Dragontide's Daughter by Strewnpapers | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 24: The Path Less Traveled

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Ellie and Pipwhistle stood at the fork in the road. The Seafarer’s Sigil pointed unwaveringly to the left, but Pipwhistle gestured towards the right with an air of confidence.

“Ellie, my dear, the left path may seem straightforward, but it’s fraught with hidden dangers,” Pipwhistle said, his tone persuasive. “The right path, though a bit more challenging, offers safer passage. Trust me on this.”

Ellie glanced down at the glowing sigil, its blue light pulsing steadily. She was torn between the guidance of the compass and Pipwhistle’s advice. “Are you sure, Pip? The sigil hasn’t led me wrong so far.”

Pipwhistle smiled, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “I’ve roamed these woods for years, Ellie. The right path will take us through some challenges, but it’s the better choice.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Ellie nodded. “Alright, Pip. Let’s take the right path.”

They ventured down the trail to the right, the forest closing in around them. The air grew cooler, and the shadows deepened, creating an eerie atmosphere. The path soon became overgrown with thorny vines and dense underbrush.

“Watch your step,” Pipwhistle warned, deftly cutting through the vines with a small, curved knife. “These thorns are as sharp as a dragon’s tooth.”

Ellie followed closely, mimicking Pipwhistle’s movements to avoid the thorns.

As they pushed forward, the path led them to a bog. Thick, sticky mud sucked at their boots, and eerie whispers seemed to emanate from the shadows.

“This doesn’t seem like an easy path,” Ellie said, growing frustrated with the relentless obstacles.

“This is the Bog of Shadows,” Pipwhistle explained, his voice low. “Stay close and watch where you step, there are hidden sinkholes.”

Ellie carefully picked her way through the mud as the whispers grew louder. The bog was a dismal expanse of dark, stagnant water. Leafless trees twisted up from the mire. Thick tendrils of fog slithered across the surface, carrying with them the scent of decay and dampness.

“What are the whispers saying?” Ellie asked, her boots sinking deeper into the mud with each step.

“They’re trying to lure us deeper into the bog. They want us to lose our way. We mustn’t listen to them, Ellie. Stay focused and follow my lead.”

Ellie tried to lift her foot, but the mud held her in a sticky grip. She tugged harder, but it was no use. She was stuck and sinking deeper with each passing moment. Panic set in as the cold, murky water rose to her knees. "Pip, I can't move! I'm sinking!"

Pipwhistle, hearing the urgency in her voice, hurried to her side. "Hold on, Ellie! Don't struggle too much, or you'll sink faster." He looked around quickly and spotted a long, sturdy branch nearby.

With surprising strength, Pipwhistle pried the branch from the ground and held it out to Ellie. "Grab on to this and try to stay as still as you can. I'll pull you out."

Ellie grasped the branch, her hands shaking. Pipwhistle planted his feet firmly and began to pull, using all his strength. The mud seemed reluctant to release its grip, but gradually, Ellie felt herself being lifted.

With a final, mighty heave and a “Huzzah!”, Pipwhistle managed to pull Ellie free from the bog’s greedy grasp. She stumbled forward, collapsing onto solid ground with a grateful groan. Mud coated her from the waist down, a cold, slimy second skin that clung stubbornly.

“You’re stronger than you look, Pip.” Ellie wiped a muddy hand across her forehead. “For someone half my height, you’ve got quite the muscles!”

Pipwhistle puffed out his chest with pride, his patchwork cloak rustling like a field of wildflowers. “Why, thank you, my dear! I do my best to keep these twigs in tip-top shape, you know. Can’t have them snapping when I’m swinging from the branches like a nimble squirrel, now can I?”

Ellie looked back at the quicksand, pointing a mud-streaked finger. “My boots; they’re still in there, being gobbled up as we speak!” She made a move to reach for them, but Pipwhistle gently restrained her with a hand on her arm.

“Forget the boots, bright eyes. They’ve gone to join the bog trolls for tea. Best not to interrupt their little soiree.”

Ellie looked down at her bare, mud-caked feet, the chill of the damp earth seeping into her bones. “But how am I supposed to walk through the Wilds barefoot? It’s like treading on a dragon’s tongue, all prickly and unpleasant!”

Pipwhistle glanced around. “Fear not, little adventurer! There’s a village nearby. Perhaps they have some spare slippers or enchanted sandals for a damsel in distress.” He gave a dramatic flourish of his cloak. “We’ll get you there, never you worry!”

Ellie hauled herself upright, the sharp stones and prickly thorns digging into her tender soles. “I feel like I’m walking on a bed of hot coals!”

“Chin up, buttercup! We’ll have you shod in style in no time. Just a hop, skip, and a jump past the bog, and we’ll be there!” He extended a hand. “Now, let’s be off, shall we?”

Ellie focused on Pipwhistle’s bobbing form ahead.

“Have you been to this village before?” Ellie asked, desperate for a distraction from the throbbing pain in her feet.

“Indeed, I have, my little chickadee. A few times, in fact. The villagers are a cautious bunch, wary of strangers like a squirrel hoarding its nuts. But they have kind hearts beneath their prickly exteriors, I assure you.”

“I hope so.”

“We’ll get you sorted, never you fret. Just a few more twists and turns through this labyrinth of loveliness, and we’ll be there.”

Emerging from the murky bog, Ellie blinked as her eyes adjusted to the soft moonlight that illuminated the open grassland ahead. The contrast between the suffocating darkness of the swamp and the expansive sky above was startling. “Well, that’s a relief. I’d rather face a grumpy troll than another mud bath.”

The sun had long since dipped below the horizon, leaving the Wilds shrouded in twilight. The air grew cooler, the scent of damp earth replaced by an earthy musk. No stars twinkled in the inky sky.

A cool, rubbery slither and a sudden hiss beneath her bare foot made Ellie jump. She yelped, scrambling back as a long, dark shape slithered away into the tall grass. “What was that?”

Pipwhistle chuckled, his bells jingling softly. “Just a venomous viper, my dear. No need to fret. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, though I wouldn’t recommend trying to cuddle one.”

“Why are you so unconcerned about the whole thing?” Ellie was hesitant to walk, fearing she would step on another snake, or worse. “How much farther?”

“Just a bit further, Ellie-belly. The village is just beyond that thicket of juniper bushes. We’ll be warming our toes by a fire in no time!”

As they rounded the bushes, a cluster of dimly lit huts materialized in the distance, their thatched roofs glowing faintly in the moonlight. The sight brought a wave of relief to Ellie. A warm fire and a soft bed sounded like paradise after the trials of the bog.

But as they approached, a terrifying shriek pierced the night air, followed by a series of whooshing sounds. Ellie’s eyes widened in horror as she saw a volley of flaming arrows arcing through the sky, aimed directly at them.

“Down!” Pipwhistle yelled, shoving Ellie to the ground as the first arrow whizzed past her head, singeing her hair with its heat. They scrambled for cover behind a fallen log, the pungent smell of burning pitch and scorched feathers filling the air.

“Who’s shooting at us?” Ellie whispered, keeping low behind the log. “I thought the villagers were supposed to be friendly.”

Pipwhistle’s eyes narrowed. “Has to be the bog dwellers.”

Ellie peaked over the log as flames crackled. “I don’t see anyone.”

A wry grin returned to Pipwhistle’s face. “Perhaps they mistook us for a pair of particularly plump fire beetles. Wouldn’t be the first time!”

“What?” Ellie found Pip’s words hard to believe. “Plump fire beetles? You’ve got to be joking!”

Pipwhistle grabbed Ellie’s hand, as another volley of arrows rained down around them. One whistled past Ellie’s ear, blistering the tip and filling her nostrils with the bitter scent of burning hair.

Ellie Stuck in the Bog of Shadows
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