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Children of Monsters

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Bonnibel was jotting down notes in a tattered notebook that bore a cocoa ring when the hair on her nape prickled. She looked up from her notes to regard the lab around her. She searched for anything out of place, any object that had shifted or fallen. Nothing was moving except for the slow drip from the counter faucet which had a degraded sealant ring. She'd been meaning to replace it.

The unease crawled down her shoulders and she resisted the urge to turn toward the high, open air windows. It was early, almost dawn, which made it an unlikely time for creeping visitors. But, it was possible. So she removed her glasses and folded them on her desk, lenses facing the windows.

Bending over her journal again, she made as if scanning the pages while keeping a sharp eye on the twin reflections from her glasses. Sure enough, an amorphous shape materialized, a dark cloud that gradually took on a roughly humanoid shape. She snapped the notebook shut, smiling smugly at having been correct. The person behind her jumped visibly at the report, lifting high into the air defensively.

"You're not going to fly off, are you, Marcy?"

From behind her, Marceline grumbled something in disgruntled disappointment, but her teeth flashed white in a reflected grin.

Bonnibel knew this game. It could go one of several ways. She might reject Marceline on grounds that her workday would soon begin and she needed the remaining time to clean and dress appropriately. She might be more gentle and offer a sympathetic comment and fond touch before sending the vampire off. Or she could beckon her closer and draw the woman, if she was shaped like one, into a needy, repressed kiss.

They could make out until Peppermint Butler knocked urgently on the lab doors, summoning Bonnibel to her duties. They could shove the notebook and several beakers to the floor in their haste. Marceline would snarl at the interruption and slide her hands underneath the crisp cloth and softer silks, curling and working her fingers just so. She would trap Bonnibel's mouth in a deep, demanding kiss, wicked teeth so careful, and swallow her muffled cries.

Bonnibel would peel off her lab coat, dropping it to the floor and hike her skirts out of the way so she could wrap her legs around Marceline's hips. She would bury her hands in that ridiculous, inky hair and guide Marceline's lips to the most sensitive hollows of her neck. She would ignore the sound of her crown falling on the stone floor and Marceline punting it aside under the desk. She would show the teasing, mischievous and infuriatingly disrespectful woman exactly what she wanted.

She might choose that for a change, but she knew the routine, this script, except... Something wasn't right. Something didn't make sense and she spun her chair to face Marceline, mind whirring over the stubborn equation. Something.

Marceline wasn't quite human this time, her edges blurring in flux. Fur rippled and disappeared replaced by scales or blue-gray skin. Membranous wings appeared from her back, then grew black feathers and folded away to vanish entirely. Her arms and legs split apart into dark tentacles, twisting and winding like vines or faceless snakes before plaiting together into limbs, and back again.

Though she had never witnessed Marceline shifting so continuously outside of an injury that forced her to displace critical organs, it was her face and head that caught Bonnibel's attention. It was vaguely lupine, nose and jaw pulling out to accommodate larger teeth, ears furling out like a bat's. All that was normal but two hooked goat horns sprouted from her tangled black hair. They remained in place, along with red slit pupils in solid yellow-green eyes. The two features remained constant and alien as Marceline morphed, floating in a slow arc around Bonnibel's desk.

Bonnibel cocked her head, acutely aware of being measured and analyzed. No, admired. Marceline should have said something by now. She should have asked for attention, a timid inquiry disguised as a quip. She shouldn't have those eyes. She shouldn't have horns. She shouldn't be gazing longingly at the rising sun, pink shafts of light striking the side of her body without harm.

"Oh," Bonnibel said, smiling as all her anxiety bled away amidst the freedom of desire. "This is a dream."

She relaxed into the familiar dream, the choice she never made in life revisiting her in sleep. But those eyes and horns, what an odd twist. Why would her mind add those details? Her logic muddled to a stop, wandering away in sleep. Later, she told herself. She could analyze the symbolism or curious fascination later, when she woke.

Right now, Marceline was shoving the desk casually aside as if it were a mere paper-weight. She closed the distance quickly, dropping herself to trap Bonnibel against the chair without hesitation, without her usual gentleness. She was a black amoeba wrapping herself around Bonnibel and invading her clothing before any protest was possible.

Bonnibel gasped and tried to bat at a tentacle in surprise over the aggression, dimly aware that it was futile. The tentacle wrapped around her wrist and held out her arm. Another caught her by the head, pulling it back to expose her neck. Her lips parted on a protest, a warning, an order. Another gasp as her body was flooded with fear and excitement simultaneously.

Marceline nuzzled her jaw, breathing to tickle behind her ear, slowing in response to the rigid panic. She kept her grip on Bonnibel's arms and legs, but didn't pull, nibbling at a pink earlobe until Bonnibel shuddered. Grazing touches against her ribs, belly and thighs left her trembling. Exhaling quietly, she angled her head to the side, exposing her neck to light nips and licks. Closing her eyes, she relaxed in Marceline's grip, spreading her legs when she felt the nudge against her knees.

A dream, she reminded herself, as flesh slid under her dress, splitting the fabric easily, brushing it aside perfunctorily. Her skin and nerves leapt, her body jerking in response to the warm grazes, kneading pressure and lighter touches. Hands could only be in two places at once, one if the other was needed for balance. Marceline could be everywhere at once and Bonnibel's hands trembled in their warm bindings.

She licked her lips, sighing, arching as much as she could with growing pleasure. She might have stood except she was bodily grasped, Marceline wrapping her arms and legs to haul her effortlessly into the air. It was impossible to struggle or fight, to resist in any way, except verbally.

"Marcy, not that I'm complaining but what-"

Her words jumbled into a low moan as she tried to press her hips against whatever was feathering so slightly. She wondered if this was why people prayed to imaginary deities as she felt the slick slide, the building, tense ache. So fast but, oh, it had been so long.

"Marcy," she tried again after catching her breath, not sure what she wanted to say. Stop? Keep going? Hold tight? Release me?

A tentacle darted into her mouth, choking off the uncertain protest. Bonnibel bit down in reflexive fury, aghast that Marceline would so callously dismiss her choice. The tip wriggled playfully in response, taunting her inability to complain. A dream, she reminded herself absently. Who was she fighting? Her subconscious? How foolish. She could meditate on it later when she wasn't struggling to gain more contact and friction.

She relaxed her jaw, swallowing around the intrusion, licking to feel smooth skin. It pressed back in response but didn't invade further to gag or cause any strain. Her mind cartwheeled over Marceline's notion of consideration as she bit down unintentionally at a wash of electric sensation. She twisted her hips against Marceline's grip, wanting grinding pressure, more.

She fought to arch, muscles clenching until they trembled, jerked and released. The frustrated need culminating into muffled groans. No one would hear. When Marceline pressed in harder, rubbing, vibrating…. Vibrating? How could she even…. Bonnibel's muscles quivered, flexed tight as something slid easily past her labia, inside to distend and she stopped caring about the racket she was making.

She curled her fingers, left blessedly free, clasping around whatever held her wrists. Her nails sank deep as Marceline withdrew and set a slow rhythm that Bonnibel couldn't match except with her voice. The sounds she made became a begging litany, skin heating until sweat permitted her to writhe, until she choked on saliva.

She sucked in a desperate gulp of air as the tentacle in her mouth withdrew promptly, shrinking down into nothing. Bonnibel tipped her head back keening freely, the idea of sound more than reality. She could feel it, so close and pleaded for more, inarticulate sounds running together.

When she opened her eyes, Marceline was watching her curiously, a perplexed frown creasing her heavy brow, though she kept an easy rhythm to the pitch and pattern of sound. Those demonic eyes remained implacable but her face was serious as she moved, answering Bonnibel's pleas.

The orgasm wrenched her body, muscles cramping when they couldn't move, winding tight inside and out. She knew she cried out, devolved into whimpers when Marceline kept going with rapid, even motions drawing out the climax until Bonnibel was gasping to breathe past the pressure in her chest. And it was as her body was going slack, the fluttering spikes inside slowing, that Marceline bit her.

It wasn't a dainty, twin-fanged nip but a full-jawed clamp around her entire neck. Bonnibel's eyes flew open as she resisted the grip, struggling. Teeth sank into either side of her neck nearly crushing her trachea. They went deep as a tongue licked at the hot rush of blood tickling its way down to her collarbone.

"Marceline," she whispered. "Marcy? What are you doing? Marcy?"

Marceline tightened her jaw and the band around Bonnibel's head, ignoring the question. Another tentacle wrapped around her eyes and everything she felt came into sharp focus. Marceline was growling, moving again but unsteadily. She rocked hard and fast, disinterested in pleasing, taking instead. Bonnibel willed herself to go limp, breathing in time to the grunts and growls.

When the tentacles around her legs slipped, she wrapped them around any available purchase, bracing and holding. This was a really weird dream, she concluded, answering with surprised whimpers. Surely it should have hurt. It should have been too much, too hard, too rough but she was moaning again, legs wrapping more fiercely.

She worried at the tentacles binding her hands, digging in her fingers, releasing as she felt inexorably building tension. Her breath was coming in short pants when she felt the teeth in her neck and shoulder shift, a shallower grip, though still possessive and restraining. She angled her hips upward searching for completion but Marceline slowed marginally. The hand-like grip on her butt flexed. It shifted to wrap further, the tickle that made her gasp her only warning.

"Marcy, don't you dare… You…" she tried again, her voice dying on the intended insult.

The growls vibrating against her throat rumbled with sub-glottal laughter.

She squeaked and jerked against the invasive touch and another tentacle touched her lips in warning. She bared her teeth and growled right back, a puny sound that had Marceline shaking with laughter against her chest. She fisted her hands at the intrusion easing inside slickly with every rocking motion that had Bonnibel arching. The shocking new sensation blending with everything else, nerves spiking until she bore down, too desperate for air and deaf to anything except the blood rushing in her ears. Too much. Her hands flexed spasmodically, reaching and grasping at empty air.

Marceline was shaking, devolving into whimpers and mewls as her body jumped and jerked. She released her grip on Bonnibel's neck with a harsh gasp, body spasming as she wrapped herself tight around her.

Bonnibel felt blood ooze and drip unimpeded down her shoulder under panting respiration. She also felt the throbbing ache of a thwarted orgasm and whined in protest. Hooking a freed leg firmly around Marceline, she ground upward, seeking purchase.

Marceline raised her head in curiosity. She squinted one eye, peering at Bonnibel as if she were out of place or some oddity. Then Bonnibel felt an inquisitive press against her clit, a silent offer.

"Oh glob, yes please," she answered in a rush.

With another quizzical look, Marceline eased the grip on Bonnibel's arms, allowing her to fold in exhausted muscles. Cradling her in an amorphous grip, still floating, Marceline allowed her to set a quick, efficient rhythm.

Bonnibel wrapped her arms and legs around her, unafraid of falling, using her voice to guide the pace. She only needed a minute, just a minute, as she felt Marceline lap at her neck and shoulders. She grabbed handfuls of fur, grasping and mumbling through the thick haze and involuntary spasms, and her head swam, thoughts scattering in pleasure. As she sighed in relief, grip slackening, she felt Marceline rolling them over mid-air to provide support.

Bonnibel let out another groan, this one of self-pity. She was sore, surely bruised, but couldn't feel any of the pain or discomfort that should have accompanied it. She knew where her body was strained past its biological limits, but the pain was incorporeal. It was an idea of pain, like the knowledge of her chewed up neck. It should have been agonizing, would have been in waking life. Instead, free to ignore such trifling details, she lolled, feeling like a wrung rag.

Marceline curled a hand into Bonnibel's hair and traced a finger down beneath her ear, along her neck. The knowledge that her neck was mauled faded into a secure realization that it was healed and whole.

Bonnibel heaved herself up, bracing her hands on Marceline's shoulders. Or rather, the general area where her shoulders ought to be in relation to her head. "You're something else," she grumbled, undecided if she meant that as an insult or compliment.

Marceline opened her eyes, sleepy contentment becoming a faint, puzzled frown. "Weird."

"Weird? I'm weird?”

"You keep talking," Marceline mused, as if to herself.

"Well, I can be rather opinionated, especially when someone decides she's going to stick things everywhere she can," Bonnibel admitted, sarcasm lacing her tone. "Why am I even arguing with you? Oh my glob, I'm talking to myself."

Marceline's befuddled expression deepened as a cloud blocked the sun outside, throwing a shadow over both of them. She blinked languidly, drawing a hand down Bonnibel's side, circling over her hip and back up again to settle around a supple breast. Her chest rose and fell on an unnecessary breath, a moody sigh.

"Let me down," Bonnibel ordered mildly.

Though her brows lowered instantly in aggravation, Marceline did as bid, allowing Bonnibel to slide feet first to the floor. As she floated backward, her body resumed a fully humanoid shape, skin slate gray, black hair snaking around with a will of its own. The sun hit her again, throwing slim curves into shadowed relief.

Bonnibel bit her lip, standing in nothing but a lab coat and indoor slippers, the bulk of her clothing in tatters scattered around the office chair. She fought to keep her respiration even as butterflies danced in her gut, sending an electric tingle through her skin, out through every nerve ending. That reaction, so arbitrary, so debilitating, because she was looking at a woman. Why that one? Because she appeared more human than any of the more acceptable candy people? Bonnibel had gone her entire life without being waylaid by the vagaries of lust. What had Marceline done to her?

Her nipples brushed against white fabric and she felt a pang deep inside, followed by a very physical twitch of sensitive muscle that made her shudder. She exhaled suddenly, a breath she'd been holding unaware, and licked her lips. If Marceline would drift closer, she would grab hold and drag her down to the desk. She wanted to take those petite breasts in her hands and watch Marceline arch up into her grip, dark lips parted in need rather than curled in that familiar smirk. Wiping her palms against her coat, she looked away, anywhere but at those tempting curves and hollows, the slash of cheekbones underlining wide, inhuman eyes regarding her intently. That was a woman who could have anyone she wanted on a whim without rejection.

Bonnibel was aware of her own intelligence, her accomplishments in government, politics, technical arts and the scientific field. She had learned the hard way that those attributes were not attractive to most suitors but rather a source of envy and insecurity. They had wanted the pretty, giggling princess, not the stern, perceptive tactician hidden behind those frilly dresses and tea cups.

Surely that damn, gorgeous vampire was after the novelty, the challenge, a passing fancy for a bored immortal. After all, she hadn't stayed. She had left after a simple denial of an impossible demand. She hadn't understood and even now, in their current relationship, she left after every brief visit, sucked back into darkness where her every need or fancy was met and attended to with slavish devotion. She didn't need a demanding, unyielding queen.

Another cloud dimmed the sun and Bonnibel became aware of her pulse as the shadows shrank and disappeared from her room. She looked out the window and... Something was missing? No. The sun was high in the sky, noon, although it had been dawn moments earlier. She swung her head back to face Marceline.

In reality, Marceline was ugly by the standards of Bonnibel's citizenry. Her color unappealing as washed out salt taffy, proportions grossly unfamiliar. Minutes earlier, she'd been downright hideous, an amalgamation of multiple foul beasts and monsters. The beauty, if that's what it was, concealed the most sinister of demons, the one who seduced and misled.

Marceline landed gracefully, stepping forward to kneel and embrace Bonnibel loosely about the waist. She brushed her cheek against her belly, licking lightly with a prehensile, forked tongue. When Bonnibel felt the puff of hot air through her pubic hair, the graze against her sensitized clit, she swayed. She understood what Marceline wanted and it would be so easy to give in to the bargain.

The desk was right there. She could sit, lean back or lay down and Marceline would devour her. No one would interrupt even now in the middle of the day. There were no duties, meetings or obligations. She could lay here with a monster and no one would object. She could submit and give birth to another demon, more sinister than the first for what it represented.

Marceline craned her head, bright eyes brimming in question, but when Bonnibel didn't tip in answer to her gentle push, those sickly green irises flashed. The red pupils glowed in warning, an implicit threat demanding obedience.

Bonnibel balked. She smiled and tugged at Marceline's hair, a calculated caress against her nape. "I have something to show you."

"Oh yeah?" Marceline uncoiled as urged but her hair slipped free of Bonnibel's hand, unwilling to tolerate the restraint.

Bonnibel reached out without looking and snagged her reading glasses, slipping them into the topmost pocket of her coat. Still smiling, a skill mastered in childhood, she asked, "You like me in this coat, don't you? With glasses, books, maybe gloves?"

Marceline's nostrils flared as her eyes dimmed in speculative interest.

"So come with me. I have a new lab I'd like to… try out," Bonnibel coaxed, voice laden with insinuation.

Marceline licked the edges of her predatory teeth, ending at an exposed canine. She drifted aside so that Bonnibel was no longer trapped between the desk and her chair. "Lead the way, babe."

The room shifted and fell out of focus, replaced by the end of a hallway. Bonnibel had the impression of walking, but they had already arrived. In front of them was a heavy steel door, inset with a small glass window. A heavy deadbolt was set into the frame of the door and an unmarked lever set into the wall beside it.

Bonnibel pulled back the broad deadbolt and opened the door. She knew what was in the room. She had never seen it before in her life or dreams but she lead Marceline inside the small, circular room. It was devoid of furnishings except for the mirrors lining every available surface, including the floor.

Marceline hovered, rotating in place as she took in the reflective room with its domed ceiling. Then she looked at Bonnibel in question, eyebrow raised.

"It's a solar collector," she supplied, spreading her arms in pride. "With it, I can gain the power my kingdom needs."

"Don't you have a hydro-electric plant?" Marceline asked, throwing another look around the otherwise featureless room.

"It doesn't meet the needs of my kingdom," Bonnibel explained, words falling woodenly from her tongue. "But that's not why I brought you here."

Marceline smirked, regarding the mirrors with lascivious intent. "Yeah, I can see why you brought me here."

Now she needed to kiss Marceline, so Bonnibel did. When Marceline drifted close enough, Bonnibel pulled her down by the sides of her head, fingers bumping against the strange horns. For a second, she forgot what she needed to do next, the lips against hers so tender and soft, tongue tickling her palate, teeth rasping without breaking skin. Her hands slid down to pull the surprisingly warm body into a closer fit and Marceline hooked her legs around Bonnibel's, her body yielding in trust.

Seemingly guileless, Bonnibel worked an arm free to pull an object from her side pocket, while breathing against Marceline's mouth to settle her jumping nerves and intractable desire. Oh, Marceline would come to rue her fetish. She wrapped her arm around the vampire's shoulders, draping the veil of hair over-top, and when Marceline sank into the affection, burying her face into the crook of Bonnibel's neck, she raised her fisted hands.

It wouldn't be hard, but she hesitated in bleary confusion. Then she forgot why.

Bonnibel flipped the scalpel parallel to her wrist and thrust it between the ribs beneath Marceline's scapula, close to the vertebrae. When Marceline jerked and froze in bewilderment, she embraced the woman fiercely, locking her hands together against the butt of the scalpel and pushing deeper. She jammed the makeshift stake fully into the withered excuse of a heart until there was nothing left to grasp.

Marceline choked, mouth open in wretched surprise, eyes uncomprehending as Bonnibel stepped out of her arms. She sank to one knee, twisting feebly, hand feeling behind her shoulder blades for the knife in her back. Her fingers scrabbled over a short nub and failed to find purchase on the slick metal, slimy with viscous, black blood.

Bonnibel put on her spectacles as she continued to back towards the door. In vampire lore and mythology, religious symbols warded off the undead, fueled by the power of belief. She considered the existence of an omniscient supernatural being improbable, but she had a great deal of faith in science and all its symbols. Going through the doorway, she pulled it shut after her, throwing the deadbolt just as Marceline roared in outrage.

The door shook, denting as Marceline collided with it, glaring through the tiny window in pain and fury because she wasn't just a vampire. She was also a demon and those were notoriously difficult to exterminate. It would take more than a stake to end her unnatural life, but less than eternity without her precious Amulet of Chaotic Evil. Which she hadn't been wearing.

Bonnibel smiled thinly and threw the lever by the door, her hand guided automatically, of its own volition.

The dome scrolled away, panels withdrawing into recesses within the walls to reveal a glass ceiling. The noon sun poured through on a now cloudless summer's day. Painfully bright, amplified light flooded the room and struck Marceline from all directions.

The animalistic noises she'd been making changed in pitch to shrieks of pain and fear. Bonnibel watched stoically, witnessing as Marceline tried to shift and couldn't. She tried to fly and fell instantly. She staggered and spun as her skin boiled and blackened. Her flesh smoked and puckered but never caught aflame. Instead, it began rotting and sloughing off in drips and drabs as she finally ceased searching for an escape.

The black, peeling corpse lurched back against the door. Marceline pressed an increasingly skeletal hand against the metal and stared back at Bonnibel through the window. When her eyes burst and sank into pits, she continued to give the impression of staring, demanding, pleading for an explanation.

Bonnibel stopped smiling as the flesh baked away into ash so that a charred skeleton grimaced back at her, noxious fangs locked in an obscene grin. The horns fell off, one by one to leave behind low knobs before the mandible sagged and fell. Then the cranium caved in, disintegrating as the skeleton finally collapsed.

Bonnibel squinted at the abrupt glare of light, unimpeded by her victim's head. Something trickled down her cheek and she licked when it caught the edge of her lip. She tasted salt and felt more tears, inexplicable and misplaced, her hand touching the door handle and shaking.

She tried to open the door and woke with a gasp, heart trying to leap from her throat, tangled in sweaty sheets. Dropping back down onto her pillows, she rolled onto her side, hands fisting into the covers. She sucked in cramped breaths as she guided her pulse to slow, realizing that she hadn't experienced a simple dream. She'd had one of her visions.


Marceline wasn't burning. She couldn't burn like a normal human-based vampire, so she decayed in fast-forward, flesh rotting black and dissipating from her bones. It didn't hurt anymore; her nerves had vaporized with the flesh and she wondered if there was a brain in her skull. She didn't need it any more than a ghost did but she was struck by a tinge of possessiveness.

She heard the plink of a thin scalpel sliding from her rib cage to land on the floor as her heart dissolved.

She pressed her bare cranium against the metal door and, despite lacking eyes, glared at Bonnibel through the small rectangular window. The light in the solarium was so overpowering that all she could make out were the flat white circles of spectacles. They looked back at her impassively and Marceline couldn't push against the door. It was a struggle to even touch it. She tried to laugh but without lungs, her teeth clacked aimlessly.

"You're not doing so good, sport!" her father chortled from behind her. "Looks like your gal's a real pistol!"

She shoved weakly off the door, then collapsed as her bones began to crumble.

Her father ambled over, limbs twisting in awkward imitation of human movement, before he somersaulted over to scoop the remains of her skull off the floor. He held the remains of her head, the orbital sockets, between his palms and grinned at her, a flurry of fine, needle teeth and sickly green eyes.

"Wake up!" he shouted, shaking her bones. "C'mon, pumpkin, I gotta catch a game with Death and you're not invited. Up an' at 'em!"

Marceline sucked in a ragged breath, clasping a hand to her chest and lurching midair. She was engulfed in flames, harmless but startling. Instinctively, she doused them, ash fluttering around her in the air of the master bedroom. She dropped into a sitting position amidst the charred ruins of her bed, smoke curling from the split footboard. She massaged her hand against her sternum, searching for the familiar, habitual heartbeat.

It was steady, if fast. Her heart was whole and secure. The only light in the room was the omnipresent dim red glow and Yaffe's terrified blue eyes far in the corner where ze huddled. There was no blinding sunlight, its wavelength so alien to the Nightosphere, rays lethal to a vampire. That which gave life to the living took it from the dead.

She floated off the bed to land on bare feet because her night clothes hadn't fared any better than the bed. "What did you see?"

Yaffe shook hir head, cringing more snugly into the corner.

"I swear I won't hurt you over an honest answer," Marceline amended, doing her best to minimize the demanding growl that had become her normal speaking voice here in the Night. "Tell me what you saw," she asked again, the threat of geis equally clear.

Yaffe wrapped hir arms around hir legs more firmly, chin ducking behind hir knees. "You were dreaming. I thought it was a nightmare, at first, but then I realized you were dream-walking."

Marceline frowned, digging through the remains of her bed for the Amulet of Chaotic Evil. Finding it, utterly unharmed, she draped the chain over her head and formal clothing wrapped around her body as the gem snapped to her neck.

She'd always been plagued by a vexing variety of lucid dreams but had blamed it on food, poor sleep, hectic nights, anything but her bloodline. She hadn't paid much attention to her father's admonishments as a teen, given so cavalierly, and he had never bothered to elaborate or press the matter. He assumed that she understood all aspects of her basic physiology and she hadn't known the right questions to ask.

The dream-walk, the mind-worm, the ability gifted to the most powerful of arch-demons to affect the minds of susceptible mortals. They could plant subconscious desires, rile up unbidden passions such as envy, hate, fear and lust, all that could lead to violent, chaotic behavior and all its consequences. It was, in essence, the first stage of demonic possession and unhindered by dimensional boundaries. Humans had never been wrong to suspect the influence of demons upon those who committed misdeeds. The amulet enhanced that ability, but she hadn't been wearing it.

"You sure?"

"Yes. Your mind was traveling."

Marceline nodding in acceptance, fingering the gem at her throat. Yaffe discerned the desires of hir partner through a form of passive telepathy. It wasn't intentionally invasive, being rather specific in form, but an absent mind was hard to miss. She worked her jaw, pondering the implications. A dream-walk would explain her father's presence since he'd ascended to the dead worlds, but what about Bonnibel? She tucked her hands in her trouser pockets, bowing her head under a chilling suspicion.

"You were acting out some portions of it, shifting. I don't think you meant…" Yaffe faltered in hir explanation, shuffling uneasily as ze picked up on Marceline's disquiet.

"Go on. I'm not angry with you," she reassured softly, caught in her own speculation.

"You were getting violent, trying to talk and then you set the bed on fire. I wasn't sure when you'd stop."

"And you didn't have permission to leave the room," Marceline finished for hir on a sigh. Slavery was so stupid and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it. Pivoting in a tight circle on her heels, she paced, her boots setting a slow tempo for her thoughts. "All right."

"You were with her," Yaffe injected warily, relaxing marginally but not rising.

"Maybe," Marceline allowed.

Bonnibel hadn't summoned her for several months and as she tried to remind herself that sex between them was probably an exception to the rule, Marceline enjoyed her fantasies. Imagining whatever she wanted never hurt anyone. She mentally cursed the lucid dreams. The dream walking had become pronounced once she began wearing the amulet, lust being one of its attributes. Maybe she could hurt Bonnibel with idle dreams now. Had it been the real woman's mind rather than a fantasy construct? But how was that possible without the amulet's assistance? Were the changes it rendered becoming permanent?

Bonnibel's image had been so breathtakingly clear, fidelity down to the smallest detail that never wavered at the edges. And there had been those moments when she balked, briefly resisting in ways a fantasy woman wouldn't. She had spoken, issuing mild but sincere challenges to Marceline's will and intention which had both aroused and confused her. There were too many niggling details to dismiss as mere constructs of subconscious desire.

Marceline felt the muscles in her neck and shoulders tense as she hunched, pacing back and forth. In her peripheral vision, she saw Yaffe standing, eying her as ze might a wild animal. The succubus had long since quit offering, however implicitly and courteously, to assume Bonnibel's form, but maybe ze was right. Maybe she should tell Yaffe to shift, and fuck until she couldn't move, until the unwanted desire was assuaged enough so that Bonnibel wasn't at risk of mental invasion.

Her gut clenched in rebellion, bile rising in her mouth, and she wasn't sure which notion disgusted her more. She didn't want to hurt Bonnie but it seemed that removing the amulet didn't free Marceline from its grasp. She frowned deeply, regarding Yaffe in hir natural form: red skin, hairless as most demons, slit eyes glowing blue. Ze didn't deserve any blame. Ze was just trying to perform the task assigned to hir as a final penance.

If Yaffe was right, if her own gut was right, it hadn't been a fantasy. She had dream walked through the dimensional barrier and imposed her desires on Bonnibel, stepping through her mind with callous ease and indifference. And if that was true, Bonnibel hated her for it. She had researched the methods and knew the requisite techniques to execute Marceline, using a stake and the sun. She had smiled, coddled, cooperated and then rid herself of the unwanted suitor.

It would only be possible if Marceline removed her amulet, though, and it seemed there was no reason to bother taking it off. She pressed her elbows to her sides, recalling the times she had allowed Bonnibel to pull it loose, to unlatch it from her throat. Her steps slowed until she drifted in place, eyes seeing empty air. If nothing else, it explained why she hadn't been summoned in so long.

She didn't want sex, not now, but she didn't want to think about Bonnibel anymore either. "Take it from me," she ordered, "as much as you can."

If it was possible, Yaffe looked at her sorrowfully, before approaching. She reached out with one hand, resting her fingertips on Marceline's forehead. "It will be temporary," she warned.

"Yeah, I know," Marceline admitted, "but that's better than nothing."

She felt the change as an alteration in her thought patterns, turning away from plaguing visions of Bonnibel, moments of whimsy and longing interrupting her daily activities. She didn't forget, nor did she wish to, but desire was no longer at the forefront of her mind. More than that, she was blanketed by lassitude, the soothing afterglow that would normally follow sex. She hadn't asked for that but, feeling her muscles slacken and tension drain away, she agreed in retrospect.

Yaffe backed away a couple of paces, posture alert as ze waited to see if ze would be reprimanded for taking such initiative.

Marceline rolled her head, popping the joints in her neck, then stretched her arms up before brushing hair out of her face. This job did have its perks, though they rarely made up for the imprisoned tedium. Glancing at Yaffe, she wondered what the demon had done to earn hir incarnation as a succubus, what transgressions had been committed by the mortal that ze once was.

She had never asked, wasn't sure she wanted to know, but when she looked, Yaffe's soul was pale. Whatever stain or darkness that had brought hir to the Night had washed away with time and repentance. Hir time in the realm was nearing its natural end. Perhaps that would be decades or centuries by the Nightosphere's measure, but Yaffe would be free.

Marceline resented the luxury but she thanked Yaffe and sent hir out to roam the citadel or surrounding city, as ze pleased. She floated in place for a while, staring absently at the massive doors of her chambers. Yaffe could take only sexual desire. Her powers had no effect on loneliness, grief or any stupid, unrequited bunk, but Marceline couldn't summon any rage. She was tired, not angry, so she headed for the Hall of Judgment.

She didn't make it more than a few feet past her door.

"Aren't you going to eat?" Simon asked, emerging from the shadowed hall.

"Not hungry."

"Bullgunk," he declared baldly, pointing at her. "Your cheeks are turning inside out. Don't think I haven't noticed."

"So? It's not like I can die from starvation," she retorted, sidling past him.

"This is an experiment? You've taken up science?"

"Will you quit nagging me? I'm not a little kid anymore. I don't need reminders on when to eat, or go to bed or brush my teeth or anything else," she blurted in exasperation, spinning on him.

"Are you sure of that?" he continued to needle, hands on his hips, brawny shoulders filling most the hallway, amplified by the partial spread of his wings.

"Y'know what? I'm not having this discussion with you. I'm going downstairs to the Hall. See? I'm being responsible, so quit nagging."

"Mm," he muttered, pursing his lips dubiously. "You should eat. You wouldn't want a light head compromising your judgment."

"For chrissake, leave me alone!" she roared, transforming more from reflex than intention.

Simon looked up to meet her gaze but otherwise seemed unimpressed. Even as her chosen adviser, he wasn't impervious to her wrath. She could disassemble him into a horde of tiny demons. She could reincarnate him into a frog and let him shrivel into an asphyxiating husk in the heat of the Nightosphere.

He frowned paternally. "No."

She tried to summon justified outrage but it wouldn't come in the face of something squirming and childish. In all the ways Hunson hadn't been her father, Simon had, for those few years they traveled together in the ravaged wastelands of post-war Earth. She snarled at that guilt, that irrational need to show him respect all while knowing it was one of several reasons she had chosen him for this post.

"No, I won't," he repeated. "You haven't been eating and that look might've been in fashion back in my day but I never cared for it. Yaffe says you haven't been sleeping well despite hir best efforts-"

"I'll kill hir," she snarled.

"Please don't do that," he retorted evenly. "Tradition would require we replace hir and then you'd be stuck starting over with a stranger. You don't really want that, do you?"

Covering her face with her hand, sliding it down as if she might wipe away her frustrations, she shrank back to a more normal size. "No," she admitted grudgingly.

"I took it upon myself to pry, so don't blame hir," he continued, defending the succubus.

"I get it!" she snapped. "You out-rank hir so it's not hir fault. Case closed," she agreed with growing impatience, turning to leave as a means of ending the unwanted conversation.

"You should talk to someone about it," he persisted. "If you're not comfortable with hir, then I'm all ears."

She grimaced at the suggestion. Bonnibel was a taboo subject for Yaffe, but it was a creepy one with Simon. Not only was he, like, her dad but he'd spent quite a long time repeatedly kidnapping the woman in misguided attempts to woo her affection and commitment. She did not want to discuss their relationship, or lack of one, with Simon.

"No way," she dismissed, failing to disguise her slight horror.

He sighed, bowing his head and scratching behind a pointed ear and sweeping horn before smiling wryly. "Your dad never gave you 'the talk', did he?"

"What? No!" she practically shouted at his implicit intention, floating backward for good measure. Taking a deep breath to settle the jump in her nerves, she laughed weakly. "I'm a bit old for 'the talk', Simon. I've been in plenty of relationships."

He held up a clawed hand to his chest. "And I don't particularly want to give it to you but if you don't start talking about whatever's bothering you, I will. Unless you say otherwise, I'll assume all this is about Bonnie."

"All what?" she growled.

"You're depressed," he stated bluntly. "And you're distracted, which is dangerous around here."

"Yeah? So?" She shrugged. "I like to spend the odd decade depressed. It'll work itself out. Always does and I usually write some great songs in the process."

"Problems don't solve themselves, Marcy."

She took another deep, calming breath. In her younger days, before she accepted responsibility for the Nightosphere, before she had ever met a certain candy princess, she would travel. She would leave her problems behind, along with the people involved and go to a new place, or an old one that had changed over the centuries. In her experience, most problems did wither away with age if given enough time. The belief that they needed to be solved in a prompt fashion was more of a human concept, a product of short lifespans.

"I appreciate what you're trying to do," she said more calmly, "but I'm the most powerful person here and I can't do squat. There's nothing you can do to change things either. Bonnie's gonna do whatever she wants to do and that's life."

"And it's easier not to make an effort? You can't fail if you don't try, right?"

"That is not fair, and you know it. I tried. We had a relationship and it didn't work out. She was too busy to make the effort then, she's busier now. Nothing's changed."

"Except that you've stated and demonstrated your intentions toward her, which, I'm guessing, is something you didn't do the first time around. Am I right?"

She thanked the dim, red lighting that prevented him from seeing her blush as she squirmed over the topic of discussion. She totally did not want to discuss her not-girlfriend with her not-dad. It was grody.

"I know I missed most of your life, but I do know that Princ- Bonnibel is a giganto nerd."

"Yeah? So?"

"Well, so am I and the thing about us nerds is, uh, well…" He scratched his forehead, reaching for glasses he no longer wore or needed, hand fumbling at the bridge of his nose. "We're smart enough to know when someone's out of our league. And we know when they're just using us for tech help, or homework, or setting us up to look stupid in front of their friends. So, um, okay, look, Marcy, this is as awkward for me as it is for you. Could you not give me the demon death glare?"

Biting the inside of her cheek, she leaned against the dry, rough stone wall, crossing her arms tightly. "Okay. So Bonnie's the nerd and I'm the popular girl?"

"You were, weren't you? The famous rock star, the unbeatable Vampire Queen, a figure from myth and legend, the fabric of Ooo's entire history? And you got all up in her space and saw the boring, nerdy, irritable, obsessive geek she is underneath those pretty dresses and cultured speeches, right?"

She worked her jaw, jamming her heel into the floor, keeping her gaze averted. "I guess, yeah."

"Betty…" He stopped, a hitch in his breath, before continuing. "Betty and I hit it off because we were both nerds. We could trust each other in the same ways. Before her, there was a woman at our company who always hit on me, cozied up and made me uncomfortable. I couldn't tell if she was really into me or faking it and she left me alone after I turned down several lunch dates. She was so beautiful and classy…"

"I'm not classy," she injected dryly.

He held out a finger, waggling it, "Because you work hard not to be like your dad."

"My dad wasn't classy," she protested, screwing up an eyebrow at the notion.

"Your father was the epitome of suave business tycoon but," he raised an insouciant shoulder, "fashion changes. You were too young to remember, but back to the topic at hand – nice try getting me off track, by the way. When you were dating or whatever, did you ever tell her you cared?"

She glowered at the floor, dredging up buried memories against her better judgment. Their exchanges had taken on a fuzzy vagueness, exact words long forgotten, the more mundane interactions lost to time. They had never dated. Bonnibel hadn't seen Marceline in a romantic light, but as a dear friend. She had expected to encounter an enemy, a vile bloodsucking monster and Marceline almost smiled at the memory of that confusing first confrontation. She'd dodged a rapid series of wooden stakes fired from a make-shift rail gun while doing her best not to eviscerate the recently ascended crown princess.

Once that nonsense was straightened out, she had become a friend and adviser to Bonnibel, who valued Marceline for her vast pool of experience. She answered questions about Ooo's history, the evolution of its people, the nature of various fallen kingdoms and societies. She had made recommendations about political gestures and maneuvers, warning the princess when she was about to repeat mistakes long forgotten by the history texts. She only refused to answer questions pertaining to the Mushroom War because it would have meant peeling back tenuous mental scabs.

Despite Bonnibel's frequent ire when she disagreed with some method or attitude, they had made an invincible team. Where negotiations and technical expertise failed, threats and brute strength persevered and vice versa.

Looking up at him, she said, "I said I wanted to spend more time with her."

"And?"

"She told me she had duties and responsibilities to the kingdom. There was more, but I stopped listening. I was angry," she admitted quietly, dropping her gaze back to the floor.

"Okay," he said as softly, "Would you like me to translate that into nerd speak for you?"

She furrowed her brows, eying him from an angle. "What's to translate?"

He cleared his throat with a fist against his larynx, then aped a falsetto. "The hot, popular girl is demanding more of my precious time for no good reason. How stupid does she think I am? Um, no," he finished with an affronted curl of his lips. He wiped the expression off his face. "It's, uh, pretty much how I responded when that woman kept asking me out. Standard Nerd Defense 101."

She stared at him, arms sliding free as she pushed off the wall. "Are you lumping serious? That she literally thought I was asking for more time?"

"Yes."

She opened her mouth, shaking her head, then closed her mouth with an audible click of teeth. She held up her arms, hands cupping the air, opening her mouth again. Finally, at her wits' end she declared: "That's stupid! How could she- You're fucking with me. You've gotta be fucking with me."

Simon was tugging on his lower lip with his fingers, distress curling his brow as he watched her. "I'm not. Being a genius doesn't make you smart. A lot of the time, nerds are stupid in special ways. I was always really dumb with women. Betty was…" He sighed heavily.

"No," she insisted. "That can't be right. She was always criticizing me, nitpicking every little thing-"

"Because she cared."

She held up her palm, forestalling further comment. "Telling me what to do, telling me what to wear-

"Oh, and that's OCD."

"Hello, I held up my hand. Do you not understand what that means?"

He grinned unabashedly. "I probably noticed what a giganto nerd she was when I was Ice King. It would explain a lot."

"Are you listening to me?"

"Yes," he said with an exaggerated duck of his head. "You were vague, she was confused, you gave up, she thought you weren't interested, yadda yadda yadda. It's a pretty common scenario, except you two got a second chance."

"I tried to-"

"But this time, you made her sign a contract."

"Will you please stop cutting me off?" she fumed, rising into the air. "And, like, that contract was 'gimme your kid and undying loyalty in exchange for saving your kingdom'. Not really what you call romantic."

"Are you kidding?" he challenged. "She probably had a nerdgasm on the spot."

She bared a fang in a dubious sneer. "I'm not following you."

He clasped his hands, putting on a dreamy face. "You promised to defend her kingdom and have her children, and you did it in a nerdy way: Legalese on paper."

"Uh huh," she said slowly, biting her lower lip as she processed his interpretation. "And that would be the stupid nerd version of events?"

"Mm hm," he agreed, nodding his head earnestly.

Pushing hair out of her face, she closed her eyes and slowed her heart rate. Every time she tried to analyze what he had told her, her mind ground to a halt. For one thing, if he was right, then Bonnie had never blown her off. Or rather, she had but because she figured Marceline wasn't serious. Just a stupid, impatient butt because Bonnie was a stupid nerd. Or something like that.

She groaned. "Okay. I'll have to get back to you on your theory. Can you just give me my schedule?"

"Well, after not eating breakfast," he started facetiously, "you should take care of some of those poor slobs waiting in line, like you were going to do, and then you have a board meeting."

She groaned again.

"I know, I'm sorry," he soothed insincerely. "But you know how anxious the elder gods get."

"They think I'm incompetent."

"So, don't be incompetent."

"Gee, thanks. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Follow your father's advice?"

"My dad would tell me to kidnap Bonnie, lock her in the citadel until I got bored, then suck out her soul."

"What a splendid idea!" he crowed, clapping his hands in mock delight. "You can tell her it's an extended date. Eat some pizza. Catch a movie…."

"Shut up, Simon. I'm going downstairs," she announced in exhausted exasperation, smiling at his misguided effort.

There, she regarded the line of quiet petitioners waiting for her to grace them with her attention. Some raised their heads, spotting her as an inky blot amidst a sea of muted colors. She focused on the gemstone at her neck and let go, her mind receding as the demon Abadeer took hold of her body, spewing out from her head and shoulders like a giant, rotten spore. Floating to the dais, she ordered the first demon forward.

So it was. A petitioner looked up at her and she asked them to make a choice, a guess as to their fate. Meanwhile, she looked through their body at the soul and judged its worth. Those yet dark were served pain for their impertinence. Those cloudy but graying toward light were heckled by strange and unusual punishments. Those with pale souls were far and few between, so it really came down to 'pain' or 'weird punishment' over and over again. She had to wonder who was actually being punished.

Until an elderly demon stood before her, eyes vacant with heavy fatigue. His shoulders slumped as he looked up at her, then he snorted, looking back at the stone floor. The demons behind him shuffled back in fear, preparing for the Lord's wrath.

Marceline cocked her overgrown, bloated head, grinding the jagged teeth in her vertical mouth. She examined his soul more closely, pushing her attention into the gemstone's influence. His soul was pale, very pale. It glowed faintly around the edges, wavering and flickering as she studied it.

He looked back up, mouth set in a framework of lines that rarely smiled and guessed, "Pain?"

"Pleasure," she declared and he vanished.

She gazed at the empty spot, waiting for another demon to step into it. The old demon was in the Dead Worlds, in Death's keeping. He might become a ghost, proceed to whatever afterlife he believed in or even be reincarnated to the mortal plane. She had no way of knowing.

Shocked whispers traveled through the queue, outside to the massed horde in the river, the details mutating with each retelling. The story would keep the line orderly and moving by virtue of hope, the cruelest emotion.