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

Chapter 23: The Compass and the Trickster

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Ellie and Pipwhistle walked along the winding forest trail, their steps crunching softly on the leaf-strewn path. The eerie silence of the Thornveil Wilds pressed in around them, broken only by the occasional rustle of unseen creatures and the distant call of a bird. The trees, ancient and gnarled, seemed to watch their every move, their twisted branches reaching out like skeletal fingers.

“Do you ever get used to it?” Ellie asked.

“Used to what, my dear?” Pipwhistle replied, his tone light and playful despite the oppressive atmosphere.

“The silence. It’s like the forest is holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.”

Pipwhistle chuckled softly, the bells on his cloak jingling faintly. “The silence is part of the charm, though it can be unsettling to those not accustomed to it. But fear not, for with me by your side, you have nothing to fear.”

Ellie glanced around, her fingers brushing the Seafarer’s Sigil in her pocket. “I hope you’re right. This place gives me the creeps.”

They continued walking, the path twisting and turning through the dense undergrowth. Ellie found herself marveling at the sheer variety of plants and fungi that thrived in the shadows, their colors vibrant and ghostly. Glowing moss clung to the tree trunks, casting an eerie green luminescence that illuminated their path. Delicate ferns, their fronds a deep, iridescent blue, swayed gently in the faint breeze, their tips brushing against Ellie’s legs as she walked by.

Clusters of mushrooms in every imaginable hue dotted the forest floor, their caps ranging from brilliant crimson to ghostly white. Some were as large as dinner plates, while others were no bigger than a coin. Ellie paused to examine a particularly striking specimen—a tall, slender stalk with a cap that shimmered like liquid silver. She reached out to touch it, only to draw back sharply as a faint, sweet scent filled the air, reminiscent of honey and vanilla.

“What is this place? It’s like a dream.”

Pipwhistle, who had been walking a few steps ahead, looked back at Ellie. “The flora here is unlike anything you’ll find in the outside world. Some say it’s the magic of the forest that makes them so.”

As they continued along the path, Ellie couldn’t help but touch the plants and fungi she encountered, each one offering a new sensory experience. Some leaves were velvety soft, while others were rough and prickly. A large, spongy mushroom released a puff of glittering spores when she brushed against it, the golden dust swirling in the air before settling on the ground like tiny stars.

Suddenly, Pipwhistle stumbled, clutching his side with a grimace of pain.

“Pip! Are you alright?” she asked, reaching out to steady him.

The Quibnocket waved her off. “It’s nothing, my dear. Just a bit of a stitch, I think. Comes from too much excitement and not enough rest.”

Ellie frowned. “Are you sure? You look like you’re in a lot of pain.”

Pipwhistle forced a smile. “Quite sure. No need to worry yourself.”

Ellie hesitated, sensing the pain in his side was more than he was saying. “Alright, but if it gets worse, you have to tell me.”

“Of course, of course,” Pipwhistle said, waving a dismissive hand. “Now, let’s keep moving. We’ve got a long way to go, and the day is not getting any younger.”

Ellie watched as Pipwhistle tried to straighten up, his hand still pressed against his side. She could see the pain in his eyes, and it worried her. “You’re not hiding something from me, are you?”

Pipwhistle gave a light chuckle, though it sounded forced. “Truly, Ellie, it’s just a fleeting pain. I’ve had worse. The Wilds have their ways of testing travelers, and this is but one of their little tricks. Nothing to be concerned about.”

Ellie wasn’t entirely reassured.

Pipwhistle patted her arm gently. “Let’s keep moving. The sooner we reach our destination, the sooner we can both rest.”

To pass the time, Ellie asked, “So, Pip, have you always lived in these woods? It seems like you know every twist and turn by heart.”

Pipwhistle adjusted his hat. “Indeed, my dear Ellie. The Thornveil Wilds have been my home for many years. I’ve roamed these paths and hidden trails more times than I can count.”

Ellie glanced around. “I can’t imagine living here. It’s so different from Crystal Shores and Eldengrove.”

Pipwhistle chuckled softly. “Aye, the Wilds have a way of making one feel small and insignificant. But there’s a certain magic to this place, a sense of wonder that never fades. Every corner hides a new discovery, every shadow a secret waiting to be unveiled.”

“Have you ever encountered anything dangerous? The stories I’ve heard about the Wilds are filled with all sorts of terrifying creatures.”

Pipwhistle launched into his tale, describing how he had cleverly led the Dryads away from their intended path by mimicking the calls of forest animals and leaving a trail of glowing stones that led them on a wild chase.

"I tell you, Ellie, you should've seen their faces! They were so confused!" Pipwhistle chuckled.

Ellie laughed. "I can't believe the Dryads fell for that. You're quite the trickster."

"Oh, indeed," Pipwhistle said, puffing out his chest with pride. "It's all about the details. You have to get the animal calls just right. Like this—" He cupped his hands around his mouth and emitted a perfect imitation of a forest owl.

Ellie's eyes widened. "That's incredible! You really have a talent for this."

Pipwhistle grinned. “And the glowing stones? Pure genius, if I do say so myself. They followed those lights for hours, thinking they were chasing some magical insect.”

Ellie shook her head in amazement. “You’re incredible, Pip. I don’t know how you come up with these things.”

Pipwhistle’s expression grew serious. “There are dangers aplenty in these woods. Dryads, as you know, can be quite territorial. There are also shadow wolves, whose howls can freeze the blood in your veins, and the elusive Thistlewraiths, spirits of the forest that guard their territory fiercely. One must always be vigilant and respectful of the Wilds.”

Ellie hugged her arms around herself at the thought of such creatures lurking in the shadows. “Have you ever had a close call?”

Pipwhistle's smile turned wry. “More than I’d care to admit. There was one time when I stumbled upon a nest of Thistlewraiths. They were not pleased with my presence and gave chase. I barely escaped with my life.”

Ellie listened intently to Pipwhistle’s tales. “What else have you seen in this place?”

“There are ancient ruins hidden deep within the forest, remnants of a civilization long forgotten. And there’s a grove called Nighthollow Grove where the trees glow with an eerie light. At its center is the Heartwood Tree, said to be a place of great magic and power.”

“That sounds amazing. I’d love to see something like that someday.”

Pipwhistle’s smile softened. “Perhaps you will, Ellie.”

They continued walking, the conversation flowing easily between them. Ellie shared stories of her life in Crystal Shores and the Iceberg Festival. Pipwhistle listened, occasionally interjecting with a humorous comment or a piece of lore about the Wilds.

The path ahead forked suddenly, one trail veering to the left and the other to the right. Ellie paused, pulling out the Seafarer’s Sigil to check their direction. The compass’s arrow pointed firmly to the left.

Pipwhistle glanced at the compass, then at the right-hand path. “Well, it seems our journey has brought us to a crossroads. The compass points left, but the right path is easier. What do you think, Ellie?”

Ellie was torn between the compass’s guidance and Pipwhistle’s suggestion. “The compass has led us true so far. I think we should follow it.”

Pipwhistle considered this thoughtfully. “Perhaps you’re right. But we must be cautious, Ellie. Sometimes, the straight path is not always the best path, my dear. The choice is yours. I will follow you, whatever you decide.”

Ellie looked down the left path, which seemed more straightforward, while the right path was darker and more foreboding. “I don’t know, Pip. The sigil has been reliable so far.”

A Path in Thornveil Wilds
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