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In the valley of the moon, there is a segment of the city that contains homes that are a little nicer than the homes in the other parts of the city. It is where the families of the founders and patrons live. Those that helped rebuild the town after the Animal Wars four hundred years ago. In the triangle made up of the tower, the Earth building and the fire building, the pseudo-aristocracy held residence. In one of those houses lived the Kai family and in their inner courtyard, Kai Jin, favored son of the family, practiced with his two associates, Lee Chao and San Shun.

The three would frequently practice here. The elder Kai, Jin’s father, would arrange for tutors to work with the three young men. Jin knew his father only wanted the best for his son, and Jin took every opportunity he could to take what was given him.

Today they worked on sparring. Lee Chao was paired with Jin.

“I can’t believe they let those peasants enroll in the school,” Jin complained as he feinted with a kick, forcing Chao to jump back.

“Yeah, those grubby villagers should be out in the fields,” Shun agreed from the side while nursing bruised ribs. San Shun had already taken the brunt of Jin’s displeasure over the events in class earlier in the day.

“I just want to beat them senseless,” Jin grumped. He threw a series of attacks mirroring the exercises from the week of practice. Water to move Chao’s arms out of position, then metal to pull him off balance before finishing with a wood kick to Chao’s left thigh.

Chao grunted with pain and retreated. He circled, rubbing his thigh with his left hand. “Wang Sue isn’t so bad and she is very pretty. Why did you and she—”

Jin’s eyes blazed and he pulled Qi in to power his Jin, energizing a set of strikes into Chao that would be difficult to block normally. Powered by Jin, they were unstoppable. Chao pulled his own Qi, just trying to weather the storm. Each blow thundered into him with tremendous force, barely blocked by Chao’s Qi. Jin pushed harder, letting the blows rain down fast and furious. After a time, the onslaught was too much, and Chao fell. Once Chao was on the ground, arms protecting his head, Jin let the Qi go and the power fled his body.

“Don’t ever talk to me about her,” He admonished with a growl as he walked over to get a towel.

“I’m sorry Jin, I didn’t know what I was saying.” Chao got to his feet and dusted himself off. He winced at the bruising already forming on his ribs.

Jin walked back and got into a stance. “Man I wish they would fail the mid-term,” he said with a scowl. “Nothing would make me happier.” They threw some combinations and blocks but Chao was spent—that last round had taken more out of him than he’d realized. “Alright Shun, it’s your turn again.”

Shun grimaced as he gained his feet, then stepped into the ring and got into position. They engaged lightly. Throwing a few slow strikes and blocks, pushing the speed as Shun warmed up. “The test is coming up soon. They seem to be making progress.”

“Xan and Cho are kiss-asses. I’ve seen how the Instructor favors them. He gave Cho first sphere in Metal when clearly I was the first,” Jin said, throwing a left handed feint to Shun’s head. When Shun committed to the block, Jin savagely kicked Shun’s front leg out from under him. Shun turned with the direction of the kick, pirouetting back into stance. Jin was sure that happened by accident—he certainly didn’t have the skill to do it on purpose.

“Well, it’s not like you can screw them up now,” Chao said from the side, nursing his left thigh.

That thought stunned Kai Jin, rippling through him like lightning. Why couldn’t I screw with them? As long as I didn’t get caught.

A water coated fist rocked Jin from his reverie. He narrowed his eyes at the offender. He saw Shun raise his hands in supplication, shock and fright on his face. Jin powered up, spun, and delivered a sweeping sidekick to Shun’s stomach that folded him in half with a whoosh of air.

His thoughts were running wild with schemes. He stopped the practice and shooed the other two out. He needed time to figure this out. There had to be an angle.

Malicious glee flooded Jin as he worked out plans.

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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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