Fate has given Christine a chance at a new life in a fantastical world, but with every life comes its trials. When Tristan and she are approached by a woman pleading for their help, she soon learns more about the dangers of the magical world into which she’s fallen.
The woman brings with her a family heirloom, a box that has cursed and blessed her family for generations. She is the last of her line, and for the sake of her unborn child she pleads with them to lift the curse. They take the woman and box into their home, and that night Christine starts having strange dreams about a young man alone in the darkness. The dreams become more vivid as the dark aura of the box stretches its tendrils over the house, endangering not just their guest but all of them.
While they try to solve the riddle of the box before the box consumes them all, the ellyll invite them to a feast at their fairy kingdom as thanks for saving their land. Tristan is reluctant to have them journey to their kingdom, as once there visitors aren’t likely to leave, but Christine’s curiosity leads them to accept. She is introduced to the lord and lady of the ellyll, and beneath the dark shroud of the forest the lady confides in Christine of a darkness that surrounds Tristan. It is a darkness that she must one day confront, for both their sakes.
A wondrous collection of beautiful creatures floated around me, and the evil little things were doing a good job of ignoring me.
I held out my hand to the familiar phoenix that was Cadwa, the elfennau of protection. "Over here,” I coaxed. The creature floated over to me somewhat languidly, but finally settled itself in my palm. I looked down at the elegant creature of light and frowned. "Sometimes I wonder if you guys really don't like me.”
"It's because you hesitate to summon them,” Tristan countered.
My dragon mentor sat on a nearby rock. Around me was the wondrous front yard of his estate. Flowers bloomed and birds sang, and all around our magician selves were the floating entities known as elfennau. They were the source of our magic, the beings that gave us their different powers so we could use it to form spells.
I dropped my tired arms to my sides and bowed my head. A sigh escaped my parted lips. "I know.
It's just that-well, I don't know why they think I can use them.” I raised my head and looked to Tristan. "What makes someone an athrylis? What do we have that so few others have?”
He stood. "Many athrylis have tried to unlock that mystery, but the only closure they have found is that each of us must discover our own path in using the gifts the elfennau gift to us.”
"So what they've found is that we special few need to find our own path like everyone else in the world?” I guessed.
He smiled. "Yes.”
I dropped my head. "I guess I really shouldn't expect anything else. I mean, I haven't even been in this world for more than a month.”
Tristan walked over and cast his shadow over me. He cupped my chin in his palm, and I looked up to find his golden eyes sparkling. "I would not have traded this month for all the world.”
I tilted my head into his hand and smiled. "You always know how to make a girl feel better.”
"I may have a betterment for your skills, as well,” he teased.
I noticed movement behind him and toward Harlipren, the wood that bordered two sides of Tristan's property. "Chris!” a tiny voice called, and a tiny form latched onto my neck.
I started back, but smiled when I recognized the small figure of the ellyll who had befriended me on my first adventure in this world called Ledrith.
She looked up at me and her face was aglow with glee. "I have very good news! My Lord and Lady have returned, and they wish to see you!” She cast a side-glance at Tristan and frowned. "Oh, and you, too, but we prefer you not to come.”
"I have no qualms about staying out of Harlipren,” he agreed.
I blinked at the ellyll. "Your lord and lady?”
"The ellyll of Harlipren are ruled by a pair of higher ellyll,” Tristan informed me.
The little ellyll nodded. "Yep, and they want to invite you to a feast in your honor!”
I sheepishly smiled and shook my head. "I-I didn't do that much-”
"Of course you did!” the ellyll countered as fury replaced glee. "You saved the Harlipren from that nasty golem! Even if you were to save the rest of the world, we couldn't think better of you for what you did!”
My face softened as I smiled at her. "Then we'd be glad to-”
"We refuse.” Tristan walked up to us and frowned down at the ellyll. "We thank the Lord and Lady for their kindness, but my apprentice would not be able to resist their temptations.”
"Temptations?” I repeated.
The ellyll flew above my shoulder and glared at Tristan. "My Lord and Lady do not ‘tempt' anyone!”
"They would merely wish for us to remain for all eternity within their haven,” he retorted.
She crossed her arms over her chest and sneered at him. "Only one of you would be welcome, dierth.”
I looked from one to the other. "What about tempting? What's going on?”
The little ellyll flitted up to my face and pecked a kiss on my cheek. "I'll make sure you come, just you wait.” She flew off back into the woods.
I turned my attention to Tristan. His gaze lay on where the ellyll had gone, and there was unease in his expression. "Why didn't you want us to go?”
He looked to me with pursed lips. "The lord and lady of Harlipren have a bad habit of keeping their guests indefinitely.”
I shook my head. "Indefinitely? You mean they wouldn't let us leave? But why would they want us to stay? We're not ellyll.”
"As athrylis we are considered like kin by some of the ellyll, though not all,” he explained. "Both of us are granted the ability to use the elfennau and we are both long-lived. Therefore, we are considered as children of the elfennau like they are.”
"Children?” I wondered as I watched an elfennau float by.
"Because we are granted their powers, the ellyll consider the elfennau to be the parents of us,” he revealed. "We are their children and so they grant us leave to use magic.”
"I suppose that makes sense,” I mused as I looked out toward Harlipren. "So the lord and lady would just want us to be together like a family?”
He nodded. "Yes, but we would be unable to return. Or rather, our forms would be so changed that we would no longer be welcomed in the mortal world.”
"Changed? Changed how?” I asked him.
He shook his head. "The change is different for everyone, but mortals who wander into the realm and were adopted by ellyll have been known to turn into centaurs and other partial woodland creatures.”
"But we didn't change when we went in there last time,” I pointed out.
"The city of the ellyll lies deeper in the woods and through a portal created by magic,” he explained.
"So could we visit them?” I wondered. "Even for a little while?”
He nodded. "Yes. The risk is only if we remain.”
"I see. . .” I mused as I bowed my head.
Tristan studied me for a long while, and when he spoke his voice was soft. "Would you wish to see them?”
I shrugged. "A little, but not if I'm going to be stuck there and turn into some sort of were-turtle.”
He arched an eyebrow. "A were-turtle?”
I smiled and shook my head. "Never mind.”
"If the ellyll returns with a promise from the lord and lady not to keep us, we will reconsider,” Tristan suggested.
"I'd like that.”
Movement from the direction of the road made me look there. A young woman in a worn traveler's cloak walked down the stone path toward the house. She was about eighteen with short bobbing brown hair, and she stood a little shorter than me. In her hands she held a small wooden box with strange wooden strands plastered over its surface. She looked left and right, and her teeth bit her lower lip.
I waved to her. "Hello there!”
The woman lifted her beautiful brown eyes to us. "H-hello.”
I walked over to her and Tristan followed behind me like a shadow. "Are you looking for someone.”
She nodded. "Y-yes. I'm looking for the dierth, Lord Cernunnos.”
I nodded at Tristan. "He's Lord Cernunnos.”
She turned to him and bowed her head. "I'm sorry to intrude on you, My Lord, but my family and I are in urgent need of your help.”
"Help with what?” he asked her.
She hung her head and held out the box in her hands. "It's. . .it's this box. It's cursed.”