Alexi walked alongside Corvo, noticing the stern features of her superior. After all he had endured with Jessamine, the Protector no longer had to prove the courage he was capable of. Ready for battle, he folded his hood, covering his mask with shadow. Despite the clarity brought by the street lamps, he had become a fragment of night.
One of the soldiers behind them was carrying a painting wrapped in paper. The painting, tied up behind the soldier's back, was of a modest in size. Corvo had wished he could have forgotten about this picture once and for all: it represented Delilah Copperspoon.
Surrounded by roses of disconcerting realism, her face was sectioned in layers of colors. The witch's bust was bounded by drips of brushes. The brushed lines were diligent despite the fact they had never been drawn by a human hand: they had simply appeared when the witch had been locked in the image and these reliefs were in fact bars of pigments, solid enough to embrace the enemy in the matter.
If the portrait was not large — barely smaller than life-size — Corvo had no doubt that a place could be made for the accomplice.
Of course, standing in front of the Conservatory did not yet confirm Billie Lurk's accusations, but Alexi and her superior recognized this electricity, inherent in witchcraft, in the air, just like murmurs without sound.
With a movement of the arm, Corvo broke the vibrations which hovered around and pointed out the paths so that the troop separated.
This long climb had become torture.
Cramps had started to stab her stomach, but Emily managed to reach the roof. There she fell on the ground, breathing out and breathing in deeply, moaning in pain.
Despite blurred vision, she saw the veranda with a thousand colors, a real star with rigid lines and improbable gleams, blinding with its bizarre beauty.
She crawled to the edge of the roof and waved to warn Billie and Weldon that everything was fine, then, after catching her breath, she managed to get up.
The smooth glass of the veranda let her see the shapes of the furniture and the presence of a small man on a desk inside. Amos Finch, without any doubt. A few steps to the right, she could enter through an open patio door. The access invited the fresh air into this curious office, so, with the same sweetness as the breeze, Emily entered the room. She had deliberately pushed aside the part of her coat to highlight the hilt of her sword which was still stored.
The man screamed and put his hand to his heart, mimicking a heart attack.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Emily Kaldwin."
For a moment, the director thought he had visions — just like Jindosh's ones perhaps, but the heiress did have two human legs —, then he recognized the daughter of the empress and the shame rose to his face. Feverishly, Finch stood up and leaned forward to bow respectfully despite the strange circumstances:
"Lady Kaldwin, I'm confused, I'm perfectly confused! But how—? Why did you come in through the balcony rather than the door? The terrace! In the middle of the evening! Why? You could have rang the bell, I would have come, or did the nurses not hear? Didn't they hear?"
Emily interrupted him with a wave of her hand, discovering the little man's voluble tendency. The rumors were true.
"I didn't knock. Your asylum is under surveillance, Mr. Finch."
"Under surveillance ? Well, yes, you certainly guard surveillance?" The man stuttered.
"No, witches from Delilah Copperspoon."
Amos Finch lost his voice, but did not contradict it.
He had discovered the nature and intentions of Breanna Ashworth just after accepting Jindosh into his hospital, when he and the Curator were talking in this glass office.
With a shiver, he remembered the interview, Ashworth's hard look, the stern tone in which she had ordered him to leave Jindosh in his cell for at least an eternity. Two female plants had appeared during their exchange to support Breanna's wish. The Curator had explained that she intended to organize surprise visits to ensure that the little man, usually so talkative, could remain silent.
"How— Lady Kaldwin, how do you know about the witches?"
Unable to be mysterious, Amos Finch was also unable to lie. Or maybe he saw a way out of this situation that he still could not understand?
"I'm their main target. You didn't know it?"
"No! I didn't! But why? Where were you? Oh! I see! The stranger the newspapers were talking about! Was that you? Jindosh refuses to give me a name."
The exchange would quickly tire Emily; she put her hands on the desk, letting the sword stand out, and asked Finch to explain everything to her.
"A fortnight ago, yes, or just over two weeks ago, Lady Ashworth confessed to me something curious about Jindosh, she explained to me that the poor man had suffered from a brain fever, or a near illness, and since this tragedy, our Grand Inventor has visions. But I dare not describe one of them to you: it concerns you, and I'm afraid the details will upset you." Amos Finch spoke in anguish: his own sentences formed a spider web that terrified and stifled him. "Anyway, Lady Ashworth suggested that Jindosh needed some— vacation. But I realize that she's mostly naughty: it isn't rest she wants for Jindosh, she wants him to suffer. I know it now."
"Did you hurt him?"
Oh, h er voice had hardened.
"No! No, never! But it's true that Jindosh needs rest, he was delirious…"
"What are the visions you were talking about? Tell me."
"I'm ashamed to speak about it, Lady Kaldwin. I'm really ashamed to tell you."
For a moment, Emily dreaded that the silvergraphs in which she was naked had been exposed to prying eyes.
"Lady Ashworth found sketches of you as— as a mermaid. I'm really sorry, Lady Kaldwin!"
Emily sighed with real relief, a reaction that Finch had not expected.
"Mr. Finch. It's a state secret, so I hope you will keep it for yourself, as much as possible anyway, but Jindosh was not delirious: I've been changed into a mermaid."
"I— I b-beg your pardon, Lady Kaldwin?"
"During Delilah Copperspoon's coup. The usurper took revenge by transforming me. Breanna Ashworth knew about it. I guess she used authentic sketches to make it look like madness."
Amos Finch could not get over it and his eyes fixed on the heiress' legs, expecting to see them suddenly replaced by a fishtail. The irony was that, under her shirt, Emily still had a few scales around her waist that proved her past mermaid condition. This equivalent of scars would remind her of this ordeal.
"It was a strong spell and the only way to reverse it was for Delilah or another witch to give me back my first body. Or at least, it was what we thought before we met Jindosh. His first intention had been to create prostheses, but he risked a more delicate operation: legs graft."
Everything became so clear to the director then: the patient cut in half who had been used as a test, the sketches, the stranger to whom the inventor had lent his arm— Amos Finch brought his hands to his face.
"I'm ashamed, I'm so ashamed— If only Jindosh had told me, I could've— Why didn't he say anything?"
"Because he kept my secret." Reassured that she had managed to convince the director, Emily stood up straight and asked: "Where is he?"
Finch grabbed a bunch of keys and invited the heiress to follow him. In the elevator, Emily felt impatience pounding against her ribs. Pure silence testified the patients' deep sleep, but as she walked through the doors pierced by tiny screen windows, Emily realized that in fact most of the rooms were empty.
They turned off into another wing. The corridors were sectioned by fences in order to slow down any leak, but at least the cleanliness of the premises was reassuring.
"Despite Lady Ashworth's orders, I placed our Inventor in an isolated area to keep him away from other patients. I also didn't want the nurses to take care of him: I had to do it myself. That's why I've been living in the asylum for a week."
"You didn't drug him?"
"Not once, I assure you! Jindosh keeps a lot of freedom in these places actually, I try to answer all his requests, except when the witches are close— Otherwise, I took care of him!"
They finally stopped in front of a cell and, realizing that it was Jindosh's, Emily walked to the window.
From where she was, she could see a desk and part of the walls that were covered with diagrams and notes. The sheets had apparently been insufficient as the writing overflowed over the clear wallpaper. Finch had been generous in giving the inventor something to note, yet, being too quick, the philosopher had not hesitated to work on the walls. Emily also suspected an intention to upset the owner of the premises: even if treated well, Jindosh must have a certain bitterness against Finch.
A modest bed was against the wall on the right. A form wrapped in a blanket was lying on it, motionless.
The director unlocked the door and, before entering, Emily stopped him:
"Two accomplices are with me. Go down into the garden and turn right. Tell them everything is fine and wait for us in the hall."
Finch nodded several times to show that he understood, his multiple nods being as talkative as when he spoke, then finally he walked away. Emily wanted her reunion with Jindosh to be private.
Once inside, she closed the door behind her and knelt by the bed where Jindosh was asleep. Documents littered the floor and even the mattress. Emily began by stroking the hair that had already started to grow, then gently wrapped her arms around Jindosh, waking him up. She noticed that a beard had started covering his entire jaw.
Jindosh looked at her without a word, surprised. Even doubting that she was real, he touched her face.
She nodded and tightened her grip. Jindosh laughed:
"Lady Kaldwin, I already asked you not to interrupt my sleep."
"Silence, you mad man."
He did not look skinnier than usual, even in this hospital shirt and pants. After all, before being mistreated, the Inventor himself was not very attentive to his health. But as a precaution, Emily asked him:
"Have you been hurt?"
"No. But I'm not allowed to use any sharp object: no blade, no pen. I scare them. They think that I'll dissect them with a razor."
Jindosh seemed proud of this effect, knowing he was feared. He knew the nurses were not taking care of him on Finch's orders, but he had guessed the relief of the medical team who must have been happy not to have to approach the cell of the Grand Inventor.
Jindosh showed his amputated hand as he held it out.
"They still deprived me of my prosthesis. Finch brought me cigarettes in the afternoon, but he has no taste, not even for tobacco."
"Fortunately, you gave me your case."
And when Emily presented the case, Jindosh immediately noticed the presence of the E. The letter was subtly linked to his initials.
"I thought you were definitely gone. But even when we're far away, we end up together again."
"You really thought I left Dunwall with no intention of coming back?"
"The idea crossed my mind. I refuse to give up my laboratory and you will not give up your throne. I had wondered if there was a message to understand because you left for Dunwall."
"Are you joking? You say it yourself: even when we're far away, we end up together again."
She knew he would not do it, either out of pride, out of modesty, or out of doubt, so she came over to kiss him, enjoying the tingling sensation she felt near her lips. Under her mouth, Emily felt him smile.
Finding Jindosh unharmed, however, would not lessen Emily's revenge for Ashworth, and when she stepped aside, hands on rough cheeks, she said:
"And now, I have to take care of Breanna Ashworth."
"Ah, you also know that she's the head of the coven."
"Yes, I do."
"You'll let me accompany you, of course."
"Kirin, I don't think you're in a state of—"
"Nonsense, I am and will always be able to see the future empress taking care of common enemies."
When he asked her if she was alone, she reassured him, adding that several imperial guards, including the Royal Protector, were participating in the excursion.
He remained silent, but Jindosh felt flattered that he had been Emily's priority.
He then designated the waist of the heiress:
"And no after-effects?"
"Nothing that will prevent me from being present at the Conservatory."
Breanna Ashworth closed the binder where she had assigned all new acquisitions for the Conservatory: her witch affairs should not distract her from this prestigious work she also appreciated.
Each painting and each statue reminded her of the long nights spent watching Delilah. By talent and by magic, the beloved witch mixed pigments or dug into material, bringing out vibrant portraits, filled with colors and life.
And once Delilah will be released from prison, she would paint the world in her own way again. Breanna put her hands to the roses that adorned her throat, cherishing the mark of her lover. The thorns never sank into her own skin; only in her enemies'.
Murmurs ran through her office, hammering the floor and walls like a multitude of rat paws, annoying the silence. With a flick of the wrist, Breanna opened the doors to her office. Three witches were walking down the hall and they suddenly stopped: they knew the powers of their leader, but the slightest demonstration always surprised them. And they were so young — the oldest was not yet 25 years old —, impressionable and excited by all the possibilities.
In the manors, the young women were trophies, delicate creatures to admire, like simple harmless marble statues. Here, since they were served by occult forces, these girls knew that a single glance could cause hundreds of nightmares in the most seasoned soldier.
Despite everything, the powers did not exhilarate them enough to forget who their leader was, so they only resumed their walk by bending their necks.
"Mistress Breanna, one of our sisters saw the little Kaldwin near the asylum."
"It's good news." Ashworth commented with a soft smile. "Were her parents here as well?"
"My sisters, this is our last chance: Emily Kaldwin has returned for the Grand Inventor and will be executed tonight. After this success, we will not be able to rest, because it will be the turn of her parents to die. In Dunwall, we will release Delilah and rejoice."
"Breanna." One of the three witches came forward. "Our sister saw neither Corvo nor Jessamine, but she claimed that Billie was with Emily."
The Curator's features suddenly tensed. The woman who approached would have sworn that the brown of the eyes had darkened and that the olive complexion of Breanna had evolved into an authentic green. All of these signs signaled a desire for violence.
But Ashworth calmed down:
"She's not the first to betray us. You know the fate that we reserve for those who have turned away from us."
Footsteps echoed on the stairs, but instead of going up to the office, they went down to the entrance of the Conservatory. Shouts of warning and sounds of swords confirmed that they were under attack.
Breanna passed between two mastiff skulls and, under the bone, an evening light burst, dividing into rays which drew the outline of the guard dogs. Black ivy began to grow on the walls: their stems were imitating lines of caterpillars, but instead of leaves, thorns emerged from the branches. These magical plants reached the hall, spinning on the ground, tangling around the feet of the team led by Alexi.
The captain had drawn her sword and she was cutting through these plant enemies, cutting thorns that stretched several meters in the air. If they were not careful, these spikes would pierce their skin and organs.
The guards would never have believed that having confronted the witches before was a chance, but without this confrontation in Dunwall, they would have been paralyzed by these furious faces: about fifteen witches invaded the hall, black tears dripping on the cheeks of some, while for others, their hair seemed to ignite and their veins lit up with red under the flesh. The most terrible was their cries: their throat seemed to contain several voices and they collided to threaten, to insult.
Alexi became livid when she witnessed these transformations. She opted for the revolver on her belt and started to fire.
The shots rang out in the Conservatory. The bursts of noise dispersed at the same rate as that of the cartridge cases. In this chaos, the silhouette of the Royal Protector discreetly materialized on a window sill: from this floor, he could access the Conservator's office and gather the ingredients he needed to make the painting — which was his own back now — a trap for the last witch.
A smell of humus stung his nose despite his mask. He dared not imagine the true power of this stench which surpassed the deserted parks of Dunwall, those which were overgrown with dark mushrooms. How many corpses swollen with water sank into the moss here? What swamp flowers sat their reign without ever fading?
Corvo heard footsteps creaking the floor, and listening hard enough, he could hear the claws scratching the wood. Dogs patrolled, perhaps still accompanied by their mistress.
No matter whether it was courage or madness that inspired him, Corvo slipped under the glass, flowing to the ground, infiltrating this mezzanine which overlooked the Conservator's office.
He was still safe as long he did not come down the steps.
The huge room was set in contrast, just like Breanna Ashworth's life: on the desk side, books were piling up in gigantic bookcases, warmed by red velvet wallpaper and mahogany furniture. Pomp and luxury supported intellectual wealth. But on the other side, the entire mezzanine was the laboratory: the naked bulbs shone with harsh light, revealing all the stains on the tiling of the operating tables, as well as the pale complexion of the two corpses deposited. Lying on their stomachs, their backs were nothing more but gaping wounds where the vertebrae had been extracted in the same way as a dentist would have done with teeth. Diagrams were piled up under plenty bottles with colored powders or opaque vials. Two daggers were visible: the first one was planted in the skull of one of the dead, the other was still resting on its support. Its carved bone handle represented a mermaid.
Here, Corvo would find everything he needed for his plan.
He put down the portrait still wrapped in paper and started poking around the laboratory, bathed in the smell of damp putrefaction. The pieces of bone were immaculately clean, but the proximity to their former owners made the white less pure. Nothing too intimidating, however; Corvo grabbed a shoulder blade and a patella. After drawing three symbols on the flat bone with charcoal, he looked for a braid of nerves, ideally coming from an arm, but after checking twice, Corvo noticed that there were none, yet he needed it to hold the two bones together.
From his boot he pulled out a small knife, the kind fishermen use to clean out their fish, and he dissected the hand of one of the corpses, letting the edge of the blade caress the flesh up to the middle of the arm. Released from the cold envelope, blood began to flow as heavy as syrup. Corvo had placed a bowl just under the cut — too bad for the dried mint leaves at the bottom — but the smell was strong.
Strong enough for one of the hounds in the office to straighten its bony snout. The dog turned around on the stairs leading to the laboratory, its rump swaying limply, threatening to detach from the rest of the body like a rotten fruit. It was with the same dead fragility that it climbed the steps. The mastiff heard a presence above in the sanctuary of his mistress.
Its wet grunts were heard even in the laboratory; Corvo froze, the blade still stuck in his arm to cut the ingredient. He had to gather two more things to start the ritual, but the essentials he would need? Tranquility.
Corvo normally used Outsider's gift, but this advantage was poor in a fight against a witch as powerful as Breanna Ashworth. She would exhaust him in an endless fight, preventing him to open the painting to lock her in.
"Where are you?" The Curator asked, looking for one of the two hounds.
Corvo held his breath: he did not know if it was the witch climbing the steps or if it was the beating of his heart at his temple that produced these loud and regular noises.
His fingers gently released the handle of the penknife and, with the same careful slowness, he touched his sword. With his other hand, Corvo brushed against the butt of his revolver; a weapon that would not be too much.
The office door below opened in a crash, unbalancing Corvo: a young witch had rushed into the realm of the Curator, warning her that the heiress was approaching the Conservatory along with Billie Lurk, the Inventor and another soldier.
Breanna Ashworth's cry of rage was astounding: first human, it rose in sharp, virulent notes, finer than needles. Corvo's blood froze, but at least the witch was walking away, accompanied by her two undead hounds.
He resumed his task, struggling against the rigidity of the nerves and hurried to start the ritual as quickly as possible.
After climbing to the roof of the asylum, Emily felt that her belly was shattered. She knew she would not last against Breanna Ashworth.
The cry the witch had uttered had echoed into the hall, overcoming the sounds of sword and thorn wrestling. Even Jindosh had backed away, frozen and hesitant. Billie, for her part, had stepped forward.
She knew that the witch's anger was aimed at Emily and her as well: they would be the first target of the attacks. Despite her good faith so far, neither Weldon nor Emily had offered a weapon to their former enemy. The role they had assigned her was not that of a fighter but that of bait.
Weldon, who was holding his sword and his pistol, hailed Alexi who then ordered:
"The heiress is there! Protect her!"
Alexi took a few steps aside to support Emily, preparing for a more violent attack than the previous one. It was dangerous to expose Emily this way, but they were now sure that Corvo could discreetly prepare the ritual.
For his part, Weldon stayed close to Billie, ready to defend her since she was unarmed. If she had been able to choose, Billie would have preferred to be by the side of Alexi, for a matter of trust and certainly a touch of sympathy. And let is not forget her soft spot for redheads.
While fighting against the rain of thorns, the soldiers regrouped in sidesteps towards the heiress. Unaccustomed to the heat of Karnaca, some guards were sweating heavily, streams running from their foreheads to their jaws, but they were too focused to wipe them with the back of their sleeves.
Witches flocked together: each movement rustled leaves and petals, like stirred by a storm breeze. Their eyes reddened by curses shone like embers, their mouths twisted as if insects were moving under the skin. Everything in them surpassed in horror the most feverish nightmares.
Some of the guards concentrated on the points to be aimed, shooting in the knees or seeking to pierce the enemy's heart, because if they stared at the faces of wax for too long, they knew that they would curl up like frightened children.
At least they could avoid meeting the eyes of the Curator, the most formidable of all, who came down the steps.
Thorns hissed at the human bulwark for the heir and the blades slammed against these peaks, slowing their course.
Quickly, Weldon cut a thorn, but a second came just behind. His arm did not have time to retrace the same defense. The violence with which the thorn plunged into his eye, crossing his skull, enabled him at least not to suffer too long before dying…
His body collapsed; Emily and Alexi suppressed a start. The captain, still in control of herself, clutched the butt of her pistol and shot the witch who was rushing at her instead of looking for the origin of the fatal thorn. Revenge would come soon enough.
Billie, unable to fight, saw that the projectile had been sent by Breanna Ashworth. The Curator had not targeted the heiress or the traitor: taking her time and dropping the reinforcements suited her better.
But she did not know that wasting time was a decision in favor of Corvo.
The moment Breanna descended the last step to join her sisters in the hall, the moment she raised her arm to invoke new vegetable claws again, a cry resounded from her still open office, echoing against the windows of the dome.
It was not only because of the cry, Breanna recognized the voice: it was Delilah's.
Billie was staring at the paling face of the Curator; she hoped wholeheartedly that the witch would not let hatred take over. If her anger against the heiress and the traitor was stronger, their plan would fail.
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.
Finally, without even looking at the intruders, Breanna disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
She did all this for Delilah, Delilah whom she had not seen for too long, Delilah who she missed a little more every night, every day…
Alexi and the remaining guards must not ease off; the leader's departure was even their chance, as it confirmed that their plan was on track and it was a perfect moment of surprise against the Coven.
With all the fury of the fight, the swords cut into green or brown skins, cutting a piece of flesh and branch. The well-aimed blows even cut limbs.
In the chaos, Billie rushed to Weldon's body.
"Delilah!" Breanna yelled as she appeared in her laboratory.
A frame placed on the ground contained a square of light. The lights mixed in blue, green, yellow, purple fireflies, forming a confused swarm. In this blinding glare, Breanna saw an arm stretching out as a black branch; Delilah was trying to get out, screaming in impatient rage.
To escape the light that could betray him, Corvo leaned against the wall, trying to become a shadow behind Breanna; he knew that by the time he started reading the incantation, she would guess his presence, but he could try to knock her out first.
He had to admit it: the howling of the trapped witch had paralyzed him at first, but now the Protector saw the advantage and he was determined to take it. In silence, he grabbed the butt of his weapon and approached.
Realizing that a presence had brought the painting here to activate it, Breanna began to turn around to inspect the room; she then saw the mask that imitated a skull with a metal frame.
"You!" She hissed between her teeth and with a flick of her wrist, invited her hounds to materialize.
Corvo had no intention of killing her, but if he had only that option left, he would slit her throat without feeling bad. With his other hand, he grabbed his dagger and tried to pierce her side.
The mastiff arrived in time to bite his forearm and deflect the blade.
Corvo turned, sending the dog to the side and, in a thoughtless attempt, shoved Breanna with his back to make her fall to the ground. The frame resisted under their weight, even when Breanna tried to wrestle with Delilah under her, but Corvo persisted in being an obstacle.
The cold rays flowed over them in reverse cascades. The slightly oily texture was reminiscent of the painting that made this prison. Could it be destroyed if it was left open too long? Corvo felt Breanna's arms grip him. She hung on like she was drowning, yet she wanted more than keeping her head above water: Breanna intended to use Corvo to help Delilah get out of prison.
Understanding this intention, the Protector clenched his jaw. Without that grip, he could have used his blink gift, but it would have brought Breanna out of the trap as well, and maybe Delilah too. The spell to lock them up was short enough for Corvo to remember, but if he pronounced it now, he would be half caught in the painting with the two witches. The painting would not be sealed and their plan would have come to nothing.
He thought of Emily, he thought of Jessamine, he thought of Alexi. Being locked up did not mean death: his daughter and the captain could reopen the prison and they would bring him out alone. The question remained: could Delilah and Breanna kill him in this canvas?
But oh well…
Corvo brutally threw his head back: his occiput hit Breanna's forehead and the Curator, stunned, stopped fighting. Corvo felt his body sink into this light: the softness of this slow fall gave him the feeling of being swallowed by a swamp. The thick humidity would suffocate him. Unlike his two enemies, he did not have magical powers. Would Outsider's powers keep him alive in this prison?
He had too many doubts, so he stopped thinking.
Blinded by the bright light that plunged into his eyes, Corvo let himself be carried by the arms of Breanna, accepting his fate.
Patience was all he needed now.
Suddenly, he felt a powerful hand grab his and it started to pull. Other hands were busy removing Breanna's arms, ridding him of this clinging spider.
"Corvo! Hold on!"
In the light emerged the faces of Alexi and certain guards. Emily's was close too. With a groan, the captain pulled out with all her might, pulling her superior out of the trap while Breanna's body got stuck in the formless oil.
Soon there was nothing left of the Curator: she had slipped completely to the bottom of the frame, blocking access to Delilah.
"Quick, the speel!" Alexi warned, standing between the canvas and the Protector, her sword still drawn.
Without losing another moment, Corvo recited the incantation. Under the influence of the words, the light dimmed and the oil began to freeze, interrupting its whirlwind without logic. The color stopped. Cracks formed suddenly, as if a fist had hit from inside the portait, but these lines were only a delicate seal confirming that the bars had been closed.
In the frame, the painting was no longer a simple portrait of Delilah: the witch who had attempted a coup was here, but this time, she was hugging her lover. Her mouth was resting on Breanna's forehead who had half-closed eyes. The fingers entwined, calmly enjoying their reunion despite the failure.
"Where are the other witches?" Corvo asked, leaning on Alexi's shoulder, thanking her at the same time.
"We've killed some, but many escaped when Delilah's cry stopped. They must have felt that their luck has turned. Not to mention that Bille was a big help." The captain answered, nodding at the one who stood back: when Weldon died, Billie had rushed to grab the pistol and, motivated by adrenaline, she had killed two witches even if she had not straightened up yet.
When Corvo learned about Weldon's death, he removed his mask as a sign of respect. His grave face was revealed, leaving no room for the joy of victory. The festivities would wait.
Emily touched her father's shoulder. Without a word, she confirmed that it was over.
In this new silence, the Conservatory seemed unrecognizable.
Flowers still invaded the walls of the witches's rooms: Corvo and his soldiers gathered enough evidence to reveal that Breanna Ashworth was the accomplice of Delilah Copperspoon. They were checking, at the same time, if another ally was hiding somewhere, but among all the witches, only Breanna had had enough power to maintain the Coven and relaunch an attack. After tonight, no more witches would stand up against Jessamine. Emily would become the next Empress.
In the documents, Jindosh's sketches were also found. Sitting on the back of a bench, Emily was inspecting them. The author of the drawings was smoking, sitting correctly beside her, on this bench overhung by a sequoia.
This nature would perish if it was in Dunwall, attacked by the cold and the rain. And yet, Karnaca and the capital belonged to the same empire, her empire. This contrast only recalled the distance between their respective duties.
"I thought Breanna had found the silvergraphs."
"Oh no. Even with her spells, she could never have opened the chest. They're safe."
He did not propose to destroy them, but Emily did not ask: she was not ashamed of these pictures and trusted him. She put her hand near Jindosh's neck and touched the long hair.
"You too are safe. No more witches will attack you."
Jindosh closed his eyes: at the asylum, he had not faltered, not once. All the Isles knew him, and more than half saw him as a madman, however, he was still unaccustomed to the idea that the heiress of the throne loved and supported him. Emily was everything he had missed in his life, besides being his greatest accomplishment.
He had had time to think about it at Finch's hospital.
He took the hand of his empress and kissed it:
"I'm reassured. Not for me, although I'm glad to have fewer enemies, but I'm reassured that these witches can do nothing against you. You'll be our next Empress, Emily, and you'll be exceptional."
"I guess I'll have to be careful: you're execrable when you're wrong."
"I'm never wrong."
She laughed and kissed the corner of his lips. They found the calm that had rocked them before the attack in front of the same building. Finally, the dark garden no longer concealed any threat. The large lilies were no more than harmless flowers; the leaves moved, sensitive to the wind, no longer announcing any misfortune.
"So you won't hold it against me if I go back to Dunwall."
"When are you going back?"
"Oh, in a week, I think." She replied with a smile.
From the entrance terrace, Corvo watched them for a moment. Jessamine was more confident than him about Jindosh and Emily's relationship, but seeing them so accomplices, Corvo recognized that he could feel peaceful about it.
Alexi stepped forward to tell him that Weldon's body was going to be brought back. Corvo nodded gently:
"We'll leave tomorrow morning."
"So early ? You can stay, Corvo: I'll take care of the evidence to take back to the Empress and Weldon's funeral."
"I'll be fine, Alexi: Emily will be the only one staying in Karnaca. As for me, I could come back later. I think the opportunities won't be missed."
With a discreet smile, Alexi confirmed these suspicions, then, she went on, holding her hands behind her back:
"There's something else."
"Billie Lurk has disappeared."
During their search for evidence, they had been less vigilant about their prisoner who had become an ally, and Billie seemed to have taken advantage of this inattention to disappear.
Alexi hesitated to ask whether to start the search — she would have reluctantly followed the order — but even Corvo seemed pensive.
"What do you think about it, Alexi?"
"I think we don't have much to fear from Billie Lurk." The captain dared to answer. "As long as she remains discreet…"
"Yes, I agree. If she wanted to attack us, she would've done it before." Corvo sighed, hands on hips. "She was a strange woman."
"Yes, she was…"
It was wrong to think that the night was a perfect ally for running away: the ideal was still the crowds. That was why Billie was heading for the busiest spots on the coast.
The street lamps lined up on the sidewalks, revealing the stalls and bars that made the shore pulsate. The fishermen's jaws opened wide, either to yawn or to swallow half a mug of beer.
A prostitute were sitting on the lap of a bearded captain. She was smoking her pipe with pride, her chin high. With men who had not seen women for weeks, she was like a land mermaid, captivating them and taming them with patience.
Glasses slammed tables with the same brutality as fists against noses — that was how they treated cheaters. Songs were also heard, Jewel of the South or Watery Grave, songs that all Karcana sailors had known since their salty childhood. Foreigners also brought parts of their past, sharing songs or poems in their language.
This port in Karnaca stretches out over the sea, moving away from the city to be a mixture of numerous places.
Billie Lurk ended up stopping in front of a bar, The Brown Mermaid. She could smell ocean and hop in the same place and, invigorated by this evening, she let herself be taken in by the festive atmosphere, knowing that this crowd of sailors would hide her better than dark alleys.
She had not fled out of cowardice. Perhaps mostly out of pride.
For her, her debt was paid and she did not want to return to Dunwall, even without being chained, to await the judgment of Jessamine Kaldwin. Before disappearing, she had given Emily a look and promised, in her head, to be forgotten in order to finally lead her life. Her life as captain of the seas.
This night was therefore to be a rebirth. If necessary, she would get drunk until she sank and wake up with the most horrible hangovers, as long as amnesia accompanied her.
There was no room in the bar: the small stools disappeared under the imposing buttocks of the whale hunters, the elbows were slumped on the counter in an irregular line.
However, a few steps from the window, there was a table occupied by only one man. Rather than sea salt, it was black powder from the mines that stained his clothes. From a distance, these grains of charcoal deceived the observer by suggesting that freckles speckled his face, but he had that pale and smooth complexion that redheads have.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" Billie asked fearlessly.
The man, as imposing as a bear, jumped but nodded at her. Face to face, they were the only silent duo in the establishment.
This companion began to speak, but his voice too low was drowned in the noise, then he resumed, louder:
"I didn't think there would be so many of us drowning our sorrows tonight."
"Hm. I don't feel like a lot of people are sad." Billie observed.
Right behind her, a sailor laughed loudly, a young colleague whispering jokes in his ear. Further on, a waitress was dancing, admired by a circle of spectators who were clapping to beat the pace.
"That's right, sorry… You understand why I was the only one at this table now." The man tried to laugh. His face was chiseled and gloomy.
"What are you trying to drown without success?"
"A heartache. Classic, but painful."
"I can understand."
Billie allowed herself a grin. This client's hair color had not escaped her. It was as if fate pushed her towards the redheads. Luckily, she did not lose her head easily when it came to men.
"Who are you?"
"Ah, your name isn't unknown in Karnaca."
He shrugged, as if this detail was not important.
"What about you? Who are you?"
"Conversely, my name is completely unknown." And it had to stay that way. Aramis raised an eyebrow but did not insist.
Although anonymous, Billie chatted with his drinking buddy for hours: they did not talk about who they were, they mostly talked about Karnaca, the sea and the mines, things that were everyday for them.
"… The gardens of Karnaca are superb, with this climate, it would be a crime. Have you ever seen taller trees else where? They say that in Tyvia there are only fir trees. Even lavender can't grow there."
"Maybe I should go there: I don't want to see a flower ever again."
Aramis laughed; surprisingly, it was not a thunderous burst, but a glowing, almost high-pitched sound.
"You want to go there while Tyvians do everything to come here? And would you do that?"
"I'll buy boat. Isn't this a place you would like to see?"
"In fact, yes, I would. I've always lived in Karnaca, I would like to see something else."
"Do you have sea legs?"
"Not at all, no."
This response drew an almost sad smile on Billie's face: she felt she befriended Aramis Stilton.
She sighed and she raised her elbow to finish her fourth mug.