When I abandon a project, I delete it, and it wasn't the case for this story, but I spent so much time thinking about the end. I will explain in the epilogue what end was planned at the beginning, an end which I couldn't be satisfied with, but since two weeks, I've finally found a conclusion that convinces me. You will probably say to yourself "wut,wait a minute, two years for that?" But yes, that's how it is.
I would like to thank the readers who continued to send me messages asking me for the follow-up: you were a real source of motivation!
PS: I've wrote around 3000 words (in French) of the last chapter. Once I'll post it in French, I'll translate it with the epilogue.
The storm was very close. Under its influence, the waves, as violent as bulls, hit their round backs against the hull of the boat, coming back as herds to assault the ship again.
Because of these swings, Billie felt like she was being rocked with punches. She always had a sea leg, feeling more free on the deck of a ship than in a crowded alley, but today, amputated by half an arm, the charm of all the things she loved had faded away.
She was sharing her cabin with Emily, who was at a small table, browsing a notebook near an oil lamp. It was barely noon yet the occupants of the cell had to close the window and draw the curtain as the gusts were too strong, not to mention that there was not enough clarity outside.
From time to time, the heiress looked up from the pages to check if the prisoner remained still.
They had been living in this confined space for two days already.
Billie was not allowed to go out, and even if she wanted to, she did not have the strength, while Emily, still feeling the healing process under her abs, avoided to walk on a moving ship.
Forced to share this cabin — which was both cell and bedroom —, Emily had, as a precaution, slipped a dagger behind her back, the scabbard well held under her belt; a stray bullet could have caused damage on board, whereas this blade could warn and allow her to defend herself.
The truth was she hadn't even needed to threaten Billie for once, and surprisingly, this sort of collocation was going pretty well.
On the first day, Emily had feared hearing the prisoner whine or complain, but other than a few grimaces of pain, her enemy was silent. From time to time, a fever seized Billie, following her under the sheets to make her tremble like a child, but not once had she asked for more laudanum.
Emily was now curious if this silence was caused by anger or resignation.
Sensing that the future empress was looking at her, Billie asked:
"Am I going to be executed in Dunwall?"
Deprived of water, her voice had rusted. She didn't bother to straighten her face, waiting for the answer.
After a pause, Emily finally muttered:
"The decision isn't mine alone."
The throne still belonged to her mother the Empress, and an execution without the approval of Jessamine Kaldwin was nothing but murder. In addition, Corvo, qua Royal Protector, might have questions for this woman. Truly, who was this powerless witch? An enemy or a traitor to exploit?
Although the idea of Billie's death did not really bother Emily, the anger she had felt in Dr. Moretti had now dissipated: because of Billie's lack of interest, Emily understood that this woman was not an important agent of Delilah.
"What's your name?"
"Why is my name important all of a sudden?"
The order had been underlined by the slam of the notebook closed with a sharp blow. Emily did not need to raise her chin any longer when her shoulders were this solid. She had pretty features, well drawn, but because of the too thin skin and her severe mouth, some would have said that the face of the future empress had been cut too rough.
"This isn't a Serkonian name."
"Because I'm not a Serkonian."
"Stop being sarcastic, you aren't in a position of strength."
You neither. Not yet, nearly replied Billie, but a pain in her shoulder cut her off; a wave had hit the hull at the best time.
"Why are you on the side of Copperspoon if you're not a witch?"
"I'm not on Delilah's side." Some of the girls just got lost in this group because they had nothing better to do, but Billie kept that detail for her only. "Nor Ashworth's one."
"Again this accusation without proof. Breanna Ashworth has been a curator for years, long before Delilah's attempted coup. She's a trustworthy person."
"Don't you think this is weird to have been attacked by witches so close to the Conservatory? They knew the place and weren't afraid of being reported, that's why—"
"I was attacked in Dunwall the first time, does that mean that I must suspect the Royal Protector and the Empress to be on Delilah's side too?"
If Emily had known how to fight like a guard before her transformation, she had never been able to conduct an interrogation like her father: she was unaware of the tactics to make people talk or measure the probability of a confession. The Royal Protector could find information and know what to do of it.
However, the heiress' curiosity was aroused, and she spoke again:
"I can't trust you, so without any tangible evidence, I won't believe you, but let's say that Breanna Ashworth has an important role in this plot, why did you sold her out so easily?"
"If you don't trust me, why are you interested?"
"Just answer already."
This whole thing was way too personal, and Billie was not a person able to open up easily. She refused to talk about Deirdre, her meeting with Claudia and her passion for witches, the fear of abandonment that had prompted Billie to follow her beloved. She did not want her story to sound like a pathetic tale, made to collect some pity…
"I never admired Delilah, even less so Breanna. I was around only because I loved someone who had sworn devotion to these witches— now, this person was killed in front of the Conservatory. By the Inventor."
"Jindosh was defending me and you attacked him."
"And I wanted to defend Claudia. See? Our motives were no different." Now the two women stared at each other, taking on the role of both judge and accused. "It doesn't matter anymore. Anyway, Breanna had made her a witch and I didn't want to go follow her more further. Our paths would have split sooner or later— If Ashworth is executed, I'm not the one who would cry. On the contrary. And to be frank, I know that my situation's delicate: to confess is to have a better chance of being pardoned."
Emily sat up, suffocating:
"You must be joking. In twenty-five years of reign, my mother has only executed two people, but trust me, I will made everything so you'll be the third."
"So why didn't you kill me at the Inventor's? Are you waiting for mom and dad's approval to kill me? Or did you need a traveling companion because your philosopher wouldn't leave his mansion?"
With quivering cheeks, Emily leaned back against the chair.
Even though these days seemed to go back too far, Emily remembered the barbs her mother could hear from nobles, some more subtle remarks than Billie's, but no less scathing. Despite everything, Jessamine had always kept her calm and, mistress for repartee, she was able to give verbal slaps more humiliating than blows.
This example guided Emily who made an effort. She crossed her hands on her lap and, calm, replied:
"My plans are only for you, not Jindosh. Don't try to change the subject, Billie: I'm taking you to Dunwall and you'll have a trial. I'm only the heir, but I'll attend the Empress and Royal Protector's debate, so don't make your case worse with your lack of respect."
This call to order proved to be effective, and if the cabin had been better lit, perhaps Emily would have seen the glimmer of admiration that had passed through Billie's eyes. Youth did not prevent wisdom, and the heir to the throne did not really look like a capricious kid.
A reassuring idea, even for someone like Billie who was not interested in politics.
"I thought my fate would interest the Inventor, enough for him to come."
"I don't know what interests Jindosh."
"Yet you both seem close." Billie had dropped this commentary so she would no longer be the target of all these questions.
"My relationship with the Inventor is none of your business, Billie."
"What would you have done if I had cut his throat that evening?"
"You wouldn't be around to talk about it."
Therefore, in front of the Conservatory, the decision to execute Billie would have been her only. Billie kept the remark to herself, her single hand pressed against her chest.
"So you understand why I attacked the Inventor." Billie made a huge effort to sit on the edge of her bed. Her heels planted firmly against the ground and she gripped the rough mattress, leaning on her arm to maintain her balance. "But you, I never attacked you. Even the first time when I saw you in your wheelchair. You had your hair pick," Billie remembered with a smile, "and you were still vulnerable as a child. Breanna would have thanked me if I had killed you. Maybe she wanted to give me a second chance, and yet you're still alive. And in great form." With her index finger, she pointed to the young woman's legs.
Emily could believe this confession: the two women had met three times, and yet Billie had not even touched her. Even in front of the Conservatory. Her blade had cut Jindosh's hand, but only after he had killed the red-haired witch. This red-haired witch…
"I'm going to be honest and say that I'd have liked Delilah's coup d'état to fail completely. You would be still in Dunwall without becoming a mermaid, the witches would have been wiped out and Claudia would have been forced to give up her dreams of greatness. She would still be alive."
Billie would have given a lot just for one cigarette. Right now, tobacco seemed to be the only comfort in the world, and it might be the only one in the future, but could she only enjoy half a cigarette even once in Dunwall? It was unlikely.
"Everything you did, Billie, you did for her, and now you're taking revenge."
"I don't take revenge on Jindosh, I don't take revenge on Delilah either. I never approved of what the witches did, but for Claudia, I said nothing. Now I can't remain silent. It's Delilah's side or yours, and I want this story to end— Anyway, you don't trust me so it's not going to happen."
Emily stared at her for several moments, deep in thought. Maybe Billie was honest, after all, her story was consistent, there was no contradiction, and her motivations were logical— But that was still her word against Breanna Ashworth's.
Suddenly, she heard her hostage laugh without the slightest joy.
"We're really pathetic for love. I did it all for Claudia and I lost everything. Breanna does all of this for Delilah and will lose everything if you manage to overthrow her. And you, what will you do for the inventor? Are you going to lose your throne for him?"
Unlike the two women, Emily would not bet everything on Jindosh: their relationship had the advantage of bringing together two fierce and free spirits. Jindosh would never imprison himself for the future empress; Emily would never be chained for the Inventor. And it was precisely this point that pleased this independent woman so much.
"I could do a lot for him, but without getting lost. I won't lose everything for Jindosh as he won't lose everything for me. That's the difference with you."
Billie stayed pensive and stared at the heir with that touch of admiration.
"You're very mature for your age. Too bad I didn't do the same."
Emily was touched in spite of herself.
She could recognize a quality in Billie: her prisoner did not become hypocritical because of the imperial rank or her chances of surviving. And that made the compliment even more authentic.
Even if the urge to smoke still haunted her, Billie felt good for the first time in several days. While settling back on the mattress, she promised herself that, if the Empress pardoned her, she would follow Emily's example and think about her first without following the ideals of the people she loved.
Farewell Deirdre, farewell Claudia. Billie would become the captain of the oceans, the captain of her life.
Dunwall's steep roofs tore through the gray sky, biting the clouds with their slate teeth. The chimneys exhaled smoke so dark that they seemed to paint a storm over the city, creating their own weather. When Emily fled to Karnaca, she felt like she was discovering blue sky and sun for the first time, marveling at the colors she observed at each dawn and at each twilight. However, this grayness was her home, and her throat tightened with emotion.
It took another hour for the ship to reach the coast, so it was sixty minutes of admiration and memories. There, there was the warehouse where this Serkonian red wine that Jessamine loved was transferred. Every occasion was a good reason to open a bottle, so this taste of velvet had become the signature of the evenings organized by the Empress.
Further on, Emily could see the black iron thorn that marked the site of a garden where her father brought her when she was little. She remembered the modest hedges and the simple lawn, very far from the palace. These outings had been pure moments of freedom. How many hide-and-seek games they had done there—!
But as the ship approached, the split waters reminded Emily that when she left Dunwall, it was in the watery arms, where she was trying to hide her fishtail, even if in the opaque waves were deadly cold. She still remembered the livid face of her father, dumbfounded to see her daughter in this monstrous shape, but nonetheless advising her to flee to Karnaca, to swim in a clearer and warmer sea.
Today, she had recovered legs. She was human again and Emily Kaldwin had no need to hide any longer.
And if she was not an empress yet, she already had many plans for her enemies.
The ship grazed very gently the old quay. Next to the boxes stacked for the next shipment awaited a group of Imperial guards, proof that the message that the future Empress had sent had arrived on time. The oldest soldier was a man Emily had known since she was a child: the beard and mustache with hooks, once reddish, were now pearl gray. This detail shocked her: during her long absence, Dunwall had followed the clock in its center, moving towards an uncertain future, because the heiress had been invisible since the witch attack and the people did not know if the young Emily would really be the next empress.
In some homes, the portrait of Emily had been framed in black, cuddled by old hands, while noblemen, from their heated living room, had smoked cigarette after cigarette wondering who would take the place of the throne after Jessamine Kaldwin.
But the doubts could be erased now: passersby began to scrutinize her when, followed by Billie, her hand held by a rope behind her back, the young woman was greeted by the guards with deep curtsies.
"Lady Kaldwin." The former red sergeant muttered, and Emily bowed as well, containing the emotion.
"It's good to see you again, Sergeant."
"The pleasure is shared." The man assured.
Dunwall, for its part, had not changed: its clouds of black smoke and its tall gray brick buildings seemed to be inlaid in time, insensitive to centuries. Black drips, memories of more violent rains than usual, made ugly facades, but the most horrible to see were perhaps these manholes blocked by garbage where numerous corpses of rats were stuck.
The car glided along the rails with a fluidity of which Jindosh would have been proud. Comfortably installed, Emily pulled out the cigarette case, which was still waiting for the initial E to be engraved, and took out a cigarette. During the trip, she had wondered when she could go the opposite way to find the hot days of Serkonos.
Once everything was finished, she would go back there for a few weeks. She would share her life between Karnaca and Dunwall.
When they saw Jessamine's daughter, the guards in front of the first gate lost their words. They quickly bent to bow out, which looked more like sudden spasms. All knew that the heiress was returning today, but none had managed to prepare for it.
In the gardens, the jaws of a few servants fell, letting out cries of surprise, struggling to remember good manners.
Those who knew the secret of the heiress stared at her legs with fascination, imagining themselves to be victims of hallucinations. Emily enjoyed this welcome.
Billie Lurk, who had been escorted by three guards during the way, had to follow the dungeon soldiers. While she walked away towards the dismal tower, following a path bordered by bushes where blue roses pointed their delicate snout, piercing the green with indigo touches, Emily turned to a familiar face that she had not seen for too long, a pale face framed by red hair tied in an eternal braid.
The lieutenant wanted to stretch out her arms but she held back at the last moment, barely remembering the codes of conduct. Suppressing her outburst of affection, she winced because of frustration, then Emily threw herself around her neck, not caring about decorum for this time. Or rather: just like always.
"I missed you so much, Lady Kaldwin! But how— how did you—?"
Alexi Mayhew was one of the people knowing the secret, and she stepped back to better admire the complete silhouette of the heiress.
"It's a long story. Let's say my surgeon has improved medicine with a feat."
"And quite a feat. It's incredible!"
They walked past the gazebo, chatting. Alexi especially wanted to hear Emily tell her about the hybrid life. The former mermaid then explained to her how the sea had hidden her, how it had rocked her and sometimes also terrified her. It was a world of silence and noise at the same time, anger and rest. Of course, she then explained how the Inventor had operated on her, how he had gave her human form, how he had saved her.
Despite the wounds received during the attack in front of the Conservatory, the legs of the heiress did not falter once, even if they were climbing the thirty steps leading to the hall.
"It's incredible…" Alexi repeated in a whisper.
The gates of the palace opened with a loud creak that rippled through the huge hall. Jessamine and Corvo stood there, moved to welcome their daughter, at home this time. In a way, the heiress returned from a battle, and, safe and sound, her return was imperial.
Her parents found her grown up, admiring the delicacy of the skin that the sea had polished like bone, the step they had thought impossible to bring back.
Happy and proud, Corvo pulled Emily to him, wrapping his thick arms around her. He would have even raised her it if Jessamine had not come to complete the embrace. In the past, Corvo could manage to carry the two women of his life, but today, he preferred to reserve his strength, since time was not yet for relief.
Billie thought that the bars in every prison looked alike, and yet, here, in this tower, the bars were black like coal, so much that she was certain that a trace would have been imprinted on her palm if she had attempted to hang on to it.
The cold, or rather the humidity, emanated from the dark walls, but at least Billie had her own cell. Out of the ten cells, only three were occupied — there was a revolutionary who rejected imperial power and a baker who was suspected of having poisoned customers — and this lack of population made the two soldiers on guard indolent. They had been playing cards for over an hour and, lying down, Billie was listening to their conversation, having little else to do.
"When do we eat?!" The poisoner suddenly shouted from her prison.
"When the game is over."
"But I'm hungry!"
"Shut up and wait." The first player replied. The second rose to approach the baker's cell with a mean smile:
"Feeling hungry? Let me help you wait, big girl: you're in the cell of a witch who committed suicide. She hung herself with a rose bush. If you search well enough, maybe you'll find a leaf or two."
"And so what ? A poor kid committed suicide and that should ruin my appetite?"
"So you're really nuts." The guard growled, turning around, disappointed not to have aroused a more lively reaction. Billie, on the other hand, sat up on her bed and stared at the cell, shivering.
When the card game ended, they brought, as promised, bowls of soup. The prisoner was surprised that her meal was very hot and she took her time, enjoying each sip. With a full stomach, she might be able to sleep without thinking of that cell where one of Delilah's accomplices had killed herself.
At least, suicide was not in Billie's plans and she intended to speak to the Royal Protector.
Also hungry, Emily measured the rhythm of her fork so she would not appear wild: her animal state was, after all, behind her. What helped her in particular was the conversation with her parents, as the prisoner's presence had not escaped them and Emily had explained everything that had happened between their visit to Karnaca and her return.
"But what about Jindosh?"
"He had plans in Karnaca and couldn't accompany me." Emily replied, ignoring what her father's question implied. "I'll write to him this evening to tell him that the trip went well."
Corvo understood that she did not know what had happened.
"Emily— Kirin Jindosh was interned at the Karnaca asylum."
Nudged, the basket of bread slipped from the table and rolled on the floor, but no one got up. Emily looked at her father and mother in turn, eyes wide.
Jessamine put her hand out on the tablecloth: the table, which was too wide, did not allow the family to touch each other, but the gesture was still comforting.
"An article was published in the Dunwall newspaper yesterday, but counting the time it got from Karnaca, it must have happened soon after you left. The articles were rather brief and only mentioned immoral projects which required the internment of Jindosh."
"Who insinuated that?!"
"I don't remember one name in particular, but Jindosh's morality has always been a bit special". Corvo noticed. "So many in Karnaca must think he had to be interned."
"These immoral projects, as they're called, allowed me to come back here in human form." Said Emily. "Did Anton Sokolov not improve science, too, with immoral projects?"
"Of course, Emily, I know that as well as you do—"
"A name comes back in my mind." Said Jessamine, feeling that the conversation was shifting to a sensitive topic. "Ashworth, the curator. Her establishment often hosts exhibitions and Jindosh's projects have often been presented there, maybe they knew each other and that he would have told her about a future work?"
"Jindosh was working on nothing but my health!" Emily protested. "I stayed with him all this time, and he had no other plans, I know it."
Her head was nebulous; heavy clouds gathered under her skull, making her thoughts confused. Emily needed to read the article to believe it, but the date would have terrified her: she had left Karnaca four days before and it was likely that he had been locked up since her departure.
Four days in an institute for the mentally ill. And when she will leave Dunwall, it would take another four days.
A feeling of anger arose, the same as the one that had pierced her when she had opened her eyes at Doctor Moretti's after the attack in front of the Conservatory. And this memory made her the effect of a slap:
"Breanna Ashworth has been accused by Billie of being an accomplice of Delilah."
For the first time, Emily began to believe her prisoner: the fact of having interned the Inventor was not proof in itself — Corvo was right, Jindosh had the reputation of a mad scientist —, but coincidence put her on guard.
Later, when the sun had set in the indifference of the gray sky, Emily sank into her bath up to her head. In this hot, scented water, she could find a semblance of tranquility. No wave to brave, no current to fight against, she could lock herself in her ideas and concentrate on them.
Corvo would interrogate Billie at dawn, and then they would decide on a way to approach Breanna Ashworth. And set Kirin Jindosh free.
The rim of the tub completely surrounded her with a copper hug, and the outline vaguely reminded her of the tub where she was at Jindosh's. She did not doubt that the Inventor, more by his lack of ethics than his intelligence, terrified the inhabitants of Aventa, but had Sokolov not terrified entire populations before proposing a cure for the plague? How many patients had tasted the different tests? Succumbing either because of the disease, or because of the tests?
An empress knew better than anyone the meaning of the word sacrifice.
Furthermore, Emily knew that she owed her release only to the Inventor, so she would defend him against these charges. It was a personal matter.
Coming out of the water, her muscles were less tense, but she still felt as exhausted as when she was lost at sea.
When she opened the door to her bedroom, wearing a bathrobe, she thought she would be overwhelmed with a familiar feeling, but the room finally seemed too strange to her. It had been so long since she had stepped on this parquet floor, so long since she had put her hand on the window sill, so long since she had been sitting at this desk.
This large bed with a thick mattress that had endured distant sleeps almost frightened her. This room had to be re-tamed.
She settled into one of the big blue armchairs, undecided about what she could do: she did not want to go to bed, she knew she would be unable to concentrate to read and she had always hated the harp, so no way to play it, even tonight.
There were discreet knocks on the door, followed by Jessamine's voice.
Emily invited her mother to enter.
She too had swapped her black and white suit for a bathrobe: Jessamine hated empress attire as much as her daughter and, as soon as her daily tasks were finished, she found a well-deserved freedom.
Understanding the disturbance of Emily, the Empress approached a second chair and came to comfort her, caressing the cheek of her treasure.
"Mother, I'm glad I came home but I can't stay." Emily put her hand on her mother's, expecting her revelation to hurt her, but Jessamine listened to her daughter with gentle indulgence.
"It's about the Inventor, isn't it?"
"I understand, Jindosh has done a lot for you."
The Empress finally took her place on the armrest and wrapped an arm around Emily's shoulders. Jessamine, despite her title and the appearance to maintain, was a very maternal woman and had always expressed her expressions of affection, cultivating a great bond with her daughter.
This was why Emily had always managed to speak to her freely.
"There's something else, mother: Jindosh and I have become—", what word to use? There was no longer any ambiguity, she knew, however, Emily felt that by naming their relationship, the rarity of the link would be broken. "— We're more than friends. I'm not just going to send a messenger to free him, plus, if Ashworth's an accomplice to Delilah, that won't be enough. I want to go and help him in person, and end this witch plot in Karnaca."
Jessamine thought that the metamorphosis into a mermaid and the trials that followed had transformed her daughter, but that was not all: Emily was also in love.
She herself remembered how she had concealed her relationship with Corvo: her father, Euhorn Kaldwin, would never have accepted that her daughter shared her life with a Serkonian from an unknown family.
Jessamine had suffered during this period, constantly living in fear that the secret would be discovered, so she would not impose this torment on her daughter: if the Empress had decided to share her life with her Royal Protector, the heiress would be free to love whoever she wanted. As for the rumors about the account of the Grand Inventor, perhaps they would be part of a collection conjugated only with the past. She hoped Emily would make it.
"When I think that Delilah wanted to exile you from the throne— And today, you look more like an empress than ever. She would be enraged."
Jessamine kissed the top of her forehead, crowning her daughter with maternal love.
"I won't hold you back, Emily: I won't prevent you from defending your heritage and those who are dear to you. My dearest wish is that my daughter becomes a noble and respected Empress, and the path you take doesn't worry me, on the contrary."
"A path that isn't unique, mother— Since all these events, I've this anger that clings and suggests me to make heads fall."
Instead of appearing horrified, Jessamine kept this soft and understanding air.
"Emily, if you knew how many times I've been tempted to sign a death sentence myself— When you have power, ease quickly reaches out. It's not about having a good or bad soul, it's a question of impulsiveness and I already know how hot-tempered you can be."
"Corvo is also impulsive and not very conciliatory, his Serkonian blood has mixed with mine in your veins."
Emily did not see the Empress's bodyguard other than as a protective father, a quality sword on his belt, glistening under muscular hands, the scabbard beating against long legs which supported a bear's body. Corvo had always imposed an almost fearful respect, but his daughter knew the smiles that were hidden in this pepper and salt beard, the almost childish jokes, the rare but powerful bursts of laughter, eclipsing the darker tendencies of the Royal Protector.
She suddenly realized that her father could be austere, even rough or indifferent in front of certain sufferings, having a hard heart. Maybe even without moral. Emily stared at Jessamine: this woman, on the contrary, was serene and soothing, her water-colored eyes could put out the most dangerous fires, either gently or with authority.
The heiress was ashamed of her thoughts, but they had already crossed her mind: without her mother, her father might have become a cruel man.
Characters did not necessarily influence each other, they collided, complemented each other. And if Emily became a cruel empress, it would be mostly because of her, the witch attacks or Jindosh(s morality would only be modest helpers. Her nature would remain the same.
From her pocket, Emily pulled out the cigarette case and her thumb thoughtfully stroked the prints.
"Before leaving, I'd have to see the jeweler."
The cold morning had spread a blanket of mist over the capital. It was a perfect time for questioning. Alexi, who had volunteered to accompany Corvo, was waiting down the stairs and when her superior showed up, they walked toward the dungeon, chatting like two old friends.
After crossing the cold corridor leading to the cells, Corvo was surprised to see the one he was about to interrogate: despite the injuries, he had recognized one of the intruders of the attack one night at Dunwall.
"Shit—" Billie sighed.
She guessed that Corvo had just remembered this face-to-face and she feared that her assertions would not be taken into account by the Royal Protector either.
"We meet once again. Billie Lurk, right? I finally learned your name."
Corvo stared at the incomplete right arm. A nurse had checked the day before to see if the wound healed without infection and had given pain relief.
"I guess the heiress told you what I told her yesterday?"
"She did, but I still want you to tell me what you know. And your intentions, of course."
With a calm voice, taking her time so that the details did not get mixed up and made her story suspicious, Billie explained how she had met the witches who had taken refuge in Karnaca and the plans they had put in place or intended to execute.
Alexi Mayhew watched the exchange carefully. Sometimes Corvo turned to her, seeking a second approval: two opinions were better than one, and each time Alexi had nodded with her superior. If the prisoner seemed to be an infrequent person, her honesty was very likely in her situation.
Still sitting on the stool, his face a few inches from the bars, Corvo asked:
"What do you suggest then? Go to the Conservatory and stop Breanna Ashworth?"
"It won't be that easy. You didn't execute Delilah, but you found an effective prison for her: Breanna will have to undergo the same treatment, otherwise, she'll do anything to escape. Her powers are as powerful as those of her lover. There are two solutions, Royal Protector: either you kill her if you have enough strength and confidence, or you lock her in paint and you never let her go out."
"It's not as simple and you know it: the prison of Delilah was created from rare ingredients that I found in her field."
"And the same will be at the Conservatory. Breanna Ashworth's office has become a true landmark of witchcraft and some unoccupied rooms in the museum are used for rituals and potion making.
"The idea is interesting."
Corvo straightened up and crossed his arms. He was staring at Billie and that look was unbearable, but the prisoner supported it to prove her good faith.
"Infiltrating the Conservatory would confirm or deny what you say, Billie, you will accompany us. The Empress will then decide your fate according to the events."
"Doesn't sound like I have a choice anyway."
Corvo was tempted to believe Billie: she had no power and the witches were always obstinate in their silence while she talked. He did not believe in a new strategy at all: this woman seemed to lead a personal revenge. In addition, Billie had much more to gain from joining the Empress Kaldwin than the usurper Copperspoon.
Finally, her intact humanity soothed the doubts of the Royal Protector.
After a sleepless night and a morning without smiles, Emily discussed with her father the plans being considered in front of the Dunwall Tower prison. She was reassured that Corvo believed Billie's story because it gave a name and a face to the enemy who had been invisible for so long.
"Ashworth drew our attention when she tried to get rid of Jindosh."
"There's one thing I don't understand." Emily admitted. "Why go after him? Is it because he healed me by bypassing Delilah's magic?"
"You can always ask our hostage, but I think that if Jindosh doesn't practice magic, his science has indeed supplanted that of witches, yes. I guess if Delilah's supporters attack you again, they hope no one can help you ever again."
Suddenly Emily got scared: locking up the Inventor might not be enough. Did Breanna Ashworth plan to kill him in the asylum? Did she plan to assassinate him and disguise the crime as suicide or would she weaken him slowly, making him sick and dying?
"When we go to Karnaca, Jindosh will be a priority. If we attack the Conservatory before, they could take advantage of our diverted attention for—"
"If we release Jindosh first, Ashworth will know for sure we»re there." Corvo cut and his daughter looked at him with such fright that he reassured her very quickly. "Emily, we'll be many. We'll go to the asylum and the Conservatory. You can lead the expedition for Jindosh while I take care of Ashworth."
Emily sighed, understanding now her father's intentions. With Alexi, they then returned to Billie's cell.
The gears started to work, articulating with more information.
After placing a stool in front of Billie, Emily asked:
"Billie, did you know that the Grand Inventor was going to be interned at the Karnaca Asylum?"
"Yes. I didn't say anything since you didn't believe me about Breanna Ashworth."
"What's the goal exactly? Jindosh never supported the Kaldwin, nor Delilah, he's completely apolitical!"
"For Breanna, as soon as someone helps you, he takes a stand. This is what happened to the Inventor. Breanna's first plan had been to drive Jindosh away and make you vulnerable. In front of the Conservatory, when we saw you, we knew that the plan had to be different. Breanna's quite passionate, she wanted to charge the Inventor before trying to take care of you."
"How did you manage to have him interned?"
"I was just a scout. The witch who accompanied me had to recover the compromising documents."
"But what documents?"
"Notes, even sketches or something that would make Jindosh look like a madman. It's pretty easy to imagine: sirens don't exist, well, not without magic, so if a scientist writes a study on a woman-fish, his mental health is already alarming, but if in addition he's delirious about you, a royal person, it's a crime of lese-majesty."
"Of course. Stupid rules—" The heiress sighed.
Billie confirmed Corvo's doubts: Breanna just wanted to trap Jindosh, and if she had executed her plan before the operation, Emily would have been as vulnerable as a child in her aquarium.
"And of course, the silvergraphs which attest to my condition as a mermaid have been ignored. Do you know what Ashworth had planned for me?"
"I don't know. Witches didn't want me anymore: I had a lot of information for this expedition, but afterwards, I was no longer part of the projects. My death would certainly have helped Breanna, maybe she hoped the Inventor would kill me. Or you."
Billie had noticed that Emily was listening to her more carefully: her eyebrows furrowed under the reflections but her mouth no longer showed that skeptical pout. Corvo then took the floor and stated in a few words the idea of making two groups. In silence, Emily opened the cigarette case which was now marked by the elaborate letters EKJ. Formerly a bit weathered, silver was now brand new.
Taking advantage of the beginning of trust, Billie took the opportunity to offer her help:
"I'd like to accompany you to the asylum." With a cigarette between her lips, Emily was not looking at the lighter that lit the tobacco: her black pupils were staring at Billie. Corvo scrutinized Billie, worried: he would have preferred Billie to accompany him to the Conservatory. "I'm sure there are witches lurking around the establishment. Breanna has around forty followers and they are bored at the Conservatory. I wouldn't be surprised if a handful was posted under the windows of the asylum, just to check that Jindosh is still away Karnaca."
"And witches could walk around like that? Everyone knows that they're criminals linked to Delilah, they would be reported immediately."
"You'd be surprised by the powers of charm that they can have: the medical team at the asylum is rather small and the internees could never denounce their presence."
"Alright. Your argument is logical, I must admit it."
Corvo cleared his throat to object:
"You know the place and I prefer that you accompany me to the Conservatory."
"Father, I'm tempted to trust her. If Billie is almost sure that witches will be around, she could be an ally."
"Or she could take the opportunity to deliver you." Corvo had no shame in expressing his doubts before Billie. "Be careful not to trust her too much. Weldon will go with you, he has already proven himself for fighting witches and more."
"Good. But don't worry, I'm more and more comfortable defending myself. And just after making sure Jindosh is okay, we're going to the Conservatory to take care of Ashworth together."
Two days later, Emily boarded the ship alongside her father and a few soldiers. Alexi Mayhew was the team leader and watched Billie closely. The prisoner was physically free, but her shadow always mixed with the lieutenant's one.
Despite her stern face, Alexi made sure that no one hit the amputated arm, deeming it was unnecessary for Billie to suffer more. Plus, Emily had assured her father and her friend that this enemy had never touched her, or even aimed at her, supporting Billie's version. It was still unclear if Billie was a courteous enemy or a terrible ally.
Leaning against the wooden wall of the room, Billie watched the lantern swing, changing the red color of her follower's hair. They were standing, listening to the Royal Protector's latest strategies and the suggestions of each guard.
Emily's fingers trembled slightly when she thought they would only be there in four days. She raised the cigarette to her lips and smoked deeply to allay her fears. At least, as they discussed their plan, they gained confidence.
To pass the time, the heiress leaned on the bulwark every afternoon with Alexi and admired how the waves cleared day by day. Emily still had so much to tell her and Alexi listened to her describe the beaches of Serkonos. She could easily imagine the tranquility of the whales, the songs of the sailors from the south, the immense sky mixing with the water.
The lieutenant even learned of the existence of Esteban and Pablo, and laughed loudly when Emily explained that the fishermen suspected a sperm whale.
"Delilah didn't ruin your humor, Lady Kaldwin, even during these moments."
Touched, Emily thanked her with a smile.
Even if her friend's presence tamed the turmoil that stirred deep inside her, Emily kept thinking of Jindosh, and sometimes the name of the Inventor left her head to invite itself on her tongue. The heiress explained how the strange man had taken care of her, how he annoyed her with his pride, how he amused her with his surprising spirit.
As she spoke, Alexi understood her fascination.
"I hope to meet him."
"You'll meet him, Alexi." It was a way to claim that he was not dead. "But believe me, he's not particularly pleasant. But when you know him well, you accept his faults with more ease."
"Isn't how everyone works?"
"Oh no, and it's fortunate that not everyone is like Jindosh."
The two women joked all the way and Emily felt her heart lighter.
But she only truly felt better when she saw Serkonos. As the ship approached ports, her sleep drifted away, elusive. Closing her eyelids only made Emily feel annoyed. And as soon as her feet met the mainland, the heiress immediately followed the path that led to the asylum.
"I'd have liked to return for another reason." Corvo said, feeling nostalgic when he saw these tall buildings and breathed the air from the gardens.
"I plan to share my life between Dunwall and Karnaca." Emily confided while taking his hand. "You can come with me whenever you want, with mother. You could have a nice stay here."
"You know, Emily, I even hope that Jessamine will retire with me here."
"Don't you want to be an empress earlier? You kept asking us when you could get on the throne." Corvo scoffed, tightening the hug, and Emily gave a sour laugh.
"You were counting on me to be able to leave without looking back?"
The targeted establishments being in the same sector of Karnaca, they were able to make the way together, and father and daughter were joking, making up for all this lost time.
Billie was watched closely, but nothing in her behavior showed concern or animosity. She felt vaguely concerned with this plan, mostly motivated to produce a positive impression that would encourage the Empress to pardon her and let her lead a whole new life. Billie dreamed of it: an everyday life jolted on the waves of the ocean, the iodized odor of the air, dawn and twilight on the mirror of water… it was what she wanted to see at the end of that night which was just beginning.
Weldon, very close, recognized the woman who had infiltrated the Dunwall Tower a month earlier and he had expected to see some changes, however, Billie kept this silent assurance despite her new handicap: with witches or with the imperial guard, she remained true to herself. When he discussed it with Corvo, the two men shared the same opinion: if this novice had wanted to kill the heiress, she would have done so long ago.
The paths, unfortunately, separated into two avenues richly lit by lampposts. The allies wished each other good luck, Corvo reminded Emily to be careful, and as Billie stepped aside, she noticed that Alexi was watching her.
"We trust you, Billie."
It was said with a conciliatory smile.
The asylum had a toothless facade where the windows alternately showed lit rooms or places in the shade. The immense garden, stretched out like an asleep creature, composed a farandole of perfumes and grasshopper music. The place seemed very quiet, inviting to rest. Not the slightest scream, not even crying. This first approach might have reassured Emily, but she feared arriving too late.
"Have you never entered this hospital, Billie?"
"Never. I just know that the director's name is Amos Finch: he came to several receptions organized by Breanna. He's harmless and looks like a coward. If witches impress him a little, he'll do whatever they want." Billie raised her arm to the top of the building where lights were sending colorful arrows to the moon. "And I also know that his office is up there. The best would be to access it without entering the asylum."
Billie was surprised by this answer: she expected the heiress to complain about her physical condition or the difficulty of the ordeal, but Emily's hands were already hanging on the iron fence and she started to climb the portal, just slowed down by its still recent operation. Weldon stifled a laugh, recognizing the young Kaldwin who had been surprised several times by the guards during her first night escapades, ten years earlier, when she climbed towards the roofs of Dunwall, always defying the most dizzying heights. This was precisely why the soldier came with grappling irons: the roofs are usually less monitored and Corvo, knowing his daughter a bit too well, had taken this equipment just in case.
Like graceful spiders, the three intruders melted into the thick shadows of the garden, reassured to see no one. In this silence, the rustling of the branches seemed deafening and Emily almost regretted not hearing a devilish noise from the hospital.
They finally reached one of the imposing walls where a gutter, some metal caterpillar, was aligned along the entire length, drawing a line. When the grappling was properly positioned on the edge of the roof, Emily began to climb. Horizontally, she felt that the muscles of her back were protesting: they had forgotten these exercises and went back to them reluctantly.
"You'll be fine, Lady Kaldwin? I can go if you want."
"Thank you Weldon, I'll be okay. I want to climb this wall. And if you go there, there'll be no one left to watch over our Billie as well as you."
Positioning herself near the gutter, Emily began her walk, the cable wrapped in her gloved hands, deep breathing, jaw contracted by effort and determination. She was going to find the man she loved and before dawn, she would have swept her opponents to truly be the heiress.
At this thought, Emily allowed herself a first smile.
In her advance, the stars insisted on remaining motionless, giving her no indication of depth. They just reminded her of the kingdom of the Outsider with a few more diamonds.