Written for the Yuletide 2009 challenge.
I have to admit I wrote 2 stories for the challenge this year and this one was by far my favourite. Which is ironic considering I spent about half the time on it as I did the other one.
I was actually pretty stumped initially by the request… All it said was that they wanted "Backstory".
I don't know what it is about Prince of Persia, but there's just no backstory there to build on. Sands of Time had backstory, so you could build something, but the new 2008 game? Nothing (Which I guess is why they wanted backstory :) )
See, my problem is I'm a fanfiction writer, not a writer (otherwise I'd be out trying to make my living by doing it instead of for free!). I can take someone else's characters and build on them, or take a world and expand on it, twist it, change it in some way to create a new situation, but for some reason my own original stories come off as nothing but plagiarism. I once wrote a novel of approximately 400 pages, thinking I was doing really well, only to re-read it and realise that the whole thing was just stolen elements from a dozen other stories (a pinch of Tolkien, a little JK, a pound of Jordan etc…). Oh it had some original bits, but most of it was little bits from everywhere else.
Anyway, the point to this rambling is that I can't build on nothing, I need a framework, a guide, established that sets the rules and characters in place for me to mess with them. Call it a failing if you will (I can already see the writers out there pointing and laughing) but I wouldn't be too quick to judge. I've read some truly horrendous crap from people over the years who think they're top stuff.
What this means for Prince of Persia, however, is that I just COULD NOT come up with a backstory that sounded interesting enough to make a story of. I wrote a half dozen drafts about a previous adventure, or life in the slums etc, but they all seemed hollow.
In the end I decided that this prince is meant to be a mystery. Sands of Time explained who he was and what motivated him, and we got to see that change over the course of 3 games, this one doesn't (oh it gives you hints and snippets if you complete all the in game dialogue, but never "my name is XXXXXX I was born in XXXXXX and grew up in XXXXXX."
So I decided to stick to what I knew and take the game world and just twist it a quarter turn clockwise. I figured it's sort of backstory, so I fulfilled their requirement, but it's Character backstory, rather than situational backstory. It gives an insight into why eventually he makes the choices he does throughout the game.
At least that was the plan. Their response was really appreciative so I hope it was genuine and not just pandering, cos I have to say, I really do like this story too :)
"Try again, Prince."
Biting sand stung his eyes like knives, the wind tore at his clothes trying to tear them from his body. The starting was always the same, always unexpected, when he was taken from warm forgiving sunshine and plunged into the chaos of a wind possessed.
"What will you do this time?"
The voice poured through his mind like slick lantern oil, amused and taunting, coating everything it touched and leaving it dirty and unclean. Sound felt more than heard, a presence heard more than felt.
The Prince had long since lost count of the number of times he'd tried to fight what was happening, the number of different permutations he'd forced himself to live through to reach this point.
Every attempt the same failure.
Every failure leading to death.
Every death followed by the same beginning.
A brief second of recognition as those countless voices poured through his mind, when he remembered exactly what was happening, when he remembered who his enemy was and why. Then, it was torn from him, like a cloak on the wind, and he was falling into the canyon for the first time again, calling for a donkey he could never catch.
"Are you tired yet, Prince?"
He was tired. Tired enough for a lifetime. Tired of fighting. Tired of losing. Tired of watching as someone important was taken from him. Tired of stumbling, broken through the great temple doors, bearing the body of a friend, rather than an enemy.
Every attempt brought him closer to collapse, every slow walk from the tree of life a little harder, every sand storm just a little stronger, every whisper just a little more persuasive.
"How long can you endure?"
Not long. He knew that. There were only a certain number of possibilities in any problem, only a certain number of paths one could follow, only a certain number of ways to leap before there were no more branches to grab or walls to scramble down.
Eventually he would exhaust them, eventually he would experience this brief moment and know that he had finally tried everything, and still failed.
Time was but another of the god's playthings, another weapon to use against those mortals who defied them. Ahriman could outlast him, could keep returning him, time after time, to the beginning of their vicious little game, could keep making him run through his maze like a trapped rodent. Man's will was strong, but it was nothing compared to that of a god.
"Try again, Prince."
He had no choice, there was no other option. Every path through the sandstorm led him back here, every direction ended at the same canyon and the same donkey, every step brought him closer to where Ahriman wanted him to be.
Sometimes he wondered if there even was a way to win. If he could really cheat a god of his prize. Not freedom, but the life it would take to keep him caged.
She, who in mere moments would be fleeing from him not knowing that she'd done it a thousand or more times before. She, who would argue and fight with him, convince him to help her, and then leave him to save a kingdom already dead.
His first step was heavy, the sand soft beneath his feet, eyes almost glued shut against the onslaught of the wind and sand.
Softly amused laughter oiled its way through his mind, like fingers beckoning him onwards, toward a destiny he had already faced and failed.
He would only have seconds, maybe, before everything reset, only seconds to come up with something he hadn't already tried, moments to review what felt like a lifetime of memories and find the one path he hadn't yet taken.
The one way to win.
The one way to escape.
He didn't know if it was a blessing or a curse, retaining the memories. Whether it would be better to simply relive the same thing every time and never know, to dance on godly strings and be unaware of it, never know that he had done it before, that he had tried and failed, that every option looked different, but all ended the same way.
"How long, Prince? How long before you understand?"
He couldn't help the slight growl that was yanked away by the wind and sand. Fought the urge to scream at the sky.
He already understood.
He knew why he was here, why he relived this same day over and over.
Because they both wanted something. Wanted it so desperately that neither could let the other take it from them.
"How long until you understand?"
The sandstorm darkened around him, swirled more intensely, tearing at his flesh like shark skin, a brief glimpse of a horned face in the distance that stopped him in his tracks.
The Mourning King.
Truth was like a flower opening before him, a rush of understanding accompanied by the maddening laughter of a god.
"Yeeeeeeeees… My Prince."
Servants of Ahriman. The Corrupted.
A gift from a god, a payment in return.
That was how the gods worked, how heavenly games were played. He could have what he wanted, but only if he paid the price demanded.
The storm battered him with excitement, tore at him with fingers of possibility and hope, pressed against him with the desperation of a wish finally granted.
"Try again, Prince."
Already the memories of past cycles were fading, the knowledge of which paths he had tried and lost.
His feet dragged him through the sand against his will, leading him towards the canyon, the donkey, the princess, the god. A final time, a last attempt, a promised release, a price to be paid.
"Try again, Prince."
He locked his gaze on the faint, horned shadow that guided him through the swirling sand, felt eager hands pulling him onwards. He fixed the knowledge within his mind of what he had to do, reciting over and over the final solution to the unsolvable puzzle, knowing that nothing else of what had just transpired would remain with him.
One final image to try, one last path to walk, one final destiny to fulfil.
"Try again, Prince."
Then his foot crossed the edge of the canyon, and he was falling for the first time.