It was something about the trees, he decided. Some look that they had about them that seemed familiar.
Since finishing their work in one of the small northern towns, the group of "bandits" known as the Dark Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch had moved on, farther into the fields and thin forests of the country. The mountains grew smaller behind them as they steadily traveled east.
For several days they continued like they normally would. Yona practicing her bow at night; Zeno bouncing around like the ball of sunshine he appeared to be; Hak and Ki-ja arguing but not in a hostile way; Jae-ha alternately teasing Hak and then teasing Yona when he failed to tease Hak because this bothered the younger boy more anyway; Shin-ah quietly watching these interactions; and Yun forever trying to corral his hyperactive little family.
But today, for the last several hours, Jae-ha had been feeling increasingly anxious. He couldn't explain the feeling. It came on him suddenly and didn't seem to have a source. As they trekked through the woods, the feeling grew, and he started to look closer at their surroundings.
There was something about this place. He got the distinct feeling he'd seen it all before. But the memory moved so quickly, giving the impression that the trees flew past in a grey and green blur, that he couldn't pin it down. He wasn't even sure it was real.
Despite his growing unease, Jae-ha stayed quiet and fell into his regular role among the group. He didn't notice that the sparse trees were thinning even more. But when the forest opened up and revealed a wall of wooden stakes looming before them the anxiety quickly evolved into panic.
"Hey, looks like there's a village all the way out here," Yun commented as they approached.
Jae-ha didn't hear him. He was frozen in terror as he stared at that wall. The same wall he'd never been able to scale fast enough. The same squat stone houses and their prairie brush roofs. The same feeling of oppression that emanated from everything.
Suddenly the memory of the trees returned, and now it made sense. With it, came the cold feeling of steel against his wrists, the soft, quick sound of an arrow loosed from a bow…
And Garou. Garou shouting at him. Garou grabbing him in midair and dragging him back to the accursed ground. Garou's angry eyes, heavy fists, and always cutting words.
"Jae-ha?" Yona was standing in front of him now, frowning worriedly.
Brought back for the moment by the sound of the young girl's voice, Jae-ha shook himself and forced a smile as he said, "What's wrong, Yona-chan?"
"I was going to ask you," she said, eyeing his face, "You look pale. Are you ok?"
He almost didn't hear her either. There was a voice screaming in his mind, "Go. Get out! Fly away!"
"I'm fine," he lied, "Just fine. But I think we should - "
"I think you all need to come see this," Hak called from ahead of them.
Yona turned from Jae-ha then and followed the others.
Jae-ha glanced at the wall again and silenced the voice in his head.
"I will not be chained down again," he thought firmly. And he joined the rest of the group.
"What is..." Ki-ja murmured.
Yona made a small gasping sound.
Jae-ha stood stone still behind them, staring down at the skeleton Hak had found with hazy, unfocused violet eyes.
It couldn't be called a corpse, because all that was left were sun-bleached bones. It was the body of a man, still wearing tattered grey clothes.
Jae-ha recognized the garments immediately and something ice cold settled in the pit of his stomach. The body was left outside the wall, tossed aside to be devoured by the relentless sunlight and hungry animals.
"Why would they do this?" Yona asked, both angry and concerned.
Her voice drew Jae-ha back into reality again and he glanced nervously at the entrance to the town, not far down the wall from them. He immediately began to rifle through one of their supply bags to pull out his cloak. He quickly threw it on, careful to tuck his hair away underneath the hood and pull it down low over his bangs.
He managed to conceal himself just before three people emerged from the village and hurriedly came toward the group.