Turning the Instigation
The group arrived inside Houndsditch, Alice pointing to Toothless wordlessly. He sniffed the air, craning his head near the giant hole in the floor before pulling back, growling lowly. He scratched at the floor in a Morse code like fashion, Alice nodding to him before signaling to Merida to go forward. Merida nodded, knocking an arrow as she slowly approached the hole. She drew the arrow back, inching closer as she narrowed her eyes. She scanned the area, about to give the go ahead when a card guard hissed, crawling up onto the floor to attack. Merida loosed the arrow, and it shot the card guard right between the eyes, falling right back down the hole.
"Well, so much for being discreet..." Hiccup groaned.
"Alright, change of plan; we are to get down there as fast as possible and brace for whomever awaits us, we've clearly been ambushed!" Alice shouted as she heard a swell of activity from the cavern below.
The group made their way down, having to dodge spears being hurled at them from a rather large card guard army. Alice's eyes scanned the area as she avoided attacks, there was only one person she was after. Jack stayed close to Alice, waving his staff and knocking down a small group of them. They touched down further away from the chaos, Alice wielding her vorpal blade.
"Alice, we shouldn't leave the others on their own for too long, it's pretty crazy down there..." Jack said.
"I must find him, Jack. I have to destroy him. He's got to be here somewhere." She responded, her eyes searching. She sensed movement then, whirling around and yanking Jack's hand out of harm's way as a blast of ice came from behind him. She thrust her knife forward, holding it against Elsa's neck as she held her hand out past Alice's shoulder at Jack behind her. Pitch then strode forward from Alice's side, scythe in hand as he held it out, hovering a couple feet from the back of Alice's neck. Jack inhaled sharply, pointing his staff at Pitch in reaction.
"Well, isn't this quite a situation we're in?" Pitch chuckled lightly.
"I'm not here for either of you so you may as well step aside and allow me to fulfill my task; then you lovebirds can snog to your hearts' content." Alice said, her expression dead serious as she glanced over at Pitch.
"I should say the same for you, little Alice... but I have some business to take care of with you... you think you can get away with trying to dig your scrawny fingers into Elsa's head?" Pitch asked.
"My 'scrawny fingers' are like gold in her head compared to a certain rat I'm here to kill. I'm most certain that you're aware of what I'm referring to." Alice said, looking at Elsa. "Look, I could care less what happens to you, but I have a favor I'm doing for someone and it unfortunately includes your well-being... otherwise I'd slice that pretty throat of yours."
Elsa narrowed her eyes. "Who would be concerned for my well-being and ask YOU to ensure that?"
Pitch hissed, his eyes widening with panic. No, he could not Alice speak another word, he could not allow her to say the name. He reared his scythe back to strike, Jack's eyes widening as he blasted the weapon out of Pitch's hands.
"You stay away from her!" Jack shouted, soaring in to stand between Pitch and Alice.
Meanwhile, Merida and Hiccup teamed up, she staying close to him as they sliced through the card guards. The Queen was oddly nowhere to be found, her army's numbers slowly dwindling. "Well, seems like they've got less of a fight in them left, huh lad?" Merida laughed as she shot three arrows at once, each one taking a card guard down a few yards away.
Toothless stayed fairly close to Bunny as he squared off against Wick, snapping at Wick when he came close enough.
"Not helping out your buddy Pitch, you slice of rotten pumpkin pie?" Bunny shouted.
"No, he's going to protect sister Elsa from you guardians!" Wick shouted back.
"'Sister' Elsa? What do you think you are? You think you can just decide that you want to actually be compassionate towards someone?" Bunny exclaimed. "All you've ever been for centuries is a mean-spirited monster!"
"I am not a monster!" Wick screamed, his voice shaky. "You're the monster! None of you ever liked me!"
"Why would we like you, all you did was make our job harder because we were constantly cleaning up your mess! You chose to listen to Pitch over us, you CHOSE to help him and do the wrong thing! We tried to help you once mate, but neither you nor Pitch can be helped." Bunny said as he hurled two egg bombs towards Wick.
Wick dodged one, but was knocked down when he was hit by the other one. He waved his arms around as he quickly rose back into the air, hovering about a foot off the ground as he regained his balance. "Scaring was all I knew how to do!" He cried. "And Pitch told me that I was fine just how I was!"
"Of course he would say that, you were doing him a favor by making it easier for all those poor kids to have nightmares!" Bunny shouted as he dodged behind a rock to avoid a stream of fire coming his way. He waited it out as Toothless jumped in, roaring as he bit down on Wick's staff, trying to tear it from his hands.
As this was happening, Hiccup wiped a brow as he and Merida had finished off the last of the card guard army.
"Well, this time around was a little better…" Hiccup said.
"Yes… but we haven't seen hide or hair of the Queen… which means she's lurking around somewhere." Merida commented.
"Yeah…" Hiccup glanced towards the other end of the cavern, unable to see Alice and Jack as they fought their own battle.
Jack and Alice would not be on Hiccup nor Merida's mind however, as they suddenly felt the ground rumble in an impending rhythm beneath their feet. They looked at each other before searching around them, both whirling around as the source of the huge footsteps revealed itself. With a deep, loud cry, the Queen's Executioner, which had suffered at the hands of Pitch and Bumby in Wonderland, seemed to slice the air itself as it spun its gargantuan scythe in a series of dizzying circles before holding it firmly in his hands, looming over the two threateningly.
"Well lad…" Merida started, glancing at Hiccup. She extended her hand towards him, taking his and squeezing it lightly. "… we've got some work cut out for us."
Hiccup gulped, not even able to regard the fact that Merida was holding his hand at the time, not averting his eyes from the menacing Executioner for a moment. "That was a good pun… hopefully it won't be your last one."
As the Executioner roared once more, Hiccup and Merida braced themselves as he began to charge straight towards them.
"Let go! It's mine!" Wick cried, hanging onto his scythe as tightly as he could.
Toothless was becoming angry now, sharply rearing his head back when he decided that he wasn't going to play tug of war anymore. Bunny peeked out from behind the rock he had used as a shield as Toothless did so, wincing as he witnessed the dragon tear out one of Wick's arms as it flew several yards back. His eyes widened a bit, tugging his ears down as Wick's agonizing screams pierced the air. His right hand shook as he nursed what was remaining of his left arm, falling to the ground and hunching over. Thick, dark green blood dripped from where his arm had been torn, having a texture similar to sap. He shut his eyes tightly, falling onto his side as he curled up in a fetal position. Bunny slowly emerged; as much as he hated Wick, he wasn't heartless. He was making his way over to him when a loud roar echoed through the cavern, looking towards a lower platform. He whirled around to Toothless, who was still crouched down and growling at Wick threateningly.
"Toothless, mate! I'm alright here; you've got to go help Hiccup!" Bunny cried. The dragon perked up, trotting to the edge of the platform as he scanned the area. When he saw his best friend currently fighting the giant monster, he whined, glancing back at Bunny. "Go ahead, I'm gonna try to find Alice!"
As Toothless headed off, Bunny went in the direction that Alice and Jack had gone in. He slowed a bit when Wick cried out once more in pain, glancing back at him. Though a part of him felt pity for Wick, he knew that he needed to be there for his friends, that they took precedence over helping someone who was an enemy to them.
"Where is he?" Alice screamed as she stormed forward, heading into the lower area of the cavern. She felt a hand grab her, about to attack when Jack stopped her. He kept a firm grip on her hands, looking into her eyes in the low light.
"We'll find him." Jack said. "But we have to take care of Pitch, he-"
"I could care less about him, Bumby is the one we must-"
"Alice, he hurts children too!" Jack exclaimed. "He's no better than Bumby, if we take him down it will make our job easier!"
"That would be the desired solution for you now, wouldn't it?" Pitch said as he reappeared suddenly, a horde of Nightmares with him. Elsa also joined his side, narrowing her eyes at Jack. "Enough running, Jack, it's time to face your fear!"
"Speak for yourself!" Jack shouted back, waving his staff so he could freeze the first row of Nightmares before hitting them with it, making them shatter to pieces.
Alice joined him in slicing through them, trying to dodge ice blasts from Elsa. She made sure that she remained at least somewhat between her and Jack, and Jack between Alice and Pitch to avoid devastating attacks from either one. After finishing off another group of Nightmares, Alice gasped as Elsa sent another ice blast straight for her, just barely able to deflect it with her umbrella. The blast ricocheted upwards and back, hitting a wall and making the area shake a bit. As some rocks and debris fell near where Jack was, he quickly moved out of harm's way. Unfortunately, this distraction was an opportunity for Pitch, conjuring a burst of black sand that he sent right at Jack. Alice could not get to him in time, and the ice guardian was sent flying back several yards until he hit another wall, sinking down to the ground as he held the back of his head.
"JACK!" Alice cried, running over to him. She knelt down by his side, her left hand feeling the back of his head before inspecting her fingertips, seeing blood. Her breathing became deeper and quicker, her hands trembling as she felt white hot rage swell inside her.
Bunny grunted as he hopped down into the lower lit area, gasping when he saw Alice knelt by Jack as he rested against the cavern wall. "What happened? Jack, you okay mate?"
"Stay with him." Alice replied lowly as she slowly stood.
Bunny shook his head. "Alice, you can't fight Pitch all by yourself-"
"I said… stay with him." Alice hissed, and Bunny gasped as he noticed the small amount of blood on her fingertips began to travel up her arm even as she let it hang on her side. Elsa remained watchful as Pitch let his head fall back, laughing.
"Oh, what's the matter? Is little Alice angry because I gave her prince charming a boo boo? What are you going to do about it? Have a tantrum?" Pitch mocked.
Elsa's eyes widened a bit when she noticed that Jacks small amount of blood on her fingertips had managed to cover both of her hands somehow, Alice's teeth clenched as she shut her eyes tightly. Suddenly, Pitch's laughter stopped as Alice threw her head back, shocking all as she emitted an ear piercing screech. Her eyes became black voids, her hair levitating as her dress and skin became ivory. Blood covered her hands up to her forearms, stains on her dress and it pooled over where her heart would be. The screech sent out a small shockwave, making Elsa gasp as she stumbled back and Pitch swayed a bit to keep his balance. As Alice stared at Pitch, blood began to drip from the black voids in her eyes as she spoke in a deep voice.
"You shall suffer the consequences of your folly!" Alice roared, wielding her hobby horse.
Pitch was indeed shocked; not having any idea that Alice was concealing this hidden power all along. He would not let this intimidate him, conjuring his scythe once again as Alice charged forward to dual with him. The Nightmare King found that he needed to place more focus in his fighting, having a harder time keeping up with the young woman; whatever craft she was using, he deduced, had certainly made her far faster and stronger than he had experienced in the past.
"Bunny…" Jack groaned as he sat up a bit more, holding his head. "You can't let her fight by herself. I don't care what she says, I'll be fine."
"You got it, mate." Bunny nodded, hopping towards the chaos as Elsa ran towards Alice and Pitch, ready to defend him when she gasped, stopping short as Bunny threw an egg bomb about one foot in front of her. She whirled around, spotting Bunny as he waved a finger at her. "I don't think so, Sheila."
"Stay out of my way!" Elsa shouted as she narrowed her eyes, thrusting her hand forward as she sent several ice blasts his way.
"Crikey!" Bunny exclaimed as he dodged the ice blasts.
Alice cried out as she shoved Pitch backwards, and he hissed as he felt the impact of the wall against his back. He furrowed a brow as he felt himself losing control of the situation; he had managed to land a few attacks against Alice, but they were just not effective enough to stop her. He could see Bunny trying to deter Elsa from pursuing Alice to defend him, but even farther back than that, he noticed that Jack had been left to fend for himself, having just gotten to his feet. He knew that if he could not beat Alice in this circumstance, he had to stop her some other way; in Jack's weakened state, he knew that Alice would do what was necessary to keep him alive, even if that meant retreating. He used what strength he could muster to shove Alice away from him, speeding straight for where Jack was. He stopped about a yard from him, his arm extended as he curled his fingers towards Jack, looking back as Alice stopped short.
"I've had about enough of this game, Alice!" Pitch shouted. "You've proven yourself to be a worthy opponent but you still have something to lose! Either back off… or your little boyfriend bites the dust!"
"You know I would send your sad, pathetic excuse for an existence into oblivion if you did that, so stay away from him!" Alice cried.
Bunny whipped his head towards the others when he heard their shouting, gasping lightly. He gritted his teeth, hurling several egg bombs at Elsa, one of them knocking her back as she fell. He then reached behind him to take out his boomerang, releasing the small latch to unsheathe the blade inside.
Jack's lip curled, about to attack Pitch when he switched up the game quicker than either of them could react, Pitch using his scythe to knock Alice to the side while her guard was down. It wasn't a very harsh blow, but it was enough for him to buy him time to whirl around, Pitch and Jack about to begin dueling again. Bunny cried out, enraged that Pitch had attacked Alice, rearing his hand back to release the boomerang. Because Pitch's back was to Bunny, who had been tucked up into a corner above them and farther back anyhow, he was completely ignorant of the object speeding towards him.
Elsa, however, was not.
She gasped when she realized Pitch's ignorance to her horror, scrambling to get up and run as fast as her legs would carry her. She gasped for air, her eyes widening as they followed the boomerang's movement, running to Pitch's left.
"PITCH!" She screamed, her arms extending as she shoved him out of the boomerang's path.
Jack gasped, quickly side stepping to his right as the boomerang turned sharply for its return trip, Bunny catching it in his hands moments later. Everything had happened so fast that they all stopped, taking a moment to take the event in.
Pitch grunted as he got to his feet, glancing over to where Bunny was for a split second before looking at Elsa. He chuckled lightly, and Elsa smiled at this. Jack took this time to run over to Alice, her hysteria form diminishing as he helped her to her feet just a few yards from where Pitch and Elsa were.
It was then that Elsa gasped, her brows furrowing deeply as she stumbled. She used the wall for support, wincing as her hand went to her side. Pitch's eyes widened, exhaling sharply as he slowly looked back towards Bunny. He was still holding his boomerang, and even from far away, Pitch could see the blood dripping on its blade. He whipped his head back towards Elsa, who was looking at the hand that had touched her side, blood covering her fingers. Without even thinking, Pitch ran over to her as she collapsed, his arms shooting out to catch her as he laid her on the ground. He inhaled sharply when he inspected her right side, blood staining her dress and spilling down her leg from the deep cut that had been sliced into her skin. He shook his head, opening his mouth but was unable to utter a single word.
"Looks like I'm not the only one who has someone to lose…" Alice said lowly, glaring at Pitch.
Jack stood up straight, feeling a pang in his heart. He had made a promise to Anna, to help reunite her with her sister. Right now, however, the hope of fulfilling that promise was slipping away with every drop of Elsa's blood spilt. He cautiously took a step closer, a part of him curious towards Pitch's behavior as he remained knelt over the young woman.
"Pitch… Pitch, she needs help." Jack said softly. "Please… let us take her back."
At the sound of Jack's voice, Pitch was snapped out of his shocked stupor, gritting his teeth as he shut his eyes. "Leave us." He growled, and Jack was stunned when he witnessed what he thought to be nothing more than a heartless monster scoop Elsa into his arms, holding her to him protectively.
Jack held his hands up. "L- Look, Pitch, whatever you both have against us, just put it aside, let us help her-"
"I said leave us!" Pitch cried, his expression becoming pained as he looked into Jack's eyes. His pride and arrogance had left him, and for the first time since this had all began, Pitch no longer wanted to fight; Elsa had become his primary concern for now. "You are not to touch her, just do what you must and go!"
Before Jack could say or do anything, Pitch fled with the bleeding Elsa, and he decided that it was best to not pursue him. He went over to Alice, taking her hand to help her to her feet. They both stared in the direction that Pitch had run with shock and interest; Jack had never seen Pitch in such an emotional state for as long as he knew him.
The Executioner roared, bringing his huge scythe down as it embedded into the ground. Toothless hopped up onto it, climbing up along the length of the handle until reaching the monster's hands, growling as he sunk his teeth into one of them. The Executioner cried out in pain, Hiccup taking this opportunity to take out his sword, stabbing it into its leg. Merida floated at a bit of a distance, shooting one arrow after another at it. She and Hiccup both gasped when the Executioner waved his hand, sending Toothless hurling through the air and landing roughly on the ground, the dragon dazed as he struggled to get up.
"Toothless!" Hiccup cried, glaring up at the giant creature angrily. "You leave my dragon alone!"
"Lad!" Merida cried. "Go to him, I'll finish this impish troll off!" She turned, placing her bow back on her person as she instead decided to unsheathe her own sword. The Executioner turned slowly to face her, her expression full of determination as she did not even flinch when it roared. It charged towards her, and she dodged the heavy swing of its scythe once, twice, three times, waiting for it to embed the weapon into the ground again to buy her a moment's time. She dipped down a bit, hoping her plan would work, smiling and cheering when it did. She made a sharp turn upwards and back, gripping her sword as she emitted a battle cry, flying straight at the Executioner's face. She grunted when she embedded her sword right into its forehead, gritting her teeth as she tried to pull it out. When it's painful screaming stopped, replaced by an angry growling, she gasped when she felt herself being yanked back, her sword being pulled out of the Executioner's forehead as it held her up. Her hair blew back as it roared, her eyes closed tight.
Meanwhile, Hiccup smiled with relief as Toothless shook his head, faring well now from the rough landing earlier. His relief faded however when his dragon's chipper expression quickly turned into one of concern, whining at something behind Hiccup. When the young man turned, he gasped as the Executioner gave Merida the same treatment it had given Toothless, hurling her right towards them. Hiccup's eyes widened, running over to kneel by her.
"Merida! Merida, are you-… Mer, wake up!" Hiccup bit his lip as the Executioner's roar echoed through the cavern, looking back down at her. "Come on… I can't do this without you…" His brows furrowed deeply, his heart skipping a beat when her usual glow began to dim slowly. "Nonononono, this cannot be happening- Merida, you're stronger than this, open your eyes!" He bit his lip, glancing up at Toothless when the dragon crouched down by them worriedly. Hiccup looked around, noticing blood on her sword that lay a couple feet away. He looked over towards the Executioner, who grinned mockingly as he made his way slowly towards them, as if it were the personification of impending doom itself. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that Merida's attack had left a large, gaping wound in its forehead. Trying to focus, Hiccup deduced that if Merida's sword had been able to penetrate just a bit deeper, she would have been able to puncture its brain. He inhaled deeply, glancing over at her bow and arrows. He gently but quickly took them off her person, clipping the quiver on himself and taking out an arrow. He exhaled the breath he had been holding as the Executioner continued to approach, still some distance away. Ah, yes, it liked to play with his prey, to draw out their anxiety as death typically awaited them. "Okay, bud…" Hiccup said to Toothless. "I may need you to cover me… and help me pray to Odin that I can do this." He knocked the arrow, drawing the string back. He waited for a few moments, trying to get a good aim. When he released the arrow, it soared through the air, embedding itself into the Executioner's cheek. Hiccup swore under his breath, grabbing another arrow and knocking it. He aimed again. "Come on… just get in the hole, please…" He released it, and it embedded into the bridge of the Executioner's nose. Hiccup bit his lip, hissing as he went to grab another arrow.
His face paled when he realized it was the last one in the quiver.
This was it; it was do or die, he either made it this time, or they were all as good as strawberry jam for the Executioner's next meal. It was his turn to be determined now, and he focused on remembering what Merida had taught him. "Feet shoulder length apart… side stance… back straight, shoulder's broad… deep breath in… eyes on the target… pull back, exhale… arms steady…" When Hiccup released the arrow, time seemed to slow down as it cut through the air. Hiccup's eyes widened when the arrow disappeared, entering the wound in the Executioner's forehead. His heart skipped a beat when the large creature's movements slowed, swaying as blood began to pour heavier from the spot. With a painful groan, the behemoth of a monster fell forward, the entire cavern shaking when it landed. As the dust cleared, Hiccup realized that it was no longer moving, smiling and laughing with surprised relief. "I… I did it… I did it!" He pumped a fist into the air. "Did you see that? I shot the arrow, I hit the target!" His expression softened when he turned to see Merida trying to sit up, kneeling back down by her to help her. "Merida… I-"
"I knew y' could, Hiccup." She replied quietly, smiling lightly. Her glow was slowly returning, her hand patting his arm gently. "But now you can help me with the daunting task of getting m' arrows back."
Hiccup laughed at that, just glad to see that Merida was okay. However, his expression became a bit more serious when hers did, standing up as she levitated a few inches off the ground. "Where are the others?"
"I have no idea… I haven't seen them, or the Queen, or Bumby." Hiccup replied.
Merida pursed her lips in thought. "That could be a very bad thing… come on, let's go."
As Alice took some time to inspect the back of Jack's head, Bunny was about to hop down and make his way towards them when he suddenly felt something wrap around his waist, pulling him back and slamming him up against a wall in a darker, lower part of the cavern. It seemed that the small enclave he had tucked himself into led into an opening that ventured deeper than he expected. His hands tried to pry away what was coiled around his waist, but winced when this only made it grip tighter. He heard a low hissing in his ear then, feeling hot breath on his face as he heard someone licking their lips.
"Well… won't you be a tasty treat… once I make you into a fur coat, first." The queen spoke, chuckling lowly. "As pleased as I am that you caused the so called 'snow queen' great injury… you may have been shown a shred more mercy by me if you had finished the job!"
Bunny grunted, struggling to breathe a bit as he looked over at the Queen, barely able to see more than her outline in the lower light. "She's supposed to be… on your side… why would you want her… dead?"
"That is none of your concern." She replied. "Besides… in your current situation, you should be fretting more over your own life than over hers." She opened her mouth wide, exposing her sharp teeth when she heard someone approaching from behind her, whipping her head towards them.
"Now, now, your highness… though there is no denying your experience with… rodents…" The voice spoke as it neared slowly. "… I think you would be better off attending to the Scottish princess and her Viking lover… it seems they're in need of productivity since they've worked through all of your forces. I'll handle the rabbit."
The Queen narrowed her eyes, and Bunny gasped for air when her vice like grip let up, her tentacle retreating back under her dress as she moved out swiftly. Bunny got to his feet, but when he looked around, he found himself lost. He could no longer see where he had come from, his paws extending as he groped his way through the dark. "Alice? Jack? Merida! Anybody? Where are the lot of you?!" He began to wheeze and cough then, feeling like he was breathing sulfur. His eyes began to water as embers began to scatter the darkness, the ground no longer smooth, slated stone, but cobblestone underneath about a foot of water as he sloshed through it. "Where in the hell am I…?" Bunny muttered to himself.
"You are in the place the mind goes when it encounters truths too difficult to cope with." The voice spoke.
Bunny whirled around, gasping when he found himself in a train station filled with the same smoke and embers filling the air. He rubbed his arms, furrowing his brows as his feet sloshed through the stagnant water. Heavy breathing filled his ears, searching for the source of the sound when he instead found the source of the voice speaking to him, to his displeasure.
"So… you've finally come out to play, you filthy bloke?" Bunny spat.
"Indeed… but this is your playing field, Bunnymund. I'm simply the one who talks you through it. Everyone yearns for something they cannot have… or in your case, someone…" Bumby said, stepping forward.
The heavy breathing continued in the background, Bunny turning around and widening his eyes to see Alice and Jack leaning against a wall, kissing heatedly and holding each other tightly. Bunny shook his head, backing up as he fell back into the water. He gasped as it began to rise around him, scrambling to his feet when he noticed that there were leeches covering him. He cried out, trying to take them off as water began to flood in.
"Alice! Jack!" He cried, but they did not cease their kissing, their heavy breathing growing louder and driving Bunny to the brink as the water swallowed him up. His lungs were screaming as the air was pushed out of them, blackness filling his vision as he could no longer see anything.
At the sound of distant screaming, Alice jumped to her feet, looking around. "Jack, that sounded like Bunny."
"Oh no…" Jack got to his feet, the two wasting no time heading towards the sound.
They descended into the darkness, gravitating towards the sound until they came within a few feet of where Bunny was. Alice crouched down, feeling around the ground until she felt a familiar patch of fur, gasping as she found his paw and held it.
"Bunny… Bunny, are you alright? Can you hear me?" Alice asked, furrowing her brows when she felt how tense his arm muscles were as he writhed. "Jack! Something's happened to him, we have to get him out of here!"
Jack found his way to them, the two helping Bunny into an area where there was enough light to see at least a few inches in front of their noses. Jack bit his lip when he saw Bunny's state, when suddenly, Bunny sat straight up, looking around as if he'd been sleeping.
"Alice?" He said as his breathing began to stabilize. "I… I saw him… I saw that bloke, he… I don't know how, he messed with my head real bad-"
"You saw Bumby? Where was he, where did he go?" Alice exclaimed.
"Alice, give him a second to breathe!" Jack said. "Bunny, look at me. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
Bunny glanced over at Jack, looking at him warily. "I… I'm fine." He said unsurely, looking between the two of them. "I… I don't know where he went Alice, I… I'm sorry."
Alice exhaled slowly, nodding. "Alright… come on, let's… let's find the others and regroup."
With a nod, Bunny got to his feet, hissing as he held his head. Jack tilted his head, putting a hand on his shoulder lightly. "Hey, you sure you're okay?"
"I said I'm fine, Jack." Bunny said through gritted teeth, shoving Jack's hand away as he followed Alice. Jack was a bit insulted by the gesture, but pushed it out of his mind for now; they had more important matters to focus on.
Merida slowed to a stop when she caught sight of Alice, Jack, and Bunny heading towards them. "Did y' find that brute, Alice?" She asked.
"I'm afraid not, I was about to ask you the same but it seems you've already answered my question." Alice said, raising a brow as she glanced at all the dead card guards and the Executioner behind them. "Seems you had your work cut out for you."
Hiccup chuckled at the pun, thinking that she and Merida thought similarly at times. "Yeah, but no sign of the Queen... guess they're all too scared to fight us today."
Alice grit her teeth, looking around. "Bumby! Come out you bloody coward!"
As Jack tried to calm Alice, Merida stared at Bunny warily. She floated over to him, tilting her head a bit as he rubbed his temples. "Bunny? Lad, y' alright?"
"Yeah..." Bunny replied, stretching his neck a bit. "Just got banged up a bit back there."
Being a Banshee, Merida could sense something was off. "We should probably get you home then... just to make sure."
Alice swore under her breath as Jack placed a hand on her shoulder. "They have to know what our plans are, Alice... and they also have to know that we're not as weak as they thought. Look around, none of them are standing to fight, they're all hidden in here!"
"Then we should seek them out and end them!" Alice snapped.
"We can't even see anything down there, Alice, that's what they want us to do. Just... maybe we should play their game, you know? Wait for them to come out of hiding, out of their comfort zone. We have to give them a reason to want to come to us." Jack said.
"No, Jack. I can't place Eliza's life at risk." Alice shook her head.
They were all unaware, but the Queen had stopped in her tracks within the shadows, having gone to try to confront Merida and Hiccup when she witnessed the whole group together, listening in as they convened.
"We'll protect the little lass, Alice... but Jack may be right. Let's go back and make another plan." Merida said.
Alice hissed angrily, agreeing regrettably as they all were left with no choice but to head out. They had made some progress today, but not enough to satisfy the fiery Alice.
The Queen smirked lightly, her own agenda changing as she retreated into the shadows; her chessboard was realigning, and she wanted to make sure that by the end of the game, she won all the pieces.
She paused to see Pitch speaking to Wick, who was still holding his left arm with his other hand; or lack of his left arm, thereof. They were standing just outside of Elsa's area.
"... well, so long as you aren't going to expire, at least sit there and watch over her." Pitch growled lowly.
"I- I'm sorry... I want to help heal Elsa but I've lost a lot of blood... if I die I won't be able to help her at all..." Wick frowned, deeply hurt by what had happened to her.
"Not if she doesn't die on US first!" Pitch snapped. "Go in there and alert me if anything happens!" He said before storming off. "This is just one big lovely mess, isn't it?"
The Queen watched Pitch out of the corner of her eyes, wanting nothing more but to go in that room and finish Elsa off herself. But no, that would be too easy... she would prefer the little wretch to suffer to her last breath, she thought to herself. She heard someone approach behind her, turning to see Bumby. "Did you accomplish what you set out to do?" She asked him.
"Yes." Bumby replied. "As much as Alice wanted to get to me... and it would have benefited me if she had because I could have afflicted her more directly... the route that I have chosen is slower, but far more subtle. In the end, it shall prove effective... it simply needs time to fester."
"With Alice gone, Wonderland shall be mine for the taking." The Queen replied before glancing back towards Elsa's area. "And then I'll only have one scrawny thing standing between me and ultimate satisfaction."
Back at the workshop, Alice wanted a moment to herself, holding her head in her hands. When she had spent enough time trying to control her emotions, she sighed as she stood, leaving her room.
The young woman turned, wiping her eyes a bit to see North heading down the hallway. "Yes?"
"It is good to see that you made it back alright." He said, smiling lightly. He frowned a bit when he saw she had been crying.
"What does it matter? Once again, I failed to accomplish what I had set out to do." She sighed.
North paused for a moment to think, before glancing up at her. "Come, walk with me." He said, Alice raising a brow before nodding, curious to hear what North had to say. She followed him into a small room where he made his own toys, going to one of his shelves to search for something. Alice watched silently, tilting her head when North placed a nesting doll of himself in her hands.
"This is... lovely." Alice said, looking up at North with a bewildered expression.
"Alice... when Jack was first chosen to be a guardian, he, like you, did not know his true purpose in life." North started. "And do you know why that is?"
"No... I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't." She answered.
"Because he did not truly know himself." North said. "And you do not know yourself either."
"I believe I know myself fairly well... after all, I must know myself somewhat with my dreams and experienced personified." Alice said.
"Then you must know this, then." North smiled. "Alice, what is your center?"
Alice blinked at the question, shaking her head a bit. "I- I'm sorry, my… what? I don't understand what you mean."
North chuckled a bit. "Neither did Jack when I asked him that question. Here, look. What do you see, Alice?" He gestured to the nesting doll. "On the outside, I am fearless. But open it."
Alice did as she was told, revealing the next doll inside. "Well, this seems to say that you have a joyful side to you… if I'm following you correctly."
"Yes! I am very jolly. Now see, the next one, I am very mysterious…" He said as Alice opened it, nodding to herself. "And I am caring. But my center…" He said as Alice revealed the smallest doll inside; "… is wonder. See how big my eyes are?"
Alice giggled a bit. "Well, I can see somewhat of a resemblance I suppose…"
"You see Alice, Jack was able to find his center when he took the time to learn about himself… and in learning his true center, he knew just how he could help us… and the children of the world. It is how he became a true guardian." North said.
Alice's smile saddened then, putting the nesting doll back together. "But I'm not a guardian, North. I can't seem to protect anyone. I failed to protect my family, my home, my friends, the children… not even myself."
North frowned, gently patting Alice's back. "Your entire life has been swallowed up by all of the darkness you have had to battle through that it is all that you know. Protecting does not always mean fighting. Protecting someone can be done in many ways. Giving someone peace of mind, or the promise of friendship, and love… that is also protecting. Do you think we protect the children of the world simply by fighting? We protect them by bringing them joy, happiness, something to brighten their days through the year. That is how we protect, that is what makes us guardians." He smiled lightly, nodding to her. "You are more of a guardian than you realize. You simply need to find your center."
Alice thought to herself for a moment. "I'm so broken… who knows what it could be… who knows if I even have a 'center' left."
"Sure you have one." North said as he patted his belly. "I can feel it in my gut." He laughed. "And most of the time, my gut feeling is spot on, hm?"
Alice snickered at that, placing the nesting doll back on the shelf. "Well, I suppose you've lightened my mood…" She sighed contently. "Thank you, North."
"Do not worry… you will find it. Sooner or later, just like for Jack, it will come to you." North said before taking his leave, allowing Alice to have some time to think on his words.
Merida glanced into Bunny's room, still feeling concerned for him after what had transpired back in London. She floated into his room, staring at him warily. "Bunny… how are y' feelin'?"
"Like a train wreck… other than that, just peachy." Bunny replied, glancing up at her. "My head is throbbing."
"Let me take a look." Merida said, moving to stand in front of him as she gently placed her hands on either side of his head. She bit her lip in concentration, sighing after a moment. "There's definitely something amiss, but I can't get a good look as to what it is. Just take care and rest for a spell, hopefully that will remedy it."
Bunny nodded. "Thanks, Merida." He said, leaning back as he reclined. "A nap should do me some good."
Anna bit her lip, sighing as she ascended the stairs to seek out Jack. When she spotted him, she breathed in and out slowly, trying to keep calm as she approached him. "H- Hi Jack, um, me again… I was just wondering, if… if you saw Elsa… I- I mean, of course you saw her, but um… i- is she okay? Is she coming around at all?"
Jack stared at Anna as she rambled, exhaling slowly as he closed his eyes. He knew he couldn't hide the truth from Anna, but he knew that to tell her what he had seen happen to Elsa was not going to be easy for either of them. He opened his eyes, clearing his throat. "Um… well, she's still pretty committed to defending Pitch…"
Anna frowned then. "Oh no… he must really… he must be lying to her pretty badly… I can't imagine how he must be messing with her head! Poor Elsa…"
"… yeah… she's um… she's so committed that… that she even sacrificed herself for him." Jack said.
Anna's eyes widened then, shaking her head. "S- Sacrificed herself? What… what do you mean by that?"
"As far as I know, she's still alive… but when Bunny tried to attack Pitch, she… she pushed him out of the way and she was the one who got hurt. I'm sorry, Anna, I… I tried everything, I asked Pitch to please, please let us take her back, for her sake… but he took her and ran. I can only hope that he's getting some kind of help for her." Jack replied.
The young princess stumbled back, her breath hitching as she ran down the hall to her bedroom. She grabbed her winter coat, mittens, hat and boots, putting them all on quickly before heading towards the stairs. Kristoff, who had just fed Sven, witnessed this and caught wind that something was wrong.
"Anna, where are you going?" He asked.
"I'm going to find my sister and bring her back here!" Anna exclaimed, making towards one of the exits she could access.
"Anna, wait!" Jack cried, taking her hand. "Please, just-"
"My sister could be dying!" Anna began to tear up. "I can't just stay cooped up here while she's endangered by some… some creep!"
"You can't go after her, Anna! Do you realize that any of those freaks she's with could kill you the moment you step foot on their turf?" Kristoff asked.
"I don't care!" Anna screamed. "I may not have some… amazing powers or I can't fly, but I would rather die fighting for Elsa than to sit here while she's wasting away somewhere!" She tugged her hand away from Jack, storming out into the snow. "I'm coming for you Elsa!" She shouted into the winds. She struggled when arms coiled around her, grunting as she tried to get away. "Let go of me!"
"I'm not letting you go, Anna." Kristoff said as he hugged her tightly to him, her back against his chest. "I know how much you love Elsa, but this isn't the right thing to do!"
"How could you know how much I love her? How could you have any idea whatsoever?" Anna shouted.
"Because… because I love you!" Kristoff exclaimed, exhaling shakily upon uttering the confession. "And… and if I were in Elsa's place, I would want you safe!" He furrowed his brows as she glanced back at him, tears pouring down her face. "So that's what I'm going to do, Anna. I'm going to keep you safe. I almost let that jerk Hans get away with what he did… I'm not going to let anything else hurt you."
Jack watched in silence, his heart sinking as Anna turned around to cling to Kristoff, crying loudly as she sobbed. The two held each other in the snow, and the ice guardian wished for nothing more but for Anna's pain to disappear. He related to her, knowing what it was like to want to bring back a beloved sister. He turned, deciding that it was best to allow the two of them to work out their emotions on their own, feeling like a failure for being unable to help ease Anna's sorrow.
Hiccup stared out the window, glancing over at Toothless for a moment when he curled up near him, Kristoff having fed him some arctic fish. The dragon whined at him lightly, Hiccup reaching a hand over to pat his head gently.
"I hope this all ends too bud." Hiccup said. "I miss home… our family…" He sighed. "… Astrid…"
The young Viking got up, walking out of his room to wander about the hallways. He glanced into one of the extra rooms, tilting his head when he saw something glimmering in one of the drawers as it hung slightly ajar. He glanced around to make sure no one else was near, approaching the drawer to open it a bit more. He raised his brows to see it was filled to the brim with snow globes; he knew this was how the group traveled from one place to another. However, in that moment, Hiccup realized that it only took one of the small, shimmering spheres to send him back home; to the people that he loved and missed. He soon snapped out of his deep thinking when he heard footsteps, shoving the snow globe back into the drawer and shutting it closed, whirling around just in time to see Eliza smile upon seeing him.
"There you are, Hiccup!" She giggled. "Merida has been looking all over for you, Tooth says it's supper time! What are you doing in here, anyway?"
Hiccup nodded, smiling nervously. "Well, I'm so glad you told me that, because, uh… I was actually looking around to see if there was anything to eat around here; I'm starving!" He said as he rubbed his belly.
Eliza laughed at that. "It's not in here, silly!" She squeaked when Toothless tried to lick her face, chirping happily at her. "Toothless, you're going to make my hair untidy!"
Hiccup joined the child and Toothless as they descended the stairs, meeting most of the others as they gathered for dinner. There was a mix of feelings and attitudes at the table tonight, some positive and enthusiastic whilst others were somber and downtrodden. As he glanced around at the group, Hiccup realized that a part of him wanted to be here; he had no idea when exactly they had all become this close, but as much as he missed Berk, he felt like he had found a second family here. He smiled lightly, knowing that this closeness would ease the home sickness he had been feeling since he had first arrived.
"Shut up, Tuffnut!"
"Why don't you shove a chicken in your own pie hole, Ruffnut?"
"Why don't you both just be quiet for a while, huh? Making my ears sore between the two of you…" Eret rolled his eyes as they all headed back to the village after another successful day of collecting firewood for their tribe.
"Yeah you guys, I mean, who's the one who helped pick up the slack when you both dropped almost your whole share back there?" Snotlout chuckled, puffing his chest out.
"Oh please, Eret had to yank your keister up when you nearly fell flat on your face, Snotlout." Astrid said, rolling her eyes and chuckling when he gave her an insulted pout.
"Well come on, Astrid! How did you expect me to see that tree root when I'm too busy carrying all that wood with these muscles, huh?" Snotlout said in his defense.
"Will you all just get a move on? My arms are getting tired, we've been walking for miles and it's almost sundown!" Fishlegs whined.
"Yeah, I'm starving!" Tuffnut commented, shoving his sister's shoulder with his own and making her drop some of the wood she was holding. "Bet you I can make it back first!"
"Ugh, I swear you are such an idiot!" She shouted as Tuffnut started to jog backwards, laughing at her. As she was picking up what had dropped, Tuffnut tripped over himself, falling back as the wood he was holding fell out of his arms.
"Ow… that hurt…" He groaned.
Ruffnut pointed and laughed at him, swaying for a moment to keep from dropping her wood again. "That's what you get, troll face!" As she walked by him, she tossed one piece of wood from her pile at him, making him grunt when she hit his stomach.
"Cut it out, frog lips!" Tuffnut shouted at her, huffing as he got to his feet to collect his wood pile.
"Well Fishlegs, at the rate that those two morons are going, we'll make it back to Berk by tomorrow afternoon!" Astrid said with annoyance, ignoring the twins as she continued along her way.
Eret glanced over at Astrid as she stared ahead with frustration. "Hey… you alright?" He asked quietly.
"I'm fine… just aggravated." She replied.
They stayed quiet for most of the trip's remainder, the twins goofing around, Snotlout's boasting, and Fishleg's announcements of unnecessary facts to distract him from the pain of his arms and legs chafing, was enough noise to drive one, especially Astrid, up a wall.
When they finally reached Berk, they all placed the firewood they had collected in the storehouse, dusting themselves off before saying goodnight and parting ways to their own huts. Soon, only Astrid and Eret remained. She stood outside the storehouse, looking up at the stars as Eret walked towards her after securing the firewood supply.
"You uh… heading home, Astrid?" Eret asked.
"Not yet." Astrid answered. "I just… want to look at the stars for a while. It's… it's been helping me. I imagine that somewhere under these stars… Hiccup is out there somewhere." She turned to him as Eret was about to say something. "I'm okay, Eret." She shrugged. "Wherever he is… whether he's alive and happy, or… or dead… I can't keep letting it drag me down. I'm a Viking. I have to do what I can to stay strong for my family, my village… myself."
Eret nodded, taking a step closer to lean up against the storehouse wall beside her. He inhaled, taking the fresh air of the night into his lungs. "You know… this is the best time to go dragon riding."
Astrid smirked a bit, raising a brow. "At night? When you can't see two inches in front of your face?"
"Well, you have to go on a night like tonight. Clear sky… the moon gives me all the light I need… and the stars… they map out exactly where I am and how to get back." Eret said.
Astrid paused for a moment to think on his words, staring up at the sky. She then turned to him, smiling a bit more. "Let's do it."
Eret stared at her in shock. He didn't expect her to react in such a manner; since Hiccup had disappeared, she avoided dragon riding unless it was absolutely necessary; she would let Stormfly fly on her own most days… but Astrid had felt so low, she couldn't bear to get her feet off the ground for too long. "R- Really? Are you-"
"Eret…" Astrid cut him off. "I need to move on." She turned to him, biting her lip. "I need to feel like a whole person again. I need to feel like me, and… you've been helping me to feel like myself again."
The young man stared at her as she said this, unable to look away as the moonlight illuminated the features of her face. He couldn't deny that from the day he saw Astrid, that she was one of the most beautiful of the village, and her fierceness drove them all to be their best because she accepted no less. He also couldn't deny the growing closeness between them since Hiccup had disappeared. At first, what he began to feel towards Astrid felt wrong, that he was infringing upon something that wasn't his. However, each day that passed, that barrier he had placed for himself crumbled more and more, and it was on this night, in this very moment, he could no longer withhold those feelings.
"Look, Astrid… I… I wish there was a way to bring Hiccup back… or at least know what happened to him." He sighed lightly. "I don't know if he's ever going to come back, neither do you… and it's torn us all up to shreds. What I'm saying is… we've got to start picking up the pieces… not just for keeping the tribe accounted for, or having someone to lead them, the dragons… but I mean for ourselves too, Astrid. It all starts with us."
Astrid could already begin to see the meaning in Eret's words, holding her finger up to his lips when he was about to speak again. A part of her would always long for Hiccup, but in her heart, she decided that she didn't care if this was right or wrong. In her heart, she knew that this was right for HER. That this was what SHE needed, and Eret was here to provide that for her. Without word or warning, she put her hands on his shoulders to support herself as she closed the space between them. Eret made no move of resistance, his muscled arms holding her close as they shared their first kiss under the moonlight. There was not a soul who saw them, it was their own private, secure moment; a security in which they confided their emotions and well-being in each other. They would remain in this state for some time before Astrid took up Eret's offer, the two soaring through the night as for the first time in almost two months, Astrid felt light, she felt carefree.