Chapter 1: Maybe I'm just crazy/You think you're funny?
1837, 27th Day, Month of Rain
One day in the Month of Rain Daud showed Corvo the mark.
There were many reasons Daud could have cited, had anyone asked him why. First and foremost, Empress Jessamine had told them after a disastrous meeting that nearly dissolved into a shouting match between Lord Protector and Spymaster that she expected more of them both. She’d said it with so much disappointment in her regal features and sadness in her voice that Daud had to compliment her on her acting skills, if only in the privacy of his mind. The whole lecture was nearly made worth it when Attano looked like a scolded schoolboy. (If Daud felt contrite at all, it was because he’d lost his cool, not because he felt like a scolded schoolboy, himself. If Billie didn’t stop insinuating that, he’d have to send her to check up on Granny Rags again)
It was true, he’d been Spymaster for over six months at that point, and even though they only worked together grudgingly, they should have reached some form of rapport with each other. For the sake of her majesty, at the very least. They hadn’t, though. They questioned each other’s methods at every point. Attano’s guard rotations, Daud’s information, nothing was good enough for the other, but after the whole Burrows situation Attano didn’t want to let anyone contribute to the selection of the guards, and Daud didn’t want to let anyone get their hands on his network.
Their problem was the constant mistrust that neither side did much to dissuade. Corvo was, justifiably, suspicious of Daud’s every move. He was the assassin that only changed sides because Burrows had gone insane and wanted to poison the poor with plague rats. (Daud had found out about this particular plan after Burrows had swamped the Whalers with work. Dozens of new contracts, all due until a very specific date. It wasn’t curiosity that drove him, Daud just couldn’t abide a mystery. He had needed to know for what he and his people were laying the groundwork, so he had sneaked into Boyle manor when Burrows was visiting his mistress, and from the attic above her room he could easily hear the old Spymaster whisper of his ludicrous plan. Ironically enough, a rat had rustled only an arm’s reach away from his boots as he listened. It watched him from beady eyes and then went on its’ merry way through the ducts of Boyle manor. A few months later, Burrows wanted to discuss the assassination of Jessamine Kaldwin. Six months after that, a new Spymaster took the place of the recently executed Hiram Burrows)
Daud, on the other hand, was both a naturally suspicious person and a big opponent of the nobility in general. He’d been in the business since he was a kid on the streets of Karnaca, and knew that everyone could have a knife hidden up their sleeve. Dunwall only taught him that people in fine clothing let others do their dirty work for them. Him, mostly. Trust was a weakness. He might have shared his mark and his trade with the whole of the Whalers, but even among them he only trusted a handful explicitly.
Since he’d come into employment in the Tower, this mistrust of nobles only grew. Sometimes he idly wondered if having to listen to them talk for hours on end was his punishment for murdering so many. It would be the black eyed bastard’s style.
The only exception to the rule was the Empress herself. Strangely enough, he didn’t mistrust her, because she had that strange yet powerful ability to make you believe in her. So it was a truth universally acknowledged among the Whalers that as long as they didn’t give Jessamine a good reason to throw him and his people to the wolfs, she wouldn’t. She took surprisingly good care of her allies (even if they were old, disillusioned assassins) and knew how to handle her enemies. If he didn’t screw up too badly (he was a professional, after all) and didn’t betray her (he didn’t think he would, at least not in the near future), he didn’t have a reason to mistrust her. Fear, maybe - For a woman that came up to his chin, she could be quite intimidating - but not mistrust. By extension, the same rules could be applied to Corvo. He was loyal to Jessamine and their daughter (Daud didn’t have to be the best connected man in the entire city to know that little bit of not-secret), and if they looked on the Knife of Dunwall in favor, their protector wouldn’t execute him in his sleep. He did take offense to Emily’s disturbing fascination with Daud, though.
Attano was clever, was the problem. It’s where a big part of that everburning suspicion stemmed from. He could feel that Daud wasn’t sharing everything, was holding back information with every report, and it kept the Lord Protector on edge. He would never trust Daud if this particular secret kept standing between them.
Additionally, it could strengthen his position as Spymaster by bringing more abilities into the arrangement. His Whalers were a band of supernatural assassins, strong, cunning, and through Daud gifted by the Outsider himself. They could reach places, could eliminate targets and get information like nobody else. They were infamous for their skill and efficiency, and every time he watched them work, every time he trained with them, he felt a fierce pride deep in his chest. Daud had been called the most notorious heretic in all of Gristol, himself, but even then, many believed the rumors of dark magic to be just that: rumors.
If Corvo knew, both he and Daud could use their resources more efficiently, and Daud could stop coming up with increasingly hairbrained reasons to get out of Abbey functions. In the last six months, he hadn’t been able to worm his way out of two. Both times the music boxes had left him with nausea, headaches and inconvenient nose bleeds that he managed to hide, but only barely. Her Majesty wasn’t all that devout. Keeping his secret from the Abbey would weigh on her conscience as heavily as a feather.
Those were all very logical reasons to reveal the mark to Attano. He’d thought about the subject since he held the letter with the Kaldwin seal in his hands, and had come to the decision that he would have to share that particular secret with Corvo and the Empress at some point. They were all on the tip of his tongue, should Corvo question his motives or Billy yell at him later. They were all excuses.
The real, honest reason why Daud showed Corvo the mark beneath the worn leather glove on that particular afternoon instead of in a carefully planned meeting with the Empress and her protector was simple, ugly boredom.
It had been raining for two weeks straight, the Wrenhaven was licking over the cobblestone streets, the sewers were flooded, and one couldn’t step in front of their door without getting drenched from both sides. Not even Slackjaws lot was in the mood to cause trouble. Weepers had been swept out of their hideouts, and had either gotten spat out in random parts of the city, or drifted out to the sea. The city watch had their work cut out for them, rounding up the stragglers. Once there was blood in their eyes, they couldn't be saved anymore anyway.
While the city drowned a little more every day, Daud had worked through all the paperwork towering on his desk, had tried training in the courtyard (and given up after Thomas had sneezed at him for the third time instead of blocking), had even socialized. Dinner with a bunch of nobles in the Pendleton manor had been as horrible as he had imagined. After the trial against his brothers, Treavor had taken over the family estate and business as the single remaining heir. He liked showing his gratefulness by talking Daud’s ears off.
Sometimes he really missed the days when they only spoke in his presence to plead for their lives. (on the nights following those days, he’d sometimes woke with a start and a vague memory of screaming and smoke and a voice being choked by blood)
Daud had been typing up a report about said dinner and the surprisingly boring gossip of the evening when the Lord Protector had stormed into his office with the mother of all scowls darkening his face. He had demanded to know how in void’s name Daud had come by the information about the Hatters’ plans of attack on the Bottle Street Gang. Daud had eyed him over the rim of his reading glasses, a lie on the tip of his tongue, but then he’d looked down on his report. Worthless drabble gathered on a worthless night. The rain was still beating against the windows.
With a sigh, Daud took off his glasses, looked up at Attano, and said, “Black magic.”
There was honest surprise on Attano’s face before his scowl came back with a vengeance.
“You think you’re funny?” he growled.
“Occasionally, but that has nothing to do with this,” Daud answered placidly.
Corvo huffed, shook his head, looked out the window. After regaining his composure, he turned back and said with a forcefully controlled voice, “Look, I understand that you don’t want to give up your sources, but don’t insult me! To get your hands on intel like this you’d need an informant in the Geezer’s inner circle. We could use that to our advantage and get a hold of the leaders of both gangs.”
After a moment of consideration, Daud allowed, “A few of the Hatter boys owe me a favor or two, but none of them come even close to the Geezer and his nurse.”
“Then how do you have this information?!”
Daud let the tiniest of quirks settle on his lips, and answered, “Black magic.”
“You can’t be serious,” Corvo said tersely, and Daud shrugged.
Corvo actually started rubbing the bridge of his nose. He had the appearance of a man who regretted some of his life choices, especially those that had led him to this moment. The situation was just as entertaining as Daud had hoped.
“So let me get this straight," Attano began again, impatience and anger barely concealed in his voice. "You have information about the Geezer’s plans that are so secret, only his closest confidants know about them, because of black magic .”
“Precisely. Don’t get too excited about those plans, though. Stride and her Eels still have unfinished business with the Hatters, and Slackjaw has angered a witch. Both of them are going to be too busy in the foreseeable future to do anything about those plans.”
Attano stared now, his face blank. After several long seconds passed, he finally came to the verdict, “You’re crazy,” and stomped to the door.
“Maybe I’m just crazy,” Daud allowed, the smirk in his voice but not on his lips. Attano stopped, hand on the handle but gaze fixed on the Spymaster. “Or maybe you just don’t know as much as you think you do.”
That was another thing about the Lord Protector. For all his stone cold composure in court, he let Daud bait him like a hagfish in the Wrenhaven. A few words strewn into conversation like chunks of fresh meat into murky water was all it usually took. With his impressive arms crossed over his chest and an eyebrow quirked, Attano said, challenge clear in his voice, “Fine. Show me some of your black magic, Spymaster.”
Daud got up and pulled off the trusty old glove covering his left hand. Attano came closer to see, and when he was presented with the mark, he hesitated before reaching out and running his fingers over the raised lines. Then he scoffed.
“This only proves that you’re a heretic. Everyone knew that already.”
Daud smirked. It’s the kind of smirk that he knew was likened to a wolf’s expression before it sank its’ fangs into flesh. Billie always called it that Look. He clenched his fist, and with a whisper of the void’s song, the mark flared to life.
Chapter 2: You don't want me (Part 1)
A look into the past. The making of Daud.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
1808, Month of Nets.
The dust hung heavy in the air, moving in a slight breeze from the sea like dancers in a slow sway. Veils of evening sunshine softly shone through it, warming the backstreets where children played.
Daud was among them, squinting through the rays warming his face, weighing the stone in his hand. His breathing was calm, his heartbeat steady, his hands sure. With a fluid motion, he wound up for the throw, and let the stone fly. After a wide arc it connected with its’ target, an old tin can on the other side of the inner courtyard of some tenement block. The children around him cheered. He turned to them, and answered his opponents dark look with a grin. The other boy, two years older than him, scoffed and bent down to pick up another stone.
“Rematch,” he growled, and Daud took him up on it gladly. He had quick, steady hands, after all, and he won again. The celebration of his magnificent throws were cut short, though, by a door banging open on the far side of the wall, and a man hobbling out.
“You filthy gutter rats get off my void damned property!” screeched the old owner of the building. It was his backyard they had gathered in this morning (not for the first time) and his trash they were playing with. He was swinging a rusty cleaver, and the kids scrambled out of the way and ran into the backstreets like the wind. Daud turned around at the gate to see the old man stop in the middle of the court.
“Yeah, run! Run or I’ll call the guards on you and your witch whore mother!”
He sent back a rude hand gesture, and disappeared. When he felt eyes following him, he assumed it was the old man.
Daud’s mother wasn’t a witch. He’d asked her when he was little, and she’d asked if he ever saw a mark on her, or if he ever saw her do something she couldn’t explain to him. So no, she wasn’t a witch, but she was smart, independant, and from Pandyssia, which was enough for most people. They called her the Witch of Batista, and feared her for her skill, yet came to her for help. She made poison, medicine, and contraceptives for those in need, and taught Daud how to make them too, for there was always someone in need.
He’d asked where she had come from, where she had grown up before she had become the Witch of Batista. She told him about the jungles of Pandyssia, about the temples of a rotting empire, of the Outsider’s mark all over old, overgrown stone. She told him stories about islands, much smaller than the Iles, just off the Pandyssian coast, where people lived from fishing and farming an what nature gave them, and danced in the longest night of the year with the Outsider’s name on their lips. She told him stories of pirate ships on the horizon, that they came looking for slaves. That she brought one of them under her rule, and sailed the waters between Pandyssia and the Isles as its’ captain. When she had enough of those adventures, she came to Karnaca and settled down to have him.
He didn’t ask about his father for several reasons. At first, when he was very young, he didn’t realize that there was supposed to be a man at his mother’s side, like in many other families. She was plenty strong on her own, after all, and nothing was missing from his life. Later, when he was a little older but still very young, he didn’t ask because if it had been important, she would have told him. Years after that, when he was old enough, had seen enough, had done enough, he understood things a little better. Daud assumed that he’d been crushed under her boot once she had ruled his ship, so there was nothing more to say.
She wasn’t a witch. She wasn’t a pirate, and most certainly she wasn’t a heathen from the savage continent Pandyssia. She was so much more, and most importantly, she was his mother. Everything noteworthy about him came from her. Quick hands and a quick mind, a distaste for not-knowing things, harshness, patience, drive. An edge of cynicism. A healthy dose of distrust.
After a morning in school and an afternoon of playing and thieving and general shenanigans lay behind Daud, the sun was nearly done setting. It was getting late, and his mother didn’t like it when he was so close to the harbor at this time of day. He’d had a weird feeling since he left the schoolyard, and if the race against his friend Marco hadn’t lead them all the way to the harbor, he wouldn’t have strayed this far.
He was walking home in a rushed pace, taking shortcuts through back streets and alleyways, knowing the lecture that was waiting for him at home would only get louder the longer it took him. A cool breeze from the ocean swept through, ruffling his hair and blowing up dust. In the quiet of an empty passage his steps echoed hollowly as he deftly jumped over loose rocks in the pavement, knowing every nook and cranny of these streets. The person who stumbled over one of those lose rocks and missed a step right behind him evidently didn’t. Daud spun around, alarmed by how close the burly man behind him had gotten. He was pockscared and bald, dressed in sailor's’ garb. Before Daud could react, the man jumped closer and grabbed him by the lapels, and when Daud reached up to scratch at his eyes, the man wrapped another hand around his wrist. Under his fists bones ground together and Daud winced.
“Not so fast, boy,” the sailor chuckled, and pulled him closer.
“Let go,” he growled, trying to put as much threat into his voice as an twelve year old could. It elicited a laugh, and a tightening of fists.
“I don’t think so. The lady offered me lots of money for you,” the man said with a Morley accent, foul breath huffing into Daud’s face. Daud answered by ramming his forehead into the man’s nose. He cursed in ways Daud had never heard before (and he had heard a lot, after spending so many days at the harbor), but instead of letting go completely, one hand fastened around Daud’s neck and slammed him to the ground, while the other went to cover his face.
“You little piece of Serkonan trash,” he spat, muffled through a clearly broken nose.
“Fuck you,” Daud pressed through strangled airways. “You don’t want me.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s dat?” he asked, an ugly sneer revealing rotting teeth.
“Because I’ll make you regret it!”
The man only tightened his hold on Daud’s neck, cutting off his air completely and watching the desperation in the boy’s eyes. With his concentration elsewhere, he didn’t see Daud’s left hand slip his trusted pocket knife from under his shirt, but he sure as void felt it when it bit into his side, once, twice, three times before he ever even got the chance to let go and howl. Which was exactly what he did. Daud scrambled back while the sailor cursed, hands pressing over wounds. Unfortunately, his pocket knife was short and thin, and the sailor a burly man. Daud, struggling for air, barely got to his feet and a few steps away before a heavy weight slammed into his back and threw him to the ground again. The crash forced out what little he had in his burning lungs and he gasped, unwittingly sucking in the cloud of dust that whirled up all around them. In the ensuing struggle, he lost the grip on his knife, and a big hand pressed his face into the dirt. With his vision limited and his lungs convulsing, the weight of an adult man keeping him down, Daud panicked. His hands clawed at the ground, desperately reaching for something to save him, anything, and he couldn’t breathe, and he couldn’t think, and his hand closed around a lose stone in the pavement. He didn’t consciously decide what to do next, it just happened. He swung his arm back with the strength of a frightened animal. It connected. Daud didn’t see where or how, he only felt the terrible weight lift off him, and heard the dull sound of a body hitting the ground. Immediately, he crawled away, away, panting, heaving. He sagged against a house wall, pressed his back against it, the ground cold under him. His cheek was wet from the blood seeping from scrapes. Not from tears, there was too much adrenaline in his system for tears just yet.
In the middle of the now-dark alley, the man lay unmoving. Half his face was smeared in filth and red. The rock had connected with his temple. Hard.
Daud wanted to go home to his mother.
“Well, aren’t you a marvel,” a woman crooned. Her husky voice would soon fill his nightmares.
The woman’s name was Lada. It had been her gaze Daud had sensed on that fateful day that would change a lot more than just his own life.
The sailor, whose name Daud never learned, had been hired by her to retrieve him. She could have easily caught him herself, but playing games was a favorite past time of hers. From the shadows she had watched, and when the sailor died, she had smiled.
An undetermined amount of time later, Daud awoke in the belly of a ship, locked up with five other kids. A boy from Karnaca, like him, three kids from Cullero, a girl from some little fishing village. They all had been picked up by Lada or her partner Berdy. Some against their will, like Daud, some had been bribed with food and shelter. All of them came from poor families or the street. Nobody who could actually do something about it would miss them.
The crew and the captain were traders, and the setup of their stock rooms didn’t leave much room for interpretation on what they were usually trading with. They didn’t bat an eye at their two passengers abducting children.
They traveled for a week along the coast of Serkonos before reaching a small island about half a day out. Hungry, because there hadn’t been any food, and stinking like feces and sickness, they were herded into a dingy and brought to the beach, where they finally learned what would become of them.
Somewhere in Tyvia there had been a sect. They had worshipped the infinite everything and nothing that was the void. In their quest to please the ever hungry, ever calling eternity beyond this world, they killed and killed and killed. At first they sacrificed people in a ritual as old as the Outsider, if Lada’s reverent words were to be believed. Then, when they felt it wasn’t enough, they got into the business of murder for hire. It gave them a bigger revenue with the added bonus of paying the bills.
With every corpse they left a bone charm, and with every contract fulfilled, a new line was scratched into the walls of their temple. By the time Lada and Berdy had been born into the sect, the sanctum had been extended into a great hall with two stories.
The children of the sect were taught the art of murder from an early age. They grew up with the smell of blood and the whispers of the void. The strong ones learned to be priests of death, the weak ones were their willing sacrifice. Everybody served a purpose.
Through the sect’s involvement with one of the exiled princes as a favored employer, they angered the state, and ultimately found their end in a bloodbath that cost many Tyvian soldiers their lifes. Lada and Berdy, just in their early twenties at the time, survived barely, and flew the destroyed temple. The sect had found its’ end.
The two remaining members had left Tyvia for Morley, had survived by taking the odd job, by stealing and robbing, never staying anywhere for long. Nothing they did and nowhere they went could bring back the former glory of their holy life, though. So, after nearly ten years, they came to the decision to rebuild the sect.
Lada had a good eye for talent. She could see it in someone’s step, in the line of their shoulders, in the gaze of their eyes. Even if the people she watched were only children. Berdy had a knack for teaching in the way that you only dared to do it wrong once. For all his cruelty, he did know how to form a young body and mind into the shape of a killer.
Shortly before the Morley Insurrection, they started in Caulkenny with two young brothers, who they stole out of their beds after murdering their parents for dime.
Ronan and Connor shaped up well, and by the time Daud and the other six kids landed on the nameless island, they were trusted members of the sect and killers themselves. The training began.
In the first weeks, Daud and some of the others tried to run quite frequently. They were quickly discouraged. Daud learned what broken fingers felt like, and how painful it was to train hand to hand combat with them.
Daud had a steady aim, so when the lessons of the day demanded to incapacitate as many opponents as fast as possible, he would shoot most of the dummies with the crossbow. Unfortunately, there were usually more dummies than bolts.
“Don’t waste your ammunition, boy,” Berdy barked, not for the first time.
“How should I kill someone from all the way over here if I’m not supposed to shoot them?” Daud asked, frustrated since the bolt he had fired was lodged perfectly between a dummies’ ribs. Suddenly, he was grabbed from behind and whirled around, coming face to face with Lada, who snarled, “Sneak better, get closer,” before slamming the pommel of her sword into Daud’s face, breaking his nose. After that, Daud used his crossbow’s bolts to stab the dummies in the neck rather than shoot them when it was unnecessary. His nose stayed crooked.
A year after they reached the island, Lada and Berdy decided it was time to move out for work again. The void was, as always, screaming for offerings, and they had neglected it for far too long with only the occasional trip to the coast. They would split up, with either Berdy or Lada taking one of the brothers and a few of the children with them while the others stayed behind.
When it was Daud’s turn, he tried to flee again, together with the girl from the fishing village. After wriggling out of the groups hiding place in the early morning and running for a whole day, they got all the way to a farm building, and hid in the barn for the night. They awoke when Lada and Ronan dragged in the owner of the farm and his farm hand. Lada looked way too chipper when she explained the deal she was offering her wayward children. It was simple. To return to the fold, Daud and the girl had to kill the two men. If they refused, Lada and Ronan would kill all four of them.
“Come on, little Daud. You have killed before, it’s not so hard. Look, I’ll even hold him for you,” she crooned in her soothing, raspy voice. “Be a good example for your friend.”
Daud didn’t know who cried harder, he or the farmer whose blood coated his hands. The girl didn’t say a word for a long time, vacantly staring ahead on their way back to the coast. He didn’t try to run for a while after that.
A little over two years after they’d been taken, when Daud had just turned fifteen, only three of the six kids were left. The other boy from Karnaca, as well as two of the kids from Cullero had proven to be what Lada called offerings to the void. Connor and Ronan had done the deed. Afterwards, they scratched new lines into the walls of the makeshift sanctum. In the meantime, Lada had found them another recruit, this time a girl from Tyvia she had found after a contract. Their travels had gotten longer. Usually the whole group would relocate to Morley or even Gristol for a few months at a time.
By then, the boy from Cullero had become a true believer, his ears filled with Lada’s and Berdy’s preachings, his nose with the smell of all the blood he’d spilled. The girl from the fishing village didn’t talk much anymore, so it was hard to take her measure, but she never defied orders again.
The killing was harder when he could still remember all their faces and names. It got easier once he stopped counting, once eyes and noses and mouths started to blur together. They became a faceless mob, standing in front of him in his dreams like devouts listening to their preacher. They never spoke, never screamed or accused, didn’t even move. They just waited and watched without eyes, their faces blank of features. Waiting for something. For his downfall, maybe.
It was in Dunwall where Daud first learned to hate the nobility. In the few short months they spent there, they received more contracts than in the entire year before. On their behest Daud and the others went to corners of this moloch of a city that made him shudder, after everything he’d seen. They dressed so prettily, threw glorious parties, ate and drank like the world outside their walls wasn’t hungry, like the money they threw out of the window wasn’t earned by slaves in mines or laborers in the harbor. Even a murder they ordered with entitlement.
In the cold, wet winter the boy from Cullero got sick. No matter the training, a bad case of pneumonia could kill anyone.
But even Dunwall, big, ugly, cold and wet Dunwall, had a good side. When Daud was sixteen, there was a boy. He was fifteen, and had only been grabbed a few months earlier when they had come to Dunwall for the first time. His name was Wilberforce, and he had green eyes and red hair, and his face was dusted with freckles. Wilberforce was lean, but what he lacked in strength he made up by height. Even after his latest growth spurt, Daud was half a head shorter. What Lada had seen in him, Daud couldn’t fathom, because while Wilberforce had quick hands (nearly as quick as Daud’s), and quicker feet, he also had a gentle heart. Berdy did his best to break it.
When Wilberforce sat in their hideout, nursing his newest injury after training, Daud would help fix him up, and be- well, not kind. Daud didn’t know how to be kind. It never really had been part of his upbringing, neither before or after Lada had seen him. He’d been less harsh, though. Less stone and more person. Wilberforce did that to him.
When the other boy asked where he’d come from, Daud told him about Karnaca and the warmth of the South, and even his mother. (He didn’t often allow himself to think of her, because the bone deep yearning he felt hurt more than a broken rib ever could)
After that particular conversation, Daud was endlessly angry with himself. Revealing so much to some Gristol kid could be dangerous. He didn’t know him long enough to have a clear read just yet, and it wasn’t normally in Daud’s nature to just trust somebody. None of the others knew anything except his name. So he was worried about Wilberforce and what might hide behind his stupid gentle eyes. Months passed, though, and his eyes, when not filled with tears and fear, remained gentle, and he never spoke a word of what Daud told him to anyone.
That’s when Daud became worried for Wilberforce. Because while the boy was a talented swordsman (his movements were graceful like a dancer’s when engaged in a training battle, and only the greater amount of practice let Daud and the others win. That would change soon), he would shy away from hurting anyone. He would purposefully take a hit if it meant he didn’t have to bring down his heavy iron bar on someone else’s chest. Daud knew that when the time came for Wilberforce’s first kill, he wouldn’t go through with it. Couldn’t, really. That was the problem with good people and their gentle hearts.
One night, Daud heard Berdy say, “The gingerboy won’t cut it.”
Lada shrugged and answered, “Let’s give ‘im another few weeks.” That was the end of the discussion, and Daud knew what he had to do.
He had a plan. A place to hide, a save route there, a little coin stashed away. He was prepared to sneak away with Wilberforce one night and hide. What he was not prepared for was for the Tyvian girl and Connor to climb up to them onto a roof a few days later when they were on a scouting mission in the Drapers Ward, and for the Tyvian girl to simply stab Wilberforce in the gut. A surprised gasp left his lips, then he sank to the ground.
“What the fuck are you doing!” Daud screamed, already in the process of throwing himself at her when Connor’s arms wrapped around him.
“She wanted to run. It was a test for her, like the one back in Serkonos for you. The boy didn’t cut it, he is a good offering,” he said.
Instead of struggling or screaming, Daud lifted his crossbow and put a bolt through the girl’s head. She toppled over the edge of the roof and disappeared.
“Daud-” Connor started in warning, tightening his hold, but Daud was already moving. He threw his head back right into Connor’s face, and when that wasn’t quite enough to dislodge him, it still gave him enough room to bring an elbow back into his stomach. Daud was free, pulled his sword and ended Connor’s cursing with a clean slice through the throat. By then, yelling was heard from the street below. Wilberforce was still laying on the roof tiles, shallowly gasping for breath. It would be over soon, Daud mused, with a wound like that. Impossible that that knife didn’t rapture anything. Maybe there was a chance, though. Daud leaned forward over the roof’s edge, saw the officers of the City Watch around the body down below, and screamed, “Help! Up here! Help!”
Daud used the same way they came up, climbing through a window into the house the roof adjoined. He made it down two flights of stairs before the sound of heavy boots was heard coming up in a hurry. After ducking into a hallway, he let them pass, hoping these guards would do something useful once in their careers. Then he ran. Two bodies, maybe a third, didn’t look good, and he needed to reach the hideout before word of this situation did.
Ronan died in the doorway before he could even speak. The girl from Serkonos was inside, barely giving the body a glance before settling solemn eyes on Daud and the crossbow he’d raised at her.
“Make a decision, quick,” he said, maybe because of their shared origin, maybe because they wanted to flee together, a long time ago.
She asked, “So they killed Wilberforce?”
When Daud only glared in response, she nodded and said quietly, “He was nice.” Then, after a moment, she added, “Berdy is mine. He drowned my father.” Daud only nodded, thinking that those had been the most words he’d heard her say in a very long time. They both pulled their swords and went searching for their teachers.
Later he thought he should have taken more time, make it slower for all she had done to him. In the end, he’s relieved it was over so fast. Lada hadn’t known she would die by his hand until a second after it was done. His sword had gone right through her, the startelement in her face just for the duration of a breath before it left her completely. Berdy was close behind.
Suddenly he was free. He and the girl from some fishing village in Serkonos. She only nodded at him and left to void knows where. He didn’t care. He was free.
Daud got on the next ship to Serkonos.
When he returned to Karnaca, six years after he’d left, he asked for the Witch of the Batista District. People told him that the Overseers had come for her a few months prior, after they couldn’t ignore the rumors any longer. They had tried to arrest her, haul her out of her house by her hair and make a show out of it. A statement, perhaps, to all the people who’d come to her for help. They had died screaming in the whale oil fire after they’d walked straight into her trap. She’d known they would come. She’d known she wouldn’t get to see her child ever again, so she’d made it count. The Witch of Batista had died laughing.
After hearing that story, Daud left Karnaca, and Serkonos. Nothing from before remained, and walking those streets was a distant dream he could never return to in his waking hours.
I know I'm evil. I always think, "Nah, this time I'll keep it a little lighter," but then shit like this happens. Feel free to scream at me
Chapter 3: Are you fucking insane?!
A discussion about religion and a fight about life choices.
And we're back in the present!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
1837, 28th Day, Month of Rain
Daud let the mark flare, and enjoyed the look of astonishment on Attano’s frozen face when time stopped around him. All colors were sucked out of the world and left the room in a grayscale that was even more depressing than the weather. Daud took a moment of studying Corvo, standing still behind his desk with his fist clenched. The Lord Protector looked tired. The shadows beneath his eyes were a little darker than usually, his shoulders tenser. Not that the Lord Protector ever let his guard down around him. Daud had only once seen him in any semblance of ease, and that had been before, when he had been undecided of what to do with Burrows’ mad plan to murder the Empress, when he had lurked in secret where Attano and her Majesty couldn’t see. From a rooftop, armed with a spyglass, Daud had watched the big bad Royal Protector play hide and seek with princess Emily. His posture, though still impeccable, was relaxed, his face open and honest like it never was in court. He’d laughed, even, when Emily had easily found him behind a column. It hadn’t been the moment that made Daud decide, but it certainly hadn’t hurt.
Now, though, after the trial against Burrows and his conspiracy, after the peak of the plague and Daud’s rise into the position of Spymaster, Attano never looked not harassed. Tired, stressed, wired. Like he needed sleep but couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Daud knew what was eating at him, of course. After the whole Burrows thing and everything it entailed, Attano smelled betrayal around every corner. That was the reason he went through guards like they were going out of style, why nobles barely got any audiences with him anymore (which left Daud with the unwelcome duty of attending social events), why Daud’s every move was questioned. If the reveal of his abilities would change anything was left to be seen. After all, Daud could stop time, but turning it back was not an option.
He released his hold on the void, let it flow through him and around him, changing the world to his will, and he stood on the other side of the room in front of the liquor cabinet.
“A drink, Lord Protector?” he asked while already pouring two glasses of whiskey. Attano sputtered behind him. When he turned to look, he was half out of his chair, twisted around to see where Daud was. His expression was one of shock, and his hand rested on the hilt of his sword.
“That won’t be necessary,” Daud gestured with one glass as he made his way back to the desk. “I’m not more or less of a bastard than five minutes ago.”
“You assume I didn’t want to stab you five minutes ago?” Attano asked tersely, but let his hand fall off the hilt to receive the offered whiskey. Then he proceeded to down it in one gulp.
“That was the expensive stuff,” Daud rumbled, sipping at his own with a scowl. Attano answered in kind.
“I guess I’ll have to savour the next one,” he said pointedly and slid back into his chair. Daud scrutinized him for a second, found a tiny little smirk curling Attano’s lips, and sank into his own seat.
“Certainly,” he answered, reached out, and pulled the bottle of whiskey from the other side of the room. Attano’s face was carefully blank again. When Daud opened the bottle, he said, “I don’t want it anymore,” to which Daud answered, “Yes, you do,” and started pouring.
They sat in silence for a while, nursing their drinks and occupied with themselves. Daud let Attano think everything over while he planned the Whalers’ training regime for the next week. He’d decided that a little rain wasn’t enough to stop the city’s (if not the Isles’) most feared gang of assassins. Rudshore was already flooded, after all. Maybe it was time for him to test the novices. Rulfio had been praising a few of them lately.
Finally, Corvo broke the silence. “What was that?” he asked, and when Daud opened his mouth to answer, Corvo wagged a finger at him and added, “And don’t you dare say black magic again!”
Daud shrugged, leaning back in his seat to get comfortable for what might turn into a lengthy discussion. “Well, it’s true,” he began. “We can traverse through space or pull things and people towards us, among other abilities. Those powers are given by the Outsider, which makes them, per definition, black magic.”
Attano laughed, then. It didn’t sound all that humorous. “The Outsider is real,” he stated more than asked.
“Unfortunately,” Daud said tersely. In the last nine months he’d had more visits from the black eyed bastard than in the last five years combined. Most of them had been mocking, some weirdly encouraging, all of them simply annoying. His tone made Corvo perk up.
“You don’t sound all that happy for someone who carries his mark.”
“Believe me, the black-eyed bastard is many things, but likable isn’t one of them.”
“So you are not… devout? I’ve seen you fiddle with that bone charm you keep in your desk and assumed superstition, but now…” he trailed off, watching Daud carefully for the grimace he didn’t quite keep off his face.
“No, I’m not devout. I’m a believer, obviously.” He waved his marked hand. It felt strange, wearing the mark so openly. He wondered, for a moment, when it happened last that he showed it to someone. It must have been Billie, back when she first came to live with the Whalers. She had demanded to see it, two weeks after she had followed him home like a stray dog. If any other novice had given him such lip, had demanded anything of him, they would have been on scrub duty for the next half year. Billie had been different, even back then. She soon had occupied the same place as Thomas, somewhere deep inside Daud’s chest where he figured his heart used to sit. She had run her little fingers over the lines reverently before looking him in the eye with such ambition, and had said, “I will have it, too.” And it was true. No other Whaler had taken to the bond as fast or as strongly as her.
Daud slid the glove back on when he continued, “I sure as Void don’t worship him. Nobody sane should, and he doesn’t care for it anyway.”
“He doesn’t care? But isn’t it what he desires? Ensnaring people’s minds, leading them down a path of evil,” Corvo asked curiously. He sounded a little amused, now, less shaken. Daud supposed it was a good thing that Attano was a generally unflappable person. That he managed to find humor in this situation was a good sign.
“You’ve listened to too many of the Abbey’s preachings, bodyguard. They couldn’t find signs of the Outsider’s influence if he spat them in the face. No,” he shook his head. “He doesn’t require you to like him, he doesn’t even require you to believe in him, though you’ll know better if he deigns to visit you. All you actually need to do is be interesting.”
Attano looked like he was about to launch into the next set of questions, but Daud stalled him with a raised hand.
“I’m not going to get into a theological discussion with you. Ask, if you have practical questions, but keep the Outsider out of it and hope, you’ll never have to meet him yourself.”
A while after Attano had finished his interrogation and left, undoubtedly to tell the Empress about everything, Daud reached through the Bond until he found the familiar presence of his second. Billie had asked, once, how he knew which of them he was summoning, if he had to concentrate on a face or a name. He had answered he simply knew. In truth, they were all hanging in the strings of the bond, little spiders in a web that held Daud at its’ center. They felt like dark silhouettes in a darker alley, recognizable through their shapes and smells and movements. He was passing them by until he found the one he searched for and hauled them into the light. After years of practice it all happened in a split second.
Billie appeared in the office with a whisper of displaced air, right in the spot Daud was pointing at.
Most of the Whalers would greet him with a sir, even in private. The few exceptions were Rulfio, who had the privilege of seniority, Thomas, who had been among the first novices (only seven years old and a year after Daud had started working in Dunwall again), and Billie, of course. She’d been the same age as Thomas, only where the boy was calm and cautious, she was forceful, angry, hungry. While Daud was often dispassionate in his anger, the hatred grown cold as Tyvia’s winters through years of pain, inflicted both by and on him, Billie’s burned bright, and threatened to devour her. When she had followed him home, seaking something between a meaningless death and a reason to live, he’d seen everything he’d used to be when he was a child on an island, drowning in the desperation of a powerless fury. So he had given her a goal, direction on how to achieve it, and hard work to keep her mind from wandering. (The Overseers might be right on that particular rule. An errant mind, while it didn’t invite the Outsider, could eat you up inside, if you let it.)
She’d taken to the lessons, both with weapons and with magic, like none before. She’d also taken to Thomas, of all people. They were the best, and favored by Daud, and exactly nobody had been surprised when Daud had chosen them as his second and third.
Now that she stood before him, face hidden under her Whaler mask and dripping all over the carpet, she sighed deeply and said, “Please tell me you have someone that needs to be dealt with, old man.” It seemed he wasn’t the only one bored out of his mind. But it wasn't a job he'd called her here for. He dreaded the conversation they were about to have. She hadn’t been at all on board with the idea of employment by the crown. She hated the blue blood like Daud, had spilled it with the same ferocity. Not taking Burrows’ contract, helping the Empress, and, in the end, working for her had caused tensions among the Whalers. The fault lines between Billie and himself pained Daud the most.
He ended up saying, “I told Attano about the mark.” Silence answered him, Billie frozen in the middle of his office. Only her fists clenched and unclenched spasmodically. Today he seemed to have a talent for rendering his conversational partners speechless. Suddenly she stalked forward to his desk, ripped the Whaler mask off and bathed him in the glory of her furious snarl.
“Are you fucking insane?!”
Daud growled, “Watch your fucking mouth and sit down.”
She stood there a moment longer, but in a glaring contest Daud, with his scar and his eyes and what Rinaldo lovingly called a resting bitchface when he thought Daud couldn't hear, won easily. Billie's mutinous expression wavered, and she sank into the chair Attano had vacated earlier.
“Good, now listen. There are several reasons, and I’ve spent the past half year thinking them over. I’m aware of the risks, but the potential benefits outweigh them. Rudshore is still secret, and you will return there and keep the others on standby until I give you the all clear. Should this turn south, I will be the only one whose whereabouts are known to our employers. You and the others have enough time to get out of there.”
“And you think you are an acceptable loss in this scenario?”
“No, I think you will do your Void damned job and get my ass out of whatever hole they throw me into.”
Her glare was magnificent. It would have been quite scary, hadn’t she learned it from him.
“It was necessary, Billie,” he finally said.
“No, it wasn’t.”
“If we want to stay, then yes, it was.”
“Do we, though?” she asked, venom dripping from every word. “We are assassins, not snitches! Some of the Whalers aren’t happy with our new job. I know I’m not.”
“We are whatever the fuck I say we are. This isn’t a democracy, Billie. Those, who don’t like it, are free to go.”
For just the barest moment something flickered behind Billie’s eyes, and he could have sworn it was hurt, but his voice kept on scratching angrily over every syllable. He wouldn’t force the unwilling, he was no Overseer, no mad prophet. They could always leave.
“I won’t hold anyone back, but those who stay better adjust to the situation!”
Billie’s own anger was back so fast that it masked everything else. All her other emotions were used to hiding behind it.
“I don't understand what's going on anymore,” she bit out. “I thought I knew you, old man, but the last year…” she shook her head. “First you have us dig up everything about Burrows, ignoring any other contract. You said it was meant to be insurance, but instead you delivered it to the Empress. For free! And when it wasn't enough for her, you let them pull you into that hairbrained scheme that stank like a trap-”
“It wasn’t,” Daud defended, but Billie just talked over him.
“It could have been! And it would have been so obvious. Had any of us walked into something like this unprepared, you would have punished them, but you did it anyway! What happened to never trusting the blue blooded folk?”
“Maybe there is an exception to every rule,” Daud pressed out.
“Maybe you let yourself be blinded while she trapped us. We were the most fearsome gang in Dunwall. Nobody dared to cross us. The nobility trembled at your name. The only rules we followed were yours. You were the wolf, they were the sheep. Now, all you are is the Empress’ dog, and we are bound to her rules. No killing without her order, no other jobs but her. I heard you were at a dinner party this week. It seems to me that the old Knife is getting dull.”
“Pick a metaphor and stick with it,” Daud answered, and Billie bared her teeth.
“If you have enough time to wax poetically about our station in this city, you obviously don’t have enough work. After I give the all clear, you can go visit Granny Rags. Tell me where she’s brewing her poisons in all this rain.”
Billie got up with a jerky motion, fuming but silent. Daud couldn’t let her go like this.
“Look, it’s the same work we’ve always done. Scouting, digging up information, exchanging favors. The only difference is that we don’t always kill somebody at the end of an investigation.”
“We’re dependent on the mercy of some high born woman.”
“We would have been dependent anyway. If we had gone through with Burrow’s plan, it would have been him on that throne. He knew of our lair in Rudshore, he wouldn’t have let us go. It came down to the Empress or Burrows, and I made my decision. Who knows what the city would look like today if I had chosen differently.”
Billie stood at the windows now and looked out over Dunwall, her back to Daud. She said, much calmer and quieter now, “I wonder if it matters at all. The plague rats eat the poor, the rich throw their parties. Maybe the city will just sink into the river and take us all with it.”
“Billie,” Daud started, but she turned and spoke while reaching for her Whaler mask, “I should return to the others, make preparations if the worst should come to pass. I hope we will see each other tomorrow, old man. I hope for you that your instincts don’t betray you at last.”
He studied her a moment longer, the way she slipped the mask on with practiced ease, how she squared her shoulders and readied herself to transverse away as soon as he gave the word.
“Be careful on the roofs. The tiles must be slick as oil,” he answered, at a loss as to what else to say. Billie snorted, waved a lazy salute, and dissolved into emptiness.
Family troubles, amirite? It'll only get worse before it gets better :D
Chapter 4: I can't trust you
Trust in this world is hard to come by. Especially after what Jessamine's former Spymaster did, and who her current Spymaster is.
A story of truth and secrets and pride, and how none of these are especially conducive to trust.
Heyho! I have fixed my timeline in the previous chapters. Daud has been Spymaster for six months, has known Jessamine and Corvo for nine.
I have made a playlist for "Maybe We're Just Crazy". If you want to give it a try, here's the link:
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
1837, 28th Day, Month of Rain
Jessamine sat in her office, studying Sokolov's latest report about his and Piero's search for a cure. While there was much talk about new directions they could follow, and several breakthroughs with the enhancement of their tinctures, at the bottom line no cure had been found yet.
The guards were handing out free potions on the streets, but for those who were already infected there was no help. People were stuck behind blockades, cut off from supplies, and had to leave the safety of their apartments in search of food, often exposing themselves to the danger of infection. Not only weapers could spread the disease, a coughing person you passed on the street was enough.
There was a distinctive knock on the door, one she recognized after all the years she had heard it on a daily basis. Two brisk raps of knuckles against wood, a little pause, another rap. She schooled her features, and called, “Come in.”
The door opened, Corvo stepped in alone, the door closed, and Jessamine allowed herself a smile. The open and happy kind, reserved for only a select few. He returned it, though she could spy a tightness in his features that put her on edge. Luckily, it wasn’t the look he got when something concerning her or the country’s safety had come up. All in all, it was less worry and more indigestion. He was wearing his Daud-did-something-and-I-don’t-like-it-face. It was slightly annoying, since she had seen it quite frequently over the past nine months and it was not the best look on his handsome face. Corvo had been against the idea of the Knife of Dunwall in anything but a prison cell, let alone the office of Spymaster. When Jessamine had told him about her decision to keep the assassin, she had been treated to the same expression Corvo was wearing now.
“Your highness,” he said, settling into parade rest on the other side of her desk. Business, it was. He only ever called her that in formal company or when he knew she wouldn't like hearing what he had to say.
“Lord Protector. Are you here to save me from this avalanche of paper?” She joked, gesturing to the mountain of official letters, reports and treaties still waiting for her attention. One could never lose hope, after all.
Corvo gave a rueful smile as he answered, “No, I’m afraid I have something quite similar waiting for me in my office. I just had to verify some information with our Spymaster, and now wish to ask you a question.”
Her suspicions were true, it seemed.
His lips twitched when he spoke. “What is the punishment for telling an Empress ‘I told you so’?”
She arched an eyebrow at him, an expression he had teasingly called regal on several occasions. (Usually when that look was all she wore) If he was ready to tease, Jessamine figured, it couldn’t be too bad.
So she answered, “My dear, that sounds like treason,” and leaned back in her chair.
He grinned, then, and said, “Then I will have to do my best to hold my tongue,” and whatever it was that had brought him here, it couldn't be worldending.
“What is it that you have to tell me?” she asked after a moment, breaking the spell of lightheartedness only grudgingly. Corvo sobered immediately.
“Daud is a heretic.”
Jessamine blinked. Waited. Corvo had to be joking still. There was no mischief in his eyes, no dimple in his cheek from a suppressed smile. He was serious.
“Corvo-” she started, but he interrupted.
“Daud is a heretic,” and his intensity gave Jessamine pause.
“He worships the Outsider?” she asked carefully, trying to keep the incredulity out of her voice. She knew of the Abbey's accusations of heresy against Daud and his Whalers, and could imagine his opinions of them in return, though he never said anything. What she could not imagine was Daud begging some obscure god for fortune and favor.
Corvo shook his head, and continued, “He stressed very vehemently that he does not, and I quote, worship the black eyed bastard, but Jess, I saw him use magic. Void damned magic. He teleported through the room. He moved things through his will. I saw it!”
“I believe you,” Jessamine said firmly, because she did. Corvo was by no means gullible, and he’d never lie to her. If he said that Daud was capable of wielding magic, then it was the truth. He relaxed at her words, and finally settled into the chair in front of her desk.
“Where did you see?”
“He showed me,” Corvo sighed, and rubbed his temples. He looked more tired than usual, and Jessamine knew well that in the last nine months he’d thrown himself into his duties with double the vigor of before. Before the most notorious killer of the city had left a letter on Jessamine's office desk detailing her Spymaster's plot against her life. Corvo tried to carry the weight of his responsibilities alone these days, and this, Daud's magic, was just another burden on his shoulders.
“I came to question him about an irregularity in one of his men’s reports. When I finally demanded a straight answer, he showed me the mark,” he lifted his right hand, tapped the back of his left, “and worked magic.” He seemed both baffled and unhappy with this discovery. Jessamine could relate. She had a hard time fathoming what this new discovery could mean for them in the long run, good and bad.
“Well, at least now we know how he got into my office,” she mused as she pushed her paperwork aside to settle her arms on the wood beneath. It had been a while since she last saw it.
“Alright, black magic. You must have driven our good Spymaster up the walls with your questions. Tell me every detail of it.”
The next day, Jessamine watched Daud pour unreasonable amounts of sugar into his coffee. She had assumed, back when they’d first met, that he would be the black coffee type of man. But then again, he was from Serkonos, the island known for its sweet fruit and delicacies so full of sugar, one could feel their teeth rot after only one bite. She just had to look to Corvo, who drank his coffee with so much milk that it was the color of caramel. To compensate for its diluted state, he just drank about ten cups a day.
This afternoon’s meeting was a regular one between Empress, Royal Protector and Spymaster. In Burrows’ time it had been a chore because the man had had a tendency to prattle on about some minor detail for ages. Only afterwards Jessamine realized it must have been his way of misdirection. He'd always been busy, so busy, since her father's days. Scheming behind closed doors, behind her back, right in her Void damned face. Still it had taken Burrows bringing the rat plague to her city and an assassin's mercy to open her eyes wide enough to see. Burrows had hidden behind words. If he bored them to death, they couldn't ask uncomfortable questions.
The meetings of the last six months, on the other hand, had been a chore of a different kind because Corvo and Daud could have a civil conversation, just not if it was about work. One time she had been held up and returned to her office a few minutes late to find them in a conversation that could be considered friendly, reminiscing about some courtyard they both had apparently played in as children, under the threat of death because the owner would chase them off with a cleaver every time. They hadn't run in the same circles, but they had known of each other. (Corvo had told her in private later that every kid of Batista had known of Daud, because people had claimed his mother to be a witch)
After the meeting had officially begun and the talk had turned to business, Corvo soon had accused Daud of lying, Daud had implied Corvo just didn't know better because of incompetence, and Jessamine had to remind both of them that she could throw them out if they insisted on acting like children.
Corvo sat in front of her desk, his chair half turned so he could keep an eye on the room (re: Daud) and still focus on her. Daud was standing at the serving cabinet, detailing the latest news he received from Zhukov in Tyvia while sweetening his coffee to the point where his spoon would probably stick up straight if he let go. Daud was very precise in his presentations, delivering all necessary information to the point without dithering. It was one of the things she appreciated about him. What she didn't much appreciate, at least when in a position of opposition, were his many layers. Jessamine had been Empress for twelve years, and had put the fear into many a man at negotiations. She knew how to read her opponents, and Daud was no different. The problem with him though, there was so much to read, and so little was actually useful. He had a tendency to project something, and it was hard to tell if it was genuine or fabricated.
Beneath the surface many emotions mixed. A sense of curiosity so strong that not understanding his opponents seemed to cause him physical discomfort, like an itch one just couldn't reach. He was, plainly speaking, ten times nosier than the Dunwall Courier, and had the resources to back it up.
Then there was a generous dose of misanthropy every time he looked at or spoke of Dunwall's elite. In Council meetings or social events he hid it well, but not nearly well enough. Hiis mood afterwards was always on the gloomy side, so Jessamine suspected it was both an image and an honest distaste.
An awareness of his strength, his broad shoulders and height, his piercing eyes. He knew how to use them well, looming imposingly, making hardened officers of the City Watch squirm just by looking at them impassively. He could also make himself less threatening when dealing with the tower staff, or children. Emily, to Corvo’s consternation, had taken a shine to Daud since his first day, because he didn’t speak to her like she was a child, or a Princess.
At the bottom a tightness in his frame and face and fists that never quite left, like the pressure of chronic pain, though she'd never seen him favor any part of his body.
Covering all of that and more was a facade so numb that his expression portrayed nothing but vague discontent, maybe a slight annoyance or a patronizing smile from time to time. He could be utterly expressionless, which was, in all honesty, unsettling.
So Jessamine knew that he was waiting for her to say something about yesterday’s revelations. She also knew that he wouldn't break under the tension of this unspoken thing and would wait her out. She just didn't know what his answer would be to her many questions wrapped into one. That's not how deep her gaze pierced the many layers of Daud yet.
He finished his report sitting in front of her desk in the chair not occupied by Corvo, and they started discussing further actions in Tyvia. Corvo and Daud bickered for a bit, but all in all they both supported Jessamine’s decision to hold back for now. Let Zhukov do his work. Daud pulled another file from the stack he’d brought. A report from the Whalers, transcribed by the polite young man who often worked in Daud’s office. Thomas was his name. He translated the foreign symbols all of Daud’s people used in their mission reports, and undoubtedly cut out what outsiders weren’t supposed to know. Like their mastery of black magic, for example. When Daud had moved to the tower, he had brought a virtual library with him, and the way he’d sometimes say he’d have one of his men fetch an old report or evidence suggested that he had left the main bulk wherever the Whalers had their lair. Everything the assassins had written down was encrypted. Corvo had brought one such file to Sokolov, who had declared the text Pandyssian runes, but in no grammar or spelling that made sense. It drove Corvo up the wall. Sokolov, too. Jessamine would never admit that she was greatly amused by it, when she wasn’t busy worrying about the information that never made it to her desk. Burrows had hidden so much from her, but never quite so blatantly.
She needed to know. Now. So when Daud started to say something, she lifted her hand and he stopped, looking at her expectantly.
“Yesterday, Corvo came to tell me something you have discussed with him. Why?” Jessamine asked. Such a simple word. Three letters and a punctuation mark. Yet there was no other question which had answers so infinite and complicated. Daud didn't insult her by pretending to misunderstand. He closed the report again and answered matter of factly, “Because I can't trust you.”
Both Jessamine and Corvo frowned simultaneously, but Daud didn’t give them the time to question this non sequitur.
“And you can't trust me. No matter what, there is the obvious chasm between the three of us.”
“And still you told us your biggest secret.”
There was a flicker in the facade when she spoke those words, though it was hard to tell what it meant. She had the daunting thought it might be pride. It whispered, “This isn’t my biggest secret,” because Daud was a proud man, just not in the way most of Dunwall thought. His secrets were his greatest strength, and unlike Burrows he hoarded them until they could make the biggest impact. They may start small, worthless in their insignificance, but in his care they grew and fattened until they were abominable monstrosities, ready to devour their makers. That’s what made Daud perfect for the position of Spymaster. That’s what Jessamine had seen that day when the Knife had left a letter on her desk, detailing every tiny piece of incriminating information on Burrows and his conspiracy.
“I am your Spymaster. The next time something like the whole Burrows affair happens, there can’t stand an information so vital between us. Not of this magnitude. Not when your and the Princess’ lifes are at stake.”
“A noble goal,” Corvo interjected, and his skepticism was clearly heard. Daud gave him a look.
“Think of me what you will, Attano, and reality’s probably ten times worse than you imagine. But one thing is certain. Of all the jobs I have taken, I’ve never failed a single one. I’m not going to start now.”
Daud turned to Jessamine, pinned her down with his steele grey eyes, and continued, “This is why I told Attano yesterday. You can't trust me as long as I won't trust you. The cycle must be broken, and not by you. Your positions don’t allow it. So when he asked for the truth, I gave it.”
“Then this is you, trusting me,” Jessamine said, trying the words out. Daud nodded curtly.
“If you never learn to trust me as a person, trust my professional pride.”
She didn’t have an immediate answer to this, so she simply replied, “We’ll see,” and Daud inclined his head in what might have been a bow on anyone else.
Jess is a smart cookie, and a lovely lady, and I heart her very much. So does Corvo. (So will Daud :3)
Chapter 5: Sorry, were you sleeping?
Dreams and gifts from dark gods, sleepless nights and the beginning of a worldchanging game.
I Am Alive!
Here, finally chapter 5. The boys are being idiots again :D
I'll try not to take so long until the next one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
1837, 2nd Day, Month of Wind
Waking in the Void was always a disorienting experience. The locations were very familiar, yet twisted in a way that made them obviously wrong. Daud sometimes wondered if the islands where he woke on were influenced by his state of mind, or if the Outsider put in the effort just to fuck with him.
This time he was in his office in the tower. It was upside down, so he stood on the ceiling and could look up to see his desk and chairs and a cold, dead fireplace. Books were lying on the desk, like he left them the night before, but did not fall. There was no Outsider to be found. With a sigh, Daud went to the gaping holes that usually held the windows and climbed out. A quick transversal brought him to the next broken piece of tower, this time on it's side. A chunk of hallway he walked on the outside of, careful not to step on the glass of the few windows left intact. He made his way through what felt like half the tower until he reached an island that held the Empress’ office, frozen simulacra of Jessamine and Corvo included. They were in quite the intimate pose, usually kept away from any prying eyes. She sat behind her desk, looking up at Corvo who stood right beside her, bent down a little. One of his hands rested on the back of her chair. His other held out a single paper, and when Daud stepped closer he could read what was written on it. “You will regret it.” Around fifty times, filling the entire page. With a scoff, Daud stepped back and turned to the room, finding the Outsider watching him.
Daud had known when he showed the mark to Attano that there was a good chance the Outsider would take notice. That didn't mean he would enjoy the coming conversation any more than usual.
“Daud, my old friend,” the Outsider spoke mockingly, and Daud had to grit his teeth.
“One year ago, you were caught up in contracts and coin, drowning this city in blood as much as it was drowning you. When Hiram Burrows came to you, I saw your story coming to an end. But you turned a different page, and became interesting again.”
Interesting. Daud hated that word with a passion. Not in the beginning, when the Outsider's interest in him had been flattering, and he'd felt a rush using his powers because he had received them for being special. But he had learned when the Outsider had first started losing interest, leaving Daud anxious and so damn desperate for his attention, that it was a two sided blade. It had felt like withdrawal. The powers had stayed, even after visiting the altars stopped working and his nightmares were void of gods and full of the usual. Most of the time, Daud felt it was worth it.
He was happy that he had learned to dislike the Outsider relatively early, because he had seen what happened to those who chased His favor past their prime. It drove them insane, like Vera Moray, or the witch from Morley that had tried to chop off Daud’s hand in an attempt to keep him from receiving the mark when he'd first come looking for clues on the Void and it's god.
The Outsider watched his discomfort without any outward reaction.
“What do you want,” Daud growled, knowing full well that nothing he did would intimidate the Outsider, but not quite able to hold himself back.
“A chat with the assassin that found his conscience and decided against the murder of the century. But you couldn't have simply disappeared, could you? Your ascension has left a void in the underworld of Dunwall, but nobody dares fill it with you still in sight. They hunger for an executioner. Who will be the first man on death row, I wonder?”
“I'm not here to satisfy the nobility's hunger,” Daud spat.
“And yet you swore fealty to the highest noble of them all. You play a dangerous game, revealing your secrets to your enemies.”
Daud looked over to the lifelike statues of the Empress and her Protector, and the paper in Attano’s hand. He only hesitated a moment before grounding out, “She is not my enemy.” The Outsider looked down upon him, arms crossed.
“Are you certain?” is all he said. Daud didn't answer, he didn't have to. There was no lying to Him.
The Outsider had said his peace, apparently, because instead of spouting off more ominous warnings he unfolded his arms in a grand flourish and said, “I have a gift for you.” All alarm bells went off in Daud's mind.
“What?” he snapped, for a moment irrationally worried about the mark on his hand. It had not been the Outsider's only so-called gift over the years, but the only one Daud actually appreciated.
“A name. Delilah.”
Before he could ask any questions, Daud awoke.
Dreams of the Void were not the kind that left you bathed in cold sweat and gasping. They weren't taxing on the body like nightmares. All that stayed behind was the crawling, prickling, haunting sensation of a gaping maw inside your stomach through which power whispered. It took a few hours for the connection to the Void to settle, all the while leaving him jittery. Daud usually couldn't go back to sleep, so that left him ample time to agonize over whatever the Outsider had said.
Who was Delilah? No one came to mind immediately, but the city was big, and she could be someone's fifth daughter or cousin twice removed.
He climbed out of the tangled sheets and quickly put on his clothes. His quarters were on a different etage than the office, so he made his way up the stairs and down some corridors in the understated lighting of night. He rounded a corner in such a hurry that he nearly walked into a servant, scaring the poor woman. She barely avoided dropping her tray that held a steaming pot of coffee, a carafe of milk and one cup. She must have been on the way to Attano, whose office was at the other end of the floor. So the Royal Protector was burning the midnight oil, too. Waving away the servant's apologies Daud entered his own office and shut the door. He had work to do, and it would require the wandering gaze, the restless hands and the roving feet of the Whalers.
He clenched his fist, letting the Void flow freely between his bones, and grasped through space until his mind took hold of the three people he’d been searching for. They were close on the grounds of the Tower. He gave the strings tethering their souls to his a hard tug, and suddenly Thomas, Galia and Rinaldo stood before him. Well, Thomas and Galia stood, bowing slightly and settling into parade rest. Rinaldo jumped up off the floor where he’d fallen, as if his stance had been unsteady when he was called upon.
“Sorry, where you sleeping?” Daud didn’t bother keeping the scorn out of his voice after giving him a cursory glance. Rinaldo had a habit of slouching against any object sturdy enough to hold his weight. It was not rare for him to doze off when doing so.
“Of course not, sir. I was on patrol,” the Whaler assured hurriedly.
“Galia, go and fetch Rulfio, and tell him to bring the reports from 1825 onwards. We have a new job that will require some research.”
“An assassination?” Thomas asked, and the posture of his two companions stiffened. It was in excitement, Daud realized, lending truth to Billie’s words from days ago. Some of his people were getting bored with their tasks of going through nobles’ dirty laundry. He hoped, even if the disdain about its source didn’t pass, that this new mission would keep them busy.
“A mystery,” Daud answered shortly. These three standing before him had been Whalers since childhood. They knew the tone of their leader, and understood the phrasing. Galia, after bowing a second time, disappeared to do her bidding, while the others awaited their orders. He motioned them to the book cases covering two of the office walls.
“Start with the ancestral charts of the nobility, family trees, etcetera.”
“What are we searching for?” Thomas asked
“That’s it? Nothing more?”
The two went to work, while Daud entered the backroom of the office. It was small and had held the previous owners brandy collection. The alcohol had gone to the Whalers for their good work, and they had made the best of it in a party that rocked the Flooded District. Fortunately, only the weepers and the river crust had heard, and nobody fell into the waters below.
Now the room was taken up by a cot and a chest with an intricate lock. Nothing of particular worth was inside, but Daud had never claimed to be anything but paranoid. He needed a change of attire to go out into the night. His body felt not yet right after the visit to the Void, and nothing cleared the mind as much as a trip over the rooftops by night. Either way, he wanted to go meet Billie to speak to her in person about these new developments. She, too, would relish in a new job, and who was more capable leading the investigation on the streets than her?
The rain had ceased to a quiet dribble, but Daud still opted for an old Whaler coat instead of his Spymaster's attire, since they were waterproof. Not his red one, though. That stayed hidden away in the Chamber of Commerce. It was too much part of the Knife, and while everybody with eyes and a functioning mind knew who Daud was, it would cause a downright scandal should he ever be seen in it again. It was a part of the past. It also didn't have a hood.
When Lenora had shily joked that he nearly wouldn't have gotten his coffee because she had almost dumped it all over the Spymaster, Corvo was instantly on alert.
“Just now?” he had asked and Lenora had answered, “Yes, Lord Protector. He was in a rush to get to his office. Always working at odd hours, that one.” She had said that last part with a meaningful look at Corvo and his freshly brewed coffee. He had smiled and answered, “Thank you.”
Lenora had started at barely seventeen as a maid and had loyally served the crown in the ten years since. She had earned her right to speak freely, or as freely as any servant could in the presence of politicians and nobles. She also had a habit of telling him all sorts of gossip. Servants heard a lot without anyone caring enough to notice. It was a practical arrangement.
After dismissing her, he managed another half hour of work before finally giving in and getting up. He wasn't being all that productive, anyway, continuously wondering what could have happened to make Daud rush to his office at half past two in the morning. Suspicions and unrest made his stomach turn, and kept his mind away from the work he had initially started to quiet it. It wasn't that he thought Daud was planning something to overthrow the crown. He could have done that back when Burrows had hired him. The problem was that Corvo hadn't known. Hadn't seen it coming. Would have been out of the city when it was supposed to happen. Their Spymaster had not only brought the disease, but had planned on murdering Jessamine and taking the throne to cover it up. A conspiracy had spanned some of the most powerful families of Dunwall, the High Overseer, and a good portion of the Tower guards. And Corvo hadn't seen it!
Yes, he was on edge, because if there was one conspiracy, there could be more. Every guard he hadn't personally selected and vetted could be a traitor, every noble's goal could be even more sinister than they usually were. He needed to know what was going on at all times, he needed so see and hear everything, every whisper, every glance.
So it wasn't really a suspicion against Daud that drove him to the Spymaster's office, but a compulsive need to know what was going on behind his back. Because Daud did everything behind their backs and presented them with a fait accompli. Corvo understood that, after decades of ruling in the shadows, he didn't like people all up in his business, but that had to change when his business involved the Empress of the Isles and her heir. Corvo was done sitting back. Their two offices couldn’t stay so completely removed from one another. Daud had made the first step in their direction, had given up some of his secrets. Now it was Corvo's turn to do the same, even if Daud would see this as just another infringement on his turf.
Corvo knocked, and this time patiently waited for admittance before entering. It took a moment, but then a short, “Come in,” sounded from inside. Corvo didn’t take more than one step into the room before he stopped to take in the scene before him. Every surface in the room was full of files and books, stacked into little towers. The office desk, the side tables, the servery, even the couch and chairs were piled high with papers. Half the bookshelf that took up an entire wall were empty. Two men, one who Corvo recognized as Thomas, and another, equally young and Serkonan by the looks of it, were going through the piles. They wore the garb of the Whalers, though they had taken off their heavy coats. The Serkonan watched Corvo with blatant curiosity while Thomas only performed a short bow and greeted him with, “Lord Protector,” before going back to skimming the pages of his book.
“Should I have bowed, too?” the Serkonan whispered, and Thomas rolled his eyes.
Corvo turned to Daud, who stood behind his desk, hurriedly writing a letter. The coat of the Spymaster hung on the back of his chair while the man himself was clad in the same, dark blue whaler garb of his men. He glanced up for a moment to note Corvo’s questioning look.
“Attano. Excellent timing.”
“Indeed?” Corvo asked, perplexed. Daud being anything but annoyed to see him was a novelty. “You look quite busy for such a late hour. Something I should know about?” He tried to keep his tone as light as possible, free of any accusations. He was asking in his role as Royal Protector if there was an immediate threat he had to look out for.
Daud answered, “That remains to be seen. Have you ever heard of a Delilah?” All the while his pen continued scratching over the paper.
Corvo thought it over, let his gaze wander over the books scattered around, history books, annals of the city and its’ nobles, blood lines and family trees. The one in Thomas’ hands was the biography of a former councilmember. Delilah didn’t ring a bell, but there were hundreds of noble women in Dunwall alone. Dread crept up Corvo’s spine. Was this it? The next conspiracy of Dunwall’s rotten nobility?
“No, I don’t believe so.”
Daud nodded, and didn’t look up from his letter, his hand still moving in tight little jerks.
“Is she a noblewoman?” Corvo wanted to know, and when Daud didn’t immediately react to his inquiry, he turned to the other two occupants in the room. The Serkonan, caught staring, reflexively opened his mouth to speak, but Thomas leaned over and whacked him over the head, so he closed it again and averted his eyes. Now Corvo was getting really worried.
“Who is Delilah?” he asked of Daud again, who simply shrugged, skimming the pages he had filled. Then, he put the pen away, finally focusing on Corvo, “I don’t know yet, that’s why I was asking.”
Of course, it would have been too easy to get a straight answer from that man. Corvo glared, and said, “Daud,” with a warning tone.
“I’m serious, bodyguard. I don’t know who she is. All I have is her name. No family, no threats, nothing.”
“Why are you searching for her, then? You must have some reason, surely.”
Daud's face did a peculiar thing, like he had bitten into a lemon. The two Whalers were very focused on their work, vehemently not looking in their direction and acting as inconspicuous as possible. Corvo’s chest grew tight. Whatever it was, it was bad.
"She is important, alright?” Daud spat, glowering a little. Corvo had the feeling that it wasn’t aimed at him, which made absolutely nothing clearer.
“I'll find out how and why, but until then that's all I know."
"What does that even mean?!" Corvo demanded. Daud huffed, sounding aggravated and impatient, like he was annoyed that Corvo didn’t understand and had the audacity to ask. Another secret he didn’t feel like sharing, but faulted Corvo for not knowing. How dare he. How dare he keep something that was obviously important, going by the state of the office, hidden from Corvo. How dare he use such a bad lie to cover it up. If Daud had such a Void damned problem with sharing information, he shouldn’t have taken the job. Nobody had forced him. Well, Corvo hadn’t forgotten his grand gesture from four days ago, and he would hold him to it.
But instead of starting to yell, or of arguing the point, or of any and all angry words lying on the tip of his tongue, Corvo changed tactics, and said, “Please.”
The honest look of surprise on the Spymaster’s features was more satisfying than he cared to admit. A little politeness, Jessamine had cautioned in the beginning of Daud’s stay in the tower, could go far.
“Please, for the sake of my nerves, tell me what this means.”
In the moment of silence that followed, Corvo was painfully aware of the two Whalers in the room, looking between him and their master. Worse was only Daud’s expression, caught between curiosity and obstinacy, as if he couldn’t quite pick if he rather wanted to see where this was going or withhold the information just out of spite. Corvo suddenly felt very sorry for Jess, who had dealt with the both of them for months now and had every right to be annoyed if this was what she saw on them all the time.
Daud made up his mind and said, "The Outsider told me. He said he had a gift. Delilah. Nothing else."
Alright, that raised more questions than it answered. Corvo settled for, "Delilah is a gift for you?"
Daud looked so disgusted by that question that Corvo had to stifle a laugh. The absurdity of the situation, he decided while rubbing the bridge of his nose, was getting to him. Here he stood, at half past two in the morning, in the Spymaster’s overturned office, talking about gifts from dark gods and some woman that nobody knew.
“It's the black eyed bastard's way of warning me, I suppose,” Daud explained. “Or of setting up the game. Whoever Delilah is, she is important in the grand scheme of things. It's a fair assumption that she might be a noble, so that is where we start."
"But boss,” the Serkonan Whaler piped up,“You aren't a noble, and neither is the Lord Protector. You are still important, though!"
“What kind of game are we talking about?” Corvo asked, trying to bring the conversation back on track, now that Daud was actually sharing information.
“The world changing kind.”
The serious, straight lines defining Daud’s face seemed to cut deeper now. Restlessness in spite of the clear signs of tiredness marked him, just like Corvo suspected he was marked himself. The knowledge that the Knife of Dunwall, the Spymaster of the empress, didn’t know either, was unsettling in ways Corvo hadn’t thought possible.
“What is your plan?” he asked.
“I have sent for my quartermaster. He will bring more of our archives and do research with some of the men. Billie will lead the search on the streets. She’s the best for this kind of job. In fact, I’m headed to inform her right now.”
Daud stepped to the window and opened it, letting a cold gust of wind and some stray drops in. He turned to Thomas.
“I’ve left instructions for Rulfio on the desk. Assist him.”
Daud stepped onto the windowsill, but was halted by Corvo’s call.
“What can I do?”
“It’s handled for now. You will be the first to know anything new,” Daud assured, and after giving him a once over, he added, “Go to bed, Attano.”
He received a scowl in answer that Corvo hoped would convey how unlikely that notion was. To his surprise, Daud only shrugged and said, “If not, then try to keep up. I won’t slow down for you.”
He balled his fist and disappeared with a hiss that made a shiver run down Corvo’s back. Corvo ran to the window, and in the cloud hung darkness of the night could barely make out the dark figure on the roof below. With a curse, he climbed onto the windowsill, judged the distance, and jumped.
Back in the room, Rinaldo turned to Thomas, who was shaking his head.
“Can we watch?”
We had a name drop woop woop! The game begins. I'm excited