Perfect Slaughter - Chapter 1 - Imagineitdear (2024)

Chapter Text

Part I ~ Fledgeling (1381-1383 DR)

Early in the morning, exactly a tenday before the night that Tyrus died, the postman stopped by his family home with a long-anticipated letter.

It was a thick envelope with perfect, looping cursive on the front, addressed to Tyrus Aman’del, with the intricate crest he’d come to know well in the last few months since his visit to Baldur’s Gate. Tyrus tipped the woman with a smile, though his fingers began to twitch with nerves as he hastily shut the door. Then he ran to his makeshift desk in the corner, nearly cutting himself in his haste to rip open the contents with an old letter opener.

“Ty? What . . . oh, is that another letter from your rich lord?” his sister, Cynda, asked from where she sat, lowering her knitting with excited eyes.

Tyrus couldn’t speak for the anticipation, however, his throat closed up and his fingers trembling. His eyes skimmed over the first lines of the letter with a desperate eagerness, his heart pumping to match as he read the looping cursive:

The work you sent last month was most impressive . . . I think the Gate could make great use of a scholar like you, especially my household . . .

“He liked my theory on magical cursing,” Tyrus breathed out, his face growing warm as Lord Szarr spent an entire half-page reviewing and applauding Tyrus’s analysis of balancing the necromantic Bestow Curse spell equation. Interning at the House of Healing had taught Tyrus how studying the intricacies of a natural sickness could inform its prevention and removal, after all—why not for a magically-induced ailment?

He’d only met the high elf once. But to hear that he, Tyrus, a stone mason’s son, a novice wizard, a drow only one generation removed from slavery, had impressed such a man of taste and refinement and knowledge and wisdom? His fingers gripped the parchment tighter as he read on:

Therefore, I will officially extend this offer to you: I am more than happy to sponsor your studies at Briel’s School of the Arcane, if you will but agree to come live at Szarr Palace during your studies, and perhaps help me with a few arcane projects from time to time.

“Lord Szarr wants to be my patron, to give me a place to stay while I study,” Tyrus laughed, his heart stuttering over its next beat. This meant everything. This could change everything.

It’d only been dumb luck, he told himself before, that the stonemason guild sponsored his mother to do business in Baldur’s Gate, that she had him come along, or that he visited the city’s largest library his last evening there at dusk, just before Lord Szarr did. Only chance, that the lord glanced over Tyrus’s shoulder at the glyph equations he was solving as he walked by, and happened to be intrigued by it: the basic formula behind the spell False Life, which Tyrus had been altering in order to create something more potent, what he now called Wither and Bloom.

Just serendipity, Tyrus had been chiding himself, that Lord Szarr was studying similar things. Just happenstance, that he wanted to exchange information so that he could keep up with Tyrus’s progress and learn of a humble novice’s aspirations.

Just fate, Tyrus had thought all along, and now he was glad he’d trusted in the gut feeling.

Just gods-given destiny.

Come with haste, and I’ll make sure you are accepted and enrolled before the next term starts. You simply must come, and soon—I already have a guest bedchamber picked out for you with the best view in the city.

“Oh, Ma will cry she’ll be so happy,” Cynda said around a huge smile, dropping her knitting now to run over and predictably give her brother a huge hug. For being such a slight, sickly thing prone to illness, she still managed to knock the wind out of him every time.

And every time, he loved it. Tyrus wheezed out a laugh, squeezing her back in return. “I’ll find ways to send money home, I swear it,” he whispered into her snow-white hair, softer and longer than his own.

She shook her head as she pulled back, still smiling at him. “I’m happy for you. I swear, Reithwin will suck the life out of anyone with a good heart, these days, and you’ve always belonged somewhere else, somewhere grander.

Tyrus felt his vapid, floating excitement land back in reality for a moment. “Times are trying right now,” he sighed. “How can I leave you and Ma? How can I justify—“

“By not worrying about us for now! Just save up money once you get some fancy arcane job in the city,” Cynda interrupted, pulling out of the hug to give him a stern look. “Then you can get me and Ma out of this dreadful place before her back breaks.”

“You’re right.” Tyrus nodded, straightening out his shoulders. “And I’ll learn how to remove the curse, too, Cynda. I swear it.”

Cynda, like their late father Syldrus, couldn’t go out in the sun for long before her health plummeted. She also attracted any and all poisonous spiders, no matter what they did to proof the house or protect her. A deadly bite killed their father two years ago, and Tyrus worried every day that Cynda would be next.

It was all part of the curse their father’s old matriarch placed on him for running away and stealing a newborn Tyrus along with him, the third son destined for slaughter. Syldrus escaping the underdark, settling in Reithwin, and marrying a lovely stonemason came with a price—his next child was born with the same afflictions.

Cynda never seemed worried, however. Even now she shrugged, smiling at Tyrus while saying, “Or maybe Baldur’s Gate will have less spiders.”

Tyrus shook his head and hugged her again, promising himself he would come back with good news. “Well, Lord Szarr believes in me, in my mind and my talents.” He blew out a breath and added, “I just have to prove him right.”

Cynda pulled away, her smile softening now. “He’d be a fool if he didn’t. All you have to do is never give up on yourself, and the whole world will be yours to change, Tyrus.” Then Cynda’s dark red eyes flashed with mischief as they flitted towards the door. “Though I bet you can’t stop me from telling Ma first!” she laughed, bolting away.

Tyrus chuckled and ran to catch up with her—leaving the last line above the thick, intimidating signature unread:

I know you will do great things for me, boy.

The road to Baldur’s Gate had been long, but ultimately uneventful. Tyrus waited an extra few days to depart, both to save up for the imposing bridge toll and to travel with a larger caravan from Moonhaven, on his feet all day and sleeping under the stars each night. He had almost mastered walking while reading a book in hand—almost, considering he nearly twisted his ankle in a cart wheel just before they arrived in Rivington.

But at least it was over now. He wouldn’t do anything but read and study and write and cast magic, soon enough.

Tyrus felt his heart stutter in anticipation as he followed the directions a guard gave him through Wyrm’s Crossing and towards the Lord Szarr’s address along the southern edge of the Upper City. He had to stop and stare at the cathedral-like towers that loomed above him, piercing the blue sky. Guards waited at the entrance, though they only nodded at him as he moved through the castle gate to its main entrance.

He expected he’d have to prove himself before they let him into the palace itself. Drow were rare, but for such a grand structure, a name or proof of the lord’s letter seemed necessary to gain entry.

His arrival was more anticipated than he’d thought, however. The finely-appareled servants immediately ushered him in, eyes wide with a surprising, almost manic sort of friendliness as they took his traveler’s trunk and welcomed him to Szarr Palace.

“Thank you—my name is Tyrus Aman’del—yes, I’ll follow, I just—no, thank you, just, could you inform the lord—“

They paid his words little heed, merely herded him up the stairs and down multiple corridors decked in vivid gold and red, before at last stopping at a door.

“The master will come see you soon, yes, very very soon,” one servant said as she opened it, while the other walked in, putting his luggage inside a wide, well-furnished chamber.

Tyrus followed, taking in his surroundings. It was a lavish, red-and-gold room filled with a large wardrobe, fancy paintings and curtains, a table and two chairs, and a full canopied bed in the center that took up a surprising amount of room. I already have a guest bedchamber picked out for you with the best view in the city,the lord had written.

Tyrus had to quell a bit of disappointment now, noting there were no windows at all.

Lord Szarr had just been encouraging him to come, of course—Tyrus realized he couldn’t take everything the man had written at face value.

He turned back to the servant woman, mouth just shaping the words, “How long—?” when he saw her quickly shutting the door. With a sharp click it locked behind her, and her footsteps faded away.

At first, Tyrus thought it was a misunderstanding. “Hello? Wait! I really am Tyrus Aman’del!” he tried to shout through the door. “Lord Szarr invited me here, I swear! I’m to be his ward, just ask him! Please!”

No one answered.

Occasionally footsteps would signal someone walking by, and he’d try yelling and asking what was going on again, but they never even paused a step. Tyrus knew he should stay calm—once Lord Szarr found out what happened, after all, all would be set to rights—but he couldn’t take his usual pleasure in opening up The Schools of Magic: Necromancy textbook, or even indulging in another reread of The True and Impossible Adventures of Tenebrux Morrow from his trunk.

Instead he took to pacing the bedchamber, which felt smaller by the hour, until his body was too exhausted to continue. Then he sat watching the candles burn down, nervously picking at the skin of his lips until he tasted blood.

His heart clenched in fright at the soft knock on his door.

Tyrus stood on shaky legs, instinctively heading towards it. “Hello?” he called, voice slightly wavering. “Apologies, it’s locked—I think it was an accident, or there's been a mistake—”

While no answer came, the lock clicked once more, the handle turning until the door opened to reveal a regally dressed, pale-skinned, dark-haired elf with a bottle of wine held up in one hand.

Tyrus felt the tension in his shoulders drain at the sight of the man. “Lord Szarr.”

“Indeed it is I,” was his smooth reply, eyes crinkling with some quiet amusem*nt. More vividly red than Tyrus remembered—the lord had said something of having a bit of drow in his noble bloodline during their in-person encounter, a fact that had further encouraged Tyrus. But now, in the growing shadows of evening, they almost seemed to glow. “Come, sit with me,” Lord Szarr said as he breezed past Tyrus and settled himself into the nicer, high-backed of the two chairs in the chamber. Casually placing the wine bottle on the small side table in between them before looking at Tyrus expectantly.

It felt too surreal—locked up in a room all day, only for his new patron to waltz in as if nothing was amiss to wine and dine with him. It was probably a rude amount of time, how long Tyrus stood there frozen before he managed to shake himself out of his stupor and walk over to the simpler, plainer chair opposite Lord Szarr.

Maybe it was an extra precaution for the palace to lock a new guest in, and the servant forgot to explain? Or a strange but normal custom in Baldur’s Gate?

“You must be hungry,” the older elf said once Tyrus sat, draping arms over his crossed legs and steepling his fingers together. And Tyrus noted long, pointed nails—almost claws, if he was being ungenerous—that he couldn’t have seen last time, given that the lord had been wearing long, finely-embroidered gloves. “I’ve had supper rung for. In the meantime, you will tell me of your family and travels.”

Tyrus took a moment to understand what “rung for” meant and felt his cheeks warm as Lord Szarr clocked the momentary confusion.

“Such a unique color,” the older man tutted, reaching out and, to Tyrus’s surprise, stroking the back of his knuckles over Tyrus’s right cheekbone. “Plum, perhaps a hint of maroon?” His thin lips twitched towards a smile, fingers pausing, and only then did Tyrus realize he’d been holding his breath. “Almost matches those lovely eyes.”

Years later, Tyrus recalled this moment with the utmost self-loathing. His last night with some semblance of autonomy, and he’d chosen to thank his captor. But in the moment, it was all he could stutter out: “Um, I—thank you, m’lord. I don’t—“

“You wrote in letters that you had a sickly sister and a stonemason for a mother,” Cazador returned to business, retracting the hand. The sound of footsteps began to be audible from the corridor as he continued, “Is she well-connected within her guild? Who else does your family rely on? You mentioned a deceased father—did he leave you with any support?”

Two servants entered just then, one with a platter brimming with food and the other a tray with goblets and dining utensils, their faces still bright and welcoming despite locking him in earlier. Half-distracted now, Tyrus murmured, “She’s served on their council once or twice . . . we don’t have many connections . . .”

Speak up, boy,” the lord said, voice suddenly sharp. “How do you expect anyone to understand you?”

Tyrus jumped a bit, gaze snapping back to Lord Szarr. “Sorry,” he replied automatically, a creeping sort of dread numbing his insides at the man’s cold tone. At the growing implications, that his stay in the Szarr Palace might be less enjoyable than he’d assumed.

Of course, what had he hoped for from a rich noble with enough idle whimsy to indulge a stonemason’s son from Reithwin Town? Simple generosity was not a gift gentry were inclined to bestow, his father often said, especially not without some god of their own they were trying to please.

Tyrus had been terribly naïve, he recognized now.

But this could still work. Tyrus would make it work. He straightened his shoulders and said, “My father died a few years ago. He had the same strange condition that I wrote about my sister suffering. His few connections were in the Underdark, cut off when he ran away with me as a babe, so . . . no, we don’t really have anyone.”

Until now, Tyrus might have thought before today. But he had much lower hopes for the patronage of Lord Szarr in this moment.

“We take care of ourselves,” he said. “I self-taught by saving up for books or loaning from the library at Moonrise Towers, as I mentioned to you—”

“That’s enough, all the information I required,” the lord interrupted in a firm tone. “Now eat. Drink all you can.”

“I—yes,” Tyrus nodded, deciding it best to not question things just yet.

“It’s a luxury I’ve never allowed before, you know,” Lord Szarr added with a cryptic smirk. Then his face grew thoughtful. “Though you will be unique from the others in many ways, I think.”

Tyrus ate the fruits and nuts, the glazed ham and cheese and fluffy rolls spread with slabs of butter. He had to bite his tongue on a thousand questions—why did your servants lock me in?—what sort of life will I have here?—who are the ‘others’?—what do you really want from me?—but he knew, maybe by the way Lord Szarr’s glowing eyes watched him or just some deep, long-buried instinct, that such questions would incense the lord.

It reminded him of Malus Thorm, head surgeon of the House of Healing, who preferred to teach on live patients and only let Tyrus dissect cadavers under his scrutinizing eye. Jabbing him with a needle, or even a scalpel once, when Tyrus made a mistake.

Lord Szarr was waiting for him to make a mistake, Tyrus could tell now.

So he ate the whole plate, a bit uncomfortably full after no meals all day, but soothed by the two goblets of wine he washed everything down with. Cazador refilled his cup without a word each time, eating nothing himself and intently watching Tyrus all the while.

He wanted him inebriated, perhaps. Tyrus could only worry for what purpose. To manipulate him into owing the man? To sign a contract that would make him forever at the service of this lord? To take something even more sinister from Tyrus? The way the lord stared at him as he ate began to make Tyrus fear the latter—like Lord Szarr wanted to consume him.

Tyrus had never hungered for someone’s flesh in a carnal way. He craved his sister’s hugs, he appreciated the soft touch of his mother’s rough hand on his cheek or squeezing his own. He missed his father’s kisses on the forehead. But he had no true friends, much less lovers, in Reithwin. One of the few times he went to the Waning Moon Tavern, a woman from the other side of the river had offered to pay for his next drink and then sidled up next to him, making some innuendo about her husband being out of town. Tyrus had wished her well and left soon after.

He couldn’t be sure it was that kind of hunger in Cazador Szarr’s eyes . . . but what other hunger could it be?

After the third goblet he had to lean back and stretch out his slightly-bloated stomach.

“Filled you right up, did I? Now I’d like your help with a study of mine,” the lord said matter-of-factly, pulling out a small leather-bound notebook from his fine overcoat. “How did the glazed ham taste?”

Tyrus cleared his throat. “It . . . everything was wonderful, my lord. Thank you for your hospitality. I hoped that we could talk—”

“And we are talking, boy,” the lord snapped, eyes flashing dangerously. “Now answer the question. With detail.”

Tyrus stared at him, truly at a loss now. “Good,” he started, and seeing the displeasure twisting the older man’s face continued in haste, “uh—it, it tasted honey sweet, a bit tangy. Tender, well-cooked. Very sweet—indulgently so. Reminded me of the food just before Highharvestide.”

“Good,” the lord gave a curt nod, jotting something down in his notebook before continuing, “and the pomegranate?”

Tyrus could feel his mind running wild, grasping at straws while he did his best to describe the taste of pomegranate, then the walnuts, aged cheese, wine, and bread. Meanwhile his mind raced, unable to make sense of this strange turn of events.

Maybe the lord enjoyed cooking, had made it all himself and wanted praise?

Or maybe he just liked to play with peasants? To dangle a carrot over their heads and then subject them to more and more bizarre things like this, as a sort of experiment on how much the lower class would endure just for the hope of opportunity or coin?

Maybe Lord Szarr was simply insane. In his effort to learn about the man, Tyrus found out that many members of the Szarr family had been killed a century or so before by a rival house. Terrible, gruesome—Tyrus had felt empathy for the man, thinking of his own father running away from a similar violence. Now he wondered if the grief and loss had driven the older elf mad.

“That’s out of the way, then,” Lord Szarr said once Tyrus had adequately described the taste and sensation of butter to him. He was all business still as he pocketed his notes, rang a bell to have the trays removed, and clasped his hands over his lap again. “Now, I think it is time we speak plainly, boy.”

Tyrus felt a small modicum of relief at hearing such words after all that had transpired before, but remained wary. Still, he nodded and forced himself to hold back his piling questions just a little longer, hoping he would now hear a reasonable explanation for all this.

He couldn’t afford to just walk out, he reminded himself. Not yet. His family was counting on him; his sister’s life could hang in the balance.

“I selected you for a specific purpose,” Lord Szarr started. “You have innate talent for the arcane, and specifically subjects I am interested in . . . experimentation for. Necromancy, curse removal. Defying fate, as it were.”

“And I’m ready to study more,” Tyrus agreed, hope a faint but growing spark in his chest. “I had limited access to knowledge in Reithwin; there’s so much more I can do here, I know it. And with your patronage to attend Briel’s School of the Arcane—”

“You will not be attending there,” the older man dismissed with a short wave of his hand.

Tyrus opened his mouth, but nothing came out. His heart sunk clear past his stomach.

The lord watched his reaction, a cruel smile twisting his lips. “You will join my family,” he continued, so confidently, as if every word from his mouth was law. “You will obey my rules, use my resources to learn what I command and assist me in all my goals. You will be the most useful thing I’ve created thus far, I think.”

“I don’t understand,” Tyrus shook his head, trying not to panic, “join your family? I am happy to help you, work for you and earn my stay, but—“

“Your happiness is trivial, now,” Lord Szarr said with a wave of his hand. “You will belong to me. And you will be grateful for it.”

His head was still shaking back and forth, Tyrus realized, silently protesting each word as it left the older elf’s lips. He forced his voice to do the same: “I won’t. You can’t just force me, like I’m a—I came here for your help—not to—not for—”

Whatever else he meant to say, the rest of his words died in his throat as Cazador Szarr began to laugh. It was a wide, open-mouthed cackle, drowning out Tyrus’s voice. More notably, it revealed long, pointed upper canines.

Tyrus knew about all sorts of curses thanks to his studies, but he’d read Curse of the Vampyr cover to cover just for fun by the age of twelve. Beware the pale noble, the text said over and over again.

Really, he should have realized the moment Lord Szarr entered the room, when the truth stared him in the face with a glowing, hungry stare.

Now he jumped to his feet, torn for a moment between grabbing his wand from the luggage to fight or trying to run. Dashing felt like his only hope against the powers of a vampire.

But he didn’t even make it to the door.

Strong arms grabbed his own from behind, twisted Tyrus around so abruptly he nearly fell. The vampire’s grip kept him upright as red eyes pierced into his, glowing bright as embers now, sinking straight into his soul as one word reverberated through his skull: "Obey."

Tyrus watched his body from a far, distant place as it immediately relaxed, even leaned a bit towards the other elf. His head lolled, floaty and weightless, thoughts dissipating like mist. His mind’s only anchor was the voice:

“Be silent. Follow me.”

Perfect Slaughter - Chapter 1 - Imagineitdear (2024)


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