A/N: Words in italics indicate character thoughts and/or flashbacks.
Chapter 1: Root Beer Tapper
Rancis Fluggerbutter was a cautious racer.
It didn't seem all too obvious at first glance, but it was actually a distinct part of his personality. To be reckless went against his very code. It was just so… undignified.
Perhaps it was because his entire shtick and design had been based off peanut butter — a distinctive soft and creamy treat that was prone to melting in the heat. He just wasn't like Swizzle or Taffyta… and those two had hard-candy themes anyway, lollipops and strawberry suckers respectively. No wonder they were both so hardy and audacious.
But not him. He was the polar opposite.
When a player wasn't controlling him as the avatar, Rancis' driving style would usually involve him maintaining a cool and constant pace on the raceway. He would personally describe his personal style of racing as smooth and steady. It was a playstyle which suited his perfectionism, especially considering that he always kept up his appearances even when he was behind the wheel.
Like prepping up his hair, slow and steady wins the race in the end.
Unlike a few other racers whom he knew, Rancis actively elected not to aggravate the avatar character chosen by the players during arcade hours, knowing that doing so might lead to the gamer retaliating against him. He didn't need or want to get their attention, very much preferring to finish the race uneventfully.
Rancis certainly wasn't going to be like his friend Gloyd, who usually sprinted to the front in the beginning of a race, a gesture which was very risky but rewarded him well when it worked… 'tis a shame it only went the pumpkin-hatted racer's way about a measly one-in-five times. It was typically over for Gloyd the instant the gamer playing their avatar got a Sweet Seeker powerup and aimed down "that annoying CPU pumpkinhead racer that overtook them".
Having such a high sweetness level was always Gloyd's downfall.
Now just because he was less aggressive than the others didn't mean that he was going easy. Oh, not at all. He could still pull a stunt or two, drift and play dirty if necessary, but he adamantly tried his best to avoid doing so while in front of the player. If it's one thing Rancis cared about, it was maintaining his image. He'd take the role of the nice guy, cordial and affable while behind the wheel… unless he was picked to be the player's avatar, in which case it was all fair game.
His non-confrontational style had its upsides and downsides. On one hand, Rancis was usually left alone by the avatar character as compared to a few of the more boisterous racers… but on the other, he almost never won either. In fact, he only overtook the avatar racer about half of the time, and even when he managed to get the better of a newbie player at the game Taffyta would always be ahead of him anyway.
However, the Random Roster Races that were hosted after arcade hours was a completely different story altogether. It was the only time Rancis went against his programming and took more risks than usual.
It probably had something to do with the fact that he'd still never been able to nab first place in one to this very day.
Not once in fifteen whole years. It was still a sore spot for the boy.
And to be fair, he wasn't the only one to take risks in the daily roster race. Every racer was in the race to get a finishing place that was above the double-digits, as that would lock them down as the next day's avatar characters.
But the elusive first place was also a coveted position in the roster races. It wouldn't be a Random Roster Race if Taffyta wasn't perpetually being reckless and hasty in a bid to reach for that goal. Rancis found that he, along with Candlehead, would simply copy her style to stay ahead of their competition. It was a valid strategy, and it certainly had its perks, usually resulting in them placing within the top five in the roster races.
That being said, on occasion he would opt to break formation from the infamous Taffyta-Candlehead-Rancis trio and try to make a break for first place himself in a roster race. It never worked, and Taffyta would always get back at him for his 'betrayal' by overtaking him with a taunt. It was an inevitability.
As a result, whenever he pulled a stunt like that once in a blue moon, Rancis would always end up soured at being robbed of victory yet again and fall back in formation in time for the next Random Roster Race, swearing not to do anything reckless again while cursing inwardly that his risks never paid off.
But after the daily roster race, when Taffyta stopped bossing him around and he actually had some time to himself, he could let his hair down—figuratively, that is—and let himself hang back and relax.
Gone was calm and collected Rancis (or rarely, reckless Rancis). It was just plain ol' Rancis that remained when Taffyta and Candlehead left for home, the boy finally dropping his mask when his clique left him alone.
Although Rancis positively adored attention, he knew that rather ironically, he would not be able to survive being put in a leadership role. It was truly the irony of ironies for the vain blonde boy — he craved perfection when it came to looks and appearances, but had absolutely no situational awareness or leadership qualities to lead or influence the others whatsoever, even with all of his suave looks and charms.
To put it bluntly — he was a follower, not a leader. He had no idea how Taffyta pulled it off so easily, but he would gladly take being her sidekick if it meant her being in charge, as it would take all the horrid decision making stuff away from him.
And that trait applied to outside of the race track as well.
It wasn't always a good thing for Rancis, however. Being a follower was after all, the reason why Swizzle and Gloyd had managed to drag him into their latest antics.
An annoyed sigh escaped his lips as he contemplated his current predicament. It had all started after the end of the roster race. Swizzle had made an outlandish suggestion that wasn't to his liking, but Gloyd had readily agreed. Accepting that he wasn't going to be able to argue against the terrible duo when they'd already reached a consensus, Rancis simply accepted defeat and conceded to them, much to their amusement.
The racer adjusted his blazer and began trudging forward, dragging his feet as he glanced up to the sign above him, the structure being the only thing that stood between him and the rainbow bridge that led to the game's exit.
'Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow… COME BACK SOON!'
His blue eyes scanned the message that was emblazoned on the chocolate signboard as he apprehensively hung back, starting to get an uneasy feeling in his gut about the venture that he'd been put up to.
Seriously, what was Swizzle thinking?
Eventually making his way to the top of the rainbow bridge, Rancis groaned when he saw Swizzle and Gloyd already impatiently waiting for him at the exit of Sugar Rush. Gloyd was rhymetically tapping his foot against the ground, while Swizzle was looking at his wrist and eyeing a nonexistent watch.
"What took you so long, Rancis?" Gloyd called out to him, finally noticing his friend approaching.
Rancis indignantly put his arm by his hip in reply. "Oh, the usual. W-Was just doing up my hair, that's all."
Swizzle raised his brow inquisitively when he noted that Rancis had stumbled on his words. "You stuttered there, Rancis. You sure it wasn't because you were chicken?" There was silence as the two boys looked at each other, Swizzle's smile growing in proportion to Rancis' fearful frown.
"Oh, you got me…" Rancis mumbled as he averted his eyes away from Swizzle, before flinging his arms to his sides. "Geez!" he squawked, his voice breaking and going high-pitched for a moment. "How are you two so calm and nonchalant about this? I'm shaking so hard right now!"
"Rancis." Gloyd's lips curled upwards in bemusement. "You need to toughen up, you total softie. Everyone knows that you only act tough when you're following Taffyta's orders."
"It's not because of Taffyta, okay?!" Rancis snapped, remembering her overtaking him—again—in the roster race that had just taken place. He quickly changed the topic with an unamused scowl, "Anyway… game jumping? King Candy specifically forbade it, Swizzle!" This was such a bad idea, and he knew it.
And yet, he'd gotten himself dragged into it regardless. All because Gloyd and Swizzle outnumbered his opinion.
"Never stopped me." Swizzle flashed Rancis a smirk. "And besides, Gloyd's never went out of Sugar Rush either, but you don't see him panicking like you," he pointed out with a carefree shrug.
Rancis darted his eyes between the cocky Swizzle and King Candy's castle, looming menacingly in the background back down in the pastures of Sugar Rush below. "Look…" he began, nervously shifting his feet, "I'm seriously having second thoughts about this—"
"Like what I told Gloyd, I've done this before," Swizzle interjected as Gloyd nodded in concurrence. "You have nothing to fear!" he reassured Rancis, marching to the tunnel that led out of the game cabinet and beckoning the others to follow him. "Just watch and learn from the master!" he proclaimed while boldly strolling into the void.
As Swizzle had already made haste, he didn't notice that Gloyd had raised his arms up while he was talking, cheekily flexing with two fingers to show air quotes while Swizzle said the word 'master'.
Rancis had to stifle a chuckle so as to not tip Swizzle off to the fact that Gloyd was poking fun at him behind his back, before the sickening feeling in his gut returned twofold from Gloyd's attempt at humor. "This is such a bad idea, man…" he whined with a pout, twiddling his fingers as he fell into place alongside Gloyd.
Although Rancis always tried to keep up appearances around the other racers, the two other male racers in Sugar Rush—Gloyd and Swizzle—could always see right through him, so he didn't bother to put up any façades when he was hanging around them. "I mean, what if King Candy finds out about this? I don't want to be thrown in the Fungeon!"
"Calm yourself down before your hair gets split ends!" Swizzle snickered, slowing down his pace so that he could give Rancis a reassuring pat on the back. "He'll never find out, Rancis! I've been doing this game-jumping thingamajig for years and no one from the castle has ever caught me! You gotta relax a little. Just chill!"
Gloyd took a few large strides to end up beside the other two boys. "Besides, don't you remember what King Candy said to everyone as he closed off today's Random Roster Race?" he asked, prompting them to jog their memory. "He mentioned that tomorrow's the fifteen-year anniversary of our game being plugged in. That's fifteen years' worth of medals and trophies that we've all earned—"
"Ahem!" Rancis coughed, angrily folding his arms and glowering at Gloyd. The pumpkin-based racer sheepishly rubbed the back of his head when he realized why his friend took offense.
"Sorry," he apologized with a cheeky smile, one which showed that he wasn't truly sorry. Before Rancis could get him to apologize in earnest, Gloyd continued on. "Anyway, fifteen years. Of course this calls for a celebration. That's why Swizz is going to take us on a tour of this place."
"And here we are!" Swizzle suddenly announced as he walked down a flight of stairs at the end of the tunnel. "Beyond here lies Game Central Station!"
Rancis raised a brow in disbelief as Swizzle whipped out a spray can from under his outfit and proceeded to sign his name on the tiled wall outside Sugar Rush… by shamelessly vandalizing it with graffiti. Gloyd gleefully cheered him on from the sidelines with a rambunctious grin which suggested that he would be eager to imitate his friend's act if he had a spray can of his own.
"What are you doing, Swizzle?" Rancis asked with a knowing smirk as he glanced out to the open station that lay beyond them.
"C'mon! Don't be a sour pop!" Swizzle grumbled as he admired his handiwork. "I'm just telling people that I was here."
"By drawing graffiti on the walls? What if King Candy sees this!?" Rancis ranted, his body tensing up again. "You literally wrote your name down for everyone to see!"
Swizzle grinned at Rancis' observation. "It's a gamble worth taking if it means my name gets out there."
"You would have signed your own death warrant if King Candy ever decides to conduct a spot check, Swizzle! Lemme tell you, I'm not bailing you out for your stupidity if it happens!"
"Oh, please. He won't do a check, trust me!" Swizzle assured as he turned and walked out to the main station, with Rancis hastily running after him and Gloyd comfortably strutting behind them.
A red flash and alarm suddenly stopped them in their tracks, causing a pale blue person to materialize by their side. "Name?" The blue-tinted bespectacled person queried the group, droning the question in a manner not too dissimilar to Sour Bill, except it wasn't all that monotonous compared to Bill.
"That guy's the Surge Protector," Swizzle whispered back when he saw Rancis looking faint. "He's the security guy around this place."
Gloyd tilted his head, hissing into Swizzle's ear. "So that guy's sorta like Wynnchel and Duncan?" There was a short pause before he smiled. "Thanks for the head's up, Swizz!" he chortled with a thumbs-up. "Now I'll know to stay very far away from him after all the times I made those two mad in the past."
"Name, please." Surge repeated, waiting for an answer.
Swizzle cleared his throat. "Huzzah! I'm Swizzle Malarkey, better known as The Swizz!" he responded blithely without missing a beat. "And standing behind me are Rancis Fluggerbutter and Gloyd Orangeboar!" he continued, enthusiastically pointing to each racer in turn.
"Huh. Weird names. I would have trouble enunciating them myself," he muttered as his eyes briefly went over to the trio of racers. "Nice headwear."
Gloyd subconsciously adjusted the stupendously large pumpkin that was perched atop his head. By contrast, Rancis simply smirked at Surge's comment, nodding with a self-satisfied smile as he took the remark as a thinly-veiled compliment.
Surge's vision flicked back to his clipboard as he made a note of their names on the paper with his pen. "So where're you lads coming from?"
"We're all from the super-epic amazing go-kart racing game, Sugar Rush!" Gloyd interjected before Swizzle could respond, chuckling when he saw Swizzle shaking his head in disappointment. Rancis wasn't too far off either, unable to believe that Gloyd had managed to exaggerate Sugar Rush's premise to the point where it sounded too zany to an outsider.
"Sugar Rush, huh?" Surge had a double-take that was almost imperceptible upon hearing the game's name, the blip of electricity peering intently at his clipboard. "Now that's weird… I haven't done a random security check on this game in ages…" he commented, a frown adorning his face as he stroked his chin with his free hand. "You lot don't leave your game often?"
Rancis visibly paled, his breath hitching in his throat upon hearing the question. No, no, no! If he decided to press more on the subject, the Surge guy might eventually end up asking King Candy as to why they racers don't leave the game often, tipping off their leader that the three of them had gone on an unwarranted joyride in Game Central Station.
It was all over! He was so totally doomed! Oh, the humanity!
But unlike the panicking Rancis, Swizzle calmly shook his head. "Not really," he admitted.
Surge raised an eyebrow at the nondescript answer, but went through the motions and checked the next question off his clipboard. He was on a schedule, after all. "So where're you lot headed to?"
Swizzle shrugged in response, his bored expression matching the drab colors of Game Central Station, the color scheme of the locale quite muted as compared to the vibrant palette and aesthetics of Sugar Rush. "To be frank, I don't really know. We're just browsing and chillin' about here, yo. Is there anywhere you can recommend for us?"
"Well, Tapper's a no-brainer. Good place if you just want to hang out, I've heard," Surge bluntly suggested to the trio without lifting his eyes off his clipboard. "Now if you excuse me, I need to head on over to Bubble Bobble. You may proceed," he said as he cleared the racers through, before turning into teal streak of electricity and blitzing away.
"See?" Swizzle winked at Rancis and Gloyd with a smug grin, bowing down slightly. "Piece of cake. Fooled security like a sly devil dog and managed to get myself some tasty info, to boot."
Gloyd laughed. "You're good, Swizz," he praised, "Handled it like a champ. That guy didn't even interrogate Rancis and I."
Rancis simply sighed at Swizzle's antics and took his first real look at Game Central Station. To be frank, it was quite different from what he'd expected after hearing Swizzle's stories about the place. Having lived in Sugar Rush his entire life, the plain colors of the central hub was a complete bore to him.
What reason was Swizzle hyping this place up for again?
"Hey, Rancis! Don't zone out unless you want me to get you with a joy buzzer!" Gloyd waved his arms about to catch his friend's attention when he saw Rancis adjusting his hair again. "Look, there's the Tapper place that guy was talking about," he gestured.
"Woo, sweet!" Swizzle hit the back of Rancis' neck with a hard pat and strutted over to the game's entrance. "Let's check it out, shall we?"
Rancis rubbed his neck with a wince before futilely raising his arm up in vain. "W-Wait up! Swizz, Gloyd! You don't seriously wanna going in there… we don't even know what kind of game it is! You're actually taking the words of some random security guy!? Come on, guys!"
With a subtle nod, Gloyd and Swizzle proceeded to make an unspoken argument to ignore the pouting Rancis, collectively fist pumping the other as they walked into the entrance to Tapper, which happened to be conveniently located right next to Sugar Rush's own entrance.
Running after them with an annoyed huff, Rancis eventually found the two seated in a tavern with four varnished wooden tables. He grinned when he saw that they were polished until he could see his reflection in them, thus taking the chance to ensure that he was still in tip-top condition.
Once satisfied, he strode over to the bottommost table, where his two friends had made themselves comfortable. Rancis sat down to the right of the two racers, observing that Gloyd was speaking to Swizzle with a contemplative expression on his visage.
"The blue décor around here is great. Jubileena once invited me to her house, and Citrusella's room looked just like this." Gloyd then spread his arms wide open for emphasis. "Sapphire blue. Sapphire blue everywhere, man."
"Hey!" Rancis scowled, folding his arms at them. "I know that you two can see me out of your peripheral vision. Don't ignore me!"
"Geez. We're sorry, Rancis," Gloyd grumbled, softly mumbling his apology.
"Yeah yeah, pretty boy." Swizzle chuckled, gesturing for Rancis to lean towards them. "Sorry we left you behind in Game Central Station. But hey, at least you knew how to follow us here."
Rancis wisely decided not to pursue the topic, instead turning back to glance to the other end of the tavern. "So, Root Beer Tapper's, huh?" he mentioned, looking at the large conspicuous sign behind them. "This place serves root beer as a beverage?"
"What a surprise." Gloyd rolled his eyes, before his face suddenly lit up. "Say, maybe it won't be root beer for long. Perhaps I can work a little magic…"
"Don't even try it, Gloyd. I'm not in the mood for a prank right now." Rancis shot daggers at the prankster, causing Gloyd to meekly hold his hands up in surrender.
"Okay, okay. Geez… calm down, Rancis." Gloyd's expression soon changed to that of a knowing smile though. "But at least I managed to get a rise out of you. Nice to have the old Rancis back. You were such a wreck out there in the open earlier. That was so unlike the vain you."
Rancis groaned. "Ugh, stop."
"Maybe all Rancis needs is a mug of root beer to clear his mind," Swizzle murmured, before raising his arm and voice to signal the bartender for service. "Hello? The three of us are thirsty! We could use a drink!"
He eventually quirked his head in confusion when he saw that the bartender was ignoring his call. "Hey, what gives?"
"Swizz, I think you better hold up. I think the drink guy's dealing with the commotion back there." Gloyd signaled to the others by discreetly gesturing his thumb towards the front most bench, where a large burly man dressed in red was pouring out his sorrows to… basically everyone in the tavern.
"I've never been more serious about anything in my life."
The sentence was so out of left field that all three racers could only give each other a disbelieving look, wondering exactly what had gotten the large-sized person in such a downcast mood.
From his current angle, Rancis could get a perfect view of the complaining man. But on the other hand, he couldn't actually get a good look at the barkeep as he had his back to them.
"That's why I came straight here, Tapper," he continued with an oversized fist propped against the tabletop. The three boys couldn't help but to crane their heads to hear the big man bemoaning his complaints to the bartender. "You've never given me a bum steer. Now, come on. Where can a guy like me go and win a medal?"
"Gee whizz…" Swizzle sighed, shaking his head in disappointment. "That's what got him so upset? I thought it was something more serious. Is he that desperate for a medal? That man sounds like he's never won anything before in his life."
Gloyd ruthlessly seized the opportunity to lightly punch Rancis in the shoulder. "Kinda like you, Rancis! You can relate to him, right?"
Rancis growled at his prankster friend's curt comment, even though it had been made in jest. "Low blow, pal," he muttered with a glare, "Low blow."
It was only when a mug of root beer slid past the three boys did they realize that they had been too caught up in their internal conversation to notice that the bartender had finished up his own conversation and was currently serving the drinks to everyone in the tavern.
Everyone except for them, that is, since they had been too busy talking amidst themselves to actually place an order.
"Hey, mister—" Swizzle raised his arm, only for Gloyd to hush him and signal him to lower his hand.
"Too late, Swizz." Beginning to get bored, Gloyd used his elbows to support his head as he let out a yawn. "He's back to consoling the big guy."
Rancis shook his head at that. Honestly, he'd expected better service himself.
"Okay. As you were saying?"
Rancis cocked his head as he paid attention to the conversation and noticed the bartender speaking for the first time. He certainly had a thick, unique accent to his voice.
The big red giant waited for the bartender to dust his hands off before continuing. "I was saying, I can't spend another thirty years living alone in the garbage… I'm not going back without a medal!" he incessantly insisted, hitting his enormous hands against the tabletop out of frustration.
The peanut butter-themed racer let out a weary sigh when he heard that. Honestly… he could relate to the man.
"Well, I don't know what to tell ya. Maybe somebody left a medal here." The bartender then used his free hand to point to the back of the tavern, "You're welcome to dig through the lost and found!"
The big red guy got to his feet and trudged towards the direction that the barkeep had gestured him towards, walking by the trio of racers as he made his way to the back. He raised a curious eyebrow when he passed them, but otherwise said nothing.
"So he's done now, right?" Swizzle asked as he saw the burly man swinging open the saloon door and disappearing down the corridor. When the doors swung back shut, he took that as his cue. "Sweet! Time to order." He raised his arm, waving it frantically. "Yo, mister bartender! Three root beers, on the double!"
"Alright, wait up. I'm comin'!"
The bartender walked towards their table, reaching for the keg and filling up three mugs of root beer to the brim. He was almost about to slide it across the bar when he suddenly paused, his eyes widening by a large margin.
All of them turned towards the barkeep at the single word, seeing him glaring furiously at them.
"What are you three doing here?" He frowned as he grunted at the trio, a maelstrom of emotions brewing within his blue eyes.
Rancis began to get an apprehensive feeling upon witnessing the bartender's reaction. Even Gloyd shot his friend a befuddled look in confusion. "What's going on? Why does he seem so angry?" he whispered to Rancis.
"Maybe he knows that you're planning to rig his root beer supply?"
"But I haven't even done that yet—"
Their subdued conversation was abruptly cut short when the bartender slammed the three full mugs down on the tabletop, startling the racers with the motion before he calmly sauntered towards them.
"Well, well, well…" The bartender slowly clapped his hands in a stiff, janky manner. "You three must have some serious guts to show up here in my tavern," he said in a serious tone, his footsteps reverberating throughout the floorboards as he walked.
Swizzle grinned. "Guts might be my middle name, but The Swizz is my first—"
"I said, what are you doing here?" The stout barkeep interrupted Swizzle with an accented voice as he twirled his mustache. "You're from Sugar Rush, am I right?" he demanded, quirking his head in a rigid fashion.
"H-How did you know?" Rancis stuttered, feeling uneasy at the bartender's perceptiveness.
"I'm not sure if you're trying to play punk with me, kid. I'd recognize anyone who's from Sugar Rush after what happened all those years ago." He shook his head, rubbing his temples as if he was suffering from a sudden migraine. "Especially after what you kids did to my place."
"Hey, Gloyd," Rancis whispered in a low voice. "Are you sure you never came here before?"
"I swear on my tastiest candy corn, Rancis," Gloyd answered with a perplexed expression. "I don't have a clue what he's talking about. I did not prank this guy, honest!"
Hearing Gloyd's disaffirmation, Rancis proceeded to scrutinize the bartender's face. However, he found no signs of deceit in his expression at all, which was certainly worrying given that neither he nor his friends had any idea as to what the bartender's deal was.
Why did the bartender know them when none of them had any recollection of him? The only one who might know him was Swizzle as the daredevil had game-jumped before, but one look at Swizzle's face and Rancis could tell that he was hopelessly lost himself.
It didn't make sense!
"I should have known that she'd been playing me for a fool. Fifteen whole years I've waited on this defaulted payment…" the barkeep murmured as he wiped the polished surface of the bar with a rug. "But no more. With you three, I can finally close my ledger entry and be reimbursed for this bad debt. I suppose that I should thank you for it…"
Rancis stared at the barkeep as he droned on. Already he was wishing that Swizzle hadn't taken Surge's advice to head over to Tapper's.
"Heh!" the bartender grinned, leaving the rug on the table as he rubbed his hands together. "What do you know? Today will be the day that I'll finally be able to claim back the funds owed by my sneaky little debtor!"
He leaned towards the Sugar Rush racers, his blue eyes glinting under the light that was emanating from the numerous oil lamps scattered around the tavern.
"After all… your princess owes me a thousand coins."
Sooooo… I wrote too much angst in my other ongoing WiR fic. Hence, I'm starting up a significantly more lighthearted story to compensate for my inner nerves shattering when writing that one.
Originally this fic was initially born out of a desire to adapt Vanellope's epic trolling of the racers at the end of the first movie — albeit with my own twist on it since I'm very sure that the scene in question has already been adapted at least ten dozen times. Those who know me would know that I prefer to write new ideas that have not been penned down before, so yeah.
But as you can clearly see, it completely became a thing of its own. This story started out as a oneshot, and then it became a multi-chapter slice-of-life, and now it is a standard multi-chapter AU. Was supposed to be Swizzle-centric, too, but somehow became Rancis instead.
Anyway, despite all of the changes, I do hope that you like the general idea! See you soon!