Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 23

Suspects and Evidence

We continued our search of the Du Puis mansion, finding shades guarding several passages. By then we were suspicious enough to begin opening closets and cupboards in search of clues. Such intrusiveness yielded quick results: in one of the guest rooms we found a chest filled with luxurious dresses.

Emeric had told us that Gascard was single and we saw no other evidence of a woman living in the house. It certainly looked incriminating, though Anders pointed out that the good messer could enjoy wearing the clothes himself. They alone wouldn’t have convinced me but then we found a rack of blood vials sitting on a desk on the second floor. Anders confirmed that they had been used in some sort of blood magic, though he was unfamiliar with the exact enchantment.

The expansive sitting rooms down the corridor held a reply from the Starkhaven Circle of Magi to an inquiry about their missing mages. Unsurprisingly, it told Du Puis in no uncertain terms that lost enchanters, if any, remained the province of the Templars and not some minor noble in a different city. Why the man would be looking for a lost mage in the first place none of us could guess.

Nearby lay Meredith's apology for Emeric's overzealous pursuit of Gascard as a suspect. “Clever,” Fenris noted. “He went over Emeric’s head to get the leash shortened.”

“I wish that’d work for me,” Anders mumbled into my ear. I snorted a little laugh that made Sebastian looked at me questioningly, wondering what could be so funny in the midst of a murder investigation. After a quick shake of my head I led my friends up yet another flight of bone-white marble stairs.

In the upper reaches of the mansion’s rear hall we finally found our quarry. A high-pitched, fearful voice echoed from the farthest room and there we surprised Gascard, looming over an older woman with a knife. She had fallen and was scooting away from him but she was injured or simply too afraid to stand.

“Help me! He’s gone mad,” she cried desperately. Her grey hair hung neatly to her shoulders despite her ordeal. Tears had swollen her eyes and left clear tracks down her face. The floor-length gown she wore looked to be expensive silk and its fashionably-snug skirt was further interfering with her ability to get her feet under her.

Du Puis turned his head without changing his threatening stance. “You’re not him,” he said after a moment’s study. His accent thickened the surprise in his speech and proved his Orlesian upbringing. Gascard straightened and turned to give us a sketchy bow. He wore a richly-embroidered shirt that underscored the wealth his home displayed and he was a self-assured as any of the Orlesians we'd met. “I laid this trap for a killer but it looks like he is playing us both. This must look bad but, you will allow it, I can explain.”

Fenris laughed a little as Sebastian gave a disbelieving grunt. “This I have to hear,” Anders scoffed. I smiled my own skepticism and gestured to Gascard to proceed.

“Several years ago my sister was murdered. The bastard's now in Kirkwall, killing again the same way he killed my sister.” He used the patient tone one does with a backward child and all of us bristled at bit. “The signal that he’s ready to move is the same every time: the killer sends a bouquet of white lilies. That was how I knew that Alessa was going to be next. I took her so that he would have to come to me.” His voice turned bitter. “I was finally going to face my sister's killer but instead you showed up.”

“He’s lying; he hurt me!” Alessa squealed though she’d listened to the explanation quietly enough. I was coming to dislike her nasal whine greatly but the smear of blood on her wrist earned her a little sympathy nonetheless.

“Alessa, I explained this! I need your blood to track you down if he takes you. I'm only trying to protect you from the killer.” He spoke in the same sort of patronizing tone he’d used with me and she took it about as well as I had. When Gascard reached for her she squeaked and finally gained her feet to stumble out of the room. He sighed and rolled his eyes a little in a way that said, “Idiot.”

“You can hardly blame the woman,” I said reasonably, crossing my arms. “You did kidnap her and cut her, and you do seem to know an awful lot about how this killer takes his victims.”

Du Puis narrowed his eyes at me, gauging my suspicions. “You must believe me,” he responded. “I want only to avenge my sister. Nothing can stand in the way of that: not the city guard or some nosy Templar or even hired mercenaries like you.”

Sebastian drew himself upright, taking umbrage at being classified with the people that had killed his family but I waved him to silence before he could proclaim his royal provenance. It would only confuse the situation and, in fairness, that was precisely what we were most of the time. In fact we could even be called vigilantes in this case; we weren’t even getting paid to be there.

“For the moment, I can only agree that I don’t know you’re guilty.” I lifted my sword and my friends drew up behind me, weapons in their hands. Du Puis backed up a step at our threatening stances. “But if we find out differently we will find you again.”

He shook his head mournfully. “You will see that I am am telling the truth. If you find out anything more about the killer, come and find me in Darktown.” With that he walked cautiously past my little group and down the nearby stairs, though we could hear him break into a run as his courage deserted him in the lower hall. Rather than follow him immediately we tossed the room in search of more clues. Finding nothing, we decided to return to the Gallows and Emeric.

Some younger Templar stood where we’d left the man. She said he'd gone off to meet us and showed us a note I'd ostensibly sent. Naturally, that set us chasing off to the back alley in Lowtown specified. There we found him, on the ground and surrounded by shades. Apparently he hadn’t thought that wandering around town asking questions about a murderer might not be conducive to his good health. In some ways Templars were just as sheltered and insular as the Circle mages they guarded, if Emeric, Cullen, and Keran were any examples.

We dispatched his attackers quickly. No sooner had I verified that we'd arrived too late to save the old man than the Templar who’d diverted us from the Gallows arrived. My reaction had made her suspicious and she’d decided to follow at a discrete distance. The woman pulled her sword when she saw Emeric’s lifeless body at our feet. Thankfully, evidence of innocence lay in pieces around us and she sheathed her weapon without forcing a confrontation.

She introduced herself as Moira and explained that she’d been a protégé of sorts to Emeric. Though she had heard about the missing women and his search at great length over the past few years she’d never considered it more than a private obsession. Seeing proof to the contrary she felt terrible about dismissing his suspicions and demanded to know what had changed to spur this attack after such a long, fruitless pursuit.

We recounted our adventure at the Du Puis mansion and recounted what incriminating tidbits we’d found and the man’s scanty explanation for it. Fenris pointed out that we’d encountered similar creatures throughout the house and Anders confirmed the man’s use of blood magic. Moira’s face darkened as we spoke. “Do you believe this to be his work?” she asked as she gestured at Emeric’s body.

Despite my tepid acceptance of Gascard’s story mere hours before I had to admit that circumstances made him look guiltier than ever. He could certainly have sent that note to Emeric while we were digging through his things while the twists and turns of Lowtown’s alleys would easily have let him arrange an ambush and escape unseen.

Moira nodded in agreement with my assessment. Though I was still not convinced he was the killer it seemed well worth bringing him in for questioning. Sebastian told her Du Puis had claimed to be headed to Darktown and she promised to find him and let us know what happened. Seb offered the information as a way of getting back at the man for calling him a mercenary, I suspect, but I’d have told her anyway so I didn’t object.

Having performed our civic duty in protecting the women of Kirkwall, we four meandered off to The Hanged Man, handily nearby. Aveline sat fidgeting nervously beside Isabella, wholly unlike her usual, composed self. When we arrived to a general shout of greeting, the same sort that I received no matter which companions accompanied me of an evening, she pulled me aside. “Come and see me tomorrow morning,” she hissed, looking almost shifty. “I need your help.”

Despite my pressing she simply shook her head, declining to tell me more. Not long after she left and Varric remarked on how twitchy she’d been all evening. “Thank the ancestors you showed up with you did,” he said. “She was making the drunks nervous.”

Some days later I arrived home to find a note from Moira. She wrote that she’d questioned Gascard Du Puis at length and was convinced he was the person responsible for all of the disappearances with which Emeric had charged him. Based on her interrogation the Templars had arranged to have him executed. By then personal drama among my friends had all but pushed the matter out of my mind and I spared little thought to the stranger’s unfortunate end.

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