Opposing Forces Engaging
Meanwhile, Bunny cleared his throat as he and Emily waded through the woods, moving into a deeper part of the forest where the trees seemed to stand a bit taller, a thick fog hanging about the air and giving the atmosphere a bit more of an ominous feel to it.
"So…" Bunny started, breaking the heavy silence. "… where are we going, exactly?"
"You shall see when we arrive." Emily replied.
"Okay…" Bunny glanced back behind him. "You're not, uh… taking me out here to strand me or anything, are you?"
Emily stopped, turning around to glance back at him with a brow raised. "Bunnymund, you should know well enough by now that if I wanted to kill you, I would not place this much effort into doing so."
"Oh…" Bunny chuckled nervously, scratching behind his ear. "… thought it would be good to just check, am I right?"
Emily turned fully then, taking a step closer to him. "Bunnymund, what do you know of me?" Bunny blinked, tilting his head a bit. "Speak honestly. How do you envision me?"
"Well, um… I know about your past with Pitch and all, and your mom… and I know about how you sort of helped us in the battle of Punjam Hy Loo a long while back… you can be quite unpredictable… and you don't always do the right thing…" He winced then. "… please don't kill me, was just answering your question."
Emily raised her head a bit, maintaining her serious expression. "Why do you fear me, Bunnymund?"
"Fear you? I don't exactly fear you, it's just-"
"You do. Look at your body language. You are nearly cowering in this moment, all because I have asked a simple question." Emily took a step closer. "Bunnymund… I know I have acted in a way to evoke such a reaction in others… however, in this time we have all spent together, how I have seen my father… I no longer want all to fear me." Bunny blinked at that statement, straightening up a bit. "I think part of the reason why you fear me is because you truly do not know me. One does naturally fear the unknown, after all."
"I guess that makes sense…" Bunny answered.
"This is why I am asking you to follow me. I shall reveal to you a part of me that no other has ever seen." Emily said, turning to continue forward.
"Woah, wait, not even Sandy has seen this?" Bunny asked, smirking when she shook her head. "Boy, am I going to rub this in his face when I- okay, okay, I'm canning it!" He exclaimed, holding his hands up when Emily shot a look back at him.
After some time, they approached a thick wall of plants, smiling lightly as she closed her eyes.
"O faithful and vigilant sprigs of the Earth, part now to allow me safe passage."
Bunny blinked a bit as the thick vegetation slowly receded enough to create an opening, slowly following Emily past it. Just on the other side was water, rocks rising from the bottom to create a path forward. As he traveled upon them, he felt a potent, magical aura within this space. The large enclosure was made so with large stones when they traveled further in, each large stone containing its own intricate carving. Small islands bloomed with cherry blossom trees and other beautiful plant life, fish swimming in the water around his feet. At the end of the stepping stone path, Bunny's eyes widened a bit as they reached the end of the stream… or perhaps the beginning; a beautiful waterfall, like large steps placed so that the water cascaded down into the crystal clear pool below. As he stared at it in awe, Emily smiled lightly, turning her gaze to just ahead of them. She floated over, her feet touching down upon the soft grass as something emerged from behind a Weeping Willow. A large Elk looked upon Emily, approaching her as she held out her arms, embracing the creature gently. She pet its head, closing her eyes as she rested her head against his for a brief moment, glancing back when Bunny approached.
"This is the herald of life and new growth… my valiant mount. When it is time for the winter to retreat, he calls upon me to wake." She said to Bunny as she continued to gently pet the Elk's head. "He helped to restore me after the first great battle with the Phoenix… he is my most loyal and precious servant."
Bunny glanced around once more, clearing his throat when Emily turned to face him. "I had no idea… this is… beautiful, Em. Y- You've got everyone thinking you live in some dark and creepy forest, when… I mean, why don't we just stay here?"
"Because this place, like my heart… is sacred, and vulnerable. There are very few I allow into this place… I do not do so without careful consideration." Emily said, holding a flower in her hand to gaze upon it. "But Bunnymund… there are still many stones not taken." She waved her hand towards the stepping stones before looking upon him. "In this short time… I feel we have learned more of each other than in a thousand years… perhaps it is fate's doing that we have come to meet here… but fate merely guides us. We must decide for ourselves what path to take." She took a step back then. "You know the way now… and only you may be granted to pass it."
Bunny sighed lightly. "Em… I don't understand what this all means-"
"The heart knows what it wants." Emily interrupted. "I sense a stirring within your party. A great urge to take up the blade and fight again. It will not be easy, or swift. I cannot see farther beyond that." Emily took a step closer, her gaze unwavering. "You know I am slow to trust, Bunnymund. I have shown you the treasure I hold dear. If you wish to meet me at the crossroads… tonight is the chosen time. You shall know where to find me."
As Emily guided him back to the start of this hidden, secret place, Bunny knew then he was leaving in a different state than how he had entered. It was very rare that he was reduced to silence, but it was not just the exotic flora, the lush grass, and the breathtaking waterfall cascading into the crystal waters below that rendered him speechless.
In her own way, under the surface of her words… Emily had told him that she was ready to give her heart to him.
Him? Why him? Before this, he speculated as to whether or not Emily even HAD a heart. A terrible thing to think now, he realized, he underestimated her ability to be warm and open. But why now? What exactly had she seen in him? When had the barriers between them disappeared, exactly? Had she always been this way, slowly revealing herself, or had she truly changed within herself?
Ah, it was all a part of her unpredictability, something Bunny always knew she had.
Perhaps the answer to her choices would reveal itself in time… but confusion and self-questioning swam in his mind like the beautifully colored fish within the stream of the stepping stones as they left this magical piece of paradise behind.
The Queen groaned, sitting up a bit as she smoothed her dress down with her hands. She glanced over, raising her brow as she watched upon Turbo beside her, still curled up and sleeping.
She remembered going to him the prior evening after her discovery with the severed vine, disclosing this information to him. She didn't know why she had chosen him in particular to get this off of her chest, but he somehow had seen the discomfort in her expression, offering his quirky pep talk as a response. Perhaps it was because, despite how obnoxious he could be to her, she admired the fact that he kept her on her toes. He may not have been exactly smarter than her, in many respects, there was still much she could learn from him, something she had not expected in the beginning. He challenged her authority. He kept her heart beating with anticipation of what was to come, not dull it with the same lackluster, simplistic behaviors.
A part of her still longed for Pitch. It was not love; love was something the Queen did not act upon, for she did not truly know what it was. It was more of a desire, giving to chase, a cat and mouse game where the reward was always just out of her reach.
One thing had led to another, and they were both in over their heads. It was not love that they made that night, it was primal, it was animal, it was an instinctual need to release the tension within them. Now, the Queen was not sure who was chasing who, exactly… but she knew that the night before, they had each been caught in the snare of the other.
They would let each other go for now; allow some space between them to resume the chase. She knew at this point, Pitch was too far ahead for her to come within his grasp. Within the sanctuary of the forest, he was too beyond her reach.
For this, spite for him grew within her for the Nightmare King.
It had lessened in respect to herself, but she still felt she deserved payment for ever daring to question her own adequacy. She knew that the loss of Elsa or his daughter would be a crippling blow to him. The Queen knew for sure she wanted Elsa eliminated, but the daughter… she knew nothing of her, how to act in regards to her that would result in the most benefit. She heard a stirring beside her then, glancing over at Turbo once again as he sat up, stretching his arms and yawning loudly. She rolled her eyes at this, her dress rustling a bit as she moved to stand up.
"Hey… where're you going so soon? Stay a while and chill." Turbo mumbled sleepily.
"There is work to be done." The Queen adjusted herself, dusting herself off as she walked over to her supplies. "You and I both have idled for too long, we still have adversaries to destroy."
Turbo groaned, rubbing his face as he stretched out his back. "Didn't I tell you that you need to learn to just relax?" He jumped a bit when his cybugs suddenly emerged from their hiding places, chirping, clicking and trying to cling to him in a snuggle. "Oh, come ooooon! Can't you little things live without me for one night?!"
The Queen was silently thankful that the cybugs distracted the cybrid; as much as she appreciated the stress reliever he had helped to provide to her the previous night, what would relieve her more would be to witness the death of those she despised most. Her blood hunger slowly returned, a renewed vigor driving her to plan and prepare once more with an air of confidence.
Before she could think any further, she glanced up as she heard footsteps approaching. She stood up a bit straighter as Hans walked up to her, bowing his head lightly.
"Your highness, there is someone here to see you. She had come to us last night but she was extremely fatigued from distress… she was kept under strict watch by Maharaja's soldiers." Hans said.
The Queen narrowed her eyes warily, having a suspicion of who it was, having forgotten about her little nightly ritual. "Ah, yes… take me to her." Hans nodded, the Queen following him to where the visitor was being kept. "I must also mention… you did very well with the discovery of the vine. My observations resulted in some very important discoveries. You shall be rewarded greatly for your efforts."
Hans briefly nodded to her, smiling confidently. "I will do what I can to assist you." He said, pride swelling inside of him. Whatever he had to do, he would do it to make sure that at the end of all this, he would come out on top.
When they reached Maharaja's area, the Queen tilted her head when inside one of the small huts, guarded by several of his minions. Eliza sat inside, crying lightly. She waved her hand, dismissing the minions and entering the small hut.
"Eliza, my dear… I am so sorry I was unable to meet you last night. I do hope you can forgive me." The Queen said. "Fear not, our terms still stand."
Eliza shook her head, wiping her eyes. "It isn't that… you were right… about everything… they've all turned against me, they all want to harm me."
The Queen's eyes widened… she had expected Eliza to be the one awaiting her, but she never expected this to be her message to bear. Sitting up a bit straighter, her intrigue peaked. "What do you mean, my dear?"
"The boy I had affections for… he's forsaken me. They want to keep me locked away… they see me as nothing but a burden, just like mother and father had… I didn't want them to send me away, I don't want to be alone again, I don't want my mind to be twisted again!" Eliza cried. "I don't know who to believe anymore! Please… ease my torment…"
The Queen slowly smirked darkly, softening her expression after a few moments to hold her arms out. "Oh, dear child… that's awful… how could they ever treat you in such a manner? Come, I shall comfort you."
Eliza whimpered lightly, wiping her eyes as she slowly walked over, allowing herself to be hugged lightly by the Queen. "You may find solace here… none shall harm you here. Poor dear… how distressed you must be. Come, I shall provide a comfortable space for you."
The Queen led Eliza deeper into the mountain, waving her hand so that a large curtained bed, furniture, and a small table with all sorts of sweets appeared. Eliza widened her eyes a bit, stepping forward to look at everything. As she did so, the Queen quietly called Hans over, whispering lightly to him. Hans nodded to her, the two approaching her.
"Thank you for all of this…" Eliza spoke quietly. "… when shall I try to write again?"
The Queen tilted her head, ushering Hans forward. "What a remarkable child… after all that Alice has done to afflict you, you still remain loyal to her. If only I had such a person in my life. Hans here shall assist you with anything you need."
"Well…" Eliza glanced to the side. "… she still took care of me for years…"
"Past care does not excuse present abuse. You may do what you wish, but you must remember who has provided for you in your worst times." The Queen said. "The decision is yours… to show that I am willing to extend my trust to you before asking for yours in return. Speak the words, and I shall end this war. I shall dismiss all my forces, and allow Alice to live in peace." She ignored Hans shooting her a surprised look. "I leave the choice entirely to you, I shall obey what you decide."
Eliza cleared her throat. "W- Well, I think-"
"Shh… do not be so hasty. Allow time for rationality to become clear to you." The Queen waved her hand, opening it to produce a tart. "Have this. It shall help you as you proceed with your consideration." She smiled darkly as Eliza took the small pastry. "We shall leave you to your own, you may seek us out once you have made up your mind." The Queen said, Hans following her as she took her leave.
"Your grace, you are leaving the fate of this war in the hands of a child who has not even sworn loyalty to you?" Hans asked.
"Do you not remember when you consumed one of my tarts when I sought you out in the Southern Isles, Hans?" The Queen asked. "These are no ordinary pastries. They act upon the hatred and resentment in one's heart… it provides them with a means to act upon that hatred. It exaggerates that and envelops the heart in it. For you, you are grown; you still have some control over its effects to a degree because your mind is fully formed. But for a child… all it takes is a small mental scar… a pinch of that hatred and resentment, just enough to completely consume her. Her indecisiveness shall be whisked away, and one bite of that tart shall allow corruption to be inevitable. The control in her life and over her misery that she so desires shall be translated into tangible form with her mental transformation." The Queen chuckled darkly, Hans raising his brows as he was more than impressed with the Queen's move. "I said previously that she is the key to our progression in this conflict… and now, the key shall finally be ours to hold."
Back in Eliza's space, about half of the tart lay on the floor, Eliza curled up in a fetal position not far from it. She began to writhe, whimpering and gasping for air as she began to cry out lightly. She felt a burning within her, her mind screaming as everything she ever loved about Alice, Jack and her other friends was the fuel being burned to ignite her mind's metamorphosis.
The Queen called upon all to gather for a meeting to discuss their next course of action. When they all gathered, the Phoenix narrowed his eyes, his flames letting off a dull glow.
"When shall we attack?" He asked.
"There shall be a series of fronts we shall cover over the course of the next several days. The absence of the child must not reach Alice and her comrades in the forest. They are isolated and unaware of the happenings in Arendelle, and they must remain so." The Queen said.
"Bükh ulmaas khuvid, okhin ni bidend asar ikh ersdeltei! Ted end tüünii derged ni khariu arga khemjee avakh bolno!" Maharaja exclaimed.
"Fear not, Maharaja, for as you shall all soon see, the rewards of the child's presence among us shall outweigh the risks. It should only be a short time now…" The Queen said.
As they continued their discussions, Hans turned when he heard something. When he saw the source of the noise lingering some distance behind them, he briefly whispered to the Queen, nodding to him as he excused himself briefly. The Queen and those in her party watched as Hans returned, helping Eliza out to them as she staggered a bit. Her hair hung in her face, wheezing lightly as she was brought to them. The Queen smirked lightly, taking a step forward to take her hands.
"I have made my decision." Eliza said quietly.
"My dear, you have not rested for barely an hour… perhaps you need more time." The Queen said.
"I need no more time." Eliza responded. "I want to see the parchment."
The Queen raised a brow, waving her hand to produce the parchment as requested. Saying nothing, she watched Eliza take it into her hands, gazing over it. As her hands began to shake violently, she gasped as she breathed unevenly, the piece of paper levitating from her hands as it floated over to a flame burning amongst the group of the Queen's allies. Eliza lifted her head, her now eyes crimson like blood as her brow twisted with rage. As the parchment burned, her breathing remained shaky as the Queen gazed upon her triumphantly; the transformation of the child had both captivated and stunned the collective.
"Nice…" Turbo whispered.
"I choose for there to be no peace… no mercy… no end to their suffering… all they have done against us shall be done to them ten times over!" Eliza lifted her head more, pure hatred and vengeance in her expression. "Alice and her influence will fall!"
As Maharaja's minions all cheered, the Queen's grin grew, she waved her hand to produce a red crown, one commonly seen on that of a chess piece. She approached Eliza, holding it above her head.
"You shall reap all the glories and riches of this war, child… and you shall take the throne in its wake. Their spilt blood shall be your crown; may it serve as the foundation for the empire at your feet." The Queen said, placing the crown on Eliza's head. "In misery and despair, may all who come to fear you come to call you by your new name…" The Queen turned, gesturing her hand towards Eliza. "All give praise to the Red Queen!" Maharaja shouted to his minions, all of them, the Queen's card guards, Hans, even the Phoenix bowed. Turbo even did so to save face. As they hailed her, Eliza looked around, a twisted grin slowly working its way into her features. As the Queen looked upon the flawless product of her manipulation and corruption, she knew in her mind that there was nothing stopping her from beginning her conquest in earnest. "Card guards! The first step must be taken. Gather yourselves to march into Arendelle. Slaughter any who resist your subjugation. Remove any means of escape for those within the castle… they shall be trapped within their own fortress." She glanced at Hans, motioning him over. "Hans shall be the one to lead you." She turned to Maharaja then. "Your satisfaction shall begin now. I hope you still have proficiency in the hunt… the child shall lead you to your prey."
Maharaja nodded, chuckling darkly as he glanced over to Eliza. Any doubt he had towards her had quickly dissipated, and he could almost taste the blood of the offspring of the last woman of flight upon his lips.
Gustav sighed lightly, turning over one of Eliza's rings in his hand. Olaf sat beside him, both wearing somber expressions.
"I'm such an idiot…" Gustav cursed himself quietly, shaking his head as he grabbed his helmet. He took it off his head, tossing it so it clattered on the floor. "I'm not a Viking… I'm a disappointment. I let down the one person who ever saw me as anything worthwhile."
Olaf glanced up at the young boy, patting his arm with his stick hand. "We all make mistakes sometimes… even when we don't mean to. When we find Eliza, we can tell her how much we care, and she'll have to feel better." He smiled lightly.
Gustav had to admit; for a pile of talking snow, Olaf sure was optimistic. Maybe they all needed it in this dark time. "I hope she can believe that." He said, his fingertips gracing over his lips for a brief moment. "I never thought anyone would like me that much… let alone a girl like her. I blew it…" He sighed. "If anything happens to her now, it's my fault."
As Kristoff shook the snow globe again, he sighed, biting his lip. He didn't understand why it wasn't working as Rapunzel placed a comforting arm around a distraught Anna. Hiccup sat in a chair, bend forward with his forehead resting on his hands. Merida paced around tensely, unable to remain still. They had all searched the entire palace area, finally resorting to try to use a snow globe to risk leaving the safety of the castle to get to wherever Eliza was. For some reason, however, the snow globe was not taking them to her, as if she didn't exist.
"I just don't get it…" Kristoff finally said in a defeated tone. "Why isn't it doing anything?"
"Because there's only one explanation…" Anna said shakily, beginning to sob. "She's dead…"
"Don't ye dare say that!" Merida shouted, taking out a knife and flinging at the wall in her frustration. As it embedded into the door frame, Eugene was walking in, screaming like a girl as the knife barely missed him. He held his hands up defensively, breathing quickly.
"Jeez, what did I do?!" Eugene cried.
"Sorry lad, just feeling edgy at the moment…" Merida sighed. "… any sign of her?"
"No… I took Maximus into the local towns after Gustav got back… not a trace of her." Eugene replied.
Hiccup finally lifted his head, wiping his eyes briefly. "We failed her. All of us. We failed Eliza, and we failed Alice and the other guardians. Everything we worked to try to protect has been lost. We cannot stop for a second until we find her."
Eugene was about to say something when they all stopped, hearing something. Even within the thick walls of the palace, they heard a sudden swell of commotion outside. Not hesitating, Merida took out her bow and arrow, glancing back at Kristoff. "Get Anna and Rapunzel to safety. That doesn't sound good." She said.
"Let me come with you, I can manage anything dangerous." Rapunzel said, going to the kitchen wall nearby and taking a frying pan into her hands.
"Trust me, she's an expert fighter with that thing." Eugene said when Merida raised a brow.
Just then, the doors burst open, one of Arendelle's royal guards rushing in.
"Princess Anna! Horrible skeleton creatures have launched an attack on the city! They are being led by-"
The window broke then, glass shattering everywhere as Hans flew inside on his flying card. Pandemonium ensued in a moment as he narrowed his eyes, extending his hands to shoot out blasts of fire at anyone within his range. The attack was so sudden, they were all taken off guard as the Queen's card army burst in through all the doors. They had fought through Arendelle's entire primary force, leaving the palace vulnerable.
"Oh, I remember you lads!" Merida shouted, Hiccup joining her side as they both took to fighting off the assault with their swords. Eugene grabbed his own sword, grimacing.
"What in the hell ARE these things?!" Eugene shouted, wincing as he managed to slaughter one.
"They're the offspring of a giant she-devil, that's what!" Merida shouted, grunting as she sliced through another card guard.
Rapunzel gasped, two on either side of her as she glanced back and forth. As they both charged at her, she bit her lip as she dove out of the way at the last moment. A third came towards her as the first two impaled each other, Rapunzel ducking under their spears to hit it in the knee with her frying pan, the creature hissing as he fell. She then stepped forward, whacking it upside the head and knocking it out.
"Still got it, Rapunzel…" She said to herself.
Outside in the stables, Arendelle's horses, along with Angus and Maximus, neighed and shrieked fearfully as card guards poked them with their spears to subdue them. As they were about to be impaled, Toothless jumped in, defending the horses. Fanghook joined him soon after, helping to allow the horses and Sven to flee to safety. He then chirped to Fanghook, motioning to the castle. The Monstrous Nightmare grunted, taking to flight towards the palace.
Gustav and Olaf jumped when they heard commotion from downstairs, the two peeking out the bedroom door and gasping when they saw several card guards make their way up the stairs, hissing to each other as they began to search up and down the corridor. As they watched, Baby Tooth suddenly appeared, carrying Pascal in her small arms. She squeaked frantically, the small chameleon sick with worry as well for his friends downstairs. Despite Gustav holding his finger to his lips to shush them, it was too late as one of the card guards whirled in their direction, growling as he motioned the other card guards to follow him.
"Great, it saw us!" Gustav cried. "Come on!"
The young Viking hoisted Olaf onto his back, carrying him as he sprinted down the hall. As the card guards gained up on him, he skidded to a stop, dashing into Hiccup and Merida's bedroom. He slammed and locked the door, stepping back as the card guards began to pound heavily on it. Biting his lip, he glanced out the window as he tried to find a way out of their jam.
"Looks like they're everywhere down there…" Olaf said worriedly.
"Okay, okay, um… there's got to be something…" Gustav bit his lip, rummaging around the room. "Sorry Hiccup, but we're a bit desperate here…" He said to himself as he rummaged through the elder Viking's belongings. When he heard Baby Tooth squeaking, he glanced back, the little fairy holding up a pair of necklaces, each containing a crystal. It was the necklaces that North had given to Hiccup and Merida after the fall of Bumby, so that they may access the workshop from anywhere. Gustav blinked, getting to his feet and inspecting the objects. "Can these get us out of here?" He asked, Baby Tooth nodding. "Okay, um… you, stay on my shoulder." He said to Pascal, scooping the chameleon up and placing him on his left shoulder.
"Hey, Gustav?" Olaf called.
"What?" Gustav answered, gathering some weapons lying about the room.
"Um, I think we should close this window…" Olaf said, glancing back and pointing down.
Gustav strode over, glancing out to see that card guards were beginning to climb up the side of the castle wall towards them.
"Oh for the love of Odin's ghost!" Gustav cried. "Okay, Olaf, we need to find stuff to barricade the window with, and-"
Just then, a loud roar was heard, a loud boom heard as Gustav shielded his eyes. Fire and smoke erupted from below the window for a moment, the boy gasping and smiling when he saw who was outside when the smoke cleared.
"Fanghook!" He cried, running up to the window. "Boy, am I glad to see you, pal! Come on, we've got to get out of here!"
Just as this was said, the card guards in the hall managed to force the bedroom door open, hissing as they made their way in. Gustav gulped, panicking as he quickly grabbed Olaf and hoisted him onto Fanghook. Baby Tooth fluttered about outside worriedly, breathing a sigh of relief as Gustav managed to climb out before the card guards could get to him. As they began to throw their spears, Gustav cried out, just barely making an escape as the spears whizzed past them.
"Where are we going to go? And what about Anna and Kristoff and our friends?" Olaf frowned.
"We'll have to come back for them! And I don't know how these things work, but… we'll have to figure out something once we get somewhere safe!" Gustav cried, gasping when the necklaces around his and Olaf's necks began to glow. Moments later, a portal opened, Fanghook flying into it. When they emerged, they found themselves in the tundra, flying towards North's workshop. "Well, that looks decent enough!" He shouted, Baby Tooth smiling and pointing towards it.