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The three of them got everything set up for boiling the water. “Okay Xan, are you up for infusing the water with elemental water?”

Xan nodded and moved over to the pot. With his good hand he easily pulled the Qi and flowed elemental water through it and into the pot. Like in the infirmary, it turned the water black.

Bimi glanced into the pot and nodded. “That will work nicely.” She faced Cho. “Can you slice the mushrooms?”

Cho went and got a knife from the rack and a cutting board. “How thin do you want them?”

“As thin as you can get them. We need a large surface area for the water to pull the mushroom’s essence.” She explained as she pulled on leather gloves and worked the stopper free from the terra cotta jar. She glanced in once it was open. Ever so carefully, she held the jar over the boiling water and gently tapped the container a few times to get some dried flower to fall out into the burbling liquid. She watched the boiling for a bit.

“How often did you work with your master for tinctures?” Bimi asked Xan, eyes still fixed on the contents within the pot.

“I had been working with him for about a year. My father wanted me to apprentice to him,” Xan quavered. The memories of Master Sung and his shop threatened to overwhelm him. He coughed into his hand to hide what was going on.

“When Cho puts the mushrooms in, I want you to infuse them with elemental Wood. Can you do that?” she asked.

Xan regained his composure. “Sure. At the same time as I’m doing the elemental water?” he asked.

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You can do two different flows at the same time?”

“Probably, as long as one is water. Why?” Xan asked. No one had told him he couldn’t. So it should be possible.

“Yes,” she replied hesitantly, “but that is generally something beyond first-years.”

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Cho said. “Might as well try it, Xan.” He moved over with the cutting board and reversed the knife so he could scrape with the back of the blade. “Ready?”

Xan nodded and imagined another stream of Qi flowing from his center. This time, he pulled wood from the air and directed it at the mushrooms. He kept the other flow of elemental water going into the pot.

“Well done, Master Gao.” Instructor Bimi beamed at him.

At the unexpected compliment, Xan lost the flows and blushed furiously. “Ah, sorry.”

Instructor Bimi giggled at him. “It is fine.” She looked at Cho. “Do you want to try? If he can do it, you might be able to as well.”

Cho moved over to the pot. “Water into the water in the pot and wood into the mushrooms?” He asked.

She nodded. “Start with one, then picture the other,” she encouraged.

After several false starts, Cho was able to get two weak streams of different elements flowing into the right locations.

“Excellent.”

The patience and encouragement strongly reminded Xan of Master Sung. “Instructor Bimi? How long do you think it will take to heal my arm?”

“Why are you in such a hurry?” She asked him, though there was no accusation in her tone. Just genuine curiosity.

“I want to do well in my studies,” Xan stated unsure where she was going.

“You seem to be doing fine with flows even with a broken arm,” she pointed out.

“But I can’t fight with a broken arm.”

“Why are you in such a hurry to fight?” Instructor Bimi asked. It echoed almost exactly the conversations with Xan’s father, spouting spurious logic in his twisting pre-planned arguments.

This got Xan’s hackles up. “The world out there is trying its best to kills us. We need to be able to fight. To defend ourselves.”

“But do we need to oppose it specifically?” she asked. It was as if the ghost of his father was whispering in her ear, telling her what to say.

“If we don’t oppose oppression and destruction, we will end up just like Mogu!.” He shouted at her.

“Xan!” Cho said sharply. Xan turned to him quickly, face flushed, mouth open, ready for an argument. “This isn’t Mogu.” Cho told him simply—tone even and level.

Xan flushed deeper crimson, this time from embarrassment. “Apologies Instructor Bimi. I got caught up arguing with ghosts. I hope you can forgive me?” Xan bowed deeply and held it.

Bimi watched Xan for a long while—the silenced stretched uncomfortably. “You are carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders, young-one.” She sighed and turned to Cho. “That burden isn’t good for him.” She pulled out a strainer and a glass flask with glyphs etched on the sides. Carefully she poured the contents of the pot into the strainer where it drained into the flask. The glyphs flashed as they activated.

Cho watched the flush deepen in Xan’s cheeks as he straightened from the bow. “Yeah, he has been through a lot.” Cho paused for a moment, meeting Xan’s gaze. “I guess we both have.”

She finished draining the pot. The last drops from the strainer entered the flask. Bimi set the pot and strainer aside. She picked up the container and smelled it. A smile bloomed on her face. “I think this will do nicely.” She put a stopper in the flask and handed it to Xan. “One swallow in the morning and another at night until it is all gone. I expect you will see some rapid healing with this to aid you,” she reassured Xan.

“Thank you mistress. I really am sorry for my outburst.” Xan said humbly.

“Young Xan, until you can unite the halves of your divided soul, you will never become the warrior you are hoping for.” Bimi smiled. “Go with peace Gao Xan.”

“May the way guide you.” Xan responded immediately, leaning on his father’s teachings in the Path of Peace.

#

With all the students having returned home for spring planting, the school was extremely quiet. Xan’s routine for recovery had become just that, routine. Each morning he would drink the bitter elixir and focus on healing his broken arm. Then he would meet up with Cho for a quiet breakfast at the formerly bustling noodle shop. The solitary sound of a spoon in his bowl as he ate was like that of a lost porcelain bird, tink, tink, tink. As the sun came up over the lip of the valley, the morning mist stood in as wispy ghosts of students in the normally thriving campus.

Xan knew that the constant companionship of Cho helped relieve the monotony and otherwise distract them both from the fact they couldn’t return to the vacant village of their childhood. In the last training cycle, they had learned single arm techniques for their martial arts. After breakfast, the two of them would practice push hands, strikes, and blocks with the three elements they had so far. With three weeks to work on it, their techniques progressed well.

At lunchtime each day they would venture into the town proper questing for an eating spot they hadn’t tried before. They started at the main gate and worked clockwise to find a restaurant. The constant creek of wagons and bustle of life in the town stood in stark contrast with the almost eerie stillness in the deserted school.

They spent afternoons in the library. Initially, Xan would focus on reading elemental manuals, but soon started exploring the historical tomes. When Cho found out what Xan was looking for, any mention of the General who devastated their village, he searched out books with a gusto. He would drop a book he found on Xan’s table with a startling slap and dart off in search of another, leaving Xan alone with the swish, swish of brush on paper as he took notes. The library had to hold tens of thousands of books and scrolls. The duo would need years in the library to make the barest dint.

But they were determined, no matter how long it took or how insurmountable the odds seemed.

Evenings found them back at the noodle shop. The sonorous call of crickets and the flash of lightning bugs signaled the end of another day in the month-long break.

But tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow would bring the next element.

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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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