Chapter 1: Strange Dreams

Yona woke feeling strangely relaxed. She hadn't slept this well since...well, in truth, since before she could remember. If she wasn't battle-sore, she was training sore. Not to mention the scars, small tugs and pulls here and there from dozens of old injuries. She felt positively liquid, now. It was pleasant, but strange.

A dream, she concluded.

She wondered if she ought to open her eyes, or just lie there and soak it in. Too often her dreams had been nightmares lately. It had gotten old. Better just to lie still and enjoy the moment of peace afforded. In the distance she could hear sounds of soldiers training. She ignored it. She was quite comfortable right where she was.

Well, almost comfortable. The ground was a little hard, in spite of her liquidity. Something was pressing into her back, but that was nothing new…or shouldn't have been. With all of her years of roughing it, it was quite irritating that the first restful dream she'd had in years was spoiled by the inexplicable sensitivity of a tenderfoot.

She sat up abruptly, scowling. She'd rather face down an angry bear than be reduced to wrestling with a twig.

She opened her eyes, expecting to find herself in a tent, perhaps having fallen off her cot. There was no cot. No tent, either. Instead, she found the rising sun beaming in her face, filling a ornate, sagging doorway with violent shades of red and orange as it peeked from between two distant mountains. The weathered stone floor, all save in her direct vicinity, was coated in layers of ash and rubble, a handful of broken red tiles, piles of crumbly, moldy burnt scrolls and tomes, and even a fallen, splintered pillar…

She noted chunks of stone, also. A shattered sculpture of some sort. She turned, taking in the remainder of the decaying surroundings, and found the statue's base behind her, only a few lonely rocks left to decorate it. It looked like it had exploded, blowing the layers of ash and dust from around it.

This destruction didn't seam like the work of mere decay. This was the aging remnants of an act of war. Where was she?

She pressed to her feet, stumbling as she became aware of her swaddling. She was drowning in an oversized throw of woven silk, one that glowed strangely in the sunlight, its many colors gleaming prettily, jade beads and golden tassels all along the hem. The air was cold in the drafty ruin, and the lavish throw was so wonderfully warm that she didn't bother shrugging it off for better mobility. It was weirdly comforting, almost like being held in the arms of loved ones. She pulled it tighter around herself and shuffled around the enormous pillar, wondering at the destruction to such a beautiful place as she made her way to the giant sagging entrance.

She stood at the top of an expanse of stone steps, overlooking Hiryuu Castle. Though she'd never seen it from this perspective before, it was unmistakable. The structures, the red paint, the layout, the mountains… it had been her home for sixteen years, and she knew it well.

That would make this… the old temple, she reasoned, sinking to sit on the top step, pulling the silk throw close. She peeked over her shoulder, back at the ruined interior, and then out over the surrounding mountains. It was a beautiful view. The fiery morning sky, blazing crimson over the snow-laden mountains, was unlike any she'd seen in the waking world.

In this light, the temple had a sort of dignity in spite of its sad state. It had obviously once been a magnificent sight to behold. Now it was worn and scarred. Yet, it remained.

How many times as a child had she been shooed away from these steps? How many superstitious castlefolk had whispered rumors of hauntings, of the wrath of the gods, of curses… Even Uncle Yu-hon could not order the destruction's finish so that something could be built in its place—not without causing an uproar among the religious. So it was left to decay on its own.

Yona had always felt strangely drawn to it, though… but not now. That strange pull was gone. It was just an old structure, gleaming with dignity in the light, but with the resilience of a fading ember.

Strange, indeed.

Her eyes were drawn to the training fields, where soldiers sparred for their morning practice, wooden swords clashing. It was nostalgic, a sound she'd heard most of her life that had once again grown familiar as she'd spent time mingling among Kouka's soldiers of late. One fighter drew the eye more than the others, spinning quickly as he fought off three opponents, two swords in his hands. She recognized that style, and the captain's uniform.

Joo-doh.

It really was a dream.

She sniffed, lifting the throw to cover her chilled nose. This must be staged before his promotion, then. She huddled over her knees, watching to see if she recognized any of the other soldiers. Or perhaps she'd see the young Min-soo bustling about his morning duties.

After a moment of watching, she rested her cheek on her crossed arms, looking out over the snowy mountains, to the lands she knew lay beyond.

She had a feeling she knew what this was about. She'd been uneasy since Min-soo had come to them a week ago, bearing a summons from Soo-won... and a command to prepare to receive the throne upon her arrival. Perhaps unconsciously she'd wanted to dream of a simpler time, a time before all the chaos.

Soo-won had confessed.

Once, she would have valued that more… but now she knew better. It did not bring her father back from his grave. Nor did she wish to sit upon the throne, bombarded by the political machinations of the powerful and the privileged. She chuckled, burying her face in her arms.

I much prefer the lot of a chivalrous bandit…

Her stomach growled. Perhaps it was time for breakfast. She'd likely wake soon, and they'd be on their way toward the castle once more.

...No. A wrinkle creased her brow. They'd already arrived at Hiryuu castle, hadn't they? Soo-won himself had informed them of his confession…

A groan left her lips, sounding strangely high, but she was too distracted by her inner turmoil to mind. She didn't want to wake up. Heavens, she didn't want to wake up.

Again, her stomach growled. She sighed. Would it stop if she ate something in her dream? Hunger was nothing new to her, nor her band of happy outlaws, but it certainly was inconvenient when it woke you early.

She stood, and began to work her way down the steps. They were weirdly tall, and she quickly found herself breathless. The back and stamina of a tenderfoot, apparently. On a sudden hunch, she opened the strange silken throw, looking down at herself.

Ah.

How appropriate. She was a child.

The long walk to the kitchens suddenly seemed quite the undertaking. How long had it been since she had dreamed of herself as a child? She frowned, tugging at the soft sleepwear of her early years, the gentle pink colors, the formal embroidered tie across her tiny chest, the slippers... She was impressed that some hidden place in her mind remembered such details. She didn't even know when she had last dreamed of these days. Not since she had past twenty, surely. Even then, it had long lost this degree of detail.

She fingered the long chain hanging from her neck—the only detail that didn't make much sense. Why would she have Zeno's medallion? She held it up in the sunlight, the citrine, sapphire, pearl, and jade fringe shimmying faintly. It looked weirdly new, empty of nicks and wear, the gold catching the light and gleaming clean, untouched by time.

Strange dreams…

This wasn't a memory. Not an accurate one, anyway. She didn't remember ever entering the temple, as her uncle had razed it before her birth. She'd never seen Zeno's medallion during her childhood, either.

Surely it wasn't a vision. What good was revisiting her frivolous and sheltered childhood?

She glanced back up the steps, at the lonely, broken temple door. Perhaps it was time to wake up, after all. There were many things she wasn't sure she was prepared to see again, given how much had been lost… and what was soon to be lost, for the last time.

Her undersized lips pursed, purple eyes heavy with thought.

Or not… she turned on her heel, facing the palace once more.

It was a quiet morning. Servants passed here and there, preparing for the day, but it was otherwise peaceful. Yona's stubby childhood legs were quite weary by the time she managed to arrive at the inner palace, tasseled silk dragging behind her, thoughts of the kitchens having faded in the presence of heavier ponderings. She stopped to rest on the steps of the little pavilion outside the queen's quarters. At first she had been unsure whether the beings in her dream would see her, but the small crowd of guards and servants that had trailed behind her curiously proved otherwise. As did the gaggle of worried palace maids that had nearly accosted her for having apparently been missing from her bed. She smiled at them in a manner she hoped was reassuring, but informed them in no uncertain terms that she did not intend to be shooed anywhere and fussed over. Apparently there had been something in her eyes when she stood waiting for them to listen that had convinced them to humor her this morning.

A servant of higher ranking joined them now, where they fretted from a distance, one that looked vaguely familiar.

My old attendant … Hyun-ae?

Yona winced. Hyun-ae had been one of her mother's ladies-in-waiting before hers. After the queen had passed, Hyun-ae had taken up the task of looking after Yona… but Yona had treated her terribly. Too grief-stricken and young to recognize the care in the woman's eyes, she'd resented her attempts to take her mother's place, and it had resulted in years of flippant disregard and almost spiteful whims that had become habit. She'd been too young and much too spoiled to recognize that she was not the only one who had lost someone precious.

She looked down at her tiny hands, the medallion resting in her palms, and felt the grief twist in her heart as the image of the small golden dragon blurred. It had taken losing her father, and all the privileges of her status as his daughter, for her to finally begin to learn that. Now, ten years after losing her family... she was losing it again.

Kija's village had tearfully agreed to protect the young blue and green dragon children—born to take Shin-ah and Jae-ha's place—alongside the fledgling white dragon until they were old enough to choose their paths. Their usually boisterous camp had been unbearably heavy after that meeting, having witnessed the infant white dragon with their own eyes.

They'd been on their way to Shin-ah's village when Min-soo had delivered the summons.

"...ona? Yona! What's wrong?"

Yona stiffened and looked up, startled from her pondering by the voice of an approaching child. Her heart stuttered, and her breath caught. It was little Soo-won—with his earnest pale-green eyes, his short light-brown hair, and height almost as meager as she hers despite having been three years her senior...

Her face scrunched a little with the effort of holding back tears.

How long had it been since she had dreamed of this? It had wrenched terribly after the death of her father ...but the passage of time had softened that by now, she found. Time, understanding...and her own sins. She had killed her own share of fathers on the battlefield. She had as much blood on her hands as any warrior.

Yet, she grieved it still. Grieved for both of them.

The dream-child, seeing the expression on her face, faltered in his approach, those guilelessly clear eyes tightening carefully. Soo-won had always been an observant one. It fit that even in her dreams he would see the pain she felt, though she hated to feel so vulnerable in front of him.

"Yona?"

She wiped at her eyes with her tiny hands, and sniffed, donning an expression that she hoped was a little brighter, though it hardly mattered. She would wake eventually, and the real Soo-won would be none the wiser. "Yes?"

He shifted, considering her carefully with worried eyes, not seeming to notice her jump at the sound of her own tiny voice.

"I heard you've not been eating recently. King Il is worried sick…" his words slowed, distracted by the strange look on Yona's face as he pulled a pear from within his little robes.

Something about this was terribly familiar. Soo-won held the pear out to her with both hands. "You should eat this! My master gave it to me, but…"

When his stomach growled—right on cue—Yona giggled, smiling as his cheeks reddened.

"Mundok always did love giving gifts to children."

The child's brow wrinkled, perhaps disturbed by the grief in her words. "Did cousin Yona know that Master Munduk was my teacher?"

Yona frowned. What an odd question for a dream to ask. She ignored it after a moment of thought, carefully pressing the pear back toward Soo-won, smiling again.

"I will eat soon enough. Thank you, Soo-won—you were always considerate to me when we were little...I never properly thanked you for that, did I?"

She sighed at his perplexed expression. It wasn't really necessary for this version of him to understand. This was a conversation she really ought to have with the real Soo-won ...while she still could. Her head lifted, eyes looking toward the king's quarters sadly, the grief magnifying.

It was better to speak the heart before all opportunity was lost.

"...You miss the Queen."

Yona blinked, startled. Little Soo-won was looking at her with somber eyes, his little features earnest with sympathy. The Queen… Right. This was where they became close, where their true friendship began, bonding in the loss of her mother… where Yona had first developed feelings for him.

But it was so long ago that she barely remembered that sorrow, hardly remembered her own mother, save a few images and impressions. What she remembered most from that time was Soo-won's friendship… and her Father's grief.

Her father had been worried about her, but had he eaten anything that day? She pursed her lips. How many times as a child did I fail to think of the struggles of those around me? Her face scrunched irritably as she looked down at the tiny hands at the ends of her short little arms.

Did she want to see her father? She'd come to terms with his death so long ago—did she truly need to test her heart in this way?

She jumped as a shadow fell over her, cloth draping over her head, and Little Soo-won settled by her side, his arms surrounding her gently. The familiar words left his mouth, just as she remembered.

"Don't worry—No one can see you like this… You can cry now."

She knew, though slightly different, this is indeed what had happened so many, many years ago… but she wasn't prepared for her response to it. His arms were warm and kind, just as she remembered them to be when they were little. When had they last held each other as friends? Against her will, her eyes began to sting with gathering tears. Her tiny, untrained voice shook traitorously as she spoke.

"What has become of us, Soo-won?"

The arms around her squeezed gently. "What do you mean, Yona?"

She chuckled breathlessly, wiping at her traitorous eyes. It really was time to wake up. Her fingers were itching for her bow and a good, sturdy tree to pepper until her arms failed her. No matter how she cried, it would change nothing. No matter how she pled, it would change nothing.

She exhaled in resignation and stood.

"...I must go and see Father."

Soo-won looked up at her with wide eyes as she returned his robe. "The King? …right now?"

She nodded firmly, stepping carefully down from the pavilion steps, her sore legs unsteady beneath her. Perhaps the reason this dream was dragging on was because she was meant to face her father once more. She would have thought that it would be Soo-won that this dream was meant for her to confront… her father's death had happened so long ago, after all. She had made peace with it.

But perhaps something still remained.

Soo-won followed after her. She hated how her tiny legs took so long to get anywhere. She needed to see her father, and then wake up.

"Princess?"

The path ahead was blocked by the lady-in-waiting, Hyun-ae.

"I must go to see Father," Yona declared, her eyes taking in the worry and grief in the woman's surprisingly young features. Grieving for the mother that Yona barely remembered.

The woman's eyes widened, the hands formally folded in front of her sash—colored in the muted, dark tones of mourning—tightening. "His Magesty? Right now?"

"Indeed."

The woman's features reassembled themselves with dignity.

"The King is busy with many things, Princess… Perhaps a message requesting a visit when he is able would be more appropriate?" her hands settled back into their formal place as she regained her equilibrium "Your clothes and breakfast await you in your quarters—shall I help you to dress, Princess?"

Yona waited patiently for the woman to finish. She inhaled carefully. "That won't be necessary, Lady Hyun-ae. I will go to see the King directly."

Her face fell as Yona proceeded to pass her, dragging her tasseled makeshift cloak.

"Yona," Soo-won sped to keep stride with her as the lady fell in behind, wringing her hands once more. Soo-won had always been quick to pick up on the distress of those about him, even if they had no relation. That lack of bias was part of what made him such a good leader. "The King is to meet with Master Mundok this morning. Should I request he pass on a message for you?"

Yona stopped. If her father was meeting with the general, then he would not be in his quarters. She turned toward the main palace.

"Princess! Are you quite certain you wouldn't prefer to eat something before you go? It would allow you time to dress, and us time to seek the King's permis—"

Hyun-ae stopped abruptly as Yona turned. Something felt wrong. A strange, irrational fear was beginning to prickle through her, one she had been shunning fiercely til now. It made her edgy, wary and sharp.

"I will eat in good time, and be assured that I will not allow Father to blame any of you for my self-neglect," she said quietly, "But I will see my father now, My Lady. If you do not wish to follow, then you are dismissed."

The walkway had gone quiet, guards and servants staring in shock, Lady Hyun-ae's eyes wide, startled. Yona inhaled. Just a little longer, and she would wake. She adjusted her makeshift cloak, breathing in the strange comfort of it, and wrestled her panic into a more dignified wariness. There was no need to let a dream disturb her so. She just needed to be patient.

And to see her father.

Calm established once more, she opened her eyes to find that Hyun-ae had knelt before her, arms extended, eyes downcast in deference. "…If the Princess wishes to be carried, this servant will do so."

Yona was taken aback by the offer, not only because it came so meekly from a lady of some standing, but also because it was such a baffling suggestion. The last person to carry her had been Hak, and that because she had been injured in a particularly bloody skirmish some months ago. The prospect of being carried now, without an injury to justify it, and by a woman no less, was confusing. Yona might have been able to carry another woman, but Lady Hyun-ae's arms were so thin...

Soo-won peered down at her, his head tilted to catch her sight. His gaze was careful, genuine worry over her behavior bleeding through unrestrained. It was unsettling to see him so transparent. The grown Soo-won was so difficult to read...

"Would you prefer that I carry you, cousin Yona?"

Yona's frown deepened, her tiny voice ringing with incongruent severity. "I would undoubtedly squish you, Soo-won."

It took a long moment for Yona to understand the looks she was being given. It wasn't until a servant who had only just joined them laughed and said "I doubt you could squish a bug, Princess—you're so light that the King frets day and night."

Yona stared at the girl in confusion before the answer dawned.

Right. A child.

She took a step back from Soo-won, troubled eyes eventually seeking the still-offered arms of Lady Hyun-ae, thoughts of her trembling, sore legs battling with her pride.

The legs, and her growing sense of wrongness, won.

She just wanted to get this over and done with. She almost wished Hak would storm into her tent and toss her out of bed for being late to training.

Yona panicked briefly as her feet left the floor, greatly disturbed by how easily this willowy woman was able to lift her... and irrationally frightened of the new distance between her and the floor. Strangling her expression, and the collar of the woman's fine dress, she nodded, and they set off toward the main palace.

Letting out a shaky breath, Yona opened her eyes once more, taking in the palace. It looked just as she remembered. So much as she remembered that it unsettled her. The bustle of servants familiar and not, the gleam of the polished armor of the guards, the ornate red of the woodwork, the smell of oils and incense, the nicks and carefully treated wear of centuries… Dreams were not supposed to be so vivid.

She turned away and took a breath, filling her tiny, trembling lungs.

"I'm sorry."

Hyun-ae slowed, her brows lifting. "Princess?"

"You have never shown less than sincerity and graciousness, Lady Hyun-ae. I wish that I had learned more from your example."

Hyun-ae's eyes had gradually widened as Yona spoke. "There is no need for apologies, Princess. You are quite dignified for one so young. I'm certain our beloved Queen… was very proud of you."

Yona wondered about that. Her mother was reputed as gentle and gracious, much like Lady Hyun-ae. Neither of them had likely ever wounded another, let alone killed. She doubted that the woman who had married such a gentle ruler would be proud of a daughter with the blood of hundreds on her hands—and thousands on her conscience.

They arrived at the ornate doors of the king's study, but were barred entry by the guards.

"The Princess wishes to see his Majesty," Lady Hyun-ae spoke with cautious authority. "She comes to beg an audience."

The guards exchanged a look, unsure.

Of course. Yona was only a princess, and one much too young in her current guise to understand the weight of her father's mantle. If she were a little older, and a prince, they might have humored her more readily, but as it was… Yona sighed, her jaw clamping as she managed her impatience. When she spoke, her words were measured and weighted.

"Tell the king …that his daughter carries news of a great upheaval to the throne, and fears to wait for his convenience."

She looked sadly down into the wide, lost eyes of little Soo-won.

There was stunned silence.

"P-Princess…" Hyun-ae's voice was gentle and careful, though bewildered. "Did you have a nightmare?"

Yona closed her eyes. Just a little longer, and this would end.

"No, My Lady," she blinked her eyes open, expression set. She remembered little of the confrontation with the grown Soo-won last night, but... "…I heard the usurper speak his plans in the temple. That is where I came from this morning."

Her gaze landed, sharp and hard, on the guard before her—voice quiet, but chilling. Unbeknownst to her, there was a simmering in her gaze that could not be denied. She had become accustomed to being listened to over the past years, and did not think to question why the King's guard would be intimidated by a four year-old.

"Announce my presence to my father, Soldier, or you will stand trial beside the perpetrators for their crimes."

She held his eyes for a moment longer before releasing him, fixing her gaze on his fellow guard. Pinned as he was, he was unable to stay his unfortunate comrade as he shakily, but hastily, vanished into the study.

She sighed once he was gone. An empty threat. She did not like to lie… but she was so terribly tired. Her head was beginning to ache slightly, and she felt vaguely warm. She hoped she would not wake so.

"Yona…"

Soo-won looked up at her, wide eyes bewildered, so confused. There was something else there, something like fear, maybe even a little pain, his hands touching his ears as if they hurt. She frowned. It wasn't as if she had shouted at the guard.

"Don't be afraid," she murmured, speaking confidence with her eyes.

Soo-won looked into those eyes in pale confusion, searching for something. It took a few moments, but his childish expression slowly changed. It was still uncertain, still afraid, but it was also too… too aware. It was the first time that Yona felt herself truly looked at in her dreams. There was real intelligence in those eyes. The uneasiness in her heart twisted.

This is all wrong. This is too…

The ornate study burst open, and such thoughts were forgotten.

A man rushed toward her, robed in his black mourning robes, with a jolly roundness that was too familiar, and far too dear for her to bear. His arms opened, his expression full of grief and worry, completely unaware of the devastation the sight of him crashed upon his daughter's heart. She almost cried out against it as she was pulled into his arms, and would have, if it weren't for the overwhelmingly familiar smell that greeted her as her tiny face was buried in his chubby neck. That familiar, simultaneously musky and flowery smell—accented with the smell of parchment and royal ink—that was his, alone. It filled her with feelings she hadn't felt for over a decade. A flood of safety, of ease, warmth and of being loved…

It was too real, and it was too cruel… but it was undeniably his, and that suddenly made up for it all. She felt the wetness on her cheeks, the sobs caught in her throat, and the familiarity—yet utter foreignness—that was being held in the arms of someone seemingly so immense he could hide her from the world, hide her from everything.

She became conscious to his voice as he, in his meek, panicked way, demanded explanations from all present. There was a genuine note of terror in it, and she remembered the way he had been after her mother's death. It had taken him years to ease they hysteria from his voice when he worried for her safety, to become resigned to all that the throne meant for them, and to be the gentle, wise father he truly was again. She was crushed against him uncomfortably, only her hand was free, and she reached up to place it over his lips, feeling that smooth, round chin she knew so well with her tiny palm. It did not catch his attention as she wished. Rather, he grasped her hand in his larger one, pulling it tightly to his chest. His heart thundered under her ears. He would not stop to look at her.

And because of that, she knew she could not afford to be a child here. While everything was old and familiar, safe and sheltered…

She was not. That child had died ten years ago, just as he had.

She inhaled, unaware of how familiarly the thrum of a command would come to her, whether she dreamed or not, whether she were a child or not. It almost broke her voice with its force as it cut through the noise to be heard.

"Father."

If not for the thundering heart under her ear, she might have thought she woke for the suddenness of the quiet. She pressed away from his chest now that his hands had loosened in his confusion, and looked into those beloved brown eyes, so familiar, yet not. He was much younger than she remembered, and looked so harried, a red rimming and dark circles to them that spoke of sleepless, tear-filled hours in the night. She vaguely remembered this.

But she could see things now that she hadn't then. For the first time, she could see his burden. How desperate and lonely he was, and how it was making him ill.

It hurt so see it. She had hoped to find the steady, warm, cheerful man who might sooth her fears, who might give her words of wisdom. She had hoped that he might help her prepare her heart to accept the throne, perhaps even help her gain the wisdom she needed to save Soo-won from his fate…

But as she looked into his eyes, she knew she could not ask that of this man. He was already hurting, already afraid for her, and she could not bear to make him uneasy with her own fears as well.

Perhaps this was the message she had been seeking. This was not her father's burden. Not even Soo-won's.

It was her turn.

Looking into her father's weary face, younger than she'd ever truly seen it, and so frightened, she placed her tiny hands on his cheeks. Tilting his face forward with gentle pressure, she placed a kiss on his brow. Her young voice was soft, but full of certainty, promise, and meaning.

"Peace, Father—I am well."

But it was there again, that strange light in the eyes, just as it had been in Soo-won's. The spark of wakefulness, of awareness. Her father's eyes searched hers, seeking something. Unknown to her was how strange her expression was on the face of a child, how unlike a child at all. How unlike his child …the child she had not been for almost a lifetime.

His search caught on the glimmer of her unusual cloak. One large hand reached for it, drawing it slowly aside so he could see what rested against the belly of her pale nightgown. Zeno's gleaming golden medallion.

She felt him go rigid.

"Leave us," he said, his voice hiding a tremor, his eyes fixed upon the medallion.

"Your Magest—" the guard began to interrupt, the one still at the door where Lady Hyun-ae and little Soo-won stood looking on uncertainly. Mundok had arrived, and Yona felt the swift punch to her gut that was the sight of her beloved mentor, decades younger than she had seen him last, whole, well, and living.

"LEAVE US!"

All jumped at the thundersome tone, so unlike the monarch they new, Yona included. Her father was trembling fiercely now, and Yona had to grip his royal robes for fear of falling as servants swiftly fled past them, the doors finally closing on the worried faces beyond.

Her father was not looking at her. His eyes seemed glazed. She'd seen that look before, countless times. This wasn't worry. This was fear.

"Father?"

He flinched, and swallowed, his pallor so white that Yona feared that both of them would fall. It was much to her relief then, that he chose to kneel first, though she held for dear life. As the ground met her feet again, she released a tension she hadn't realized she'd been holding since Hyun-ae lifted her the first time. Still, she stood close, holding her father's robes. She did not wish to see him fall without anything to slow it. Small she may be, but she would protect this man if she could. Always.

When he bent of his own will, however, forcing Yona to make way for him before her, Yona found herself terribly confused. He was bowing. He was bowing to her, in the most formal way possible, his hands shaking where he placed them carefully on the ornate carpeting, his ornamented head resting on the ground.

Yona felt panic rising in her throat. "…Father?!"

Again, he flinched at the title, and Yona felt it as a dagger in her heart.

"O, M-Mighty Hiryuu," Her father's voice trembled as he prayed, with grief, and with terror, but also with a terrible, fearful reverence. "Please… Please spare this unworthy servant's heart—my child…my child is too young…"

At this, his voice choked, and he wept, with racking sobs of grief …and Yona stared in horror.

What was this?

"Fath—" he flinched again, shaking terribly, and Yona could not finish what she began. This was not what she thought it was. This dream was not what she thought it was.

It was a nightmare.

"King Il!"

Her throat was sore from the strange thrumming of it, her head aching, burning. Everything hurt. Her eyes hurt. She was so tired. She didn't want to wake anymore. She just wanted to sleep. Sleep without dreams.

Her father had stilled, but still trembled, his head still lowered. Yona frowned.

"Rise, Please."

The man who lifted his head was still her father, just as she remembered him. And she still loved him, just as she remembered—how could she not? But, with dreadful, painful clarity, Yona realized that this man knew that she was not as he remembered her. Somehow he had seen past the visage of youth that had deceived the others, and knew that she was not the child he had raised. That she was not the innocent girl with clean hands. That she had become exactly what he had never wished her to be. She had become his nightmare.

Seeing it there, seeing his reception so plain before her, almost broke her heart more than his loss had …but Yona was not one to run from heartbreak. Not one to be crushed and defeated by it. Once was enough for her.

She looked into his eyes, glazed and overflowing with grief and pain, and took his face in her hands once more.

Oh, how his fear hurt.

"…I know that I am not the Yona you knew," she said honestly, uncertainly, powerless to stop the tears that met her tiny hands. Her voice, so small but so severe, sounded strange even to her own ears. "I am not the innocent child you so treasured—but neither have I ceased to be me."

He blinked through watery eyes at her, clearly confused. He was still afraid, but he was listening.

"I cannot afford to be helpless. I cannot afford to be blind—but in my heart, I promise that I will love our people just as you taught me to," she spoke truthfully, pleading for him to understand. "I will not hurt our people when it is at all in my power to protect them; I will not even hurt our enemies, when I have the choice to spare them. Know that I treasure all life, just as you did."

She took a deep breath, the words she'd wanted to tell him for so many years, so many restless nights spent stained in blood after battle, falling from her lips.

"I swear upon both our names—that though I may carry a sword for our people, they will remember me for my love before anything else."

Her father's eyes had gone wide at this speech, clearly still confused, but his shock was beginning to outweigh his fear. She waited for him to gather himself, seeing him struggle with his tears and his hope.

"And…And Yona?"

Yona tilted her head slightly. "Yes?"

"W-What about my daughter?"

Yona blinked, a little confused. He could see now, though, how worried for her he was. That he still loved her, even though she was not as he remembered. She smiled sadly, pressing her brow to his, her eyes closing.

"I will be …content, Papa. I know how to live with all my heart, now—and though it cannot be without its scars, it is most happy while protecting the hearts of those it loves."

He sagged into her then, sobbing into her shoulder as her tiny arms held him as best they could. She felt her own tears gather and spill. Though she stayed silent, it felt safe to grieve here, with the man whose loss represented so much the beginning of the end of her innocence. It was a kinship she had never truly known with her father before, but one she welcomed, as strange as it was.

Her tears did not last long. She waited to wake, but the moments slipped by sluggishly. She tried to force herself to think clearly, to understand, but her head ached and burned the harder she tried, whispers on the edge of her consciousness, strange voices clouded as if she were listening through water as her heart thundered in her own ears.

"—brance be proportionate to thy str—"

Yona became conscious of her father's thick hand feeling her cheeks and brow, a careful worry in his red-rimmed eyes as he looked down at her. It was soothing. She was so tired. She could let him take care of her for a little bit longer, couldn't she? She had finally said what she needed to say. She could relax now, until it was time to wake.

She felt the world teeter and spin as he stood, carrying her toward the door. It opened, and she heard him conversing carefully with the familiar, and some unfamiliar, faces that looked down at her. When she saw Mundok's, looking down at her in concern, she reached to him, patting his beard fondly, though a little sleepily, her heart clenching with love as new tears formed. It was good to see him again, strange or no.

She noticed his good eye was darkened and a little swollen, and she laughed a little.

"Did Hak give you that?"

Mundok frowned down at her, looking worried.

"Princess… who is Hak?"


[Don't kill me! Hak will be back (But probably not in the very next chapter. To make up for that, as requested, I will admit {SPOILER ALERT} that Hak and Yona are OTP-ZILLA, and I'm not about to perjure myself by pretending they aren't.)]