Book 1: LIFE

CHAPTER 12:
THE MASTER GENERAL

Zhong could not stop scratching the new scar under his chin. The great itching sensation never seemed to stop. He grunted loudly as he passed a small kiosk, causing the owner to jump a bit. "That scar bothering you?" the owner asked.

"No, I'm fine." Zhong retorted as he passed onwards, a sweep of cold passing behind him. He marched along with his strut very forced. He needed the answer to this all.

He needed to know who killed his parents. He needed to know why. He needed to know what was up with Aitoku's promotions. He needed to know why he was being betrayed. He needed to know what it was this army was really supposed to be doing. He needed to know why he always seemed to be at the center of all the conflicts. He wanted to know why him.

He saw the cold, menacing wall with watchtowers just ahead. The wooden doors were solid in their stance and no fires were burning in the dusk. Zhong stopped dead in his tracks for a moment. He peered up at the watch towers. No one stood guard that night. Zhong moved forward cautiously and placed a large hand on the doors. They swung open at the slightest push. "Why aren't these doors barred?" Zhong asked himself as he shoved his way inside.

The barracks was empty.

Zhong stood there for a brief moment of amazement before he took some steps into the compound. He immediately started off in the direction of the bunks. He peeked inside.

They were stripped of anything useful and now sat in disuse. Zhong ran a hand lovingly over his old bunk; the same one he slept in as a thirteen year old, illegal recruit. Without a second moment of thought he turned and left the memory there. He knew where to look next.


The children had been let out to recess at noon as always. They ran screaming around the schoolyard playing their games and gossiping about adult things that they had heard some of the teenagers talking about. One girl seemed a bit out of place in this whole chaos. She simply sat on the steps of the school, a scroll unrolled on her lap.

"Whatcha reading?" a boy asked as he sheepishly peered over the edge of the railing.

"It's a history of the education system." The girl replied. She had taken fondly to studying some of the old history of the world and was currently chipping away at infrastructure now.

"Oh." The boy responded, clearly not very thrilled about the subject. "You got anything…less boring?"

The girl snapped her head towards him so fast that it was a miracle it did not snap off. "Boring! This isn't boring. This is very useful and smart stuff. You should know this stuff." The girl huffed and turned back to her scroll while the boy continued to blush a nice shade of red.

"I didn't mean to offend you." The boy walked out from around the rail and wandered over to the steps next to her, sitting in uncomfortable silence. He looked down at her side and his eyes caught on a small, cloth sack at her side. "What are those?" The boy made a grab for the bag but the girl apparently had great reflexes.

"Don't touch them." The girl stated as she held the bag out of the boy's reach. "They are just other things to read. They might bore you anyway." The girl put the bag down on the other side of her and continued reading, a very annoyed look plastered on her face. The boy sat once again in uncomfortable silence.

"You got just any old stories in there?" The boy asked again.

"The only story I have is Love Amongst the Dragons but I took it from my cousin so she would probably get upset if anything happened to it." The girl retorted.

"Well, I guess that's true." The boy said as he shifted himself uncomfortably on the steps. "Are there at least some with pictures that I could look at?"

"No." the girl closed the scroll tightly as gave a long hard look at him. "Why don't you just go away and hang out with your friends?" The girl unfurled the scroll once more and sat there reading with such speed that she forgot half the words.

The boy still sat there in awkward silence. "What friends?"


Zhong stood before the same tall backed chair he had knelt in front of so many times before, the phoenix seeming to be giving him a glare from atop the chair. Zhong sighed in the darkroom. The army had apparently moved without his knowledge. He turned to leave and dropped the curtain behind him, leaving the audience chamber for the last time.

He stepped out onto the parade field, where he had practiced all of his drills. Where he learned how to march. And off in the corner by the Master's house was the same sparing area where he had been found out. He blinked the tear into submission and walked off towards the doors of the compound.

"Why did I know you would end up back here?"

Zhong spun around, a large grin flashing across his face. Aitoku was standing on top of the Master's roof with a sword spinning in his hand. "Aitoku!" Zhong shouted as he broke into a laugh. "You have no clue how much I missed you."

The same flicker of love was not present in Aitoku's eyes this time. In fact, he seemed much more withdrawn then ever, almost like a walking corpse. "May I ask why you even bothered to come back here anyway? I do believe that you resigned from the army."

"I did but…I need some answers and the Master is the only one who can give them." Zhong said on a more serious note. "Where have you moved the barracks to?"

"Why should I tell you, traitor?" Zhong took a few wary steps backwards. The look coming from Aitoku was deadly.

"Traitor?" Zhong asked. "I have betrayed no one?"

"Really?" Aitoku insisted. "You come barging back in here after you leave us and begin causing trouble in some other regions. You disrupted a cultural ceremony with the Kiwajou Tribe and you just engaged in a territory dispute with a group of assassins. And you even committed murder during these escapades. And here I thought you were all for peace."

"I am for peace!" Zhong shouted. "Aitoku, listen to yourself. You know me better than anyone. You must understand that sometimes murder is the only way to keep peace. Sometimes drastic measures must be taken."

"And now you are trespassing on private and military property. By all accounts, you are in violation of the law." Aitoku leapt off the roof and landed with surprising agility in front of Zhong, his blade pointed at his chest. "I should take you into custody, but why spare the life of a traitor?"

Zhong gasped and drew his sword just in time to dodge Aitoku's opening swing. Zhong faltered backwards from the force of the clash. Aitoku had grown almost superhumanly fast and strong. Almost as if this wasn't really his own power. "Aitoku, please stop!" Zhong pleaded as he saw Aitoku begin to pace. "I'm your friend. You know that."

"Shut up!" Aitoku lunged again and Zhong was once again able to dodge as he launched into his most desperate battle ever.


The girl turned to the boy. "What?"

The boy looked sheepishly over at her. "I don't have any friends. So I can't really leave…" The boy turned around, some tears filling his eyes. The girl looked down and then shifted herself closer to him.

"Well…I'll let you read Love Amongst the Dragons if you really want to." The girl said as she flicked through her bag and handed him the scroll. "Just be careful with it."

"Thanks…" the boy said as he took the scroll, his hand brushing the girl's hand for an instant. He unrolled the scroll and sat there looking at it, the girl looked interestingly on. After a few seconds, the girl observed that his eyes weren't actually flying over the scroll.

"Something wrong?" the girl asked the boy.

"Well, I'm learning but…I don't really know how to read." The boy confessed as he looked over at her.

"You don't know how to read?" the girl shouted. A group of girls that were passing by stopped and snickered before flitting off in a buzz of whispers. The boy hung his head, knowing full well that ridicule would follow this revelation. "Don't pay them any attention. I will help you with it."

"Really?" the boy asked her.

"Sure." The girl said as he slipped down beside him and shifted the scroll onto her lap as well. "Here, I'll read it and point to all the words that correspond with what I'm saying, okay?"

"Sure." The boy said as he looked at her. "Um…what is your name?"

"My name?" the girl asked as she suddenly realized that she had somehow forgotten the entire scroll she had read on etiquette. "My name is Aer."

"I'm Long-hin." The boy said as he held out his hand for Aer to shake.


Zhong smashed through the window and quickly rolled under a table. Aitoku was inside quickly, the drizzle of rain beginning outside. He began kicking over tables as he prowled the area. Zhong saw his opening.

He slashed out from under a bench at Aitoku's ankles but Aitoku was too quick. Aitoku brought his sword down on the bench, cutting clean through it. Zhong tackled Aitoku to the ground, rolling around the mess hall almost exactly as he had done with the Drill Sergeant many years before.

Aitoku was able to slam Zhong into a wall and scrambled to reach his sword. Zhong sprinted full on towards him and sent them crashing through the door and into the parade field. They rolled around for a while before Zhong was able to make a nice getaway for the armory where Aitoku cornered him once more. Zhong tipped over a rack, stalling Aitoku and allowing Zhong to get his hands on a good sword. He turned around and clashed with Aitoku's blade once more.

They snaked their way through the shelves in the armory, sending helmets, daggers, and arrows clattering onto the ground. Aitoku gripped a handful of fallen arrows and hurled them with all his might at Zhong. Zhong was able to shield himself with the door to the stables in time. Aitoku swung forward as they moved the fight back outside into the stables. Lightning began to flash now as the rain came down in sheets on them.

Two friends locked in a final fight to the death.


"So, in the beginning there was a group of dragons that lived on a large island." Aer began the story, her finger guiding Lon-hin along. "And they had guardian dragons that protected the regular dragons from harm. These guardian dragons must always be on duty and thus they cannot get attached to anything. They cannot know relaxation or trust or love."

"One of those dragons though was red and he sat watch over the west side of the island. One day, his patrol intersected with another dragon guardian. The other dragon was under attack from a wild camelephant. The red dragon flew to his rescue and together they slew the camelephant. The red dragon then began patrolling with the other dragon guardian, who was blue, in order to protect him. This went on for many months and eventually they began to grow attached to each other."

"Of course, this was forbidden so they tried to go on separate routes, the red dragon taking the north and the blue dragon taking the south. But one day, there was a terrible storm that overtook the island. The dragon guardians flew back to the normal dragons in order to defend them. The blue dragon looked around but he could not find the red dragon. He decided to fly north to try and find him."

"The blue dragon fought through the storm winds to where the red dragon had his patrol set up. There, the blue dragon found the red dragon wounded from debris. The blue dragon curled itself around the red dragon and tried to get him to safety, breathing fire to keep them both warm in the icy rain. Soon, a frost came down from the mountains as the storm subsided. The dragon guardians had successfully save the other dragons but were at a loss as to where the red and blue dragon had gone."

"They searched the island over and eventually found the red dragon in a large cave. The Blue dragon had stayed with him through the night and, with his final breath of fire sung him a song of love before finally passing away. The red dragon left the island, never to return. For love had stained the land and all now knew of the love amongst the dragons."

Aer finished and Long-hin gave he a look. "This seems like such a sad story." Long-hin quipped.

"Well…yeah." Aer said as if Long-hin had missed the point of the story entirely. She took the scroll back and rolled it up before shoving it into the bag.

"But, they were in love so why did it have to be so sad?"


Zhong shoved Aitoku to the ground as the storm raged in a howling tempest around them. Aitoku dodge rolled past Zhong and gave a right kick as Zhong fell forwards into the mud, the barracks gate lying dilapidated behind them. Aitoku lifted his sword to Zhong's chest, heaving with a wicked glint in his black eyes.

"Aitoku…please." Zhong pleaded.

"I have no other choice!" Aitoku shouted. "You have caused too much trouble; you cannot live."

"Aitoku, listen." Zhong said as he crawled out from under Aitoku's sword and got to his wavering feet. "I know that I've messed up sometimes. I know that, maybe bad things do always happen around me and yes, I did leave the army. But…I had to. You know that. You know me better than anyone. You…you make everything feel like it's gonna be all right." Zhong lowered his hands and shook his head. "Aitoku, I still remember the first time we met and I helped you out of a tussle. I would give anything to go back to those simple days. I would give anything to just erase all of the violence and hurt and pain and go back to that time when it was just you and me and nothing else. You are everything to me, Aitoku. I…I love you, Aitoku."

"But kill me. If it will mean getting you another promotion, so be it." Zhong fell to his knees, tears mingling with raindrops on his checks. "I would give anything for you."

Aitoku stood there, looking down at Zhong. His eyes seemed to lighten and his sword fell. "Zhong….I…" Before Aitoku could finish there was a loud hissing noise and Aiotku fell into the mud. He twitched for a moment but then stopped. Zhong terrified lunged forward and held Aitoku is his arms. Aitoku's eyes were blank and he couldn't feel a pulse.


"Who said love stories have to have a happy ending?" Aer asked Long-hin as she put the bag over a shoulder. "If you read enough you will know that plenty of them end in sorrow."

"But, I thought love was good and kind and something that gave you tingly stuff in your stomach." Long-hin replied. "If not, then what is love?"

Aer pondered this for a moment, digging into the archives of scrolls she had stored up in her mind. "I'm not really sure. I guess, from what I've read, that love is simply happiness but more happiness than even happiness can give. It's like a warmth that starts in your tummy and works its way into your heart."

(*)

Zhong shook Aitoku violently as he tried to get some life back into his love. Aiotku was not moving. Zhong, scared and lost, picked him up and slung him over his shoulder. "You can't leave me yet." Zhong pleaded as he began moving off down the muddy road, screaming "HELP!" as loudly as the rain would allow.

(*)

"Love is that thing that never really quits. It kind of makes you do stupid stuff of heroic stuff depending on what you're doing. It's the thing that breaks your heart and it's the thing that lifts you up on your worst day ever. It's what your family is supposed to give you on your birthday or when you do something right. The whole point of love though is to find your other half. That person who gives you the tingles and who gets the tingles from you. And when you've found them, you do anything for them, even if it hurts you. Cause…just knowing that they are happy makes those tingles get even tingglier."

(*)

Zhong could see some sort of compound up ahead through the fog and rain. He was screaming as loud as he could, Aitoku slumped over one shoulder and Zhong digging into the mud. He tried with all his best to keep moving, determined not to let this one good thing for him fade away. "HELP!"

(*)

"And once you've felt that sort of tingle…I guess you never really stop feeling it."

"Never?" Long-hin asked with a slight smile on his face.

"Nope. Never ever." Aer looked around as the bell was rung, signaling that it was time for the kids to get back to class. Aer turned without a second look back at Long-hin.

(*)

Zhong saw a door open in front of him and he hoisted Aitoku up the steps and into the large, dark room. Zhong was panting and crying but mostly he was frightened. Frightened of losing his love.

(*)

Long-hin sat there for a few seconds more as he watched Aer disappear into the school building. "Never ever." He said wistfully to himself as the tingles in his stomach grew to a crescendo.


Zhong placed Aitoku down on a lounge that was set up near the middle of the room. There was a side table next to it with some candles on it which offered the only light for them to see by. "Please, you have to help him." Zhong pleaded as he checked on Aitoku's vitals again. There was a very faint pulse now that Zhong could make out but it wasn't enough to say that Aitoku would survive.

"I only wish that I could." Zhong turned to the voice and felt ice slip into his throat. The Master was watching him from the shadows, peering at him over his finger tips.

"You." Zhong breathed as he got to his feet and stood his ground. The Master began moving forward into the light. "I have some unfinished business with you. And you are going to give me answers."

The Master simply passed Zhong and placed a hand on Aitoku's head. "What happened to him exactly?" the Master asked Zhong without turning to him.

"We were fighting and then he just all of a sudden collapsed." Zhong explained. "Now, don't think…" Zhong tried to get this out before the Master turned around and retreated into the shadows.

"I guess I did over do it a bit." The Master quipped.

"Wait, what?" Zhong asked, a bit taken as to where this conversation was really going.

"I may have tampered so much with him that the introduction of some higher stimulus forced his mind to collapse." The Master answered, still not looking at Zhong.

"Tampered?" Zhong asked. He knew he didn't want the answer, but he wanted it anyway.

"Aitoku and you meeting was no accident." The Master answered Zhong back. "He was quite content on that little island of his, but his destiny was far bigger than just living in peace with his parents. So I sent a letter to him. The control device worked and he got up and left his family. The first of my manipulations. He was to get close to you, get so close to you that you would divulge anything to you."

"I don't understand." Zhong asked as he bent down and gripped Aitoku's hand, feeling the life passing every second. "Why did he need to be so close to me? What's going on here?"

"After I framed you for that murder I promoted him, as if I had a choice." The Master continued, seemingly avoiding Zhong's questions. "He had read another one of my letters. The manipulation set in again. The second manipulation. He got caught between three personalities. One part of him that understood what was happening, the role of the mayor of that town, and a small relapse into the first manipulation. I cleared his mind and rewrote him to be an obedient servant, just until I could piece him properly back into order. The third manipulation. Of course, I thought about using him as my chess piece, but knowing that I had to manipulate him so much just to get him to do what I wanted would never have worked."

"I still don't see why I'm at the center of…" Zhong tried to blurt out before the Master began pacing the room threateningly around Zhong.

"I had sent word for you to return and as such I rewrote another message into Aitoku to blow the whistle once he ad met you and gotten you to speak out. Of course, I simply had to give the orders to the men on what to do when they heard the whistle. No manipulation was needed for them but it was the fourth manipulation of Aitoku. Aitoku was normal for a while, even venturing out with you. I had planned for him to do so but the fact that Aitoku had grown to love you so deeply just meant that I needed to use less persuasion over him. Once you got back though, I had to alter him once more. I turned him into the great general that the men needed and I needed to get to you. I had to try and split up this deep connection you had. Making him somewhat of a dirty general was to by my fifth manipulation."

"And after that, I let him be, loosened the reins if you will. Of course, once he brought back word that you had engaged in actually killing, not only the act but that you had in fact enjoyed it, I knew it was time. I performed my sixth and final manipulation on him, turning him into a ruthless man that would do anything to kill anyone that he considered a traitor. Of course, I'm guessing that his actual self, the one under all of these manipulations, rebelled. His love for you went against all of my manipulations and caused his brain to shut down."

"So…he is going to die?" Zhong asked as he gripped Aitoku harder.

"I have no more use for him." The Master coldly hissed. "He was nothing more than a puppet, meant to deliver me the ultimate pawn. The acolyte that I need. He will not be missed. Except by you."

Zhong got to his feet and drew his sword, pointing it straight at the Master. "Start making sense right now or I'll run you through."

The Master had a wicked smile on his face as Zhong swore he saw two other sets of eyes appear on his face. "And there it is."

"When you first appeared to me I could see it. You had lost your parents and had a large drive to have peace in the world with their deaths as a motivator. There was so much potential and lawful destruction pent up in you, I just needed to get it out of you. You see, I cannot make anyone do something that they wouldn't do, only heighten it or focus it into one single area."

"What?" Zhong demanded as the Master snaked forward.

"Long ago, when this world was new, a message, a prophecy of sorts, was given out to the Spirits. It warned about five people who would cause some sort of change around the world. My world. My world had just been threatened by something. I don't know what but I will not allow them to tamper with it. I created this world. I will control its destiny. So I sped up human evolution. I made infrastructure and industrialization to come thousands of years before people would have found them. Bu it wasn't enough, I know that. Whatever it is that waits on the horizon to destroy everything can still attack. I made a Global Army and entrapped everyone under my power. I now have a force that can go out and quell any fire or rebellion that should ever sprout up. But don't you see? I'm still missing someone."

"Who will lead them with such passion, such aggression, such drive to achieve peace no matter what the cost even if it meant murdering thousands? I needed that acolyte and I have found it." The Master raised a long, pale finger and pointed it ahead, touching the tip of Zhong's blade.

"I had you meet Aitoku, someone close to you in age that could get close to you so that I could track your progress. I had to get you to such a degree of rage and power so that when I enhanced your qualities it would be almost super human. I sent you off as a scout and had you get closer to Aitoku and then I had you commit murder, or so you thought. If you could kill then I could meld you so quickly but alas, you turned out to be softer than I thought. You were broken by the one act. I had to frame you just to get some sort of reaction out of you. You had so far to go. I thought a year away might make you tougher but I was wrong again. You grew scared and fidgety. I was so disappointed. I thought maybe I had gotten the wrong guy but I knew you were an untapped source of raw power."

"I sent you away with Aitoku with a mission to kill the man who you thought had killed your parents. I thought that by using a personal drive of yours would finally drive you to kill. I was correct on this. You showed that you would disobey law, use your cunning to avoid capture and ultimately be driven to kill. You did not follow through with the kill but I learned something much more important. It seems that the Spirits have also noticed my keen attention to you. I could not go further until I was sure that they would not know of my deception and do not fear, no Spirit will ever be able to figure out what happened in this room tonight, not for 100 years."

"You returned and I decided to reveal my treachery to you. You would get angry, have another motive and maybe even start muscling around, but alas you receded from all the progress you had made. Prison made you docile. You were subservient once more. I assumed that Aitoku's promotion would aggravate you but you have no opinion either way. Then you decided to leave and I thought I had lost you forever. But no, I merely discovered exactly what I had always assumed. Your love for Aitoku was the real thing that kept you from giving into your homicidal impulses. The very puppet I had introduced into the equation was now hindering you. But then, glorious day!, I received word that you had killed on your own and you had even liked it."

"You were ready for the final step, and Aitoku could now be of even more use than I had ever planned. I turned him into a malicious man and sent him to kill you. If you could kill Aitoku, it would prove that even love could not take hold over you. And you fought him. You, are in deed my acolyte. You are the one I can take and make into my own apprentice. You have shown that you cannot be stopped by laws of either human or divine. You will not stop for anyone."

"Shut up!" Zhong shouted out in fright as he noticed the doors had vanished from the room. There were no windows and the candles were dying. The Master had four glowing ed eyes on his head and Zhong saw four more arms protrude from the Master's chest. "I will not be slave to anyone. And you think I will follow you willingly? You tampered with my friend, no, my love. You put people in danger of death or injury jus so you could get one person. You are corrupt! I don't think you're even worthy of ruling this world. And I'll end you now where you stand! Anything to protect Aitoku."

Zhong gave a shout and ran forward. He swung his sword over head but his arm was caught. He felt himself lifted into the air by the Master's extra appendages. The Master gave a long, cold laugh.

"AND HERE IS THE FINAL STEP!" The Master shouted. "YOU WOULD ATTACK YOUR OWN LEADER JUST TO ENSURE THAT JUSTICE WAS MET. YOU ARE READY." The Master took one long, pale hand and held it over Zhong's heart. With a wicked cackle he plunged it into Zhong's chest. Zhong screamed as he felt searing pain shoot through him. "I AM GOING TO LOCK THIS RAGE IN YOUR HEART FOREVER. YOU WILL NOT FEEL LOVE OR KINDNESS EVER AGAIN. YOU WILL STAY AS THIS VICIOUS, CUNNING MAN FOREVER MORE. NO FRIENDS FOR YOU. ONLY THOSE WHO WOULD FOLLOW YOU INTO OBLIVION."

Zhong tried to fight but the Master's influence was too much. He felt himself get angrier, more malicious. He gave one look back at the lifeless man lying on the lounge. Zhong was just as dead as him. Trapped in a personality that was not his. "I'll never stop…loving you…Aitoku. Never." The blue dragon breathed in his last breath of fire.

Then he felt love pass away from him. His heart was eternally blackened as he was dropped to the floor.

"You are my master general now." The Master whispered into Zhong's ear. "And I don't even need to control you to get what I want."

Zhong knealt ont he floor before him. "Yes, my master." he replied in a stern, uncaring voice.


The Captain sat on the bench. He had passed the sailing portion of the exam well enough and had scored an above average on the writing section of the test. He knew good tactics even though he lacked the confidence to really carry them out. An aide popped out of the nearest door way.

"Ah, there you are." The aide said as he scurried over to him and shook his hand vigorously. "I'm very pleased to welcome you into the Global Army. You will be heading up the naval sector of the northern waters."

The Captain could finally breathe. "Thank you! You won't be sorry."

"Yes, but there is one strange thing." The aide said as he flipped a page on his clipboard. "You don't seem to have listed a name on your application. Did you just choose not to give it?"

"My name?" the Captain asked quizzically. "I actually don't know my real name."

"Oh, well then, this does…" The aide looked out the window and his eyes grew wide. He gripped the Captain's wrist tightly and rushed him down the corridor. "We have to go." He snapped as they took off through an archway.

"Oh, is there some sort of initiation I have to go through or anything?" the Captain asked the aide.

"Yeah, but latter." The aide said as they rushed out to the parade field and stood at attention as more soldiers fell in.

"What's going on, exactly?" The Captain asked.

"It's just morning announcements. If you're late…well no one is ever late." The aide informed him as a big, imposing man took the podium.

"Good morning troops!" the man boomed over the crowd. "Today seems to be a great day for us. I have just received information that some strange activity has been happening around the world. Now, I have commanded this Global Army for eight years and I know just how great you all are. I am confident in our abilities and that we can in fact stop whatever this nonsense is. Oh, and for those of you who don't know me yet, as there are new recruits here, let me give my name."

The man scratched his chin where the scar still sat. "I am General Zhong, and that's the only name you really need to know."


The Captain sat on a larger rock embedded deep in the sand, listening to the waves roll in on the rocks. He looked around, his eyes much weaker with age than before. He knew it would happen; he always knew this day would come; and now, as he felt the end of his life approaching, he knew it must happen. The Captain returned his gaze to the sea and then reached forward. The surf had carried it to his feet.

The Captain bent down and fondled the conch in his hands. "Who are you?" a woman's voice asked. The Captain turned, seeing her standing there.

"It is an honor, Avatar." The Captain said as he bowed respectfully. The Avatar gave a saddened chuckle as she lifted frustrated hands to her tidy hair.

"Avatar. Avatar, Avatar, Avatar!" the woman said as she fell to the ground, frustrated and lonely as the tip of the surf grazed her shoes. "Always Avatar. Never anything else."

The Captain looked at her there on the beach. "Is something wrong?"

"No!" the Avatar shouted as she folded her arms up on her knees and stared defiantly out to the water.

"You don't sound like an all right woman." The Captain provoked. "Something is troubling you." The Avatar did not answer; instead they sat in silence as the tide pulled away. "What is it like as a Waterbender?"

"Fine." The Avatar replied abruptly.

"How about being an Earthbender? A Firebender?" The Avatar threw a fist into the sand as she spun angrily to the Captain.

"Fine. It's all just fine. Never mind that everyone expects so much of you. Never mind that no one can do anything for themselves. Never mind that I have people and things counting on me to be the leader when no one has ever done this before!" The Avatar returned to her angry stare out towards the sea, mumbling something under her breath.

The Captain let the moment sink in for a few seconds. "I just wanted to know what it was like to be a bender. To have control over your life." The Avatar turned back to him, some anger subsiding. "I've never had any control over my life. Always been played, always been the pawn to someone else's game. I've had everything I've ever loved ripped away from me by some sick man's pursuit for 'peace'. I have many times come to this beach. I do not know why, only that it is a calming place for me. I assume that is why you have come here as well."

The Avatar wiped some tears from her eyes. "I just needed someplace to get away, that's all." She replied. The Captain knew.

"You have had a very large burden placed upon you, one that I have never had to shoulder. I can only imagine this frustration you feel." The Captain replied as the Avatar gave a loud sniffle.

"It is tough. I wish I could have my normal life back. It would all be fine, I guess, if not for all these people saying I'm someone else."

"What do you mean?"

"I have people saying, you remind me of her, or so-and-so always did that." The Avatar cried. "I have to be the protector of this world and yet I can't even be me. I always have to be someone else to everyone." The Captain gave a quizzical look at the girl. He had always felt something familiar about her but now it was becoming clear, even through his faded eyes.

"What is your name?" The Captain asked.

"I'm Avatar Jip." The girl said.

"I thought you could only be an Avatar once you mastered all the elements?" The Captain stated.

"I have." Jip responded.

"You have yet to master Airbending as I recall." The Captain told her.

"Well…you're right. But…I just don't have the time… I just cannot…"

"Maybe this Airbending training will bring back those memories of who you were. Answer those questions still stirring in you." The Captain advised. "You have far to go, but you have done the impossible before, and you can do it again."

Jip thought it over to herself before she got to her feet. "Thank you for your advice." Jip said as she bowed to him. "I feel as if we have met before."

"We have." The Captain told her. "Only for a brief time, but we have met. You still have the same eyes." Jip smiled as she went to walk away, leaving the Captain clutching the conch to his chest. "In fact, I would say that I have experienced something very close to what you are. I lost some memories too." The Captain blurted out just before Jip had passed out of ear shot.

"Lost memories?" Jip asked him.

"Yes. Pieces of my life are missing, perhaps gone forever. But the shadow of them still remains. I can still feel them. I can still feel him." The Captain wiped a tear from his eye as Jip took a few steps back towards him.

"I'm sorry for you." Jip replied. "I guess that happens with age." She said, oblivious to the vile nature behind the departure of the memories.

"Don't be. I can finally remember my name once more; now that I stand at the threshold of another realm." The Captain smiled hopefully.

"What is your name?" Jip asked him.

The Captain took a breath of salt water in and smiled. "Aitoku."

He sat there for only a few hours more, clutching the conch and memory of Zhong and the army, counting off as he had been made to do so long ago.

Hup-two-three-four.

Hup-two-three-four.

Hup-two-three-four.


(*)