Warnings: Adult, slash, dark, canon-typical violence, torture, dubious consent, AU (as the worse ending of the game is "canon").
Main Pairings: Corvo/Daud, Corvo/Outsider, Corvo/OC, implied Corvo/Jessamine
AN: After the fall of Dunwall, the Empire survived, but the chaos has affected all corners of The Isles. This new world is hostile, unforgiving, and teetering on the brink of destruction. But in the darkness, hope flickers, and leads a chosen few on a journey that will decide their fate, and the fate of their world.
A reckoning had begun.
Tonight, Corvo Attano would break the first link in the great chain that bound Serkonos to the Abbey of the Everyman. The scroll in his inner breast pocket, sealed by Duke Gerald Armas, said one command that would ignite a civil war across the Isles: Leave none alive.
Floor by floor, room by room, he purged the Karnaca Abbey of its corruption: Overseers and Oracles. Guards and servants. The Fugue Feast reveries had dulled the senses of the Overseers, most still snoring off wine, entangled in the arms of whores or their sister Oracles. Before the dawn of the new year, many passed into the Void without stirring from their slumber.
He contended with a few stragglers here and there, those who hadn't participated in the festivities for whatever their reasons: a servant cleaning the privies, an Overseer studying in the archives. And a young Oracle, eyes like new grass, chestnut curls peeking from beneath her gray wimple. She had turned and smiled at him before he cut her throat, a soft, knowing smile that said: I forgive you.
Her body disintegrated into ash in his arms, but the smell of lavender seemed to follow him wherever he went. His hands wouldn't stop trembling. He sought the Heart's counsel, the warmth of her in his hand, metal and flesh and spirit woven as one. He squeezed her gently, and an otherworldly sound stirred in his mind, rising and falling and sharp like wind pushed through a reed. Then she spoke, her voice a lulling echo over the wind.
"They steal the young ones from the dunes: boys with dark eyes and pale skin. Girls who collect bony trinkets from the shoreline. They never past the tests. Many call for their mothers as they die. Their bodies are burned with no markers to remember their names."
Jessamine's spirit knew his doubts, and knew what to say to ease them. His breathing steadied, and his heart hardened. The Overseers and the Outsider had pushed him to this. Both formed two sides of a rotted coin that bought only misery and fear. It was time to cast that coin into the sea. No more butchery. No more false gods holding The Isles hostage. If it took war to free them, then so be it.
He paused in the darkened hall. Moonlight glinted on his blade, tainted orange by a nearby window of stained glass. Upon its etched surface a war raged against the Void: holy flames and starlight battled a lithe figure of a man wreathed in the darkness. Black eyes — intent and indifferent on glass as they were in the Void — seemed to burn into his back as he escaped into the cellar, his heart a frantic thing clawing at his ribs.
Did his defiance anger The Outsider? Did it amuse him? Did The Outsider even care? Five years had passed without contact. Without visiting a single shrine. Without dreaming of the Void and its chaotic wonders. Only the Mark remained, useful for now, but someday he would sever that too — literally, if he must. The Outsider's leash couldn't hold him forever.
The cellar spanned beneath the entire Abbey, and according to the Duke's spies, under the gardens and the graveyard. Rumors suggested that some tunnels went as far as the coastline. No map or blueprints, but navigating blind didn't deter him from going deeper underground.
Shadows lightened and sounds sharpened. Iridescent rat eyes shone in the dark. And though Void energy simmered under his skin and throbbed through his veins, he didn't use it. Spirit Remedies had all but disappeared under the embargo of New Dunwall's puppet Emperor, Renard Constantine. The Abbey had declared it heresy to create, sell, or buy the remedy due to its suspected "occult" ties. And with Piero Joplin presumed dead in Dunwall, the original recipe had died with him — leading to several "tweaked" versions of the remedy sold on the Black Market. No one in their right mind touched that stuff, let alone paid the insane amount of coin for it. Good old-fashioned mana regeneration suited him fine, but the trick was conservation and restraint. Last resort only. He had suffered enough throes of mana exhaustion to resist of Gazing through walls and Transversing all over Serkonos for the hell of it.
He ventured through a dark maze of rooms and halls full of crates, barrels, and piles of dusty, broken electrical equipment. The sour scent of fermented cider mingled with the earthy damp of the stone walls. The hall to the right yielded two entries to an ancient moldering library. No guards or Overseers. And still no sign of his main target. High Overseer Alexander Fairchild should have been in his office, or in his chambers enjoying the last hours of sinful delights. Both yielded nothing except an ill-fated Overseer rummaging through Fairchild's undergarment drawer.
After a climb down a metal stairwell in dire need of maintenance, he came upon a crumbling archway and a long corridor draped in glowing violet moss. Eerie and beautiful, and it brought the image of the Outsider's sculpted face, that patronizing tilt of his head, and the playful mockery in his voice.
Why was this demon haunting his thoughts now? He gritted his teeth and sucked in his breath until his chest ached. And then he exhaled, slow, steady. Moss...only moss. That black-eyed fuck needed to get out of his head and back into the Void where he belonged. Too many empty halls down here, and ever since the stairs, he had the odd sense of being followed. Every glance behind proved him foolish, but anything could be around the next corner. Overseers, Fairchild. His gut and his brain agreed for once. Something felt wrong.
Laughter echoed from somewhere past the moss and wet stone. Two males, maybe more. Void energy surged, but he forced it to heel and crept forward, keeping close to the wall.
The corridor split at the end. He followed the voices down the left hall and then ducked behind a stack of crates. Two Warfare Overseers stood vigilant next to a black iron door. Their white festival masks faced his direction, but they continued their muttered conversation without pause. The element of surprise still belonged to him, but not luck. Besides those ugly metal masks, the Holger devices strapped to the chests of both Warfares negated his crossbow and pistol - not to mention the consequences should those devices start turning. His nightly lullaby of Overseer music may keep the Outsider away — and give him a bit of resistance to the negative effects — but more than one device still posed a threat. Unless he wanted to collapse the corridor - and potentially the Abbey itself - with a grenade, he would have to get creative. And creative meant magic. Even if it did pain him to dig into his mana reserves and give the Outsider another piece of his soul.
The Mark glowed through his gloves, a warm, brilliant orange that belayed the icy flow of energy that seemed to rise from some dark place inside him. His ears rang and his skin tingled. His trousers tightened to the point of discomfort. This force had been easier to resist back in Dunwall - its seductive thrill, less poignant. Why reign it in? said a whisper in his mind. There's plenty of mana to spare. Let it free.
The world went gray and the Warfares froze in mid-gesture, trapped in time as insects in amber. To them, he must have appeared as a demon hurling out of the shadows with unnatural speed, dirty black longcoat billowing behind him. Once that coat had been royal blue with golden trim, but he had been a different person then, someone who would've winced at the way he plunged his sword through the neck of one obstacle, and speared the other through the eye of his mask. Brutal, efficient. He was what the Overseers made him. He was what the Outsider created.
His targets slumped in tandem, blood oozing through the holes in their masks, and fingers cramping around handles left unturned. Power hummed through his blood. The world once again changed, awash in rusted hues this time. Far beyond the door, the faint yellow light of two figures shimmered in his vision. One standing, the other seated. Fairchild and another Overseer? Another wanton Oracle? In the end, it made no difference. This room would be their tomb.
He gleaned a keyring from one of the dead Warfares. Oiled hinges eased his entry, and sparse lanterns aided his approach. A short hall led to a large room with circle of stone at the center blocking his view. The air smelled sour here, and unseen firelight bathed the far wall in red. Hooks and restraints hung from the ceiling, and several torture instruments lay strewn over carts and shelves. Black stains dotted the walls and floor, and in one corner, two piles of colorful rags.
Wait, not rags. Clothes. In particular, the native garb of the Dune Dwellers. In one pile, the odd ruffled skirts of the women, and the bright vests and trousers of the men. In the other pile, torn undergarments, and sandals with no straps. Above the clothes, broken seashell hairpins and pearled embellishments glittered from inside a squat, dirty jar on the wall shelf. Under that same shelf, a cloth doll stared at him with one button eye and a faded blue sundress, her arms hanging by frayed threads.
His sword shook. This is what he and the Duke had suspected all along. Too many from the shores had gone missing over the last several months. The Heart had said the truth.
He Gazed through the wall. The standing figure bent over the seated one and appeared to kiss the other on the head. Words of a solemn prayer drifted to him in fragments.
"May the cosmos embrace you….free at last…Outsider's taint…stars will guide you now…suffer no more."
The familiar baritone and crisp Tyvian accent revealed the standing figure as Alexander Fairchild. He moved closer, the glow of the Mark well hidden. The High Overseer stood in front of an interrogation chair, hands on his hips, head cocked as if in thought. Though the Hymn of Atonement was hours ago, Fairchild still wore his white ceremonial overcoat. At this angle, he had a full view of the poor boy trapped within restraints, age somewhere between ten and fourteen. The boy's chin rested on his bare chest, his short black hair dripping blood on the pale, bruised skin of his bony shoulders and torso. Delicate fingers curled in death over the arms of the chair, straps digging into frail wrists.
Fairchild clucked his tongue as if disheartened by the mess and released the restraints. The ceremonial coat gleamed in the firelight, and not one hair had strayed from the polished gray waves slicked back with whale grease. Unblemished and perfect, unlike his victim who tumbled out of the chair like a sack of broken sticks.
By the Void, he would have stuck then, but Fairchild straightened and turned toward him.
"Come out, assassin," said Fairchild with a smug sneer, his beady eyes narrowing. "My sister Oracle warned me that a demon would attack during the Fugue Feast, but stars bless her feeble mind, I did not take her seriously. Our dear sisters see demons everywhere, in everything. Yet, here you are, as foretold. I assume you used black magic to get past my Warfares. Spawn of the Outsider. You cannot harm me." Fairchild unsheathed his sword in one graceful move and assumed en garde. "Face me, witch."
Who was he to deny a dead man's last request? He sheathed his weapons and stepped into the light with a deep mocking bow. "As you command, High Overseer."
No gaping astonishment, or gasp of awe at his appearance. A little disappointing, but then again, everyone in Karnaca knew him either by rumor or myth. Only a few trusted souls knew him by truth.
"Ah, the Shadow of Armas." Fairchild squinted as if trying to see past the mask. "You are here at his behest?"
"You picked the wrong time to visit Serkonos, sir." He tossed the scroll on the floor. "Your orders of execution, and of all those who follow you."
Fairchild stared at the scroll as if it had just shat on his boots, and sputtered, "That fool has lost his mind! His entire court will be executed for high treason!"
"The Duke is willing to risk all of Serkonos to be free of the Abbey's yoke. It's been around our necks for too long."
Without changing his stance, Fairchild withdrew his pistol and cocked the hammer. "Have you been whispering in the Duke's ear, Shadow? Using your dark arts to manipulate and beguile the righteous? The people say you never speak because the Duke cut out your tongue. Perhaps I should give that rumor truth. The pretty lilt in your voice tells me you're a native of this island, but that nasal from the northern isles suggests some time abroad. Where do you hail from? Gristol or Morley?"
Fairchild's thick brows became one, then separated again. The pistol wavered. "You are Daud."
He started laughing. Not that it was funny, really, but the irony alone deserved a good chuckle. If only a certain someone had heard that proclamation — but no, that someone was too busy playing mystical guru to a bunch of street rats and thieves to be bothered with trivial matters such as war. Still, Daud's reaction would have been fun to watch, maybe even more entertaining than Fairchild puffing up his chest like an affronted crane and screeching with pious indignation.
"Filth! Vermin cannot mock the holy! They crawl on their bellies and gorge themselves on the dead! And you, Daud, you are the lowest creature, the most vile. You slither through the catacombs beneath this grand city and think the light cannot touch you. But it can. And it will. You will burn, witch. Like all your kind."
The rant itself didn't offend him. Every fanatic that followed the Abbey sang the same tired old tune, but now he had ruffled Fairchild's feathers well and good — and judging from the white-knuckled grip on the pistol — this old bird was ready to start shooting. A sleep dart would end the tantrum, but those things took forever to wear off. And executing a snoring target seemed…unsporting.
If the High Overseer wanted a witch, then he'd give him a witch.
Space warped around him and he Transversed. Fairchild shrieked at the sudden loss of his pistol and sword, and made a mud-crab scramble under the nearest workbench. In different circumstances, the sight of that white-clad, pompous rear smacking the bench as it wiggled underneath might have brought on another chuckle or two, but he didn't have the luxury of chasing this fool all night. One bullet, one arrow - that's all it would take. But would it be enough? That boy cooling on the floor deserved justice, as did every victim tortured and killed at Fairchild's elegant hands.
No, an example had to be made, a warning to all future High Overseers who thought they were above the law.
The wall behind the bench and the crates to either side prevented escape, boxing Fairchild inside a dark cubbyhole where the only thing visible were the whites of his wide, unblinking eyes. Not the brightest High Overseer in the Abbey was he? He aimed his pistol at the cringing lump in the shadows and said: "Out. Now."
The lump didn't move, but loosed a high-pitched cackling giggle before hissing one word: "Witch," and retreated further into the gloom. One of the crates started rocking, followed by unmistakable sounds of rummaging and labored breathing. Searching for a weapon? Bad, bad High Overseer.
The crate splintered with his first and last warning shot. The lump twitched with a yelp that dissolved into another disturbing titter. People reacted differently to seeing magic. Some shrugged it off, others panicked and ran. And some just broke down. Seemed the High Overseer belonged to the latter group, which wasn't surprising. The higher they were, the deeper they plunged. From the state of this torture chamber, and latest victim, Fairchild had been halfway there already. The baubles and trinkets inside those glass jars weren't there for storage, they were souvenirs, and those clothing piles had been sorted with care. One pile to burn, the other to…keep. Twisted son-of-a-bitch.
More shuffling under the bench, a flash of black boot, then a defiant shove of the crate he'd just shot. Crazy bastard, but smart. His target must have realized by now the reason he wasn't riddled with bullets or chewed on by summoned rats was because a worse fate had been planned. So now it was a stalling game, one he didn't have patience for. He hunkered down and gestured with the pistol. "I said out, High Overseer. Or I'll leave your corpse to rot where it falls so everyone will know how you cowered like a timid mudlark before I shot you."
When all else fails, insult their pride. The lump seemed to consider this proposal, and accept it with a hesitant shift forward. He backed up to give Fairchild more room, but something plinked under the workbench, something metal, something familiar. Then that something rolled toward him in what seemed like slow motion. A canister, or —
Realization hit too late.
He threw himself to the side as it went off, but instead of his limbs flying in every direction, his lungs flooded with expanding chalk. Fire inside his eyes, in his throat, up his nose, burning and turning his tears to ash. Not a grenade. Chokedust.
His hands closed around an imaginary pistol. Magic surged so hard his skin prickled with icy heat. He Transversed into a table, knocking it over. Then a man-sized shadow charged at him through the cloud of smoke, screaming words that made no sense, and swinging something he should probably get away from. He Transversed again, but he was like a panicking bird flying in the wrong direction. His nose collided with the wall. Lights and black spots exploded behind his eyes.
He hit the floor.
Fairchild pounced on top of him, lips peeled back in a frozen snarl. Thick blood filled his throat, choking him from the inside as Fairchild's hands squeezed from the outside. Sword. He needed his sword. He pawed at his belt and at the vise closing off his air. Fuck, where was his sword? Bright specks of color popped and sparkled in his vision, edges going grayer and grayer, and all the while, Fairchild cackled in his face like the very thing he claimed to hate.
"Hah! Writhe, witch! Writhe and die! Your master won't save you. You are nothing to him - nothing!"
The hands around his throat now clutched the sides of his head. He managed one, desperate gasp before the back of his skull slammed into stone.
Fairchild and the room vanished. The pain numbed. The Void expanded around him, enveloped him in hues of twilight and mist. Fragments of reality hung in the airless space: leafless trees upside down, their roots above intertwined like vines. Rocks in the air turning in place. Slabs of cobblestone floated next to the skeletons of buildings. Chains linked these islands one to another, strung from impossible points and connecting to other places unseen. No sensation other than helpless abeyance. Under his floating feet, a vortex churned, bottomless and forever. His soul mirrored the chaos below him.
How would he atone for Emily's death? How would he find peace?
"You wouldn't, Corvo," The Outsider's melodic voice seized him from within and balanced him between life and oblivion. "You will wander the Void like so many others of your kind. Lost souls forever seeking what is just out of reach. Such a shame for you to die like this, Corvo. And at the hands of a man who takes great pleasure inflicting pain on others - on you in particular. Nothing fills Alexander Fairchild with more desire than killing a witch."
The Void receded like a rolling white wave. He returned to the throbbing ache of his skull, and a nose that felt ten times the size of his face. The weight of his mask lifted away, but the weight on his eyes stayed. In the dark, someone said his name like a whispered question, and then that same someone giggled in husky delight.
Hands probed between his thighs, the breath in his ears coming faster and heavier.
"Hanging by a thread, I see. Good. Let me send you into the Void with a special parting gift."
His eyes flew open. A howling gale rose from nowhere and everywhere and blasted the offensive thing on top of him to the other side of the chamber. The brassy clang of impact shivered through the hairs of his ears. The tempest raged around him a moment more, then calmed and disappeared.
He coughed and sputtered for several minutes, every broken, swollen part of him lurching in agony. Then he flopped over and vomited the bloody remains of his evening meal. So much for that roasted whale fillet and fig pastry.
He slid himself up into a kneeling position and swayed there like a drunken snake, the room spinning in sideways loops. It could spin and spin all it wanted. If he tried stopping it, he might throw up again. Somewhere in the dim recesses of the room, Fairchild moaned as if having a bad dream. The bastard and his groping hands. He should cut them off, and then cut off something else.
The clasps on his belt pouches suddenly seemed like complex mechanisms. Which one had he put the elixir in? Of course, in the last pocket he ended up checking. He drank the vial's contents in three painful gulps. Not much for taste, but it cooled his throat and soothed his splitting skull. And maybe by tomorrow, the bridge of his nose would have straightened itself.
Another moan from the corner, and louder. Even in the state of unconsciousness, the High Overseer demanded attention. Wrenched nobleman.
It took another minute or so to stagger to his feet, but once he was up, he stayed up. Sokolov's Elixir had done its magic.
He found Fairchild in a heap by the furnace with a perfect imprint of the furnace shield branded on the once pristine white coat. If that shield had been open, it would have spared him the extra effort — and would have been poetic in its own right. And still, it wasn't too late for a bullet to the head, or an arrow to the heart — but no, those hands had been on him. And that panting in his ears. All those children…had it been enough to keep their possessions as trophies? Or had they endured those same hands? He had a feeling the answer was yes.
He yanked Fairchild up by the hair and threw him next to the boy's corpse. Some rope kept his stirring captive — who now stared at the dead boy with dazed, horrified eyes — from attempting another swan dive under a table. And wadded underwear from the "keep" clothing pile kept the ranting at bay. A more permanent solution to that little problem lay twinkling in the firelight, but required a few more tools to make it work.
A brief search through the chamber yielded everything he needed: a small clamp, more rope, and a neck strap. And the apothecary cabinet produced the final ingredient: a vial of bright yellow venom gleaned from a deep sea hagfish. Nasty stuff. Killed within minutes, but those minutes would be long and agonizing.
He set the wooden table upright and fetched the twinkling tool from the floor. A heretic's fork. Overseers attached these to confessed "witches" by a strap around the neck: one pronged end digging under the chin, the other into the base of the throat. Then the poor soul was hoisted up like a piece of meat, deprived of food and sleep while gravity became the unwitting torturer. The device itself didn't cause death, but a good soak in hagfish venom would.
He checked his time piece. Almost dawn. Every moment spent here made it more difficult to slip away later. The first day of the Month of Earth called the righteous home to atone and begin anew - and all Oracles and Overseers who survived the Grand Guard's attack in the capital would be fleeing here for safety and the guidance of their venerable leader. But death waited for them beyond the main doors by spring razor traps placed in strategic locations. And the unlucky few who escaped those would be hunted and executed, one by one.
Leave none alive.
He unclenched his fists from the shaking heretic's fork. The boy's corpse shimmered in the firelight like a memory from the Void, a ghost of itself. Unreal. And the squirming simpering thing next to it, a reminder of everything wrong in this world.
The lower prongs he left alone, but the upper pair received two drops of venom each. More than enough. Steel turned black, and Fairchild started screaming through his gag.
And the screaming continued until a certain small clamp caught hold of that offending tongue, and a heated blade did the rest.
"I'm disappointed, Corvo. It's like you've gone out of your way to be brutal."
"Shut up, boatman," he said to the memory of Samuel's judgment, to the pain of being abandoned by a man he'd considered a friend. "I owe you nothing."
But the stubborn spirit refused to be cast out. "You used to have honor."
"I said, shut up!" He hauled Fairchild — who hadn't once ceased his miserable keening — over to the pulley and stripped that ridiculous jacket off him. One more item for the burn pile. "You deserve this, and you deserve more — all of you! Liars and hypocrites, burning so-called heretics, torturing innocent people and children! And for what? Power? Order? You don't even know!"
He pressed the heretic's fork under Fairchild's quivering chin, not breaking flesh, but stopping that incessant noise, and letting whoever might be watching with such avid interest to hear what he had to say. "It's just a game, isn't it? The Outsider versus the Overseers. The bastard probably made you out of boredom, and now he can't control you. So it's up to the Marked to do his dirty work, to keep this world from falling into the Void because of your damned war!"
The other end of the fork bit deep into the hollow of Fairchild's throat, giving the poisoned end more wiggle room. Plenty of nostril flaring and clenching teeth, but no howling. Finally, some dignity from the bastard - or maybe just fear of what would happen should that mouth open a scant wider than the fork allowed. He adjusted the strap and clasped it one notch tighter than comfortable. Then he secured the pulley hook between the High Overseer's bound, knobby wrists.
The pulley squealed and its cargo rose like a stiff, dead fish, neck straining, and arms lifting over his head.
"Yes, hold that head high, Alexander. Shouldn't be difficult for you. All those years lifting your nose at the lesser born, thinking you're better, thinking you can do whatever you want to them. Well this is it, High Overseer. This is what you've been practicing for." He anchored the rope around the iron ring on the wall and brought over a chair to stand on — but he didn't stand on it yet. One last detail remained. He retrieved his mask from the floor. Blood from the bent metal frame smeared his gloves. Ruined, but the Duke's blacksmith would make another. None of them like the first, of course. No one in the Empire could match Piero's skill and artistry, but the substitutes did well enough to intimidate his targets and conceal his identity.
The chair creaked under his weight, but held. A blank, glassy stare met his, but then gazed past him, pupils widening, seeing something beyond the shadowed corners of the room. Fairchild shuddered then, a rippling movement that traveled from head to toe, and would have killed him had the poisoned fork been a hairbreadth higher.
"Do you see the Void?"
Fairchild swallowed, tears leaking free again. He set the mask as gently on that weathered and stricken face as he had with his first on Emily's grave. He stroked the mask's leather cheek and leaned close, whispering like a lover. "I hope the Void feasts on your soul. I hope it tears it to shreds, and then spews what's left back here to relive your moment of death over, and over, and over again — for all eternity. And then, maybe then, that might be penance enough for all the suffering you've caused."
He smiled at the loathing radiating deep within the eyeholes of the mask, from every taut muscle and strangled noise that fought its way free of Fairchild's convulsing throat. "Oh, and say hello to the Outsider for me."
Death could come in an hour, or after he closed the door — it didn't matter either way. Mission complete. Target terminated.
He left the boy propped against the wall, a witness to his murderer's final moments. It seemed fitting.
In the hall leading back to the Abbey, he glanced at his time piece again. Dawn. First day of the Month of Earth. Happy New Year, Serkonos.
And then came a bout of uneasiness.
No going back now.
In three weeks, chapter 2. Corvo runs into some...trouble when leaving the Abbey, but receives some unexpected (and unwanted) assistance.