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

Chapter 3: The Forbidden Glow

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Ellie's boots sank into the damp moss blanketing the forest floor. An eerie stillness hung heavy in the air, muffling even the faint sounds of the village's festivities. The only noise came from the occasional drip of melted snow from the twisted branches reaching overhead like bony fingers, and the haunting call of an unseen owl. Tyler stood beside Ellie, their breath intermingling in misty clouds in the cool, spring air clinging to the river's edge.

"Have you ever been in here before?" Ellie asked as she walked slowly forward.

Tyler cast his gaze toward the shadowy sprawl of the forest. "When I was a young kid, my friends and I dared each other to go inside. We hadn’t gone very far when . . . well," he paused, swallowing hard as if trying to keep down a bitter memory, "we heard a roar echo through the trees. It was like nothing we'd ever heard before. Scared us right out of our wits and sent us running for home."

“A bear?” Ellie asked, continuing to move forward.

“Definitely not a bear. I’ve heard a bear before in Eldengrove. Anyway, we basically ran for our lives.”

Ellie laughed.

Above the forest, the waxing gibbous moon peeked over the horizon, its pale disk rising into the twilight sky painted in hues of dusky blue. Though daylight still clung to the world, shadows lengthened and deepened.

Trees lined the path, their twisted branches forming natural archways leading deeper into the ancient forest. Dappled light filtered through the canopy, casting shadows on the rough bark and undergrowth that created an unsettling atmosphere, as if teetering between dream and nightmare.

"Look at it, Ty." Ellie's voice was filled with a mingling of awe and unease as she gazed at the spectacle unfolding before them. "It's like another realm is reaching out, calling to us."

"Or warning us."

Ellie remembered the stories whispered by the village elders about spirits and ancient magic that might just be more than mere tales told to scare children.

"Are you afraid?" Ellie asked, turning to study Tyler's expression closely, looking for even a hint of apprehension.

He met her gaze. "With you? Never."

The misshapen shadows beckoned like crooked fingers, drawing Ellie deeper into the forest's mysterious depths. Then something caught her eye—a faint luminescence emanating from a patch of foliage ahead.

"Look over there." Ellie pointed toward the source of the eerie glow.

Tyler followed her gesture. "What is that?"

"It must be the Moon Flowers." Ellie was unable to contain the sense of excitement inside her. This was it—the prize that would unlock the path to her grandfather's cure.

"Moon Flowers? Ellie, are you sure we should—"

But she was already moving, drawn toward the ghostly blooms. "Let's check it out."

Ellie hurried forward, her boots crunching twigs underfoot. Tyler rushed to keep up, his earlier worries forgotten as Ellie's excitement proved contagious.

They emerged into a small clearing. Hundreds of delicate white blossoms carpeted the forest floor, their petals casting a pale, almost spectral radiance. It was as if someone had plucked beams of moonlight from the night sky and scattered them amidst the foliage.

"Wow." Ellie was utterly transfixed by the sight before her. Tyler, too, seemed entranced, his features bathed in the gentle glow.

Ellie took a tentative step forward, then another, drawn closer to the captivating blooms. She knelt, reverently brushing her fingers against one of the shimmering petals. It felt like satin caressed by starlight.

Her gaze drifted across the sea of Moon Flowers, drinking in their delicate beauty. This was what she had come for. All she had to do was gather one blossom.

Ellie's fingers hovered mere inches from the stem of a luminous petal She was so close to securing first prize—close enough to practically taste victory.

"Ellie, wait. Don't forget, the book said misfortune befalls anyone foolish enough to disturb its rest."

Ellie froze, her hand suspended in midair as the weight of Tyler's words sank in. "But it also said something about granting visions of truth and protecting."

"I don't know how it can possibly cause both bad luck and good."

Slowly, Ellie pulled her hand back. "It's probably just an old wives' tale anyway. Something the elders made up to scare kids away from the forest."

"And what if it's not?" Tyler's gaze roamed the shadowy fringes of the clearing. "My gran used to say there are older powers at work in these woods—things we can't begin to understand."

Ellie felt uneasy. But the image of her grandfather, withered and feeble in his sickbed, banished any uncertainty. "It's for Grandpa. I won't let some silly superstition stop me from getting the money I need to buy the Elixiron."

"There has to be another way, El. One that doesn't risk angering whatever ancient forces might still linger here."

But Ellie wasn't listening. Her focus had narrowed to the glowing blossom before her, the answer to her grandfather's suffering shimmering in its delicate petals. Without a second thought, she reached out and plucked the bloom.

For a breathless moment, nothing happened. The Moon Flowers continued their ghostly luminescence, bathing the clearing in a mystical glow. Ellie stood upright; the precious blossom cradled gently in her hands as a triumphant smile spread across her face.

"See?" she said, turning to Tyler. "Just an old story to—"

Her words caught in her throat as a sound like creaking timber echoed through the clearing. All around them, the twisted branches of the ancient trees seemed to shudder, shaking off their stillness. A cold dread gripped Ellie as dark shapes began to coalesce within the shadowy depths of the forest.

Heavy footfalls thudded against the loamy earth, joined by a cacophony of eerie groans and snapping twigs. Ellie tried in vain to pinpoint the source of the encroaching sounds.

"Tyler . . ." She took an instinctive step backward, clutching the Moon Flower tightly against her chest.

Twisted humanoid figures, their bodies composed of gnarled bark and reaching branches, lumbered into the clearing. Empty sockets burned with pinpricks of smoldering light as they trained their sightless gazes upon the two intruders. Ellie felt the blood drain from her face as realization took hold—they had awoken the ancient forest guardians.

The nearest guardian let out a groaning bellow that sent tremors rippling through the ground. Its arm—if it could be called such—composed of interwoven vines and branches as thick as a man's torso, lashed out with startling quickness.

Ellie barely had time to react before the blow caught her squarely in the chest, expelling the air from her lungs with brutal force. She felt herself lifted from her feet, the world spinning wildly around her as she hurtled backward. Her body slammed into the unforgiving bark of a towering oak, sending lances of fiery pain shooting through her.

Dazed and wheezing, Ellie collapsed to the ground in a jumbled heap as Tyler scooped her up and dashed back toward the bridge.

Dryads
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