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

Chapter 27: Leap of Faith

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Ellie took a deep breath and pushed off the cliff, the wind rushing past her as she fell. She landed with a thud in Pip’s outstretched arms, the pouch still clutched tightly in her hands.

The massive bird circled overhead, its piercing screech echoing through the valley as it eyed them with clear displeasure. With a powerful flap of its wings, the creature banked and disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

Ellie looked up at Pip. “I got it,” she said, holding up the pouch.

Pip’s face split into a wide grin. “Well done, Ellie! I knew you had it in you.” He gently set her down, then reached for the pouch. “Now, let’s see what treasures await us inside.”

Ellie watched as Pip untied the drawstring, tipping the contents into his palm. The ruby pendant, silver coin, shimmering pearl, and large, ornate key tumbled out.

Pipwhistle’s fingers closed around the key. “Ah, this is no ordinary key, my dear Ellie,” he said, holding it up for her to see. “This is the key to unlocking a most wondrous discovery, one that could aid us greatly on our quest for the Dragonscale Moss.”

Ellie eyed the key with curiosity. “If it’s that important, I should carry it,” she insisted, reaching out her hand. “That way I’ll have it when I need it.”

Pipwhistle hesitated, his grin faltering for a moment. “Well, now, I’m not so sure about that,” he said, tucking the key into his cloak. “It’s a rather delicate artifact, you see. Might get lost in those deep pockets of yours.”

Ellie crossed her arms. “Pipwhistle, I’m not a child. I can take care of a key. I’ve come this far, haven’t I? I’m not about to back down now. Besides, you said it yourself, we need this key to find the Dragonscale Moss and save my grandpa.”

Pipwhistle sighed dramatically. “Very well, very well,” he said, relenting with a flourish. “But if it goes missing, don’t blame me!” He placed the key in Ellie’s outstretched palm. “Just remember, my dear, with great power comes great responsibility.”

Ellie rolled her eyes, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Don’t worry, Pip; I’ll guard it with my life,” she said, tucking the key safely into her pocket. “Let’s get moving. We have a dragon to find.”

‟Not so fast.” Pipwhistle plucked the silver coin from his palm. “This, however, is a true treasure.”

Ellie eyed the coin’s worn face skeptically. “That’s just a regular old silver coin. It’s not even minted in Thornveil.”

“Ah, but this is no ordinary coin, my dear. This is a Embercrest Coin, a relic from the ancient Drakken lords themselves. It’s said to possess a fraction of their power, a spark of their fiery essence.”

“Embercrest Coin?” Ellie leaned in for a closer look. “Where did that bird manage to find something like that?”

Pipwhistle shrugged. “The ways of the Wilds are mysterious, my dear. Perhaps the falcon found it in some forgotten ruin, or perhaps it was a gift from the dragons themselves.” He winked. “Who knows? But one thing’s for sure, it’s far more valuable than any Thornveil piece.”

“You still owe me a coin, Pip. Remember? You took one from me back at the bog dwellers’ village.”

“I already paid my debt.” Pipwhistle gestured to the worn leather boots on her feet. “Those boots were the cost, were they not? We’re even now.”

“Fine. But don’t think I’ve forgotten about that coin.”

“Greedy little thing, aren’t you?” he teased. “But I suppose a bit of dragonfire runs in your veins, eh?”

“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? You’re not exactly one to talk about greed, Mr. I-ate-all-the-bread,” Ellie said, a hint of a smile on her lips. “You’re the one constantly pilfering anything that isn’t nailed down. I’d say you’ve got a bad case of dragon sickness yourself.”

With the treasures secured, Pipwhistle carefully tucked the ruby pendant and pearl back into the small leather pouch before stowing it away inside one of the many pockets of his cloak. A sly grin spread across his face as he patted the concealed treasure. “Safe and sound, my pretties.”

Ellie and Pipwhistle set off once more, the Seafarer’s Sigil guiding them towards Aurathorn’s lair. The path grew steeper with every step, winding through dense thickets that clawed at their clothes. The path grew ever more narrow and uneven, winding its way up the rocky slopes in a dizzying series of switchbacks.

As they walked, Ellie couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. She glanced around nervously, her hand instinctively reaching for the hunting knife at her belt. Pipwhistle, however, seemed oblivious to her unease, humming a cheerful tune as he skipped along the path.

Loose shale and scree caused their footing to slip precariously with every other step. At one point, Ellie lost her balance entirely, stumbling to one knee with a pained cry as the jagged rocks bit into her palm.

“Careful there!” Pipwhistle cautioned, reaching down to help her back to her feet. “We don’t want to become some overgrown Thornveil Wolf’s next meal before we’ve had a chance to—”

He was cut off by a terrifying howl. Massive paw prints, each easily large enough to swallow Ellie whole, lay across the trail. A fetid, musky scent like rotten meat assaulted their nostrils.

“Nine hells . . .” Pipwhistle said. “I think we just crossed paths with an alpha Thornveil Wolf!”

As if in answer, another chilling howl tore through the air, this one joined by the eerie, unmistakable sound of razor-sharp claws raking against stone.  Ellie spun just in time to see a hulking shape loping around a nearby outcropping, its lips curled back in a vicious snarl to reveal rows of dagger-like fangs.

The massive wolf’s amber eyes locked onto them with predatory focus. A deep, rumbling growl issued from its throat as it bunched its haunches, clearly preparing to pounce.

“Run!” Pipwhistle shouted, shoving Ellie ahead of him.

They scrambled madly over the uneven terrain, the wolf’s thunderous barks and the sound of its claws scrabbling over the rocks spurring them ever onwards. Ellie risked a glance over her shoulder and immediately wished she hadn’t—the beast was rapidly closing the distance, its features twisted into a terrifying mask of fury.

Bounding ahead with terrifying speed, the wolf used its powerful hindquarters to launch itself into the air, smashing aside any rocky outcroppings in its path with its sheer body weight. Its foaming mouth snapped shut just inches from Pipwhistle’s heel as they put on an extra burst of speed.

“This way!” the Quibnocket cried, veering sharply off the main path toward a narrow cleft in the rock face. Ellie hesitated only briefly before following; the sulfurous reek of the dragon’s lair suddenly seemed far preferable to becoming this monster’s next meal.

They hurled themselves into the crevice, squeezing and wriggling their way deeper as the furious howls and snapping jaws of the wolf echoed close behind. For several endless, suffocating minutes, all they could hear was the harsh rasping of their own panicked breaths intermingled with the wolf’s terrifying snarls as it clawed futilely at the rock.

Finally the sounds receded into the distance. Peering cautiously out, they saw no sign of their ravenous pursuer.

“Too . . . narrow . . . for it . . .” Pipwhistle gasped out between lungfuls of dusty air. “At least . . . we bought ourselves . . . some time . . .”

Ellie gulped, trying not to imagine how much shorter their quest might have been if they’d encountered the full pack, not just the alpha.

“How . . . how much farther to the dragon’s lair?” she managed.

“Not far now, Ellie . . . not far at all.”

As they neared the dragon’s domain, the bark of the gnarled trees was blackened and scarred. The ground, once soft and yielding, was now scorched and cracked. The air  hung heavy with the stench of sulfur, a noxious odor that burned Ellie’s nostrils and made her eyes water.

After what felt like an eternity of pushing through the blasted landscape, they crested a rise—and there it loomed before them.

The mouth of the cave. A gaping maw carved into the side of the mountain itself, jagged fangs of obsidian rock surrounding an inky blackness. From deep within that stygian depths emanated the source of the sulfurous stench. And carried upon that fetid air, a low, rumbling growl.

“This is it, Ellie!” he said, his voice brimming with excitement. “The moment we’ve been waiting for. Are you ready to face the mighty Aurathorn?”

The Thornveil Wolf that chased Ellie and Pip.
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