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

Chapter 16: Suspended Between Earth and Sky

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Ellie adjusted the worn satchel slung over her shoulder, as she set out toward the Wildsedge Bridge. Though the first chimes of the Lune bell had just rung, calling the faithful to morning worship, Ellie knew she couldn’t afford the luxury of prayer today. Every moment counted if she wanted to locate the Dragonscale Moss and return home before nightfall—or so she hoped.

As Ellie followed the familiar cobblestone path, the ancient stone arch of the bridge soon came into view, spanning the dark, swift-flowing waters of the river. Ellie paused at the bridge’s edge, her gaze sweeping the area for any sign of the Shorling townsfolk. But the early morning streets near her remained empty, save for the occasional flutter of a seabird’s wings.

Ellie began the ascent, her boots thudding hollowly against the worn lichen covered stone. As she reached the apex of the arched span, she paused, drinking in the sight that lay before her. Below her, the Wildsedge River flowed swiftly, its dark, turbulent waters eventually emptying into the vast expanse of Lake Dragontide. Downstream, the glittering surface of the great lake shimmered in the morning light, dotted with the majestic forms of icebergs drifting lazily in the gentle current.

But it was the view on the other side that drew Ellie’s gaze. Beyond the bridge’s weathered stone and the vines snaking along the crumbling mortar, the Thornveil Wilds loomed, a tangled mass of gnarled trees and impenetrable foliage. The forest’s shadowy depths seemed to beckon, as if daring her to venture within.

Ellie shook off the creeping unease and withdrew the Seafarer’s Sigil from her jacket pocket. The artifact’s glow pulsed in time with her heartbeat as she studied the direction of the arrow, which pointed toward the dark treeline. This was the path she must take.

Tucking the compass safely away, Ellie continued her crossing, her steps measured and cautious. She paused once more at the far end of the bridge, casting a final, lingering look back at the familiar sights of the village, all of it would soon be lost to sight by the Wilds’ ominous embrace.

Ellie turned her back on the comforts of home and stepped into the shadowy realm beyond. She walked lightly toward the flush of the Moon Flowers; the direction the Seafarer’s Sigil had guided her. She assumed that if she traveled carefully, not disturbing anything, she would not attract the attention of the Dryads or any other malevolent creatures that might lurk within these woods.

As Ellie neared the shimmering carpet of ghostly blooms, her thoughts drifted to Tyler. She gazed toward the spot where she had plucked the Moon Flower on her previous venture, then carefully replanted it. The memory was bittersweet, tinged with the pain of his sudden departure to join the Oceanriders. But at least she had escaped the wrath of the gnarled Dryads that day with Tyler’s aid.

Ellie paused, surveying the three diverging paths that led deeper into the Thornveil Wilds. Withdrawing the folded map from her back pocket, she studied the intricate web of lines, symbols, and strange markings that covered its aged surface. It was no simple navigational chart, but rather a puzzle of arcane significance.

Tucking the map away, Ellie pulled out the Seafarer’s Sigil, its azure glow casting an ethereal light around her. But when she held the compass aloft, the needle spun wildly, eventually pointing back toward the bridge she had just crossed. Ellie frowned in confusion. “Great, it’s telling me to go back.”

Keeping the sigil clutched in her hand, Ellie carefully skirted around the perimeter of the Moon Flower glade, not daring to disturb the delicate blooms. As she approached the path on the far left, closer to the lapping waters of Lake Dragontide, the way ahead seemed almost inviting, the dense foliage parting to reveal a relatively clear trail.

“Okay, that doesn’t look so bad.”

Shifting her focus to the middle path, Ellie noticed a series of large, flat stones laid into the earth, each one carved with strange symbols. These must be the Drakken runes her grandfather had mentioned. But without any knowledge of their meaning, she had no idea if they were guiding her forward or warning her to stay away. One rune in particular, an upward-pointing arrow bisected by a horizontal line, seemed to beckon her onward.

“This one is probably the right path.”

As Ellie approached the third option, a faint rustling in the undergrowth set her senses on high alert. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled, and she couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling of unseen eyes watching her every move.

Glancing down at the Seafarer’s Sigil, Ellie was relieved to see the direction arrow now pointed firmly toward the middle path, the one marked by the runes. Casting a wary look at the ominous third option, she followed the sigil’s guidance.

The middle trail was narrow and overgrown, the twisted branches and thorny vines creating a claustrophobic tunnel that blocked out much of the daylight. Ellie had to duck and weave her way through, wincing as the sharp foliage snagged at her clothes and skin. But the Drakken runes were clearly visible, etched into the weathered stones that lined the path, and she pressed on, trusting in her grandfather’s advice.

As she walked, the forest around her seemed to shift and change, the familiar landmarks disappearing behind a veil of mist and shadow. Ellie paused, feeling a growing sense of unease. Glancing down at the Seafarer’s Sigil once more, she was dismayed to find the direction arrow spinning aimlessly, providing no clear guidance.

Ellie’s grip tightened around the artifact as she realized, with a sinking feeling, that she may have already lost her way.

Then she remembered the vial of Dragonscale Moss nestled in her pocket. Carefully, she withdrew the precious sample and held it up alongside the pulsing Seafarer’s Sigil.

To her relief, the compass’s erratic spinning immediately stilled, the direction arrow swinging around to point down the path ahead.

Ellie pressed on, the forest around her gradually opening up and feeling less oppressive. But as she continued forward, the ground suddenly gave way, revealing a deep, yawning chasm that stretched out before her. An old, rickety bridge made of rope and weathered wooden planks spanned the gap, connecting the two sides of the path.

Ellie approached the bridge, her eyes sweeping over the dilapidated structure. The ropes were frayed and rotting, several of the wooden planks missing or hanging precariously. It did not look remotely safe to cross.

Ellie peered over the edge of the ravine to the sight of a churning river far below. There was no way to climb down the steep, rocky embankment, and even if she made it, she would still have to find a way across the swiftly flowing waters. This bridge seemed to be her only option.

Gripping the rope railing, Ellie tentatively stepped onto the bridge, wincing as it swayed and creaked beneath her weight. She moved slowly, each step a careful, measured placement of her feet, her knuckles turning white from the strain of clinging to the ropes.

When Ellie reached the point where the ground fell away, a wave of vertigo washed over her. She froze, her gaze locked on the distant, rocky bottom of the chasm. The dizzying height made her head spin, and for a moment, she was certain she would lose her grip and plummet to her doom.

The Seafarer’s Sigil felt like lead weight in her pockets, dragging her down toward the abyss. But Ellie forced herself to focus solely on the placement of her feet, one weathered plank at a time. She could not afford to look down, to give in to the fear that threatened to consume her. With agonizing slowness, she inched her way across the bridge, her entire being fixated on reaching the other side.

Just as Ellie neared the midpoint, a loud crack rent the air, and the plank beneath her foot gave way. She let out a strangled cry as she felt herself falling, her desperate grip on the ropes slipping through her fingers. What had she gotten herself in to?

“I’m gonna fall. I’m gonna die.”

Wildsedge River and Bridge
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