mystery map - Ayaan Chettiar - Stories

The Adventurers : The Mystery Map

A few weeks ago, The Adventurers: the world’s greatest explorer duo, consisting of Adventurous Ayaan and Adventurous Aayra, had finally solved the mystery of Mighty Manor, an ancient, dilapidated manor previously thought to be haunted.

In this particular mystery, the Adventurers had also tracked down its previous owner to being none other than legendary explorer James Birdy himself. But other than the huge mound of gold coins and treasure they had acquired, Birdy had supposedly hidden other relics as well.

Adventurous Aayra had been leaning outwards towards the dusty bookshelves to remove a book of her liking, when the structure gave a colossal groan, and a small doorway emerged from the spot the book had laid on mere moments before. Aayra had inserted a cautious hand inside the space and retrieved a stack of Birdy’s old journals from expeditions.

Whenever the Adventurers felt bored, Adventurous Ayaan would always grasp these journals from his own bookshelf, and the duo would spend hours reading about venomous vipers in dense swamps, not to mention furious scorpions in scorching deserts.

But the discovery of the journal had provoked Ayaan and Aayra into looking for more hidden goods in the manor, and they had quickly stumbled upon another such space near the cellar door.

“Wonderful.” said Ayaan, with a wide smile. “James Birdy truly was brilliant, wasn’t he, Aayra?”

Aayra had voiced her agreement with another grin in return, but when Ayaan brought back his hand, it was clutching a slim parchment, torn at some points. Clueless as to what it could be, Ayaan and Aayra decided to take it home and study it.

But as soon as they reached the decorated villa in the center of New York City, the Adventurers hit a snag. The parchment was completely blank, other than a minute skull sign on the top right corner.

“I feel as if we’re missing something.” said Aayra, and Ayaan too nodded. They moved towards a safe. He entered a six-digit passcode, and then pulled out a small vial with bluish liquid bubbling inside it, frothing furiously.

This particular vial had been found inside one of the journals, but its study had reaped no rewards. Now, though, something in Ayaan’s head seemed to nudge him towards pouring it on the parchment, as he took a step forwards.

“If this doesn’t work, the parchment will be ruined.” said Aayra, and Ayaan hesitated. After a moment of thought, he concluded that the parchment wasn’t much use to them either way, and slowly pulled off the corker.

The fragrance of the liquid was similar to fuel, as Ayaan poured it gently onto the parchment, as Aayra held her breath. After a few drops, letters began to emerge, as the duo’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Pour a bit more, Ayaan.” said Aayra, as Ayaan continued the routine.

Now, the parchment had started to bubble up and froth rigorously, as a fire-like substance made deep marks on the paper. Ayaan took this as a sign that it was enough, and stopped pouring. In a few seconds, fiery words swarmed across the parchment, along with lines that moved diagonally across.

The language was difficult to decipher, but Aayra had mastered in linguistics, and was well within her comfort zone. Within minutes, she had translated the words into simple English on another sheet.

Ayaan read out the message, “Explorers, beware! The Mystery Map of the Skull Sign leads you on a dangerous quest across the Seven Seas. In your time of need, the Skull Warrior will aid you. Good luck, and happy hunting!”

The Adventurers looked at one another and smiled. The lines on the Mystery Map denoted the treasure to be located somewhere in the San Diego Forest. Aayra recalled the forest to be the one Birdy had endured from his journals. She quickly stuffed the diaries inside the suitcase.

Once the duo had successfully filled up their travel bag with supplies, they made the final checks and decided to carry with them a duo of famous swords from Charles Darwin’s ‘Treasure Temple.’ Ayaan considered this a precaution in case they encountered obstacles on the quest.

Since the San Diego Forest was at a distance from New York City, the Adventurers decided to pay homage to their oldest form of transportation: Santa’s magical sleigh. They decided to leave for the forest the next morning itself, and went to sleep early that night.

The next morning, the Adventurers had a quick breakfast before beginning their quest. After leaving a telegram stating that they would be out of town for a few days, the duo brought out the sleigh from the backyard. It had been months since they had last used it, but its time had now arrived.

Once the supplies were stuffed into the undercarriage, and the reindeer fed with their trademark carrot breakfast, Ayaan and Aayra got inside the sleigh, as it kicked off from the ground and into the air. With a cheery smile on their face, they watched New York City disappearing from view before darting through the clouds.

The journey to San Diego Forest took the full morning to complete, but once they had landed, things were fairly straightforward. People wishing to take a look around the wilderness had to pay an entry fee and buy tickets. They were strongly advised to stick to the early stages, take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their supply, and keep on the path at all times.

Ayaan and Aayra fed the grateful reindeer more carrots, before moving towards the ticket counter. The lady dishing out tickets recognized the Adventurers from their past expeditions and triumphs, and smiled.

“You must be the Adventurers.” she said. “I suppose you’ll be off to explore the wilderness, but keep safe, please. Free of charge for you two.”

But the duo still insisted upon paying the fee, before moving through the gates leading through the forest. Thickets of trees concealed the sky from view, while flocks of people marveled at the beautiful scenery and the birds.

Within a few minutes, though, Ayaan and Aayra had reached a point to which others usually did not come. Aayra, seduced by the tranquility, slid under a tree, and pulled out Birdy’s journal to study. A squirrel leapt out of a nearby thorn bush and scurried across, as Ayaan too sat down.

“Birdy’s Adventure in the Amazon Basin… Birdy’s Bravery in the Bermuda… Here it is, Birdy’s Fierceness in the San Diego Forest.”

The introduction to that particular series of entries was surrounded by a picture of James Birdy, looking not a day older than forty, armed with a huge backpack in the heart of the forest. In his hand was a dagger, while his other fist was clasped around a flashlight. Twilight had settled in, and some creatures could be seen in the background.

“James Birdy led a solo expedition in the San Diego Forest to study the creatures inside it. He received laurels for his groundbreaking discovery of then-unknown species, and was awarded a much deserved medal for his bravery. In the words of the legend himself, ‘I don’t do it for treasure or fame. I do it for the thrill of the expedition, the mojo.’ This statement speaks wonders of the great man…”

Below that, under a note signed April 17, the first journal entry. “Not many people really come near these parts, and the road I quickly left behind. There’s, er…, lots of birds with beautifully colored plumage, toucans and other exotic creatures, and I’ve of course taken a lot of photos. Hit a snag with a viper, but it had better things to do, so all I sustained was a small dent on me finger. And… I’m seeing things that can’t be described in words, things beyond our wildest dreams.”

Enclosed were many photographs of the initial stage of Birdy’s expedition, which showed what he described, and more. For almost an hour, Ayaan and Aayra continued to read through these fascinating entries, enthralled to the fullest.

“This journal is something of a clue.” said Ayaan, at last. “Birdy’s expedition led towards the heart of the forest, where the treasure must be hidden. Let’s move, Aayra.”

But Aayra had been momentarily distracted by a few shadowy figures lurking about beyond the bushes. After a few moments, the figures had dissipated, as she quickly turned about. Her eyes were simply playing tricks on her. A quarter of an hour later, the duo picked up their supplies and moved further through the forest.

They came across fairly little resistance until they reached a part of the forest described most interestingly by Birdy. Aayra once more pulled out the journey, and re-read that particular entry, “The beauty of the forest is supreme and impeccable, but San Diego has more mysteries than the naked eye can view. Er… lot of thickets, lots of these thorn bushes, and some caves so small little squirrels can be seen scurrying within, hands full of acorns for the winter. Nature, above all, is the greatest treasure.”

She then read out a phrase in another language, which she had deduced to be Latin. The words pointed toward the treasure being hidden in some concealed cave. Aayra quickly got down to her knees, and began to push aside vines to see if they revealed caves.

Ayaan removed the sword and cut through a thicket of thorny vines, revealing another section of that area. This one had vines growing in all directions. Hooting owls could be heard above the din, as Ayaan cut through more vines.

“Aayra, come here and fast!” shouted Ayaan, as Aayra hurried to his side. The vines had fallen to reveal a cave-like structure, big enough for a hand to go inside. Aayra quickly put her own hand within it, and removed yet another parchment.

“The Mystery Map had two parts, Aayra!” shouted Ayaan, as realization dawned on him. “Quick, give me the vial!”

Aayra handed him the magical vial, as Ayaan once more poured the bubbling bluish liquid onto the parchment. Within a few seconds, words began to appear onto the page, as the duo smiled.

“Explorers, congratulations! The Mystery Map of the Skull Sign has two parts, and you have successfully completed the first part of the quest. But the second half still remains. Good luck, and happy hunting!”

In a manner reminiscent of the first part of the Mystery Map, the lines etched upon the parchment denoted their next location. This particular map pointed towards a shipping port in Boston.

“That’s where James Birdy held his ship, The USS Birdy. I think that could be a clue, Ayaan.” said Aayra, as Ayaan thought deeply. Perhaps the ship had something to do with the treasure, just as the caves in the forest were the hiding-place for the second map.

“It’s getting quite dark, and I don’t want to still be this deep in the forest when night sets in.” said Ayaan, as Aayra nodded. They had to get out of the forest, or else battle the creatures of the night.

Picking up their supplies from beneath the tree trunk, Ayaan and Aayra raced off through the wilderness, and back towards the entrance.

Once they had returned to the path, the duo breathed a sigh of relief. At the entrance, the lady at the ticket counter flashed them a smile, and said, “I hope you found what you were looking for, Adventurers.”

“We did.” said Ayaan, smiling back, and in a few more minutes, they were back on the sleigh and into the skies.

The next morning, the Adventurers were roused awake from their slumber by the reindeer, who were braying for their breakfast. Drowsily, Ayaan reached into the backpack and removed a bunch of carrots to feed them. Aayra yawned as well, before getting off.

The Port of Boston was a busy place indeed, especially now in the early morning. Ayaan and Aayra fed the reindeer a few more carrots, before picking up their supplies and moving inside.

Once inside the port’s huge gates, they asked one of the security guards about the whereabouts of old boats held at the port. The security guard pointed towards the left section of the Boston Port.

The Adventurers nodded, and after muttering a quick thank-you to the security guard, skipped across to the door of the holding area. In this particular area, lots of huge boat parts were being repaired and added, and they could hear the whistles of ships approaching from sea.

“Which boat do you wish to view again?” questioned the lady at the counter of the old boat retrieval area. Ayaan told her about wanting to retrieve the USS Birdy. The lady shook her head sadly and said, “I’m afraid that boat is the property of Mr. James Birdy, and is forbidden to anybody except him.”

“He would have wanted us to see it.” said Ayaan. “We’re the Adventurers from New York City.”

The lady’s eyes widened in recognition and admiration, and she nodded her head and mumbled something like, “One explorer to another, it all fits.” After asking them to note down their names and a few other details, she showed them inside the area.

“You might not be able to take it out for a spin though.” she added. “The USS Birdy requires a special kind of engine fuel to work, and I’m afraid nobody but James Birdy himself knows its identity. Without the special fuel, you won’t be able to use it.”

But this did not deter the duo for even a second, because they felt they knew the identity of this special fuel. The lady quickly pointed towards the ancient cruise ship at the other end of the area, before resuming her post.

Just then, Aayra’s eyes fell upon a person gazing at another boat, and she felt it to be familiar. But the person quickly vanished, and Aayra shrugged it off as a mere trick of the light.

Ayaan was meanwhile inspecting the USS Birdy, marveling at its fantastic architecture. The ship was tied to the area by strong ropes, but without the fuel, it would do nothing but bob up and down restlessly in the water, even without the strong ropes. Ayaan jumped onto the deck of the ship and moved towards the engine room.

Once in the engine room, his eyes fell upon a cauldron-like structure that looked as if hadn’t been filled in over a decade. He beckoned for Aayra to come closer, as she handed him the vial. Slowly, Ayaan tipped the contents of the vial into the cauldron, as the liquid churned around. It passed through many pipes, and a series of clanking noises could be heard. Then, with a mighty groan, the engine of The USS Birdy roared to life.

“Welcome, explorers!” came the automated voice of the ship. “To locate the treasure, move towards the area denoted by the map.” A map popped up onto the screen, as Ayaan studied it. Just then, the noise of footsteps on the deck was heard, as the duo raced upwards. Much to their surprise, there was nobody there.

“I really need to stop imagining things.” muttered Aayra to herself. “But this is also rather peculiar business, to be honest.”

Ayaan loosened the strong ropes pulling the ship to the port, as they came off. Then, he slid down to the steering room, and moved the ship speed to top gear. The USS Birdy, now in action, began to race through the waters.

Occasionally, Aayra heard queer noises from within the ship, but leaving that aside, their voyage to the location of the treasure was fairly smooth. The map continued to point them in the right direction, but storm clouds had begun to form over the horizon.

As night set in, lightning flashed across the skies, as thunder boomed. Aayra herself took cover in the lower sections of the ship, but Ayaan expertly avoided the worst of it and navigating through the storm. Before long, they could feast their eyes upon the location of the treasure.

For a random crew to simply stumble upon the treasure grounds was highly unlikely, considering how far the place was from the mainland. The treasure area was an island-like structure, with dark, jagged rocks guarding travelers from approaching further. Ayaan stopped the ship, and went up to the deck to get a better look.

Rays of sunshine were falling directly on the ship, as a flock of pelicans passed from above. Ayaan removed a pair of binoculars from within his coat pocket, before peering inside to scan the island.

“Does Birdy’s journal say anything about mysterious islands guarded by jagged rocks, Aayra?” questioned Ayaan, but Aayra wistfully shook her head and replied, “It doesn’t. I was up all night checking. Birdy’s recorded tons of expeditions on the ship, but not even one of them mentions an island similar to this one.”

“Then we’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way.” said Ayaan, stuffing the binoculars back. “Let’s go in there and get a closer look.”

They took a bare minimum of the supplies, choosing to leave most of them on the ship itself. Among these were a flashlight, a camera, the swords, Birdy’s journals, the vial, the map, and the binoculars. Now armed with top-rate resources, Ayaan and Aayra carefully swum through the shallow shores, avoiding most of the jagged peaks.

Once on the island, Ayaan realized it had many similarities to a previous one they had scaled. That particular island had proved to be tampered with magic, and he knew Aayra was also running through the same lines.

“However unlikely as it is, there was still a tiny chance that a random person stumbles onto the island. James Birdy must have prepared fortifications to prevent others from getting the treasure.” said Aayra.

Ayaan’s eyes had fallen upon a dense cave near them, and he walked towards it. Caves had an unusual significance with the treasure, as had been proved by the quest before then. Birdy must have been intrigued by doorways and openings in his time. His eyes narrowed, Ayaan decided to pay heed to his instincts.

“Something tells me the treasure of the Mystery Map is at the end of this cave.” said Ayaan, as Aayra nodded and followed suit.

The longer they walked inside, the less light shone and lit their way, as Ayaan turned the flashlight on. The light flickered, then rested firmly, as Aayra’s eyes widened in surprise. The roof of the cave was covered in crystals from top-to-bottom. Aayra took a few pictures of the crystals from her camera, awestruck and at a loss for words.

“A Crystal Cave.” said Ayaan. “These are very rare. In fact, I don’t think there’s more than one or two in the whole, wide, world.”

Aayra continued to take photos of what they were witnessing, until they reached the supposed end of the cave, which opened up into a circular chamber. Not daring to breathe, the Adventurers walked into the heart of the Crystal Cave.

The chamber’s walls were damp and moist, and in the very center of the chamber lay a lake. Suspended on a small podium-like structure in the center was a magnificent treasure chest.

Aayra took a step forwards, but Ayaan held her back. Something told him that this wasn’t right. It couldn’t be that easy after all. He picked up a rock at the edge of the lake, and flung it inside. As soon as it touched the surface of the liquid, the water turned a fiery yellow magma.

Aayra nearly collapsed in shock and surprise. James Birdy’s final fortification was placing the chest in the heart of a magma-filled lake, and there was no clear way for them to wade through and retrieve it. At the same time, Ayaan was sure magic forbid them from using unfair means (a boat or something) to get the chest.

A small goblet lay at the edge of the lake, empty with not the slightest liquid within it. Slowly, Ayaan removed the vial from his coat-pocket. Mere drops remained. Then, he silently poured the final bits of the bluish liquid into the goblet.

Immediately, the goblet churned and frothed, as the color of the liquid turned an ink-like dark. Ayaan seized the goblet and threw the contents into the lake. Immediately, the lake exploded, as the liquids blew outwards like fire in a flambé, then slammed back into the water, once and for all.

“Is it safe to pass now?” questioned Aayra, and Ayaan flung yet another rock into the lake. Nothing happened, except the rock sank. He nodded his head, before touching the tip of his shoe on the water. Nothing happened again. Confident that it was safe, Adventurous Ayaan waded through the shallow water and grabbed hold of the treasure chest.

Pulling the treasure chest back to shore, he opened it to reveal mounds of gold and treasure. The Treasure of the Mystery Map of the Skull Sign had been retrieved. The adventure had been successful.

At that very moment, where nothing could go wrong, the whole chamber gave a mighty lurch, as the ceiling caved in. Stalagmites and stalactites alike slammed into the lake, as Aayra tripped on a rock and fell hard on her ankle. Ayaan helped her up to her feet, as the chamber began to fall apart.

“Hurry! It’s a cave-in! We need to get out of here!” shouted Ayaan, but at that very moment, parts of the cave fell inside and trapped their way out. Then, more rocks fell, as the whole thing gave away.

Aayra was almost crushed by a falling stone, as Ayaan looked around, searching desperately for a way to escape. He tried in vain to push the debris to a side, but it would take too long. Just then, a stone hit him on the side of his head, and he collapsed.

Aayra grabbed Ayaan and dragged him aside, as parts of the cave opened up. Aayra pushed her fellow explorers’ limp body out of the cave, then retrieved the treasure chest just as the last of the cave blew apart.

Now in the open, Aayra could finally breathe a sigh of relief, as she examined the damage. If only they had brought the medical kit with them to the island expedition. But she could simply go back to the ship and heal him there.

But Aayra was in for a nasty surprise, because on the ship were none other than Mack and Vik, the infamous Evil Explorers and the arch-enemies of the Adventurers. It all made sense now to Aayra. Mack and Vik had been the people she had been seeing all along. They had been greatly envious and jealous when Ayaan and Aayra had cracked the mystery of Mighty Manor, and this was their way of exacting revenge.

“We got you well and fine, Adventurers!” sneered Vik, in her usual vicious tone. “We care tuppance of Birdy’s treasure and whatnot. We’ve had enough of that crackpot after Mighty Manor. But I think we’ll leave you two to this island, for… let’s see, the rest of your lives!”

Vik boomed with laughter, as Aayra winced in pain. The ship’s defenses had been modified by Mack and Vik to blow the cave apart, and they must have hidden onboard when they were moving away from the port.

As Mack joined in the villainous laughter, though, Aayra’s watchful eyes caught sight of a figure rising from the waters. She rubbed her eyes in surprise, only to see the figure dart behind an area of the ship.

When the figure emerged again, Aayra had a much better view of his identity. The person, an enormously bulky fellow, had a skull-like mask on his face, thick fur robes, and a mighty staff in his right hand. With one swift moment, the staff caught both Mack and Vik and threw them overboard.

Mack and Vik screamed at the top of their voices, as they fell into the chilly water. The Skull Warrior simply gave a jerky nod to Aayra before vanishing again.

As for Aayra, she quickly pulled Ayaan and the treasure chest onto the ship. She could easily steer it away, but the question came to what they were to do about Mack and Vik. They certainly couldn’t leave them there, but they might do a mutiny if they were taken home. In the end, Aayra settled on leaving them a smaller speedboat to find their way back to the mainland.

One week later, Ayaan and Aayra were eagerly re-telling the tale of Birdy’s treasure to their friend Cookie, owner of Sweet Treats Bakery. Cookie was a wonderful listener, gasping at exactly the right points, and laughing smack at the funny ones.

The Adventurers had presented the treasure to the Mayor of New York City, who had promised to make an announcement about it live on television that very day. But Ayaan and Aayra’s minds were ruffled with another puzzling question, as to the identity of the Skull Warrior.

“Perhaps it was Dante?” questioned Ayaan. Daring Dante was a fellow explorer and a great friend of the Adventurers, who had helped them in many past adventures. “He hid in that skeleton costume to scare away Mack and Vik in Mighty Manor.”

“We’d told him about the mystery back then.” said Aayra, shaking her head. “Also, he’s on a vacation in South America, so I know for a fact he had no idea any of this was happening.”

With Dante off their list, the duo’s minds fell on “Milky” Antonio, the Antarctic wizard who they had befriended. “And he did aid us when we were in space, remember?” asked Ayaan.

Aayra thought for a few seconds and then said, “But the Skull Warrior was wearing a mask. Antonio never wears masks or hides his identity.”

That too seemed an unlikely precedent. But Ayaan had just had an incredible thought, as he lit up and said, “Aayra, do you think it was Santa in the mask? Maybe he knows when we’re on the sleigh, maybe he knows when we need help?”

Aayra too nodded, although she was still not completely convinced. Even as Ayaan spoke these words, he knew the chances were slim. Slowly, he dug into his pocket, and removed a glistening pendant.

“The Skull Warrior left this aboard the ship, Aayra.” said Ayaan. “But I’ve already searched it for any clues, and I’m afraid it’s a dead end.” But Aayra’s eyes shone, as she examined the pendant. She hurriedly opened the journal, and pointed to an image of the pendant.

“James Birdy’s expedition to locate ancient shipwrecks led him to a carrier transporting medieval treasures and relics.” she read. “Out of all the gold and diamonds salvaged during the operation, Birdy insisted upon carrying with him the above emerald pendant at all times, both as a souvenir and a motivation.”

The Adventurers looked at one another at a loss for words. Their pupils fell once more on the pendant, dazzling as ever. Then, moments later, when Ayaan finally mustered the strength to speak, he muttered, “The Skull Warrior?” Aayra smiled and answered in return with only one word. “Birdy.”

Ayaan Chettiar

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