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Your Heart is as Black as Night

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INTRODUCTION

 

There was a large crowd surrounding the club, but not for the usual reason of a cool drink and glimpse at the most beautiful girls this side of Denerim. Police sirens lit the night and washed everything in a haze of red. Cullen pushed through the crowds, his partner had not left him much of a path to follow. He walked down the alley past reporters and photographers and a couple of street cops from this jurisdiction. He was surprised to see the black coats of the MTF, did they really think this was related to mages? He could feel a migraine starting to bloom.

He ducked under the tape and made it to Cassandra, stomach roiling at the sight before him. The Fade was a popular club and the girls who sang and performed here were famous in their right. The dead girl before him, Justinia, had been their top dame for years. She was dissected gruesomely, her arms and legs hanging from hooks mounted into the wall. Her limbless body lay beneath it on a pentagram of blood and her poor pretty face had been split with a carved out smile.

“Blood magic,” He said in disgust.

“I don’t sense any witchcraft here,” Cassandra said. “I don’t think they completed the ritual.”

“How did no one hear her scream?” He mused, examining the body more closely.

“Perhaps she was already dead. Could be a message for you know who,” Cassandra answered.

“Where is he?”

“He’s been called,” She snapped back. He knew she wasn’t angry at him. She was mad at finding the body of a friend. They had known Justinia a long time. She had sang at Cullen’s wedding last year.

The ruckus in the alley grew and he knew the club owner had finally arrived. They stood back a little from the body and waited for the elf. He was dressed in a crisp black suit and wove his way easily to the scene. He took it all in with cool efficiency, like he had the last time they had been here. Cullen didn’t suspect him of the murder, but he knew that Solas had threatened to fire the woman just last week. That was little motivation for this horror however.

“I thought we agreed not to have any more dead bodies turn up in your club Solas,” Cassandra sneered. The elf barely acknowledged her.

“This isn’t inside the club,” He said thinly. Color rose to his fair features, the only sign of his anger or emotion about this. He reached into his pocket and produced a thick manila envelope, handing it to the Seeker. “I want a name.”

He left without much else, and Cassandra sighed and tucked the money into her own jacket. They both knew there was no way this could end well. Was it the start of a serial killer, or was this declaration of gang war?

 

((0))

 

“Hey B, did you see the papers?” Merrill said and tossed down the black and white on Brenna’s vanity. She had a performance in ten minutes. She picked up the stupid thing and looked down at it, ashamed to admit she hadn’t been keeping up with the news lately.

“What’s this?” She asked and scanned the headline.

TRAGEDY AT THE FADE, STARLETTE BRUTALLY MURDERED

“Someone whacked Justinia,” The other elf said and went about getting herself ready for her own performance later that night.

“I can’t believe it!” Brenna exclaimed, looking at the smiling picture of the showgirl in her prime. Justinia the Divine had been the whole reason she ever thought to try out for the stage. She had admired her for so many years. Her heart sunk as she read about her hero’s death. The article mentions suspicions of blood magic and how her body had been left in pieces, naked in an alley.

“You think that means they’ll have an opening?” A girl called from the back and Brenna turned and threw the paper at her.

“Oh come on, you can’t tell me you’re not sick of being some rich man’s fetish here,” Merrill said and she powdered her face.

She had a point, Aravel did not have the class a place like The Fade did, and the girls here were all elves and treated like sexual objects more than performers. However it didn’t feel right to think like that in light of the tragedy.

“B it’s time to go!” A voice called to her. She sighed, as good as it was gonna get, and with a heavy heart made her way to the stage.

 

((0))

 

There was a mass service for Justinia a few days after the news broke. Brenna went alone, dressed in a simple black dress with matching hat and netted veil, her golden hair pinned back tight. Her heels clacked down the sidewalk as she rushed along to get a spot where she could hear and see as much as she could. The crowd was gathering outside of the Downtown Chantry, a podium set up on the steps and hundreds of candles burning with white flowers littering every open space. It was a real show for how well loved she was. Mayor Theirin was even there to pay respects.

Brenna wedged her way hard into the crowd to listen to the eulogy of the tragedy they all suffered at the loss of a beloved woman like Justinia. She recognized some of the people that spoke, among them the ever tearful Lady Nightingale, another showgirl from The Fade. Brenna had seen her perform a half dozen times, and some of those had been with Justinia. They must have been close. The one person in attendance that surprised her the most however, was a friend from back in her early days at the Aravel, and long before that. After the crowds started splitting up she ran to her.

“Sera!” She called. The other blonde was just ahead talking to…was that a Qunari? A real Qunari? He was huge! Brenna had never seen one in person before, not many of the giant folke made a home in Denerim given it’s long and bloody history with Seheron.

“Sera,” She called out again when she got a little closer. Her friend turned to her, startled by her name it seemed.

“B?” She asked, but when she recognized her in certainty she squealed in delight and threw herself at her old friend. “Lookit you all dolled up!”

“I could say the same of you! You’re wearing a dress!”

“Yeah well, good for the image and all,” Sera fussed and pulled down at the hem a bit. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see ya! I mean you used to have Justinia’s poster up on your wall at that shitty apartment of yours!”

Brenna blushed. She still had the poster, and the awful apartment.

“Well what are you doing here? You always hated stage life. Don’t tell me you’re working security at The Fade!” Brenna exclaimed. It was now her friend’s turn to blush and she fussed with her dress again.

“Erm not, not really. I actually…..headline,” She admitted. Brenna’s jaw dropped and she looked at Sera again in a new light. It was hard to imagine her in a life of glitz and glamour. They had gone to school together, and climbed trees and picked on boys. When they had been at the Aravel, Sera used to protect the other girls from creepy men that rarely understood the word no.

“I can’t believe it,” Brenna freely admitted.

“It’s not like what you do, all sexy sexy lookit me! I just do some fancy acrobatic moves and throw knives and such. The brash crowd gets real hot and bothered by it though. Almost stabbed my fair share on stage,” She said and snorted.

“That’s amazing Sera,” Her friend told her and squeezed her hands tight.

“Red Jenny,” The girl smiled mischievously, “That’s what they call me on stage. Get to wear crimson silks and slap people about. It’s all good fun!”

“I’m really happy for you,” Brenna told her and meant it.

“What about you? Are you still at-“

“Yes,” She cut Sera off and looked down at her feet. Some days she felt like she would never leave the wretched place. She had no real skills. Being pretty wasn’t something she could make a good living at unless she was willing to do things some of the others girls did. She would never be willing. Sera studied her for a moment and then seemed to come to a decision.

“Well why don’t you come by the club next Saturday? I’m sure I could talk to Lord Egghead and get you in as a server at least!” She said hopefully.

Lord Egghead? Her confusion must have shown as Sera snorted and shoved her playfully.

“My boss I mean. He’s a real snore but after they found Divine dead a mess of girls up and walked out. You want to move up in the world, yeah?”

“Yes,” Brenna said passionately. That was the only thing she truly wanted.

“Then next Saturday!” Sera told her, turning towards a group of women and the Qunari as they called her name. “Wear something green! He’s a sucker for a pretty girl who looks like money!”

Brenna watched her walk to the girls in their glamourous morning outfits. They looked like they lived a good life in spite of having their friend murdered. No runs in their stockings, bedecked in jewels, and a man to escort them around town. She would go to the club, and she would move up in the world if it killed her.