A/N: For American Dragon: Jake Long, this story follows both Magic Enemy #1 and A Ghost Story, whichever came last. (I've seen multiple listing orders.) For Danny Phantom, this is set sometime before Phantom Planet but otherwise late in the final season.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, and I make no money from this work of fiction!
It was supposed to be a quick trip to the Ghost Zone. Three hours, tops, including the time it would take him to fight off Skulker if he encountered him. Or Technus. Or most of the other ghosts that came by Amity Park on a semi-regular basis.
It was not, Danny remembered, supposed to be a trip that was taking upwards of five hours.
And he was definitely not supposed to be spending the last three of those hours flying frantically, trying to lose a ghost that was keeping surprisingly close to his tail.
He did, of course, know that this was why Jazz and Sam and even Tucker had told him not venture into the Ghost Zone without at least warning one of them, letting them know where he was, if he refused to take back-up. And this time hadn't exactly been a refusal to take back-up. Tucker was at a family reunion. Sam had volunteered to do something with her grandma to get out of dress shopping with her mother. Jazz was being the good Fenton child and enduring the Sunday afternoon lecture their parents were hosting in the town hall, keeping an eye on them and screening the crowd for subjects to interview for her ongoing thesis on ghost envy.
And him? He had claimed homework and promptly ignored it in favour of going to visit Frostbite in the Far Frozen. He'd wanted to talk to him about Dani and the possibility of her taking more than a crash-course on cryokinesis when her ice powers finally developed. Providing one of them managed to track her down once they did; as far as he knew, she was still on the move. He didn't even know whether she was in the human world or not.
Of course, things hadn't gone exactly as planned. Sure, he'd made it to the Far Frozen easily enough, and Frostbite had repeatedly assured him that he and his people would be more than delighted to assist the Great One by guiding Dani as she dealt with her developing powers. He'd managed to dodge the rest of their compliments and convince them they didn't need to try to put together a feast for him just because he was visiting and had started to head home.
That was when Murphy's Law decided to make itself known in his life—again—because he had been thinking, oh so foolishly, that he wouldn't need back-up. After all, he'd been in and out of the Ghost Zone hundreds of times. He could take care of himself.
Now that he was being chased by something that looked like a cross between an ectopus (with extra tentacles) and caterpillar with more teeth than a shark (and obviously a lot more speed than a caterpillar, given how the thing was managing to keep up with him), he was wondering if whatever good luck he had been enjoying was going to run out or if he had just enough left to make it out of this alive.
He could fly fast, and he was stronger and more in control of his powers than he had ever been before. It sort of came with practice and experience, so that was a given. But after three hours at top speed, speeding through the bright green of the Ghost Zone, in an expanse that saw ten times more rocks than floating purple doors that signalled ghost lairs or doorways to who knew where, well….
Desperate times, as they say.
And then there was the fact that he was ready to take about any out he saw, acting first and asking questions later, no matter how many times Jazz told him to do the opposite. She wasn't in his situation. She didn't know what this felt like. He was still surprised he could think straight.
Still, as a general rule, diving into unknown swirly vortexes in the Ghost Zone was a bad idea, especially when they hadn't been there three seconds earlier. Danny knew this. He also knew that if he slowed down as much as he would need to in order to avoid it in time, the thing that was chasing him, whatever it was, would be close enough to snag him with one of its tentacle things. If it caught him, he would definitely be dead. Well, destroyed. Probably eaten or something equally disgusting.
So, since Danny didn't want to be lunch, he kept going. Full speed ahead. Whatever lay ahead of him had to be better than whatever was chasing him, right? This was the lesser of the two evils.
At least, that's what he kept telling himself as he dove into the portal, unsure of where he was going and when he was going to end up.
"I thought ghosts didn't really count as magic creatures," Jake said. "I mean, they're dead, right? Just impressions or whatever?"
"There's more than one type of ghost, kid," came the reply. Fu was about as ordinary a dog as Jake was a kid, but since Lao Shi's electronics shop was empty, Fu didn't have to pretend to be an ordinary dog.
Besides, they were in the back.
"I mean," Fu continued, flipping through the pages of the book in front of him with one paw, "it's more than just your standard spirits out there. You've got poltergeists, phantoms, bhoots, banshees, wraiths—"
"But can't they take care of themselves?" Jake asked. "I mean, they're ghosts. They hardly ever show, and it's not like anything can kill them or even hurt them."
Fu looked over at Jake. "Kid, you're the American Dragon. Even if you don't think they need it, it's your job to protect them."
"Or stop them from getting out," Jake muttered, eyeing the Mugwomp Cup that sat innocently on the corner of the desk. It still held the ghosts of Shackles Jack and his gang. Jake didn't really want to let them out—they were in there for a good reason, after all—but there were safer places that they could be kept. According to Gramps, at any rate. He figured they would've been fine if they'd left the cup buried under tons of stone rubble, but no, he had to go dig it out again in case the cup had gotten damaged….
Still, Fu was convinced he'd read about a dimension where most of the ghosts resided, but he couldn't seem to remember where it was or how to find it.
Jake groaned and picked up the book nearest to him again. "You're sure this place exists, Fu?"
"I'm sure," Fu replied. He absently pointed one paw in the direction of an empty bowl. "Mind getting me some more grub?"
"What, you want more caramel corn?"
"Anything'll do, gagagoo…."
Jake sighed but grabbed the bowl. It got him out of doing research, at any rate. Gramps was out doing…something, and Trixie and Spud were finishing up the group project the three of them had for Rotwood's class, and Haley, as far as he knew, was at dragon training, too, with her dragon master, Sun Park.
Mind you, he didn't really count research as dragon training. Of course, he'd done lots of things in dragon training that he hadn't really counted as dragon training but had turned out to be useful anyway, so he'd stopped questioning his grandfather's judgement. He hadn't stopped complaining, per se, but he'd toned down the questioning. Marginally.
He found a bag of chips and emptied them into the bowl before setting it down on the table. Fu was a great magical guardian, really, but he could be doing practically anything else right now. Helping Spud and Trixie like he should, doing the project without actually giving Rotwood too much information about the magical world, or even goofing off at the skate park and acting like a kid for once.
He'd been the protector of the magical world, the American Dragon, for over a year. It wasn't getting any easier. He was getting better, but his secret was getting harder to guard. And since his dad had installed that stupid security system so he couldn't sneak out at night, well, he'd been getting in even more trouble whenever a dragon emergency came up and he had to act. At least his mom was on his side, but then again, she knew the whole story. And Haley didn't always tell on him if he did try sneaking out for a different reason than his responsibilities. She just usually did.
"Why can't we just stick the cup in a box and bury it somewhere?" Jake asked again.
"I told you. The old man figures it's too dangerous, and as far as I can tell, he's right. We need to return these spirits to that other dimension, but I can't find the spell that'll open up a doorway for us."
"Man, this is taking forever," Jake moaned.
"Might as well start reading, kid. It won't go any faster if it's just me."
This was going to be a loooong day.
"I did it! I have captured a magical creature!"
Danny blinked and glanced around. As far as he could tell, he was back in the Real World. Well, that much was obvious, but as far as he could tell, he wasn't stuck in the middle ages or anything. The portal he'd come through had closed, which was probably just as well, given what had been chasing him and the fact that he'd forgotten his Fenton Thermos, since he'd never really seen much use for it in the Ghost Zone. But as for where he was?
That was…less clear.
Besides the cage, anyway.
His captor, the only other person in the room—garage?—was now leaning closer to him, peering at him intently. "Stable form," he sniffed, and as he continued, Danny realized his accent was German. "Young. Teenager, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. Odd fashion. Doesn't seem terribly bright—"
"Hey! I resent that. I've been here, what, one minute? Two? Didn't anyone ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover?"
"English speaker," the man continued, drawing back to write some of his findings down on a clipboard. "Probably American. Responsive and coherent, seems to hold a rudimentary understanding of its surroundings—"
"Very defined form, appears detailed when inspected closely…." The man trailed off, studying Danny's face as he made his judgement.
Danny scowled at the monocle-wearing man. "How'd you create a portal?" he demanded. Sure, he could just phase out of the cage and escape—it wasn't ghost-proof, as far as he could tell—but if he pretended to be caught, the guy might give him some answers.
Like how he'd created a portal to the Ghost Zone. That was something very few ghosts could do and very few machines could do, and there was nothing in the area that Danny recognized as capable of tearing a hole in reality, much less neatly closing it once he was through. At least he hadn't been specifically targeted. The guy was still rambling on about him being a high quality specimen rather than actually answering his question, but he didn't appear to know who he was, which was good.
At least the guy spoke English. That was a tremendous plus, seeing as portals between the Ghost Zone and the Real World could open up anywhere. He was kind of hard to pay attention to, though. Danny was almost willing to bet he was a teacher, and probably not for a popular subject. At least, not a subject that was popular so long as he was teaching it. Could be a science teacher, maybe, but Danny was still getting a 'garage' vibe from this room, despite the lack of a vehicle. It wasn't anything like his parents' lab in the basement, at any rate. No beakers or Bunsen burners or Erlenmeyer flasks or….
Big book. Thick, hardcover, and probably a bit dusty. And written by a guy he wished he'd never had the displeasure of meeting: Frederich Isak Showenhower. Freakshow.
Okay, not a lab. More like secret evil lair or something.
Granted, this guy seemed kinda…harmless. A bit annoying, maybe, because he kept ignoring him, but otherwise harmless.
Taking a chance, Danny reached out and touched the bars of the cage. He didn't receive a shock, so he phased through.
"—not too much of a—what? What's this? No! Stop! Get back in there!"
"Why would I get back in there?" Danny asked. "I don't like being in a cage."
"But…but…." The man, whoever he was, couldn't seem to believe what had happened. "You are a ghost! A spirit! The cage is iron, ringed with salt. You should not be able to get out!"
Danny shrugged. "So sue me. Look, that portal thing you made—are you going to tell me how you did it?"
The man's eyes narrowed. "Will you get back in the cage if I do?"
Danny snorted. "Never mind. I'll just make sure you don't do it again." An ectoblast over the head of the guy later and his precious book erupted into green flames. Okay, so it wasn't flames, exactly, but it glowed green from the ghost ray before the entire thing turned to ash.
The man whimpered.
"Hey, I'm being nice," Danny said. "If you would've gotten any other ghost, you'd probably be running out screaming by now. Me, I'll just let you off with a warning. Don't do it again." He waved a hand and started floating upwards. Once he figured out where he was, he could figure out how to get home.
"No! Wait!" the man cried. "You can't leave. I even brought you an offering!"
An offering? That…. Okay, fine, he was curious. What kind of offerings did people leave for ghosts, anyway? Because if it was anything remotely resembling a bloody sacrifice, he was so out of there. But, since the guy didn't seem harmful—or actually like someone who knew the first thing about ghosts, or at least his kind of ghost, or at least hunting ghosts—Danny drifted back down to the guy's eye level.
"I don't really care what it is, you know," Danny said, even though he was pretty sure the guy wasn't paying that much attention to anything he was saying. "I'm still going to be leaving."
The man fumbled with the lid on a jar. "I have it right here," he said. "It was very hard to get. You should be most pleased."
"I'd be more pleased if you hadn't tried to lock me in a cage," Danny pointed out as the man finally got the lid off the jar. The hairs prickled on the back of Danny's neck, and the guard he'd lowered immediately rose again. "What is that?"
The man was eagerly dumping the contents of the jar into his hand. But Danny already knew what it was and already knew that it was too late to run. Dried, red flower petals fell from the man's fingers as he held his hand in Danny's direction, a hopeful look on his face. He really seemed to think this would make him want to stay, that it was a good thing, that ghosts liked those flowers and might even be bribed by their presence.
That didn't make the pain of the blood blossoms any less, which seemed no less potent dried than fresh, and Danny collapsed to the floor, writhing and shrieking in pain.