Corvo sighed and moved to the front of his cell. His meal for the day had just been dropped off, and as much as his half-starved and violently tortured body protested the movement, he forced himself to go pick up the stale piece of bread. He wouldn't glean much sustenance from it, but he needed to keep his strength up as best he could. Corvo was not resigned to spending the rest of his now empty existence in this cell.
He'd been in Coldridge prison for three months. In some moments, it seemed like an eternity. And yet, sometimes Corvo felt as if it had all happened mere moments ago. He remembered it all with great clarity. The strange look Burrows had given him as he walked from the terrace had seemed so trivial. He'd noted the spymaster's glare, but it hadn't seemed of import. Now, in hindsight, Corvo realized what a telling glare it had been. He remembered Campbell, posing for his Sokolov portrait, criticizing the necessity of Corvo's trip abroad. It had all seemed harmless at the time. It was no secret that he was not liked by many members of Parliament; that a spymaster should glare at him and the High Overseer should scoff at him had seemed commonplace. He should have slain them both right then.
He remembered the dread he'd felt when Emily noted the assassins scampering across a nearby rooftop. Somehow, the bastards were able to teleport about, making the ensuing battle a particularly deadly one. He was sure he'd killed three of them, but the teleportation ensured that there were no bodies to exonerate him. Corvo wasn't a suspicious man, but if he hadn't known any better, he'd have thought the strange killers had been touched by the Outsider, the mythical demigod who was said to imbue particularly interesting mortals with a fragment of his unimaginable power, and then to watch the chaos these individuals would sew.
The assassins were clad in garb most often worn by whalers. Corvo remembered the fight vividly. He'd drawn his saber and pistol at the first sign of trouble. An assassin appeared out of thin air behind him, and Emily's cry of warning probably saved his life. He spun and fired his flintlock at the assailant. The shot winged the man, hitting him in the shoulder. Corvo lunged with the saber but the assassin vanished into thin air. Wise to the trick this time, Corvo spun back around and caught the man's blade on his own, forcing it wide with a timely parry. Corvo thrusted with the saber again, and this time he did not miss. The body vanished before it had even hit the ground. The telltale sound of another assassin teleporting onto the terrace led Corvo to spin back around. This assassin was not quite as eager, staying just out of sword range and throwing a knife. Corvo knocked the dagger aside with his saber and shot the man in the forehead.
In his periphery he saw Jessamine and Emily huddled together, terrified. The second assassin's body vanished, and Corvo swore under his breath as another assailant came at him. He backpedaled under the furious onslaught of this third man, sword flashing back and forth to block the pummeling blows. He sidestepped out of the way of a downward slash and caught the assassin off balance. Corvo hooked his blade around the man's back and plunged it downwards, sword bursting from the man's chest. He was no longer surprised when the body seemed to blink out of existence.
Corvo glanced around the terrace and the surrounding rooftops warily, sword and pistol at the ready. No more assassins. He sheathed his saber and holstered his pistol. Emily rushed to him and hugged him tightly. He tousled her hair fondly.
"Corvo, thank you," Jessamine said, voice wavering slightly as she wrapped her mind around the ordeal. "If you hadn't been here…" Her eyes widened and she looked off to the side. Corvo spun to face the new threat, and the assassin waved his hand. A gale of powerful wind slammed Corvo into the column behind him. The wind seemed to emanate from the man's fingers, and it wasn't letting up. Another assassin, this one unmasked, teleported into the pagoda and grasped at Emily.
"No! Get away from her!" shouted the Empress, shoving the man back. He cuffed her across the face and slammed her back against the balcony. Corvo watched in horror, completely helpless as this unmasked assassin plunged his cutlass into Jessamine and threw her to the ground. Corvo howled like a caged animal, struggling to break free of the damnable wind. Emily tried to run and was grabbed by the man who had been incapacitating Corvo. The assassin vanished with Emily and Corvo fell to the ground. As he tried to climb to his feet, the unmasked killer gazed at him appraisingly, before teleporting away himself.
Corvo crawled to the Empress, who lay in a growing pool of blood. He cradled her in his arms. "No," he gasped. "I failed you, my love."
"Corvo…it's all…coming apart," she said. She choked the words out. His mind rebelled against the thought, but he could tell that she was fading fast. "Find…find Emily. Protect her. You're the only one. You'll know what to do. Won't you? Corvo?" She had been trying to hold herself up to speak to him, but now she went limp. The light dimmed from her eyes. Empress Jessamine Kaldwin was dead. Corvo felt numb as he held her now lifeless body in his arms.
"Somebody…" he shouted. "Somebody HELP!" In retrospect, that was the first true mistake Corvo made during the ordeal. He had originally thought that he'd failed for martial reasons, but had come to accept that the assassins wielded power beyond his own. His true failure had been thinking that anyone would come to his aid. The game had been rigged before he'd even begun playing.
He looked up as four men approached. Two guards, who were surely in Burrows' pocket, High Overseer Campbell, and Burrows himself.
"Word us all," Campbell gasped in false surprise. "Look at what he's done!"
"Yes!" shouted Burrows, trying hard to keep the glee out of his voice. "He's killed the Empress!' Before Corvo could even process what the bastards were saying, he had a sword at his throat and a gun in his face. "What did you do with young Lady Emily, traitor?" This was moving too fast. The pieces clicked in Corvo's mind. These sons of bitches had masterminded this plot, and he was the patsy.
The gun in his face was the only thing stopping him from rushing at Burrows and beating the man to death with his bare hands. The next hours were a blur to him. It didn't matter. The gist of it was that he was going to Coldridge Prison for the alleged crime of killing the woman he loved, and the real perpetrators of the murder were profiting immensely.
The following months had been a haze of torture, hunger, and despair. The physical pain inflicted upon him by Burrow's personal torturer, a dimwitted brute of a man who had no tongue, paled in comparison to the torture he inflicted upon himself in his cell. He could not stop thinking about Jessamine, about little Emily, the star of his sky. He wondered where she was. He knew that Burrows was too smart to kill her; the newly anointed Lord Regent would be able use her to legitimize his hold on Dunwall. He was sure that that was why he himself was still alive, and was being given regular doses of Sokolov's Elixer. They needed him alive for the time being, so they could publicly execute him as a murderer later. He was glad for the tonics, however. He would not be able to make things right if he became some misbegotten Weeper.
He often thought about the day that he had first met Jessamine, fifteen years ago. The Empress was on a diplomatic trip to the capitol of Serkonos. Corvo had been a minor nobleman at the time; raised in wealth and comfort, but without much political clout. He'd been outside the court as she'd approached to make her audience with the king. He had never seen a woman like her before. Her face was radiant; gorgeous, yet composed, commanding authority and admiration. Corvo did not realize it at the time, but he knew now that he had loved her even then. Seeing her then had changed the course of his entire existence. In a roundabout way, it occurred to him that if he had not seen her that day, he would not be in this prison right now, but he did not regret his time with Jessamine, and did not regret the beautiful child they had created together.
The day had been darkened by an attempt on Jessamine's life. It was later learned that the assassins were part of a rebel faction in Serkonos' government, seeking to depose the king and sever diplomatic ties with Gristol. The Empress' bodyguard was slain in the initial fracas, but several of the assassins yet lived. Roused to action, Corvo got between the attackers and the Empress. He calmly instructed her to flee, and he set about buying her the time to do so. When the dust settled, Corvo was bleeding from a deep cut across the forearm, and the assassins lay dead or dying.
"Might I inquire your name, sir?" the Empress asked, shaken from the ordeal but pleased to have survived it.
"Corvo Attano, your Grace," he had replied, his tongue not entirely accustomed to the language of Gristol. He'd been fluent, but accented. Now, he spoke the language as naturally as any Dunwaller. The Empress had asked Corvo to accompany for the rest of her trip as a substitute for her fallen bodyguard. She'd promised a substantial reward, but he was happy to do it for two reasons. Firstly, he'd brought honor to his family by protecting such a lady as Jessamine. Secondly, Corvo Attano was in love with her. He did not become aware of this fact until later, but there it was.
He took a bite of stale bread. It tasted like paper. He forced himself to swallow it. A rat squeaked in the corner of his cell. He took a swig of Sokolov's Elixer and glared at the rodent with contempt. He missed Jessamine and Emily with every fiber of his being. They were two of the only three things he ever thought about anymore. The third thing was not as lovely as the two females who meant everything to him, but it did have a sort of primal beauty. It was simple, easy to understand. It was almost bestial in nature. This third thing, which Corvo now turned his thoughts to, was vengeance. He would not be in this cell forever, and when he escaped, he was going to take apart everything Burrows had built, piece by piece. He would kill Campbell. He would kill the assassins. He would kill anyone who stood in his way, and only then, with Burrows pleading and begging for his life, only to have his complaints fall on deaf, compassionless ears, would Corvo Attano be satisfied.