Daud watched Dunwall disappear for long after it had gone, staring where it had shadowed the horizon dark from the heavy smog on its flanks. His hands clenched around the ship’s railings because damn it, twelve years! Twelve years of peace, stood behind Emily’s throne at Corvo’s side; Whalers flickering about overhead as they came and went, searching the whole city for trouble.
Twelve years keeping Corvo’s daughter safe, guarding her from the assassins who rose to take Daud's place; ears to the ground for the whispers that some lord or lady was going to take a stab at the empress. Twelve years helping Emily make the world better, clawing their way inch by inch as Daud shut people up with the flash of a blade, the murmur of a secret they didn’t want told. Twelve years at Corvo’s side, making up for the death of his lover with service, his own love - not in Jessamine’s place, never there, but always at his side.
All of it wasted. All that work undone by one bitch with a Mark and a god complex.
Or, no, maybe not wasted - they’d kept Emily alive and happy, after all - but- Daud sighed, harsh and short because he was annoyed. He looked to the floor where far below Corvo was making their room safe, poking around as a rat in its hidden corners to make sure there wasn’t any trick to the help they were being given, any catch. He’d run out of places to search before long, would sit on the bed and stare at his hands wondering what he’d done wrong, listing on his fingers all the places he never thought to check for threat. Wondering how he’d never heard of Delilah, how he’d ever thought Granny Rags - long dead, now, after making the mistake of going after Slackjaw and bringing the whole of the Whalers and Corvo down on her - the biggest threat the Outsider could send.
And he’d never listen to Daud telling him that Corvo had done the best he could, that Tyvia and Serkonos were vassal states and had bigger things to worry about in their own courts than the empress in hers. That Morley was getting used to being one, too, however slowly. That if anyone should have known about Delilah - her power black and oily as it ripped Corvo’s Mark from his hand, tearing the Bond and the pain of it a shock through the Whalers’ whole web and aching deep in Daud's bones - then it was Daud. How Granny Rags would always have been a threat if she’d been left alive, that Slackjaw was an ally of the crown, and if she’d been willing to go against him then why would she stop there? There wasn’t shame in thinking she was dangerous.
Daud sighed again, looked back to where the sea met the sky, to the clouds heavy and cold with rain overhead. He felt along the tears where Corvo and his Whalers should be, those ragged edges aching in the bones of his hand, stinging inside his blood; Corvo torn from him, and some of the others… Daud closed his eyes against it.
He didn’t want to think about them dead. Didn’t want to think about Thomas organising what was left and taking the bodies back to their old base at Rudshore, a funeral for all the novices caught on the blades of those clockwork soldiers, cut down protecting each other. Digging in and turning their teeth to anyone who came close, but staying just below Delilah’s notice, never enough of a threat to get attention. He hoped.
He made the web hum, reaching out for all the Whalers still alive. Thomas and Rulfio and Finn echoed back loud and clear, Thomas loudest of all - a joyous bounce that Daud was still alive, was making sure he was okay. The rest just an echo, and Daud breathed out because Void, they were still there too. They were still there, alive even as the bonds stretched thin, too-taut, and Daud thought they would be fine until he got back because to think anything else would kill him, and he didn’t have the nerves left for that.
The clouds opened out, rain starting to fall, and Daud turned from where Dunwall had been and retreated to the room in the belly of the Dreadful Wale where Corvo was waiting.
Daud woke in the cramped little cabin, frowning at Corvo’s space empty by his side, and at the foot of the bed where he’d warmed Daud’s feet as a wolfhound left cold. Looked to the walls and cursed, because of course the Outsider was going to show his face now of all times - a whale swimming lazily just beyond the stone pathway leading out into the waiting Void, its smiling eye filling up the hole blown through the hull.
But there’d be no leaving until Daud met with him so he got out of bed, pulled his red spymaster’s coat more comfortably around his shoulders, and followed the twisting pathways the Void laid out for him. Through the recent past - turning his eyes away from the novices spitted on the clockworks’ blades, blood glittering in the Void's cold light - Luca Abele’s smile ugly on his face as he stood beside Delilah and watched a Grand Guard gutting one of the nobles - and even away from Corvo, trapped inside that plant Delilah summoned and howling, soundless from his ruined throat, as she stole the Mark from him.
He rubbed his own Mark, even though Daud knew Corvo didn’t have one to feel it, and continued on; pausing at an island where Emily, frozen in stone, stood. The island was crumbling into the hungry Void, splinters of its stone hovering, eerie; Daud grimaced at Emily, looked away from her fearful face because she’d known about Corvo’s Mark - he’d never hidden it from her - but she didn’t know the true power behind it, the truth about witches and why they were the only thing Daud agreed with the Abbey on.
She’d done well in her first real fight, Daud thought. Unpracticed and hesitant, falling into formal stances too easily because she wasn’t used to the flow of true battle as Corvo was, but she’d done very well; easily catching the blade Daud ripped out of one of the Grand Guard’s hands and thrown to her, guarding his back when the closing circle of the Guard took Corvo from his side and unafraid of the blood her slice across a Guard’s belly sent splattering across her boots.
Emily had been a bit more of a distraction to the Guard than any real threat to them, true, but that wasn’t any bad thing. It was only a shame she was stuck in stone for that, sense losing out to anger as Corvo jerked and twisted in pain when the Bond was ripped apart and Daud grit his teeth against the stabbing pain and hid the glow in his Mark as best he could because the two of them losing their powers was infinitely more dangerous; she'd lunged for Delilah because Emily never could stand it when Corvo was hurt.
Daud had promised Corvo they would get her back, no matter what, and he nodded to Emily frozen in the Void even though she was only a reflection of the real thing, trapped in stone in the waking world, because they would save her again. Damn Dunwall and all the empire if it came to that - Corvo wasn’t a man who was meant to outlive his child and Daud didn’t want to see how he’d cope if he did.
Onwards again, and towards the end of the path was the Outsider waiting, smiling coldly, on a tiny island hovering over a patch of sea whose waves crashed, frozen, against its base. “Well, well,” He said. “Another empress lost to one of my Marked; the first to you, the Knife of Dunwall, and the second to Delilah Copperspoon.”
“Can we skip this?” Said Daud, crossing his arms. “I fucked up, I know.”
The Outsider’s smile widened; he tilted his head. “Do you know? I warned you, long ago, that there are more threats to an empress than just the nobles in her court. Dear Corvo’s saved her from assassin’s blades, spilling his blood so hers wouldn’t, and you’ve saved her in hunting down the secrets in the dark, turning them into their own kind of knives to keep the aristocracy loyal. But maybe,” The Outsider said, turning to the Void yawning endlessly in front of them, “Living in the Tower has made you soft. There is more to the world than just Gristol, Daud; more hidden corners and more secrets to know than just what your Whalers find in Dunwall’s back alleys and black markets.”
He walked across the edge of the island, scattered pebbles tiny and smooth shivering and pushed out of the way by his shadows trailing after him, shifting and formless where it flowed from his shoulders. Daud set himself more stubbornly; he was too damn old to be impressed by the Outsider’s theatrics the way he had when he’d been young, trapped in the Pit’s cages and biting at the bars to be let loose.
The Outsider eyed Daud from the corners of his eyes, still smiling, arms held behind his back. Daud glared back. “You think I’m stupid?” Daud said. “Yes, I fucked up. I made a mistake and now Emily’s a statue and Corvo doesn’t have a Mark. We’re in the middle of nowhere going to Serkonos to work out how to win the empire back, all because I thought Gristol was the bigger threat. I know all that.”
“Corvo said the same,” Said the Outsider. He looked back to the Void, the whale sweeping past the island they stood on. “And I’ll tell you what I told him; Delilah Copperspoon was born a pawn, an unwanted bastard daughter of a man who made a mistake in grief. But she’s clever, and she was born with a charisma and a cunning that made people fall at her feet and fawn. In other worlds she would have stolen Emily’s body and left her soul here, lost forever in the farthest reaches in the Void; in some she succeeds, and Corvo’s left to cut down the woman he doesn’t know wearing his daughter’s face. In others you kill her, or doom her to the fate she would have given Emily. It's rare she ever succeeds, for very long.”
The Void around his shoulders twisted, the shadows drawing tight around his feet as worlds took shape in its farthest reaches. Daud rubbed his Mark, shivered in the cold left behind where Corvo should have been, the Void pressing in heavy in dull pain like it was poking an old bruise.
”But here?” The Outsider glanced at Daud again, black eyes half-lidded, lips pressed thin. “In your world she was smart enough to know that it would never work - that Corvo was so devoted to his child and the crown that he would kill her even if he killed himself doing it. So she bided her time, gathered her allies and her coven around her in Serkonos while you went soft in the comforts of the Tower and forgot about the dark places outside its walls.”
Daud bared his teeth at the Outsider, hissing low in his throat because damn him, “I know that! How about you start going on about how you could have warned us, maybe?”
“I don’t interfere with what my Marked do with my gifts,” The Outsider murmured. “You of all people would know about that, wouldn't you? Knife of Dunwall who could sail a whaling ship on all the blood you've spilled.” He walked across the edge of the island again, circling. Disappeared and reformed on a large boulder hovering over the depths of the Void. “But Delilah’s playing with magic mortals aren’t meant to play with,” He said. “The same magic that made me. And I don’t like it. So, just this once, I'm interfering; I have another gift for you.”
The Mark burned- Daud hissed and grabbed at it, staring at the golden light flowing through the black lines branded on his skin. The sting of it ached, made his skin too tight, too stiff; pulling painfully when Daud flexed his fingers, working the tendons drawn tight loose.
“What have you done to it?”
“A gift for you,” Said the Outsider, watching coldly. His head tilted. “And for Corvo - the Bond has been returned to you.” He stayed quiet a moment, watching as Daud worked out the last of the aches in his Marked hand. “Duke Luca Abele has made Serkonos worse and worse for the silver blood in its veins, bleeding it dry to feed himself. The bloodflies in its forgotten slums are hungry; you might pull your homeland back from the edge, or you might doom it.” He turned his back to Daud, watching the whale drifting languidly through the islands and spires of stone. “I’ll be watching to see which you choose.”