A/N: Quotes and italics are style choices in this story and are meant to be the way they're posted. Disclaimer info is on my profile page. Enjoy!
Her father had always told her that one grain of sand could never stand out from the rest. It should have been the same with mankind. One person should not be able to overthrow a kingdom. One man should not have the strength to bring an army to its knees. One monster should not have been cunning enough to destroy everything she loved in one swing.
But it had happened. Now she fought for her very life. Surrounded by nightmarish creatures in a city she didn't know, it took every ounce of strength she had to keep her head. She would put the man responsible for this to death. He had betrayed her father and her people. His quest for power had cost India dearly. Now he sought to bring death and destruction to Babylon. He would not succeed. She would make sure of that.
It had been hours since she last saw a human being. Many had been poisoned by the sands, turned into a mockery of what they used to be. She would hear a woman scream or a child crying. Investigation of these sounds only revealed death. There had to be survivors somewhere. In a city this size, not everyone could have succumbed to the dark powers of the Sands of Time.
He appeared as if he heard her thoughts. It started as a grunt from an impact. Worried that someone was being attacked, she had rushed to the nearest balcony to aid whomever she found. But he didn't need her help. She watched in awe as he achieved feats she'd never seen before, running along the side of a building before deftly jumping onto a sand monster. He plunged his weapon into its neck with skill, silencing it before it knew what was happening. Who was this man? Perhaps he was a member of the king's guard who hadn't met his grisly fate yet.
Then she noticed his arm. A crude chain was wound around it. The blades cut deep into his flesh. It seemed he had already looked death in the face and lived to fight another day. He could become a valuable ally, she thought. She had to follow him. If he knew the city's layout and could get her closer to the vizier, she could end this nightmare and return the sands to their proper place.
She watched him begin his run again. A wooden board protruded from the wall he was on. She could see his thought process as he moved, using the board to spring himself towards the next unsuspecting enemy.
Something was wrong, though. The board snapped back too quickly. He reached out for the nearest railing and just barely managed to save himself from a messy fall. But the guard had noticed. The monster raised his weapon to finish the man off. She couldn't let him die. Not now. Not after she'd finally found the tool she needed to fix this mess.
Within seconds she let one arrow fly. It made a home in the guard's chest. She watched, smirking, as it staggered back from the blow. Another arrow flew. Then a third one. Finally it fell over in a burst of sand and blood, felled by her final strike. Her father would have been proud to see her now.
The survivor pulled himself up onto the balcony and looked over the creature's body. He pulled one of her arrows out to inspect it. As he began to turn towards her, she panicked and ducked back into her hiding place. She didn't want him to know she was there. At least not yet. She needed to follow him through the shadows and find out who he was first. Acrobatic skill and fighting talent didn't make a person trustworthy.
Still, she smiled into the room's darkness as he shouted a thank-you in her direction. He appreciated her rescue. Now she just needed him to return the favor and lead her right into the heart of Babylon.
She found him again by the palace gates. Her irritation at losing him gave way to amusement as he stood knee-deep in a pool of water. Discomfort was written across his whole face. She took a moment to get a look at him. He had a warrior's body, hardened from years of training and scarred from numerous battles. His hair, chopped at his shoulders, covers most of his face. He wore bronze and iron guards around his wrists and his legs. Those shocked her. Only the members of the king's court would have had access to such finery. She wondered, again, who he was.
He set off again after regaining his bearings. She followed him closely from the rooftops. He had led her to the inner city and the palace, just as she hoped, but something else was keeping her close to him. It unnerved her to not know what it was.
She saw the monster sooner than he did. An arrow was fitted in her bow as he finished turning the corner. By the time he raised his weapon, she had let three arrows fly. He plunged his dagger into the guard's stomach before she had time to finish him off. Satisfied that she did her duty yet again, she turned to continue on her mission. She needed to find another place to stalk him from. After two rescues from above, she'd never be able to keep out of his sight.
He was too quick for her this time. Before she could set off, he saw her on the balcony. She tried to ignore him and continue on. He would forget about seeing her soon enough, she thought. There were plenty of monsters to keep him occupied.
She was not prepared to hear him call her name.
"Farah!" he shouted. She froze. There was a hint of uncertainty as he yelled to her. Maybe he had just guessed. No, she told herself. That guess was too good.
Even from a distance, his eyes bore into her. He knew her. Despite the tone he had used, there was familiarity in his face. "How do you know who I am?" she shouted back. She tried not to sound desperate. How had she managed to find the one human being left in the city who knew her? She needed to know. But she was also a princess, and she would not sound weak or scared in front of some Persian soldier.
He stuttered. His reason was completely made up. She could feel her trust in him, what little there was, begin to diminish. If he could not tell her why he knew her, then he had something to hide. Secrets in this city were dangerous.
But his face was still hungry, as if frantic with need for her to believe him. She wanted to. Something deep within her wanted to believe his sorry excuse for a tale and join him on his quest, whatever it was. This wasn't right. She couldn't stand there and stare at him all day while he fumbled for the right words. The vizier was still out there. He needed to be stopped.
A lone sand monster yanked her out of her reverie and ran up behind the man. She pulled another arrow from her quiver and let it fly. The man turned, distracted by the creature, and she ran off. Curses, she said to herself. I can't rely on him. I have to do this myself. And just like that, she felt a little of her heart break.
It wasn't long before he caught up with her. She had almost cleared the building when she saw him out of the corner of her eye. His face was no longer pleading with her. Something else had replaced it - a grim determination. It halted her speed enough that she noticed something else.
His weapon was no ordinary dagger. It was the Dagger of Time.
She immediately stopped. "Where did you get that?" she snapped. It came out much harsher than she intended. She knew that he hadn't released the sands themselves. The vizier had done that in broad daylight. Anyone within a mile of him could've seen it. She also knew that the vizier was still alive. The sand monsters still populated the city and he was the one controlling them. He must have stolen it from that betrayer. Maybe she needed to give this young man some more credit.
"Will you run away again?"
She frowned and crossed her arms. This was taking too long. "No."
He gave her a relieved nod before launching into his story. And what a story it was. She was captivated despite herself. He had lost much since his return home - his family, his city, and his very life. Yet he risked it all anyway to keep the dagger away from the vizier. Somehow he knew about its dark powers and that the vizier could be kept at bay as long as the prince retained it.
That was the most shocking revelation of all. This man in front of her was royalty, just like her. The Prince of Persia. She'd heard stories about him of course. Most of them had been of his skills in battle or his rash decision-making. He'd been gone from Babylon for nearly a decade on some mission. It wasn't such a small leap anymore to figure out how he knew her.
But she still wasn't ready to trust him completely. Not yet. She needed concrete proof that he was on her side and wasn't trying to use the sands for himself. She wanted to trust him. There was something in his eyes, the way his jaw was set, and in his very posture that told her he was out for redemption.
"Fine," she heard herself say after a moment. "We share a common enemy. But you have to keep up."
She couldn't help but smile as she heard his footsteps behind her. She watched him as she leapt from roof to roof, hacking away at sand monsters and skillfully swinging across beams in order to keep pace with her. There was no denying his acrobatics. He appeared comfortable running along walls and jumping off of balconies. She couldn't help but appreciate his physical talents. If only he were as skilled at speaking, she thought with a giggle.
It soon became apparent that he was as rash as the stories said. By the time they reached the temple, the vizier had already made camp and was busy inspecting his new grounds. The prince's anger radiated stronger than the sun. She could feel it even from her perch. Only a few carefully chosen words keep him from rushing headlong into certain death. He complained, obviously. She wanted nothing more than to dispatch the vizier herself. But that was not their moment. They needed to wait for an opportunity.
They needed to work together.
The obstacle of entering the temple presented itself. She was surprised at how easily he assessed the situation and figured out a solution. Even with her uncertainty and his irritation, they flowed easily into a pattern to open the doors to the temple. Babylon was a maze of traps, tricks and corridors. She didn't want to admit it, but as they ventured further in she realized that she never would have made it into the palace alone. She needed him even more than before.
While she waited for him to rotate platforms and position her closer to the temple's bell, she wondered what it was about him that drew people in. He had certainly caught her attention, even before she found out who he was. His desire to right the wrongs of the vizier was admirable. The courage he had shown during their time together was commendable. His cordial manner towards her when she had not reciprocated was impressive.
It still made her nervous. That same nature was what led to her father's betrayal. The vizier had used his gentle manner and soothing words to unleash hell throughout India and Persia. She knew she would have to keep her eyes open, to watch his every move.
Even their teamwork did not make the journey any easier. As they moved through the city to disarm traps and open complicated doors, they became separated numerous times. It began to wear on her nerves. Anything could be lying in wait for them, and without backup they were as good as dead. She held the memories of her father close during those moments. He would have praised her actions if he were here. How many times had he told her to keep a cool head? To watch out for her allies? To never take anything at face value?
If only he could see her now. But wait, he could see her. Somewhere in the afterlife he was watching her, giving her strength and guidance on her long journey. The thought warmed her heart.
She finally caught up with the prince in the marketplace. It was the first time they were actually next to each other and not on rooftops and balconies. She was able to finally see the torment in his eyes, the way his hands shook with rage. It would have terrified her had she not felt the same things. She tried to think of something to say that would ease his tension. He would do them no favors if he couldn't think straight.
The sounds of screaming pulled her back to the task at hand. There were people! Quite a few, by the sound of it. She allowed elation to creep back into her heart. The vizier could wait. He wasn't going anywhere in the near future. They had to save those people. They were the only ones who could do it. Convinced of their next action, she turned and beckoned him to follow her.
But he hesitated. The anger would not dissipate so easily. He turned his eyes to her - cold, unfeeling, beautiful - and refused to back away from his mission. The vizier must be stopped, he told her. Isn't that worth more than the lives of a few people who probably cannot be saved?
She felt hurt, confused, and angry. They are your people, she snapped back. Their lives are more important that your revenge quest. She knew that the vizier would die soon by their hands. This was a detour too important to slip by. They had to try or there would be no one left to rule over by the day's end.
He held his ground. She knew deep within her that this could be their last moment together. She tried to say something encouraging, or even something to make him see reason. But her own anger rose up in defiance. She would be on her own this time. Without so much as a nod, she turned and ran off towards the screams. Even if it meant her life, she would try to save them. After all, wasn't one life worth a few?
She brushed away a few tears as she stormed off. Why was she so upset? If the man wanted to get himself killed, it wasn't her place to stop him. But her thoughts would not be quiet. This was something more than a revenge mission to him. She saw that now. He wanted something more personal. Whatever drove him was more important than his own people. It must have been powerful.
She hoped that she never felt that same desire for the rest of her life. Something like that, that drove all reason from one's mind, was too dangerous to cultivate.
She didn't realize he had followed her until something flew past her head. She had been distracted by the screaming. One voice, his voice, had pulled her attention back to him. Something in his eyes had changed. The ice was melting, and the hatred he had borne earlier was gone. It brought a smile back to her face. His true personality was beginning to shine through. The change was a welcome one.
Before he had a chance to say anything, another monster attacked. This one was different from the others. She retained her voice and her malice. But her movements were inhuman. The creature walked like a cat stalking a mouse. Her words came out like hisses. There was something about her that made Farah uncomfortable. This woman - this thing - taunted the prince like a seductress. In turn, he looked at her with anger and sadness. They must have met before, the princess decided. And she couldn't help but take a jab at the sand monster for interrupting their conversation.
She wanted to fight alongside the Prince. It would have been the perfect opportunity to test their teamwork. After all, they'd moved in a coordinated fashion for hours now and it was beginning to prove useful. Together they could beat this creature into dust with ease.
But he held back again. She prepared to fight anyway, unwilling to listen to another excuse for backing away. He looked at her with purpose in his eyes. It stopped her in her tracks. "Help the prisoners escape," he told her. "This is something I must do alone. I'll catch up with you later." She was powerless against his request. Whatever had happened between him and this catlike monster had shaken him. This kind of revenge was different. It was something she could respect. She watched him for a moment as he deftly dodged her attacks and backed her into a corner. He held his own, completely focused on the task at hand. Satisfied that he wouldn't get himself killed in the next ten minutes, she headed deeper into the fortress.
It took only minutes to free the men, women, and children who had nearly fallen victim to another of the vizier's tricks. A dozen arrows was all it took to subdue the threat. The people were thankful and warm towards her. Out of the crowd, a solitary old man approached her, years of knowledge and experience dripping from every word he spoke. "Princess, you have our thanks. But you must escape this city. We will provide cover for you and the little ones. The rest of us must wait for our prince to return. I fear that he is the only man who can stop this calamity."
She looked at the faces around her. When the man had spoken of their prince, all of their eyes had lit up with admiration. He had the loyalty and respect of every person in his city, an astonishing feat in its own right. She could have wept. He needed to know how much of an impact stopping the vizier would have on his people. And they needed to know that he was already fighting for them.
"He's here," she said. "He's fighting those sand monsters and trying to stop the city's destruction."
The small crowd cheered as she relayed the news. The elderly man smiled. "This is joyous indeed. You must return to him, Princess. Help him to stop this madness. We will do our best to protect the remnants of this city. Now go."
"How do you know I'm a princess?" She couldn't help but ask him. There was something devious, yet understanding, about him.
"Sometimes a man must trust his intuition," was all the sage said. His answer would have to do. He was right; she needed to help the prince finish off that cat creature. With a swift thank-you, she returned the way she came. A silent prayer left her lips. Please let him not be dead. Please let me get there in time to help him.
She reached the balcony in time to see the woman fall to her death. Her scream was cut short as she hit the streets below her, a fitting end for such a nightmarish creature. She looked up to congratulate the prince on staying alive.
But she was not prepared for what she saw.
Something monstrous was standing in his place. It looked like him. It moved like him. But it wasn't him. It couldn't be. What stood before her was another abomination, just like the one that lay dead between them. She could almost see the sand coursing though its body, defiling every pore, every ounce of what had once been a man.
She looked down. In its hand was the Dagger of Time. And the voice that called out her name was still his.
"Why?" was all she could muster. She had been duped, lied to. She had placed her trust in a man that had never existed. All of the joy she'd felt just moments before vanished. She was nothing but a fool. At least the people didn't know about this. How disappointed they would be to see their prince now, turned into a sand creature and working for the man she hated most.
He pleaded with her, naturally. He gave her all kinds of excuses. The transformation is only physical, he said. I'm still the man you've been working with, the same man who wants the vizier dead. She shut her eyes tightly and tried to block him out. The betrayal burned inside of her. She had to end this now. If she didn't get away, there was no telling what else he would prove to be. Or what else he would do to her.
He said nothing as she lifted her bow and took aim. She couldn't concentrate. Even as the rest of her heart shattered into a thousand pieces and he stopped trying to convince her of his innocence, she couldn't do it. She wouldn't end his life here. Not like this.
With tears in her eyes, she let the arrow fly wide and took off running. She couldn't tell if he was following her. All she knew was that she needed to get away. Her mission was not over. She would see it through to the end. Alone.
She couldn't just let him die. Even after she had shouted at him, even after he'd chased he through part of the palace, and even after she'd watched him transform back into the man she'd first seen, she knew that she'd never be able to kill him. Nor would be able to let something else do the job. In a few short hours the man had grown on her. Maybe it was the fact that they were the only two people who could end this nightmare. Maybe it was because he had worked so hard to prove his innocence. Or maybe it was something more.
He had eventually fallen behind but refused to leave her thoughts. From a secluded corner of the palace she analyzed every word and action between them since she'd saved him. She ranted and raved with herself, trying to find anything that would pull her from her sour mood. There was nothing. She had no reason to believe him. She also had no reason to doubt him. This conflict within her was becoming much too distracting.
Something below grabbed her attention. She pulled herself up and looked over the ledge. Horror gripped her heart. There, in the center of the room, stood the prince. Before him were two of the ugliest sand creatures she had seen yet. They circled the prince, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Only sheer force of will kept her from jumping down there to help him. This was his fight. Something told her that she would only be a distraction. Besides, wasn't she still mad at him?
She watched intently as the prince made his move and struck at the monster with the sword. He then easily moved out of reach of the one with the axe. It was like a dance between them. Each move was designed to bring death, yet the prince countered each blow as if it were choreographed. She also noticed something in his stance. The determination she'd seen before was back. He would not leave this circle until both monsters were dead. The sands had tainted him, but that did not make him the same as those under the vizier's control.
There was a twinge of guilt in her heart. He was looking for redemption. She had seen it earlier and dismissed it. Now she could see how much he fought against the sands. When this was over, she needed to apologize. The mission was not complete. And even though she wouldn't admit it out loud, she still needed him.
The fight ended almost as soon as it began. She was ready to face him as soon as the flames died down. But there was a problem. As she prepared to jump down, the remains of the two creatures merged into one and prepared to attack. The prince wasn't ready. Instinct took over. The arrow left her hand before the monster had finished its jump. Despite its size, the monster fell in just one shot.
The prince couldn't help but smile as she landed next to him. His face told her that he had expected her. It quickly turned to sorrow. He rubbed the back of his head and frowned. "Farah, I…"
She smiled at him, amazed at how effortless it was. "We need to keep moving," she said. Five words told him that he was forgiven. He nodded, gripping his dagger, and turned towards the door. She was close behind him.
They didn't say anything until they had reached the streets. After so much activity and noise earlier, the quiet was eerie and uncomfortable. The prince was on edge. She wondered if his sand powers heightened his senses. It was something to ask him later, when they had a break from this insanity. She knew she would never trust him completely until she knew more about him.
"Be on your guard," he said suddenly. His face was frozen, stoic as he gazed across the courtyard.
"I always am," she replied, hoping to ease some of his tension.
A lump formed in her throat as he reached down and touched the ground. She pulled out an arrow and fitted it to her bow, ready for anything that might come. He was quiet for a moment. She looked to him for an order. He said nothing and took two steps forward.
"RUN!" His shout shattered her concentration. She almost lost her footing as she darted after him, running deeper into the open space of the courtyard. They were too exposed. Whatever was after them would pick them off easily out here.
The ground beneath them rumbled. Shadows began dancing in the distance and were quick to close in on them. The prince stopped and put his weapon up. She drew her bow. Within seconds they were completely surrounded by sand creatures. Her heart sank as she pressed her back to his. One dagger and a dozen arrows would not save them from these numbers.
A cry came from over the monsters' roaring. Human and beast turned to see a small army of peasants gathered by the palace's inner gates. In front was the old man she had seen before. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the prince's smile. His people had come to aid him. He, in turn, would not let his people down, not after they had proven their loyalty and willingness to give their lives for him. The sands would not change that.
The courtyard erupted in chaos as the two sides battled for their lives. She fought as hard as she could, but even with the people alongside her she couldn't help but feel disheartened. The vizier was still out there. Each second they spent fighting was a second closer to him gaining immortality. They needed to keep going. She had to find the prince and pull him away from the battle at hand.
Again, he appears as if he heard her thoughts. He jerked his head towards the gate. She understood and quickly fired two arrows at their pursuers. They reached the gate with relative ease. A swing of the dagger shut the door behind them and set them on the final part of their journey.
Of course, nothing was ever easy. Even separating themselves from the battle outside wouldn't halt all of the problems inside. She found a door between the two of them for the millionth time that day and groaned. There had to be a way out. Now that they were inside, she had no idea where she was going. She needed the prince for guidance and he needed her for protection. And it had to be soon.
She was temporarily distracted by a monstrosity hanging a few feet in front of her. She had seen contraptions like this before but only on paper. Who knew that the king of Persia would have one right in the center of his palace?
"Farah!" he called out from above her. As usual, it hadn't taken him long to find her. "Good, you're safe."
She was still gaping at the device in front of her. "Is this a lift?"
He gave her a confused look. "You mean the elevator?"
"I've never seen one up close before. It's beautiful!"
He laughed at her. She realized that she hadn't heard him laugh since this mess started. It was boyish, playful, and completely different from the rest of the personality she had seen. She liked it immediately. "It needs power. You wait there while I try and get it started."
She hopped in, eager to see the lift in action. Within moments he had the machine running. He jumped from a nearby ledge, grabbed the edge of the elevator, and pulled himself up next to her. "This should take us to the gardens. The vizier won't be far."
She nodded. He opened his mouth to say more but immediately closed it. Instead he began fidgeting with the scarf around his waist. She eyed him curiously. There was something different about him. He seemed…nervous, unsure of himself. It was a complete change from his demeanor earlier. She found herself wondering what was on his mind. This was her chance to ask him all the questions she had been collecting. What happened to your arm? Can you still function when you're a sand creature? How do you really know my name?
Yet she couldn't ask them. It suddenly seemed wrong. She didn't want to waste this opportunity, but she didn't want him to close up on her. Nervous herself, she crossed her arms and tried to think of something to say.
He turned and looked at her, his eyebrows raised. She stared back. This was going nowhere, she thought. I have to say something.
"So what's your favorite color?"
Just as they tasted victory, the vizier appeared before them. She bit back a scream as he descended upon them. His body had completely transformed. Now in the shape of a scarab, he looked even more bizarre than before. She wished she could laugh at him. Her father would have made a joke at his old retainer's expense. She knew, however, that anything could set him off at the moment. They couldn't afford any slip-ups with him.
Of course, she failed to take into consideration how powerful his new body was. Before she could blink he had grabbed her by the arm and hauled her into the air. Pain shot through her shoulder.
She heard the prince call out to her, but she couldn't respond. The vizier had her head pressed into his neck with an arm around her own. She couldn't breath. She couldn't even move. Panic started to set in. Was this how she was going to die? They had been so close.
But no, the prince still had the dagger. There was still a chance. If she could hold out for a little while longer, they might be able to finish this. The vizier, ironically, was the one to give her hope. He promised to make her his queen, to take the prince's only ally in payment for those they had stolen from the vizier. He told them that it would take some time. She managed to twist her head enough to see the prince's face. His eyes gave nothing away, but the set of his jaw told her that he noticed the same thing. Satisfied that they could still destroy him, she took a jab at the insane man's fragile ego.
He responded with a blow to her head, and the darkness overcame her.
Her panic had resumed by the time she awoke. Something was holding her up in midair. Her arms and legs were cramped from her odd positioning. Where wa he? She tried to keep a straight face as she looked around the room. The vizier was gathering his energy and drawing more sand into himself. As soon as he finished, she knew he would waste no time with her transformation. The prince was nowhere in sight. Come on, she whispered to herself. How many times did I save your sorry hide? Now it's your turn. Where are you?
The vizier moaned and opened his eyes, turning his sickly red orbs on her face. Bile rose in her throat. Everything about him sickened her from his hideous new body to his stench of betrayal. He rose to her level and grinned at her. His gaze made her own body go cold. It was time.
She would not go down without a fight. Even if he managed to transform her, even if her entire journey had been in vain, she would make his last memory of her the most unpleasant one she could muster. His face grew closer to her own. With a sickening smile, he leaned in to begin the process.
He didn't get very far. She defiantly spit in his face, putting a good distance between them. She used her remaining breath to curse him. Every vile name she could think of was thrown his way. I will not go down like this, she hissed. I will watch you suffer, and then I will watch you die.
And then he was there. She saw him from over the vizier's shoulder, running like a possessed man towards the two of them. Just as he raised his dagger to attack, the vizier turned his attention to the prince. The stage had been set for the final battle.
She tried desperately to free herself from her shackles. It had been a long time since she felt that helpless. The prince and the vizier were locked in a battle to the death, and she had no way of helping or hindering either one. She tried cursing the monster again to distract him. Then she tried shouting advice to the prince to keep him on the offensive. It didn't seem to be doing much. She almost cried in sheer frustration.
Minutes took an eternity to pass. She watched, her eyes glazed over, as the two men ripped each other to shreds. Finally, as the vizier rose to the sky to begin another attack, she hung her head. Fate was a cruel demon indeed. Her breath was becoming harder to catch. Her vision was fading. Even if the prince managed to kill the vizier, she was going to suffocate up here before he could do anything. Well, she told herself, at least if that happens, Babylon will know peace once again.
A scream tore through her consciousness and jolted her back to reality. She looked up in time to see the prince plunge the dagger into the vizier's chest. The monster began to twitch and thrash about. "No!" he screamed. "This was not what the dagger promised!"
It took her a second to realize that she was falling. She took a deep breath to clear her vision and nimbly landed on her feet. The ground felt wonderful. She ran up to the prince, who had removed the dagger from the vizier, and touched his arm. Any further threat the sands presented would be faced together. Finally.
Her breath caught in her throat as the man who had betrayed her people burst into a thousand grains of sand. His nightmare was over. But the sands themselves were still flying around. She couldn't concentrate on the cheers of the people below them. The city wasn't safe yet. The prince looked at her with concern. In response, she gave him a grim nod.
The sands began to take form. A human form. She took a step forward, ready to destroy the vizier if he had regained his shape. The prince held up a hand to stop her. "I know this form," he whispered underneath his breath. She looked from him to the sands. They had finally stopped moving. The faint outline of a woman hovered before them. A voice spoke to the prince about finding a place, to which he nodded in understanding and held out the dagger. It disintegrated into sand within seconds. The chain wrapped around his arm fell to the floor.
She couldn't help but feel elated. Whatever this being was, it had destroyed the Dagger of Time and would likely take the sands away for good. She tried to think of something to say, anything at all, but all she could do was smile.
And as soon as the sands had vanished, the prince fell to the floor.
This wasn't happening. They had been so close. She'd almost given up before when she was trapped by sands, magic and helplessness. He hadn't stopped trying even when winning seemed impossible. There was no reason for her to throw in the towel yet.
She shook him, shouted at him, and even slapped him a couple of times. He was breathing, but his eyes were screwed shut in an expression of pain and agony. Something was going on in his head and there was nothing she could do.
Chewing on her lip, she thought back on their journey together. There was so much mystery around him, so many questions left unanswered. He had trusted her, hurt her, nearly betrayed her, and rescued her. She had stalked him, abandoned him, nearly killed him and saved him. Within hours they had bound themselves together under a common goal and a common enemy. There was no denying their connection.
There was no denying that she had been captivated.
Finally he started to stir. Frantic with worry, she pulled him closer and shook his shoulders. He opened his eyes slowly. "Farah?"
She sighed and smiled as his eyes grew more focused. "Are you alright?"
"I think…it's finally over," he said. She knew that he spoke of something beyond the vizier, beyond the Sands of Time. Whatever battle he had been fighting with himself had ended. He was free of the sands and free of his mental prison.
Without a word, she helped him to his feet and pulled him towards the railing. Below them lay a ruined city. Smoke rose from various buildings and the streets themselves had been dug up. Bodies littered the alleys. But scattered among the debris were the survivors of Babylon, salvaging what they could and thanking the heavens that they were alive. They would rebuild. She was sure of it. With a strong leader to guide them, Babylon would once again be the pinnacle of civilization.
And she planned on being a part of it.
She turned to the prince, whose gaze was still on the destruction before them. Yet his face was peaceful. The tension had finally dissipated. She marveled at his features and wondered why it had taken her so long to truly see him, every single part of him. There was something else that she hadn't noticed, something recognizable. She had seen this before. It was impossible, of course, and yet the feelings stirring within her felt familiar.
She had to know.
"Prince," she said, drawing his attention back to her, "there's still something I don't understand. How did you really know my name?"
She had expected more stuttering. Instead he laughed, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and lay his free hand over hers. His grip was warm and welcoming. It made her feel complete.
"Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I really am and why I say this. Come, and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard."
Farah knew that he was right. She also knew that she would believe every word he said. She, too, had seen the face of time, formed by sands and freed by the prince.
There was time now. Time to listen. Time to find answers. Time to reflect, to rewind, and to revisit. Time, then, to look to the future.