I had a vision of the Princess as I ran up the stairs. She stood sadly looking out into the distance, the deadly hourglass remorselessly counting off the minutes. My feet hurried even faster, and soon I came through another doorway which fell shut with a crash behind me.
Level 2

1. From the closed and sealed doorway, I ran to the west.

2. I came almost immediately upon a guard. I ran across two falling floor tiles and drew my sword.

"You! Pig swill!" he bellowed "Come closer and I will run you through. Allah will be merciful and let you die quickly."

Now I had no more quarrel with this man than with the other, but where I come from, a man does not accept insults and threats on his life passively. And this guard genuinely seemed to desire my suffering. More importantly, he stood between me and the Princess.

"I cannot come so close to you," I answered. "Your breath smells like the dung of a thousand camels. Allah should indeed be merciful and not force me to run you through and so soil my sword."

"You will not have to worry about your poor excuse for a sword, son of jackals. And I promise not to waste my breath on you."

And, though he talked a good fight, this guard was not much better than the first. I countered his weak attacks twice, wounding him severely. He did rally for a moment and parry two of my blows. He even managed to scratch me with his weapon, but that was all.

3. I ran to the west again, and as I stepped on one of the floor tiles it fell away, revealing a passage below I looked there and found a curious potion, it smelled medicinal, and, impulsively perhaps, I drank some. Instantly, the little scratch the guard had delivered disappeared and I felt as healthy as before. It was a healing potion of some kind, and I resolved to keep my eyes out for more of them.

Climbing up another ledge after drinking the potion, I noticed some odd-looking holes in the floor. Carefully stepping closer, I nearly jumped out of my skin as five wicked spikes sprang rapidly from the holes. Had I simply run past these holes, I would have been spitted like a lamb. I resolved to watch my step even more carefully from now on.

I climbed up to a hallway above the spikes and ran to the west.

4. I came to a wide gap. Across it was a small alcove, but little more. There seemed to be no other way to go, so I jumped across the gap, barely catching on to the lip of the alcove. I pulled myself up and continued to climb along the western wall of the room.

5. I climbed up two landings until I found a passage leading further to the west. Another guard awaited me there.

6. "Foreign dog!" he shouted. "Prepare to meet your reward!" And he launched into a furious attack. But he was no better swordsman than his predecessors, nor as witty.

Past the guard, I found another pressure plate, which opened the gate at the end of the passage.

7. Another gate opened as I stepped on its mechanism, and this time I spied the subtle outlines of the closing mechanism and jumped over it, continuing to the west through the open gate.

8. I came out on a high ramp. Beneath me was the hallway leading west, but it was blocked by another guard. How many of the Sultan's men performed their duty in this forsaken place? Or were they all here for my benefit, sent by Jaffar himself?

"Come, lad," called this latest guard. "I have a present for you."

"And I would return the favor," I replied, tired of these belligerent guardsmen. They seemed to take it personally that I was trying to escape this hellhole.

The guard laughed. "You are but a boy, a dripping, mewling camel dropping. Do you dare to insult me?"

"Not at all," I told him, carefully stepping down to face him. "I only mean to pass by you. But if you will not let me pass, I will send you to meet Allah, unworthy as you are."

"Don't do me any favors," he yelled as he rushed forward to attack. I barely had time to draw my sword and lunge. Had I been a split second slower, he would have been able to hit me. Instead, I struck first and he backed away, seeing his own blood staining his tunic.

"I was wrong," he muttered. "You are a snarling dog to be beaten and put away before he bothers the innocent."

"As if you would know anything about innocence," I cried, driving him back and striking again.

"You will not escape," he said with finality, but that was the last thing he said. I continued my exploration to the west.

I tell you, Hamza, I was shaking from these encounters with the guards. Not one of them would give an inch, and, though Allah permits the vanquishing of one's enemies, still I was unused to this kind of aggression. I drew in a deep breath, seeing once again in my mind's eye the Princess at the mercy of my real enemy, Jaffar. It was this vision that kept me going.

9. Just ahead, I found two earthen jars. One was familiar. It contained another healing potion. The other smelled sweet and delicious. I drank it and was immediately overwhelmed with dizziness. I realized that this sweet-smelling potion was poison, unfortunately, I had stepped on a mechanism, closing a gate behind me. I could no longer reach the healing potion, I resolved to be more careful what I drank in the future. I continued to the west.

10. Here I came to yet another guard. He stood his ground on a passage below my present location. I would have to jump down to get to him. But he blocked my path, and so I did jump carefully from the ledge down to where he stood. He didn't see me until I landed before him, but he was quick to employ his weapon. Once again I was pressed to bring my sword to bear before he ran me through. Once again I was quicker and caught him as he lunged.

He said nothing, only grunting as he tried to attack. I don't think he meant to slice me up, but to drive me backward. I was standing perilously close to the edge of a chasm. But I was better at this game than he, and it was I who drove him back until be, like the others, fell before me.

Again, I considered my situation. I had begun to feel sorry for these unfortunate guards whose skill was so much less than their courage. For none had asked any quarter from me, nor had any turned to run when faced with my superior skills. My heart was sick with the killing, but I had to continue. The Princess awaited me. If not for her, I might have stopped then and there and given up. How many lives is one man's life worth, after all?

11. In the next room, I found a series of passages leading upward. I decided to explore them in case they led to a way out.

12. At the top, I found more deadly spikes in the floors, and a strange bottle, like those of the other potions I had discovered but taller, and with different markings.

After my experience with the poison potion, I was cautious, but this one's contents smelled so vile, that I decided, with the twisted logic of this place, that it must contain something very good. I drank it.

I experienced an eerie feeling, it coursed through my body, first like white fire, then like cool ice. When the feeling passed, I felt stronger, healthier and more complete than I had ever felt. Whatever had been in this potion, it was the best of the lot. Even the vile taste had been replaced with a sweetness and a freshness that left me feeling clean in this filthy place.

11. Reluctantly, I climbed back down from this area, for there was no way out, and continued my journey westward.

13. In the next passage, I spied the telltale holes in the floor representing spikes. In a dead run, I leapt over the spikes before they could impale me and ran onward.

14. I continued as far to the west as I could, eventually coming to a deep chasm. There being no other way to go, I jumped across the gap and then climbed up from landing to landing.

15. I climbed as high as I could go, then jumped back across the chasm to the east and continued in that direction.

16. I came to a high wall and climbed up onto a platform leading west again. There, a guard almost surprised me, but I advanced quickly and killed him as easily as the others. If he taunted or insulted me, I don't remember. I know I had wearied of the talk and wanted only to escape this place.

15. Heading still to the west, I found another door, much like the one that had led to the stairway to this level of the dungeon. Once again there was no obvious way to open the door.

17. Continuing to the west, I spotted a raised floor tile across a wide chasm. I surmised that this might have something to do with the exit door, but this gap was farther than the others I had made. I ran back a few steps, turned, and made a running jump across the chasm.

I made the jump more easily than I had expected. Getting back was the hard part. I could not run here, so I crept to the very edge of the chasm and jumped as hard as I could. I barely caught the opposite ledge with my fingertips. With an effort, I hauled myself up and ran back to the doorway.

15. The door was open, and I ran up the stairs, hopeful of finding myself outside the dungeon this time. In that hope, I was greatly disappointed.

Continue to Chapter 3: The Dungeon (Level 3)
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