A/N: Sorry about the long wait for the update. I'll probably be updating Simulacrum of Zero, The Dragonborn Hero, and Ultimate Arachnos later this week. I might get around to updating Rosario Witcher and another DE chapter as well, time permitting.

REVISION : After reading the review by Clockworkinsomniac, I decided to rehash the conflict between Udina and the Council a bit. This way makes more sense, I think, and I'd like to thank Clockworkinsomniac for their feedback. I didn't really give much thought to element zero before, but I knew it was necessary for biotics and was a resource used by ships. Beyond that I didn't pay much attention to the technical aspects of it, so after reading the review and researching the lore on the wiki a bit, I decided to change the conflict to a more plausible argument.

In my defense, while element zero is less vital to the alliance than I previously believed, there are reasons why It would still be important to be able to trade with the council for it. For one thing, the alliance is a 'legitimate' government, which means they would probably be reluctant to engage in trade with less savory sources of element zero such as Aria or the Terminus Systems, and corporate mining colonies would undoubtedly gouge the prices on it should such an embargo with the other council races occur. The Systems Alliance would have to pony up the extra dough to the corporations in order to save face rather than deal with the Terminus, and by extension Aria. Otherwise, any overt trade between Aria or other unrecognized and probably hostile Terminus governments would not only be similarly gouging in most likelihood, but would be seen as collaborating with criminals by the alliance people. It would be like America, during the cold war, running out of oil and deciding to buy from the Soviet Union for billions of dollars, rather than, say, Britain, or South America. I somehow doubt whoever was president during such an affair would ever be re-elected for anything. As for the fleet humanity was running before they ever met the aliens, I would imagine that it has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the wake of the "geth" invasion, plus the requisition for new ships to replace those lost by the fifth fleet to save the Destiny Ascension from Sovereign (Valern, Sparatus, and Tevos are still alive.) Still, I acknowledge that I was mistaken about the purpose of Element Zero pertaining to shipbuilding, and have implemented changes reflecting that. Reviews let me know where I might have messed up, and critical feedback is especially welcome. Thank You.

REVISION2: Minor edits in grammar, particularly in the council-udina dialogue.

Ambassador Donnel Udina was not having a very pleasant Monday morning. The weekend proceeding it had hardly been ideal either, of course, to put things mildly. Executives screaming at him, making backroom deals with minor politicians like mayors and the like in order to keep damage to a minimum- his life had been hectic to say the least. And it was all because of some unbelievably ambitious batarian plot to kidnap the heir to one of the most influential families in the Alliance economy.

It had all started a few months back. Sirta Foundation CEO and primary stockholder Eustace Rothschild had come home one day to find that his Canadian estate had been broken into. Security personnel dead, wife and child nowhere to be seen. It was a huge incident, and the Alliance had organized a manhunt that had still been ongoing up until this weekend. Obviously the matter was of grave importance to the Alliance as a whole- military interests in particular. The Sirta Foundation was a major contractor for the military, and whoever kidnapped the CEO's family had issued no demands for ransom.

That said, the search had been a more or less fruitless endeavor. Within three days of the incident, thousands of law enforcement officers and trained soldiers alike had scrambled around Earth, looking for the perpetrators. Virtually all traffic to and from the surface had ceased, even going so far as to set up a checkpoint around the Charon Relay. It was all for naught, though, as four months later the two Rothschilds were still missing.

Now, one of them turns up on Illium of all places, and all hell breaks loose. According to the official reports, Eleana Rothschild had been found with a group of various aliens onboard a cargo shuttle docking at Nos Astra. According to them, they had escaped from a batarian slaving ring operating out of Nos Astra. To say that this was a political shit-storm for both the Alliance and the republics would be a gross understatement. President Clancy had informed Udina that he was to have a very uncomfortable conversation with the Council at some point today, but he was honestly too upset himself over this turn of events to truly relish being able to put them on the spot after this.

Most humans had been outraged by the incident. Relations with the batarians had always been poor at best, and pirates still regularly preyed on human independent colonies in the terminus systems. However, this new affair was another matter altogether. Two wealthy Alliance citizens had been abducted from their home on Earth, their staff butchered, and smuggled out of system all the way to an asari world where they were presumably going to be processed on either their 'indentured servant' markets or moved on to a batarian controlled system. Udina shuddered at the prospect of the latter occurrence. He had it on good authority that human captives were always abused the worst by the batarian scum, ever since the Skyllian Blitz.

But this operation was far too well-organized and pulled off for some random batarian pirates to pull off on their own. Udina and President Clancy were far from the only ones who recognized that fact. The common people were enflamed by the recent bout of demagoguery that Rothschild had been spouting over some of the media networks he had a controlling interest in. Just yesterday the evening news had been speculating on who the batarians had been working with; the hegemony, the asari, or even the spectres? If it were ever to be discovered the latter was true…things could get messy.

The Alliance had never really approved of foreign agents having license to operate freely in their space, not subject to their laws and with a perpetual gag-order on all of their activities. It was honestly easy to see where they were coming from, given this incident. Many elements of the Alliance will almost certainly call for stricter controls on the alien presence on human worlds, after this incident. Udina certainly agreed with the principal, but Rothschild was mixing business with politics. He had already cut off virtually all Sirta Foundation trade agreements with foreign entities, especially those affiliated with the asari. From what Udina understood, the man's psychiatrist had recommended he take 'administrative leave' due to his emotions effecting his management, and was promptly blacklisted out of a business he had spent the majority of his adult life studying for.

Sirta Foundation was, of course, the primary producer of Medi-Gel. The fact that they had cut off this vital medical resource from virtually all of citadel space was causing…problems, for Udina, to say the least. He had just gotten done being screamed at by President Clancy for a good two hours when he received dozens of meeting requests, all pertaining to the extremely sudden Medi-Gel shortage. Udina sighed at their ignorance.

Many of the aliens were perplexed as to why this was such a serious issue. They didn't understand why a single missing human kidnapped by batarians was causing such a stir- but he could hardly blame them for their lack of historical context. One factor was that humans had always been touchy on the slavery issue than other races, and it was a much more serious crime in the Alliance than elsewhere. The Council races had outlawed it long ago, yes, but they were much more soft-handed in their enforcement of the law than humans tended to be. Another was the lingering fears left over from the Skyllian Blitz. Udina still remembered what had been called the 'slaver scare' from the time immediately following the Blitz. All of the colonies were essentially terrified that they would be next for some batarian pirate to come and steal their family away from their homes. The Alliance had been forced to expand their military budget nearly forty-percent to assuage their fears, but this whole incident had driven them right back up to the surface. The fact that it had taken place on Earth only exacerbated the issue. If one of the wealthiest, most influential families in the Alliance could fall victim to the batarians, then no one was safe, particularly if they now enlisted the aid of asari or Council cohorts.

Udina stepped out of the elevator he had been standing in for the last ten goddamned minutes and found himself in the large lobby of the Citadel Tower. Various diplomats from the myriad Council races bustled about their daily business, and he caught sight of several heated conversations going on between human and alien representatives. He smirked grimly at that. He was far from the only one who had to deal with the fallout from this catastrophe, at least.

He made quick strides across the polished floors, but climbed up the many, many stairs at a leisurely pace. It wouldn't do to appear too ruffled when he went before the Council, or it might diminish his position in the ensuing conflict. Politics among aliens could be just as subtle and nuanced as among humans. As he drew near the Council's audience chamber, he caught the last part of a conversation between his military attaché and the Councilor Sparatus.

"Are you saying that you humans would be willing to go to war over something as trivial as this?" Asked the turian councilor, somehow managing to sound heated and condescending at the same time. The flanging tone of turians always reminded Udina of nails on a chalkboard, and his eyes narrowed at the avian's impertinence.

"What I am saying is that under the circumstances, Mr. Rothschild's response is completely understandable. My God, the man's family was kidnapped right from under our noses. Is it any surprise that he's upset when one of them turns up on council world?!" Udina should have congratulated Anderson. The man had tact Udina did not think he was capable of. Captain Anderson had deliberately avoided the term 'asari world' and settled to place collective responsibility on the council itself. Excellent. That would definitely increase their overall bargaining position, and Anderson had pointedly glared at Councilor Tevos to make a subtle point of her particular culpability.

"Indeed." Udina intoned loudly enough for the whole room to hear him, announcing his arrival. "I don't think that anyone in the Alliance is going to be able to dissuade the man until he is reunited with his family. Perhaps you should be focusing on the ongoing investigation? Two humans were kidnapped from our homeworld, and this Council has done nothing about it!"

The Salarian councilor glared at him with a flat, yet clearly terse expression. "The abduction of a member of any race, while a serious transgression, is not something that requires the immediate attention of this council. We have far more important matters to discuss…such as the growing Medi-Gel shortage ever since your Sirta Foundation essentially froze all of it's trading interests in Citadel Space." Udina glared right back, unperturbed by the younger councilor.

"Perhaps it is not of interest to you, Councilor, but our people are up in arms over this, and Rothschild has made it clear that no one will be seeing a single milliliter of Medi-Gel until he gets his family back and the men…or women responsible are brought to justice." Udina's specification was not lost on the asari councilor, who maintained her composure only due to centuries of experience as a patient and even-handed politician.

But Tevos did not get to be the councilor of the oldest citadel race by being complacent. She already had a response prepared for Udina's predictable implications. "Ambassador, I appreciate your suspicion in the wake of this terrible wrongdoing, and I promise that we'll do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice. But people of every race are dying every day because of this...this embargo the Sirta Foundation has commenced. You must be reasonable."

Udina was unimpressed with her rehearsed plea. "I think not, Councilor. Mr. Rothschild is a private citizen, and he has sharing control in Sirta Foundation. If he chooses not to engage in trade with those he feels may be complicit with the abduction of his wife and daughter, there is little we can do about it." Udina finished smugly. He was enjoying watching the council squirm in a far from professional manner. They had stepped on his proposals and ideas too many times for him to let them off easy now.

"Surely you can do something. You humans are always the first to make exceptions for yourselves. But I suppose it's a different story when it's the other races who need your help…" Sparatus said. The turian was glaring at Udina from the council podium. Udina scowled in return. He was about to retort, but Captain Anderson forestalled him by placing a hand on his shoulder. Udina wordlessly nodded, with great reluctance, allowing Anderson to take the floor. Udina wasn't stupid. He realized that he was very much the 'bad cop' in their little team, and that Anderson would be better suited to dealing with a situation that required careful diplomacy with aliens rather than the assertiveness Udina was known for. Udina could win an argument, but Anderson was far better at resolving conflicts peacefully.

"Councilors, please. We cannot simply order Mr. Rothschild to re-establish his contracts at this stage. It'd be in blatant violation of the alliance's universal free-trade policy." Anderson explained. Of course, there was far more to it than that. Rothschild was a powerful man with powerful friends in the alliance government. Combine that with the recent dip in foreign relations among the public due to the scandalous kidnapping, and Rothschild could embargo with impunity.

"I see…"

Sighed Tevos. "Then I suppose we have no recourse in this situation. We will attempt to engage in direct negotiations with Mr. Rothschild, with your permission."

Udina scoffed. "Unlikely. But you have our leave. We want this mess sorted out as much as you do, but our hands are tied. This isn't the first time we've had problems with the batarians, but something like this in unprecedented in our history. Rothschild isn't the only voice demanding blood over this." The asari councilor nodded grimly.

"I realize that, Ambassador, but there are other matters to consider for now. First of all..." She began with a deep breathe, in preparation. "The Asari Republics will be handling this investigation personally, you may rest assured that we will pursue it to the fullest extent of the criminal connection."

Udina blinked.


He was speechless at the sheer audacity and insensitivity towards the public perception among the alliance people that statement implied. "What Udina means is, we're not certain you fully grasp the situation, Councilor." Anderson clarified. "Alliance citizens were kidnapped from Earth, and people died. One of them is still missing, and if the reports are accurate, the captives escaped, not rescued. There's no way Interpol will let the RCLE take over the case they've been working on for almost half a year, and that's not even considering the public's reaction..." He finished. All of these things were good points, but Udina had gotten good at reading the council over the years, and their expressions were not particularly promising.

"We understand that, Councilor Anderson, but you must in turn take into account what the Republics feel about all of this. Many of the matriarchs are fearful that the Alliance will...'jump the gun', so to speak. The are afraid that some of the more...impulsive...members of your military wing will employ overzealous investigation practices on an asari world. It is the decision of this council and the Asari republics that the Illium incident be handled by Republican authorities, until such a time that the embargo on Medi-Gel is lifted. I am sorry, but the matriarchs will not broach on the topic as long as the alliance demonstrates such callous obstinacy." Anderson opened his mouth to retort but closed it before he said anything that might bite them in the ass later. Udina smiled grimly. Good, he was learning. Learning to see things from the point of view of others. It was an essential skill for any diplomat, and while Udina may not come off as understanding or sensible to foreign points of view, he wasn't appointed as Ambassador for nothing. The silence of Councilor's Valern and Sparatus obviously meant that they were content to keep this matter between humans and asari, for now. Still, Udina suspected that Valern would likely be making a few calls to the Special Tasks Group's liaisons this evening, and Sparatus was likely to side with the asari if only to reinforce his own opinions of the humans. The silence of the other councilors also meant that they had already previously agreed with Tevos beforehand, should the alliance's response prove unsatisfactory.

Aside from the obvious ulterior motive towards Medi-Gel shipping, the asari thought that the emotions running high among the human people would cloud their vision, and possibly be dangerous to the indigenous asari population of Illium should the Alliance be allowed to conduct their own investigation. They were right, too an extent, but it was very unpolitic to say so out right in front of the very military-minded former-Captain Anderson. He probably took it as a personal insult, to insinuate that the alliance soldiers were undisciplined enough to cause further incidents with the asari, or that Highcom would be stupid enough to put anyone but the very best and most disciplined soldiers at their disposal on such a delicate mission. Hell, Udina himself was a little ticked off at such a blatant stereotyping of Alliance personnel. This was where being the youngest Council race started to really show. It was very telling that the three elder races had met without Anderson and decided in secret their response. It was not good. Anderson being out of the loop and over his head, however personally satisfying it might be for Udina, set a bad precedent for humanity's political future on this council. Udina had no intention of being the Ambassador under whose watch the human council seat was gained and lost.

At this point, Udina couldn't do anything to rectify the situation without further political leverage. Leverage that they simply did not have so long as the asari connection to the batarians was circumstantial at best.

"It's no use captain. This council has done it's damnedest to stunt humanity's growth at every turn. First they don't take the threat represented by Saren seriously-" The turian councilor bristled at that, but Udina simply continued on with his tirade, ignoring the angry avian."-And it would be foolish to assume that they would listen to us now. I think we're done here." And on that decidedly un-diplomatic note, Udina walked out of the council meeting chamber. The council made no move to stop the two human diplomats as Anderson moved to follow, but stopped just at the precipice of the audience chamber.

"You know that this won't end well." He stated.

"Of course it won't, but things rarely do when you humans are involved." Sparatus countered.

A shadow flew across the rooftops of the undercity. The buildings were much smaller down below the great boulevards that carried foot traffic at about the midway point between the skyscrapers and the surface. The shadow looked upwards, baring his masked face to the orange rays of sunlight that just barely reached the roofs of the undercity.

The near constant sunset was a unique feature of this country, Corvo assumed. For the days he had been here, the daytime hours in Nos Astra had been constantly filled with the orange glow in the sky that he would associate with a sunset back in Gristol. This city was a truly wondrous place, as the light reflecting off of the smooth metallic buildings produced a beautiful luminary effect.

Now, by his reckoning, it must have been early in the morning as the night had still yet to give way to the sunrise in the eastern skies, which still showed the starry night. The climate of this region was truly strange to his senses, but he supposed that there really was no way to tell what lay beyond the black hole of Pandyssia. He would definitely have many tales to tell back in Dunwall. Perhaps they could visit the Hound Pits Pub for old times' sake.

It was too bad that the untimely arrival of the true Conrad Verner had blown his cover and rendered his efforts to subdue the Justicar fruitless. Not only that but he had left Verner alive, allowing the N7 to report to his superiors and doubtlessly bring down the hammer of retribution on Corvo. Or at least, he could, if Corvo had left them with any clues to trace. All they knew at this point was that a somewhat tall man with dark hair and pitch eyes had temporarily stolen the identity of one of their soldiers. He doubted that they had the pool of reference needed to ascertain his Serkonan accent, obviously.

But now he was back to square one, so to speak. The food supplies in the hangar he had occupied had been taken into proper account, but he doubted that they would last longer than a few weeks, depending on how long they kept. He had no idea how long it would take him to discover his present location given this most recent setback. And then there was the matter of securing passage on a ship towards parts unknown to these people. Most likely, he would be forced to resort to constructing…or commandeering a ship of his own.

Normally Corvo resented pirates. They were the bane of the Gristolean seas, and Serkonos had been a popular target for their raids during wartime when the navy was otherwise occupied. Corvo still remembered old friends lost to pirate bullets.

But…he would not allow anything to stop him from returning to his Empress' side. Emily needed him. He still remembered all of the attempts at controlling and manipulating of the impressionable Empress he had thwarted in the few short months he had been able to share with her before he was taken here by the Outsider. He didn't know what the being's purposes were, but the fact was that he had taken Corvo away from Emily, an occurrence that demanded immediate rectification. However distasteful he found the prospect of piracy, he might find himself with no other recourse should he run out of other options in procuring transportation back to Gristol.

But such thoughts should not plague him as of yet, he reminded himself. He needed to deal with the matter at hand before he troubled himself with thoughts of future conflicts. He needed to decide what he was going to now.

Obviously the first order of business remained unchanged from the previous day; find out where the hell he was in relation to Gristol. The astronomical charts were obviously a bust, now. It would be difficult to steal into the guard station now that they had been alerted to his presence, after all. Not only that, but they knew what he was after and would most probably move the charts to a more secure location, or at least increase security around the maps. Worse yet, they might set some sort of trap for Corvo with their advanced technology. No…it was far too risky to try for the astronomical charts now.

He would have to find some other source of information. Logic dictated that if official sources channels could not be broached to get what he needed, then he would have to resort to more unscrupulous methods and persons. It would be likely that many of the ship captains docked in the port would carry such charts that he would require to triangulate his position. However, captains in Gristol would be loathe to part with such maps, or even let Corvo take a look at them without some kind of reimbursement. Unfortunately, Corvo doubted that he had enough Kaldwins on him to afford that sort of payment without stretching his funds to an uncomfortable extreme.

Right now, he could see the docks over up above the city and past what he assumed was the port for Nos Astra. Utilizing the spyglass lens of his right eye-lens, he surveyed the port from here for likely targets. Due to the sheer distance, he couldn't really make out individual persons from his position all the way down here. Were the docks of the traditional sort, he would be underwater at least seventy fathoms, by his reckoning. Possibly more if the docks were farther than they appeared.

Stranger still was the nature of the ships at the docks. Skyships, he had taken to calling them. Huge, metallic monstrosities of black iron decked out in all manner of colors, with intimidating looking cannons and a size that dwarfed all but the largest of whaling trawlers. It was onboard one of these great vessels that he hoped to accomplish his goals. First, the starcharts. Second, acquire passage. Both tasks had multiple methods of accomplishment both wholesome and unsavory. He could simply steal a chart by sneaking onboard a ship or two, but he would rather gain access to them honestly. Perhaps he could exchange favors with the captain as he had with the asari guardswoman, but with minimal deception this time. In his experience, ship captains were far less picky when it came to their associations than guards were. He would also like to purchase a ship for himself lawfully, if possible, but that seemed unlikely. He didn't have nearly enough Kaldwins on him to even purchase a small vessel back home, let alone one of these flying behemoths. A Skyship could probably put a serious dent in the imperial treasury, still exhausted from the plague, even assuming he had access to it.

And he was not naïve enough to think about simply explaining the situation to them, either. First of all was the rather fantastical method of his transportation here, thanks to the outsider. Even assuming that they believed him and that he was not chucked in a madhouse, the religious authorities of Nos Astra were most likely not like to take kindly his association with the spiritual embodiment of change, chaos, and upheavel, should the Abbey of the Everyman be believed. The Outsider tended to be rather unpopular in any case aside from his rather close knit circle of followers, of whom Corvo did not necessarily count himself among.

So that left him with two options. One, he could take everything he needed from a single ship by force. This was, of course, chancy to say the least. He could hardly count on the crew to depose their captain in favor of himself, even with the aid of the Outsider's powers. He had no idea how to operate one himself, nor did he understand the logistics necessary for refueling and supplies that such a vessel would undoubtedly require. Really, his only true option was his second one. It was only minorly less abhorrent than the first.

He would need to associate himself to a ship belonging to a seedier element. He had seen the like in ports back in Serkonos, and he doubted that these creatures were so different from men that they would not count such scum among their own number as well. Pirates.

Pirates not a day gone, he would find. They would show up in port to dispose of their booty, party for a few days with their ill-gotten gains, re-equip themselves, and sail off to prey on more innocent and honest seamen. Or skymen, in this case. Corvo could only imagine the havoc that a sky-pirate could wreak, even on well defended cities like Dunwall. He found himself silently thankful to Sokolov for installing those Arc Pylons all around Dunwall. Even after all trouble they gave him, the perfected model he and Pietro had made would be the only thing he could think of besides cannon towers that could hit the skyships should they ever fall upon his city. It was comforting to know that they would not be completely defenseless should such an occurrence come to pass.

But of course Corvo would have to find such men before he could broker a deal with them. They would not be out in the open of course, but he had ways. He felt the tell-tail beat matched with the ticking of a clock in the right interior pocket of his naval greatcoat, familiar as the thumping of his own heart.

The Heart. It told him…things. Secrets. Anything of relevance, or sometimes irrelevance, pertaining to the target he angled it towards. It was…unsettling. It spoke in a voice he long missed, and said highly disturbing things about the area of Dunwall Tower. He had his suspicions, but had never had the opportunity to question the Outsider directly about what exact "living thing" had produced this clockwork heart of his.

Still, the voice itself comforted him. He liked to think…only sometimes…that maybe Jessamine was still with him, in a way. At least, maybe her heart was with him in a more than metaphorical way. It disturbed, and sometimes disgusted him, but he found himself mimicking Jessamine's own words back at her. "My heart grows at piece when you are near…"He said…softly so that only he could hear, despite his solitude on that lonely rooftop. For a moment, it almost seemed as if the Heart in his hand paused from it's staccato rhythm, skipping a beat.

He shook his head, and vanished in a blink of light.

It had taken him a little over all day to make his way from the undercity all the way to the docks, but well worth his trouble. He had not bothered with the public skytrains this time around, and had simply used his supernatural abilities to traverse the cityscape. This reduced his encounters with the guards considerably. The skytrains always dropped him off at uncomfortably exposed places, and he was sure to encounter trouble with the guards thanks to the incident with the asari on his first day. Wanted posters were probably up already.

Of course, that could work to his advantage. He was specifically in search of the criminal element, and they would often choose only to associate with their own kind. He already had a foot in the door, in that case.

Right now, he was skulking in some shadows off to the side. He had stopped at what was obviously a security checkpoint, complete with more asari guardswomen. The blue skinned women were quite obviously the majority in Nos Astra. A useful note indeed.

His ability to bend-time had made short work of the checkpoint. He had simply made sure no one was looking by hiding in some nearby shadows, and froze the world with a quick burst of magic. He felt a wave of depression overtake him as everything turned grey and frozen in tableu, and cursed beneath his breath. Bending time was a spiritually draining ability, and he had no method of restocking his supply of Pietro's remedy here. He would simply have to be more conservative with his more draining spells from now on.

Still, it got the job done, and no one noticed him slip out of the alleyway on the opposite side of the checkpoint.

He was now in the dockyard proper. Getting a look at the skyships, he felt a wave of awe run across his stoic façade. From down in the undercity, it was difficult to ascertain the true size of the vessels. Now though, up close, he fully comprehended their truly massive scale.

The smallest of the vessels was a sleek, steel craft with glowing bits of teal-stained glass at seemingly random intervals. It had no visible weaponry to speak of, but what he guessed served as the propulsion of it was simply massive. It made the thing appear to be very bottom heavy, like some kind of metal-bewinged throwing dart, except for the size. Indeed, even the smallest ship was a good three times larger than any of Dunwall's huge whaling trawlers.

As for the people and creatures that bustled throughout the port, they became somewhat familiar. He had noticed that asari tended to cluster up in the 'overcity', and the other creatures such as the lizard people and even humans tended to go to the undercity. Humans were more evenly spread that the lizards, though, and he spotted a few new creatures as well. Small, rotund, armored creatures in full plate waddled around the port as well. They were few and far between, but Corvo still noted a good few dozen about the place. They reminded him of the Gnomes his grandmother had described to him in bedtime stories as a child in Serkonos. However, he had never heard of a gnome wearing such armor before, and they were missing their pointy hats and showed a greater tendency towards plumpness.

Another anomaly was the greater presence and urgency of movement among men of his own race, who he noted were given a far wider berth in the crowd than the day before. Armored and clearly armed men patrolled the streets and guarded the largest of the ships, a great black iron and becannoned leviathan that was clearly designed with war on the mind of the shipwright, and little else. Many of the men seemed angry and tense, or scared. Crews of people with what Corvo assumed were videographs and audiographs were all over the place, and seemed to be conducting inquiries.

Corvo resolved to avoid it for now. It reminded him distinctly of what would happen should he kill a few too many guardsmen in a single area over a too-lengthy period of time. The survivors would organize a witch-hunt of sorts to smoke him out to avenge their fallen brethren, and Corvo's missions would be that much harder. He grimaced. Perhaps it had been unwise to handle Conrad Verner as he had, going as far to impersonate him for a few days. He should have known that the 'Alliance' wouldn't take him doing something like that to such an important military personage standing down. These men were likely Conrad's comrades, come to exact revenge on the behalf of their humiliated compatriot.

Well…what was done was done. There was little he could do to rectify that situation without escalating the conflict further. The best thing he could do for himself now would be to simply get on with his task and avoid the authorities more carefully. He considered removing his mask, but decided against it. If the asari guards had shared a description of his face with Verner and his men, as was likely demanded of them, then he would be worse off appearing as the high-profile impersonator than as the anonymous murderer he was now. Guards would often look the other way to such 'common' crimes in times of strife or emergency, so long as they were not overt.

Now was the part where he used the gift of the outsider. He reached into his pocket, and withdrew his macabre compass of the heart. It beat constantly and audibly in his hand, in perfect synchronization with the beating in his own chest. He surveyed the crowd.

He would have to sort through the various lizard people to search for potential targets of his own race. He doubted that the lizards would be allowed to serve as trusted crew aboard a ship, given the violent and mutinous look some of them had. The skinny ones looked like the would be blown away by the lightest of storms, and the somewhat hardier looking bird-legged ones looked surly at best. So, he would restrict himself to investigating the few human's who were clearly not associated with the military or videograph crews for now. If worst came to pass, he would try some of the Gnomes. He found himself almost bursting into laughter at the incredibly droll prospect of pirate Gnomes, but surely their armor was not all for show…

Seeing a rather rough-around-the-edges looking individual swilling a beverage and laughing with a group of similarly dressed men, he found a potential target. The man had snake-like and harsh looking tattoos emblazoned on his face, which sported a red beard and shaved head, with dark bags beneath his eyes that were common signs of overindulgence in drink and Pandyssian tabac. He decided to listen in with his honed senses to pick out his voice from the constant buzzing of the crowd.

"So I tells her, look ye blue bitch, I don't care how many creds yer offerin', I ain't movin' nothin' no how fer anybody 'till this Rot-child shit blows th' fuck o'er. Las' ting I need is the Alliance bustin' my ass o'er a li'l people traffickin' on 'side of movin' the sand. I ain't goin' to no fuckin prison fer her, no matter how she wiggles her lady parts at me!" All of the rough looking man's men laughed at the statement that had been almost completely indecipherable to him, so he imagined that it was a crude jape of some sort. It suited his purposes enough to chance a surveyance with the Heart, in any case.

He pointed the grisly organ-machine at the group of men in the rough man's general direction, and squeezed the heart lightly in a gentle grip. A few moments of silence passed, and…

"He has fathered eight children by different mothers, and murdered twice as many in front of theirs."

Well. That was promising for the theory of piracy, if…disturbing. Corvo had a history of dealing with men who hurt women and children, after all. He made a note to kill this man when he ceased being of use to him, whenever that may be. After all, the authorities couldn't very well blame him if the local rats suddenly developed a taste for pirates. Using rats to dispose of vermin…ironic, that. He gave the heart another squeeze.

His friends call him 'the Sandman'. He sells red sand to blue children. If they can't pay the sandman his due, he makes them sleep forever.

Corvo found his opinion of the man lessening with each word. His usual gentle grip on the heart was now a iron lock of his fist, and his eyes threw invisible daggers towards 'the Sandman's' head. "The next words spoken had best outline your indispensable usefulness to me, 'Sandman', or else the rats shall find themselves more ravenous than usual as you pass by a stormdrain…" Corvo mumbled lowly beneath his breath. His hand squeezed the heart for the final time.

"A beautiful woman sought passage on his ship in the late hours of the night, and was refused. She will seek passage elsewhere tomorrow, but not before paying the Sandman a far less cordial visit."

That was certainly interesting. It would appear that Corvo was not the only one who had it out for the Sandman, if that was truly his fate. He would have died tomorrow, had he not died today. Curious.

If the heart mentioned the woman, then she was probably significant in some way. At the very least, he knew someone was searching for something similar to himself…a common goal. He would not lower himself to work with this man. Not for ten million Kaldwins. But this woman may be of…further use.

On that note, Corvo began to approach the Sandman and his crew. As much as the thought pained him…Dunwall could wait. Those who preyed on women and children struck a dark chord within Corvo's heart, and Gristol could last a day or two without him.

"Salutations." A monotone voice intoned from behind him.

Jesus! What was up with all of these interruptions! He had just been about to regale his boys with another one of his famous raunchy jokes when a hand was placed on his shoulder. "'Ey, 'ands off, ye queer. Ah'm in a good mood right now, so fuck off before a shove that hand up yer-"

"You are the one they call the Sandman." The voice continued heedlessly.

The sandman narrowed his eyes. Only his crew called him that name…well, them and customers. He turned around to regard the owner of the voice.

In front of his stood a somewhat tall man wearing some kind of weird coat, and buckles all over his fucking clothes. He wore a hood up over his head, but that wasn't the end of the weirdness. He wore some kind of freaky metal skull-mask with scope-eyes and a broken mouth.

The man was covered in dirt and smelled like absolute shit, but the sandman just raised an eyebrow. The description fit most of his customers, granted, but that mask really was something else. Maybe he'd just ice this clown and take the thing. It'd make a nice castle for his goldfish, if nothing else.

"Yeh, tha's me. You a customer? Ah hope you brought creds, cos' ah can tell ye right now, cash only fer yer type."

"A woman begged passage on your ship last night." The voice continued from behind the mask, and the weirdo's hand went behind his back threateningly. Shit.

"Okay…maybe so…" said the sandman guardedly. "Who the fuck wants ter know?" He was stalling, and made the motion for his boy Mikey to get his Predator ready. The guy knew an awful lot already, judging by his comments. Too much if he wasn't a customer. They were gonna have to deal with this.

"…The alliance wants to know. In fact…we're very interested in the woman from yesterday. Much more interested than we are in you." The voice continued in that same, smooth monotone , and masky was standing as still as a fucking statue, with one hand in his weird hoodie-jacket-robey thing and the other behind his back. "We'd like it very much if you could tell us all about her, please." The sandman glared tersely and snarled at the sheer arrogance at that, with not a little disbelief.

"List'n here ye homeless fuck, my clien's don't need any shit from fuckin' loony tunes like you, so jest back the hell off before I pump ye full'er lead, yeh?" He glared at the crazy, captain knows-too-much. They'd just have to follow him back to whatever rat hole he slept in after the shooed him off and shoot him in the head a couple of times. Stupid hobos interrupting their bar hopping…

"You and what army?" That same damned voice said again in that same fucking nondescript tone. The sandman looked over his shoulder and started to give Danny the signal to teach this fucker some manners…

…only to find nothing there but five large pools of blood.

Danny. Mikey. Jonny. Faulkner. Reese. Men he'd worked with for years, raiding, smuggling, a little bit of drug pushing. Replaced by five puddles of blood in a dark alleyway in the middle of a large, bustling crowd. No one even noticed, and everyone just kept moving along and about their business. He turned back to face the masked man with wide, horror-filled eyes…

…only to find himself alone. Not just alone. No. In an entirely different fucking environment. He was indoors now…dark…he could hear the voices of the crowd just past thin walls, but he was alone in the dark, now.

"Okay…I give..p-please don't hurt me…ah…ah got kids ter feed…" Not technically a lie. He never said he was gonna feed them, just that he had them. Of course, he might just do so if the hobo who was clearly satan in disguise didn't kill him…

"I know." Said the flat voice, seemingly from behind him. He whipped around lightning fast, pistol out, but no one was there. "I know about all eight of your children." Said the same voice, from not an inch away from his ear. He didn't move that time. He didn't even blink. The gun trembled in his hands. "I know about the other children as well, 'sandman'. I know about their mothers. I know about what you did to them. I know about the asari, and what you did to them, too." The air filled with the stench of liquid fear, and terror stretched across the sandman's face. His fair skin turned a shad paler.

"H-how do ye know about tha'…?" he stammered quietly.

"That is of no consequence. This is what should concern you." The almost mechanical voice continued as the sandman felt cold steel press against the base of his neck. "This is how events shall proceed. You will tell me everything you know about the woman who approached you last night, and you will leave nothing out…I will know if you do." It elaborated. The sandman could no longer think of the voice as human…

"H..her name is M-morinth…she was with Eclipse…the sisterhood…t-they're based outta th' station district…runnin' scared frem th' jesticar…tha's all ah know…ah…ah swear…oh god n-" were the last words of the sandman before the edge of the devil's razor sliced through fat, muscle, cartilage, and bone to perform a neat decapitation. His death was comparatively merciful.

"That's all I needed to know." Said the voice again, losing the monotone in favor of a mildly amused Serkonan drawl.