I drew my inspiration from those giant stone Buddhas carved into the sides of mountains, asking, “What if there was something behind them?” The extra lines outside of certain walls were supposed to signify how deep you were in the dungeon, but it comes off as a little messy. Ever learning. In any case, this is Naawnlap Mountain Sanctuary.
History of the Sanctuary
Adventurers exploring the Seu’ua might chance to look up at the right time and discover five, ominous statues watching over the rain forest from an obscured cave mouth. At the top of that peak, the travelers would spot the remaining spires of Naawnlap Mountain Sanctuary, decorated with the face of the Philosopher-Teacher, peeking out over the treetops.
There used to be several pockets of civilization scattered throughout the Seu’ua. These villages traded with each other, on occasion, and even shared a common language. They were also home to the oblates of a secret belief system known as the Eight Rainbow Truths. The oblates were unaware of each other—the Truths were communicated to them through dreams, sent by the Philosopher-Teacher.
As local legend has it, one day the oblates were all compelled to leave their homes with nary a farewell to their friends and family, and climb the four thousand steps to the top of a specific peak. It was a day of discovery. First, they saw each other, face to face, for the first time. Old enemies became friends. Old lovers became family. Second, they found the sanctuary already built, as if it was waiting for them.
The Eight Rainbow Truths
The Truths are believed to be a path to immortality and wisdom. Its original creator—the Philosopher-Teacher—is thought to have been a priest of another, larger order who broke away from the main church. Their true identity has been lost to time. The statues and carvings of the Philosopher-Teacher that still stand in the sanctuary have nondescript faces. They could have been anybody, if they existed at all.
Some scholars believe the Philosopher-Teacher only existed in the dreams of those who lived in that valley. The cynics take this idea further, and say the Philosopher-Teacher was only heard by those with weak and easily influenced wills.
The Truths were comprised of eight teachings. Due to the repeated intrusion of raiders, the writings of the oblates have been scattered and almost all of the Rainbow Truths were lost. For reasons that will become obvious, only a single Truth survived the lumbering crawl of time: “We do not end at death.”
Accessing the Sanctuary
It is a taxing climb to the top of the peak. Once there, one can look out over the entire valley. Much of the original above-ground sanctuary has fallen. Only a few of the spires and a collection of crumbling walls still stand. The eagle-eyed will find the entrance to the underground complex.
There is evidence that there used to be stairs leading down, but only a sheer drop remains today. The first thing a visitor will notice is how the sanctuary is covered, floor to ceiling, with intricate carvings and symbols.
The first room (A) has branching paths, but only one of them leads further into the complex. The others eventually lead to dead ends. Some raiders have left log traps for those who choose the wrong path.
Little natural light makes it far into the complex. There are still ancient candles sitting on the rocky path leading down into the lower level. It is on the natural staircase that a visitor will first hear the faint, rhythmic rumble that permeates the complex.
The path splits into two at the bottom. Taking the one leading to the south leads to a dead end, where there is a room full of devices made of rusted bronze and torn paper. Many of these contraptions have wheels, but they don’t seem to have any practical usage. Scholars believe they might have been meditation tools.
The Life of an Oblate
Taking the northern path will lead to the first of many stone doors depicting the journey of the Philosopher-Teacher. At least, that is what they are thought to be of. If it is a story, the story is disjointed and presented in fragments at a time. The representations of kin and beast are all wrong, out of proportion, missing things like eyes or mouths.
The main room looks to be a place of gathering. There are worn indentations in the stone that suggest the oblates kneeled in the same spot for years. There are rows and rows of these dents, and the ones in the north are deeper than the ones approaching the southern door.
To the west, a man-made hallway leads to rooms that are thought to be living spaces for the oblates. Rotted cots can still be found in the rooms, and they imply that dozens would stay in the same room. If a team of scholars are here, delving into the sanctuary for secrets (and there usually are), they will most likely have made camp here.
The consistent rumble is loudest here, and the appearance of cots suggest the sound’s similarity to snoring. This section of the complex opens out into the face of the mountain (D), but the way is obscured by foliage.
Deeper into the Mountain
Continuing east will lead to another rocky stairway. It is difficult to tell whether the paths in the sanctuary were formed naturally or were made by the oblates.
The same can be said of the nooks in the wall that line the way down. Some believe there used to be statues here, but who they detected and where they went is anybody’s guess.
The deep rumbling is louder on this level, where it seems to come straight out of the walls here. There is no mistaking the sound is breathing. But whose lungs is the damp air for?
The statues the adventurers saw can be found here (B). They either depict the Philosopher-Teacher at various stages in life, or they imply that there was more than one of them. Their postures and heights are radically different. It may look to some as if the statues were fighting with each other.
There is a small, empty room to the south blocked off by another heavy door. There is nothing in there to suggest what it was used for, and it is the only part of the complex that isn’t covered in symbols.
The Halls of Death
The labyrinthine halls on the lowest level twist and turn into each other for miles at a time. It is no small feat to get lost, and not be able to find your way back, as evidenced by the more recent skeletons that litter the floor here. There are paths that go straight down below the mountain, paths that shrink down to the size of a gold coin, and some paths that open out into the mountain face (as in C). There are even misleading staircases that go nowhere at all.
The walls of these halls are etched with primitive versions of today’s languages. There are several different ones, some with different dialects and some with archaic characters, but they all say the same sentence, over and over: “We do not end at death.”
If an explorer were to find the “correct path,” they would find the origin of that breathing sound. Countless bodies sit against the walls of the deepest halls. Their bodies are desiccated and gray, but they are breathing, the lot of them inhaling and exhaling at once. A few of the bodies have swords and other weapons sticking out of them, the result of other “lucky” explorers trying to give these creatures their final rest.
As the visitor ventures deeper into the Halls of Death, they will find thousands more of these preserved, breathing oblates. It becomes obvious to the visitor why there are no more villages left in the Seu’ua. Eventually, they all heard the call of the Philosopher-Teacher, and they came to follow the Eight Rainbow Truths.