Disclaimer: Prince of Persia, and the characters of the Prince and Elika do not belong to me. All are property of Ubisoft.
No copyright infringement intended.
I felt sorry for myself, for a while.
Now, I've got to admit that when Elika left me on that balcony, I didn't exactly deal with it in the most…mature way. It's a good thing that I was the only human being for dozens and dozens of miles, because I don't even want to imagine what kind of jerk I would have been, if only there were people I could have been a jerk to. I guess the desolation of that place saved me from a lot of future embarrassment, but that was the mood I was in. Now that I think of it, it's a really good thing there were no women within reach, because I gotta tell you, I was ready to take revenge on the entire female species right then.
But there were no women, no wenches, no cities, no inns, no taverns, no alcohol, no people. There was nothing at all; just endless desert. It's a good thing, I suppose, that there was no way for me to hurt myself. There was nothing to do at all, except walk. And so I walked, and walked, and walked. I didn't die of thirst; water wasn't as rare as you'd have thought, but rather than be grateful I was so cheesed off that I was just angry that it wasn't wine.
When the landscape is as boring as the desert, and there's no companions with whom you can share stupid jokes, there's not much to do but think. And I sure did a lot of thinking. I did a lot of daydreaming. All sorts of silly scenarios kept going through my head. I'd fantasize about Elika coming back, and begging me for forgiveness. She'd grovel, and cry, and plead with me to take her back. She couldn't fight Ahriman on her own, she couldn't do it without me. She'd been so foolish, so selfish, and it was only when she'd abandoned me did she realize what she'd lost.
Sometimes I'd forgive her, and take her in without hesitating. I was a man that was misunderstood, wronged, but I was big enough to let it go.
Sometimes I kicked her into the gutter. Sometimes I told her that she wasn't needed, that she could go live in a cave and worship Ormazd every moment of her life; I could destroy Ahriman all by myself. Sometimes I fantasized about introducing her to my beautiful wife, and watching her lips quiver and her eyes glaze over as all the hope died inside of her.
That's what was going through the head of an almighty ass as he struggled his way across a desert.
Elika came back.
Of course she came back.
As I slowly made my way back to civilization, the anger that was in me slowly seeped away, and was replaced by…absolute terror. What in the holy hell did Elika think she was doing? Did she actually think that she could survive for more than a week in a world like this?
Of course she did. This is Elika we're talking about here. A princess. A princess that lived for her entire life in a city that literally revolved around her. A princess that never left this city until she was an adult. Everything Elika knows about the world, she learned from a book in a library. Elika thinks that there's nothing worse out there than the fairy tale villains that her mother told her about when she was a child. Elika thinks that her devotion to Ormazd will save her from knives in alleys. Elika thinks that her mission to save the world will save her from scumbags in taverns that want to pour sleeping draughts in her drink and rape her in side streets. Elika thinks that because she happens to be on a crusade against Ahriman, she doesn't have to worry about slave traders that'll snatch her in the night and put her to work in their brothels.
That made me walk quicker, I can tell you. Every step of the way, from that point, I had to deal with all these horrible visions of what might have happened to her. Images of her lying in the mud, her throat cut. Images of men crowding around her in a dark corner, blades held to her face. Oh gosh, what if people saw her using magic? Ormazd is almost forgotten, in the outside world. To ordinary people, there's no such thing as light or dark magic; just magic. They'd torture her and execute her as a sorceress.
Now, when we were battling Ahriman in Elika's kingdom, we both got our strength from different places. Obviously, Elika was sustained by her faith in Ormazd. Me, well, I kept reminding myself of what I had to look forward to when it was all over and the world was saved and I could go home. When I was climbing through those vines and the thorns were cutting my arms and an overweight sorceress had her arms around my neck, I kept telling myself that it wouldn't be long before I could go to a luxurious bathhouse. When I was running across a vertical surface for the ten thousandth time and my legs were screaming no more, no more, I kept telling myself that soon I'd be stretched across a luxurious couch, and maybe I could get Elika to pop grapes in my mouth. When I was battling the God of Darkness himself, and oceans of shadow were splashing about all over the place, I kept reminding myself that soon I would have really thick carpets.
Finally, I reached the edge of the desert, and staggered into the city. Did I have time to honour all the promises that I made to myself? Did I take the time to indulge all the fantasies that had kept me going when we were fighting the Corruption? Did I go to a tavern and ask in a loud voice what the most expensive bottle in the house was? Did I go to a bathhouse and ask the serving girls to stand at the edge of the water so they could laugh at my jokes?
No, because every time I closed my eyes I saw images of Elika getting a crash course in The Big Bad Real World.
I got to work, looking for a wayward princess.
I was pretty sure that she was still in the same city that I was; Elika may have had the ability to fly, but she was completely clueless about things like money and food and board, so I was confident that I could travel faster than her.
I went to every soothsayer, fortune-teller, palm-reader, tarot-shuffler, crystal-ball-gazer, mystic, alchemist, priest and illusionist I could find. I wanted to see if there was a way to detect the presence of magic in the city. I wanted to find out if there were any stories of magic being seen on the streets. I wanted to see if there was any sign of a socially-incompetent princess who thought that every soul in town was indebted to her because she was trying to save them from an evil god that they had all forgotten existed.
Of course, I couldn't actually let anyone know that I was looking for such a person. I had to be careful. If the wrong person found out that I was searching for Elika, if they found out who she really was, and what I was willing to do to find her, to make sure she was safe…
I looked and looked. And looked some more. I can tell you, I was so focused in the beginning. I knew exactly what I intended to do, and I went searching around that city with a purpose. But I couldn't find her. All the frauds with their illusions and parlour tricks weren't able to help me. I began to run out of options…no, out of ideas.
The days went by, and I knew that the longer I took, the sooner Elika would leave town, and then I'd have a real hunt on my hands. I wracked my brains, trying to figure out where she could be. I went over the conversations we had had, all of them, over and over again, trying to get some insight that I might have missed, some hint of what she would be doing, what her motivations were. I went to the libraries, and asked whether they'd been visited by a strange woman, asking about a mythical people called the Ahura. But all that got me was librarians looking at me strangely.
Do you want to know how pathetic, how desperate I became? Night would fall, and I'd be wandering the streets, and in my head, the same thought, again and again and again:
What would a princess do? What would a princess do? What would a princess do? What would a princess do?
I couldn't find her. Instead, one night I was sitting in the room of the inn at which I was staying, when I heard the sound of drapes being pushed aside, and she was standing there.
Just as a side note: the dim light from the fireplace really enhanced the intense hatred on her face.
This morning, I watched as Elika approached a beggar that was sitting on the side of the road. I knew it was going to end badly, and I knew it would be painful to watch, but I had to let it happen. There's some lessons that need to be learned.
She knelt by his side. I heard her soft voice, I could hear her kind words. I saw her trail a finger tenderly across his forehead.
A few moments passed. The tramp had this vacant expression, which put me on edge, but Elika doesn't seem to sense any harm. More fool her. Suddenly, without warning, he reared back and spat in her face.
Not even I expected him to do that. I also wasn't expecting to get as angry as I did. I had him by the scruff of his neck, but there wasn't any fear in his eyes, no surprise, nothing. Just that same empty expression. The damage was done. I pushed him back on the ground, and went to catch up with Elika. She was walking unsteadily up the street.
"Are you okay?" I asked. She just gave a murmur, and wiped her face with a cloth.
"Do you want to stop for a moment? I'm sure we can find a quiet place, out of the way."
"I'm not a child," she said, but her voice wasn't as steady as she had hoped it would be.
We walked on for a little bit. "All the goodwill and kindness and compassion in the world means nothing to them, Elika," I said. I tried to sound cheerful. "All they care about is coin."
"But you don't give them money," she said, and her voice was loaded with resentment. "Ever."
"And if I do start handing out gold, what d'you think they're going to do with it?"
"Buy food! Put a roof over their heads! Feed their families!" Her voice cracked; she was on the verge of tears, and I had to fight down the urge to run back down that street and beat that vagabond to a pulp.
"Wrong," I said. "They're gonna buy booze, Elika! How do you think they got themselves in this mess in the first place?"
"It's not for you to judge them."
"Here's the skinny, Princess. Never, ever, ever give money if it's a guy. He'll drink it away, every drop of it. If you give money to a woman, she'll probably hand it over to her whoremaster. If you give money to children, it'll end up in the hands of whatever paedophile or gang of thieves they've been taken in by."
Elika grimaced, like she'd been sucking on a really sour lemon. There were no poor in the City of Light; Ormazd had provided for his people. "You can just walk by when you see all this suffering? You can just tell jokes and nothing at all will bother you?"
"There's nothing I can do about it." And there's nothing you can do about it, either, Princess.
Elika's demeanour has changed. When we were in the Kingdom of the Tree of Light, she acted as though she owned the place.
Well, I mean, she did own the place, but, you know…
Now, she clutches a shawl wrapped around herself, and shuffles forward, her eyes fixed on the ground. Elika likes shawls, and I like to buy them for her at the marketplace. I usually walk in front, now, pushing people out of the way, and she follows in the path I clear.
The city has always lifted my spirits. People rushing about all around, the flurry of colours, the noise.
I wasn't able to find Elika. She returned to me. That night, when she turned up at the inn, I asked her how she knew where I was.
"I followed you back through the streets," she said. She ambled over to the table at the other side of the room, where I had eaten my dinner. She helped herself to the leftovers, and then took off her cloak and climbed into the bed.
"I guess I'm sleeping on the floor tonight," I said.
She didn't answer.
I've done some calculations. She would have reached the city before me, what with her being able to fly and all, but we hadn't really been apart for all that long. She left me in the palace determined to find her own people, all by herself, but the outside world beat her down in an instant. She faced the King of Demons, Ahriman, with nothing but her faith in Ormazd to support her, and she didn't even flinch. I know, I was there with her.
The city broke her. It did what Ahriman could not do. In her mind, I betrayed her; I destroyed everything that she had fought and died for. And yet, all it took was a few days in the world of men, and she felt she had no choice but to retreat to me.
I know that she felt sick about returning to me, at first. She probably felt like she was crawling back, admitting defeat, in some way or other.
"I haven't forgiven you," she said, once.
"I never said I was sorry," I answered.
I'm not sorry.
When Elika had first left, when I was really angry, I lied to myself. I told myself that Elika had a death wish. I told myself that Elika wanted to be a martyr, a sacrifice for Ormazd. She wanted her name to live on forever, she wanted to be a saviour, admired by generations in the future. I kidded myself that this was the reason that she hated me: I denied her the opportunity to be a martyr, a sacrifical heroine. I saved her life, and she punished me because she wanted to die.
I'm so full of crap.
Elika did not want to die. I don't even want to think what would happen if I had told Elika these things. These thoughts are staying in my head until I'm in the grave.
I often boast to Elika that I can sleep anywhere. Guess that's why she doesn't feel any guilt about making me sleep on the floor all the time. That's how things are now.
She thinks I'm asleep. I'm not going to let her know otherwise. The night goes on, and eventually I hear her start to sob. She lies in bed, and I can see the bedsheets shaking as she weeps. She's going to cry until all her strength is gone and she can finally go to sleep, and then when morning comes I won't wake her up.
We live a pretty close life, together, these days. I hear her praying. She mumbles to herself as I guide her through the throngs of people in the streets. She kneels on the floor of the various rooms that we stay at, and I pretend not to notice when her voice becomes desperate and she starts to beg Ormazd for forgiveness.
I should have known.
Ormazd had Elika in his hands the moment she was born. Her mother and father were in his service; before she even came into the world, she belonged to him. He is the meaning of her life; this was decided before Elika's life even begun. Elika was raised to believe that the purpose of her life was the glory of Ormazd. Every lesson that her parents taught her, every piece of knowledge that she learned as a girl, it all had the same objective. The Ahura are Ormazd's perfect servants; that's how Ormazd intended them.
"It's funny," she says to me one afternoon, a bowl of soup hovering at her lips.
"What's that, Princess?" I ask, drawing a cloth back and forth along the blade of my sword.
"I'm traveling the world in search of my people, the Ahura…"
"And I'm tagging along."
"I wonder what they'll make of me? I wonder what they'll think, to see me fallen so low."
Elika is so eaten up with guilt that her prayers to Ormadz become twisted with sobs and choking. She feels his eyes on her all the time, every moment of her life, and she feels dirty, unworthy, undeserving, a failure.
When I cut down those that tree and brought Elika back to life, she wasn't angry because I'd denied her a hero's death.
Elika lived, and doing so, she failed her master. Just by living, she was a disgrace to her god.
We move around a lot now. Saving the world is a lot of work, and I'm spending more time in libraries than I'm really comfortable with. We're investigating rumours of Ahriman, tracking his appearances all over the world. A cult rising up here, strange creatures there.
We're also trying to find as many Fertile Grounds as we can. "Don't you get sick of calling them Fertile Grounds?" I say to Elika, one evening. "There's got to be a catchier name for them." Horror of horrors, she actually smiles.
On top of all that, we're listening for any word of Elika's people, the Ahura. Maybe they can help us on our quest. Maybe they're all gone. Maybe this world got to them, too, and they're all completely corrupt.
Morale is pretty good, all things considered. Elika seems to trust me, again. We're not going to give up. We're going to do what it takes. We're going to find all the fertile grounds, destroy the Corruption, save the world, and get Ahriman back in his prison.
And then I'm going to go and beat the living hell out of his brother.
Hope you enjoyed that. Sorry if I made Elika probably a lot weaker than she really should be. Can't wait for POP2 though; when they get out into the wide world, the Prince and Elika will be much more equal as a team, what with Elika's sorcery and the Prince's worldly wisdom. That was what I was trying to convey here; I don't mean to diminish the Princess at all.