Chapter Two

"What is it?" Hazel spun around, her hair creating a reddish halo around her face. She and Lily flew down to see what Raven had discovered. "It's here," Raven answered, holding up the book. "It's in Fae runes; I can't read most of it." Lily took the book from Raven's hands. "What is it?" asked Raven. Lily scanned the pages, mentally translating the text into the Drachnean tongue. "That drawing. it's some kind of enchanted crystal." She read:
"The Jade of Life has incredible powers. It is the most effective healing substance in this land, as it can treat all known ailments. It will heal a broken broke, treat a fatal illness, and even restore someone who is an inch from death to full health. However, there is only one Jade, and it is extremely difficult to obtain. It is hidden in a cave in the Northern Kalirian Forest, and is guarded by the Four Elementals. Only one who has completed their challenges may they have the Crystal. No one has ever defeated all four of them, and few have attempted and lived to tell about it."
Hazel studied the drawing on the opposite page. "I suppose that's the crystal."
"It would appear so." Lily's response seemed strained, as though she was merely trying to fill the silence.
The three of them pondered this for a minute, until Raven spoke.
"Well, it's all we've got at the moment. We may as well try it."
Hazel looked at Raven as though the girl had gone mad. "Raven, did you hear what the book said? People have died trying this! For one thing, you don't know enough about magic to beat them, and for another, there could be a cure in another one of these books here that doesn't involve risking your life!"
"And how long will it take us to find it?" Raven said as calmly as she could. "A month? Two months? Willow could be dead by then!"
Hazel's brown eyes burned with anger, but Lily cut in. "Hazel, she has a point," she said in a gentle but firm voice. "You know quite a bit about magic and weapons, you could teach her."
Hazel's glare faltered slightly. Raven could see the struggle playing out behind the faerie's eyes. "Oh... all right." Hazel turned to Raven. "I'll teach you to fight them, but I hope you're a quick study."
Raven took a deep breath. "Tell me everything you know." "All right, listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this once." said Hazel. "The Four Element Sisters are called Orinda, Sryss, Nalyn, and Demetra. They each have power over one of the elements: respectively, fire, air, water, and earth. The will each give you a challenge; exactly what the challenges are I'm not sure of, but to complete each one you'll have to possess the character traits of the sister's element. If you complete one sister's task, she will give you something to help you in the next one. "
"Okay," said Raven, trying to commit everything Hazel said to memory.
"The first sister you will face is Demetra. Her task requires patience and focus."
"That shouldn't be too difficult." Raven said. She instantly received a sharp glare from Hazel. "Don't overestimate your abilities," she said sternly. "Remember, these women aren't human or sorceresses, they're Elementals. They're not likely to go easy on you, either.'
"Oh. Sorry."
Hazel nodded, and continued. "The second sister is Sryss, the Air Elemental. She's unpredictable and very clever, so her tasks can seem very complex, when they're actually quite simple- or the other way around. They usually involve logic."
"Logic," Raven repeated. "I think I can manage that."
"I hope so." Hazel paused, as if she were trying to remember something, and then continued. "The third sister you'll face is Nalyn; she's Water. Hers is more difficult, it usually involves a transformation or illusion of some type."
"This just keeps getting better and better," said Raven sarcastically.
"I never said it would be easy," said Hazel. "The final sister you will face is Orinda. No one knows what her task is, because no one's completed it yet."
"Well, how am I going to get past them? You said yourself that I don't know enough about magic yet!" protested Raven.
"Before you start complaining, let me remind you that this was your idea," Hazel said bluntly. "As to the second thing..." She stood up and left the library for a moment. When she returned, she was carrying a staff. "This will help you channel your power in one direction. You will be stronger that way," she said, handing Raven the staff.
Raven examined it carefully. It was immediately obvious that the staff was not made simply for walking. It was about her shoulder-height, straight, and made of oak. Serpentine designs wound their way from its silver-capped base to its end, which was adorned with a clear crystal. "It's beautiful," Raven said, awed. "Thank you."
"You'll need to learn to use it properly," Lily said in a clipped tone. "You can start on that first thing tomorrow."

***

That night, Raven slept in Willow's room, on cot on the floor. In spite of her efforts to go to sleep, she couldn't help but hear Willow's shallow breathing from across the room. A million thoughts were bombarding her mind at once. Would she succeed? Could she succeed? Was it possible that she, a single human girl, could accomplish what a countless number of fully- trained magi, wizards, sorceresses, and warriors could not? True, she was not fully human, but what advantage could the bit of her mother's magic blood give her against an elemental? Unless Fate had willed it, she had no chance of winning. Simply thinking about so many things at once gave her a headache; the ceiling seemed to spin as she stared at it. Then the voice spoke up again. No, it told her. Don't start thinking like that already. "Why shouldn't I?" she replied. "In case you haven't figured it out, the chances of me actually succeeding at this are very small." Remember what Hazel said: this was your idea. Quit complaining. "I'm not complaining, I'm-"
You're complaining. And you haven't even begun training yet! Stop trying to get out of this and remember why you're doing it! The voice fell silent for a moment, then added, Think about that. Then it was gone.
Raven instantly felt a twinge of guilt in her stomach. The room was completely silent, except for the sound of Willow's breathing. "It's right," Raven said to herself, "it's right, I'm being stupid. I just need to stay focused and remember why I'm doing this." She held this thought in her mind, and soon she fell asleep.