In the elven city of Arborlon, the Chosen take care of the Ellcrys, a magical tree that guards the earth against demons. The Ellcrys maintains an ancient spell called the Forbidding, which keeps demons from re-entering the world. The Chosen notice that the always-healthy Ellcrys is wilting. She telepathically communicates with the Chosen, revealing that she is dying. A demon called Dagda Mor and his henchmen, the Reaper and Changeling, force their way through a breach in the Forbidding spell and enter Arborlon.
Elven Prince Ander Elessedil, second son of King Eventine Elessedil, brings one of the Chosen to the King. The Chosen explains that the Ellcrys can be reborn after her death and the Forbidding spell can be restored. One of the Chosen must take her seed to the fountain of the Bloodfire in a maze called the Safehold, plunge it into the fire and then return to Arborlon and plant it.
Demons kill the six young Chosen elves, apparently preventing all hope of the Ellcrys’ rebirth. However, one of the Chosen, Amberle, the granddaughter of King Eventine Elessedil, is still living. No one knows where she is because she abandoned her duty and ran away a few months prior.
Allanon, the great Druid, comes to Arborlon. Ander thought Allanon was dead because no one had seen him for 50 years after he helped Shea Ohmsford defeat the Warlock Lord with the legendary Sword of Shannara. Since the elves do not know the location of the Safehold, Allanon offers to go to the ancient libraries at Paranor to gain more information. At Paranor, Dagda Mor unleashes Fury Demons on Allanon, but Allanon manages to escape.
In the Eastland, the Gnome village of Storlock is well-known as a colony of the best Healers in the Four Lands, and young Wil Ohmsford is the only non-Gnome receiving Healer training. A bleeding Allanon arrives for medical treatment and asks Wil to go on a journey with him to find the elvish Princess Amberle, the last Chosen. Wil agrees and takes the Elfstones, which are three magical blue stones from the ancient world, with him.
They arrive at the village of Heavenstead and attempt to persuade Amberle to leave with them, but she believes she is forever outcast from elvish society for giving up the honor of being Chosen. When demon-wolves arrive in Heavenstead to kill Amberle, she flees with Allanon and Wil on horseback.
As they approach the magical Silver River, Allanon falls off his horse and is attacked by demons. Wil and Amberle’s horse Artaq jumps from the riverbank and is transported far away to the realm of the ancient King of the Silver River. He makes Wil and Amberle sleep, then sends them to the kingdom of Callahorn.
Wil and Amberle encounter Rovers, a traveling group of thieves and tricksters. Their leader, Cephelo, steals Artaq, but Wil cleverly meets up with the Rovers and asks to travel with them in order to get the horse back. Cephelo’s beautiful young ward, Eretria, offers to help Wil, to whom she is attracted.
When a giant demon attacks the Rovers, Wil uses the Elfstones to burn the creature to death. The Rovers give him back Artaq, and he and Amberle flee, pursued by demons they narrowly evade. Allanon reappears and guides them safely to Arborlon.
Allanon mentions that since Wil is three-quarters human and only one-quarter Elf, he may have trouble accessing the power of the Elfstones in the future. The Ellcrys gives Amberle her seed, and the elves form a guard to escort Amberle to the Bloodfire, which is inside the Safehold in the dangerous Wilderun in the Westland.
The elven Hunters protecting Amberle and Wil are killed off two and three at a time by the Reaper, who follows them from place to place. Wil realizes that the demons know where the elven Hunters are going, so there must be a spy in Arborlon informing on them. The Reaper finally catches up to Wil and Amberle, but when Wil attempts to fight him with the Elfstones, the power is gone, leaving him on his own. Wil manages to cut down a high, precarious catwalk that the Reaper is crossing, which makes the Reaper fall and allows Wil and Amberle to escape.
They meet a young elf boy named Perk, who is a Wing Rider in training. He offers to let them fly on his giant bird, Genewen. The elves in Perk’s tribe ride on birds called Rocs and have very little contact with elves from other areas. Perk flies them to the Wilderun, where they disembark.
Allanon goes to Arborlon just before The Forbidding spell breaks completely, unleashing endless hoards of demons into Halys Cut, a gorge near Arborlon. King Eventine is severely wounded in battle. The elves retreat, and Ander receives word that demons have killed his older brother, Arion, making him the last Elessedil to rule the elves.
In the Wilderun, Wil and Amberle go to a rough town called Grimpen Ward and are rescued by Eretria, who is still traveling with Cephelo. Cephelo says that only he and his Rovers can help Wil find Safehold, but that he wants the Elfstones in payment for his services. Wil doesn’t agree.
But Cephelo takes them to an old man named Hebel who says the Safehold lies in on a peak called the Spire’s Reach inside the Hollows, a dark place ruled by the Witch Sisters Morag and Mallenroh. He says that the sisters rule different sides of the Hollows and fight bitterly against each other. The Spire’s Reach is directly in the center of their territory. Eretria begs to go with Wil, but he refuses her offer of help because he thinks the Hollows are too dangerous.
In the Hollows, Wil realizes that Cephelo has stolen the Elfstones from him. Amberle falls and twists her ankle, and Wil is forced to leave her alone in the woods so he can go find the stones. As he runs on foot, he encounters Eretria, who has arrived on horseback to help him regain the stones. When they reach the Rovers’ camp, they discover that the Reaper has slaughtered everyone. Wil takes the Elfstones from Cephelo’s dead body.
At Arborlon, Ander fights bravely against demons. Men, rock trolls and dwarves unite to stand against the armies of evil, and Ander becomes a true leader, directing the warriors and rallying their fighting spirit. King Eventine is proud of his son’s accomplishments in battle, but still concerned about the future of the elves if Amberle’s mission fails.
At night, King Eventine’s faithful dog, Manx, attacks him, and he realizes that it is actually the Changeling Demon who has been posing as his dog for several weeks, spying on all his plans with Allanon and sending demons to attack Wil and Amberle. King Eventine kills the demon but is mortally wounded.
The witch Mallenroh kidnaps Amberle and takes her to her castle. Mallenroh demands that Wil give her the Elfstones so she can defeat her sister once and for all, but he refuses. Morag comes to Mallenroh’s castle, and the two fight over possession of the Elfstones, but they ignite a fire that kills them both.
Wil, Eretria, Amberle and Mallenroh’s servant, Wisp, escape the fire but are pursued by the Reaper. Wisp leads them to a cavern where Amberle finds the Bloodfire, but the Reaper enters the cavern as well and kills Wisp. When the Reaper reaches to kill Eretria, Will realizes that he must use the Elfstones, and that his previous inability to use the stones was actually a self-imposed fear of magic. He resolves to accept the Elfstones’ magic. After a fierce battle, he kills the Reaper with the Elfstones.
Amberle walks into the Bloodfire, but it does not burn her. She brings out the Ellcrys’ seed but realizes that she doesn’t just need to bathe the seed in the Bloodfire, she needs to absorb the Bloodfire herself. Wil uses the Elfstones to find their way out of the Safehold. Eretria carries a badly weakened Amberle. Perk arrives on his giant bird to carry them to Arborlon.
The Ellcrys dies, King Eventine lays dying of his wounds, and demons continue to attack. Prince Ander holds little hope for the future of the Four Lands. Allanon and the Dagda Mor duel each other on winged mounts until, with one great final effort, Allanon destroys him with Druid fire.
Perk lands in Arborlon, and Amberle dismounts and walks to the dead Ellcrys. She hugs the tree, which then disappears. Amberle begins to turn into a tree and within seconds she becomes the new Ellcrys. The Forbidding spell is restored, banishing all the demons, leaving the elves safe and free.
Wil is furious at Allanon for not telling him Amberle’s destiny, but Allanon insists that the final choice was Amberle’s. Allanon has aged greatly because he expended so much magical energy in the battles, and he says he needs to go away to rest. King Eventine dies, and Ander becomes the new king.
After a week of reconciling himself to the disappointing turn of events, Wil goes to see the Ellcrys and feels content with Amberle’s fate. He then invites Eretria to go home with him to Shady Vale where he will pursue his own destiny as a Healer. Eretria accepts his offer and takes his hand.