me uneasy, to tell the truth. The small fry like me always gets the worst of it.”
“That won’t happen,” Thomas is quick to assure him. “Not with us as members of the Imperial Court.”
Samuel lets out an obviously forced chuckle. “Of course not, sirs. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”
He excuses himself with a respectful nod, heading for his hovel, and Thomas watches him go with a troubled expression on his face. “What was that about?”
“He’s scared,” Daud shrugs, having recognised the glint of fear and sorrow in Samuel’s eyes for what it is. And really, it’s no wonder he is, now that the whole natural order of things is about to be turned upside down for the second time this year. “Just leave him be. You won’t be able to put his mind at ease until we’ve actually been inducted into the Royal Household.”
Thomas purses his lips, like he always does when he’s displeased, but he cannot find fault in Daud’s argument. “I suppose we ought to grace the other Loyalists with our presence,” he sighs, looking about as excited about the prospect as Daud feels, which is to say, not at all. “It’ll be good practice for the job, I suppose.”
Daud chuckles as they approach the pub. “At least you get to work sub rosa,” he points out. “I have to be the Empress’ Voiddamned shadow.”
“At least you get to scowl at people,” Thomas shoots back. “I actually have to be polite.”
“Please,” Daud snorts, “as if you know how to be anything but.”
They step inside the Hound Pits Pub, and any retort Thomas might have had is drowned out by the sound of applause, every member of the Loyalist Conspiracy rising from their seats to give Daud and Thomas a standing ovation. It’s nothing like the rambunctious cheers the Whalers tend to bombard them with after a bit of particularly good news, but it’s a kind sentiment nonetheless. Void knows they deserve the recognition, if nothing else.
“Damn me, they’ve done it! Word is spreading all over the city. The tyranny is over! By this time tomorrow, Emily will be on the throne,” Pendleton is the first to speak, holding out two glasses of celebratory drink to Daud and Thomas. Thomas accepts his, out of genteelness more than anything. Daud refuses outright.
Havelock raises an eyebrow at him. “We broke out the good stuff,” he says, managing to sound accusatory even now. “Surely you can join us for one drink?”
“I don’t drink,” Daud says shortly.
“Ever?” Pendleton gasps, the very idea ludicrous to him. He still has his arm outstretched as though expecting Daud to take the glass from him after all.
Daud plucks the drink from his hand and smacks it down on the bar. “Ever.”
Havelock and Pendleton exchange a look, but Cecelia is much more accommodating, ducking behind the bar to fetch Daud a bottle of blessedly non-alcoholic pear soda. “Would this be more suited to your tastes, sir?”
Daud accepts her offering. “Thank you.”
Wallace hands Pendleton his own drink, and the nobleman raises it high above his head. “To Emily Kaldwin,” he toasts, “and the new dawn rising for Dunwall and the Empire!”
Emily grins from her spot at one of the booths as everyone raises their glass in her honour. She waves happily when Daud catches her eye, and he uses the opportunity to disentangle himself from Havelock’s unpleasant company before the Admiral can find a new and undoubtedly effective way to piss him off. Thomas gladly comes with, leaving his half-finished drink on the bar.
“Daud! Thomas!” Emily exclaims as they approach, nearly knocking over her own pear soda in her enthusiasm. “You did it! The whole city knows what that nasty old Spymaster did! They’ve been playing it on the speakers for hours!”
“It was very clever,” Callista agrees from her spot opposite Emily, smiling brightly at them over her mug of tea. “Now that his crimes are public knowledge, the Lord Regent won’t ever be made into a martyr. You’ve effectively erased him from history.”
They were also the ones who first cemented his place in history, but Daud doesn’t bring that up.
Thomas seems to be of the same mind, because he leans over the table and pretends to be very interested in the sheet of paper underneath Emily’s elbow. “What are you drawing, Your Majesty?”
“Oh!” she perks up immediately, grabbing the paper and holding it up for them to see. “I drew you!”
She did draw them, in her exaggerated childish style. Picture Daud’s coat is a blinding shade of red and the scar over his eye splits his face in half. Her rendition of Thomas, in comparison, looks positively plain, though his hair is bright yellow and his uniform seems to be made primarily of pockets. They’re both holding swords and are standing atop another figure, this one clearly dead from the amount of red squiggly lines protruding from its abdomen.
“Is that… an Overseer?” Thomas asks, sounding as though he’s incredibly amused and trying too hard not to show it.
“Yes!” Emily says proudly, and only then does Daud recognise the Mask of Holger for what it is supposed to be. “I wanted to draw Campbell at first, but Sokolov said I shouldn’t because he’s too ugly.”
“It’s true!” Sokolov hollers from across the room, where he’s sitting – and Daud has to do a double take – next to Piero, an array of books and papers spread out on their table. “That painting is going to haunt me ‘till the end of my days!”
While he’s not looking, Lydia swipes Sokolov’s bottle of liquor. He’s obviously had enough.
“You’d best not show it to High Overseer Martin,” Callista comments, but she sounds anything but disapproving. “I don’t think he’ll like it very much.”
Emily makes a face. “Overseer Martin doesn’t like anything,” she declares petulantly.
“Where is Martin?” Daud asks, the mention of the High Overseer shedding light on his absence. “I can’t believe he’d miss the chance to gloat.”
“Admiral Havelock said he’s busy tonight,” Callista supplies helpfully. “Something about the Dance of Investiture, I believe.”
One of the Abbey’s convoluted rituals, no doubt. “Small mercies,” Thomas mumbles, and Daud quite agrees.
“Well, Overseer Martin isn’t here,” Emily states, “so you can tell me what you think of my picture. And be honest!”
“It’s excellent,” Thomas says promptly, because it is.
“Better than Sokolov’s portrait,” Daud adds, loud enough for the Royal Physician to hear him.
“Oh, bugger off, Daud!”
“Language!” Callista warns sternly.
Emily slides the picture she drew across the table. “You can have it, if you like.”
Knowing the Whalers will get a kick out of the Empress’ portrait, Daud takes the drawing, folding it neatly and tucking it into his coat, next to Corvo’s Heart.
His fingers brush against another piece of paper, and he stiffens. He cannot believe he nearly forgot he had this.
“Empress,” he begins, and then, thinking the better of it, “Emily. While we were in the Tower, we found something that belongs to you.”
He retrieves Jessamine Kaldwin’s audiograph and Corvo Attano’s Heart from his pocket and lays them on the table, using the cover of an actual earthly object to excuse the exchange of the Void-touched Heart in front of Callista. “Your mother recorded it.”
Callista gasps, and Emily’s eyes go wide. “Mother?” she whispers, her fingers hovering above the card as though she’s afraid her touch will dissolve it into dust. “Did you… listen to it?”
“No,” Daud denies immediately. The very idea that he’ll have heard the Empress’ message to her daughter feels inherently wrong, somehow. “Only the first few words. It’s meant for you.”
Emily lets out a quivering breath. “Callista,” she says softly, “can I go play it, please?”
“Of course,” Callista agrees immediately. “Would you like me to come with you, or –”
“No. I’d like to be alone.”
“Alright. Be careful on the steps; it’s dark outside.”
Emily takes her mother’s audiograph and her father’s Heart, the last remnants of the parents who loved her, and shakily gets to her feet. Daud can hear Corvo murmuring encouragements to his daughter, and it’s his voice that drives her forward, rushing past the others with small but quick paces, careful not to drop her precious, precious mementos.
Daud’s gaze remains on the door long after she’s disappeared through it, until his attention is forcibly seized by Sokolov, who stumbles into his line of sight on unsteady legs.
“Daud,” he slurs, grinning vaguely, “d’you have any more of that King Street Brandy? I haven’t felt this pleasant in weeks! Nay, months! Years!”
“I think you’ve had more than enough, Anton.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Piero pipes up, leaving his booth to join them. “He’s much more tolerable this way.”
Sokolov cackles as though his fellow philosopher has said something exceedingly amusing. “Ah, Piero, your expulsion from the Academy was a –” He hiccoughs, loudly. “– a crime against natural philosophy itself.”
Piero shakes his head. “Which you might have pointed out at the time,” he can’t help but quip. “But it’s pointless to hold a grudge.”
“Good man!” Sokolov exclaims, and then, to the astonishment of everyone, pulls Piero towards him and crushes their lips together.
Even more astonishing is the fact that Piero doesn’t push him away. Instead, he hangs on for dear life and seems to be, in a true reflection of their relationship, battling Sokolov for dominance.
It goes on until Lydia wolf-whistles at them, and the sudden sharp sound has Piero recoiling as if struck. His eyes are even wider than usual behind his glasses, which have been knocked askew, and his breath comes out in gasps, his cheeks flaming red. He stares at Sokolov, his mouth opening and closing several times as he struggles to find words that won’t come.
Sokolov grins languidly, and Piero turns on his heel and all but storms out of the pub.
“Wow,” Cecelia’s soft voice carries throughout the silent room.
Sokolov laughs, swaying on his feet. “He was too uptight,” he comments flippantly, taking a nonchalant sip of the nearest drink, the one that used to be Wallace’s. “Problem solved.”
Daud inconspicuously steps closer to the Royal Physician. “You’re not drunk at all, are you?” he inquires, his voice low to keep the others from overhearing. “You’re actually interested.”
Sokolov’s smirk is answer enough. “I like a challenge,” he shrugs, taking another small sip of the drink he stole. If that’s the way he’s been pacing his drinking all evening, he’s more sober than he usually is. “Besides, Daud, not all of us have pretty blond noblemen practically worshipping the ground we walk on.”
“You might, if you weren’t such a lewd bastard,” Daud shoots back.
“Ah, so the key to an aristocrat’s heart is frigidity. How unsurprising.”
Despite himself, Daud laughs, and Sokolov clasps his shoulder good-naturedly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he says, knocking back the last of his drink, “I think I have to drunkenly stumble my way to the nearest workshop.”
“Good luck with that.”
“And you with yours,” Sokolov grins, not-so-accidentally bumping into Thomas as he passes.
Thomas collapses like a poorly built house of cards.
He barely manages to catch himself, his hand slamming down atop Callista’s table as he visibly struggles to remain upright. Daud is at his side in an instant, offering support, but Thomas holds up his free hand to stop him. “I’m fine,” he breathes, his words coming out slurred. “Just a little woozy.”
“Oh dear,” Wallace sighs. “Did you perchance drink the Poolwhick absinthe? Dreadful beverage. Floored Lord Shaw the last time he was a guest at the manor.”
“It is quite strong, indeed,” Pendleton remarks. “I thought it an appropriate spirit to toast victory with, but I suppose it may have been a tad much.”
“You think?” Daud bites out. Thomas only drank half a glass, for Void’s sake.
Pendleton flinches. “Ah, well, yes. Terribly sorry. It tends to go to one’s head rather quickly,” he explains sheepishly. “Quite like victory, actually.”
“Voiddammit,” Daud curses as Thomas nearly keels over again. “This is exactly why I don’t drink. It’s poison.”
He shoulders Thomas’ weight, wrapping an arm around his waist to keep him upright. “‘m fine,” Thomas slurs again, but he’s obviously not, so Daud pays him no mind.
“Upstairs,” he orders, coaxing Thomas away from the table. “You need to lie down.”
“Make sure he sleeps on his side,” Wallace advises with the air of someone who has intimate knowledge of the subject. With Pendleton as his employer, he’s probably an expert.
Daud nods at him in gratitude as he passes, guiding Thomas towards the staircase. Once they’re out of sight, he transverses them up the stairs, not trusting Thomas to climb the steps in his current condition. They hadn’t planned to stay at the pub for the night; Daud wanted to return to Rudshore to ensure everything was ready for their move to Dunwall Tower. It seems he’ll have to leave the preparations to Rulfio.
“You just had to take the damn drink,” he grunts as he pushes open the door to the attic room with his shoulder. “Your civility is going to kill you someday, mark my words.”
He’s two steps inside the room when his words are pointedly marked.
The ancient music comes out of nowhere, and Daud stumbles as Thomas goes completely slack in his arms, groaning in pain. He barely manages to stay on his feet himself, his free hand fumbling for his sword, but something is slammed against his temple from behind and Daud crashes to the floor, taking Thomas down with him.
Hands grab at him, forcing him back, away from Thomas, who curls up into a ball on the floor, trying to shut out the dreadful noise. Daud wants to go to him, to hold him, to take him away from the dreadful music, but the hands keep him firmly in place, wrenching his arms behind his back and binding his wrists with coarse rope. His attempt to break free comes too late, is too weak, the music and the blow to his head making his body sluggish and his thoughts scattered. He’s no match for his assailant.
He’s shoved down onto his stomach, and his legs are pulled together to be bound next. “I expected more of a fight from you,” a voice says, and it takes Daud too long to identify it as Havelock’s, “though your compliance is certainly appreciated.”
“Fuck,” is all he can say when he finds his voice, and he tries to kick at the Admiral. All that gets him is a well-placed punch to his liver. “You son of a –”
Havelock grabs a fistful of his hair and pulls, forcing him up to his knees. “Shut up.”
Next thing he knows, a cloth is shoved into his mouth, tasting very much as though it’s one of the rags Wallace uses to polish silver. Another length of rope is pulled between his teeth, biting at the corners of his mouth as Havelock ties it tightly behind his head, the knot catching painfully in his hair.
Daud focuses on that pain, small but constant at the back of his head, as he tried to collect himself. Thomas is his first and foremost concern, always. He’s still lying where he was dropped, oblivious to the world around him. It’s obvious now that his drink was spiked with something, but it’s the music that’s hurting him most, hurting both of them. Daud twists in Havelock’s hold, attempting to find the source of the accursed music – and he finds it.
Martin stands in the corner of the room, idly turning the crank of a music box. When he catches Daud’s eye, he smiles, perfectly benignly. “Come now,” he says, his voice blending with the music to create a truly bloodcurdling melody, “You didn’t honestly believe we could just let you go free after everything we’ve done?”
Daud wishes he could tell the Overseer to go to the Void, but the fabric invading his mouth keeps him from speaking. He settles for growling, low in his throat.
Martin advances, stepping over Thomas’ body as though he is nothing. “We might have allowed you to leave the city,” he sighs, as though he mourns this development, “but then young Emily just had to offer you those positions of power, tethers to keep you near.”
“We can’t have you corrupting the Empress any more than you already have,” Havelock adds, sounding far too pleased with himself. “It’ll be difficult enough as it is to undo your influence.”
“Though it is unfortunate,” Martin purrs, the red of his new High Overseer’s robes gleaming in the low light of the moon. It’s not unlike Daud’s own coat. “You could have made us a splendid… ally, in the first years of our rule.”
The implication is anything but subtle, and Daud shivers involuntarily. He finds himself torn between wanting to kill you or kiss you, Corvo told him not long ago. It seems Martin has made his choice.
His eyes flick over to Thomas, taking comfort in the fact that his chest is still visibly rising and falling, even as blood slowly trickles from the corner of his mouth. Martin follows his gaze and laughs. “He’ll be dead within the hour,” he says flippantly. “Tyvian poison is quite strong, as you’re surely aware. Odourless, untraceable, and without a known antidote. Nothing like the Morleyan swill Campbell used.”
Daud jerks in his bonds, wanting nothing more than to lunge at Martin and cave his smug face in, but the music keeps him bound even better than the ropes do, and he can’t break free. He can’t help Thomas. He can’t do anything.
“I’m sending my Overseers into the Flooded District as soon as my business here is concluded,” Martin continues, seeming determined to break every last piece of Daud’s very being. “We’re always looking for… volunteers, to help us understand the Outsider’s influence.”
Martin’s words sound further away with each passing second. There’s blood in Daud’s mouth, slowly seeping into the cloth trapped behind his teeth. When he looks at Thomas, trying to burn the image of him firmly into his mind, knowing this is the last time Daud gets to see him, his vision swims, betraying him as surely as Havelock and Martin have. Or perhaps those are just tears.
“We’re taking you to Coldridge,” Havelock says. “You’ll be executed before the end of the month.”
That, at least, is a relief.
To be continued.
He doesn’t even hear the music anymore.
It’s always there, humming over the loudspeakers, seeping into his very being until he is the music and the music is him, and he can hardly remember a time he was not in pain.
His cell in Coldridge is tiny, no furnishings but for the commode in the corner and the stocks he is trapped in. They allow him fifteen minutes of freedom twice every day, during which he is expected to eat and relieve himself. He does it only because he refuses to die without at least a shred of dignity.
He finds himself wishing for his execution more and more each passing day.
It’s been two weeks and three days since he awoke in these stocks, which he knows only because the guards outside his cell rotate like clockwork. It’s been two weeks and three days since he was betrayed. Two weeks and three days since Thomas died.
Two weeks and three days since his very soul was utterly and completely crushed.
He should have listened to Corvo. He should have told Thomas he cared for him, should have let him know how important he was, what a wonderful second he was. Voiddammit, he should have kissed him while he had the chance.
He won’t have that chance ever again.
Because Thomas is dead. Poisoned. And the rest of his men are enduring an even worse fate in Holger Square, if they haven’t already been killed during the two weeks and three days he’s been locked away. Void, but he hopes they’ve been killed. At least that way they won’t have to suffer under the Overseers’ cruel ministrations.
Voiddamned Overseers and their Voiddamned music.
Except there is no music anymore.
Instead, there are shouts.
“The doors! Cellblock B is compromised!”
“All available personnel to cellblock B, now!”
“Watch out, she’s armed!”
Daud lifts his head, his neck cracking painfully. He can see guards running past, even the Watchman assigned specifically to his cell leaving his post, all of them rushing to the other end of the prison. It seems there’s a jailbreak in progress.
He grins. Serves the bastards right.
An officer – a captain, even – appears at his door. No doubt they think Daud shouldn’t be left without a guard, especially without the music to constrain him. Not that he has the means or the will to escape the stocks, but still.
The guard opens his cell and steps inside quickly, hurrying over to the lock on Daud’s stocks. “We don’t have much time,” he mutters, and the voice sounds vaguely familiar. “I opened all the cells in B. The others are distracted, but they won’t be for long. You have to go, quickly.”
The stocks spring open when he pulls the lever, and Daud tumbles to the floor in lack of their support. He pushes himself upright shakily, staring blank-faced at the man who’s just given him a shot at the freedom he doesn’t want.
Geoff Curnow stares back at him. “Didn’t you hear me? You have to go!”
“Why are you –?”
“You saved my life,” Curnow says briskly. “I’m returning the favour.”
He’s quite certain he was wearing his mask at the time. “How did you know –?”
“I’m not an idiot, that’s how. Now go.”
Daud finally remembers how to move, and he stumbles out of his cell, Curnow on his heels. The captain relocks the door behind them and then hurries down the corridor, towards the violence. He’s gone before Daud can even think to thank him.
It’s instinctual self-preservation that has him transversing up the walkways. His body is sore and his magical energy near non-existent, but the pain is sharp and intense, exactly the opposite of the throbbing ache the ancient music evokes, and it reminds Daud that he is alive. Despite everything, he is alive, and he will not die in this Voiddamned prison.
He’s not sure he can keep living, once he’s out. But at least then he’ll leave this world on his own terms, in his own way. Perhaps he’ll make the climb up Kaldwin’s Bridge, one last time.
The door leading outside is wide open, and unguarded. The bridge has been raised, but that’s not an issue for someone like him, even weakened as he is. If he focuses, he can make it across the river in one transversal. He just has to –
“Eat shit, you fuckers!”
A can of chokedust explodes at the end of the corridor, and from the cloud of smoke emerges a lone figure, sprinting for the exit on bare feet. The sword she carries is bloodstained, as are the teeth she’s sharpened to a fine point. She looks like death personified.
If someone were to paint a portrait of Elizabeth Stride in this moment, it would be a masterpiece.
Two Watchmen stumble out of the smoke after her, one falling to his knees immediately to retch the dust from his lungs, but the other alert enough to raise his pistol at the escaping prisoner.
Daud bends time.
It costs him more power than he has, and though the world stutters to a halt at his whim, his vision is invaded by bright bursts of light. It’s all he can do to stay upright, his hold on time precarious at best, but he manages, albeit barely.
He’s already failed Thomas, his men, Emily, and the whole Voidforsaken Empire. He’ll be damned if he allows one more person to die on his watch.
Transversing while keeping time at bay is the very definition of agony, every fibre of his being protesting his overuse of the magic he can barely control. But he does it anyway, appearing at Lizzy’s side and laying a hand on her shoulder to bring her back to the present.
She screams at the contact, lunging for him with her stolen sword, but Daud catches her wrist before he can be decapitated. “Careful,” he chides, twisting her hand until she’s forced to drop her weapon. “You wouldn’t want to hurt yourself, now.”
“Daud,” she says, “what the fuck –”
“No time,” he cuts her off, gesturing towards the motionless guards and the bullet suspended in mid-air. “Can’t hold them much longer.”
It says a lot about Lizzy Stride that her first response to seeing a bullet poised to kill her is to laugh. “Alright, hotshot. What’s the plan?”
Daud lets go of her wrist and wraps and arm around her waist instead. “Hang on.”
She does, and he transverses them back to the door, then across the river, then up the cliff, away from Dunwall Tower, and up the roof of the nearest house in the Palace District.
Time slipped through his fingers a while ago now, and Daud keels over once they’re safely atop the roof, his breathing laboured and his vision fading in and out. When Lizzy steps away from him, he falls to his hands and knees, unable to stay upright without her support. He’s really pushed himself too far this time.
“You know,” Lizzy says idly as Daud attempts to catch his breath, “I could kill you right now, and you won’t be able to do a thing to stop me.”
Daud’s laugh quickly turns into a hacking cough. “Go ahead,” he rasps. “Save me the trouble.”
He waits for several long seconds. Death does not come.
“Melodramatic bastard,” Lizzy sighs, and rather than sticking a knife in it, she just lays a hand on his back, coaxing him into a sitting position. “You want to die, you can do it yourself.”
Lizzy sits down next to him, casually resting an arm on a drawn-up knee. “Don’t suppose you’re for hire?” she asks, as though she’s inquiring about nothing more than the weather forecast. “I’ve a little shit I need dead.”
“Don’t we all?” Daud says darkly, thinking of Havelock and Martin. “But I’m not in the business anymore, Lizzy. If you want someone dead, you can do it yourself.”
“Noted,” Lizzy says, in a dreadful mimic of Daud’s voice. “Guess it’s for the better anyway. I don’t want to give anyone else the pleasure of gutting that son of a bitch Wakefield. I owe him for the knife he planted in my back.”
Daud thinks of Billie, and what he would’ve had to do had she not voluntarily placed her life in his hands. “It’s a situation I’m familiar with.”
“Lurk finally screwed you over, huh?” Lizzy’s smile is all pointed teeth. “I could’ve told you that would happen. Pity, though. She had a nice ass.”
“I could’ve told you about Wakefield,” he shoots back. “And his ass is terrible.”
Lizzy cackles merrily at that. “Ain’t that the truth,” she mutters. “I’ll just make do without a second-in-command this time.”
“Don’t. You’ll drown in your work,” Daud advises. “Just… choose someone you trust.”
His voice cracks at the word ‘trust’, and Lizzy raises an eyebrow at him. “Lurk didn’t land you in the hole, did she?”
“Do I want to know?”
Lizzy accepts that, and they fall silent, soaking up the last rays of the light they’ve been denied in prison as the sun sets behind the water.
Only when the sun is well and truly gone does Lizzy speak. “Well, I’ve got a traitor to kill and some fingers to collect,” she says as she gets to her feet. “Are you coming with?”
Daud manages a smile. “Much as I appreciate your technique for cutting off fingers, Lizzy, I think I’ll pass.”
She prepares to jump off the low roof, but before she does, she looks back. “Hey, Daud?”
“I know you saved my ass in there,” Lizzy admits, spitting out the words as though they’re wine turned sour. “I’m not ungrateful. If you ever need anything…”
“I’ll know where to find you,” Daud finishes for her. “Thank you, Lizzy.”
She nods once, and then she’s gone, no doubt heading for Draper’s Ward immediately. If Daud hadn’t become so intimately familiar with the feeling of betrayal these past few months, he might have felt sorry for Wakefield.
He should go himself. It won’t be long now before the guards realise he’s not in his cell, and he’s still too close to the prison for comfort. Once they sound the alarm, the whole city will be on high alert. And Daud refuses to go back.
What he needs is a place to rest. He hauls himself to his feet with some difficulty, the mere act of standing feeling like a burden. Transversing is worse, but he does it anyway, zipping across the rooftops three at a time before he has to rest, letting what little magical energy he has restore itself before moving on. Getting out of the Palace District takes longer than he’s comfortable with, but the alarm still hasn’t sounded by the time he reaches the outskirts, and he slows down when he finds himself in a quarantined street.
This part of the city is silent, even the weepers long dead and cold, and Daud transverses through the window of the first decent structure he finds. It’s an old manor, already fallen into disrepair since the plague, but the structure is sturdy and the top floor is blessedly devoid of bodies, both alive and dead.
Daud barricades the door as best he can, settles down in a corner, and promptly falls asleep.
He wakes in the Void what feels like seconds later.
All he can do is sigh. “What is it now?” he mumbles to the air, not even bothering to get up. “Just let me sleep for once.”
“But where would the fun in that be?”
The Outsider is perched atop a precariously stacked pile of rubble, his legs crossed and his expression, as always, the picture of apathy. “There was a time when you relished in my visits.”
“There was a time when I wasn’t tired,” Daud says, even if he can hardly remember such a time anymore. “I’m done, you black-eyed bastard. I tried, and I failed. Now let me rest.”
The Outsider cocks his head. “I will live,” he says, but it’s not his own voice that comes out of his mouth; it’s Daud’s, “and I will fix what I broke.”
“Such conviction,” Daud drawls, recalling his last conversation with the deity. He snorts in disdain at himself. “Naïveté, more like.”
“Strange, isn’t it,” the Outsider muses, appearing to sit cross-legged before Daud, “how there’s always a little more innocence left to lose. Twice you were betrayed, and twice you survived. Are you really giving up now?”
Daud glowers at him. “What do I have left to fight for?” he bites out, his hands clenching into fists involuntarily. “They’re all dead.”
“Are they really?”
“Don’t,” Daud growls. “Just don’t.”
The Outsider laces his fingers together and rests his chin upon them. “Emily is alive,” he offers mildly. “And you are her Royal Protector.”
Daud scoffs. “I am not.”
“When I’m Empress,” the Outsider says, except now it’s Emily’s young voice that forms the words, “I want you to be my Royal Protector.”
“That was before,” Daud mutters, but the familiar feeling of guilt has his stomach churning.
“You would leave her with the Admiral and the Overseer who incarcerated you?” the Outsider inquires. “With the men who poisoned your beloved?”
Daud closes his eyes, and for once, he is allowed the darkness he desires. Thomas is dead. His men are dead. He knows this. He laments it. He despises it. But Daud is alive. Whether or not he wants to be, he is alive. Emily is alive, too. The precocious little Empress who placed her trust in her mother’s murderer, the brave girl who demanded to be taught how to fight, the clever child whose mind he saved from Delilah’s ministrations – she is alive. And Daud made her a promise.
“Alright, fine, you black-eyed –”
He opens his eyes, and the Void is gone.
The Outsider’s voice laughs in his ear, though the deity is nowhere to be seen. “You have been betrayed by two,” it imparts the leviathan’s last wisdom, “but there are three.”
Daud waits for more, but it doesn’t come. “What the fuck does that mean?” he demands, but of course, there is no reply. “Give me a straight answer for once, dammit!”
He is not given a straight answer, or any answer at all.
With a huff, Daud leans back into the wall he’d chosen to fall asleep against, mulling the Outsider’s words over in his mind. For all the cryptic bullshit he spouts, the Void God never fails to attach weight to his statements. If he says there will be a third betrayal in Daud’s future, there will be.
Yet Daud knows, instinctively, that the Outsider wasn’t talking of a third betrayal. It would be too easy a conclusion to draw from his words, for one, and for another, the Outsider is obviously not in the habit of warning him about such matters. Not even Corvo’s Heart had been able to tell him there was poison in their drinks, or that Martin was lurking in their attic room. The failure to realise the Loyalists’ betrayal is wholly Daud’s own.
But then the Loyalist Conspiracy consisted of three key colluders. Two of them ambushed Daud and Thomas in the attic room. The third stayed downstairs.
Could it be possible that Pendleton did not intend to betray him? The nobleman has never been particularly brave, and he would not want to make an enemy of the Knife of Dunwall and his Whalers. He also wouldn’t want to make an enemy of Havelock and Martin, surely, but when forced to choose, it’s feasible to believe he would be more frightened of the infamous band of assassins than of an Admiral and an Overseer.
“Pendleton,” he murmurs aloud, and a sensation like a caress ghosts across his unscarred cheek. It’s as much a confirmation as he’ll get.
He’ll begin at Pendleton Manor, then. The Hound Pits are likely long abandoned, and Daud doesn’t dare set foot in Rudshore again. If he wants to know Emily Kaldwin’s whereabouts, Pendleton Manor is the best place to start.
Daud stands, the motion suspiciously easy all of a sudden. His aches are all but gone, his magical energy replenished in full. The Outsider, it seems, has chosen a side this time.
“Thank you,” he says begrudgingly.
He receives no answer, but he knows the Outsider is pleased. He can feel it in his bones.
The Estate District is not far from Coldridge, and his newfound vigour carries him forward quickly, without the need to stop. The aristocrats’ stomping ground has not been spared by the plague, many once grand estates now empty and dilapidated, but some have withstood the death and decay, like weeds unwilling to be pulled from the garden. Boyle Manor is one, having thrived under the Lord Regent’s protection; true to Daud’s suspicions, Pendleton Hall is another, light flooding from several of its windows.
He transverses up to one of the highest balconies, hoping to be allowed entry into the manor through a conveniently unlocked window. No one in their right mind would believe someone could make it all the way up here from the outside, after all, and Daud has rarely come across a noble who wasn’t arrogant enough to leave at least some of the doors and windows up high unbarred.
But of course, Pendleton has more reason to be paranoid than most, especially now, and he knows of the Whalers’ abilities. Though most of the rooms upstairs are dark, they are all meticulously sealed.
Lamenting the loss of his equipment, particularly his glass cutter, Daud slinks over to the next balcony. There’s light flooding through the glass doors, and Daud has to stay atop the balustrade and flatten himself against the wall to keep his shadow from being noticeable. There are people in this room, two of them, but the door is unlatched. It’s his best way in; he just has to bend time and slip inside unnoticed, like he’s done a million times before.
His hand is already clenched into a fist when one of the men inside speaks, and it’s all he can do not to slip off the balustrade and crack his head open on the pavement below. “You have to eat something.”
The voice is warm, its tone exasperated, the accent clinging to the vowels unmistakably Serkonan. It’s a voice Daud has heard thousands of times before, spread across the near two decades he’s known the man it belongs to. It’s a voice he never thought he’d hear again.
Rulfio is alive.
Daud sags against the wall, letting the building carry most of his weight as the feeling of relief crashes over him like a tidal wave. One of his men is alive, which means others might be, too – and even if they aren’t, even if Rulfio is the only one who escaped from Rudshore unscathed, that is more than Daud ever thought to hope for. If Rulfio is all that is left, he’ll still be a happy man.
And then the second man in the room replies, and Daud forgets how to breathe altogether.
“Dinner can wait. I have to look this over first.”
A sigh. “That’s what you said about lunch.”
“This is important, Rulfio.”
“I know. I know that. But you shouldn’t neglect to take care of yourself. After what happened –”
Silence, and then: “Alright. You’re the boss. We’ll save you some chowder.”
“Thank you. Dismissed.”
The sound of a door opening, closing. And then Daud can hear nothing but his own heart palpitating, the noise so loud it’s as though Corvo Attano is back in his pocket, ready to deliver a scathing comment about something or another. But this is not another’s Heart, entrusted to him by an uncaring deity; this is his own, beating as though it wants to leave his chest, to reach for the man inside the room and pour itself out to him.
And really, it’s long past time for Daud to listen to it.
He steps down onto the balcony, opens the glass doors. The room he enters is not a bedroom, as he’d suspected, but an office of sorts. A large oak desk is strewn with papers, as is part of the floor around it, not unlike Daud’s old office in Rudshore, but it’s the walls that really stand out. They are covered with maps, pictures, and notes, half of the collage dedicated to a place called Kingsparrow Island, the other focused entirely on Coldridge Prison, and specifically, how to break into Coldridge Prison.
That particular part of the wall is being closely scrutinised by the only person capable of sending his heart aflutter like this.
Daud clears his throat, and the man whips around to face him.
You know how in the game, if you save Geoff Curnow, Callista tells you that 'he's a good man, and one day he'll prove it' and then you never hear from him again? Wasted potential, have some Geoff being awesome.
Also I love Lizzy Stride with all my heart.
Thomas looks dreadful.
His face is drawn and gaunt, his skin pallid, his hair greasy. An uncharacteristic stubble covers his chin, and there are heavy bags underneath his deep-set eyes. It’s as though the past few weeks have aged him by a decade.
“Daud?” he croaks, staring at Daud with something akin to hope in his expression before his eyes cloud over and he shakes his head.
Void, when was the last time he slept?
Daud takes a step towards Thomas, needing to touch him, needing to know that this is real. “Thomas –”
“No,” Thomas snarls, backing away. “Daud is in prison. They took him. They took him and I couldn’t stop them.” His breath hitches, and he closes his eyes to stop tears from falling. “I failed him. I know that.”
The look of anguish on his face is heartwrenching, and Daud knows there is only one thing he can do to convince Thomas he is not a phantasm. He reaches for him, not physically, but with the Void, letting his magic bridge the distance between them. The Arcane Bond was not, as he feared, broken because all of his men are dead, but because Daud himself had been cut off from the Void for so long, and now it restores itself with a crackle of electricity that sends a shiver down his spine.
Thomas’ eyes fly open when the surge of power overtakes him, a few tears escaping him as he gapes at Daud, truly seeing him as a man rather than a mirage. “Daud,” he gasps. “How…?”
Daud holds his gaze as he steps ever closer. “You have not failed me,” he says firmly, wanting nothing more than for Thomas to see the truth in those words. “You could never.”
Tears are flowing freely down Thomas’ cheeks now, and in lieu of words, he reaches for Daud, laying a trembling hand on his forearm. It’s a tentative touch that quickly turns into a vice grip, and Daud pulls him in, holds him close and basks in his warmth. This is real. This is real. This is Thomas. Thomas is alive.
“I thought you were dead,” he murmurs into Thomas’ hair like a secret. “I thought they’d killed you.”
Thomas releases a shuddering breath. “I’m not so easy to kill.”
Daud thinks of all he has endured, from growing up in an abusive noble household to the last time someone drove a blade through his abdomen, a mere month ago, and is inclined to agree. “Good,” he rumbles, idly stroking a hand up and down Thomas’ back. “I can’t…” Bear to lose you. Imagine life without you. Keep going on my own. The words stick in his throat.
He’s always been better with his actions than his words in any case, so he does the one thing he can, the one thing he’s wanted to do for far too long now. The one thing he should have done quite a while ago.
Daud’s fingers brush Thomas’ cheek, holding his face in his hands with a feather-light touch, and he inches forward until he can feel Thomas’ breath on his lips.
“Thomas,” he breathes the name like a question.
“Please,” Thomas whispers as an answer.
Daud leans in.
Their kiss is a soft thing, gentle and chaste, but Daud feels it in every fibre of his being, knows he will not forget this sensation until the day he merges with the Void and his soul ceases to exist. For his soul belongs to the man in his arms, wholly and unconditionally, and there is not a power in this world or the one beyond that can change that.
This is real, he reminds himself again. This is real. This is Thomas.
When they break apart, Daud takes a deliberate step back, needing the distance to compose himself. He cannot afford to lose himself in this, not yet, not while Emily Kaldwin is being held captive and the Empire remains on the brink of disintegration. Not while he doesn’t even know whether or not all of his Whalers made it out of Rudshore unscathed.
“The others,” he demands, his voice low and gravelly in the back of his throat. “Are they alive?”
His tone has Thomas snap into his customary parade rest, and it’s almost as if nothing between them has changed. Almost. “Yes.”
They’re all dead.
Are they really?
The black-eyed bastard knew, of course. It’s quite possibly the one time in his life he laments not listening to the leviathan.
“Tell me what happened.”
They sit on an old couch, stored up here to await reupholstering, and Daud holds one of Thomas’ hands between his own, grounding himself in the touch.
“The night we returned from Dunwall Tower, Havelock and Martin planned to dissolve the whole conspiracy,” Thomas begins to explain. “They didn’t just want us dead, but most of the others as well. Anyone who wasn’t of immediate use to them was to die, Lady Boyle and Mr. Higgins among them. Lord Pendleton was… not in agreement.”
“He was scared,” Daud supplies. While he is grateful for the nobleman’s support, he has no illusions as to his motivations, and he knows they have nothing to do with loyalty. “He wondered when his own usefulness would run its course.”
Thomas nods. “We could have killed his brothers, and Lady Boyle, but we didn’t. He remembered that.”
“So what did Pendleton do?”
“He pretended to go along with the betrayal until the last moment. While you and I were upstairs with the Admiral and the High Overseer, Lord Pendleton rounded up everyone at the Hound Pits. The plan was to send the Empress and Lady Boyle across the river with Samuel while everyone else travelled to the Flooded District through the sewers. It allowed them the opportunity to warm Rulfio of the Overseers’ planned surge, and gave them the means to travel to the Estate District.”
“But Havelock and Martin have Emily,” Daud points out. The Outsider told him as much, and this is not something the black-eyed bastard would lie to him about.
“She was up in her tower. They couldn’t get to her in time, not without endangering everyone else.” Thomas smiles melancholically. “Callista hasn’t stopped blaming herself for it.”
He can only imagine how the governess must feel, having been forced to abandon her charge like that. If only he hadn’t given Emily that audiograph. “What about us?” he inquires next. “How did you get here?” And why, pray tell, did Daud end up in Coldridge?
“Our drinks were poisoned. Havelock and Martin wanted our bodies intact, to present the Empress’ murderers to the public and cement their rule.” That much Daud already knew. “According to Samuel, they would have left us up in the attic while they took care of the others and secured the Empress. Our remains were to be collected for presentation once they were safely hidden away at Kingsparrow Island.”
Clever, clean, and methodical. It reeks of Martin.
“Lord Pendleton had Samuel dispense a half-dose of the poison in each of our drinks,” Thomas continues. “Enough to make it seem deadly, but not enough to actually kill. He wanted to have some of the Whalers fetch us, once Havelock and Martin were gone, but…”
“I didn’t drink,” Daud draws the conclusion, the irony of it not lost on him. “They took me with them. They had no choice.”
“We lost both you and the Empress, and we couldn’t do a damn thing to get either of you back,” Thomas mutters angrily. “Rulfio and I have been trying to formulate a plan for breaking into Coldridge, or storming Kingsparrow Island, but without our magic…” He sighs, frustrated, and runs his free hand through his hair. “We kept going in circles. I can still hardly believe you managed to get out on your own.”
“Not on my own,” Daud corrects him. “I had some help.”
Thomas raises an eyebrow at that. “From whom?”
“Callista’s uncle?” Thomas inquires, and when Daud nods, he smiles. “It seems we’ve amassed a bit of good karma.”
Good karma. Less than a year ago, the very notion would have made Daud scoff. Now, he chuckles, and presses a kiss to the back of Thomas’ hand. “I’d say so.”
Thomas stares at the spot where Daud’s lips met his skin, a faint blush colouring his cheeks. “Daud,” he draws out the syllable, dragging his eyes up to meet Daud’s, “what is this?”
“I don’t know,” Daud mutters, and that, as always, is the truth. “But I’d like to find out.”
“As would I,” Thomas says, but there is uncertainty in his tone. “I just – I need to know if…”
He falters, and Daud realises what he needs to hear. “You are my partner,” he echoes the words he spoke when Thomas woke up in the infirmary after their excursion to Holger Square, “and I care for you. More than I expected to. More than I thought myself capable of.” More than he wanted to, at times. “I may not know what this is yet, but you are the only one I want to find out with.”
Thomas laughs, a soft and melodic sound that exudes happiness. “Void, Daud,” he breathes, “it’s always been you. It’ll only ever be you.”
Daud kisses him again.
It’s Thomas who pulls away, his face flushed beautifully. “The others will want to know you’re back,” he says, and Daud has to smile at the reluctance in his voice.
Daud hums in acknowledgement. “We’ll have time,” he promises. “Once we get Emily back, we’ll have time.”
And he won’t waste any of it. Not ever again.
They leave the sanctuary of the impromptu office, and Thomas leads Daud to a small balcony that overlooks the dining room on the floor below, which is currently occupied by a small legion of Whalers and a few members of the disbanded Loyalists. Dinner is a subdued affair, not at all like the cheerful gatherings at Rudshore, but the very fact that his Whalers are alive and well and not locked up in Holger Square is everything Daud could have ever wanted.
He steps up to the balustrade, the balcony giving him an excellent platform to announce his return, but before he can speak, the loudspeaker just outside crackles to life, and it delivers his message for him.
“Attention, Dunwall citizens. The assassin Daud, the Knife of Dunwall, responsible for the murders of various upstanding individuals and the prime suspect in the murder of our fair Empress, has temporarily escaped state custody. Any evidence as to his whereabouts must be delivered to the City Watch at once.”
A stunned silence is left in the wake of the announcement, and Daud seizes the opportunity to renew the Arcane Bond, letting his magic latch on to those who have sworn him loyalty. The tethers fasten, their strength undiminished by the time Daud has spent incarcerated, and Daud is whole again.
“Fuckin’ Void, the boss got out,” Patrick is the first to speak, sounding positively gobsmacked. “How the fuck did he –”
“Discipline,” Daud rumbles from his place on the balcony, “and a bit of black magic.”
They need a ship.
After his return is thoroughly jubilated and he’s gorged himself on the chowder Wallace prepared for dinner, Rulfio tells him as such. Emily Kaldwin is being held at Kingsparrow Island, a heavily fortified islet just off the coast of Dunwall, where Hiram Burrows erected a lighthouse meant to serve as the ultimate safe house. Extracting the Empress is a job that requires considerable manpower, and Samuel’s trusty Amaranth can barely carry two of them, if Emily is to be the third passenger on the trip back home.
Luckily, Daud knows exactly where to find a proper vessel. Lizzy still owes him that favour, after all.
He spends most of the evening giving instructions and pouring over what little information his Whalers have collected on Kingsparrow Island. They’ll be going in near blind, but in great numbers. Daud has allotted a handful of his men to the security of Pendleton Manor, just in case Havelock and Martin decide to set their sights on the nobleman’s household, and he’s also instructed Zachary and Kieron to find Geoff Curnow and protect him as best they’re able, but everyone else will join the rescue of the Empress.
It’s well past midnight before he retires. Pendleton has Wallace set him up in a Lord’s chamber, one that used to belong to either of the twins, and Daud’s distaste for the lavish décor is overtaken only by the heavenly feel of a hot bath and a mattress at his back after a fortnight trapped in the stocks.
The mattress doesn’t do much to combat his nightmares, however, Emily dying a gruesome death at his own hands at least a dozen times, and restful sleep is not attainable. Not by himself, at least.
He reaches for Thomas with the Arcane Bond, a short tug that’s not a summons, but a request.
Thomas appears at his bedside almost immediately. “Daud?”
“I can’t sleep,” Daud mutters.
“Should I heat you some ox milk?” Thomas asks, and Daud almost laughs at the sincerity of his tone. It’s funny; if he’d posed this conundrum to Billie, she might have said the same thing, but not nearly as kindly. But then he would never have dared to show Billie this much vulnerability – this much weakness – in the first place.
“I haven’t properly slept since the Empress,” Daud elaborates, “except for those nights at the Hound Pits. With you.”
The invitation is clear, but Thomas hesitates. “Neither have I,” he admits. “But here, the others –”
“The others can deal with it,” Daud grumbles, and he means that. “I’m tired, dammit.”
It’s all the encouragement Thomas needs. He lowers himself onto the bed, carefully, and Daud pulls him close, Thomas’ head resting comfortably in the space between his shoulder and his neck. “Alright?” he asks, even if his eyelids are already starting to droop.
“Hmm,” Thomas returns with equal eloquence, preferring to answer by pressing his lips softly against Daud’s jugular.
Daud’s sleep is sound and dreamless.
They leave not long after dawn, Daud and Thomas moving out first, to be followed by the rest of the Whalers in teams of five. They’ll need the collective force of their family to pull off this mission, but moving across the city in a group that large, even if they have supernatural abilities, is just asking for trouble.
When Daud and Thomas arrive at the waterfront of Draper’s Ward, they are met with the gruesome sight of a severely mutilated corpse hanging from a tree, in full view of anyone who dares set foot in the Dead Eels’ turf. Daud only recognises him as Edgar Wakefield by a mostly intact tattoo on his upper arm, a poorly-drawn rendition of a mermaid no one else would ever think to adorn their body with.
Lizzy must have had a busy night. Daud is almost sorry he has to disturb her.
He signals Thomas, and they transverse down to ground level, revealing their presence to the Eels lumbering about. No one stops them, not even when they make their way onto the Undine and down below deck to the Captain’s quarters. With Lizzy back in charge, the truce between their gangs holds strong.
As expected, Lizzy is still asleep, snoring away peacefully in her own bed. The room reeks of blood.
Daud leans in close. “Wake up, Lizzy.”
She flails, reaching for the knife she keeps underneath her pillow, but Daud is faster, pinning down her arms with a single fluid movement. “I’m not telling you shit!” she exclaims furiously, trashing in his grasp. “Wait… who?”
She goes slack. “Whoever sent you, I’ll pay double.”
Daud slaps her across the face. “Wake up, Stride.”
“Fuck!” she curses, sitting bolt upright. “You do that again, I’ll hang you next to that son of a bitch Wakefield, you hear me?”
“Loud and clear,” Daud says calmly, stepping back. “I want to cash in my favour.”
She snorts. “The fuck happened to you?” she demands, regarding him, freshly bathed and shaven and with renewed fire in his eyes. “You were a dead man walking yesterday.”
“That was yesterday,” he shrugs, even if he knows how he must have looked, having all but given up his will to live. “This is today.”
Lizzy chuckles, and then her gaze shifts to Thomas, who’s standing behind Daud with one hand poised on the hilt of his blade, ready to draw at a moment’s notice. “Who’s the pretty boy?”
“Is that right?” She sounds amused. “So that’s why you never hooked up with Lurk. You’ve a thing for blonds.”
There was a time when he would have vehemently denied it. “Your point?”
Lizzy shrugs. “You got good taste, I’ll give you that.”
“Why, thank you,” Daud drawls. “Now, the matter at hand?”
“Yeah, yeah, the fuck do you need, Daud?”
“I need you to take my men and myself to Kingsparrow Island.”
Lizzy lets out a low whistle. “Kingsparrow, huh? You got a score to settle with our new esteemed Lord Regent and his pet Overseer?”
“No. I’ve got a score to settle with our new esteemed High Overseer and his pet Regent,” Daud corrects. The Heretic’s Brand is safely tucked away in his coat, freshly doused in the wicked chemical compound whose formula Chester managed to unravel while he was in Coldridge. He’s not sure he can let Martin live, his mind too sharp to leave unchecked, but he’ll damn well ensure the Abbey publicly denounces him, dead or alive.
“Should’ve guessed you had more of an issue with the zealot,” Lizzy grins. “Alright, Old Knife. I was planning on taking to the waters anyway.”
She gets out of bed and haphazardly throws on some clothes, utterly uncaring of the two men in her bedroom. “Give me a bit to get these idiots into gear and I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
“Thank you, Lizzy.”
“Can it with the thanks,” she spits, but there is little bite in her tone. “I’m only settling the score.”
She pushes past him to move above deck, and Daud can hear her barking orders only seconds later.
They’ll be at Kingsparrow Island before noon.
YAS, f i n a l l y.
Also, in case anyone is curious re: the Loyalists' betrayal (if not feel free to skip this): I wondered early on whether having Daud as the protagonist instead of Corvo would change the outcome of the conspiracy, and I quickly realised it would all come down to Pendleton. I think Havelock would have jumped at the opportunity to kill Daud; he still has this skewed sense of honour that would make him hate having to hire a criminal in the first place, so he'd be more than happy to rid the city of the gang of assassins. Martin would be less eager; he knows the Whalers are dangerous enemies to make, and I think he would have been fine with letting Daud and his men leave for Serkonos - but that was before Emily named Daud and Thomas her Royal Protector and Spymaster. They were given too much power, too much influence over the Empress, and that's when Martin decided they had to go. But Pendleton? The man who, according to Callista, 'just went along with [Havelock and Martin]' because he is a coward? Yeah, he's not making an enemy out of the Knife of Dunwall and his men. I mean, Corvo was just one man, with no support system whatsoever - the whole city hated him because they believed he killed Jessamine, so once they succeeded in killing him, it was done. But Daud has the Whalers, plus his connections in the criminal underworld, and Pendleton, as a certified coward, would much rather take his chances with Havelock and Martin, thank you very much.
And if all that means I have an excuse to leave Wallace and Lydia alive, all the better ^_^
Kingsparrow Island is a minefield.
Officers of the City Watch and Warfare Overseers alike are patrolling what seems to be every inch of the islet, aided by a Watchtower and several Walls of Light and Arc Pylons. The path to the lighthouse is linear and devoid of hiding places, and there is only one way to the top. A single man, even one Marked by the Outsider, would be hard-pressed to traverse the place unscathed.
Luckily, Daud brought an army.
“Jenkins, Rinaldo, take your teams and secure the beach. Rulfio, Killian, the fort. Quinn, wait for the all-clear and scout the gatehouse. Thomas, with me.”
A chorus of voices answers him, loud and clear. “Yes, Master Daud.”
He won’t leave anything to chance. They’ll take down every last guard, dismantle every piece of technology if they have to. Emily’s safety comes first.
He’s already failed the Empress one too many times. He refuses to do so again.
The Whalers transverse from the Undine’s deck up to the natural cliffs that protect the island and keep the Dead Eels’ ship out of sight. The vantage point up here is excellent, and while their men scatter to perform their respective jobs, Daud and Thomas set to disabling Sokolov’s security devices. The Watchtower goes first, then the Arc Pylons, then one of the Walls of Light. They work quickly, methodically, while all around them guards are put into swift Tyvian chokeholds or downed by a dart filled with sleep toxin.
The shores are taken over within minutes.
Daud leaves Jenkins and her team to watch over the hard-earned part of the island while he and Thomas move ahead, into the fortress proper. The fort is more dangerous, at least for the likes of them – Overseers are everywhere, music boxes in abundance. Daud and Thomas assist Killian’s team in taking them down, making sure to toss any music box they get their hands on into the raging ocean below.
They’re making good progress when Misha appears at his side. “Rulf sent me. There’s a snag on the western side, sir,” she reports briskly. “The High Overseer’s holed up there with a whole bloody battalion. Three dozen of them, at least.”
Daud cannot help the low chuckle that bubbles up his throat. “He knows we’re coming,” he deduces, because there is no other reason Martin would deny himself his rightful place at the top of the lighthouse. “He’s taking his last stand.”
“What do we do, sir?” Misha asks.
“We take him down,” Daud says simply. “Go back to your team. Stay out of sight, and wait for my signal.”
She vanishes, and Daud summons Rinaldo to his side in her stead. “How many Overseers have we taken out by now?”
“About a dozen, give or take. Most of the zealots are huddled up with their overlord near the gatehouse.”
That’s more than enough. “Find a secure place for them and take their uniforms, then meet us on the western side of the fort. Get Killian to cover you.”
His plan doesn’t need an explanation. “Got it, boss,” Rinaldo grins. “One order of Holger turning in his grave, coming right up.”
“Be quick about it,” Daud orders. “If Martin catches on to what we’re doing, he’ll have ancient music blasting through the loudspeakers before you can say Whitecliff.”
Rinaldo salutes him and goes immediately, leaving Daud and Thomas alone atop the battlements.
“Do you think Martin will be fooled by Whalers in disguise?” Thomas asks as he steps up to stand beside Daud, sounding mildly anxious. “He has that rather unfortunate habit of knowing things we don’t want him to know.”
“We don’t need him to be fooled for long. We just need to split up his forces,” Daud says evenly, even though he too can feel his stomach churning. Martin cannot see through this ruse, or the ancient music will have them dead in the water. “If Rinaldo’s team can draw away some of his men, we can take out the rest of them in one fell swoop.”
Daud can bend time to give them an edge, but they’ll only have one shot to get rid of all the Overseers. He needs seconds, precious seconds they won’t have, to recuperate between the use of that draining power, and Daud is the only person who can truly stop time in its tracks, though Thomas and Rulfio – and Billie, before – have the ability to slow it down.
“Here,” he says, producing the cloth-wrapped Heretic’s Brand from his coat and handing it to Thomas. “I’ll need to focus on stopping time. Make sure that son of a Void doesn’t escape the consequences of his actions.”
There’s a grim determination on Thomas’ face. “He won’t. I’ll make sure of it.”
Daud squeezes his shoulder and kisses his temple. “We’ll be fine,” he murmurs, to himself as much as to Thomas. “He won’t know what hit him.”
Thomas leans into his touch. “Oh, he’ll know what hit him,” he says, tightly clutching the Heretic’s Brand. “And I hope it hurts.”
Daud does, too. “Then make it so.”
Thomas nods and rights himself, steel in his eyes. “We should go, let Rulfio know not to shoot Rinaldo and the others on sight when they arrive dressed as Overseers.”
“Lead the way.”
They make their way to the western side and up the supports, where Rulfio’s team is lying in wait high above the delegation of Overseers. Daud relays his plan to his third-in-command, who has been in his employ long enough not to be shocked by anything Daud comes up with.
“Got it,” is all he says, even if Leonid and Montgomery are staring at Daud as though he’s lost his marbles. “Leo, go down to the beach and tell Jenny, alright? Don’t want them to start firing on Rin when he leads them down there.”
“Eh, I’d wanna see that.”
“Leonid, for Void’s sake –”
“Alright, I’m going, old man.”
Rinaldo and his team appear scarce minutes after Leonid has left, dressed impeccably in Overseers’ uniforms. “We’re ready, sir.” His voice sounds tinny from behind the snarling face of Holger.
“Get the Overseers’ attention and draw them down to the beach,” Daud orders. “Jenkins will be waiting for you there, and Killian will split his forces to assist where necessary. Don’t blow your cover until you’re out of the fort.”
“Don’t worry, boss,” Feodor says jovially from behind his own golden mask. “I wasn’t in theatre for nothing.”
Daud is quite incapable of not worrying. “Be careful, the lot of you. Now go.”
“Yes, Master Daud,” the chorus of hushed voices rings out, and Rinaldo’s team vanishes with the Void.
Seconds later, pounding footsteps can be heard on the walkway below. “He’s here!” Feodor’s panicked voice rings out, sounding properly out of breath. “The heretic Daud, he’s here!”
The effect is instantaneous. Chaos erupts amongst the Overseers, some calling for blood, others for retreat, and all of them distinctly afraid of the mythical man who’s been touched by the Outsider and escaped the impregnable prison the new Lord Regent put him in.
“Settle down!” Martin’s voice rings out, calm and clear. “We’ve prepared for this. Brother Franklin, play the ancient music over the speakers. Vice Overseer Windham, you and your platoon go and take care of the intruder.” He sounds anything but worried. “He won’t get far.”
The Overseers scatter, just as Daud hoped they would. “Rulfio,” he mutters, “the speakers.”
Rulfio goes after Franklin, and Daud waits, his Void Gaze showing him the progress of Feodor and the Overseers he’s leading away, quickly joined by Rinaldo and the others as they hurry away from the fort and down to the beach.
When they’re far enough away, Daud clenches his Marked hand into a fist. “Now.”
His order is given as he bends time, and the Overseers left in the fort freeze in their tracks.
Things go much more smoothly than he could have hoped. His men are impeccable, each of them taking down at least three Overseers in the small window of opportunity Daud can give them outside of time. Music boxes are taken and destroyed; grenades are pocketed for personal use. Long before Daud’s power runs out, only Martin is left.
He transverses down, wrenches the High Overseer’s arms behind his back and pushes him down to his knees before he allows time to resume.
“What the –” is all Martin can get out before Daud yanks on his arm and he cuts himself off with a cry of pain.
“You,” Martin hisses, trying in vain to twist out of Daud’s ironclad lock. “My men – what happened, what did you do?”
“Time is fickle,” Daud rumbles into his ear. “But she likes to be held, on occasion.”
That gives Martin pause. “You can stop time,” he concludes, his voice equal parts disdain and awe. “By the Strictures, if I’d known the Mark gave you that kind of power… I’d have considered it.”
That is news. “The Outsider offered you his Mark?”
Martin chuckles, low and mirthless. “It seems he has a type.”
“Moralless bastard? Some type.”
“Ah, I forgot. You prefer aristocrats,” Martin lilts, clearly attempting to hit where it hurts. “Tell me, what was it about him? You don’t strike me as shallow, Knife.”
Daud twists Martin’s arm up further, as far as it will go without snapping. “Loyalty.”
Martin has the audacity to laugh, despite the pain. “Adorable,” he grinds out between clenched teeth. “A pity that’s exactly what got him killed.”
“I’d rather say it’s what saved my life.”
Thomas’ voice is calm as he materialises from the shadows, but the steel has not left his eyes.
Martin stares at him, momentarily stunned, and then he lets his chin drop to his chest with a quiet huff of amusement. “I told Havelock not to trust Pendleton,” he mutters. “Damn him. And damn you, too. If you’d just up and disappeared like you were supposed to…” He sighs, shaking his head. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. I very much doubt you’ll let me leave this place alive.”
“That’s up to you,” Daud says, and Thomas unveils the Heretic’s Brand.
“You’re bluffing,” Martin exclaims upon seeing every Overseer’s worst nightmare, but he cannot quite mask his panic. “You don’t have the chemical compound.”
Thomas advances without saying a word to confirm or deny his statement, and Martin’s brave exterior crumbles a little more with every step he takes. “You can’t! They’ll cast me out! I can’t go back to the streets, I won’t!”
Daud fists a hand into his hair and roughly pulls up his head. “You really are the worst Overseer I’ve ever met,” he growls. “And you’re not dodging your retribution this time.”
Thomas presses the Heretic’s Brand to his face.
The raw scream that tears from Martin’s throat is a lovely sound.
Only when the damning brand is well and truly seared into his features does Thomas relent, and Martin sags in Daud’s arms, no fight left in the once proud conspirator. “So that’s it,” he spits, out of breath. “The High Overseer, ruined by a heretic and his pet noble. How poetic.”
Daud releases him and steps away, a sense of apathetic calm overtaking him as he removes his pistol from his belt. He hasn’t kept it loaded in a while now, not since the Empress, but he still carries the weapon and bullets on his person. Just in case.
He lays the pistol and a single bullet atop the table.
Daud nods at Thomas, and they transverse away without another word.
The gunshot rings out not a minute later.
They do not look back.
By the time they reach the gatehouse, Quinn’s team has already secured the parameter. “No issues, sir,” she reports proudly. “Once you took out the Overseers, this place was as good as ours.”
“Good work,” Daud commends her. “We’ll take it from here. Keep watch, and assist Rulfio if he asks.”
She salutes him. “Right away, sir.”
The elevator is unlocked and ready to carry them to the top of the lighthouse. It’s time to take the fight to Havelock, and get Emily Kaldwin out of his clutches once and for all.
Daud and Thomas go up alone, intending to finish this conspiracy as they started it: together.
Burrows Lighthouse is a massive structure, meticulously strengthened but sparsely furnished. There are only a few guards lumbering about here, and none of them are particularly vigilant. Clearly they’re not expecting anyone to make it across the waters, through the fort, and up to the lighthouse without anyone sounding the alarm. It’s not an unreasonable expectation. But it is an incorrect one.
Taking down the final few obstacles to their goal is no challenge, though it takes some effort to ensure none of the unconscious guards tumble off the side of the lighthouse to their certain deaths.
At the apartment up at the very top, Havelock is muttering to himself like a madman.
“This is all Martin’s fault,” he curses, pacing the length of the room. “If he hadn’t insisted we go to Daud for help. If Daud hadn’t been so damn good at his job. If Daud hadn’t broken out of Coldridge. If, if, if.” He knocks back the drink he’d been nursing, grimacing at the taste. “I know Daud is coming for me just like he came for the others. Crossing the island below like it’s nothing. It’s only a question of how and when. But I’m lacking a countermove. It’s all fallen apart.”
He hurls the glass across the room, shattering it against the wall. “Damn it all!”
Daud transverses behind him. “A guilty conscience weighs heavily, doesn’t it?”
Havelock whirls around, but does not, as Daud expected, go for his sword. “There he is,” he exclaims, his state of inebriation much more noticeable up close. “Right on time.”
“Where is Emily?” Daud demands.
“Oh, she’s safe. Can’t run an Empire without an Empress, after all,” Havelock guffaws mirthlessly at his private little joke. “She’ll be glad to see you. She’s been screaming at us for bringing her mother’s murderer to Coldridge ever since we got here. What a strange world we live in.”
Daud isn’t in the mood for his drunken lamentations. “Where is she, Havelock?”
“In her bedroom,” Havelock concedes, and he takes a key from the ring on his belt and throws it on the table beside him, taking a deliberate step away from it and from Daud. “What about Martin?”
“He’s dead.” It’s Thomas who answers, from his spot guarding the double doors leading back to the elevator; the only possible escape route.
Like Martin, Havelock stares at the man he thought he killed for a good few seconds, and then he chuckles self-deprecatingly. “I can’t believe that in the end, Pendleton was the smartest of us,” he says, shaking his head. “Well Daud, go ahead. Kill me. I won’t fight you.”
“When have I ever killed on your command?” Daud asks, clucking his tongue. “No. You aren’t dying today, Admiral.”
“You’re taking me to Coldridge?” Havelock scoffs. “You of all people should know it’s not the impregnable fortress it’s claimed to be.”
Daud’s answering grin is all teeth. “It will be.”
That’s the breaking point. In the blink of an eye, Havelock has drawn his blade and rushes at Daud with a scream of fury, all pretence of civility gone.
Thomas’ sleepdart hits his neck a split second later, and the disgraced Admiral falls at Daud’s feet.
Daud does not waste time. He snatches the key Havelock left him and stalks further into the apartment in search of Emily Kaldwin.
He doesn’t have to search long.
“You have to let me out! I’m the Empress!” he hears Emily’s voice call out, coupled with the unmistakable sound of fists pounding on a wooden door. “If you don’t let me out, I’m going to make you stand in a corner until you learn how to behave!”
Daud unlocks the door. “I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Daud?” Emily gasps, and then she leaps at him, almost tackling him into a hug. “Daud, it’s you! Admiral Havelock said you were – head chopped off, in the prison, because you killed mother.”
“I’m not so easy to kill,” Daud echoes Thomas’ words into her hair as he sinks to his knees and holds her close, so very relieved that she’s safe and uninjured and alive.
Emily pulls back and smiles at him, but there are tears forming in her eyes at the same time. “I’m glad you’re alright,” she says. “I thought – I thought, after Corvo left, that it had to be true, that you had to be dead. But you’re not!”
Her words are like a bullet through his heart. “Corvo’s gone?” he rasps.
She nods, and now the tears do fall, though she valiantly attempts to wipe them away. “He got weaker the longer we were here,” she sniffs. “Like he was… fading. And then a few days ago, he just disappeared completely.”
Of course. Daud’s been in prison for over a fortnight, cut off from the Void with no way for the Heart to return to him, even by magic. Of course Corvo’s gone.
“I’m sorry, Emily,” Daud says, cursing himself for being the reason she’s lost her father yet again. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” she says adamantly. “And… it’s okay, really. It was nice to have Corvo back for a while, but he wasn’t – he wasn’t him. He wasn’t whole. I think it’s better like this. Corvo can go be with mother, and I’ll be fine. As long as you’re my Protector, I’ll be fine.”
She smiles so bravely Daud can only attempt to return it, though it feels more like a grimace. “Alright, Empress,” he says, even if it certainly doesn’t feel alright. “Let’s get you home.”
Emily grabs a firm hold of his hand, and together they leave her prison behind.
Thomas is rifling through a pile of notes and audiographs when they return to the apartment’s main room, and Emily wastes no time demanding a hug from her Royal Spymaster as well. Daud takes the opportunity to look at the collection of evidence Thomas has uncovered, finding a severely damning log Havelock wrote, several audiographs that could be useful, and even Thaddeus Campbell’s infamous black book. It’s a treasure trove of information, and it will prove to Parliament beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lord Regent Havelock and High Overseer Martin did not obtain their positions through legal means.
They’ll have to sort through it properly later. Their first priority is getting Emily Kaldwin off this Voidforsaken island.
Daud tucks away the evidence and takes it upon himself to haul Havelock’s unconscious form over his shoulder, leaving Thomas to entertain the ten-year-old girl whose only company for more than two weeks has been Havelock, Martin, and the ever-fading Heart of her father. He’s inclined to believe he’s picked the easier task.
After getting off the elevator, Thomas lets Emily hop on his back, and they transverse their way back to the fort. In the middle of the eerily silent structure, Daud clenches his fist and summons the collective force of his Whalers. Emily gasps in surprise and wonder at the sheer number of people responding to his call.
“Status?” Daud demands of his men.
“The fort is secure,” Rulfio answers. “No issues. No injuries. No casualties.”
Exactly what he wanted to hear. “Good work. We’re heading home.”
The Undine is still anchored where they left her, and Lizzy almost immediately becomes the new target of Emily’s fascination.
“So, you’re like a real pirate, right? Have you ever seen a sea monster? Have you ever seen a mermaid? Have you ever killed someone? Oh, oh, have you ever met Black Sally?”
Thomas has a mildly concerned expression on his face. “I do hope our Empress ends this journey with all of her fingers intact.”
Daud chuckles, certain Lizzy wouldn’t hurt a child – well, not a child that’s one of Daud’s, at least – but he calls Jenkins over and asks her to keep an eye on the smuggler and the girl just in case. Jenkins likes Lizzy, and Lizzy likes Jenkins; she should prove an ample distraction if nothing else.
He leans his back against the gunwale next to Thomas, his arm lightly encircling his partner’s waist. “Last chance to ditch this city and run off to Serkonos.”
Thomas snorts a laugh. “As if you could,” he says fondly, nodding at Emily. “You’d have a stroke from guilt two weeks in and then we’d probably have to fight through another witch and three separate regents to get back to where we are now.”
He’s not wrong.
Daud and Thomas spend the trip back to the city sequestered from the others, watching Dunwall Tower loom up in the distance. In a matter of hours, their world will be seeped in a whole new sense of chaos, filled with court intrigue and noblemen and paperwork, all for the young Empress they’ve done wrong. For now, they’re content to watch Emily proudly demonstrate her swordplay to Lizzy, to hear Rinaldo squabble with Patrick over the proper rules of Nancy, to bask in one another’s presence, knowing full well it could all have gone wrong so very easily.
But they lived, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them, and Daud knows they can survive whatever this accursed world throws at them.
What will come will come.
The end! =D
... Well, sort of. Catch me already in the process of writing a sequel because these two idiots are long overdue some proper fluff. Keep an eye out for part two of this AU, tentatively titled How Much the Heart Can Hold, coming... as soon as I get it done!
Until then, a massive thank you to everyone who's stuck with me on this crazy ride. I love you all! <3