Jae-ha woke up to dim sunlight and the feeling of being boxed in. It didn't inspire any fear in him though, and when he opened his eyes and saw that the rest of the group was huddled around him he understood. He was sitting with his back against the wooden wall, where he'd fallen asleep the night before. He remembered them reentering the village while he filled Garou's grave, but they must have returned when he never came back inside the wall.

Zeno was curled into a sunbeam colored ball between him and Shin-ah, who was sharing his fur with the yellow dragon, if unwillingly. On his other side was Ki-ja, his head resting on Jae-ha's shoulder, one arm gently gripping Jae-ha's. Hak was leaning against Ki-ja with Yona snuggled into his side, and Yun had sprawled across both the white and green dragons because no other space presented itself.

It took only a few minutes to rouse everyone and start gathering their things. They spoke little except to discuss which direction they should take. It was as they took their first steps away from the village that a voice called to them.

"Ryokuryuu," the word was sharp and quick but held no malice. Still, Jae-ha felt his body grow tense as he turned around.

Two of the villagers had come to the opening in the wall and now stood before the group – a man about Jae-ha's age, a woman, slightly younger, and at their feet trailed one of the children he had seen the day before, a small boy with dark hair.

Jae-ha felt both Ki-ja and Shin-ah press closer to him as if to protect him, but he perceived no threat in these people and gently waved the other dragons away.

"Jae-ha," the green dragon corrected the couple, "My name is Jae-ha."

"Oh, y-yes," the man stammered, "Jae-ha…"

The word sounded foreign from this man's lips. No one in the village had ever addressed him by his name except for Garou.

"Jae-ha, we think…" the man began to speak but faltered, not confident in his wording. The woman spoke instead.

"What the girl said is true," she said, "It was wrong what was done to you. To you and…the others."

Jae-ha wanted to tell them Garou's name as well, but didn't see the point.

"We would like to apologize to you," the man said.

If Jae-ha was stunned by the words, he was blown away by what happened next. The man and woman both bent forward in very courteous bows – directed at him.

"We are sorry for disgracing the ryokuryuu and the dragon warriors," the woman added, "Please forgive us."

The boy stood beside his mother, looking up at Jae-ha wonderingly. The woman gently pushed his head forward and he bowed with them.

Jae-ha didn't know what to say. He stared at them open-mouthed for a moment, struggling to pin down the emotions this had sent swirling around inside him. Amid the tempest he also felt hope. Seeing the little boy made him think that maybe the new generation of ryokuryuu village may be better than the last few.

Finally he stepped forward and took the woman's hands in his, and her eyes followed as he raised them up.

"Please," he said when she straightened and the man and child followed suit, "There's no need for that."

He clasped her hands a bit tighter though, and smiled at them – a real smile, a warm one, and not the smirk he wore when teasing the younger boys or the charming grin he slipped most young ladies – and he said, "Thank you."

The woman met his eyes and nodded, a small smile gracing her features as well. The family retreated back into the village after this. Jae-ha couldn't take his eyes off them.

"We should go," Ki-ja said quietly after a moment.

"…yeah," Jae-ha answered softly.

Yun noted that the landscape only got more barren to the north, so they should angle south as they continued toward the coast. The group agreed and set of back through the woods. As they walked away from the village, each one of them sent a glance back at the wall. Except for Jae-ha. He didn't look back.

Autumn was approaching, and the air was cool among the trees. But enough sunlight filtered down through the leaves to keep chills at bay.

Things were quiet for a long time, but soon the group fell into their natural roles. Yona smiling brightly when she spoke to any of them; Zeno's cheerful and mischievous personality warming them all; Hak and Ki-ja bickering the way that good friends, or brothers, tend to do; Shin-ah following close but quiet, ever watchful; and Yun reminding them not to get distracted and fall behind.

Except for Jae-ha. He was silent at the back of the group. Everything they did seemed normal but felt so off to him. Yona's eyes didn't seem to shine as bright as usual; Zeno was not the spirited ball of energy they were used to; Hak and Ki-ja's banter was subdued, it seemed forced; Shina-ah's silence was less a comforting presence now than it was an eerie emptiness; and although Yun spoke periodically, he didn't have the heart to scold any of them since they weren't nearly the handful they usually were.

The entire day was like this, and as evening fell the fading sun could no longer keep the cold from finding them. Jae-ha shivered. He was struck then by the sudden urge to turn around. He couldn't explain it, and he couldn't fight it, and so he stopped and looked back the way they had come from.

The trees were thicker here, the land less sparse. And no sign of that wall, left miles behind them. But the words of the little family that had bid them farewell stayed with him.

"Jae-ha?" Yona called him, dispelling the feeling like cold fingers at the back of his neck. He smiled when he turned to face her. But when he took a step forward, he stumbled, landing hard on the leaf-carpeted ground.

Yona and Ki-ja were the first to his side then, faces painted with concern.

"What happened?" Yun ask him, "Are you alright?"

"I…" Jae-ha was just as surprised and choked on the words when he tried to explain, "Sorry. It's just…my legs…"

His legs were shaking. He was shaking, so hard he couldn't move. That freezing feeling returned, numbing him. All but his wrists – the familiar burning sensation the chains had brought to his skin was there again now.

All the fear he'd felt in the village, the terror he thought had disappeared when they finally left, rushed back to him now. His heart hammered and he could hardly breathe, but then suddenly there were arms around him and gentle words.

"It's ok," Zeno said. The yellow dragon had sensed his distress and knelt down with him. The embrace was so light but felt so strong. And he spoke firmly, with compassion but with conviction.

"You did really well," Zeno told him, "You're ok now."

Jae-ha felt tears welling up with Zeno's words. The older dragon held him tighter, easing the trembling, and then there was another tender touch.

Misted by the tears, Jae-ha saw Hak sit down next to him. The dark-eyed boy reached out one hand and gently rubbed his back. He didn't speak but the feeling of his strong palm on his shoulders anchored Jae-ha. And when he looked up he saw the others approaching too.

First, Shin-ah got down next to Zeno and hugged Jae-ha as well. The green dragon shifted a bit so he could return the embrace, tangling his fingers into Zeno's overcoat and Shin-ah's fur. He gripped them both tight, the first of the tears beginning to fall.

Zeno let Jae-ha bury his face in his shoulder as he cried. He couldn't stand to let Yona see him this way. But the princess herself was crying already, thinking of what they must have put him through to scar him this deeply. She circled the group and sat behind him, hugging him tight around the waist. Yun joined her, tears streaming down his face too. He knew that the dragons had all suffered, but his heart ached whenever he saw one of them so affected by it.

Finally, Ki-ja, a little awkwardly, wrapped his arms around the group since he couldn't squish his way into the heap they'd made. He rested his head atop Jae-ha's emerald hair, nuzzling it gently when he felt the tremors still coursing through him.

"You're ok," Zeno said again.

Jae-ha continued to cry on his shoulder. Soon what started as small whimpers and nearly silent tears became sobs that wracked his whole body. They came in waves as he began to accept Zeno's words.

He was ok. He was still here with them, free and unchained. He'd gone back inside the wall and made it out again, he realized, something he said he would never do because he never thought he could. And the people there were changing, becoming better. He remembered the little boy, and mixed with his relief, hope rose inside him again.

For hours the group stayed like this, huddled together with Jae-ha at the center while he sobbed. With the tears, the fear left him. The feeling of being held down, caged in, was washed away. He was so tired, the anxiety and the effort he'd had to put forth to hide it draining him.

Still they held him, until the shivering stopped and he ran out of tears. With a deep but shaking sigh he rested his head on Zeno's shoulder and closed his violet eyes. He was exhausted but he knew he was safe, and it only took a moment for him to fall asleep in their arms.

But before he drifted off, he looked up once more. At the darkening sky, the stars just manifesting high above. The sight reassured him. His freedom was still his.