A Journey Through Atlas
You awaken one morning to find a candle flickering on the table beside your bed. Sitting straight up, you stare at the glowing flame, knowing you would never be so irresponsible as to leave a candle burning unattended while you slept. How did it get there?
You lean forward to blow it out, but something else catches your eye. There, beside the candle, an aged parchment is rolled into a tight scroll. You definitely have never seen that before. Common sense says someone must've put them there, but a strange sense of calm overcomes you. You are safe here in the light of this flame, no matter how strange the circumstances surrounding it are.
Reaching out, you take the parchment. It crackles beneath your touch, but when you untie the cord binding it, it easily unfurls, revealing lines of aged ink, faded with the years. A map lies before you, rugged coastline notched with bays and river deltas, vast forests with tightly growing tress, and long mountain chains that cross the continent like an animal's spine.
Names of cities, kingdoms, and other landmarks are labeled with intriguing names, some in languages you do not speak. The endless possibilities of this sweeping landscape, the valleys, rivers, and villages, intrigue and thrill you. How you wish you could enter this wondrous world.
You trace your finger across the parchment and the candle flares into a wall of blinding light. Wind rushes you, and you find yourself standing on a rocky ledge high above the earth. A mountain path lies beneath you, threaded through rocky outcroppings. The wind whips over you, and you shiver.
Before you can begin to suffer from the cold, a harsh, clear cry of a great bird of prey sounds over the howling mountain winds. An eagle sweeps towards you. It catches you up in its talons and glides from the mountain summit down into a peaceful valley. Across the valley, a swath of dark trees stretches towards the horizons. You fly over it, and black-winged butterflies dance around you. Their wings tickle your face, and you find yourself laughing, having no fear of your swift flight or the distance to the ground.
The trees change from thick pressed and dark green to tall and golden. The eagle descends and drops you lightly in a glade of soft grass overhung by autumnal branches. Flowers dot the ground, and distant singing eases your mind and kindles something magical in your heart. You close your eyes and take in the warmth only to feel a strange rush around you. You're moving again. You know not how, but you can't wait to see the destination.
The air grows cooler, but you can smell smoke and steel. You open your eyes to a dark chamber lit only by the embers of a glowing forge. A dwarf toils at his craft, his hammer falling in rhythmic strokes.
You step forward to greet him only to have the world blur. A great blue sky opens before you and you find yourself on a mighty steed racing across fair pastures faster than the wind. You lean forward and inhale the fragrance of the earth churned up by your horse's galloping hooves.
In the distance, a great fire blazes upon a mountain peak, then another on the next. They light in turn until you reach the crest of a mighty hill. Before you a city of white stone rises above the landscape, banners aflutter in the breeze. A horn calls out, stirring your soul, but your eye is drawn to the horizon. There tall, dark mountains rise. Smoke and flame billow beyond them, streaking the sky with soot and spark. For a moment you feel fear, but then the world changes again.
Now you walk a shaded path beside a rushing river. A great house stands at the end of the path, not quite a palace, but large and fair, with open porches and elegant columns. The perfume of flowers wafts about you.
Now accustomed to this mystical means of travel, you only smile as the world shifts revealing gentle green hills and vibrant gardens. Merry children play before a brook, laughing and dancing. This time your journey slows. You stand upon the path, admiring the homes embedded in the hillside, their rounded doors painted delightful colors. The buzzing of bees in the blackberry bramble slowly transforms to the chirp of crickets as the sky fades to twilight above the hills and stars twinkle to life in the sky.
As darkness cloaks the land, a trail of light streaks across the dark, rising from the hill into the sky. It explodes as a flower of flame and sparks with a mighty boom. Soon more fireworks join this first explosion, and the night is ablaze with color.
An ember drifts from the air and hovers before you. It grows then reshapes into a flickering flame dancing above a candle. You blink and find yourself once more in your own room, staring down at the map.
With a smile, you carefully hide the map away. Perhaps you will want to revisit those lands someday. If you do, you know they will be waiting in the flame of a candle.