Chapter 1: Day One.
“See you tomorrow, okay?”
It was already tomorrow, probably. Finn just couldn’t pull himself away from the remnants of the treehouse. Jake, BMO, and Shelby lay some distance away, curled underneath the waning summer moon. Finn was too tired to sleep. Weird how that worked. With everything that had happened today... Dreamscape. Golb. Fern. By all accounts, he wanted to sink into a cozy dream! But that just wouldn’t happen tonight. If he sat too long, he’d have to face a reality he wasn’t ready for. He had to distract himself somehow. So... he did. By sorting through the wreckage, he was helping Fern’s Tree. Fern needed some air, and a good place to grow. So far, Finn had three distinct piles: loot; salvage; trash. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the salvage yet. Maybe they would build another treehouse. Finn looked up at Fern, and at the Finn Sword seeming to glow with the pond’s reflection. Fern’s Tree was probably too small for a treehouse as immaculate as the old one. Maybe they would build a house next to it, then. Or maybe build a house around it, like PB’s castle.
“Hey, buddy.” Jake gently stretched his upper half to comfort Finn, leaving his bottom half behind with the sleeping. BMO snuggled into Jake’s fur. “Can’t sleep?” Finn shook his head. “How’re you holding up?”
Finn sighed a deep breath through his nose. “Not great,” he said, looking at his piles.
Jake held Finn’s hand. “I know. Me either.” There wasn’t much Jake could say right now to make things all better, but Finn had that face like he was beating himself up and Jake wasn’t about to let him get away with it. “How about getting some sleep, huh? Maybe just a little? And tomorrow we can get you a new arm, and that’ll be, like, seven times more helpful to Fern.”
Finn mustered a half-smile. “Okay.” Jake was right. A new arm would make this way faster. But as Finn was coaxed to settle against his friends, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still in Golb’s stomach. Finn was being digested again and again, trapped in that suffocating meatbox, hearing the song but no escape.
“I thought I’d go out saving someone.”
“We don’t get to choose how it happens.”
Finn’s ears rang with that awful metallic scraping that was Golb swallowing his identity. Beating his fists, cold and clammy, hopelessly, desperately. How could they accept defeat so easily? Finn tossed and turned on the grass, losing the battle against his clamoring thoughts. He didn’t want to sleep. He didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and face this again. At this rate, his nightmares were going to wake him up screaming. So he stayed awake, sorting through rubble and concocting adventures as the stars slowly twinkled away with the sunrise.
Chapter 2: Chateau Candy
“Hey, Jake.” Princess Bubblegum yawned into her coffee. “You’re here early. Like, way early.” She was wearing a robe over the clothes she walked them home in last night. Which meant Bubblegum stayed up all night, too. “Did you leave BMO back at the treehouse? I mean, the-”
“We took him to TT’s to play,” said Jake. Bubblegum nodded. Jake looked around, noticing the unusual silence enveloping the castle. “Why is it so quiet?”
Bubblegum yawned again. “I sent most of the Banana Guards over to Chateau Candy.”
“Ooh, fancy name! I like!” said Finn. It had a very nice air of elegance. “But, uh, what is it?”
Bubblegum smiled. “Aunt Lolly’s working on some... renovations. I wanted to go over there today, but I’ve got some things to work on here. Diplomacy and what not. It’s been a while since I’ve had to map out a code of conduct between kingdoms. Or, city-state? Honestly, I don’t know yet. After we get your arm business situated, do you think you can go over in my place and help her out? Find out what she needs, help build stuff, be her knight temporarily. I’ve gotta find her one.”
“Sure, we can do that!” said Finn with a confident grin. He rummaged through his pack for a notepad and pencil. Lolly List , he wrote, underlining it, and then, Knight .
“Great! Thanks. You boys want some breakfast? Pep Butt is making sausage and waffles. Gonna get this day started right. Right?”
“Right!” said the brothers, nodding enthusiastically.
“Sit there,” said Bubblegum, pointing to a hospital bed. It was the only clean surface in the room; everything else was covered in mechanical parts and metal bits. At some point she traded her robe for her lab coat.
Finn took his plate to the bed, sitting with it wedged between his knees and picking off of it with his free hand. Rather, his only hand. Jake wriggled his back half into a chair, propping himself into it with his fork hand and knife hand happily eating away. Bubblegum rummaged through a closet behind a curtain for a toolkit. She had a box tucked under her arm, wrapped in white cloth. It was probably Finn’s new arm. An arm tucked under her arm. Finn grinned to himself.
“Okay, Finn,” she said, hefting the shiny red toolkit across the floor with both hands. It must have been heavy. Finn stood to help her. “A-a-ah! You sit back down.” Finn sat. Bubblegum dropped it with a heavy thud at the foot of the bed.
“What the heck is in that thing?” Jake asked, looking at it suspiciously.
“I was considering some modifications, so I had to rebuild from scratch. Last model, there was a suction design on the stub, but this time I’m going to do something a little more drastic.”
Finn and Jake exchanged a look. “What do you mean, ‘drastic’?” asked Finn.
Bubblegum set the cloth wrapped box down to open the red chest. From it, she pulled a metal cuff and a jointed arm loosely held together by strings. Bubblegum unceremoniously slung it over her shoulder. Maybe it was the red case itself that was heavy. She then carefully unwrapped the white cloth, much more delicate with this than the metal arm. Inside lay a gelatinous tube filled with thousands of thin wires. Bubblegum waited for their questions, but the brothers only looked on in confusion. “It’s a true artificial arm. Better than just a plain old replacement you stick on your nub. This metal arm here is just a sleeve. The real star is this thing. I call it the NeRN. Nerve Replacement Negentropy. The NeRN bonds to your arm using this metal band, and the ligands inside act as an extension of your nervous system. It’ll take some calibrating over the next few weeks to get it just right, but it’ll be a perfect match in no time.”
“Let’s do it!” said Finn.
“Hold on a minute, there’s some things we still need to go over,” said Bubblegum, brow furrowing. “This isn’t going to be a quick operation. It’s going to take time to get this running smoothly, not to mention you’ll have to undergo surgery to connect the ligands to your nervous system and the metal sleeve. It’s probably going to take a few weeks at the least. More like a few months.”
“Oh,” said Finn quietly, reconsidering.
Jake looked between the arm pieces and Finn and Bubblegum. “What are our other options?” he asked.
“Well,” said Bubblegum, wrapping the NeRN back up again. “I can try to recover that other arm. Or I can build something else. Or you don’t have to have one, which is okay, too. You don’t have to have two arms.”
“Yeah, but it’s good for back scratches,” said Jake. “What do you think, Finn?”
On one hand, Finn could have a totally cool, never before seen artificial arm that could feel stuff and not be a paperweight. And it had all four fingers this time, too. On the other hand, Finn wasn’t so sure about the whole attachment-via-surgery thing. That would mean he would be bedridden for a while. And then he probably wouldn’t be allowed to do anything until it healed properly. Which meant he would be bored out of his skull and an anxiety-riddled sitting duck. And the convenience of replacing a suction cupped arm over a medically attached arm was much more appealing. “Can I think about it and come back later?” he asked.
“Of course, Finn.” Bubblegum smiled at him and patted his shoulder. “Thanks again, by the way. For everything. I don’t think I tell you that enough.”
Finn wanted to be happy to hear her comment, but it sounded too close to “ hey, you almost died and I’m making amends! ”. He set his empty plate on the bedside table and hopped up. “Well, if that’s everything, let’s get over to Chateau Candy! I’m sure Lolly will need all the help she can get. Renovations sound like a big project.”
Jake followed suite, folding his chair butt back into his dog butt. “See ya, Peebs! We’ll let you know if there’s anything we can’t do in your place.”
And with that, the two began their march toward Chateau Candy. It was clear on the other side of the Rock Candy Mountains, but Jake’s stretchy legs made a two hour hike more like rounding the corner. Finn reached for the notepad again. Mountain path , he wrote. For newcomers . Although, they were probably already working on that. Finn wasn’t so sure the Banana Guards would have made it all the way over there before breakfast without one. And Finn was right to think so, apparently; there wasn’t a single Banana Guard in sight as they approached Chateau Candy. To be fair, there wasn’t much in sight at all. The whole area was surrounded by a gigantic curtain. “Huh,” said Finn. That was a surprise.
“Wow, Aunt Lolly’s really rolling out the red carpet for this Chateau Candy, isn’t she?” said Jake, admiring the billowing sheets as they shrank toward the ground.
“Yeah,” said Finn. He could swear he spotted red carpet just under the hem.
“Oh, hello boys!” called Lolly. She crawled out from underneath the curtain, smiling up at them. Her frock was smeared with chocolate batter. “You’re here earlier than I expected. Bonnibel said she was sending along some help.” Lolly looked around. “I kind of thought she would have sent more.”
Finn and Jake looked at each other. “They’re running a little late,” said Jake. If the BGs didn’t show by noon, they’d take a quick break for a rescue mission.
“Oh, good!” said Lolly. “In that case, why don’t I give you a little tour? And here’s a snack. I was working on the recipe, but these are duds. Still yummy, though.” From her pocket she pulled two pieces of brownie brittle. It was brownie-ish and brittle-ish. But it wasn’t good enough for Lolly. “Gumbald sure loved sculpting houses made of cake, but he never gave my brittle idea a chance. Have you ever tried to take a bite into stale brittle? You’d sooner cut your tongue!” she chuckled.
“It’s a good thing this batch is fresh then, huh?” said Jake, elbowing Finn.
Lolly looked back in confusion. “Eh? Oh. Anyway,” she said. Suddenly the boys didn’t feel like eating. “There’s the outpost. I don’t think I need a wall quite like Bonnibel’s, but a guard is a good idea. That’s where the barracks used to be. They’re going to be houses now. That’s the old fort. I’ll take that down, soon. Maybe I’ll make a memorial in its place, what do you think? Oh, and over there is where I’m starting the foundation for Gumbaldia. A strip mall for Gumbald, just like he wanted. Lots of shops and restaurants and whatnots. For tourists. On the east side I was hoping to put some apartments, and on the far end, I’m building myself a white chocolate house. I was considering putting a trolley through the heart of Gumbaldia, but I want to talk to Bonnibel also about putting a train through the mountains for the true gallivanters.”
Finn was busy scribbling in his notepad. Gate maybe. How many houses? So many tracks. Food where? Expansion? He had a lot of questions that he thought Bubblegum would ask, but he decided to wait. It was only Lolly’s first day in power. She had a lot on her plate, what with all the demolitions. She was practically gutting the center of the city.
“Well, that’s about it for the tour right now,” said Lolly, stopping at the edge of a shallow rectangle dug out of the earth. It stretched a good distance out, and they could see a few cake men working on a giant mixer. “These here are the molds for my brownie brittle walls. We’ll pour the batter and let it set and when it’s time to build we’ll hoist them up! Jake, your size will really come in handy when we’re ready.”
Jake puffed out his chest in pride. “Happy to be of assistance, ma’am!”
“What can I do for you, Aunt Lolly?” asked Finn.
“I need someone to round up the rest of the cake men and help me harvest some peppermint from the Candy Cane Forest. The cake men can be a lazy bunch, so they’ll need some motivation, but I think you can do it, Finn! Make sure to get nice, big stalks. They’ll be sturdy beams for the apartments.”
Motivate the cake bros . Finn tucked his notepad away. “Okay. Got it! No problem.”
“Oh!” Lolly quickly patted herself down. “Before you go, take this.” She tossed Finn a set of keys.
“Oh, cool! What’s this for?” said Finn, ignoring the fact that he’d never quite learned to drive.
“For the tank, silly! You can use it to help lug the peppermint back here.”
Finn gave a tentative nod. “As long as it’s not loaded.” He absolutely did not want to deal with any catastrophic accidents today.
“Sounds like the BGs are here!” said Jake, curling his ear into a giant funnel. “Let’s split ‘em half and half, Finn. That way you and I can both have some help.”
“Good idea,” said Finn, running off to meet the home team at the edge of the curtain.
“Why are we doing this, again?” grumbled a cake man. Finn quickly learned this was Cake Steve, and he was the top instigator of the laziness that crept through the cakes. Cake Steve intended to spend his days doing nothing but nothing.
“Because,” said Finn, “Lolly needs everyone’s help. And she’s your princess, and you have a duty as a citizen of Candy Chateau to help her.”
“Not a princess,” Cake Steve grumbled under his breath.
Finn took a deep breath. Cake Steve was technically right. There hadn’t been any formal ceremonies yet, but that didn’t change anything in Finn’s eyes. “Anyway, doesn’t building give you a sense of accomplishment? Don’t you want to be proud of something?”
Cake Steve shrugged. “I couldn’t care less.” There were a few murmurs of agreement. The more Cake Steve spoke, the more his negative attitude permeated the others. Finn was going to lose his group at this rate. When the tank stalled over a hill, Cake Steve refused to help push, and a few other cake men hung back and kicked at the dirt. When they reached the Candy Cane Forest, Cake Steve sat in the pilot seat of the tank and played his harmonica, and a few more sat around singing songs. When it came time to harvest the tallest, thickest stalks Finn could find, nearly half of his group had a picnic set up with tea and sandwiches and cookies.
“Hey!” shouted Finn. “Come on, guys, it’s not lunch time yet!”
“But we’re tired!” said a banana guard helping himself to the snack party.
Finn couldn’t be too mad at the Banana Guards. They did hike through the mountains only a few hours ago. But the cake men, on the other hand, were ones Finn had woken up only an hour ago by knocking on their front doors and asking them to help. So why were they so… so dang lazy?! He pulled his trusty sword, Scarlet, from his pack and set to work hacking away at a peppermint stalk. Finn wished Jake was here. Jake was good at motivating others. He could probably connect with these guys better than Finn could. Finn wasn’t used to being in charge like this. He didn’t realize it could be this frustrating. Bubblegum was really impressive to deal with this on a daily basis. He wondered if Lolly had trouble with these cake men, too.
The peppermint stalk creaked and swayed with the breeze. Finn hacked at it a few more times, and it started to lean. “Timber!” he yelled, backing up. The stalk snapped with a loud crunch, shaking the ground below their feet. The felled cane earned an audience as those on break came to observe. Cutting candy cane with a sword was hard work. Finn was already panting. He hoped this sudden interest by the cake men and Banana Guards would mean he wouldn’t have to do the rest by himself.
“Wow, good job, Finn!” said a Banana Guard, high fiving him. Impressed nods waved through the little crowd.
Finn had a small moment of clarity as he observed his work. Maybe they were just… stumped? The cake men were created to be soldiers, right? Now that Lolly’s focus is on bettering the city and not military expansion…
Finn dropped to the ground as a deafening echo whizzed through his ears. He whipped around to see the source of the explosion, to find… Cake Steve staring back at him from the open hatch of the tank, feet still propped on the dashboard.
“ Dude! ” Finn screamed. Cake Steve sputtered into an apology. Finn ran to the teetering stalk, trying with little luck to push it to fall the other way. If it fell the direction it wanted, he’d have to explain to both Lolly and Bubblegum why he couldn’t stop this accident. This was exactly why he didn’t want a loaded tank! “Everyone, help push it the other way!” Finn struggled out. The Banana Guards rushed to Finn’s aid, but it was soon clear that just the Banana Guards weren’t enough. “Cake bros, we really could use your help right about now!” Finn begged through clenched teeth.
They looked to Cake Steve, who stared back at them. This was kind of his fault, right? And he should probably do something about it, right? But the longer he waited, the more cake men settled back into their upturned picnic. Cake Steve muttered under his breath as he crawled out of the hatch. “Alright, you lazy cupcakes!” he yelled, “Get off your frosted buns and help Finn! If you don’t, we’ll have to do cleanup!” It was enough motivation to set the others into motion, and soon enough, they had the stalk falling away from their makeshift picnic.
“Thanks, dude,” said Finn, offering Cake Steve a high five. “I mean it.”
Cake Steve did not accept the high five. “Listen, Finn,” he said, kicking at the dirt, hands in his pockets. “It was my fault the tank launched. You could have been hurt real bad, and… I’m sorry.”
Finn looked between the tank and the chunk taken out of the second stump. “You know what? It’s okay. Actually, if I could get you to do that again, it’d be a real help.”
“What?” said Cake Steve.
“Yeah! That was, like, way faster than trying to chop it down with a sword.” Finn scratched at his cheek. “And if it’s faster, that means y’all cake men can get back to your picnic in no time.” It was quiet as the team processed that information, but Finn grinned to see the nods of approval.
“That’s it boys, easy! Hold it there!” Lolly hoisted a giant bag of icing over her head, dolloping uniform scallops down the seam of the brownie walls. “Nice job!”
Jake stood tall above the walls, holding them in place as the icing dried. He could see Finn and the others trekking back into the city, and stretched his neck to meet with Finn. “Hey, buddy! That was fast. How’d it go out there? I heard some explosions.”
Finn flashed a tired grin. “Being a princess way harder than I thought. I almost had to get a metal head, too.”
“Dude,” said Jake, “cyborg. Cool.”
“How’s it over here?” Finn asked, observing Jake’s body towering over about twenty roofless brownie houses.
“It’s like building gingerbread houses, but a hundred times harder. You can’t let the walls cave in. People actually gotta live in these.”
“Welcome back!” called Lolly. “Ooh, look at those lovely stalks! Good work!”
Cake Steve parked the tank and hopped out, willingly helping the others unload the harvested peppermint from the makeshift sled dragging along behind.
“Wow,” said Lolly under her breath. “How’d you do it?”
Finn shrugged. “I told them that the faster they helped, the faster they could get back to whatever. You might wanna cash in on that productivity while you’ve got it.”
Lolly clapped her hands. “Alright, everyone! Let’s get roofs on these houses and we can call it done for today, how’s that sound?”
Cheers echoed through the camp.
It was a long trek back to the Fern Tree. The sun was low in the sky, but the air was still warm from a hot summer day. All they could smell was sugar sweet icing that clung to them like… icing. Icing and feet. Finn sniffed at his shoulder. Ew. That foot smell was him. Luckily they were coming up to a stream that Finn somewhat regularly bathed in.
“You sure you don’t want to stay at Bubblegum’s castle tonight?” Jake asked, toeing the cool water.
“Eh. No thanks,” said Finn, slipping out of his clothes. “I don’t want to leave Fern Tree all alone. He’s just a sapling. Besides, we left all our loot there. If we don’t show up, somebody could take it. Twenty-four hour rule.”
Jake shrugged in agreement. “I guess.” Jake really didn’t want to sleep outside again tonight, but he also didn’t want to leave Finn by himself. So he’d suffer with mosquitos for a few days, if that’s what it took to help Finn feel better enough to borrow a friend’s couch. “Oh, you know what? I bet we could build a little fort or something when we get back! To keep out the bugs.”
“Sure,” said Finn. He ducked his head under the water.
Jake scratched his stomach. He was hungry. Maybe they could have dinner at Treetrunks’ house-
Jake turned at the sound of the noise. It came from the forest, and it didn’t sound like leaves. Well, it sort of did. It sounded like someone whacking a tree branch with another tree branch. Jake didn’t like it. “Finn!” he whisper-shouted. “Finn, I think we have company!” Finn couldn’t hear him over the sound of bubbling waters. A pair of large yellow eyes glinted out from the shadows. Jake and the yellow eyes stared at each other in silence. Jake very didn’t like it.
The eyes slunk into dying sunlight, followed by a pair of tree branches for horns and a weird smiling mouth that looked too big for the head it was glued to. Between the eyes and the mouth, there was hardly a room for a nose. It looked reptilian, almost. But also like Huntress Wizard? Green and planty and hooded. It was weird.
“Hey,” said Jake, attempting to be casual despite the fur on the back of his neck standing on end.
The mouthy thing paused. Jake guessed it didn’t expect him to speak. “Hey,” it echoed. It turned back toward the forest. “Are you coming or what, slow ass?”
Something else hooded came out of the shadows, grumbling under its breath. It dragged along a weird horse, with a saddlebag but no saddle. It must have said something to the green one, because it laughed a gross high-pitched laugh, but Jake couldn’t hear its voice. The three waded across the river and disappeared into the other side, Jake watching the weird parade.
Finn popped his head out just as the horse’s tail swished through the foliage. "Look at this cool rock I f- what are you looking at?"
“Man, you just missed the weirdest thing,” said Jake, staring into nothing.
Chapter 3: Trash Day
It was a sticky midsummer afternoon. Birds sang and bugs yelled and squirrels squabbled for claim to the new territory named Fern Tree. In their free time between helping Lolly and Bubblegum, Finn and Jake built a makeshift fort from the wreckage of the old tree house. It wasn’t pretty but it was pretty cool. And it wasn’t summer rain proof. Water pooled in the shallow dips, making for soggy sleeping bags and unwanted mosquito parties.
“Finn,” said Jake, scratching at his bug bites. “I hate to say it, buddy, but we gotta do something about this fort.”
“What about some tarps?” suggested Finn.
Jake shook his head sadly. “No, man. You know it’s gotta come down.”
Finn stared at his sock feet. Jake was right. This wasn’t their tree house anymore. Just a pile of garbage Finn was trying to rescue from an inevitable fate. Jake humored him enough to scrap this sad fort together, but even Finn didn’t want to party with mosquitos three point four two eight continuing times. Heh. Math joke. Because twenty four divided by sev- no? Okay. “Okay,” said Finn.
Jake blinked in surprise. He expected more of a fight about this. Well, he wouldn’t complain. Tearing down the fort would do Finn some good. At the very least, it would do Lolly some good. Finn had spent every single possible moment over at the Chateau Candy for the last two weeks and it was starting to worry her. Lolly was convinced Finn was overworking himself, and wouldn’t listen to excuses. She effectively banned Finn from Chateau Candy for three days, putting Jake in charge of proximity. Jake was pretty sure Lolly had never told a seventeen year old not to do something before. It was basically begging them to do the exact opposite.
“Let’s go borrow the tow-tank from Aunt Lolly.”
“W-What?” Jake stumbled. Oh, no. it was already starting. Finn didn’t even know he wasn’t supposed to be at Chateau Candy and he was already being drawn to it!
“The tow-tank. It’ll make dragging this garbage over to the River of Junk a breeze!”
A much welcomed breeze passed through the fort, pushing some mosquitos out with it.
Jake scratched at his jowls. “Why would we need a tow-tank when I can just scoop up all the pieces with my shovel hands?” said Jake, turning his hands into shovels.
Finn giggled. “Listen, you know I love you and your shovel hands. But I want to get better at driving. And the tow-tank is in better condition than any of the other junker cars we find. And it’s slow, so I won’t hurt anything.”
Jake’s shovels shrank into fingers. Dang. Finn had a pretty solid excuse. “Well, what if I turn into the tank? You can drive me!”
Finn frowned, tugging on his boots. “Dude, let’s just go to CC. It’ll take, like, twenty minutes.”
“Okay, first, that’s a gross miscalculation of time,” Jake said. “And second, Aunt Lolly doesn’t want…today.”
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“I said Aunt Lolly doesn’t want you at Chateau Candy today,” said the guilty Jake. “Or the next two days after.”
“What?” Finn asked. “Why?”
Jake sighed, twiddling his fingers. “She thinks you’re working yourself too hard. She wants you to take a break. And she put me in charge to make sure you don’t go near it. Sorry, Finn.”
Finn stared at his boots, processing the information. “Oh.” He lifted his head up with a smile and a shrug. “Okay. You can be the tank,” he said. He stood and slid away the fort door. It came off its setting and thudded to the ground.
“Really?” said Jake, tagging along behind. “You’re not upset?” Maybe doing the exact opposite was a sixteen year old thing.
“Nah, it’s cool.” Finn ruffled Jake’s fur. “Besides, it gives us time to take care of this, right?”
They looked at their fort in full sunlight. It was a soggy mess, sunken in the middle, with boards threatening to fall at the slightest touch. It was a wonder the thing didn’t fall on them with last night’s light shower.
“What are we gonna do with all our treasure while we take this away?” asked Finn.
“I could bury it?” offered Jake. “But that’s, like, literally asking somebody to come by and dig it up.”
Finn stared up at the Fern Tree. “We could leave a note?”
Jake snorted. “‘Hey, there’s a butt ton of treasure buried under this tree. But don’t touch it, okay? BRB THX.’”
Finn laughed. “You’re right, that’s stupid. Maybe PB will hold onto it for us.”
“Do you want to do the honors, or shall I?” asked Jake, swooping downward with a dramatic bow.
“After you,” mimicked Finn.
Jake reached a stretchy arm around the fort, wriggling his fingers as he searched for the perfect spot to tear away. He could just smash it down with a giant wrecking ball hand, but this was supposed to be therapeutic! Symbolically moving on! Jake peeled away one sideboard with utmost care. The fort complained with a squeaky creak, but miraculously continued to stand. “Your turn, my good gentleman,” said Jake, retreating with his broken board.
“If I may, my good gentledog,” said Finn. He took in a deep breath through his nose, backed away a few steps, and screamed into a flying kick directly at the wall. It came crashing down unceremoniously, Finn swallowed by the twice-collapsed wreckage.
“Finn!” Jake exclaimed in worry, rushing to dislodge his friend.
Finn resurfaced with a hearty laugh, a bit scratched but otherwise fine. “Dude, this fort was so sad!” he said. Jake laughed, too.
They spent a large portion of the late morning finalizing the trash pile. It was hard to keep Finn on track; the human had wonderful ideas for reusing the mess, but Jake wouldn’t have it. It was trash! Symbolism! After much debate, they were ready to haul it away. Their keep pile was noticeably smaller than Finn’s original proposition. Mostly because Jake didn’t see the value in half a couch, nor weapons bent beyond repair, nor did he want to keep the hundred computers they’d amassed while hunting for BMO parts. They did, however, manage to find a coffee grinder, some pelts, a chipped cup, a teepee, a radio, lunch, some socks, and, of course, their precious loot pile. (The cup was a bit of a battle; Finn won on account of Jake clinging to their broken clock for dear life.)
Jake begrudgingly admitted the loot would have to be buried while they were away. There was just too much a risk of throwing their shinies into the River of Junk by mistake. But, they had enough of a set up to maybe trick robbers into thinking someone was nearby. Jake buried their treasure with ease, as dogs do, and Finn set the teepee atop the freshly turned dirt, staged with their non-loot findings. It was pretty convincing. The boys high-fived.
“Soooo,” Jake started, driving furry tires over the ground. “Have you thought about the NeRN at all?” It was probably a sensitive topic; they hadn’t spoken about it since Bubblegum made the offer. Figurative landmine approaching.
Finn stared out the open Jake-tank window, hand on the steering wheel. “Yes and no.”
Jake waited for more of an explanation. All he received was silence. Should he press on the subject?
“I just…” Finn continued, although haltingly. He seemed to be stringing his words together in real time. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, this new arm sounds math. But I don’t know if I’ll survive being bedridden for three months, you know?” Finn took his hand off the steering wheel for a moment to rub his face. (Jake screeched, swerving along the path; Finn righted himself immediately.) “I mean, I’ll go crazy if I sit still that long right now.”
Jake kind of knew this conversation was coming. It was hard enough to get here as it was, lugging behind him an entire tree house worth of trash. “You wanna talk about that Finn Stew you’re brewin’?” he asked slowly.
Finn gazed up at the clouds through the trees. Despite the sticky heat, it was a beautiful day. “I keep thinking about Golb. And Betty. When we were escaping Golb’s stomach, she stayed behind to make a wish on the crown. What happened to her? Where is she now? Is she Golb? Is she-”
“Sounds like whatever Betty’s doing, it’s what she wanted to do,” said Jake lightly. “You know that better than anyone, I think. Besides Simon.” Finn was quiet again. Jake wriggled his arms free from the Jake-tank, wrapping around Finn several times for a tight hug. “Anyway, you know Simon’s gonna go try to rescue her. If you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before we have a crazy adventure on our hands. And then you won’t have time to sit and think about sad stuff.”
Finn perked up. “You know what, Jake? I think you’re right.” If Finn knew Simon at all, he’d travel to the ends of the universe to find Betty. “I need to go on an adventure.”
“Not to Dungeon Train?” Jake asked bleakly.
Finn chuckled. “Not to Dungeon Train.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I smell gold.”
“You smell your teeth, you insatiable thief.”
“Shut up, don't sing at me! I know it’s around here somewhere!”
The tall one sighed in annoyance, climbing into the tree by the clearly lived-in teepee. The leaves rustled loudly against the windflow; the stranger started. They ran their hand over the bark, scanning it closely through a ring made of rock. “Oh,” they said. “It’s you.” They tucked away their rock and reached for the strumstick tied to their back. “Would you like me to play you some music?” The tree rustled again, gently this time. They gave a small smile as they plucked out a slow melody, humming to the spirit in the tree.
“Stop playing that shitstick!” shouted the thieving imp. It was about waist deep in a hole, bending its body at unnatural angles to shovel through the freshly upturned dirt.
“Strumstick,” the musician replied quietly.
“As soon as I find my treasure, I’ll show you what real music sounds like!”
“No, please. Take your time.” The musician rolled their eyes. “You don’t want to hear it,” they whispered to the tree. “You don’t even have to have ears to know it’s awful.”
“Hey, Finn! Long time no sing,” said the Music Hole.
“Hey, Music Hole!” Finn replied.
Jake paused, staring at the Music Hole. Last time they came here, he saw only a big gaping hole in the ground. This time there were giant eyes above it. And it made sounds that Jake could hear. His eyes glazed as the tremors of the hole’s melody reverberated through him. “You’re right, dude. It does sound like an entire universe vibrating in harmony.”
“Oh,” said the Music Hole. It was a sad tone. “You can see me now, too?”
“It’s been a hard month,” said Finn gently.
Jake plucked a long blade of grass and flopped down where he stood, settling down to listen to the song and watch the sky float by. “Nice to meet you, Music Hole. I’m Jake. And I like your song.”
The Music Hole blushed. “Thanks, Jake. And nice to meet you, too. What brings you guys out here today?”
Finn followed Jake’s lead, flopping spread-eagle against the itchy, fluffy grass. “We had some chores to take care of in the area. Thought we’d stop by and say hello.”
Beautiful music, beautiful clouds, lounging side by side with his best friend. Finn appreciated this healing moment. He felt, maybe a just little, at peace. Laughing and talking and carrying on… Golb seemed so far away. And far less frightening. “I came pretty close to biting it back there.” Finn’s smile faded. “I never would have gotten out of there without your singing. It’s amazing how strong that song was.”
Jake shrugged. “Music is powerful, man. It speaks to a primal pit in our brains. It makes anyone wanna get up and get their knees goin’!” Jake rolled himself onto his feet, dancing a little jig. “Gotta get ‘em pumping, pumping, pumping! Boom-pa-boom-pa-boom!” Finn chuckled, standing with Jake. “What do you think, Music Hole?”
“Jake’s right. A good song can really wrap people up in a mood. Better than any words alone could.”
The boys nodded to each other, right with their singing friend.
“Actually,” said the Music Hole, “I’ve been working on a new song, myself. It’s about a really specific feeling that’s hard to describe. Would you like to hear it?”
Music Hole closed its eyes, cleared its throat, and…
Finn and Jake collapsed to the ground, holding their heads. “Uh, Music Hole?!” groaned Jake. “I don’t think this song is consumable for us Ooo-folk!”
“I-It’s not me!” stuttered out the Music Hole. “It’s coming from the other side of the hills!”
The shrieking whistles were cut short with an otherworldly scream.
“Dude!” said Jake. “Our teepee is on the other side of those hills! I bet somebody is tryin’ to steal our gold!”
Finn leapt onto Jake’s back as the dog grew taller than the neighboring trees, galloping as fast as he could to the source of the terrible noise. Finn gripped hard at Jake’s fur. Too hard. “Yeowch!” howled Jake. “Watch it back there!” But Finn couldn’t hear him. What happened to the beautiful day? To the laughter just a minute ago? Golb was breathing down his neck, wrapping around him with that gross forked tongue. Finn couldn’t breathe.
‘Stop taking everything away from me!’
They arrived at the scene of the crime in no time flat. “ HEY! ” shouted Jake, out of breath. Running at top speed while gigantic was not good for his lungs. “Get away from there, you thieves!”
“Aw, titties,” said the imp.
“Two,” whispered the musician, staring at the boy in blue and back at the tree.
What happened next surprised and sickened the growling dog. The imp, half deep in the ground, was suddenly attacked by their partner with a swift gut punch. The imp vomited coins and jewels and necklaces and dirt back into the hole from which it stole- three times as much as they expected to fit in the tiny goblin- who was then flung by its horns onto what could only be described as a horse (but it was absolutely not a horse). The two escaped in only seconds.
“Those were the people I saw crossing the river the other day!” Jake said. “Come on, Finn, let’s chase them! Finn? Finn?!”
Chapter 4: Pearly White
“You sure about this?” whispered Marceline, peeking through the kitchen window into the living room.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help clean up,” said Bubblegum, cooing at a cheese-and-jalapeno covered Peppermint Butler. Nachos were tricky business.
“You know what I mean,” said Marceline with a click of her tongue.
Bubblegum handed her the bottle of soda and pointed to a tray of ice-filled cups on the counter. “Pour,” she said. Marceline took the soda. Bubblegum leaned close to her, voice low. “Doctor Princess recommended he start off with a little social therapy before he gets comfortable enough with scheduled one-on-one sessions. It’s like Plan C, but doctor-prescribed.”
“No, I get that,” said Marceline. “What I mean is, is it a good idea to have a jam sesh now ? Like, is it appropriate? Don’t you think it might, I don’t know, trigger him?”
Bubblegum paused. Marceline had a point. They looked through the window at Finn, who was plucking out a staggered chord on a ukulele. Jake was trying is best to show him how the strings worked, but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Well,” she said, “I guess we’ll cross that pineapple when we come to it.”
“We’ve got ourselves some sodas!” said Marceline, floating upside down through the kitchen window with the tray of sodas rattling precariously in one hand. The other pantomimed an invisible microphone. “We’re here tonight with our special guest musician, please introduce yourself!” She held both hands out to Finn, who took a cup with a sheepish grin.
“It’s your boy Finn Mertens,” he said, feeding off Marceline’s hype.
“Let’s hear it for Finn Mertens!” she said, motioning for everyone to make some noise.
Finn took the invisible microphone from her hand, walking to the front of the room. “It’s an honor to be at this venue tonight, a big thank you to everyone who made this possible. My mom and dad, my human mom and dad, my friends and band members: Jake on violin, Marcy on bass, PB on BMO, Simon on drums, Peppermint Butler on Nachos…” Finn laughed as they took turns waving and bowing to an unseen crowd. “Tonight I’ve got a raw song I’ve been working on. It’s for Fern, and it’s called ‘To Fern’. Fern, if you’re out there, this one’s for you, buddy. Okay, uh, feel free to join in as you want. Let’s get this party started.” Finn returned to his borrowed ukulele, forgoing the chords and plucking a simple melody.
Feels like winter.
Does that mean your leaves will fall?
Fading again, it’s lonely after all.
Are you comfortable where you stand?
Birds in your hand, I don’t understand
what it means to live without a brother.
I’ll help you grow big and tall
so I can sit under your shadow,
and watch the grass across the meadow.
I want to pretend you never left at all.
I know you’re planted where you wanna stand,
with birds in your hand, don’t wanna understand
what it means to live without you, brother.
Feels like winter.
I’ll collect your leaves when they fall.
Fading again, it’s lonely after all.
“You are more precious than anything in this world, and we will always, always love you,” said Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig to Sweet P.
“Do you have your tooth?” said Tree Trunks.
“Yes, Mama,” said Sweet P.
“Don’t forget to leave it under your pillow, now.” Mr. Pig tucked him in. “That tooth fairy sure will be shocked, won’t he?” he said, winking to Tree Trunks. “Two visits in a week. By the end of the month, you might just have a whole mouth of big kid chompers!” Mr. Pig opened the window to let in the cool night air and, perhaps, the tooth fairy.
Sweet P. gave a little growl and a little giggle, snuggling down into his pillow. “Good night, Mama. Good night, Papa.”
“Good night, Sweet P.”
And Sweet P. drifted off into a pleasant dream, full of fluffy marshmallows and chocolate cakes, waiting patiently for the tooth fairy to trade his tooth for a nice, shiny coin.
Except, neither of the people sneaking in through the window were the tooth fairy. The tall one led with their eye peering through a ring-shaped rock, creeping in gracefully. The other tumbled in with a heavy thud and a pair of scary-looking pliers, knocking over the decorative plant in the corner.
Yellow eyes and a mouth full of mismatched teeth grinned up at the sleeping baby giant. “Look at the size of those gems!” it sizzled out, greedily chomping the pliers open and closed. Pearly white and massive, chock full of curse power. The reptilian lunged, hardly able to control the excitement, when the other stuck out their arm and effectively clotheslined the it in the neck. “What the shit?!” it hissed.
The musician pointed to the pillow, catching the gleam of one sparkling tooth under the sleeping giant. “Take that,” they whispered. Their partner grumbled but did as it was told, stealing the single tooth and swapping it for a handful of nightshade berries from their codpouch. It was a lovely berry, nice and oily black and perfect for nightshade jam. Oh, well. Tooth curses were more important right now than a snack. It didn’t even get time to admire the tooth before the musician was swatting at their shoulder. “What do you want?” it snapped.
“We have to go!” they said. “Someone is coming.”
And they both slipped out through the open window, one more graceful than the other, leaving behind footprints tracked in the spilled dirt.
Mr. Pig crept into the room, covered in glitter and shiny pink tulle. It was the perfect rendition of a tooth fairy, or so he thought, as he came face to face with the real tooth fairy only seconds later. And Mr. Pig was surprised to see they looked nothing alike.
“What the stink is this?!” said the tooth fairy, holding up the handfuls of nightshade. “You trying to poison me or something?!”
“I- what-? No, Sweet P. lost his tooth, and- huh?”
The grumpy old pixie harrumphed and hoohah-ed for a few moments before throwing up his hands and stuffing his pants full with berries. “Consider yourself lucky!” he warned, flying back through the window. “Next time, you better have the teeth, or I’ll curse your orchard!”
Mr. Pig sat in the dirt, staring out at the moonlit night. “What… just happened?”
Chapter 5: What is it with All These Teeth?
Under the light of the moon, a doorway will appear inside the fairy ring, where none but faefolk must enter. It’s said that if you dine and drink with the fae inside the fairy ring, you’ll be trapped forever in their world. They’ll steal your skin and parade around in it, pretending to be you and playing pranks on all your friends. Well, it’s not quite as extreme as that, but you will get a nasty hangover. Faefolk really know how to throw a party. (But, you still may want to check and make sure your skin is all there before you leave. It’s not a rumor for nothing.)
This particular doorway led to the fairy bazaar, a wonderful place to sell and trade all kinds of strange and magical things. Wizards had their city. Fairies had their shops. It was a loud and excitable place for so late at night. The two travelers made their way to The Glasswing. It was a stall full singing stones and coruscating crystals. Mostly a bunch of cheap enchanted pretties, but some things were particularly useful. The musician kept a tight grip on their stone necklace. They feared this shop owner may have been the maker.
“Hey, fartbreath!” shouted the yellow-eyed lizard thing. Its partner sighed apologetically.
“Well, well, well! Look who it is! Haven’t seen you since Slipper Pond!” A very old pixie wiggled her cane at the tooth-thief. She appeared frail at first, but she still radiated a youthful energy. She wasn’t fading any time soon. “What name are you going by now?” she asked.
“Pepper,” said Pepper proudly, puffing out its chest. “And my sidekick here is Wilder. Don’t be fooled, though. They’re about as wild as a blade of grass,” it laughed.
Wilder shrugged, eyes low. It wasn’t out of fear or respect; they towered above all these tiny fairies.
The old pixie crinkled her brows. “What’s wrong with you? Cat got your tongue?”
Pepper grinned, flashing one big molar that was too big for its mouth. “Curse of Muteness. Pulled their best teeth.”
Wilder found themselves suddenly fishhooked by the thief barely a third their height, toppling into the ground. “Hey!” they barked. No sound came out.
“Oh,” said the old pixie, nodding. “That’s a powerful one. You know, I just might have a little trick remedy around that. Out of curiosity, what’d you do?”
“What didn’t they do is the question,” Pepper snorted. “Curse of Muteness and tipped? This here huldra is a regular criminal.”
The passersby paused, looking at the felled elf. “Huldra?” they whispered; some in awe, others in fear.
“Don’t go causing a scene,” Wilder huffed, prying Pepper’s hands out of their mouth. Its fingers still tasted like dirt.
“Don’t go being a criminal, then,” Pepper sassed.
Fartbreath (whom Wilder hoped was not actually named Fartbreath) looked between the two of them. “Come into my tent,” she said. As they followed suit, she pulled down her crudely made open sign. She pointed to some cushions on the floor. “Sit,” she said. They sat. Then, quietly, “What’s a huldra doing so far from home?” Wilder studied her for a moment, then looked to Pepper, who groaned.
“They’re on a special mission ,” it said sarcastically, wiggling its fingers. “They stole something, got jailed for it, and I so bravely rescued them from a life of butt-scratching boredom.”
Fartbreath watched Wilder carefully. “And what is it that you stole?” She focused on the necklace in their hand.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” said Wilder, fearing she may have already known. Stealing a properly given item and facing said giver was blasphemy.
“They said they don’t want to tell a fartbreath like you,” said Pepper.
“That’s not what I said, you mongrel,” Wilder grumbled.
The old pixie grinned. “Oh, Pepper, are you keeping Wilder’s voice all to yourself?”
“It’s not like that!” Wilder started, waving their free hand rapidly as if to dissuade the bad air those words brought.
Pepper staged a bashful fumbling. “Couldn’t help it. I wanted their teeth. Have you seen how shiny they are?”
“You! Stop that!” Wilder smacked it upside the head.
Fartbreath laughed. “Well, if you’re here for an undoing, I’m afraid I can’t help with that. Placing a curse is mostly easy. Undoing it is four or five times harder.” Wilder slumped.
“Nah,” said Pepper. “I’m here for that gossip. We need to know where to find Golb’s Fang.”
The pixie faltered. “What did you say?”
“Golb’s Fang. You know, embodiment of chaos and discord. Real party crasher of a god.”
Fartbreath paled, then turned a clammy shade of green. “Oh, dear. Oh, my.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Pepper.
The pixie shook her head, turning away from them. “So it’s true, then. Vias is waking?”
Wilder shot up, nearly knocking over the whole tent. They weren’t made for such close quarters.
“I was afraid of this,” said Fartbreath. “I thought the days were too long. I thought the night air was too cold. They’re out of balance. The world will stop turning. We’ll all be consumed! The Taker will eat us all!”
“Get a grip, lady,” said Pepper. “And you, sit your scarecrow-lookin’ bones down.”
Wilder sat on shaky knees.
“Vias ain’t worth their two left tits,” said Pepper. “As long as we can reawaken Golb, we can restore some kind of balance before ass hits the fan. You see what I’m saying? I already got a tooth from the Lich’s weird manbaby body. Right here.” Pepper flashed the giant molar housed in its gums. “So if you’d point us in the right direction, we can crash this party before it even starts. Unless you want the world to end. In which case you can keep sitting there rubbing your hands together like a scared little baby.”
“Pepper, please,” Wilder whispered, hand on its arm.
“Offa me!” it growled. “We’d be done with the ritual by now you if weren’t so worried about your stupid gods and your Formalities. Golb fang or no, we already have the Lich’s power right here! Just awaken it already!”
“YOU!” barreled in a gruff voice, and after it, a fat grump. “You stole my tooth, you little skeevy little bug-eyed lizard!”
“Oh,” said Pepper, tucking that stolen molar right down into its throat. “It’s the tooth fairy. Hey, do you have any of Golb’s teeth? I kind of need them. For an art project-”
The tooth fairy charged, hands out and ready to strangle. “ YEEEAAAARGH! ” he screeched.
The plus side to being a giant to all these faefolk was that Wilder was easily able to break up fights Pepper started. Sure, that meant a sizeable bite mark bruising into the side of their arm, but it if anyone had the right to kill Pepper, it was Wilder without a doubt.
“Pepper,” said Wilder. “It’s time to give.”
“But I don’t want to!” it whined.
“Doesn’t matter now. You're right. We- I - wasted too much time. Please give it away.”
Pepper grumbled and growled, rolling the molar around in their gullet.
“Siva’s sake,” Wilder hissed, reaching in to grab it themselves. “Please allow us to give you the tooth that is rightfully yours by trade.” Pepper repeated their words for the tooth fairy to hear.
The tooth fairy eyed them both, then harrumphed as he dug into his pants. “By trade, I give you these elderberries. Which I assume already belonged to you.” And then, “Haven’t done the Formalities in a while. What’s with you? Polite thieves?”
Wilder bowed their head respectfully (and shoved Pepper’s head down, who refused to cooperate). “We ask you for knowledge of the whereabouts of Golb’s Fang.”
“Where the shit is Golb’s Fang, greedy goblin?” Pepper ate cushion. “Offa me!” it shouted, shoving Wilder away. “Wilder asks you humbly ‘for knowledge of its whereabouts’.”
“And why should I tell you?” said the tooth fairy.
“Ask your old lady,” Pepper replied through gritted teeth.
Fartbreath nodded solemnly. The tooth fairy grumbled. “I don’t have any. That red devil’s kept all its teeth since the dawn of time, I’m sure. But I’m just one in a lineage. There’s a human who knows more about Golb than any fairytale you’ll hear. I won’t be able to get you any connections, but talk to the Vampire Queen. She might point you in the right direction. Or she might eat you.” The old fairy man leaned in close, threatening to spit. “I’ll place my money on the latter.”
Chapter 6: Blossom
Finn looked up at the nameplate on the office door. It said Doctor Princess. The hallway was quiet. Too quiet for a hospital. Right? He knocked a careful knock. “Come in,” said Doctor Princess. Finn opened the door. Doctor Princess sat at an ornate desk, reading through some papers on her clipboard. “Good to see you Finn,” she said. The door closed behind him; Finn stood awkwardly. She looked at her clipboard for a few seconds longer, then set it aside, clicking her pen. “How are you doing?”
“Pretty okay, I guess,” he shrugged. He didn’t really know what to expect from this therapy session. Aside from that one little freakout, he really didn’t have much to report. “Just kind of doing my thing.”
“Please, sit,” said Doctor Princess, motioning to the couch opposite the desk. Finn sat. “What’s your thing lately?” she asked, scooting her chair around the side of the desk. “Are you still helping out over at Chateau Candy?”
“Nah,” said Finn. “Aunt Lolly said she didn’t want me over there for a while, so I just kind of stopped going. I’ve been just kind of kickin’ it with Jake and my friends. Sometimes I’ll go to the bulletin board and take on little quests like lost dogs and stuff. But that’s about it.”
“No adventures?” she asked, making a little note on her paperwork. Click , went her pen.
“Nope. It’s been really hot outside. Like, boiling. PB was saying it’s some kind of heat wave, but it’s crazy cold at night so there’s not really a good time to be outside this summer.”
“That’s true,” said Doctor thoughtfully. “There’s not a lot to do indoors before it gets boring.” It was quiet for a moment. Click, click. “How’s Fern Tree doing with the weather?”
Finn perked up as he rummaged through his bag. “He’s blooming right now. It’s really pretty. The flowers smell nice, too.” Finn pulled out his notepad, flipping through it until he came to the petals he’d pressed on old pages. He handed her one.
“How pretty!” Doctor Princess mused, smiling. “I assume you’ve been spending a lot of time with Fern Tree, then?”
Finn rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes and no. Some nights I borrow Lady’s couch. Or Marceline’s. Or whoever invites me over. It feels weird just mooching off of everyone’s kindness, though. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful and everything. I just feel like a bum, so I’d rather just kick it in my tent and hang out with Fern Tree so he doesn’t get lonely.”
Doctor Princess nodded. “Jake says it’s not healthy to live in a tent?”
“Yeah,” Finn sighed. “He’s not wrong, though. I know he just wants to look out for me. And that he’d rather sleep in a bed in a house than a sleeping bag on some dirt. But LSP lived out in a tent forever, and she was totally fine. So I don’t see what’s wrong with me doing it, too.”
Doctor Princess made another note. “It’s really admirable that you’re still keeping his feelings in mind. It can be hard for a lot of people. But it sounds like it’s maybe causing a little bit of a disconnect in you?” Click.
“I’ve never been separated from Jake like this. I mean, he went to space that one time, but that’s different. This feels like, if I say something wrong, we might get into a really big fight. Sometimes we argue, but we’ve always been best buds. And brothers. And…”
Click. Finn thought about his next words carefully. Click, click.
“I don’t want him to think that I’m just, like, moping around. I’m not. I made a promise that I would help Fern grow, and I can’t do that if I’m not around. You know? So if I leave him… if I go find a new place to live, then I’ll stop having enough time for Fern. Maybe I’ll visit, and then the visits just kind of stop happening, and then I won’t go back, and by the time I remember, Fern Tree will be all withered. And sad.”
“Finn, I don’t think you could forget about the Fern Tree even if you wanted to,” she chuckled. “I can’t tell you what you should do. You could tough it out in a tent- which, as a healthcare physician, I don’t recommend but I can’t legally make that decision for you unless you’re in immediate danger- or, maybe you and Jake might do a little house hunting in the area, which could be close to Fern so you could still easily see him every day. I can’t make that decision for you. But let’s say, hypothetically, that you choose the latter option. You find a nice apartment in the Candy Kingdom. It’s farther away than you want to be, but it’s a lovely place and there’s lots for you to do while things get up and running there. You make a visit every day to go see Fern. Maybe you go on picnics. Maybe you practice your journaling, or play some music. And then you go out on an adventure that takes you a little farther away from home, maybe you stay out a day later than you expected. Inclimate weather, exhaustion, a big ogre takes a huge doo-doo right on your only path back home.”
“What I’m getting at here is,” said Doctor Princess, “Fern won’t be upset with you. He won’t. He’s a tree now, and he’s rooted pretty dang deep, I imagine. And that’s exactly what he wanted, isn’t it? Fern made that decision, and, lucky for you, I don’t think he expects you to stay rooted right there alongside him. You have your own life to live, and you deserve to live it.”
“I’m not a botany expert, I’m a biology expert. But, I do know this: ever since you planted him, he’s done nothing but grow and grow, and he’s even blooming in this crazy heatwave!” Doctor Princess handed back the pressed flower. “So I think he’s stronger than you’re giving him credit for. After all, in a way, by looking after Fern Tree, you’re really looking after yourself. You’re watching yourself blossom, and that’s really important to everyone around you. They just want to make sure you’re in the right place to bloom.”
“You’re a beautiful flower and I love watching you grow.”
Finn smiled. “Yeah.”
Chapter 7: Primordial Soup
“You’re such a fuck.”
The two would-be thieves sat cross-legged atop a freshly baked brownie roof. It smelled heavenly. Tasted heavenly, too. Lunch and a house? This Candy place was really something else. Tonight, the ruler of this place would be officially crowned, and the city was buzzing with excitement. They watched as tourists filtered through the gates, cameras and balloons in hand. Cameras? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be sitting up here after all.
“I can’t believe you made us lose the shitting tooth,” said Pepper through a mouthful of icing.
“You’re the one who wanted to go to The Glasswing.”
“Shut up! Don’t go blaming this on me! You’re the one who wanted both teeth first, you greedy little delinquent.”
“I didn’t think you knew that word.”
Pepper boxed them across their tipped ear. Wilder laughed, shoving it off. It was quiet between them for a few moments. “What are we going to do now?” Pepper asked. They were back at square one, now. Going off nothing but hunches and a stupid rock.
“We could try finding that Vampire Queen.”
Pepper scoffed. “Yeah, right. Vampires have been dead for centuries, dumbass. I know you’re not really current on Ooo Politics, but some crazy hunter wiped them out ages ago. That Queen shit is a fairytale.”
Wilder didn’t understand why faefolk called their stories fairytales. To call something a fairytale was to call it fake, right? Now probably wasn’t the time to ask for clarification. “We could try to convince the Lich to give us a tooth.”
“Ugh.” Pepper rolled its eyes. “And deal with that fatso fairy again? Forget it. That old troll smells like moth balls and regret.”
“No,” said Wilder, shaking their head. “I meant, Ask for one.”
Pepper squinted in contempt. “You really are a dumbass. You’re just gonna walk up to that manbaby and hold out your hand?”
Wilder pointed at the gate. “Well, it wouldn’t be too hard.”
“You gotta be shitting me.”
“Welcome, welcome!” called out the cake men. They were dressed in lovely sashes and funny wigs, handing out balloons to newcomers. “Welcome to Chateau Candy’s grand opening! Would you like a balloon?”
“I do, I do!” said Sweet P., waving his hand.
“Whoa!” said Cake Jerry, taking a step back to marvel at the boy’s height. “Here you go, big fella,” he said, handing over the largest balloon in his bunch.
It was tiny in Sweet P.’s hand, but the giant smiled anyway. “Thank you, mister!” he said.
“Now, Sweet P.,” said Treetrunks, “let me tie it to your horn so we don’t lose you in the crowd.”
“Nice balloon, SP!” said Jake, giving two thumbs up.
“Show us which houses you built, Jake!” said Sweet P.
Jake puffed his chest proudly. “All in due time, my little man. But we can start that train right over here.”
Finn stuck close to the front of their crowd, but kept quiet. Aunt Lolly and the cakes had really done some great work in his absence. Did he overthink things too much? Finn did want to help build. It was fun to watch the buildings go up, and it carried a huge sense of accomplishment. Finn took a deep breath, fwoosh -ing out the negativity building up in the corners of his thoughts. He was here, now, with all of his friends, ready to enjoy a great day with Lolly and the cakes. Huh. that was a pretty good band name, actually. Finn paused for a moment to write that down in his notepad.
Finn checked behind him to make sure everyone was still together. It really was a large group! BMO, Jake, Lady, and the pups and grandpup; Treetrunks, Mr. Pig, and Sweet P.; and Marceline and Simon. Finn invited Phoebe a few days prior, only to find that she and the other princesses (including LSP and the Earl of Lemongrab) were already at Chateau Candy for an event. Treaties and trade agreements and the like. The Flame Princess found it a little weird that Bubblegum and Lolly were working out all these promises before Lolly had even been crowned yet, but she liked Lolly and was willing to trust in the gum family’s judgement. Finn was proud of her.
“Can a girl get some dinner?” said Marceline, yawning. She had intentions of joining in the festivities after the sun went down, but couldn’t say no to Simon’s excitement. That man was like a child, rediscovering the world outside the crown’s control.
“Candy apple?” Simon offered, holding up the shiny glob of sugar-coated red. Marcy slurped it dry and handed it right back to him with a grimace. “Huh,” he said. “It’s a Granny Smith.”
“He’s looking over here,” Pepper hissed.
“I know,” shushed Wilder. Just play.”
The two stood away from the throngs of people in an alleyway, playing their instruments to themselves. It was a funny sound, as if they were playing completely separate songs at the same time that faded in and out of correlation. The crowd paused and scattered in time with these fluctuations. It was hard to listen to, but those moments of symphony were blissfully attractive.
Sweet P., however, just couldn’t seem to draw his attention away from the two. It was like he was hearing something made just for him, a song he somehow already knew. The tall one seemed to sing words, but even though Sweet P. was sure he could hear nothing, it felt as though whispers of sounds bumped into his ears. It was just so strange.
“Come on, Sweet P.!” said Finn.
“What? Oh. What?”
Finn chuckled. “We’re going to check out the amusement park, now. Don’t you want to come?”
Sweet P. turned to look at the alleyway again, but the musicians were gone. “Okay,” he said.
Sweet P. liked that the amusement park was big. He’d never been to one before, but all of the buildings were him-sized. (That is to say, he didn’t mind when buildings were small, because lots of candy people were small, but it was nice to not feel quite so squished.) The amusement park was named Primordial Soup, and was divided into five “towns” embodying the visual appeal of the five Elementals and the culture of those lands. It was an interesting take on Ooo’s recent history that Bubblegum enjoyed immensely. Following the lovely mural that wound through the park, visitors could experience a vacation to kingdoms they never thought they’d see. Not to mention the food stalls, games, rides, and hands-on activities. Jake was hooked on his personal cup of slime. He just couldn’t stop poking at it!
“Man, it’s so nice and cool today!” said Jake. “I could get used to this.”
“Mountainous regions do tend to be milder,” said Simon.
“What are you talking about?” said Marceline. “It’s crazy cold lately.”
Jake shook his head. “Maybe at night. During the day, it’s like the sun is creepin’ up behind you, ready to pounce if you let your guard down!”
“Mama, look! Those musicians again!” said Sweet P. suddenly, pointing into the sea of people.
Treetrunks couldn’t see them but she could certainly hear them. She hoped they didn’t have any albums. She didn’t want to get used to that sound.
“May I go listen to them?” he asked. “Please, please, please ?”
Mr. Pig and Treetrunks shared a look. “Well, alright,” said Mr. Pig. “But only for a little while.”
“I’ll be right here, enjoying my ice cream,” said Treetrunks, “so you just come on back to this table when you’re done.”
“Okay!” said Sweet P., who scampered off with a giggle.
The group was starting to split up. Jake Jr., Bronwyn, and BMO had escaped the crowd early in the day, leaving Kim Kil Whan no choice but to follow them into the depths of Primordial Soup.
“ Dulleo boja ,” said Lady.
“Oh, yes, let’s! I’d love to try that tea shop we passed in Candy Land!” said Viola, taking her mother’s arm.
“Hey, Finn!” said Jake, happily dragged along behind Viola, “I’ll catch up with you at the white chocolate house later, okay?”
“See ya,” Finn waved. What was he going to do now? He looked to Marceline.
“I’m gonna go scare the crown off my girlfriend,” she said, as if reading his thoughts. “Wanna join in?”
“Sure,” he grinned.
Chapter 8: Night Terror
Sweet P. found himself not where he was before. Primordial Soup was quite a ways away. He could see the big roller coaster, and hear the ka-chunk ka-chunk of the cars on its track, but how did he get this far out of the park? The last thing he remembered was the music tugging on his balloon. Or, may it was the wind. Something had urged him to dance.
And why couldn’t he move? “What’s happening?” Sweet P. tried to say. He found his mouth full of pillows. Or, it felt like pillows. He couldn’t tell. Also, he felt very sleepy. And wobbly. Like his limbs and his tongue and his brain were made of slugs.
“Steady there, meatbag,” said Pepper. And then, huffing, “Damn. You take a lot of juice.”
Sweet P. looked about. He was encircled by tiny white rocks- no, teeth! He was surrounded by teeth! What kind of nightmare was this? Sweet P. whimpered, beginning to cry.
“Lay your head down, child,” Wilder offered gently.
Pepper repeated it not so gently.
Wilder stepped cautiously inside the ring, shushing the crying giant. “Be calm. We want only your tooth.”
“Tooth fairy?” asked Sweet P., sniffling. “It’s you, right? Tooth fairy?” Wilder paused, looking back at Pepper. “I saw you in my room. I thought it was a dream, but you left footprints in the flower dirt.” Less than words, Sweet P. could only give vowels. Still, the point was made. The thieves were discovered that night.
Wilder thought carefully. To lie was to give false information, but also to take trust. Sweet P. was already giving his trust, so Wilder obliged with a nod.
“We lost your tooth, so we need another one,” said Pepper from behind the circle of teeth. It was a surprising level of honesty. “Give it to us.”
Wilder sighed. Well, that’s one way to Ask, they thought.
Sweet P. covered his face, hiccuping out a sob. The tooth fairy kidnapped him and was going to rob him of all his teeth!
“Shh, now. Don’t cry,” Wilder tried.
“I’m scared!” wailed the giant.
“Shit, me too,” said Pepper, sizing up the child as he cried, rocking back and forth with his heavy head. It was clear the spell was wearing off. Sweet P. came dangerously close to knocking the ground teeth out of alignment. Sweet P. was too distraught to partake with the Formalities, not to mention the stomping yellow horde fast approaching. “Wilder, hurry up!”
Wilder was given little choice. They’d have to take the tooth by force. Wilder chunked their book at Pepper. “Read!” they shouted, diving for Sweet P.’s cotton-filled mouth.
“Ass, ass, ass!” cursed Pepper, flipping through the pages. “Why don’t you have this shit bookmarked?!” And then, “Wilder! I can’t read!! ”
Wilder saw only blackness, ground giving way underneath them. Wilder could feel a dampness crawling up their arm.
Sweet P. hovered before them, eyes dark and cold, skin churning as something else came forth. His voice echoed something sinister. “You shall play these games no longer. Reveal yourself.”
Wilder shuddered. So the Lich was alive in this boy, after all. “O, Ender of Worlds! We are disciples of Siva, here to release you from this fleshy form.”
The Lich was quiet, then laughed a deep and frightening laugh. “Vias awakens. The One Who Consumes shall ingest this world and all worlds, if Balance is not restored.” It took all of Wilder’s strength to keep from sobbing like a child. “Disciple of Siva, I see your desire. What will you Give?”
Wilder had nothing to give. But Pepper did. “I offer you the power held within this fairy ring! Take the teeth scattered at your feet!”
As the Lich plucked from his skull one tooth, he laughed again. “Vias will Take, as is destined of Them. You cannot command the tide!” The Lich tossed single tooth to Wilder with one hand, and with the other, raised the ring of teeth now ablaze in green flame.
Wilder had other plans than to just let this night terror loose again. They stumbled through their once-rehearsed ritual. “Three ears of red corn to raise the morning! Three ears of red corn to raise the night! Siva binds you, Taker, to your quietest form!”
Their spell was interrupted by a harsh shaking. Wilder was ripped from the emptiness, sweating and gasping for breath. Wilder blinked away the shadows from their eyes. Pepper stared at them, frightened.
“Wilder?” it asked, jostled by a Banana Guard on each side.
Wilder nodded. They gripped the giant’s tooth so hard, the sharp edges pierced their hand.
Wilder considered themself to be a good person. They harmed none and helped where they could. They abided by Siva’s Law. They adhered to the Formalities. They actively avoided being put in jail. And yet, somehow , this was their third time in a cell in as many months. Wilder cursed under their breath.
“Ooh, pottymouth,” Pepper snickered.
“Quiet, you!” said a guard, pointing his stick at the prisoners.
Not his staff, but the stick that was his leg. He had only one; the other was broken. Their captor stationed an injured guard at their cell. How… unusual , thought Wilder. “Pepper. You’ll cooperate, right?”
Pepper snorted. “Not a chance.” It didn’t do well with authority figures.
“Will you please speak for me.” It was less a question and more a demand.
“Set yourself on fire.”
“I’ll set you on fire, you scaly rat.”
They lunged at each other, pinching noses and pulling cheeks.
From the hall came a great clatter, as though seventy six metal saucers dropped at once, forgot gravity, and bounced off the ceiling three times before returning to the ground.
It startled the three of them enough to stop and listen, and when the Guard turned back to the prisoners, he found them in a tangled mess of limbs. “Break it up, hooligans! The Princess is coming!”
And in came the Princess, impeccably dressed but covered in green goop, hair loose and frazzled, and smeared with soot. Wilder thought she looked a bit tense. Perhaps, needing a good shout from atop a very tall building. “Good afternoon,” she said. “My name is Princess Bubblegum. You have been imprisoned on charges of kidnapping Sweet Pig-Trunks, as well as drugging him and stuffing his mouth full of pillows. Do you have anything to testify?”
Wilder looked to Pepper, pleading. Pepper shook its head, sitting back against the cell wall. Wilder chunked their slipper at it.
“Let me make this very clear,” said Princess Bubblegum, voice strained. “I refuse to play games with criminals who try to hurt my subjects, or my family. Do you or do you not have anything to testify?”
Wilder shook their head solemnly.
“Very well,” said Princess Bubblegum. “You’ll be imprisoned here at Chateau Candy until further notice. After tonight, it will be up to Lolly to decide what to do with you two. You’d better hope she doesn’t intend to make an example.”