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The next morning, Xan walked along the gray brick wall that bordered the alchemy school. He was feeling good after yesterday’s practice session in fire. Things were finally clicking for him. The Seekers in his group walked quietly several paces behind him. A few talked with voices pitched low. The occasional scuff of shoes on the cobblestone could be heard as they approached the iron-bound wooden door leading to the alchemy building.

Xan knocked and the door creaked on its metal hinges as it opened. Inside was a black-robed Follower. His jet black hair in a tight braid that came to mid-chest and a smile that reached his kind almond colored eyes.

Xan stepped through the door, followed closely by Sue and Cho. Their steps crunched in the crushed granite of the courtyard as they approached the man. Xan could see that his Follower’s robes were rumpled and suspected he had slept in them.

The Follower shuffled closer to the red door on the other side of the courtyard to make room for the rest of the students chatting amongst themselves as they crossed to join the trio. Once the side conversations had settled down, the Follower spoke, “Welcome to alchemy. I am Ping and I will be leading your safety briefing.”

“Once you enter the lab, do not touch anything,” he continued after a long tense moment, “you will be issued an apron, goggles, and gloves. Please put them on. When you leave, you will be assigned a cubby. Remember your number and store your gear accordingly.” He looked like he had given this brief a hundred times—yet there was an air about him that said this brief was important. That alchemy held danger.

Finally, Ping opened up the small red door behind him, motioning for them to follow him into the building and moved next to a bin full of brown leather bundles. Xan guessed they contained the equipment he had discussed with them: gloves, goggles and aprons. “Take a bundle and move on to the right,” Ping called out.

The room they entered was dim, musty, and roughly forty feet on a side with a corridor leading off to the right. Xan could hear the clink of glass and tapping of metal on metal from down the hall. He reached into the wooden bin, grabbed a bundle, then moved to the side. The leather of the apron was soft and supple, and the acrid smell told it had been cured recently. He glanced down the corridor and saw a series of doors, all unmarked. Xan was nervous considering the smoke the last time they had visited.

The door immediately behind Ping opened and a young man, who seemed barely older than Xan, stepped through. He wore black pants and a crisp white shirt. Instead of the traditional jacket, he had on a leather apron similar to the ones that the students had just acquired. His dark brown hair hung to his shoulders and startling green eyes regarded the students. He stopped next to Ping, a small smile flickering across his lips.

“Please continue,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back, waiting patiently. Xan was surprised that this young man was their instructor. He seemed poised and confident. If he was the instructor at such a young age, he must be accomplished. Xan couldn’t believe they would let just anyone run one of the disciplines.

Ping nodded and turned back to the students. “This is Instructor Fin. Does everyone have their kit?” He looked at all the students. “The cubbies are behind you. Please remember your number when you put your things in them at the end of this session.” Several of the students murmured. “Are there questions?” Ping asked sharply. Seeing student heads shake in the negative, he turned to Instructor Fin. “Sir, they have their gear and have been briefed. They are yours.” Ping bowed and quickly moved to the side, putting his back to the wall, gaze fixed unwaveringly on the students.

Instructor Fin watched the students with his intensely green gaze. Xan had never seen eyes so vividly green. They almost glowed. It seemed like an eternity to Xan before Fin spoke—though, in reality, it had been a few seconds.

With a deep baritone voice that seemed out of place on his thin young frame, Instructor Fin spoke, “Today we learn alchemy. Who here knows what alchemy is?”

Several students raised their hands. As Xan looked around, he realized everyone but he and Cho had their hands raised. Xan’s heart hammered and palms got clammy. He shifted from foot to foot, driven by a combination of nerves and uncertainty. Surely, they couldn’t be the only ones. True, they were from the country—and a small village at that—but was alchemy really such a common subject? We’re he and Cho already behind?

“Good, good,” Instructor Fin said, nodding as he regarded the upraised limbs. “Now, since this is the fourth cycle, you can guess that alchemy is aligned with Fire. It is through the application of fire that catalysts can form new compounds and that ingredients can fuse together,” Instructor Fin explained. “Now, put your aprons and goggles on. We won’t be needing the gloves for a bit.” The students rushed to put on the gear. One set of goggles hit the floor with a crunch, the glass lenses in them braking. An embarrassed student stepped forward. “Apologies.”

Ping moved over to get a new pair of goggles for them.

Instructor Fin continued, unperturbed. “We are going to step into the next room. I need you to find a seat and be still. Very still.” He turned to the heavy metal door set in a brick frame. He put his hand on the door and Xan heard a rushing in his mind and knew Instructor Fin had just pushed metal infused Qi to unlock the door.

The students quietly filed into the large room beyond. There were two rows of low pine benches arrayed in a semi-circle around a central wooden worktable. The table top itself sat on a rectangular metal frame, which looked brutally scarred from fire or acid or some other activity. Xan supposed it had lived a hard, alchemical life. He sat in the back row with Sue and Cho.

Once the students were situated and silent, Instructor Fin moved up to the table. He reached into a small wooden crate next to the table and started putting items up onto the table, speaking as he went. His voice resounded through the amphitheater where the acoustics carried his voice to each of the students as if he were a foot in front of them.

“Alchemy is the study of how elements and materials interact when fused together with fire. There are a wealth of practical application, of course, but the true philosophical goal of alchemy is the pursuit of immortality.” He carefully placed a melon-sized brazier on the table. He snapped his fingers, and Xan heard the snap in his mind before the sound from Instructor’s fingers. The brazier caught flame at once, conjured as though by some unseen magic. He channeled fire!

“But, here at the school, we have a more practical approach. We will show you how to infuse materials with Qi and use them to blend together to produce an elixir to gift abilities, enhance awareness, or expand the mind and body.” He set up several containers and a small pot. “Today we are going to create a basic elixir.” He began adding various ingredients onto a plate. Each measured out from their container. The clink of a metal spoon as he scooped the powder resounded through the room, sound amplified just as his voice had been.

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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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