Africa in the 1930s, and after a group of friends discover the remains of a buried temple, they find hints to an even larger secret.
But there are those who will stop at nothing to keep that secret buried.
A vintage style adventure story which spans some of the great sites of antiquity in search for an ancient secret.
Targeted Age Group:: 20+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My main inspiration was not being able to find the kind of historic adventure mystery that I like to read.
I've always been a fan of books like 'She', 'King Solomon's Mines', '20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea' and 'The Count of Monte Christo'. But after a while, finding new titles in this genre gets quite difficult because this style of writing has been out of fashion for quite a long time.
Eventually, I decided to have a go at writing something myself, and several years later the first book in the 'Flames of Time' series was born.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Oddly, i came up with the bad guys first.
One of my favourite stories is 'The Three Musketeers' by Alexander Dumas, which has fabulous characters, one of which is the beautiful but deadly Milady de Winter, a hired assassin and spy working in the employ of equally terrible Cardinal Richleau.
Well, in one of the later musketeer books one of the musketeers (Aramis) is appointed to a high rank within the Jesuit order, which at the time was devoted to manipulating monarchs and states for its own reasons.
I don't know where it came from, but the inspiration struck me that, after encountering Milady and nearly being defeated by her, as the head of the Jesuits Aramis may subsequently found a secret order of female spies and assassins working for the all male Jesuits.
Once i knew who the antagonists were, i had to come up with a group of protagonists capable of standing up to them.
Chapter 7 – Stepping Stones
Mkize was scrambling out, helped by some of the others, but there was no sight or sound of Harry from the abyss as I called out his name.
The others had obviously seen that something was up, and had raced up to join me. I briefly explained what had happened. The earth around the hole we’d dug, and the gap that had now opened up into the cave, forming a steep sloping funnel.
We sent Peter and the severely shaken Mkize to retrieve a rope and some torches from the camp, while the rest of us waited and continued to call after Harry.
‘I’m going to try and get down to the mouth of the hole, and see if I can see anything more from there,’ said Marlow.
It was a good fifteen feet down, surrounded by loose and crumbling earth, and with very little at the mouth to hold on to or stop yourself from sliding straight down into the darkness below. But by using one of the shovels as a makeshift tether, we managed to lower him most of the way, and he was just able to slide the last few feet and brace himself across the opening to see down into the hole.
‘Harry! Harry, are you all right?’ Marlow was shouting into the cave. ‘I think I can just make him out. Yes, he’s waving.’
A moment later and Peter had arrived with the ropes and torches and we were inside and had found Harry, before the danger of what we were doing had even occurred to us. He’d obviously been winded, and he was holding his head as though that was the problem also.
It made for a worrying minute or two not knowing how badly hurt he was, but after Jean offered him his dampened handkerchief and some fresh water he recovered enough to explain.
Apparently in a graceful attempt to stop himself from sliding into the hole, he’d grabbed at his shovel, the handle of which had unfortunately swung round and hit him squarely between the eyes.
Much relieved that it was only his ego which was seriously hurt, we helped him to his feet and started to look around the cave. It was a good fifty feet tall in places and at least half that again wide. As we lit more torches and were able to see further into the darkness, we began to realise just how much rock and earth was blocking the entrance. We could’ve spent weeks trying to dig our way in, even with the proper equipment, and still not managed it. The rock fall blocking the entrance was colossal.
Realising how lucky we’d been, we turned back to the cave, which was fairly clear of debris, but at the same time was quite plain. The floor seemed to have a slight incline, down which a small stream of water flowed in a purpose-built channel, before swelling to form a sizeable pool behind the natural damn of the rock fall. On closer inspection, both the dome of the chamber and the walls had obviously been worked, to give them a smooth and regular finish, whilst the floor seemed to have not only been smoothed, but also laid with expertly carved paving seamlessly incorporated into the bedrock of the walls.
Checking that Harry was fit to walk, we moved up the incline toward a rectangular tunnel, which we could just make out at the back.
‘This is amazing workmanship, for an ancient structure,’ commented Harry, still holding Jean’s damp handkerchief to his brow. ‘I don’t know of another pre-medieval structure outside of Egypt that displays such geometric regularity.’
The stream was partially paved-over in the tunnel, creating an almost stepping stone like effect, with glimpses of water between each step. But as the tunnel broadened out into a second cave, the channel once more became exposed, leading initially to a curious nine-sided pool in the middle of the room, lined in plain white stone. This pool was in turn fed by an identical channel on its opposite side, coming into the room through another tunnel.
We must’ve been the first people to see these chambers in who knew how many hundreds or even thousands of years, yet the place seemed pristine. This second cave was slightly larger than the first, but seemed to show the same signs of human craftsmanship on the floor and ceiling. But as we moved further into the room and spread out around the central pool, our torches illuminated the walls, which were not only shaped and smoothed, but also carved into exquisite reliefs of figures, scenes and even writing. More striking still were the colours and ornamentation of these relief’s, rich ochre’s, reds and yellows intermixed with the brightest cobalt blue, black, and in places even gold leaf, as well as what may have been either precious stones or coloured glass.
‘That cannot be,’ said Harry walking over to the nearest wall, his aching head and handkerchief forgotten, ‘This is… Cuneiform lettering, in southern Africa. It can’t be, it just isn’t possible.’
‘Perhaps it was some remote colony or settlement, of which the archaeological world has yet to learn,’ suggested Jean helpfully.
‘No, no, you don’t understand, Jean, this isn’t just slightly out of place, this is wholly out of place.’ responded Harry, never removing his eyes from the walls of the cave, ‘To find… Egyptian remains in such a place would rock the foundation of our understanding. Norse or even Dynastic Chinese, would all be outrageous, but all would somehow be more expected than this. This… not that I’m an expert, but… and the detail, such carving. It cannot be.’
I could see Harry was completely overwhelmed, his gaze and out-stretched hands throwing fantastic shadows in the flickering torchlight as they moved back and forth across the wall as though not knowing where to start.
We’d all been so distracted by the discovery of the wall and Harry’s response that I’d forgotten to keep track of how Marlow was reacting. I turned now to see if I could discern anything in his expression or manner which might give some insight into his thoughts, but he was no longer there.
‘Where’s Rob?’ I found myself asking before I realised.
This returned everyone to the present, even Harry turned away from the carvings to look around.
‘I’m sure he was standing right beside me,’ said Peter.
Jean dashed back through into the first cave to see if he was still in there, but returned a moment later without finding him.
Realising he must have gone on, we tore ourselves away, and followed the stream into the next passage. Though identical in construction, this tunnel seemed much longer than the first, but eventually it opened out into a third chamber. This was also highly ornamented, the walls carved again into exquisite relief, and another central pool. But now with three tunnels leading off, further into the earth, each guarded as it were by a pair of intricately carved black obelisks the height of a man and covered from tip to base in more cuneiform.
He could have gone down any of these tunnels, but there was only one which carried the channel and stream, and almost without hesitation we crossed the room and followed its stepping stone path, and calling out Marlow’s name. Again, this tunnel seemed long, but as we neared its end, we could at last see the glow of Marlow’s torch.
As the tunnel opened out, we stepped into a much larger cavern of warm shimmering light reflected from the surface of a large, clear and apparently completely natural pool, which sat in the middle of the cave. This cave was quite different to the earlier chambers we’d seen, and aside from the floor, which was still made up of that seamless paving, the dome and walls appeared to be simple un-worked rock.
With relief I saw that Marlow was stood on the far side of the pool by an elegantly carved stone altar-block, which seemed to be the focal point of a ring of more black obelisks surrounding the pool. He looked up as we entered, and as though oblivious to our search, simply gestured us over to him.
As we made our way around the pool and the obelisks, the reflected light from the water gave the entire cavern an almost naturally lit air. We’d noticed sconces to hold oil lamps, or some other means of illumination as we’d progressed through the caves and passages, and now as he passed another beside the pool, Jean stopped and managed to wedge his torch into it, to free his hands. Following his lead, we each did the same at various other points around the cave.
‘It’s here, in this alter,’ continued Marlow, walking around the large carved piece of stone, ‘I’m sure of it. As soon as I set foot in this room I recognised it from my vision. And the map, I’m sure it lies here somewhere.’
‘Can we not break into it?’ enquired Peter, ‘Perhaps bring down one of the picks from outside.’
‘That may damage the map in some way,’ responded Marlow,’ while I know it’s in here, I have no idea what it could be made of or how fragile it may be. It could even comprise part of the fabric of the alter itself for all I know.’
‘I agree,’ said Harry, taking control of the situation,’ we need to find out how to open it, as it was intended to be opened. I suggest we start by washing it down. This is an ornate object and secret joins could easily be hidden amongst the multitude of detail, which might just be shown up by a little water.’
‘Might there not be some clue in the writings or carvings upon the walls in the other chambers?’ asked Jean.
‘Yes, that’s a good point,’ conceded Harry, ‘perhaps you and George could take a look while we start with the alter.’
It suddenly struck me, as I was retracing my steps with Jean, back through the earlier chambers, that this was all getting very real. We were moving beyond the possibility that this could be a simple co-incidence, or lucky find, and rapidly toward the confirmation of Marlow’s vision as a very tangible and objectively verified reality.
We’d gone back to the original ante-chamber which Harry had literally fallen into, and stopping briefly to let Mkize and the others know we were going to be some time, we started to search each room methodically.
As we were finishing in the second chamber having found no sign of altars or maps amongst the various carvings, I turned to Jean to voice my misgivings.
‘I also share your growing confusion in this matter George,’ he responded with a degree of resignation in his voice. ‘Robert is amongst my closest of friends, but I tell you openly and without hesitation, that I considered this vision and our journey to be no more than a fanciful dream, invented by an unconscious mind whilst under the influence of a powerful narcotic.
‘A narcotic which we all took, though with differing results. But I look upon this ancient structure,’ he said, reaching out and touching one of the exquisitely carved relief figures, ‘And the boulders, which have blocked its entrance for centuries, and I cannot explain how this could enter into a man’s dreams through the medium of a drug.
‘As a modern man, I cannot accept there is a mystical influence at work here, but as a philosopher and lover of wisdom, I can no longer deny the possibility that this is exactly what is going on.’
‘But surely you cannot think that block of stone could hold the secret of eternal life, or even a map that would lead us to it?’ I asked, almost desperate.
‘No George I do not.’ responded Jean, ‘To me the idea of such a thing is both terrible and wonderful at the same time. A ridiculous fantasy for children or perhaps a myth for simpler times. For such a thing to be a reality would change our world too much.’
We continued to search through the rest of the chambers, including the ones we’d not previously visited. They turned out to be quite extensive, with some suggesting they may have been used for accommodation as well as ceremonial purposes. But there was nothing anywhere to indicate how to open the altar.
We returned to find that Harry, Peter and Marlow had had similar luck with the altar itself.
‘The only possibility I can think of is that some part of this can be lifted off by brute force.’ suggested Harry, obviously defeated.
With no better ideas, we gathered round and agreed to focus our efforts on the uppermost rim just a few inches below the top of the altar. There was ample space for us all to get a good grip, and we could even have got a couple of the guides to help us, but decided to give it a go by ourselves to begin with.
We took the strain and all tried to lift. There was nothing at first, but a second later the top moved just a fraction before seeming to get jammed. A small gap had appeared at one end of the alter a few inches further down the rim on which we’d been focusing our efforts, and Peter just managed to get a pencil into the gap before we had to let go, and the top slid back down.
As we recovered our breath we had a look at the gap that had been exposed. If the pencil hadn’t been there then we still might never have found it, so well was the join crafted. It hadn’t been hidden by the detail at all, but right in the middle of one of the plain areas of stone running right around the altar.
We decided to focus our efforts on the opposite end of the altar top, in the hope of lifting it and then jamming something into gap, hopefully if we could gradually raise each end we’d eventually be able to remove the lid altogether.
It was still heavy going, and required the sacrifice of both Jean’s pen knife and Harry’s petrol lighter, but we managed to raise the lid high enough to be able to twist it round across the top of the alter and expose the space within.
It seemed the lid had been a solid piece of stone, which had been fitted snugly onto the base via the thick rim. Once this was out of the way it revealed a small interior cavity and a box wrapped in some now ragged cloth.
Peter and Marlow very gingerly removed this object laying it on the floor next to the altar. After a moment’s hesitation Marlow knelt down and carefully removed the cloth, which itself seemed to carry the faintest of colours and markings. Within was a simple hardwood box dark with age, about eighteen inches long by about six inches square. The lid seemed to be carved into a relief similar to some of those we’d seen on the walls of the other chambers.
It was sealed with some form of gum or resin, but after carefully breaking this seal with Jean’s now dented pen-knife, Marlow slowly lifted the top of the box to expose the contents. Inside was a large scroll rolled around two delicately carved ebony rods. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I caught the scent of sandalwood or some other light scent as the box was opened.
‘It seems fairly robust,’ said Marlow, carefully removing the scroll, standing and then slowly unrolling it on top of the cross-wise lid of the altar.
Miraculously the parchment of the scroll was still flexible enough to be unrolled without cracking. And as it was unrolled the contents were revealed, but it wasn’t a map. The scroll just contained more writing.
‘I thought it was supposed to be a map,’ commented Peter echoing the confusion of the rest of us.
‘It was’, responded Marlow, a thoroughly confused expression upon his face. ‘I was sure this was it. Even the scroll and box seem familiar to me now.’
‘Do not despair my friends,’ interjected Harry, ‘You may in fact be looking at a map without realising. I know it seems strange, but to the peoples of the ancient world the idea of cartography as we know it today was almost unknown. More useful to them was a description of the landmarks, distances and directions. Often passed by oral tradition, but occasionally, carved, or as we may have here, penned.’
‘But how can we find out what this says if none of us read this language, and there is no map to guide us.’
‘This is certainly beyond my level of skill,’ answered Harry, ‘we would need to get this translated by a scholar far more familiar with the language than myself. Cairo is possibly the closest, but I have a friend who works within the Armenian library of Jerusalem, who may not only be able to help us with the translation, but who could also be relied upon to be discrete.’
The air inside the cavern was beginning to get a little smoky from the torches, so we decided to retire back to the surface to discuss the matter further.
The afternoon sun and heat was in stark contrast to the cool and shade of the underground temple, and following our return to the surface, we decided to withdraw back to our main camp in order to more comfortably discuss what we’d discovered and weigh our options.
Jean started us off.
‘This is an interesting situation my friends, one which, I hope you will forgive me for saying Robert, I did not think we were likely to find ourselves in, and which I am not sure I yet fully comprehend.’
Everyone seemed in agreement, and even Marlow managed a wry smile before Jean continued.
‘We have followed your vision Robert, given to you it would seem by that strange potion brewed beneath the Singing Stones, and that has lead us unerringly here, to this temple. Which, if I understand Harrison correctly is a significant archaeological find. Not only that, but we have now also discovered this scroll, which again, if I understand correctly, may lead us to yet more remarkable things.
‘Now I know I cannot be the only one who finds this … Incredible.’
‘No Jean, you’re not the only one,’ responded Marlow in a sympathetic tone, but with an increasing passion in his voice, ‘this is a remarkable thing for anyone to accept, including myself. There have been times on this journey when I have thought this to be all pure madness, and by choosing to pursue it we have become mad men. But this temple with its ruined doorway, that tranquil pool and the scroll we’ve now retrieved. These things are not just our imaginings, they are real and whether they fit in with the way we see the world, or belong to something we can’t yet explain, we should take them seriously, without hesitation or doubt.
‘The only question for me,’ continued Marlow with a tone of determination I hadn’t heard in his voice before, ‘is where I go next.’
‘I’m with you Rob,’ responded Harry without delay, ‘I don’t yet know where this ride is taking us, I don’t even know whether I’ll like where we end up, and I certainly don’t know how these things can have come about. But I know this place is real, and that for me confirms there’s at least an element of value in what we’re doing.’
‘But are we sure we really wish to achieve this goal?’ Retorted Jean. ‘If this should by some miracle lead to… such a discovery. . . to unending life! My friends such a thing could change and damage our society in ways which I can barely imagine.
‘To suddenly increase a lifetime beyond measure, it could have psychological repercussions upon even the strongest mind. Perhaps undermine a person’s faith, damage their relationships with loved ones and friends… How could a marriage survive if just one member chose to become young again? How would you or I feel at the sight of our parents or even grandparents made younger than ourselves?’
‘They’re all good points Jean,’ responded Peter with an unexpected enthusiasm. ‘But take a look at it from another angle. Surely a longer life would fit right in with those exalted socialist ideals of yours? With just a few more years might not a person overcome even the most humble birth, to acquire the education and opportunities of their more fortunate peers. What would it take… another fifty years, perhaps a hundred? Before your long awaited peaceful revolution delivered itself.’
‘Perhaps so,’ conceded Jean, thoughtfully, ‘and yet . . . with immortality a man could become many things, not all of them so good.’
It was dusk by the time we finally finished debating the pro’s and con’s of our situation, and what we should do next. Harry was eager to share the temple discoveries we’d made with the world’s academic community, but also begrudgingly accepted that to reveal such a find might well jeopardise our chances of pursuing the thing further. As such, after much disagreement and compromise we all eventually agreed to document the site as best we could, before concealing it pending our own further investigations.
Copies of our collective notes along with directions to the site would be sent for secure storage with family or friends in our respective homelands, in order to avoid the possibility of the site ever being lost again. We would then journey to Jerusalem to discover what the scroll and wall writings could reveal.
Despite the debate and disagreement though, it was still an amicable decision once made, and then it became just a question of breaking the work down into its necessary actions for the following few days labour. Documenting our findings was going to be the single biggest task, and for that we were going to rely heavily upon Harry to identify the areas where we should focus. Jean would then attempt to capture as much detail as possible of the relief carvings and inscriptions in a number of sketches and rubbings. Peter and myself would simultaneously attempt to survey and map the layout of the temple, its dimensions and alignment, the chambers we’d discovered within it, as well as to describe as best we could its construction materials and the location of the different elements being documented in more detail. The idea being that we’d be able to figure out where each illustration, script or feature was located within the complex, even after we’d left the site.
Marlow had decided to focus entirely upon the final chamber. He was convinced he’d missed something or not understood his vision correctly, as such he was going to attempt to document the layout and detail of the cavern, its obelisks and perhaps most importantly the altar. We’d also asked Mkize and the other men to work on a couple of makeshift ladders for the entrance and a cover that we could place over the hole before filling the earth back in, once we were ready to leave.
It was interesting work once we got into it, and there were several details within the chambers we only really began to pick up on once we started to examine them in a more systematic way. In fact, it was only the gradual build-up of smoke from our torches that made us break off from the work once we’d started. But even with our dedication the level of detail was just too great for us to be able to capture all of it.
Perhaps if we’d had better lights to work by or to take better photographs it would’ve been different. But without them, having to record everything by hand, it became a frustrating experience, especially for Harry.
We ploughed on with the work over the course of the next week until eventually,
Harry gave his reluctant approval that we’d captured enough evidence to prove beyond doubt that we hadn’t made the place up, or exaggerated its significance.
He still made us leave a message inside indicating when and by whom the temple had been rediscovered, just in case.
Peter was born and grew up in North Staffordshire, England, but now lives a bit further north in West Yorkshire, where by day he passes himself off as a mild mannered office worker, while by night he explores whole worlds of imagination as an intrepid writer.
When not tapping away at my keyboard he spends his time gardening, walking, rock climbing, snowboarding and cooking.
As for his writing, his time is currently divided between three projects:
– The Flames of Time series – which is a three volume vintage styled action adventure story set in the 1930s. Featuring hidden temples, lost secrets and mysterious religious orders set against the backdrop of West Africa, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Istanbul and India – the second book of which is out in mid 2017.
– The Glass Darkly series – Vintage styled science fiction set a multi-verse plagued by creatures form another dimension, where the characters from a world like our own, but not quite our own, explore the strange dimension between worlds in order to try and save their own world from a mysterious and potent invader. The first book published in serialised format in 2016, and will be reprinted in mid 2017 as single volume, followed be the second book in this series in late summer 2017.
– The Ghosts of Winter – the first of a series of 30,000+ word novellas, again written in a vintage style (more H.P. Lovecraft or Algernon Blackwood than Stephen King). Written primarily for enjoyment between his novel writing efforts, and shortly to be given away as freebies – the first two being published in time for Christmas 2017.
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