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Each December, life gave a gift to Kim Taehyung. Another year of life, for which he was destined to be greatly deprived of; however, he had always been the grateful type, let each birthday swallow him up in jubilance his parents couldn’t quite muster. His kingdom would offer him gifts of all kinds, place kisses on his head that made him feel loved, and the inevitable seemed to be pushed back along with every other negative thought Taehyung’s mind could come up with.

Nineteen should be a year of laughter, he presumes. He’s right on the cusp of a young adulthood; years of dawdling between the responsibility of being “old” and the nonchalance of youth awaiting him, at least in some hypothetical sense. When his mother gave birth to him, he’s sure it’s all they would have wished for their new bubbly baby boy. A life without boundaries, years and years of a healthy life, all topped off by the crown he would get once he took the throne.

On the week of his nineteenth birthday, however, it becomes more apparent than ever that things are going downhill.

It’s ridiculous, really, the story of how it all began.

Once upon a time, a land named Evra stood high among lands blanketed with dense forestry, filled with excitement. The kingdom was unlike any other; not only did humans prowl its beautiful streets, but the likes of fairies and witches, vampires and werewolves. This time, however, was not so cheerful as a result of a spell gone right- the king and queen were welcoming a new baby, an infant who would eventually go on to rule the Evran lands.

The people were excited. The king and queen were kind people, and their infant would surely be raised in a home of love and proper nurturing. It also gave more power to their kingdom as it reigned from above, as more members of a royal family meant more time to keep that power.

It wasn’t unheard of, but to have a human and a fairy as king and queen struck foreign lands as funny. Most would expect lands to be governed by witches or vampires, who held the most power as a result of their immense strength- whether this was a product of spells or their natural bodies, it didn’t matter. Many lands in their time are corrupt, filled with the bad seeds of dishonesty and greed. In the land of Evra, the disparity was enormous; children lined the bright streets, playing together as the days passed. Witches got along well with the rest of the townspeople. Even humans in Evra were loyal to their kingdom, learning to live in peace along with the other species to create a more unified place.

One night in December, the queen gave birth to a lovely baby boy. They named him Taehyung, hoping his life would be one of great prosperity.

Perhaps it was because of this- because of hopes, dreams, and faulty wishes- that Taehyung was cursed.

As an infant, of course, it’s hard to retell the story correctly. Some say that a witch from a rival kingdom arrived that same night, interrupting the festivities to cast a lifelong spell on Taehyung. His parents say similar, only differing that the spell came with a raven, brought down from the sky in a flourish of green sparks that made them all shield their eyes. Regardless of which way the Evran people choose to tell it, one thing always remains the same.

On the day of his birth, Kim Taehyung was cursed to die by the age of twenty.

The reason remains undiscovered. Of course, killing the son of a rival kingdom would be doing anyone a favor, but Taehyung’s long life was hoped for valiantly by the kingdom. They were struck with depression until he eventually grew up, learning to accept his fate despite the sadness that always lingered in the eyes of his parents.

Nineteen years after this incident, Taehyung wakes up with a jolt. The sun is just barely beginning to come up from the horizon as he peeks outside his windows, trying with pain to ease the mind numbing sensation of time passing in his head. Each year, he tried his best to be cheerful- the world outside wanted to see him smile despite the unfortunate problems awaiting his future, but it was getting harder to maintain his smile.

He assumes that his parents never would have told him of his imminent death if it wasn’t for a child he played with when he was younger. It was brought up as a joke- a rumor, really, but how were children to know of the severity- and Taehyung didn’t have it confirmed until he was thirteen. They wanted him to live a pleasurable life until then, but…

Life never quite works out that way.

With a sigh, he goes through his preparations of the morning. Surely, there would be a parade, something so high in scale that Taehyung himself would blush in embarrassment. His parents, in all their melancholy, developed such a strong attachment to their son that it was probably unhealthy. Unhealthy in the sense that they would one day lose him. Taehyung tries to get rid of the thought, but they plague him differently today; with one year left to live, he has to wonder what is left for him to do. He’s traveled, seen things many didn’t get to see. Met many different kinds of people.

This last year already feels like a waiting game, and he doesn’t even know how it’ll end.

“Prince Taehyung!”

Taehyung jolts, turning from where he was digging through his wardrobe. It’s a servant, holding out a stack of envelopes and a box in the other. She smiles at him, placing them on his bed before joining him at his wardrobe.

Her name is Chunhei, his favorite employee at the castle. She’s always been favorable to him due to her large adoring eyes and rounded face, taking care of him since he was a small child. It stays the same now, as she pats him on the head and grins brightly at him.

“Happy early birthday, my prince. You’ve had quite a bit of mail come, but we sorted and gave you what seems important. The rest awaits you in the main room, dear,” she explains, to which he smiles and nods. Knowing his affinity for getting ready alone, she asks a simple, “Would you like help this morning?”

“I’m fine, Chunhei. Thank you for asking. As long as mother and father have no requests for me, I’ll be okay getting ready alone this evening as well.”

She denies a request from his parents, leaving the room after making sure his clothes for the day were set out accordingly. Among the fine silken fabrics stood his crown, a rather dainty thing compared to that of his mother or father. However, he still considers it a privilege to place it upon his head. With a resolute sigh, he picks it up, knowing it doesn’t have as much weight when he’s the one holding it. The doomed prince, he was called by the townspeople. What a shame- such a sad title for a boy so young, they’d say. He picks up the crown, staring at the entwining gold strands of ivory, the twinkling diamonds fixed to the branches. Such a beautiful, simple thing, and he can’t quite live up to his title the way he wants to. What a shame, indeed.

There were years he sat wondering why it had to be him. Why he, half fairy, could not at least escape the powers of some rogue witch. But he realized with time how useless these dwindling thoughts were, only serving to send him into an endless spiral of questioning and depression.

He instead learned to live with what was given to him. So much life was served to him, and he was lucky to be alive at all; living has, in itself, been such a profound experience- Taehyung has been privileged enough to see life at its highest in the form of flowers and trees, storms that seemed to send the castle shaking with their vibrancy. At the tender of age of thirteen, Taehyung was gifted his wings from his mother's side; a pair of glittering, translucent purple wings sprung from his back, notoriously eye catching. They were smaller than that of fairies like his mother whose lineage did not have the stray human, but they were beautiful all the same and allowed Taehyung to feel like he had no limit. He learned to appreciate such small blessings. They kept him alive this long, his heart beating for all the beauty the world had to offer him still.

Taehyung places the crown on his head, ignoring the royal robes still on the bed to drift over to his large window. When he opens the curtains, the large world of Evra lies below- he knows creatures of all kinds live among its polished streets, from werewolves to witches, yet all he can focus on is the bubbling skyline. The world is beginning to wake up, the sun rising over the pink dusted horizon, and clouds swim over those brightening rays. What a beautiful world, he can’t help but think. If only he had more time to see it.

Knowing his time is running short, he snaps his curtains shut with a frown and rushes back to his wardrobe to change. He glances to the stack of mail on his bed, the few odd parcels strayed across the sheets, and decides to open them later. Today, he decided, would be one to enjoy.

The festival for his nineteenth birthday fills the entire town with excitement, and Taehyung is no exception. Each year, his parents did their best to provide him with all the love in the world on his birthday; such was expected from royalty, but the urgency his life took on made such an event even more impactful. Nineteen is a year of endings. It is right before that fateful age, and his parents went above and beyond for this birthday, doing all they could to provide him with an entire week full of drowning happiness.

Taehyung spends time with his friends, dawdling around the festival grounds where they find fun rides and exquisite food from vendors. Each one of the townspeople he passes seems happy and stops him for a jubilant cheer for his birthday, reminding him of his lucky existence. Not a frown is in sight, and Taehyung is—happy. His twentieth birthday seems far off at this moment, and when the sun begins to set, Taehyung becomes more and more aware that he will be nineteen tomorrow. The whole week will be spent in fun and festivities, but the suffocating realization sends him into a flurry of unwanted thoughts.

“Chin up, prince,” Seokjin says. Seokjin’s own father was a royal advisor, a right hand man for Taehyung’s parents. They grew up together on the palace grounds, so he was no stranger to Taehyung’s mood swings and much less, his entire situation. “Please tell me my gift arrived. It will put a great smile on your face.”

“I’m assuming as much,” Taehyung mumbles, thinking back to Chunhei’s delivery this morning.

“Oh, our great prince is too busy for gifts now? Perhaps my generosity was a mistake.” Taehyung looks up, ready to defend himself, only to find Seokjin laughing playfully at him. “As if I would think so lowly of you. Open my present as soon as the clock hits midnight, Taehyung! I spent a long time wondering what I should get for you, I truly think you’ll love it.”

They walk through the festival grounds, making their way back to the castle. With the sun setting, Taehyung should get ready for the day ahead, and Seokjin would surely be needed back home for similar duties as one of Taehyung’s close friends.

“Thank you, Seokjin. I’m excited to see what it is,” Taehyung replies genuinely. Even upset, he attempts to seem as exuberant as possible, and it pays off with a full grin from Seokjin.

At the castle, Seokjin’s reminder of his gift invites Taehyung to finally look through his mail. In the main room, boxes sit stacked, cluttering the entirety of the floor space- Chunhei was not kidding about sorting such a mess. He traipses back to his room and thankfully finds Seokjin's large parcel already tucked into the corner by a loveseat, leaving it for the moment it strikes midnight. Instead, he decides to drop onto his bed, beginning to open some of the Royal Mail delivered to him.

There is business information, birthday notes, other things lacking importance. Majority of his time is spent sorting this, as he expected such a shroud of disorganization on his birthday. However, he does not expect what he finds in the middle of it, perched on his silk maroon sheets. There’s a navy blue card there, thick and tightly wound with a silvery white thread. He can barely make out the dark font inscripted on its front, but as soon as he reads it, the curving letters light up in gold as if meant for his eyes only.

For Prince Taehyung, it reads. With curious eyes, he sits up and gathers it into his lap. Flipping it over a few times, Taehyung wonders of its contents, finally satiating his curiosity as he pulls the white thread loose. As soon as he does, the letter drops to his lap and unfolds miraculously into an even sheet of dark blue paper. As it did before, his vision searches for words, only for looping font to appear in the same silver of the thread.

The fourth house of west street, the only potion shop on this side. Eight in the morning.

Your future awaits you.

With confusion, he reads over the words again before placing it back on the bed. Curiously, he attempts to run his fingers over the flashing line- your future awaits you. In all his years, the word “future” had been spoken to him only a handful of times. They liked to forget about it, more often than not. The word in itself intrigues him, but as soon as he touches it, the letter disintegrates with little fanfare. It falls to shimmering blue glitter that eventually melts into the bed, disappearing without a trace. Taehyung gasps, wondering if he hallucinated.

However, the white string still sits wrapped in his hand. Without a thought. He ties it to his wrist, trying to remember the words. Fourth house of west street, a potion shop.

He’d never been called like this, not by summoning. Witches arrived at the castle from different lands hoping to help the cursed boy, but they were called on by his parents; never had it been the other way around, and he can’t deny it- he’s curious. Not much could happen anyway, as his disappearance would easily become news, and the network of witchcraft and even fairy-work made it difficult for crime to go unpunished within Evran borders.

Besides, what would happen if he was to die? It would only hurry the inevitable.

He decides he’ll excuse himself for an early walk tomorrow morning, his birthday being a good of a time as any to wish for leniency from his parents and the guards lining the castle.

Regardless, getting in trouble with his parents was truly the least of his concerns.

Taehyung leaves before the sun rises, following the roads to the center of their town with a cloak strewn over his head. He knows it probably makes him look suspicious- not too many people go around covering themselves like this- but he can’t risk getting seen by curious townspeople or any of the castle’s staff.

Early morning means the town is barely alive, only a few lone people opening the markets and talking; they glance at Taehyung as he passes but barely bat an eye before he’s quickening his stride. West street is familiar to him because of a jewelry shop in the same area, but he never visited a potion shop. There was never any reason to. What potions he may need were provided to him by the kingdom; never was there a time to go and seek them himself, at least until now.

When he finds the right street, he counts down four houses on both sides, finding that the one on his right must be the correct shop. It’s more discreet, while the shop on the other side is home to a bakery. The front is decorated with flowers, bubbly lettering and an obvious sign. Right across the street, however, the storefront is drab. Empty, actually. It sends something uneasy bubbling in his stomach, but he doesn’t run; instead, he approaches slowly, looking around to find west street deserted. Only a lone cat walks down the road, everything else still closed in the early morning; for once he wishes it was rushing with people, as this silence seems more pervasive than anything else.

The door itself is incredibly vacant looking, a dark wood expansion that he knocks against gently before glancing around. Still vacant, but that cat is quickening its stride. Such a cute thing, with its black coat and shimmering green eyes. If Taehyung knew any better, he’d think the cat was looking at him, but that’s ridiculous. Well, it may be looking at him, but it’s surely not walking towards him. Or is it? Taehyung peers at the cat that seems to be actively sprinting towards him, glaring as it comes up close. When the cat approaches, it sits at Taehyung’s feet with those adorable eyes glancing upwards, something akin to a frown on their little face.

He kneels down as the cat begins to meow softly, reaching out to pet over their ear.

He never quite gets there.

Right before he can touch the cat, they’re hissing and squinting menacingly at him. Against all odds- really, Taehyung had never seen something quite like this before- the cat suddenly butts their head against Taehyung’s knee repeatedly before sitting again.

And then, Taehyung almost faints.

“You’re early,” the small cat says in a deep voice. He lifts a tiny paw and licks at it before tilting his head at Taehyung. “I said eight, not seven thirty.” With a flash of light, the cat disappears, leaving Taehyung staring at the ground before another figure appears before him in a flurry of sparks. It’s a short man this time with a cloak like his own on, drifting beside Taehyung to open the door.

“You’re the one who summoned me,” Taehyung says incredulously.

“Yes, have you never seen someone use a shapeshifting potion before? I have things to do as a cat,” he explains. His own eyes are completely unlike the cats, a deep gray that still holds the hostility the little cat’s had. “I’m Yoongi. I sent the card, because I have something interesting to show you.”

“And you didn’t take this up with the royal family because-?”

“It would take too long. Did you like my little card trick? It’s rather interesting, isn’t it. I can see you took care to keep the string- such a smart boy, Prince Taehyung.”

“Scared the hell out of me, actually,” Taehyung mutters, following as Yoongi begins to walk inside the potion shop. Inside, it’s as drab as it outwardly appears; the lights are off, the only brightness coming through a small dusty window half-covered by thick velvet curtains. Every corner seems to be covered in cobwebs, shining vaguely in the tiny cracks created by the sun through the drapes. Shelves line every wall with ingredients, and a giant bookshelf takes up an entire corner of the room. Drifting closer out of curiosity, Taehyung finds one shelf peppered with jars of rose petals, lavender, mint leaves, basil, daffodils, rosemary, acorns, and—rabbit feet?

“Oh dear,” Taehyung whispers under his breath. He quickly flips around, finding Yoongi on the other side of the room by a small kitchen area. “What was it? That interesting thing?”

“Ah, one moment,” Yoongi mutters. “I lost the damned thing, such a messy place-“ He begins clamoring through the room, shoving things out the way and digging through piles of books situated on chairs, a wooden table. Taehyung wonders briefly where Yoongi even sleeps at night with such little breathing room before Yoongi is snapping his fingers and leaving his hand out, palm up. Taehyung’s eyes can barely keep up as a candlestick flies into Yoongi's open hand from across the room. Placing the candle in a glass holder, Yoongi’s finger drifts down to its wick, cursing under his breath before a flame appears from one fingertip.

“You’re a witch,” Taehyung states plainly.

“Quite obviously,” Yoongi rolls his eyes. “High Priest of the Min coven. And you, dear Taehyung, are the prince. Destined to death and doom, how sad.” The words are frank, something Taehyung isn’t quite used to. He shifts uncomfortably in his space by the door, focusing instead on Yoongi’s surname, Min. The Min coven was one of the most powerful on Evran territory, yet they’d never been properly called to fix Taehyung’s cause. Taehyung always found it to be a matter of willpower and decidedly didn’t desire help from a coven who wanted nothing to do with the infamous curse placed upon Taehyung. Still, here sits Yoongi, who finally smiles as he pulls something from the rubbish in the room.

“Covens have interlocking webs, you see,” Yoongi starts, making his way back to Taehyung. In his hand sits a small scroll, tied just as Yoongi’s letter to Taehyung had been with a small thread. “The Mins have been attempting for years to understand the curse set upon you, even if we never came to the castle to interpret it. We realized early on that nothing was to be done from our side, as a curse of death requires something much more powerful- in some cases, you must become a hero. At other times, the witch that placed the curse must reverse it. Our matter has simply been trying to find that cure, but it’s not an easy matter. We’ve been cultivating ingredients for years and- on your nineteen birthday- we managed to manifest a spell powerful enough to reveal a fraction of your fate.”

“A fraction,” Taehyung whispers, practically shaking at the newly revealed information. The Mins had taken their time doing this for him, managing to grab even the slightest notion of what would reverse his curse. “That’s amazing. What- what do I have to do?”

“Nothing, Prince,” Yoongi answers, unassuming as he places the scroll in Taehyung’s nervous palm. “This, like my little letter trick, is a scroll for your eyes only. When you read it, it shall disappear- we did not do this one on purpose, however. Some spells are temporary, which is why I needed to find you quickly.”

“How did you do this?” Urgency relays in Taehyung’s voice as he clutches the scroll, feeling some immense struggle over the life he’s known and what little hope this could give him. Hope was such a fickle, dangerous thing; it could entirely shift his world, and it’s a scary thing to hold a piece of it knowing it was not the whole. Being alive past twenty, experiencing a life he thought he was doomed to leave- the thought almost forces tears to his eyes, but he keeps the anxious excitement brewing in his gut to a minimum.

“It’s a fate spell, and not just my workings. One element we weren’t privy to, however, was time itself. This concoction grows stronger with each day it ages, and eventually, it could reveal the entirety of your curse. Unfortunately, many covens ignored this as it seemed like a trivial effort- you’d be dead long before anything came to fruition. But why not, yes? Why not exhaust every effort before the time comes.”

Because it could hurt too much, he thinks. To gain hope, see his future flash before his eyes, and lose it all again.

“Must I open it,” he whispers, staring down at the scroll. Suddenly, Yoongi’s hand appears over his, curling over his fingers.

“Us witches, we tend to have a sense about these things. Would you believe me if I told you something greater lies within this scroll? The witch who cursed you was a powerful one, able to ruin the efforts of many covens who wished to save you. She would not make a curse so easy to be simply reversed by her. She would make it something difficult, something hard for you to find in your nineteen years of life- however, if the scroll reveals it to you now, it’s simply a matter of fate,” Yoongi explains, face pallid but eyes still full of endurance. He pats Taehyung’s hand before lifting his own away, eagerly pushing him to open with fateful words. “Your future awaits you, my prince.”

He merely looks at Yoongi for a minute, even feeling his wings flutter alarmingly with emotion. Finally, he pulls the string with hesitation, clutching the scroll with shaking hands as he ties this one along with the silver tether still attached to his arm, the interlocking threads of gold and silvery blue being enough to calm him for a moment. After a few sullen breaths, he gently rolls out the scroll, finding it blank.

Right, he thinks, calming himself from the momentary glimpse of panic that told him this meant he was doomed for nothing. The letters Yoongi sent him appeared blank at first, only decipherable after a moment of Taehyung’s vision gracing the paper.

It takes a few harrowing moments, but color eventually starts moving across the scroll with softened gold strokes. It takes a moment before Taehyung registers the full picture- fate had yet to spell something out for him, instead drawing a full moon wrapped in a conjuring of stars. Before he can be confused, words begin to press into the scroll below the beautiful illustration.

Born to eventual doom and death,
Cursed from first breath-
Your fate lies in sacred things kept,
In miles unswept.

From ends to beginnings and starts left untold, the stars write an order:
find a treasure worth more than gold.

Underneath the inscription, fate begins a careful illustration as before- it’s only when finished that Taehyung makes out the map present before him. In miles unswept, it said- Taehyung must discover a fortune. Was it that simple? No, he reminded himself- this was a part to the whole, and he must discover it. However, he finds himself deflating. A journey was a difficult thing to cover on his own, perhaps taking long enough that he’d die long before he got to his fortune. Indeed, hope was such a fickle thing, pulling away from him right when it all seemed to align.

With a sigh, he looks away to Yoongi.

“Well?” He gestures back down to the scroll, Taehyung finding it empty now besides the map. The moon, the words- they’re all gone now, replaced by the cream color of a vacant backdrop. Much like Taehyung’s future.

“How can I accomplish such a journey? I have never been on one alone, much less one that takes me so far out of Evra,” he says, disregarding Yoongi’s inability to see what was written. The map lit up in glittering silver when he traced his fingers across it. Out of Evra, across the homeland of the fae, miles along the river- was he truly expected to do such a thing? Fate made no mistakes, he knew such a thing. Perhaps, then, his death was inevitable too, and this was a little game for fate, one to solidify this fact.

Sighing, Taehyung wraps up the scroll. “It said, born-“ he tries to explain, only to find his words tied. “Born,” he tries again, only for Yoongi to shake his head.

“For your eyes only. The curse will not allow you to explain its unraveling, not until you have reversed it. But a journey- you must accomplish one? Taehyung, this is your future. Fate makes no mistakes, but she is kind enough to give a half chance at taking back what she’s done. That’s why the treasures she sets you out to find are so valuable. It plays a greater role in your life than you could imagine, and that is the point. If fate did not want you to see this, she would thwart every effort made to reverse your curse. That is why, whatever lies in this- it’s your destiny. Follow it, Taehyung, or you may miss a chance far too great to pass up.”

“How,” Taehyung whispers, looking down. “There’s no way for me to accomplish this on my own, I don’t-“

“She does not give anything too hard for one person to follow. You have no idea what lies on your way. I cannot see your map or what you’re even attempting to find, but I will help you,” Yoongi says, rather cheerful for such an apathetic person. “I will do you three favors. Help you pack, give you a gift, and send you on your way with a spell of good luck- does this sound fair? Witches don’t offer gifts very often, you know. Especially not me.”

Huffing, Taehyung tucks the scroll into the pocket of his cloak. Yoongi was right. Fate truly didn’t play tricks, and such a notion was simply negativity on his part. Even if he is doubtful, he allows Yoongi to rush around his potion shop, picking up ingredients to throw into a small cauldron in the center of the room. He mutters to himself as he sends books flying open across the room, a floating vial of what appears to be fairy dust shaking itself into the cauldron, just beginning to bubble a soft yellow.

“How did you get that?” Taehyung asks, walking forward, only to be stopped by a book that lands in front of his feet. He picks it up, reading the title. Witchcraft for Idiots.

“I have access to things many others wouldn’t. Perks of the job.”

“You mean, you stole it.”

“Stole, borrowed,” Yoongi says, waving his hand dismissively. He finds his way back to the cauldron, tossing in several ingredients until the bubbles begin to pop a wondrous baby blue. “Alright, give me a strand of your hair.”

“Excuse me?”

“A strand of your hair,” Yoongi repeats, looking at him expectantly. When Taehyung lifts his hand with trepidation, ready to feel the sting of pulling out a hair, Yoongi laughs. “Just kidding. All I need is your blessing. Come to the cauldron and consider your deepest desires while I fetch the last ingredient.”

Yoongi rushes off to the shelves as Taehyung drifts towards the cauldron. His face is mirrored in the bubbling liquid, a pallid wash of colors that throws off his natural tan. Instead sits a confused boy washed away in blue, and he has never felt so lost over a wish as he is now.

Today you are nineteen, he thinks. You must travel this journey alone.

Unexpectedly, he feels tears rising to his eyes, helpless to stop them. Perhaps it was best to live with the thought of imminent death; it removed the thought of disappointment, of not being able to do what he’s set out to do. When he blinks, the tear falls into the cauldron, steam jumping from the pot in a sudden simmer. He jumps back, alarmed, but Yoongi comes back and waves him away.

“No worries,” he breathes, hefting a large container of some bright red powder over the cauldron. He dumps a startling amount in before set it down with a grunt. “Let’s wait a moment. It should be done soon.”

They stare aimlessly at the swirling colors within the pot. Taehyung has no idea what signifies its finish, but Yoongi suddenly hums and pulls a jar from a shelf, taking a spoon to shovel some into the clear encasing. When he lifts the spoon from the cauldron, Taehyung can see how the liquid has turned to a fine dusting of lilac powder; it doesn’t look much different than fairy dust, for that matter.

“This is your gift.” Yoongi hands the glass to him with a top, telling him to screw it in place. “Dust it when you feel you need it. Only you’ll be able to know. Ah, and here’s a bag-” He drifts over to the kitchen area, pulling a hefty leather bag from the mess on the table. “Here you go. As for luck, I will grant you a safety spell tonight. I don’t need to see you for that one. Do you feel more adjusted, Taehyung?”

“Yes,” he says despite the anxiety welling in his throat. He clutches the bag, fitting the jar into its empty confines. With a tight smile, Yoongi pats him on the shoulder and pushes them both towards the door.

“These things don’t mean much in our world, but how about a verbal spell? Good luck, break a leg. Oh, and remember the words from the scroll! The longer things go on, the harder it will be to remember. Keep those words in your mind.”

Taehyung pushes the door open, greeting an awakening world. He feels the hood of his cloak fly over the back of his head with a blast of wind, and he nearly trips forward with the force of it; glancing over his shoulder, he sees Yoongi smiling at his shock as he waves his fingers.

“You need to be more cautious, Prince Taehyung,” he warns. “Now go, and don’t seek my help. I’ve given you all I can- the rest is up to you.”

The door shuts softly, signifying Taehyung’s dismissal.

With butterflies swimming in his stomach, Taehyung begins the walk back to the castle with a downcast gaze.

“You’re what?”

“I’m leaving,” Taehyung announces again, rushing around his room. On his way back to the castle, he found a paper tucked into the bag Yoongi gave him. Notes on how to pack, what he should bring, and who he should tell. He was attempting to pack with the little advice Yoongi had given, and one of the notes he added was one Taehyung had yet to think about- how he would leave.

“How will you get past the guards,” Seokjin asks, panicking and following Taehyung around the room.

“I’ve lived here since I was born. I know the ways out.”

“Your parents-”

“When I go missing, deliver this letter,” Taehyung says, handing over a message with the royal seal. He put his own special signature, a way for his parents to know it truly was him- if this was doubtful, he wrote a separate note that he placed on his bed, knowing his parents may try to search there first.

This journey was not one that could be aided by his parents. If anything, he worried for their dismissal of the Min clan’s efforts, as they may try to keep their son back from leaving so close to his twentieth year. Taehyung was nothing if not determined, so he planned everything out- he’d leave the note with Seokjin, pack enough to fill his bag, and leave at the first peak of dusk. The map led him straight through Evra into the forests surrounding the area, a place he’d played diligently in as a child. He was familiar with the terrain even now, and knew he’d make it quite far as fate would allow him to. It was a matter of will now.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin says with urgency. “How do we know this is safe?”

“I have little left, not enough to worry about what is safe. Have you not grown up with me? Have you not seen the curse or acknowledged what is to become of me? I will die in a year. There is no doubt placed in this- it’s my destiny, and the scroll says the only way I can reverse it is if-” His wings flutter, frustrated at the strange choking sensation he gets whenever he tries to utter the words. “Forget it. I must go on this journey, and I must do it alone. You cannot keep me from doing this.”

“I could- I could tell your parents,” Seokjin utters.

“I would not forgive you,” Taehyung mutters with frustration. “You know you wouldn’t. How many times have I covered for you?”

“I never set out on a journey outside of Evra without telling anyone! You have no idea how long it will take, Taehyung!”

“I am going, and that’s that. Does fate ever require you to do something that you could not handle? Are we dealt cards with strength enough to befall us? No, unless our death day has come. Then, I will rest. For now, I’m venturing alone, and there’s no way to keep me from doing so. Fate allows it, Seokjin. As much as you try, I will always be presented with another way.”

Sighing, Seokjin flops back down on Taehyung’s bed and watches him stuff clothes into his bag. “I only worry for you, Taehyung. Your parents could help- they could send royal guards or- or something, I just hate the idea of you wandering out there alone.”

“The Mins provided me with a spell of my own if I need help. Do not worry about me, because whatever happens is a result of the predetermined. Don’t you think? Isn’t it wondrous that I’ve come upon this now?”

“You’re half fairy,” Seokjin whispers. “You can’t fly. Fairy dust doesn’t work for you. Wishes can’t be granted. Don’t you worry?”

“I worry, yes,” Taehyung replies. His own state- with smaller, gentler wings, and a mix of his father’s strong features and the delicate ones adorning his mother’s visage- was a worrisome thing, of course. But it gave him an advantage in other ways, as he always learned to appreciate the kind of wonder people had in their eyes at seeing him. Fae were some of the most outwardly innocent among witches and werewolves and vampires, and he could use this to his advantage. He’d always been rather cunning. “But I’ll be fine.” He stops packing, sitting next to his friend on the bed. Startling when Seokjin drags him in for a hug, he quickly catches up and wraps his arms around his dear friend.

“Stay safe, Taehyung. Return in one piece. Until then, I’ll do as you ask of me because you’re my friend. If I even get a hint that you’re hurt, however- I will do everything in my power to find you.”

Taehyung closes his eyes, burying himself in the tight embrace. Love, he thinks- it’s one of the few things that has kept him alive until this point. It would be the one thing he missed, as well.

Birthday festivities pass with a flourish, yet Taehyung is so focused on his plan that he barely thinks of the ongoing festivals- he goes through the day with wide eyes and secrets hidden behind his teeth until night arrives with a muddied sky. As soon as the stars appear, he wraps himself in his lightest cloak and tugs his bag over his shoulder, breathing into the night air with trepidation.

He’s admittedly nervous. Sneaking through the castle’s grounds was risky business, but he finds the small lift in the fence outlining their garden. From there, he uses the small space between the two areas to lift himself over the castle’s surrounding brick wall. Years of being there allowed him to know of the small dips in this wall particularly, as the bricks had grown worn with age. One was shaky, another brittle enough to dig out a space in the wall where he’d place his foot, and soon enough, he was on the outside of the castle’s walls.

Scary, admittedly- the forest surrounding the castle was exactly where he needed to go, yet he finds himself staring into its endless abyss as if something will come out to get him. It never does, so he presses a tentative foot into the muddied grounds and stops himself from startling at each crack of a branch.

He settles into a routine of sorts, stumbling through the rough forestry for what must be up to an hour. In the dark, things are harder to perceive, and Taehyung struggles to make out the trees and their thick roots. They burst from the ground in groups, forcing Taehyung’s wayward limbs sprawling at times. By the rise of dawn, Taehyung has made quite a good amount of ground; he thanks the training he did within the castle for that, for as lithe as he was, he had enough endurance to barely pause in his long walk. He drifts a few times, finding himself in this perpetual state between dream and awake, something purely bred from the cautious emotions still brewing in his heart.

To think, he was doomed to die but a mere day ago. With Yoongi- and the Mins’- help, he managed to gain a small piece of his fate. Was it such a great picture, he thinks? Find a treasure worth more than gold- well, that could mean anything. Diamonds? A sacred witch spell? Perhaps he was to buy his freedom from the witch- perhaps the star on the map indicated the witch themselves. With no way to know, he thinks himself into a cycle, one of anxiety and depression, then elation and relief. He’s still not sure. Should he keep his hopes low in fear of what he might find? Or fill himself with so much happiness he can barely stand it?

At the rise of the sun, Taehyung carefully situates himself in a clearing of the forest. There lies a miraculous log on which he sits, pulling one of the snacks he packed in his bag. Taking a small candle and a match from the front pockets of his bag, he lights the candle, using it to look clearly at his map. Despite the sun rising, it was still rather dark, enough that his map seemed soggy with fog.

“The Evran forest starts here,” he whispers to himself, dragging a finger across the illustration of thick greenery. “It ends here, northeast of the castle.” Pulling a compass from his pack, he makes sure of his direction before sighing in relief. Indeed, he was on track to exit the forests in about a day, if he walked at an even pace. As it is, he must stop at some point to properly rest. The idea was to rest before he exited Evran territory. By the time he did as much, it would be difficult to rest without falling into trouble with boundaries from surrounding towns. Believing he is in a safe spot, he begins to plot his night stay in the woods, wondering if it’d be better advised to seek out fae territory. There was much of it within the forest, as the fae often lived in groups among nature, his mother being a rarity that fled from the nest to explore.

Quickly, he eats and shoves away the map in his bag. He wants to make it to the boundaries of the forest by midday if possible.

He spends his time exploring and humming along the way. As a child, he wasn’t quite privy to the outside world; while he was allowed to go to the forest as he does now, he wasn’t allowed the freedom to seek alone. Now, he looks through bushes for wildflowers or berries, some of which he tucks into the pocket of his bag. At some point, he’s intrigued by a soft sound a distant ways away. When he ponders over it, he finds it of no consequence to go looking, and eventually finds a small stream bubbling amidst the greenery. He spots a lilypad within its blue confines, and eventually sees a frog, noisily singing a ribbet song by the edge.

“You’re the one making such a noise,” Taehyung accuses, smiling gently at the creature. It doesn’t bat its large glossy eyes, but it does go silent. “Wow, why did you stop? You’re the only companion I’ve had for some time. I quite liked your noises.”

The frog’s eyes blink sleepily. Then, without a hint of warning, jumps into the stream. Taehyung sighs through his exasperated smile, finding it to be a good a time as any to fill up his water pouch. He kneels by the stream’s edge, allowing the clear water to filter into his canister. It’s lulling, the noises from the stream; it rushes gently across his hands when he opens his fist beneath the surface, drawn to its tiny rippling waves. Entranced, he feels at peace for a tiny moment, taking in the glimmering water and rays of light streaming down on the surrounding grass. It sways just slightly in the wind, while tall cattails stand rigidly in the grass. A small oasis from home burgeons so naturally within the forest, yet Taehyung knows he cannot stay, not for long.

He’s so distracted he barely notices the rise of voices, but he stands as soon as they grow close. Apprehensive, he walks back into the thicket of trees for some kind of hiding space; he should’ve known coming close to water would be a risk, as other creatures such as himself were naturally drawn to it.

It doesn’t take long before someone bursts into the clearing, closely followed by two others. At first, they’re far enough that Taehyung can barely see them clearly, but they grow closer to the stream and naturally, closer to Taehyung.

Wolves, his mind puts together. The first one flops down by the stream, sighing with exasperation into the open air. He’s so close Taehyung has to fight down a shiver. Irises of russet, crystallized around a darkened pupil; Taehyung could detect a wolf in other ways, but the eyes are a tell for most. A second follows suit, kneeling just as Taehyung had to fill up canisters, while another eventually breeches the clearing with distracted eyes.

“How far are we again? Please tell me it’s changed since the last time I asked,” the wolf lying down asks. The kneeling figure shakes his head with a sigh, while the other one, still trailing over to the stream, huffs in irritation.

“Hoseok. I told you I’d tell you when we got to the right place, alright? Have I said anything?”

The one still sheltered in the grass, presumably Hoseok, shifts onto his side and holds up his head with his hand. “No, but a wolf can dream, can’t he? Listen- Evra can’t be that far away. I just want this done and over with.”

Evra? Taehyung frowns, leaning closer against the tree while Hoseok babbles on about how his feet are so tired, why was I forced to go with you, this journey is too long. All the while, the wolf pacing behind him grows more and more irritated. He suddenly stops, glancing in what seems to be Taehyung’s direction; the gaze, when pointed towards him, is scary enough on its own- however, Taehyung finds himself caught in those eyes for a few measly moments. Unlike many of the wolves he’s met before, they’re a honeyed brown. Taehyung thinks that if he was closer, saw them at an angle with the light streaming in from the dense canopy, they’d light up from within like hardened amber.

He’s absolutely entranced with those eyes. They’re vibrant, as if stars had been plucked from the night sky itself and reflected in the darkened depths. And so large too, so wondrous, young looking despite the solid frame of the wolf and his sharp jaw. Luckily, he has enough sense to clutch harder to his tree and stop any shifting, hold his breath. After a moment, the wolf looks away.

“Jeongguk, here,” the kneeling wolf says. Doe eyes, as Taehyung’s brain had so eloquently deemed him, snaps from his thoughts to retrieve one of the now-filled water containers. “Hoseok, we aren’t too far. It’ll be over before you know it.”

“Jimin,” Hoseok says, aggravation clear in his voice.

“What? I’m telling you the truth.”

“Both of you, be quiet,” Jeongguk mutters. “The last thing we need to do is fight with each other right before we get there. Do I need to remind you how high profile this is?”

“Evra is weak,” Hoseok announces, rather uncaring. Taehyung tilts his head, insulted by the words despite not understanding why he’d say such a thing in the first place. Evra was highly regarded as a place for all creatures to come together, and even if they didn’t as fight as much as other kingdoms, he always considered it a great strength to be at peace. “The defense lines are barely guarded. They have no expectations, and that’s exactly why their prince has an early expiration date.”

Shaking his head, Taehyung regards the three wolves in front of him. Such words ceased to be impactful some time ago, as the hushed whispers surrounding him always revolved on this same line of content. What more, wolves had never been a companion for Taehyung in any capacity, so he avoided them unless absolutely necessary. They could be overbearing, selfish creatures, with an entirely different dynamic than any other in their village. Perhaps Taehyung judged rather quickly after he was scratched by one at the tender age of seven, but he figured the aggressive nature of such fiends was reason enough to look away from them.

Outside of Evra, wolves were known to live in peaceful packs or go into more--nefarious deeds. Nervously, Taehyung realizes they must align with the latter option.

“That is not reason enough to let your guard down. Evra is one of the biggest kingdoms in the land, and that is exactly why we need to stay on top of things,” Jimin explains, now sitting back near the stream like Hoseok. Their water pouches filled, Taehyung hopes vehemently for them to leave soon. However, as they all stay in place, Taehyung worries they will choose that spot to camp at. Not only would it be a ridiculous choice for them, but one that would leave Taehyung virtually immobile for the night.

“Shin Haneul,” Jeongguk murmurs, walking up to the stream. This immediately peaks Taehyung’s interest. He knew of Haneul, as he was a fairy just like his own mother. Haneul grew up on castle grounds as the son to a nobleman, and they played together as children, chatting excitedly as they eventually grew up and sprouted similar sets of wings. Haneul’s had always been particularly beautiful though, a nearly opaque red that appeared brighter than many wings in the land. When they grew up, they also grew into their roles. Haneul took on his father’s job once he passed, and Taehyung was left with the same ministrations. Ponder what his life could be, had it not been cut so short.

“Fairy of the Evran kingdom. Nobleman, advisor to the king,” Jeongguk continues. “Find him. Bring him back.”

“Take his wings,” Hoseok finishes.

The words make Taehyung’s blood run cold. His fingers, pressed into the bark of the tree he hides behind, tremble at the simple mention of such an act. He’s heard of it, of course. Although it’s illegal, some evil individuals would band together in a gang of sorts, netting a wide web of unsafe trade. Fairy hunters, they were called- they’d take innocent fairies and kill them, or if the fairy was lucky enough, they’d simply tear the wings from their back. It was intensely painful, not only physically but emotionally. Some fairies would never properly heal, always feeling a ghost of something behind their back, a loss of some part of themselves. Some, even if left to live, would die not long after from the sorrow of the experience.

Fairies were an intensely sensitive species. Empathetic, aware- they could heal emotional struggle better than witches themselves, despite not being the strongest at crafting. To lose something like that, something so tied to their identity- it changed them for the rest of their lives.

Taehyung regards the group in front of him with increasing disgust. They had plans to rush into the Evran kingdom, take one of their own, and remove his wings? And for what? To fund their business, which would surely sell the beautiful wings for gold. Treasures like these could be so evil. They forced wolves, witches, and vampires into creatures that would join their efforts just to kill for greed.

He focuses on them with renewed energy, hoping desperately for them to simply leave. Jeongguk, the wolf he thought to be sweet eyed, stares into the reflective stream and says, “My father told me what we need to do so many times, yet I keep forgetting what we’ve been sent to do.”

“You’re scared, aren’t you?” Jimin asks. “But remember, it’s for a reason. Your father wants retribution.”

What retribution has the same value as a pair of fairy wings? How can they try to validate their evil ways with meaningless things like this? He shakes his head, just a subtle sign of displeasure. The group chatters aimlessly after that, and Taehyung finds himself sinking into a whirlpool of confusion. How could he save Haneul? Surely, the group would pass with time, but that would mean allowing them to pass. Then, he considers the facts- there is only one of Taehyung, and three of them. There’s no proper way for him to help at all.

With a start, he realizes his bag still holds the spell Yoongi conjured for him. As quietly as he can, he reaches a hand back, fiddling with the loop that keeps the pockets of his bags from spilling out. It’s a challenge to keep silent, as the loops ran through thick metal circles that gently clinked every time they ran across each other. After five minutes passes, Taehyung has just barely begun to undo the loop, growing more frustrated by the minute.

For all his luck, or lack thereof, Taehyung did not have many expectations. He liked to keep them rather low for the sake of his heart, yet even he cannot suppress a low curse when he hears a small ribbet. He ignores it, still fiddling with the loop. After he manages to unloop it, he gently pulls his bag to the front of his body, focusing on pulling out the potion bottle. It is then that he nearly screams, as he notices a small fleshy green thing sitting on the top of his bag. The frog.

“Shoo,” he commands as silently as he can. Instead, the frog begins his song again, louder than any of the previous times it made a noise. When I asked for companionship, you fled. Now you wish to kill me? The frog only continues, so Taehyung tries his best to focus on the task at hand. Grab the lilac powder.

He reaches in, feeling his hand clasp onto the glass neck of the bottle. Pulling it out, he attempts to edge his arm past the frog, only to bump it on accident. He considers apologizing to the small being. The frog sits still, unphased in its song; it almost sounds louder the longer it goes on, but Taehyung ignores it, glancing up to see the wolves deep in their conversation. Well, except the one named Jeongguk, who once again seemingly glances in his direction with curiosity in his gaze.

In that small moment, finding himself once again enraptured by the sheer clarity of those eyes, he feels something slimy launch itself onto his face. He can’t help it- he lets out a garble of surprise, involuntarily stepping back and directly onto the root of a tree. The heel of his boot catches onto the rough forest floor, and he sails backwards, landing in the plush greenery with a startled oomph.

All is silent. Taehyung thinks against all odds he has avoided the attention of the wolves, perhaps making them think an animal ran amuck in the dense forestry. Alas, Taehyung could not expect much from fate; when he finally opens his eyes, expecting to see a dark canopy leagues ahead, he finds three curious faces looking down on him.

So much for that plan.