The Kingdoms of Fallen Stars

Small Glimmering Hopes

North returned to the workshop, breathing a sigh of relief. He dismissed the small group of elves that accompanied him, realizing they had been more of an annoyance than an actual help to him in what he needed to do. When he descended to the dining hall, he noticed that it was quiet. Furrowing a brow, he then spotted Gustav leading Angus out of his own stable area where the reindeer were kept.

"Gustav." He called, approaching the young Viking. "Where is everyone?"

"Oh, we were waiting for you to get back." He replied. "The funeral ceremony for Merida is today... Hiccup set up a wooden altar to burn her body."

If North had ever freaked out in his life, in this moment, this surpassed all as he nearly choked. "Gustav, where are they? He has not done this already, has he?!"

Gustav blinked. "N- No, but... what's the matter, why are you-"

"Take me to them, you must take me to them now!" North exclaimed.

Leaving Angus inside, North moved quickly as Gustav led him outside. Everyone was gathered around, glancing up in surprise when North anxiously approached them.

Hiccup sighed. "Gustav, I told you to bring Angus here... it's only right that he-"

"This funeral cannot go on, Hiccup." North interrupted. "You must bring Merida inside quickly."

Hiccup was taken aback, shaking his head. "What are you talking about? North-"

"I am sorry if I seem insensitive or disrespectful, but we cannot waste time, I will explain everything inside." He said as he began to head back through the door. "Follow me, quickly!"

Everyone muttered and looked around in confusion, and though Hiccup's mind was clouded with grief, he knew that for North to be this way at a time like this, it HAD to mean something very important. He resolved to do what was asked of him, gently taking Merida's body and carrying her inside. When everyone slowly followed, Wick blinked a bit as he scratched his head.

"So... I'm not going to light the fire?" He asked more to himself as he followed the group.

"Here, lay Merida on floor gently." He instructed Hiccup.

"North, could you- could you at least give a hint as to what you're trying to do?" Hiccup said a bit tensely, freezing when the larger man placed his hands on his shoulders.

"Listen closely, Hiccup. I know you love Merida more than your own life, and that you would do anything to bring her back. We have all come to love Merida like family, you, like family. You deserve all the happiness in the world, the both of you. I want to make sure that not even death can separate you." North said.

Hiccup exhaled slowly, wiping at his eyes as they teared up. "I... I appreciate everything you've done, I really have. But she-"

"No buts. As I always say, no such thing as too late!" He exclaimed, everyone watching silently as he knelt by her. He took out the small wooden box, extracting the small stone from inside and placing it on Merida's stomach. He glanced up, hoping from the Earth to the skies that this would work. "Manny... I need your help, old friend. This gift was meant for something great. Please... restore Merida to us."

Everyone watched with anticipation as moonlight shined through the window in the ceiling, resting upon the glowing stone. At this, wisps of green light began to string out of the stone, swirling and dancing about Merida's form. Her dull skin, the color having wasted away with her life, began to glow with new brilliance and beauty. Her hair was ignited with a new shade of crimson, and underneath it, her ears began to reshape themselves, the very tips of the top forming a pointed edge. After all of this, the sound of air filling her lungs made them all gasp lightly; they were unable to move as Merida slowly opened her eyes. They shimmered like a bead of water lingering upon the edge of a tree branch; all of the gifts of life contained within a single drop. Hiccup's breathing became uneven and shaky as he looked upon her, Merida's eyes first drifting to him as his trembling hands held hers.

"… M- Merida?" His voice cracked, tears of disbelief threatening to escape from his eyes. "A- Am I dreaming?"

The young woman slowly sat up, staring at him for a moment before looking down at her hands. "I heard voices speaking to me. 'May the blessing of the Derevo be upon you; breathe in new life of grace.'" She sat up a bit more, giving his hands a gentle squeeze. "They showed me everything that happened…" She leaned forward to rest her forehead against his. "Lad… I'll never leave ye again."

Everyone rejoiced then, Rapunzel wiping her eyes as they all hugged each other. Gustav smiled lightly as Hiccup nearly knocked Merida down in an overjoyed kiss. His smile saddened, wishing deep in his heart that Eliza was there. He was still happy nonetheless that Merida was back, North laughing heartily as he lifted both her and Hiccup off the ground in a big hug.

"It is a wonderful miracle! Finally, some hope to guide us through these dark times." North smiled as he placed them down. "I am very much relieved that you have been given back to us."

"Believe me, no one's more relieved than I am." Hiccup breathed, kissing Merida again. He ran his fingers through her hair, gently gracing his fingers over her pointed ears. "I wonder what this is all about…"

"Hiccup, this stone contained the divine powers of the Woodland Elf. It was given to me by the Spirit of the Wood herself, and only when the time was right could these powers be granted. For centuries I could not figure out how to use gift, but now, I am happy to say I have." North smiled.

"Wait a second." Eugene held his hands up. "You mean to say that Merida is an ELF now?"

"Hm… yes, that is exactly right." North chuckled.

Hiccup helped Merida stand to her feet. "North, what happened back in Arendelle? Were we able to defeat Hans and his skeleton warriors?" She asked.

"Not a chance!" Gustav cried. "They've completely taken over!"

"He is right, they have driven the people out of their homes and swarmed the palace. Anna, Kristoff, and Elsa, who most likely does not even know, have lost everything." North added.

"Do you think we'll be able to take Arendelle back at this point?" Kristoff asked.

"I'm not sure... but with Merida back, I think we have a much better chance. And this time, we won't be taken off guard." Hiccup smiled, nodding to her.

"I want to make those card guards extra crispy! Like homemade fries..." Wick grinned, rubbing his branch like hands together.

"Hm... let's see... countless card army led by fire breathing squid, gigantic scythe wielding monster..." North shrugged. "I say we go for it."

"Fantastic! Why not go back to that death trap so we can all die!" Eugene exclaimed sarcastically, throwing his hands up.

"Eugene! This is my cousins' home that just got stolen from them! They would do this for us if it was Corona we were talking about." Rapunzel pouted.

"It is settled then! Anna, you may stay here with Olaf, horses and reindeer... they will all protect you." North said.

"Wait, what? No! I want to fight!" Anna cried.

"Anna... please don't take this an insult, but... like I said before, you don't have a lot of training with combat, and I don't want anything to happen to you. Please, I can fight better knowing you're safe." Kristoff said.

"W- Well, Rapunzel hasn't either!" Anna exclaimed.

"She can deal a lot of damage with that frying pan of hers..." Eugene said, nodding his head to her.

"Anna, we still have our friends out there, and Tooth is also missing. If anyone needs to report back here, you can take what news they bring." North said.

"But... what if something happens to you? What if someone gets hurt again?" Anna frowned.

"We'll be better prepared this time, lass. I'll be tougher to break, and Rapunzel here can heal us faster since we aren't tied to a chair." Merida smiled. "Don't worry about us. We'll get your castle back." She smiled.

"Okay..." Anna sighed as Olaf gently pat her arm.

"You've got us to keep you company." He smiled, nodding to Baby Tooth and Pascal as well.

"Alright, let's roast some card guards!" Gustav exclaimed, fist pumping the air.

Anna bit her lip worriedly, kissing Kristoff goodbye and hugging Rapunzel as North cast down a snow globe. When they all entered it, she sighed, hugging herself as anxiety began to make her insides ache.

Pitch perked up when he suddenly felt someone take his hand, looking over to see Elsa standing by his side. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, exhaling slowly.

"You should have stayed with them. You would have been better off." He said to her.

"Why?" Elsa asked.

"... because they are right, Elsa." He shook his head. "I have not changed."

She frowned, moving closer to embrace his side gently. "Pitch, I made a promise that I would remain with you... through the best and worst of times. I know that deep down, you want so badly to do the right thing... you just... that want gets lost in everything that's clouding your heart... your mind."

"... I promised you that I wouldn't see her again." Pitch hissed. "And like a fool, she just keeps drawing me back to her, again and again. Maybe this is what I was meant for." Pitch said. "Perhaps I am only accustomed to treachery and chaos... corruption and evil. I simply cannot remain in a serene... beautiful... graceful..." He gently brushed the pad of his thumb against Elsa's cheek for a moment before dropping his hand to the side. "Emily spoke the truth when she said that she has been cursed twice by me. Elsa, everything I touch turns to ashes and ruin. If you stay with me, if you remain too close... you shall suffer the same ill fate."

"I'm not leaving you." Elsa said as he began to walk away, keeping up with him.

"You would endure this hardship? The abuse?" Pitch's voice began to crack. "I will continue to disappoint you, Elsa, I will continue to only bring you grief. I thought that we could create a better life together but I have realized I am incapable of doing that! I thought I could learn to love again, but there is no love in this wretched heart of mine! It is dry, and barren, like a desert, not even a single drop of it to be spared. There is nothing for you here. You desire to have what you have always sought for, what you are willing to give, reciprocated... but you are seeking it from the wrong person."

Elsa shook her head as he turned to leave her again, stopping him when he felt her arms hug him from behind. She rested her head against his back, sighing shakily. "I saw the man you once were... I know he is still in there somewhere, Pitch... underneath all of the darkness, the bitterness, the hatred, he is still there... and if you would just... if you would let me in, let me draw him out, you could aspire to that warm, light place again. You could dispel all of the negative forces within you. Please don't send me away."

Pitch smiled sadly, gently placing his hands on hers clasped around his waist, squeezing them lightly. "Elsa... it is as if you are a victim speaking to their abuser. This isn't right. I am doing no right by you by allowing you to linger here. Your life will waste away with me, devoid of everything you deserve."

"I've wasted enough of my life spending it alone. I can't go back to that... I won't..." Elsa replied.

"You have your family." Pitch said.

"And you are a part of it." Elsa went around so she stood in front of him, embracing him. Pitch sighed shakily as he returned her embrace, shutting his eyes as his fingers danced through her hair.

After what seemed like an age, they broke their embrace to continue walking. They eventually reached the shoreline, Elsa dipping her foot into the water to freeze it. Pitch watched her silently as she walked on the water, stopping to hold her hands out. Ice structures began to rise out of the water, forming a peak at the top to make an ice castle upon the ocean. She turned to Pitch several moments later, taking his hand and leading him to the newly made ice castle.

"You will never cease to amaze me." Pitch gave the lightest of smiles, Elsa waving her hand to make the path to the small island of ice disappear. They entered the castle, Pitch looking around at its splendor and beauty; much like Elsa herself.

"Let's just stay here, Pitch... grow old together...we can live a simple, peaceful life together. No fighting, no struggles..." Elsa sighed as she waved her hand, forming a chair out of ice to sit upon.

"I can't imagine how uncomfortable that must be." Pitch said, going over to stand beside her.

"You become accustomed to it after a while." Elsa said, looking up at him. "My greatest regret is hurting that little girl." She sighed. "That I won't forgive myself for."

"We aren't cut out for that sort of life, Elsa." Pitch rubbed her shoulders lightly. "We don't have the warmth and softness required to nurture children. Do you know why I relished in giving children nightmares?"

"Because the dream pirates drove you to do so when they overtook you." Elsa replied.

"Yes... and no. Indeed, it became my nature... but because I knew that in her afterlife- well, when I thought my daughter had passed on into her afterlife- that her last moments would be etched into her soul... a nightmare to spend all eternity reliving. I secretly feared she would never find peace from it. So I wanted them all to suffer the same... and at the same time, project my own fears upon them. To watch everything they love turn to..." Pitch whisked a small burst of black sand from his palm, watching it twirl and dissipate. "... dust."

Elsa frowned, taking his hand to hold it. They remained idle, silent, like a pair of statues within their castle of ice. Time seemed to not exist there, nothing changing, nothing moving forward.

They were frozen, just as their hearts had become from life's bitterness and spite.

Alice strode forward through a dreamscape as an echoing voice called her name, approaching a large mirror. She furrowed a brow when she saw Eliza on the other side of the mirror, tilting her head as she stared up at her with little emotion. She was wearing a white dress, when blood began to drip on her from the ceiling. Alice watched in horror as it dripped down her face, arms, staining the dress, turning it red. Alice slowly looked down, blood covering her hands and arms.

"It is upon your hands now..."

Alice looked up, gasping when the Queen charged towards her from the other side of the mirror. She crashed through it, glass shattering everywhere as she broke the barrier between them. Just as she was about to grab Alice, the dream abruptly ended, gasping as she flew up into a sitting position. Jack groaned, shifting a bit as he rolled over to face her.

"Alice...? What's wrong?" Jack asked sleepily.

"I had another nightmare." She sighed. "I wish so badly to know how Eliza is faring."

"I miss her too..." Jack replied, sitting up. "We should get everyone together. If we're going to try to pull off an offense, we may as well do it now. We can't wait anymore."

Alice nodded. "Agreed."

The two got up, seeing that Bunny, Sandy and Emily were already up. They saw Emily resting in a small, uneven hole filled with water Bunny had dug. She was hugging herself, and they noticed that her essence had dulled to a light grey. Bunny sighed, shaking his head as they approached.

"Wiping out most of her forest... it's done a number on her." Bunny said. "It would be like children not believing in us anymore."

Sandy frowned as he gently held Emily's hand, offering her moral support.

"We're going to attempt one last assault today." Alice said. "If we're going to die, we will not do so standing around and twiddling our thumbs. We'll take a few of them with us at least."

Bunny nodded, holding Emily's other hand. "Alright then." He turned to Emily, crouching down to see how she was feeling and if she was up to the task. As they did so, Alice walked off a bit with Jack to speak with him.

"I shall go directly for the Queen." She said. "If you can all manage to keep her cronies off my back, I can focus solely on-"

They gasped when out of nowhere, monkey men dropped in front of them, wielding spears and screeching loudly. Taken off guard, Alice and Jack reeled back, scrambling for their weapons.

"Bunny! Sandy! We've been ambushed!" Jack cried, the two guardians hurrying over to defend themselves.

Emily's eyes widened, looking up as monkey men began to swing through the trees, dropping down and surrounding the entire area. Being pushed past her breaking point, Emily screamed, tapping into the water as she extended her hand, curling it as vines began to sprout from the ground. They wrapped around several near them, twisting and tightening as they threatened to crush them in their clutches.

"If you want her to live, you shall cease your forces!"

The group looked toward the source of the voice, monkey men parting to allow the Queen to pass through them. She stopped several feet away from the group, smirking as Alice scowled.

"Do you honestly think we're going to just going to lie down belly up?" Alice snapped. "Not even in your dreams, you foul git!"

"No, never you, Alice... see, you don't care who suffers in your attempt to take me down... but they do." The Queen answered.

"You're not laying a single finger on her." Bunny said lowly, motioning to Emily. "Not before you put me six feet under, that is."

"How sweet... though I do intend for her to die for... contractual purposes... she was not whom I was referring to." The Queen chuckled. "Maharaja... I think it's time to be a bit less cryptic." She called, glancing behind her as she stepped aside.

As he came up from behind her, following him were several monkey men pulling a metal flat bed, a large cage sitting upon it. When the group saw who lay inside, Sandy cried out inaudibly, gripping the sides of his head in a panic as he tried to rush forward. A monkey minion jabbed him with his spear, taking several to hold him back. Jack's breath hitched as he shook his head in disbelief, Bunny's face twisting with anger.

"I'll rip your bloody arms off you ugly, disgusting pile of muck!" Bunny growled, charging forward when monkey men attacked in response. Emily screamed, hissing as she sent vines sprouting from the ground to stop them.

"My dear, you will either release them and come with us quietly, or the last ounce of life she has will be spilled right before your very eyes!" The Queen hissed, Maharaja dragging Tooth out of the cage. Too weak to fight back, she looked up at them helplessly through half lidded eyes. Maharaja chuckled lowly, yanking her up as he held his sword to her throat.

"Bi ene olon zuun jil khüleesen... tüünii tsus tase yostoi bükh tsaashid nasny baigaa üyed ilüü sain." Maharaja said, making a slurping noise before laughing mockingly.

Sandy glanced over at Emily, biting his lip as his brows twisted with agony. Emily caught this in her peripheral vision, looking between him and the Queen. Her own brows furrowed then, shaking her head slowly.

"I can stand anyone's tears but yours, my dear Sandy…" She whispered, regretfully retracting her vines into the ground. The moment she did, a monkey minion reared their spear back, striking the back of Emily's head hard. Bunny cried out frantically, taking three monkey men to restrain and bind him. They did the same for Jack, Alice and Sandy, the dream guardian inaudibly muttering an 'I'm sorry.'

As Sandy hung his head, the Queen laughed mockingly. "Look at all of you... pretending to be some close knit family. You are nothing of the sort, you would turn your back on each other any time, just like Pitch Black!"

"You know that isn't true, so why don't you just shut up and get on with it?!" Bunny exclaimed.

"Oh... it will be you that is reduced to silence." The Queen smirked. "You think you've moved on from Alice? I think not. A part of you will always long for her."

"Stop trying to make trouble!" Jack shouted.

"I am the Queen of Hearts... I can see all that lurks within it. Even some things long buried and forgotten." She chuckled. "You know, Alice... your two little guardian friends were there the night your family died. But only one tried to help you."

"What is this nonsense you are spewing?" Alice snapped. The Queen grinned, beginning to tell them of the memory.

It had been over fifteen years prior, and Jack had been soaring the skies, floating upon the chilled wind of winter. He was in his element, and he felt light as a snowflake. It was then a great light illuminated the darkness, the smell of charring wood filling his nose. He then saw it; a large country home burning to smithereens in the distance. He also heard the distressed cries of a small girl as she crawled through the snow away from the house. Jack looked upon the scene in horror, diving down to help her.

Meanwhile, back in the Warren, Bunny had sensed something horrible. Alice had become one of his favorite children, the two having formed a very close bond. His heart skipped in his chest, dashing through one of the tunnels that led to England.

As Jack was about to offer his aid, something he heard made him halt to a stop. He furrowed a brow, turning as he heard the distant cry of his name. The voice sounded so familiar, but this little girl needed his help. When the cry of his name came a second time, more panicked, he bit his lip, conflicted. His curiosity got the best of him, glancing back regretfully as he soared towards the sound of the voice.

Not long after, Bunny arrived, shaking his head with disbelief at the horrid scene. He dashed over to Alice, trying to help her when she tearfully begged for him to salvage something- or rather, someone, back in the house. Bunny whipped his head towards the one bedroom window; he knew exactly where to go. Without hesitation or fear, he sped into the house, trying to avoid the flames and dodged falling wood and debris once inside. He hurried up the stairs, part of it collapsing as he scrambled to keep from falling. When he reached the second floor, he turned the knob to Lizzie's room, but it would not budge. He gritted his teeth, going into the room next to it and jumping across into Lizzie's open window. He gasped, furrowing a brow when he saw a young woman asleep in the bed- no... when he touched her hand, he covered his mouth when he realized the young woman was already dead. But there was something off about this... before he could investigate further, he heard Alice's wailing from outside as he ran to the window, and he saw policemen and firemen gathering to try and put out the flames as well as take her away. She screamed for him, Bunny crying out for her as he lingered in Lizzie's window. He fell to his knees, his heart breaking as he witnessed the once whimsical, curious and sharp little girl and her world be reduced to ruins.

The Queen smirked, glancing over at Jack. "Yes... the noble... valiant... Jack Frost... left an innocent, cherubic little girl to perish..."

Bunny furrowed his brows, glancing over at him. There was no denying that the memory she spoke of resurfaced, reliving that fateful day in his mind. Jack's heart sunk, remembering Emily's words when she showed him the prophesy in her sacred waters. Before he could say anything however, Alice growled.

"You will not tear us apart! You will not turn us against each other! We are not like your company where you would without regret stab each other in the back! Regardless of what happened that day, only one man is to blame for it and that man is dead, rightfully so!" Alice shouted.

At this, Bunny snapped out of his stupor silently, any growing resentment, anger and hatred that had been festering inside him towards Jack dissipating. Alice's words broke the Queen's plan, and as Jack glanced over apologetically, Bunny simply resolved to take his ill feelings out on the Queen. "You're no better, you giant squid." He said lowly.

The Queen grimaced when she realized her plan to divide and conquer them had failed. "Very well... take them away!" She growled angrily, turning around with Maharaja as the group was dragged and shoved towards the direction they had come from. Alice's eyes burned into the back of the Queen's head, wanting nothing more than to destroy her that instant. She, as well as the others, knew where this path would lead them…

… however, they had no idea what awaited them.

Vanellope kicked a small pebble around, sighing as Ralph approached her.

"Look, kid… I know we've had a rough last couple days, but… we've got no plan, no way back to the arcade, and no one to help us figure out either of those." Ralph said. "Unless we're going to spend forever in the middle of nowhere, we're going to have to do something."

"Well what do you expect us to do? Magically make someone appear out of thin air?" Vanellope rolled her eyes, resuming kicking the pebble around.

"We can go back to Alice and Bunny and the rest of the group and ask them for help! I'm sure they need OUR help too." Ralph suggested.

"Ralph, are ya nuts? You heard Emily pretty much banish us from her 'mighty forest' or whatever…" Vanellope groaned.

"But Vanellope, if we go back and just… ask nicely, maybe they'll give us a chance!" Ralph exclaimed.

Vanellope scoffed, shaking her head. "You're pretty clueless, aren't you?" She asked. "You wanted to get out of the dump back in your game, do you think asking nicely will do that?"

Ralph scratched the back of his neck. "Well, I mean, I never really actually-"

"You think if I went up to King Candy, or the other racers, and asked if I could tag along, you think they would let me?" Vanellope asked.

"Van, that's not what I-"

"You know what we are, Ralph? We're nobodies!" Vanellope exclaimed. "We're the trash in our games that no one cares about, that people just don't want around, no matter where we go or who we talk to!"

"That is not true, Vanellope!" Ralph replied. "You are NOT trash and you are NOT a nobody!"

"Ralph… I don't actually think that about you either… and… I guess I'm lucky to have you as a friend." She smiled sadly. "But facts are facts. You're just a bad guy and I'm just a mistake."

"You are not a mistake, Vanellope! Y- You're possibly the most important person in your game!" Ralph exclaimed.

Vanellope chuckled at that. "I think you ARE going nuts, Ralph." She said as she scooped up the pebble, tossing it in the air and catching it in her hand repeatedly.

"I- I'm not kidding, Vanellope! You…" Ralph bit his lip. "… you were not some mistake, you were meant to be someone great, someone important, like… a star, or something!"

"Ralph, King Candy- well, Turbo, was important. Emily is pretty important. The guardians are important. Even that evil Queen that everyone hates, SHE'S important. Me? I'm not important. Never was, never will be." Vanellope replied.

"Yes you are!" Ralph argued.

"Ralph, stop trying to make me feel worse!" Vanellope whined.

"I'm not, I'm telling you the truth!" Ralph exclaimed.

"It's not true, and you better stop lying like everyone else or I'm driving away without you!" Vanellope screamed.

"Vanellope, I'm not lying, I swear, I-"

"I'm not listening, I'm covering my ears and walking away!" She shouted, becoming distraught as she slapped her hands over her ears, a lump forming in her throat as she headed towards the mega kart.

"Hey, come on, let me just- Vanellope, I didn't want to tell you because I didn't know if it was real or- come on, I'm trying to- hey!" He ran over when she hopped in the kart, starting it up.

"Everyone else lies to me, I'm not listening to yours either." Vanellope said.

"Vanellope, you are not going anywhere, do you hear me?" Ralph pointed a finger at her.

"You're not the boss of me, I can do whatever I want!" Vanellope said, glaring at him angrily when he tried to lift her out of the seat. "Don't you- Ralph, you put me down!"

"Vanellope, I care for you too much to let you go off by yourself! Now you are going to stay right here and listen to me!" Ralph demanded.

"WHY?!" Vanellope screamed, stomping her feet on the ground. "So I can just be brought down some more, so I can hear about how I'm useless and stupid and dumb I am?! There is not one thing that can convince me I'm worth anything in this world or in any world!"

"No one has their picture on the side of the cabinet and is worth nothing!" Ralph shouted, and silence followed his statement as Vanellope's expression changed, her struggling ceasing immediately. Ralph placed her on the ground gently, and her expression was blank as she stared up at him with disbelief.

"… what did you say?" Vanellope asked barely above a whisper.

Ralph heaved a sigh, shutting his eyes tightly for a second. "I didn't tell you at first because… well, between everything that happened, it was hard to squeeze something like this in, and… I didn't want to get your hopes up yet… I had wanted to find out more first. But then we got thrown into this whole mess, and…" His arms hung at his sides. "I saw it after I wrecked your kart back in Sugar Rush. That's what made me come back and beg Felix to fix it for you.

Vanellope furrowed her brows. "So… you only came back because you thought I was a somebody?"

"No, no, that's not THE reason… I- I mean… I realized what I did was stupid, but I needed to know what it meant, Vanellope… because I think you're the strongest, bravest kid… in the whole universe." Ralph crouched down on one knee. "Even if it DOESN'T really mean anything… you're important to ME. You're my best friend."

Vanellope's eyes glazed over with moisture, smiling lightly. "And you're still my hero, Ralph."

He smiled lightly in return, scooping the child up in a hug. The two remained this way for some time before he placed her back down. "Look, I don't know what we'll be dealing with… but we have nothing more to lose by going back to them and at least… trying."

Vanellope let his words sink in for a few moments, sighing as she nodded. "Okay… let's hope Emily doesn't try to give us a 'game over.'"

Ralph chuckled lightly, giving her a nod. "That's the spirit."

They both headed back to the mega kart, getting in as Vanellope resumed starting it up. She made a u-turn to head back where they had come from, exhaling deeply. Ralph let his head rest back, hoping to codes that they would be given another chance. If not for him, than for the little girl beside him who had been dealt bad cards her whole existence.

He hoped that for once, she would just be given a chance. Was that so hard to ask?

After some time, they stopped near the cave where all the drama had first transpired, stopping the kart and getting out. When they approached the temporary, lower quality camp that had been shoddily set up the prior night by the others, Vanellope's steps slowed to a stop, Ralph's soon after as they both immediately sensed that something was off.

"Where is everybody?" Vanellope asked, looking around.

"I don't know…" Ralph replied, continuing forward a bit. He crouched down to inspect some things, noticing track marks up ahead that seemed to have led both in and out, as well as several dead, withered vines spread about in some places. As he was rummaging around the area, he spun around when he heard Vanellope gasp suddenly.

"Ralph, look!" She cried.

Vanellope turned, furrowing her brows when she held out an object for Ralph to see. When he did, his eyes widened.

It was Jack's staff.

"Kid… I think something bad happened here." Ralph said slowly.

"But… I don't get it… they were just fine yesterday! Well, sort of…" Vanellope replied.

Ralph turned, squinting his eyes as he followed the path of the track as far as his vision would allow him. "Hey… glitch me up to the top of that tree."

"Uh… why?" Vanellope asked, tilting her head.

"Just do it, I want to see something. You know I'm good as seeing some things from far away now." Ralph replied, smirking only for a moment before resuming being serious.

Vanellope did what he asked, the wrecker taking a few moments to balance himself and gain his footing as the breeze blew his hair back a bit.

"What are we doing up here, exactly?" Vanellope asked.

It was Ralph's turn to gasp then, pointing at something in the distance. "Vanellope… is that…?"

Vanellope squinted her eyes, seeing a group of people in the distance, miles and miles away. They widened then, looking up at Ralph with worry. "You don't think it's really-"

"I think it is… and that definitely looks like that evil Queen lady… can't miss her even from THIS far away." Ralph replied.

"W- We've gotta do something!" Vanellope exclaimed. "She's going to give them all a 'game over' if we don't stop her from taking them back!"

"Couldn't agree with you more, kid… but how are we going to stop them?"" Ralph asked.

"Are you kidding me? YOU, hello! You can crush anything!" Vanellope held her hands out.

"Come on, I can't take on an entire ARMY!" Ralph threw his hands up, crying out as he lost his balance. He grunted painfully as tree branches broke his fall, finally landing backside up on the ground as he held up his index finger. "… I'm okay…"

Vanellope rolled her eyes, glitching down so she was next to him. "You be the brass, leave the stealth up to me, okay?" She smirked.

"Sounds good to me…" Ralph mumbled, groaning as he slowly got to his feet and dusted himself off. His expression became serious then, realizing just what it was that not only he, but the child he valued above almost everything in his heart, was about to do. "You promise me one thing though, okay?"

"What is it?" Vanellope asked.

"If things go sour… I don't care what's going on with me, you high tail out, you understand?" Ralph asked.

"Ralph, come on, I am NOT leaving you behind." Vanellope said.

"Vanellope, I am not going to let you get hurt because of me. I can handle myself. And I can fight a lot better knowing my best pal is safe." Ralph said. "Promise?"

Vanellope frowned a bit, nodding. "Okay… then we better make sure this mission stays extra sweet. Ugh, I sounded like Taffyta there… bleh!" Vanellope stuck her tongue out, making Ralph laugh for a moment.

"Okay… guess this is it." Ralph said, giving Vanellope a nod before they both went back to the mega kart, starting it up and making their way through the remaining trees before it opened up into a wide, open, and barren land where the rest of Emily's forest had been.

Against all odds, against everything either of them had been known for since they were programmed, Ralph and Vanellope were now the last beacons of hope against the Queen and her forces.

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