Hamza, never since the mythical days of Icarus and Daedalus did man ever so high into the heavens. Yet I was transported on this supernatural carpet into air so thin my breath came hard. The clouds were all around me as if I were a part of them and I feared I had at last earned my reward. Was this the way that men were taken to Paradise? I wondered.

Then the carpet dipped and began a long descent. I flew over high, unfamiliar mountains, then above a breathtaking valley cut deep by a winding river that, even from this great height, looked wide as a small sea. As I wondered at the marvel of this unknown land, a great fortress built atop a sheer cliff loomed ahead. It was old. Hamza. Older. I think, than my poor knowledge of history could place. It seemingly cut directly into a huge mountain and stretched off into the distance.

It was to this fortress that the carpet now took me, and as we came closer, I could see that the place was ruined and falling apart. I saw no sign of life at all, and many of the towers were cracked and the battlements broken.

The carpet stopped suddenly and I heard the voice again - the voice from my dreams that said simply, "Come to me." The carpet then buckled powerfully, throwing me onto the ledge before the fortress entrance, and flew away and was gone.

I stood there a moment. I was, as you can imagine, very distressed. Why was I here? For that matter, where was I? All I knew was I was far from where I wanted to be, needed to be, and the only way I could go was forward. Swordless now, with no idea what awaited me (though I suspected the worst) and with a quick, silent plea to Allah to watch over me, I entered the fortress.

The entrance had led me to a short hallway, then to staircase. Upon emerging at the end of the stairs, I found myself standing in huge hallway built to grand proportions. The ceiling was so high, it was almost out of sight. The great walls were carved from blocks of some purple marble such as I had never seen, and there was a mystical sign painted crudely over the marble, something like an 'S', that brought to mind a deadly serpent. The sign was painted on, as if placed there by some vandals. It was not a part of this place. The floor was of a pinkish marble laced with the same purple as the walls. It must have been impressive and beautiful at one time.

The place was in ruins, though. Great piles of fallen stone marred the floors, and cracks and great gouges had been taken from them. The walls seemed solid enough, but there was a definite air of decay and desolation to the place.

Level 6

Translator's Note:
There are two versions that keep appearing among the many translations. They involve the beginning of the Prince's quest in the fortress.

Version 1

1. The door behind me had slammed shut as I observed my new surroundings, but I had almost expected that.

2. A brief survey to the east revealed another doorway adorned with a huge serpent sign, but no way to open it. I tried jumping up and down, which dislodged some very loose floor sections, but nothing happened. Looking down into the gap revealed by the falling floor, I could see another immense room and several large serpents, obviously agitated by the disturbance. I had no desire to mingle with these creatures, so I headed back to the west, to the room I had first entered.

1. I began to run to the east, at the last moment spotting a very well hidden pressure plate just before a gate. I jumped over the pressure plate, feeling sure it would have closed the gate and trapped me there.

3. As I leapt past the gate I could see a gap to the west but I thought I might make it across. I jumped too early, though, missing the last section of the floor which wobbled a little 'but did not break.' I missed the opposite ledge and was slightly hurt by the fall, but not seriously.

4. I landed in a huge, multi-tiered hallway. Great squared-off columns supported the ceiling and the hallway stretched off to the east. However, as I landed I discovered what looked like a tunnel cut crudely through the wall leading west. Curious, I got down on my belly and began to crawl through it.

It was not lost on me that, in this place of serpents and serpent signs, even I was moving along on my belly.

Version 2

1. The door behind me slammed shut as I observed my new surroundings, but I had almost expected that.

2. A brief survey to the east revealed another doorway adorned with a huge serpent sign, but no way to open it. I ran all the way to the wall, and several loose floor tiles fell behind me. I dropped into a lower area.

3a. Several large serpents, obviously agitated by the disturbance, were slithering about. I had no desire to mingle with these creatures, but there was no other way to go. I dropped down to the floor and, running as fast as I could, jumped over a serpent before it could coil and strike, and continued to the west.

3b. I stopped short. Ahead of me was a deep, regular slit in the side of the wall. It was no crack or defect, but an intentional straight slot that I decided could mean nothing good. Getting down on my hands and knees, I crawled under the slot and was appalled to see a razor-sharp blade come springing out of the wall over my head. If I had run heedlessly by this trap, I would have shortly been cut in two pieces!

Once I had made it past the blade, I ran on to the west.

4. I discovered what looked like a tunnel cut crudely through the wall leading west. Curious, I got down on my belly and began to crawl through it.

It was not lost on me that, in this place of serpents an serpent signs, even I was moving along on my belly.

Translator's Note:
From here on, most translations are consistent.

5. Once again, Hamza, Allah had guided me. Though it was broken and rusted, a sword lay amid an unrecognizable pile of bones. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say half a sword, but it was better than none. I picked it up and, once again armed, surveyed the room I was in.

Climbing upon a raised alcove, I discovered that some celling tiles were loose and fell at a mere touch. I climbed into the gap their falling had revealed.

6. I stood on a small ledge, turned and jumped east to where another pile of unfamiliar bones lay. Then I saw it, even as it saw me.

I thought I had seen enough of horrors, Hamza, but the monstrosity that attacked me was beyond even my own nightmares. It was a screaming, bloody head that floated by some magical means and attacked savagely, using its razor-sharp teeth. Its hideous screams still echo through my mind late at night. I shall never forget this creature and its like, these goblin heads as I came to call them.

Now, I eventually gained a certain knowledge of these creatures, but in this first encounter I was lucky rather than skillful. I drew iny half- sword immediately and backed up, facing west, until my feet were just clear of the bones. When the monstrosity attacked, I struck quickly, catching it with the ragged but still dangerous tip of my broken sword.

The goblin head recoiled and seemed damaged, but it quickly resumed its attack. I noticed a slight hesitation just before it floated quickly forward, mouth agape, to bite me. It was in that moment of hesitation that I struck again. I eventually learned the timing of this counter-strike. But this first time, the creature took one immense bite out of my shoulder and I only just managed to kill it before it could get me again. I think, had my timing been better, I would not have been struck.

The creature seemed to disappear, to vanish as if it had never been, and I was left with half a sword and half a shoulder. There was little bleeding, but the burning sensation was terrible. Weakly, I put away my sword and, realizing that to continue east would take me back where I had already been, I decided to climb. I thought I could see a way through the ceiling that might lead to safety.

The columns holding the first I ledge seemed broken, and didn't trust the tiles there, so I jumped back onto the stable ledge to the west and jumped upward to test them. As I had suspected, two of the overhanging tiles broke off and fell crashing to the floor below. I climbed carefully, and painfully, upward.

7. What made me do it, Hamza, I don't know It was truly a risky attempt and might have led me to disaster. I had reached the second ledge in the next area. An outeropping of floor tiles was just within jumping range, but nothing supported them. By all rights, they should have fallen when I jumped across, but they did not. My motivation for attempting such a foolish, blind jump? Though events were to prove beneficial, I could not tell you that anything rational made me do it. Some guidance beyond ordinary thought, perhaps.

My shoulder throbbed as I pulled myself onto the hanging floor, which did not fall, much to my delight and relief.

8. I ran east, coming to a sheer cliff. However, below me, and across the wide gap, I spotted a potion. It was worth the attempt. I backed up to make room for a running start.

7. I got a running start...

8. ...and leapt the gap, grabbing on to the ledge with the potion. I thought my injured shoulder would give out, but I had renewed hope. I recognized the bottle as the type tha carried Life Enhancement.

And so it turned out. I drank down the elixir and felt all my hurts, bruises, and wounds melt away. I was whole again. If only there were such a potion to fix my poor blade.

I saw no way off this ledge but down, so I hung over the edge and dropped.

3. It was a long way down, but my fall was broken by a loose floor. However, the floor broke before I could grab onto anything solid and I fell again.

4. I landed painfully in the room where I had discovered the tunnel. The loose floor had broken my fall, or I would certainly have died, Hamza. But I still felt better than I had before. At least my shoulder no longer throbbed and burned. I retraced my former path, through the tunnel...

5. ...up through the ceiling...

6. ...up some more ledges...

7. ...and on up past the place where I had taken my foolish, but serendipitous leap.

9. I stood atop a ruined tower Its walls had all broken away, and I stood at its pinnacle with nothing but the sky around me. I walked to the west.

10. Seeing no other way to go, I began my descent, spotting a healing potion along the way. I drank it gladly and was refreshed.

11. When I spotted a solid wallavay to the west, I jumped across a narrow gap and headed in that direction.

12. Just in time, I spotted a dark slit in the wall. Ducking and crawling under the slit, I avoided being sliced in half by the wicked blade trap it had concealed. I continued to the east.

13. I came upon a small gap, jumped it, and hung over the edge.

14. I dropped into a large hallway similar to one I had seen before. At the bottom of this hallway, I spotted a tunnel, but I had a bad feeling about it and headed east.

15. I entered an area with two doorways set in arches in the purple stone. Another goblin head awaited me, however, and I drew my sword quickly. As I fought the creature, the door to the east opened. On this second encounter with a goblin head my timing was better and I sustained no wounds.

I saw that the doorway led to a staircase leading upward. However, another pressure plate was just visible beyond the door and I stepped onto it. The western door then opened. I had a choice. But which to take? Did one of these stairways lead to death and the other to salvation? I had no sign, no moment of clairvoyance or revelation to judge by. I simply chose.

Continue to Chapter 5: The Shadow & the Flame (Level 7)
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