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Women Who Run with Whywolves

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A hero fell here. Not a great hero -- more a mediocre, run-of-the-mill guy-who-got-in-way-over-his-head before getting whacked with the hero label kind of hero. No one would remember him except that he dropped his sword when he died.

And it's one boss sword. Way out of his league, whoever he was, that's for sure.

As the sword fell end over end, the ground rumbled and twisted. Ancient cement, long buried beneath mats of grass and turf, irised open and sucked in the sword.

All over Ooo, storytellers whisper of these "manholes", round entrances to the underworld that lie in wait, pulsing peristaltically, to swallow passersby.

"Which is why we should be getting gone," Cake says, her ears twitching backwards as she swells taller to emphasize her point, "right the hash now."

"But!" Fionna bounces on her toes and peers toward the manhole. "Sword! Swanky sword."

"How many swords do you need, girl?"

Fionna thinks it over. Before she can reply that it's impossible to put a limit, Cake cuts in. "Never mind. How many swords you got?"

"Forty-six," Fionna replies promptly. "But twelve are chipped, one is just a rusty hilt, it might not even technically be a sword any longer, I lost three, and, besides --" She looks longingly down the manhole. "I really want that one."

Cake growls, but softly, as she deflates a little, going back down to her regular size. "Grab a paw."

"Sweet beets!" Fionna shucks off her knapsack, then gets right up to the edge of the hole before grasping Cake's warm paw. She climbs down into the hole, both hands wrapped around Cake's extending arm; Cake's fur shifts under her sweaty palms and tickles reassuringly as she goes deeper and the light gets dimmer. The passage widens into a much larger space criss-crossed with broken pipes and garlanded with vines and moss and ancient cords.

Way below, between her dangling toes, there's a glitter in the dark that can only be the sword. Fionna holds her breath and rappels faster down the overgrown wall of the cavern.

With a good forty feet left to go, the wall ends, opening into a yet larger space. It is vaulted, echoing with countless trills of running water and fearful creatures. Fionna dangles for a moment, debating whether she can jump the rest of the way.

"Don't you dare!" Cake calls, her voice faint and far away but emphatic all the same. "I'm pulling you up!"

"Wait!" Fionna braces one hand on the damp, rough wall and turns her body in a slow somersault until she's dangling upside down. Blood pounds in her face and her breath is strained with excitement as she squints downward.

That's got to be Jared's sword.

"Little farther down!" Fionna yells and after a moment -- during which she can't hear Cake grumble, but knows it's happening -- she bounces lower. And lower. She reaches into the dark, stretching her fingers as far as she can, wishing for just a little of Cake's magic, until, finally, her fingernails graze the glinting thing. She reaches farther, just enough to touch, then grab, the hilt, and yanks it up.

The action makes her swing sickeningly in the vast dark. She very nearly drops her prize. Cake pulls her up jerkily and Fionna clutches the sword to her chest. She can hear wind now, lacing through the sound of water and bats, whispers and echoes of howls. It's too quiet and too quick to be the sound of air rushing past her as she rises.

She isn't scared.

Closing her eyes, Fionna wraps both arms and legs around Cake's paw, the sword against her chest. It's taking so long to get back, even though she's moving really fast. The wind is getting louder, its sound sharper, more like a voice.

"...help...help...drag--"

"Come on!" she yells to Cake and, finally, the ragged circle of blue sky expands and she can taste fresh air and feel Cake's warm fur against her face.

Birds are singing, Cake is purring, the Marshmallow Mites are warbling in the next meadow as they harvest their puffy crops.

And that ghastly whisper still tingles in her ear. Fionna bats at the air around her head; Cake, thinking it's a game, tries to help.

"Do you hear that?"

Cake's ears pivot. "The Marshmallows?"

"No, the woman's voice."

Cake's eyes widen and she stares at Fionna.

"Like a woman?" Fionna tries to explain. "Calling for help?"

"drag...in...help..."

Cake lifts up one paw and grooms her toes. "There's no one calling for help."

"I can hear her," Fionna insists.

"You're taking this hero thing way too serious." Cake shakes her head. "Child, you need a nap."

Fionna shoves her lightly. "That's your solution for everything."

"You bet it is." Cake curls up on Fionna's left foot. "Naps fix everything."

Before Fionna can say anything, Cake is asleep. She snorts a little, extends one leg, and flexes her claws before curling back up.

Under the bright sun, the sword looks pretty craptastic, tinfoil wrapped around papier mâché. Fionna strokes Cake's head and tries to ignore the voice.

*

The voice persists, like a grasshopper or swarm of cavalry gnats from the Bug Kingdom, just behind Fionna's left ear. No one else can hear it; Cake gets right up on Fionna's head and sticks her cold nose in, only to announce that Fionna's neck smells delicious.

"What about the voice?"

Cake hops down onto the back of the couch, wrapping her tail around her as she settles. "No voice, Fionna. Nothing but your hair."

Fionna leans over so BMO can listen. It beeps several times, then hops up to its feet. "My sensors detect nothing!"

*

The next morning, not having slept, Fionna swats at the noise and spills half the waffle batter.

"help...me...help...please..."

"I think it's crazy-talk," Cake says suddenly, pointing her bacon at Fionna. "That's what it is! You're going through one of those changes from the sex chemicals!"

Fionna slumps in her chair and wipes her hand on her thigh. "I don't think that's it."

"You need ladies, that's what it is," Cake says, climbing onto the top of the table and leaning in.

Face flushing, Fionna leans back. "What're you talking about?"

"Yeah, that's it!" Cake continues, eyes huge and round, "you want more ladyhood and suchlike in your life!"

"What? No!" Fionna jumps out of her chair and dashes to the sink, where the dishes require her immediate attention. Cake gets these ideas sometimes, she's just nuts. "Why would you even say that?"

Cake leaps onto the counter and licks her right front paw. Fionna tosses the washcloth from hand to hand.

Finally, leisurely, Cake cocks her head and says, "You gotta admit, this corner of Ooo's a sausagefest and a half."

"What?" Fionna balls up the cloth and tries to toss it at the bowl of batter on the table. Her throat's scratchy and her voice sounds weird, almost fainter than the one in her ear. "No, it's not. Is it?"

Cake pauses with one ear flattened under her wet paw. "You sound like a broken holo-tape, honey."

"Whatever, dude," Fionna says. She grasps the edge of the counter and starts doing some deep squats to loosen up. "You're being all weird and wanna-be maternal again."

"Am not!" Cake's voice is muffled in the depths of her tummy fur. She is somehow both bent over and sitting upright, folded in half to groom her stomach with her back legs kicked out. "Sororal, sweetcheeks, it's a word."

"Lots of things are words," Fionna points out. "Just go two hours west to Logonia if you don't believe me."

Cake flips up onto all four paws. Fionna wishes she had a fraction of that flexibility; fighting would be even better if she had. "I just think you're wanting some more female voices in your life, honey, that's all."

"So I'm hallucinating?" Fionna scowls. It can't be that. That's just -- it's not that. "I'm not crazy."

"Go see Gumball," Cake says and twines herself around Fionna's legs. She knows Fionna can't resist that. "Have him check you out."

Frowning, Fionna pretends to think it over. She'll go, but she doesn't want to give Cake the satisfaction of agreeing just yet.

"After all," Cake adds, bounding of the room before Fionna can react, "if anyone should know crazy-nuts, it's Gummy!"

*

"help...help...drag..." The voice goes in and out, never disappearing, but swelling and diminishing.

Fionna is strapped into a candy-cane chair, a giant blue comfit helmet fitted over her head with licorice laces and pastille electrodes attached at several points. Bright lights dance around her, bouncing off the helmet and breaking apart into skittles.

"Is it louder, softer, or about the same?" Gumball asks from his science-y perch in the far corner. He's shielded by a thick wall of marzipan, but only answered vaguely when Cake demanded to know what he was shielded from.

"A little louder," Fionna says. Her whole head feels sweaty inside the helmet; her face is probably streaked with sticky, melting sugar and salty sweat. Gross. It's not that she like-likes Gumball any longer (if she ever did), but nobody wants to look so messy in front of a buddy.

"And how about now?" Gumball twists a few knobs, then pushes a lever.

"The same."

Cake jumps onto Gumball's table and peers at his instruments. He tries to nudge her gently out of the way, but she stretches bigger and pushes his hand away.

"Cake, please. I'm trying to do science here," he says. He certainly looks the part: thick glasses with heavy black frames, tape wrapped around the bridge of the nose, and a well-tailored white lab coat.

"What gives, Pee Gee?" Fionna asks, the sound reverberating oddly within the helmet. "Am I crazy?"

"Hardly." He chuckles fondly. "You're beset by ecto-auditory phenomena! That's completely normal!"

Cake jumps onto Fionna's lap and bats loose the licorice cords, then bites through the straps. Burying her face in Cake's side, Fionna hugs her to her chest. Too late, she realizes all the sweat and sugar are going to stick to Cake's fur, so she just squeezes Cake to keep her in place.

"The frabjous is 'ecto-auditory'?" Cake demands.

"It's a complex concept," Gumball begins, shoving his glasses back up his nose. "Essentially, Fionna appears to have tripped some sort of..." He casts about for the best explanation. "A preternatural locus for accumulation of uncanny sounds..."

Fionna peeks over Cake's head. "Ghost noise and junk?"

Gumball checks his clipboard, then nods. "Something like that. Not so straightforward, of course, but, essentially..." He taps his pen. "Yes. Noisy ghost junk."

"So we need to get an exorcist?" Cake lands with a thump on the floor and trots toward the exit. "I know just the guy!"

"No, no," Gumball says. "No exorcist necessary. Just good solid research! This was near Mount Dread, you say?"

"Yup, Menace Valley," Fionna replies. She scrubs her palms over her sticky cheeks, but she suspects she's just making things worse. "At Jared's Hole."

"Innn-teresting," he says absently, flipping through several thick books, then checking something on one computer monitor.

Cake cocks her head. "What's so interesting?"

Gumball waves his hand without replying. Eventually, he glances up from his books and looks almost surprised to see that they're still there.

"It could have been a booby-trap," he says.

Fionna looks at Cake, and Cake nods. "Ice Queen," they say together.

Gumball pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. "Check with Marshall Lee," he suggests. "He's been around a lot longer than just about anyone. I bet he can tell you who's yelling at you."

*

Cake grumbles all the way out of the palace.

"Shush," Fionna tells her. They go through this every single time. "Marshall Lee's a good guy."

Cake's tail twitches. "Only thing I hate more than a vampire is a cop."

"I know," Fionna says. "You've mentioned that."

"Vamps and pigs, man," Cake says. Her eyes dart as her ears tremble. "Bad news. Bad. News."

Cake has a Past, with a capital-P. Fionna only knows the outline of things -- covert catnip grow-ops, some shady root cellars and shadier characters -- but it sure left its mark on Cake's likes and dislikes.

They're barely past the palace's ganache moat when Cake's tail puffs up and she whispers out of the corner of her mouth, "I-Q at three o'clock."

Fionna does not slow her step, but glances over. Sure enough, there's the Ice Queen, bobbing in the air behind a tree frowzy with cotton candy.

Sometimes, it's like she just wants to get caught and beat down.

Fionna plants her fists on her hips and shouts, "Ice Queen! What's your schtick?!"

"Oh, Pudgey-pudge, I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

Fionna ignores the insult; she knows she's big-boned and athletic. So she likes her pierogies with extra cheese; so her milkshake's got more jiggle than shake. She narrows her eyes at the Ice Queen and taps her foot. "Just tell me."

"Feeble and Lame!" The Ice Queen tries to sing the phrase, but her voice cracks. "Interrogation time, come on tie up your friends.... With Feeble the pest and Lame the jerk, it's Interrogation Time!"

Cake spits. "That doesn't even rhyme with our real names."

Ice Queen cackles and tosses her hair. "But you knew I meant you."

"Who else...?" Fionna starts to say, but Cake's hiss drowns her out. Cake's ears are flattening and a rumble that is nothing like a purr builds in her throat. Fionna pets Cake's head lightly, carefully, and steps forward, getting between her and the Ice Queen. "What're you doing, I-Q, boobytrapping choice treasure?"

Ice Queen touches up her cerulean lipstick, checking her work in a compact that looks like a jumble of icicles. "Sorry, what?"

"You heard me," Fionna says. The way Ice Queen's attention wanders -- deliberately or not, it's impossible to tell -- is one of her creepiest qualities. "Over in Menace Valley, Jared's Manhole. Totally tricked out with ecto-auditory boobytraps. Your fingerprints all over it."

Ice Queen wiggles the fingers on her right hand. "I don't have fingerprints! Not any more! Haven't had 'em for centuries, you distressing nitwit." She frowns down at her hand and her voice gets soft. "Wonder where they got to..."

Fionna takes a breath. "That's not the point --"

Cake leaps onto her shoulder and hisses again. She weighs about twice as much as usual and Fionna struggles not to stagger. "Stop messing with us, you old freak!"

Ice Queen's eyes widen until you can see the whites all around. She draws herself up and pulls her cape tightly across her ample chest. "I don't want to talk to you any more. You're very annoying. Also, you are upsetting my albatross."

Her eyes are hard and glittering, her voice strained. Everything about her -- every line on her face, every sharp curl of hair and sneer of lip and bright white knuckle -- practically crackles with menace. Fionna takes a step back, then another, and another. Cake has one front leg around her neck and her claws prick into the skin when Fionna turns and runs away.

When she reaches the open trail that leads toward Marshall Lee's place, Fionna collapses in the grass and struggles to catch her breath.

"What albatross?" Cake is asking. She slips onto Fionna's chest and stretches out, cheek resting on one leg. "Gretel wasn't anywhere around."

"Dunno," Fionna says. She scritches the fur along Cake's spine, up and down, back and forth. Her throat feels tight and her eyes hurt -- like they're hot and dry, swollen and achey, all at once.

After a bit, as a few clouds march across the sky, she says quietly, "What's wrong with her, anyway?"

Cake doesn't answer for a while. Her eyes are almost fully closed, the third lids creeping across, and her whiskers are drooping. But then she murmurs, "Wish I knew, honey."

Cake naps while Fionna tries to sort through her rapidly-diminishing options. That voice won't stop calling for help.

*

When they reach the outskirts of Marshall Lee's property, Fionna tells Cake, "You don't have to go in. Just wait out here."

"Nah, you're my girl." Cake lifts her lip to show one fang. "Can't wave garlic from all the way out here."

"I'll take that risk."

Fionna leaves her curled up, Morse-texting furiously, her claws clicking.

When she goes to knock on Marshall Lee's door, it bangs open before her knuckles make contact. A huge dark figure fills the room beyond, oily tentacles reaching in all directions, a gaping red maw opening to reveal rows of sharp teeth and a twisting, nearly prehensile forked tongue.

Fionna firms her stance and draws her sword. "Have at thee, fiend!"

The monster laughs at her.

Fionna advances, sword up, body turned perpendicular, and essays a quick cut at the nearest tentacle. This must be some threat if it managed to incapacitate Lee, one of the toughest badasses she knows.

Still laughing its uncanny, mocking laughter, the monster raises most of its tentacles as if in surrender. Fionna isn't so easily fooled, however, and she simply pauses, blade up and eyes narrowed.

"Enough," she hears Lee's voice call, and after a moment, the monster sighs and shudders, transforming and shrinking down to the size of a girl.

A woman, actually, beautiful beneath a tangle of dark hair, all shining eyes and small, smirking smile. She wipes one hand on her jeans and waves at Fionna. "Yo."

"Apologize, dude," Lee says, appearing behind her. They look almost exactly alike, except Lee's just himself, Fionna's old bud, while the woman is so pretty. "Hey, Fee, 'sup?"

Fionna looks back and forth between them. "I --. Hi."

"Marceline, my doppelganger," Lee says, floating upward, "Fionna's the local knight."

"Yeah, got that." Marceline pushes the hair out of her eyes, the gesture somehow elegant and effortless. "Hey."

"Hey," Fionna says and her voice sort of burps off the roof of her mouth. She swallows hard. "Uh. Nice meeting you."

Marceline laughs. "Going so soon?"

That did sound like she was saying goodbye, didn't it? Fionna crosses her arms, then uncrosses them and puts her hands behind her back. "No, I --. Yeah."

"Here to jam, or?" Lee asks. His sleepy smile and kind eyes are reassuring and familiar.

Fionna shakes her head furiously. "Nah, I need some info. Menace Valley? Ecto-auditory ghosty noises?"

"Who's getting haunted?" he asks.

Fionna points to her ear and shrugs.

"Bummer. Let me check some books," Lee says, floating past them, ducking Marceline's punch aimed for his shoulder. "Back in a sec."

Fionna doesn't know where to look. Or where to sit. She sheathes her sword and tries to lean casually against the wall, but it's like the specter of Marceline laughing at her is constantly hovering, every bit as threatening and distressing as the ghost voice.

Marceline, however, just turns a lazy somersault in the air, her shirt flipping up, exposing her narrow gray tummy, then drops softly to sit on the coffee table.

"So, like, you're an eager young hero looking to prove herself or whatever?"

"What?" Fionna scratches an itch on her left calf with the toe of her right shoe. "Nah."

Marceline lifts one eyebrow. Her expression doesn't otherwise change, but she might as well have thrown Fionna against a wall and demanded the truth.

"Yeah, fine," Fionna says sheepishly. "That's pretty much me."

"Cool," is all Marceline says before floating up higher into the eaves.

Fionna's balance wavers for a moment.

"Here," Lee says as he comes back into the room. He hands her a fragile, yellowed piece of paper. "Here's an old map for what used to be in Menace Valley. Maybe that'll help?"

She can't make much sense of the map; it depicts a series of small squares studded with even smaller squares. She turns it one way, then the other, but it's hopeless. The maps she's used to show trails through terrain, squiggles and jogs that trace where you go.

This shows something else, an empty space, untravelled.

"Check it --" Lee touches a circle in the upper corner of the map. "This used to be a bandshell and amphitheatre."

Not sure what either of those are, Fionna says, "Mm-hmm."

"Pretty sure it's still down there."

"Down where?"

Lee puts his hand on her shoulder. "Why do you think the valley's called Menace? There's a lot of danger underground."

Marceline chuckles at that and Fionna's cheeks heat up.

The voice gets louder. Insistent, almost. "Help...drag...help..."

Down in the depths, where the manholes drop their prey, there is a settlement -- maybe Hyoomans, maybe not -- clustered near the old amphitheatre. If there's a dragon threatening them, maybe keeping someone captive, it stands to reason that they'd send out a call for help the best way they know how.

"So someone's asking for help? By haunting me?" Fionna isn't sure what to make of that.

"Better than shouting," Marceline says lazily, flipping through another of Lee's books, then letting it drop when it fails to keep her interest. "Can't get out of range."

Fionna tugs her ear. "That's for sure."

"Hey, breaking news." Marceline holds up Lee's pocket phone. "Someone called Cake is off to see his or her or their boo?"

"Gimme that --" Lee tries to grab it back but Marceline tosses it to Fionna; Fionna catches it one-handed, feints left, then lobs it underhanded to skitter across the floor into the kitchen.

Marceline gives her a thumb's up and Fionna's grin almost breaks her face open before she can compose herself.

"Well," Fionna says, grabbing a couple pizza rolls from the bowl on the sideboard and stuffing them in her pocket (and half of one in her mouth), "guess I'm off to slay a dragon."

"Hold up --" In a single smooth motion, Marceline noogies Lee quickly, then grabs a black hoodie and tugs it on.

"You're going?" Lee asks.

She shrugs and glances at Fionna. "Sounds cool. Nothing better to do, anyway."

Fionna is glued to the floor as Marceline floats past. She yanks one of Fionna's rabbit ears. "Coming, shorty?"

*

They are well out of Lee's hollow, hiking the rising foothills around Mount Dread, beneath twirling, scudding red clouds, when the trail forks. Standing there, as if she's waiting for them, is the Ice Queen. She's decked out for Alpine hiking, in wool knickers and blue and white argyle socks, blue boots and a short blue parka, its hood edged with white fur. Gretel the albatross is nestled in the depths of the hood, her mean black eyes glittering.

"What the hairy butt?!" Fionna yells, reaching for her sword. "YOU!"

"You again." Ice Queen stabs the ground with her walking stick. Then she stops and purses her lips. "Why, Marshall Lee, aren't we looking positively...ephebic."

"Yeah, no," Marceline says. "Not him. Way cooler."

The Ice Queen growls. "Trickery! Where're you going, hero? Who's she?"

Fionna edges between them. "We're on a quest." She tries to ignore Marceline's giggle at that. "What are you doing?"

As Gretel squawks, Ice Queen draws herself up to her full height. "I," she intones, "am headed for the Rhyzomatic Republic. I'm totally over princes. Now I'm checking out the fervent revolutionary bureaucrats as the men for me."

"Uh-huh," Fionna says and does not relax her grip on the sword. "Sounds dubious."

"Sounds hot," Marceline says. "Can I come?"

"No, you creepy androgyne, you may not. Like I need the competition."

Marceline flashes her monster form, tongue and tentacles and hissing, before floating off merrily down the trail. Leaving Ice Queen scowling, Fionna hurries to catch up.

*

Marceline is absolutely terrifying. Not because of the potential fangs and tentacles, not even because she's a vampire.

No, she's most terrifying right now. Floating along about three feet off the ground, her hair trailing behind her, humming a song Fionna doesn't know, she's completely at ease and kind of beautiful.

Fionna has tripped over seven different tree roots and her own feet (twice) as she tries to keep up. Her hair is bugging her and her shirt feels like it's inside out even though it's not. The last time she spoke, her mouth was so dry that a little fleck of spit arced up and away.

The sky is darkening as they leave the foothills and start clambering down into the valley. They lower themselves into a cave much larger than a manhole, then advance toward where the amphitheatre should be.

"So do I have a double?" Fionna asks, but Marceline stops short, nearly banging into a dangling pipe that has rusted down into lacy filaments.

Marceline holds up her hand for quiet, then points at herself, makes a silly flapping gesture with both hands, and points back at Fionna.

Either she wants to take Fionna flying or she's going to fly on ahead to check on things. Fionna nods her agreement with both possibilities, and is vaguely disappointed when the second one proves to be true.

She waits for a bit, pacing, keeping her blood up, and stretching to stay limber, when Marceline hoots softly from somewhere a little to the left and down. Fionna checks the small dirk in her pocket, retrieves another pizza roll, and, munching quietly, moves forward.

Marceline's waiting for her just outside a ramshackle assortment of tents and shacks. There is a tall, hollow-eyed creature with her -- something antler'd with a long, soft face like a horse's, but standing upright and wearing a garish sweater.

"Welcome to Menace," he intones, "we don't get many visitors here."

Fionna offers her hand and shakes one of his front hooves. "Hey. So I hear you've got a problem with a dragon?"

His eyes roll back and he smacks his lips. "What? No!"

Fionna squints and Marceline just smirks at her, as if saying, "told you so". The voice begging for help in Fionna's ear grows more strident, shriller. "help! help! help!"

The antler-man looks around suspiciously, then leans in. "We don't talk about the dragon, got it?"

"Whoa, whoa," Fionna says, trying to gentle her voice. Cake always says she needs to show more empathy. "So it's really got you, huh?"

His nostrils flare and he stamps the ground with one hoof. "We don't talk about the dragon, you awful, imbecile girl!"

"Dude," Marceline says.

"Dude!" Fionna says, more loudly. "I'm just trying to help!"

"You knee him in the junk, I'll break an antler," Marceline suggests. Her eyes almost spark with enthusiasm.

Wait, they are sparking. Neat.

"HELP ME!"

Fionna shakes her head. "No time. Let's go --"

Marceline scoops her up under her arms, and Fionna barely has time enough to worry that maybe she's sweating too much, are her pits damp, can Marceline feel that and is she grossed out?. Barely enough time, but she manages to cram all those worries in, and then some, before laboriously returning her attention to the crisis at hand.

Marceline has to fly low over the ruins, ducking and twisting around the debris that hangs down as well as the debris that has piled up. The antler'd man seems to have raised an alarm; there are several figures running below them, lighting torches and yelling angrily.

They swoop toward the amphitheatre. Half of it seems nearly intact, but the rest has broken apart and piled up during the geological spasms induced by the Mushroom War. The wreckage looks more raw, painfully so, then most of the ruins on the surface -- up there, grass and wind and rain have worked for centuries to soften everything and hide the worst of the violent scars.

Down here, however, where it is dark and dry, the rocks are nearly as jagged and the vehicles almost as twisted up as they were a millennium ago. Nothing has healed, very little has relaxed.

"There!" Fionna yells when she sees the dragon. From the center of the amphitheatre, coiled up and shivering, the splendid green dragon gazes up through rheumy eyes. It must be twenty feet long, but it hunches as if to minimize its size. Its scales are molting -- some look papery-dry and pale, others as freshly green as new grass, but most are simply dull and calloused-seeming.

"you came for me" the voice whispers to Fionna. "I can never thank you enough"

"Up for some slaying?" Marceline calls; when Fionna looks up, she's waggling her eyebrows excitedly.

"It's not the dragon!" Fionna yells.

"What?" Marceline slows her flight and drops them, none too gently, on the highest outcropping above the amphitheatre. The mob below shoots sad little flaming arrows at them, which never come closer than three or four yards away.

"The dragon! It's..." Fionna sags against the rock and rubs her face. She was so gullible. She should know better. She looks up and meets Marceline's eye. "They're holding it captive. Not..."

Marceline nods and offers Fionna her hand to stand. "Got it. Let's go beat up some zookeepers, then."

*

The dragon's name is Darla, and she offers them gold and jewels and anything they want as reward.

"I've got treasure," she tells Fionna telepathically.

"So do I," Fionna replies. "But I don't need any, pinky-swear."

It's difficult to pinky-swear a dragon whose claws are the length of your arm, but eventually they succeed. Darla gives Fionna her text handle, licks them both with a warm, forked tongue, and slithers back to her home in the bowels of Mount Dread.

And now Fionna's just standing there with dragon drool all over her face and Marceline's rocking back on her heels and humming again.

How do you say goodbye to a stranger you never want to let go of?

"Well, see ya, sister," Marceline says by way of farewell. She slaps Fionna's palm and turns into a bat. "And the answer is no, by the way. You've got no double."

"Sweet," Fionna says aloud, long after Marceline has vanished. She wipes her sleeve over her face, and again, and nods. Her smile is broad and beaming. "Sweet."