After Elsa's battle with Yasha, the caves were still creaking and dropping dust and rock all around, a product of the abnormal earthquake that followed his defeat. The ground beneath them seemed liquid and uncertain, and the pathways through the caves had changed. Some open paths were now closed off, while walls had fallen and revealed new ones, though they led into the dark unknown. Elsa was standing silently, staring at the motionless body of Yasha. Her hands were clutching her arms and she was shivering, though not due to the temperature of the air, but for something he had cast over her. He was sitting back against a stone wall, his hands encased in ice up past his wrists and his eyes were closed behind a drape of grimy hair. After their struggle, Anna and the others had gotten through to her and found her unharmed from the ordeal, though she was still frantic about her phased state of mind.
Amazingly, none of them were hurt from the earthquake, aside from some minor scratches and the fear caused by the world shuddering around them. For Anna, it had been an overwhelming relief to find that he had not been successful in his task, but also that he had somehow survived the wrath of Elsa's anger. It had taken almost an hour to calm her down and explain everything to her, but something seemed different as Anna talked to her, as if she had seen something in those dark caves that frightened her into silence. She had barely said anything since they moved into Yasha's grotto and brought the unconscious man with them.
Now she stood alone with him in defiance to her unsure footing. With Anna and Kristoff looking around the caves for another way out, she was left to watch over him and did so with a tense glare and sputtering breaths, as if she weren't prepared at all for the chore. Oddly, her demand to play his keeper had been the only thing she did speak strongly about, as she couldn't fight this urge she had to watch him and keep his power in check.
As fearful as she was of the presence that consumed her when he was around, she found herself drawn towards it and was quietly doing what she could to keep him within sight.
He hadn't moved since passing out and she began to relax and let her eyes wander around his grotto. The area was cluttered from the earthquake and what little furniture there had been was destroyed by falling rock, decimating his already meager home. The luminescent moss that had once brightly lit the place had weakened, leaving a dull gray mist in the air. To supplement the light, torches had been lit, but the flames visibly bothered her. She wouldn't let her eyes linger on them for long, for they reminded her of the flames he commanded and the endless questions she had about him. Still shivering, she paced around the grotto, looking over the broken wood and torn cloth of his pauper's den. It was hard to imagine that the man had lived in such conditions. To keep herself occupied, she examined the bedding area. She found a ferocious, dented mask thrown to the side and reached down to pick it up, looking over the grotesque face.
This must be the mask he wore when he took Anna.
Though she had never seen him in it, her eyes moved to him and she tried to imagine him as an even more frightening monster than she already knew. She felt her anger and fear swell again. To disperse them and try to escape the growing storm in her heart, she looked back to his things and found a bamboo flute remarkably untouched by the rocks. In contrast, the sight of such a delicate thing battled the image of him wearing the mask and she marveled at how worn the areas were around the holes. The flute looked like it had been played often over the course of many years. She found it difficult to imagine him playing the beautiful instrument, though as she went to pick it up her attention was captured by something else, glimmering in the shadows. It was a ring, but terribly misshapen and made of poor metal. It didn't appear damaged by the rocks, but made that way. There was a leather cord wrapped around it and she decided it was likely worn as a necklace, which didn't surprise her as she couldn't imagine the ring fitting on anyone's finger. Yet something about the ring fascinated her, as he appeared to take great care of it.
She reached down to pick it up.
"Please do not touch that."
Startled out of her skin, she spun around, her eyes wide and her hands out to defend herself. She found him still sitting back against the wall, barely breathing but noticeably awake. She could see that his pale eyes were open and that they were on her, powerful and intent in spite of his weakened state. Even if he didn't move, just the potency of his eyes was enough to put her on edge and keep her hands raised at him, her breathing rocking her body back and forth.
He watched her reactions indifferently.
"It is very dear to me," he added to the warning.
Seeing that he was either unwilling or unable to come at her again, she took a moment to calm down, though she found she couldn't speak. During their short battle, he had attacked with such ferocity that the same adrenaline pumped through her body even now, making her chest rise and fall harshly and her fingers tremble. It wasn't like the time in her ice palace, when the two lackeys of Weselton had come at her with arrows and cold eyes. That had been fearful defense. Her encounter with him had been something else, burning with passion and fueled by anger. Feeling her magic pushed by his had been like nothing she had ever felt before and the saturation of pride at his defeat was something that startled her so much that she almost believed she was a different person. She had never once used her powers so cruelly and she had never once felt such pleasure at their raw capacity.
The ring forgotten, she struggled to regain her composure and slowly lowered her hands, though she couldn't shake off the tension of his gaze.
"I hope you're finished with this quest you have against me," she warned.
He stared at her for a long time, saying nothing. He felt the ice firmly clasped around his hands and the utter exhaustion of his body fighting fiercely against the desperation he had in his heart, finding that even though he was completely at her mercy and was unarmed, he wanted nothing more than fulfill his task.
That realization saddened him more than he could bear.
"For the moment."
His remark made her scowl and she glared harshly at his continued persistence. Even while being at the disadvantage, he had an aptitude for stoking unnaturally hot feelings in her. "You'll get no compassion from me. Anna has told me about you, but nothing she said releases you from the things you've done," she said sternly.
Her words made him take a deep breath and his eyes revealed a strangely penitent mood that settled over him. "No," he said tiredly, leaning his head back against the stone, "it does not." She found his response unusual and her expression softened slightly, feeling that the remorse he showed was genuine and not aligned to the fiery intent he had in seeking her life. At once, she was beginning to see what Anna had meant about the duality of his heart and the glimpses of the morality that was buried somewhere inside.
Oddly, she felt empowered to appeal to that part of him. "You seem like you have some doubts, as Anna said. I hope that means you realize that you have no chance of fulfilling this task of yours," she said.
Yasha was quietly grinding his head into the stone wall behind him, his eyes chained to her. Never had he felt so helpless and weak, especially with his goal right in front of him. The ice that encased his hands prevented him from using his magic, though he realized it made no difference. Her power was far greater than his, so much that he almost laughed to himself about it. His task seemed like a joke played on him by a wicked king who sought nothing but entertainment. Even now, the pain in his chest was too much to bear and he could barely breathe, fearing that the consequences of his time and magic were just about to catch up with him. As much as he tried to appear powerful to her, his lips were about the only thing that would move according to his will and he felt the utter frustration in that.
His time was rapidly running out and he still had so much to do.
"No, it does not."
His apparent stubbornness irritated her and drew her back from the softer tone she had taken. His casual acceptance of such a cruel task made a dark hatred boil up again and as she was once more subjected to the submersed will that kept churning up the intense desire to harm him, she found she couldn't control her own actions. Lifting her hand out, the ice at his hands grew up to his elbows and caused him to groan painfully. Her eyes were coldly upon him.
"This is your last chance. I won't allow you to hurt me or my sister ever again," she hissed, though the venom in her own voice surprised her.
Once more, she had no idea where it was coming from.
Yasha felt the numbness creeping up his arms and breathed heavily, his eyes still fighting her. At this point in his life, he had very little to lose by trying to think of things rationally. He was torn by the unfettered desire to destroy her and the impending fate that clutched tightly against his heart. At the moment, all he could feel was the fire to continue.
"This will not end until one of us is no more, Snow Queen," he panted, struggling to sound as strong as before. Her eyes darkened even more at his stubbornness, and she let the urges compel her hand.
"Then it will end now," she said, fanning her fingers out at him and making the ice move further up his arms and onto his body. The compact ice crept over him and he could feel it crushing down onto his chest, though he couldn't keep his eyes off of her and the apparent malice in her eyes. The look on her face felt maddeningly familiar and he struggled to keep her in focus, if only to try and figure out why he felt this elusive connection with her and the magic she cast over him. In her ice, his hands were trying to move and he was trying to summon any of his magic, though he knew it was pointless. He was exhausted beyond measure and she was too powerful. There was a sort of poetic justice in losing his life to the Snow Queen. He had tried to do the same to her and he knew that his true hatred lay somewhere else completely, not bound to this complete stranger and her unfortunate fate at being painted as his singular chance at attaining his ambitions.
In the end, the only thing he regretted was not being strong enough to get back to the FireHeart and its master, King Nazir.
"Elsa!" cried out a voice, and it pierced the darkness around them. Anna rushed back into the grotto just as the ice was wrapping around Yasha's neck and her eyes were wide with panic. She knew it had been a bad idea to leave them alone together, but she had thought Elsa was calm enough to let her and Kristoff go find a way out of the caves. She had never expected to come back and find such a horrible scene and she quickly ran up and grabbed her by her arms, fearfully looking at the look on her sister's face.
"Elsa, what are you doing!? You need to stop!"
As her sister's frantic voice reached her, Elsa lurched and looked as if she had just woken up from a terrible nightmare. Her body suddenly relaxed and her eyes darted around, as if they would find the elusive shadow that had consumed her. She was panting heavily as she finally noticed Anna. "Anna?" she asked, searching her sister's eyes for some kind of answer to an unspoken question. Taking a few shaky breaths, she shivered in her hands and let a familiar fear wash over her.
She had no idea what she had been doing.
"Anna, I…" she began, but lost any rational explanation to the groaning of Yasha as he struggled against her ice. Just the image of him suffering made her gasp loudly and seeing what she had done made her step back and whimper, then turn and run into the caves. As she left, the ice crushing him quickly shattered into a burst of icy dust and let him collapse forward to the stone floor, taking deep, hacking breaths as he clawed at his neck.
Although his wretched state caused a wave of panic to swell within her, Anna only glanced at him briefly before chasing after Elsa.
Standing like a mere spectator to the scene, Kristoff watched the entire exchange with unsaid words hanging in his open mouth. He had never seen the queen act in such a way and felt compelled to chase after them as well, though he also knew that someone had to stay and keep their eye on this dangerous man, despite his condition. His eyes shifted to Yasha as he groaned in pain and no small part of him was satisfied in that. Like Elsa, he had nothing but contempt for him, though he wasn't sure whether it was from the kidnapping or that he had forged some strange bond with Anna, making the sight even more of a guilty pleasure. He had already been holding himself back from walking over and pummeling him as he groveled on the ground, just to make himself feel better.
The fact that he was too weak to fight back didn't even bother him. "Okay, I guess we're babysitting," he sighed, stomping over to a rock and sitting down heavily. Nothing about the situation appeased him and he gruffly settled, slumping his chin onto his fist as he stared off into the caves, irritated and silent.
Elsa's panic had been disquieting for Olaf as well, but he knew to let the sisters have some privacy to work out their issues. Since he couldn't rush after Elsa, he decided to take a more active role in making sure there was no more trouble, which meant turning his attention onto their captured criminal. "All right, then we'll be the best babysitters in this whole cave," he agreed, turning to Yasha with a stern look. The man had slowly dragged himself back to sit against the wall and was catching his breath. Olaf stalked over to him, showing an air of authority. "We've got our eyes on you, buddy, so don't try anything funny. Got it?" he warned, pointing his twigs at his own eyes and then thrusting them at him.
"Eyes on you."
Yasha was barely paying attention, or rather could barely even see him through the haze in his eyes, but the threat did make him scowl. He was exhausted, in pain and barely getting the numbness out of his hands, but the snowman irritated him enough to warrant him lifting a finger weakly and causing Olaf's hand to catch fire. The sight of the flames made the snowman shriek and scramble around the grotto to find a way to put it out, while Yasha slumped further against the wall closed his eyes tightly, trying to regain his strength.
He knew he had to ration what little magic he had left, but hearing the snowman flail over the flames was greatly satisfying as he fought to stay conscious.
"Elsa!" Anna yelled and finally got her to stop running. The elegant queen slumped as Anna approached her from behind and she was too scared to turn around and face her, fearing what kind of expression she would show to her younger sister. She had no answers to offer, as the time since meeting Yasha seemed like nothing more than a murky dream to her, punctuated by flashes of uncontrollable fury and steeped in a veil of intent that she didn't really understand.
She felt as if she had been fighting herself more than him.
"Elsa? Are you okay?" Anna asked, taking a step towards her.
"I don't…I don't know," she replied, rubbing her hands together nervously and letting her eyes wander all over the cave. As much as she wanted to be away from everyone, she had also desperately hoped that someone would chase after her. She was especially glad that it was Anna. "I just want to be alone for a bit. I need to clear my head."
Anna winced. This reminded her of their past and made her nervous. She feared that rift might open up once more and even her sister's more recent behavior was fueling her desires to bridge the gap before it got too wide to jump. "I'm worried about you, you know. You haven't been yourself lately. You're so quick to get angry, you don't talk to people anymore, you use your magic without thinking," she said, unconsciously rubbing her hand, still red from where the magic stung her skin. Until the moment of her kidnapping, she had assumed it was just stress from ruling, though seeing her expression when she faced Yasha amplified the fear that finally being open about her powers after years of repressing them was taking Elsa down a dark path, one where she used their extraordinary nature to justify extraordinary responses.
Seeing her at the apex of that slope, Anna had a moment of honesty.
"That part of you scares me."
Elsa shivered once more and hugged herself, secretly feeling many of the same things, though far more intimately and far more chillingly. Hearing her admit her fear made her own fear even stronger.
"It scares me too," she admitted quietly.
Anna looked up from her inflamed hand and stared at her sister's back, watching her tremble. She knew she could never truly understand what she went through, being queen and having those magical powers, with Anna nothing more than a perky princess that sometimes fell into her radiant sister's shadow. In a way, they were far more different than they were alike and that fact was never more apparent than when she watched the weight of the world on her slender shoulders, but Anna had conquered her fears and doubts when it came to Elsa and she had proven she was willing to climb any mountain for her – to defeat any fear. She had done it once before, and she would do it countless times again.
"I'm here for you, you know. Right here," she offered, finding her courage again.
"But you weren't there," Elsa said suddenly and turned, her face showing how frightened she was, "I looked for you and you were gone. I felt like no magic in the world could suddenly make you appear back home. Oh Anna, I was so scared. I thought I might never see you again."
Seeing a glimpse of her true heart, Anna smiled softly and stepped forward, taking her hands. She looked up at her, showing her the strength she would use to help her fight her fear and the unyielding resolve she had to help Elsa no matter what terrors she faced. That was, and always would be, her promise. "I'll always be here for you, Elsa. No matter what happens. Sure, I might get kidnapped now and again, but that doesn't mean we won't find each other. I knew that you would come for me, no matter where I was. You should do the same," she replied warmly, squeezing her hands.
Elsa felt the fear lessen and she squeezed back, searching her eyes desperately.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," she admitted.
Anna shrugged against the weight of her mood. "You'll never have to find out. You're stuck with me. I'm sort of like a rash that way," she joked, trying to calm her down.
Elsa let laughter release some of the anxiety she had built up and she nodded, biting her lip. It was easier to forget those frightening moments when she didn't know who she was, just as long as Anna was nearby to support her. The infinite value she placed on her sister's love was how she could feel such fear, yet at the same time, so much comfort. Elsa had never experienced romantic love or infatuation, beyond simple glances and distant thoughts, but she couldn't imagine it came close to the connection she felt with Anna – to be terrified and engrossed all at the same time.
She wondered if all love happened to be that way.
"Let's go back. If Yasha's awake, I'd really like you to talk to him," Anna suggested carefully, keeping a tight hold on Elsa's hands.
Her face drained at his mention and her smile fell away to darker emotions. She felt she really had no way to find her bearing whenever he was around. "I don't think I can. Something about him…" she said, looking away at the mercy of her plight.
Anna couldn't deny that, though she had no indication of the unnatural possession her sister felt because of her magic. In honesty, she shared her assessment of him at first, but she had slowly pulled away his mask and found some buried truth beneath, whispering to her of a much bigger world than the one where he was simply the villain, she the princess, and Elsa the Snow Queen. Just as so many others had discovered concerning Elsa's heart, there was more to him than just the dagger and the mask, and it had been surprising to her, but also reassuring.
Yasha and Elsa weren't so different, she thought.
They both suffered from similar fears.
"I know we can find a way to resolve this. He's not the person you think he is," she explained. Her next realization made a bemused smirk cross her lips as she shrugged at the irony of the claim. "I actually kind of trust him."
Elsa looked to her sharply, questioning her judgment. It was easy to fall back on the subject of Hans, where he had so completely fooled Anna's open heart. However, as she looked at her now, she didn't see that blind admiration burning brightly in her eyes, but an oddly powerful confidence, a confidence that felt contagious. It was melting away Elsa's fears.
"He doesn't seem like he's willing to give this up," Elsa worried, "He'll come after me again."
Anna smirked. "Well, then you can freeze his butt to the ground and I'll smack that moody little frown right off his face," she said, flaunting her power over him. Secretly, she wanted to help him with his problems in a way that saved everyone involved, if only because it felt like the right thing to do. Pragmatically, working with him also seemed a lot safer than leaving him unleashed in his apparent quest to kill Elsa. "If all he wants is to return home, I think we can find another way that doesn't involve 'destroying the Snow Queen.' You just have to give him a chance."
The uncertainty was evident in Elsa's eyes. She continued to search her sister for more confidence and hold tightly to her hands. While she could easily overwhelm him with her magic, she didn't feel like she could stand up to his powerful gaze and the determination that lived in his eyes. She also couldn't understand how easily Anna resisted his intimidating presence.
"I'll try," she sighed.
Anna smiled widely and wasted no time. "Great!" she cheered, turning back towards the grotto and tugging her by the hand. "Let's get back before Kristoff decides to do something to him about the whole kidnapping thing. Ugh, men are so emotional," she remarked with a groan, hauling the reluctant queen back with no more consideration of her objections and eager to finally get a chance to mediate a lasting peace between them.
At last, she had a good place to start.
In the unsettling silence of his massacred grotto, Yasha sat against the wall with his arms slung across his knees, idly touching each finger across his thumbs to try and get his dexterity back. His eyes were pressed shut and his breath came out in audible wheezes. In his mind, he was calculating how much strength he would have by the time the Snow Queen returned, how Anna's actions might give him an opportunity to strike and how likely it was he would be able to escape in the aftermath to make his way back to the FireHeart.
In his heart and mind, he knew there was no chance he would succeed, but it didn't stop him from considering it anyway.
"Such a pitiful state you're in, boy," said a deep voice that resonated in his mind. His eyes instantly flew open and he stared into the darkness, the rings of orange once more glowing in them. He knew the voice. He felt the presence. This wasn't the timing he expected when being paid a visit of such an oppressive figure in his life. Slowly, his gaze fell down to the small, glowing flames hovering within the space his arms created. It was Sid and she was hidden in his lap, but she wasn't acting like her usual self. Instead, what he saw was the silhouette of a tall, dark man in the depths of her flames. His eyes narrowed and the hair stood on the back of his neck, and had he any strength left, he would have used those moments to spit the last of his breath as poison at the figure.
"King Nazir," he whispered, barely hiding his tone.
"Is it done? Is the Snow Queen no more?"
Weakly, his eyes slowly moved from the image to Sid's entranced face, his mind finally coming to grips with what he had suspected for the longest time. If it were true, Nazir already knew the answer to the question and was simply rubbing salt in his wounds. He learned that he could despise the man even more. "I have failed. She is too powerful for me," he replied, though he felt strangely relieved by that. If anything, failing in his task was a fine way to deprive Nazir of something he desired.
Yasha would enjoy any insignificant victory at this point.
The silhouette was silent a moment, as if contemplating that news. "Yes, Lind's child is quite powerful. It's no surprise that you failed," he replied and Yasha's hands clenched tightly into fists. He was quietly fuming.
"You knew I was no match for her and still you sent me on this cursed errand," he seethed inwardly.
Nazir continued to act aloof. "No matter. You still live, and that's enough. Return to the Scoria Chamber and bring the Snow Queen with you," he ordered in a tone dismissive of the failure, and the command dissolved all of the tension from Yasha's body.
For a moment, he was in utter disbelief.
"Return to Fria?" he gasped, afraid he had imagined it.
"You've proven your worth. Return to the Chamber and enter the Heart. Afterwards, you'll be more than a match for the Snow Queen," Nazir continued, "Destroy her with the power of the FireHeart and assume your rightful place."
Yasha couldn't believe what he was hearing. Not only would he return home, but he would embrace the FireHeart and be given the power he long desired. Just this pale connection with Nazir had been quickly refilling his strength and making the burning in his chest subside, a frighteningly seductive sign that the FireHeart could defy fate itself. Where he had been certain his time was at an end, he suddenly felt more alive than he had in years. If a glimpse of the Heart's true power could invigorate him this much, he could only imagine what returning would mean. It seemed like the perfect answer to all of life's imperfect questions.
"I will bring her."
The ghostly image in the flames began to fade, leaving him with a warning.
"Come quickly, boy. This is a short allowance. You don't have much time left."
As the figure disappeared, Sid suddenly dimmed and fluttered down into his lap, lying against him as she tried to recover. After a moment, she looked up to him, afraid of the look she would find, though she found he wasn't looking at her all. "I'm sorry, Yasha," she said weakly. The pain in her voice finally made him look down at her, still digesting his new task but not above appreciating her role in this. The revelation of her true nature might have hit him much harder, had he not been allowed to fulfill his greatest wish.
The truth might have very well broken his heart.
"You are a servant of the king," he sighed, letting a bit of his emotions seep through.
"I don't have a choice! You have to believe me! When the Heart calls to me, I have to obey. I don't want you to hate me, Yasha. Please don't hate me!" she cried.
He sighed again and laid his head back against the stone, his eyes heavy. There was so much to think about and he was glad none of the Snow Queen's entourage had been listening to the conversation. To realize that Nazir had watched his every move for so many years made him feel the old anger, but he also let a bittersweet sigh come out through his pursed lips, as if he could accept that defeat.
At the moment, nothing could deny him the hope in his heart. "You have been my only companion for many years, Sid. I could not hate you," he replied, then looked down to her, showing sadness in his eyes that only furthered her remorse.
Betrayal was just one more thing that he had to accept to get what he wanted.
"And it seems you and I are not so different. When the Heart calls, we obey."
Sid showed her overwhelming relief at his words and clutched to him, torn by the tragic truth but once more reminded why she had such strong feelings for him. Her tiny body relaxed and wished to never move. "I can't disobey the king, but it was you who made me. You're the only one that I care about. You have to believe that," she whimpered.
"I believe you," he replied softly, leaning his head back as he watched Kristoff and the others jump up at the return of Anna and Elsa. The strength had returned to his body and his mind was frighteningly clear. In lieu of this commission given to him by Nazir, he could finally decide his fate and his eyes settled on Elsa, focusing even more. The true path forward was starting to reveal itself and he stared at her, clenching his fists rhythmically to test his strength. It was beyond evident that she was the key to attaining the power he needed to finally put an end to his obedience to fate, stoking the fires within him and forging a new resolve. He already knew he affected her, so he was quietly deciding how to use that to his advantage. Without realizing, he was avoiding Anna. That was a distraction he didn't need. Instead, would only look at Elsa, and use her to see this out to very end, regardless of the cost or commitment of his heart to becoming the vile criminal she already thought him to be.
At the moment, he was willing to do anything it took to get back to the FireHeart, even if meant becoming the villain she truly saw in him.