The Kingdoms of Fallen Stars

Contemplating Hidden Clues

Maharaja shouted to his minions, having them rebuild their forces and forge new weapons after taking a fairly good beating in the recent battle. He growled lowly, setting up fire pits where they placed the scrap metal in, much from their damaged weaponry. His eyes scanned the area until a soft, glowing light from deeper within the mountain caught his attention. He cracked his shoulders as he stretched out his muscles, his armor clanging a bit as he trudged towards the light. He stopped, peeking in to see the Phoenix suspended in midair, tranquil as its feet were clawed into the ground. Maharaja raised an intrigued brow as it seemed to draw energy from the molten Earth's core into itself. Despite its preoccupation, Maharaja was not the most patient and understanding individual, tapping the tip of his sword on the ground to gain the great creature's attention.

"Bi zevsgiin myetall khailj tany dulaanyg kheregtei." Maharaja said upon the Phoenix cracking an eye open.

"What difference does it make if your weapons are forged now, or a day from now?" The Phoenix asked. "Rather than wasting your strength, you should be replenishing that which you have lost."

The Monkey King growled lowly. "Odoo zogsson kheveer baikh yamar ch tsag khugatsaa baina! Bidnii daisnuud biden deer yamar ödör baikh bolno!"

"Perhaps they shall, perhaps they will not. You mistake remaining idle with remaining unproductive. Relpenishing energy can be just as significant as preparing weapons and equipment." The Phoenix said. "I am my own weapon, I need not metal to assist me."

Maharaja scowled for a moment before smiling sarcastically. "Uulyn ikh khaany zasaglalaas mini ee, namaig uuchlaarai!" He proclaimed, bowing down for a moment before standing up straight. "Bi bish minii khögjöön daisnuudad, zövkhön minii zer zevseg, balmadaar khüch chadal ustgakh ni tany asar ikh döl baina." He motioned to his sword and his spear, before closing his fist and raising it to display his toughness.

The Phoenix tilted his head a bit. "Such is the way of a barbarian such as yourself; in a way, it is most admirable that you possess a ruthless and unyielding nature."

"Zerlegüüdiin? Bi zügeer l neg büdüüleg ilüü baina! Bi daichin, anchin baina!" Maharaja exclaimed.

"A hunter… and what, pray tell, do you hunt?" The Phoenix asked.

"Ene delkhii deer khovor, khamgiin üne tsenetei amitad. Bi Toothiana ni aav, eej alsan... eej , Rashmi, nislegiin egch, nadad minii khün törölkhtniig avch baisan yum. Bi süülchiin tölbör bolokh Toothiana amiig avch yuu ch deer khürch zogsdog." Maharaja answered.

"Ah… understandable to hold a grudge against the one who was responsible for afflicting you in this manner… the last of her kind, as well." The Phoenix commented.

"Yamar ch... tüünii törliin zövkhön neg. Toothiana ni erliiz yum. Tüünii etseg, Haroom neg udaa minii itgeltei zarts baisan yum... gevch ter gichii ekhner erliiz bolon tüünd ünench tangaraglasan, nisdeg zaan doosh an minii aldryg avch neg!" Maharaja shouted.

"So for taking your glory and your humanity, you wish for the daughter to pay their price?" The Phoenix asked.

Maharaja grinned, nodding. "Bi nasny dars shig Toothiana ni asgarsan tsusyg uukh bolno..." He made a swiping motion on his neck before making a drinking gesture with his hand, laughing heartily. "Yuu ta mini galt naiz? Kherev ta ene erel khaiguuld yamar ezelsen gazar nutag khaij baina uu?"

"I seek only to destroy the forest nymph and clear this land of her growth so that I may overtake it. Once I inhabit her domain, none shall seek to challenge me again." The Phoenix answered.

Maharaja nodded slowly, chuckling lowly. "Yaagaad uuland end baina? Tany gal mod güitsej , ünsen tedniig ergej chadakhgüi baina uu?"

"The creature in the forest does not control simply that alone. Her abilities extend to the skies, the air, sometimes even gravity itself. Only those she allows to pass may seek passage through her domain, all others are destroyed or deterred. I have not the strength to overcome her defenses, and she has not the strength to produce growth in or upon my mountain." The Phoenix said. "It is a stalemate which has lasted for many centuries between us."

Maharaja thought for a moment. "Yamar nökhtsöl baidald ter negen bolomjiig olgoj baina ve?"

The Phoenix narrowed his eyes as he thought for a moment. "One commonality we share is that we are both solitary creatures. Neither she nor I allow many into our company."

"Khm... bi tsereg oi ruu edgeer khaldagchdyn barimtalj baikh üyed oin ööriin ni ug üildel yum shig... ene ni... yaaj oi ni ööröö naiz, daisan khoyoryn yalgaag medekh yum be?" Maharaja asked.

"The forest, and all the life within it, is an extension of herself. It is its own form, but it is all interconnected back to her… she depends upon it just as it depends on her." The Phoenix said. "They form a symbiotic bond, each protecting the other."

Maharaja smirked then. "Bid shirengen oid an khiij baikh üyed minii zarts Haroom neg udaa minii bairshuulagch baisan yum. Ter üner ni tüünii sonirkholtoi medremj... khün ni mash sonirkholtoi naidaj... mön khol ööriin sudsaar damjuulan ajillaj baigaa ni manai makhchin tsus üner yum."

The Phoenix tilted his head once more. "The blood of your prey… how might this apply to my will to destroy the nymph?"

"Magadgüi oi ni sudal ni tsus ni naiz, esvel daisan meddeg... naiz ni tsus ugtan avch baina daisnuud tsus khöögdsön baina." Maharaja answered.

The Phoenix thought upon his words for a moment. "Perhaps it could be indeed… even if the forest sensed its welcomed guests by their blood… how would we obtain enough to pass if they all remain within the forest? It is a vicious cycle where we are disadvantaged."

"Bid odoo ta nar sul kheveer sergeej bolokh yum , bi... minii arga khemjeeg ürgeljlüülen avna... tsag, arga zamyg olokh bolno." He pointed to the ground under the Phoenix before pointing to his sword, laughing as he headed back to check on his minions' progress. The Phoenix watched him for a moment, resuming his concentration as he thought deeply upon what he had discussed with Maharaja…

Was the blood of his enemies the key to his victory?

In the shadows, Hans stood quietly, he too thinking deeply upon what he had heard from the conversation he had eavesdropped upon. In his mind, the better he served the Queen, the more she would give him when they would overcome their enemies. If he remained in her good graces and served her well, he would be rewarded well. His brothers would rue the day they treated him like an underling. His family would regret doubting his ability to be a ruler. He smirked lightly to himself, quietly heading out of the area.

The Queen paced around a bit, her fingers drumming upon the tops of her hands as she kept them crossed. She was becoming impatient, chewing her lip as she awaited Eliza's arrival. She knew that the process she had planned would be gradual, but if all was lost now, it would certainly push her far back in this game she had mapped out in her mind. Just when her exasperation was about to boil over, she heard the sound of small footsteps approaching, turning and smiling upon seeing Eliza walking towards her.

"Eliza, dear… what a pleasure it is to see you again!" The Queen grinned, ushering the child towards the same small setup as the night before. Eliza glanced at the Queen warily, pulling the chair out and sitting on it. She kept her satchel in her lap, resting her arms on it. She glanced over at the pen and parchment, seeing her writing on it from the night before. She was about to reach over to begin writing when the Queen waved her hands lightly. "Oh, before you begin that… you must have worked up an appetite from your journey…" She tapped her chin. "Tell me child, what is your favorite dessert?"

Eliza blinked, placing her hands down for a moment and clearing her throat. "I… Rapunzel said not to eat too much dessert after supper, it disturbs one's sleep…"

"Oh, that's nonsense! A small treat shall do you no harm, child. Here you are, sacrificing yourself for your dear friends… you deserve a small something for all your hard work, hm?" The Queen smiled. "Anything you like, you may have. It'll be our little secret."

Eliza looked around unsurely, thinking that saying no again may agitate her. "A- Alright… I do love when Alice bakes cookies… I share them with my friend Olaf."

The Queen gave her a nod, waving her hand as a single cookie appeared with a glass of milk. Eliza blinked in shock, cautiously taking the cookie and eating it, glancing up at her warily as she drank the milk. When nothing happened, she looked up at the Queen in surprise.

"Wasn't that nice? Here…" The Queen extended her hand, offering Eliza a cloth napkin to dab her mouth with. "… now that you've had some food for thought, you may write." Eliza nodded, dipping the quill in the red ink as she began to write. The Queen observed her, smirking lightly. "Dear girl, is that not the same dress you wore just yesterday?"

Eliza stopped for a moment, glancing down at herself. "Yes… there aren't many in my size in the castle. Anna is having more made for me."

The Queen laughed. "No need, child." She waved her hand again, a red box appearing in her hands. When Eliza finished writing, the Queen whisked her hand to make the parchment, pen and ink disappear, putting the box in its place. "Here, see if it is to your liking." The Queen said.

Eliza tilted her head, craning her head before reaching over, cautiously lifting the lid. When all seemed to be safe, she lifted it all the way, lifting the contents out slowly to look at it. She removed a red dress from the box, holding it up to her as she looked down at it.

"Is this for me…?" Eliza asked.

"Indeed, it is…" The Queen answered. "… do you like it? It looks as if it is a perfect fit."

Eliza's fingertips grazed over the material. "It's velvet. Alice and I could never think to afford velvet back in London…"

The Queen chuckled lowly at this. "Consider it a gift. You may wear it and everyone shall know you are worthy of such fine material. A pretty dress to match a pretty face."

Eliza glanced up at her, clearing her throat a bit. "Thank you…" She said quietly, shifting a bit uncomfortably on her feet. "… you don't… wish for anything in return, do you?"

"Of course not…" The Queen smiled, Eliza wincing as she pat her head as gently as possible. "Just continue to return here each night as promised… these gifts are simply a symbol of my appreciation of your company. I do very much look forward to it each evening now."

"Oh… well, I must return home now…" Eliza said.

"Ah, yes… wouldn't want to make your dear friends worry…" The Queen said, reaching for a snow globe. "By the way…" She smirked darkly for a moment. "… Alice doesn't have any suspicions of your visits here… does she? She certainly wouldn't understand my… intentions."

Eliza frowned. "No… it's been some time since I've seen Alice and Jack… they've been away."

The Queen placed a hand on her chest. "Oh, that's quite interesting…" She furrowed a brow. "Are you not their precious sister? I would at least think they would visit you now and then…"

Eliza bit her lip for a moment, narrowing her eyes a bit. "No… they cannot because they are fighting you!" She exclaimed. "I don't care how many gifts you give me, you're still going to try to harm Alice!"

The Queen did her best to put on an insulted expression. "My dear, I know it must be so hard to endure your struggles… but you do remember that since we've forged our agreement, I have not sent one to seek out Alice or Jack to cause them harm…" She raised her brows. "… so they cannot be fighting me if that is the case, right? Look around you child, you are wise beyond your years! Do you see any battles, any bloodshed?"

Eliza's expression softened, the Queen's words sinking in a bit. "… no…"

"That's right… so my dear, being you have affirmed that, then you must be wondering; what could be stopping Alice and Jack from seeing you again?" The Queen asked. When Eliza fell silent, her eyes widening a bit as she glanced downwards, the Queen furrowed her brows lightly as she placed a gentle hand on Eliza's back. "Oh dear, I hope I haven't upset you… that wasn't my intention…"

Eliza shook her head, exhaling sharply. "I- I'm sorry… I must return home…"

"Of course." She handed her the snow globe then, Eliza taking it into her hands as she gathered her satchel and the dress. She whispered into the snow globe, glancing up at the Queen.

"Thank you for the gift…" She said quietly, casting the snow globe down and walking through the portal.

"No, my dear girl…" The Queen said after Eliza left, chuckling darkly. "… thank you."

Pitch was strolling about, finally having rested up a bit after laboring all night long. He raised a brow, not having seen Emily all morning.

It was an odd mixture of feelings, being with his daughter again; a bitter sweetness that seemed to battle inside of him. A part of him simply wanted to tell her that he was so happy to see her again, knowing that he still had a part of his family, the love he had shared with his Lady, living and breathing in this world. However, the rational part of him knew that it would mean nothing; Emily resented him, formed a barrier to keep him just far away enough to protect her heart, yet close enough to prevent anyone from completely forgetting her.

He wondered if the latter aspect gave him reason to hope that there was somehow, some way, a chance to make amends with her.

Oh, how he wished now she had taken on her mother's personality; the one thing she seemed to retain of her was her sometimes strict and orderly nature, but even Lady was quick to forgive, and had a heart warmer than the sun itself. No… Emily had grown quite introverted and standoffish over the past few centuries, resolving to isolate herself in her own disappointed hopes as they festered in her heart. Much like himself as well, she lived how she wished; no one to instruct her, and if there was something she desired, nothing could stop her from taking it. She certainly had a dark side to her, and Pitch knew that he was the cause of its inception.

He stopped when he noticed her meditating, but this isn't what raised red flags for the Nightmare King. He narrowed his eyes, hissing lowly when he noticed Bunny sitting beside her.

In the past, Pitch had despised all of the guardians… this was a known fact. There was something that rubbed him the wrong way about each of them; he resented North's popularity among children, Tooth's ample access to resources, Sandy's usurpation of his niche… but Bunny… oh, that oversized rabbit, even now he despised with a passion. It was his arrogance, his thick-headed pride, believing that he was the most important thing in the universe with a pair of rather large feet. When the other guardians would subdue him, they would do so out of civic duty, to ensure that their protection over the children was fulfilled.

With Bunny, it went beyond that.

The way he would sneer at him, mock him, rub in his face that he had lost… indeed, Bunny was quite competitive, and would not hesitate to let one know when he was the clear winner. He didn't care who you were either, he would never back down. He was the hardest to intimidate out of all the guardians, he could even pull one over on North before him.

Seeing him now, near his precious daughter… it raised a deep suspicion in him.

He was no fool, he knew that despite the uneasy alliance with the guardians now, that Bunny still despised him as much as he did the Easter guardian. Bunny was the type to get back at those who had wronged him, and Pitch figured he was most likely at the top of his grudge list. He began to debate the idea of whether or not he was just being paranoid, but he asked himself a very disturbing question, at least, disturbing to him…

Could Bunny use Emily to get back at him?

It was indeed possible… it wouldn't take much to turn Emily against her father. After all, she harbored many ill feelings for him; he could see her desiring to inflict much emotional pain upon him. She and Bunny together, for this reason, would be a catastrophic combination for Pitch. He growled lowly at the very thought of that giant rodent using his daughter like a puppet for his own selfish desires… he would not allow anyone to manipulate her, especially not HIM. Resolving to find out just what they were up to, he began to march forward towards them. Just as he was about to call out to them, the sound of an engine roaring distracted him, making him turn around to see Vanellope pull up to him.

"Hey, pal!" Vanellope chirped. "Want to go for a spin?"

Pitch blinked, glancing back at Emily and Bunny before sighing.

"I was about to have a word with my daughter…" He replied.

"Come on, you can talk to her later! She looks busy anyway. It'll be fun! You worked hard on this anyway, I'm being nice enough to at least let you enjoy it a little." Vanellope said.

Pitch groaned, rubbing his face a bit. "Oh, alright… if you insist." He replied, approaching the vehicle and climbing into the front passenger seat to sit down.

"Check out what I did with the place!" Vanellope beamed, waving her arm behind her. "Emily would appreciate it I think, I made everyone using sticks and leaves. I even made you!"

Pitch raised a brow, seeing sticks and leaves stuck to the wall, a few sharpened rocks used for his teeth. "It's fantastic, a spitting image." He replied, rolling his eyes.

"Jeez, a little thanks would be appreciated…" Vanellope said flatly. "Alright, buckle up!"

Pitch glanced down and around him. "I beg your pardon, but there seems to be no seatbelt to-"

"It's just an expression!" Vanellope laughed, Pitch crying out in surprise when they sped off through the forest. Pitch gripped the seat, his eyes wide. She weaved through the trees, doing wheelies and speed jumps whenever the hilly ground gave her opportunity.

"You're going to kill us both!" Pitch shouted, Vanellope cheering when she skidded to a stop.

"Come on, I'm an expert, remember?" She grinned.

"This is not some race track, you could get hurt driving at these speeds out here!" Pitch exclaimed, clearing his throat. "N- Not that I would care, at least I'd be rid of you!"

Vanellope blinked, smirking a bit. "Aww… you care about me!"

Pitch sputtered, crossing his arms. "That's ridiculous."

"Come on, it's written all over your face, it's clearer than the black frosting drawings you woke up with the other morning!" Vanellope giggled.

"It is NOT. And by the way, you little mischief-maker, it took me two days to finally get all of that sticky goop out of my hair!" Pitch snapped.

Vanellope cracked up, slapping her knee as she laughed. After a minute or two, her laughter settled as she smiled at him. "Listen… joking aside, it was… kind of nice what you did the other day. I asked Elsa this morning to make the braid for me again like you did."

Pitch glanced over at her, his expression softening. "Did you now?"

"Yeah… I told her to give you a break, that you're trying real hard to be nice. She said she would keep it in mind." Vanellope smirked a bit.

Pitch raised a brow, chuckling at this. He sighed, straightening up and uncrossing his arms. "Perhaps you're not such a brat after all."

Vanellope shrugged. "Maybe you're not such a big jerk face." Her smile faded a bit then. "Emily's pretty lucky…" She said suddenly.

Pitch tilted his head then. "And how is that?"

Vanellope shrugged. "She has a dad… and she had a mom once. I don't have either of those." Vanellope played with the end of her hair a bit. "See, us folks at the arcade, we aren't… 'born,' like people from the 'players' universe are. We're programmed. Sometimes we have programmed parents, I mean… it depends. I had nobody… pretty much because I am a nobody." She chuckled sadly. "I wasn't even SUPPOSED to be programmed… everyone said I was just a mistake by the programmers."

Pitch had remembered her mentioning this the other day, frowning lightly. "Each of us has a purpose in life, Vanellope; whether or not we realize it, or know the reason… whether it is for good or evil means… each of us has a place in this world."

"That would be nice..." Vanellope smiled lightly at him. "See, I told you that you cared." She smirked.

Pitch rolled his eyes. "Fine, maybe a little. Only to get back in Elsa's good graces."

"Just keep telling yourself that, big guy!" Vanellope giggled as she drove them back towards camp.

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