The Snow Queen and the FireHeart

Absolution of Fate

XVI

Absolution of Fate

"King Nazir," Elsa said heavily, her voice feeling inadequate against the towering presence that stood by the golden throne. He was a regal man who couldn't have been more than ten years older than Yasha, with long black hair down his back and extravagant robes hanging from him, lined with golden trim and a vast assortment of gems and trinkets dotting his clothes. His hands bore rings of gold, and a beautiful crown was on his head. He reeked of wealth and power, of ageless knowledge and mystical pedigree, and his glowing orange eyes were on her, unabashedly devouring her like the grasp of time itself. The smug expression was an admission to the amusement that he found in seeing them there, huddling together like two frightened animals in the face of a dangerous predator.

He was pleased that they had already found out that they were powerless against the FireHeart.

"Well done in bringing the Snow Queen here, boy. Although I'll admit I don't quite understand your tactics. Killing her would have certainly been easier had you entered the FireHeart first," he mused, mocking Yasha with his eyes, "I'm not sure how letting her try to freeze it plays into your usually impressive strategy." In her lap, he grimaced and quietly stared upwards, lacking the strength to meet him, while also avoiding the draw of her eyes as they moved down to him. This revelation of his secret task made her recent trend of trust feel strained, though she continued to hold him thoughtfully while demanding a quiet answer.

"What does that mean? What is he talking about, Yasha?"

Feeling the weight of her eyes and knowing it was useless to lie anymore, he drew in a long breath and exhaled slowly, feeling just as pressed by her attention as the attention of his king. "Nazir tasked me in bringing you here with the hopes that I would assume the power of the FireHeart," he said, hesitating slightly, "and kill you." The admission made her gasp, her hands loosening on him. She had believed they were beyond this. While a part of her wanted to move away and distance herself from this intimate place she had given him, a small sliver of hope kept her kneeling there, holding his weak body and looking to him for some kind of justification.

"Is it why you brought me here? After all that's happened?" she asked breathlessly.

He made a most unusual sound, a choking breath mixed with a self-loathing laugh. "If only I knew," he replied, looking up at her, as if his distraught eyes could somehow explain what his voice couldn't.

It was the worst answer he could give her. A denial would have reassured her that her growing trust was well-placed, while accepting that blame would have allowed her to once more view him as a criminal. As it stood, she hated him even more for giving her neither and leaving her to look down at him with uncertainty and pain. "I was starting to trust you. I thought that I'd been mistaken, that maybe Anna had been right about you all along," she said painfully, her fingers digging into his shirt tightly, "What am I supposed to believe? Which is the real you?" His mouth opened to answer, but nothing came out. The betrayal in her eyes was more painful than the agony coursing through his failing body and it was only made worse by the fact that there was no response to give. He had no strength to defend himself from her, for she was right. The villainy of his actions towards her was never more apparent in the way she still stayed close to him, trying to gather sympathy for him, all while he laid there and said nothing, not once trying to ease her mind.

Bitterly, he wished even more that she had succeeded in ending his fate with the Heart.

"Well, isn't this a touching scene. It's really too bad that I'm the only one who gets to witness it. I bet Lind would love to see you two so friendly with each other," Nazir suddenly interrupted, his voice deeply echoing in the chamber. His words did little to disturb their moment or the conflict they shared and he felt offended by that, but as enjoyable as it was to watch history repeating itself, he was growing impatient. While he wouldn't admit it and in contrast to his amused impression, seeing the Snow Queen so close to his Heart was disquieting.

It reminded him of a past long forgotten.

"Now then, are you finished with these noble whims, my foolish son? Are you ready to enter the Heart and take your place?" he asked.

Elsa winced once more, looking up at Nazir with wide eyes. "Your son?" she gasped, utterly in shock. A great smile spread over his face and he seemed more amused than ever as his eyes settled back to Yasha.

"You didn't tell her anything, did you?"

Her eyes fell away to nothing for a moment, as if she were trying to comprehend what that meant. Nazir appeared too young to be his father, yet she remembered that he had once told her that Nazir was as old as the mountain, whispering that this dark king was obviously gifted in magic as they were. By some strange design, her fantasies about him being of royal lineage came true before her eyes, yet she was offended by it, if only because of Yasha's resentment of Nazir and how that suddenly bled into her image of him. While she had wanted to know all of his secrets, she was finding that it was not as romantic as she once thought, and her eyes slowly moved down.

"Is it true?" she whispered.

To her surprise, he laughed. It was a sad sort of laugh, choked with bitterness and in response to a great, cruel joke. His body had relaxed, as if these bleeding secrets were taking away all of the pressure and leaving him helpless in her lap, unable to resist anything she could do to him.

Strangely, the laughing helped make the admission easier.

"To my endless shame, this man is my father."

She grimaced. "Oh Yasha," she gasped, pulling her hands away as she tried to evaluate him again. They had been through so much, even in their short time together, but nothing had prepared her for the truth of his bloodline. His resemblance to Nazir was overwhelmingly apparent now, yet her secret fantasy of his royal blood backfired as she now looked to him not like he was a prince, but like he was infected by some kind of disease. As if picking up on her scrutiny, he suddenly sat up with great effort, using what strength he had left to push himself to his feet, though he stumbled and nearly collapsed again. By instinct, she had lifted her hands out to help him, but didn't move from her place on the marble floor, simply watching him struggle back to his feet, her breathing still choked by all of these unfortunate admissions. Yasha felt as vile as the accusations and he still couldn't control the bitter laughing from strangling his words.

"Have you ever met a more wretched prince?" he spat bitterly. His body was heavy and wouldn't obey and he was beyond frustrated by the world around him, out of his grasp and out of his control. But he was surprised at how much lighter he felt as he spit out his final introduction, his arms open to accept all of her judgments. "You wish to know the real me? Here I am. Son of Nazir. The last prince of Fria."

"Heir to more madness than I could ever hope to bear."

Elsa struggled with these titles as she looked on, unable to speak and unable to support him. Nazir, on the other hand, was smiling and began to clap slowly, the sounds resounding in the cavernous hall. "Oh, you've always had a way with words. One of my most dramatic children. You've provided me years of amusement," he cheered just as Sid came floating out, hovering silently next to him. Her appearance made Elsa gasp, then look to Yasha for some kind of reaction, though judging by his gray response, she realized he had known about Sid's allegiance. She felt even more pity, as even his only friend had been just been one more force against him and she quietly wondered how he had endured such an oppressive fate and still remain the person that had touched her as he had.

Once more, she was drawn back to the tragedy of him.

"But enough amusement. There's still a task at hand," Nazir continued, waving his hand at the two of them, "I don't care for any of this."

"Enter the Heart, boy. Your time is up."

As if reacting to the words, Yasha suddenly clasped his hand over his chest, hacking a deep breath. The reaction surprised Elsa and she could no longer sit still as she jumped to prop him up, throwing away her distrust for the moment and seeing only him pain. "What is it? What's wrong?" she asked in a panic.

He struggled to breath, glaring harshly at Nazir. The last of his loan had run out and he once more felt the impending grasp of darkness on him. "Why now? What does it matter if I die now?" he wheezed, hating this father and king even more for still playing with him and hating the fact that he had no control over his own fate, "Only you…would pick this time, this place, to ransom my life."

Elsa winced. She didn't understand what he meant. "What? What does that mean?" she asked, looking at his chest for some kind of injury, "Why would you die? You can't be dying. It's…you're still just fine!"

"I have always been dying," he scoffed, looking slowly to her and feeling his anger subside with the compassion she showed, "Just like all before me, touched by the flame and cursed just the same. I should already be dead, though I cannot say if it was because Nazir extended my time, or perhaps something else." An abridged life had been something he had always accepted, if only because of the precedent set by Nazir and his line. His twilight had only been interrupted by Elsa and Anna, shaking his resolve to simply fade or fail, and bringing the fear of death back into his life.

Yet, he didn't resent them for it, not even for a moment.

"A cursed loan on a cursed life, all so I would bring you here," he spat, a distinctly sad expression in his eyes seemed to sigh from his very soul.

"It appears there was really only one path after all."

Suddenly, all of it began to make sense; the way he had rushed her forward and the way he had been so forceful to get her to come with him. The words of the old woman struck her, as they must have known that he was running out of time. The fact that they would be satisfied with him spending his last days with a lover made her feel a new level of pity for him and she couldn't stop herself from feeling all of the things she had been feeling for him, while she reached up and touched his face tenderly, as if she could somehow wipe away all of the curses from him with a single stroke of her hand.

"What a sad life you've led," she whispered.

Yasha felt a rush of blood to his face where her fingers touched his skin and he shivered, finding a strange serenity in her eyes. With everything at its terminus, he found himself musing over the irony at how easy it would have been to end it all, to simply give up and let fate go on without him. It would have been a relief beyond measure to lie down with her and simply let it go, leaving Nazir to find another successor to the FireHeart; to finally take the easy path. She would be spared and he would be free.

Yet something inside wouldn't allow it, and it ignited a new fire in his eyes.

"I do not desire your pity," he grunted, tearing away from her and stumbling a few steps to the stairs, pulling his attention from her radiance and trying to once more focus on the darkness ahead of him. In the rediscovery of his anger, his blurry vision fixated on Nazir for a moment, wishing for nothing more than the power to wipe the arrogant smile from his face, while realizing that there was only one way to gain that power and finally have his revenge against his tyrant of a father.

His eyes slowly shifted to the FireHeart.

"Yasha?" Elsa gasped at his sudden coldness, almost following but somehow holding her ground.

He didn't look back to her. He only lingered a moment against her call.

Using what little strength and time he had left, he forced his weak legs to push himself up the stairs, not caring for the roar of the Heart in his mind or the perverse grin of Nazir. He could no longer bear her compassion or wonder how to keep his promise to Anna. There was no sense of noble purpose or fearful terror of the blackness beyond death. There was nothing left in him.

There was only the Heart.

He crested the stairs and gazed deeply into it, trying to take in a deep breath but finding his lungs no longer worked. His legs could barely hold him and his vision had nearly gone. Even his body was giving up on him, but there was one part of him that had the resolve to take the last steps along his fated destiny – his heart.

Strangled and uncertain, he closed his eyes and fell forward into the FireHeart.

Elsa watched him go, not knowing what to do. To stop him meant his death. To help him meant her own. The situation slipped from her grasp just as harshly as he had and her only reaction was to raise her hand slightly as he disappeared into the flames, as if she could have reached him in that last moment before he disappeared. Standing in the Scoria Chamber, alone now but for Nazir, she had no idea if she was prepared for whatever would happen next, or if she would ever see him again.

"Well, it's about time. I don't think I've ever had such a stubborn child before," Nazir suddenly sighed, breaking the silence and visibly relaxing. The coolness of his reaction shattered the mood and drew a silent stare from her, who hadn't expected his sudden resignation. All of his scheming and manipulations had finally paid off. It was time to reap the benefits of his efforts, after countless years of watching and pushing.

There was only one more thing left to take care of.

"Now then, you may go."

She blinked, barely able to convince herself that she had heard him correctly. She had expected him to gloat or threaten her or simply capture her for his villainous plans, yet he seemed wholly uninterested in her and he stood waiting for her to obey.

"What did you say?" she whispered.

"You may go. Return to your castle or palace or wherever you wish, as long as it's not here. I have no further use for you," he replied, shooing her with his golden hand.

She shook her head in disbelief. "I don't understand. I thought you had Yasha bring me here to…" she started, but found even speaking about his notorious task was bitter in her mouth.

"Kill you?" he finished, then let his dark laughter fill the hall, "My dear, I don't care if you live or die. I only care that the boy enters the Heart. Now that he has, I see no reason to complicate matters by killing Lind's child." She winced. She had heard him use that name before and it was strangely hypnotic in her mind, yet she had no idea who this Lind was. Neither of her parents had that name and she was certain she had never heard the name spoken in the kingdom.

"Lind? Who is Lind?" she asked breathlessly.

Nazir furrowed his brow slightly, then suddenly smiled widely and clapped his hands together. "You don't know? You mean she's never…oh, what a surprise! You've never met Lind! What a tragedy! You've spent your entire life in the dark, unaware of your very birthright. What a gag! I bet you don't even know why you could hear the FireHeart or why you react so harshly to my little boy," he cheered, watching the way his words twisted her face in confusion, "She really does have a heart of ice, that Lind."

"What does all of that mean? Are you saying that this Lind is why I could hear the FireHeart, and why I can't control my powers around Yasha? Is Lind the other voice I could hear?" she demanded.

"Oh, so you have heard her voice, even though she didn't tell you anything about your powers or mine. She always did like to do things differently," he mused as a strangely nostalgic look came over his face. Elsa was feeling impatient by his evasive mood and glared at him, though he met her eyes with a dismissive shrug. "Oh well. It doesn't matter. I'm not obligated to tell you what Lind wouldn't. Go now. Return to your happy little kingdom. Leave now, and you can sleep well knowing that you won't ever see this boy ever again."

Though her desires to hear more about Lind and the voice from the other place were raging strongly in her mind, the perverse way he smiled when he mentioned Yasha made a wave of anxiety wash over her, and she forced herself to smother her questions.

"What are you planning to do with Yasha?" she asked sharply, "Haven't you done enough to him already?"

"Now why the concern?" he remarked, amused by her passion, "This is the boy that tried to kill you, and would most certainly do so again should I but ask. He has lied to you, hurt you and cheated you. He's dangerous, and doesn't hesitate to do what it takes to get what he wants. A true villain among villains."

"I was under the assumption you hated him."

His words were bitterly true and she did feel many of those things. She had spent the last few days in a state of emotional turmoil, being thrown from love and hate and everything in between. This relationship with him had been like trying to run downhill and she had never been sure of her own footing. Even now, she didn't know what to expect should he step from the FireHeart and meet her with those same resolute eyes, being subjected to his unconquerable resolve and fiery heart.

The only thing she was sure of was that she wanted to see him again, in spite of the fear.

"I care about what happens to him," she replied, feeling her face a little warm and her hands shaky, though her gaze didn't waver and she would stand by those words.

Nazir's smile faded and he suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to go through with his plan to end her, regardless of how he might anger Lind. She reminded him of a time ages ago when another wielder of ancient ice magic had looked at him with those same eyes, dredging up memories that he wanted to leave locked in ice, forever to remain safely away from his heart. "How touching, but foolish in the end. You're more like her than you realize," he sneered, then waved off another of her inquisitive expressions in an attempt to leave the past in the past, "Very well. If you must know, I intend to turn him into the king of Fria."

The admission tripped up her anger. "The king? You're going to make Yasha the king?" she gasped.

"Isn't that what you do with a prince?" he replied haughtily, watching with a smile as it angered her. "Long ago, I made up this silly tradition that anyone touched by the Heart would only have to prove themselves worthy to enter it and they would become the next king. It makes people motivated to do these little tasks I think up," he then explained, entertained at the expression on her face, "This boy has more than proven himself. I don't think I've ever had such a ferocious child." The bizarre proposal made her heart skip, as it was easy to imagine Yasha as a king. He had all of the characteristics, and certainly the bearing, but there was something in Nazir's voice that was warning her, making her feel extremely resistant to the design. There was something that didn't make sense.

"Then what's the purpose of the tasks? Why involve me and my sister in your quest to crown a new king?" she demanded.

Smiling darkly, he stroked his finely trimmed beard, making sure to take in every reaction she offered. "Why, to break him, of course," he replied, and it made her flinch. He enjoyed that expression. "The tasks are to mold them into the right shape, you see. To make it easier after they emerge from the FireHeart."

The air felt heavy and dark. Elsa felt her hands tightening and her magic was beginning to lap against her heart. She was beginning to understand why Yasha reviled his father so.

"Easier for what?" she asked cautiously.

Nazir smiled deviously.

"To eat them," he replied and watched the look of horror come over her. Bellowing laughter filled the air as he tried to contain his delight at her reaction. "Oh, save your bravado and try to understand. We're talking about ancient magic that you couldn't possibly comprehend. To sustain the immortality of FireHeart and retain mastery over it, a 'child' is required. Over the years, I have molded these children, sending them away from Fria to struggle and die. When only the strongest have survived, I give them meaningless tasks to break them of some of their more undesirable traits," he explained, glancing from her to the FireHeart, where he knew Yasha lay within, "This boy clings to some gallant notion of helping his people and to a noble image of himself. Aww, and he cries for his mommy. So sad. But these things have made him strong and motivated, turning an otherwise worthless child into an excellent vessel. It was simply a matter of redirecting that motivation onto a cause that would shatter his image of nobility."

His eyes shifted back to her and he raised a claw-like finger at her, a lewd expression on his dark face.

"You."

"That's…" she gasped, taking a step back from him and raising her hands out, as if to defend herself from his dark heart, "You're a monster!"

"Ah, that may be, but give credit where credit is due. I'm an immortal monster of power and magnificence," he replied, gracefully showing her the depths of his narcissism, "It's no lie that he will soon be in control of the FireHeart, and that little bit of timing can be tricky. I thought that only killing the poor, innocent Snow Queen would remove that noble image he has of himself and make it easier to break what's left of him. But oh, how he's done that already. He tears himself apart from the inside, hating himself and his fate, loving the meaningless people around him, and is hopelessly confused on what to do when a beautiful woman looks his way."

"And I have you to thank for that."

She could barely believe what she was hearing and was lost on his subtle insight into the state of Yasha's heart. His fate had seemed tragic before, but now it was simply unimaginable. Even as he had walked a path he hated and done things of which he could never forgive, it had all been exactly what Nazir had wanted of him, as if his struggles and pain had meant nothing in the end. For Yasha's sake, she hated Nazir more than anyone she had ever known. His existence was a frightening opposite to the loving, tender parents she had been blessed with and her sympathy for him was now more powerful than ever.

"How could you do these things? He's your son! Doesn't that mean anything to you?" she yelled.

Nazir laughed darkly. "My dear, they've all been my sons," he replied, drawing yet another harrowing gasp from her. He was starting to wonder how many he could mine from her. "Generation after generation, all of those touched by the Heart have been of my blood. A kingdom is quite the convenient harem, you see. Once I have the best and the strongest, each of them enter the Heart, for ambition or for conquest or for the sake of the insignificant masses, and each of them are born back into the world, intoxicated by the power given to them, and grasping at the golden title of king."

"And then, all of them, without exception, become Nazir, King of the FireHeart."

Elsa was breathing heavily, desperately trying to control her emotions. She had never met such a cruel creature, who showed so much enjoyment at the horrible fates he bestowed on others. Even she had played to his manipulations, with her volatile relationship with Yasha only moving him further into the exact position Nazir wanted, where he would then disappear forever, without even helping his people. That fate fueled her anger towards this terrible demon and she resolved to do anything she could to stop him. "These crimes that I've hung on him and the harsh words I've used have all been yours, Nazir. I can't begin to understand how any father would treat his son in such a way and continue to smile despite the terrible things you've done, but I won't let you continue this cycle of suffering, for Yasha or for these people. I'll stop you before you have another chance to hurt him!" she vowed, feeling her magic circle her and glaring at him with resolute eyes. Oddly, she felt in sync with that distant place from before, as if this was the culmination of all the warnings and that the most noble thing for her magic to do was defeat the monster before her. A selfish part of her wanted to press him for more answers about Lind and what he knew of the origins of her powers, but she knew she had to focus on the task at hand and spare these trapped souls the terror of living in Nazir's twisted world, for she somehow knew how dangerous he was even beyond the crimes he had committed, as if she he had known him for an eternity.

If she could manage the strength, she would save Yasha before he emerged from the FireHeart and before Nazir had a chance to perform his wicked magic.

While stiffened in the face of her passion, Nazir still retained the calm composure that reeked of ancient arrogance. He watched the young queen posture before him, his smile playing between concern and amusement, while he lost himself for yet another moment into the long-forgotten past. "Now that face brings back memories," he remarked, showing her a surprising level of affection, "You truly are Lind's child, but you should realize that you can't defeat me, just as you couldn't freeze the FireHeart. You simply don't have the power."

"You see…" he continued, looming like a great, ageless god at the top of the stairs and opening his arms to receive all of her contempt and fear.

"I am the FireHeart."

His confidence was as potent as his power and Elsa felt the sweat beading at her skin, even as the air was chilled. Unlike with Yasha, she had no idea how powerful he was or what he could do, for she hadn't once seem him call on the raging orb of flame. All she knew was Yasha seemed reluctant to assault him even despite how much he hated him, and he was far more the warrior than her. Yet despite her nature, she was motivated to defeat him, for she had all the reason in the world to. Whether it was because of her beating heart or the resemblance to the monster before her, all she could think of was Yasha and how she wanted to save him from his pitiful fate.

As the two wielders of ancient magic faced off, uncertain of the other's true ability, a distinctly heavy presence suddenly filled the air, blanketing the chamber with a pressure so potent that both of them instantly noticed it. It was like the roaring silence of a patriarch entering a room, dominating the atmosphere even as there was no tangible sensation to describe it. Elsa didn't know what this pressure was, but Nazir did, as he looked back to the FireHeart eagerly, forgetting the presence of the Snow Queen altogether. "Ah, it seems like my meal has finished cooking. Such an impatient boy. I don't think anyone has ever mastered it so quickly," he remarked, watching as a figure appeared within the raging inferno and then slowly emerged, stepped out onto the marble floor.

Elsa's eyes were instantly drawn there as well and her body shivered, her voice weak.

"Yasha."

Standing before the raging FireHeart, Yasha took a deep breath, as if it was his first, and exhaled a column of scalding steam. His eyes slowly opened. Rings of orange pierced his pale irises, but they didn't churn and fade as they had before, but glowed as a constant, reflecting the calm that had settled over the Heart behind him. He didn't look to Nazir or Elsa or anything else in the chamber, but stared off into an imperceptible distance, as if the answers to everything were held there. Slowly, his hands rose out and he looked to them, as though they now held the same answers. He was a creature that didn't seem part of the world, but was seeing things come into focus.

He didn't move for the longest time.

Elsa felt pressured to warn him of all the dark secrets that Nazir had told her and try to protect him from his impending fate, yet something was keeping her from moving, or even speaking. His presence was more overwhelming than before and even without his eyes upon her, she felt her heart raging in her chest. She had to save him, but a terrifying sound began to fill the air, making her skin baste with sweat even as her magic continued to chill the air. The sound pierced her and made her lips hang open in an inaudible gasp, with a name that desperately wanted to be said, but finding no breath to do so. All she could do was stare up at him and feel the icy terror coursing through her body, wondering if she could ever reach him again and find the shard she had been looking for, the part of him that seemed to slip further and further away her to the chilling accompaniment in the air.

Yasha was laughing.

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