A/N: Sorry this chapter is so short! I wrote the first three chapters all as one and now I'm trying to divide it up. (I'm doing my best...T.T) Don't forget to review!

)O(

The next morning, Nera boarded the rickety wagon that would take her to Shihu Mako. Equipped with a packet of food and supplies, a flask of water, a spear, a sword, and a knife, she felt ready for anything.

She was a bit nervous, but that was only natural. She was also excited, looking forward to using her skills as a warrior. She had always enjoyed fighting as a kind of game, to see who was stronger and who was weak. But this was even more than a silly practice fight with her friends. There was a real chance of death here. Nera knew it was crazy, but she had always loved showing off, and if she beat an aguthi, then people would really know how great she was. She smiled and turned her attention to the journey ahead.

The wagon driver was a large, surly man. He hunched silently over the reins, not making any noise except an occasional "whoa" to the horses. Once or twice Nera made a comment, hoping to start a conversation, but all he did was grunt.

Her thoughts began to wander. Nera thought of her short conversation with Rak yesterday. It had helped her at first, but she did not tell him that she had had no time to do anything about what he had taught her. As soon as she left his house and went home, the Old Councilor came to see her - a great honor. He told her what to expect on the journey ahead, and answered as many of her questions as he could.

After that, she had practiced fighting with her warrior teacher Keda. A strict yet friendly man, he had tutored her in the art of battle since she was eight. This time they had simply practiced all her moves over and over again. When she was sure that she could fight as many as twenty aguthis at once, she had gone home, and gone right to sleep so she would be alert the next day.

When she awoke, she had packed quickly and then rushed to get on the wagon. She knew that every moment counted, because if she was anywhere near Shihu Mako when - if - it erupted, she would be dead for sure. She had had no time to sit and think about the firestone.

She wasn't even sure what to do, exactly. Should she just imagine the stone, and imagine it in her hand, and imagine using it for good, and not for evil... No! She wasn't supposed to use it at all. She was supposed to bring it to the High Council and let them deal with it.

Arggh, she thought, this is so frustrating. I can't resist the urge to use the stone, and I don't even have it yet! But maybe, she reasoned, maybe if I used the stone for good things - like getting rid of the aguthis - it would be ok. After all, they're wicked, right? So killing them would be a good thing, right? Or maybe I should just keep it for myself. I wouldn't use it a lot, just to make life easier... No! What am I thinking? OK, Nera, listen up! She said to herself. YOU WILL NOT USE THE FIRESTONE. AT ALL! YOU WILL RESIST IT. OR ELSE! There, that should do it, she thought. But she wasn't quite sure.