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An Omen in the Bone

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By the time he transverses away, Thomas already has the Empress’ daughter wrapped up in his arms. Despite the fact that he’s kidnapped her, Emily has her fingers wrapped tightly in Thomas’s jacket, shaking and sobbing. Though his face is still covered with his whalers mask, Thomas’ head is tilted just slightly downwards as though in confusion.

 

Daud’s lungs are tight, and there’s a sharp, stabbing pain just beneath his ribs. Billie Lurk had kept Attano down, which means Daud is uninjured. But he’s experienced them before; he knows a mortal wound when he has one.  “Job’s done,” he said roughly, speaking through a throat gone hoarse with pressure and panic. “We’re to meet them on Clavering, Captain’s Hotel. Do you have her?”

 

“What about the others?” Thomas asked, and Daud can see the way Thomas tightens his grip on Emily’s slim shoulders.

 

He waves a hand. “They’ve gone ahead,” Daud responds sharply. “Let’s move.”

 

Thomas murmurs something into Emily’s ear that has her transferring her grip from his coat to around his neck. Daud watches them go first, before following a beat behind. Each transversal hurts like a blow to the belly, but he ducks and dodges over the roofs to the top floor of the Captain’s Hotel.

 

His eyes catch on his men, checking for injury. Lurk seems unharmed, as does Rinaldo and Jenkins. Galia only has a thin cut across her cheek, visible because she’s taken off the whalers mask to deal with the blood. Thomas, still holding Emily tightly, is summarily uninjured though his shoulders slope with exhaustion.

 

“Wait here,” he grinds out, with a sharp look at Lurk and Rinaldo to make doubly certain they stay put. “I’ll check it out.”

 

He can almost hear Thomas and Lurk’s protestations, for all they’re silent, but Daud disappears up the stairs without pausing.

 

Alone on the roof, he leans heavily against the wall, holding his side with too tight fingers. If this is guilt, he wants no part of it. He gives himself ten seconds of deep breaths, before he transverses down towards the Golden Cat.

 

Daud is no stranger to those who hired him, but he trusts them as far as he can throw them; which despite his strength is not far at all. The Pendleton twins, Morgan and Custis are standing by the back door of the whorehouse, fidgety and skittish. “When do you suppose the Knife will appear?” One asks the other and Daud can’t tell which is which. “It should have been by now, certainly.”

 

The other shrugs his shoulders, a bored look on his unattractive face. “Don’t know,” he says with a slur. “Soon, would be my guess. Then once we get the girl, it’ll be no time at all until she’s old enough for work.”

 

The twins snigger unkindly at that and Daud is struck with a familiar sinking sensation. “Prudence is Burrows kept woman,” one says, with an indolent shrug. “She won’t be fussed at how young the whelp is, so long as she pulls her weight.”

 

Daud has heard enough.

 

He can’t kill them, not and get paid, but he can certainly foil their plans a bit. Spinning his wrist to switch his crossbow bolts to the potent sleep darts that Rulfio had handcrafted for him, Daud aims carefully and strikes the Pendleton twins down where they stand.

 

Satisfied that they're snoring and not in any danger of choking to death or smothering themselves in the mud, Daud transverses back up to the roof, striding into the Captain’s hotel room with a thunderous expression. “We’re going,” he barks.

 

“Uh,” Thomas says, jerking slightly and sounding wrong footed. He gestures with his free hand at Emily. "Sir?"

 

“Take the girl with us,” Daud snaps. “She’s not staying here.”

 

“Change in plans, sir?” Lurk asks, sharp and untrusting.

 

Daud sneers. “Something like that. Give the girl to someone else,” he orders Thomas. “I don’t want either of you falling out of the sky.”

 

Emily grips Thomas’ neck tighter in answer and Thomas coughs uncomfortably. “I’ve got her, sir,” he says firmly.

 

Daud watches him carefully for signs of lying or weakness, but finds none. “Fine,” he says. “Go home.”

 

With the sound of displaced air, his men all disappear. He follows after them after another ten seconds to calm his racing heart. They make it back to Rudshore in staggered numbers, Lurk and Galia arriving first, followed by Rinaldo and Jenkins. Thomas arrives just before Daud, staggering under the weight of the girl and his own mana exhaustion.

 

Annoyed, Daud strides over and plucks the protesting Emily out of Thomas’ hands. “Get a remedy, go see Mont, and sit down,” he orders, tossing the girl over his shoulder to her wails. “We’re not to be disturbed,” he adds, as dangerous as an assassin can be with a screaming child in his hands.

 

He transverses up to his office, dropping Emily not ungently onto his bed. “You killed mother,” she says, her face red, tear stained and not afraid at all.

 

Daud is many things, a liar is not one of them. “I did,” he answers her.

 

Her eyes narrow, though the effect is slightly lost with how red and teary they still are. “Why?” she demands, sounding much like a tiny version of her mother.

 

He tilts his head to the side, considering his answer. “I was paid to,” he settles on. “There wasn’t much of an option,” he adds when Emily’s expression remains set. “Do you wish to hear the details?” he asks her, leaning back against the railing of the loft.

 

Her lips purse but Emily nods once. “Tell me,” she demands, but her voice cracks halfway down the middle.

 

“You see,” Daud says carefully, gesturing around the room. “This is my home. That,” he points to where she's sitting, “is my bed. I live here with the men and women who were with us, and quite a few others. All in all, there are forty one people here, including me. They are… family, insofar as people from all islands and walks of life can be family. They were threatened - if I did not kill your mother, then the Overseers would come into this place in droves and kill everyone they could.”

 

Emily frowns, expression more even. “Why?” she asks again.

 

“Surely you don’t believe normal men can transverse from rooftop to rooftop in mere seconds,” Daud says, amused despite himself. “We’re heretics, each of us.”

 

Her eyes go ten coin round, and she looks at him with new eyes. “So you killed mother because it would save your family,” she repeats, tasting the words. “Then… why am I here?”

 

Daud’s lip twist, and she draws back at the expression. “That’s a good question Princess,” Lurk says from the stairs. “We’d all like an answer to that.”

 

“I distinctly remember telling you I didn’t wish to be disturbed,” Daud snarls at her.

 

She shrugs, unconcerned. “Answer the lady’s question,” she says, and leans on the wall, watching with dark eyes.

 

“The plan,” Daud grits out, jaw tight with annoyance and anger, “was to leave you with Morgan and Custis Pendleton.” He can see the words strike home, in the way Emily shrinks a little. She clearly knows the names and their colorful way of life. “They were, however, very vocal about your fate, little girl. You wouldn’t be the first girl to come to us to escape such a life.” This he says directly to Lurk, who goes wide eyed.

 

“Outsider’s Eyes,” she swears lowly. “Did you kill them?”

 

“No,” Daud denies. “They’re useless dead, and Burrows would come down on us like the plague.” He turns back to Emily who is staring at him with childish calculation. “So,” he says. “The situation is this: You have nowhere to go. Your mother is dead, and Corvo Attano will take the fall for my crime. You can’t go back to the Palace because they won’t let you take the throne, and you’ll end up exactly where I almost put you.”

 

Emily lifts her chin, though it still trembles with fine shudders of grief. “Then I will stay here,” she says and he has to give her credit. She sounds like an empress.

 

Daud, amused, bows to her, one hand in a fist over his heart. “You’ll join the Novices in training, Princess, tomorrow mid-morning. Get some rest.”

 

Lurk reaches out and takes Emily’s hand, tugging her away from Daud’s bed. “This way,” she murmurs. “You can have my room to sleep for now.”

 

After they leave the office, Emily peppering Lurk with questions, Daud slumps back against his bed. Since leaving the Captain’s hotel, the sharp pain in his side has dulled to nearly nothing.

 

He destroyed the girl’s life, the least he can do now is give her a new one.

 

*

It takes weeks before Emily stops leaving the room when Daud enters it. She trains diligently, but Rulfio reports that her progress isn't improving and she's unfocused, bonding only with the youngest novice, a boy the older children call Pip. But even with his support, Rulfio notes, she isn't improving. Despite their distinct lack of relationship, Rulfio suggests Daud speak to her. 

 

He disagrees, but it's never worth it to argue with Rulf. 

 

So Daud hovers in the doorway of the training room, watching Rulfio and Rinaldo running the Novices through their paces. Emily is with them, her hair scraped out of her face and tied up in a tiny half tail that he recognizes as Montgomery’s work. The Novices run from one end of the room, touch a thin wine glass with their fingers and return to their starting position.

 

If the glass breaks or falls over, the Novice rights it again and returns to the beginning. Emily is quick and light on her feet, but heavy of hand, and she knocks the glass over more often than not. The fourth or fifth time the glass tumbles to the floor with a tinkle, Emily pauses and Daud sees his moment.

 

He transverses up beside her, ignoring the whispering of the other Novices, most of whom are several years her senior as it is. “Here,” he says gruffly. He scoops the glass up, cradling it in his hands. “Your hands are small,” he adds, lowering his voice for her ears alone. “You don’t need to slam it around for extra power - your mother was tall and slight herself, you will likely inherit her traits. Feel the glass, in my hand. Learn how it feels under your fingertips, and only your fingertips.” He holds out his cupped hands and Emily slowly reaches out and touches the rim of the glass with the lightest of touches.

 

“I just want to do it quick like everyone else,” she says, a hint of a petulant whine in her voice.

 

Daud lifts a corner of his mouth up in a smile. “Everyone else has been doing this for many years,” he points out gently. “They’ve been showing off, yes, but you still have time to learn. Speed is not always the answer,” he adds. “Sometimes it pays to go slow and careful and light.”

 

He puts the glass back down on the floor, upright and gleaming. “Again,” he prompts and Emily hastens to her spot on the opposite side of the room.

 

This time, he watches her face, sees her eyes narrow in concentration. When Rulfio signals, she darts forward, fast but not full speed, and lightly reaches out for the glass. It wobbles, just a little, but remains upright as she pivots gracefully and darts away.

 

“Very good, Princess,” Daud compliments, bowing a little when she smiles, the expression hesitant. “As for the rest of you,” he adds, sending sharp looks at all the novices watching. “You are all five years her senior. You had the benefit of the older Apprentices helping you. Clearly you lot need to have another lesson in teamwork.”

 

Emily stares up at him when the older boys and girls all visibly panic. “Thank you, Mister Daud,” she says, and there is still a shadow in her face the shape of her mother’s death, but each day she trains and the specter haunts her less.

 

Daud dips his head down and transverses away, heading back up to his office on steady feet.

 

It seems Rulfio was right, not that Daud will ever tell him so.

 

At least his heart hasn’t pained him in the weeks since Empress Jessamine died by his hand, and he only hears the soft mocking laughter of the Outsider when he sleeps sometimes.

 

“Lurk,” he greets as he heads into his office. “What’s the occasion?”

 

Billie tugs her mask off, dusky skin darker with a growing bruise across her cheekbone. “I finished the contract,” she says, and averts her eyes when he tilts her face up to check out her cheek.

 

“I can see that,” he says, and brushes his fingers over the dark purple mark. “It’s not broken,” he concludes. “What happened?”

 

She shrugs, looking uncomfortable even as she hands over the sack of coin. “I miss timed a transversal, and landed on my face.”

 

That didn’t sound like Billie, and Daud frowns. “You were spotted?”

 

Billie shrugs again, but she also shakes her head. “No, I was outnumbered. You told me the job had to be done and look like an accident. I didn’t expect the estate to have so many guards.”

 

“Go see Mont,” he orders, not unkindly. “Get something to eat, and take a few days.”

 

She bows, and is gone a minute later.

 

Things have been strained between the two of them for some time now. She might have agreed with keeping Emily, but her opinion on his reduced number of jobs is clear to him. Burrows had sent a foray of Overseers to him, and though Daud didn’t consider himself much of a liar, he told them he’d dropped off Emily with the twins, and been on his way. Of course he didn’t know how they’d ended up unconscious.

 

They’d paid him, and gone.

 

He doesn’t think that’s the last of it, but for now, he’s well enough. Unbuckling his many belts, Daud strips himself of most of his weapons, keeping one or two small ones close at hand.

 

Daud turns, dropping onto his bed, running his fingers along the only bone charm he’d ever bothered to keep. “You’ve surprised me,” the Outsider says out of the dim lighting, stepping into Daud’s line of sight. “I don’t believe I thought you could do such a thing anymore.” His eyes - black as pitch and as empty as the sea - are trained on the charm in Daud’s hand. “How very… fascinating.”

 

He hates that word.

 

“I’m not sure which is worse,” he grinds out. “The fact that you think I’d let a ten year old be sold into sexual slavery, or that it’s what it takes to get your attention again.”

 

The Outsider’s lips quirk up into a very small, very smug, smirk. “Old friend,” he says with affected surprise, “whatever makes you think you lost my attention?”

 

Daud snorts, too used to the deity’s fickle ways to rise to the bait. “There are a lot of ways I can answer that question,” he says simply. “None of them would interest you.”

 

Another soft laugh, and the Outsider swirls away, only to reappear beside Daud on the bed. “So, you have kidnapped the Lady Emily and kept her as your own. Will you give her the bond, too? Pervert her story until there is nothing left of the original plot?”

 

Daud narrows his eyes, turning to face the Outsider. “What exactly is that meant to mean?”

 

The smile on the Outsider’s face widens until a hint of sharp teeth show. “It means that I saw every end of this story… and Emily never once ended up here, with you. Well done, Daud. Well done.”

 

A moment later and he’s gone, and Daud drops backwards on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “Black eyed bastard,” he mutters halfheartedly, and sneers when the deity’s eerie laugh skates through the room on a gust of gentle wind.

 

Scuffled movement at the top of the stairs, sends Daud sitting up and narrowing his eyes. Emily stands there, scuffing one of her feet awkwardly. “Sorry,” she says, awkward and abrupt. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I… wanted to ask a question, and Thomas told me that I’d have to ask you.”

 

Emily is far younger than the Novice’s that Daud has collected over the years. Speaking to her in any way leaves him feeling disconcertingly wrong-footed. “You can ask,” he allows, leaning his elbows on his knees and giving her his full attention.

 

“Will you break into the Coldridge and save Corvo?” she asks, fast, all in a rush.

 

To his own surprise, Daud’s first instinct isn’t an immediate no. The Lord Protector had arrived early, and if he’d just managed to be on time, he’d never have gotten involved in the political bullshittery that had ended up happening. But Coldridge, it's a fortress. No one has ever escaped from the place, not in all the years that Daud has lived in Dunwall.

 

“You realize what you’re asking, Princess?” he asks, instead of giving her a definitive answer.

 

Emily nods, determined. “I do,” she says, and he’s struck for a moment with how she’d have looked as an empress. A pity that chapter is closed to her now.

 

“Coldridge has never been broken into,” Daud reminds her. “Nor has it been broken out of.”

 

She waves that off with all the concern of a ten year old. “You have magic,” she says, just a hint of awe in her voice.

 

“The Overseers have magic killing music boxes,” Daud says in counterpoint.

 

Emily points at him, scowling. “The Overseers don’t run Coldridge,” she says, triumphant.

 

Daud smiles, almost enjoying himself. “But they do own Holger Square, and every person who is taken for interrogation ends up there.”

 

“Corvo is the Royal Protector, even if he’s… even if they think he killed mother,” she says, only a slight hitch in her breathing betraying how she feels about that. “But he’s still the Royal Protector and he’ll be given privacy, or… at least, they won’t interrogate him in front of a crowd.”

 

He has to admit that’s likely true. “Alright, Princess,” he says slowly. “We’ll start coming up with a plan. Just a plan,” he barks when Emily shrieks in glee. “I’m unwilling to strand any of my men there, and if we don’t make this as easy to follow as possible, we may be caught before we can begin. Is that clear?”

 

She nods emphatically. “Thank you, Mr. Daud.” She scampers away and Daud makes a mental note that Emily really and truly needs to go through stealth training before any more endurance tests. She clatters and jumps and Daud can hear her panting breaths long after her image has faded from his Void given gaze.

 

Daud is struck suddenly with the knowledge that he’s in way, way over his head.

 

*

 

It’s six months after Emily joins them that Daud comes up with a solid plan to break Corvo Attano out of prison. It would have been shorter, if Billie hadn’t fought him every step of the way, for reasons she was steadfastly keeping to herself. He includes Emily in most of the planning, simply because if he doesn’t, she finds her way into the room anyway.

 

It’s difficult, first he has to send Thomas into the belly of the beast to find updated plans for the Prison proper. Then, after nearly losing Galia and Kent on a simple mission to scout out Holger Square, Daud doubles patrols.

 

Finally, after six and a half months, they have a workable plan. Daud transverses into his office, finding Emily leaning over the plans and notes and maps. “I wish I could go with you,” she says, but it’s not the sulky tone of a child who’s been told no. She just sounds sad.

 

“If I tried to take you, the Lord Protector would kill me,” Daud says, leaning against the table and looking down at her. “As it stands, he might kill me anyway.”

 

“I know,” Emily says, surprisingly placid. “I have something to give you, and if you show it to him, he’ll know I’m safe.”

 

Daud frowns down at her, and she holds out a folded envelope with Corvo’s name written on it in a shaky, childish hand. “That’s a good idea,” he compliments her gently, amused when she flushes and looks away. “What’s in the letter?”

 

“A drawing,” Emily answers, fidgeting. “I always used to draw him pictures. He’ll recognize it.”

 

He folds it into his jacket pocket, holding his hand over it as he bows to her. “I’ll keep it safe,” he promises, and she smiles, a little shaky, a little sad.

 

She opens her mouth to say something, but the loudspeaker outside in the Flooded District suddenly rattles to life, the City Speaker coming online. “Attention Dunwall Citizens,” he drones on, and Emily winces at the volume. “The Lord Protector, Corvo Attano, assassin of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, is dead.”

 

Daud darts a glance down to Emily, who is white faced and staring in shock up at him. “He’s dead?” she whispers, she staggers back away from the table, mouth covering her hand. She stares up at Daud, head shaking in denial before her eyes roll up into the back of her and she collapses. Clenching his fist and summoning Thomas, Kent, Billie and Rinaldo, Daud lifts Emily effortlessly into his arms.

 

“You four,” he barks at them as soon as they appear. “Go find out how true that is, stick together, be careful and don’t get caught. Go!”

 

The sound of displaced air heralds their exits, and Daud carries Emily straight to Mont down in their makeshift infirmary. “Is she alright?” Mont asks, taking her and laying her on the bed. “Seems the shock has finally caught up to her, poor girl.”

 

Daud bows his head. “If the Lord Protector is dead,” he murmurs, “there is nothing stopping Hiram Burrows from taking over the entirety of Dunwall.”

 

Montgomery blinks at him, reaching out to nudge his shoulder. “There’s you,” he points out gently.

 

“No,” Daud says, looking down at the unconscious Emily. “That way is closed to us now. Once the others come back from finding out if Attano is truly dead, start packing. We won’t be safe here.”

 

*tbc