Finn and Marceline
By Planet Cool
1. The Midas Well
Early one morning, before the sun was up, Jake tied the end of his tail to the nearest tree that wouldn't morally object to it and began his steady descent into the Midas Well. The Midas Well was a particularly dark, particularly deep well (hence the name) in the very northwestern corner of the Land of Ooo, and the site of a lost treasure map that pointed the way to wonders untold, according to a blathering, sandwich board-wearing lunatic he and Finn had overheard whilst strolling casually through town one afternoon. Reliable testimony, if ever Jake had heard it.
Jake's tail wasn't only his means of getting into the well, it would also keep him from getting lost in the labyrinth of rooms that lay beneath. The well had been commissioned, or so Jake had heard from a different sandwich board-wearing lunatic, by a denizen of the Candy Kingdom as a means to hide from the haunting sense of shame he felt about having been caught licking his own lollipop in the communal showers that one time at summer camp; it was full of wrong turns, trap doors, and gyrating walls, and Jake had to make certain he'd find the right path out once he'd gotten the map, like Theseus in the lair of the minotaur, back when the minotaur still hung around in that kind of place.
Jake found the map, rather predictably, sitting on a podium. The chamber had certainly undergone some radical redecoration, unless our friend from the Candy Kingdom had some pressing personal issues to work out, which, upon further contemplation on Jake's part, wasn't all that unlikely. Skull motifs all around, and there were giant stone snakes wrapping around the pillars that held up the ceiling. Nice touch, that. Ominous. It really made an adventurer feel like he'd accomplished something when he passed through the entryway.
"Hey there, baby, how're you doing?" Jake said, taking the map from its podium, at which point a screaming monstrosity with muscles the size of small mobile homes jumped out from the shadows and swung a huge battle axe at him.
"Whoa! Be careful with that, would you? I'm carrying precious cargo here!" Jake said, twisting himself into a parabola to avoid bisection. "Honestly, what's your deal, man, swinging an axe like that in the middle of the darkness? You could put someone's eye out."
The beast punched himself in the chest. "I am the Guardian of the Well!" he shouted, more loudly than was necessary. "Anyone wishing to take the map from its holy resting place has to get through me, first!"
Jake looked at the map, confused. "What's so holy about it?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" said the axe-wielding monster. "It's a treasure map sitting on a podium in the middle of an underground labyrinth full of idols and junk. It's gotta be holy to someone, or at least slightly sacred. Otherwise, what would be the point of guarding it?"
"You tell me, chief."
The Guardian of the Well pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay, look," he said. "The past few millennia have been really tough for me, all right? There isn't a whole lot to do down here. I haven't even had a chance to catch up on my literature for a thousand years. I've been sitting here since the dawn of the Great Mushroom War, thinking violent thoughts, waiting for someone to try and take the map so I could cut them with my axe. Let's just have our big fight and get it over with, if that's all right with you. It's been a hell of a wait."
Jake's expression soured. "Do we… have to fight, in the strictest sense?"
"Well, yeah!" said the monster. "I fight to protect the map. It's pretty much the entire premise of my existence, you see."
Jake sighed unhappily. "Well, okay, but we'd better make it quick. Then sun will come up soon, and I need to be home before my buddy Finn wakes up. We could miss out on precious adventuring hours." He put his little fists up unenthusiastically and was surprised when the monster didn't raise his axe or return the gesture.
"Oh. An adventuring buddy, huh?" the Guardian said, the lust for bloodshed in his gaze suddenly substituted with nostalgia. "I used to have me one of those. 'Course, this was back in the good old days, before the War and what-have-you. Things sure were different then. Simpler. I only had one pancreas."
"Yeah, it sure is great to have a friend," Jake said with a smile. "What happened to your adventuring buddy?"
The Guardian of the Well shrugged his mountainous shoulders. "Oh, you know. Things change. Friends grow apart. I ate him to acquire his abilities. Same old story."
The small yellow dog rubbed his chin. "I see how that might have happened," he said. "Well, so long, man. Thanks for the map. So many princesses to save and monsters to kill, so little time." Jake waved good-bye and began to walk out.
"So, we're really not going to fight, are we?" came the voice from behind.
Feeling a pang of compassion for the slobbering behemoth, Jake paused in mid-step and thought about things. "All right, how about this," he said at last. "If I maybe shove you a little and you tap me lightly on the head with the flat side of your axe… would that technically count as a fight?"
"Hmm," said the Guardian of the Well. "I guess it could, given the right context."
"Okay, then, why don't we try it?" Jake said.
He sauntered over to the Guardian and pushed him softly on the knee. Unable to hold back a giggle, the Guardian tapped Jake on the head with the flat side of his axe. Jake felt as though he'd just been knighted. He couldn't stop himself from giggling, either.
"How was that? Feeling better?"
"Sort of," the Guardian replied, following a short pause. "Not that much, though. You know, in retrospect, I can't imagine why I thought it was a good idea to live in a labyrinth and cut people up in the first place. The whole shtick seems kind of passé."
"Good," Jake said. "Recognizing your own mistakes is the first step on the path toward self-improvement."
"That's deep, man," said the Guardian. "Religious philosophy?"
"Nah, I read it on a sandwich board some lunatic was wearing," Jake said. Then, after having thought about it more deeply: "Though I guess it could be both."
This was a third sandwich board-wearing lunatic, by the way, totally different from the other two. Crippling insanity, along with donut bushes and puffy rainbow-tinted fungal growths that hid on the inside of hollow logs and made hilariously offensive sounds when you squeezed them, would surely have been among Ooo's chief exports, had any other place existed.
"Wait!" shouted the Guardian of the Well.
Jake turned to face him again, a little miffed this time. "Seriously, dude, the clock's a-ticking. I'm planning something really special today, and if you keep interrupting I'll never get around to it."
The Guardian rubbed the back of his head. "I'm sorry," he said, chuckling awkwardly. "It's just that, well, now that there's no map to guard I don't see the point of prowling around here anymore. I'm thinking, y'know, maybe it's time to leave the past behind and start from scratch. Get some fresh air, expand my social circle, maybe go into accounting and meet a nice gal. Do you think you could, um, take me with you?"
Jake bit his bottom lip. "Oh. Wow. I'm not so sure about that. Take you with me where?"
The Guardian waved his arms around, encompassing the whole room and nearly cutting the heads off a few sculpted snakes. "Outside. Anywhere, really. I just want to get out of this death pit. I don't like the way the rats stare at me when I sleep at night."
Jake paced from side to side for a moment, giving the matter some thought. After a few minutes he turned to the Guardian of the Well. "Well, okay. I guess I could do that. Everyone deserves a second crack at life, after all. Just promise me you'll keep the homicidal rampages to a minimum once you're on the surface. People up there tend to frown on that sort of thing."
"It's a deal!" the Guardian said happily. "Shake on it?"
Jake took the Guardian's hand and wrapped his arm around it like a rubber band. "Hold on tight!" he said.
His tail recoiled like a spring; both he and the guardian shot through the labyrinth at top speed. Within seconds, they'd be back on the surface.
To be continued...