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Heard It Through The Heart Line

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~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

“In the days that follow, your trials will be great, Corvo,” the Outsider warned, and Corvo tensed, watching the Void-entity warily. Smoky shadows framed the floating being in an ominous and foreboding darkness. “Seek the ancient runes bearing my Mark in the lonely places in your world and at shrines raised in my name. These runes will grant you powers beyond those of other men.”

A gleam of amusement crossed the Outsider’s face then, and Corvo felt an unexpected chill race down his spine at the intensity of its abyss-like gaze. “To help you find these runes,” it said, uncrossing its arms and offering out one pale empty palm, “I give you this: the Heart of a living thing, molded by my hands.”

A bloom of shadow uncurled above its palm like the ghost of a flower, then dissolved in a rush, revealing a dark, misshapen lump, pinpricks of light glittering off a confusing array of thin wires and metal bits. Before Corvo could get a clear look at it, the object vanished, and he felt his breath catch as a dense form solidified in his left hand, unexpectedly heavy, fleshy, and cold.

“With this Heart, you will hear many secrets,” the Outsider explained, its strange voice nearly a purr as it crossed its arms once more, “and it will guide you toward my runes, no matter how they may be hidden.” It tilted its head up at Corvo as if in salute, a definite smile playing about its lips. “Listen to the Heart now, and find another rune.”

Before Corvo could summon the wits to speak, to question, to demand answers, the Outsider disappeared in a scattering of shadows, the way forward through the scattered ruins as clear as if the being had never been there. After a moment of silent disappointment, Corvo shook his head and held the object in his hand up into the light.

He was no natural philosopher, but Corvo knew enough about anatomy to recognize - despite the wires and motionless gears beneath the glass surface - that the Outsider had most definitely just gifted him an actual human heart.

The instinct to drop the wretched thing battled with the sudden urge to examine it further, to understand why the great Void-entity had gone to such trouble to craft something so special and so singular - and with its very hands - for him. Uncertain, Corvo clutched the Heart tighter, the slick outer skin of the organ depressing slightly beneath his calloused fingertips, and it suddenly came alive in his hands. Gears clicked, golden light flashed, and Corvo flinched, startled and stunned, as it vibrated and pulsed and beat against his grasp.

And in his mind a soft, feminine voice echoed, as if both from a far distance and from right beside his ear. ‘This place is the end of all things. And the beginning.’

The voice was familiar, more familiar to Corvo than even his own. In that instant, he knew from whom the Outsider had plucked the cold, pulsing organ that formed the Heart’s core.

What he didn’t know was whether he wanted to kill or kiss the Outsider for it.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

When Corvo awoke the next morning, it was to the faint, slow pulse of the Heart resting in his cupped palm, beating in time to the rhythm in his own chest. He stood at the window in his new chambers for a long time, staring out at the sun shining with brilliant golden light over the Wrenhaven, thinking.

The black Mark the Outsider had branded into the back of his hand itched, or so Corvo imagined, and as he scratched at it absently, the Heart said, ‘Not so long ago Dunwall was a proud city.’

Corvo grimaced, holding the dark object a little closer. That voice, so recognizable, but absent for so long... In his mind, he could see the words fall from her lips as if she stood before him once more.

‘The conspirators have found a safe home here,’ the Heart added as he gazed down past the makeshift metal pathway at the open courtyard far below. ‘They take great care they are not followed.’

Beating back the painful memories that threatened to derail his thoughts, Corvo glanced down at the Heart, curious. In the morning light, the half-organic, half-mechanical thing was just as unsettling as it had been in the Void, but somehow less sickening, like a threatening blade cleaned of the blood of its last victim. A tool to be used, rather than a curse, much like the Outsider’s Mark itself.

Corvo turned away from the door, tilting the Heart down towards the floorboards, towards the core of the Hound Pits Pub and the meeting place of those who had dubbed themselves the Loyalists. ‘They stood in a circle around the candles, and cut their hands to form their alliance,’ the Heart murmured. 'The blood hissed as it touched the flames.’

Interesting, Corvo thought, recalling fuzzily the faces of those he had briefly met the night before. As its owner often had in life, the Heart seemed somehow to know of things that others wished most desperately to keep hidden, whether such things were trivial, important, or forbidden.

He would heed the Outsider and listen to the Heart’s secrets, then. After six months in the isolation of Coldridge Prison, with all of Dunwall changing and shifting in countless ways without him and now amongst people whom he knew little to nothing about, Corvo was certain the Heart would provide him with the most invaluable of information.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

The first sign of trouble, however, came not long after Corvo left the solitude of his new sleeping quarters and headed down the main staircase.

He had learned much about the sad history of the Hound Pits already, from the brutality of the basement dog fights to the questionable content of the house wine, when he overheard the tail-end of a conversation on the floor below. Something to do with mattresses, he thought, carefully creeping down the remaining steps, keeping his footsteps light. Rounding the corner, however, he nearly ran into one of the speakers, a woman in a sleek black-and-white maid’s uniform. 

“Apologies, sir,” the woman said briskly, sweeping a loose lock of brown hair out of her face. “I didn’t see you there.”

‘Lydia Brooklaine,’ the Heart informed him, and Corvo nodded thoughtfully.

Then he realized he was holding a beating human heart in his hand where anyone could see it and - at the very least - become rather concerned.

Lydia, however, seemed not to notice anything amiss. 

“Can I help you?” she asked, and he watched as she eyed him critically, from the lapels of his grubby, frayed coat to the bottoms of his grime-and-sewage-spattered boots. 

‘For all the hard work, there is little reward for her,’ the Heart said, passive but sympathetic. ‘Work is never done for the lowly servant.’ Corvo hoped the woman didn’t see him as yet another mess to clean up, another chore to further burden her tough existence.  

“I heard you went to bed early last night,” Lydia added, leaning casually against the broom handle in her grasp. “Can’t say I blame you. What a day! Breaking out of Coldridge like that? If I didn’t see you before me now, sir, I wouldn’t believe it could be done.”

‘Her lover resides now in a cold and lonely cell. He has lost count of the days since he last held her in his arms.’

Corvo frowned, feeling a pang at the twinge of connection. He could empathize, he thought, with this man, Lydia’s lover, whoever he was. He understood the loneliness, the longing, the heartbreak. Time seemed to stand still in-

‘She has not thought about him in months.’

Corvo froze, uncertain if he had heard the Heart right, though its factual tone had rung clearly in his mind.

'She has welcomed nine other men to her bed since he was locked away.’

Corvo stared.

‘And three women.’

He stumbled backwards a few paces, his feet moving without permission. Lydia was eyeing him less with criticism and more with wary concern now. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but the Heart continued its outpouring of information with increasingly earnest diligence.

‘She craves the feel of the callouses on their hands against her skin, the scratch of the men’s rough stubble against her cheek. She finds their scars mysterious and enticing.’

Lydia’s continued examination of his prison-worn appearance no longer seemed quite so clinical. Corvo felt his face heat up, and without thinking he clutched the Heart tighter, hoping desperately that his darker complexion masked the unwanted blush forming across his cheeks. He quickly realized his mistake, as his grasping only seemed to encourage the Heart more, its voice quickening and growing more interested as it spoke.

‘She is intrigued by the burns and bruises on your face. She wonders how many have died by your sword and your pistol. The thought of your broad hands imparting violence excites her. She is undressing you with her eyes, as she yearns to undress you with her hands.’

“You look like you could use a nice bath, sir,” Lydia cut in unknowingly, her gaze as innocent and tone as blunt as before. “Shall I draw one for you now?”

Wide-eyed and mute with mortification, Corvo could only shake his head vigorously in reply, before retreating back around the corner and down the stairs as quickly as he could without running.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

Although he could very well be wrong, Corvo didn’t believe the Outsider meant for the Heart to be quite as thorough and invasive as it was turning out to be.

Despite the awkward run-in with Lydia, Corvo continued to surreptitiously direct the Heart towards his new benefactors and fellow conspirators, particularly after determining that, yes, the dark object was indeed invisible, or at least cloaked in some mysterious way, from every eye but his own. While at times the Heart’s revelations - such as that of Callista’s dreams of sailing with the whalers or Admiral Havelock’s perpetual restlessness on land - seemed incidental or wistful or trite in the grand scheme of things, Corvo found himself quickly piecing together a solid picture of the Loyalists’ characters. Such grounding information was priceless, really, with his already-collapsed world even more unstable now than it had been in Coldridge.

Left to its own devices, however, the Heart seemed to take a strangely perverse delight in revealing secrets that Corvo really didn’t want to know.

‘He is prone to skin infections,’ the Heart noted helpfully as Corvo watched Treavor Pendleton converse with his servant Wallace from across the bar. ‘His eyes are sensitive to the light.’

Fingers unconsciously tapping the side of his whiskey glass to the Heart’s steady pulse, Corvo considered the ruddy bags under Pendleton’s eyes and found this tidbit likely, if not of any particular value.

The Heart apparently begged to differ. ‘The splotches turn raw and red with his scratching. An incessant itch that does not cease. A lady he hoped to impress once ran screaming at the sight of him, fearing he carried the plague.’

Deadly serious as the plague situation was, Corvo had to struggle to keep down a treacherous snicker.  

‘The splotches spatter the pale skin beneath his noble suits like angry burning stars. They afflict his thin arms, his chest, his legs.’

The Heart paused for a beat.

‘They chafe the soft flesh that hangs between his thighs.’

Suddenly it wasn’t so funny anymore.

Instantly sober, Corvo shoved the whiskey glass away and got up from his booth, busily brushing the wrinkles out of his coat and trying desperately to erase the horrifying image the Heart had conjured up.

It only half worked. His mind was too caught up in sympathetic pity for the screaming lady.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Pendleton and Wallace turn to observe him and his agitated movements, but he kept his head down and his gaze averted, unable to bear the thought of catching the aristocrat’s eye. Summoning his courage, Corvo set his face in a dutiful scowl and stepped briskly across the bar towards the door to the courtyard.

Just as he passed Wallace - who was eyeing him now with great distrust and suspicion - the Heart pulsed particularly hard and Corvo tightened his grip on it reflexively.

‘Like his father, Wallace Higgins has served the Pendleton family his entire life. He is most devoted to poor Treavor, the youngest of the brothers. He would do anything for the man.’

Corvo held his breath, fervently hoping that was all it had to say.

‘At night, he eagerly rubs a soothing ointment on his master’s afflicted skin, across the burning and the hard-to-reach places.’

Corvo bruised his elbow against the doorframe in his haste to evacuate the building.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

When Corvo was finally able to think about her for more than a moment without pain, he realized that he shouldn’t have been so surprised.

While he would never have called her a gossip, necessarily - not like Jane Blair or Esma Boyle or that dreadful Adelle White - she had seemed rather fond of sharing hints of scandal with him. He could recall it clearly, her delicate hand beckoning him to lean in during social functions so she could whisper her ongoing commentary in his ear, a mischievous glint in her eyes and a private smirk on her lips.

Corvo pursed his own lips, mildly disgruntled.

The Heart was most certainly doing what it was doing on purpose.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

“What can I do for you today, Corvo?” the natural philosopher asked in his reedy, stilted voice. He absently wiped his grease-covered hands on an old shop towel. “Some supplies? A weapon upgrade, perhaps?”

‘Poor Piero. His elixirs have cured so much for many. But they cannot cure his brain fevers.’

Corvo wondered if one of Piero’s elixirs would be helpful in curing skin infections. He shuddered as he fought to banish the now-recurring image from his mind.

“Need any more sleep darts before you head out to the High Overseer’s Office?”

‘He has spied upon Callista as she bathes,’ the Heart suddenly interjected, tone dripping with feminine disapproval. ‘...More than once.’

That brought Corvo up short. He eyed the man with new skepticism, frowning. Though he himself had spied through countless keyholes in his lifetime, it had all been in the name of duty to the empire, not for perverse pleasure. He couldn’t condone such behavior.

The Heart continued, oblivious.

‘Each and every night the black-eyed Outsider visits upon Piero’s dreams.’

Before Corvo could even begin to take in the enormity of this revelation, it added, ‘In other dreams, he imagines Callista’s soft hand pressed against his cheek, her lips praising the genius of his mind, the magnificence of his inventions.’

Frozen in trepidation, Corvo could only silently plead to avoid a repeat of the Lydia incident.

‘Though his hands have crafted strange new devices for the clients of the Golden Cat, Piero has not made use of them himself.’

He had never stepped foot in the bathhouse, of course, but Corvo knew it by reputation and found himself unwillingly wondering what sort of ‘devices’ an inventor might be commissioned to create.

“...Is something the matter, Corvo?” Piero suddenly asked, peering at him cautiously through his small round lenses. “You look a bit… off-kilter.” Corvo realized he must have been making a strange expression and quickly shook his head.  

‘In sleep, his mind is not his own; but when he wakes, he lays in his bed and dreams of his devices and of Callista and of the loneliness of one destined for intellectual greatness. Only his desperate, restless hands have known the planes and angles of his body.’

Corvo actually felt his face contort.

After a moment, the Heart - as if concerned he had not gotten the message - added pointedly, ‘Piero is a virgin.’

“I have a vial of my Remedy around here somewhere, if you’re not feeling too well,” Piero offered, hands fidgeting at the buttons of his coat.

Corvo just shook his head again, his mouth twisted into a grimace of deep, embarrassed pity. He clasped the befuddled man on the shoulder, patted him a few times, then made his way out of the workshop.

He supposed Piero’s darkest secrets could have been worse.

And a lot less obvious.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

Crouched behind a metal barrier several meters away, Corvo could barely hear the overseer. The pattering of rain against the metal of his mask echoed in his ears. He leaned out a bit further, just catching the man’s smug greeting to the kneeling figure shackled in the stocks.

“Hello, Martin.” Corvo’s head lifted as the figure’s identity was confirmed. “I hear the second day is when the skin really starts to come all the way off, is that true? Or is it the itching that really gets you? Or the rats?”

‘Misery. Everywhere,’ the Heart murmured to itself.

Gently squeezing the dark object in sympathy, Corvo increased the magnification of his mask’s lenses to get a better view of Martin’s face and was just in time to hear Martin respond, loud and clear, “Jasper, isn’t it? It’s not so bad in here... except I miss your wife.”

Well, thought Corvo, surprised. He had not expected a jab with such blatant innuendo from one of the Abbey’s own agents.

'Teague Martin. He has been a soldier, a highway robber, and a man of faith.’

Ah. That explained it.

Some of it, anyway.

Before Jasper could even begin to reply, Corvo swiftly Blinked behind him and caught him in a chokehold. The man only struggled for a few seconds before gasping and growing limp in his arms. Corvo carefully settled the unconscious overseer into a corner beside the stairs, sitting him upright so that rainwater wouldn’t slip into the mouth of his mask and suffocate him.

“Psst! Corvo! It’s me, Overseer Martin.”

Corvo stood up from his crouch and cautiously made his way up the steps, hand resting against the pulsing Heart for reassurance. At the top of the platform, Martin peered up at him with narrowed eyes, blinking back droplets of rain. A wry smile played across his lips.

“What a sight you are in that mask,” Martin greeted him, voice pleasant, smooth, and cool.

‘He has worn many masks in his lifetime,’ the Heart said. ‘Some masks are made of spontaneous lies and quick wit, the products of his silver tongue. Others are made of metal, like the one he wears amongst his Abbey brethren. Still others are made of fine leather or silk. No matter. He relishes them all.’

Beneath his own mask, Corvo frowned, considering its abstract words. Leather or silk masks… during Fugue Feast, perhaps? Costume and masquerade was rather common during that time of year.

Martin shifted in his restraints, metal clinking together sharply over the low murmur of the drizzle. Corvo grimaced, recalling the burning pain of the cuffs of the interrogation chair. How he had hated that thing.

The Heart seemed to know what he was thinking. ‘Though he struggled when they dragged him to the stocks, he silently exalted in the rough grasping of their broad hands, reveled in the degrading words spitting like acid from their curling lips. His body trembled in delight when they forced him to his knees. Such yearnings his abasement invoked. Such memories it recalled to his errant mind.’

Corvo missed the overseer’s next few words as he stared down at the kneeling man, suddenly uncomfortable with the realization of where Martin’s head was in relation to his own body.

“Unlock me,” Martin said, gesturing at a lever off to the side, “and I’ll buy you a drink in a couple of days.”

‘Were it not for the rain and lack of desirable company, he would be content to remain in his current bondage for hours to come.’

Corvo’s sense of discomfort increased.

Martin huffed good-naturedly, shaking away the rainwater clinging to his hair, the hint of a smile still hovering on his lips. “By the Void, I’ll buy you a hundred drinks.”

‘He is anxious to return to the Hound Pits, however. He is worried he left his copy of The Young Prince of Tyvia in the bathroom for anyone to find.’

Corvo bolted to the lever, his feet nearly sliding out from under him on the wet platform. He pulled the lever down and the overseer’s shackles snapped open with a metallic clang. Martin stiffly climbed to his feet, shaking out his arms and massaging his wrists.

The overseer did not even have time to thank him for the rescue before Corvo Blinked away, almost missing his landing on top of a rain-slicked lamppost.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

Tired and achy from a long night of dealing with Campbell and his overseers, Corvo slowly hauled himself to his feet, the boat swaying slightly under him at the motion. He watched the approaching shoreline in silence as Samuel guided the Amaranth smoothly into its dock outside the Hound Pits.

He wasn’t surprised to see Callista seated on a crate nearby, waiting for them to return. Her thin gloved hands were clasped together tightly in her lap, her back ramrod straight, her eyes wide and alert. She stood up quickly as Samuel climbed out of the boat, Corvo following in his wake.

He slipped the mask off of his face. When her anxious gaze connected with his, he smiled.

Callista’s hands rose to cover her mouth in disbelief. “He’s alive!?”

Corvo nodded, quietly pleased by her evident joy and relief. He curled his fingers covertly around the Heart, which murmured ‘She and her uncle - the last of the Curnow family’ softly in his mind.

Rescuing Geoff Curnow both from poisoned wine and from beneath the shrewd eye of the High Overseer had been more difficult than Corvo had anticipated. Forced to knock the man out, lest he panic and flee, Corvo had spent well over an hour sneaking around the Abbey building - ducking underneath low tables, crawling across exposed pipes, and clinging to overhead lamps to avoid detection - all with Geoff’s heavy, snoring form slung over his shoulder, before he finally found a dumpster outside Holger Square that seemed like a safe place to stash him.

Though he had always considered the City Watch captain a friend, Corvo wasn’t sure he would have gone to all of that trouble if Callista hadn’t specifically asked for his help. He had nearly been caught twice by overseers, after all, due to the Heart jocosely distracting him with unasked-for information about Geoff’s past lovers and particular sexual preferences.

“Thank you, Corvo, thank you,” Callista said, clutching at her chest in solace. She gazed up at him, serious, imploring. “My uncle’s a good man, and one day he’ll prove it.”

‘She delights in your valiant rescue of her beloved uncle,’ the Heart told him. ‘You are like a dashing hero from the books she read as a girl. She imagines a new and brighter future now, even as she speaks.’

Corvo grew suddenly apprehensive at the hint of a smile in its tone.

‘She dreams of a future where all is right in the empire, where young Lady Emily sits on the throne and the plague and the rats are but a distant memory. The condemned Curnow house near Rudshore has been restored, and you are sharp and handsome in your new uniform as she brings you home for dinner.’

Corvo felt his face heat up again and he scratched the rough stubble on his cheek, embarrassed. Lydia’s libidinous secrets were one thing, but this... Well, Callista was not unattractive, certainly, Corvo was honest enough to admit to himself, but all things considered really…

If Callista noticed the awkward expression on his face, she did not remark on it. “Here,” she said instead, holding out to him a small trinket, gold filigree glittering in the morning sun. “I know you did this for the right reasons, but I want you to take this as a reward.” She brushed a stray lock of hair away from her eyes. “It’s an old heirloom one of my aunts gave me.”

Not wanting to further the wrong impression he seemed to have given her, Corvo shied away from accepting the valuable gift for a moment, but at the beseeching look in her eyes, he grimaced and reached out for it, careful not to touch any part of her gloved hand with his bare fingers.

As he lifted the trinket from her palm, the Heart added, ‘She dreams of cooking dinner for you, and for her uncle. And after dinner is over, she would guide you and her uncle to the smoking room for whiskey and cigars. She would retire early, giving the usual excuses.’

Corvo frowned as he listened, not noticing Callista’s own confused expression in his puzzlement.

‘Her bedroom is beside her uncle’s. Sitting on her bed, she would wait patiently for hours, as she has many times before.’

Corvo’s frown deepened, still uncertain.

‘The walls are thin. She would not have to listen hard for the telltale creak of the mattress, the thumps against the headboard, the low twin moans of frustration, satisfaction, release.’

Oh.

‘She wants only for her uncle to be happy. She sees a chance for that happiness in you, in your gallantry and faithfulness.’

Well, thought Corvo, vacantly resigned. So much for being able to look either Curnow in the eye ever again.

‘This dream of the future makes her heart flutter with ecstatic bliss. She imagines the two of you in a tender embrace and wants to dance and sing with joy. She is already crafting scenarios and stories in her mind. Her fingers itch to write them down on paper.’

“Uncle is alright, isn’t he, Corvo?” Callista suddenly asked, alarmed once more. “You said he lived… He’s… He’s not badly injured, is he?!”

Eyes wide, Corvo quickly shook his head, not trusting himself to speak with his face still burning as it was. The Heart gripped tightly in one hand and the Curnow family heirloom in the other, Corvo looked anywhere but at young woman, his mouth twitching with unsaid words, and ambled absently off up the nearby stairs to be debriefed from his mission with Havelock and Pendleton.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

The next day, having dealt with the poor howling weepers in the sewers beneath the Hound Pits, Corvo was in the process of dragging himself up through the outdoor hatch only to fumble and fall back down again at the sound of a startled gasp. Instincts kicking in, he Blinked up to the edge of the hole and crouched there, his folding blade unfurled and the Heart thumping wildly against his fingers.

He quickly sheathed the blade when he found it was only one of the servants, the red-haired woman in the pageboy cap, who was breathing rapidly as she recovered from her shock.

‘Her name is Cecelia,’ the Heart informed him rather haughtily, as if offended on Cecelia’s behalf. ‘She does not cling to the shadows or the empty places, but she is like a ghost, berated and ignored and easily forgotten. She longs for someone to understand and recognize her.’

Thoroughly chastised and feeling rather terrible, Corvo shot her a smile and a tiny, apologetic wave. She smiled in return and he stood, climbing the stairs towards her. As he approached the landing, however, she glanced down and seemed to notice the fresh muck clinging to his boots and the tail of his coat, her eyes growing wide.  

“You went down there in the sewers?” she asked, incredulous, and Corvo nodded. “I thought I heard a weeper in there earlier.” He held up two fingers and her lips parted in apparent awe.

‘She thinks you are the bravest man she has ever met,’ the Heart whispered in his mind.

“You’re probably the bravest man I’ve ever met,” Cecelia affirmed only a second later. Corvo was surprised by the frank admission and, to be honest, found himself rather flattered.

But then his newly-developed sense of paranoia crept in and Corvo forced his lips into a stoic line, prepared himself for the worst and most debauched secrets the woman had to offer, and tightened his grip on the Heart.

‘She wishes she had your courage: the courage to assert herself, to act, to fight for those she cares for. You have a fearlessness she believes she lacks and she longs for it herself.

Corvo stood stiffly, waiting, certain that the less innocent secrets would be coming along any moment now, and ignored how Cecelia’s expression of awe was rapidly devolving into one of wary concern.

‘She prays for the strength to tell the man she desires about her fervent affection and her deep attraction, for he takes little notice of her existence.’

It was Lydia and Martin and - to a certain extent - Callista all over again, Corvo thought, remembering the Heart’s initial chastisement at his forgetfulness of Cecelia's name. He sighed deeply and tried to ready himself for the flushed face and chagrin that was sure to follow.  

‘At night, in her bunk, she lies awake and imagines his thin fingers pressed against her cheek. Her lips praise the genius of his mind, the magnificence of his inventions.’

His self-absorbed thoughts screeched to a halt, all his preparations flying right out of his head. He stared at her blankly.

‘She has spied upon Piero as he bathes.’

That was…

‘More than once.’

...unexpected. 

“Overseer Martin has arrived,” Cecelia said slowly, as if uncertain whether Corvo could still hear or understand her. “He’s with Admiral Havelock now. They want to talk to you.”

Absently he nodded.

He wasn’t sure who he was more embarrassed for: Cecelia, for her apparent taste in eccentric, sickly, reclusive men; or himself, for his confident assumption of his own appeal.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

As brave as Cecelia believed him to be, Corvo found that he needed to take a long walk around the courtyard to clear his mind before he could even think about being in the same room as the founding members of the Loyalists.

The images the Heart had conjured up of both Pendleton and Martin had haunted him all night in his sleep.

He would have rather dreamed of the Void.

The day was nice and clear and Corvo inhaled deeply the salty tang of the breeze skimming over the Wrenhaven. He strolled along the edge of the water, picking his way carefully over the large rocks, hands clasped behind his back as he avoided touching the Heart and tried to think of nothing in particular.

The strategy worked well until Corvo found that his treacherous, roaming feet had carried him along the dock to where Samuel was hunched over in his boat, fiddling with some loose wiring in the dashboard. As he approached, Samuel looked up and got to his feet, smacking the dirt off his gloved hands against the sides of his trousers. A bit reluctantly, Corvo paused beside the Amaranth and watched as Samuel placed one boot up against the gunwale and crossed his arms over his knee, smiling calmly up at him.

“How you doing there, Corvo?” he asked, his voice unpretentious and pleasant. Corvo could not help but smile and return the greeting with a nod. “Another big day, I expect. I hear Overseer Martin has some news for you. I’ll make sure the boat is ready, for whenever you’ll be needing to head out.”

‘Samuel Beechworth went to sea to forget a hopeless love. He succeeded.’

Corvo twitched. He had not realized he had pulled the Heart out, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he was even in control of when it spoke to him.

It would be just like her to try to catch him unawares.

‘The boatman has a good heart. And respects you.’

Corvo could not help but brace himself for the worst, even as he begged, pleaded, and silently prayed to the Outsider for the Heart to not continue in the vein he dreaded it was in.

He liked the man, but if Samuel… Well… If he...

Corvo cringed.

He really did not want to know.

The Heart was silent, however, for longer than it usually was between its bits of commentary. Corvo paused, gazing past Samuel out at the sun-dappled waters as the humming quiet in his mind stretched on. The dark object still pulsed in his hand, the cogs turning and the light flickering behind the round glass. It was as if the Heart was carefully considering its next words, delving deep into the boatman’s past actions, his hidden wants, his dark desires, his strange dreams, to find the most lurid and juicy and twisted pieces of dirt it could find.

Corvo felt rather sick.

Not Samuel, he thought. Please, not Samuel.

The boatman himself seemed content to follow Corvo’s lead, gazing in peaceful silence over his shoulder at the ever-shifting glitter of sunlight on the Wrenhaven.

Suddenly, the Heart pulsed hard, as if to catch his attention, and Corvo held his breath.

‘This man is a perfect person,’ the Heart said, in a tone that suggested the concept of shrugging in good-natured defeat. ‘A good man in every way.’

At the strangled noise that issued from Corvo’s throat, Samuel quickly looked back around at him, heavy eyebrows furrowed together in concern. “You alright there, sir?”

A moment later, as Corvo continued to struggle to compose himself, the boatman pulled a weathered gray handkerchief from an inside pocket of his coat and offered it up to him. “Here now, it’s alright. You’ll be worried ‘bout that poor girl Emily, I expect. I’m sure the Admiral and the rest of ‘em have figured out where she is by now. No need to cry.”

Corvo’s hand shook violently as he took the kind offering and tried to wipe the dampness from his face, nearly poking his eye out in the process.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~

 

After learning of Emily’s whereabouts from Havelock and Martin, being briefed by Pendleton about his twin brothers, and stocking up on supplies at Piero’s workshop, Corvo decided that it would be in his best interest to have a bite of dinner before heading out. He had no idea when he would get back, after all, and he would need all of his strength to accomplish what needed to be done.

He sat at the bar and ate as efficiently as he could, dipping a chunk of bread in the gravy of his jellied eels before shoving it into his mouth, taking a quick sip of whiskey whenever the fishy taste of the eels became unbearably strong.

As he ate, he tried to ignore how the rest of the Loyalists had seemed to gather in the pub room simply to watch him at his dinner. Lydia had served him the food and drink, so it made sense that she was still bustling around the bar and wiping off the counter, and Martin, Pendleton, and Havelock were all seated at a nearby booth with the contents of Campbell’s journal spread out in front of them, clearly having a strategic meeting.

Did Wallace really have to stand so close to his master, however, like a soldier at full attention, with his beady eyes turned more often than not towards Corvo?

What reason did Callista have for sitting at the next booth over, the lesson book in her hand opened suspiciously upside down if Corvo had glimpsed the cover right?

Why hadn’t Piero taken that faulty audiograph back to his workshop, rather than fiddling distractedly with it a few seats down from him at the bar?

He was sure he had seen Cecelia sweep the pub floor earlier in the day; did she really need to do it again so soon?

Even Samuel was leaned back against the wall beside the open courtyard door, quietly puffing on a cigarette.

Corvo was completely unnerved. He was no longer used to being around so many people at one time and the atmosphere was thick with tension in spite of the facade of normalcy his fellow conspirators seemed intent upon projecting. Corvo felt his appetite die away. He could sense their eyes flick towards him, never all at once and never glancing for more than a second or two. His hand closed tightly around his whiskey glass, knuckles growing white, waiting for whatever was going to happen to happen.

Nothing did, except for Lydia taking his half-finished plate when he pushed it away.

Slowly, Corvo got to his feet, his left hand pulling the now-familiar weight of the Heart into his grasp. Its gears whirred calmly, as if trying to soothe away the tenseness of his shoulders and the ache of his straining muscles. The cubes of ice in his glass clicked softly against each other, audible in the hush that had descended on the room as he stood.

Admiral Havelock slid out from behind the booth table and stood as well.

Corvo watched him closely as he approached. The older man’s broad frame appeared relaxed, large thumbs hooked casually into his belt, but Corvo could see there was a strange sort of hesitation in Havelock’s eyes. It was the kind of hesitation one used when approaching a stray wolfhound, a swarm of milling rats, or an oddly motionless weeper.

He forced himself to stay still, to not toss his glass aside and draw his blade.

“Ready to head out then, Corvo?” Havelock said, mouth pulling at the corners in what was clearly a forced smile. “Got everything you need?”

Corvo nodded.

“...Are you sure?” Havelock asked after a moment, and Corvo felt his brow furrow in confusion. Havelock suddenly looked embarrassed. “You, er… feeling up to it?”

Corvo frowned. He sensed, rather than saw or heard, every eye in the room turn towards them, every breath being held in anxious anticipation.

“That is, you’re not, er… feeling ill or anything?” Havelock added gruffly. “Don’t need another quick lie-down or something? A… another elixir or remedy, perhaps?”

‘Admiral Farley Havelock,’ the Heart said to him, stirring in his grasp. ‘He has seen and done many dark things in his lifetime.’

If Havelock was anything like most of the rest of this crew, Corvo thought direly as his stomach churned and he grew queasy, then he sincerely did not want to know.

“Corvo…?”

‘As a child, Farley faced many difficulties,’ the Heart said, and Corvo remembered the younger brother, the artist, that the Heart had mentioned on a previous occasion. ‘The other boys at school did not like him, and they teased him and beat him without mercy.’

If the Heart was only going to talk of childhood memories, Corvo thought, perhaps it had already told him the worst of Havelock’s secrets.

Yes, that must be it.

He sighed in relief. Not even noticing the Admiral’s repeated attempts to regain his attention, Corvo lifted his glass to his lips, confidently taking a sip. 

‘After an unfortunate incident during a dinner break, his classmates for years would call him only by the nickname of “Farty.”’

The glass shattered on the floor at his feet as Corvo involuntarily spat whiskey all over the counter, his stool, and himself, missing the Admiral only due to the older man’s quick reflexes. There was a scattering of gasps and a clattering of uncertain movement about the room as the other Loyalists responded in surprise, but Corvo was too far gone to notice. He doubled over, the Heart tucked protectively against his chest, laughing and wheezing and choking as spittle dribbled helplessly down his chin and tears sprang into his eyes. He gasped for breath as his laughter turned to rough coughs, blindly reaching out for the edge of the bar for support. He grasped it tightly, knees nearly buckling beneath him as he swayed. He barely even noticed the steady pat of Samuel’s hand against his back, trying to force the remaining inhaled whiskey out of his lungs.

The Heart fluttered in obvious shared amusement, tittering, cocky, and thoroughly proud of the reaction it had invoked.

“By the Void, he’s lost it,” Corvo heard a distant voice say. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought it was probably Lydia.

“I knew something was wrong,” came Wallace’s voice nearby, loaded with judgment. “He seemed addled yesterday, even more so today.”

“His eyes looked a little clouded when I tried to talk to him,” said Callista, full of concern. “It’s not… It couldn’t be the plague, could it?”

“No, no, this sort of… erratic behavior is not one of the symptoms,” Piero jumped in. “At least, not without the presentation of other physical symptoms first. And I’ve seen him drinking my Remedy, so I am certain he should be quite resistant.” 

“I suppose I shouldn’t bother stating the most obvious possibility…?” came Martin’s smooth voice, laced with the sort of confident diagnosis that one who had the favor of the Outsider never wanted to hear from an overseer of the Abbey.

“It’s just all the stress he’s been under, I’m sure!” a voice piped in in his defense. Corvo was sure it was Cecelia.

"Havelock, really, do you still think he’s suited to the tasks we’ve put him to?!” Pendleton demanded shrilly. “Can he really be trusted to go out there alone and not have a complete mental breakdown at the slightest provocation… or no provocation at all?!” 

“Now just give him a little space, I think,” Samuel murmured, pulling his hand away and stepping back a pace. “Give Corvo a chance to catch his breath. I’m sure he’ll be right as rain in a moment.”

It was useless, though. Corvo released his grip on the counter and collapsed into a heap on the wooden floor, crushing some shards of glass into the wool of his coat as he did. He didn’t even feel the sharp splinters, too busy gasping and hacking and wiping at his face with the back of a sleeve to notice.

Wherever the Outsider was at the moment, Corvo was sure he had its full attention right now.

He could only hope it had enjoyed the show.

 

~ <3 ~ <3 ~ <3 ~