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

Chapter 28: Into the Dragon’s Den

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The entrance to Aurathorn’s lair was a yawning chasm in the mountainside, its jagged edges sharp enough to slice through flesh.

“Ready, Ellie-belly?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Well, what are you waiting for, an embossed invitation?” Pipwhistle’s voice startled her from her trepidation. With a dramatic wave of his overgarment, he plunged ahead into the darkness. “The dragon’s treasures await!”

Ellie and Pipwhistle entered the dragon’s lair, the main chamber looming before them like the open mouth of a beast swallowing its prey. A dank, suffocating chill seemed to emanate from the gloomy depths. Ellie hesitated, her hand straying to the hilt of her hunting knife. The air smelled of sulfur, and the walls glittered with embedded crystals, casting an eerie glow that illuminated their path. Each step they took echoed ominously.

“Stay close,” Pipwhistle said.

Ellie followed closely behind. The Seafarer’s Sigil pulsed with an inner light, casting just enough light to make out their path. As they delved deeper, they heard the low rumble of the dragon’s breathing.

They emerged into a vast cavern. Ellie could only gape in awestruck wonder as she tried to take in the immensity of it all. Jagged stalactites hung like petrified daggers from a ceiling so high it was lost to the shadows. The trash of untold ages—suits of ancient armor, rusted weapons, shattered pottery, and indescribable artifacts—lay strewn about in staggering piles of wealth.

A faint, flickering light illuminated the far end of the chamber, revealing a massive form curled up on a bed of gold and jewels.

Aurathorn was curled in a deep slumber, his scales shimmering with a dull glow. His breath came in slow, rumbling waves, each exhale sending a gust of hot air through the chamber.

Even at rest, the beast’s sheer size defied comprehension. Its serpentine neck arched over a tail easily as thick as a massive oak’s trunk. Smoke furled from its nostrils with each thunderous exhalation. Scales as large as wagon wheels glinted like dull rubies and emeralds in the gentle light refracted from the surrounding crystals.

“There he is,” Pipwhistle whispered, his voice barely audible above the dragon’s rhythmic snoring. “Aurathorn, the Guardian of the Dragonscale Moss. Magnificent, isn’t he? But it seems our path takes us right through his lair. We’ll have to be extremely careful, Ellie.”

The dragon was even larger than she had imagined. Its massive claws twitched occasionally, as if it were dreaming of battles and conquests.

“We have to get past him,” Ellie said, glancing down at the Seafarer’s Sigil. The compass pointed to a passage on the other side of the dragon.

Pipwhistle nudged Ellie. “Follow my lead.”

Ellie took a step forward. The tinkling clatter of loose coins underfoot made her fear the dragon would awaken. One of Aurathorn’s horned brows twitched, but the colossal beast did not stir.

Step by agonizing step, they managed to slink halfway across the chamber. Ellie was painfully aware of every bead of sweat trickling down her spine. Then, without warning, a glittering pile of gold coins shifted.

Suddenly, Aurathorn’s eyes snapped open. His reptilian orbs fixed on them as his jaws parted with a bristling of wickedly curved fangs. They had awoken the dragon.

“Well, well, what have we here?” Aurathorn boomed. “Two tiny morsels daring to trespass in my domain.”

Ellie froze, slipping the compass inside her jacket. Pipwhistle, however, remained calm. He stepped forward, bowing low. “Great Aurathorn, we mean you no harm. I am Pipwhistle, a humble adventurer and scholar of all things . . . draconian. And this delightful creature beside me is Ellie. We are but humble travelers seeking only a small favor.”

Aurathorn snorted, a puff of smoke billowing from his nostrils. “A favor, you say? And what could two insignificant creatures like yourselves possibly offer me?”

“We’ve come an awfully long way seeking an audience with you, mighty Aurathorn. And not just to admire your, ah, cultural artifacts and interior decorating skills, as exquisite as they may be.” With a subtle motion, Pipwhistle produced the Embercrest Coin. “We come bearing tribute from the ancient Drakken lords themselves! This,” he said, his voice ringing with confidence. “A relic of your ancestors, a token of respect and admiration.”

Aurathorn’s eyes narrowed, his gaze fixed on the coin. A low rumble of surprise escaped his throat. “An Embercrest Coin? I haven’t seen one of those in centuries.” He leaned closer, his massive head looming over Pipwhistle. “Where did you find this?”

Pipwhistle winked. “A Quibnocket never reveals his secrets, mighty Aurathorn. But let’s just say it came at a great cost.”

With a grandly sweeping bow, he presented the coin to Aurathorn’s outstretched foreclaw. The dragon´s talons, each easily as long as Ellie’s entire arm, delicately plucked the ancient artifact from his hand with shocking delicacy.

The dragon scrutinized the Embercrest Coin, turning it this way and that to examine it from every angle. At last, it gave a contented snort of acceptance. “And what is it you seek in return for this?”

Ellie stepped forward, her voice trembling slightly. “We seek the Dragonscale Moss.”

Aurathorn’s eyes narrowed, his gaze fixed on Ellie. “You carry something of great value, young one,” he said, his nostrils flaring as he sniffed the air. “I can smell its power.”

Ellie instinctively clutched at the pendant concealed beneath the folds of her tunic. Not this again! She didn’t want to give up the pendant. She couldn’t afford to lose the compass, the ring Tyler had given her, the key, or her hunting knife. Her mind raced as she searched for an alternative.

“Pip . . .” she started to protest. “What does he—?”

But when she turned, the Quibnocket had vanished without a trace, abandoning her to face the dragon alone. Frantically, she scanned every shadowed nook and pile of treasure for any sign of that tattered cloak or those maddeningly jingling bells. But there was nothing.

With leaden fingers that seemed to move of their own accord, she reached up and unfastened the pendant’s delicate clasp. The supple leather cord pooled in her palm. This had been one of her most treasured possessions, handed down from her mother and her mother before that. All that remained of her birth heritage.

Aurathorn’s massive claw reached out, carefully plucking the pendant from her hand. He examined it closely, a satisfied rumble emanating from his chest. “Interesting. The blood of my ancestors flows through your veins, little one. A pity you must part with such a treasure.”

Aurathorn continued to examine the pendant, turning it over in his claws. “This trinket is of no use to me,” he said, tossing it aside. It landed on the pile of gold and jewels with a soft clink.

Aurathorn chuckled, a deep, rumbling sound that shook the very walls of the cavern. “An Embercrest coin and a Drakken’s tear for a few measly leaves? You drive a hard bargain, little one.” He lowered his head. “But very well. The moss is yours.”

With a flick of his massive tail, he gestured towards a narrow tunnel branching off from the main chamber. “You will find what you seek at the end of that passage. But be warned,” his voice dropped to a menacing growl, “be gone from my sight before I awaken from my slumber, or you shall remain here . . . forever.”

“We are in your debt, great Aurathorn. We will not overstay our welcome.” Ellie glanced back at the entrance, hoping to see Pipwhistle. Instead, she found herself alone.

Aurathorn lowered his head once more, his eyes slowly closing as he settled back onto his bed of gold and jewels. A wave of heat washed over Ellie as the dragon’s breath evened out into a rhythmic snore.

Ellie in the dragon's cave with Aurathorn.
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