By 8:00 that morning, the election results were in, and Vanellope's worst fears were confirmed – Taffyta had won in a landslide. The only vote Vanellope had received was the one she cast herself.
"Sorry, Vanellope," Jubileena had said after the outcome was announced. "But you gotta admit, your campaign team was a bunch of psychos. And not just the guy who shot up the town square, either."
"Yeah," Adorabeezle added. "That Wreck-It Ralph guy you hang out with, the one who's always roaring and threatening to smash us? I think he's a few Good 'N Plentys short of a full box, if you know what I mean."
Vanellope wanted to object loudly to this slight against her best friend, but she couldn't bring herself to actually speak to her fellow racers. She was too angry at all of them. It wasn't about the election – heck, it didn't make a difference to her one way or another whether she got to live in the castle or in a gingerbread bungalow in Candy Hollow, just so long as she could still race alongside her friends. But now she had no friends left in Sugar Rush. Everybody thought she was a liar and a cheat with a hulking brainless ape for a bodyguard.
As Vanellope had predicted, the first thing Taffyta had done as president was pardon Rancis and release him from jail. He stood beneath the balcony of the castle with the other racers, though he couldn't bring himself to cheer along with them as Taffyta appeared at the door to give her inauguration speech, with a thoroughly uninterested Sour Bill at her side.
"Friends, racers, candy men," Taffyta began, "thank you for making the right choice! As president of Sugar Rush, I promise to uphold the sweet beliefs and principles on which our hallowed game was programmed…"
Rancis turned to look at Vanellope as she sadly slunk away from the crowd. Ralph, Felix, and Calhoun all accompanied her out of the castle grounds, each one of them with a look of dejection on their faces. Vanellope turned to glance at the castle one last time, and her eyes met Rancis' for a split-second.
He looked away in a hurry.
"So have you found a new place to live?" Felix asked.
The four of them stood at the top of the rainbow-striped road that led back to Game Central Station. Litwak's Arcade would be opening in less than two hours.
Vanellope sighed. "I don't know. I guess I can always go back to Diet Cola Mountain. It's nothing glamorous, but it's got all those ramps and stuff for me to practice on. I know it won't be easy now that everybody's smooching Taffyta's butt all the time and runnin' me off the track left and right, but one of these days, I'll make the roster again."
Ralph rubbed his forearm uneasily. He couldn't help feeling partly responsible for Vanellope's loss – he'd been her campaign manager, and he felt like he could have done a better job.
"Well," he said, "if you ever get lonely, you know that there's always a room waiting for you at Niceland Apartments. Or you could live with Q-bert and me… I know the brick pile isn't exactly cozy, but we can always build you your own little house."
Vanellope gave Ralph a half-hearted smile. Even when everyone else had abandoned her, she knew she could always count on him.
Ralph knelt down to Vanellope's eye level. "Look, I'm sorry you didn't win the election, Vanellope. I did my best to help you out. We all did. I mean, maybe if I'd made you a better poster, or…or if I hadn't scared the other racers so much. I should have tried harder to – "
"Hey, Ralphie," she interjected. "Don't sweat it. You were more than just a campaign manager. Throughout this whole thing, you've been the guy to pick me up when I was flat down on my face. The fact that you were there for me at all… that's more important than winning any dumb ol' election."
She jumped forward and hugged Ralph around his huge shoulders.
"Win or lose, you'll always be my hero, Stinkbrain."
Felix began to sob into his work cloth. Calhoun put her arm around him and held him tight. "It's okay, Sugarcakes, let it out," she said with conviction, as her weepy husband blew his nose loudly.
Ralph got to his feet, his eyes a little redder than before. "So I guess it's back to the mountain for you, huh?"
"For now," Vanellope said, walking back to her lopsided candy car. "But maybe I'll look for a place in Candy Hollow. Anywhere that's surrounded by road is good enough for me." She hopped into the driver's seat. "See you guys at the race tonight."
And with a wave, she started the engine and rolled away back down the road towards the sugar-frosted wilderness below.
Ralph smiled as he watched his friend's car descend towards the chocolate-covered trees, then turned around with Felix and Calhoun and trudged back towards the train.
Vanellope drove aimlessly around Sugar Rush, taking in the sights. The candy cane forest where she'd first met Ralph…the chocolate junkyard where she'd built her first ride, the pedal-powered Lickety Split…the candy factory where she and Ralph had built her trusty kart, which had never lost Vanellope a race before her crash on Monday night…
She left the factory grounds and wound her way around the track that circled Diet Cola Mountain. When she came to the hidden entrance, she stopped.
Hopping out of her car, she felt oddly comfortable returning to this part of the game. After all, she'd lived here for longer than she'd lived in the castle. In a weird way, this place still felt more like home to her. And it was where Ralph had taught her how to drive. There was sentimental value in the place, really.
She warped through the rock candy wall, blinking her eyes. It was exactly as she'd remembered it – well, almost exactly, anyway. Crossing the finish line and resetting the game's code had erased any evidence of anyone ever having lived here, let alone the massive eruption that had wiped out the murderous swarm of Cy-Bugs and killed Turbo once and for all. The crude practice track that Ralph had built with his bare hands was here no more, and the imposing Mentos stalactites were once again in one piece.
Vanellope wandered over to the empty alcove where she had once made her own little bed out of gumdrops and candy wrappers. Just like a little homeless lady, she recalled. She had been an outcast then, shunned by the other drivers and living without a friend in the world.
Well, she thought to herself, looks like I'm an outcast all over again. But at least this time, I've got Ralph. I don't have to do this alone anymore.
She looked wistfully out at the molten cola lake in the center of the mountain. It had been the last thing she saw before going to sleep every night for fifteen long years. The memories came flooding back as she surveyed the unfinished bonus track, the bubbles popping on the surface of the cola, the tire treads that wound around the lake…
Wait a minute.
Vanellope leapt down out of the alcove, puzzled at what she was seeing. If the game reset itself and erased everything she'd done while she lived here, every impact she and Ralph had ever made on the inside of the mountain, then why were the tire treads from her first driving lesson still here?
She looked closely at the tracks in the gritty floor. Her eyes widened.
"Sweet mother of monkey milk," she gasped, putting a hand to her forehead. "I knew it!"