The Tower that Emily returned to was not at all the one she had left. It had changed, and she had changed, little sign of the homecoming that might have been. Emily had wondered if it all would feel like this from now on, trading one place that was not home for the next. A life full of moments that should have been fair and familiar, cast into empty replicas. It was an ungrateful thought, for all that Corvo had won on her behalf, for how hard he'd struggled to give it back to her, but the feeling lingered anyway. The massive structure looked more like a fortress than it ever had when Mother had ruled - with razorwire everywhere, and extra steel embankments and walls crudely fastened to the stones.
The worst and ugliest barriers had been quickly removed, to provide a better backdrop for her equally swift coronation, though as Emily stepped outside tonight she could see all the rusty marks and gouges in the stones, evidence of where the old walls had been.
Dunwall was still in a bad state, and the Tower remained under heavy guard, though Callista told her that the mood in the street was not at all how it had been for the Lord Regent. The people had been furious at how many barriers he constructed between himself and the world, and openly mocked him for what looked less like prudence or even tyranny and a great deal more like fear. Emily, on the other hand, was loved, and her citizens only wished for her safety. As a child, she could get away with being so carefully looked after.
Her life was a strange balance, then, of power and vulnerability, and maybe this was also how it would feel from now on.
Corvo had been the one to reorder all the rooms and advise on the patrols, and he had been fine-tuning things ever since, though Emily didn't ask if that meant he ran the security himself to see how many guards would shoot at him. His quarters were, of course, next to her own, with one door to connect them and another secret passage hidden away, so seamlessly matched to the wall that even Emily had trouble finding it at first.
It suited them both to leave the door open.
He had not appeared after Daud had gone, or even when Lady Boyle had finally taken her leave. The Lord Protector was not in the front hall, speaking to the Guard, or waiting for her along the way, and when she'd stepped through the door between their rooms, he wasn't there either.
After he'd taken her from the Lighthouse, Corvo had barely left her side, a return to the way things used to be, except that she was Empress now so she wouldn't even be left behind while he escorted Mother on some task or another. As Lord Protector he was a steady, silent presence at her back through every meeting and audience and dinner, quiet enough that she often forgot all about him as the demands of the day required her attention, but when he was gone his absence was notable, and she couldn't help but feel uneasy. Emily remembered how it had been when he'd gone away, for his journey across the Isles. How Mother had seemed more clumsy, and cursed under her breath often, picking absently at the food on her plate at meals in the same way Emily had often been chided for.
Dunwall Tower held some secret spaces Emily could sneak off to - or at least there had been before she'd become Empress, and there'd no longer been time to escape. Corvo had been the one to present a compromise: his coronation gift to her the rooms on the roof of the Tower, the sanctuary the Lord Regent had considered the safest even in his great fortress. Every bit of furniture had been removed, replaced with plush couches and shelves full of her favorite books, and all along the walls were cases full of rare and beautiful curiosities from across the Isles and even further. Butterflies with wings larger than her hand spread wide, colored in vibrant blues and greens, brought all the way from Pandyssia. A cage full of white birds with long feathers tipped in red who sang beautifully and took seeds from her hands. Of all of these, the most valuable was the portrait of her mother, one Emily had been so afraid the Lord Regent would have destroyed in some final moment of spite.
Sokolov's first royal commission, after he'd finished with the plague, would be a portrait of the new Empress and - if Emily got her way - her Lord Protector, though neither painter nor subject had seemed much inspired by that idea.
Her new lady's maid was pleasant and kind and helpfully oblivious, so it hadn't taken long at all for Emily to get into her boots and her long coat and sneak her way up the back stairs to the rooftops. In the places where there were no shadows, she didn't bother trying to hide, just walked past the guards with her head high and a severe look on her face, as if she had urgent business, forcing herself not to look surprised when they only saluted and wished her a good evening.
It was cold when she hit the rooftop, and Emily winced, shoving her hands down into her pockets, If she was honest with herself, she wasn't altogether certain what she meant to accomplish, why she'd needed to track her Lord Protector down. Emily came up here as a refuge, to draw or read or spin tales all of her own, to pretend for a very little while that rest of the world had ceased to be, and if Corvo was up here he must have wanted the same thing.
It was strange to think about what Waverly Boyle had said, that the Lord Protector might need her. As difficult a thought as seeing him flat on that table at the Hound Pits, and realizing he was strong and fast but in the end still as fragile as any other man, with the same chance to die if he made a mistake - that at any moment he might die for her sake - and why?
The Madam had mocked her once, during one of Emily's endless tantrums - she had made a spectacle of herself whenever possible, for the lack of any other way to fight back. Emily had screamed that Corvo would come for her, that he wasn't dead, that would save her, and woman's sharp laugh had been far worse than a blow. So what if he lived? Alive or dead, his duty was over, he had no Empress to protect and Emily wasn't the Empress, she was just a little girl. The Lord Regent was in charge now, not her - never her - and so the Lord Protector was free to escape her, to go anywhere he wished, as far away from Dunwall as he wanted. The Madam had eyes hard enough to strike sparks at a glance, eyes that had seen everything the gray world had to offer, and Emily knew she wasn't lying when she said most men would give up on revenge, or justice, or love when there was an easier way out.
Corvo had rescued her, and she hadn't wanted to question it, but she'd still asked herself why and there had never really been an answer.
Emily had to let Corvo have his secrets, like anyone else, like he'd given her the room at the top of the Tower so that she might have some semblance of her own privacy. She owed him that - she owed him everything, and he'd asked for nothing and yet here she was, needy and ridiculous, unable to just leave him alone.
Except he wasn't alone. As she drew closer, Emily could shapes and shadows along the far railing closest to the sea, heard Corvo answer a question with a soft 'maybe' and a rumble of some other voice in response. The moon had been paved over by the clouds, she could barely see anything, even outlines - had the Lady Boyle somehow snuck up here? Emily pressed herself against the corner of the wall, feeling as ashamed for snooping as she was certain she would not move.
"I can tell you, Attano, a few of those names on your list? I've already had rumors come past. Nothing substantial, at least not yet."
No, it wasn't Lady Boyle, the voice far deeper - he shifted, and Emily had the full measure of him, Daud a momentary silhouette in the vague, low light of some faraway watchtower. Her imagination filled in the red of the coat that the shadows obscured.
Corvo cursed under his breath, leaning against the rail. Daud didn't move.
"Anyway, I would have thought you'd be more worried about who the Abbey might appoint for the next High Overseer."
Corvo snorted. "What do you think you're here for?"
Daud made a noise, too angry for a laugh but not quite provoked enough to be a growl, or the prelude to a fight.
"I suppose we should talk about my men."
A long pause. "You might as well keep them working. Maybe someone will hire the Whalers to kill another Empress."
"We'll see," Daud said evenly. "You would have made a good cutthroat, Attano."
"Mm." Daud's tone changed, not a whit warmer but somehow approaching the conversational. "It's funny, isn't it? He gives out just enough power so you can hang yourself - or change the world. One day, you start making choices just because you're curious what the results will be, considering the possibilities when another man would just act. A little taste of what it's like to be Him? The old rules stop applying. All of them."
"Not all." Corvo said, and it was a growl and there was a warning there, though Daud seemed not to care, the next sound he made far more like a laugh, leaning against the railing hard enough that Emily could hear it creak.
"You're certainly more interesting than I ever was. The Outsider must be pleased with his investment."
It wasn't the shock it should have been, finally hearing it out loud. Lady Boyle had all but stated it outright. So this was yet another one of those open secrets, everyone proclaiming their devotion to the Abbey while the truth ran far differently. Mother had never been fond of the High Overseer, and all of rest of them had always frightened Emily. The masks made them look empty, like a great, hungry darkness, and she couldn't imagine that the Outsider, no matter how terrible, could be so much worse than that.
As if summoned by her heretical thoughts, Emily thought she could make out the very faintest sounds from an Overseer's box far below, the odd, dissonant sound carried up by the wind. Almost as one, her Royal Spymaster and her Lord Protector peered out a bit further over the rail, looking down, though they seemed less than impressed by the reminder of righteousness.
"Sokolov should have left his canvas blank, if he wanted to be honest." Corvo said. "Do you ever think about telling them that it doesn't matter?"
Daud shrugged. "I think He could parade up and down the street reciting the Strictures with one hand with a box plinking away in the other, and they'd never see it. If He wasn't real, they'd have to invent him."
"It must be funny, to be little more than what other men will make of you."
"We both know something about that."
"I am nothing like you." Corvo snapped, his voice suddenly hard and cold as the stone beneath his hand. "Don't mistake this for absolution. It isn't. It never will be. Whatever happens, I will never forgive you for what you've done."
"I've worked with less." Daud said, sounding barely interested. "Do I even bother to ask how long this honor will last?"
"Ten minutes after you're dead - and they might even bury what they don't need." Corvo said, and Emily marveled again at the grimness in his tone, what he sounded like when he didn't think she was there to hear. "I have no reason to betray you, if that's what you're asking. Any business between us… it's over, it's done with. Swear your loyalty to the Empress, and I will swear my loyalty to you."
Corvo was not joking, and though Emily couldn't see his face he was turned toward Daud, a good chance they were eye-to-eye.
"Dangerous words, Lord Protector. I've had quite a few employers who've found me inconveniently durable."
"Oh, I hope that's a challenge."
Daud actually laughed at that, though it was a sound as blunt and grim as he was. The night lapsed into an odd, awkward silence, nowhere near companionable but far less than the ominous uncertainty at the beginning of the night. The armies had finally met, the first tentative lines of parlay established and a delicate truce begun. Emily wondered if all her negotiations would feel this way, forever on the cusp of breaking.
"Do you ever hear them?" Corvo said, so softly it was almost lost in a sudden stirring of the wind.
He gestured vaguely out at the sea. "The… singing. Can you hear it?"
Emily imagined Daud's expression was much like her own, by the confusion in his voice. "… you mean… the whales? No, of course not - wait, Attano, do you…"
Corvo sighed. He sounded so weary. "You were right, there's much more that needs doing. The High Overseer…"
"… is a topic for another time, in less polite company." Daud turned, and tipped in her direction, a slight bow of acknowledgement that she doubted even a half-dozen people had ever been granted. Who did assassins bow to? Her, apparently. "Good evening, Empress. I would think it was past your bedtime."
Corvo startled, she could see his dark shadow jerk back as if he'd been shot, and it forced her to act, stepping out before he could catch his breath and take control, willing her voice not to tremble in the cold.
"Where is the Lady Boyle?"
"Waverly?" Corvo said, and the roughness in his voice nearly made Emily stop - she would not hurt him, and she needed no one to tell her so - but now she was close enough to see Daud towering over her and she had to be steel in front of him, she had to be better and stronger than she was. "I thought she-"
"I'm not talking about her. I'm talking about Esma Boyle."
Corvo might as well have been stone. Daud made a small, thoughtful sound, turning to him.
"Brisby," the Lord Protector said, his voice soft and toneless. "I've looked. I don't… I have looked."
Daud was quiet for a long moment. "You know she wouldn't be able to return to Dunwall, regardless."
Corvo nodded. "Waverly Boyle has already agreed to it."
Emily knew there was more going on than she could hear, entire conversations happening in the way each word was spoken, but she didn't need to know all the details to know what needed to be done.
"I want her found, Royal Spymaster. As soon as possible."
"I may have to deal with Lord Brisby." Daud said, not sounding at all regretful at the prospect. The more Emily wondered just what had happened the less she wanted to think about it.
"Do what you need to." She said, without hesitation, and it seemed she may well have surprised him. Emily wondered if she ought to feel good about that or not.
He gave her another slight bow and Emily braced herself for the moment he would have to come closer, would move past her toward the door. Forgetting in her nervousness that he had no problem stepping to the edge of the wall instead, and then he was on the rooftop of the turret at the far side of the courtyard, and then perhaps a flickering shadow near the torchlight at the gatehouse before he was gone completely.
Emily had never been nervous around Corvo, but there had never been that odd tension in his pose, as if he might bolt at any moment, might follow Daud across the rooftops and farther, right out of the city. She wanted to reach for him, to apologize and cry or plead, to ask all kinds of questions - to panic, but Empresses didn't panic. Instead, she slowly crossed the distance between them, and leaned on the wall. A moment passed, and Corvo took up a place beside her. Overhead the moon was peering through the mortar of the clouds like a vast, barren eye, and she had enough light to see that Corvo was turned toward the sea, his eyes closed and his expression so distant. He trembled, and it was impossible to tell if he shivered in pain or for some other reason, and Emily blushed, not quite sure why she dropped her eyes or looked away but feeling as if she'd seen what she ought not, a moment too intimate even from a man who'd sworn her his life.
"Is it very loud?"
"Yes." Corvo breathed, so softly.
Emily remembered everything she'd ever learned of those who worked on behalf of the Outsider, the witches and madmen and monsters who worshiped at his altar. The Overseers gave all sorts of dire warnings, tales of butchery and horror, twisted hearts and twisted minds but all Emily could think was that Corvo would go to sea, the Outsider would call him and take him and he wouldn't come back. Did he even wish to remain at her side, or was she simply another burden for her to bear?
Emily reached for his hand, and felt him tense up, but the Lord Protector didn't pull away, didn't try to argue or defend himself or say anything at all as she pulled the glove off and then there it was, somehow even darker than the shadows around them, and Corvo would not look at her.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" Foolish words, but what else was there to say? It was, too, strange but beautiful in its way. The Overseers had never mentioned that.
"I'll go." Corvo's voice was steady, too steady. "I was hardly the only choice there was for Lord Protector, there are surely a dozen younger and stronger men now. I will find you the best, and then I will go, and…"
"I have ships now, Lord Protector. Ships and soldiers. I can find you."
It was a terrible lie. With that mark on him? Emily wouldn't be able to find him if he took up his exile just down the street. She hadn't let go of his hand, and brought her other hand up, until they were clasped over the Outsider's mark. She'd wondered if she would feel it, wondered if it would burn like ice or shock like a Wall of Light but there was no difference, it was still only Corvo.
"If they wanted to send you away, I'd go with you, Corvo." Abdicate, that was the word. It hardly sounded like the worst possible fate.
He didn't answer, only took a slow step back, and another, and Emily hovered next to him, afraid she couldn't help him if he started to fall. At least there was a staircase behind them, a place to sit, and the chill bit into her legs as she sat. Corvo didn't seem to notice it at all, still staring away from her, out to where the moon chipped tiny, glimmering pieces out of the tides.
"Are you all right?" Corvo said. It was a simple question, but one she should have asked him, and not the other way around.
He's trying so hard…
"Lady Boyle was very helpful. I like her. I think she knows things I should know."
Corvo nodded slowly. "She's proven herself. At least… for the moment." He smiled. It was a wince, too. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm glad that you like her."
"You don't have to be the same for me, Corvo, if it's too difficult. You don't have to pretend."
He didn't move, didn't answer for such a long time that Emily was certain he wasn't going to, that he'd just put his gloves back on and they'd pretend none of this had ever happened. His breath steamed in the cold, the only sign he was even a living thing.
"You can see the Tower from nearly everywhere in Dunwall. I didn't really think about that, until…" Prison. Coldridge. Words he wouldn't say, not even to her. "I looked for it, all the time, after. Even when I wasn't looking, I looked."
Corvo dropped his gaze to his hands, wringing them together, perhaps staring at the mark. The thought came to her then, and Emily spoke before she could think to stop herself.
"Can you do that? Like Daud did. Across the rooftops?"
"Can you take me along?"
He grinned, maybe even laughed a little, and Emily hadn't realized how frightened she'd been until she felt the relief surge in. She'd meant it, that he could be whoever he wanted to be, but it was nice to think that person would still want to smile at her.
"You could have been Lord Regent, you know."
Many people were quietly surprised that Corvo hadn't just stepped into Havelock's position, and many more simply assumed he was still pulling all the strings behind the scene. The men who petitioned her were surprised by his silence, then, when the Lord Protector barely shifted where he stood as she took counsel and delivered her judgments.
"I think the city has had quite enough of that," he finally said. "I used to look, and think about what had happened. I had a lot of time to think of how I'd gotten it so wrong. After I…" He paused, rubbed a little at the back of his hand. An unconscious gesture, and now she realized just how often she'd seen it before. "I thought about revenge. I thought about what your mother would want, and what I wanted. I looked at the Tower until it seemed a part of me. It was your future, and I knew I couldn't… I had to deign to Dunwall, and it was bitter, but I knew that you would see the best of it. There was still something worth saving. It was all right, if I failed to avenge her. She… she might still forgive me, if I did right by you."
"You saved my life, Emily. I was lost and you saved me."
It was Emily's turn to have nothing to say, to finally change the subject when there were no words.
"The High Overseer - if the Abbey knows about you, and Daud..."
"I'll be careful," Corvo said, and even as he said it he was sliding his gloves back on, though now that she knew what lay beneath Emily thought it was meager protection at best. He seemed to notice her unease. "We're going to see what we can do to influence things, to find a man who knows how best to 'restrict his wandering gaze.'"
"Oh. Well… that's good, then." She'd had a short but violently instructive course on the difference between the way she was told things work and they way the world actually behaved, but it was still strange to hear her Lord Protector speak of lies and blasphemy as a matter of course, even when Emily knew she would do far more than that to protect him.
"What's He like?" She said, because anything was better than listening to Corvo try to make up some story, a prettier version of the truth, that the Abbey was destined to be no more friend to her than it had been to Mother.. "I mean, you did… you met Him, right?"
She was pushing too far, she knew it, for all those things he wouldn't have told her about at all if he'd had the choice. The shadows were not his friend at the moment, she couldn't identify every emotion that crossed his face but she could still see them all.
"A horror. Inhuman or... more than human, if there is such a thing. He's the sea, just like they say. Without boundary or measure." Corvo spoke in a whisper, as if they weren't alone. If the Abbey spoke true, they might not be. "Gentle. Terribly gentle. I never expected that."
Emily twined her arms around his, leaning against his side. The cold had numbed her now, it wasn't uncomfortable, and she thought she finally understood what it meant when she'd overheard one of the guard saying he was too tired to sleep. It was too much, all of this far too much for one day, and she knew for certain that tomorrow, the day after, the one after that - it would just be more of the same.
"He can't have you."
"Don't." Corvo said, a sharp whisper and how could it have been such a short time ago, not even a year that she'd thought of him as fearless. He was afraid now, more than she'd ever seen from any Overseer who'd claimed a glance into that darkness. Corvo knew what was looking back. "Em, don't ever..."
"All right," she said, but thought it just the same, looking out at the sea and the clouds and the tiniest sliver of moon peeking through the haze, imagined it on the throne with a crown and a scepter and all of the assembled fleet upon the ocean, all her power set against Him. Maybe it would make the Outsider laugh, maybe He would only mock her the same as any adult, and dash all her ships to pieces, but that didn't mean she wouldn't try.
You can't have him. I won't let you.
Now if only she was sure she could say it to His face without flinching.
"So… what happens now?"
"Now?" Corvo said. "Now you grow up, and the city loves you, and the Empire loves you. You marry and have beautiful daughters who will grow up to be Empresses themselves, and we will play hide-and-seek in the garden."
"You'll be old."
"Well, then one of them might have a chance of catching me."
Emily leaned back just long enough to punch him on the shoulder. He accepted his punishment loyally, as a true servant of the throne should.
"You'll always be with me, Corvo."
"As long as you have need of me."
Emily expected him to mention the cold or the hour, to hurry her back to her rooms or at least inside her sanctuary, where they might light a fire. At the very least, he might try to reassure her again, that everything with Daud had been dealt with, that Lady Boyle's sister was nothing she needed to worry about. He might even apologize. Corvo tended to do that when any silence lasted too long.
She didn't expect to feel him lean a little more on her shoulder, to hear the rasp of his breath grow steady and slow, and Emily found that he'd fallen asleep right there. If she moved at all it would surely wake him, and she would have to eventually, before they both froze solid, but for the moment it was quiet and peaceful. Maybe Piero knew of some remedy for whatever nightmares plagued him. if it was the Outsider's doing, perhaps there was something from the Overseers that might be borrowed, without their even having to know it. At the least, if Daud wasn't to betray her she could lean on him, and let Corvo recover some of his strength. As days passed, as she learned what she needed to know, she might even start making allies of her own.
Emily cast her eyes out to the dark city and the darker waves - her city. Dunwall was cold and dark, grim and gray, spotted only here and there with tiny points of cold, diamond light. It was the kind of night that would make any man bless himself for fear, tip up the collar of his coat and scurry away to a warmer place - but a new day would come, and sun would still rise, as fixed as the moon and the tides. It was already there, just past the horizon.