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The day is mild but the humidity still brings the sweat to Jessamine's brow. She sits in the front row of court with her father, Emperor Euhorn Kaldwin. Attending are visiting dignitaries attempting to win her father's favor in exchange for gifts and promises of trade. Her father doesn't care for such festivities as Middle Songs Eve due to the cost that they require. He does relent every few years after significant prodding from the Dukes and Duchesses of the isles.

Jessamine notes the way her father responds to each giving or promise. Sometimes a tightness in his jaw is all he shows to reveal any frustrations. Tonight, he is tired. She can tell due to the frequency of his hand touching his face and neck.

On the list tonight is the Duke of Serkonos who, oddly enough, is not even present. In his stead are two others: a middle aged announcer and a young guardsman.

The guard's dark hair is long and pulled tightly behind his head while his shoes and clothes are shiny in their newness. He seems uncomfortable.
The announcer was in discomfort too. Certainly more used to the dry warmth of Serkonos and unaccustomed to the humid shores of Dunwall.

He was detailing the guard's accomplishments from a neatly written letter from the Duke: "After his uncontested win in the Blade Verbana and numerous victories in apprehending culprits of corruption, Duke Theodanis Abele thought no one would benefit from Corvo Attano's service more than the head of the Empire itself. Co-" the sweaty man stopped short, unsure. He quickly recovered: "Corvo's muteness shouldn't be taken as meekness. He is exceptionally skilled and has a fortitude that is unrivaled in all the isles."

Her father looks sternly ahead with his hand over his mouth in tired concentration as the announcer continues. Jessamine can't help but wonder what such a diplomatic gesture could mean from the Duke? Especially with his absence. Duke Abele had recently been intent on stable trade negotiations. She thought that her father's terms were fair to multiple parties. There would be no reason to suspect any ill intent. To deny Corvo's service, however, might be seen as a slight. The best move would be to accept him and put him in a lower watch position.

"Send him back." her father says tersely. "We've no need for any others in the City Watch. Send my thanks to Theodonis irregardless. Attano would be the only Serkonan if he were to stay. He would not do well in our guard, not for a lack of skill, but for lack of conformity ...and a translator."

Careless.

"Father," Jessamine says with an inflection of impatience. "A translator could certainly be found in Dunwall as we do hold claim to the most resourceful city in the isles. Furthermore, there will continue to never be Serkonans within the City Watch if we never appoint them to begin with."

Her father looks at her with a slight smile of his eyes, and she continues. "Duke Abel must have great pride in this man, it would not be fair to distrust him. Would it?"

Corvo only stares straight ahead and continues to look uncomfortable.

"You've made your point. A good one. I'm sure the Duke will appreciate you vouching for him here today." her father says turning his attention back to the court. "Corvo Attano. You will be appointed to the High Court Watch and stand with the finest guards here at the tower. A fine duty."

Corvo nods with a slight bow.

The court stirs in a low murmur. No doubt that seeing the stern hand of Emperor Euhorn take advice, again, from Jessamine makes their clothes itch. Then to top it off, to let a Serkonan into the City Watch at ALL, much less the High Court Watch... They'll be demanding refunds from Drapers Ward.

Her father continues. "And Jessamine will be in charge of finding you a translator and getting you accommodated to the grounds."

Corvo meets her eyes. He nods but maintains the gaze. All focus.

Jessamine freezes completely.

"Make your home in the barracks for now. Officer Thorpe-" her father gestures to another guard in the hall. "Show Attano where to sleep and eat until further arrangements are made."

--

"What would I know about signing? Certainly one of your ... informants would know such things?" Jessamine begins, tense like the airs from court, and on her father's heels. He looks to her briefly before continuing through Dunwall Tower's inner halls.

"Such bad manners from an Empress to be-"

"Is this because I interrupted you in court? I thought you said I was-"

"You're interrupting now, little signet."

Jessamine goes quiet, realizing her own anxieties.

They enter a small personal library and Euhorn continues: "The courts have every reason to argue that you won't be ready for coronation when the time comes. Distraction and haste from the top provides them with opportunities to exploit." She listens intently. "You've just turned twenty this year and yet the court still chitters about your words because they've never seen your actions. To have a task set for yourself to follow through on; A task that many in that room would find unpleasant, is only a chance to show them your competence."

Jessamine finds her voice. "I understand the need to prove myself to them... but this...?"

"This-" her father says lifting his hands. "Is not just for you. You have citizens all across the isles who will look to you for leadership, including people like Attano. You implied before to the court that inclusion and welcome should be a standard we strive for. Did you not mean it? Was it all posturing?"

"I understand and I did mean it."

She is flustered but knows that he is right. There is little she can do about the expectations that will be demanded of her, but she must meet them in her own way.

"Show me where to start."

--

Waking up early the next day, Jessamine makes her way to the Royal Spymaster, Hiram Burrows, office. Her father continues with the court hearings alone while Jessamine decides to not waste time gathering info from scratch. Lord Burrows should at least have a an index of important people who might help her further still.

His office was veiled in deep reds. The low lights of oil lamps flicker over her face as she passes the threshold. He peers out of curtain that allows the light from outside the tower to spill into the room, as if in a tall thin pillar. His face shows a brief twinge of irritation before he turns attention to her.

"Ah, Lady Jessamine to what do I owe the pleasure? I have my assumptions, of course. The birds at court are always chatting away, but I do love to be sure." His smugness is a predictable part of his personality. Playing along usually ends in Jessamine getting her way.

"If you're assumptions are that I need help enlisting people for the tower then you would be correct. I assume you're prepared?"

"Of course." Burrows walks to his desk and neatly plucks a few sheets of paper from a stack and hands them to her.

Jessamine examines them and has to withhold a sigh. "Maybe you should attend court more often Lord Burrows. I think there must have been some miscommunication from those birds. I don't need etiquette tutors. I need a translator."

"Are you certain?" Burrows says uninterested in her objection and now peering out his window again. "This Corvo Attano hardly interacts with the stationed officers and the aloofness only makes him more suspicious. Your father really must consult me before appointing a foreigner. I've been scrambling to make sure he's not a security risk."

"The man hasn't even been here a day, and in all your research you never gathered that he was also mute?" Jessamine asks as nicely as she can.

"Oh, I'm well aware. It's just one more reason he's not worth the investment." Burrows says turning towards her again. "The best move would be to send him back to Karnaca."

Burrows, despite his only recent appointment to the position of Royal Spymaster, was always one for control rather than council. This instance is no different. The final decision is ultimately up to her father, not herself or Burrows. Both of them know that.

"I'd rather have a list of translators." she smiled prettily.

Burrows walks back to his desk and, with the same deft movements as before, picked up one last piece of paper. "Very well."

There were only a few names on the list, but that's all she needed. Burrows would not have handed her anything if he had found any evidence of a threat. In fact, Corvo wouldn't even be in the courtyard below if Burrows thought him a threat.

"I thank you for your service to the Empire, Lord Burrows." Jessamine says.

"As you wish. Lady Jessamine."

--

"Officer Thorpe." Jessamine says as she spots the man in the courtyard. He turns and swiftly put his hands behind his back with his feet together. The picture of a perfect watchman of the tower. It had been awhile since she last spoke to him. However, he looks just the same: Fair but sun affected completion, dusty blonde hair cropped short, with a thick mustache to match.

"Lady Jessamine. Good morning, can I help you with anything?" Thorpe responds.

"Where is our newest watchman? I has hoping to talk to him for a bit."

"He's in the barracks. He ah-" Thorpe considers his words. "He seems nervous, I suppose."

--

The official letter said he'd be leaving in three days time if he 'consented' to the assignment.

His mother was distraught when he suggested staying. Her eyes watered with tears he hadn't seen since his sister had left them.

"There is only the misery of the silver mines in Karnaca." she had signed and said to him as if to drive the point home.

He knew that he would do well for himself in Dunwall, but still felt uneasy. He found in this region, very few people knew sign. The thought of loosing his primary communication with others was distressing to say the least.

When he told her this, she laughed.

"Even when you had a voice you weren't charming Corvo."

He gave a half-hearted glare and she laughed again.

"But, you're talented in other ways. Our Duke has recognized that and given you an opportunity to live with food in your stomach and the nicest roof in all the isles over your head."

She held his hands and he listened. "You'll find those who will care for you, no matter where you go. Just do what you do best, and they will find you."

He nodded at her hopefulness but lifted his hands from hers: "I have no choice in this. I never thought I'd leave here."

"It's very rare for anyone to have a choice in anything dear." her voice began to crack again. "This, Corvo, is an opportunity. You must see it as such."

He was pulled into her arms. Her skin, dark like his, had grown rough with sun and work through the years. A testament to a hard life. As she held him close, Corvo heard her take a shaky breath.

She never made a habit of having her children tend to her woe. She thought that was unfitting for any good parent. In this moment, he knew she was in as much conflict as he was. Yet she told him to leave anyway.

Corvo sent his response back to the Duke, trying to see this part of his life as his mother had described it.

Three days to say his goodbyes. Three sails to the wind. He drank with friends from the guard one night and childhood friends on another. Kissed and laid with men and women alike as though the fleeting press of others might make any future loneliness ease itself away with the memories. His mother cooked him his favorite meals and told him stories of his father. Three days was not enough.

The boat departing to Dunwall left early in the day. His mother wasn't awake but he put his brow to hers once before scribing a quick letter. He would write to her.

The ship was cold. The clothes were tight. He felt uncomfortable but knew this was just a process of adjustment. Like the first few blows of a sword before you learn to block. This will take practice.

Practice practice practice. It had to be his mantra now as it always had been.

Too bad he had no practice with behavior in the presence of the Emperor's daughter. She enters with the man, Thorpe, in tow. He was pacing but halted at their presence.

In court, sitting in a gilded chair with her voice ringing clear, she seems intimidating. Here in front of him, she was still intimidating and all the more striking to him. Her eyes were demanding stars and her expression rang with that same aura. She had strangely fair skin, Corvo imagined being able to spend a life un-bothered with work would do that. Her clothes and hair looked restrictive, but her posture was relaxed and calm.

Without her, he would have lost everything offered to him. He wonders if she pities him. She won't need to, not if he can do what he was brought to Dunwall for. He watches as her gaze falls on him with a calm he is unused to in strangers.

"Hello Corvo. I'm on my way out to find your translator. I'd like it if you would accompany me. It's for the best if you approve of them."

He knew he was getting a translator, but for her to go personally seemed out of place. He schooled the judgments from his face and simply nodded.

"Lady Jessamine. You know your father and the Spymaster would not approve of you leaving the grounds." Thorpe pipes up with concern.

"That's why you'll be with us as well." Jessamine replies. "Besides, we're not visiting the bottle street gang. We're to check on some leads at nearby schools and a state owned factory. All perfectly secure."

"But-" Thorpe begins weakly.

"No buts, I'll have two of our best by my side as well. It's sure to be fine."

Thorpe seems to puff up with pride at her words and concedes. Corvo, unable to really interject, lets his eyes flow between their conversation.

"I won't let my father discharge you." she playfully pokes Thorpe's arm. "I'll let him know I bullied you both. Besides, the faster we find a translator the faster we can make Corvo feel welcome here." She addresses Corvo. "Did the Duke provide you with a translator on the boat ride to Dunwall? It's quite a long trip."

Corvo shook his head back and forth.

Jessamine looks frustrated for only a brief second. "I'll be sure to fuss at him during his next visit." She shuffles through the papers in her hands and produces a tightly bound notebook and an inkwell pen. The notebook's pages were smooth and bright, the cover was a solid leather and the binding was both glued and stitched. The pen was sturdy and had a hefty weight to it. The ink was inside the pen itself, no separate well needed. These items alone where worth more than half a months pension in the grand guard in Karnaca.

"Just in case you need to say anything in the meantime."

Corvo took the items carefully from her, as if they might break in his hands. He decided to write his first words for her.

"Thank you."

The gentlest of smiles graced her features. "Of course. Anything you need just let me know."

As they left the gates of the tower grounds and to the streets of Dunwall below, Corvo felt at ease.

Chapter Text

The first two stops, are duds. The first person Jessamine looked for was at a large whaling factory, and they had passed away two months prior. The second had fled Dunwall after she stole schematics and building records from the factory's owner. Presumably to set up her own business in Morley. The third stop, finally, was promising.

Would Burrows dare try to deter her?

A language school for children. Most in the aristocracy had private tutors set up for their children, but some also sent them to schools for more specific studies. Language schools were a less popular field of study due to the common language being so widespread across the isles. Most classes have a focus on dead languages, hieroglyphics, dialects, and sign. There were only a few in attendance here and Jessamine's hope was the teacher in question, a Ms. Athene Devanaugh, would have enough time for work at the tower.

Athene sits in a neatly organized office, her focus on a stack of papers. She is a surprisingly broad woman who wears a neat set of trousers, cuffed shirt, and vest. She looks like she used to be accustomed to hard work in her youth and has softened over the years. She hears their foot steps first and her eyes find Corvo.

"Hi, are you the person who teaches sign here?" he signs quick and practiced. Her eyebrows rise and a smile blooms across her sun scattered face. She returns the gesture asking a question with her eyes and hands.

"Yes, I teach sign. Are you deaf?"

Corvo shakes his head and makes a pinching motion between his index finger and thumb. "No. Mute. We're interested in your services."

Corvo looks towards Jessamine. Athene's eyes get rounder than her glasses and more questions color her face.

"A Kaldwin, here to see me?" She says out loud. "I've either done something very good or very very bad."

"Ms. Devanaugh, we're just here to inquire about your services." Jessamine begins, ignoring the comment. "Would you mind listening to our offer?"

Athene looks around at the group and her face gathers into a calm, she dips her head politely for Jessamine to continue.

"If you're able to allocate some time from your work here, would you be willing to come translate for the tower staff? I would need someone there primarily to translate for our newest guard, Corvo." Jessamine says coming closer to Corvo and touching his arm briefly.

Athene looks as though she is being told a very sour joke and isn't sure if she can laugh or not. "Translating would be a full-time job, not an after school project, Lady Kaldwin."

A hot prickle of guilt settles under her ribs. She hasn't really thought of what it means to staff a translator. What else is required to make Corvo feel welcome? She looks at him, seeing only a gentle patience settle on his features, as if this where a play he has seen before. Her confidence wanes for only a moment.

"Then, I suppose I'll need to offer you a full-time position." Jessamine says. No hesitation in her voice with her eyes still trained on Corvo. "And I suppose I can ask now. Corvo, what do you need?"

Corvo hangs onto her gaze as he answers with smooth motions. Athene's voice enters her ear: "Whatever you're willing to give."

Jessamine thinks about such a modest request, and pushes again. "Alright, what would be ideal for you? The best you can imagine with no limitations? You must give me something to work with."

Corvo huffs an almost laugh and a small smile peaks out for but a moment. Reserved.

His hands move. "The best would be for everyone to understand me and I not have to fumble with-" a pause for more signs. "-fumble with being so out of place. I'd like to know my job and do it, not focus on THIS." He gestures pointedly and with discomfort. Back again on his features.

If Jessamine had to guess, there isn't much room in his way of communicating to inflect politeness. She brushes off the tone and tries instead to focus on what he might be feeling. "Are you... do you feel you'll be lonely here?"

Corvo gives her a once over and signs with his hand in a fist and rotating a few times. "Yes." She can remember that one.

"Well, we can't have that." Jessamine turns back to Ms. Athene. "Would you be able to find the time to teach the rest of the guard and myself sign as well?"

Athene and Corvo both seem taken aback. They stare at her. She stares back. Her father trusts her, she trusts her gut and right now it's telling her to be bold.

Athene hesitates in her response. "It would be an honor to work for our Emperor. Although...the amount of time needed for such a thing- It could take years for everyone at the tower to become fluent."

"Then you'll will be paid for as long as it takes to get the job done and as generously as any guard. You're also welcome to live and dine in the tower as well, since we'll need you there so often."

This seems to do it. Athene's face lights up in shock at the offer. "Of course Lady Jessamine, I'll prepare my things!" She leaves towards a room at the back end of the office.

Jessamine looks around the classroom at the different languages laid bare across the wall. Some symbols familiar, some completely unrecognizable. She never had any interest in learning any other language but her own, but learning and understanding concepts luckily came naturally to her. Besides, she was almost finished with her studies the Overseers demanded of her. To fill her time with this would be a much more interesting challenge. And certainly Corvo couldn't only converse with just one person.

It will be a good opportunity to have her guards learn another skill as well. Her father implored the guard to take their extra time off to pursue other skill sets, so as to make themselves more valuable for future work outside the guard. The more she thinks about it, the more confident she feels with the idea.

She looks at him again. He smiles and looks away, busying himself with a diagram of old names written in a dead script. She hopes she can start to understand Corvo's words quickly. His life must be interesting.

--

Corvo stares at Jessamine and wonders if she will follow through.

She looks back at him. What does someone with her status see when looking at him? If this is what she is truly willing to offer, maybe he is going to be alright as his mother says.

Some nobles, even in Karnaca, didn't know a lick of sign despite it's prominence in the mining districts.
Mine workers often wore masks covering their entire face while they worked their long hours in the mines. Drills and the fall of picks often echoed about every chamber, making hearing a problem too. Some people spent so long in the mines, they'd loose their sense hearing, time and even the ability to breathe properly.

"The silver was too close to the old gods and the Outsider to be touched." was a common saying his mother often expressed. She worked there briefly and Corvo remembered his sister urging her to quit.

It was awful work. Ultimately, not being able to speak during the 14 hour work day encouraged people to find alternative ways to communicate. Learning sign became a right of passage in the groups leading the miners. Despite never working in a silver mine, Corvo never lacked people with whom he could communicate with.

Athene is quick to return and the trip to the tower is set against the evening sun. He feels comfortable, despite the humid air of the day.

--

The next few weeks are an adjustment to say the least. Thorpe teaches Corvo how guard rotations are made around the main and surrounding grounds. Corvo is given different clothes. Still a uniform but significantly more comfortable than what the Duke had provided for him.

Athene settles into her own office and the two of them find a routine suiting them both. During days of work, she'll be with him during morning rounds near the perimeter. As the need will be greater for communication with any foot traffic headed in or out of the tower. They will take lunch and dinner together giving Corvo the opportunity to socialize with the other watchmen. In the afternoons, when his shift are strictly closer to the back gates or the roof, Athene will work with either Jessamine or any off duty guards for lessons.

Athene leaves for her apartment and Corvo spends his evenings in the barracks, practicing with his sword or free-running on the roofs. Corvo was the only guard who actually slept in the barracks overnight as the other guards at the tower had families holding a high rank in military or finance and had homes to go to. Corvo would be sending some of his pension to his mother, but decides to save the rest. Once he's saved enough, he'll be able to afford a place off of the grounds as well. Hopefully.

The other guards are generally standoffish for the first two weeks, but do exchange words and stories about themselves slowly but surely. Most will ask questions about what Karnaca was like, how it felt to win the Blade Verbana, and the best 'back alley' way to grip a sword.

Athene, after a certain point seemed to know his answers by heart. She reminds Corvo of his sister in a way. Bold, boisterous, but attentive and kind. He appreciates her company and extensive dirty vocabulary.

One evening, after a meal, they'd been greeted by a fellow guard, Alec. He was broad through the chest with soft curls cropped short and swept back. He looked at first glance like a constantly stern man, but after a few drinks he softened considerably.

After polite introductions Alec asks: "What do you recommend eating if I ever visit Karnaca?"
Corvo doesn't make jokes often, but feels like having a bit of fun. Athene looks at him in absolute shock as he signs:

"Blood ox. Whole."

She pushes at his shoulder playfully and returns the favor. Of course.

"Don't be a cocksucker." she signs.

The gesture itself, being overtly suggestive, makes Alec turns red in the face before letting a laugh grow loud and hearty.

"That ah... sounds like quite a meal."

Corvo can't help his grin.

--

Not all things are pleasant.

Walker, who runs ammunition security, arrives drunk to his shift. A mess and slurring loudly Walker eases into Corvos' space.

Walker has not dedicated any time to learning sign. So Corvo grabs him to hold him at arms length. Walker barely registers the touch, but manages to shout.

"AH, justtss the boy I was wanting to see!"

Corvo takes pity and quickly leads him away to the barracks in an attempt to cover for him. Athene follows dutifully, but doesn't try to help the man stand.

"You're kinder than I would be in this situation." Athene notes quietly.

Fumbling to keep him from the ground and placing a hand over Walker's mouth at the same time prove difficult. Walker turns out to be a rude and rather loud drunk.

"So, which Overseer got to keep your tongue Attano? Hear there aren't too many in Karnaca, but the ones you got are worse. They don't even need those fancy music boxes." Corvo rolls his eyes and pushes ahead.

Walker begins again, louder this time. Attracting attention. "I heard, they stole you away when you were just a little one. Cut your tongue out to keep their secrets."

Corvo had heard worse theories, but it only attracts more ears and eyes to them. No hiding now as the Guard Captain, Hershel Monroe, sees the whiskey inspired state of Walker.

Well shit.

Without a word, Monroe takes long and even strides towards them, before gripping Walker by the scruff of his already disheveled uniform. Walker, sobering from the strength of the man, gets considerably quieter as he is hauled away with ease.

The tension is thick between Corvo and the other guards as they watch the pair disappear towards the tower. Strained glances are exchanged before everyone heads their separate ways.

It is only two days later Corvo hears Alec and Thorpe talking about Walker's dismissal from the guard and his family's reaction being severe. They apparently disowned him until he could "make something of himself."

The world already demands so much. If given the opportunity to care for your own child so easily, wouldn't you want to? What led Walker to drink himself to such a state? Corvo leaves that conversation quickly.

Corvo realizes after; he still hasn't managed to write to his own mother. He takes the ink pen Jessamine gave him and writes with care. Words flow easily and composing a paragraph of details is enjoyable in it's own way. He finds Athene shortly after.

"Do you know when the courier will be here?"

"Hello to you too." She says teasingly. "I've seen her here only once, but I hear she comes once every two weeks. Usually later in the day. Writing to someone?" She says pointing at his letter.

"My mother." He says, his expression contemplative.

"Missing her?"

"Yes" and after a beat: "and home... friends."

"Aww now don't start feeling sorry for yourself now. Besides we're friends aren't we Corvo?" She says sliding next to him and giving him a hefty pat on the back. He gives her a soft confirming smile and she nods before saying.

"As your friend, I never took you for a momma's boy." Teasing grin smeared wide over her face.

Corvo scowls. Rolling his eyes playfully. Not entirely alone.

Chapter Text

Jessamine is almost done with Holger Square. Almost. The Head Overseer, Gerard Coates, will be announcing her competency for righteousness to the court. Just up the street is the Office of the High Overseer himself, and she will have access to the whole of the building. It must be done. The best path to being a good Empress is to have allies. One of the oldest and most influential allies to have, is the Abby of the Everyman.

There is always plenty of talk during any Boyle party to know the frequency of seances and attempts to commune with the Outsider. The upper classes are not immune to temptations that, any Overseer would point out, are an obvious violation of the seven strictures. She must set herself apart from any courtly intrigue in the eyes of the Abby and High Overseer. They even have their own special section of the tower reserved for them. This is necessary. Boring. First and foremost necessary.

The room is small and damp, but Jessamine sits up straight and listens as Overseer Devend gives one of his last lessons. She doesn't know what any of the overseers look like besides the Vice and Head Overseers. Devend's face is covered by the standard issue bronze mask. Only his voice marks him. It is clear in pronunciation and tenor, although slightly breathy as if he speaks through his nose.

"And just what was the tragedy of White Cliff Lady Kaldwin? In your own words now." Devend looks at her expectantly.

"I would say the loss of life. What would you say?" Jessamine replies.

"It was a loss indeed, not even the strictest of Abbymen would deny that, but... Look closer and realize it the witches and heretics choice to embrace the Outsider. The great tragedy was letting his influence gnaw away at their lives so thoroughly it threatened society itself. A society you'll lead one day." He finishes.

He is awaiting specific answers. Practiced. "Those who died on White Cliff made themselves into one of the greatest sacrifices to the building of a new age. Now, my goal would be to see that this new age serves my people. Serves them so they would have no reason to seek the Outsider in the first place."

"That's an admirable goal to have." He says more solemnly than expected. "However, in that goal don't forget that the Outsider can still penetrate your plans. Maybe your people won't seek out the Outsider directly, but they'll find him through your institutions."

"How do you mean?" Jessamine asks. There is no winning with Overseer Devend sometimes.

"Before your time, your father proposed a great many things that he wisely brought before the High Overseer's council. The one I remember most clearly was the desire for administering funds to the Academy for the creation of a defense against birth."

"Defense against birth?" Jessamine echoes.

"Yes. Apparently an up and coming natural philosopher had devised a type of medication that could be taken orally and would prevent pregnancy. Even the bleeding period." he finishes up. As if the science of the matter is a bore.

Jessamine didn't know such a thing was possible. Most times to avoid pregnancy she did what any one else in her position at court would've advised: avoid penetration or seek the company of those who couldn't get you pregnant. She had always managed to avoid the consequences of any fun she was having with others. That wasn't for Overseer Devend to know though.

"Since such a thing doesn't exist I can only guess the strictur-"

"Wanton Flesh." he says cutting her off and staring through the holes of his mask. "Your father, in trying to prevent the sufferings of the expecting, overlooked the strictures. He would've aided in the pursuit of lust and greed of the body. Birth is the reminder to abstain. To take it away would be to play into the Outsider's hands."

Boiling hot blood rushes to Jessamine's head. She breathes a practiced breath. Careful now. "My own mother died in childbirth."

Devend places a calming hand on her shoulder. "Beatrix is remembered fondly by us all. If your father had been successful in his venture with the young academic, we would've never had you."

Jessamine knows her mother wanted children, so she didn't quite believe that. The Abby would serve her well during her first years as Empress. She is so close. She peers up at him and tries to give a natural smile. "Of course. Both my father and myself are grateful to the Abby, for all that you do for us and the isles."

Overseer Devend pats her shoulder. "You can begin writing that acceptance speech now. I'll inform High Overseer Coates of your comprehension. The ceremony will be next week. Congratulations Lady Jessamine." She stands from her uncomfortable seat and flashes him her teeth.

"And thank you Overseer Devend, for your lessons."

She rides to Kaldwin's bridge via rail-car, her mind racing. Esma Boyle had always said the Office of the High Overseer was located close to the Golden Cat for a reason. The Madams and the Overseers would argue that this is to prevent the influence of the Outsider, but Jessamine bets the Outsider has little to do with what goes on there.

Waton flesh indeed.

Many people, poorer than her mother, die during childbirth or suffer in poverty due to too many children. The month of Harvest is always filled with the sounds of crying babes. Many of these children would end up orphans or abused. Any solution that is proposed is done with hushed lips and she understands why. She never thought of a state sponsored solution. The prospect of a 'defense against birth' seems like a long awaited answer.

She could guess the reasons why her father had wanted such a thing, avoiding Delilah's birth would've been a great relief for her mother. Jessamine didn't know all the specifics, but Delilah had always been a point of contention between her parents. She wouldn't bring this revelation to his attention. She feels endless amounts of grief and resentment towards her father in regards to her mother's death, but she knows he blamed himself for it too. To bring this up is useless and distracting for everyone.

This would have to be a solution she would have to pursue on her own, but inspiring none the less.

--

There was little to do besides standard patrolling most days. There had only been one 'break in' where an older woman had mistaken the tower for her husband's apartment. She was turned away, and that was that. After three months of only walking and standing, Corvo amps up his nightly runs on the tower scaffolding. He was caught only once by a group of maids who had fallen silent at the sight of an uniformed guard dashing across buildings and climbing up walls. He got down quickly and mercifully it wasn't reported to anyone.

He did notice gaps in patrol procedures and defensible positions however. Corvo took note of a couple of areas that could be tightened or at least have an increased number of eyes.

There was an older bridge way, now destroyed but still accessible if someone was a skilled enough climber. This was the most glaring to him. It led straight up to a waterway that let out far too close to the tower itself. All it would take is one dry day, and there would be easy access to the tower.

Corvo had worked at fortified positions before, but none were quite as old as Dunwall Tower. There where multiple areas where parts of the building had been added on through the years. This disjointed construction of the tower made scaling the side of the building fairly easy. There were simple solutions, such as adding smoother or harder to grip surfaces to the vulnerable face of the tower. Corvo would also suggest adding deterrents, such as certain types of plants or metal wire to limit the access points. Something as simple as a motorized gate would protect a larger area. Corvo had written up similar field reports in Karnaca with great success. In some cases preventing attacks altogether.

Hopefully, Hershal Monroe will be inclined to listen.

By the time Corvo had arrived in Dunwall, Monroe had been standing guard captain for the tower for some twenty odd years. He had apparently worked as a naval officer for multiple fleets before his position at the tower. He was held in high esteem, given his work as well as his family's high social status. Corvo had seen him mostly hunkered over paperwork or assigning shifts to the senior guards. Or dragging Walker off by his drunken ear. He had yet to talk to Corvo outside of giving orders. Corvo had only heard of Monroe's competency so he tried to be confident with his findings as he made his way over to Monroe's office after his shift.

Located down a set of stairs close to the gazebo, the office is temporary as new areas of the tower are being rebuilt after some water damage. The interior of the building is well lit and furnished with all the typical finery of the tower. Monroe is sitting at his desk in the center of the room. Impeccably clean with the exception of a few notes from the Royal Spymaster holding his attention. Corvo is close enough to see the seal of Lord Burrows, but Monroe doesn't look up from his work.

Corvo, undeterred, places his letter with an explanation of his findings on the desk. Monroe, finally acknowledging him, simply gives him a look of confused disdain.

"Where is your translator?" he asks. Avene is actually preparing for lessons since Corvos' shift is over. Not that Corvo could explain that. Monroe clucks his tongue and picks up the letter irregardless.

"Give me a moment Attano." he says before unfurling the letter under a magnifying glass. His eyes scan for only a moment before landing back upon Corvo. "I appreciate the attention to detail, but it's unnecessary. We've had someone try to enter the tower that way, and they promptly drowned."

Corvo had heard as much from an over-talkative guard, by the name of Gavin. He'd heard far too much about the death that made it's way around the tower from Gavin honestly.

Monroe begins folding up his letter without looking at the other concerns listed and it is tucked away in his desk. Monroe catches the look Corvo gives him and sighs. "Listen Attano, every other guard that brings that crawlspace to my attention doesn't last long in my squad. Don't overstep your position."

Corvo stills.

"Good you're listening now." Monroe stands and gets close. "I've been here longer than you've been a thought young man. I only take note of things I don't know, so don't clutter my station again." Monroe leans back and waves Corvo towards the door. Corvo turns on his heel quickly. He's uninterested in the display Monroe is flaunting.

"One more thing, Attano." Monroe's voice drifts to him with little care. "Bring your translator next time. Lady Jessamine does more for you than she's done for most. Don't dismiss her gifts."

Corvo leaves before he does something to disrespect his own character.

--

Corvo goes to wait by the tower's water-lock entrance, the courier is supposed to arrive soon anyway. Corvo knows Monroe simply wants to do his job well, so he can't fault him for that, but the arrogance... Corvo takes calming breaths of the salty ocean air. The spray cool and damp on his face. Same as anywhere else. He settles in to wait and contemplate his next moves for convincing Monroe. No use in letting a bad attitude stop him.

"There she is!" He hears a watchman say loudly from inside the water-lock building. Corvo heads inside and watches as a skiff parks itself inside the lower belly of the building and is slowly lifted by the mechanical flood gates inside. Corvo has seen no other entrance like this one.

The constant additions to the tower are mostly due to it's proximity and support of the Academy of Natural Philosophy in Dunwall. All manner of new technologies make him feel like a child again. Seeing the first rail cars being installed in the Batista mining district had been a wonder to behold. Corvo realizes that the water-lock could also have potential breaks in security. He produces the bound book and fountain pen Jessamine had gifted him from his coat and makes a note to check there later.

A short woman with a round face, large satchel, and a long tailed overcoat steps down from the skiff and skips towards one of the watchmen. She was quickly gathered in a large pair of arms that squeeze her tightly before ruffling her short cropped black hair.

"Good to have you back Kho!"
"Oh shove it you eel, I know what you want." her words seem harsh but she is all smiles as she reaches into her bag and produces a small box. The watchman's face, who Corvo recognizes as Gavin, lights up as he takes it from her. "You know just what any hard working man needs ya do." He opens the box and picks up a thickly rolled cigar.

"Aye. That's right 'hard working' is the key word there." She says pulling out a smaller rolled smoke for herself.

Corvo approaches waving for her attention. He doesn't want to disrupt their conversation too much, just wants to hand his letter off and be on his way.

Kho notices. "Oh, you're new."

Gavin turns around and sees him too. "Ah that's Corvo. New blood, fresh from Karnaca. He's mute though, so not much for conversation."

Koh gives Gavin an ugly look. "You really are such an eel." Then she turns towards Corvo and finger signs: "My name is K-H-O S-A-R-A-N" Corvo is a bit taken aback and so is Gavin by the looks of it.

Corvo recovers quickly and signs back with a question on his face. "You're the courier?"

"You got it." she responds with a smile. "Knowing sign comes in handy when you're taking letters and packages to all corners of the isles." Kho waves at Corvo to come closer and her face goes wide with awe. "You're the man who won the Blade Verbana aren't you! Every port from Karnaca to Fraieport talks about you!" Kho gushes. "Say, what do I have to do to get you to teach me something useful? Not every port in the Isles is as safe as... well none of them are."

"Two things" He plucks a rolled smoke and points. "This" Then he hands Kho the letter. "And this."

Kho smiles and takes his letter and places it into her bag. "Is that all? By all means-" She produces a match and gets Corvo's smoke started. "I think we'll get along just fine Corvo."

He takes an inhale and recognizes the flavor of white leaf tobacco.

Gavin looks pleased. "Well now that we're all acquainted, who wants to hear about the prisoner who jumped from the bridge to Coldridge last month? Some say he escaped through the sewers, other say he was eaten by-"

"Would you stop that morbid talk for one evening? You're always asking why you can't manage to get laid, and honestly!" Kho interrupts, exasperated.

Corvo began choking on smoke and a laugh tickles the back of his throat. Gavin looks affronted at his secret being spilled.

"Hey you'll learn quick Attano!" Gavin sputters. "It's hard to have a good night outside of Fugue Feast or the Golden Cat when you're a guard. Too many people of station will say the work is far too laborious. I once had Lady Timsh tell me I smelled."

"You DO smell. AND you tell crude bloody stories no one wants to hear." Kho finishes for him. "How about a nice story for once?"

"Oh I know nice. Have you seen Lady Jessamine yet?" Gavin asks. "She came down the back steps yesterday, tightly cut outfit per usual. Still lovely as ever."

"No, the tower is always my first stop in Dunwall. She's always retired for the evening by the time I arrive. I've got to head up to the financial district tomorrow though and I heard she's attending a meeting with the unions. So maybe I'll get to see what all the fuss is about." Kho says.

"Corvo's spent plenty of time with her, haven't you Corvo?" Gavin asks, blatantly hungry for details.

"Only one day." Corvo signs and Kho supplies. "She was kind."

"She comes out to see the patrols in the morning sometimes. Once she saw I'd gotten a hole in my uniform trousers and asked me if I'd put in a request for a new pair. I told her I would, but I needn't bother. She put in the request herself and the next day I had two new pairs." Gavin recalls fondly.

Corvo remembers that day he'd spent walking through Dunwall's nicest streets with Jessamine and Thorpe. To him it had been strange and new in a way most of his other days in Dunwall were not. He remembered her touch on his arm, the way she spoke, and how her eyes demanded answers.

As Gavin and Kho catch up about court and port-side scandal, Corvo decides quietly to himself that she is lovely.

Chapter Text

It had been six months and sign had truly taken hold of the watchmen. Especially those in Monroe's squad, as the man didn't take lessons himself, the opportunities were endless. Rude gestures where the easiest to learn for obvious reasons, but finger signing the common letter system was the easiest for the group to pin down. Outside of talking to Corvo, it was used all throughout the tower when guards where needing to be discreet between themselves.

Corvo himself found finger spelling tiring, but knew being fluent in sign could take years. It took him roughly a year and a half to learn and be confident in conversation. He had also been a child at the time, not an adult with full time responsibilities. Corvo imagined it would be a while before anyone outside of Athene to understand him fully. Not that he minded, but sometimes he wondered...

"Do you like working at the tower?" Corvo asks her one day after their shift. They are both still in uniform and eating lunch near the lower gardens.

"Well sure. I get paid well and the job is pretty relaxed." She thinks for a moment."You?"

His expression is conflicted. "It's alright..."

"Well what don't you like?"

"I like it here, but ... I feel.. stuck?" he's not sure if that is the right expression.

"I hate to tell you this Corvo: The Emperor owns the isles. No matter what job you're doing, you'll be working for him. At least here the scenery is nice."

"You sound like my mother."

"Well is that a bad thing?"

"No..."

"Thought not." Sensing that he hadn't quite said what he needed to, presses. "What makes you feel 'stuck', exactly?"

Corvo struggles for the right signs, and Athene supplies guesses: "Do you think you should be paid more?"

"No."

"Is your schedule not working for you?"

"No."

"Lonely?"

"Not as much as I thought I would be, no."

"Do..." she give an pause and then a calculating look. "Do you just need to get laid or something?" She asks this lightly and with jest. She moves to put food in her mouth.

Corvo felt his skin heat and his whole body recoils with the turn in conversation. She is getting a laugh out of his reaction now, choking on her food. He did want to have sex, but THAT definitely wasn't the issue... and he certainly wasn't going to tell her such things.

"No. Just feel like I don't exist outside of being a guard. Wonder what else I could've done with my life." He says.

"You're certainly one of the best in your field." She smiles and pats him on the back affectionately."That's everyone's story Corvo. You take the opportunities life gives you. Some get less than others. Some more. Even our Lady Jessamine has limited options."

He gives her a look of skepticism.

"It's true she'll only ever get to be Empress-" She catches Corvo's unimpressed look.

"How unfortunate for her." Corvo signs while rolling his eyes.

"Okay she's still got it easy. In a lot of ways, but the analogy still holds." she finishes.

Athene thinks for a long moment before starting again. "She's actually learning rather fast. Try speaking with her. She is very good company. Besides you should talk to people your own age. I sound like your mother cause I'm probably the same age as her."

"Older actually." Corvo says laughing at her scowl.

"Our future Empress must stay busy." Corvo says. "Unless you're a guard stuck in rotation, everyone here seems to be going at full speed. That man, Sokolov, has been here non-stop. Some machine is being installed."

"A new gate apparently. You're bored then?" Corvo agrees to that conclusion with a nod and she continues. "Gavin was saying new rounds would be starting at the end of the month because of the gate."

She switches to sign. "Are you going to eat anything?"

Corvo looks around the lower garden at another guard taking a cigarette break. "When he leaves."

Corvo didn't have all of his tongue and as a result had to manually put food between his teeth with his fingers.

No one at his home would've batted an eyelash, except for the nobles. He had heard enough scoffs and laughs his first weeks here. No direct words, of course, as his fellow guards had some propriety. Corvo decided it was easier to just wait until he was alone. If he focused on what others were whispering rather than his job he would certainly fail at it. Maybe one day, the fortitude would come to him.

Eventually the man does leave and Corvo eats a Morley apple; tart and sweet. They arrive fresh to Dunwall by boat. They would've rotted on the way down to the tip of the isles in Karnaca. He'd had his first taste and couldn't get enough. He is reminded that Dunwall isn't all so terrible.

--

The air of the day is crisp and getting colder. The harvests have long since finished and the tailors at Draper's Ward have rolled out thick furs and warm wools in their shops. Jessamine has purchased herself a warmer coat for the coming months and now makes her way inside the gates of the tower. The coat is a longer affair that what she normally takes up. Coming about mid thigh over her pressed trousers. The bulk of the coat is a deep navy embroidered with swans, trimmed in short black fur and copper accents at the cuffs and neck.

She decides to look at the last vegetation of the garden before the cold sets in for good. She walks on foot from the rail car and passes through the new gate construction. Jessamine notices that a rose bush surprisingly hasn't lost all of it's bloom and goes to pick a few. One of the maids, Margery, has been asking for perfume ingredients so maybe these would suit her needs. She was thinking about when Margery's next shift would be when she hears a conversation between two guards grow loud:

"Have you seen him though? Corvo looks like a child shoveling food into his mouth that way-"

Jessamine doesn't need to hear much else, and is quickly in front of them. Eyes sharp. They immediately stand at attention as she speaks: "I heard from Captain Monroe that the new rounds would begin shorty after installation of the new oil operated gates. Is that true?"

"Oh yes, Lady Jessam-"

"And do you like working here?"

"Of course I-"

"Good because efficient guards get to keep working the grounds here. Efficient guards also don't talk crudely about their fellow watchmen. Would you agree?"

He immediately stiffens. Eyes wide. "Of course! I apologize for-"

"I do not need your apology. I need you to be good at your job, er..." She takes a moment to recognize him. "Forrestal- your father owns property on Crows Court and Brambly. Yes?"

He visibly gulps. "Yes ma'me."

"It would be a shame for me to tell him you began guarding the area by the docks and sewer outlets rather than the Tower, wouldn't it?" Jessamine says nicely.

"A great shame. It won't happen again Lady Jessamine." Both of the guards look down at their feet sheepishly.

"Make sure it doesn't. Corvo has exceeded expectations. That gate is being installed is by his suggestion. Do not disrespect his name or your own with such pointless gossip."

With that she strolls off leaving them in the gardens. Her grip tight around the rose petals.

There is no need to bring this to Corvo's attention of course. He has probably heard such things and didn't need her to explain anything to him. She still feels as though she should do something.

--

He hears the soft steps of her boots before he sees her. Jessamine comes towards him, expression soft but with concern. She grips what looks like petals in her hands and her lips are curled into a pout. Again, soft. Corvo realizes he hasn't blinked until she begins speaking.

"Hello again Corvo, Athene. Corvo nods at her and Athene says warmly. "Good evening Lady Jessamine, is there anything we can help you with today?"

"I had an idea I wanted to run by Corvo. You're off duty now aren't you?" "Yes." Corvo signs, curiosity on his features.

In the time he had been in Dunwall, Jessamine was rigorously dedicated to her studies, attending court, and various meetings. Corvo had caught her once or twice on the roof. Star gazing it had seemed. She'd speak with some of the guards or Monroe, share a joke or two but was off quickly to whatever her life needed of her. He had only been in her presence a handful of times after his initial arrival. She'd been consistently professional and goal oriented.

Right now she seems to slow down and really look at him. Eyes demanding answers.

"I'd like to show you something." She turns her attention to Athene. "Also think I'll try conversation on my own today. You can retire for the evening if you like." Athene nods and gives Corvo a raised eyebrow. "I think you'll do just fine." Corvo is unsure who Athene is talking to, but she pats him on the back before saying good evening.

Jessamine gestures for him to follow.

"How much sign are you comfortable with?" He asks, signing slowly.

She gives him a smile. "Enough to know you're underestimating me."

Corvo lets a deep huff of a laugh through his nose. She looks at him shocked for a moment, not expecting him to make sound, much less a laugh.

He continues to smile before replying. "Never. Nothing seems to stop you."

"You might be surprised, but most things no. I've got no excuse to let anything stop me."

They continue at steady pace towards the top floor of the inner tower. She drops off some petals in a large room. Corvo thinks they're petals anyway. He thinks it odd, but doesn't bring it up. Corvo doesn't bring anything up really. He is preoccupied with taking in the interior of the tower. He realizes they may be breaking some protocol, as the guards who patrol in the tower were there due to seniority. If she thinks this is okay, it must be.

She stops them in the middle of the hall. She pushes a piece of paneling hidden in plain sight. A click is heard and the panel swings wide. She ushers him inside. Corvo tries to hide his shock but knows he's not successful as Jessamine raises an eyebrow and smiles widely. Clearly proud of herself.

Just when he thought things at the tower were getting boring.

Corvo notices the smell of old glue and paper first. Jessamine closes the panel behind her. Then, in the dim light, she grasps a set of ropes. They are attached to an old pulley system that creaks as she moves them. Bright warm light from the afternoon floods the tiny room that Corvo recognizes as a library. There is a rectangular table in the center of the room, a couple of chairs, a lounge styled sofa in the back, and from floor to ceiling books line the walls. There is even a ladder to reach all the books. Lots of dust too, enough to suggest the room isn't being used regularly.

"This was my mother's library. She used to come here when the stress of the day was too much." Jessamine says slowly letting nostalgia creep into her voice. "We've got a few historical texts if you're interested, but it's mostly fiction. My mother was always fond of pirate stories." She walks to a nearby shelf and pulls out a large book. It is full of scrap papers and notes but maintains a richly decorated binding. Corvo stands closer to give her a soft and puzzled expression.

"Why show me this?" He asks.

"Well, I... " she begins. Uncharacteristically nervous, she avoids his gaze. "I realized you don't have a permanent residence here like the other watchmen. I thought you might like a quieter... more private space to come to. Other than just any bunk in the barracks."

"Thank you." He signs to her. She really does go out of her way for him, or maybe this is just how she treats others. Either way Corvo is grateful for her character.

Standing before him holding the large book with a bright cascade of light pouring from above... The dust settling around and shifting in the light makes her image all the more stark in his mind.

Corvo looks up at the ceiling then and considers something else. He points to the skylight, now detectable with the opening of those shutters. "That's not on any diagram of the tower."

"I ah, don't know that word." Jessamine says stumped. Putting the book down she mimics the sign. Corvo slowly spells out the letters for her.

"Diagram? You mean the plans for the tower?"

"Yes. I've looked at many and haven't seen this room or the skylight."

"The tower was built in sections, depending on the sitting ruler. Some plans where lost along the way, but I found a couple of these rooms when I was a child." Jessamine wrings her hands together. "My mother found and used this one, I've only visited once or twice since she died." She looks him. "I think it would be better being used. Please feel free to come here if you happen to need a moment of privacy."

"Will the other guards be okay with me... wandering the halls?" Corvo generally avoids this area of the tower and doesn't presume he can walk too freely inside.

"They shouldn't but there's more than one way to get here." Jessamine reaches for the ladder which moves easily, due to being on a set of castors. She places it against a wall near the back of the room and begins to undo the buttons on her coat. Corvo's brain goes blank for a moment trying to figure out why she's taking her clothes off.

"You might want to take off the outer layer of your uniform. It can't be clean up here and it's always been stuffy. Even in colder weather." she says this unceremoniously before putting the coat down and rolling up the cuffs of her pressed white blouse. She begins to climb the ladder and looks at him expectantly.

He does need to get laid. Such a thing wouldn't have excited him before moving to Dunwall.

He follows suit and removes his top coat and vest. Leaving him in the standard issue grey collar shirt. Jessamine opens up yet another panel, not in the ceiling but on the wall just below it and crawls inside. Corvo watches her disappear and wonders if every visit with her was to be an adventure. She pokes her head out of the panel and waves him in. He crouches, although not uncomfortably, to get inside. She is already standing in the space and walks towards a grate.

Pointing she says "This leads to the roof in case we need to escape or hide while the guards handle any threats. You can use it to get in." Corvo finally makes it inside the crawlspace with her as she asks another question. "I understand that you do have regular duty on the roof?"

"Yes. Do you keep track of such things?"

"I keep track of most of the guard so I can make sure I have something to talk about when their relatives at court ask about them." She looks bored as she says this.

"You won't have to keep track of me, I doubt my family will show up to court." He signs amused by her honest face. Very different from the first day he met her.

"Maybe not, but it's been hard not to pay attention to the effect you have." she says.

"What do you mean?" he asks genuinely not sure.

"You're aware that the reason we're having that oil powered door installed, is because Monroe had reviewed your suggestions and thought they where good enough to make changes, yes?"

"No. He made it seem like I was being unreasonable." He can't believe this. He had submitted numerous other reports about the water lock and the railcar system. He'd nearly forgot about the gate.

Jessamine sighs and places a hand on her brow. "He really does act like an old hound sometimes, but he has told me with great confidence that you're doing well. Keep bringing him suggestions, he can't be everywhere at once despite him certainly trying."

Corvo rightly doesn't know how to feel about this. "And the... the water way on the west side of the tower? He seemed angry that I had brought it up."

Jessamine put her whole hand on her face at that. "Yes. He does that on purpose. He would agree with you that it is a problem." Jessamine sighs and Corvo feels she's explained this on more than one occasion. "He's not straight forward because of some... tiff he had with Leon about the defense of that area. Essentially, if you ever bring this to Leon's attention, who is adamant that it shouldn't be a focus for defense, he will try to get you removed from Monroe's squad. Monroe on the other hand, has argued it should be addressed. Endlessly. Monroe will just tell you not to bring it up and potentially ruin his... 'strategy' as he calls it."

"Why would I be removed from Monroe's squad for bringing it up?" Corvo asks. The indirectness of it all is so nonsensical.

"Leon Fendrel is my father's Lord Protector and Monroe is simply at his mercy in terms of security. If Leon wanted to, he could get rid of every man who brought it up and put them on patrol somewhere else. Monroe wants to keep all men of this opinion around, but have them keep quiet about it. It's one giant pissing contest to be honest with you." Jessamine looks annoyed. While Corvo is pleased with the revelation he decides to change the subject.

"I was wondering. When does Lord Burrows send out the incoming mail?" Corvo asks.

Kho had told him any incoming mail had to be taken to Burrows first as he needed to inspect it for security reasons.

Jessamine takes a pause for the change in subject before answering. "He's usually pretty quick about it, are you waiting on something?"

"Yes. I've been waiting on a reply that should be back by now."

"Hmm. I believe he's already retired for the evening. Bring it to his attention with Athene and I'm sure he'll sort it out." she begins making her way down the ladder. "I'm going to retire as well. Feel free to look around and get acquainted." Once down the ladder she begins to leave, picking up the large book from before on her way out. "Good evening Corvo, please let me know if you need anything." He nods politely as she leaves.

Sitting on the edge of the table, he thinks for a long moment about what she had said. There was no reason for her to lie to him or make up stories, she has been very straight-forward with him. He appreciates it, given how little he understands the motivations of his upper command. Or the people of Dunwall in general. He would've never guessed there was any animosity between Fendrel and Monroe based on how they interacted in the yard. He found it all rather silly, but shook his head and went to take his leave. Before leaving, he noticed Jessamine had left her coat.

The other room they had stopped by before the library... Presumably it was her room. He should bring it to her.

Chapter Text

The hall lights are dimmed for the evening as the tower settles into the night. Corvo heads directly to the room, so as to not be questioned by the guards on night duty. He is still in uniform, but they are less familiar with him. Athene being absent also presents a problem.

The room itself is closed off by a double door made of dark stained wood, frosted glass and golden accents. He knocks gently avoiding delicate areas of the door.

"One moment." He hears her answer. Thankfully it's her.

She comes to the door and the first thing Corvo notices is her hair is loose but not entirely down. As if he has caught her in the middle of undoing the long locks from the usually tight bun. Next, is that she is clutching the top of her blouse to hold it shut. A hint of her breasts can be seen between the opening of the soft fabric.

"Hello Corvo, what is it?" She asks, curious.

He casts his eyes towards the ceiling and lifts the coat as a response. It's not as though he hasn't seen breasts before, but given she was to be the Empress one day and he certainly didn't have her permission... He felt like 'voyeur' was a bold enough word to use.

Jessamine, of course, catches this and a very womanly giggle finds it's way to his ears. "How courteous of you." She says taking the coat from him. Leaving Corvo unsure if she means him bringing the coat back or his averted gaze.

"Thank you Corvo and good night." She says gently smiling at him. He meets her eyes and no longer sees that sharp demanding gaze but something more like fondness. He returns the smile.

She closes the door and it shuts with a soft click. He almost manages to have a complete thought about the interaction. However, as the door moves shut it reveals Leon Fendrel himself. Standing at the end of the hall and watching Corvo carefully.

This is how rumors get started, Corvo thinks to himself. Fendrel however, only turns heel and walks around the corner leaving Corvo alone with his thoughts.

Corvo, having limited interactions with the man has absolutely no idea what he would say to him. Fendrel likely walks off because Athene isn't present. Corvo is grateful to avoid whatever that conversation might have entailed. He takes his leave quickly.

--

The following day Corvo lets Athene know he needs to follow up with Burrows about incoming mail. It takes another few days for their days of rest to begin. When they're on their way to Burrows's office, the mid-day is chilled and surprisingly dry. The tower is a quiet relief from the winds.

"Do you think this Lord Burrorw's inspects all the mail himself? For everyone here?" Athene ponders aloud.

"Maybe. I've never seen him. If he stays in his office all the time it's a possibility." Corvo says.

"I would assume he would have to read it to be sure, being the royal spy master and all. Not a fun thought though."

"No. Not at all."

The door to the office is of the same finery as the rest of the tower, but it is oddly left open to the hall. As they approach, Corvo hears the voice of Hiram Burrows come sharply from the office.

"Come in Attano, Devanaugh. I was wondering when you'd manage your way here."

Giving each other a brief and glance, Corvo and Athene enter the office. Burrows sits at his desk shuffling through papers and stamping documents. He doesn't look up as they approach.

"These letters and notices have been here for weeks Attano, why has it taken you so long to pick them up?" Burrows says snidely. Still attending to his own work.

It distinctly sounds like Burrows doesn't want an explanation. There were plenty of reasons of course. Corvo hasn't known Burrows was the person to see until recently. Corvo had never actually seen the man before now, much less be introduced. Athene had been tasked with teaching the guards more complex lessons, thus taking up her time. Corvo could probably think of a few more, but he didn't need to explain himself.

Best to appeal to this man and not draw the meeting out longer than necessary.

Athene translates, voice overly polite: "Sorry for the tardiness Lord Burrows. I thought the mail was to be given to the addressee once it passed your inspection."

"I have my men hand them out once I'm done, that's true." Burrows says stamping one final notice before finally looking at the two. "But they are only handed off to residences. Are you in possession of an address Attano?"

Clearly he isn't. Certainly a spy master would know such things. Corvo is un-used to this particular kind of barb. He is used to over hearing a whisper of an uninformed judgement. He is even used to outright threats from various gang members and pirates he interacted with in Karnaca.

But this constant call to his class and status. Or lack there of.

Burrows keeps talking: "Of course not. Most landlords wouldn't want a foreigner they can't understand as a tenant. Silly me."

Corvo tries his best to mirror the calm Burrows is projecting. Being upset will only be trouble, he knows that much.

Athene also keeps her cool, but her voice had a thread of fury to it. "I apologize for the inconvenience this must have caused you-"

"Hiram! Give the man his mail!" Interrupting at that moment, a booming and jovial voice comes through the door at their backs. "We have plans of action to discuss. Ones that don't require your dour attitude!"

Leon Fendrel strides into the room and straight to Burrow's desk. Even in the low light, Corvo can see the laugh lines on his tanned face. Squared jaw and straight backed, he strides with confidence. His uniform is darker than the other guards and it is streamlined to allow for greater movement.

Burrows says nothing, but does produce a few letters and what looks like an official notice of some sort. Fendrel takes them, with no delicacy, and gives Burrow's upper arm a firm pat. Burrows barely contains a grimace.

Fendrel hands Corvo the letters and promptly grabs his shoulders and leads him to the hall. Corvo stiffens, unused to the contact, but allows himself to be led. Athene is right behind them.

"Wait here for a moment Corvo. I'd like to speak to you privately. The goat won't take but a moment." Fendrel looks to Athene only briefly before signing. "You're dismissed." The sign for 'dismissed' is overdone, much like Fendrel's voice.

Corvo can only manage to stare at the other man's hands and shit eating grin. Athene rolls her eyes and waves a brief goodbye. Fendrel is closing the door to Burrows' office before Corvo can get a grip on what just happened. Maybe Fendrel is taking lessons with Athene, she doesn't seemed shocked. Although Corvo can hardly imagine how they would've had the time.

The doors to Burrows office must be heavy, since no sound penetrates the hall. Certainly Fendrel wants to talk about him being at Jessamine's door in the middle of the night. Corvo tries to take note of his surroundings. Distracting himself from his own nerves will help. The chandeliers are casting low light as the windows are open for the mid-day. The rug that runs the length of the hall is coordinated with the seasons. The month of High Cold; so a pale blue. Near the window sits a large potted plant that has wilted. There is very little to look at outside of this. Luckily, he waits in the hall for only two silent minutes.

There are no goodbyes between the two as Fendrel leaves. He begins walking down the hall and asks with his eyes for Corvo to follow.

"You shouldn't worry about Burrows. He's new at his job and just wants to make sure he gets everything right. Perfect even. All he manages to do, of course, is act like a perfect ass." Fendrel laughs at his own joke and smacks Corvo on his back. Corvo nearly trips.

Corvo recovers and signs simply. "Thank you for stepping in."

"No problem my boy. The Emperor trusts him despite his unfortunate deposition. So it's my job to keep that goat away from polite people. If he went to court himself, we wouldn't get any funding for the security measures he wants oh so dearly."

Corvo chuckles. The man clearly is just someone who likes to get things done. Might as well bring it up. "Jessamine showed me the hidden library. That's why I was in the tower that night."

"Well of course. That's what anyone would think." Fendrel smirked.

Corvo switched to another subject. "How many other rooms are like that library?"

"Plenty. Where else would the empires greatest tickle their staff?"

They had made their way to the main hall by now. The words echoed through the chamber. Corvo stares at him, distinctly uncomfortable.

"Oh Corvo, lighten up! The Overseers wouldn't dare allow such things. The world can't see every little mistake Euhorn and little Jessamine make along the way. No. Stowing away what little privacy they can get, keeps them from running the Empire into the ground. I'm certain of that."

"They need their privacy sure, but if someone finds a way in via one of these rooms... doesn't this pose a risk for security?" Corvo presses.

"Ah I see now. You think little Jessamine shows everyone those rooms? Give her more credit. Just because she radiates politeness doesn't mean she trusts unconditionally. She must have great faith in you. And so quickly too..."

Fendrel's face implies too much.

"I -what? No. She-" Corvo's hands start and go. Hands literally grasping for the words. "I'm asking about the possibility of a break in-"

"You needn't worry yourself so much Corvo. For every addition made to the tower, another part is destroyed. There exist no true maps. Only those trusted know of those spaces. If that trust is betrayed, well... we'll know who to blame huh?" Fendrel's voice cuts low with the remark.

Corvo thinks it amazing how this man could pivot so quickly in such a short conversation. Corvo is quick with a sword and Fendrel is quick with words. Good thing they were out the door to the courtyard and this conversation could end quickly. They continue across the little bridge that rests over the small waterway in front of the tower. Now dry.

Corvo barely sees it.

He raises his sword just in time to deflect the bolt. The only sound that can be heard is the hard twang of metal on metal. Crossbow then.

Fendrel is already ducking behind a pillar, all mirth gone from his face.

Corvo looks to where the shooter stands. Covered in dirt and clearly fresh from a climb up the side of the old bridge way. Of course.

"Come out Fendrel you loudmouthed shit! You ruined me!"

Corvo wastes no time waiting for this man's monologue. He jumps from the bridge and runs quickly on the stone perimeter of the waterway.

Bolts waste no time finding him either. Corvo bats them away with his sword easily. Timing his blocks with the pull of the trigger and the distance that stands between the two of them.

As Corvo gets closer, he realizes the man holding the crossbow is Walker. His face sallow with the abuse of liquor and anger. No time to ask questions. He needs to be disarmed.

Corvo maneuvers down from the wall and into the trench. Deflecting one final bolt.

He runs full speed at Walker. At this distance he won't be able to reload in time.

At the last second, Corvo lets himself drop to the ground. As he slides past Walker, he grabs the man's boot with a strong grip. The momentum causes Walker to fall, face first, into the dirt. The cross bow lands a few feet away.

Corvo hops quickly onto Walker's back, pinning him. Walker struggles and moves his elbow frantically, as if to catch Corvo's torso. Corvo wraps his arm around Walker's neck, placing his bicep next to Walker's windpipe and squeezes.

After a few moments, Walker goes limp and unconscious. Corvo takes heavy breaths and remembers the cold as the sweat on his brow catches the wind. He looks up at the guards and Fendrel who stand gaping at the display.

Fendrel is the first to move and makes his way to the trench. "Where in the void did you learn to deflect bolts with a sword? While running at the same time?!"

"Pirates. Are you not concerned that a man just tried to kill you?" Corvo signs. Eyes wide with disbelief at the man.

"No! There's a story of pirates to be told." Fendrel turns to the other guards. "Close your mouths and get down here. Lets get this man to Coldridge immediately."

As Corvo and Fendrel go to pick up Walker, his dead weight suddenly jumps to life. A bolt appears in his hand and it soon finds it's way into Fendrel's thigh.

Frenrel doesn't even yell, too in shock from the suddenness of it all. Corvo grabs Walker's hand and twists it back to prevent him from removing the bolt and trying again. With his free hand, Corvo slams Walker's head into the ground. He goes limp once more but Corvo takes no chances and restrains Walker with his belt.

Fendrel is on the ground holding his leg which is bleeding profusely. His own uniform doesn't make use of belts apparently. The other guards are running towards them now. Corvo sees Alec and beckons him closer. Alec is overtly flustered when Corvo removes his belt. Corvo quickly ties off Fendrel's leg. Alec recovers, but is still hot in the face as they both haul Fendrel out of the water way. Three other guards take Walker to Coldridge, making sure he doesn't regain consciousness along the way.

--

Corvo's trousers are covered in blood by the time the three of them reach a cot in the nearby barracks. Alec runs to fetch Sokolov. Corvo knows if he stops to think about what's going on or to feel guilty, he will be removed from the moment. Instead he focuses on what needs to be done. He puts pressure on the wound and Fendrel hisses at the pain but still manages to keep talking. Even when the Royal physician arrives to examine the damage.

"Sokolov. Why is the Empire's most selfish man attending to my wounds? Isn't there anyone else?" Fendrel says, delirious at this point.

Sokolov looks unimpressed as he cuts the fabric of Fendrel's pants away from the wound. "You know I'm here because I'm the best and the Emperor pays me handsomely for it. Hold still."

"The only reason you're the best is because you throw anyone else with promise from the academy. You'd make me bleed more if you got enough money for it you- yoou...disloyal-" Fendrel is pale and sweating as the blood loss begins to set in. Sokolov quickly injects a syringe filled with a red substance into the wound which stops the bleeding.

"Loyalty is for dogs Leon. The Emperor's money is what's saving you now. Some aren't so lucky with a wound like this. Unfortunately, I know this bolt; it has barbs on it. Preventing it from simply being pulled back out. We'll have to push it through." Sokolov says. Offhandedly with the entirety of his focus on the task at hand. He injects another shot into Fendrel's leg, this time green. Sokolov looks to Corvo. "You'll need to hold him down, the sedative will only do so much so quickly, and this damnable bolt needs to be removed."

Corvo nods and positions himself behind Fendrel in the cot. Fendrel grunts as Corvo wraps his arms around his chest tightly. Fendrel grasps onto Corvo all the same. Sokolov cuts off as much of the bolt as he can, before quickly pushing it through the other side of Fendrel's thigh. Fendrel still doesn't yell, but grits his teeth and pushes against Corvo's grip. Corvo maintains his hold as the bolt falls to the floor followed by a fresh flow of blood. Sokolov is quick to inspect the wound once more before stitching it shut on both sides. He finishes by wrapping Fendrel's leg in fresh dressings.

As he begins moving to a nearby sink to wash his hands, Sokolov grunts. "Don't you all have work to be doing?"

Corvo looks up to notice a group of guards hovering by the doorway. Gavin is there, eyes round. No doubt spinning a way to retell this to anyone off duty. Athene is there too, deep worry written on her features. Exhaustion taking hold Fendrel's grip loosens and he begins dozing off in Corvo's arms. A prickle of guilt hits Corvo in his gut as he removes himself from Fendrel.

He thought for sure Walker had been out. Damn. Of course this happens the first day he manages to communicate candidly with the Lord Protector.

"Don't look so worried lad. He'll be walking again in two months I reckon. Certainly letting any and all nonsense fall from his mouth by tomorrow morning." Sokolov says eyeing Corvo. "No thoughts to share? You're the one who took out the attacker right? The man is asleep, you do have the room to talk now."

Corvo looks at Sokolov blankly and signs. Sokolov stares in confusion for a moment before Athene begins translating from the door: "You talk as much as he does."

Sokolov grins at the revelation. "Ah you're the Serkonan. You'll have to tell me how you lost your tongue one day."

"No thanks."

After Sokalov directs Alec and Gavin to take Fendrel to his quarters, Corvo is blessedly left alone.

Chapter Text

Jessamine and her father are discussing the latest proposal for the food ticket program over a late lunch. Jessamine had encouraged the canning unions to state their needs before the court and they successfully managed to increase their wages. Much to the ire of the more industrious members. Now there is a bill to cut the food ticket program for items of food that are canned. A clear backlash.

"Designating what types of food are to be included is just so that the Meierson's can call the City Watch on anyone eating a can of pears verses a fresh one. It's absurd." Jessamine says irritated.

"It is." Her father agrees. "It's a clear attempt to undercut your influence you-"

Euhorn stops mid-sentence and Jessamine follows his gaze now drawn toward the door. Sokolov strolls in, smelling of fresh blood.

"You and your entrances. What's happened?" Euhorn barely avoids shouting.

"You'll need to find a new Royal Protector I'm afraid." Sokolov says already at the liquor cabinet. "Some intruder just stuck Leon like a hog. Luckily, you're little Serkonan gift took care of the rabble in less than a minute. Or so I'm told."

"Where is Leon now?" Euhorn says. Jessamine sees her father grip the dinning table tightly.

"He's resting in his quarters. He'll be awake by tomorrow to over-exaggerate the tale for you no doubt." Sokolov gives a satisfied grin at seeing the King Street Brandy.

"And Corvo?" Jessamine asks.

"Also fine." He pours himself a hefty glass full. "He'll need a new uniform. It managed to catch more blood than the floor."

"He certainly will." Euhorn says.

--

Officer Thorpe reports back to Euhorn immediately after realizing that Corvo can not be located in the courtyard, barracks or the gardens.

"He is on rotation for two days of rest, so he may have left the Tower for a while." Thorpe says. Hoping Corvo did in fact leave for his days off rather than be... guilty of something. The Emperor rarely calls on any of the guards privately unless it's the Lord Protector.

Thorpe hadn't been on duty, but everyone had heard about Corvo's quick skills disarming Walker. As well as Lord Protector Fendrel nearly bleeding out in the barracks. Thorpe doesn't want to doubt Corvo. Corvo is a fine enough fellow. To him at least. Some find him unfriendly or strange. Some have even suggested that Corvo knew Walker wasn't knocked out, and helped plan the attack. Of course that's a ridiculous claim. Even still. The doubt of it tickles Thorpe's mind and he feels strangely guilty for it.

Lady Jessamine approaches him. "Of course, sorry to send you searching. We should've reviewed his schedule first."

"It's no trouble Lady Jessamine. Corvo has rarely left the grounds in the time he's been here, but I imagine today's events were-" Thorpe contemplates his words. No need to over extend his opinion. "Overwhelming."

--

Jessamine leaves Leon in his chambers with her father. It has been a few hours since Leon has woken up. Despite his injuries, he has maintained his usual candor. Multiple guards have told her of how quickly Corvo moved. "Like a bird in flight." Leon agreed and sang Corvo's praises until he was out of breath and passed out again. She wonders if Corvo had handled similar situations before.

Now, it has turned dark and Corvo still hasn't been seen on the grounds. She decides to check the library before settling in for the night. If he's there, she wants to tell him the good news.

She opens and closes the panel with a click. A faint hint of moonlight comes through the skylight. Other than that there is only a small lamp lit at the table.

Corvo is slumped over that table. All of his outer uniform is gone, and he's left in standard issue trousers and undershirt.

She stops at the sight of him. He doesn't move when she enters the room. She walks forward slowly. Still no movement. He must be sleeping. She moves even closer to be sure. His hair is loose from it's usual tail and splayed across his face. His chest moves slowly on each inhale and exhale. He's got a couple of letters in front of him; unfurled and wax seals broken. She places her hand on the table to steady herself. One letter catches her eye as it has a corner covered in blood. It reads:

"To the attention of Corvo Attano,

In regards to the holdings and residency of the deceased Paloma Attano. It is our duty to inform you that if the deceased belongings are not collected by the end of the Month of Wind they will be absorbed by the state. Attached is her death record including the cause and time of death for -"

The rest of the letter is cut off, but Jessamine doesn't need to read anymore. She looks at his face again. His eyes are closed and she realizes now they're also wet.

He came here for privacy. As she begins to remove herself from the table, the heel of her shoe scrapes against an open book. The sound of the page tearing penetrates the room.

Corvo is up in an instant. Focus written across every feature he successfully grabs hold of her arm. She watches as his face changes to recognition and then to a hint of fear. He immediately removes himself from her. He lowers his head and signs the same thing again and again. Brushing his fingertips onto his open palm then and making circular motions with his fist on his chest.

"Forgive me. I'm sorry. Forgive me."

She is shocked by the quickness of his movements, but knows she must have scared him. Trying to see his face, she speaks as softly as she can "It's alright, Corvo. There's nothing to forgive. I'm sure-" His hands have stopped moving but his head is still lowered. He's taking large breaths.

"I'm sure you're going through a lot right now."

He looks at her, searching.

"I'm sorry for startling you. My father wanted to speak with you about what happened in the courtyard."

Corvo casts his eyes down, thinking, and signs. "I'm sorry. I should've made sure that Walker was unconscious."

Jessamine pauses for a moment to make sure she read his hands correctly. She tries not to sound too stern in her response. "Corvo. You disarmed a man in less than a minute. You made sure Leon didn't bleed out before Sokolov arrived. You saved his life. No one will come berate you for it." She moves closer.

He looks at her again and he's clearly tired. "No one was quite sure where you were. I thought I'd better check here." Jessamine clenches her fists nervously, wanting to comfort but not overstep.

Corvo makes no moves to sign. She places a gentle hand on his arm.

"Forgive me, but I saw the letter. Just now. About your mother."

He nods, eyes glossy.

"Between such news and Leon you must be exhausted." She rubs her thumb in small circles on his arm. "I know this is difficult for you. I-" Jessamine begins to wonder how much she should share. How much would she even be able to say before dissolving into her own grief? Not much more, better to focus on him right now.

Corvo leans into her touch.

"I was with my own mother during her final days, I can't imagine how you must feel being here. I'm so sorry Corvo." She doesn't let her voice crack but Corvo must pick up on her distress anyway. He places his hand on her arm and gives it a small squeeze before removing himself to sign.

"You said the Emperor needs to speak with me. Should we see him now?"

"We can go later. My father wants to promote you to his private watch." Corvo's face flashes shock but she continues. "I, however, would like you to rest. We'll have Thorpe get you in two days time. Just make sure you're easy enough for him to find."

--

Even if he could speak he wouldn't want to. Corvo finds he can only nod. He feels hollow from the past few days events. The sight and smell of blood is dredging up old memories. Fresh fight between two local street rats. The way all that blood lay thick in the dirt beneath him. How the infection didn't cease and the resulting fever made him run hot for days.

He tries not to think of it. Tries not to think about how he'd jumped at Jessamine. Tries not to think of his mother. He needs to focus.

So he nods his affirmations as he is appointed to Euhorn's Private Watch. Despite the promotion he feels strangely dis-empowered. Useless even. So he nods. There is no court to behold the transfer of his position. No ceremony like a Royal Protector or Spymaster would receive. Just Euhorn, Fendrel and himself discuss the details. He nods as Euhorn explains over an evening fire and two fingers worth of Dunwall whiskey. He speaks slow and practiced.

"The purpose of the City Watch is to reinforce in the minds of our people that they're safe. The purpose of the High Court Watch is similar in that we want our visitors to feel safe as they serve the Empire. These positions are more about display. It's why so many of the men who work here at the tower have families who attend court. It makes them feel proud." Euhorn finishes his glass of whiskey and continues with a steady cadence. "The Private Watch is different. You will not be keeping people safe with appearances. Rather you'll be accomplishing goals first and appearances will be the farthest from your mind."

Corvo nods. Watching as Euhorn's face turns to the fire in concentration. "You'll attend court as needed but I'll need you to help with special projects mostly. I need you in my back pocket." Euhorn looks at him then. Gaze demanding. Corvo sees Jessamine in his features.

--

"These whispers were rare before the death of Euhorn's wife, but have increasingly gotten louder over the years as Jessamine has come of age." Leon says this from his bed. Speaking loudly and undeterred despite it only being three days since the damage. "We've got a few leads and suspects, but nothing concrete. And that's where you come in. A few others as well, but they have their own tasks."

These 'whispers' have been happening for months. "So does the Emperor think the assassination threats are nothing then?" Corvo asks.

"Euhorn doesn't want to disrupt court by making baseless accusations. Makes him seem unstable, which he is desperate to avoid." Leon looks to the air, contemplating. "He also thinks if something were to happen I'll be there to take the blow. Which, I will. But there is no reason I can't save myself some trouble and weed out any firebrand that makes themselves known before drawing swords."

Corvo pointedly doesn't look at Leon when he says this. If only he'd thought the same thing when maintaining the tower's defenses.

"I think the best place to start is the academy of natural philosophy. I've been there on one too many occasions and the people that congregate there are very interested in hearing themselves speak."

Corvo continues to look away from Leon. Maybe there's a reason he's there so frequently. Does he not hear himself?

"Being there without being seen will let us gather insight on certain motivations of the patrons as well as collect evidence. There are two students you'll be seeking out, both have patronage from members of court." Leon lays two portrait sketches on the table. Finally giving Corvo something to look at.

"Take note of any correspondence about sponsored projects. You may not know what you're looking at, so grab as many documents as you can."

"Are these two marks or the patrons?"

Leon grins at him. "So eager and serious."

Corvo really just wants something to focus on besides his grief.

"Both Euhorn and myself have absolute confidence in you. After seeing your skills first hand, your file doesn't seem like puffed up bragging."

Bragging?

"Does Euhorn think Duke Abel a liar?" Corvo asks. Is Euhorn unstable? Such distrust seems unfounded.

"No no nothing of the sort. He was concerned when you were gifted but Theodonis didn't show up to vouch for you himself."

Corvo supposes he understands the logic, but there is a much simpler answer.

"After the way his son died here, he dislikes Dunwall. Certainly this isn't a shock."

Leon's voice fills with heat quickly: "And I don't like being at Euhorn's heels for three quarters of my life, but that is what the job demands. Duke Theodonis' job is to represent his people, you included." he sighs audibly "Now I'm being serious. You must stop that."

"Please give me the information." Corvo signs, ignoring his outburst.

--

Jessamine hears the door to Leon's room open and shut. She's been patiently waiting in a small alcove away from most of the guard's rotation. Pretending to be busy but ready for her chance.

Corvo passes where she is tucked away and she waves for his attention. His eyes find her first then he stops on a dime. She signs: "I have a favor to ask. Follow me please."

She sees a smile tug on his lips before he nods and follows. She leads him to a small room beneath a staircase. It's small but she doesn't plan to keep him long.

I know my father is sending you to the Academy, and I was wondering if you would pick up some old research for me?" Jessamine began. "The work of Elijah Primbly should be in the archives. Easy to find, but none of his documentation exists outside of the Academy. I need it for a project I'm working on."

Corvo looks hesitant. "I was under the impression you didn't know the details of what the Private Watch was doing. For your safety."

"I have my ways of finding out. Besides if I'm going to be Empress one day, I can't be in the dark about such things. This is really the only part of my training my father is hesitant about." She says honestly.

He averts his eyes and smiles a bit wider than before. Jessamine feels a small thrill run through her at the sight.

He looks back to her. "I'll look for you."

"Thank you." she looks at his face and notices how tired he still looks. "Are you doing alright?"

That little smile disappears and he just nods.

"Tell me only if you want to. It's still all a little fresh huh?" She tries to be softer when saying this. He nods again without looking at her this time. No need to press him.

"Are you leaving tonight? For the Academy?"

Corvo manages to sign again."Yes, there are meetings on the 19th day of every month. So there should be plenty of people there to overhear. We'll arrive before daybreak."

She nods and takes a moment to think. Did she miss anything? Ah...

"Do you know how trials work?" she asks him.

A simple shake of the hand combined with a shrug: "Sort of?"

"I'll make sure you get to attend court beforehand so you don't feel overwhelmed. But, we can only hold Walker for so long. We're going to need you to testify." she watches as his expression goes solemn. She continues. "Just state what happened. We'll have Athene there to translate so everything goes smoothly."

"Did you know his family disowned him?"

"Yes, I'm aware."

"No one drinks that way without reason."

"You're right. And the reason is understandable."

Corvo looks at her with his head tilted slightly. Waiting.

"One of the women at the Golden Cat he would see... regularly but quietly." She said with some discomfort. "She died in labor." She feels cold saying this. Knowing so much about all the guards did have it's drawbacks. "Fendrel had told him to take time for himself. He refused, of course, because of his family's expectations."

"Expectations?" Corvo has leaned back as if trying to distance himself from what he was hearing.

"They would say that a man of his status shouldn't mourn a ... woman like her." Jessamine finishes quietly.

His lips curl into a thin line. Clearly displeased. His hands are crossed in front of him and he makes no move to sign. This was the first time his silence had been loud.

She knows she must be compassionate for her people, even Walker. Most other people she socialized with, would not have such disappointment with hearing about his situation. Even in his restraint, Corvo is seeing something beyond the obvious unfortunate circumstance.

"Will you tell me what you're thinking please?"

He looks at her with conflict sewn into every feature. "At one point in time, my mother would've been a woman like her." He's uncomfortable but he trusts her enough it seems. "As hard as she worked, sometimes we would still be at a loss for money. Especially after my father died. I know she did what she had to and I think no less of her for it."

Jessamine swallowed hard. At a loss at how to respond. Leon wasn't the only one tending to a wound.

"I realize many people look at me and see something specific. They would look at my mother and see something too, so I have to wonder..." Corvo looks at her squarely, almost challenging but restrained. "Should I not mourn a woman like her? Given my new position?"

Jessamine grabs hold of the cuff of his sleeve as if to pull his hands away from the thoughts. "All loss of life should be mourned. There is no simple answer other than that."

Corvo seems to deflate at that. As if some anxiety had been released from him. Does he think she will judge him so harshly? She wonders briefly what other people have said to him.

He has decided to trust her with something so personal. Just to make a point. She needs to make her own. Pain with conviction. "My own mother died in labor, desperate to deliver an heir. I would argue, that there's very little variation on how people get pregnant." Corvo smiles a little at this, despite the seriousness. "In her own way she was a ... woman like her. I certainly mourn." Jessamine hears her voice crack. Damn.

Corvo takes her hand under his, pressing gently. Understanding. This interaction is genuine in a way she's unused to. She removes her hand and coughs distractedly.

"I can't keep you here. You should go prepare."

He nods firmly, mind suddenly focused on his task.

She signs as he takes his leave: "Good luck and be safe."

He smiles again.

Chapter Text

Corvo thinks that the cold dusk that hits the isle of the Academy of Natural Philosophy is beautiful. The building is of Tyvian design and seemed to defy the laws of nature itself. Or supposedly, explained them in their complexity. Most buildings throughout Dunwall are brick and mortar. Narrow with sloped roofs and small smoke stacks. Dedicated to home life and the needs of workers and factories.

The Academy is a display of the very gifted minds that reside inside. Mostly made of a single dense stone that is carved to look like an upside down pyramid, with tall blackened windows. Smoke stacks are abundant, but only appear along the top of the building. They spill vast amounts of different colored smog into the awaiting sky. The support system for the building seems non-existent and Corvo wonders how he is supposed to get inside.

Sewers maybe? Most places in Dunwall still used chamber pots rather than an actual septic system. Something he still doesn't understand. Perhaps the Academy would be different in this way too. Vents might be risky. No telling what is billowing out of those stacks. High ceilings? Unobservant students? Hopefully.

The massive stone doors of the entrance can barely be distinguished from the wall. Corvo watches as the doors open and close swiftly to let a yawning student leave for the night.

Thorpe and himself take a small skiff to the side of the island, where Corvo notices a few drainage pipes. One is large enough for him to crawl through and only has a trickle of water coming from it. Perfect, if it actually leads somewhere.

Corvo points. Thorpe nods and pulls the skiff close enough so that Corvo will only have to climb a few ledges to be there.

Thorpe is hesitant and clumsy, but manages to sign: "Take this." Corvo is takes a device that can fit into his palm. It's got an unused audiograph recording card sitting inside. Significantly smaller than the desk model and with no speaker.

"It only records." Thorpe says staying quiet and signing. "Use it sparingly. There is less space on that card."

Corvo has never seen one like this before and wonders how expensive the small object in his hand is. He tucks it away into his coat's inner pocket and waves his goodbye.

Thorpe signs finally: "I'll meet you here at dusk tomorrow. Good luck."

Corvo ascends the ledge with ease and the skiff travels quietly away.

The drainage pipe is thankfully not for sewage but rather the occasional experiment. A subtle blue glow of whale oil stains the insides of the pipe. Among other things that Corvo doesn't want to think about. The inlet opens to a large but removable grate. The cover of night comes quickly enough and the academy lights turn down for all but a few dedicated students.

Corvo maintains the quiet of his footsteps and focuses on familiarizing himself with the interior. The walls are lined with metal pipes carrying wires from room to room. The rooms themselves have partial walls with about a foot of glass coming from the ceiling to complete each wall. All have moving lights and tables. Some rooms are immaculately clean while others remarkably disgusting. One room in particular looks as though every book from the shelf is open. According to the frantic writing on the chalkboard, there is some secret hidden in the ancient ruins under Dunwall. Corvo is not sure how reading this many books, certainly all at once, would reveal the secret.

Finding the offices and rooms of his targets is easy enough, as maps of the layout can be found on multiple display boards. Still no explanation on how the structure itself doesn't fall over. Corvo hopes that the people who built this place are as smart as they believe they are.

The sound of footsteps echo around the hall. Corvo shoves the map into his coat and climbs up the metal piping quickly. Pressing himself as close to the ceiling as possible.

"Show me where. There must have been a gas leak! There's no way he would say that to Pratchett." A young woman says to her companion.

"Believe it. Gas or not, Daud always has something to say. Not sure how he got accepted." they reply before stopping in front of the display board. Corvo had just taken the map from there. Their brow furrows for a moment but nothing is said about it as the pair continues down the corridor.

"Maybe he'll get expelled. Wouldn't be the first time the Prat has taken someone out of the program." Corvo scales his way across the metal piping and out of earshot. He tucks himself into a surprisingly spacious vent and plans the best route for the following day. There are luckily plenty of places to hide from sight. The upper ventilation and metal piping is going to be his best bet.

--

The morning starts with loud lectures and the overwhelming smell of mixing chemicals. Corvo overhears plenty on his way to the first location. Younger students who like to ask questions are his favorite. They lack experience and ask more obvious questions. Even invasive ones. Plenty of teachers are eager to overshare their thoughts. Corvo never had the schooling or the financing to attend a place like this. Being able to follow their conversations is an interesting exercise.

"I don't understand why we need to follow the Overseers 'strictures'. Would more research into the void not create better conclusions rather than simply avoiding the void altogether? Why are we content to rely on their word alone?" A young whelp with a wide grin argues. He clearly thinks he's clever.

"The Overseers don't interact with the void as a general rule yes, but the Oracular order does so frequently." The professor responds amused but not unfamiliar with the contention. "They are interested in learning about the void in their own strange ways. They say even the Overseers spend their final days attempting to be a vehicle to the void for their sisters."

"I wonder then if High Overseer Coates would let us attend his deathbed. He's certainly not long for this world."

A few hushed laughs come from the students, but the blunt and detached nature of the comment makes Corvo's skin crawl. He leaves.

--

"Morris Sullivan has apparently been seen carving bones and selling them." one of them says hushed.

A deep sigh. Corvo listens as this room is sealed tight. Maybe something worth knowing.

"How credible is the witness?"

"They're young. Idealistic but still impressionable."

"Sullivan only got admitted to the academy on account of money, not brains or motivations. No idea who's funding the man."

The three of them share looks.

"Convince them that what they saw was a privately funded matter. Whoever his patron is, they've got coin to spare. Just put any bribe money on that fools tuition."

Corvo leaves. Maybe nothing worth knowing.

--

"Beatrix Kaldwin has been in the royal crypt for six years and yet Euhorn still manages to make rash decisions! It's been his undoing." the woman with her hair tight in a bun fumes. "Did you see the bill he approved for apartment construction?"

Corvo flips a switch and begins recording. Not one of his targets, but the conversation is relevant.

"On the plantations? Yes I know." a smaller distracted woman responds. Attending to a few different seedlings and various vegetable bearing plants.

"Of ALL places. As if the farming families aren't consolidated enough to provide housing for the laborers. It's a ridiculous overstep. And that little Jessamine-"

"I heard she actually coordinated good deals with the whaling and canning unions." the smaller woman says calmly.

"Good for who exactly? Certainly not Debokva. Are you not worried about a decrease in funds?" the hair on this woman's head looks like it's about to pop out of it's pins with anger.

The smaller woman looks at her colleague with irritation written on her features. "No. More workers where hired, even after the strikes. There's more business not less. Having a bunch of people not to show up to work, is what would actually hurt business-"

Corvo stops the recording. Makes a note about 'Debokva' and moves on. No use in listening to this. The watchmen at the Tower argue about the same things all the time.

--

Multiple vials containing a green liquid lay neatly under Colleen Murdoch's careful hands. Ringlets of tightly curled hair framed her face but aren't a distraction as she places an increasing series of blue drops into the green liquid. Corvo knows that she mutters too low for his audiograph to catch, but her own is running nearby. She slowly saturates each subsequent vial. Some are entirely blue by the time she seems satisfied.

"Proceeding with test 148 - F. It is the 27th day in the Month of High Cold. The temperature is controlled at -" she stops to examine a large standing vacuum with marks and signs. "48 notches, and consistent with test 147 - F. Testing will begin. Subject one-" She lifts the lid off of a nearby box. Corvo watches with odd fascination as Murdoch pulls one of many large rats from the box. She takes a syringe and injects the animal with the liquid that is from the first vial. It squirms for a moment more in her grasp before falling asleep.

Corvo knows the effects of sleep darts when he sees it. Now he wonders how the rest of this experiment will play out. He watches quietly from the vents as she takes a rat out of the box, injects it, and makes note of how long it takes for them to sleep. This continues for a few rats. A quick struggle then sleep. Her demeanor changes when one rat doesn't struggle at all before going limp. She holds the rat close to her ear, pokes it and takes notes furiously.

"For sample 12 the first sign of death has appeared. A little earlier than expected, but despite significant restrictions on breeding, these rats still have too much variability in weight for consistent measure. Sample 12 is smaller than the others. Will finish testing, but re-examine methods. Once again." She clicks off the audiograph and sets her equipment down. She takes a deep breath before she starts muttering. Louder this time. Corvo starts his audiograph up.

"Brimsley wants the impossible. All his recent wealth has gone to his head. No concept of anything at all. A damn death faking serum. Ridiculous."

The only thing Corvo knows about Brimsley is what Leon had managed to throw at him before he left. A man who spends too much money on parties and has been attending court at an increasing rate. Just observing and no one is sure who invited him. Now he's paying for research and Leon has a 'bad feeling' about the man.

Murdoch continues to mutter: "I found a way to halt bacterial infections not prevent death! Damn newspapers- mischaracterization of my work. Ridiculous. Rich idiots and their assumptions."

She continues in this fashion for another hour. Tests, writing down notes, and re-reading notes she just wrote down. Muttering non-stop. Eventually she takes off her lab coat, shuffles her equipment away and leaves in a huff.

Corvo takes that moment to grab some of her notes, a few filled recording cards, a few news clippings, and a corked vial of the mixture. He contemplates taking a rat, but doesn't want the thing to awaken in his coat. He leaves to his next target's room.

--

Maps upon maps hang along every inch of the walls in this room, which is considerably larger than most. Notes are pinned to every single map. In the center of the room stands a large table top model of every island in the isles. The tiles are the same width and length but with various depths. There are names and coin amounts written on each. Some areas are piled high with tiles, thick and thin, stacked on top of each other.

Al Galton is opening a stack of letters at his desk, neatly taking notes, selecting a tile with care and writing on it. He glances at the address on the envelope before placing the tile on the large table. Galton is the golden standard of quiet concentration. Just the sounds of a pen taking notes, shuffling of papers, and the occasional clack of a tile.

Galton is never at court and always shows up to his lab consistently but he never presents any work. Sokolov often asks about his projects. The ones that were the most mysterious attracted his attention. Sokolov had actually brought this up to Leon, when he repeatedly didn't get satisfactory answers from Galton. Corvo wonders how far Sokolov would go to get an answer.

Corvo is patient, almost mesmerized, as Galton makes his way through the stack. After finishing the last one, he circles his table a few times surveying the work and stroking his short beard. He makes his way back to his desk and pens a letter. Five times. How many people are going to receive the letters?

Galton takes the entire stack of letters and makes his way to a safe hidden behind a map.

271

Galton puts them all inside, stacked tightly to other opened letters. He then closes the safe, leaves the room, and locks the door behind him. Easy enough.

Corvo quickly climbs down and opens the safe. The letters are from all over the isles, are all addressed from a P. Silvia. Silvia must have been traveling constantly. Corvo reads one of the notes. Bank statements of multiple people. Another letter shows similar information but the hand writing is different. As Corvo reviews the sixth letter from P. Silvia, the post marked date, and the consistency of the information; Corvo thinks P. Silvia must travel in the fastest ship in the isles. Who could possibly get from Wei-Ghon to Potterstead in two days? Corvo tries to piece together a timeline or try to make sense of what the data being collected could be used for, when he hears the door's lock begin to unlatch.

He quickly closes the safe and hides beneath the large table. There is a table cloth that hangs well over the edge, so Corvo strains to see the rest of the room. Galton walks back in quickly grabs a map and a note book then leaves. Corvo, thankful he didn't go back to his safe, releases his breath and relaxes on the floor.

Corvo notices something odd but familiar. The table top is made of wood with an etched label still present: "Silent Stones for the Pride of the Empire - Prieto Cliff Mines". These crates are used to transport the silver from the mines in Karnaca across the isles. Most of the crates of this size went to one place: The Dunwall Royal bank reserves and redistribution. Who would go out of their way to make a table out of such a thing? Why would the table end up in the Academy?

There is also a partially torn leaflet attached to the box which reads: "To the capable hands of Letty Wilson - P. Silvia. 5" Corvo carefully removes the leaflet and tucks it inside his coat pocket and gets out from under the table. He decides to take a tile from the Dunwall port on the map. It reads: "Letty Wilson 550,000 coin." This was one of the tallest stacks of tiles.

If Galton ever noticed, he never showed up to court to say anything.

--

His last stop was by the hall of records for Jessamine's request. Tucked away at one end of the building it was surprisingly quiet. No one was viewing this research regularly enough for the building to get much traffic. In the low light of the afternoon, Corvo could see neatly the organization of the records was by last name. Primbly. Elijah Primbly.

It didn't take long to locate the file, although Corvo did almost miss it. In comparison to the other files in the cabinet, filled with papers a few finger widths in depth, Primbly's research was a modest 5 pages.

Would it be alright to look? Unlike Leon, who went into tremendous detail, Jessamine didn't give him any other information outside of a name. There is a level of fascination he has with what she would want to know but not let her father or the Royal Protector to know.

Corvo let the best of himself slip into curiosity. The first line of the file was to the point: "A Defense Against Birth and the Reproductive Biology" Ah. She was wanting to prevent pregnancy it seems. Clearly something she might not want to bring up to her father. Fair enough. Corvo tried not to think of who she was sleeping with.

His mother would have said something to him about the strictures and the end results of a wandering gaze. He shouldn't have looked.

Chapter Text

Jessamine has to be convincing. Needs to make sure there are no gaps in her logic before making the proposal. There are significant losses on the incoming taxes for the mines. She's triple checked the figures for the Stilton, Shindaerey, and Leyenda pits. All of them are up to date on their quarterly taxes. The only ones who are showing any slack are the Pendleton mines in the Prieto Cliff. Turning lower and lower profits but keeping the same amount of workers. Even hiring more. There is nothing on paper she can prove, but something doesn't feel right about the whole situation. Especially because it's the Pendletons.

Maybe she can arrange for information during Fugue Feast which will be here in a few months. If she has time. She's already prepared so much for those long hot days.

Her thoughts are interrupted by uneven footsteps moving outside her door. It's nearly mid-night and the lights in the tower have been turned down entirely.

The uneven foot steps... can only be Leon. Who of course shouldn't be up. Corvo must've returned. It's best to make sure Leon doesn't hurt himself.

She catches up quickly. "You really are determined to be ridiculous, aren't you?"

Leon has himself propped up with a makeshift crutch and is hobbling slowly. She has no idea where he got it from.

"You know me. Besides, best to know sooner rather than later in case we need to react quickly. Especially if he was seen."

"What makes you so sure he was seen? I thought you and father had 'absolute confidence' in him?"

"Listening in on our conversations again? We should have sent you to the Academy instead of Corvo."

"Invite me to the meetings and you'll know when I'm listening. Don't redirect the conversation. What happened to your 'confidence'?"

"It's still there. I trust your recommendation too, so stop worrying about if I'm undermining you."

They do this often. A type of bickering she supposes. She also knows Leon likes anyone who can keep up with him. So she continues:

"Father likes how perceptive you are Leon. I, however, like honest people. So what's the rush? I'm sure he did fine."

"We'll know the honest truth once we reach Corvo. And see if I'm right. If he managed to find anything, which I'm certain he did, I just want to be able to move quickly."

Jessamine tries not to laugh. "I don't think you're going to move anywhere quickly Leon."

"Ha. Very funny. Please remember before this little incident with my leg, I was to be the one going to the Academy."

Jessamine remembers listening into the conversation where her father adamantly opposed Leon sneaking about the Academy. Him getting caught would mean absolute chaos at court in one way or another. Leg injury or not he wasn't getting to go. Leon loves an adventure and the tales he can spin with them. Not being able to leave the Tower must be frustrating.

--

Corvo nearly falls out of the skiff once the adrenaline high from his visit to the Academy wears off. Thorpe thankfully yanks him back to safety and removes the evidence and files from his person for safe keeping. Corvo did manage to fold Primbly's five pages of research into a smaller shape before hiding it up his sleeve. No need for Thorpe to ask why he got that particular tid-bit of info. Or who it was for.

The ride back is blissfully uneventful. Corvo briefly wonders how everyone will react to the information. Then he remembers how tired he is. Hopefully they'll just have him write up a report or something in the morning. He doesn't want to do anything but sleep. Sleep until the birds sing the morning awake and then some.

This of course is not what happens.

Upon stepping off the skiff at the water gate, Corvo is greeted with a half dressed Leon Fendrel limping on a home made crutch and Jessamine holding his arm, looking peeved. The only visible light is from the stars and Corvo has to wonder why they're awake. Why was Jessamine fully dressed? Working maybe? She doesn't seem to relent for anything.

Uncoordinated, Leon gets in his space. "What's that sneak Brimsley planning Corvo? Let's see."

Thorpe gives Leon the stack of documents and the hand held audiograph. Leon takes them and reads while flipping pages and turning over the collected documents. Ultimately, making a dramatic mess. He fumbles with the vial of blue-green liquid and slips off the crutch, dropping it. Corvo snatches the vial clean out of the air and catches Leon before he hits the ground too.

They end up face to face and Leon grins stupidly up at him. "Saving me again Corvo? You're going to replace me if you keep doing this. Such a handsome young man too, I wouldn't mind. The Empire certainly wouldn't."

Corvo only rolls his eyes.

"Leon." Jessamine says exasperated. "Leave him be. You need to be in the bed, clearly. And Corvo has to be exhausted too. Discuss this in the morning with father."

Bless her.

Leon sighs dramatically: "Fine, I'll read through these in my room first. Better that way even. Let me down Corvo."

Corvo notices the sweat of his brow and the sickly pale of his skin. He doubts that Leon actually read anything when shifting through those papers.

"I said let me down-" Leon begins just as Corvo decides it would be best to haul him back to the tower himself. Corvo considers himself nimble on his feet, not a heavy lifter, but he manages Leon's weight well enough.

Corvo hears Jessamine let out a low chuckle. "Corvo here is a gentleman, Leon. You could stand to learn a thing or two."

Thorpe is picking up the documents that have fallen to the ground and organizes them again. Corvo sees him giving Jessamine a conflicted look. She knows exactly what he's thinking.

"You hang onto those. I know I'm not supposed to know anything about tonight. I'm just here helping our Lord Protector get his..." She picks up his make shift crutch. "Is this an oar?"

"I'm resourceful."

"You're ridiculous."

After getting Leon to his room, the rest of the night is a calm that takes him easily into sleep.

--
Corvo wakes to the sounds of early morning birds and the regular foot traffic of the city watch. He managed to take off his outer coat before passing out, but not much else. He thought he'd sleep longer, but his body seems to like his early morning schedule.

He notices a neatly folded note on his bedside table. The paper is heavy and smooth. Expensive.

It reads:

"Hope your morning is treating you well. I wanted to talk when you have a moment. I'll be in the dining hall for breakfast if you'd like to join me.

-J"

Ah. So she snuck up on him sleeping again. She should've gone to the Academy instead.

--

Jessamine enjoys a fresh apricot tartlet with hot tea as she reads over her notes for the court hearing one more time. She'll have to hold off on challenging the likes of Gwynfor Pendleton and his estate. He's old money and one of the founding families of Dunwall. She's going to need something concrete before making the claim. For right now, her focus remains on the proposals for the food ticket program. She's got all of her documents prepared and the final decisions will be made by the end of the day, no matter the deliberation.

Corvo is quiet in his arrival, but upon making eye contact he nods and smiles.

"Working on anything interesting?" he signs.

She huffs a laugh. "Unfortunately no. Just... preparing for an argument. It's bound to be exhausting, so I'm already tired of it."

"Argument?" Corvo looks puzzled.

Jessamine realizes the only time he's ever seen her in court is when he had just arrived. Would he think differently of her when she's abiding by the rules of courtly etiquette? Probably, that's the expectation of court in general.

"I suppose I should say courtly discussion. My father has me in charge of specific citizen blocks and districts that I must argue on behalf of. Today it is the Wrenhaven housing district. They need an increase for the food ticket program."

"I've only heard from others that there was supposed to be cuts to the program." Corvo signs curious.

"There are. I plan to oppose them and vouch for an increase instead."

He seems pleased at that. "Good luck."

"Thank you. Do you -" She hesitates. He notices. "Do you want something to eat?"

He doesn't sign, but just shakes his head no.

"Any tea?"

He hesitates before giving that simple gesture. "Yes."

She pours him a cup as he makes his way closer to her at the table. His hands look massive in comparison to the cup, but he manages to hold it with surprising delicacy.

Now that he's closer it's easier to whisper. "Did you have trouble finding it?"

He uses his index and middle fingers together to and tap them against his thumb. "No." Then he takes those same fingers and produces tightly folded papers from his coat sleeve. Seemingly out of thin air.

"Oh! That's impressive. The Duke should've added magician to your letter of recommendation."

She sees him try to refrain from smiling. Odd.

"Did you read it?" She asks. If he did, what does he think?

She watches as his face becomes carefully blank and he distinctly doesn't look at her. Oh.

"So you did read it then?"

Corvo avoids her eyes and looks over her shoulder. She hears footsteps behind her.

"Read what?" rings her father's voice through the dining hall.

She already has the papers out of Corvo's fingers and tucked away in her coat before she turns around to answer. "The latest proposal for court. Speaking of, am I leading today? I do have everything prepared."
Euhorn gives them both an odd look but the decides to focus on the last question.

"Yes, you'll lead today. I'm glad you're becoming more confident. However Corvo will not be attending court with you today. We must go over his findings from his most recent task."

"You mean from the Academy." she asks.

Her father breathes deeply but doesn't respond.

"Corvo must attend court at some point, just as I must attend your little private meetings as well." She sees Corvo's nervous look from the corner of her eye.

Euhorn gives an unimpressed look. "That is not today I'm afraid."

--

Jessamine's watch burns hot in her pocket with the time. It'll be close, but she can listen to a few details before heading off to court. Many people at court like to say their favorite thing about their current Emperor is his consistency. What they really like his her father's predictability. She likes it too sometimes. Which is why it's easy for her to quickly locate the room where the details of the Academy visit will be told. The vents to the room next door are already open from her last listen in.

"Sleep darts? Are you certain?" Leon's voice can be heard.

"He certainly won't be killing anyone with those Leon." her father this time, but his tone is more terse than usual. "Are you sure about him?"

"I know Brimsley is a snake." Leon insists.

"Maybe so, but the snakes to worry about are the ones with venom. Not a sleeping tincture." her father pauses. "What is he saying Leon?"

Jessamine almost wants to climb onto the collar beams and watch Corvo's hands themselves, but it would be best not to be covered in dust when entering court. She checks her watch. Still enough time.

"He says they're most likely being made for combat, and...the test did want to avoid killing... it would seem." Leon says this with disappointment.

"Hmm. Corvo tell me about this little trinket." Jessamine hears the distinct clack of porcelain against a table. Like a tea cup being placed in a saucer.

"Letty Wilson 550,000 coin. Not particularly enlightening." her father huffs. There is some shuffling of papers.

"She's always had a hand in Academy funding." Leon's voice supplies.

Letty Wilson and her never ending desire to lift ore from the Dunwall channel has made her a fortune. It has also made the channel itself increasingly wider. She's even managed to destroy two bridge-ways in the process.

Her saving grace has been her popularity and her investment in technology. Without her funding for the ore to be carried throughout the city, the rail system would've been significantly less impressive. She also holds the rights to the specialized equipment used to get the ore. The 'seizing boats', as they're called, crawl along the ocean floor and collect ore deposits, giant river crusts, and even the remains of lost navel men.

She has the support of the Navy, her investors, and the people whose lives she's improved. Accusing her of anything would be a nightmare. To be fair, there's no indication that she's done anything wrong. Just that she has a lot of money. 550,000 is more than what half of the members at court collectively make in a year.

"Ah I see. Quite a few of these statements are different than what the Royal Treasury have accounted for last quarter. Where are these extra funds coming from?" Leon says shuffling more papers.

"Not all of them are off the mark, but maybe Al Galton should be the one collecting taxes for the Treasury. Or at least-"

Jessamine checks her watch and nearly falls trying to get out the door. She'll have to outright ask Corvo later.

Maybe he'll tell her.

--

Corvo is starving by the time he leaves that office. It is well past noon now and he foolishly declined that food Jessamine had offered. He would gladly put whole cans of food in his mouth. Metal tin and all.

He heads for the maid quarters near the kitchens. Sometimes Margery sneaks leftovers to the guards. While they've only interacted a few times, and she only gets one of every six signs, he thinks that signing 'food' will suffice. Maybe.

Corvo has to wonder how Athene is doing. There are so many daily interactions he still needs her for. Most notably, anytime Jessamine or Leon aren't in the room. Corvo only managed to cross paths with Athene once since Leon was injured. He told her briefly that he was doing a special job for the Emperor. She pressed him for answers but he wasn't sure how much he should say. The look on her face when he told her 'no' was like watching a child eat a Wei-Gon citrus fruit for the first time. He smiles at the memory.

He barely registers the soft patter of her boots before he hears: "So the meeting went well I take it?"

Corvo looks around to where Jessamine is next to him. She's beaming smiles. He can help but match her expression. She's nearly bouncing on her toes with joy.

"It went alright. I suppose." he signs. Relieved that she's not bringing up that research this time.

"Oh you were smiling before I walked up, and I - huh. So what were you smiling about?"

"An expression." he signs. Curling both pointer fingers in an up and down motion near the sides of his face.

"Oh..." She looks puzzled for a moment."Which one?"

Corvo cracks a smile briefly before contorting his face into an offended pucker. He watches as she slaps her hand over her mouth and hears her struggling to reel the laugh in.

"I've never seen you-" a break for giggles. "And who made that?!" she says finally.

"Athene."

Another fit of childish giggles lifts out of her, muffled through her hand. "What ever you did to her, you must do it again when I'm around."

He chuckles briefly while signing: "Why were you smiling? Court go well?"

She takes a moment to compose herself. "Yes it did. Took half the time it normally takes too. I was actually hoping you were done with that meeting. I need to pick up a few things in town and wanted you to join me."

Does she want to ask about Primbly's research again? Or about the other information he brought back? Either way she's predictably relentless. He needs some excuse to say no. He is still desperately hungry and doesn't want to discuss that research.

"I was actually looking for Athene." he signs quickly.

"Oh she can join us too. We should make sure she knows what's going on with your new role." Jessamine says, joy still plastered on her face. He hasn't seen her this happy before. Calm. Focused. Frustrated. Sad even. But radiating happiness?

Damn. Guess it can't be avoided. Looking at her face he doesn't really want to.

"Now both of you can get new clothes." she says cheerfully.

Oh.