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The Prince With Emerald Eyes

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, as most stories go, far, far away in the Arabian kingdom of Nanda Parbat, there lived a Prince with emerald green eyes.

Now, the city of Nanda Parbat in which the Prince lived, was an enchanted city known for its pits of healing.

At the beginning of its days, before Nanda Parbat received its name, it was thought that a woman by the name of Rama Kushna had stumbled upon the caverns laying beneath the future city to seek refuge from bandits wishing to rob her of her jewels and life. It is said that, while frightened, Rama Kushna burrowed deeper into the dark tunnels leading from cavern to cavern with only the use of her hands against the walls and shuffling feet to warn her of sudden unforeseen drop-offs.

She walked for what seemed like a very long time, but before she could succumb to exhaustion, she noticed on the wall before her what looked like the reflections of greenish water shimmering from further in. Within moments, she found herself inside a cavern of green glowing water that seemed to echo with whispers of health and protection that she could not resist. Rama Kushna collapsed at the edge of one of the pits scattered about and submerged her cupped hands into the eager green to relieve her parched throat. Instantly, Rama Kushna felt energy course through her and was healed of all her aches and pains.

The word of healing pits flooded through the lands and people began to flock towards the caverns in search of their powers, creating the beginnings of the city Nanda Parbat. Later, when Rama Kushna died, the people of Nanda Parbat believed that she was given blessings from the gods above and made into a goddess to watch over the city she created.

Shortly after Rama Kushna died, a man quickly rose to power with claims the pits had gifted him their favor and named him the king of the city. Many did not believe the man and his claims, but soon after announcing their doubts, they were found dead in their beds, quickly silencing all disbelief and doubts from those who lived in the city. Years after his ascension to power was made, the king was noted to have aged no more than a week, only strengthening his earlier claims of pits in his favor.  

Decades soon passed and Nanda Parbat flourished under its many successes, but the fortune that the city possessed would not stay for very long.

However, before the city’s fortune declined, the Prince was born.

Like his mother before him, the Prince had been born with blood forged from tainted pits of sickly green where voices of eternal life whispered. When the Prince opened his eyes to the world for the very first time, his irises glowed with a sickly green that seemed to hold the reflection of hidden water for just a second before dimming into an emerald state. This seemed to please the Prince’s grandfather, the king, greatly, so much so, that he did not mourn for the loss of his daughter in childbirth, but only walked away with his tiny grandson cradled in his ancient arms.

  As the Prince grew under the careful eyes of his grandfather, he began to wonder about life outside the walls of the enchanted city, in which he lived. He drew his eyes to the blue sky above in search for just an ounce of the unknown, but he always came up short and wishing to see for himself the mysterious world hidden away from him.

“You must never stray beyond these walls,” his grandfather forbade. “A fate filled with unimaginable dangers will befall you, do you understand?” The Prince did not understand. He became far more curious as a result of his grandfather’s warnings, rather than fearful of them.

“But why, Grandfather,” the Prince protested. “If it’s dangerous to stray beyond the city’s walls, how come I see so many leave only to safely return?”

The Prince’s grandfather was not pleased by the Prince’s curiosity, and he made it well-known through the coldness of his sickly green eyes as he said, “We are different than the peasants who serve us, my dear grandson. The ancient pits residing in the caverns far below our very feet is why we are unable to leave Nanda Parbat. As you know, the pits’ waters flow through our veins and have been since the beginning of time. If you were to ever leave this city, the pits would abandon you to live the life of a mortal.”  

Despite his unwavering curiosities about the sickly green pits below and his confinement to the inner walls of Nanda Parbat, his grandfather never spoke about life outside of the city again, and the Prince never brought it up.

Life, for the Prince, went on as he spent his days inside the city’s walls, but it was because of his grandfather’s ultimate rule, that the Prince began to notice something. It wasn’t until the Prince reached the age of eight and when a servant, whom he had known since he was five and they, seven, died from old age that the Prince began to notice the oddity around him.

Slowly, the Prince began to observe the servants inside the palace, along with those outside and the peasants living in the houses below, to try and figure out what was happening. Within days he saw infants grow rapidly, and by the end of the year, he saw that they were just on the cuffs of adulthood. During the second year, he witnessed the infants from the year before fly through their adulthood, and so that, by the third year, they became among the elderly of the city. Most died within the middle to late of the third year with only a few making it into the fourth. Meanwhile, the Prince was days from turning twelve, when the infants, he began to study from three years ago, died from old age.

Only the Prince and his grandfather seemed untouched by the hands of time, and because of that, the Prince grew lonely.  

“It’s as if you never listen to what I say,” chastised the Prince’s grandfather when the Prince went to him with questions. “As I’ve said a million times before, you have, in your very blood, the pits to thank for the fact that we do not age as they do.”

The Prince couldn’t help but wonder if he should thank the pits or curse them for making him forever young and isolated from those whom his grandfather ruled over.

However, as the Prince slowly crept to the age of eighteen, that isolation, he started to feel when he observed those around him aging and dying at a faster rate than he, grew as the ancient city of Nanda Parbat began to quiet. The streets grew less and less crowded as the people began to disappear, the daily noise of chattering servants dwindled until only silence would echo through the stone palace walls. By the time the Prince finally turned eighteen, Nanda Parbat had become an empty city where no one roamed the streets below.

Only the Prince and his grandfather, along with a few surviving servants, were left of the once great and enchanted city of Nanda Parbat.

It was so, that the ancient Arabian city of Nanda Parbat had fallen with its sickly green pits into nothing more than bedtime stories told to young children by their mothers. Only then, does the slowly aging emerald eyed Prince live eternally under the watch of his ancient grandfather, whose heart had turned small and green with greed, much like the pits that whispered beneath their feet.

“How do the pits make the Prince and his grandfather immortal, mom?” Jon asked while his mother brushed the hair on his forehead back to plant a gentle kiss on his brow.

Magic!” she whispered playfully, wiggling her fingers in front of her with a grin. Jon giggled with her as he laid back into his pillows. “Some say that the pits are filled to the brim with magic, and it’s because of them that the Prince and his grandfather have lived for so long.” Jon sighed deeply in response to the fingers she began to run gently through his hair, lulling him to sleep, but he still had one more question to ask before his dreams took him.

 “Okay, but another thing!” His mother raised an eyebrow at him, long shadows dancing across her face in the lamplight coming from his nightstand. “Why does everyone else grow so rapidly? It doesn’t make sense. If the Prince and his grandfather were given longer lives than those around them, why do the people of Nanda Parbat live for only three years?” The fingers running through his hair seemed to pause as his mother considered the question almost seriously, eyes moving to look up at the ceiling in thought before they met his again. 

“Well,” she started. “It is said that the city is an enchanted one, so, perhaps those who enter are forced into a rapid aging? It could be that Time himself placed a spell over the city for this to happen,” she replied, her fingers returning to their gentle strokes. Jon only reluctantly accepted the answer as he sunk deeper into his bed with drooping eyes.

“Goodnight, mom.” he sighed sleepily, closing his eyes for the final time that night. She smiled softly as she reached forward and turned the lamp by his bedside off, leaving only the light of the moon to illuminate his small room. She planted another kiss on his brow and stood.

“Sweet dreams, Jon.”

That night, Jon dreamed of a slowly aging boy with emerald eyes with a grandfather who chained him to a magical city of ancient waters.

Chapter Text

“This is dumb. Dumb and hot.” Jason groaned. The addition of Jason’s heavy complaints and heat bearing down on them from the desert sun seemed to make Jon feel even more exhausted. He dabbed at the back of his sweaty neck with a torn scarf with a silent sigh and tried to ignore his friend. “Tell me again why we decided to travel thousands of miles away from our nicely air-conditioned homes to walk aimlessly around a scorching hot desert?”

“To go in search of a fairy tale Lois told Jon as a kid because he thinks it could be real and somehow got us wrapped up together in all of this,” Tim grumbled, back hunched and looking like the heat affected him the most by how sweaty he appeared and how red his face was from what could only be determined as exhaustion.

“Wait, that’s why we’re here?” chimed Dick, sounding only slightly confused with a small wrinkle forming between his brows. “I thought it was for vacation, that’s why I came.” he shrugged, seeming to find himself unbothered by this revelation. There was a brief silence as Tim and Jason considered Dick like he was crazy.

“Who would come here to wander around a desert with no actual destination just for vacation?” Jason asked, baffled. Dick shrugged but offered nothing else for Jason to go off of.

Even though his friends didn’t seem as excited about the possibility of finding a lost and ancient city, Jon wasn’t bothered by their complaints. He knew the groaning was in good humor, and it helped with the fact that they came along with him to travel to a desert an ocean away from home when they all had the chance to say no.

“If I recall correctly when I told you about the trip, you said, ‘if you’re asking me if I want to go on an adventure like in the movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, then when the fuck are we going?’” Jon stated rather amused, walking backward to face Jason.

Funnily enough, immediately after Jason had said that Jon kept receiving random texts from Jason during the night asking if he needed to practice his snake charming skills just in case. This raised the question about Jason charming snakes that Jon really didn’t want to delve in deeper to find out about. He was better off not knowing.

“Oh, that’s a good movie.” Dick agreed passively and to himself.

Jason rolled his eyes and leaned gently into the side of one of the two pack camels traveling with them. The camel, Jon vaguely remembered to be named something that meant ‘hope’ in Arabic, huffed out a snort at the action with a swish of its tail, but otherwise ignored him.

“Yeah, but that was also before I learned that your… ‘plan’ to find this city was to aimlessly wander around the desert with only the use of legends and myths the locals have on its location.” Jason halfheartedly shot back with a roll of his eyes.

Jon thought about telling him that he was only partly true and that talking to the locals about where the city could be, was only half of his plan. The other half was to find geologically where the desert’s caves and caverns were and to investigate the ones that not many knew about or had myths surrounding them, but Jon decided to not say anything, even if they were currently heading in the direction of one of the many caves and caverns living beneath the sandy hot desert at this very moment.

Instead of correcting his friend, Jon shrugged and turned back around with a grin playing on his face, only to meet a face full sand that the wind kicked up in a sudden burst. He ignored the bark of laughter coming from Jason as he rubbed at his stinging eyes and coughed, having swallowed some in surprise.

In the midst of Jon’s coughing, their guide, a quiet man by the name of Daleel, turned his head just slightly to face them with piercing brown eyes that caused Jon to flush red in embarrassment from just coughing. Their guide only had to look at Jon once and he was forced back to his school days with the feeling of being in trouble without having seemingly done anything wrong, and it unnerved Jon just a little.

“Heed with caution. The sands grow worse.” Daleel informed above the whistling wind. He turned away and pulled the scarf surrounding his head up and over his nose. “Be best to cover mouth and nose, but don't forget to wet the cloth with water as well.” His voice carried back to them, louder with the growing winds.

Despite the heat and the sweat trickling down the sides of his face and the back of his neck, Jon listened and tightened the scarf he had wrapped loosely around his shoulders to rest just below his eyes and took his canteen from his side to wet the musky fabric. When he glanced over at his companions, he saw them do the same, even though they also wished to wear less because of the oppressing heat. Now that his mouth was covered, Jon was happy to notice the slight difference of the sand no longer hitting his lips or being accidentally inhaled when he tried to breathe. It was a slight difference, one where Jon hadn't been aware of the problem until it was solved, but he was happy with it nonetheless.

“How much further are we from the ruins?” Dick asked from where he walked beside Jon, screwing the top to his water canteen back on before letting it rest at his side. They all wondered the same thing as the weary hours of traveling through a desert began to wear down on their minds, but none of them had voiced it until now. Their feet were sore from walking since early morning light, and the uncovered skin that became victims to the sun was already burning red with a terrible sunburn, not to mention the uncomfortable sheen of sweet that covered them and the fact that Daleel made them be cautious when it came to their water made them far more thirsty than they preferred to be.

“A days walk.” called back their guide after a short pause following Dick’s question.

“Oh my lord,” Jason trailed out dramatically, groaning loudly and putting even more weight on the poor camel beside him. She huffed a breath once more as she side eyed Jason rather annoyed. “’A days walk’?” he echoed with furrowed brows. “I can’t even go a ‘one more hour’ walk!” As if irritated by Jason’s complaints, the wind blew an exceptionally large gust of sand up into his eyes, making him stutter in surprise and rub frantically at his eyes to rid them of the offending intruders. Jon, Dick, and Tim, however, chose to ignore Jason.

“So, if Nanda Parbat ends up being real, what do you even hope to find there? The city is probably in ruins and buried in sand by now.” Tim asked, changing the subject. Jon shrugged, not really sure of it himself.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, gazing off in front of him in an attempt to see past the windy sand. “I guess to prove it was real in the first place would be a good start.” Beneath the damp scarf covering his mouth, Jon smiled softly and looked back to Tim.

“Nanda Parbat,” Daleel rumbled suddenly. He walked only paces in front of them instead of the small distance he had created between them but didn’t turn to face them still. “Is no fairy tale,” he corrected. Jon and his friends quieted, surprised at the voice of their silent guide. “The ancient city breathes life still. The people may be gone, but the green waters below her still glow as brightly as the day Rama Kushna stumbled upon them centuries ago.”

“Can you tell us more about the city? There might be some differences to the version we know.” Dick politely inquired. Daleel grunted in response.

“A storyteller, I am not, but I will indulge in telling only a little.” A surge of excitement ran through Jon as he perked up and stared intently at the back of Daleel’s head, waiting for him to start telling the story. “Nanda Parbat was born into a time of darkness. Kings and emperors and sultans across the Mother’s land were at war with any and every kingdom that dared to exist; there were no allies or friends, there were only enemies and spies. The bloodshed tore sons from arms of mothers, fathers from their daughters, and lovers from the hearts of wives. Many lost hope during the Year of No Light and turned into pessimists who Mother owed nothing, and they owed everything.

“Rivers and streams and lakes that once breathed with the blue of life, began to bleed red as more and more went to sleep among the ancestors. The death and chaos burdened on Mother’s lands did not worry these rulers, it made them live.” The wind howled louder in Jon’s ears as if to echo Daleel’s words with a past sorrow. Jon could almost ignore the sand it kept kicking up in his eyes for just a second to try and listen to the wind for the ancient screams of war and cries from those who felt abandoned.

Jason whistled low, the sandy wind almost taking the tune away from where he stood behind Jon. “Damn,” he cursed. “Is there not one fairy tale out there without a dark side?” He said this to himself, a soft mutter beneath the sound of loud winds, but Daleel managed to hear him still.

“I assure, my friend, the story of Nanda Parbat is true. She breathed once long ago, but now her light is just a flicker in the night; a flame before it extinguishes.” Daleel gave Jason a quick glance over his shoulder, something flashing in his piercing dark eyes right before he looked away. Jon felt torn between snickering at the almost reprimand Jason had received, and being slightly confused at the feeling he got of something unknown to him from the look in Daleel’s eyes. He chose to ignore it and instead pay attention to the new parts of the tale he never heard of before.

“When Rama Kushna discovered the underground pits, she told no one of them at first, in fear the pits would punish her for spilling their secrets. However, she was visited by a god in her dreams. He told her of the destiny that was hers and all the good it would do to the world if only they knew of the hidden green waters. He told her that, if she told of the pits, the time of darkness would end and light would once again return to the skies and land of Mother.

“It didn’t take long for the news to spread and for people from all around to gather, giving birth to the enchanted city of Nanda Parbat.

“The city became a sanctuary where those escaping war could heal their wounds and once again feel safe in their homes. Once again could those abandoned find the hope they had lost; could find an end to the darkness and a beginning to the light. Because of this, the war-loving leaders slowly began to open their eyes and see the terror they had caused upon Mother and her children. They decided to turn their enemies into friends and live amongst each other peacefully, much like their father’s father before them.”

“What about the emerald-eyed Prince?” Jon interrupted, unable to stop himself from asking the one question he felt flare up in him the moment it came to life. Daleel looked at Jon with amusement.

“Patience,” Daleel cautioned and continued with the story. “Centuries past before Nanda Parbat finally fell to silence as her people left her, abandoning her pits kept under lock and key by the cruel King, and the few gifted with slow life from the green waters.

“It wasn't until one lonely day after years of seeing the city empty of life did the Prince finally seek out answers from the King. ’Grandfather, the people have left, but they have not yet returned. How come they do not return?’ he cried.

“’They have been cursed by the pits, of course. They have left our city and perished alongside all others who live outside our walls. No other soul lives on our Mother, but for those whom you see around us, my Grandson.’ replied the King, leaving before the Prince could ask him another question”

“Wait,” Jon interrupted again before Daleel could finish. “Are you telling me that the Prince’s grandfather lied to him?” he asked incredulously. He felt betrayed somehow, angered for the Prince that his grandfather would ever do something like that in the first place. 

“Well, what if the King actually thought that though? I mean, he can’t leave the city either… can he?” Dick asked, unsure of himself. For a moment, Jon felt hesitation at the question and wondered if maybe he was quick to anger even though the Prince was just a character to an ancient city that most likely doesn't even exist.

Daleel didn’t seem surprised at the outbursts but nodded with a sigh.

“Alas, he knew,” he confessed. Jason let out a loud groan behind Jon in outrage, throwing his head back and leaning further into the camel. “The King may have never left the city himself, but he had loyal agents who would leave the city in secret, only to return with the truth of the outside.”

“Why did he lie then?” Tim asked, sounding the least angry out of all of them and instead seemed curious.

“The King lied because he wished to keep the Prince in Nanda Parbat,” Daleel explained. “If the Prince knew of the world outside the one he was most familiar with, he may have become tempted to leave his long life behind to that of a mortal’s.” His voice was almost washed out to the sound of howling winds, almost to the point that even though Jon was only a pace or two behind the guide, the sound of his voice was getting harder and harder to hear. He also wished to respond to what Daleel said, but when the wind kept blowing sand in his eyes, he became too busy with rubbing at his eyes to say anything. “The sands only grow worse. There are goggles for protection in the small bag hanging from Amal’s side. It would be best to put them on now.” Without hesitation, Jon stopped and turned around where he could barely see Jason digging around in a bag on the side of the camel he was leaning against. He pulled out a few pairs of what looked like skiing goggles from Amal’s side before handing it out to Tim first, then Jon and Dick, and finally keeping the last pair for himself.

Once the irritation of sand hitting his eyes was gone, Jon blinked and looked towards Daleel, briefly wondering when their guide had placed goggles of his own over his eyes.

“Shouldn’t we find some shelter to hide out until the storm blows over?” Dick asked, having to now shout just to be heard.

“And where do you suppose we’d find that, huh? Dickie-boy?” Jason shouted back, pulling the strings of his hat tighter around his ears so they were better protected and the violent winds wouldn’t blow the hat away.

“We will need to find high grounds to wait it out,” Daleel replied, dropping back just a little more and facing them so they could hear him better. No one said anything else in response in fear that sand would blow through the scarves covering their mouths and dry out their throats.

Jon wasn’t quite sure how much time passed where they just walked seemingly directionless inside the rusty orange cloud, but when he glanced up, not knowing when exactly he had started to look down instead at the faint outline of Daleel’s back, he noticed that he had dropped so far back he was now walking alongside the camel at the back. However, he could not find the outlines of his friends nor guide ahead of him.

With a sudden burst of fear and panic, Jon clutched onto one of the straps on the camel’s side and looked all around him in hopes he could spot the faint outline of his group.

“Dick?” he called out past the tickle in his throat. He coughed to clear it, moving closer to the warm side of the camel. “Tim? Jason?” No answer came, only that of the winds screaming their harshness and violence at him. “Daleel?” His voice was swallowed before it could carry far.

Back when he was in school, Jon learned little about deserts and their sandstorms. The only thing he could recall, however, from the few things he did remember learning, was that camels could go a long time without water and that the desert got freezing cold at night. That was it, though, and none of it was helpful. If anything it was just more warnings of dangers ahead that he had to worry about.

Jon huddled closer to the camel’s side, a name that also meant something in Arabic, and tried to think about anything that could help him, but all he could remember was hearing Daleel talk about going to wait it out on high ground. With nothing else at hand, Jon huddled close to his companion and tried to peer through the rust-colored world in search for a higher ground.

It seemed like years before he managed to feel the steep incline of a hill and see the faint outline before him, but the fear didn’t leave him, even when he reached the very top and huddled down at the side of a laying camel. The fear only seemed to grow until it felt like it would consume him along with the sands.

As the storm continued to howl around him, Jon pressed his face into the camel’s side and couldn’t help but wonder if chasing fairy tales was really worth it in the end.

Chapter Text

Time felt groggy and distorted to Jon when he woke up next.

He laid there with his eyes still closed as he slowly came back to the living world in small bits and pieces that let him take note of his surroundings without opening his eyes.

The first thing he noticed was the bed beneath him. It was oddly shaped with random lumps here and there, and felt stiff and scratchy in the places where his skin touched the sheets, but it also smelt of mothballs and of something old that had been left alone and unused for years, though that may have been something else, other than just the bed Jon lay across.

The slight warmth was the second thing he noticed, coming from something other than the thin, itchy blanket spread on top of him. There must’ve been a window near Jon as he guessed the warmth he felt falling across his left forearm and all the way down to his middle thigh to be sunlight streaming through an uncovered glass window. It made him drowsy and sluggish, although he had just woken up from an indeterminate time of being sleep.

At that small thought, Jon woke up just a little bit more, enough to become confused at his surroundings and lost time. He didn’t recognize the bed or sheets or smells surrounding him or the soft sounds of nature happening outside. He couldn’t even remember falling asleep in this foreign bed, or anything that could’ve led up to him being here. The last thing he remembered was the hopelessness of being trapped alone in a sandstorm with only the company of a pack camel with a name he couldn’t recall. There was nothing in his memory about falling asleep or anything that could’ve told him where he was, only the howling orange winds of a violent storm and the feeling of warmth from pressing his face against the camel’s side in search to relieve himself of the thrashing winds was the last thing he could remember before waking to these strange sensations.

Finally, the not knowing where he was or how he got there became too much for Jon to bare, so he opened his eyes at last and slowly sat up, forcing the thin, itchy blanket atop him to fall down to rest over his lap.

“About time. I was beginning to wonder if you would ever wake.”

Jon startled at the crisp voice, turning to find a man around the same age as him, if not a little older. He was sitting at a small table a few paces away from Jon’s bedside that had loose-leaf paper spread out across the top and a small, black stained bottle sitting in the middle near his arm. Jon couldn’t get a good look at what he was doing from where he sat, though it appeared to him that the man was sketching something on the papers before him, seeing as the black scratches looked more like sketches than words.

“How are you feeling?” His eyes snapped upwards to the owners face where he noticed tanned skin and dark hair spiked up just enough in the front, along with dark green eyes that reminded him of glittering emeralds. “Well? Don’t just sit there like an imbecile. Usually, when one is asked about their well-being, they answer instead of leaving the questioner to guess.” Jon blinked once, wondered if he was dreaming, and then blinked again.

The emerald-eyed Prince,” Jon breathed in disbelief. The man’s brows furrowed together as his head tilted a little to the side in confusion.

“Pardon me?” he asked, hesitantly setting his pen down and sitting up straighter in his chair, forcing Jon awake from the small daze he had fallen into.

“It’s you! It’s really you! You’re the emerald-eyed Prince!” Jon exclaimed with excitement. Briefly, he entertained the idea of this all being just a dream, but even so, there was no stopping the happiness of seeing his favorite childhood fairy tale coming to life before his very eyes. It felt like he had spent his whole life searching for something he wasn’t sure was real or not, only to come across it accidentally, proving that it wasn’t fake after all. It reminded Jon of what his mom once said when he was a kid.

“I like to think that sometimes stories can be real because even the make-believe has to have some truth in it for it to become a story.”

“I’m afraid I do not understand what it is you are saying.” the Prince admitted carefully, voice softening at the sudden unease he felt from being flustered and at a loss with the current situation.

Jon was too busy with his excitement to notice the discomfort he caused the Prince, instead becoming interested in studying the man before him to memorize as many details as he could. He couldn’t help but notice that the Prince looked fitting for a fairy tale wearing a plain white tunic underneath a dark green vest with black pants and dusty brown knee-high boots. With the addition to the jade colored cloak Jon could see hanging from a hook on the wall near the door, the Prince would be a perfect fit for a role in a Disney movie.

It was almost too much for Jon to fully comprehend.

“I must be dreaming, no way is this real,” Jon confessed with a shake of his head, looking back up into emerald eyes of the Prince, his own as wide as dinner plates in his wonderstruck state of mind. The Prince made a clicking sound by pressing the tip of his tongue to the roof of his mouth while he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back into his chair with a roll of his eyes.

“Rest assured, you are not dreaming.” he intoned. Jon was skeptical at best but didn’t try to contradict him. “Now that we have gotten that out of the way, once again, how are you feeling?” he repeated with a delicately arched brow.

“Oh,” Jon said, having forgotten that the Prince had asked him that in the first place. He scratched the back of his head as he then remembered the confusion he felt on having woken up in an unfamiliar place with no memories. “I guess I’m feeling fine, but I am wondering how I got here.” He offered the Prince a small smile. The bed creaked softly in protest as Jon shifted about on top of it so he could face the Prince with crossed legs.

The Prince kept his brow arched with a slight smile appearing.

“As I am sure you are.” he agreed with an incline of his head in Jon’s direction. “My personal guard found you and your camel almost fully submerged in sand while he was out in attempts to find where my pet has displaced himself. You were severely dehydrated, so he brought you here, where you have been asleep for almost twenty-four hours,” he explained. His voice reminded Jon of a wintery forest filled with snow and ice and silence. It could bring peace and contentment, but at the flick of a switch, it could turn dangerous and threatening. Jon wasn’t sure if he had heard anything like it ever before.

“Okay, I guess that makes sense…” Jon trailed off awkwardly. “But, where is ‘here’… exactly?” As far as he could gather, ‘here’ was a place either inside of or outside of the desert he had been traveling in where plants and trees grew, and where birds and other animals thrived. It kind of seemed a little out of place for a desert city, but Jon wasn’t really sure what was or wasn’t possible as of the current moment.

The Prince’s smile disappeared at the question and his gaze fell downwards and off to the side. “Nanda Parbat.” He said it with obvious displease. “You are in the city where the streets have run barren for many years.” Jon watched as the Prince breathed a soft sigh through his nose and rose from his chair. “Even apparent paradises are doomed to fall, it seems.”

“So, it’s real? The city is real?” Jon asked, uncrossing his legs to hang them off the side of the bed and leaned forward. He had already started to suspect that he may have found the fairy tale city he had been searching for since waking up, but there was no actual confirmation that he could make to prove these suspicions of his, forcing him to seek verbal affirmation from the man sitting across from him. “It’s not actually a fairy tale?”

The Prince’s brows furrowed, causing a wrinkle to form between them as he gazed at Jon in confusion. “Of course the city is real, why would it not?” he asked.

“Well, there’s no evidence that it ever really existed in the first place… so, it just kinda become a bedtime story for children.” Jon shrugged, suddenly feeling awkward. He relaxed from the eager posture he held on the side of the bed as the excitement left him once he realized that the Prince had no idea what he was talking about.

Before the Prince could say anything, the sound of a large bell rang in the distance. Jon watched as the Prince became surprised as if alarmed at himself for forgetting something important, and started to quickly gather his things up into a small shoulder bag that Jon hadn’t seen before.

“I do apologize, but I must leave now, my grandfather is beckoning me.” the Prince excused, glancing up as he shoved the last of his things into his bag.

Jon stood up and took a step closer to the Prince while he took the green cloak off the hook and shook it out before placing it around his shoulders. “What about me?” he asked, the Prince’s movements pausing for a moment to answer.

“My grandfather cannot know of your presence within the city, so you must remain here ‘till the next time I am able to return.” the Prince replied, slinging his bag across his shoulders.

“When will that be?”

“I cannot say for sure, but you may expect me sometime tomorrow shortly after the sun has reached its highest,” he said to Jon over his shoulder as he opened the door to leave.

Jon took a step closer in an attempt to stop the Prince before he could leave. “Wait! Prince—”

“Please, do not call me a Prince.” he interrupted Jon with a soft smile, pausing in the doorway.

“Okay,” Jon said, puzzled. “What do you want me to call you then?” he asked.

The Prince’s smile grew just a little. “Damian. My name is Damian.”

The door closed behind Damian, and Jon was suddenly alone.

Chapter Text

There was little for Jon to occupy himself with while waiting for Damian to return, leaving him alone with only his thoughts inside a small desert city house.

Shortly after Damian left, he spent the rest of that day coming to terms with the current situation he found himself in, which led to conflicting feelings and thoughts on what to do. When he fell asleep that night, it was to troubled thoughts and innards turning and twisting uncomfortably.

He woke up sweating hours later to the soft morning light filtering in through the old grimy windows and the sound of a golden sparrow chirping from a low hanging acacia tree. Glancing outside, Jon noted the position of the sun and estimated it to be mid to late morning, meaning he only had to wait just a few more hours for Damian to return. Until then, Jon would suffer from boredom in the dry heat of the morning.

There was as much for Jon to do as there was yesterday, so he quickly found himself lounging in the chair sitting across from the one Damian occupied yesterday, feet spread out wide and head dangling over the back. Sweat slide off the side of his forehead and into the mess of his messy black hair, some dripping off the back of his neck and dampening the back of his already gross shirt. The heat wasn’t terrible, Jon knew, it was more of a normal day in desert cities like this one, but Jon couldn’t help but wish that this ancient city knew of the existence of air conditioning because the heat was almost unbearable without some form of escape from it.

Lazily, he reached down towards his canteen and took a slow drink of cool-ish water, thankful that he at least could stay hydrated. He was even more thankful that he had found a bucket of fresh water sitting in the far corner of the house and away from direct sunlight so it kept cool, happy that he wasn’t left to die of dehydration in a house holding no food.

Jon’s eyes drifted shut as he closed his lips to let a few tendrils of water run down his chin and neck, relishing in the cool feeling it left on his skin. His mind began to wander.

He found himself thinking about his friends and what could’ve happened to them. Without a doubt in his mind, Jon knew they survived the sandstorm because they had their guide Daleel with them, and there was no question about him knowing how to survive a sandstorm. Instead, Jon found himself worrying over the distress he knew they must be feeling at his disappearance, which also brought on feelings of guilt.

There wasn’t just guilt at the distress Jon knew he was causing them, but also he felt guilty for having abandoned them in a foreign country. Nothing was familiar to any of them, not even the language. He wished badly to be able to tell them that he was fine, but he didn’t know if there was a way he could as of the moment.

Jon gave a heavy sigh that turned into a soft groan at the end, flinging an arm over his eyes as he slumped more into his chair. It creaked in protest under his shifting weight, the loose leg wiggling precariously for just a moment before finding its footing against the old, scratched floor and coming to a reluctant rest. At the chair’s creaking protest, Jon was gently pulled from his thoughts and back into the present.

Suddenly, at being pulled away from his wanderings, he seemed to remember the heat of what was now an early desert afternoon with what felt like a slap to the face. Jon ran his hand through his sweaty hair, unintentionally slicking it back, and opened his eyes into just tiny slits.

Outside, the same golden sparrow chirped energetically from the shade of the acacia tree where an answering sparrow joined almost enthusiastically. A gentle wind blew, creating a whisper against the small house and the neighboring ones and causing the leaves of the acacia tree to rustle almost lethargically. Once the wind died, distantly, Jon noticed the sounds of footsteps steadily approaching with tiny grains of sand crunching beneath boot-clad feet. He didn’t stir or comprehend even when those footsteps stopped just outside the door and the soft groaning protest of an old door being made to open reached his ears.

Only once a voice sounded from the now opened doorway was Jon stirred from the heat daze he had unknowingly slipped into.

“Good afternoon, my most esteemed traveler.” Slowly, Jon opened his slitted eyes the rest of the way to the gentle greeting of Damian’s slightly upturned lips. The door closed behind him with a soft ‘click’, stealing away the warm glow of afternoon light that had begun to stream in.

“Hey,” Jon greeted back casually. He forced himself to sit up in his chair from the slumped position he had fallen into.

“Feeling well today, I hope?” Damian slipped his bag from his shoulders to rest it at his feet so he could take the cloak, a different one from the day prior if the shorter length and thinner material was anything to go by, off and hang it from the hook on the wall. His dark emerald eyes glanced up and over to Jon at his own question, a slight curiosity and concern shining in their depths for Jon’s health.

“I’m feeling okay,” he answered honestly. “Definitely better than yesterday.” He felt like he had more energy than he had when he first woke up and his body didn’t feel as sore.

Damian gave a small smile as he picked up the strap to his bag and carried it over to the chair he sat in the day prior. He dropped the bag at the chair’s feet, and gracefully sat down. “I am happy to hear.” he replied with a slight nod. “We can only pray that by tomorrows light you will be at full health.” Damian added after a small pause. Jon knew that by tomorrow the slight soreness he felt would have disappeared for the most part, except for the slight aching tinges in his muscles that would make themselves known every time he moved in a specific position or stretched a certain way.

“Yeah, I’ll definitely be back to being me tomorrow.” he agreed easily with a slight smile curling at the edges of his lips. “That is, if I don’t die from this heat… Kinda makes me wish for air conditioning more than ever.” He gave a chuckle and ran another hand through his sweaty hair, slicking the greasy strands back again from where they had fallen loose since he had last slicked them back. Damian blinked, brows furrowed down and mouth downturned in a small frown, giving him a confused look.

“Air… con…dic…shening…?” he asked hesitantly, the words foreign and odd to his tongue as he mispronounced ‘conditioning’. There was a sudden deep accent in the way he mispronounced the word that had perked Jon’s curiosities in interest.

Jon suddenly remembered where he was and who he was talking to with a jolt. If anything from the stories his mother told him as a child about the Nanda Parbat were true, then Damian hadn’t had contact with the outside world for a few hundred years once the city became abandoned of people. He became frozen in time then, preserved in age and mind. As the world grew and aged, inventing new ideas and throwing old ones out, Damian stayed stagnant. It was as if he was locked away in a snow globe unable to see the technological advances of the modern world. To him, nothing has changed, and for some reason, that caused Jon to feel saddened at the thought.

“Oh,” Jon said with widened eyes. He closed his slightly gaping mouth and swallowed, licking his lips as he shifted nervously and looked away momentarily out of embarrassment. “I forgot that you wouldn’t know what that is.” he admitted, one corner of his lips turning up in an awkward half grin.

Damian blinked again. “Do not worry, no harm was meant.” he assured with a small wave of his hand. “However, I am still wondering what exactly this ‘air con-dic-shening’ you wish for is.” Again, Jon noticed the deep accent that suddenly afflicted his voice when he once again mispronounced ‘conditioning’.

“Well,” he started, somehow more awkwardly than before. “It’s something that people put in buildings to keep them cool when it gets hot outside.” Damian leaned a little closer in interest.

“And it is commonplace to own one?” Jon shrugged.

“It depends. Its common in most places, like where I’m from, but not others.” Jon watched as Damian leaned back at this new information, eyes drifting downwards to gaze at the table top as he categorized it away for later uses.

They were interrupted by the sudden growl of Jon’s stomach, which had him flushing a deeper shade of red on his already sunburnt skin. Damian glanced up in surprised, but gave a small grin.

“My apologies, I have seemed to have forgotten that you have yet to eat.” Damian said, bending down to fiddle with the opening of his bag. Jon watched him curiously as he began to shuffle around inside of it, pushing down on the edge of the table top and pulling himself up just the slightest bit to try and see what it was Damian was trying to find. “I know it isn’t much, but it was all that I could gather without Farran growing suspicious and running to grandfather.” He finally found what he was looking for, pulling it up with a soft ‘TT’ of his tongue and setting it on the table.

Jon settled back into his chair once the object was set before him. A piece of cloth held whatever it was together, keeping it all sealed within with a knot at the top. From what Jon had to guess from the lumpy appearance of it, food was held inside the cloth.

His stomach gave another growl as his hunger leapt and his mouth watered.

Reaching forward slowly in attempt to not seem to eager, Jon dragged the small cloth bag towards him and set to work on unraveling the rather tight knot Damian had tied.

“Thanks, it’s better than nothing,” Jon reassured with a grin as he finally finished untying the knot and let the corners of the clothe fall to rest on the table. His mouth watered even more at the appearance of bread, grapes, dates, and meat, and was unable to stop himself from almost shoving the whole loaf of bread down his throat in one bite.

“I will attempt to bring more for you tonight, as well when I return again tomorrow, but I cannot guarantee for sure. Farran has always disliked me ever since he first started because of pranks that I used to play on him and how often I would sneak into the kitchens.” Damian gave a soft, amused laugh as he witnessed Jon all but scarf down the food in front of him. “It is rather difficult to get passed him now without grandfather knowing.” he admitted.

Jon kind of wanted to find out who this Farran guy was because, like hell was he going to let someone stop him from eating all the food he wanted. He had a rather big appetite and he wasn’t just about to let some Farran guy stop him just because he had a stick shoved up his ass.

“Careful, you’ll choke on the seeds if you are not mindful enough.” Damian warned, a warning hand held out towards Jon as if to stop him from trying to shove all the grapes in his mouth at once. Jon was confused at the statement at first, wondering how big were these grape seeds that he had to be careful before he remembered that there were different types of grapes and seed sizes.

He slowed down a little, but not by much.

“So, my most esteemed traveler, I am rather curious and must know, what is it that you go by?” Jon blinked in sudden surprised, almost choking on a grape seed as he glanced up at Damian. The Prince watched him patiently with his chin resting in the palm of his hand.

“Uh, sorry, I just now realized I never did introduce myself to you…” Jon apologized sheepishly while scratching the back of his neck. “I’m Jon.” Wiping his hand from the sweat he accidentally gathered from the back of his neck on the sides of his pants, Jon smiled and returned to eating his grapes.

“It’s a pleasure to finally know the name of the mysterious traveler to whom I am housing.” Damian teased. The chair creaked beneath him as he leaned back. “Still my thoughts are troubled with questions, traveler Jon.” He rolled the sleeves of his white shirt up to ret above his elbows, revealing more desert tan skin and a few array of tiny white scars. “If I may, how did you end up stranded in the middle of the desert with only a camel?” he asked.

The feelings of guilt and worry from before came back to Jon, seeping slowly into his veins with an uncomfortable heat induced itch. He glanced down at the table, doing his best to hide the sudden emotions that stole the content happiness he had been feeling away from him.

He ate his late grape without consciously realizing it, slipping the large seed out from between his lips to take it with his fingers and place it with the rest laying atop the clothe.

“I was traveling with some friends of mine to find the lost city.” he admitted with a quick glance up. Damian didn’t move from the position he currently longed in, studying Jon with patient green eyes that brought forth memories of emerald eyes dancing in the dreams of his childhood. “We became separated during the sandstorm, but thankfully I became separated with one of the camels. I’m pretty sure she saved my life, and without her, well… I don’t know what would’ve happened.” Damian nodded.

“She is most likely the reason to why my personal guard did not bring back a corpse.” he agreed easily. Jon wondered at his choice of words, but had nothing to say against them, so he remained quiet. “What lost city is it that you search for, traveler Jon?” Damian asked, thankfully changing the subject before things became more awkward.

However, at the same time, Jon found himself hating this new question. He wasn’t exactly sure how he could answer Damian. If he told him the lost city was Nanda Parbat, that would mean the Prince would most likely become confused and ask more questions that would be hard for Jon to answer. The chances of Damian knowing about his city turning into nothing more than a story was just as slim as him knowing what air conditioning or an elevator is.

Either way, Jon just couldn’t stay quiet and wish for the question to go away. No matter how much he liked to believe that he could ignore his problems and they would just disappear, he knew the possibility of that happening now was not good.

Heaving a sigh that caused the chair beneath him to let out a sudden creak of protest, Jon resigned himself to his fate.

“We were searching for the lost city of Nanda Parbat.” he said truthfully, looking Damian in the eyes to try and gauge his reaction.

For a few moments, there was no reaction in the prince and they just sat there staring at each other silently. Then, Damian blinked, gaze still blank as he stared at Jon as if he did not hear a single word that he just told him. Jon waited patiently as he blinked again, slower this time, and tilted his head to the side just slightly as his brows furrowed just enough to form a wrinkle between them, creating a look of complete and utter confusion.

“Nanda Parbat?” Damian asked slowly, unsurely, like he was trying to make sure he heard Jon right.

Jon nodded and winced internally, knowing that he was going to have to explain it all to him.

“Nanda Parbat is not lost, it is right here… in plain sight… like it has always been.”

Maybe he should’ve just died out in that sandstorm, the amount of awkward he was feeling right now just wasn’t really worth it.

“How many years has it been since there were any people here?” He watched Damian as a fogged look crossed his eyes at the question. Jon tried to sit patiently as Damian thought about his answer, but he found it hard to do in the heat.

He had no idea what was true about his childhood prince, or anything surrounding this fairy tale reality that he found himself suddenly living in, but he had a feeling, something small and heavy in his gut, that something wasn’t right here. It may have been in the way Damian’s eyes fogged over, or how everything seemed perfectly preserved like hundreds of years haven’t passed, but with the little knowledge Jon held so far, things were very odd. They were odd, but in a subtle way that he was just noticing, which made that feeling in his gut flare just a tiny bit more.

“I-I am unsure…” Damian admitted after a rather long pause, unfocused eyes gazing down at the table. “Time feels strange here, but Nanda Parbat could not have lain forgotten for too long. It must have been only…” He paused for a breath, hesitating for a moment before continuing. “… only a couple of years… perhaps a little longer, but no more than five years?” The hesitance in his voice caused a shiver to go up Jon’s spine and a chill to pass through his limbs despite the heat.

The gut feeling of something being wrong intensified at the answer, because Jon knew for certain that this city has been abandoned for way longer than five years.

“Damian, I don’t,” Jon started, unsure of how to tell the prince the truth when he didn’t have all the answers himself. He cleared his throat, shifting his weight in the creaky chair, forcing it to wobble on its loose leg. “I think it’s been lon—” Rather suddenly, the bells from the day before began to toll through the deserted streets of Nanda Parbat and frightening the small chirping golden sparrows resting in the shade of the acacia tree outside.

They both startled at the unexpected ringing of bells, Jon jolting a little and Damian flinching in surprise.

It took a few moments for either to wake from their surprise, Damian being the first to shake himself from the sudden excitement.

He relaxed his tense muscles, shoulders deflating just slightly as he did so. “Grandfather,” he said in explanation, though Jon couldn’t help but here the heavy disappointment and irritation coloring his voice. Damian stood to his feet slowly, almost like he didn’t want to and had to force himself to do so. “I must go, he is rather strict when it comes to tardiness.” A soft breeze of air blew over Jon’s face refreshingly as Damian swung the short cloak over his shoulders and tied it together at his collar. “I’ll return at the moon’s arrival, and hopefully with more food to stave off your hunger.” The bells began to ring almost impatiently, causing Damian’s movements more hurried and rushed as he tried to gather himself.

Jon straightened, trying not to frown at Damian’s sudden urgency to leave at his grandfather’s impatient call. He smiled almost tensely when Damian turned to him with his bag slung back over his shoulders with a small smile softening his lips, fingers gripping the door’s wooden handle.

“Until next time, my most esteemed traveler Jon.” The door swung open, bringing bright sunlight into the small house and another breeze, followed by desert afternoon heat. Jon leaned forward, muscles tensing just slightly as if he wished to reach forward in an attempt to keep Damian there for just a moment longer.

“I’ll be here—!” he called out in parting, watching as the back of the prince disappeared. The door swung closed, taking with it the sudden sunlight and fresh air. “… waiting.” he finished softly to no one but himself.

Silence flooded the small house as Jon slumped back into the wobbly chair, staring at the closed door with a soft frown.

Outside, the bells continued to toll impatiently, stopping only minutes later, leaving the streets of Nanda Parbat barren and silent once again. A moment later, the chirping of a golden sparrow returned, calling out to its missing friend who fled in fear of the bells.

Jon sighed softly out through his nose as he slide downwards in the chair with his legs spreading out straight, feeling the pressing of hot air return in full force and his stomach giving a small whine in hunger.

Nighttime never felt so far away.