(Author's Note: I know, I know. It's been a year. But I refuse to let this thing go til it's done. Just bear with me guys! I'm a little rusty.)
The Palace gave a dangerous rumble and Mozenrath slid toward a wall, potted pants lurching from their places and shattering to the floor in a mixture of soil and sand and terracotta. Mozenrath dodged a toppling statue, scraping up his knee. He grimaced. Getting upstairs was not going to be an easy task. He looked down at his hands, angry. He wished he could harness his true power. He knew he had it. He'd experienced it. But it only came in moments, little slivers of light, just like his memories.
It was a little annoying.
He slipped around a pillar heading toward the stairs, his heart hammering in his chest, his breath shallow in his lungs. He had to get upstairs. He had to get upstairs. He had to-
"AAAAUGH!" he yelped, a sudden pain radiating in his chest. He crumpled to the floor, grasping the offensive spot with a scowl.
He knew what he'd see when he looked up. The three old geezers, with their dark hoods and creepy cold hands surrounded him, whispering enchantments.
"Why. Do. You. Always. Have to. Make. My life. So. HARD?!" Mozenrath propelled onto his hands, delivering a swift kick to one of their ankles, knocking them to the floor. The pain in his chest lessened and he headed at the others with a burst of fervor. "I'm DONE with you!"
He grabbed one by the arm, twisting it behind his back when – craaaaack!
The skeletal, cold, grotesque arm popped away from the shoulder and lay slack in Mozenrath's hand. Mozenrath jolted, jumping back and dropping the severed limb. The blood ran out of his face. The hood fell back to reveal the twisted, gray-green face of... what could have been a mamluk at one time, Mozenrath supposed. It was far more disfigured than the bumbling corpse-like individuals he used to create. The skin was rotting away at the edges, and there were two dark gaping holes where eyes were supposed to be. The skin was stretched around toothless gums, and a low, raspy rattle crept from a long, withering throat. A black, ink-like blood seeped from where the arm had become detached, staining the cloak and dripping from the remains of the fabric. And the rattle shifted to a high, earth shattering shriek. The two other men joined in, piercing Mozenrath's ears like banshees, paralyzing him with their pitch.
Black sand poured from the ceiling in waves, like a giant hourglass, pelting Mozenrath with the sharp grains. And from the sand sprouted mamluks, grabbing at him, pulling him underneath. He struggled against them, gasping for air and choking on sand as it pulled him deeper and deeper and deeper. His eyes rolled back in his head.
This was it. He was going to die.
He thought of Aladdin and Cassim. Sadira. Jasmine. Everyone. They would fall.
He closed his eyes.
"What's happening?!" Sadira yelled over the loud, high pitched shriek, filling the palace.
Black sand began filling the room, raining down upon everyone. Lightning divided the sky in a flash, followed by the canon-like explosion of thunder. The entire building shook and people went down. Aladdin turned to Sultan Adsteen, who had begun laughing a low baritone rumble, his eyes darkening about the room.
"Yes, yes! It's all coming to fruition!" Aladdin ran at him immediately, but was blown back simply with a flick of the man's wrist. "Now, now, boy. I don't need you interfering."
"Aladdin!" Cassim helped his son to his feet. "Are you alright?"
Aladdin swallowed, a little breathless. "Y-yeah."
"Let me give it a go," Sadira suggested, lifting her hands. "Black sand is still sand, right?" She summoned waves of sand, spiraling around her hands in miniature twisters, then sent it toward him in one giant blast. He blocked it just as easily.
"Oh, I certainly wouldn't recommend you coming at me with my own creation. Allow me to show you how it's done."
The sand swallowed Sadira up in a giant whoosh before she could even let out a scream.
"NO!" Aladdin yelled, reaching for her, but she had already disappeared. "What did you do to her?!"
"Mm, not important. I would much rather you focus on me right now, okay?"
"Who are you?" Jasmine questioned, glaring him down.
He raised an eyebrow, reaching out to stroke her cheek. She wrenched away from him. "Princess, I'm happy to let pretty ladies know my name. But certainly my reputation precedes me."
"Aladdin, his hands!" Cassim yelled, pointing to the objects in question.
On the man's right hand was The Gauntlet. Except there was a matching, but less faded, one on the left.
"Oh, admiring my handiwork? Nice, isn't it? It's a shame I had to go through so much work to make another because of some rotten little brat."
Genie tried his best at shooting spells at the guy, but again, they were deflected.
"You still don't know who I am? I'm offended." The man floated off the ground, lifting his hands from his sides. Mamluks swarmed the palace. "I am DESTANE. But you can all call me MASTER!"
"Aladdin? Aladdin! Stop running! Allah, do you know how much trouble I would get in if I lost you?"
"Makin. Relax. I know this place like the back of my hand."
"I am aware of that, Aladdin, but that doesn't mean that you can predict everything." He adjusted the bag on his shoulder with a huff. "Mother said to get the groceries and come right back."
"She doesn't know how long it takes us to get groceries. She'll be fine. Now come on! I wanna show you something."
Makin sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You're killing me. You are going to be responsible for my death. I swear."
"See, you're not actually worried about me though. You're worried about being without me."
"Don't be morbid."
"You're the morbid one." Aladdin clambered up a rocky facade, gesturing Makin to follow. "Always reading those creepy books about magic and mortality from that weird fortune teller guy."
"He's not a fortune teller. And I'm trying to figure out how I-" he paused. "You know."
"Yeah, that one time you magicked that sword. I remember. Now, unless you can magic me up here, shut up and start climbing."
"At least Sadira takes me seriously. What is this place?"
"It's a hovel! I found it the other night. Watch your head."
"Were you out sneaking around at night again?"
"Maybe. But look at the view!" He pulled back a ratty curtain and before them was the city, laid out in its entirety, glowing gold in the sun, and looming above it all, a beacon amongst the beauty, was the palace. It glittered and gleamed, like an unspoken dream. Makin fought the urge to reach out for it.
"See? It's beautiful isn't it? One day, we'll be there. I know it. It'll be great."
"Brother, it will be magnificent," Makin replied dropping an arm over Aladdin's shoulder. "We'll never have any problems at all." He wasn't sure he actually believed Aladdin, but man did he admire the boy's ability to dream.
Mozenrath coughed and sputtered, but he still couldn't catch air. Blackness surrounded him, feeding on him like leeches, swallowing him whole. He reached out for something, anything, but it was only sand – just slipping through his fingers.
"She's gonna know. It's dark. It doesn't take that long to get groceries."
"Mother won't be mad. Just say the Marketplace was busy."
"Lying is an awful trait, Aladdin. It's gonna get you in a lot of trouble one day."
"Maybe I get it from our father."
"Don't say that."
Makin opened the door slowly. "We can explai-"
His voice left him. He dropped his bag, vegetables tumbling out the top and rolling across the floor.
His mother was laid out on the floor, quiet and still, barely breathing, her lips blue. Makin ran to her, turning her over and holding her in his arms, trying to shake her back to life. Aladdin toppled in after him, fear apparent on his face.
"What's wrong with her?"
"I- I don't know! She's... she's sick or something. I- I don't know what to do!"
"She needs help, Makin!"
"I- I'll go. I'll go find help. Stay with her!"
Mozenrath felt a sudden burst of warmth slip around his wrist, holding tightly, and his body was propelled forward.
"Back so soon? Need another book, do you lad?"
"Please, sir. I need your help."
The man raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"My mother- she's sick. I need you to-"
"Now, now, boy. I don't work for free."
"Mm, no. I'm perfectly willing tossing you ridiculous books from time to time to keep you out of my hair, but if you want any real kind of sorcery, I suggest you have something to offer." The man's eyes darkened. Makin shrunk back.
"Wh-what... do you want?"
"We'll discuss my payment later. Your mother is in need, yes?"
Sand slid over Mozenrath's skin like a gloss. It no longer felt like sharp shards of glass but like cool water, rushing past him as he was pulled forward and up, up, up.
"You have to come with me."
"She will be safe now. I have healed her. Your payment is due."
"I can't leave her and my brother alone-"
"You are my servant now. You have no choice." The man lifted his hand and Makin gasped, his wrists burning under magical shackles.
"Leave him alone!" Aladdin yelled, running at the man, but he knocked him back easily.
Their mother stirred on the bed, her face still twisted in pain.
"She's not better. You tricked me! Aladdin!" Makin reached for his brother, but Destane put a hand over his eyes. His head seared and suddenly it all began to disappear. Aladdin's face. His mother. His father. He screamed.
"You're my servant now. Mine, and mine alone."
The air hit Mozenrath's face.
"I am done being your servant, Destane!"
"Put that down, you insolent child!"
"TELL ME WHO I AM!"
He put the glove on and gasped at the pain. But after the pain came the power, warm and inviting and unlike anything he'd ever known. He held his hand out at Destane.
"TELL ME THE TRUTH!" he commanded, tears in his eyes.
"Boy, you don't even know what you're doing."
The room lit up in the gleam of the blast. Destane shrieked.
Mozenrath gasped, coughing and spewing, feeling a long stream of sand slide out of his throat.
"Shhh, shhh, it's okay. Don't move. It'll cut your throat." After a moment, Sadira ran a cool hand over Mozenrath's face, pushing hair out of his eyes. "There."
Mozenrath's vision cleared and he could see Sadira, a little cut up and dirty, hovering over him. And probably the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. He threw his arms around her neck and buried his face in her shoulder.
"Are you okay?" she asked, enveloping him in her arms gently and gingerly.
He couldn't answer her. He just held her tightly, a couple of tears slipping from the corners of his eyes. It all made sense. And knowing that after everything... everything, his mother hadn't been saved-
"You're scaring me."
Mozenrath jerked away from her. "Where's Destane?"
"He drowned me in his black sand. Luckily I could manipulate my way around in it. I found you and got you out. But I don't know exactly where we ended up."
Mozenrath stood, his legs still a little shaky. "Going through the halls is dangerous anyway. I'm assuming this place is overrun with mamluks."
"You'd be right."
Mozenrath headed for the nearest doorway to the outside. He could see the fountain, dismantled and leaking all over the grounds.
"Mozenrath." He turned back to Sadira and her bright blue eyes, full of hope and full of fear. "Don't think for a second that I'm letting you leave here without me."
"I didn't think of doing that in the slightest." He swung an arm around her waist and pulled her close. He whispered to her. "I remember." He kissed her.
With ease, he glowed, and began his ascent upwards, holding tightly to Sadira.
The sky was ominous.
But he wasn't afraid.
End of Chapter Twenty-Three