The dark tendrils coiled around his arm. Slowly the writhing mass was crawling over him, engulfing him while recoiling whenever they touched the faded lines of his tattoo. Aziz knew he should be frightened. Panicked. He knew he should feel something – anything.
And he did.
But the emotions were dull. Quiet echoes in the back of his mind, distant and… numb. It was not so different from the Shaitan battle trance, used to maintain control when the trapped djinn were unleashed upon an enemy.
Except this time, it was the enemy muffling things.
Nearby the great lizard was already wrapped up in a teeming mass of smoky darkness, clinging tightly to its armored body and snaking around its limbs. Its vacant gaze drifted, never lingering for more than a moment before moving on.
A memory, distant and faded, transposed a warrior over the reptile’s limp form – someone Aziz had once fought beside, yet now could not even name. A man who had known death was inevitable and who had resigned himself to his fate as the life bled out of him into the dark sands.
Behind him came a growl of pain, drawing Aziz’s attention to the Djinni as it struggled with a thick web of black tendrils wrapped around its dark form. More and more snaking their way closer. Once as large as a Sollim, it was now the size of a human, perhaps even as small as a Khadosian.
Yet still it struggled.
Chaos roiled within the Djinni’s form. Angry flares ran along its ember veins, half-hidden beneath the mass of shadows. Arms surging with magic as they strained against their bonds. Its eyes were ablaze, their three-fold gaze locked on the black-robed man.
His head was thrown back, eyes closed and mouth smiling. An expression of rapture contorted his face. Each moment – if moments even existed in this dark nothing – his features grew younger. His shoulder-length hair darkened. His pale skin smoothed. His crooked posture straightened.
Aziz felt his gaze drift back to the darkness crawling along the arm held in front of him. It was a strange sensation. He knew they had to fight. Knew they would be consumed by the darkness otherwise. Yet he could not bring himself to do so. What was the point? Hope, like fear, was a distant and faded thing.
A memory stirred in the depths of his mind. Eyes devoid of hope. Iridescent and as emotionless as the lizard’s. Without emotion, but not empty. Through the cracks of the grinning youth’s face Aziz saw grim determination..
Who was he?
“Lord Kyrion Silverblade, but call me Ky.”
“We’ll both be called Corpse by the time the Sun sets if we fight them.”
“So be it. But let’s take them with us.”
“A Blacktusk warband?”
“Fer a village o’ lizards?”
“Who ain’t even paying ye?”
“Yer an idiot.”
The grin had vanished as the man locked Aziz’s gaze. “No surrender.” The iridescent eyes faded into pools of darkness and the features changed to a face that seemed carved from alabaster it was so pale and unmoving. Locked in a weary expression of utter hopelessness, yet steeled with the same determination as the man from the memory.
Aziz looked at his arm. For as much of as was covered, there were still cracks in the darkness where it avoided his tattoo. They were magic then. And he had a weapon against magic. “No surrender.”
He pulled and twisted his arm, flexed his muscles, pushing the lines of the tattoo against the tendrils. Some recoiled, others dissolved – all gave way. Little by little he tore the tentacles off him. As he did, he could feel the panic welling up inside him. Fear, rage, hope, even elation filled him as he broke free.
He pushed them all aside.
At first chance, he threw off his vest. Followed shortly by tearing off his pants. Armed and armored with magic breaking body art, he hurled himself at Moreth – still lost in his revelry.
The large fist slammed the mage square on the jaw, sending him spinning in this strange emptiness. His expression changed from ecstasy to surprise. Aziz continued his assault, pinning his legs to the small man’s torso and relentlessly punching him in the face.
It was only when the lizard slapped aside his arm with a growled “Enough!” that Aziz realized the others had broken free. He looked over at the wyrm with a mixture of annoyance and confusion. “He can tell us how to escape from this place.” Aziz looked down at Moreth, sceptical enough of his face remained to tell anyone anything.
Moreth smiled back at him, unharmed. “The feast has ended, then.” Before Aziz could respond a large mass of darkness slammed into his side, sending him crashing into the Djinni and reptile.
As they started to untangle, Aziz caught the Djinni watching as he drove off the tendrils. Then he found himself being used as a shield against the darkness.
The Djinni hid behind him for only a few moments before lunging forward, orange-red lightning leaping toward Moreth from its outstretched hand.
Moreth held out his own hand, black lightning leaping from it to meet that of the Djinni. “I thank you for the lesson,” he sneered. Between them the lightning arced, orange colliding with black in a never-ending cascade of sparks.
“The tendrils,” the wyrm swiveled its head about on its long neck. “They seem drawn by magic. Like starved snakes seeking prey. He guides them with food.”
“Then why aren’t they going after his lightning?” Aziz swatted away another tendril. At least there were fewer now.
“They are, but because it is my own spell mirrored back at itself- They prefer fresh food to spoiled.” The Djinni lowered its hand, and the tendrils thinned further. “Keep them off me. We shall see how much magic this summoner can siphon.”
“Wha-” Aziz didn’t have time to finish his question before a swarm of tentacles coalesced from the darkness around them, darting toward the Djinni.
These were different from before – thicker and stronger. They didn’t simply break apart when Aziz grabbed them. But while he found this made them resistant to his tattoo, it also made them vulnerable to brute force. A quick glance told him the lizard had noticed the same, for it had begun clawing and biting them to shreds.
Not that it mattered.
There seemed no end to them. For each one they destroyed, two new emerged to take its place. Indeed they formed from the very fabric of this dark realm. This endless black void.
Moreth seemed more curious than concerned, watching them with an amused expression. Like a pit boss watching his gladiators fighting, detached from the battle and without interest in the outcome but enjoying the spectacle.
When lightning danced along the Djinni’s arms to leap off its fingertips into a growing ball of fire, Moreth only cocked his head and mimicked the stanced. Soon a sphere of black flames was forming between his open hands.
“What is thy goal?” The wyrm swung its head around to stare down the Djinni, stopping only a few finger widths away. “Thou attract this hungering night, yet our enemy remains prepared to counter thy spell.”
“The essence of my magic is chaos. Eventually he will lose control.”
The lizard let out a dissatisfied grunt as it turned away and resumed the fight. A moment later it reared up, tendrils bouncing off its armored belly, and craned its neck as if to see something behind the teeming darkness. “What is that?”
Aziz was too busy to care.
Moreth, however, was not. He turned, looking off to his side as his brow furrowed. Yet still he kept stealing magic from the Djinni.
“Bah,” Aziz grumbled to himself as he ripped apart a tentacle. A glance behind him revealed that the Djinni was peering through the faded plumage of the scaly beast beside them, and had slowed its channeling of magic into the sphere. “No surrender!”
If the tentacles were so hungry, let them eat the spoiled mimicry. Aziz thrust his arm into the Djinni’s sphere of flame. He could feel the energy coursing along his entire body. The entire tattoo felt like it was on fire. Sparks of lightning leapt from it, singing his skin.
The Djinni turned to him with an angry growl. Tendrils of darkness rushed toward Moreth. The ball of black fire exploded.
A wave of blinding white drowned out everything. For a single moment, no longer than the blink of an eye, Moreth’s flailing silhouette was all Aziz could see.
Immolated in dark flames.