Hak narrowed his eyes. She was hiding something.
His princess… his helpless, weak, and naïve princess was hiding something from him. Yona couldn't lie with a straight face even if her life depended on it. Her eyes always gave her away. The purple orbs would shift back and forth, looking for a way to escape from whatever situation she had gotten herself in. But right now, her eyes remained focused on him.
"It's just a scratch; I'm not even sure what happened." She muttered.
She was smiling. But it was fake. It wasn't the dopey, innocent smile she gave when she wanted to get out of trouble. It wasn't one of her beautiful, rare, expressions of joy, unmarred by the hardships of the world. It was guarded and false. If he tilted his head, he might have believed her.
Hak watched as she fidgeted with her sleeves, pulling them over her hands before strategically moving them behind her back.
"Anyway, it's nothing. I'll just be on my way." Yona said airily.
She was hoping he wouldn't notice. That he would just let her walk way. Something was wrong. Yona was clearly disturbed. He wondered if it had anything to do with the fainting spell she had a week back. In the middle of dinner, she had collapsed, nearly making his heart stop. Her breath had become heavy and labored before almost ceasing entirely. Hak gently pulled her from her chair to the floor, his hand to her pulse, unsure what was wrong with her.
For a minute, she had stopped breathing. His world had almost come crashing down.
Then, she had opened her eyes. She screamed, her eyes filling with tears and her shoulders shaking. Hak had to hold her tightly to keep her from harming herself. She seemed possessed. She had been crying names he didn't recognize. He only knew one. His own; she had been screaming for him.
Finally, her eyes seemed to clear. The deep mauve orbs widening as she tilted her head, surveying the room and its occupants. Hak had to physically restrain himself from pulling her close and holding her, having almost lost her, moments before. Then, her eyes closed and she had let herself fall back into his arms. After an official physician arrived and assured everyone nothing was wrong with the princess, Hak and the king had taken the unconscious princess to her room. He laid her down among her cushions. She had never looked more fragile in that moment.
She awoke in the morning.
Ever since then, something had changed in the princess; mentally and physically. Hak could have sworn the short, petite princess had grown a couple inches. And if one looked closely, underneath the layers and layers of fabric she wore, there were toned muscles. These changes had occurred overnight, it seemed. And she was so… fortified. She had closed herself behind fake smiles… like the one she was giving him now… it irked him.
In a spur of the moment, Hak reached for her hands, grasping her right one and pulled it close to his face. His blue eyes focused on the distinct callouses which adorned her fingers. Callouses one only saw on an archer.
"Would you mind telling me why the princess has been playing around with arrows; despite your father's deepest wishes that you stay away from weapons?" Hak drawled.
With strength he didn't know she possessed, Yona ripped her hand out of his hold and hid it within the folds of her skirt, her eyes flashing. "I don't know what you're talking about. Now leave me alone you big brute." Yona harrumphed before taking short, quick strides away from him.
Hak leaned on his weapon, watching each step she took. She was hiding something.
"Princess Yona!" Tai Jun exclaimed, running down the halls to embrace the skittish princess.
She had been avoiding him all day, for what reason he didn't know. But he knew he had to woo the beautiful heir to the throne in order to one day rule the kingdom. And he couldn't seduce her without talking to her and showing off his many charms. So he pursued her.
The said princess's eyes widened and she looked for an escape route. However, it was too late.
"My darling!" Tai Jun said, hugging the princess.
He held her too long, taking time to sniff the princess's perfumed hair, his hands wandering to her lower back. She really was quite beautiful…
He opened his mouth but before he could say anything, he found his face being shoved up against the hallway's walls. He yelped as his arm was twisted behind him. A voice hissed in his ear.
"Kang Tai Jun. You may court me. I have little say in that. But you will be respectful and keep your hands to yourself, less I complain to my father about your compromising behavior. However, I doubt he would be your greatest worry."
The pressure on his arm lifted and Tai Jun turned from the wall, holding his sore arm. He watched as the princess exited the halls, astonished at what had just taken place. When had she become so… strong?
After hearing about Yona's fainting spell, Soo Won had immediately cancelled all his plans and headed for Hiriyuu Castle. He dispelled the thoughts of guilt which accosted his mind saying, "I worry for her health while planning to kill her father…" and such. She was one of his best friends, despite the circumstances, and hearing that she had almost died, made him want to be by her side as fast as possible.
When he had arrived, he had been greeted by a strange sight. Yona was sitting in the garden.
Her clothes which she often fussed over were mussed and slightly muddy. The ground was damp, but Yona was sitting in the grass, not at all worried about stains. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was eerily calm. Yona had never been able to sit still. She was a bundle of energy, always desiring to do something, no matter how silly it was. So seeing her absolutely calm in the grass was surprising to say the least.
Might was well join her.
Discarding his sword, Soo Won made his way, plucking a rose off of one of the bushes. He sat in front of her and held the flower to her nose. It twitched in an adorable manner.
"Hak. I'm not in the mood for games."
Soo Won laughed. "I'm afraid I'm not Hak."
Yona's eyes flew open and she let out a small gasp. Soo Won's brow furrowed for a moment. The expressions which flew across Yona's face were far from what he imagined. Horror, surprise, anguish, loss, and grief all fluttered over her eyes before a stony, guarded expression took over. The steeliness in her eyes reminded Soo Won of a cornered spy. Tight lipped, and suspicious, unwilling to say anything less they be incriminated.
"I see." The words were icy.
"Are you alright?" Soo Won asked genuinely.
All at once, it faded; the cold appearance melted away and Yona shook her head, exhaling. "Sorry, I was just startled. Oh! Is this for me? Thank you!"
Yona took the rose and stuck in in her hair. It was lopsided and she giggled. "Does it look nice?"
Soo Won didn't say anything.
The smile she wore was all too familiar. He practiced it every day in the mirror before meeting his friends. But why would Yona need it? What could Yona possible be hiding?
Soo won knew he had to find out.
That night, Hak couldn't sleep. He was uneasy and had decided to patrol around the castle. He was idly passing by the princess's room when he heard sobbing.
Worried, he silently opened the door and let himself inside. Instead of being nestled in comfortable sheets and soft pillows, she was lying on the floor. A single hard cushion which looked like it came from one of the servant's courters lay alongside an old blanket; her body was sprawled over them. She was shaking, her head tossing and turning. Soft cries escaped her lips.
"Please! No! Jae Ha! Shin Ah! Kija! Zeno! Please! Leave them alone! It's me you want! Take me! TAKE ME!" She screamed before sitting up.
In an instant, Yona reached for something below her bed. Hak gasped as she pulled a bow and several arrows out from beneath it. The noise he had made, alerted her to his presence. At once, she was on her feet, the deadly projectile pointed at him.
Her eyes… they were on fire. A burning purple with flames forming the center; her gaze was terrifying and hauntingly beautiful at the same time.
She loosed the arrow.
Instinct made Hak swing his glaive and slice the projectile in two. In a second, she had loaded another one. But after a moment, her eyes widened. She inhaled sharply before her weapon clattered to the floor. She sank to her knees, clutching her arms.
Hak was by her side in a second.
He hesitated a moment before gently wrapping his arms around her. Yona let herself sink into his embrace, trembling. She cried into his chest, tears wetting the front of his robe, but Hak didn't care. He wanted to know who… who had caused his princess to feel this despair. Who had taken her innocence away? He was going to kill them.
Yona stiffened. She pulled away but Hak wouldn't let her escape his grasp. Her head lowered and her hair covered her eyes.
"No one you can reach…" She replied softly.
"I'm not lying Hak!" She raised her voice, meeting his eyes once more. "I would have killed them already if I had the chance." She spat.
Hak blinked at the unadulterated hatred in her tone. Enough was enough… he was done dancing around the question.
"What happened to you?"
"Nothing you would believe…" She whispered, looking away from him again.
"Try me." Hak said firmly.
"Not tonight." She answered. "I can't," her voice broke, "I can't… not tonight. Just… stay with me… please." Her soft orbs looked up and Hak couldn't bring himself to refuse her pleading gaze.
"Fine." He sighed. "But not on the floor please? My back couldn't take it."
She snorted, very unladylike. "Please. You're a big brute who could probably sleep in the wilds without a care."
For a moment, she was quiet before continuing, "It's too soft anyway."
Hak raised an eyebrow.
"… I feel like I'm sinking in the amount of silks and cushions. I don't like it at all."
"So you've been sleeping on the floor?"
"Just shut up and sleep with me!" She declared.
A second passed… they both turned crimson. Hak contemplated hitting his head against the wall until his unpure thoughts left him. It was a viable option.
Yona cleared her throat. "Like you did that one time… when you gave me your hand… after my nightmare. I would really like to hold it once more."
Setting her gently on the old pillow she had placed on the floor, Hak laced his large fingers with her own petite ones. He felt a certain roughness that hadn't been there before but he didn't question it. Yona nestled her cheek against his fingers and Hak took deep breaths. He didn't know why he tortured himself like this.
"You should…" Her eyes fluttered closed. "Get some… rest… as well… brute."
Even breaths were let out as she finally drifted into peaceful sleep. Hak felt fatigue settle over him as well. His own eyes blinked once… then twice… before he let himself go into slumber.
Zeno smiled as he walked through the market place of the capital. Everyone was so lively and joyful. Most of them had never known true hunger, like that which existed beyond the safe walls. There was no imminent danger that the populace was aware of and smiles adorned everyone's faces. However, Zeno knew something was wrong. The heavens had given him a dreamlike warning. It had been strange receiving a vision after so long. But the oddity didn't matter. Something had happened to King Hiriyuu and Zeno needed to investigate. He began his trek to Hiriyuu castle, intent on finding the reincarnated king.
"Try this fabric! It's only 450 yen!" A nearby seller shoved a tan piece of thick cloth in Zeno's face. The surprised dragon yelped and almost toppled over. However, strong arm caught him before he hit the ground. Zeno looked up and met the bewildered eyes of the green dragon.
"… I really was hoping to avoid any of you…"
Zeno blinked. He smiled widely and opened his arms for a hug.
The green dragon dropped him.
As Zeno hit the dirt, he could help but cry (over-exaggerated) tears of betrayal. "Why would you do this to me brother?"
The green dragon snorted. "I'm not your brother. I'm just here because the stupid dragon's blood within me is making a ruckus."
Zeno pursed his lips in thought, "Well, my blood is fine… but I did receive a vision from heaven. King Hiriyuu is back and he needs our help!" He ended cheerfully.
"I couldn't care less about that stupid king." The green dragon glared at the joyful yellow dragon.
"And if you're here… that means that the others are probably here too! It will be a reunion!"
"Reunion?" The green dragon grimaced.
"It's been so long…" Zeno thought to himself.
"Hey you!" An angry guard shouted at the duo. "Come here thieves!"
Zeno shook his head, confused. "Thieves?"
The green dragon smirked. "Not a thief; a pirate." He then leapt up, passing the houses, leaving the citizens in startled awe. Zeno only had a moment to admire with the crowd before he found himself running from the guard. "Why me…?"
Jae Ha was happy to get away from the obnoxiously happy yellow dragon. His spoils tightly tucked away in his jacket, Jae Ha knew what he was going to do. He would appease the dragon's blood within him by meeting with the so called king, and then… he would leave. It would be simple.
He landed in an alley way, the market bustling far on nearly the other side of the city. The houses here were drearier but Jae ha still observed smiles on the people's faces. This place was untouched, unlike Awa. Loud talking from a pub caught his attention, and Jae Ha found himself drawn inside.
Within the ratty walls, there were several people, all of whom were drinking, gambling, yelling, or all three. It was the kind of place that Jae Ha enjoyed and Captain Gigan wrinkled her nose at but still smiled at the happy antics. It was also a good place to gather information at.
Towards the front and in the center, a man sat smoking. His stringy gray hair fell to his shoulders and he slouched but Jae Ha knew veteran when he saw one. He was about leave when he felt a familiar pull. He looked behind him and to his annoyance stood… the blue dragon.
His face was covered by a weird mask and he wore a white fluffy fur around his head and back. He said nothing. Did nothing. He just stood there. Jae Ha felt a little sweat roll down his neck. What kind of tactic was this? Pressure filled the air around him and Jae Ha took a step back. After one more moment, the green dragon threw his hands in the air and announced,
"Fine! You win!"
Kija kept to himself, trying not to shiver every time he brushed shoulders with another passerby. The outside world was strange and filled with hideous and evil things, like bugs, bandits, slavers, bugs, corruption, bugs and… He despised bugs. The expensive cloak he wore drew the attention of a few people but because he was in the capital, he didn't stand out too much. The cloak also covered his dragon's hand.
The White dragon didn't exactly know where he was going. All he knew was that a few weeks ago, his blood had felt like it was on fire and a voice was telling him he had to find the new king Hiryuu. Of course he had originally been excited about the prospect of seeing his long awaited king. But there was something wrong. The legend was that the king would come to them. And that the dragons had to stay hidden from the outside world, lest corrupt kings pursue them for the dragon's power.
However, he had shouldered on. Kija had even managed to convince the village elder that he didn't need guards, and he didn't need a wife on his journey to find the king. All he had to do was follow the feeling inside his gut, telling him where he needed to go. Naturally, he had wound up in the Capital. And the further he walked, the closer he got to the palace.
It was right, after all, that the new king Hiryuu was born to the palace. He was destined to bring Kouka back to its former glory. And after traversing the wilderness, braving the natural elements, and killing many bugs, Kija felt his journey drawing to a fitting end.
He also felt…
A blur of yellow crashed into him. Kija stumbled before catching himself. The yellow dragon was not so lucky. The poor guy fell, skidding on the ground as people quickly dodged him. Coughing and sputtering, the yellow dragon stood up and his golden eyes met Kija's blue ones. Recognition entered both of their eyes.
Overcome with emotion and pride, Kija flung himself into the yellow dragon's arms as the slightly disoriented dragon struggled to regain his bearings.
"Brother!" The word seemed to echo all throughout Kouka.
The yellow dragon laughed a little awkwardly and patted Kija's head. Kija was beside himself with joy at the fact that he had reunited with one of his dragon siblings. The feeling only escalated when out of an alley way, two more dragons appeared.
The blue dragon was seemingly dragging the green dragon behind him. Although Kija couldn't interoperate the feelings of the blue dragon due to his mask, the clear annoyance on the green dragon's face spoke volumes. But that didn't matter.
In the midst of the streets, the dragons had reunited.
Preparations for the princess's sixteenth birthday were well underway. The castle was being cleaned spotless, and decorations were being hung. There was a week until the joyous celebration. The whole kingdom seemed to be excited for it; everyone except one.
Min Soo didn't know what to do with the princess. She wasn't eating and she was barely drinking the tea he brought for her. There was an air of depression, surrounding the princess and no one could bring her out of it. The red headed princess was stubborn in her sadness and she wouldn't tell anyone why.
She was seated on her bed, idly plucking the koto strings. Her hair, untreated and not washed for several days, hung limply around her head. She was wearing the same dress she had worn three days prior. Her mental state seemed to deteriorate the closer her birthday came. It was as if she knew Soo Won's plans. But that was impossible, right?
"Your highness?" Min Soo asked, "You need to eat something."
He gestured to the bowl of steaming chicken porridge on the tray he was holding. He hoped her favorite dish would get her to ingest some of it. However, the princess didn't even look at him.
"You father had the kitchen specially prepare this…"
A string snapped on the delicate instrument. Min-Soo wasn't sure whether it was an accident or a reaction to his words.
"I'm not hungry."
At least he got a few words from the normally silent princess. For the past three or four weeks, her entire behavior had shifted. If one wasn't paying attention, Yona seemed to be fine. Despite the health scare she had endured several weeks ago, she kept up the performance of an innocent, helpless, naïve princess. But Min Soo had known the princess for a while now. He knew she had been acting from day one. And then her appearance started crumbling as her birthday approached.
He felt like a complete outsider.
"You won't be in good health for your birthday celebrations."
"I don't care." Her answer was short, succinct, and callous, like they had been for the past few weeks.
Min Soo sighed as he prepared to play a card from the bottom of the deck. "Soo Won is coming today, don't you want to look your b-"
Three more strings snapped on the instrument, clearly not by accident. Min Soo felt the princess's aura grow dark. Daring to look at her eyes, Min-Soo found himself staring at burning orbs.
He was scared. Min-Soo was terrified of the princess. He couldn't adequately explain why. He quickly left the room, his heart beating rapidly…
As if he had just avoided death.
"Yona," King Il entered his daughter's room.
He was tempted to shake his head and sigh at the messy state it was in. The once elegant room was bereft of all its former riches. It was plain. The bed was a mess of sheets and pillows since Yona had relieved most of her servants. The princess herself was a mess.
She was siting her window seat, looking out at the gardens.
Her clothes were torn and her hair was unkept. Her eyes were red and dark circles were underneath them. The make-up table which she had filled with all the latest and most relevant products was dusty and unused.
Il couldn't remember the last time he had seen his child this distraught. He hadn't seen her very much since her accident either. She had been avoiding him for the past three weeks. He hadn't confronted her about it until know. Something was terribly wrong and he was determined to find out what plagued his daughter.
At the sound of his voice, Yona's unique eyes had widened. For a moment, she had looked frightened, but a guarded expression quickly washed away all evidence of her fear.
"Yes father?" She replied dutifully.
Il sat beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She winced at the contact. "What's wrong?"
And thus the flood was released.
Tear after tear started pouring from her purple eyes. Her face flushed and she couldn't stop the waterfall. Her shoulders shook violently and she embraced her father, holding onto him as if he would disappear in a single second.
"Father!" she cried. "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I can't save you! I don't have enough time and… and… nothing is going to change! I can't change anything!"
Il gently rubbed her back, trying to soothe her. "It's alright. You don't have to save me."
"But I do! He's going to kill you and I can't bring myself to kill him… I want to save you, but I can't." She choked.
"You don't have to save me Yona… I know…" Il began.
Yona's tear-filled eyes met her father's solemn ones. "You know?"
"I know… that you have a destiny to fulfill," he stroked her red hair lovingly. "And that for you to do as fate decrees… I have to leave. I know of Soo Won's plans, I always have."
Yona gasped, "You… you… you didn't kill him, did you? Uncle Yu-Hon?"
Il went silent, his mind going over old memories. He paused before replying, "I have done many things in my life Yona. I have done things I should not have and I have not done things I should have. I've made mistakes and I am prepared to atone for them. But you… you are so innocent. I have kept you shielded from all the evils this world has in order for you to live out your purpose… well… I tried." He touched his daughter's calloused hands.
"Father," Yona's lips trembled, "my childhood memories are my most precious. Thank you… thank you for giving me an innocent life."
Il looked into his daughter's eyes before kissing her forehead. "You have suffered so much. I am sorry."
"It wasn't you father," Yona whispered.
"I'm sorry I left you alone," Il felt his throat constrict with emotion.
"You didn't leave me alone," Yona tried to wipe away her tears, "I had Hak… and I found other friends. Great friends who… who became my second family."
The two members of the Royal family held each other for a long time. Both of them knowing that their time together was coming to a close. And that alas, a new chapter would begin for the both of them.
Soo Won was following the princess.
He had to admit, she was very good at sneaking. Ever since that short visit after her accident, he had been keeping tabs on her through servants. He had heard of her mental and emotional decline from Min Soo and had hoped to cheer her up. But when he arrived, she was out of her room again. Smiling, laughing, and even helping some of the servants with the decorations.
But again, he could tell that most of them were faked and forced. So when she tried to sneak out of the castle, Soo Won decided to follow her. At first, he didn't think she would get that far, but once more, he was proven wrong. Somehow, the supposedly weak and innocent princess had manage disguise herself, sneak past guards, and scale over a wall.
Weaving in and out of the streets, Soo Won was surprised at her ability to blend in perfectly with the city outside of the palace gates. She had only been out here once before, so she shouldn't be able to mingle as well as she should.
Her steps began getting quicker. Soo Won was certain she was searching for something or someone. His answer quickly came when the princess , ducked into an alley way, and flung herself into the arms of a yellow-haired stranger. She began crying and holding onto him. Soo Won was just stunned.
He had never seen this person before and he was certain the princess hadn't either. He then observed as three more men appeared. At first, he suspected they might have had malicious intent. But to his surprise, the three other's kneeled in front of Yona. He could hear them speaking but he couldn't make out the words.
He got closer in order to eavesdrop.
Yona came close to the green haired man, "I'm so glad I found you again, my green dragon" She brushed some of his long green hair behind his ear.
"And Seiryuu," She announced turning to the strange masked man. She pressed her forehead into his mask. "You don't have to be afraid anymore."
"And lastly," She approached a young white haired man. "My loyal white dragon." Tears were pooling in the corner of her eye as she embraced him.
"I'm so happy we've found each other again."
All of them came together in a group hug. Soo Won couldn't help but feel as if he was witnessing something special… even legendary.
"Do you want us to come with you, Hiryuu-sama," the dubbed white dragon asked. "We can help you take the throne."
"It won't be hard for the four dragons to fight against an army, especially on castle grounds." The golden haired boy stated.
"No… we are not going to fight here. We will not cause any needless spilling of blood on Kouka soil." The princess said assuredly. "On the eve of the princess's birthday celebration, wait outside of the west gate of the castle. I will come to you then. There are still a few things which I must do."
Soo Won felt a chill down his spine.
As he watched the so called dragons leave and the princess turn to head back to the castle, he felt anxious. He had so many questions, and he knew only one person could answer them… and he doubted she would.
Hak was in the training fields, late at night or early in the morning. He was venting his frustrations on a poor target dummy that really hadn't done anything to deserve the torture it was going through. He slashed and hacked at the straw, releasing pent up anger at his inability to do anything for the princess. Lately, her emotions had been all over the place and just when he thought he had gotten somewhere with her, he was right back where he started.
She was hiding something and he didn't know what it was and she wouldn't tell him so he was helpless to do anything. Giving one final thwack against the dummy, Hak leaned on the practice wooden spear he had borrowed from the training facility. A little sweat trickled down his face before a cold night wind blew. His battle honed senses immediately caught the presence of another. He turned his head and caught sight of red hair.
"Great," he thought, "The source of my frustration has come to make things even more difficult... I'm going to tease her"
"If the princess is going to continue to stay up this late, she's going to get wrinkles under her eyes and won't look nice for her birthday celebrations tomorrow." He said without looking at her directly.
He heard her snort, "At this rate, you're going to fall asleep during the banquet if you stay up any longer."
"But unlike the princess, I am trained in the art of not sleeping," He retorted.
"That's why your grandfather has beaten you so many times after catching you sleeping on duty," she drawled before coming beside him.
Turning his head, Hak finally looked at her and was a little stunned. Her face looked… serene, a new kind of peaceful. The innocence was gone, her eyes spoke of pain and suffering, but at the same time, it seemed she had made peace with her lot in life. The mask she had been putting up had vanished now too. It was nice to see her just as she was… but he still had questions.
"I know you have questions," she said as if she had read his mind. "And soon… I will give you the answers… but I need to ask you something."
She took a few steps until she was directly in front of him. Her purple eyes seemed to alight with flame and she stared into his soul.
"I am leaving tomorrow Hak and I'm not coming back for some time. Kouka is dying and they need a leader who won't just sit on a throne in a castle. Come with me… give yourself to me."
He felt the wind get knocked out of his stomach. She was so beautiful. His right hand gripped the wooden practice spear tightly. He was having trouble controlling himself; he always did when it came to her. Kneeling down and keeping his head facing the ground, he responded,
"Of course, my princess,"
She came closer, stooping down to his level. He felt her rough but small hands tilt his chin upwards. Why did she always have to tantalize him so? A small smile spread across her lips.
"My dark dragon."
When her lips met his, he dropped the stupid spear.