The Kingdoms of Fallen Stars

Encountering Painful Losses

The Queen shrieked loudly, slamming her fist down and nearly breaking the large flat rock in her area in two. One of her card guards managed to use an emergency snow globe she had given them to report the ambush on them.

"You mean to tell me that your enormous numbers cannot manage to control a small group of prisoners?! They are all mortal, even!" The Queen screamed as the card guard grumbled lowly to communicate with her. "I do not care if there were a thousand dragons there! Now I must expend unnecessary energy to conjure the Executioner to post him there! Make sure that he, and all of you, slaughter anything that moves!" The card guard grumbled to her again. "Yes! Discriminate not who they are, if you see them, spill their blood! I want Arendelle to lie in ruins! You allowed the prisoners to escape, so make sure they have nothing to return to!" She gasped lightly then, groaning as she hunched forward a bit, her fists clenching. "… I am well, I assure you. Just do as I command so that I may not succumb to any ailments!" She exhaled sharply, closing her eyes tightly as the card guard went on its way. After taking a few moments to regain her composure, she reopened her eyes. She made her way slowly to Maharaja's area in the mountain, approaching the cage where Tooth was being held captive.

The poor creature had been through hell and back in the past day; though her fairies tried to continue their jobs from North's workshop after having been relocated, without her expertise and direction, they just could not keep up with the workload as well as normal. That, with the surmountable burden upon them and low morale, was taking a toll on their strength as well as hers. This, let alone the fact that Tooth had endured such harsh abuse, reduced her to curling up in a fetal position at the bottom of the cage. She glanced down, her tear stained face looking upon the feathers lying on the ground below her that had fallen. Some were charred, the electrical shocks having left painful burn marks and exposing her skin from the burnt feathers that fell away.

As the Queen approached, Tooth's eyes slowly looked over at her as she breathed wheezily. The Queen stared at her emotionlessly for a moment before turning her attention to the minions guarding her cage.

"Bid khagas üüldriin Gichii yamar ch aztai baisan shüü dee." One said.

"Ter evdekh khetsüü baikh yum." The other added.

"Indeed…" The Queen raised a brow. "She shall be difficult to break." She turned back to face Tooth, approaching the cage so that she was a mere inch from the bars. "I must admit, I admire your resilience." She tilted her head. "However, you should know by now that it shall not save you. You shall die, fairy. This is for certain. It is the manner in which you shall die that will vary depending on your actions. Give me the answers I seek, and you shall be provided better conditions of living up until I allow Maharaja to take your life as promised. Against his wishes, I shall provide those humane means for you if you so choose to cooperate. If you choose otherwise… you shall suffer to your last breath."

Tooth slowly and shakily sat up, groaning in pain as she did so. Her wings hung limply against her back, her breath shaky as she gripped the bars to help her remain somewhat upright. Her whole body trembled, her eyes staring intensely into the Queen's as she managed a weak scowl.

"The guardians… and their friends… are my family." She took in a sharp breath. "My mother and father… died to save me. The guardians… sacrificed everything to save me. I'm going to do the same for them. I don't care how badly you hurt me… or if I die… I will do everything I can… to protect them. I'm not afraid to take it… if they are saved in the end."

The Queen's expression hardened, her eyes burning with anger. "Let me assure you of one thing, fairy. They shall not. They shall suffer by my hand as you are. All your endurance shall have been for nothing. Your sacrifice shall be done in vain. Everything that Alice Liddell ever loved, everything she touches…" She reached over, taking one of the electric poles from the monkey minion nearest her. "… shall turn to ashes and dust!" She gritted her teeth, jabbing the pole forward to pin Tooth against the back end of the cage. As the prongs embedded into her skin just above her collar bones, she emitted a strained scream as the Queen send another wave of electric shocks from the pole. As Tooth tried to force the prongs off of her, she only burned her hands in the process, the Queen maintaining this for over a minute before yanking the pole back, Tooth falling forward in the small space and knocking her head against one of the bars. Falling unconscious, but still alive, the poor Fairy bled slightly from her collarbones and the corner of her lip. The Queen grimaced as she handed the minion the pole back, dusting her hands on her dress. "I have no patience for her insolence in this moment." She growled, staring at her darkly.

Just then, Hans approached, glancing over to see Tooth's condition and smirking for a brief moment. He then resumed turning his attention to the Queen, clearing his throat to garner hers. She broke her glare upon Tooth to regard him, briefly telling the minions to continue to monitor her.

"Your highness, forgive me for interrupting." Hans said.

"What news do you bring?" The Queen asked.

"There is a visitor here who wishes to see you." Hans answered.

The Queen narrowed her eyes warily, pursing her lips. "Who is it?"

Moments later, the Queen moved quickly as she followed Hans, her breath hitching as she turned the corner to see who was standing, waiting to meet with her. A grin slowly spread across her face, her heart skipping a beat.

"I'll leave you both to your discussion." Hans said, giving the Queen a light bow before taking his leave.

The Queen slowly approached the visitor, looking them up and down as she smirked. "My… you are certainly a breath of fresh air. It's about time you've come to visit your old friend… Pitch Black."

The Nightmare King's expression remained serious, exhaling slowly. "I appreciate the sentiment."

"We have much to catch up on." The Queen said as she waved her hand, a table and a pair of chairs appearing a few feet from them. "Come, let's have a nice chat over some tea, shall we?"

"Very well." Pitch answered as he followed her over to the table, sitting down as she poured them each a glass.

As their meeting began, Turbo watched silently from the shadows, narrowing his eyes. "I don't like this guy." He said to himself. "He's up to something."

"Do not interfere."

Turbo jumped in surprise, putting a hand over his chest. "Jeez, pal, are you trying to give me a 'game over?'" He snapped.

"He has considered himself an enemy of us." The Phoenix spoke, his glow brightening a bit now that his presence was known to the cybrid. "For him to have the nerve to come here, alone, he has his own intentions he wishes to have fulfilled. From what Maharaja has disclosed to me, he envelops a very sinister nature- or rather, it has enveloped him."

Turbo curled his lip. "Yeah, well… I still don't like him." He crossed his arms.

The Queen took a sip of her tea, placing her cup down in its saucer. "So… what brings you to my humble new home?" She asked. "You age like wine, my dear; you grow more handsome by the day."

"I'll be blunt with you." Pitch replied, straightening up in his chair. "I did not come here to prattle about what's occurring in our lives. I'm well aware of what you are doing and you are well aware of what I'm doing. Let us not diverge from what's really going on. I know what you want."

The Queen leaned back in her chair a bit, tapping her cheek with her finger. "Do you now…? However, I believe the more important question is, what do YOU want, Pitch? If you wanted nothing, you would not have come here."

"Obviously. I have come to make a proposition with you." Pitch answered.

"Ah… I'm honored." The Queen chuckled, licking her lips. "What is it that you seek assistance with, and what shall you offer for that assistance?"

Pitch was silent for a moment before responding. "I know that you're desperate. You cannot truly advance so as long as your enemies remain within the safety and protection of the forest. You need a way in, and without my help, I can tell you now that you won't."

The Queen clicked her tongue, pursing her lips as she feigned hurt. "What a sting that leaves, Pitch. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the offer…"

"I'm not quite finished." Pitch said. "I am making you aware that the nymph within the forest is someone dear to me. You are not to harm her, and you will do as little damage as possible. The second portion of my offer is I shall offer Alice no protection. She is yours to do what you will."

The Queen raised a brow. "You are readily willing to betray her?"

"Yes." Pitch said.

"And Elsa?" The Queen asked.

"You shall not touch her. I do not care what you do with Alice and the other guardians, but Elsa shall not be harmed." Pitch said firmly, making himself very clear. "That leads to my request."

"Hm… it will be difficult to restrain myself… perhaps if I make her watch that Jack Frost lose his life before I take hers… she shall suffer all the more and it shall bring me more satisfaction. I suppose I can work with that… now, what is it that you seek from me?" The Queen asked.

Pitch leaned forward a bit. "All of that I will promise you if you end the life of Bunnymund. Make sure he suffers as much as possible."

The Queen raised a brow, intrigued by this. "The life sized rabbit…? I'm curious to know what makes you suddenly despise him so?"

"I have always despised him… I simply have a new reason to do so, one I cannot tolerate. His life must be ended. If you can guarantee that… then I will provide you with what you need for safe passage into the forest." Pitch said.

The Queen took another sip of her tea, pondering for a moment. "With Alice and the guardians gone, my life would be easier… even if I do decide to allow Elsa to live." She exhaled deeply. "Very well. I shall agree to your terms, I find them well worthwhile."

"Just remember… no harm shall be done whatsoever to the nymph or Elsa." Pitch reminded.

"I shall not harm a single hair on their head." The Queen assured.

"And tell the other members of your party to do the same." Pitch added.

"Absolutely." The Queen extended her hand. "So… do we have a deal?"

"We do." Pitch answered, extending his hand to awkwardly shake the Queen's large one. When they ended their hand shake, Pitch formed a sharp blade from his sand, the Queen producing bottle. He sliced a cut across his wrist, his black blood dripping into the bottle. "Expose the blood to the trees at the edge of the forest. Once you are able to enter, the forest shall offer no other resistance."

"You see how well we work together? I miss this, Pitch… I do hope you can join me in a more wholesome manner someday… I would be quite pleased." The Queen said.

"Let's not become too hopeful, your highness." Pitch said, rising from his seat. "They will notice my absence. I must head back. Remember the terms to our agreement."

"Of course." The Queen smiled. "And Pitch?"

"Yes?" Pitch turned halfway around.

"… it's always a pleasure." The Queen's smile grew.

Pitch nodded, striding quickly as he made his way out of the mountain. As he did so, he slowed for a moment when out of his peripheral vision, he saw vibrant color. He looked over, gazing upon a cage hanging from the wall containing an unconscious Tooth. He looked behind him when he heard the sound of low chuckling, Maharaja sneering arrogantly. Pitch merely raised a brow and gave him the smallest of nods before continuing on his way out.

When Pitch was gone, the Queen glanced over as the Phoenix approached at her right side.

"You do realize that a part of the terms between you and I conflict with the terms you made with him… do you not?" He asked, narrowing his illuminated eyes.

"At first, it would seem so." The Queen smirked. "Pitch specifically asked me to tell you to do the nymph no harm… however, it does not mean I will stop you If you decide to do otherwise." As the Phoenix puffed its chest out triumphantly, the Queen grinned darkly, holding up the small bottle of Pitch's blood as she chuckled.

Inside a small shack Kristoff had in the forest of Arendelle, he, Eugene, Anna, Rapunzel and Gustav huddled around a fire as night fell over the land. In the distance, they could hear people screaming and absconding, the sound of the Executioner's roar filling the air. This made them all shudder, Rapunzel rubbing Anna's back as she began to cry quietly. Kristoff took her hand in his, giving it a squeeze before she hugged him from the side, resting her face against his chest. They had been quiet for some time, Gustav finally breaking the silence.

"I'm glad North is okay." He said.

"Me too." Kristoff replied.

"Why didn't he let us come with him to secure the horses and Sven?" Eugene asked.

"He said something about not wanting too many people there right away. He was pretty vague. I wish he would bring us back though, it's getting cold and the last thing we need is to freeze out here." Kristoff said.

"Imagine how all those poor people feel, Kristoff…" Anna's voice cracked. "Being driven out of their homes… having to flee from Arendelle."

Feeling bad, Kristoff bit his lip. "Sorry… I didn't mean to sound insensitive."

Just then, they all looked over as a portal emerged near them, North stepping out of it and approaching them. He sighed, clearing his throat.

"You look exhausted…" Rapunzel said. "I can help with those cuts when we arrive. I want to thank you for all you've done to help us."

North gave her a small nod, lightly waving his hand towards the portal. "I need to tell you all something when we get back. After that, you may settle in and make yourself at home."

They all made their way through the portal, which closed up after they all arrived. When they did, Rapunzel smiled when she heard a small squeaking sound.

"Pascal!" She exclaimed quietly, going over to scoop him up. "I missed you."

She glanced back when North clearing his throat got her attention, the group standing near the dining table. He exhaled slowly, hanging his head a bit.

"Hey, um… I was wondering, did Hiccup and Merida get here before us?" Gustav asked.

"Yes, they are both here." North replied. "I have grave news. Wick, he has some healing powers much like you, Rapunzel. He tried everything, he really did." He paused, remaining strong as he maintained his composure. "… I am sorry to tell you all that despite her strength and valor, Merida has left us."

Everyone was stunned into silence upon hearing these words, Anna covering her mouth. Kristoff pulled out a chair, sitting in it as he held his head in his hands. After about a minute, Rapunzel was the first to break the silence.

"Where are they?" She asked, her voice cracking.

"Hiccup wishes to remain alone with her for now. They are up there where bedrooms are. Tread quietly and try not to disturb him." North replied.

Kristoff shook his head. "What do we do now…? Arendelle is overrun, Merida…" He exhaled sharply. "We have no idea what's going on with the others…"

"We are moving through very dark times, but we must maintain hope now, Kristoff." North answered.

As North bid them all a quiet goodnight and retreated into his office, everyone solemnly made their way up the stairs to settle into their bedrooms. As Gustav was halfway up the stairs, he glanced back to hear Maximus, Sven, Toothless and even Fanghook trying to comfort a mourning Angus. The black and white horse snorted sadly, lightly nudging at Merida's weaponry as he whined softly.

Gustav turned around, continuing up the stairs as he slung his satchel on his shoulder. As he headed towards one of the vacant bedrooms, he stopped when he heard quiet sobbing behind the door he had just passed. He bit his lip, opening the door a crack to see Hiccup's back to him, bent over the bedside over Merida. She was lying still, serene, and Gustav's heart sank more. Despite North's words, he went against them as he placed his satchel down in the hallway, slowly entering the room. He stopped a few feet from Hiccup, pausing for a moment.

He remembered the day that Stoick had passed back in Berk. It was a dreadful day, the entire tribe overwhelmed with sadness. He remembered that Hiccup and Valka, of course, were the most grim, the Viking blaming himself for his father's death, feeling he could have done more to prevent it. Now, he was grappling with this feeling again, only tenfold. Gustav took a step forward, remembering how many Vikings had laid their helmets down for Stoick's honor, forging new ones to replace the old as a symbol of a great era past, a tradition of respect for past chiefs or members of the tribe.

Hiccup glanced over when he felt someone next to him, blinking tears out of his eyes as he watched Gustav remove his helmet, placing it near Merida. There was a silence between them for several minutes before Gustav finally spoke.

"I'm sorry, Hiccup." His voice cracked a bit.

Hiccup nodded, his throat tightening as he lightly pat Gustav's shoulder with his right hand. A few more minutes elapsed between them before Hiccup finally found the will to speak.

"I'm proud of you, Gustav." Hiccup cleared his throat.

The young Viking bit his lip, shaking his head. "But I failed, Hiccup. I didn't come back for you guys in time to save Merida."

"You didn't fail, Gustav. You did everything you could... I will never forget that. That's what a true Viking does." Hiccup answered.

"I know... it's just... Merida-"

"-would also be proud... of what you did." Hiccup assured, giving his shoulder a light squeeze.

"... thanks, Hiccup." Gustav smiled for a brief moment, fading as quickly as it had come.

Hiccup sighed shakily, taking Merida's cold hand in his to gently massage her fingers with his thumbs. "It's funny... her whole life, she dreaded the thought of marriage." The smallest of smiles graced his features. "Then all of a sudden, when I proposed... it was like everything changed. The more time passed after I forged this for her..." His thumb lightly brushed over her engagement ring. "... the more eager she became. Whenever we were alone, she would ask questions; when I answered she would pretend to have already known it." More tears ran down his cheeks as he smiled lightly through them. "When she thought no one was around, I would catch her counting down the days until we were going to marry." He exhaled a small chuckle, wiping his eyes. "Around everyone else, she always tried to be so strong, but she wasn't afraid to let herself be vulnerable with me. She wasn't afraid because she knew that I realized how strong she was. That I would protect-..." He choked up then, bowing his head as he rested his forehead against her hand. Gustav inhaled sharply as tears began to escape from his own eyes, the young Viking hugging Hiccup from the side in an effort to offer him support. In that moment, Hiccup finally broke down completely, silently appreciating the much needed comfort from the young Viking. After all the loss and the hardship he endured in his life, he knew for sure that this overwhelming grief would be the greatest and most difficult obstacle he would have to overcome.

As North sat silently in his office, he exhaled deeply as he wiped a stray tear from his eye. He had told Wick to rest for the night, having exhausted himself from trying to save Merida. He furrowed his brows when he began to hear light, incoherent and airy whispering. He lifted his head, looking around in an attempt to find the source of the sound. He pursed his lips, getting up from his seat to rummage around the room. After some time, he began to grow impatient, starting to toss books and other small items despite his normally organized mannerisms. He finally came across a small, wooden box with an ancient encryption carved into the top, narrowing his eyes as he tilted his head. He slowly took the box into his hands, taking a few minutes to open the intricate and complex lock. When he opened it, a soft, green glow illuminated his face, his eyes widening.

"Rimsky-Korsikov... can it be...?" He breathed, closing the lid and looking around with a renewed energy. "Elves! Elves, come now! Quickly!" He shouted, quickly flying the door open and striding out.

He realized in that moment, the hope he told the others to keep believing in may have just presented itself.

"Hey... are you going to sleep?" Ralph asked, he and Vanellope having spent some time together after the day's stressful events. Elsa had requested to have some time to herself, so Vanellope appreciated some time with her larger friend.

"Nah... I'm not that tired yet." Vanellope smiled. "You go on ahead."

"Okay." Ralph smiled. "Hey... you know, when we get back to the arcade, maybe we'll be welcomed back as heroes."

"I doubt it..." Vanellope sighed. "Even when we do, and even though King Candy will be gone... who's to say that the racers still won't hate me?"

Ralph frowned at this. Deep down, he had an inkling that Vanellope was more important than everyone had let on, and even more so than even she had realized. To be on a decal cabinet, it was known by all video game characters that this represented a character of either great importance, if not the game's protagonist. He had not told her what he had seen back in the arcade, not wanting to give the child false hope. As Vanellope heaved a sigh, Ralph crouched down, smiling as he tried to evoke optimism.

"Hey, come on... without that stupid airhead getting on your case every five minutes, those racers will regret ever treating you badly. You'll blow them all out of the taffy swamp, I know it." Ralph snickered when Vanellope playfully rolled her eyes.

"Trying to use Sugar Rush words now, huh? I think you've been eating too much candy." She laughed. "But... thanks Ralph. I wouldn't be able to do it without you."

"You got it, kiddo." He nodded. "Don't stay up too late, okay? Give a shout out if you need me." Ralph said before heading over to his shelter to get some rest.

As Vanellope sat and looked up at the stars through the tree tops, she giggled when a pair of hands suddenly covered her eyes. "Sandy!" She piped, the dream guardian laughing inaudibly as he floated over to sit next to her. He waved his finger at her, telling her it was past her bedtime. "Come on! I might be a kid but I'm not some big baby! I finally don't have some big doodie head telling me what to do every three seconds, I want to enjoy some freedom."

Sandy frowned a bit, rubbing his chin as he pondered. A light bulb appeared over his head as he noticed her looking up at the stars, tapping her shoulder lightly. She glanced at him as he pointed up at them, concentrating as he used his finger to trace sand lines, making out the constellations and using his sand pictures to tell her what each one symbolized. Vanellope's eyes widened, letting her head fall back to get a better look at the stars behind her.

"Wow... that's so cool! It's like the sky can draw pictures and tell stories! I had no idea stars could do that..." She said, staring up in awe and trying to redraw the pictures with her hands. Just then, when Vanellope tumbled back off the log, she noticed Pitch approaching when she shook her head. She got to her feet, dusting herself off. "Hey! Where have you been all day? You're supposed to let me know when you want to play hide and seek, silly!" Vanellope snickered.

Pitch halted, noticing that Sandy was there. He had wanted to speak to Vanellope, but hesitated upon learning she wasn't alone. Upon seeing Sandy, he remembered what he had witnessed back in the mountain, Tooth in captivity and her deteriorating condition. He exhaled lightly, knowing that there was no way he could tell him this, otherwise they would have known he was there. If he was cursed for it later, hated, then so be it. In his mind, he knew that it had to be done.

"When you have a moment, I need to discuss something with you privately." Pitch said to her.

Sandy blinked, waving his hands and communicating that he would leave them alone. He was well aware of the somewhat developed friendship between them, knowing that there were several who would get on Pitch's case if he betrayed that trust. He bid them both goodnight, leaving Pitch and Vanellope to themselves.

"So, heard you had a rough day today, pal." Vanellope started, Pitch exhaling sharply.

"That is not what I came here to discuss." He replied.

"Okay, okay, just lending you an ear." Vanellope said. "Would a nice drive around the woods help?"

Pitch shook his head, appreciating the gesture deep down. "No, thank you. The last thing I need is for my heart to beat out of my chest."

Vanellope laughed. "Come on, you know it's fun!"

Pitch couldn't help but chuckle lightly at her spirit. He then sighed, knowing he had more serious matters to take care of. "I am here to tell you something very important. You may only disclose what I tell you to and whom I tell you to. It's critical that you understand this before I proceed."

Vanellope's smile faded a bit. "What do you mean? What's going on?"

"Just promise me you will do what I ask. Understand I am telling you this for your benefit." Pitch said firmly.

"Okay... fine. What've you got?" Vanellope asked.

Pitch exhaled slowly before continuing. "Listen very carefully to me now. I need you to take Ralph and Elsa to the far eastern end of the forest. Once you pass through a long, wide path, you shall find a small cave to take up shelter. Go there, and remain there until the day's end tomorrow."

"Wait, what? You... are you saying we have to leave? You don't want us here anymore?" Vanellope furrowed her brows, crossing her arms.

"No Vanellope, I do appreciate you being here, this is why I am telling you this now. You must remain there, with Ralph and Elsa, and stay hidden until it is safe." Pitch said.

"Hang on... safe? You say that as if some giant monster thing is going to- wait a minute... you know something!" Vanellope pointed a finger at him.

"Shh! Yes, I know something. Please just promise you will do as I ask." Pitch responded.

Vanellope shook her head in confusion. "But if you know something, we can all stop it now, right? What about everyone else, Ralph and Elsa can fight just like they can, so-"

"Vanellope, just-..." He closed his eyes, clenching one of his fists as he laid his other hand on her shoulder. Vanellope was a bit taken aback by the gesture, her expression softening. "... I have already lost the care of one child who I hold dear. I don't want you to endure the ill consequences of war. Take those who mean the most to you and I, and do as I tell you. Tell them simply that they must leave immediately. Do not answer any questions they ask, do not allow them to seek me out. Tell them to take the journey, and nothing more. Do you understand what I am asking you to do?"

Vanellope bit her lip, nodding. "Okay... but Pitch, what's going to happen?"

He bowed his head lightly, pausing for a moment before speaking. "Something is coming. That is all you need to know."

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