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In the infirmary, Xan sat on one of the beds with his left arm propped on a tray at the bedside. Next to the bed were several wooden chairs that had been arrayed around it. Cho and Sue sat by the foot of the bed. Instructor Bao, Instructor Luli, Instructor Aer sat along one side of the bed, concern carved into their faces. Closest to the head of the bed, sat Sifu Wang, his eyes distant and hazy, as though lost in thought.

“Wang Sue, tell us again about the fire constructs.” Instructor Bao prodded for the third time in the past half hour. “How were you able to overcome them?”

“We couldn’t.” Sue explained, reigning in her obvious exasperation. “Only Xan was strong enough to beat them.”

The Sifu and Instructors turned as one to look at Xan, who wilted under all the attention.

“And just how exactly were you able to defeat them Gao Xan?” Sifu asked quietly. The question felt a lot like an acquisition.

“Well, um, that is, I…“ Xan floundered to form a coherent sentence.

“He leveled in Water during practice.” Cho rescued him. Xan sent an expression of gratitude to his friend before everyone turned their attention back to him.

“Do you mean to say you attuned to water?” Instructor Bao asked Xan.

“No honorable Instructor. I made second level in Water,” Xan offered humbly, turning his gaze away from the instructors.

“At such a young age.” Instructor Luli murmured while she gazed speculatively at Xan, almost as though weighing him.

“No,” Instructor Bao said flatly, crossing arms across his chest. “It’s impossible. I don’t believe it.”

“What does he have to gain by lying about it?” Sifu asked, quirking a bushy eyebrow. “If you need proof, test him.” He held a hand, palm up, to Xan as an invitation.

Instructor Bao thought for a moment, then pushed his chair back. “Alright.” He flourished his left hand and an azure orb of water Qi appeared.

Xan’s eyes widened at the ease Instructor Bao could pull up water.

“Okay my young pupil, I want you to reach out and touch the ball.” Bao said.

Xan looked at Sifu, who gave him an encouraging smile.

Feeling more than a little uncertain, Xan cleared his throat then stretched out his right hand to touch the sphere. As soon as he got close to the sphere, it took on a shadowy cast. When he touched the sphere, it turned black.

Bao nodded. “Now I want you to pull the water in like you did against the Sparks.”

Xan shrugged and pulled the water Qi into the sphere. It grew. The Black orb glowed with an inner light and began to spin.

“Very good. Now I want you to drain it by pulling all the water out.” Bao said.

Xan did as he asked by picturing the sphere evaporating, and the orb shrank and became colorless Qi. He looked at Instructor Bao as did the other instructors.

“Well?” Sifu asked with a satisfied smile that said he already knew the answer.

There was a long, tense pause. “He leveled and is at least second level with Water,” Bao finally admitted begrudgingly.

“Because of the sphere?” Xan asked, looking puzzled.

The old instructor smiled. “No, Xan. Because I talked with you in Water Elemental.”

Xan was floored. He could understand water elemental! He was so excited.

“Now that is settled can we get back to the original topic of the corrupted sparks?” Sifu asked, casually adjusting the flowing sleeves of his robe.

“I’ll speak with Instructor Jyoti,” Instructor Bao offered. “He can talk with the Elemental that built the construct to generate Sparks for the trial.”

“Did any of the other students have issues?” Cho asked.

Instructor Aer shook his head. “No, you were the only ones.”

At that moment, Instructor Mint, their Qigong instructor, rushed over to their meeting. “Sifu, Instructors, I came as soon as I heard.” She said. Her voice a sweet melody to Xan’s ears. Her golden hair was braided in a long thin braid. I wonder how long it took her to braid it.

Xan realized everyone was looking at him. “Um, I’m sorry?”

Instructor Mint smiled at him and his toes curled. Xan forced himself to focus on the words she was speaking. “How is your arm?” She asked him.

“It is hurting a bit,” Xan replied weakly. “They gave me some tea when I got here and that helped.”

“Mint, I would like you to show Xan how to accelerate his healing with Qigong. He has potential so you should be able to skip the preliminaries,” Sifu explained.

“Yes, Sifu. If you are done with him?” She asked.

Sifu Wang stood up. The others followed suit, regal yet obviously disturbed by what they had heard and what had taken place during the trial. He looked at Xan, “Get well. Fire is a tough discipline and as one so strongly attuned to water, I think perhaps you will struggle more than most.” He paused, lips turning up in a small smile. “But I think perhaps you will survive.”

“I will Sifu.” Xan said solemnly.

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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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