Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 22

Interrupted Investigations

Varric would be sorely disappointed in my ability to weave a story, even after so much time spent at his side listening to him effortlessly pull a dozen such lines together. Yet again I’ve forgotten an important thread in my own tale. But our investigation into Kirkwall’s disappearing women came home to roost with a vengeance that even Justice could have envied.

It started early on, one of the first jobs I took after my year with Athenril when Bethany and I were still amassing the funds we needed to buy our way into the Deep Roads expedition. A thoroughly distasteful but wealthy man by the name of Ghyslain de Carrac, his Orlesian accent so thick you could have used it for mortar, hired us to find his wife. Apparently she’d disappeared and her family suspected him of foul play, a concern he found more disturbing than the fact that she’d gone missing.

The only hint he gave us was the name Jethann, a whore at the Blooming Rose. Ninette had been rather free with her favors, it seemed, even with those whose favors were not free. Ghyslain had only found out about the elf when Jethann had sent the woman lilies just before she’d gone but the prostitute wouldn’t talk to his customer’s husband.

I thought Ninette’s unsavory habits would have explained her having left the man even if his clear dislike of her had not been enough. But Ghyslain was paying so we trooped over to the brothel, a place with which we were rather more familiar than I’d have thought after our visits looking for the missing Templar recruits and prying Gamlen out of there to get him home for the night.

Jethann turned out to be a cheeky, cheeky man. Innuendo and obscene gestures, most of which seemed to go right over Fenris’s head, accompanied every answer to our questions. Anders and I had a bit of fun making Bethany blush by meeting the whore’s attitude with double entendres and hand signals of our own.

Jethann had nothing but good to say about Ninette and nothing good to report about her husband. But between suggestive comments he gave us another step along her trail: another man had come looking for the woman, a Templar named Emeric. Off we went to the Gallows to find him.

He was standing in the sunlight, shining like the hero of an old tale as he gazed about the open court. His iron-grey hair flowed to his shoulders, contrasting with the steel shine of his armor, and the rich reds and golds of his skirts almost gleamed. In his heyday he must have been an imposing and attractive man. I explained why we’d come and Emeric’s grey eyes widened. “Finally someone takes an interest,” he said, almost to himself. At my quizzical look he elaborated. “I’ve been investigating Kirkwall’s missing women for months.”

He’d gone to Jethann because Ghyslain’s wife wasn’t the only woman who had gone missing in the last year. He’d heard about Ninette while looking for a mage who had disappeared from the Gallows. Anders sarcastically noted that plenty of mages had left their prison voluntarily but Emeric appeared not to notice the acid in my friend’s tone. Mharen had been tentative and content, he explained, not the sort to leap into the unknown. I wondered from his description just how well he had known her but I thought it best not to antagonize the Templar by asking while we stood in the Gallows courtyard with an apostate in the party.

In light of our interest in Ninette he asked us to pursue the investigation on his behalf. “I can’t convince anyone that they’re connected,” he said, looking defeated, “but at least three women—and perhaps more—have disappeared.” The City Guard had dismissed his inquiries and Meredith had refused to believe that Mharen was not an escaped blood mage so the man had nowhere to turn for help.

Since Ghyslain was paying me anyway I agreed to continue looking for the little Emeric could pay me from his meager Templar salary. What he’d managed to uncover led me to the foundry in Lowtown, not far from the Hanged Man. It was a creepy, overheated place, filled with masses of glowing, molten metal. Between the orange light and immense heat I felt like we’d walked into the heart of a bonfire. The crackling flames under the vats only reinforced the impression.

As we walked into the main room, a figure on the upper level across the open pit dashed through a doorway. All I could see of it was grey hair and a mage-like robe. I had Isabela and Fenris head around the edges of the exposed floor while Merrill and I cautiously crossed the middle. A curse in Tevinter alerted me to the wave of shades pouring out of the darkest corner to our right. Whatever was going on in the foundry it looked like blood magic played a part.

Naturally, by the time we’d fought our way through the creatures the figure on the upper level had long disappeared. We searched for a second exit but found nothing, just crates stacked against the walls. But at the spot where we’d glimpsed the mage a bloodstain darkened the dusty floor. We discovered beside it a small bag filled with tiny bones and an extravagant ring, just the sort of thing a flamboyant, Orlesian lady-about-town might wear.

The next morning we returned to Ghyslain. He identified the ring by its surprisingly-romantic inscription and, despite his earlier expressions of disdain for her, waxed poetic about Ninette before he paid us. I wondered if he’d been less sour before she’d started so blatantly running around on him. He’d always been oily, though, I’d bet. There was a reason Ninette’s family believed he’d married her for her money, after all.

Leaving him to his grief we turned our steps back to the Gallows to tell Emeric what we’d seen and to give him the pouch. He gave us a little coin and promised to go to the City Guard with what we’d uncovered. That was the last I heard of it for three years. Then, just after Mother had finally finished renovations to the family mansion, I descended one morning to find Aveline in the sitting room. Emeric had not let the matter drop but had continued digging for all that time.

In the course of his investigations he had settled on a suspect and begun surveillance in the least subtle way possible. Aveline herself had led the raid on the man’s house, practically next door to Fenris’s own crumbling pile, and found nothing incriminating. But the Templar would not let the matter drop. Thus she’d come to me for help.

I wasn’t sure quite what she wanted me to do. “What, you want me to ‘silence’ the geezer?”

Aveline looked shocked until she realized I’d been joking. “Of course not,” she laughed. “But I can’t do anything more, officially. He’s adamant about his suspicions but there’s no proof. I thought you could talk to him.”

Off we went, across the harbor and up to the Gallows courtyard where we’d first arrived in Kirkwall. I thought of how intimidating all of that white stone and slave statuary had seemed to me then. Now it seemed just another overdone place clinging to the Tevinter horror it pretended to deplore. Someday I’d get inside to see Bethany and the former slave quarters. They couldn’t be as bad as I pictured if my sister’s relative contentment was any indicator.

Emeric looked much as he had, only a few new lines around his eyes showing how time and frustration had worn on him. Mharen must have meant a great deal if he took the search so personally. When he saw Aveline with me he grimaced a little but greeted us politely enough. It didn’t take long for the two to get heated, however.

They hissed and spat at one another for a few minutes before I intervened, asking for specifics rather than recriminations. Emeric explained that all of his leads had taken him to one person: Gascard Du Puis. After I finished snickering at the name I got the details from him. Aveline pointed out that Emeric’s “evidence” could be mere coincidence and that she had found nothing in Du Puis’s home to prove otherwise. The noble had then complained to Meredith about Emeric’s harassment; the Templar had been reprimanded and ordered to drop the investigation.

Naturally, that had made him all the more determined. All of Kirkwall knew of my unlikely friendship with the Captain of the Guard so he’d gone to her to ask for my help. That brought us full circle to standing in the courtyard, arguing again. I shushed the pair of them and agreed to pay Ser Du Puis a little visit. It was more exciting than helping Mother pick out wall hangings or rearrange furniture, at least. She had Bodahn, a far more enthusiastic helper, for that.

So it was that I found myself that evening picking up Fenris with Sebastian and Anders in tow. If blood magic was involved I wanted a strong mage beside me. Aveline could not be involved but I felt better about confronting a possible murderer with my two closest friends guarding my back. When I explained the target of our investigation Fenris laughed. “It is no wonder they call this street Little Orlais”, he said. “Half of the mansions are owned by nobles who came to Kirkwall to escape assassins.”

As we strolled down the cul-de-sac Sebastian chuckled. “Starkhaven has the same problem: Orlesians who don’t want to play ‘the game’ then do nothing but complain that nothing in the city compares to Val Royeaux.” I thought of Hubert and Ghyslain and gave a little snigger of sympathy. Thus far all of the Orlesians I’d encountered had been high-strung and arrogant. I wondered if Gascard would be any different.

We mounted a few steps and knocked but received no answer. Naturally that meant we opened the door and invited ourselves into the foyer. On an ornate table between the arms of the grand staircase we found a letter thanking Du Puis for a shipment of some sort and offering an artifact as a reward. I’d no sooner replaced the paper than shades popped out of every shadow and a rage demon slid across the stone floor toward us. Perhaps the artifact mentioned had been something that allowed him to summon the creatures.

“It seems we’re in the right place, at least,” Anders drawled. “You can’t control demons without blood magic.” We headed for the stairs the creatures had blocked. Gascard Du Puis owed us some answers, whether we found them in his rooms or interrogated the man himself.

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