BLOOD AND HONOR
The moon hung low hung low over Yharnam, like a bloated, pale spider's belly. It's light, somehow both mundane and not of this world, cut through the gothic arches and looming, pointed spires of its architecture, sending shafts of pale blue down on those that still lived in the plague-striken city. Its long boulvardes and avenues were choked with the bodies of those the violence and disease had already claimed, while through the grim twilight between the shadows cast by the imposing masonry and the cold lunar glow from above stalked those less lucky, the ones the chaos and pestilence had not killed. While some still looked human, and indeed, thought themselves human, others did not. Hairy, skulking creatures, like wolves made out of men, chewed on the freshly-dead, while massive, gruesome carrion crows gnawed at those that had started going runny, eating and eating until their bellies grew big enough to pin them down, rendering their wings useless.
Down one lane of the crumbling metropolis, three men strode...or at least, things that had once been men. The plague of the Beasts was already in them, and hair sprouted from their faces in ragged tufts, like moss on a rock in a swamp. Despite their already hideous appearance, each still retained enough of his mind to think himself and his companions human. However, to them, the rest of the world had been overrun by the disease they now unwittingly carried. As a result, they attacked anyone still in possession of their health and wits, driven by animal rage and a dim recollection of their duty: to hunt those the plague had taken.
The irony of their situation was not unique. Each night, they and those like them, went out to join 'The Hunt'. By sunrise, they would've slaughtered all those whom had completed their beastly transformations the previous sunset, along with anyone foolish enough to venture outside. Then they would retreat to the shelter of the shadows, while the plague twisted them further, until perhaps, next night, they themselves would become their comrades' prey.
The three not-men shambled down the dark street, their ragged clothes flapping in the night breeze, unaware that they were being watched. One held a torch, and lifted it, his shield made of half-rotted planks at the ready as he scanned the way ahead with eyes that were already tainted with the silver of a transformation nearing it's next phase.
"What?" asked one of his compatriots, "What do you see?" His tone, laced with a subtle snarl of something inhuman, was nervous. They had come this way thinking to catch a Beast or two unawares, their stink being heavy about the area. So far though they had encountered nothing but the corpses of slain monsters, who lay dead and coated in blood, as if having been split open by an expertly-wielded weapon, far more fitted for killing than the makeshift farm implements they bore.
The torch-bearer was silent for a moment, his gleaming eyes scanning the darkness before him, before lowering his torch. "Nothing." he replied, his Yharnish accent thick enough to stop a knife, "Just shadows and dead things."
"We should go back." suggested the questioner, shrugging his bony shoulders, "This district's been cleared out."
"'Ere now, and who made you the boss?" scoffed the torch-bearer, "We goes all the way through I says. We take a left at Chalice Street up ahead and we're clear 'n' free anyways. No Beasts dare go near the Church of the Good Blood."
"I heard tell they do." said the third, his long black cloak and wide-brimmed hat distinguishing him as a man of faith in his former existence, "They've done completely overrun the place."
"Well there ye are then." said the torch-bearer, "Work enough for us..."
"Too much I says." grunted the former clergyman, "We should go back and fetch the rest of the group. They'll still be burning carcasses at Bram's Square, so there ain't no rush neither."
The torch-bearer ground his teeth and growled, the sound more animal than human. His blood was hot and all these dead bodies were driving him into a frenzy. He needed to kill something soon, or by the Good Blood he'd off these two rascals right here.
"Fine." he snarled, turning around and loping back the way they'd come, "But I says-"
"You can damn well keep it to yerself." spat the nosy one. The torch-bearer's growl grew as he spun around. He had had enough.
"Up yours, you lily-livered-" he began to snarl, preparing to lunge at his fellow plague-carrier...before an enormous blade exploded through his target's chest from behind. The shocked half-man looked down, then gave a gurgling scream as the blade was yanked up through him, slicing ribs, muscle and organs apart until it exited via his left shoulder, leaving him nearly split in two.
Blood fountained across the filth-stained cobbles as a new figure stepped into the firelight, clad all in black with a dark tricorn cap which tapered to a point at the front like an arrow while a high collar hid everything of its face save the eyes. There was a moment of shocked silence as the incident made its way to the Beast-men's brains for processing, but in that moment, the figure was already in motion again. Its coat slick with the ichor of its victim, the figure wasted no time, turning its attention to its next target, the half-Beast with the wide-brimmed hat. Silvery steel flashed in the combined moon and fire-light, as a long, broad-bladed sword slashed through the half-Beast's coat and chest, spraying a fresh crimson arc across the stone around them. The weapon moved too fast to dodge, but the cut was shallow, and the man-beasts' plague-ridden blood surged, boiling away his pain to make way for raw, red rage. He lunged, but as he did, the figure's unburdened arm whipped out and without warning, a thin, gleaming crossbow bolt sprouted from his throat. He gurgled in impotent rage and collapsed upon the ground, for even Beasts needed to breathe, and he was finding that difficult with a shaft of steel through his windpipe.
"Foul beast!" shrieked the torch-wielding mutant, his senses at last coming back to him. He charged the figure, and swiped at it with his burning length of table-leg. There was a *WHOOSH* of inrushing air and the figured vanished in a cloud of ash, which drifted to the ground, scattering in the cold wind. The freakish former human stared in slack-jawed amazement at the space where his target had been…just before the point of another crossbow bolt sprouted from his chest. Though briefly surprised, like his comrades, his tainted blood forced him to overcome his pain with blind rage. He spun, searching for his attacker, until the glow of his torch fell upon the black outline of the mysterious figure, now standing behind him. Untroubled by how this could be possible, he lunged again, but this time feinted with a blow with his plank shield before again slashing at it with his torch. This surprised the black-clad figure, which failed to lift its blade in time to counter the attack or dodge properly. The blow took it in the chest, causing it to stumble back, making it grunt in pain, a sound that soon became a scream as the torch came down and hit it on the shoulder. Its garments were too soaked in gore to ignite, but all the same, the fire burned it. Acting with reflexive speed, it rolled sideways and out of the way of the torch as it descended for a second blow, before swinging its long, broad blade up and shoving it deep into the inhuman creature's chest. The former man shrieked, dropping his torch, squirming on the end of the weapon before its owner twisted it and sliced through enough to his interior to finally put an end to him.
For a while, there was silence, broken only by the moaning of the wind through the stone arches above. The mysterious figure lay panting on the ground while blood from its final victim seeped down its blade, staining its coat further as it dripped down. At last, working with its elbows and legs together, it levered itself up, shoving the dead plague-ridden body off its sword. Then it turned down its collar.
Emily Kaldwin, Empress of the Isles and Queen of Dunwall, looked down at the three dead bodies she had just made. She knew she should be feeling remorse, or possibly satisfaction, but nothing came to her heart except an empty, hollow sensation, an echo of half-hearted frustration. She had killed more of their kind tonight than in the past two days combined. She knew they were beyond saving, touched by this disease as they were, a pestilence a hundred-fold worse than the Rat Plague that had come to Dunwall when she was a child. This twisting sickness, that made Beasts out of men, had no earthly cure save by bullet, bolt or blade. Still, that did not make her feel better about doing this dirty work. As an Empress, she had killed before, though rarely with her own hands. Here though, she did it every night, when she went out hunting. It was her task, as the Outsider had prescribed, and it made her sick inside. She could not help but wonder how many orphans, how many widows she was making by doing this. She allowed herself a wan smile. Corvo had always said she had a soft heart, beneath all that armor.
"For you, Corvo. All for you." She said to herself.
TWO YEARS AGO
The staircase to Corvo's room in Dunwall Tower was a lengthy one, but Emily had climbed it so many times in the past few weeks that she had actually memorized the number of steps, and even some of the marks in the stone walls on either side. He'd had the chamber added in the years after the Rat Plague had ended, as part of a renovation project that had helped to restore the place to its former glory, removing most of the military fortifications Lord Regent Burrows had added in his short and brutal reign. It had been meant as a way for him to stay closer to the young Emily, no longer a princess but not yet entirely a queen. Now it was his prison, more or less.
As she ascended the steps, Emily kept one eye on her destination and the other on the windows that lined one wall of the narrow ascent, two of them on each wall of a landing. There was a landing every seven steps, a feature added due to superstition on the part of the builders. It was said to mirror the Seven Strictures, which supposedly helped ward off the Outsider. Emily had found the idea ridiculous but had kept her silence. The sea air drifted in through one of the open apertures, and the salt almost made her eyes water. She hurriedly wiped them dry. She refused to cry, for any reason.
When she at last reached the top of the stairs, she pushed open the heavy wooden door without bothering to knock. The room beyond was small, rectangular, and had four windows, two of which were set in the same wall. Sunshine filtered in through three while one was swung wide, allowing the briny air of the waters surrounding the tower to flood the place. Corvo had always loved the sea. It was a shame he was rarely conscious enough lately to see it. Right now, he was lying full length in his narrow bed, wrapped in blankets, a terrible look of peace on his face. It was at odds with his situation, and made Emily want to shake him awake. "He's so...thin..." thought Emily, seeing even through the cocoon of blankets that Corvo had withered, his muscles wasting away. She could not help but recall how he had been so tall and mighty not even a year ago. It made seeing him like this all the more painful.
"Ah, your majesty!" said a nervous, somewhat reedy voice. Emily looked over to the foot of the bed, where an equally nervous and reedy man sat, his lap covered in papers while not far away, the room's sole, small table was covered in various alchemical mixtures and ingredients in jars. He rose, scattering the papers, and then scurried to pick them up. "I apologize! I-I was not expecting you!" he stammered. Emily smiled.
"It's alright Piero." She replied, bending down to pick up some of the papers herself, "I just wanted to see him again, if that's alright." The scientist straightened up, looking puzzled.
"But he's not conscious." he said, "He's barely even moved since noon." Then, presumably, he saw the look in her eye, and stammered out an apology. "I-I mean, he's just no good f-for conversation!"
"It's quite alright." Emily repeated, before asking, "Have you made any progress?"
Pierro adjusted his glasses again, his face going from relief at her statement to worry at how his news would be taken. Emily was forever amazed at how someone who had struck her as always being so nervous could still have hair, much less be responsible for a full half of the invention-fueled economic boom that had propelled Dunwall back to prosperity after the Rat Plague.
"I'm afraid I have...very bad news." he said, pausing as if to search for words that would seem less harsh, only to find there were none. Emily felt a pit beginning to open in her stomach, which complemented the hollow feeling she was already having with a horrible symmetry.
"Tell me." she finally said, when it became clear Pierro did not want to go further.
"Please understand your majesty that I do not mean to exaggerate when I say this...but I have exhausted every ounce of information at my disposal. I have tried every test. I have read every journal, examined every textbook, plumbed every record. I have nothing to explain this illness that Corvo is suffering...or cure it." he said. Every word was like a block of ice in Emily's soul, piling up in a great heap that weighed down on her chest, making it hard to breathe. She felt herself standing on the edge of the abyss inside herself. Corvo was her anchor, his health the flame that had kept her going. Now her greatest hope was proclaiming his failure...and there was nothing she could do.
She looked over again at the emaciated form of her...father, for that was what he had been to her, and felt the hollow space inside fill with tears and fire. She knew if she let them out she would do something she would regret. It was not Pierro's fault, even though the chaos inside her screamed that yes it was, that he was lying, that he was somehow to blame, even though she knew he had nothing to do with what was happening.
"What about unconventional methods?" she asked, fighting to keep the tears inside. It was taking all her strength not to break down in front of the natural philosopher. She had seen friends die before, sometimes because of decisions she had made, but Corvo had always been there to hold her up, to reinforce her strength when hers was waning. Now he was the one dying, and there was no one to hold her up.
Pierro wrinkled his nose in a mixture of confusion and disdain. "Your majesty? Surely you don't mean-" he began.
"Your partner is well versed in the ways of...unnatural philosophy. Have you tried consulting him?" she asked. Pierro scoffed.
"Majesty, you know Anton and I are still good friends, but surely you can't think that some of the superstitious nonsense he studies is actually worth considering!"
"You may not hold his study in high regard, Pierro, but right now, I am willing to try anything. Corvo gave everything to protect me, not to mention you and the future of this city. I think it is only fair that we respond in kind." she growled.
"I-I did not...I didn't mean-" he stammered, the bulwarks of his professional arrogance melting like butter in the face of his sovereign's anger, "I-it is simply that...well, as a natural philosopher, you know that I do not hold with methods that lack supporting proof of success!"
"I didn't say you needed to like it Pierro. I simply asked that you try anything." Emily said, her voice a promise that made the skinny, bespectacled Pierro cringe. He had been her ally and advisor for a very long time, and their friendship had often been very informal, but it was times like these that the facade, no matter how real it felt to both of them, dropped and the reality shone through that she was the Empress, and he was a simple, if successful academic. If she wanted, she could have him executed with a word, and there would be nothing he could do. She never would, of course, but the fact remained, like a chasm between them, a grim reminder of how he was bound to her, like all the citizens of Dunwall.
"I-I suppose I could ask Anton to examine him." Pierro advanced.
"Do so. And if he refuses, remind him of the debt he owes his Empress." she said, hardening her expression so as not to betray the storm still raging within.
A/N: I wrote this back when Bloodborne was new and we only had one Dishonored game, so I suppose you could say this takes place between Dishonored 1 and 2. I never got further than this, but if you're interested, go ahead and run with it! I'd love to see what someone could do with this...