Zachary had heated the water precisely, just as the notes he'd taken from the inscriptions on the recovered tablet from the Xilan ruins had detailed. His life's work, an ongoing adventure traveling from one city to the next through many kingdoms assembling a long chain of clues all lead to this single wax coated parchment that he held cautiously in his hands....and this one moment.
His heart pounding, he paused tentatively in front of the cauldron of water with the wax stenographed sheet of parchment in his trembling hands and hesitated completing the procedure that would reveal the papers contents. So much depended on what would happen next.
The parchment was delicately coated with two layers of different waxes and held the final clue to the tomb a legendary emperor who once ruled a great kingdom thousands of years ago and it would only reveal its contents when the top layer of wax had gently melted away exposing its secrets.
The bottom more firmer wax containing the location was manufactured specifically for this one message and would only be revealed after soaking the parchment in water of the exact temperature it was intended for. Anything less would not remove the top wax and anything just slightly too hot would melt both ruining the contents forever. As it was, the wax enscribed with the final clue and location of the fabled tomb was made of an animal extract and would dissolve within ten minutes of being exposed, making a difficult situation even worse giving Zachary little time and no leeway in deciphering the contents quickly and exactly. If he got any of this wrong, his only chance of finishing his lifes work, of finding the sacred tomb and the emperors secret, would be lost forever.
The tomb, and the temple that surrounded it was rumored to be created by an empire so ancient that very little was known about them except what has been whispered through myths and legends. Furthermore, there was no direct evidence that they really even existed.
"Until now" Zachary thought to himself grinning slightly.
It has been said that created by decree of an ancient emperor this kingdoms greatest royal architects and engineers built a secret temple hidden far away that contained an archive of a secret knowledge. Secrets so important that the emperor commissioned his finest to build the mysterious temple and then supposedly chose for himself to be entombed forever inside. Nobody knows why.
Tales grew over the centuries in the surrounding kingdoms speculating as to what this secret kept so hidden was and why this emperor chose to be buried with it. And now soon he alone would be the first to find out.
Finally letting out a breath he didnt realize he was holding, he dropped the scroll into the water and watched it unfurl. Merely a minute had passed but it felt like hours. As he watched the wax flake and float away, the inscriptions held within began to show.
Gingerly he took the scroll out of the water and placed it on the table. The message was clear! Stunned, Zachary's eyes widened as he read it. It was all there! The final location of the ruined temple that held the Emperors tomb and one final clue on how to disarm the booby trapped entry to the chamber that kept secrets meant for no man's eyes.
'This is far away and the journey there will go through treacherous territory. ' He thought to himself, but he was ready.
Quickly he grabbed for his journal and began to copy everything down. As he could already see the delicate waxy message was beginning to dissolve.
Soon the final adventure on his journey would begin. He would be every bit as wealthy as he'd dreamed and the name of the great explorer Zachary would be famous in history across all of the kingdoms as the one who had discovered the legendary Emperors secrets!
A deteriorated old stone path cutting through thick jungle. Patches of the path is missing in places with wild grasses and occasional bushes growing from.
Thick and mostly inpenatratable jungle. Deep shadows shroud mich of it and Zachary can't see more than a few feet inside. Sounds of wild animals can be heard coming from somewhere beyond hit sight and exotic birds flutter noisily across the weathered path upon his approach during his passage.
Zachary the explorer emerges from the jungle path into an open outcropping with a steep mountain with a prominent waterfall and cascades tumbling down into a river that terminates into a towering waterfall off of a tall sheer cliff. There in front of him in this outcropping are the crumbled remains of the mysterious temple. Overgrown with vines and profuse growth of palms and trees the ruins are briefly explored by our explorer. Scattered throughout are pieces of pottery, broken weapons and smashed statues. Perhaps treasures and cultural artifacts from this ancient civilization may be found if he were to look around with keen eyes.
A collapsed watch tower that once overlooked the cliff and had a commanding vista of the marshy river strewn jungle valley below.
Zachary sees to the north a semi intact watch tower built upon a smaller outcropping further up the steep jade green mountain accessed via steep stairs that overlooks the ruins.
A quickly moving river that rushes through the center of the ruins. The volume of water moves so swiftly that he must be careful not to mis-step and fall in. The water would surely sweep him over the waterfall and certain death.
A large ornate bridge spans across the river allowing access to the rear of the temple. Along the bridge are ornate carvings of strange and unusual dragon or snake like creatures that form into a railing on each side. Perhaps these creatures are the same causing the uneasy trills and screeches he hears from deep in the jungle.
Once across the bridge a small landing sits before a massive gate that protects the entrance to where the temple continues deep into the mountainside. On each side, giant statues of fierce warrior like beings guard the gate staring down at Zachary menacingly. To his right he sees more decrepit ruins.
Attached to the ruins a smaller building with a view of both the bridge and the gate contains a long console with four tall pillars that rotate. Each pillar he observes is broken down into three individual rings that rotate independently. From his notes and the clues he deciphered from the parchment discovered in Xinlan he recognises it as the puzzle that unlocks the mechanism barring the gates. A certain permutation of the pillars and rings must be rotated like a complex cypher to unlock the gates.
Having gained entrance a short passage down a flight of steep stairs leads to a landing cantilevered over a deep chamber with a floor dozens of meters below. Zachary sees that a mist of milky blue gas blankets the floor. From the smell he can deduce the foggy mist at the bottom is sulfur dioxide. If the fall doesnt kill him the gas surely will. On the far side of the chamber is a drawbridge designed to collapse downward dumping intruders to their doom. Looking around he sees a narrow ledge with stairs that leads to a tunnel leading off to his left. The bridge being retracted and collapsed but be risen to allow passage into the bowels of the temple and the secret archives within. Perhaps exploring this side passage will lead to a solution.
After gingerly treading along the ledge pathway and following the passage he finds a chamber with a dias in the center. The dias is another puzzle here the various segments of the disc must be arranged exactly. Conferring his notes he sees that there are actually several solutions to the puzzle that will raise the bridge, however all but one are traps that will cause the bridge to collapse once halfway across it dumping the victims to their doom.
Once across the chamber to the landing on the other side he continues onward through another passage that leads deeper into the mountain. Side passages lead to ancillary chambers of unknown purpose yet to be deciphered. Yet, traveling straight forward and down another set of stairs he finds a cavernous chamber. With high vaulted ceilings the chamber has alcoves lining the walls each with life sized statues of diety like statues. Center of the chamber in front of him a massive five meter tall statue of a seated god accompanied by two lesser dieties flanking on each side commands the room. Zachary from his studies to the ancient legends knows that these are depictions of the fabled kingdom's main god and 15 earthly avatars.
After wandering deeper into the temple the passages conjoin leading to a deep chasm. Far below a subterranean river flows while to the left roaring a waterfall disgorges into the massive crevasse.
The landing at the end of the passage has two more similar pillars in which the combination of proper symbols must be figured out to extend the bridge that leads to the secret archives and tomb. Again the bridge is designd to fail if the incorrect combination is entered. His notes seem to only offer disjointed clues to solving this puzzle. Tentatively he travels across. The bridge is rickety but it holds until he is across. Its obvious from its design the bridge will only accomodate one person at a time. Yet another devious trap designed by the temples creators.
Having cross the bridge he finds himself entering another large and final chamber again very large in size. Something is different about this room. It hums loudly like a unknown energy embodies it. In the center at the far end a large engraved sarcophagus sits on a raised stone platform. The tomb of the fabled Emperor! In a row flanking the path to the sarcophagus stand four onyx coloured dark black and glossy monoliths each standing ten feet tall. The humming grows louder as he passes each one approaching the tomb. Its like each has a enigmatic power. The sound is ominous and gives Zachary an uneasy feeling. There is something unnatural and extrinsic about these black slabs. They dont feel like they are creations of the kingdom or of even man. Perhaps gifted or stollen from the gods?
On an upper level lining the room with twin stairwells leading to them several large sealed doors large enough for a carriage to pass through are arranged reminding Zachary of treasure vaults. Intense glowing of light pierces out through the cracks of each door. The secrets must be locked away in each one. But what could cause such unatural light that it bores through the perimeter of each door? Perhaps there was a reason that the secrets inside were intended for no man to see?
This is my entry to the Monthly Map Melee Contest for February 2020. I had a lot of fun participating in this contest and will definitely be joining the
Worldbuilding Community and look forward to more contest similar to this in the future!
I apologise for the map being a photograph instead of a proper scanned image. I dont have a scanner but if requested I can get the map scanned and re-uploaded in that manner.
I'd like to thank the other contestants for participating. Each offered a unique and original looking map. And I loved being inspired by seeing their creativity. Wishing everyone the best in this contest.
Artwork provided by steemydave.
Special thanks to @kaelci for bringing this contest to my attention and encouraging me to join in on the fun.