Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Eight
The Sevenfold Mazework
As the portal shimmered into existence, Daoud steered his swimming carpet toward it and dove through opening between worlds, disappearing from the world of water before the hunting party missed him. It seemed to him that the water all around him solidified until, all at once, he could not move at all. He found himself utterly encompassed by solid stone that fitted about him so tightly it left not room to move a single muscle. Stone sealed his eyes so tightly he could not tell if they were open or closed; he could see nothing at all. Nor could he draw a breath, but rather, he slowly realize that he himself had been petrified and every tissue of his body had turned solid. In such a state, he needed neither air to breath nor water to drink nor food to nourish himself; he simply remained unchanging and solid.
Alas! I have entered the world of earth and stone and become a part of it! He rued his hasty escape and scolded himself. How long shall I remain here, made of stone and encased in stone? Were not things better for me in the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls among my six elf wives?
Daoud had a long time to reflect on these regrets and all that had befallen him as he remained in that condition, unable to move at all, for how long he could not guess. From time to time he felt tremors in the stone about him, and on some occasions, he fancied he could feel the rhythmic tap of a hammer striking a chisel, raising his hope that he might one day be chiseled free from the stone. More of the time, however, he heard nothing at all and felt nothing at all except the ceaseless stillness of stone. After what might have been many months or perhaps a year or more, Daoud despaired of ever returning to the world of living and moving beings. His former years began to seem dreamlike and unreal in his memories, and more and more he regarded himself as stone, unchanging, ever-patient, and unconcerned.
He might have remained that way until the end of time had not one of the many frequent earthquakes that shake the mountains in the world of stone shaken him free. He tumbled along with a collapse of boulders and falling rocks into a cavity in the world, and there he lay among a great pile, half buried in rubble for another many months or years (he knew nothing of the passage of time), until at long last, something did happen—and it happened like this. A party of deep gnome slaves came upon the site of the collapse. Picking their way through the rubble they discovered first a remarkable stone in the shape of a carpet, and after that, they discovered the statue of Daoud himself.
These trophies they turned over to their slave master, a severe dao genie. In his petrified state, Daoud was scarcely aware of anything that transpired. He did not know that the gnomes carried him aloft upon their shoulders through the winding and wending underground tunnels of the Sevenfold Mazework. Not until he stood before the court of the dao khatun did his eyes open and his senses return. His stony body abruptly returned to flesh and blood, and he collapsed in a pile at the feet of the powerful dao queen.
A gargoyle prodded at him with a barbed spear and growled, “Stand on your feet in the presence of the mighty and merciful Khatun Zafara Al’Yil, Jin Zarain, Queen of the Mantled Depths, Pontiff of the Diamond Cathedral, Protector of the Malachite Scepter …”
Daoud picked himself up from the ground and bowed stiffly before the genie queen. She towered over him—an enormous creature, beautiful and terrible, squared at every angle as if chiseled and cut of glistening stone, adorned with fabrics formed of interlacing threads of every precious metal, set with such an abundance of fine gems and jewels that she seemed to glisten and glimmer in a swirl of color and light. Daoud let his eyes pass from the splendor of the khatun to the gaudy splendor of her jeweled hall. All the fixtures were of gleaming silver, gold, platinum, and mithril. The floors and pillars were of a multi-striated marble with veins of every color, polished to shine and reflect light like the surface of a mirror. Gem-studded murals of fantastic scenes depicting the epic tales of gods and demigods enlivened the walls. Set into silver sconces, large gemstones blazing with an inner magical light served as lamps to illuminate the dazzling spectacle in a spray of rainbow colors. Daoud took it all in and said meekly, “I am Daoud of Tusmit … or at least I once was.” He spoke in the tongue of the genies with difficulty since his confinement in the stone had left his throat parched and dry, and his tongue still felt heavy as stone. Nevertheless, he related the entire tale of how he had come to be standing before the khatun in the City of Jewels. He did not omit a single detail of his adventures from the moment he had entered the City of Brass until the present moment.
“So you have come to me last of all,” the khatun said unpleasantly, as if Daoud had arranged the circumstances to slight her. Her voice sounded like gravel, like a landslide, like rocks striking together. “But if you have been so well-received in the courts of my rivals and proven to be such an asset to them, I will make no-less use of you than they. But you will not find it so easy to escape from my realm as you did each of theirs. If you flee, you will be lost in the Sevenfold Maze forever.” As a sign of her confidence that he could never escape the dismal depths of her realm, she let him keep his magical carpet and all of his belongings, including the cube of gates, of which she warned him, “It’s magic will not penetrate the stone of my world, as you yourself have now discovered. If you try to escape me with its magic, you will find yourself back in the same state from which I just now delivered you.”
The khatun gave Daoud a seat among her advisors and her scholars and told him to relate to them all that he had learned of the world of fire, the world of air, and the world of water. In turn, the wise dao spoke to Daoud of the world of earth and solid matter, and they taught him the geology of earth, rock, and stone. He learned how magma cools and creates crystals, basalts, and black obsidian, how fault lines form and plate tectonics shake the stone, and how the sheer weight of earth can squeeze coal into diamonds, and how all stones and rocks and soils are formed. Daoud inquired of them, “One thing puzzles me still. In all my travels, I have never visited any realm so rich in the resplendence of mineral wealth and precious stones. How does the City of Jewels protect itself from thieves?”
“If ever a single gem or bauble of ours is carried away,” they told him, “Magical alarms alert every citizen to the theft, and we all hasten in pursuit.”
Feigning a fascination for the artistry, Daoud took an apprenticeship under an elderly dwarf who served as the khatun’s most-esteemed gem cutter in the City of Jewels. This dwarf, Grimmly by name, had once lived among the clans of the Crystalmist Mountains, and he spoke the common tongue of the Flanaess. “I was once a miner in my clan. Deep under the Crystalmist Mountains, we pursued a certain vein of finest ruby, deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountain. It seemed inexhaustible, but it led us to this world of stone and earth. We were captured by the dao, and I have been a slave to this wretched genie more than a century. I am her most-prized servant because her greed for gemstones knows no end. She entrusts me with the finest specimens of her endless mines, and I cut them as she desires.” Grimmly taught Daoud the art of cutting stones in such a way that they could refract light and cast luminescence. Daoud excelled in the art and soon became a master gem cutter himself.
“If you tunneled your way into this world from ours, perhaps the passage between the two worlds still exists. Perhaps we can find the way out of this world of tunnels and back to our own world,” Daoud suggested hopefully. “And if we carried with us even the cuttings and splinters of our work, we would be wealthy beyond all princes in our world.”
The old dwarf shook his head sadly, “None have ever escaped the Sevenfold Maze. Those who try perish in the attempt or lose their sanity as surely as they lose their way.”
“But suppose we had a dao to guide us. What then?” Daoud suggested. “Surely these gemstones are of sufficient value to purchase the service of an escort.” With words like this, Daoud coaxed Grimmly to attempt the journey. They secretly laid aside a collection of fine gems until they had amassed a number they deemed sufficient for the bribe. This they did by collecting all the shavings and splinters of their craft, cuttings that would scarcely be missed. These they fashioned into exquisite specimens, rare and beautiful. Moreover, they set aside one of every three of the finest stones, concealing the treasure in an enormous, dao-sized, magical bag of holding. Daoud selected a certain exceptionally greedy and evil young genie who was of such a temperament that he might prove amicable to the arrangement, and when the avaricious creature saw the glittering gemstones cached within the magical bag, he agreed to the plot at once.
“I know not the way to your world,” the young genie said. “But I can take you to the edge of this one, outside the Sevenfold Maze. From there you will be free find your way to another world.”
On a prearranged day, the young genie led Daoud and Grimmly out of the City of Jewels, but no sooner had the two fugitives stepped through the city’s gates than an alarm sounded, “Thief! Thief!”
“Quickly now!” their ally said. “Get up onto your magical carpet and follow me through air and stone.” As the dao traitor leapt forward into the maze. The lower part of his body became like a whirlwind and like a sandstorm, and he hurtled forward like a comet. Daoud and Grimmly clung to the magical carpet as they raced through the maze in pursuit of their guide, taking abrupt turns, reversals, up and down, back and forth, around sharp corners, under arches and over bridges, weaving in and out of colonnades, swooping down steep drops, tearing through twisting tunnels, dropping and climbing, league after league, mile after mile, passing by in the blur.
All the while they dropped behind them bright gleaming gemstones and brilliantly resplendent jewels of inestimable value here and there, tossing them in every false direction, discarding them at every false turn. Their pursuers came on like a roaring storm, like an earthquake, like a tectonic apocalypse. The world shook with the fury of their pursuit, but avaricious beyond all reason, their pursuers could not pass up the precious treasures discarded on the way. Moreover, each bright gleaming gem and shining jewel led the pursuers astray in the never-ending labyrinth of the Sevenfold Maze. After many days of such maneuvers, the last of the pursuers fell away, and the young dao that led the fugitives through the maze delivered them to the edge of the world of earth. They looked out from the mouth of a cave upon a vast vista of mountain peaks set starkly against nothing at all.
“Now I have done for you as I agreed. Pay me the ransom!” the dao said greedily.
“Too high was the cost to evade our pursuers, and we have only a paltry few insignificant stones remaining inside this purse,” Daoud admitted remorsefully as he opened the mouth of the bag wide. The dao bared his boulderlike teeth and snarled, “I swear by all the powers of fire, wind, water, and earth that I will crush the life from your bodies!” But first he snatched up the bag and stuck his head inside to see what gemstones or fragments remained. Daoud and Grimmly gave him a push, sending the greedy young genie headlong into the sack. They quickly closed up the mouth and sealed it shut. Daoud employed his cube of gates to open a portal into the next world. He and the old dwarf glided through the portal, towing behind them the struggling genie in the enormous bag. In this way, Daoud and the old dwarf made their escape from the City of Jewels when none had done so before nor have any since.
“And so Grimmly and I escaped the Sevenfold Mazework. We left behind the world of earth and stone,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the companions beneath her pavilion. “From there we found our way to this world of Twin Paradises where we now have enjoyed these several nights of your most magnificent hospitality. And now, at last, we pray we might accompany you on the morrow through the gates of this Walled Garden of Delights. Be it known, within this large purse we carry is that same young genie which swore to squeeze the life from our bodies. And in these smaller purses, Grimmly and I have kept a modest collection of the finest yield of the world of earth and stone. With the help of the holy malakim that reside within the Walled Garden, we will work them into magical lamps to adorn the pavilion of Hasnat.”