AVATAR: THE MASTER GENERAL

Book 1: LIFE

Chapter 1:

THE YOUNGEST RECRUIT

Hup-two three four.

Hup-two three four.

Hup-two three four.

The armor clanged against the shins of the men as they marched proudly across the parade field of the barracks. The flag waved over them, a red pentagon with a circle and an odd symbol in the center of it. The men held their spears close to their chest, the first specimens on the earth for this drastic cultural impact.

The drill sergeant barked his orders loudly, keeping the feet and mind in check. Another squad ran past on their jog with their captain. The only other squad was hanging out across the grounds, playing tiles and harping on their sitars. The drill sergeant stopped his men with a rough bark. The men dug their toes into the ground and spun, their arms held proudly in the afternoon sun.

"Good…for a bunch of panda lilies." The drill sergeant spoke as he marched up and down the line of men. His hands were held behind his back and the rough toga wrapped around the rusty armor. "You're sloppy in your marching and most of you don't even know which foot we start off on. We always march with the left foot first, never the right!"

"Sir, yes sir!"

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you bunch of ladies." The drill sergeant cupped a hand to his ear and leaned in threateningly to his men.

"Sir, yes sir!"

"How about one more time?"

"SIR, YES SIR!"

"DISMISSED!" The sergeant turned around and walked away, the men running off in formation to the storage room to place their gleaming new technology in their pristine sanctuary. The drill sergeant moved on towards the large house which seemed almost out of place in the army barracks. He went up to the door and heaved a sigh as he made to knock on the phoenix inlaid door.

There was a scuffle behind him. The sergeant turned to see two men grappling to the side of the marble stairs. "Knock it off, privates!" the sergeant screamed at the men. They stopped almost immediately and stood in a salute.

"Sir, yes sir. Sorry sir!"

The sergeant stopped and gave an eagle eye look over at the man on the right. He was shorter than most of the other men and didn't even seem to have a natural mustache. The sergeant moved down as the men both made to leave. "Stay where you are, soldiers!" the sergeant barked as the men turned back, both looking like children caught in the act.

The sergeant marched up to the shorter man and with one swift motion removed the fake mustache from his face. The man gave a wail of pain and clamped his hand tightly over his upper lip and began to massage it. The sergeant grabbed him roughly by the collar and, with the speed needed in such an ill used army, caught the other man by his sleeve as he turned to leave.

"Hold it you two!" he barked as he swung the men backwards and gripped their shirts more tightly, each one of them slipping like eels out of his clutches.

"Sergeant, we haven't done anything wrong." The older of the men stammered.

"Then why were you trying to run?" the sergeant shouted again, this time drawing the eyes of all those present. "Whose platoon are you in?"

"I'm telling you…" the man stammered again while the young boy remained calm, forcing himself as far out of his grasp as possible.

"WHAT PLATOON ARE YOU IN!" the sergeant shouted again.

"What's going on here?" a voice called from behind them. The sergeant dropped the older man yet still held the imposter by the scruff of his neck. The lean man behind him marched forward, wearing only a towel around his waist and a cloth wrapped around his hands

"Does this weasel belong in your platoon?" the sergeant barked as he shoved the boy towards him. The boy seemed indifferent to the matter, but a nice line of sweat was marching along his brow.

"Yes. He signed up about two weeks ago." The captain said as he looked down at the boy. "He looks a lot younger without his moustache though."

"That's because it was a fake." The sergeant explained as he held up the bristly strip for the man to see. "Do you mean to say that you actually did not know that this man was in fact a boy?"

The man thought it over and blinked blankly at the sergeant. "Well…yes actually. His resume was pretty impressive to boot."

The sergeant grew impatient and whipped the boy around and drew a harsh breath into his face. "What is your name boy?"

The boy shrugged off the sergeant's hand and glared defiantly up at him.

"My name is Zhong. I'm 13 years old and I wanted to join this army to help keep peace in this world."

Zhong leaned over, gave a harsh gurgle of his throat, and spat a large wad of saliva onto the sergeant's boot. The men exploded into laughter at Zhong's words. "A 13 year old has more guts than most of the privates." The men joked back and forth. The drill sergeant turned bright red and hurled Zhong to the ground. He cracked his knuckles and gave his head a twitch.

"If you think you're so tough, try fighting me boy." The sergeant asked as he thumbed his nose and Zhong got to his feet. Zhong put his hands up tentatively, not defending his core. The sergeant moved quickly, landing some nice jabs at Zhong's abdomen and causing Zhong to sputter as air passed out of his lungs.

Zhong curled up on the ground as the sergeant moved forward with quick feet. The other men had made a ring of bodies around the two combatants. The sergeant aimed a kick at Zhong's face but Zhong leapt up and wrapped his lean arms around his knees. The sergeant began beating Zhong's head and trying to release Zhong's steel grip from around his knees. They both tumbled over and Zhong pounced upon the man's chest, holding him down with an elbow to the throat.

The men cheered as the sergeant's face turned red and he threw Zhong's elbow away. Zhong twisted himself around as the sergeant shifted himself up and began to choke Zhong from above. Zhong gripped the man's wrists and forced them off of him and gave him a right kick to the chest. The sergeant fell backwards and Zhong got to his feet. Zhong thumbed his nose, wiped the sweat from his face, and body slammed the man.

The sergeant's eyes moved back in his head as he fell unconscious. Zhong stood up and waved his arms above his head in victory as the soldier's rushed him and began patting him on the back. Some of the men rushed to the sergeant, slapping his face and shaking him to get him awake.

"You! Come with me!" Zhong spun around and was quickly moved along through the cheering crowd by his captain, who now had his helmet on and was wearing a pair pants. He led Zhong up the steps and opened the wooden door with a creak.

Zhong flinched as his eyes adjusted to the dark house as the captain slammed the door shut and marched Zhong forward. They stopped momentarily at a long, golden curtain and then pushed through.

Zhong was in awe at the hall. It was a small area with benches along the walls and fine silver pillars reaching up to the high ceiling. Intricate tiles ran along the floor. There was a dais in the back with a high backed chair upon it, sitting in front of the wall of fire along the entire back wall. The captain shoved Zhong forward and forced his into a bow on the tiled floor.

"Master, I need you to settle something for me." The captain said as he took a knee before the leader of the army.

"And what is that?" the Master asked in a husky voice, peering over the tips of his fingers.

"This young man is not in fact a young man." The captain informed him.

"That's a lie! I am a man." Zhong retorted. The captain shot him a look as the Master moved his piercing eyes over the young boy kneeling on the floor.

"He is only thirteen years old, Master." The captain continued. "He is too young…but he is very apt for the army. He defeated one of the best drill sergeants just now without any help. He does have potential but there is still the fact that…"

"Leave us."

"I beg your pardon." The captain looked up as the Master gave a long, hard stare at Zhong, who had decided to not pay any attention to what was going on at all.

"Leave me with him." The Master waved a hand impatiently for the captain to leave as he once again resumed watching the boy over the tips of his fingers.

"Yes, Master." The captain bowed again and departed, leaving the boy alone with the greatest power on the planet.

Zhong knelt there examining the tiled floor carefully, not that there was much else to do. He began to whistle a bit to himself as boredom grew and neither man breathed a word. "Am I done here?" Zhong asked impatiently as he looked upwards. He was startled and fell backwards as he snapped his head upwards. The Master had been standing not two inches from him, glaring down upon him. The oddest part was that Zhong had not heard his footsteps on the hard, echoing tiles.

"Your name is Zhong, is it not?" the Master questioned as Zhong lay on the ground, propped up on his hands as he tried to wipe the uncommon surprise off of his face.

"Y…yes,…..Master." Zhong stammered as he shifted himself uncomfortably. The Master nodded to himself and shifted his gaze to a low corner of the room.

"Where are your parents?" the Master asked as he took a step towards Zhong, still gazing at the floor. Zhong paused for a moment and then lifted himself to a comfortable position on his knees.

"They're dead." Zhong admitted. "They were…"

"What?" The Master whipped his gaze back at Zhong when the silence became clear that Zhong no longer wished to continue. "You're parents were what? Killed? Victims of a crime that shouldn't have even existed? The first crime of this world?"

"What does that mean?" Zhong asked the Master impatiently as a slight defiance brewed inside of him. "You think nothing bad has ever happened before their deaths?"

"So they were murdered." The Master surmised as he paced to the side of Zhong, his gaze falling back to the floor.

"Do you even know what this world is like?" Zhong demanded of him. "Then again you must. You look like the oldest thing alive. You must have been the first man on the planet with those wrinkles."

The Master rounded on Zhong with ferocity, though Zhong ignored it. "You insolent young man! I'll have you know that I am not as old as I appear. Do you know how long this world has been in existence?"

"Yeah, roughly 88 years. I'm not dumb. I know my modern history." Zhong said as he folded his arms as the Master stooped to his level. "And I also know that I have done nothing wrong. I want to be in your army and if you want to pass up a willing soldier than that is your beef, not mine."

"Get out. Get out and don't let me see you in here ever again!" The Master lifted a finger and pointed for the very curtain Zhong had entered the sanctuary through. Zhong got slowly to his feet and turned on his heel, marching out of the room and back to his tent. He jumped onto his bed and gave a sharp kick to the man cowering above his bunk.

"That's for running." Zhong responded as the man moved out from under his sheets; afraid after his incident with the drill sergeant that morning with Zhong.

The Master sat back upon his high backed chair and thought to himself.

"Zhong may be useful. I dare say, that boy has the very spark I like to see in people. He's just right to keep the peace of this world in line. He could be the one I've been looking for. The man to rule directly under me and ensure the peace of my world." The Master sat back and twiddled his fingers menacingly as the thought entertained his fancies. "Yes, I just have to hone him a bit. But when I'm trough with him, he will be a force to be reckoned with. I will see to that."