The servants were still sweeping up the Grand Hall, the sounds of celebration carrying to him over the calm tides of the Wrenhaven, as Corvo walked slowly to the garden pavilion, shoulders heavy with the weight of purpose.
His hands were filled with it, cradling it in folded fingers. The Heart lay quietly there, its beating great and slow. No more runes or bone charms here, no more gifts from the Outsider. He wondered if the Outsider would still find him interesting, after all he had—had not—done. He dearly hoped not.
A gentle breeze brought the cool of the river to his face, tousling his hair, as he slowed to a stop before her headstone. Mother to Emily, Empress to Us All. In the chill his hands tightened, just so, and the Heart seemed to stir.
"I can feel a great age ending," it—she—he was never sure. He had never wanted to be sure. To see either, to know one as the truth—both twisted deep in his chest, spoke of terrible things.
For now, for this last time, he decided on she. If she—he could hope in some small way to repair what he had done.
He didn't want to waste time. Still, he found himself moving slowly as he combed the bushes lining the garden terrace, gathering leaves and sticks. How long had he known? Since she first stumbled over details of her death while revealing Havelock's secrets? When she railed against Daud, refusing to forgive him? When she recognized Dunwall Tower and, more than that, seemed to remember him?
Or had the doubt and the wonder always been there, the niggling at the back of his mind, from the moment he heard that voice? Falling away to moments of dark certainty, a tightening of his chest when she asked why am I so cold?
He set down the driest stuff he could find (dry being an overstatement; not much escaped the encroaching moisture of the river) near the edge of the alcove where—where he had held her. He arranged the bits of foliage into a careful circle and, that done, looked to the Heart beating in his grasp.
For one final moment, he held it carefully in both hands. He had thought of other ways to do this, of simpler, quicker means. His weapons cache was mountainous now; a gunshot to finish it fast, a knife to its clockwork center, or (he twitched even now) rats to destroy it utterly. But he could not bring himself to commit any one, to leave another stain to mark where this stolen piece of her had been.
She should not have died here, in this place. She should be with him now, hearing the promising proposal of Piero and Sokolov, exercising justice against Hiram Burrows, looking out onto the city that loved its Empress and seeing that all was not lost. He should have been able to save her.
The darkness of the glass seemed to look back at him, nonplussed, as he lowered the Heart into its makeshift nest. But she had died here. And if that was so, if that was the reality with which he and the Empire had to live the remainder of their days, all of her should have died here. It should not have been in pieces.
He rested heavily on his knees as he arranged the brush with care and sentiment, trying his best not to grip. He failed in that, of course. As he adjusted the Heart in its place, that voice came to him again, running down his spine, along his skin like a chill wind. "I'll be glad to rest," she said, and Corvo nodded his painful acceptance. He had heard her say so before.
But this time, the Heart went on. "I hear the songs of the Great Ones," she whispered, as he added a thin cover of leaves. "And I see . . ."
She went quiet. Corvo paused. He had known the Heart to speak cryptically, bewilderingly, haltingly, but never incompletely. Against all his better judgment he leaned closer, tilting an ear down. The other caught the swirl of cold air, the hum of the city, as he focused in.
"I see a new dawn," she said. "You stand upon the horizon."
Corvo waited long moments listening for her to speak again, leaving open the last sphere of quiet she left in her wake. Then, when her quiet rang with finality, he slowly, solemnly, pulled the match pack from his coat.
It was slow to burn at first—the foliage was still green, smoked heavily—before catching in earnest. He forced himself to keep his eyes on the Heart as flames curled around it, licking across flesh and gear. He hoped, more than anything (would be willing to contract with the Outsider for its assurance) that he would not hear her scream. It would break him.
But the heart stayed silent, austere as the gears slowed to a halt, the muscle curled and blackened. When flames had engulfed it entire he lifted his eyes, where dark smoke had caught.
He half-believed he felt something cool, like a comforting kiss of wind, flitting among the smog to brush his face.
He rubbed subtly at the corners of his eyes before he turned and found Emily at the alcove steps. She looked lovely, dressed in her formal best. Even with the tilt to her bow and the deliberate muss of her hair, the sight of her brought a soft smile to his face.
She leaned to the side, craning to see around him, before looking back and setting her hands on her hips. "What're you doing out here?"
"Nothing, Emily," he said, stepping down from the pavilion. "A moment away from stuffy noblemen is all."
She had her mother's eyes—wise ones that saw there was something more to his words, even if she knew not what. He smoothed her hair and the child returned, whining and narrowing those eyes beneath straightened bangs.
"Callista will be looking for you," he said, and ushered her away from the alcove. "They can't have their new Empress running off."
She rolled her eyes but obeyed, walking with him toward the Tower doors. As the cobbles scrapped beneath their feet and light from the windows began to spread into their path, Corvo looked over his shoulder one final time.
The floor of the pavilion stood white and clean, untouched, light from the rising moon reflecting off her bronze epitaph.