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A note from MarkStallings

In an effort to get you story faster, I'll be posting scenes as we get done editing them.

The next day, Instructor Aer discussed the creation cycle.

“We have talked a bit about the creation cycle. Well, today you get to see the martial aspect of that. Like I said before, with each cycle you will be expected to apply more of what you have already learned into what you are doing now. With the next exercises, you will learn to flow from one element to another. If I start with metal,”—he easily dropped into a metal fighting stance, Tiger mouth evident—“then I can flow into water.” His hands changed to water fists. “And from water into wood.” His hands cycled again into the phoenix eye strikes for wood as his forward fist rotated up and out.

He straightened up, a slight smile quirking his lips. “You haven’t learned fire or earth, but the flow continues. I want you to work on this as I come around. Metal to water to wood. Slowly and with great intention. The creation style can be dangerous to the uninitiated, so treat this exercise with great care.”

The students settled into stance, spreading out across the training hall—as usual, Xan and Cho broke off to practice the forms together. Xan could transition from water to wood. But he stumbled on the metal aspect. He hissed at Cho.

“How do we go from wood to metal?” he whispered at Cho.

Cho demonstrated the flow. Wood to metal.

Xan tried to replicate it and looked at Cho.

“It’s easier to work the flows if you pay attention to your flows,” Aer said softly behind Xan.

“Ah, Instructor, I was trying to work wood to metal and was checking to see if I had it right.” Xan said, flushing.

“Go ahead and start. I’ll correct you if you need it,” Aer said.

Xan demonstrated it.

“Push your Phoenix eye higher before you transition,” Aer corrected. He nodded when Xan did it correctly.

“Well done,” he said softly, then looked up to address the group. “In order for you to better understand the relationships of the different elements, I have opened up the Elements section in the library for you. Start with metal.” Xan was thrilled. More access to the library for element books and all the secrets those books might entail. Any opportunity to learn really excited him.

As soon as they were dismissed, he grabbed Cho and Sue. “We get to go to the library.” He almost squealed with delight.

Sue didn’t seem excited. “I’ve seen it—”

“Great!” Xan cut her off. “You can show us the way.” His exuberance was contagious, and Cho was starting to bounce too.

“Alright,” Sue acquiesced and with a shake of her head she said, “I know a shortcut where we can beat the others.” She gave a come-along gesture and led them off to the side. From the leaves and dirt, Xan surmised this was a little used maintenance path. They traveled down an alley and exited through a small door into the back of a shop. They moved along the back wall of the shop to another maintenance door that opened up into a warehouse. Sue took them to the front of the warehouse, where she waved at one of the workers. “He’s my cousin.” She explained and led them across the street into another alley. This alley went on for a couple hundred yards, then cut a sharp right and started heading down. At the end of the alley, the passage stopped at a massive metal door. Xan wondered how she figured out this path to the library. Sue put a hand on the door and Xan could hear a slight rustling like wind, only in his mind. Sue whispered something and the door opened with a click.

“What did you do?” Cho asked, eyes bright. “You used metal Qi didn’t you?”

Sue nodded, then pushed the door open. She ushered them inside, then pushed the door closed again. The lock caught with another audible click. “I used metal to encourage the lock open. Let’s go. We’re almost there.” She navigated a labyrinth of pipes and crates and shelves until they came to a spiral staircase. She started up. At the top, she waited next to a door. “Keep quiet.” And she opened the door.

They stepped out into the side passage next to the entrance of the great library. “Here we are.” Sue said softly.

The trio walked over to the attendant sitting behind a massive stone desk. “Mistress Hon. It’s good to see you.” Sue leaned against the chest-high counter.

Mistress Hon looked up quickly at the sound of her name—a surprised expression that melted into a large smile. “Sue, my dear. You look absolutely radiant.” She was an older woman with a matronly look about her. Her mouse brown hair was done up in a bun at the back of her head. Two lacquered black sticks stuck through the bun to hold it into place. She had a calm look of someone used to sitting in quiet. “I haven’t seen you in the library in an age. How may I help you and your friends?” she asked, absent mindedly patting her bun as she regarded Xan and Cho. Xan thought that must be her nervous tick.

Sue raised her hand to forestall her eager teammates. “We just came from a class with Instructor Aer. He said we now have access to the Elements section of the library.”

The attendant looked thoughtful, then turned behind her for a card box. “Instructor Aer you said?” she began thumbing through cards. “Ah, here it is. Well, it looks like you are correct, you have access.” She reached for a slip of paper, wrote something on it, then inked it with a square stamp. She handed the slip to Sue. “Give this to the docent in that section.” She smiled and waited.

“Oh, okay.” Sue looked at the slip. It read: ‘Grant them access to the Elements, Tier 1 only.’ “Um, which direction are they?” Sue asked.

“They are up on the second level in the west section. Go up the stairs behind me and turn left. You will see a desk like this one straight towards the back.” With the explanation given, she went back to her book, the students already forgotten.

The trio took off for the stairs. The attendant’s directions were dead on and within ten minutes they were in front of another desk. The thin man attending the station couldn’t have been more than five years older than them. He had short cropped black hair, neat robes edged in silver and was keenly interested in them as they approached his desk. His brown eyes were bright and alert. Xan figured he must not get a lot of guests this time of day. “How may I assist you?” The attendant said eagerly.

Sue handed him the slip. The docent took the slip with interest. “Oh! Elements! Right this way!” He knocked over his chair in his rush to stand up. He flushed at the noise and looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. “Sorry.” He righted the chair and came around the edge of the desk. He turned and headed off into the stacks. “Follow me.” he said over his shoulder.

Xan looked about at the immense library. He thought there were more books in the library than Old Man Sun had nails in his shop. Maybe even more than the bees in Zhang Wei’s hives. There were a lot of books. Massive stacks of shelves lined almost every useable space, all heavily laden with books of every type and shape. Leather-bound tomes. Ancient scrolls. Codices with bright silk covers. Occasional open spaces with tables and chairs dotted here and there. Xan thought it would take someone their entire life to read all the books in here.

They stopped before a set of five shelves, each of a different color. The docent turned to them. “I suppose I should have told you, I am Pan. This is the section you have access to. Please stay in this area or in the tables over there,”—he pointed to the left—“while you are looking at books in this section. If you will notice, the wood of each shelf is lacquered in the colors for the elements they represent. Do you have any questions?” he asked brightly. “Or need help?”

They shook their heads. “No, I think we are good.” Sue told him.

He deflated a little at her reply and seemed immensely disappointed. He hesitated. “Well, if you have any questions or cannot find what you are looking for, I’ll be at my desk. Please come find me.” He almost pleaded. He waited a few moments more. Then, with a sad sigh, he left them. Xan thought he must be bored out of his mind to want to help first-year Seekers in their third cycle.

Xan headed directly to the white shelves for a Metal book. He picked up one that had a title of ‘Mastering Metal’ as it seemed promising. It tingled faintly as he picked it up. As soon as Xan opened the book to skim the contents, he felt tired and bored and really wanted to do anything but read this book. He closed it with a snap and took a deep cleansing breath. Xan’s head cleared immediately, and he didn’t feel like he needed a nap.

“Here let me see that book.” Cho said. Xan shrugged and put the book in his hands, relieved to be away from it. Cho opened the book and stared at it intently. He shuffled toward the tables, unable to take his eyes off the tome. Xan shrugged and looked for their teammate. He found Sue over in the wood section. She had a book in each hand and was scanning the shelves for more. Xan decided to look at Water.

The blue shelves held a wide array of tomes of varying sizes. Larger books were on the bottom and odd shaped volumes and scrolls were on the top shelf. Each shelf was about fifteen feet in length. Just one shelf held more books than Xan had seen before coming to the school. He looked along the shelves, stopping occasionally to read a title. There were a variety of topics ranging from irrigation, elementals and healing to a treatise on water combat and engineering. His eyes slid across the titles and were drawn to a black tome about knee high. He pulled it from the shelf.

Odd. The volume seemed wet.

Xan looked at it closely in panic, but it wasn’t wet, it just seemed damp. ‘The Water Way - Techniques of the Huipperin Guard.’ Xan had never heard of the Huipperin. Though six months ago, he hadn’t heard of martial magic. Seems interesting. He put the book back on the shelf and looked for something that would help with combat. Too soon he was back looking at ‘The Water Way’ again. Nothing else really seemed as compelling as this book. Xan picked it up and took it to the tables. Cho was engrossed in the Metal book, and Sue had a stack of five books in front of her with a sixth open. Xan pulled out a chair with a dry scrape on the floor and heard the chatter other students entering the library. That shortcut really had saved them time.

Xan opened the book and started reading it.

Even a small trickle of water can cut stone. In this manual, we will explore methods and techniques of the Western Water Lords of the Huipperin…

There were a number of soft-style water techniques in the book. Offensive, defensive, and some for managing groups of opponents. Xan lost track of time reading until Pan came to tell them about the dinner bell. Reluctantly, Xan put the book back on the shelf. I’ll have to come back for that.

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About the author

MarkStallings

Bio: I’ve been in Colorado since I was a young teenager. I live in the foothills of Pikes Peak with my wife, two children and various dogs and cats. I have a crazy technology background having founded several tech companies centering around human machine interfaces before I discovered a passion for writing.

When I’m not slinging the ink and trying to get paid to fabricate tales that entertain, I like to shoot competitively, drink craft beer, ride motorcycles and play games with friends.

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