The brittle earth was coated with a fine layer of powdered snow and beneath it a layer of ice just thick enough that his weight couldn't crack it. It should have been near impossible to move without slipping, yet Hakuryuu darted along the icy ground with the speed and agility of a wild deer. He vaulted small boulders and turned sharp corners along the labyrinthine mountain paths, no destination in mind besides forward.

His pursuers were smart enough to have run him towards the craggy edges of the mountain pass rather than deeper into the swamps. Here, little grew and his magic threaded feebly deep in the earth, where in the swamp it surged at the surface. Could he still wreak havoc here? Of course, but with far more effort and will than it would have taken elsewhere.

He had lost his companions in the flurry to escape the attack on their hideaway and his pursuers knew it as well as he did. The further they drove him into the mountains, the less power he had to draw on and the more advantage they gained.

By the same token, if he stopped, he would have to confront them face to face with what he had at his disposal.

"Sun and stars—" he swore to no one in particular, planting his foot firmly and pivoting himself in place, sending a spray of snow into the air.

Without his polearm, Hakuryuu felt incredibly barren. The weapon was probably nothing more than a few pieces of burnt wood now, and he spared a half second to mourn its loss. Another could be made, certainly, but he had a fondness for that one. He'd grown up using it.

Still, now was no time for sentimentality. He fell into his favored stance, ready to spring to action at the first sign of a fight, and unsheathed the sword at his hip. The crystalline blade glowed in the sparse moonlight, casting his pale features into ethereal relief.

Hakuryuu had but two heartbeats to formulate any kind of plan in his mind. There was a path behind him and another to his right, both viable options to escape through if he had to, and there was enough magic still in the soil to provide him some options. He breathed in and began drawing the power to him, from the soles of his feet up through his body, trying to collect enough to be of any value.

The magic was sluggish to respond; it disliked the cold, dead earth, and it shuddered and shivered as it crawled from the warm depths up towards him. By the second heartbeat it had only just started to amass within him, and his pursuers had arrived.

There were three of them. Hakuryuu grit his teeth and fought back a victorious sneer when he noted that two of the more dangerous fae from the attack had followed him. Good. More chance for his comrades to make their own escapes.

To his left was a goblin, its wiry arms hefting twin axes bigger than its own body. In front of him, two armored fae, one with a bow drawn with two arrows pointed in his direction and another with a spear. A sword would be a poor match against any of them even at the best of times, any trained soldier knew that. But Hakuryuu was more than a common soldier and his training had readied him for situations set at odds just as imbalanced as this.

Which was probably why the enemy never gave him a chance to attack. Something came flying at him from his left, his sensitive ears catching the whizz of motion in the air too late to properly dodge. He jerked aside belatedly but the projectile reached him first, burying itself in his side between the slit of his armor with pinpoint accuracy.

Hakuryuu howled as pain seized along his side, almost reminiscent of the fire that had left him scarred, crippling him before he could even react. His vision blurred like he had been shaken rapidly, head suddenly pounding, and he just barely managed to keep on his feet.

Before his hand could go to his side his instincts screamed for him to move again. He jerked his sword arm up, just barely parrying a strike that came for his head. A mirthful chortle filled the air.

Hakuryuu stumbled before getting his feet under himself again, forcing up mental walls to hold the pain at bay. His vision cleared, if only slightly, and he was aware of the new figure in front of him. The moment he recognized the outline of his mother's knight, he snarled with rage.

"Ithnan—!" he hissed between his teeth. His hand felt along his side, trying to find the entry point of whatever he had been shot with. The wound pulsed with hot flashes of agony, each heartbeat making the feeling grow.

Ithnan dipped into a mocking bow that did nothing but make the prince's lip curl higher over his teeth.

"You've been terribly ill-behaved, my prince." he said, his tone filled with the same kind of gentle scornfulness you might use on a child. "Your mother is most concerned."

Hakuryuu ignored the taunt, reaching his senses out to try and ascertain just how many fae were involved in this second ambush. His stomach sank towards his knees when his senses informed him too many. The two pathways he'd thought to be his escape were both blocked by encroaching groups of four or more, many of them brimming with magic fueled by the cold.

His best option would be to fight his way forward and flee back towards the swamp, but to do so would mean passing the goblin, the two armored knights, and now Ithnan. The malicious fae never gave him the chance.

He leapt at Hakuryuu, his thin blade drawn and aimed straight at the prince's belly. Hakuryuu parried, jumping aside, but while his movements usually held the grace of a dancer he could now barely keep himself upright. With both hands on the hilt of his sword there was little he could do about the pain of his left side, now beginning to spread through his body one agonizing inch at a time.

His vision flickered in and out, tinged white at the edges. Even half blind he kept dodging and blocking the icicle-like blade coming at him, but either Ithnan was moving faster, or he was beginning to slow down. The remaining two thirds of the ambush drew in closer and Hakuryuu felt himself running rapidly out of options.

The blade glinted in the half-light, flickering towards his exposed neck and the prince moved without thinking, his subconscious already aware of the cost of the action.

Faerie metal met skin and a scream of animal pain rent the air. The prince fell to one knee, his vision black and spotted with sharp sparks of white. He couldn't see the injury, but he could feel the pain in his side spreading to engulf the remaining portion of his left arm. It grew so bad the agony was almost numbing.

Sparks of magic coursed through his body, hurtling towards the worst of his injuries. A faint instinct told him that the magic was doing its best to seal off all his bleeding, but whatever was embedded in his side seemed to be halting it in its tracks. Feeble sparks danced out along the blood flowing from his missing limb, trying to find the lost appendage and reattach it.

The battle was over before it had even begun. Magic and blood alike flowed from the prince in streams, weakening further and further as the seconds went by. He could hardly keep his eyes open, let alone rise from where he had fallen.

Hakuryuu was faintly aware of the crunch of snow. His vision was lost to him, the pain overloading him the way it had when he was a child, but the blindness was familiar. His body reacted to it, heightening his other senses to compensate faster than it should have been able.

Footsteps approached him with mocking leisure. He didn't have much time.

Hakuryuu reached into the earth, gripping the hilt of his sword until his knuckles were white and using it as a conduit to draw in the magic beneath him. He had no time to coax the flow of magic to him as he usually would. He ripped the threads of power from the earth as rapidly as he could, pulling vein after vein to himself until he could feel the pulse of it in his fingertips.

The footsteps stopped and he was faintly aware of a shadow looming over him. There was no more time, and no more magic in the frozen earth. He'd run out of options.

With desperation, he envisioned the spell he wanted in his mind. He forced all of his will, all of his pain and the flickers of fear he wouldn't admit to into it, filling the spell with every last bit of power he could find inside himself. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, he released the spell outwards.

All at once the earth opened beneath him, a fissure carving itself through not the earth, but the very fabric of reality. Hakuryuu didn't have time to wonder if the spell had worked as he had intended it to, the expulsion of magic tearing the last of his consciousness from him.

The prince plummeted through the gaping crevice, and knew no more.

Read on Ao3 under the name [ orsa-verba ]