That was all Jake could say.
Maybe that would be his last word. Not exactly a great way to go out.
Suddenly, he felt his stomach jolt violently. Next to him, Crimson screamed as she glitched, disappearing. In her place sat the one person he needed, and the one person he couldn’t have.
“Oh Jake, it must be hard for you,
To see me in this form, and here too!”
Twistella smiled sympathetically at the boy, who stayed frozen, afraid to even speak a word. She looked so sweet, so innocent, reminding him of someone … he wished he could remember who.
“After all, I’ve always had an effect,
But you, you become a complete wreck!”
“You’re not actually her, are you?” Jake breathed. He couldn’t remember who the girl was, but he knew that she was somewhere in his memory, and that she was very important.
“Alas, I am not, as this is not my true form,
But it was all that was needed to start the storm!”
“You’re – you’re a virus.” Jake sad uncertainly, his doubt growing as he looked into those bright orange eyes. “Wait,” he started, looking around in fear. “What did you do to Crimson?”
“You’re precious friend is alive,
But for how long, I cannot divine!”
Jake’s eyes widened as he paled. “What did you do to her?!” He repeated, more forcefully as he forced himself to stare into those orange eyes.
“I simply gave her a little test,
To see if she could beat the rest!”
“Would you stop talking in all these riddles?! What have you done to my friend?!” Jake screamed, but the jester girl just sat and smiled, cool as ice.
Crimson opened her eyes to a dark, dark place. She gasped – or at least, she tried to. No sound came out, nothing at all. She tried to move her body, but found, to her horror, that she was no longer in control of it. She was drifting through the darkness, floating through the air.
Panic began to come over her. Her breathing got shallow ad quick, yet she still couldn’t hear a sound. She struggled, failing even to move her eyes.
Calm, Crimson. Calm! She thought to herself, as she tried to focus on her surroundings. Finding that everything remained fuzzy and unfocused, no matter how much she strained, she felt an overwhelming sense of despair come over her.
Then, she felt a horrible sensation crawl up her legs slowly.
She felt her pixels splitting, starting to drift into the void. She felt herself being deleted slowly, forgotten.
She would have wept if she could. This was the end. She had no hope left. All the fighting, all the struggling, what was it for? They would all be deleted in the end. The feeling crushed her, choked her, throttled her.
Then, she remembered how she had got here.
Her fear began to fade slowly, anger rushing in to replace it.
So, this is where Jubilee was trapped, eh? Well, she got through it with her anger, didn’t she? I might as well do the same.
She embraced the surge of fire, letting it fill her from top to bottom. She drew in a long breath, never so glad to be alive. She felt the pixels of her legs begin to fly back towards her, drawn to her energy like a magnet. She felt a prickling sensation in her fingers as they slowly bent to her command. And all the while, she just focused on her harboured hatred.
Slowly, her arms started beating as she felt the waves of darkness billow away. She could get through this. She knew it.
Her eyes shined bright.
She knew she could.
For the first time in her life, she had full belief in her ability, backed up by every part of her conscious, every muscle in her body, every voice in her head.
Crimson Crunch was whole once again.
There was only one part of her missing.
With a final grin, she melted away, glowing pink pixels piercing the darkness.
Ron was sharpening his sword, waiting anxiously, when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his torso from behind.
“Hello Ronnie.” She said softly, resting her head on his shoulder. He turned to hold her properly, as she shook with sobs. He didn’t need to ask – he knew how she felt. When she had pulled herself together again, she leant back, and touched his arm gingerly.
“How’s the cut?”
Ron grimaced, glancing down at the tight scarlet bandage that dug into his arm. “It’s alright,” he saw her frown, and said hastily “I’ll be fine, Crumbs. I will not back down from this mission because of some measly little cut.”
She sighed exasperatedly. “I guess I can’t get you to change your mind.”
Ron flashed her a half smile, raising his hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. “Nope.”
She looked him in the eyes, and sniffed. “But Ron … what if it goes right and you don’t remember me? Or worse, if you disappear?”
Ron embraced her again, holding her smaller form close to him. “Nothing can make me leave without my free will.” He whispered into her hair. “And if I forget you,” he continued, moving a hand to her cheek as he kissed her forehead. “Just remind me, sweetheart.”
She chuckled. “I wouldn’t just let you go without making a slight effort, after all.”
Ron joined her laughter. “Well, I’m glad to hear I’m worth a ‘slight effort’.”
She sighed, a tired smile on her face, gazing into his eyes. “You already know you’re worth my life’s effort.”
“Well, Crumbs,” he said, grabbing her hands. “If I’m worth our life’s effort, then you are worth my entire life. And more.”
Kevin was lost in the land of dreams when he heard a croaky voice.
“You asleep there, ringmaster?”
His eyes snapped open, to find Cynethia grinning wryly at him. “Cynth!” He sighed, happily relieved. He had been sitting by her bed ever since the rescue team left, as per request of Damon, but also out of his own choice.
She laughed. “I don’t remember much Kev, but I’m pretty sure when I fell off my bike, I didn’t land in this place. So tell me – how did you fudge up?”
“Hey!” Said Kevin. “Why do you always think it’s me?”
Cynethia snorted. “Because it always is you.”
“True.” Kevin admitted. “And yeah, it kind of was my fault. I let Jubilee have too much control, and she turned out to be evil.”
Cynethia raised an eyebrow. “Never would have guessed that one.” She said sarcastically.
Kevin pulled a face at her, then continued. “I also trusted Twistella, which didn’t really work out. It turns out, she was the source of the entire problem!”
“Twist?” Cynethia gasped. “Yep.” Kevin sighed. “She’s actually some sort of virus. I don’t know all the finer details, but we’ve formulated a plan to stop her.”
Cynth buried her face in her hands. “Twist. A virus. Wow…” She breathed deeply, brushing her hair back as she looked towards the towering mentos. “So… What’s this plan, then?”
“Well, we’ve sent one team to save Jubileena – she’s been kidnapped by the way, but I don’t know why – then another team is going to…”
Swizzle was very nervous, wringing his wrists as he tried to listen to everything Vanellope was telling him. She was talking about a special code, to be inputted into the main lifeblood of the code that would – hopefully – take care of their virus problem.
“Okay – what was the password to get into the code room?” She quizzed him.
“Up up down down left right left right B A start.” He gabbled. She nodded. “Very good. Now the castle should be without guards,” she started, getting up and motioning for him to follow her, “as Minty’s team should have managed to make a distraction. But if they’re not, we’ve given Ron a sword, Gloyd some pumpkin spice bombs, and Kevin will be carrying, um, his stick – his choice. So what would you like to use?” She asked, pulling to a stop in front of the small amount of weapons Jake had left.
“My brain.” Swizzle replied, crossing his arms. Vanellope rolled her eyes. “Look Swizz, I know you don’t like violence, but you’ve got to be able to defend yourself!”
“You can’t make me take one Vanellope.” He retorted, walking away. “Please, Swizz, be reasonable!” She pleaded to his retreating back.
“Mod damn idiot.”
The fated moment had finally happened – Adorabeezle reported all of Twistella’s troops running from the castle directly to the circus, leaving the building undefended. Gloyd was nearly at the exit, where the others were waiting, before he felt a tug on his sleeve that spun him round. “Ye-”
He shut up as he felt a warm pair of lips crash into his, a pair of hands running into his hair, a nose graze his own as he was pulled down to his girlfriend’s height. She kissed him deeply and desperately, as if this was the last time. She pulled away slightly and whispered “If you don’t come back to me, Gloyd Orangeboar, I will personally make sure you suffer.” He shot her a crooked grin.
Running off to the others, he grinned.
He’d be back.
“Where are we going?” Asked Miito as the wind blew through his fur. Ginger was pelting through the forest, stopping only when the little bear yelled “turn!” or “duck!”
“We have to help them!” Cried Ginger as she ran into a tree branch.
“You really think they’ll want our help now? And what about your secret?”
“I don’t care anymore! So what if they think I’m a monster – they’re my friends! And now that I’ve got you safe, nothing is stopping me from helping them, whether they want it or not!”
Miito sighed. “Well, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it well. Duck!”
They ran towards the castle, Miito yelling out the instructions, Ginger bobbing and weaving.
Whether the others liked it or not, they were there to help.
Jake tried to hate the virus as she just sat there, riddling her words with key information he simply couldn’t find. But he couldn’t make himself. She just looked so sweet and familiar it made his head hurt as he combed through his memories, looking for something vital that he could tell was missing.
“Tell me where Crimson is!”
Twistella gave a sigh, pushing back the bells of her hat.
“Would you like to hear it simple and short,
Or should I break your brain with my retort?”
She asked prettily, gazing at him with a smile as the smoke blinded them from the world.
“Mod damn it just tell me!” He cried.
“She’s in the place where none survive,
Or those who do have changed their lives,
But you won’t understand that Jake,
After all, you’re dumber than a rake!”
She laughed cruelly.
That was the breaking point for Jake. “Do not.” He growled, fire in his eyes. “Call me.” He tightened one hand on the wheel. “DUMB!” He roared, shoving Twistella out of the open door with his other hand, watching her tumble out of Crimson’s seat and into the smoke, where she was lost for him. His engine roared in response, and he floored the pedal, yanking the wheel as he drove out of the darkness, headed straight towards Diet Cola Mountain.
The four boys drove in silence, Ron perched on the back of Gloyd’s kart, Kevin on Swizzle’s, their expressions grim. The fate of the others weighed on them, bending their happiness and crushing their smiles. They arrived at the castle, glad to see it undefended, as promised.
“Alright everyone, here’s what we’re going to do-” Swizzle started, before being interrupted by Ron. “Hold on a second, unicorn pop boy,” he said, raising a hand, “who put you in charge?”
“Well, I’m the one with all the information, so…” Swizzle retorted. Kevin groaned. “Look guys, can’t we decide together?”
Eventually, they managed to formulate a plan which they were all happy with – go in, fight anyone you would encounter, then when you reached the code room, go in and eliminate the virus.
The first part was easy. They crept through one of the side doors, hugging the pillars as they moved along the hallway. The only problem was Swizzle and Ron.
“Ow! Watch it, bean head!”
“Not my fault you were in the way, biscuit brain!”
“C’mon guys, stop fighting for a second?”
“Let’s just keep going…”
Every few feet, they would find something to argue over. It was delaying their progress, and it wasn’t making anyone feel better.
“Jeez, can’t you control your own feet?” Swizz hissed again, as Ron accidently stepped on his toe. “Not my fault yours are so big!” Ron spat back. Swizz growled. “What is your problem with me, anyway?”
“What’s your problem with my girlfriend?” Ron retorted.
“She’s vain, pompous and thinks she’s better then everyone. Funny how alike you two are!” Swizzle replied, moving round the next pillar. Ron squeezed behind it with him, Kevin and Gloyd bringing up the rear.
“Well you’re an arrogant cheat whose only friend is a no-good prankster!” Ron snapped. “Hey! Don’t drag me into this!” Complained Gloyd.
Swizzle was slowly turning red. “I bet Crumbelina told you all about Adorabeezle and I, didn’t she? Somehow, she always manages to forget that half of it was her fault!”
Ron frowned. “I’ve never heard anything about you and Adorabeezle. All I know is that you have no right to insult my girlfriend, no matter how smart you think you are, Mr Know-It-All.”
“Oh, you’re going down, cookie cretin!” Swizz snarled, jumping at Ron, who laughed with venom. “Oh, that’s your best one yet!”
“Guys! Can’t you both shut up? Do I need to remind you that the fate of everyone in our game rests on us?” Kevin reprimanded as he pulled them apart. “If you can’t work together, just stay away from each other! Mod!” He sighed, letting go of them.
They got into the throne room safely. The castle was completely undefended.
“Weird… I mean, I expected the distraction to work, but what could they need to defend this much?” Gloyd wondered aloud, shivering as he looked around the empty room.
“I don’t know, but every second we spend standing around is probably putting our friends in more danger. Let’s hurry.” Kevin replied. They were a few feet away from the throne when suddenly, a loud blip sound was heard over their heads. They looked up to see Crimson fall from the sky, arms failing as she crushed the Rancis look-alike.
“Oh mod, sorry Kev!” She got up and pulled him up with her. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine!” He exclaimed, grinning with relief as he pulled the girl into a hug. “Where did you come from?” He asked, delighted to see her alive.
“Where you’re all about to go.”
The sound waves hit them before they could even make out the words – they fell to the floor, clawing at their ears, groaning under the pressure of simply that voice.
Twistella walked forwards, a glare in her eyes.
“You think you could escape me that easily, Little Miss Crunch?” She spat at the girl, who was too busy trying to drive the noise out of her head to answer. “Well you will never escape me again. I always knew you were strong, but now I see that you are too strong – at least, as a glitch.” An evil smile spread over her face. She raised her hand, and Crimson lifted into the air with it. The girl felt an excruciating pain start in her very core, as she felt a fundamental part of herself being ripped away. The realisation dawned on her. The virus was trying to take her glitch. They fought inside her, a battle of wills as waves of energy crashed against her flimsy defences. She was on the edge of surrender when suddenly, the attack ceased. She fell to the floor, luckily not too far, and sat up, opening her eyes. Before her was the virus, slumped over sideways, and behind it was a familiar face.
“Ginger?” She breathed.
The curly haired girl grinned, the bear on her shoulder grunting. “I’m here too, you know.”
Swizzle frowned. “Wait – I thought she was working for them.”
“Yes – because they were holding Miito hostage, to make sure I obeyed. I tried to help Damon and Jubileena escape, but then the virus came in, and…” she shuddered. “Anyway, now I have Miito, so I don’t give a flying fudge what they say anymore.”
Ron laughed delightedly. “Ginger, you are officially the best!”
Crimson joined in the smile, until she realise something. “But – Miito only went missing on the day of the show. And you must have been working with them before then, or you wouldn’t have been able to watch Jubileena. You’re lying to us!”
Ginger shook her head, the gingerbread clip hanging on by a thread. “I’m not. Jubilee blackmailed me. You see,” she took a deep breath, straightening her back, “I have fangs, inside my mouth, and when I get angry or scared or upset, they leak venom. There, that’s my big secret. Along with the fact that I’m blind, but some of you guys already knew that. So…” she looked up at them, defiance in her eyes. “Do you hate me now?”
There was a momentary silence. Then, Crimson broke into a grin. “Of course I don’t hate you, idiot! You just saved my life! How could I hate you?” She threw herself at the other girl, pulling her close tightly, making Miito fall off her shoulder.
Swizzle glanced at his watch. “Oh mod, how long have we been here? The others are still waiting on us! Hurry!”
They ran behind the throne, and Swizzle and Ron both tried to push to the front at once. “Dude.” Exclaimed Swizzle. “Move over, I’ve got the code!”
“Up up down down left right left right B A start.” Growled Ron. Everyone looked at him in surprise. “How did you know that?” Questioned Swizzle. “I-I don’t know.” Ron pondered. “It was just-just a memory. But-it’s gone.”
Feeling a great deal more worried than they were before, the team waited for Swizzle to input the code, then gazed in wonder at the lifeblood of the game.
“Is it meant to be so … red?”
Gloyd’s question went unanswered. The only sounds were Miito’s whispers to Ginger, as they beheld the code.
The usually glimmering blue boxes were infected with a glitching red colour that jumped from box to box. At the moment, the core boxes were managing to fight off the invasion, but it was obvious that the defences were weakening. Every few seconds, another code box glitched and warped, and the virus became stronger.
“Wh-what exactly did Vanellope tell you, Swizzle?” Asked Kevin.
“She said, um, that… that…” Swizzle’s voice wavered. Looking at the disaster in front of him, he couldn’t remember a word of what the president had said.
Luckily, someone did.
“We go to the main box, right?” Came Ron’s voice. Swizzle turned to him. “Yeah…yeah, we do.”
“And then?” demanded the cookie boy. “There was something about a reset?”
“Inside the main code box, there’s a section of code, in the game setting folder, which should reset the game. So we turn that on, and make sure that we’re plenty secure, and hopefully everything should go back to normal.”
Ron clapped his hands. “Right then – someone get us some rope!”
In a few minutes, they had managed to produce some liquorice, and tie it round Swizzle and Ron as they looped the other end around the handrails that stood in the entrance of the code room. The two boys squeezed at the entrance next to one another. Swizzle turned to face Ron, indigo eyes staring into brown ones.
“Ready?” He asked, an air of defiance to his voice.
“You bet it.” Replied Ron.
As a pair, they jumped into the blue room.
The teens back at the mountain were on high alert. When they heard a kart pull up outside, they were there before it had even stopped.
Fortunately, no hypnotised army fans got out. Only Jake, falling out of the seat of his truck, collapsing to the ground.
“Jake! Thank mod!” Cried Damon, running over to the boy and grabbing his arm, pulling him up. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” wheezed Jake, peppering his speech with coughs, “but the others aren’t. Twistella sent Crimson somewhere, and I don’t know what for, and then Minty, Snow and Lucy had disappeared, and I just don’t know what’s happened!”
Vanellope frowned. “Swizzle’s team still hasn’t got back to us. We need to do something.”
“What do you suggest?” Enquired Rancis.
Vanellope’s glare hardened, her eyes steel.
“If she wants a fight…”
“Let’s give her one.”