By the time the four of them got back to the starting line, everyone else had already left, but the totals still displayed on the board. Much to Vanellope's dismay, Taffyta had pulled out another first-place victory, beating Snowanna by just three-tenths of a second. And of course, Vanellope herself had been disqualified.
Vanellope had requested that Felix not repair her car – she wanted to keep her broken brake line intact as evidence. With no working brakes, Ralph had to sit on the back of Vanellope's car and propel it back to Candy Hollow with his hands. Calhoun and Felix followed close behind on the hoverboard. All the way, Vanellope sat seething in the driver's seat. She didn't care what Calhoun said; she didn't need proof to know that this was Taffyta's doing. She'd always known that Taffyta was snobbish, but she never dreamed she'd stoop to sabotage.
But Vanellope's feelings of fury were only exacerbated when she and her friends arrived in the town square. All the other racers had gathered around the chocolate fountain in the center, where Taffyta stood, waving and smiling to the crowd. A huge taffy banner hung between the buildings, emblazoned with words written in bright pink and green icing:
HELP SUGAR RUSH STAY SWEET!
VOTE TAFFYTA MUTTONFUDGE FOR PRESIDENT
"Oh, for the love of Bosco," Vanellope fumed, leaping out of the driver's seat.
Flanked by Ralph, Felix, and Calhoun, she stormed up to the fountain. "Hey, Muttonfudge!" she snapped. "What the heck is all this?"
Taffyta grinned at her fellow racers. "See what I mean, folks? Can we really put our trust in a president who can't even read?"
The other racers burst into laughter.
Ralph clenched his fists again. "Hey, Vanellope's been a great president!" he shouted. "She's been fair and balanced, and listens to everybody's concerns! You've all been happy with her administration, don't deny it!"
"Hate to break it to you, King Kong, but it looks like her approval rating's gone down in the last few days," Taffyta continued, "thanks to certain recent events. Seems that absolutely tragic crash she had last night had sort of a negative effect on her. Can't seem to keep her mind on her work anymore, can she?"
Vanellope leapt up onto the wafer edge of the fountain and looked Taffyta in the eyes. "What do you mean, I can't keep my mind on my work?"
Taffyta gave a little chuckle that made Vanellope fight the urge to punch her in the nose. "Well, Von Schweetz, me and the other racers couldn't help noticing how badly you blew tonight's race. First of all, I distinctly remember you saying to me at the starting line that you wouldn't use your little glitchy power during that run."
"That's right," Swizzle Malarkey piped up from the back of the crowd, "I heard it too!" Several other racers nodded in assent.
"And yet, when you hit that hairpin turn, we all clearly saw you disappear in a cloud of pixels! Some promise keeper you are!" Taffyta smirked, as Vanellope shook with rage.
"And on top of that," Candlehead shouted from the crowd, standing next to a very meek-looking Rancis, "not only did you glitch, you didn't even glitch right! You went clean off the track, you spaz! What good is having a cheat code if you're not even smart enough to use it properly?"
"I didn't cheat!" Vanellope screamed, pulling the tattered Twizzler out of the pocket of her hoodie. "But somebody else did! Look what happened to my brake line! Somebody broke it! And don't think I don't know who it was!" she concluded, glaring daggers at Taffyta.
Taffyta looked closely at the licorice rope swinging from Vanellope's hand. "What, you think I did this?" she asked, taking the Twizzler and laughing. "That's ridiculous! I haven't been anywhere near that half-baked cupcake you call a car!"
"Can anybody prove that?" Vanellope growled.
Minty Zaki stepped to the front of the crowd. "As a matter of fact, we can! Taffyta spent the whole evening before the race doing test runs with me and Crumbelina! But hey, nice to know how quick you are to assume every little engine failure you have is some kind of sabotage!"
Vanellope ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "Well, if Taffyta didn't cut my brakes, who did?"
Taffyta squinted at the Twizzler. "See these bite marks on the end, genius? Looks to me like you got ambushed by a candy corn rat – you know how they love licorice."
"That's true!" Gloyd Orangeboar said. "They live all around my pumpkin patch and I keep having to shoo them out of my garage! They're always trying to nibble on my car!"
"So let's recap here," Taffyta said to the crowd. "We're currently living under the administration of a president who doesn't keep her promises, can't even cheat right, doesn't hesitate to accuse the innocent of wrongdoing, and has no idea how to keep her car properly maintained! If we can't trust her on the racetrack, how are we supposed to trust her in the castle?"
A loud roar of agreement went up from the crowd. Vanellope looked around, thunderstruck, at all the jeering faces before her. She couldn't believe that they'd turn on her so quickly like this.
"It's not true!" she squeaked, utterly lost for words. "I mean… you… I… it…"
"Nice articulate rebuttal," Taffyta snarked, shoving the severed Twizzler back into Vanellope's hands with such force that Vanellope lost her balance and splashed backwards into the chocolate fountain. The other racers laughed harder than ever as Vanellope stood up, covered from head to toe in chocolate sauce.
Felix and Calhoun leapt backwards as Ralph lunged into the crowd, bellowing at the top of his lungs. The racers shrieked and ran for cover while Ralph blindly pounded the pavement with his heavy fists, cracking the Necco wafer cobblestones into powder. "You leave her alone!" he roared. "She never did anything to anybody!"
Taffyta and her friends all stampeded away down the main street. "Don't let Von Schweetz's brainless hired goons scare you, folks!" she called above the melee. "Make the right choice when you go to the polls! Vote Muttonfudge!"
Vanellope climbed out of the fountain, wiping the chocolate from her face. Ralph was breathing heavily, still scowling at the racers as they disappeared into town. Felix and Calhoun knelt down beside Vanellope, looking concerned.
"You all right, kiddo?" Calhoun asked gently, as Felix handed her a cloth from his back pocket.
Vanellope's heart sunk as she toweled more chocolate off herself. "What a bunch of total jerkbutts!" she griped. "I can't believe they bought that load of garbage Taffyta fed to 'em!"
"Oh, she's just a lying little so-and-so," Felix muttered. "Trying to spread rumors about you! But you know the truth, and so do we! We'll help you get re-elected, no matter what!"
Vanellope smiled weakly. "You mean it?"
"Of course we mean it!" Ralph boomed. "With us as your campaign team, Taffyta doesn't stand a chance against you! Everybody loves an adorable winner!"
"Yeah," Vanellope mumbled, running Felix's cloth through her hair. "I just have to start winning again first…"