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Their days were shifted to work on blacksmithing in the early morning while it was cool. The mid-day was for meditation and working with metal both in mental and martial applications. The late afternoons were set aside for individual practice and library time.

At the end of the first week, each student had to identify metals. Instructor had a container of metal rods with no paint on them. Each student had to pick a rod and identify it using metal Qi. Cho could do it just by putting a finger on the end. Xan, on the other hand, had to hold it and concentrate so hard sweat poured from his forehead like a gushing waterfall. During the test he took so long to do the identification that the other students started to fidget, which was extraordinarily embarrassing. Still, Xan pressed on, shutting them out while he worked on guiding the metal Qi through the rod. Finally, an idea came to him “Is it carbon rich steel with a hint of white copper?”

Instructor Moto said softly, “It should not be that hard to identify metal. You might want to take a container with you to study.”

Xan panicked. “I failed?” his voice a whisper.

A deep laugh came out of Moto. “No, my friend. You got it right. It seemed you pulled the answer out of the metal where it should have been whispering its secrets.”

Xan was relieved and went back to his place in class next to Cho and Sue.

“He’s right, you know. It is supposed to be easy. I could tell the metal when you pulled it out of the can.” Cho said. “Let’s take a bucket with us and see if we can figure out why it is so hard for you.”

After the last student identified a metal rod, Moto addressed the whole class. “Today when you go to the library, I want you to go to the blacksmithing section. Find a small project that you can make in the next five weeks. Once you have selected the project, bring it to me so we can verify it is achievable. Good luck and have an amazing day.” He sent them off to the rest of their day with a big grin.

This time Cho led Xan and Sue on the secret path from the metal training area to the library. Cho tried the door, but couldn't quite get the fine manipulations of the lock. Sue opened the door for them with a slight smile and they were quickly up in the library.

At the front desk they exchanged pleasantries with Mistress Hon. Xan was beginning to wonder if she lived here in the library, as she always seemed to be there.

“What can I do for the three of you today?” She asked them.

“We just started with Blacksmithing and need to pick a project.” Sue explained.

Mistress Hon nodded—apparently well-familiar with the request—and directed them to where books on blacksmithing were. Surprisingly, they were all the way at the back of the first floor of the library. All of the other first-year books were located towards the front of the building.

“One of the attendants back there can help you if you get lost again.” She looked pointedly at Sue.

“I was seven.” Sue shot back defensively, flushing slightly under the curious gazes of Xan and Cho. “We will be off now.” She turned on a heel and marched off without hesitation.

Retreating before anything else might come out, Xan thought with a smile.

The docent kindly pointed them to the stack with the projects. There were a series of thin books filling up all five of the shelves on the stack. Xan was impressed. There had to be a thousand of the little tomes. They took time pulling out books and looking at the project, then putting them back. They seemed to be grouped by function: hardware, weapons, armor, tools, houseware, and decorations.

Cho instantly moved to the weapons section while Xan found himself curiously intrigued by the houseware. After not too long, he pulled a book with a project for a cup that would never spill. It seemed the glyphs required a bare amount of Qi to set the no-spill function, and better yet those etchings were tied to water, which was definitely Xan’s strong suit. Cho selected a knife that self-cleaned and Sue picked a hair comb that wouldn’t let her hair loose even in a hurricane.

Satisfied, they were just leaving as the first of the other students arrived. Kai Jin looked at them with narrowed eyes. “How did you beat us here?” he demanded.

Xan smirked, “Willpower,” he said.

With that, the trio left for dinner.

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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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