Enboldened by the divination Ma Huang went straight to work in her kitchen, she couldn’t wait for Xing Ren to think of anything, much less decide on the best next step. Her first step was to get Xing Ren back into a stronger state, he seemed already exhausted; faculties depleted. Beef bones had been simmering on the back of her stove for three days, it hadn’t been easy to keep the fire going without Little Fish and Second Sister to watch it for her, but she had managed. With a large ladle Ma Huang dipped out a bowl full of broth, put in three dried mushrooms and leaving the bowl on the warm top of the stove she went outside to her small herb garden. “which ones, which ones” she muttered to herself, touching the leaves of the plants gently. Returning shortly to the kitchen she gently pressed the leaves she had chosen until their juices just began to ooze, then she swiftly chopped the herbs and put them in the bowl. From the cool corner of the kitchen she retrieved a spoonful of Miso, this she mixed thoroughly with a small amount of broth in a small bowl and added it to the larger bowl with the mushrooms and herbs, stirring it in using a figure eight shape. Finally from a small and ancient box she took a tiny piece of seaweed, this she powdered and sprinkled on the top of the soup. Ma Huang waited until the Miso had formed a cloud in the middle of the bowl then she brought it to Xing Ren where he sat slumped, head in hands. Placing the bowl in front of him with a spoon Ma Huang sat across from Xing Ren, saying nothing, because she didn’t want him to use his Qi in answering her; she gently wafted the scent in his direction with a great round lotus leaf.
As the first odor of soup penetrated his brain Xing Ren began to breathe more deeply, drawing air and odor deeper into his lungs. After several deep breaths he silently reached for the spoon and with slow deliberation fed himself, his blood, his Qi and his spirit.
When he finally raised his head to look at Ma Huang the sparkle had returned to his eyes and the warmth to his cheeks. “You need to tell me how it works” she told him.
“How what works?” he asked, although he knew perfectly well what she meant.
Ma Huang looked at him and waited.
“It starts with a chrystaline energy pattern that is specific to the person who wants to travel between the parts of the world that we see. That pattern is set up in a number of ways, I set of mine through intensive Ba Gua practice, Tibetans prefer a sitting meditation. Though that has it’s draw backs.”
“How is that? They seem to do quite well, I often see them flickering in and out from mountain top to mountain top. It looks like a miracle, like magic” Ma Huang poured tea as she spoke.
Xing Ren laughed “Everyone is so impressed by that, if they did it right and had a really good flexible pattern you wouldn’t see them at all! It’s real magic when you don’t see anything, that’s the miracle when there is nothing.”
“But then how would you know the difference between nothing happening and a miracle? If it all seems like nothing?”
“I digress” he sipped tea “My pattern, after years of practice, is pretty strong, that’s why I could take the children in with me when they were attacked by the bandits.”
Ma Huang nodded, although she had the ability to sense shifting Qi flows on the mountain and track individual Qi trails, she had never been initiated into the practice of Ba Gua or the spaces and places between and behind. She had been taught the consequences of taking a person unprepared into that place, just in case.
“How does it work, why did they get disappear back inside inbetween?”
“When they were in there with me their personal Qi got caught in the vibration of the pattern. If I had pulled them out sooner it would might have been extremely hard for their young bodies to recover and they may have been damaged irreparably. As it was the traces of their Qi patterns caught them and pulled them back, like droplets of water barely touching then moving into one bigger drop.”
“How can you pop in and out and stay for as long as you like?”
“It’s my Qi pattern, I’ve worked on it for decades. It is supple and serviceable, I can make it go anywhere.” Xing Ren suppressed a glow of pride, “I had very good teachers.”
Suddenly he drooped, so tired, more worn then ever. “I’ll just rest a bit” he explained, putting his head on crossed arms. There was more Ma Huang had to find out. She made soup again.
“Why can’t you just go in and get them back?” she asked a revived Xing Ren.
“they’ve been in there long enough that the Qi pattern in no longer enough mine.”
“Then why can’t they just come out?”
Xing Ren rubbed his forehead, not sure which of the unfortunate consequences he should tell her. He sighed.
“Because there is enough of my Qi pattern that they can’t manipulate it.”
Ma Huang saw something in his face that truly alarmed her “What are you not telling me? What else is there?”
“Well, you see this whole situation it is somewhat unprecedented, but from what I can tell they are dieing in there. They cannot properly manipulate the patterns and the patterns are not enough like them to provide a sustainable Qi source. And…”
He trailed off unwilling to tell more, Ma Huang just waited. “And having them in my Qi pattern is draining on my life force. It may well be we will both die, or if they die I have might have some small a chance of recovering.”
Ma Huang knew exactly what she had to do.