I wrote this for Mara's weekly writing challenge.
Challenge Blog: iwriteinpictures dot wordpress dot com
Picture: flickr dot com/photos/b-love/4398205732/
The Fall of Leonard Vanderbilt
Leonard Vanderbilt counted the stones on the floor. Seven forward from the door, eighteen to the right. The High Wizard's dark eyes landed on the last stone, and he smiled. His footsteps echoed in the wide, empty room as he slowly approached the place where the object lay hidden.
He halted and bent down, drawing a knife from beneath the folds of his cloak, and started scraping the mortar. It was slow work, even after he slipped some magic into the knife to make it easier.
"Come here, lad, and help with this," he grunted at the youth standing near the entrance, watching him silently. The boy walked over, his boots thudding on the ground. He wordlessly removed his own knife and, following the older man's example, released magic into it as he scraped at the cracks around the stone—although he could not extract from himself nearly as much magic as the other could.
"Father," he said at last, breaking the silence but not pausing from his work, "what is it you seek? Will you not tell me even now, when we are so close to finding it?"
It was a chilly night, but the exertion was bringing sweat to both their faces. Vanderbilt wiped some from his eyes and said, "I'll tell you this. It is Old Magic. Nothing like the weak charms wizards do today. Do you know of the Old Magic, Romanus?"
The boy showed no signs of surprise on his face, but he couldn't keep the excitement from leaking into his voice. "Oh, yes. Our magic can only be used to make more effective what we do manually. The Old Magic was able to do things on its own."
Vanderbilt nodded. "I see you've been reviewing your studies for once."
They fell silent once more, and the air was still but for the constant scratch of metal on mortar as the High Wizard and his son worked to loosen the stone.
At last they were able to free it from its place, lifting it up carefully and setting it down on the stone that had been beside it. Vanderbilt motioned for Romanus to step back. The lad obeyed.
The gap revealed only the dirt one would have expected to find, but Vanderbilt did not appear troubled. He immediately began to dig, using only his bare fingers and his magic. Romanus, standing but a few paces away, stared intently at the little dark hole that was slowly growing in depth.
Vanderbilt was breathing heavily now, not just from the labor but from anticipation as well. His exhalations were magnified by the walls of the room, which sent its sounds reverberating throughout the empty space.
He suddenly gasped. Then slowly he extricated his hand from the ground. His skin was stained by the dirt that clung to the myriad tiny cracks in his flesh. Between his fingers he held a small, equally dirt-caked object.
"I can feel the power in this," he rasped. "That is how I knew I had at last found it, even before we started working on the stone. I felt it even then. But that was nothing, nothing to holding it!"
There was a strange glint in his eyes that had not been there before. He started scrabbling away at the object, his fingernails releasing some of the dirt encrusted on it. As the filth fell away, it became clear that it was a sort of gem. It was a deep red, or had been a deep red at some time.
Vanderbilt held it and gazed at it almost lovingly. "It needs to be polished, of course," he muttered. "Yes, I shall make it shine. And all who see it then shall recognize it and be unable to look away! They shall hear of it, the jewel of Leonard Vanderbilt, desired by all but attainable by none, for it shall remain mine for as long as I live." He uttered a low chuckle.
Romanus stepped forward, his eyes never leaving the gem. "How does it work?"
His father looked up at him suddenly, as if he had forgotten he was present. "Ah. Yes. That is the reason I asked you to come. To test it. Stand back against the wall, and I'll show you how it works."
Romanus began to move backwards. Then, without warning, Vanderbilt was upon him, his fingers at his throat, the gem pressing against the side of his neck. Romanus reached upward to pull his hands away, but his father barked, "Stop moving!"
The boy's hands froze where they were, and he was still. Unnaturally still. "This is how it works, son," Vanderbilt said softly. "As soon as it touches your skin, I control you. You cannot move now because I commanded it. I can seal your lips too, if I want." Black tendrils sprouted from the lad's top lip and disappeared into the skin below the bottom one. "I can seal your eyes, if I want." His eyelids went down, and his upper and lower lashes fused together and stiffened. "But that is not something I want. You are not my enemy."
Sight, speech, and movement were restored. Romanus dropped his hands and looked at his father, but he did not open his mouth.
"To think," Vanderbilt reflected, holding up the gem, his voice almost a whisper, "that all this time, it was here, in our city, not too far from the castle! Oh, my position as High Wizard will be more honorable than ever, with this in my possession. It will no longer be a useless title; the king shall see what I've accomplished and recognize my worth. He will realize that it is time he put some power in the hands of the High Wizard."
Romanus was now staring at the jewel, enraptured. "I want to try it," he declared.
And then fury came out of nowhere and erupted in Vanderbilt's eyes. "How dare you, boy?" he roared, his eyes a sudden tornado of emotion. "Who do you think you are?"
The young Vanderbilt's face blazed with the sudden, twisted desire for the gem that was giving him a temerity he'd never shown. "I am your heir! I shall be High Wizard too one day!"
His father laughed. "You? Did you think that? You struggle too much with your magic! It would take a miracle for me to declare you my heir for the High Wizardry."
Romanus reeled back in shock at this revelation, but he just as quickly shot forward again, making a grab for the thing in Vanderbilt's hand. His father grabbed his throat again, but his grip was much tighter this time. Rage and magic flowed into his fingers as he squeezed his son's throat. He wasn't even using the gem; in his anger, it had fallen from his grip and now lay forgotten, temporarily, on the ground.
Then Romanus stopped struggling and fell forward, dead.
The rage dissipated as quickly as it had come, replaced by a fiendish glee. Vanderbilt scanned the ground until he spotted the gem. He snatched it and held it up so that it caught the moonlight, admiring it.
He would not go back home to the castle. He would leave this country and start his own! He was the most powerful man in the world. It was only right that he should be a king.
He stepped out into the night and glanced back at the room one more time. Then, with his son's blood on his hands but remorse free from his heart, Leonard Vanderbilt turned his back on the body, the room, and the kingdom and set off to seek his glory.
Well, look at the tones of the picture! It was just screaming for a sudden, violent death.