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Xan whipped his head to where Cho pointed. Xan dropped the flow and moved into Dragon Grasps Pearl, gathering water Qi to hurl. He pulled the elemental water and packed the ball tight with Qi. He thrust his hands forward and the cobalt orb darted into the closest Spark. As soon as it entered the construct’s chest it detonated with a clap, completely obliterating the first creature and the concussive wave threw the second fiery figure back several yards. Xan reached deep into his core and channeled another sphere of water. He casually tossed the glowing ball at the Spark while it was regaining its feet. As soon as the sphere hit the creature, it too detonated with a shower of sparks leaving behind the telltale purple afterimage of corruption.

Xan dropped to one knee, feeling the sudden strain on his core.

“Xan!” Sue cried out, taking a shutter-step toward him.

“It’s okay,” he said, waving her back, “that just took a lot more out of me than I expected. But we have to get going. I don’t think I can do that again.” He stood back up with a groan and resumed channeling water.

“Xan?” Cho asked. “Why not smother it with water like you did in the test?”

Xan stared at Cho for a long moment. Why hadn’t he thought of that? It would have been much easier than pulling from the water source. He smacked his forehead. “What would I do without you?” Xan said. He turned to the tree and pulled the water from the surrounding area. He infused the whole tree with water. “Both of you try to grow it while I load it up with water,” Xan said.

The difference was immediate as soon as the verdant energy from Sue and Cho touched the tree. It thickened appreciably. Suddenly the three were all smiles. Maybe they would get out of here yet!

“Quick, up the tree with you, Sue,” Cho encouraged as he kept feeding the tree wood Qi. Sue jumped to grab the first branch and pulled herself up the tree. Cho turned to Xan just as Xan felt a hammer smash him in the back. In their excitement, they hadn’t seen the wood construct coming at them.

“Xan!” Cho yelled and threw metal at the wood golem. It was neatly cut in half.

Still, the damage was done and Xan struggled to catch his breath. The creature had knocked the wind out of him. With a heave, Cho pulled him to his feet and half dragged him to the tree. “Up,” Cho commanded. Xan put his hand on the tree truck and glanced back. Fear formed a tight knot in his belly as he saw not two but three fire constructs rushing down the path. He was weak, his core strained, but there was no way Cho would be able to get clear in time if he scampered up the tree.

“You go. I’ll slow them down,” Xan wheezed. He turned, still struggling to breathe, and pulled the water onto the three Sparks. Their progress slowed immediately, though he was spreading himself out too much to destroy any one of them. “Go!” Xan barked with gritted teeth.

“Come on Cho,” Sue encouraged him from the ledge.

Cho paused for a second, then began climbing.

Xan could feel his grip on the Qi slipping. This wasn’t going to go well. He dug deep and really poured on the water Qi. Finally, the figures ground to a reluctant stop. Elation flooded Xan. They were going to make it!

“I’m up! Come on, Xan!” Cho yelled.

The water failed Xan at that instant and he didn’t hesitate. He spun and jumped up for the first branch, scrambling at the trunk with his feet.

The sparks, freed from the elemental water, surged forward with renewed momentum and will. As he climbed, he saw cerulean orbs flying from above him headed for the creatures. Xan felt the detonations as they contacted the creatures. He climbed with his heart in his throat. He looked up—just two braches to go.

Xan heard the sizzle and smelled the wood smoke. He glanced down to see the first Spark had reached the tree. Plumes of acrid gray smoke were already wafting up as the creature raged against the grown sapling. Xan focused on climbing up, pursued by the mounting heat below him. Just one branch left to go…

“Come on Xan!” Cho called as he dropped an apple sized azure ball on the creatures. Another detonation from below. Xan reached for the last branch, the one the Sue had grown up and over the ledge.

Sue stood on the ledge opposite Xan, hand outstretched. Panic was on her face and tears were streaming freely. “Reach for me!” she yelled.

The tree Xan was on lurched suddenly, forcing Xan to grab the trunk as it swayed. He looked down to see what was happening. The three Sparks were all clinging to the trunk of the tree now, burning through it like it was so much paper. The pit dropped out of Xan’s stomach as the tree swayed. It slowly tipped away from the ledge and Xan knew he was going to die.

Cho stomped on the tree branch that was on the ledge, arresting it. He bent down and grabbed the branch and pulled the tree, and Xan, back. With a loud pop, the trunk broke and Xan found himself between the rock ledge and the tree trunk. White lightening blew up his left arm as it was smashed on the anvil of the ledge. Xan howled. But he was on the ledge. Hands grabbed for him before he could slip back over and drop into the flaming clutches of the creatures below.

Cho and Sue pulled him away from the edge. Xan looked at his left arm. It was hanging at an odd angle. “That ain’t right” Xan said weakly before his knees buckled.

“Let’s get through the portal then we can get it looked at,” Sue reassured him, her voice soft and gentle.

With that, Sue and Cho helped a dazed Xan through the shimmering gate.

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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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