The Snow Queen and the FireHeart

Ashes Never Burn

XVII

Ashes Never Burn

For what seemed like an eternity, Yasha stood at the top of the stairs, framed by the obedient FireHeart and looking around the world as if he no longer existed in it. For Elsa, he seemed like an entirely different person. His eyes, his smile and even his posture had changed. She had tried to prepare for his reappearance, yet found when he stood before her again, oppressing even Nazir with his overwhelming presence, she was frozen. As much as she desperately wanted to rush forward and tell him of the villainous schemes of his father, there was something keeping her rooted in place.

While feeling a bit anxious for the aura that existed around his son, King Nazir was satisfied that everything was going according to plan. Yasha wore the same face as all of his brothers when they emerged from the FireHeart, twisted by the immeasurable power and magic that was bestowed upon them. This was the great symmetry of the Heart. No matter how different the child was before they entered it, they all stepped out the same, cleansed by fire and consumed by power. They no longer had any sense of self, and that was why his ancient spell always worked.

"Now you see the truth of the Heart, my son," he said, his eyes glowing, "You feel it in every part of you."

Instantly, Yasha's eyes shot to him and a wave of tension shook the air. Nazir lost his plated smile and felt on edge, for none of his children had ever regained such a look of intent, reinforcing the suspicion he had about the boy since the day he was born; Yasha was unlike any that had come before. Without realizing, he had almost cast the spell to devour him out of sheer instinct, though he had restrained himself. In all other cases he would have already used the incantation, had there not been one slight inconvenience in this hallowed chamber of the FireHeart.

The Snow Queen.

"You now have the power, Yasha. There is only one thing left to do, and you will become king," Nazir continued, slowly raising his finger to Elsa. Her breathing became audibly shakier at the suggestion, though Yasha's eyes didn't move from Nazir. The waves of power were washing over him and the persistent desire to have revenge against his father seemed petty now, like an echo of a former life. Yet a boiling anger towards him remained, tempered by a strange realization that tugged at the back of his mind and heart, reminding him of the tragic circumstances behind his relationship to this despotic king.

It was almost laughable, had it not been so sad.

For the first time in his entire life, his father had called him by name.

"Yes," he replied, slowly pulling attention from him to look down at Elsa, "One does not put the fool before the queen." As his attention shifted, Nazir's expression dissolved. Hearing his child belittle him was infuriating, but he also realized there was nothing he could about it for the moment. On his own, he couldn't subdue the Snow Queen, and she was still a threat to the FireHeart. It was one of the bitter, unspoken truths of his connection to the FireHeart, to give up much of his own magical prowess in order gain immortality. Ironically, only his children could actually wield the power of the FireHeart, leaving him to manipulate them into doing his bidding. He needed Yasha to kill Elsa, but that would be the last thing he would ever do in this world.

The maleficent king had to momentarily swallow his pride in order to get what he wanted.

"Yasha," Elsa said as he crested the top of the stairs and finally brought his attention on her, though she realized this attention wasn't what she had wanted. His eyes were powerful, not as before, but oppressive and cold. She once more feared him.

"How the world has changed. Do you find it ironic, as I do?" he said to her, smiling wickedly and raising his hands out to his sides, "How does it feel to finally look up and see me?" She found his words confusing and his tone frightening. He suddenly seemed like he spoke a different language and used the same riddles as Nazir.

That frightened her even more.

"You have to listen to me, Yasha! There's so much I need to tell you about your father. He's been lying to you about everything!" she cried to him.

He scowled. "Do not sour this moment. To him, a lie is the same as a breath of air. It is his nature," he said, dismissing her concerns, "But that no longer matters. He no longer matters. I am the Master of the FireHeart now. It obeys my will and none other!"

As he yelled, the FireHeart behind him was raging as a reflection of his mood and sparks of flame were shooting off into the hall, setting brilliant pillars of flame all around. Soon enough, the entire chamber was filled with flame, but it didn't rage out of control, simply surrounding them, quietly thrashing without consuming a thing, a slave to the will of Yasha.

A pleased and terrible smile came over his face. "Do you see now? Do you see who is truly king?" he asked.

Elsa was trapped, but returned her eyes to him. This fanatic display only deepened her concern and she wasn't impressed by him like he hoped. "That doesn't matter! You're in great danger!" she yelled.

"Danger?" he repeated, then laughed loudly, the flames swaying to his every breath. The Heart was roaring behind him, with a deep tone resonating through the chamber, as if an entire choir of deep mountain vents played along with his voice. The magic that was flowing through him was more than he ever expected and a strangely affectionate part of him wanted to reveal that to her, though he didn't know if it was to allay her concerns, or punish them. All he knew was they would now reprise their fated conflict on his terms.

"I do not think you realize who I am now," he sneered and suddenly flames began to appear on his body, consuming him. "Or what I am." Before her eyes, he was devoured by the flames and disappeared from her sight, only to reappear on the other side of the chamber, his body still covered by the raging inferno, and his face still showing the same wicked smile. With such an immeasurable pool of power at his command, he was reveling in the things he could do now, no longer bound by a cursed body and cursed life. He was simply free to do anything he wanted and that was more exhilarating that he ever thought imaginable.

"There is no more danger," he said, making her whip around and gasp at his sudden appearance, though he soon disappeared once more, only to appear in another place amongst the fires.

"There is no more shame."

"There is no more fear."

"There is no more pain."

His voice came from all around her, yet nowhere at all. She could no longer see him or ever hope to reach him, but his words thundered through the air, haunting her like the echoes from her own past.

"There is only everything I have ever wanted, right in the palm of my hand," he crooned from the sweltering wisps of fire.

This display of magic was like nothing she had ever seen and she could barely believe it could be used this way. With the FireHeart at his command, he was now merged with it, using it in ways she had never thought possible. He was the flame, and it was making her heart race as she tried, if only for a moment, to anchor him back to the one place she wanted him to be; right in front of her.

"This is all a lie! Nazir is using you to get what he wants! He's using us both," she cried, looking back to the stairs.

As if accommodating her, he once more appeared from the flames on the steps, though he seemed little more than amused by her words. He didn't even feel it necessary to look over at his brooding father, the architect of an entire life of suffering. He would have his turn soon enough. "Using me? Ridiculous. His time is past. I am no longer subject to his every whim and desire," he answered, though the topic made a terrible darkness wash over his face, "No, I am done with that fate. I will no longer suffer the humiliations of that fate! I will no longer suffer the humiliations of our fate!" The last sentence came with an accusatory finger shot out at her. Having his anger suddenly thrust at her, she winced and shook her head.

"This isn't about me!" she cried back, "This isn't about us!"

"Oh, but it is. It has everything to do with you, and with us," he replied, taking a step down the steps towards her, "From the beginning, you have stood above me, your power greater and your position pure. And I swallowed it with every breath. I endured your superiority. But do you know what I see when I look at you now? Do you wish to know what I see as it is now I that stands above?" Her stance was uncertain and she took a step back as he approached her, unable to swallow how cruel his words were.

"I don't…" she began, but found she couldn't finish.

He seemed disappointed by her retreat. "Entitlement," he finished, and the word made her wince, "A perfect kingdom. A sister's boundless love. Magic for your every whim. What have you endured for such things?"

"Tell me what you have endured!"

His words were more than cruel and they made her look away from him. She knew this wasn't his true self and that he didn't mean the things he said, but the pain was hotter than the flames around her and she felt anger for the way he marginalized everything she had been through, even when she had so intimately shared them with him.

It was difficult to control her resentment.

"You know what," she whispered.

He paused on the stairs, his eyes wild. On his lips was nothing but more cruelty, though it had stalled at the sight of her coiled. He didn't know why he was attacking her, but for the whispers in his raging heart. He knew he no longer had to harm her to get what he wanted. He didn't have to obey Nazir. He now had the power to do anything he wished, but something was driving him assault her, as his heart was only pointed at her. "It is not enough. It could not possibly be enough! Your shallow penance is inadequate to your prosperity. You have not paid enough for it," he growled, fanning his hand out as flames raged over every finger and nail.

"I will give your chance. I will allow you to earn the life you now enjoy."

The threat made her eyes instantly fly up at him, the turquoise colors of her power once more worn as rings for the cruel matrimony of their fate. She meant to meet him with more words, but instead found a wall of fire coming down on her, the product of his uncontrollable rage. The instant his magic hit her, a powerful force of her own surged out against it, breaking the flames and bursting wildly into the chamber as a matter of ice, fire and fog. That fog, caused by the conflict of their powers, suddenly covered everything, making the Scoria Chamber a gray world of mist and stillness that made Elsa retract. Shaking off the momentary daze, she looked around quickly. There was no fire, no FireHeart and no Yasha. There was only gloom. The turquoise rings in her eyes faded slightly, though they didn't go away, and she could hear the whispers once more, not of the FireHeart, but of the other place. It was the voice that chilled her blood and made her quiver in fear.

Beware the child.

Elsa staggered. She knew she wouldn't find the voice, but looked anyway. The enigma that was Lind once more surfaced, but she had no more answers to that riddle than before learning her name. She was still nothing more than a distant voice and a terrible force of will. Her words were nothing more than ice.

"Beware the child? Is that Yasha? Is that what you mean?" she called to the mists.

Destroy the Heart.

"Destroy the Heart? I tried! I'm not strong enough!" she called once more, clutching her chest tightly, "The Heart is in Yasha now! How do I…?" As she staggered around, her foot struck something hard and she stopped as she heard it clatter, then slowly looked down to the murky shadow at her feet. Her heart trembled. It was an ominous answer to her question and her hand twitched as her lips quivered. Slowly reaching down, she grasped the handle of Yasha's Xenocryst, lifting it as the blade scraped across the marble floor in a tragic anthem, singing its harrowing answer to her question. Elsa stared at the black blade, traces of his blood still framing the spectral markings as they danced. Her breath was caught in her throat.

Kill the child. Destroy the Heart.

"No…" she whispered.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. This wasn't the choice she wanted to make. More than any time before, she felt like she was tied into their fate as well, put in exactly the right place and at the right time, to either make the right decision, or make a horribly wrong one. As Yasha had been, she was indignant to that fate and oddly wondered just how much of this was a matter of some unresolved fable of ancient times ago, with the constant feeling of someone else moving through her and trying to control her hand. Even the dagger felt foreign in her touch, though there was no denying that should that blade ever make its way to his heart, it would be her hand that was holding it.

That thought terrified her.

At once, she was aware of someone coming through the mist and she turned just in time to see Yasha. Her reaction was to turn at him, though his movements were fast and he lunged through the fog, grasping both of her wrists tightly and capturing her. She gasped at his touch. Their hands set aside and their hearts only separated by wisps of fog, she stared up at him, closer than she had ever been before, and let out a slow, shuddering breath at the look of orange fury in his eyes. It was the worst time for him to come to her and his eyes moved to the Xenocryst in her hand.

"You would strike me down with my own blade?" he asked, shifting his eyes back to her.

"How poetic."

Elsa could barely breathe. It was strangely intimate, this place they had in the mist. Had they only been a step closer, their life-and-death struggle could have been a simple embrace, their arms free to wrap around one another and their fate absolved, yet as it stood they were only a single moment away from finding death in each other's arms. She was horrified to feel the clench of her hand around the dagger and the way it was moving beyond her will, struggling to move towards his heart with all of the intent she could feel in the desperate voice in her mind.

Once more, her body was acting without the consent of her heart.

"I don't want to hurt you," she whispered.

Yasha felt the way the blade shook from the force of her hand trying to push it towards his heart. "Your hand says otherwise," he replied, keeping it in check but disturbed at how the intent in her hand differed so much from the look in her eyes. It was as if he were facing two different people and he was unsure who was more dangerous.

In what should have been an instant flash carnage, stillness filled the air and gave them a small reprieve. Their magic surged against one another, her hands stayed by his. He found it strangely fulfilling. "This is it, then. The end of the path. The end of our fate," he said, sounding more like his previous self than any moment since emerging from the FireHeart. The totality of his voice made her wince and plead with him through passionately glowing eyes, not so willing to bow down to the tragedy before them.

"Listen to yourself! You're still talking about fate. You're still walking some path where one of us has to die. It doesn't have to be this way. I never wanted this, Yasha!" she cried, even as her hand was seeking his heart.

He winced, keeping her hand at bay. "What then, Snow Queen? What is it you wish?" he asked her with a clenched jaw, "What do we have besides this miserable fate?"

"I…" she tried, feeling inadequate against his question. She truly had no idea, as nothing else was as focused as that fate, and that fact was as miserable as anything else.

"Tell me! What else is there for us?" he repeated, shaking her with his violent grasp and searching her eyes for any kind of answer, "Would we be friends? Lovers? The very notion is absurd! This world allows nothing but false pretense and shallow affinities. It is nothing but hellfire, burning everything that would ever mean anything! I have seen it! That is our world, Snow Queen. That is our fate. There are a thousand other stories of redemption and happiness, but not for us. Not for us."

His eyes were tired and his face was dark. It was as if the FireHeart could not give him the answers he sought after all.

"What could you possibly do against this heartless fate?"

Elsa stared back at him, trying to find the same answers in his tragic eyes. She had no idea about fighting fate, or the will of the world. In many ways, she felt the same as he did, being dragged around by some unseen destiny that moved them like pawns, putting them through unnatural paces and never giving them a moment to catch their breath. This chaotic tale had thrashed her about, made her unsure and disoriented, all because she had met him. Seeing him still torn by the frantic drought of sympathy made her shiver in his grasp, looking passionately into his eyes. Her mouth was moving, but there were no revelations for him. There were no just excuses.

There was only a simple truth that managed to escape through the squall in her heart.

"I only want to save you."

Yasha winced. Even then, she was looking down at him, seeing him as a pathetic creature that needed help and pity. He stood with all of the power of the FireHeart at his hands, able to command magic in ways she could never even imagine, and still she pitied him. Part of that infuriated him, stoking a wave of indignation that made flames rise around them and her face to twist in pain, yet something else made him waver from this madness that had taken him and he saw it in her eyes, past the peripheral rings of power and the blurred will of that other place. Somewhere deep in her blue eyes, he saw that she was the kind and gentle soul he had discovered her to be, and that the differences between them were truly as infinite as the states of existence between fire and ice. His grasp on her wrist suddenly weakened and she felt the dagger move slightly, making her gasp and look between him and the blade. His eyes were chilled, in spite of the intense heat around them, and she knew that he had done it one purpose, to let the blade have a chance against him.

"It is too late for that. Too late for your gentle heart to prevail. No more compassion. No more concern," he warned, his magic raging brighter and his eyes growing darker.

"I am ash, Snow Queen. I can burn no longer."

The rising temperature and spreading flames were starting to sear her skin, at the same time his hand was weakening on her wrist. The uncontrollable will that pushed the dagger towards his heart was at counterpoint to the heat of his flames and she realized she had control over neither. Either he would immolate her, or she would impale him. There didn't seem to be any other path. It was a bitter end to all they had been through and she felt like a spectator to this battle of wills. She hated him for dismissing her and ignoring her true desires in light of this frightening possession, though she had come to know how selfish he could be, especially when he was so eager to sacrifice, but never endure.

In her heart and in spite of his previous threats, she wanted to make him endure.

Just as she began to feel the stifling air burning the inside of her lungs, something brightly glowing at his chest caught her eye and made her freeze in that moment. Still hanging from a scorched cord and glowing hotly from the heat of his magic, Yasha's ring was losing its broken shape, becoming malleable by the heat and having all of its imperfections rounded out, though his heat would soon melt it completely, with her to follow. Feeling a sense of urgency at that, she looked to him fiercely, finding that while his resistance to the dagger was unstable, he had neglected her other hand, the one that she still moved according to her will. It was all she needed to save him and her eyes now burned with a resolve that dwarfed his own.

"I keep telling you..." she cried, slipping her free hand from his grasp and thrusting it to his heart, where her fingers touched the glowing ring and her magic instantly froze it in place.

"My name is Elsa!"

The frozen metal bit instantly into his skin and he lurched backwards, breaking them apart as he clawed at his chest. Their sudden separation made her stagger as well, though she kept her stance and stared after him, her hand now grasping at her other wrist to keep the dagger still. Both of them panted from the exchange and he was quick to look up at her, his fingers running over the circular scar over his heart and finding the shocking symmetry of the frozen ring hanging from its threadbare cord. A surge of emotion welled in his eyes and he clutched to the circle of metal, realizing it had almost been destroyed. A lifetime of expectation had been lost in a moment of temptation and his eyes fell to the ground before him, his eyes livid at what he had become. He wheezed at the realization at how close he had come to letting his resolve completely burn away and that the only thing that had stopped him was a single touch from her. He also realized one other chilling truth as his fingers grazed the grated flesh over his heart.

For the first time in his life, Yasha had felt the pain of being burned, yet it was no flame that had scarred at him.

He had been burned by ice.

As his head fell forward and a pathetic groan came from his lips, Elsa fought every urge to go to him, realizing she still didn't have control over herself. Lind's possession was frightening and she knew it had nothing but animosity for him. "Yasha. Please look at me, Yasha," she panted, keeping her grip tight on her wrist even as the blade still sought him out. The man that was before her, collapsing under his own guilt, was suddenly the shard she had seen in their time together, but had left its mark on her just as deeply as the scarred flesh over his heart. This was the core that Nazir couldn't hope to conquer and the part of him that had cut through all of the fear and doubt in her heart. That was the part of him that had found residence there, in spite of her efforts to resist it.

That was the part of him she found herself chasing after.

Reflecting on all he had become, he suddenly stood straight with his head thrown back and his mouth tight in a self-loathing grimace. His hands were clenched at his sides and he was breathing heavily, though he hadn't uttered another sound. She watched, unable to do or say anything, aware of a rising sense of urgency that was coming from somewhere deep inside of her. This should have been the moment he came back to her, but something was wrong.

Something terrible was about to happen.

"Elsa," he whispered, jarring her. It was the first and only time he had ever called her by name, yet something about his voice made her heart race, not because of the heat that was rising in her cheeks, but for the alarm rising in her chest. After a moment, she realized it was because of his eyes, and the terrible determination she once more saw in them.

They were the eyes he showed when he was absolutely resolved to do something terrible.

As if finally being dismissed, the fog that had shrouded them suddenly swirled up into the chamber, disappearing by some unknown force and leaving them standing on the marble floor, revealed to the FireHeart and Nazir once more. Their appearance surprised the king, or rather Elsa's presence infuriated him. He had expected Yasha to finish her quickly and he was getting anxious to use his ancient spell. While it had all started as planned, he was quickly becoming nervous at this delay and the look on his son's face.

"Yasha! Enough games! End this now!" he commanded.

Yasha didn't react. He continued to look at Elsa, his eyes rolled to the side as he stood between her and the FireHeart. She didn't respond to Nazir's presence either, as the way he had called her name entrapped her and kept her looking at him, hoping that the future she saw in those eyes wasn't the one she felt in her heart, and that all of her instincts about that moment were wrong. The way his breathing beat rhythmically against his chest frightened her, for he looked like a man ready to leap from a cliff. Her lips parted to speak, but he moved first.

Letting out a great, shattered breath, he turned to face her, restraining her with his eyes and betraying her with his relieved smile.

In spite of his serene appearance, he terrified her with his expression.

"Thank you."

Without warning, the FireHeart exploded behind him, shattering into the Scoria Chamber in a brilliant flash of light and sparks. Instantly, the possession in her hand broke away and the Xenocryst fell to the ground at her feet, while her eyes widened and her lips parted in complete and utter shock. With the FireHeart expelled into nothingness behind him, the glow in Yasha's chest disappeared along with the orange rings in his eyes, leaving them pale and clear once more as a final, exhausted breath burst out from his broken lips, relieving all of the tension in his body and making him fall to his knees. Everything began to fade from him, even Elsa's desperate face, though he continued to smile, finally finding the path he had always sought. His eyes were already closed as he fell the rest of the way forward and into her open arms, though he could no longer hear her cries or feel the touch of her hands. There was no longer concern for his people, for he knew they would be in the same compassionate hands that he thought he felt for a moment, with his heart knowing that Elsa would take care of them. For that and many other reasons, he was glad he had been able to thank her and that the darkness had overcome him, so he couldn't see her regret over his fate. That was the coward in him, to be spared seeing her sad face, but he would allow that in his final moments. He had endured enough and felt peaceful at his ultimate defiance. His only regret was that his voice didn't work to say one last thing to her and he quietly berated himself for it.

In the end, he wished he had the strength to properly apologize to her.

For everything.

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