The trio stepped out of the shimmering portal into the training area. Cho and Sue were supporting Xan. They stood for a moment, shocked by the normalcy of this side of the portal.

Instructor Aer noticed the three and come over. “What happened to Xan? Here, set him down over here, away from the portal. There are three more teams still in their trials.”

They guided Xan to a sitting position against the wall, where he cradled his broken arm in his lap and watched the others. Sue stepped up to Instructor Aer and in a very quiet voice told him what happened. He grew pale with surprise and thought for a minute.

Aer appeared to have come to a decision. He pointed at Cho, “Run to the infirmary and bring one of the attendants.” Cho took off immediately. Instructor Aer looked at Sue. “You should go get the Sifu. He needs to know about this.” Sue bowed and trotted out of the arena. His gaze settled on Xan and he frowned. Xan tried to smile weakly.

He moved to lean against the wall next to Xan. “Well, it sounds like you had quite the adventure.”

Xan nodded and looked around the area. Kai Jin was laughing with his cronies. “Looks like Kai Jin passed,” Xan said softly.

Instructor Aer glanced over at where Jin was holding court. “Oh, yes. They were the first group in and the first ones back.” He focused back on Xan. “Do you need anything?”

“Could I get some water?” Xan asked. With all the excitement, he didn’t think he had had anything to drink since lunch.

Aer’s expression softened. “Sure, I’ll be right back with some.” He headed to the instructor’s area of the building.

Seeing Xan by himself, Kai Jin sauntered over to where Xan was sitting, his cronies following. “Hey Xan. Good to see you made it. My condolences on your problems with the bucket.” He smirked.

Xan was still. “What problems with our bucket, Jin?” He asked carefully, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“I’m not saying you had problems with your bucket because how would I know, but just in case you did.” He spread his hands, the smirk never leaving his face. He led his entourage off, the whole group snickering softly.

Xan was flabbergasted. “You slime,” he hissed softly under his breath.

Kai Jin looked over his shoulder. “It’s your own fault for not checking your inventory before going into the portal.” He laughed and walked on out of the arena.

Xan fumed. That complete pile of entrails. Kai Jin basically admitted to sabotaging the bucket and no one was here to have heard it. The slime weasel planned it, admitted it, and there was nothing Xan could do. That begged the real question, however: If Jin was the one who’d sabotaged them, did that also mean that he was the one behind the corrupted Sparks? That was a question he had no answer for, but he intended to find out.

A note from MarkStallings

that's the mid-point of the book. What are your thoughts so far?  Keep going? Leave me a comment.

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About the author


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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