Fandom: Akatsuki no Yona

The Courage After Dawn

Chapter 1: The Lone Wanderer

It was a quiet night. Large clouds made the moon a blurred circle of white against the darkness, too dim to properly light the rugged individual slabs on the paved village streets. Yellow-washed light of slow burning fires spilled from the windows of straw and clay-built houses.

It was a poor nameless village residing in the Sky Tribe's territory, far away from the great Hiryuu Castle but still within a few days' trek by foot.

The homeless cowered in the alleyways. The drunks loitered around in a daze swinging large heavy jugs of alcohol. Laughter erupted every now and then followed by drunken musings. And the few sane people that were awake and out at this time of the night kept to themselves in long hooded cloaks to ward off the chill.

In the midst of these, a tall hooded figure strode slowly down this particular street, the worn soles of their boots scuffing upon the uneven slabs of pavement. The Lord governing this area had been invited to attend the young Kouka Princess's sixteenth birthday party and had set out earlier this week with his guards to visit Hiryuu Castle. If anything, now would be the perfect time to strike at his unnecessarily grand lodgings and steal all that stored up gold he didn't need.

And that was exactly what this hooded figure was heading to do. To steal and rampage. To steal on behalf of those living on the streets. To take back the unjust taxes that the Lord had stolen so unfairly from everyone.

As if. The figure snorted. Those were only the excuses they used- the excuses that everyone else used to justify their actions. After all, they knew the Lord amongst these parts was loved. The rumours told of a boisterous middle-aged man who was just in his dealings, fair in his decisions and rewarded the hardworking. No, this escapade was merely to satisfy them and their current needs. This person had been hired, after all, to steal a certain valued jade seal coveted by the Lord and was promised a pretty ten pieces of gold for their trouble.

And as they strode purposefully through the streets, unbeknownst to this figure, had caught the attention of a pair of half-lidded eyes and the glint of yellow teeth. Draped in a tattered, brown coat with wide sleeves and tied to waist with a thick rope that frayed at the ends- the stranger was subtle in their sense of dress and blended in well against the shadows and yellow lighting. The glint of a dull silver hilt peeked out from under the folds of their coat, strapped below their makeshift belt. But what drew the unwanted attention was the bulging round bag on their back, slung upon a thick diagonal strap extending from the right shoulder to the lower hip. It was this particular feature that drew the attention of greedy drunken eyes.

The figure didn't seem to have noticed the growing shadow upon them, or if they did, they ignored it.

"Hey you." It was a gruff slur.

Finally, the figure stopped to look up.

It was a menacingly burly body that dared cut their path, their shadow towered over theirs. Yet that didn't seem to matter. Unintimidated, the figure only stepped to the side, and proceeded to walk on ahead as if it was of little matter.

"Hey kid, got any alcohol in there?" A large meaty hand tugged violently onto the large baggage hanging off their back. The figure stumbled and finally, dark eyes peeked out from under their hood to stare uninterestedly at the large man in front of them.

"What do you want?" Their voice wasn't a deep drawl of a man, yet it wasn't high-pitched tone of a female either. It was very carefully in-between, making it hard to decipher the figure's gender.

"I want- hic- sake… gimme alcohol." The man hiccupped and jostled the figure's bag roughly, leaning his huge face closer as he tried to unsuccessfully undo the flap.

The person shoved the man off of them with a grunt. The high collar of their inner vest shadowed the lower half of their face but left the sharp of their nose to catch what little light there was. "Go home." They told the man.

It took a while for him to comprehend that phrase. Then abruptly, he threw his head back and laughed, deep guffaws that sounded unnaturally loud in the night. "Home? Got none."

The figure's eyes narrowed in what could have been annoyance before proceeding ahead, ignoring the drunkard. But they jolted violently again as the massive hand grabbed at them, the entirety of the palm clasped onto their head. A few jeers cut their way through and for the first time, the figure realised that their spectacle had not gone unnoticed. Several other men lumbered towards them, perhaps finding entertainment in their mate messing around with someone smaller than them.

"Hey kid." One of them drawled lazily. "That's quite the nice bag you have there."

"Piss off! I found 'im first." The one that had a strong clasp on the figure's head shouted out, seemingly enraged.

But the individual had had enough. In a flash, the glint of a dagger was all the offender saw before the ground was painted crimson. The offending arm dropped abruptly; the blood registered before the pain. The moment froze and then resumed, the man's face flying through the emotional turmoil of surprise, anger and finally the searing sensation of having one's arm ripped open. In an instant, he was writhing about, clutching the bloody slice that ran from his wrist to his elbow, dripping crimson all over the pavement. That arm was now useless. He hollered nonsense for a while, drunkenly stumbling about and spitting loud curses before focusing crazed eyes on the perpetrator.

It was in this sudden movement, that the stranger's hood fell back upon their thin shoulders. The group of adult men stopped momentarily as they tried to comprehend the features of their opponent in what little light they had. Finally, the moon decided to peek out from beyond the clouds, finally throwing their face into relief.

The stranger was defined by a mass of long, matted hair tied up in what could have been a high ponytail, a sharp nose, thin lips and skin that paled in the moonlight. But the eyes- the large, forest-green eyes were distinctly feminine.

"Heeyyyyyyy it's a giiiirly." One of the men slurred, breaking the silence. He began making his way towards said girly. "Come to warm my bed why don't ya-"

Something sharp whizzed past his ear and he stopped mid-sentence.

Unintimidated, his more sober companion whacked him in the head with a meaty fist. "Ya doofus. Tha' one's a kid. I 'ave one at home."

"Kid? Tha's a kid?" The drunkard squinted, tried to lean down for a better look and received a nice jab in the eye. "Ow!"

His companion guffawed loudly at him as the figure flew back a couple steps, wrinkling their nose before proceeding to stalk away. Methodically, they put up their hood, wiped down their blade before stowing it carefully under their coat again.

"Ey 'es getting away." The third of the group of men pointed out rather unhelpfully.

"Come back, giiiiirly." The first one yelled again, waving an arm half-heartedly towards the blurry figure in the distance. "Come baaaaaack-"

"Leave it." The more sober of the three whacked him again. "Bit of a short temper tha' one." He noted, glancing pointedly to the now still man on the ground, still clutching his injured arm.

"Wha- a girl?" The third made his input with a confused tilt of his head.

But indeed, amidst all debate, this young stranger was female.

This particular female went by the name of Yong. Yong with the character for courage as she likes to insist. She was approximately nineteen summers old; a female masquerading as a boy; a skilled blade user; a thief and a wanderer.

And as of currently, Yong was particularly frustrated. Annoyance bubbled through her as she finished bypassing the village, her boots crunching softly on the pebbled path giving way to a plain dust road moments later.

Stupid drunks. Yong thought rather intelligently. Broke, with nothing even particularly useful on them to take and completely useless; they weren't worth her time at all. What actually annoyed her though, was how her appearance had failed to retain its once decidedly male status. Nowadays, it was usually after the first impression that people started seeing her as a passable male, with her flat chest, thin, sharp features and lack of curves. Drawing her brown hooded coat closer towards herself to ward off the cold, she continued on her travels towards the Lord's castle where she was sent to retrieve a fist-sized jade seal carved into a phoenix mid-flight.

She had been a wanderer for as long as she could remember. Like most street children, she had no memories of her parents nor any relatives- only a kind old granny that used to take care of her whenever she would visit. But she was gone now. Weak from starvation, she had passed in her sleep. Or so Yong had heard. She remembered crying for ages. She remembered the people in the village comforting her when she was ten, telling her that little boys shouldn't cry because they were meant to be brave. They told her that she was to grow up strong and become a soldier who would fight for their country. Laughable.

She hadn't bothered correcting them of her gender. After all, she had quite the androgynous features when she was younger and she took advantage of it. After all, this was a male dominated society. In this period, women were kept in the house. Women were weak. Women required protection. The only power peasant-class women had was the power of negotiation as marriage pawns. Even the few stronger female figures she had encountered throughout her travels were weak. They sacrificed their own selfishness for others; they had amazing personality yet still bowed their heads submissively to authority.

Yong hated that. Society was too constraining. She had fled the village at the first signs of army recruitment. And so, all her life, she's wandered many places, stolen many things, killed more than a few people. She's had it all. Gold, power, freedom. Enough gold to sustain her travels. Enough power and skill to get what she wanted, when she wanted. And enough freedom to do as she wished- more freedom, dare she say, than anyone else in this world.

For a while, she was content with her wandering life. As a male, she was free. No one dared to stop and question her. However, as time passed, she had found herself looking more and more like her own gender. The biggest giveaways were of course her eyes.

They were large, green and -dare she say it- somewhat pretty to look at. That, coupled with her long hair that seemed to grow at an abnormal rate, were the biggest giveaways. But a male sporting long hair wasn't uncommon and so she left it- a matted tangled mass on top of her head. As for her chest, well, it hadn't grown much. Even though she was turning nineteen in a few months, it still hasn't grown out like all the other girls she had seen.

She didn't know if she could be called fortunate or unfortunate but she bound it regardless and it became passably flat. Flat like a washboard. Flat to the point that one could put a palm to her chest and not be any the wiser.

Yong sighed as she looked around, navigating herself through what seemed to be woods. The trees grew denser as she trudged through, sliding under thick branches hidden in the darkness and clambering lithely over large rugged stones. The wind had stilled and all around her became merged with the cooing of crickets and the rustle of nocturnal wilderness.

The moon sat high in the sky, hidden amongst leaves as the hooded figure continued her journey east across the lands of the Sky Tribe, her over-sized baggage rattling to the rhythm of her movements.

She had a destination to head to.