Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Four
Alhazred and the Path of Shadows
Daoud returned to Sefmur, powerful in magical arts and well-learned in spell craft, but his heart was sorely vexed to find that, in his absence, his father Sulymon had passed away from the lands of those who live and breathe. Moreover, the pasha had not bequeathed to Daoud the seal of power as he had promised, and this omission much perplexed the young prince. “If only there was some means to query the dead!” he lamented.
“There are some who know the art,” his teacher Surrvaris suggested. “Make your way to the wild and untamed plains of Ull. Go to Ulakand the City of Horses and seek out the teacher Alhazred and learn what he will teach you. Perhaps he will summon your father among the shades of Khur Razjin. Only leave in my safekeeping your scroll of spells because I foresee that, if you bring it with you to Ull, you will lose it from your possession for all time. Moreover, if you walk ‘The Path of Shadows,’ remember to show them no fear whatsoever.”
Daoud did not care for the idea of leaving behind his wondrous scroll of spells which he had only recently obtained, but his pedagogue insisted upon the matter. Resolved to settle the issue of his inheritance, Daoud set off with a company of five of his father’s men and traveled to the wild lands of Ull. They had scarcely arrived among the tribes when, according to the inflexible will of Istus, thieves set upon them during their first night lodging in the City of Tents, slaying them all and taking their possessions and their horses. Had he carried with him his wondrous scroll of spells, the bandits would also have taken that costly artifact away from him.
Daoud awoke among his dead companions, all of them tossed together into a cemetery burial pit. The city of Ulakand sits astride an isolated low-lying mesa, surrounded by the tents of the Uli clans. Beneath the city, winding through the heart of the mesa, is a maze of natural caverns and grottoes where the great khans and Uli warlords are interred and where the bones of generations of warriors reside. Daoud found himself cast therein, along with his companions, for the Uli recognized Sulymon’s men as noblemen and warriors.
So this is how they treat the son of a noble pasha? Daoud said to himself. They did not even grant me the dignity of my own tomb, nor check to see if I was indeed dead or alive. He sat up and disentangled himself from among the corpses, not entirely certain himself if he yet lived or perhaps had also been slain with his companions.
Then the ghosts of his men all killed in the ambush appeared to him, wailing most piteously over their grisly remains. In appearance they were frightening to Daoud. They wept over their misfortune, and they warned Daoud to flee back to Sefmur at once or face terrible undead worse than themselves.
Daoud remembered Surrvaris’ instructions and resolved to show no fear. He scolded the ghosts for weeping like women and sent them away with these words, “Will you really shame the reputation of my father and of my royal house? Will you shed tears and and wail with remorse over what fate Istus has decreed and already brought to pass? Shouldn’t you behave like warriors and pass on to halls of glory reserved for those slain in battle?” Then those fearsome ghosts slunk away ashamedly.
After they had left him, skeletons of warriors rose up from the tombs and clattered about, chattering their teeth and snapping their bony fingers at Daoud, but he resolved to show them no fear either. Instead, he scolded them and sent back to their tombs and grottoes. After the skeletons left him, a banshee came howling and wailing up from the stones. The terrifying sound of her voice froze his blood, made his skin crawl; the hair of his head all turned white, but he showed her no fear, and she turned away from him. After the banshee had left him, a pack of ghouls clambered out from the tunnels, scampering like rats over the sarcophagi, gibbering and snarling and chewing on the bodies of the dead men. They surrounded Daoud and laughed like hyenas, but when they drew too near, he repulsed them with his spell craft, burning some with fire and sending others tumbling back pierced with unseen weapons. Presently Daoud began to fear very much for his life, for his spells were soon exhausted, yet the foul creatures continued to press in on him and paw at him from every side. He resolved to show them no fear, but fear he felt.
At last he fell under their power, paralyzed by their unholy touch. He found he could not move, nor could he speak a single word, but still fully awake, he felt them all pounce upon him, clawing and scratching at his flesh. They lifted him by his hands and feet and bore him away into the catacombs beneath the cemetery—a place of black darkness with no light at all. The ghouls dragged his paralyzed body to their master who dwelt in a vault of the mausoleum. Their master appeared to be an old rashaw in white robes. A neatly trimmed beard adorned his chin. Many lamps lit his chamber and many arcane books filled shelves and covered tables. The ghouls laid Daoud’s inert body at the feet of the rashaw; the man bent down over him and said, “You are a fearless fool. Did you perhaps come seeking Alhazred the Dreadful?”
Daoud could not answer him a word.
“The paralysis will subside,” the rashaw assured him.
When it did, Daoud spoke, though with heavy tongue, “My teacher Surrvaris sent me to learn from you.”
“Did he?” Alhazred asked with feigned amusement. “I am surprised at it. We were once like brothers, but we parted ways long ago. No matter, so long as you have the means to pay.”
Alhazred agreed to take Daoud into his tutelage. For a year and day Daoud dwelt in the catacombs, living among the dead, like one dead himself, and the stench of death was upon him. He forgot what it was to see the light of the sun or feel its warmth upon his flesh. All memory of joy and delight perished from his mind, and the thought of life tasted like ashes in his mouth. The world of the living seemed to him like a faded dream, scarcely remembered by the dreamer after he has awoken, but the realm of the dead seemed real and substantial in every respect. Thus he lived, more dead than alive, beneath the earth, dwelling among the dead and among the ghouls and the undead. He learned to live in darkness, where no shadow can be cast, for in Khur Razjin, one’s own shadow rises up and saps the strength from men’s bodies.
Alhazred taught him the names of the undead and the ways of their restless energies. He instructed Daoud from a textbook of his own creation titled The Codex of Necromancy, and he granted his student the freedom to copy from it. More than that, he taught Daoud the secret knowledge and lore of the elder gods—(servants of He Who Waits)—whose tales should not be told and names must not be recited. Daoud struggled mightily to retain his sanity and resist the madness of Alhazred while learning what he might from the man’s prodigious knowledge.
By means of these arts, Daoud summoned up the shade of his departed father Sulymon and inquired over the seal of power. The shade of his father said, “Surely I bequeathed my grandfather’s ring to you my youngest son, and now it rests in the possession of your teacher. Be certain that he will pass it on to you when he deems you ready to wield its power.” Satisfied with this assurance, Daoud began to contemplate how he might return to the land of light and life, though it seemed a distant and far away memory to him.
After a year and a day beneath the earth, Alhazared said to Daoud, “Now that you have stayed this long and learned so many of my secrets, the time has come to pay your debt by becoming one with us. Deny Al’hatha, for you need never walk beneath his light again. Spit upon Istus, for your fate is already sealed. Laugh at Duhl Parath, for the dead tell no lies.”
“I thought you were a pious rashaw,” Daoud recoiled with dismay. “But you are a just an Uli blasphemer and an apostate like all the Uli. I will not join you nor will I worship your cursed elder gods.”
With these words still hanging in the dark air, Daoud fled from Alhazred. The insane rashaw called to his ghosts and ghouls, zombies and wights, and they pursued the Tusmit prince through the catacombs. Worse yet were the evil-possessed cadavers of Uli warriors (those not properly buried) that stalked the caverns and dark twisting turns of Khur Razjin. Daoud might have perished and become one of their number indeed had it not been that a powerful man of Ulakand happened to have died the day before and the funeral party had only just arrived at the cemetery and removed the capping stone from a burial shaft. Sunlight flooded into the darkness, scattering the undead. Daoud emerged from the tomb, pale as death, blinking in the sunlight. His sudden appearance from out of the tombs so frightened the funeral procession that the pallbearers dropped the bier of the dead man and fled with everyone else.
“When I returned to Sefmur, my brother the pasha was much surprised to see me,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the companions beneath her pavilion. “‘Surrvaris told us that you had perished and all your men with you!’ my brother said in dismay and astonishment. ‘Nearly so,” I told him. ‘Did I not spend a year and a day among the dead?’
“But when I inquired after the seal of my great-grandfather Mehmet, my teacher Surrvaris said, ‘Before you are ready to wield a ring of such power, you must learn the ways of the genies.’ Alas, the lateness of the hour prevents me from telling how I then traveled to the City of Brass to learn the ways of the efreet, and how I became a slave unto them, and barely escaped with my life. More the pity, for that is a tale worth hearing, not to mention my further adventures and all that has befallen me on my journeys, and how Grimmly and I have come to the Twin Paradises by accident
Based on Rasgon, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire! [Posted Octomber 13, 2011]. Rasgon borrowed Alhazred from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos where he is Abdul Alhazred, “The Mad Arab.” Surrvaris is mentioned as Tuerny’s old master in the article “Tuerny the Merciless” by Rick Miller and Mike Bridges in Oerth Journal 25: 39-42. To learn about Ulakand and Khur Razjin, see Mike Bridges, “Khur Razjin ‘Path of Shadows,’” The Wonders of Ull, vol. 1, pg. 5. Surrvaris is mentioned as Tuerny’s old master in the article “Tuerny the Merciless” by Rick Miller and Mike Bridges in Oerth Journal 25: 39-42.
Featured Artwork: LOTR Concept Art: Barrow-Wights
Don’t miss chapter five of Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: “Flight from the City of Brass“ Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter.