"What have you done?" The Prince tried to keep the panic he was feeling out of his voice, not that it mattered, the voice would know anyway.
"Nothing. What is it that you've done?"
He nearly shouted at its flippant reply, but managed to stop himself. Already he had been too loud when speaking to it, anyone who might have been near could have heard him. If he was lucky they would merely assume that he had awoken from a nightmare. He wanted to convince himself that the events of the previous night had been nothing more than a dream, but it had become difficult to tell.
From the instant that he had first woken up he knew that something was wrong. At first he had been unable to make sense of his situation, he just felt that nothing was as it should be. Only once he became aware that he was in his armor did he begin to remember the events of the previous night.
Thinking the situation over any further was useless to the point of being maddening. There was so little that he could be sure of that he had no idea where to start.
"You're going to have to leave this room sooner or later," the voice said flatly, trying to goad him into continuing to argue with it.
It was mocking him, acting as though he were the one at fault when it had used his body to kill a man. Just the thought made him shudder since he was unable to recall exactly when he had ceased to be the one in control. Somehow it was growing steadily stronger, even without the Sands. He had to find a way to be rid of it, and soon before it became too powerful for him to control.
He played the events of the night over and over again in his mind, trying to figure out what was real and if any of it might possibly have been a dream. All that he could be certain of was that he had gone out into the night, for he had awoken in his armor, his sword on the floor next to the bed. Still more convincing was that there were scrapes on his hands and arms, from when he had tumbled going from one roof to another. At least part of it had been real, but towards the end he could not be as sure. Maybe killing the man had been an actual dream, one that the voice was trying to convince him was reality.
"I can't believe you're getting so upset about this."
"You used me to kill a man!" as he spoke he reached for his sword, both for the comfort that would come from having its familiar weight in his hand and because he did not remember cleaning it after the night's events. The presence or absence of blood on the blade would reveal the truth of what had happened.
"It's not like you've never killed someone before. I would have thought that you'd be used to it by now," distain dripped from its every word.
Gripping the sword so tightly that his knuckles turned white, the Prince spoke, "That's not the point."
"Well then, would you mind enlightening me as to what the point is?" it snapped.
"That this is all your fault."
"I think we've had this conversation before. I am you, everything that I do is a reflection of who you are," genuine anger colored the words it spoke.
With an exclamation of frustration the Prince threw the sword to the floor, "You are not me! You never were, you're a monster, a thing of the Sands, something that should not be!"
"You really are determined to make things hard on yourself, aren't you?"
The Prince tired to think of a suitable response, but gave up when he realized the situation he was now in. For an unknown amount of time he had been yelling at the voice, if anyone had heard him they most likely would have stopped to listen. Someone listening might have been there long enough to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was wrong.
"Yes, now you think of the consequences of your little tantrum," the voice muttered darkly.
"Anything that happens is your fault," despite it being the truth, there was little comfort to it.
"You're repeating yourself. You can blame me all you like, but the rest of the world won't see it that way."
He said nothing as he was trying to see if he could hear anything in the hall outside without actually having to open the door. When he heard nothing he took the chance of opening the door and was relieved to find that the hall was deserted. As he closed the door he felt as though he had narrowly escaped a very dangerous situation.
For now he was safe as long as he remembered to stay on guard. With that in mind he tired to get back to the matter that had started the whole ordeal, whether or not the voice had actually killed a man the previous night, or if it had just influenced his dreams to make him believe it had. Unraveling that mystery might help him figure out if anything else he had experienced had not been real.
"No more changing the topic, tell me the truth about what you have done," until he knew the truth he was uncertain if he could bring himself to leave his room. To think that he might have so little control over his own actions was terrifying.
"You act like you've never done something similar," it replied with insufferable pride.
This time he was not going to let it drag him into another debate, one that would inevitably end in another shouting match, "I won't let you play your games anymore, what did you do?"
"I honestly can't see why you're getting so worked up. It's not like anyone will find out unless you let them."
Its tone had been unreadable leaving him uncertain if it was mocking him or making a confession. He decided to continue pressing for an answer, "Would it hurt you to give me an actual answer?"
"No, but that doesn't mean I will," it let out a little laugh, "Besides, who knows how many people died last night. You're not getting worked up about all of them are you?"
A knock on the door filled him with dread, for a fleeting moment he thought that they had come to confront him about the murder. The voice's laughter brought him back to reality and made him realize how absurd he was being.
"Paranoid, aren't we?"
Ignoring the voice he spoke to whoever was outside through the closed door. The last thing he wanted to do was explain why he was dressed in his armor and had a sword out, "What do you want?"
Something in his tone must have alarmed the servant, for they spent several seconds stammering.
When he grew tired of waiting for a coherent response he decided that whatever it was could wait. He was tired, angry and in no condition to deal with whatever nonsense that was being brought to him now, "Just go, I can't be bothered right now."
The servant made one last attempt to speak, managed something that might have been an apology and left.
"So, what now?" the voice snapped at him, "Are we going to argue all day?"
It was bitter about the fact that he still fought against it, that was the only explanation. Knowing that it had no chance of convincing him to cooperate, it sought to drive him to madness out of pure spite.
"If I could do something I would," he growled as he bent down to pick up his sword.
The moment he reached for it he was overcome by a wave of dizziness that brought him to his knees. Closing his eyes he fought to keep from blacking out even as he felt his hand close around the hilt of his sword. There was a point where he was certain that he would faint, but the feeling passed.
Eyes still closed, he rose to his feet.
"Are you sure about that? That if you had the chance you'd take action?"
"Yes, I –" he began, but fell silent when he opened his eyes. Somehow he was no longer in his room, but standing in the middle of the gardens. He would have believed that the voice had brought him there, except the gardens were not as they should be. Somehow they were lush and green, exactly as he remembered them. The smell of flowers in full bloom filled the air and water flowed from the fountains into an ornamental pool.
Expecting the vision to fade away at any second he knelt down by the pool to dip his hand in the water. None of it felt like a hallucination, though there was no way any of it could be real. He watched ripples spread across the surface of the pool, seeing the sky and garden reflected perfectly as the water grew clam again.
"See something interesting?" the voice laughed merrily.
The Prince dismissed its question as being rhetorical. Only when a shadow fell over him did he realize that the voice had not been speaking in his mind, but from somewhere close behind him.
Springing to his feet he turned to face the creature. It was standing about five feet away from him, arms crossed against its chest, bladed chain glinting menacingly in the sun.
Uncrossing its arms it stretched leisurely, "I was wondering how long it would take."
With a flick of its wrist it sent the chain towards him.
By the time the Prince raised his sword to block the attack it changed the course of the chain with another quick little movement. The string of blades missed him by inches, though he still took a step back, expecting an actual attack to come. Instead he nearly tripped and fell into the ornamental pool.
Catching his balance at the edge of the pool he let out an exclamation of shock and anger. This was far too much like what had taken place after the Vizier's defeat.
Unmoved by the Prince's frustration it brought back its arm to flick the chain at him again, content to keep him at a distance and unable to manage an attack of his own.
Instead of allowing it to continue to control the situation, the Prince decided to risk trying to close the distance between them.
This time he would not run away, if he did it would only prolong his torment. Now it would be different and he would find a way to destroy it once and for all.
Dodging the bladed chain he used his momentum to bring himself into a roll that closed the distance between the creature and himself too quickly for it to respond.
He swung his sword, not truly expecting the attack to do any good, but hoping that it would allow him to begin to fight offensively rather than continuing to dodge attacks until he became too tired to continue. Seconds before his attack landed the wind picked up and the creature was surrounded in a cloud of sand. The cloud continued to spread until it engulfed him as well, forcing him to back away to try and escape.
The air became thick with grit, blinding him and leaving him unable to draw a full breath. If he failed to escape he would quickly suffocate. As he backed away he risked opening his eyes to see if the edge of the cloud was near. When no means of escape presented itself, his eyes were drawn to a darker shape in the cloud, most likely the creature. There was no doubt in his mind that it was responsible for the sand storm, so perhaps distracting it would put a stop to the storm. It was a risky maneuver, but it was the only chance he had. He threw his sword at it, hoping that the blade would strike true, even as a powerful gust of wind blew him backwards, driving stinging grains of sand into his face. If the sword had missed he was now unarmed and entirely at the creature's mercy.
There was one last gust of wind, and then the storm began to die down. Over the fading winds he could hear the creature laughing. Right away he suspected the worst, that he had failed to injure it in any way while leaving himself vulnerable to whatever attack it might be plotting.
Upon opening his eyes he saw something far worse than anything he could have imagined. Somehow the creature had managed to take his form. Instead of a monster he found himself staring at a perfect replica of himself. Its eyes, now blue, shone with malevolent glee and when it spoke, it spoke in his voice.
"This certainly is an interesting twist," it commented, examining its arms and hands.
An interesting twist was not how the Prince would have described the situation, but it gave him hope. Now that it was human as well he might be able to best it in combat, even without his sword.
It continued to examine itself, "As interesting as it can be to be human I do believe that you got the better deal here."
Of course, the Prince smiled, it was unused to fighting as a human rather than a monster which gave him a decided advantage. Even better, it was no longer in possession of the bladed chain which it wielded with such skill. The only explanation was that it was all a sign that he was to win this battle. Now that the creature was in a form where it could be killed he would not hesitate.
Done with looking itself over, it turned to stare at him as he advanced on it. Something about the amusement so evident on its features made him stop cold. Either he was walking right into some sort of trap, or there was something about the situation he had missed.
Sensing his puzzlement the creature shook its head with mock sorrow, "Look at yourself Prince. How can you be so dense?"
Even before it finished speaking The Prince had an idea as to what it meant. Still, despite the fact that he was fairly certain he knew what he would see, he found himself looking at his hands. His skin was charred black with golden lines tracing patterns across his body. When the creature had taken his form, he had somehow ended up taking on its appearance.
Alarming as the situation was, he still felt confident that he could set things straight. Water had always restored him to his true form when the creature attempted to overwhelm him, so now it was likely that water would restore him and force the creature back into its proper body.
He turned towards the fountain and saw, to his horror, a layer of dust covering bare stone. Somehow the garden had ended up in the same state of ruin as when he first visited it.
"Something the matter Prince?"
The mocking comment drew his attention back to the creature. He noticed that it had picked up his sword and was slowly advancing on him, grinning wickedly.
"One way or another it will end here," it said flatly before lunging at him.
Almost too stunned to act, the Prince barely managed to dodge. Either his reflexes were improved, or the creature was unused to the weight of the sword, for it only managed to strike a glancing blow. The Prince brought a hand to his side where he had been cut only to jerk it away violently when he felt fine grit flowing from the wound rather than blood. Shaking the glowing Sand from his hand he turned his attention back the creature.
Rather than moving in for another attack, the creature was staring at the blade of its sword with a bemused expression. The Prince was not concerned with the reason it had lowered its guard, he simply intended to press the advantage that it had been foolish enough to provide him. He prepared to strike it with the bladed chain that he now possessed. Despite his loathing for what had conspired that enabled him to use the chain as a weapon, he was quite adept at wielding it, far better than the creature was with a sword. His plan was to aim for the creature's throat, either killing it by severing its jugular or, if that failed, using the chain to pull it in close where he could choke the life from it.
"This is where it ends," the creature muttered softly, not bothering to look at him.
Something about its tone made him falter, wondering if it had planned some new trickery that he was falling right into. Perhaps killing it as he was now would leave him trapped in this form, allowing it to take its final revenge on him. To fix that he would have to force it to switch them back, then he would deal with it once and for all.
As he approached, it threw down the sword, somehow making the action a gesture of defiance rather than defeat.
Whether the creature liked it or not he was through letting it have its way, now that he could he was going to finally force it to do as he wished rather than the other way around.
It crossed its arms across its chest, inviting him to do as he wished, most likely not believing that he would actually follow through. That was its mistake, believing that he was weak.
He drew back and punched it in the face with all his might.
No sooner than the blow landed the Prince found himself blinded by an explosion of agony. If it had still been possible his eyes would have been watering from the pain, instead he felt a dull burn there as he staggered back and fell to the ground. Through his pain he could hear the creature alternating between fits of shallow, gasping laughs and gagging.
"You're only hurting yourself Prince," it wheezed and punctuated the statement by spitting.
An attempt to manage some appropriate reply failed when he realized for the first time that his mouth seemed to be full of grit. He spat out a clump of Sand, which rapidly lost its unnatural glow, in the pile of Sand was something that might have been a fragment of a tooth.
The creature's statement had been more than just a snide remark, somehow he was suffering the same injury that he had inflicted upon it.
Looking at it he saw that there was blood flowing from its nose and the corner of its mouth from his having punched it in the face, as well as an injury on its side matching the one it had dealt to him. It made an effort to wipe away some of the blood from its face, examined its hand with a look of disgust and then turned to face him, "So, what now?"
Resignation, rather than spite colored its words, leaving the Prince wondering what had caused its abrupt change in attitude.
When he remained silent, staring at it, the creature spoke again, "Continue to fight me and you'll destroy both of us."
Unpleasant as thought was, the Prince wondered if it would be worth it, at least then it would be prevented from doing any more harm than it already had.
No, he realized that it was still trying to trick him, that there was another answer, one that the creature had already realized. Unsteadily he got up and went over to it, it looked up at him and smirked, its last gesture of defiance, "You won't be rid of me."
"I know," he held out his hand and the creature took it. As he helped it to its feet he had time to notice that its hand felt cold and clammy in his grip, then the edges of his vision began to fade to white and he had the momentary sensation of falling.
A sound brought him back to awareness. He was lying on his bedroom floor and there was someone knocking at the door.
The pounding continued, but before he could say anything the door opened and Farah walked into the room.