"Simon!" Marceline screeched, her excited cry echoing across the devastated street.
Turning towards where the pale child sat, across the road by a collapsed car showroom, Simon Petrikov breathed a sigh of relief.
For a second he had felt his hand drifting to the cold metal of the crown at his hip, feeling every ounce of his being willing him not to touch it, whilst the voice in his head, the mad one that greeted his mind every time he wore the infernal golden artifact, still whispered in his ear to put it on. But, this time at least, he would have no need for its magic.
The small girl he had protected for so long, as her friend, companion and father figure, was sat on the cracked pavement, watching a tiny beetle scuttle across the concrete.
"Come see Simon!" she called again, her eyes wide with joy.
Grinning Simon walked over, marvelling at how, despite the apocalyptic devastation all around them, the crumbling city they lived in, this child could still laugh.
"What you found there Marcy?" he asked as he crouched down beside her, feeling his heavy pack dig into his sides slightly as he bent down to her level, Marceline still smiling.
"This little guy…" she said softly, pointing at the speck of black that was the beetle with a stick.
"I always heard only cockroaches would survive a nuclear war…" Simon said thoughtfully, peering through his cracked glasses at the insect as it skittered around.
"You always talk funny Simon." Marceline said with a giggle, and then poked it with the stick.
"What are you doing?"
"Just seeing if I can squish him…" the girl replied casually, lifting the stick up to squash the tiny beetle.
Then she felt a cold hand gently take hold of her arm, and Simon looked down at her.
"No Marcy, you can't kill him."
"Why not?" she replied indignantly. "It's just a bug."
Simon laughed, reaching a finger down to lie by the little insect, which scuttled up onto his extended ice blue digit.
"Life is always precious, no matter what it is." He said with a smile as the two watched the bug sit on his finger. "And whoever says otherwise is…"
"Is what Simon?"
The man shook his head and said solemnly.
"Well, not really human."
"You killed those mutant things yesterday. Weren't they precious?"
The old man sighed slightly.
"Yes, but I won't let anything hurt you ever Marcy. I always…"
His comment was interrupted by a high pitched shriek from down the street, and instantly Marceline grabbed onto him, eyes wide with fear.
"Is it one of them?" she said, her voice muffled as she buried her face into Simon's threadbare jacket.
Giving the girl a weak smile he stood up, gently carrying her over to an abandoned car and sitting her down beside it.
"Don't you worry yourself. It'll be fine. You just stay here with Hambo and don't make a sound." He said reassuringly as he turned to go.
"Wait." Marceline hissed, grabbing hold of his trouser leg. "Don't use it…"
"I have to Marcy…"
"Use the other thing." She said with a frown.
Simon closed his eyes for a second, but then heard the same shriek, evidently closer.
"I thought you hated it? You said it hurt your ears." He said as his hand left the crown's gold form and rested on the other item at his waist.
"Just do it." Marceline said firmly and surprisingly assertively for someone so young.
The old man nodded and, with shaking hands, drew the heavy black pistol from his belt. He hated the gun almost as much as Marceline did; he detested violence and the evil looking weapon seemed to personify it, and yet he had started using it more now, since the crown's effects had become more pronounced upon him.
"Stay here." He said firmly to the crouched girl, before he was lost from sight as he ran down the street.
Marceline stayed low, hugging the soft form of Hambo to her chest and closing her eyes. She could hear Simon's shoes clicking on the road beyond, and beyond that, the shuffling footsteps of whatever had made that noise before.
She was scared; there was no denying that, not just of the monster out there, but of what Simon would have done if she hadn't stopped him putting on that crown. Every time he wore that thing she seemed to lose a bit more of him, to be replaced by brief fits of insane babbling and memory loss. She didn't know how long he could go on like this, as his thick white beard, which grew every time he used the crown, began to become wilder and untamed, even after he had taken it off.
Screwing up her eyes and putting her fingers in her ears, Marceline still heard the howl of the monster, then the loud bang of Simon's gun, then again and again, before finally a strange silence.
She only opened her eyes when she felt a slight tap on her shoulder, and she looked up to see Simon standing over her, one hand reaching down for her, whilist the other held the smoking form of the pistol.
Reaching for his hand, she said softly.
"Are the monsters gone Simon?"
The old man smiled.
"For now child. For now."
A/N This is just a quick teaser from what will eventually be a new fic for me over the summer and obviously after I've finished my others. Feel free to comment, review and give ideas for my future project. Anything is appreciated!