Chapter 1: House of Religion
26th of Month of High Cold, 1837
Curnow tries to hide the sigh in his breath by turning toward the bookshelf. His men are already on edge, and seeing his discomfort would only make matters worse. But the Watch Captain can't help it. He's never like being in the Abbey.
It's not the religion that permeates the building. If anything, Amelia's battle with illness actually made him even more devout. And it's not the building. The lush carpets and grand libraries are welcoming when the sun comes out. Even the interrogation room of this floor can't dampen the mood during a good day.
It's the damned masks. Around every corner, there's another Overseer hiding his face behind the crafted ceramic. They think shielding themselves with masks and gloves will protect them from the Outsider and his influences. Noble cause or not, Curnow hates not seeing a man's face. A mask helps hide his feelings, the subtle tells that let him see a lie. There's almost no way to read him and know what he's thinking. And he hates that more than anything.
"I trust your trip was uneventful?" Campbell asks. Curnow turns back toward the High Overseer, batting away his urge to jump. He didn't expect to have his thoughts interrupted. "I hear the Watch is having trouble holding the side streets."
Bastard'd like that, wouldn't he? A chance to expand, to put more of his thugs in the city. The old leader doesn't wear the mask, but he hides more than his men. He's not the devout clergyman that should hold the position, instead just another politician. The only difference between him and the other snakes in parliament is his use of artificial faith instead of kindness. He can't tell if it's the hypocrisy that pisses him off more, or the fact he's supposed to he's the representative of Curnow's religion.
But the Captain knows better than speak his mind and insult him in his home. He's here to play diplomat, so he'll act for now. "A bunch of children playing games, that's all it is," he says dismissively. Best not to let Campbell know how desperate his group is.
The High Overseer smiles in one of those political grins. The kind designed to imitate concern for someone you can't stand. "Good, good. And your niece- Callista, isn't it? I'm very concerned for her."
How does this bastard even know of his missing family? He's made sure that everyone in the Watch knows to keep their mouths shut and eyes open. What's left of this city's nobles have devolved into well-dressed vultures, looking for any way to get a leg up on each other. Politicians knowing Callista's missing is a problem. "She'll be found. My men are searching district by district," he lies, trying to play it off.
"The poor girl," Campbell answers. His eyes betray how he really feels about the situation.
Feeling protective of his kin, Curnow clenches his fist. Fucking hypocrite. If it wasn't for the fact he had to be here, he'd be gone in a heartbeat. He could be in his carriage in under a minute and back at the precinct within an hour. The warm bottle of Dunwall Whiskey hidden in his desk would be perfect for forgetting this wreck of a night.
But he can't. Last night's "incident" binds him until it's fixed. He understood boredom on patrol, but pranks are an unacceptable remedy. Especially when it ends with a hooker full of bullet holes, Overseers and Watch members both holding pistols. So he's stuck here, dealing with the liar and putting on a nice face until diplomacy wins out.
"Callista's a resourceful one. Probably found a safe place to hole up in all this chaos," he declares, relaxing his fist. There is a good chance that's true, even if he doesn't believe it. Callista was the foxiest of his brother's children, rest his soul. Even being uprooted to a distant family member's home didn't take that away from her. It was actually a blessing, giving Jameson an older sibling, but that leaves him with a soft spot for the girl. Something the politicians will exploit, given the chance.
Campbell nods. "If my Overseers hear any word of her, I'll come straight to you."
The clock strikes midnight, ending the conversation. The old man claps his hands together, another theatrical smile on his face. "Time for drinks. I hope you won't refuse: it will make this business pass all the quicker," the High Overseer announces.
Curnow feels a shiver in his back. This building's getting to him more than usual. "Of course."
The bald leader hunches over the door, fighting with the knob. "Locked? One of the servants must've been in here. Let's see..." After finding the proper key, the doors open to a grand meeting room. A pair of filled wine glasses sit on the far edge of the table. "Here we are. Now, if you'll join me. Men, we'll come get you when we're finished. Keep each other entertained in the meantime." The Captain signals his escorts to stay in the library while the High Overseer leads. Officers and Overseers both wait, letting their commanders begin the meeting alone.
The wooden doors slam shut behind Curnow, pulled by the gloved hand of another hidden zealot. "I don't understand how this got so unpleasant," the Captain explains while trying to steady himself. The wet wind of an open window doesn't to help his frayed nerves. Even the burning fireplace can't make the room calming.
Campbell shakes his head. "Oh, I agree, I agree. A whore dies, and suddenly this."
He stops just in front of the drink tray, making the Captain circle around him to reach his glass. "Will you have wine? It's a Tyvian red," the politician offers with enthusiasm.
"I suppose a drink couldn't hurt," Curnow surrenders. Alcohol might help his hands' slight shaking.
Campbell reaches for his glass, then stumbles back with a grunt. A green arrow sticks from his chest, an inch below his heart. The feathers on the shaft point out the shooter's position near the ceiling. Curnow's trained hands reach for his sword without his brain telling them to. But before the blade can even leave its sheath, a warm body presses against his back. One of the assassin's hands pins the dominant arm to his side. Cold metal slides across his throat, the edge barely digging into his skin. Curnow freezes, accepting Death as it comes without a sound.
But nothing happens. No blood spray from a slit throat, no crunch from a broken neck, no pistol blast raining brain on the table. The Captain waits a heartbeat, then another, then three more. Nothing. Like the world itself stopped to see what happens next.
The sword against his neck is inched away until Curnow can gasp safely. "Silence," the owner orders. His hushed tone is almost buried in the fire's crackling. "I know the Overseers and your men lie beyond the door. But I have no quarrel with them: my business is with you and Campbell. Do we understand each other?"
Curnow swallows, thinking through options. This assassin is fast, even more than himself or any of his escorts. If he yelled, he'd just die first, and his men would join him before his body hit the floor. Maybe he can fall on the sword and spare the officers by playing along. "I understand," he concedes.
The Voice's grip loosens. "Good. Now place your pistol and sword on the table. Quietly, please." Even if he can't do anything with the opportunity, the order strikes the Captain as odd. Why give your target the chance to even touch his weapons?
Pushing those thoughts away, Curnow removes the arms with the free hand. They find their way to the table with only the slightest clink. His eyes never leave the door, praying no one enters.
The Voice shows his speed again. In a blink's time, his hand slips to the armaments, pushes them to the far edge of the table, and grips Curnow again without a sound.
"Thank you," he murmurs. "I will release you in a moment. Do not attack me or reach for your weapons. Bend over Campbell. You will be surprised." As promised, the blade returns to its owner, and the Captain's wrist is released. The pressure comes off his back, but he can still feel his attacker's warmth behind him. Is he bragging, showing off to his next victim? Curnow decides to obey the Voice, still curious, but not enough to wager his life.
The High Overseer hasn't moved from where he fell, the green arrow still sticking from his stomach. Curnow takes a step towards the body and examines him in confusion. What does the Voice want him to see? It takes him a moment to realize the shallow breathing he's hearing isn't coming from him, but the corpse. Campbell's out cold, but he's not dead. "Why didn't the dart kill him?" he asks quietly.
"A special coating and a small head on the bolt," the Voice explains. "The same medicine used to numb a man before a tooth pulling, though more potent. The blade only went an inch below the skin. His head will throb when he wakes, but that will be the least of his concerns."
"Not many assassins put their targets to sleep."
"Did I ever call myself an assassin."
Curnow decides to risk a peek at his attacker. It starts as a brief glance, but becomes a stare of confusion and slight fear. His features are hidden behind a metal mask, one even worse than those of the Overseers. He looks like a skull, with wire for teeth and glass lenses instead of eyes. Black cloth runs beneath the steel to conceal the skin of its owner. All but his hands are hidden by a dark blue cloak and hood. With a sword in hand, he wouldn't look out of place as Death on a tarot card.
Without acknowledging the shock in the Captain's eyes, the Mask grabs the wine glass closest to him. "You saw how Campbell guided you to this drink, almost pushed you towards it?"
That wasn't anything new. Overseers are always picky about their rituals and superstitions. He's been on four separate escorts that demanded a different path based on a cat's coloring. "It wasn't the first time. Though I get the feeling it is the last."
"You are correct," the Mask laughs. Something in his voice sounds an alarm in Curnow's brain, an eerie sense of déjà vu. "But there was more to it. Your wine was poisoned. Campbell tired of you impeding his progress."
Curnow shakes his head in doubt. "Campbell and I hate each other, but not enough for murder. Why should I take the word of a masked man, particularly one who shot the High Overseer?"
"I'm pleased to see you haven't changed." The Mask captures a rat from the darkened corner with one hand. Curnow didn't realize it was even in the room with them. "This one does not carry Plague," he says while forcing wine down the creature's throat. "If you still fear illness, Campbell has two elixirs in his right breast pocket."
Despite the assurance, Curnow sips his own vial of Sokolov's concoction. Better to be safe than sorry with this damned Rat Plague. Once half of the glass is ingested, the rodent hits the ground running toward a vent in the wall. But within the first eight steps, its staggering and shaking reveal something's wrong. His captor simply watches from where he stands, Curnow doing the same in mild concern. Before the rat can reach safety, its body surrenders to whatever was in the wine. It falls on its side, twitches, and remains still.
Curnow panics for a moment, then logic takes over again. There is no way he could have poisoned the drink since he has been in the room, giving the story some merit. It must have been done before. But the assassin was in this room before he was, so it doesn't exonerate him. Then again, so were Campbell and his goons. "How did you know?" he asks quietly. Regardless of who dropped the poison in the glass, playing along can only prolong his life.
"Listening to the maids," the Mask explains. "The one who planted the poison confided in her friend. Campbell forced her into this. She and her family were to be burned as witches if she disobeyed. I will not lose sleep over his fate."
Curnow starts to speak, but bites his tongue in thought. He's heard plenty of stories about Campbell's corruption, too much for it all to be just rumors. It wouldn't be much of a leap for him to escalate to poisoning the leader of the Watch, especially with his other power plays lately. But he'd be an idiot to ignore the obvious possibility the assassin's just playing him. Maybe he's trying to play the vigilante angle, make the Watch less motivated to pursue his crimes. Leaving him as a witness would fit perfectly into that plan.
Again, the best option here is for him to play along. Criminals rarely like being called on their bluff. "You have some kind of reason for all this. Why leave Campbell alive, why show me the poison? Why show me anything?"
The cloaked attacker turns to Curnow. "To establish trust, Geoff," he says, now at a normal tone. A dozen alarms ring in the Captain's brain as it tries to find the memory the voice goes with. "I remember how you hate a man who hides behind a mask."
His left hand pushes the hood back. He has a strange mark on it, like a tattoo that seems to glow. With the cover gone, his other hand grasps the wire teeth and pulls down. Long black hair falls just short of his chin, almost hiding his face. But his pale skin shines through with a reaper's scythe scar above his left brow darker than the rest of his flesh. The long, narrow face that speaks to his Serkonan bloodline, and the familiar brown eyes are just as calculating as they were six months ago the last time he saw them. Corvo Attano, former Lord Protector. Killer of Jessamine Kaldwin.
"Murderer!" Curnow tries to shout, lunging for his blade and pistol. But only the first syllable reaches the air. Attano's own sword presses against the Captain's throat, close enough that a cough would end his life, while the free hand grabs Curnow's wrist.
"Never. Call me that," Corvo commands. His voice is soft again, but a fury has taken over. Rage burns in his eyes, daring anyone challenge him. "Do not call me a killer, nor murderer, nor assassin. I am none of these."
Curnow's own anger gets the better of him. "The Empress would disagree."
Attano grabs the Captain's neck, then forces his captive's back onto the table. "I did NOT kill Jessamine," he declares quietly. "Nothing, not even the Outsider himself, could ever make me lay a finger on her. I never hurt Jessamine Kaldwin."
Pain is barely concealed in the hushed tone. Not guilt, he doesn't think, but from something. Regardless, it's clear accusing Attano will only get the Captain killed faster. He decides to use this, to play with the delusion. "What proof do you have? You were alone with the Empress and Lady Emily, and only you carried a sword."
Corvo releases his captive. He clinches his fist, then backs several steps. "Try to remember the day she died, Geoff. Think about where her blood was. What was on me? My chest, where I pressed against her as she died. But there was no spray, nothing to show I was in front of her when she was stabbed. And my sword was still clean. How could I have taken her life and wiped my blade before your men arrived? Surely you heard the pistol shots. I fired twice, none of them hitting Jessamine or a stone column. You must see the holes in the Regent's story."
The Captain did not have to think hard. He still dwelled on how he had not seen Corvo's deception before he killed the Empress. When he remembered the Watch dragging the Lord Protector away, the details were right. His blue shirt had been stained by blood in one small puddle, more like a medic's than a killer's. And while the sword was still in its sheath, not even a drop was on the handle. It was curious, but not enough to change his convictions that Corvo had killed her. He decides to continue the questions, to keep Attano satisfied. "Then who was the assassin? You were still the only one there."
"I know less of him than your men," he sighs. The former Lord Protector leans his head back with eyes closed. "You have a bounty for his group, the Whalers. I counted five, four masked men and their red-cloaked leader."
Wanted posters flash across the Curnow's mind, settling immediately on the one in question. "These assassins, did they wear slaughterhouse masks?"
"Yes, with bows hidden at the wrist and movement like shadows," Corvo elaborates. "The Outsider has granted them powers. I've seen them disappear in a blink. Their leader is the strongest: I would wager he is the reason for their magic."
"Daud," Curnow says before he can catch himself. What the Hell was that, Captain? It's a story, one created by a guilty man. Attano still killed the Empress: there's no other explanation. And yet, it does ring true in select facts. His own men have given similar tales of the Whalers. How could Corvo know this without seeing it himself?
He tries to banish the thoughts from his mind. He has to keep Attano going with his tale, to try to get out of this alive. "We know his name, but not much else. Too many rat holes in this city for rats like him to hide."
Attano nods to himself. "Daud. So that is his name... He was the one to kill Jessamine. One of his men pinned me to the wall with magic while he killed her. They took Emily and left me to take the blame."
Another fact that lines up with reports from his men. One in particular mentioned being tossed like a ragdoll. But any story teller can add facts to his lies to make them more believable. "Daud is an assassin: he doesn't kill unless paid. Who could afford him to eliminate the Empress? Rather, who would want her gone?"
"I know who, but not his reasons." Corvo leans forward again, determination in his features. "The Lord Regent, as he calls himself now. Hiram Burrows was the man behind it all. Campbell was a part of it too, and I suspect the Pendleton twins. But the Royal Spymaster planned and financed Jessamine's killing."
Another point for the fugitive. It wouldn't be the first time nobles used coin to remove another of their ranks, and Burrows certainly benefitted the most from her death. His ducks certainly seemed to be in a row sooner than usual. But too many things still don't add up. Both Corvo's and Burrows' stories have holes in them. Attano's has the most. "Why would he kill the Empress? She held us together when the plague started: her death only made things worse. Even if Burrows wanted to be Regent, he had to have known making a move then was horrible timing."
"I said I don't know." Attano is getting angry again. It seems to be triggered by the mention of the Lord Regent, rather than Curnow's disbelief. "But he confessed to my face. After I was burned and beaten by the Royal Interrogator, he said that the truth will die with me. I will prove him wrong. Everyone will know his crimes. And I will make sure of that."
Doubt starts to gnaw at the Captain. He's spent enough time with suspects to know when someone's telling the truth. He can count on one hand the suspects who've lied to him and gotten away with it. But every part of his brain is saying Corvo's telling the truth. Even without the confirmable facts in his story, his belief in his words is hard to ignore. Corvo seems to think he's telling the truth, at least. It's enough to challenge some of the assumptions he's held for the last six months. "Let's assume you're telling the truth," Curnow starts.
"I am," Attano interrupts. The conviction in his voice is slightly unsettling.
"That remains to be seen. But let's assume: what do you want from me? I won't arrest Burrows, I can't. And I can't pardon you, either. Even before you shot Campbell, I couldn't do anything for you. So what do you want?"
Attano surprises Curnow again. His blade folds into itself, and is then tucked into a small pouch at his hip. A small crossbow tries to peek out from under the cloak, but only a piece is shown. Corvo looks at the Captain with remorseful eyes. "I wish for you to listen, Geoff," he pleads softly. "I was framed and thrown into a prison with killers and thugs, beaten daily for a confession. My escape has forced me to trust men I don't know and become their personal thief. I have spoken to no one about what I've been through. No one has asked for my story. I want to know someone else has heard what has happened to me. Please... allow me this."
Curnow feels pity for the man. He's in pain, one he can't help but understand. Amelia knew the burden the Watch placed on him. He had to spend an evening explaining all that happened at least once a week to her. Locking what he saw away would have driven him mad. And even if the Lord Protector is lying, it can't hurt his chances of survival. With any luck, he and his men can escape this. "I have one question first. Why confide in me? We're not exactly friends, Attano."
"But you are honest," he says. "Before our travels to ask for Dunwall's assistance, I understood that. You are the only politician that does not lie for some hidden agenda. Jessamine applauded you for this, as do I. That is enough."
Curnow manages a nod, but little else. "I understand. I make no promise that I will believe you, but I will listen."
A relieved smile grows on Corvo's face. "Thank you, Geoff."
The former Lord Protector places his mask on the table, then retrieves a pair of chairs. He places them facing each other, alongside the table. He makes no effort for the drinks, or to even move the weapons farther away from their owner. Corvo is placing a lot of trust in the Captain. "Please, sit," he offers.
Curnow accepts, though takes the seat farthest from Campbell. Attano has no problem with the body behind him. "Where would you like to begin?" the Captain asks.
"Our arrival in Dunwall, if I may," he says. "Then my escape. I will stop when I enter this building. I will do my best to keep it brief. As soon as I am done, you will be free to leave. Is that satisfactory?"
The officers Curnow brought with him are expecting the meeting with the High Overseer to last for several hours. They should be fine to wait. "It does. May I ask questions, if the need arises?"
Just a few quick edits to fix lore problems. Since, you know, a new game, novel, and comic changed a few of the gray areas I was playing in earlier.