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The makeshift home looked gloomier than usual in the stormy weather. But rain and darkness brought by clouds often had that effect on those that belonged in the sunlight. Marceline floated towards the door; grateful she didn’t need to wade through the muck and mud puddles building up on the stone pathway. Her hand found the newly painted wooden door and tapped gently. No answer, maybe no one heard her. She knocked harder, enough that someone sleeping inside the one room home would be dragged back into consciousness. Still no answer. Well, they’d forgive her for barging in on them, she’d done it before. She opened the door and heard a thud. She looked down to see B.M.O on their back.
“Whoops, sorry about that. Let me help you get up.” She said.
“No, thanks I can do it.”
She watched B.M.O flail a bit. The uneven floor was turning a somewhat challenging task into an impossible one for the little robot. Marceline put her arms behind her back. She quickly extended one to be long and slim, hoping the robot wouldn’t notice. She positioned it behind B.M.O’s head, and waited for the next big push. When it came, she gave a slight nudge. B.M.O was back on their feet.
“See, I told you. B.M.O can do anything!” The robot gleamed.
“Right… B.M.O have you seen Finn and Jake at all?”
“They went to see Princess Bubblegum about thirty minutes ago. Why do you need them? B.M.O can help.”
“I don’t really need them; I just need to know if they’ve seen Simon at all. He was supposed to be back yesterday and he hasn’t answered his phone.”
“Hmm. I have not seen him. But detective B.M.O has a theory.”
“Oh? What’s your theory detective?”
“A surprise party!”
She chuckled. Leave it to B.M.O to always come up with an innocent yet interesting answer.
“Before Finn and Jake left, I heard them on the phone with Bubblegum. She told them not to tell you. So, I figure they are all planning a surprise party for you!”
Well, it wasn’t completely unreasonable. Peebs loved trying to surprise her, and the others would definitely help. It didn’t fully explain Simon’s absence, but maybe he had been in on it for a while.
“If it’s a surprise party, why’d you spoil it for me?” She asked playfully.
B.M.O grinned. “She didn’t tell me not to tell you!”
***
Marceline had made her way to Bubblegum’s castle. She noticed that candy citizens were a bit more frantic than usual. A lot of running and staying inside rather than the atmosphere of idle happiness and sloth the kingdom seemed to usually have. Maybe it was the rain? Sugar and water didn’t exactly mix well. Then again, it could be a silly fear like being struck by lightning.
If there was a surprise party for her, she didn’t want to let on that she knew. She turned invisible and made her way deeper into the castle. She floated outside the throne room’s doors and looked in through the key hole. Well, there was definitely something going on. PB, Finn, Jake, and about two dozen banana guards were gathered inside. Bubblegum stood in front of an easel that seemed to be decorated with pictures and wording with a pointed stick. The adornments were small enough that she couldn’t make anything of significance out. She put her ear to the door.
“PB are you sure about this?” Jake asked.
“We only have one shot to make this work. We need to catch them by surprise.” She responded.
So, there was a surprise. But Bubblegum’s tone didn’t exactly sound cheerful. Marceline went back to looking around the room. No party supplies, cake, decorations, or anything else either. If she wanted to learn anything, she needed to get inside. From behind her, she heard an annoying, yet timely convenience.
“Wee woo wee woo wee woo wee woo”
Another dozen banana guards were coming towards the doors, no doubt hoping to enter. Perfect, she could sneak in with them. She floated above their heads and waited for them to open the doors. The battalion arrived and its leader stopped. The followers, somehow not expecting this unforeseen pause, crashed into one another’s backs. After picking themselves up with a bit more success than B.M.O had before, the lead guard opened the door. Marceline drifted into the room.
This wasn’t a surprise party. Weapons for the banana guards were stacked. Finn had brought his sword. Even Bubblegum was suited up for battle. But why would they be doing this, especially without telling her? She was snapped out of her thoughts by Finn’s voice.
“Princess, are you sure that they still have them? And that they’re still outside Wizard City?”
“Yes Finn, the smuggler gang only releases its prisoners if someone buys them, or if they die of old age. And Wizard City is the first place they go to sell all of their captives. Wizards love to experiment on living beings.” Bubblegum replied dryly.
Shoot. The smuggler gang? She looked around the room. Had candy people been kidnapped the other day? It would explain the scared behavior of before, plus Bonnie’s militarization. But it still didn’t explain why she didn’t want Marceline to—
Her was pulled out of her thoughts again. Her eyes had fixated on something that made her guts wrench. One of the pictures on the easel was of a man with poofy brown hair, glasses, and dorky but formal clothing. Above him were the words “captured two days ago.” In truth if any candy people, or anyone else she knew for that matter, were captured she didn’t notice their pictures.
“Okay, the last battalions arrived. Before we set off, does anyone have any questions?” Bubblegum asked.
The sound of glass breaking caught the room by surprise. The group looked to the now broken window. A single black hair caught amongst the broken shards. Bubblegum sighed and turned back towards her chosen.
“Okay, new plan. Everyone here go grab a shovel. It looks like we’re going to have a lot of bodies to bury.”
Groans could be heard throughout the room. Cleaning up a mess, especially one that would be in this mud was not going to be fun.
“Chop chop people. We’ll just dig one hole. The faster get moving, the easier it will be to dig.”
***
Marceline flew full speed towards Wizard City. Normally, she avoided it whenever possible. It stunk of aged, putrid, unwashed bodies. Not that she had any right to tout herself, she was the second oldest living- unliving- thing on the continent. But at least she bathed regularly. As she flew, worries began racing through her mind. How did he get captured by traffickers? Did they hurt him badly? Had he already been sold? Was he being experimented on? She flew faster. Worrying wouldn’t help her. Right now, she needed to focus on finding their cart.
In truth, she should have taken care of these creeps ages ago. Ash had told her about how “lesser beings” would often be sold to wizards hoping to test new spells or potions. She had found the practice horrible, but had never set about doing anything about it. She kicked herself. If it had been a candy person or someone she knew in passing, she probably would have freed them in the past but been on her way. But now she wasn’t going to just free someone. Her first priority was to find and get Simon out of whatever cage they had him in and away from the fighting. Her second priority was destroying the cart and everyone not in a cage or in shackles. Her third priority was making sure everyone saw her handy work so no one would get an idea of trying to bring the practice back.
She spotted the cart- unmistakable because of the red and white lettering spelling out “Smugglerz” on its side. Two drivers, and about six others on the sides. All of them humanoid, yet colored a distinctive hue of orange with horns sprouting from their heads. For a minute, she thought about how to do this. She could go into the form she got from the Vampire King, but that would be incredibly destructive- she would risk hurting some of the captured people, and of course Simon. She could fight them normally It would certainly scare the gang, but they might focus on fleeing the vampire queen instead of fighting her.
She decided to start off the fight invisible. She flew above the cart and observed. Most of the cages she could see were still occupied. Good. There was a back component, which she hoped Simon was stored in. She wouldn’t mind him see her fight, he knew how strong she was and that she would never hurt him. But she didn’t want to risk having him get caught in the crossfire either.
She flew up to the left front wheel of the cart. She breathed deeply, and smashed it under foot. The cart stumbled and became lopsided. While one driver peered over to see what happened, she quickly punched him in the face and took the horse’s reins. She floated next to the two and hissed loudly. It did the trick. The horses were spooked and ran off. The other driver was unlucky enough to be behind one, and got a face full of hoof when she scared them. She glanced over to him. He was laying face down with his neck twisted in an unnatural position. He was going to be out for a while, if not forever. Marceline forgot about the beings in cages. Right now, it was about the battle.
The other members quickly rose to meet the unseen threat. They grasped their crude weapons- two swords, an axe, a club, and two maces- nothing that could really threaten her. She circled around them and let out a cackle. She wanted them to be scared and if possible, divided. It would make this easier. The man with the club swung violently around him- accidently mashing one of the men carrying a mace in the knee. He went down after an audible crunch came from his leg. She wasted no time and kicked him- he went flying. The man with the club continued to swing at the air, causing the remaining fighters to distance themselves from him, and each other. She dove in and nailed the man with the club in the stomach. All of the air in his body seemed to escape, and he went down fast. She took the club, and swung it down hard on his head for good measure.
The remaining man with the mace looked at it, looked at his downed friends, and ran. Fine by her, someone needed to run away and tell others what happened. She looked at the remaining three. Two men, one woman. They were still apart, but began to inch closer now that the threat of friendly fire was gone. She took the woman with the axe by her neck and lifted her. The woman tried raising her axe in response. Marceline used her free arm and crushed the woman’s left hand until she let out a scream. She dropped the axe and her left hand went limp. Marceline continued to squeeze the woman’s neck as it began to change colors. The remaining men began violently swinging and lunging their swords around the helpless woman. Marceline threw her into the path of one. The sword found itself buried deep within the woman’s shoulder. Its master, a shorter man, desperately tried to free it, only for Marceline to violently throw the now unconscious woman on to him. He struggled, but couldn’t move under her weight- he was pinned.
The last man’s eyes darted around. He hadn’t called for any backup. He was alone. Marceline smiled. She allowed herself to become visible to him. He dropped his sword at the sight of her.
“We’ve been fighting the vampire queen?” He stuttered.
“That’s right. Now you, your pinned friend, and I are going to have a chat about one of the men you took prisoner.”
“If you wanted to buy a meal you could have asked! Heck, we could have given you a discount!” The man let out in a hoarse whisper. He looked up to her, and his voice left him. If it hadn’t, he would have screamed. The vampire’s eyes blared red while her face contorted into a mix of hatred and rage. She hissed and slapped him. Apparently, a bit too hard. He went flying out of the damaged cart and into one of the occupied cages- breaking it in the process. The captured man emerged and ran free, not thinking twice about revenge, or of helping the other captives.
Marceline floated over the downed man and snarled.
“I didn’t come for a meal; I came for my family!”
“We didn’t capture any vampires or demons or whatever you’re supposed to be!” He pleaded.
“No, but you captured a human. Brown poofy hair, olive toned skin, glasses, a little taller than I am. Ring any bells?”
“We capture a lot of lab-rats. I don’t take a good look at them all.”
“Lab-rats?!” She screamed. She punched the downed man-like thing repeatedly. He begged but to no avail as she continued her assault. On her part, she made sure not to overdo it, or to hit him in the head. In between blows, he let out something useful.
“Wait. I’m sure Oppo over there knows who you’re talking about! He’s our group’s record-keeper!”
She stopped for a minute. She floated over to her shorter prisoner. She removed the unconscious woman and threw her onto the man in the rubble of the cage.
“So, Oppo. Where is the human I just described?”
“Th-the only human we captured was sold about three hours ago in Wizard City. Only sale we made today.” She wanted to scream.
“Who’d you sell him to.” She managed to hiss. She could feel her patience wearing thin. If she didn’t get a solid answer in the next ten seconds, the other guy was going to be paste.
“A wizard. A wizard named Ash. Three white pony tales, grey skin. Seemed to be pretty happy with the sale. Said he had a bone to pick with the guy. I can tell you where he lives, what he paid, anything!” He begged.
“Don’t bother. I know where to go.”
She noticed a key ring on Oppo’s belt. She reached down while he flinched. For a second, she thought about smacking him, but instead just snatched it. She swiftly threw it to one of the prisoners.
“Take this and free yourselves. I doubt these two are in any condition to fight. Do with them whatever you’d like.” She said.
As the prisoners began freeing themselves, Marceline flew to a house she had hoped to never see again.
***
“You’re mine now. Understand that, ugly?”
A jolt went through Simon’s body. He had been captured, bought, and sold like an exotic bird. Now, he was wearing an anklet resembling a silver ring he used to see on parrots waiting to be sold in pet stores. He had seen this man before in Wizard City the day he inadvertently brought Betty to Ooo. He had taken the man’s magic carpet and decked him in the face.
“I’ve given you the carpet back and have paid for my, erm, borrowing of it. What more could you want from me?” Simon cried.
Ash’s response was to press the familiar red button. Another jolt, this one slightly stronger, coursed through Simon.
“We’ve been over this. You address me as master. You respond to the name ugly. You do not speak unless specifically requested!”
A thousand thoughts raced across Simon’s mind. He focused on two. For starters, he no longer felt bad for decking this guy before. But more importantly, how would he get out of this?
“Now, your first task is simple, ugly. I want a turkey sandwich with tomato and pickles on it!”
Simon rose to his feet and began making his way to the kitchen. He had taken two steps before another jolt of energy ran through his body- enough that he was forced down again.
“No! Bad ugly! You don’t walk like a real person! You walk like a dog!”
Simon withered in pain and humiliation. But he let out a nod to show he understood. Slowly, the pain faded and Simon set off again—this time on all fours. He reached the kitchen’s doorway and peered in. He immediately noticed the floor- or rather what he assumed was the floor. It looked like it hadn’t been washed in months. It smelled about as good as it looked. It was a good thing Simon’s body had been accustomed to these foul smells over the past thousand years. If not, he probably would have vomited on the spot- and then likely made to wade through it.
Well, he wants me to walk on all fours. Not my fault if he catches a disease or something from when I make this sandwich. Maybe he would fall into a coma or something because of it. Simon just hoped he would be able to wash his hands and cloths at some point soon or else he’d catch it too. Simon hid a smile to himself. Had to look at the positive things, especially in situations like these.
Simon got ready to enter the disgusting and likely parasite infested kitchen. He rose his hand before he heard a crash in a nearby room and instinctively turned around. He heard a familiar voice- and felt relief and shame. He was saved, but man was he going to get it. Marceline wouldn’t let him leave the house unchaperoned for who knows how long now. And when she eventually did, he might never hear the end of the teasing if she saw him like this. Electricity be damned he was going to stand up before she saw him crawling. He stood up, half expecting to be forced to endure another push of the button.
Luckily for Simon, the crash and voice also caught Ash’s attention. He had gone into the other room to check it out. Simon cautiously walked across the room. He reached the doorway and peered inwards. They seemed to know each other- in fact Ash actually seemed scared. Simon ducked out of sight and listened to the conversation.
“Mar Mar what are you doing here? Come to apologize and make up?”
“Ash I’m going to give you one chance before I rip out your throat and shove it up another hole in your body. Where is Simon?”
“Who?”
So, he didn’t know who he had. That made things a bit better. It wasn’t a purchase out of spite for her. But it also meant Simon may have been carelessly experimented on. As much as she wanted to deck Ash, find Simon, and get out of this house, she needed to know where Simon was first. Ash could have stashed him in a pocket dimension, or in one of his hidey holes where he practiced what barely qualified as magic. But knowing Ash, Simon was probably close. Ash never let his possessions get very far.
“You bought a man from the smugglers today. I want him. Now!”
“Oh, does that guy mean something to you? I was going to keep him as my personal slave, but I’ll just have to turn him into a new wand then. He turned around and cupped his hands.
“Hey ugly get in here before I shock you like a million times harder than before!”
That did it. She knew Simon was in the house and that he could move around it. She didn’t need Ash anymore. At least he made this easier for her.
Marceline flew towards the egotistical wizard. Before he could register what was happening, she was on top of him. One punch to the face and he was on the ground. He tried getting up but she kicked him in the chest over and over.
“Wait.” He coughed between kicks. He moved his left arm to partially block her kicks. She didn’t bother to listen. Nothing he could say would stop this until either Ash was unconscious or Simon was in the room with them.
Ash dug into his pockets with his free hand. If he was going for his wand, it wouldn’t do him any good. His magic was about as powerful as a ladybug. No, instead he produced a small remote with a red button from his pocket. He pushed down on the button. Marceline heard a scream- Simon scream- from around the corner. She eyed the remote and snatched it from Ash’s hand, but the screaming didn’t stop. She moved to throw it against the wall.
“I wouldn’t do that Mar-Mar. If you break that remote, the shocker releases all of its electricity.” Ash grinned. Marceline used her free arm and grabbed Ash by the collar.
“How do I stop it?!” She screamed.
“You can’t. That button will only respond to my hand. If you want to stop it, you have to give me something in exchange.”
Behind Ash, Marceline saw Simon shift into view. He stumbled forward and leaned against the door way withering in pain. From the grimace on his face he was in a lot of it. He was trying to repressed his screaming, likely more for her than for himself. She needed to stop this now. She set the remote down behind her and transformed her newly freed arm into a sword. As if on que, Ash began squirming in panic. She brought her sword-arm to Ash’s hand.
“Wha-what are you doing?!”
“You said it responds to your hand. I don’t see why I need the rest of you for that.”
“Wait, that’s my spellcasting hand! Okay, okay I’ll stop it!”
Marceline quickly dropped Ash, grabbed the remote and shoved it into his chest. She put her sword-arm to his neck to inspire a bit of extra motivation.
Ash pressed down on the red button in a panic. Simon stopped fidgeting and the look of agony faded and was replaced with one of momentarily relief.
Marceline floated over to him and tried ripping the metal brace off his leg. No dice. She turned back to Ash.
“How do I get this off him?!”
Ash stared at her. Ten seconds ago, he was begging for mercy. But now he was confident.
“Mar Mar I don’t think you should order me around with the position you’re in. You clearly care for this chump, and I’m holding the thing that can kill him. I can break this right now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“You break that remote and you’ll be begging for death within five seconds.”
“Don’t try to act tough Marceline, I know you. You’re scared.”
He was right. He knew how strong she was, but he also knew she wouldn’t risk losing something she cared about- especially something she was attached to. Above everything, Ash was a psychopath with little concept for immediate repercussions. Ash knew how much she loved Hambo and sold it without a second thought, and that was before the breakup. In his own little world, he very well might think she’d just give up and leave if Simon died. She was not going to risk losing Simon. But she needed to think of something.
“What do you want, Ash?” She gritted through her teeth.
“A slave. Someone to make me my sandwiches. Someone to do my dishes, clean my house, practice my spells on. Wasn’t that clear?”
Marceline had a flashback. Everything Ash had just said were things she had done for him. She cleaned up after him. She made him food. She was used as target practice because his spells didn’t hurt her.
“You don’t want a slave… you want a replacement for me…”
She caught Simon looking up at her. She would have to explain this to him. And she would, just not for a while.
“No. I. Want. A. Slave.”
Well, she had learned what she meant to him before. She was a slave by another name. She just had the added benefit of being an immortal teenage girl who looked his age, and was desperate for some sort of meaningful emotional connection.
She lost herself for a minute. She was in a bind. Ash had no reason to give up Simon unless she could offer something better. But now he knew she cared about Simon, so no random person was going to do. Did Ash want her to take Simon’s place? Would she be willing to give up her own freedom for Simon’s? She had her own life, love, and so many things to do. But when he gave up his own life for hers, so had he. Would Simon even be willing to accept a trade? How would Bubblegum feel? Those questions were easy to answer- probably, definitely, never, and a mixture of heartbroken and enraged to say the least.
She looked out the window in time to catch a sliver of pink. Words were coming out of Ash’s mouth as he tapped his foot, but he said registered. It wasn’t until Simon spoke that she was tethered back to reality.
“There is no way I’m letting Marceline take my place. And you have no idea how lucky you are that I didn’t know who you were the last time we met or I would have pounded you harder!”
She let out a chuckle. Even in the worst of times, Simon could make her laugh. She hoped Simon could forgive himself for what she was about to do. Even though he was talking big, the quiver in his voice meant he suspected she was going to do exactly that, and that he wouldn’t be able to stop her. Afterall, he raised her. She was just following his example. She hoped he and Bonnie would find a way to free her. She hoped Bonnie would forgive her.
Another crash and the window and backwall flew in a million directions. Ash stumbled and nearly dropped the remote. Marceline shielded Simon from the incoming dust and debris. A couple of figures stepped forth from the cloud, including one in pink and purple battle armor.
“Hey dingus, get away from my family!”
Bubblegum, backed up by some of her newer model banana guards as well as a nurse had arrived. Ash found himself encircled by guns, spears, and other weapons on all sides. Bubblegum walked towards Marceline and Simon and crouched down.
“You okay? You made a bit of a mess outside Wizard City. Finn, Jake, and a bunch of others had to stick around and clean it up.”
“I’m fine, Bonnie. But Ash has some kind of shock brace on Simon’s leg. We can’t take it off.”
Bubblegum eyed the remote Ash held. The wizard continued to smirk.
“This doesn’t change the situation. I’m still in control here, and the only way you get that shocker off is if I get a slave. And I want the princess!”
Bubblegum scoffed.
“I can get that brace removed in my lab in under two minutes. Banana guards arrest him.”
Banana guards inched towards him from all directions. Ash raised the remote in preparation to throw it on the ground. “Come any closer and I smash the remote!”
“Bonnie order them off!”
“What? We have him surrounded!”
Ash’s eyes darted to his left and right. Banana guards all around, and Marceline was only a couple meters away. No way was he escaping, but at least he could get bring someone down with him. He screamed to draw attention to himself, and threw the remote on the ground and smashed it. He postured himself to be as triumphant as one could when about to face sudden capture.
“NO!” Marceline screamed.
But nothing happened. Simon’s body didn’t start frying, nor did he display any hint of pain. He looked at himself, he even pinched his own arm to make sure. But nothing happened. The three turned to Ash, who quickly sighed and hunched over dejected.
“Leave it to a bunch of slavers to rip a guy off on his purchase. He didn’t even get an extra shock.” He mumbled.
Simon slowly stood up and walked towards the wizard. He squeezed past the Banana guards and stared down at the pony-tailed man. Ash rose his head to look at him. He opened his mouth to say a last quip, but the world never heard it. Simon gave a quick punch to the jaw, and Ash went down. One of the banana guards nudged him before the nurse checked his pulse. He was alive, just knocked out.
***
Simon woke up. He was still recovering in the Candy Kingdom infirmary. He had his blanket pulled over him, and on the desk next to the bed was a small pile of get well soon and sorry you were in a smuggling operation sentiment cards. One from the banana guards who came to help, another from Finn and Jake. About three or four of them came from Marceline. True to her word, Bonnibel was able to pop the shock brace off in about a minute thirty. Doctor Princess had said there was no sign of long-term damage to his nerves, muscles, heart, or brain from the jolts of electricity. He was being kept for another day just to make sure. He looked to his side and was surprised to see it empty. For the first day, Marceline hadn’t left it. He was able to convince her to spend time with Bubblegum- especially considering her role in resolving the situation. He smiled; they were good for each other.
Speaking of which, he heard the pair outside of his room. Laughter from the both of them, a good sign that nothing was wrong. The door opened and the two of them entered. Marceline held her hands behind her back. Both shared wide smiles, another good sign.
“Welcome gang, glad to see you two in cheery moods.”
“Hey Simon, we can say the same about you.” Marceline responded.
“We came by for a couple of reasons. First, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that Wizard City has dealt with Ash.” Bubblegum stated.
“Oh? Is he in wizard prison?”
Marceline’s smile widened.
“Nope, actually he’s here with us.” She brought her hands in front of her- a wooden stick held in them. “He’ll be like this until we put him in the candy kingdom dungeon. We didn’t want to risk one of his wizard buddies trying to break him out of wizard prison.”
“I see. Well, I can’t say I’m terribly upset on his behalf- especially with what he put you through before any of this. But being a piece of wood must not be the most pleasant experience either.” Simon said.
“Well, we can always make him a bit truer to his name. Bubblegum said. Simon and Marceline turned to her in surprise.
“What? Too far of a joke?”
“Lets… work on that sense of humor Peebs.” Marceline said.
“Anyway, I assume there’s something else on your minds?” Simon asked.
“Actually, yes. Simon, I wanted to ask what you were doing, and how you got captured. I know Bonnie knows, but she hasn’t been cooperative.” Marceline prodded.
Simon looked at Bubblegum who shrugged, letting him know it was okay to spill the beans.
“Well, believe it or not I was on my way back from looking for a gift for the surprise party Bubblegum was planning for you…”