After what seemed like forever since her abduction from Arendelle, Yasha escorted Anna into his grotto, a cavernous room set deep within the caves and sparkling with slivers of his life. The strange, glowing moss that lined the caves was much brighter here and the grotto was lit up like the grand ballroom of a castle. There was a pool of crystal clear water and hundreds of spiky rock formations hung from the ceiling, ringed with the glowing moss like ancient chandeliers. On a flat plateau of stone there was a rough collection of broken furniture and a roll of fur bedding, showing that he possessed only the bare minimum of amenities needed to survive, but for the assortment of old and tattered books that were lumped together in a partially collapsed bookcase. While remarkable in natural beauty, there was a lonely feel to the place, feeling less like a room and more like a cell.
It was obvious that he had lived there a very long time.
"Welcome to my home," he said unceremoniously, walking towards the bedding area and tossing his heavy robes down upon it. It was obvious he had little affection for the place, but he appeared relieved they had finally arrived.
Anna was awed. Despite the dank nature of the cavern, the bluish light that filled the place gave it a strange sort of beauty, and she felt almost like she was dancing as she slowly twirled, looking all around. Oddly, she felt as if she would love to live in a place like this, bathed in that light and listening to the water fall. The crystal pool caught her attention and she licked her dry lips, remembering that they had been traveling for a long distance with very little supplies. The water appeared more beautiful than any she had ever seen. "Water! Oh, finally!" she cried, running forward and dropping by the pool. She began to scoop it up to her lips and relish in the feeling of it running down her throat, wondering just how long it had been since she took a drink.
"The water is poisonous," he remarked, not turning as he separated various items from his robes, including a well-worn bamboo flute. A mischievous glimmer appeared in his eyes.
The news made her spray water from her mouth and begin coughing wildly, turning to him with fearful eyes and her tongue hanging out. "Poisonous?" she repeated, her extended tongue garbling the word. Her heart was racing and she gawked at the idea that after all that had happened, she would find such a madcap end to her journey.
He glanced at her, a perverse smirk on his face. "A jest," he admitted.
Her eyes narrowed at him and her shoulders fell, revealing that while he seemed genuinely tickled by the little gag, she wasn't amused. "Oh, you're so not funny," she snorted, wiping her wet chin with the back of her hand.
He muffled a chuckle and continued to unpack.
The water in her nose was still burning and she was trying to figure out a way to get back at him as she dried her face with her skirt, but soon found a strangely warm sensation tickling the backs of her hands and her forehead. Still unnerved by recent events, she slowly opened her eyes as her makeshift towel fell away and she found something remarkable, surprising her so much that she didn't even flinch. Floating inches from her nose was a ball of fire, but not a ball of fire at all. It was shaped like a petite girl, with vague details in its body and an annoyed glimmer to its glow. It was glaring at her intently with a pair of glowing yellow eyes and Anna blinked a few times, wondering if she was seeing things.
The creature didn't go away.
"Uhm, Yasha…?" she said, still unable to blink.
The creature seemed further annoyed. "So you're the bait," it suddenly said in a voice that dripped with displeasure.
Anna finally blinked. It had just talked to her, an amazing feat since the small creature didn't seem to have a mouth. "Bait?" she repeated, a bit offended. She was especially disturbed by the fact that even though she had never seen anything like it before, this one was insulting her right off the bat.
"Behave yourself, Sid. She is a princess and a guest," Yasha said sternly as he approached them, though his attention was focused on the sprite. The small creature floated a bit closer to Anna, still scrutinizing her and her apparent role in all of this, and was obviously not afraid to share her mind.
"She looks like bait."
Anna was once again offended, furrowing her brows as she tried to figure what she was and why she had this apparent grudge against her. She was pretty sure she had never done anything to warrant the sprite's anger. "Who…and what is this?" she asked Yasha, leaning back slightly from the heat coming from the figure. He let out a sigh at their introduction, though he had already planned on the sprite to be gruff and defensive. It was simply her nature.
"Her name is Sid. She is…" he began, shifting his eyes over as he assessed her treatment of their guest.
"Noisy and ill-mannered."
The sprite flared at his choice of words and stabbed her small hands onto her hips, glaring at him for any number of reasons. "How rude!" she glowered, then spun back to Anna, showing that while she was annoyed by many aspects of Yasha's plan, she was most put off by the fact he had chosen to bring the pilfered princess back to their home. At the moment, Anna was her biggest complaint. "Listen, girly, what I am is the only woman Yasha needs. Always has been, always will be. So don't get any ideas rolling through that pretty little head of yours. You're just bait. Bait bait bait."
Anna kept staring at her, her mouth hanging open. This was easily the last thing she expected to find when arriving at his grotto. "Uhm, okay?" she said, her face still twisted by the animosity this sprite had for her.
Yasha watched the exchange with another sigh and tried to push back his long hair from his face, wishing he could take a moment to clean up his gritty appearance. It was whittling his temper to a fine edge, as was his fiery companion. "She is something born from my magic, many years ago. Strangely, she never dispersed like my other flames, possibly due to her extreme stubbornness," he explained, looking over the sprite with a slight smirk on his face. The remark made Sid zip in front of him and cross her small arms dramatically, totally offended by his explanation.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," she pouted.
Anna followed the sprite with her eyes, amazed at how effortlessly she sailed through the air. Her magical nature made her wonder just what else he was capable of and she suddenly found a parallel in Elsa's magic. "She's just like Olaf," she said, smiling slightly as she found their first real connection. If she could only find more of them, it would be infinitely easier to dissuade him from trying to kill her.
He looked to her, his brow furrowed. It took him a moment to figure out her meaning, but soon he remembered his efforts to gain information about them. The little snowman's dossier was particularly memorable. "If you mean that annoying creature born from the Snow Queen's powers, then yes, she is just like that," he replied, though Sid huffed at the 'annoying' remark.
Anna's mind was working away as she looked at Sid, both about her extraordinary nature and origins. In seeing the sprite, she realized that his powers really were like Elsa's, able to create living things out of nothing. Thinking of these things reminded her of his promise and she shifted her eyes over to him, feeling the inexorable pull of her heart in finding out how she could reach him. "You said you'd tell me everything, about you and your powers," she reminded him, eager to discover what would dissuade him from his task. Her reminder made his eyes darken, giving him the same despotic aura of when they had first met.
"I have not forgotten," he conceded.
The tension in the air silenced them for a moment, though the new element to their atmosphere glowered at their friendly attitude. "You don't have to tell the bait anything," Sid objected, but was quieted by a sharp glance from him.
"This discussion is not for you. You have a task. Now go," he said, nodding his head to the side to both remove her and serve the next part of his plan. She tried to object, wary about leaving them alone together, but ultimately just scowled and zipped away into the caves, leaving an angry orange trail behind her. Seeing the sprite leave and realizing he was at the mercy of his own promises, he sighed as his eyes moved back to Anna, and then walked over to a stone near the pool of water, perching himself on it and knitting his hands across his pursed lips. It was obvious he didn't want this conversation, but was obligated to keep his word. His eyes were fiercely upon her and he spoke gruffly, gesturing his hands to offer whatever she might want to know.
"Ask your questions."
With free reign on him, she suddenly realized she had no idea what to ask. There were too many things she wanted to know, though she didn't know where to begin, ironic considering before she had him there it was nothing but questions flowing through her mind. A dozen half-formed words escaped as sighs over her lips, but nothing seemed to come out in full. She was starting to get annoyed with herself. "Where did you get your powers?" she finally asked, mostly because Sid was still on her mind and because maybe knowing the origins of his magic might give her some insight into Elsa's powers. It wasn't what he expected her first question to be, though he accepted that in the grand scheme of things, it was the most fitting place to begin.
The very name made her nervous. "The FireHeart?" she echoed, looking confused.
He nodded, a deep reverence glowing in his eyes as he stared past his knitted hands at her. "The FireHeart is deep within the volcano of Fria. It is a magical and ancient thing, a great sphere of magic, and there are those that are born who are touched by its power. We command the ancient magic, the ancient flame," he explained, raising out his hand and letting a small flame grow brightly in his palm. It glowed brightly, yet didn't cause him pain or burn away his flesh. While she was amazed at the magic, she also looked to him with worry, remembering how his last demonstration of magic had caused him such pain. This time, he didn't appear bothered by such an insignificant flame.
In face of his amazing power, she then leaned forward, staring deeply into the swaying flame, feeling free to fawn over it. "Those that are touched? How many are there like you?" she asked, wondering if there were more people just like him in this kingdom he spoke of. For some reason, the prospect made her heart beat faster.
He winced, his jaw clenching as he looked to the flame as well. It was a particularly heavy subject, though he knew she would have no reason to understand why. "A few of us each generation, limited to a certain bloodline. Of this generation," he said, closing his hand around the fire and drowning it out, "I am the last." Seeing him extinguish the flame so bitterly, her blue eyes lifted to him and she found his expression remarkable. Elsa was the only other person she knew with magical powers. To hear that Fria had several people each generation with these same amazing powers made her want to learn about the origins even more, especially when he spoke so bitterly about being the last of his generation.
Something about that bothered her.
"What happened to the others?" she asked carefully.
He took a deep breath, and was careful about how much he told her. "Those touched by the Heart are revered among my people, treated as children of the mountain itself. We live in privilege and comfort, never wanting for anything, until the first day of our fifteenth year. Then, by tradition, we are banished from our home, forced to live in exile of Fria, ill-equipped to face the world and doing all we can to survive. Until the one day we are given a task, the task that allows us to return home. It is the only thing we look forward to in those forsaken years we live away from the mountain," he explained bitterly, feeling his anger rise at the cruelty of that fate.
"But after being fed to the world, most never return to the mountain."
Anna was speechless against such a tale. To go from a life of utter privilege to the desolate loneliness of exile made her feel a wave of sympathy for him, knowing that this hard fate was how he earned the skills that let him steal her away from the guarded castle and how he possessed such ferocious eyes. Inwardly, she wondered how anyone could do such a terrible thing to someone so young, with the mention of his task telling her that there was someone actively pushing him to take up his hand against Elsa.
That person was the one who deserved the hatred he sought from her, she realized.
"Who gives you this task?" she asked anxiously.
Now his eyes simply burned. "Nazir, ruler of Fria. The King of the FireHeart," he replied gravely, not bothering to hide just how hotly he burned at the mere mention of the name. Both the name and his voice sent chills down her back and she could feel the animosity he had for the man. She hoped to never have her name spoken in such a way, and Yasha continued. "A man as old as the mountain, and the FireHeart itself. It is he that sees us to exile, and it is he that gives us a task of his choosing, our only path to return home."
Now having a name, she felt more confident in her assessment of him and how he could be innocent of the crimes he carried. It gave her more hope in reaching him. "And your task is to kill my sister," she said, thinking of how they now had the name of the true villain and at how much more linear their quest had become.
Yasha nodded. "When news of a frozen kingdom to the west reached Fria, Nazir knew such power would be a threat to the FireHeart, perhaps the only thing that could stop the ancient flame. I am the last of those touched by the Heart, and so my task was clear," he explained, though his expression was odd. His heart remained elusive and he didn't appear as if he was giving up on the pursuit of his task.
"Kill the Snow Queen."
"But Elsa's no threat to you! Freezing Arendelle was an accident and she has no reason to go after this FireHeart of yours. This is all just a big misunderstanding! Why can't you just explain that to this Nazir?" she pleaded wildly.
Yasha shifted his eyes to her and watched coldly, seeing how passionately she defended her sister and the love that burned in her eyes. He wasn't impervious to her pleas, though he couldn't expect her to understand why he was completely helpless at considering them. "I could not enter Fria to even try. Step but one foot into Fria and instantly forfeit your life, but in favor of the king. Those are the terms of my exile, Princess," he replied. It was obvious how much pain it caused him to be away from home, and the apparent roadblock to him helping her made her frown. He found her expression tragic. "But it would not matter even if I could. The king would not listen, and his word is law in Fria. The death of the Snow Queen assures the legacy of the FireHeart and that is what Nazir treasures above all other things. He does not care for you or me or anything but the Heart."
"And if I ever hope to return to my people, I must obey him and fulfill his task."
The fatality of his voice made her suddenly feel a wave of anger wash over her. It was true that this king Nazir was the source of his task, but his reasons for being willing to see it through seemed frail and shallow, making him seem frail and shallow. Any man with a noble heart would never trade something so simple for the life of another, making her wonder if she had actually misjudged him with these feelings of sympathy. "That's why you'd do such a terrible thing? You'd sacrifice my sister, just so you can return to your life of privilege and comfort?" she cried, hoping to hear him briskly deny the claim. She had convinced herself that he was honorable and kind, and that all of his actions were somehow justified. Even his intent to kill Elsa seemed displaced from who she thought he really was, so much that she felt like they had been talking about a completely different person. She desperately hoped he was the man she thought he was and not the one he appeared to be.
Yasha watched her silently, seeing her expectations and burning inside from the reality of their situation. He offered her no opportunity to mine a hero from him.
"I would sacrifice your sister to be able to return to Fria," he stated plainly.
In a fit of fury, she lurched to her feet and flew at him, her hand slapping him loudly across the face. The sound echoed throughout the grotto and his head barely turned from the impact, his eyes cast to the side but not losing a sliver of their resolve. While she had thought it would make her feel better, her hand was stinging and her eyes were hot. She didn't feel relieved. For the first time since they met, she felt like he was the monster that could perform his evil task and that in spite of all of her reaching out to him, she suddenly realized they had made no progress at all. "You're definitely not a good person!" she yelled furiously, unable to come up with anything better, then turned and fled his grotto, leaving him motionless on his rock. Although any normal kidnapper would have instantly gone to recapture her, he simply sat there, his eyes sullen as he ran his fingers over the bright red mark on his cheek. Her reaction wasn't surprising. This was the life of someone she loved and he could no less blame her for it as he could stop himself from fighting for the things he cherished. If anything, he felt the fire in her eyes was something they shared, and something he respected.
A sigh escaped his lips.
"No, I am not," he remarked to the emptiness of his grotto, then slowly rose to his feet.
Fueled by her broken expectations and stumbling through the caves, Anna didn't run far. She only wanted to get away long enough to think about where she actually stood against this seemingly shallow, seemingly noble man. Even now, as her mind was convinced that he was acting for selfish reasons, her heart couldn't believe it was the only motive he had, especially when she remembered how passionate his eyes became when he spoke of his home. As she came to a stop in another dim cave and tried to catch her breath, she rolled her eyes heavily, knowing that getting mad and slapping him would do little resolve the issue at hand, nor would it bring her any closer to saving Elsa. Regardless of how she felt about him, she still had to get him to quit his task and knowing that the task was given to him by his king made her heart sink.
This was going to be harder than she thought.
Taking a quick breath, she spun around and pushed her back against a thick column of rock, sliding down to the stone floor and burying her face into her arms. Despite how intrigued she had been as she tried to solve the riddle of his heart, she was tired of being alone with him. She suddenly wanted Elsa or Kristoff to be at her side, at the very least so she knew where she stood. She imagined that one of them could help her see the key that would unlock this chain of fate around his neck and her mind was tortured by the puzzles and contradictions surrounding his story. Many of his words still made no sense to her, even after his explanation.
There was one thing that stuck like a thorn in her memory.
I will not sacrifice one kingdom to save another.
"What does that mean?" she asked to the silence of the cave, trying to figure out which kingdom he would be sacrificing and which one he would be saving. She was no closer to getting him to quit his crusade than when they started and she felt like time was running out. Every heartbeat told her that time was passing around her and the moment when Elsa and Yasha would meet was moving towards her, like the unstoppable Xenolith crashing down upon her.
She shivered, trying desperately to figure out how to stop it.
She had to stop it.
At once, she was aware of another person's footsteps grinding to a halt on the sandy floor of the cave, invading her desires to be alone and parallel desires to find companionship. Fearing he had followed her, she wasn't ready to face him yet and she cringed slightly, quaking in strange, quiet sobbing. She didn't want him to see her frustration or the way he could bother her, so she kept her face hidden.
Idly, she wished that would be anyone other than him standing there.
"Anna?" said a voice that was not Yasha's, making her heart leap in her chest and her eyes fly open. Her head quickly jerked up and her breath froze in her chest at the sight of the person who stood before her, brilliant like a dream and soothing like a warm summer's breeze. It was so wonderful that she could hardly believe it, yet at the same time fear washed over her. All reasonable expectations were thrown away, for she didn't know which she was stronger at the moment, the relief or the fear.
At the moment, she was a victim of both.