When she stepped into the circle, she felt the golden light bathing her skin as if it was a physical thing, like water. The effect was beautiful, soothing and warm, but not wholly pleasant, for a feeling of tension hung heavy in the air and Llandry's skin prickled with unease. For a moment she forgot about the sleek-furred creature, but another squeak of distress drew her eyes downward into the centre of the strange lavender-hued moss.
The animal stood on short, shaking legs, its pointed face lifted to the winds as it keened in despair. It was so small, so obviously feeble, that Llandry quickly realised it must be a baby. A baby without its mother. She picked it up, carefully cradling it against her chest.
She turned to show it to Mamma, but Mamma was gone, hidden behind a curtain of light that had fallen between her and the familiar glissenwol forests of home. It was like a wall of rain, cold and shimmering pale; she could see nothing beyond it.
'Mamma?' Fear stole her voice and the word emerged as a whisper. She screamed her mother's name and heard an answering call, thin and distant as if Ynara stood on a hilltop far away.
Llandry ran towards the curtain and tried to pass, but it was like walking through treacle; a strong pressure beat upon her limbs and her face, threatening to smother her. She fell back, sobbing.
Then the curtain rippled and pulsed, as if struggling against something. Ynara broke through the wall, her face pale and her eyes sparking with anger and fear. She picked Llandry up and marched back through. The sensation of suffocation was the same as before, and it grew worse as Ynara bore forward with Llandry in her arms. The pressure intensified until Llandry thought she must explode like rotten fruit. Then they were through the curtain. All of the strange sensations, good and bad, faded and Llandry was herself again.
Ynara did not stop. She marched onward without looking back. Llandry could feel her mother's body shaking; her arms were trembling so badly that Llandry feared she would drop her. She pressed her face against her mother's and kissed her cheek.
'Ma,' she whispered. 'I'm sorry.'
'You're safe. That's all that matters.'
'What was that place?'
'The Upper Realm.'
Ynara sighed and stopped at last, easing Llandry down to the floor. She frowned in puzzlement at the little soft-furred body Llandry still held in her arms, quiet now and questing through Llandry's clothing for food.
'It's called the Dreamlands, sometimes, because it's like a dream, isn't it? It's another place, far from here, beyond the Seven Realms that make up our world. Sometimes a gate is opened and you can pass through. What we saw was a gate. The Upper Realm is beautiful beyond belief, love, but you must remember that it is dangerous.'
Llandry remembered the feelings she'd experienced as she stood in that glittering glade; the way the light had caressed her skin and the dancing motes clustered around her as if she was a friend. 'How can it be dangerous, Mamma?'
'There are dangers everywhere, love, and the Upper Realm is no different. But beyond that, there is something else. It is too beautiful a place, perhaps, too enticing; people go there, from time to time, but they very rarely return. Now, promise me you will not do such a thing again. Promise me, Llandry.' Mamma dropped to her knees to bring her face level with Llandry's. Her eyes were serious, and Llandry sensed renewed fear in the way her mother clasped her close.
'I promise, Ma.'
'Good. Now, who is your new friend?'
The creature had begun to shiver. Llandry showed it to her Mamma, who smiled in spite of herself.
'Gracious. It's an orting, love. It must have come through the gate.' She stroked the orting's round black nose and it shivered anew, this time with apparent delight.
'May I keep it?'
'We'll see. Now, are you ready to fly?'
Llandry unfurled her growing wings and flexed them. At nine, she was big enough and strong enough to fly for a few miles at a time. She smiled at her mother and nodded.