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Today was the day Xan was getting released from the infirmary and, after a week of inactivity, he couldn’t wait. The attendant gave Xan a sling and sternly admonished him to not use his arm until it was fully healed—a week or two at least. Xan would follow the spirit of the law, but he intended to make sure his arm was healed long before that. As soon as she was done talking, Xan made a beeline across the campus for his room. Once inside, he pulled out some of the mushrooms he had from their harvest. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but only a few months had passed. Xan had learned a lot since then.

Mushrooms in hand, he went to find the ingredients he needed to make a healing tincture. As he closed his door, however, a voice from behind startled him.

“What are you up to, Xan?” Cho asked.

“Cho! I just got out of the infirmary and you are looking to send me back with fright.” Xan pantomimed, grabbing his chest from a heart attack. “I stopped to get a packet of mushrooms and I was going to try to brew some healing tea. Want to help?”

Cho looked at him. “Did instructor Bimi help you with a recipe?”

“Well, not exactly,” Xan replied, glancing away. “I have a generic one from Master Sung’s book.”

Cho rolled his eyes. “You’ll probably end up poisoning yourself. Come on, let’s just go see Instructor Bimi. You know she gave you an invitation to go see her whenever you want, right?”

Xan had really wanted to try this on his own, using Master Sung’s recipe. But Cho had a good point. The instructor really did know much more about Qi infused herbalism, and Xan genuinely wanted to accelerate healing his broken arm. Reluctantly he had to agree with Cho that Instructor Bimi was the best choice. “Alright. She’s probably at her shop.”

The two started off. “How was your day?” Xan asked. Being locked up in the infirmary was the longest he had been apart from Cho and Sue since they started at the school.

“Oh it was okay. I met up with one of the students from our study group.” Cho didn’t offer more, which was odd.

“Li Mei?” Xan asked with a smile.

“Yeah.” Cho blushed a bit, then coughed to cover it.

“Where is Sue?” Xan asked. He hadn’t seen her since she and Cho had been forcibly booted from the infirmary.

“I think she mentioned that she was going to be visiting one of the clans with her grandmother. She told me which one, but I can’t remember. Maybe Snake?” Cho scratched his head, then shrugged noncommittally. “It doesn’t really matter. She will be back before the next cycle starts.”

“Is the clan close by?” Xan puzzled. “That is going to have to be a quick trip,” he remarked.

“Ah, we have planting off, remember? We have almost three full weeks before the next cycle.” Cho stole a sidelong glance at him. “Did you hit your head too?”

“No, I forgot.” Xan sighed. “I’ve been so wrapped up with trying to heal my arm that it completely escaped me. For some reason I thought we started the new cycle next week.” He had been looking forward to spending some time with Sue now that she seemed to have warmed up toward him. The fact that she was gone for who knew how long would certainly damper his efforts—although that did mean he would probably be fully recovered by the time she returned. His thoughts skipped like a pebble on the surface of a pond as they walked.

Eventually, they reached the Herbalism shop and went on in. Even though it was early morning, there was already a couple of towns folk in the shop looking at wares. Xan approached one of the Followers working the shop. “Hello. Is Instructor Bimi in?”

The Follower looked at Xan’s sling and his first-year Seeker’s robes and nodded. “Let me get her.” He dipped through the curtain separating the front from the back. Xan figured he would look at the wares while they waited. Naturally, he gravitated over to the mushrooms. There was a decent variety, but the quality was no-where near what Mogu produced.

“Cho. Look at this,” Xan called him over and pointed at the glass jars.

“Oh boy, Mushrooms. I figured you would be tired of them by now.” Cho muttered, clearly disinterested.

“Our mushrooms were of better quality,” Xan said, carefully eyeballing the various samples. “You know, they are still there. Heck, I bet they’re even ready for harvest—assuming no animals got to them.”

“What an interesting notion, Gao Xan. Are you proposing an expedition to your mushroom farm?” Instructor Bimi said behind them, causing Xan to jump with a squeak.

Xan turned to look at her. Her blonde hair was in its usual arrangement, hiding the right half of her face. So blonde that it almost hurt to look at. The sun must be envious. She had a wide grin on her face, obviously amused at startling Xan.

“No disrespect, mistress,” Xan said with a slight bow.

“Oh, stop that,” She declared, wiping her hands on her apron. “Jerrik said you wanted to see me?” Her gaze settled on his arm in a sling and the smile faded a bit. “What happened?”

“Well, that is a bit of a story—but maybe one for another time.” He paused and dropped his voice low. “When there are fewer people around.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, when we were in class, you had offered to help me prepare the mushrooms that we brought. Is that invitation still open?”

“Sure. Is it for your arm? Did you sprain it, break it or dislocate it?” she asked, looking at his arm critically.

“I broke it,” Xan grumbled a bit downcast.

“Good.” She said, which surprised Xan. “A broken bone is the easiest thing to mend. Sprains and dislocation involve all the little muscles, ligaments and tendons. They take longer to heal. Don’t suppose you have a specific recipe in mind, do you?” she asked.

“Well, I have Master Sung’s book and it has a recipe in it, but I was hoping you knew of one that would help heal me faster,” Xan asked almost shyly. He really hoped she had something.

“We’ll see what we can do,” she replied, pursing her lips. “First, though, let’s take a look at this recipe. Also, I assume that you brought some mushrooms that you want to use?”

Xan held out the package of mushrooms for her. Instructor Bimi took the package and opened it. She whistled through her teeth. “I thought you were boasting when you said your mushrooms were higher quality. Now I see it wasn’t an exaggeration. These are amazing. You said you have more?”

Xan nodded. “I have two packs from our harvest.”

“Alright. We will have to talk more about that. Now, let’s see the recipe you want to use?” She asked.

Xan pulled the recipe book out of his satchel and handed it to her. “The page is marked with the ribbon.”

Instructor Bimi took the book, eyes alight. “Is this your master’s book?”

Xan nodded, “Master Sung’s. He wasn’t at the shop when the village was destroyed, so I brought it with us. I figured I could use it.”

She leafed through the pages, muttering. “Oh that’s interesting… that won’t do much… Ah, I haven’t seen that before…” she finally reached the paged he had marked. “Okay, I see what he is trying to do here.” She looked up at Xan. “Do you want to use this one, one of mine, or a hybrid?”

“What do you think will work the fastest?” Xan asked.

She pursed her lips and absentmindedly tugged at the hair veiling the right side of her face. “I think if we add two ingredients to your master’s recipe, we can improve it over even the one I have.” She looked around at the jars until she spotted what she wanted. “That there with the purple flower, grab that.” Cho moved to get it. “And, I think the other one is in the back. Follow me.” She headed to the class area.

Instructor Bimi set everything on a wide worktable, covered with glass jars, small vials, a burner, and a beautiful mortar and pestle. “Cho would you get that burner started, then grab a pot from the stack, please?” She nodded, looking at the recipe book before heading over to a cabinet that students weren’t allowed into. She pulled out a terra cotta jar that had a large wooden stopper. “This is Foxglove. We need to use this sparingly. Too much will kill you. But just the right amount…” she trailed off, looking excited.

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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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