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

Chapter 29: Moss and Magma

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Ellie stood alone at the mouth of a dark tunnel leading deeper into Aurathorn’s lair. Pipwhistle was nowhere to be found. She tried calling out his name a few times, her voice echoing off the cavernous walls, but there was no response. Only silence greeted her, amplifying her sense of isolation in the vast cavern.

Clutching the Seafarer’s Sigil, its blue light pulsing reassuringly, Ellie followed its guidance towards a narrow passage veiled by a curtain of shimmering water. The mist felt cool on her skin as she passed through, a stark contrast to the musty air of the cave. “Where did you go, Pip?”

With each step, the compass in her hand pointed unwaveringly towards the inner depths of the dragon’s domain. The path wound through narrow passages and over rocky terrain that required careful footing. Ellie’s new boots, a size too large, slipped and slid on the algae-covered rocks. The passage soon turned into a treacherous descent, the stone slick with moisture and the air heavy with the roar of hidden falls.

“Of course it couldn’t be a nice, easy stroll,” Ellie muttered sarcastically. Using the wall for support, she half-climbed, half-skidded her way down.

At last, the tunnel opened up into a larger chamber. Ellie’s eyes widened at the sight before her—glittering piles of jewel-encrusted goblets, ornate chests overflowing with gold and gems, and crumbling statues adorned with priceless artifacts. The wealth of kingdoms right before her eyes. At the far end, a massive wooden door stood imposingly, as if guarding even greater treasures beyond.

Ellie had to remind herself to focus. She wasn’t here for riches. Fumbling in her pocket, she retrieved the heavy brass key and hurried over to the door, fingers trembling with anticipation. She slid the key into the lock and turned, expecting the satisfying clunk of the mechanism opening. But the door remained firmly shut.

“What? No no no, this has to work,” Ellie pleaded desperately, jiggling the key back and forth to no avail. She stepped back, fighting down the panic bubbling up inside her. “I’ve come too far to be stopped by a stupid door!”

Taking a deep breath to collect herself, Ellie examined the sigil again. To her surprise, its glowing needle had swung about to point toward one of the cavern’s bare stone walls rather than the door. Curious, she walked over and ran her hands along the craggy surface. It felt cool and solid, unyielding to her touch.

Ellie threw her weight against the wall, bracing her shoulder, but it didn’t budge an inch. “Why is this compass leading me here if I can’t get past this wall?” She glared at the device in exasperation, then glanced back at the immovable stone. There had to be more to this.

Peering closer, Ellie’s fingers brushed against a raised symbol—a serpent coiled around a dagger. A hidden mechanism! With a hesitant push, the wall groaned and swung inward, revealing a narrow crevice just wide enough for her to squeeze through sideways.

Beyond was a sweltering cavern, the air thick with sulfurous fumes. Ellie found herself on a cliff, barely a foot wide, winding along the edge of a seemingly bottomless chasm. Far below, magma bubbled and churned, waves of scorching heat washing over her.

“This just keeps getting better,” Ellie grumbled, flattening herself against the rock face. Inch by painstaking inch, she shuffled along the treacherous ledge, fingers desperately seeking purchase in any crack or outcropping. Sweat poured down her face from the intense heat and the strain of keeping balanced. One wrong step would send her tumbling into the fiery abyss.

It felt like an eternity before Ellie reached the relative safety of the other side. She rounded a bend to find herself in a smaller adjoining cavern, blessedly cooler than the lava field. Luminescent crystals adorned the domed ceiling, casting a welcome glow. Even more fantastic treasures littered this space—gem-encrusted idols on pedestals, golden scepters and crowns, chests brimming with riches. Like something out of a fairytale.

But Ellie’s attention immediately locked on to the sight of vibrant green tendrils snaking across the floor and walls, standing out vividly even in the dimness. She knelt reverently and plucked one of the fuzzy fronds. Holding it up to the light of her compass, the needle began to whir excitedly, confirming her hopes.

“Dragonscale Moss.” Ellie marveled at the leaves that did indeed resemble tiny scales. Wasting no time, she gathered up armfuls of the precious plant, carefully arranging it in her pack until she could barely fasten the flap.

Surrounded by such incredible wealth, the temptation to grab a few handfuls for herself was almost overwhelming. But Ellie stamped it down firmly. Pilfering even a single coin from Aurathorn’s horde would spell disaster for Crystal Shores. She couldn’t bear to have that on her conscience.

With her prize secured, Ellie made her way back through the caverns, across the perilous magma ledge, squirming through the crevice into the other treasure room.

Back in the main chamber, a quick glance confirmed Aurathorn was still slumbering, his mountainous form rising and falling with each rumbling breath. But Pipwhistle was still nowhere to be seen. Where could that little scamp have gone?

Before she could ponder further, a violent tremor suddenly rocked the cavern. Ellie stumbled, nearly losing her footing as pebbles and dust rained down from the ceiling. To her horror, massive boulders and slabs of stone began to break loose, crashing to the ground in an apocalyptic din.

An earthquake! Ellie sprinted for the exit as fast as her legs could carry her. Debris rained down around her, forcing her to leap and dodge, the path ahead rapidly vanishing under piles of rubble.

“No no no! I have to get out of here!” She screamed, pouring every ounce of strength and speed into the desperate race. But with a sickening crunch, an enormous boulder dropped directly in her path just as freedom was within reach, sealing off the tunnel completely.

Ellie slammed to a halt, chest heaving, cold dread washing through her veins as she stared at the impenetrable wall of stone before her. She was trapped.

Ellie in the Dragon's Den
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