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Eyes Turned Skyward

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For a while after they first crowned Emily, Corvo expected trouble. There was no way they could place a child on the throne and not run into resistance, and he knew he was not the only one concerned. 

“She’ll need advisors, you know, and soon.” Callista told him again the day before the coronation, pushing her frazzled hair behind her ears after she finished talking with some of the servants. “Maybe not a Lord Regent, after everything, but the people aren’t going to trust a ten-year-old to lead on her own, rightful Empress or not.”

“Can I choose my own?” Emily piped up from her place at the table by the window, bent over with some paints she had wrangled from Sokolov. Callista glanced at him in consternation, but the unmistakable crash of someone dropping something delicate in the next room had her moving off to investigate. “Only, mother’s advisors were so boring. I want somebody exciting. Maybe some sailors, or some of the watchmen!”

Her hands danced as she spoke, splashing dots of color across the paper as the paint splattered off her brush. Corvo smiled at the disgruntled noise she made when she noticed. “You can help choose, but I’m afraid most of your choices are going to be noblemen and a few dusty old scholars.”

She pouted at him for a moment and then sighed. “Well, I’ll figure something out.”

“I hope you told her no!” Callista called out from the doorway, apparently too far away to hear them clearly.

“He said maybe!” There was a giggle hidden in Emily’s voice and even as Callista fussed at them both, Corvo felt truly at ease for the first time in what felt like years.

And so in the weeks that followed there were the usual court politics, as dull as he remembered them to be; nobles jostled for position and eventually Emily ended up with a full array of advisors, all of whom Corvo had personally checked (any remnants of the Pendleton and Boyle families were conspicuously absent).

But beyond the hazards of court, there were no assassination attempts, no revolts stirred up or contenders for the throne attempting to use Emily’s youth against her. The city was too busy trying to keep itself alive and they spent next few months desperately trying to help wherever possible, treading water as they tried to keep the city from sinking until finally – finally – there was a cure for the plague. Sokolov and Piero had retained their unlikely friendship, with it achieving what neither could have managed alone.

With the end of the plague in sight, the city could actually begin to heal; the healthy started the long, slow process of rebuilding – burning the dead and sweeping out the city’s state of decay. When Corvo discretely checked, the talk amongst the people about their new Empress was overwhelmingly positive, buoyed by the general air of hope and relief. The trouble he had expected seemed ever more unlikely.

In fact, the most dangerous problem they were currently facing was the weepers.

Sokolov’s and Piero’s cure for the plague was the miracle they’d all been praying for, but while the healthy took it with much relief and celebration, the weepers were another story entirely. Plague-mad, wild, and dangerous to even approach, rounding them up and forcing the cure into them was a slow and risky process and it turned out there were far more of them than anyone had realized.

“I’m not saying we should just leave them,” Curnow confided to him one day, after delivering another report, “only suggesting that we focus our efforts on aiding the healthy first. It takes a great deal of time and men to safely handle the weepers, and we’ve very few men to spare.”

Emily didn’t agree when he passed the message along.

“Every day we leave them out there, more of them die.” Emily’s jaw was set and her chin up, face filled with a serious determination that seemed less childish by the day.

Corvo sipped a glass of whisky, watching the fire accentuate the angles of her face in the evening gloom. It was a new tradition of theirs, mirroring one he used to have with her mother; meeting in the evenings to drink and talk, since I’m-almost-eleven-now-Corvo was apparently too old for him to tuck in at night anymore. (He refrained from telling her that he still checked in on her sometimes, when the nights were too quiet and his own heartbeat too loud in his ears.)

Emily frowned at him mulishly over her glass of warmed ox milk, as though he had argued with her. “I talked to Piero, you know, and he says they’re still people. They’re just sick, and we can fix that now. It’s my job to help them now, even if it’s hard.”

“I know,” he told her seriously. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

She settled back in her chair, appeased but still thoughtful, and the echo of her mother in Emily had never seemed stronger than in that moment. Hadn’t some of Jessamine’s last words been the same? They’re my citizens and we will save them from the plague if we can. All of them. He had to look away, blinking hard as the dull ache of loss flared fever-hot for a painful second.

He almost startled when a small hand touched his own. He looked down to find her watching him, her eyes solemn and too knowing. Her voice was quiet as she asked, “Do you think…do you think mother would be happy? With what I’m doing?”

He grasped her hand tightly for a second. “Yes. She would be so proud of you.”

He was so proud of her. But Curnow was also right.

Between the ravages of the plague, the naval blockade that the other Isles had yet to dissolve, and a recent purge of the most corrupt of the City Watch, they were spread far too thin in a dangerous time.

He turned the problem over in his mind, trying to ignore the thought that had been growing in his mind for quite some time now. But the fact was that he was starting to feel a bit…well, useless.

Jessamine had been an active Empress, often holding court or walking down in the city among her people, which had kept Corvo’s days very busy indeed. Emily, though she shared her mother’s love for her subjects, had none of the experience or knowledge that a young Empress needed, and so, aside from the occasional appearance in court, her days were spent in the palace attending lessons. Even her free days were mostly spent dragging adults into her favorite games in the gardens.

Emily remained safe behind the walls and guards of the Tower, and the Lord Protector was relegated to mostly scheduling guard patrols and collecting reports and complaints for when she had time to read them. He’d already destroyed several practice dummies trying to take the edge off, and he sometimes liked to imagine that the rooftops were covered in footprints from the evenings where he would Blink all over the building to keep his skills sharp and tire himself out. He was nothing, but thankful that Emily’s rule was beginning as a peaceful one, but with nothing to distract him he was restless; confined in a place that had once felt like home.

He managed a few more days of restive busywork before he gave in and approached Emily with an idea.

“You'll be safe,” he reassured her, still not entirely sure whether he wanted her to agree or not. “I’ll still be here for any court appearances or trips into the city, but you'll be with your tutors or the advisors most days, and the palace guards will always be there.”

She listened quietly as he explained, chewing on her cheek the way she always did when she was anxious, but when he finished all she asked was, "Are you sure?"

No, he really wasn’t, but…

“I think I can help,” he told her honestly, “but if you want me to stay, then I will.”

“No.” She shook her head, though her eyes were wide and worried. “If you can save people, then you should do it. But I’ll still get to see you, won’t I?”

“I’ll come back every night, I promise.” He would make sure of it, for her if nothing else. Emily had already lost enough.

“Okay.”  Her face was still uncertain, but her voice was strong. He reached out to her and she wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly and abandoning her poise in an instant. He squeezed her back just as tightly and repeated his promise to himself.

He would always come back for her.


He showed up at Curnow’s office the next morning, a handwritten note from Emily already prepared which he shoved into the man’s hands before he could even open his mouth. Curnow blinked at him in mild surprise before he turned his attention to reading. His eyebrows rose with every line and the look he gave Corvo at the end of it was blatantly incredulous.

“You want to help round up the weepers,” His dubious look did not shift at Corvo’s firm nod. “Leaving aside the strangeness of anyone volunteering to get near them, you’re willing to leave the Empress unguarded for this?”

Corvo bristled a little at the slightly accusatory tone. “She’s not unguarded, or do you have so little faith in your men?”

But an argument would get them nowhere, and so Corvo tamped down on his indignation and continued, “You helped me pick her guard yourself, and she feels safe enough with them to agree. I’ve personally blocked off any…less conventional entrances to the Tower, so no one will be able to just sneak by them.”

Nobody except possibly Daud and his men – and there was an uncomfortable subject that he hadn’t touched upon since a very strained conversation with Emily a few nights after Kingsparrow. But no matter his conflicting personal emotions regarding the assassin, the same feeling that had stayed his hand in the Flooded District told him that Emily would at least be safe from that quarter and he’d long ago learned to trust his instincts.

(And the last time he’d ignored them, he’d ended up betrayed, poisoned, and cast away).

Even so, he’d done his best, and after weeks of work, several new guard posts in certain areas, and a small mountain of dead rats he’d used to explore, he was confident that finding alternate routes into the Tower would be far more difficult.

Curnow thought his explanation over with a slight frown before sighing and warning him, “Well, we could use the help, especially from someone with your skills, but you’ll have to work with a team. I know you’re used to working on your own…”

“I’ve worked in groups before,” Corvo protested, and he had. It wasn't his favorite, but his preferences didn’t come into duty. “And I likely know quite a bit more about weepers than any of your men by now. They’ll fall in line.”

It was a very slight reference to his time under the mask, and though they’d never taken the time to talk about what had happened in the Abbey, Curnow acknowledged it with a small, reluctant smile and a tilt of his head. “Alright then. If you’re determined, I’m certainly not going to object. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the next patrol.”

Corvo’s days of fighting and avoiding weepers during his frequent visits to Dunwall’s slums and sewers paid off; armed with more sleeping darts than the Watch could afford and a now-ingrained habit of sneaking up behind people, it wasn’t long before the patrols he was sent with stepped back and let him sweep the apartments first, following behind him to drag out the unconscious bodies he left in his wake.

He was effective and he kept the watchmen he worked with safe, and if occasionally he stepped outside the realm of human possibility, moving just a little too fast or jumping a little too high, it earned him nothing more than sidelong looks and occasional whispers. Witchcraft or no, the Watch fared much better with his help and with the Abbey still in some disgrace – something he couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty about – they seemed content to discuss the matter discretely amongst themselves rather than cry heresy to the Overseers.

Perhaps, considering this, he shouldn’t have been surprised to find himself in the Distillery District a few weeks into his new activity, eyeing an unfortunately familiar apartment with suspicion.

“There have been complaints, now that people are starting to move back into their homes,” Curnow had told him the evening before. “Strange lights, loud noises and laughter at odd hours of the night, and one woman swore she saw rain running up the side of the building.”

Corvo couldn’t stop his shoulders from stiffening and Curnow stopped, raising an eyebrow at him. Corvo shook his head; he couldn’t even begin to imagine explaining the Outsider’s odd penchant for reversing the flow of water, though the expression on Curnow’s face should he try would probably be entertaining to see. 

“It’s probably just weepers making the noise, but the men can be a bit superstitious and between that and your…reputation, I thought it might be best if you took a look first,” Curnow finished delicately. He could have been talking about Corvo’s reputation as a fighter. They both knew he wasn’t.

Corvo made his way over first thing the next morning, leaving the guards who accompanied him at the entrance to Clavering Boulevard by the now deactivated Wall of Light with a fabricated story and a promise to fetch them when he was finished. They were already mingling with the men posted on watch there as he walked off, exchanging information and lighting up cigarettes.  

Of course. It had to be this one. Corvo crossed his arms and glared at the rotting wooden door as he reached the address. He’d seen no sign of Granny Rags since their tussle down in the sewers, where he’d left her sleeping off the drugs from a dart to the neck.

He sighed and shook out his tense shoulders as he approached, drawing out his crossbow. He could only hope she hadn’t decided to return to old haunts, that the rumors were just rumors this time. He had no desire to find out whether or not she had forgiven him for stealing her prey – among other nightmares, he occasionally still woke up from dreams of blinding mist and rats trying to eat him alive.

The apartment didn’t look much different than the last time he had been there; the barricades were down, but the old mattress and the pile of trash that Granny Rags had been tossing into the street were still rotting on the metal balcony. He pushed the flimsy wooden door open with a foreboding creak from the rusty hinges and stepped into the dim hallway, shifting his eyes into Dark Vision.

Nothing moved within his field of vision besides a pair of rats in the kitchen, and a quick check up the stairs revealed nothing, but the scribbles on the walls and the strange, hanging boat that still reminded him of a giant, sinister rattrap. He still didn’t relax. The stove in the kitchen was still warm, dying embers providing the barest amount of light, and the air didn’t hold the musty stillness of a building long abandoned. He had to be missing something.

He pushed open the door to the back alley, prepared for anything and found...nothing, again. The shrine was intact, but empty when he peeked his head around the corner and he stepped out into the bend of the alley, tense and frustrated.

He grew more uneasy the longer he stood there, but nothing popped out of the shadows – no rat swarms, no mist, no sign that Granny Rags had been there at all. He turned, ready to leave the house entirely and not look back, when something rustled and cracked under his boots. He glanced down and stopped short; he was standing off-center in a circle of painted symbols, the dull color almost blending into the stones of the alley. Some strange mixture of bones and dark feathers was scattered beneath his feet.

He bent to take a closer look; the bones were all too small to be human, but what he'd taken to be brown paint had a red undertone that looked suspiciously like...

"So you came back after all," Granny Rags’ voice startled him and he jumped, raising both gaze and crossbow to the doorway. She looked older, her wrinkles more pronounced and her back heavily stooped, but her unseeing eyes were fixed unerringly on him and his stomach grew cold in dread.

She didn’t move from the doorway though, and he allowed a small flicker of hope that perhaps she had forgiven him; perhaps this wouldn’t become another fight.

“And after you were so rude last time too,” she tutted at him, sounding like nothing more than a scolding old matron, “Gentlemen these days, so uncouth. They just don’t understand how to treat a lady.”                 

And then she vanished, reappearing directly in front of him to fling a handful of powder at his face. Corvo reared back in shock, firing off a sleep dart that went wide and wiping frantically at his watering eyes.

“It just won’t do, dearie.” Her voice had turned slick and poisonous, and he spun around, trying to find her through watering eyes, but the ground suddenly dropped out from under him. He looked down and swore violently. The circle of runes was burning, sending black smoke and coppery fire billowing upwards around him. The smoke and fire had twined into ropes of brightness and shadow that had snared his legs and torso and held him immobile in midair. Granny’s voice sounded like it was coming from all sides now. “And you had such potential, too. Well, don’t worry. I’ll make good use of you.”

He struggled against the magic, but he might as well have been pulling against chains; his arms and legs were now almost completely immobile and the fire was spreading quickly. Granny was mumbling and laughing to herself, but he couldn’t hear her over his own pulse thundering in his ears as the magic snaked higher and higher up his body. He pulled in one last gasp of air, determined not to breathe in as the fire reached his face, and then his vision was obscured with flames.

It was only then that he realized that the fire wasn’t burning or wounding, instead buzzing against his skin the way Void power did whenever he used it to Blink. He let out his breath in relief, closing his eyes against the dizzying blur of light and darkness, and then strained uselessly against his bonds, unable to find a weak spot. He kept trying to move, trying to do anything but hang there uselessly when the fire just…vanished, disappeared as though it had sunk into his skin. The force holding him in the air released him, letting him fall to his knees in the still smoking circle of symbols.

He blinked down at himself in bemusement. His eyes were blurry and stinging from the smoke and whatever Granny had thrown, but he didn’t feel injured, and the flames hadn’t so much as blackened his skin. As far as he could tell, nothing had happened.

Confused, but relieved, he thought quickly and drew his pistol out of his coat as an idea struck. He scrambled up, looking around wildly and found Granny Rags standing in front of the shrine, her face reflecting the same confusion he was feeling.

Granny Rags stood motionless for only a moment before her face twisted into a snarl and her hands curled into claws, but her moment of hesitation was all he needed. Squinting through the smoke, he fired, aiming for one of the miniature oil lamps scattered around the shrine.

Though smaller than the usual tanks, the size of the explosion was more than enough, catching the other lamps nearby and starting a chain. A billowing wave of light and heat knocked him off his feet and he slammed his eyes shut, pushing himself backwards until he hit the wall. He heard Granny Rags shriek in pain, though it sounded high and distant around the ringing in his ears.

When the brightness behind his eyelids faded, he opened them to find himself alone in the alley, with no sign that Granny Rags had been there at all other than the thick haze filling the air. Even more smoke curled upwards from the still-burning curtains of the shrine and the blackened parts of the walls – the marks of the explosion reached almost to his position and he could only count himself lucky that it hadn’t been any larger.

He dragged himself to his feet, coughing. His skin felt warm and too tight, though not quite burned, and shivers were crawling up his spine. His head swam unpleasantly as he stood and stumbled out of the smoke-filled alley, dragging his hand along the wall for balance. He stopped in the kitchen, checking himself over.

There was still no obvious harm from whatever Granny Rags had attempted, just a lingering sense of strangeness throughout his body that was likely from the explosion. His head had stopped swimming, but his vision seemed too bright, the dull colors of the dark apartment suddenly sharp and abnormal. He blinked rapidly, trying to shake it off and made his way back outside to sunlight and company.

By the time he’d reached the Boulevard, he already had a story prepared should any of the men ask about the explosion – one that did not mention witches or magic. He’d pulled quick fingers through his hair and could only hope his face wasn’t covered in soot. The watchmen straightened and loosely regrouped as he approached, apparently far enough away that they had neither heard nor seen anything of the fight. One of the older men – Oliver, Corvo thought his name was, but the patrols switched too often for him to be sure – called out, “All done in there?”

Corvo was about to answer when the whale oil tanks by the Wall of Light caught his eye. He stopped, eyeing them suspiciously. The color seemed closer to purple than blue, wavering oddly, and he could have sworn for a second he’d seen the light rising up –

“Lord Attano?” Corvo flinched in surprise as someone touched his shoulder. The group had moved closer while he was distracted and a few of them were now eyeing him with concern. “Is something wrong, sir? Was there trouble?”

He gave the man an apologetic smile and shook his head, though his head ached ever so slightly with the quick movement. “I took care of it. You can check it over now.”

“Yes, sir.” The patrol moved off to the house. Another glance at the oil tanks found them as blue and quiescent as they had always been and Corvo slumped against the nearest wall, breathing deep and trying to relax. 

“Lord Protector?” It was one of the younger Watchmen, fuzz just barely beginning to grow on his cheeks, who was trailing at the back of the group. “Are you sure you’re alright, sir?”

“I’m fine.” His throat itched and he coughed harshly to clear it, waving the boy off to join his comrades in checking the rest of the house. However odd he felt, he would be fine soon enough anyway. This wasn’t the first time a battle had left him itchy and off balance and whatever Granny Rags had tried to do, it clearly hadn’t worked.  

He remained unsettled for the rest of the day, everything around him seeming too loud or oddly colored or just slightly off. He had to constantly force himself to focus and he knew some of the Watchmen were watching him with concern. Luckily, none of the other buildings they searched contained any weepers and the patrol sent him off early in the evening.

He skipped dinner when he returned to the Tower, making only a brief detour to locate and say goodnight to Emily. She frowned at him in concern, but accepted his excuse of exhaustion and kissed him on the cheek. He made it to his room and fell into bed only half-undressed.

It probably was just tiredness, he decided. Exhaustion and nerves and the unpleasant shock of seeing Granny Rags again after everything.

He’d feel better after he slept.

Chapter Text

When Corvo woke up, his bedsheets were smothering him.

He blinked blearily into the sea of off-white linen covering his face. He felt light-headed, his limbs aching strangely as though they had all fallen asleep. Something had woken him up, he realized.

The light, perhaps. It was already far brighter than it usually was when he rose, even through the cloth covering his eyes. He hadn't overslept for many years; perhaps Granny Rags had affected him more than he’d realized. He lifted his arm to push the blankets away from his face and –

His arm was not supposed to bend like that.

He jerked fully awake, trying to throw the blankets off and see his arm, which was bending up and out in a way that just felt wrong, but his body seemed to be working against him. No matter how he moved, the blankets stubbornly refused to fall, and everything just felt strange. His skin itched and seemed to catch and pull on the sheet with every movement he made, and from his legs to his head he felt odd, far too awkward and unwieldly in his movements.

He kicked and squirmed his way backwards until he finally tumbled sideways out of the bed, spilling out from under the covers and landing lightly - far more lightly than he should have - on the floor. He righted himself, twisting to look at his arm once he was finally able to see again, and saw...black.

On the streets in Serkonos, he'd often taken to the low rooftops with the other children to avoid the dangers of using the streets. They had challenged each other often to races or wrestling matches or, when they were feeling adventurous, to try and catch a bird from the many flocks that swarmed the rooftops. The smaller birds were watchful, and the crows and ravens too wily, but the city pigeons were fat and slow, and he'd caught quite a few just for the fun of stalking them.

Some fought immediately as he caught them, and he would let them go, but some would freeze in terror and he could hold them for a minute, examine the graceful curve and bend of the half-folded wings and the interlocking barbs of their flight feathers before he flung them up into the air so they could make their escape.

They were old memories, as bittersweet as most of his childhood, but they burst back in full color as he stared at the sleek rows of black feathers covering the curves of the limb that appeared to have replaced his arm. Even as disoriented as he was - even though such a thing definitely should not have been attached to him - it didn't take him long to make the connection.

A wing. His arm was now a wing.

Corvo struggled to stand and ended up stumbling over his feet instead, landing clumsily on his side. He let out a sound that should have been a yelp, but it came out as a strangled squawk, the new shapes of his throat and tongue making themselves known and startling him into stillness. He tried again, tentatively, to speak, but all he managed was a strange aaawwwk, a throaty croak that almost made him want to cough as his tongue refused to obey him.

He stopped, closing his eyes, and forced himself to breathe slowly, counting his breaths. He knew better than this - he couldn't afford to panic.

He took one last fortifying breath and opened his eyes, but another glance down at his body shocked him again, despite everything he'd already seen; beyond the feathers covering every inch of him, his legs were scaly and skinny, with three long toes facing forward and a fourth branching out behind, all tipped with small, sharp black claws. He wriggled the toes just to see them move. It was almost like moving his hand, he thought distantly as he clenched them into a loose fist, except they were, well...claws. A bird's claws.

His heart was pounding against his ribs, but he was past panic now, falling instead into a numb focus, the type he usually felt in overwhelming battles where he couldn't afford to think or feel past his next action lest he distract himself.

At least he didn't have to wonder what had happened - the cause of something so magical and disruptive, when he'd been roped into a ritual just the day before, was not in any question. Clearly, if this was actually what Granny Rags had attempted to do, it hadn't failed; it had only been delayed. Perhaps, if he could find out how exactly she'd done it, he could figure out how to reverse it.

There had to be a way to reverse it. He couldn't allow himself to think otherwise.

He fixed this objective firmly in his mind, staving off the unpleasant thoughts that were starting to rise, and turned his mind to his situation with a more critical eye.

Everything in the room now towered over him; his bed seemed as tall as many of the buildings he had once climbed, and his moderately sized room was suddenly cavernous, with the ceiling was so far above him it felt like he was in the throne room instead. Emily's drawings hanging on the walls kept catching his eye; they suddenly seemed over-bright and vibrant, sparks of color exploding against the grey of the stone walls, and he had to consciously look away.

It was very much like possessing a rat, he realized suddenly - the oversized world around him, his inability to communicate, his field of vision far wider than he was used to with human eyes - except that the body felt like his alone rather than borrowed and too small. Without the warped vision of seeing through another's eyes and the struggle of controlling an unwilling mind, Corvo would have thought that a different body would be much easier to control.

It really wasn't.

He stood up much more cautiously this time, and had to balance carefully even just standing still; much of his prowess in fights came from knowing his body intimately from years of training and experience. Now, with everything from his size to his balance radically changed and none of the instant knowledge apparently granted by possession, even the basics seemed strange and difficult.

Figuring out how to walk properly took far longer than it should have. Eventually, he managed a wobbly line across the floor, bobbing his head and shifting his body to keep his balance. The shape of his feet kept distracting him, the extra toe behind him catching his attention every time it touched something and his claws clicking subtly on the stones as he moved.

He nearly stumbled over several times and compromised by moving with a small, undignified bunny-hop whenever he felt like lifting just one foot would unbalance him entirely and send him sprawling onto his face (onto his beak, he had a beak now, another distraction that hovered in his eyesight in a way his nose never had, though he was quickly learning to look past it).

It was good enough to get him to the glass doors leading out to the balcony. There was just enough of a reflection despite the morning light for him to see himself in the glass - a glossy bird, black from head to toe, its feathers mussed and rumpled.

He stared at himself uneasily, tilting his head and moving his wings to watch the bird in the reflection do the same, the remnants of his earlier panic stirring up again in his gut.

He was distracted by a knock at the door, startling him away from the glass.

“Lord Protector?” It was a woman’s voice, unfamiliar - a maid, most likely. “Are you in there, sir?”

The urge to call out nearly overwhelmed him for a second and he had already opened his mouth when the hard, foreign feeling of a beak instead of lips reminded him. He swallowed uneasily and hopped quickly over to the door instead, staying by the wall so that it would hide him when it opened. They would see and hear a bird, not him, and from what he remembered the maids would shoo birds back outside through windows or off balconies.

Wings or not, if flying was as difficult to master as everything else, he likely wouldn't survive the fall.

The door opened, and he was confronted with the disturbing sight of a pair of black, flat shoes nearly as large as he was. He was vividly reminded of guards attempting to squish him as he slipped by them as a rat, and he huddled down a little farther, made himself smaller. A second girl slipped in after the first, and they both loomed over him like everything else in the room, making it difficult to properly see their faces until they were a little farther away from him as they moved towards the bed, chatting together.

"See, I told you, he's never in his room this late."

"Always best to check, anyway. Besides, Edith is one of the servers, and she said he never showed for breakfast this morning. Most nobles, that means they slept in."

"Perhaps he's ill..."

Corvo slipped past them through the open door as they talked, turning left down the hallway and hopping as fast as his new spindly legs could go towards the stairs to the ground floor. He took the steps carefully, jumping down one at a time, focusing on getting down safely rather than on what he would do when he got there.

He was certain he could find Emily or Callista easily; Emily's schedule was fairly predictable and her governess was usually nearby. He could likely find Sokolov and Piero if he looked in the right places at the right times, and possibly even Curnow if he got lucky and the man was visiting.

But then what? The only one who might know him now was Granny Rags.

He moved carefully through the halls, avoiding the few patrolling guards as he made his way towards Emily's usual morning classroom for lack of anywhere else to go. He had just passed an open doorway when a shrill shriek split the air behind him and he jumped violently, spinning around.

He was rewarded with bristles clipping the tip of his beak as someone swung a broom at his face. He let out a yelp of his own that came out as a strangled squawk as he backpedaled frantically away from what appeared to be a maid wielding a broom like a club.

"What happened?" Another maid poked her head out the doorway.

"There's a bird in the halls!" The girl brandished the broom in his direction as though he might leap at her without warning. He eyed her back just as warily, knowing he was still too slow in this form to make an escape down the hallway.

"Is that worth carrying on about?" The disapproval rang clear, and Corvo could faintly see the first maid flush even from the floor, though she didn't loosen her grip on the broom. "It's rats that carry the plague, not birds. Just shoo it back outside."

"But it's not just a bird, is it? My mam always told me crows are horrible luck. Used to ward herself whenever she saw one - the whole family did."

She eyed him suspiciously again. Corvo was starting to feel slightly offended.

"Oh, for -" The other maid disappeared back into the room for a split second, muttering to herself, and came out holding what looked like a tablecloth. "Go finish cleaning, I'll take care of it."

Before Corvo could think about dodging, she had flung the cloth over his head and bundled him in it, trapping him easily. He spent the next few moments blind and a bit motion-sick as she carried him through the halls, until finally he heard a door open and sunlight lit up the cloth around him.

He went tumbling out of the bundle as she shook him out without warning, landing gracelessly in grass and dirt. He twisted upright, but flinched as the maid fluttered the cloth in his direction so that it snapped in the air. "Well, go on! Get out of here, before the cats catch you."

Cats? He blinked up at her dazedly and she sighed, shaking her head as she went back indoors, sheet bundled in her arms. He glanced around and discovered that he was at the public entrance to the palace rather than the water lock; he could see the open gates in the distance, and a coach waited open nearby for passengers, the driver drowsing with his cap pulled low over his eyes.

He considered making his way back up the steps to the door, but once he got there he would be forced to wait for someone to open the door again and hope he could slip by. Or...He eyed his new wings thoughtfully, unfolding and refolding them.

The Tower usually had plenty of open windows, after all. If he was going to be stuck in this form for the foreseeable future, he might as well try to make the best of it (and some part of him, the part that desperately loved running across rooftops, loved that heart-stopping moment after the leap and before the Blink, was purely delighted at the thought of flight). Besides, there were apparently cats to be wary of as well.

It was, of course, not nearly as easy as it should have been.

He could feel the difference between wings and arms as he tried flapping the wings - could feel the wind running though the individual feathers, could see how the wings were made to catch the air - but there was clearly something to it that he didn't know because he never came close to flight. He kicked up a great deal of dust and dirt, but the only time his feet left the ground was when he hopped around, trying to give himself a boost.

He was ridiculously reminded of the time when Emily had decided she wanted to be an owl and they'd spent a while jumping through the palace like lunatics, waving their arms about and calling out poor imitations of various bird noises - Jessamine hadn't stopped teasing him for days.

Unfortunately, this was an exercise in frustration rather than fun.

He stopped, discouraged, and tried to think of what he was missing. He'd never thought overmuch on the underlying mechanics of flight before now though, so he really didn't have much to draw on. Still, he knew baby birds weren’t born knowing how to fly either, and yet they somehow made it out of the nests without falling to their doom.

Or perhaps falling was the answer. He could give himself some height, something to jump off of.

He glanced around; the stairs to the Tower door were too flat and low, and the railing surrounding the moat impossible to reach. The coach...He stopped, taking a closer look. It was the usual boxlike contraption, made of flat dull metal, but there were decorative curls on the front and back that looked thin enough to grip and high enough to give him a significant boost.

Experimentation proved that he was too short to even reach the footstep for the coach door. He improvised and clambered up the inside of the back wheel instead, gripping the spokes above him in his mouth so that he could climb with his feet until he could hop up onto one of the curved pieces of metal along the back.

He was just considering the jump when the Tower doors opened again. He backed against the metal of the carriage, doing his best to keep out of sight, but caught a brief glimpse of two men, not uniformed, deep in a discussion that grew more audible as they approached.

"...Flooded District. It just isn't feasible, even ignoring the weepers and the rats, and with the rest of the city -”

"They're paying us for the estimates, not our opinions. What they do with it is up to them, so long as they come through. Simmons, back to the office."

"Yes, sir." This from the driver, and as the coach door clanged shut, cutting off the discussion, Corvo realized the danger. He'd waited too long though and the coach came to life under his feet, the strength of the hidden engine's vibrations startling him into loosening his grip so that he nearly fell off when it lurched into motion. He gripped tighter on instinct and ducked low, and it was only as the coach was passing through the gate to the Tower that he realized he should have taken the fall instead.

He concentrated on holding on at first as the wind and the bone-jarring bumps shook him, but even when he was confident enough to look around, the coach was hurtling by too fast for him to get much of an impression of their surroundings. It wasn't until Kaldwin's Bridge loomed ahead that he realized how far away from the Tower they'd gotten, and in so short a time.

He considered jumping off his perch for a wild moment, but the coach barely slowed as it hit the bridge, and he knew the impact would be painful at best and fatal at worst unless the coach slowed down.

He needed to get off though, and quickly. However far away he was now, the gap was only going to get bigger and, at the very least, he knew this portion of the city fairly well. He could only hope he'd be able to jump off before it ended up somewhere he wasn't familiar with.

The coach crossed quickly, turning off the bridge and into the street, almost immediately meeting a small crowd of dock workers moving about the streets, with a few watchmen and residents mixed in. The coach slowed for the press of people in and around the street, and Corvo saw his chance. Gathering his courage, he leapt, flapping his wings wildly.

It was more of a controlled fall than the flight he'd hoped for. He thought that, perhaps for a second, he'd felt something catch under his wings, like he was swinging along a rope rather than falling straight down, but the ground approached faster than he had expected even with the added height and he had no time to study it. He managed to hit the ground feet first, though, and decided to consider it a success.

He immediately had to dodge someone's foot as the crowd of people bustled around him, too focused on their destinations to notice a bird at their feet. He dodged and ducked his way to the buildings at the edge, slipping into a small, quiet alley between two of them.

He followed it along, eyeing his surroundings; there were no wrapped, decaying corpses lining the alley as would have been common only a few months ago, although graffiti still covered the walls. The alley widened out behind the buildings, with a dumpster against the wall to his right and a wide open space leading to a boarded-over entrance to another building on the other side. There were two rats nearby, a large grey rat and a smaller white one, scavenging around the dumpster. He'd have paid them no mind as a human, but now they were almost his size, their shoulders almost chest height to him. He watched them nervously and wondered if these were Pandyssian rats rather than normal rats; from what he remembered of Dr. Galvani's notes, those were quite a bit larger than the average breed.

They were more aggressive too, if he remembered correctly, and he started to amble quietly to the left, away from the dumpster and the rats, but the movement caught the grey rat's eye and it stopped, sitting back on its hind legs so that its head was on a level with his, its nose quivering madly.

This caught the white rat's attention and it twisted to stare at him too before it approached in a slight zig-zag motion, head bobbing and whiskers twitching as it looked him over. He backed up a bit as it approached, but when it started getting closer than was comfortable he tried to scare it off instead, coughing out a rough noise before he remembered he couldn't shout normally and flapping his wings to look larger.

This, unfortunately, had exactly the opposite effect he'd hoped for.

The white rat charged him without warning, swerving at the last minute to attack from the side, attempting to close its teeth on the joint between wing and body. He jerked out of the way just in time, wincing as some feathers and skin ripped out in the rat's jaws. He walloped it across the face with a wing as hard as he could manage, but it was barely deterred, backing up only slightly before lunging at him again.

Its teeth closed around the top edge of his wing before he could draw back, sharp fangs sinking straight in and the back teeth grinding against the bone. Corvo screamed, the sound warping into something high and eerie.

A bite that would have felt like a painful annoyance as a human felt like a wolfhound tearing into bare flesh, and as the rat dug its feet in and jerked him to a halt it felt as though it was attempting to rip the wing in half entirely.

He was well used to pain though, and it didn't distract him from the second rat closing in, apparently eager to share in the meal. He lashed out clumsily with his beak, scraping a bloody line through the fur on top of its skull, and though the rat trapping him almost managed to pull him off balance as his attention split, the free rat backed off to a safe distance.

He turned on the first rat immediately, flinging himself toward it. Braced for resistance, the rat overbalanced easily, releasing his wing, and Corvo attacked with a fury, slashing at its delicate eyes and nose with beak and claws. He managed several bloody furrows in its face before it bit back at him desperately. It only managed to scrape his leg, but he hopped back a step and it bolted down the alley away from him, leaving a trail of blood drops as its tail whipped around the corner.

Then the second rat hit him, biting down on the injured wing still hanging mostly limp by his side and pushing at him, trying to use its weight to pin him. Corvo kept his feet, though barely, and stifled another sound of pain as he twisted around, ignoring the pain as the movement strained against the rat's teeth.

He stabbed at the back of its neck with his beak, feeling the points sink into flesh and hot blood wash over his tongue. It thrashed wildly, paws scrabbling weakly at him even as its teeth dug in deeper, and he clamped down as hard as he could in return, twisting his head and wrenching the rat's neck harshly.

He only let go when it stopped twitching and the teeth finally loosened; its head was nearly separated from its body, and Corvo was torn between triumph and mild nausea. Thankfully, his sense of taste as a bird seemed to be rather dull, and he could only detect the faintest taste of rat blood - even with the number he'd eaten, raw or cooked, it wasn't a taste he was fond of.

His wing was throbbing painfully in time with his heartbeat, and his body ached with various other scrapes and bruises. He tried to examine the damage, but the feathers, even mussed as they were, were dense and dark enough to hide any broken skin and blood. He knew several bites had gone deep though, and the pain when he attempted to fold the wing made him stop immediately, leaving it half-open and brushing the ground.

Corvo was still breathing hard when a scratching sound heralded the arrival of a third rat, its furry head peeking out from a broken vent in one of the walls. He froze and then forced himself to back away quickly, hoping it might go for the easy meal of the already dead rat, but it scurried straight at him, already bristling and squeaking aggressively.

He was just bracing himself for another fight when a stone flew down from overhead, slamming solidly into the rat’s side and sending it tumbling. It fled immediately, vanishing back into the same broken vent, and Corvo nearly went limp with relief.

The barest scuff of movement on stone echoed behind him and when he turned to see his rescuer, he came face to face with leather boots; water-stained, but polished and maintained. He tipped his head back, trying to see their face, but the angle was too close for him to see comfortably and he was momentarily caught on the red of their coat, the color deep, subtly variegated, and oddly mesmerizing.

He forced himself out of his stupor and thought quickly. He should leave, should try to get back to the Tower and Emily, but...

He could barely manage this body undamaged; wounded like this, he was easy prey. And honestly, there was nothing at the Tower that could help him right now. What he needed was protection and time to heal while he figured out his next move.

He considered his rescuer. They'd already shown a willingness to help - perhaps he could persuade them to take it a step further.

He hopped even closer to them, almost onto their boots, letting his injured wing hang loose and attempting a hopeful chirp. It came out closer to a strangled bullfrog's croak, but it sounded sufficiently pitiful enough that he decided it would serve the same purpose.

The person above him shifted, their knees bending, and then there was a hand descending towards him, fingers pressing lightly against the feathers on his stomach. At the slight push, he reached out automatically to grasp it in turn, but as he could now only grasp with his feet, he ended up accidentally perched on their hand, claws gripping easily on a well-worn, supple leather glove.

Well, that was where he'd wanted to end up anyway, even if the feeling of someone carrying him as they stood up was distinctly bizarre. He shifted, getting used to balancing on the slightly unstable perch as they stood. Then he looked up, past a thick leather bandolier slung over broad shoulders, and found himself face-to-face with Daud.

His breath froze in his chest, everything slowing around him as his blood ran cold.

Corvo's memories of his run through the Flooded District were shaky, a fever dream blurred by exhaustion and poison, when only fear for Emily had kept him on his feet. By the time he'd gotten to Daud he'd been wet, cold, and exhausted beyond all reason.

He'd crouched on the upper balcony of Daud’s office, watching Daud pace and listening to him speak aloud, knowing of all the ways he could end Daud’s life. Daud had played a significant role in Jessamine’s death – just seeing him had been enough to bring the anger and the loss bubbling back up.

But Daud was a chess piece, not the mastermind, and after the nightmare of Coldridge, Corvo had saved and spent the majority of his hatred on Campbell and Burrows. Those few nights he had indulged in plotting revenge had been focused on them and, with both dethroned and suffering, the drive for revenge was all, but burnt out.

And so, he had lurked on the railing instead, listening to Daud’s regret, his own regret and grief echoing back sharp in his ribs.

He could have tried to kill Daud. He might have even succeeded. But at that point, he hadn't really wanted to anymore.

He’d just wanted it all to be over.

And so, he'd attempted theft instead, only to be caught at the last moment and forced into a fight that he hadn't wanted - that neither of them had wanted if the way Daud had abandoned it after one lucky, glancing hit to the side was any indication.

But then Daud had spoken to him.

That last speech had shaken Corvo even more than the first, had resonated with something inside him that he hadn't wanted to examine too closely, something that felt just a little too akin to this broken, deadly man. What little was left of his anger had been harder and harder to hold onto the longer he stood there, dripping blood and water and river krust bile, and in the end he had let it go, listening to Daud through a veil of exhaustion and unable to come up with a coherent response.

Daud might have been lying in one last, desperate attempt at survival, but Corvo had years of experience assessing people for threats as the Royal Protector. Despite everything, he had believed him. Oddly, he had felt relieved more than anything; Daud would never harm Emily, not with Jessamine's ghost hanging over him.

Still, he’d held his blade to Daud's neck for a bit longer than he had intended.

It had felt like he should want Daud dead, like he was failing some unspoken promise if he allowed the man to walk away without punishment. He had thought of Emily, of her nightmares and tears and the irreplaceable loss of her mother (of his own loss, his pain and grief and...) and, for only a moment, he had considered it.

But it would have solved nothing. Daud had asked for mercy, unarmed and sincere in his regret, and if Corvo ever stooped so low as to kill a man like that for the sake of his own anger, he would never be able to forgive himself.

Besides, Corvo understood regret intimately. Daud was already punishing himself.

He'd lowered his sword and watched the assassin dissolve like dust into the wind and that was supposed to have been the end of it. Daud would disappear, and Emily would be safe and they would never meet each other again.

Certainly not like this.

Daud clicked his tongue softly, drawing attention, and Corvo twitched, lifting his head to track the man's face. He'd stood frozen too long - he'd done that far too often today. Perhaps it was some prey instinct from the bird body, or perhaps this day was so far beyond the pale that his reactions just couldn't keep up.

He met Daud's eyes - grey, he noticed with dull surprise, odd for a Serkonan - as the assassin looked him over, lingering on his limp wing and scraped leg, picking out points of weakness. Corvo considered fighting for a split second, but he had won the fight against the rats, barely, with a combination of luck, skill, and superior intelligence. None of that would make the slightest bit of difference here if it came to violence.

What was he supposed to do? What could he do?

Daud moved suddenly, taking a few steps and then sliding up easily to sit on the nearby dumpster. Corvo swayed with the movement, trying to keep his balance, but was defeated a moment later when Daud pushed at him with the other hand, nudging him off his wrist and onto his thigh instead. The man twisted away, fiddling with something in a belt pouch that clinked like glass and Corvo wondered if he should run.

That thought brought up the ever-present question of where. Where and how, with his wing unusable (not that he'd figured out how to use them anyways) and probably an army of rats in the alleys between him and the Tower and no one there who would recognize him anyway. He huddled down, feeling nauseous with pain and frustration and the slightest sliver of fear.

But then Daud was reaching out towards him, brushing against the wounded wing still loose against his side, and between the sudden movement and the spark of pain Corvo was startled enough to lash out. He was now accustomed enough to this body that it did not feel too strange to bite at him, but the tip of his beak barely brushed leather as Daud pulled back out of his reach.

"Stop that," He flinched minutely at Daud's sudden, rasping words and then berated himself for it. "Or I'll pluck you and roast you like a pigeon. Even if you wouldn't make much of a meal."

Despite the rough voice and the words themselves, the tone was low and soothing, the manner one might take to speak to a frightened child or...or animal, and he wanted to laugh hysterically, because he was an animal now - somehow he kept forgetting that - and apparently Daud, the great and feared Knife of Dunwall, was the sort of man who rescued wounded creatures.

"Easy. Keep your beak to yourself and we'll have no trouble." Daud kept his voice to a quiet murmur as his hand went slowly back to the injured wing, fingers tucking under it to lift it out straight and his thumb carefully moving feathers out of the way to expose the bites. From what Corvo could see, they were still bleeding sluggishly. He held very still even through the stinging pain.

Daud's hands were now nearly as large as his entire body, and probably had the strength to rip his wing off entirely with a single twist and pull. No matter how careful Daud was acting, or whether the threat was serious or not, Corvo really didn't want to test his patience in this position.

He had to twist his head to see, but he caught a glimpse of bright red liquid in the flask in his other hand just before the assassin dripped the liquid onto the first wound. It stung at first contact, but a familiar tingling sensation quickly took over.

Oh. Corvo recognized it with a rush of relief. The old brand of Sokolov's elixir; now unnecessary with the cure, but still abundant throughout the city. He himself had used it far more for wounds than to keep away the plague. It had a very useful side effect of sealing the bleeding and numbing the pain of all, but the most extreme of wounds. He'd relied on it heavily in his missions, applying field dressings for the worst wounds until he could get back to Piero and the philosopher could sew him back together.

He'd never applied it topically, but the solution seemed to work well enough. The tingling sensation faded as the skin around the bites went numb and when he moved the wing slowly, the pain was down to a dull ache. He folded the wing carefully, mildly stunned, and stared up at Daud's scarred face as the assassin replaced the elixir in his belt.

To say that this was not what he had expected was a severe understatement.

Daud was violence personified - he was metal cages and suffocating magic and the spray of blood across white flagstones as a body hit the floor. This - a gentle voice and gentle hands, kindness and a balm for the pain just when Corvo needed it most - it didn't fit. It wasn't right.

He was starting to quiver slightly, the aftershocks of a fight and relief from the pain and the emotions rattling around in his head all ganging up together to overwhelm him. He tried to make it stop, because he was already injured and showing any more weakness in front of this man was a bad idea for so many reasons, but exhaustion was beginning to nip at his heels as the adrenaline wore off.

The fact was, his immediate situation had not changed - that Daud was the one who had rescued him did not remove his need for help. Perhaps, in that context, showing weakness was exactly what he should do.

Daud believed he was holding a simple bird, and had already shown compassion beyond anything Corvo would have expected of him. It seemed unlikely that the assassin would treat his wounds only to leave him flightless and in danger, so if he played along, appealed to whatever odd compassion Daud felt towards him, he would likely gain his protection, at least until his wounds healed. As long as he was careful, Daud would never know the truth.

He hesitated, deliberating. There was just something galling about the idea of accepting help from Daud. Corvo hadn't forgotten the man's deeds, no matter that he hadn't been able to kill him all those months ago; to accept his aid now, to allow Daud to see him vulnerable willingly, felt like another betrayal.

But he knew his limits, and if he was going to survive this, he needed help. Daud had proven to be willing and able to provide it.

Survival came before pride.

And so, when Daud offered his hand again (those hands killed Jessamine, killed so many others, this was such a bad idea), Corvo stepped up onto his wrist.

He braced himself for whatever Daud planned to do next, but nothing happened. He seemed content with his perch on the dumpster, legs hanging down with his elbows on his knees. His eyes flicked regularly between Corvo, the alleyway, and the rooftops, though none of the bustle on the main street ever wandered into the alleyway. Corvo wasn't sure how long they waited there, though it couldn't have been too long.

He was starting to doze when a soft, familiar sound heralded the arrival of a Whaler.

Daud straightened, sliding off the dumpster and Corvo wobbled at the sudden movement, throwing out his uninjured wing for stability. "Thomas."

"The Redoubt has already moved on to the Old Port District, but they did offload some cargo here, along with a great deal of the crew." The new arrival leapt directly into his report without any other greeting, his voice was smooth and measured, a contrast to Daud's rasp. He was dressed in the usual Whaler's mask, but his uniform was dark blue rather than grey. Corvo wondered if it meant something. A higher rank, perhaps, or a sign of favor.

"Any trouble getting what you needed?"

"They came into port just this morning. I didn't even need to pay them - the men are already swapping tales in the pubs. Bundry Rothwild was discovered and arrested by port officials in Samara. Apparently he had quite a sizable bounty outstanding from his last visit there."

"Imagine that." Daud sounded satisfied and Corvo wondered if he should be worried. The name Rothwild sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it.

"And from the Undine?"

"Nothing. Stride's certain it's nowhere near the river, wherever they're hiding, " Daud was frowning now, the fingers of his free hand tapping lightly against his leg. "We'll need to organize more concentrated sweeps inland."

Corvo was growing ever more lost, but Thomas accepted the information with a nod and spared a quick glance upwards to the rooftops. "Rulfio should be nearly finished with the new additions by now. He'll be looking for us above."

"They'll find us. We're not that far off."

They stood in silence for a few moments. Daud was apparently in no rush to explain, and Corvo was beginning to wonder if Thomas was going to ignore the issue entirely when he finally spoke up. "May I ask about the bird?"

"I found it tangling with a couple of rats." Daud spoke easily as though he was talking about the weather, waving a hand lazily and indicating the mangled corpse of the rat that Thomas was nearly standing on. "Made enough noise that I heard it from the rooftops."

"And so you decided to come to the rescue?" Thomas sounded a bit bemused and Corvo couldn't blame him. He didn't really understand it either.

"Only at the end. It won the fight two against one and was ready to take on a third, even crippled. You have to respect that kind of fighting spirit." Daud's explanation sounded oddly pointed to Corvo.

Thomas apparently understood. "They might have landed a few hits, but I was in no way crippled."

Daud snorted, and Corvo watched him in open surprise as his lips curled up in amusement. "Bullshit. You had a concussion and a broken arm, on top of the two cracked ribs."

"And yet I still managed to follow you back to Rudshore without aid. I was only mildly inconvenienced."

"Mildly inconvenienced. Is that what we're calling it now?"

Shadows bloomed before Thomas could retort, four more Whalers Blinking into the alley in quick succession - another dressed in dark blue followed by three in the grey Corvo was used to. Two of the grey Whalers nearly collided as they Blinked almost into the same location. The third hopped out of the way as they shoved away from each other, nearly stumbling.

The Whaler in blue leaned easily on the dumpster next to Daud, heaving a sigh. “Well, I hope you found what you were looking for, because this was fucking useless.”

Thomas huffed as he slipped past the others to join them. “Really? You’re usually more optimistic about new recruits.”

The other man shook his head irritably “Not entirely useless then, but seriously fucking annoying. I swear by the Void, if we recruit any more siblings, Killian can take them out himself for assessments. You’d think he’d beat the rivalry out of them before sending them off.”

Daud’s lips twisted as his eyes cleared in understanding and he eyed the Whalers who had stumbled. “Pavel and Jordan?”

The Whaler in blue crossed his arms, tilting his head. "Haven’t had this much trouble since Alek and Andrei, but they’re twins, which probably makes it worse. I suppose we’re lucky these two didn’t try to trip each other off the rooftops.”

The Whalers in question were clearly listening now, standing rigidly at attention, though one was fidgeting slightly. Corvo tensed as Daud shifted to face them, but there was no hint of a threat in his voice when he spoke. "We have several sibling pairs already in the Whalers. They manage to keep themselves professional while they're on duty, and I expect the same discipline from you two."

"Yes, sir." They both nodded, their posture clearly embarrassed.

Daud eyed them for a moment until seemingly satisfied, though he added, "You'll be assigned to separate patrols, in any case."

His voice brooked no argument, but one of the pair stiffened, protesting, "But sir, we - "

Daud cut him off, eyes narrowing. "If a mission goes wrong, you may have to choose between saving one and saving the rest of your group. If that single Whaler happens to be your brother, is that really a choice you want to make?"

Now Corvo could hear an echo of danger in his voice.

"No sir. Sorry, sir." The Whaler ducked his head apologetically, though as soon as Daud turned away he took a short step closer to his brother.

Corvo glanced between them, this sudden gathering of assassins in a cramped back alley, trying to keep track of names and pick out physical differences, but the masks made it difficult and the only difference in uniforms appeared to be color. The only one he knew for sure right now was Thomas.

"Rulfio, didn't you once mention some experience with birds?" Daud asked, and as Corvo watched uneasily, all the Whalers seemed to refocus as though the previous discussion was now forgotten.

The newer one in blue - Rulfio, apparently - nodded slowly, turning his attention to Corvo, his voice suddenly more serious. "My grandfather used to breed birds. They were popular with the noble ladies in Tyvia, so I've handled a good number. That was a long time ago, though."

Thomas joined in. "Do you recognize the species?"

Rulfio leaned down to see Corvo more closely. "It's a crow, I think. I'm not sure what type, though. I never paid much attention to the regional differences. I don't remember if Dunwall even has native crows."

He straightened up, but his head was tilted in apparent interest and the eyes of his mask stayed on Corvo. "They weren't the kind of birds anyone wanted to breed, but my grandfather did feed a wild flock of them back in Tyvia. He thought he did pretty well taming them, until one of them nearly took out his right eye."

Well, Corvo couldn't honestly say the idea wasn't slightly tempting, threats of plucking notwithstanding.

"His eye?" One of the Whalers in grey bent down to look closer as well, though he kept his distance. "Are they aggressive then?"

"Not usually, but they are easily startled and wild animals are always unpredictable - which is why you don't put them next to your face."

The Whaler leaned back quickly and his brother scoffed, pushing at him lightly. "You're wearing a mask, idiot, he can't get you."

"Is he wounded?" Rulfio asked, ignoring the Whalers behind him, who seemed to recall Daud's earlier words and settled down quickly. "Something looks wrong with his left wing."

Corvo eyed his wing, hitching it up higher to try and hide how useless it was as the rat bites were succinctly explained. Rulfio hummed thoughtfully.

"He's surprisingly calm, especially if he's injured." Rulfio stepped closer and Daud lifted Corvo higher, apparently not minding his Whalers' distraction with the bird. "Did you have to corner him?"

"He came right to me. You think someone's already tamed him." Daud said it as a statement of fact, not an insult, but it still made Corvo want to bite him just to be contrary.

"Absolutely, if he hasn't been trying to escape. He's not frozen in fear either." Rulfio agreed, reaching out and running a light finger down Corvo's neck and shoulders. The petting was over before Corvo even realized his intent, and Corvo blinked at him in bemusement. How was he supposed to react to that? "He's accustomed to people, at the very least."

"One of the nobles might have bought it as a pet," Thomas suggested. "The exotic ones always seem to end up on the streets in the end. Remember when Hobson found that collared alligator in the sewers near the Legal District?

"Buy it when it's small and cute, until it gets bigger and they realize how much work it is," one of the others scoffed quietly nearby. "Our mother was like that with kids."

"Are you going to keep him, sir?" It was the smallest Whaler in grey, his voice young even through the distortion of his mask.

"He might not live that long." Rulfio, Corvo marked in his mind, was a few inches taller than Thomas and spoke with a very faint Tyvian accent. "I've seen plenty of birds die from bites. Even if you treat them, the bites are filthy, and most of them don't make it after infection sets in."

Well, that was cheerful. Corvo glared at him, though of course he didn't notice.

Daud looked down at Corvo and Corvo met his eyes, trying to read his closed expression. It was a bit like trying to read emotions from a stone. "He's a fighter - I think he'll make it, and crows are said to be intelligent. If he's trainable, he could be useful."

Corvo didn't really want to think about what Daud would consider useful, especially not for a bird. If anyone tried to strap a springrazor to him, he was definitely taking out an eye.

"The wolfhounds turned out well enough. Might as well add to the menagerie." Thomas sounded resigned, but Rulfio laughed.

"Heard there were music players in Morley who could train rats to dance. We could get a few of those and start our own circus." Rulfio waved a hand at the unnamed Whalers. "Speaking of circuses, I'm done assessing this lot. Is there anything else you want us to run through today?"

"No. If you're finished, go home and talk to Killian. Thomas and I will meet you there."

Rulfio turned on the apprentice assassins, voice suddenly sharp again. "I'll give you fifteen seconds head start. Use only the rooftops, and don't let me catch you."

One of them glanced over at Daud, while the other two simply nodded, but Rulfio waved them all off with an impatient gesture. "I'm already counting. Move."

The Whalers Blinked out almost as one, and though Corvo twisted around to peer at the rooftops, he never saw even a flicker of shadow along them.

Rulfio breathed out a sigh that sounded like a rustle of dry leaves through his mask. "Fergus still has trouble sticking to the shadows, and Jordan hasn't memorized Dunwall's map fully, but they aren’t hopeless – just give it another week. I'll send them both back for more practice when I catch them and the full report on your desk before sundown."

"Try not to break any bones," Daud told him. Corvo couldn't tell if he was joking or not.

"I'll do my best." Rulfio's voice was definitely amused. It had been a joke then, and that was an odd thought - that Daud and his men, murderous assassins all, might joke and laugh together like any group of comrades or friends.

Well, the whole day had been odd, Corvo acknowledged glumly. There was no reason for it to stop now.

Rulfio vanished as well; now only Thomas was still nearby and when Corvo turned to look at him he found Thomas watching him right back, though his attention quickly turned back to Daud. "Do you want me to reorganize the patrols, or would you rather handle it yourself?"

"I'll handle it." Daud's eyes seemed distant as he spoke, focused on his thoughts. "I have a few last locations in mind before we turn inland."

Thomas stood silent for a short moment before he ventured almost cautiously. "It's been several months since the last incident. You don't think Delilah's coven might have scattered and fled? It's easy enough to escape to the countryside and avoid the river entirely, with the right contacts."

"Is that what you would do if I died? Disband the Whalers and move on?"

Daud's posture was casual and his voice only curious, but Thomas stiffened, his chin rising. "No, sir."

His reply sounded defensive even to Corvo, who abruptly and uncomfortably felt as though he was witnessing something private. Daud tilted his head at the answer. Corvo still couldn't read the expression on his face. "We have to assume the same attitude of them, for revenge if not loyalty. The Overseers were bad enough - we can't afford to be taken by surprise again."

"We won't be," Thomas vowed, his shoulders still stiff. Corvo stared at them both, utterly confused and extremely frustrated. The silence lingered for a few moments.

"Well," Daud suddenly sounded forcibly lighter and Corvo had to balance again as Daud lifted him higher. "At least I'm not coming back entirely empty-handed."

Corvo bristled at him, but Thomas huffed something that might have been a laugh.

"He's probably not going to like the transversals," Thomas warned. Daud's right hand wrapped around Corvo's back suddenly, pinning his wings carefully, but firmly to his sides. Corvo flailed with his legs for a second before he could stop himself as the other hand dropped. His rat bites flared in painful protest of the treatment.

"I'll manage," Daud's response was dry, and Thomas simply nodded before vanishing in a cloud of darkness and magic.

So will I. Corvo decided, watching as Daud's mark flared bright through his gloves in preparation.

He'd survived far worse than this before and he'd make it through this as well.

Chapter Text

Thomas was right; Corvo did not enjoy it.

The power - transversals, they'd called it - felt very similar to his own Blink, in both the rush of power and the movement, although Daud's range seemed longer and more versatile than his own. The problem was, hanging there in Daud's grip, Corvo had no control and very little warning. They would be moving along the rooftops in one direction and he could only hope to catch the gleam of the Mark or the flick of a hand before they shifted elsewhere. He occasionally caught sight of Thomas running parallel to them, but the world was blurred more often than not and he devoted his attention to keeping track of where he was.

He was relieved when they finally passed through an area he recognized - the abandoned, dilapidated area surrounding the Rudshore Gate, though the pile of bodies filling the canal sobered him quickly. He knew the trains were no longer dumping corpses there, but it was still noticeably larger than the last time he had seen it, a giant, rotting mass that leached a stench of decay into the already musty air of the Flooded District.

Daud seemed unaffected as he slipped into the canal and past the corpses to the small hill and the metal debris beyond them, though he paused for a moment at the peak of the hill, sheltered in the archway of metal. It took Corvo a moment to spot what had caught his attention.

One of the Whalers in grey was waiting ahead, crouched on the top edge of one of the giant, curved pieces of metal that laid opposite the entrance to the tunnel.

Daud started walking again, drawing attention, and the Whaler straightened up, Blinking down to meet them in the canal. "First back, Pavel?"

"Yes, sir." His voice was just slightly familiar and if Corvo was remembering the names correctly, it was one of the brothers. "I lost sight of the others on the way back. I don't know what's keeping them."

"You'll be expected to keep track of your comrades, in the future," Thomas' voice startled him and Corvo twitched, cursing himself for not noticing the Whaler appearing behind them, "but that wasn't part of your assignment today."

"You did well enough," Daud agreed, and though it seemed a grudging compliment at best to Corvo, Pavel brightened noticeably even through the mask obscuring his features. "Follow us back the rest of the way.”

The Whaler sidled closer to them, though he offered uncertainly, "Rulfio said we had to stay on the rooftops..."

Corvo heard Thomas start to respond, but Daud moved off, Blinking far into the dark tunnel and rendering the words a garbled blur. In the short pauses between Blinks he could hear footsteps and splashes as the other two caught up. They paused only for Daud to unlock the gate at the end of the tunnel with a key that Corvo eyed with some interest, since he certainly hadn't returned the key he'd stolen. Then they were through, up past the rattling climb chain in a series of short Blinks and back outside again. There was only one assassin patrolling the crumbling building outside of Daud's office, as opposed to the group he had encountered before. He caught sight of the highest fireplace as they passed it and wondered if this sentry was one of the same ones he’d met then.

He'd ghosted past most of Daud's men like smoke that night, but the sentries on the exterior of the base he'd been forced to remove. After a small moment of deliberation, troubled and uncertain, he'd treated them as gently as the Watchmen he'd dealt with - left alive and stashed in the fireplace, out of harm's way.

He'd heard little of mysterious deaths or Whaler sightings from the Watch since that day, though that hadn't stopped the quiet worry in the back of his mind that he'd made the wrong decision.

To Corvo's relief, they finally stopped Blinking as they reached metal walkway on the top level and walked inside. Daud's office hadn't changed much, though he immediately marked the absence of the map of Dunwall Tower on the floor. Most of the standing boards that had been covered in faces and plans now displayed a map of the city, painted pins and yarn marking and connecting certain areas.

Daud released him as they reached the desk, placing him gently on the wood and stepping away to let him find his feet on his own. Corvo rose, a bit wobbly his body and wing aching from the fight, to find that Thomas had wandered to stand at the windows by the staircase, looking out.

Pavel was right beside him at the desk, the fingertips of one hand trailing along the edge of it as he watched Daud, who had crossed to the map and was removing several of the pins, although the strings remained unchanged. He rolled one of the pins between his fingers as he glanced back over his shoulder. "You'll join one of the regular patrols tomorrow, if Rulfio agrees that you’re ready."

"Yes, sir." Pavel's response was firm, but from the movement of his head he was glancing around, as though uncertain of what to do next. "Will he be back soon?”

"Good question." Strangely, Daud raised his voice as he spoke. “Depends how much time he’s going to waste dawdling, I suppose.”

"Very funny." Corvo was startled, but he wasn't the only one if the minute quiver that went through Pavel's fingers was any indication. They both turned around to look at the doors. There was a man standing there, mask-less, but in the Whaler uniform, looking close in age to Corvo's own four decades, his skin a deep brown and his dark hair shorn close to his head. He straightened up off the door frame he was leaning against to walk towards them and Corvo spotted his mask hanging on his belt.

"I don't think I'm the slow one here. I've been waiting for so long I had time to go on a scavenger hunt." It was definitely Rulfio's voice, deeper and clearer without the metallic distortion of the Whaler mask, but still familiar in its accent. Corvo, having expected the pale complexion most common to Tyvians, had to take a moment to realign his image with the assassin in front of him.

Rulfio flicked out a hand as he neared the desk, tossing something small and bright right at Daud. It seemed to hang in the air for a moment as Corvo tracked it - a small golden key, turning end over end – until Daud grabbed it a moment before it hit him in the head. Rulfio placed what he was holding down on the desk, a small round container and what looked like a few strips of cloth, but then he blew out an irritated sigh. "Knew I'd forgotten something. Pavel, run and grab a bowl of clean water, would you?"

"Water?" Pavel tilted his head quizzically.

Rulfio spared him an exasperated look. "Yes, water. In a bowl, preferably a sturdy one, for our friend here."

He waved a hand toward Corvo as he spoke and Pavel straightened in understanding. "Oh! Yes, sir."

He took three quick steps away from the desk before he seemed to remember himself and Blinked away instead. Rulfio huffed a quiet laugh.

"Always so eager, the new ones." Corvo watched them both as he offered Daud a wry smile. "Leave water out for the bird all the time, maybe in a few different spots. He can get it from the flooding outside when he's better, but for now you don't want him to go without."

Daud made a short, distracted noise of acknowledgement, glancing back at the map with a slight frown. Rulfio rapped loudly on the desk with two knuckles to get his attention. "Alright, you can brood later. Come and help me with this."

Corvo stiffened, watching Daud warily because that seemed dangerously close to disrespect. But Daud actually turned away from the map without comment, though his glare was dark enough that Corvo wondered at Rulfio's unshaken confidence when he simply raised an eyebrow. "Water?"

"Yes, I heard you." Daud moved over to them slowly, frown smoothing out of his forehead as he focused on Corvo instead. "What about food? What do they eat?"

Rulfio chuckled. It resonated deep without the mask and made Corvo want to smile even though they were talking about him. "Crows? Pretty much anything - finding food won't be hard. Though if he likes something special, keep it as a treat. If you're fixed on training him, you'll need bribes."

"Like with the wolfhounds, then."

"Not quite - birds can be a bit pickier. I'd feed him regular on their schedule though, morning and night, and see how he does." Rulfio straightened suddenly. "Oh, and keep your papers and books somewhere safe. He's probably not house-trained."

Well, that was awkward.

"Great. That'll be the first thing then, if he's not." Corvo didn't really want to imagine what that would entail, and quickly resolved not to make a mess. Daud moved a few of the papers from the desk, though he left most of the books. "You remember a lot about birds, then."

"You know, it's strange - it's been a long while since I thought about all this, but the more I do, the more it comes back." Rulfio was quiet for a moment, face serious for the first time, but then nodded at the objects he'd piled on the desk. "That's for the bites."

"You have been busy."

"Well, when I'm waiting on someone as slow as you were," Rulfio smirked at him, barely dodging the lazy swat Daud sent at his ear. "And lucky I was too, since you were apparently just waiting for me to bring all this rather than sending anyone."

"I knew you would." Daud said simply, ignoring the harrumph it got him in response as he picked up the metal container. "What is it?"

"I stopped by to talk to Leon on the way up, asked for something to fight infection. It's the same mix he uses on us."

"It's safe for birds?" Daud questioned, unscrewing the lid and examining the contents with a critical eye.

"Far as I know, there's nothing inherently poisonous in it. He says he's used it on the hounds as well," Rulfio explained, "It should be fine for him. I can apply it if you hold him still."

And that was how Corvo found himself trapped and immobilized yet again, pinned between Daud's hands while Rulfio handled his injured wing. He was gentle about it, combing carefully through the feathers to find each bite and dabbing at them lightly with the salve-covered cloth, but the entire thing was extremely discomforting, as well as painful when a bite was pressed just a bit too hard, and as soon as Rulfio stepped back Corvo squirmed in protest until Daud let him go.

"I'll leave it here," Rulfio told Daud, tossing the container on one of the tables nearby as Corvo shook himself out. He looked up to catch Pavel slipping back into the room, kicking the door shut behind him. "Same rules as your own wounds, apparently. Try to get it on him every day."

Daud nodded as Pavel placed the bowl he held on the desk with a deep thunk. It was dark pottery, bottom-heavy and filled nearly to the brim with water, so when he hopped up cautiously to perch on the thick rim it didn't even wobble. He was suddenly aware of his own thirst, having neither eaten nor drank anything for nearly a day now, and so he figured out the logistics quickly enough, bobbing down to dip his beak in and scooping up the water. It was awkward, messy, and distracting and he realized he probably hadn't been paying enough attention to the conversation around him when he straightened up and caught the tail end of Rulfio's last sentence.

“- build a cage for him?"

Corvo's breath caught, his chest suddenly tight and cold. He hadn't even considered that possibility, and he should have because that was what people did with birds, but it didn't matter, he didn't care how outmatched he was right now, he was not -

"No," Daud returned, and the relief that swept the dread away was nearly as overwhelming, leaving him feeling raw. "If I have to trap him, then there's no point to any of this. Can't he be trained to return to here?"

"It's not all about trapping him, but if you feed him enough before he flies off, he'll know to come here when he's hungry. Might follow you about out in the city if he likes you well enough. Training him to do anything more complicated is a different story, though." Rulfio sounded dubious at the last part.

"What exactly are you hoping to use him for anyway?" Thomas questioned, speaking up for the first time from his stance by the windows, and Corvo mentally thanked him for asking. He rather wanted to know that as well.

"Scouting, maybe, or a warning system. Perhaps even fetching supplies or setting traps, if he’s bright enough.” Corvo met his eyes as Daud looked down at him thoughtfully. “Depends what he's able to handle."

Rulfio seemed to consider this for a moment. "You just picked him up because you felt bad for him, didn't you?"

Daud bristled, but Thomas laughed, a short, rough sound. “You do have a bad habit of bringing home strays.”

"You were one of those strays," Daud reminded him, "and you can go right back out."

"Yes, sir," Thomas agreed, not sounding particularly sincere at all, and Corvo watched them tease each other, a little mystified.  

There was affection there, fondness and trust in their willingness to bait one of the deadliest men in Dunwall without fear of repercussions. He'd seen the Whalers' loyalty in action, had assumed it was due to the powers Daud had granted them, but this stood in stark contrast to the way he had always imagined they would act around each other, with what evidence he’d seen before. He'd missed something, somewhere.

"Honestly, my grandfather was the expert, not me." It took a moment after Rulfio spoke for Corvo to retrace and remember their previous topic. "I took care of them, and I remember the basics, but you should probably find a few professional sources. Books at least, if you don't want to bother with a trainer."

Daud crossed his arms and leaned back against the desk. "You sound like you have suggestions."

"Well, the library at Dunwall Tower is said to be quite extensive -"

"No." Daud's refusal was flat, unequivocal, but Rulfio did not appear surprised.

"The Academy of Natural Philosophy then, if you're willing to take the railways and go a bit farther. Their selection will be larger anyway, and older, but some of the books won't be written for laymen to read."

"Could be profitable, if we pick up a little extra while we're there and we're discerning about it." Thomas joined them at last, stepping away from the windows to stand with the other three near the desk. "They’ll be too busy to notice a few things going missing here and there, at least not before it's too late."

Corvo felt like he should disapprove of this conversation more than he actually did, but stealing was something he himself had done far too often to count and not all of it for the Loyalists. It had been harder to break the habit than he remembered - the first few weeks back in the Tower, he'd several times had a bauble halfway into his pocket before his mind caught up with his hands.

It made it rather more difficult to judge.

Besides, Rulfio's grin at this was infectious, teeth sharp and gleaming white. "Knowledge and profit. How can you refuse that?"

Daud sighed, apparently giving in, “Suppose we can always sell the books, if he dies."

"That's the spirit." Rulfio leaned down against the desk until he was eye level with Corvo, who had to resist the urge to take several steps back. "Hear that, feathers? You're almost useful already."

"What are you going to name him?" Pavel asked Daud entirely without warning, and Corvo wanted to hit him.

Daud looked puzzled, as though the idea had never occurred to him. Rulfio made an uncertain noise, standing upright. "It's a bit early for that, isn't it? There's no guarantee he's even going to live past the next few days."

"But that's all the more reason to do it," Pavel protested earnestly. "Isn't that why they name babies right away, to tether their spirits here or something?"

"According to the Abbey, that's so the Outsider won't drag their defenseless souls into the Void to devour." Thomas offered, his voice extremely dry and a ripple of amusement passed through the small group.

"Well, it's up to you - it's your pet project," Rulfio turned to Daud, shrugging one shoulder lazily. “But it’s a risk. My grandfather never named them unless he really wanted to keep them. Said once you name something, it's yours."

Daud still looked dubious, and Corvo glared at him with all his concentration. Don't you dare.

"You could name him Corvo," Thomas offered suddenly, and the whole room turned to stare at him in surprise, Corvo included. He shrugged, his voice light as he explained, "It does mean crow in Serkonan, doesn't it?"

He sounded entirely serious, somehow, even though there was no way he could be. Corvo eyed him, dumbfounded and a bit suspicious. His life was already ridiculous enough. This was heading towards blatantly absurd.

"We're not naming him Corvo." Daud responded flatly.

"He sort of responds to it though, doesn't he?" Pavel observed brightly, apparently oblivious to the look Daud leveled at him. "He looks at whoever says it. Watch. Corvo!"

He called out the name out short and high and though Corvo knew it was a bad idea, that he was trying to be as unremarkable as he could be, he couldn't resist poking at Daud just a little. Besides, he didn't particularly want to be saddled with whatever name the Whalers might come up with.

And so, he turned sharply toward Pavel, taking a step forward and tipping his head to the side, the way he thought a curious bird might react to an interesting sound.

Daud sighed heavily behind him. "Pavel."

The Whaler froze up immediately, perhaps finally catching Daud's tone.

"Oh, don't be so hard on him, Daud," Rulfio jumped in before Daud could speak again and Corvo didn't have to know him to know that his tone of gleeful amusement probably meant trouble. That didn't stop his own amusement from itching in his chest. "It's a good idea."

Daud glared at him warningly. "Rulfio..."

The Whaler ignored him cheerfully. "This way, if anyone asks why you're sulking, you can answer honestly and they'll think you're talking about the bird."

Daud whirled and lunged at him, letting loose a noise that sounded remarkably like a wolfhound's snarl, making Corvo jump violently at the sudden movement. Rulfio bolted for the door, whooping with laughter while Pavel stumbled, spitting out something between a yelp and a curse as he Blinked away even though he wasn't being chased. Thomas just vanished silently while Daud was distracted, though Corvo noticed at the last second that his shoulders were definitely shaking.

Daud abandoned the chase almost immediately as Rulfio made it out of sight, turning and stalking back to his desk with an almost palpably offended air, from his stiff shoulders to the scowl on his face. Corvo stared at him, a bit confused, but mostly amused. Daud met his eyes and scowled deeper.

"Traitor," Daud accused him darkly, swiping up paper and a pen from a nearby table, and Corvo couldn't help himself.

Apparently laughing as a bird produced a much softer sound than anything else he had tried. The look Daud gave him in response only made him laugh harder.


 

Corvo tended to get restless very easily - always had. It was a weakness he acknowledged and had worked hard to suppress in the years of very boring guard duty that was most of his job as the Royal Protector; he was well aware that, had he simply swallowed his boredom and stayed in the palace, he would not be in this predicament.

That didn't change the fact that it did not take very long, standing on the desk and watching Daud write, for him to get bored.

The desk was neat; besides the newly added bowl there were a few books and folded pieces of paper stacked neatly and a small pile of wanted posters that Daud was currently covering with whatever he was writing. There was nothing to explore, really, so he turned to Daud instead.

The words Daud was writing were overlarge to his new eyes, like everything else, and with the difference in his eyes and vision, trying to read what Daud was writing almost immediately made his head ache a bit. He stepped closer, treading onto the paper, turning his head to one side to see if he could read better using only one eye, but then Daud turned his head and blew a sharp burst of air directly at his face.

Corvo startled backwards, blinking rapidly, an indignant noise escaping before he could stop himself.

Daud huffed in response, a short puff of air that might have been the beginning of a laugh, and reached out. Corvo stepped up onto his wrist without thinking about it and then froze, disconcerted. He hadn't even thought about the action, had simply responded automatically to a gesture that was only beginning to become familiar.

Perhaps this body came equipped with more instincts than he'd realized. He resolved to keep a closer eye on it.

Daud didn't take him anywhere, simply bent low and ushered him onto the floor before rising and making his way back outside and out of sight. Corvo watched his exit, confused, but when an indistinguishable murmur of voices rose outside, Daud's and a higher voice that presumably belonged to the sentry, he moved to examine the office instead. 

The room was cool and the air not at all stagnant - the roof gaped wide open and the majority of the windows didn't contain any glass, leaving the space wide open for any passing breeze. It didn't take long to explore, even with his reduced size and speed. He peeked into whatever nooks and crannies he could find, under the desks and tables and around stacks of books, getting a feel for the room.

Most of it was accessible, though at one point he was forced to back out of a tight passage as he nearly trapped himself between a cabinet and the wall, leaving him rumpled and even more dust-covered. Daud had returned to his desk at some point, he noticed then with an unpleasant jolt because he hadn't seen or heard the assassin passing by at all. He appeared to be working on whatever report he had been writing before, though he glanced up periodically - to locate him, Corvo suspected.

The glass doors to the rest of the base were closed, though he could catch glimpses of the occasional Whaler passing through the halls if he stopped to peer through the glass. He gave up on finding a way through and tried the opening leading outside instead. It was slightly warmer outside of the building, the weak warmth of the sun radiating back up from the metal catwalk. He couldn't see past the metal to the maze of walkways and buildings that connected the outside of the base, but when he moved toward the next building to get a better view, the scuff of boots against stone warned him of the sentry a second before they moved into view. He froze as soon as they appeared, but it didn't take them more than a second to spot him.

They stared at each other silently for a moment before the sentry stepped forward, sinking into a crouch on the edge of the walkway. "Hey, there."

Corvo gaped. The sentry's voice wasn't just high, it was feminine. He peered closer and...there, yes, just the slightest hint of curves along her chest and hips, rendered almost androgynous by the thick canvas and leather of her uniform.

He moved his gaze back to her face immediately, baffled. He'd heard that certain sections of the City Watch accepted female applicants, had even read that females had served as the Royal Protector as well, but while he seen plenty of females who knew how to fight, he had never personally met one who had been accepted into the profession.

Well, as far as he knew, anyway. He wouldn't have known with this one if she hadn't spoken; perhaps there were others he'd simply missed. He'd never even considered the possibility that Daud might allow such a thing, and so he'd never thought to look for it. He wondered, suddenly, if the piles of bodies he'd left in strange and embarrassing positions had actually contained women hidden among the men and felt a strange mix of guilt and amusement.

The sentry made an odd noise, wriggling her fingers at him, the way one might try to coax a skittish cat closer. "Come 'ere. Come on, buddy."

He turned away, moving back inside to explore the upper level instead, ignoring the disappointed noise she made behind him as he left. The sentries hadn't been nearly so friendly last time, of course. He wondered vaguely what Daud had told her.

He ignored Daud too, when the assassin raised his head to track his progress across the room as he headed for the stairs (ignored that his heart jumped as he entered, ignored that it suddenly felt like he should hiding and sneaking, you don't need to hide, you're already hiding, he doesn't know it's you. Ignore him).

The actual stairs nearly topped his head, making the climb extremely daunting, but the metal handrail beside them nearly touched the floor. He fumbled for a moment but, a little more experienced from his climb up the carriage, he managed to haul himself up to the top tier of the railing, gripping the metal awkwardly with his mouth and trying not to jostle his wing too much.

He walked his way carefully up the slope, a breeze through windows empty of glass rifling through his feathers. He was forced to hop a small gap at the top as the railing turned and flattened along the balcony, but the upper level offered even less distraction than the lower. From the minimal sleeping area to the overturned cabinet at the far end, most of it matched his blurry memory of it. 

There were a few traveling cases pushed up against the railing, close enough for him to walk on, but to reach anything else he would have to jump down, and he would likely be too small to find anything useful anyway. He paced back and forth along the railing a few times before stopping, disconsolate.

This plan had seemed simple enough, back in the alley when all other options had felt dangerous or conspicuously absent. Now that he was here though, the uncertainty was beginning to creep back in. He hadn't quite considered the consequences of it all.

He was stuck in a small enclosed space with assassins who would want to kill him if they knew he was there, injured and vulnerable, with nothing to pass the time and no ability to communicate even if he wanted to.

At the very least, he could already tell that boredom was definitely going to be a problem.


Corvo hadn't intended to doze off; it was barely midday, and he still didn't feel particularly safe. But the room was quiet aside from the oddly soothing scratch of Daud's pen against paper, and between that and the toll he already knew from experience the wounds and the stress would take on him, he wasn't too surprised when he suddenly blinked himself out of a stupor, bringing his head up off his chest where it had drifted to rest without his permission.

He looked around, wondering how long he'd been sleeping. The light around him had changed, and when he glanced over the railing he could see several new Whalers near Daud’s desk, but he didn't think he'd lost too much time.

Then he turned around and noticed that Daud's books were floating off of the shelves.

A feeling like goosebumps raced across his skin as the realization hit him, and he could feel his feathers bristling with the sensation, fluffing out. He hadn't seen the Outsider since his last dream after Emily's rescue from Kingsparrow. There had been a clear farewell involved, and with the lack of fate-altering choices for Corvo to make, he'd assumed the deity had lost interest - he hadn't expected to encounter him again after that.

He did know how this game was played, though - the Outsider rarely came to find him, and so he made his way downstairs to search, stumbling at the bottom of the rail and landing clumsily on the ground as he slipped.

He went to the desk first, stopping far enough away that he could examine the faces of the people standing there rather than their boots. As was usual in the Void, the figures weren't active; they were statues, a moment in time plucked out of the world for him to examine.

Daud had his hands braced on the desk, his mouth open as though he'd been caught and frozen in the middle of a sentence, four Whalers around him in different poses of apparent attention, all dressed in grey except for one exception in blue. Corvo eyed them for a moment, and then moved on.

He could see water flowing upwards through the doorway to the catwalk, but the ground ended abruptly at the doorway, the metal walkway floating out of reach in the Void, together with the usual random pieces of buildings and land, far enough away that he would have needed to Blink to reach it even as a human. He stopped and looked around at the empty room, frustrated.

"I warned you to be careful, Corvo."

He spun around. The Outsider was floating in the open space behind Daud, examining the colorful map with complete indifference. Corvo took a breath and walked over. The Outsider waited, turning towards him, but not speaking even when Corvo finally made it across to him. Corvo stared up at him before realizing this was the one being who didn’t actually need him to speak.

Warned me about what?

"Granny Rags has lived many lifetimes, and most of these stolen years were spent learning secrets most would never dream of. Her skill in manipulating the Void is unparalleled in the mortal realm. Something you have discovered to your detriment, I see."

He crouched down, a movement that made Corvo's mind skip and stutter – it was odd, too liquid to be human despite outward appearances. The Outsider reached out a hand slowly, his movements too slow and still just slightly wrong, and before he even came close Corvo’s whole body ached, prickling like he was standing too close to a Wall of Light, resonating somehow with the being in front of him.

Corvo stepped back hastily and the Outsider withdrew his hand, though his eyes lingered. “You cannot see the intricacies of the body you inhabit, but is an exquisitely complex creation. Every string of the Void placed just so.”

He gestured slightly, looking oddly like a child with a toy, and Corvo felt his heart quiver unnaturally until the Outsider stilled again. “It isn’t surprising; she learned such skills long ago and has had many opportunities to practice. I simply wonder how well you will be able to master it.”

You're enjoying this. Corvo realized, and were it anyone else he might have felt betrayed. Here, the knowledge simply fell into place, something he should have realized on his own.

It was the Outsider. Of course he was.

"I admit, I had thought your story finished. There were so very few outcomes where you became anything more than the Empress's faithful bodyguard once more and this...this was a result so unlikely that it should never have come to pass." The Outsider straightened to his full height again, pinning him with the full weight of his dark, unfathomable eyes. "Yes. I am intrigued."

Corvo hoped his thoughts portrayed the complete lack of enthusiasm he was feeling. Interesting for the Outsider usually meant miserable for him.

"And your new arrangement with Daud," - and Corvo didn't really want to listen anymore, if all the deity was going to say involved more useless commentary on his choices, but these meetings were never about what he wanted - "The Empress’s killer. The man you spared. After everything he has done, you take your refuge here. An odd place to put your trust."

Corvo couldn't scowl, so he clicked his beak loudly instead, needing some way to express his displeasure. Trust has nothing to do with it.

"Indeed." Corvo got the feeling he was being subtly mocked, though he wasn't sure what for. "Whatever your reasons, you now have a chance to see what your mercy has wrought. I expect it to be quite entertaining."

The Outsider didn't seem to expect a response to this, which was lucky because what little Corvo had to say wasn't particularly polite, but the Void dream remained around him and they stood together in silence for a moment. Corvo hesitated - he didn't particularly want to ask this, had a feeling he already knew the answer, but... he had to try. Could you undo this? Change me back?

The Outsider tipped his head to the side, expression unsympathetically blank again. "I don't play favorites, Corvo. What my Marked do to each other is not my concern."

So he could, but he wouldn't. Corvo was unsurprised, if disappointed.

But the Outsider wasn't finished. "But neither would I favor Granny Rags over you. She can change you, but for all her knowledge and skill with the Void, she cannot challenge me. Nor can she take what I have given you."

Corvo blinked up at him in confusion before the realization hit. The Mark! In the panic of this morning, he hadn't even though to try his powers as a crow.

He twisted to look at his wounded left wing, but the feathers remained the same black as he remembered them, unbroken by anything resembling the Outsider's Mark. Still, that didn't mean it wasn't there; perhaps it was branded on the skin and simply hidden from view under the feathers, as he'd so often been forced to do with gloves. But how was he supposed to call the Void without the use of his hands?

He looked back to the Outsider, questions running through his mind and bubbling uselessly in his throat, but found the room around him empty. He had time for a short moment of frustration before the usual darkness swirled around him, pulling him out of the Void.

He woke all at once with a long, shuddering breath, back in his place on the railing of the balcony. A quick glance over at the bed found the books back on the shelves where they belonged, and the sunlight peeking through Dunwall's often overcast skies was the warm, burnt orange of late afternoon against the wooden floors.

He sat there for a moment, thoughtful. He couldn’t expect things to work as they did when he was human, but he’d called most of his powers with gestures, which he now couldn’t do. He'd always had to blink as well to activate Dark Vision though and he tried that, blinking his eyes rapidly, then slowly, trying to feel for the power and feeling completely foolish, but there was nothing else to try and there was an odd feeling right there...

Something swept sideways across his eyes, translucent enough for him to see through, and suddenly the world was in shades of orange, the Void buzzing under his skin in a familiar, almost comforting rush. He resisted the urge to crow with victory, restricting it to a few pleased hops.

But how exactly had it worked? His hands were apparently not necessary.

He blinked again, focusing on that odd sideways eyelid, and though the sensation of it sliding across was strange enough to make his skin crawl, it drained the power from his vision, bringing back the usual colors and restrictions.

Aha. Got it.

He played with it, shifting the vision on and off with long enough breaks in between to avoid wearing himself out - he had no desire to experience the splitting headaches that would follow. The Vision itself appeared the same as it had when he was human; there were darker items of interest scattered all about the floor below and the occasional yellow flash of a human body as a Whaler moved in the hallway or passed close to the walkway outside, though there were none in the office itself.

He didn't have the Heart's beating to point out the runes, and nothing in his vision had changed to point out the way, but whenever he called the Vision he could hear the bones' hissing at the edge of his hearing. It became clearer, sharper when he focused on it, clearer than he had ever heard it before, and he was reasonably certain he could track them from the sound alone.

The closest one sounded like it was directly downstairs, and when he glanced down, peering through the balcony, he guessed from his memory of the layout that it was likely hidden in the large chest by the tables behind the desk, which, examined through his sight, also held a collection of crossbow bolts and incendiary darts together with a large number of what looked to be vials of Piero's Remedy. There were other rune songs tugging at his attention as well, though they were fainter than the first - farther away, he guessed, but they were coming from behind him, outside the base rather than deeper into it.

He turned around to pinpoint the exact direction and a field of bright yellow filled his vision, blinding him. He startled backwards, losing his balance for a second, and blinked his vision back into normal colors to see the red of Daud's coat.

Daud raised a brow and Corvo felt a small prickle of embarrassment because he had been certain there hadn't been anyone in the office, which meant that Daud had made it inside and up the stairs without him hearing or noticing anything, and that was just shameful.

Rather than comment on whatever he was thinking, Daud leaned to place the objects he was holding on the cases beside the railing. Corvo recognized the bowl of water from earlier, but turned back before examining the other item as the assassin spoke. "Blame Rulfio if you don't like it."

Before he could wonder about that, Daud stepped closer, reaching a hand out towards him. Corvo eyed it warily - he couldn't see any reason why he should allow Daud to pick him up at the moment and besides, the hand was too high for him to step up. It looked more like Daud was just trying to touch -

Oh no. Absolutely not. Corvo backed out of reach hurriedly, bristling, and hissed a short, sharp warning. It wasn't as intimidating a noise as he would have hoped for, but it stopped the petting that he suspected Daud was attempting and that was the point.   

Really, there were limits on what he was willing to allow.

Daud put up his hands in response, looking more amused than offended. "All right. Suit yourself."

Corvo watched him as he took the stairs down, inwardly disgruntled at his own lack of any threatening attributes, and then looked back to what Daud had left on the cases next to him. There was the bowl of water from earlier, but there was also a small plate with a few white cubes - whale meat, he identified after a moment, and what looked like pieces of a pear.

Eating without teeth was odd, but crows were apparently better equipped to swallow food whole than humans were, and once he tore off a reasonably-sized piece it went down with little difficulty. He preferred the fruit to the whale meat, especially since the meat was cold and rubbery and he could still pick up some of the sweetness of the fruit juice, but he was hungry enough at that point that he wasn't about to be picky.

He was finishing the last of the meat when he realized there were voices below him, pieces of conversation loud enough to be heard if he payed attention. He considered for a moment - whatever they were speaking about, it was probably something he'd find disturbing or at least morally objectionable, but his stomach was comfortably full and his spirits were higher for it.

Excessive curiosity was another one of his more troublesome traits, one that had gotten him in plenty of trouble as well, but that knowledge didn't stop him from hopping back up onto the railing and angling an ear to the floor below to listen to the unfamiliar voice speaking.

“- left them at the drop point. They paid in full - we should be able to count on more jobs from them in the future."

Shit. A job - an assassination, then. Corvo's stomach sank, high spirits draining as quickly as they had come. He didn't know why it came as a surprise, really. They were assassins - what else would they be doing for a living? But he’d hoped – well, it didn’t matter what he’d hoped.

If he leaned to the side, he could see the mask and coat of the Whaler reporting, though honestly, he didn't know why he bothered. The way he was right now, there was absolutely nothing he could do. He leaned back and dragged a claw along the railing, the metal ringing softly as Daud answered, "Anyone injured this time?"

"We made it through easy, no fuss, no casualties. It took longer to crack the safe than to slip past the guards. Vladko said it was the same on his end."

Wait. He raised his head again, and damn it, there was that little spark of hope again, which really had no business being there, but no deaths seemed like an odd thing for an assassination.

"A few of the younger ones were still complaining," The Whaler sounded amused as he continued, "They miss being allowed to pick fights, think killing their way through would be faster than sneaking around."

Daud scoffed. “It can be, unless you count the weeks in the infirmary for a bullet to the shoulder. There's always at least one slow enough to get shot."

"That's what Vladko told them. Said if they wanted a fight so badly, he'd be more than willing to draw blood in the practice ring." 

"Anything else?"

"We're low on sleep darts again," The Whaler's voice was unhesitant, business-like, "and we'll need more chokedust soon as well."

"I thought you said you made it through with no trouble?" Daud's tone was significantly less tolerant this time, a commander pressing his subordinate for answers.

"It wasn't trouble," the Whaler was quick to reassure him. "The maids apparently don't approve of their employer's general conduct - the most vocal of the group were trying to get the others to quit. Their meeting place just happened to be the cellar."

"Ah."

"Exactly. It was move them or hide about the house for however long it took for them to finish talking."

Daud hummed a soft noise of understanding. "Probably your safest choice then, under the circumstances."

"It was only four darts, in the end, but no one replaced them after the last mission. Most of us still had some left, and since we’d lost our last supplier, we just left it. I don't know if Thorpe's located the necessary supplies yet...?"

"She should have more already - she located a reasonable trader in the Distillery District. Tell everyone to restock as needed." Daud sounded easy again and Corvo relaxed the muscles he'd tensed without realizing it.

"Yes, sir." The Whaler left with the now-familiar whisper of sound that marked their Blinks, leaving just the minor sounds of Daud writing and moving about. Corvo settled back, thoughtful. 

He didn't know the details, couldn't be sure of anything, but if it was what it sounded like, then Daud’s men had been stealing rather than killing. Stealing was still a crime, of course, and there was nothing to say the Whalers weren't still taking assassinations as well. But that they'd gone out of their way to avoid killing, on Daud's orders...

It meant that perhaps Daud hadn't been lying when he'd claimed to be tired of killing, even if he was still inhabiting the city. Corvo wasn't really sure how he felt about it - how he was supposed to feel about it - but it was a change, and an important one.

The office stayed quiet after that and he spent the rest of the evening experimenting, trying to pull the rest of his powers out as well as his Vision, but no matter what he tried they remained unresponsive. He even did his best to mimic the gestures he'd grown used to using, but all he gained was an aching pain as he pulled at the rat bites in his healing left wing.

He gave up eventually, discouraged, but resolved to seek out the distant rune song as soon as he was able. Perhaps he needed to start over entirely.

Darkness fell quickly soon after he stopped. Corvo watched the shifting colors of the sunset illuminate the sky through the openness of the missing roof as he paced back and forth along the railing again, his stomach clenching unhappily.

He would have been back in the Tower already, if today had been a normal day. He would have been sitting down to dinner, hearing dramatic renditions of the best parts of Emily's day and telling her sanitized stories of his own activities with the Watch.

They would know he was gone, by now.

It would probably be another day before they decided he was truly missing, rather than ill or detained in the city, but his absence would have been marked at least by the Watch patrol he was supposed to join and probably by Emily herself. They would organize a search, servants scouring all the rooms of the Tower while guards searched the grounds and the surrounding districts and the net would widen as the days went by to cover most of the city. There would be announcements and posters and offers of rewards.

But he'd seen this before, when certain nobles had disappeared overnight, never to be seen again. Though the announcements would likely continue for a few months and there would be posters with his face covering the walls for even longer, the searches would turn cursory and eventually would stop completely. After the first week, really, no one would expect to find him alive.

Emily would be devastated.

That was what was putting the ache in his gut and the hole in his chest, because he'd promised her. He'd promised that he would come back, that she wouldn't have to lose any more than she already had and yet here they were, because of the choices he'd made.

She was an Empress, and so while they would give her some time to wait and then some time to grieve, she would eventually be expected to put a brave face on and move past it. To move past him, when she'd already lost her mother, when she was surrounded by nobles just waiting for her to stumble so they could push her the rest of the way down, when she needed him. 

He wouldn't - couldn't - be there for her.

Even when he healed, even if he made it back to the palace, there was no guarantee that he would make it back to his human self. No guarantee that he would be there in time to save her if she needed it. She was, essentially, on her own. 

He pushed the thought away again, watched the sunset until the light died completely and the stars began to emerge, thoughts running useless circles in his mind. Then slowly, reluctantly, he turned and walked back down the railing to perch by the cases, knowing that he needed to sleep even if sleep was the last thing on his mind.

All his worrying didn't change the fact that he wasn't going anywhere until he healed, and to heal he needed to rest. Rest, heal, plan, and hope.

There was nothing else he could do, and he hated it.

Chapter Text

He slept badly that night, his impromptu nap and too-active mind keeping him restlessly dozing instead of falling into the deep sleep he knew he needed in order to heal properly. He couldn't find a comfortable position either; he knew birds didn't lie down to sleep, that nests were only for eggs, but he wasn't sure what else he was supposed to do. In the end, he stayed perched on the railing, dozing in and out and trying to find a comfortable position to rest his head in.

At some point he looked up to find that Daud had slipped by him and was asleep in the bed nearby, the light from the still-lit lamp on the floor below just barely illuminating his back through the darkness as it rose and fell in near silent breaths. When he jerked awake from another uncomfortable position a few hours later, the sky still black above him, the bed was empty as though Daud had never been there.

He gave up on sleep at that point and just sat there, aching and fatigued.

The next day dawned overcast and too cold. He eyed the clouds as he drank again - managing to be a little neater this time, he decided somewhat optimistically - and indeed, just as he finished, the first frigid, heavy drops of the coming rainstorm began spotting the case he was standing on.

Corvo suddenly realized the distinct disadvantage of living in a building with no roof in a city with more than its fair share of rain.

He leaped down to the floor and hopped down the stairs, sticking close to the wall and under the protection of the small overhang remaining from the broken roof as the drops of rain proceeded to become a downpour. Unfortunately, reaching the desk required a dash across the open space exposed to the rain.

By the time he reached the dry area of the office, he could feel the weight of the water beading on his feathers, though only one or two drops actually made it through to chill his skin. He shook the water off awkwardly, remembering and attempting to mimic wolfhounds he'd seen patrolling in the rain, and then moved to take cover under the desk.

And he waited. There was nothing else to do, really. He'd explored the office already, the rain trapped him inside, and a quick check of the room through his Dark Vision revealed only one lone sentry on the building outside.

The boredom set in again very quickly.

He was batting a pebble about, testing the finer control of his claws, when he heard the click of a door and the soft noise of Whalers Blinking across the room. Quite a few Whalers, he realized, when two pairs of boots appeared in his vision and more sounded against the wooden floors around the desk, along with the sound of something harder and heavier hitting the floor. He stayed in the darkness under the desk, listening warily.

"This couldn't have waited until it stopped raining?" The voice was unfamiliar and slightly strained.

"Oh please, you're barely damp." That was Rulfio's voice, he recognized.

"Where do you want it then?"

Rulfio's voice echoed down from the upper floor. "Anywhere. Daud can move it later. Just make sure it's not exposed to the rain. By the desk or under the stairs, maybe."

There was the ubiquitous grunting and shuffling of men moving something heavy and Corvo was just thinking about peering out to see what they were doing when the thwip of a Blink sounded quietly and Rulfio's voice was suddenly much closer. "Not up there. Have you seen him down here?"

There were a few mumbled denials and one of them offered, "Well, nothing's keeping him in here. Maybe he just wandered outside or jumped off the edge."

"No, Daud put the sentries on notice and the rain would keep him in. It's far more likely that he -" Rulfio's face appeared, the assassin lacking his mask again as he peered under the edge of the desk. Corvo's heart stuttered for a moment as though he'd been caught, though really, there wasn't any reason to be hiding in the first place. "Ah, there he is."

He came a bit reluctantly when Rulfio reached in to bring him out, although they didn't actually move anywhere. Rulfio just slipped backwards, falling gracefully out of his crouch into a cross-legged position on the floor and bracing his wrist against his thigh so that he could usher Corvo off his arm. "Rapha, hand me that tin of salve on Daud's desk, would you?"

Wonderful. Corvo sighed to himself, but stretched out his left wing gingerly as Rulfio opened the container and reached for him, wincing as the healing skin pulled unpleasantly.

Rulfio stopped moving and Corvo realized belatedly that, as a bird, he probably wasn't supposed to understand what was going on. He certainly wasn't expected to cooperate. Before he could withdraw his wing though, Rulfio reached out, lightly grasping the outer edge of his feathers, and so he held still instead as the assassin made quick work of applying the greasy substance to the bites.

"Did you train him to do that?" one of the Whalers nearby asked, and Rulfio hummed distractedly.

"No. He's only been here a day. We haven't had time to teach him anything." He sounded speculative, something Corvo definitely wanted to avoid, but not reacting like he could understand his surroundings was more difficult than he thought. He made a note of it and cinched his wing back in carefully as Rulfio withdrew and looked at the newcomers.

There were fewer Whalers now than when they came in, he was certain; three in masks who Corvo couldn't identify, with two sitting on the tables nearby and one crouched near Rulfio. When he turned to peer around Rulfio's torso, he found what they'd dragged in with them.

He wondered for a moment if they'd dragged a large piece of a downed tree into Daud's office for reasons unknown. Then he noticed the neatness of it, the rope wrapped around the branches in certain spots and he could see where they had sealed it standing upright into a thick wooden base, which was probably the source of the Whalers' difficulty in moving it.

It was a perch then, or at least a makeshift one.

Rulfio picked him up just long enough to move him over to it and hold his hand over one of the lower branches so that Corvo could step off on his own. The wood was clearly smoothed, but easy to grip and he walked easily from the side branch to the main trunk, climbing up to the top of it. They'd left the perch right next to the window near Daud's desk - he'd be able to see glimpses of the outside and one of the furthest reaching branches nearly touched the desk's surface.

Someone had left bowls down on the thick base - water and what looked like more whale meat mixed with something unidentifiable. He briefly considered going down to see, but the Whalers were all still watching him, waiting for...something. A show of approval, maybe, or perhaps they just had nothing better to do. He clambered through the rest of the branches just to move about, pulling at the rope in a few spots, testing, then turned back to stare at his audience. Now what?

"So, he likes it then?" One of the Whalers asked Rulfio uncertainly.

Rulfio shrugged. "Well, he's not leaping off it, so we'll count it as a success."

"Glad to hear it." Everyone in the room twisted to face the doors as Thomas' voice cut through the room. "Carlo. You'll be late for patrol if you take much longer."

One of the Whalers Blinked out immediately and despite not being addressed the other two slipped out past Thomas as well, looking a little like a children caught and scolded for playing instead of working. Rulfio looked entirely unapologetic. "Did you need something?"

"I wasn't looking for you, I was looking for Daud." Thomas paused, seeming to take in the room. "Do you know where he went?"

"Back to the manor again. Asked me to check on feathers here, but he should be back before sundown."

"Alone?"

"You know how he gets."

"Unfortunately." Thomas sounded somewhat resigned. "Aren't you taking over for Quinn until she's back?"

"Yes?" Rulfio raised an eyebrow, apparently unconcerned. "Tynan’s group won’t be back for hours yet. I've plenty of time."

"As long as you're paying attention." Thomas sounded like he severely doubted this.

"Thomas, you wound me." Rulfio clutched a hand to his chest, undeterred by the blank stare of Thomas' mask. "Have I ever been late?"

"Do you want me to recite a list?"

"Besides," Rulfio continued, cheerfully ignoring him and sweeping his arm back towards the perch, "It's not for nothing. I've been…productive with my time."

"Yes, I can see that." Thomas tilted his head, walking closer to consider the perch. "Did you make it?"

"No, just found the right branch. The base and the rest I asked Rickard to do. Wasn't really expecting him to agree, but he seemed interested enough. Probably just because it was something new to try." Rulfio ran a finger down one of the branches. "I told him to take a few days, but apparently he stayed up working on it. Not like he's had much else to do lately, I suppose."

"He does get obsessive when the inspiration strikes."

"He's not the only one," Rulfio spoke low, offering Corvo a smile where he stood on the branches. “But Corvo here seems to like it well enough, which is the important part anyway."

Thomas made an indistinct noise. "You're really going to keep calling him that?"

"Oh, definitely." Rulfio's voice was heavy with mirth. "I haven't seen Daud that riled in weeks and really, he needs the distraction. Someone...ruffling his feathers, so to speak."

Corvo resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Thomas seemed equally unimpressed. "Are you certain that's a good idea?"

"Is this where I remind you that you were the one who came up with it in the first place?"

"Your funeral."

"Absolutely worth it." Rulfio grinned up at Thomas.

Thomas scoffed and shook his head, tossing over his shoulder as he turned and left, "Stop bothering the bird and get your men together."

"He'll pretend he had nothing to do with it, if anyone asks." Rulfio spoke down at Corvo, his voice low and a smile still curving his lips. "He's tricky, that one."

He took a moment to check the perch and plates before he Blinked out as well, leaving Corvo alone in the room again. He listened to the rain drumming around him, clenching a claw tight around the smooth wood under his feet - something about the perch made him vaguely uneasy, but the exact problem eluded him and after a moment he walked back down a bit, feeling it out.

Exploring it would give him something to do for a while, at least.


The rain slowed in the afternoon, lightening to a drizzle that was so fine it was almost a mist, though the clouds remained dark and heavy overhead. Corvo was still on the perch, still too cold, and still bored out of his mind, when Daud finally returned.

His hair was sleek and dark, plastered flat to his skull with water, but he was wearing a longer coat over his usual uniform that left him relatively dry after he sloughed it off and tossed it to drip-dry on the corner of the nearest cabinet. Corvo met his eyes as Daud glanced around and located him, but received nothing more than a quirked brow before the assassin vanished, a sound seconds later revealing that he had simply moved to the second level.

He was back soon enough, combing fingers through hair now ruffled and spiked from rough drying, stopping by his desk to drop several things out of his pockets. Corvo climbed up to the top branches of the perch, trying to catch a glimpse, but most of it was hidden in dull leather pouches.

Daud looked over, eyeing the branches with an appraising eye that looked more than a little confused. Ruffling his feathers, Corvo remembered, and was suddenly certain that he had had no say in the perch's appearance in his office. He ran a hand along the smoothed wood, his leather gloves dragging in a soft susurrus over the grain. Corvo sidestepped away as he drew closer and Daud stopped, examining him now instead.

They watched each other for a few silent moments, although Corvo had to tilt his head back to do so. He was struck again, abruptly, by the sheer size difference between them. He wondered if he would ever stop noticing it.

Then again, it was probably a bad sign if he did.

"Daud?"

Corvo twitched and turned to glower at Thomas, who had slipped into the room again and was standing next to the open door. He was getting very tired of people sneaking up on him. Sneaking was his job.

Daud hadn't even blinked, which was almost like adding insult to injury. "Yes?"

Thomas paused for a moment, as though considering his words, but when he did speak he only said, "Yuri's looking for you. Something about paying his suppliers. He was...rather displeased when you didn't show up for breakfast this morning."

Daud raised an eyebrow just slightly. "Vocally displeased, I assume, if you're seeking me out just for that.“

"Isn't he always?" Thomas' agreement was rather wry. "Did you find anything while you were gone?"

"Nothing worth mentioning," Daud turned back to the perch as he spoke, reaching out to rap his knuckles against it. "Rulfio?"

"Of course. You've opened the floodgates, you realize. He's well and truly fixated now."

"Could be worse. Those first few weeks after the Sokolov paintings -”

"By the Void, Finn is still humming that damn song." Corvo tipped his head curiously at Thomas' heartfelt groan, the most emotion he'd heard out of the assassin yet.

"Exactly. He's actually being somewhat useful this time - I'll take what I can get."

"I wouldn't count on that lasting too long." Thomas then skipped straight past his vaguely ominous warning to ask, "The meet's already started downstairs. Are you joining in today?"

"Down in a moment." Daud acknowledged, and Thomas Blinked away again.

Daud turned to follow him, his hand dragging a little along the wood again as he moved away and Corvo, in a split-second decision, leapt.

He regretted it even as his feet left the perch – it had been a sudden, impulsive decision and he had no idea how well this was going to go. It was a bit too late to worry about it though. He hit where he was aiming, latching onto the assassin's wrist solidly before his hand fully dropped from the perch, but he had to throw his wings out to avoid overbalancing, a quick movement that sent small rips of pain through the scabbed-over wounds on his left wing.

Daud actually jumped in surprise when he pounced, skittering sideways a few steps and throwing Corvo even more off balance as he brought his arm up. "What -"

He stopped as he caught sight of Corvo, holding his arm steady now so that Corvo could rebalance himself and fold his wings back. His left wing throbbed for a moment before settling down and Corvo gripped the glove harder, determined. This was probably another bad idea, one among many now, but Corvo had had just about enough of waiting around, staring at the walls and trying not to count each second going by.

He might as well learn more about the Whalers and their base while he was stuck here, even if that meant tagging along with Daud.

The man was just watching him, looking entirely bewildered - his arm was outstretched, nearly horizontal, and in a short spark of inspiration, remembering pictures of birds he'd seen in books, Corvo walked up his arm, gripping the red coat carefully in his claws with each step until he was standing on Daud's shoulder.

It was rather awkward - he had one foot gripping tight to the thick fabric of the coat while the other claws searched for good purchase on the thick leather of the bandolier and Daud's face was a bit too close for comfort, but it felt much steadier than riding on his wrist had and it seemed a small price to pay for not feeling quite so vulnerable.

Daud was still watching him, brow furrowed, but as Corvo gained his balance and glanced at him, he just shrugged his other shoulder. "All right then."

That, apparently, was that and Daud continued on his way out through the glass doors. His Blinks were still generally unpleasant, but luckily they didn't go very far - out through one window, a quick dash through the remnants of the rain, and in through another.

A wash of warmth and noise hit them as they entered and Corvo twisted his head around in all directions, trying to take everything in. He remembered this room - there had been practice dummies and something of an obstacle course set up. Now everything had been removed or pushed back against the walls, leaving a wide-open space in the middle of the room where two Whalers were pacing around each other, swords drawn.

Corvo perked up, interested despite himself as their swords came together in a clash of steel, though the noise nearby drew his attention back to the room for a moment.

The low murmur of voices came from Whalers lining the edge of the room, standing well back from the fight and talking together. Many of them were perched on the cleared furniture, giving them a better vantage point to watch the fight. They were also idling in an open entryway to a smaller room off the side that Corvo was certain had been filled with debris the last time he'd seen it.

It was this room Daud went to, Blinking past the Whalers in the entryway. The Whalers further in were sitting in groups, talking together more than watching the fight, though Corvo saw heads rising up to look out periodically. Daud stopped by a pair near the entrance - one of them was sharpening what looked to be a small armory of knives as the other was speaking, but they both stopped and looked up as Daud approached

"Connor. A favor." The rumble of Daud's voice vibrated softly through his chest under Corvo's feet.

"Sir?"

He crouched, making Corvo's stomach jump at the sudden downwards movement, and indicated his shoulder with a tilt of his head. "Andrei and Devon need a little help along. Take care of this one for me? Make sure no one steps on him, anything like that."

"Oh! Of course." The Whaler perked up - he was a younger man with mussed brown hair and a rather scruffy beard, but he seemed friendly enough and so Corvo stepped down onto his wrist after Daud urged him forward. "I was wondering when we'd be seeing him. His name's Corvo, right?"

At Daud's complete silence and heavy stare, Connor drew back, offering, "That’s what Rulfio said, anyway. He mentioned him earlier."

"Really." Corvo fought down his satisfied amusement at the expression on Daud's face. "I would avoid listening too closely to Rulfio. His tongue mostly serves to get him into trouble."

He turned on his heel and walked back towards the fight, shaking his head. The two Whalers watched him go somewhat quizzically, silent until the Whaler sitting next to them turned and asked, "So his name's not Corvo, then?"

"I'm going to say no." Connor shrugged slightly and Corvo walked again up to the shoulder, not wanting to stay on his wrist where he wouldn't be able to see anything.  Connor watched him climb, lifting his elbow to make the terrain a little more even, and then returned to sharpening his knives. Corvo eyed the weapons, noting the good quality and condition, before turning his gaze back to the fight.

The Whalers in the center were still there, fighting with the kind of familiarity that he knew would make them formidable fighting together, but too well matched for one of them to gain the upper hand over the other in their sparring. It made this the sort of fight that could drag on indefinitely until one of them slipped up.

Or at least, it looked that way until Daud leaped, sword drawn, into the middle of the makeshift ring.

He managed to catch one of the Whalers off guard, a well-placed swing of his leg knocking the man's feet out from under him. The other, either slightly more alert or capitalizing on the split-second warning he'd received, dodged Daud's second strike lightning-fast and hurriedly brought his sword up into a guard in time to block the next blow.

Corvo glanced around the room, wide-eyed. Had any watchmen or guards he used to spar with attempted to enter a match already in progress, they would have received a severe tongue-lashing from both the participants and the spectators at the very least. But, while the noise in the room increased as some of the watching men laughed or called out, no one seemed particularly surprised. The Whaler he was using as a perch hadn't even bothered to look up from his knives.

Well, they were assassins, he reasoned uncertainly. They would train differently than he did.

The two previous combatants were fighting together now; the Whaler Daud had thrown rejoining the fight where both Whalers turned all their attention to Daud. Corvo could see that they had the right idea, trying to stay opposite sides of their opponent so they could pin Daud between them. The master assassin was, of course, not cooperating; constantly moving, too quick for them to corner or pin and dealing staggering blows the few times speed wasn't enough.

He'd scored a few solid hits on both Whalers in the short time Corvo had been watching, only taking one glancing hit along the arm himself, but nobody moved to call the fight or even seemed to be keeping a score. It was less of a fight for Daud, he realized, and more of a lesson for his men – he could see Daud speaking as well, if he looked close enough, probably correcting their form the way any worthwhile guard captain would.

They were still beautiful to watch. Corvo loved fighting - swordplay, hand to hand, staves, pretty much anything, really -  had loved it since the first time he'd started brawling in the back alleys as a small boy in Serkonos, but he'd found few others who shared his appreciation upon taking his post in Dunwall. Most guards and watchmen were taught only the very basics before being sent out, relying instead on their pistols and superior numbers. Sparring with them had often been deeply dissatisfying.

Daud's men, on the other hand, had fought him with an admirable degree of skill and right now Daud was clearly above their level. It was as mesmerizing as it was confusing; Daud certainly hadn't fought him like this that night in the office.

Besides Daud's misdirecting Blinks, which had always placed him far away rather than somewhere near enough for him to do some damage in the confusion, and the occasional standard crossbow bolt, fired directly into Corvo's chest where the armor was thickest, Daud had fought with seemingly no thought to strategy or finesse. He had several times charged obviously from halfway across the room and his swings had been wide and wild, leaving his sides completely open. It hadn't taken long for Corvo to slip by his loose defense and score a hit.

He'd wondered, afterwards, if he'd simply overestimated Daud, if the assassin's reputation was overinflated due to his supernatural abilities. But he'd known, even then, that an unskilled fighter desperate for survival wouldn't have sent his own men away when they came to help

This fight only confirmed his lingering suspicion that Daud hadn't been fighting to win, that day.

It was a strange realization, even though he’d considered it before. Had Daud expected to die? Had Daud wanted to die? Neither thought fit with the confident, ruthless image of the assassin, but his mind kept returning to those final moments of the battle – Daud, asking for mercy even as he bent his head for a killing blow. His mind awhirl and his chest oddly tight, Corvo turned his attention back to the fight at hand, tracking Daud’s graceful movements thoughtfully.

The match only lasted for a few more minutes. The Whalers were spending far more time defending themselves than attacking Daud, and so Corvo wasn’t at all surprised when Daud stopped playing, breaking through one defense with vicious force and sending the Whaler sliding across the floor with a kick to the chest. He was on the second Whaler in an instant, disarming him in a few precise, quick strikes and ending with the tip of his blade resting on the man’s collarbone.

There was some scattered cheering and laughter among the watching Whalers, a few calling out words that were lost to Corvo over the general din. No one seemed to be holding any hard feelings, though, and the Whaler on the floor took the hand Daud offered to heave him to his feet without any hesitation.

The three of them retreated to the edges of the room, talking together, and almost immediately two more Whalers paced to the center, swords out. Corvo shifted a bit to get comfortable and settled in to watch.

They spent a few hours in that room, everything in constant motion. Pairs - and, occasionally, larger groups; once he counted as many as six - would rotate in and out of the makeshift arena. Void powers occasionally made an appearance, and those not currently fighting joined the observers on the sidelines or wandered off to other parts of the base.

It was frustrating, not being able to join in the fights, but Corvo enjoyed it anyways. He picked out the fighters' weaknesses and strong points as he watched, sporadically letting out a loud caw with the rest of the crowd's catcalls when someone made a particularly obvious blunder, laughing to himself whenever he made the Whaler he was resting on flinch at the sudden noise.

He'd lost Connor early on and changed shoulders often as the Whalers he perched on stepped into the ring or out of the room entirely. Occasionally he managed to make it down to the ground between fights or during a particularly boring match, exploring the room and getting himself stuck in small places while he kept away from the Whalers’ boots, but the message seemed to have passed through the group that he was to be looked after, and it usually wasn't long before another gloved hand lifted him back up again.

A few of the Whalers he'd had to nip to get his point across when they seemed keen to pet him. He'd only drawn blood on one, a seemingly rather dim-witted man who'd forgone gloves and then cursed at him afterwards as though Corvo hadn't given him plenty of warning, but most of them accepted his reluctance to be fondled without much protest.

Daud stayed in close to the fights, rarely leaving the center room that served as their sparring grounds. He observed the combatants and called out suggestions, sometimes pulling certain Whalers to the side to talk to as they finished. He let three of the men pull him back into the ring at one point, though that fight didn't last much longer than the first one had.

He finally reappeared as one last fight ended and most of the remaining spectators began to rise and clear out. The sky through the window entrance had turned to twilight. Corvo had no idea who he was perched on at this point, but they had sat still and quiet for most of it, not bothering him at all, so he didn't mind their company.

"Taking him back?" The Whaler tipped his head toward Corvo before Daud even had to say anything and then rose smoothly, barely jostling him at all. "Should bring him down again next time, if he's always that patient. You're lucky if you can get the hounds to sit for more than ten seconds."

"I didn't mean to leave him here so long," Daud admitted, "Not used to him yet."

 "He seemed happy enough watching the mayhem, anyway. Didn't offer any trouble. Or, well, he did bite Rinaldo," the Whaler offered, rather smugly, "but I'd count that as a service rather than trouble."

"Wonderful. He'll be complaining about it for days," Daud sighed, but he didn't seem particularly angry and so Corvo stepped up onto his hand when it was offered.

"I'd say it shows the bird's got taste," came the wry answer, but then he offered Daud something like a deferential salute and vanished.

Daud made things easier for him this time, lifting his hand straight up to his opposite shoulder so that Corvo could step over and cling there instead. Then he Blinked away from the training room to the open window that served as an entrance to the base.

They emerged into the chill of the outside air to find the rain had finally abated completely, though the metal walkways were still wet and shining. Daud set off, walking instead of Blinking for once, and Corvo took the pause to inspect his surroundings, picking out sentries both hidden and obvious along the catwalks.

There was a click-clack of claws on metal and a wolfhound came trotting up the path, tail wagging and tongue lolling, unaggressive in a way he had rarely seen them act. It stopped directly in front of Daud and sat rather politely, though its tail beat a happy staccato against the metal flooring. Daud reached down to stroke its large head and ruffle its ears, mindless of the crooked fangs showing in its grin.

A sharp whistle from a Whaler standing guard up ahead brought the hound back to heel, though it turned its head often to peer back at Daud and its tail never stopped wagging. Daud exchanged nods with the guard as they passed, but continued down the path without stopping to talk, crossing the next rooftop onto the metal walkway leading to the door out of the Rudshore Station. 

Corvo looked ahead of them, confused, wondering if they were leaving the Flooded District for some unexplained reason, but then he had to dig his claws in as the world warped with Daud's Blink. Daud came out of it in a crouch, the sides of a much smaller windowsill surrounding them for a moment before they Blinked out again into an entirely unfamiliar room.

It was cavernous, the murmur of many voices echoing strangely in the still air. The lighting was dim, though; the high windows they had just come through were the only opening to the outside not clearly boarded up or collapsed entirely beneath rubble. There were tables in the open center - several pushed together in the center to make one long line and a grouping near the wall to the right, piled high with what looked like food and plates.

Something glimmered in the corner of his eye, and he realized as soon as he turned his head why the room looked odd. The Whalers had piled a few stray oil lamps in the dim corners of the room to augment the main lights - and every single lamp shone purple.

Even more alarming, the light was moving, pulsing gently behind the glass and somehow rising beyond it, faint wisps of purple curling up and dissipating quickly into the air.

He stared at them as Daud walked across the room, the feathers on his back prickling, waiting for...something. He wasn't really sure what, honestly, and then he remembered, suddenly, that short moment in the Distillery District when the oil tanks had done the same. He glared at the lamps for a moment longer before he dragged his eyes away and settled lower on Daud's shoulder.

Perhaps hallucinations were part and parcel of magical transformations. What did he know?

"There you are."

Corvo turned to find the speaker. He was an older man, older by far than most of the Whalers and even Daud himself, with a tattered eyepatch covering his left eye and salt-and-pepper hair long enough to shove behind his ears, although it stuck up at the back of his head in tufts. He was standing in the center of the grouping of tables, filling old, chipped plates from a stack near his elbow with food from cooking pans spread across the tables nearby.

He scowled at Daud, the wrinkles on his face deepening until his visible eye nearly disappeared. "I see Thomas wasn't in any hurry to find you if it took you all day to get here."

"Yuri." Daud pulled off his gloves as he spoke, tucking them into his belt. When his hands came back up he was holding a small leather pouch, which he tossed to the other man. "Give me more warning next time and it won't be a problem. Braun hasn't backed out yet, then?"

"Hmmph. No. More guts than sense, that boy."

"You'll tell me when he does."

"Aye, if it ever happens." Yuri spun around suddenly, pulling a plate from one of the tables behind him and shoving it towards Daud. "Saved you some - I never know whether you'll be in before it’s all gone and you don't eat enough as it is."

"I eat plenty," Daud protested, but it had the air of a line often repeated.

"Old tins of fish you pick up while gallivanting about don't count as food. Eat." Daud took the plate without further argument while Corvo stared at them, surprised at both the Whaler’s insistence and Daud’s capitulation. Yuri leaned in a moment later, scrutinizing Corvo with his one good eye. "This is your new friend then? Been hearing quite a bit of chatter about him. Corvo, is it?"

"No." Daud's answer was nearly a sigh and he raised a hand, his next sentence slightly muffled as he kneaded at his forehead. "No, it is not."

"Well, that's what I've been hearing. You'll have a time of it convincing them otherwise." Yuri smirked, entirely unsympathetic, and then turned to rummage in the supplies on the tables behind him. "Rulfio was by about his food, I have something for him as well...was going to send it up to you later..."

Movement caught Corvo's attention as Yuri muttered to himself, two small blurs of grey, only chest high in relation to Daud and the rest of the Whalers, streaking across the room and coming to a stop near the food.

They were children, he realized with a sharp shock. Skinny and coltish, they were just beginning to grow into adulthood; they couldn't be much older than Emily, but they wore the coats of Whalers, the too long sleeves folded back over their skinny wrists, and the tallest of the pair was wearing a mask.

The one in the mask picked up plates at the far end of the table and left, Blinking out of view again, but the other slipped over to them, skirting around Daud easily and swiping a few pieces of bread from a bag on a different table. He moved away, apparently about to leave again, when his eyes passed over Corvo and he did a double take, stopping in his tracks.

Corvo leaned down a bit, still gripping tight to Daud's coat. The boy was nondescript, sandy-haired and brown-eyed. He was probably a street rat, orphaned by the plague - there were already lines around his mouth and eyes, hints that his face would appear worn and hardened beyond his years, but at the moment something like wonder lit his eyes, softening his features.

Daud moved, simply shifting his weight from one leg to the other and turning his head only slightly to watch them, but the boy started at the movement, his expression almost guilty. He dipped his head to Daud in something between a nod and a bow and darted away without a word, following after the other boy and Blinking away as he reached the windows. Corvo watched them leave, his heart a little heavier.

Yuri reappeared, still grumbling something under his breath, and slid another plate over. Daud accepted it without a word and moved away, taking the still empty seat at the head of the table and Corvo moved easily from Daud's shoulder to the back of the chair, hopping from there to the arm to the table. He stopped at the smaller plate Daud had set aside and his stomach squirmed slightly, an uncomfortably familiar reaction.

The meat was raw, a pile of unidentifiable red lumps with a runoff of scarlet blood beginning to gather at the edges of the pile. It did look clean and fresh, which was more than he could have said for many of his meals, and this probably wasn't even rat meat.

He was getting hungry and he hated wasting food... But no, he couldn't talk himself into it. He wasn't that desperate yet.

He ignored the plate and looked around instead. Daud's bare left hand was resting on the table nearby and Corvo's heart gave an odd jump at the sight of the deep black lines gracing the back of his hand. The Mark was identical to his own, but it was disconcerting seeing it so clearly branded on someone else.

He glanced down the table as Daud turned and began speaking lowly to the Whaler in the chair next to him. The conversation mostly centered on more names Corvo had never heard before and so he turned and made his way down the tabletop into the gathering of men.

There were few actual chairs - many of the Whalers were sitting on boxes or piles of other objects, but movement seemed constant, men moving to grab more food or talk with someone farther down the table, switching seats frequently, and a few didn't stay at all, simply stopping by the tables at the far end and then walking back towards the windows with their hands full.

Almost all of the Whalers weren’t wearing masks and so he could see that at least half of Daud's forces sitting there looked to be Gristol-born, marked by their pale skin and accents. The group was still far more diverse than any Watch patrol he had ever encountered, with a spectrum of varying skin tones and accents mixing in among the group.

There were at least twenty men at that table alone and he wondered for the first time exactly how many men Daud commanded. At least twice as many, if he had to guess. It was a rather sobering thought.

The assassins, ever watchful, all noticed and tracked his progress down the table as he passed them, but they apparently knew enough about him by then not to be concerned by his presence. A few whistled or spoke to him when he passed, but they were easily ignored in the noise and so he continued unhindered, examining their faces and interactions until he heard someone call out, "Corvo!"

He whirled, something ridiculously like hope kindling for a moment, but it was only another Whaler, blond-haired and blue-eyed and hopeful, looking far too young to be what he was despite being years older than the children from before. Pavel, he guessed uncertainly, if he was remembering the voice correctly.

Most of the Whalers eating had taken off their gloves, Pavel included, and he moved a little bit closer, tipping his head to peer at Pavel's left hand. There was an outline of a Mark there, but it was light and indistinct, closer to the color of a shadow or a bruise than the inky blackness of Daud's Mark. He stopped as the assassins nearby took notice and leaned in. One of them looked almost delighted. "That's really his name? I thought Fisher was just joking."

"Ah..." Pavel backpedaled, flushing a little. "Well, maybe not. I mean, I don't think Daud's decided yet."

"Not very impressive, is he?" Another Whaler further down the table looked him over, quick and dismissive. "Why did Daud even bother with him? Could snap his neck like a chicken's without breaking a sweat."

A slight chill crept up Corvo's spine, prickling goosebumps that shifted his feathers in a still-unsettling sensation. He stepped further away from the Whalers warily, their overwhelming size rising again to the forefront of his mind.

"I could break you without breaking a sweat, but you don't see me bragging about it." Someone spoke behind him and Corvo looked back to find most of the Whalers across the table had noticed the conversation and were paying attention now as well, leaning in over elbows braced on the tabletop to create a solid wall of unfamiliar faces and dark coats hemming him in. The speaker loomed a head above his neighbors, muscles bunching as he leaned forward to frown across the table. "Leave off, Javier."

Javier snorted, but didn’t say anything else. Corvo hoped that would be the end of their attention to him, but most of them were still watching him, some leaning down to look closer.

One of the Whalers behind him reached out towards him, clicking their tongue softly, but when he backed away he ran into someone’s plate and then someone’s hand, sending him back the other way. The only clear way was farther down the table and he couldn’t even see the end there, just more Whalers leaning over to see, drawn by the conversation.

It was almost too much, suddenly - too many faces surrounding him, each bigger than his entire body, caging him in. They weren't even wearing the Whaler masks, but his heart was rising into his throat, his vision tunneling. It was like being back in dank alleys and dark buildings, trying to get away before he drowned in the sheer number of enemies rushing to surround him. There’s no danger. You know there’s no danger. Stop.

Someone else brushed along his side and he jerked to get away from them, backing into a glass in his haste and knocking it over, sending liquid spilling off the table.

"Whoa! Hey, calm down!" He didn’t pay much attention to Pavel’s voice, but it was harder to miss the hands that clumsily scooped him up from the table, closing carefully over his wings. He was confined before he could react and it was only with a very great effort that he managed to stop himself from thrashing and clawing at the hands like a panicked animal.

His heart hammered against his ribcage and he forced himself to breathe, to calm down because this was not okay. Without the gloves the heat of Pavel's hands sank through the buffer of feathers and he focused on the warmth and the gleam of the shadow-mark as Pavel loosened one hand to Blink, trying to shove whatever this unreasonable panic was back down under control.

They were surrounded by a second of cool darkness and then they were back at the head of the table, off to the left of Daud's chair. Daud watched them with a questioning look, but offered his arm as a perch when Pavel held him out. The younger man hovered for a moment, making sure Corvo was balanced before removing his hands. Corvo took the chance to hop off Daud's wrist to the arm of the chair instead.

"Sorry. I think we spooked him a bit. I thought he'd be more comfortable back with you." Pavel stood at attention, but his expression was mildly sheepish, perhaps unconsciously, as though he was unused to concealing it without the aid of the mask.

"He'll have to get used to it." Daud responded and Corvo was certain that he was being closely examined, though he refused to look up and check even as Pavel vanished again.

He pressed his side against the rough wood of the chair back, letting the bulk of Daud's body block some of the noise in the room, and focused fixedly on the assassin's coat, so bright and beautifully colored through a bird's eyes. His blood burned hot, shame and anger scorching at his own uncontrollable reactions.

This wasn't the first time the panic had risen, he acknowledged - since coming to the Flooded District it had been bubbling just below the surface, waiting to swallow him. He'd been high-strung and jumping at shadows even as he tried his best to ignore it.

But it flew in the face of all sense, undermined both his training and his pride. He'd been trained extensively to stay calm in dangerous situations and he was good at it - it was part of what made him effective as the Royal Protector. This sudden inability to suppress his anxiety was extremely frustrating and rather worrying.

The new body had to have a lot to do with it, he knew. No matter how well he was starting to move in it, it was still foreign and just too small. He was tiny in comparison to the rest of the world and even with the addition of beak and claws he probably wouldn't be more than a nuisance in a fight with anything larger than the rats he had tangled with.

And that was the problem right there, wasn't it. So stop lying to yourself.

Because honestly, he had known the problem since that fight, but knowing was one thing and accepting quite another. And right now, still shaky with panic, dark memories lurking somewhere in the back of his mind, he had to admit that he was, essentially, helpless.

Nothing good had ever happened to him when he was helpless.

Something nudged him, breaking him out of his unhappy introspection. Daud was still watching him, the Whaler he'd been talking to peering past his shoulder with interest. He moved his hand forward, offering a piece of cooked meat, broken small enough that Corvo could swallow it without choking.

He glared, but Daud simply waited, patient and quiet, and finally Corvo just took it to make him stop staring, picking it up delicately without touching his fingers.

The meat still held some heat, and warmed his insides as he swallowed, loosening the lingering constriction in his chest and throat. He relaxed, just a little and looked around to take in the room again, listening to the loose rise and fall of voices without focusing on the crowd itself.

He kept his distance from the pack of Whalers, but after a while he did climb back up on the table so that he didn't feel like he'd be knocked off his perch if Daud leaned the wrong way. Daud's plate was still half-full, he noticed, though his neighbor's was long empty.

After a moment of thought, standing in the chilled air and remembering warmth, Corvo stepped closer and snapped up another piece of sausage. 

Daud flicked a hand to shoo him off, but it was halfhearted at best and didn't even come near to touching him, so he stayed where he was. The Whaler next to him laughed. "Well, he's bold enough with you, at least."

"I'm flattered." Daud pointed an accusing finger at the tip of Corvo's beak. "You have your own food, you little thief. You aren't starving."

Corvo glanced over at his plate. The chunks looked as unappetizing as ever and the blood was starting to congeal.

He waited until Daud turned away and stole another piece of meat off his plate, though the badly stifled snickers from the Whaler still watching him gave him away almost immediately. He blinked innocently when Daud turned to glare at him.

The assassin leaned back and sighed, closing his eyes as he rubbed at his forehead again. “Well, I can see he’s picked up Rulfio’s attitude.”

The scattered laughter from a few Whalers listening nearby echoed the faint amusement glowing in Corvo’s chest and, as the last remnants of distress died away, he settled in place and eyed his next target from Daud’s meal.


Nuts, he discovered, were infinitely more entertaining as a bird than as a human.

The room had slowly started clearing of Whalers, although Daud showed no signs of moving. The assassin had, however, allowed him to finish most of the cooked meat and vegetables left on the plate without much more than a disgruntled look, so Corvo was willing to be patient.

The Whalers still remaining had started to group up near the head of the table though and, unwilling to stand in the middle of the crowd again so soon, he'd used one of the empty chairs to climb down to the floor. He'd wanted a closer look at the strangeness infecting the oil lamps anyway.

The rising wisps of light got fainter the closer he got to the lamps in the nearest corner, nearly invisible as he reached them. Creating a slight breeze with his uninjured wing made no noticeable difference and when he worked up the nerve to touch them with his beak, he neither felt nor tasted anything out of the ordinary. He tapped his beak lightly against the glass, stumped.

There was a very quiet scuffle behind him. He turned around and stared - the children from before had reappeared, although there were three of them now, all unmasked, the two boys and the smallest that he suspected was a girl. They were all flat on the floor, as though they'd been low crawling across the floor to get closer without him noticing. Two of them stopped when he turned to look at them, although the third, the boy who'd seen him earlier, scooted a little farther forward. "See. Told you so."

"Alright, so you weren't lying. For once." That was definitely a girl. "I'm amazed."

The boy rolled his eyes. "Oh, knock it off, Dodge. Don't you ever let anything go?"

He turned back to stare at Corvo, bright-eyed and interested the way Emily had always been when he took her away from her usual lessons to teach her climbing or fighting. The taller boy behind him nudged the girl in the ribs with his elbow.

"Think he might let me pet him?"

"Don't be stupid, he's Daud's. Probably trained to blind you or something."

"Don't think so." This from the first boy again, still watching Corvo intently. "Or maybe he only attacks when he's told. Didn't look like he was going to, earlier."

"Well, go on then. You first."

The boy sniffed at her and wriggled forward on his belly, but even then he still avoided getting too close, reaching forward to place something on the floor nearby instead of offering it in his hand. Corvo dipped his head, peering at it. It was a peanut, still in the shell and a little bit damp.

Was everyone going to have this strange occupation with feeding him?

He should discourage this, really. He wasn't a pet to be plied with treats and soon enough they'd probably try to pet him. But all three were watching him with the same expression, somewhere between hopeful and expectant and they might have been assassins in training, but at the moment they were all radiating an innocent sincerity that was very difficult to ignore.

Damn it. He'd never been able to resist kids.

The nut was, of course, absurdly large, but he could hold it between his claws easily enough. Opening it actually turned out to be the best part of the ordeal. He had to pinch and tear with his beak to get the first chunk of husk off, but then he could rend the rest of the shell apart with his claws, pulling it to pieces in long strings and hunks with a satisfying amount of dust and debris. He remembered the actual food almost as an afterthought.

There was just something very satisfying in the mindless destruction, even if it was only a nut. When he finished the first and the girl tossed him another, he didn't hesitate.

He was ripping apart the fibers of his fifth nut, fully engaged in the destruction, when a loud slap echoed through the room, as though someone had struck something hard with the flat of their hand, and Daud’s voice cut through the din of the crowd, sharp and forceful. “Quiet.”

The hum of conversation died off immediately. The children caught the mood quickly and lifted their heads to watch, their faces suddenly alert and serious. Corvo turned as well, the feathers on the back of his neck prickling ever so slightly.

While Corvo hadn’t been paying attention a new Whaler had apparently entered the room. He was standing separate from the tables, slightly bent with one hand braced on his hip, breathing hard enough that Corvo could see the quick rise and fall of his shoulders from where he was standing. Daud was up from his seat, examining the newcomer. “Akila, what happened?”

The Whaler’s answer was immediate, if breathless. "The Lord Protector is missing."

Chapter Text

The nobles of Jessamine's court, when confronted with the unexpected, tended to ignite into a flurry of high-pitched chatter and exuberant gestures. It had been a source of both amusement and irritation for Jessamine herself, especially since, as she'd confided to Corvo once, she herself was expected to retain her royal composure in all situations.

The Whalers, in stark contrast, held their silence. If anything, it deepened, the background noises of rustling clothes and shifting feet fading away as they focused all their attention on Daud and the messenger. It was an icy, brittle type of quiet that perfectly matched the cold dread submerging Corvo's insides.

He'd known this was coming. He just hadn't expected it to happen so soon.

"What happened?" Daud's voice made it a demand rather than a question.

"We don't know yet," Akila confessed, still catching his breath. "They just started broadcasting citywide alerts, but they didn't include anything important."

"Nothing?"

"Just that he was missing and anyone with information should report to the city watch. The usual."

Daud hissed his breath out sharply between his teeth. "He didn't just vanish -”

The Whaler actually interrupted, hurrying to add, "Rulfio was splitting up the others to talk to our main informants as I left. He shouldn't be too far behind unless he stopped to find one himself."

Daud stayed silent at that, standing stiff and staring at the windows over Akila's head as he thought things over. The Whalers matched his stillness, watching him with the single-minded focus of hunting dogs about to be let off the leash.

When he did speak, his words were knife-sharp and very clearly an order. "Hobson. Find Tynan and Aeolos and bring them upstairs. They should both still be at base. Carlo, go find Vladko. He should be down by the refinery. The rest of you, gather your usual patrols immediately. I want a complete head count; find out if we're missing anyone. Akila -”

Corvo lost track of his voice as the immobility of the room finally broke. The Whalers scrambled to obey, some gathering into groups while others flowed through the open windows, ostensibly seeking out the aforementioned names or missing members.

Corvo looked around, a bit at a loss. The children were still huddled together on the floor next to him, watching the proceedings warily. Corvo flinched as a Whaler's boot hit the floor next to him - looking up, he glimpsed grey hair and an eyepatch even as Yuri spoke. "Up, you three. Go back to your bunks."

"But, sir -”

"No buts. Off with you. You've tasks in the morning anyway." The children muttered amongst themselves, but obeyed, slipping off to Blink out through the window with many backward glances. Yuri leaned down to him then, pausing uncertainly for a moment with his hands half outstretched before attempting to scoop him up clumsily. Corvo compensated for his confusion, hopping out of the loose cup of Yuri's hands and onto his wrist.

The man accepted the change with a soft grunt and began pushing his way impatiently through the lingering Whalers. Corvo caught sight of Daud again quickly as they approached the main table - he hadn't moved far from his spot and was still speaking quickly with the Whaler who had first brought the news. The end of his sentence bled through the ambient noise as Yuri approached. “- direct him up as soon as he returns."

"Sir." Even as Akila dipped his head and vanished, Daud had already turned away, striding over as he caught sight of them.

"Yuri, I need -”

"I know, I know, don't you start fussing at me too," Yuri scolded him as he raised his arm and shooed Corvo off onto Daud's shoulder. His words rang a bit hollow and as Corvo looked back there was worry evident in the sharp lines of his face. He raised his hands as Daud's face set into a deeper scowl. "I'll get in touch with my own eyes and ears, but if they'd heard anything about something as big as this they'd have already sent word."

Corvo felt Daud's sigh more than heard it, the miniscule slump in his breathing. "I know, but ask anyway."

Yuri nodded and pressed his hand to Daud's shoulder, gripping tight for a moment before stepping back. "Be careful. I don't like this, any of it."

Daud nodded sharply, turning on his heel and stalking away towards the windows. Corvo wound his claws quickly into the cloth of Daud's coat and the assassin was off, Blinking through the windows, several Whalers emerging on his heels into the crisp night air and scattering down the walkways.

Daud's impatience made the journey quick and turbulent - he leaped off the walkways to Blink across the statue and over to the crumbling ruin, cutting off Corvo's surprised noise as the rapid movements jarred him. Daud stalked across the bridge into the office, making his way directly to the chest against the wall rather than the desk the way Corvo expected.

The lock clicked open easily and Corvo watched, interested despite his continued uneasiness as Daud pulled out a pouch that hissed with the Outsider's magic even without enhanced senses. Daud closed the lid as he rose, tucking the pouch into his jacket and cutting off the rune song, but he turned too sharply, forcing Corvo to flare his wings in a frantic attempt to rebalance. He made a soft noise as his left wing stung him in reminder.

To his surprise, Daud stopped and reached up, lifting him down on his wrist instead with a murmured, "Sorry."

Corvo stared at him in surprise as he padded over to the perch, holding his hand far steadier. His brow was furrowed, his eyes far away as he shooed Corvo off onto one of the higher branches. Corvo clambered onto the branch closest to the desk and watched as Daud sorted quickly through the bags he'd left there earlier in the day, tucking a few into different pockets and pushing the rest off to the side.

He finished quickly and then just...stood there, arms crossed, fingers occasionally tapping against his arm. Corvo wasn't sure how long they both waited there, just thinking, but eventually a few Whalers trickled in one after the other and by the time Daud straightened up and gave them his attention there were four of them, masked and clothed in blue, gathered at the desk.

"What are your orders, sir?" The tallest Whaler spoke first, his voice entirely unfamiliar as so many of them were and with a quick glance Corvo was reasonably certain he didn't know any of the others either.

Clearly, though, he was correct in his assumption that blue uniforms constituted a higher rank if these were the men Daud called in an emergency.

"We're doubling the guard." Daud's voice was low, but clear. "Hobson and Vladko, Tynan and Aeolos, pair your men off. I want every man with a line of sight on their partner at all times."

Well, it seemed Daud had learned something from last time, at least, and Corvo had to wonder with something almost like hysterical amusement if it was his human self Daud expected trouble from. There was a moment of quiet movement, the Whalers connecting to each other with quick glances and gestures before one of them asked, "What about Quinn's men?"

"Tynan, Hobson, your teams will rotate in with hers. If you're not guarding the base, make sure your men are equipped for outside sweeps. Talk to Rulfio when he returns, he has command of the men she left."

Two of the Whalers nodded with quiet murmurs of agreement, but a third spoke up quietly. "This is going to wear them all out very quickly."

"I'm aware." Daud agreed, but that was all he said.

"Do you expect we'll be attacked, sir?" another asked.

"I don't know." The admission seemed to hang heavy in the air, weighing the room down. "Without more information, we don't know anything. So we're not taking any chances."

The shortest of the group piped up, "We're all wondering though, aren't we? If the Protector's finally noticed we're still here..."

"What, you think he just up and left to hunt us down? He wouldn't disappear for that," one of the others disagreed as Corvo sharpened his attention, still surprised despite his earlier thoughts. "Why would he send the entire Watch scrambling to find him when he could bring the whole lot of them down on our heads?"

"If he wanted to handle it alone -" the first one started, but the others made various noises of disagreement.

"Not likely."

“- would he want to do that for?"

"The chance for personal revenge, obviously!"

"Unlikely," Daud said, interrupting the budding argument. The assassin leaned against his desk, arms folded as he continued, "For several reasons, not the least of which being that Tynan is right. He wouldn't just disappear, not for revenge. Not for us. Someone else caused this."

"If they did -"

Corvo was not the only one who jumped at the new voice. The entire group flinched to some degree, Daud included, as another Whaler stepped through the outside entrance, saying, "then we're going to have quite a time of it figuring out who and why. There's not even a whisper of a believable rumor in the slums right now."

That was Rulfio, Corvo decided after a moment, taking longer than usual to place the tenor of his voice through the mask after becoming more accustomed to seeing him without it. Daud stared at him for a moment before turning to wave the other four off. "Hobson, send your men to join Vladko's for the first watch. Tynan and Aeolos, make sure yours are prepared for the next rotation."

The Whalers responded in unison, pressing a fist to their chests in some formal salute before vanishing entirely. Daud turned back to Rulfio, who was shaking his head before the master assassin even opened his mouth. "I didn't spend the time finding one of ours, but with a hit of this caliber, there should already be word of something in the usual crowds. Especially since we didn't orchestrate it."

Daud grumbled under his breath, moving past Rulfio to stand at the open entryway as the other man crossed over to the desk, pulling his mask off as he went with a sigh. His eyes caught Corvo's and he offered a somewhat unenthusiastic smile as Daud asked, "Who have you already contacted?"

Rulfio rattled off a list of names that Corvo recognized absolutely none of. He didn't make any effort to remember them either, too focused on the current problem to care. Daud didn't respond to the deluge of names and after a moment Rulfio went on. "You really don't think Attano could be behind this himself?"

Daud turned slightly to look back into the room, refocusing on Rulfio as Corvo turned to watch him in surprise. "And from that question, I take it you think he does want revenge then?"

"I think it's a distinct possibility we shouldn't ignore. It's been making the men twitchy for a while now," Rulfio countered. "We certainly gave him plenty of reason for it."

"Several people in this city gave him reason and he didn't kill any of them." Daud turned away again, rummaging in his pockets.

"One could argue he left them alive because the punishments he chose were the harsher option. We're the ones who cut the closest and he passes us by with barely a scratch on any of us?" Rulfio's voice was nearly derisive. "I don't think so. He's a noble. You know what they're like."

That, surprisingly, stung Corvo a bit and he couldn't stop himself from shooting Rulfio a look of mild betrayal even though he knew he was being patently ridiculous. Rulfio's opinion of him was the least of his problems.

"I don't see it." Daud was calmer in comparison, pulling whatever he'd been looking for out of his pocket. "Sending out the alerts for his disappearance only put us on our guard. There's absolutely no advantage there. The only conceivable reason to do it is if they really do think he's missing. If he'd planned it himself, he would have told someone."

Daud pulled a cigarette out of the package in his hand as he spoke, but before he could place it between his lips, Rulfio reached out a hand. "Wait. Don't do that."

Daud blinked at him in surprise. "What?"

Rulfio gestured at Corvo and then rested his hand on the perch next to him. "Smoking that with him in here will damage his lungs pretty damn quick. Worse than they're damaging yours. Might as well just shoot him and save him the pain."

Corvo bristled, though he was a bit thrown when Daud only grimaced sourly, placed the cigarette back in the package without argument, and then stuck the whole thing back in his coat. "The point is he wouldn't plan something like this without telling the Empress, at the very least. He's not going to leave his child voluntarily, not after everything."

"I suppose not." Rulfio watched Daud pace closer to the desk before he asked, "You think the rumors of her parenthood are true?"

"I think it doesn’t matter what her blood is - he's her father in the ways that matter and the girl just lost her mother. He wouldn't leave her in the dark."

Corvo's stomach clenched at that. That Daud could speak of it so easily...

Rulfio laughed. It wasn't a happy sound. "So if he is missing, she's not going to lose the closest thing she has left to a parent without a fight. The Watch patrols are going to be unbearable. Wonderful. Well, whatever the reason, Attano's timing is fucking terrible."

Alright, that was it. Corvo’s insides burned with anger and he sprang forward, sinking his beak into Rulfio's smallest finger and grinding down as hard as he could through the leather in his way. His head wrenched forward jarringly as Rulfio jerked away, and he was forced to let go or fall. He jumped off the perch down to the floor, slipping behind the boxes and paintings under the stairs and feeling darkly satisfied at Rulfio's yelp despite the fact that it sounded far more astonished than pained.

Daud, at least, sounded appropriately alarmed. "What was that?"

"No idea." Rulfio sounded a little baffled, but not angry the way Corvo would have expected. "I don't think I was doing anything too aggravating. If we're lucky, he's just feeling moody - too much activity too soon, maybe."

"If we're lucky?"

There was silence for a moment and then, "A lot of the birds back in Tyvia - any of the animals we kept, really - my grandfather always said he knew when the sick ones were losing the fight because they'd start hiding. A wounded animal is always more likely to bite than a healthy one, so it is possible he's just moody. But if he stays hidden like that, it's probably a bad sign."

Rulfio didn't sound angry because he was worried instead. Corvo felt the first stirrings of shame at his loss of control, but it wasn't strong enough yet to coax him back out there, not with everything still bottled up inside him like a storm cloud of frustration and anger.

Daud hadn't answered yet, he noticed, but even as he did, the man spoke. "What are we supposed to do, then?"

"Nothing we can do, really. I don't remember the more complicated treatments and the ointment can't do much for infections if they've already taken hold. I suppose we just leave him plenty of water, maybe some food, and hope for the best."

"Brilliant." Corvo doubted that he'd ever heard a word so loaded with cynicism as the one Daud uttered. It was closer to a growl than anything. That little spot of guilt was growing, but he hunkered down and ignored it.

There were footsteps and noises of things being moved, some very close to his spot under the stairs, and then the footsteps grew fainter as Rulfio spoke again. "Wait, where are you going?"

"I'm going to go patrol the perimeter with the outer guards. I can get the news from your patrol as they come in and send them back for the ones we haven't tried yet."

"You're going to go fuss and worry, you mean." Rulfio muttered and Corvo wasn't sure whether it was meant for Daud's ears or not. "You aren't going to wait for Thomas to get back?"

"No. Update him fully when he does return, but before then I need you to…"

Their voices faded off, as though they'd walked out the doors this time instead of Blinking away. A quick blink and enhanced vision revealed that he was indeed alone in the room, although from the frequency of the yellow shapes moving in and out of the edge of his vision, the extra sentries were already in place. He didn't bother moving though, just sat somewhat dazed until something occurred to him.

I bit Rulfio.

It wasn't really an important thought, considering that he’d bitten a Whaler just that afternoon, but it was the one that jumped to the forefront of his mind and stuck there. Suddenly he was shaking with the bubbling feeling of hysterical laughter. It wasn't funny really, because apparently it only took two days for the animal instincts to take over and send him feral, but he didn't really feel like he could stop.

He managed eventually, though it took a rather alarmingly long time and he felt unpleasantly hollowed out. He folded his legs up under him, lowering himself to the floor. The lethargy, the almost manic energy that preceded it, were almost familiar feelings, unpleasantly familiar, and for the first time in decades he found himself thinking back to his first introduction to Dunwall.

He'd grown up wild in the streets of Serkonos and two years in the Guard after the Blade Verbena hadn't prepared him nearly enough for service to an emperor. Frustration and confusion had built with every social gaffe and blunder he'd made until he’d snapped and bloodied his knuckles on three of his less-tolerant colleagues. A Captain that hadn't been his own or even one he recognized had pulled him off, scruffing him by the collar and shaking him until all that furious energy fled and left him empty. The man had spent the next half-hour dressing him down and the next hour after that pulling a reluctant explanation out of him piece by unwilling piece. The Captain hadn't reacted to any of it and Corvo had been nearly shamefaced by the time they'd finished.

"Pull yourself together, soldier." There might have been some sympathy in that voice, but it was still uncompromising. "This isn't what you're used to, but it's what you've got. Better get used to it, and fast, if you plan on making it here."

Pull yourself together, soldier. And he had.

Distress was still thrumming quietly under his skin, but he sucked in a breath and forced his thoughts into order. He'd already decided these emotional outbursts were only detrimental and yet his control was still so weak. So what was overwhelming him here that he needed to deal with?

He didn't exactly have to look far - everything was still clamoring in the back of his mind, waiting to explode back to life, and this time he didn't push it back down, dragging out what he'd tried to ignore since the beginning.

He bristled even thinking about it, but made himself continue, examining the situation from all angles. He would scour the city before he accepted this, check every nook and cranny for Granny Rags and her spells. He'd find a way to reveal himself to Daud if he had to, would find any witch in the city who might have a chance of helping him. But he needed to acknowledge this looming shadow he'd been avoiding first - there was every likelihood that he was going to fail.

Granny Rags probably wouldn't be all that agreeable to helping him change back, even if he could locate her among a city of thousands when she didn't want to be found. This was assuming she even knew how to do so, on the off chance that she was no longer maniacally homicidal – she’d clearly made some sort of mistake in the ritual to begin with. And all this was assuming that the spell itself wasn’t permanent.

The truth was he might never be fully human again.

And there was the crux of it, ugly and unpleasant, but laid bare. He wasn't a coward; he wouldn't sulk and pray that some miracles fixed the problem for him. None of this was what he wanted, but it was what he had and he would work with it. He could learn this new form. He would fly and hunt and learn - there was a whole city to practice in, after all, and he had the time and motivation to search it thoroughly. He wouldn't be much good in a fight, he'd learned that already, but he'd always been even better at stealth than he was at violence and this new form was perfect for stealth. He could be a better spy than the Spymaster had ever been, gather information and other advantages in ways his human form would never have allowed. If he was willing, he could work with this.

And if he did fail, if he was stuck like this, he would do the best he could. He would protect Emily to the best of his ability regardless. He didn't know what he would tell her, or how, or how she would react, but he would protect her.

It was a heavy thought, almost bitter, but he bolstered it with determination and it still felt better than the half-panicked confusion he'd been running on before. His thoughts were more ordered and his path was clear. He couldn't do anything about the search right now, but he would survive this and that was what mattered, in the end.

Worn down, he waited a little longer in the darkness of the office, wondering if Daud or any of the others would return, but after a short while he just curled his head down in the most comfortable position he could find and tried his best to sleep.


He woke abruptly to the sound of somewhat heated voices and lifted his head from where he'd tucked it against his side in his sleep, blinking blearily up at the still dark night sky. Shaking off the slightly disturbing remnants of his dreams, he sharpened his ears as a nearly familiar voice continued the conversation.

" - sure of the wisdom of this decision."

"Someone, very likely a mutual enemy, managed to remove Attano without any of our people hearing anything of it, and you don't think we should be concerned?" Daud's voice was low-pitched, but that didn't stop the irritation from ringing clear.

"Concerned, yes, but somehow I don't think that's what this is." That was Thomas' voice, Corvo realized suddenly, unfamiliar in its uncharacteristic heat and without the usual metallic distortion. Curious despite himself, he sidled out from behind his cover. He couldn't see Daud from where he was standing, but he could see Thomas' back illuminated in the single light. 

"Is there a problem, Thomas?" Daud's voice was nearly a growl, very low and very dangerous, but Thomas ploughed straight through in a way Corvo would never have expected of him.

"My problem," Thomas' voice was so very different in that moment, incensed and growing louder as he went, "is that you are letting this perceived debt to Emily Kaldwin drag you into a situation that you have no obligation to join! And one that is, once again, going to endanger your life! Or do you think Attano will greet our rescue with open arms?"

"Thomas -"

"You already saved the girl's soul! You don't owe her your life! Why did you even bother asking Attano to spare you if you're so determined to die for -"

"Hold your tongue." Daud snarled, venomously enough that Corvo nearly flinched and Thomas fell silent, though his fists were still clenched at his sides.

The silence stretched, broken by Thomas's heavier breathing, before Daud finally chose to break it.

"I don't object to you arguing with me, Thomas. But you will remain respectful." Daud's voice was harder than Corvo had ever heard it, forcefully held under control, and he almost wanted to step back from it himself. Thomas didn't move, though Corvo thought he might have lowered his head just slightly. "There are several practical reasons we need to find Attano, all of which you know and are choosing to ignore. And even if debts came into it, I think I owe Attano enough to leave any talk of the Empress out of it."

"Him? He failed his duty! That's not your fault! And everything he did would have been for nothing if you hadn't stepped in to save the girl! Why would you owe him this, especially when he certainly won't welcome it?" Thomas sounded almost plaintive now, frustration pulling further at his control.

"Ignoring the fact that I murdered his charge -" Daud's words were very dry. "- you don't think six months in Coldridge might mean something?"

Corvo resisted the urge to flinch, because, to his shame, when the dreams came he woke up just as often from images of cold and darkness and pain as he did from dreams of Jessamine's murder. Thomas' breath hissed between his teeth, his frustration evident, but the silence went on long enough that Corvo started to wonder if the argument was over.

It wasn't.

"So you feel obligated to save him - fine. And what happens when we find him and he tries to kill you? Are you just going to surrender again? Order us away and make us watch you die?" Thomas' voice was raw, enough so that an ache was spreading from Corvo's chest to his throat just listening to him.

"I'll not have you die for my mistakes." Daud's voice had its own jaggedness underlying the rasp. "If it comes to a fight, I want you out of the way. You're the best candidate to succeed me and Attano has no reason to come after you personally if you leave Dunwall. The Whalers will need - "

"This isn't about succession or the Whalers - "

"Thomas." Daud had gone quiet, but something in it headed Thomas off. "I don't plan on dying."

A moment's pause and then, "You - "

"I don't know how this will end, but I do know I'd prefer to walk away alive. If I can avoid a fight, I will - what happened last year won't happen again. But whether Attano wants to gut me or not, I owe him this, at least, and I will see it paid."

There was silence, deep and uncomfortable. Corvo swallowed and inhaled, wondering when his breathing had grown so shaky.

"I don't expect you to agree." Daud was controlled again as he spoke first, only the slightest bit of weariness leaking through. "But I do expect your obedience."

"Yes, sir." Thomas's reply came relatively quickly, but Corvo didn't think the expressionless inflection was hiding anything pleasant.

"I'll be back before midday. You have your orders." The familiar whisper of the Void heralded Daud's departure  and Corvo turned his attention to Thomas.

Thomas was still standing in the same spot, shadows contouring his bleak expression in the harsh lighting of the lamp above the desk. Corvo shifted, uncertain and still rather dumbstruck, and at the rustle of feathers Thomas' attention snapped over to him. He was younger than Corvo expected, but in the nondescript way that made his true age difficult to guess. Thomas’ eyes narrowed, the color indiscernible from Corvo's vantage, and after a few seconds of mutual staring Corvo caught himself, hastily glancing away and fluffing his feathers as he hunched down a bit and backed away towards the stairs. Normal birds probably didn't attempt to stare people down, after all.

He heard Thomas exhale, not quite long enough to be a sigh, followed by the hiss of his Blink. When he looked up, the room was once again empty and Corvo was left with the silence and his thoughts. They were too full, whirling through his head, but one thing stood out above all the rest of the strangeness.

You already saved her soul. What in the name of the Void was that supposed to mean?

Before the Outsider, he would have considered such a claim to be the utterances of a lunatic - or perhaps an Overseer - but after even the minimal contact he'd had with the deity, he could no longer so easily dismiss it. Had something truly happened? What had been the danger, and when? How had he missed it?

Why in the Void had Daud saved her?

Guilt, came the obvious answer and he whirled about to pace, trying to pick details out of what little he'd been given. Not just her life, but her soul - so a supernatural entity that wasn't the Whalers. The Outsider was the next obvious choice, but he dismissed the thought as soon as it came. That kind of direct interference seemed entirely unlikely. Granny Rags seemed a distinct possibility at the moment, but she had never been particularly subtle in her violence. This left two choices. Either Granny had chosen to be more restrained than usual or there were others with powers, other witches in the city Corvo had never caught wind of, who had, at some point in the recent past, attacked Emily without anyone noticing - except Daud.

It was a fantastical claim really, and he couldn't fathom how any of it was possible, but he himself could be considered fantastical, all things considered. Neither Daud nor Thomas seemed delusional and they would have no reason to lie, not when they were unaware of his presence. That and his gut feeling left him with a third option - that it was true.

If Daud had actually saved Emily from some danger Corvo hadn't even been aware of...

He hissed to himself, deeply frustrated. He wanted to shake the man, pin him down, and force the answers out of him, wanted to thank him or hit him or both. He didn't know what to feel right now, honestly, and it made him itch with uncertainty. 

He hadn't been able to kill Daud, back when he'd had the opportunity and plenty of provocation. He hadn't wanted to then and, if he was honest, Corvo had had even less desire to fight him these past few days, even if Daud had broken his word and remained in the city. He'd held on to all the reasons he should have killed him though, had done his best to build them into a wall of resentment when he'd realized that he and Daud weren't quite done yet. This was rocking the foundations of that wall quite hard and it was a very uncomfortable feeling.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t considered forgiving Daud before. He’d talked with Emily the night he’d rescued her from Kingsparrow, had explained the whole story, with Daud and his resulting decision included. In the face of her surprise (or, more honestly, in the face of her poorly-hidden fear) he’d urged her towards forgiveness herself.

"I know it’s difficult, after everything, but forgiveness isn't just for him," he'd told her, desperate to make her see, to stop Dunwall from twisting her dark and bitter the way it seemed to do to so many. "If you hate someone, then you're stuck there with them, in that hate, but if you let go...you can move on. Forgiveness is for you."

She was too young, he'd known even as he said it, to really understand, but she'd sniffed and nodded and her eyes were clear. Now, looking back, it was clear he hadn't followed his own advice. Preaching forgiveness as an ideal to a vulnerable child was far different than truly internalizing and living it himself and in the chaos of the next few months he’d pushed any thoughts of Daud away whenever they surfaced.

And now he was here, still straddling some hazy middle ground, fanning the dying flames of an anger that only made him miserable and sullen and, in the end, did him absolutely no good at all if he couldn't bring himself to harm the man. A man seeking to change himself, who had, in all likelihood, saved Emily.

But still, if he forgave Daud...

He stopped - just stood and breathed, poked that thought around gingerly in his head. It was an uncertain thought, raw and somewhat painful. Jessamine wasn't - she hadn't been perfect, but he had been hers, happily. Her death was a sharp loss that was never going to dim entirely.

But now, indirect contrast to the assassin in his memories, there was…this.

There was the leader who teased his men and allowed them to harass him right back, the creator of this rag-tag family of loyalty rather than blood.  There were the children, healthy and protected, off the streets where so many orphans had died of starvation even before the devastation of the plague.

There was Daud’s willingness to pluck a wounded bird from the streets and nurse it back to health, his kindness even when there would be no guaranteed reward at the end. The way he handled Corvo’s bird form so carefully, like he was holding something fragile, and looked after his comfort.

Most prominently, there was Daud’s willingness to help, in spite of everything.

Daud had seemingly saved Emily anonymously, with no incentive of money or even acknowledgment. It was an act of redemption, and yet Daud had not let anyone recognize it, had not tried to assuage the guilt and regret still clearly eating at him and driving his actions. And now, to the disapproval of his Whalers and at the possible risk of his own life, he was determined to help Corvo. He clearly didn’t expect forgiveness, or even another chance at mercy, and yet it wasn’t affecting his decision at all.

Daud was willing to die for them – was willing to rescue Corvo only to possibly die by his hand - to make up for what he had done.

Of all the evidence of Daud’s changed mindset that Corvo had glimpsed, this was both the most important and the most startling piece. There was so much more  here to discover, a man beyond the monster. And the worst of it was, without his current condition, Corvo would never have guessed more than the smallest pieces of it. He would only ever have seen the assassin, the killer with hands too bloody to ever be clean.

His hands do violence, he remembered with a jolt, Jessamine’s voice as clear as though she was speaking in his ear, but there is a different dream in his heart.

Corvo swallowed, looking upwards through the open roof to take in the stars, something swelling in his chest along with the cold night air. It was a hint he’d received so many months ago and it felt like he was only beginning to understand its meaning. But it was another piece of the puzzle and, aligned with all that he know knew, it made his decision seem almost simple. He let the memories Jessamine’s voice evoked linger for a moment, both her bright smiles and her last breaths, before he exhaled. And let go.

I forgive you.

Daud couldn’t hear him, wouldn’t have understood even if he were anywhere near, but Corvo needed to say it. He needed to say it and mean it, needed to know that he could.

It brought a soft ache to his chest, but it didn’t feel like anger or even regret. It was more like the ache of releasing a sword he’d held too long and stretching out tired fingers to feel fresh blood flowing. He meant it, he realized, surprised in spite of himself. He could do this.

He would do this. For Emily, for himself…for Daud, who would be haunted by his own regret for as long as he lived, he would forgive.

It was a solid, resolute decision and even as he made it he felt a bit lighter. Forgiveness was a process, he knew. There would be days when his anger would flare and it would seem so easy to push aside everything he’d just decided, but he knew how to be patient where it mattered. There was still so much here he needed to know – what had happened to Emily, what the Whalers were searching for in the city. Whether Daud might be willing to leave behind their previous animosity as well, if Corvo managed to become human again.

Three days ago he might have laughed at the idea, but he'd seen enough by now to know that it was possible. Whether they would get there was another thing entirely, but it was certainly possible.

He would be spending plenty of time here as he healed anyway, he reasoned, enough to follow through and discern the changes in Daud more concretely. There would be time to learn Daud, the man, rather than Daud, the Knife of Dunwall; to find the person underneath that he believed might be worth knowing.

He bunked under the stairs instead of returning to the perch, his mind busy, but his body pulling at him to sleep. He tried pushing the thoughts aside, focusing instead on the drive to act. Deciding was the first step down the path. The rest would come.


His long night ensured that he slept well into the morning and when he finally woke it was due to noise in the office rather than any real desire on his part. He forced himself up after a few ill-tempered thoughts and moved out into the sunlight to find that the noise came from Daud, still fully dressed and clearly well-armed, writing something with sharp movements where he stood at his desk.

He moved a little closer, skirting around dishes of food and water that someone had left directly outside his hiding spot. For a second, he just watched, everything he'd thought about the night before seeming to press in on him, before he drew in a deep breath to draw Daud's attention. He aimed for something quieter than a caw and was a bit perturbed when it came out like someone was strangling him, but Daud lifted his head immediately.

"Feeling better, then." Daud didn't smile at him, but something about him lightened; a loosening in the set of his shoulders and mouth that hinted at relief. "Good."

His chest tightened - he hadn't been here long at all, but clearly Daud had worried, even just a little. Corvo wasn't sure if he wanted to move closer or retreat entirely, pretend he hadn't heard anything and return to the status quo. The decision became moot anyway as Daud laid aside his work and rounded the desk, an unfortunately familiar tin of medicine in his hand. Corvo suffered the annoyance of it for a few moments and then he was free to return to the plates of food and stave off his awakening appetite.

He was surprised when Daud dropped down to sit nearby, leaning his back against the desk and pulling a strip of some sort of dried meat out of his pocket. It looked to be the sort of easily portable food Corvo himself had eaten many times in the past on a long patrol and so he entirely understood Daud's unenthused expression as he chewed on it.

And there - once he wasn't pushing it all away, it hadn't taken any time at all to find somewhere he could empathize. Small and inconsequential as it was, Corvo tried to take it as a good sign, to think positively. If he was going to do this, now was as good a time and place to start as any.

Their silence felt more drained than companionable, really, but after a few minutes of determined attempts to relax, Corvo's compulsive urge to keep an eye on Daud's movements began to fade. He focused more on his food and listened to the man's breathing instead, trying and failing to match his shallow inhales to it before giving up and just letting the steady rhythm lull him. It worked surprisingly well. 

It wasn't perfect, but at least it was a start.

Chapter Text

Of course, Corvo’s newfound attitude had absolutely no effect on the rest of the world. Daud was usually conspicuously absent from the base now. Though he would sometimes return for meals - strangely, he kept up his habit of sitting close by as Corvo ate, demolishing his own meals quickly and quietly - he grew tenser and quieter with each passing day. No matter when Corvo woke up now, he never actually caught the assassin sleeping.

The few Whalers Corvo now recognized were likewise scarce - running themselves ragged in the same futile search as Daud, Corvo suspected with a small sting of guilt. Their absence also had the effect of leaving him alone for long periods of time, and the continued hours of solitude in the drafty office were enough to chase him back outside to the sentries.

He had no names to put to any of them. There were now four of them patrolling the crumbling building connected to the office, similar to his own memories of infiltrating the place, but even though their generally subdued moods matched their leader's disquiet, they all seemed surprisingly pleased to see him when he hopped out to meet him. They were company, at least.

Their pleasure turned to astonishment the first time he insisted on leaving with one of them, hooking his claws and beak into the thick material of their pants, and climbing upwards as the assassin prepared to leave. The assassin picked him up quickly and Corvo took advantage to reach his shoulder, latching on solidly once he got there.

The Whaler stood there, staring at Corvo quizzically, until his replacement interrupted. "Thought you were leaving."

"I was, but..." The assassin gestured at Corvo wordlessly, apparently entirely befuddled by the addition of a bird to his person.

"So take him with you." The sentry shrugged. "He's not been troublesome yet."

"But, Daud...?"

"Why would he mind?" Another Whaler questioned from over by the stairs. "We're supposed to keep an eye on him anyway."

"To keep him safe when he comes out here," Corvo's Whaler protested. "Daud didn't say anything about taking him anywhere."

They all stood for a moment and watched Corvo uncertainly. He ignored them, looking off in another direction entirely.

"He never said we couldn't," one of them offered finally, "and if he doesn't like it, he'll tell us when he gets back."

That explanation it seemed, was acceptable and was spread out among the rest as Corvo shifted Whalers several times over the next few hours, clinging to shoulders and wrists as they made their ways about the base. He was oddly cheered when he occasionally came across people he recognized by voice or face  - Pavel and Yuri arguing in the mess hall and Connor walking the edge of the catwalks like a balance beam.

By the end of the day he'd been in most of the buildings at least briefly and had even managed to identify one he suspected held runes and bone charms. He hadn't been able to check, since, while the Whalers were willing to carry him, they also weren't willing to let him wander too far out of sight.

When Daud reappeared hours later, Corvo was perched on the back of a chair in an unfamiliar room off the open walkways, watching a small assembly of Whalers he still had no names for cheat blatantly and cheerfully at Nancy. There was a quiet murmur of greeting as Daud stepped into the room and one of the Whalers paused to ask, "Any news?"

"Nothing we didn't already know," Daud answered, sounding more resigned than irritated and no one seemed surprised.

"Deal you in, sir?" One of the maskless Whalers, a man slightly older than the rest with a shock of ginger hair and stark freckles, gestured invitingly at an empty chair with the hand holding the card deck.

"Not today, Julian. Still work left to do." Some of the Whalers grumbled in what sounded like genuine disappointment, but quieted down as Daud gestured at Corvo. "Came back to find him gone and just wanted to make sure you hadn't decided to use him as bait for the hagfish."

"We would never!" Julian leaned back in his chair, propping his feet against the table and pressing his hand to his chest in overdone innocence. He expression turned a bit more serious in the next moment as he asked, "Should we just leave him up there next time?"

"If he's comfortable with you carrying him off then I don't care," Daud cast an amused eye over the table. "But I expect him alive and whole at the end of the day."

The Whalers' agreements came quickly, though Corvo wondered if he should be more concerned that Daud had felt the need to specify that in the first place.

With permission from Daud expressly given, Corvo no longer needed to worry about company. Many of the Whalers seemed to seek him out and if the first sentry he approached didn't bring him with when they left, others would appear in the office shortly with tidbits of food and soft words, always oddly happy when he was willing to climb on them for a ride.

It gave him access to far more of the base than he had originally hoped for so soon. Still, it was mildly irritating that, having decided to try and make his peace with Daud's presence, the man was almost always out and away from the base. It was even more frustrating if he considered that the man's absence was most likely in order to look for Corvo himself.

He could, at least, rely on Daud to reappear at certain points during the day though, usually around sundown, reconnecting with the Whalers at base, and seeking Corvo out in whatever new corner the Whalers had loosed him in to explore. Dinner became something of a constant - sometimes they headed for the makeshift dining hall to eat with a far diminished crowd of Whalers, but occasionally they ended up in Daud's office, eating together in the silence.

And so, as the days passed with little excitement to them, Corvo watched as the lack of answers took their toll in the shadows under Daud's eyes and the tension in his posture, even as the Whalers themselves began to relax again, the base slowly repopulating as Daud allowed a few of the extra patrols to lapse. All Corvo could do was wonder at the weight of Daud's guilt, and wait.

Well, and listen. The Whalers were almost entirely silent on guard duty, but around the base they chattered and gossiped as much as the Watch ever had. It was through them that he learned the general status of the search - that the Watch was in the sewers as well as the streets, making many paths inaccessible. That an informant in the Tower (who Corvo resolved to root out later, if possible) had reported that his weapons and "other equipment" were still untouched in his room. That the Empress had continued visiting the public even without her protector, though her guard had near doubled.

He was torn between pride and worry over that one, but it was just so Emily. Stubborn girl.

The one subject they did seem to avoid was Daud's determination to find him. He'd heard a bit of grumbling, a few hastily hushed comments, but nothing concrete. No one seemed worried, or even surprised, that the search was dragging on so long. It was odd, to say the least, but when he realized he wasn't likely to get any more out of them, he gave it up and focused on other things.

He lost exact count of the days at some point, but he didn't think it had been too much longer than a week when the tension finally gave.

He'd ended up in the mess hall that evening on the shoulder of a Whaler he was reasonably certain was named Fisher, though he'd lost him at the food tables. Yuri had lured him closer with a plate of meat - cooked, now that he'd made that preference known - and shooed the other Whaler off with food of his own. Yuri, Corvo had decided, was bound and determined to make sure that no Whaler ever went hungry and he now seemed to be including Corvo in that number as he coaxed him to an empty corner of the tables.

When Corvo finished the meat and turned around, he actually came face-to-face with a person rather than the view of the room he was expecting. He startled backwards, a caw escaping before he could stop it. The face jumped backwards as well and resolved itself into one of the children he'd met before - the blond boy, shifting uncertainly on his feet.

He looked a bit skittish and so Corvo stepped forward, looking at him questioningly. That seemed to shake him out of it and he came back up to the table, digging in his pockets as he did so and pulling out... Oh, peanuts again. Corvo tipped his head, a bit puzzled at the apparently steady supply of them.

"Here," the boy murmured, holding one out. "I've been saving them."

Corvo sighed, because of course, he'd accepted it once and now it was probably going to become a habit. But there wasn't any real irritation behind the thought because honestly. The boy had been walking around with peanuts just in case they met again. How was he supposed to ignore this?

And so he accepted each one easily, contentment settling over him at the boy's smile each time he did so.

He really shouldn't get attached, he knew, even - or perhaps especially not - to the children. It was just so difficult not to care when something as small as this gave the child so much enjoyment. So, when the boy held out the next offering, he moved to the boy's arm, plucking up the nut along the way, and clambered up to his shoulder. The look of startled delight he received made it more than worth it.

Corvo wasn't really certain where to go from there, but they weren't alone for much longer before they were interrupted anyway. A few quiet footsteps were all the warning they received before Daud was suddenly there, leaning easily against the wall. "Hello, Arden."

"Master Daud!" The boy jumped, though he threw a careful hand up to steady Corvo as well even in his surprise. To Corvo's confusion, he then picked him carefully and held him out to Daud with the air of someone caught doing something they shouldn't have been.

Daud simply offered his own wrist and said, "I know I've not been here for any of your training lately, but that won't last much longer. You've kept up?"

"I've definitely improved, sir," the boy promised. "Master Killian says so!"

"Good." Then Daud tilted his head slightly and indicated Corvo with one finger. "He seems to like you."

It was more of an observation than a question, but Arden answered him cautiously anyway. "I hadn't been this close to a bird before, but I've always liked animals."

"Me too." Daud agreed seriously and the boy grinned. "What's that you've been feeding him?"

"These." The boy held up a nut for inspection. "He likes them best, I think."

"Peanuts?" Daud inquired, one eyebrow winging up as he leaned forward to look.

"Yes, sir. Finn brings us things from the market if we give him any coins we find in the water, so I asked for these." The boy nodded his head enthusiastically and dug around in one pocket, pulling out one small fistful of nuts, which he then held out towards Daud with a cautiously hopeful expression. "You can have these ones, if you want, so you can give them to him."

Corvo was torn between pleased hilarity and bemusement at how brightly the boy's face lit up when Daud accepted. His gloved hands engulfed the boy's smaller one for a moment before he drew back with the nuts and offered the boy a genuine, "Thank you."

Arden brightened impossibly further, bouncing a bit on his toes as he smiled. "Glad to help, sir!"

And then he darted away after that quick nodding gesture that was almost low enough to be a bow, looking no less delighted than the servants' children always had when Jessamine used to come across them in the halls and pause to offer a kind word or play a short game, always leaving them giggling and a bit star struck when she left.

It was an odd comparison, Corvo knew as he looked at Daud, but it felt apt and somehow, the memory itself was more wistful than painful.

Daud seemed to recognize the hero-worship if the amused whuff of his exhale was anything to go by. Corvo echoed him unconsciously, something like a chirp escaping with the urge to laugh. Daud shot him a conspiratorial look, amusement still etched in his face, and then he slipped his handful of peanuts into his pocket, pulling his hand out with a single nut still clasped between his fingers. He offered it to Corvo with a shake of his head and a murmured, "Youth."

Youth, indeed. Corvo agreed with a bob of his head and a soft squawk, and he accepted the nut, politely trying not to drop too many of the pieces on Daud as he took it apart. Daud, in turn, waited until he finished to move, Blinking out of the room instead of joining the others for food.

Daud didn't Blink any further after that - he seemed content to walk the rooftops and exchange short greetings with the sentries and so Corvo enjoyed the faint wind stirring his feathers, spreading his wings slightly when it blew in the right direction to feel them catch at the breeze. Daud stopped at the overhanging lookout point next to the entrance to the base, walking out along the platform instead until his toes hung over the drop and the base was spread out before both of them.

Corvo wasn't sure how long they stood there, overlooking the ruined buildings and gleaming metal, but the sun had set and twilight was beginning to darken when someone coughed. Daud didn't even appear to notice for all he reacted, but Corvo glanced over and found Rulfio leaning his forearms on the sides of the window that led to the rest of the base, watching his leader with a serious expression. "Long day?"

"Long enough." Daud's answer was short and gruff, but Rulfio seemed to take it as permission and he wandered out onto the walkway behind them.

"You didn't find anything?" It wasn't really a question.

"No," Daud turned his head to the side, enough that Corvo guessed he was watching Rulfio in his peripheral vision. "But that's not what you came down here to ask, is it?"

Rulfio didn't answer right away and to Corvo his face seemed closed and wary, but when he did speak he came directly to the point. "How much longer are we going to keep this search running?"

Despite Rulfio's caution, Daud seemed more tired than angered by his line of questioning. "You think we should stop."

"I'm not suggesting we forget about it entirely." Rulfio leaned a hip back against the wall, arms crossed. "The scouting teams can as easily keep an ear out for Attano as they can for the witches. I know you've already considered it. It's not like we're overwhelmed with information on either at the moment. But we should at least lessen the guard before they start falling asleep at their posts."

"I know." But still Daud stood for a moment longer, before he sighed out a heavy breath and turned around. "Alright. I hadn't planned more than another day or two anyway. Get the word out that everyone's back to their regular duties, starting tomorrow. I'll brief the scouts myself."

"Good." Rulfio finally seemed to relax, unfolding his arms and strolling over to stand by Daud. "There's really nothing more we can do now anyway. Whoever's responsible, they covered their tracks ridiculously well."

When Daud didn't answer after a moment or two, Rulfio started, "If Attano is dead -"

"He's not dead." Daud sounded oddly certain of this. Corvo tipped his head sideways to watch him curiously.

"I know it seems unlikely, considering everything we threw at him." Rulfio's lips twisted, but it looked more rueful than angry to Corvo. He had to wonder then if Rulfio had also been one of those unlucky Whalers that had ended up in a strange position with a sleep dart stuck somewhere uncomfortable. "But don't you think -"

"I haven't survived this long by ignoring my instincts." Daud didn't seem angry, but his voice had steel running beneath. "And I'm not starting now. No, there's something more going on here and we're not going to be caught off guard when it finally explodes."

Rulfio drew in a breath as though to answer, but a hiss of displaced air stalled him as another Whaler in blue Blinked up over the edge of the vantage point.

"Quinn." Daud sounded mildly surprised as the Whaler straightened to attention. "You're early."

"Plenty of luck on our side, sir." Quinn folded her hands behind her as she spoke, acknowledging Rulfio with a quick tilt of her head. "Most of what we wanted was already out in the open - the only part that took time was finding the right books. Barely a guardsman in sight for the whole building."

"Philosophers." Rulfio scoffed.

Corvo was mildly confused for a moment before he remembered the quick discussion days ago about robbing the Academy and then he stared sideways at Daud in surprise. He hadn't realized they'd acted so quickly.

Quinn's tone seemed to agree with Rulfio's disdain. "Since it took far less time than we expected, we made good speed getting back home. We left all the books in your office, and Jenkins is running the valuables down to Thorpe."

"Thank you, Quinn. You did well, all of you. Go and get some rest." Daud gave her a pleased nod.

"Thank you, sir." She straightened and returned his nod before vanishing.

"Well, then." Rulfio clapped his hands together and skipped ahead of Daud as they moved towards the base, walking backwards to keep him in sight. "Shall we go peruse our new bastion of knowledge, dear leader?"

Daud huffed at him, but it was a wry, exasperated sound, a return of the tolerant amusement he'd shown before the news of Corvo's disappearance had hardened his demeanor into the mask of a master assassin. As Corvo watched him begin to relax for the first time in days, he realized that this was it. The Whalers would keep their ears open and the Watch would keep a few obligatory searches running, but after this long with no news, no one was expecting to find him alive. No one was expecting to find him at all.

Something inside him quivered and in that moment, just for a second, he considered trying to make Daud aware of what had actually happened to him.

The obvious ramifications of that course of action hit him a second later, but still the idea lingered and he eyed Daud sidelong from his perch on the man's shoulder, trying to think the idea over thoroughly. Considering the evidence that pointed towards Daud's new reluctance to kill and, more importantly, the stilted admissions that had been dragged out in his argument with Thomas, it seemed increasingly unlikely that Daud actually wanted to kill him. And if his guilt was strong enough...

Having Daud behind him could be an unexpected boon. The Whalers would be far faster at searching out Granny Rags, if she could be found, than he would ever be on his own. And if the spell required someone to work it, Daud was a witch in his own right. They might not even need Granny Rags' cooperation in that case.

But this all relied on Daud and his attitude towards Corvo. So, what if he was wrong?

He didn’t think he was wrong, really, reacting off instinct alone. Still, the fact remained that he didn’t know Daud that well yet, not enough to reliably predict how he would react to the situation. It was still a risk, however small. Plus, well…then Daud would know. Know that the Royal Protector had been brought low, ensnared by little old Granny Rags, and was now stuck, wounded and vulnerable. Dependent. It made his hackles rise.  

Really, there was no reason to bring Daud further into the equation without at least trying to search out other options by himself first. He could always find a way to get Daud’s attention later, if he failed. That settled it, but he couldn't ignore the smallest ache of disappointment at the decision, the isolation of the last few days pulling at him. For someone just to know, even if they couldn't help, would be a comfort at this point, honestly.

Rulfio and Daud made their way up through the base without pause, but as Rulfio pushed open one of the glass doors, he stopped short, Daud following suit a moment later. Looking past them, Corvo understood the urge. The whalers had indeed left the books in front of Daud's desk in many haphazard piles. From Daud's position by the door though, there were enough books stacked together to obscure Corvo's view of the desk itself. He was actually impressed they'd managed to make off with that many just based on the bulk of them alone.

There was a slightly stunned silence as the three of them took it all in.

"Well," Rulfio sounded impressed as well, though there was clearly laughter bubbling beneath his words, "if we can't find what we need in all this, we're probably doing something wrong."

"I told them to stick with the necessities, not to bring the whole library." Daud sounded closer to dismay and Corvo had to stifle the urge to snicker.

"They're hardly bird experts either, so how were they supposed to know which ones they needed? I suppose they wanted to make sure they didn't miss anything." Rulfio still sounded far too amused as he carefully wedged two books out of the piles, tossing them at Daud. "Here. You might as well start with the basics. These are older, but I've read them before and they'll do for a start. I'll try and sort these into some kind of manageable order."

"We don't have time to read all of these," Daud grumbled, but he was already turning the books over in his hands, examining them with interest.

"We don't have to read all of them, just the relevant ones. And I expect a lot of them will start repeating the same information after a while. Besides," Corvo caught the sharp grin even if Daud didn't, "isn't it worth it for dear Corvo there?"

Rulfio had already crouched down behind the books when Daud twisted to glare at him, though it didn't stop him from warning, "Don't think hiding will stop me from tossing you into the flood, Rulfio."

There was an indistinct mutter from behind the books that sounded suspiciously like "try it," but Daud just rolled his eyes and padded up the stairs, sliding onto the bed as he reached it and placing the books down. Corvo leaned forward, interested, and Daud turned his head, meeting his eyes.

Birds wouldn't care about books, he reminded himself, and tried to move back nonchalantly, but Daud just reached into his pocket and offered him another peanut. Corvo took it slowly, a bit of wariness still lingering, and felt the backs Daud's fingers brush very briefly against his chest feathers before he drew back entirely. He stood stock-still for a moment, then decided to ignore it. It wasn't really worth a fuss.

"You're probably more trouble than you're worth," Daud told him lowly, cracking a book open in his lap, but there was a reluctant smile breaking through, a small, rueful curve pulling one corner of his lips up and crinkling the corners of his eyes. Corvo stared up at him for a moment, tracing the crow's feet that deepened in his humor as an odd feeling settled in his chest, and then settled down on his shoulder so he could glance down at the book as well, cracking the nut open.


Later, he realized he probably should have taken that smile as a warning, because reading books apparently gave Daud ideas.

The cessation of the high alert seemed to have eased the Whalers back into their everyday rhythm, although Corvo was oddly cognizant that he still hadn't seen Thomas for more than a few occasional seconds in passing and wondered how much hidden unease still bubbled beneath the surface. The guards at least, though still visible, reduced drastically in number.

From the consistent paperwork on Daud's desk and the verbal reports Corvo couldn't help but overhear, there was still plenty to keep the Whalers busy. Jobs ranged from sabotage and burglaries to the occasional kidnapping and beyond, as well as continuous scouting patrols searching for an elusive group of 'witches' that Corvo still hadn't managed to identify.

(Soul stealing, though. He had to wonder.)

Daud himself seemed content to remain at the base far more often now. He would still disappear at odd times and often entirely without warning, leaving Corvo to find another Whaler to pester into entertaining him. Still, he was mostly present, inviting Corvo to tag along with him as he trained and interacted with any idle men or grumbled and cursed his way through written reports before they swallowed his desk entirely.

What Corvo couldn't help but notice was just how much time Daud now spent reading.

Rulfio hadn't actually removed any of the books, or even organized them onto any of the available shelves. Instead, he'd just arranged them in smaller piles around the room until they formed a very loose, geometric maze. It was actually mildly useful, Corvo decided, as it would make sneaking across the room that much more difficult for anyone to achieve. Mostly though, he just enjoyed the show when any of the less graceful Whalers tripped over them and sent the piles - and occasionally themselves - tumbling.

The new system also left the books within easy reach from most of the room and Daud seemed to have accepted the challenge they represented, reading at a speed that Corvo found more appropriate in scholars. He usually had whichever book he was working on handy and would pull it out at idle times of the day. Location didn't seem to matter; he would fold up to sit and read on any nearby convenient surface, be it the desk in his office, the top of the bookcases in the training room, or any of the empty windowsills that littered the buildings.

Daud did have an unusual habit of leaving the books behind when he finished them, so that the piles in his office lessened as they scattered about the base. Corvo was also certain he'd seen quite a few Whalers curled up in similar positions, paging through the abandoned books with interest, so he didn't wonder about it very long.

He did his best to join Daud in this new pursuit of knowledge, clinging to his shoulder or collar as the man read so he could lean out to try and decipher the words or examine the pictures. He grew better at picking out individual words, but the pictures were still the easiest and he knew he was only learning a fraction of what he needed.

He attempted to keep the activity subtle, turning his head often to survey the room and rest his eyes. Still, with all that leaning into Daud's peripheral vision, it didn't take the man long to notice the odd behavior - it earned him a few odd looks, but Daud seemed to assume he was looking for attention rather than attempting to read. Corvo could only be thankful, especially when, as he grew frustrated and therefore restless, Daud would sometimes begin to read aloud. Presumably he thought Corvo was calmed by his voice, but whatever the intent, it did make following the information far easier.

It also meant he didn't have to lean out to see the book, as a bonus. It was with distinct embarrassment that he remembered the first and only time he'd overbalanced, somersaulting into Daud's lap with an undignified screech. He'd fluffed himself in further self-consciousness at Daud's badly muffled snort of laughter and then ignored the man completely thereafter.

(Actually, he'd ignored Daud until the assassin vanished and reappeared with an apology that badly hid his merriment and, more importantly, some of the peanuts that he now seemed to carry perpetually on his person along with a plateful of still warm blood sausage that they'd proceeded to share. Pointless details, anyway.)

Still, it was apparent in certain moments that Daud was absorbing far more information that Corvo could manage in his current form.

"Rulfio." Corvo had grown distracted enough that afternoon that Daud's voice startled him out of his quiet stupor where he rested on the desk. Daud had chosen to browse another book rather than deal with the papers that had begun to swarm again, but the font was too small and ornate for him to make out without focusing on each word for an inordinate amount of time. The illustrations could only hold his attention for so long before he retreated.

Rulfio, with a book of his own, was flat on his back with his feet propped against a bookcase in a position that looked entirely too uncomfortable for reading in Corvo's opinion. He tilted his head back, fixing Daud with a questioning, if upside-down, look. "Hmm?"

Daud pointed at Corvo, frowning slightly. "Does he look...healthy to you?"

Rulfio flipped back upright as Corvo tipped his head in confusion.

"Healthy? I haven't noticed anything going wrong with the wing if that's what you - " He stopped, his eyes narrowing, and Corvo glanced between them uncertainly. “ Oh. Damn. I'm an idiot. A blind idiot. He is definitely a bit..."

"Scruffy." Daud finished and Corvo resisted the urge to peck him indignantly. Scruffy?!

"He hasn't been preening himself?" Rulfio asked, finally pushing up to his feet and walking over.

"I've never seen him do it, but I didn't actually know to look for it." It was probably Corvo's imagination, but he thought Daud sounded mildly defensive as he laid the open book on the desk. "And then this started on about preening and baths and something involving an... oil gland?"

"Yes, they have oil glands," Rulfio agreed, ignoring the still mildly incredulous look Daud threw him. "Helps them keep their feathers smooth, waterproof, things like that, but it not going to help if he’s not cleaning at all. I wouldn't have been surprised if he refused when he was sicker, but he definitely should have started again by now."

Still startled by the entire conversation, Corvo barely noticed Daud reaching out until the assassin was already holding several of his tail feathers, smoothing them down gently between two gloved fingers before drawing back. Corvo took a small, belated step away, more out of habit than any real alarm.

"Are we supposed to help him, then?" Daud's serious face suggested that he was entirely earnest in this question and Corvo looked around surreptitiously for the nearest escape route, because no. The salve every morning was bad enough.

"I'm afraid it's not as easy as brushing the wolfhounds," Rulfio's habitual smile started to tug at his mouth, "but we can encourage him to start it himself. I have an idea - I'll need your help, if you've the time."

Daud grumbled softly under his breath, but pushed off from his desk and followed Rulfio from the room without bothering to question him further. Corvo stared after them for a moment before turning to examine his feathers a bit more critically.

He had always attempted to brush them down when they were pushed the wrong way, but he hadn't paid too much attention to the general state of them. Once he actually turned his attention to them, he had to admit that scruffy was probably an accurate description. Many spots looked rumpled rather than laying smooth and he could see something like tears in the material of some of the larger feathers.

His idea of what exactly preening entailed was very limited, but he had vague memories of watching pigeons combing through their feathers with their beaks. Plus, he didn't really have that many options. He would just have to experiment.

It did take a bit of trial and error. He tugged and shifted them experimentally and quite a few of the smaller feathers came out entirely without much urging - as well as what looked to be some dust and dirt, he noticed with chagrin -  but he started to get the knack of sorting them back into place carefully with his beak. It was a little bit like combing hair, he supposed, if far more delicate and involved. And slow.

The oil gland took longer to figure out. He understood Daud’s confusion here. He hadn’t known birds produced oil at all. Just finding it was difficult, though the book helpfully provided a few sketches to reference, and, with a bit of contorting, he managed to locate it down near his tail feathers. Applying it to his feathers was another matter entirely – and yet another exercise in frustration and confusion – but, in the end, he thought he’d gotten the gist of it down.

He wasn't actually sure he was doing any of this preening right, really, but it seemed like it would be essential to flying and therefore he was determined to master it.

Still, it was a painstaking process. He hadn't realized just how many feathers he had, some of them exceedingly small. He did his best to restore some semblance of order without having to fix every single one individually. After the third time he accidentally pulled a feather out though, sending a surprisingly painful shock crawling across his skin, he stopped and eyed the daunting amount of feathers he hadn't even touched yet.

He sighed, disgruntled, and stopped preening for the moment to rest his neck and beak. It would probably be best to do it a little bit at a time anyway.

He was practicing his climbing when Daud finally reappeared, starting at the bottom of the perch and timing how long it took him to reach the top - he'd already practiced on the stairs and hopped along the scattered piles of books, so he was fast running out of challenging practice areas. Luckily, he heard Daud's footsteps as the man approached from outside and took the time to slow down.

It didn't end up being quite as graceful as he'd planned it and when Daud came inside he was hanging mostly upside-down from a branch, flapping sporadically until he found the best method to pull himself upright again. He met Daud's raised eyebrow with a glare, daring him to laugh, but the man just shook his head and offered him an arm to step up on, his lips twitching.

They headed straight back outside and he peered about as soon as Daud moved past the first metal barrier, checking the area with interest. He couldn't see the usual sentry anywhere, but Rulfio was standing in the center of the open area with his back to them, looking down at something in front of him.

Daud spoke as he walked closer. "Wouldn't it have been easier to bring him to the water instead of dragging the water up here?"

"Oh, did you want every bored Whaler wandering about today gathering around to offer advice? Because you know what they're like." Rulfio moved and Corvo finally got a look behind him.

They'd pulled the battered sink that had hung limply off the far wall closer to the center and as Daud drew closer Corvo could see that they'd somehow managed to block the bottom off so that it held water again. There were pieces of what looked like stone layering the bottom under the standing water, enough that Corvo suspected he would be able to stand in it and still have most of his body out. That was probably the point, he realized belatedly, and wasn't sure whether to feel touched or cornered.

Daud let him off to stand on the rim of the sink, moving to the other side of the bath and sinking gracefully to crouch almost at eye level with Corvo. He watched Corvo watching him for a few moments before he turned to look at Rulfio. "He doesn't seem all that interested."

"Give it a minute."

Corvo looked down and examined the water warily. It looked clean enough, so they probably hadn't taken it straight from the floodwater below, but as nice as it might feel to bathe, he wasn't really sure how well city birds did in water. He also wasn't sure if he really wanted to find out. He shot Daud a very dubious look.

And then Daud reached out and flicked his fingers, snapping them across the surface of the water, and sending droplets flying at Corvo's face.

Corvo flinched and shook himself off instinctively, glaring at Daud in outrage. Daud only smirked and Corvo fell still as an idea reared its head. He really shouldn't. It would hardly accomplish anything and it was rather childish to boot...

Oh, why not?

He sent one clear, defiant look straight at Daud and bounded into the water, flapping his wings to propel a spray of water directly into Daud's face.

Daud recoiled, wiping the water out of his eyes with a curse and Corvo snickered, the sound emerging as rough coughs and chirrups. Daud eyed him suspiciously and they stared at each other for a silent, stretching moment.

And then Daud swatted a hand through the water, sending a small wave of it crashing into Corvo, and they were embroiled in a water fight the likes of which Corvo hadn't engaged in since Emily was five and determined to be a sea monster.

Daud had the undeniable advantage of size and range, but he wasn't making much of an effort to escape any of Corvo's smaller splashes. He just sat there and sent small waves at him that Corvo attempted ineffectually to dodge even as he leaped and flapped his wings through the water in his best effort to retaliate. It was noisy and messy, he was clearly losing, and he could barely see through the water dripping in his eyes. And it was the most honest fun he'd had in months.

He was making most of the noise himself, he realized belatedly, a raucous cawing escaping as he coughed and sputtered and laughed as best he could through it all, but underneath it all was something that it took him a few moments to identify.

Daud was laughing too.

It was quiet enough to suggest that he didn't laugh often, a rough, rumbling sound that echoed from his chest the way his usual cut-off noises of amusement never did. Corvo stopped in surprise to listen and received a face full of water for it, but he coughed out another rough, cawing laugh himself, unable to contain the bubbles of his own mirth in the face of Daud's.

"If you're quite done making a mess over there," Rulfio's voice was thick with amusement, and Corvo looked to find him perched on the broken wall furthest away from them, something pleased in the curve of his smile, "leave some water for him to actually bathe, would you?"

Daud flicked one last spray of water at him before rising and shucking his damp outer layer, leaving him in a white shirt that was only mildly wet at the collar. Corvo watched Rulfio light two cigarettes, handing one to Daud as he approached. "Here. Wind's blowing the other way, anyway."

Daud accepted it and hopped up onto wall next to him and Corvo twitched, a bit chagrined, as he asked, "Was that normal crow behavior?"

"I wouldn't have thought so, but yours is a weird one anyway." Rulfio shrugged and Corvo relaxed as Daud agreed with a huff.

They didn't appear inclined to move any time soon and so Corvo turned back to his bath. He kept some of his peripheral vision on them for a few moments, but it didn't look like he'd be missing anything important, especially when the quiet conversation ceased after a slap to the back of the head when Rulfio asked cheerfully, "So, you and Thomas still brooding instead of talking?"

Cold as the water was, he had to admit he felt a lot cleaner for the splashing about. He dunked his head a few more times, trying to wet anywhere he'd missed and cleaning himself off as best he could without his hands. Then, after ruffling his feathers up with a thorough shake, he set back to preening more vigorously, pleased with the greater ease of movement as the damp feathers fell back into place.

"That wing's healing well, if the way he was flailing about earlier is any indication. Should be back in flying shape soon, I think." Corvo heard Rulfio point out, slightly louder than before, and Daud hummed thoughtfully as Corvo twisted his head back up to look at them in surprise.

"Think we've earned enough loyalty for him to stick around?"

"You been feeding him personally?" It seemed like a bit of a random question to Corvo, but Daud just nodded.

"Whenever I have the time. Offering treats too, all of that. He has stopped flinching away, for the most part. Seems pleased enough to see me, most days." Daud tapped his cigarette against the wall, sending the ashes drifting down as he looked Corvo over speculatively. "But I suppose there's no way to know for certain until he flies off and actually comes back again."

"There's always a risk letting them go. Especially considering the way you've been going about it," Rulfio pointed out dryly and Daud scoffed, but didn't bother arguing. They both fell silent instead, looking out over the Flooded District.

Corvo blinked over at Daud for a moment, slightly amused. Daud's habit of taking meals with him suddenly made more sense. He turned away again and stretched his injured wing out, testing what he had somehow entirely missed during the water fight. He'd gotten too used to keeping the wing folded close, trying to avoid straining the bites, and he hadn't checked it nearly as often as he probably should have.

It was still a bit sore, some aches and twinges lingering, but it was now a bearable sort of soreness, the kind he was familiar with from many years of healing sword wounds. It wasn't entirely better, but it was getting there very quickly. He folded it back against his side and looked down over the metal walkways gleaming in the sun, excitement stirring at the sight of the long drop before him.

Perhaps now it was time to try flying.

Chapter Text

As tempting as it was to his usual thrill-seeking tendencies, he did not actually start practicing flight by leaping off the walkways.

It wasn’t that he hadn't thought about it, but he figured the sentries would probably try to stop him if he attempted it. They'd all developed a habit of herding him away from any dangerous drops, for which he suspected Daud was responsible. Plus, he had to admit that even his stomach dropped a little at the possibility of free falling from that height. His first attempts at flying hadn't inspired much confidence, after all.

So he began by leaping off the second floor of Daud's office instead.

The first attempt wasn't a complete disaster - he was used to jumping off of stupidly high objects by now, and the balcony was at least high enough that he had time to feel the air catch under his wings, to feel the strange lightness of his body. He was falling at an angle rather than the straight-down plummet that a human would have experienced, catching air under his wings in a way that made his brain stutter and his heart pound.

The problem was that, while he had begun the leap flapping as rhythmically as he knew how, it was hardly a habitual or instinctive movement. The moment he forgot himself and faltered, his downward angle grew steeper a bit too quickly for his taste. 

It had felt like longer in the air, but it couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds before the floor rushed up to meet him. He managed to keep his feet as he hit the ground, but it was a close thing; he was forced into stumbling, ungainly hops that made him relieved no one was in the room to witness it.

He came to a stop near the doors and shook himself out, momentarily disgruntled, but turned back with a sigh to find another vantage point and try again.

His overall progress was unfortunately slow. This was a body he was still figuring out how to use, while trying to develop a skillset he had no idea how to learn. His wing still ached when he used it too long or moved too vigorously as well, and the first few days saw only a few flying attempts.

It was enough to make him a bit worried he hadn't let it heal long enough. Not enough to stop him, of course, but he kept a close eye on it, and it was all just making him a bit…frustrated.

Cranky, Daud called it.

“I think he’s moping again.” Daud would say whenever he caught such sulking, poking at him until Corvo shook himself out of his funk, and laughing when he nipped at his fingers in retaliation.

He had kept his practices mostly hidden from the Whalers, not particularly wanting commentary on his rather spectacular falls, if he was honest. While the enforced rest periods were probably good for him, it wasn’t helping him learn any faster.

He might have continued this slow learning pace if it wasn't for the wind.

It happened unexpectedly, on a day when the breeze was strong and sharp. It was brisk enough that Corvo crouched lower on Daud's shoulder to block it out. Daud himself was forced to squint into it, blinking frequently as they made their way back from the rooftops above the mess hall, where Daud had held a quick conversation about supplies with Yuri.

Daud had stopped and kneeled to pet one of the patrolling wolfhounds, talking to the lookout responsible for handling it. Corvo - after he grew tired of being nudged cheerfully by the hound's very wet nose - gathered himself and hopped from Daud's shoulder to one of the low, sporadically placed metal walls that lined the paths.

He'd accounted for the wind as he moved, but it still threw him off, catching at his folded wings and pulling them back enough that he hit the wall at the wrong angle and nearly overbalanced. Daud steadied him with a quick hand, smirking when Corvo turned to look at him. "Graceful, featherbrain."

Corvo hissed at him lazily as the lookout snorted, turning back into the wind as an idea stirred in his head. He loosened his wings carefully, letting them dangle slightly open at his sides.

The wind caught them faster than he'd imagined and he stumbled, fighting not to fall before he managed to tuck his wings back against his sides. He gripped tighter to the barrier and tried again, flapping this time against the wind as it pushed at him. It left him half on the edge of falling over entirely, but he could feel the way his wings sliced through the active air, could feel the way each feather shifted and caught the wind when he flapped down. It started to piece together in his head, the way he would need to move his wings to get where he wanted to go.

The continuous flapping was somewhat tiring after a few minutes and he could hear laughter in the lookout's voice behind him, but he was learning here, making connections in a way that his short indoor leaps had never given him the time and distance to do.

The wall he was clinging to was made of the same metal as the walkways, if thinner and flimsier. It served well enough to perch on, but the lack of a lip at the top didn't provide much purchase to grip on. And so, when the wind changed directions with a billowing swell of air, he squawked in alarm as he lost his hold entirely and tumbled away from the path.

He righted himself as quickly as he could, leveling out a little as he flapped. There was a moment of almost-peace, as his wings caught the air and he felt as though he was floating rather than falling. And then his senses caught up with him, informing him of just how quickly he was approaching the floodwater below and he curved his wings, trying his best to turn back towards the buildings...

But no. The water was too close and there wasn't really much he could do except brace.

He hit the floodwater at speed, sending a spray of droplets flying, and almost immediately he felt the water soaking into his feathers and chilling his skin. He nearly panicked for a moment, because it immediately became apparent that crow bodies were not made for swimming, but he forced himself to calm as it became clear that he could float enough to keep his head above water.

Swimming was...difficult. Paddling with his feet did very little and while he could make progress with his wings, they weren't particularly efficient either. The best method he could figure out was a clumsy half-lunge, pushing himself forward and up out of the water repeatedly with his wings.

It was an inelegant, ineffective mess, but it was all he had at the moment.

He wasn't afraid yet - drowning seemed unlikely when he could still float rather well - but to get back up to dry land, he'd need to reach the wide stairs near the entrance to the base, and it seemed a daunting distance with his poor swimming skills.

He had to focus enough on his clumsy movements that he paid his surroundings very little mind, and so he nearly jumped out of his skin when something scooped him out of the water. He squirmed instinctively, but stopped as something hard and rather sharp pressed tighter around him.

Were those...teeth?

He glanced sideways and found himself looking directly into the right eye of the wolfhound. Its fur was plastered with water, but it seemed entirely unbothered by the wet environment, swimming with quick strokes towards the stairs to the upper levels.

Now that he knew what he was dealing with, he could identify the pulsing of its tongue under his trapped feet and the hot, rank air that blew out around his body with every panting breath. The bobbing of its head as it swam started to make him queasy, but squirming only caused its jaws to tighten.

He huffed - rescued by a wolfhound. He was never, ever, telling anyone about this.

Still, the hound seem determined to be helpful and the shore was fast approaching, so Corvo let himself lay limp in its mouth, despite the disconcerting sensation of giant teeth pressing in on him. He could see Daud and the hound's handler waiting for them on the stairs, at the edge of the water. 

The hound didn't pause to shed water when it emerged, instead trotting to the men, and offering Corvo to them with the air of a well-trained action. Daud pulled him gently from the dog's jaws and Corvo straightened, shaking himself off repeatedly until his feathers were fluffed and sticking up rather fiercely in all directions.

Daud smoothed them down again, pressing water out of them and flicking the drops off his gloves. He frowned, his voice rougher than usual as he looked down at Corvo. "What was that supposed to be, then?"

Corvo just shivered unhappily, the previously helpful wind now cutting through the soaked and clumped feathers. Daud drew him in, blocking the majority of the wind with his coat, and Corvo huddled in close, only half listening to the conversation above him as Daud walked with the Whaler and the hound back to their post. He leeched Daud's body warmth happily for a short while, before he forced himself upright and checked himself over. His feathers were unpleasantly damp and heavy, but nothing painful made itself known.

He felt a little wobbly, but overall, he decided, there was no harm done.

Daud, it seemed, was less confident of this. When Rulfio wandered by that evening, adding to the paperwork piles on Daud's desk, the master assassin quickly pulled him into examining Corvo, who sighed to himself and bore the prodding stoically as the master assassin explained the events of the afternoon.

"Well?" Daud pestered him gruffly, after Rulfio had been silent for too long. "Is there something wrong with him?"

"It's odd," Rulfio said, folding the wing gently one last time before releasing him. "I can't find anything obviously off with his wing."

"Maybe the wounds still hurt too much for him to fly properly." Daud sounded dubious of his own reasoning and Rulfio shook his head slowly.

"I don't think so. They've healed well enough that you can barely see them. Besides, I don't think he'd have been flapping so much if it pained him." Rulfio tilted his head, considering. "Actually, all that flapping does sound like the sort of behavior you see in juvenile birds, when they're first learning to fly. They'll test their wings against the wind first, try to figure out how to use them properly, before they actually try flying."

"He's a bit old for that, isn't he?"

"Far past it," Rulfio agreed, "but then, we don't know where he came from. If he was kept in a cage for most of his life..."

"Then he'd never have learned how." Daud's mouth was a flat, displeased line.

Corvo  squawked at him quietly, a bit uncomfortable with the conversation when he knew it was all entirely inaccurate. Daud only glanced at him briefly, but his face did seem to soften.

"That, or they might have kept his wings clipped. Or both. It's a common enough practice for pet birds."

"All right." Daud frowned, crossing his arms. "So, how do we teach him to fly?"

Corvo blinked at him in surprise, while Rulfio chuckled. "Well, it looks like he's already teaching himself. Still...I might have a few ideas to help him along."

"Don't you always?" Thomas' voice broke into the conversation.

Corvo turned his head, hopping up onto a stack of blank paper at the corner of Daud’s desk to watch as the Whaler paced into the room, a parchment envelope in his hands that he immediately passed off to Daud to read.

"What can I say? It's a gift." Rulfio grinned at him, glancing over the papers that Daud was reading. By his darkening look, the news wasn't positive. "Find something interesting?"

Thomas hummed neutrally in his throat. "The Abbey's council has called for the Feast of Painted Kettles."

Corvo's head came up in time with Rulfio's groan of displeasure and he fluffed his feathers, bristling unhappily. He hadn’t expected the Abbey to remain without a High Overseer forever, of course. That they'd had months of quiet after Emily's coronation had already been an unexpected boon. But did they have to choose now, of all times, to move the process forward?

"I catch any Overseers poking around here again and I'll skin them." Rulfio growled, his accent thickening and his face fierce.

"Down, Rulfio," Daud pulled his attention back, although he looked even less pleased than Rulfio did. "They're not going to waste more men after what happened last time, not without a very good reason."

Rulfio huffed, but his shoulders relaxed slightly. Corvo thought of the scattered army of Overseer corpses he'd passed by months ago and uneasily agreed with Daud's assessment.

"Lawrence sent that along this morning,” Thomas continued, jerking his head at the papers, "and I sent Andrei and Coleman to meet with him in a few hours. Should give us more information."

Daud hummed and dropped the papers he was reading on the desk - on top was the official pronouncement that would be posted in heavily populated areas, but Corvo caught a glimpse of unfamiliar handwriting on the papers under that.

Daud was pulling a pen out of his desk now, though, casting around for a clean sheet of paper to start his own notes, and Corvo sidestepped off the paper before Daud could think about shooing him off. Daud paused for a moment, quirking a brow at him, before sliding off an empty sheet. “Thank you.”

Corvo chirped back at him, inexplicably amused.

"I'd swear to the Void that thing understands us sometimes," Corvo caught Thomas' quiet voice in the background and Rulfio snorted, muttering something indecipherable back at him.

Daud ignored them both and continued the conversation, sounding as though he was half speaking to himself. "I suppose it's not surprising they'd make their move now. But I wonder what finally tipped the balance..."

"I was wondering why they were taking so long in the first place." Rulfio added, still sounding severely displeased with the entire thing.

"Too much infighting, from the sound of it; they kept holding off the vote. And no one wanted to risk taking the job when their order's position with the new Empress was so uncertain." Thomas offered. "Everyone knows what Attano did to Campbell, even if the nobles like to pretend otherwise, and I imagine Martin's quick reign didn't reassure anyone."

The absence of that special little black book probably hadn’t helped their unease either. Corvo was still a little smug about that - he’d rather enjoyed burning it.

"So they'll take advantage of his absence and offer their aid. Try to pull the Abbey back into the Empress' good graces." Daud was writing something now, a thoughtful frown pulling his lips down. "What do we know about the candidates?"

"Two named Barnham and Mallas are the main contenders, from the sound of it. Not much information on either of them, but we’re on it."

"Good. I'll leave you in charge of that. Keep a close eye on it - I want to know when they decide." Daud told him, glancing up from his writing for a moment.

"Word will come straight to me when we learn something." Thomas acknowledged with a nod and scooped up a nearby book, leaning back against a nearby shelf as he thumbed through it curiously. He was seemingly content to remain nearby now that his news was delivered and Daud didn't appear to mind at all. Whatever tension had lingered between them, it now looked to have dissipated.

Corvo eyed them both speculatively before turning back to the everlasting task of fixing his mussed feathers, head turning with his own thoughts.


He knew better than to expect his new idea of practicing with the wind to be a magical cure to his flying troubles. There was still a learning curve here that he was going to have to figure out. But he had  hopes that, at the very least, he had found a faster way to get where he needed to go.

And indeed, it grew easier. Flapping took some work - if felt somewhat like flailing his arms during a long fall, an instinct that he'd taken care to train himself out of. As he got a feel for catching the air, though, the movement started to feel more natural.

That, and he knew the value of pure, endless repetition from the beginning of his training, so many years ago.

The empty windows were a perfect place to practice. There were enough of them that he could almost always catch the direction of the wind, and he could grip the ledge to avoid a repeat of the first time. It was one of the first times he'd ever thought to be grateful for Gristol's unfortunate weather. While the rain still wasn't pleasant, there were also many windy days for him to use to practice.

They weren’t the only chance he had, either. It took a couple of days this time for Rulfio to set his newest idea into practice, after a short period where he was absent from the base (along with Daud and Thomas, and Corvo suspected they were possibly more wary of the Overseers than they might be willing to admit aloud). 

Whatever the cause of their absences, it didn’t last particularly long. Corvo finally caught Daud sleeping again at the tail end of it, flopped haphazardly across his bed with only his coat and boots removed, snoring faintly in the small hours of the morning.

Familiar voices woke him out of his own slumber the next morning.

" - sure this is a good idea?" Daud's voice projected out, identifying him before he strode through the glass doors with a plate in his hands and Rulfio on his heels. Thomas wandered in behind them, nonchalant, separating to go sit by the stairs even as he looked on in interest.

"Well, I've never tried it, but that's one of the ways their mothers teach them in the wild. And if he’s already starting to learn, he shouldn’t need much encouragement." Rulfio shrugged and then nudged Daud with his elbow. “He’s probably going to crash, you know. Falling’s an expected part of the process, but it doesn’t usually hurt them.”

“All right…” Daud shot him an impatiently questioning look.

“I think he’s warning you not to panic.” Thomas piped up from his perch on the staircase railing.

“I don’t panic – ”

“Well, maybe not,” Rulfio soothed, his face sweetly innocent, “but you do have a tendency to fuss – ”

Daud clipped his ear, scowling, and Rulfio ducked away as he laughed, before he returned to push at Daud’s shoulder lazily. “Go on, then!"

Daud sighed, but walked over and offered Corvo a few pieces of the meat he was carrying. Corvo accepted the first few, hungry enough not to care overmuch about whatever they were planning and willing to follow Daud's hand to the end of the perch.

Then Daud stepped back farther, a few short feet between them even though he was still holding out the food, and Corvo understood the concept. He was supposed to want the food enough to leave the perch and fly for it. He huffed at them, unamused.

He was hungry, though. And food had always been a weakness in his self-control, honestly.

Rulfio was frowning as his hesitation lengthened, disappointment starting to creep in, and Corvo sighed to himself. They were only trying to help, after all, and any way he could practice his flying was probably something he should do, at this point.

And so, he took off from the perch, savoring the swoop of his stomach as he dropped and the air billowing under his wings as he rose back up.

Landing on Daud's arm was more difficult than landing on the ground. His control was still dubious, and he had to slow himself down and bring his feet up into the right position if he wanted to perch on something from flight. Still, he gave it his best try - he nearly overshot, but Daud moved to compensate and he managed to grab on rather clumsily, flapping his wings a bit to balance as he gripped Daud's wrist.

The surprised smile Daud gave him when he righted himself made it seem strangely worth the effort. The meat didn't hurt either.

"There, see?" Rulfio drawled. "He didn't even fall."

"All that internal fussing for nothing." Thomas agreed.

Daud chucked raw meat at them both and they vanished, snickering. Corvo squawked at the wasted food, still hungry, and Daud placed him on the table with the plate.

"Well done, featherbrain," he said, and followed after his subordinates before Corvo could nip him in retaliation. Even if the compliment had sounded sincere.

He really should have known better than to encourage them all, of course. Once word got around, it seemed the rest of the Whalers got involved.

Instead of handing him off wrist to wrist when he traveled with them, they stayed farther apart now, one holding him out while the other called him over with soft words or a treat pulled from a coat pocket. It was mildly amusing to watch, but it also helped him with his aim as he tried to land on their wrists. Plus, with all the practice he was getting, it was only a few short days before he was supremely more confident  in his wings - on short, careful flights, at least. Which meant it was time to head outside and test himself a bit.

He stayed far away from the floodwater at first. He had no desire to repeat his earlier fall and he knew better than to test his wings there just yet. He worked on flying up instead, on lifting off from the ground rather than falling off of the nearest ledge. The lookout outside of Daud's office served well enough as a practice arena for this. For once, he left the sentries alone and focused on flying up to the highest fireplace.

It took him some time, but eventually he determined that a hop straight upwards paired with strong downbeats of his wings was usually enough to get him off the ground.

"Finally figured out what your wings are for?" One of the sentries laughed at him when he reached the fireplace for the first time and screeched triumphantly. He made sure to slap them with a wing on his way back down, snickering as they cursed him good-naturedly.

He moved to longer distances next, flitting from wall to crumbling wall or across the rooftops of the nearby buildings. Turning in the air was still difficult, and sent him tumbling on occasion, but he was learning quickly, using each feather as best he could. The more he practiced, the shorter the distances seemed, and his wings felt stronger and more controllable with each jump.

He no longer had to rely on the Whalers to make it around the base, though some of them cheered him on with laughs and compliments when they caught him at his clumsy practice, and they were always more than happy to offer him a shoulder to rest on.

This newfound freedom meant he could seek out the bone song he hadn't been able to reach before.

The building he thought it was coming from was one he remembered from before. It was directly across from the window entrance to the base, past the lookout point and the ruins in the middle. The Whalers had blocked off the doors to the lower level since he'd been in it months ago, but the top floor was open to those with the power to reach it.

The upper floor was empty when he perched on the windowsill, but the song - closer to a roar now that he was close, a rolling wave of sound and magic that rang in his ears - echoed up the curving stairs and so he swooped down to the lower floors. There, he perched on the lowest post of the stairs and stared in something close to awe.

Bone charms covered every available surface, tucked away in shallow containers or spread across shelves. The sheer amount of magic shimmering up made the room seem warped with darkness, glittering and flowing in time with the throbbing, hissing music. He had the beginnings of a collection back with his gear, of course, but he’d never imagined one this large.

It was an armory, he realized. A witch's armory, where they could pick up a charm that suited their task the way an ordinary man might restock bullets or grenades.

He let the music wash over him in chilling, exhilarating waves until his head began to ache, and then he dragged himself from his perch. He had to search the room by sight rather than sound, but he did manage to find the runes he had been hoping for in the end.

There were only two of them, set apart from the charms and rather liberally covered in dust. He was disappointed, but supposed he understood. Runes were only useful to a point, and it seemed likely that Daud, as the only one with a true mark, would be the only one who could actually absorb them. There wasn't much incentive for the Whalers to collect them.

He hopped onto both runes and watched them dissolve into ash. As neglected as they were, he was nearly certain that no one would notice or care overmuch about their absence. He waited hopefully, but although he could feel the magic starting to build up, no new powers made themselves known.

He'd need a few more runes first, then. He sighed to himself. Of course.

He spent the rest of the day zig-zagging around the base, moving from sentry to sentry. He made sure several of these flight paths took him over the floodwater below, until he was satisfied that it posed no threat, and listened to the gossip all the Whalers tended to exchange.

“…need the layout memorized by tomorrow if you’re making the run to the White estate with us.” This from a small group making their way up the pathways, and he cawed out a greeting when he heard Pavel’s voice respond to the first speaker. He landed on the recruit’s shoulder to say hello and listened as they discussed strategies, leaving again when the group broke up.

“Go bother Yuri.” A lookout shooed him off when he fluttered up to visit them on the higher rooftops. “They pulled in hagfish for dinner today. He’d probably let you have the guts.”

He coughed in disgust and left to circle the entrance as an incoming team of Whalers passed by, slipping past the other lookouts with short words exchanged.

“…said Mallas is finally in as High Overseer,” one of them informed another, and Corvo echoed their displeased grumbles in his head, taking off again to work out his frustration.

He caught sight of Daud as the man slipped out the window, walking and conversing with two other Whalers. He curved away from the rooftop he’d been aiming for and dove down, enjoying the rush of adrenaline as the wind whipped around him.

The ground still felt like it was approaching a bit too fast for comfort, but his flapping was rhythmic and for once he felt actually in control of the descent.

He hit the back of the man's shoulder with a graceless whomp, landing slightly too low and slapping the back of Daud's head a few times as he flapped his wings frantically to pull himself up. Daud ducked his head down and hissed out a curse, but other than the initial flinch he kept his shoulder still and allowed Corvo to find his way upright.

Corvo rustled his feathers, embarrassed, and gargled an indistinct noise at Daud, half apology and half-uncontrollable excitement. Daud just scowled at him and flattened his rumpled hair back down, shaking his head as the Whalers laughed. "If that's the best you can manage, you're not going to be landing on me."

Corvo shrugged off the grumbling and fixed his feathers, plans turning over themselves in his head as his heart thumped delightfully fast in his chest.

Daud left the base early the next morning, slipping to the head of an outgoing group. Corvo fluttered to the glassless windows over the stairs and watched them leave down the catwalk, impatience and anticipation bubbling inside. Then the patrol was gone, the base below was still, and he stepped to the edge and leaped.

He caught the slight breeze and went up instead of down, swallowing down an elated call as his stomach swooped and his heartbeat stuttered. He climbed quickly past the tops of the buildings towards the gloomy cloud cover looming overhead, dipping a wing and curving around to circle the base once he got high enough - still uncertain, still clumsy, but he didn’t feel any real need to land.

Unless his wings got tired of flapping, he felt as though he could ride the wind indefinitely.

He enjoyed the flight a while longer, following any breezes or updrafts that he came by, before he finally swooped low and alighted on the crown of the Empress statue, pulling back from the edge of it as he wobbled ever so slightly upon landing. Still, it was a decided improvement over his landings even yesterday, and he hopped in place, the excitement bubbling inside him too bright to contain entirely. There were no more doubts about it - he could fly.

He could leave now.

The thought was oddly sobering and his jubilant attitude cooled back into a more serious state. He'd been waiting weeks for this, for his wings to be steady enough that he wasn't likely to fall out of the sky. He thought he could manage it, but he wouldn't have any wolfhounds to fish him out this time if anything went wrong out there.

Corvo shifted, considering carefully, but set his shoulders in determination after only a moment. He knew the basics and that would have to be enough - he didn't have time for caution now.

He needed to fix this, he needed to find Granny Rags, and he needed to check on Emily and make sure she was safe.

He lifted carefully off his perch, dropping into a dive that made his heart leap before he evened out over the water and swooped back up past the catwalks to circle again over the now-familiar crumbling buildings. It felt somehow like a goodbye, a bittersweet tugging at his insides that managed to surprise him.

He only indulged the feeling for a moment before he turned and flew onwards, curling in an easy circle over the entrance and making straight for the Rudshore gate. There was really no reason to mope, he reminded himself. Daud clearly wasn't about to leave the city, which meant that they'd see each other again.

Corvo was quite sure of it.


The lingering cloud cover dissipated as he made his way out of the Flooded District, and he could only be relieved at the lack of rain and the mild wind. The city looked normal and yet somehow not, his new bird’s eye view enough to make him look twice.

The announcements still rang out periodically as he passed through, a familiar counterpoint to his journey, even if the content was different. He kept an ear out for them as he flew, eager for information, but much of what he heard simply echoed the reports he’d heard from the Whalers.

“…citizens: The Ascendancy Circle has chosen Erwin Mallas to be High Overseer. Let us all praise their choice. The Dance of Investiture will…

He made a disapproving noise in his throat as the message rang out and flew on, hitting the mouth of the Wrenhaven and banking west. He was unwilling to risk flying across the long stretch of open water on unfamiliar winds, without anywhere to perch in an emergency, and so he headed for the bridge instead, deciding to use it as a crossing point.

“…Protector, Corvo Attano, is still missing. Any person with information that leads to his discovery will be granted a substantial reward. Please speak…

He listened sadly to that announcement, but didn’t stop to hear the ending. It was nothing he didn’t already know.

Kaldwin's Bridge looked small below him and he felt like chuckling as he remembered his amazement at the height of it, during the first and only time he'd climbed up to the top. He swooped into a steep dive on the other side just for the fun of it, laughing into the wind. The Tower loomed soon enough and he circled around it once, checking that the defenses hadn't lapsed in his absence, but the guards were all where they should have been. The security had tightened, even, and he could only approve.

The pavilion in the back gardens was silent, both the guards and the servants sticking to the main paths when they passed by. He fluttered to the edge of the roof and looked down to Jessamine's grave for a moment, the familiar wash of grief stinging his insides anew. Someone - most likely Emily - had assumed his habit of leaving fresh flowers.

The Whaler sword was still there as well, half-hidden along the edge of the grave. It was nearly invisible if one didn't know to look for it.

He'd spotted it when it had first appeared, of course, but something had stayed his hand from disposing of it and he'd just left it there. Apparently everyone had followed his lead. The wear of sitting out in all weather was starting to show, peeling the whale skin-wrapped hilt and dulling the blade.

He'd assumed Daud had meant it as a signal, a reassurance that he had left the city in lieu of actual contact. That clearly wasn't the case now, but he was certain Daud wouldn't have done it without some kind of reason. Or maybe it wasn't Daud's sword at all - the man still carried one, after all.

He wished he could ask, now.

He circled closer to the Tower, looking for a way in, but while he approved of the security on principle, there were a distinct lack of open doors or windows for him to make use of, and he'd closed off the vents himself. He'd passed by the front door a second time when reflected light caught his eye, sunlight glittering on gold-bronze masks.

There were Overseers at the Tower.

He curved back around, landing on one of the few tall, bushy trees that decorated the path to the stairs. He leaned out from the cover of the leaves to take in the scene, eyeing the stationary figures unhappily.

There were only two of them, standing stiffly together in front of a dark metal railcar. They didn't appear inclined to move any time soon, but where there were two, there were likely more. Corvo checked the nearby area, though all he saw were the usual guards. They, at least, kept themselves clearly separate from the Overseers, a wary gap of institutional rivalry between them that neither side looked willing to cross. These visits likely weren’t common, then, as the guards used to act fairly familiar with Overseers they knew.

Still, the waiting railcar and the Overseers' dignified parade rests - all so familiar from Campbell's many visits - turned Corvo's excitement over into a creeping trepidation.

The front doors of the palace remained as impenetrable as they had the first time he'd been locked outside of them and so he dropped off his perch and moved on. The wing beats drew the attention of one of the Overseers, the mask gleaming dully when the man's head moved, but by the time he turned fully Corvo had curved up around the building and out of sight.

He had an unfortunate feeling that he already knew where to find Emily and he was, unhappily, right.

The Tower had many different meeting rooms, each with its own specific purpose depending on the impression one wished to give; whether the Empress was greeting a friend or a stranger, whether she wanted to intimidate or encourage.

Corvo landed outside the windows of the main East meeting room - among the largest in the Tower, it was expensively and deliberately decorated. From the careful lighting to the uncomfortable chairs, it was designed to subtly intimidate. Balanced on the small ledge outside the meeting room windows, he peered inside with one eyes pressed close to the glass.

And there, at the head of the table with her advisors beside her, was Emily.

She'd cut her hair short. It was an odd thing to focus on, he knew, but he couldn't help it all the same. She looked rather boyish at first glance now, especially since she'd replaced her favorite frilly white garments with well-tailored dove grey and blue. She'd gotten visibly taller too, just in the time he'd been missing, her frame starting to show a lankiness that spoke well of her future height.

The effect altogether blurred the true youth of her age, emphasizing her height and the shadows of her features, giving her face a gravity that he'd rarely seen on her before.

She looked tired.

The new High Overseer sat across from her in the usual high-backed, uncomfortable chairs, a pair of Overseers flanking him in mirror to Emily’s advisors. He was a small man, almost overwhelmed by the office’s uniform – the coat, a lighter shade of red than Daud’s, contrasted unpleasantly with his pale red hair and only highlighted the pasty color of his gaunt face.

He was the one speaking currently, gesturing importantly as he did so, but Corvo could not hear more than the barest of vibrations through the thick glass. He eyed the man, memorizing his face, before he fluttered away from his perch. He checked thoroughly, but none of the tall windows of the meeting room were made to open, and the rooms nearby looked mostly unused, with the windows correspondingly shut tight. There was no way inside here, even just to listen in. He sighed and landed back on his perch, peering into the room again at Emily.

She was clearly engaged in the meeting, hands folded in her lap as she focused impassively on the High Overseer' message. He seen her hold court before, of course, but she'd tackled it with the same enthusiasm and energy she used to greet most things. Getting her to sit still on her throne for long had always been a feat.

Looking at her now, regal and still, it was clear how his disappearance had sobered her. And he hated it.

He warred with himself for a moment, all the courses of action he'd been considering hovering in the back of his mind, and then reached out and tapped gently on the glass with his beak.

He didn't get more than a dismissive glance from the Overseers, but Emily glanced up, catching the noise, and their eyes met through the glass.

And again, he remembered a time, not so long ago, when a bird or a squirrel on the windowsill would have distracted her from serious matters entirely, would have brightened her eyes and sent her feet bouncing, if it didn't pull her away from her chair entirely. Her attention was caught - her eyes lingered, tracing over his rumpled feathers - but she revealed none of her old excitement.

She did smile once, a small, quiet thing that softened her face for the first time, but then she turned back to the gathering at the table, focusing on the discussion at hand with an emotionless determination.

He watched her from the windows, thinking and rethinking.

He could find a way to tell her who he was. Words were difficult in this shape, but his claws were nimble enough that he could probably form words in ink or dirt or even wood if he had to. In fact, Emily was a bright girl - he could probably just lead her back to his old room and convince her through a short game of charades.

There was no question that he could manage something, but...she was sitting at a table with the new High Overseer of the Abbey. This man was not an enemy she could afford to make.

The Abbey hadn't outright denounced him as a heretic in the months following Emily's coronation, but his abilities were a very thinly veiled secret among most of the city. He expected most of their silence came from wariness and a temporary lack of power after the loss of their leaders.

If he made himself known to Emily, she would definitely insist on helping him. Either she’d sneak away from the Tower to do so on her own, a dangerous, foolish outcome that he would fight tooth and claw to prevent her from doing, or she would, in turn, would need to inform other adults of at least some part of the situation. And even if she only ordered them to find Granny Rags, with no other revealing information, he could only see trouble. Granny could and would slaughter any normal guards sent her way. This left the Overseers.

If they caught Granny without further orders, they would either torture and kill her, or she would burn the Abbey to the ground, and likely take part of the city down with it. Then again, even if Emily told them the whole truth, of his curse and the information he needed...well, that would probably make things worse.

The Abbey didn't seek to help those they believed to be influenced by the Outsider. They despised him already, and if they knew the truth of his current form, they would do everything they could to execute him in the name of "freeing" him from the Outsider's control. And Emily would never stand for that.

He couldn't see any way this would end well, no matter how he looked at it.

He could find a way to tell her. He wanted to tell her. But it looked likely to do more harm than good at this point in time, and he wasn't willing to watch her set herself against what were, in truth, his enemies. Not when he wasn't there to fight with her.

He dropped from the windowsill, catching the wind and lifting away from the Tower far faster than he'd approached it. There was no point in searching out his quarters - he wouldn't be able to handle the equipment even if he could make it inside.

Instead, he curled back southeast towards the river after a moment's thought, arrowing towards the Distillery District with a single-minded focus.

He needed to find Granny Rags.


He spent the first night in the shelter of an empty tunnel, frustrated after hours of fruitless searching. Granny's house in the Distillery District had served as his starting point mostly for lack of a better idea. The building still stood empty, a rather ominous sign considering the slow repopulation of the rest of the district. He'd swept past plenty of buildings warm with firelight and music before reaching the cold, burnt alley.

The area had appeared entirely unchanged, despite the fact that he knew the Watch had inspected and marked the building after he'd cleared it. It had kept him wary as he looked around, but no matter how long he waited - even when he alighted in the destroyed circle to get a closer look at the remaining symbols - Granny Rags never appeared.

A peek through the keyhole of the back door as he perched and contorted carefully on the doorknob had revealed only darkness and dust on the inside and so he'd given up, leaving the alley behind to check other likely locations.

The passage from the Golden Cat stood equally empty, the bodies and filth cleared away. The Watch had clearly already been by to catch and clean up after the weepers.

Dusk was falling by the time he'd finished there and so he gave Clavering Boulevard a quick, unenthusiastic sweep and then landed back in the tunnel, taking refuge near the back. Most of the old food left there was canned, but he lucked out with a dusty old loaf of bread - nearly rock hard, but surprisingly still edible.

On the second day, he found the collapsed sinkhole that lead to the flooded entrance of Granny's sewer hideout. He was small enough to slip easily through the barred door and he flitted through the small cavern as quietly as he could. The cauldron had burned dry, whatever disturbing substance Granny had left bubbling in there now caked to the sides in a black tar.

There was, however, a rune laying in the ashes underneath it, as his Dark Vision informed him when he took a closer look. He pulled it closer and it dissolved into him, but this time he could feel the power building up. It seemed he'd finally collected enough.

Instead of a tingling in his feet or wings, though, where he expected to regain his ability to Blink, there was something building up in his lungs and throat, a hot and stinging pressure. He held his breath for as long as possible, unsure of what he was waiting for, but eventually he had to let it loose.

What emerged was an unholy shriek, and a blast of air that slammed into the cauldron in front of him, shattering the cage of bones around it and smashing it into the opposite wall.

He stared, shocked, at the dented pot as it rolled to a stop, his ears ringing painfully from the reverberating echoes of his own voice. He'd never used his wind powers much as a human, but this seemed even more powerful than he remembered. And as a small bird with few other defenses, it was an unexpected boon.

It would almost definitely be useful later.

He returned to his search and scoured the decorated room as thoroughly as he could for any kind of clue as to her whereabouts, but although there were still plenty of rats lurking in dark spaces, nothing gave him so much as a hint.

Well, perhaps it had been a bit too optimistic to expect her to return to previous haunts, especially considering her habit of wandering. And honestly, he had expected to end up in the sewers at some point, even if he'd hoped otherwise.

And so, he traveled back inland, searching for any open entrances to the sewers.

He ducked into the first one he found and immediately regretted it. The walls were wet and narrow enough that maneuvering during flight became rather tighter than he had ever practiced back at the Flooded District. It was also dark enough that his crow eyes were at a distinct disadvantage and he resorted to Dark Vision almost immediately, blinking continuously to keep it active.

The sewers looked uninviting enough as a human. As a bird, they looked like a terrible, terrible idea, but he squared his shoulders and took off down the tunnel.

The crowded walls he could live with. He bounced off them a few times and often brushed uncomfortably close, but he was getting far better the more he practiced and it was teaching him to move in ways he hadn't considered before.

He had less tolerance for the rats, considering his most recent experiences with them, but they were mostly manageable. The hungry swarms had lessened - though not vanished entirely, as he learned when he settled momentarily too close to the ground and suddenly had a boiling mass of fur and teeth snapping at his tail. But as long as he stayed high, he didn't have to worry too much, and he had his blasting scream as a last resort even if it hurt his ears in close quarters.

It was when a sizzling ball of acid the size of his whole body flew past his face that he began wonder if he had bitten off more than he could chew.

He spun and pelted back down the corridor he'd emerged from, only peering around the corner warily when the aggressive barrage stopped. The krusts were closed again, though he could hear them hissing and gurgling angrily from where he sat.

Well, it was lucky he’d picked up that rune.

He pulled in a deep breath and bolted down the corridor, flapping hard and moving straight for his destination, pulling in deep breaths as he went. The krusts broke open, disgorging a volley of defensive shots at him, but he stayed ahead of their aim where possible, ducking and dodging where necessary, and made it near enough.

He pulled one last, swelling breath as he flashed up in front of them, feeling it build like a drumbeat in his lungs and throat, and then let loose.

The wind wasn’t enough to blast apart their defensive shells, but it did crack them off their stalks, sending them tumbling away. He crowed to himself with satisfaction, even if he could barely hear it over the reverberating echoes, and turned back to the passage he had been aiming to explore.

The fury he felt when said passage dead-ended and he realized all the risk had been for nothing took a long time to fade. It was evening by the time he made it back to the surface, and he was no closer to his goal than before, making sleep an uneasy affair.

The third day only brought more frustration. He ducked into abandoned dwellings and sewers and found dust and dead ends. There was a thick cloud bank gathering on the horizon, threatening the next rainstorm, and the heavy wind often blew him off course. It was terribly slow going, altogether. The only positive signs he ever found were the occasional shrines, hidden away in dilapidated corners that the Watch either had not reached or did not want to deal with.

Most of the shrines looked long abandoned, their oil lamps burned out and the dull curtains askew or in tatters. The latest, at least, yielded a bone charm, which whispered that it would speed his movements if he stayed in the shadows. He might have been interested as a human, but as a bird it was a rather useless gift, especially considering he had no way to carry the charm with him except in his claws.

The shadows were long across the apartment floor, late afternoon creeping towards evening, and he felt no closer than when he'd begun. Searching an entire city would have taken long enough at his full size, but like this...the world was too large, his fastest speed not enough to counterbalance it, and tackling the sewers as a bird seemed to be just asking for a bloody end.

No, he needed someone else for this work, and he did know quite a few people who made a habit of running about both on the rooftops and in the sewers, didn't he?

He sighed. It felt distastefully like surrender, the idea of just retreating back to the Whalers when he'd spent so much time just waiting to be able to leave. Still, he was hungry and tired, and not so stubborn that he would insist on continuing the search on his own when he had a better method at hand.

He considered the bone charm he was perched on for a moment, about to leave it behind, before he realized something obvious. He gripped the prongs carefully and brought it up with him. Taking off was a new challenge with the added encumbrance, but, after an alarming dip towards the floor, he straightened out and swept through the window, determined to make it back with the charm intact.

After all, he knew someone who could make use of it.


The sun was halfway set by the time he made it back into the Flooded District; it illuminated the incoming clouds in pink and gold, the drowned corridor burning in reflection. He kept high above the rooftops, picking out the dark uniforms of the wandering sentries against the blur of color surrounding them as they moved along their patrols.

He swooped lower, considering where to look first, though it turned out he didn't have to go very far.

Daud's coat was a blaze of red to his eyes, demarking him clearly in the bright light of the evening. He was sitting above his office, delicately balanced on the brink of the exposed beams that edged the damage, by all appearances simply smoking and brooding. Corvo hovered for a moment, mildly uncertain of how exactly to proceed, before he realized that he had a perfect way to get the assassin's attention and dove low, releasing the bone charm.

He'd timed it right and the charm fell directly into Daud's lap, barely missing his head on the way down. The assassin flinched violently, jerking his head down to stare at the charm and then up, tracking Corvo's progress as he circled overhead. He was too far away to read Daud's expression, but after a second Daud extended his arm in a clear invitation.

Corvo maneuvered carefully as he dived, watching his speed and his trajectory, and the pride he felt when he managed to alight without a single stumble on Daud's outstretched arm almost surprised him with its strength. He cawed a greeting at Daud, feeling rather benevolent towards the man's scarred visage as he finally got to rest his wings.

Daud scowled down at him, looking rather more disgruntled than angry. "It's about time, featherbrain. We were starting to think something had eaten you."

There was something suspiciously like relief peering out from under that scowl and Corvo tipped his head to the side, feeling somewhere between guilty and touched. Daud had worried for him, and while it wasn’t even that surprising anymore, it was still...odd.

Daud ground his cigarette out on the metal beneath him, before he picked up and weighed the bone charm in his hand. Then he shifted suddenly, reaching into a front pocket and pulling out a peanut that he offered to Corvo. Corvo resisted a strange urge to laugh. "No idea where you picked this up, but Rulfio would insist I reward it, I suppose. Encourage the behavior, even if you did take your time coming back."

Corvo tore into the nut happily, reminded again of his grumbling stomach, and nearly missed it when Daud slowly reached out his free hand. Corvo watched him, but didn't move away. He tried not to think too closely on why.

Daud smoothed a slow, firm line down his back, careful not to overly muss his feathers. When Corvo didn't bite or back up, he did it again, keeping his petting to gentle, rhythmic strokes. Corvo finished the nut and tilted his head, considering Daud's attention. It was mildly awkward if he thought about it too long, but actually vaguely pleasant in itself.

Then the fingers stopped and moved up, digging gently into the short feathers at the back of his head and behind his cheeks and oh...

Corvo arched his back and pressed into it almost unconsciously, his eyes falling shut, though he managed to stop himself from making any noise. It was difficult to reach that spot as a bird, and Daud scratching at it now felt somewhere between soothing an unreachable itch and receiving a much needed massage. His skin was tingling, his muscles were slowly relaxing into mush, and he sighed.

This should probably feel absolutely humiliating, and he really didn't care.

He'd somewhat lost track of the time when Daud finally withdrew his hand with one final soft stroke down his back. He blinked up at Daud, his thoughts oddly muzzy and slow, as the assassin leaned back and looked down at him, resting his wrist on his knee.

"Good to have you back." Daud told him, as seriously as he might have spoken to one of his own men even as his lips tilted up at the corners, and Corvo danced from foot to foot uncomfortably, his heart beating too hard in his chest.

He broke eye contact and climbed up Daud's arm instead, giving his feet something to do since Daud seemed content to sit there for the time being. He couldn't see the rest of the base from their position, but he could watch the last of the light slip below the horizon, and he could plan.

Because he needed to think, very seriously, about how long he was willing to keep flying this alone, before he gave in and told Daud what had happened.

He hadn't wanted it to come to this, of course, but he wasn't a fool. He was very nearly out of options. Between Daud and Emily, Daud was far better equipped to protect himself, as well as to solve the problem. If anyone in this city had a chance of helping him reverse this, it was Daud. It was becoming more a matter of when rather than if.

He seemed to be making a habit of pushing off this decision, but there was still that last lingering bit of reluctance, surprisingly strong. Some of it was still pride, perhaps, but the relief Daud had showed was now nagging at the back of his brain as well. Daud cared about what happened to him, but it was the bird Corvo he cared about.

And one way or another, the bird was going to leave.

When he’d let Daud take him home all those weeks ago, he somehow hadn’t considered that the assassin might get attached. Hadn’t considered that Daud might get hurt. Even stranger was the realization that he didn’t want that.

Still...he would need to do it soon, if running the sewers with the Whalers didn’t turn up anything useful. It would be the Month of Rain in a little over a week, he knew; he’d kept an eye on the water-stained calendar Daud left lying around in his office.

If he hadn’t found anything by then, he decided, he would talk to Daud.

His choice made, he sighed and shook himself, ruffling his feathers back up and chilling his skin. Before he did anything else, there was the rather pressing matter of his unhappily growling stomach that he wanted to deal with, anyway.

He was getting tired of working without a voice, but this problem, at least, seemed easy to solve. He clambered nimbly partway down Daud's arm, sticking his head into the small front pocket where he now knew the assassin was still carrying peanuts, and snagged one before Daud could shoo him away. He ripped through it quickly, eyeing Daud as he did so, hinting as hard as he could.

Daud scoffed at him, the derisiveness of it softened by the easy slope of his posture and the amusement coloring his face. "Ah, I should have known. You only came home for the food, didn't you?"

Corvo finished the nut and grumbled back at him, unable to be too offended when it had at least some truth to it. He clung to the assassin's shoulder as he rose, uninterested in flying after three days of tiring exploration. It meant he would have hold on through Daud's Blinks, but it would get him into the base all the same.

Home, Daud had called it.

For a moment Corvo amused himself with a vision of Emily dashing around the dilapidated base, pulling the other children into games of hide-and-seek or cajoling piggyback rides from the lookouts. Then he shook himself, ruffling his feathers up at the utter ridiculousness. He couldn't afford to get too comfortable here.

Still, there was safety and warmth for him among the assassins, as odd as that would have been to consider not so long ago. He couldn't deny an ever-growing fondness for this destroyed, dangerous place and the equally dangerous individuals that inhabited it.

Oh, there was going to be trouble when all of this was over, he just knew it.

Daud simply went straight down through the ruined roof, landing near the top of the stairs, in front of the immaculate bed. He hesitated there, flipping the prongs of the bone charm around his fingers, before he turned to the chest at the foot of the bed. Corvo rustled his wings and croaked grumpily, his empty stomach aching at him, and Daud cut him a glance. "Oh, hush. I promise we'll get you food, you glutton."

Corvo nipped at the tip of his ear in retaliation, bouncing across the back of Daud's shoulders to escape when the man flicked at his beak in return.

He glanced down into the chest as Daud dropped the bone charm in, looking over an organized collection of bones, letters, and small scattered objects that looked rather more personal than the contents of the chest downstairs. Something caught his eye; he paused, blinking, gripping tightly to Daud's coat so he could lean down to confirm what he thought he'd seen.

And there, tucked away in the chest with the other valuables, at the edge of the cushioning cloth layered inside, was a long, sleek black feather.

 

Chapter Text

"Sit still, ye damn overblown feather duster!"

Corvo snapped at the hands reaching for him, hopping back across Daud's desk, away from the Whaler standing next to his perch. After a few full meals and some uninterrupted sleep, he was feeling much brighter that he had last night upon returning from his first search. Still, his current contentment was not enough to make him permissive to this kind of behavior.

The Whaler responsible for said behavior had come in with Daud only moments ago, unmasked and mildly damp from the rather fierce rainstorm that must have brewed and broken in the early hours of the morning. Daud, on the other hand, had been clearly soaked through and had headed straight for the second floor, leaving the other Whaler down with Corvo.

And that was where this trouble had started. The man was clearly here for a reason – he'd come straight to Corvo, looking him over with sharp, bright eyes. He'd tried to pick him up almost immediately afterwards though, graceless and rather presumptive in his attempt when he clearly had very little idea what he was doing.

Corvo had shaken him off and retreated, irritated, but this was clearly one of those people who had trouble understanding refusals.

As the Whaler reached out yet again, Corvo lowered his head and bristled, loosening his wings and puffing all his feathers out as he clicked his beak. Of course, he had a bad feeling that the result was more fluffy than intimidating, but the man drew his hands back warily, so he was at least managing to make his feelings clear.

"I've pillows that could use new feather stuffing," the man threatened, and Corvo hissed back at him. Even to himself, he sounded particularly venomous and, for once, he was proud of the harshness of the noise.

"Master Daud!" The man finally barked, throwing his head back to project his voice at level above him. "If ye want me doing my job, control yer damn bird!"

Daud leaned over the railing and stared down at both of them, taking in Corvo's defensive hunch with one eyebrow inquisitively raised. His red coat was absent and he had one arm out of his damp, white undershirt, his hair still dripping water down his face. He wasn't shivering – would probably consider it an unacceptable loss of control, Corvo assumed – but he did look rather discontented.

Then Corvo blinked and took a second glance as he realized that Daud had enough scars to rival the patchwork covering Corvo’s own body. Even from here, he could see the silvery lines of old sword and knife wounds, interspersed with the puckered, closed holes caused by crossbow bolts and pistol bullets.

It was surprising, considering that Daud must have had armor weaves that at least matched Corvo's own...but then again, Corvo was also infinitely familiar with the weak spots such armor bore.

One rather livid mark drew his eyes down; it still had the pink rawness of a more recent injury. The rough, risen texture suggested that it had been poorly treated, leaving a thick, curving line from the bottom of Daud's ribs down to his left hip –

Oh. That was the wound Corvo himself had left, the finishing blow of their ill-advised fight.

He tore his gaze away and turned back to glare at the Whaler instead, a bit disconcerted. Wandering Gaze, his thoughts suddenly whispered, ringing in the scolding tones of the Abbey's preachers, and he wanted to snort.

"Try asking him politely." Daud drawled, ignoring the Whaler's incredulous scoff as he turned to look at Corvo next. "Calm down, featherbrain. He's not going to bite."

Corvo glowered at them both mutinously, but Daud stared him down, firm even in his growing amusement. Finally, Corvo folded his wings and smoothed his feathers a little: less combative, if still displeased, and Daud nodded, disappearing back over the railing.

The Whaler was a bit gentler this time, moving slowly and leaving him on the desk rather than attempting to pick him up. His intention seemed to be just to study Corvo's form; he looked at him closely from all angles and pulled out a thin, flexible measuring tape that he wrapped around several parts of Corvo's body, after checking warily that he wasn't about to be bitten for it.

Not that Corvo hadn’t considered it, but he controlled himself in the end.

He did ask Corvo directly, once, if he'd unfold his wings for a moment, sounding as though he quite doubted his own sanity in doing so. The expression on his face when Corvo grudgingly did so was worth seeing, even if he then had to put up with the tape measure once more.

When Daud finally appeared back on the lower floor, the Whaler was at the desk, muttering to himself and sketching something on a pad of paper. Corvo had retreated back to the perch, occasionally dipping his head to try and get a glimpse of what the Whaler was drawing.

"Rickard."

The man tipped his head up and eyed Daud sidelong, tapping his charcoal pencil against the pad. “Don’t think this is going to work the way yer hoping. There’s a reason they only give the messenger pigeons letters, and small ones at that.”

Daud frowned. “You’re sure?”

The man gestured at Corvo with his charcoal. “Harness or no, try to strap anything big to him and it’ll get in the way of his wings. And that’s assuming it’s light enough not to weigh him down.”

“He managed a bone charm before,” Daud pointed out.

“Aye, in his claws, ye said. That’s different, and I wouldn't recommend tying things to his feet, considering how testy he is. But then, he does seem to listen when ye talk to him, so maybe yer best bet is to...ask him politely."

Daud turned a scowl at him, but the Whaler just frowned back. "Not joking. He did what I asked, when I asked, after ye told him to. And he'll look ye right in the eye – I'd lay money he understands far more than the average beastie. I suggest ye test just how much."

Rickard ended with a sharp nod at Daud's heavy silence, then gathered his sketches and headed for the glass doors, offering, "I'll see what I can come up with, anyhow, but I don’t promise a miracle."

Then he was out the door. Corvo grumbled low in his throat and shook himself out, still a little indignant over the whole thing. Daud smiled slightly, reaching out to smooth down a few of his more stubborn neck feathers with the back of his knuckles. Corvo allowed it, though still mildly uneasy with the attention, but Daud didn't push his welcome and withdrew after a few moments.

When Corvo looked up, Daud was staring down at him, silent and thoughtful. Corvo shifted a bit nervously, uncertain what thoughts Rickard's observations had stirred, but whatever Daud was thinking, he didn't act on it. He picked up a pen instead, looking away and tapping it against his leg as he considered whatever it was that had him distracted.

He was planning something, perhaps, but at this point, Corvo figured it would be something he could handle.

After the ruckus of Rickard's visit, Corvo kept an eye out through the windows for any outgoing patrols that he could join, braving the outdoors occasionally to check. He didn't see any, though – the Whalers were either already out and about or lurking indoors, waiting out the downpour as well. The rain stopped and started intermittently throughout the day, but he never caught sight of a departing group.

During one of those short pauses in the rain, he fluttered to the unbarred window on the second floor, considering flying out just to stretch his wings while the skies were favorable. He jumped and flicked his wings when Daud dropped to sit cross-legged on the table next to him, having not heard the assassin's approach.

They stared at each other for a moment, Daud's head tipped a bit to the side, and then the man drew a small, folded note out of his pocket and held it out. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to carry this?”

Corvo managed to keep himself from flinching, but he glanced very quickly up at Daud. The man stared back patiently, with a rueful expression that seemed to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation as he waited for Corvo's reaction.

Well, it seemed Rickard's words had made an impact after all. It was now very clear Daud suspected something – how could he not, at this point – and Corvo glanced between him and the note, deliberating quickly.

This wouldn't be written off as a coincidence – this would be a rather clear demonstration of his understanding of human language, would very likely deviate from most normal bird behavior. But it was obvious the Whalers had already noticed some odd conduct already. Was there really any point in trying to hold up an act he clearly wasn't good at?

Besides, he didn't really need to pour all his energy into such a disguise if it was likely that he'd need to give it up in the near future. Actually, it was probably best to start casting doubts now.

And so, he reached out at plucked the note from Daud’s fingers, clamping down with his beak, and shot the man a challenging look. Daud’s eyebrows went to his hairline, and his eyes swept over Corvo once, considering, but what he said was, “Find Thomas.”

When he offered nothing more, Corvo took flight, circled around the office for a moment to get used to the feel of the paper in front of him, and then slipped out of the open windows.                                                                           

It took him slightly less time than he'd expected; it turned out that Thomas was actually up on the rooftops rather than hidden in the base, up at the highest point of the building near the flooded back alley. He seemed comfortable where he was, completely disregarding the wetness of the slate roof beneath him.

His mask was still on, but by now Corvo recognized him first by the shape and set of his shoulders. He was holding something in his hands, too small for Corvo to make out from his vantage point up in the air, and so he swooped down.

He chose to make a slightly clumsier landing next to Thomas' knee with the note still in his beak, rather than risk losing it by trying to drop it in his lap. Thomas tilted his head up, tracking his flight as he came in.

In his hands, Corvo saw as he landed, he held a small chunk of wood and short, sharp knife. From the wood shavings scattered in front of him, he was clearly whittling something, but he didn't seem to have gotten far yet. The wood didn't yet resemble any clear shape that might hint at the end result.

Corvo tilted his head, mildly interested. He wouldn't have expected Thomas to engage in such an activity. But then, he supposed, everyone needed a hobby. Even assassins.

Thomas tucked the wood into an inside pocket, though, and folded away the knife. Then he reached out, pausing patiently for a moment with his fingers on the corner of the note as Corvo released it. Corvo flew up to his shoulder to read as he unfolded it, but from what he saw of it, it was only a few lines, and so Thomas had finished and refolded it before he could start.

Scattered droplets were starting to fall again as Thomas rose to his feet and tucked the note in a pocket. Corvo flicked a few drops off his feathers, irritated, and took off after Thomas as the man moved away; they made their way towards Daud's office together.

As they reached their destination, though, Thomas paused outside of it for a moment. When Corvo landed on his shoulder, he could hear what sounded like displeased voices speaking inside.

Thomas didn’t stay long to eavesdrop, though, and so Corvo left Thomas' shoulder as the Whaler went in, flitting away to land on the perch out of habit and shaking off more gathered raindrops. A Whaler in blue was still speaking; he thought the man's name was Tynan, but he wasn't yet as familiar with Daud's other lieutenants.

"...must have fired it at him from somewhere along the Row. We checked thoroughly, didn't find anything." The Whaler had his hands clasped tightly behind his back, his shoulders radiating tension.

"And how is it all of you missed this entirely?" Daud growled back. He had a depleted sleep dart in his fingers, which he was twisting and turning in the light: searching for identifying marks, Corvo assumed.

"Pickard was rear guard today. Of course we noticed he was missing, but we'd put some distance between us by the time we realized. This wouldn't have taken more than a few seconds. If Misha hadn't twisted his ankle and lagged behind..."

A Whaler patrol had been attacked? Corvo leaned forward to hear better, looking between them in surprise. Daud hissed out a breath between his teeth, his expression supremely frustrated, and Thomas stayed in the background, arms crossed as he watched.

The Whaler shifted on his feet for a moment in the silence, before he asked, "May I go to the infirmary, sir?"

Daud paused moment, frowning in consideration, before nodding and waving him off. "I want to know as soon as Pickard wakes up. And make sure Misha got that leg looked over."

The Whaler bowed, hand clasped to his chest, and vanished before he was even fully upright. Daud turned his head, acknowledging Thomas' presence, speaking as the younger man stepped forward. "You heard."

"I heard enough." Thomas nodded, rounding Daud's desk to face him. "Is there a plan?"

"Not yet," Daud murmured, frowning deeply down at the sleep dart. "but soon. I want to talk to Pickard first, just in case, and it may be a few more hours before he wakes up. Until then, send runners out to the other patrols – I want all of them traveling as a group, within eyesight of each other. No one walking alone."

"Yes, sir." Thomas paused, though, reaching out to place the note Corvo had brought him down on the desk. "Perhaps now is not the best time to explore it, but I originally came because of this."

"Oh." Daud blinked down at it for a moment, as though it had been entirely erased from his mind, and then narrowed his eyes at Corvo. "So he did understand me."

"He caught my name, at least, though that’s not quite as odd as it seems," Thomas replied. "My father's hound could identify the entire household by name; could sniff any one of them out if you asked him to."

Only overseers and noblemen owned hounds – they required far more upkeep and attention than the commoners' smaller terriers and mutts – and an Overseer wouldn't have children. Corvo stared up at Thomas, curiosity sparked. Had he seen the man's family in court? Had they ever passed by each other, never noticing, back before they had become what they were today?

Daud was watching Thomas too, he noticed, out of the corner of his eyes as he played with the dart at his fingertips. "Was that the hound I stabbed in the parlor on the way out?"

"Yes," Thomas tipped his head, sounding entirely unbothered, “and I've never been happier to see an animal die. He was fond of biting down on my limbs and dragging me across the floor, when I was small enough for him to do so. Corvo is certainly far more tolerable."

He gestured at Corvo before resting his hand on the perch, and Corvo fluttered up to rest on his shoulder for a moment instead. He'd been bowled over by enough hounds to sympathize.

"That's not his name," Daud sighed, but he sounded far more resigned than anything at this point. Thomas didn't bother answering that statement, but Corvo suspected he was hiding amusement beneath his mask.

“Where was the patrol today? Slaughterhouse Row?" He asked instead. Daud accepted the change of subject, turning to the decorated map behind the desk with a sharp nod and a frown and sticking the dart into one of the shaded district areas.

It seemed he was now far more concerned with the attack on his men than with Corvo's strange intelligence - understandably so, Corvo felt, and it was probably for the best. There would be time to get Daud's attention later.

"And the Distillery District last time. I suppose it would be too much to hope for consistency." Corvo glanced between the darkness on Daud's face and the tenseness starting to gather in Thomas' shoulders, and tried to remember everything he knew about the layout of Slaughterhouse Row even as he bit back the frustrated questions that he couldn’t ask.

Thomas stepped back. "I'll pass the information on to the others. No one walks alone."

"Good." Daud said, already distant and distracted again as he narrowed his gaze at the map.

Thomas turned to leave and then stopped, glancing sideways at Corvo. He took the hint and shifted from Thomas to Daud, watching as the Whaler vanished out into the now steadily falling rain. Then, he turned to examine the map as well.

It made more sense than it had when he'd first arrived - he could see the search patterns marked out: possible sightings, connections, and suspicious areas outlined as clearly as any search organized by the Watch. The search for the witches, he knew now, though still not who or what they really were beyond that.

But it seemed they'd managed to evade Daud for months, avoiding his eyes and apparently harassing his men. When he considered what he knew of Whaler's skills and the scant information he had on Daud's rescue of Emily, that feat alone was enough to make him wary.

Daud sighed, his shoulders dropping, and Corvo dug his claws in, turning his head to try and meet Daud's eyes. The assassin glanced over at him, and his mouth twisted. "My mother warned me..."

But he never finished the rest of the sentence, something bitter lingering in the space where the words should have been. Corvo chirruped at him softly, but Daud was finished speaking, it seemed. He only turned away from the map to pace near his desk, flexing his Marked hand occasionally in some seemingly unconscious reflex.

The back of Corvo's neck was prickling, raising the feathers there into a bristling ruff; the silence in the office hung heavy, ringing in his ears and curling in his lungs. It felt like that stillness before a fight began, the moment between one breath and the next, where he recognized that this time might be the one when he didn't make it out alive.

If Daud was afraid – whether for himself or his men – then Corvo was sure he wasn't going to like whatever was coming.


Unfortunately, Daud's injured men weren't able to shed much light on the situation.

A Whaler came by with word of Pickard's return to consciousness after a few hours. Corvo tagged along when Daud left to investigate, though he immediately regretted it when the heavy rain lashed down at him, and he earned a confused look from Daud when he landed on the man's shoulder and hunched down miserably.

The infirmary, as it turned out, was actually outside the base, though only just; it was held in one of the buildings surrounding the gate to central Rudshore. Corvo figured he must have passed it by entirely the first time he ran through and watched with some interest as Daud turned left out of the gate and then went straight up to the rooftops.

Actually, he might not have been able to reach it even if he'd known it was there, he realized, as he held on through Daud's dizzying climb. Most of the Whalers, Daud included, seemed to have far longer ranges on their Blinks than he did, which, if he was honest, he found rather irritating. Then again, they did seem to have different techniques – it was something to think about.

Though the entrances below were blocked, most of the building's roof had caved in, along with a third of the top floor under it. When Daud dropped down to the floor below that, though, Corvo found that the Whalers had cleared and cleaned it as best they could. The collapsed floor above let in light and air, while the beds and equipment were spread out under the protected area, away from the rain and warmed by carefully spaced heat lamps.

There were four Whalers in various areas of the infirmary. The only one standing offered Daud a short nod, and Corvo assumed by the equipment he was sorting through that he was the closest thing the Whalers had to a physician. Tynan was lurking in a chair off to the side, mask dangling in his hands, but Daud passed straight by him to talk to the last two men.

Pickard, as it turned out, was a scruffy lad barely past his growing years. His gaze was bleary and he swayed slightly where he sat; clearly, he'd been woken up as soon as possible, leaving him to fight the drug still in his system.

He did his best to be helpful, though. "I remember it hit the back of my right shoulder, and I know I was moving straight east. I don't think it was at much of an angle, either, so they were probably on one of the buildings behind me."

"But you didn't notice anything beforehand."

"No, sir." He said, rather shamefaced. "I’m sure didn't see anyone following me. I did hear the dart coming, but...not until it was too late."

"You've got to be more aware than that." Daud scolded him. "Next time it won't be a sleep bolt that hits you."

"I know, sir." The Whaler looked downright miserable now. "I'll be practicing as soon as Leon lets me out."

Daud nodded, gave the lad a cuff over the head that was barely more than a tap, and ordered him to rest. When Corvo looked back, the Whaler was asleep before they'd taken five steps.

Misha, the second Whaler abed, wasn't much more help – he was more coherent, and looking vaguely irritable with his leg under a wrap on the bed before him, but he didn’t have much to add.

"I didn't see it happen." He told Daud frankly. "I came out of my transversal just in time to see him hit his knees, so I don't even know what direction the sleep dart came from."

"And you saw nothing out of place?" Daud questioned, looking like he already knew the answer.

"No. Weren't many people below us, and none with a weapon that I could find. Didn't see any open windows, nobody on the rooftops around us, nothing." Misha sounded utterly piqued now. "If I'd been smart about it, I would have hidden, waited for them to come and get him once he was down, but..."

"You did what you should have done." Daud said, brusque in his assessment. "Wouldn't have been worth the risk with Pickard already out and you wounded."

Misha accepted the response with a grimace, one that only deepened when Daud confined him to the infirmary until his leg was functional in a tone that brooked no argument. He'd remained fairly neutral in front of his men, but Corvo could feel his growing displeasure in the taut muscles of his shoulder, sensed it in the sharp, almost disjointed nature of his Blinks as they made their way back through the rain.

"Someone should have seen them." Daud hissed at Thomas, back in his office that evening. Corvo watched them both with unabashed curiosity, resting on Rulfio's shoulder as the other man perched on top of a cabinet. "Their training should be more than a match for this. We're missing something."

"Maybe they still have some of Delilah's powers." Thomas suggested.

Corvo perked up at the name – one that seemed vaguely familiar – even as Rulfio's head tipped to the side in consideration as he cut in. "It never took more than two weeks whenever one of ours left. Seems like it should be faster if their focus is dead."

She was like Daud, then: a leader, sharing power with group of her own. A group that, even after her death, were a clear threat. And they had once been, and possibly still were, a threat to Emily. He filed the information away and kept his ears wide open.

"Could the Outsider have marked one of them?" Thomas asked.

"Of course he could have. Might have, even, if he thought it'd be amusing, but they've been worshipping him for decades. Why would he look at them now?" Daud said, something sharp and sour tainting the words. "Besides, he's hardly the only option. We can't rule anything else out, even if he's the most obvious choice."

They stood in silence, apparently thinking. Corvo pulled at a claw with his beak, worrying it the way he might have chewed on a fingernail as he tried to fit the puzzle together with half the pieces missing.

"Sir?" Thomas asked, after the silence grew thick. "Your orders?"

"Pull everyone back to the base." Daud said, his voice back to a focused, neutral calm. "No outgoing patrols for three days – standard watch only."

"Well, the men won't complain, if it gets them out of the rain." Rulfio said, the corner of his lips curling up. "But aren't you afraid of losing the trail?"

"They'll expect us to be wary, after this." Daud told them, hands clasped behind his back, watching the rain falling past the alcove that held his desk. "We're giving them what they expect to see. Three days, while I speak to the others. I am not losing any more men."

The determination rang clear in his voice and Corvo winged down to join him, gripping tight to his shoulder as Thomas and Rulfio murmured acknowledgement. He fluffed his feathers up, bobbing his head slightly as Daud glanced at him. He’d seen far too many officers throw their men into uncertain situations, losing lives where caution and patience might have saved them.

That Daud would refuse to do so was not a surprise, not as it might have once been, but Corvo still settled lower on his shoulder, pleased in a way he couldn’t define.


The rainstorm lingered for another two days, darkening the sky and intermittently showering the city with quick barrages of ice-cold rain. Corvo stuck to waiting it out, remembering the unpleasantness of soaking wet feathers and not yet confident enough in his flying abilities to attempt it with his feathers thus affected.

Daud seemed to share his utter distaste for the rain. He left at certain points, presumably to set up his plans, but he stayed in his office whenever the clouds opened up, reading or writing or generally staving off the boredom.

Corvo spent part of the first day near the desk, fixing his feathers and thinking over the new information he'd learned. He also took it upon himself to nudge some of Daud's papers out of their stacks so that he could read a few of the Whalers' reports.

He turned on Daud when the assassin shooed him away from that pursuit, making a game of trying to sneak up on the assassin and plucking at his coat sleeve or a tuft of hair when he got close enough. He'd made the man actually flinch when he'd leaned down from a nearby shelf and tugged at his hair, and he'd gotten a surprised curse the time after that when he'd silently leapt off a bookcase and onto Daud's shoulder.

He was feeling rather proud of how well he'd adapted his knowledge of stealth to this new form, until the third time he tried it and Daud whipped around almost before he'd even jumped, easily snatching him out of the air.

Corvo squawked at him, squirming against the confines of his hands, and Daud snorted at him, his voice nearly indulgent as he rumbled, "Enough of that."

Corvo stilled, feeling ever so slightly abashed, and Daud opened his hands, letting him gain his feet and stretch his wings out again.

The only warning he received was Daud's hands dipping slightly, before the assassin tossed him straight up into the air. His wings opened on instinct and he rocketed towards the ruined ceiling, his heart pounding as he skimmed through the rain falling into the office. He winged past the exposed beams, out into the wind and rain, and he slowed himself quickly, turning to go back inside before the wind blew him further away.

He headed to the dry area before he got too wet, landing on the railing to shake himself off. The speed had been exhilarating, and he was tempted to see if he could coax Daud into throwing him again, but he had the feeling the assassin's tolerant mood could swing over to irritable very quickly, especially with the stress he was already under.

He would certainly hold the idea in the reserve, though.

Between the wind and his now-damp feathers, the room was starting to feel a bit chilly. As he was considering flying down to perch on the lamp above Daud's desk, an idea sparked and he paused.

Some small, impish thing itched at him as he considered. It seemed to be growing more active the longer he spent with the Whalers and long gone were the days where he might have worried that small mischief would drive Daud to violence. He shook himself off one more time, for courtesy's sake, then headed for the bed.

He pulled and prodded with his beak, making himself a messy tunnel out of the blankets, thoroughly rearranging Daud's well-made sheets and getting much of the cloth slightly damp in the process. The air warmed slowly, but eventually he had a nice pocket of body heat to wallow in. He spent the rest of the day there, occasionally poking his beak out for fresh air.

Daud's confused noise when he finally found the lair Corvo had made in the blankets made him chuckle, an oddly arch sound even in a bird's throat. The grumbled curses that followed as he was driven away from his hideout did little to diminish his amusement.

The second day saw another gathering in the training room. Corvo was beginning to suspect that it was an occurrence saved for Dunwall's stormy days, when there were few jobs to run and everyone, but the sentries would be inside anyway. It seemed to help stave off any restlessness, at least, and the large gathering in that room generated a warmth that the rest of the airy, chilled base often lacked.

Corvo enjoyed the fights even more now that his movements were less limited. He could perch in the high corners or tall bookshelves and watch from above, or land on whichever Whaler he liked. One or two were paging through the now widely dispersed academy books, though he suspected it was more out of boredom than any true interest. Still, when he got tired of shifting around and observing others, he would land on them and peek down at the information.

It was worth keeping an eye on the fights, though, especially as Daud came out of his last one with a bloody nose. It was an occurrence that, oddly, seemed to delight him as much as it terrified the Whaler responsible, and Corvo laughed to himself when Daud dragged the other man into another rather viciously playful tussle.

There was no sign of the injury the next morning, which dawned overcast, but calm. Corvo took to watching Daud closely and was rewarded when he caught the man preparing to leave, gathering vials and ammo from nearby containers. He wasn't sure how Daud decided which patrol to join, but he followed as the man slipped to the head of a small outgoing group, keeping pace with a Whaler in blue.

He didn’t have any trouble keeping up; rather, it was more the opposite. His flight paths took him straight past the rooftops, gaps, and any obstacles that he would have normally had to deal with, whereas the Whalers were forced to find ways around.

They were quite a bit faster than normal humans might have been, but he still fell into the habit of circling them in wide, loose loops that kept them in sight while still allowing him to explore on his own.

This didn't work when it came to the sewers, of course. The Whalers went below ground at a moment's notice, often slipping through the nearest entrance when the rooftops grew too precarious or the gaps between buildings too wide.

He missed it entirely the first time they did so, scattered and quick as their formation was. He spent an hour searching throughout the city before he located most of them again, several miles away, apparently scouting out a house along the western riverfront. It was longer before Daud himself reappeared from wherever he’d gone. Corvo used the time to search the nearby neighborhoods for any suspicious signs, but the loss of time was still irritating.

After that, he stuck a little closer to the group. When the one in the lead – which often seemed to be Daud or one of the few Whalers in blue – stopped to open a sewer entrance so the others could Blink through, he would flit through the door and land on the shoulder of whoever was nearest, clinging to them for the ride. It earned him some confused grumbles at first, but after a few repeats throughout the day, they seemed to accept the behavior.

It didn’t take long for him to decide that he'd made the right choice. For all that Corvo had gained a rudimentary mental map of the sewer system during his secretive missions, it was clear the Whalers had a well-worn understanding of it that far outstripped his own. Their numerous journeys gave him plenty of opportunities for quick searches just that first day and he often heard the echo of bone song down side passages.

He sought out the runes whenever he could. As disadvantaged as he was at the moment, any way he could build power was a good thing.

Sometimes, Daud would seek out the bones and shrines himself, but the assassin didn’t always seem to be looking for them, and so Corvo picked up the slack when the man passed them by. The two runes he found, he took for himself, but the bone charms he carried back to the group.

He had to chase after the Whalers a few times, but by the third charm, they’d apparently picked up on his signals as well, and one of them usually waited when he darted down a side tunnel to bring back a bone. Clinging to their shoulders instead of flying made it much easier to catch up.

He followed them back to the base at dusk, tired, but less frustrated than before. There was still no sign of Granny Rags – he hadn’t even figured out what the Whalers patrol was doing, honestly – but their progress had been quick, and he was feeling fairly positive about the whole thing.

He slipped away to Dunwall Tower on the second day when Daud showed no sign of leaving the base and the small patrol he had chosen to follow on his own turned out to be some kind surveillance team instead. As interesting as it sometimes was to watch them work, he had no desire to linger in the same area for hours. He flew off to find Emily instead, casting a searching eye over the streets as he went.

He was in luck that day, it seemed, as he found her in the garden having a small tea party with Callista. It was heartening that she hadn’t lost all her old habits, and he swooped down to get a closer look, alighting on the side of the table. They immediately stopped talking as he arrived, but it was worth it to see Emily’s eyes widen as her breath caught.

"He's wild." Callista told her, clearly familiar with that particular expression, although her eyes were more wistful than wary as she spoke. "Don't try to pet him."

"I won't," Emily said. It was odd, hearing her speak the sort of promise she would have protested before, but her eyes were even brighter now than they had been, and he could see her legs fidgeting under the table, as though she was resisting the urge to swing them.

"Hello." She told him, that quiet smile growing on her face again. "Pretty bird."

He stretched out his wings and tipped his head far to the side, just to make her smile wider, and accepted the pieces of cake she tossed him whenever she thought Callista wasn't looking. His heart felt both lighter and heavier when she was called away inside.

Daud was out and moving again the day after that, though it seemed he had specific plans for that trip. Partway into the patrol’s circuit through the Estate District, Corvo finally marked Daud’s absence from the group, along with several of the Whalers who should have been participating in the usual sweeps.

Mildly irritated that it had taken him so long to notice, he turned back to find where they had broken off.

 A quick flight back proved they were still in the same district; the missing Whalers had taken up stationary positions along the rooftops, all focused in a similar direction. It wasn’t difficult to locate Daud after that, considering.

Much of the Estate District was still unoccupied, in part due to the inordinate amount of buildings that had been condemned, with their owners banished, during Burrows’ rule. On the top floor of one of the dark, seemingly abandoned buildings, though, there was a flickering glow of firelight.

He flew by the window, taking a quick peek inside, and caught a flash of red and grey; Daud was there, along with another Whaler perched on the unlit chandelier in the middle of the room. He also caught the silhouette of someone he didn’t know, backlit against the fireplace, and he curved back around for another look.

The unfamiliar shape actually resolved itself into two: a man and a woman, standing and sitting respectively, both facing Daud from across the long table in the middle of the room. There was clear tension in the room, in the uneasiness of the man’s gestures as he spoke and the closed expression on Daud’s face.

Negotiation, most likely, Corvo decided; they didn’t look like informants, so the most likely reason Daud would meet with two strangers was if they were offering a job.

He hesitated, uncertainty stirring for a moment, then shrugged it off and went through the open window, landing on Daud's shoulder. The assassin shot him a quick glance, but kept his attention on the situation at hand.

The room inside was stuffy and heavily perfumed, affecting even his weak sense of smell. The strangers in front of him were not any more inviting than the room itself: a balding, heavy set man and a thin, severe-looking woman. The latter of the two had been staring at Daud as though afraid he would bite and now transferred that gaze to Corvo.

Both were dressed in full noble finery, despite the heat of the day; Corvo could see the sweat beginning to soak through the man's clothes in places. The woman seemed slightly more composed – her dark hair was twisted up in an elaborate style, held together with ribbons and an extremely ostentatious hairpin. Corvo suspected he could feed a family of four for a month with the amount of precious stones mounted on it.

He tipped his head and stared, caught momentarily by the reflection of the firelight sparkling across the jewels.

The man was still speaking, but before Corvo could catch up, the woman interrupted. She clasped her hands close to her chest, casting Corvo the type of looks that most saved for plague rats. "Must you have that...animal in here?"

Daud didn't answer – he did move his gaze to her for a moment and she flinched, dropping her eyes. Then he turned back to the nobleman and said, "I’ve had too many men try to change their minds after the fact. Payment beforehand, or the deal is off.” 

Corvo fluttered up to the chandelier as the nobleman sputtered, joining the Whaler perched up there – Finn, by the scarring on the cloth of his coat. He wondered idly if the strangers had even noticed the extra man lurking above their heads.

“I –” The man wiped at his shining forehead, visibly steeling himself to argue, but then he met Daud’s gaze again and his shoulders slumped. “I…will need a few days to gather what I –”

“Two days. One of my men will make contact.” Daud interrupted, and Corvo wondered what he had missed, that the man’s patience was so visibly frayed. The nobleman’s stuttering – his overall nature, really – seemed a good guess, though.

“Two…days? Well, yes…I suppose that would be enough time.” By the increasing dark scowls from the woman, she did not approve or agree, but neither man was paying her any mind.

Daud narrowed his eyes, but finally nodded. “Done, then.”

The nobleman nodded back and opened his mouth once more, but Daud Blinked away, Finn only a second behind him, leaving the man gaping at an empty room. Corvo flicked his wings, amused at their offended expressions. The man huffed dramatically, wiping at his face with poorly hidden relief before crossing his arms. "Terribly rude, wasn't he?"

"Well, what do you expect, when you hire something like that?" The woman sniffed, brushing her hands delicately across her dress with her nose screwed up in disgust. "Ill-bred gutter trash; you can tell by the smell. Probably some Serkonan whore's whelp -"

Corvo, entirely done with this woman, dropped straight down from the chandelier onto her puffy, overwrought hair. The terrified, ear-piercing shriek she let loose was utterly gratifying and, as she shook him off with a wild fling of her head that completely destroyed the design of her hairdo, he took off for the outside with her ridiculously expensive hairpin clutched in his claws.

The scowl Daud gave him when he caught up a few rooftops later was very half-hearted. "What did you do?"

Corvo lowered his head, taking the hairpin in his beak and offering it to Daud with a sardonic, bobbing bow. The assassin's surprised laugh shook his shoulders beneath Corvo’s claws, and he preened a few of his feathers after Daud took the bauble from him, satisfied by the reaction.

"You're going to get shot one of these days, you keep doing that." Daud told him as he slipped the gift into his belt, but his amusement was thick in his voice, and Corvo happily accepted a peanut and a quick scratch on the back of his head as payment.

Corvo fell into the new routine rather easily after that. The Whalers were different than any patrol he’d taken part in before – they swept whole districts in a focused search, rather than a lazily patrolling a single area, breaking off in groups of twos or threes to speak to informants or accomplish other tasks – but their signals and group dynamics weren’t difficult to pick up on.

He was learning a great deal about the city as well, such as where to find the best black market dealers, and where the best informants tended to hide. He was pleased, therefore, when Daud led him straight to the river market several days in.

While Draper's Ward had been the destination of choice for nobles before the plague, the river market had often been the main gathering point for the less affluent of the city. Back before the plague, it had been held once a week, at the largest bend of the Wrenhaven in the Old Port District. Like so many things, it had died away, caught between the plague and the quarantines, and Corvo had not been down to see it since the coronation.

On the surface, it looked much like it once had – small booths on the streets and small boats moored on the piers, where fishermen and rural growers sold their harvest and craftsmen displayed their wares. It was bright with paint and cloth and the buzz of voices, the flash of children running in and out of the large crowd of adults.

Underneath, he could see the strain that still weighed on most of the city. The market was diminished, with fewer stalls, wares, and buyers – those that had come gave the patrolling watchmen wary room, some wounds still fresh even with Curnow’s new influence.

They were all trying, though, rebuilding their lives, and Corvo could see how the rough edges would smooth down with time and care.

Daud stayed above it all, prowling along the rooftops where most of the people below would never think to look. His men were another story – some stood by as lookouts, but a few others slipped down into the alleys and shadowed corners of the streets below, making contact with the pickpockets and sneaks that Corvo knew always threaded through large gathering like these.

Still others shed their masks and coats with practiced ease and laid their most obvious weapons atop their clothes. Without the obvious signs of their allegiances, they looked like nothing more than common laborers, in thick trousers and rough-cut shirts, and they used that to their advantage, vanishing into the sea of faces below.

Corvo wondered at Daud’s presence there, when he was too well-known to enter the market without causing a riot. Then again, it didn’t look like he was actually needed on the patrols either. Maybe it was just frustration or boredom, driving him to move. Corvo could hardly judge him there, considering.

He turned and watched the crowds instead, picking out the Whalers as they wove through the crowds, pulling information out of traders, buyers, and, once, a watchman. He was just struck with the thought of flying down to listen in on the questions they asked when an oddly familiar flash of grey caught his eyes.

There was a man walking between the booths below, wrapped in a wooly grey coat, a ragged old hat tucked tight over his ears. Something about him sent bells ringing in Corvo’s head, and then the man turned his head, glancing to the left as he moved to the next booth.

Samuel’s wrinkled face and the tips of his curling, grey hair peeked out from under his cap, recognizable even from this distance.

Corvo’s heart jumped in surprise. He fluttered over to the edge of the roof, leaning over it to get a closer look, only vaguely aware of Daud stopping to watch him. Samuel had a bundle in his hands, what looked to be purchases from the market. He was still stopping at the booths, though, talking to the traders and occasionally passing them objects Corvo couldn’t see, an odd mirror to the Whalers seeking out information around him.

Corvo followed him as he moved, flitting from rooftop to rooftop. Samuel didn’t come to the Tower often – he would, for special occasions, but it made him visibly uncomfortable. He wasn’t always there when Corvo took Emily to the Hound Pits either, often out to sea, making visits with him a rather more rare occurrence than Emily would have liked. He seemed well, Corvo was happy to note, if uncomfortable in the crowd.

Finally, Samuel slipped away from the market, his purchases tucked under his arm. He wasn’t at the nearby docks, probably hadn’t paid money to stay near the market, but he wasn’t too far either, in the span of a small bridge nearby. 

Corvo watched him tuck things away in the boat’s compartments, feeling a little forlorn, but the boatman didn’t leave right away. He dropped down to sit at the side of the river instead, lighting a cigarette and staring out over the water, the way he used to do at the Hound Pits when he was thinking deep.

Corvo deliberated, watching him from a nearby ledge, and then gave in, flying down to perch on the side of the boat. Samuel blinked down at him. "Well, hello there."

The smoke he exhaled wafted towards Corvo as he spoke. He gagged slightly at the smell, hopping backwards and coughing out a disgruntled noise as the smell clogged in his throat. Clearly, Rulfio had been correct about his sensitivity to the substance.

Samuel had lowered his hand to his other side though, thankfully, and Corvo moved a bit closer again, tilting and twisting his head up to peer closely at the boatman's face. He looked much the same as he always had – grey-haired, sturdy, and unperturbed by the world around him. He did look perhaps slightly more worn than he had, with deeper lines in his face and a larger slump to his shoulders, but it was difficult to tell.

Samuel finished the cigarette as Corvo examined him and stepped into his boat with barely a wobble. Corvo raised his wings to balance, but when he didn't take off, Samuel gave him a bemused half-smile. "Friendly fellow, aren't you?"

"Not usually."

Daud's voice hit Corvo like a shock of cold water and he spun around to find the assassin leaning against a nearby wall, watching them with interest. "He generally takes a while to warm up to new people."

Corvo hadn't thought about it, hadn't considered what his interest in Samuel would look like from the outside, but Daud had clearly noticed the oddity and followed along. Samuel, for his part, only looked confused for a moment before Daud's distinctive face registered, and then his spine stiffened ramrod straight. His hand clenched into the fabric of his coat at his side, but otherwise he stayed still and silent.

Daud gave Samuel a thorough once-over before he continued, slow and thoughtful. "He does have a sharp eye, though. Carrying something you shouldn't be?"

What? Corvo blinked at him, confused, but Samuel flinched as though he'd been struck, hand twitching at his side as though he'd stopped himself from reaching for something. His reply was gruff. "Don't know what you're talking about."

"Lying Tongue," Daud chided, though his eyes were alight with something that was almost laughter. "I don't think the Overseers would approve. Still, I think they'd care more about the bones."

Corvo looked back at Samuel quickly, slipping into Dark Vision, and sure enough, there was the whalebone song emitting from somewhere in Samuel's coat. It had been faint enough to miss without his powers, but it wasn't the utter silence that happened when Daud or the Whalers picked one up.

"Don't see how that's any of your business." Samuel huffed back, by all appearances unintimidated even in his unusual defensiveness. Daud sobered, but he didn't seem offended at Samuel's gumption, for which Corvo let out a breath of relief.

"It's not made for you to handle." Daud told him, voice low. “You don’t want to end up carving up the walls, or clawing your ears off. You should leave it behind. Just drop it in the river.”

“’Fraid I can’t do that, sir. It don’t rightly belong to me.” Samuel’s shoulders were still stiff, but his voice was, if not friendly, then at least not quite hostile. He hesitated and then added, softer, “Been looking for a friend who’s good at sniffing them out, like your bird there. Figured wearing it couldn’t hurt.”

“It certainly could.” Daud retorted as Corvo’s heart squeezed, but something had changed in the assassin’s face. "Best put it back where you found it, then. It’s not going to help the way you’re thinking, and no one resists the song forever. You’re already dreaming about it, aren’t you?"

After a few tense, silent moments, Samuel nodded in a small, sharp movement. Daud tipped his head in acknowledgement and stepped away from the wall, flexing his hand. He stopped before he completed the movement though, clicking his tongue twice to draw Corvo’s gaze up. "Leave it alone, featherbrain."

Corvo took one last look at Samuel, earning a now-ambivalent glance in return, and then left the boat to fly towards the rooftops. He heard Daud disappear below him and tracked the man to a nearby steeple, landing on his shoulder. They watched together as Samuel made a few adjustments in his boat and cast off, moving quickly down the river.

The hiss of magic heralded the arrival of a Whaler behind them. The masked face turned to follow Samuel’s progress before she said, “That was one of the Lord Protector’s contacts, wasn’t it?”

“A friend, it seems.” Daud offered, sounding mildly amused. Corvo twitched, eyeing them both. “No loss that we haven’t managed to catch him before now, though. He doesn’t have any idea where Corvo is either. That, or he’s an excellent liar.”

“Course he doesn’t. That’d be too easy.” The Whaler snorted, before stepping back and tilting her head. “Looked like he was making you a bit twitchy.”

Daud scowled, ignoring the implied question. “If you’ve nothing significant to report, Thorpe…”

"Sir." Thorpe bowed and vanished quickly. Corvo stared at Daud, wondering just how much information the other man had on him; how and why the Whalers came to be aware of his friends. Was it only due to his disappearance, or was there something more he was missing?

Still, at least Daud didn't appear inclined towards any sort of violence, even in the face of Samuel’s uncharacteristic grimness. Corvo settled back, but made a mental note to keep an eye on the situation, if anything came of it, and followed Daud as he left the roof.

The surprise encounter with Samuel did remind him of some people he'd been neglecting, though. Emily wouldn't have been the only one worried by his disappearance and, while he didn't feel guilty for checking on her first, he did feel a little abashed that he hadn't thought about any of the others.

And so, after discerning that Daud’s next patrol would be going to the Distillery District, he set off on his own early the next morning.

He found Cecelia first, conveniently placed as she was at the Hound Pits. He didn't make a habit of visiting there – could no longer stomach the smell or taste of the drinks – but he'd met with her often enough to know that she'd gotten the small business thriving again, with a bit of help from Samuel and other friends when her crippling shyness tripped her up.

She seemed healthy, at least through the windows of the pub – there were only scattered customers, at this early hour, but she seemed more comfortable in herself as she moved throughout the bar. Many of the new servants, he noticed, and not for the first time, were younger than was usual in such establishments, large-eyed and too thin in the face, but they smiled at Cecelia as she passed, and she returned the gesture subtly when she noticed it.

Curnow wasn't difficult either – the recent promotion found him far more often bound to his desk rather than out on the streets. A short stakeout of the Watch's headquarters rewarded him when the man appeared, striding from one building to the next.

He stayed long enough to verify that the man looked tired, but otherwise whole, before taking off again. Some of the Watch officers had a bad habit of throwing stones or worse at birds as well as rats when they were bored – a habit he now looked upon with considerably more disgust than he used to.

Piero and Sokolov were actually the easiest of the three. While they visited the Tower frequently, the cure was now fairly widespread around the city, lessening the need for their direct presence. Thus, they often retreated to Sokolov’s home on the river, to build and experiment in things Corvo didn’t have much hope of understanding.

He’d had a very stern talk with Sokolov about the use of live subjects, though. Just in case.

He found the house easily enough, and confirmed that they were indeed inside by the strange crackling noises and oddly colored smoke wafting through the open windows. It looked a bit dangerous, but the lone guard outside the house looked somewhere between bored and resigned, and none of the alarms were ringing for help.

Remembering Rulfio’s warning about smoke in his lungs, he let it be. Whatever it was, they were probably having fun.

It was odd, watching all of his friends like this, like a stranger on the outside looking in. He hadn’t really considered what to expect when he checked in on them, but it was somehow both heartening and disconcerting to find them in the flow of everyday life.

Whatever effect his disappearance might have had on them, it was clear that they were moving on. And of course they were – they had to – but it was another stark reminder that the world outside the Flooded District was not waiting for him. It was sobering, and it only fueled his determination.

He turned back to the south, flying for the Distillery District. Hopefully, the patrol would still be nearby so that he could continue the search.

Chapter Text

The first time he accompanied the Whalers on a job, it was definitely unintentional.

Well, all right – perhaps he should have guessed what was happening long before he actually did. The patrols he’d joined had never gone to the Mutcherhaven District before and, even with the quarantines down, it was far out of the way of their usual haunts.

Corvo hadn’t had cause to explore the district before either – it was at the far edges of the city, containing mostly expensive noble estates with their sprawling acreages of land. He’d avoided it whenever he could as a human and had not considered it a likely spot to find Granny Rags when he prioritized his search.

So, he was surprised when the patrol headed there – especially at first, when they’d hopped on the tops of the trains that now ran again through most of the city. Corvo was glad that Daud had thought to call him down and hold him first, because he wouldn’t have been able to keep his grip, and he doubted he was fast enough yet to successfully chase a train.

It was a small group to begin with, which was another oddity he should have seen: just Thomas, Rulfio, and three others that he was nearly certain were Connor, Fisher, and Leonid, all pulled from different patrols and all following Daud’s lead.

He took stock of the new area, darting away from the Whalers as they Blinked from cover to cover and snuck past the mercenary guards the nobles paid to supplement the scant Watch patrols. He peeked in windows and swooped over gardens, not really expecting to find Granny Rags, or even anything of interest. It did show him that most of the homes had filled up again – nobles who had fled returning and wealthy citizens taking advantage of deaths and absences to move in.

More than a few had runes hidden away - more than he’d expected, though he could only reach three. He kept the runes, but the fourth held a bone charm, forgotten on an elaborately carved eave, and he took that along with him.

He caught up with the Whalers near the edges of the district, where the estates started to get older and wilder, stretching on with miles in between. He had to circle a bit before he found them – they’d made their way into one of the largest estates, closer to the river than the main road. It belonged to the Fairfax family, he thought, vaguely remembering the lessons on nobility that tutors had drilled into Jessamine’s head.

He found five of them lurking together on top of a large, ornate boathouse, just outside the spiked fence that surrounded the actual home, and belated realization finally hit him, hard.

Right, jobs – the Whalers might have stopped killing, but they had to make a living somehow, and who better to hit than the city’s noble and wealthy. Whatever happened here, it would probably be something he should disapprove of.

But of course, he was supposed to disapprove of the Whalers in general, wasn’t he? Personal revelations notwithstanding, they were criminals, wanted by the Empire. If he became human again, he’d be expected to treat them like enemies.

A few months ago, he would have done so, and happily. Now, though…he looked down at their little huddle, which could so easily have been the group that had attacked him and Jessamine at the pavilion, and sighed to himself, torn somewhere between regret and reluctant fondness. Then he dove, heading down to drop the bone charm on Daud. If they were going to be getting themselves into trouble, it was probably best if he was there to get them back out of it.

It turned out to be a wise decision.

“Where the fuck did he get wolfhounds?” Rulfio snarled in a near-silent whisper. “And why didn’t we know about it?”

“They weren’t here two days ago!” Thomas protested just as quietly. “Something must have tipped him off.”

“Hush.” Daud shot the pair of them a quelling look and they subsided, wobbling a little on the curtain rods they were balancing on. Daud’s position was even more precarious, perched as he was on the top edge of an open door, resting carefully in a crouch on fingers and toes.

It was hardly the most advantageous position for any of them, but with only human guards on their way in, no one had expected the barks and snarls of a wolfhound as it came charging up the stairs to the fourth floor behind them. The three men had all gone straight up, out of what seemed to be sheer instinct, and when the wolfhound came charging through the open door, it only sniffed in the corners suspiciously before its unconcerned mercenary handler appeared to drag it away.

Corvo, resting on the door next to Daud, could only thank the penchant of Dunwall’s nobility to build doorways and windows that stood twice as tall as most men, as well as the tendency of most guards to look down rather than up. They’d have been found out quite quickly, otherwise.

He knew his own presence wasn’t helping much at all - he’d been deliberately left outside the house as the others moved in, but he’d found an easy window to slip through, rejoining them within a few minutes. It’d earned him a few worried looks, but once he’d hunched down on Daud’s shoulder and avoided drawing any attention, they’d stopped glancing at him every five seconds.

Daud was staring at the wall of the corridor they were in now, probably using his Vision, as another guard ambled through the door beneath him. Corvo copied him – their target was in the next room, a large office by the looks of things. There were also two guards in there with him, one with a wolfhound, and two more hound pairs in the corridors beyond.

He knew what Daud was after, from listening in on the quick discussion they had beforehand – there was a lockbox hidden in the basement, with certain files inside that Daud’s client would pay well for. The catch, of course, was that there was only one key to get inside, and Fairfax kept it on him at all times. And judging by the unexpected security, the man suspected something.

Corvo watched as Daud eyed the corridor in front of him, clearly considering how fast he could make it in and out again. Even if he stopped time, Corvo didn’t like it. He’d need a lot of sleep darts, and tangling with hounds was always a risk.

He left Daud’s side, timing it when Daud had turned away to talk very softly to Thomas and Rulfio so that they were all distracted, and fluttered down the hallway, passing over a wandering guard’s head as he turned left around the corner.

Fairfax was indeed sitting at a desk, in an office that was wide open on this one side to the long corridor that stretched around it and two doors on the walls on either side. The wolfhound was lazing beneath its handler’s chair; a scruffy, ill-kept beast that looked nothing like the sleek weapons the Overseers trained or the cheerful hounds of the Flooded District. The other guard was pacing slowly across the room.

Corvo already knew, from his Vision, that the key was on Fairfax’s belt – impossible to reach when he was sitting in a chair. So he flew past the room and around the next corner, landing on a small side table in the hall.

He didn’t know Fairfax very well – but he knew, from informants, that he’d never been fond of Jessamine’s decisions, and he’d been part of group in Parliament that had ratified many of Burrows’ poor decisions. So Corvo felt very little guilt when he pushed a vase off the table with his head. It shattered against the stone floor with a satisfying crash and he took off immediately.

As he’d hoped, the pacing guard came out to investigate, and when he slipped in along the top corner of open side, he found that Fairfax had stood up, looking towards the open door. The wolfhound and handler were facing that direction as well, the man calling out to his comrade. “Devon? What is it – ?”

Corvo took advantage, flitting to the back of the room and diving down. He let their concerned voices cover the beat of his wings and – carefully, carefully – landed on the chair behind the noble for a split second, snatching the key in his beak with a quick up-down movement of his head that detached the ring from the belt. Then he took off again, and rose back up to the ceiling.

He waited for the guard to come back into the room as a suitable distraction, and then he turned and bolted back to Daud, staying as close to the roof as he could to avoid attention. He found all three men staring sharp-eyed down the corridor, likely alerted by the smashed vase.

He hit the man’s shoulder slightly harder than he meant to, but he straightened himself out easily and presented his prize with pride.

Daud very nearly gaped at him, and Corvo suspected with some amusement that Rulfio and Thomas looked similar under their masks. Then Daud broke the moment with a sharp wave of his hand and they all slipped back down the stairs, dodging the human watchers with ease.

Nobody spoke until they reached the basement, which contained, from what Corvo could see, a chest and a safe hidden behind a painting as well as the small lockbox. The rest of the Whalers were waiting there, with heavy belts and full pockets – they’d clearly made good use of their time to sweep the rest of the house for valuables.

Daud broke the silence, hissing quietly at Rulfio even as he unlocked the box and tossed the key at Fisher. “What the fuck was that?”

“What was what?” Leonid butted in with interest as they all went about emptying the room of valuables. Corvo landed on Rulfio’s shoulder to watch, as the man was keeping an eye on the stairs rather than joining in.

“The bird retrieves keys, apparently.” Thomas said dryly.

“Better than the wolfhounds.” Fisher offered with a snort. “They just keep leaving dead rats in my boots.”

“How could he have gotten it off a man’s belt without anyone noticing? And why would he even go for it in the first place?” Corvo wasn’t sure if Daud was prodding Rulfio or just speaking out in general, but he was definitely ignoring the side commentary.

“One of the guards broke something, I think. It might have been enough of a distraction.” Thomas offered, though he didn’t sound entirely certain. “But why would he go for the key in particular if there were easier things to steal?”

“Crows are bold.” Rulfio just sounded amused, as usual. “Used to steal coins right out of my grandfather’s hand if he counted them outside. They didn’t even really want them for anything, just dropped them around the property when they got bored. Even started bringing them back, eventually.”

“But…a key?” Daud relaxed a little, but he still sounded rather dubious about the whole thing. Corvo could hardly blame him, considering.

“Why not? Everything else was in showcases, and he’s seen you using them plenty of times. He might have picked it up because it was familiar.” Rulfio shrugged, turning back to watch the stairs. “Or maybe he thought you’d want it. That old flock brought my grandfather a lot of things, and he’s already bringing you bones, isn’t he? It might be crow affection.”

“Oh.” Daud tilted his head and stared at Corvo, who ruthlessly squashed any urge to fidget.

“I’d consider it a good thing, really. “ Rulfio added. “If he happens to pick up anything expensive, he‘ll probably end up bringing it to you.”

"Huh." Connor finished tucking a few extra things into his pockets. "Would be convenient if we could train a flock of them and just let them sweep the houses."

"A murder." Rulfio said, not looking away from the stairs, and the other assassin's heads popped up to stare at him.

"Where?" Connor finally asked, clearly perplexed, and Corvo was impressed with the amount of exasperation Daud managed to emit without actually saying a word.

"A flock of crows is called a murder." Rulfio elaborated, finally glancing back around. His voice sounded even, and nearly nonchalant, but Corvo was still highly suspicious.

There was a moment of silence and then:

"Bullshit."

"Really?"

"Focus." Daud growled at them, and they immediately ducked back down to their work. Daud swept the papers he'd been reading back into a pile, taking the few he'd set aside and tucking them into his jacket as Rulfio slipped away from the stairs and up beside him.

"Well, it is rather fitting." He murmured, and laughed when Daud scowled at him.

The Whalers left the basement and slipped out of the house as easily as they’d entered, pausing only to gather up what extra supplies they’d left on the boathouse. Then they headed for the nearest railway tracks and, with Corvo carefully protected from the wind, made their way back into the city proper.

They Blinked off the train as it passed through Dunwall’s Water District and began making their way back, slinking over rooftops rather than sewers. Corvo was grateful for it, even if it limited his search, because he knew the fastest way back in the air. It gave him the chance to fly ahead, soaring high over the streets without having to follow, and time to linger in his own thoughts.

The day had been a bit…odd, The stealing he’d engaged in did not bother him, never truly had, if he was honest with himself, but doing it alongside the Whalers had been a rather strange experience and it was making him pensive.

He glanced down to check his position and something flashed purple in the corner of his eye. He blinked and looked around distractedly.

There was whale oil on a roof nearby – he recognized it in the color, the wavering, wispy quality of it that he’d never seen before he’d been forced into this form. Someone had splattered it about, as the glow was too spread out to be a tank. He nearly passed it by entirely, weary from the long day. But then he stopped, wheeled back as some kind of belated realization sparked in his mind, crawling cold up his spine as the details registered.

The oil hadn’t just been thrown: it had been drawn, in a near-perfect circle.

He landed warily on the rooftop – it was mostly flat, with the usual glass windows revealing the workstations below. It was also, he noticed, one of the tallest buildings in the area, looming over the low, sprawling constructs that dominated the district. The circle was tucked away in a corner and he landed on the slight lip around the roof to look down after it.

It looked, to his eyes, large enough for a man or two to walk comfortably inside. Some of the symbols looked familiar – the tree, the rat – but most of the others he’d never seen before.

There was no way such a thing was a coincidence, but he also couldn’t fathom how or why it had come to be there. Could it be a trap, Granny Rags hunting for him as well? But no, that wasn’t particularly feasible. He’d made himself quite obvious in the city’s central districts and sewer systems. She’d had far better chances to get at him, if that was her intent, than to place a circle at this spot on the off-chance that he would find it. 

So, who then, and why?

He eyed it, thinking, curiosity itching away under his feathers. Stepping inside of it would probably be the height of foolishness, but he also wondered if it might help in determining its function. Without anyone around to activate it, as Granny had months ago, he did not think it likely to kill him. (Shouldn’t poke at something if you don’t know what it does, he’d always warned Emily when she was younger, but he’d never been particularly good at following his own advice.)

He hopped down gingerly, over the line of symbols, eyes squinted and wings half raised as he braced himself for…nothing.

The circle remained stubbornly inert. If pressed, he might have thought the symbols were slightly brighter, but that could have just as easily been a trick of his mind. He glowered down at the circle and prodded a symbol with one clawed toe.

It was definitely whale oil, slimy and cold even against his rough, insensitive feet when he dragged a claw in the residue. The shifting mist still had no effect, and so he stood in the middle of glowing, shifting circle, utterly stumped.

One moment the roof was empty and the next found the Whalers spilling out across it in a silent wave, one after another. Daud followed last, and Corvo waited for anyone to say something about the odd sight, or to make it clear that the Whalers were somehow responsible for it.

No one said anything. Daud glanced over the rooftop as the others vanished ahead of him, checking for threats as he always did, and his eyes passed right over Corvo and the circle without pause. He simply continued striding towards the other edge of the roof, his hand glowing as he prepared to Blink again.

Corvo blinked in confusion, and then coughed a short noise at him. Daud’s head titled slightly, his feet slowing, and he looked back in Corvo’s direction. But again, the man’s eyes didn’t catch on the sight, didn’t even pause – just swept straight over Corvo’s position and moved on.

He paused before he reached the edge of the roof though and frowned over his shoulder. Then he whistled, the short, sharp one he used to get Corvo’s attention when he was far away or flying.

Corvo cawed at him this time, testing, starting to get an inkling of what the circle was meant for. Daud’s head came up, his frown deepening, and he stepped back from the edge. He looked right past Corvo yet again, scanning the skies beyond him carefully. There was a hiss of air and Thomas stepped back onto the roof, one hand on his sword hilt. “Something wrong, sir?”

“I thought I heard…” Daud frowned as he tilted his head back to stare at the sky. “Have you seen the bird?”

Thomas turned his head, glancing around as well, and now Corvo was certain. He was standing right in front of them and they couldn’t see him. “Not recently, but he does tend to get sidetracked – ”

Impatient now, Corvo screeched, a grating, drawn-out yowl that he knew was more than loud enough to garner attention, moving for the edge of the circle as he did. Both of them flinched, visibly startled at the noise, but then Daud stepped forward again, calling for him, rough and sharp, “Corvo!”

Something dropped behind Corvo’s ribs, a strange, swooping vertigo. To have someone—to have Daud call him by name, after months of speaking about him over his head… But now wasn’t the time, and so he pushed past it and hopped out of the circle, clicking his beak at them in excitement. The men’s eyes snapped straight to him, and Corvo couldn’t resist a chirping laugh at the entirely unfamiliar look of bafflement on Daud’s face.

“He was not standing there before, and I never saw him land.” Thomas pointing out, his voice nearly uncertain. “What…”

They were staring at him, not the circle behind him, and even the smallest amount of whale oil residue was luminescent enough to be visible to the human eye. Whatever magic the circle had to hide him from sight, it was clearly still working. He considered quickly and then stepped back subtly, straddling the symbols with one foot in the circle and one outside.

That had the effect he was looking for – their gazes went immediately downwards, and Corvo watched as Daud’s eyes widened and Thomas leaned forward, both of them tracing the circle with their eyes.

“Is that – ” Thomas started, but Daud didn’t answer. He stepped forward instead, stalking towards the circle with measured, careful steps. He stooped down as he reached it, bringing Corvo up on his wrist, looked back at Thomas, and then stepped inside himself.

Thomas intake of breath was clearly audible. When Corvo looked at him, his gaze seemed to be focused slightly to the right of them. “There’s no sign of you now, from where I’m standing, but I couldn’t keep my eyes on you. It was almost as like something made me look away."

“So, this is how they managed it.” Daud mused, drawing Thomas’ gaze in the right direction.

They were interrupted by the sounds of more Blinks, the rest of their small group reappearing almost as one and grouping around Thomas

“What happened to sticking together?” Rulfio grumbled, clearly missing their current hiding spot. “And not walking alone. Where’s Daud?”

“Here.” Daud growled again, mimicking Corvo’s trick and only moving halfway out of the circle. “I think we’ve found the missing piece to our puzzle.”

The group of men all flinched and then swarmed around their leader, listening with varying degrees of attention as Thomas explained what they’d determined so far. A rumble of conversation swelled as he finished:

“ – explains how they keep getting past us – “

“ – if they can use it on buildings – “

“How many of them – ”

Daud crouched down as the Whalers hissed around him, his expression set in thoughtful lines. He touched a finger to the symbols and brought it to his nose, before he rubbed his fingers together, slicking oil along leather. Then he looked straight at Corvo and clicked his tongue twice, the way he did when he wanted undivided attention.

He tapped his fingers on the roof in front of the circle and said, “Find more."

It was a clear order, and while some very small, very contrary part of him wanted to refuse, the rest of him was too focused on this new puzzle piece to indulge it. He rose into the air and heard the Whalers mobilize below him, vanishing as they started to follow him across the rooftops.

Slaughterhouse Row, he remembered, was where the last attack had taken place. It was just across the river from the Water District and he headed for it, only remembering at the last moment to head for a bridge so the rest could follow him.

He’d fallen into certain habits, during his time with the patrols. He tended to fly between buildings, on a level, rather than over them, as it allowed him to peer in windows and find the abandoned ones, where an old witch might lurk. When he did soar overhead, he chose to fly high, leaving the buildings distant below him and reveling in the sensation.

Now, though he stuck as close as he could to the rooftops while maintaining a wide view, keeping a constant eye out for any sign of purple. 

He caught sight of another circle, identical to the first, at the very edge of the Water District. It was on the wide balcony of an empty building, half hidden by the overhang of the roof above it. Something about it seemed to repel all attention – the Whalers had avoided the balcony entirely, staring up at him from the roof of the building in confusion as he circled, until he’d landed there and revealed the makings as he had with the last one.

Slaughterhouse Row had four – they were tucked away, not always visible at first glance, and spread out on the tallest buildings along the wide thoroughfare that connected the district’s slaughterhouses. He led them to each, pleased that he had guessed right, but that was hardly the end of it.

Daud urged him on, and he led them on a slow, zigzagging flight through the city’s main districts, picking out glowing purple wherever he could.

Daud finally drew the search to a close after sweeping through the Old Port District, leaving only the smaller districts on the southeast edge of the city untouched. The group made the short trip back to the base together, wary of the buildings around them. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief when they reached the crumbling buildings of Rudshore.

Corvo came in to land on Daud’s shoulder as the group paced closer to the base, and one of the others suddenly spoke up, tiredness dragging in his voice. “How is it the bird was able to see them, if we can’t?

“Good question.” Daud rumbled under his breath. Corvo glanced at him carefully as Rulfio spoke up.

“It’s not so much more unusual than the wolfhounds sniffing out the Mark.” He pointed out. “A lot of animals show some measure of sensitivity to magic.”

“And we finally know how the witches have been hiding, after months of nothing.” Thomas added. “We should be grateful he found them at all.”

“Suppose we should.” Daud sighed, and patted down his coat, finally pulling out a peanut and offering it up. “Well done, featherbrain.”

“Are you sure you want to keep using a nickname?” Thomas asked, his voice suddenly airy and innocent. “Considering that you called him Corvo earlier, I wouldn’t want him to get confused…”

“Oh, did you?” Rulfio turned to stare at them, his voice absolutely delighted.

Daud threw Thomas a look full of dark betrayal and then scowled at Rulfio. “I did no such thing.”

"No, no, don’t lie!" Rulfio crowed, clearly uncaring of the threat gathering in Daud's shifting muscles. “He’s been officially christened. You can’t take it back now – ”

Daud lunged at him, managing to snag the back of his coat before he could Blink away. Corvo let out an indignant noise as he was jostled off Daud’s shoulder. He glanced down and watched as Rulfio twisted, hooking a leg around and bringing them both tumbling down, laughing all the while.

The rest of the Whalers scattered out of the way, some vanishing entirely while others simply found perches to watch from, general amusement finally breaking through the tension that had settled over everyone. Corvo flew up and joined Thomas, watching from the man’s shoulder as Rulfio tried to kick and squirm out of Daud’s hold, both of them cursing rather colorfully.

Thomas was laughing softly under his breath, and Corvo could only echo him, unconcerned at the violent tussle. Because if they'd been wolfhounds, Corvo thought, their teeth might have been bared, but their tails would be wagging.


The discovery of the circles seemed to imbue Daud, and, indeed, the whole group, with a renewed sense of urgency. Daud’s energy turned nearly frenetic, and over the rest of the night and next day, he gathered and dispersed groups of Whalers to explain, order, and plan.

Corvo shadowed him, listening in as the information spread and plans solidified. Most of the patrols were ordered to maintain their original movements, but he also caught the orders Daud gave to individual men, quiet instructions about surveillance and safety.

“We were going about this wrong, before.” He heard Thomas point out that night. “But we might still have made them wary. We can’t risk spooking them.”

“I’m aware.” Daud answered distantly, pacing throughout his office.

"And you know they're not going to try anything if they think you're anywhere near. Assuming, of course, that they're not patient enough to wait another six months before trying again."

"They're not." There was certainty in the tone of his prediction. "They succeeded, last time. This time, they didn’t get whatever it is they’re after. They’ll have to try again, and likely soon.”

His gaze fell on Corvo as he turned and he stopped, his eyes narrowing as his gaze turned thoughtful. Corvo rustled his wings, a bit rattled. Daud’s stares were becoming more and more common now, suspicions clear behind his eyes, and Corvo knew his behavior had sparked some doubts. The man was starting to put pieces together and if Daud hadn’t been so busy with the witches, Corvo suspected he would have already been confronted.

Now though, with his focus elsewhere, the man only turned to Thomas and said, “I have an idea.”

Said idea, Corvo knew, was the reason Daud poked him awake early the next morning and pulled him along to the Estate District, Thomas tagging silently along. They attached themselves to a larger group, a patrol that seemed determined to act as normal as possible, even when they passed directly by hiding spots Corvo had identified earlier. Corvo swooped above the lot of them, keeping his own eyes open, but the circles remained as empty as they had the first day.

And then Daud Blinked to the top of one of the tallest business buildings, stopping there and watching the rest of the Whalers pass by below him. Thomas glanced up once, but kept moving. Corvo glanced between Daud and the group in confusion, but then Daud whistled, and he headed down to see what the man was about.

As he landed, another Whaler reappeared nearby on the roof. Daud looked back over his shoulder at them. “What is it, Connor?”

“You said no one should walk alone, sir.” The younger Whaler pointed out carefully, and folded his arms behind his back as though prepared to wait as long as he needed to. Daud raised a brow, but eventually turned away.

But then he simply waited. Corvo started shifting after a few minutes, confused as to what they were waiting for, exactly. Daud simply drew his attention back, switching him from wrist to wrist to let him move or pulling gently at his feathers to engage him in a mock fight, with Connor waiting, ever patient, in the background.

Then, finally, after at least ten minutes had passed and Corvo was starting to mildly worry, Daud walked to the edge of the roof, looked down at Corvo and said, again, “Go find Thomas.”

He narrowed his eyes at the man, wondering. It seemed like a lot of effort for something he’d already proven he could do. Still, he’d likely only learn the point once he went through with it, and so he considered the best way forward.

It would take him a long time to search the whole city for Thomas; too long, really. That couldn't  be what they wanted, and since he’d last seen Thomas following the patrol through the Estate District, that was where he decided start. He lifted off, angling high so he could circle overhead with ease, and caught a flicker of shadow following him out of the corner of his eye.

Thomas was indeed still in the Estate District; he was on the edge of one of the tall buildings surrounding the edge of the river, looking out over the water. He looked up at the sound of wingbeats, lifted his arm, and let Corvo settle on his wrist, scratching a quick greeting along the feathers at the side of his head.

A few seconds later, Daud appeared next to them, barely breathing hard. Connor, who had clearly trailed behind, was slightly less composed.

“He’s quite good at this.” Thomas said, his tone reserved.

Daud flashed a sharp smirk at that, something satisfied and almost proud behind the harsh lines of the expression. Corvo glanced away as the man agreed. “I think he’ll do well enough.”

Well enough for what, Corvo still wasn’t quite sure, but he wasn’t too concerned about it yet. If it was, as he suspected, a task that would help catch the witches – a group that he was now nearly sure had attacked Emily – then he was willing to help. He trusted Daud not to get him killed.

Message delivery became something of a new habit over the next two days. When he joined the patrols – who still passed by hidden circles with no sign that they even knew the symbols were there – they would send him off with notes or crossbow bolts seemingly without much true purpose. It was all on Daud’s orders, Corvo suspected, and wondered what the man was planning.

He continued his search through it all, and it was definitely a relief that the patrols were still moving,  so that he could travel with at group rather than search on his own. The time was passing him by, though, faster now that the Whalers seemed to have a specific goal in mind. The Month of Rain would begin in two days, and Granny Rags was as absent as ever.

It was time to move on to another plan.

After flying, he knew, writing could hardly be that difficult to learn, even in this form. Still, reading wasn't entirely pleasant, so he wasn't particularly looking forward to it. And besides, what would he write? Daud's name? His own? A simple and perhaps slightly melodramatic "help?"

Well, any of those would work, he supposed. The very act of writing would certainly get Daud's attention. And so, simply writing was what he focused on.

There wasn't any actual earth to be had in the Flooded District, but the entire area was filthy enough that most of the surfaces would serve, covered as they were with soot and grime that somehow outlasted the rain. He chose a distant rooftop as a practice area and set to work.

He was forced to reevaluate rather quickly - his claws, though sharp and strong, were not particularly flexible. Using only one in the way that writing required quickly became an exercise in frustration. Instead, he discovered, it was much simpler to use his beak by dragging the sharp tip through the dust, even though that often drew unpleasant particles up his nose and into his mouth.

It worked well enough, though, and with a little practice, he was quite certain that his words were at least legible. The problem, he realized, was that the writing looked a reasonable size to him - for a full size human, it would likely be nearly too small to be of much use.

It wasn't too much of a stretch to write the letters far larger, but it slowed him down considerably, and he was again forced to adapt his technique. It would work though, and that was the important part. It was time-consuming and annoying, but it would do what he needed it to do.

He tried to feel more satisfied about it.


He woke up on the first morning of the Month of Rain unsettled, but determined. Daud wasn't going to be pleased, Corvo was quite certain, but it didn't matter anymore. It was time to get help.

Of course, Daud then proceeded to undermine his determination by being entirely absent from his office. Corvo inhaled the food left for him, keeping half his attention on the doors and windows, and gave his feathers a quick brush through when he was done, but when the office was still deserted by the time he finished, he huffed to himself and flew out to inspect the base.

He circled twice through the area, ducking in and out of various rooms, before concluding that Daud, for whatever reason, had decided to leave him behind today. He landed on the roof of Daud’s office and watched two of the wolfhounds chase each other below, confused and a little annoyed.

He was just considering flying to the Tower to check on Emily when a piercing whistle below him grabbed his attention.

There were two Whalers on the main walkway leading out of the base, heads tilted back to look up at him. He dove down and found that it was Thomas who had whistled, as the man pulled his mask back on, with Rulfio next to him in full gear.

They didn’t even wait for him to land, turning instead to Blink down the path out of the base, apparently trusting on him to follow. Corvo did, because their strides were sharp, their shoulders tight, and if the sheer amount of ammunition they were carrying didn’t spell trouble, he didn’t know what did.

They didn’t go far outside the base – just to the bridge that led to the Greaves Refinery. They traveled across the top of it rather than through it, and Corvo tilted his head in surprise at the Whalers waiting in a few boats below. They usually used the Rudshore Gate to leave, unless there was a Watch presence nearby that was too heavy to risk.

Thomas and Rulfio paused on the opposite rooftop, looking down through the gaps in the roof, and Corvo fluttered down to land on Rulfio’s shoulder. Voices echoed up from the room below, Daud’s and another man’s, and he leaned forward with renewed interest.

"...certain this is a good idea, sir?" The one asking was Vladko, one of Daud's lieutenants whom Corvo identified through the slight lisp from his previously broken jaw.

"If you have a better suggestion, let's hear it." Daud's voice was brusque, impatient, and Corvo craned his head from his spot on Thomas' shoulder, trying to see what they were doing.

"I could do it, sir, or Thomas -" Thomas followed Rulfio as he seemed to give up on eavesdropping and went down through the roof. Corvo blinked when they reappeared, his thoughts stumbling slightly, because Daud was wearing grey.

It was clearly the standard industrial suit that the majority of the Whalers wore, a bit loose around his shoulders and torso in a way that diminished his stature. He even had a mask dangling from his fingertips.

It made him look…older, somehow, the streaks of grey in his hair more prominent, but Corvo finally pushed past the oddity of it and turned back to the conversation, though he had to wonder at the reason behind it all.

"Are you questioning my ability to do the job?" Daud asked, dangerously casual.

Vladko flinched. "No, sir! I was just... No."

Rulfio and Thomas seemed happy to stay back and observe the scene, but Daud caught sight of them and beckoned them forward. "Go see to your men, Vladko. I'll meet you there."

The Whaler bowed – a full bow, not the usual quick bob, apparently aware of his blunder – and vanished.

“Everything’s set.” Rulfio told him, as he shifted his arm to help Corvo cross over to Daud’s wrist. “We saw Hobson’s group through the gate already."

“The boats are waiting.” Thomas added, perhaps as an oblique hint, and Daud nodded. He had started petting Corvo’s feathers  as the other men spoke, but it was a distracted movement,  with no real thought behind it. Corvo peered up at him worriedly, but Daud didn’t seem to notice.

"Quickly, then." Daud waved the two of them ahead and they vanished back up through the roof. Daud lifted his wrist up to his shoulder and Corvo moved there, gripping tight there even after Daud had Blinked to the boats and he could have taken up to the air instead.

The trip across the water happened in tense, focused silence, a far cry from the calm affairs Corvo was used to with Samuel. The boats made good time, Corvo noticed – they made sure to keep a distance from other passing ships, but the men had all pulled their masks off before they had left, so no one seemed to give their little fleet a second look.

Daud was in the first boat with four other men, his shoulders hunched and tight beneath Corvo’s claws, though he showed no other signs of disquiet. Corvo considered trying to distract him, but in the end he just settled in to wait.

They came to shore on the southern part of the Estate District, far away from the well-kept quays that most of the ships entering the district used. They all pulled their masks on, Daud included, and half of the group immediately split away as their feet touched solid ground, spiriting east towards an unknown destination. 

The other half gathered around Daud, but the master assassin didn’t take the lead. He looked at one of the others instead, a skinny, quick man Corvo knew was called Montgomery. The man took the lead easily, curling west around the edges of the district.

Corvo took flight as Daud started to Blink, but he stuck closer than he might have otherwise. He felt somewhat justified in the decision when Daud looked up periodically, as though to check that he was still nearby.

With his limited vantage point, it took him longer to notice than it might have otherwise, so he was startled when he looked back and found that they’d lost five men along the way. Even as he watched, another two split off together, dodging off in another direction through the rooftops, leaving Corvo to follow Daud in his unfamiliar colors as he paced Montgomery, flanked by Thomas and Rulfio.

There was little time to wonder about it, though. Dunwall’s clock tower loomed over the entire district, and had come steadily closer as they traveled. Still, he was not expecting them to veer under, and then up it, Blinking and balancing with fingers and toes on the nearly sheer sides of the bottom third and clambering up the metal workings exposed in the middle.

Corvo hovered around the clock itself – he’d never tried climbing it, warned off by the lack of visible routes, and watching the Whalers do so was an exercise in anxiety. There was a flat, empty platform just underneath the actual clock faces, but Corvo could not see any way for them to get there, from their handholds directly under it.

But he’d forgotten the advantage their abilities had over his own. Daud simply vanished from the center and reappeared on the edge of the platform, a stretch Corvo could not have made without a clear line of sight.

He swooped in to land on Daud’s shoulder and swatted him with a wing, ever-so-slightly shaken, and irritable as a result. Daud shot him a glare, but didn’t bother retaliating.

There was already a Whaler on the top of the tower, lying flat on his belly on the edge of it, facing in towards the rest of the Estate District. He looked up as the other men made it up and they all joined him in the rather odd position. Corvo tilted his head in confusion.

“They’re still there.” This one was Fergus, by his higher voice and small stature. He pointed cautiously out into the view in front of them. “Or, as far as I can tell, they are. The circles are still hiding them, but I would have seen them leave.”

Startled, Corvo followed the line of his hand. There were five circles across the Estate District, if he remembered correctly, with three grouped near each other on top of the largest buildings that lined the main roads from the river and the bridge. He could not see purple from this distance, but what caught his attention were the distant silhouettes of figures crouched on the rooftops, exactly where he remembered seeing the circles before.

He hissed lowly, his feathers prickling up with excitement and interest. Daud glanced at him, raising a brow at his vocalization, and Thomas nodded his head slightly, as though something had been confirmed.

“Should we keep our position here, sir?” Montgomery asked, peering over from his position next to Fergus.

But Daud shook his head. “No point. Hobson’s men should be coming up on the old Moray estate soon enough. Go join up with them there.”

The two sentries glanced at each other, then nodded, vanishing off the platform. Daud turned back to the view in front of him, staring out at the distant figures, and then said to Rulfio and Thomas. “Ready?”

“Ready as we’re going to be.” Rulfio grumbled, and Thomas made a soft noise in his throat.

“Couldn’t we just ambush them now?” Thomas shifted, not looking at Daud. "With the others so close by, if Corvo could just show us exactly where – "

"And if we make a mistake?" Daud cut him off. "They'll know that we know, and change their plans entirely. There’s less risk of losing them, this way."

"Don't know why you even bother arguing," Rulfio muttered, and then nudged Daud with his elbow. "Make sure you don't fall on your face, old man. You're ugly enough without a broken nose."

Rulfio's own version of concern, Corvo suspected, as Daud pushed the Whaler off the side edge of the clock’s platform. Rulfio vanished before he'd fallen more than a few inches and they all watched as he flickered to a sheltered spot on a high roof below them, and then away to a new position.

Corvo startled as Thomas suddenly prodded him, shifting him off of Daud's shoulder. Corvo moved onto his wrist instead and tensed when Thomas placed a light hand over his back - gently, but firmly preventing him from flying away. He was mildly tempted to bite, but held himself back. He...trusted Thomas well enough, for this, and he didn't want miss anything that might happen.

"Good luck, sir." Thomas offered, though the only response he got was the hiss of magic as Daud vanished as well.

And then they were alone.

Corvo glanced up at Thomas, but the other man just settled in lower, with no obvious intention of moving. He turned back to the view of the city, fixing his gaze on the just-visible witches, and resigned himself to the wait.

It was easier said than done – he’d never liked surveillance, even if he understood the necessity. The sun crawled slowly up the sky and he began to fidget in Thomas’ loose hold, kneading his claws into the leather of his gloves as he tried to suppress his impatience.

"Easy, now." Thomas murmured, brushing over his chest feathers with short, soothing movements. "Easy."

He forced himself to stop, breathing deep and trying to focus. If he was going to be of any help in the coming conflict, he needed to have himself under control.

The flash of magic, when it happened, nearly took him by surprise. The Whaler in the lead – Hobson, not Vladko, by height alone – came first, the others appearing in loose intervals behind him, as though they were doing nothing more than a routine patrol through the city.

Corvo caught sight of Daud’s silhouette as he appeared and arched his back against Thomas’ hands, wings twitching as he prepared to act on whatever he was asked to do.

Thomas sighed and shifted, rising up to crouch low on the balls of his feet. He waited a moment longer, watching as the patrol drew closer and closer to the witches. Then he finally removed his hand from Corvo’s back, reaching instead to draw a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and raised his wrist to eye level.

“Go find Daud.” Thomas told him, and offered him the note.

Corvo blinked at him incredulously, then grabbed the note and took off into the air. The satisfaction of finally getting to act only added to the high of diving down of the high tower and he darted towards the patrol at full speed.

He cast a careful eye over the circles as he drew closer. There was not one witch crouched in each circle, he realized, but two, pressed together and speaking with their heads close. There were two circles situated on one side of the road, located only four buildings away from each other, but there was also one across the way, farther down the lane, that seemed a bit more separate.

Once or twice as he flew closer, he caught a flash of grey and looked down to find the pairs of Whalers that had split off before had found hiding spots of their own. They were well sheltered from the witches’ line of sight – and it must have taken time, he realized, to climb to their positions without attracting notice, even with their powers.

He caught up with the back of the patrol as they drew nearly level with the first of the circles, passing by on lower buildings as the witches watched them from above. They put on a fair show of nonchalance, he had to admit, and then he picked out Daud’s form near the back of the loose group.

Daud slowed to a walk when Corvo landed on his shoulder, letting the rest of the patrol pass him by as he reached for the note. He paused on the rooftop as he unfolded it, but Corvo didn’t bother to try and read it.

He was too busy watching the backs of the other men disappear, Blinking away one by one as though they had not noticed one of their own falling back. Corvo might have believed the charade himself, if he hadn’t seen their careful wariness over the last few weeks. Their act now only solidified the suspicion that had been stirring since he first saw Daud in grey.

They wanted to draw the witches out of their circles, and Daud was acting as bait.

Corvo’s heart was racing in his ears, and he had to force himself not to look towards their watchers too often. Each second seemed to drag by as Daud read, refolded the note, and then lengthened his stride across the rooftop as though to make up lost ground. Corvo could feel the tightening of Daud’s muscles beneath his feet, though, as the witches remained inactive and the moment started to slip away.

And then Daud flinched. His shoulder jerked as though he’d been hit and he staggered, then fell, hitting the roof with an audible thump.

Driven by a spark of instinct that he’d spent months developing, Corvo burst off of Daud’s shoulder in a flurry of feathers, squalling a noisy alarm to the Whalers he knew had to be watching. None of them appeared, though – and of course they didn’t. If the whole point of this was to bait a trap, the witches needed to be much closer before they could spring it.

He circled for a moment, calming the urge inside of him that wanted to swoop and shriek and dive at the witches’ heads. The two in the closest circle had stood up, and were glancing carefully over the rooftops, but he knew they wouldn’t stay there for long.

He fluttered down next to Daud again, staring intently at the man. He was horribly still, but he was breathing and the dart protruding from his back had the telltale shape and green residue of a sleep dart, so at least he was only asleep, not dead. It wasn’t much of a comfort, though.

The whole situation was risky, so risky, with Daud down and far too vulnerable. How close were the Whalers going to let the witches get before they acted? He understood better now, the concern Vladko had expressed before they started.

But then a memory intruded, barging in through his worry – something wasn't right here. He'd fought Daud personally and wasted three sleep darts before he'd realized they were having about as much effect as hitting him with a pillow might have done. One dart, even in the back, should not have been enough to take him down.

Daud was protected, whether through armor or magic, and whatever the Whalers were doing, Daud would not have left himself vulnerable when he had another alternative.

He hopped closer, peering at Daud. The assassin was entirely limp, his limbs sprawled and his breathing even – but not deep. Daud didn't sleep as much as most men, but Corvo was familiar with the sound of his breathing when he did so, and this was not it.

It was enough – it would have to be enough – and something tense in his gut finally eased slightly.

He pulled in deep, steadying breaths, looking away from Daud to scan the rooftops again. He kept his wings ready, half mantling over Daud's prone form. His pulse jumped, blood thrumming in his ears as each second spent in the expectant silence dragged torturously long.

Then finally – finally – one of the witches moved, a shadow in his peripheral vision that rose from its hiding place and slunk towards them, crossing the small gaps between buildings with ease. Another crept after her a moment later, leaving some careful space between them, and Corvo knew there were still more waiting watchfully behind.

They were both carrying knives, he noticed, as well as canisters of what he thought might be chokedust, from the few times he’d seen the Whalers use it. Their hair was unkempt and as the first witch grew nearer Corvo could see the hunted, wild cast of her eyes, under what looked to be whale oil smeared across her lids.

But what was more, she looked unhealthy – withered. Her eyes were yellowed, her lips dry, and what concerned him most was her skin. It was awfully pale, to be certain, but it also looked almost…ridged, as though some unpleasant illness had left her flesh hardened and scarred.

She circled up on Daud cautiously, eyes darting this way and that, and Corvo cawed at her, challenging, egging her on even as his feathers bristled higher with every step she took. She sneered at him, a strand of her straggling red hair catching on her cracked lips, and strode forward with more confidence, violence in the wiry line of her body.

He should move, should fly off, but Daud was still just lying there and he couldn’t do it. He loosened his wings, though, and gauged the distance. He was quite certain he get her in the eyes before she even realized he was airborne.

But he didn’t need to, in the end. The witch took one final step, raising her foot as though to kick him away, and Daud came alive, twisting upwards in a flash of steel and fury.

He caught her unbalanced and brought her crashing to the rooftop with a shriek, which cut off abruptly as he jabbed the sleep dart on his wrist crossbow into her neck. The other witch turned to flee and the rooftops exploded into movement, the carefully hidden pairs of Whalers leaping out to join the fray.

Corvo leapt from the rooftop and rose up above the strangely quiet fight as the witch threw her canister – clearly not chokedust, as it released a dull orange mist that seemed to send the Whalers coughing even through their masks. The witches from the second circle were sprinting away across the close rooftops as best they could, but Corvo could see more Whalers already rising up to meet them.

The last circle across the way was the most chaotic, he found. It was on the highest building and there were not two, but three witches there – perhaps meant as backup, but they were still far outnumbered.

Two were bolting in opposite directions, while the third remained frozen in the circle, her eyes wide and horrified. One, dashing along the most accessible buildings, went straight into oncoming Whalers, but the other took the riskier route and leapt off the other side, towards a neighboring building that was much further down.

She rolled as she hit, then steadied herself and continued on. Perhaps they hadn’t expected her to jump, but there were no Whalers waiting for her there, and so Corvo took off after her.

He caught up with her quickly, calling out his location with sharp caws to any Whalers not already embroiled in a fight. She glared when he circled above her, raising her hand, and he jerked to the side when she sent something at him, feeling the breeze ruffling his feathers as it passed too close.

And then Thomas was there, looping an arm around her throat and cinching tight. She clawed and struggled from a moment, but it was clear he had learned the technique from an expert. She slumped quickly into his arms and he ducked down slightly to sling her over his shoulders. Corvo prepared to turn back to where the other Whalers were probably finishing the very one-sided battle.

But he had forgotten the third witch.

He cawed a sharp warning as she stumbled onto the rooftop behind Thomas, and indeed, the Whaler had started turning as soon as her feet hit. He was hindered, though, by the witch over his shoulders, and she came in low and fast with a knife in each hand, aiming for his legs, likely in an effort to avoid hitting her comrade.

The first knife sank deep into the back of Thomas’ thigh, and even as Corvo dove towards them, he knew he was too far away to reach her eyes in time. Thomas staggered with a pained grunt, for one moment too disoriented to Blink, and the witch raised her other knife high, her face twisted in a crazed grimace.

There wasn’t time to think about it.

Corvo pulled up his power and screamed, blasting air down at the witch and sending her crashing hard onto the roof. She bounced as she hit and rolled, almost off the edge, but her momentum stopped just in time and she curled up, clutching at her head and moaning.

Thomas wobbled down onto one knee, catching the edge of the blast with his leg already unsteady. Corvo winced, but the man just shook his head as though to clear it and forced himself back upright, letting his prisoner slide off his shoulders. A quick movement of his wrist sent a sleep bolt into the witch’s stationary back and her groans faded off.

And then there was a moment of ringing silence as the reverberating echoes of Corvo’s scream faded.

His stomach sank as Thomas turned his head up to stare at him. He’d decided to reveal himself, yes, but he’d planned on it being a bit more controlled…There was nothing for it now, though. He sighed to himself and dove, landing next to the witch’s prone body, and stared right back at the Whaler.

His time was up.

Thomas looked like he was thinking of stepping back, but the slightest movement sent a visible tremor through his leg. He stopped, watching Corvo a moment longer, and then he looked away; he pulled two red vials out of his belt, tugging off his mask to swallow them both down with a grimace. 

Whatever Thomas' thoughts on their taste, the innate properties of the elixir clearly restored some strength. He managed to straighten, rebalancing his weight on both legs despite the clear puddle of blood staining the rooftop and dampening his uniform. He didn’t move away, though.

He stared at Corvo for a long, fraught moment instead, his face surreally blank. Corvo watched him back for a moment, uncertain, but he was quite sure that, while the elixir might have stopped the bleeding, it had not fully treated that wound and that seemed more important at the moment. Being entirely uninterested in staring anyone down, he flicked his gaze several times between Thomas’ leg and his eyes.

When that changed nothing, he ruffled his feathers and cawed as he glanced down and back up again, hoping the disapproving note came through.

Something like a snort escaped before Thomas muffled himself again, but Corvo was satisfied that he’d gotten his point across. The man’s lips were twisting oddly—Corvo hoped it was bemusement rather than anger, but then he pulled his mask back on, hiding his reactions from view.

“I knew something was off about you.” Was all Thomas said, and even that sounded more musing than accusatory. Then, as though only mildly curious, “You’re not about to fly away, are you?”

Corvo shot him an irritated look, and fluttered up to land on his shoulder, the one opposite his wounded leg. He ignored the way Thomas twitched, as though suppressing a recoil, and, after a moment, the Whaler nodded and Blinked away.

It didn’t take long to bring the other Whalers into view—everyone seemed to be congregating on the rooftop where Daud had first fallen, dealing with wounded men or the unconscious witches. Thomas called two men with empty hands as he reached the group, sending them back for the witches he’d left behind, and then he wove through the others until Daud, now without a mask, came into view.

Corvo caught the quick frown Daud sent at Thomas’ leg as they reached him. He also caught the very small smile Daud sent in his direction—his heart leapt and then sank just as quickly.  Thomas jerked his head and flicked his hands in a few quick movements that Corvo couldn’t read.

Daud’s eyes narrowed and he followed after them as Thomas reached the edge of the roof, a few feet of space separating them slightly from the others.

Daud crossed his arms and stared at both of them, eyes sharp. “Thomas?”

“Do you remember those screams the witches used to use?” Thomas asked, nearly offhandedly and Corvo didn’t even bother suppressing his wince because oh, that wasn’t good. He hadn’t known about that.

“Of course.” Daud’s attention sharpened further. “Did one of them still have magic?”

“No—not that I saw, anyway. But your bird apparently does.” Thomas corrected quickly. “He just blasted one of them to the floor by screaming at her.”

Daud blinked. Corvo could see the lightning fast shift of emotions as that information sank in—disbelief, confusion, concern, wariness—and he knew it would be a very short jump to defensive anger. But, he realized suddenly, he no longer needed to remain passive in these conversations.

He chirped roughly at Daud, trying to keep the noise soft enough that they wouldn’t think he was threatening them. The man’s gaze flicked over to him immediately.

He stepped closer, his movements deliberately slow, and stared down at Corvo, quick thoughts and connections from all the insights and suspicions he’d been building happening almost visibly behind his eyes. 

Then he tipped his head slightly and asked, clearly to Corvo rather than Thomas, “Is that so?”

Corvo forced himself not to hunch his shoulders under that stare and instead stared straight back. There was no reason to hide. This wasn't what he'd planned, or hoped, but he'd decided on revealing himself within hours anyway.

So he nodded, a quick one-two bob of his head, and grumbled out a noise that he hoped vaguely resembled agreement.

Daud huffed out a breath and Corvo felt Thomas’ shoulder stiffen for a moment in his claws. He did his best to ignore the reaction, though, understandable as it was. Perhaps Daud noticed it as well though because, after a moment of stillness, he lifted his arm and offered his wrist for Corvo to step onto.

Corvo stared in surprise, his heart uncomfortably in his throat, but then he quickly accepted, sparing Thomas any further discomfort.

Daud didn’t look overly shocked, Corvo decided—his gaze seemed both curious and wary as he glanced over Corvo from head to tail. Corvo did his best to look both trustworthy and unintimidated, even as their unfortunate size difference suddenly leaped back to the forefront of his mind without prompting.

He didn’t know when he’d stopped noticing it entirely.

"You understand us.” It didn’t even sound like a question now, just Daud confirming what he already knew. “You know exactly what we’re saying."

Corvo nodded again, watched Daud’s lips thin, and thought about how to explain.

He could write now, of course—should write, should scratch something into the dirty roof below to allay the worries Daud had to have, or explain himself, or even just ask for help. But he couldn’t think of how to begin—his mind felt oddly blank, empty wherever he reached. The words were evading his thoughts just as firmly as they would his voice if he tried to utter them through a crow’s throat.

All this time, all this waiting, and now that he had someone to speak to, he didn’t know what to say.

“We told you there was something was wrong with him.” Thomas sighed. His shoulder twitched slightly when Corvo looked back to glare at him. We? “Well, you weren’t exactly subtle, were you?”

“And he was helping you?” Daud asked quietly, his eyes still watching Corvo. “Not the witches?”

“Of course.” Thomas said before Corvo could worry. “I would have dealt with him there, otherwise.”

The meaning of that was obvious, even if it still stung a bit. Of course they’d consider whether he was a trick or an enemy. Corvo didn’t want that impression sticking though, even if they didn’t seem likely to hurt him at the moment; he was still struggling with words, but that wasn’t all he had, and he acted on instinct instead.

He moved up Daud’s arm, padding his way slowly up the thick gray sleeve to reach the man’s shoulder. He heard Thomas shifting behind him and knew he’d get a bolt through the side if he made a wrong move. Corvo didn’t blame him either; he could do some serious damage if he screamed at Daud from this distance.

His stomach flipped unpleasantly at the thought and he fluffed up his feathers as his skin crawled.

Daud turned to watch him as he reached eye level. The man’s eyes had narrowed again, but he wasn’t shaking Corvo off—some of the trust they’d built was still there, had to be, if he was allowed this close after he’d already proven himself stranger than he’d seemed. It was a sting and a relief both—it wasn’t going to last when it all came out, but for now…

He leaned in and, oh so carefully, nudged his head against Daud’s cheek.

He’d meant it to keep it short, the sort of amicable gesture he’d seen animals make before. But…Daud’s skin was warm, even through feathers, his jawbone firm where the top of Corvo’s beak gently pressed and he found himself lingering for another second, then another. And then there was no point in pretending—he huddled close and leaned his head on Daud’s, willing him to understand.

Daud didn’t jerk away—he didn’t move at all. Corvo might have thought him frozen except for his breathing, the breeze as he exhaled just barely catching on the edge of the feathers on Corvo’s cheek. They stood together for one soft, quiet moment, and something in Corvo’s chest yawned wide-open and aching.

I’m not your enemy. Not anymore. He thought, and croaked low in his throat so that Daud could feel it, trying to convey even just a little of the sentiment. I’m a friend, I promise. Just let me prove it.

“And that’s the other reason I brought him back.” Thomas said, very quietly as though trying not to intrude. “Wherever he came from, it’s clear he’s grown as fond of you as you have of him.”

That, for some reason, felt like a kick to the gut and Corvo stayed still just a moment longer as his breath came in short. But then Daud shifted and he drew back entirely, shuffling his wings and preening a few errant feathers sticking out on his chest before he forced himself to stop fidgeting. He was probably lucky, he decided, that he couldn’t blush as a bird.

“Did any of the others notice anything?” Daud asked, and when Corvo glanced up, he was finally looking away to where the Whalers were finishing up their activities.

“No.” Thomas said, dragging out the word slightly. “What are you going to tell them?”

“I’d prefer to know what I’m dealing with first, before that comes up.” Daud said, turning an expectant gaze back on Corvo.

And that was his cue—to write, to explain himself.

But then Thomas broke in again. “We should deal with this back at the base then, if you don’t think he’s a danger. We’re too exposed, and some of the men are wounded.”

Corvo rustled his wings, but he couldn’t complain too much about the delay—not with his thoughts still so unorganized and Thomas standing on that leg. His words would wait that little bit longer.

There was only the barest hint of strain in Thomas’ voice, but Daud’s head came up, the mantle of leadership pulling his shoulders straight again as he stared at Thomas’ leg. “How badly are you injured?”

“I wasn’t talking about me – ”

How badly?”

“I can make it back.” Thomas capitulated, “It’s going to need stitches, though.”

Daud frowned at him, then at Corvo, and then glanced back at the Whalers and the rooftop behind him – high enough that most people wouldn’t see them, but still open and visible to anyone who was looking.

A sharp whistle and a gesture had the other Whalers scrambling into order, slinging the witches over their shoulders and pulling the few Whalers that had gotten injured into the center of the group. Thomas resisted this gesture with a few swats and hissed words, but Daud turned away from the preparations to glance at Corvo, his face now more difficult to read. “You’re still coming back with us.”

Corvo was not entirely sure if it was a question or a demand, but he bobbed his head anyway.

They made for the sewers rather than the river—Corvo didn’t know why and didn’t much care at this point. Daud held the door for the rest and turned after they were all through to stare up at Corvo where he circled above. He hesitated, then flew down to land on the man’s shoulder as he would have before. Daud just followed the rest in without comment, so he considered it permission.

The group stuck very close together on the journey back – perhaps because of their prisoners, or their wounded, or just because they were tired. This gave Corvo far too much time to think, even though he knew he needed to organize what he wanted to write, and so he alternated between watching their backs and glancing at Daud as subtly as he could.

“Starting to bleed again, Thomas.” Vladko's voice split the air at one point, and the group slowed as a whole. Thomas glanced back over his shoulder and hummed in irritation.

“She got me deep.” He admitted, then shook his head and kept walking. “It’s fine. I can’t feel it yet.”

“How many elixirs do you drink, then?” Vladko muttered, and shoved at Thomas’ shoulder. “Sit down, idiot, so I can wrap it.”

“I don’t need –”

“You’re leaving a blood trail.” The Whaler pointed behind them jauntily. “You want something unsavory to follow us home?”

“Sit down, Thomas.” Daud said, and Thomas sat, leaning on his hip to keep his leg off the ground.

“…entirely unnecessary…” Corvo heard him snarl under his breath, and although Daud ignored him, Vladko punched him in the shoulder.

“Don’t make me sit on you.” The other Whaler warned him, and Thomas subsided, letting the man pull at his uniform to expose the wound as the other Whalers assembled in a loose wall around them.

It took some time, though, and after they had lingered longer than usual in that stretch of the tunnels, Corvo activated his Dark Vision in cautious paranoia, still on high alert after the fight. There wasn't anyone visible nearby to worry about, but a rune song suddenly lit up in his ears, floating out of one of the small, branching tunnels that turned off from their path.

He wouldn’t mind the distraction, honestly, and he glanced back at the group of Whalers. Thomas was still grumbling under his breath, but the others were steadfastly ignoring the complaints, keeping an eye on the main tunnels.

Even if they let Vladko take his time to wrap the wound up tight, they'd only be here for another minute or two, at most, but that was enough time to go and come back.

He slipped off Daud's shoulder, ignoring the man's startled grunt, and fluttered down the side passage, keeping his Vision open and his feet high above the floor. It was a fairly short tunnel, only a few twists and turns, but in his focus on the otherworldly, he nearly missed the actual singing that rose up under the rune.

The voice was familiar, the singing striking a chord in the back of his mind, and his suspicions sped his wings as he turned the final corner. The passage opened out into one of the many caverns that populated the sewers, a raised platform and pipes in the center decorated with cloth and lanterns.

And there on the center platform, singing and humming to herself, a withered old woman was dancing with her arms around an invisible partner.

He'd finally found Granny Rags.

Chapter Text

Half-hidden in the ambient darkness of the sewers, Corvo stood paralyzed.  

He had perched on the closest of the large boulders that lined the walls of the open chamber and watched, transfixed, as Granny Rags swayed in a small circle, trilling to herself as sweetly as any young girl pretending to dance at a ball. She was still wearing the same clothes as she had months ago, now blackened with soot and burned through in places, and it was clear that it wasn't just her clothes that had suffered.   

The right side of her face was patched with healing burns—all still a deep and angry red—pulling at the corner of her eye and crinkling around her lips. The rest of her face was pallid, the skin sagging alarmingly; with her glazed eyes, she was beginning to look more like a corpse than a woman.  

A soft rustle finally pulled his eyes away. He glanced down, and then swallowed.  

He couldn’t tell if the floor of the chamber was dirt or stone; every inch of it was covered with a pulsing, shifting carpet of rats. All colors, all sizes—they swirled and froze as one great horde without any discernable pattern, their small pointed faces turning up towards her when they stood still like plants to the sun.  

He watched them swarm over and past each other, lacking any of the noisy squeaks such hordes usually brought. If he peered in close, he thought he could see fresh blood splatters across the backs of the white ones, droplets gleaming wet and still red, deceptively beautiful in his bright bird’s vision.  

Run. Fly. Just leave, Corvo, now.

He didn't know if it was the slowly growing bird instinct clawing at him, or his own common sense. Perhaps a mix of both, but it probably said something about him that his voice of reason was starting to sound like Thomas.  

He didn't have time to make the decision—didn't know what he might have chosen, anyway. Before he could shake himself out of it, Granny stopped singing and fell still, the last echoes of her humming fading quickly into stark, heavy silence as the rats followed suit. Then she tilted her head and said, "Dear?"

And by the Void, he didn't think he'd ever be able to hear any form of that word again without his skin crawling.  

"Is that you, dearie?" She asked again, sing-song now, her hands clasped to her chest. The rats, still eerily silent, turned as one to stare at him. "Oh, wonderful! Granny was starting to worry about you."

She sounded yet again like as though she'd entirely forgotten their fight—but he'd made that mistake in the Distillery District. He stayed silent, watching her warily as she tipped her head from side to side, an oddly predatory motion that her sweet speech couldn't hide.  

"I heard you playing with those nice Brigmore girls, you know, so I thought to stop by." She told him cheerfully, as though the room and the altar behind her were not the product of hours of work. A rat clambered up her clothes to her shoulder and she stroked its head with gentle fingers. "You didn't hurt yourself, I hope. Not after Granny made such a pretty body for you."

He stiffened at the words, rustling his wings, and her eyes snapped right to him. She didn't move though; she simply stroked the rat, slow and repetitive.  

She wasn’t the Outsider; he had no reason to believe that she would be able to understand his squawking any better than Daud could. But the air felt charged around him, that prickling, creeping feeling of magic and power. He croaked at her. Can you understand? Listen to me.  

Her smile widened. But if she understood him, she didn’t seem inclined to let him know.  

“You did set me back quite a bit, you know.” Oh, she was back to sickly-sweet and the more she spoke, the further his hopes fell. “There was work to be done, such important work, but then you just had to go and leave early, didn’t you? Yes, yes you did…”

Right, he wasn’t going to lie to himself—this wasn’t going well. He’d put so much just on finding her that he was somewhat at a loss now. He’d started to count on just picking up ideas along the way, like he had with the Heretic’s Brand and Slackjaw’s offer and Hiram Burrows’ recorded confession. But maybe he’d gotten too used to leaping without a plan and this time there was no safety net to fall into.  

He glanced back into the tunnel. If he could just—

The previously inert horde of rats exploded into motion, some subtle signal igniting them from complete stillness into a furious, whirling mass of fur before he had even managed to open his wings. They seethed forwards and gathered beneath him, boiling up the rocks as they clambered over and on top of each other, a pile of flashing teeth that quickly grew too close for comfort.  

Corvo startled badly, flapping to get away; for a few wild, useless wingbeats he was stuck on the rock as he fought for balance and he screamed as the rats piled over the edge towards him, blasting them backwards. It only bought him a few seconds of time as the ones protected from his scream by the rock replaced the first.  

But it was enough; he found his wings and almost careened into the nearest wall as he threw himself away from the swarm. Some of the rats leapt into the air after him, snapping at his legs and falling just short, and then they all swarmed after him along the ground as one massive body.  

He whirled and circled once through the in the too-small room, avoiding the walls with difficulty as his vision blurred with speed and animal panic: pounding heart and muddled thoughts and fly-fly-fly. The tunnel he’d come from flashed by, a blessed spot of darkness in the lamplight of the room and he made for it with relief.

Daud wouldn’t know what was going on—Corvo wouldn’t have time to tell him, certainly didn’t want to start the conversation like this. But Daud would help, regardless of his confusion, and that was what Corvo needed.  

Something slammed into his side and he squalled involuntarily, struggling as Granny’s thin, spindly fingers appeared from nowhere and wrapped around his torso with unexpected speed. “Oh no, dearie, not this time–”

He turned his head to face her and opened his mouth to scream again, but she squeezed him as she did so, forcing the air out of his lungs in a squeak. He twisted his neck around in a flash and gouged her hand instead, forcing the points of his beak deep into the meat of her thumb.  

He heard her snarl something, but she didn’t let him go the way he’d hoped. She just squeezed harder instead, until he could feel his delicate chest bones threatening to snap and his vision started to gray as he frantically tried to draw in air—

The humming buzz of a crossbow bolt sliced through his muffled hearing; it was followed almost immediately by a meaty thunk and Granny’s hand jerked, releasing him as she yowled. He tumbled towards the ground and the rats, scrambling to right himself, but more hands swept him up—leather-clad this time, careful and familiar, and he relaxed with relief even as the cold darkness of a Blink swallowed him whole for a moment.  

When the world reformed, the room was at a standstill.  

Corvo took it all in quickly, catching his breath as he prepared to scream again if needed. A quick glance upward confirmed that Daud had him now, held loosely to the man’s chest as he kept his left arm free. There were Whalers dotted on the boulders around the room, swords out or crossbows pointed, while flickers of movement suggested the rest were watching closely from the tunnel.

Granny Rags was back on the center platform, her rats gathered and stock-still on the rock around her as she stood with her head bowed over the bolt jutting out of her hand.  

Daud's fingers moved beneath his claws, tensing as the man shifted his stance. The crossbow on his wrist remained steady on the old woman, but his voice, when he spoke, was level and soft. Testing. "Granny Rags?"

Her fingers curled around the bolt impaling her palm, but even as Corvo winced and blood dripped onto the backs of the rats below, she raised her head and smiled at Daud. There was no sign of pain on her ravaged face.  

"Oh, isn't that nice? The Knife's come to visit." Her voice was calm again, the voice of a kind old woman chatting about the weather and for a moment Corvo hated her with a wild, panicked conviction.  "It's been so long since you talked with your old granny, dear. We thought you'd forgotten about us."  

Hundreds of whiskered faces followed her blind eyes to Daud’s face, beady eyes gleaming. Corvo was impressed when Daud didn't even blink. "Apologies. I wasn't aware that I was expected."  

He'd matched her light air of chitchat, but Corvo could feel that he'd not relaxed one muscle and the Whalers on the rocks only glanced at each other. As Corvo looked, the one closest to the exit slipped out and away.  

"Expected? Hmph. I had presents for you, dearie. Several, if you'd only come back." Corvo felt Daud shift one foot to the side as a second Whaler started to idle slowly after the first. Granny's eyes narrowed and the rats lifted their heads higher—Daud and the other Whalers froze up again, wary. "Oh, but you aren't going to be rude now, are you? Taking things that don't belong to you."  

Her gaze fixed back in Corvo's direction and Daud drew him in closer to his chest, curling his fingers up around him. His voice was now nowhere near friendly when he asked, “He’s yours?”

“But of course he is!” She wasn’t smiling anymore; it was closer to a baring of teeth. “I took him, made him, remade him as he is—so lovely, so small.”  

“Made him?” Daud threw back immediately, clearly grasping for answers.  

“Well, human bones don’t work quite as well, dearie.” She sang. Corvo couldn’t help, but wonder if she was enjoying drawing it out, or if her mind was so lost that she simply didn’t care. “So we made him better, gave him blood for drawing and bones for etching and the feathers that go along.”

“Human bones.” Daud was many things, but Corvo knew slow wasn’t one of them. “He was a person?”  

“Oh, yes. So bold, so dashing, so clever. But not clever enough. He’s only whispers, now.” Granny’s eyes glimmered in the low light.  “Such a pity about the Royal Protector, they say, lost so soon after he cleared his name and restored the throne.”

And there it was. It should have been a relief to have it out in the open, but Corvo’s heart was in his throat. Because he could feel with clarity Daud’s harsh, shocked exhale, the way every muscle in his chest and arm locked up tight as he understood.  

"You—" Daud started, voice drawn tight, and then stopped himself. None of the Whalers moved an inch.  

“Such a pity, they say,” poison, poison, Corvo can see it in her eyes as she stares at him, can feel it in each word, “that he vanished and left such a vulnerable Empress without her guardian. For she’s still only a child, after all, and she’d been so fond of him–”

He snarled at her, high-pitched and whistling, wings spreading and feathers bristling along his back. She only smiled larger, grotesque with the weeping burns around her mouth. Her fight with him he could almost understand, but he hadn’t thought she would…if she so much as looked in Emily’s direction—

Daud’s hand clamped down across his back, hard. It wasn’t enough to hurt, but it was a very clear warning. Don’t.  

And it was enough to shake him out of it, enough for him to remember. A quick glance upwards had him almost wincing; Daud still warily focused on Granny Rags, but his eyes were hard and his face was set in blank, frozen lines.

He did jump when Daud's left hand dropped from his back—he didn't raise it back into his defensive position, though. He dropped it to his leg instead and began to curl his fingers there, to all appearances just nervously fidgeting.

Except, of course, that Daud had never been the kind to fidget.  

"So, do be a darling and give him back to your old Granny, wouldn't you?" She clasped her hands together in front of her, posture perfect for a demure young noblewoman if the rest of her appearance hadn't ruined it. "I'm sure I have a few trinkets to give you in return, for such a nice, helpful young man."  

Corvo twisted his head quickly to peer up at Daud and this time the man was looking back, his eyes shadowed and fathomless. His fingers were still shifting slowly, quietly, on his leg. In spite of himself, Corvo found he was holding his breath.  

Then Daud looked back up and said simply, "No."  

Corvo huffed, loose with quiet relief, and settled a bit lower in Daud's grasp. Granny Rags, in contrast, seemed to harden, eyes narrowing and head tipping like the silent, waiting rats at her feet. "No?"  

The Whalers were moving again, shifting unobtrusively back along the rocks and away from the rats. Corvo picked out three more of them half-hidden in the shadows of the tunnel entrance, waiting just beyond the pool of light.  

"No." Daud repeated, implacable and rumbling low, and with a sweep of his arm that sent wings flaring outwards, he flung Corvo back into air.  

After so long, practice and instinct had his wings open and flapping as soon as he left Daud’s arm. In such a small space, the direction and added speed had him across the room and to the tunnel in seconds, but Corvo balked as the room behind him shattered with noise. An unholy, high scream echoed off the walls with the underlying chorus of hundreds of squealing rats.  

He flapped quickly to slow himself, to turn around and assist in this fight that he'd dragged them into, but then he was at the exit and one of the waiting Whalers lunged out and snagged him.  

No! He squawked in protest, glancing back—he caught a flash of rippling fur and the quick encroachment of deep, unnatural fog, but then the darkness of the Void swallowed him again and they were away, fleeing in a long, quick series of Blinks that he knew had to be giving his carrier a sharp headache.  

Bright light blinded him after the darkness of the sewers and the Void: daylight, he realized once the fresh air brushed his face. They were back out on the streets—the actual streets for a moment before the Whaler Blinked again and they were up on the rooftops. They hadn’t gone too far in the short time they’d been underground, as the clock tower was still visible.  

He squirmed out from under the hand on his back, clawing for their wrist instead and the Whaler holding him didn’t protest. He was leaning heavily on one leg; that and the blood on his uniform made Thomas easy to identify and Corvo relaxed just slightly.  

Whatever the plan, he doubted Thomas would run without assurance that Daud would be following.  

A quick scuffle of movement drew his attention to where two more Whalers were squirming up through an open hatch in the alley below, the kind that allowed quick street access to the sewers. Their movement was hampered by the limp bodies they dragged behind them—the witches, still unconscious and looking even more worse for wear than they had before.  

Corvo counted eight as they clambered out and Blinked up— those holding the prisoners had followed Thomas out of the fight, which only made sense. But his worry spiked when no one else followed; whatever the Whalers had communicated to each other, he wasn’t fond of leaving men behind.  

The last one through remained crouched there for a moment. The man peered back along the tunnel, and then pushed himself upright and called up to them. “Nothing followed us, far as I can tell.”

“Leave the hatch open.” Thomas said, voice dragging low in what sounded like exhaustion.  

Corvo glanced up at him in concern, not that he could discern much through the mask, and Thomas tilted his head down in time to catch him. Corvo could see his own distorted reflection in the lenses of his mask, gleaming black feathers and quick, dark eyes.  

“…you think she was telling the truth? About him?” That was Galia’s voice, half-muttered and directed at no one in particular as they all gathered loosely together. She dropped her prisoner carelessly at her feet with a thump and tilted her head, staring in their direction. “That he’s…you know.”

“The Royal Protector?” Thomas finished for her, voice absolutely blank. Caught, Corvo jerked his head up, nervous and expectant and, honestly, relieved in equal measure. His movement sent them all silent though, every Whaler in the loose circle turning to watch him. Thomas sighed. "I'd say that answers your question."

Several of them glanced at each other, quick and miniscule movements, and Corvo tipped his head, irritated by the masks hiding everyone's expressions. Thomas' apparent lack of reaction would have been worrying in itself, except for the fact that all the Whalers showed varying degrees of the same, that training to keep themselves under control.  

And he took heart in the fact that Thomas hadn't shaken him off yet, even though he kept his arm up and out, a bit farther away from his body than he would have before. Only to be expected, Corvo knew. He'd had time to work through things; he'd need to give them the same, even if things were uncomfortable for a while.

Their moment of fraught silence was interrupted as the rest of the Whalers began to appear, slipping up through the hatch or Blinking in from buildings across the nearby street. Many of them looked a bit ruffled and Corvo could clearly see a few of them gingerly prodding at some rat bites.  

Daud was the last, heaving his wide shoulders through the small hatch below. He kicked it as he left, triggering the mechanism to close it. Corvo thought he might have caught the faint squeaks and squeals of rats before metal cut them off entirely.  

He watched Daud warily, uncertain, as the man Blinked up to join them and swept a practiced eye over the group, counting bodies. Thomas shifted his weight again, though he remained uncomplaining. "That was fast."  

"A bit too fast." Daud sounded distracted and Corvo's heart jumped as the man finished his headcount and turned to stare down at him. "She left the rats to cause trouble, but she clouded the room and ran as soon as you and— as soon as you disappeared."

"Suppose she was smart enough not to take those odds." One of the others muttered, not sounding particularly sure of himself. The rooftop was small, but they were all standing rather closer together than was strictly necessary.  

Granny Rags didn't seem like one to notice or care overmuch about odds, Corvo noted distantly. But then, without her cameo, perhaps she was now uniquely vulnerable, unwilling to take the risk.   

Daud hadn't looked away yet. His eyes were still shadowed, still distant—Corvo wondered if he was going over his memories, slotting all the odd behaviors into place. Corvo kneaded Thomas’ uniform between his claws for a second, uncertain—should he start writing now? Certainly he owed them all a full explanation, or as close as he could get while scratching in the dirt.  

He cawed at Daud, trying to provoke something, anything, to hint at his state of mind.

Daud blinked and almost flinched, a quiver of movement through his shoulders and torso even as his right hand drew back to his belt—closer to his sword, Corvo knew, though he thought it seemed more an unconscious movement than an intentional one.

He watched as the man opened his mouth to speak, then paused and closed it again, his jaw clenched and his breath harsh in his nose. Corvo waited.  

“Attano?” Daud asked, finally.  

And Corvo nodded. It had sounded like less of a question than a confirmation of what they now already knew but, now more than ever, he wanted to be clear.  

Daud closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, his telltale sign of an impending headache. Corvo clicked his beak, on edge; the air on the roof felt like it was crackling with the tension as the Whalers fell into their frozen, waiting silence.  

“Well,” Rulfio’s voice was too loud in the hush. “That explains quite a lot, actually.”  

“Yes,” Daud’s voice did not soften any as he opened his eyes. “I suppose it does.”

Corvo hadn’t had this much trouble reading his expression since the beginning of it all. He wished there was somewhere he could land to write other than the roof at their feet, but this wasn’t the time to be picky. He fluttered down from Thomas’ arm and was torn between irritation and amusement when a good half of the Whalers took a step back.  

Daud wasn’t one of them, but neither did he approach or crouch down as he would have before.  

“Why?” Daud demanded, sudden as though the question was simply insuppressible. "After what I— Out of all the people in the city, why would you come to me?"

Corvo hesitated—it wasn’t that he hadn’t expected the question. Certainly he’d asked himself something similar enough times all those months ago. But what to say? Aid and protection were truthful enough, but also gave Daud absolutely no indications of his new, far less hostile mindset.  

This was rather more difficult than he’d hoped it would be.  

“You know,” Rulfio broke in suddenly, voice almost thoughtful, “if I’m remembering correctly, it’s not like he came to us on purpose. You were the one that went and picked him up.”

Corvo twisted to look at him—he was still surrounded, but he’d almost started to drown out the presence of the others in the tension of the moment. By the way Daud stopped short, he might have as well.   

“Didn’t seem too keen to follow you home then, either. Didn’t he bite you?” Rulfio added, then went from thoughtful to indignant. “Wait, he bit me!”

Corvo winced, caught without a bird’s nature to hide behind and still a bit embarrassed about his loss of control. He cheeped at Rulfio sheepishly and was startled when the man outright snorted at him.  

“Rulfio has a point. Injured like that—and still figuring out what had happened, I expect—” Thomas joined in now, looking down at him, and Corvo nodded emphatically. “—we were probably his best option at the time.”

Corvo nodded again, torn between frustration and gratefulness. He didn’t have to write this all out himself and it was good—and certainly surprising—to have any support. But for all that he could now technically join the conversation, it was moving so fast around him that it felt difficult to interject himself.  

He wasn’t about to remain silent after this long, though—as Daud narrowed his eyes at Thomas and Rulfio, he stole the moment of quiet as an opportunity. The rooftop was, thankfully, slate and not particularly clean.  

‘needed to heal,’ he started with, to agree with Thomas and get the feel for it. He wrote large and quick, and correspondingly messy, but the quiet around him made him feel like it took far too long, even if it only really took seconds. Then, as Daud and a few others stepped in closer to read, he added before he could talk himself out of it, ‘ thank you.’

Because whatever else he had done, Daud had helped him—had fed him, protected him, and given him a safe place to learn and rest when he needed it. Considering that Corvo still needed his help, it seemed only right to acknowledge it.  

Daud stared down at the writing, looking just a little bit poleaxed, as though this was what had finally driven it all home. Then he drew back, controlling his expression with a deep, calming breath that Corvo highly doubted would actually help. “All right, fine. I can understand that. But you’ve been flying for weeks. You’ve had plenty of time to leave.”  

The why haven’t you was perfectly clear.  

‘I—‘ Corvo was going to say couldn’t, but that wasn’t entirely true, despite the difficulties involved with both Emily and Granny Rags. He went with something a little closer to honesty instead, as nerve-wracking as it felt, holding his breath as he wrote, ‘—didn’t want to.’  

Inadequate. It didn’t explain anything, but it seemed to take so long to write and he couldn’t stop himself from raising his head once he finished to check on Daud’s expression.  

“You didn’t—” Daud cut off his own words and rubbed at his forehead again, clearly not getting it. Behind him, though, some of the Whalers had turned to whisper to each other and Rulfio huffed to himself, nodding. “Why not?”

Corvo sighed at him. Did he really have to spell everything out?

“You’re not that oblivious.” Thomas murmured. “Besides the obvious reasons, I said it before. It’s very clear he’s grown fond of you.”  

Daud jerked his head up to stare at the other man and Corvo’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t that…well, there was really no point in pretending that he hadn’t gotten attached, foolish as that was. But Thomas sounded so certain, especially considering how cautious the man had often acted around him.  

So just how obvious had he been?  

“That isn’t— Don’t be ridiculous.” Daud snapped at Thomas and Corvo cawed at him again, a short bark of sound because hey, he would be the one deciding that, thank you very much. Daud whipped back around to glare at him and Corvo stared right back. Stared him down, even, which was ridiculous given his size, but after a few moments Daud stepped back.  

“This doesn’t make any sense.” He growled and he was starting to look a little wild around the edges, expression a bit too frayed. “Why didn’t you— Have you forgotten what I did?”

Corvo went still and Thomas stiffened, his head turning sharply.

“I shoved a sword straight through her.” Daud was practically snarling, shoulders hunched and visibly taut. “I left her bleeding in the dirt so I could steal your daughter, and it got you sent to Coldridge! Are you just going to ignore—”

Corvo hissed, flushing cold, his stomach turning over in a shock of fury and how dare you. For a moment, just in that split second, he was almost tempted to scream at him, to knock him over, just to make him stop

"Daud!” Thomas' voice shattered the crackling tension between them, ringing taut with what sounded like all the fury that Corvo couldn't express. Corvo flinched, startled, and saw Daud do the same, the rest of his sentence left unsaid.  

Thomas was between them now, hands hovering and ready to move if he needed to; he remembered that night, not so long ago, where Thomas had been just as angry, and then it was easy now to hear the worry, the fear beneath it all. Corvo hunched lower, an unexpected spark of shame flaring even as he trembled with anger, his pulse racing in his ears.  

Daud let out a low, wordless growl of frustration and spun on his heel, fluid and dangerous. He stalked to the edge of the roof and gripped his short hair in his hands, visibly struggling to pull himself under control and every instinct in Corvo’s body either wanted to hit him or was straining towards away.  

He chose the second, not waiting for Daud to speak again, or for Thomas to smooth things over. He unfolded his wings instead, flitted to the edge of the roof, and let the wind carry him off.  

He thought he might have heard a voice calling out through the wind, but he didn't look back.  


 

There was something very comforting about flying, Corvo found. He could scream into the clouds where no one would hear or be hurt and he could throw himself towards the earth, hurtling at speeds that sent his heart into his throat and stole his breath, replacing it with the sharp, icy winds.  

He travelled like that, wild and erratic, until he felt less like he was going to implode, the chill of the ocean wind settling into him. And, by luck or by habit, he’d ended up near enough to where he’d wanted to go.  

He'd gotten used to the sight of Dunwall Tower from the air, after his weeks of check-ins on Emily. The sight of it wasn't much of a comfort today though, unhappy and unsettled as he was, and it was made worse by that fact that Emily wasn’t there when he arrived.  

He suspected it after his first sweep around the windows and confirmed it by eavesdropping on the servants. It was hardly unusual; she was an Empress, if a young one, and active by all accounts. But the cold curling in his bones only hardened as he turned away from the Tower itself.  

He ended up, as he’d so often used to, at the pavilion.  

There were fresh flowers there again—flowers and the untouched sword. He landed between them and gazed at the memorial stone, feeling slow and dull and tired; the fight with the witches, just this morning, felt ages away now. He pulled half-heartedly at a few loose feathers on his chest as he ran his eyes over the familiar carved words—wondered, suddenly, what Jessamine might have said if she’d seen him as a bird.  

Outsider’s eyes, he wished he could talk to her.  

That was all it took for grief to ignite, bubbling up like a flashflood, sinking its hooks into his chest and throat. He gasped and bowed his head, let himself shake as he fought for air against the sharp and aching edges.

It had gotten rarer, this feeling, especially of late, but it still stung, resonated just as deeply as it had in the beginning. And it always seemed to happen like this, when he thought of how much he wanted her advice or her laughter and realized that he would never hear it again. Not outside the confined whispers of the Outsider’s gift .  

He breathed deeper, let himself ride the billowing wave of it instead of fighting to contain it. It receded slowly, let him swallow down the ache and the longing until he felt raw and too open, but less like he wanted to tear into his own skin.  

He wondered how often Emily felt like this, now. How often it happened because of him, and his heart throbbed again, though a different sort of pain.  

He was no closer to fixing himself—was further away, even, now that Granny’s attitudes had been made entirely clear. And every day he wasted was another day that Emily had to deal with the loss of him, on top of everything else. 

But then, even once was too often. So he didn't have the time or luzury of self-pity. He pulled in a breath, and tamped down the anger and hurt and loss, and he turned to what he’d just left.

He didn’t regret leaving—his fury had needed the time to cool, though anger still simmered, low and quiet. He’d forgiven Daud, yes, but he hadn’t forgotten. He’d made his decision with full acknowledgement of Daud’s past. But then to have it shoved at him by Daud himself, to have those memories dragged to the forefront…

Corvo forced himself still, to breathe past the hard, cold ball that was settling back in his chest so that he could think, unfold Daud’s behavior, aggressive and unusual as it had been. Because whether Daud wanted it, whether Daud deserved it, Corvo had decided to forgive him. And he’d known going in that it wouldn’t be a simple path.  

And it wasn’t that difficult, honestly—he’d considered such things before, how he might have felt in Daud’s place, upon finding that a likely enemy had gotten so close and had hidden for so long. Beyond the shock and anger, with all the guilt and enmity they had behind them, it wasn’t surprising that Daud would be wary— would be afraid of what he might do.  

Fear made people foolish, made them defensive. Certainly he’d said his own share of unpleasant things to Jessamine and even Emily under stress, though he’d just as certainly regretted it later.  

He grumbled to himself, going back to his half-hearted preening. So maybe he could understand the origins of Daud’s outburst. Still, it stung, in ways that had little to do with anger.  

It was ridiculous, he knew that. He’d expected his reception to be rather unfriendly, considering their personal history. But he hadn’t expected Daud to lash out quite so harshly, to use such a painful topic, for both of them, really, to…do what, exactly? The very thing he had promised Thomas he wouldn’t?

And worse, he couldn’t help, but wonder: after months of care and friendship between them, however unknowingly on Daud's part, was this all they could be? Was this all Daud would ever see them as? He’d hoped for more. He hadn’t considered it too deeply before, but knew now, very strongly, that this wasn’t where he wanted it to end.

He hunched his shoulders for a second or two, wallowing in his own unhappiness.  

Then he realized what he was doing and coughed irritably, fluffing his feathers and shaking himself out. He wasn’t about to pick up Daud’s penchant for brooding, he told himself sternly, and let the low burn of annoyance spur away his gloom.  

He’d left without Daud deciding on any course of action, he reminded himself. And the man knew now—if not everything, then most things of importance, which finally left him with someone who could truly, properly help. If he was willing, at least, and there was only one way to find out.

Corvo sighed.

They’d both had time to calm down now. He thought—he hoped —that Daud might regret it, that he’d work past some of his misgivings the way Corvo was. Their talk had gotten heated quickly, yes, drawn blood, but he was willing to move past it, as long as it had been a spur of the moment decision and not something to be repeated.  

Perhaps he was naive. But everything aside, it would be foolish to write off the Whalers before he had to, and even more so not to fight to keep what he had built with them, if he could. 

He tipped his head, considering. The day had grown long, the wind parting his feathers carrying a chill as the afternoon grew later—he contemplated staying where he was, just waiting out the night and sleeping here. But Emily was gone and so the Tower had no draw anymore; with everyone he cared about outside and elsewhere, it was only cold and imposing stone.  

All right. He sighed to himself. Home, then.

He winged off, spiraling up on a warmer gust of wind and drifting slowly back towards the river.  

He needed a plan this time, he decided firmly as the rooftops rolled by below him. Working as he went had not gone very well for him with Granny Rags, and he’d let Daud goad him, a state which never ended well for him. He’d grown complacent and it was doing him no good at all.  

He’d decide what he wanted to say before he got anywhere near the Flooded District, so that he wouldn’t be scrambling for words. Write it all down immediately and deal with any more outbursts, and perhaps hit Daud over the head with a wing or two if it seemed like he needed it. Even after today, he was fairly certain he’d survive the presumption.  

Before he could act on that decision, a familiar whistle split the air.  

Corvo startled, his heart jumping—he looked down to find Rulfio watching him, pacing him across the nearby rooftops, head tilted back and his mask in his hands. He hesitated for a split second and then dove down, choosing to land further down the rooftop rather than on Rulfio himself.  

The Whaler stopped and eyed him. Then, to Corvo's surprise, he sighed and dropped down to sit cross-legged on the roof, leaving space between them, but putting their heads more on a level. “Thomas is handling Daud—boy’s good at calming things down, when he needs to. So I thought it’d be best to come and do the same with you.”

Corvo narrowed his eyes, not particularly inclined towards being ‘handled’ at the moment, but Rulfio just grinned at him for it, familiar and teasing as though nothing had changed.  

“You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Daud throw a tantrum like that,” Rulfio started conversationally and it was enough to surprise Corvo into laughing, albeit just a brief huff. Rulfio smiled with him, enough for Corvo to somewhat relax.  

“I’ve been with him for years.” Rulfio leaned back on his hands as though settling in to tell a story. “Well over a decade, now that I think about it. Got into a spot of trouble with him back in the beginning, when I was still learning the trade.”

The trade, as though assassination was only a short deviation from fishing or crafting. Corvo eyed him, but prepared to listen, if only because he was glad to know that at least one of the Whalers was still friendly.  

“I made a few mistakes, most of them stupid. Entirely avoidable. Ended up surrounded and badly wounded—sword through the leg, a few bullet holes, that sort of thing.” He rubbed at his thigh as he spoke. “Daud pulled me out, of course, but oh, the talking to I got on the way home. And he knew just what to say, too, knew enough about me by then to make it personal. I was damned tempted to punch him. Would have too, if he hadn’t been the only thing holding me up.”  

Corvo clicked his beak, easily sympathizing with that desire, but Rulfio waved a hand at him. “Was Thomas that told me later—Daud had done the same to him a few times, and some of the others. Like a wolfhound with pups—he gets snarly when we scare him and then we get to feel those teeth, too.”

“But the point here, because there actually is one,” Rulfio said, pushing up and leaning his elbows on his legs instead so that he could stare down at Corvo, “is that Daud is absolutely terrible at expressing himself. Especially if there are feelings involved. And you— doesn’t surprise me that he had no idea how to deal with it.”  

Corvo blinked and glanced away. He could understand what Rulfio was trying to tell him, but their situations weren’t really the same—

A finger poked him in the side and he jumped, hopping a few steps back. Rulfio leaned down, narrowing his eyes. “If you don’t think he wasn’t already one great tangled ball of feelings regarding you, especially after you spared his life last year…”

Corvo lifted his head at that and the other man nodded sagely.  

“So, add that to the fact that he was getting pretty fond of you as a bird and by all appearances you were going the same way,” Rulfio raised an eyebrow now and Corvo shifted his claws a bit guiltily, “on top of the witches and Granny Rags and with a few of us already injured, well…things were probably bound to go sideways.”

Corvo clicked his beak again and Rulfio raised his hands “I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to get hit for it. In fact, I’d encourage it. Just…if you do care, don’t let him chase you off like this. I’d bet my whole coin purse that he wasn’t thinking it through, just running at the mouth. And I’d bet twice as much that he regrets it.”

Corvo huffed at him, wondering at the other man’s motives for reassuring him, but that cold, unsettled feeling that had been lingering lessened just a little bit. Rulfio watched him for a few moments longer and then nodded again, satisfied.  

"And you have to admit, that was quite a surprise to spring on anyone." He said, leaning back out on his hands again and losing some of the serious tone. "I’m fairly certain we’d all hoped not to see you again at all after last time, and figured the feeling was mutual. And I certainly imagined there'd be more bloodshed if we did ever run into each other."  

Last time being Corvo's poisoning and his fight with Daud. He rustled his wings uncomfortably, but Rulfio didn’t seem to notice.   

"Of course, you obviously didn’t plan this either." Rulfio was fidgeting with his mask, which made Corvo suspect that his talking was more distraction or nervousness than any truly informative purpose. "Like we told Daud, wouldn't have made any sense, to come to us like—"  

Corvo croaked at him, interrupting his ramble. Rulfio blinked at him and then grimaced slightly, placing his mask down on the roof in front of him.  

"Right, sorry." Corvo blinked in surprise at the apology, but Rulfio was already moving on. "While we’re here, I wanted to fill you in—I don’t know how much you learned of the Brigmore witches, while you were living with us. Enough that you were willing to help us fight them earlier, I suppose, but I doubt you picked up all the details."  

Confused but entirely ready for someone to finally explain, he bounced in place and shook his head. Rulfio smiled grimly, glancing out across the rooftops arranged below them. "Then I think it's time someone told you the full story.”


 

Corvo listened.  

It was difficult and altogether frustrating— asking questions would take absurdly long to write out and he didn't want to stop Rulfio, but he missed his human tongue fiercely. Still, he sat quietly and listened as the man spoke, finally filling in his missing pieces as he learned of Daud and Delilah, and the Brigmore witches.  

"I think it was just the challenge of it, at first, coming from the Outsider. And Daud wanting a distraction, after what we did." Rulfio admitted, cross-legged on the roof beside him. "But when he learned what Delilah was planning for the Kaldwin girl..."

Soul stealing had been an entirely accurate description, as it turned out, and Corvo shuddered to think of what might have happened had Daud chosen to turn away. They sat quietly together when Rulfio finished, Corvo organizing his thoughts and the Whaler allowing him to do so.

It was a fantastical tale, colored by talking statues and magical paintings, Void power expressed through an artist's touch. But there was also loss and betrayal, and the alarming knowledge that Emily had been standing on the brink the whole time he'd thought her safe in the Hound Pits Pub. It all seemed to fit, neatly filling in the blanks he'd been missing.  

He’d known Delilah Copperspoon. Briefly and not very well, but they’d met a few times when he’d first arrived at Dunwall Tower. She’d been a servant girl and Jessamine’s friend, but by the time he’d been chosen as Royal Protector, she’d no longer been there. Jessamine had not spoken of her and he’d never thought to ask.  

Perhaps he should have. But hindsight was always clearer.  

"We'd thought we were done with Delilah's followers, after we dealt with her." Rulfio broke the silence again and Corvo turned his attention back to the present. "We knew they didn't have magic anymore, at least. Made sure on our way out of Brigmore. So we were truly planning to leave Dunwall the way Daud promised you—took some time to set up, but we found a smuggler to take us all past the blockade and everything. We were just building up the money."  

Corvo wondered suddenly if that was still the plan, once this latest confrontation with the witches was over. He considered the thought for a moment and then, though he sighed internally at his own ill-advised attachments, he started quietly assembling arguments to convince Daud to stay, if he needed to.  

If Daud would listen to him.  

"But then…a patrol came home one man short—the rear guard, of course, so they wouldn't notice in time. We found him in the harbor three days later. Throat slit, but barely a drop of blood on him."

He paused and fidgeted with his gloves, a quick, unhappy movement. Corvo hopped closer, offering quiet support, and now they were side by side, the distance they'd left between them at the start forgotten.

“We couldn’t be sure who was responsible at first, but then, later on, they tried again. Aimed to grab one of our scouts as they came back to Rudshore. It was clumsy—they didn't manage to catch him that time, just sent him scrambling, and then we had enough of a glimpse to guess who we were dealing with.” Rulfio's shoulders were hunched down and he was rubbing his fingers together in his lap. "We chased them for weeks, found nothing but whispers to say they were still in the city. Probably still wouldn’t know how they’d done it, if you hadn’t found those circles.”

Corvo faintly remembered this, Daud discussing the first attack—the one in the Distillery District. It felt like ages ago now, but there was still something satisfying about filling in the gaps.

“Daud insisted we keep at it, though, even when we knew nothing. Part of it was common sense, I suppose. We couldn’t afford to leave and have them chase us down later when we wouldn’t be expecting it.” Rulfio shrugged. “But I expect that, even if the rest of us had gone running for Serkonos, Daud would have stayed, for the Empress’ sake, and for yours. They could easily become a danger again, and he’d made them his responsibility.”

That didn’t seem too far-fetched, from what he knew of Daud’s guilt and what he’d seen these last few months. Rulfio’s next pause seemed halting, though, as though he was struggling to find the right words to say.  

“He’s changed, since he killed her.” He said finally, laying the words out bare. Corvo swallowed against the stab of it, but there was less anger in it this time. “You know that, of course. Must have seen it by now. But it wasn’t always good—I think he would have sat still and let you kill him, if you hadn’t decided to spare him after that fight. I’ve never seen him that—”

He waved a hand, stalling on his words again, but Corvo understood. It wasn’t particularly comforting to have his vague suspicion confirmed.  

“Now, though…I don’t think he’s after forgiveness. Don’t think it ever crossed his mind, honestly. But it’s…like he’s trying to rebalance the scales. Put some good back into the world.” Rulfio’s mouth twisted up on one side. “He’d still do pretty much anything to help you and the Empress, but it’s more than that now.”  

He stared down at Corvo, dark eyes reflecting the sunlight. “We still take jobs, of course, for the money. But he’ll send us to warn the marks sometimes, when clients try to hire us for killing now. Encourages us to help where we can, too—turn street rats towards places to stay, things like that. Might not seem like much, but it’s a big change, believe me.”

“And then there’s you.” Rulfio hovered a hand near him, but didn’t touch. “He was quite proud of what he managed to do with you. That he helped something to heal, to fly when we used to do the exact opposite. We all saw the change. It's why we didn't put up a fuss, even when we knew you weren't quite right. You were good for him.”  

That was…an interesting thing to hear, but Corvo narrowed his eyes and flicked his wings impatiently. Get to the point. Because this didn’t feel like another idle ramble. Rulfio rolled his eyes, but acquiesced.  

“Thing is, he’d have helped you as the Royal Protector, but you matter to him now. You’re one of us. And that changes things.” Rulfio grinned, laughter behind his teeth. “I don’t think he really knows what he wants to do once he deals with the witches. So if you two can work through this, if you can form a partnership and hold it, I’d gamble that he’d be willing to stay. And I think he’d— I think you’d both be better for it.”  

Corvo hopped from foot to foot, interest sparking. It sounded very much like he wasn’t the only one who wanted to keep Daud in the city now and that was encouraging, whatever Rulfio’s reasons.  

“So,” Rulfio said, arching an eyebrow. “You willing to come back with me? I can even punch him for you, if it’ll help.”

Corvo blinked at him, surprised, and then huffed—had all this talking really been with the intent to coax him back to the Flooded District? It was perhaps mildly flattering—even if it was mostly for Daud’s sake—but still. He bent his head, traced the words ‘was already going back’ in the faint dirt on the roof, and gave Rulfio a chiding look.  

“Oh,” Rulfio frowned, clearly startled for a moment. Then he smiled again, a bit sheepish. “I suppose I could have asked that first. Still, probably best that you got to hear all this straight at least once.”

Corvo nodded, agreeing with that, and Rulfio rolled up to his feet, shaking out his legs and brushing off his trousers. Then he fitted his mask on and, after a pause, bowed low to Corvo, sweeping out his hand in an elaborate and rather mocking gesture. “After you then, milord.”

Corvo grumbled at him and took off straight upwards so that he nearly clipped Rulfio with his wings. The Whaler hopped back and then laughed, chasing after him as he left the roof behind.  

They played at a short race once they got back across the water, but while Corvo was impressed with Rulfio’s speed across the rooftops, flying gave him something of an unfair advantage. He circled Rulfio instead after that and once they reached the edges of the Flooded District, the other man called him down.  

“Probably best if I carry you in, let everyone see that you’re supposed to be here.” He explained apologetically. “Word will have definitely reached everyone by now. We’re assassins, not fishwives, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of gossiping that goes on.”  

There was sense in that and so Corvo perched on his shoulder and tucked his wings in, doing his level best to appear as though he was entirely comfortable there and not squirming with nerves on the inside.  

They slipped in by way of the Rudshore gate, past the familiar pile of plague corpses, still only half-rotted. This brought them up through the inside of the base rather than along the catwalks, which Corvo supposed would bring them into contact with less Whalers. He couldn’t help but wonder if Rulfio was expecting trouble or if he was only being cautious.  

Either way, they made it through to the training room and outside again without any issues—a few Whalers caught sight of him as they passed by the other way and either slowed or froze entirely, but Rulfio kept moving and no one seemed eager to force a confrontation.  

In the square of open space outside the training room, though, a Whaler pushed off the wall where he’d been leaning. Corvo peered at him—light-haired, hazel-eyed, and just the slightest scruff along his chin. His shoulders and stature were familiar, and Thomas’ voice confirmed it. “Daud’s in his office. He should be less of an idiot this time.”

“Glad to hear it.” Rulfio said, concern sobering his tone. “Shouldn’t you be in the infirmary by now?”

Thomas waved him off. “Already got the leg looked at. I’ll be going back. I just wanted a word first.”  

He looked straight at Corvo as he said this. A bit wary, but remembering Thomas’ earlier support, he bobbed his head in a nod and fluttered over to the other man’s arm when he cautiously extended it.  

“Well, this is where I leave you, I suppose.” Rulfio told him, perhaps a bit too cheerfully, and nodded at them both. “Play nicely, children.”

And he Blinked away.  

Thomas looked down at him and sighed; the exhaustion that Corvo had heard in his voice that morning was starting to etch itself under his eyes and around his mouth.  

“If I’d known who you were months ago, I’d probably have stabbed you,” he finally said, candid and unapologetic. “But I expect Daud would never forgive me if I did it at this point. And if I’m honest, I’d rather not, either.”  

Corvo tipped his head, bemused rather than offended at the candor. Thomas narrowed his eyes, his mouth drawn tight. “I’m not going to pretend to understand this...whatever you’ve formed between you. But if you have grown fond of him—of us —as much as I think you have, just…don’t hurt him. However this ends, let him walk away alive. Please. That’s all I ask.”  

His shoulders slumped as he finished and Corvo stared up at him, that old ache in his heart opening up again at the loyalty and worry on display. There was quite a bit of vulnerability in that, in Thomas’ willingness to lay down his pride and ask on the off-chance that it might keep Daud safe.   

So he nodded again, deep and solemn, and tugged very gently at Thomas’ sleeve in a clumsy attempt to comfort, since clearly Rulfio had not shared his own hopes with the other man. If he had his way, there would be no violence at all. And if Daud hadn’t managed to drive him to it this morning, he couldn’t really imagine much that could. Nothing Daud would be willing to do, anyway.  

Thomas nodded back, his expression loosening as Corvo watched, fascinated at the openness without the usual mask. “Thank you. I won’t keep you, then.”  

Then he glanced upwards. “Ah…do you need…?”

The Whaler motioned at the upper windows uncertainly, as though Corvo might need assistance getting up there now that his human nature was clear. He whistled shortly, the closest he could get to a scoff and took flight. He curved easily past the windows entirely, up and over Daud’s office where the open roof left plenty of room for him to flutter straight in.  

Daud was at his desk, resting his forehead against a gently closed fist. He didn’t seem to hear Corvo glide down, but as he flapped his wings gently to land on the desk, the man’s head shot up.  

Corvo caught and held his gaze. His expression was still a bit guarded, though not nearly as distant as it had been that morning. His stomach started to sink a little as the silence stretched, but then Daud seemed to shake himself and sighed, closing his eyes for a moment and laying his hands flat on the desk.  

“I’m sorry.” He said, simple and rough, his voice very low in the quiet room. Corvo relaxed some of the tension he’d been building. “You, of all people, don’t need to be reminded of what happened. And as Thomas rather stridently pointed out, I’m the last person who should be doing so anyway.”  

Corvo almost wished he’d been here to see that conversation, but Daud was waiting now, his eyes dark and watchful. His words had seemed honest, though, an acknowledgement of where he’d gone wrong, and that was good enough for now.  

He glanced down, but the wood beneath him wasn’t dirty and he wasn’t sure he wanted to carve deep into it. So he fell back on habit—he stepped between Daud’s hands and, when the man didn’t draw back, turned and nipped him rather sharply on the thumb. Not enough to draw blood, but good enough to sting at least a little through leather, by Daud’s flinch. He hoped that was clear enough.

Don’t do it again.  

Then he bobbed his head, the quick nod that was starting to feel natural in this body, and stepped up onto Daud’s wrist, croaking softly. The man’s arm stiffened beneath him, but his head turned, examining Corvo closely.  

“I take it that means you accept my apology?” he said, almost suspiciously, as though even that much was difficult to believe. Corvo clicked his beak in irritation, but nodded again sharply and glanced once more around the office—if Daud needed words, then he would give him words. The desk only held paper, though, and he wasn’t eager to dip his beak in ink either.  

“Ah.” Daud said, twisting to glance around his office as well. “I suppose paper isn’t really the best…I can find some slate outside, if you want.”

Corvo grumbled at him, sharp, drawing him back. He’d managed well enough so far and he’d turn to ink if he had to. Now that they were talking calmly, it was probably best to keep at it.  

“All right.” Daud frowned, pensive. “I suppose we can come up with a long-term solution later.”  

And that, well…that was as good as an invitation to stay, wasn’t it? Corvo couldn’t deny that he brightened, just a little bit.  

Daud shifted just a little, bringing his wrist in front of him so he could look Corvo over. It seemed more curious now than anything else and so he allowed it, glancing over Daud’s face in turn. So he caught it when the man’s mouth twitched, just barely.  

“You’re so small.” He said it like he’d never noticed it before and Corvo bristled, then huffed out a reluctant laugh, because how many times had he complained of the same thing? Then Daud sobered again, his gaze turning analytical.

“You were hoping she would undo the magic.” He stated. Quiet, like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to ask. “Granny Rags. You wanted her to put you right.”

Corvo sighed and nodded. A foolish hope, in retrospect, but it had seemed the best option at the time. Now, though…

“She can’t be the only one able to do so.” Daud said, firm and oddly certain. Corvo blinked up at him, surprised. “I’ve seen some of her magic before, her rituals. I’ve done them. So if we can find out exactly what she did, I’m fairly sure we won’t need her to do the actual magic.”  

It was the we in that sentence that sparked the hope in Corvo’s chest, light and unfettered. And it seemed Daud didn’t actually need everything spelled out because he met Corvo’s eyes and nodded. “Of course we’ll help. Might take some time, while we’re dealing with the witches, too, but we’ll figure this out.”

It felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders and Corvo sagged, just a little. Daud frowned and then leaned in a little closer. “It’s the least I owe you. But I don't... I still don’t see why you’d choose to ask me when you could go just about anywhere else.”

Self-depreciation ran thick and fairly clear under his rasp—on one hand, some of it had been well-earned. On the other, though…Corvo glanced at the ink again, considering all the different ways he could explain, all the words he’d need to use.

Or maybe, he thought suddenly, remembering his actions earlier that morning, this sort of thing was just fine without words.  

It was only a quick flutter up to Daud’s shoulder. The other man leaned back in evident surprise, making it more difficult to nudge his cheek as he’d done before, but Corvo improvised, copying some of the cats and dogs he’d seen Emily snuggle. He brushed his head under Daud’s jaw, more of a slide than a nudge, ended up with his side tucked against Daud’s throat and the man’s chin pressed very lightly over the curve of his neck and back.  

It was...a bit strange now to press this close, to be allowed this close with the truth fully out between them. Stranger still in that it was not a position that would have been feasible as a human. And yet, it wasn’t uncomfortable either; Daud had frozen at first, but after the first few moments, he simply pressed his chin down just a little more firmly against Corvo’s feathers.

It was a bit like a hug, Corvo realized belatedly, or at least as close as they could come while in such disparate forms.  

Perhaps that realization should have had him drawing back in embarrassment, but he didn’t much care to. To have this kind of contact with another human being, one who would speak to him and knew who he was—it was something to treasure after long months of holding himself apart and he soaked it in, waiting for Daud to pull back instead.  

“You…don’t make any sense at all.” Daud murmured, his soft voice a rumbling burr against Corvo’s side as he spoke. Then he sighed. “Strange bird.”

His voice had thickened now, amusement and something maybe like affection that turned ‘bird ’ into a teasing epithet rather than something to be protested. Corvo churred back at him, warmth sinking into his bones, leaving him lazy and content.  

The sound of the doors opening startled them both and Corvo straightened, feeling a bit like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have. A Whaler, one that Corvo wasn’t particularly familiar with, stepped in slowly, clearly glancing between them even behind his mask.  

“Chester?” Daud said.

“One of the witches wants to speak with you.” He said, voice subdued. “Wouldn’t talk to us, but says she wants to make a deal.”

“Oh?” Daud visibly sharpened and Corvo quickly followed suit. “I’ll see to it, thank you.”  

It was a clear dismissal as Daud shifted up to stand, but Chester still lingered. Daud frowned at him after a moment. “What?”  

“Just…it’s all right for him to be here? So I can tell the others.” The Whaler gestured at Corvo, sounding terribly self-conscious. “Because everyone’s a bit…they’re either pretending not to panic or they think it’s hilarious and Rulfio told me on the way up to make sure you weren’t trying to kill each other—”

Corvo huffed with laugher as Daud gave the other man a look; Chester drew back, hands up.  

“All right, sorry! Leaving!” And he ducked back out of the room again, quick as a fleeing rat.  

“We’ll have to address it eventually,” Daud said, dry and exasperated and normal. The last bit of tightness in Corvo’s chest fell away. “But there’s more important things to focus on right now. I suppose you’d prefer to come along?”  

Corvo dug claws into his coat and nodded quickly. He was just as invested now in seeing the witches fall as the Whalers were, or likely more so.  

“Couldn’t get rid of you if I tried, then?” Daud interpreted and smiled just slightly. “Not that I plan to.”

And there was really no reason, Corvo told himself sternly, for that statement to warm him. No reason at all.  

(But then, he’d always been a rather terrible liar.)

Chapter Text

The base was eerily quiet when they left Daud's office.

Corvo glanced around in concern from his spot on Daud's shoulder as they moved across the catwalks. The usual guards were in their places, half-hidden in shadow, but any others moving about Blinked quickly and efficiently across the paths, in and out of sight in a flash. He could only hope it wasn't him they were avoiding.

But then again, he realized, perhaps the witches they'd dragged home were enough to keep them tense--and he felt rather more strained himself when he learned where they were going.

For all that Piero's and Sokolov's cure had turned the city around, the Greaves Refinery still looked like the worst Dunwall had to offer. Rusted and crumbling, the outside of the building looked even less stable than it had the first time Corvo had seen it months ago. In his quick glance around from Daud's shoulder, he was certain he glimpsed patches of river krusts growing out of control and the diminished, but still active presence of rats swarms circling in the shadows.

As a location to hold prisoners, though, it did seem rather fitting.

"We've had to improve our holding cells since we had you." Daud told him bluntly, a wry twist at the corner of his mouth as he scaled the side of the building. "Holes and some planks work well enough for anyone without magic, but we've clearly gone beyond that now."

Corvo cawed low in his throat and nodded his understanding—not able to contribute much at the moment, but enjoying the feeling of actually being part of the conversation again. Daud’s eyes flicked over to him at the noise, then shifted away again.

The improvements Daud had spoken of were clear when they reached the open grating at the top of the building. The weepers were gone, and much of the debris cleared out. Corvo counted six guards easily on the top floor alone, all keeping a careful line of sight on each other, and they'd also taken the time to drag in metal cages, complete with bars and actual locks.

They were hound cages, Corvo suspected, individual ones turned on their ends to allow for human height, and inside each one was a woman—the captured Brigmore witches.

There were three cages spaced out across the upper level that he could see. By the intermittent noises of movement and the soft ringing of metal drifting up from below, Corvo suspected the Whalers had set up several more on the lower levels of well.

He could only approve of the changes, now that he wasn't the one in danger of being trapped—not only was it a far sturdier set-up but moving to the Refinery gave them the space to separate their prisoners. If the witches wanted to plot anything, they have to communicate across the room and in full view of the Whalers.

One of the guards padded over as they approached. He paused mid-step as he caught sight of Corvo on Daud’s shoulder, a split-second freeze, but then continued forward, ducking his head just slightly.

The man gestured at a cage across the room as he reached them and murmured, “That’s the one. She kept it quiet. I don’t think she wanted the others to know she was offering.”

“And they haven’t made their own advances?” Daud checked, matching his volume.

“Hmm, no. Some spitting and swearing at first, but they won’t say anything to us.” The Whaler shifted back a bit and slipped something out of his coat. “Pulled these off them when we searched them earlier.”

Corvo leaned down to get a closer look. It was a ring, thin and feminine, twisted gold with a large red stone in the center that had been slung on small golden chain. He blinked, confused until the Whaler thumbed the stone carefully off to the side, revealing a deceptively delicate-looking needle.

“I’ve sent a few off to check what poison they chose.” He said, replacing the stone and setting it back down. “But from the size, I think we can assume that they’d planned to use it on themselves, in this situation. Probably thought we’d overlook them.”

“Many would.” Daud acknowledged, strangely flat to Corvo’s ears, and with that, he turned and strode to the cage the guard had indicated.

The woman inside grasped at the bars as he approached and he stopped well out of reach. Corvo turned his head, peering at her closely with one eye. She was as ill-favored as the rest of them, her eyes fever-bright between hanging ropes of black hair and her cheeks far too thin. Her skin had the same unpleasant, ridged appearance to it and Corvo had to wonder what magic had caused it.

She pressed her face to the bars, glaring at Daud with clear anger, poorly concealed fear, and something that looked suspiciously like longing.

“So.” Daud planted his feet and set his shoulders, settling in place. “I hear you’re willing to negotiate with me. Does that make you a spokesperson or a traitor?”

She bared her teeth—it couldn’t reasonably be called a smile—and glared harder. “And here you are insulting the best source of information you’ve found in months. Does that make you pig-headed or just a fool?”

Her voice crackled in her throat, as rough as her skin. She spoke well, but her words felt stilted, rehearsed—something Corvo had experienced as well as in his youth, trying to train himself out of his own low-born accent. He could still hear the faint tinge of Morley beneath her airs and suspected she hadn’t been practicing for long.

“I’m not here to trade insults with you.” Daud sounded almost bored. “We’ve other ways of getting what we need. So if you’ve nothing important to say—”

She snarled and slammed a hand against the bars. Corvo tensed very slightly and he noticed a few of the Whalers drifting in closer, but Daud didn’t move an inch. She huffed a few furious breaths through her nose and then swallowed.

“A traitor, then.” She said, low and disgruntled. Corvo caught the wary look she threw towards the other cages. “And why shouldn’t I be? I never promised them anything more.”

“Oh?” Daud blinked lazily at her. Corvo swallowed a chuckle. “You’ll forgive me for being a bit suspicious.”

Forgive you? After what you did—!” She hissed, her accent thickening, back to uncontrollable fury in a heartbeat. Corvo flicked his wings, unsettled—what was it about witches that made them prone to insanity? “You just had to get involved, didn’t you? Why couldn’t you just leave us be?”

“And let Delilah rule Dunwall?” Daud’s façade cracked a little, disdain and quiet anger creeping though.

"Yes." She stared at him as though she couldn't believe the depths of his stupidity, licking at her dry lips. "The throne was all she cared about; she would have contented herself toying with the nobility. She would have left you alone, left us all to do as we wished, and we'd all have been better for it."

"And all it would have cost is a city full of lives and Emily Kaldwin's soul." Daud scoffed at her.

"As though you care about any of that." She scowled. "As though anyone would have missed the girl. A bare child on the throne is hardly a more appealing option.”

Corvo hissed at her, protective fury bubbling up quick and hot, and she stopped to eye him warily. He couldn’t believe he’d missed this danger entirely for over a year, that these madwomen had come so close to Emily. 

Daud’s hand brushed his chest feathers and he broke off with a jump, utterly startled. Daud looked surprised too, like he hadn't thought the movement out. He brought his hand quickly back to his side and turned back to face her.

"I think you'll find you're wrong about that." He told her, falling back into deceptive mildness. "You don’t sound like you cared much for Delilah’s agenda. Is this game revenge for your lost opportunities then, rather than for her? Seems a very inefficient way to go about it."

"No," she said, still visibly cross, but the fight was almost entirely gone from her posture. "Most of the others believed, you know, followed her like she was the Outsider incarnate. Always hoping and dreaming that whatever she had would rub off on them. No—for most of them, this is about her."

"And you?" He said slowly. "If you didn't particularly care for her—"

"I'm here for the magic. I always was." The light in her eyes was fey and burning, but her shoulders slumped down further. "She chose me, she gifted it to me, showed me what I could be. Showed me that I didn’t always have to scrape and beg like some lost child. But then you butted in and it was all ripped away and now...”

She stopped, words catching like her throat has stuck. She looked pitiful now, almost lost, but Corvo felt no desire to comfort her. It was more the pity one would feel for a good pit hound gone rabid, with the undercurrent of knowledge that it would need to be put down before it could drag its fellows with it.

“I’m not like them.” She said, jerking her head at the other cages where the witches were watching them with narrowed eyes, likely straining to listen. “I’m not naïve enough to think that I’ll draw the Outsider’s attention. So I knew that if I wanted magic again, Delilah was my best chance.”

“So not just revenge, then,” Daud leaned forward, his eyes sharpening. “You think you’ve found a way to bring her back.”

“You might have shut her away in the Void, but you forgot to lock the door.” She said, lowering her voice further. Her twisted smile lacked all humor and Corvo bristled, every muscle in his body tensing.

“How?” Daud rapped out, harsh authority in his bark. “And what do my men have to do with it?”

“I think I’ve shared quite enough.” She curled and uncurled her clawed fingers around the cage bars. “It wouldn’t be a negotiation if I gave you all the answers, would it?”

Daud folded his arms and stared at her; she looked away quite quickly, but said nothing more. Corvo shifted from foot to foot, anxious, but a quiet, cautioning look from Daud settled him back into place.

“All right,” he said finally, “then what do you want?”

“Haven’t you been listening?” She growled. “ Magic. It’s obvious you can share it with your men the way Delilah did with us.”

“You want—?” Corvo felt Daud freeze with surprise under him. “After you just told me you blame me and mine for your woes—”

“I didn’t care overmuch for Delilah, either. Your fight was with her, not me; I can work past old enmities if it gets me what I need.” She looked earnest now and almost close to sane. “So that’s my price—a share in your power.”

“Well, with that display of loyalty, how can I say no?” Daud said, very dry.  

“I’m not an idiot. Our chance is gone—there’s no point in trying for Delilah now. You’d be on her again even if we succeeded and you’ve already made it clear which of you is the stronger.” She was fixated on him now, her bright eyes tracking every movement. “You give me magic and I will follow you through the depths of the Void and back. I’d have to keep you safe or I’d lose everything all over again. Loyalty won’t be a problem.”

“And you think it will be that simple?” He challenged her, eyes snapping. “After you killed one of my men?”

“And how many of us do you think died in the months after you came?” She snapped back. “When you took our protection and our livelihood and left us to the plague? No one is innocent in this!”  

Daud didn’t answer and for a moment they both were silent. Corvo leaned forward, twisting to peer at Daud’s face. The other man glanced over at him and then his shoulders stiffened, just slightly. Corvo peeped at him concerned, but after another moment Daud just shook his head and sighed.  

“That’s all you want, then.” He said, his voice forcibly neutral again. “A place in the Whalers and the Arcane Bond. And in return, you’ll help us stop your ‘sisters’ for good.”

Yes. That’s all.” She pressed in close again, white-knuckled around the bars, but Daud didn’t speak right away. He eyed her face, clearly thinking things over, and then flicked another quick look sideways to where Corvo rested on his shoulder.

Startled at being included, Corvo tipped his head and then offered a bird’s best approximation of a shrug. He couldn’t really offer much advice, with his limited experience with the witches. Besides, the Whalers weren’t his men and Daud was the one who was going to end up dealing with her.

“A compromise.” Daud said finally, turning back. “We let you out and you help us with this…problem. And if you do well here and prove you can be trusted, then you’ll get the Bond when it’s all over.”

“You don’t know how long that could take!” She drew up tall. Corvo suspected she wanted to sound offended and disdainful, but she mostly sounded desperate . “I told you, I’ll stand behind you. I’d have to.”

“The Bond doesn’t guarantee anything. We both know that very well.” Daud snapped. “That’s the best I’m going to offer. If you don’t want—”

“Fine.” She hissed, almost manic. “Fine—whatever you want, I’ll do it. Just promise me—”

“You keep your part and I’ll keep mine.” Daud huffed at her, bristling a bit beneath Corvo’s claws. She stared at him, narrow-eyed, and then spat in her palm before offering it to shake. Daud, without blinking, did the same and they met in the middle, clasping hands just outside the bars of her cage.

"Now," Daud said, and caught Corvo’s eyes. He straightened up, paying attention as Daud levelled his stare back at her. "We’re going to let you out, and you're going to tell me everything I need to know."


 

Apparently, it came down to Delilah’s paintings.

“They’re doorways, really, even if Delilah used them for…other things.” The witch—Anatole, she’d told them—explained quickly. “You might have pushed her into one, but as long as the pathway is intact, we can still pull her back out of it. At least, Breanna…my sisters are sure we can.”

“You mean you didn’t get rid of them?” Tynan turned to Daud at this, sounding particularly aggrieved.

Daud scowled at him. “I was a bit more concerned with other things at the time.”

“Yes, but afterwards—”

“Didn’t see you suggesting it at the time, either, Tynan.” Rulfio broke in, arms crossed over his chest. “We were all stretched a bit thin. Not thinking right. Should we have burned them, then?”

He addressed this to the center of the room, where the witch was loosely surrounded. Daud had called in his lieutenants after he’d had her brought to his office, and now she shifted back when they all looked to her again, looking uncomfortable at being the lone focus of their attention.

“That probably would have been best.” She agreed slowly. “If it’s just cut or torn, we might still be able to repair it. But none of us have her talent, in that aspect—if you destroy it entirely, we won’t be able to paint it properly again.”

Corvo, from his position on the perch where he could oversee everyone, didn’t miss the fact that she still said we, and he was certain no one else did either. Habit or not, it put no one at ease.

“All right.” Daud rubbed at his forehead—he’d been doing that a lot, Corvo noted with sympathy. “Well, you’d have done it by now if you could have, clearly, and without us any the wiser. So you’re missing something—something you need us for. What?”

Anatole chewed on her lip, glancing upwards in thought before answering.

“So much of her magic was symbolism, if we wanted anything beyond the base powers.” She said to Daud. “You finished the ritual, the one she meant to use on the girl. Delilah built it, started it, but it was your magic that closed it, in the end."

"And?"

And,” She stressed, like they were all idiots, “that sort of magic is very different from the little flashes you can pull from the Void whenever you like. She spent months developing that ritual, and months more gathering the ingredients to supplement her power. Reversing that takes work, and just as much planning.”

"Get to the point." Tynan growled and the witch eyed them all warily.

“It was your magic that closed the ritual.” She repeated. “So, since we have no magic of our own anymore, Breanna says our best chance is to use yours to reverse it.”

It took Corvo a moment to work through the implications, but then his stomach sank. It didn’t speak well of his own situation.

“And of course we knew you’d not give it willingly. Nor were we foolish enough to ever try for you. But as your men share your power—”

“They wouldn’t comply with your wishes either, clearly.” Daud growled.

“We didn’t bother to ask.” She said, and now she sounded almost weary. “Symbolism, I told you. We didn’t need their willingness when their lifeblood worked just as well.”

Corvo suspected that it was only Daud’s sharp glance that confined his lieutenants to glares and hissed muttering. At least she was honest, he supposed, but it didn’t seem the height of wisdom to speak of slaughtering a man in front of his comrades.

"Then you got what you needed from Tom months ago," Daud said, flat and very cold. "or you should have. So what went wrong?"

She hunched her shoulders. "Well...as I said. Such rituals are very complex and as Delilah did not share—"

"You fucked it up." Tynan said, incredulous, drawing himself up in clear outrage. "All that trouble to kill him and you couldn't even—"

"I should think you'd be pleased that we failed." She snapped back, baring yellowed teeth. "If we hadn't had to return for another man, you wouldn't have—"

"Oh, pleased, really—"

"Enough." Daud's voice cracked the growing tension and Corvo saw a few of the Whalers reluctantly pull their hands away from belts and pouches as he glowered at them. Then he turned that look on Anatole and she flinched, turning her face away. "So, does your Breanna believe she has the ritual correct this time, or did you just run out of material for tests?"

"She believes it will work, of course; we wouldn't have acted otherwise. But we won't know for sure until we've done it." She spread her hands, then bristled when Daud scoffed at her. "You demanded I tell you everything—I am. Surely it doesn't surprise you to find the answers unpleasant?"

"Maybe I find that they test my restraint." He returned, voice bland despite the implied threat. Corvo could see his displeasure though, the irritation clipping into every motion. She eyed him, wary again, and he waved a hand at her, turning away. "Keep going. Everything you know."

And so she did.

She sketched out rough, fairly esoteric examples of the rituals the witches had already tried and those they had planned on trying next. Corvo slipped over to peek, but he still had no hope of deciphering the symbols. She added to Daud's map, revealing a few circles in the south that they'd missed and also marked out the scarce few suppliers that the witches had been utilizing in the city.

Then she wrote out a list of ingredients to make an ointment that would allow them to see past such a method of hiding; Daud summoned more men and sent them out to start gathering, with an admonishment to travel in numbers and to check the map in order to avoid the marked, dangerous paths.

"Is this how you've been concealing your hideouts, then?" Daud checked, standing at his desk and tapping his fingers against a drawing of the circles. Corvo leaned closer and glanced down at it as well. "The circles work on buildings?"

"Well, yes, they would," she agreed—she'd calmed into a focus as they gave her work. Corvo suspected she was trying to avoid thinking too much about what she was doing. "Applied right, of course. The symbols and paint are more important than the shape. We didn't want to stay in one place, through—too much of a chance that someone would see us entering or follow us back."

"True." Daud allowed. "So—?"

"A boat. Mobile, and the paint works just as well there." She explained simply and Vladko's head came up from where the lieutenants were studying the other papers she'd given them.

"Really." His tone was skeptical: less than they had all been at the beginning, but still there. "I'd expect the water to strip these symbols off rather quickly."

"It requires a lot of maintenance," she agreed, mouth twisting, "and we're not sailors by nature. But we learned quickly and those of us not out restocking or...hunting had little else to do, so the touchups get done as often as they need to."

"Where will we find this boat, then?" Daud indicated the map, but this time she shook her head.

"Breanna made sure there was no set pattern, probably to avoid something like this. Each outgoing group meets them somewhere different and we don’t anchor in the same spots twice when we can help it, so I don’t know where it will be.”

Daud rumbled in irritated acknowledgement and Corvo clicked his beak in agreement. It was always annoying when opponents were sensible.

“Once I have the ingredients I need, you’ll be able to see it.” She added pensively. “But we’ll still have to go about finding it, which won’t be quite as easy.”

Daud turned to look at him, one brow raised in a silent question, and Corvo nodded in acknowledgement. He'd not thought to search the water in any of his perusals of the city, which had clearly been a mistake. He was more than willing to take on the task now, though.

Daud turned back and gave her a humorless smile. "Finding it shouldn't be much of a problem, now that we know it's there."

Corvo found the witch eyeing him narrowly when he looked back—he'd abandoned all pretenses of not understanding the conversations around him, now that they weren't necessary, and she’d clearly cottoned on to his strangeness. Neither Daud not any of the Whalers had taken the time to appraise her of the situation, though, and he certainly didn't plan to either.

Actually, as he thought about it, the lieutenants and scouts had paid him little attention beyond some silent stares when they thought he wasn’t looking. Perhaps, if he was lucky, Anatole's presence and the new vigor towards catching the witches might allow him to integrate back amongst the Whalers with a minimum of fuss.

“As you say, then.” She allowed flatly, and began to mark common water routes along yet another map.


 

At some point Corvo lost track of how long they’d all been in there—sunset had long since passed, though they hadn't quite hit the grey hours of the morning by the time Anatole ran out of details to add.

She was visibly drooping and stifling yawns when Daud sent her off with a reluctant Quinn to sleep under guard. He didn’t stop there either; he soon had the majority of the men out as well, sent off to speak with others, or grab some rest while they could.

"You'd do well to sleep yourself, you know." Rulfio pointed out, planting his feet like he meant to stay. "How long have you been awake now? Two days? Three?"

"Go bother Thomas, if you must mother someone." Daud brushed him off. "Actually, you might as well go and fill him in. He'll let himself out tomorrow no matter what Leon says.”

“He escaped the infirmary already, to have a talk with the Lord Protector.” Rulfio told him loftily. “Because you both need supervision. So who’s mothering?”

Corvo huffed, ruffling up at being dragged into the argument, and fluttered down to the desk now that the crowd had lessened. Daud glanced at him in something close to surprise before his forehead creased in irritation.

“Ah. I almost forgot you were there, actually. You might have said—” Then he stopped, expression rueful. “Or, no, I suppose you couldn’t have. Need to work on that.”

“So he’s definitely staying?” Rulfio asked as though it didn’t matter either way, but his eyes were crinkling as he watched them. Daud met his look and scowled deeper.

“Obviously. I’ll leave it to you to get word around quickly, since that’s clearly one of your…talents.” Then Daud’s expression turned more towards thoughtful. “And get a few of ours out looking for Granny Rags’ hideaways—some of Aeolos’ after he's briefed them, maybe. I've no idea how to go about reversing a spell like this, but if we're lucky she'll have left...recipes behind."

"And three-fourths of them will be gibberish." Rulfio sighed, but he nodded. "I'll get on it. As for the spell...well, our newest friend might be able to lend her expertise, if we run out of other options."

"Only if we run out of options. We've no proof of anything she's said yet." Daud grumbled, and Corvo nodded emphatically.

"And you," Corvo perked up as Daud turned back to him. "I want to know exactly what happened to you, if you can write it all out. We’ll need a better way to talk, but Rickard should be able to make something suitable, I think."

"Perhaps in the morning?" Rulfio suggested, entirely unsubtle. "Rickard's probably asleep by now."

Out, Rulfio.” Daud ordered, pointing to the door, and finally he went.  

The office around them finally empty, Daud sighed, letting his shoulders loosen just a fraction. He leaned back against his desk, crossing his arms as he turned his head towards Corvo. The shadows cast by the light above him shaded his eyes nearly black. "Our best lead in months and I don't like it one bit. Can't trust her any farther than I would an Overseer. Less, even. At least their motives are obvious."

Corvo snorted—or wheezed, really, when his body refused to cooperate. He didn't much like the feel of her either, and he hadn't even Daud's experience with the witches. But they didn't have any other sources to go off of at the moment.

The corner of Daud's mouth turned up just slightly at the noise.

"Nothing to be done about it, except watch and check everything she says three times over." He shrugged, almost an agreement to Corvo's unspoken thoughts. He glared skyward then, his mouth twisting into something darker. "Who knows. Maybe magic is all she wants. And who am I to deny someone else a second chance?"

Ah. That explained quite a bit, actually, even if Corvo wasn't quite sure how he felt about it.

He kept quiet as Daud turned to lean on his hip and survey the mess of new papers on his desk, as though he was considering going through them again. Then his back straightened stiff and he looked quickly back to Corvo, as though he'd remembered something.

"Well, if you’re not tired yet, either,” Daud said as he straightened up out of his slouch, “there’s something I still need to do. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to come along.”

Corvo perked up, curious, and nodded, stepping forwards as Daud half-lifted his arm as though about to offer his wrist. Then the man paused, stilling as though uncertain—habit had driven the first movement, Corvo suspected, but things were a little different now, the boundaries shifting.

He found that he himself had to squash the urge to fidget or preen now when he caught someone watching him. And being addressed directly now was a relief after so long, but it also left him a little off-balance.

So, if Daud preferred distance, then that was understandable, but Corvo didn’t want a rift to form over simple awkwardness either. He hopped forward, wings flicking, and tilted his head up at the assassin expectantly.

He saw one of Daud’s brows twitch, but the man extended his arm the rest of the way and let Corvo step up without comment. Their destination wasn’t much further, it seemed—Daud stopped at the foot of his bed to rummage through the chest there.

The feather was still there, Corvo noted with some amusement, but that wasn't the focus. Daud shifted some folded blueprints instead and came up with a roll of paper.

Or not paper, but canvas; a painting, rolled up tight and stored away. A portrait, Corvo learned when Daud pulled it out of its tight spiral—Delilah’s portrait of Emily.

To hear Rulfio speak of it had been one thing, but to see it for himself was quite another. It was far from clean and precise lines of Sokolov’s work—the borders bled and blurred into each other, emboldened by riots of color that made no pretense at realism. It was not a style the nobles of Dunwall would have appreciated.

And yet, it was Emily; from the posture to the expression, it was familiar, as though someone who knew her well had captured her essence in a moment’s sketch. And it was that familiarity, that close resemblance that made his feathers bristle, despite the objective beauty of the piece. With his knowledge of where it came from, it just seemed wrong.

“Was never quite sure what to do with this.” Daud revealed quietly, letting it roll back into place. “I only brought it along with me because it seemed wrong to leave it there. I suppose I should have thought of that for Delilah’s portrait as well.”

Corvo shrugged at him, flicking his wings. It might have seemed obvious in retrospect, but he couldn't claim that he'd have thought to destroy them either, especially in the Void. Actually, he hasn't considered what had happened to Emily's portrait, even when Rulfio had told him of it, and he felt a spark of belated relief that Daud had at least brought this one with him.

"So...burn it?" Daud asked him seriously, flicking one end of the painting in his hand, and his eyes gleamed when Corvo bobbed in enthusiastic agreement.

Outside on the stone of the crumbling building, the canvas didn't want to catch easily, but once Daud got the corner of it to take flame, the oils in the paints helped it along just fine. The flames flared up and spread, glowing in the chilly night air and occasionally lighting up with stranger colors.

Corvo stayed well back, perching on the low wall around the edges of the space as smoke curled, thick and black. Daud stepped back quickly to join him, coughing slightly, and they waited it out together, only the occasional flicker of shadow revealing the presence of the nearby Whalers on watch.

Finally, Daud shook his head and rolled his shoulders, padding forwards to grind out the rest of the flames with his boot. Then he swept the ashes of the rest down off the edge of the building—it billowed out in a grey cloud as Corvo turned to watch, then dispersed into the wind.

“Damn witches,” he muttered and Corvo coughed in amused agreement. The other man glanced over at his office with clear ambivalence, then turned slowly back.

"Hungry?" He asked, in a way that almost managed to be casual. Corvo didn't pay it much mind, though, as his stomach took that moment to remind him that he hadn't eaten since the morning before, so yes, he was, actually.

He nodded and fluttered up to Daud's shoulder, only remembering that he should perhaps be a little less presumptuous once he'd settled there. By the time he'd considered moving, though, Daud had already reached out and grabbed ahold of the Void, and they were away.

They actually did end up back in Daud's office to eat, food filched from the dining hall safely in hand. Daud flopped out on his bed, back against the wall, watching the stars through the gaps in the roof and chewing thoughtfully on an old, wrinkled apple as Corvo picked at a tin of hagfish on nearby crates pulled close.

("Can't blame you for stealing from my plate, I suppose." Daud had said wryly. "All that raw meat we tried to feed you.")

The silence of the room was...not awkward. Not yet. No one had expected much conversation from him before, and on the surface, the situation now wasn't so different from all their other meals together. But it was deeper than Corvo was used to, perhaps; all the things they had yet to discuss still hanging between them.

He finished his mouthful of fish and looked up at Daud, ruffling up his feathers and shaking his head so that the cold air pricked his skin, chasing off the soporific effects of a full belly. The other man glanced down at the movement and smiled, the creases around his eyes less obvious in the moonlight. He leaned forward and shifted his hand, like he planned to smooth down the errant feathers that always stuck up at the back of Corvo’s head.

Then he stopped and jerked his hand back, almost a flinch, reaching up to his own face to rub at his eyes instead.

"I keep forgetting." He said after a moment, like he was admitting to some heinous crime. He dropped his hand and stared at Corvo like he'd never seen him before, a little wild around the edges. "Outsider's eyes, the more I think about this whole damned thing, the more—"

He stopped, scowling, and bit into his apple again, going through the core instead of around it like the nobles did. Corvo peered up at him, concerned.

"Everything's gone sideways," He said finally, staring at the room around him like he couldn't figure out how he'd ended up in this position, and Corvo huffed in sympathy. Then Daud bolted down the rest of his apple in three quick bites and shifted up from the bed. Corvo hopped back a step, surprised.

"Hold on—just stay there. I'll be right back."

And he was gone. Corvo stared after him in bemusement, but he didn't have long to ponder. Daud was indeed right back no more than a minute or two, holding a handful of flat, dark shapes and an oil lamp tucked under his arm, trailing wisps of purple into the air behind him.

He placed the lamp gently onto the crate and then dropped his other burden. Roof slates, Corvo saw, and he brightened.

"I start carrying these around in my pockets as well and I won't be able to fit anything else." Daud grumbled as he dropped back down onto the bed.

He crossed his legs and rested his elbows on his knees, leaning forward to meet Corvo's gaze. "Well, I've been talking at you for months now; I think it's about time you got a few words in edgewise. Can— Will you tell me what happened? The start of all this?"

Corvo blinked, surprised at the sudden request, but Daud seemed quite serious. Well, it was fair enough, he supposed. He'd had months to pick up information from the Whalers. Daud knew nearly nothing about his side of the equation, and the lack had to be glaring for an old assassin, who depended on thorough information to do his job safely and well.

And it would take some time, but he'd finally get to share it with someone, make the full story known. So he reached out and pulled the first piece of slate off the stack.

It did indeed take a while. Some of that was inevitable—he had to describe his earliest altercation with Granny Rags and Slackjaw before he could even get to his current predicament and writing as he did meant he often had to stop and rest his neck and head.

Further still though, as he scratched out his story from her attack to his own search, he found himself taking small detours without really meaning to do so.

Describing the particular difficulties of reading, for example. The strangeness of color in a bird's vision. The way flight felt when someone flung him into the air, the argument with Thomas he'd overheard, the bits and clues of both Daud and Delilah that he'd pieced together over long months and the slow, steady shift of understanding.

Sometimes he caught himself diverging off topic and dragged himself back. But there really was no way to remove what he'd already written, and the more he put down, the less he cared. He could communicate, release every bottled up word and question and thought that had itched at him with no way to escape and eventually he let it flow out as the story progressed, sprinkled here and there throughout the scrawl.

Maybe he was revealing too much, but it felt only fair, the only quid pro quo he could offer for the months he'd had. Perhaps it was more true that he wasn't revealing enough. There were things he hesitated to put down, things he held back: things, he felt, that he needed a true voice for. That he needed to say, not write.

Daud did him the favor of not interrupting, letting him scratch it all out in one fell swoop; questions would have made it take twice as long, and would have somewhat derailed the process. He'd tucked himself back cross-legged on the bed, placing their heads closer to a level so that he could watch Corvo write.

He only had two pieces of slate left when he conveyed the last of his information, ending briefly with the song he'd followed down in the sewers. He stretched, spreading his wings out and yawning his tired beak wide open, and looked over to find Daud leaning his head on his hand, eyes half-mast and clearly dozing.

He shifted back upright with a small start when Corvo fluttered over to join him, yawning and stretching himself in a rare, unconscious movement. He didn't look any more rested for the catnap, though—if anything, the shadows on his face had carved themselves deeper. "Takes a while, writing like that."

You're telling me. Corvo winced and stretched again. His neck hadn't liked the repetitive movements and he had a lingering headache at the back of his skull from the vibration of dragging his beak.

Daud hummed as he leaned over to scoop up the slate. "Well, just use it when you need to. I expect you know how to make yourself understood well enough in most cases by now."

That was true enough, even if it wasn't quite the same as actual words. Corvo tipped his head in response, then hopped closer to help Daud sort the scattered slate back into a readable order.

Reading it didn't take nearly as long as writing it had by the rate Daud went through it, though it took time enough that Corvo settled himself down into the bedspread, the long, exhausting day and night finally starting to fog his thoughts. Daud then read through a second time, again without commenting aside from the occasional noise in his throat or huff of air through his nose.

Corvo eventually blinked out of the start of his own doze as fingers drifted feather-light over his back and Daud laid the last of the slate down on the pile with a soft clink of sound.

"I'm impressed, featherbrain." He said, sounding torn between amusement and deep, dragging exhaustion. "And here I thought no one could beat the year I was having."

Corvo hmphed, too tired to really feel like laughing. Daud's hand had left his back, but he'd leaned it on the bedspread nearby. Corvo's sides brushed against the backs of his fingers as he breathed in.

"The circle." Daud murmured, almost thinking aloud. "She's used those before. There's always some method to the madness—symbolism, like the witch said. We'll figure it out."

Corvo tilted his head up to meet his eyes, bemused, but comforted by the reassurance. The man looked back at him, a small frown crinkling his forehead.

"You still haven't told the Empress." He said, slow and careful. The tone of a man pressing somewhere he thought he shouldn't.

Corvo's heart squeezed, an ache that hadn't quite left since he'd seen her growing tall and forging her own way. He turned the decision over in his head again, hovering, the way he had hundreds of times since, but in the end he just shook his head and looked away.

Daud poked him in the side again, drawing him back before he could truly start to mope.

"You had your reasons," he pointed out and Corvo belatedly tried to remember exactly what he'd written, "but it does limit our time. She's...twelve now, isn't she? Or nearly? By tradition, she's to choose another Royal Protector before her next birthday."

Damn it. He'd forgotten about that entirely, somehow. Of course she’d need a new Royal Protector, but he’d just— Unconscious denial and parental confusion, perhaps, because when had she started growing so fast?

He shifted upright, stumbling on the uneven softness of the bedspread and Daud grunted in surprise, reaching out with quick hands and scooping him up.

"Calm down." He said, and then his fingers twitched around Corvo's sides like his mind had caught up to him. He didn't put him down, though; he just opened his hands wider and drew them closer to his lap instead, resting his elbows back on his knees. "I have enough men to scour the whole city in a week. A month, if we’re checking inside the buildings as well. If Granny Rags has left anything behind, it won't take us a year to find it."

And if she hasn't? Corvo clicked his beak, feathers bristling in agitation. It wasn't that he begrudged Emily another protector. Certainly she needed one. It was just—

"We'll make our own damned spell if we need to." Daud growled back, conviction in every rumbling syllable. "If Delilah and Granny Rags can do it, so can we. And worst comes to worst, we get your girl involved. She'll have less reason to go haring off if we're already working on a solution."

That was...reasonable, and Corvo shook himself to bring his feathers down, a bit embarrassed at his own overreaction. Daud snorted at him and then shifted his hands, depositing him gently on his knee. "It's even harder to take you seriously if you make yourself fluffier, you know."

Corvo hissed and nipped him in the thigh; Daud twisted in a minute flinch, but it only made him snicker softly, his leg tensing and relaxing again beneath Corvo's claws.

He looked down at Corvo for a long moment, the echo of amusement fading from his face. He opened his mouth as though he'd planned to say something, but after a moment he just closed it again, shaking his head once with a soft sigh. 

"Ah, just look at us," he mumbled. "A fine pair we make."

Corvo blinked; they were an odd partnership, certainly, but he thought they were managing rather well, all things considered. Daud said nothing more though, letting the room fall back into the encompassing silence of early morning.

He glanced around the dark, still room—very little noise echoed in from the base despite the openness of the office. The only nearby signs of life, when he opened his Vision to check, were the sentries on the ruin outside, ghosting in and out of his range.

When he eventually turned back around again, he found Daud had fallen asleep.

He'd slumped back against the wall where he'd been sitting to read, his chin resting on his chest as his breathing deepened. His face hadn't softened at all, not really, not the way Emily’s did when sleep hit her suddenly. But for a short moment, he was undeniably vulnerable, in the easy, relaxed slump of his muscles and the unguarded curve of his neck and shoulder.

Corvo finally had to shake his head and look away, blinking slowly--the world around him felt slow and blurred. 

He ought to fly to the railing or his perch, he knew, with nothing left to do and sleep tugging insistently at him as well. It was hard to motivate himself, though, and moving at all would likely wake Daud up as well.

He yawned again, fatigue dragging at his limbs; Daud had been in place long enough that he radiated heat into his surroundings and it was plenty tempting to bask, to curl in that bubble of warmth away from the nip of Dunwall’s chilled winds.

In the stillness and the quiet of the empty room, he stayed for a moment and soaked it in. He closed his eyes against the endless shimmer of the oil lamp, counting the breaths of the man beside him, steady and familiar as a heartbeat.

In. And out. In. And out. In—


 

He awoke the next morning as he was prodded and he blinked for a moment, disconcerted. He’d not meant to fall asleep entirely and now there were feathers in his face and the surface beneath him was too soft, engulfing him with gentle pressure around his sides.

He pulled his beak out of the feathers on his back, where he’d somehow twisted to rest his head, and struggled upright. The surface under him sank beneath his claws, and he found that he’d somehow made his way into the middle of Daud’s pillow.

The bed was made, with no sign of the assassin himself—Corvo didn’t know if he was more perturbed at the thought that Daud had managed to move him there without him noticing, or that the man couldn’t have gotten more than a few hours of sleep.

He wasn’t entirely alone, though—a grizzled older Whaler was watching him from nearby with a raised eyebrow. Rickard, Corvo remembered belatedly and he puffed up his feathers at the man half-heartedly, grumbling a warning. Then remembered what Daud had said and brought them back down again, annoyed. 

“Oh, stuff it.” The man told him, quite cheerfully. His eyes still had the same bright, assessing look he’d had before. “I got the rundown. I’ll keep my hands to myself this time. Up with ye, then; we’ve work to do.”

Corvo hopped clumsily out of the pillow and onto the bedspread, setting a few feathers to rights with quick swipes of his beak. The Whaler plopped down next to him, digging in the leather bag he had slung across his chest.

“Slate’s been working well enough for you, he says.” Rickard seemed to be half talking to himself. “See if we can’t find something better though. Stop you from blunting that beak. I’ve got a few—”

He pulled several objects from his bag, flat pieces of wood and a few other materials. Corvo stared at him, then sighed and settled in for a wait.

An hour or so later, he was finally out of the empty office, heading for the training room, which was apparently where Daud had disappeared to.

“Better to set up in large spaces when we’re all in a fuss.” Rickard had said though apparently unconcerned himself about the reason for said fuss. “Quicker to get to and easier to fit us all in. So ye might as well join ‘em there.”

He wasn’t leaving empty handed either, thankfully; instead he flew carefully with a rough slat of wood in his claws. It was light enough that he barely noticed the weight, and soft enough that the barest pressure left a mark; mostly a decorative material, Rickard had said.

“Which is good news.” He’d said, scribbling away at a notepad with charcoal. “Plenty of soft woods and the like left in the district, even if half of it’s rotted. So carve away. And come see me directly if ye need something, aye? A normal bird’s a different beast—I expect I could make ye some very interesting things given some thought.”

An odd man, but definitely more bearable this time around, Corvo had decided. And he would certainly keep such an offer in mind.

He could have flown straight there, but on a whim he curved across the floodwaters first, swooping down to drift over the catwalks instead. There were quick flashes of Whalers moving along it, more than there had been before, as well as usual guards and lookouts in their places.

Most of them looked up as he passed them by, catching the sound of his wings in the wind or his shadow flickering over the metal. A few stopped moving or ducked closer to the nearest wall or cover, but others just glanced upwards for a long second and then continued on their way. One even lifted a hand and waved at him as he passed, though Corvo couldn’t quite identify them.

He let himself relax just a little bit more; many were still wary, but overall it seemed like he’d been at least nominally accepted.

The training room was indeed bustling when he reached it, and not with the usual activity. The furniture that was usually pushed back had been repurposed as tables, and there were packages and pouches scattered across any flat surfaces. Some were open and spilling their contents out onto arranged platters, various leafy plants and the occasional bloody pile that he didn’t care to examine too closely.

In the middle of it was Anatole, wrist-deep in a large mixing bowl as she muttered rhythmically under her breath. She looked healthier for a wash and a change of clothes, though not any more approachable.

There were a good number of Whalers to look past, moving in and out, talking together in small groups, or openly keeping watch on the witch in their midst. He finally found Daud's red at the opposite end of the room from Anatole's mixtures, holding what looked to be several conversations at once.

He fluttered through the still air and Daud glanced up at his wingbeats, expression easing ever so slightly in welcome. Corvo half expected the man to catch himself and stiffen up, but he simply waited for Corvo to land, the Whalers around him falling into anticipatory silence.

He caught the throbbing hiss of Void magic as he dropped his slat of wood on the back of a nearby flipped bookshelf, loud enough that he glanced around for its origin. He finally glimpsed the bundle at Daud’s feet, large enough for several bones and faintly wavering with the shimmer of magic. Before he could think further on it, though, Daud pulled his attention back.

"I'd apologize for not waking you up," he said in greeting, "but you seemed like you needed the sleep."

Pot, kettle. Corvo snorted in indignation, tossing his head, but that was either too complicated for Daud to decipher, or he was choosing to play ignorant. The man reached for his belt instead of responding, tugging out a small pouch full of dried fruit and nuts that he laid out on the bookshelf as well.

“A present from Yuri.” He explained, his expression wry. “Apparently, I can’t be trusted to feed either of us.”

Well, Corvo wasn’t going to complain, especially since the day looked to be nearly as busy as the last. He hopped down next to it and ate as Daud continued. His words took on the air of a briefing, each word quick and efficient.

“Rulfio took a few scouts to the sewers where we last saw Granny Rags, a few hours back. And I sent a few more to the old hideouts you mentioned.” Daud started. “They might be able to pick up a trail, and even if they can’t, she left quite a set-up behind. We’ll see what they dig up.”

Corvo murmured acknowledgement around a mouthful of fruit, bolting it down with quick jerks of his head.

“The witch should be finished with that ointment soon,” he continued, his voice lowering, “so as long as it works, we’ll finally have an advantage.”

“We’ll be testing it on her first, I hope.” One of the nearby Whalers muttered.

Daud sent him quiet with a glance. “Obviously.”

He reached for the cloth-wrapped bones at his feet then, dragging them up and laying them nearby; the hissing softened as he did so, as though calmed by the proximity.

“Feel up to searching the river today?” He asked Corvo, grey eyes flicking over him as though searching for any sort of malady. “We’re not aiming to fight yet, but I’ll feel better when we have a few eyes on their ship.”

Corvo swallowed a large mouthful with difficulty and nodded quickly. The air of the room was electric, humming with anticipation and he couldn’t deny his own eagerness to see the witches dealt with once and for all.

“And you can still access your Mark?” Daud checked, eyes narrow. He looked satisfied when Corvo nodded again. “Good. Do you need any of these, then? I dug them out of storage, in case you needed the boost.”

He flicked the top layer of wrapping off his bundle to reveal four runes stacked on top of each other. Corvo crowed quietly in delight, and caught it as Daud smiled just slightly in response.

He’d gathered more than a few runes on his own since he’d gained his blasting scream, but no new magic had manifested. The power had stayed dormant, building up slowly—with any luck, this would be enough to tip it over.

He tugged the top rune off the pile, letting it dissolve, and yes, finally, a curling tidal wave that built gently and inexorably in his chest until it crested and broke.

He opened his beak and let out a noise, a quivery, throbbing sound that he suspected wasn’t natural even for a crow’s throat. What caught his attention more was the lash of magic, this one actually somewhat familiar to him, reaching far beyond his voice in a echoing call. Or rather, a summons.

“What was that?” A Whaler asked. Corvo just had enough time to think rats, half-panicked, when someone outside yelled in alarm and the light from the windows darkened.

Oh shit.

The darkness exploded into the room, a squalling, whirling cacophony of chaos that seethed through the air in a pitch-black, furious cloud. The shouts of panic were nearly drowned out by the flurry of beating wings and harsh caws, and within moments he could barely see the other side of the room past the endless tide of feathers.

Not rats this time. Crows.

“Call them off!” Daud shouted to him over the noise. He had one hand over his head and eyes as the small bodies buffeted past him, but with the other he was throwing out magic, lines of green light that snagged the crows and dissolved them back into Void mist. Corvo distantly felt threads of magic snap. “Corvo!”

He dragged himself out of his shock and reached for the magic, still active and humming softly in the back of his mind. He pulled desperately, dragging it back, and slowly, reluctantly, it came, the murder of crows sighing and fading away like a storm cloud in the sun.

There were a few moments of shocked silence, punctuated by harsh breathing and the scrape of boots. More than a few Whalers crept out from where they’d ducked behind bookcases and under tables.

“What the fuck?” Someone said, echoing from the other side of the room where they clearly had no idea what had just happened and next to him, Daud braced his hands on the bookcase and laughed, a full-throated belly laugh that bowed his head and shook most of his body. Corvo stared at him.

“Well,” He managed, his mirth thick in his throat as noise broke back across the room. “I’m sure we can think of a few uses for that.

“You idiots! ” Anatole’s voice sounded faintly from somewhere close, too high-pitched to sound truly angry. “I’m going to have to start over!”

Daud just straightened up from his slump, still snickering, and Corvo couldn’t help joining him now that the shock had worn off.

No one had been hurt, they established after a few minutes—just a few scratches and bruises, and most of those from ducking out of the way. Many of the Whalers were eyeing him with considerably more respect, though, once his involvement became clear.

“Could you make them aggressive, do you think?” Daud asked him with interest as they all shifted the room back to rights, gathering the scattered ingredients.

Corvo shrugged; he was only relieved that they hadn’t been, as the rats had never seemed to discriminate. Then again, he’d never summoned them among allies either, so perhaps his state of mind did affect their actions.

“Something to find out. Even if you can’t though, they’ll work wonderfully as a distraction.” Daud tipped his head, eyes bright, but before he could continue, another ruckus sounded from near the windows.

“—to Daud. Get off, I said! I’m fine.”

That was Rulfio’s voice, muffled, metallic, and angrier than Corvo had ever heard him. Daud stiffened immediately; before he could move, Rulfio had Blinked through the crowd and Corvo’s heart froze.

Rulfio was covered in blood.

Rulf.” Daud grabbed at his shoulder, face paling, and Corvo couldn’t blame him. Rulfio’s uniform was soaked through on his right side from shoulder to knee, his coat nearly black and dripping crimson on the floor. He was hunched, curled with his left arm was tucked against his torso, but he waved Daud off with the other, his teeth gritting.

“It’s not mine. Not most of it.” He said, voice crackling. Corvo felt more than heard the deep breath Daud heaved in at that. He breathed more easily himself, his galloping heart starting to slow. “It’s Javier’s.”

Daud stiffened again, clearly bracing even as he wiped his face expressionless. “Is he—?”

“He’s breathing. He’s alive.” Rulfio pushed his mask on top of his head and coughed. His color was edging towards grey. “Or he still was when I got him back here. Leon wouldn’t tell me anything, which…isn’t great, but…he was alive. Galia too, just some broken bones.”

“Granny Rags?” Daud questioned, voice low and viciously intent. The entirety of the men in the room were gathered at his back now, listening with the same focus.

“No. Or at least not directly.” Rulfio shook his head. “We started at that shrine in the sewers, but…turns it was right underneath the old Moray estate. One of the branching tunnels had an opening right into the garden. And…you know the rumors, they used to say—”

“I know.”

“So we went in. We thought the house was empty. We checked it over.” Rulfio said, almost desperate. “There were books and papers she’d left; we thought we’d found what we needed. But as soon as Galia picked something up, there was… something—”

He stopped, pressing his arm in closer to his side, and as Corvo peered closer he could see that some of the blood was Rulfio’s. His left sleeve was torn, the thick fabric shredded right through in long, ragged rends, though it seemed he’d at least managed to stop the bleeding. His claws itched with sympathy, but there was nothing he could do.

“I didn’t get a good look at it—bad lighting, and it was fast.” Rulfio admitted. Daud curled a careful hand around his wrist, peering in closer at the wounds. “But it wasn’t human, not even close. Hit Galia first, just bulled her into the wall, but it got claws in Javier. If he hadn’t turned at the last second, it would’ve torn his spine in half. Snagged me too as I pulled him out, but it didn’t chase us past the property line, thank the Void.”

“Right.” Daud said, crisp, fury behind his teeth. “Good job, Rulfio. Damned good job. Now report to the infirmary. I’ll take it from here.”

His head came up. “If you need me to—”

“Rulfio, for once in your life,” Daud bit off, “do not argue with me.”

And Rulfio let the rest of the words go, shoulders slumping like he’d let the rest of his energy go with them.

“I’ve got him.” Thomas’ voice came from the crowd and he slipped through. He was in full uniform, but a limp still showed through in his steps. “I’m not combat ready, anyway.”

“I don’t need a minder.” Rulfio grumbled at him, though he didn’t resist the arm Thomas threw around his waist.

“Payback.” Thomas started, and then they were gone.

“Quinn, Tynan. Pull your best.” Daud said, and now his tone had cooled, sharpened into the focus of an experienced leader. “Hobson, Vladko, you’ll hold the base. Get men out to supplement the guard, some on the infirmary too. This could be a ploy.”  

The Whalers broke back into motion, swirling into the organized chaos that they seemed to manage so well. Daud turned, but before he’d taken a step Anatole was there, leaves still clutched in her fist.

“If it’s a beast, you’ll manage just fine, I expect.” She said, her dark eyes wide and serious. “But if she’s…built something, it’ll have a force driving it. A power source, like gravehound skulls. You’ll have to find that and destroy it, or it’ll just keep going.”

Daud eyed her narrowly for a moment, then nodded and caught a passing Whaler. “Andrei. Stay with her.”

The witch didn’t seem offended, just offered, “I should be done with my work by the time you’re back. As long as we’re not attacked, of course.”

Then she strode back to the table, her minder on her heels, and placed the mixing bowl back in front of her with a determined thump.

Corvo growled low in his throat and hunched lower on Daud’s shoulder, because they’d been there for him, hadn’t they? He’d just made every Whaler a target. Daud took one look at him and scowled.

“Don’t you start.” He growled back. “We knew what we were getting into. And with as crazed as she’s getting, we were probably going to end up tangling with her at some point. Witches like that don’t share a city.”

Then he Blinked out, flickering along his quickest route back up to his office. Corvo was used to hanging on by now; even the abrupt stop at their destination simply ruffled his feathers a little. The parallel struck him, abruptly, as he thought of the last time they’d moved here in such a hurry; he could be involved this time, at least, but that was little comfort at the moment.

“Don’t focus too much on defending the others, either.” Daud warned as he poked through chests, replacing his elixirs and slipping supplies into pouches and inner pockets. “They know their work and won’t thank you for hovering. Just keep an eye out for Granny’s newest pet. You’ll probably sense it before we do.”

And Corvo hadn’t really planned on hovering, but as he thought of some vicious force crashing through a team of Whalers, sending blood and bodies flying, his breath caught short. If they got hurt because he wasn’t watching…

But then, they were fighters, soldiers; guarding them would only reduce their ability to help, he knew that. And Daud had been sending his men into danger for years, despite the clear distress Rulfio’s wounds had caused him. So perhaps he was simply repeating what he’d forced himself to learn.

Daud slipped the last pouch back onto his belt and then stopped, eyeing Corvo sidelong with something like concern. “You’d best watch yourself most of all. If this thing can carve through our coats, it’ll kill you with the slightest hit.”

Corvo nipped the tip of his ear because yes, thank you, he had realized. This was hardly his first fight. Daud just shook his head and scowled. “I’m serious. You know it’d be safest if you just waited here—”

Corvo smacked him on the head with a wing this time, because really. This took away all his credibility for lecturing about overprotectiveness. Daud ducked and scoffed, then wrinkled his nose as some of the tension slipped away from his face. “Deserved that, I suppose.”

Corvo nodded with his own grumble of displeasure, bristling indignantly. Absolutely.

“Well, you might as well lead the way, then. Keep an eye out ahead.” The man quirked a brow at him and when Corvo nodded, Daud scooped him easily off his shoulder and tossed him upwards into the sky.

Corvo accepted the momentum, zipping out through the open roof and circling back as Daud dodged out through the windows and joined the gathering Whalers on the catwalks below. He swooped in figure eights over them, counting heads.

Daud’s words had been sensible, but it was difficult not to feel at least a little responsible for their safety. Perhaps it was all his decades as a Protector, but he wasn’t about to see any of them injured on his watch, not if he could help it. He’d lost enough already.

Whatever they found at the Moray estate, they’d all be coming back alive. Corvo would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

The grounds of the Moray estate were silent.

Corvo heard no birds or bugs, saw no flicker of fur or feathers in the undergrowth. Even the air was much too still, no breath of wind moving in the trees. He kept his head swiveling uneasily, eyes open for movement as he scouted the grounds in a quick sweep.

He hadn’t known before now that the Moray family had an estate in the city—hadn’t, honestly, been aware that they’d had an estate at all. And he’d have expected it in Mutcherhaven over the Estate District, if he’d ever considered it. Moray was an old name, old and near dead, and he’d not heard it spoken at court in years. If not for the Sokolov painting he’d found, he’d not have known the connection.

A quick flight around the building at least let him release some nervous energy, but it didn’t reveal much in the way of useful information. Most of the doors and windows were shut tight, and any attempts to peer through glass panes were thwarted by the layers of thick dust. He occasionally caught sight of other scouts Daud had sent ahead, shifting cautiously past the trees and hedges and poking around the house’s walls, until one by one they Blinked away again.

There were a few windows with one or two broken panes that he might have been able to fit through, but he didn’t land on them. Not only were the rooms beyond pitch black from the small sliver he could see, but by the scattered glass on the sill, the windows had been broken from the inside.

It could mean any number of things, but he wasn’t willing to take the chance.

His heart was a little too fast in his chest, and once he finished his sweep, he headed with all speed back towards the Whalers waiting beyond the boundaries. Scouting had seemed a fine idea before, but this wasn’t somewhere to be caught wandering alone.

Daud had moved in when he returned, crouched along the outer wall surrounding the grounds. Some of the tension in his face eased as Corvo fluttered down to his shoulder, and Corvo concurred. He found himself breathing easier now that he was back in company.

There was something about the place. Even without the blood and warnings, Corvo thought they would have known it anyway: something in the quiet or perhaps the smell, the near invisible things that sent the skin down his spine crawling.

“Find anything?” Daud asked him, and didn’t look surprised when Corvo shook his head. “No reason to wait, then.”

The Whalers behind him kept in close as they all crossed the grounds. They passed the hatch Rulfio had mentioned, open to the sewers still, and further on, a door. It looked like a servant’s entrance, small and set in the side of the house, but although it seemed as rusted with age as the others, the handle turned easily under Daud’s hand and it swung open.

Daud showed no outward reaction, but Corvo felt the breath he took beneath his claws, the swell and release of his lungs before he stepped forwards into the dark.

The first step brought them the musty smell of dust and decay, the stale air of a house long left to rot, pervasive enough that even Corvo could detect it. And though the light from outside cut into the darkness of the room, it was cold inside, as though they’d entered a root cellar. Corvo tried not to compare it to the chill of the Void.

The room they were in looked like it might have been a kitchen, back in its day. Daud took one slow, careful look around and shook his head, waving them on. They padded out through the next door, creeping silently over the dusty carpet of a hallway, and into the doorway of a far more cavernous space, with curling staircases and marble floors that harkened to a foyer.

This space was lit, at least a little. Small oil lamps glowed here and there, tucked into corners or beneath end tables.

It was just enough to reveal the general state of the room: the scrawled graffiti, the faint shadows of rambling words and arcane signs littered across the marble and carved with deep slashes into the walls. All of it surrounded a small shrine left moldering in the center of the room, the altar empty and the curtains limp and ragged.

And just inside the doorway, the light illuminated a wine-dark stain, a splatter of liquid still wet enough to reflect a gleam.

Corvo swallowed a deep breath and let it buzz in his throat, banking a scream the way he might have kept his finger on the trigger of a pistol. It stung with the wet iron taint of blood, a goad that drove some of the uneasiness back with anger.

Daud stepped carefully over the puddle of blood, keeping his boots out of the liquid. Corvo’s heart clenched as they turned to look back; with Rulfio’s words in his mind, he could see the course of the fight in the debris. The side paneling had cracked where something had hit it with force and there were several bloodied spots, different injuries spilling at different points. An old book laid abandoned nearby, cover open and pages crumpled.

Corvo pulled his Vision over his eyes, but found nothing. The silence of the house was absolute, pressing heavy on his ears and nerves. He could barely hear Daud’s breathing right beside him.

The rest of the men likewise seemed disinclined to make noise. They curled through the room like smoke, ghosts in the eerie light, heads turning and searching constantly, wary. They gave the shrine a wide berth, which Corvo thought was superstition until his Vision faded and he saw the dull white shine of bone, a heap of pieces both large and small inexplicably sprawled in a semi-circle around the altar.

Daud’s hands flickered in the darkness and they broke apart, perching on banisters and old chandeliers with the slightest hiss of the Void, tucking themselves into all corners of the room.

“Going to try something. Keep watch.” Daud breathed, turning his head to make himself heard, so soft that his voice held no trace of its usual rasp.

Corvo stiffened, turning his head to cover Daud’s blind spots as the man retraced his steps, padding back to the discarded book at the doorway. He crouched, left elbow braced on his knee, and scooped it up in his other hand, cradling the cracked binding and shaking off a few droplets of blood.

Corvo only caught it in time because he was looking.

He couldn’t have said what acted first, the Void or the bones, because they seemed almost simultaneous. The bone pile heaved, flinging pieces into the air as black Void magic boiled out of nowhere, filling in the spaces between.

Then it was fully formed, bone and smoke and hollow, whistling breath, already halfway to them and flinging itself forward with claws of jagged bone outstretched.

Corvo blasted it, lashing out with all the power he had stored, wings flaring wide as his heart spiked. Daud, to his credit, wasted absolutely no time. He Blinked almost before the sound had even left Corvo’s mouth, taking them both out of the way and coming out at the bottom of a staircase instead.

The bones finished hitting the floor as he and Daud both twisted to check, the monstrous form shattered back into pieces at the force of the blast. Even as they watched, though, the pieces rattled and snapped back, bone and mist reforming in a heartbeat, already moving as it threw itself back towards them with single-minded intent.

Corvo gasped in a breath—slow, too slow—but Daud flung out a hand and pulled.

Color and warmth leached out of his vision, the wash of power digging hooks into the world and pulling it to a standstill.

The bone creature loomed over them, massive and misshapen, claws raised and only a foot or two away from Daud’s head. It resembled no animal he knew, and he suspected the bones were from all different sorts. A human leg bone here, a curved whale bone there, a clicking, patchwork horror topped with the fanged skull of some Tyvian wolf or bear and the curling, ridged horns of a blood ox.

Corvo panted, confused for a moment—he hadn’t regained time manipulation, should have been frozen too—but then he remembered Daud’s coat between his claws and held on tighter, determined not to be left behind.

Whalers darted around them, swords in hand, but there seemed to be no obvious spot to strike. Magic curled around it in thin strips of mist, weaving it together like makeshift muscles and tendons, but the spaces between were empty.

“Find its power source!” Daud snapped at them in irritation, dancing out of reach of the claws and circling around behind it.

The Whalers bolted away again, rummaging through the books and side tables, digging through the shrine. Time restarted as they did so and the creature turned on them, so fast it blurred, but Daud froze it again just as swiftly. He pulled in a harsher breath as he did so, and Corvo glanced over to find sweat starting to bead on his face.

Instead of joining his Whalers, though, Daud darted closer to the frozen creature, examining it with narrowed eyes. A moment later, he jabbed a finger at its chest, the assortment of curved bones that resembled a ribcage. “There!”

Corvo peered closer and his stomach turned over, an uncomfortably familiar feeling this time. There was a lump of flesh suspended in its chest, wreathed in the black shimmer of the Void, fist-sized and dark like old blood.

Daud backed off again, palming a vial of Piero’s Remedy from his belt and downing it swiftly. Then he turned to Corvo. “I need you to break it again, the moment I let it go.”

Corvo nodded emphatically, pulling power and air back into his lungs and Daud turned back, squaring his shoulders. “Count of three. One—two—”

On three, the world began again, color flooding back in and the monster launching into the air towards them.

Corvo screamed again, shattering it in midair, the magic dissolving and the bones splintering away from each other. Daud froze it there, half its pieces still in the air and its ribcage split wide open like some a macabre, hideous flower, its power source still suspended in the center.

It was a heart, Corvo saw as Daud leapt forwards to snatch it out. It didn’t have the mechanical components of the Outsider’s gift, but it was still nauseating, with thin, dangling strings of flesh attached that might once have been arteries or veins.

Daud tossed it on the floor at his feet and a Whaler stepped in to assist, slicing through it several times in the space of a second or two. The heart burst open like a overripe fruit, brownish blood bubbling out of the cuts until the sword stopped and the liquid refroze.

Corvo watched carefully as Daud released the magic one last time, keeping a close eye on the rain of bones. But though they clattered down to the floor with a great deal of noise, once they’d stopped rolling and fell still, they did not reform again.

Corvo pulled in a deep breath of relief and nearly choked. At their feet, the heart was bubbling again, spewing out a puddle of old blood that looked too large for the vessel itself. It already seemed to be slowing, but the stench was enough that he wanted to cough: that mix of slaughterhouse refuse, old blood and diseased, rotting meat.

“Outsider’s eyes.” Daud coughed, ducking his head away, and somewhere behind him one of the Whalers gagged.

The silence of the house fell again, but it felt like they had the chance to breathe for a moment, at least. The Whalers gathered back together again, kicking bones aside as they walked, nervous and jittery.

“Well.” Daud said slowly. He scrubbed once at his forehead as Corvo watched, the book still clutched in his hand. “I had wondered how it had gotten the best of Rulfio.”

“Do you think there’s more?” One of the Whalers asked, her voice strained tight behind her mask. Many of them were now nearly pressed back to back, keeping a wary eye out.

“Only one way to find out.” Daud said grimly. “See what you can find in this room and then come back. We’re sticking together on this one.”

No one argued.

“We may need that scream of yours again,” Daud murmured to him as the Whalers scooped up the books they’d tossed aside and rummaged through the old furniture for loose papers. “I’ve Remedies if you need them.”

He pulled another blue vial from his belt and then frowned down at it with a look of faint dismay. “Hold on, are these even safe for birds?”

He glanced sideways at Corvo, as though he might have the answer. Corvo blinked back at him and shrugged; he had no idea what Piero stuck in there and for all that he’d learned, he couldn’t be sure of everything that might poison a bird.

His blood was up and his throat itched, but he didn’t yet have the stabbing headache that indicated when he’d reached beyond the limits of his power. He looked at Daud and shook his head, jerking his beak at the vial.

“Save experimenting for emergencies, then.” Daud acknowledged dryly, and tucked it away.

They paced slowly through the house in a loose pack, sweeping through room by room with great caution. Three doors opened to reveal a nesting swarm of rats that charged as soon as they saw movement, but the Whalers simply tossed a canister or two of chokedust into the room—Corvo keeping well back as they did so—leaving only lumps of blood and fur behind.

Corvo was torn between wincing and mean satisfaction at that. Satisfaction usually won.

Most of the rooms only contained dust and covered furniture, but a few had paper or books tucked away. Corvo kept another scream tucked in his throat despite the lack of obvious danger—the house still felt too quiet.

They made it to the back of the manor without incident, until they reached double doors that Corvo suspected led to the master bedroom. As soon as Daud shoved one door open, there came a rattle and hiss, bones and magic coalescing in the middle of the room.

It came at them immediately, even faster than the last. It was longer and leaner, with a trail of tiny, mismatched bones built into a thick, whip-like tail, and it lashed the barbed end of it at Daud’s face like a stinger, forcing him leap frantically out of the way.

Having faced such an opponent once already, though, they were all significantly less rattled.

Corvo hit it with the blast he’d been holding, the power almost a relief to exhale. Just as quickly, Daud froze the world around it, most of the bones still hanging in the air, and two more Whalers leapt forwards, slicing the tips of their swords into the cracked cavity of its ribcage.

They gave it space as time resumed, letting the bones and dark blood spray backwards into the room as it finished collapsing. When it stayed down, they all crept into the room after it, glancing around for any last surprises.

Nothing moved beyond a few rats, which scurried away under the dressers and the bed, but the room was well-lit. The bones crunched underfoot, but there were also more spread out along the dressers and tabletops, alongside various containers and more promising loose pages.

The bed itself, Corvo noted with some disbelief, and been turned into another makeshift shrine, with voluminous purple curtains hanging around the neatly made sheets, small oil lamps on the floor around it, and a softly humming rune laid on one of the pillows.

Daud snorted when he saw it, echoing Corvo’s thoughts. After a moment’s consideration, the assassin reached out and plucked the rune carefully off the pillow as the Whalers rummaged through the rest of the room.

Corvo was actually surprised when the world bled black.

"Really?" Daud demanded, in a tone of vague outrage. "All the shrines I've touched in the last few months and this is the one you show up at?"

The Outsider stared back at him, unblinking, from where he had settled himself cross-legged on the bed. Or rather, floating above the bed, Corvo corrected, amused despite himself.

"You've softened, Daud." He said, and the amusement died away. It was difficult to laugh properly at the Outsider. “So rarely have you ever felt moved to fight for another without coin to balance the scales. Or is it still simply guilt that drives you here?"

"Oh, fuck off." Daud growled at him half-heartedly. By his tone, he clearly had no hope that it would actually work. "Unless you're here to help, and we all know you're not."

"You seem to have it well enough in hand." The Outsider said, fathomless eyes turning just slightly in Corvo's direction. He rustled his wings, irritated, and the god shifted his attention back to Daud. "This was her marriage bed."

"I really didn't need to know that." Daud sighed, and Corvo snorted. The Outsider, unsurprisingly, ignored them.

"Delilah drew her strength from her future," He said, and they both snapped their attention back, "from her ambitions, her plans and dreams. But Granny Rags draws hers from her past. And in this room, this house, the walls nearly breathe with it. Step carefully."

Corvo hoped he didn't mean that literally, but he wouldn't discount anything at this point. The Outsider leaned forward, too pale in the darkness, ignoring the way Daud drew back.

"For a man so mired in his own past, you suddenly seem quite focused on the future yourself, Daud." He said, soft without a hint of gentleness. "Quite a change of heart, old friend."

Corvo felt more than heard the breath Daud drew in, probably precipitating more cursing by the expression on his face, but then the Outsider was gone and the Void slipped away again, color and light retaking its place.

A few of the Whalers were watching them, but no one seemed surprised—not an uncommon occurrence for them, probably. Daud looked down at the rune in his hand and curled his fingers around it.

"Bastard." He said irritably, and Corvo whistled in agreement. Daud eyed him. "You already asked him for help, didn't you?"

When Corvo nodded and shrugged with equanimity, Daud scowled and looked away, shaking his head, but he didn't seem surprised either. Helpful really wasn't the Outsider's nature.

Daud glared down at the rune for a moment longer and then offered it to Corvo with one eyebrow raised.

He sighed and took it; in the collective chaos, he’d left behind the extras Daud had offered earlier, so he couldn’t really afford to be too picky yet.

“Daud.” Quinn said, drawing his attention. “Take a look at this.”

Daud approached the area where she and Tynan stood on the opposite side of the room, in front of an old dressing table. It looked to be the sort that every young noblewoman would have loved, wide and topped with a full mirror, but a blow of some sort had shattered the glass beyond repair.

Then Corvo looked down at the tabletop and his hackles rose, his feathers bristling without conscious thought.

It wasn’t the glyphs and markings that had been carved into the wood, or the brownish liquid that had been used to stain it. Nor was it the pointed bones or assorted sharp instruments left strewn alongside, some also stained.

No, it was the small, white pieces scattered across the tabletop, haphazard as though someone had swatted them. More bone, thin and flat sections from some unknown species, which would have been par for the course except that the pieces had been carved.

Most of the bone fragments showed some signs of decoration, though they all seemed to have been abandoned before completion. There was one to the side with only a few scratches and grooves, but another flung near the far edge of the table looked nearly finished, with intricate details marred by a sudden, harsh groove through them.

And all the attempts bore the start of a similar design—the face of a fierce, beautiful young woman with upswept hair.

Corvo hadn’t gotten the best look at the small cameo he’d thrown in the incinerator all those months ago, but he had gotten a glimpse, enough that he didn’t have to struggle to remember. Unfortunately, the silhouette of the woman was quite familiar.

He had no idea how such things were usually made, but to him, these looked very much like the beginnings of just such a cameo.

“No dust, and by the look of these markings, they not very old. Someone’s been here, recently.” Tynan was saying. Daud was frowning down at the assembly, but not with the sort of concern he ought to have . Perhaps he didn’t remember the story.

Corvo took his earlobe and tugged, trying not to bite in his urgency. Daud flinched and shook his head, staring at him in surprise. “What is it?”  

Corvo clacked his beak in agitation and jumped down from his shoulder, bouncing a few times as he hit the desk to rebalance. Then he hopped over to the nearly finished brooch and scooped it up in his beak. There were other materials there as well, he saw—glossy and dark, and just the right size to form a backing once the bone was ready to be mounted.

Daud took it from him when he offered it up, turning it over in his hands as his lieutenants leaned in to look. His frown deepened, but just when Corvo thought he’d have to start writing again, the man straightened, his expression shifting to grim realization.

“Damn it all, I’m getting slow.” He said, shaking his head sharply. He met Corvo’s eyes, and now his concern was clear and strong. “She’s trying to remake the one you destroyed.”

“Sir?” Tynan asked, but Daud cut him off.

"Not here. I’ll fill everyone in on the situation when we get back. I should have done it earlier.” He waved a hand at the mess behind Corvo. “Bring all of that with us, and then destroy the table. It won’t stop her, but we can at least try to make things harder.”

They set to it and Corvo took to the air to move out of the way, circling the room once in agitation. The Whalers had finished tucking away anything that might have held writing, but Daud was still looking up at him though, seemingly waiting.

Corvo grumbled and dove back down to him, landing on his wrist when the other man offered it up. He looked at Daud then, rustling his wings together with unhappy, nervous energy.

There was no upside to this situation. He hadn’t even considered that the cameo might be remade. If she managed it, she would doubtless hide it much better than she had the last one, and then he’d truly have no way to stop her.  

Not to mention it shed another light on her intentions for him. What had she said? Blood for drawing, bones for etching—

Daud jostled him lightly, breaking him out of his thoughts.

“No point sitting here worrying about it.” Daud murmured, bringing his wrist up to his shoulder for Corvo to step on. “Come on. Let’s go home."

 


 

Daud split off from the others when they made it back and Corvo, tagging along by habit, wasn’t really surprised when they ended up at the infirmary instead of the base proper. The physician looked over when Daud dropped in, but let them be when the man headed for the beds first.

Rulfio was asleep when they got there, coat off and shirt drawn back to reveal clean bandages around his wounded arm. Thomas was awake on the next bed over though, mask off and sitting with his back to the wall, bent over his hands with his wounded leg left straight.

He looked up when Daud approached and Corvo noticed the slightest bit of relaxation in his shoulders. He set down the objects in his hands too—some wood and a knife, again. He’d dropped some shavings of wood on the blankets.

“Still here, Thomas? Not like you.” Daud said, his voice kept lower than usual as Corvo fluttered to the railing between the beds, looking them both over critically.

“I’ve been rather forcibly informed that resting is the best thing for me right now.” Thomas said, a bit more sardonic than Corvo was used to hearing him. Then he jerked his head at Rulfio. “And someone has to keep him down, or Leon might just stab him.”

“An understandable impulse.” Daud huffed softly, but he was looking Rulfio over just as closely, Corvo noticed. “And Javier?”

“Some wound fever set in, but Leon still seems optimistic.” Thomas raised an eyebrow at him. “You ought to go ask him instead of me. Get cleaner answers that way.”

“As though you haven’t asked him just the same already.” Daud shot back, and then shook his head. “Fine, fine, I’m going.”

“You found whatever did this, I assume?” Thomas asked before he could move. He held his face carefully blank now, but his eyes were hard.

“We got it.” Daud confirmed, and Thomas let out a soft breath. “Too bad you weren’t there, you’d have liked it. Even more fun than the gravehounds.”

Thomas laughed, a soft, startled bark, and he kept a bit of the smile as he and Corvo watched Daud stride over to the physician. The man started talking as soon as Daud reached him, clearly anticipating the questions.

“This was probably the worst choice she could have made.” Thomas confided quietly, and Corvo twisted back to look at him. “We’d have searched for her before just because Daud asked, but now she’s given us a reason to make it personal. Even the men who aren’t fond of you won’t have any issue chasing her down.”

That was positive, Corvo supposed, but he’d still rather have done without the blood and pain, if he could have. At least no one had died. Yet.

He took one last glance at Rulfio’s sleeping form and then craned his head, looking for the other injured Whalers. Thomas hummed, pointing at a bed across the room. “Javier’s over there, if you want to check on him. Galia just broke some ribs; she’s left already.”

He picked his work back up as he said it, ready to start again. Corvo caught sight of a piece of the carving, shaped into something that looked very much like a wing and feathers, before he fluttered away across the room.

Javier did indeed look a bit feverish, his face flushed and sweating. There were thick bandages wrapped carefully around the entirety his torso, and two bone charms tucked under his side. He actually was conscious though, blinking open bleary eyes as Corvo landed at the head of the bed.

“Hmph. You.” He said muzzily, narrowing his eyes up at Corvo without lifting his head. “Can’t even…fucking call you a bird anymore. You kill it?”

Corvo nodded and chirped, glad that they could at least put that concern to rest.

“Suppose you are good for something, then.” Javier muttered. “Fucking witches.”

“Truer words never spoken.” Daud’s voice came as he walked up to join them. “Not going to die on us then, Javier?”

“Oh, fuck off. I’ll…kill ‘em first, the bastards.” Javier slurred at him, sounding somewhat punch-drunk. He looked rather too exhausted and thoroughly drugged to be intimidating.

“Let us handle that for now,” Daud said with some amusement, his smile suspiciously fond. “There’ll be plenty of work for you later.”

Javier snorted and let his eyes slide closed again; Corvo took the hint and returned to Daud’s shoulder without prompting, determination hardening in his gut as the man headed back towards the base.

They had work to do themselves.

 


 

“Jewelry that makes you immortal.” Vladko summarized flatly, shaking his head. “Why didn’t any of us think of that?”

“Probably requires human sacrifices and unspeakable horrors.” Quinn shot back, her arms crossed over her chest. “And we’re all shit at fancy magics.”

The lieutenants were taking the whole story well, Corvo thought, now that Daud had finally gathered them and succinctly explained the circumstances surrounding his transformation. Though they were probably used to dealing with occult absurdities as a matter of course, at this point.

Having been reminded of his true nature as Daud had explained, though, they’d reverted back to shooting him only somewhat subtle glances as he watched them from the center of the desk. It was equal parts amusing and exasperating, though he was beginning to lean towards the latter.

“It’s not a technique I’ve heard of before, but rumor says plenty about Granny Rags. No doubt she knows dozens of things that I’d never even want to try.” Daud broke into their bickering before it could truly start. “Though I would like to know how Slackjaw knew enough about it to warn you.”

Corvo returned his questioning look with a shrug and a shake of his head. It was something he had wondered himself, more than once, and had he been less frazzled at the time, he certainly would have asked.

“And why a bird?” Vladko asked, almost to himself now. “You’d think human bones would be hardier if she needed to use them for something.”

“Might be the blood that’s more important. Ya remember what that witch said.” Hobson drawled, Morley heavy in his voice. He tipped his head to examine Corvo a little closer. “An’ a bird’s much easier to hold or kill than a full man.”

“Not that I’m suggesting—” He added after a moment of silence, his head coming up in alarm.

“Enough, Hobson.” Daud said, but he mostly sounded amused. “I know some of ours have taken an interest deeper magics. Round up a few to look through Granny’s papers, see if they can find anything related to birds. Or the cameo.”

“And we can tell them the story behind it, then? There have been...a lot of questions.” Quinn checked, glancing between Corvo and Daud as though uncertain who to ask.

Daud glanced at him first and Corvo nodded. He was rather past the point where he cared who knew that he’d lost to Granny Rags. The Whalers hadn’t exactly come off too well in their encounters either.

“Try to keep it from Anatole for now, if possible.” Daud instructed. “But it’s not essential. Corvo can handle himself.”

Well, of course he could. Still, by Daud’s standards, that was practically a compliment, and he felt a spark of warmth.

“And speaking of our guest—”

“She finished her mixture.” Tynan confirmed. “When it didn’t send her blind or burn her eyes out, Cole drew the short straw and we tried it on one of his eyes. Lad says he could see the circles, even though the rest of us couldn’t. No side effects so far.”

“Hmm.” Daud said. “Well, we may have to take the chance.”

“I’ll send someone up with it.” Tynan promised.

“Send Montgomery and Fergus. And Cole, I suppose.” Daud amended and Tynan paused, but nodded in agreement.

“And keep up the extra guard for now,” He caught Hobson and Vladko before they could leave. “Better to be safe. It shouldn’t be for more than a few days.”

When the room was clear, he turned back to Corvo.

“They’ll get used to you.” He promised, looking a bit amused himself at their discomfort.

Corvo huffed with laughter—Daud was still getting used to him again, he suspected, and it was the exact opposite of what any of them would have wanted a year ago. Daud’s smirk deepened as though he’d caught the thought.

“Whether they like it or not.” He acknowledged dryly, and Corvo snickered again.

Then Daud sobered, coming closer and leaning against the desk beside him. Corvo peered up at him.

“I suppose one more witch shouldn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but Granny Rags is in a class all her own.” He grumbled, and Corvo nodded in enthusiastic agreement. “Still up for searching the river today? We can wait if we need to, but I’d rather deal with the Brigmore witches sooner than later. Never liked having enemies on two sides.”

Corvo nodded again, coughing a noise of quiet indignation. It was barely past midday, for all that the day seemed long behind him. Besides which, he absolutely agreed with Daud’s reasoning—he’d not forgotten the more distant danger they posed, even in light of his own concerns.

“Good.” Daud said. “Obviously, you’ll be moving mostly on your own; our boats couldn’t keep up. But I’m still sending a few men with you: the fastest runners, so they should be able to follow on the shoreline. We’ll need eyes there once you’ve found them.”

Corvo tilted his head and thought for a moment of contacting Samuel, with his deft hand on the rudder and his endless knowledge of the river’s currents and bends. He put it aside, though—they could manage, and the man had earned a respite from danger.

So he accepted the addition of men without argument, but Daud frowned at him for a moment longer.

“You don’t need me telling you.” He said, abrupt as though he couldn’t hold it back any longer, “but I’ll say it anyway. Be careful. They’ve taken too many of my people already.”

And you’re one of mine, was the inescapable implication, and it smoothed over any irritation he might have felt at the admonition. He tossed his head once in quick acknowledgement and then fluttered up to his usual spot on Daud’s shoulder, tired of staring up at him. The other man watched as he did so, eyes crinkling with something like interest.

“It must be something else, flying. I used to dream about it.” He said, half-distant in memory. “Maybe someday you can tell me what it's like.”

Corvo nodded firmly. I will, then. Someday soon.

Daud blinked him in response, his forehead furrowed in something like bemusement, but there was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth too. Corvo decided to count it as a win.

 


 

In the end, finding the witches wasn’t as hard as it sounded.

The Wrenhaven was wide and ever-changing, that was true, but Dunwall’s economy was still recovering. The number of vessels on the water was nowhere near the amount that might have traversed the river only a few years ago, which made it easier. He had to zig and zag across the water to examine them individually, but he wasn’t in danger of losing track of any.

And really, he needn’t have even bothered to do that much. The ship he was looking for turned out to be rather hard to miss.

They made him fly all the way west down the river to find them, past Kaldwin’s bridge and the largest bend, but as he glided past the shoreline of the Legal District, picking up the very distant flickers of magic that marked the position of the Whalers on land, the now-familiar glimmer of purple drew his eyes.

And there it was: a rather large vessel, perhaps a cargo ship of some sort, wreathed in the distant shimmer of whale oil that rose out and revealed their position. They’d anchored under one of the crumbling bridges the city had yet to repair, perhaps a half-hearted effort to keep their ship out of sight.

He swooped in closer just to be sure, curiosity itching at him. Details sharpened then: the glimmering symbols painted around the outside of the ship, several lines encircling the hull entirely. There were more symbols painted on the deck as well, though only one line, leaving room enough to walk still.

He picked out movement here and there as he circled back around. There was a woman at the wheel, of course, and a few figures standing at the railing looking out at the sea. For the most part, though, the deck seemed empty. Perhaps they simply didn’t have many members left, or maybe most of them were below, planning their next move now that their comrades had failed to return.

Daring, he fluttered down to the mast at the front of the ship, grasping the slanted cables carefully between his toes as he perched there for a good look.

The women at the railing didn’t look up at his wingbeats the way the Whalers might have, but someone did move. Two witches sat back to back in a patch of sunlight near an entrance to the inside of the ship. One had a book in her lap, eyes lowered in concentration, but the other, with a swath of cloth across her legs and thread between her fingers, looked up at his landing.

As he watched, the witch narrowed her eyes at him, and then her arm began to creep slowly backwards, her hand shifting up to her belt.

“What are you doing?” Her companion asked, eyes flicking up from her book.

“Hunting for dinner.” The woman replied softly. “Now hush, darling.”

Corvo dropped off the cables, entirely uninterested in testing her aim. He caught her faint noise of disappointment behind him as he winged with all haste towards the men on the shoreline.

“I’ve got it.” Montgomery told him before he’d even made it to the man’s shoulder, crouching low on the roof with his gaze steady on the distant ship. “Take Fergus with you and go let Daud know.”

Clouds began to obscure the late afternoon sun as he made his way back, the rain threatening yet again, and he stretched his wings for speed, holding himself back only to keep a general eye on Fergus below him. Heads turned to follow him as he reached Rudshore and one lookout waved, catching his attention and gesturing back towards the main building, diverting him away from Daud’s office.

They’d set up in the training room again, he found when he dove through the windows. The tables were covered with books and papers now, rather than Anatole’s experiments, and more besides—Daud had also brought maps down from his office, the ones annotated with the circles and witches’ movements, placing them on bookcases and across tables.

There were Whalers sorting through the information gathered there, more than he might have expected—trying to decipher Granny’s particular way of writing, Corvo suspected with sympathy. Daud was among them, a pen and paper in one hand as he peered at the scroll with a scowl.

His expression dissipated as Corvo landed down next to him, his gaze turning intent instead. “Found them?"

He smiled grimly when Corvo nodded. “Good work. Mark it down, as best you can.”

He gestured at the map even as Fergus appeared, and Corvo left them to it, fluttering over to do as asked. There were loose pins nearby, clearly with such a purpose in mind, and he gripped one very carefully in his beak, pinning it down at the best approximation he could manage on the map.

Whalers were already making their way over as he finished, ducking down to peer at his addition and then heading out of the room entirely. One or two offered him nods as they left, but they all left him a careful bubble of space still.

Then Daud was at his side again, looking down at the map and marking the change. “Nothing concrete from Granny’s notes, but we’ve not gotten too far yet. And they’re not easy reading.”

Corvo nodded, understanding even as disappointment stung just slightly, and Daud tilted his head at the map in reply. “At least we’ll have the chance to clean up this mess now, finally. I have to wonder if we’d have found them in time, if you hadn’t been here.”

He reached out a hand then, as though about to touch the feathers on Corvo’s neck, the way he might have done before. He paused again before he finished the motion, knowledge overcoming habit, but Corvo arched up and brushed against his fingers impatiently, tired of caution at this point.

Daud’s fingers twitched once and then he complied, scratching gently at the back of Corvo’s head and rubbing along the edges of his cheeks. Corvo made a noise of satisfaction in his throat and leaned into it; he hadn’t realized how accustomed he’d become to touch until it had stopped happening.

“That’s rather undignified, Lord Protector.” Daud told him, laughter deepening his voice, but he kept scratching regardless and so Corvo only sniffed at his teasing, unoffended.

Finally Daud drew back, though he offered his wrist a moment later. “Come on. I’ve sent Akila to fetch us a ship of our own, but it’ll be a while before they get here. Might as well get dinner and talk things through, save Yuri the trouble of chasing us down later.”

A ship? Corvo made a questioning noise in his throat as he accepted the lift; he’d flown enough today that he certainly didn’t mind the offer.

“Doubt you’ve ever met Lizzy Stride.” Daud said confidently as he moved for the windows. “She takes some getting used to, but she’ll get us where we need to go.”

Lizzy Stride…the name sounded somewhat familiar. Then he shrugged to himself; he’d find out sooner or later.

 


 

Daud. Well, well.”

Corvo did know Lizzy Stride, as it turned out, or at least he knew of her. Her wanted posters had never been as prolific as Daud’s, but her face was familiar enough. He supposed it wasn’t really a surprising choice. The Whalers could hardly expect more law-abiding sorts to keep the necessary secrets, and Lizzy was apparently trusted enough that they’d led her right to the mouth where the Flooded District met the river.

She lounged against the railing of her ship, slouching and insouciant as Daud strode up the gangway with Vladko and Quinn behind him. Her looks fitted her reputation, lean muscle and sharp bone, and quick, wary eyes. She’d hacked her hair strangely and she was covered with smears of motor oil and dirt, but she looked defiantly healthy, which put her ahead of the witches.

She pushed up to stand straight as they reached the deck, smirking at Daud like he’d done something worth laughing at. “We’ll make a true pirate out of you yet, looks like.”

Corvo, from his position on Daud's shoulder, caught it when the man's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

Lizzy grinned at him—her teeth had been filed down to points, Corvo saw, and he leaned forward in reluctant fascination. That couldn't have been comfortable to do.

"Well, y'are going after other ships now. That's what pirates do." She grinned wider when he huffed. "But I was actually talking about the bird: the mark of every proper pirate captain, you know. Just let someone finish taking that eye out and you'll be a walking storybook."

"Where's yours, then?" Daud threw back, though Corvo noticed that he sounded rather more indulgent than irritated.

"You implyin’ I’m not a proper captain?" She growled at him, lips twitching and Daud rolled his other shoulder in a lazy shrug. Clearly they were familiar with each other, Corvo noted. "Wouldn't say no, I suppose. You feel like making a change, ey, beautiful?"

This she said to Corvo, reaching out a hand with long fingers and cracked nails. He flinched in surprise at the suddenness of it, tucking his chin into his chest, and Daud snorted.

"He's not interested, Lizzy." He drawled, shifting his shoulder slightly so that Corvo was out of reach. "Akila filled you in?"

"Can't see why he'd prefer your grouchy ass." She snorted, but she drew her hand back, "Yeah, your boy told me what you needed. Left a few details out, though."

Lizzy's ship was an old cargo ship, Corvo saw as he took a closer look across the deck, the sort Emily's tales framed as perfect for smuggling. The crew, as rough-edged as their captain, didn't glance twice at the gaggle of Whalers in their midst.

"—can get you anywhere on the river just fine, you know that," Lizzy was saying when he turned back, "but they'll see us coming a mile off."

Daud glanced at him once—they'd talked about that concern already. "We've got that covered. You don’t need to worry about it."

"But you ain't gonna tell me?" She crossed her arms, eyes narrow.

"Better if you don't look to deeply into it." He said honestly, and she stared at him a moment longer, her eyes hooded.

"Some more of your witchcraft then." She let her arms fall back again. "Well, fine, you're paying me enough, I don't need to know the specifics. But you better have more for me than that."

He did—he laid out the plan as they had it now, how to approach and what little else she'd be asked to do. He'd brought the map with him, even, which they spread out in the wheelhouse, and Corvo watched through the windows as her men and his mingled below, small groups of conversation beginning.

She sidled over to him once, fingers reaching out again as though to stoke down his back and he hopped away further down the rail, clacking his beak in warning. She didn't push it. Past her shoulder, Daud gave him a look that was almost commiserating.

It didn't take too long, but the sun had half-set by the time they had finished and the rain had begun, a slowly-building drizzle that threatened to turn into a real storm before long.

Lizzy's last question was, fittingly, "You gonna kill them? Cause we can't just dump bodies over the rails anymore, the Watch picks up on it too fast."

"We'll see. Can’t guarantee they'll all survive." Daud said honestly. “Wanted to ask you about that, actually. You know places that would be able to keep the survivors?”

“What, slavers?”

“Or prisons, work crews, a Void-damned expedition to Pandyssia, if you like.” Daud said, his voice and features harder than Corvo had experienced in months. “I’d rather not kill any captives in cold blood, but I’d need places to keep them separate from each other. Preferably places they’d have trouble leaving again.”

Corvo flew back to his shoulder in support and settled there, half-heartedly preening the feathers on his wings. Neither of them had been too pleased by it, but they were both resigned to the necessity of the request. It was certainly no worse than some of the things he’d done to his own targets. It was probably even kinder than some.

“I don’t trade in livestock. Too messy.” Lizzy shrugged, unbothered by the request. “You’ll want to talk to old Elijah at the docks, or Slackjaw if you can reach him. They’ve got the right contacts.”

“And if neither of them are too fond of me at the moment?” Daud asked dryly, and Lizzy laughed at him, rough and croaking.

“Didn’t your mama teach you not to poke bears with sticks?” She needled. “Gather up some coin and pay ‘em until they like you again. Less you want to risk someone you don’t know.”

Daud grumbled low in his throat gathered up his supplies, storing them away again. “Fine. But be ready to move tomorrow.”

“I’m always ready, old man.” She said, and Corvo felt the barest of twitches in Daud’s shoulders at the words. Then she stepped in closer and fixed him with a look, a glance flicking down and up. “You know, if you’d rather wait out the rain, you and yours are welcome to stay the night here. Plenty of room to spare.”

Well. That was blatant enough, and Corvo usually missed these things. He bristled before he could stop himself, head lowering and feathers puffing up as he glowered at her.

She caught the movement and her eyebrows shot up. “Oho, the jealous sort, is he? Better watch that, Daud, or he’ll be chasing off all your suitors.”

“Goodnight, Lizzy.” Daud said, already to the door, and her laughter chased them out into the damp evening air.

He met Corvo’s gaze briefly as he walked down the stairs and rolled his eyes, though the set of his face still closer to amused than anything else. Corvo shook himself to bring his feathers down quickly, more than a bit embarrassed. Neither she nor Daud had taken it seriously—it had just been more teasing.

Not that it would have been his business even if she had been serious. He really had no right to go butting his head in either way; after all, Daud could spend his time with whoever he liked, and if he cared to pass the night hours with Lizzy Stride, then that was his choice.

Something clenched in his gut at the thought, the slightest sting that threatened to send his feathers prickling up again, and then he pulled back hard.

Wait—

“Well?” Quinn asked, rain beading across her mask as Daud descended the last of the stairs, and Corvo forced his thoughts to focus because now was really not the time.

“Almost ready.” He told her briskly. “She can’t help with any prisoners. We’ll have to branch out.”

“Killing them would be safer, sir.” Vladko pointed out, almost reluctant. He ducked his head when Daud looked at him—Corvo rather suspected he was younger than the others, by voice and confidence alone. 

“Killing us would have been safer too, Vlad.” Quinn muttered to him, and she jerked her head slightly in Corvo’s direction.

“Well…yes, true. And we are grateful, of course, Lord Protector.” Vladko shifted on his feet and then offered Corvo the quick half-bow that the Whalers usually gave Daud. “It’s just…I think we’d all rather not have to do this again in a few years.”

“Think that still applies to us, Vlad,” Quinn pointed out, sing-song, and he hooked a boot behind her ankle, nearly tripping her. She caught herself and turned it back on him, sending him stumbling into the rail.

“If we could focus…” Daud rumbled at them in warning, and they both turned back to him, though Corvo didn’t get the feeling they were very repentant. “Go back and make sure everyone’s been briefed properly. I don’t want any mistakes tomorrow.”

“And where are you going?” Quinn prodded immediately, arms crossing over her chest.

“To talk to Slackjaw.” Daud said, bland and unblinking, and she let out an irritable noise, metallic through her mask.

“Alone?”

“Of course not.” He said, and he looked once in Corvo’s direction. She stared at them both for a moment and then shook her head.

“Are you sure that’s—” Vladko started doubtfully, but Quinn hooked fingers in the shoulder of his coat and tugged him behind her as she made for the gangway.

“Just leave it.” She said, audibly exasperated, and then they were gone.

“I’m assuming you’d prefer to come.” Daud added to him, walking down to the crumbling pier as Corvo shook water off his feathers. “You’ve some experience with Slackjaw, and I think we've more to gain talking to him. Besides, I don’t think there’s any turning Elijah at this point.”

Corvo blinked, distracted, and then nodded, though he clambered down a moment later to pluck at Daud’s pocket. The man made a noise of clear acknowledgement and lengthened his stride, bringing them under an overhang and out of the rain before pulling out some of the wood Rickard had gathered.

He’d mentioned the bare bones of his dealings with Slackjaw in his first long tale, but he also remembered that Daud’s Whalers had been shadowing the man with clear ill intent, which would not endear them at all. So he quickly sketched out at deeper description now, with what details he thought likely to help.

‘use my name when you need to,’ He added at the end. ‘might take an offer from me better than you.’

“If I can force him to listen at all.” Daud acknowledged, casting a quick eye over his scrawl. “Can’t hurt, though. I’ll keep it in mind.”

Light flashed in the distance, followed by a low rumble of thunder. The rain was falling in thick sheets now and Corvo looked out at the downpour with distaste, hunching his shoulders.

“I don’t think your feathers are that waterproof.” Daud said doubtfully. He frowned at Corvo for a moment and then looked down at himself. “I might have a pocket or two big enough for you to ride in, if you’d rather.”

Corvo drew his head back, his first instinct a firm no. But the wind was already slipping between his feathers, chilling his skin, and by the time they made it all the way down the river, he would be sopping wet. Discomfort aside, it would make it rather difficult to fly. He could remain at the base, he supposed, but that would be just as frustrating, if not more so.

Besides, he’d spent quite a while being carried around at this point. He hardly had much dignity left to lose.

Daud had to shuffle a few items around, his stun mines mostly, but then he had a inner pocket that looked like it might work. Corvo perched on his wrist and inspected it dubiously, then sighed and went for it, ducking his head in and heaving his body after. He couldn’t see any other way to do it, with his tail feathers in the way.

It took some shuffling around—he could only fit about half of his body in and the fabric forced his tail out at an angle—but he wouldn’t fall out, and it would keep him dry enough. He heard a soft noise above him and shifted his head up to glare at Daud, whose straight expression was ruined by his twitching mouth.

“We do what’s necessary.” Daud told him sagely, and Corvo hissed at him before sulkily settling in deeper.

Daud let the front of his coat fall back, and though he’d shifted both his belt and bandolier, the cinch on the fabric was almost too much. It wasn’t painful, though, just a close press, and Corvo could stick his head out when he needed to, taking fresh air from the biting wind that still slipped in past the coat’s edge.

It was disconcerting when Daud finally moved—a bit like being swung in a hammock, with odd jolts and starts that marked his Blinks—but he’d still probably gotten the better deal, he decided irritably. Daud couldn’t escape the cold and wet, whereas his body heat kept the small space warm.

He couldn’t hear much of the wind anymore either. Daud’s heartbeat pulsed very softly against his cheek and side, the rhythm slow and steady despite his travel, echoed by the quietest shift of air as his chest expanded and fell. It was more difficult to avoid his own thoughts like this, Corvo noted ruefully.

Because when was the last time he’d felt this comfortable in someone else’s space? When was the last time he’d let someone this close to him? Emily had been the sole exception, his dearest love and his only anchor, but beyond that?

But he knew. Over a year, of course. Jessamine.

And there was the sting, the entirely deserved lash of guilt and uncertainty, but he couldn’t look away from it this time, couldn’t ignore the implications. What was he, that he could have begun to kindle any…any kind of deeper affection for Daud when Daud had been the one to take her away in the first place?

And here was no denying this newest shift of feelings, either, not now that he’d noticed. He didn't tend towards jealousy on the whole, making that flare of it earlier, obvious in retrospect, more than enough of a wake-up call. 

It had been decades since he’d found himself in such a position, but the path of it wasn’t unfamiliar, the exhilarating jumble of thoughts and feelings, a new-born spark just beginning to glow. Affection, attraction: curiosity and nerves. The urge to reach out, to touch and be touched. The impulse that came at the edge of a rooftop, to just throw himself forward and leap.

He’d not thought to ever feel it again. After Jessamine, of course, and the grief of it all, after Burrows and Havelock and the friends he’d lost, it was mostly an issue of comfort.

Of trust.

An odd place, the Outsider had said, and now, months later and deep in the thick of it, Corvo laughed along with him. Bastard.

But maybe he was reading too much into this; after months of depending on Daud, some attachment was surely normal. It would be easy to…confuse things, under the circumstances, wouldn’t it? When he was human again, with more distance between them and time to reflect, perhaps it would simply fade into something more acceptable.

Then he thought of the man carrying him now, of the things he'd learned to see: determination and intelligence and a quiet, deliberate gentleness. And he swallowed against the twist in his chest, defeated. He didn't see any of it fading very easily, and perhaps that wasn't so strange after all.

He pondered as Daud walked, an endless circle of thoughts as he wondered at his own mind and tried to ignore the body heat sinking in through his feathers. But it mostly wound back to merely cursing his own lack of sense and eventually he sighed, disgruntled, and shuffled into a more comfortable position.

Worrying aside, there was nothing that could be done about the situation now, and nothing that needed to be done about it even if he could. It was, at best, something to watch and be aware of, something to examine carefully in his own time once he had the space to do so.

And most certainly something to keep to himself. He’d given Emily more than enough reasons to be upset with him already.

In his distraction, he hadn’t noticed Daud falling still, but he noticed when the man burst back into motion—a strike, abrupt and at speed, by the jarring that shook him and the sound of two heavy impacts against the ground. Shaken out of his thoughts, Corvo thrust his head up, interested.

There was the slightest creak of a door and then Daud pulled at the front of his coat, letting him clamber out onto his arm. They stood just inside the entrance of the Dunwall Whiskey Distillery, lurking in the near pitch-black shadows. Further ahead, down the stairs, light and voices beckoned.

The Distillery had been bought after the district had been restored, Corvo knew, but in keeping with his nebulous, unspoken alliance with Slackjaw, he’d not shared what he’d learned about the false names behind the sale with the Watch.

It looked like not much had changed on the inside, yet, though he could hear the hum of some machinery. Perhaps Slackjaw had gotten the actual distillery running again after all.

“Removed the two on the door in case we need a quick exit,” Daud murmured to him, shaking his head and spraying droplets of rain, “but the long way’s probably easiest for now.”

Corvo murmured in agreement and so up and around they went, Daud slinking along the pipes lining the main rooms with Corvo on his shoulder as the men below them huddled around fires or card games.

The door to the inner Distillery was locked again, but that was easy enough to solve. Only one man leaned on the railing nearby and so it was simple for Corvo to flutter down and snatch up the key. Then Daud was down and past the door before anyone was aware of his presence, striding through and up to the next set of pipes on silent cat’s feet.

There were fewer men in this room, but more on the upper floor than the lower and so they went down instead of across, pushing through the door to Slackjaw’s hallway. There was a table in front of them as Daud pushed open the door, a game of Nancy in progress, but even as the men looked up, Daud froze time around them and moved past, flicking a stun mine into the middle of the table as he did.

There was only one man left standing in the hallway, leaning over with his head stuck in the lockers lined there. Daud hauled him back by his neck, holding until his struggles ceased, and dropped the man back down.

Slackjaw was at his desk, luckily—to all appearances writing a letter, smoke frozen above a cigar clenched in his thick, square teeth. The old bootleg elixir still was gone, but there were a few small crates in its place. Drugs and contraband, Corvo suspected, a return to the usual forms of revenue now that the city was reviving.

“Best let him get it out of his system, I suppose.” Daud muttered. “Watch the stairs, would you?”

Time slipped back into place as Daud settled in front of the desk. The man at the lockers finished hitting the floor with a heavy thud and, further back, Corvo heard the crackle and zap of an active mine, cutting short any shouts of alarm from the card table.

Slackjaw jerked up, took one look at Daud, and came over his desk with a roar.

Corvo could have told him it was hopeless—the man was fast, but Daud was faster. He dropped off Daud’s shoulder and circled as the assassin closed in without bothering to Blink, slipping past the swinging cleaver and disarming the crime boss with two careful strikes to his arm.

Footsteps clattered down the steps nearby, drawn by the noise, and Corvo turned to face them automatically, tugging a coil of power to his throat. Seemed like a good enough chance to test his crows.

The birds boiled out of the shadows this time, unhampered by the lack of windows, and dove for the incoming Bottle Street thug with a collective shriek that echoed closer to a howl. Corvo barely had time to blink before they’d swarmed him in a miasma of shifting black, and the man’s shout cracked higher into a scream of pain.

Corvo pulled them back with a wince, hauling harshly on the connection until it snapped and they dissolved. The man stayed curled on the floor, groaning, arms over his head—his clothes were already covered in rips and tears, blood leaking from the deep gashes on his arms.

Well, there was that answered; they could certainly attack if he needed them to.

When Corvo looked back, Daud had three knives on the ground behind him and Slackjaw had yet another in his hand, the small, concealable kind that could be hidden in a boot. He had his back to the wall, lips drawn back over bloodied teeth, and he was snarling at Daud like a rabid hound, “—on then, you cocksucking bastard! I’ll feed your guts to the hagfish—”

“If I wanted you dead, Slackjaw, you would be.” Daud snorted at him scornfully. He’d left space between them, a gesture, but his face looked sharp and hungry in the shadows and there was battle-light glittering in his eyes.

Corvo’s stomach flipped, a creep of warmth in his blood, and he sighed at himself, exasperated.

Daud, his gaze steady on Slackjaw, flicked his hand at the man on the floor, sending a sleep dart into his stomach and cutting off his groans. Corvo fluttered back down to his shoulder. “Just here to talk. And to make an offer, if you’ll hear it.”

“An offer, he says! As if you hadn’t set your dogs snapping at my heels for months.” Slackjaw spat a glob of bloody saliva on the floor. “Got some nerve, you witches, I’ll give you that.”

His eyes flickered away as he spoke, straying to the stairs and hallway behind them, waiting for his men. Corvo checked for a moment with his Vision, and found a group milling above, but none of them stepped through the door. Made too wary by the noises they’d heard, maybe.

That was probably the smartest decision they could have made.

“Just business, Slackjaw. We dropped the contract on you when the holder died.” Daud said flatly, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m here because Corvo Attano sent me.”

“That’s a crock o’ shit.” Slackjaw threw back, but his eyes had narrowed. “Man’s been dead for months.”

“Your men found a body, then?” Daud asked lazily, and Slackjaw’s face tightened further. “The Lord Protector’s well enough. Told me about that favor you did him with the Pendletons. And your little misadventure in the Rudshore sewers.”

“Did he, now?” Slackjaw did not look convinced. “You been the one holding him, then? Seein’ what secrets you can pull out?"

“As though he’d give me a single word if I tried.” Daud spread his hands and finally Slackjaw straightened fully, snorting, though he didn’t loosen his grip on his knife.

“True enough, that.” He said, dark eyes looking Daud over carefully. “Where is he, then?”

“Concerned, Slackjaw?”

“We’ve an understanding, Corvo and I.” The crime boss lowered his head and set his shoulders like an ox, staring Daud down. “So I’ll ask again. Where is he?”

“Stuck.” Daud said dryly. He’d done a very good job of not looking at Corvo so far. “Which is why I’m here asking the favor instead.”

Slackjaw considered that for a moment. “And it’s to help him get…unstuck, this favor?”

“To get rid of a problem in the way,” Daud corrected, honest. Slackjaw examined his face for a moment longer.

“Ah, fuck it.” He grumbled, finally lowering his knife and scratching at his beard. “’Spect I wouldn’t have heard you at all if you actually was here for me. What you want, then?”

A crime boss and an assassin—they were businessmen really, Corvo thought with something like amusement as they slipped into dealing as easily as they had a fight. Slackjaw kept his hand on his knife and Daud stayed well out of reach, but as they stepped further into discussion, the tension began to lessen.

“Course I can do it. Know a few places that always take new girls.” Slackjaw said once he understood, but he was scowling at Daud in something like confusion. “But why bother? Be easier on you just to kill them, wouldn’t it?”

“Does it matter?” Daud watched him flatly, and then Slackjaw smirked.

“That the Lord Protector keeping you on a leash?” He needled, and his smile only deepened when Daud gave him an unimpressed look. “Well, as you like. Got a preference where I send them?”

“Separate and secure. Other than that, no.”

“Easy enough.” Slackjaw hummed, leaning his hip on his desk and crossing his arms. “I’ll take care of the details.”

“And in return?”

“Two thousand.” Slackjaw said, and Daud’s head came up.

“That’s all? You’d need to spend half of that just on bribes,” He checked suspiciously, but the other man waved him off.

“Wasn’t finished. Coin up front, and when the job’s done, I’ll want a favor.” The man set his lopsided jaw, square and stubborn. “From Corvo, not from you. Soon as you’ve got him ‘unstuck.’”

Corvo bobbed his head once, knowing Daud would catch it out of the corner of his eye. Slackjaw didn’t seem to notice; he’d not paid Corvo any attention all evening.

“He’ll do it, but I’ve no guarantee how long that might take.” Daud relayed. “I can send men to keep you updated until it’s done, if that’s acceptable.”

“Suppose it’ll have to do.” He said slowly. “Done, then. I’ll send men out for them tomorrow.”

Daud grunted in agreement and dug several coin pouches out from where he’d hidden them in his clothes. Once he’d dropped the last one on the table, he hesitated and then said, “Question for you. Unrelated.”

“Go on, then.” Slackjaw looked half-interested despite himself.

“Granny Rags.” Daud started, and the other man’s face shuttered fast. “Have you seen her since those sewers?”

“Not in any way I can point to,” Slackjaw said lowly, and for the first time that night, he looked a bit furtive around the eyes. “A few men gone with no trace. Sometimes a swarm of rats where there weren’t no entrance for them. But not her herself, and I’ll take it, and be thankful.”

“How did you know about her cameo?” Daud pressed, soft as though trying to keep him talking.

“All those stories about her, the ones they used to tell as kids. ‘The scary old witch with her claws and her cauldron, going to eat you up at night.’” The man shook his head, mouth twisting sourly. “Used to say she’d killed her husband too, after he gave that cameo to her. Took it and used him to make herself undying. And I figured, if the tales of witchcraft were true, the rest of it might be.”

“You were guessing.” Daud said, almost bewildered, and Corvo grumbled in belated annoyance.

“Good guesswork.”

“True enough.” Daud nodded. “And helpful. Thank you.”

“My enemy's enemy. That’s all the help I can offer for that one.” Slackjaw said, his eyes sharp. “Now, I expect you can show yourself out, since you got in just fine.”

They left the same way they’d came, past the small gaggle of men still watching the doors uncertainly.

(“But…shouldn’t someone go down there?”

“Yeah? You volunteering? Go on, we’ll wait.”)

Daud stepped out into the chilled night air and pulled in a deep, long breath, nearly jostling Corvo on his shoulder. He nudged against the man’s temple carefully, understanding. The meeting had technically gone well, but none of it had felt good.

“If I thought any of them could be turned, I’d try for it,” Daud said finally, quiet under the beat of the rain on the awning above them, “and maybe Anatole can bring on one or two. But I think this is the best we can hope for.”

Corvo hummed in his throat, a soft meep of noise, and Daud turned to him—he looked tired, like all his nights of short sleep were catching up with him. And of course, the likelihood of him sleeping that night was probably quite small at this point, Corvo predicted in exasperation.

“Pocket again?” Was all he said, though, and Corvo accepted with a sigh, slipping back into the small space with only the softest sting of shame at his ease. He curled there, letting the warmth, the beat, and the distant, familiar scent of leather and smoke sooth him into something like a doze, grabbing his own sleep where he could.

They were almost done. Just a little bit longer.