Kirk forgot what peaceful weather looked like, the Storm had raged for so long. The sky swelled with clouds of darkness. The rain whipped about from east to west, blinding him from the road that was forged ahead. Streaks of lightning engulfed his path, offering light to see his map, but filled with enough madness to nullify his comfort. With all the natural chaos, he thought, the sooner he ended his journey, the better.
The map showed a canyon sunk into the road before him, introducing him to the possibility of floodwaters blocking the way. The road behind seemed like the safest place to which to retreat. The trees in that old place, however, were stripped by the elements—scattered branches lay in heaps along the road. Fortunately, he knew where each piece had fallen, so he was content to return to familiar territory, if only to escape the unknown ahead.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t betray the heart that had urged him to continue. The journey had been arduous, but turning back would have made his progress futile. He had to push forward.
He huddled over his soggy map, which dripped on the muddy pathway. There were so many crisscrossing lines covering the sheet that a casual glance might’ve confused a navigator. Fortunately, his chosen path, the only path to reach the mark denoting his destination, was defined boldly in red. Unfortunately, it drove right through the heart of the canyon and over the peak of the mountain summit, both which left him with a deep sense of dread and danger.
He scoured the chart for a way around the obstacles, perhaps one that didn’t even stay on the page. Lines traveled in spiraling motions, winding from one printed landmark to another, none of which presented him with a sound alternative.
With the map failing to show him what he wanted to see, he undoubtedly had to find an uncharted path on his own.
However, the last time he had searched for his own safest path, taking dead end after dead end, he had discovered the hard way that the map was resolute. After staring down the blinding road, looking into only a curtain of water, he figured he had to trust what others had outlined before him, as they were the pathfinders and he was their student. If they were wrong, then the map would’ve never gotten to him in the first place.
By his understanding, the road pushed forth in a northeasterly direction. It looked dangerous from this standpoint, with lightning striking the bordering forest in heavy doses—each bolt sending a new tree bursting into flames, which inevitably would cause a chain reaction that could engulf the entire region. Logic told him not to continue, but logic had no connection with his heart. Treasure awaited him; nothing—not lightning, floods nor mountains—would stop him. He hoped.
Additional paths branched off from the small muddy artery. Each was a wider, though barren road passing over denuded fields, each leading to places that appeared unhampered by the Storm. The paths were flat and easy, with safe spots for veering around deep puddles. Most of them lacked deadly debris, with not one flying branch or piece of bark whipping by. It was the most comfortable this journey would ever get, if he were to choose any of them as his road.
One seemingly inviting road even had a storm shelter erected along its shoulder. It would take a journey for him to get there, but the shelter looked as though it were made of decent wood, which would give him a break from the frightful weather. He also thought he saw the outline of a neon sign deep in the distance—perhaps a diner or a venue for entertainment. But he couldn’t tell for certain, for the place was a great distance away, and, according to his map, the road tangled in many, many directions along the way, and he couldn’t predict how long it would take him to arrive, regardless of which twist in the road he’d take.
Nevertheless, as the Storm wailed louder than ever, Kirk found the prospect of making the distant trip to the neon lights attractive. It would’ve delayed his journey—that much was clear—but he was tired of the leaves, the berries, and the pebbles pelting him, and he believed a reprieve from the pain was desirable.
As he stepped near the branching side road, Kirk halted and meditated. There was no telling whether he could find his way back to this trail or not. According to his chart, each branching road led to more branching roads, which led to more branching roads, which led to more branching roads. Any one of them could’ve had storm shelters, diners, or entertainment venues in place, but this one—this unwavering one—was the only one that would lead him past the canyons, past the mountains, and past all the other landscapes within the Storm. At least, that’s what the map claimed.
Perhaps, through no failure of possibility, an incompetent mapmaker had created the map with a drunken navigator at his side. Perhaps, it was one of many fakes designed to set would-be treasure hunters on the wrong path. Stories had told of such things happening before; civilizations have preserved anonymity over such ruses. If such a decoy existed in his hand, then he would be foolish to continue along this dangerous course. Only a fool would keep traveling within this Storm into the burning forest and beyond, just to reach a place he had never seen before—that might not even exist. It only made sense, therefore, to go to the storm shelter, or the neon sign, or any place he could see with his own two eyes.
But, so far, the map had been accurate. Up to this point, everything it outlined had in fact appeared in the place where it was recorded. Each crossroad had cut across the trail exactly where the map had shown. Even the major landmarks along the red line had emerged from the rainy horizon at the points revealed. Doubting the accuracy of the map seemed more foolish than continuing along this wild road. He decided it was best to keep going, even if flying twigs did blast him in the face.
And so he continued toward the fiery forest, hoping with all hope that the map was telling him the truth.