Author's Note: Hello! Thanks for clicking on this story. This and my other short story, Death, was originally written for the Akatsuki no Yona Tarot Zine. The titles come from the cards they're based on. I am not a tarot expert, but I tried my best to illustrate the themes of the card in this story. Of course, being the moon card, this story is about Shin-Ah. Enjoy!
It was like breathing for the first time.
Never, never had he felt the wind's fingers brush against his forehead. Never had his cheeks been fully exposed to the sun. Never had he been so light, like he could tip over from the slightest nudge.
Today was the first time he'd ever dared to take off his mask.
And it was wonderful.
His lips parted. It seemed like all his senses had been renewed. The taste of pine in the air. The scent of fresh dirt after a rain. The rustling of a nearby animal.
But he hadn't opened his eyes yet.
When he'd first grasped the strings keeping his mask on, his eyes had automatically closed. He didn't know why. No one was around. No one could be hurt. Maybe he was worried that if he saw the world without his mask . . . he would never be able to put it back on.
He opened his eyes.
He was standing in a meadow, flowers flush with color from the spring's tender care. The hues vibrated in such a way that his eyes ached.
He could see with the mask on—he could see through many solid layers. Yet just one had kept all this from him.
He drank it in, swallowing the sights in front of him and gulping them to memory. The pale orange wildflower, its delicate stem barely holding it up. The green leaves, dotted with shadows. The bird above, flying in a way he would never be able to.
His pupils widened and widened. More and more. More and more.
The mask fell from his fingers.
"What do you think you're doing?!"
The voice broke him from his reverie. He turned without thinking.
"Don't look at me!" Ao clenched his own eyes shut and bared his teeth.
He—the Seiryuu—looked down. An odd, malformed feeling morphed in his stomach. He didn't know what it meant.
He bent and picked his mask back up. "Ao," he said. "Why?"
There were so many things that why meant, but he did not know the words to say them, did not know how to identify the feelings threatening his core.
Ao snatched the mask from him and roughly tied it back onto the Seiryuu's face. "Didn't I tell you to keep it on at all times? You have a curse. You can't show your face to the world."
The Seiryuu didn't understand—couldn't—but if that was what Ao said, he must be right.
He heard a woman calling out. It was a word he was unfamiliar with, but he liked the sound of it. Mellow, comforting.
The woman kept saying it. He thought about approaching her, but for some reason, people ran from him. They looked at him, eyes wide, and ran.
His feet began to move, but then—a girl roughly his age appeared. She laughed and threw herself into the woman's arms. Something sliced through him. Somehow, he knew that the word the mother had been saying—it was the word for the girl. The word that meant her.
Nothing meant him. He had no word like that. Not really. He never would. He was the Seiryuu now—that was all.
The sound of someone's feet crept up behind him. He turned. Before him was the only man who didn't run.
"That." The Seiryuu pointed at the girl.
The man frowned. "What?"
"You? Not . . . Seiryuu."
"I'm not the Seiryuu anymore, no." The man's lip curled, eyes hard.
"Then . . . what?"
"You want to know what to call me?"
The Seiryuu nodded.
"Do whatever you want. It doesn't matter to me." The man began walking away, but his fingers were kept open just wide enough.
The Seiryuu ran forward and grasped them. "Ao," he said, because the man had blue hair.
He watched the sun set, the moon rise, and the sun set again. Ao still had not moved. The cold of the night did nothing to hide the smell that had arisen from the heat of the day.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't know what to do when someone left.
Eventually, he would have to leave too.
Once, he ran away. His body was bigger now, and his arms felt strong from when he practiced with Ao's sword. He still couldn't swing it easily, but he could lift the blade above his head.
He followed where his eyes led him and ran and ran. From his home, he could see a village in the distance. Miniature figures living their lives. He didn't know what he would do once he got there. He just wanted to see them up close, to get a glimpse of the things he would never experience.
His feet became bruised and cut; it had been years since he'd worn shoes. When he was a mile from the village, he stopped. He was close enough to see the details of the inhabitants. It was dark out, but he spotted their fur-lined clothes and the fires they stoked. They smiled and touched freely, nothing like the people he was used to.
A dog—wild? No, its ribs were full, its fur brushed. It growled at him.
He held up his hands, but he'd only ever dealt with wild animals before. He didn't want to shout or scare this one off.
The dog paused at his reaction. Its head tilted.
He had never known the warmth of a live animal . . . he wanted to see what it felt like. He took a step forward. Another. He reached out his hand.
The dog lunged forward and clamped its teeth onto his fingers. He yowled and shook, but the dog held on. He kicked. Its jaw loosened, then it ran, crying up to the moon.
He looked down at his hand, wet with blood and spit. He thought of the moment when his bare toes connected with its side. It was warm for a brief moment.
But even the animals knew what he was.
He huddled down in his cave. Shivers racked his body. The villagers had finally given him new clothes, though he knew that was only because they did not want him freezing to death and passing on the curse. Sometimes, he spied on them. Through the cracks of the cave, he learned how to read their lips.
Sometimes, they wanted to keep him alive.
Sometimes, they wanted to kill him.
But more than that, they didn't want to deal with the curse. Whatever was inside him, it was best to keep it leashed as long as possible. If he died before the next Seiryuu was born, then they would be the ones who had to take care of the infant.
So, while he was still too small to care for himself, they would drop off meager supplies at his cave. He understood their reasoning. He knew he didn't deserve anything more.
He liked to watch the families. The ones with a mother and young kids. Sometimes, the children fell ill, and they would lie in their beds for days at a time, cheeks flushed, sweating. The mother would fret, then leave and return with warm towels and hot broth. She'd spoon the soup into the children's mouth, and the Seiryuu would lick his chapped lips. His empty, cold stomach would rumble.
He wasn't sure what being sick felt like. Sometimes, he felt hot, waves of heat rippling across his body. Sometimes, he felt cold, like ice had settled in his veins to stay. Sometimes, he could not rise from the little corner in his cave, his head was so heavy. Sometimes, all he did was sleep for days. Was that what being sick was? He wasn't sure.
Maybe it was just the monster inside of him feasting on his life.
He did not know many things. But he did know this: that, someday, the pain would all end. Someday, just like Ao, he would fall, knowing that he'd protected the village, but regretting, regretting what he'd passed on.
But he wasn't aware that the one to bring that end would be a red-haired girl with blazing eyes.
"Shin-Ah," she said, a smile on her face. "It means moonlight."
He turned his head up, up, up to the sky. To the orb of light that he'd hidden from most of his life. Yona thought he was like that light.
Present in the darkness, but still illuminated. The lies he knew had been shattered, and all that was left was the truth she gave him. It felt like that moment so long ago when he'd taken off his mask.
Finally, he could breathe again.
A/N: The Moon card generally represents illusion or deception, so with Shin-Ah, that was the lie that the villagers told him which finally let him to breaking free after Yona finally gives him the truth. The dog in the story is also an image that frequently appears on the card.
So this story made me sad for obvious reasons. If any of you have read one of my other AnY stories, Sunshine and Moonlight, then you know that Shin-Ah is my favorite character. His background is heartbreaking, but he's still just so sweet and adorable. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this, and thanks so much! Any thoughts you have are appreciated!
~ J. Dominique