Author's Note: Hi, everyone! Thanks for clicking on this story. This and my other short story, The Moon, was originally written for the Akatsuki no Yona Tarot Zine. That's why the names are such, since they're based off the themes of the cards. I am by no means a tarot expert, but I still tried my best to encompass the cards' meanings and intertwine them with the AnY characters. Thanks for reading!
It was only by escaping death that Zeno really learned what it was.
You couldn't learn from death, after all, if death was the last thing you knew.
Then there were people who came near death. Who stood at the brink and spit into the darkness.
Those people knew a little more.
But no one knew as much as Zeno.
No one had insulted and taunted death as much as Zeno.
Every day, he woke up, and he wondered if he was dead yet. Every day, he hoped to see the faces of Hiryuu, or Gu-En, or Abi, or Shu-Ten, or Kaya—but then it was Yun who was yelling at him to wake up or Kija finding a bug on his pillow (undoubtedly placed there by Hak) or Yona, eager to get the day started.
And a little part of him died every time.
He wondered if he had sacrificed enough pieces yet. Had enough parts of him been destroyed and regrown—physical and mental, mental and physical—that he was no longer himself?
He loved Yona and the others. Of course he did.
But it still didn't change the fact that every time he saw them, alive, he remembered others, others who were alive no longer.
Could it be near? The end of his time? He hoped it was closer. Even if it meant leaving Yona and the others . . . he wanted to face death, once and for all.
Maybe then he could finally move on.
Jae-Ha had not seen his predecessor die. He ran away from that death much like he tried running from everything else.
It was Gi-Gan, of course, who pointed out this annoying habit of his.
She said, "You can't escape from everything you don't like, Jae-Ha." (Her wording was less pleasant.)
He protested that he didn't. That's what he told himself, at least. He never escaped.
He accepted the girls' slaps when they were upset with him. He taunted the officials who thought they were above everyone else.
He didn't run.
But . . . then what had he been doing all these years? Helping out pirates, riding the wind as it came, keeping his freedom intact . . . he may not have been running away from something, but he certainly wasn't running to anything either.
Unlike her. He had the strength, but she had the will. Even though he'd always prided himself on his talents, as he watched that small girl shuffle inch by inch across that cliff . . . he realized he'd never really faced fear like she did. He'd never had the courage to go after what he wanted like she did.
She had people she loved, people she wanted to protect. And of course, he cared for Gi-Gan and the others . . . but there was never a moment when he feared for their safety, not truly. He'd always assumed he would be able to keep them safe. But Yona, even with so many powerful warriors surrounding her, still feared, still shook . . . and still moved forward. She took none of it for granted.
That's when he knew that he was a coward. Or, at least, some part of him had been. But that part had whimpered and shriveled up. It had collapsed in front of Yona. But its death was a painless thing, and he welcomed it.
Shin-Ah sometimes felt like he had death painted on him. It was there when Ao died. Something sick and awful, sticky and oozing, had stuck to him that day. Then, he felt it again—and again—and again—when he'd first used his powers . . . sometimes, he could remember that day so very clearly. Thrill and terror and shock. At other times, it felt like a dream.
But he could always, always remember the scent of death.
One day, there would be another like him. And like Ao, he would take care of him. He would teach him the sword and how to use it to protect the village. Perhaps he would be a little nicer than Ao.
But as much as he knew this was his future, he dreaded it. He didn't want to pass this curse on to anyone. He didn't want this terrible cycle to continue. He wanted something to save him—a blinding light that could erase death's touch on him.
And then, she appeared.
He chose to follow her—Yona. As soon as she offered him her hand, he realized that she was what would dispel the darkness. And while none of them knew what awaited them, he had a feeling that the somber days he'd envisioned would never come to pass. That, maybe, he would be the last Seiryuu, the last person to have to endure this. That's what he told the Seiryuu in the blue forest: that it was finally over and that he could rest in peace. Hiding behind masks, eternally shaded in darkness . . . it was all over.
Before, his own death was never something he feared. But now . . . he thinks he would like to learn how to live.
Death was an honorable concept where Kija had grown up. Not ideal, of course, and tragic, if the person was young. But, for the most part, his village was peaceful and healthy. Most deaths represented a full life of wisdom.
Except . . . his father's death was different.
It was quiet, and it was painful. Kija had always thought his father was the most honorable man there was—that still hadn't changed—but watching him waste away in that dungeon . . . because of the power that was seeping into his son . . . Kija couldn't see any honor in that.
Was there ever any honor in death? Perhaps death would always just be an ugly, ugly thing. His father had waited so, so long to be the one to take on the Hakuryuu's destiny. Yet in the end, he had to see his own son take his role from him. His father must've felt like fate was laughing at him.
Still, his father died, and Kija lived on. From that point on, after hearing his father's cries of sorrow, he dedicated himself to becoming a great warrior, a son someone could be proud of, a man who respected the dead and exhorted the living.
Would his father be happy now? Knowing that it was over? The waiting and the endless hoping and the endless disappointment . . . would he be happy knowing that it was his son who would fulfill their long-held purpose?
Yona had never thought of death much.
Her mother had died, but she didn't have many memories of her. She had cried when her uncle had died, but that was more because Soo-Won was crying. And her pet fish had died, but she couldn't even remember its name now.
After, though, she thinks about death every day. Her father's death, which she could not prevent. Because she had been weak then, so weak. She wasn't much stronger now, though. Every time Hak got injured, or the dragons, or Yoon, or Lili—she was so useless. Every, every time.
What could a weak, naïve girl like her do, after all?
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
That was what the voice inside said.
But sometimes, that voice whispered different things. That she could be the person she wanted to be. That she could learn from her mistakes, from her ignorance, and remake it into something new. That she could save everyone she cared for and her whole kingdom.
She thought it would be easy to give up anything if it meant she could have one more day with them, laughing.
It just starts, the voice whispered, with a death.
A/N: So one of the themes of the Death card is of beginnings and endings and cycles. This seems to fit particularly well with AnY since the dragons themselves are stuck in a kind of cycle, and because Yona's story started with a death. However, the card itself is not all just doom and depression; sometimes it can signal hopeful things to, like letting go of something that was holding you back and looking to the future instead.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! Any comments you have are welcome!
~ J. Dominique