2. "I have been looking forward to your arrival, O lowly earthworm," said the guard as he drew his sword and attacked. I parried. "Have you any last words before I cut you in half and watch you wriggle your poor life away?" he asked.
"You have mistaken me for someone else, I'm afraid," I countered. I launched an attack of my own and barely managed to parry his lightning- like riposte. "Son of mules, have you no shame parading as a man?" I yelled, renewing my attack.
This guard was actually very good. I could not gain an advantage. Every time I thrust, he countered before my blade could connect. But I soon had his rhythm. I would step into his guard, parry first, then thrust, then parry again, for he often launched a second attack. Slowly I drove him backward, though he parried my attacks well. It was his bad fortune that a precipice loomed behind him, and soon he missed his footing and fell into the darkness, impaled gruesomely on the spikes below.
This last had been the best swordsman I had met so far. I worried lest I encounter one of even greater skill. But there was no choice. I must continue on. I jumped across the chasm that had spelled death to the guard, and continued west through the gate.
3. I spotted a healing potion in a small, dark hole, and drank it to relieve myself of the scratches the last guard had delivered. Then I walked near the edge and jumped across yet another chasm. I had been standing a little away from the edge, perhaps over confident, and I missed catching onto the first landing directly across from me. With some distress to my overworked arms, I managed to grab onto the next landing below.
4. I dropped to the bottom I where a blade trap snapped its deadly rhythm, and ran the moment I hit the a ground. I cleared the trap with an instant's grace, and continued to run to the east.
5. I had by this time become adept at spotting traps, so I jumped easily over the pair of spike traps up ahead and continued east without breaking stride.
6. I came to a doorway. Could I be at the exit already? No opening mechanism was visible, and, as usual, there was no lock or other feature on the door that might serve as a means to open it. I continued running east.
7. I jumped over another pair of spike traps. These were slightly separated, but I leapt over them, again without breaking stride.
8. I kept running as fast as I could, past a pile of broken stones the floor...
9. ...down a long hallway...
10. ...over another spike trap and more rubble...
11. ...and finally to another guard. He had, no doubt, heard my approach, and rushed out to meet me, sword in hand. If he bantered with me, I don't remember. He was not the equal of the guard I had most recently vanquished and I defeated him easily by charging forward and thrusting before he could think. I ran by his corpse without another thought, imagining doing to Jaffar what I had been forced to do to his minions.
"Allah, O Great and Merciful," I cried. "Forgive me if I have grown accustomed to death and destruction." If I should survive this place, I knew would have much to reflect upon.
12. I passed another spike trap and barely caught sight of a healing potion above it. I stopped and swilled the draught down, then jumped across and over the spikes. I continued running east.
13. As I ran, I spotted another guard high above me. He seemed to be looking up and had, surprisingly enough, not noticed me, though I had been anything but quiet. I thought I'd try to avoid him, so I tiptoed under him in the lower passage until I was far enough away that he could no longer hear me.
14. I came to a wide gap on the other side of which I could see a series of ledges such as I had already climbed many times. I made a running jump, barely making it across and held on for dear life.
15. Below me, I could see the hungry spikes as they sprang from their hiding places. But they were to be disappointed. I pulled myself up again.
14. I kept climbing until I stood across a slightly narrower gap than the one I had just crossed. I stood on the edge of the platform and jumped as hard as I could, catching the ledge once again by my fingertips. I pulled myself up.
16. Just above me I spied a small, dark alcove. I climbed up and discovered a healing potion, but I had no need of it and so dropped down again.
14. I walked to the west, carefully I knew that the guard I had seen was just ahead, his back still turned. But he would turn around as I approached. Of that I was sure.
13. I had hoped to run past him, but I could see that my plan would not be possible. I drew my sword as he whirled around in surprise.
"By Allah!" he cried. "You snake! Crawl on your belly!"
But I was faster and struck him before he could launch his attack. He grunted in surprise and fell back. He was a good swordsman. Not as quick as the one I had admired before, but less predictable. He surprised me several times, and I was bleeding in several places before I struck the final blow. Mortally wounded, he fell and an expression or surprise crossed his face.
"Your errand is a merciful one, stranger I would once have done as you do now," he muttered. "But you are too late. You will never make it. The worst is yet to come." His eyes closed, and I thought he was gone, but they opened again a moment later. "It's a pity," he gasped. Then his eyes closed for the last time.
I felt tears well up. For the first time I felt real remorse. This man had not been evil incarnate, and, in the end, he died with a kind word for me. This was so much worse than the cold, unrelenting enmity of the others. But his warning also gave me a moment of fear. Was I already too late? I had no sense of time. But no. In my visions, which I must trust if I were to trust anything, the hourglass still had not emptied and the Princess yet lived. I must hurry though.
What happened in the next sequence was so fast that it blurs in my memory. I remember running hard and making three long leaps, one after the other, without stopping between. Here's how I remember it...
13. I ran forward and jumped, at the same time triggering the gate to the west.
12. As I emerged from the gate, I spotted a pair of snapping blade traps. I ran through them without stopping and emerged unscathed. I ran through another gate without hesitation.
11. I could see a gate across a gap, and it was already beginning to close. I jumped at the last moment.
10. I made it through the gate, and, as I landed, I saw another gap ahead. Almost immediately I readied myself for a leap and jumped across - my third leap without stopping. But now I slowed my pace. I could see an obstacle of some kind up ahead.
9. A blade trap snapped at me as I stepped on a pressure plate and a gate up ahead began to open. But another guard stood between me and the gate. I stepped quickly through the blades and drew my sword. The guard wore a smile of incredible cruelty, and any remorse evporated like water in the desert. This one wanted to drive me into the blades at my back.
I took an aggressive stance and lunged, driving the man back. His smile turned to a sneer and his eyes blazed. But he was no match for me, and I kept driving him backward until be stepped on a hidden plate that closed the gate behind him. I worried that it might remain closed if he died on the plate, so I backed away and he followed. I picked my moment, then delivered the final blow and he collapsed in a heap.
I had to step through the blades again to trigger the gate, then back once more to continue my passage west. At the last moment, I leaped over the closing plate.
8. I came to another gap, but a plate triggered the gate in front of me and I jumped across when it opened. Then I continued to the west.
7. I came to a hallway where two blade traps sought to take life from me, but I carefully stepped between them, then past them without suffering harm.
6. A pressure plate marked the end of the hallway. When I stepped upon it. I heard the familiar sounds of the exit door opening nearby. I turned to retrace my steps, there being no alternative.
7. I stepped once again through the blades and ran back to the east.
8. I came to the last gate I had passed through, but it was closed. I tried the ceiling, but there were no loose stones. I stopped to think. Had I missed something?
As I stood there, something truly remarkable happened I stood staring out through the sturdy bars of the gate when a small white mouse appeared. It jumped onto the pressure plate which opened the gate, sat and waved a tiny paw in my direction, then scuttled off the way it had come.
If ever I had needed confirmation that my visions were true, this was it. For I had seen this mouse before. With the Princess. In my vision.
I had no time to waste thinking about mice or even the Princess. Quickly, I lowered myself down the ledge. I knew where the doorway was. I dropped to the floor and ran back to the west.
7. I ran carefully by the spike traps. I was too close now to make a mistake.
6. Finally, I made it to the door and up the stairs. Would I find the Princess at last?