Disclaimer: I own nothing from Danny Phantom
Note: Decided to use one of my recent random OC's as an enemy in this chapter since it seemed only fitting seeing as it IS a swamp creature so I hope you like it because I really wanted to sneak a little action into this chapter so make this trip more exciting. Also, having trouble sleeping tonight which means I'll probably need to come back later to check for any glaring typos. Still, for whatever reason, I just really want to finish this story to write another sort of alternate timeline with the characters I genderbent but it's not a romance.
Chapter 61: Neurotic
No doubt about it, this place was creepy as hell. At least the Banshee's lair was sort of pretty, carnivorous horse monsters aside, but this place? This place reminded me of that scene in Lord of the Rings when the two main hobbits had to make their way through a swamp full of dead people in the water and random flames. So it's kind of ironic that this time we were supposed to follow a flame instead of avoiding them.
Thankfully we caught sight of it before too long but now that we were in the marsh itself instead of the outskirts the ground was uneven and muddy so Vlad's suit was going to need some serious cleaning after this. I felt reassured holding his hand though, especially when I got creeped out when I started hearing whispering through the mist. Now those we definitely wanted to avoid because most were calling out to us by name and urging us to come closer and after the whole plant ghost fiasco, I wasn't about to take any risks getting lured into another trap. Vlad had the same idea so to counter the voices and keep ourselves busy we started talking about all the things we were going to do once we returned home.
After a while, we kinda ran out of things to talk about so I started humming to myself just so Vlad would know I was still there when it started to get a bit harder to see him even though we were holding hands. At one point, we reached a dead end and had to decide if we wanted to risk wading across or pick a direction and try to go around to reach the flame on the other side. But I for one didn't like the idea of going through the water, especially when the whispering suddenly stopped sort of like when the birds stop chirping to signal that something's wrong.
"I know we need to get across as fast as we can but I...I don't like this," I admitted a bit hoarsely, "Something doesn't feel right ever since the whispering stopped."
"I agree," Vlad replied, coughing slightly into his fist, "However, I don't think we have much of a choice unless we want to risk losing sight of the flame again. Now then, since it'll be easier than trying to hold hands I would like for you to wrap your arms around my neck as we swim across. And whatever you do, avoid accidentally swallowing any swamp water because frankly, I'm concerned that we're going to start hallucinating or our vision will become even more impaired as we move further in since the mist is clearly starting to show side effects and it's becoming a bit more difficult to breathe even for me."
"Well...if that's really the only way then ok. Let's do it. But if there are any monsters in the water you owe me five bucks," I teased, and in return, Vlad leaned in close and whispered-
"I can think of a much better way to settle the score, my dear Danielle. Frankly, since we'll both be needing a year's worth of bathing to feel clean again I'd much rather treat you to a full day at the spa. Now how does that sound?" I could tell from the tone of his voice that he was serious but at the same time clearly trying to tempt me so I rolled my eyes at him and swung our joint hands a little, pretending to think about his offer very seriously.
"Gee I don't know Vlad. I could really use the pocket money," laughing a little when he gave me a small frown I finally gave in and said, "Ok how about this, rather than make a bet why don't we make a promise to get out of here first and THEN we'll worry about what we'll do when this is all over? For now, let's focus on getting through the marsh."
Satisfied with my answer, Vlad tightened his grip on my hand before carefully stepping into the water where he made a disgusted grunt when he stepped in deeper into the oddly warm water and guided me towards him to where it was deep enough to actually swim. I felt bad that Vlad was going to be doing all the work but I wrapped my arms snugly around his neck as we slowly made our way forward towards the flame on the other side which as feared was starting to float away from us again. I suppose one thing we could be thankful for in a weird way was that the water, while smelly and gross, was warm because it would have been a much more miserable swim if it was biting cold at least for him.
We were about a third of the way across when I stiffened as soon as I sensed it and Vlad also tensed when his ghost sense went off. And we both knew that whatever ghosts were actually IN the marsh had to be servants of Famine or at least immune to this special anti-ghost toxic mist that slowly drained your energy and made it next to impossible for healing powers to work. Turning sharply to the left I barely caught the faint glow of the end of a fishtail just below the surface of the water and opened my mouth to warn Vlad when we were both suddenly yanked under the water. I was barely able to close my mouth in time but I nearly shouted when I saw what was rushing towards us from below.
It was kinda hard to see since the water was so murky but it seemed to be some sort of ghost merman or something that was more like a zombie. Its entire tail was glowing a translucent green and showing off every single fishbone inside of it leading all the way up to the waist which was covered in algae. It wore a fishnet over its torso and there were random barnacles all over it too. But the scariest part was the terrifying look on its face as its jaw opened impossibly wide to reveal rows of piranha-like teeth that were about to sink into Vlad's leg before he managed to kick it sharply in the jaw before positioning himself between me and the ghost attacking us.
Without a word, he transformed back into his ghost form before I could stop him, and because my lungs were starting to burn I had no choice but to do the same. I could only hope we'd be safe as long as we were only in ghost form under the water and not above it where the air is poisonous to ghosts. Still, at least this meant we could defend ourselves against it.
"Vlad, we have to hurry and beat this thing so let me do it. I know you transformed and all but the drag on your cape is only going to slow you down underwater. I can move a lot faster without one," I offered just as the zombie merman made another pass at us and I noticed that one of its arms was nothing but a skeleton.
Smirking, Vlad unclasped his cape for what seemed like the hundredth time and I quickly realized what he was planning long before he actually said, "And let you have all the fun? Perish the thought, my dear. You wanted to do this together, so together we shall. On my signal, grab the other end of this and we'll attempt to use it as a net. Then I want you to freeze this creature long enough for me to destroy its core because clearly, this ghost is more monster than spirit and it appears to want to take a bite of us. Besides, I don't want to risk losing sight of you if you swim too fa-?!"
Before he could finish Vlad shouted for me to pull hard on his cape just as the creature rushed at us again at high speed and I winced when it let out a high-pitched screech and thrashed its body around the makeshift net. I let instinct take over when I heard a tearing noise and encased my hands in ice and willed it spread out around the creature, cutting off its beastly cry. And before it could sink too far down, Vlad phased his hands through the ice, searching around for its core which flashed as soon as he touched it, and a second later, light burst through cracks in the ice and exploded, leaving only his slightly torn cape behind.
The shock wave pushed us both back a little but thankfully I could still faintly make out Vlad's ghostly glow and decided to light my hand underwater with ecto-energy when my eyes widened and I yelped, "Shit, we've got company. Vlad let's get out of here!"
Behind him, I could see at least three of those creatures swimming towards us just by the glow of their tails but fighting two to one was one thing, but since they moved a lot faster in the water than we could it was only going to waste more time fighting all three of them at once. So after snatching his cape again Vlad swam towards me and after taking my outstretched hand we both swam towards the surface as fast as we could, reverting to our human forms at the last possible second before scrambling onto the surface again to see three heads pop out of the water and hiss at us, teeth bared and flipping over each other like you see in those nature documentaries of real piranha.
Breathing heavily, I pulled Vlad up by the arm and practically had to drag him away from the water, coughing when my chest started to hurt and sagging to my knees into the mud. Still trying to catch his breath as well, Vlad reached for me to make sure I was alright when we both heard a loud snort and looked up sharply, expecting another attack when instead we were instead greeted by...Famine's horse. But how was this possible? Wasn't he supposed to be imprisoned too? Or was it just his rider that was?
"It's not...real," Vlad huffed, glaring at the spectral horse in front of us. "I don't feel a ghost signature from it so just ignore it, Danielle."
"Are you sure? Maybe they're just hiding their ghost signature, but I suppose there's only one way to find out" I told him before nodding to myself and reaching towards it to touch its muzzle to see if it was real or not only for Vlad to yank me back just as a green plume of smoke burst from the ground with a loud wet sound since it was still muddy and I instantly clamped my hands over my mouth, curling against Vlad's chest as the breeze blew it in our direction.
We sat there for a few minutes, covering our mouths until finally, it seemed safe enough to remove them, and while Vlad was able to stand up immediately, I couldn't bring myself too because my cheeks were burning in shame. Damn it I should have listened! What the hell was I thinking? Of course, it was just an illusion because nothing is ever that easy.
Curling my fingers into the damp mud, I glowered, "I hate this place. Why couldn't Famine have made their lair somewhere easier like a spooky hospital or a graveyard instead of this creepy disgusting swamp? We've lost sight of the flame again and...at every turn we keep getting delayed or attacked and it's like I'm back to square one! I shouldn't have to rely on you so much anymore and it feels like I'm not protecting you at all. I just want something, for ONCE TO WORK OUT IN MY STUPID FUCKING LIFE!"
"Danielle!" Vlad exclaimed, kneeling down to grasp my shoulders, "I know you're upset but please try to calm yourself. If you use your ghost powers out in the open the poisonous gases will-"
Relaxing his grip, Vlad pulled me into his arms and continued, "-at any rate Danielle, you have already been protecting me. It's not a matter of being stronger than me, it's about preventing me from ruining what we have and returning to my old ways. The only reason I'm still here is because you need me just as much as I need you. We're in this together remember? So enough of this nonsense."
Realizing I was acting like a spoiled brat I sighed and admitted, "Sorry, I'm just...really tired of this place and I just want everything to go back to normal, including our relationship because it's the only thing that's kept me going. It's the one thing I let myself have since I'm always saving or protecting everyone else."
"I understand," Vlad smiled, kissing my forehead which sadly turned out to be a bad idea since we were both still drenched in swamp water and he blanched, "Oh good lord, that...was not one of my more brilliant ideas."
"Nope," I laughed, finally pulling myself up out of the mud and looking around. "Anyways I'm ok now, I just needed to get that off my chest. Is there any chance you can track down the flame's ghost signature again? Because I have an idea. It's risky, but it might help us make up for lost time."
Giving me a perplexed look Vlad nodded, "I should be able to but what's this idea of yours? Surely you're not going to ask if we can risk flying above this marsh to avoid the toxic gas, are you? I thought War said that wouldn't work."
Allowing myself a small smirk I pointed behind us at the water those murder-maids were still swimming around it and explained, "I got the idea after fighting those fish things. We were able to fight in our ghost forms as long as we were under the water right? And while being in human form has been slowing down the effects of the gas, using any sort of ghost power speeds it up again so it hurts more. That's what you just said right? So what if...you stayed in human form but teleported us right to the flame's location in spurts? That way we wouldn't be out in the open as long and it might help us make up the lost time."
Crossing his arms, Vlad fell silent for a moment, processing what I just said before smiling, "It's risky as you say, however, it just might be crazy enough to work. Just give me a moment to expand my senses to see if I can locate it again first. Hopefully, it still waited for us within the general area."
Nodding, I glanced around until I spotted a rock nearby and sat down, staring unfocused at my filthy hands while I waited. I know Vlad told me to let him know if the gases had started to affect me, but once they actually started to it was honestly hard to tell the difference between a hallucination and a vision. Vlad said that ghost horse had no signature...but I could almost hear it calling out to me the same as those whisper from before only somehow I knew it wasn't a trick. We had to be close. And for the love of god I seriously hoped there wasn't a major trick to freeing the final Horsemen because frankly I'm seriously worried that I might not have the energy to fight another enemy off let alone face Pariah Dark.
I have no idea if we'll get another chance to rest again after this and when my vision started swimming I was tempted to close my eyes and hope I could sneak in a short power nap. Just before my eyes could drift closed I heard Vlad growl when he accidentally stepped into a sinkhole and I had to make myself get up to help him climb back out again. After thanking me, I offered to let Vlad sit on the rock I was resting on instead of pacing since this was hardly the place for it which he thankfully accepted and we both sat on it with our backs pressed together.
That's right. Even though this is all happening because Vlad was afraid of losing me, I'm glad we're finally on the same side again, I thought, reminding myself not to lose my cool again. I can't let the pressure get to me and I have to remember that I'm not alone anymore. I don't have to carry the weight of the entire town on my shoulders as long as the two of us continue to support each other like this. No matter what I need to believe everything will work out the way it's supposed to.
Unconsciously reaching behind me for Vlad's hand, lacing our fingers together and resting my head on his shoulder, I told him out loud, "Thank you for talking some sense into me, Vlad. I didn't mean to go all doom-and-gloom on you there so sorry about that. Still, I'm so glad I'm not in this alone anymore because it's easy to forget that there's at least one person in my life who understands me completely and knows when I need to be reminded that I'm not a freak or a failure. It means the world to me, so let's hurry up and save it so we can go back home where everything actually makes sense..."