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Cho looked at Sue and raised an eyebrow. “What was that about?” He asked, stealing a sidelong glance at her.

“We need to talk,” she said matter-of-factly. “And it’s probably best if we have this conversation alone.” Instead of taking the path for the library, Sue angled onto one of the roads that circled the school.

Cho was curious where this was going.

Sue took a deep breath then talked in a rush, “I know Xan is doing really well with water and he is struggling for affinity, but today just showcased that he is unbeatable with water but couldn’t stop a child with metal. Hen Peng just lost her team. What are your thoughts of switching out Xan for her? She’s already shown her affinity to Water and Metal. She would be a solid choice to help us through Mid-terms.”

Cho stopped cold in his tracks. “Are you serious right now?” His cheeks flushed with heat and his head swam with rage. “I can’t believe you would…” Cho stomped down the path so suddenly that it took a minute for Sue to catch up with him.

“Cho, please,” Sue pled with him. The tone in her voice caused him to slow down. Seeing a garden to their left, he grabbed Sue by her upper arm and guided her to an empty bench, motioning for her to sit. He stalked around for a moment, calming himself.

“Xan is my best friend,” he said with some heat in his voice. “We have been training every day for the last five months. You’ve been there.” He points an accusing finger at her. “You’ve seen how dedicated he is. How hard he works. Hell, he works harder than any other student at the school and you want to just throw him aside like yesterday’s fish?”

“I know he’s your friend, Cho, but I can’t afford to fail. Do you understand that? How much I need this? Others will go back to their village. But me? I’ll lose honor for my family.” She dropped her gaze, face downcast. Her voice was almost a whisper. “For my grandfather.”

Cho quietly regarded her for a long time—long enough that the silence grew uncomfortable. Cho wanted to be angry with her, but he wished his father and grandfather were still alive. Finally, he sighed, the anger evaporating like steam from a hot cup of tea. Softly he said, “You may lose face, but at least you have a village to go back to should you fail. Xan doesn’t even have that.”

Cho watched as understanding flooded her expression. She blushed and tears welled up. He sat next to her and took her hand, “Sue, I’m sorry. I didn’t point that out to embarrass you. I just need you to understand what our stakes are. There is no going back for us. We have to make this work.” She nodded and blinked back the tears. Cho continued, “What if I work with Xan on metal? I swear I can get him through this cycle and then we can focus on the mid-term.”

Sue gazed at birds playing in a fountain, chirping their merry birdsong without a care. Cho thought she came to a decision as her shoulders straightened and she sat up straighter. “I am sorry for coming at you like this. I want to make the team work.”

Cho’s crooked smile warmed the mood. “Our team and our friendship are all we have left. I’m happy you want to stay in it.”

That resolved, the two sat for a few minutes. Cho enjoyed the peace of the garden. Sue cleared her throat. “We should probably get to the library. Xan will begin to wonder where we are.”

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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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