The Fentons picked their way through chunks of concrete and past the smoking iron skeletons of cars. The ozone-sour, burning stench of ectoplasm hung in the air in an almost tangible fog.
Maddie pulled her goggles over her stinging eyes. Nothing moved. Two city blocks had been flattened, leaving ragged hills and furrows of smoking rubble. The news helicopter had gone down ten minutes before that last, massive attack, so they weren't sure what they would find when they'd ventured outside the ghost shield. She kicked aside a twisted hunk of fender. Thank god they'd evacuated the city in time.
It had been an average day in Amity Park, until some spiritualist fanatic had stolen the Fenton Bazooka and locked it on overdrive, ripping an enormous hole into the ghostly dimension. It had reached apart of that world deeper and darker than any of them had ever experienced.
The monster had come from the breach, just barely squeezing in through a rip a hundred yards wide. It was four-legged and had something that might be called a head, but there the comparison to earth's fauna ended. It was a thing of indescribable complexity, with row upon row of boiling red eyes clustered on its brow and flowing down to the neck and forelegs. It had tentacles sheathed in glossy green-black scales that rippled over its body like a sea of worms. Great violet crystals jutted from its sides and back. Black smoke curled through a thousand rows of curving fangs. Its aura simmered a deep, vivid red, and painted the clouds into blood.
The city's newly developed ghost defenses were blown away in minutes, except for the shields. There were a few who fought back-the woman in red with her jet sled, a handful of amateur ghostbuster-wannabes, the Fentons themselves. One by one they fell. She remembered seeing the red-clad ghost hunter swatted aside like a fly. Maddie herself had woken up on a stretcher outside the hospital with Jack holding her hand. They'd somehow made it back with cuts and bruises. It seemed almost shameful, considering the ordinary people who'd suffered far worse.
All their expertise and prowess in ghost hunting could not stop it. They had no chance of distracting or mollifying the creature. It had no agenda, no plot; no desire other than utter destruction. Even Phantom, the self-appointed defender of their city and a powerful ghost in his own right, could only bring it to a standstill for half an hour.
The Fentons had watched with the rest of Amity Park in dizzying high definition as the news helicopter circled just out of range. Green smashing against green, shattered buildings flying left and right, Phantom hurtling himself into the creature like a torpedo against a glacier. It had dawned on Maddie with a sickening certainty that Phantom had held himself back, significantly, in his ordinary fights. He dug out deep, smoking pits into the thing's green hide. They dripped gallons of vivid green ectoplasm, but the thing only roared louder. It did not stop.
In the end Phantom fell to his hands and knees, spent. A single claw would have crushed him in an instant.
Then a new ghost streaked in like a shooting star, peppering the beast with blasts, dividing its attention, giving Phantom the precious seconds he needed to rally. She was small and humanoid-an odd, female echo of Phantom's motif of black and white, with twice the speed and fire. Together they'd driven it step by massive step back, out into the suburbs, where it dug its claws deep into the exposed sewers and would retreat no more. Then Phantom and his new ally had turned their firepower on a nearby building, somehow triggering a massive blast.
The explosion had knocked the chopper out of the sky and left them blind. Silence had fallen. The beast, as far as they could determine, had vanished. For good? The Fentons were the best equipped-and the most curious-to find out.
"Mads." Jacked called. He stood on a rise that might once have been a parking garage. She clambered up the hill of crumbling concrete slabs, avoiding twisted rebars and pockets of glass turned to powder.
The hill ended in a cliff, sloping down into a crater nearly a hundred yards across. Shattered bits of violet crystal lay strewn about in glittering fragments. The Nasty Burger sign jutted up at a crazy angle near the edge, the only hint of what had once stood there.
At the center of the pit lay a dark green mass of congealing ectoplasm the size of a bus. Thick black smoke billowed up from it. Blue flames licked over the twisted, sizzling surface. Maddie shuddered; to solidify ectoplasm like that took an unreal amount of heat.
"They got it," Jack said. He pushed back his goggles and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He left a sooty smear. "I don't believe it."
"Probably took themselves out with it," Maddie said. Two birds with one stone, she would have said even yesterday. Now the thought settled cold and heavy in her chest. Phantom had saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives. He could have flown away anytime, escaped to the ghost zone with the rest of the lesser ghosts. He didn't.
Jack tensed beside her, lifting his ectogun. "Look!" He pointed the weapon toward the far side of the crater. Something moved there, stumbling over the rubble. Something bright, ghostly green.
Maddie's heart rate spiked, hope mingling with dread. Had part of the creature survived? Or… Weapons raised, the Fentons went down the slope to meet it.
It was Phantom. Covered in splatters of green, scratched and bruised, white hair smudged grey with soot, but intact. In his arms he carried a small, limp figure. For one heart-stopping moment Maddie thought he held a human child. Then the smoke cleared and she caught sight of the white hair and translucent, greenish skin. It was the ghost girl.
The Fentons looked at each other, then lowered their guns.
Phantom hadn't noticed them. His jaw clenched, breath hissing through his teeth, eyes fixed on the ground. Steam rose in greenish plumes from the body of the ghost in his arms. He kept walking, stiff-legged, like someone whose knees would buckle if he paused.
Jack holstered his gun and stepped forward, reaching out a hand toward Phantom. Phantom's eyes widened and he jerked back.
"Don't-touch her!" the movement overbalanced him and he fell back, landing in a heap on the broken stone and ashes. The ghost girl's body warped and swayed. He clutched her tight. "Any warmth'll finish her," he rasped.
The ghost girl was just barely clinging to corporeality, Maddie realized. Her skin flickered in and out of visibility, exposing a simmering mass of dark green, lit deep within by a fitful core, with vague, dissolving shapes of… bones? How strange. Ectoplasm dripped from the girl's hair and fingertips… no, her hair and fingertips dripped, slowly losing shape and substance. Her breath clouded in puffs of white steam.
They hovered, unsure what to do, unwilling to leave the two wounded ghosts.
"The beast is dead?" Jack asked.
Phantom blinked at him, frowning, as if he'd forgotten the beast altogether. Then he nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I checked. The core's fried."
Phantom's aura brightened and he squeezed the girl closer to his chest. He was cooling her down, Maddie realized, pushing his own core close to hers and trying to share its icy energy. His own skin flickered; there wasn't much left to give.
"You saved a lot of people today, Phantom," she said softly. She touched Jack's arm. They exchanged glances. Maybe there was something they could do. They were ghost experts, weren't they?
He shook his head. "She did. It had me. When the wail didn't work it could've taken me out in a second. That would've been it, for all of us. But she came back. And-" He took a deep, shuddering breath. "She knew she wasn't strong enough. But she came back."
Maddie knelt, pulling a water bottle out of the bag slung over her shoulder. She opened it and poured it over the girl's body. The girl moaned, but the steam escaping her body lessened, just a little.
Phantom looked up at Maddie. He looked startlingly young, bright green eyes glowing out of a soot-stained face. "Do you think you can help her?"
"We'll give it our best shot," Jack said. He rummaged in his own bag and brought out a second water bottle, handing it to Maddie. "You think you can bring her up to our RV? It's not far."
Phantom's expression steeled. "Yeah. I'll do it."
Maddie cranked up the air conditioning as Jack screeched out of the half-ruined parking lot and zoomed toward Fenton Works. Sure-footed despite the swerving from years of practice, Maddie moved to the back to check on their strange passengers.
They sat strapped in together; the girl flickered in and out of visibility, soft and shapeless. Phantom looked even worse up close in the bright GAV interior lights. Sweat rolled down his neck in a steady stream. Dark green circles ringed his eyes. On one leg the jumpsuit was torn open, a nasty gash oozing dark green. There were rips and cuts littering his arms and torso. Maddie winced in sympathy. They'd have to help him too, or he might destabilize himself. She hung onto a handle as Jack made a turn and reached into a compartment, producing another bottle of water. Screwing off the lid, she handed it to Phantom.
"Hydrate," she instructed.
The ghost boy blinked at her. "Me?"
"Yes, you." Maddie reached out to touch him, then remembered her own body heat and thought better of it. "If you don't care for yourself, remember you're the only thing keeping your friend intact. If you exhaust your own resources before we can find a way to keep her stable, she'll be in trouble."
The ghost boy took it from her with one hand, leaving the other tucked securely around the ghost in his lap. Raising it to his lips, he gulped it down. His arm shook.
Maddie went back up to the front. She touched Jack's arm. "You'd better hurry."
Hi everyone! Welcome to WLGAMO, which doesn't abbreviate nearly as elegantly as its cousin, SoaD. This is a story I wrote last year for cosplayer-bara as part of thickerthanectoplasm's Christmas Truce gift exchange on Tumblr (which is an awesome tradition, btw!).
It's a bit different stylistically from a lot of my other works - trying to tell a big plot in a short (under 10k) span of words. Still, I rather liked the result and I wanted to share it here on FFn as well. It's a very quick story, only six short chapters, and already complete, so it will be posted fairly rapidy. I hope you enjoy it!