And I end this fic with an epilogue that finally satisfies me. In my first versions, it was about adoption (I had even imagined that Alexi could have a child and that he would be the heir, but that did not please me that much).

Hope you'll enjoy and that it was worth the wait

A big thank you to all the readers who, even with two years of waiting, continued to encourage me.

A even bigger thank to my beta-reader Madman: I know we work together only for the first chapters but I want you to know you're the best beta-reader I've worked with. Hope everyone was so understanding, patient and kind, because it was a pleasure!

It was no secret to anyone, but it was a truth that should not even be whispered: the Empress was sterile.

Her stomach, muscular and flat, would never have the opportunity to round off, swelling with life, to offer to her empire an heir. No little boy with raven black hair, no little girl with caramel complexion. The Kaldwin line was about to end with Emily.

The question of heir had already been thorny when the relationship between the Empress and the Grand Inventor had been confirmed: the rather obscure social origin of Kirin Jindosh could have been forgiven by the nobles, but what had bothered them more was the obstinacy that the lovers had to live each on their own. Emily Kaldwin stayed in Dunwall, directing her empire with a firmness that reminded her father rather than her mother, while Jindosh still lived in his incongruous mansion, continuing his research.

He had resumed contact with the Academy and for a year even had conducted distance-learning courses, but his narcissism was such that he had not been able to show any indulgence for his students. And to the great relief of other philosophers, he abandoned this job — he always justified this failure by blaming the stupidity of the students rather than his total lack of pedagogy. But Jindosh had not turned his back completely on the Academy: his relationship with the Empress allowed him to be regularly contacted. His distant colleagues hoped that their hypotheses would reach the ears of the Empress who was, as everyone knew, intrigued by science.

Neither Emily nor Jindosh felt the need to get married, because this project of giving more visibility to scientific work was their pact, what united them.

And thank to it, today, Emily had settled that heir issue.

At the Clockwork Mansion, installed on this balcony she had never ceased to love since her first visit, Emily was listening to the clicks of the robot arriving. It presented a tray where two cups of coffee were still smoking. After all these years, Jindosh had managed to design automaton smaller than the Clockwork Soldiers: the gears were ten times more delicate and the wood of their shell was thinner, but these were not designed for the combat anyway.

Emily amused herself thanking the robot — she had named this one Sigfrid — and placed the cups on the table and waited while admiring the scenery. As usual, Jindosh was dawdling in the laboratory, but there was no risk anyway that the coffee would cool too quickly with the heat outside, even at the end of the day.

The Empress pulled out a cigarette from her silver case and thought of her parents: every quarter, she spent two weeks in Karnaca. The first days were reserved for the reunion with her parents who spent happy days — magnificent would not have been some hyperbole — in a quiet house near a village that was a few kilometers from the city.

The nobles of Dunwall, of course, had bought vacation homes around the village, but the expense had been really excessive when they realized that Jessamine and Corvo had no intention of holding balls or receptions. It was impossible to see them during their retirement.

The couple, beautiful and in love as in the first days, did appear a few times in the year at the Tower of Dunwall though, even if they spent all their time with their daughter.

The former empress was more confident about her injured face now, supporting her scars like the wrinkles that had appeared since. As for Corvo, a few strands of hair still persisted in staying dark, but instead of the black that his daughter had inherited, they tended to be dark ash gray.

Despite the long intervals between their reunion, Emily never noticed a severe grip of time on them: their retirement would last for many more years.

A shadow slid across the balcony, pulling Emily out of her hopes.

Jindosh put a flowerpot on the table, ignoring the cups of coffee. In the black soil was planted a cactus with multiple arms. Its smooth, green skin was bristled with white thorns, but at the top of each column, the spikes were replaced by buds still tightly closed.

"Oh, how original, Kirin." Emily said, barely suppressing a laugh. "Men offer flowers to express their feelings or to describe the lady they love. I guess I'm— barbed?"

"Fascinating." The inventor corrected. White hair had started to appear at his temples. With the tip of his porcelain index, Jindosh could touch the thorns without harm. "But this has nothing to do with you, it's an—"

"A cactus."

"An echinopsis pachanoi. Plants evolve following precise structures, Emily, to adapt to their environment, to survive, and I've observed that for this one something great, it's—"

It had been two years since Jindosh had been working on what he called morphogenesis, a biological process which he was certain would help to improve technology. A link that was incomprehensible to Emily. She knew she could not stop him, so Emily gave up and let Jindosh speak.

During receptions and balls, it was common to hear high-ranking women complain about having married a man dumber than a donkey, but for her case, Emily could complain the other way around.

"Kirin." The coffee cups were now empty and Emily removed the cactus pot. "I need your support for a proposal that I'll make to the Academy."

"I refuse to host the twentieth ceremony in memory of Sokolov." Jindosh replied, looking haughty, but Emily patted his hand to reassure him.

"No, nothing like it. I told my parents about my idea, they were surprised and I think it'll cause a great scandal in the empire, but I want to." Now, she had his attention, finally supplanting the cactus and morphogenesis. "We know this for a long time: we can't have children. You've always thought succession by blood is unfair, and there's maybe an opportunity to change that tradition."

"You know my opinion, yes. Blood doesn't prove the intelligence of an emperor."

"I know. If I die tomorrow, it will be a distant cousin from where the Outsider knows who will come to claim the throne, but I can't bequeath what I've accomplished to a person of whom I know nothing and who could destroy everything. I thought of a way to prevent this." She took his hand, already knowing that he would be delighted to hear what she was about to suggest. "When I was still a mermaid, we had a conversation about it. Perhaps it's time the philosophers take care of the Isles."

"You mean—?"

"No heir of Kaldwin blood, but several coming from the Academy. By transforming part of the school into a political environment, they'll be able to take over the empire's affairs and improve the lives of its citizens. Sokolov has found a solution to the plague which would have decimated half of the population, Hypatia has created remedies for miners in Karnaca and you have advanced surgery and technology."

Jessamine had always raised Emily with respect for knowledge, and her relationship with Jindosh confirmed the importance of scholars in such a vast kingdom.

"It won't be a single person, of course, and this group will be supported by a council, like for me, but I think it's time to give more importance to science and to assign more power to philosophers."

The scientist's eyes were shining.

"You're aware that, if the nobles will be shocked by this decision, some philosophers will also be against it? They're still a little retrograde, especially since Sokolov's death.

"I expect so, yes."

Emily's mouth suddenly became stiff. This harsh expression really reminded the flowers of the cactus; beautiful and dangerous at the same time.

The last time Jindosh saw this face dates back to the beginning of Emily's reign: exceptionally, he had left Karnaca to spend several days in Dunwall, attending the coronation despite his previous refusal. After the long day, the new Empress' first decision was crucial: she had burned the picture that trapped Delilah and Breanna, destroying her enemies forever.

In the living room, alone with the Empress, the Inventor had been the accomplice of this secret, because without any moral judgment. This execution confirmed that Emily Kaldwin, just like him, had chosen to live by her principles. Morality was sometimes a superfluous notion and a leader had to know the meaning sacrifice.

And Emily had chosen to sacrifice her own descendants, not having recourse to a child adopted in secret.

Medicine, science and the arts would be the real helpers of the people, not luxury or pomp. The Empress could handle the protests.

"In thirteen years of reign, I've managed to show what I can do. If I suggest this project gradually, even over several years, it'll be more likely to be accepted." To be imposed, was her implication.

Happy with this future, happy not to have been wrong about this Empress, Jindosh extended his mutilated hand to this woman he loved more than anything.